The next morning came announced by a slight cooling of the air, no more of a breath of wind stealing in from the window. It caressed my feet that the light sheet had left bare, it played with Artanis' disordered hair. It tickled our eyelids inviting us to see the slow marvel of the mingling of the lights.
I opened my eyelids on a wet, silvery world, the birds still asleep on the branches of the trees, the light a promise not yet gilded by Laurelin's return. Artanis looked at me with eyes that were still hungry for further dreams, but nodding slightly she pushed the cover away and rose, her fingers combing her tresses with automatic gestures.
"Better to rise early than late."
I nodded my assent in silence, reaching out for the dress I had prepared before going to bed. A long journey awaited us. Soundlessly we prepared, gathering those bags which had still not been brought downstairs, taking shawls against the light breeze. I washed my face, and meeting my eyes in the mirror I sought a difference, something that would tell the world of the changes. This morning I knew he would come; this morning my happiness lay near to my fingertips, so close that I could almost touch it.
But there were no differences; or at least none that I could see with my naked eyes. Later my mother would tell me that I looked sadder and wiser than when I had left for Tirion, and that my eyes shone with a feverish light. To this day I do not know if it was true, yet another landmark on the road to our downfall, or if the insight of those who look back painted me in her memory with a shadow borrowed from the future.
But in that watery morning none of this was yet in my mind, and every foreboding was forgotten in the clouded hour after one has woken, as my spirit looked forward to the day that lay ahead, a ribbon that could gleam with gold or be buried in dust. In that moment, I gathered part of my hair and bound it with a comb, and followed Artanis downstairs. I left behind the unmade beds, the room that had housed our whispers and dreams during that season looking forlorn in the cold light.
In the kitchen my cousin had already laid out a substantial breakfast, honey and bread, milk and cream, biscuits and cake. A basket had been left out for us, containing our lunch, for we would have to travel all day to reach Valmar before the second mingling of the lights. As we ate I strained my ears, listening out for the rhythmic beat of hoofs on the road. Artanis noticed it and scoffed.
"He will come, fear not."
"I know. But home seems still so far. And father's surprise when I will tell – "
Father. For a moment his face floated before my eyes, Olorimo the proud who had never accepted Fëanáro's treatment of my aunt. Olorimo who had never hidden his wish that Indis had stayed among the Vanyarin. But Olorimo who had only me as a child; and past his sternness, that made him so close to his cousin Ingwion, I well knew that his heart was kind. I well knew that, even if he had not approved of his sister's marriage, still he had quietly envied her great family, her many grandchildren.
I lay the thought aside, reassuring myself, picturing my mother, half Noldor herself. Her people had long intermarried with those of Tirion, she had grown knowing the splendor and the skill of the craftsmen, the immense lore of the masters of the people of Finwë. Falwing would understand; Falwing would look to the son and Fëanáro and see the gentle flame that burnt in him. Or so I hoped; for after Findekáno's wrath nothing more seemed certain beneath the light of the Trees.
A shiver run down my spine, the slice of cake in my hand forgotten; and Artanis laughed briefly, rapping my knuckles.
"Such a close attention you paid, when he was not coming. Now he's here, and you have not noticed it."
I was torn from my reflection, brought back to the reality where a horse neighed in the courtyard, impatiently beating its hoofs to the ground. I cleaned my fingers with a napkin, my gestures nervous, and my feet ran the short way out into the orchard, and then, past a stone arch, into the courtyard where the grooms had stopped loading Artanis' small carriage to take care of Maitimo's horse.
He saw me as I came towards him, he smiled handing over the reins. I was breathless without knowing why; or perhaps knowing it all too well as his smile mirrored mine, as his hand stretched out to take mine in greeting, and a thousand needles burnt into my veins with his touch.
Indeed, in that morning he looked the grandson of Finwë, third in the line for the throne, his garments rich with velvet and silver, deep vine and emerald to show the world his rank. His black horse was saddled and bridled with gems, its coat shining like obsidian even in the pale light. The copper circlet I had sometimes seen him wear encircled Maitimo's forehead, and his auburn hair was braided with thin red ribbons shot with gold.
He saw me take in his attire, so different from the dusty clothes he had worn the evening before; and he smiled as if in apology.
"When one rides to the city of the Valar to ask in marriage a niece of the King, one should dress at his best."
"Even if you were dressed in rags I would not believe my fortune in bringing you to my house."
"Even if you were not a lady of the Vanyarin all the gems of the Noldor would not be sufficient for a worthy bride price."
Our banter fell into a silence that was like the quiet after a sudden wind; and slowly he bent over me, his fingertips caressing my cheeks, his lips seeking mine in a kiss that was like the touch of a gentle rain.
All too soon we detached, to find Artanis, her arms crossed, watching us from the stone arch, on her lips the cutting smile that was usual to her.
"We had better bring you two to Valmar soon, or Olorimo could find himself with grandchildren sooner than he would expect to."
Unoffended, Maitimo bowed to her in jest.
"Nerwen, my cousin, today even your sharp mind cannot touch me, and indeed I am so grateful to you for accompanying us that you could mistreat me all day with your wit, and I am afraid I would be too glad of my present state to notice."
Artanis scoffed; but her eyes, at least for a moment, were devoid of the bitterness that filled them every time she laid eyes on a Fëanárion. Putting on her gloves she caressed her mare, already joined to the cart, and mounted taking the reins. I checked for the luggage before sitting beside her, and Maitimo took back his horse. In a moment we were ready to go, the tall wheels of the carriage rolling smoothly over the flagstones, the hoofs a monotonous drumming on the pavement .as we travelled across the silvery dawn down the sloping roads of Tirion the White.
That day passed like a long dream, a song of broken verses and conversations left halfway through as we made our way beneath a clear sky. Artanis drove, as was her custom, with the reckless passion for speed that was usual to her; her mare enjoying the race as much as she did, her cheeks flushing scarlet as she clasped the reins. Beside the small carriage, Maitimo ran; his hair gleaming copper in the light wind.
Not even a day had passed since the tables had been turned, not a day since the withered promise of my joy had bloomed. Leaning back into the seat I looked around, the inland kingdom of the Valar like a fan spread beneath the lazy curls of a hot day. Sometimes Artanis would concede the horses some rest, the gallop would slow down to a playful canter. Then I would meet my betrothed's eyes – so strange it was to think of him as such, like cloaking him in borrowed garments. In them the sparkle of his happiness would shine, and every difficulty ahead would be forgotten.
It was towards the second mingling of the lights that the opal walls of Valmar, city of the Maiar, rose in front of us, pearly shields against the last of Laurelin's gold. The last song of the birds of the day echoed from its secret gardens, and the songs of my people joined it. The light of the Powers here was strong and pure; and the guardians at the gates greeted us with voices that rung loud and cheerful. Well known was Artanis' carriage, that many time had brought me home, or come to visit.
We greeted them back; but it was with dubious faces that they saw our companion. The intense colour of his clothes, his proud demeanour spoke of his Noldorin origin; the star embroidered upon his horse's saddlecloth, of his house. The Vanyar are the smallest of the peoples of the Elves, and all of them live within Valmar. Rarely do we marry into the other kins of the Eldar, and if we like to pretend that pride is farthest from our thoughts than any other thing, still with blank, untrusting eyes many of us shall look upon strangers that seek to pass the walls, and tread upon the shining streets of the city the Valar love above every other in Arda.
My people lived believing themselves the most perfect among the Elves, sole possessing wisdom and might; but too often I would ask myself if obedience and cowardice shall not mix, when a faithful heart is turned weak by unquestioned silence. Long before their downfall, the Noldor sought paths of their own, carved their lives in splendor untarnished even by their evil. For all the ages of the world the Vanyar would cling to their city, and not look beyond.
Artanis did not heed the guards' surprise, she drove on steadily, on her cheeks the sheen of her blushing the last trace of the day's warmth. My house was one of the last, a white building lain in emerald lawns like a toy forgotten on the hand of a green giant. The gates stood open in welcome, the garden breathed in the first coolness of the evening. Flat bowls held the pale jewel of the flame of small candles.
We left the carriage in the main path for the grooms' care, walking past the double doors that had been left open in welcome. I beckoned Maitimo to wait here, looking back to his smile as he leant against the doorpost as to the promise of the future past this moment when all hanged in the balance of my parents' approval. Artanis by my side, I walked down the hall, calling.
They were waiting for us in the back garden, the table laid for us among the jasmine hedges. My father rose to greet us, his powerful arms embracing me, his dark blue eyes scanning my face.
He needn't say anything else. Many I would meet taller, more strongly built than him, but my father has remained in my eyes the same image of unconquerable power he was when I was but an Elfling that totteringly, clinging to his gentle hand, moved her first steps. The ages of the world could change, beauty disappear in the withering of times; but when now the regret for Aman comes to shade my heart with new pain I think of Olorimo clad in white, upon his stern lips a smile as he greeted me home. Somewhere past a Sea that is now closed to me he lies, and sometimes a fear that is almost a prophecy comes to me, that we shall not meet again as long as Arda may endure; and yet from such a thought I take a comfort that is as bitter as it is necessary to me in my exile.
My mother was a Telerin far more than one of the Noldor, in her face the kindness, the talent for love that belongs to that people. No desire for power or supremacy, no thought of brilliance that could go beyond the love and respect of those she held dear herself. Falwing had a gift for taking pleasure from simple things; and if she regretted the life she had led as an elleth on the edge of the waves before the stranger from Valmar came to bring her away, she hid it well. Strong she was, and lithe, in all of her gestures a grace that was wondrous even among the Elves. Watching her walk was like watching a dance.
"Artanis. You brought our daughter home."
It was the sharp edge to my cousin's smile that sealed my resolve, that told me that I could not put farther from me the chance of their anger at my choice. Breathing deeply, I let a smile crease my mouth, and my words were smooth where my spirit was rough with fear. I searched their faces, afraid of discovering in them the same opposition Findekáno had showed.
Taking my mother's hands in mine, I spoke.
"Long has been the season I have spent away from home, and great has been the joy I have found in the house of my cousins. And yet such a joy I expected when I set out, and it was but another thread in a tapestry that is already rich. But new things have come of my stay, and of them I will tell you immediately, for if of my choice I feel I will never repent, still without your approval it would be a happiness acquired at a harsh price."
Their eyes questioned me, and with steps that were secure only at their appearance I went into the house, and led Maitimo to them holding him by the hand. He bowed to my father with the measured courtesy of somebody who knows to speak to an equal; and never would our peoples look so different or so far as then, as when Olorimo stood for the first time by the son of Fëanáro, and looked at him in disbelief.
"Father and mother, this is Nelyafinwë, son of Curufinwë, nephew of the King. To him I gave my love, and my pledge."
My father's eyes had turned to ice.
In my memory our dinner that evening has remained like a stain, a confused dance that was the clash of wills and prejudice beneath the polish of a conversation that never became less than polite. My father and my betrothed met in each other their match; and if the first would not look at the second in any other light than in the shadow cast by his father's name, only then, watching Maitimo refusing to yield, did I for the first time fully realize the love that he bore me.
For where Olorimo's words often played on the edge of bitterness, as his talk filled with the phantom of past and present divisions, the fierce light that would one day become ferocious was kindled in Maitimo's eyes, and firmly he did not stray from his path. He ignored the resentment of the brother of Indis, he pretended his prejudice did not ring so loud in his words; and when the dinner was over, and my mother went to give orders for a chamber to be prepared for him, I looked from one to the other, recognizing in both a pride that was close kin with stubbornness. But glad, even as my gladness was still measured by the frantic beats of my heart with my fear, that none of them would diminish himself, or consent to be slighted.
Olorimo took one last cup of wine; and as he sipped it let his last weapon in their silent fight fall.
"What did your father think of your intentions, Nelyafinwë?"
"My father is not in Tirion now. First, we thought it wise to ask for your consent."
In saying this he let his hand alight on mine, looking at me in confirmation of his words. I nodded, and smiled.
"Arafinwë was the only one to know; and indeed, father, our promise was spoken but yesterday."
Our, us; the words were a novel and powerful melody to my ears. I savoured them as I spoke them; but then saw my father's eyes, and the flash of rage and pain that crossed them touched my heart with fingers of ice.
Before I could speak again, he rose, and courteously wished us a good night. He disappeared inside the house, and looking to Maitimo without speaking I rose myself and followed him. But he would not let me reach him; he locked the door of the library behind his back, as he did when he wished to think of something that had worried or upset him.
I remained standing in the middle of the hall, anger and sadness troubling my heart; and I did not hear my mother coming, startling at her gentle touch on my hand.
The light of the Sea filled her eyes, and I let her embrace me, stroke away the uncertainty and the sadness, quench the anger with the kind touch of her hands on my hair.
"I feared he would act so."
She took my face between her hands, smiling sadly.
"For a long time now he has wished you would find a mate, and give us the joy of grandchildren. None in Valmar would catch your eye, and of this we were sad; hoping that perhaps one of my kin would one day come for you, as one of the Vanyar had come for me. Little love has your father for the Noldor, and Fëanáro's name speaks to him only of his sister's troubles. But it seems to me that Nelyafinwë shines of an entirely different fire, and closer to his mother and her kin, beloved of the Lord Aulë, than to the unhappy blood of Mìriel."
"Of this I cannot say; but what I know is that looking back to the years before I met him I feel as if I had been an harp left hanging from the branches of a tree, for the wind to play in its strings, and produce but a hollow and a sad music; but now chords are touched in me that were silent before, and the music that fills my heart when my eyes meet his is the one I was born to play."
She smiled, and on her face passed like a fleeting light the remembrance of springs long past.
"Such was my heart, such my spirit when I met your father. Let his anger abate; and I shall speak to him. Much of his grief comes from the knowledge that now you shall leave us, and abandon Valmar of the bells; but if you will return to Tirion, and seek your aunt's consent, he will not hinder you. He loves you dearly, and if happiness for you may be found only beneath the star of the House of Fëanáro, so be it."
I embraced her again, my words failing me, my anger taking the shades of melancholy as I recognized the truth of her words. It is the way of the world that children grow to abandon their fathers, but even the wise will be sad when the day comes.
My mother left me, and I walked back to the garden, seeking Maitimo. The great glass doors of the library stood half open to the evening breeze, and a lamp burnt behind them. Silently I came to the bushes that protected them, and listened for the familiar pacing back and forth that was my father's way of bridling his discontent. But it was his voice that I heard instead, and Artanis'.
"…many would call it a good match, and the House of Finwë is great. But I have no need to tell you, niece, what is the shadow that hangs over the Fëanárions' name."
"You know well what my dealings with my uncle have always been, and that no love lost there is between us. And indeed I have in many ways trying to prevent this to happen, telling Silmë freely of my suspicions and my mistrust. But she would not be moved; and impeding her would have caused her nothing but pain. I yielded; and what may come from this I do not know."
"My daughter always possessed a strong will; it came from me, and you, who resemble her in this, know it well. I do not blame you, and indeed nothing but good came to my ears of Nelyafinwë, whatever the misgivings that shall always surround his father. But in his features I read a similarity that troubles me, and too much has my sister suffered at the hands of the Noldor for me to let my daughter go so lightly."
An iron fist had closed around my throat, and my breath was held until Artanis spoke again, her words now harsh with distaste.
"What would you do then? Forbid her to marry?"
"No, for it would be a vane and a painful thing, and it would bring nothing but a sundering between us. I can see the love in her eyes, a flame I feared I would never see kindled. And yet I cannot ignore the voice of my spirit, that tells me that of his union nothing will come but pain."
They were the same words Artanis had uttered, and I feared she would seal his foreboding now with hers, and I be doomed to a choice that would tear me apart; but after a moment my cousin and friend spoke again, and now with a reluctance that could not hide the certainty in her words.
"Not pain alone; for even if I doubted at first, and could see nothing but shadows, still now I recognize that my cousin is sincere. Nelyafinwë loves her of the same love, and what he can do to prevent grief from touching her, he shall do. We were born to follow paths woven for us ere the world was made, uncle; and if pain be Silmë's lot, neither you nor I can avoid it, as much as our affection would push us to try. And dark times lie ahead, for all of our kind; those who can find joy in the present should be allowed to taste its sweetness as long as it lasts."
I could scarcely believe she had spoken such words, and risen in defense of an union she had so bitterly opposed. Similar to mine must be my father's surprise, for it was the aftertaste of his silence, a palpable question hovering in his reflection. When he spoke again, it was in guarded tones.
"I know well which insight blesses your views, niece, and it would be foolish of me to pretend your words do not touch me. Valinor is changing even as we speak now, and you are not alone in discerning a new taste in the light that was once so pure. When evils before unknown to us prepare, perhaps we should hesitate in hindering the fruits that happiness can still bear. But let us sleep now, and seek an answer to our questions in the silence and the counsel of repose."
They rose; and quickly I walked away, ashamed at having listened, and yet trembling with mingled hope and fear from what I had heard. The shadows were gathering, Artanis had told me that; and now in my father's own words they acquired a new reality, a new threat. And yet from such troubled thoughts seemed to come the chance for my father's approval, a last bid for happiness before light failed. I knew not what anguished me more, whether the unnamed grief that loomed ahead, or the certain one that could come from Olorimo's refusal to give his consent.
But when I came to a lawn where weeping willows sang in the breeze with the rustling of their leaves, and saw Maitimo waiting for me between the canopy of their branches, all doubts, all fears deserted me, and a joy that was boundless and needed no other fuel but his sight to exist flourished in my mind.
I walked to him, each of my steps surer; and when my fingertips touched his offered hand I knew this was my only place. He took me in his arms, and long we lay together on the grass, as I listened to his heart beat.
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.