3. Chapter 3
Arwen's company dined with the Lady of Hanstovanén and her household in the last light of the day, on one of the broad garden terraces that spiralled around the Tower. They sat on a lawn of grass and white clover, and feasted on raw sea-urchins, a delicacy of the Falathrim, and sweet scallops, and little clams in clear broth; grilled crayfish, and chopped octopus fried in oil and green herbs, and slices of white fish baked in butter with onions and black pepper from the south; salt-tangy samphire and pale shoots of sea-kale, bitter-leaved salads and round loaves hot from the oven. To drink they had the strong cordials that the townsfolk brewed, and the golden-green wine of the Calacirian, the gift of the guests, and after the main meal the fruits of the northern summer, raspberries and cloudberries and bilberries, whose sweetness needed no adornment.
No lamps were lit as evening fell, for the Tower itself shone with a fugitive radiance as the first stars appeared. The company separated gradually into smaller groups, for conversation and music and star-watching in the evendim. Some strolled about the gardens, admiring the sweet-scented flowers that opened with nightfall. Elwing moved among her guests, joining in speech and song and merriment in turn. Finally she slipped away to a quiet corner of the garden, higher up and around the curve of the Tower wall, where a little fountain bubbled gently among pebbles. A single jewel(4) was set under the water, so that its faint, starry fire shimmered on the artfully placed boulders and thick moss, and the tall, elegant stems of black bamboo. A jug of honey mead and two cups stood ready on a flat rock. She sat down on the moss and waited.
After a while, a tall, bright-eyed woman came drifting to her through the rustling shadows. In the twilight she shone, very faintly, like an echo of starlight. She had been introduced earlier with the rest of Arwen's company: Nólanis, the keeper of the great engines that propelled and maintained the sky-ship . She pronounced her name in the old style, Ngólanis; her dress too was of the antique Noldorin fashion, simple in cut but lavishly embroidered with waves and clouds and seabirds, a delicate compliment to her hostess. Her hair was that same Noldorin red-brown, unsettlingly vivid in the sunset.
The mead was poured; pleasantries on the excellence of dinner, gardens and entertainment were carefully offered in archaic but fluent Sindarin, and gracefully received. The efficiency of Captain Nierninwa and his crew was commented upon.
"I am glad that you have come, Lady," Elwing said. "In this moment I have great need of the knowledge of the Noldor."
In careful, courteous words, the Lady of the Tower told her guest of the coming of Fëanor's sons to Hanstovánen, and the colloquy at the Bridge of Willows. Nólanis' strong, handsome face showed dismay, but when she answered her voice was calm and firm.
"Lady, I know the terms of Fëanor's foul Oath, none better. I was there in the Great Square of Tirion when he and his sons swore it, and the torches could not lighten the darkness that came upon us then. Cursed be the hour that my daughter loved him! My wise child, whose wisdom failed her then and after."
Elwing nodded. There had been efficiency somewhere, clearly, and not only Nierninwa's. At the very moment of her need, Tirion had sent the very mother(5) of Nerdanel herself, Fëanor's wife and mother of the Kinslayers.
"And now I must know what the terms of the Oath truly are, my lady, so that I may judge the weight of," Elwing hesitated briefly then gave up. "Your grandsons' words."
Nólanis was silent for a long time. Then she said softly, chanting,
"Be he friend or foe, or foul offspring of Morgoth Bauglir, be he mortal dark that in after days on earth shall dwell, shall no law nor love nor league of Gods, no might nor mercy nor moveless fate, defend him forever from the fierce vengeance of the sons of Fëanor, whoso seize or steal or finding keep the fair enchanted globes of crystal whose glory dies not, the Silmarils. We have sworn forever!"
"This they swore, my daughter's sons, with Manwë and Varda and the Holy Mountain to witness. They called upon themselves the Everlasting Dark if they should fail and bound themselves in the name of the One. Those words I will not repeat, Lady, nor will any of the Noldor, even for you."
The night was silent around them. The laughter and song from the lower gardens seemed very far away, but the Sea murmured on below them, unquelled and undaunted.
Elwing said at last, "Yet the Oath was done with, long ago; so the Valar have said."
"I do not know," Nólanis said. "Those accurséd words had their own power and their own...life, their own weight in the Song. It may be that they echo yet. It may be that even Mandos could not release my grandsons from their yoke."
"But if that is so," Elwing said, "And if my lord refuses them the Silmaril, as surely he will, for it is not his to give, then they are doomed."
Nólanis lifted her hands and let them fall, without art or grace.
"I do not know," she said again. "Neither what may befall thereafter, nor why these two of all my grandsons should yet be so burdened. Maitimo, that is, Maedhros, endures and whatever his troubles the Oath is not among them. Caranthir is indifferent, so far as I have heard from my daughter. Celegorm and Curufin remain yet in Mandos, and assuredly I would know, had ill befallen them there. Maglor... is lost but living, so the Weaver says.
"I do not even comprehend truly what it means, that doom they invoked. Perhaps no incarnate creature can."
Yet her grandsons had preferred to do murder upon murder rather than face the fate that they had called upon themselves. And ages ago in Sirion, Elwing would have damned them all happily, thinking it only justice for their crimes. She shivered. Despite the starlight on the sea, and the shimmer of the jewel, the night seemed all at once dark and filled with horror, as no night of Aman should ever be.
Nólanis said, very softly, "I remember the Unlight of Ungoliant, and the darkening of Aman, when the Trees were murdered. It was more than mere night, which we knew in Middle-earth and did not fear. The terror of that darkness we will not forget, until the ending of the world.
"I am sorry, Lady. I fear that I have been of little aid to you, and no comfort."
Elwing rose to her feet.
"Not so. You have given me much to think upon, and knowledge that I lacked. I thank you, Lady Nólanis, and those who sent you."
Nólanis had risen with her hostess, but paused, abruptly still. She laughed, an unexpectedly sweet sound.
"Indeed, in the working of chance is the will of the Valar shown! That will teach me to be so intent upon my own affairs that any god Who wills may move me hither and yon unheeding!"
Elwing asked, with real interest, "You mean this sky-ship of yours? I have never seen another so great in size, or of this same design."
"Nor will you, for a while at least." The note of joyful pride in her voice was familiar and pleasant. Elwing heard it in Eärendil's voice each time that Vingilot received another refit and improvement to its design, or he and the Meneldili(6) devised a new instrument or experiment to study the tangled reaches of Ilmen.
"Arwen is the first of her kind, though I hope not the last. She is intended for far voyaging in dangerous winds and treacherous terrain, for we her company intend to overfly and map all the boundaries of Aman, even to the Last Shore of Uttermost West, or at least, its material manifestation.
"She was long in the building, for many skills were needed, and you may know, Lady, that it is not so easy for masters to work together in counterpoint, each Art contributing to the greater whole. Without Master Elrond's wisdom, we would still be arguing over the specifications for her sails!"
It was Elwing's turn to check herself. Sirion had fallen when her sons were only children. Elros she had never seen again, for mortal lands had been forbidden her, the price of Eärendil's passage and hers. She had lost him forever without ever truly knowing him. Elrond's loss had been greater than hers, for he had had an Age of the world to love his daughter. When he came to Aman at last, weary with the long years, with partial victory and ultimate defeat, she had not known, still did not know, how he might be comforted. She sent letters to him, where he dwelt at Gil-Galad's court in the Lonely Isle, and received his replies.
There were swifter means of communication, but by tacit consent of both they were not used. Their correspondence was courteous and kind. They did not meet.
"He...named your ship."
Nólanis inclined her head. It was clear that she knew how matters stood between Elrond and his mother; to Elwing's relief she did not speak of it.
"It was he who led our company; organised work, calmed disputes, made sure that we had the supplies we needed, made sure that the different Arts sang each their part in due time and order for this great making."
She hesitated, then added, "She is named Arwen because like his daughter she will travel strange paths; but this Arwen will come home again."
Away in the lower gardens a sudden golden voice was lifted in song, splendid and terrible as Sunrise. The Vanya captain was singing, a song that Elwing did not know, though if she allowed it the spell of the music would enfold her, even at this distance. She turned towards it, almost without will.
"It is a song of the Trees," Nólanis said beside her. "Maglor made it in Tirion, in the noontide of our joy." She seemed now both sad and slightly amused. "The Vanyar are often oblique, but rarely subtle."
Elwing bristled. "Do all the Cities then mix themselves in my affairs?"Nólanis said gently, "The Vanyar dwell at the feet of Manwë; they see both far and deep, and Lalezel our Captain is close in friendship with my daughter. Alas, Lady, anything that touches upon the Silmarils is of interest to us all, in Valmar and Tirion and upon the Mountain itself."
She bowed, and at Elwing's nod left her to return to the company. Alone, the Lady of Hanstovanén stood where she was for a long time, listening as the Kinslayer's joyful song shone like the Silmaril in the night around her.
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.