Tainted Light: 13. Exile

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13. Exile

Chapter 12

Exile

Fëanáro did not say a word as I took a seat at his table that evening; not a word as I partook of their supper. His black eyes were heavy upon my brow; but he did not speak. In them was the burning flame of his contempt, a burden I had by now grown accustomed to; but also something I had never seen there before, nor would see again. For among the raging fire of his disdain it flickered pale and weak the spark of doubt.

Fëanáro lived of certainties, too much his strength and his might for his spirit to allow the possibility of being contracticted. And even when facts seemed to prove him wrong, when other, lesser men (or perhaps wiser ones) would have acknowledged their defeat, still Fëanáro bore on, untouchable in his purpose, mindless of all that surrounded him. But on that day something had happened even he could not justify.

It was not for myself, but for my aunt that I was glad as his glance surveyed me, as if he were not sure of what he was seeing, as if he doubted the maiden sitting by his eldest was the same he had so obstinately refused as a daughter in law. Pusillanimous and unfaithful, he had called the Vanyar. This Vanyarin Elf had come back. I doubted not he would find a way to despise even this; but in that wavering doubt there was all the triumph we could ever obtain.

The King himself sat with us, and in seeing me his face was illuminated with a smile. Indis had not followed him here. Fëanáro would not let her come. And in the traces, however far, of our kinship on my face he found again his happiness.

"Will you remain here with us, Silmë?"

I exchanged a glance with Maitimo. The matter had been discussed briefly on our way back from the garden, as we waited for the dinner bells to call us in the main hall.

"I left Valmar with only as much as a saddlebag would hold; soon I will have to leave for Tirion, but just as soon I shall be back. I hope Arafinwë my cousin shall extend to me again the courtesy he showed in the past."

"Oh, he will," Fëanáro's voice broke in, and his eyes were hard. The doubt had passed. "Whoever heard my little brother ever refuse one of his Vanyarin relatives? Even if she treats his house like a hostel along the road. But if my house you think of treating likewise, daughter of Olorimo, you shall do better to think again."

I felt tired and empty, a numb happiness and a subdued anxiety battling within my chest. But in that year I had passed through worse than Fëanáro could throw at me now, and my tiredness was my strength. I had abandoned my people, renounced my father. I was past all contempt.

Bitterly, I smiled.

"The Queen Varda was wrong, it appears, son of Finwë; for one year in the wilderness has tempered neither your wisdom nor your tongue. Your son and I were betrothed before the One, and such a bond none but us can break. My rights you cannot deny, even if you would, driven to malice in the idleness of this solitary abode."

He rose; and for a moment I feared he would let his wrath show in its full might, for shadows stirred behind his charcoal irises the smallest heat would have been enough to ignite. But his voice was calm and cold when he answered.

"It took you a long time to remember it. And know this: that the fates of those who have my blood are woven of my own fire, and looking at you I know you have neither strength nor perseverance enough in your spirit to stand such brightness. It would have been better if you had remained in your city, playing courtier to the Valar as all your family do."

He left. His voice had rung of doom. In it it had echoed the truth that so often filled Artanis'. His cold glance had been black ice on me.

I turned to Maitimo. He looked straight ahead, his skin as white as alabaster in the wavering light of the torches. Frail and bright, and dearer to me than my own blood. The thought came quicker than any reasoned judgment, quicker than any possibility to change my mind.

If this be the fire I must perish of, so be it.

I cared not.

After supper I left the hall, walking the long corridors lit only by torches. Outside the wind howled through narrow windows, fell clouds hid all light. I stopped by one of the severely cut openings, leaning against its sill. The outer walls kept most of the wind out, here, in the heart of the stronghold, its wailing was a vain threat. Still the coolness in the air was pungent, it bit now that the night was deep, the day still buried deep in the hours to come.

I looked out; in me all doubts dead, but still too much of pain to call this joy. In this dark hour I had found my love, in this dark hour I had undone what a fate that it had never been in my hands to change had inflicted on us. But still this was not enough to pretend day had come back. The coldness of the stone seeping into my skin through the thin fabric of my sleeve, before my eyes the hissing emptiness of that night, my spirit lurked on the edge of the thought that had till now had it recoiling in pain. Perhaps this stain was past healing. Perhaps our lot would be living forever in this tainted light.

He made no noise as he walked, his steps lighter and more silent than his great limbs would have suggested. I did not know he was there until he leant above me, his lips, his nose hovering an inch over my hair. He inhaled my smell, slowly. I closed my eyes. The music of his breathing, its subdued melody that to my ears erased all thought of the wind. I leant back against him, letting his arms encircle me.

"Mind not my father."

"I never did."

Another day, we would have smiled.

"I persuaded Tyelkormo to lend you one of his carrier birds. You can send a message to Tirion this very night."

"I thank you."

For one long moment we did not speak, enjoying, now without urgency, each other's warmth. At the bottom of our embrace there still lurked the fear, the faint anxiety that this could not last long. That all this long day had been but a consoling dream, a soothing balm concocted by spirits too tired of this long sundering to accept the truth. But his skin under my fingers was as real as the harshness of the wind. This was no dream.

Slowly he led the way to the tower where his brother kept his birds, creatures he had taken into his service, and that loved him of the love the Lord Oromë had taught him to inspire into them. Those who had been instructed by the Hunter could speak to most of the beasts that inhabited freely the wood, and thus grant themselves their fealty.

Tyelkormo waited for us by the door of the wooden shack where they had their nests, his figure muffled by a woolen cloak. By his feet crouched the great, dark shape of Hùan the hound, which Oromë had given him as a present to enrich his hunting and sweeten the bitterness of voluntary exile. As he saw us arrive he opened briskly the door, and let me in. Maitimo waited outside.

The interior of the shack was warm, the wafts of wind penetrating through openings in the roof for the birds to fly out of could not chill the air heated by the breath of the feathery creatures. Bright eyes like black beads followed our movements with the turning of small heads, and the birds greeted their master with a soft cooing. Tyelkorm gave me a thin strip of parchment to write on, and in my smallest hand I crammed on it a brief message. Expertly, without saying a word, he selected a strong-looking pigeon, and rolled and tied the parchment to its leg.

"Will he know the way?"

"If I tell him to."

His voice was brisk. Here in Formenos his spirit was cramped, subdued. If he had had wings himself he would have flown; even if never would a son of Fëanáro admit to such a desire. Tyelkormo spoke to his bird in a low chanting. As if bewitched, the animal looked at him, replying in a low noise. Tyelkormo held his hands high. Battling against the wind, the bird took flight. It was no more than a small, darker stain against a darkened sky.

*** 

They had given me the chamber Curufinwë's wife used when she (rarely) came visiting; one of the few women of the household had been assigned to my service. I dismissed her soon. Sitting before a polished mirror, I brushed my hair, and thought of nothing. For the first time in a very long time, I knew I would lie down to sleep, and not dream. There was no longer need of it.

The knock on the door was subdued, as if the one who knocked were uncertain on whether or not he wished to be admitted. Wrapping a shawl around my shoulders I opened the wing without asking who was there. I knew.

He did not smile; his voice, when he spoke, was low and careful.

"I came to say goodnight."

"On the threshold, my lord?"

A playfulness long forgotten was in my words, as light, as hesitant as the tracks a dragonfly may leave when skipping above the water. The same uncertainty was mirrored in his reply.

"I would never dare impeaching your honour by saying goodnight in your chamber, my lady."

Shadows of smiles, ghosts of things past. We did not need the banter anymore. Too much had happened. There was a starkness in this silence, a naked truth. It hurt; but it was real.

I closed the door; he held me long and tight. I learnt his body anew in the print of his bones pressed against my own.

"Is it too much to ask for the sacrifice of another ten years?"

I smiled against his chest.

"It's eleven. And it's not."

I raised my face, meeting his eyes.

"Not like a fugitive shall I be wed to you; but in the light of Tirion, and before those we call friends."

"I know."

No more to say. And yet his arms would not let me go; and yet I tried not to break their hold. The memory of that afternoon's violence was fresh; but with it went the bite of a fire that had been kindled long before.

"I should go."

A whisper. No more.

"Do not."

I took his hand, leading him, like a child who does not know the way.

"Stay."

There can be an innocence in desire; there can be consolation even in its restraining. But what are these, in the end? Just words; just breath, just air. It matters not. The body knows everything; what is right, what is wrong, even when the spirit ails without the courage to acknowledge its sickness.

I let my fingers find the edge of his shirt, I let my arms draw it high, over his head. A small gesture of their tips and it was cast aside, crumpled linen on the rug. I did not care. For the splendour of his body was all my eyes could perceive, the heat of his flesh all my skin would remember as his own fingers undid the laces of my nightgown. They trembled; even as I did.

There is a place where all words are lost; and it was in his arms in that night that I found it. Darkness was forgotten; and so was light. We were beyond them, for this night, for this borrowed silence, for the long drumming of our blood was all that existed. Lying awake in our embrace, skin against skin, gambling our promise on the sharp edge of the desire we tempered even as we resisted it. Learning patience for another ten years of wait. Dreaming not, sleeping not, until morning came.

***

Artanis came two days later, her mare a silvery, bright stain in the grayish emptiness of the plain. She would not climb the long, narrow path beneath the sentinels' suspicious eyes; she would not risk being refused admittance. Up she despatched a messenger, one of the guards who dared not disobey one of the house of the King.

I rode down to her in the same dress I had worn when I had left my house, my horse rested by two days in the stable, my eyes now full of a serenity stained with melancholy. But no more doubts, no more fear. I had found my place.

She looked at me, long and hard. She looked from my ring to my face, searching my eyes for the truth – whether our spirits had already been joined. Smiling faintly, I shook my head, answering with words her wordless question.

"There are many ways for destinies to be joined, Artanis, cousin and friend."

"I doubt it not. Down this road you walked, without looking back, a long time ago." She glanced up at Formenos, her eyes taking in the turrets, the thick battlements, the proud gates; the light of the pale day flickering like a colourless flame on the tip of the spears. She shook her head, like a horse that shakes away a fly; shutting her eyes against what visions such a sight brought to her troubled mind. When she opened them again, her irises were clear.

"My friend. I am glad you are back."

"For half a year. For the other two seasons, I am due here."

"We shall see to make them suffice."

I turned back, just once; to Maitimo looking at me depart from the tower. I raised my hand in farewell, light dancing blue and red on the stone upon my finger. He was far; but he smiled. Like a thin chain binding us together, the unspoken promise of skin on skin tied us. No need of courtly, refined vows. No loremaster had ever crafted words to suffice for such an understanding, deeper and more subtle than all the trappings the world could devise. I turned my horse, and spurred it forward; but at the same time I remained there.

Ten years is nothing to an Elvish mind; even when the Trees were bright, and the seasons longer, still the eternity that was then still young on our minds, short in our memories had spun longer tales. There was merriness in Tirion for my return; for the White City was forsaken by many who had made it fair, and many of its splendid mansions were shut.

Nolofinwë was locked in a grief that was resentment and rejected love; disappointed son, and refused brother, in that days was cast on him the blight that would last to the end of his life. Many things he could be; and many things he achieved. But forever in his mind he would remain what he was the day I first saw him after my return: a sad Elf, and a bitter one. There was a crease to his mouth that was not there before, and would never be smoothed again.

Findekáno had not forgotten his grudge. Pride kept him from journeying to Formenos; and in those days he rode long and far, knowing the shores of Aman and its plains, going everywhere his fancy, or the unquiet hoofs of his steed would bring him; but never taking the one road he truly desired. In the years of Fëanáro's exile, lost without the friend in the time of our betrothal he had cautiously drawn closer to again, he was like an abandoned thing. Like all of us, like me, he felt that the tide had changed; that the air crackled with sparks we could not see, like the sky that grows tighter and darker as lightning approaches.

But lightning did not strike. Living as we did on the edge of doom, listening for words of reassurance the Powers would not utter, for Melkor the Traitor had not been found, and evil crept closer to the Blessed Realm.

Like me, Findekáno knew all this; unlike him, I pretended to forget.

No messengers came from Valmar to claim me back; and their silence hurt more than insults would have done. No, Olorimo would not speak to me; and those letters my mother managed to send to me never even pronounced his name. For love of him, she would not come. For love of Maitimo, I had abandoned them. It was my decision; one my Noldorin relatives accepted. Arafinwë welcomed me to his house, offering me a room of my own to dwell in. Artanis said quietly she was happy to share. I had a family; I was loved. But that bitterness could not be erased. That loss could not be filled.

We cannot have other father, other mother than those that were given us by the One, however imperfect they may be.

And yet I could find joy, however tainted; and yet I knew the decision I had taken was the only one that would not break me. Perhaps I hoped against all hope Time would heal all hurts; perhaps I hoped against the darkness lurking in Artanis' thoughts of a future that drew every day closer that we would live on to see a day where these shores should be cleansed anew, and the evil that had been, the sundering that had broken us be forgiven. That the wounds we had suffered would be healed, and forgotten.

It seems so strange to write this now, and my fingers hesitate; for I recognise in the print of that dimming the seed and the plot of things that would come. The board was set; the pieces waiting to be moved. Perhaps it is a beautiful tale to tell, and not only a terrible one; perhaps there is a beauty, a splendour I can only guess, in the tapestry our lives have woven. All in Arda marred brings glory to the One; and even in the marring there is but a shade of his infinite Being. Even in lies there is a spark of His truth.

But this I cannot know but through mirrors, and knots unsolved; for I was one of the pieces on that board, one of the pieces that, willing or not, would be moved. A wind was to come that would sweep us away from our square, and bring us along roads whose existence we had not guessed. Not even pieces; pawns. But this we knew not. We lived; finding contentment in those days when the mist would relent, and draw away to show us again the brilliance of the light.

***

Maitimo parried; the swords clashed, the blades sparkling. It was a morning at the beginning of a new season; white clouds like fleeced lambs ran in the dirty lawns of a sullen sky. And yet the metal was polished, and Laurelin's brilliant power showed on it in intricate patterns of light.

Curufinwë jumped back, attacking again, his movements heavy, his own great strength an obstacle to him. Maitimo danced away, his movements a step away from gracefulness, too much their restrained might to allow for that. His quickness was joined to determination as he circled his brother, his sword still but vibrant in his hand. Parry, circle. Strike.

The sword's flat came down heavy on Curufinwë's wrist, he let down his own blade with a cry of dismay. Maitimo smiled; sheathing again his own sword, he bent over and picked up his brother's weapon.

"It was a nice bout."

"It was a bout you won, as usual."

"Don't sulk, Curvo."

Curufinwë looked at him from under lowered lashes, hostility a palpable wave around him. Fëanáro's favourite son had inherited his father's easiness for offence; but he lacked his might. Where his father's displeasure was a thing to be feared, Curvo looked indeed but a child sulking.

Smiling, Maitimo offered him his sword's hilt; however grudgingly, the other accepted. My betrothed walked back to where I had witnessed the training, sitting on a bench in the shade. He accepted a flask of water, dousing his hair with some of it. He had kept it short; I ran my fingers through its locks. Playfully, like a dog when it's wet, he shook his head. I laughed.

"Perhaps at last we have found a talent in you, Nelyafinwë. Even though your spirit remains but that, unskilled and unshaped, of an Elfling."

Slowly, he straightened. Fëanáro on the archway of the courtyard where we stood surveyed us with a cold glance. In the seven years that had passed since he first had come to Formenos he had not changed; not in the way the Queen Varda had hoped for. No, for Fëanáro had built his fortress on his might, and his pride – and there he had dwelt in power, as the Noldor flocked to him, and Tirion left under his brother's kingship waned. And exile and hatred and bitterness had sharpened him, like one of the blades he forged - and the light in his eyes had grown feverish and cold at the same time. Like charcoal trapped in ice, Fëanáro's eyes bored on us; lightly, Maitimo bowed his head.

"As always, father, your words bring me but honour and delight."

"Spare me. Your technique has grown better, and been refined. That much counts."

Heeding no longer his eldest, he turned to Curufinwë.

"I came to tell you I shall not be here to survey the last batch of new spearheads. I entrust the forge to you."

"Father?"

Never had Fëanáro left Formenos since he had come, even though his ban concerned Tirion alone of the whole of Valinor. Contempt seeping in his voice like cold venom, his eyes flared with wrath.

"Manwë summons me to Valmar. The prince of the Noldor is to grace his time of festival."

Respect for the Powers had been bred into my mind since my birth; his offence stung.

"Surely the King invited you. He would not summon any to him who did not wish to go."

"A command it is to me; for the Valar know well that I have no desire to visit again their city. Perhaps that you should be there, since so great is your wish to go? But I forget: I am not the sole exile here."

Six years had thought me a dead smile was answer enough to such mots; and indeed, Fëanáro turned and went immediately, heeding me no further. My sight alone tormented him; for I was a part of Indis that he could not escape, and a proof of his failure in having his way. Not often his wishes had been thwarted; and for the honour of such a rarity I paid a bitter price.

Without glancing back, Caranthir strode away in his wake. The courtyard was silent and empty, the disturbed sand the only proof of what had passed. Soon servants would come to rake it. Sitting beside me, Maitimo did not speak. After a long moment I put in words the silent thought that stung us both; uncertain whether it would bring us joy or woe.

"Nolofinwë shall be there."

"As the King Manwë himself has surely arranged."

The last time the brothers had seen each other Fëanáro's exile had been sealed; now to hope for the same doom to be undone seemed too brilliant an expectation to nourish in such times. And yet the thought fluttered before our eyes, shimmering like and emerald and gold insect which flies lazily among flowers on a bright day.

"If it were…"

"Say it not. It is no good to hope without certainty to aid the heart's desire."

Our eyes met.

"And yet."

"Time shall tell. In a few days we will know."

"If it were true…"

He never finished his sentence. Our fingers entwined; our unspoken promise filling the silence. Suddenly, he rose.

"Come, my lady. You are right: it is not wise to brood upon uncertain sorrows, or uncertain joys. Come! A horse and a ride; and perhaps a tumble down a grassy hill. Have I not, after all, an Elfling's spirit?"

Laughing in the face of scorn. Turning insult to praise. Pretending we could make gold of whatever coin fate would offer us. It was not to be; but we knew it not. Smiling, I accepted his hand. We left the courtyard behind, his sword was cast off in the armoury.

A new season sprang beneath our horses' hoofs; the plains were lit up with the white of a thousand flowers. Among them, flying lazily, the emerald shimmer of rose chafers.


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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