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Horses and Hounds: 1. Horses and Hounds pt. 1
Little had he known that his realm would be one of sanctuary in times of trouble, and it was in such a time that his sister, Galadriel (once named Artanis) came, avoiding the wrath of King Thingol of Doriath.
There was no enmity between Menegroth and Nargothrond; indeed, there was much love and kinship. Thingol’s ire, responding to the discovery of truths hidden, was a mortal thing; Finrod and his kin anticipated a warm welcome soon enough.
It was less than a day from his sister’s arrival, that the golden-haired Noldor lady visited him in his workshop in the recesses of his kingdom. He could sense her entrance easily enough; the force of it sent Naugrim from her path like so many ripples in water. It had always been thus, that every lesser living thing should make way for her, either from worship or fear.
They spoke a time on recent events while he finished the planning of the aqueducts that were to supply the second section of caves, but he knew she did not speak of the one thing that most occupied her mind. His sister had long since dispensed of the lady-like habit of speaking in circles; she was usually very blunt.
“Out with it, Sister,” he said finally. “You have some purpose, coming here in all this state and upsetting my fellow workers. Speak!”
“It concerns Lord Celeborn,” she said.
He raised his brows and said nothing, waiting. He knew Celeborn the Sindar sure enough; he was King Thingol’s counselor, his “Ear.” Of personal speech, they had had none for Celeborn was as quiet as he was wise; some said cold, but Finrod would not judge until he had experience in the matter. He recalled vaguely that the lord was a distant cousin, sharing a forefather’s father to some degree, and that he was much admired among the women, Sindar and Noldor alike, for his long silver hair, blue eyes and exceptional height. A lordly man, as they would say.
“I expect him to visit in future,” she continued. “I have asked it.”
Finrod smiled then, seeing the gist of the conversation. “Truly? Was this the source of your new name, then? Has there been an agreement I have not been privy to?”
“No agreement yet,” she said, “but there are feelings on both sides.”
She loves him, he decided, watching her dispassionate face closely, and noting tardily that she had not answered the first of the two questions. It was somewhat surprising to him; he had long despaired that love could touch his sister, considering how many suitors she had refused on little or no grounds.
“He is an honorable man of good lineage,” he commented, “not so bad a catch as all of that, and if you have relented and let him speak the words with you, I account him brave enough. I would be honored to have him as a guest. I am surprised, though. You have refused men fairer and higher.”
“I care not for that,” she said, although Finrod wondered if that was a lie. His sister was proud and ambitious. A petty lord was not her style at all, and Celeborn had little to recommend him but a tenuous princely connection to the king and a close friendship with Queen Melian.
“Perhaps then he has more to his character than I know,” he said to placate her, though she neither looked affronted nor wroth.
“Perhaps,” she replied, and politely took her leave. The caves seemed to dim at her passing and Finrod had to smile at that. If Celeborn was the one for Galadriel, he would have to have more reserves of inner strength than most, for the lady’s personality could easily overpower those not able to withstand her.
He would take the measure of Celeborn when the time came.
It was almost a month to the day Galadriel had taken up residence that news came to Finrod that Lord Celeborn of Doriath had been sighted riding in from the east, unescorted. There progressed admiring descriptions of his horse and of his manner among the lesser servants who valued such things, and as Finrod made his way to prepare a fitting welcome, it did not escape his notice that several others were doing the same, not all of them women. It was rare that a Sindarin noble entered Nargothrond, and this one was bound to bring news of King Thingol. Also, many of Finrod's people had never seen a "Dark-elf," an Eldar who had never seen the light of the Trees, whose ancestors had never left Middle-earth in the great migration to Valinor.
Somehow, Finrod knew those were only half of the reasons for hurried preparations.
Galadriel descended into the courtyard in a stately glide that had always overawed him and his brothers; her dress was faultless, her hair was shining golden in the sun, and her face was a perfectly detached welcome. He could see immediately that she was inwardly overwrought, but he doubted few could discern it in her manner. He took her hand as she met him on the landing between flights of steps, and descended with her. Lacking his own wife, he had found the last month rather interesting. A sister seemed to fill in those womanly spaces that only a lady might fill in affairs of state and domesticity, even when such a lady was hardly domestic. Galadriel was not the sort of woman who sat all day embroidering pillow-coverings; she had other interests.
An escort had met the lord on the outskirts of Finrod’s lands, and their horses now clattered into the courtyard, dismounting to see to the Sindar arriving behind them.
He had forgotten how different Celeborn looked, among the Sindar, even among Finrod’s golden and not so golden Noldor. He was not dark, nor was he golden as the descendants of Finarfin. He was absolutely silver, from the pale cast of his skin to the shining straight river of his hair, and his dark blue eyes were even more dramatic in contrast with all of that lack of color. He affected clothes that had tints of blue and silver in them, and even his traveling clothes took up this theme, cunningly woven and warm fabrics of soft grays, embroidered lovingly with vines and pale blue leaves, a cloak of a darker gray against which his long hair only seemed brighter. Even his bow and quiver of arrows were worked with silver and ash-colored wood.
The horse, however, was unrelieved black, unadorned except for necessary saddlebags and a very fine bridle. This was the horse that stable hands had been so excited about, and Finrod could see why. It was a filly, very delicate in her bones, and highly spirited, considering the little prancing steps she displayed as Celeborn drew up and stopped. Something quite different from the Noldor hardier breeds.
Finrod glanced at his sister. While everyone seemed to be focused on the dismounting lord, or his horse and gear, Galadriel’s eyes seemed to be trained on the air between them, not focusing too finely on anything in particular.
She was, he could see, afraid to reveal anything among the numbers in the courtyard, or even to her own brother, afraid for her dignity, or even perhaps for the lord’s. She would not run down those remaining steps like any maiden thankful for the sight of her beloved, no. He tightened his fingers around hers, and she started slightly, glancing at him. She could not answer his encouraging smile, but she nodded, and they stepped down the last steps even as Lord Celeborn saw things into the hands of the servants and came forward himself.
They were well matched. Celeborn’s smile was courteous and strangely diffident, and his bow was as courtly as could be. Only his eyes revealed anything, glowing like a patch of clear sky. No, not cold, Finrod judged, just shy and self-contained, not someone who would seek outward fame. He was strangely reminded of his father, Finarfin, and his brother, Orodreth. Knowledge before self; wisdom before glory. Such people were often forgotten by history, despite their noble deeds, and trampled underfoot by those ambitious few who would be remembered.
“Celeborn Lord of Doriath,” he said, “welcome.”
“Indeed, welcome,” Galadriel murmured.
“Many thanks to your generosity,” the lord returned, quite correctly.
“Come, it was a long ride I doubt not, and there is warmth inside. The kitchen has worked a miracle at the news of your visit.”
“It is providence, then, that my appetite is so eager.”
“Would you rather rest a while first, or is it fine with you to go straight to the board?” Galadriel asked as servants relieved him of his cloak in the entryway, careful of his hair that, enviably, fell straight and perfect as if newly combed after such a disturbance.
“I am, to be honest, famished. I took no meal before I left Menegroth, for to do so would be to further delay, and I had already been delayed several times.”
“To the board it is, then,” Finrod replied with cheerful generosity.
The servants waited as they seated themselves in the smaller and more elegant of Nargothrond’s dining halls, Celeborn’s eyes coming to rest on Galadriel amidst the splendors of the hewn caverns as if they did not exist.
Finrod signaled for repast, and spoke to the steward about the wine, leaving a time for the two in his conversational absence. Neither spoke, but apparently something was communicated by their eyes, because when he turned back, both had relaxed somewhat.
“It has finer look than Menegroth,” Celeborn said, glancing about himself, “and has a more practical structure.”
“I have been lucky to learn from Menegroth’s successes,” Finrod managed with false humility, to which Galadriel gave a small laugh.
“Do no be deceived. If you give him a moment’s breath, he will tell you every proud detail, and call in the Naugrim to corroborate.”
Celeborn smiled then, warmly, and Finrod could see why his sister had chosen him, if indeed there was a choice at all. Some things, Thingol would say from experience, were fated to be.
After food and much wine it became clear that their guest was weary from the travels and sleepy from the generous welcome, so he was ushered kindly to his rest. Already there were requests for an audience with the lord, and Finrod had to see that some general meeting could be arranged between the higher lords among his folk and the Sindarin noble. He assumed most of it was wont of news. Hopefully none of them were proposals of marriage or amour, for he would not want any woman or man to have to face Galadriel’s jealous wrath.
Celeborn slept through most of the early evening, waking by habit later in the night. A bath was prepared at his request, but he dismissed the female servants from their duties, noting already that the Noldor seemed to be rather more forward than his own people when it came to their admiration. Even he, who would often misunderstand the looks given him, could not misinterpret the disappointed frowns and pretty sulks at this decision. He kept only two male servants to help with the strange faucets and with the drying of his hair, which was something of a nuisance.
Finrod had managed a system of hot water from underground springs, so it was entirely his fault that Celeborn soaked in the water longer than usual, only to be enticed by the prospects of soft warmed towels and cool mineral water. As he drank and the servants set to drying him, he reviewed his arrival. Galadriel had taken up his vision entirely, for her beauty seemed to have doubled in the month of their separation, but it wasn’t until they had seated themselves for a meal that he had been able to meet her eyes. In them, he had seen anxiety to match his own, and a kind of nervous relief. Finally, the long parting was over.
He had not been idle the past month, and preparing for this visit had been much on his mind despite the duties he was expected to perform in court. He had even been able to importune Celebrimbor to help, trading in many favors for one great creation of the smith’s hands. It had been more than difficult: as a Noldorin, Celebrimbor was not welcome in Doriath, so all arrangement had to be made rather cursorily. Additionally, the smith had not forgotten Galadriel’s refusal, but he was not one to let it effect his appreciation of her beauty, which seemed a higher matter.
Celeborn dressed in his cleaner and more elegant clothes, thanked and gratefully dismissed the attendants, and set out to explore Nargothrond. He was not lacking in willing and helpful guides, for where ever he went, there were people who knew who he was. He was more than once ensnared into conversation that he was polite enough to avert before it stumbled into more familiar subjects. Finally, word must have found its way to Galadriel, because as he toured the night gardens on the west side of the main hall, there too was Galadriel. It seemed the perfect place for such a meeting.
“Are you lost?” she asked with a smile, taking his offered hands.
“Not particularly, or if so, I am a willing vagabond.” How young she looked in the moon and starlight! She wore a thin, long-sleeved dress, not layered as he was used to, and a long embroidered vest over it, picked with silver and pearls. No jewelry adorned her, and her hair was completely unbound, devoid of braids or ornamentation. It seemed to be a sign.
“And do you like Nargothrond?”
“Better to ask if I like what is housed in Nargothrond; I’d rather admire the pearl than the oyster.”
At this she laughed softly, her fingers tightening over his. “How your wit has sharpened in my absence! Whom have you been honing it on?”
“Before he left, Celebrimbor, if you can believe me. I was much in communication with him, in the matter of a project we collaborated on.”
“Oh?” Her eyes lit speculatively. “What sort of project?”
He smiled at such an opportune opening. “This.” Opening the pouch on his belt, he presented her with the pendant, glinting in the moonlight, a polished and clear stone of the deepest and verdant green, set in cunning twistings of silver workmanship in the shape of an eagle. “We debated long and hard on the manner of bird it was to be, and knew it could not be anything less powerful than the greatest of birds.”
She took it with some awe, inspecting the fine detailing, and said in a hushed voice: “This is no mere bauble.”
“This should be an heirloom,” she said.
At his silence she looked up again and miracles of miracles, she colored, because she could see the answer in his eyes.
“I hope it shall be so,” he said quietly. “It is for you.”
“Celeborn,” she breathed, amazed. Their eyes met and held for a long charged moment, which broke when she looked again at the pendant. “Is there a chain?”
“Yes.” Shakily, he pulled out the silver chain and slid the pendant on it for her. She pulled her hair over her shoulder and he carefully clasped it behind her neck, his fingers suddenly awkward at their business.
She turned, touching the pendant to center it. As fair as she was, the silver seemed to glow white against her skin. He smiled, pleased that the gift was well received.
Another silence fell. Finally she took his hand and brought it to the pendant, now warmed from her skin and he found his fingers closing over it, the knuckles brushing the swell of her breast. They both inhaled sharply, eyes wide and meeting again, startled. It suddenly came to mind, the first and last time he had touched her, the kiss they had shared at Menegroth the very day she had left. He had not meant to do it, for he was not the sort of man who insisted on intimacy so soon after declarations had been made, but the time seem to demand it, the very desperation of that parting seemed to need it. Remembering it sent a flash of heat through him.
Her eyes flickered over his face, as if to memorize it, and she seemed to be on the verge of saying some important thing, but at last she merely bent her head and kissed his hand where it lay. It seemed a natural progression for him to turn his hand, cupping the smooth warm cheek, his thumb finding the arch of her cheekbone.
“You deserve things of beauty,” he murmured, half to himself, but her answer was a delight.
“It is meet that I have had the winning of you, then,” she laughed, “for there is none more beautiful. You Sindar do not guard your treasures so well as you should, for I have snatched you from Thingol’s kin and mean to adorn myself with you until the end of my days.”
He could feel his eyes go wide at this audacious pronouncement, but his tongue was already forging ahead. “I think it is the other way around, Lady,” he said. “For I have stolen the prize of the Noldor and mean not to return her.”
“Is that wise?” she asked playfully. “Imagine what my brothers might say to that.”
“Ah, well, some think me wise enough to put one foot before the other, and as for your brothers…”
She was staring over his shoulder, and he turned and found two men approaching them. Although he had only seen them at a distance, he knew them immediately from their stature and the cut of their features. They were Orodreth and Aegnor, sons of Finarfin.
He bowed and they returned the gesture, observing him curiously, then glancing at Galadriel. The eldest of the two, Orodreth, looked much like a dark-haired version of Finrod, but Aegnor seemed to have taken after their Telerin mother, for his hair was like Galadriel's, silver among the gold, and he was a slender tree to Orodreth’s broader frame.
“We have been to Fingolfin,” Orodreth told Galadriel, “taking Thingol’s decrees and delivering news. It is truth that he had pronounced it; in Beleriand, only Sindar shall be spoken and never our tongue again.”
Celeborn had been witness to Thingol’s rash decree, given against his best advice. Something of his thought showed in his face, for Galadriel looked at him.
“What means he by this?” she asked.
“That the slayers of his kin shall not speak their language in his land, only Sindarin. I spoke against it, Lady.”
“Ever the scholar,” she said, and nodded, understanding his desire to preserve the Noldorin Quenya, “but you cannot save the old language any more than we. It is a just punishment.”
But Orodreth made to object. "Some would say we have been punished enough."
“It is just,” she repeated after a hard glance at her brother, “to speak the language of the land that has generously accepted us, despite our sins. Valinor will remember Quenya when it has been forgotten here.”
Her brother sighed and nodded.
“We have also come from Finrod,” Aegnor said then. “There is a gathering in the upper terraces and if you were abroad, that you and the Lord Celeborn should join the host there. He has liberated many old bottles of the rarest grape, and I hope, Lord,” here he nodded to Celeborn, “that you shall not disappoint us. The reputation of Doriath will be upheld by you in this.”
“Then by all means,” Celeborn returned, and motioned that he would follow. Pausing, he offered his hand to Galadriel, and she took it without hesitation, although her brothers looked on the gesture with some amazement, sharing a quick look of growing understanding between themselves.
The upper terraces were constructed at the highest levels of Nargothrond, and had carved lattice ceilings, letting the light of stars and moon filter through stonework shaped as vines, leaves and flowers. Suspended from the lattices were a thousand small lamps in imitation of bright stars, their cunningly wrought glass exteriors colored gold, silver, blue, and red. Celeborn let his awe show as he entered with Galadriel on his arm.
Finrod Felagund, Lord of Nargothrond, sat at the head of one of the great tables in a chair carved with the twining vine-pattern so beloved of the Noldor. He wore a circlet on his golden brow, and on his arms he wore bands of silver twined with gold. In contrast, his raiment was white as with many of the Noldor, a simple elegance that brought to mind less complicated times.
The folk of Nargothrond were gathered here in great number, and many of them were not the golden folk that Celeborn might have predicted. That golden hair did not run true in all Noldor, he surmised, just as Teleri silver did not run true among his own people. Rather such colors sprung up as rare and precious surprises among a folk that were, after all, from the same race as Thingol…dark haired and gray eyed.
A silence settled over the assembled peoples, as Galadriel led him to her brother to pay their respects. Finrod motioned for cups and wine for the new arrivals, an amused eye noting their closeness, before he stood to gather the attention of all.
"We welcome our cousin, Lord Celeborn, kinsman of Elwë, and friend of my sister, the first Sindar to guest here in our halls of Nargothrond. May the stars shine always upon your endeavors."
Celeborn bowed his head humbly at such a welcome, noting Finrod's use of Thingol's oldest name, Elwë, a name that subtly recalled that they all stemmed from the three lords of their people, Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë, and that they were a combined people whose differences were fewer than one supposed.
As music began to play and the assemblage relaxed and began to socialize, Finrod offered the place of honor to his guest. Galadriel sat beside him without hesitation, and Finrod's brows rose at this and at the pendant now resting on the curve of her fair breast.
"Surely this is the craft of my friend, Celebrimbor. Wise is Lord Elwë to harbor such a craftsman, even for a short time,” the lord said, bending his gray gaze upon his sister. “Celebrimbor and I share a love in common…" He smiled at Celeborn. "…the love of craftsmanship. It is not surprising that his grandfather was Fëanor, one of our greatest and most fell." Finrod's bemused expression was half part awed and half part bitter. "Thankfully he has not his father's temper."
"Has he not?" Galadriel murmured.
"Oh, do not hold Celebrimbor's own arrogance against him, Sister," Finrod admonished. "Surely, he resents, but he forgives as well, something his sires could not learn had they ages of tests to endure. Lord Celeborn obviously finds him of use, if I mistake not this gift and its source."
"Yes, Lord, it is his work," the Sindar replied.
"But not his design, if I see true. You bring such a gift to my sister, Lord, and I shall not forget it, for generosity engenders generosity, does it not? I owe much to Doriath already."
Celeborn risked a small glance at Galadriel, whose proud and haughty look told him that this was one woman who would not be considered a reciprocal gift, no matter how much Finrod owed to Thingol. Celeborn restrained an understanding smile.
"Lord, it is merely in homage for beauty that it is given, not in any hope of making Nargothrond indebted to Menegroth."
"So speaks a councilor," Galadriel murmured. "I shall warn you both against each other, that Sindar and Noldor pride may dash themselves athwart the other and reduce all to rubble ere either bows in humility." She cast a stern gray eye in her brother's direction. "Do not sell your sister's pride to salve your own. We will always be indebted, and nothing can erase that debt." She rose, giving Celeborn her hand. "But despite all that we owe to others, it shames me, how soon we Noldor forget."
Finrod had the decency to look chastened. "Scourge me not with your tongue, Sister; I meant no harm in my words."
"Harm need not be meant," she replied with a kinder tone, although the necessary emphasis on the last word would make anyone flinch, even the lord of Nargothrond. "Come, Lord Celeborn, I would have you known to my cousins while the night is young. Brother, we shall return."
The men nodded at each other, twinned and harried looks betraying in an instant who was the true domestic ruler of the moment as she led Celeborn into the crowd.
"You are too stern," he whispered and when she did not reply, slowed himself, forcing her to pay attention to him. "You do not own me enough to tug me about on a tether, Lady. Stay a moment."
Sighing, she stopped and turned. "You know so little of my brother," she said, "if you think his words light."
"I think you have had too many glimpses of what is dark and treacherous that you cannot allow that some things are only as they appear."
Her light eyes studied him, arrested for a moment by his words. "That may be so," she allowed. "But you cannot know…" Her eyes glinted. "…but this is not place for this sort of speech," she concluded. "Please, let me introduce you."
The Noldor were not so different from the Sindar. Although preserving the light of Arda in their eyes and the language of Valinor in their accent, and although Finarfin's descendants were golden beacons, they were indeed one people, gray eyes more than most, long and slender bodies, hair grown to lengths of beauty, the darkest as beautiful as the brightest. The Noldor were famed for their warlike miens, but there was softness here too, among both women and men, and crafts beyond the blade and the bow. Galadriel introduced him to spinners who eagerly promised silver silks to match his hair, metallurgists who wore their talents upon their bodies, musicians and singers who wove power through their hands and voices. There were those who took pleasure in serving, and they were no less noble than those they served. There were the haughty and proud, and there were the merry and light. And although he knew that many of them had crossed the Grinding Ice with Galadriel, he could hardly imagine such fine people suffering, for it hardly marked them, except that he could imagine the bravery.
So intent was he on noting what he saw, that it took longer for him to see that Galadriel's purpose in introducing him was not for his edification at all. She was gathering approval of her choice, rather subtly to be sure, and measuring his ability to travel among people of a different society.
Finally, they returned to the high table when music and mingling subsided and the midnight meal was served. He had the distinct impression he'd been put through his paces with admirable skill, trotted out like a fine hound or stallion. He let that thought lay there for long moments, surprised that he felt no insult in the idea. Many a man might find himself tested thusly, but Celeborn had very little pride in these matters, or maybe very little self-doubt. There was a certain satisfaction in knowing he was worthy of such effort on her part.
He remembered Aegnor’s words, and kept the wine flowing as talk passed from one subject to another. When Finrod’s bard began to perform and the court hushed in attentive politeness, Galadriel leant and said in his ear: “They mean to drink you under the table.”
With as much subtlety, he replied: “See that I get as much water as wine.”
He saw her think on that, then glance at his water goblet. A spark of wicked humor danced in her eyes when she realized he’d been watering down his own drinks all night. She took his hand under the table and with her index finger traced a series of characters…golodh…”wise.”
He smiled. He had no foreknowledge that from that point on, “Celeborn the Wise” would be the name that followed him, and would become an appellation beyond the confines of Doriath.
Celeborn was used to such formal affairs in Doriath, but had not taken into account the differences in temperament between the ruler of Menegroth, Thingol, and Nargothrond’s king, Finrod. When most of the meal was finished, an older Elf arrived with a harp, and to Celeborn’s surprise, brought it to Finrod himself, as one would one minstrel to another. Silence descended upon the fellow inhabitants of Nargothrond, and even Galadriel turned attentive eyes as the Noldorin king tuned the instrument, plucking a series of notes quickly with skilled hands.
“I hope I do not insult our guest by using the old speech,” he said, by way of introduction, and then began to sing.
Finrod had an amazingly subtle voice for such a seemingly strong-willed man, a lilting tenor in the deepest ranges, and the potential to hit alto at the highest. Celeborn listened in wonder as the ruler of Nargothrond began with a Quenya line no Sindarin Elf would dare sing, both for content and for language:
A i kallaurëa Valinor!
Im mar sinome hae
Aiya! Im ravello…
A lament for Valinor, and yet not a dirge for what was lost, but a thoughtful recounting of the hardships of a new land, and the aloneness of those who left loved ones behind, or lost them on the way. Celeborn was not surprised that many of the Noldor wept, but few did so with heads bent.
After the first piece, Finrod played a livelier tune that was apparently a version of a Noldorin folk dance, for several people stood up and performed a circle dance, alternating male and female in most cases. It was a dance Celeborn did not know, although he could recall at least three similar Sindarin ones.
More pieces followed, but Finrod kept them short, and soon complained of his fingers and the lack of practice. He passed the harp back and the court’s bard began a series of dancing songs, and these Celeborn did recognize, although the steps were not exactly the same as those he knew from Menegroth.
“What puzzles you, My Lord?” Galadriel murmured, observing his intense stare and frown.
“These dances are similar enough that I feel they are related to ours, but the steps have changed…I see no pattern to the changes.”
She laughed. “Must there be a pattern? One man weaves his own version for the sake of personal pleasure. And another. And another. Some things are just chance.”
He had to agree, finally. He felt comfortable enough during one of the slower circle dances to let the lady lead him to the floor and show him the steps. The women on either side were also forgiving of his small mistakes, seeming interested in how he interpreted their style of dance. For one thing, there was more interplay between the sexes than he was used to. Men and women met in the middle far more often, and touched frequently, when Sindarin versions placed more emphasis on individual dancing in the outer rings.
The dancing died down close to dawn, and people began to seek their beds. Celeborn found himself in the company of Finrod and Orodreth for a small time as talk turned to planning the following days.
“What says my fair cousin to a bit of hunting tomorrow eve?” Finrod asked with a certain challenging smile. “We’re in need of venison.”
“It would be an honor,” Celeborn replied politely as Galadriel and Aegnor approached. “Luck would have it that I brought the one horse I am training for hunting.”
Finrod glanced at Galadriel. “Sister, what say you?”
The golden lady seemed highly amused. “I should not dare interfere with this manly ritual. I shall only be in the way if I joined you.” Her gray glance lingered on Celeborn. “You are an archer, are you not?”
“It is our way,” Celeborn agreed, wanting not to speak of his own skills. “I do not have the arms for spear-hunting.”
Aegnor nodded his agreement. “Then we’ll have two bowmen, this time. I alone among my brothers prefer the bow.”
They agreed to time and place, said good night, and at last Celeborn was able to speak to Galadriel.
“You know,” she said, “that this is a test?”
He smiled. “Like tonight was a test?”
Her smile deepened. She paused, then said with laughter in her voice: “It is a…different sort of test.”
“Is that why you do not join us tomorrow? I know very well that you hunt. I have seen you at it.”
“My brothers will not be satisfied until they have had you alone, and determined your worth; if I go, I will only delay the inevitable.”
“Have no fear for me. I am no warrior, but I have often participated in sorties and my skills with the bow are…not unimpressive.”
“Which is your way of saying you will probably outshoot Aegnor,” she mused. “Ah, that is good. I should like to have my brothers taken down a notch.”
“And what will you do tomorrow?”
“We have been working, my maids and myself, on a project that I hope to complete soon. It will be fine to have a day lacking in distractions.”
“But I shall see you off all the same,” she promised.
Because there were still plenty of people still in the hall, he did not kiss her hand, but bowed and bid her good night.
They congregated at dusk in the courtyard and began to look over the horses, and check weapons. The filly Celeborn brought from Menegroth was named Quesse, for she was light of foot and had a soft, even stride that suited shooting fine.
He had had the servants plait his hair rather severely to keep it out of the way. The thick braid reached past the middle of his back so he was able to tuck it underneath his cloak.
A surplus of kind folk brought out hot drinks, and Galadriel was among them, giving his from her own hand.
“Although the temptation may be great,” she said as he handed back the empty goblet, “try not to shoot my brothers.”
“I will endeavor not to,” he replied so solemnly that she laughed.
As he mounted, his fine-tuned ears heard the following conversation:
Orodreth: “So, Sister, I take it this one is more than a passing fancy.”
Galadriel: “You mistake my relationships with yours.”
Aegnor (laughing): “He is pretty, but can he shoot straight?”
Finrod: “Any Sindar can shoot straight and hit a moving target, little brother. Whether or not he can hunt; that is the question.”
Galadriel: “I will take it very much amiss if he comes back in pieces.”
Orodreth: “Then we will make sure the more pertinent pieces arrive back more or less where they ought.”
Celeborn made a slow show of arranging himself, securing his quiver of arrows. Galadriel’s brothers mounted, then, and directing their horses, came even with Celeborn as he waited at the gate. Celeborn presented a perfectly polite and attentive mien, bowing his head to indicate that he would follow. With a laugh, Finrod took off at a gallop, and his companions brought up close behind him.
Galadriel raised a hand in farewell, and waiting until they were out of sight before descending back into Nargothrond.
Finrod took the lead, his brothers close behind. Celeborn would not allow himself to be the last, and neither did Quesse, whose fiery spirit was more than equaled by her smooth and quick gait. Quesse was trained for mounted archery, and such animals were uniquely sensitive to the moods of their riders, more attuned than any Elven steed.
Celeborn would not suffer himself to be left behind, and so Quesse would not as well.
It was curious to watch the Noldo ride. The Noldo were by all accounts aggressive and controlling riders, who seemed less willing to trust their horses. They controlled more with their heels, and used both hands about their horse’s manes. They gave the impression that they were attempting to be one with their steeds, and that one didn’t unsheathe or do anything on horseback but travel quickly and far.
Celeborn, himself an archer raised in the Sindarin style of riding, controlled with his knees and rode one-handed, the better to reach for a weapon in lands potentially unsafe. Riding in forests was itself a tricky business, and one could not depend on having the time to dismount to defend oneself. This resulted in a style somewhat more detached between rider and mount. Sindarin horses had to be exceptionally aware of their riders’ reactions, whether they would mount or dismount quickly, draw a weapon, or wish to ride hard; all these desires had to be interpreted and acted upon in rapid succession. Therefore Quesse, highly trained, was also uniquely independent in spirit, an entity who had to act and react with and without a rider.
This gave Sindarin horses a quick eye and quicker temper, the appearance of excessive energy and the ability to sometimes outthink their riders. Their only flaw, compared to the horses the Noldo were breeding, was that they had no enduring speed.
But hunts did not last for hundreds of miles, and therefore Celeborn had no doubt that Quesse would keep her place among her peers. They could not ride four abreast in the dense, thin thicket of forest, but they kept in sight of each other until they heard the unmistakable bawling of the hounds on a scent, released before the men had ever mounted. This batch of Noldo hounds was several generations bred in Middle-earth, although Celeborn had never seen one himself. While the Sindar rarely domesticated dogs, and did not keep their dogs in packs when they deigned to do so, the Noldo bred them in groups. Celeborn had to admit, the strategy had the potential to work very well. By the time the pack was adult, an alpha male had asserted his dominance, pack order was assured, and the group hunted as one.
The bawling grew sharper now, a chorus of canine throats confirming the sighting, and Celeborn turned Quesse towards the sound, as did the three brothers. Quesse at least knew what a dog’s howl meant in this situation, though her ears flickered from time to time, unused to the sheer number of voices she was detecting.
They crossed a shallow river. As they drew nearer, Celeborn freed his bow from the back of the saddle and slung it over his shoulder, checking the position of the quiver on his back. Aegnor was doing the same, although he had to do it one-handed and bent forward to keep his horse up with the others. Celeborn thought that perhaps a fitting gift might be an archery-trained horse for his fellow archer, but he would wait to see the performance before he judged.
Then they broke into a clearing, almost abreast, and saw immediately why the dogs were so excited. A large, roan-red buck stood trapped against a steep bank, its many-tined antlers lowered against a ring of dogs who, as one, had stopped bawling as soon as Finrod came within hearing distance. Each dog was large and sleek, muscles sliding effortlessly under short white fur, long tails whipping back and forth in eagerness. Along with identical white bodies, each hound also sported a pair of large, triangular red ears. In the darkness those white bodies were easy to see.
“A fine catch!” Orodreth cried. A little prematurely, Celeborn thought as he watched Finrod to see what he would do.
The king of Nargothrond whistled sharply. The dogs obediently backed away, leaving a corridor open. “Let him run!” the golden-haired Elf commanded. Celeborn glanced at Aegnor. The other archer had his bow in one hand, but had not reached for his arrows.
He noticed Celeborn’s look and said: “Let the spear-throwers have first chance. If they fail, which they always do, we will have our time.”
The stag leapt away, a blur of red motion. Quesse leapt after, determined to keep pace with the other horses, in fact at least a body length ahead. The stag turned towards the river; Celeborn drew and took a shot, putting an arrow into a tree trunk and deliberately turning the stag away from the river.
“Well done!” Aegnor cried as Finrod rode to the fore, Celeborn’s shooting having delayed Quesse enough to allow the others to catch up.
The king threw first, the spear grazing the flank of the big stag and sending it swerving yet again toward the river.
Orodreth threw next, but it was obvious he was throwing to deter the stag’s flight, not to strike. The stag turned as expected. Finrod and Orodreth dropped back to retrieve their spears, and Aegnor and Celeborn pushed forward.
Sharing a glance, the archers reached for their quivers, knocked their arrows, and released almost simultaneously. Celeborn’s arrow found its mark a little too high in the shoulder, owing to a sudden dip in the terrain. Aegnor’s flew over its head, followed by a rueful laugh from the Noldor archer, who had to slow his horse long enough to take the shot, allowing the deer time enough to evade. He caught up soon enough.
Celeborn glanced back as they sped on, watching for Finrod and Orodreth. Finrod was hard on their heels, his gray eyes bright and determined. He passed both of them like a wind and made another throw. Slowed by Celeborn’s arrow, the stag was less spry; the spear struck true.
The great animal stumbled, bellowing, took a few more awkward strides, then pitched down a bank, Finrod’s spear through its ribcage.
The Noldo drew back their horses in time to avoid the small cliff, but Quesse would have none of that and jumped it. Celeborn judged the landing would be harsh, so leapt off at the last moment, pulling himself up onto a nearby tree by a hardy branch and watched Quesse below him take the landing with a heavy stop, which would have thrown Celeborn over her head. Celeborn gave a displeased sound and Quesse’s ears lowered as she paced below.
The Noldo came around the bend, level with the riderless horse, and their confused searching looks finally found their way up the bank and to Celeborn, perched and frowning on a limb. Aegnor left out a relieved laugh, which seemed to set off his brothers, who began to chuckle good-naturedly at the Sindar’s equally amusing expression and predicament.
“Do you wood Elves have wings?” Orodreth quipped.
“No,” Celeborn muttered, swinging down, “we leave those to our younger horses.” He slid down the bank, and the brothers dismounted, smiling. Apparently, Celeborn had passed the test.
Galadriel was sitting with her ladies, their project spread between them, wielding a needle as aggressively as she would a sword. Although she preferred more athletic expressions, there were times when more domestic matters were preferable. However, Galadriel was no quiet and biddable needlewoman. She attacked this skill as she would any other, skillfully, directly, and with some ambition. Her ladies, consigned to more minor parts of this particular project, talked quietly amongst themselves, watching the embroidered pattern emerge under her fingers. Silver thread flashed against a sea a soft black fabric, minute gems glinting among the whorls of design.
She was concluding the last section, her ladies adding their own finishing touches, when familiar horns rang from the courtyard. She nodded at one of her cousins who stood and slipped through the door, and added her last stitch calmly.
“The greatest stag ever seen, My Lady,” Vana breathed on returning. “His Lordship Celeborn’s arrow took first blood, but it was Lord Finrod who made the kill.”
Galadriel was not surprised by this conclusion, nodding her thanks. Finally they stood and she gathered the fabric in her arms, carrying where it could be laid out and checked one final time for small errors.
“I take it we feast tonight,” she said as they left for the main hall. “Where are they now?”
“Where else?” Vana laughed. “The baths!”
Galadriel mused on the irony of circumstances that led her brothers to view Celeborn in all his natural beauty before she ever would. At the hunt as well, the unworthy cretins.
At that very moment, Finrod was laughing as Orodreth lent a strong hand in scrubbing his back. “’Twas the stuff of legend; at least good enough for a song!”
Celeborn, slightly removed and getting used to the idea of bathing with his peers, shook his head, and with a crooked smile glanced at Aegnor who was just then slipping into the heated pool. The youngest of the sons of Finarfin had taken it upon himself to stand by Celeborn during the joking, deftly softening the effect of what could have been a real verbal razing had Finrod or Orodreth taken a dislike to the Sindarin noble.
Aegnor lowered himself carefully, a blissful expression suffusing his face as the hot water began to penetrate stiff muscles. “A song, I hope, of the great prowess of our kinsman, whose arrow hit when none of us could make the first strike?”
“Oh, I’m sure that’ll be part of it,” Orodreth returned, with a sly look at the back of Finrod’s head.
Celeborn sighed, dipping back his head to let the hot water run through his hair. Sliding it away from his face with both hands, he closed his eyes. The silence about him prompted him to open them again. All three brothers were looking at him. “What?”
“Your hair almost looks…” Orodreth said, nodding at his wet head. “…almost normal.”
“If you mean it darkens when it’s wet, yes. That’s common among Teleri. Doesn’t yours?”
Finrod grinned, dunked down, and emerged, his golden hair only slightly darkened, almost to a pale golden brown.
Celeborn sighed again. “Something else to envy the House of Finarfin for,” he said, with an exaggerated shake of the head. “That and a surplus of hot water.”
“You have hot water in Menegroth.”
“Not this plentiful, and pervasive. How many springs are there?”
“Twelve,” Finrod replied promptly. “And every room receives through aqueducts. There are ten communal pools like this one throughout, as well.”
“Perhaps our kinsman might be persuaded to make his home here, considering all of Nargothrond’s many…temptations?” Orodreth suggested, none too subtle.
Even Aegnor seemed to think that was too forward. “Brother! What ARE you implying?”
Finrod cut in smoothly. “Nothing. As always, his tongue runs before his brain. Much like his ill-trained hounds, I might add.”
Orodreth aimed a sharp smile at his brother and tossed the sponge he had been using into Finrod’s lap. “I thought I was saying what you were thinking, ambitious brother.” Pale gray eyes slid and seemed to examine Celeborn. “Surely Thingol’s Ear knows every secret thought behind every spoken word?”
Celeborn rolled his shoulders in the hot water. “Perhaps so. I always supposed it rude to speak of it unless asked directly.”
Aegnor laughed. “What say you, then? If asked directly, what would you say of Orodreth’s maladroit comment?”
“I would say that this is marvelous generosity, considering how the hunt began with the promise of “parts” of me returning.”
Orodreth stared, then blushed. Finrod laughed aloud. “Oh, well said! Not half as oblivious as we hoped for, our naïve Sindar cousin.”
“It was a joke,” Orodreth said in a low voice, defensively. “Aegnor didn’t even think you could shoot straight.”
“No, I said he might be too pretty to shoot straight,” Aegnor corrected him, then he too blushed and looked away from Celeborn.
The dynamic between the brothers was potentially as fascinating as the hunt itself, but Celeborn was of a mind to enjoy his immersion while he could. “Peace,” he said, raising his hands. “If you can concede that I’ve passed this part of the test, perhaps we can enjoy ourselves without flaying each other, for a small while.”
“Ay,” Finrod agreed. “Indeed, it was a test, and you have survived it. I am now quite certain that my sister chose you for other skills besides looking beautiful.”
Celeborn saved that comment away for another time, and nodded cautiously. He did not fool himself that this was the end of the affair, but allowed himself to hope for respite.
“Peace,” Aegnor agreed, his blush receding. He offered the sponge up. “Shall I scrub your back for you, Cousin?”
Celeborn pulled his hair forward in answer, turning his back to Aegnor. “I take it you Noldo have little modesty.”
Finrod said: “Not true. We have a great deal of modesty. We just seem to have less than you wood Elves.” He paused. “I saw you dancing last night.”
More observant than Celeborn had counted on. It seems they had underestimated each other.
“What about it?” Orodreth wanted to know, having reversed position and letting his older brother administer to his back.
“Our kinsman was not so used to our sort of dancing. Not so used to touching women, to be exact. He was too well-bred to be scandalized, but he seemed to be somewhat hesitant in joining us.”
“Not at all,” protested Celeborn. “I did not know many of the steps. The dances have…diverged somewhat from their common original.”
“Yes, many things seem to have ‘diverged,’” Finrod agreed. “Shall I ask a forward question?”
Celeborn nodded. He was sure this was the topic of conversation he had been waiting for.
“How exactly did you two get around to expressing your …attachment to each other?”
Orodreth and Aegnor could not disguise their curiosity as well, although both valiantly attempted to.
“I suppose we might never had, which is entirely my fault, except that circumstances with the king forced the timing a bit.”
Finrod accurately read between the lines. “My sister felt she had to tell you, considering the situation?”
“Were you surprised?” Aegnor asked eagerly from behind Celeborn, forgetting to act uninterested.
“Yes. I thought it had to be someone else, except that I could not figure who it was. “ For Aegnor’s benefit, he added: “But whoever it was, I despised him utterly.”
Orodreth chuckled at that. “That’s not like our Artanis at all. Did you know her other name? Nerwen. She’s always been very straight about her thoughts, very direct. This new sister is strange to us, this quiet, inward Galadriel.”
Celeborn looked at Orodreth with understanding eyes. Orodreth’s less enthusiastic attitude toward Celeborn was beginning to become less mysterious. “You thought it was my doing, this change?”
Finrod’s sharp glance at his brother confirmed Celeborn’s suspicions that Orodreth’s inner thoughts had not been shared with the other two.
Orodreth nodded reluctantly.
Finrod dropped his sponge in disgust, shaking his head.
“Artanis was like that almost from the first time she came to us in Menegroth,” Celeborn said gently. “It was not my doing.”
“You’re an idiot,” Finrod said, lightly cuffing his brother with the flat of his hand. “Galadriel changes for no one but Galadriel. You should know that.” He sighed. “If anything, it is Melian’s influence. That Maian queen of Elwë’s. Now that’s a role model for any ambitious woman.”
Aegnor chuckled. “Is she as beautiful as they say, this Queen Melian?”
“As lovely as evening,” Celeborn said. “Hair as black of midnight and eyes as green as the deepest forest.”
Orodreth’s dark eyebrows rose. “Then I suppose one can’t blame Elwë for staying in Doriath for such a woman.”
Celeborn merely smiled.
Eventually a young messenger dared enter into the steamy sanctum, bringing with him wine as if in defense.
“Is my sister impatient?” Finrod asked.
“She asks when we might have your esteemed company for the late evening meal, My Lord.”
Finrod raised a brow at Celeborn, obviously translating such a message into the sarcastic tone with which it must have first been spoken.
“You may tell my patient and loving sister that we should emerge triumphantly within the hour, all four of us,” the lord replied smoothly. “Please leave the wine.”
When the boy had retreated, Celeborn allowed himself to share a smile with Finrod.
“If we’re eating venison tonight,” Aegnor said, oblivious, “I hope they’ll bring up that old vintage you’ve been hoarding for half a century.”
“Why should I spend that on my kin?” Finrod complained good-naturedly. “I’m keeping it for someone I truly want to impress. I’ve no hope for you two.”
Orodreth promptly threw a sponge at him.
The brothers apparently were unwilling to conclude the male bonding quite so soon and had had Celeborn’s clothes brought to him from his rooms. One of the servants offered to stay behind and tend his hair, which sent the other three into gales of laughter.
However, the servant did stay and turned out to be something of an adept at the art, even to the point of adequately mimicking the style Celeborn preferred, hair down but with the sides braiding out of the face. Of all the brothers, Finrod’s hair was the longest, its golden beauty making up for the carelessness with which it was tended. Like many who aspired to beauty, most Noldo kept their hair long, but few apparently felt it necessary to bind it. Finrod wore a circlet of twined silver and gold on his brow that served that purpose. Yet another cultural difference, Celeborn thought as the braiding was completed, and he was able to rise.
“Ah, resplendent,” Aegnor acknowledged with a teasing smile.
Entering with them into the great hall, Celeborn reflected that they were being very generous. He was too different from them to allow familiarity to breed easily, but even Orodreth seemed to be making the attempt. He strode in, and he was of the same race, of equal height and power, but he was not one of them, not truly. There were too many variations on experiences, upbringing, manner and style, like their horses and their hounds.
But, he supposed, as he saw Galadriel turn her head at their entrance, it was those differences that gave life its vibrancy.
That night, Finrod sang “The Lay of Quesse,” a tribute to a spirited Sindarin horse who did not hesitate to risk her rider in the pursuit of the stag. The humor of the song lay in the wry use of words that bordered on sarcasm, as the “heroic steed” left her rider up in a tree while she leapt “agilely” after her quarry. As more and more details were revealed about Quesse, even the most ignorant of the Noldo audience had to realize of whom Finrod was really singing. Galadriel, at Celeborn’s side, was smiling outright, as the “noble rider” shot the stag from the “silver tree,” admonishing his horse: “Even in the heat of pursuit, always know where your loyalty lies.”
Celeborn rather suspected Finrod of double entendre, but chose to interpret the song at its simplest level.
The applause afterward was laced with laughter, with Celeborn’s nearest dinner companions wanting to know if there was a seed of truth to the circumstances of the song. Galadriel herself was curious to know the details. He merely replied that Finrod was no liar.
They ate venison that night. Dancers performed for them, their elaborate turns and graceful movements entrancing the eye. Celeborn kept half an eye on their trailing garments, but most of his attention was on Galadriel.
“My brothers seem to have the good taste to allow you to be acceptable,” she observed wryly. “How was the experience for you?”
“Your brothers are very different from one another,” he said.
“Meaning Aegnor fell into your lap from the start, Finrod withheld judgment and Orodreth was an annoyance.”
He lifted eyebrows at her, smiling. “Observant as always.”
“It could be worse. Imagine if I were a daughter of Fëanor.”
He suppressed a shudder. “I would rather not, great lady.”
“No,” she said, her eyes darkening. “No, I imagine not. Forgive me. For us, it is merely a matter of dislike, for we cannot disassociate ourselves from them, no matter their crimes. For you, it must be …rather different.”
“For any Teleri, it must be so. I can be generous and think Finarfin’s children spirited and ambitious, but for Fëanor’s….no.”
“So you agree with Thingol’s conservatism?” she inquired.
“Agree? At times I AM my lord’s conservatism. He has not the obligations of flesh (as you do) to urge him to be friendlier with the sons of Fingolfin and Fëanor, so he follows his better judgment in protecting his people.”
“Perhaps he is the wisest of us all,” she mused. “Is it wise to willingly keep company with murderers under geis?”
She used the older form of fate-obligation, a word he had never heard voiced, and only seen written in the oldest of tomes. Geis was Valar-driven fate, the compulsion to complete a task under the promise or oath, or die.
“You know the word?” she asked at his look.
“Yes, but only referred to, never in speech. It is a hard word.”
“You are among people living with the shadow of a geis that we willingly took upon ourselves, never understanding the seriousness of the task we vowed to fulfill. Many have conveniently forgotten the oath they took.” Her gray glance was grave. “I have not.”
Immediately he knew she had foreseen; it was in her glance.
“Is it very bad?” he asked simply.
“Cousin Celeborn! Come away from my sister a moment!”
It was Orodreth, obviously much into his cups, reeling between the support of two sets of feminine shoulders.
“Yes, Cousin Orodreth?”
“Spread some of your joy among us, pretty lord. There are others pining to hear ought of Menegroth and Doriath. They have waited patiently while my beauteous and covetous sibling has monopolized you to a shocking degree.”
Galadriel sighed. “I have done without my lord’s company all evening while you four cavorted about the forest in the pretense of providing larder to the king’s table. I hardly think I was covetous today.”
A small silence had descended, puzzling Celeborn, until he realized that Galadriel had named him ‘my lord’ in the way of a wife for a husband. He smiled at Galadriel’s sudden uncertain look, taking her hand and raising it to his lips in a reciprocal salute.
He stood slowly and smiled placatingly at Orodreth. “I am your servant, then, Cousin.”
“I’m sure if I loved men, I would be swooning at the mere idea,” his drunken cousin replied. His lovely supports laughed.
Celeborn followed him to where Finrod sat among older Noldor in a more solemn circle of companions. Orodreth saluted Finrod, presenting Celeborn, then left.
“He is not half as drunk as he likes to imagine,” Finrod said, smiling. He motioned to the empty chair beside him. “Sit, Cousin, and give us a taste of your wisdom.”
The Sindar nodded to his new acquaintances, and obeyed. Here, then, were Finrod’s advisors, among them even a few white-haired Naugrim. The king introduced him to his chief steward, his master delver, his librarian, his master craftsman and others of higher station in Nargothrond, men and women with black hair grown to their ankles, double expressions of age and endurance. The Naugrim nodded with jerky movements, gruff and unlovely, but Celeborn saw that their bright eyes missed nothing. One of them was looking at his hair with an artist’s appreciative glance, leading him to believe that this was the silversmith.
“You are, then, Thingol’s chief councilor?” Alcar, Finrod’s steward, inquired. “Whom we have heard named his ‘ear’?”
Celeborn demurred. “I am not his chief councilor, sir, only a kinsman who has his ear in matters within my scope. He has defensive, offensive, and monetary advisors. He relies upon me in matters of persons and situations, and will listen when I have opinions outside my scope.”
There were sidelong glances at this. He was younger than many in the company, and to their eyes a wide-eyed puppy, he was sure. Once again he was the pretty stranger, an exotic fixture.
“Forgive us, My Lord,” Alcar said. “You are not what we expected.”
“I imagine not,” Celeborn replied blandly. “I think many overestimate my influence from rumor and underestimate it by sight. I am young, yes, and not much of consequence in rank, but I have only one matter of pride. I have proven myself to my king, and that is all that matters.”
“Well said, Cousin,” Finrod approved. “He is too handsome for his own good, but let not his looks deceive you, my lords. He is wise in both speech and manner, and not the least in his choice of friends and allies.”
This was an underhanded compliment to the present company and a sly reference to Galadriel, Celeborn was sure.
“May we ask you of matters regarding Menegroth?” a woman asked, Finrod’s chief librarian.
“I will tell you what I can,” he said cautiously.
Alcar intervened quickly. “Do not fear us. It is of everyday matters we wish to know, of the running of a kingdom, of your king’s organization of servants. We are not interested in martial matters. Of those, we trust to our own king and in the builders of Nargothrond.”
“Then I will help in any way I may,” he said.
Galadriel finally interrupted, many hours later, as dawn began to break. Celeborn’s muscles were beginning to ache from the earlier exercise and then the later forced stillness of the gathering.
“My gracious lords,” said she. “Our guest is surely weary. He and my brother hunted most rigorously earlier in the night, and now you quiz him into the ground. Grant him his respite.”
There was mutual agreement, although Celeborn could tell this would not be the last of the meetings with these people before he left. He bowed and let the lady take his arm.
“Thank you,” he murmured feelingly as she led him from the hall, “I was starting to think in circles.”
“Take another hot bath before you sleep,” she advised. “I imagine the hunt was not leisurely.”
“It wasn’t,” he agreed. “I am sorry to abandon you for so long.”
“Finrod must have his due, and I do not begrudge him your company. He will not always have such ready access to it.” They halted at the parting of the ways. “I am glad for you that he values you so well. I would that the two men I love the most should value each other.”
He touched her cheek contemplatively. “That time in the hall…”
“Did you mind terribly? It was not planned.”
“I did not mind; I cared only for your reputation among your own people.”
“My reputation can only improve in your company, my lord,” she replied, eyes glinting. She returned the gesture. “It is rare to see your eyes in this early light,” she said of the dawn illumination in these upper levels of the kingdom. “They are as the vault of heaven.”
Despite the heat that came to his cheeks, he could not help but smile.
“Ah, I hope you always blush, so,” she said. “Good night.”
He awoke late in the day, and despite the soaking he had indulged in before going to bed, could feel the strain of the previous day’s exertions in his arms and thighs, a slight and aching twinge that told him he did not ride enough.
The servants were there again to help him in the bath, clothe him and dress his hair, and he allowed it without demur.
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