Alcarwë had still not come home late that evening, after supper and past the time when Hanessë began complaining about wanting to get to bed. She would not go until her husband walked back through the door and gave firm, bodily evidence that he had not been crushed by rocks or broken his neck falling from his horse. She paced back and forth, wandering from kitchen to dining room to sitting room, worrying aloud that he was at that very moment being attacked by wolves or mountain cats. Silarië stayed carefully out of her way. Hanessë had tendencies toward blaming her troubles on whomever was convenient, and it would be Silarië's fault if Alcarwë arrived truly dead this time. She was the one who had woken Hanessë and perpetuated the death rumour, thereby cursing the silver mine with bad luck.
When Alcarwë finally did return, it was with a snarll of disgust and an angry disposition. The site was a disaster, he said. A tiny vein of low-grade metal not worth the time and effort it would take to extract it. The men who discovered it should have known better, should have recognised their failure immediately, but greed and the desperate desire to find anything valuable in this bleak new settlement had broken over everyone like fire. With so little wealth to go around, they needed to believe they had found something that could be a turning point in the fortune of Hisilómë.
"There is nothing here," Alcarwë hissed as he ate his supper of cold soup and bread. "Crops refuse to grow for all the pine trees rendering the soil useless. The lake remains frozen well into spring, and fish are scarce. The hills are full of naught but dirt and rock. We have animals, only wild animals to hunt for meat and fur. How pathetic is it, when the one luxury a land has is the fur of animals? We're drowning in it. The value has gone down so far that the poorest folk use pelts as bedding because they can't afford linen! The New King won't wear fur; it's become too common. His cloak is made of fleece, imported from the south where they have grass enough for sheep. Here we have no grass, only beavers and rabbits and..." He made a noise of disgust and downed the rest of a mug of wine.
"Well..." said Hanessë. "It could be worse." She spoke those words, but the tone that radiated from her defeated voice struck a different meaning: It could not possibly get any worse than this, and now that we are at the bottom, things must start to get better.
Alcarwë grunted and shook his head in reply. "It's worse."
A spark of alarm lit Hanessë's face. "Worse? How? Does the King want to go east again? Alcarwë, I'm not leaving. We only just settled here, we don't even have a proper town yet, and I'm not spending any more time living in tents at some horrible new place! Each one is worse than the last! We should have stayed on the coast."
"No," he said. "Nothing like that. There is talk of going east again, but I don't know how serious they are. In any case, that's not the trouble. What worries me more is that the New King is coming tomorrow, and because of my position, it is expected that I should lodge him for the night here."
"The New King here," whispered Hanessë.
"One of the idiots from the silver mine site went ahead and sent a messenger to inform the New King of their fantastic find, and he will be arriving tomorrow to see for himself. I've been burdened with the duty of explaining the failure. Over supper, in this house."
Had Silarië been in her sister-in-law's place, she could have easily given any number of valid worries in response. One day was insufficient notice to clean the entire house to the standard required by a royal visit. They had no suitable food stored in the attic, and would have to take time out of cleaning to find and then cook a supper befitting their guest. Possibly most problematic, there was hardly enough room in the small house for the four of them, let alone a king and the inevitable entourage. But instead of any of these, what Hanessë said was, "He can't come here! I have nothing formal enough to wear, and this wretched climate has turned my hair brittle and dry! I can't be seen by a king now!"
Even to Silarië across the room, it was obvious that Alcarwë had to swallow an urge to laugh; the edges of a smile pulled at his lips as he took his wife's hand in his own, squeezing it gently. "Hanessë," he said. "I know you pride yourself on your looks, but you must know that there are many other graver and more important issues to resolve before we can worry about you hair and wardrobe. The house, the supper, how to present bad news... If the New King is well fed and treated with the proper respect, I am sure he won't care about whether or not you look pretty."
Hanessë flashed him a dangerous scowl and pulled her hand away.
"Which," he added quickly, "you always do. Even in your oldest, plainest dresses, you are a constant vision of loveliness, my darling."
"The New King is half Vanyarin," Hanessë snapped. "You know how Vanyar are. They are very fussy and always concerned with appearances, and that's how he is. We've both met him. He's not at all like our lord Fëanáro."
Alcarwë took her hand again, holding it tightly this time and refusing to let her pull back. "And that is why we must all work together to make certain everything is properly organised. Have the house in order. I know it is not normally your responsibility, but Hanessë, just for tomorrow, I am asking you to help Silarië with the chores. Make things look nice. Have the floor washed and the rugs beaten. Hearth cleaned. The New King will have our bed, so linens washed. Some decorations about the sitting room, perhaps?"
For a long and cold moment, she silently kept his gaze. "Fine," she said, and Alcarwë released her hand. She took a breath, slowly, and exhaled it as a hiss from between her teeth. "I will do as I can. Now you must excuse me. I must get to bed if so much work is expected tomorrow."
Alcarwë let her go with no further argument. He refilled his cup from the wine jar on the table, and spoke to Silarië only after a dragging pause. "It's stressful, you know, for all of us. Especially for her. She's not accustomed to... Well. She was happier in Aman."
"I know," Silarië answered. Alcarwë's speech was an excuse. He knew as well as she did that Hanessë had no intention of touching so much as dust rag, and he would rather make excuses than fight against his wife's stubbornness.
"So, if you can..."
Silarië nodded. "I'll have the housekeepers over early tomorrow. They can help me. I'll let Hanessë choose dishes and decorate the table."
"Good girl," said Alcarwë. He gave her a tight, almost patronising smile, which she refused to return. "I'll leave you in charge of the house, then, and Canamírë will oversee our supper. Have him get a goose from the shore market, will you? And where is he, anyhow?"
"He's not yet come home."
The simple words, which had coursed through her head all evening as troublesome but airy thoughts, turned instantly, dreadfully heavy the moment she spoke. The phrase was no longer a simple worry, but the hard and undeniable truth. Canamírë had not yet returned home. He had sent no reassurance and no message regarding his whereabouts.
"Not home?" Alcarwë asked with a frown. "Where did he go?"
"He left this morning, with the miners. I thought they were going to find you, but... they've not returned."
"Odd," said Alcarwë. He stood, stretching his arms behind his back and pacing a few steps around the table. "He'd better come back soon; I need him here for the New King's visit tomorrow. I'll be out all morning at the Council Hall."
"You're not worried about him?"
"My brother is a grown man, Silarië. He has sense enough to take care of himself. I'm more worried about tomorrow's events and the inevitable problems that will arise." To punctuate, he slapped his hands down on the tabletop. "And I can't think on it any more tonight or I'll go mad. Good night. If I remember anything else that needs to be done, I'll let you know in the morning."
He paused on his way out long enough to look up at the red and yellow banner hanging above the fireplace. "Hmm. And I shall need a new flag."
Flags, Silarië considered, were politics. And political subtlety always bested family in the hierarchy of Alcarwë's mind.
"I will wait up for him," she whispered to the air, while the flag above the fire rippled its edges against a draught.
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.