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Battle of the Golden Wood, The: 24. One More Parting
Earendil still glimmered bright above, though a pale yellow dawn lay upon the wood. Behind the topaz and gold horizon the sun prepared herself to rise, and the canopy smoked with mist in her faint heat. Released from centuries of darkness, buds were bursting into new growth, and already there was a shimmer of green. A blackbird sang. A song thrush answered - the bare promise that soon Eryn Lasgalen would have its full chorus of birds to greet the day.
Celeborn watched as Galadriel drifted aside from the revelry. Drowsy now, and contented, it went on without her. She had brought her harp to the feast, but did not play. Now she clutched it to her, shield-like, as she walked away from him. Her face was settled and Queenly, her smile serene, as of one well satisfied with a hard won victory. Only he noticed her bloodless grip on the singing wood and knew that she was afraid.
He too was afraid. No one who knew the history of the Eldar could fail to understand the power of words, and it would almost be better to remain thus - side by side, apart, like gentle ghosts, who do not raise their voices, but who never touch - than to speak and risk the pain and blame and hate that might come of it. Now he understood why, yestereve, she had been unable to face him. This morning, he was not sure he could face her.
So he hesitated a little, while the primrose light of a new day broke over him, and a breeze shook dew in arcs of radiance from the branches, and it seemed to him that he had never yet done anything truly brave, but that now he must.
At last, drawing in a great breath, he turned his back on his people's rejoicing and walked down the further side of Amon Lanc, and if his step was quick and light it was so, perhaps, because his breast was full of emptiness. He passed under the shadow of the trees, and on to where - in a place of rocks and fern - a spring welled and fell coldly over stone to meander over the forest floor, reflecting the sky in a runnel of liquid gold. In that quiet dell Galadriel sat, white and forlorn, with the harp in her lap. Her fingers were still on its strings, her voice silent.
Quietly, he came and sat beside her. For a while, she studied the bare slopes of the hill, and he the lightened depths of the wood, unspeaking. There was a frail peace to be found, just sitting together, close enough so that her sleeve touched his, the very edge of his dark green cloak fell over the skirts of her gown. A wood-pigeon called softly, and there came a peeping of sparrows. The water sang an endless, changeful tune. Then - it seemed a hard thing to do, yet inescapable, as if fated before time - he reached out and took her hand.
Galadriel laughed, sadly. "We have drunk the cup of parting," she said. "But when I offered it, I knew not that the dregs would be so bitter. Forgive me?"
Something twisted in him, like a knife. "You need not drain the cup," he urged, knowing the words were vain and foolish, but unable to keep them back. "Stay."
At that she turned to him, and leaned in, searching his face as she had done beneath Dol Guldur. In response, he tore down the walls about his mind, opened himself, and caught fear, regret - a yearning, which might once have been joyful, but was now merely torment inexpressible. "My Lord," she said, and looked away again, "I am minded of my cousin Aredhel, whose husband believed he possessed her. Who would not let her out of his sight. Who drove her away because he could not let her go."
Caught by the cruelty of this comparison, Celeborn saw, behind his eyes, the heavy, brooding darkness of Nan Elmoth, where Eol lived, kinsman of Elu Thingol, and therefore his own kin. Aredhel had fled from Gondolin as from a cage, and Eol had caught her - his wandering White Lady, the light in his darkness, the flame by which he warmed himself. Of course he wished to keep her safe. Of course he did not want to see her return to her airy prison, where she would sicken like a falcon with its wings strapped. Of course his fierce protective jealousy had made her hate him, so that she poisoned his son against him. So that at last both fled back into Turgon's snare, while Eol, following them, was caught in a doom from which he could only escape by death.
Celeborn thought of Eol, standing alone against the contempt of all Gondolin, his wife's face full of hatred, his son, Maeglin, closed and unmoving as stone, the Doom of the Kinslayers already working in him like slow venom. Knowing he was forbidden to leave, forbidden even to take his agony home to heal... No wonder Eol had snapped at last and tried to kill the cursed child, only to succeed in killing the woman he loved.
"I confess," Celeborn said, darkly, "that for the first time I understand my kinsman all too well. What business do the princesses of the Noldor have, marrying us, if they intend to desert us in the end?"
Galadriel made a small, strangled sound of protest and pulled her hand from his. "I do not desert you!" she cried, "Nothing prevents you from coming with me. It is you. You desert me!"
"I have learned this lesson at least from Eol," sullenly, Celeborn pursued her metaphor where she did not wish it to go, "I will not follow you into a trap from which there is no return."
"Valinor is no trap!"
"That is not what you said when first you came to Doriath," he said, seeing her hands tighten on the harp. The strings bowed and whispered under the pressure, and he thought it fitting that she should tear it apart, since he had made it for her. "'Too small', you said. You had learned everything there was to learn, and you were restless, dissatisfied, cramped. You came here to be free."
She sat very tall and straight, and there were tears in her eyes like stars. "Then let me be free! For now it is you who constrain me. Is Endor to be my dungeon, and you my gaoler?"
A storm of grief and shadow and fury broke over him. He had to get up, walk away. It drove him a few steps into the wood, and he felt lifted by it, helpless as a fallen leaf in the blast. But he would not give in. Mastering himself, he stopped, unclenched his fists, looked out - and behold! the sun shone on the roof of growing branches, on the buds of leaves, and the small white flowers of gnarled blackthorn. Light was dancing about his feet, and the stream shone now silver-blue as the clear, windy sky above.
In the beauty, anger left him. But the grief remained. Too deep to be touched by changes of mood or weather it lay in him like Mirror-mere, still, reflecting only snow and night.
He came back, sat down once more by her side, bent his head in sorrow. "Have I truly been Eol to your Aredhel?" he asked softly. "Have I clipped your wings, and held you back from your desires? Have I driven you away? I... It was not my intent."
Galadriel laughed again, and though the sound was bitter he sensed nothing from her mind but weariness. Her grip on the harp relaxed and she bent, placing it by her feet, unbroken. "No." Turning, she took his hands in hers, so that Nenya rested glittering in his palm. "You have given me all I asked, and more, taken too little for yourself, and grudged nothing. I spoke in the pain of parting, unjustly. You do not push me away. It is the Sea. Only that."
Withdrawing one hand he wrapped that arm around her. She stiffened at first, but slowly leaned in until their heads rested against each other, and their hair, silver and gold, gleamed together like the lights of Aman behind them. "Thranduil said a wise thing," he began, willing his body to remember every detail of this slight touch, so that none of it should ever be lost.
She snorted, unladylike, "Thranduil? Wise? Aye, about the sprouting of acorns and the hunting of harts in the wood."
And other matters of this world of ours, which those who entered it only to fall homesick for Valinor might not find important, Celeborn thought and felt again what gulfs separated them - how apart she had been from him even when they first wed. "Thranduil told me to think of the Sea-longing as though it were our equivalent of mortal death," he said. "A thing which cannot be fought, cannot be held back. Against such a force how could I possibly be your captor? How could I constrain you?"
Galadriel drew back so that she could look into his eyes. Do you not know? She touched his cheek with fingertips roughened from weaving - a small, wondering caress. "You are my captor because I love you." Rueful, and distantly warm was her smile, and she met his gaze without flinching. "When you summoned me to bring down Dol Guldur I was afraid. When I beheld you, after the Ring was destroyed, and the Age ended, I both feared and hoped that I would care for you no longer."
Her hand fell to her lap, pleated the glimmering white fabric of her dress while she watched it, rather than him. "Feared because - I would not lose this last thing, this marriage which has been my best and greatest deed in these lands. Yet I hoped - because it would make it easier for me to leave." Glancing up again, quick and shy as a linnet, her smile brightened. "My hope proved false, and my fear was assuaged. You are still beloved." Her fingers clenched tight, making a sunburst of long creases over her knees. "If you ask me to stay, I will stay.'
'Until love is no more," Celeborn said, heavily, knowing what that pledge would cost in the end, though he yearned to take it. "And hate replaces it, as Aredhel learned to loathe Eol." The pain inside brought out a spasm of laughter, "And then I will lose you anyway."
"Yes." She leaned once more against him, and already, although he held her in his arms, her spirit seemed immeasurably remote, gone beyond his recall. "I would prefer to leave while I may bear our love with me, into the undying lands. Knowing that it will be preserved, unstained, by the power of the Valar. How could I remain Galadriel, if I did not love you?'
He felt then that the world should end - the sky fall and the ground become a pit beneath him. How could life go on, now? But it did not happen, the birds sang, the water chuckled in its bed of leaves. His throat closed, and his eyes filled, trying - out of their mercy - to choke and blind him so that he did not have to say it, or watch as she heard. "I understand," he said. "You must go then.'
And Ennor went on, unperturbed, while Galadriel gave him a smile of gratitude and joy that trampled his bleeding fea into the dust. "But will you not come with me?" she urged, "I will not plead, but I will ask. Come with me, my husband. Do not leave me."
She saw the answer in his face, perhaps, for her smile faltered and her own eyes welled, silently, bereaved.
Unable to watch her weep, he took her face reverently between his hands, and kissed her, long and sweet. Her tears fell upon his mouth and mingled with his own. "I cannot." he said at last, drawing away, wishing that grief would slay him - so that he might indeed go with her in the only way that seemed possible. "For the call of the sea is like death. We cannot resist it when it comes, but we may not choose the time of it ourselves, cutting short the time we are given here to accomplish whatever task Iluvatar desires of us. I may not take my death into my own hands, not even to follow you."
She wiped her eyes, furiously, "You give too much credence to Thranduil's foolish analogy. It is false!"
"It may be," he said, knowing that he was too stubborn, too strong to fade from sorrow, and hating himself for it, "I cannot tell. I can only say that it seems true to me. My heart revolts from the West, as from the wilful taking of my own life. I wish it were not so. But it is."
They fell silent, and a wind tossed the treetops above them with a great sighing. After a long while Galadriel whispered, "Listen, do you not hear the roaring of the ocean?" But he dried his tears on the edge of his cloak and replied, brokenly, "No. I hear the many voices of the forests of Middle-earth."
Then he picked up the harp that had lain silent at her feet, and tuned it, and sang:
ínath arnediad sui revail i gelaidh
di-rynd luin Elbereth, ias elenath thiliar
dorthannem nedh ardh bain a lain
ú-aníron cuio ereb!
Ha thia i amar presta
fuin eth thindor dôr immen
a gwannen si galad nin
i adbannatha hi i ylf anim?
Navaer galad nin. Henion.
A Elbereth Gilthoniel, a tiro ellenin.
And so the choice was made, and the Battle of the Golden Wood, which had seemed a victory, became for them only the last mortal blow of a long defeat.
Many thanks to the extremely clever people of the GWAITHI-PHETHDAIN, whose website can be found here: *http://www.elvish.org/gwaith/whsn.htm* out of whose learned translations I have cobbled together this poem. And thanks to Bejai for checking and correcting those bits of it which are original.
Years without count, like the wings of trees,
Under blue vaults of Elbereth wherein stars glisten,
We have dwelled in a realm fair and free.
I don't want to live alone!
But the world is changing.
Darkness out of a shadowed land lies between us,
And lost now is my radiance.
Who will refill the cup for me?
Farewell, my light. I understand.
Oh Elbereth Star-kindler, watch over my star.
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