8. Burdens Shared
The wind was in constant motion and the sky had clouded over till it was a shade close to silver. Most of those who had come to watch the Númenórean sail had already hurried back across the strait before it became too choppy, but Gil-galad, a good sailor, had things he needed to do and problems to discuss with his foster father and so he had stayed longer.
Glorfindel’s presence was unnecessary for the business at hand so he spent a while on the roof watching the sails shrinking into the distance and idly following the activity in the harbour and the passage of one of the swift little patrol ships as it set off to follow the coastline south. It gave him time alone with his thoughts which inevitably went back over what he recalled of Númenor, which wasn’t much. He had passed it on his way out from Valinor and had an impression of green topped cliffs and tall mountains, a land he would have liked to visit. He knew he could have been a useful part of the embassy now on its way there, his rank was high, his court experience extensive, but he knew without question that he would never be allowed to leave Mithlond and sail west without the rings.
He reached out but could barely feel them this morning. They were most present in the between times of dawn and dusk, as though waking from their reverie to touch the world and feel the power they fed on, but some days they were quieter. He had not yet found a pattern that explained why. Still, they were there, across the water in the palace, and they were his assigned task. He pulled a face at the thought and then shook himself. The wind was growing unpleasant, and his thoughts were about to take a morbid turn. It was time to go inside.
There seemed to be no one around, even Maeriel’s kitchen was empty, so he went up to the parlour used by everyone who lived permanently at the Academy, in what was in essence Círdan’s home. There was a fire in the hearth, which made the room cheerful, and the windows looked out over a patch of wild garden to the grey waters of the gulf. A bookcase and rows of pigeon holes for scrolls filled the wall nearest the door, which made it a favourite place for Glorfindel, who liked to read when he had time on his hands.
He found a book about the course of a river he had barely heard of, called the Anduin, complete with illustrations of local flora and landmarks and settled into one of the chairs with it. Currently he sought out this kind of book, trying to get a grasp on the shape of the reformed landmass after the destruction of the War. The building was never quiet and he was aware of movement and occasional voices, but except for the woman who helped with the cleaning, who came in to stoke up the fire, he was alone for long enough to sink into the narrative, caught up in a surprisingly vivid account of the lands beyond the Misty Mountains.
He was so immersed in the history that had unfolded along the banks of the great river that it was only by degrees that he became aware he wasn’t alone. Looking up, he found Gil-galad sitting opposite and watching him with a small, amused smile. He put the book down hastily, his finger marking the spot, and made to rise. Lindon’s king shook his head and gestured for him to stay seated. “I shouldn’t have disturbed you. Came looking and wanted to see how long it took you to notice I was here.”
Glorfindel smiled, unsure how he felt about being watched but staying sociable. “I only meant to sit here a while, too. It must be almost lunch time?”
“Oh yes, Maeriel said she’d send someone up when it’s time. What’re you reading?”
He turned the book towards the king. “Learning about distant places again. You’ve not been anywhere along there, have you?”
Gil-galad shook his head. “Never gone further than Eregion, not over the mountain. I’d have liked to visit Lindórinand but it never happened – they have the Anduin as one of their borders.”
“I hadn’t got that far yet. Have you seen to everything you wanted here?”
Gil-galad paused. “More or less? There’s always something else. Anyhow. Apparently you watched the ship out of sight while I was running around speaking to patrol captains and the like?”
“Sent my good wishes after them, yes,” Glorfindel said with a smile. “And they were quite a sight once the sails caught. I wondered how Erestor was doing – he told me he wasn’t a great sailor.”
“He’ll be all right, his stomach for it is fine, just less interest in pursuing it than some.” The smile was fond for a moment and then abruptly cut off. “Probably busy working on his language skills.”
“I got the impression he was concerned about not being prepared,” Glorfindel said carefully. “It’s my experience that others expect less of us than we do of ourselves though.”
“He had barely time to pack,” Gil-galad said. He sounded annoyed, possibly at himself as the one responsible. “No time to learn all he’d need or prepare as an ambassador should. He’ll have to do it all on the run, think on his feet – all things he’s good at, but wouldn’t have been my first choice, not for something this vital.”
“If you’d had more time to prepare, what would you have done differently?” He had wondered this but lacked an opening to ask before.
Gil-galad sat looking into the cheerfully flickering flames. “I’d still have sent him, but not as the primary spokesman, more to – take note of things. Ideally I’d find someone reliable, send them down south as an envoy, get them used to Númenóreans, have them learn the language, the history, the religion. Send them after they’d proved their worth? Instead I had to settle for someone with quick wits but not a trained diplomat, a good administrator, and a musician with pretty hair and a few words of Adûnaic.”
“He does have rather pretty hair,” Glorfindel agreed gravely. “You don’t often see such a shade. Or those curls.”
Gil-galad shot him a quick look. “Did you think so? He needs to tidy it up more, I was thinking, though I suppose it’s an invitation in its own right. Anyhow, that’s not really the point, is it. The point is no, they’re not the best choice I could make, but they were the best that’s available and Erestor and Lindir were in Ost-in-Edhil near the end, which gives it a bit more immediacy.”
Glorfindel thought it best not to discuss Lindir’s hair further. “But you still trust him to manage this. Even with the lack of preparation, even with his own lack of experience? I suppose – I suppose I’m curious, because it’s not how I’ve seen decisions taken before.” He caught himself on the edge of implied criticism and stepped back. “I’m sorry – that was forward.”
Gil-galad sighed heavily. “No, no it’s a fair question. Not sure I can even answer it. He’s Erestor. He’s – he understood the vision of what this place could be, he’s part of what made Lindon?” He reached for words, testing them, rejecting them. Finally he said, “I trust his judgement. He’s never had a title, doesn’t need it, maybe advisor would cover it… it’s hard to sum up what he’s done, what he is. You think I should have chosen someone else?”
Spy was probably the right word, but it would have been undiplomatic to say as much. Glorfindel shook his head. “Out of those I’ve met who might be suitable, there wasn’t anyone who stood out as a better choice. You trust his judgement, and that he’ll put our case well. And he’s a friend – you trust him personally.”
The suddenly uncertain look, quickly hidden, was less of a surprise than it might have been. “We’ve known each other a long time,” Gil-galad replied, and his voice gave nothing away. In Glorfindel’s experience, that said there were things hidden. “And I trust him with this, with Lindon. He understands what’s at stake, we all do.”
“He’s been gone a long time. It’s a shame he had to leave again so soon. You’ve barely had time to get reacquainted.” Glorfindel said it lightly, every sense alert for the moment when he pushed too close to the line and needed to pull back.
“We talked about the things we needed to,” Gil-galad said, a little shortly. “There’ll be more time to – catch up – when he gets back.”
There was hurt there, not just uncertainty. Glorfindel recognised it instantly and put it beside the walls he had sensed Erestor constructing, the deep quiet, the air of detachment. “Things were not as they’d been before he left, were they?” he asked, ready to retreat instantly.
An eyebrow twitched, but for a moment Gil-galad said nothing. Then, “He was gone a while. There were – complications, things we needed to clear up. There wasn’t really much time for that before he left.”
Glorfindel wondered how many people the king would confide in even this far. Not many, he thought. Kings seldom took that kind of chance, and under the friendliness and good humour he had already worked out that Gil-galad was a very private man. Yet he had made himself vulnerable here. Glorfindel took a breath: he was touched, and confused at feeling touched, while at the same time wondering if he could risk one more question.
Gil-galad pushed his hair back at that moment and smiled, effortless charm lighting his eyes, dimples giving his face warmth and character. “Life can be a mess. Anyhow. I trust him. My aunt likes him because she can’t intimidate him. It’s a good trait when you’re dealing with people you want something from.”
The signal was clear: the topic was closed, leaving no space for a final question. Not at this time anyhow. Glorfindel moved on, matching his mood. “And we are asking for something quite big – the use of their fighting men.”
“Well no, we have a mutual aid treaty,” Gil-galad said mildly. “Erestor has the terms of that treaty off by heart and it’s one of his life rules to never look as though you’re asking for help, it leaves you at a disadvantage.”
Their eyes met and they laughed. “And you can rely on him to push that home while displaying the wealth and power of Lindon in silk and jewels?”
“And a quick tongue and a sweet smile, yes.” Gil-galad was animated now, amused. “Gildor would have been the best choice, but he can’t sail west and anyhow no one knows were in the Pit he is right now. So we have Erestor for honeyed words, Arvarad for behind the scenes bargaining, and Lindir as a reminder of shared culture.”
“Lindon’s fate,” Glorfindel said soberly, “in those three pairs of hands.”
Gil-galad’s expression grew serious. “They’ll be enough,” he said firmly. “And no, I know you like testing things from different angles, but that is not open for debate. The simple fact is those three pairs of hands will have to be enough. They’re all we and everyone trapped in Eriador have.”
“No one ever argues about chores or who owns what here.”
“Oh I’m sure they argue about things, Celebrían.” Galadriel said. “I think they’re just careful what they say around us.”
They were sitting outside the reed shelter that was their temporary home watching a group of women laughing and talking on the way to the path that led to the river. The bundles of clothing in their arms included items belonging to her and Celebrían, and while Galadriel was perfectly capable of doing her own laundry, she saw no reason to press the point if someone was insisting. Her surprise at the offer was what had Celebrían springing instantly to the defence of the Wood.
“Haldir says it’s all about people sharing and looking after one another, not about one person being more important than another. They each have their own talents and they use them and that means no one has to do things that would make them unhappy.”
Galadriel stopped watching the girls and focused on her daughter. “You’ve been talking with Haldir? I thought you hated him?”
Celebrían shook her head hard. “It’s bad to hate people, Father always says. It takes too much of your strength and time.”
“I think that is Sindarin philosophy, dear, not based in the real world. Sometimes genuine loathing can give you strength to carry on when you need to do something difficult.”
“Maedhros and Maglor hated the Enemy, and look what that made them do.”
“They were the exception. Most of us aren’t that – extreme.” Bri had learned her general history from Celeborn, who gave it a distinctly Sindarin slant, but Galadriel was in no mood to explore her cousins’ excesses, afraid to compare all that rage and drive with the way she felt when she thought of Annatar – no, Sauron – and what she knew soul deep had happened to Brim. And she knew Celeborn was right, hatred drained energy, and she needed to be calm and clear headed for what might lie ahead.
“You didn’t hate the Enemy?” Celebrían had developed a habit of tilting her head and looking very hard at her when she asked questions, and Galadriel tried not to be put off balance by it. She wondered if her own parents had found her curiosity about the world beyond Aman equally disconcerting.
“I hated the Enemy. He destroyed our home, killed my grandfather, and drew so many really good people to their deaths – my brothers, my uncle Fingolfin – but I tried to focus what I felt, not give way to blind passion. That… I think that was where our cousins went wrong. It warped their judgement.”
“And in the end they did terrible things, and not just against the Enemy.”
“Yes. As I said, they were a little extreme.” The memories made a jarring contrast to the birdsong and soft voices in this tranquil setting, the rustle of grass and leaves, the quick dart of a squirrel. She was not about to analyse the sack of Menegroth or the slaughter at Sirion for her daughter, definitely not with questions about Ost-in-Edhil so close and unanswered. Casting around for a way to turn the subject, she went back to an earlier question. “Anyhow. You’ve been talking with Haldir? Did you ask him about the history of the wood? I assume he was born here?”
“Oh yes.” Celebrían sat up straight, her face animated. “So was his mother and her family. His father came here with Amdír and met her and they fell in love – it’s very romantic, isn’t it? To come from almost the other side of the world and find your soul mate?”
Her face was young and very earnest and it seemed she had not noticed the similarity to her parents’ story. Though if she was honest, Galadriel found herself also cringing at the thought of her own parents as young lovers. “Very – romantic, yes. So he’s half Sindar, like Ereinion?”
“I forgot Ereinion was half Sindar,” Celebrían said, clapping a hand to her mouth. “Oh dear. Which half is it, Nana? Why can I never remember these things?”
“I have no idea,” Galadriel said, restraining a sigh. “You seem to have a blind spot for things like lineage and family connections. They’re important, child – the dwarves love them, and when two Nandor meet for the first time, swapping lines of descent is a major part of the greeting. People value it, so you must learn to.”
Two chickens leapt squawking over her legs, furious at each other and effectively ending the lecture because Celebrían dissolved into giggles. She was fond of chickens. Galadriel, who wasn’t, clapped her hands at them to shoo them off. Chickens, fed and valued for their eggs, wandered all over the inhabited parts of the forest as though they owned it and had no respect for anyone. She drew her legs up under her and returned to the question. “Ereinion’s mother, Meril, was close family to Círdan, which is how his parents met in the first place. It gives him an extra link to you through Thingol’s family.”
Celebrían nodded sagely, her eyes wide and serious. Galadriel knew she would have forgotten again by dinner. “You were telling me about Haldir?” she nudged, before they got too far off track.
A bright smile replaced the serious look. “Oh yes, before the chickens made me forget. He talked about when Amdír first came here…”
“Wasn’t that before he was born?” Galadriel teased and got a dirty look for her trouble.
“His father told him about it,” Celebrían said, the words coming fast, almost tripping over each other. “The Nandor were scared of them to begin with but then they saw that Amdír wasn’t trying to change them or force them to do anything and that he just wanted to help them be safer. And after a time they asked him to be their king because they didn’t have one, so they would have someone to speak for them to the powers of the world if it was ever needed. He’s a very good king, Haldir says. Do you think he’s a good king, Nana?”
It was important for Celebrían to know how someone in authority should carry him or herself to their people, so Galadriel thought a bit about Amdír first. “In his way he’s a good king, yes,” she said eventually. “Not in the way Ereinion is, but then Lindon is a large and very different kind of kingdom with wider needs. For a woodland people who need to be kept safe from the world beyond, I think he does very well. You saw how hard it was for us to get in. What else did Haldir tell you?”
Celebrían shrugged and began delicately shredding the edge of a fallen leaf with her nail. “Just – things? Who people are, who’s bound to who and why, and about the king. And about his family. I met his little brother, he’s still tiny and so pretty – he has big eyes and long white hair. Haldir says it will go yellow like his later.”
“I see.” She watched Celebrían covertly, trying to see if there was more to this than surface, to see if her face or her voice changed at all when she spoke of the young captain, but she was just Celebrían. Not quite ready for a flirtation yet, Galadriel decided with relief. Clearly she was paying less attention to what Bri did or where she went than she should. They had agreed a perimeter of sorts that would keep her away from the river or any other potential dangers and Galadriel trusted her to obey. Still, they were in a foreign land amongst strangers whose ways were not theirs, and it was as well to take nothing for granted. “Where exactly was I when you were spending all this time with Captain Haldir and meeting his family?”
Celebrían furrowed her brow at her. “I don’t know where you were, Nana. Probably on one of your walks where you like to be on your own? How long are we staying here? It’s – sweet and nice and the trees are very kind too, but it’s not home. And when is Ada joining us? How will he know where to find us?”
Galadriel shook her head. “Child, we’re here for as long as we need to be. We can’t go back to Ost-in-Edhil, they’ll have burned it by now, we have to stay here because people who escaped will come and we must speak for them, else Amdír might not let them cross the tree line. That’s important work and so is helping them once they arrive. Your father will find us when he can. Right now though he’s needed where we couldn’t follow. I think he might be with Elrond – you remember Elrond, don’t you? You met him when you were small, that time we were in Mithlond for Midwinter.”
“He was tall and very, very busy. And he called Erestor ‘Crow’. Nana, is Father all right? Are you sure?” A sunbeam slid between leaves high above them and turned Celebrían’s hair to dazzling mithril but nothing could disguise the concern in her eyes, and there was the tiniest shake in her voice.
Galadriel, who refused to consider anything bad happening to Celeborn, was genuinely startled. “Why in the – why in Arda wouldn’t your father be all right? Of course he is. If he wasn’t I would know. That’s part of being bound – you know those things.”
“And you would know when we spend time with him at star rise, right?” Celebrían sounded doubtful.
“Bri, I would know the moment it happened,” Galadriel said seriously. She took the girl’s hand, shutting out distractions to concentrate solely on her. “I knew when my brothers died and my uncle. I would know if your father so much as scraped his knee.” An exaggeration, but if anything serious were to happen to Celeborn she knew she would see and feel it, even if the link between them struggled to bridge distance and uncertain times. They should have practised far speech, she told herself yet again.
Something struck her. “The trees are kind, you said. Do they talk to you?”
“Oh no,” Celebrían looked scandalised. “I don’t live here and I’m not important so they wouldn’t really, but they smile inside at me? And they always let me feel welcome and safe. They’re good trees here.”
The casual statement made Galadriel blink. “I had no idea you could hear them. That’s a special gift. Do you know how to speak to them yet?”
Celebrían, who had looked worried for a minute, afraid she might have done something wrong, shook her head and her face cleared. “No, I just think ‘hello’ very loud and hope they hear me. When there’s no one around I say it aloud.”
Galadriel laughed and squeezed her hand before releasing it. “Next time I take one of those walks, you must come along. If you can hear them then you’re ready to learn how to greet them. It’s not difficult, it’s all about the courtesy we need to show every living thing in the One’s creation.”
“Even orcs?” Celebrían asked brightly.
An avalanche of ice dropped onto Galadriel and for a moment she couldn’t breathe. Then it was gone as though it had never been. She reached out wildly but there was no trail to follow, no clue as to what the premonition, if that was what it was, had meant. She forced herself to nod her head, fight back the inexplicable fear that still gripped her. “Oh, I think we should even be polite to orcs, dear. Say good morning, I hope you slept well, Mr Orc, as you slide your dagger in to the hilt.”
Celebrían giggled and after a moment Galadriel joined in and the fear was gone, wiped away by laughter and leaf-dappled sunlight. It was never quiet in Egladil, as that part of the land between the rivers was called, there were always people talking, chickens clucking, birds singing, things being dropped, hammered, rolled along the ground. Many years away, on a day of clawing, keening horror, every sound, every word, every wood scent would come back to her, clear etched. “I’ll remember that, Nana. Good manners are everything. Oh look, there’s Midhiel. Can I go and help them lay the clothes out to dry? I want to learn. I’ll be very careful of the water.”
The world was peaceful, birds sang and voices that were almost bird like trilled around them, sometimes bursting into song as the Nandor so often did. She could hear the water beyond the trees and the distant soft singing of the women as they did their washing. She smiled at Celebrían. “Go. Even a princess should learn how to do laundry.”
She slept fitfully that night and kept waking, reaching out with her mind in search of danger. There was none. The wood drowsed beneath the trees and soft strains of song drifted to her from beyond or above. She could hear the trees whispering and the river in the distance and close beside her Celebrían’s peaceful breathing. Still, something kept her from fully relaxing. She stretched out, tried to touch Celeborn, and found nothing there to give her cause for worry. They could not speak mind to mind, but there was no sense of him being in more danger than before or any disquiet.
She woke again when dawn was creeping into the clearing. The air smelt fresh and clean, the birds were making their presence known loudly, and she was tired of the game of chase she had been playing all night with sleep. She got up.
There was water in the basin they kept in the corner and she washed using the soapy leaves collected for that purpose, trying to be quiet. After that, she found her brush, tidied her hair and looped it up neatly on the back of her head.
She had almost finished dressing when Celebrían finally woke up and lay staring at her in confusion. “Are we going somewhere?” she asked sleepily.
Galadriel looked down at her, surprised. “Not that I know of? I just couldn’t sleep any more, nothing else. You can lie in a bit longer if you like. I need to take a walk down to the privy anyhow.” The general privy was a bit of a walk if the need was urgent, but they both preferred it to having a lime hole at the side of the shelter as some did.
“You’ve made your hair pretty and that’s a nice dress,” Celebrían pointed out, sitting up and stretching. “That was why I asked.”
Galadriel looked down at the dress, which was one of the few ‘good’ items she had allowed herself when packing. “It was clean?” she offered. “And I am awfully tired of wearing my hair loose.”
She fastened the belt made to resemble interlinked leaves while she spoke and smoothed the dress down. “I’ll get breakfast for us on my way back, shall I? And then we can decide what to do with the day.”
As it turned out, Celebrían had asked Haldir if someone could teach her archery, so after breakfast she went off with a tall, serious girl who told Galadriel she was training to be a warden like her cousin Haldir. Galadriel looked but could see no familial resemblance: of the two, Haldir was by far the prettier.
Left to her own devices, she took a walk down to the river. Part of her wanted to explore new paths in her ongoing hunt for the well of power she knew lay hidden somewhere in the wood, but not today. The disturbed night had left her restless and without the inner focus such a search required. It wasn’t long before she turned back.
Near the day’s midpoint one of Amdír’s captains came looking for her and found her sitting under a tree helping one of her neighbours fletch arrows, a task she had learned from Celeborn rather than her brothers; they had preferred spear and blade, and the only one who had fancied himself as an archer had been Angrod.
The captain came straight to the point. “Lady, Amdír King asks that you come. There are strangers approaching, a large group, and he says they are Sea People, though more ragged than most. He said you must first vouch for them if we are to let them in?” He said it in the doubtful tone of someone whose usual job was to keep any and all strangers outside of the wood.
Her neighbour looked worried. “The more outsiders we allow in, the more chance the easterners will come looking for them,” he said, voicing what was probably a common concern. “Not the family of a prince of Doriath, of course,” he added hastily. “But – foreigners.”
A vast gulf lay between them that only time could bridge, born of bitter history and vastly different life views. Until then, the Noldor would remain just that, foreigners. Galadriel finished her arrow unhurriedly, tidied away feathers and gut and rose to her feet. “What would you do? Leave them for the orcs who it’s said follow the easterners to hunt after nightfall? What better signal to Sauron’s forces than a successful orc hunt? Amdír gave his word, and I gave mine. Whoever they are, I will make sure they pose no risk to anyone here.”
The day was unexpectedly warm and the air hung still and thin. Sunlight dappled the undergrowth and walking through the flickering light made her head feel uneasy but she kept pace with the captain: he would have no cause to complain the Noldor woman had dragged her feet. It was the middle of the afternoon before they reached a clearing where a group of warriors waited, the captain’s patrol she gathered. He pointed at a rope ladder leading up into one of the trees. “We still have as far again to walk, but if you were to climb up there you could see them and decide what we must tell the king.”
Galadriel swallowed a sigh and nodded. She was not fond of ladders or, truth be told, of climbing up into trees, but they would not know it from watching her. And it wasn’t as though she couldn’t climb: she had grown up competing with brothers and male cousins. “You’re not coming with me?”
He shook his head, accepting a water skin from one of his men. “Not necessary, Lady. You can speak with the watchmen up on the flet yourself. They can tell you more than I.”
And it had been a long walk and he was of a mind to relax in the shade. Galadriel hitched her skirts up, tucking the ends into the belt thus leaving her legs bare to the knee and tugged lightly on the ladder, testing its strength. It was smooth, silken, and reassuringly steady. In another time and place she would have laughed out loud at the expressions on their faces. The women of the wood were too conservative to show that much flesh. “This is good rope,” she said, putting her foot to the first rung and ignoring the stares. “You must tell me its history later.”
The climb seemed to take as long as the walk. She could see the ladder going up and up above her, half hidden amongst the leaves, until it vanished over the side of a platform like the one Amdír had taken her up to so she could see the extent of his wood. She climbed steadily, being careful not to look down. Unlike Celebrían she had no trouble with heights, but the ladder swayed unsettlingly and it seemed wiser to keep her gaze fixed above.
Ready hands were there to help her over the side when she reached the platform, where she was greeted by two young warriors, grey clad with slender bows and full quivers on their backs. They seemed to have been here for a while. There were bedrolls in two corners, a food hamper, clothing folded haphazardly in a second basket, blankets hung over a branch to air. An unfamiliar board game was in progress, with simple pieces in four colours grouped across a painted board.
“They are over there, Lady,” the taller one told her, pointing in what her inbuilt sense told her was a south-easterly direction. “They were moving along the eaves of the wood all morning, but now they seem to have stopped.”
Galadriel leaned lightly against the guide rope strung between branches and looked out and down. The size of the crowd she saw surprised her, there were far more than she had expected after Amdír’s complaint about twos and threes straggling towards his realm. They were still too far away for her to make out anything that would identify them and she was about to say as much when someone moved into sight, light catching copper hair, and she knew what had kept her from sleep – not fear but anticipation.
She turned to the warriors smiling. “I need to send word to King Amdír to let them in. This group I will gladly vouch for.”
“Our captain can send a signal, Lady,” the lean one with the pale hair said. They all seemed to use the title she had answered to in Ost-in-Edhil and on Balar and Mithlond before. It was a general honorific here, but made her feel strangely at home. “The messengers go faster through the trees than you will on the ground. When you get down, ask him to send me, Orophin, Cyllon’s son. I’m the fastest in our patrol.”
His comrade bristled in outrage. “So he says, Lady, but he’s slow as an overfed hedgehog. On the other hand, I…”
She left them arguing about who was fastest and scrambled laughing back down, less concerned for either dignity or safety than she had been on the way up. She was nearly half way before she placed the patronym and realised Orophin must be Haldir’s brother. Galadriel was naturally observant, and it took a great deal to distract her from details like that.
The walk down trails and through seemingly untouched undergrowth took longer than the earlier trek to the guard station, but she moved faster now and the captain was the one who had to hurry to keep pace. They were close to the sound of falling water, perhaps the waterfall she and Celebrían had passed, when she started to hear the voices. They were not loud but the timbre and rise and fall was of Sindarin as spoken by Noldor tongues, crisper and clearer to her ear than the way of the wood folk. Galadriel stopped. “I know you have men in the trees and following us, but let me go ahead and greet them first, reassure them, while you wait to hear from Amdír.”
“The king will send word back in his time,” he replied, and he wrinkled his brow, indecision plain in his light eyes. “We were told to honour your judgement of the matter, but still, their numbers are so many…”
“And their story must be one to sing at the night fires,” she said, resting her hand briefly on his arm, her eyes holding his. “They have escaped with their lives from a great evil, and it is to you they have turned for shelter. You can safely honour that trust.”
She covered the last distance alone, making hardly a sound as she moved through fallen leaves and clumps of vegetation fighting for a chance of light here under the tree cover. Celeborn said she was as loud as a rutting boar, but admitted that compared to most Noldor she was very quiet. She came out on the edge of where a camp site was being set up for the night. They were gathering wood, deadfall she was relieved to see, and little groups of people sat talking or resting and children played more quietly than was normal in the late sunlight while armed adults stood vigilant, keeping watch.
Stepping out of cover she walked through them, feeling the eyes on her, hearing voices stutter and still. Even the children stopped their play to watch. Someone called a name she knew and she followed the direction heads turned towards. It was like moving through a dreamscape, not quite real, the destination the only thing that mattered. Grass whispered under her feet, voices came and went, there were faces she recognised, far more that she didn’t, but at that moment her whole being was focused on the one who could tell her who lived, who had not escaped, and what had happened to Brim.
He came walking towards her, clad in leather armour, both jerkin and skirt, with rough-woven pants and a serious looking sword belt. His hair was loose, copper where Maedhros’ had been flame red, and he looked tired and worn, no trace of the usual sardonic humour. They stopped at the same time and looked at one another and then he said, “Tanis?” in a voice flat with disbelief. “I thought you’d made for Lindon…”
She started walking again, forward and into his embrace, and put her arms around him and held him tight. “Gildor,” she breathed against his neck. “I had no idea where you were, I thought – I was afraid you’d run into Sauron’s forces coming up from the south. You’re alive – and you’ve brought all these people with you…”
And finally she was not alone, she had family to share the load, the decisions and the responsibilities. Tears welled in her eyes that had remained unshed through all the days and nights since she left her last home and said goodbye to her husband and set out with her child on an impossible journey.
“This is the first group,” Gildor said against her hair, holding her firmly. “I left the others about half a day away. I thought if there were too many, Amdír would panic and keep us out. But you’re here already, does that mean…?”
“You can send someone back for them,” she said, sniffing and wiping at her eyes quickly as she stepped back from him. They were not people who hugged much, but the circumstances were exceptional. “Just make it clear that no one disrespects our hosts or cuts live wood and that we obey their water and fire rules and join in the thanks to Yavanna at the evening meal. Those were the things I promised him.”
“I already told them that if anyone raised a hand to a living tree, I’d cut it off.” He sounded bone tired. “I had no idea what to do if he wouldn’t take them in. There are too few left who can manage a sword or any kind of defence. This was my only hope. There’s no path open west to the Ered Luin.”
“They can stay,” she said firmly, unable to stop looking at him, drinking in the reality of Gildor, her cousin, her Aunt Lalwen’s son. “Until the war is over at least, we can all stay.”