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Renewal  by Bodkin


The river flowed steadily beneath the moss-covered stones of the bridge and the trees rustled in the fresh breeze of an autumn morning, the dark green leaves of late summer just beginning to show hints of brighter colours.  The Stronghold, Celeborn thought, was looking rather down-at-heel, now that so few remained in this last sanctuary, but these trees at any rate still responded to the voices of the elves. 

Was it enough? 

He sighed as his hand caressed the grey-green bark of the tree on which he leaned.  He did not want to surrender.  This was his land, the land in which his people had woken in the ages before the rising of Anor and Ithil, where they had fought and died against the hordes of Morgoth, of Sauron: the land of Thingol, of Denethor, of Cirdan, of Gil-Galad – of Doriath and Ossiriand, of Lindon, Eregion, Lorien, of Lasgalen and Imladris. 

‘What is it?’ the soft voice of his cousin asked.  ‘You have been out of sorts for a few days now.’  Thranduil looked up at the blue of the sky where the canopy broke above the water.  ‘You might as well tell me before I badger it out of your grandsons.’

‘I miss her,’ Celeborn glanced sharply at the King of the Greenwood.  ‘I know you never liked her – but she is my wife, and I hunger for her.’

‘Ah,’ Thranduil’s eyes dropped.  ‘I know what that feels like, my friend.’ 

‘It is this time of year that they sailed,’ Celeborn added simply.  ‘I find the pain of her absence is even greater as the leaves fall.’

Thranduil placed a hand on his cousin’s shoulder.  ‘If I could believe that Laerwen had returned from Mandos’s Halls, I do not think I could stay here,’ he said.  ‘I do not know whether it is better to carry on in ignorance, or to sail and know if her presence is still withheld from me.’

‘Or whether she is still of the same mind she was,’ Celeborn said softly.

‘You have reason to doubt Galadriel?’

Celeborn shook his head.  ‘But I have no desire to be the tolerated appendage of a Noldor princess, dwelling on sufferance in her adar’s house.’

‘You think she would expect that of you?’  Thranduil sounded slightly shocked.

‘I do not know.   She was yearning for her parents and the lands of her birth.’

Thranduil grinned mischievously.  ‘You are right in saying that your lady has never been my favourite person, but I cannot see her sitting meekly in her adar’s house.  She is too restless – too interested in what there is to see and do.’  He paused and indicated to his cousin that they should walk among the trees.  ‘Can you imagine any of those other Noldor princes having been ready to dwell among the mallorns of Lothlorien?  Turgon – who did his best to recreate Tirion in Gondolin?  Fingolfin?  Or the sons of Feanor, perhaps?’

Celeborn smiled reluctantly.  ‘Finrod, maybe.’

‘Finrod,’ Thranduil conceded.  ‘He was interested enough in the world outside their self-perpetuated Noldor enclaves to look at other ways of living.’

‘Galadriel was always more like Finrod than any of the rest of her kin,’ Celeborn mused.

Thranduil remained silent.  He had liked what little he had known of Finrod, but he had never cared for Galadriel – who had, it seemed to him, always been rather too convinced of her own perfection.  ‘Would you be more willing to go,’ he asked finally, with an absent curiosity, ‘or less, if you knew you would find them there – Elu, Melian – Mablung, Nimloth, Dior, my adar?  Yours?  Gil-Galad?’

‘I do not know.’  Celeborn brooded.  ‘I think I am too old and too accustomed to being my own master to want to slot back into a second childhood.’

‘I, too, have my doubts,’ Thranduil agreed softly.  ‘This forest has been my responsibility for over an age.  I do not want to find myself condemned to idleness and a son’s duty.’  He smiled.  ‘I cannot imagine it would sit easily with your lady, either.’

‘She grew and changed, here in Arda,’ Celeborn murmured, reassured despite himself.

‘As did we all.’  Thranduil’s eyes stared vacantly at the trees before him.

‘I am not sure I would have liked her, had I made her acquaintance in the days of her youth before she left Aman,’ Celeborn remarked dispassionately. ‘There were still elements of the indulged family baby in her when I first saw her in Doriath, but the passage across the Grinding Ice began a process of maturing that made her a much more worthwhile person.  She had done things of which she would not have believed herself capable, endured deprivation – seen death.  And not just death in battle,’ he reflected, ‘but the death of innocents, who suffered cold and hunger and despair as they followed Fingolfin into exile, because of the actions of her uncle and cousins.  She learned to guard the fire within her and think before she acted.’

‘She cannot have been a restful wife,’ his cousin observed carefully.

Celeborn looked at him with a sharp amusement.  ‘If I want rest,’ he said, ‘I will take my ease in a tree on a warm afternoon.  With Galadriel, I have never been bored.’  His smile lightened his face.  ‘Angry, sometimes; speechless – but never bored.’

‘I was never bored with Laerwen, either,’ Thranduil said reminiscently, ‘and I never had to worry about returning home to find that she had taken control of my throne in my absence.’

He paused, gazing at a tall beech in the prime of its strength and listened to catch the faint hum of its song.  Walking over to it, he placed his hands on the bark and closed his eyes to listen more closely.  Celeborn watched him soberly until, after several moments he broke contact with the tree and turned.

‘Do you think you will sail?’ he asked.

‘To my mind, it is no longer so much a matter of ‘if’, my friend, as ‘when’.   Even here, the world changes,’ Celeborn replied sadly.  ‘We could stay, I suppose: eke out an existence in a land that knows us not – but I see no purpose in remaining just to prove a point.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘We talk of the pride of the Noldor – but to linger, unwanted, would be a similar display of vanity.’  They turned to walk back the way they had come.  ‘And I grow tired, I find.  Although the sea-longing has not touched me, I feel a need to seek rest in a land that makes my bones sing.’

The trees had crept closer over the years, Thranduil noted, covering now the open glades where once had dwelt families of his people, filling the training fields now empty of warriors.  There were even saplings in the stable yard.  It was as if they sought the comfort of the closeness of the few remaining elves, approaching like dogs slipping closer to the fire on a bleak winter’s night.

‘I am finding that my son’s face is ever in my dreams,’ Thranduil admitted.  ‘For a long time I was able to put his absence from my mind – knowing there was nothing I could do about it.  But just recently –,’ he stopped and looked at his hands before lifting his head with a sigh, ‘I do not know – it is eating at me.’

‘We are marking time,’ Celeborn agreed, ‘performing mundane tasks to survive, but no longer affecting the outcomes.’

‘This has been my home for a long time,’ Thranduil observed the Great Doors with a care that was rarely involved in looking at something so familiar.  ‘But it is only custom, I think, that holds me here now.’  The breeze stirred his hair.  ‘Is there a ship waiting?’ he asked.  ‘Or do we have to build one?’

Celeborn shrugged as they sat on an ancient stone seat.  ‘It is waiting,’ he admitted.  ‘I would make no promises – but I always intended to send Elladan and Elrohir with Glorfindel when the time seemed right, and, for that, a ship was a necessity.  It has been ready for a century or two – but Cirdan’s ships do not decay, even though it is no longer he who is left to build them.’

‘There are men in Mithlond now, are there not?  Is the ship safe?’

‘It is under guard,’ Celeborn allowed.

Thranduil smiled wolfishly.  ‘Trust in the Valar, but be prepared,’ he remarked.

‘Of course.’  Celeborn raised his eyebrows.  ‘It would be foolish to leave temptation in the way of men – or elves, come to that.    And I am no fool.’

‘How long, do you think?  It will take time to organise a final exodus.  I will leave none behind who might wish to sail, although I will pressure none to come who desire in their deepest hearts to remain.’

‘A few years, I think,’ Celeborn mused.  ‘No more than a decade, I would say, at the outside.’

‘Will your lady forgive your delay?  I am sure she was expecting your arrival some centuries ago.’

‘She might be a little miffed,’ Celeborn allowed.  ‘She knew there was no chance of our sailing while Arwen lived – but we have outstayed our leave to remain by some while.  But, on the other hand, I know she feared that we might never choose to leave.’  He smiled slowly.  ‘And the making up is always – most enjoyable.’

A soft laugh alerted them to Elrohir’s presence.  ‘I always enjoyed watching you and Daernaneth fight,’ he admitted.  ‘It fascinated me that you could say so much so subtly that hardly anyone realised you were not in perfect harmony all the time.’ 

‘You have been riding?’ Thranduil asked.  ‘Did you speak to the foresters?’

Elrohir nodded.  ‘The men are cutting trees to the east – and the numbness is spreading.  The foresters say they can no longer hold it at bay – summer used to be a time to build up the strength of the trees, to help them hold through the cold months, but they are losing more daily now, even when the sap flows most strongly.’

Thranduil closed his eyes and sighed.  ‘It speeds up,’ he said flatly.  ‘I think we must make a decision soon.’  He inclined his head briefly and headed purposefully towards his office.’

‘It is hard on him,’ Celeborn observed sympathetically.  ‘This has been his home since the Second Age.’

‘I suppose there are advantages to having been forced to move,’ Elrohir reflected.  ‘It was painful abandoning Imladris, but I am less reluctant to leave this time.’  He glanced at his daeradar.  ‘And you have had so many homes.’

‘It is not the parts,’ Celeborn shrugged, ‘as much as the whole that has held me.’  He paused.  ‘And what do you mean, you cheeky cub, about fights between your daernaneth and me?’

‘Naneth showed us what to look for,’ Elrohir grinned.  ‘Daernaneth would glance at you and you would lift an eyebrow – her chin would go up and you would frown.  Then one or other of you would shrug slightly.  Naneth said that in anybody else that would constitute screaming – and possibly violence.  She found it hilarious that half the world thought you had a relationship of polite indifference.’

‘And the other half,’ Celeborn added, ‘that I was Galadriel’s pet lapdog.’

‘Did it bother you?’ Elrohir asked with undisguised interest.

‘Sometimes – a little,’ his daeradar admitted.  ‘But we knew it was not true – and, in the end, I decided that I did not care what anyone else thought.  It freed me, in a way.  While people were bemused by your daernaneth’s beauty and power, I could do what needed to be done.  It was not as if we were more than a thought away from each other.’ He raised an eyebrow at his grandson.  ‘We rarely made decisions in isolation.’

Elrohir leaned forward and prodded the ground in front of the bench.  ‘The time is coming when we shall meet them again, is it not?’ he said with conviction.  ‘I am seeing them almost nightly now – Adar, Naneth, Daernaneth.  They are smiling and happy – as I remember them from my youth – rather than the worn and suffering elves they were when they sailed.’

‘I wonder,’ said Celeborn thoughtfully, ‘if others, too, are having repeated dreams of those who are waiting for them.’

‘The desire to leave is coming to outweigh the desire to remain,’ his grandson continued, ‘but we will not go without you.’  He grinned.  ‘Adar said we should bring you if we had to dose your wine and keep you unconscious until the ship had reached the point of no return.’

‘Odd,’ Celeborn clasped his hands behind his head and looked into the branches above him.  ‘He suggested that I should tie you two to the mast.’

Elrohir’s laughter rang out in the quiet of the open glade.  ‘I can see Glorfindel struggling to get three senseless elves from here to the Havens – trussed up in a cart, perhaps.  Perhaps we should just give in and admit that it is time to be reunited with those we love.’

‘Is Elladan ready to do that?’ Celeborn did not look at his grandson.

‘I believe he is,’ Elrohir replied softly.  ‘He knows that I want to go – and that, should he choose to remain, neither will I leave.  And he, too, loses heart as the land becomes cold.  It is not the Arda we loved as the age began.  We are as much exiles here as we would be in the Blessed Realm – but there we would have the company of family and friends.  He will come without protest.’

‘Glorfindel has been fulfilling his promise to your adar to keep you as safe as he could – he will make no objections to taking ship.  And that,’ Celeborn stretched, ‘leaves us only Thranduil, whose mind is half made-up.  Perhaps a few more reminiscences of your times with Legolas,’ he suggested, ‘will encourage him to make his decision.’

Elrohir shook his head.  ‘You are as devious as Daernaneth, my lord,’ he remarked.

‘I learned from the master,’ his daeradar smiled, ‘although I will point out that I taught her a few tricks along the way.’  

There was a weariness in his grandson, he thought as he watched, that reminded him of a warrior at the end of a long campaign of forced retreats and endless petty defeats; a pallor to his skin and a frailty that Celeborn berated himself for not having observed sooner.  When had he changed?  Or had the wearing been as gradual as the effect of water on a stone: eating away at Elrohir as the creeping numbness dumbed the outside world and eroded the power of the song?  He had clearly spent too long immured here in the heart of Thranduil’s strength, Celeborn thought.  The situation might be worse than he thought, and their time even shorter.   It would, he thought, be the ultimate irony: to decide in his wisdom that it was time to avail himself of the Valar’s invitation, only to find that it had been withdrawn and that he was now forced to do what he had always claimed to have been his desire and remain east of the sea until the end of days.

With a sudden clarity he was aware that he did not want, he had never wanted to endure here through the ages without Galadriel.    He had not been ready to leave when she did, true, but he had also wanted to make a point to those supercilious elves of Aman – he was not to be commanded, he would not follow at her skirts, like some favoured servant, but would decide for himself when it was time for Celeborn, Prince of Doriath, Lord of many lands, to take ship.  And it was for Galadriel, this time, to await his pleasure.  He smiled wryly to himself.  He could only hope she had.  She understood him well – better, sometimes, than he understood himself – but she had a temper it was wiser not to rouse and he had kept her waiting over a third of a millennium longer than she would have accepted without question. 

‘I hope they have not given us up,’ Elrohir murmured, brushing the dust before him into neat swirls.

‘They have not,’ his daeradar told him with conviction.  ‘Galadriel is far more persistent and ruthlessly determined than Luthien – and she managed to inveigle Namo into returning her to Arda.  If your daernaneth believed that we intended to remain, she would have petitioned the Valar to be permitted to return to claim us – and then arrived to herd us back before her, like a gaggle of disobedient geese.  She has far less patience than Oromë must have shown when coaxing the Quendi to Aman in the first place.’

Elrohir laughed reluctantly.  ‘If that is her mood, then you will want to avoid the sword in her hand when finally we dock in the Blessed Realm.’

‘I have no fear of your daernaneth,’ Celeborn said haughtily, a twinkle in his eyes, ‘and ways of bending her to my will you are far too inexperienced to understand.’

His grandson met his eyes cynically.  ‘I may not be wed, but I think I am aware of the methods to which you refer, Daeradar.  And I hope, for your future happiness, that you are right.’

‘We have been fighting and making up for a very long time, Elrohir,’ Celeborn smiled. ‘And if her yearning for our reunion is only half as strong as mine, then it will be some while before she remembers how annoyed she is with me – by which time, I hope, I will have reminded her of why she is pleased to see me.’ 

‘It is a great pity that Thranduil does not care for Daernaneth,’ his grandson said reflectively.  ‘I have enjoyed our closeness over these last centuries.’  He gave his grandfather a sudden sweet smile.  ‘I find it hard to believe that we used to be afraid of him – Legolas always said that he was kindness itself beneath his fierce exterior, but we could only see the fire in his eyes and hear the authority in his voice.  I would not want a distance to grow between us because of an old enmity between the King of Lasgalen and the Lady of the Golden Wood.’

‘Their antipathy predates those titles by a long way,’ Celeborn commented.  ‘But it is long past time for them to abandon it.   We shall have to work on it.’  He grinned.  ‘It will give us a challenge to bring excitement to our lives.’

‘You might be able to persuade Daernaneth to be polite,’ Elrohir said doubtfully, ‘but I do not know how you could change Thranduil’s mind.’

‘I know just the person who can, though,’ his daeradar smiled.  ‘Laerwen always got on rather well with Galadriel.  I think it worried Thranduil, actually – he was quite frightened that his wife might learn a thing or two from your daernaneth that would make his life more difficult.’  He laughed. ‘As if Laerwen could not manage him perfectly well without any assistance.’

Elrohir raised his head and turned towards the south.  ‘Glorfindel and Elladan are returning,’ he remarked.  ‘I will go and prepare the stables.’  He rose gracefully and turned.  ‘It will be good to have them back,’ he remarked as he left.

A feeling of warmth spread tentatively through him, as Celeborn drew a deep breath.  It would, indeed, be good to have them back.  Not just, he thought, Glorfindel and Elladan here in the Greenwood, but his wife; his daughter; his son-in-law and all those others whose being had been part of his long life.  He had not been ready to depart as the Age of Men began, unlike many of those who had happily shaken the dust of this tormented land from their shoes as they turned their faces to the West, but the time had come, and, now his decision was made, he felt an ease deep within him that acknowledged that this was the right choice.  No longer did he need to exert self-discipline to keep his lady’s image bound in his heart; finally he could allow his mind to relish the prospect of seeing her again, touching her, hearing her voice, feeling the sharp, sweet greenness of her in his mind. 

They did not know her, he smiled, his eyes unfocused, those who castigated her as a power-crazed, demanding, Noldor princess; all of them too shaken by the strength of her mind to feel its clarity; too stunned by the beauty of the façade to look beneath it.   She had called him Wise, he laughed, but as far as he could see, a large part of his wisdom had been in recognising Galadriel for the force she was and, in loving her, harnessing and guiding that strength.  Their battles had, at times, been cataclysmic, but they had, in the end, only served to bind them more closely and made them better able to resist the lying temptations of the One Ring.  Duty had kept them apart more than once, but they had endured long separation and their reunions had been the sweeter for it.  They had lost to torment and death those whom they had loved, but their anguish had only served to strengthen their need for each other, to deepen their mutual trust.  Without her, he was incomplete.

He opened his mind, as he had so rarely since the White Ship had taken the Straight Road and her constant warm presence had been excised, leaving him bereft, and hurled the thought at the sky that covered both of them.   ‘I am coming,’ he cried, his mental voice no more than a thread on the wind thrusting at a distance that was more than simple space.  There had been so many changes, so many places that he had rested for a while.  Why should this be any different?  In the end, he concluded, turning to the sound of his grandsons’ voice, it was not just the place that made your home, but the people in it.  He would make a new home there, in the Undying Lands, among those he loved.  And this time, he decided with determination, there would be no shadow to darken it, no tendrils of corruption to twist it, no evil to wrest it from him.   This time it would endure.



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