Following the sound of voices in the distance, Celeborn made his way along a small brook towards the bathing pools. He was weary from the long march, leading his reduced forces over the Hithaeglir to the safety of Lórinand, and longed for nothing more than a good soak in cool water and to get properly clean again. At least his deepest worry had been set at rest, as he had been reunited with his wife and daughter who had escaped the beleaguered city by a different route.
Thankfully, Galadriel had also managed to assure the welcome of the escapees, Celeborn thought wryly, which had not been a given in view of the strained relationship between the elven settlements on both sides of the mountains. Faced with the destructive force of the common enemy who had razed most of Eregion, old hostilities became insignificant, forces were joined, and sanctuary was offered. Celeborn was not so sure about his personal welcome, though, considering his past history with Amdír, who was king of this forest. He sighed. They had shared more than a brotherly kind of friendship in the long distant days of their youth before the sun and moon had risen, until a bunch of golden-haired Noldor had appeared and Celeborn had made an utter fool of himself.
Arriving at a turn off, Celeborn started as a large shape suddenly dropping down in front of him. He took a step back, recognising the very man who had just been on his mind. Amdír. No, King Amdír, of course. Not that he looked the part, clad as he was in worn leathers and with bits of twigs and leaves in his unbound hair. Amdír looked just as in the carefree days when they had fooled around in the treetops of Doriath. He did not seem to have changed his youthful habits even as a father and a leader of a people, Celeborn thought. But he also seemed to have forgiven his old gwador, for he stood relaxed and smiling.
“Yes.” Celeborn suppressed the urge to lift his arm which held a towel and fresh clothes.
A grin flashed up in the familiar face, and Celeborn felt his free hand grabbed and himself being tugged forwards.
“Come on, I know just the spot you will like,” Amdír said, paying no heed to Celeborn’s surprised resistance.
They did not talk while they walked, Celeborn feeling heavy-footed and slow against the nimble movements of his erstwhile friend. His mind reeled. Could it be so easy, the two of them just picking up where they had left or, rather, where Celeborn had left them when he abandoned everything they shared for the stronger allure of a pair of star-lit eyes and a crown of golden hair? Not that he had been bewitched by Galadriel’s physical assets only, although, to others, it must have seemed so.
There had been painful rows, unforgivable words caused by jealousy and hurt, and the next thing Celeborn knew was Amdír having joined the Laiquendi in Ossiriand. It was also the last thing he had heard of Amdír for the longest time.
No, it would not be easy, of course not. It never was. But Amdír’s amicable manner must mean forgiveness, or at least the willingness to resume whatever kind of relationship had survived the passing years.
The distant voices grew quieter, and it was not long until only birdsong and the rustle of trees accompanied their progress. The brook had vanished, and, noticing they were no longer on a path, Celeborn wondered whether he should ask where he was truly being led. But then Amdír stopped at a couple of gnarled oaks.
A small clearing opened in front of them, drowsing in the afternoon heat, the trees low enough to let the sun fall fully onto it. Against the encircling trees, brambles and raspberry bushes showed small coloured dots of ripe fruit, while a narrow strip of forest meadow surrounded a tiny, perfectly rounded pond in the middle. It lay utterly still, with dragonflies zooming about, and a gnarled weeping willow leaning over it on the far side.
Celeborn heaved a deep sigh. It was the most beautiful sight he had seen in a long time.
“This is perfect,” he said softly, anxious not to disturb the peaceful atmosphere, “thank you for bringing me here.”
“I hoped you would like it,” said Amdír, “it is my favourite place. Nobody else comes here. Or rather, my folk manages to give me the impression.” He chuckled.
Celeborn walked forwards, picking a few blackberries, as he took in the wealth of plant and insect life flourishing around him and filling the air with sweet scents and a soft buzzing. He stepped out into the sun and stood still for a few moments, eyes closed, allowing his senses to be replenished with what had been denied to them for so long during the years of war. He had forgotten the last time he had been at leisure to admire the beauty of a flower, or to eat freshly picked blackberries just for the joy of it. The sweet aroma still lingered on his lips, and he opened his eyes again. The pond was like a huge mirror, clear enough to see small fish and pebbles on the ground.
All of a sudden, Celeborn let out a whoop of joy, pulled his clothes off hastily, and ran into the water. As soon as it was deep enough he dove, and thought he would explode with delight at the sensations of cool, clean water streaming around his body. He let himself drift forward, eyes wide open to enjoy the iridescent play of colours as the light shimmered through the now no longer still water.
Finally, he surfaced again and, turning to look for his companion, found himself face to face with him. Amdír’s wet hair gleamed like polished ebony, droplets glittered on tanned skin and long eyelashes, and a tongue touched soft lips he knew so well. Celeborn swallowed, unconsciously moving closer until their noses almost touched. He felt his heart beating quickly and smelled fresh leaves and something spicy, Amdír’s scent, familiar even after all this time. A scent reviving a plethora of memories and sensations, skills learned and pranks pulled together, pleasures and fun they had shared, falling in love and out of it, and in again, and of desire and lust.
Clear grey eyes met his, inscrutable. Amdír stood perfectly still, and Celeborn realised the choice was his, his alone.
With a deep breath, he stepped back. “Forgive me,” he whispered, “I cannot. I - it would be wrong.”
He hoped his voice did not betray that he was not sure if he believed them himself.
Amdír nodded, his eyes now sad, although the tension Celeborn had not noticed before had left him.
“I know. I do not want to make the same mistakes again. I do not want to lose you again.”
Celeborn nodded and turned, swimming away with quick strokes, trying to get his scrambled emotions under control.
When he could breathe easily again, he found Amdír under the willow, floating with his head resting on a half-submerged root, but opening his eyes when Celeborn approached. Celeborn noticed with relief that no hurt lay in his gaze, nor reproach, just open acceptance.
“I do not deserve your forgiveness,” he said, keeping a safe distance. “I have wronged you so badly.”
“That you have,” Amdír admitted. “But that does not mean that I cannot grant it, does it?”
They exchanged a glance and, then, a warm smile.
“Well, I certainly do not deserve you, that much is true.”
Celeborn submerged again to get a handful of sand from the ground, and started scrubbing his face, hands and arms with it. Amdír watched him, a smile playing on his lips. Celeborn was relieved that the look of these lips now no longer caused an immediate response of his body, although his desire was not gone, just tightly reined in again.
“Come,” Amdír said, “let me care for you like a gwador would for a warrior weary from battle.”
Celeborn snorted, but gladly turned around to let the other unbraid his hair. “Weary from my own foolishness, rather.”
“Oh?” Amdír’s fingers were making quick work with the tangled and somewhat grubby braids at Celeborn’s temples, which had not been undone since they had left the city.
“I should have accepted defeat much earlier, taken my people and left. It was a vain hope from the start that we might persist in view of such a disparity of forces. Far too many have perished in the attempt to hold the city, and more when we made our escape.”
Celeborn was grateful that Amdír did not comment, or try to appease him. He let his thoughts wander while his braids were untangled and combed out with the other’s fingers, and when these started to dig into the knotted muscles of his back, he let his head drop forward with a contented moan.
“You always loved this, no matter if you needed it or not,” Amdír remarked.
Celeborn chuckled. “As did you.” Wistfully, he continued: “I wish we could be gwedeir again, and just forget what has happened since.”
Amdír stopped, letting his hands rest on Celeborn’s shoulders. “Forgetting what has happened is impossible, and would be foolish. But I see no reason why we should, indeed, not become gwedeir a second time. We have both grown beyond our youthful foolishness, and are able to weigh want against reason.”
Celeborn turned around to meet Amdír’s gaze. “When did you become so wise?”
A mischievous grin answered him. “You are not the only one who has led peoples, or founded a family.”
“No, indeed nod.”
Celeborn drew a deep breath, feeling tension and fear slide away from him, and suddenly knew that he could do this. Could stay here, at one of the few places left that might offer a future for their kind, where they might thrive despite the omnipresent enemy. Knew it would be possible to live with his wife and daughter and also the man he had loved before them, albeit in a different way, and find new ways to love them all, be true to them, but also true to himself.
Amdír had resumed his massage, a bit gentler perhaps this time, more familiar and less functional. With a smile, he said: “Perhaps I should also tell you that your wife and I have made peace with each other. She does not begrudge you what you feel for me. I cannot speak for her, of course, but things might not be as difficult as you fear.”
~ finis ~