Epilogue

-

Moonlight fell on Caras Galadhon, lighting all Lorien with sleek pearl. The sounds of merriment and business reached the high talan as folk kindled fires in the clearings and decked themselves with flowers for the Midsummer Festival. A nightingale sent up a trill of melody, and laughter drifted up to follow it. The notes of a harp, played in unsteady scales, showed where an elf child was warming up small hands in time to play their party piece, or a simple dance.

Celeborn pulled on a sleeveless tunic of soft white silk, damasked with vines, slid a silver armring onto his bare right arm. A summer breeze, filled with the scent of apples, flattened the shirt against his chest and stirred the heavy mithril of his hair tenderly against his neck.

"Not done yet?" said Galadriel teasingly as she glided, barefoot, onto the deck. In the moonlight she was all crystal, her gown flickering with stitched gems, her hair bound in many falls of lambent gold, twined with snowy ribbon. She smelled of honeysuckle, and her eyes were full of stars.

"I was thinking," he said, astonished by her, as he always was. He bent to kiss the glimmer of her throat and taste the warth and freshness of the light of Aman on her - a heat he had felt against his mouth only from her, and one other.

"What of?"

"I was thinking about other summers, long ago, when the world was younger, and I was younger."

"Lost in memory? You will grow like an Ent, and put down roots that way," she said lightly, though there was thought behind the merry gaze, "And n'ere wake again, a statue of an elven lord of old, for whom reality and memory have blurred into one."

He laughed and buckled on a belt of woven silver with a clasp of pearl. "It is not yet so bad as that."

But she had seen what his eyes rested on, and now she picked it up. It lay, stirring slightly in the breeze, in the cup of her white hands. "This is what makes your thoughts take strange paths? Tell me of it. Tell me what it means."

A small thing. It was a long, silver-grey gull's feather, with the shaft pierced, so that it could be worn as an ornament in long hair. The quill was encircled by many star-shaped beads of white stone and clear rock crystal, sparkling like drops of dew. Crude, it seemed, by the standards of these later years, a trinket left behind by time and the advances of craft.

"I would have said it was of Laiquendi work," said Galadriel, looking more closely at it, with the fierce, dispassionate curiosity the Noldor reserved for works of stone, "But that I can feel how ancient it is. The enchantment which preserves it is a powerful one. Is it as old as Doriath?"

"Older." Celeborn came away from the edge of the flet with a sense of inevitability. It was unfair that he had not said this already, good that he was being forced to do so now, but also not wise to stand above a fatal drop, when discussing a subject so fraught with emotion. "It was made for me over there," he pointed to the blue distance where Tol Brandir stood out of the great river, gulls wheeling about its pine clad slopes, "When the host of the Teleri encamped beside Anduin. Just before the Nandor turned back from the March, many years before we entered Beleriand, and an Age before Doriath."

"I had no idea your memory reached back so far," Galadriel looked on him with a wonder that made him feel a little guilty, despite his hearts assurances that he was not so. "I thought you born in Menegroth."

"I was born on the March," he smiled, sat with his back to the trunk of the tree, "At a time when all the Quendi spoke a single language, when weaving and the working of metal was unknown to us. The only Vala we knew was Araw, and the only Calaquendi in the whole of creation, were Elu, Finwe and Ingwe."

"Is it to be a long story?" she found a stool of wood and stitched leather and sat facing him, with her elbows propped on her knees and her chin in her hands.

"I do not know. I do not know how many questions you will have, how much you will want to know - even if you will still be speaking to me by the end of it."

"Of course I will," she said, and he reflected that of course she would say that now, and of course it would mean nothing at the end.

"Elu it was," he said, "Who made me that gift. My father was a great friend of Olwe and travelled with him, and my grandfather had grown to love Denweg's people and was often with them. I was left with Elu, and he was my teacher, and my role modle and the one I looked up to. I followed him like... like Tilion drawn to Arien across the sky."

Galadriel smiled, reminiscing, "That did not change. Even in Doriath it was plain to see how greatly you loved him, how broken you were when he was slain."

"I loved him not so well in Doriath as before." There, it was out, and Galadriel's eyes were puzzled at this piece of nonsense. Born and educated in Aman, she had not made the mental leap an elf of Ennor would at that statement. He shook his head at the need to explain, annoyed and a little embarrassed.

"You must understand," he said, "That this was before Aman, before we went into the West and were given our laws, and our customs were fledgeling things, born to meet the needs of a darkened world. Between lovers there were only three rules. Not with parent or sibling; Not without love; and if a man got a child he was henceforth responsible for its welfare, forever."

"These are crude laws," said Galadriel, disapprovingly,

"They were enough at the time."

Leaning forward, he took the feather from her hands and its touch was all solace, the memory of a bright, perilous youth in an age of innocence. For a moment it was as though the hands that had made it now touched his. He shuddered in yearning, turned away from the brief weakness with anger. This was not - had not been for thousands of years - the place for such desires. It was unfair.

"So," he said, "Elu and I had no idea we were dishonouring our future wives, no idea that our desire for one another was wrong - except that I was so young, and we knew my father would not approve."

"You were lovers?" Galadriel's eyes darkened in shock, then flashed like a mountain storm. She stood up, turned away, her hands clasped tight before her, astonished and appalled, "You lay with him, as with me?"

He nodded, and did not tell her that it was nothing like, that no comparison could be made, nor ever had been. She was too braced and shocked to hear it. "I must think on this," she said, pacing. "I own myself too furious to speak." Raising her chin she ordered him, as though he were her servant, "Be here when I return."

"Lady," he said, and rose to watch her leave, "I shall do as I please. But it pleases me to do as you ask."

Watching her storm away to her own chamber and draw the divider across the entrance pointedly, he wondered if she felt deprived here, where there were no doors to slam. She had not seemed sad, only angry, as she was when people tried to take away what was hers, and he supposed she was considering now how she could make war on the memory of Elu Thingol and emerge the victor.

Far too reluctantly for his own peace of mind, he put the little ornament back in its box and closed it up into darkness. Then he settled himself to wait until she was ready to come back.

-

Galadriel was enraged, and not entirely sure why. All of it such a long time ago, and done in ignorance, long ere Celeborn knew of her, long ere she even existed, for surely she had not been born so long ago. Did it matter? It was over, twenty thousand years ago, and when he had been given the choice he had chosen her.

She supposed it was her own fault for marrying a Moriquende. It was as Caranthir had said - these Dark Elves had no morals, black in heart and deed and understanding, and perhaps she had expected too much, to hope for Valinorean standards from him. But I wanted to be the first, the only one to touch him. I wanted him to be mine and no one else's.

Ithil shone upon the white awning which formed the roof of her flet, and pale, milk white light filtered into the room, encompassed her gently. Under its influence some of the anger eased, and she moved, feeling the stroke of silken light across her face. Was her husband not like the moon, she thought; free. Only hers because he chose to be. She should not be like Feanor and try to trap his light, so that she could lock it in a box and horde it to herself, taking it out only when she willed. Perhaps he had lived before her, and perhaps his life and his light were his own.

With her possessiveness put aside for a moment, she could admit that he showed good taste. She remembered Elu well from Menegroth - the martial and terrifying beauty of him, like a Lord of the Maia at rest. Perhaps he saw in Elu the same power and the same radiance that I possess, and so in a way this choice is a confirmation of his love for me?

Unexpectedly, her mind filled with images of the two of them together; of Celeborn younger, eager under the touch of Elu's big, blunt hands, pinned and writhing under the weight and passion of his king. She lingered on the thoughts, her breath speeding, warmed as if by strong wine. Oh, here was an unexpected delight - she had thought to feel jealousy, not heat. He was hers now, after all, and if these thoughts awoke little more than such a need for him, then she could accept them readily enough. She would not compete with a dead man. She would make his love for Elu part of her love for him.

She rose, steadied herself, calmed her racing heart, and went back.

In her absence he had returned to the edge of the talan and was looking out and down as if standing guard over all Lorien. Following her thoughts she was suddenly more aware of him, physically, the long slender legs and broad shoulders, bare arms with their swell of muscle, and the tunic of silk so thin it felt warm and soft as skin. She could feel that he was aware of her, wondering what her reaction would be, tense and awaiting condemnation, and she crossed the small space in a dream to wrap her arms around him and press herself into that strong, resiliant back. He breathed out, relieved.

"I was courted by Lords of every race and high family in Aman," she said, "And not one of them did I see to compare to you. How can I fault him for his desire?"

He turned and looked at her in odd humility, waiting still.

"And I cannot fault you for wanting him. Well I remember how fair he was, how magnificent - greatest of Elven Kings of Ennor. I will admit to you that he made my heart flutter on occassion."

Celeborn laughed at that, and looked at her fondly, "Should I be jealous?"

She picked the closed box from the talan floor and opened it. "Should I?"

He looked at the love token. The small white and water-clear beads glowed under the moon like falling stars. But he did not touch it. "I will always love him," he said slowly, as if confessing to a terrible crime. "I will always cherish the memories of him. But you... You are my wife. You are the other half of my soul."

He reached out, resolute, and closed her fingers around Elu's gift. "Take it, and do as you will with it. Whatever is needed for your comfort I am willing to give."

Seeing how hard he found this surrender, even now, she felt once more a flare of jealousy. But no - what did it prove except that he was loyal, and steadfast? Where he loved once, he loved forever. And he loved her.

She stroked appreciative fingers down the sleek satin heaviness of his hair, lifted away a lock and plaited the little ornament into it half way up, so that it brushed gently against his collarbone and flickered as he moved. Wilder, he looked, with it in, and less Noldor than he had seemed for a long time. Just as Caranthir had said - like a savage. At that thought another stab of desire went through her, and she blushed, looking away from his expression of wonder.

"The only thing I do not understand," he said at last, in a tone of awe, "Is how I ever had the fortune to be granted two such loves - so ordinary an elf as I." He stayed her outburst of denial at that, fingertips brushing reverently across her lips. "But I am not such a fool as to turn down love simply because I do not deserve it. Who does, after all?"

"Who does?" she agreed, and smiled, accepting. She tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and leaned against him confidingly. "Well, my lord, shall we go down to the festival? I believe it is finally time to celebrate many fine summers."

Covering her hand with his, Celeborn leaned to brush his lips against the silk-soft ivory of her cheek, feeling her love and her beauty as the richest of gifts. He raised his eyes to the horizon, to that far off place in distance and in memory, where the land met the sky in a wash of shadow that, touched by ithil's light, glinted for a moment like the stars off steel-silver hair. It still hurt, even now, that he was gone.

Yet it was good that she knew, good that there were no longer any secrets between them. Smiling with relief, and with a nod to that far off light, the Lord of Lorien moved with his Lady to join their people below.

- The End.