3. Stranger in a Strange Land
Finally, the day came when we found ourselves at the Grey Havens preparing to sail. It was unseasonably cool for early autumn when we finally departed. A thin wintry sun and the fresh salt air worked their particular magic. They braced one and gave one--well me at least--a prodigious appetite.
Once Cirdan had maneuvered us out of the bay and into the open sea, I went below and managed to beg a couple of slabs of cheese from the cook. Holding them between thick slices of bread slathered with mustard I struggled to the top deck, where Celeborn stood staring out across the water. I extended one portion of bread and cheese to him.
He looked down his patrician nose at it, saying, "I'm not really hungry. How can you think of food?"
"Take it. You have eaten scarcely anything today or yesterday either." Eyes widened at me in gentle annoyance, but he obeyed.
We glided across the water, with the masts and spars reaching to the sky above us, and square sails billowing. I was aware of a symphony of mysterious creaks and flaps that I would learn to recognize and isolate in time. Celeborn shone heroically handsome in profile, eyes narrowed against the glare of the sun upon the water, sharp cheekbones thrown into relief by the alternation of light and shadow, his silver hair a gleaming banner in the wind. He was mine for at least two more weeks, maybe a little longer, and I intended to enjoy him.
"Personally, I always prefer to delay the necessity of being miserable and heartsick until the latest possible moment," I stated, a bit more emphatically than I had intended.
That remark elicited a snort and a grimace struggling to become a grin. Celeborn was never one to wallow in melancholy either if it could be avoided.
"Of course, you are right," he said. "And I do look forward to arriving at our destination, but I cannot but be aware that everything will change for us. You and me, I mean."
"I do not regret a thing," I said, Silvan stubborn.
"I may have taken advantage of you to an extent, but I have never taken you for granted. I have treasured you, Haldir. A precious gift that I had no right to expect. I tried to make you happy in the moment, although I couldn't promise you a future."
Completely lacking in creativity, I repeated, "I do not regret a thing."
Every night for the duration of our journey, we withdrew with unseemly haste to the dark, close private cabin that Celeborn had been allotted in acknowledgement of his position. Desperation added to the bittersweet rapture of our encounters. I strove to commit to memory the texture of every tiny scar with my fingertips, the uniqueness of each groan or cry as he came undone beneath me, and the tangy scent of his release.
Countless times, he repeated, "I will never forget you." In my skeptical anguish, I translated those words as: 'I am pushing you further out of my mind and my life with the passage of every league.'
We passed nearly three weeks upon that ship. The winds were good and we encountered no storms. Cirdan stated that fair sailing was the norm when a ship carried the First Born to Elvenhome. Celeborn and I slept entwined in one another's arms, when someone shouting, "My lord!" banged loudly upon the door to his cabin. We both startled instantly awake, for no one had ever sought him there before. When Celeborn opened the door, one of our Galadhrim stood in the doorway his face flushed with excitement.
"My lord, land! We have spotted land. Come up and look."
We quickly pulled on tunics and trousers and scrambled barefoot up to the deck. There in the first light of dawn, we saw the archipelago of the fabled Isles of Enchantment strung out across the horizon like an emerald studded necklace. We passed easily among the islands, which had been set in the Great Sea for the purpose of preventing mortal mariners from reaching the shores of Aman.
I leaned on the railing gazing with wonder on a sight I had read of as a child, but never really expected to see. Celeborn's hand covered mine. I turned and looked at him. My eyes must have revealed my sadness.
"I am a selfish bastard. I hope that when you think of me it will be with fondness . . ." Celeborn began, his voice hoarse with emotion.
"Don't be an utter fool," I said. I feared I would pull him into my arms right there in front of everyone. "Let's go back down. It won't be full light for quite some time yet."
Over the next few hours we used one another harshly. We clawed, bit, and scratched at one another, succumbed to frustratingly hasty climaxes, only to repeat the exhausting cycle again shortly. At one point, I pounded into his body, one hand fastened with a bruising grip on his thigh while my other stroked his lovely, long cock. He snarled and viciously smacked my hand away and began yanking so hard on it that I thought he would do himself damage. That time when I slid off him something broke within me.
I shouted at him, "Is that wretched excuse for lovemaking supposed to sustain me until Arda breaks apart?" Great shuddering sobs tore at me, as though they would rip my chest open. Celeborn pulled me close to him.
"Shh, shh," he said, rubbing my back, while he gently stroked my hair. "I am at fault. I knew your refusal to speak of how you felt would end badly for us, but I hadn't the heart to try to make you talk. Surely you know that you will find love again."
I cringed to hear myself say, "How would I? You're the only one I've ever come close to loving."
"Oh, Eru, I am sorry. I had no idea. You certainly didn't lack in practical experience. It never occurred to me that I might be your first love. I understand how much it must hurt to think of us parting. It is bad enough for me. But there is nothing quite the same as the first time one loses one's heart to another. But we are resilient creatures, the pain lessens in time."
"You loved someone before Galadriel?" I asked, somewhat calmer and with my curiosity reawakening.
"I have loved three times, dear heart, my first love, my greatest and forever love, and now you. I have told you again and again that I will never forget you, but you didn't want to listen. I hoped . . . I've been a stupid blunderer with you, haven't I? I thought that knowing we were meant to part would make it easier for you. Forgive me, Haldir."
"We talked about everything and I agreed. I cannot blame you that now it hurts. Who was your first love?"
"Who? Not Elu Thingol?"
"None other." He laughed. "I have high standards. You should be flattered. Elu broke my heart. Twice, in fact. I thought I couldn't bear to go on living the first time and the second was not easier. First, I believed he was lost. And then, just about the time I had begun to feel a bit myself again, he returned with another. No ordinary Elf either, but a Maiarian enchantress. Now that was grim. And I was younger even than you are."
His face clouded with sadness--after more than 10,000 years. But then I recalled how quick he was to laugh, his capacity for joy, his ability to live wholly in the moment, and the thought of those things gave me hope. He lifted my face by the chin at that moment and kissed me, carefully, thoroughly.
"You were right about one thing," he said. "We were punishing one other in rage and frustration at the impending loss. That's no way to say farewell. Let me love you in a way that will leave you a happy memory at least."
We didn't emerge on the deck of the ship again until past midmorning. By then all of the passengers and crew, including those of Círdan's sailors who had made the trip numerous times, were crowded upon the deck to see what they could see. When we took our places among them, the ship was passing close to the large island of Tol Eressëa. The level land and gentler slopes appeared forested or tilled, while picturesque houses and cottages, all in a rainbow of pastel colors, perched upon the rocky hills.
The Galadhrim vied with one another to see if they could spot any gold among the green on the heavily wooded slopes for they had heard that their beloved mellyrn came originally from that isle. Others opined that we ought to have considered casting anchor there. Cirdan, uncommonly patient despite his reputation for being terse and no-nonsense, assured them there were mellyrn to be found in Aman. He reminded them as well that word of our coming would have reached family and friends of many and that at least some of them might have made the trip to Alqualondë to meet the ship.
I am not sure what I expected of Alqualondë, but the size of it impressed me. The ancient walled town, with its labyrinthine pattern of streets all leading back to the main gate or the docks, is much as it has always been. Its fabulous gate, designed by Fëanor, is said to have been commissioned by Finwë and presented in all of its jewel-encrusted glory to Olwë as a token of everlasting friendship between the Noldor and the Teleri. Since those days, the city has sprawled out in three directions from the old town.
When we sailed into port, the ambience resembled that of other ports I had encountered in those last years in Middle-earth when I traveled about a bit. Although everything appeared brighter and cleaner, even than the Port of Dol Amroth in Gondor, which is a model by the standards of Middle-earth. A crowd of family and friends had gathered. I did not see my brothers, but I did see Lady Galadriel and what had to have been one of her brothers, so closely did he resemble her.
She stood imperious with her chin held high, until she spotted Celeborn. I looked away from what I was sure would be their blissful reunion. A hand grabbed my arm and I swiveled around to see Galadriel's brother.
"You must be Haldir of Lothlórien. I have a message for you. My sister . . . Oh, I am sorry, welcome to Aman. You would know of me as Finrod Felagund. My sister asked me if I would greet you for her and give you a message."
"Thank you, my lord," I managed to choke out, wondering how one should properly address this mythic figure. "It is a great honor you do me." The gracious, handsome blond was the first of a long string of legendary individuals I would meet over the next short period. He shone as brilliantly as a far off star yet had an easy, affable manner.
"It is nothing. My sister was beside herself with fretfulness over greeting her mate after all these years. I was pleased to do whatever I could do to relieve her anxiety." I controlled showing any reaction to his tactful choice of words to describe the Lady Galadriel in a state. "She knew that you would be traveling with him and asked me to tell you that she sent word to your brothers of your pending arrival. They are engaged in agriculture, in the western part of Valinor. Since this is their harvest season, they were unable to meet you here. You can send them greetings when you reach Tirion. Personally, I would advise you not to go rushing off to far-flung parts until you have been able to acclimate yourself a bit."
"Everything is overwhelming at the moment. I greatly appreciate your effort and that of Lady Galadriel." Shame at my disloyalty to that lady threatened to swamp me. Despite her quickness to displays of pique, she had never been anything but kind to me. That I had lost him and she would have him at least until the end of Arda mitigated somewhat my feelings of incipient self-loathing.
Unable to keep my eyes from Celeborn I glanced again in their direction. I was certain that he had never looked at me the way he was gazing at her and she had abandoned all attempts to appear anything but utterly overcome with elation. I told myself that I had made my own bed and it was a little late to whine that it was hard and filled with rocks.
Over the next few days I bade farewell to numerous fellow Galadhrim whom I had known my entire life. Repeated promises were made that we would meet again. I was relieved at the wise Finrod Felagund's suggestion that I might want to go to Tirion, accustom myself to being in Valinor, before I decided how I would spend my life. I was not ready to see my brothers in my self-indulgently maudlin state. They would either curse me for my stupidity or overly-protectively coddle me.
As one of Lothlórien's military and political principals, I was hosted along with Galadriel and Celeborn in the palace of her grandfather King Olwë. Unable to watch the joyful reunion of Celeborn with his lady for extended periods of time, I spent most of my time alone exploring the city streets, the vast open-air market, and walking along the beach.
I was disappointed, but not really all that surprised, to discover that, while the white sands of Alqualondë sparkled in the sunlight, not once did I see any evidence of diamonds or gemstones on its beaches, much less any buildings constructed of pearls. The top arch of the city gate did contain large gemstones and crystal in its elaboration. The decoration, inside and out, of Olwë's palace, however, made heavy use of mother of pearl.
At first the denizens of Alqualondë seemed to me to be a somewhat foolish, feckless people, so frolicsome were they in their demeanor. I learned in the ten days I was there, that although their life is not what could be labeled arduous in Middle-earth, they work hard as well as play hard. Many people labor as fisherfolk, boat builders, tradesmen, and as hoteliers and keepers of guesthouses, since it is a popular holiday destination.
Alqualondë's artistic community of craftsmen and musicians is respected throughout Aman. It is a city of music. Its illustrious conservatory of music trains musicians and singers from all of Aman. The streets of the city come to life at night. Every inn and tavern, no matter how small, features players and singers. I attended a grand musical performance in their opera house of famed acoustical perfection that had been designed and built by Fëanor. The colorful description of their legendary ships, however, is completely unexaggerated. Painted white, the exterior of their hulls are crafted to imitate the body of a swan, and each has a magnificent figurehead of the neck and head of a swan with a gilded beak and eyes of black and gold.
Once Celeborn sought me out privately, he claimed to ask me how I was faring. I told him I was having a grand time in such a caustic tone that he skulked off, after calling me a bloody-minded, ill-tempered beast, and did not bother me again.
After ten days of too much light, sound, and activity, I readied myself to travel to Tirion. The sea is invigorating, but I was despondent and desperate for some woods. I had read in the library of Imladris that the hill of Tuna, upon which Tirion is constructed, was green and heavily forested.
Galadriel and Celeborn planned to take a coach. That convinced me to ride with Finrod and a cheerful kinsman on his mother's side. King Olwë had gifted me a good-tempered bay gelding. He called it a small token of his appreciation for my years of service to his granddaughter and her husband.
My first sight of Tirion shocked me. The hill of Tuna was green, at least the part of it not covered by buildings. Built entirely of stone, the city itself initially oppressed me. The stark whiteness of it shimmered blindingly. Some type of rocks used in the construction of the streets caused them to glitter in the sunlight as though they were made of jewels. It was larger by far than Alqualondë and even than Minas Tirith. Rising up in the center of the city like a large phallus was the Mindon Eldaliéva, the tower constructed by Ingwë before his people left Tirion to the Noldor. Tirion was obviously more spread out than Minas Tirith and its elegance and pristine maintenance made the capital of Gondor appear dingy and rundown by comparison.
After I had been in the city a couple of weeks, I began to learn that it was not as cold as it first appeared. Back streets held interesting small shops and even workshops, although the larger of those were situated in the outskirts and its environs. Unlike Alqualondë, which I had begun to feel like I knew in only ten days, I had the sense that even if I spent years in Tirion I would continue to discover new and interesting enclaves of craftsmen and neighborhoods of different ethnicities. The days when Tirion was a completely Noldor city had long passed, but their unique culture still dominated the most visible parts of it.
One afternoon, I sat at a small café in front of the main fountain in Tirion. I had rented a room above the café where I intended to stay until I learned my way about and decided where I would settle permanently. Huge official-looking buildings bound the square on three sides. One I had heard called the Great Hall and been told that upon those same broad steps Fëanor and sons had sworn their terrible oath. The citizens of Tirion happily pointed out the sites of interest and legendary significance to newcomers like me. Under the bright sun and cloudless sky common to Tirion the white buildings glittered.
I watched the children playing in the fountain. Elves lounged on the grass and the steps surrounding it, reading or eating their lunch, even a few young couples kissed and fondled one another, completely oblivious to their surroundings. The server who polished my table and refilled my teapot noted to me confidentially, pointing as he spoke, that accordingly to legend, Maedhros had first declared his love for Fingon in the small wooded copse, near the Great Hall, visible from where I sat.
I looked up at the Elf. By his look, manner, and accent, I labeled him a typical Aman-born Noldor. He had hazel eyes, grey lightly flecked with green, was tall and broad of shoulder with dark hair. As he spoke, I realized that his teasing smile indicated that he was flirting with me, an altogether novel experience for one who had lived his entire life in an isolated enclave where everyone knew everyone else. He appeared unlikely to be even 60 years of age, yet I felt sure that his experience far outstripped mine in the casual social give-and-take that one might encounter in a city the size of Tirion.
"You are new here I would guess?" he asked me, narrowing his eyes in genuine interest. "I love your accent."
His good-natured impudence could have melted stone. "I like your accent too," I grumbled back at him.
That apparently gave him the encouragement he had wanted. "I don't have an accent. My parents hired expensive tutors to ensure that I do not." Undaunted by my frown, he grinned ear-to-ear. "Do you mind if I sit for a moment. You are the only patron and the proprietor, my father, actually . . ." he shrugged in an appealing, slightly self-deprecating manner. " . . . has left to have lunch with my mother. Unlikely he will return today. Our busy period is the morning."
"Sit." I shrugged. He was an eye-catching specimen of a comely people.
"Where are you from?"
"Am I so obvious?"
"Obvious that you are new to Aman?" He leaned in closer to me, until I could detect the faint scent of pine soap and clean, healthy male perspiration. His voice turned absolutely lascivious. "Or obvious that you are attracted . . ."
"Haldir." Celeborn walked up to the table. I had not seen him approach, so intent had I been on the youthful temptation sitting across from me. "May I?" Celeborn asked, pointing the empty chair beside me. "Am I interrupting?" His jaw tightened slightly, not enough to be noticed by my companion, but in a manner that I recognized as proprietary.
"My lord, how may I serve you?" The youth jumped to his feet, neatly folded his towel over his arm, and bowed deeply from the waist.
I felt as if I had "common man" stamped in large black tengwar on my forehead, while Celeborn presented a natural regality, not haughty but set apart, and, therefore, immediately had elicited the respectful response manifestly due him. I sighed audibly.
My young companion flinched. He had misinterpreted my reaction. Uncertain of what he thought, I did recognize that a flicker of injured pride crossed his expressively handsome face. In that instant I wished Celeborn on the opposite side of the sea. I scarcely had begun to enjoy the distraction of the irrepressibly vibrant young Noldo. I needed for my own sanity to put Celeborn, my past, out of my mind and look to charting my own future, which did not appear promising at that moment. I had always considered myself a survivor and the time had come to begin looking after myself.
"What is my friend having?" Celeborn asked, inclining his head toward my cup, before looking up into the youngster's face. That soul-melting smile, so typical of Celeborn, spread across his visage. I wondered not for the first time if he could really be so unaware of his own magnetism.
Then I realized with surprise that the lad had not fallen victim to it, but had stiffened like a little tin soldier. "Black tea with orange rind, sire."
"Please, a pot of that would do. Thank you." The youth vanished into the café.
I turned on Celeborn. "Why are you here? I doubt that you were just strolling past."
"I needed to speak with you. Is it wrong for me to want to stay in touch with an old friend?"
"We said good-bye on the ship. We will see one another from time to time I am certain. But right now it is better if you do not come looking for me at my residence. Why am I explaining this to you? It's hard. Harder than I imagined, if you really must know. I am fine, but I need some time to myself."
"Galadriel sends her regards. I told her everything. She still trusts and cares for you."
"Pfft," I responded. I imagined broken mirrors, rent garments, and pulled hair. Shouting the like of which probably led their terrified servants, unaccustomed to Galadriel and Celeborn, to conclude that someone was being murdered. After she had reluctantly agreed not to hunt me down and whack off my member with a dull knife, Celeborn now would consider the matter agreeably settled.
"Don't 'Galadriel' me. I have my own relationship with your lady and I assure you it will either survive this or not without you carrying messages."
"Damn you, Haldir. I just wanted to tell you, so that you would not stay away, not knowing if she knew. Wondering what had happened." He reached out and stroked the top of my hand with his long graceful fingers. I felt the blood rush into my face and my groin simultaneously. It would take a while for my body to unlearn what a touch like that from him once portended.
"Ai, Haldir. How I shall miss you."
"Not half as much as I will miss you, my lord," I said, biting off the last two words like a tough piece of gristle. My intent was not to hurt him with the resumption of that formality, but to remind myself lest I might forget for a moment that we--Celeborn and Haldir--no longer existed. It was finished.
"No. I am not your lord here, Haldir. We are both newcomers and essentially equals."
"I have never heard you spout such utter nonsense . . . " I stopped, when I saw a liveried messenger approach and stand close to us, clearly waiting for a moment to speak.
At the same moment, Celeborn spotted him as well and all but snapped in his direction, "Yes?"
"My Lord Celeborn," he said bowing stiffly, "King Arafinwë requests your presence for dinner this evening. The Lady Galadriel said that I might find you here. May I tell him I have found you and that you will accept?"
"Yes, of course. Yes," Celeborn answered. The messenger bowed low, turned to leave, walking a few steps before looking back.
"Equals?" I whispered, my voice rough with emotions, half broken-hearted anguish and half garden-variety Silvan short temper. I would not play such games. We had always been honest and I would insist upon it now.
The messenger still stood a few feet away, looking uncertain. He appeared to be a youth, something I had not noticed before. I nodded at Celeborn and tilted my head, indicating that he should turn and look in boy's direction.
"I am so sorry to disturb you again, my lord. But if I may, I would beg permission to trouble you with one other matter."
"What it is it, lad?" Celeborn said, trying by using a low, even tone to soften the harshness he apparently feared he had displayed earlier.
"I am instructed also to locate a certain Haldir, formerly chief marchwarden of Lothlórien across the sea. Can you tell me where I might find him? The Lady Galadriel said you would surely know how to contact him."
"You are in luck today. This is he."
"Sir," the messenger said, giving me the same gracious bow he had given my lord. "I am instructed to invite you to dinner also. The King said that I should tell you--'sweeten the invitation' were the words he used--that you would find old friends among the company tonight. Besides the Lady Galadriel, Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrian, the Lords Elladan and Elrohir have returned from the north and will be in attendance. He has also invited King Elwë, Elu Thingol, as he is known to you, and others formerly of Doriath who would no doubt enjoy making your acquaintance and reminiscing of the wilds of Endor."
"I am privileged to accept," I answered. I could see Celeborn's grin out of the corner of my eye.
"Thank you, sires." The young Elf bowed again and left.
"Do I get an apology?" Celeborn asked me with a mischievous smirk.
"Fine then. Valinor is not Middle-earth. I had forgotten my old friend King Elu Thingol, who died nearly two full Ages before my parents were even born."
"You great fool. You should listen to me. I doubt that you will become fishing partners with Thingol. But you should recall that I know him well. He will be pleased to meet and talk with you. You ought to wear something decent though. Do you have something to wear?"
"Don't worry. I won't embarrass you, Celeborn."
His eyes grew wistful, sparkling with moisture in the glaring Valinorian sunlight. "Haldir, you have only ever brought honor to me and you know that." He rose from his chair and left without saying good-bye.
As much as I would have liked to rush after him, grab him by the shoulders, push and pull him back into the café, up the stairs and into my room, another part of me was glad to see the back of him. I vowed to move forward. I cursed my foolish, yearning heart and wondered if I truly did have anything to wear to dinner with a king, or with two kings, I corrected myself. Then against my attempts to hold onto to my stinking mood, I was struck with the ridiculousness of the situation. This was Tirion and it might not be unreasonable to expect that there could be an entire motley collection of kings at this particular dinner.
My young friend returned, bearing a tray with a cup and another small teapot. "Has Prince Celeborn left already?" His quicksilver face shifted from consternation to relief in an instant. "I hung back a moment--out of courtesy, you know--when I saw a messenger wearing the livery of the High King of the Noldor. One learns to do that in this neighborhood. It doesn't do to appear to be eavesdropping."
"Yes. He's gone. Why don't you sit down with me and have it yourself?"
"If you are sure you don't mind. I overstepped myself earlier. I must apologize. I lied when I pretended I didn't know who you were. You are Haldir of Lothlórien aren't you? Warrior and hero, one of the last to arrive here. I had heard you were unattached as well. It was presumptuous of me. Opportunistic. Stupid. I am sorry."
"Never mind all that. I wouldn't ask you join me if I didn't want you to accept. You're a resourceful lad. I like that."
"But Prince Celeborn, he is your . . . I mean are the two of you . . ."
"Nothing like that at all," I lied smoothly. "We have a long history. Now tell me about you. What is your name? How old are you?"
"Veryandil. I will be 48 next month."
"It suits you, but I did think you might be older. You Noldor are taller and broader than my people as a rule." He lit up, his eyes widening with renewed hope. I thought I'd best be quite clear with him and quick about it. "Veryandil," I said softly, "Put such thoughts out of your head. You are far too young for me. That is not something I will reconsider."
Beautiful Veryandil cocked his head and smirked, retorting cheerfully, "I was all but certain that would be your response. But it was worth a try."
The belly laugh he pulled out of me surprised even me. "We are in different places in our lives," I answered when I had regained enough breath to speak coherently. "You will break a lot of hearts before you find the one you can love. You are just entering the race and I am ready to rest a bit."
I almost told him that, the way things were progressing, I was likely to be available and unattached still when he was no longer too young for me. We spent a pleasant hour, watching the square fill with Elves spilling out of the administrative buildings that surrounded us and empty again as they made their way home to their families. Finally, I bestirred myself to return to my room to prepare for the evening that faced me. Still not looking forward to it, I no longer felt angry or despairing, only more fatigued by idleness than ever from exertion or hard work and more alone than I had ever been.
Endor - Quenya, Middle-earth, east of the sea
Veryandil - Quenya name, means bold friend
Arafinwë - Finarfin