Dancing in the Darkness
1. Dancing in the Darkness
Here are our two trees, still blossoming, thought Celeborn, with an almost painful swell of love for this world. Since he had told his grandsons the tale of the beginning of Doriath, this morning, the Elder Days had seemed close to him once more. Under these very stars he had stood when all the world was young and full of wonder, and though Glorfindel had told the boys of the glory of the Day before days, there was no-one left, but him, who could tell them of the Night.
"You are a thousand miles away," said Celebrian, pausing by his elbow as she came out of the main door onto the terrace beside him. She wore a simple russet dress, and a crown that seemed made of ivy and red berries, but when he looked closer proved to be rubies and gem inlayed gold.
"A thousand miles away and ten thousand years ago," he said, with minimal accuracy, "Yet still here, on this earth, under this sky."
"You're not having a mystic moment, are you?" his daughter narrowed her eyes, "I thought that was Nana's field, and Elrond's. You and I are supposed to be the anchors for their ships of being, not to drift with them."
"Your mother is not here," Celeborn was amused. "So I can drift as much as I like. And speaking of what ought to be, what is that?"
Taking the ivy wreath off, Celebrian looked at it with a proud, protective eye. "The Mirdain noticed that I made a new wreath each year, when the leaves fell, and that by the end of a night's dancing it would always be wilted and dying. It worried them. So I asked them to make me this one, which would be forever fresh."
"Thus defeating the purpose of wearing it at all."
She laughed, and pinned it back on, deftly. "The symbol is the same." Leaping up onto the balustrade, she balanced there with one hand on his shoulder, the other stretched high to wave to Elrond who sat by one of the fires. The Peredhel looked up and smiled like quicksilver, still disbelieving his fortune at the sight of her. "This wreath too will fade and fall. It will just take a little longer."
"And will it too be renewed in the spring, when life comes again?"
"It will if I have anything to say about it!" Celebrian jumped down, pranced a quick ring around her father, celebrating having scored a point. He laughed, not pointing out that the assumption of ones own permanence was as false as the quest for leaves that did not wither. This was too fine a night for such thoughts.
On the raised terrace of one of Rivendell's wider strips of meadow, Elrond sat. Chairs had been brought out for him and for his family, but his household sat on spread blankets around him - Glorfindel of Gondolin prominent among them. There too was Erestor of the Lambengolmor of Ost-in-Edhil, who had taken Celebrimbor's part during the revolt in Eregion, claiming that a Noldor city needed a Noldor lord. How galling it must be for him, Celeborn thought, nodding as he passed, to have to defer to me still. He was not above feeling a certain malicious satisfaction in the fact.
"Adar," Elrond rose to greet him with a formality which reminded him of the straight backed arrogance of the youth he had first seen in Eonwe's encampment, when the world teetered, poised between end and new beginning. In those days the perfection had both covered and inspired fear. Elrond's courtesy, Celeborn thought to himself, came from the kinslayers; the only rein they had upon natures ever likely to burst forth in devouring flame.
But he had liked that proud, undaunted youth, and liked him still now pride was tempered with long wisdom. "My son, it is good to see you once more."
"You must forgive me for not greeting you earlier, I was..."
"Out, I know. Your children informed me it was my own fault for riding in the dark like an orc and thus arriving a day too early."
At the comment, Elrond softened, smiling, "Your grandsons do seem to have inherited your manners."
Aptly, Besdanel, the boys' nurse, chose that moment to bring Elladan and Elrohir out from the house to sit with their parents. After the chestnut-roasting and limb walking of the morning, the twins had been washed within an inch of their lives. Their round faces gleamed and their unruly hair was straightened with many clips to lie in almost elvish smoothness down their backs. Their festival tunics were so thick with embroidery they might have served for armour.
"And they are all the better for it." Celeborn turned to give the boys a hug, but remembered in time that they had first to show their respects to their father. Elladan's mouth twisted slightly with reluctance as he bowed. Elrohir's reverence too would have been better if he could have kept his gaze on his feet rather than looking out, sly, sideways, towards the fires and the singing, and the many contests of speed and skill which had already begun all over the valley.
"It is a grandparent's privilege to think so," said Elrond wryly, and caught both boys by the wrists as they turned to sit down. "Little Ones, one day you will go before great kings of Men and Elves, who will look at you and judge, from what you do, not only you, but your House and all your ancestors back into legends. It is a small matter to bow properly, but it can make a big difference. Do it again."
The twins' faces took on near identical looks of rebellion. They glanced at Celeborn for support. For a moment the light fell on them just so, and he saw Dior again, trying to play him off against his mother, claiming that he should not have to do this or that because he was no elf, and their laws did not apply to him. He smiled, but - realizing that could be taken, wrongly, as encouragement - turned aside to sit down next to Celebrian. They came to him later, looking discontent, and he felt he lacked something as a co-conspirator. His own grandfather had been a wilder influence, though sooner gone.
Now Elladan sat on his foot, the small bones of his seat uncomfortably sharp. Elrohir tucked a yellow chestnut leaf into the side of his mother's circlet, where it stood up, bedraggled, looking less real than the exquisitely crafted leaves of metal. Celebrian smiled at her son, but carried on talking to Besdanel about the need to set up Imladris' looms to make muslin for bandages and bedsheets. On Celeborn's left, Glorfindel and Elrond spoke softly as the castellan brought his Lord up to date on what had occurred since he had been away. It seemed Elrond's mission had been to an encampment of the Dunedain, to tend some men so harshly injured they might not be moved down the long, twisting descent to the Homely House.
Elrohir sat on the other foot, then pushed his brother off and claimed both, only to be shoved face down into the soft damp turf when Elladan retaliated. Before it could escalate into full blown war, Celeborn pushed his chair away and knelt down between them both, one in the crook of each arm. They were bored. He could hardly blame them - he was bored himself, having left Lorien to take a breath above the sea of endless trivial details that Lordship seemed to entail. He had no desire to learn the intricacies of Imladris' trading deficit, or the details of its broken guttering. Celebrian had still enough life in her to run along Rivendell's balustrades when she thought no one important was looking, why could Elrond not celebrate sometimes, like his subjects, and leave off rule for a night?
"Look over there," he said, untangling Elladan's fist from Elrohir's hair and pointing to one of the further fires, where a group of woodelves danced. They bore sticks in their hands that might represent spears; circling, coming together in mock battle, challenging each other to leap over the swing of wood. "Do you remember I was telling you about the Green Folk? You wondered what important things they had done. Well, that dance is one of theirs."
"Dancing is stupid," Elrohir rubbed his head, wearing the scowl of a child who had looked forward to a festival night, only to find it meant extra formality and less enjoyment - the wages of high birth. Now he clearly intended to take his discontent out on everyone else - a privilege of the same, which ought to be discouraged. "I meant important like building Gondolin, or making the Silmarils. Not just twirling round in a field."
Here too, Celeborn thought sadly, the twins had been defrauded of their heritage. A Lindar child, with the evolved tradition, the ancient expressive language of dance drummed into him from birth, would never have spoken so disparagingly. "You have plainly been taught that the only deeds of worth lie in making things."
One of the servants brought him spiced mead, and slices of apple dipped in berry sauce for the elflings. With their hands cupped around bowls of sweet fruit they were less inclined to fight and more to listen.
"Yet you have surely heard how Luthien defeated Morgoth with a dance," he said, while the boys sweetened their mood by eating. "The tale always tells of her beauty, and never of her art, but she was to dance what Feanor was to smithcraft. Daeron silenced a whole country with music - the birds would not chatter, nor the streams chuckle. The wind held its breath, when he commanded it, and leaves fell noiseless as owl-feathers. Nor was it with a blade that Sauron and Finrod duelled, but in song. Works of the hand can be wondrous indeed, but there are other crafts of equal worth, and you make yourself the poorer by disdaining them."
At the end of this lecture, Elrohir sighed, and Elladan sighed in echo. "Everyone is cross tonight," Elrohir explained. "Besdanel said we were a nuisance, just because we didn't want to wear the scratchy tunics - it gives me grazes, look!" He hauled the gorgeously embroidered material up to display a completely unabraded white stomach, and then hoiked it down fast, giving Glorfindel an accusing look when the advisor reached over to tickle. "And Ada told us off about our bow - why do we have to bow to our own father? He's our Ada! And Nana's talking about winter stores, and you're cross too!"
Celeborn laughed, "You have to bow to your father," he said, "because in addition to being your father he is also your Lord. You know that. But I am not cross. In truth, I am tempted to take you over to the wood-elves' fire and teach you some of the simpler steps, so you can join your people in rejoicing. It would please them too, I have no doubt."
"Yes please!" Two small voices were raised as one, and mother first, then father went down beneath the onslaught of their enthusiasm. So Celeborn took the boys out from the decorous, lamplit circle of lords and advisors, over the ford and into the wavering light of the farther shore, where the circle of woodelves were only just beginning to drive themselves into the long, disciplined delirium of a night's dancing.
Here there were no lanterns, and the darkness was full of fluid shadows. Bonfire flames made the trees seem to move, to spin, to lean down and gaze with eyeless regard on the elves beneath them. The dancers wheeled into stillness, and many faces were turned, speculatively, on the sons of Elrond. The music faltered, dying, and Celeborn understood that he had misjudged. This dance was not for lords but for commoners. Not for Noldor elves, but for Silvan. He was trespassing over a barrier that both sides would rather keep in place, to retain the essence of their own identity.
Confronted by this wall of firelit stillness; gleaming eyes, closed mouths, the boys shrank to his side. In the daylight these elves were servants - rope-makers and cobblers, grooms in the stable-block, cooks in the great kitchen. Familiar and reassuring presence's. But here, they had taken off those personalities as they had taken off their tunics, painted their bare skin with strange symbols. Well known faces, hardly registered behind brooms or trays, had become strangers, united by something Elladan and Elrohir had no part in. With a child's hand in each of his, Celeborn could feel the thrill of danger go through both boys as their own valley became alien to them, and he was proud, immensely proud, when they straightened their backs, lifting their heads to smile at the revellers in courageous trust.
"My Lord?" The flute player rose from her tree stump with the dignity of a queen, doubt in her eyes. By day her name was Glisirê, a laundry-maid, but here she was revealed as a woman of great importance, keeper of the musical traditions of her people.
"I have brought my grandsons to learn a new craft," said Celeborn, mildly, but with no suggestion of hesitance. He had the right to be here, and he intended to make sure they all knew it.
She frowned. "Why should the heirs of Turgon learn the dances of Ossiriand?"
"Why should the descendants of Denethor be denied them?"
Elrohir pulled at his sleeve and he looked down into the boy's earnest, worried face. "Daerada, if it's a private thing... Father says that everyone has something too special to share. He says you can't make them share it if they don't want to."
"But this belongs to you," Celeborn was growing annoyed. "As your birthright." He looked up, accusingly, at those who perpetrated ancient divisions even in the house of Elrond. They thought themselves so pure, did they? Well, he would break their ancient grudges using even older loyalties. "Or is the king's name no longer honoured among the people of Denweg?"
"I honour it." The circle parted for a lithe but ancient elf - slight and slender, with a face painted blue and gold as a kingfisher. There were plumes in the long sable flood of his hair, and his bare arms and chest were painted with them. Celeborn saw him with two sets of eyes; one that noticed the tattoo on his face that marked him for a bard and loremaster, appreciated the fine delicacy of his drawings, understood that here stood not only a man, but a representation of swiftly-striking, sudden, glorious skill. And the second, which saw a painted savage bedecked with feathers.
It troubled him that he saw the second at all. I have been too long among my wife's people, too rarely among my own.
"I am Heklo," said the dancer, "who came with the king into Beleriand when the world was full of wolves. I remember Aran Thingol greeting Denethor King with open arms, - pouring the land of seven rivers into his hands as a lesser man might have poured out a cup of wine. I remember you, standing beside him, Kundu nin. And I recall that you came with us to our new homeland, and learned from us for five hundred years."
"I did." Celeborn was conscious that Elladan and Elrohir were braced still either to flee or to fight. He hated to see them thus afraid, but there was more here than history. If he could make the woodelves understand that these two were also their princes, then the boys would be the more passionately protected, and would have the more solid alliances once they were grown. "I remember you too." A skinny youth, little more than a child; a waif taken in by the Nandor's chief loremaster. "And your master Orodben. You say that Elu welcomed Denethor as his kinsman. Can it be that you - a bard of the Lindar people - do not know exactly how close a kinship there lay between us?"
The other dancers had now abandoned any pretence that they were not watching, and drawn around him, and he felt for a moment another jolt of dislocation, seeing himself, silver haired among their dark, ridiculously tall, over elaborately dressed, and the boys in their ostentatious embroidery, with the strange gleam of distilled Maia power behind their moonlit eyes. In truth no gulf separated him from Heklo, but by the Valar, it certainly looked that way.
The kingfisher closed eyes painted blue, and his lips moved as he recounted memorized genealogy to himself. "Your mother was Denweg's daughter," he said at last, astonished.
"Yes," Celeborn agreed. "And that is why I joined Denethor in Ossiriand for a time - to learn the customs of my mother's people. Thus I now desire my grandsons to do the same, lest they forget that their blood goes back into darkness, as well as into the light."
"Daerada?" Elladan had at last shaken off the awe of finding himself surrounded by servants become strangers; the terrible realization that he was no longer even close to being the centre of their lives, that they had allegiances and honours of their own. He pulled his hand from Celeborn's and picked up one of the ochre-red 'spears'. "Can we dance now?"
And whether it was Heklo's acceptance of their lineage, or just the common elvish delight in children, the tension burst into tolerant smiles. One of the dancers leaned over to correct Elladan's grip on the wood and ruffle his hair, making the clips on the ends clink together, snorting in gentle derision at the sound. Seizing the tide, Celeborn picked up a small earthenware pot of white chalk, and signalled to the boys to sit down. Heklo followed suit, and slowly the whole circle of onlookers settled around them; curious still, but no longer unwelcoming.
"You can be a fish, Elladan. Take off your tunic and I'll paint your scales."
But Elrohir had inherited his father's desire to understand; his sharp awareness of the pressures of history. "Wait," he said. "What was that all about? Who's Denethor, who's Denweg, and what have they to do with us?"
"I don't get to use the spear?" Elladan clutched the mock weapon with a scowl, and spoke louder, drowning his brother out. How they could both speak at once and both expect an answer, Celeborn did not know. Thankful that his own experience of parenting had been more normal - for Amroth had been a man grown before Celebrian was born, and both had received their parents' full attention, without having to fight for it - he shook his head, exasperated.
"Whoever heard of a fish with a spear?" he answered the easier question first. "You represent the life-giving kindness of water, and the power of its protection. But also the fish represents thoughts - subtle, darting, sometimes hidden, sometimes flashing out unexpectedly, but always there under the surface. When the dance is danced well, our thoughts become one with the water - so it's important to remember how much you love the purity, coolness and freshness of the streams of Rivendell. Then the dance will turn your wishes into reality, and the brooks of Imladris will be blessed by it."
"It alters the world?" said Elladan, taken aback.
"Did I not tell you that dance and song are to the Lindar what smithcraft is to the Noldor? Did you not wonder how Thranduil keeps the darkness from his realm, where there are no High Elves at all? It is not only by his warriors. We Singers are not without our own arts, though those who write books do not recognize them for what they are."
"I'm not sure I should, then," Elladan balked at the responsibility, though his hands were at his throat, working free the metal latches that held his collar closed. "What if I get it wrong?"
"You will not, khina." Unexpectedly, Glisirê broke in. "Not if you begin thus - conscious of the importance of what you do. There is no mistake you could make which would outweigh the good of your youth and innocence and high heart. If you love the valley, it will know and rejoice, even if you miss a few steps."
"Only if you laughed for scorn in your heart," said Heklo, "would you do harm. We are kwendi, and what our intention is - that is what comes to pass through our art, whether we are Ngolodo or Lindai."
"Daerada?" Elrohir had had enough of being patient. "What about Denethor?"
"I was coming to that." Celeborn laughed. Someone put down a horse-hair brush and a cup of water by his side. He mixed some with the chalk to make a paint the colour of snow. "Where did we get to this afternoon?"
"King Elwë had been found, and he married Melian the Maia. They made the kingdom of Doriath." said Elladan, slightly muffled as he pulled the scratchy tunic over his head. "Which is where you lived, with Luthien and Daeron. You said there were battles, but didn't tell us about any."
"Well then, I'll tell you about a battle now. But first," he held up a hand to silence Elrohir's protest, "I'll tell you about Denweg and Denethor."
Picking up the fine brush, he breathed in, allowed himself to become aware of the song of Rivendell all about him, from stars to the lowliest worm that wriggled in the soil. Darkness was above, and firelight enclosed the circle of listeners in a moment timeless as love or fate. It could have been any year, any place from Cuivienen onwards. Letting that music, ancient and beloved, move his hand, he traced the first half circle of shining, moonbright paint on Elladan's shoulder, changing him from a boy into an idea. "Do you remember I told you that when the host of the Teleri - that we call the Lindar - answered Orome's call and began to travel to Valinor, some could not bring themselves to leave this world? They could not bear to let it suffer unguarded through Morgoth's wrath."
"That's right. They were the woodelves, you said."
"Well," Celeborn laid a hand on Elladan's head to stop him from turning about to see what he looked like, "the largest of those companies was lead by Denweg - the Noldor know him as Lenwë. The host of the Teleri had stopped in the valley of Anduin, partly because we loved the river, and the forest there was deep and old and sang with many voices to us, but also because Oromë had gone forward with the Vanyar and Noldor, and without him it was well nigh impossible to take such a hoard of people - with tents and horses and newborn babies and mothers heavy with child - over the peaks of the Misty Mountains. They were higher in those days - the rain and weather has much worn them down since.
"So we stayed there for some time, and grew to love it. Lorien is part of that ancient forest of old - though a small part, much reduced in glory. Fangorn and Greenwood too, for that matter.
"Well," he finished the scales on one side, and turned Elladan around to paint the other. "When Orome returned and urged us to go forward again, there were many who were heartbroken; who wanted no part of a paradise that did not contain such trees, such rivers - Anduin and Nimrodel and Celebrant and all their laughing tributaries. Denweg stood up and argued with Oromë face to face - a little, short man, slight as a runner - taking on a Vala without fear. The host watched, standing in a great circle, sitting in the beeches under the stars, until one by one, many by many, folk began to come out from among the crowd and stand by Denweg.
He had thought he was alone, but when he turned, dazzled, rubbing his eyes to accustom them to the dark after looking at Orome's face, he found himself surrounded by a multitude. 'Will we stay?' he said, and they said, with one voice 'Yes'."
Celeborn laughed lightly, marvelling. He had been born a prince, with little choice but to lead. He doubted very much if he would ever have earned that right, as Denweg had. "So, because he had spoken for them, stood up to a Vala for them, they took him for their king, and they stayed. But there was great grief in that parting. Many families divided - one brother deciding to stay, one to go, parents leaving behind children, ancient friendships severed.
"Denweg's firstborn son, Denethor, stayed with him. But his daughter Nimwen had fallen in love with Galadhon - my father - and he with her. She chose to leave her family behind and go with her love, but the parting was hard. Then Elu embraced Denweg and gave him his blessing, and the Sindar, the Eluwaith, climbed the Hithaeglir and left them behind. Yet - so my grandfather told me - we wept as we went, and that sorrow was more of a trial to us than any of the mountains Morgoth had put in our path."
Elrohir, frowning as he listened, put his fingers in the pot of paint and began to give his brother a line of speckles down the flank. Heklo and Celeborn exchanged glances, pleased. It seemed Elladan would not be any old fish, but a spotted rainbow trout. Elladan squeaked at the tickle, and then fell silent, looking at his gleaming skin in wonder.
"Will you be a fish, little lord?" said Glisirê to Elrohir, and at his nod of gratitude indicated that he should take off his tunic and kneel down to be decorated too.
"That's sad," he said. "Great-grandma never saw her father again?"
"No. No, she never did."
Perhaps, Celeborn thought, sorrowfully, it had been the beginning of an unfortunate family tradition. As Nimwen to Denweg, so Luthien to Elu, and Elwing to Dior. He was glad to see that - like her wreath - it was a tradition Celebrian seemed to have abandoned. Shaking the feeling off, he held Elladan's hair out of the way, painting a fish's eye on the boy's cheek. Elrohir laughed with delight at the sight - being glared at by a fish the size of himself, and the mournful mood was broken.
"So Denweg's people filled the forests about the Anduin," he went on. "The Noldor called them the 'Nandor'. It means 'those who go back on their decision'. Unsurprisingly, they prefer to be known by the name they called themselves; the Silvan elves. Elu's people came on into Beleriand - as I've told you - and settled in Doriath."
He took the clips from the ends of Elladan's hair - for again, who ever heard of a fish that clattered when it moved? "That's all I can tell you about Denweg. To hear more of his deeds you will have to ask Heklo here, for in Beleriand the Silvan elves passed out of our knowledge, though not out of our hearts.
"Many years passed, and they were good years for the Eluwaith - Cirdan built his havens and became friends with Osse and Ulmo. Melian taught us much, and Orome would ride like a storm through the starlit woods - all shadow and lightning and noise. We met the Dwarves, who taught us how to shape metal and cut stone. We taught them how to write and make music. We gave them pearls from the sea, they gave us coal from their mountains, and we thought them our friends."
He paused, feeling the edges of the brush digging into his fingers. Without thought, unknown to him, both his hands had clenched into fists. Easing the fingers apart, he bowed his head a moment, letting his hair slide forward and curtain his face. Let not the children see the ugliness of his rage.
"Elsewhere in Middle-earth," he said at last, conquering the anger his careless phrase had called up in him, "things had not gone so well. Though Morgoth was imprisoned in Valinor, Sauron was at large, and Morgoth's creatures answered to Gorthaur the Torturer as they would to their dread master. In the darkness of eternal night, there came the first orcs; cold creatures and shadow beasts; Wargs and werewolves and flitting shapes of horror; bats the size of men, who drank blood, and would sometimes walk in the shapes of elleth, so that - greeting one - you would not know, until too late, it was a monster in a woman's guise.
"When these fell things came creeping, then flooding into Beleriand, the Sindar were ready for them. We had forged swords and axes. The dwarves were a quarrelsome people who fought among themselves long ere they met us. It was from them therefore, that we learned the arts of war, and we have ever been known as the Axe-elves since. When Sauron's wolves and vampires came against us we drove them back, we smote them down, and they fled before us. All Beleriand we defended, and everything beyond the Ered Luin was free of them. A child might wander singing, defenceless, through every glen in that starlit country, and still be safe."
There were stories of that ancient struggle that it might be well to recall, Celeborn thought. If only to drive home the point that the Noldor were not the only elves ever to set themselves against evil - not the only heroes, not the only warriors. But - recalling some of those shapes, he knew it would be years before he would pollute the darkness of the boy's dreams with them. Some stories were best told under sunlight, lest their horror infect the night.
"Now, because folk were free, full of wonder and desire for adventure, every so often a grey-elf would leave Beleriand to explore the wild world, or a wood-elf would cross the mountains to see for himself the lands beyond; the Great Sea. In this way the rumour of Elu's rule - the prosperity and peace of his people - spread back to Denweg and his son.
"The Silvan elves had multiplied, becoming a great people. But their weapons were of stone, their bows fit for hunting not for war. Though their lore was deep in matters of herbs and growing things, in water and rivers, birds and beasts, against Sauron they did not know what to do. So Denethor - hearing that Beleriand was free of peril - stood up before his father and told his people that he would lead them West. Not to leave Middle-earth, but to reunite with their king of old, placing themselves under his protection."
Celeborn sat back on his heels, looking at the two boys; half naked, painted, with their mannish hair already springing into rough curls from the dew of the night, their golden hair-clips spilled in piles on courtly clothes lying bunched in the tree roots. What would his daughter, his son in law, have to say about this?! He could not help smiling at the thought.
"Go, dance. I'll tell you more when you return."
Relaxing, he watched the twins walk away, gingerly, as though they did not own their own bodies. It was so clear the knowledge was there in them, under the surface. How could it be otherwise in Luthien's descendants?
Heklo showed them the small movements of hands - the brushing, graceful curves of the feet, and the arching, twisting motion of the body. The simplest of the dances - which was why Celeborn had chosen it for them - it still kept them deep in concentration for well on three hours, while he looked on, sipping his mead, feeling the stars move overhead. Half way through, Glisirê rose to join in, handing him the flute in what might have been a test.
He played slowly for a while. But, seeing Elrohir already supple and confident among the waving lines of woodelves, Elladan's growing impatience, he brought the tempo up to time. Then time and a half, then double time. It was very hard not to laugh when the woodelves sped to meet his music, but the boys fell out, their feet confused, their eyes welling with joy and wonder.
"Daerada!" Elladan began, in reproach. Excited and charged with energy, Elrohir butted in; "I felt it! I felt something - like the water was dancing me, like I was the river. Oh, Daerada, you don't know... I felt the Bruinen. I felt... and it's so beautiful."
"I do know, Daerion," Celeborn stroked back Elrohir's tangled black tresses, smiling fondly on the look of exultation, "I danced Esgalduin when I was younger than you. Now I hold Anduin in my heart, and every tree of Lorien. I do know. Everyone here knows."
"Are you going to tell us about the battle now?" Elladan slumped into a boneless, red faced sprawl next to his grandfather. In this as in all things, he was tenacious, unrelenting. "Can I have a drink?"
"Didn't you feel it?" asked Elrohir, half sympathetic that his brother should have missed something so wonderful, half gloating that he had done better than his twin.
"'Course I did," Elladan answered with scorn, and then faltered, looking away. "I just don't want to talk about it yet. Anyway, I want to hear about Denethor. Was his father very sad when he went away? Did he go with him? What happened to the monsters?"
A very large jug of cider lay by the paints, but even watered Celeborn would not have given it to the children. Seeing him looking, one of the dancers sped over to another fire further up the side of the valley, returning with a pitcher of goat's milk. With an embarrassed duck of the head, she handed it to him, slipping back into the shadows immediately after. It was as though she had appeared out of starlight, and faded into cloud; a very Laegrim thing. He smiled in thanks, poured the milk into cups, passed them to the boys to drink.
"I do not know whether Denweg was sad. I would have been. For Denweg stayed, and half of his folk stayed with him - the Silvan elves of Mirkwood and Lorien. He said goodbye to his son forever on that day. Denethor never came back."
Elrohir's face fell at the news of another dismal parting. In response Celeborn moved on swiftly to a more pleasant part of the tale.
"But I cannot tell you of Denweg's grief. As a Sinda, I can only say how the border guards ran into Menegroth with beaming faces, and folk poured out of the thousand caves, running to greet the travellers, when Denethor arrived in Beleriand with his people. The Thousand Caves and the forests of Region were full of elves embracing and laughing and crying in pleasure as their families came together again after millenia of absence.
"When they had disentangled themselves from their welcomers, Denethor himself came before Thingol. Elu - who was passionate in everything that he did, in anger or bliss - leapt off the dais, threw his arms about him and hugged him, he too weeping for joy."
Remembering that moment, Celeborn laughed, pleased to see the boys happy again. Elladan had slumped against him, and Elrohir lay with his head propped against his brother's stomach. Fierce warrior Elladan had a fine goat's milk moustache. "It was a funny sight," he said, earning a look of disapproval by leaning down to wipe the child's mouth. "For Elu was the tallest of all the Children of Iluvatar. He wore a robe of heavy indigo silk, and a mantle of silver-grey velvet. His hair was long and bright. A light shone in his face, and his splendour seemed to fill the halls. But Denethor was slight and willowy as his father, dark of hair and eye. He wore breeches of doe-skin. His bare chest and face were tattooed with the shapes of leaves, so that the eye was confused by the pattern, and even in tapestry-hung halls he could disappear, simply by standing still.
"So unalike they looked, yet they were kin, and in both their eyes there was the heaviness, the responsibility, the pride of lordship. Though we had been so long apart our languages had changed, and we could barely follow each other's speech, still Elu and Denethor understood one another at once. They were both kings."
Elrohir wriggled up into a sitting position again and frowned. "'Tattooed'?"
"Like this," said Heklo, putting a finger on the intricate knot of his loremaster's mark, dark on his brow. "The ink goes into the skin. The body remembers it, nor will it wash off." He smiled at the boys' fascination, bowing his head so two small hands could touch the stain, test for themselves whether it would rub away. "Denethor's design showed he was lord not only of elves but of the forest. Mine tells you I have been taught all the songs and stories of my people, and I bear in memory their families, their lines, their kinships, their crafts and their laws."
"You're like a library!" said Elrohir in awe. "Adar has his books, but the woodelves have you?"
"That's exactly it," Celeborn agreed, pleased by his grandson's insight. "Do you remember me telling you how much I wanted to find Daeron again? In great part, that was because he was my friend, of course. Yet Daeron was also the chief loremaster of the Sindar. When he was lost, much of our history was lost with him, as though one of the great librarys of the Noldor had been burnt, all its knowledge reduced to ash. A loss beyond weeping, irreplaceable."
Now both the boys were looking at his forehead, disappointed to find it bare. "You're not a loremaster, Daerada?"
He grinned, "No. I learned only the tales all our children learned. I was trained to be a prince - the councillor and right hand of a king. Warfare and justice, rule and loyalty, these I was taught, not lore."
"So you don't have any marks?" Elladan looked so downcast that Celeborn sighed, unbuckled his belt, and pulled his tunic off. When all three of them gazed at him in frowning puzzlement it occurred to him that he was sitting in shadow. Getting up, he moved into starlight. The moon had just peeked over the edge of the valley, and mingled radiance gathered on his side, glimmering in the lines that traced across his ribs. Gradually there shone out from his skin the design of a tree surrounded by stars - every line shimmering silver, faint at first, brightening to bold, graceful strokes.
Returning, he sat down and covered the shining design with his shirt, embarrassed. "I had it done in Ost-in-Edhil. Using ithildin - which reflects moon and starlight - rather than ink. I thought to show that the arts of the Noldor and those of the Ennorim could be combined, and something... interesting, something good could result." Shaking his head, he laughed at his own folly. "In fact Noldor and Silvan were united in disapproval, feeling that I had tainted both their traditions. Nobody liked it but me."
"It's your name," said Heklo, who was old enough to remember the emblems the nobles of Doriath had used to represent themselves before the invention of writing.
"Yes," Celeborn smiled around ancient bitterness. "I had lost Beleriand and Eriador by then. My own name seemed the only thing I could be certain of keeping. And keep it I have, for it persists - a mistake half as old as I."
"Did it hurt?" asked Elladan in rather bloodthirsty pleasure.
"Yes it did." Unsubtly changing the subject, Celeborn loosened Elladan's hands from the edge of his tunic - the boy was trying to see if the design was completely invisible in firelight, or if there were scars. He had to tickle his grandson until the heap of elfling was too incoherent to maintain a grip. Then - because it was only fair - he had to do the same to Elrohir. Snatching the opportunity while they were both curled into giggling balls, he laced the offending garment back up again and tried to regain his dignity.
"Where were we? Oh yes. Denethor came to Doriath. Now, some of the Sindar thought that Thingol might insist Denethor's folk should be merged with ours. Where was the need for two kings? Surely Denethor should step down.
"But Elu himself was not so mean spirited. He could see the love between Denethor and his people, nor would he stand in its way. So, remembering how delighted the Silvan elves had been with Anduin - how much they adored the waters - Elu gave them the Land of Seven Rivers; Ossiriand, to rule as their own. And in Ossiriand they had peace for many long years. There, because the forests were rich with every kind of nut and berry, fruit and leaf, they gave up hunting, and wore skins no more.
"What about the battle? You said there was a battle."
Deciding not to enlarge on the relations between the Laegrim and Doriath; the food they sent in trade for metal weapons, their unhappiness at the coming of Men, Celeborn finally yielded to Elladan's badgering. Perhaps it was time to finish the story, ere Glorfindel was sent to bring them all back to civilization. Pouring out a cup of the cider, he leaned back against a nearby tree. Recognizing the posture, the boys scrambled into positions where they could rest against him; Elrohir in the crook of his left arm, Elladan pinning his legs down in a sprawl he did not believe could possibly be comfortable. White paint rubbed off them both onto his pale grey clothes, making him mottled as a cloud.
"I suppose the first warning we had," he said, "was when the earth shook, and the forest trembled at the sound of a great cry - a cry of rage and triumph in the voice of an evil god. Those who heard it turned white as wax and stopped their ears, their hearts stilling, their blood freezing within them. It ended, and nothing seemed to have changed, but that we knew our hour of doom could not be long delayed, and the night - which had been full of peace and pride - darkened with an edge of despair. We waited, our breath held, for some unknown terror to show itself.
"It was but a short time after, that a shadow - no, more than shadow, for shadow is but the absence of light - a thick pressure of darkness, a smoke of darkness, came down from the North into the mountains of Dorthonion. Folk said there were eyes in it and moving, chitinous legs, and hunger. We learned later that it was Ungoliant - the spider monster who had devoured the light of Aman, whom even Morgoth feared. But Melian put forth her will, driving Ungoliant from Doriath. She fled the Queen of the Sindar, going into the waste places of the mountains and filling them with her brood, with the heavy oil and horror of her unlight.
"Then Morgoth returned to the Iron Prison of his stronghold. From the top of the great beech tree of Menegroth, one could stand and look out and see the tiny tongues of fire over the fortress of the Great Enemy; the fume gathering about him, cutting out the stars. Implacable, impenetrable, unstoppable darkness, more dreadful than death."
In his embrace, the boys had gone very still, picking up, from the elvish craft of his tale-telling a sight of the great piled misery of the towers of Thangorodrim, whose shapes were a torment, whose weight made the very earth groan. He cursed himself for forgetting he recounted this to children, and moved the focus from the threat to the heroes who would meet it.
"From Angband, Morgoth's power went out, and the orcs and monsters stirred all over Middle-earth, coming out of the holes into which they had fled, flowing like a black tide over Beleriand. Doriath awoke in answer and marched out to meet them.
"Elu lead us. In that cursed shadow the King was radiant as Tilion the hunter himself. His armour of steel was overlaid with silver, and his silver hair lay in warrior braids on his shoulders. Before the flame of his eyes the orcs quailed, and his sword - Aranruth was its name; the king's fury - blazed like a very comet in his wrath. Mablung went beside him - the chief of his household guard, his personal warriors. As dark as the king was fair, strong and secret as a yew tree, Mablung had his whole will set on protecting Elu - and that was well, for the king had no thought of his own safety."
This was better, for now the boys were sitting up straight, their eyes shining, the vileness of evil forgotten in the glory of their distant ancestor. "But what about you?" said Elrohir, squirming round to look in his face, "why weren't you next to King Elwë?"
"Because I was a prince, not a bodyguard." It would have been better for the story, Celeborn agreed, if he could have stood beside Thingol in Mablung's place, but sadly there were places where the needs of story and those of reality diverged. "I commanded the right flank of the army, with Oropher as my shoulder-companion. Amdir commanded the left."
Having successfully cheered the boys, he had no desire to inflict on them the realities of warfare; the way - after the first two or three disembowlments - one became inured to the stench and screams. The fact that the worst thing about fighting for life, for beauty, for your children's future, was the sheer grinding weariness of it. "There were so many of them," he said instead. "We fought... endlessly. For every fifty orcs we slew there were a thousand scrambling over the corpses, fresh, eager to get at us.
"Thingol took his stand on Amon Rudh, Amdir about the crossings of Teiglin, and I in the Fens of Sirion. Our plan was to trap them between our own forces and those of Cirdan, who was to come up from Eglarest in the West. But we had not concieved of the sheer numbers of them!"
He laughed at the memory of despair, brushed the leaf litter away to reveal a patch of damp earth which - for the space of this tale - would be Beleriand. Twigs, laid end to end in a rough circle, defined the borders of Doriath, and a straight stick was the range of mountains to the South, known as the Andram. Amon Rudh an acorn half way down the west side of the circle, just outside the borders, and the fens of Sirion - the narrowest point between the base of the circle and the mountains - was a stroke in the earth which he filled with cider. It lay glimmering briefly, then soaked in, becoming mud. Appropriate enough.
"There were so many it was as though the dust of the earth itself had risen up against us. Cirdan - though he tried with all his strength - could not break through, could not drive them into us, but he himself was driven back."
Pulling out a couple of long hairs, Celeborn lay them, curving, a hand span apart, up the Eastern side of the twig circle that was Doriath.
"These are the rivers Aros and Gelion," he said. "You can see that all of our army, all of this terrible struggle, was taking place to the South-west of our borders. But while we were pinned by one orc force, a second - just as large - marched into the East, filling the land between the two rivers."
He remembered starlight on the fens, the reeds standing up from fallow silver pools. It had been a place of small water fowl and flag lilies, pale mists and the wide gleam of water, where frogs sang and bitterns waded, snake-eyed. But by the end of six months fighting all that was left was filth and corpses.
"I had taken up position there to stop the orcs passing out of the west, over the marshes, and encircling Doriath," he said, more aware now of the irony than he had been at the time. Then he had been too tired even to curse as the distant shore filled up with shrieking shapes of iron; teeth and drums and jeering laughter. "But I was caught in a hard place now - between the western forces and the vanguard of an entirely new enemy. Attacked on two fronts, I could do little but hold my ground between them, and send to beg Elu to come - swiftly."
Elrohir bent down over the little map, while Elladan, who had been too excited for Celeborn's liking by this talk of war, now looked suitably subdued. They could see he had survived, but at least it had occurred to them how easily it could have been otherwise. "What did you do?" he said, quietly, and Elrohir said, "Did the king come?"
"Yes and no," Celeborn smiled. "Thingol could not come. But out of the trees of Region on the left, sailing in birch boats down the rivers to the right, came the elves of Denethor son of Denweg, and they fell on the orcs with the ferocity of Rauros. Then the eastern orcs ceased their attempt at crossing the fens, turning to face this new threat. My own warriors were heartened enough to push through to Thingol's side, and the Sindar regrouped about Amon Rudh."
He found a handful of stones to represent the orc armies of east and west, a couple of chestnut leaves to represent his own force and Thingol's, two handfuls of pine needles for the Denwaith, far North of the other groups of elves. Then he moved one set of stones away west, toward the wiggly line of the sea.
"As we did so our enemy drew away, pursuing Cirdan. Now Cirdan - in his foresight - had built high walls about his havens, and his elves were armoured with the best dwarvish steel - for he had pearls to trade, and the dwarves could not have enough pearls. But Denethor's warriors had, as they always had, light bows, long knives, and nothing more than tunics to protect them from the iron pole-arms of the orcs. I..."
Thinking of it always made his skin creep and his throat tighten against tears. The magnificent bravery, the appalling cost, and the slaughter. "I will never understand how they achieved so much. Can you imagine facing an orc in full armour, with a metal shield and a spear nine feet long - a third of which is blade - and doing it in your shirtsleeves, with nothing but a dagger? They were the best, the bravest elves I have ever known.
"So, as soon as Amdir's forces had joined with ours, rather than pursue Cirdan's opponents we crossed the marshes, falling upon the eastern orcs in a storm of steel, and if Elu had been as moonlight before, now he was lightning, driven with a fury that was half terror, desperate to come to Denethor's aid before his courage became his doom."
At the far end of the stick that represented a line of mountains, Celeborn put down another acorn. "This is the hill of Amon Ereb," he said. "As we fought our way down this narrow tongue of land between the Aros and the Andram, we saw that the orcs had driven a wedge between Denethor and the main force of his army. Closer yet, we could see him, his knights and his champions, at bay on the summit of the green, round hill. Sharp and clear was the sight of him, for the stars flamed with wrath, and I could see, if I raised my head to look over the foe, the pale light sleek the knives he bore."
He drew the dagger out of its sheath at his belt, showing it to the boys. Its hilt was of clear rock crystal, and its blade glimmered with a cold light, as though a chill, clean laughter was in it. "This is one of the pair I had made for him, in thanks for receiving me with so open a heart. When I saw them in use, I blessed every cut."
Resheathing the weapon reverently, he paused to let the wave of grief crest and then break over him. Their round faces serious, Elladan and Elrohir comforted him, patting him as they would have petted one of the kitchen cats. "If sight had been all," he said, ruffling their hair in return, "we would have been there to save him. But though the eye may see unhindered twenty miles distant, it is a different matter to get there through a mass of orcs penned between mountain and river, between Sindar and Silvan blades.
"The songs say that Elu 'slew the foe in heaps', and that is the plain truth. He was unstoppable as an avalanche. Yet for every step we made the orcs made two; a darkness flowing up the slopes of Amon Ereb, where my uncle stood, with his brothers and both his sons, back to back. We raced the darkness, we refused to give up hope, our hearts laboured within us nigh to bursting as we drove forward... but we came too late.
"When we had slain every orc on the mountain we found them, lying together in a little circle just on the hill's crest; Denethor in the centre and his kinsmen lying around him, open eyed, crumpled, where they had fought to their deaths to defend him.
"For a moment the rest of our army drew away, pursuing the dinhorde, and there was Elu, and I, and Mablung standing among the slain, looking at one another, stunned and dumb as beasts - there were no words for this. Elu fell to his knees, keened until his voice was raw. Mablung watched over him with that fathomless patience of his, with undemanding tenderness. And I... just stood, axe trailing in the mud, until the king's lament was done, and he bent his head forwards, covered his face with his hands and wept.
"Then I saw that one of the orcs, slain while it was fleeing, had my knife - my gift - in its claw. A madness possessed me then; to turn over every corpse on that battlefield, to find the other, as though, bringing the pair back together, I could somehow mend what had been broken, as though I could still make things right... But I never did. One of the monsters had stolen it, taken it away for himself, and it lies now beneath the sea, or in an orc horde, drowned deep in defeat."
"That's not fair!" Elladan hit him on the arm, then burst into tears. Elrohir, more gentle perhaps, but also more of a thinker, reached out dry eyed and picked up the acorn with exquisite care, as though he carried the fallen king in his hand.
"No," feeling drained and a little guilty, Celeborn picked his grandson up, cradling him against his chest, head beneath his chin, lashes wet against his throat. "No, but then war is not fair. Neither fair, nor glorious, nor exciting. Eluwaith and Denwaith both went away from that battle thinking 'there must be a better way.'"
"What happened to them?" Elrohir asked, hushed still, while Elladan quietened and lay still, his arms locked tight around his grandfather, as though to shield him from ancient hurts. "Denethor's folk, with so many dead?"
"Both of our peoples found a different way to protect ourselves from Morgoth," said Celeborn, reaching out to let Elrohir too cling to his side. At the gesture Elrohir looked first surprised, then grateful. "Elu spoke with Melian, and she erected a great barrier which no evil creature could pass. That was when our land - which had been known as Eglador - became known as 'Doriath'; 'land of the Fence'. Some of the Denwaith chose to leave Ossiriand and live in the Fenced land with us. But some relied instead on their skills in hiding from any foe, biding concealed in the treetops while the monsters passed below, oblivious. They took to wearing green cloth of nettles, the better to blend with the trees, and because of that we gave them a new name and called them the Laegrim - the Green Elves."
"They never went to war again until Oropher and Amdir asked them to, at the Last Alliance, and for that bravery too they were very poorly rewarded."
"What happened?" Elladan's voice was muffled against his neck. Wriggling out of the embrace Elrond's firstborn gave his brother a warning look, daring him to say anything. His face was white with smudged paint, but beneath it fierce again.
"That's a long story for another time," Celeborn drew a finger through the ruined design and added a spot on the tip of the boy's nose. "For now I should get you clean, ere your father throws me in a cell as a bad influence."
"Do we have to?" Still holding tight to the acorn, Elrohir scowled.
"Do you have to?" Celeborn repeated in a tone of false puzzlement. He sighed, resignedly, "I thought you would like to swim in the river, but I suppose that..."
"I thought you meant a bath!"
Both boys sprang to their feet at once, leaving him to scramble up more slowly, shaking off the feeling of having been pummelled by their small sharp elbows and knees. He expected them to tear away down the slope to the river at once, so he was deeply pleased when Elrohir paused, handing him the acorn as though it was a jewel. "I should like to meet the king of the Silvan elves," he said. "To tell him 'thank you'."
"We no longer have a king." While they spoke, the dance had silently come to an end. Now Heklo stepped into the firelight like a knight of the Laegrim brought back by strange arts to the present. "All Aran Denethor's heirs died with him, and we honoured him too much to take a king who was not of his line. Yet it pleases us to think that his blood runs in you, and is there mingled with all other royalties of Middle-earth."
"May we come back, on other nights?" Elladan drew himself up, suddenly conscious of his nobility, looking - though tangle-haired and shirtless - for the first time like a young prince. His grey eyes were clear and innocent, but wise. "I would like to hear about Denweg and the monsters; to learn some, at least, of the stories you would tell to a Silvan child, honoured Master of Lore."
"And to dance," added Elrohir. "I want to dance more... If you'll have us."
"If your father permits it," Heklo tipped his head to the twins, smiling slightly, "then you will be always welcome among us, Kundu nin. As one of our own."
Released from their spontaneous courtesy, the boys now shed their thick blue velvet trousers and ran laughing into the Bruinen. Ere long they were splashing and wrestling, the paint mixing with mud and shingle. Celeborn picked up the piles of golden clips, rolled them into discarded finery, wondering if he would have to go in himself to make sure they got clean before the chill of the water did them harm. Even now the shallowest pools were glazed with ice, and the boys were less hardy than full elven children.
Heklo stood beside him for a long moment, as they watched together in mutual, thoughtful silence. At last the loremaster smiled - a radiant, mischievous expression which made him look scarcely older than the twins. "Not all blendings of Noldor and Silvan need be an insult to both," he said, smirking as Celeborn reflexively covered the mark on his side with a splayed hand. "I think the latter effort is the more successful, Arata."
"Indeed," Celeborn laughed. Bidding farewell to the dancers with a wave of the hand, he went away to pluck the children from the Bruinen ere they exchanged their white paint for the blue of cold. He owed his daughter an apology, as clearly she thought herself. The glance she gave him when he returned with two wet-haired, overexcited children, only partially clean and obviously intent on dancing for the rest of the night, was vinegar-sharp. Elrond seemed both amused and intrigued, and Glorfindel could be heard promising to demonstrate some of the dances of his mother's Vanyar people, but there were others in the household not so impressed. Ah, but there always were.
"How has it been my lot in life to be embarrassed by my children and my father at the same time?" asked Celebrian, handing him a cup of hot wine. Besdanel hurried the boys inside to sit by the fire, promising them warm milk with honey, and gingerbread.
"It's the natural state of any parent," said Celeborn unrepentantly. "Your offspring and their grandparents will always be in league against you." He lifted a hand to one of the emerald and moonstone leaves of her wreath, looking with a new eye on its astonishing craftsmanship. How could he have disapproved of such a thing? Was he become as narrow minded as those he had always opposed?
"It is beautiful," he said, in response to his daughter's affectionate, quizzical look. "And I am reminded that the blending of two lines may produce a result just as worthy as any one in isolation." Was not Celebrian herself proof of that? He had thought she was breaking something sacred with this application of Noldor art to Silvan ornament, but in truth she was upholding a family tradition which began when Thingol married a Maia, and Luthien a Man. "None of our kin have been afraid of seeing the good in that which is different, nor have we ever had any difficulty in loving it."
"No," she said, understanding the apology for what it was. She leaned in to give him a hug, but her eyes were on Elrond; part elven, part human, some small part Maia, wholly beloved. "Brass is not of less worth than copper, nor the hybrid rose less beautiful than the wild... And you can carry on embarrassing me until the world's end, father, if that is what it takes to remind us of it."
Apologies to language purists. I wanted to use Danian (Nandorin) names and words in this, but couldn't find any, so I've used Primitive Quendian to stand in for Danian.
Kundu nin = my prince
khina = child
Ngolodo = Noldor
kwendi = elves
Lindai = the Singers - the whole Nelyar tribe, of which some became the Teleri of Aman, some became the Sindar, and some became the Silvan elves.
Arata = Exalted/Noble one.
Denwaith = the people of Den, presumably either Denweg *or* Denethor - the Nandor.
Eluwaith = the people of Elu - the Sindar.
Celeborn's Nandorin ancestry is a nod to the fact that, in the Fellowship of the Rings, Galadriel's speech seems to indicate that she came out of the West and found him in his own land of Lorien, which strongly implies that at this point in his conception he was going to be a Nandorin elf of Lorinand.
The details of the Battle of Amon Ereb are my attempt to explain the rather compacted version of the story in the Silmarillion. It might well have happened a different way, but this was the best sense I could make of it.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.