Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Seeds of Old Trees: 2. The Lowest Ebb
Though they had arrived at Olwë's citadel a little before noon, he had found himself too shaky to eat. Soaking in the baths for a long time, he had rid himself of the sea - the stiffness of salt in his hair, the aches of many nights spent without room to stretch out, head pillowed on ropes, awakening damp and chilled and many miles further from home. The excuse of tiredness, and of being too rudely dressed, had allowed him to snatch several more hours of solitude in which to try to understand what he felt, but moments ago the tailors had delivered him a set of princely garments; found him lying open eyed on his back, staring at the pale ceiling, unrested and with no answers.
Dressing - unable to put off his new life any further - he had looked for comfort to the stars. But even they were changed; so many unfamiliar constellations he could hardly tell north from south. Abruptly, he wished for Elwing's gift of flight - to hurl himself from the window and speed back over the endless waves to a land that had more need of him than this. There was an emptiness in his chest where there had been the song of stone, the roots, the elves, the Men, the trees of Middle-earth. He balled his fist and thought of driving it through the small glass panes - only to feel something else for a moment - but instead touched it gently to the frame, and rested his forehead on it. Even so, she must have felt, all the time she dwelled with me. Three Ages of the world.
Unlike his King, or his daughter, he was unsurprised that Galadriel had not come running at the news of his arrival. She had her pride, and of course she would want to punish him for arriving so tardily. By staying away so long he had said, in all but words, 'I do not need you.' So now she said in reply, 'no more do I need you.' It hurt - how could it not - but he supposed he deserved it. Their lives together had been a succession of partings and new starts, ruin and rebuilding. Had they been in Ennor he would have been confident of his strength to repair any breach between them. Galadriel was a challenge he knew he was more than adequate to meet.
At least, in Ennor.
The moon shone full into the chamber, and the pale silk hangings of the bed were like a mist of light. His white tunic and his loosened hair shimmered, and he felt that he himself was grown strange, and he no longer knew his own name. He hugged himself, surprised to find solid flesh, for he felt about as real as a corpse candle - without substance or ties to the land. Where was his strength; who was he, here?
Celebrian came gently into the room, like daybreak after a night of pain. He looked at her with thanks, surprised again by her tall, straight, Queenly figure, the piled, starlit hair held back with combs that gleamed as fresh as beech leaves. Reality jarred with memory, for in his mind she was younger than this, still with an edge of uncertainty, a mischievous, playful air.
"Adar, you look so lost." Coming swiftly to his side, she sank gracefully to the floor beside him and rested her head and one arm against his knee, as she had in childhood, when they had pored together over the bright, illuminated bestiaries and histories of her schooling. "Is it Naneth? She will come around, you know it. She will seek you out if only to shout at you."
Shaking his head, he managed to smile at her. "It is not that, little one. What was it Elu said? I am overwhelmed with strangeness; that is all."
She looked at him, askance, unconvinced, but some of the liveliness he had missed so much came back into her gaze as she rose and patted her green and silver skirts into place. Her smile was radiant and a little fierce. "Well, I am come to make it worse, for you cannot skulk in here forever. If you are washed and rested you have many long lost relatives positively dying to meet you."
He reached for her hand - she was a blaze of reality in this ghostly place, and he needed to assure himself by touch that he dreamed not, that she was indeed here with him. "I do not know what needs to be done. Be my guide?"
She lead him through many corridors and antechambers, nodding, now and then, to folk she knew. "I understand, a little," - her smile was the flick of sunshine on dew, a rare, surprising brilliance. "When I arrived I lay abed a long time, and folk tended to me and brought me all I needed. It was like being a newborn again. Nothing was expected of me until I was able to give it. You do not have that luxury, but people will still make allowances for you. You are one of the last to return - we have got rather good at this by now."
"It gets easier?"
Celebrian stopped. The hall about her was mosaic; white and blue and silver, fresh but chill. "It does," she said, and opened the beaten gold door of the audience chamber of Olwë, King of the Teleri of Aman, ushering him inside.
The chamber was long and pale. A wall of crystal let moonlight and the ever changing dusk silver of the sea through to play upon the marble. The craftsmanship was masterly, and very Noldor - there were no living things within the room other than the people. Celeborn tried not to shiver, felt again that combination of joy and wrongness when Elu Thingol levered himself away from the wall where he had been lounging and fell into step beside them. But the gesture of support was welcome, even from a dead man.
Olwë was white haired, and had the distant gaze of one who searches out far horizons. From an almost vanished youth, Celeborn remembered him. But he had not had the light of the two trees in his blue eyes in those days, nor their sheen playing over his face. How odd, to see that he had become Calaquendi.
"Welcome home, kinsman," he said. "You have been longer lost to Arda Marred than any of my family. I am glad to see you have made it here at last."
It was hard to think of an answer to that. 'I wish I had not,' did not seem appropriate. He compromised with a safer truth. "I must thank you for smoothing my arrival at the dock - it was appreciated."
Certainly Olwë noticed his lack of enthusiasm. He leaned back thoughtfully, and Celeborn felt - again - as though he had arrived in some archaic culture that no longer belonged to him. It had been so long since he was the petitioner, and another the Lord, looking down on him. Though he had not thought he would care about loss of power, of status, still it was strange to have his life back in the hands of others, rather than his own.
"If you are anything like my brothers," said the King, kindly, "you will wish to know where you fit, in this new world."
"I do, Lord. It is among the most pressing of my concerns."
"Well then," Olwë smiled - and the sea had so tanned his face that his eyes and mouth crinkled into Man-like folds at the edges. "You are my great-nephew by blood and my grandson by marriage, which is more than enough for my people to accept you as one of their own. If Alqualondë and the sea are to your liking I have many fiefs which have great need of more direct governance."
Despite his emptiness, Celeborn was amused. Yes, he liked Olwë - the king shared much of his older brother's directness; as straightforward and welcome as an anchor in a harbourless sea. "You put much trust on our kinship, lord - I may be a poor ruler."
"Nonsense!" his uncle grinned, "you forget you have been proceeded to these shores by folk of every realm you have ever husbanded. I have had reports."
Beside him Elu tutted, smiling. "He is not a half day here and you are poaching him already? You know he will come with me, and be prince of my realm as he was of old. That is not under discussion."
Here was a remnant of the past that stole inside Celeborn's numbness like the scent of apple blossom to a man imprisoned. For how many millennia had he regretted the fall of his country, yearning for drowned Doriath - for the caves and the stars, the trees, and the peace of it. A place to walk - for day on empty day - and sing under the stars, without responsibility or care. Was it possible that, like Thingol himself, that beloved and long missed place had been reborn, here? A small stirring of life, of hope, took root in that thought, like a blade of grass in a concrete car park.
"He may not want to." Olwë descended from his throne to stand nose to nose with his brother, in a mock staring contest that made Celebrian giggle, and then try very hard to look ladylike, while her eyes welled with laughter.
Elu folded his arms and straightened, looking down from his impressive height; smugly certain. "He will."
And he could at least marvel at the frivolity. He, for whom the last centuries had been one long grind of destruction and loss, had forgotten that kings could laugh. It seemed churlish to resent the fact that Elu was so sure he was right - when he was.
At the evening meal, they sat him between his parents, as if to emphasize that not only had he lost his crown, but even his autonomy as an adult. He tried to be pleased - indeed there was a part of him, a small part, buried under tens of thousands of years, which rejoiced to see them again. Galadhon, dark haired but with the flame of tree-light in his green eyes, and Nimwen, his mother, whom he had last seen dying. He had clung to her arm, sobbing, screaming for her to return - the blood flowing over his small hands - as Elmo and Galadhon took on the orcs, and his brother Galathil stood over him, bow drawn, but his eyes too dazzled with tears to shoot.
It was hard to know what to feel; seeing them alive again, as though the whole of his life from that point on had been some kind of lie.
"I had to leave," Galadhon said, guiltily, as if he thought Celeborn might still bear him resentment for going West - for choosing to follow his wife rather than remain with his sons. "That or die of grief, and I did not want you to live through another death. Can you forgive me?"
"So long ago," he studied the calloused, adult hands that lay on the table before him. It was too hard to look up into this stranger's hopeful gaze. I found a new father. You became unimportant to me. "I don't see that any of it matters any more."
Silence fell, and it occurred to him, slowly, that his parents did not deserve less courtesy than he would show to a new acquaintance, simply because they should mean more to him. He had not intended to begin his life in Valinor by causing pain. "Of course I forgive you." he said, less grudgingly, "I have known what it is to be overmastered by agony, to leave kin behind because I could not... could not carry on."
Indeed, he felt a little like that now - the same squashed, airless dread which had driven him out of Beleriand ere Sirion fell, so that he was not there for the children of Elwing. A cowardice or injury in him which had condemned Elrond and Elros to their life with the kinslayers. Perhaps I could have done something. But I had no strength left.
"It is too late for me to be your child," he said slowly, consious of effort, "But I will gladly be your friend, if you can bear me."
Looking up, trying to smile, he saw Elu: Dead Elu, and Celebrian, poisoned; Galadhon fled. His dead mother. His brother, Galathil, murdered long ago, now laughing at a jest from his equally dead wife. Memory supplied the wounds, the blood and limp stillness. And of a sudden he saw himself as the only living person in the realm of Arda. Nausea and terror came over him. The desire to hide from it all was ravenous, and instinctively he let go of the illusion that was his physical form, becoming invisible.
Galadhon's chair hit the floor as he scrambled away from the table.
"No!" cried Galathil and Olwë together. Even Celebrian had her hands over her mouth, her eyes wide and frightened. They gazed at his empty chair and he gazed at their dead faces with equal, superstitious horror.
I want to go home, he thought; not too old for childish simplicities after all. I just want to go home.
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