Dancing in the Dark, part 2 of 2
Relaxing, Celeborn watched the twins walk away, gingerly, as though they did not own their own bodies. It was so clear the knowledge was there in them, under the surface. How could it be otherwise in Luthien's descendants?
Heklo showed them the small movements of hands - the brushing, graceful curves of the feet, and the arching, twisting motion of the body. The simplest of the dances - which was why Celeborn had chosen it for them - it still kept them deep in concentration for well on three hours, while he looked on, sipping his mead, feeling the stars move overhead. Half way through, Glisir� rose to join in, handing him the flute in what might have been a test.
He played slowly for a while. But, seeing Elrohir already supple and confident among the waving lines of woodelves, Elladan's growing impatience, he brought the tempo up to time. Then time and a half, then double time. It was very hard not to laugh when the woodelves sped to meet his music, but the boys fell out, their feet confused, their eyes welling with joy and wonder.
"Daerada!" Elladan began, in reproach. Excited and charged with energy, Elrohir butted in; "I felt it! I felt something - like the water was dancing me, like I was the river. Oh, Daerada, you don't know... I felt the Bruinen. I felt... and it's so beautiful."
"I do know, Daerion," Celeborn stroked back Elrohir's tangled black tresses, smiling fondly on the look of exultation, "I danced Esgalduin when I was younger than you. Now I hold Anduin in my heart, and every tree of Lorien. I do know. Everyone here knows."
"Are you going to tell us about the battle now?" Elladan slumped into a boneless, red faced sprawl next to his grandfather. In this as in all things, he was tenacious, unrelenting. "Can I have a drink?"
"Didn't you feel it?" asked Elrohir, half sympathetic that his brother should have missed something so wonderful, half gloating that he had done better than his twin.
"'Course I did," Elladan answered with scorn, and then faltered, looking away. "I just don't want to talk about it yet. Anyway, I want to hear about Denethor. Was his father very sad when he went away? Did he go with him? What happened to the monsters?"
A very large jug of cider lay by the paints, but even watered Celeborn would not have given it to the children. Seeing him looking, one of the dancers sped over to another fire further up the side of the valley, returning with a pitcher of goat's milk. With an embarrassed duck of the head, she handed it to him, slipping back into the shadows immediately after. It was as though she had appeared out of starlight, and faded into cloud; a very Laegrim thing. He smiled in thanks, poured the milk into cups, passed them to the boys to drink.
"I do not know whether Denweg was sad. I would have been. For Denweg stayed, and half of his folk stayed with him - the Silvan elves of Mirkwood and Lorien. He said goodbye to his son forever on that day. Denethor never came back."
Elrohir's face fell at the news of another dismal parting. In response Celeborn moved on swiftly to a more pleasant part of the tale.
"But I cannot tell you of Denweg's grief. As a Sinda, I can only say how the border guards ran into Menegroth with beaming faces, and folk poured out of the thousand caves, running to greet the travellers, when Denethor arrived in Beleriand with his people. The Thousand Caves and the forests of Region were full of elves embracing and laughing and crying in pleasure as their families came together again after millenia of absence.
"When they had disentangled themselves from their welcomers, Denethor himself came before Thingol. Elu - who was passionate in everything that he did, in anger or bliss - leapt off the dais, threw his arms about him and hugged him, he too weeping for joy."
Remembering that moment, Celeborn laughed, pleased to see the boys happy again. Elladan had slumped against him, and Elrohir lay with his head propped against his brother's stomach. Fierce warrior Elladan had a fine goat's milk moustache. "It was a funny sight," he said, earning a look of disapproval by leaning down to wipe the child's mouth. "For Elu was the tallest of all the Children of Iluvatar. He wore a robe of heavy indigo silk, and a mantle of silver-grey velvet. His hair was long and bright. A light shone in his face, and his splendour seemed to fill the halls. But Denethor was slight and willowy as his father, dark of hair and eye. He wore breeches of doe-skin. His bare chest and face were tattooed with the shapes of leaves, so that the eye was confused by the pattern, and even in tapestry-hung halls he could disappear, simply by standing still.
"So unalike they looked, yet they were kin, and in both their eyes there was the heaviness, the responsibility, the pride of lordship. Though we had been so long apart our languages had changed, and we could barely follow each other's speech, still Elu and Denethor understood one another at once. They were both kings."
Elrohir wriggled up into a sitting position again and frowned. "'Tattooed'?"
"Like this," said Heklo, putting a finger on the intricate knot of his loremaster's mark, dark on his brow. "The ink goes into the skin. The body remembers it, nor will it wash off." He smiled at the boys' fascination, bowing his head so two small hands could touch the stain, test for themselves whether it would rub away. "Denethor's design showed he was lord not only of elves but of the forest. Mine tells you I have been taught all the songs and stories of my people, and I bear in memory their families, their lines, their kinships, their crafts and their laws."
"You're like a library!" said Elrohir in awe. "Adar has his books, but the woodelves have you?"
"That's exactly it," Celeborn agreed, pleased by his grandson's insight. "Do you remember me telling you how much I wanted to find Daeron again? In great part, that was because he was my friend, of course. Yet Daeron was also the chief loremaster of the Sindar. When he was lost, much of our history was lost with him, as though one of the great librarys of the Noldor had been burnt, all its knowledge reduced to ash. A loss beyond weeping, irreplaceable."
Now both the boys were looking at his forehead, disappointed to find it bare. "You're not a loremaster, Daerada?"
He grinned, "No. I learned only the tales all our children learned. I was trained to be a prince - the councillor and right hand of a king. Warfare and justice, rule and loyalty, these I was taught, not lore."
"So you don't have any marks?" Elladan looked so downcast that Celeborn sighed, unbuckled his belt, and pulled his tunic off. When all three of them gazed at him in frowning puzzlement it occurred to him that he was sitting in shadow. Getting up, he moved into starlight. The moon had just peeked over the edge of the valley, and mingled radiance gathered on his side, glimmering in the lines that traced across his ribs. Gradually there shone out from his skin the design of a tree surrounded by stars - every line shimmering silver, faint at first, brightening to bold, graceful strokes.
Returning, he sat down and covered the shining design with his shirt, embarrassed. "I had it done in Ost-in-Edhil. Using ithildin - which reflects moon and starlight - rather than ink. I thought to show that the arts of the Noldor and those of the Ennorim could be combined, and something... interesting, something good could result." Shaking his head, he laughed at his own folly. "In fact Noldor and Silvan were united in disapproval, feeling that I had tainted both their traditions. Nobody liked it but me."
"It's your name," said Heklo, who was old enough to remember the emblems the nobles of Doriath had used to represent themselves before the invention of writing.
"Yes," Celeborn smiled around ancient bitterness. "I had lost Beleriand and Eriador by then. My own name seemed the only thing I could be certain of keeping. And keep it I have, for it persists - a mistake half as old as I."
"Did it hurt?" asked Elladan in rather bloodthirsty pleasure.
"Yes it did." Unsubtly changing the subject, Celeborn loosened Elladan's hands from the edge of his tunic - the boy was trying to see if the design was completely invisible in firelight, or if there were scars. He had to tickle his grandson until the heap of elfling was too incoherent to maintain a grip. Then - because it was only fair - he had to do the same to Elrohir. Snatching the opportunity while they were both curled into giggling balls, he laced the offending garment back up again and tried to regain his dignity.
"Where were we? Oh yes. Denethor came to Doriath. Now, some of the Sindar thought that Thingol might insist Denethor's folk should be merged with ours. Where was the need for two kings? Surely Denethor should step down.
"But Elu himself was not so mean spirited. He could see the love between Denethor and his people, nor would he stand in its way. So, remembering how delighted the Silvan elves had been with Anduin - how much they adored the waters - Elu gave them the Land of Seven Rivers; Ossiriand, to rule as their own. And in Ossiriand they had peace for many long years. There, because the forests were rich with every kind of nut and berry, fruit and leaf, they gave up hunting, and wore skins no more.
"What about the battle? You said there was a battle."
Deciding not to enlarge on the relations between the Laegrim and Doriath; the food they sent in trade for metal weapons, their unhappiness at the coming of Men, Celeborn finally yielded to Elladan's badgering. Perhaps it was time to finish the story, ere Glorfindel was sent to bring them all back to civilization. Pouring out a cup of the cider, he leaned back against a nearby tree. Recognizing the posture, the boys scrambled into positions where they could rest against him; Elrohir in the crook of his left arm, Elladan pinning his legs down in a sprawl he did not believe could possibly be comfortable. White paint rubbed off them both onto his pale grey clothes, making him mottled as a cloud.
"I suppose the first warning we had," he said, "was when the earth shook, and the forest trembled at the sound of a great cry - a cry of rage and triumph in the voice of an evil god. Those who heard it turned white as wax and stopped their ears, their hearts stilling, their blood freezing within them. It ended, and nothing seemed to have changed, but that we knew our hour of doom could not be long delayed, and the night - which had been full of peace and pride - darkened with an edge of despair. We waited, our breath held, for some unknown terror to show itself.
"It was but a short time after, that a shadow - no, more than shadow, for shadow is but the absence of light - a thick pressure of darkness, a smoke of darkness, came down from the North into the mountains of Dorthonion. Folk said there were eyes in it and moving, chitinous legs, and hunger. We learned later that it was Ungoliant - the spider monster who had devoured the light of Aman, whom even Morgoth feared. But Melian put forth her will, driving Ungoliant from Doriath. She fled the Queen of the Sindar, going into the waste places of the mountains and filling them with her brood, with the heavy oil and horror of her unlight.
"Then Morgoth returned to the Iron Prison of his stronghold. From the top of the great beech tree of Menegroth, one could stand and look out and see the tiny tongues of fire over the fortress of the Great Enemy; the fume gathering about him, cutting out the stars. Implacable, impenetrable, unstoppable darkness, more dreadful than death."
In his embrace, the boys had gone very still, picking up, from the elvish craft of his tale-telling a sight of the great piled misery of the towers of Thangorodrim, whose shapes were a torment, whose weight made the very earth groan. He cursed himself for forgetting he recounted this to children, and moved the focus from the threat to the heroes who would meet it.
"From Angband, Morgoth's power went out, and the orcs and monsters stirred all over Middle-earth, coming out of the holes into which they had fled, flowing like a black tide over Beleriand. Doriath awoke in answer and marched out to meet them.
"Elu lead us. In that cursed shadow the King was radiant as Tilion the hunter himself. His armour of steel was overlaid with silver, and his silver hair lay in warrior braids on his shoulders. Before the flame of his eyes the orcs quailed, and his sword - Aranruth was its name; the king's fury - blazed like a very comet in his wrath. Mablung went beside him - the chief of his household guard, his personal warriors. As dark as the king was fair, strong and secret as a yew tree, Mablung had his whole will set on protecting Elu - and that was well, for the king had no thought of his own safety."
This was better, for now the boys were sitting up straight, their eyes shining, the vileness of evil forgotten in the glory of their distant ancestor. "But what about you?" said Elrohir, squirming round to look in his face, "why weren't you next to King Elwe?"
"Because I was a prince, not a bodyguard." It would have been better for the story, Celeborn agreed, if he could have stood beside Thingol in Mablung's place, but sadly there were places where the needs of story and those of reality diverged. "I commanded the right flank of the army, with Oropher as my shoulder-companion. Amdir commanded the left."
Having successfully cheered the boys, he had no desire to inflict on them the realities of warfare; the way - after the first two or three disembowlments - one became inured to the stench and screams. The fact that the worst thing about fighting for life, for beauty, for your children's future, was the sheer grinding weariness of it. "There were so many of them," he said instead. "We fought... endlessly. For every fifty orcs we slew there were a thousand scrambling over the corpses, fresh, eager to get at us.
"Thingol took his stand on Amon Rudh, Amdir about the crossings of Teiglin, and I in the Fens of Sirion. Our plan was to trap them between our own forces and those of Cirdan, who was to come up from Eglarest in the West. But we had not concieved of the sheer numbers of them!"
He laughed at the memory of despair, brushed the leaf litter away to reveal a patch of damp earth which - for the space of this tale - would be Beleriand. Twigs, laid end to end in a rough circle, defined the borders of Doriath, and a straight stick was the range of mountains to the South, known as the Andram. Amon Rudh an acorn half way down the west side of the circle, just outside the borders, and the fens of Sirion - the narrowest point between the base of the circle and the mountains - was a stroke in the earth which he filled with cider. It lay glimmering briefly, then soaked in, becoming mud. Appropriate enough.
"There were so many it was as though the dust of the earth itself had risen up against us. Cirdan - though he tried with all his strength - could not break through, could not drive them into us, but he himself was driven back."
Pulling out a couple of long hairs, Celeborn lay them, curving, a hand span apart, up the Eastern side of the twig circle that was Doriath.
"These are the rivers Aros and Gelion," he said. "You can see that all of our army, all of this terrible struggle, was taking place to the South-west of our borders. But while we were pinned by one orc force, a second - just as large - marched into the East, filling the land between the two rivers."
He remembered starlight on the fens, the reeds standing up from fallow silver pools. It had been a place of small water fowl and flag lilies, pale mists and the wide gleam of water, where frogs sang and bitterns waded, snake-eyed. But by the end of six months fighting all that was left was filth and corpses.
"I had taken up position there to stop the orcs passing out of the west, over the marshes, and encircling Doriath," he said, more aware now of the irony than he had been at the time. Then he had been too tired even to curse as the distant shore filled up with shrieking shapes of iron; teeth and drums and jeering laughter. "But I was caught in a hard place now - between the western forces and the vanguard of an entirely new enemy. Attacked on two fronts, I could do little but hold my ground between them, and send to beg Elu to come - swiftly."
Elrohir bent down over the little map, while Elladan, who had been too excited for Celeborn's liking by this talk of war, now looked suitably subdued. They could see he had survived, but at least it had occurred to them how easily it could have been otherwise. "What did you do?" he said, quietly, and Elrohir said, "Did the king come?"
"Yes and no," Celeborn smiled. "Thingol could not come. But out of the trees of Region on the left, sailing in birch boats down the rivers to the right, came the elves of Denethor son of Denweg, and they fell on the orcs with the ferocity of Rauros. Then the eastern orcs ceased their attempt at crossing the fens, turning to face this new threat. My own warriors were heartened enough to push through to Thingol's side, and the Sindar regrouped about Amon Rudh."
He found a handful of stones to represent the orc armies of east and west, a couple of chestnut leaves to represent his own force and Thingol's, two handfuls of pine needles for the Denwaith, far North of the other groups of elves. Then he moved one set of stones away west, toward the wiggly line of the sea.
"As we did so our enemy drew away, pursuing Cirdan. Now Cirdan - in his foresight - had built high walls about his havens, and his elves were armoured with the best dwarvish steel - for he had pearls to trade, and the dwarves could not have enough pearls. But Denethor's warriors had, as they always had, light bows, long knives, and nothing more than tunics to protect them from the iron pole-arms of the orcs. I..."
Thinking of it always made his skin creep and his throat tighten against tears. The magnificent bravery, the appalling cost, and the slaughter. "I will never understand how they achieved so much. Can you imagine facing an orc in full armour, with a metal shield and a spear nine feet long - a third of which is blade - and doing it in your shirtsleeves, with nothing but a dagger? They were the best, the bravest elves I have ever known.
"So, as soon as Amdir's forces had joined with ours, rather than pursue Cirdan's opponents we crossed the marshes, falling upon the eastern orcs in a storm of steel, and if Elu had been as moonlight before, now he was lightning, driven with a fury that was half terror, desperate to come to Denethor's aid before his courage became his doom."
At the far end of the stick that represented a line of mountains, Celeborn put down another acorn. "This is the hill of Amon Ereb," he said. "As we fought our way down this narrow tongue of land between the Aros and the Andram, we saw that the orcs had driven a wedge between Denethor and the main force of his army. Closer yet, we could see him, his knights and his champions, at bay on the summit of the green, round hill. Sharp and clear was the sight of him, for the stars flamed with wrath, and I could see, if I raised my head to look over the foe, the pale light sleek the knives he bore."
He drew the dagger out of its sheath at his belt, showing it to the boys. Its hilt was of clear rock crystal, and its blade glimmered with a cold light, as though a chill, clean laughter was in it. "This is one of the pair I had made for him, in thanks for receiving me with so open a heart. When I saw them in use, I blessed every cut."
Resheathing the weapon reverently, he paused to let the wave of grief crest and then break over him. Their round faces serious, Elladan and Elrohir comforted him, patting him as they would have petted one of the kitchen cats. "If sight had been all," he said, ruffling their hair in return, "we would have been there to save him. But though the eye may see unhindered twenty miles distant, it is a different matter to get there through a mass of orcs penned between mountain and river, between Sindar and Silvan blades.
"The songs say that Elu 'slew the foe in heaps', and that is the plain truth. He was unstoppable as an avalanche. Yet for every step we made the orcs made two; a darkness flowing up the slopes of Amon Ereb, where my uncle stood, with his brothers and both his sons, back to back. We raced the darkness, we refused to give up hope, our hearts laboured within us nigh to bursting as we drove forward... but we came too late.
"When we had slain every orc on the mountain we found them, lying together in a little circle just on the hill's crest; Denethor in the centre and his kinsmen lying around him, open eyed, crumpled, where they had fought to their deaths to defend him.
"For a moment the rest of our army drew away, pursuing the dinhorde, and there was Elu, and I, and Mablung standing among the slain, looking at one another, stunned and dumb as beasts - there were no words for this. Elu fell to his knees and keened until his voice was raw. Mablung watched over him with that fathomless patience of his, with undemanding tenderness. And I... just stood, axe trailing in the mud, until the king's lament was done, and he bent his head forwards, covered his face with his hands and wept.
"Then I saw that one of the orcs, slain while it was fleeing, had my knife - my gift - in its claw. A madness possessed me then; to turn over every corpse on that battlefield, to find the other, as though, bringing the pair back together, I could somehow mend what had been broken, as though I could still make things right... But I never did. One of the monsters had stolen it, taken it away for himself, and it lies now beneath the sea, or in an orc horde, drowned deep in defeat."
"That's not fair!" Elladan hit him on the arm, then burst into tears. Elrohir, more gentle perhaps, but also more of a thinker, reached out dry eyed and picked up the acorn with exquisite care, as though he carried the fallen king in his hand.
"No," feeling drained and a little guilty, Celeborn picked his grandson up, cradling him against his chest, head beneath his chin, lashes wet against his throat. "No, but then war is not fair. Neither fair, nor glorious, nor exciting. Eluwaith and Denwaith both went away from that battle thinking 'there must be a better way.'"
"What happened to them?" Elrohir asked, hushed still, while Elladan quietened and lay still, his arms locked tight around his grandfather, as though to shield him from ancient hurts. "Denethor's folk, with so many dead?"
"Both of our peoples found a different way to protect ourselves from Morgoth," said Celeborn, reaching out to let Elrohir too cling to his side. At the gesture Elrohir looked first surprised, then grateful. "Elu spoke with Melian, and she erected a great barrier which no evil creature could pass. That was when our land - which had been known as Eglador - became known as 'Doriath'; 'land of the Fence'. Some of the Denwaith chose to leave Ossiriand and live in the Fenced land with us. But some relied instead on their skills in hiding from any foe, biding concealed in the treetops while the monsters passed below, oblivious. They took to wearing green cloth of nettles, the better to blend with the trees, and because of that we gave them a new name and called them the Laegrim - the Green Elves."
"They never went to war again until Oropher and Amdir asked them to, at the Last Alliance, and for that bravery too they were very poorly rewarded."
"What happened?" Elladan's voice was muffled against his neck. Wriggling out of the embrace Elrond's firstborn gave his brother a warning look, daring him to say anything. His face was white with smudged paint, but beneath it fierce again.
"That's a long story for another time," Celeborn drew a finger through the ruined design and added a spot on the tip of the boy's nose. "For now I should get you clean, ere your father throws me in a cell as a bad influence."
"Do we have to?" Still holding tight to the acorn, Elrohir scowled.
"Do you have to?" Celeborn repeated in a tone of false puzzlement. He sighed, resignedly, "I thought you would like to swim in the river, but I suppose that..."
"I thought you meant a bath!"
Both boys sprang to their feet at once, leaving him to scramble up more slowly, shaking off the feeling of having been pummelled by their small sharp elbows and knees. He expected them to tear away down the slope to the river at once, so he was deeply pleased when Elrohir paused, handing him the acorn as though it was a jewel. "I should like to meet the king of the Silvan elves," he said. "To tell him 'thank you'."
"We no longer have a king." While they spoke, the dance had silently come to an end. Now Heklo stepped into the firelight like a knight of the Laegrim brought back by strange arts to the present. "All Aran Denethor's heirs died with him, and we honoured him too much to take a king who was not of his line. Yet it pleases us to think that his blood runs in you, and is there mingled with all other royalties of Middle-earth."
"May we come back, on other nights?" Elladan drew himself up, suddenly conscious of his nobility, looking - though tangle-haired and shirtless - for the first time like a young prince. His grey eyes were clear and innocent, but wise. "I would like to hear about Denweg and the monsters; to learn some, at least, of the stories you would tell to a Silvan child, honoured Master of Lore."
"And to dance," added Elrohir. "I want to dance more... If you'll have us."
"If your father permits it," Heklo tipped his head to the twins, smiling slightly, "then you will be always welcome among us, Kundu nin. As one of our own."
Released from their spontaneous courtesy, the boys now shed their thick blue velvet trousers and ran laughing into the Bruinen. Ere long they were splashing and wrestling, the paint mixing with mud and shingle. Celeborn picked up the piles of golden clips, rolled them into discarded finery, wondering if he would have to go in himself to make sure they got clean before the chill of the water did them harm. Even now the shallowest pools were glazed with ice, and the boys were less hardy than full elven children.
Heklo stood beside him for a long moment, as they watched together in mutual, thoughtful silence. At last the loremaster smiled - a radiant, mischievous expression which made him look scarcely older than the twins. "Not all blendings of Noldor and Silvan need be an insult to both," he said, smirking as Celeborn reflexively covered the mark on his side with a splayed hand. "I think the latter effort is the more successful, Arata."
"Indeed," Celeborn laughed. Bidding farewell to the dancers with a wave of the hand, he went away to pluck the children from the Bruinen ere they exchanged their white paint for the blue of cold. He owed his daughter an apology, as clearly she thought herself. The glance she gave him when he returned with two wet-haired, overexcited children, only partially clean and obviously intent on dancing for the rest of the night, was vinegar-sharp. Elrond seemed both amused and intrigued, and Glorfindel could be heard promising to demonstrate some of the dances of his mother's Vanyar people, but there were others in the household not so impressed. Ah, but there always were.
"How has it been my lot in life to be embarrassed by my children and my father at the same time?" asked Celebrian, handing him a cup of hot wine. Besdanel hurried the boys inside to sit by the fire, promising them warm milk with honey, and gingerbread.
"It's the natural state of any parent," said Celeborn unrepentantly. "Your offspring and their grandparents will always be in league against you." He lifted a hand to one of the emerald and moonstone leaves of her wreath, looking with a new eye on its astonishing craftsmanship. How could he have disapproved of such a thing? Was he become as narrow minded as those he had always opposed?
"It is beautiful," he said, in response to his daughter's affectionate, quizzical look. "And I am reminded that the blending of two lines may produce a result just as worthy as any one in isolation." Was not Celebrian herself proof of that? He had thought she was breaking something sacred with this application of Noldor art to Silvan ornament, but in truth she was upholding a family tradition which began when Thingol married a Maia, and Luthien a Man. "None of our kin have been afraid of seeing the good in that which is different, nor have we ever had any difficulty in loving it."
"No," she said, understanding the apology for what it was. She leaned in to give him a hug, but her eyes were on Elrond; part elven, part human, some small part Maia, wholly beloved. "Brass is not of less worth than copper, nor the hybrid rose less beautiful than the wild... And you can carry on embarrassing me until the world's end, father, if that is what it takes to remind us of it."
Arata - Exalted/Noble one.
Denwaith - the people of Den, presumably either Denweg or Denethor - the Nandor.
Eluwaith - the people of Elu - the Sindar.
The details of the Battle of Amon Ereb are my attempt to explain the rather compacted version of the story in the Silmarillion. It might well have happened a different way, but this was the best sense I could make of it.
Thanks for the review, Lani - the business about Denweg or Lenwe can be found in Note number 17 of 'Quendi and Eldar', which you can find in HoME volume 11
"Lenwë is the form in which his name was remembered in Noldorin histories. His name was... Nandorin Denweg. His son was the Nandorin chieftain Denethor. These names probably meant 'lithe and active' and 'lithe and lank'."
Thanks for the review WinterZ! I quite agree, people should be paid to write Celeborn stories. I know I'd be prepared to sponsor a few :) But he is intimidating, very much so, until you get to know him. Perhaps that's the problem.