1. The Nightingale
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Tolkien, and no disrespect towards them is intended. Or at least that´s what we all say, hypocrites that we are. ;)
Note: I have taken the liberty to make up Dior´s trips to Doriath. I´m not a canon fanatic. Nope.
This is the result of my random musings about that strange Maia who was diminished out of her own free will.
The boy frowned in concentration, handling the brush with such seriousness that the Half-Elf could not help being reminded of an artisan in his craft. In front of him, she knelt with her eyes stoically shut, submitting her face to the marring of several black lines that vaguely ressembled a mouth with pointed fangs.
Several other children surrounded them, in a circle that buzzed with a swarm of contradictory suggestions and indications.
"That´s it!" the boy finally announced, taking a step backwards and squinting at several angles to make a thorough examination of his handiwork. She opened her eyes. "Glaurung the Fire Dragon!"
"It looks more like an Orc to me."
"What do you know?" The boy glared in outrage at the girl who had criticised his painting. "You´ve never seen a real Orc."
"And you´ve never seen a dragon!"
The woman stood up, and towered over them with a glare. Our of instinct, all the children took a step back, some of them already shivering in gleeful tension.
"What is this that I hear? "she hissed, in a cunning impression of an angry dragon. "Those little Sindarin worms, mistaking me for an Orc? Oh, the insult! The disgrace! I will burn them with my flaming breath!"
With a quick motion, she lunged at the argumentative girl, who screamed and ran away as fast as her small legs allowed her. The other children followed her example, and soon the clearing was full of little laughing Doriathrim escaping the dragon.
Except one, the young Half-Elf thought as his eyes fell upon the boy who had painted the crooked fangs. That one had found a stick, which he was waving like a real sword, and he was bravely standing his ground against the approaching terror. Maybe he fancied himself to be his kinsman, the mortal Túrin?
"Die, you bane!"
The makeshift dragon, as fierce as they came, did not allow herself to be killed without a struggle and a good deal of theatrics. As she sank to the ground, she turned her head in menacing circles, and lunged at a boy who had been imprudent enough as to approach the "corpse" too soon.
"I killed the evil dragon!" the boy with the sword boasted. "I am the Ruin of Glaurung!"
The girl, her breath still heavy from her exertions, gave him a faintly distasteful glare.
"Why are you always being Túrin?"
He frowned again, and crossed his arms over his little chest.
"Because I like him."
"He ran away from Doriath and married his sister!"
"How do you know that?" The deep, slightly shocked voice coming from one of the trees made the Half-Elf realise, for the first time, that there was yet another person in that clearing. Surprised, he saw Galadriel´s golden hair gleam under the lamps, as she stood up and left the shade to be closer to the children. "This is not a story for young..."
"He´s a hero!" the boy shouted, ignoring even the Noldorin princess in his passionate defence. "He killed Glaurung in single combat, didn´t he, Melian?"
The woman struggled up from her lying position, and began prying leaves off her tangled black hair.
"Indeed he did." she nodded with a rueful smile, patting the boy´s shoulder as if, for a moment, he had really been the foster-child that she had lost years ago. Then, she lifted her glance farther up and noticed his presence, next to the roots of the mallorn tree. "Dior! Come forth, we will not attack you."
Feeling caught, the young Half-Elf managed to sputter a greeting, and walked several steps towards her under the curious glances of the children. Galadriel was the only one who answered him at all.
Wondering if maybe they had not heard him, he opened his mouth to try again. Somehow, though, the sight of his venerable Maia grandmother with fangs painted over her face robbed him of the skill of building a sentence, and he chose to sit down next to her, careful not to dirty his robes.
Realising that the game was over, the children began to fight for a place on Melian´s lap. None of them went to Galadriel, but the Noldo seemed to take it with good grace.
"Are you really half-Man?" a little voice asked. Dior stiffened, feeling watched by six pairs of intent eyes. Children made him uneasy; they were strange and unpredictable and prone to blurt out things.
... though not as much as Melian.
"Yes, I am." he answered, in a voice that came out louder than he had intended. The Maia laughed.
"And this certainly explains much! It seems I am seeing your father instead of you, when he was brought before the King to ask for fair Lúthien´s hand. He was so intent in walking briskly and with a high chin that he almost crashed against him!"
"To see the Throne of Doriath for the first time would be an unsettling experience for any mortal." Galadriel argued politely, as if feeling it was her duty to defend Beren in front of his son. Melian shook her head with an impish smile.
"And was it a mortal who mistook Lúthien for the Queen in front of everybody when she was taken to Menegroth?"
"Really?" One of the girls laughed. "Who did that?"
Galadriel sobered up and fell silent; whether she was embarrassed or not by Melian´s words, Dior could not tell. It was not as if he couldn´t understand such a blunder, he thought a bit crossly. His mother was different; her features shone with a beauty that filled the hearts and healed the spirits of all those who were touched by its glow. He remembered coming to her in tears countless times, only to forget why he was crying the very moment he laid eyes on her. He remembered being cradled in her arms, and feeling the warmth of a power that would protect him from the darkest shadow.
When his parents had decided that he would ride to Doriath to pay a visit to his kin, he had thought he would be meeting the only being who was more powerful than her mother, the Maia incarnate who protected a whole realm with her enchantments. His imaginations during his journey had been filled with gleaming eyes and serene smiles full of a distant wisdom, not with merry winks and... ringing laughs.
How could she be the immortal who had joined her voice to the Music of the Ainur? This was something he had surprised himself wondering more and more at each passing day, in spite of the periodical onslaughts of guilt and the respect that he owed to his grandmother and his Queen. She was a beautiful woman who played, sang, talked and laughed without ever seeming to tire, but this was the closest thing to a superior trait that he had ever discovered in her. He had seen the children deceive her when they played hide-and-seek, and laugh from their comfortable watchpoint in a cave while she went downstream searching for them. He had seen her stumble and fall - once, he had even seen her hurt her knee. And then he had surprised her watching the blood in fascination, with the eyes of a little girl.
Dior did not know what to do of this mystery, and this had unsettled him since the day of his arrival. It made him wish to avoid her, and follow her every movement with intent eyes at the same time.
"... find the cakes that I baked last night?" he heard her saying to Galadriel. "Or at least those that remain after someone stole into my kitchens this morning."
The Noldorin princess made a nod, and stood up gracefully. To her own faint amusement, the same children who had scorned her in Melian´s favour a short while ago struggled now to their feet to follow her adoringly, except for the one who had already fallen asleep on the Queen´s lap.
Melian stared as they trotted away, shaking her head with a smile. Then, she turned a pleasant face in his direction.
"Something is bothering you." she proclaimed. Dior, taken by surprise, gave a nervous jump.
Could she know what he was thinking? That he was... having those unflattering, disrespectful ideas about her?
His cheeks began to give alarming signals of flushing.
"Can you read my mind?" he asked, before he could find a better way to voice his concern. Melian let go of a loud, clear laugh.
"Your mind, indeed! What have those poor weeds done to you?"
Ashamed, Dior realised that his hand had been distractedly plucking weeds from the green grass that surrounded them.
"I... I apologise. I was just thinking..." he started, then stopped dead when he realised that he had been about to make things even worse. Melian gave him a sideways glance, as she began to scratch the paint from her face away with her free hand.
Dior sighed, in faint relief for not having to see fangs in her face for much longer. He tried to imagine his mother wearing a similar disguise, soiling her beauty under the harsh lines of a creature of Morgoth, and shuddered.
"You are my only grandson, son of my only daughter." she went on, her voice muffled by the vigorous rubbing of fingers over the bridge of her nose. For a moment, he wondered at the awkwardness that lay under the quick unfolding of family titles in her mouth, as if she felt uneasy about their meaning. "And yet you always must be stiff and uneasy in my presence. What will I have to attempt next, in order to befriend you?"
The Half-Elf shook his head in alarmed denial.
"It.. is not that, Grandmother! I do not mind being in your presence... I mean, I..." What on Arda was he saying? He looked down, noticing only belatedly that he was pulling out weeds again. "I am sorry."
"Tell me what is ailing you." Her voice, her eyes became as soothing as whenever she coaxed a child to stop wailing. "I will listen."
To his horror and embarrassment, the thought of what he would have to tell her finally made Dior flush to the root of his hair. Turning red at the slightest sign of emotion was a really obnoxious human trait, one that he had never been able to control.
Fortunately, Melian did not voice any comments about red cheeks and Lady Nimloth this time.
"You do not trust me."
Worried at the implication, the Half-Elf managed to look at her.
"This is not true either, Grandmother! But... I think that you would be angry."
The Maia snorted. Her cleaning already finished, she let her hand rest on the shoulder of the sleeping child, who stirred a bit in his sleep.
"Angry? You flatter yourself, if you think that you could make me angry."
"I... well, I never imagined that you would be like this." he finally surrendered, in a single breath. Now that he had said it, his nervous tongue seemed to unfurl. "You are always playing with children, and baking cakes, laughing... painting horrible things on your face..."
Frozen, his words died on his lips, and he turned his glance away, refusing to look into her eyes. What had he done now? He had angered Melian the Maia, the Queen of Doriath. Curse his impulsive human blood!
"Maybe your impulsive blood is not human."a voice muttered behind him. Startled, he realised that he had said the last thing aloud.
"You have not seen too many things yet." she continued, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder. "When you grow up, you will understand."
Dior pried away from her touch, mortified.
"I am grown up, Grandmother." he said, forcing himself to meet her glance. "I have no excuse."
A faint trace of sadness veiled Melian´s blue eyes upon hearing those words. Before Dior´s surprised glance, she shook her head several times.
"Do not run so fast, my child." she almost pleaded. "Time is a curse which has fallen upon this land."
The Half-Elf remembered something that his mother had said once, about his father having been the one to introduce Time in Doriath when he became the first mortal to cross the Girdle. He had never been able to understand it very well- for him, it was impossible to imagine an existence without time.
"I am sorry." he apologised, deciding that he did not know what else to say. "I will leave..."
"Stay where you are, Dior son of Beren!" she cut him before he could get on his feet. Startled at the change in her voice, the child on her lap whimpered and rolled to the side. Her features softened again, and she caressed his hair with soft, repeated motions.
For a long while, the chirping of the songbirds was all that Dior could hear in the lamplit clearing. Melian grew distracted, gazing absently at the sleeping child.
As he was already wondering if he should better have left, however, she spoke again.
"Do you see the nightingale in that branch?"
The Half-Elf followed the line of her eyes with curiosity, until he spotted the little, speckled bird she was referring to. It was singing tirelessly, louder and clearer than the other birds.
He nodded, his mouth curving with the first beginnings of a smile.
"I see, you like how joyously he sings. Tell me, Dior, do you love that bird?"
Mystified, he pondered a bit before nodding again. The little thing, as if perceiving his acceptance, flew towards him and settled on his thigh with a quick flapping of wings.
Dior was used to birds flying to his mother´s outstretched hands whenever she sang. He had seen them plenty of times, setting on her shoulders and perching over her head when she sat on the grounds of the forest, but they had always been much shier when it was him who called them. That this one had decided so impetuously that he liked him touched his heart in spite of himself.
"So sad" Melian sighed, following the bird´s movements, "that he cannot love you like you love him."
"What?" Shocked, the young Half-Elf stared at the Queen. The nightingale, scared at the shift in his body, took flight again and perched itself on Melian´s free hand.
"This nightingale cannot love you, for you are too unfathomable to him. He loves your voice, or the hand that holds him patiently."
Her glance had an absent quality that Dior had never seen in her smiling features before. She extended a pale finger, and caressed the bird´s head.
"The only thing that the nightingale may see and love as a whole is another nightingale. If your eyes learn to focus in the beauty of the single leaves, grains and weeds, if your little wings learn to jump from branch to branch of his same tree, if you perceive the warmth of the hands outstretched towards you, without being able to discern their bodies or their faces, then he will love you."
The Half-Elf wondered why he suddenly felt so sad. Images crowded his mind, of his mother resting her head against his father as she sang, and lowering her voice to a whisper so he and their child could join in the ancient melody.
The bird flew away from Melian, and her eyes followed its flight for a long time before her usual, explosive cheerfulness came back again.
"I just remembered... Lady Nimloth was searching for you this morning!" she exclaimed, bringing a hand to her forehead. Dior´s train of thoughts was brusquely interrupted again, and he turned away so his grandmother would not see his second blush of the day. "And it was on an urgent errand, if I am to judge by the look in her face when I told her that I had not seen you."
Muttering something incomprehensible –he hoped-, the Half-Elf stood up, and bowed in farewell. He was so furious with himself. The Queen of Doriath had wrung out of him things that should have better been left unsaid, and, in the end, he had remained as confused as before about her.
As he left the clearing and began to make a hasty way through the mallorn trees, he heard the sound of a nightingale singing behind his back.
Melian watched fondly as the young man walked away, but once that he had disappeared, her features grew sad. He was growing fast. Soon, he would be marrying and having his own children.
May you grow also in wisdom, before your brief flame touched by mortality flickers and dies, the chilling thought crossed her mind. She pressed her back against the powerful trunk where she was resting, in search of comfort, but the tree was also mourning in his low and rumbling way.
Slowly, she caressed the child´s hair over and over, trying to wipe away the rivers of blood flooding down his little forehead. The persistent touch roused him from his sleep, and soon he was sitting on her lap, whining.
"Where are the others, Melian? Where did they go?"
The Queen of Doriath touched his cheek, and gave him a mischievous wink.
"Come with me. We will hide so well that they will not find us when they come back. And then we will scare them!"
The child nodded and bolted off excitedly, forgetting his tears in an instant. Melian held the folds of her dress, and stood up to follow him.
Back in the palace, while they played, the King was sitting behind closed doors, gazing rapturously at the light that had seduced him. Long ago, in a world under the stars, her sacrifice had delayed the course of his doom, but now the Light of the Two Trees had finally claimed him, and the Curse of Mandos with it.
"Are you coming?"
Melian nodded with a smile, shuddering as she walked through the trail of ghostly corpses.
Notes: I made a garden –more like a small forest, really- on one of the Caves of Menegroth, because from Tolkien´s descriptions I always had the idea of a cave city that blended with nature, and imagined living things growing from its soil. I also imagined the artificial light as being a substitute of the Sun, like the light of the Two Trees.
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.