The Maiden and the Mariner
1. The Maiden and the Mariner
Once upon a time there lived a beautiful Elf-maiden with hair black as shadow. When she let it down it reached past her feet, but usually she wore it braided and pinned to her head with golden pins set with rubies and emeralds and sapphires. She was an accomplished bard and often walked along the shore, molding her voice until it blended with the waves and wind.
One day as she was thus walking, a young Elven mariner came upon her. Intrigued by her beauty and her song, he asked her name, but she refused to give it to him. Undeterred, he asked to walk and speak with her for the evening, and, beset by his importuning, she agreed.
One evening became three, and then nine, and soon they were spending every evening together, talking, laughing, or singing. At last came the night when he announced that his ship would soon depart. The Elf-maiden heard this in silence. But when he had left for the night, she went down to a secret cove and there loosed her hair, letting it float in the sea breeze. She cut from it a single lock and, singing a song of power and love, wove it into a bracelet set with rubies.
On the young mariner's last evening, she placed the bracelet upon his wrist. "Wear this always," she told him, "and remember my love for you." He promised to do so.
During the voyage, the feel of the bracelet about his wrist became so natural that he forgot he wore it. Then one night, as the ship was returning to the harbor, a terrible storm arose. Lightning flashed and thunder roared around them, and waves taller than houses crashed on every side. As he fought to keep the ship steady, the young mariner was swept overboard by a wave, clinging to the railing with only one hand. As the ship tossed and plunged, he thought he would be thrown into the raging sea and drowned.
Just as he thought this, he caught sight of the bracelet upon his wrist. The rubies glinted in the glare of the lightning. "Oh, my fair Elf-maiden," he whispered, "how I love you!"
The bracelet tightened around his wrist, and he felt himself being lifted, as if strong hands had gripped him and were pulling him upward. With the aid of these unseen hands, he clambered back aboard the ship to safety.
When he returned home, he told the Elf-maiden of what had happened. She only smiled and would not speak of it. But her friends told him that on the night of the storm she had fallen into a swoon and could not be woken for many hours.
Again the mariner and the Elf-maiden walked and talked together. After many days, they agreed to wed. On the night before the ceremony, the Elf-maiden went again to the secret cove and loosed her hair. She cut from it a single lock and, singing a song of power and healing, wove it into a bracelet set with emeralds.
The next night they plighted their troth before the sea and below the stars, in the sight of their friends and families. And she placed the bracelet upon his wrist. "Wear this always," she told him, "and it will keep you safe from harm." He promised to do so.
They spent many happy years together in love and laughter. But the young mariner's friends noticed that when storms arose at sea and he was in dangerous circumstances, he could perform impossible feats to return to safety. They noticed that afterwards he would touch the bracelets upon his wrist and smile. But he would never speak of it.
So the years passed, and the couple grew happier and happier. They were considering conceiving their first child when a group of Men rode into the Haven with a tale of disaster and defeat. The Witch-king had overrun them, and the King of Men had been driven into the Northlands, worn and destitute.
When the Lord asked his mariners to go rescue the King of Men, the young mariner volunteered at once. But his wife was silent for a long time, and at last told him, "If you go from me now, you will face grave danger." But he only laughed and assured her that he would be perfectly safe.
That night the Elf-maiden went to the secret cove and loosed her hair. She cut from it a single lock and, singing a great song of power and constancy, wove it into a bracelet set with sapphires. Before he departed, she placed the bracelet upon her husband's wrist. "Wear this always," she told him, "and it will bring you home to me." He promised to do so.
The voyage took his ship up amid the ice floes of the North, in dangerous waters. But they reached the King of Men in perfect safety and took him on board, setting course for home.
Just at that moment, a terrible storm arose. Lightning flashed and thunder roared around them, and waves taller than houses crashed on every side. As he fought to keep the ship steady, the young mariner was swept off his feet by a wave. He fell to the deck, below the level of the water covering it. When he tried to stand, he found himself trapped. He could not raise his head above water. Thrashing about, he found that the bracelets on his wrist held fast to the deck. In terror he drew his knife and slashed at the bands. The bracelet set with rubies fell away. The bracelet set with emeralds came loose. But the knife hit one of the sapphires in the third bracelet and could not cut it through.
Then he found that his thrashings had loosened him enough that he could rise. Taking deep breaths of air, he looked around, just in time to see the ship ram into a sharp-pointed ice floe. Splintering and cracking, it sank beneath him.
On the night of the storm, the Elf-maiden fell into a deep swoon and could not be woken. Her friends put her to bed and watched her, but when she did not awake after a few hours, they grew worried. They sent for a healer, but he could do nothing. "Her mind is far from here," he said. "She must choose to return."
For three days and three nights, they waited by her bedside. At last, on the morning of the fourth day, she arose. They cried out with joy, but it swiftly passed. For she neither looked at nor spoke to them; she merely walked, as if in a daze, toward the shore. As she walked, she loosed her hair, leaving a trail of rubies and emeralds and sapphires.
When she reached the water, she did not stop, but continued walking. As she stepped, the water quieted below her feet and bore her up. She walked across the harbor toward the open sea, where a pod of dolphins were swimming in. They bore with them the body of her lover.
When she reached them, she bent and raised the body, clasping it to her in a final embrace. Her hair, tossed by the wind, enveloped them both. On shore, her friends heard a faint song arise from within the cloud of shadow. Slowly it rose in power and majesty.
None who heard that song could ever forget it, but neither could they describe it. It held sorrow as deep as the sea, and love as bright as the stars, and some said it was a plea, but some said it was a demand.
And it was answered. As if an echo at first, the sound of horns rose from the deeps. The sound grew and grew until it drove those on the beach to their knees. A great wave rose up above the Elf-maiden and her lover, a towering pillar crested with foam. And the song of the sea roared in their ears.
Some say a great hand reached down and lifted the lovers. Others say the pillar of water swathed them about. But the great wave crashed upon the shore, and when the foam dissipated, there was no sign of the Elf-maiden and her mariner. And they were never known again on this side of the Sundering Sea.
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.