The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda


Chapter 71: The Queen of Twilight

‘If you’ve taught me all you can, then let me go!’ shouted Callanach at Haldir as the Elf walked away through the trees. He turned and asked in surprise;
‘You wish to leave Lothlórien?’
‘Yes, I do.’ replied Callanach.

Haldir stared at him for a moment. It was ordained from the beginning of the world that the actions and thoughts of men would be a mystery to the Elves, and so it now proved for Haldir. Why would anyone want to leave Lothlórien? The tall golden-haired Elf shrugged and said;
‘No-one may enter The Golden Wood without the permission of the Lady. Nor may anyone leave. She will be told of your wish to depart….’
And Haldir turned and walked away.
‘And then?’ shouted Callanach, but the Elf did not look back again.

The home of Galadriel and her consort Celeborn was Caras Galadhon, the city of the Galadhrim. But this winter the Queen had not stayed in the green city that was her seat of power but had lingered in the south of her realm, close to the river, as if awaiting tidings from the lands of Gondor and Rohan. And so it was that the next day Callanach was summoned to a place not far from the banks of the Silverlode, the tributary of the Anduin which ran through Lórien. Here the Mallorns gave way to woodland more familiar to Callanach, silver-barked beeches and towering oaks. Callanach was led to a bright glade of ash and birch and left there to wait as evening came on…

The Elves who had his care as their charge had brought him that morning Elvish mail, fine-leaved and bright as gold, but strong as tempered steel despite its light weight. They arrayed him in it without speaking, always helpful but distant. At the last they buckled on the Elven sword Haldir had given him. Then they bowed and left him.

‘What happens now?’ wondered Callanach.

The evening was darkening. The birches, like young Mallorns, shivered in the breeze from the river and their grey-gold leaves glinted like falling coins, whispering….Callanach thought he heard voices in the sound, and shook himself.
‘Dreaming again….’ he reproached himself. He looked up and through the branches he saw the first stars in the glowing blue-green sky of dusk.
‘Earendil..’ he said, and as he looked he thought one of the stars had fallen into the shadows under the trees, for it moved through the glade towards him. Then he realised it was not a star, but a diamond, sparkling in a circlet worn by a lady clad all in lustrous white, walking towards him through the birches.
‘Lady Galadriel!’ he said and bowed low.

Galadriel approached swiftly across grass sprinkled with tiny white woodland flowers. Although it was dusk, the Lady seemed to shed a light of her own, and as he straightened up Callanach saw her face, proud and calm and as white as snow above a robe sewn with pearls that glistened in the afterglow of evening. The lady’s hair was shining gold, and fell straight and unbound from her mithril circlet to a silver belt around her waist. She stopped when she reached Callanach and smiled.
‘You wish to leave Lothlórien?’ she asked.

Callanach bowed again and said;
‘My Lady, I do. I thank you for your care, but I want to follow my friends, and join the Black Company in Gondor…’
‘You want to find your friend Líofa, the harpist…’ said Galadriel. Her voice was like that of any ordinary woman as she spoke, but when she fell silent, a kind of music seemed to haunt the air.
‘Yes, my lady. I want to fight for Gondor..’
‘But you are a son of Arnor, of the North’ said Galadriel, looking keenly at Callanach, who realised he was being questioned.
‘The King of Gondor is also the King of Arnor, our separate realm perished long ago…’

Galadriel nodded but did not speak. She moved away, circling the boy and studying him. She seemed not to walk but to glide silently, and the diamond on her circlet caught the starlight.
‘You do not want to go to war, you wish to find your friends. You long for your own people. Aralt the Herald warned me of this, that even in Lothlórien you would pine for your own kind….’

She paused as if expecting a reply, but Callanach could think of nothing to say. He had no desire to appear ungrateful for all the Elves had done for him and for the Black Company. Then Galadriel said;
‘Your friendship with Líofa is doomed; he is an Elf, and you are mortal. Only grief lies ahead for you both, for you will die and he will not…..’
‘No!’ interrupted Callanach. ‘There is a curse on him; he won’t live forever. He will die like me…’

Galadriel had stopped pacing and was looking intently at him; there was a cold fire in her grey eyes…
‘Saruman put a curse on him…’ faltered Callanach.
‘No!’ said Galadriel. ‘Saruman is a wizard. He has no power to curse or bless, only to sway others by his voice and his spells. Líofa was struck by some ancient evil dwelling in Dol Guldur, the old haunt of the Necromancer. But what the taint is, or how to dispel it, even I do not know….’

Galadriel stopped speaking, as if the thought of Dol Guldur aroused her wrath. She sighed and held up a hand. Callanach saw that on one finger shone a great ring; Nenya, the Ring of Water….
‘Do you know, Callanach’ she said, using his name for the first time
‘…that time moves more slowly in Lothlórien than in the outside world?’

Callanach nodded; Aralt had told him, and he himself had noticed, that time passed in a different way here. Since he had awoken, Callanach had dwelt in Lórien almost a month, but it seemed but a few days….
‘If you stay here, your life will be prolonged. You are a Numenorean, possessed of long life, in the reckoning of mortals. Here, you can live twice, thrice or even four times the span of men outside Lothlórien’
She looked at him with her head on one side;
‘Few mortals are allowed to dwell in Lorien. I will let you stay, because I made a promise to care for you. Do you not wish to have a long life?’
‘What good is a long life without honour….or friendship?’ asked Callanach.
‘My home is in the North and my friends are in the South; nothing I love is in Lothlórien, fair as it is….’

There was a silence. Galadriel looked long at the boy, his spindle-thin frame and bright, anxious grey eyes in a pale wasted face. At last she smiled and beckoned him over. When he approached him she leaned down and kissed him on the brow.
‘Go in peace, then, Ranger of Arnor, and with the blessing of the Elves upon you. But this you will also carry with you; in danger or strife, time will pass for you as it passed while you slept under the Mallorns of the Golden Wood. And if you find Líofa, may the memory of Lórien bring him healing…’

The first Easterling arrow arched up into the slanting sunlight of late afternoon, seeming slow despite its short range and swift flight. Callanach watched it and before it struck he swayed to the side, letting it whine past and fall harmlessly to the ground.

The other marksmen paused when they saw the shot miss, muttering and glancing at each other. Their leader shouted at them and they took aim again….

Callanach looked down and saw lying close to his feet one of the round wooden shields carried by the Riders of Rohan. Painted on the wood was a sun symbol, gilded and surrounded by runes of protection for man and horse. The green-painted wood was splintered and scuffed, but Callanach snatched up the targe and raising it deflected the next arrow, and the next.

‘Shoot, you blind fools! Kill him!’

Callanach did not know the language but he understood the words. A hail of short, black arrows with wickedly barbed heads flew at him. They pattered on the shield and one tore his forearm and another skipped off the Elven mail. But fast as they were fired, each arrow seemed to take an age to reach him, and he was able to move aside before they struck…
‘He’s an Elf!’ shouted one of the Easterlings. ‘Look! He is wearing Elven mail…he is protected by some spell….’

The hail faltered. One shaft fanned Callanach’s cheek then the shooting stopped. The Easterling captain bellowed at his troops;
‘You cowardly scum! You are afraid to hit him. Stand back, I will kill him myself…’

The Easterling captain threw down his pike, drew his long curved sword and advanced towards Callanach.

The boy tossed away the wooden shield and raised the bright, curved Elven sword. The Easterling was tall, even taller than an Elf, well-knit and powerful and moved swiftly like some predator approaching its prey. As he came closer Callanach could see his armour was smeared with dried blood. He could see too the script embroidered in gold on his long dirty red veil, which hid all his face but his eyes, bright and black as jet. There was script too on the curved sword he raised as he rushed to attack Callanach.

‘Spells of power to protect him while he slaughters the defenceless….’ thought Callanach. Then he glanced aside, to where Líofa lay, still and unmoving.
‘If I cannot join Líofa in life, perhaps I can join him in death….’ just keep your sword down, let the brute end it now with a stroke of his keen-edged scimitar.

‘Your friendship is but a lament, for the valley that lies between Elves and men…’ said Galadriel. ‘you cannot share it for long…’

I would rather share one day of life, than an Elvish eternity of night…..thought Callanach.

At the very last moment, just when the giant Easterling thought he had the Ranger under his blade, Callanach twisted away, faster than any mortal could move, and the scimitar bit into the trodden blackened ground. But as Callanach dodged aside he drew his Elven blade up and across, piercing the Easterling armour of overlapping bronze plaques as if they were of linen, penetrating too the leather jerkin underneath, slicing the skin and severing nerve and spine and sinew. As Callanach came to a halt and brought his sword up on guard, the Easterling took two more staggering steps then fell to his knees, then flopped forward onto his face, dead.

For a moment there was silence; only the distant cawing of crows and the gentle sighing of the evening breeze broke the stillness of the battlefield. The Easterlings stared at their slain captain, and at Callanach.

The boy raised his Elvish sword and shouted at them in Westron;
‘See how your runes of death and destruction have failed! You are beaten! Flee now, flee for your lives! If you are spared you might see your homes again, and live to reap the summer corn. If you stay you will go into the night with your fool of a leader!’

And Callanach took a step towards them but no further threats were necessary; the Easterlings turned and, some throwing away their encumbering pikes, they ran as fast as they could towards the river….

‘That’s it! Run, run you murdering horde of jackals!’ yelled Callanach, brandishing the sword and losing himself in his anger
‘You’ve done your harm….!’

‘Stop shouting, Storm….’ said a low voice behind him. Callanach whirled round.

‘Líofa?’