1. Graveyard of the Lavazat Oichimyaiva
Thanks to everyone at the Lizard Council and Garden of Ithilien writers workshops for help and suggestions. It's nice to have a captive audience when writing a story populated almost entirely with Vanyarin OCs...
Language Note: Glossary of terms is given at the bottom of each chapter. Italicised words are onces that I've composed for the purpose of this story; words in plain text are Tolkien's (or compounds in attested forms).
I've intentionally chosen to use a number of obsolete early Qenya words for the Vanyarin dialect in order to create greater differences between it and Noldorin speech. Other differences between Vanyarin and Noldorin, such as the Vanyarin use of Z, TH, CH and unclustered D, are real, though attested application of these rules is very limited. As a result, this story contains a lot of linguistic fanfiction in order to recreate a useable Vanyarin language.
On the day that the Oraistar came, Sidaizon was set to dig a grave. A young woman had died, at the age of only forty-five, in the birth of her first child. Her body lay shrouded and waiting on a bier just inside the courtyard door. On the other side of the gate, her family stood with candles in their hands, swaying and singing prayers to Nienna. They had threatened to set the courtyard alight.
A great fury of debate had raged through the city over the woman's death. Not because she had died, as the life of one poor woman hardly mattered in the vastness of the world, but because she had the misfortune to be a convert. Her husband was Valadávan. He wanted her buried. Her father's family was Yaranénon, and they demanded a pyre. And though the husband's request had triumphed in the end, the anger that divided the people of Valmar down the line of their beliefs refused to abate. Three men had nearly been killed because of it.
Sidaizon glanced over his shoulder as a boy, some cousin or brother of the dead woman, shouted at him to leave before they burned the courtyard with him in it. The boy rattled the gate and brandished his candle. Sunset, they had promised: they would have their fire by sunset, with the body or without. Either way, something would burn. Half of an afternoon was left for Sidaizon to make a proper grave. He turned back to his work, facing toward Taniquetil, and sighted along his outstretched arm to the mountain's peak. A grave must be exactly aligned. The stake he had placed to mark the head needed to move slightly to the left.
As he dug, the family behind the gate wailed their protests, and he hummed a song to Manwë to keep his mind from the noise. He kept his back turned as much as he could. There was no sense in watching their grief as well as hearing it, nor risking too much pity for them. The woman's body needed to be buried. Already four days had passed, and it had started to decay. The stale smell of death hung over its shroud. Sidaizon held his breath as he carried it, back still turned against the gate, across the courtyard and to the grave. He lowered it in by the ends of the shroud, and there it lay. All that remained of the task was to fill in the hole. He glanced up at the sky; there would still be two hours or so before sunset.
The boy who had shouted before loosed a tirade of curses as Sidaizon shovelled the first layer of dirt back into the grave, and threw his candle, though it sputtered and extinguished itself on the damp grass. Three more candles followed. None of them stayed lit; the courtyard was too green. A young girl reached her thin arm as far as she could through the gate's bars, trying to burn the leaves of a nearby bush, but could cause no more damage than some singed edges and smoke.
Only when it was done, and the grave made into a neat mound of fresh earth, did Sidaizon approach the gate. Twelve or more members of the woman's family stood on the other side, and they watched him with hateful eyes.
"Her body is buried," he said to them. "But if you will come peacefully, I will open this lock and let you through to sing your prayers. You may make a fire on her grave. I only ask that you enter this place with peace and good will."
"Let us in and our fire will follow," the boy replied. "You deserve to burn with her for what you have done."
"Be quiet," said a second voice, and a man stepped forward to swat the boy aside. He frowned as he approached Sidaizon, knotting his brow over eyes so dark they were nearly black. Contemptuously, he sucked on his teeth. "Who are you?"
"And you think that this title of Almatar gives you the right to do as you wish with the bodies of my people?"
"I think that gives me the responsibility to follow the requests I have been given. This woman's husband came to me with his grief. Who should I be to refuse him?"
"Who should you be to disregard her family?!" the man shouted back. "That is the body of my only daughter, my only child, you have buried! My daughter, who should have a proper pyre and her ashes thrown to the wind! Now her cold body will rot in the ground. How is this fair, Almatar Sidaizon?"
Sidaizon lowered his head. "How is it fair for you to come to my courtyard and threaten me? To disturb the sorrow of your daughter's death with violence? I am sorry for your loss. But this anger will change nothing. She is dead. Please, come in peacefully." Reaching down, he released the lock and let the gate swing open. Then he stepped back.
He watched the man's hard expression waver and fall into uncertainty. Nobody moved in that moment, as the dead woman's father tried to resolve his next step. His face seemed to flicker between defeat and the need for honourable vengeance. But before anyone could speak, a woman in a dirty pink shawl pushed her way to the front of the crowd.
"I am her mother," she said quietly. "I would like to have a fire on the grave."
Gently, the woman linked her arm through her husband's and led him through the gate. Sidaizon bowed to her as she passed, but she, head held nobly high, kept her eyes only on the grave ahead. And she proceeded like a queen. The crowd rumbled and hissed, neither satisfied nor discouraged, but the lady lifted her free hand in a gesture to still them before they could make to follow her.
She did not even turn to look at them when she spoke. "You all may stay. You have done your part. Authimer and I will continue alone."
The father, Authimer, allowed himself to be led by his wife's more confident footsteps, though Sidaizon could sense the unease in him. He had drawn his shoulders in defensively, and his black eyes scanned the surrounding walls for any hidden threat; he had clearly never been inside the courtyard of a Lavazat. Tension squeezed his body like a snake. Still he did not falter in his duty, but knelt to help his wife in gathering dry, fallen twigs from beneath the trees to build a small fire. He stood his candle upright in the earth beside it.
Though the gate hung open, none of the others dared to pass through even after Sidaizon retreated to the Lavazat door. He watched them in the corner of his vision, over his shoulder. They shuffled impatiently but did not come inside. Whether they agreed with the mother's compromise or not, they did not challenge it, and Sidaizon took a deep breath of relief as he pushed open the door that led from the courtyard to the inner hall.
The dead woman's bier still stood just beyond, and upon it, the thing that Sidaizon sought: a tightly wrapped bundle of cloth. Handling it carefully, touching as little as possible with only the tips of his fingers, he carried it back out to the courtyard. The family at the gate had not moved in the seconds he had been inside. At the foot of the grave, the mother and father coaxed their fire to life. He knelt beside them without a word, and handed over the cloth.
The father took it, though hesitantly. "What is this?"
"Something I would have had to burn anyhow... you can add it to your pyre in place of her body. It is the dress she died in."
For the first time, the mother fully looked at Sidaizon. Her eyes flicked to his and paused, but just briefly, before glancing back down to the safety of her hands. She took the wrapped cloth from her husband and let it unfold onto the ground. The edge she held showed itself to be the collar and shoulders of a nightgown, which rolled out to reveal a hideous stain within. The father gasped and coiled back at what he saw. A choked groan of horror escaped his throat. All of the nightgown, from the waist down, was coloured with the dark red-brown of dried blood: so much blood that the fabric had stiffened like plaster into ridges where it had been folded.
The mother held it up for only a moment longer. Then quickly, with the smallest of shudders, she lowered it onto the fire. The smoke that curled up in the seconds before the flames caught carried a sickly sweet and acrid stench, like hot metal mixed with the charring of flesh. Sidaizon clenched his teeth to keep from retching. The dead woman's parents, though, remained woodenly still, watching as their fire grew. They who had been prepared for a burning corpse thought little of the smell of blood alone. In perfect silence, they sat a vigil over the pyre, and shed soundless tears as they waited for it to finish.
When it was over, the mother gathered the ashes of the nightgown into a wooden bowl while the father wiped tears from his smoke-stung eyes. He stood to leave and Sidaizon followed. Though the air away from the smouldering grave was less smoky, the smell still lingered in the courtyard as a subtle haze.
"Thank you for your kindness here, Almatar Sidaizon."
Sidaizon, having nothing to say in return, only bowed his head.
The father made a jerky movement with his arm, as if to reach out to Sidaizon, but thought better of his action and corrected himself. Instead, he put his hands together and touched his brow. "Thank you," he repeated. The words were quick and awkward. Their momentary understanding had passed.
He left the courtyard then, guiding his wife along the path back to where their family waited. She had protectively curled herself so far over the ash bowl that she was nearly bent double. At the gate, they passed through the crowd as quietly as they had left Sidaizon. Neither spoke any further word, but continued down the road leading to the northern edge of the city and disappeared from sight.
It was only after the remaining crowd had murmured itself out and grudgingly dispersed that Sidaizon dared to go lock the gate. He had the lock in his hand when the carriage pulled up: gold and white, and marked on the side with the harma-like symbol of Manwë. It stopped directly in front of the gate, so close it nearly scraped the garden walls, and the door slid open as soon as the wheels were still. Sidaizon pulled the gate open again as the man in the carriage stepped down. He wore fine robes of gold with an indigo sash: the costume of an Oraistar.
"I would speak to the Almatar here," he announced to the courtyard air. His nose wrinkled as he spoke, and he fanned his face with his hand in a useless effort to brush away the smell of the pyre.
Sidaizon bowed low. "Alla. Manwë greet you. One moment, lord."
"Hurry. I have dire news." His eyes remained haughtily high and never left the clouds.
For the filthy work of digging a grave, Sidaizon had stripped down to the plain corima trousers he wore under his robe. The rest of his clothing hung on a peg inside the Lavazat hall. He paused at the little fountain by the door before retrieving them, washing the dirt from his hands and the sweat of labour from his bare skin. Once clean, he pulled on the white robe and green sash of his station, and smoothed his hair. A quick transformation from labourer to proper Almatar would have to suffice.
The Oraistar's eyebrows rose when he saw Sidaizon reappear. "You?"
"Dirty at the gate here? Have you no-one else for such tasks? No serving brothers?"
Sidaizon shook his head. "Alas no, lord Oraistar. Not today. We have only one other, and he is here just once in every four days. There is no money for anything more, so today I am alone. We poor folk must manage as we can."
"I see," said the Oraistar. Distaste showed plainly in his small frown. "Then I suppose it is you I must warn, Almatar. Threats have been made against your Lavazat. The family of that girl who died threatened to burn this place at sunset unless you gave up the body. I have been sent by the King to protect you on his authority."
"My lord, I am afraid you are too late. They have come and gone."
"Come and... Come and gone?" The Oraistar's frown deepened as he looked to the west, where the fiery colours of sunset began to flood the horizon. "They left?"
"They arrived before I began the grave, and stayed until the body was buried. Then they left peacefully."
"There must be another group approaching. I can smell their fire. The air stinks with the things they burn."
Sidaizon shook his head. "I am sorry, sir. That smoke is my fault. It was dead woman's clothing, you see; it was soaked with her blood. I had to burn it to destroy the curse of death."
"And then they just left peacefully," the Oraistar murmured. Though his face showed every sign of suspicion, he asked no further questions.
"I spoke to them. After the body was buried. Yes, they were unhappy at first, but as you can see, they did not burn my courtyard. A small few threw their candles onto the grass, but by the grace of Manwë, alla, the ground was too wet and green. They made no earnest efforts to set a fire. They were mostly grieved, sir, not angry. Once the burial was done there was no sense in argument. I spoke with them briefly, we arrived at an understanding, and they left."
"What manner of understanding?"
"Nothing unlawful, my lord," Sidaizon assured him. "I merely explained why things needed to be done the way they were. The woman died Valadávan. Therefore, it is only proper to respect her beliefs and have her buried. Once they realised I meant neither them nor their daughter disrespect, they were appeased, and went on their way."
"And they did nothing further? After all those threats, they did nothing to foul your land with their heathen hands? They did not enter these walls?"
Sidaizon looked to the Oraistar's face with a calm and even gaze. "Of course not, sir. I could never allow that."
"You are lucky then, Almatar." Pausing, he tapped his fingers against his chest. "But perhaps foolish to believe they have gone for good. I would not be surprised to see them return in the dark of night to make their violence."
"I would be," Sidaizon replied. "I have seen their faces, and even if they wished to do harm, they could not be so stupid as to do it when I know who to blame. Whatever they do, the law will catch them. I have faith in that and will not worry needlessly. But now, Lord Oraistar, I must ask you to excuse me. The day is nearly over and I must sing my sundown prayers."
The Oraistar nodded and made a gesture of dismissal with his hand. "Very well. You are excused, Almatar. Be sure to lock this gate when you leave. I will make a report to the King that the situation has calmed, but we will stay wary. Someone will return soon to be sure things remain stable. Good night and Manwë keep you. Alla."
"Alla, sir, good night."
Oraistar and Almatar: Title of religious office. To give rough equivalent in Christian terms, an Oriastar would be a Bishop while an Almatar would be a Priest.
Valadáva (Láva) and Yaranéno: Two main and opposing religions of Valmar. Valadávar follow the new faith started by Ingwë, and revere Manwë alone, while Yaranénor adapted ancient pagan beliefs of Cuiviénen to include all Valar.
Alla: Greeting or farewell: 'blessings to you'.
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.