Part Four: Brethil
The park stood a little back from the path and was entered through a simple white archway decorated with a few geometric swirls and angles drawn into the rock. The small parks they had passed had all been neatly manicured with massed beds of flowers and paths laid out in carefully considered symmetrical design. This was different. Soft grass studded with tiny multi-coloured flowers grew under spreading trees, the pathways wound off under heavy boughs, flowers grew, but in little clumps or separately, not laid out in rows.
Water was falling somewhere, the sound blending with the soft rustle of leaves and the crunch of their footsteps on gravel that was made up of tiny pieces of jasper, tiger’s eye, garnet… reds, golds, oranges, warm colours, almost but not quite like the winding paths that had linked so much of Imladris once you left the Last Homely House and went down into the valley proper…
“… beside the fountain,” Galadriel was saying in a flat voice. She walked slightly ahead of them, her shoulders straight. Erestor saw Elrond reach a hand to her and then let it drop. She might as well have been wearing a sign saying ‘don’t touch me’.
The path led to a pool, hexagonal in shape, its low wall made from blocks of honey-coloured stone. Pale pink and yellow water lilies floated on the surface, and four perfectly carved white dolphins faced one another at what might be the cardinal points, though he still found it hard to be sure of direction. Out of their mouths water leapt in a glittering shower that fell cheerfully into the pool below.
Rose bushes grew around the fountain, lending their fragrance to the scented green of the garden. The path went round and continued straight ahead. The trees were trimmed well back, perhaps to avoid leaves falling into the water, and there were small wooden benches and conveniently placed tree stumps just the right size to serve as seating.
They were not alone. Coming down the path towards them was a family group, talking and laughing. Erestor saw Elrond take a deep, deep breath and realised his need for touch had been less for Galadriel’s comfort than his own. Moving closer he rested a casual hand on Elrond’s arm and said, “Perhaps we should take a seat, let this play out as naturally as possible.”
As it turned out, there was no time. Galadriel had stopped dead, so the best Erestor could think to do was pretend an interest in the dolphins. A woman, a man and three young elves, two boys and a girl, approached the fountain. Catching sight of them, the woman said something to the man and drew closer to him, though the younger elves remained unaware and continued a laughing discussion of which Erestor was embarrassed to only understand perhaps one word in four. He supposed his Quenya would modernize and improve out of all recognition soon.
They passed the fountain, the younger members of the party exclaiming at the dolphins and going to dabble their fingers in the water. The woman, perhaps their mother, clearly a relative, remained beside them, while the man continued until he reached Galadriel, where he stopped.
“Princess Artanis?” His voice was polite and held a touch of query.
Galadriel looked at him stonily. “The name I bring back from the Hither Land is Galadriel, one of my husband’s many gifts,” she corrected him in glacially-correct Quenya. “And I prefer the title ‘Lady’, which I have held for so long.”
“Yes, of course. Forgive me, I was told. I am Fárëon. You might no longer recall, but I had already been presented at your grandfather’s court before the… before you – left. We met once or twice?” His eyes were worried and a little sad, and the look he gave her was almost one of pleading. A courtier unaccustomed to deception was a new thing to Erestor, who had seen more than his share of court life and masks in the old days in Lindon.
Her eyes remained cool and watchful, but Galadriel moderated her tone a little. “The name is familiar,” she conceded. “But it was all a very long time ago and much has passed since then. This is your family?” She indicated the group by the fountain with a minute inclination of her head.
Water tinkled and a boy laughed in the space between her question and his reply. “My sister and her children, my lady,” he replied at last. “One of their rare trips to the city. I thought a visit to this park near my home would amuse them.” He turned and held out a hand to his sister, and his smile tried to reassure. “Nurtamiel, come and meet Her Highness… the Lady … Galadriel.” He stumbled on the name; Erestor thought his Sindarin was probably weaker than Erestor’s Quenya.
The woman came forward slowly, and her sons both turned to look, alerted by body language or the faint air of tension that was slowly building amongst the adults. The girl had leaned out over the water, looking down. Fish, Erestor thought. She’s looking for fish. The pose was so like Arwen that it twisted his heart. Her mother meanwhile touched fingers to forehead and bowed her head to Galadriel. “Lady,” she said. “These are my sons, Sanar and Mórion.” She spoke slowly, making it simpler for a non-Quenya speaker to follow. “And – my daughter, Brethil.
One of the boys gave his sister a discreet shove and she turned at her name. She had light brown hair with golden streaks and very clear, fair skin. Her face was a little broad with a small, straight nose, soft eyebrows that traced a perfect arch under a wide, untroubled brow – and Celebrían’s eyes, clear blue, ever-sparkling. Erestor became aware the birds were still singing and the water falling, and that he had placed an unconscious hand on Elrond’s back.
Fárëon seemed even more worried, while Nurtamiel looked ready to cry. After the merest glance at the girl who had once been her only child, Galadriel took charge of the situation. “Nurtamiel, how nice to meet you. And your family. I do faintly recall your brother of course, though it was a long time ago. This is my daughter’s husband, Lord Elrond, and an old friend from across the sea, Erestor. We were exploring Tirion a little before going to greet my father.”
“You’re from Endórë?” one of the boys asked, eyes wide and eager. His uncle tried to hush him, but Elrond took his cue from Galadriel and gave him a friendly smile.
“We are, yes. We only arrived a few days ago. This is my first visit to Tirion. I suppose you know it quite well?”
He was not looking directly at the girl, but stood at the right angle to keep her in his line of sight. The boy, Sanar, shook his head. “We live outside the city, sir, we only visit now and then. My father comes to court often though,” he added, apparently worried about sounding provincial. Erestor could remember how that felt, although his youth had been a very long time ago.
Galadriel, polished, royal and gracious, now turned to Brethil. Someone who knew her less well would miss the steel in her eyes, he hoped. “And are you enjoying your visit to Tirion, my dear? Have you been presented at court yet? Do they still do that?” she added on an afterthought, addressing it to Nurtamiel.
“I like visiting Tirion, my lady,” Brethil said before her mother could answer. “We went to watch the cloud dancers this time and they were lovely. We want to look at dress designs for my presentation this time, though that won’t be quite yet, not till after my begetting day.” She spoke earnestly to Galadriel, no trace of shyness about her.
She had no idea Galadriel was royal, of course, Erestor realized, no reason to be overawed by anything more than her beauty. And she was comfortable with strangers, which he always associated with well-loved children who had been raised to know they were valued.
“Perhaps your mother will let me know when the time comes,” Galadriel said. “If I’m in Tirion, I’d quite like to attend. Tell them to show you yellow fabric – it’s young and fresh and it would work well with your complexion.”
Yellow had been Celebrían’s favourite colour, but it was an ill match for her moonlit colouring so she never wore it, though it was a regular theme throughout her home. But it would look well with that sunkissed brown hair.
“One of the best parts of being young is that you can look good in almost anything,” Elrond said, a courtier’s mask on his face, his voice smooth as silk. He smiled at the girl. “And it’s your special day, so be sure and wear something that makes you smile when you remember it.”
“Amil said I should wear white, which was the old tradition,” she told him laughing, “but Atar said a little colour would brighten up the court and to suit myself. Just not red or purple.”
He laughed with her, then reached out and took her hands in his. It was a forward gesture from a stranger, but they were from the barbaric East, so Erestor hoped she would put it down to foreign customs. “That’s good, wise advice,” Elrond was saying to her. “Like the Lady, I hope to be there when you’re presented. Meanwhile, enjoy your visit here.”
Bretil flushed a little, looking down, her extreme youth very apparent. “Thank you, my lord. I’m sure I will. And it would be lovely if you and the Lady were there…”
“I look forward to meeting you again,” Elrond said, releasing her hands and stepping back. “All of you, of course.”
The boys were looking uncertainly at their uncle, aware something was not right but not sure what. Fárëon hovered, uncertain what to do, reluctant to interrupt but knowing he needed somehow to be part of the conversation. Erestor took a breath and forced his brain to work. “It’s all rather strange at the moment,” he said, taking care not to emphasise the double meaning: no need to be heavy handed about it. “So this was a pleasant chance, meeting an ordinary family, my first in Tirion.”
Fárëon almost beamed with relief. “A great deal of adjustment, yes, so I have heard. I hope you have been enjoying the city this far, Lord Erestor?”
“Master will do.” He used the Sindarin word. “And yes, it’s quite exceptional. Is there something you can recommend for us to look at next? Well, me at any rate. Lord Elrond and Lady Galadriel will be waiting on her father when we leave here.”
“You should go up to the lake, it’s not at all far from here,” Brethil said at once. “It’s beautiful and there are singing birds and lots of little places to stop and eat.” She smiled at him, giving him the full benefit of blue eyes so like those he remembered from another time and place. Erestor looked into them and for a moment he could say nothing because the lump in his throat threatened to choke him. He had known her far longer than Elrond, since she was a child in Ost-in-Edhil…
He smoothed his face and swallowed, untold centuries of training coming to the fore. “That sounds like an excellent idea,” he said in careful Quenya. “Thank you, Brethil. I think that’s exactly what I’ll do.”
“We really shouldn’t keep you like this,” Galadriel said in a neutral voice, her smile taking in everyone and no one. “It was a pleasure meeting you and your family, Nurtamiel, and I’m sure we’ll run into each other again sooner or later. I recall Tirion was always a lot smaller than it looked.”
Goodbyes were said in a hurried jumble of voices and Fárëon shepherded his sister and her family on towards the entrance. The boys turned back to wave, smiling, but Brethil was walking beside her mother, engaged in an animated conversation: she did not look back.
Erestor did the unthinkable: he took Galadriel by the elbow, led her to the nearest bench, and made her sit. She obeyed, unresisting, and sat very still, staring at the water droplets striking rainbows in the sun. Erestor remembered the mist from the waterfall at home, and had to blink hard. He turned to Elrond, ready to do whatever needed doing, but he was standing with his arms folded, apparently studying a tree. Feeling eyes on him, he looked at Erestor and shrugged before going to crouch down in front of Galadriel.
“She’s well,” he said firmly. “Well and happy. Loved.”
“She didn’t know us.” Her voice was pale and thin, barely holding onto control.
Elrond nodded. “No, she didn’t. And if she does not remember, it is because she cannot. Think of it – you, me, Erestor who she has known her whole life. If that wasn’t enough to reach who she used to be, then nothing ever will.”
“And you are so calm?” Erestor registered the edge, and waited for her to start shouting. He had worked for her many years ago and it was a byword in her house that if the Lady raised her voice, it was time to be very busy elsewhere.
Elrond rose to his feet. “I am calm, yes. I wanted her healed. The healing did not come from my hands, my knowledge, but I still wanted her healed. Should I begrudge her the medicine that was called for? Do you remember how she was before she sailed? She lost her memory, yes, but she gained a life.”
“And she will never be Celebrían again.”
“You knew that,” he said almost gently. “You just hoped against hope. The soul never dies or changes, Galadriel. She will always be who she is, who the One made her to be. But I’ve learned a hard lesson over the years – from my parents, from my brother, even from my daughter. Like it or not, sometimes loving means having to move on and let them go.”