Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Seeds of Old Trees: 5. Good News, and Bad
Golden lamps swung among the canopy of undying leaves, picking out a carving here, there a fresco in bright paint - Mablung in the dragon's den; Elwing caught in flight, half woman and half mew, the sun bright on her white feathers. It was a strange, eclectic mix of architectures and styles. The unmistakable line of a Galadhrim flet was decorated with interlace which spoke of Lindon. A hall, such as the raft-elves had built in Laketown, glowed with woven tales of Avari heroes, unimaginably distant in time and understanding.
Only the king's house was of stone, and that they flew over twice, each time lower, before Celeborn beheld it for what it was. It seemed at first a round hill, where tangled blackthorn opened their pale sweet flowers to the night - the scent of them a thin freshness, as delightful as starlight to the fëa. Only when they alighted - the rush and sudden halt, the feeling of falling making Celeborn laugh out loud in delight - could the house beneath be seen: The pillars of crystal, and the walls of nimluingon, translucent and pale as cloud, shot through with veins of deep indigo, of purple midnight dark. It looked rather grown than built, as though the mind which shaped the glittering caverns of Aglarond had here wrought a king's palace, and some other kindly force, thinking its splendour too great for even elven eyes to bear, had cloaked it in the seeming of a growing knoll.
"And that is indeed the truth," Elladan must have picked the thought from his grandfather's mind. "Aulë and Yavanna made it for Melian, as a sign of their support."
"Support?" Celeborn paused before dismounting, fully appreciating the sleek warmth of feathers beneath his hands, the great eagle's breathing and heartbeat, which trembled through his bones, shaking him with borrowed ferocity. On eagle-back it was hard to feel anything but magnificent - Lord of the Skies. Aglarhir's arrogance was far more understandable once one had looked down at the scurrying world from a place of tearing speed and sunlight.
"The union of elf and Maia seemed less... problematic... to the Powers," Elladan's ironic tone was so similar to Elrond's that Celeborn could not help but imagine the raised eyebrow, the Peredhil's look of distant, welling humour and disapproval, "when it occurred many miles away - in the uncivilized fastnesses of Arda Marred."
Around the base of the palace-hill there lay a long swathe of grass, grey beneath the night sky, and there, on pale, slender stalks, nodded delicate white and pale green blossoms of niphredil. The tiny flowers brought back so much remembered pain that Celeborn's elation was swept away at once. Luthien he thought, for these flowers had burst into the world new born to celebrate the birth of that fairest maid - a sister to him as Galathil had never been brother. And Arwen - for she had laid herself down to die amid the niphredil in the withering grass of Lothlorien, and it had been as though winter came, without hope for spring.
"They fear the example? They fear to unleash great dooms and destinies? Or to encourage us to look at them with less awe than love?"
"I am not privy to the councils of the Valar," Elladan snorted at his grandfather's vehemence, "Only I know that they were better pleased with the example of a Melian bowed beneath her loss's grief than with her restored to happiness with her husband. Some argue that they should live apart - like you and Daeraneth - if only to make the point that such unions cannot be lastingly blessed."
Celeborn dropped his bag onto the turf, then slid from the eagle's shoulder to the ground, almost overwhelmed by the scent of the niphredil. There were good memories too, to be found in the perfume, both of Doriath and Lorien - dancing and laughter and love, amid the sorrow. "I am become a cautionary tale now? That will have to change."
"Eagles do not mate with lesser birds," Aglarhir mantled his wings, allowing the gentle breeze to ruffle his polished metallic feathers. "If we did, we should have chicks who were fit only to be thrown from the nest. They do right to doubt such crossbreeding."
"Splendid One!" Elladan silenced him, shocked, "What is right for eagles may not be right for elves. Let us talk of this later. For now, hush. They come!"
Celeborn, less outraged than his grandson - for he had heard the same thing said about his own marriage, and lived to see the children of my line rule all Ennor in majesty - turned and smiled as the doors of the king's house opened and Elu and Melian came out. Like the rest of Doreden they had clearly been asleep. But, warned perhaps by her prescience, perhaps by his stationed guards, they had arisen and paused only to throw on the most informal robes ere they came running to greet him in person.
Seeing them thus dishevelled, abandoning dignity for this act of utter welcome, Celeborn felt the first sensation of true homecoming he had yet felt in Valinor. Touched, he looked aside, covering an embarrassed smile. It was one thing for Thingol to come to meet him in Alqualondë, where they were neither of them kings - equal in being out of place - quite another for him to do it here, in the centre of his power.
"Aranadar," said Elladan, and went down on one knee, formal and beautiful as a medieval knight in a church window. Celeborn bowed, and even the eagle, after glaring at the royal couple with a wide, sunbright eye, inclined his head at last.
But Elu laughed. "Come, Palanion, are either of us dressed for such courtesy? Up with you and let us go inside ere the whole city awakens to stare."
There was some truth in his jest. Aside from the focussed attention of guards, their minds taut as their bowstrings, there was now a stirring among the nearer buildings as drowsy, curious folk leaned over the edge of telain, out of house windows, to see the great eagle, and their king, in midnight conference on the grass of the new world. There was no alarm, but there was a wariness, as though not all those there had learned to trust in Aman's promise that there would be no more pain. They had not put down their vigilance, hard learned by the lessons of Arda Marred.
Celeborn was both comforted and challenged by the thought that there were many other Sindar who had not yet fully accepted that they were no longer in Ennor. But seeing it - the suspicion, the readiness to suspect threat, he understood too how unsettling such an attitude might seem to the true Amanyar. As though the Ennorim were constantly on the look out for violence. We bring our 'taint', from the realm Morgoth polluted in its very atoms, to trouble them here, where he only sojourned for a while. It is no wonder they cannot whole-heartedly welcome us.
"I greet you, King of the Lindar," said Aglarhir, "And you, Melian, lady of the Maia. But I will not come into your stone house. I have no desire to burrow in the ground like a rabbit, and I grow tired of elves." He shifted delicately from foot to foot, the sword-like talons gentle in their grip on the flower-strewn turf. "I will hunt and sleep, and once I am done, I will depart. If Elladan wishes to come with me, he will be waiting for me here at dawn. If not, he must seek me elsewhere, for I will be gone."
Elladan leapt to his feet and gave Elu an apologetic smile before turning to his friend. "I will be waiting. Forgive me, Aglarhir. You have been very patient with me and my family. Now I will go where you will - into the mountains and the waste places. At dawn then."
"Farewell, O Eagle," said Celeborn, grateful for the experience of flight, though not entirely sure he liked the creature, "May the wind bear you high and far, into good fortune."
"You are a seed floating on the air," the eagle replied with unexpected insight. He saw the flash of that strange, wild generosity once more in its fierce gaze, "May you come to earth and take root." And he departed, leaving the elf-lord chastened, a little ashamed of being so quick to condemn one whom his grandson found worthy.
Elladan was now walking arm in arm with Thingol into the sleek, mother-of-pearl glory of the palace. Snatches of their conversation drifted back - words from Elrond concerning the character and interests of many of the Mirdain; obscure pieces of gem lore which meant nothing to Celeborn but made him feel a huge and weary nausea of spirit. They were not still pursuing their foolish craft, surely?
"Welcome home, Telpë." Turning, he found Melian by his side. Her soft grey robe swept down to bare feet and her small white hands were twisted together in what would have seemed - had she not been a Queen, an immortal Power - a gesture of vulnerability. Her face was radiant as always, and a light somewhere between star and sunlight shone in her mist-grey eyes, but her long ebony hair floated unbound in the night air with a movement both tender and restless.
"My lady," he said, and waited to find out what he felt. No longer adoration at any rate. Long he had been furious with her, unable to forget the bloodstains in Menegroth's corridors, the small, accusing graves of children, cut down by dwarven axes. The friends murdered, the mourning emptiness and disbelief of those who remained to rebuild. Where was Melian?! Where was she? How could she let this happen? Oh yes, for many years he had brooded on the bitterness of that betrayal, cursing her in his heart because she was our protector, our mother, our Queen - and she left us to die!
Sensing the direction of his thoughts, she looked away, and her smile was rather a gesture of defiance than an expression of her heart. "You are angry with me. I knew it would be so." Moving away, she began to walk towards the crystal doors, and he fell into step beside her, marvelling at how much forgiveness was required to come and live well in Aman. First Galadhon, then she. Where will it stop?
"Did you know?" he said, unkind perhaps, but she knew him well enough not to expect kindness. "Did you know the Dwarves were coming? Did you know you left us utterly vulnerable - with Oropher in Brethil and Amdir in Nargothrond, myself in the very vaults of the enemy, and no one to lead the warriors or rally a defence? You had thought enough to send poor Mablung alone to the treasury. You had thought for the damn Silmaril! What about us? What about your people?"
She stopped, and gasped - the smallest sound of pain - and he found his wrath slipping from his fingers. It was harder to sustain the grudge now that she was before him and he could see how much hurt it caused.
Looking aside, she reached out and took his elbow, steering him into a small chamber where a tall harp stood, and instruments, swaddled in sheepskin and silk, sat in muffled watchfulness about the walls. "Let us not quarrel in public," she said, "Nor before Thingol - he is so glad that you have returned. So many children we have lost - Luthien, my most precious jewel. And Turin, poor Turin, for whom even the greatest kindness could not soothe the canker in his heart... And you, our dutiful one, whom perhaps we forgot sometimes, because you were always there, solid and dependable. No less love did we have for you, if at times we were overcome by the tragedy and striving of the others. Do not begrudge us our joy at having at least one son restored to us."
Celeborn laid his hand gently on the harp, which had gone slightly out of tune and whispered a dissonance beneath his fingers. It was pleasant to hear that he was so valued, for - long ago - he had grieved that they made Turin their son, but would not do the same for him. Much pondering on the subject had made him see that to do so would have been a slight to the memory of his grandfather, the loyal Elmo, who shepherded Elu's people when Thingol disappeared, but never took the name of King. And having come to understand it the grief had left him. He looked forward to greeting his grandfather in person in the morning, for he had little doubt the king's favourite brother would be here in Doreden, a power behind the throne as he was of old.
But Melian was distracting him with this talk of fondness. If she had thought him her son, like Turin, did it not make her deed even more inexcusable?
"Elu has always my love and reverence," he said, "And I begrudge him nothing. But you have not answered my question. Did you know?"
"Ah!" she spun and faced a wall at random. He could not see her face, but her back was rigid and her fists closed. The fall of gleaming jet hair lay like a mourning veil over slender shoulders, and he wondered for the first time if she had chosen a body of such delicacy to reflect the fragility of her spirit. It was a strange thought, he was accustomed to believing her so strong. "Truly it is said that the men of the Sindar are harsh."
Circling, he found that her gaze was fixed on a swirl of purple crystal in the wall. She had opposed Morgoth with her will, and held his people safe for many long years by her power, and yet at his word tears stood in her eyes. It astounded him. "I do not wish to be harsh," he said, and knelt in front of her, so that she could see he spoke true, "Only to understand. How can I forgive, if I do not understand?
Kneeling too, silk settling around her in ripples like twilit water, she smiled the kind of smile that hovers above a lake of tears. "Did I know? No. I knew nothing. Nothing but that my husband was dead and my life over and my soul torn asunder. Nothing, but that to take another breath was more labour than I could bear, and that all was emptiness, meaningless, worthless without him." She laced her fingers together and taking a deep breath met his eye, some dignity restored. "For Elu I became as one of the Eldar. It did not occur to me that there could be a reason to remain, when he was gone."
And after all, perhaps he had been unfair to judge her as though she was an elf. Perhaps she had never known that in marrying Thingol she had taken on not only earthly love, not only children, but a whole nation. That immovable sense of responsibility which was normally instilled in any noble child, she would never have known - never having been a child. Looking at the bowed, humble posture, he wondered if it was blasphemy to pity a Maia. Perhaps it was this realization that - however powerful - the Maia had their own flaws of character, and were no more to be worshiped than accepted as fellow creatures, which made Elu and Melian's relationship so much of a embarrassment to distant Valimar.
She did not know. The news was like the lightening of a shadow cast across his life for six Ages of the world. She did not know - perhaps her prescience failed because her heart was breaking, who could blame her for that? But she had not known that she let death follow in her departing footsteps, she had not deliberately betrayed them. For a long moment he sat motionless in blessed relief. And then he said "Rinaneth," and reached out to take her flawless hands in his.
"Oh, my kinsman," the tears that all this time had welled in her eyes now fell, colourless and abject as elven tears, and he thought of Oropher suddenly, and Beleg, of Amdir and Saeros and Eol, none of whom were known for their tact.
"How many times have you borne this accusation?" he said, "Too many, I wager."
"They look at me differently," she said, and wiped the tears with trembling fingers, "All of the Sindar, all of Elu's folk. I have lost their love."
And none of them had learned - as he had learned from Galadriel - that great power did not protect the heart from pain, that one could reshape the world at will and still be vulnerable, still need the strength of others to carry on. He loosed her hands, and at her look of sorrow for that drawing away, he dared to lean forward and hug her, letting go, himself, of ten thousand years of resentment. "But not mine," he said, lighter and more free for this reconciliation. "Not mine."
At dawn, he arose to bid farewell to Elladan. As seemed typical - for he had observed it well in Men - his grandson's ability to travel at speed had resulted in him having less, rather than more time to spend. Celeborn found that, though the soar into cloudless sky was something he would miss, he could not envy the fretful novelty of one new place after another.
"If you see her before I do," he said, in parting, "Bear my love to your grandmother and tell her that my heart is not changed from when I first beheld her in Doriath." For all her talk about neither seeing nor speaking to him, this strange conversation by eagle-messenger had been the closest communication he had had with her for millennia. It was a small thrill of joy to know that finally they stood on the same world and breathed the same air as each other; that if he spoke, his words would reach her, eventually. It had not been so, for a very long time.
Returning to his room, he found it cluttered with esquires and fine clothing. A tall figure, struggling with the tangled layers of an opal-coloured cloak, turned at his footfall. His dark hair - braided in a thousand small plaits, each wound with silver cord and tipped with a jewelled clip - swung at the movement, giving forth a pleasant, metallic tinkle. Delighted, Celeborn wondered if the ornaments had become so habitual that his fëa could not now be re-embodied without them. "Calandil!" he cried, and laughing, strode forward to embrace a friend long missed. "Why did I grieve? Why did I ever grieve - and so much!"
"Perhaps because your life was utterly barren without me, and each day was as an eternal wilderness once I was gone?"
"That must have been it, indeed." Celeborn turned to survey the wreckage of his room. "And I am in bliss now that I see you. But why have you brought the entire contents of the King's wardrobe with you?"
Calandil grinned as he so often did, and a light was rekindled in Celeborn's life. Not the brightest, perhaps, but one of the most uncomplicated. He felt like a night sky when heavy cloud withdraws and stars are unveiled one by one, until all is ablaze once more. Yet it was some perversity in him, perhaps, to wonder why this healing should be available only to those in Aman. Why should the lands of Middle-earth, which needed it more, not benefit from some of Elvenhome's renewing strength?
"I am to make you fit to be presented to the people of Doreden," said Calandil, and held up the most appalling diamond-woven rose-pink tunic, whose fringes were weighted with beads of amber and peridot, and whose sleeves would trail upon the ground even were they wrapped twice about the wrist. "How about this?"
It was the sort of thing one of the Noldor might have worn in the First Age, before they came under the influence of Sindar tastefulness, and he was oddly reminded of Maedhros Feanorion, who could wear such monstrosities and still look dangerous. Giving his friend a glare of disgust, he watched the reborn warrior double over in laughter and tried not to snort in sympathy. "I am capable of dressing myself, thank you, and need not three pages and a Captain of the Knights of Lorien to advise me. Tell me, rather, more of what has passed here in Aman since I saw you last, and about the Troubles, and why Elu should need reports from Elrond about the Gwaith-i-Mirdain. If I am to take some sort of office here, I need to know everything."
"Alas," said Calandil, and tugged a fir green velvet tunic and grey trousers out of the sumptuous sprawl, "'Everything' I cannot cover in the half hour I have been given to get you - spruced and ready - down to the Great Hall. Yet so little is known of the Mirdain's arts that I can answer that at once. It is rumoured they are constructing some strange weapon, up there in Tirion. There is much talk of harnessing the inner power of jewels, but no one knows aught in truth. They do not speak of it to us."
After so much suffering came of the Rings, Celeborn thought, his heart falling, still they go on. And he struggled into his finery with a better will. The sooner he settled into his place here, the sooner he could begin to act.
The Great Hall was a startling evocation of vanished Doriath, for here the pale, beribboned stone was shaped into sparkling trees; a milk white grove, glistening. The ceiling was of beaten gold and cast a light like sunshine over all, but carven birds sat in the fossilized branches, and carven vines swirled in patterns of silver and green gems over the slender trunks of the pillars. Water moved and sang throughout, for a small stream ran in many lattice-covered channels beneath the floor. Its reflected light lapped gently at the walls and floated over the robed splendour of the crowd, making embroideries glimmer, softening the sheen of silks, catching in bright gleams from weapons - carried unneeded, except for memory.
Many familiar faces, Celeborn saw, as he made his way to the dais. With a bliss almost as intense as pain, he thought truly Dor-eden is Doriath renewed. Nothing is lost! But then, guilt jolting him, he remembered, except to Ennor. Every Fëa restored here in Aman is a loss to Middle-earth. All is loss to my homeland, the land where Iluvatar placed us, entrusted to our care.
Thingol and Melian sat together in state upon the dais, and bore no jewels. They were simply clad in white, adorned only by their own beauty. Their faces shone, and their eyes were radiant with the light of the Two Trees, captured as if in a Silmaril. Both smiled as he approached, and he could not forebear smiling in return.
Yet the dais seemed very bare without Luthien, and the canopied chair at Elu's right hand stood empty. He guessed that when Dior came to Doreden he sat there. Perhaps the little princes, Elurin and Elured, who must by now - surely - have been reborn, remained with their father, or had grown into lands of their own. But why did the seat on Melian's left remain unfilled? That was the place reserved for the King's brother, his chief advisor. In Doriath, after Elmo had died, Celeborn had come to occupy that place, but he had been sure that in this new world where all ills were mended, he would find his grandfather there, as was right.
His bliss faltered further at the sight, and when he stepped out onto the bare floor before the thrones, kneeling before the crowd, he was solemn, the instincts of Ennor filling him with foreboding.
Elu rose and looked down on Celeborn's humbled, kneeling form, then out, to his people. "Behold," he said, "Celeborn, Prince of Doriath, whom you knew of old. He has my love and trust, and I would have you accept him once more into the office of a prince of this realm, with all its duties and privileges." He took a breath, frowning. "Let anyone who objects speak now."
The silence burned, looming huge, and the stream's song sounded loud beside the small whispering of garments as the people breathed and fidgeted, but there was no outcry against him. Whether that was because they truly trusted him, or did not care, or had been specially invited, leaving the nay-sayers outside, he did not know. He wondered - in the infinite pause between challenge and satisfaction - if Oropher might not have spoken out, had he been here. But since Oropher now ruled his own country it was just that he should have no say in the decisions of this.
Descending from the throne, Thingol leaned down to place a square, strong hand on his head. "Then rise, Prince of Doreden". Raising his nephew to his feet he gave him a little nudge, turning him to face the crowd. "And I say this. Dior is my heir, but I name Celeborn of my brother's line to be Lord Steward of Ardh-in-Eledhil from now until the end of time."
It was a moment like that of being chosen to bear an Elven Ring - there was a rush of marvel and joy, followed by realization. Shocked, he mounted the dais and sat down in Elmo's place, with Elmo's mantle settling on him heavily, and did not know whether to feel like a beloved kinsman or a usurper. Beneath the crowd's cheering he leaned over and whispered to Melian. "This honour belongs to my grandfather, surely? Where is he? I would not take what was his."
"Oh, Telpë," she said, with a gentle sternness, as of one who requires the injured to take bitter medicine. "I know you have always tried to tell yourself he died, but surely you remember it was not so. He was taken. Taken by Morgoth." She laid her hand on his arm, where it rested upon a throne which should not be his. "Elmo's fëa has never entered Mandos, and he was not among the captives released when Thangorodrim was broken." Her face was gentle and sad, infinite in compassion, and it frightened him a little to be the subject of such pity. "I would that it were not so, kinsman, but either he remains as a houseless spirit in Ennor, or," she paused, and her mouth twisted with the taste of the words, for being a hungry ghost was not the worst fate imaginable. "Or - forgive me, I do not want to say this."
In a voice barely to be heard over the joyful murmuring of the people, with the unmerciful truthfulness of her Maia spirit, she finished. "We must now all face the knowledge that your grandfather has been tormented beyond his endurance. That he returns not because... Oh, I am sorry. Because he has become an orc."
Aranadar = 'Father-King' - an honourific Elladan is using to indicate that Elu is one of his royal ancestors.
Palanion = 'Afar-son' - a slightly nicer way of saying 'my descendant'
Rinaneth = 'Crowned-mother' - a bit more formal than 'mum', but more affectionate than 'my Queen' :)
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