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Oak and Willow  by Marnie

Bronw smote the rod of his office against the many coloured floor of Fingolfin's throne room. Its steel-shod foot sent up a ringing note, as though the stone sang. "Galdaran Arafain Celeborn, kinsman of Thingol, Prince of Doriath," he announced, importantly.

Nerwen sat rigidly in her seat - on the lower step of the dais to Fingolfin's left - and did not allow herself to raise a hand to check the set of her high piled hair, or smooth the skirts of her heavily embroidered gown. Celegorm and Curufin, who sat beside her, or Fingon - who sat opposite, on the king's right hand - would surely notice, and if her heart pounded, or she felt sick with nerves, she would rather they did not know. "One of your dark-elf friends?" Curufin murmured, looking at her sideways, his narrowed eyes full of amusement. His hands - which were rarely still - toyed with a length of copper wire in his lap, and as he spoke he bent it swiftly into the shape of a spider; mean and scurrying.

"Yes." She fixed her eyes on the parting crowd, as though she had not seen the beautifully crafted little insult.

Though heads turned to gawp at him, and a chill seemed to follow him like a shadow, Celeborn strode easily through the hall and stopped with a small courtly bow before Fingolfin. She saw immediately that he was ill at ease - had he truly felt at home he would have been more curious, less polite - but his discomfort was as nothing compared to the catch of breath, the plummet into the past; into deep waters, that went through the onlookers at the sight of him.

Whether for her benefit, or in order to represent the nobility of the line of Elw among a hostile nation, he had taken more care over his appearance than was his usual habit; his damasked silk tunic gleamed like snow beneath a mantle of indigo with the same sheen and depth of colour as a magpie's wing. He wore a torc of twisted silver, and a circlet of mithril in which a single frosty jewel flickered. His hair lay loose and bright over the night sky of his cloak. She saw that he had attempted to marry Noldor and Sindar style into something that was acceptable to both, but - though a small part of her mind exalted in the attempt - she knew it had been a mistake. For he looked neither Noldor, nor Sindar, but Teleri. Elu's kindred all bore a striking family resemblance, and, clad as a prince, tall as an Amanya, with the honed, bladelike beauty of his house, Celeborn could have been a murdered son of Olw, come to claim revenge. He stood before Fingolfin like the ghost of something they had all much rather forget, and she knew there were few in the Hall who, looking on him, did not think of blood, soaking into the pearl-scattered strand of the sea.

Beside her, Curufin tightened his fist on the spider, squashed it into shapelessness.

The silence grew, and in the tense space, Nerwen sent up a desperate prayer that her lover's talent for making a terrible first impression was finally exhausted. Surely we can now advance to the point where Uncle realizes he likes him after all...

Fingolfin breathed in through his nose and let the breath out silently through a half opened mouth. Then, with an effort, he smiled and rose to greet his guest. "In the name of the great friendship between my father and your uncle I greet you, prince of Doriath. What may I do to aid you? And what brings you so far from your realm?"

Nerwen's hope fell into darkness with her heart. Seeing one before him who might have been from Valinor, desiring to do him honour - not to treat with him in the language of servants - Fingolfin had spoken in formal, sonorous, beautiful Quenya. She knew that Celeborn understood what had been said; understood too the kindness of it, and did not enjoy cutting the hand that was outstretched to welcome him. His brows twisted, and his eyes were downcast, regretful, as he met Fingolfin's gaze and replied in his own tongue. "Forgive me, Lord, but I must ask you to speak to me in Sindarin."

Taken aback, Fingolfin covered his frown by settling once more into his seat. Knowing him well, Nerwen could see that he was casting about for the most generous way of interpreting Celeborn's rudeness. He switched languages smoothly, and - possibly without realizing it - a tone of condescension crept into his voice. "You do not understand Quenya? I should have realized."

Curufin sniggered and leaned over to say to Nerwen, in something less than an undertone, "None of them can, you know. It is too difficult for them."

"I understand it." At the comment, Celeborn's regret had smoothed away, and he stood tall, but quiet. Almost humble - if it is humble to contradict and command a king. "However, I and all other Sindar are forbidden by Elu to speak or respond to it. Therefore I beg you will use our language when you treat with any of us, from the king himself to the lowliest of these your subjects."

Muffled gasps of outrage sounded from many in the hall, and indignation pulsed through the chamber like the note of an organ, so deep it shakes the walls. The Sindar refused to welcome them, refused alliance with them, left them to fight Morgoth alone, and now threw a courteous welcome in the face of their king, following it with intolerable demands. Understanding, she abandoned any hope that her kinsmen and the man she loved could ever be friends, and only held on to the wish that Celeborn might come out of this with his life. For Curufin, incensed, was already on his feet, his blazing eyes fell as they had been when he ran, sword drawn, into the huddle of Teleri carpenters and craftsmen. "Man Elw Thingollo i vla i lamb quetilv nrolvain, ardalvassen?" he shouted. "Realms he neither founded nor defends. King of cravens! But for Melian you would all still be living in trees. Who is he to give us commands?"

Silence descended once more. Subtly, Celeborn's posture changed as he relaxed into the stance of a warrior who expects an attack, but will wait for it to come before countering. In its own way that too was an insult, for it said plainly he did not trust the sons of Feanor to keep the peace even in their King's Hall. Very alone - in a fragile bubble of Fingolfin's restraint; breakable as glass, he stood in readiness and said nothing.

At first, when he did not reply, Curufin smiled, sharp and hard as the wire in his hands, clearly thinking the Sinda was wrought speechless by his rage. Gradually, however, it became clear that Celeborn was not cowed, but that - as Curufin had spoken in Quenya - he had merely chosen not to hear. He stood, obdurately silent, and studied the floor.

"It is a just question." Fingolfin repeated it in Sindarin; "Who is Thingol to decree what language we speak in our own realms?"

Looking up at once, Celeborn smiled. "He does not, Lord. He only tells his people to which tongue they may listen."

"'His people?'" Curufin paced forward, poised to launch himself off the dais onto the bright ceramic floor before Fingolfin's feet. In the dusk of the narrow-windowed fortress, he blazed with something of his father's radiance. Clenching her fists on the arms of her chair, Nerwen prepared to leap to her feet and restrain him. "They are not Elw's people any more," he continued, in pointed Quenya, as if trying by his brute presence to make the Sinda respond - anger or fear, either would be a victory. "They are ours."

But - for all the reaction to his words - he might have been voiceless. Celeborn simply stood in the lamplight and studied the patterns of the tiles, moved as greatly as though Curufin had said nothing at all. Furious, Curufin half turned, gathering the approval of the onlookers, gauging the mood. Then, above the heads of the crowd, he saw Rilmiriel outlined in the darkness of the door to the kitchens. "Ely!" he called, "Neta limp nin!"

The cellarer had been standing quietly, relaxed against the joist, gathering news to take back to the kitchen staff. Curufin's voice shocked through her - by her start and widened eyes she could not pretend not to have heard. Instinctively, she took a step back, and shadows spilled over her. Her dun dress and black hair melted into the darkness, until she was no more than a face - white and frightened - and an apron twisted between pale hands. Another step and she would have disappeared altogether, but something, pride perhaps, or the paralysis of fright, kept her rigid between the darkness and the light.

"A lelya!" Curufin growled and turned fully, crouched as a hunter stalking a nervous hind, his burning eyes fixed on her. "Go!"

Perhaps surprisingly, at this more blatant threat, the fear left Rilmiriel's face to be replaced with a look of mulish stubbornness which made Nerwen poignantly homesick for Doriath. From the highest to the lowest, she knew that look. She was not surprised, therefore, when Rilmiriel dropped her apron and smoothed it, her gaze on the creases, as if the son of Feanor had not spoken.

Throughout the hall, Nerwen noticed, there stood scattered, disregarded Sindar; grooms, messengers, craftsmen and merchants. They were watching with a kind of delight; empowered by Rilmiriel's struggle, unconsciously lending her strength. But she could feel, too, the barely leashed rage of her uncle's knights; Fingon's hurt puzzlement, Fingolfin's brooding sense of insult, as this nobody challenged the might of Feanor's son. Rilmiriel herself, though she well pretended indifference, could not wholly conceal her trembling - the focus of a titanic, bloodless war between two mighty peoples. Balrogs had fallen before the fury of these princes, but Rilmiriel stood. Silent, defiant, wanting to cry and not daring, she endured.

At last, Nerwen could stand the unequal struggle no more. Rising, she took hold of Curufin's wrist, restraining him. "Rilmiriel," her own Sindarin accent was that of Doriath rather than of Hithlum - so strange a web of loyalties she had woven about herself - but she smiled nevertheless and said lightly, "Please have someone bring the Lord Curufin a drink, 'ere the world ends."

The cellarer's wan face filled with gratitude. She curtseyed deeply, "At once, my Lady." Released, she fled instantly into the bowels of the citadel, taking her tale and her triumph with her.

Shaking off Nerwen's grip, Curufin glowered at her. He made a slow turn to glare at the whole hall, as if seeking out any who smiled. When they would not meet his eyes he was placated, a little, and slowly sat once more in his place. Allowing herself to breathe again, Nerwen sat too, and as she did so, she found that - for the first time - Celeborn was looking at her. In his level gaze was the same gratitude, and her heart bounded at it. A heat rose in her and rushed to her face. Looking away, she pressed her hands to her cheeks to cool them and fervently hoped no one would notice. She was 'Nerwen', and all these, her cousins, she had defeated at one time or another in the quest to be acknowledged as a leader among them. It would not do for them now to see her blushing like a moon-struck maiden in the presence of her first love.

"I see," said Fingolfin slowly, the condescension gone from his voice, "that there still exists a deep loyalty, even among our own people, to their king of old. It should not surprise us that we - being newcomers - have not supplanted it." Looking at Curufin thoughtfully, he stroked the ermine cuff of one trailing sleeve while he pondered his nephew's deeds. He would not try the same experiment himself, Nerwen knew, for he could not afford the loss of authority if it should fail. Instead she beheld his statecraft at work, conceiving a way in which to save as much from the situation as he might. "I see too there is some justice in Thingol's edict. It is a fine stroke - at once a demonstration of power, and of mercy. Since he and I should not be at odds - for a world in which Morgoth dwells has enemies enough for both of us - I will not oppose his will in this. Our subjects may follow their own conscience and obey, or not obey, as they see fit."

He bent his bright gaze on Celeborn, who bowed with a smile of thanks. "Was that all the message you were sent to bring? Or is there more?"

"To you, Lord," Celeborn said, quietly, "I bring only the assurance of Elu's continued friendship. But I also bear a private message for my kinswoman, the Lady Nerwen, which I entreat your permission to deliver."

Heads turned, and Nerwen found herself the focus of every eye. It was a position she was familiar with. Paying the courtiers back for their month of gossip, she smiled mysteriously, and wished they would choke on their curiosity.

Fingolfin leaned forward in his seat, and for a moment - for all the clash of cultures, the tensions of race and place and language; for all his sceptred and bejewelled might, - he was less a King than a dutiful uncle, guarding his brother's daughter from unsuitable admirers. "You may give me the message - I will see it is delivered to her."

Indignant that he should thus interfere with her life, set himself between her and her doom, whether it was a final rejection or a new hope, Nerwen prepared to argue. She fashioned a sentence which would hold her curiosity while giving nothing away to the onlookers. But there was no chance to use it, for Celeborn laughed and raised a look of rueful humour to the King. "We do not write such things in Doriath. We are not overly fond of the craft of letters. The message I have must be repeated to her."

Curufin laughed too and dug Nerwen in the side with his elbow. "You did not teach the savages to read while you were there? Or was that also far too hard for them?"

But for a second, longer time, Celeborn was now looking at her, and the smile lingered on his lips. The son of Feanor became unimportant to her, fading from her view. Even Fingolfin, giving a grudging assent, and Fingon, pulling on his gold wound braids with startled concern, slid from her sight as she bent her mind on her lover, seeking to read behind the courtesy, to uncover what he really thought. Her whole future lay upon his decision, and the thought made her queasy, for no one in her life had ever had such power over her before.

He had learned, perhaps from Melian, to shield all, and stood before her examination with the unyielding meekness he had shown before the King. Opaque and isolate, unreadable. Torn between anxiety and elation her heart fluttered, and again she broke the gaze, looking away. It seemed whatever judgement he had made, she would only learn when he chose to tell her. At once, every second between now and then took on an aspect of eternity.

The stateroom in which Nerwen waited was beautifully appointed in shades of scarlet and gold. Shelves of elegant electrum held many treasures - a bowl of glass whose ever changing surface seemed fluid as the sea; an eagle, sculpted out of a solid ruby; a harp made out of steel, whose perfect strings never needed retuning. There were settles positioned where one could sit and admire each object, becoming, over weeks or months, fully aware of their wonder, the genius of their making. Nerwen flitted from one to the other restlessly, touching them, drawing a string of shining notes from the harp, picking up the bowl and setting it down again. The sound of the door opening had her turning instantly, defensively, breath ragged.

But it was only Fingon, valiant as ever, venturing into the dragon's lair. He recoiled from her look of irritation and the sharp barb of her tongue. "What are you doing here? This is supposed to be a private meeting."

"About what?" he said, undeterred. "The business over language was a tale which could have been brought by Mablung or Beleg. It seems to me that this meeting is the true purpose of the Sinda's visit. And you seem... not entirely yourself. Why do the rulers of Doriath pursue you? Are you in trouble? May I help?"

"Oh, coz." The knowledge that he meddled out of care for her, one of the few who still seemed to care, made her sink into a seat, suddenly weary. "If you will know all, I will tell. But I charge you in courtesy not to repeat it."

"That will depend on the revelation," Fingon lowered himself onto the settle beside her, seeming part of the art collection in his exquisite tunic, even his hair a work of craft. "Yet, unless it is treason, you may depend on me."

Nerwen took a breath, and surrendered to the concern in his eyes. "Celeborn and I are betrothed."

"What?!" Barely having sat, he shot once more to his feet, looking horrified. He made an empty gesture, sharp and angry, turned to pace. "With all the Lords of Arda at your feet you choose this arrogant, illiterate moriquende? You do know they are baying for his blood out there? You will splinter the host with this decision! There are those saying Thingol should be taught a lesson, this dark elf of yours should be taught who the true rulers of Ennor are."

"Let me guess, those would be the placating words of our cousins the Feanorim?" Nerwen gave him an icy look, "I hope we have learned better by now than to listen to them!"

"Father will be beside himself!"

"I do not fall in love to please or displease my relatives!" Nerwen folded her arms across her chest and looked away from him, deliberately watching the half open door. Turning his back on her, he shook his head, then scrubbed a hand over his face, softening. Returning to the seat he managed a faint, unconvincing smile, and at this gesture of compromise her defiance ebbed. It had been hard to carry this secret alone, and if he knew so much he might as well know all. "But you may be spared from contemplating a liaison so distasteful, for I exaggerated a little. We were almost betrothed. And then..." She lifted a hand and twisted one of her hairpins hard, the small grimace of discomfort covering a deeper torment. "And then he learned about the Kinslaying. And now I do not know if he has come to ask me to return with him, or to say farewell."

Breathing deep, she struggled to be frozen, dry eyed as she had been through greater hardships than this. Watching the deliberate, costly strength, Fingon became yet gentler. "You will abide by his discussion - this distantly-noble Grey elf?"

She shrugged, miserably. "What choice do I have? I cannot force him to love me, if his regard for me is dead. In this arena I have no more power than he."

Her cousin shook his head, marvelling. "And so the irresistible force meets the immovable object. I am amazed."

There came a knock on the door, Nerwen's heart lurched as though the blow had been to her face. She breathed in sharply, stiffened. Fingon rose, and paced to the centre of the room. Pausing, looking worried and oddly fatherly, he said, "I suppose that after Grandfather married a Vanya, and Finarfin married a Teler, you are only keeping up the family tradition. But bear in mind that the House of Finw is not known for its successful relationships, or its good decisions. You risk much with this. Please be sure."

Leaving, he passed Celeborn in the doorway, and they looked one another over carefully, like two lead wolves at the edges of their territory, wondering if it will be necessary to fight. Then Fingon gave a small, cursory bow, and strode away, and Celeborn came in.

Seeing him, she felt as though a millstone had been lifted off her chest, and she could breathe fully for the first time since leaving Doriath. Her spirit, like a leaf tight curled through an icy night, unfurled to meet the sun, and though she had thought she would feel afraid or angry, instead her whole body seemed to sigh with relief. "Well," she said, smiling, wondering why he looked more relaxed, not less, after the fracas in the throne room, "That could hardly have gone worse, could it?"

He laughed, though there was an edge of nerves to the sound, "Oh, I don't know. I am alive, at least."

Whether this was intended as an oblique reference to the kinslaying, or Nerwen only assumed it was, being plagued with such thoughts, it put an abrupt end to a conversation which had seemed to open with such ease. Sitting down again, she knotted her hands in her lap, and watched as Celeborn gazed about the room. He did not fit with it - a disconcerting pillar of snow and silver in a colourscheme so warm. Seeing him outside Doriath made him seem more alien; something rare and exotic brought from a distant, hidden kingdom, which no one had the wit to appreciate but she. At this thought the treacherous heat overtook her once more, and she had to bury her face in her hands. She was ashamed that he might see her so.

Celeborn touched the harp and frowned at its metallic tone, then he turned back, face still dark, "Will she be safe from him, if she remains here?"

"Rilmiriel?" Nerwen followed his thought easily, "Yes, she will be fine. She is beneath Curufin's notice. It is from you that he will seek revenge, once he has licked his wounds a little."

"I do not intend to be here that long." At his terse tone she felt the ground tip beneath her, like the slab of ice which had upended, throwing Elenwe into the heartstopping water. She wished he would get on and say it. She wished he would remain silent. Instead he took another look around the room and sighed. "It is like a dwarvish mausoleum in here. Is there nowhere we can go to see the sky?"

In the midst of anxiety she could not help but laugh at that. It seemed they did most of their talking in the open air. Rising, she lead him through the double doors at the end of the chamber, across a corridor and then out, onto a slender balcony of pale ash wood. Rigged so that it could at once be released from the stone walls, leaving no weakness to grapples, it was a frail thing. Through holes in the lattice beneath their feet a long drop went down in dizzying height, and few had the stomach to come here. Yet in it one might stand and seem to fly like Manwe's eagles amid the mountains. Nerwen herself felt a small thrill of fear, and leaned out, resting her weight on the balcony rail, just so she might defy it.

The sun was westering, and they stood above the mists. Beneath them, the courtyards were a roil of gold and flame as sunlight gilded the fog. Mountains rose out of saffron to soaring white purity, their tips aflame. Nerwen and Celeborn gazed together, and both laughed, and it seemed to them that both thought, together, that no work of craft could equal this.

Celeborn turned, the laughter still in his eyes. "Come home," he said.

Her heart leapt into the heavens like the mirrored sunlight. But it was not enough. She needed to know why. "Elu has forgotten his anger?"

"He is... less angry with you than with anyone else," Celeborn frowned, as though reminded of a pain he had momentarily, blissfully forgotten. "It is hard for any of us to accept that Finrod stood by and watched our families being murdered, and did nothing..."

"You do not understand," looking back, Nerwen would almost have said she did not understand herself. Angrod had the right of it - it was as if they had all been drunk on strong wine, desperate to get out, driven by an urgency she no longer comprehended, sober as she now was. "No one could believe what was happening. It though we had all gone mad, and we half expected it to be some perverse illusion - something we would awaken from and find had not happened at all. A fever dream. A nightmare."

"Yet you had the courage to set yourself against the slaying of innocents, and to act."

"But for what?" Nerwen smiled bitterly, "Only to end up ostracized by all."

"For what?" he gave her a look of puzzlement, "Because it was the right thing to do. And you are not ostracized. Plainly you belong in Doriath - you are one of our people now, by your own hand and choice."

This acceptance was too easy; she did not believe in it. There came unbidden to her mind the look of disgust on his face, the turned back, when she was driven out of his home. "You were not of such generous a disposition the last time we spoke."

At this, he sighed, came to lean out on the rail beside her, rubbing the furrow between his brows, as though he had frowned too often of late and it ached. "Now it is you who does not understand. You have had many Great Years to think about the kinslaying - to come to some kind of resolution. But to us, beyond the wanton slaying of our families, there is still a deeper horror. How can one elf take the life of another? Knowingly? My heart abhorred the idea. And to think that I loved someone who had killed... Noldor, Teleri, what did that matter? - they were elves."

He shook his head, and laughed, a sound rather of grief than of mirth. Wanting above all to comfort him she reached out and covered one of his hands with her own. As he looked up, his gaze caught hers, and she saw that something had been permanently changed in it. An innocence she had not recognized as such was gone; a dull pain in its place. That look she had seen on the faces of the Noldor as they struggled across the ice; the knowledge that evil is not always from the outside, and there are no depths it will not plumb.

"So, in your thoughts," she said, turning away from that further scar of her deeds, "I am no longer crowned in radiance, but in blood."

By his startled glance, she knew he had thought it, but he said, "No."

There floated by, even at this height, the white canopied seed of a dandelion. Plucking it out of the air, he gazed on it for a moment before blowing it out of his hand onto the breeze once more. "I have had a month to contemplate, and in the end it seemed to me I was unjust in my horror. For have I not done the same myself, and not condemned it?" He gave her another smile which could not conceal a fathomless depth of misery.

"You?" she said, and her fea had the hypocrisy to recoil from the idea. "When?"

"When the first orcs were seen in Beleriand," Celeborn turned his face into the cold wind, watched shadows slide across the mountains and did not look at her, "there were those among us who thought they were Avari. Avari who had grown twisted in the wild. Yet when they attacked us - even thinking this - we killed them."

"That is different!" she was indignant that he would accuse himself of her own crimes in order to excuse her, "They were orcs!"

Now he straightened, and in the face of her horror became calm once more. "They were elves who had become evil," he said, without mercy to himself or her. "And evil must be opposed. We had to stop them, even if it meant killing them. Just so, the hearts of those who could murder and steal from their friends, were dark. The deed was the will of Morgoth and had to be opposed. At whatever cost."

The white flame of the snow stung her eyes. "You say I was right?" Her voice quavered with tears - relief, and awe at this forgiveness, and a foolish notion that she was not worthy of it. With anyone else she would have been fighting to retain her composure, but as he had already seen her sobbing it hardly seemed worthwhile. Others thought she was invulnerable. He knew better.

"Yes." There were shadows in his eyes, and she could tell it was a decision which had come from his head and had not yet reached his heart. But as with her disgust for him, he was not letting it get in his way. He had decided, and his feelings would follow, when they could.

There was a silence, and both looked out, following the flight of an eagle as it burst through mist into sunlight, scattering the cold dew in a shower of topaz from its polished bronze wings. Slowly Celeborn turned the hand upon which her own rested, until they were clasped. "I remember you told me to begin this," he said, and smiled - for the first time without visible pain, "I am glad to know why."

She laughed, and if there was an edge of hysteria to the sound neither thought it was inappropriate. "O Valar! The curse! What are we to do about that? I should tell you to go away for your own good. Why would you walk into ruin open-eyed? How could I let you?"

At that, some genuine humour surfaced in his eyes, "How could you stop me?" And she gave him a warning glance, as though to say she might, if she wanted to.

"But look," he leaned out and pointed down to where the dock workers had built a small rope bridge over the Sirion outfall - it cut in half the journey they would have otherwise had to make around the source, "What would happen if that bridge were to fall in ruin into the stream? Would they stand on the shore and wail because it was no more?"

"In Aman they would," she said, looking down on the rough structure with a swell of sudden, strange affection, "they would say 'we shall never make its like again!' And the river would be left bridgeless so that all could remember what had been lost."

It made him laugh, delighted. "I do not wonder you wanted to leave! Here, we would build it anew - but stronger. If there exists the will to try again, even ruin does not have to be the end. It can precede a new beginning."

Finrod would have argued semantics with him, Nerwen thought, but her heart, bursting like the eagle out of icy fog into the warmth and brilliance of light, was too light for such caution. She stooped on the hope and carried it into the air with her, tightening her grip when it struggled to escape. "You still wish to wed me, then?"

"You think me so changeable?" There were doubts in his green eyes, but they were the doubts of wisdom, not of love. "Did I not vow to all your brothers that I would marry you, when you give me the chance. I hold to that."

"I hear a 'but' in that sentence," she said, for his voice was diffident, almost apologetic. It did not dismay her as it might have done. What were a few conditions now? Now when she had regained all she had thought lost.

"Elu is not happy with the Noldor at present, and the people of Doriath are also less forgiving of the match than they have been. This is not a good time for it."

Always practical, Nerwen thought, and choked down wild, relieved laughter. Other couples might have wallowed in romance before they began to consider the politics, not he. My froward savage, she thought, and blushed, careful not to allow the thought to slip into the daylight where he might see it. "Nor are the Noldor happy with Elu," she agreed. "I see now what Angrod meant, and I would not drive such a wedge between my brothers and their family. What is a few centuries, after all? We can afford to wait until things are easier."

"But you will marry me, when the time comes?"

She had had proposals before. Proper proposals, on bended knee, accompanied by hot-house flowers and jewels. They had been...rather tedious. And embarrassing. This was none of that - it was just a question to which she knew the answer. Simple and joyous. She breathed in, fixing the sunlight and mountains in memory, the song of the Sirion, the scent of snow, the way Celeborn's look betrayed the very slightest hint of anxiety. I am sure. Very sure. "Yes. I will marry you, Celeborn of Doriath," she said, and her cheeks ached from smiling, "You and no other. When the time comes."

He took both her hands, and smiled like springtime, but to her disappointment he did not attempt either to embrace or kiss her. She knew from that that the bridge was not yet repaired between them - only the first foundations were laid. He had now to struggle with his own revulsion, as she had done with hers.

"Come home with me then, Nerwen. And let us wait together."

Again, it was not enough. She would have worn a silver ring with pride and flaunted it in front of Curufin's face. In its absence she yearned for some other symbol to fix this moment forever in history. She wanted too to give him something - if it could not be a ring, then some other outward sign of loyalty. "That name comes ill from a mouth forbidden to speak Quenya," she said, and shed the past - cramped and dirty as it was - like a snake shedding skin, emerging fresh. "Enough of Nerwen of the Noldor. Behold! I will come home with you, and henceforth I will be Galadriel Earwenien of Doriath."

Since he would not kiss her, she leaned in and laid her cheek against his, feeling him breathe out as though an agony was ended. Drawing back, he looked in her eyes with wonder, his own dark and a little awed by the magnitude of this step. "'Galadriel?'"

Winding her arms about him once more, she rested her head on his shoulder. He was solid and reassuring against her. Slowly, he raised a hand to stroke her piled and over-braided hair. Peace settled upon them. In its golden glow, she smiled against his throat. "Long I have been Galadriel in my heart. I am glad that now all Ea will call me by your name."

Closing her eyes, Galadriel leaned against the man who would be her husband, and set her mind out into the future, as Melian had taught her. Such foresight was, as Melian herself was soon to find out, more curse than blessing. Yet among the bright bloodshed, the loss and anguish of coming years; though lands might break and fall into the sea, though new stars rise and Doom lie in the palm of her hand, one constant silver thread remained, glimmering among the darkness.

Their love would prove stronger than Dark Lords, stronger than the word of Mandos himself, the children of their children would one day rule the world.

It will be a harsh road, she thought, abandoning the vision to bask once more in the comfort and warmth of his presence. A harsh road, but I will proudly walk it, so long as I might always walk by his side.

The End

Author's Notes:

1. 'Galdaran Arafain Celeborn': Both Galdaran and Arafain were originally considered (however briefly) by Tolkien as names for Celeborn. I have taken the liberty of assuming they are his mother and fathernames, and that 'Celeborn' is an epesse given to him by someone who had seen the silver tree of Valinor. Eg, either Melian or Elu.

2. "Man Elw Thingollo i vla i lamb quetilv nrolvain, ardalvassen?" - Who is Elu Thingol to decree what language we use to our own servants in our own realms?

"Ely! Neta limpe nin." - You! Bring me wine.

"A lelya!" - Go/proceed/get on with it.

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