Laer o Faen
First Age of Middle Earth – 586
Lû ad lû, sui lais lân dant, nodel am ael vregol, i chîr daer Teleri tunc i elnoss nabardh, ui annûn.
They were running out of daylight, but still those such as he, that served as guards for the Elven host, pressed the slow moving column of refugees along the track that was the closest to a road that they could hope for. It meandered precariously, generally in a north easterly direction around this section of what was left of the headland – in places unpassable, making the journey all the more arduous with so many of the vulnerable in tow.
At one such turn – where the track crumbled into the void and the sharp rocks below – and the march of the Elves, of necessity, turned further east, Thranduil drew the grey stallion to a halt, and for a moment peered out through where the trees thinned to nothing across the new shoreline of what little remained of Beleriand.
His shoulder ached as his eyes moved over the jagged fall of many new cliffs, where land had tumbled into the sea, and the water itself had poured away to make them mightier and more deadly yet. It was a phantom pain, he knew, since he had long since healed from the wounds inflicted by Maedhros the day of his hanging from the cliff; long since, and suffered and healed from fresh hurts in the decades since the Valar had first come – bringing their army to make ruin upon Morgoth, all but done now, as Morgoth had retreated to the bowels of his mines at Angband. His hordes, his fell Wolves and Wargs, his Wraith and Balrogs and foul serpents, were all in defeat, retreat, or fleeing yet, pursued and held at bay to give relief to the innocent; time and chance to flee – to answer the summons of Ëonwë to make for the Undying Lands.
Hourly, like fallen, white leaves, tossed upon a turbulent lake, the great Teleri ships carried the Kin homeward, ever West; Telerian hearts moved to pity even those of Noldor descent that had foresworn the Fëanorian slaughter of their own kind, and bring them aid. Through all the conflict, unfailing they had been to uphold the lives of innocents, to bring solace where they, before, were given none.
"Thanduil, what do you see?"
A voice drew him from his thoughts, and he turned his head, then the head of his mount to face the other Elf as Amroth drew to a halt at the other side of the column of Elven non-combatants. He was one of the closest comrades remaining to Thranduil, a friend from childhood with whom he had fought in defence of Doriath.
"Abandonment," he answered before he could stop the word from slipping, unguarded, from his mouth.
"Your father," Amroth said, "I heard he means to take the road East once more, beyond the Great River. Is it true?"
"There are others of our Kin in the woodlands to the East, he said. He travelled much in defence of the Havens at Sirion." Thranduil sighed, glancing westward again to where the Mouth of Sirion should have been; somewhere in the midst of the tumultuous new ocean. His voice soft, he continued, "It was their scouts gave him warning of the movements of the Fëanorians, and the march of the Host of Morgoth."
"We would have been ill prepared, even with the arrival of the Valar, had it not been for that warning," Amroth answered. "Do not fear your father's denial of The Call."
Thranduil frowned. Did he fear it? He knew there were many, among Sindar and Noldor alike that had no desire to take the ships West and turn their backs upon the awakening in Middle Earth, the promise of life and stewardship without the strife of constant war with the Servants of Shadow – if they could but rid the land of Morgoth, not ensnare him under siege in his own realm. What were his feelings? What would he do?
He shook his head, and turning back to Amroth said, "One thing is for certain."
He gathered his reins, and began to cautiously manoeuvre his horse through the steady stream of refugees, still carefully picking their path through the thicker undergrowth beside where the track had fallen away, making their own trail onward, until he reached Amroth's side.
"We will not make the new Havens with these people before night is upon us all. We must find a place to make our camp for the night. Come. Ride with me."
And without waiting, he turned his mount and began making his way through the clifftop woodland, his eyes searching ahead for a place where he and the warriors in his company – friends and comrades all – could make a safe waypoint for the vulnerable, the women and the children of their host.
Her hand rested against the bark of an ailing oak left weakened by the upheaval of the lands around its roots. Her gaze was fixed into the gathering gloom, watching beyond the perimeter of firelight – such as it was – for she had heard the column guards say that they dare not build greater fires. Greater fires gave off greater light, and greater light might attract those of Morgoth's forces still, in places, harrying the travellers along the path to the new Havens.
Instead, several smaller fires had been lit, and small groups of refugees sat or lay resting around each and consequently the sparse woodland for as far as her eye could see was dotted with pinpricks of light, like fireflies.
"My Lady," the soft voice of her Lady's maid sounded at her shoulder, and she turned her head, her vision of the Elven woman partially obscured by the silken hood of the cloak she wore covering her almost silver-blonde hair. "You must come back to the fire."
"I am no lady here," she said quietly, "only another traveller, and there are others in greater need of being closer to the fire than I."
She turned back to watching in the ill lit spaces beneath the trees at the far reaches of their small pool of firelight. There were families there… a mother and her young boy that she had been watching as they journeyed along.
"At least come and eat, Celyndailiel," her maid urged.
She knew she should eat. They had far to journey and she could not become a burden to those leading them to safer grounds, yet, faced with the obvious needs of the others – like the mother and child – those of 'lesser station' than she, any hunger she might have felt seemed unimportant. She answered her maid with a shake of her head.
"Take what you would have given me out to the families there," he gestured in the direction she looked, adding a soft, "Please," to lessen the harshness of the instruction, and then, reaching into the pouch at her waist, she broke off a small corner of the Lembas she carried, and as she slipped into the shifting shadows of the leafy boughs beneath which they rested in their flight toward safety, she brought the morsel to her mouth.
It stayed the trembling of her fingers, which she had not truly noticed, as she slipped into the gathering darkness. Its intense nourishment giving her the means to keep moving, to keep guiding the stragglers in from the end of the line of travellers toward spaces around the many campfires. Giving a soft touch here, a gentle word there to those still hurt, or grieving yet, she tried to bring solace.
A wave of sorrow lapped wearily about her, to see so many of her Kin so bowed – so many long years of battle had brought them to such a place – and she took a moment's rest at a break in the trees that looked out over the war-ravaged coastline. Where once the great Bay of Balas had stood, now was an angry, ragged scar that slipped ever Eastward, as though some great blight ate at the land, forcing them deeper and deeper into Taur im Duinath for safety's sake.
Above the churning waters, the inky blackness crested with the spittle of the land's madness, a shawl of hope was spread in the midnight blue of the night sky, lit with stars; the promise of hope even in the grip of such shadow as was the world still.
A near gentle touch descended from above, and Celyndailiel started, and half turning, pressing back against the bark of the nearby tree trunk until she discerned that she had been so lost in her thoughts that she had missed the soft approach of the mounted guard, who, as she turned, shifted his mount forward enough to bring him into the light.
"Goheno nin," he said softly. "I had not meant to startle you."
The voice was deep and rich, and though gentle, she had the thought that it would have carried, had such been his intent. She blinked up at him, taken aback by the strength and beauty mingled in his face; the light that shone in his eyes, as if the reflection of the icy firmament was somehow alive in him, surrounding him, carried in the starlit strands of his white-blond hair.
"It is I should ask your pardon," she told him, noticing for the first time the bundle he cradled in the saddle before him, wrapped in the deep green of his cloak. "I should not have been so lost in thought. It is not safe here."
"No, you are right," he said, "it is not."
Then, leaning down a little he moved to pass the bundle from his arms to hers, and for a moment she felt the warmth of him against her, then it was gone. The bundle stirred, and peeling aside the cloak that wrapped the bundle a little, she saw within a young boy. He could have been no more than two, perhaps three Yestarë into his life. Even before she looked back up to the rider he spoke again.
"He was wandering as one lost upon the road," he said. "Find his mother if you can, I pray you."
"If such a thing is possible, I shall not rest until I have seen it done," she answered.
He bowed his head in acknowledgement, then tugged gently at the reins of his horse, excusing himself softly as he did.
"Forgive me. I must see to the safety of our kinsmen."
Without waiting for her answer he turned his mount, and set off a step or two along the track through the trees. As one coming awake, she suddenly realised he was leaving, and that she still held the infant wrapped in his mantle.
"My Lord," she called after him, softly, "Your cloak…"
He raised his free hand, the one that he did not guide the reins of his horse, as if the gesture were a shake of his head.
She felt the whisper of his words within her mind as he moved further along the track, and she heard the gentle murmur of them also, carried on the light breeze, then as if an afterthought three more words reached her mind and her ears, and though the words were simple and practical, the weight of them seemed so much more.
'…for the boy…'
Morning, when it came, was a cheerless climb of the sun into a sky stained red with the sign of new blood spilled beneath the veil of night, and Thranduil shook his head as he walked to where Amroth stood speaking with the newly arrived watchmen.
Besides fresh battle with small bands of harrying Orcs, skirmishes along the eastern perimeter of the string-of-pearl camps they had laid within the woodland, the night had brought a great trembling of the land. It did not bode well, and he could tell by the stiff set of Amroth's back that the news brought by the incoming watchmen was not good.
"They say the track to the north of here is completely lost to us," Amroth told him without turning as he sent the others off with a wave of his hand. "Broken from the land and sunk into the ocean's dark abyss by the tremors that shook us from our bedrolls."
"Then we must lead them east," Thranduil answered pragmatically, "Before we turn our march northerly once more."
"And what of the Orcs?" Amroth asked. "Did we not drive them eastward when they attacked in the night?"
"Those we did not slay," Thranduil answered, "yes, but what choice have we? Every day we stay close to the coast, the risk increases that the land may crumble from beneath us and bear us to Ulmo's realm."
Amroth sighed, and placed a strong hand upon Thranduil's shoulder, causing him to walk a while with the him. As they went, the hands of their kinsmen reached for them, as though to touch them would bring some kind of blessing. It made Thranduil profoundly uncomfortable and yet, after only moments he found he too clasped the hands of those reaching for him.
"How many of these people," he continued as they passed from one camp to the next, where they would not be overheard, "do you think we would be able to save, were that to happen?"
Amroth simply shook his head as they reached another camp, and as before, their kinsmen reached for them in want of benediction.
"I'll make a noble of you yet," Amroth teased as Thranduil murmured a soft word of blessing into the morning with one of those whose hands he clasped within his own. He knew his friend's teasing for what it was, as they both knew that as Oropher's son, nobility already flowed in his veins, as in Amroth's. Then, as if in remembrance of something Amroth frowned.
"My friend?" Thranduil prompted softly and with not a little worry in his voice.
"Did you ever locate the family of your foundling?" Amroth asked.
"I did not," he confessed, "but I came upon a maiden at the edge of the camp."
He did not confess that she had caught his notice some time before he approached her, nor that he had watched as she moved among the stricken, giving what succour she could.
"I enlisted her help," he finished, drawing himself back from his reverie.
"Was she beautiful?" Amroth asked, his tone sincere enough to draw a serious response from Thranduil.
"She kept herself covered against the night; her hood raised, the cowl of her cloak obscured her features, but shone almost silver in the reflected…" he faltered barely a half breath as he realised the grin on his friend's face, before he finished, "…starlight-you are laughing at me, aren't you, Amroth?"
"But a little," Amroth confessed. "And the name of this beauty that gave you to wax poetic on such a morn as this? Wait. Let me guess. You did not ask."
"I did not ask," he confirmed, "and neither did she offer it, nor enquire as to mine."
"Thranduil," Amroth scolded, clapping his shoulder heartily. "You are a hopeless case, and you lead me to believe that you may indeed be cursed with some fate or destiny as yet unknown, as they say are all who remain so long un-promised, let alone unwed."
He tried not to squirm at his friend's words, nor at the shiver of a heightened awareness, like a touch along his spine. He would not bring himself to turn.
"Who is he?" Celyndailiel asked softly, running her fingers through the hair of the young boy who rested now with his head on her maid's shoulder as the waited for the rest of the camp to be struck around them.
Though she had searched long into the night among many of the camps, until her maid had practically had to drag her back to her own rest, she had yet to find either mother or father for the child. The thought filled her with a sorrow she could not easily describe, for she lived an empathy for the boy, her father lost to war not long after her begetting, and her mother faded from a life grown too cold to bring her any joy – not even the joy of a child's coming. She felt a bereft orphan's kindred with the little one her maid now held, his tiny arms wrapped across her shoulders, even as his head rested on her shoulder as he slept.
In some ways she envied him that. As one so young, he still slept.
"Who, my Lady?" asked her maid.
"The Elf there, beside Lord Amroth?" she said, "His back is to us, yet."
She saw her maid look over to where the two Elven warriors stood side by side, apparently talking in earnest, then she heard the serious tone, almost of warning, in which her maid answered.
"That is Thranduil, the son of Lord Oropher. He and his father are Sindar of Doriath." Her maid turned back to her and added, "There is some tell that before the Kinslaying at Sirion, Oropher had ridden eastward, and that the Sylvan Elves were they that gave warning to him of the Fëanorian's knowledge of the Jewel."
Celyndailiel looked back across the distance to where the white-blond hair shone in the morning light, only half listening to the additional information that her maid had volunteered, un-asked for, even so she tipped her head as she accused softly, "Prejudice? From you?"
"My warning comes not of prejudice, Lady Celindailiel, but of pragmatism," her maid argued. "These are times of war, and he a—"
"He was the one that brought the boy to me," she interrupted softly, running her fingers once more through the child's hair, denying her maid's words, and still watching across the distance between where she stood and where the Sindarin Lords still conversed together. A shiver of heat and cold ran through her as she did.
"Well if that is so, then this," her maid said, bringing her back into the presence of the day, and as she turned to look at the other Elven woman, the maid hefted up the fine cloak – folded as it was – no longer wrapped around the child, "would be his, and I should return it to him."
"No!" Celyndaliel's command in the negative was almost like a cry, and at the maid's raised eyebrow, she repeated with more dignity and calm. "No. He said to keep it… for the boy."
"Celyn," her maid frowned, looking at her as if searching for something in her eyes – as if relieved when she did not find what it was that she sought – "The cloak will be long since fallen to ruin before ever this one is old enough to wear it."
"The child has no blanket to guard against chill, if this is all he has, then let him keep it," she argued, not understanding by what impulse she was moved to prevent her lady's maid from approaching the Elf Lord even for so simple an act as to return of his cloak.
They might have argued back and forth had not a sudden cry, echoed in the awakening cry from the boy in her maid's arms, drawn both their eyes toward a figure hurrying toward them from just beyond where Lords Amroth and Thranduil stood. The alarm in the cries had both warriors, almost as a reflex, reaching for the hilts of their blades, drawing them forth, and almost… almost… Celyndailiel threw out her arm to stay their hands, recognising in what they could not see… '…what you cannot feel…' …the singular lack of threat.
"It's all right," she called out, slowly extending a gesture toward the Elven woman who had frozen in place at the first hiss of steel, before she said more softly, "It's all right."
She took the child from her maid's arms and as gentle as ever, murmuring softly to the distressed boy as she crossed to where the Elven woman waited, all but wringing her skirts. She dropped the fabric from between her hands, only to clasp Celyndailiel's free hand, and hold it tight against her heart for a moment before she reached for her son.
"Ionen," she murmured, holding him tightly, as though he were the last person upon Middle Earth to hold meaning for her. "Ionen… Oh, thank you, my lady… thank you."
"It was not I," she said honestly. "I am merely the instrument of his return to you. He was found on the road by—"
As Celyndailiel gestured toward where the prince and Thranduil stood, meaning to divert the thanks and the credit where it was due, a sudden and unexpected wash of fear and pain; a burning took her, and she gasped bringing the woodland back into focus almost before she had realised it had dissolved into a violence of heat and light.
As the woman and the woodland came back into focus she caught the end of what she was saying – no… not saying – almost spitting at the Sindar, "….nothing to do; nothing to feel and no place to turn!"
The woman spun, and started to hurry away, and frowning in utter confusion, Celyndailiel began to move after her, calling out, "Wait-!"
A hand closed around her arm, firm but gentle, halting her steps even before she had taken more than a one.
"Let her go."
It was Lord Amroth's voice that followed the touch, and Celyndailiel turned her head to him, her eyes meeting the blue-grey of his, and she was forced to banish the knot that tied itself in her middle, an emotion she would later name as disappointment, but which for the moment was lost in the confusion she felt at what had just occurred.
He shook his head and repeated himself, "Let her go, my Lady. She is merely overwrought," but she could tell that he no more believed that than she did herself.
"But I do not—" she cut herself off and began again, "Lord Amroth, forgive me. I was just concerned for the insult."
"I took no offense," he said quietly, releasing her arm. "We are all of us wary; not at our best. These are trying times. I am certain my companion feels the same."
It took Celyndailiel everything she was to try not to look at Thranduil, and yet still she failed not to flick a glance at him. He merely inclined his head, in silent but polite acknowledgement.
"I should return to my companion," Celyndailiel said, offering Amroth a shallow curtsy. "By your leave."
"You need not my leave, hiril nín," he answered, "though the morning will the duller for want of your company."
He bowed to her, and let her go all the same, and Celyndailiel cursed herself for the blush that coloured her cheeks as she withdrew, and for the knowledge that it was not Amroth that could have persuaded her to do otherwise, and that only deepened her blush.
Taur im Duinath – Forest between Rivers
Yestarë – Day of new Solar Cycle (new year) in the Elven calendar
Goheno nin – forgive me
hiril nín – my lady
The quotation at the head of the chapter is a representation of what one might have seen, had one looked out to sea from the ruined coastland of Beleriand – Hourly, like fallen, white leaves, tossed upon a turbulent lake, the great Teleri ships carried the Kin homeward, ever West.