Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters of J. R. R. Tolkien, nor any of the various dramatic incarnations thereof. No profit is being made from this work.Foreword
Welcome. This story has been an exciting exercise to write, and I am glad that it is finally ready to be shared. Usually, I think of titles for my stories after I've been writing for a little while. After I know what the story will be about, a nice descriptive phrase comes up for the title. With this one, I found myself thinking about the phrase "grass widow" first. Later, I realized that it was the title of a story. All I had to do was determine what that story was!
Here is the result. I apologize if this comes out with double paragraph spacing. That's not something I put in intentionally. I suspect that it's the fault of the browser I use, which does not appear to have the site's full support. I hope that you enjoy it anyway, and I will meet you at the end.
1. A Sovereign Balm
Celebrían had known for many months that this moment was coming. She had not, however, expected that it would come today.
The day had begun like so many others in the peaceful, quiet garden of Lórien. Irmo, the Lord of Dreams, and his wife Estë the Gentle had created a sanctuary to soothe and mend the hearts of even the most terribly damaged Elves. Celebrían feared that she had been one of those. She had been practically insensate when she had arrived in Aman. She had vague memories of the bright, silent Maiar who had borne her unresponsive body to this garden and laid her on a soft bed beneath a bower of fragrant cherry trees. Celebrían did not know how long she had lain there, unresponsive, until one morning, when the sweet scent of the cherry blossoms had tickled her nose and awakened her interest in life.
Since that day, Celebrían had lived a life of careful ease under the watchful eyes of Irmo and Estë. Once the ever-present Maiar had coaxed her from her bed, she had wandered the garden. At first, she had done nothing more than contemplate the trees and flowers, learning once more to appreciate the bright colors and satiny texture of roses and the cool, hidden shade of an evergreen. Eventually, she had mustered the courage to seek out other Elves. She began to converse, and then to take part in the evenings of song and dance in Irmo's sheltered groves.
Eventually, Celebrían's shattered mind had begun to mend. She found that she could concentrate on a single task, and so she took up some of the crafts that she had enjoyed in her old life in Imladris. She remembered that she had especially enjoyed weaving, and Estë had provided a loom for her. Lately, Celebrían had spent many days in a small, secluded glade, weaving many ells of cloth in brilliant colors and abstract patterns. She did not yet know what she would do with the cloth she was producing, but she enjoyed the rhythmic motions of the shuttle and the soft feel of the linen thread beneath her hands as she worked. She began to remember old songs that she had sung to amuse herself, their tunes swaying to the beat of the shuttle's motion, and she sang as she worked.
Her life in Irmo's realm was idyllic, a soothing routine that offered such peace and security as she had enjoyed as a little girl. And then, on this most ordinary of mornings, Irmo and Estë had appeared beside her loom to announce that the idyll would come to an end.
Estë smiled, and it seemed that warmth radiated from that smile to embrace Celebrían. "You have improved greatly since your arrival here," Estë said. "It cheers my heart to see you smile."
Celebrían blushed, and dipped her head in acknowledgement. "I am glad to provide my Lady such cheer."
"The change in your spirit is indeed remarkable," Irmo said. "When you first arrived into my care, there were some who feared that you would never heal, but remain perpetually a ward of the Lord of Dreams. You have proved them wrong, and I am glad of that."
"Thank you," Celebrían said, for lack of any better response.
Irmo and Estë exchanged a glance, and a shiver ran down Celebrían's spine. She had been – was – a mother, and she remembered exchanging such looks with Elrond just before delivering news that her children would not be pleased to hear. She arranged her face into what she hoped was a pleasant, brave expression. "Is anything amiss?" she asked.
Estë turned to her and caressed her hair, sending a warm rush of peace through her body. "No, dear one. Nothing is amiss. Attend my Lord Irmo, and he will tell you what you must know."
"You have healed remarkably well, Celebrían," Irmo said. "Tell me, how do you feel about leaving my gardens?"
Celebrían blinked, stunned into silence for a moment. "I do not know," she ventured. "I must admit that I have not given that matter any thought."
"I believe the time is nearly upon us," Irmo said. "I have done what I can for you, and it is time that you experienced the world again."
"Do not think we do not love you, dear one," Estë added. "But we know that Eru Iluvátar did not create the Elves to be solitary creatures. You have need of your own kind."
Celebrían's mouth twitched into a nervous grimace. "There are other Elves in this garden."
Irmo nodded. "There are. But they are still not yet healed. You must begin to associate once more with Elves in the bloom of full health and joy."
A tiny part of Celebrían shrank away in mortal terror at that thought. She was appalled and ashamed at this reaction, but her sojourn in the gardens of a Vala had at least taught her not to deny her feelings, no matter how base they appeared at the time. "I do not feel that I am ready to leave," she said, in as reasonable a tone as she could.
"No one ever truly feels ready," Estë replied. "We can do only so much for the fear in our care. We cannot assist you with the final part of your healing. You must make the last leap yourself."
"We have arranged things so as to ensure the possibility that your fëa might be healed," Irmo said, "as it could not have been in Middle-earth. However, the harder task is yours. We have given you the possibility. It is up to you to make possibility into reality. You must go forth from this garden and make your own healing, Celebrían."
Celebrían sighed, and swallowed back a sob deep in her throat. Estë enfolded her in her arms and swayed, rocking Celebrían gently. "Oh, dear one," she said. "I know that this parting grieves you. Yet you must leave, or you would grow accustomed to this place, and, in the end, you would find yourself unable to set foot outside this garden ever again. Those who love you would grieve to see that happen."
"It is all right to mourn, Celebrían," Irmo added. "Mourn, and let yourself be strengthened by it."
Celebrían clung to Estë and wept, and Estë held her and soothed her as if she were Estë's own child. At last, her tears slowed. Celebrían took a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her eyes and face. She faced the two Valar and squared her thin shoulders.
"Where will I go?" she asked. "And what should I do? My husband and children are not here with me, nor are my parents and friends."
Irmo's expression became thoughtful. "You are Celebrían, daughter of she who was called Artanis and Nerwen, and is now Galadriel. Did your lady mother ever speak to you of her own parents?"
"My mother is the daughter of Finarfin and Eärwen of Alqualondë," Celebrían said. "She did not speak of them often. I think that it pained her to be sundered from them."
"The sundering pains them equally," Estë said. "It would cheer them to meet their granddaughter and hear your tales of your life and your mother's on the far shores."
"Arafinwë sits upon the throne in Tirion as the High King," Irmo said. "Go to him, for he would welcome you."
Celebrían remembered the times that Celeborn and Galadriel had traveled to Imladris when the twins and Arwen were small. Her children had looked dreamily content snuggled in their grandparents' arms, held by two who would spoil and dote on them and never scold them for tracking mud through the Last Homely House. Celebrían knew that she was far too old to be dandled on the High King's knee, but perhaps her grandparents could provide the comfort and security she would miss outside of the garden. She smiled in anticipation.
"I will go to Tirion," she told the Valar. "It will be a new experience. I have never had grandparents before."
Irmo and Estë smiled, and Celebrían could feel their relief, almost as strong as her own.
Two days later, just as the afternoon sun was beginning to cast its shadows over the land, Celebrían rode in a light carriage through the streets of Tirion. At her feet lay two cloth bags containing all her possessions. One bag held a few changes of clothes, and the other held the lengths of cloth she had woven in Lórien. Perhaps she would be able to sell it, if it turned out that there was no place for her at the palace. Celebrían banished that thought almost as soon as it appeared in her mind and turned her head to admire Tirion.
There was indeed much to admire about the place. To Celebrían, who had been raised in a series of settlements and small villages, and had finally made her home in the rural haven of Imladris, the city seemed to go on forever. The stone streets teemed with Elves going about their business. Children played in the streets, merchants haggled with buyers in marketplaces, and sometimes she caught a glimpse into an artisan's workshop as the carriage passed. Celebrían giggled as she observed three youths, stripped to the waist, splashing each other in a fountain decorated with leaping dolphins.
"That fountain has always attracted children," the carriage driver said. "It was built by Fëanáro himself, you know, and he intended it as a solemn gift to his father, High King Finwë, may his rest be peaceful. But no sooner had Fëanáro made the water run than his son Macalaurë, who was just a little thing at the time, jumped in and started splashing."
"How exactly like a child," Celebrían said with a smile. "I hope that he did not receive too terrible a scolding."
"He would have, if Fëanáro had had his way," the driver answered. "But King Finwë and Queen Indis were enchanted. Ever since then, children have played in that fountain, and no one has ever had the heart to chase them away."
"I am glad of that. These stone streets must be very hot in the summer, and the children of the city should have a place to swim."
The driver nodded his agreement, and they did not speak for a while. Presently, the streets became wider, and the houses faded away, to be replaced by large trees and green lawns. Celebrían craned her neck, and could just make out a set of ornate brass gates gleaming at the end of the boulevard.
"That is the palace," the driver said. "We are nearly at our destination. Are you expected, or shall I wait by the entrance for a time?"
Celebrían sucked in her breath, suddenly shy. "Perhaps you had better wait," she said. "Though I do not think that I will be turned away, I do come unannounced. It would comfort me not to be alone."
The carriage pulled up at the gates, and the gatekeepers looked at it with interest. The driver climbed down from his seat and assisted Celebrían out of the carriage. She raised her chin, smiled, and nodded to the gatekeepers.
"I am Celebrían, daughter of Galad – Artanis Nerwen, the daughter of the High King," she said. "I beg leave to enter, and request an audience with my grandfather."
The gatekeepers started, but bowed politely. "Welcome, Lady," one of them said. "This is an unexpected surprise. If you would deign to wait at our guest shelter, you may refresh yourself while we send word of your arrival to the palace." He tapped the other gatekeeper on the shoulder, sending him running down the gravel path.
Then, he offered Celebrían his arm and escorted her to a small arbor covered in honeysuckle, just inside the grounds. The driver followed, bearing Celebrían's bags. The gatekeeper gestured for Celebrían to sit on a small bench beneath the arbor and set a goblet of clear, fresh water and a plate with some small biscuits at her side. Celebrían ate and drank and breathed in the scent of the honeysuckle. As she had requested, the carriage driver remained, exchanging small pleasantries with the gatekeeper.
They heard the sound of footsteps crunching in gravel, and looked up to see the second gatekeeper arriving with a liveried footman and a blond Elf of noble bearing. Celebrían rose to her feet and dropped a small curtsey before him. He nodded in acknowledgement.
"I am Findarato, the son of the High King," he said. "I have been told that. . . " His voice trailed off as he looked at Celebrían's face. His eyes bored into hers as he examined every detail. His throat worked, though no sound came out, and he seemed to be suddenly on the verge of tears. "Stars above," he breathed.
Celebrían gave him a shaky smile, trying to appear calm, though her heart was pounding so fast that she was sure he must be able to hear it. "I am Celebrían, daughter of Galadriel," she said. "If I am not mistaken, are you. . . Finrod? My uncle?"
"Finrod," he murmured. "I have not heard that name in so long. Finrod Felagund, Lord of Caves. Yes, I am Finrod. And I suppose that I am your uncle, if you are indeed Galadriel's daughter. How could you not be her daughter? You have her eyes, her chin. . . even her dimples. You look like my sister, and you do not." Finrod took Celebrían's hands and squeezed them, laughing a little with the shock.
The carriage driver cleared his throat delicately. "I do not wish to interrupt your reunion," he said, "but have I leave to depart? Will my Lady be welcome here?"
Finrod started. "Yes. Yes, she will. Thank you for waiting with her." He let go of Celebrían's hands and reached into his belt pouch, producing a few coins. These he dropped into the driver's hands. "That is for your pains. Do you require anything else?"
"No, my Lord. Thank you." The driver nodded and left. Finrod turned to the others.
"You may return to your posts," he told the gatekeepers. "You have done well. Linwë?"
The footman bowed. "My Lord?"
"Please bring my niece's baggage. We must go directly to the palace. The King and Queen will be overjoyed." With that, Finrod offered Celebrían his arm, and they set out along the gravel pathway.
When they arrived at the palace, Finrod sent Linwë ahead to advise the King and Queen of their arrival. He led Celebrían to a courtyard near the throne room to await their summons. Though the courtyard held many beds of sweet flowers and fruit trees, Celebrían was immediately drawn to a stand of bushes covered in small, nubbly orange fruits.
"What are these?" she asked. "They smell intriguing. Sweet, and yet sharp. I do not think I have ever seen their like."
Finrod laughed. "Those are kumquats," he said. "My grandfather, High King Finwë, planted kumquat bushes in that spot when he first built the palace, long before the rising of the Sun and the Moon. My father and my uncles loved the fruits, and Grandfather would always make sure to bring at least a small basket whenever he came to visit us."
His expression turned inward for a moment, as if he were remembering something bittersweet. "I think that my father maintains this stand of bushes for constancy," he added. "Even in the peace of Aman, there is change, but there will always be kumquat bushes in this courtyard."
"I understand," Celebrían murmured. She thought of Elrond, faithfully keeping the seasonal rituals of Imladris, nourishing his sense of permanence with each repetition. Then she imagined the disruption of those rituals that her absence must have wrought, and a lump swelled painfully in her throat. She turned her face away from Finrod and carefully did not think about Elrond.
But Finrod was perceptive, and he had seen something in her eyes as her thoughts had changed. "You are thinking of someone you love, are you not?" he asked gently. "Your husband, perhaps?"
"I could see your love for him shining in your eyes when we first met," Finrod said. "I would like to hear about him one day, if you are willing to speak. He must be an extraordinary man, to be worthy of my sister's daughter."
Celebrían giggled. "Yes," she said. "He is that, and more. I will tell you of him, uncle, but not now."
"Later," Finrod agreed.
Linwë returned, and decorously cleared his throat to announce his present. "My Lord Findarato, my Lady Celebrían," he said. "High King Arafinwë and Queen Eärwen desire your presence in the reception hall."
Finrod and Celebrían exchanged a glance. Finrod rose and offered his arm. "Come," he said. "I will escort you."
Celebrían gratefully took her uncle's arm. She willed herself not to shake, but Finrod perceived her nervousness anyway. He laughed a little, and patted her hand. "You have nothing to fear," he told her. "My lord father and my lady mother are kind, compassionate people. They await no foreign embassy, but their own granddaughter. And they are likely just as nervous as you at the prospect."
Celebrían straightened her spine and lifted her chin. She took a deep breath, and nodded to Finrod. "You are correct. I am ready."
With that, they walked together into the main body of the palace.
Celebrían's first impression of the reception hall was its immense size. Ornate carpets and tapestries dazzled the eye, and cleverly placed mirrors and prisms scattered and magnified the light from the tall windows. Somehow, in the middle of this dazzling splendor, Celebrían located the two carven chairs on a low dais at the far end of the room.
The two who waited there were as fair as children who have known only love and kindness, yet they were also crowned with the wisdom and dignity of their years. Arafinwë was proud and straight, and his shining golden hair flowed down his back, but there was a softness to his jaw that spoke of mercy and reflection. Eärwen had bound her silver hair with cords, but a few tendrils hung free to curl about her face. Her eyes, as gray as the sea, twinkled with a secret mischief that even her years as Queen could not dampen. Now that she saw them, Celebrían could appreciate how their qualities had combined in the person of their formidable daughter. Almost before she had time to think, she dropped a graceful curtsey before them.
"My Lord," she murmured. "My Lady."
Eärwen rose to her feet and hurried to Celebrían's side. Taking Celebrían's face in her hands, she raised her from the curtsey. "Do not bow before me, granddaughter," she said. "Look into my eyes, so that I may see your face."
Celebrían looked at Eärwen, too overcome to speak. Eärwen's eyes filled with tears, and her lips curled into a blissful smile as she traced Celebrían's features with her gentle fingers. "I see Artanis in you," she said. "My daughter's daughter has come to us at last." She turned and beckoned Arafinwë. "Come, my love, and see your kinswoman."
Arafinwë stumbled towards them as if in a daze. "There is much of Artanis in you," he said, "yet I see also the mark of your sire, the Prince of Doriath. I did not dare to dream that I would see a child of that marriage, especially not one so beautiful." He opened his arms and embraced Eärwen and Celebrían together, sighing contentedly. After a moment, he drew Finrod into the embrace.
"My wife," he murmured. "My son. My granddaughter. My family begins to return to me."
Celebrían's knees wobbled a little, but safe in the arms of her kin, she did not mind. She remembered the day that Arwen had taken her first steps, the look of excitement and apprehension on her little face as she had let go of the wall and moved forward under her own power. She had waddled perhaps ten steps to reach Celebrían's outstretched arms, and had then toppled into her mother's embrace with a look of relief and achievement. Celebrían suspected that the look on her own face now was not much different. She had dared to leave the safety of Lórien and throw herself upon the mercy of kin she had never met. Now it seemed that her efforts had been rewarded. She had lost her husband and children, but she had gained an uncle and two loving grandparents. It was not much, but it was a start.