The thin game trail stretched eastward towards the Anduin, obscured in many places by golden leaves that had been shed from the mallorn trees surrounding him, stretching their branches towards the sun high above. He walked beneath the golden boughs, looked up and sighed. The canopy was already losing some of the golden glow that had suffused it while Nenya had been borne on the hand of his wife. But she was gone. The ship taking her West had left the Havens and he was now alone.
The leaves whispered above him, words almost forming from the gentle sibilant sounds. He felt that if he concentrated harder he could understand their subtle language. Walking slowly he moved from tree to tree, reaching out to many and sending messages through his hands to each one he touched.
'I remember when you were a sapling, now you've grown straight and tall.'
'Yes, I am leaving, but you will grace this soil for many years yet to come and still be cherished and thanked by those who walk near you or who alight on your branches.’
Exiting a copse, he looked ahead. Cerin Amroth began its rise directly in front of him. ‘I remember sitting underneath the great central mallorn watching Celebrían and Rúmil chase butterflies among the elanor and niphredil,' he reminisced. 'She tried so hard to catch them and was always surprised when the little winged ones flitted away, out of her grasp.’ The memory brought a faint smile to his face.
He walked closer to the hill and began walking up its flower-strewn slope. Passing through the two great circles of trees, he came at last to the singular guardian at the pinnacle of the rounded peak. Approaching it he embraced it, placing his hands and forehead against its trunk.
‘She has left these shores, and I cannot bear staying here alone. You have been a friend to me and to mine for many long years. I bid you farewell and offer you my thanks.’
'Climb up one last time.' A rich deep tone heavy with soil and warm sun now sounded its response in his mind. 'Come and feel the wind. Hear the breeze as it sings and watch it as it plays catch-me with the sunlight through my leaves. You are welcome in my branches, Lord of Lothlórien.' A strong feeling of desire overcame his hesitation and he began stepping up the ladder to the large flet suspended high above in the silvered light-kissed canopy.
Reaching the platform he sat silently, listening to the wind and watching the clouds move across the sky until the sun was setting. Then he stood and looked around him slowly. To the east he saw the ribbon of the River Anduin and the forests beyond. These lands were now settled by many of his people who were calling the land 'East Lórien'. They had moved across the ford with the blessings of King Thranduil who took all of the forests of Eryn Lasgalen north of the Narrows as his own realm, ceding East Lórien to Celeborn's people and a portion at the Bight to the Beornings.
‘The white city of Minas Tirith lies to the south,’ he thought as he turned that direction. “I could go south and stay with Arwen and Aragorn. They have already welcomed their first child; it would be pleasant to see him and watch him grow.’
Aragorn was proving to be a wise and steadfast king, a good listener and a careful legislator. The people seemed to follow his lead willingly and embraced his rule. ‘No,’ he shook his head. ‘There is not enough green in the white city and I would always feel that I was a guest, not a resident. I would be uncomfortable and miss the trees after a short time.’
His grandsons, the twin sons of Elrond and Celebrían, were spending much of their time in Minas Tirith. He had spoken with them about their plans the night after Elrond, Galadriel and the periannath had sailed for Valinor. The three of them had shared a quiet meal together and they had talked late into the night.
“We will be spending as much time with Arwen and Aragorn as we can, Grandfather,” Elladan said. “Many of the elves living in Imladris have already left. They either took ship with Father and Grandmother, or they chose to move east to dwell with Thranduil and his people. A few have moved to East Lórien, and some even have gone farther south and are helping to cleanse and replant Ithilien with Thranduil's son, Legolas.”
“Even though many of our people have left the Hidden Valley,” Elrohir continued when his Twin fell silent, “some still remain and others will come into the Valley. By Father's instructions we have opened the Valley to any who may wish to dwell there, including the Dunedain and even the dwarves. We still need a presence there to help get these new residents settled and to assist in the resolution of any disputes.”
Elladan picked the thread up once more. “Grandfather, it would ease our minds if you would take on this task for us. Lindir and his Sylvan lover still live in the main house, along with a skeleton staff. Lindir is going through what Father left in the library, choosing those volumes that still must be brought to the West, and sending other books and scrolls east to King Thranduil.
“We promised Arwen that we would stay with her and give her support when her choice becomes too difficult. We will not leave these shores until after our sister has passed from this world. If...when...when we decide to sail, the last items from the library will go with us. It is our hope that you will also sail with us.”
“We won't be completely out of touch,” Elrohir continued. “We will be going back and forth from Minas Tirith to Imladris often. Imladris is our home and we love it. Arwen's choice merely means that we will have to split our lives between the two cities.”
In the morning they had taken to the road in silence. Nothing had been decided, but the options had been presented. The choice of his leaving Lothlórien and still having other tasks and realms to visit ran through his thoughts. Rather than return directly to the Golden Wood, he decided to visit Thranduil first before going south.
He stayed only a few nights in Imladris, then traveled north across the Misty Mountains towards the High Pass. There were few passages across the sharp snow-covered peaks of the mountains and this one was closest to the pathway crossing through Thranduil’s woods. He traveled alone, against the wishes of his grandsons, feeling that a single traveler was unlikely to call much attention, opposed to a group of riders.
By the time he had crossed the High Pass entering the woods on the Old Forest Road, he had killed several smaller bands of orcs and was beginning to think that a second or third person as a companion would have been a good idea after all. He was dirty, short-tempered, and tired. His horse was limping from a knife cut. The wound wasn’t poisoned and he had hopes that his steed would fully recover after a few days of rest. He saw the full-growth forest ahead of him and quickened his pace.
‘Peace. There is peace in the Greenwood now,’ he thought as he entered the eaves. The sounds of birds and smaller animals so familiar to forest environments hit his ears. Taking in a deep breath, he smelled the verdant air and smiled. ‘Finally, I am back in a forest again. There are trees in Imladris, true, but nothing like the great forests.’
Within a few miles he had company. He could sense the measured paces of those following above him in the branches. Shortly afterward he heard the sharp command “Halt” from above him and three of Thranduil’s warriors dropped onto the path ahead of him.
The green and brown-clad elf in the center bowed low. “My lord Celeborn,” he said. “King Thranduil bids you welcome and asks that we escort you through the forest to his dwelling.”
Celeborn was not surprised that Thranduil knew of his arrival in the Greenwood. Had the tables been turned and it was the Forest King entering his own Golden Wood, he also would have immediately known about the presence of his guest. Each ruler was in tune with his kingdom and all that happened within its borders.
“My horse has been injured,” Celeborn said. “I’m afraid I must move a bit slower to accommodate his wound.”
“We will lead him by easy paths, yet take his burdens and yourself on the tree paths. We will care well for him, never fear, and he will rejoin you within a few days.”
Celeborn nodded assent and another eight elves dropped down from the canopy above. A young elf came towards his horse which snorted and reared, drawing back both in warning and confusion. Then the elf began softly speaking to the horse which stood still, shaking. Approaching closer, the elf whispered into his horse’s cupped ear. Turning towards the Elf Lord, the youth bowed. “He has given me permission to lead him and attempt to cure his wound. I look forward to sharing stories with him; it seems he has many to tell.” The youth and Celeborn exchanged smiles. Soon Celeborn’s baggage had been taken off his horse and distributed among his escort of four. The former ruler of Lothlórien was high in the branches above walking the tree roads towards the King’s fortress.
The elves led him to a swiftly rushing stream that fed into a small pool. Finally he was able to bathe and change into clean clothing. “I think I forgot how wonderful being clean can feel,” he said as he rejoined the elves acting as his guard and escort. He sat down near a small, contained cooking fire that had been set near the pool. Some fish were nearby, skewered on sticks ready to be placed over the fire, and some cress was laid upon flat rocks around the flames, slowly steaming.
He rummaged for his comb in his rucksack, taking it out and beginning to work through the snarls of his wet hair. A hand touched his. “Let me do this for you, Lord. Sit and relax.” The elf’s hands were gentle and coaxed the snarls out of his hair swiftly. Celeborn was so relaxed that he fell asleep with his head on his bent knees, feeling safe for the first time in several long weeks.
His eyes opened suddenly. ‘Where am I?’ momentarily flashed through his mind. He realized that a blanket had been spread over him, then he noticed the small fire of banked coals in front of him and the three blanketed bodies sleeping around it. Awareness returned to him. Standing up and swirling his blanket around him for added warmth, he walked over to the lone guard on duty.
He was greeted softly. “My Lord, we saved some dinner for you. Sit, I’ll get it and bring it back here.” Celeborn placed his blanket on the ground and sat down. Leaning back on his hands, he looked at the stars as they shone through the blackness of the tree tops.
“If I am not too forward, what are you thinking of, Lord? You look deep in thought and I almost was afraid to disturb you,” the guard said as he handed a trencher of cooked fish and vegetables to Celeborn and placed a skin of wine next to him.
He began eating the flavorful fish and greens. After he was finished he leaned back once more and propping himself up on one arm, he waved his free arm at the sky above. The stars were shining strongly through the leafy canopy high above him. He picked up the conversation from earlier. “I was thinking about the stars. I have missed the luxury of taking time to truly look at them. When the moon and sun came into this world so much changed.”
“You were here before the great lights?”
“I was part of the Great Journey but stayed on these shores. Elu Thingol was my kinsman and liege and to him I looked. I refused to leave for the West without my King.
“I left Beleriand after the fall of Doriath, and my wife and I left Lindon for eastern parts after Gil-galad had taken the rule. I kneel to no Noldo prince.”
“But … but you married a Noldo,” his companion sputtered in confusion.
”Yes, I married Galadriel who has so recently sailed from these shores. But I married the woman, not the people. I am of the people of the stars and I always will be.
“Thank you for the dinner,” he continued as he took up the wineskin. He directed a stream of the wine into his mouth, expertly. “And thank you for your soft hands with my hair. It can be impossible to comb at times.”
“It was my pleasure, Lord. I am Fornarod, and if I can do anything to make your visit more pleasant, it would bring me joy to do so.”
“Are you originally from the Greenwood?”
“No, my father followed Oropher from Lindon and he lost his life in front of the Black Gates along with so many others of our people. I survived, although I was badly injured, and returned to my woods along with my new king, Thranduil. I have served him ever since.”
Celeborn nodded. He remembered those dread days and the horrible losses that Oropher’s people had suffered. He lost himself in reverie for a short time, coming back to himself when Fornarod gently touched his shoulder.
“Lord, my time at guard has ended. Come, return to the fire. The coldest time of the night is still pending. If it suits you, I offer to share my blanket and companionship with you.”
“I appreciate the offer, Fornarod, but my lady’s leave-taking is still too new and that ache has yet to heal.”
“No, Lord. I offer only my body’s heat, no more than that.”
“Then yes, that would be welcome,” and they returned to the banked coals, arranging their blankets to provide warmth for two people. Then, lying back to back, they fell asleep.
The next day, shortly after noon, having made an early start at sunrise, they arrived at the open sward and the bridge leading to Thranduil’s fortress. As the small troop crossed the bridge, pipes sounded and the great doors opened. A solitary figure moved through the doors to the top of the stairs – Thranduil. Celeborn smiled upon seeing his old friend and ally.
Climbing the steps towards the King, he thought to himself that Thranduil looked more worn and tired than he had when they had last seen each other at the fall of Dol Gûldur. Late that night the two rulers sat together in Thranduil’s private quarters, sharing a keg of his prized Dorwinion wine.
“What ails you, my friend?” Celeborn asked. “You are looking anxious and drawn and the smile on your lips is not meeting your eyes. After all these years you finally have peace in the Greenwood and yet you look more tired and depressed than before.”
“My son has been struck by the sea-longing, Celeborn. He waits only for the new King to pass from this world before he will leave it himself. I have no desire to leave my woods and my people, and yet … he is my only living son and my heart is torn.” He got up from his chair and poured each of them another glass of wine.
“So all hinges on the life and death of Aragorn,” Celeborn commented.
“For you also? In what way is your future tied to that of the new King?”
“My grandsons, Elladan and Elrohir, promised their sister Arwen that they would be at her side to support her when Aragorn passed. Although they wanted to sail with their father and see their mother once again in Valinor, they are staying in Minas Tirith instead so that my granddaughter has other elves around her.”
“You sound bitter. Should they not stay with their sister? Were they not given permission by the Belain to make their Choice at the time of her death?”
“They were, yes. But once again Arwen dictates to her family the manner of acting that will please her, and gives no thought as to what might please others. Elrond left these shores uncertain of which choice his sons will make. He will have to meet my daughter Celebrían on that far western shore, and tell her that her own daughter is now sundered from her forever and that her sons may also not sail. I do not envy him that task.”
“And what will you do, my friend?” Thranduil asked, getting up from his chair and adding another log to the fire. “You have ruled in East Lórien for the past few years, yet I sense a feeling of despair around you that is new. Is it Galadriel’s sailing that has caused this?”
“I miss her, Thranduil. I would never admit that to any other but you, but it is as though my shadow has left or my hand has been cut off. We have been partners for several Ages of the world and have never before been separated by an unassailable distance. I have no desire to sail West, but I feel that I must, that I have no choice.”
“Will you return to Lórien then? Will you wait for the death of your granddaughter amid your mallorn trees and then sail with your grandsons?”
“No, that land is empty for me now. I will return to make sure that all now looks untouched and to say farewell to the trees. Then I will make my way over the Redhorn Pass to Imladris and remain there, waiting for my grandsons to make their Choice. They have asked me to rule in their stead while they are with Arwen in Minas Tirith, and after visiting Imladris and speaking to some of the remaining residents, I think I will be welcome there and will be comfortable while I wait for Aragorn to die.”
“Well, my friend, stay here for as long as you want. You are welcome in my realm as both my friend and a valued ally. When you are ready to leave, I will send an escort with you to take you back to Lothlórien or East Lórien, whichever is your preference. But stay here for a while. Those of us who have fought for our trees for so long should be able to relax underneath their boughs and enjoy their songs.”
So Celeborn spent the winter and spring with Thranduil in the fortress of Eryn Lasgalen. Finally when the days were becoming milder, he decided he was ready to leave for the south. The two rulers stood together at the top of the steps leading into the fortress, shaded from the sun by staying inside the shadow of the great entry doors. They clasped their arms together, warrior style, and then hugged each other tightly.
“Pass to the West with me, Thranduil. I will send word when the time comes and hope that you will join us.”
“No, my friend, my place is here with my people. Someday, perhaps, I will walk onto the shores of Valinor and surprise all of you,” the King said with a smile.
“I will look forward to that day,” Celeborn said and he turned and walked down the steps. A deep breath brought the rich scent of fully leafed trees to his nose and it made him happy to be on the road once again.
“Fornarod, my friend, are we once again sharing the road?” he asked as he walked up to the elf heading the small group chosen to escort him to Lothlórien.
“We are indeed, my Lord. It is my honor to have been selected to escort you once again,” and the guard bowed deeply.
Celeborn walked the tree roads with his escort of four for the next eight days, finally meeting up with his horse at the ferry of East Lórien on the banks of the River Anduin. Waving farewell to Fornarod and the others, he was soon across the river, wandering through the trees towards his old residence of Caras Galadhion.
He roamed his previous home for several weeks, from the east to the west, then to the south, and finally once more to Caras Galadhion. As he walked each trail, his hands brushed the trees, feeling their welcome and saying his farewells in return.
He looked at the canopy above him and nodded. She had gone, and this familiar land where he had long dwelt with his beloved by his side was no longer a refuge, rather it was echoing and empty to him. It was time for new experiences. He would leave for Imladris in the morning.