Only a Game
20. Beyond the Circles of this World
The sky was grey, hung with low clouds; the wind was cold and strong. Gulls were wheeling above the sea, dropping down into the dark waters, bobbing spots of silver between green waves and white crests of foam. Their piercing, disharmonic cries echoed across the beach, a melancholy soundtrack to the fading year.
I tilted my head back and watched the circling of the gulls in the sky. Legolas had heard the gulls at Pelargir, when the grey company had ridden to fight against the Corsairs of Umbar, I recalled. Their wailing voices had woken the longing for the sea in his soul, the desire for Eldamar and the Blessed Realm. Had there been truly no joy and peace left for him in Middle-earth after hearing their cries?
I looked at Elrohir's pale face, his dark eyes, so full of shadow they seemed almost black. Had he heard their cries then, too? What did their cry mean to him?
"Gwael, we call them," Elrohir said in a husky voice. "But they have other names, too. Maew, or myl. In Quenya they are maíwi. There are many sad songs and poems about the call of the gwael, how they call our souls home to Aman."
"And… do they call your soul, too?" I asked and for some reason my voice trembled at the question.
He sighed and lifted his eyes to the sky, following the flight of the gulls as I had done.
"No," he said. "No, they don't. It would be easier, if they did."
Later we walked back to the tents of the Avari. The Elves had been busy, the great loads of supplies and tools, which had been made ready in the morning to be transported on board of the tall ships, had dwindled to relatively small heaps. If the weather did not turn, the Avari would easily be able to sail within three days, leaving Middle-earth to its autumn and winter.
That night we had dinner "en famille", Doron, Mínuíal, Elladan, Elrohir and me; I felt uncomfortable to be included in the invitation, but when I saw the darkness in Elrohir's eyes I could not object. We sat next to each other at dinner, Elladan across from his brother and Mínuíal across from me, Doron at the head of the table.
The brothers were telling tales of their adventures as rangers, but their gaze was focused on each other to the exclusion of everyone else. It seemed to me that the brothers were trying to fix every detail of their twin in their mind and soul. They tried to relive and to share again the most exciting and precious moments of their lives together. They wanted to bring back those shared moments, before they were lost in time forever.
I sat and listened. I forced myself to eat at least a little bit of the excellent mushroom soufflé I had been served and fought valiantly to blink away my tears now and then. And now and then I felt a fleeting touch of Elrohir's cool fingers against my thigh, as if he needed to reassure himself that I was still there.
When the dessert – dark and white mousse au chocolat or something very similar – was sitting untouched on a white plate in front of me, I found myself staring into Mínuíal's dark blue eyes. We had been unknowingly staring into each other's eyes for quite some time, I think, both of us caught up in the pain of the brothers' parting. When I tried to avert my gaze, blushing at my inappropriate behaviour, the Elven woman shook her head imperceptibly and gave a slight jerk to the left, her eyebrows raised questioningly. Girl talk outside the tent?
I felt a frown creep up on my face and hastily nodded. As a make-believe-ranger from the North I was not quite in the position to decline any girl talk an Elvish princess wanted to have. And I was curious about Mínuíal.
She made our excuses in such a fast hiss of Sindarin that I did only get the gist of what she was saying; but it seemed to be not much different from what any London girl would say at such a moment, so I followed her as she swept out of the tent, feeling like an elephant trudging behind a fluttering fairy.
She led me into a tent just to the right of Doron's and offered me a glass of something sparkly. "This is my place until we leave. A good place to talk without disturbing their farewell." I must have appeared somewhat dubious.
"It's only water, don't worry," she said, as she handed me a glass, and then flopped down on an easy chair in a corner. I sat down on straight-backed wooden chair with comfortable, intricately carved arm-rests, sipped at the water and waited for what she wanted to say.
The silence lengthened, but I did not mind. The undercurrents of emotion accompanying dinner tonight had left me too frazzled to care.
"What does it mean to be mortal?" Mínuíal asked abruptly.
I put the glass down and stared at her. What did she want to know?
"It means that I will die." I said.
"I know that," the Elf replied. "But what does it MEAN?"
Mean? Did she want to talk about religion? I knew almost nothing about religion in Middle-earth. What did it mean to me, to be mortal? I blinked. After thinking about her question, I finally answered, and my explanation sounded clumsy to my own ears, not really an explanation at all.
"I will grow old and then I will die. Or I will fall sick and die, when I am still young. My life will end. This…" I gestured at her and the room. "This world will continue to exist without me. I will be gone. Some believe we go on after death, to God, or to another life. I don't know about that. No one has come back yet, to tell about it." Well, Jesus perhaps, back home, but there were quite enough dissenting opinions on His account.
"But what does it MEAN, for you, for your life?" Mínuíal repeated, still not satisfied with my answer.
What does it mean…
"That I should keep in mind how precious the time is that I have been given," I said slowly. "But I don't think we do that. I guess it's not really possible. How can you live, if you keep thinking about death? Most of the time, we just live our lives… acting as if we had forever." I fell silent. Eventually I continued. "There is a saying, where I come from, a reminder; 'carpe diem', it means 'seize the day'. We have to use the little time we have wisely, intensively."
I looked across the room at the ethereal figure of this princess of the Avari. She looked so very fragile, and yet I knew that she would still be alive and looking exactly the same, when no one would even remember my name anymore. "Many wise human men and women have thought about the meaning of life and death, many poets have written beautiful and important verses about this." I added. "But I don't really remember them. In the end, I guess, everyone has to find his own verse to add. Perhaps that's what it's all about…"
"You know the Ainulindalë?" She asked, astounded. Elrohir had explained it to me. The Ainulindalë was their song of creation, their Genesis.
"Well, we don't call it that… but in a way, I guess, we do." Perhaps you really could call the efforts of our human philosophers, our scientists, our religious leaders, our artists, writers and poets a song of creation.
"You are not as different from us as I had thought," Mínuíal announced suddenly. Then she smiled brightly. "Well, I knew you couldn't be, since you are bound to Elladan's brother."
"Bound?" I stared at her, wide-eyed and confused.
Now it was her turn to look confused. "Bound! Don't you mortals join your hearts and souls and minds with their one true love?"
I gaped at her. What was she talking about now? "We do love. And we marry. Some people believe in true love or even love at first sight. But that never happened to me."
"No, no, no; I am not talking about falling in love and marriage. Don't you know about the meaning of a true joining? A joining of hearts and souls and minds, which lasts beyond the circles of this world?"
"Literally???" I stared at her, nausea rising from my stomach.
Her blue eyes widened with shock at my ignorance, her voice shaking slightly, when spoke again. "It does not happen to all of us. It is a blessing of the Valar, bestowed upon the greatest lovers of my people... I knew Elrohir would not come with us, and when I saw you, well, you are only a mortal, but with Luthien and Beren, there are precedents… I was so relieved to see that he had been blessed with a true joining, too… How can it be possible that you don't know about this?"
How can it be possible that I am sitting in a tent with an Elvish princess telling me that… that I have… that I am… the one true love of an Elf, an Elf as in an Elvish Elf of Middle-earth? True love? Joining? Lasting beyond this world? In a game???
But even as the thought formed in my mind, I felt the truth of it in my soul; my heart started to race and I felt myself trembling all over, like a leaf in the wind. Mínuíal looked at me shivering, and there was pity in her eyes as she walked over to me.
"You have to talk about this to Elrohir, or evil will come of it," Mínuíal said, taking my hands, drowning me in her intense blue gaze, piercing my thoughts with the power of her immortal mind. Then she released me, and stepped back.
"Elo!" She cried, looking at me with her eyes wide with wonder, and I shivered at the thought of what she might have perceived in me. "Strange are the paths of destiny! And little do we forgotten ones perceive of the Valar's and Eru's intentions. Galu an-chen, blessing for you, muínthel-nîn, my sister. I am sad that we have only so little time to know each other."
When I had calmed down, we returned to the others; Elladan and Elrohir were still deeply involved in the telling of some childhood pranks, which had Doron laughing out loud.
I slid back into my chair and accepted their aromatic after-dinner drink, which reminded me both of coffee and cocoa. I sipped at the hot liquid, and inhaled the fragrant steam, but inside my mind I felt completely frozen, unable to string two thoughts together.
When we lay in our bed that night, curled against one another, Elrohir's mingled feelings of happiness and grief covered me like a second blanket. Keeping my thoughts as silent and unobtrusive as possible, questions were repeating themselves in my mind, over and over again, in a steady rhythm, like a mantra. Is it true, is it true, how can it be true, what shall I do, and again, is it true, is it true…
The twins spent the next day together.
I stayed in the tent, staring at the finely woven cloth, trying to count the threads.
Mínuíal kept me company, keeping her own sadness at the twins' parting hidden.
Instead, the Elven woman tried valiantly to cheer me up, telling me tales about the famous lovers of Elvish legends. Although the Avari had been forgotten by the Valar and the other Elves, they had apparently not forgotten their kindred; at least they shared all their legends enthusiastically. Perhaps because they themselves were a part of these legends, I mused, trying in vain to keep my mind on Mínuíal's story.
The next day was worse. Everything but the tents and the bedding had been transported to the ships. Many Elves stayed already on board of the ships. The sight of the Elvish ships – lit with many lanterns, colourful banners fluttering from their masts –, and the sound of their evening songs – sung in their singularly pure voices, which drifted ashore with the breeze –, were almost too beautiful to bear.
Elrohir did not really sleep the following night. He lay with his eyes open, staring at the ceiling of the tent. Of course, as an Elf, he might have been asleep nevertheless, but I knew that Elrohir actually preferred to sleep as humans do, with their eyes closed; although he did that only when he felt safe, walking the strange paths of Elvish dreams at other times with his eyes open to the world. But he did not even do this that night. His breathing was irregular, and he moved restlessly now and again.
I could not sleep either, thinking about Mínuíal and Elladan, their departure on the following day, Elrohir and this cursed choice, true love, games and reality.
Was it possible that a love born of myth and legend could live beyond the circles of a world?
Would I want it to?
On the fourth morning, the Avari set sail for the Lands of the Sun.
Again it was a cold grey morning. Swirling mists danced on the waves and hid the outlines of the shore. The gleaming white shapes of the Elvish ships and their colourful banners and ribbons were barely visible in the haze. Now and again a lantern would light up the slow dawn like a star, or a white mast and hull would gleam through the fog. But the strong, tall ships, which I had watched being loaded during the last few days, seemed insubstantial this morning, like phantoms of a dream, remnants of half-forgotten legends.
Doron, Mínuíal and Elladan waited to the last moment to board the flagship. Their boat was waiting for them down on the beach, along with four silent Elvish guards in green and gold livery to row them to the ship.
It was time to make our farewells.
I was discomfited by Doron's formal embrace of farewell.
Mínuíal gave me a small wooden box and called me sister.
Elladan held me almost painfully tight, and whispered something into my ear.
I had to turn away quickly, to hide my tears.
Elrohir and Doron embraced like father and son.
Afterwards Doron walked down the beach to the rowing boat.
Elrohir embraced Mínuíal and kissed her formally on both cheeks.
She blushed and dashed at her eyes, but the tears kept running down her cheeks like glittering drops of crystal. She tried to smile at us, and then she, too, turned and ran down the beach to the boat, which was waiting to bear them away.
Now it was time for the brothers to make their farewells.
I turned away from them and walked away a little, to give them privacy for their last farewell.
I watched them from the distance. I do not think that they said anything to each other.
Two tall figures, cloaked in grey, they stood among the swirling mists of an October morning at the Eastern Seas. Two princes of the firstborn they were, their faces clear and untouched by the passage of centuries, and their eyes shone like silver stars through the haze.
They held their embrace for long moments.
Then they parted and Elladan walked down to the boat.
He did not turn back and within moments the small craft had disappeared in the fog.
I walked back to Elrohir, my feet slipping in the soft sands of the dunes.
I stood next to him and followed his gaze out into the swirling mists.
Elvish voices echoed back to the coast, calling commands. Muffled by the fog, the groaning of wood drifted across to us as the ships were readied to sail. With a soft rushing sound the great sails unfurled, gleaming brightly through the mists. As if on cue, the wind rose and turned, blowing in a stiff breeze from the West. The sails billowed. The ships jerked to the wind. The sun broke through the mists, and the fog dispersed in swiftly disappearing patches.
The ships picked up speed. Blue and green waves rushed against their bows, cresting in white crowns of foam, spray flying. Silver gulls were wheeling above the masts, wailing farewells of their own.
Leaving the shores of Arda behind them, the voices of the Avari lifted in song.
They were greeting the sun and asking for blessing.
And to my astonishment, I recognized the song they were singing.
"A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
silivren penna míriel
o menel aglar elenath!
o galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, sí nef aearon!"
The Valar might have forgotten the Avari. But the Avari had not forgotten the Valar, even if they had never followed their call to the shores of Aman the Blessed, and never would.
The Avari sailed into a glorious sunrise of golden fire. We watched until the white ships seemed to have sailed straight into the fiery globe of the sun, until we could not stand the glare of the sun's own fire any longer.
When the sun had climbed high enough in the sky to make out the horizon again, the ships of the Avari, and Elladan, were gone.
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This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.