I could not have counted the time that passed before Artanis and Findaráto came back, nor remember of it anything but a numbing, confused happiness that filled my mind, erasing all concern of past and future. Many things in life are pleasurable and sweet, many things can give us great joy, and crown our spirit with nobility; but only love can thus annihilate time and space, and cover our eyes as with a veil that makes the world a place we fear nothing from.
Such is the gift of love; and such is its curse. For when we look through the veil we forget that it is but a frail illusion, and that its mesh is too fine to withstand the blades of sorrow and ill times. When the veil is torn, when dreams are withered, and hopes scattered to the wind, then love is revealed as a destiny that it is hard to fulfill. But that still belongs to us.
Looking back on that evening, I can see now that we were under siege; I can recognize, with the useless wisdom of those who reflect on the past, that a path was traced for us where we would be but unwilling actors, given lines we did not wish to learn, and forced to utter them at the tip of a sword. But I did not see it then; and even swords had not yet been made, a secret and unaccomplished deed resting unfinished in Fëanáro's forge.
I look back, and I see again myself as I lean against his shoulder, his great hand holding mine, his eyes shining softly when I looked to them. Fate was kind then; and if it has been more joyful, and my love has shaded itself since then in all the colours of passion and sorrow, it is to the silent perfection of that moment that I return in thought, for I know that it was there that the knot was first tied.
We did not speak; in the touch of our hands all of our words had died. The warmth of the day faded, like a shawl falling off one's shoulders when the cold is tempered by gentler winds; and looking up I wished I could see the stars the eternal light of Aman obscured, and that I had only guessed through the breach in the mountains.
Light footfalls on the path announced the end of our solitude; and Maitimo rose, still holding my hand. A glance told me he would no longer delay nor hide in the shade of prudent words and half-truths our bond. A brisker pace joined the first, and I recognized Artanis' steps. Could she see the shadow upon us, even now? But his hand was in mine, and all my doubts had withered. Shadow or light, this was my place.
"Welcome home, cousins."
Joy filled Daro's smile as he saw us; he understood. So did Artanis; but in her tight lips I guessed her discontent, her uncertainty. In her eyes a foreboding had taken clear shape; but about it she uttered no word. And then a third one crossed the garden, and Findekáno came smiling from the house.
Maitimo's smile grew larger.
"Fino! Cousin and friend! Now my joy is complete. You came, perhaps, to say goodbye to a departing cousin; but I tell you now that soon Silmë will be back. And twice, then, cousin and friend to you, both in marriage and in blood."
Findaráto spoke, and certainly his words were of gladness, and his heart unfolded before us; but what he said I never heard. For I had steeled myself against the mistrust that I knew would be kindled in Artanis' eyes; but what I was not prepared for, what covered in ashes my newborn bliss, was something I would not have expected, and not even Artanis' wisdom could have guessed.
The smile died on Findekáno 's lips as he heard Maitimo's words, and fear flashed through them; fear and disbelief, and his voice, when he spoke again, was at once thick and uncertain.
"Certainly you joke, Russandol. How could what you say be true?"
"My little sister shall accuse me of blindness, cousin, but I see now that I am not as blind as you! Maitimo, your announcement comes, you shall forgive me, somewhat late; for all in the house of Arafinwë dared to hope one day to hear it."
"The only one that should seek pardon is I; for I delayed too long. But my lady was kind, and did not begrudge me my wait."
I met his eyes briefly, and the sparkle of merriness in them was fuel to my own joy. I clasped his hand tighter; and now he turned again to Findekáno , who stood in silence.
"Yes, Fino, I was secretive, and foolishly so; for I feared both myself and Silmë's answer. You won't, my friend, hold against me my silence?"
He offered him a hand, on his lips the same, jesting smile; but Findekáno drew away, shaking his head.
"Are you mad? Do you want strife to trouble our family again, to break us apart?"
Not even Findaráto smiled now; and a silence fell on the garden, crushing my peace. Holding my breath, I watched the cousin I had known and loved all my life, and I could not recognize him in the distorted features on his face. Findekáno battled to contain himself, rage and something I could not name lighting his eyes with a maddened fire. Maitimo looked at him as if he could not understand; and my voice was frail when I said:
"All that I can do to help divisions, Fino, I shall do…"
He turned on me with a fury that I never saw in him again; and his words were harsh, as alien to his usual self as to seem to belong to a different Elf.
"Be silent! Why did you ever come to Tirion? Why did you not leave before?"
Many things he could have added; many things he wanted to, and his eyes were ablaze. But shaking his head again, as if his emotion was too much even to speak, he turned and strode away; his steps purposeful with a decision that would allow no pardon. Maitimo looked at me, and nodding I let him go; he chased after him, and the two disappeared into the house.
Daro was silent, and worried; but when I looked to Artanis her eyes were dark, full of shadows. She said nothing, but I could feel her mind reaching out to mine, a touch as harsh as the burning timbers of a dying fire.
It has begun.
Findekáno did not come back. He refused to listen or answer to Maitimo's words; and before leaving the house of Arafinwë he only looked at him, and asked: "Why?" It was one word, but in it he put the weight of his nameless, reasonless despair. He did not wait for a reply. He left, and did not look back. But when Maitimo came to me in the garden, the sorrow in his eyes was tempered and made cutting by a fierce light. Taking my hand again, he turned to Findaráto: "Cousin, I would be obliged if you let me wait here for my uncle's return."
Daro nodded slowly, still uncertain about what had come to pass.
"Of course. But Fino – "
"He fears for new discord to arise of this. But what my father shall say is mine alone to face."
There was steel in his voice, a resolve that was not there before. For now the path was settled, and in following it he had no doubt.
"Findekáno shall see that I am no longer a child to tremble and wait for approval. The faults of fathers, and their hatreds, should not fall upon their sons."
A challenge were his words, and my blood stirred. We returned to the house, and what had happened was not mentioned again. Shortly Arafinwë returned; and his joy at the news was such to obliterate for a moment Findekáno's unexpected rage.
"Shall you not return to Valmar tomorrow then, Silmë?"
"Yes. But Nelyafinwë will come with me, to present himself to my father and seek his approval."
"I cannot think of my uncle posing obstacles to your happiness, my dear cousin. And if you were to return to Tirion afterwards, know that my house shall be open to you at a moment's notice. And of you, Nelyafinwë, I expect no longer to hesitate in coming here to visit us; not now that we shall hold your betrothed among us."
Maitimo bowed his head.
"I thank you, uncle; for soon I hope to lead back my promised, and present ourselves formally before the King my grandfather, as Fëanáro my father is now away."
The name had been pronounced; the as yet unnamed fear that had hung above our heads, the silent break that run through the great family of Finwë the High King. Arafinwë smiled uncertainly; consulting with his wife with a glance, he seemed to take courage in her strength. Eärwen turned to us, a light upon her face.
"The Lady Indis will have great joy of this. No doubt, the king shall give his blessing."
She had cups and wine brought; and they drank our health. Turning I caught our reflection on a great mirror hanging on the wall; my cousins resplendent in their formal robes, while Maitimo and I among them stood out for the simplicity of our clothes. In the mirror I met Artanis' eyes, and now they were unreadable. I could see that her mind was troubled; and she was weighing the present and future on sharp scales.
I accompanied Maitimo to the door, walking with him until the gate where a season before I had greeted him. We were alone; and night surrounded us with its pale silver, its moist air.
"Great sorrow and great joy this day has brought, and I can scarcely believe we are here now." I took his hand, bringing it to my face. "I fear that if I do not hold you you shall dissolve, and all this will have been nothing but the dream that a grieving mind has woven to console itself."
He smiled; a smile that was together kind and determined.
"Fear not; for now words have been spoken that will not be taken back. All of our fears shall dissolve; all of our doubts proven vain. I have walked too long in the shadow of this endless strife; but now this joy I claim for myself."
He took my face between his hands, bending over me; his glance caressing my features, as if seeking an answer to a question he had no need to utter.
In his voice I was born again. The touch of his lips on mine was delicate, but in it, as in all of his gestures, I felt his contained strength, the warmth of his spirit. His gentle fire. His arms encircled me, and I wished I could melt into him, and our flesh become one. We tasted each other for the first time, and when he left me I remained at the gate, watching him go; and the remembrance of his touch remained on my skin, its heat unfading.
I returned to the house with a slow pace, letting the idle breeze that had suddenly raised its fingers play with my hair. When I reached the house my cousins had already gone to bed; and I climbed the stairs to the room where I slept expecting Artanis to be already beneath the covers, her back turned on me. But my cousin and friend was fully awake, her hands busy folding clothes and brushes she put into a great bag. She raised her head when I came into the room, but otherwise did not acknowledge my presence. She kept packing.
"What are you doing, Nerwen?"
Her glance met mine briefly, and her voice was curt when she answered: "You shall need somebody to accompany you tomorrow. If you would prefer Findaráto to drive you in the carriage, you have but to ask."
"But surely you would not…?"
Silence. Her swift fingers folded a linen mantle.
"Artanis – "
"Do not thank me, Silmë. I have wished in vain for this not to happen, I have tried in vain to prevent it. I have failed. Dark are my thoughts, and darker the future I can guess, although it still is nothing more than a misshapen threat."
"And yet you will come with us."
Her hands were still. Another would have sighed; not Artanis, to whom any such manifestation of resignation was unknown. She looked at me, and in her eyes the shadows were not dispelled, but a streak of sudden understanding made them kinder.
"This choice was yours to make; and I shall not deny you this happiness, as black as the horizon appears to my eyes. For once, I hope the Valar would prove me wrong; and the Powers know the House of Finwë has not known enough of love, and too much of strife."
With a brisk movement she drew the strings of her bag, and knotted them.
"Besides, this betrothal shall anger greatly Fëanáro. And where he is displeased, my pleasure cannot but flower."
She met my eyes, her fine eyebrows raised. A bitter smile stretched her lips; but a smile still.
"Can I hope of you ever to trust Maitimo?"
The smile grew thinner; and the clouds gathered again in her glance.
"Nelyafinwë loves you," she said after a moment, her voice determined, "This much I know. And yet the shadow of his father is upon him, and of such a legacy he cannot hope to free himself. Remember this, Silmë: that poets lie. Love cannot conquer all."
Her words echoed of truth; and for a long moment they silenced me. The foreboding was over me, like a veil dropped over my brilliant joy; but I shook my head, and denied its power.
"It shall conquer over this strife. Maitimo and I will be joined in marriage, and our spirits never parted again."
"So be it."
More than a wish, less than a curse. Artanis could not yet see far in those days; but in desires and dreams already she could recognize the promise of what would come to pass, whether we willed for it or not.
I banished from my mind the undertones of her fear, and taking a comb tended to my tangled hair. The carven mother-of-pearl felt heavy in my hand, for it was Findekáno that had presented me with it. My thoughts went to him, to his strange behaviour, his unforeseeable wrath. Artanis guessed my thoughts; but when I looked to her, she shook her head.
"It is not on you that lies the key to his discontent, nor indeed to his renewed friendship; and it is not for me to say what has caused it."
"And yet you know it?"
"I guess it; but my guess was begot in days far from this. A haze has fallen on these times, and my thoughts are confused. I could be mistaken."
"This I doubt; even if by saying so I lend reality to the menace that has grown in your mind."
"And yet, if I were to wish for error to trouble me, and prove me false, it would be that. Not on you, not on Maitimo alone hangs the shadow. A reckoning draws nearer, and its threat is made larger by its obscurity. I cannot discern what lies ahead, only I know that sorrow will come from it, and the light of Valinor shall be blighted."
A season before such words would have awakened a fear as yet unknown into my mind; but now the bitterness that had found roots even in Aman had touched me, and recognizing its tainted print as it spread even into the future brought me no surprise.
"Once I believed those who said no better fate could have waited for us but the life we live here. Now I ask myself whether this light was ever pure."
My words sounded alien to my own ears; and Artanis came closer, touching my shoulder to comfort me.
"Light shall never fail completely; not as long as we live. And into the circles of the world we cannot die. Console yourself, cousin and friend; for there is joy awaiting you, even if a price will have to be paid for it."
I looked to her; and my smile mirrored hers.
"I am not afraid. When the reckoning shall come, I will be ready."
Her eyes narrowed; and she nodded, recognizing my determination as hers.
"For this, and this alone, we can all hope."
She kissed me on the cheek and unmade the bed, readying it for sleep.
"A long journey awaits us tomorrow; we had better rest. The present may still be bright, and the time that is left us shine."
Time. I looked out of the window, to the trees asleep into the silver light. The world held its breath until the morning; and when the day is risen, you can no longer hide. I listened to Artanis' words, and went to sleep; the memory of Maitimo's touch on my skin a portal into a world of kind dreams.
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.