Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Seeds of Old Trees: 6. Meeting the In-Laws
so it was little surprise they held a feast to celebrate his return.
Outside, on the thousand-flowered lawn which swept down into the
forest's green gloom, this was impromptu, but went with the smoothness
of long practice. Tables had been set up - flimsy trestles covered with
white cloth and heaped bowls. Fires burned pale in the afternoon
sunshine, signalling an intent to go on dancing well past nightfall.
Banners of blossom bedecked the trees, brighter than the unlit lanterns.
To do honour to the bakers and cooks who must have been working the
night through; the folk who had woven garlands of flowers; the musicians
who performed unrehearsed; all the well wishers who came up to the High
Table with words of welcome, Celeborn had to smile and seem carefree.
So it was a relief when the formal greetings were done and the
celebration deteriorated into a laughing riot of drinking and singing
and making merry, with all intent on their own pursuits and no longer
with an eye on him.
It was folly, he thought, resentfully, to suppose that Elmo must
have become an orc. His grandfather was to him a memory of great
kindness - a hand less heavy than Galadhon's, a friend untamed by the
weight of care, always willing to assist in childish games, or hear his
small concerns - and he had long refused even to imagine that
mischievous but resolute spirit in Morgoth's hands. There were always
other possibilities. He might indeed be lingering, ghostly, in
Middle-earth. He might have escaped alive from Thangorodrim and be
wandering the world, too scarred and scared to remember who or what he
was. Unaware of the gazes on him, Celeborn shook his head, I will
not cease to hope for him. Just as he did not cease to hope for Elu.
The King returned, stronger and in greater bliss than before, so may his
He felt rebuked by the thought, for Elmo had remained in Middle-earth,
losing his chance of Valinor in order to find Elu, but Celeborn had not
been so faithful. Daeron too was still outcast, journeying inconsolable
in secrecy in Ennor. Would no one now continue the search for him?
Would Celeborn wash his hands of them both and say 'enough. They may be
my friends, my very blood, but I have had enough and will care no more?'
He could not.
And what of the other houseless ones? Suppose by now many had repented
of their decision to abandon their bodies. Suppose they now yearned for
the chance of a new life in Valinor. Might not persuasion gather them
in where mere summons had failed? He shook his head again, and Thingol
"There is some stubborn thought that irritates you as the whining of a
fly. If you may not shake it out, have you tried speech?"
"I was wondering about Daeradar," Celeborn cursed himself as he watched
the pain flick through Elu's storm grey eyes. It was no unfairness to
Olwë to say that Elmo had been the more beloved of the two brothers -
merely the truth. "Has Namo revealed nothing about the fate of orcs?
Dying, do their fëar not come to him? And in time - cleansed of what
they did not consent to - might they not also be rehoused as elves? So
unjust it seems, else."
"Namo does not say," Melian, seeing their distress, smiled regretfully.
"He has declared that the affairs of the dead are no concern of the
living. Yet it may be so. They may come forth like Feanor, at the end
of time, when all is made new. In Mandos even orcs might find healing,
"You did not ask?"
"We did," she was stern at this suggestion they had not done
enough, "We badgered the Doomsman without end, until he told us Elmo had
not entered his halls, and was therefore outside his ken. And no more
would he say, despite all our pleading. You are not the only one to
"In this matter there is naught we can do but hope that our worst
suspicions are one day proved wrong," said Thingol heavily, "And in the
meantime go on with our duties. We are not the only family to have
suffered such a loss, and for our people's sake we must be seen to bear
it well. In appointing you to his place I prepare for the worst, but I
nurture my faith in the best."
"I understand," Celeborn poured himself a bowlful of red berry soup and
set the thoughts aside, concentrating on his task in this moment.
Taking a pinch of aniseeds he looked out at the Iathrim, now regathered.
Beleg Cuthalion was dancing there with a maiden whose Minyar-gold hair
suggested she was one of Oropher's kin. She had indeed a look of
Legolas; cousin, or niece, or daughter.
He sprinkled the seeds in his bowl. "Then will you not tell me what my
duties are to be? From Amdir I gathered there was talk of war. Should
I be training troops?"
"Amdir has many Avari in his following." Taking the cauldron, Elu
ladled out a bowl of the soup for himself, stirring in extra cream, "and
some ancestral bitterness remains there towards those who left them
behind and long looked down on them." He snorted with amusement.
"More resentment even than our own. Thus Amdir's thoughts on the
Troubles represent an extreme. I am... hopeful... that it will not go
so far. That we may sit down and talk together, emerging as friends.
And to that end I am glad that you have returned now, for I have had
need of you."
This was better news, Celeborn thought. It did not take lengthy
pondering to see that - though any one of Elu's vassal-kings might serve
him as a warlord - only he had long experience of working with the
Noldor - understood how their minds worked, and was known to bear them
no ill will; had indeed fought long beside them and wed into their
"Might not Cirdan have served you equally well," he said on an
afterthought. "Or Elrond?"
"You are a hard man to compliment," Melian laughed, and rising took off
her mantle in order to snag the hand of a passing reveller and be pulled
into the dancing.
But Elu leaned forward and gave him a shrewd look. "I like and respect
both," he said, "and trust them fully. But Cirdan has become far more a
Teler now, looking as much to Olwe as to me. I do not begrudge him that
- so long he yearned to sail and forebore for our sake. Yet my folk are
Wood-elves at heart, and would not believe he spoke for them.
"Elrond, despite his lineage, inclines more toward the Noldor. Knowing
this, he restrains himself and is too impartial for my tastes. I want a
spokesman they will listen to, but who is yet bound by blood and passion
to the Ennorim, to the Lindai, to my people. And that I know you
are, Celeborn Gelaidh."
The nickname made him smile; 'Celeborn of the Trees'. It had first been
given to him in scorn, by Celebrimbor, who could look at a grove of
flowering cherries and see only charcoal for his forges. He thought it
a very poor term of contempt, and had received it, even then, as an
honour. But thought of Celebrimbor inevitably turned into memories of
Galadriel. For she was root and stem of the gem-smith's dislike for
him: the hatred of a spurned suitor for the successful.
"My lord," he said, after all this long waiting suddenly impatient.
"While a division stands between myself and my wife, I will be of little
use to you. It would be a poor heart, among the Noldor, that did not
take the part of their slighted princess. Before I dared give advice to
others, I should first repair the discord in my own house." His
thoughts welled with her, with a near physical thirst to see her face
again, whether in anger or in joy. Just to stand in the same room and
watch the light on her hair... "With your leave I will go to her now.
And - if you would aid me - it should be beneath your banner, with as
showy an escort as can be mustered."
"Naturally," Thingol's eyes gleamed with dangerous humour, remembering
perhaps the fell and spiteful words of the Sons of Feanor so long ago.
"You shall not go to Finarfin's court as a poor relation. I will give
you such an entourage that his sight will be darkened, from the dazzle.
All who see you will conclude that you are the equal of any of his
sons. My own pride demands no less."
"While I am there," Celeborn finished, "I will discover the truth about
the Mirdain's secret works, and whether the Troubles go deeper than a
few young idiots blinded by history and patriotism." And I will set
in motion one or two small projects of my own, which I will ask
permission for later; after I am assured they will work.
"If I take Calandil with me, to teach me what I must know of Amanyar
politics during the journey, is there any reason why I could not depart
within a week?"
Elu laughed again. "For greatest splendour make it two, but I will not
ask you to wait longer. Go and face the lightning while there is still
some hope of you surviving it." He shed his cloak and stood, turning to
the wheeling throng. "Go, and bring her home. Melian has missed her,
and it is long past time."
Finarfin, King of the Noldor in Aman, turned a sapphire in his hand.
Deepest blue, and - even to elvish eyes - apparently flawless, still his
fingers could feel the small weakness in its heart which made it too
fragile for Finrod's work. It was not, he thought, the only thing in
this room poised on the brink of shattering.
Raising his head from contemplating the jewel he saw his wife, leaning
out of the tower window as she might have leaned from a mast in the
harbour, oblivious to height and danger. The wind made a river of her
water-silver hair and plucked at her trailing, gold-lined cuffs, making
them stream and snap in the air.
"They will not arrive faster for your hurling yourself from the window,"
he said in what was intended as a jocular tone. Even to his own ears it
came out sounding peevish.
"I have ridden storms where the waves rose to the height of this room,"
Earwen snapped back at him, "I am perfectly capable of supporting
myself on a ledge of unmoving stone."
In the corner of the solar, their daughter, who had cast aside the names
they gave her and taken a new, foreign one, laughed bitterly over the
small device of mithril she was examining. There was no shake in the
hand which traced its subtleties, but her gaze was fierce and bleak. "I
do not know why you are both so nervous," she said, her serenity marred
by the slight tightening around her mouth. "Let the guard go out and
turn them away, and have done with it."
Going to his wife's side, Finarfin sighed. Few who knew only his
daughter's empathic grace, her gentleness and generosity, would suspect
the streak of harmful stubbornness in her - the way she clung to hurt,
though it all it achieved was to scar her. Had she not gone to Ennor in
the first place largely to spite Feanor? So it seemed to be with this
husband of hers; he had worn out his welcome, he had taken her for
granted too long, and she intended that he should thoroughly know it.
Propping his chin on Earwen's shoulder, he looked down. Beneath their
white walled house the path snaked, lined with avenues of olive and box
trees, down the landscaped side of the green hill of Tuna. Through many
gardens and arched walls, through courtyards of onyx and marble and
obsidian, ringed with flowerbeds and ablaze with colour, down to the
curtain wall, and thence into the glitter of Tirion. There the roofs
were tiled with every shade of semi-precious stone, and the ridge-beams
aflame with topaz and garnet.
His unknown son-in-law had brought an escort which filled the road from
the street-gate to the very portico of the house. The vanguard had
passed the third wall of the residence and were now trotting jauntily
between the flowerbeds and fountains of the family garden. Among the
warm and vibrant colours, they were a splash of cool brilliance.
Caparisoned in cloth of silver, their unbridled horses snorted,
restless, and tossed the gems wound into their manes in flashes of
light, as though they had waded through Varda's stars. The clothes of
the riders were of white and green, fresh and clean, and their eyes were
the eyes of warriors. In conference with Elwë and his lords, Finarfin
had long ago learned that no-one could part a Dark Elf from his knife,
so he had no doubt each one of these guards of honour was armed. But,
if it was so, the weapons were well hidden, and the mounted elves seemed
as ready for peace as for war; a courtesy to Amanyar sensibilities that
he had not expected from one so newly arrived.
At the head of the procession the standard of Thingol flew, dark as
night and milk white as the moon, and behind it there streamed a banner
- white and green as the livery - with the device of a silver tree.
There, on a coal-black steed, rode Celeborn himself, his shining hair
held by a circlet of gold - the only adornment of a severity which
seemed out of place amid this vainglorious abundance of followers.
How should I feel, at the sight? Finarfin asked himself, aware
that he was instinctively looking for something of which to disapprove.
Here was the man who had stolen his only daughter, his little girl,
and then abandoned and hurt her. By that standard he should
feel, indeed, this swell of protective hatred. He should be - as he was
- half hearkening to Artanis' wish to send the intruder on his way,
dismissed and humiliated. No one could be worthy of her, least of all
this dark elf, youngest of a line of youngest sons, unaware of how
ridiculous his display of self importance was making him look.
At Earwen's gentle squeeze on his arm he started, surprised. There was
a look of sympathetic reproach in her eyes, which made him unclench his
teeth and essay an unconvincing smile. "Is not her fury," Earwen said,
bending close to whisper out of the range of Galadriel's sharp hearing,
"proof that she loves him deeply? If you value her weal, try not to
frighten him away. Finrod has his happy ending, should we not hope for
our daughter to now have hers?"
And she was right, as she so often was. There could be no doubt that
this goading of her husband was pleasing to Artanis' pride, but not to
her heart. She was as tense as a harpstring, and joyless. If the
over-pretty princeling now riding into his house, in over-extravagant
pomp, would make her happy, then he should be welcomed with as open arms
as Finarfin could manage. He looked down again, and suiting his
thoughts to his resolve, told himself that there was certainly no
denying his son-in-law's nerve - to have defied Artanis so long, and be
unafraid to face her even now. The show of power and prestige
might be for Elwe's benefit, or indeed for Artanis' own - a
demonstration to the people of her city that she had not married a
nobody, that she was not belittled by her choice of husband. Some
reason might lie behind it, he thought, grudgingly. But the banners
were still a touch too far.
Behind Thingol's, and Celeborn's own banner, the host carried also a
mist-grey pennant with a device of a lake beneath a canopy of leaves. A
snowy standard all emblazoned in mithril, with hammer and anvil, and the
star of Feanor amid two overarching beeches. An azure, wave-bright, on
which a swan ship sailed. An emerald flag where a mallorn fluttered.
The banner of Imladris; and several others behind that, their designs
growing more opaque in meaning the longer he looked at them. Finarfin
had heard enough of his daughter's history to recognize each device as
that of a realm she had ruled beside her husband. The final few he must
have established alone. But all were now left behind. Dead kingdoms;
"I thought you said he was not a vain man."
Galadriel risked a brief, tight glimpse out of the window. He knew she
had seen her lover; for an instant she was shocked still, as if she had
grasped a lightning strike. But a heartbeat later she was herself
again, composed and amused. "He is not. His purpose is practical - to
make it impossible for you to discreetly turn him away. He is not above
using whatever weapon comes to hand." She breathed in, closed her eyes,
and he would have said the emotion that flitted across her face was
fear, but that his Artanis feared nothing. "Prove to him that you
cannot be thus coerced, and refuse him audience. I do not wish to see him."
"Why ever not?" Earwen lost her patience. Her wide-set blue eyes
darkened, and she pushed back the straight sleekness of her starlit hair
from a face grown intently bright, "So many years you have yearned for
his presence, and now you spurn it? I do not understand you."
"So many years, yes," said Galadriel angrily, but she did not sit down
again, and her eyes strayed back to the window. "Has he not thoroughly
proved that his love for me is a hundred times less than his care for
Morgoth-marred Middle-earth? He came not because he wanted to, but
because he could not escape death any other way. While he had any
strength or endurance in him, he stayed away. How do you think that
makes me feel?"
Irony caught Finarfin unawares, before he could prepare himself. He
almost laughed; restrained himself only because he knew it was what
Feanor would have done. The memory went beyond pain into a strange,
eviscerating agony, too intense for reason. Do you say that
to me, my daughter? You, who left me standing at the quayside and came
not back for three Ages of the world? And at the thought,
unexpectedly, unwelcomely, he found himself struck by a wave of sympathy
for his son-in-law. I too know what it is like, to be left behind by
"Yet he is your husband," Earwen said inexorably, her slender hands
tightening around the sill. "When I look into your eyes I perceive his
spirit, joined with yours. You are no longer an isolate being, but part
of him, and he of you."
"That may be so." Pointedly, Galadriel returned to her corner seat and
took up her work again, keeping her head bent. "But still I do not want
to see him."
Watching her, Finarfin was torn between pity and frustration. He moved
to stroke the many tight braids of her hair, piled queenly on her head
and aggressively pinned with rubies. "Well," he said, "if your
Celeborn's purpose in such grandeur is to force my hand, then he has
succeeded. He comes as Prince of Doreden, and to turn him away would be
such an insult to Elu Thingol, in these troubled times, as could very
well end in war. I must receive him, whether it is your wish or not."
They were now dismounting in the courtyard, and heralds were crying
names. The clatter of hooves on marble sounded out, with the
stable-boys' excited chatter; and Orodreth's deep, soft tones, greeting
the new arrival as a friend long missed. A voice ringing with the
unmistakable music of the Teleri answered, laughing, and Galadriel
gasped and stood up, painfully rigid, her fists knotted into her skirts.
"Then do so, if you must," she said, "but I will have no part
of it. As surely he would know, if he only believed my words to
Elladan. By your leave, my King."
Since she had couched her request in such terms, he contemplated
ordering her to stay - to get the folly over with once and for all. Yet
Artanis' mind could no more be forced by command than slate go in the
fire without shattering. Her mother could sometimes shape her, as water
can shape stone. But it was a long task and one for which he had no
patience. He nodded therefore. "You have my leave, my noble maid. And
I ask you not to resent your parents' curiosity about the father of their
grandchildren, and forgive us."
The appeal made her smile, though her lips were white. "That will
depend on whether you emerge from this meeting in league against me or not."
"I am not promising anything," Earwen smoothed her sky-blue sleeves
primly, and watched her go with narrowed eyes. Exasperated with the
pair of them, Finarfin sat down, and set his circlet on. At once his
wife was before him, fussing over getting it straight, while taking the
chance to stroke comforting fingers through the length of his hair. He
breathed out at the touch and closed his eyes briefly, resting in the
encirclement of her silk-clad slender arms.
"No interfering now, my lady. We do not even know if he was good to
her. And it has been long since she needed our advice."
Shown in by Orodreth, Finarfin's problem son-by-marriage bowed with
simple courtesy; far more hesitant than his massive entourage had led
Finarfin to expect. Where he had thought to face a wall of Umanyar
arrogance, he was taken aback to find something far more familiar. They
stood, watching one another, and in a moment of profound and working
silence what struck the king most was recognition. As masculine as he
was, from the mithril hair to the elegance of his bones, Celeborn
Of course, Finarfin thought, though the realization had no
flavour of 'of course' about it - more of astonishment. He is her
It had been a meaningless datum, a strange genealogical twist, that in
plunging into the darkness of Endorë Galadriel should have met and
married a blood-kinsman. One of those curious facts which briefly
amuses before the mind travels to more important things. But now, the
likeness played upon Finarfin's imagination. He saw Artanis - her
certainties and supports cut away from her by the brutal murder of her
grandfather, the madness of her family - alone in a hostile land, where
even the song of the stones beneath her feet was in a foreign tongue.
Did she cleave to Celeborn because he reminded her of home? Did she see
in that face some promise of single-minded love, like a mother's
unquestioning devotion to their child? If so, he could not help feeling
sorry for the younger elf - to be loved because you looked like someone
else, and worse, someone whose role was of unmixed support, unremitting
forgiveness and kindness. To be cast aside, unneeded, when the original
of that love was once more at hand... It would be a hard thing to bear.
"I hardly know what to say," Celeborn smiled, "since my staying away so
long has made even politeness into an insult. It is good of you to see
me at all."
But no one looking beyond the physical could have confused the two of
them, Finarfin decided; for Earwen was sunlight on the waves, changeable
but as clear as clean water. This man was all shadow - the moving shade
and coolness of trees. One could not see what was going on in his mind,
until speech broke the canopy of his thought, startling as a flight of
"I was not left with much choice," he said, annoyed at being thanked for
something which he had been forced to do. Hostility threatened to break
the bounds of his restraint. Forcibly he told himself to stop at that,
and bite back the accusation of hypocrisy.
"But you would have been welcomed regardless;" Earwen broke in, with
what seemed genuine pleasure, "for Celebrian's sake, and Amroth's, and
their children. Quite apart from the fact that you are of my own family."
"Some would say that all of these things I have forfeited by too
profound an absence," said Celeborn, ruefully, and sat, taking off his
riding gloves and tucking them into his belt.
'Some' being Galadriel, Finarfin recognized. So her husband thought as
she did, even in this. Was he then happy to take all her opinions
before his own? Passive except in offering admiration? There were
times he had feared his daughter might choose a worshipper, rather than
a partner, in her marriage. It would be characteristic, but it would
not be good for her. Was that why Artanis would not see him? Because
he was a youthful folly of which she in her maturity now repented, no
longer needing empty praise, unearned agreement?
He caught Earwen's glare, and again his heart spoke against itself,
soothed and rebuked by her motherly wisdom. "I have known what it was,"
he offered, surprising himself once more with fellow feeling, "to see
those I loved depart from me and to turn back because of duties owed. I
cannot fault you for doing the same." Was it possible that in Celeborn
Artanis saw also some reflection of her father - his integrity, his
willingness to turn from paths of destruction and ask for forgiveness?
It had taken her many years, on returning, to forgive him too.
Well, he wanted to see her happy, but not with a sycophant, not with a
husband who was a mere embarrassment to her. If this Swan-Lord had the
wit to win her back, if she had the heart to accept him again, then so
be it. He would neither help nor hinder.
"But my daughter's forgiveness is not so easily obtained," he said,
sternly. "Your tardiness has wounded her greatly, and she will not now
receive you. I fear your journey has been in vain."
He expected protest; some change at the very least in the shadows of
those verdant eyes, so strangely dark. Surprise, surely? But there was
nothing, save perhaps the steady interest of a chess player, who sees a
long foreseen move played out. His own interest was piqued. Was this
a more even match than he had suspected?
"Lord," Celeborn laughed quietly, "Your daughter is as the North Star in
my sky - the centre about which my world revolves. But I am not such a
fool as to think her a liar. She said she would not see me, therefore
she will not. The sight of her would be as rain to me after ten thousand
years of drought, but nevertheless - respecting her wishes - I did not
come to see her. Let my presence not trouble her in any way. For I came to see Finrod."
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