3. Chapter 3
It was early in the morning of the seventeenth day of his torment when the messenger from Olwë came to Tirion bearing an urgent missive from his lord.
'Meet me at the Horseshoe Beach at noon today. Olwë.'
The beach was on the border between their two realms, at the western end of the Calacirya. Arafinwë did not even think of refusing the summons of his father-in-law, despite their grave disagreements. Maybe he could persuade him to act as a mediator, if only to save his daughter's marriage.
He realised the depth of the chaos afflicting his administration during the past few weeks when he found out that his spies in Alqualondë had failed to report a most significant piece of intelligence. Olwë was also the victim of Eärwen's plot, because she had cunningly gained the alliance of her mother and of all the Teleri women to her cause. Arafinwë reluctantly began to admire the deviousness of her plan.
The two kings engaged in a joint effort at describing the heartless devilry of their wives, and then compared the level of aggravation caused by their scheme in their respective realms, without venturing into their vexing personal urges, too embarrassing to even be mentioned. Finally they discussed possible methods for retribution, or at least, for a dignified, bloodless resolution to the conflict.
There were none.
However, there was a way out, one that the kings were adamant they would never invoke. Just before the sun set, they parted, having reaffirmed their vows not to yield to the women's ignoble blackmail. The harvesting month would be over before long.
On his way back to the city Arafinwë shared some of his thoughts with Carmiswë, one of those fortunate individuals who had been mostly unaffected by the women's unconventional protest, given that he shared his hearth with the sword master of the Noldor army.
All through this lengthy ordeal the purposefully charged glances between the two warriors, their verbal sparring, dripping innuendo, and their gleeful smirks at their king's misfortunes had irked Arafinwë, who had sworn to smash their teeth in if one more pun was directed at him. This time, however, Carmiswë threw a worthwhile idea at him.
'Speak to the Valar, my lord,' he proposed, sympathetic for once.
The following day the Noldóran rode to Valmar as fast as his horse would take him, and from there he was granted leave to climb to Ilmarin and see Manwë himself. His petition was heard with the solemnity due to any news of grave matters, but both the reaction and reply of the Lord of Arda were utterly disappointing.
'Arafinwë', spoke Manwë, 'even if I had not already learnt my lesson about the peril of interfering with the affairs of you Children I have yet more powerful reasons to remain an impartial observer in your plight.' He looked meaningfully to his right, where Varda sat with a beatific smile on her face.
'My dear Arafinwë,' she purred. 'I hope you appreciate that it would be most improper for my lord husband to take sides in your quarrel.'
'Naturally I understand, my lady.' He bowed respectfully in farewell, wondering if his carefully disguised fury would be apparent to the mighty eyes of the Valië.
'Both my sister Yavanna and her spouse have asked me to convey messages to you,' she added as an afterthought.
'Aulë has agreed to wait for his banished apprentice.' Arafinwë was glad at this news, though it arrived too late to resolve matters with his wife. 'And Yavanna says…' Varda Elentári's fair visage turned even more radiant by a kind smile.
The King of the Noldor held his breath in anticipation at the words the Star-kindler would speak. Could he hope for a miraculous intervention by Yavanna, outraged at the despicable way her ritual had been twisted into a manipulative tool?
'The corn has been doubly blessed this season and it is already half regrown. Yavanna has decided that the second harvest should be gathered, given there is no lack of helpers. The baking will be delayed until all the corn has been ground. She is confident that her loyal Yavannildi will complete such delicate tasks in time for the winter solstice.'
Arafinwë blanched in dismay. Two more months of coimas making, of absolute misery? So, not only did he lack the support of the Valar, but Yavanna and Varda were actually in league with his enemy. He could no longer call his wife and her allies anything else.
Wrathful but powerless, Arafinwë returned to Tirion. A stream of frustrated men requested urgent audiences but he dismissed them all with a snarl and asked his guard to allow no one into his study.
His decision was made. Riders were hastily dispatched bearing ciphered messages penned in utmost secrecy. They returned confirming the arrangements had all been made.
Orders were hastily issued and the Noldorin army was made ready. Armours were polished, harnesses cleaned, weapons oiled. Town criers walked the streets of Tirion tirelessly proclaiming the muster of the King.
The women stayed in the safety of the hallowed grounds that night.
Early the following day Arafinwë swelled with pride at the sight that met his eyes outside the city walls. The army awaited his command and behind them, arrayed in orderly lines, stood the rest of the men of Tirion. As for himself, he had donned the silver coat of mail that had seen him to victory in Beleriand, and girt the sword that had battled the hordes of Angband. His horse had been curried until his black coat shone like jet.
He gave the order to depart, and all the men orderly marched behind him. At the appointed place a few miles away from Tirion they met Olwë's host. The company of the Telerin king was not as magnificent, nor truly geared up for war. Nonetheless they had come prepared, bearing the pennants of Olwë's house, and shields, bows and quivers full of arrows fletched in blue and white.
They all marched together, Noldor and Teleri, and it was around noon when they sighted the sacred grounds of Yavanna. A large crowd of women advanced towards the hedge that marked their boundary, led by two ladies riding white horses: the Queens of the Noldor and that of the Teleri, mother and daughter, both clad only in garlands and wearing wreaths of flowers on their heads.
Arafinwë and Olwë looked at each other, as if to seek counsel. The lovely sight before their eyes strengthened their resolve to carry out their decision, however painful it turned out to be.
They dismounted from their own horses and approached the hedge on foot, followed at a prudent distance by their guards. The silence was absolute.
'What is your business, my lords?' cried Olwë's wife.
'Parley, my ladies!' answered her husband.
'We will only listen to your unconditional surrender in front of all our peoples,' replied Eärwen, in a voice that would carry to the man-at-arms mustered behind their lords. 'Otherwise we will return to our duties and your burdens will not be relieved this day.'
A collective groan was heard from the ranks of soldiers and beyond. Someone was heard shouting: 'Yield, my lords, for Eru's sake!' and a heartfelt chorus of agreement followed.
Arafinwë and Olwë sternly signalled their captains to regain control of their unruly mobs.
Then, with a resigned sigh the Noldóran slowly unsheathed his sword. He gripped its hilt tightly, nearly in anger. Olwë took an arrow from his quiver.
The men sank to both knees and presented their weapons to the women. Nerdanel and a Telerin maid took them from their hands and passed them to their respective ladies.
'We yield,' chorused the kings. They waited with arms crossed across their chests.
'Is that the best you can do, Olwë?' cried Eärwen's mother. 'We expect more humility from a vanquished foe pleading for mercy. And stop staring!'
Arafinwë grasped the wrist of his father by marriage to prevent him from standing up in a rage. An upwards glance at the yet unattainable allure before him reminded him of what was at stake. Both men ground their teeth in embarrassment and frustration and lowered their heads in unwilling supplication.
'We admit our utter defeat, my ladies; we yield to your superior strategy and submit to the conditions you have imposed on us,' spat Olwë, as if each word stuck in his throat.
'The irrevocable treaty between our realms dealing with the Exiles has been finalised and signed.' At the command of the King of the Teleri an aide brought him a scroll. He passed it to his companion in misfortune, who raised his arms up to his wife. Eärwen took it from him. He trembled at the touch of her fingers.
The two queens studied the text, the signatures and the seals.
'We deem it adequate,' spoke Eärwen solemnly. 'Anything else?'
Another scroll was produced by the kings and inspected thoroughly by their wives.
'We accept that this decree revokes the clauses in the Law of our realms that until now attempted to govern their people in matters in which their rulers have no business,' voiced the Queen of the Noldor.
But still neither woman moved her mount forward. Arafinwë felt Olwë's elbow dig sharply into his ribs.
'I seek your forgiveness, my Queen,' his words were almost whispered, meant for Eärwen only. 'You have proved to be the better warrior, wielding no sword, and have forced me to realise that pride is a poor advisor.'
Eärwen nodded briefly.
'Our conditions have been fully met. Your surrender is accepted, my lords,' she cried so that her words were heard by all. 'You may rise.' Arafinwë jumped up to his feet as fast as he could, caring little about his undignified haste. There was only one idea filling his mind now that the ordeal had passed.
'My sisters, you were faithful to your pledge and victory is ours!' Eärwen was beautiful in her triumph, clad in sunlight and crowned with flowers.
A deafening roar of triumph rose from the host of women. When it finally died out, the Queen of the Noldor exclaimed: 'May reconciliation be sweet!'
At these words, the men cheered even more loudly and many began to break out from their ranks.
Eärwen slid from her horse to fall into her husband's arms, and all the women left the sacred grounds to find their partners. Those who waited for none were laughing at some of the heated reunions, though others like Nerdanel, who pined for their men, gone or dead, could not avoid wistful looks. Yavanna appeared in their midst with several of her Maiar and gently led them away.
Eärwen and Arafinwë kissed with the fire stoked by nearly three weeks of separation. Unsated, searing desire shone fiercely in their eyes; had it not been for the presence of a few thousand others they would have devoured each other on the spot.
'You see, dear husband, our kindred does not lose their thirst for gratification of this kind after bearing children. Are you not happy you agreed to our terms and got rid of those old-fashioned laws? Otherwise, at this precise moment you would be inciting your wife into unlawful behaviour.'
'I am, my beloved. But you still have to explain yourself about Nerdanel,' growled Arafinwë.
'I shall, my husband. Down to the most minute detail. I suggest we remove to our chambers for the full description of my misdeeds so that you can deal the appropriate penalties,' whispered Eärwen in his ear, while she nibbled it in the way she knew would make her husband's knees tremble in ecstasy.
Arafinwë moaned, certain to have already endured far beyond any limits Ilúvatar may have ever set when he devised his Children.
He looked around him. Discarded armour lay on the ground everywhere, entangled in hastily removed clothing. Everyone was busy attending their own business and he was pleased to see that reconciliation was indeed being achieved in all fronts, except his own. He quickly averted his eyes from the disturbing sight of his parents by marriage enthusiastically smoothing out their differences.
'I don't think we truly need to…, do we?' ventured the Noldóran.
Eärwen's hand snaked under his mail coat to undo his laces and thus provided the answer he had prayed for.