8. Coming In Two
Veisiliel broke her long silence today. At my writing earlier I lost track of all time and had completely forgotten about feeding her or Mother or myself, when suddenly I felt that I was being watched, and there she was in the doorway. I asked her why she watched me so and she told me she was hungry. What a sight I must have looked at that moment. I actually stammered in reply, I was so surprised to receive an answer.
She is not very talkative but at least it is a beginning. Father will be glad to know she speaks again. I only wish he were here. He rode out again yesterday at noon. He spent an hour in Mother's little room downstairs before his departure, but there was never a sound from within. Mother was quiet with the ladies today.
It has been nine days.
The healer says that staying indoors prevents my hip from healing properly. Veisiliel did not want to go outside but I made her accompany me anyway. I am tired of feeling as if we are always in hiding. We walked around the perimeter of the house and I held her hand all the while, and it is not the first time that I have thought this but I can never be a mother, I do not like holding hands with little ones. It is such a warm moist business. Nonetheless we performed two full rotations, and when she said she wanted to go inside I was glad enough to do so, for my hip hurt me. She said little afterwards but at dinner remarked that perhaps tomorrow we might walk the outer perimeter under the trees. I thought this was a good idea.
Perhaps I will be able to persuade Mother to go outside with us, once I have made up a comfortable place for her to sit. I am sure that the sun and the open air would do her good.
I snapped at Veisiliel today and I would have felt badly after, only it was so tedious at breakfast watching her stir her spoon in dreary circles through her porridge until I finally could no longer stand it and told her to Eat It, It Will Not Disappear On Its Own. She jumped a little in her seat and gave me a hurt look, but at least it was not the frightened rabbit look that she has worn of late, and she answered me pertly as well, which is reassuring in its own right.
I do not like to scold, though. It puts me in mind of Alageth and how she would snap at us when she was irritated, and how easy it was to irritate her. I write that last, I confess, with some measure of satisfaction. Looking back, I know that I took some pleasure in baiting her simply because it was so very easy to do. What a dreadful sister I am.
Father has come and gone again. This last visit of his was all too short. It is interesting that I should call them that, the times when he is home. I just noticed that now. And yet that is what they feel like: visits, swift and fleeting.
I think that Veisiliel is making up for lost time: she is a perfect saucebox of late. I will not say I wish she was quiet again but is there no happy medium?
"What is it, Veisiliel?"
"When you sit and write like that, what are you writing? Is it a story?"
Nevhithien shrugged absently. "Everything is a story, Veisiliel," she said. Struck by what had been intended as a casual remark, she scrawled it in the margin of the page. She felt pleased with her own cleverness.
Veisiliel padded up beside her, peering at the crowded page over her sister's elbow, which Nevhithien made no attempt to shield. Veisiliel did not know Tengwar. "Your script is not so pretty as Leni's."
Now Nevhithien did look up as, stung, she pushed the creamy sheets out of Veisiliel's line of vision. "That is because I do not waste my time on curlicues and gewgaws." As soon as she said it she felt guilty, realizing it sounded like a criticism of their absent sister. "That is to say, I have other aims in my writing." Veisiliel was looking at her curiously, so Nevhithien leaned forward on one elbow, twirling her pen a little as she tried to explain. "I seek to write to the moment, to describe the world around me and the events that take place. To make a record of what transpires."
"Do you think that you would forget otherwise?"
"No." Unable to find an explanation that didn't sound pretentious, Nevhithien decided to change the subject outright. "What do you want, little sister?"
"I am bored."
"No one can be bored who makes use of her imagination."
"Oh, you ALWAYS say that," complained Veisiliel. "Well, I have no imagination then, and I think you must not either."
"What makes you say that?"
"I do not think you have nearly so much to write as you pretend. I think that you are just playing at it. Sometimes you write but mostly you just sit and stare at the desk and tap your pen against your teeth. Trying to look important."
Perhaps it was because she had been interrupted at her writing: she was always a little out of sorts when jarred from her books or her pen. Perhaps it was Veisiliel's petulant tone, or maybe she had aimed too near the mark. Whatever the reason, Nevhithien felt a surge of irritation. "Well I like that! So speaks the child who cannot pen a line of script, who cannot read a word of it, who does not know one character!"
Veisiliel's mouth fell open and she backed away. "It is not my fault I cannot pen script! I—I—" She turned abruptly and fled.
Nevhithien sat blinking in her chair. Annoyance faded as quickly as it had arisen, to be replaced with guilt instead. Guilt, and sudden concern. True, she should not have spoken so to her sister, but Veisiliel's response seemed out of proportion to a few ill-tempered words. The chair scraped on the floor as Nevhithien rose to follow her sister.
She found her in very short order. The door to their mother's vacant room was closed, and she could hear the sniffling sound that was coming from within. Entering quietly, she saw Veisiliel lying on the bed with her face pressed against the pillow. "Little sister, I am sorry I hurt your feelings. Will you tell me what is wrong?" Veisiliel made a response of some sort, but the words were muffled. Sighing, Nevhithien crossed to the bed and sat beside her. "Tell me," she said again.
Veisiliel's damp face turned upward, the picture of misery. "It is not my fault I cannot pen script. She was supposed to teach me! When my Cirth were better, when my runes were perfect, she said she would teach me my Tengwar. But she is not here! It is her fault, not mine!" And she pressed her face down into the pillow again.
Nevhithien stared down at her. "Oh little sister…" She started to put her hand on Veisiliel's back, but Veisiliel gave an angry wriggle. Feeling her usual sense of inadequacy in such situations, Nevhithien did the only other thing she could think of, which was to lie down on the bed as well. She regarded Veisiliel's quivering shoulders for a moment. "You know it is not Leni's fault. It is not her fault, and it is not yours either."
A sniffle. "…I know."
"Will you let me hug you now?"
Another sniff. And then Veisiliel turned onto her side, looking at Nevhithien with annoyance. "Why do you have to ask first? Leni never asked. She just did it."
Nevhithien flinched as if she had been struck. "I am not Leni, Veisiliel. I wish that I was, but I am only myself. Do you think I do not miss her as much as you do?" She didn't try to keep the hurt from her voice.
Suddenly penitent, Veisiliel squirmed up against her, putting her arms around Nevhithien's neck. "I am sorry, Nevvy!"
Nevhithien held her back and closed her eyes. "I know, little sister. I am sorry too." She felt very tired. It was past noon and, while they were both under stress, she wondered if the time of day wasn't also a factor. "Maybe we should just stay here for a while," she murmured. She knew better than to use the word nap, not if she wanted Veisiliel to comply.
There was no immediate response. Veisiliel stopped gripping Nevhithien after a time and they lay quietly side by side. It was quiet for so long that Nevhithien finally thought her sister must have fallen asleep. She did not move but opened her eyes, staring up at the ceiling, and then turned her face toward the far wall from the bed. A gray shadow moved on the wall: the sun was coming through the window at an angle, shining through the gauzy curtains to create the illusion of a shifting shroud.
Nevhithien watched the shadow and its gentle permutations, and thought about where they were. In their mother's bed, in their mother's room. She thought of how the room had looked when they came back that day: how the bedding had been all pulled apart, and the dresser pulled away from the wall; how her mother's things had been on the floor. Now it was white and clean and impeccable…and empty, void of her presence. Knowing that she was in the same house, just a floor removed in the room made up for her below, made it somehow even emptier.
"Nevvy? When will Papa bring Leni back?"
Nevhithien was not expecting the question, but it didn't take her entirely off guard. "I do not know, Veisiliel," she said truthfully. "Soon, I hope."
"It has been a long time."
"It has been two weeks."
The little girl sighed. "That is a long time for me." A brief silence. "…Nevvy?" She swallowed. "They think Leni is dead."
Nevhithien's heart plummeted. She turned her face back toward Veisiliel, staring at her. "Who thinks that?" she finally whispered, terrified that Veisiliel was going to say it was their parents.
Veisiliel looked at her, biting her lip, and then the words spilled out: "When they come and bring food. I hear them talking: Himeth, and the other ellith. I hear them talking by themselves. They say it is terrible. That it is so sad for our family. That maybe we are going to leave now. That Mama talks about our going away."
That Mother talks about… "Mother is very sad," said Nevhithien slowly.
"We cannot go! How will we find Leni if we stop looking and go away?"
Seeing Veisiliel's increasing agitation, Nevhithien was quick to reassure her. "We will not go away anywhere. You see how Father is, how he comes back only to leave again. He is bent on finding her."
"But what if—" Veisiliel broke off.
There was a quaver in her voice. "What if she is dead?"
It was the question Nevhithien had feared now for some time, and she had not known how she was to answer it. So she was surprised at what came out of her mouth. It was a laugh, as if what Veisiliel had said was so implausible as to be funny. "Oh Veisiliel, that is just silly. Leni is not dead."
Veisiliel turned her face fully toward Nevhithien, staring at her with her child's eyes, searching Nevhithien's face with an un-childlike seriousness. Nevhithien held the gaze steadily, smiling all the while, and was relieved when she saw belief flood her little sister's face. "But how do you know?" asked Veisiliel, even as her body relaxed.
"Because Father says she is not," Nevhithien said, "and I believe him." She did believe. She had to at that moment. She could not allow any doubt to creep into her voice with Veisiliel hanging on her words. "What cause would the Orcs have to take Leni if it was just to kill her? They needed her to make their escape."
"But after that?"
"Then she would still have been valuable to them."
"Doing what though?" Veisiliel looked dubious. "She is not such a very good cook yet, Nevhithien. Her bread hurts my teeth."
Nevhithien laughed. "It is true they cannot want her for her cooking," she said. Veisiliel's use of the present tense had not escaped her notice and she made sure to use it as well. Sitting up, knowing that it would give her words greater authority if she was upright, she gestured as she spoke. "Perhaps for her embroidery? She is very good with a needle."
"I do not think these Orcs care for embroidery," said Veisiliel, wrinkling her nose as she too sat up. "Their clothes were ugly, and they smelled bad."
"Perhaps they want her for mending, then. That is very easy for Leni. Think of all the times that she has mended your own garments, and hers, and mine."
"That is true…" Veisiliel trailed off, and then her eyes widened. "Oh Nevvy! Maybe they will ransom her!"
Nevhithien blinked. "Ah…."
"Like the bad Men in the tales—and the Orcs too, the Orcs too! They would ransom captives sometimes and give them back for gold and silver!" She looked at Nevhithien eagerly.
Nevhithien's scholarly sensibilities launched a loud protest. "Well, that was very long ago, in times of war, and those were very important prisoners…."
"Yes, but Leni is important to us and the Orcs would know that."
Nevhithien swallowed her hesitation, seeing her little sister's excitement. What, after all, was the harm in allowing her this little fantasy? And truthfully it had appeal for Nevhithien as well. "Yes, it is quite possible," she agreed.
Her sister deflated suddenly. "But we would have had something by now…a message…a letter…." she said glumly.
"Orcs probably cannot write very well. Maybe it is taking them a while," said Nevhithien dryly. This earned a giggle. Encouraged, she expanded, "Two weeks. No, that is not long enough—they will need twice as long as that."
"They should ask Leni for help." Veisiliel grinned. "But they are probably too stupid for her to teach them!"
"Yes, she has given up on them by now." Nevhithien chuckled. "They are trying to form their letters and she is praying to the Valar. She is saying, 'Elbereth preserve me from these awful Orcs. They cannot tell their telcos from their lúvas.'" Even as she said it, she felt sheepish. "Oh…"
"I cannot tell them apart either," said Veisiliel, though she laughed a little.
Nevhithien did not. "It was very unfair of me to say that to you, little sister. And I have been remiss." Leni had not only been Veisiliel's chief playmate but her teacher, schooling her in history, in reading and writing and in basic arithmetic. Two weeks without the stimulation of lessons of any sort—it was no wonder she'd grown bored and peevish. "Would you like to learn Tengwar, Veisiliel?"
"Well yes, but how can I without Leni?"
"I will teach you, of course. Where do you think Leni learned hers from? Haenes taught Alageth and me, and I was the one to teach Leni. There is nothing to stop me from teaching you as well. I only wonder why I did not think of it before."
Veisiliel's face brightened. "Really? But…Leni said we should wait until my Cirth was better. And I…"
"Yes?" Nevhithien prompted her.
"I have not written anything at all in so long," Veisiliel said, her voice lowered in embarrassment.
"Then that is the first thing we will change." Nevhithien stood resolutely. "Come on you, get up. We will begin at once."
Lessons saw a definite improvement in both their moods. Veisiliel was much more cheerful now that she had something to occupy her time, and she was more studious than Nevhithien had expected.
It is our third day of lessons and I am very proud of Veisiliel. She puts great effort into her Cirth and does well in her other subjects also, though sums made her anxious. Her runes are very nearly perfect, and I have told her that tomorrow I will begin teaching her real Tengwar in the mode of Beleriand. It is easier to learn and more of my books are written in that mode than in the mode of Gondor, though Gondor's script is the more practical to know in this Age and she will have to learn that as well. I must think about these things, but of course it matters little to Veisiliel. She is only excited to begin writing as Leni and I do.
Had circumstances been otherwise, Nevhithien might have become smug about her prowess as a teacher. As it was, she knew that much of Veisiliel's eagerness to learn stemmed from her profound belief that their missing sister would be restored to them, and a desire to impress Leni and to make her proud when that day came.
One morning Veisiliel woke Nevhithien in a great flurry of excitement to tell her that she had just seen their father leading Tálagor to the stable, with Culas and his own horse following behind. Nevhithien dressed quickly and they both hurried down to the kitchen. When the two ellyn came in after caring for their mounts they found hot breakfasts already waiting.
"My sweet girls!" Fírhador caught Veisiliel up in his arms. As she kissed his cheek he winked over her shoulder at Nevhithien. "What did you think you were doing, making all of this food when we have been eating nothing but road fare? Our poor shrunken stomachs cannot take it!"
"They can and will," said Nevhithien, laughing at him, though inside she did not much feel like laughter. Her father looked leaner than on his last return home, and his once cheerful eyes held a private sadness now at all times, even in moments like this when he was smiling. His companion Culas stood leaning in the doorway to the kitchen, watching with a half smile of his own. Smile smile smile, and none of them mentioned Leni or the fact that she had not been found. Those unsaid words inhabited the room, more real than any that were spoken.
Over his breakfast Fírhador talked often, as if trying to cover the ghost-words. When he stood his plate was still half full of food. "I will go see if your mother is awake." Nevhithien turned her head to watch him leave, and wondered that he had not done so straight away on his arrival.
"My arm is all better now," Veisiliel was saying to Culas. "See?" She held it out to him.
"Ah, very good…but can you make a fist? You will have to make a fist before we can declare a full recovery," he said. She did so, and he told her sternly to make a better one, and when she had clenched her hand to his satisfaction he remarked with great enthusiasm on her grip and on the swell of her childish bicep. "I now pronounce you fully healed."
Culas was a sober young ellon. He knew how to be with little children, how to say the things that made Veisiliel giggle and laugh, but when he was not talking to her he was very quiet. Nevhithien didn't have much to say to him either. When she looked at him she thought of his friend who had died trying to rescue her sister, and when she thought of his friend she thought of Afrted, who had died saving her. Her father had told her the Orc that had killed Afrted and hurt her and her mother was dead, that he had put its body in the earth himself, yet she still dreamt sometimes of its burning red eyes. She thought of all of this when she saw Culas, and so when she spoke with him she either said too little or much too much.
Having something in common, contrary to what others may think, does not always make for easy conversation, she thought wryly.
Culas looked in her direction just then, as Veisiliel continued to chatter, and Nevhithien did not avert her gaze. He returned it without any expression on his face at first; then he gave that half smile again, and there was something ironic about it, as if he had seen something of her thoughts and shared the sentiment. Nevhithien smiled back and shrugged. It was a small exchange and did not perhaps mean much, but it made her like him more than she had before.
Just then Fírhador returned. "You will have to forgive me if I do not rejoin the three of you. There is something I must see to." He stood on the threshold, not fully entering the room. He was not looking at them.
Looking to cover the awkwardness of the moment and her own disquiet, Nevhithien said that of course there was no trouble about it, she and Veisiliel would just set something aside for him to eat later. Then Culas stood and said that he would also take his leave. This was only understandable—Fírhador had established no definite time he would be finished with whatever was going on—but Nevhithien caught the look in the other Elf's eyes as he addressed her father.
And then it was her alone in the kitchen with Veisiliel, looking at the partial plates of food that Fírhador and Culas had left behind. Veisiliel was crestfallen, and Nevhithien did not feel much better. "Well," she said, "I suppose that we had better tidy up."
There was a feeling of unrest after that. They made some meager attempts at study but Veisiliel's heart was not in it and Nevhithien finally suggested it might be better to stop and take up later where they had left off. At this point Veisiliel disappeared into her own pursuits and Nevhithien, at a loss for anything else to do, did the predictable thing and opened her journal.
She began rereading her entries of the past few weeks, but the words made no sense, or if they did, they seemed shallow and meaningless. Taking up her pen, Nevhithien tapped her teeth. She planned to write of her happiness at their father's return, her hope that he might be able to stay a few days before setting out again. She planned to write of Veisiliel's progress with her Tengwar. She started to do so, but the words that found their way onto the page were not the words she had planned. She wrote instead of the interrupted breakfast, of her and Veisiliel's disappointment. She wrote of the momentary affinity she had felt with Culas, and about the resentment that replaced it when he seemed to know something she did not. And then her entry took another turn.
I wish I were an honest person. I wish I could take risks: that I could write about the things that truly matter. I ramble on about how Veisiliel fares with her sums or whether Mother has appetite on a given day. There is no risk in speaking of these matters. It is harder to put pen to that which I cannot define. When Father's words ring false in my ears, or when Mother says nothing when he speaks. The sense of a conversation beyond my range of hearing, dropped at my approach. It is harder to write about my doubts, about what keeps me worried and awake at night. They are my parents, but I am frightened for them.
I am my father's daughter. I have always favored his optimism, his unassailable belief that what is wrong can be put right. That what is lost can yet be found, and what is broken mended. I wish I could be honest. I try to write the things I know, the things that are concrete. But I am fearful of that which I cannot hear.
When she was unbound, Thalawen said. When her body had healed and she could endure the journey. Elves are normally quick to heal but grief had slowed that process for her. When she was unbound, she told him, she would go.
The look in his eyes hurt her heart, but when he tried to touch her thoughts Thalawen repelled him gently. "No, beloved. I will be my own person in this. I will think with my own mind. If it must be said then let it be with words."
He drew back at the rebuff, turning away from her, and when he spoke his voice was strained. "It is what you have wanted. Do not pretend otherwise."
Dishonesty had no place between them, not even to protect his feelings. "For long and long, yes. I do not pretend otherwise."
"You blame me for what happened."
"I do not blame you, Fírhador. I blame this world you cling to. This Middle-earth you would defend. It is not for us; it rejects us. The good is devoured, the beautiful taken. I will have no more taken from me."
"Stay. If only for a time longer…"
"I have stayed, beloved, fifteen years. When those I loved departed over the sea, I kept my place at your side. I would not leave you, Fírhador, but I will have no more of this world."
He began to pace, began to speak quickly, and she listened to what he said and spoke in those moments that were given to her. And did not yield, though it hurt her to watch him as he strove to master himself: hurt to see the suffering she caused. She felt pity for him and regretted that it should come to this, for she loved him deeply. But memories stirred in her: all the lonely days and nights that she had spent during the War when he had left her for so long, and she had feared for his safety, for all of their safety. There had been lonely days and nights again, this time confined to her bed, the world shrinking around her to the confines of the four walls of her room, and she had lain there with nothing but the pain of her body and her innermost reflections, and the conclusions she had finally drawn. She loved him, but she could no longer stay.
"You could come as well, you know," she said as she watched him. "There is a place for you also on the gray ships."
"I cannot go," he said, shaking his head.
"I cannot leave her."
"You cannot leave what is already gone."
He stopped and looked at her, eyes bright as flame. "You are wrong, Thalawen, by all my love for you. She lives. In my heart I know it."
"In my heart I know I will not see my daughter again on this side of the sea. You would stay and seek endlessly for Eleluleniel. Rather would I go to her and hold her once more in my arms in the Undying Lands."
He took a step toward her. "If you go, you go alone. I will not depart on the gray ships, and Nevhithien and Veisiliel also will remain."
She stared at him. "You would deny our daughters passage to Aman?" she asked slowly.
He spoke from a sense of deep resolution. "I would preserve their right to decide their own futures."
"As parents we must make decisions for our children."
Fírhador shook his head. "To leave on the gray ships is not to return. Till they are of age they will remain here, in the land that they know, in the home of their birth. They must be allowed the years to know what they are doing, and to choose."
"You would keep them here so long? You would risk losing them as well?" She saw how he flinched but continued: "Nevhithien will not reach her majority for five years, and Veisiliel for another twenty-five. I am their mother. Have I no say in this?"
"It is you who desires to leave."
"It is you who keeps leaving. Fírhador, think. What kind of life can they have with your continual absence? Even here you are not here, not truly. Your mind is in another place. You think of nothing but her—"
"Of course I think of her! How can I not? How can you not?"
She made an abrupt movement that sent pain through her bandaged ribs. She gasped and Fírhador, chastened, extended a hand toward her. She waved it away, still gasping. "Can you believe I do not think of her?" she demanded when she could speak again. "I mourn my lost child. I grieve Eleluleniel. But you would rather go mad than grieve and let her go. Your greatest fear is that she should be dead. Have you thought of what the alternative would mean, Fírhador? Of the hardships that she would endure? There was never a more gentle soul than hers. In all the years of her life she knew nothing but tenderness and loving kindness. She was not made to endure cruelty!"
"I know it, Thalawen. I know it well. And yet how else would you have it? Would you rather she was dead? Can you say this, truly?" His voice was rough with emotion.
She looked away from him and was silent for a time. When she spoke there was no longer anger, only a kind of tender resignation. "There are those occasions, Fírhador, when wishing life upon another is no kindness. Yet even then no mother could truly wish death upon her child. No mother can say with honesty that she had rather her daughter were dead than living. Rather, beloved, I say this… Better in the hands of Ilúvatar than in the hands of monsters."
The telco (stem) and lúva (bow) are the two elements forming each consonant in the Tengwar alphabet. The Mode of Beleriand and the Mode of Gondor are two different ways of writing Tengwar. The Mode of Beleriand is the more ancient of the two but the easier to learn because it uses vowels as well as consonants. Vowel sounds in the Mode of Gondor are depicted as little marks over the succeeding consonants.
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.