14. 14. Lord Celeborn
The men of the Rohirrim were made comfortable in a small grove of young Mallorns. Arathea, however, was to be housed in a talan near Lord Celeborn’s. Elfhelm was not comfortable with that arrangement; for although she was here by her own merits, he wished to be close should a problem arise. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do. Furthermore, she might prefer it this way, away from him. Anyway, he told himself, it would be inappropriate for her to sleep amid the common guard of Rohan. The Marshal watched as she was led away.
Thea would have liked to stay with her companions, but she knew better than speak of it now. If the opportunity presented itself, perhaps she could bring it up to Lord Celeborn. She did not know if anyone caught Orophin’s greeting and she did not want to be set apart from them any more than she already felt. She had developed friendships with several guards; she feared that would change now.
When Elfhelm woke, he and his men found a wonderful table laden with fresh fruit, breads, and cheeses awaiting them. They ate hungrily and as they finished, an unbelievably beautiful elf-maid approached with three guardians.
She gave a small bow. “Lord Celeborn bade me bring you to him, Marshal. Your men will be provided with an escort should they wish to explore the surrounding areas.”
A number of Elfhelm’s guards made to protest the Marshal moving about alone but he quickly spoke, “Guthred, you will come with me. The rest of you, enjoy your time here; it is a wonderful experience and I am sure I do not need to remind you to conduct yourselves as Men of Rohan.” That seemed to satisfy them and as Elfhelm and Guthred followed the she-elf, the rest exchanged introductions with their guides.
It was a long climb to Lord Celeborn’s talan and Elfhelm could not hide a smile as he thought of Elethfled trudging up the stairs. It was a good thing Éomer saw fit to keep her home. When they reached the top, he was surprised to see Arathea waiting. She was dressed in a lovely elvin gown of dark blue, a delicate silver sash rested on her hips. Her hair was down, except for the sides, which were held back with a silver clip. Never had Elfhelm seen her look so beautiful, so noble. She took his breath away. When she realized his stare, she blushed, that lovely blush that had captivated the Marshal the moment they met. He advanced and took her hand, delivering a kiss to its back. Butterflies swarmed in her stomach, as they always did, when his soft beard and warm lips pressed into her hand. He certainly was not making this any easier!
“East Lórien suites you my lady,” Elfhelm said quietly. Thea felt the change in his demeanor and it saddened her. This is why she had kept it hidden, why she left Gondor. Why could people not just see her as Arathea? Why did her lineage have to set her apart? Imagine the Marshal’s disappointment if he learned of her illegitimate birth. How would he see her then? She feared friendship would be out of the question, not that she was certain she could be just friends with the man.
“Would it please you to know Rohan suites me better?” she asked, her voice colored with melancholy. Before he could respond, the large door opened and they were admitted into Celeborn’s meeting room. The Marshal allowed Arathea to enter first and marveled at the grace she held. She seemed so different here than in Rohan. Guthred took up a position at the door as they approached the elf lord. Thea dropped to a low curtsy, eyes down, hand to her heart. Elfhelm gave a low bow, but kept his eyes on their host. Celeborn smiled.
“Welcome to East Lórien,” he said, his voice like flowing water. “I hope your journey was pleasant and your accommodations acceptable.”
“You hospitality is unmeasured, my lord,” Elfhelm replied standing. “Thank you for your generosity.”
Celeborn turned to Arathea who looked up. He could sense her uneasy. Looking deep into her eyes, into her mind he saw what troubled her. Her eyes went wide as she felt him touch her mind. He turned from them and motioned for them to sit, yet she heard his voice in her head.
“I will keep your secret for it is something you must share. Tonight you will understand why I have sent for you. Although you would be welcome anyway, there is another who wished to see you.”
Thea sat and looked at the silver elf. If that was to make her feel better, it did not work for now she wondered who sought her. She was relieved when conversation began. It was a light and informal meeting. The Elf-lord and Marshal spoke mostly, with Thea only speaking when addressed. An elf came in and spoke briefly to Lord Celeborn in Sindarin. Although Thea understood, she gave no indication. It was meant to be a private message.
“If you will excuse me, it seems Lord Gildor has just arrived. Marshal, my lands are open to you and your men. You may wander as you wish. Híranneth, the elleth who escorted you here, is in charge of seeing to your needs. If there is anything you require, please ask.”
Elfhelm stood and giving a small bow, waited for Arathea. Celeborn had other ideas. “Arathea, come, I am sure Lord Gildor would love to see you again.” Thea looked between the two. She would have liked to spend time with Elfhelm, though it would surely make things more uncomfortable between them. With that in mind, she gave him a small bow and excused herself, following the regal elf.
The Marshal watched her leave and his chest constricted in disappointment. But who was he kidding? She was where she should be. The Dúnedain and the elves had a long history. He turned to leave, making his way back to their encampment.
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