Chapter 24: Partings
Caladhel grew teary-eyed as Celebrían farewelled her mother and father. She had promised her cousin she would not cry, and so Caladhel forced the tears back from her eyes. She would not break her word, at least, not until Celebrían was out of sight.
A shadow to her left drew Caladhel's gaze and she found herself in the company of Lord Elrond. He smiled and nodded in greeting.
"Caladhel, I had hoped to speak with you a moment alone before we departed."
Caladhel returned his smile with her own. "You appear to be in luck. Is there something I can do for you?"
"No," said Elrond. "I merely wanted to thank you."
"For whatever it was you said to Thranduil."
"What do you mean?" Caladhel had said quite a few things to Thranduil during the past few days, and was not quite sure to which Elrond was referring.
"He asked for my aid yesterday, quite unexpectedly."
"The smiths?" she asked.
Caladhel had no wish to take credit for Thranduil's idea, and was quick to correct him on the matter. "The idea was his alone, I promise you. I had no part in the forming of it. All I did was assure him you would not refuse his request."
"I suspect he would have doubted me more, if so counseled by another. You hold more sway over him than you realize."
Caladhel was surprised by Elrond's opinion of her and found herself altogether uncomfortable with the notion. Her gaze strayed from Elrond's face to her cousin, who was at that moment mounting her horse.
"I have given your Lord Erestor our recipe for honey cakes," she said, changing the subject entirely. "It is Celebrían's favorite dessert. I wanted to be sure she had a taste of home."
Elrond politely allowed Caladhel to skirt the topic of Thranduil and turned his attention to his wife.
"I will see the kitchen receives it," Elrond replied. And noting Caladhel's struggle with her tears, he took hold of both her hands and held them tightly.
"I will cherish her, all the days of my life."
"I know it," Caladhel replied. "She will be happy in Imladris. You will both be… so very happy."
"You must visit us soon."
"I will," she promised. "Good journey, Elrond."
"And to you, my lady, a fond farewell."
A minute later the Lord of Imladris mounted his horse and directed the animal to his wife's side. Together they waved their final goodbyes. The train of their company filed forth from the gate, and when Caladhel at last lost sight of Celebrían, she allowed her tears free rein.
Thranduil watched Caladhel from afar as she bid her cousin and Elrond a final goodbye. He moved through the crowd to her side as the last of Elrond's company disappeared through the gate. The crowd began to disperse, but Caladhel's gaze remained fixed upon the path leading westward. There was pain in her eyes and tears upon her cheeks.
Thranduil found himself angered by the sight of them.
It was absurd, he knew, but still, a part of him wished to throttle Elrond and Celebrían for causing Caladhel such pain. He wanted to reach out, to take her his arms and comfort her, but feared to do so. He, too, had once brought Caladhel to tears, and the shame of that memory stayed him. All he could manage was to raise his hand, and with the backs of his fingers, wipe the tears from her cheek.
Caladhel was startled by the contact, distracted as she was by her cousin's departure. She smiled up at Thranduil through tear filled eyes. "I am happy she is happy, but it is a difficult parting."
"I understand," said Thranduil. "You will see her again soon. She goes not to Valinor or to Mandos."
"I know," Caladhel replied, "but she has always been a sister to me. We were born but three years apart and have spent no more than six months out of each other's company."
Caladhel's description of her cousin reminded Thranduil much of him and Brandil. The circumstances of his and Brandil's parting were very different, of course, and so was the outcome. All the same, Thranduil knew the pain of parting with a brother. His heart ached to know that Caladhel felt even a sliver of that loss.
Thranduil wished to say something more to comfort her, but was not afforded the opportunity, as their conversation was interrupted by an unexpected guest.
Caladhel looked down to find little Rumil tugging at her skirt, his eyes brimming with tears. He stretched his arms out to her in a silent plea. She picked him up and he locked his tiny arms around her neck.
"Rumil, what is wrong?"
"Don't go," he cried.
"Oh, hush now," she said, rubbing his back to soothe him. "I am not going anywhere."
"I understand. You will miss Celebrían. I will miss her as well. But she will be so happy in her new home, so we must be happy, too."
"No," he moaned.
Before Caladhel could say more to comfort the child, another voice called out his name. "Rumil! There you are, you little sprite." Maerwen rushed across the lawn to her son's side. To Caladhel, she said, "I am so sorry. He slipped away in the bustle."
"No apology is necessary," Caladhel replied. "I am always delighted to see Rumil."
Only after securing her son's whereabouts did Maerwen realize she was in the presence of Greenwood's king. She bowed hastily in greeting. "Forgive my rudeness, King Thranduil. I hope you are well this day."
Thranduil nodded to Lord Thandaer's wife and would have returned her greeting had he not been interrupted a second time by little Rumil.
"No king," said Rumil, with a surprising amount of force.
All three elves' attention was drawn to Rumil, who leaned back now from Caladhel's embrace, rubbing his eyes with his hands.
"What darling?" Maerwen asked, unsure of what her son meant.
"Amroth king!" the boy exclaimed.
Caladhel could not help but laugh at the indignant expression on the child's face. "This is King Thranduil," she explained. "He is king of a different forest called Greenwood. Amroth is king of Lothlórien."
The lines upon Rumil's brow furrowed as he attempted to process the news that Lórien did not encompass the entire world.
"Would you like to visit his forest with me some day?" Caladhel asked.
"No," Rumil grumbled.
Caladhel and Maerwen shared a look of silent laughter. "Very well then," said Caladhel, "maybe you will change your mind when you are older."
"Come along, Rumil," said Maerwen. "Say goodbye to Caladhel and King Thranduil."
Rumil responded to his mother's instruction by throwing his arms around Caladhel's neck once more. "No! Calad stay!"
"Alright, sweetheart," Caladhel cooed as she stroked his hair to calm him. "We will not say goodbye. We will say good day."
Rumil found this compromise acceptable. He loosened his hold on Caladhel and with a sniffle offered her a "Good day."
"Good day," Caladhel replied, and she kissed Rumil on his forehead before passing him off to his mother.
Thranduil looked on silently as this strange scene between Rumil and Caladhel unfolded before him. He found the child's fear to be irrational, and would likely have told him so had he been in Caladhel's shoes. She wisely took a different tack, and managed to calm him with gentler truths than Thranduil could have conjured in that moment.
Their conversation disturbed him, but Thranduil could not immediately identify the reason why. His gaze followed Maerwen and her son as they rejoined their kin. The elleth passed her youngest off to Haldir who had his other brother firmly in hand. Haldir escorted both children back along the path towards the city center. Upon sighting Haldir, Thranduil recognized what it was about Rumil and Caladhel's conversation that troubled him.
'I am not going anywhere.'
Thranduil's rational mind knew she had said so to ease the child's fears and that her words were not spoken as a promise held for all time. Despite this knowledge, a spark of jealousy ignited in his heart at the sincerity of her promise not to leave him.
"What is that look upon your face?" Caladhel asked, for she noted his attention remained on Rumil long after his departure.
"It is nothing," he said.
"It is something."
Thranduil knew he would not escape an answer, for Caladhel studied him now with a curious intensity. He conceded defeat and shared with her his thoughts, embarrassing though they were. "I see now, I have feared the wrong brother."
It was a moment before Caladhel understood Thranduil's meaning. When it became clear to her, a smile lit her eyes and she laughed. Her humor was short-lived, however, for no sooner had her spirit lifted than her gaze fell upon her aunt, held now in her uncle's embrace. Even at a distance, Caladhel could see the tears falling from her eyes.
"I must go to my aunt," she said.
Thranduil's gaze followed hers to Celeborn and his wife. He wanted to curse them, too, for drawing Caladhel's attention away from him, but could not muster the anger with which to do so. For as great as his dislike was of Galadriel, her sorrow was palpable, and Thranduil understood Caladhel's want to comfort her kin.
"May I call upon you later?"
Caladhel thought on his question a moment before shaking her head. "I will find you, after."
Thranduil watched Caladhel join her aunt. She locked arms with the lady and the pair disappeared along the path leaving Lord Celeborn alone at the gate. He made no motion to depart, but stood staring out the city in the direction his daughter's company traveled. Thranduil silently debated whether or not he should approach Lord Celeborn at present, for the ellon's focus clearly remained on his daughter. In that moment, Thranduil was reminded of his conversation with Elrond and an odd notion came to his mind, to act as a distraction for Elrond one last time.
Ten paces later, Thranduil stood at Celeborn's side. "Lord Celeborn."
Celeborn's gaze abandoned the gate and turned to guest. "King Thranduil. I thank you and your court for joining us to farewell my daughter."
'Was sleeping in an option?' was the first response that came to mind, but Thranduil was wise enough to go with, "Thanks are unnecessary."
Celeborn was fully aware that he and Thranduil were the last of the morning's party remaining at the gate, and while Celeborn knew his own reason for lingering, Thranduil's purpose was less clear.
"Is there something I can do for you?" Celeborn asked.
"I wished to inform you that my company will depart on the morrow."
Celeborn nodded. "Amroth passed along the news last night."
Thranduil expected as much, but thought it an appropriate prelude to his true reason for seeking Celeborn out. "I wished for you to know, also, that I have invited Caladhel to visit Greenwood for the Starlight Feast."
Celeborn's surprise registered on his face. He had not expected the Greenwood king's pursuit of his niece to progress so swiftly. "And her answer?"
"She has yet to offer one."
Celeborn's surprise was replaced swiftly by confusion. "Why tell me now, when you know not her decision?"
"I did not want the news to come as a surprise to you, should she choose to accept my invitation."
Celeborn was silent for a time while he studied the young king at his side. Thranduil was skilled, indeed, at concealing his emotions, but he could not quite hide his unease. Celeborn felt a pang of guilt at causing the ellon added doubt, for he knew it to be a heavy burden already.
"I feel I owe you an apology," said Celeborn.
"For my words to you the other night. They were spoken in anger."
"Any anger you felt towards me was well justified."
"Maybe so," Celeborn conceded, "but it was unfair of me to attribute a victory to Elrond that was not his to claim."
Thranduil did not quite understand Celeborn's confession. His confusion was not lost on Celeborn, who endeavored to explain.
"It was my daughter's love for Elrond that proved his worth," said Celeborn. "No action large or small on his part could have persuaded me of it."
Celeborn offered the young king a smile. It was not quite an encouragement, nor by any means a threat. "You have won Caladhel's forgiveness, her attention, perhaps even her trust, but you do not yet hold her heart. If ever the day comes that you do, you will find me no great obstacle."
Thranduil's spirit lifted at this news, but the Lord of Lórien was not finished.
"That being said, if Caladhel decides to visit Greenwood, you should expect to host me as well. I have some matters of state to discuss with your uncle, and I suspect you will require someone other than your aunt to keep Lord Túven distracted."
Thranduil very nearly cringed at the thought of the confrontation to come with his uncle, and was not surprised by Celeborn's perceptiveness in the matter. Túven's opinion of Celeborn and his kin was no great secret.
"Your assistance in that regard would be most welcome."
Celeborn smiled and nodded. He took one last glance out the gate before turning back towards the city. "If you will excuse me, it would appear the world has not ended, despite my daughter leaving us. I have duties to which I must attend. Good day, King Thranduil."
"Good day, Lord Celeborn."
It was several hours before Caladhel was able to shoo the last of the well-meaning ladies from her aunt's chambers. They cleared away the plates from the midday meal and from afternoon tea as well on their way out. Caladhel shut the door firmly behind them.
She returned to the terrace where her aunt sat alone working on a bit a lace. On any other day she would have laughed at the sight. Galadriel despised needlework as much as she did, but clearly her aunt was in want of distraction. She began to think that turning the ladies out might not have been wise, despite her aunt's plea for peace.
Galadriel set the lace aside at Caladhel's return. Her eyes betrayed embarrassment at being caught in the midst of such a task. "I miss her so," said Galadriel, "and she has not been gone half a day."
Caladhel settled herself in her usual spot. A small, elegantly crafted chair set to the right of her aunt's divan. "I know," Caladhel replied. It was little comfort, but the best she could offer.
Galadriel rose from her seat and moved to the edge of the balcony. She looked northwest out across the city. Caladhel wondered how far the ring allowed her to see, and if she could, at that moment, spy her daughter crossing the mountain.
"I understand now the pain my own mother must have felt when my brothers and I departed across the sea."
"She is not crossing Belegaer, only the mountains."
"I know it," Galadriel replied, "but the distance matters little to my heart."
"We will visit her soon enough." And pointing to the table in the corner, Caladhel added, "In a month a letter will arrive requesting that vase."
Galadriel's laughter was heartfelt, for she knew her niece was right. "She will want her bowl, as well."
When Galadriel's laughter subsided, her focus returned to her niece. She found Caladhel's attention on the sky. The younger elleth was clearly troubled by the sun's position. "You need not sit with me if you have somewhere else to be."
Caladhel, embarrassed at being caught distracted, tried her best to reassure. "No, I… I am here."
"But your thoughts are elsewhere," Galadriel replied. "Why should the sun's course worry you so?"
"It is well past midday," said Caladhel, though she knew this did not quite answer her aunt's question.
"So it is." Galadriel smiled gently. She knew the cause of Caladhel's concern. There would be others departing Lórien soon enough. "Thranduil lingered beneath these trees longer than I expected."
Caladhel was not surprised that her aunt saw to the heart of the matter. She was, however, puzzled by her statement. "He stayed for the council," said Caladhel.
Caladhel was always amazed by her aunt's ability to convey great meaning in a few simple words. They had not previously spoken of Thranduil or her visit to Greenwood. It was a topic Galadriel had not pressed and Caladhel had carefully avoided. Caladhel sensed there would be no avoiding it now.
Galadriel came silently to her niece's side. With a delicate hand, she lifted Caladhel's chin to draw her eyes. "I saw him take hold of you in the mirror. His anger was great in that moment."
"Yes, it was."
"You have forgiven him, but he will never forgive himself."
Caladhel suspected her aunt was right, but she knew Thranduil's guilt was not the reason Galadriel spoke on the matter. Her aunt knew it was Thranduil's distrust of her that sparked his anger, and Caladhel wished to know how much of his fears and suspicions were true.
"Thranduil believes you and Elrond distrust him," said Caladhel. "Is he right?"
Galadriel did not answer her niece's question right away, nor did she answer it directly. "Oropher disliked me and my brothers visiting Doriath. He thought we brought danger to their kingdom. The unease he felt toward me, he passed on to his son."
"I am sure you are right," Caladhel replied, "but you do not answer my question."
"Why should my thoughts on him matter? Do you not wish to make up your own mind about him?"
"I will make up my own mind, but how can you expect me to make a wise decision until I hear your thoughts?" Caladhel waited for her aunt to protest. When no argument seemed forthcoming, she pressed again. "Thranduil claimed Gil-galad withheld the ring from his father because of him."
Under normal circumstances Galadriel would not be inclined to discuss such matters, but she knew Caladhel did not ask these questions merely to sate her curiosity. "He is not wrong," Galadriel said. "Gil-galad believed one of the rings should go to Oropher, but Elrond counseled him against it, and I agreed with him. Lord Círdan had long been a loyal friend and ally to our people. Giving him a ring made sense, so to guard our means of passage across the sea."
"But why withhold the ring from Oropher at all?"
"I think you know why."
Caladhel did know, but she did not understand. "They are only scars," she said.
"Perhaps," Galadriel replied, "or perhaps not. The dragons were made by Morgoth through dark sorcery and the twisting of Maiar who served him. What powers they possessed, even the Valar may not know for sure. Of one thing we can be certain. Time alone cannot heal those wounded by their flames."
"And that is why you distrust him, because his body cannot heal?"
"Of course not."
Galadriel hesitated a moment before she answered, "When I seek him in the mirror, I cannot see him clearly. There is always a shadow upon him, as if he were half-bathed in light and half in darkness."
Caladhel was troubled by Galadriel's description, a fact that was not lost on her aunt.
"My answer troubles you. Will you tell me why?"
Caladhel was not certain how to answer, or if she should do so at all. "I do not wish to betray his trust."
"I understand," Galadriel replied.
Caladhel struggled with what to tell Galadriel, not knowing whether the information she possessed would ease her aunt's fears or deepen them. She suspected Thranduil would not care for her sharing this secret with Galadriel, but Caladhel believed it might hold the answer to healing him, and if any in Middle-earth might know a way, it would be her aunt.
"I touched Thranduil's cheek, what remains of it. He said it was the first time he felt any sensation there since the dragon burned him. He said I made him feel whole again."
"Have you heard of such a thing before?"
"No," Galadriel replied. "I have not."
Dismayed, a cloud of sadness settled upon Caladhel's heart. She wished to see Thranduil healed, truly, but feared no power to achieve that end might exist.
Recalling her conversation with Thranduil at the falls, she said, "I think he thinks he loves me."
Galadriel laughed softly at her niece's choice of words. Thranduil's interest in Caladhel was more than obvious to those who took the time to observe him. It was Caladhel's feelings that were less than clear.
"And what is it you feel for him?"
"I am not sure," she admitted. "When we first came to Lórien, and I met Amroth, I thought then I knew what love was. I thought it a fire sparked in an instant, not a seed planted that might grow and change with time."
"What has changed?" Galadriel asked.
"Everything," Caladhel replied, "and nothing." She lifted her eyes to find her aunt's attention fixed upon her. Caladhel knew her answer made no sense, and tried her best to explain. "He sees me," she said. "All of me. Not only the surface, but what lies beneath. Even when he distrusted me, he saw me."
"How do you mean?"
"When we first met, he regarded me highly enough to consider me a threat."
"Now he values my thoughts enough to listen when I speak."
A smile crept across Galadriel's face for she understood her niece's meaning all too well. "To be the object of another's desire is flattering, but it is also common. To be held in respect as an equal is a far more precious gift."
Those were Caladhel's thoughts exactly and she did not find it surprising that her aunt understood. "I do not think he would want me to be less than I am."
Galadriel took up a stray lock of Caladhel's hair and tucked it lovingly behind her ear. "A precious gift, indeed."
Caladhel waited for her aunt to say more, to offer advice or caution. Neither came, but in the silence a long held question rose to the fore of Caladhel's mind. It seemed no better time to ask it.
"Why did you marry my uncle?"
Galadriel laughed at her niece's question and the tone in which it was asked. "Many reasons," she replied. "Or perhaps, just one."
"What reason would that be?"
"He disagreed with me."
"He disagreed? That is all?"
Galadriel smiled at the look of disbelief upon her niece's face. "The first time I came to Doriath, I had an argument with my uncle and his court regarding my cousins. Celeborn spoke out against my position quite forcefully. I turned a glare upon him, one that oft made the lords of my father's house tremble, but Celeborn did not flinch or avert his gaze, nor did he change his opinion to agree with mine. I think I loved him then."
A year ago Caladhel could not have fathomed that a love as strong as her aunt and uncle's could be born from an argument. She could imagine it more easily now.
"Thranduil asked me to visit Greenwood again," said Caladhel. "I must give him an answer tonight."
"Have you made your decision?"
"I had hoped your mirror might show me the path."
"It might," Galadriel replied. "It might also lead you astray."
"Would you allow me to look?"
"I would counsel you against it. There is no telling what visions the mirror might offer up, and it may be centuries before you understand what you saw in the water's depths."
"Have you seen anything that you would share with me?"
"I choose not to look into the futures of those I love."
"But you looked into mine."
So she had, once a day, every day, until Caladhel returned home to them. "I did, for your uncle's sake."
"What did you see?"
"The past, mostly."
"And what else?"
"Nothing of importance."
Caladhel was not convinced. She doubted any vision summoned in the mirror could be unimportant. "So tell me something unimportant. Please."
Galadriel tried to resist her niece's plea, but she was in no state this day for a battle of wills. She knew, also, that to deny Caladhel's request would only result in her choosing to face the mirror herself. Galadriel did not think doing so would be wise or helpful.
And so, Galadriel drew forth from her memory the many visions laid out when she sought her niece in the mirror. Most were of events long past and a few of her days spent in Greenwood. Only a handful of visions came to Galadriel void of circumstance, the shadows of things that might one day be. Galadriel would find herself hard pressed to convey most of those visions in words, for they meant nothing to her at present. But there was one vision among them that required no great wisdom to comprehend.
"I saw a child practicing his archery."
For a moment Caladhel considered herself mistaken, for a child with a bow could hardly be counted a vision grand. And yet, she could not help but think the mirror would not show her aunt such a scene unless there was some deeper meaning behind it, unless the child was important to them all.
"What did he look like?" she asked.
Galadriel smiled at the memory of the boy, his silver blond hair and piercing blue eyes. "He looked like you… and Thranduil."
It was past nightfall when Caladhel set out in search of Thranduil. She went first to his talan, but Beleth told her she had not seen him since they fared well Celebrían earlier that day. She circled the city, stopping at Amroth's talan, the training fields, the library, and finally the banquet hall. At a loss, she headed back to her talan and was surprised to find Thranduil awaiting her, seated upon her father's chair. He rose to greet her as she approached.
"I have been looking for you everywhere," said Caladhel. "I did not expect to find you here."
"My apologies," said Thranduil. "I grew restless and decided to wander the city's paths one last time. I ended up here, and thought it as good a place as any to await you."
"Except that it was the last place I looked."
Thranduil frowned. "I admit, I did not think that part through."
"No matter now," said Caladhel, waving his concern away. "I have found you."
"So you have."
An uncomfortable silence followed Thranduil's words, for neither one of them knew quite what to say on this, their final evening in Lothlórien. Thranduil ran his fingers absently along the arm of Caladhel's chair, tracing the design he had been studying while awaiting her return.
Caladhel noted how his fingers followed the lines of the design. "Is my chair so fascinating?"
Thranduil withdrew his hand, embarrassed his absentminded gesture had been noticed. "The design is not one I have seen elsewhere in Lórien."
"It was not made in Lórien, but in Ost-in-Edhil."
"That explains it," said Thranduil. "It is a work of art."
"My father would thank you for saying so."
"It was made by your father?"
"As a gift for my mother. They left it to me when I decided to stay behind."
"I was under the impression your father was a warrior, not a craftsmen."
"He was both," Caladhel replied. "The first by necessity, the second by choice. He never said so, but I think in his heart he regretted following Finrod to Middle-earth. He was relieved when my mother chose to sail. It gave him all the reason he needed to leave war behind. I am certain he now spends his days crafting works of art."
Thranduil pondered the chair and Caladhel's father. "I am glad he chose to follow Finrod," he said.
"And why is that?"
"You would not be here now if he had not, and I... I do not wish to imagine a world without you."
Caladhel was touched both by Thranduil's words and the sincerity with which he spoke them. She knew him now to be incapable of flattery and did her best to accept his regard without protest. It was not easy, and a slight flush of embarrassment reddened her cheek.
"I must return to Greenwood," said Thranduil. "I have no excuses left to linger here."
"I understand. You have a kingdom to rule."
"So I do," he replied. "And you will want your promise now."
Caladhel laughed and affirmed his rather dry statement with a nod of her head. "It would be timely."
"I could simply lie to you. You know that?"
Caladhel studied Thranduil's face. His blue eyes were unreadable, his true face hidden beneath a mask of flawless grace. The truth of the matter would not be gleaned by her eyes, but by her heart, and in her heart she knew the answer.
"No," she replied. "I do not think you could."
In two steps Thranduil closed the distance between them, and standing before her, he placed his right hand upon his heart. "I will dance with you at the Starlight Feast."
Caladhel accepted his pledge with a smile and a nod of her head. "Then we shall see each other again."
Caladhel thought to bid Thranduil good night, but before she could do so she was in his arms. His left hand encircled her waist, drawing her close, and his right rose to cradle the nape of her neck. Instinct momentarily bid her to protest, but when he kissed her the will to do so vanished from her mind. All that remained was the warmth of his body, the softness of his lips and the furious beating of her heart.
Thranduil drew back a few inches to observe her reaction but did not free her from his arms. She stared up at him, breathless, at a loss for words. Upon regaining her wits, she pushed gently against his chest and in response he set her free. He said nothing, merely watched her face, waiting for her to speak. She lifted a hand to her mouth and traced her lips with her fingertips.
"Why did you do that?" she asked.
"I did not want you to forget me."
There was no doubt in Caladhel's mind he had accomplished that task, but there was something in his gaze that told her this was not his only reason. "And why else?"
Thranduil was reluctant to share his other motive, but he did so, for she asked. "Because if fate should have it that I die before the autumn feast, I wanted to have kissed you before my soul fled."
If another ellon had claimed to harbor thoughts of death while kissing her, Caladhel would have thought him strange or paranoid. She did not think so of Thranduil. She knew he did not fear death, what he feared was to find her out of reach.
Caladhel could make no promise that his life would endure another half a year, but she could offer him solace on the other matter. "I will not forget you, Thranduil. Of that, you can be sure."