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Water and Stone: 6. Lessons
Celinn looked at the others and was glad that they were on watch within Caras Galadhon rather than on duty outside the borders that night.
Haldir came into the guardroom where they waited for their orders for the night and his eyes scanned them in silence.
‘Remember that the Shadow is outside Lorien, not within it, children,’ he said dryly before taking Celinn aside.
‘What is the matter with you all? Midsummer was ten days ago: surely that is not enough to explain the faces of your company,’ he said.
Celinn looked away, uncertain what to say.
‘I see,’ said Haldir. ‘I will post you to the gate tonight. I assume you can all walk that far.’
Celinn nodded, then saluted to Haldir and turned to catch Luinil’s eye. Then he remembered that Luinil would do everything he could to avoid him, and thought ruefully that this would make it very difficult to communicate with his second-in-command.
He passed the order to his company, and they trooped out of the guardroom in silence and made their way the short distance to the gate. Celinn divided up his company as well as he could according to their present sensibilities, and they passed the night in silence watching from the green wall around Caras Galadhon.
‘So it is a matter which cannot be discussed?’ said Haldir, ten days later, as Celinn sat mute before him. The Guardian of Lorien had summoned him to ask whether he would take Aragorn out on patrol with his company, and once the arrangements had been made, took the opportunity to discuss the continuing low spirits of his company. Haldir reached for a tall bottle on a shelf behind him and poured a measure into a small glass.
‘Here,’ he said, pushing it across the table to Celinn. The younger elf looked at the glass, then raised it to his mouth and sipped the miruvor. It burned a path down his throat but almost at once he felt enlivened and refreshed.
‘Now,’ said Haldir, ‘Tell me.’
‘Aelindor and Silivren are well now, but Caranfir and Sirion have not yet been reconciled. Luinil is unhappy,’ said Celinn, ‘and he may wish to join another company for a while. Perhaps you would consent to speak with him yourself.’
‘Luinil is unhappy,’ repeated Haldir, ‘and you do not wish to tell me the reason.’
‘No,’ said Celinn, avoiding Haldir’s eyes.
‘And who else is unhappy?’ asked Haldir, ‘as if I didn’t already know the answer.’
Celinn looked down at his hands. ‘Gwirith.’
‘Of course,’ said Haldir, and waited.
‘He is a fine warrior, brave and resourceful. He is always ready for duty. Anyone in the company would choose to fight at his side. But all at once he is like a bowstring waiting to break. His courage is at the edge of recklessness, because he scarcely cares whether he lives or dies. He will not allow anyone to come near him, not even Luinil.’
Still Haldir was silent. Then Celinn said, ‘Because of…Luinil’s distress, something has changed. I have been watching Gwirith these last ten days. Before, he was defiant; his pain, whatever it is, made him angry. Now he despairs. When I am near him, I see…fearful things.’
Haldir sighed deeply. ‘What do you think we should do?’
‘Stand him down from duty. Send him to the Lady: surely she will be able to help him?’
‘I cannot do that. I cannot spare him, Celinn. After this duty you will all have a month of holiday. Do you think you can endure until then?’
Celinn bowed his head and clenched his fists, pressing them into the table. He let out a gusty breath. ‘I can endure,’ he said, ‘but I cannot speak for Gwirith.’
‘I imagine you could teach me a great deal about orc-hunting,’ whispered Celinn to Aragorn as they waited in hiding with the rest of the company for Luinil and Sirion to return from scouting. ‘Your brothers are known as masters of the craft.’
‘I have hunted with them many times,’ said Aragorn. ‘It is their hatred for the creatures who harmed their mother which drives them to such lengths to destroy them. I doubt there is anything I could add to your knowledge of the matter.’
‘Well, you may underestimate your skill,’ said Celinn. ‘We will see how you fare against this band.’ He sighed deeply. ‘I had hoped we had discouraged them from coming into the Golden Wood when we engaged them near the mountains a few weeks ago. They are becoming more brazen than ever.’
The smell of burnt orc flesh was very strong. Luinil suspected that they had feasted on one of their own, as they did when rations were short. He retched and covered his mouth as the wind blew the smoke from the cooking fire towards him. Silently he signed to Sirion, then melted into the forest.
‘Six of them,’ he reported briskly to Celinn, avoiding his eyes. ‘And they’re busy eating. There may be more around. The ground is trampled and the trees damaged. We can take them.’
Celinn nodded. ‘Take up your position and wait for my orders,’ he said. When Luinil and Sirion were out of earshot, he said to Aragorn,
‘What think you of our chances?’
‘Good,’ said Aragorn. ‘Nine of us against six of them, and we can surprise them.’
Aragorn looked baffled.
‘What about the members of the company?’ said Celinn.
‘What about them?’
‘You would be happy to lead them into combat immediately?’
‘Of course!’ said Aragorn. ‘They are skilled and disciplined and well-armed.’
‘They are all those things, but Sirion and Caranfir are at daggers drawn over Falariel, and so offended with you also; Luinil is unhappy and wishes to be far away both from me and from his brother; Gwirith has quarrelled with him and with me, and has fallen into a reckless disregard for his own safety.’
Aragorn frowned at him. ‘But they will put this aside to fight as a company, will they not?’
‘They will wish to, but as their captain, I would not risk their lives on the success of such a wish.’
‘So what will you do?’
Celinn got up silently and signed to Aragorn to follow him.
‘Brothers,’ he said quietly, when all his company were gathered around him. ‘The orcs are unprepared, and appear few in number. Our task should be straightforward, but I am worried.’ He looked round the elves sitting in silence before him. Luinil and Gwirith looked away, refusing to meet his eyes.
‘This is the first time we have engaged the enemy since Midsummer, and I would rather let these orcs finish their meal and return safe home to Moria than lead you into battle against them with your hearts as they are today. We are the pellarim, bound together to serve Lorien, but we cannot even look one another in the eyes.’
By now several of the company were looking uncomfortable.
‘Today, and every day we fight, we look death in the face. We can do this because we know our brothers are beside us, both kin and chosen brothers.’ He glanced at Aiglin, who smiled warmly at him. Celinn was silent for a long time, letting his words sink in. Then he said softly,
‘If I die today, I would not wish to do so at war with my own comrades. And I would not let you risk death with anger against one another in your hearts. We will make peace, or else we will not fight.’
‘We cannot just let them go!’ said Gwirith harshly, his eyes blazing.
‘Unless we can fight as one, we are not fit to the task,’ said Celinn quietly. He heard Aragorn draw in his breath sharply beside him.
No-one spoke, but the air was so full of discord that it almost seemed to hum with it.
At last Caranfir got up from his place far away from Sirion, and crossed to his side.
‘Sirion, I have been cold towards you these last days. I ask your pardon. Falariel may choose who she wishes as her partner for Midsummer.’ He held out his hand stiffly, and slowly Sirion took it in both of his.
‘I must say,’ said Sirion, solemnly, ‘I was getting a bit tired of hearing how magnificent Aragorn was at his very first attempt. I don’t think she would have had half as much to brag about if she had gone with you.’
Aragorn stared at them, his skin flushed a deep red. For a moment it seemed as if Sirion had gone too far, but then Caranfir’s face slowly broke into a smile and he put out his hand and ruffled Sirion’s hair.
‘You’re jealous, you dog!’ he said. ‘Now you’re bound to Siriel, you cannot sample the many sweetmeats at the Midsummer feast any more!’
Sirion blushed. ‘You know I love my Siriel,’ he said.
‘I know it,’ said Caranfir, peaceably. ‘I hope I may find a treasure such as she is one day.’
‘And I hope you will too, Aragorn,’ said Sirion, turning to him. ‘It sounds like Falariel would be more than willing, but don’t let her catch you before you’ve sown your wild oats, boy.’
Aragorn grinned foolishly as a ripple of laughter greeted Sirion’s words.
Celinn glanced round at the company. Luinil was looking towards Gwirith, whose back was turned implacably away from him. Luinil stretched out his hand and touched his brother’s shoulder, but Gwirith shrugged it off. Celinn sighed.
‘Luinil, Gwirith,’ he said. Silence fell at once. Both those he had addressed became completely still, looking anywhere but at him. ‘The whole company knows there is trouble between us. This is not the place to heal it, but remember I am bound to you both as your captain, and that we are comrades even now. I am proud to fight at your side, and would not have our quarrels put you in danger. Will you take my hands as brother warriors, so that we may go into battle with our hearts at rest?’
Gwirith gave an irritated sigh. ‘I will give my best to this company whether I take your hand or not,’ he said, angrily.
‘Brother,’ said Luinil, softly, holding out his hand. Gwirith turned to him slowly, then took his hand with a great show of boredom. Celinn knelt down beside them and they reluctantly joined hands with him, although neither held his hand or his gaze for more than a moment.
‘Well, it is a beginning,’ Celinn said lightly, then stood up. ‘Orcs eat very slowly, brothers. Let us go and interrupt their meal. Gwirith, I want you at my shoulder. Luinil, take the left wing with Sirion and Caranfir. Aragorn, come with me.’
Celinn crouched under cover a short distance away from the orcs, his eyes flashing with anger as he watched them at their meal. He gave the sign to prepare for action and the other elves got up from the ground, silently checking their weapons. Celinn strung his bow and nocked an arrow to the string, then signalled to the others to follow him. The orcs were still eating and passing round bottles of something to drink. No one was on guard. Celinn positioned each member of the company carefully, then raised his bow.
Seconds went past, then minutes. Aragorn was just becoming edgy when Celinn nodded his head and loosed the first arrow, hitting an orc between the shoulders. The creature shrieked with pain and the other orcs stood up, dropping their food and running to find their weapons. Before they could reach them, one more had been hit by an elvish arrow, but the rest picked up their ugly swords and charged at the elves.
Celinn was at the head of his company and Aragorn saw him draw his sword and parry a blow from a bellowing orc which growled in his face. The orc locked swords with Celinn, but Celinn gave him a mighty shove and he fell on to his back, arms outflung, and in a single flowing movement Celinn had pierced him through the heart. Even with his brothers, it always amazed Aragorn that elves could be so strong and yet so graceful that even in battle they could move like dancers. Then they were all in the thick of the fight and he had no time to watch Celinn.
Aragorn had never fought with so large a company before and even in the chaos of conflict he was aware of the way each warrior looked out for his comrades, shouting out warnings or defending them if they needed help. Aragorn had no partner but he saw Celinn glancing back at him frequently and once when he stumbled, Luinil was in front of him at once, protecting him while he got back on to his feet.
‘Thank you,’ he croaked, dust filling his mouth. Luinil nodded and moved aside.
‘I think some more guests have arrived for lunch,’ he said, and Aragorn saw seven or eight more orcs running clumsily towards them.
‘Gwirith, Luinil, fall back and change to the bow!’ cried Celinn, and Luinil was gone.
Immediately a huge orc loomed in front of Aragorn, mouth wide open and howling into his face. Aragorn dodged the first ungainly slash from its sword and parried the next, then waited to see what it would do next. The sword came down again, so close to his head that it was only his agility that prevented him from losing more than just a lock of hair. Breathless and shocked, he gasped and stepped back, and then it was if Elladan was right beside him, and his voice sounded in his head:
‘Anticipate, Estel! Anticipate! Don’t wait for the stroke!’
Enlivened by the thought of his brother, Aragorn’s reflexes immediately speeded up and this time he dodged under the orc’s guard and delivered a mighty blow to its chest. The orc screamed and at once blood began to leak out of its mouth. Aragorn shoved it hard with his shoulder, ducking out of the way of its flailing sword, and it fell heavily to the ground and lay still.
Aragorn stepped back, pushing his dusty hair out of his eyes and glancing round to see where to go next. At that moment he caught sight of Celinn running swiftly into the thick of the fight and seizing hold of another elf by the shoulder, then dragging him bodily out of the fray before himself despatching the orc which the first elf had been fighting. Aragorn caught sight of a single dark braid: the other elf was Gwirith. Celinn was shouting at him, and even from this distance, Gwirith’s blazing anger was clear. Gwirith turned his back on Celinn and ran off, taking his bow off his back and nocking and loosing an arrow into the thick of a group of orcs in a single fluid movement.
The fight began to go out of the orcs then, and within a few minutes the only one left standing was disappearing into the distance. Celinn nodded at Gwirith, whose face was still dark with anger, and he nocked an arrow and let it fly. Aragorn shaded his eyes to watch it, and saw it describe a beautiful arc before coming to rest square in the orc’s back.
‘I suppose you want me to glean the arrow now,’ snarled Gwirith at Celinn, beginning to run towards his quarry.
Celinn walked over to Aragorn, his sword trailing on the ground. There was a splash of black blood across his cheek and his hair was slightly disarranged but apart from that he seemed almost as fresh as when he had entered the fray.
‘Are you hurt, Aragorn?’ he asked, looking him up and down. Aragorn shook his head.
‘I remembered Elladan’s advice, and that kept me out of trouble,’ he said. ‘What happened to Gwirith? I saw you helping him.’
Celinn’s eyes filled with sadness. ‘He said he had not heard my command to fall back. He is a danger to himself, Aragorn. He carries a burden that he will not reveal, and I fear it is suddenly too heavy for him.’
‘What did you say to him?’
‘That I would not allow him the luxury of death when he was fighting in my company. His anger is less dangerous than his despair. If I can persuade him to stay alive a little longer, he will be able to rest and maybe heal a little.’
Gwirith was walking back towards them, dragging the dead orc by the leg. He stopped by the fire that Aiglin and Sirion were building and dumped the body on to it, then sat down under a tree and took out what he needed to clean his weapons, but instead of going about the task he sat with his bow in his hands, head sunk down beneath his shoulders, dejected and hopeless.
‘I am glad you are captain of this company and not me, for I do not know what to do to help him,’ said Aragorn.
‘And nor do I,’ sighed Celinn.
A week later Celinn sat with Aiglin outside the guardroom that evening, waiting to receive his monthly orders from Haldir.
‘Celinn, what is troubling you?’ asked Aiglin, noticing Celinn’s preoccupied expression. ‘You’re not still thinking about what Aragorn said about Madoc on the night of your braiding, are you?’
Celinn turned, his eyes slowly focussing on his brother’s face. ‘What did you say?’ he said.
‘At least tell me why he bothers you so much,’ said Aiglin, irritably. ‘Just because you’re captain, doesn’t mean you have to keep everything to yourself, does it?’
‘It’s really nothing,’ said Celinn, frowning at him.
‘Then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t tell me, is there?’ said Aiglin.
Celinn sighed, then said with mock resignation, ‘I suppose I could, if it will stop you nagging me.’
‘Tell your big brother, Celinn,’ said Aiglin, tugging at Celinn’s kinbraid.
‘It’s just…I haven’t thought about him for a ten-year, and now I keep remembering…’
‘Yes?’ said Aiglin, after a long pause. Celinn turned to him.
‘I keep remembering how much he hated me,’ he said quietly. ‘The day before he disappeared, he was lying in wait for me at the practice ground. He wanted to fight me. I tried to refuse, but he said I had dishonoured him. He came at me with his sword.’
‘How dishonoured?’ asked Aiglin.
‘I didn’t know at first. He was almost incoherent with rage, but he accused me of destroying his happiness. I used only defensive strokes, and he taunted me for being too cowardly to fight him. In the end he wounded me just as others arrived to restrain him. That night he slipped out of his chamber and came to me in the healing house. I was drowsy with the potions they had given me, and if the healers had not heard the commotion he had made, I think he would have killed me. It seems he was betrothed to the young woman who had been rescued with him, but that she had rejected him, saying she wished to bind herself to me. He believed I had seduced her, but I had done nothing but talk pleasantly to her, in the same way as I did to him.’
‘Obviously your understated charm was too much for her to resist. Was she pretty?’ said Aiglin, lightly.
Celinn glared at him. ‘I am glad it gives you pleasure to amuse yourself at my expense, brother,’ he said. ‘Maybe it will amuse you less to know that he swore before Thranduil himself that he would have his revenge on me. Thranduil had been reluctant to shelter him from the start: it was only because of the kindness of his son, Legolas, that Madoc had been brought back to Mirkwood at all. But that night, before he could decide whether to banish Madoc from his realm, he disappeared, and the young woman with him.’
‘And now it seems he threatens Lorien itself, and you think you might have to look on his face again.’
‘You may imagine how little I wish to do so, Aiglin,’ said Celinn.
‘I doubt you need worry, Celinn. To a man, a ten-year is a long time; he will probably have forgotten all about you. And even if he does remember you, you will only be one among many who seek to capture him and his band. You will probably get no more than a glimpse of him, if that.’
They heard footsteps, and saw that Haldir and Gwirith were approaching. Celinn turned away. Aiglin watched him with interest.
‘Has he still not forgiven you for Luinil?’ he said quietly. Celinn shook his head.
‘It seems all the good between us has been undone,’ he said. ‘Luinil is more generous than his brother, although he is the one injured.’
Haldir stopped outside the door of the guardroom, speaking to Gwirith who stood straight-backed and defiant before him. He listened to Haldir in silence, avoiding his eyes. Even from where they sat, Celinn and Aiglin could feel his anger. At last Haldir finished speaking, and Gwirith saluted and left so abruptly that he seemed on the edge of deliberately insulting Haldir.
Haldir came over to them. ‘How fortunate that I am not easily offended,’ he said dryly, watching Gwirith. ‘Taking your ease, are you?’
‘Not at all,’ said Aiglin. ‘Celinn has been telling me some interesting things about his visit to Mirkwood.’
‘Indeed?’ said Haldir. ‘If you have more information, Celinn, I would be glad to hear it.’
Casting a black glance at his brother, Celinn told Haldir about himself and Madoc. By the time he had finished, Haldir’s face was sombre.
‘I wonder whether prince Legolas was not too generous for his own good,’ he said. ‘It is rare that true friendship can ever exist between elves and men.’
‘Thranduil was of the same opinion,’ said Celinn, ‘but Legolas said it was only by standing together that the races of Middle Earth could defeat the evil of Mordor.’
‘Maybe he is right,’ said Aiglin. ‘After all, we have admitted Aragorn within our fences.’
‘That is different, Aiglin,’ said Haldir shortly. ‘Celinn, before your brother tries to entertain us further with his opinions, come into the guardroom with me, and I will give you your orders.’
Unusually subdued, Celinn opened the door of the guardroom and stepped out into the garden, absorbed in contemplation of what he and Haldir had just discussed. He was blind both to the beauty of the summer evening and to the figure which stood just outside the door, and they collided heavily. Celinn was beginning to apologise and had reached out to take the other elf by the arm when he realised that it was Luinil, and his hand fell to his side.
Celinn stared at him, anguished and mute, but Luinil smiled and said gently,
‘Did the sun get into your eyes, Celinn? Or was it my presence which dazzled you?’
Celinn let out a gusty, relieved breath. ‘How could the sun rival you, Luinil?’ he said, lightly. They looked at each other, and Celinn was aware of Luinil searching his face for something. When he did not find it, he looked away sadly.
‘Can you forgive me, Luinil?’ said Celinn, drawing him away from the others who were sitting talking with Aiglin. ‘Truly I never meant to hurt you. Believe me, nothing you could say would make me more ashamed of my insensitivity than I am already. I should have spoken to you before now but…’
‘But I have done my best to avoid you. Of course I forgive you, Celinn,’ said Luinil. ‘Although I do not regret a single moment of the time spent together, even though it ended in pain.’ He put up his hand to Celinn’s cheek. ‘I will always remember you as you were that night, even if I never touch you again.’
Celinn blushed and looked away. Luinil removed his hand slowly.
‘We are still friends, Celinn,’ he said. ‘I hope that will never change.’
Celinn turned back quickly, taking Luinil’s arm. ‘Luinil, you know that it could not, min gwador. And you know that although I cannot offer you a binding love, I love you nevertheless as friend and comrade.’
Luinil nodded slowly. ‘I know that, Celinn,’ he said. ‘Let us be friends, and try to forget the pain of what has happened.’ He smiled sadly, then leaned forward and kissed Celinn gently on the cheek.
‘I must find Gwirith,’ he said, turning away. ‘You must have guessed that we spoke harshly to one another after you found him in the forest. Maybe this time he will forgive me.’
Two days later, Gwirith stood right at the back of the guardroom near the door, his back pressed against the wooden panels, and tried to resist the urge to slip out unseen into the forest. His fea was still disturbed by the nearness of so many other people and he clenched his hands together and tried to steady his breathing. As he gradually relaxed, he became aware of the beautiful sound of the other elves murmuring to each other as they waited for Haldir to arrive. It was like a river rippling quietly over stones and he felt strangely soothed by it.
The other members of his company were near the front of the room, except for Celinn who had not yet arrived. Thinking about his captain, Gwirith was surprised to feel again the strange sense of loss that had assailed him since they had quarrelled on Midsummer night. He was still angry with Celinn on Luinil’s behalf, but he missed the unspoken accord which had existed between them, and which had anchored him more than he had realised until now. He had rejected all Luinil’s efforts at making peace between them after the harsh words that were spoken at Midsummer, and as he gazed around him at the other elves talking amicably together, he recognised in himself the sense of wretched loneliness and despair with which he had been so very familiar, but which had somehow imperceptibly faded in the months since he had come to Caras Galadhon.
Gwirith wondered why they had been summoned to this dusk meeting, called at a time when day and night patrols of elves would be changing over. He wondered it Aragorn’s plans had finally come to fruition, and whether the business which had occupied the pellamir since the beginning of the year would now be revealed to the other Lorien guards.
Footsteps sounded outside and then Haldir came into the room, accompanied by Celinn and Aragorn himself.
Gwirith felt a barely perceptible wave of surprise whisper through the assembled elves as the man walked quietly behind Haldir to the front of the room and stood in silence, his dark head touched by the fading light that illuminated the room through the big curved window behind him.
Haldir glanced round in what seemed to be a casual way, but Gwirith knew he was not the only one to feel the Guardian’s commanding presence as their eyes met for an instant.
‘Brothers, I have brought Aragorn here to tell you himself about a threat which we must deal with immediately,’ Haldir said, and he stepped aside to let Aragorn speak.
The ranger stepped forward slowly and he too glanced round the room, observing those who looked at him with interest and those who turned away. Gwirith thought he looked older: the line of his jaw was sharper and his shoulders more muscular. Aragorn said in his deep, quiet voice,
‘I am honoured that I am permitted to enter your guardroom and address you. Let me tell you what I have seen.’
Aragorn described his encounter with Adanwath and his men. When he told them about Surindel and his fate, there were cries of horror and anger from the assembled elves.
‘But there is something else,’ Aragorn went on. ‘Rumil has met Adanwath before, and so has Celinn.’ All eyes turned to the fair elf standing behind Aragorn, as the ranger continued. ‘It was at Mirkwood, ten years past. Adanwath’s family had been caught in a skirmish between some orcs who had come out of the mountains and a patrol of Thranduil’s elves on the western edge of the forest.’ Aragorn looked down, his face in shadow. ‘Then his name was Lorgan, and he and a young woman were the only survivors, so out of pity they took him back to Mirkwood to recover from their wounds before returning to their own land. It seems it was then he conceived his hatred of the elves and indeed of all living things.’
‘Why would he hate those who took him in out of kindness?’ asked Luinil.
‘Because in his grief he held them responsible for the death of his kin,’ said Celinn. ‘We had gone to Mirkwood as envoys from the Lady and Lord to King Thranduil, and we arrived the same day he and the patrol came into Mirkwood after meeting the orcs. Had Lorgan not been incapacitated by his wounds, the elves would have had to restrain him. Even as they took him to the healers, he was cursing them and trying to get hold of a weapon to take out his vengeance on them.’
‘He had suffered a terrible loss,’ said Rumil, gently. ‘Anyone in his condition would be unhinged with grief.’
‘Indeed so,’ agreed Celinn. ‘But in time grief passes and there is forgiveness and healing. For Lorgan, his hatred hardened and became the core of what kept him alive. We were in Mirkwood for some time at the King’s bidding, and some of us tried to make amends for his loss by befriending him. But he was one who saw a slight or an injury in everything that we did for him. He reckoned we wished harm on him; that we were keeping him only to kill him by slow means like poison, or that we were befriending him so that we could turn him out alone once he had become attached to us. He was full of torment, and to him, we and the orcs were the cause of it. He could not take his revenge on the orcs, so he had to take it on us.’
‘And did he try to take his revenge at Mirkwood?’ asked Haldir.
‘No,’ said Aragorn. ‘As soon as his wounds were healed, he disappeared. Thranduil had him tracked for until he was far south of Mirkwood, as much for his own safety as for theirs. From then until now there had been no definite news of him, but Surindel also recognised him.’ He paused, and his hand went to the scar on his left arm and he stroked it as if to comfort himself. When he spoke again there was a deep sadness in his voice. ‘I would wish I did not have to bring you news of the harm that men do to Middle Earth, and to the elves in particular. But for the safety of Lorien I gladly put aside my pride so that you may be forewarned of the danger that may threaten you.’
A murmur of gratitude went through the room, and Aragorn nodded in acknowledgement.
‘We fear that these men might knowingly or unknowingly be part of some darker purpose,’ went on Aragorn. ‘There is something more than just self-interest in them, some greater determination to destroy than can be explained simply by greed or aggression. Their hatred of elves may spring from some one who is the enemy of us all.’
There was silence for a while after Aragorn had finished talking, and then Haldir said briskly,
‘Are there any further questions?’ and when none were forthcoming, he said,
‘Finding these men has been the main task of the pellarim for some months, but our ill luck and their cunning have prevented us from capturing them. Be alert for any signs of them, and above all, do not try to engage them unprepared unless there is absolutely no alternative. Orcs are our enemies by their very nature, but men are not, and because we are more alike, their hatred for us may be even more bitter than that of the servants of the Dark.’
At these words there fell a long, pensive silence. At last Haldir said, ‘Aragorn is working with the Dunedain to prepare a joint expedition against these men. When all is ready, he will alert us. The three companies of the pellarim will go with him, but the rest of you must be prepared for sudden changes in your duties to cover for them. May Elbereth smile on our efforts.’
He saluted the gathering of elves and all returned the gesture, then he walked out quickly into the forest, followed by Aragorn and Celinn, talking quietly together.
A soft buzz of conversation broke out in the guardroom but it was quite different in timbre from the gentle ripple which had soothed Gwirith before the meeting started. He felt his fea flinch away from little waves of anxiety and controlled anger as the other elves discussed what Aragorn and Celinn had said about Adanwath. And his own fea was twitching too, over something Celinn had said, something which had seemed very important at the time. He frowned, trying to remember the words but his attention was caught by a conversation that had begun near him and was spreading to include many of the elves who had not yet left the guardroom.
‘Yes,’ Aiglin was saying, ‘I remember when Celinn was sent to Mirkwood. It was a ten-year ago, when Mithrandir led the assault against Dol Guldur and expelled the Necromancer. Celinn was sent with Rumil’s company to assist him.’ One of the other elves was passing round cups of wine and Aiglin and the others helped themselves.
‘Then he was a mere escort and now he is your captain,’ said an elf from another company.
‘Yes, and we could not have a better captain,’ said Aiglin, his smile brightening his face.
‘You don’t think being his brother might influence your opinion?’ asked the elf, whose name was Haroth, laughing at him.
‘Ask someone who is not his brother what they think,’ offered Aiglin. Haroth looked around at the rest of Celinn’s company.
‘Well?’ he asked. Gwirith felt the mood around him begin to change, becoming lighter and more playful, as if to push back the darkness of the threat that they had felt only a short while before.
‘Is this a challenge?’ asked Luinil, his eyes dancing with merriment. ‘Do you think your captain is somehow superior to ours?’
‘How could I imply such a thing?’ said Haroth. ‘But so soon after his braiding, it is natural to be a little curious about a new captain.’
‘Very well,’ Caranfir said, ‘I will go first.’
‘But you are his cousin!’ protested Haroth.
‘Nevertheless I will begin. Celinn, our new captain, possesses many gifts: beauty…’ (at this point he began to enumerate Celinn’s virtues on his fingers) ‘…skills: he is an excellent archer and the best swordsman in Lorien; an unparalleled singer; he is blessed with friendship, and with success at all he attempts, with the love and admiration of elves and she-elves alike,’…an insinuating laugh greeted his words… ‘He has the affection and respect of his fellow guards,’…a murmur of agreement …‘In battle he is brave and loyal, he is valued by his superiors and by the Lord and Lady. What more could he have or desire to have?’ By now the other guards were smiling as they listened to this eulogy of the new captain.
‘Fortunately he is saved from the corrupting influences of all this good fortune by the sweetest nature - there, I have run out of fingers.’ Caranfir turned and seized Luinil’s hand and began to use his fingers to continue listing Celinn’s virtues. ‘The sweetest nature – oh, I’ve already mentioned that one, put that finger back down, Luinil, - the gentlest heart, the affection and care he shows for all around him, particularly his own guards,’ -here he was interrupted by a cheer from Sirion and Aelindor. Caranfir continued, ‘and by his courageous and imaginative leadership.’ He and Luinil held their fingers up for all to see.
‘Is it a wonder that we all love him?’ said Caranfir. The other guards laughed and raised their glasses to Caranfir’s praise of his cousin and a babble of voices broke out.
‘Most eloquent, Caranfir, your words have deeply touched me!’ Aelindor called out.
‘And me! I hope you will repeat them all when to your cousin when he comes off duty,’ came Silivren’s voice.
‘I expect you’re sorry that you’re family, Caranfir. Otherwise you might have rather different plans for your Celinn’s comfort?’
That was Aiglin, Celinn’s brother, his eyes alight with amusement.
‘And why don’t I get all this adulation?’ Aiglin went on. ‘I am easily as beautiful as Celinn and at least twice as gifted!’
‘Ah, but you lack his becoming modesty, cousin,’ said Caranfir.
‘So that is the reason that my brother is so loved: his modesty!’ said Aiglin.
‘And of course for the surpassing beauty of his hair! You forgot that, Caranfir,’ put in Haroth. ‘The Valar have blessed him with the sign of one who is powerful in the arts of love.’
‘And what would you know about that, Haroth?’ asked Aiglin, laughing.
‘I? Nothing at all,’ said Haroth, ‘although I may be interested to find out.’
‘As if you are likely to be given the chance to do so,’ said Aiglin, winking at him. ‘And surely you are not suggesting that he has more beautiful hair than Haldir?’
‘Haldir’s is extremely fair,’ agreed Haroth, ‘but pale as moonlight, while Celinn’s has the vigour of the noonday sun at midsummer,’
‘But what of Caranfir’s rare and magnificent autumn colouring?’ asked Aiglin.
‘An aberration. A blushing of the head, which goes only too well with the blushing of his cheeks!’ said Haroth, pointing triumphantly at Caranfir, whose face was indeed as warmly tinted as a sunset.
‘It is the wine!’ protested Caranfir, raising his glass, but he too was laughing.
‘So it is agreed,’ said Aiglin, ‘Celinn’s hair is the most beautiful, he is everywhere admired and we all love him. Is that not so?’ he asked, looking around the room, to be answered by nods and grins of agreement.
‘What about you, Gwirith?’ said Caranfir, turning to him. ‘Do you love our dear Celinn?’
‘I?’ replied Gwirith, and his voice was cold. ‘I love no-one.’
The words were so quiet and yet so utterly final that the other elves fell suddenly silent, their mirth dissolved like the mist when the sun is high in the sky.
Gwirith had surprised himself: he had intended to make some lighthearted comment but instead the truth had sprung unbidden from his lips. Discomfited by the change of mood and the many eyes that watched him with varied expressions, Gwirith said, stammering a little,
‘I don’t seek to deny Celinn’s qualities. It is just that I am content to be … ever a brother to all.’ He frowned and dropped his gaze. ‘My days of love are long over.’
No one spoke for some time. Then Luinil moved quietly to his brother’s side and laid his arm across his shoulders.
‘And never was there better brother,’ he said quietly. Gwirith regarded him sadly. Despite the simmering anger with which he had contemplated Celinn since Midsummer night, Gwirith felt he had somehow been disloyal to him, and he remembered that even Luinil, who after all was the one who was suffering, had asked him not to hate Celinn, and had been reconciled with him. All at once his anger and condemnation of Celinn seemed absurd.
‘Indeed,’ said Aiglin, lightly, trying to change the mood, ‘I have to say that it can be wearing to be brother to such a paragon as Celinn!’
Gwirith turned quickly to him. ‘But I would not speak against him,’ he said sharply, then pressed his fingers to his lips a moment as though unsure whether to let more words emerge.
‘He has always been most gentle towards me, and shown me great consideration,’ he said at last.
Again there was silence. The quality of it seemed strange to Gwirith, and then he saw that all eyes were on the space behind him, and he turned to see Celinn standing there.
Gwirith felt an unexpected flood of heat wash over his cheeks and he stood dumb and uncomfortable before his captain. Then Celinn came forward and clasped Gwirith’s shoulder.
‘Thank you for your kind words, mellon nin. I too have found you most considerate and a true comrade,’ he said. Gwirith nodded stiffly. Celinn smiled at him, but Gwirith looked away and did not respond to him. Celinn dropped his hand from Gwirith’s shoulder and went across to the table to fetch a cup of wine, his cloak making a little draught as he passed.
Gradually the murmur of conversation grew again, and many of the elves began to tell Celinn about the singing of his praises which he had missed by only a few minutes.
Gwirith stayed where he was, listening to the talk around him, aware of Luinil’s comforting presence beside him as he watched the faces of the other elves. He could see Celinn’s long back in its green cloak as he spoke to Aiglin. And yes, his hair was indeed magnificent; a strong golden fall, it seemed to be constantly moving as the light from the window spilled off it like water, like something alive, something rich and flowing. Gwirith saw the two warrior braids tucked behind Celinn’s ears and the thick kinbraid that fell from his crown almost to his waist. He saw, as if for the first time, the fine shape of his head, the graceful curve of his neck and his strong shoulders, the beautiful line of his body with its slender waist and long legs. Yes, he was beautiful. Beautiful and kind.
Just at that moment, Celinn threw back his head, laughing at something Aiglin had said, and his eye caught Gwirith’s. Celinn must have seen something in Gwirith’s face because his eyes widened for a fraction of a second before he turned quickly back to Aiglin, his arm going round his brother’s shoulders as they laughed together.
For no reason he could understand, Gwirith suddenly felt chilled and melancholy. He stood absolutely still, all at once remembering Celinn’s voice saying, ‘But in time grief passes and there is forgiveness and healing.’ He had imagined for an instant that Celinn had been speaking directly to him, even that he had deliberately glanced at him. But of course Celinn knew nothing about the cause of his grief, and so he could not have known what the words would mean to him.
Gwirith seemed to be no more able to understand how grief could pass or healing replace the wound that it had made than Adanwath did, and although his grief had not turned into hatred, it had turned into coldness and isolation. His grief was like a two-edged sword: the pain of it had been so bad that only with Galadriel’s help could he be prevailed upon to deny his desire for Mandos. But the only way he could tolerate his continued existence was to freeze his heart so that he could never take the risk of suffering so grievously again. But there was something else too: though the pain was intolerable, yet it was all he had left of the one he had lost. If the pain ceased, then they would be truly gone, and he could not bear that.
Gwirith put his cup down on the table and quietly left the guardroom. And so it was that when Celinn, hardly knowing what he did, looked round again to find him a few moments later, he was surprised to feel a pang of disappointment at not seeing him there. A tiny movement outside the window caught his eye and he turned to see Gwirith, head bowed and shoulders stooped, walking away into the darkness.
He must have begun to frown because Aiglin’s voice said in his ear, ‘Not enough wine in your cup, brother?’ But then he followed the direction of Celinn’s gaze and saw Gwirith’s departing back in the distance.
‘Leave him be, Celinn. He goes his own way,’ he said quietly.
‘He chooses his own loneliness,’ said Celinn sadly. ‘He lets no one near him, not even Luinil.’
Then Haldir came back into the guardroom, and the next duty of guards began to make ready to depart. Haldir looked bemused at the interest that many of the elves were taking in his hair, and in the references they made to moonlight and sunlight, while glancing between him and Celinn. But at last those who needed to had left and calm was restored.
In the quietness, Celinn became aware of the weariness of his body. He stretched his arms languidly above his head and yawned.
‘We’ll, I’m for my bed.’ He hugged his brother with ribcracking thoroughness. ‘Until tomorrow,’ he said, and left amid a chorus of farewell.
Min gwador = my brother, referring to a close friend regarded as a brother, rather than a kinsman.
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