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Oak and Willow: 2. A New Age
For the first time in this sorry affair Mordir had the grace to look taken aback. He gathered up the swinging length of his belt and fingered the ornate strap-end, while his eyes darted from the guards to the grim faces of his audience. Celeborn took a sip of water and waited for the heavy silence to do its work. He could not allow himself to smile, but inwardly he could taste satisfaction. This sordid case was almost at an end. The next question would settle it. "So, son of Morduin, tell me..."
"Lord Celeborn!" The great doors of the Hall of Doom trembled on their hinges as Daeron tried to push them full open in speed. Victory slipped out of Celeborn's hands like grasped water, but he was already on his feet, fists clenched on the haft of the axe which had lain across his knees in symbol of authority. "Morgoth's creatures attack?"
"No. No...I did not mean to alarm." Daeron's robe was awry, his eyes wide and uncertain, as one who enters a dark room after a place of many lamps. "Celeborn you must come. There is a wonder...a wonder on the edge of the world. I hardly know how to speak of it. The King bids you come." He turned, still squinting, though the courtroom was well lit, to face the many petitioners who waited for judgement. "You must all come."
Celeborn sighed Alas that the wonder could not have waited five minutes more. "As the King commands," he said. He leaned down to the captain of his warriors. "Bring Mordir also, that this marvel may keep his mind from further creativity in his evidence."
"My lord." The Captain grinned.
Celeborn slipped the axe into his belt. Too often any strange sign in the woods of Ennor later proved to be of the Enemy's devising, and was straitly followed by bloodshed. He would not go unprepared, not even if Daeron's face was as dazzled as if Luthien had smiled on him.
Folk were pouring out of Menegroth as if it was on fire. Corridors were a dappled river of lamplight, satin and flowing shadows. Shade should have deepened as they came to the pillared vastness of the First Hall. Here few lamps were lit, lest light should spill forth into the starlit woods, betraying the secret realm's existence to evil things. Lamp and candle should dim, twilight fall, darkness embrace the traveller like cool silk, so that emerging into the woods of Doriath was like plunging from clamour into silence. Over all the dark trees and shivering fountains only the stars should shine, remote and holy.
"What is this?" The crowd had parted for Celeborn and, with his longer strides, he had drawn ahead of his following. At the base of the front stair he paused to allow them to catch up. Here, where it should have been dark as the inside of a helmet, there was a strange, grey glimmer which lit the walls and poured like cloud down into the citadel.
"It has grown!" Very fair Daeron's face seemed in the new light - all narrow strokes of steel and pearl. Surely, Celeborn thought, the Enemy could make no beauty. This could not be an attack after all. Surely it could not.
"Come," he said, allowing himself excitement, "Show me."
Following the minstrel, Celeborn found Melian and Thingol on the crown of the tallest hill. A great press of folk were about them. They sat in slight chairs, clearly brought in haste, and were canopied only by the cloaks of their nobles set upon an arch of spears. Their faces shone with the light of Valinor - majesty become visible - and jewels made pinpricks of brilliance in their hair and garb, yet as Celeborn walked towards them he saw that they were no longer the most radiant things in Ennor; they were overshadowed by the sky. The light about him was the colour of pared lead, and a shadow streamed out before him, moving as he did. He knew not whether to feel foreboding or joy. All things seemed strange, and still the light grew.
Tall and terrible and glorious was King Elu Thingol, greatest of the elven-kings of Middle Earth, and the regard Celeborn had for him was that of son and subject both; awe, mingled with love. When he looked close he could see no diminishment by comparison with the light; only, as with Daeron, a new form of beauty. He went down on one knee. "Your command, my lord?"
"Rise, nephew, and see it."
Obeying, at last he turned eagerly to see the wonder, looked out over forest which fell away in swells of indigo and dark. There, in the West, the sky had become as polished slate, and a line of molten silver smouldered at the edge of the world. As he watched it moved, spilling over trees, shimmering in the mists over Esgalduin. A curve was uplifted over the horizon, as of some vessel which burned like a thousand candles, serene and pale.
There were no words to describe the beauty and newness of this thing. It made his ribs ache, as if his heart desired to leap from his chest with joy. Astonishment and awe stopped his breath, and he could not speak above a whisper. "What is this miracle?"
He turned to Melian. If any would know, she would, for she was a Maia of the Blessed Realm, strong and wise. But she shook her head, her eyes glimmering, a shadow of unknown colour sliding across her smile. "I know not, my fair one." She said with answering joy, "But look, it has the colour of your hair."
The comparison was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard, freeing him to laugh out some of the painful delight. "Ah, now I see! The Powers have sent it merely to quench my vanity. I am sorely outshone."
At the levity, Thingol gave a snort of disbelief. His face was troubled. "I have no doubt the Powers sent it indeed, but why? Never have they cared for us, forsaken on the long march. Why should they begin now? That they turn their gaze to Ennor at all, I deem portends ill."
For a while all gazed in silence, and the silver light broadened, until the vessel was lifted wholly above the trees and revealed. Round as a plate, or perhaps as a ball, smooth and wondrous and unmarked as a pearl. "A Maia guides it," Melian said at last, her clear eyes fixed on the heavens, "Though he is unbodied and cannot be seen. I know him - Tilion of the Silver Bow, who hunts with Orome." Her smile became wistful, "At least I may now gaze at one of my people from afar."
"Then it is a blessing, is it not?" Celeborn asked, hating the look of homesickness which fled briefly across her face, "A sign of hope. A sign that we have not been forgotten."
"But it is blotting out the stars!" Luthien the King's daughter cried from where she sat a little apart, surrounded by her maidens. Knowing well how she loved to dance in starlight, it was easy to understand her regret. "Are we never to see their glory again?"
"Aye," Saeros the archer called, "Must the Valar intervene only to take from us what we love?"
"This is a gift, not a theft," Celeborn began. Over the past few centuries the Enemy had seemed ever present, and it was not hard to see how that threat worked fear and distrust in the Doriathrim. But it should not be permitted to take hold. He had begun to say more, but the sweetness of a harp struck across his words, and he fell silent, trustingly, when Daeron began to sing.
Justly was Daeron honoured in Doriath. All voices fell silent and all faces turned to him, as the song took to the sky like a white-winged hawk. It too - in the newborn light - was almost more beautiful than flesh would support, with a pure strength the minstrel's day by day personality belied. He told of the waters of Awakening, where the Quendi had come into being - and how strange and new everything was in the world; how every day had been filled with another wonder, another discovery. He told of the Long March, when they had followed the Valar Orome in hope of a new land. Grief overwhelmed, soft as falling snow, as he sang the Teleri's loss of their king, disappeared in the dark woods of Nan Elmoth. How kin had left them, abandoned them to go into the West, yet they, ever faithful, remained - waiting, waiting.
Ice and snow melted, and fountains of joy burst forth as he sang of Elu Thingol's return to his loyal people. How greatly the King had changed - grown yet more powerful, yet more fair, with an angelic power beside him as his Queen. And as Daeron sang the final verses, extolling the pride and brightness of the Kingdom of Doriath, other singers took up the melody with him, accepting, understanding the message of his tale.
We have survived great upheavals, Celeborn joined his voice to the counterpoint, With our honour intact. And not all changes are for the worse.
The song, like the history of which it spoke, was long, and Tilion had guided his vessel across the dome of the heavens ere it ended. He lowered now towards the eastern rim of the world. "And perhaps the stars will flower now in the west, until he comes again," said Luthien, as she sent her maidens to fetch fair white bread and wine for all.
But Melian said, "I think it is not ended. I feel, even here, an awakening, as if some other power is made ready. This is a holy day. Let us celebrate it, and wait for the sign that is to come."
So Thingol gave orders that none should work, but all await the foresight of the Queen. And the Doriathrim spent their time beneath the stars in dancing, singing and the telling of tales, and when Tilion arose they would watch his strangely wayward progress across the sky with increasing love, as comfort drew the sting from fear.
But on the seventh day the heavens were reshaped once more.
"Look!" One of the dwarves shouted as Tilion dove into the utter east, "The horizon is stained with gold."
Celeborn laid down the lute he was playing and turned to see. Revels ended abruptly across every hillside, and lovers drew together for mutual strength. Thingol, who had been winning a race, sat down quickly, to reassure his people that whatever changed, he was still there. Melian lay her hand on his arm, and Luthien came and sat by her father's feet. Daeron's singing was silenced.
Oh! The Valar had been gentle, Celeborn thought, to send Tilion first. Without his forewarning, this would have been terrifying. Climbing up the sky now, blotting out stars, was a great sheet of exultant colour. It had begun palest gold, but strengthened swiftly into white flame. Clouds were lit with citrine and topaz, or boiled, red-stained as steam lit by fire. And the sky!
"The very sky alters!" Saeros cried, his voice full of panic and disapproval.
"Blue as periwinkle," Celeborn said in reply, emphasizing his own joy a little, that folk could see there was nothing to fear, "And the clouds like snow. Look at the trees!"
Light strengthened, came crashing ocean-like over Beleriand. All the hidden mysteries, all the glades full of darkness and shadowed waters were shown forth like jewels in candlelight: oaks clad in emerald; beryl of new beech; willow in peridot, strung on waters that flamed like mithril. Beauty which almost hurt.
It burned still brighter, and now heat caressed his upturned face, prickling his skin. Yet astonishingly all of this was held in a vessel no larger than Tilion's. He tried to discern if it had markings of any kind, but the light was too fierce to gaze on, and when he turned to the Queen he saw through eyes in which its image marked her like soot. "Is this also one of your friends, Lady?"
"Her name is Arien, but I knew her little." Melian leaned back in her seat and exchanged a glance of mutual foreboding with her husband. "You are right, beloved. They would not have moved like this unless great changes were afoot. And whatever now passes, we cannot continue to live as we once did."
Her hair, which had been shadow, was now revealed to be glossier than ebony, and embroidered flowers of a hundred shades glowed on her raiment. Thingol's hair was as silver as the great lakes below, gleaming in the golden light. All the world shone as colourful and warm as a lamplit room. "But then, why should all things go on always the same?" Celeborn said, "And I like this."
Thingol laughed, the jewels of his circlet scintillant in the brightness, "Ever the optimist, nephew?"
"There seems little point in asking them to take it back." He shrugged, "So perhaps we should embrace it."
Melian laughed then too, and tugged his sleeve playfully. "Wise words from one so young."
"And perhaps it means," Thingol's eyes gleamed speculatively, "That they are finally ready to come forth and do battle with Morgoth. That I am more than ready for."
"My lord?" The guard Captain approached Celeborn respectfully, "Mordir would speak with you."
"By your leave?" Celeborn bowed and left the sovereigns talking together. The Captain lead him to a hollow in which the prisoner stood, surrounded by his accusers. The son of Morduin looked pale but determined, Arien's light unflattering to his thin nervousness. "What is it?"
"Lord," Mordir began, tentatively, "Is this the beginning of a new age?"
"So it seems." Celeborn took off his cloak and spread it on a rock. Then, sitting, he took the axe from his belt and placed it once more across his knees. The court was reconvened.
"I don't want this on me any more, Lord. Evil can't prosper under this light, I see that." Mordir wrung his hands, stooped away slightly from the press of Arien's heat. "I confess. I did falsely accuse my neighbours. I wished to see them suffer. I wished to deprive them of their lands and honour, which I envied...but if this is not a sign I do not know what is." He drew himself up, as if he finally remembered what dignity was. "So I will make reparation, and be punished, and begin this new age clean."
Mordir was of the Green Folk, but lately settled in the safety of the hidden city. Many Doriathrim thought them uncouth, but this was not the first time they had impressed Celeborn greatly. And he is not just being cunning, knowing he was closer than ever to having his guilt proved. Sincere repentance was evident even in his fea, which was strengthened by honesty.
"Very well, son of Morduin. The tally of reparation is with the scribes. You will satisfy it completely. And you will further pay the King twelve sesters of honey, for the nuisance you have been to his Court."
Mordir bowed, and sighing, straightened up to face his doom, steady eyed.
"But because, in the sight of the works of the Valar, you have turned away from your lies, I will not lay any punishment on you. Pay your dues and go free."
Celeborn knew the decision would not be popular. It did not trouble him. So often the correct decisions were not. And mercy was called for on a day so holy. He looked up at the vessel of Arien once more, risen high and shining over them all. Whatever this new age brings, he thought, It is a comfort to have begun it well.
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