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By the time the fifth arrival had asked for the Lady, he knew that she was finding the day too much for her. He sent the enquirer briskly on his way, informing him that if he were not able to take that kind of decision after so many centuries, there was no hope for him, and Celeborn then abandoned his attempts to reorganise the defence of the borders. His lady needed him in a way that these mundane tasks did not.
He knew where she would be, where she always was now when despair and the sea-longing overcame her.
For so long her power, enhanced by Celebrimbor’s creation, had held Lothlorien in its bubble of timelessness, the seamless perfection of its protection held in her hands. It had shattered in an instant as the One Ring was unmade and its disintegration had wounded the Lady of the Wood in ways that not even he could begin to heal.
She was finding each day harder to endure as the elves of the Golden Wood strove to re-establish the balance of the haven and every time he saw her she seemed a little less able to cope with the reality of life in the world that would come.
Galadriel rested beneath a young beech, her legs tucked beneath her and her head bowed so that her hair of pale winter sunlight shielded her face. Water spilled from a spring hidden by the moss-covered rock to tumble into a small pool in the heart of the glade and Celeborn’s throat tightened at the sight of such misery in the midst of so much beauty.
She knew he approached and listlessly raised her head to watch him: tall, beautiful, keen as a blade of purest mithril, clad casually in greens and browns, he exuded the vitality of the forest.
He sat beside her, wrapping his arms round her and drawing her close.
‘I do not want to sail,’ she whispered.
Celeborn rested his cheek against her bright head and their hair mingled, silver and gold, like the light of the Two Trees. ‘You must,’ he said simply.
He linked his fingers in hers and lifted her hand. The light within her gleamed ever more clearly through the translucent pale skin and she felt brittle, as though a sharp blow could splinter her. He forced himself not to tighten his grip on her and refuse to let her go and instead pressed his lips to her hair and closed his eyes as he absorbed the feel and fragrance of her; she whom he had loved throughout the ages.
‘I do not wish to return, chastened by life on Arda, to sit meekly in my adar’s court,’ she said fiercely. ‘I do not wish to have no purpose. I do not wish to be driven from the home I have chosen.’ She turned her face into his shoulder. ‘I do not wish to leave you.’ She stopped and drew a deep tremulous breath before adding, ‘And you will not go.’
He stroked her hair softly, soothing her with his presence. ‘Not yet,’ he said. ‘I have not done with Arda yet. But I will come,’ he promised. ‘I could not resign myself to living without you for ever.’ He dropped a gentle kiss on her head. ‘And you do not return as a supplicant,’ he said. ‘You are no broken Exile returning by the grace of the Valar to eke out an eternity in sight of the land of your birth. You are triumphant, my lady. You have achieved all that your kin intended when they crossed the Ice, despite the Doom that came with you. You have fought evil and through your determination and resistance, Sauron is defeated. You have earned the respect of all those who will greet you.’
She trailed her fingers along the line of his jaw before raising her head sufficiently to brush her lips to his throat. ‘You exaggerate, my lord,’ she told him, comforted despite herself. ‘I think there may have been some few others involved in the Dark Lord’s defeat – not the least of them being yourself.’
‘They will not care for that,’ Celeborn dismissed her words.
‘Then they shall be made to care,’ she told him. ‘I will not have you dismissed as of little account.’
He laughed silently and she raised her head to look at him in protest. ‘You would not be my lady if you did not seek out new battles,’ he explained. ‘Although I think you will be able to find those more worthy of your effort. I do not mind what the elves of the Blessed Realm think of me.’
‘I would still prefer to stay,’ she said wistfully.
‘But you cannot,’ he murmured comfortingly. ‘I do not hold it against you, my love.’
‘I do,’ she sighed.
‘You go to join our daughter,’ he said. ‘To see her safe and whole and healed. You take with you her husband.’
‘But not her children.’ Galadriel’s eyes, like bluebells in the rain, met his. ‘What should rebuild her family will shatter it for ever.’
‘She will understand Arwen’s choice,’ he reassured her, ‘far better than Elrond can. ‘She will not blame you for failing to prevent a destiny determined from the time of Luthien. And the twins will sail in time.’
‘How can you be sure they will go? I have not seen it.’
‘Well,’ Celeborn told her, shifting their positions so that she was sat across his lap, and holding her firmly, ‘your mirror is only so good.’ He grinned. ‘It has always been better for prophesying doom and disaster. This is a matter of knowing people’s hearts and that is far too delicate a task for a bowl of water – the twins will stay for Arwen and Estel, and they will sail for Celebrian and Elrond.’
His wife assumed an expression of outrage. ‘Are you telling me that I have no understanding of my grandsons?’ she asked.
Celeborn lowered his head and pressed a kiss to her lips. ‘None,’ he said with cheerful mendacity. ‘You have always been too busy concerning yourself with the affairs of the world to indulge in such details.’
Galadriel ran her fingers through her husband’s hair, gazing intently at him as if she wanted to absorb every tiny nuance: the way the light caught his face, the warmth of his eyes, the slight smile that only she saw, the sound of his breathing, the beat of his heart.
‘We have been apart before,’ he reminded her. ‘Both from choice and from necessity.’
‘But, in this, I cannot change my mind,’ she said. ‘Always before we were within each other’s reach, but this division -,’ she hesitated.
‘I see what it is,’ he nodded. ‘You do not trust me. You doubt I have it in me to make the right choices without you by my side to direct me.’
She drew a sharp breath of indignation. Outsiders might perceive her as dominant, pushing a compliant husband into following her lead in all things, but they knew better. They were equals, and his quiet determination and bond with both his people and the land had been instrumental in altering her perception of the role of leadership. Where she had intended to rule, she had learned to serve; where she had desired supremacy, she had come to use her power to resist it. Still she resented the insensitivity of sycophants, who, dazzled by her, ignored the elf by her side. Had it not made him laugh, she would have resented it more.
‘That is it,’ she agreed. ‘You cannot do without me.’
He caressed her, sliding one hand down her back to rest on her hip. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘Walk with me.’
The wood here, at its heart, was tranquil. Underfoot, crisp leaves from the previous year’s fall shielded the fresh growth of spring and the scent of renewal was in the air. Celeborn touched occasional trees gently as he passed, relishing the patient strength and the slow awakening of the seasonal song.
‘Where are you taking me?’ Galadriel asked curiously, as he guided her with an easy sureness between the trees.
‘It is my business to lead, my lady,’ he teased, ‘and yours to follow. You will see.’
Here, other trees appeared among the mallorns: tall sturdy oaks, majestic beeches, lithe birches, supple willows. The trickling rill welcomed small flows of crystal water, building it up to a clear cold stream that rippled between moss-covered boulders.
Galadriel’s bare toes buried themselves in the vivid green grasses that sprouted pointed shoots like Arda’s arrows through the tired remnants of the old year. She considered demanding the information, but her husband turned sparkling eyes on her and she decided that she did not care. They were together and they had abandoned the responsibilities of tending the Wood’s many casualties and the dread of their inevitable division. This was a moment for them to hold in their hearts over however many centuries their separation would last. Windflowers nodded their white heads under the budding trees and the dangling catkins drifted pollen across the shafts of sunlight in search of the tiny red flowers of the hazels. The business of life and growth were underway regardless of the great events that dominated the lives of dwarves and hobbits, men and elves.
They paused as a gap in the canopy intruded into the serene continuity of the trees, revealing the broken branches of a fire-damaged oak ripped by lightning that had brought it down centuries before its time.
Celeborn clasped his wife’s hand and drew it up to his lips. ‘Yet even here,’ he said, ‘there is a promise.’ He indicated the fresh growth around the base of the old trunk: primroses flowered profusely in the welcome light and tiny saplings, each no more than a pair of leaves, unfurled beneath the parent tree. New buds pushed determinedly from the ridged bark, as if to say that nothing, not even disaster, could prevent the tree from reclaiming its place in the forest.
‘You are being philosophical,’ Galadriel accused him. ‘I am no tree.’
He laughed gently. ‘What are you then, my lady?’ he asked affectionately. ‘The ice on a spring puddle, needing the warmth of the sun to melt you rather than a blow to shatter you? You have been hurt – by time, by exile, by loss – aye, and by bearing a power beyond what any should have endured. You need to heal, my love – and you cannot find that healing here.’
She stepped closer and looped her arms around his waist, dropping her head to his shoulder. ‘You are sending me away,’ she said, her voice muffled.
‘If I had received a wound, you would ensure that I sought treatment,’ he murmured. ‘Just because your injury cannot be seen, does not mean it is not there. You know, I know – Elrond knows – that you need to sail. If I must, I will bind you and have Mithrandir carry you aboard.’
She tilted her head back and her eyes narrowed dangerously. ‘I would like to see you try,’ she said. ‘You would not dare.’
‘Oh well,’ he replied casually, ‘if you would like to see it, I am sure it could be arranged.’
She put her hands on his chest to push him away and opened her mouth to retaliate, but caught the glint in his eyes and relaxed. ‘I think not,’ she said tranquilly, slipping her hands round his neck to bury them in his hair. She remained silent for some time as the sun gleamed in her tresses and Celeborn closed his eyes the better to enjoy her nearness.
‘I know I must take ship,’ she said finally. ‘At times, I ache for it so much that every breath hurts. The song of the sea drowns out the whisper of the leaves and its rhythm is in the beat of my heart. But I still do not wish it.’
‘We know better,’ he told her, ‘than to expect that we get that for which we wish.’ He touched her cheek gently as she raised her face to him. ‘I cannot come, for duty bids me stay. There is still a place for me here among these forests. You cannot stay, for your time here is done. But we are one,’ he reminded her. ‘Apart or together, we cannot be sundered unless we choose to allow it. It falls to you to build a refuge across the sea – one that will be there when I come to you.’ He smiled but there was a sorrow in his voice. ‘If you still want me then.’
‘So in this,’ Galadriel returned his smile comfortingly, ‘it is my business to lead, my lord, and yours to follow.’
‘I concede,’ he said, and bent his head to brush his lips against hers. ‘But we have some seasons yet, my wife. Let us savour every moment left to us this side of the sea.’ He ran his fingers through her fall of hair, letting the living gold slip through like water and put aside thoughts of the future. ‘Come,’ he said, his voice as eager as it had been when their bond was new. ‘I know a place where we can be alone.’
She smiled. The sea-longing was there in the back of her mind, as it always was now Nenya no longer kept it at bay, but she would endure it while she could, for some things mattered more. She slid her hands down her husband’s back, enjoying the feel of strength and warmth that was such an integral part of this elf who had taken an exiled Noldor princess and made her a Lady of the Wood. Her kiss deepened as she yielded to his desire to have her while he could, to take every opportunity to fortify themselves against the wearing of the years, to remind each other why their love had endured throughout so many trials. ‘Do not make me wait too long, my lord,’ she warned him.
‘Now, or in the lands of your birth?’ he asked, his slow smile like sunrise.
‘Neither here,’ she told him, as she held him tightly to her, ‘nor there.’
Even in his desire to console her he could not offer a promise he did not know he could keep. ‘I will come when I can,’ he said. ‘I cannot tell when that may be, but I will come.’
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