Water and Stone by erynhith2
Chapter 1 Estel
Third Age, 2951
It was a sweet morning in Lothlorien. The air was as fresh and cold as a mountain stream, but the bright washed-out blue of the sky held a promise of soft warmth to come. Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlorien, tall and quiet as a young birch tree, walked down the steps of her garden, the sparkling fabric of her white dress hushing around her. The stream that ran through the deep green hollow at the bottom glittered in the clear light of the golden wood, and from it Galadriel filled the silver ewer that stood at the foot of her mirror, a wide, shallow silver basin on a low pedestal carved like a branching tree.
She was about to empty the ewer into the basin when something seemed to touch her, and she stood irresolute, the ewer tilted at an angle in her hand. She stood pensive for several moments, then filled the basin as she had intended, but instead of gazing into the water, she put down the ewer and stepped back, and her fingers strayed to the ring that she wore. She bent her head as if she were listening to something, and slowly her serene expression changed, and her face was full of silent and terrifying anger.
She looked long into the mirror then, and what she saw there did not abate her anger. At last she sighed and her lips moved as she murmured something under her breath, and she turned and walked up the steps again. A tall slender elf with silver hair stood waiting for her, and his eyes grew bright when he saw her.
‘Celeborn, my dearest,’ she said softly, and went into his arms. He kissed her hair gently, but something about the way she held herself disturbed him, and he looked into her face.
‘What has happened?’ he said quickly.
‘He has returned,’ said Galadriel, in a voice that rang like a bell. ‘Sauron has declared himself again in Mordor.’
Elrond, the Master of Imladris, sat in his chamber, his head resting in his hands. His ears were full of the ever present sound of the waterfalls plummeting deep into the valley which sheltered the Last Homely House. Normally he would have found it soothing, but today it pressed on him painfully. He had been sitting still for so long that his arms were beginning to ache, and he knew Glorfindel was hovering outside the door, worried about him.
Sighing, he raised his head and stretched out his arms, then pushed back his chair and went out on to the terrace, looking down into the shadows at the bottom of the valley far below. The light wind touched his cheek and he tilted his face, feeling the light spray carried from the falls against his skin.
‘Elrond?’ said a voice tentatively behind him.
Elrond turned, the dark velvet of his heavy over-tunic swinging behind him. Glorfindel watched him carefully, gazing at the shadowed grey eyes, weighing his words.
‘Tell me,’ he said quietly at last. ‘Is it your sons?’
Elrond shook his head.
‘Then…there is bad news from the East.’
‘Yes,’ said Elrond. ‘We have been too sanguine these ten years. He has already returned. Yet again his cunning has deceived us.’
‘We will have to fight him and his creatures,’ said Glorfindel, ‘as we always have.’
‘As we always have,’ repeated Elrond. ‘Estel has nearly come of age. He is strong and skilled, and he grows each day in wisdom. He has learnt everything Elladan and Elrohir have to teach him. When they return, I will tell him his true name.’
‘Elrond, he is too young!’ said Glorfindel. ‘Give him time to grow into maturity before you tell him.’
‘There is no time,’ said Elrond quietly.
The first light of the sun found a ranger of the Dunedain feeding a small fire in a sheltered clearing half a day’s journey from Lorien. He was tall and slender and dark, and his body still had that awkwardness which comes from being no longer a boy but not yet fully a man.
A small pot of water was coming to the boil suspended from a forked stick above the flames. He watched the small bubbles rising through the water as he chewed on a piece of dried meat, the first food he had had since noon the day before. When the water was ready, he took a piece of red cloth from his pack and lifted the pot from its metal hook, then poured a measure into a cup. A refreshing smell arose from the herbs within. The rest of the water he put aside while he opened a small glass vial from which he poured several drops of an amber liquid into the pot of hot water.
The ranger sat back on the flat stone beside the hearth, and began to drink the herbal infusion he had made. Some of the herbs were simply for refreshment, but he had also added some willow bark for pain and some feverfew and lemongrass, for he had taken a wound that night in an encounter with a band of outlaw men. His left arm ached as he looked out through a gap in the trees at the faint outline of the mountains, his grey eyes distant, seeing something in his mind rather than in his line of vision.
He finished the drink and took his knife from his belt and with a single stroke, cut the cloth of his already rent sleeve to reveal the gash in his left upper arm. He cleaned the wound using the prepared water, then bound it roughly with a piece of clean linen. The edges of the wound stung and burned but even alone in the wilds he suppressed the moan of pain that would have escaped him. Although he had seen no more than a score of years, Aragorn, son of Arathorn was a disciplined and rigorous man, and he kept close to his duty and his honour, whether alone or in company.
He quickly packed up his belongings and cleared all signs of his presence, then resolutely turned south towards Lorien.
‘Who is he?’ said the elf, his sea-green eyes wide with interest. ‘Can’t you tell me?’
Haldir did not answer at once. He narrowed his eyes as he looked out from the highest talan on the eastern side of Lorien at Anduin sparkling in the sun of high summer. A single horseman was riding slowly along its western bank, approaching the eaves of Lorien.
‘The smoke is rising black again from Dol Guldur,’ Haldir said bitterly. ‘Only a ten-year since Mithrandir himself banished the Necromancer, Celinn. I did not think the Shadow would return so soon.’ Haldir closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the day only a few weeks past when the birds had fallen silent and the ground had trembled, and when the Shadow had begun to build again over southern Mirkwood. The Lady had spoken to him, and from that day he had doubled the watch both within and outside Caras Galadhon.
‘Curse his name,’ said Celinn evenly. ‘What news from Mirkwood? Has he returned or has he sent his creatures in his place?’
‘It is too soon to say. Thranduil keeps watch, and sees the trees die faster than before. We can only wait to see what evil will be kindled by Sauron’s return, for us in Lorien and for the rest of Arda.’
Celinn moved restlessly beside him and his long fingers stroked the smooth bark of the mallorn in which their watch talan was built.
‘Guardian, who is the horseman?’ he persisted. ‘Does the Lady know?’ Haldir turned to look at him, and the dappled forest light showed Celinn’s fair face with its finely sculpted bones and beautiful mouth. His eyes were the colour of the ever-changing sea at Alqualonde, or so the Lady had told Haldir when Celinn was not much more than an elfling. Celinn leaned forward again to take a better look at the horseman, and his long corn-coloured hair swung forwards like a curtain.
‘Celinn, you know I cannot tell you,’ said Haldir.
‘He is melancholy,’ mused Celinn. ‘His back is as straight as a spear and he carries himself proudly, but he is bowed down with some trouble nevertheless.’
‘Did your mother-gift tell you that?’ asked Haldir.
‘Yes,’ replied Celinn. ‘But you know it is a gift that we all have, to sense what is felt but unsaid.’
‘Truly, but your gift is stronger than most,’ said Haldir. ‘It is because you have a tender heart.’
Celinn laughed. ‘So have we all, but some choose to hide it,’ he said. He turned and gazed out again. ‘He is dark, with grey eyes. Young; not much out of boyhood, for one of the race of Men.’
Haldir said nothing.
‘What must we do? Bring him to the Lord and the Lady?’ asked Celinn.
‘No, not yet,’ said Haldir. ‘Only watch for a while.’ He sat down and leaned his back against the trunk of the mallorn. His hair, of a blond so pale that it was almost silver, fell across his face so he took it with both hands and pushed it back over his shoulders. Celinn stretched out beside him, his long legs dangling over the edge of the wooden platform. They watched as the horseman brought his mount to a halt and jumped down to the ground before leading the horse down to the water’s edge to drink while he refilled his flask. When the horse had finished the man tucked the flask into his belt, then put his arms round the horse’s neck and rubbed his cheek against its soft coat. The horse whickered and nuzzled him back, and the man leaned against his broad flank for a long time.
‘You are right,’ said Haldir, quietly. ‘It seems something troubles him.’
At last the man straightened up and remounted, riding towards the eaves of the forest.
‘Haldir, though he is a man, there is something elvish about him,’ said Celinn, watching intently. ‘He rides well and has an unusual grace.’
The man entered the forest and from their vantage point high above him they saw him look around uncertainly.
‘Luinil has posted the rest of the company as you asked, Guardian,’ said Celinn, looking into the surrounding trees. The grey-clad elves who watched the intruder were invisible even to him. Haldir could feel him bristling a little as he watched the man walk deeper into the forest, looking around him open-mouthed. Lorien often had that effect on incomers.
‘Peace, Celinn. I doubt he will bring harm to Lorien.’
Celinn glanced at him shrewdly but said nothing. At last the man came to a halt quite close to their talan. He loosened his horse’s girth and slung his reins over the overhanging branch of an oak, then took a small parcel out of his pack and sat down with his back against the tree. They saw him unwrap it and begin to eat as his horse nibbled the grass.
‘It seems he will rest awhile,’ Haldir said, and he made a sign to an elf hidden in a talan a short distance away. Then he turned to look keenly at Celinn.
‘I must speak to you, Celinn,’ he said.
The younger elf’s face was suddenly serious.
‘What is it you want of me, Guardian?’ he asked, wondering at Haldir’s intense scrutiny of him.
For a few moments longer Haldir contemplated Celinn’s fair face with its direct unwavering gaze, and the strength of his slender well-made body. Then he nodded briefly. ‘I would like you to become captain of your company, Celinn. There are few in Lorien who wish to go outside the walls of Caras Galadhon, and still fewer who would join the pellarim as you have, and travel beyond the borders of the forest.’ said Haldir, and observed him carefully. ‘You have done this duty since you first became a warrior, near the beginning of the Age, and now that there is need, I believe you are the one to lead your company.’
Celinn’s eyes widened slightly and a ripple of surprise passed through his body. His fingers twitched a little as if a sudden charge of energy had animated them. Then he became very still. The emotions flickered across his face as he took in the weight of Haldir’s words, opening himself to contain both the burst of excitement and the rush of fear that came with them. He took a deep slow breath, and Haldir saw him visibly master himself. He looked directly at the Guardian, his eyes a deep turquoise blue.
‘I know you would not ask me this unless you believed I was worthy to do it,’ he said quietly, ‘but I do not know if I am ready for command.’
‘You are ready,’ said Haldir.
‘How can you be so sure?’ said Celinn.
‘Because I have watched you, since I first began to train you as a warrior and in the long years since then, in combat and out of it. Because you love Lorien but you do not close yourself to what exists beyond its fences. Many times you have travelled outside Lorien to other lands, to gather news and to keep a watch on our enemies. And because I saw how you reacted to my words just now.’
Celinn looked at him expectantly, and he went on, ‘You were surprised by my request, which shows you lack vanity. So I know you will put those in your company before your own glory. You were deeply affected by my words. You felt your own strength and your own weakness but you did not try to escape them. Instead you faced the question head on, without self-deceit. So I know you are more interested in the truth than in some self-serving version of reality. This is a good quality for a captain in the field.’
Celinn nodded slowly, as though he recognised himself in this description of Haldir’s.
‘I do not like to run away from things. I do not think that it helps at all,’ he said pensively. ‘But I would like to know why Cerveth will no longer be captain. Has something happened to him?’
‘It is a matter of honour,’ said Haldir, looking away. ‘He has left for Mirkwood with Thranduil’s envoys to settle a debt. That is all I can tell you.’
Celinn’s fair skin flushed slightly at Haldir’s words and he looked as if he might comment on Cerveth’s precipitous departure, but instead he said, ‘So the company will be left short?’
‘No,’ said Haldir. ‘Luinil’s brother Gwirith will join you to make up your numbers. I sent for him as soon as I knew Cerveth might be lost to us. Luinil has waited many years to have his brother near him.’
‘But as second-in-command, Luinil himself should be captain, Haldir,’ said Celinn.
‘I have already spoken to him,’ said Haldir, ‘and in fact he suggested you for the task.’
‘Did he?’ laughed Celinn. ‘Why would he want me to be captain?’
‘Because he trusts you,’ said Haldir simply, ‘and so do I.’
Haldir put his arm round Celinn’s shoulders. ‘So will you do it, Celinn?’ he said. The younger elf did not reply immediately. Finally he said,
‘I am glad to have your confidence, Haldir, but I am the youngest of my company, and I have lived here in peace all my life. How can I lead those who have known the Fall of Eregion and the War of the Last Alliance?’
Haldir sighed. ‘Not all those in your company have known those dark times,’ he said gently. ‘You need not judge yourself the lesser for not having lived through them. Your courage and skill and your care for your comrades are your own, and I have faith in you. The Shadow deepens and I have been waiting for the chance to give you a captaincy. Now the time is here. Will you do it?’ he asked again.
Celinn bowed his head and his fair hair fell across his shoulders. He thought for a long while, and when he looked up again there was a new light in his eyes.
‘If you wish it, Guardian, then I will,’ he said quietly.
‘Thank you, Celinn,’ said Haldir, his face illumined by his rare smile, and he took both Celinn’s hands in his. ‘You will take your oath to the Lord and Lady and also personally to me as a captain of the pellarim. May the Valar bless this beginning.’
‘I will try to be worthy of your trust,’ said Celinn humbly.
‘You are worthy of it,’ said Haldir.
A bird call sounded gently in a tree nearby and both turned to look. Haldir nodded and made a sign and they looked down through the leaves at the man who was on his feet again.
The sun was high in the sky when Aragorn entered the golden wood. He gazed around him at the tall mellryn with their silver trunks and large golden leaves. There seemed to be something about the light in the wood, something healing, and for the first time since his foster father had told him about his true lineage, he felt suddenly at peace. His horse seemed to feel it too, walking beside him with a new spring in his step.
Aragorn was surprised to find himself unchallenged, and he remained alert as he rested his horse and sat down to eat with his back against a tree. He was feeling a little light-headed and reckoned he was running a slight fever, but his senses were sharp enough to have a moment’s warning before he was surrounded by a group of Lorien march wardens, their bows raised to his chest. One silver-haired elf stepped forward and, speaking in Westron, asked for his name.
‘I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn,’ he answered, in Sindarin. ‘I have come from Imladris and I am journeying through the Wild. I wish to speak with the Lady Galadriel and the Lord Celeborn. I mean no harm to Lorien or any who dwell here.’
‘Welcome, Aragorn, son of Arathorn. I am Haldir, Guardian of Lorien,’ said the elf, with a small bow. He signalled to the other elves and they lowered their bows, looking at him with interest. ‘You are expected. I will take you to the Lady and the Lord.’
Aragorn bowed, then staggered a little.
Haldir steadied him. ‘You are hurt, Aragorn,’ he said.
Aragorn pulled away gently. ‘It is nothing,’ he said, glancing at his bandaged arm. ‘A small arrow wound. I have used some athelas and some herbs to treat it.’
‘Nevertheless, it may be better if you ride, to conserve your strength,’ said Haldir. Aragorn recognised the note of command in his voice, and mounted his horse.
‘Now let us make haste,’ said Haldir, looking up at him with clear blue eyes. Aragorn touched his heels to his horse’s side and the party began to make their way deeper into the forest.
Aragorn tried not to stare at the astonishing beauty of the elves who walked so gracefully beside him. Growing up in Imladris, he was used to the handsome dark-haired Noldor, among whom Glorfindel stood out in his golden fairness. But here beside him were no fewer than four fair-haired elves. Haldir and one of the others had hair like spun silver, while the other two seemed cloaked in gold, so long and abundant was the hair that rippled across their shoulders almost to their waists. These two elves were so alike that he thought they must be brothers, if not twins. As they walked, the elves talked merrily to each other, and Aragorn deduced that these two were called Celinn and Aiglin.
Of the other three, one had hair so dark there were blue lights in it, which accounted for his name of Luinil. The one with magnificent red hair was Caranfir, and the last, unusually silent one had rich brown hair, which reminded Aragorn of something. The fever must be rising because his thoughts seemed to be drifting and he could see something in his mind, a box in his father’s study – his foster-father’s study – made of wood of exactly that deep chestnut colour; a box full of small interesting objects which he had played with as a little boy, sitting in Elrond’s lap, with the sound of the waterfalls of Imladris in his ears.
All at once his eyes blurred with tears, and he scarcely knew how to keep them from spilling out on to his cheeks. It must be the fever, or the light of Lothlorien, but he felt completely bereft, exiled from his home, cast out alone into the cold to face a doom he did not know how to carry. When Elrond had told him his true name he had been elated and joyful, as if something that he had not known he was missing had suddenly been found. But as time passed, the magnitude of his task became clearer and clearer. And far away in Imladris, Arwen walked, and most likely she would never be his.
He looked away into the forest, averting his face so that his distress would not be seen, longing for Elladan and Elrohir to be riding beside him.
There was a light touch on his leg, and a warm musical voice said beside him in Westron,
‘How did you come to take a wound, Aragorn?’ He looked down and saw one of the golden-haired elves looking up at him with vivid blue-green eyes.
Aragorn sighed. ‘It is a long story, and not a pleasant one. By your leave, I will tell it when I meet the Lord and Lady.’
The elf smiled. ‘As you wish,’ he said. ‘My name is Celinn.’
‘Do you all speak Westron?’ asked Aragorn.
‘All the pellarim speak many languages, although it is rare in Lorien for anything but Sindarin to be used. We have three companies made up of a captain and seven others; mine, and those of Haldir’s brothers, Orophin and Rumil.’
‘How did you learn?’
‘Haldir taught me, and the Lord and Lady taught him. And of course Mithrandir.’
Celinn’s eyes flickered. ‘He is a friend of the elves.’
Aragorn nodded. ‘My father – I mean, my foster-father taught me Sindarin and Quenya.’
‘Elrond is a good teacher,’ said Celinn.
‘You know him?’ said Aragorn, startled.
‘I have been to Imladris many times,’ said Celinn. ‘Whenever there is need, it is the pellarim who are sent beyond the borders.’
‘I have never seen you,’ said Aragorn.
‘Oh, I think it is about a hundred years since I last went there,’ said Celinn, frowning as he tried to remember.
Aragorn said nothing, struck afresh with how different he was from the elves. It was not that he had not always known he was different, but before it had never seemed to matter. Now, of course, it mattered very much indeed.
Celinn walked along beside him in silence for a while, and then he said, ‘Are you hungry, Aragorn? I have half a wafer of lembas if you would like it.’
Aragorn began to refuse, but Celinn said, ‘The fever works in you, Aragorn. I can see it in your face. A little lembas would strengthen you.’ He held up the wafer wrapped in large mallorn leaves, and Aragorn took it from his hand.
‘Thank you,’ he said quietly, and unwrapping it, began to eat.
It was night when they reached Caras Galadhon and Haldir took Aragorn directly to the lawn of the fountain, leading him up the white ladder to the top of the flet. Haldir entered and Aragorn stood waiting to be admitted to the presence of the Lord and Lady.
He heard Haldir being answered by a sweet clear voice which he took to be Galadriel’s, then the silken curtain was drawn aside and she stood before him, her golden hair a diadem around her fair face. Aragorn closed his eyes at the brightness of her presence and knelt before her.
‘I am grateful to you for allowing me to enter Lorien, my Lady, my Lord,’ said Aragorn, sipping the fragrant tea that Galadriel had given him. He had been offered something stronger but had refused it because of the fever. He was seated on a padded bench close to Galadriel and her husband Celeborn, whose hair was of the same dazzling silver as Haldir’s. The Guardian of Lorien stood at the edge of the platform next to the ladder, with Celinn beside him.
‘We have long wished to meet you, Estel,’ Galadriel said in her deep musical voice, then stopped abruptly as she saw him flinch. ‘You do not wish me to use this name?’ she said gently. He was so very young, barely out of boyhood. Elrond had sent to her to say he knew his true lineage and that he was ready to take up his destiny. He had asked to begin his journey through what might one day be his kingdom by visiting the other elvish realms; but the boy had that stunned look in his clear grey eyes which gave the lie to Elrond’s certainty.
‘I…it is no longer my name,’ he said carefully, as though he had practised this often in his mind. ‘Now I am called Aragorn, son of Arathorn.’
‘But you are still our hope, as well as our doom,’ said Galadriel, ‘heavy though that burden must be to you.’
He looked up at her and saw the compassion and understanding in her face.
‘Those of us who lead are always alone,’ she said quietly. ‘So we must seek whatever strength and solace we can to enable us to carry the burden for the love of our people. Do not turn away from comfort, Estel, and from the care of those around you. It is weakness to do so. Does not your name remind you of the carelessness of your youth, and the safety of your father’s arms? These things nourish you and give you courage in adversity.’
Aragorn stared at her. He had been in her presence only a few minutes, and yet already she had found a way to reach through the protective armour he had built up in the months since his whole world had been turned upside down.
‘I am a man grown,’ he said, unable to meet her eyes. ‘I cannot look for that safety any longer. I have a task to fulfil, and I cannot fail.’
Galadriel saw that she had probed him too far, too quickly. ‘I will help you all I can, my dear,’ she said. ‘And I will call you by whatever name you please. Forgive me.’
Aragorn relaxed a little then, giving her a tentative smile.
‘Now that you have refreshed yourself, will you let me dress your wound for you?’ she said, reaching for a basket full of pots and bottles. Aragorn tried to demur, but a moment later Galadriel was kneeling beside him, undoing the stained bandage on his arm.
‘Lady,’ he said, ‘Please, I must tell you my errand at once. The wound can wait.’
‘There will be time once you are cared for and rested,’ Galadriel said but Aragorn sat up straight on the bench.
‘I must tell you straight away. Lorien needs this news.’
Galadriel looked him in the eyes and saw the purpose in his face. She fell silent, waiting for him to speak.
‘When I left Imladris’, said Aragorn, ‘I went first to seek the Dunedain, of which I am the Chieftain. They welcomed me, and while I wintered with them, they told me all they knew of Mordor and those who help further its aims. They are my people and my kin, and I have learnt much from them, although my foster-father had told me nearly all the lore and much of the present news they had to give me. But I have come here to Lorien, as you told my fath…my foster-father I could, to speak with you about matters only you will understand.’
Galadriel leaned forward a little. ‘Ask whatever you wish,’ she said.
‘He told me that he has sensed a change these last ten-years in the balance of things: not just the usual strife with Mordor and Dol Guldur, but something else. Something growing, which touches him, and he said it would have touched you too.’
Galadriel’s left hand stroked her right gently, and she looked down at it. It was smooth and white-skinned, and she wore no jewellery or other ornament that Aragorn could see.
‘Something has touched me,’ she said. ‘I believe I know what it might be, although I cannot be sure. What does Elrond say it is?’
‘He says the One Ring is waking again.’
There was a sudden tingling silence, and Aragorn’s ears hummed with it. He put his hand to his brow, disorientated: the fever must be rising.
‘It may be so,’ he heard Galadriel say calmly. ‘We have spoken of it.’
Aragorn forced himself to concentrate. ‘If it is so, it will rouse other evils, and they will gather to the power of Mordor,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ said Galadriel softly.
‘How will we know if it is so?’ he asked.
Galadriel looked at him for a long time. ‘Evil in is all things, Aragorn. It is part of the weave of what is. But some evil springs from the intention to do harm; to destroy and corrupt and to possess and use mercilessly. Other evil comes despite the intention to do good; to preserve and nurture what is beautiful and tender and causes life to flourish and grow. The Ring is part of the first evil: a sign of the desire to break all that the One has made. If it is waking again, it will draw those who care for little but their own desire and who will go to any lengths to satisfy it. If it has truly woken, and we do not know for sure that it has, it must never find its way back to its master.’
‘I have heard of the rings and their making since first I could understand the lore my fath…my foster-father taught me,’ said Aragorn. ‘But now he has told me my true name, it is no longer a tale but a matter that concerns me closely. If I am to challenge and defeat this evil, I must be able to recognise it.’
‘Then trust yourself, Aragorn. Trust your heart and your gut. If you meet this evil, you will know it.’
‘Then I must tell you what the Dunedain have told me, and what I have seen myself on my way to Lorien. There is a new threat growing in Dunland. We know the people to be unfriendly and troublesome, and now we have found they have joined with men from the Vale of Anduin and are drawing to them those who have been outlawed by their people, or those who are disaffected, whether from Anduin or even from Rohan, or those who are simply predatory. The Dunlendings do little more than allow them to winter there and provide them with supplies, but in return these bands of men harass and attack the Rohirrim, who are enemies of the Dunlendings, and any others who they can attack or take from the road, whether man or elf.’
Celeborn stirred a little in his chair, but Galadriel remained still and silent.
‘They travel long distances, from Dunland over the mountains and around Lorien, then along Anduin, some going as far north as the Gladden Fields. They spend many months there, we do not know for what purpose, before returning to Dunland for the winter.’
‘We know that Dunland has a reputation for mischief,’ said Galadriel, ‘and also that sometimes Curunir uses Dunlendings as guards at the Ring of Isengard. Aside from that we have heard little of them.’
‘Lady, may I speak?’ said Haldir. Galadriel nodded, and he said, ‘We have seen some of these bands of men from our watch telain on the northern and eastern fences of Lorien. We have tracked some of them along Anduin for a short distance, but did not trouble to go further. We are well defended and so far they have been no threat to us.’
‘You may think differently when you have heard what I have to tell you,’ said Aragorn. ‘There is a particular band of outlaws who have been raiding villages along the Anduin and taking travellers from the road.’ He paused, looking down at the floor, his eyes on the fragrant grasses at his feet. ‘There are about a two dozen of them, men who care for nothing but destruction. Yesterday I came upon them by chance, and since I was alone my intention was to learn what I could about them, before alerting the Dunedain so that we could seize them and take them to Rohan for justice. Then I meant to come to Lorien as planned. But I found I had to do more than watch, because as I observed the men in their camp last night, I saw that they had a captive.’
Aragorn looked up, his grey eyes shadowed with anger. ‘An elf.’
Neither Galadriel nor Celeborn moved, but Galadriel gave a deep, slow sigh.
‘I entered the camp unseen while the men slept; their lookout was half asleep himself. The elf was tied to a tree, and he was badly hurt. I freed him, but the men heard us as we made to leave. We fled, but although we put several leagues between ourselves and the outlaws, I could not save the elf: he was too weak from the treatment he had received at their hands. He told me he was called Surindel and came from Mirkwood, and had been journeying here with messages from Thranduil. His companion was killed by the men, but they kept him…’ Aragorn bowed his head, as if suddenly exhausted.
Galadriel stooped down in front of him and gently rested her hand on his shoulder. He looked up, and she saw that the colour had drained from his face.
‘They kept the elf to abuse and torture him,’ he said, his voice full of disgust. ‘He told me they taunted him with being an elf, and said they hated elves more than any other race in Arda. Their leader is called Adanwath and they planned to band with other outlaws and attack Mirkwood. They knew something of the existence of Lorien, though they could not be sure where it was. That was one of the things they wanted Surindel to tell them: needless to say, he told them nothing.’
‘These are no more than arrogant boasts,’ said Celeborn. ‘Even elves are careful where they walk in Mirkwood. Men would be lost before they even saw Thranduil’s caves; and Lorien is well defended, by steel and by magic.’
‘They may be boasts, but then they may not. That is why I wished to ask you about the waking of the Ring. Both you and Lord Elrond agree that a change is taking place: maybe there is something more sinister at work than the weakness of men, who are always the first of the peoples of Arda to turn to the Shadow,’ said Aragorn, shame and sorrow on his face.
‘Surindel asked me before he died to see his body was taken back to Mirkwood,’ he went on, his voice was very quiet now, and they had to lean closer to hear him. ‘If you can spare some wardens, I can take them to where I left him. Thranduil’s messages were lost.’
Aragorn fell silent, gazing over Galadriel’s shoulder at the mallorn leaves rustling gently in the wind.
‘And that is how you got your wound,’ said Galadriel after a moment.
‘Yes, when we made our escape, an arrow struck me, but not deeply. I was able to remove it,’ said Aragorn, looking up at her. ‘It is nothing. I have cleaned it with an infusion my fath… foster-father gave me, and I have drunk willow and feverfew and lemongrass.’
‘But you have a fever nevertheless,’ said Celeborn.
Aragorn nodded. ‘If I could rest for a few hours and change the dressing on the wound, I will go on my way to see Surindel is taken home, if you can spare some guards and horses to carry him there, and then I will track the men. That way Lorien can see for itself the threat it may face. Maybe you might wish to post extra guards on your borders. I ask your leave to return when the task is done. ’
Galadriel and Celeborn exchanged a look, then turned back to Aragorn.
‘Haldir will deal with these matters,’ Celeborn said, glancing over at the Guardian. ‘After you have rested you can speak to him. We will send to the bard to make a lament for Surindel and we will perform the rites for his fea. But we will not let you leave today. Your fever needs time to abate.’
Aragorn made to protest, but a wave of dizziness silenced him. Galadriel’s hand was on his brow, and its coolness brought him back to himself.
‘Maybe a few hours’ rest,’ he said hoarsely, and let her lead him to a couch in an alcove in the far corner of the flet. ‘You are kind,’ he whispered, ‘and I am indeed weary.’
‘Then rest,’ said Galadriel, ‘and leave all to us.’
Aragorn sat down with a ragged sigh and though he tried to resist, Galadriel herself removed his boots and set them aside. Then she undid his sword belt and gave the weapon into Celeborn’s waiting hands, and they both helped to divest him of the heavy mail coat, since with his injured arm he found it difficult to do it himself. When he sat in his linen undershirt and breeches, Galadriel said,
‘Shall I send for some food?’
Aragorn shook his head. ‘Maybe I will eat when the fever has dropped, but for now I cannot.’
Galadriel took hold of the hem of Aragorn’s shirt and he raised his arms obediently. Although she felt him tense slightly as the wound pained him, he made no sound of distress as she peeled the linen over his head. His skin was firm and lightly tanned, but Galadriel felt her throat tighten at the faint scars that marked his body. Elves rarely carried scars except from the most serious injuries, but despite his youth, the body of this mortal man was already a map of every skirmish he had lived through. Although he had longer life and greater strength because of his Numenorean blood, she could not help pitying the limits of his human life, and of a body that would fade and die. Her heart moved within her, and her fingers travelled gravely over the areas of puckered white skin that marked his shoulders and chest.
She felt Celeborn’s presence behind her and turned to him, her eyes wide with compassion, then took the cloth and bowl of green glass painted with leaves that he handed her and putting it on the small table beside Aragorn, she sat beside him and began to undo the linen binding his wound. Aragorn’s arm ached as the air came in contact with the broken skin, but Galadriel touched the place with her fingers, and the pain faded. Aragorn let out a sigh and closed his eyes as Galadriel cleaned the wound, then spread a salve on it and dressed it again.
‘We will ask the healer for a more powerful draught for you,’ she said, when she had finished.
Celeborn said, ‘I will go and see Helevorn about the herbs we will need,’ and Aragorn heard his feet go lightly down the steps of the flet.
She took up another cloth and gently bathed him to remove what she could of the grime of his journey, and the coolness of the air against his wet skin eased his fever a little. Aragorn tried to resist her ministrations, to insist he did not need care, but the fever had taken the edge off his rigid self-discipline. Her touch was feather light and yet he felt held, even cradled, and his mind drifted back to Imladris and the safety he feared he could never regain.
When she had finished, Aragorn dressed himself and Galadriel drew a silvery blue curtain across the alcove and left him in seclusion. He lay down, looking around at the branches of the mallorn that formed the ribs of the flet, sure he would never sleep. But when a few minutes later, Celeborn parted the curtain to give him the draught the healer had prepared, he looked down on Aragorn’s closed eyes and peaceful face, and did not have the heart to disturb him. He placed the goblet on the table nearby and withdrew, closing the curtain behind him.
‘My Galadriel,’ he said quietly, ‘My heart misgives me. He may be Isildur’s heir, but he is also a boy scarce into manhood. How could Elrond have judged him ready to shoulder this burden?’
Galadriel’s response was no more than an indistinct murmur, and Aragorn never knew afterwards whether he had dreamed the words or whether he had truly heard Celeborn speak them, but in his weakness and uncertainty, they planted a seed of bitterness in him which in time would yield dark fruit, both for himself and for Lorien.
Galadriel laid her hand on Aragorn’s brow.
‘He is still burning with fever,’ she said to Haldir. ‘He cannot leave us this morning as he planned.’
Aragorn groaned and tried to sit up but felt so dizzy that he fell back on the pillows.
‘Surindel…’ he whispered. ‘I promised…’
‘Tell me where to find him, Aragorn, and I will send Rumil’s company to take him home to Mirkwood,’ said Haldir gently, one hand pushing Aragorn down as he tried yet again to sit up.
‘No, I must go. A drink of water…then I will be able to…Haldir, where are my clothes?’
‘You are wearing them,’ said Haldir, irritably. ‘Aragorn, the Heir of Isildur is no good to anyone dead. Lie down and rest. A good leader knows that everything must be done in its season. Haste leads only to trouble, and we have enough of that without you creating any more.’
Aragorn groaned again, but Haldir’s words must have hit their mark because he no longer struggled to get up.
‘Half a day’s journey north…along the west bank of the Anduin…there are some buildings…old, unused…within sight of Dol Guldur…’
‘Near where Anduin bends towards the west?’ asked Haldir.
‘Yes. With a tower made of…yellow stone. I left him there, inside. It was cool…I thought he would be…safe until I could come back for him…’
‘We will find him, Aragorn. Fear not, we will take him home.’
‘If you had only seen him when I found him…I don’t understand how any man could…why destroy such beauty?’
‘Aragorn, drink some of this,’ said Galadriel gently, holding a glass to his lips, but Aragorn pushed it away.
‘If ever I find the ones who did this, who would hurt the elves… my foster-father is of the Noldor…if it wasn’t for the elves, what hope would I have?…if I ever find them, I swear I will kill them with my own hands…Arwen was here, wasn’t she?…where is she?…Father knows what herbs I need…he will bring them in a moment…’
Galadriel tilted Aragorn’s head back and he swallowed the bitter liquid in the glass.
‘Go, Haldir,’ she said, pushing the damp hair back from Aragorn’s brow. ‘The draught will help him to sleep. I will watch beside him.’
Haldir bowed and left without a word. Galadriel undid the lacing of Aragorn’s shirt and bathed his chest and neck to cool him down. For a long time he mumbled and stirred restlessly, but at last he was still, his lips moving noiselessly. Galadriel ran her fingers across the faint dark stubble on his face, so different from smooth elvish skin. Bringing up the sheet to cover him, she kissed him lightly on the forehead and left him to sleep.
Pellarim = from elvish, pella, beyond the borders, and –rim, people of.
Composite word I made up to describe the Galadhrim who Haldir mentions in Ch 6 of Fellowship of the Ring: ‘…we dwell now in the heart of the forest, and we do not willingly have dealings with any other folk…But there are some of us still who go abroad for the gathering of news and the watching of our enemies, and they speak the languages of other lands. I am one.’
Fea = spirit. I’m assuming this means something like soul, psyche; the unseen true non-physical part of a person. The physical part is called hroa or body.
I think I’ve broken the rules in that from what I have read, most elves would have been dark, and fair or red hair would be very unusual, but since this is fantasy, I’ve chosen to make the Galadhrim fair haired, but interspersed with dark haired elves who came to Lorien after the fall of Eregion.
Aragorn and Elrond
Tolkien says in Appendix A at the end of ROTK that Aragorn took leave lovingly of Elrond when he went out into the Wild, even though Elrond had virtually told him Arwen was not for him. I think there is potential for a lot of unspoken feelings in this encounter, and that Aragorn would have had a mixed reaction to the news of his lineage, since at twenty years old, he was young even in human terms to take on such a burden.