Dancing in the Dark, part 1 of 2
Rivendell was deep blue, and above the cloven valley there lay a path of stars. The moon had not yet risen over the black mountain walls, but pines on the cliff edges stood up in strokes of shadow against the indigo and silver of the sky. Beneath, on each side of the river, there flickered a constellation of bonfires, and the valley was stained to head height with leaping golden light. Beeches swayed, their leaves falling pale dusk blue through starlight, blushing to amber as they came fluttering into the fires' warmth.
Here are our two trees, still blossoming, thought Celeborn, with an almost painful swell of love for this world. Since he had told his grandsons the tale of the beginning of Doriath, this morning, the Elder Days had seemed close to him once more. Under these very stars he had stood when all the world was young and full of wonder, and though Glorfindel had told the boys of the glory of the Day before days, there was no-one left, but him, who could tell them of the Night.
"You are a thousand miles away," said Celebrian, pausing by his elbow as she came out of the main door onto the terrace beside him. She wore a simple russet dress, and a crown that seemed made of ivy and red berries, but when he looked closer proved to be rubies and gem inlayed gold.
"A thousand miles away and ten thousand years ago," he said, with minimal accuracy, "Yet still here, on this earth, under this sky."
"You're not having a mystic moment, are you?" his daughter narrowed her eyes, "I thought that was Nana's field, and Elrond's. You and I are supposed to be the anchors for their ships of being, not to drift with them."
"Your mother is not here," Celeborn was amused. "So I can drift as much as I like. And speaking of what ought to be, what is that?"
Taking the ivy wreath off, Celebrian looked at it with a proud, protective eye. "The Mirdain noticed that I made a new wreath each year, when the leaves fell, and that by the end of a night's dancing it would always be wilted and dying. It worried them. So I asked them to make me this one, which would be forever fresh."
"Thus defeating the purpose of wearing it at all."
She laughed, and pinned it back on, deftly. "The symbol is the same." Leaping up onto the balustrade, she balanced there with one hand on his shoulder, the other stretched high to wave to Elrond who sat by one of the fires. The Peredhel looked up and smiled like quicksilver, still disbelieving his fortune at the sight of her. "This wreath too will fade and fall. It will just take a little longer."
"And will it too be renewed in the spring, when life comes again?"
"It will if I have anything to say about it!" Celebrian jumped down, pranced a quick ring around her father, celebrating having scored a point. He laughed, not pointing out that the assumption of ones own permanence was as false as the quest for leaves that did not wither. This was too fine a night for such thoughts.
On the raised terrace of one of Rivendell's wider strips of meadow, Elrond sat. Chairs had been brought out for him and for his family, but his household sat on spread blankets around him - Glorfindel of Gondolin prominent among them. There too was Erestor of the Lambengolmor of Ost-in-Edhil, who had taken Celebrimbor's part during the revolt in Eregion, claiming that a Noldor city needed a Noldor lord. How galling it must be for him, Celeborn thought, nodding as he passed, to have to defer to me still. He was not above feeling a certain malicious satisfaction in the fact.
"Adar," Elrond rose to greet him with a formality which reminded him of the straight backed arrogance of the youth he had first seen in Eonwe's encampment, when the world teetered, poised between end and new beginning. In those days the perfection had both covered and inspired fear. Elrond's courtesy, Celeborn thought to himself, came from the kinslayers; the only rein they had upon natures ever likely to burst forth in devouring flame.
But he had liked that proud, undaunted youth, and liked him still now pride was tempered with long wisdom. "My son, it is good to see you once more."
"You must forgive me for not greeting you earlier, I was..."
"Out, I know. Your children informed me it was my own fault for riding in the dark like an orc and thus arriving a day too early."
At the comment, Elrond softened, smiling, "Your grandsons do seem to have inherited your manners."
Aptly, Besdanel, the boys' nurse, chose that moment to bring Elladan and Elrohir out from the house to sit with their parents. After the chestnut-roasting and limb walking of the morning, the twins had been washed within an inch of their lives. Their round faces gleamed and their unruly hair was straightened with many clips to lie in almost elvish smoothness down their backs. Their festival tunics were so thick with embroidery they might have served for armour.
"And they are all the better for it." Celeborn turned to give the boys a hug, but remembered in time that they had first to show their respects to their father. Elladan's mouth twisted slightly with reluctance as he bowed. Elrohir's reverence too would have been better if he could have kept his gaze on his feet rather than looking out, sly, sideways, towards the fires and the singing, and the many contests of speed and skill which had already begun all over the valley.
"It is a grandparent's privilege to think so," said Elrond wryly, and caught both boys by the wrists as they turned to sit down. "Little Ones, one day you will go before great kings of Men and Elves, who will look at you and judge, from what you do, not only you, but your House and all your ancestors back into legends. It is a small matter to bow properly, but it can make a big difference. Do it again."
The twins' faces took on near identical looks of rebellion. They glanced at Celeborn for support. For a moment the light fell on them just so, and he saw Dior again, trying to play him off against his mother, claiming that he should not have to do this or that because he was no elf, and their laws did not apply to him. He smiled, but - realizing that could be taken, wrongly, as encouragement - turned aside to sit down next to Celebrian. They came to him later, looking discontent, and he felt he lacked something as a co-conspirator. His own grandfather had been a wilder influence, though sooner gone.
Now Elladan sat on his foot, the small bones of his seat uncomfortably sharp. Elrohir tucked a yellow chestnut leaf into the side of his mother's circlet, where it stood up, bedraggled, looking less real than the exquisitely crafted leaves of metal. Celebrian smiled at her son, but carried on talking to Besdanel about the need to set up Imladris' looms to make muslin for bandages and bedsheets. On Celeborn's left, Glorfindel and Elrond spoke softly as the castellan brought his Lord up to date on what had occurred since he had been away. It seemed Elrond's mission had been to an encampment of the Dunedain, to tend some men so harshly injured they might not be moved down the long, twisting descent to the Homely House.
Elrohir sat on the other foot, then pushed his brother off and claimed both, only to be shoved face down into the soft damp turf when Elladan retaliated. Before it could escalate into full blown war, Celeborn pushed his chair away and knelt down between them both, one in the crook of each arm. They were bored. He could hardly blame them - he was bored himself, having left Lorien to take a breath above the sea of endless trivial details that Lordship seemed to entail. He had no desire to learn the intricacies of Imladris' trading deficit, or the details of its broken guttering. Celebrian had still enough life in her to run along Rivendell's balustrades when she thought no one important was looking, why could Elrond not celebrate sometimes, like his subjects, and leave off rule for a night?
"Look over there," he said, untangling Elladan's fist from Elrohir's hair and pointing to one of the further fires, where a group of woodelves danced. They bore sticks in their hands that might represent spears; circling, coming together in mock battle, challenging each other to leap over the swing of wood. "Do you remember I was telling you about the Green Folk? You wondered what important things they had done. Well, that dance is one of theirs."
"Dancing is stupid," Elrohir rubbed his head, wearing the scowl of a child who had looked forward to a festival night, only to find it meant extra formality and less enjoyment - the wages of high birth. Now he clearly intended to take his discontent out on everyone else - a privilege of the same, which ought to be discouraged. "I meant important like building Gondolin, or making the Silmarils. Not just twirling round in a field."
Here too, Celeborn thought sadly, the twins had been defrauded of their heritage. A Lindar child, with the evolved tradition, the ancient expressive language of dance drummed into him from birth, would never have spoken so disparagingly. "You have plainly been taught that the only deeds of worth lie in making things."
One of the servants brought him spiced mead, and slices of apple dipped in berry sauce for the elflings. With their hands cupped around bowls of sweet fruit they were less inclined to fight and more to listen.
"Yet you have surely heard how Luthien defeated Morgoth with a dance," he said, while the boys sweetened their mood by eating. "The tale always tells of her beauty, and never of her art, but she was to dance what Feanor was to smithcraft. Daeron silenced a whole country with music - the birds would not chatter, nor the streams chuckle. The wind held its breath, when he commanded it, and leaves fell noiseless as owl-feathers. Nor was it with a blade that Sauron and Finrod duelled, but in song. Works of the hand can be wondrous indeed, but there are other crafts of equal worth, and you make yourself the poorer by disdaining them."
At the end of this lecture, Elrohir sighed, and Elladan sighed in echo. "Everyone is cross tonight," Elrohir explained. "Besdanel said we were a nuisance, just because we didn't want to wear the scratchy tunics - it gives me grazes, look!" He hauled the gorgeously embroidered material up to display a completely unabraded white stomach, and then hoiked it down fast, giving Glorfindel an accusing look when the advisor reached over to tickle. "And Ada told us off about our bow - why do we have to bow to our own father? He's our Ada! And Nana's talking about winter stores, and you're cross too!"
Celeborn laughed, "You have to bow to your father," he said, "because in addition to being your father he is also your Lord. You know that. But I am not cross. In truth, I am tempted to take you over to the wood-elves' fire and teach you some of the simpler steps, so you can join your people in rejoicing. It would please them too, I have no doubt."
"Yes please!" Two small voices were raised as one, and mother first, then father went down beneath the onslaught of their enthusiasm. So Celeborn took the boys out from the decorous, lamplit circle of lords and advisors, over the ford and into the wavering light of the farther shore, where the circle of woodelves were only just beginning to drive themselves into the long, disciplined delirium of a night's dancing.
Here there were no lanterns, and the darkness was full of fluid shadows. Bonfire flames made the trees seem to move, to spin, to lean down and gaze with eyeless regard on the elves beneath them. The dancers wheeled into stillness, and many faces were turned, speculatively, on the sons of Elrond. The music faltered, dying, and Celeborn understood that he had misjudged. This dance was not for lords but for commoners. Not for Noldor elves, but for Silvan. He was trespassing over a barrier that both sides would rather keep in place, to retain the essence of their own identity.
Confronted by this wall of firelit stillness; gleaming eyes, closed mouths, the boys shrank to his side. In the daylight these elves were servants - rope-makers and cobblers, grooms in the stable-block, cooks in the great kitchen. Familiar and reassuring presence's. But here, they had taken off those personalities as they had taken off their tunics, painted their bare skin with strange symbols. Well known faces, hardly registered behind brooms or trays, had become strangers, united by something Elladan and Elrohir had no part in. With a child's hand in each of his, Celeborn could feel the thrill of danger go through both boys as their own valley became alien to them, and he was proud, immensely proud, when they straightened their backs, lifting their heads to smile at the revellers in courageous trust.
"My Lord?" The flute player rose from her tree stump with the dignity of a queen, doubt in her eyes. By day her name was Glisir�, a laundry-maid, but here she was revealed as a woman of great importance, keeper of the musical traditions of her people.
"I have brought my grandsons to learn a new craft," said Celeborn, mildly, but with no suggestion of hesitance. He had the right to be here, and he intended to make sure they all knew it.
She frowned. "Why should the heirs of Turgon learn the dances of Ossiriand?"
"Why should the descendants of Denethor be denied them?"
Elrohir pulled at his sleeve and he looked down into the boy's earnest, worried face. "Daerada, if it's a private thing... Father says that everyone has something too special to share. He says you can't make them share it if they don't want to."
"But this belongs to you," Celeborn was growing annoyed. "As your birthright." He looked up, accusingly, at those who perpetrated ancient divisions even in the house of Elrond. They thought themselves so pure, did they? Well, he would break their ancient grudges using even older loyalties. "Or is the king's name no longer honoured among the people of Denweg?"
"I honour it." The circle parted for a lithe but ancient elf - slight and slender, with a face painted blue and gold as a kingfisher. There were plumes in the long sable flood of his hair, and his bare arms and chest were painted with them. Celeborn saw him with two sets of eyes; one that noticed the tattoo on his face that marked him for a bard and loremaster, appreciated the fine delicacy of his drawings, understood that here stood not only a man, but a representation of swiftly-striking, sudden, glorious skill. And the second, which saw a painted savage bedecked with feathers.
It troubled him that he saw the second at all. I have been too long among my wife's people, too rarely among my own.
"I am Heklo," said the dancer, "who came with the king into Beleriand when the world was full of wolves. I remember Aran Thingol greeting Denethor King with open arms, - pouring the land of seven rivers into his hands as a lesser man might have poured out a cup of wine. I remember you, standing beside him, Kundu nin. And I recall that you came with us to our new homeland, and learned from us for five hundred years."
"I did." Celeborn was conscious that Elladan and Elrohir were braced still either to flee or to fight. He hated to see them thus afraid, but there was more here than history. If he could make the woodelves understand that these two were also their princes, then the boys would be the more passionately protected, and would have the more solid alliances once they were grown. "I remember you too." A skinny youth, little more than a child; a waif taken in by the Nandor's chief loremaster. "And your master Orodben. You say that Elu welcomed Denethor as his kinsman. Can it be that you - a bard of the Lindar people - do not know exactly how close a kinship there lay between us?"
The other dancers had now abandoned any pretence that they were not watching, and drawn around him, and he felt for a moment another jolt of dislocation, seeing himself, silver haired among their dark, ridiculously tall, over elaborately dressed, and the boys in their ostentatious embroidery, with the strange gleam of distilled Maia power behind their moonlit eyes. In truth no gulf separated him from Heklo, but by the Valar, it certainly looked that way.
The kingfisher closed eyes painted blue, and his lips moved as he recounted memorized genealogy to himself. "Your mother was Denweg's daughter," he said at last, astonished.
"Yes," Celeborn agreed. "And that is why I joined Denethor in Ossiriand for a time - to learn the customs of my mother's people. Thus I now desire my grandsons to do the same, lest they forget that their blood goes back into darkness, as well as into the light."
"Daerada?" Elladan had at last shaken off the awe of finding himself surrounded by servants become strangers; the terrible realization that he was no longer even close to being the centre of their lives, that they had allegiances and honours of their own. He pulled his hand from Celeborn's and picked up one of the ochre-red 'spears'. "Can we dance now?"
And whether it was Heklo's acceptance of their lineage, or just the common elvish delight in children, the tension burst into tolerant smiles. One of the dancers leaned over to correct Elladan's grip on the wood and ruffle his hair, making the clips on the ends clink together, snorting in gentle derision at the sound. Seizing the tide, Celeborn picked up a small earthenware pot of white chalk, and signalled to the boys to sit down. Heklo followed suit, and slowly the whole circle of onlookers settled around them; curious still, but no longer unwelcoming.
"You can be a fish, Elladan. Take off your tunic and I'll paint your scales."
But Elrohir had inherited his father's desire to understand; his sharp awareness of the pressures of history. "Wait," he said. "What was that all about? Who's Denethor, who's Denweg, and what have they to do with us?"
"I don't get to use the spear?" Elladan clutched the mock weapon with a scowl, and spoke louder, drowning his brother out. How they could both speak at once and both expect an answer, Celeborn did not know. Thankful that his own experience of parenting had been more normal - for Amroth had been a man grown before Celebrian was born, and both had received their parents' full attention, without having to fight for it - he shook his head, exasperated.
"Whoever heard of a fish with a spear?" he answered the easier question first. "You represent the life-giving kindness of water, and the power of its protection. But also the fish represents thoughts - subtle, darting, sometimes hidden, sometimes flashing out unexpectedly, but always there under the surface. When the dance is danced well, our thoughts become one with the water - so it's important to remember how much you love the purity, coolness and freshness of the streams of Rivendell. Then the dance will turn your wishes into reality, and the brooks of Imladris will be blessed by it."
"It alters the world?" said Elladan, taken aback.
"Did I not tell you that dance and song are to the Lindar what smithcraft is to the Noldor? Did you not wonder how Thranduil keeps the darkness from his realm, where there are no High Elves at all? It is not only by his warriors. We Singers are not without our own arts, though those who write books do not recognize them for what they are."
"I'm not sure I should, then," Elladan balked at the responsibility, though his hands were at his throat, working free the metal latches that held his collar closed. "What if I get it wrong?"
"You will not, khina." Unexpectedly, Glisir� broke in. "Not if you begin thus - conscious of the importance of what you do. There is no mistake you could make which would outweigh the good of your youth and innocence and high heart. If you love the valley, it will know and rejoice, even if you miss a few steps."
"Only if you laughed for scorn in your heart," said Heklo, "would you do harm. We are kwendi, and what our intention is - that is what comes to pass through our art, whether we are Ngolodo or Lindai."
"Daerada?" Elrohir had had enough of being patient. "What about Denethor?"
"I was coming to that." Celeborn laughed. Someone put down a horse-hair brush and a cup of water by his side. He mixed some with the chalk to make a paint the colour of snow. "Where did we get to this afternoon?"
"King Elw� had been found, and he married Melian the Maia. They made the kingdom of Doriath." said Elladan, slightly muffled as he pulled the scratchy tunic over his head. "Which is where you lived, with Luthien and Daeron. You said there were battles, but didn't tell us about any."
"Well then, I'll tell you about a battle now. But first," he held up a hand to silence Elrohir's protest, "I'll tell you about Denweg and Denethor."
Picking up the fine brush, he breathed in, allowed himself to become aware of the song of Rivendell all about him, from stars to the lowliest worm that wriggled in the soil. Darkness was above, and firelight enclosed the circle of listeners in a moment timeless as love or fate. It could have been any year, any place from Cuivienen onwards. Letting that music, ancient and beloved, move his hand, he traced the first half circle of shining, moonbright paint on Elladan's shoulder, changing him from a boy into an idea. "Do you remember I told you that when the host of the Teleri - that we call the Lindar - answered Orome's call and began to travel to Valinor, some could not bring themselves to leave this world? They could not bear to let it suffer unguarded through Morgoth's wrath."
"That's right. They were the woodelves, you said."
"Well," Celeborn laid a hand on Elladan's head to stop him from turning about to see what he looked like, "the largest of those companies was lead by Denweg - the Noldor know him as Lenw�. The host of the Teleri had stopped in the valley of Anduin, partly because we loved the river, and the forest there was deep and old and sang with many voices to us, but also because Orom� had gone forward with the Vanyar and Noldor, and without him it was well nigh impossible to take such a hoard of people - with tents and horses and newborn babies and mothers heavy with child - over the peaks of the Misty Mountains. They were higher in those days - the rain and weather has much worn them down since.
"So we stayed there for some time, and grew to love it. Lorien is part of that ancient forest of old - though a small part, much reduced in glory. Fangorn and Greenwood too, for that matter.
"Well," he finished the scales on one side, and turned Elladan around to paint the other. "When Orome returned and urged us to go forward again, there were many who were heartbroken; who wanted no part of a paradise that did not contain such trees, such rivers - Anduin and Nimrodel and Celebrant and all their laughing tributaries. Denweg stood up and argued with Orom� face to face - a little, short man, slight as a runner - taking on a Vala without fear. The host watched, standing in a great circle, sitting in the beeches under the stars, until one by one, many by many, folk began to come out from among the crowd and stand by Denweg.
He had thought he was alone, but when he turned, dazzled, rubbing his eyes to accustom them to the dark after looking at Orome's face, he found himself surrounded by a multitude. 'Will we stay?' he said, and they said, with one voice 'Yes'."
Celeborn laughed lightly, marvelling. He had been born a prince, with little choice but to lead. He doubted very much if he would ever have earned that right, as Denweg had. "So, because he had spoken for them, stood up to a Vala for them, they took him for their king, and they stayed. But there was great grief in that parting. Many families divided - one brother deciding to stay, one to go, parents leaving behind children, ancient friendships severed.
"Denweg's firstborn son, Denethor, stayed with him. But his daughter Nimwen had fallen in love with Galadhon - my father - and he with her. She chose to leave her family behind and go with her love, but the parting was hard. Then Elu embraced Denweg and gave him his blessing, and the Sindar, the Eluwaith, climbed the Hithaeglir and left them behind. Yet - so my grandfather told me - we wept as we went, and that sorrow was more of a trial to us than any of the mountains Morgoth had put in our path."
Elrohir, frowning as he listened, put his fingers in the pot of paint and began to give his brother a line of speckles down the flank. Heklo and Celeborn exchanged glances, pleased. It seemed Elladan would not be any old fish, but a spotted rainbow trout. Elladan squeaked at the tickle, and then fell silent, looking at his gleaming skin in wonder.
"Will you be a fish, little lord?" said Glisir� to Elrohir, and at his nod of gratitude indicated that he should take off his tunic and kneel down to be decorated too.
"That's sad," he said. "Great-grandma never saw her father again?"
"No. No, she never did."
Perhaps, Celeborn thought, sorrowfully, it had been the beginning of an unfortunate family tradition. As Nimwen to Denweg, so Luthien to Elu, and Elwing to Dior. He was glad to see that - like her wreath - it was a tradition Celebrian seemed to have abandoned. Shaking the feeling off, he held Elladan's hair out of the way, painting a fish's eye on the boy's cheek. Elrohir laughed with delight at the sight - being glared at by a fish the size of himself, and the mournful mood was broken.
"So Denweg's people filled the forests about the Anduin," he went on. "The Noldor called them the 'Nandor'. It means 'those who go back on their decision'. Unsurprisingly, they prefer to be known by the name they called themselves; the Silvan elves. Elu's people came on into Beleriand - as I've told you - and settled in Doriath."
He took the clips from the ends of Elladan's hair - for again, who ever heard of a fish that clattered when it moved? "That's all I can tell you about Denweg. To hear more of his deeds you will have to ask Heklo here, for in Beleriand the Silvan elves passed out of our knowledge, though not out of our hearts.
"Many years passed, and they were good years for the Eluwaith - Cirdan built his havens and became friends with Osse and Ulmo. Melian taught us much, and Orome would ride like a storm through the starlit woods - all shadow and lightning and noise. We met the Dwarves, who taught us how to shape metal and cut stone. We taught them how to write and make music. We gave them pearls from the sea, they gave us coal from their mountains, and we thought them our friends."
He paused, feeling the edges of the brush digging into his fingers. Without thought, unknown to him, both his hands had clenched into fists. Easing the fingers apart, he bowed his head a moment, letting his hair slide forward and curtain his face. Let not the children see the ugliness of his rage.
"Elsewhere in Middle-earth," he said at last, conquering the anger his careless phrase had called up in him, "things had not gone so well. Though Morgoth was imprisoned in Valinor, Sauron was at large, and Morgoth's creatures answered to Gorthaur the Torturer as they would to their dread master. In the darkness of eternal night, there came the first orcs; cold creatures and shadow beasts; Wargs and werewolves and flitting shapes of horror; bats the size of men, who drank blood, and would sometimes walk in the shapes of elleth, so that - greeting one - you would not know, until too late, it was a monster in a woman's guise.
"When these fell things came creeping, then flooding into Beleriand, the Sindar were ready for them. We had forged swords and axes. The dwarves were a quarrelsome people who fought among themselves long ere they met us. It was from them therefore, that we learned the arts of war, and we have ever been known as the Axe-elves since. When Sauron's wolves and vampires came against us we drove them back, we smote them down, and they fled before us. All Beleriand we defended, and everything beyond the Ered Luin was free of them. A child might wander singing, defenceless, through every glen in that starlit country, and still be safe."
There were stories of that ancient struggle that it might be well to recall, Celeborn thought. If only to drive home the point that the Noldor were not the only elves ever to set themselves against evil - not the only heroes, not the only warriors. But - recalling some of those shapes, he knew it would be years before he would pollute the darkness of the boy's dreams with them. Some stories were best told under sunlight, lest their horror infect the night.
"Now, because folk were free, full of wonder and desire for adventure, every so often a grey-elf would leave Beleriand to explore the wild world, or a wood-elf would cross the mountains to see for himself the lands beyond; the Great Sea. In this way the rumour of Elu's rule - the prosperity and peace of his people - spread back to Denweg and his son.
"The Silvan elves had multiplied, becoming a great people. But their weapons were of stone, their bows fit for hunting not for war. Though their lore was deep in matters of herbs and growing things, in water and rivers, birds and beasts, against Sauron they did not know what to do. So Denethor - hearing that Beleriand was free of peril - stood up before his father and told his people that he would lead them on the long, dangerous journey into the West. Not to leave Middle-earth, but to reunite with their king of old, placing themselves under his protection."
Celeborn sat back on his heels, looking at the two boys; half naked, painted, with their mannish hair already springing into rough curls from the dew of the night, their golden hair-clips spilled in piles on courtly clothes lying bunched in the tree roots. What would his daughter, his son in law, have to say about this?! He could not help smiling at the thought.
"Go, dance. I'll tell you what happened next when you return."
Apologies to language purists. I wanted to use Danian (Nandorin) names and words in this, but couldn't find any, so I've used Primitive Quendian to stand in for Danian.
Kundu nin my prince
Lindai the Singers - the whole Nelyar tribe, of which some became the Teleri of Aman, some became the Sindar, and some became the Silvan elves.
Celeborn's Nandorin ancestry is a nod to the fact that, in the Fellowship of the Rings, Galadriel's speech seems to indicate that she came out of the West and found him in his own land of Lorien, which strongly implies that at this point in his conception he was going to be a Nandorin elf of Lorinand.