Tainted Light: 10. Betrothal

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10. Betrothal

Chapter 9

Betrothal

Arafinwë's garden was full of lights, like stars sown into the grass in the quiet evening of our betrothal. The robes of our guests swished softly as they moved in circles, tall chalices in their hands sparkling with the reflections of the silver dusk. A music like a veil was being played in a corner, and its notes filled the air, a filigree of sound. My cream dress, embroidered with pearls given by my Telerin family, was but another subdued note in the symphony of the day of my joy.

I would not see Maitimo until the moment came to exchange our promise and our rings, for betrothals in the land of the Valar were almost as solemn as the wedding itself. Artanis by my side shone with the beauty of the adamants arranged in her hair, on her dress only a shade darker than mine; her I had chosen to be witness of the promise on my part. Seated at one of the many tables, my father talked only with my Vanyarin relatives. For countless years he had not abandoned Valmar, not since he had led there my mother as a bride.

Falwing herself smiled, for my triumph was hers; and together we had beaten all opposition. It mattered not that when Fëanáro had come he had greeted me with scorching ice, his contempt barely hidden. Where he stood, surrounded by his sons, a darker light seemed to sparkle. And yet, a golden circlet on his raven hair, he was more beautiful than any of us, and to look at him was to behold the night of Middle-earth lit only by stars. He had denied us the sight of the Silmarils; an elaborate offence Arafinwë took pains to show he did not mind.

Artanis swept again by me, and offered me a cup of white wine.

"Nolofinwë will arrive soon. Findekáno has agreed to come."

I took a long sip, her blue eyes holding mine with eloquent intensity.

"You still will not tell me what you can guess of his rage?"

Artanis did not answer immediately, looking into the golden surface of her liquor as if scrying for the future. When they met mine again, her eyes were clear and hard, like the stones sparkling around her slender neck.

"We only see what we wish to see. We only see what we believe can be real. I shall not speak, for I am not certain; and I shall not speak, for you would not believe me even if I were right." She put down her cup without drinking again. "Come. As the bride-to-be it is your duty to greet them. Findekáno shall not scorn you before his father."

I followed her, puzzled at her words; my subdued, ancient rage awakened again, like a thin mist on my joy. If Findekáno would not say what poisoned his heart against me, he could gnaw at his venom in silence. For today a seal was put upon my hopes, and they would become as clear as a polished mirror where no shadows linger.

"My cousin."

"My cousin."

Nolofinwë bent his height to kiss me on the cheek, his hand holding mine for a moment. Many said he resembled his elder brother, but they said it in whisper; for of Fëanáro Nolofinwë had inherited the talent for wrath, even if in him it was tempered by a wisdom too quietly strong for Fëanáro's quick brilliance to tolerate it. And if indeed his hair was as black, his shape almost as beautiful, in Nolofinwë the fire of the Noldor burnt steady and intense, a dark promise of strength in perils as yet untried in the Blessed Realm.

Turukáno greeted me himself, and Aredhel offered me a gift with one of her rare smiles. Her dress was a silver sheen in the silver light; and as she bent forward to kiss me she whispered to my ear: "Is Tyelkormo here?"

I nodded discreetly as I took the gift, and, her smile still engraved upon her lips, she glided past us and into the gardens with long strides. And then, last of his family after Anairë had embraced me for a moment, Findekáno was before me, his neck bent in a formal greeting.

"Silmë Lirillë."

"Findekáno."

I bent my head, my eyes cold, for I saw that nothing had changed from the evening he had stormed out of this same house in desperate rage. He looked at me, his lips arranged in a rigid grimace, as if dominating himself took every ounce of his will, and he had not any left to pretend joy at my happiness. My rage stung, a wasp trapped within my chest; and with a smile that was as cutting as a blade I said: "For a long time I have not had the pleasure of your company, cousin; but you that were here to see the origins of my gladness born, I rejoice that you are present to see them ripen into the promise of great fruit."

I had no name for the flame that flickered in his eyes, pain and wrath in equal measure; and a part of me regretted my words. But hatred too was there, as if I had destroyed a thing he loved most of many, and to this day I marvel that he did not answer me. I had spoken to draw blood; and blood I had had in the speechless gesture with which he bent his head again. Despising him and myself, I walked away, ashes in my mouth in an evening on which gentle stars had never shown.

Artanis reached me again as I carefully arranged the gifts on a table among many others, each of my gestures an attempt at bridling the chaos that I recognized beneath the brilliant surface of the reception. Maitimo had been right: no peace existed within the Noldorin royal family. And a sudden fear took me that such poison could taint the love that had lit my life like the star that rises into a cloudy night.

"Silmë."

Artanis' hand on my wrist, her eyes asking of me without words what had come to pass. I would have liked to shrug and smile; but the abortion of a laughter in my throat told her the truth.

"Silmë."

Gently, she led me away. Strong was always Artanis, like a fortress, unyielding; but she was my friend. We sat on a bench hidden behind a great bush, the open flowers a caress to our nostrils as I shook my head.

"He hates me still, and stronger than ever, he that I thought a friend for all these long years. Is it a curse that hangs on this union, that so many should turn against it?"

"Even if it were so, would you change your mind?"

Now I laughed, and however bitter my voice rang true.

"You know the answer well. Much more would I defy to become his bride. Some shall never be my friends, and this I accept; but those who used to love me have now turned against me, and even if it is a price I am willing to pay, still my heart suffers."

"Much greater price could you pay one day; much greater."

But she looked elsewhere avoiding my questioning glance, and I understood that this nugget of things to come had escaped her mouth but unwillingly. Then a clear bell resounded over the garden, and Artanis raised her head like a skittish mare.

"My father calls us. The moment of the promise has arrived." She turned to me, and a smile had blossomed on her lips. "Come. Your beloved awaits."

My friend knew me well; and with her I rose impatiently, checking my step but unwillingly, for I would have run all the way to see again Maitimo, and in his eyes meet the answer to all my doubts. Finwë, his head solemnly crowned, stood under a pavilion that had been festooned with ribbons and silvery chains hung with brilliant gems; Artanis and I took our place among my family.

And then I turned my eyes, and saw Maitimo. A cream tunic to match mine set off his auburn hair like a brilliant fire; and the copper circlet he often wore shone softly in the evening light. But nothing I could see but his green eyes, like emeralds that held my glance; and everything else was but background noise, a worthless thing not to be considered, but cast away.

The King spoke long of promise and love, and word given and accepted; then he turned to his son with the ritual question.

"Curufinwë my son, yours is the one that asks this maiden in bride; do you give your blessing?"

"I do."

It was the ritual answer, and now no other could be given; but in his assent Fëanáro put all his discontent, and by my side my father stiffened with silent rage. And I cared not. I met the eyes of Finwë's heir, and my smile was untroubled by his contempt.

Not the King turned to my father.

"Olorimo of the Vanyar, yours is the maiden that is asked in bride; do you give your blessing?"

My father's voice matched Fëanáro's in repressed contempt.

"I do."

His eyes flickered over me, his disapproval like a leaden veil; but it did not matter. For now, Artanis by my side, I advanced towards the King, as Maitimo and his witness came forward.

"Nelyafinwë, son of Curufinwë, what have you come to the King to ask?"

"I come to ask for Silmë, daughter of Olorimo, in bride; for on my heart she shines like the light of the Trees."

"Silmë, daughter of Olorimo, what do you answer to this?"

"I accept Nelyafinwë, son of Curufinwë, as my bridegroom to be; for on my heart he reigns like the Sea over the sunken earth."

The ritual words had been spoken; and now the King took our hands together, and joined them.

"Artanis, daughter of Arafinwë, and Macalaurë, son of Curufinwë, you are witnesses of the promise exchanged; may the One help those who have promised to keep their hearts true until the day their promise is renewed, and their vows bound together for the life eternal of the Eldar on this Earth."

The moment had come to exchange the rings to signify our union, and Artanis gave me mine, a plain band forged by Nerdanel, our names engraved on it like a flowering trellis of ivy. My fingers trembled as I slipped the ring over his strong finger, his skin warm under mine; and he held my hand to give me his own ring.

He had forged it himself, although no great talent for this he had inherited of his gifted parents; and when the jewel was visible upon my finger I heard Fëanáro scoff. But it did not matter.

It was a ring of silver polished to shine white; and with bands of metal shaped like curving waves it protected the treasure of a stone shining pale blue and red at the same time. As if our spirits had been locked into one dance of flickering colours.

We exchanged a kiss, his lips light on mine; and the ceremony was over to the cheers of those present. And my mouth no longer tasted like ashes, not now that Maitimo held me in his arms a moment longer that would have been expected; not now that, taking my hand, we led the way to the tables for the banquet to begin. Seated besides the King, plate after plate was placed before our guests, and the night lengthened, the tension was distempered into the hum of conversation where all formality had been ended. And Finwë smiled the fond smile of a grandfather who sees his first grandson betrothed; and my aunt beside me shone like a cold diamond in sober triumph.

The moment of the speeches came, the witnesses raising their cups to wish us happiness and joy, and for the years before our marriage to be short and light upon our spirits, like a lengthy wait that makes the meal sweeter to one's tongue. But when they sat again, one rose that I would not have expected. Findekáno took the word, and his countenance was pale and proud; and I looked to him as if afraid that he might speak in rage now that for a moment wine and food had made the rivality forgotten. But too great was his spirit to debase itself to such a thing, and raising his cup he said:

"I drink the health of Maitimo, cousin and friend; and of Silmë of my blood. I drink the health of love that is born and ripened." He paused, as if looking for words, and his eyes were veiled. But quietly he ended: "I drink the health of love that is allowed to be."

All drank with him, and gratefully Maitimo smiled, raising his vessel to his friend, an offer to tie again the knots of a friendship that had long existed, and should not die now. And Findekáno smiled back, however weakly; but he did not even glance at me.

I looked to Artanis, and wondered what passed behind her narrowed eyes, in the pained grimace of her mouth. No, she would not tell me what she guessed. But I knew as I looked at her that with painful certainty now she knew she had been right.

Thus began my long betrothal to Maitimo, son of Fëanáro, a thing of beauty and joy born in the shadow that would soon poison our whole realm. Thus it was born, and I often wonder what would have come to pass if Fëanáro had been merciful, and we allowed to wed after only a year. I wonder; but I do so idly, for even those who have endless time before them cannot turn its tide back.

And I wonder idly, for I suspect that the claim we used to laugh at in the philosophers' mouths is real: this is indeed the best world that could ever be, for every small change in its course could but have been for the worse. The most beautiful of the spirits of the One rebelled, and all was tainted forever. And with impious mind I sometimes ask myself whether such impurity, such strife is but the other face of the harmony we so much loved, and have so painfully lost; I ask myself if this be something that not even the Valar have understood, and even those who have rebelled in pride have only served. Sorrow and war are part of Arda, and Arda remade shall not exist without them. We are only too small to see that in the end their ugliness is but a different beauty in the great tapestry of all.

But back then, in the long days that followed our promise, I forgot that anything existed outside the hours I spent in joy with Maitimo my love. Here I shall leave nothing but a print of what was, for when in pain it is only greater sorrow to remember those days when all was light, or so we believed it to be. Those years were light on our shoulders, and Artanis' wish was granted. Never again would I be so happy, nor the future shine brighter.

We danced and laughed and rode, the earth soft and clear beneath our feet, our glances, our embraces in themselves a light greater than whatever joy the future could bring. And no world there was outside the fresh jade of his eyes; all desire was exhausted past the boundaries of his skin. And shadow, the shadow that grew, the shadow that lapped at our dancing strides, was erased in the blinding happiness those years had brought.

Fate is kind to those who are blind, for they do not see the precipice until they have fallen in it.

***

One last time I gathered the daisies in my hand, and added the final strand to the crown I had been braiding. His head reclined on my knee, Maitimo looked up to me, an amused light playing in his eyes.

"Why, what a kingly crown you have made me, my lady. Hasten to put it on my head, or I shall certainly die of impatience."

"Why, my lord, I thought kings should count temperance among their greatest virtues."

"But you, my lady, have elected to take not a king, but his grandson as your betrothed. You shall have to accept that kingly virtues wane with the passing generations."

"I shall see to reconcile myself to the thought."

Bending forward, I kissed him, and as his hands reached to my neck he kissed me back deeply and long. When we detached, the crown of daisies was ruined.

"Look what you've done. As punishment, you'll have to bear with me while I braid them in your hair one by one."

Smiling, a feigned tolerance painted upon his face, he let me play with the long locks of red gold, the hazy light of a warm day all around us, insects buzzing quietly among the open flowers. The long grass was dressed up in white as spring advanced. The ninth year of our engagement had begun.

"Here. Deignly crowned at last."

Tentatively, he reached with his fingers to his hair, now white with petals.

"Thank thee kindly."

His smile was mocking me, and I looked elsewhere, pretending offence. His hand sought mine, bringing it to his lips, and for a long moment we remained thus, the silence over us woven from small sounds.

Until a different quality entered it, and he grasped my fingers more strongly.

"Will you be in Valmar for long?"

"No longer than ten days. Time to celebrate my mother's birthday."

"Good."

He would not add anything else, but nine years had schooled me well in his moods and his silence.

"Tell, Maitimo. Let us not be sad in such a radiant day."

"'Radiant'," he laughed, "I see nothing radiant, but the lady who complies to make a pillow for me."

He rolled on his stomach, looking at me. He still held my hand.

"But since you ask, I shall tell you. My worries are the same of the last time we spoke."

"Your father then?"

"It has been long since the last time he met my uncle, but I am afraid that even my brothers' wits are at their end. We shall not be able to keep them apart for much longer. And when they next see each other, I fear their sparkle may light a fire too strong for us to tame."

"Certainly we are not at such a point?"

"Indeed I fear so. The rumours that Nolofinwë would become first in line after my grandfather have grown stronger. My uncle ignores them, holding himself above them, but my father may lend them a willing ear."

"Certainly Fëanáro is superior to them too?"

"I wish it were so. But ever since he lent his craft to creating weapons his thoughts have grown darker."

I shivered silently. Never had Maitimo shown me a sword, one of the long blades his father had tempered with long years of labour; but I all too eagerly felt in their mention the growing shadow of the mind that had conceived them.

"But the Lord Aulë loves them both too dearly to allow them to clash. And Finwë could never conceal his affection for his elder son."

"No. But venomous tongues are at work." He paused, not looking at me when he added: "You have heard, I think, what they say of the Newcomers?"

I shook my head impatiently.

"And even if it were so? What is Mankind, this new race, that we should be afraid of it? They say the Powers would consecrate Middle-earth as their exclusive abode; for myself, I doubt they would usurp those of the Eldar who have chosen to remain there. And to us who inhabit the light of Aman, what is it?"

"I wish all of our people thought as clearly as you do."

"I wish all of our people listened only to those who speak without lies."

Our eyes met again, and his and rose to caress my arm, left bare by my light dress.

"Silmë…"

With a quick gesture his strong hands reached to me, drawing me to his body. I rolled on the grass to his side.

"My hair will be full of grass seeds, unkind."

"My hair is already full of petals. It's fair retribution."

His arm held my waist, our faces close. Laughter died on our lips as I looked into his eyes, his long eyelashes a caress on my skin. Without kissing, we let our foreheads rest close.

"Maitimo…"

A long caress was his answer, a shivers from my shoulder to my hip. My desire for him smouldered in the afternoon, the daisies around us now as tall as white towers. I let my head nest in his neck, savouring my unsatisfied passion, a promise of things to come.

The long silence was broken only when I remembered what we spoke of, and smiling I raised my head to meet his eyes.

"The Eldar are wise, the Powers are kind. This shadow shall not last."

"May the One hearken you."

Did I know then I deceived myself and him? To this day I cannot answer. But I know that nothing mattered then, not when his heart drummed beneath my ear, as his fingers tangled in my hair. That was my world. That was the place I would belong to until my dying day.


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.

Story Information

Author: Aredhel Serindë

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Romance

Rating: General

Last Updated: 09/29/10

Original Post: 04/22/10

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