They were riding north from the West-gate of Hadhodrond; Galadriel, Celebrían and a strong force of Sindar and Noldor, supported by a larger group of Silvan elves from Lindórinand lent to them by their friend Amdír the king. All of them cautious, riding silent and wary.
Celebrían had not known what to expect to see in Eregion, now. When they had crossed the mountains through the halls of the great dwarf-kingdom, going east, Eregion had been a thriving kingdom of the Elves. It had been their home, that they were only leaving for a little while to travel and visit friends, and get away from the increasingly bitter arguments between Mother and cousin Celebrimbor.
Now they had come back across the mountains to an Eregion entirely changed. The woods had been burned black right to the foot of the mountains, leaving only the blackened skeletons of trees. The land was full of the smell of smoke under pale weeping skies, and there was a terrible silence about the place, as if the land itself had been screaming, and had fallen silent only because its voice was exhausted.
Celebrian touched her sword hilt for the hundredth time, wishing, for once, that she had her mother’s skill with using it. She had learned to fight with it, of course; Father had insisted upon that. But she had never taken to the art, and had always hoped she would never need to practice it.
They came to Ost-in-Edhil, the city of wonders, home to the people of the jewelsmiths of Eregion, and Celebrían looked away in discomfort from the remains of the blackened gate. But there was no looking away from the smell, a mix of filth and rot and a hint of roasted meat.
When they had left, Ost-in-Edhil had not had such tall gates or walls. The broken, blackened guard towers along the road were new, too. Celebrimbor had spoken of building them on his one brief, hurried visit to Lindórinand, when he had come in person to reconcile with Mother and warn them that war was brewing. Now, here were the towers, and they had not saved the city in the end.
Celebrian had never thought she would never see home again.
Mother sat still, looking at the broken gates for what seemed like a long time. Then she sighed.
“So the hope of the Noldor has failed once more,” she said. “Now I have two great scores to settle with Gorthaur the cruel: for Finrod and for Eregion. The years pass and grief grows.”
She looked around at them. “I will not pass by without looking for survivors: we will take the time to search the ruins and mourn the dead. But be wary! There should be no great number of enemies left here, since the Númenorean army has driven our enemy away far into the east, but there may still be a few orcs lingering. Don't be taken by surprise.”
They moved through the city with caution, but the elves passing light over ash and fallen stone found no survivors left in the ruins of the city, only bodies, stripped clean of anything of value they might once have possessed, and left sprawling in the ruin of their home for the carrion-birds to peck at, interchangeable, nameless and sad.
They gathered the remnants of the people of Ost-in-Edhil, grieving, into a clear space outside the walls. It was not the first time that Celebrían had seen death, but it was the first time she had ever seen anything like this, and she found herself first shaken, then numb, and then taken over by a terrible serious practicality that felt strangely unlike her usual light-hearted self. Looking around at the others as they laid the dead gently to rest, and began to raise the mound over them, she could see the same blankness in their eyes. They had not brought tools with them, but there were plenty of those still in the ruins of the city.
The work was long and hard, but at last the mound was raised, and Celebrían found herself staring at it blankly. She had seen the still faces, the black blood, and yet the whole situation seemed unreal, as if she might turn at any moment and find the city stood whole again, full of the sound of hammers ringing, looms weaving and voices singing.
Galadriel put a hand on her arm, and Celebrían turned and met her eyes that were sad and full of understanding. “There are not as many as I had feared,” she said. “I think some at least must have escaped. We must sing the lament for those who died. Will you help us, or would you rather rest?”
Celebrían shook her head uncomprehending. “I’ll sing, of course,” she said. “We’ve all worked hard, after all. I’m not any tireder than anyone else.”
“No, of course,” her mother said, and gave a tight, sad smile. “I’d only hoped you would never have to see anything like this.”
Celebrían turned and gave her a swift, lopsided hug with one arm. “I’ll survive! It’s awful, I know, but we’ll cope with it one day at a time.” She made herself smile. “And one day you’ll catch up with him, horrible old Sauron, and then he’ll never be able to do anything like this again.”
Mother smiled back. “I’m not so confident as you. I have no wish to to face him on my own! But perhaps the Numenorean army will manage to finish him off after all. We can hope for that, and in the meanwhile, at least say a farewell to the dead.”
“Yes,” Celebrían thought, and then looked up at her mother. “Shall I lead the lament? You look tired, and there might still be enemies about. I’m better at that than I am at those. Orcs, I mean.”
Her mother, obviously, was better at both songs and fighting the enemy than Celebrian, but after all there was only one Galadriel. That was suddenly a more worrying thought than it had ever been before. The idea that her mother’s strength might have a limit was an uncomfortable one.
Her mother began to shake her head, then, to Celebrían’s surprise, seemed to think better of it. “Dear Celebrían. That is a kindly thought. Perhaps it would be fitting for you to lead the lament. You were born in Eregion, after all.”
Celebrían nodded. “You should have a rest,” she decided, since Mother for once seemed inclined to take her advice, and turned to the elves of their party, to hold up a hand to call for their attention.
In the end, they were not attacked once on the road north, though there were signs of the Enemy’s passing all around. Twice they passed what had clearly been battles, where the orc-bones lay strewn thick, but here there were no signs of the dead of Elves or Men.
Northern Eregion had been a pastoral land, with tall long-haired yellow-eyed goats grazing the hills and cattle lowing in the valleys between knots of holly and oak-trees. The route Sauron’s army had taken was trampled, the trees hacked and burned, but away from the path he had taken, the land seemed almost at peace, unless you listened very carefully to the stillness that meant fear where there should have been small careless sounds.
But already the land was forgetting the horror: even around the battlefields, new leaves were sprouting on the scorched holly trees, and green new grass was growing between the pale bones.
They met with scouts patrolling beside the river Bruinen; Sindar, friends of Father, in fact. That was good luck, because Celebrían was fairly sure that it might have taken them months to find the way that the scouts led them, along a path that led steeply downward between clumps of heather into a shadowy rocky cleft that seemed to lead nowhere. The sky overhead was darkening to a velvet blue, and the scouts lit silver lanterns that brought bright sparks from the grey rock.
Then they turned a corner, and before her a wide valley opened, surrounded by tall cliffs that were dim and dark in the faint light, but the valley-bottom was lit with many camp-fires and lanterns of a great host. Above them, a wide sky full of stars seemed almost to reflect the many points of golden light, and the sound of a distant river running over stones floated up to them.
Celebrían had certainly never been here before, and yet the place felt oddly familiar. She caught her mother’s eye and Galadriel nodded.
“Yes, I feel it too. Your father has been at work here,” she said and smiled as if a fountain of joy was bubbling up within her.
They had not seen Celeborn for what suddenly seemed impossibly many years. He had stayed behind in Eregion when they left, saying he would not take the road through Hadhodrond. Father had always had an odd dislike of Dwarves, having fought against some of them long ago. Celebrían thought it was very foolish of him. None of the Dwarves they knew were old enough to remember those days, and indeed, King Durin and all their other Longbeard friends were from a quite different family who had never had anything to do with Doriath at all. But Father could be a terrible old stick-in-the-mud about it. All the same, Celebrian had missed him terribly.
Celebrían smiled back at her mother, suddenly filled with delight and excitement, and she urged her horse onward to the ford, splashed through it with great enthusiasm, and jumped down joyfully into her father’s welcoming arms.
Once Mother had joined them, there were a good number of other introductions to be made. Mother, of course, knew everyone, but Celebrían had never met the High King of the Noldor, Ereinion Gil-galad.
He looked rather dauntingly intense at first, with frowning dark eyebrows and a stern air about him. But he smiled at her very charmingly, took her hand and asked her very seriously about what they had done in Ost-in-Edhil, and listened gravely to her rather flustered reply, and she decided that she liked him after all, particularly once Father had explained how Gil-galad and his host had come out of the West to defeat the army that Sauron had left besieging Father and his friends in the valley.
One of those friends was Elrond, descended from Lúthien herself, the son of the Evening Star. She had never met Elrond, but everyone knew who he was. When her tutor had taught her the history of the Peredhil, she had imagined the Heir of Lúthien as something like a mixture of Celebrimbor and her mother, but with something strange and different about him, from his inheritance from Men and from the great Lady Melian. Someone strange and magnificent, and more than a little doomed.
Now she saw him in person he looked like an elf, though he was perhaps a little broader in the shoulders than most. Certainly he was unusually beautiful, with long shining dark hair and grey eyes like a sky full of stars, but he seemed quieter than she had somehow expected. He had one arm in a sling, she noticed. He must have taken a wound in the fighting.
With him were a few Men of Númenor. Celebrían had not met very many Men before, and they had been shorter than these, round-faced and cheerful cattle-herders that had lived in the villages of the river-lands. These Men seemed very different, tall, broad and courtly, and clearly well used to war.
She asked Berengar, a man with grizzled grey hair who was leaning on a crutch, when they had come from Númenor, but he shook his head and smiled crookedly.
“It was my grandfather who came from Númenor, my lady.” Gil-galad had begun to lead the way up towards the higher level ground where many tents were pitched, and they followed him, walking slowly to allow for Berengar’s crutch. “The lord Ciryatur and the host of Númenor are still in the far south: we here are the people of the coast. I’ve never been to Númenor myself, I’m from Eryn Vorn.”
“Oh. That’s like me, then!” Celebrían told him. “My mother came from Valinor in the West and my father is from Doriath, and so I’m one of the Eldar, though of course I’ve never been to Aman, or Beleriand either. I grew up in Eregion...”
She remembered what Eregion was like, now. “Do you know about Eryn Vorn?” she asked him, suddenly concerned. “Is it..?”
“Yes, I’ve been luckier there than you,” he said, and the corners of his eyes crinkled sympathetically. “When the Enemy gave up on catching Elrond, he hurried off to deal with the High King, so he had no time for ravaging along the coast before the navy of Númenor arrived. Word came a few days ago that my home was spared.”
“That’s very good news,” Celebrían said, feeling relieved for him. “Ost-in-Edhil was so terribly sad, and... we heard about Celebrimbor.” She was trying not to think too specifically about what they had heard about Celebrimbor, and definitely not to imagine it. “It’s good to hear of anything escaping the ruin. But you’re Elrond’s kinsman, so you’re one of the children of Elros?”
Berengar gave a short coughing laugh. “If you want to put it poetically! I have some remote connection to the family. I never can remember the details myself.”
Elrond, who had been walking ahead beside Gil-galad looked around and stepped over to join them. “Berengar’s great-grandfather was the great-grandson of my brother’s youngest son’s daughter,” he explained.
“Goodness,” Celebrían said inadequately, rather daunted by the sheer complication of the many mortal generations thus revealed. Berengar snorted in amusement.
“Yes,” Elrond agreed. “ ‘Nephew’ or ‘kinsman’ is easier to say. And I am very glad to have such kinsmen. We would have been lost without them.”
“I’m still astonished that the lord Ciryatur and the rest of them actually showed up,” Berengar said candidly.
Celebrían looked at him in surprise. “Why? Surely since Númenor is the home of Elrond’s kin, surely they would wish to come to his aid?”
Berengar grimaced “I thought Númenor had lost interest in the north-west of Middle-earth. I’m a bit worried about that.” He shot a stern sideways look at Elrond.
Elrond laughed as they came up among many long rows of tents to a sort of central square where a great oak tree stood, its red-flushed spring leaves visible by the light of the many lanterns hanging from it. “Berengar considers me a most frivolous elf, I'm afraid, Celebrían. He likes to add a spice of grim realism to my airy hopes. He’s become a byword for gloom in the camp, in fact, and I have a suspicion that he enjoys it.”
“You are a frivolous elf,” Berengar said doggedly, thumping his crutch down emphatically. “But more of my family are honest Men of Minhiriath than strange half-elven folk from beyond the Sea, and Númenor has not been kindly to them, or to their lands. Be honest, Elrond. Just because they — we — are your brother’s kin, you can’t think we’ve done no wrong. ”
“No,” Elrond said, and his smiling face turned serious again. “I won’t argue that. And there is grief and evil mixed with strength; of course there is. How could there be anything else? But both of you have seen our Enemy’s work. Númenor, for all that it has... changed somewhat, for all that I fear the shadow ahead, is better than that. They may have turned up late, but that’s still better than never, isn’t it? But here we are.”
Elrond stepped forward under the widespread branches of the great lamplit oak, shining under the starry sky and raised his voice a little. “Galadriel, Celebrían, friends of Eriador and Lindórinand. Welcome to the Camp of Imladris. It has been our home for almost three years now, but I hope you will forgive us that things are still a little rough and ready. We arrived in something of a hurry, with no time to prepare for siege! We're all very thankful to Celeborn and his people. They have used all the skills of lost, lamented Doriath to keep us all fed, clothed and housed, and that is a deed as great as any in battle.”
“Thank you for your welcome, Elrond,” Galadriel said seriously. “It brings me joy to see you and your host are safe. We feared for you all, when we and Durin’s Folk were driven back to Hadrahond and could not come to your aid. We have all suffered great losses, but perhaps now we shall have a chance to build new homes in peace.”
“I hope so,” Gil-galad said. “I have asked Círdan to join us here as soon as he can, so we can hold a council and make plans for the future of Eriador.”
“Oh!” Celebrían said cheerfully. “If we had only known before! We could have travelled here with king Durin from Hadhodrond, rather than having to wait to send messengers to ask him to come and join us. But then, I suppose it will take a little while for Círdan to get here, and then the lord Ciryatur is off in the south at present still, so I suppose he will have to get back, too. Is he going to bring Thrar of the Ered Luin with him?” She suddenly noticed that Father was making his fierce shushing face, and felt herself turn embarrassingly red.
Gil-galad frowned imposingly, and although Elrond gave her an encouraging smile, somehow that only made her blush more.
“This is primarily a matter for the Elves, my lady,” the High King said, and Celebrían resolved fiercely to think harder before she spoke next time.