A/N – Written at a time when the Pit beckoned, and time allowed no space to even breathe.
My thanks to Marnie,– I appreciate the time you took out to throw plot bunnies in my path. The Silver One remains your character – I just borrow from time to time. :) Many, many thanks to Nell Marie and Noldoris, both authors who wrote fics that inspired this piece.
This is for all of you. *clink*
Descent Into Eternity
The beach was unmarked. Unstained grains of sand glittered under the dark canopy of storm clouds like diamond dust in the twilight. The swollen sea churned uneasily, light droplets of rain falling on the ground. For many miles Celeborn could see naught else, no harbour and no throng of people waiting for the expected ship to arrive.
A small, humourless smile curved his lips. It was as he had expected – emptiness in a static world restricted within bounds of time and eternity. The wind did not change, the rain did not increase, and the scant trees on the beach did not sway. It was as if they waited for permission to perform what nature had ordained for them, and took no joy in acting out of their own accordance or in playful defiance.
No one could defy the laws of Aman and remain unpunished. He had seen the consequences for the ones who had.
But had he not? Had he not lingered when everyone else had left, even the old Shipwright? Had he not turned a deaf ear to the silent pleas that had reverberated in his heart and mind? He had not hearkened – not until now.
Celeborn's eyes glanced quickly over the vast landscape. For one who was used to the towering branches of mellyrn, and later white marble, he found it more than a little disconcerting to be faced with limitless expanses of sand. Keen eyes searched the far off outlines of stone houses and archways, he saw nothing of importance until….
A glint of gold and white.
Was it a trick his treacherous eyes played on him, a vision not unlike the ones that tormented those lost in the scorching deserts? Dare he imagine it? Oh, but he had….for the last almost three hundred years he had.
One step forward, and the next and the one after that. He was not running, but he wanted to. Every stride brought him closer, giving him a glimpse of what he wanted to see. His eyes strained as his feet covered the ground, picking out the crowd under the arch of the stone pavilion.
The heavens thundered, and broke open. Rain lashed down fiercely at last, and had he thought of anything else at the time, he would have gloried in it. Uncaring of the danger the slippery rocks posed, he skimmed over them with the consummate ease of a deer. Jagged lightening split the sky, illuminating the world in a blaze of harsh light and his silhouette flashed against the darkened background.
Celeborn's feet touched level ground, and he stood directly in front of the waiting people, separated by no more than ten strides. His sharp eyes swept over numerous heads, some dark and some fair. But he sought the luminous shine of silver amidst gold, brighter than the sun.
She walked towards him.
He halted. His mind commanded him to speak, to say something that would at least pass for reasonable politeness. But words were unimportant, and it seemed so painfully trivial, so utterly meaningless to give anything else importance but this – this moment. Years had gone by, sorrow and grief had persisted, Kings had fallen and many difficult choices had been made, but he had held on to the imminent arrival of this moment through them all. Her eyes met his, and his gaze wavered no more.
Her presence flooded him, familiar yet unsettling. It was a dream, he thought to himself, a flighty, unreal dream akin to those that had occupied his restless sleep. Her beauty still knew no comparison, and no other's appearance was worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as hers. Her fëa shone powerfully, as brilliant as the sun and yet more alluring. Throughout their separation, she had haunted him. Haunted his dreams, haunted his mind, haunted his heart – and haunted his soul. Some had called her a sorceress, and Celeborn could almost believe it to be true.
"And so, the last of the Wise returns to the Blessed Realm." Her voice enveloped him, heady and entrancing.
"Why do you persist with that title?" His own voice sounded strange to him.
"Because wise you were, and wise you remain."
"Can you be sure?"
"You are weary," Galadriel said quietly, her eyes darkening in the light of the realization. "And grieved…."
"But it is said that the wise do not grieve over death and parting, for it is inevitable." Celeborn's face was expressionless, a mask of inscrutability that even Elrond would be proud of. There was nothing on his face, or in his eyes that Galadriel could sense clearly. "And yet, I mourn, as I always have. Does that make me less wise, Lady?
"You admit it freely. That makes you wiser than most, my lord."
He ached to take her into his arms, into an embrace that could absolve them both of the unnecessary formalities of conversation. He had longed for this moment for years, for nights and days uncounted and yet, when he was faced with it, Celeborn could do nothing but speak of vague philosophies and deeper emotions. She stood at a mere arm's distance from him, and one simple move would enfold her in his hold. But he would not, and neither would she – pride perhaps, or a mutual hesitation that neither could decipher, but felt acutely.
"It has been a long journey." The statement was short, but his words held so much more, a depth that she was able to identify all too easily.
"One I feared you would not make." she replied simply.
"You doubted it?"
A brief smile crossed her face. "I thought I might have to come and collect you, as is my wont."
"Yet I am here." He did not acknowledge the light-hearted jest, his face impossibly grave, an image of silver in stone.
"Yes…" she whispered, and her eyes closed briefly. "You are here now."
He was suddenly aware of the rain that fell about them, wetting hair and clothes alike. The air was cool and the lifting breeze mingled with the falling water. There was silence all around but for their talk, a peaceful quietude that he had not experienced for a very long time. In the distance, he could make out the outlines of the mountains, forbiddingly proud and tall, cloaked in the swath of cloud. Yes, there was beauty here. He could feel it now, its magnificence trapped in eternity, unchanging and unmoving. He was part of it, part of the never-ending game that fate played with the inhabitants of the world – and rules would not be changed. Immortal he was, and timelessness he had accepted willingly, albeit slowly. But the smell of wet earth assailed him; a frighteningly familiar scent of the forests that he loved more than life itself and pangs of homesickness arose in his heart.
She stepped closer to him, her voice surprisingly quiet, without the deep edge that he had loved in it. "They say that a meeting is sometimes more difficult than a parting."
Celeborn smiled faintly, still lost in memories. "Is that what they say?"
His eyes refocused, deep pools of blue shifting to meet hers slowly. They were weary and tired, as still lakes in the rain that had received their share of water and could hold no more. "And since when do you listen to what they say, rather than to your own advice?"
She did not reply, and her brow creased imperceptibly as she tried to perceive his thoughts.
"What do you say?" he asked.
"I say…." Her voice was the barest murmur. "I say that both are equally difficult…."
He made no move for a moment, but nodded eventually. "Indeed, it is so."
"Is that why you do not greet me?" she questioned softly.
Galadriel held out a hand to him finally, a slender limb glistening with droplets of water. Unreadable were those blue eyes, as fathomless as ever, but now without the aching weariness that had been there when he had seen her last.
It was the way she said it, at once making it a plea, a command, a lover's invitation, that threatened to undo him. Inwardly he shivered at the memory of her voice, rich and heady as silk. Many times in the years past had he strained to remember it, or perhaps forget? But now he heard it in all its natural beauty, something that he did not know whether to welcome or revoke.
"Suilaid, my lord." She replied, her mouth curving into a lovely smile.
After a moment's pause, she asked quietly, "Why do you not address me by my name?"
"Because I do not want to know if it has changed."
"Do you think it has?" Her voice deepened with ire. He could tell she was getting impatient with the game he was playing. But he was not ready to know what the cold consequences of their parting were, and how it had affected both of them.
Of course she had changed. It was why she had left Middle Earth – to find a healing that naught but the changeless peace of Aman could give her. He had watched her suffer on its marred earth, anguished torment racking her dreams plagued by the call of the Sea. It had hurt even more to realize that he could offer nothing but momentary respite, and even then she had left when he had not. The profundity of her eyes had only increased, deeper than before without the wall of silent sadness that had been there. There had been times when he could hardly bear to look at her for fear of what he would see. Each year she had faded, every moment she had dimmed had been akin to a sword slashed across his body. But now he saw peace in her depthless eyes and the light of her brilliance shone forth again, stronger than the stars and more resilient than the dawn.
"You are tired, Celeborn."
"My lady is perceptive."
He saw a flash of pain in her eyes at his detached answer. "Allow me to heal it."
"Do you need permission?"
"No…." She stepped even closer, if that was possible. Now she stood a finger's breadth away from him and if he even moved slightly, he would touch her. "I only need to know why you are here."
"You know." Her scent washed over him, familiar and yet not. His eyes closed briefly, and he again fought the urge to simply hold her and be done with speech.
"Did you wish to leave, or are you here because of guilt?" As always, her questions were painfully direct.
Celeborn's eyes held hers intently. "There were times when I felt that I would stay there for the rest of my days. There were also times when I could not resist the song of the sea with a willing heart. But I left because I could do naught more there, no more than anyone else."
It was perhaps the straightest answer he had given her so far.
"I ask no forgiveness for my arrival."
"It is no sin for me to forgive."
"Yet you thought I would not."
"I thought many things, Celeborn, and this was not the least of my concerns."
"Do you need me here?"
A golden eyebrow rose. "Your question insults me."
"But I ask it," His gaze darkened slowly, the blue irises shaded with black.
Her head tilted upward and proud Noldo eyes stared back at him, mirroring his intensity. "That does not mean I have to answer it."
"Of course not," he murmured, his eyes dipping to purposely avoid her piercing eyes. "How very typical of you to avoid questions to which you do not know the answer."
"And how very strange of you to ask questions that demean your intelligence."
"Yet you do not answer," Celeborn continued in the same soft tone. His stare met hers – but in the keenness of her glance, he fought to keep the frustration from his own.
Her eyes flashed suddenly, and he heard lightening crack the dark sky once more, illuminating her with its white fire. She was radiant, his Lady, glorious in abrupt fury. "Listen to me, and listen well, for I may not say this again. Look behind me-" she gestured to the onlookers and Celeborn's eyes flickered. "Look at them. Through the Ages, each and every one of them has either cursed me or desired me, insulted me or flattered me, adored me or hated me, envied me or despised me. But you did one thing they did not."
"I did all that they did as well."
"You loved me."
His breath drew in sharply and his eyes flew back to hers, a desperate fire alight in the marine depths.
I need to know if I am not a fool for still loving you, Lady.
I will not honour that with a reply.
"Answer me." His voice was hard.
But her anger had been roused, swift and deadly. He had toyed long enough and strayed beyond a boundary that should not have been broached. "Petty pride it seems to me, this question of yours! What response do you want, lord? Do you seek assurance for your doubt, or do you ask for affirmation of my need for you? It obviously matters naught that you have the answer at your feet, but are too obstinate to see it. "
Celeborn made no answer, but his eyes changed swiftly, the colours merging from the hues of the depths of the sea to the twilight of a still lake.
Her eyes burned through him, and her hair whipped around as she turned. "When you are ready, and you have thought of more illogical questions, come and see me. I shall perhaps entertain them when I am less surprised!"
His voice was suddenly low, and the word even softer. Through all the coldness and assuredness of his demeanor, the strain was clearly visible, a gap in the armour he had so unconsciously prepared for this meeting. Her anger receeded unexpectedly with that one syllable - as swift to go as it had been to come - and she saw nothing but the burden of fatigue and doubt that he bore so silently. He mourned for a land that he had left, and questioned his place in the one that he was confined to now. Why they both had allowed their anger to get the better of them he did not know. Old habits perhaps, that after millennia of living together, neither knew when to withdraw from an argument.
"I---" He searched for words, he who possessed the curse and boon of forthrightness.
"You are a fool, husband." Galadriel murmured quietly, halting in her tread. "And the Wise do not make good fools."
"I never said that I was wise."
He heard her silent laughter envelop him. She turned back and looked at him keenly, and he felt himself laid bare under the scrutiny.
"Retreat, my lord," She saw him quirk an eyebrow. "This is one defeat I will not hold against you."
Willingly, the veils and masks fell from his heart and mind, and at last he allowed the defences to crumble at her feet. Their minds connected fully, and both almost cried out at the joy of it. For almost three hundred years, they had been apart – separated by a forbidding sea and painful choices. But now he was returned to her, and would not leave again, would not allow her to depart.
He raised a hand and tenderly brushed wet, golden strands out of her eyes. Galadriel shivered beneath the touch, the familiar gesture bringing back memories as sweet and potent as wine and she unconsciously leaned closer. Her hand slipped into his, and he pulled her into the warmth of his body, a delightful respite from the chill of the continuing rain. Slowly, he bent his silver head and kissed her.
Im melësse tye, Altàriel…
When they broke apart, she did not move from the encircling fold of his arms. Long fingers skimmed his face, remembering old scars and discovering new ones, though both were faint. He rested his head against the silken strands of her hair.
"We should move now…" she murmured.
"We have eternity to do so."
"It might seem a bit strange, for we have done naught but stand in the rain and exchange words. Odd behaviour, they will think, for the reunion of a husband and wife."
"I can only say that I do not care." His hand rested on the small of her back.
"But they all await you…." She gestured toward the onlookers that had not moved from under the overhead of the harbour.
An elegant silver eyebrow rose. "Why?"
She laughed, and his heart leapt at the lovely, musical sound. "Always so wary, my love….. They have heard many tales of your legend and many songs sung in your praise, and only wish to meet you."
"Or perhaps they only wish to see the ordinary Elf their Artanis married."
Her demeanor shifted at his words, sudden and swift. For the second time in the space of minutes, her eyes grew dark and her brow lowered. "Never ordinary…" she whispered fiercely, raising a hand to his pale cheek. "They would not dare."
"Aye, lady" he murmured, placing his hand over her own. "With you as my defender, they would not."
"You need no defence." The golden head rose imperiously. "The very sight of you enthralls them, I can tell…. And when they hear you speak, none shall dream of calling you ordinary."
"Mayhap they shall call me ugly." His mouth twisted in a wry smile.
She swept the wet strands off his temple, her touch lingering over his skin as light as silk. "You are most beautiful, Silver One."
"And here I thought you admired my intellect."
Her eyes sparkled. "The combination of physical beauty and mental prowess is a rare occurrence."
He tilted his head to one side, and raised an eyebrow. "Why is it that you are the only person who can compliment herself while appearing to praise another?"
"And why is it that you are the only one who has ever noticed that?" She smiled.
"You are generous with compliments, Lady."
"You have heard them often enough before." Her eyes twinkled slightly, and his heart clenched again. "Maybe more so, after I left."
A shadow flew across his face, so fast that he could not control it. But it passed, and he laughed aloud and then it seemed to her that the moon shone from behind the thundering rain after a moment's hesitation. "Then tell me what they were, for you seem to have heard them better than I." He clasped her hand in his. "With such reassurance of physical competence, I shall meet them fearlessly indeed!"
"Then in case you have not noticed….it is still raining."
"Does it matter?"
She stepped back, her hand still in his. "I am drenched, as are you."
"Does it matter?"
Her face lit up with a soft smile. "Nay…I suppose it does not."
His hands tightened around hers. "We shall greet them, Lady, in all our soaked glory."
Blue eyes sparkled with silent laughter. "Some may be a bit disapproving…."
He winced. "I only fear what your father will say."
"He will be on his best behaviour."
"You sound like you talk about your pet hound rather than your father." Celeborn laughed.
She shrugged gracefully. "You have no cause to fear him or anyone else in my family."
"Nay…." He whispered, and she felt his mood and emotion shift suddenly. "I need not fear on your account anymore."
"But you always did." Her voice was equally low, and her grip on his arm tightened with obvious love.
"I feared for you at the time, for it seemed that if the Ring did not take you, your desire for it would. But you were strong; O Lady of the Light, and your final victory was your greatest. Our land burned under the assaults of the Shadow, but we overthrew it. It has been long since I learnt that Fate dances in mysterious ways, ways which we can try to understand as we comprehend a poem or a story, but cannot… I learned the futility of battling it. You left, and I stayed." His voice deepened and his eyes bored into hers, their colour shining against the paleness of his skin.
"Yet you still remain Galadriel… And for that, my heart is lightened."
Her face lit up with a radiant smile, and for a brief second he thought he saw a glimmer of a tear amidst the droplets of rain on her face. In the annals of history, it was not often that she was ever proven at a loss for words, but Celeborn had succeeded when all others had failed.
Unmindful of the lashing rain, they walked finally. It would have mattered naught if the heavens fell or the ground opened. They descended into immortal timelessness, a place where past, present and future ceased to be different. Eternity held them in her gentle grasp, neither suffocating nor loose, and silent peace descended on both even as they strode through the storm.
Suilaid – greetings
Mae govannen – Well met
Im melësse tye – I love thee
Altàriel is a Quenya translation of Galadriel.
A/N:- If you reached this far, you wouldn't mind leaving a couple of words, would you? All comment/criticism/suggestions can either be left here in a review, or sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
And thanks to all those who reviewed Bound By Difference. Feanor came out of nowhere. :)