Eloquent Elvish Stories
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Recalled To Life - Alqualonde: 1. Recalled To Life - Alqualonde
Alqualondë had walls.
He had known it. His uncle the High King had told him in Tirion, gently, explaining the changes in the Ages since he had last walked living in the Blessed Land. But it was still a shock to see them; his breath caught a little as his horse crested the last rise of the road and he saw them shining below him. A double strangeness, to see Swanhaven under the Sun, that he had only ever seen by lamplight and starlight.
The walls were beautiful of their kind: pale, curving lengths of stone, at once protective and graceful. The keen sight of his people showed him images of ships and sunrise and sea-creatures, inlaid upon the ashlar in shell and mother-of-pearl. The walls spread out around the city in three rough arcs, marking its growth like the rings of a tree. Within the extended curve of terraces and houses and trees, the blue and grey and shining water of the great harbour rested like a jewel in an upholding palm.
Beyond the walls the wooded hills sloped upwards, before smoothing themselves down again into the coastal plain that stretched rich and flower-strewn to the horizon and the jagged line of the Walls of Valinor. The Pelóri dominated all the long plain of Eldamar Ultramontane, visible to the very seashore. They had been constantly in his awareness, throughout the long ride up the coast from bright Tirion. The mountains too were strange to him. The Valar had raised them to these heights only after his people’s exile, four Ages past, more than ten thousand years of the old, Marred world. Little in the life of a mountain; nothing in the life of the Eldar, who would see mountains rise and wear down, and rise again, and feel the weight of time as mountains never would.
The white gulls danced in the air above the harbour; their high mewing came to him distantly with the cool wind, unchanged by Ages. Further up the coast, where the ground had been marshy and still was, his sharp sight could make out a great flock of the swans for which the city was named. The wharfs and quays lined the shore, far more than there had been on that long-ago night of dread, but the great swanships at their anchorage were subtly different to his sight, even from this great distance. Not less fair, but their lines no longer spoke of the pure and unMarred joy of those first great works of their makers.
After a long time, he touched his heel to the dun flank of his horse, and let it carry him slowly down to the great gates of the Haven of Swans.
The gates stood open; they had never had to be shut since they were built. He could see the hand of his kin upon them - grey steel and silver set in three wide arches of pale stone; the Swan of Olwë was traced upon the the central doors in clear, incised lines filled in with mother-of-pearl, and a Tree upon each side door. Noldor had built those gates. Finarfin’s people, no doubt, making what amends they could for their kinsmen’s crime.
He drew rein under the central arch, as a pair of elves emerged from the gatehouses on either side, barring his way. They wore the Swan, white embroidered on blue, and they were armed with slender spears of grey ash wood, inlaid with silver and tipped with steel.
The one who spoke was a woman; a Teler, slender and dark-haired. Her eyes were grey, but they did not hold the ancient light. Of the Moriquendi then, either Amanya from the Years of the Sun and Moon, or one born on the Hither Shore. She was young, from the way she held herself, as was the man beside her. He did not recognise either of them, though the Halls had sharpened his memory for his dead. In the sudden widening of their eyes, and the subtle tension of their bodies, he saw the moment in which they recognised the device embroidered across his tunic. The woman looked up into his eyes, and looked away from what she saw. He had been told long ago that his gaze had become difficult to meet. It appeared still to be true, even in this, his renewed life.
He said calmly, in Telerin,
“Not a stranger, sir and madam. I am Nelyafinwë Maitimo, called in Middle-Earth Maedhros Fëanorion, and I have to come to seek audience with your King and Queen.”
They made him leave his horse, which he did willingly. He was as conspicuous walking as riding, in any case. A Noldo of his height and colouring, wearing the badge of Fëanor, could not go un-noticed in Alqualondë. And as he walked slowly through the winding streets of the city, breathing in the sharp, salt air, he saw recognition in some faces. And anger, and the memory of fear, and even, in a few, sorrow.
The Noldor had built the city for their late-coming cousins, in the beginnings of Valinor, long ago. Their mark was on it still, in the balanced and deliberate grace of the older buildings, the intricate decoration of walls and lintels and doorposts, even the ordered clarity with which the streets were laid out. But in the Ages since, the Teleri had overlaid the Noldorin foundations with their own spirit, rather as the forests of Middle-earth would take back some abandoned settlement of Men or Eldar. The newer, outer rings of the city were theirs entirely. Elegantly haphazard houses of driftwood and drystone and mother-of-pearl shared streets with ornately carved neighbours, and gardens placed with apparent randomness. A formally symmetrical fountain had its basin filled with water-lilies, and wildflowers growing through the stones of its courtyard. A side street had been entirely resurfaced in a deceptively simple mosaic of subtly shaded pebbles. A duck and her ducklings quacked and dived among rust-coloured waterweeds, in a little stream that meandered unconstrained by and across the street.
The people were as mixed as the work of their hands. Most were indeed of the Teleri, but he heard as he walked tongues both of Aman and of Middle-Earth. Telerin and Sindarin, from the ancient dialect of Northern Beleriand to younger, unfamiliar forms, with their admixture of both the richness of Quenya and the harsh syllables of Men. And there were children. Everywhere, playing and squabbling in streets and courtyards under the summer sun, learning their Arts in workshops and studios. Laughter and life and heedless happiness, as if the long-ago Night of fear and betrayal had never been. He drank it all in, rejoicing in their joy, and in the littleness to which his evil here had come in the end.
The King’s House stood halfway up the slope from the waterfront. It stretched across the diameter of the Green, the wide, grassy semi-circle that was the main gathering place of the city. Only a low, drystone wall of skilfully-fitted grey rocks separated the arc of grass from the terraces below, where houses, storehouses and workshops sloped down to the quays. Ancient pine-trees grew here and there on the grass, tall in the shelter of the harbour. The House was of white stone patterned with mother-of-pearl, low and many-winged. Its main door faced the sea, not the land, and its front was a simple colonnade, useful in rainy weather. Two doorwardens lounged on a bench in the portico. The Teleri did not practice ceremony for its own sake as one of their Arts.
His people had fired the houses along the shore in the Night, to keep the Teleri from re-taking their ships. There had been battle on the very arch of the harbour itself. He remembered very well the terrible novelty of darkness lit only by destroying flame. For all its horror, Angband had been different only in degree. He had learned to fear the dark before ever he reached the gates of the Iron Hell.
He walked up to the door of Olwë’s House and introduced himself. Neither guard showed surprise. There had been plenty of time for word of his presence to arrive, by mind or messenger. One of them stood and said with neutral politeness,
“Yes. Follow me, please.”
The back wall of the colonnade was decorated with a single huge mosaic of the coming of the Teleri to the Blessed Realm, carried on the island that would become Tol Eressëa. Somehow, with nothing more than pebbles and jewels and fragments of glass, the artist had managed to capture the unique and living light shining through the Calacirca, the Day of the Trees that would never come again. The mosaic had not been there, when last he had walked in Alqualondë, leaving death in his wake. He did not ask when it had been made.
The doorwarden opened a door at the far end of the colonnade, concealed by the mosaic. At that end, it showed a stretch of the shore of Middle-Earth, under the Stars.
“Please wait here.”
He went through alone, and it clicked shut behind him.
“Here” was a small, square garden, open to the sky. The House itself took up two sides, with windows and galleries on the upper stories overlooking the garden. Voices carrying over the other two walls told him that the street lay on the other side. The garden itself was pleasantly informal. A little spring bubbled up from between two mossy boulders under an old plum tree, and ran along a pebbly channel to fill a sunken basin set in long grass. Pale pink lotuses rose over the rippling water, and moon-coloured fish flashed among their stems. A large rose covered one of the street walls, well on its way to spilling its ivory flowers over to the other side. Their strong scent of lemon and tea filled the air, at once refreshing and sweet.
The water of the spring was cold and pure. He drank a few palms-full, then settled down cross-legged on the grass beside the basin. The strong breeze had tangled his hair completely, and he set to work to tidy it, with a small comb from the pocket of his long riding-coat. There was good reason, he thought, for the Teleri practice of wearing their hair in braids. He had done it himself in Middle-earth, living perpetually at war. Returned to life and peace, he had also returned to the customs of his kin, hoping thereby to perhaps return to something of his old self.
He was left completely alone throughout the day, despite much coming and going, both in the streets and along the galleries of the House above him. He heard his own name more than once, and felt himself watched from time to time. He was careful to offer them nothing more exotic than the sight of the Kinslayer combing his hair and listening to the water. The absence of hospitality did not trouble him. It was not due, and a day’s fast was a trivial thing. The garden was green and kind and there was water. It was enough.
It was nearly sunset when his ears caught the footsteps at the door. It was a woman this time, of high rank in the household from her dress and badge of office. Teleri, and with the light of the Trees in her eyes that marked her age. A survivor, then. The bright gaze held no friendliness, though her manner was courteous, in a distant fashion. He followed her back out of the door, and when he saw what waited, only self-mastery more habitual than breathing kept him from hesitating on the threshold.
The Green, almost empty that morning, was full of people. They were mostly of the Teleri, though he saw here and there faces with the stamp of the Noldor and even of the Vanyar. But all the kindreds of the Latecomers were there: by dress and hair and carriage he saw Falathrim and Sindar and Laiquendi and even a few who kept the antique style of Doriath. He knew their faces, almost all. They did not move or speak, only watched him in steady, considering silence. He walked behind the Steward out into their midst, and they gave way for him without meeting his eyes, as the Orcs of the enemy had once given way to him in battle.
A double throne had been set up in the shelter of one of the trees. It was of white wood ornamented with pale coral and polished sea-ivory, carved in the shape of swans, with the wings rising in a great double arch to form the back. Olwë and Falmariel waited for him there, robed in silver and blue and grey, King and Queen of the Sea-Elves since the Great Journey itself. Their children stood beside their thrones, sons and daughters and remoter descendants, all except the daughter who shared the throne of shining Tirion.
The crowd parted for the Steward, leaving a long aisle open before the thrones. She bowed to her sovereigns, and stepped aside to take up her place beside the Queen.
The Lord of the House of Fëanor braced himself, and stood still before the men and women who had died at his hand. The warm light of sunset shone on his face, blinding bright. He endured it, knowing what they would see. The face of the one who had slain them, renewed and restored to the cold beauty of his House; the plain, penitent’s clothing, with the rainbow flames of Fëanor’s badge nonetheless blazoned openly across his breast. He was aware of the contradiction, but had not been able to avoid it. It was inherent in his presence there. The wind whipped long, red-brown strands of his unbound hair across his face, and the sun turned them to lines of blood and fire across his sight.
He knelt down in front of the Ship-King and his Queen, bent his head and said to them in their own tongue,
“King Olwë, Queen Falmariel, I am come in the name of my House to beg your forgiveness and the forgiveness of your people for the crimes against them committed by me and mine.”
It was the most he could do to say the words, level and quiet. To try to express what he felt in his voice would have broken his self-mastery entirely.
A quiet, unfriendly murmur began among the crowd, clear to his hearing. They thought his plainness arrogant. Queen Falmariel said coolly,
“And do you think those crimes so light then, that the mere request should have forgiveness granted? Where are the others of your people, whose past bloody deeds equally demand redress? Where are your brothers, who followed you?”
He looked up; she met his eyes without visible effort.
“Ship-Queen, I command no-one. But I am still the Lord of my House, and answerable in my person for the crimes of my people when they were yet my people, even as for my own.”
“As for my brothers, Curufinwë and Tyelkormo, whom the Sindar know as Curufin and Celegorm, remain yet in the Halls, and when they will come again among their kin I do not know. My brother Macalaurë, called Maglor, is lost on the Hither Shore and his fate, also, I do not know. The others, I commanded to wait, until I myself had come to you..”
Olwë said dryly,
“Lest we be discommoded anew by several Sons of Fëanor at once? I commend your consideration for us, Maitimo Kinslayer.”
He did not flinch at the epithet. He had had centuries in life and Ages in death to accustom himself to its weight.
“Ship-King, I am what you have named me, and will carry that shame until the unmaking of the world. What you choose to lay upon me, I will bear. But for my people’s sake, I would have peace between us again.”
The sea-grey, sea-deep eyes of the Ship-Queen regarded him with a ruler’s dispassion.
“And what says our daughter Eärwen? For I am sure that from the Halls of the Dead you went first to Tirion, to your own King and Queen.”
The converse of princes was not always straightforward, even among the Teleri, who unlike the Noldor did not generally enjoy subtlety for its own sake. They were after all also Quendi, Speakers.
“To Valmar, first,” he said, courteous and in this, unyielding.
“To my mother, who is yet Lady of our House, where she dwells among the household of the Lady Indis.”
Falmariel inclined her head, acknowledging the parry. No further imputation would be made concerning the loyalty of his House to the present High King and Queen of the Noldor.
“But yes, after, I went to Tirion. The High Queen of the Noldor has pardoned her nephew for his rebellion, and for the deaths of the Noldor, those who followed our House, and those whom we slew at Sirion. But for the deaths of Teleri, for the Kinslaying of Alqualondë, and the Kinslaying of Doriath, and the Kinslaying of Sirion,” he could no longer hold his voice entirely level and behind him, he heard the steady murmur of the crowd grow a little louder.
“The Princess of Alqualondë bows to the judgment of her parents the Ciryatari of her people.”
The Ship-King and his Queen looked upon him in silence. If they conferred, it was in thought, not voice. At last, Olwë said in the remote tone of judgment,
“Son of Fëanor, there is no burden of penance that we could place upon you heavier than what you have suffered already, by your own Doom in life, and by the judgment of the Powers in death. And if They hold you now fit to be released again into life, we will accept Their will.”
“Your people we have forgiven freely,” said the Queen, “Seeing their sorrow and their true repentance. We have long laid aside our anger and our grief, and we are reconciled with them. They are our kin, and received again into our love and confidence. You need have no fear, therefore, of unending discord among the Kindreds, solely from sad deeds in Ages past.”
“Yet the hearts of your father and his sons have ever been dark to our sight. We do not trust the House of Fëanor, for the madness that we saw in you in that Night of Morgoth’s making, and the madness that you brought upon your people. Whether it be the taint of your sire alone, or whether it lingers in all you sons of his we do not know, but we fear it even now. And therefore, we do not know how we may be reconciled with you.”
The sun had sunk below the hills, though light still lingered in the sky. A few clouds hung in the clear air, lit from below with fiery gold. The wind strengthened, sighing in the pines of the Green. He had expected her reply, had not truly hoped for anything beyond what she had given, peace between their Kindreds. But though he was the builder, the planner, the strategist of his House, he could find in himself no answer to her at all. So in silence he bent forward until he was prostrate before the Thrones, arms outstretched in utter submission, accepting their judgement.
There was a collective hiss of breath from the crowd, but no-one ventured to speak, until Olwë cleared his throat and said,
“Rise, Prince. This is not fitting among the Eldar.”
He obeyed, coming to his knees, and then uncoiling to his full height, taller than any other there. He could feel the barb of tears in his throat, scarring his voice when he spoke.
“What then, would you have of me, Ciryatari?”
There was a long silence. At last Olwë drew breath, to say what, no one knew - words of final banishment, final severance - and then another said,
It was one of the Kindred of the King and Queen, a woman slight and dark and fine of feature as Queen Falmariel herself. She came forward to the King’s side from where she stood a little behind among her kin. This was one returned from the Halls, the light of the Trees in her eyes tempered by the stranger fire of the reborn.
“Lord Maitimo, I am Halatimë, a grand-daughter of the King and Queen.”
He bowed as prince to prince, waiting on her words.
“Tell me how it is that you speak our tongue now as if it were your own, when of old I do remember that Fëanor and his children were alike haughty, and proud in their mastery of our common Speech, and disdained all other fashioning of it but their own?”
He looked down into her face for a moment.
“I learned it in the Halls of Waiting, Lady, of one of your people who found me there, and cursed me by my names, and so woke me again to self and memory when I had lost all to madness and grief and the desire for oblivion. One who came to see me suffer, I think, and stayed in the end to teach me to know better what I had destroyed, and ...,” his words caught, a missed beat in the cadence, “to have better care for my kin hereafter.”
Olwë asked quietly,
“And who was this of our folk, Prince, who found such mercy for you?”
He looked back to the King.
“One I slew on that Night.”
The King said nothing, and he continued, with sudden sternness,
“One who left the Halls long ago, and never chose to offer me a name. Those who return seldom remember what has passed in their time of waiting, nor will I recall to mind what the re-housed has chosen to forget, not though we stood face to face in your City.”
Olwë bent his thoughtful gaze on his grand-daughter.
“Our daughters are wiser than we, it seems. They have seen and heard what we did not.”
He looked out over his people. Though he did not raise his voice, it carried clearly to them all.
“You, my people, my kin, kinslain. You have heard and seen. Is it your will that there be peace between the Teleri and the House of Fëanor?”
He waited, unmoving as the hunter he had once been, listening to the long, tidal susurrus of voices and minds in argument and debate. He knew well that those who judged him now had long passed beyond mere vengefulness. The Doomsman of the Valar was impartial in his lessoning. There would be no calls for revenge or even recompense. But estrangement would be enough, in Aman where there would be all of time to endure it.
Before him, Olwë and Falmariel waited also, trusting their people. The evening drew on into cool, blue-shadowed twilight. Out over the sea, the stars were already shining in the dark East. He wondered briefly how the lands fared now, given over to the doubtful care of mortals, and then looked up, towards the far mountains with the last of the sunset still blood-red on their snow-capped peaks. And slowly the voices stilled as their owners looked where he looked, and saw what he saw. Out of the North, the Silmaril rose into the evening, as to every evening since the ending of the Elder Days, Eärendil’s Star. And Fëanor’s.
Uncertain at first, and then more surely, someone began to sing, one of the hymns to the evening star. A simple song, but one of the oldest. He remembered it sung in Beleriand in the last days before the coming of Valar. When all hope had seemed dead with the Exiles, and Morgoth’s darkness drowned the world. The words were those of some unknown Sindarin poet, but the melody was his brother’s, made in Valinor long ago. A little song for children, their youngest siblings. Transformed now, innocence long lost, but still able to carry in its notes undying love for the light.
Beside the Thrones, Halatimë joined in, and then more and more voices, until all of them were singing, Teleri and Sindar and Noldor. For Maglor’s sake and his own he sang with them, and wept as he sang, for his brother and his father, both lost in their different ways. And for their dead and their living and all that they had done and been in the Marred world beyond the Eastern Sea.
When it was ended, the King and Queen stood. There was silence all around them in the deep and starlit evening.
“Be it so, then,” the King said, affirmation of judgement. “Let there be peace between us, Lord of the House of Fëanor.”
They clasped hands under the stars, and before the people. Then the Queen took his hand, and said,
“Come, kinsman. Be welcome in our House.”
. . . . .
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