Celeborn led his two ladies back to the talan in the heart of Caras Galadhon. A little smile hovered on his face, when he watched Galadriel and Silraen climb up the stairs in front of him: His Ladies! He felt a surge of happiness in the heart: Celebrian had given him three wonderful grandchildren, the most beautiful elflings in all Arda and a son-in-law who was.....well....more then acceptable.
He liked Elrond! The Lord of Rivendell was a fine ellon; a brilliant mind, a master of lore and a powerful healer...and, taken at the right moment even a most pleasant companion and commendable captain. He looked at Silraen's comely form, while the elleth climbed to the next floor. Celebrian had given him grandchildren and a good son in law and he was content. But most of the time, she was far away from the Golden Wood, dwelling in her husbands realm.
Alas, daughters - even if they brought the greatest joy to their fathers until they reached womanhood - were always lost in the end, for they went where their hearts would carry them. He knew that this was normal and he rejoiced in Celebrian's happiness and in her great love for the Lord Elrond of Rivendell. But his hopes had always lain with Haldir!
Daughters went away, while sons -more often then not- would stay with their adars and after a while would once again bring new, young lives and new joy into their homes. Celeborn was looking forward to their elflings....and to Hell with Galadriel's mirror and her vision of doom. Eru alone knew, if and when the time of that great battle, perceived in the clear waters of the magic contraption, would come.
There had been so many battles and conflicts in all the ages of Arda and his common sense told him, that a world of eternal peace and undying bliss would never exist: Not in Aman and not on the blessed shores of Valěnor. The memories of the slaying of his Teleri mother's kin by the Feanorians and their fiery leader in Alqualonde lived still in a well-hidden corner of the silver lord's heart and were one of the many reasons, why he had always refused to take ship and sail into the West.
From the very moment, he had gazed into the eyes of a terrified elfling, who knew nothing of his background and origins, Celeborn had been taken with the young one. He had gazed into these storm-grey eyes and seen something, he had always desired...even before he had met Artanis, his Galadriel, clad in starlight and the silver sparkle of the moon: A son! One to whom he could pass his wisdom, knowledge, strength and...principles. One whom he could teach the love of their world and the desire to protect what was his kin's.
When he had first looked into the terrified eyes of a battered and abused elfling, he had not seen the trials, the sorrow and the pain, that were rooted deep inside that little soul, but a soft piece of clay, asking for nothing more then to be shaped, by skilful hands, into the form of an Elven lord to do honour to the house of Elwë, High King of the Sindar of Beleriand.
After he had made Artanis his, he had hoped for a long time that she would be willing to give him an heir. But his Nerwen, his Alatá, preferred to follow her own destiny and search for a realm to govern and shape according to her desire and dreams and he had to stay behind alone...and uncompleted. But the Valar had been gracious and they had harkened his incessant prayers for a son and even if the young one had not been of his loin and seed, he had been the heir Celeborn had always desired. And now this beautiful son had graced him with a spirited, clever and good-natured soon-to-be spouse! The Lord of the Golden Wood smiled contently: No matter, what her mirror had shown his Galadriel! He knew deep in his heart, that through this bond, the House of Elwë would be strengthened and their bloodline would continue.
When they finally reached their destination, a balcony, hanging spectacularly over the crowns of the highest mellyrn of Laurelindórean, Celeborn gracefully offered a chair to his Lady and another to his future daughter-in-law. Some quick words spoken to one of the handmaidens, roused early from her sleep and still a bit dishevelled, assured a nice breakfast.
The silver lord straightened his robes and took a seat in front of the two ellyth. He decided to allow Celebrian to sleep in. She had had at least five good goblets of apple brandy and half of a bottle of Dorwinion from Thranduil's personal reserve the night before and would be in dire need of recovering from a serious hangover. And the absence of his wonderful, but boisterous daughter would give him a chance to bond -unhindered- with his new daughter- in- law! Celeborn threw a furtive glance at Galadriel. Although the dark shadows were still clinging to her eyes like a pair of greedy Naugrim, she looked considerably better and much more relaxed. No matter her vision in the mirror, the news of the upcoming marriage had soothed the pain of the parting also in her heart.
The Lord of Laurelindórean thanked the maiden gracefully and served hot tea to his ladies. Then he took his own cup and relished for a while in the memories of Doriath of old and the future of his own house and realm. He remembered the day, when he had brought his elfling to Thingol's court very well, although almost five thousand years had gone by since: With Galadriel still in Laurelindórean, he had not hesitated to impose upon his Fair Child a week in the saddle of a real horse and some nights out in the open and under the stars. The young one had hardly been able to put his short legs into the stirrups, but he had not even muttered a word of complaint and ridden on with him and the small group of warriors. One, who had survived the pits of Angband and an encounter with the Great Deceiver was no weakling and Celeborn of Eregion had put his whole energy and skill into all the rest: Ironing out the rather uncouth use of Sindarin, drilling into the elfling the basics of courtly manners and behaviour and teaching the young one, how to face a king. And his Fair Child had passed the test. When he had brought Haldir in front of Elu, informing his uncle and lord that this was his chosen son and heir, the young one had only needed a comforting hand on his shoulder and a slight nudge forward. And Greymantel, after staring lengthily into the elfling's storm-grey eyes had given his blessing and accepted his nephew's choice.
Highly satisfied with the recent developments, Celeborn watched Galadriel and Silraen. His Lady smiled and chuckled softly, while Haldir's future mate -her cheeks slightly red and her eyes brilliant like the waters of the Silverlode- related the gentle pledge of her Captain and her acceptance of it.
Elwë and his Fair Child had not even exchanged a word, during that first encounter, but the Greymantel had taken a small dagger from his belt and gifted it to the elfling. Then he had ordered his Captain Beleg to take the elfling away and spoken at length with Celeborn. He told him what he had seen deep within the young soul and that the Silver Tree of Doriath had chosen wisely. And he said, that since the Fair Child had no mother to name him and since Celeborn had not yet seen his elfling's true being and personality, he would name the young one and furthermore it should be known that the foster-son of Celeborn of Doriath was Haldir! He explained to his younger brother Elmo's grandson, that the elfling would bring pride and great renown to his house, and that Celeborn would never ever be ashamed of the one that he has taken as his son....but that one day, far off and when the Fair Child would have fulfilled its destiny, he would also bring great grief together with great joy. The Lord of Laurelindórean smiled softly:
What had Thingol said so long ago: Beware, grandson of my brother, the Doom of the Noldor is upon thee, since the day you wed Artanis, daughter of Finarfin and sister of Finrod Felagund and never shall this doom leave thy house until thou travellest over the sea and into the Undying Lands. But great honour also shall come from this union and from your choice of a son.
While Thingol was not so farsighted and wise as his Queen Mélian, he had nonetheless set his foot on the shores of Valěnor and seen the Light of the Two Trees. Ever hence, after his return from the Undying Lands, the High King of the Sindarin was gifted with an insight far beyond that of all his kindred, who had never accomplished the journey. And while Celeborn had never fully understood the meaning of his grand-uncles prophetic words and his references to the Doom of the Noldor and Galadriel's brother Finrod, who had gone to the Halls of Waiting some fifteen summers prior to this meeting in Doriath, he had always kept them in his mind, hoping that one day he might perhaps unravel the mystery. But today was not the day!
Celebrian met the morning sun with a rather drowsy eye. She felt slightly guilty; first the fine red Dorwinion with Silraen down in the Herbal Gardens, then the Apple Wine at the Wardens' Stables and finally the Apple Brandy at the 'Blooming Appletree'. This was most certainly too much for each and every elleth her size and weight! After such an abominable and most despicable orgy a mighty headache was nothing else but......divine justice.
She tiptoed over to the water basin and poured a generous amount of cool, fresh water. She made a great effort to do this in great silence, for she did not want one of her naneth's handmaidens dutifully storm into her room and see her in this sorry state...least dear Elrond would learn from gossip ...or worse, her mischievous sons. And these two always found a way to make profit from embarrassing knowledge and blackmail the concerned elf ruthlessly.
Celebrian splashed the water over her face and bathed both arms to the elbow in the cool and refreshing liquid. 'Eru! To shake this all off and pretend, Mithrandir had a bit to much of that curious pipe weed he liked so much was no option. To pretend that nothing ever had happened yesterday at the setting of the sun would be a blatant lie and to try and say that the wizard saw shadows in the dark...She rested her elbows on both sides of the basin on the beautifully carved wash table and stared into the water. 'Wish you would show me an answer!' She said to the finely engraved silver basin that somehow resembled her mother's notorious mirror downstairs in the Gardens. They had allowed her to sleep it off, both the alcohol and the terrifying statements of the Grey Wanderer. Nobody had come to wake her in order to see Haldir off. She felt a sting of guilt in her heart. Judging by the position of the sun, he and Mithrandir were already close to where Celebrant met Nimrodel, perhaps even on the other side of the river crossing and on their way into the Misty Mountains. A tiny smile lit Celebrian's eyes for a split moment: He always called it 'Birdbath of Doom' and would neither trust Galadriel's magic device nor look into it. What was his true opinion concerning the revelations of Mithrandir? And would he resent it, that she had not bidden her farewells and taken at least a short moment of time to discuss with him?
'Nonsense, girl! He will not be mad at you, for he has most certainly counted the glasses of apple brandy you swallowed yesterday, even with his eyes rifted on Silraen! He understands...probably better then anybody else in this realm...for if the old wizard is right, it will be him and his wardens, who will be first to bear the brunt of the shadow...' Celebrian pushed herself up, straightened her shoulders and snarled. 'And now, pull yourself together and do something right.' Then she went to the window, turning her eyes towards Imladris on the other side of the Misty Mountains and putting all her energy into one single thought. 'Elrond!' She shouted with her mind from the deepest depths of her heart.
'A good day to you, too, my lovely!' She felt his amused mind touch hers almost instantly.
'Sorry!' Celebrian grumbled, feeling that her mental call for her Lord may perhaps have been...a little bit too enthusiastic. 'Did I startle you?' She asked ruefully.
When Elrond's reply was but an amused chuckle, she decided that they could now turn to a more serious discussion. ' Find yourself a comfortable place, Elrond, for this will take time.' She first cautioned the Lord of Imladris. ' And now listen carefully, for there is something very strange going on here in fair Laurelindórean and I need my wonderful husband's most brilliant mind and all his lore and knowledge and wisdom from the depths of the Ages in order to make some sense of it.'
Far away on the balcony of his private study that hung spectacularly over one of the smaller waterfalls of Rivendell, Master Elrond fell with a heavy and very unelvish thud onto the soft cushions that lay on his favourite reading bench. He winced and pulled a slender hand over his eyes. The very fact, that Galadriel had not informed him was an additional factor to shake him to his very core. The Lady of Laurelindórean had never been one given to crying havoc or stirring panic. This underlined, that the intelligence, Celebrian had imparted with him was probably only a feeble reflection of the true danger that lay underneath Mithrandir's suspicions concerning the shadowy presence around the Amon Lanc. Adding to this , the fact, that Galadriel had deemed it necessary to order Haldir to accompany the Grey Wanderer did not soothe Elrond's mind either.
'And she ordered Haldir to go?' Elrond asked Celebrian once more.
The mental confirmation made the Elven lord shudder. Although he had been born some thirty years after the fall of Doriath, he was very much aware of the protective girdle of enchantment that Elu Thingol's Maiar queen Mélian had put around the realm. A youthful Galadriel had learned her craft from Mélian and she had seen the girdle fail. So when she repeated the protective enchantments of her mighty teacher in order to shield Laurelindórean from evil, foes and intruders, she grounded them not only within her own personal strength and the power of the Ring of Adamant, but also in Celeborn and the existence of her foster-son, who by his oath of loyalty was sworn to forsake immortal life for the safety of the land and its people. He -Elrond-had done exactly the same with Rivendell, copying Galadriel's shield: His Heaven was protected by his power, his ring, his twin sons Elladan and Elrohir and the fealty and blood of Glorfindel his Captain. Not easily would he order Glorfindel to lend his sword and skill to some strange wizard with a premonition of looming darkness and thus deplete Rivendell -if only temporary- of one part of its defences!
'You keep quiet about all this, Beloved!' He cautioned Celebrian, although he knew that his Lady was wise and learned in the history of Arda. 'I will -on my side- push with our friend Cirdan, in order to find out, what Mithrandir may truly hide under his pointy hat. The more I think of it, wife....he is not what he appears to be. Maybe...' The Elven lord mused.'...maybe he is an emissary. But most certainly not one of the High King of the Eldar in Valěnor.'
Celebrian had taken a leisurely seat on the windowsill of her chambers, dangling her naked feet as she had loved to do when still a small elleth. She pursed her lips and a sly little smile appeared on her fair face. Her silver glazed eyes where turned straight onto Elrond and Rivendell and in her mind the high barrier of the Misty Mountains no longer existed. She could see him clearly with her inner eye and she perceived that little twinkle that preceded....a revelation. He sat on his favourite bench, elbows on his knees and a long, slender finger tipped to his lips. A sign of uttermost concentration.
The Lady of the Last Homely House West of the Mountains chuckled. 'Maybe,' she thought, repeating his last words mentally,'...our secretive friend Mithrandir would be an emissary of the Lords of the West... in recognition of ancient error?'
Elrond sat silent for a while, pondering upon the words of his spouse. So light-heartedly spoken they had come from deep thought and were not just the youngling fancy of some dreamy elleth. In the Years of the Trees, the Valar had tried directly interfering in the destiny of the Elves by leading the Eldar forcefully into the West, and this resulted in many bloody wars and confrontations, even between the Elves themselves. Maybe the Powers had at one moment recognized the error of their ways and were now decided to not repeat the mistake, but send guidance and advise to their first- and second born children in the form of old men of gentle nature and which did not appear as a threat even to the most suspicious of the great rulers of Aman, elves and men and dwarves alike. Often greater deeds were encouraged by subtle persuasion then the inspiration of terror and fear. But then this would also mean, that soon such deeds of valour would be needed anew, for a new danger was arising under the sun of the hither lands!
To Olorin's great surprise, Haldir took a northward direction, following the Celebrant instead of crossing the river and turning to the Eastern fences of Laurelindórean and Durin's Steps which led to the Dwarven realm of Khazad-Dum. The way into the Misty Mountains via Dimril Dale and the Dwarven way, that would join further in the East the Old Forest Road leading in a straight line through the Great Greenwood and down to Laketown and the Mountains of Greenwood was the quickest and shortest cut from Galadriel's and Celeborn's Realm to the Amon Lanc and the capital of King Thranduil, for the Old Ford was the only place, where they could cross the great river Anduin dryfooted. It was also the way over which Haldir and his wardens had hunted the horde of marauding yrch which seemed driven and overshadowed by a darker power. Galadriel had spoken to him at length about this terrible hunt.
'I feel a bit guilty about all this, Haldir!'
Olorin finally broke the silence that weighted over them, since the river crossing earlier that day. The further they left the Naith of Laurelindórean behind, the more the Captain seemed preoccupied. He had been walking in front of him for hours, ignoring his presence, the setting of the sun and the approach of nightfall.
'You must not feel guilty, Mithrandir.'
The reply came almost as a surprise. It was a detached voice that had spoken to the Istar, almost unconcerned. Haldir did not even turn around while he addressed him and neither did he slow his pace. He seemed very much determined to continue on their way, his Elven eyes probably much better adapted to the darkness then Olorin's man-eyes. But he had not the feeling, that this was another test set up for him, like their bushwhacking of the early morning hours. Mayhap there was some purpose in this drive! The Istar kept his own council and decided that he could trust the good judgement of his companion.
Several hours of marching later - a moonless, black night made it literally impossible for Olorin to even see his fingers held in front of his eyes and all he could follow was the soft shine of the Elven warrior's fea- Haldir suddenly stopped. Mighty trees, high growing ferns and a maze of thorny bushes blocked the Celebrant completely from view. Only the soft gurgling noise of flowing water indicated its presence.
The Captain turned and took the old wizard by the elbow, leading him to the solid roots of one of the trees and motioning him to sit and take a short rest.
'This is a very peculiar ford, Mithrandir.' He explained in a soft voice, careful not to disturb the quite of the forest '....a ford known to a very small number of my wardens and who use it to enter or leave these lands for intelligence gathering under a veil of absolute secrecy. No horse can climb the slope and it takes courage even for an elf to venture down and attempt the crossing!'
'Why did you choose to go so far northwards and into the wild lands instead of taking by Dimril Dale and the Dwarven road to Khazad-Dum?' With a certain amount of curiosity the wizard stared at a hardly visible breach in the maze of thorn bushes. He doubted, that even a very slender hare could make it through without entangling itself in the cruel-looking thorns.
Haldir did not reply immediately, but opened his travel bag and brought forth two appetizing red apples of which he offered one to his companion. 'This slope is extremely dangerous....even for an elf!' He explained patiently between two bits. He would explain his reasons later, when they arrived at their final resting place for this night. Now it was of greater importance to caution the old wizard. 'You must follow me exactly in my footsteps, else you will break your neck. Some of the stones have flat sides and they easily support even the weight of a fully-grown man, but others will break away if it is only a squirrel that threads upon them. The slope is a natural staircase, open to those who know its secrets!'
Olorin nodded, finishing his apple and raising to his feet. He had the strange feeling that this descend to the Celebrant would be the hardest part of their night march. He followed the Galadhrim slowly, keeping his eyes fixed on Haldir's soft glow and daring hardly to breath, when his soft boots touched the flat stones. When the Istar finally reached the end of the slope, he felt a great burden lift from his shoulders. The climb down to the Celebrant had truly been an experience he was not keen to repeat for quite some time.
He had not felt so exposed and vulnerable since first he had set foot on the shores of Aman. He was grateful that Haldir had taken his travel bag along with his staff. When he finally relaxed on a single great boulder that stood out of the water, directly at the ridge, the Captain went onto his knees and with what looked like a tremendous physical effort pushed aside one of the larger flat stones. Underneath appeared an opening just large enough to let a man pass, appeared. Haldir caught Olorin's hand and pulled him over. He spoke softly.
'Do not fear, Grey Wanderer. The worst for today lies behind. Hence, this was the dwelling of a giant cave worm. The creature often ventured into our forest to kill elf and beast without distinction. One day we hunted it down and slew it and one of my wardens discovered, that the worm hole was not a hole but a tunnel that leads right into the bowels of the Misty Mountains. We have been secretly exploring this highly interesting passage over the years and we found out many highly interesting details. But not even my Lord Celeborn can tell, if all this is just a fancy of nature or made by skilled hands or perhaps just a consequence of the sundering of Beleriand in the War of Wrath. He placed Olorin's hand firmly upon something that appeared to be an iron handle.
' We decided to ease the access a bit. So now keep good hold and search with your feet for the next step.' He explained. 'As soon as you touch ground, you will find a lantern in a small niche at arms reach. But wait for me before you lighten it for I must place this stone back into its correct place from the inside and hide the entrance to the passageway.'
Olorin followed Haldir's painstaking explanations and it was surprisingly easy and quick to climb down into the heart of the earth. Once again his companion used all his physical strength to move the stone and then nimbly descended himself. Only a heartbeat later, two merry lanterns lightened an impressive hall of stone and Haldir chuckled softly when he saw Mithrandir's eyes light with surprise and curiosity. The cave worm had been dead for almost five hundred years and the beast's evil stench was long gone. Notwithstanding the heavy floods of the Celebrant pressuring onto the thick roof of the cavern, everything was dry and clean, the stone of the walls so smooth as if hundreds of skilful Naugrim had spent years to work on it. Small, precious looking crystals, embedded in the dark grey granite broke their lights in the lights of the two lanterns.
'A glittering cave!' Olorin exhaled, enthralled by this wonder of nature.
'T'is adamant!' The Captain replied with a smile,' ...and of such fine quality, that the Naugrim of Khazad-Dum would be breathless, if ever they were allowed to have a look at this place. But I do not care for precious stones and riches of this kind and neither do my wardens. Many of us have had enough of this folly, while Hollin still stood.' He turned on his heels and signalled to Olorin.' Khila amin!-Follow me, Grey Wanderer! We must make haste if you want to have a good night's rest.'
Hardly an hour later, Olorin found himself deep in the bowels of the Misty Mountains. They had left the large cavern behind and were walking through a tunnel that seemed to climb upwards. When they came to a crossroad, were two more tunnels cut into the first, Haldir turned to the right and led the Istar into a second glittering cavern. It was slightly smaller then the first one but held a fair amount of creature comforts -blankets, store of dried food, a barrel full of white winged Lothlorien arrows, some barrels filled with what seemed to be wine and a small, but cleverly constructed iron stove, that allowed to warm those, who would take up their resting place in this hide-out place.
Close to one of the walls a small spring tickled down into a medium-sized stone basin carved by time. The water looked fresh and tasty.
'Here we are, Mithrandir.' Haldir said softly. The cool aloofness and detachment had vanished from the elf's voice.' I beg your pardon for this forced march, Grey Wanderer and...for my impolite silence. But to find the small gap that led us down the slope of the Celebrant was rather trying in the dark of this moonless night -even for the Elven eyes of the Captain of the Galadhrim!'
He took several of the blankets from the stores of his wardens and laid them out as a comfortable bed for the wizard. Then he gathered nuts, dried food and a small piece of lembas from the provisions and offered everything to Olorin. 'Eat now and then rest in peace. We will leave early in the morn and the way up to the peak of this mountain is very demanding. It will be a hard climb, Grey Wanderer.' Then he took some blankets for himself and found a comfortable corner for his own night's rest. The glittering, subterranean cavern was probably the safest place in all Aman, for none who did not know about the flat stone by the Celebrant and the secret of the dark underground lake further inside the bowels of the mountain could enter this place. He put his blade at hands reach, propped his bow and quiver against the wall and curled up in his soft blankets. He wanted to pass Khazad-Dum unseen by the Naugrim and follow a tiny mountain track to the discreet abode of a band of renegades he had been tolerating for years unnumbered close to the borders of Laurelindórean against intelligence and some small, but handy services.