11. Two Meetings, Middle-earth, 397 of the Fourth Age
He was floating in dark green waters. There were shadows in the waters that were playing tricks on his eyes. Now and again it seemed to him as if he was held by a great hand, shaped like a gigantic dark blue wave. As his eyes grew accustomed to the strange view, he realized that in front of him was a body which belonged to this hand, a body formed of dark green shadows, like the hidden forests of seaweed, floating with the tides. From time to time a flash of silver glimmered in the darkness before him, and he could not tell whether he was seeing glimpses of silvery fish, swimming hither and thither in the shadows of seaweed or if he was looking at a mail shirt hidden underneath a green cloak.
Was this… death?
But why did his fëa tarry here, in the deep waters of the Sundering Seas? Shouldn't he be hearing a call that would lead him to the Halls of Mandos? There to rest until the end of time?
Suddenly, a shadow was cast over him, and as he looked up, above him, outlined against the brighter, bluer waters near the surface, haloed in the rays of light that drifted downwards until they were lost in the depths of the ocean, Elentar saw a head… or the figure of a head. He could not see any contours of a face in the shifting waters, but it seemed to him that there was a head, a head crowned with a helmet of glittering water, plumed with the foam-crests of high waves, rushing angrily to shore.
What – who – where was he?
You called my name.
A voice. But barely. This voice was so deep he almost could not hear it. A voice as deep and as wide as the Sundering Seas, Elentar thought. A voice that reminded him of the deep, wailing, wild song of the limdoer, the huge not-fish he had sometimes glimpsed from the ships he had sailed on when they were far out on the ocean: fish that were larger than the ship he was on, fish that birthed living young, fish that sang in a voice he could almost understand…
He looked up at the shape of the helmet. For a moment he thought he glimpsed an amused glittering where the eyes of this giant of the seas would be, if he was real. For this giant could not be real – this had to be a dream on the threshold of death. He was still underwater, and he was breathing – or was he? Elentar realized that he was not breathing. He was floating in the water, and there was no breath in his lungs and no beat of his heart. And there was no call to guide his fëa to Aman the Blessed. A deep sadness filled his heart. He would not be called to Mandos: he was not numbered among the Eldar after all. He had caused his parents years of grief and despair for naught. At this thought a great weariness came over Elentar, and he lifted his head again, searching for a face under the helmet of waves and foam.
"Who are you? What do you want from me? If this is the end, I'd like it to be quick, if that is possible?"
A rolling movement seemed to shiver through the form before him, and a school of small fish glittering in all the colours of the rainbow burst out of where the mouth of the giant would be and sped away into the ocean around Elentar. As if the giant was… laughing, chuckling, as if Elentar's question amused him.
You called me. I think it is you who want something from me. And though this is certainly an end, it is not the end. At least not yet.
"Who are you…" Elentar repeated, his voice dying to a fading, gargling whisper at the end. His voice sounded strange in the water. I called him? Whom did I call? He blinked, trying to gather his thoughts, even as the rolling chuckle flashed the greens of that cloak of seaweed and the silver of mail again.
"I was drowning. The helmsman had called to Uinen… but I thought Ossë was too angry to listen to his wife… I have never seen such a storm before, and I have been a sailor for more than one mortal lifetime by now… I called to… I…" Elentar stared at the helmet shining with the crystal clear water near the surface of the sea, at the foamy plume adorning it. If his heart was still beating, it would have skipped a beat.
"I called to Ulmo, Lord of the Waters," he whispered. His words seemed to die away in a small bubble, inaudible. But the great head above him nodded gently.
You called me, Elentar Elrohirion. And now I am here. What is it that you wish of me?
Ulmo. He had called Ulmo. And the Lord of the Waters had come. Then it was true what the legends said… that this Vala had never deserted Middle-earth, that he had never stopped caring for both Elves and Men. And he knew his name!
"How, how do you know my name?"
All of a sudden the water darkened before him, flushing from down below, a sudden, vicious squall of high waves and strong winds. The voice held the power of storms and death when Ulmo spoke again.
And how should I not know your name, given how many tears your parents cried into the Long Lake since you were born? Given how much grief and sadness about your disappearance was washed down the Celduin into the Sea of Rhûn? I have known your name for a long time now, Elentar Elrohirion: for all seas, lakes, rivers and fountains are alive with my spirit, and even as your mother sat grieving at the fountain in front of the house where you were born, I grew aware of her pain and its cause… you, most wayward son of all the peredhil. So tell me, what is it that you wish of me?
Elentar cowered before the wrath of the Vala, but it was not so much because he was frightened by the power of Ulmo's anger. The pressure of the water forced him down on his knees, but the thought of his mother's tears, in the green-dark waters of the Long Lake, in the white rushing currents of the Celduin and in the bright emerald waves of the Sea of Rhûn… the memory of the white marble basin in which he had set his first toy ships afloat so many years ago… the memory of his mother's smiling embrace at this accomplishment…
…this broke his heart.
But it is impossible to cry in the water. What tears he had were lost the instant they were spilled, just another drop in the ocean.
"I wanted to ask you to save me, lord," Elentar finally replied. "I wanted to ask you to carry me to Aman and my kindred. But now… I'd ask you to simply let me die. My life has caused nothing but grief. Maybe my death will grant my parents peace, wherever their fëa dwell now."
He thought of his father, but all he could remember were the lines of bitterness and disappointment in his face, and the echo of his father's voice, weary and annoyed, one of the many occasions when he had pleaded with Elentar to be patient, had promised him that he would grow up, and asked his son not to cause his mother so much pain. In vain…
And how do you think your death would be a comfort to your parents?
The figure of Ulmo before him was roiling with anger now, and Elentar could not bear to look at it any longer. He closed his eyes, shaking all over.
Suddenly the voice changed. It was soft now, like the gentle lulling of waves and winds on a summer evening out on the Bay of Belfalas.
Nay. Open your eyes, ion nîn, my son.
Hesitantly, Elentar opened his eyes again, astounded to see the figure before him much more clearly outlined in the light blue of summery seas.
Nay, ion nîn. Your death would be no comfort to the ones who love you, parents, sisters, nephews and nieces, great-nephews and great-nieces, nor for their children. Yes – you caused pain and grief with your hot-headedness, your stubbornness. But do not forget that all of your tears are known to me, too. They are all accounted for. From the first time the other boy called you retarded, and you were too scared to ask your mother what that meant.
Another great hand was held out to Elentar, and in its palm was a mound of shimmering pearls, beautiful in their subdued white and violet hues. This was what his tears looked like to Ulmo? Elentar stared at the pearls. They were beautiful. The hand withdrew, the shine of the pearls hidden by the green shadows of the lord's cloak of seaweed again.
I am afraid that it is not in my power to decide when you are allowed to reach the Blessed Realm.
"But I will? One day?" Elentar tried to discern the expression in the face above him, but there were only shifting waters below the helm, and a fleeting glimpse of where eyes would be. Again the rolling of waters that sent chuckling vibrations through the form before him.
I do like you, Elentar Elrohirion.
But you won't answer my question, Elentar thought and sighed, a series of tiny bubbles streaming away from his mouth. How could he be sighing when he was not breathing? Elentar frowned at a tiny golden fish that swam up to him to investigate the bubbles. Again the form before him shivered in a dance of small, amused wavelets.
Nay, I will not answer your question, impatient child. Instead I will ask you a question. I may not take you to Aman, nor may I return you to Middle-earth. But there is a place where I may take you. Or I can – as you asked me to – let you drown and die. What will it be, young Elentar? Life, a path into an uncertain future? Or death, a path to an unknown end?
You have to decide quickly, for I cannot keep your body alive in the water of the Sundering Seas for very much longer.
Elentar stared at the Vala. If his heart had been beating, it would have been racing. As it was, his heart did not beat, but his stomach leaped as if he were on board of a ship frolicking in heavy waters. Rolling and tightening with nerves.
He thought about what the Vala had told him: his death would not comfort his family. Elentar remembered the last minutes in the water before he had fallen unconscious. He had not wanted to die. And Ulmo had said that he had not the power to decide when he would be allowed to reach Aman. When. Not if.
"Can you tell me anything about the place you will take me?"
Again that amused movement of the water, crests of foam, glimpses of silver, a swirl of agitated fish.
Nay, I may not. But…
The other hand appeared again from the depths of the green cloak. It reached up below the helmet, as if it was fingering for something at the throat of the Vala.
…just in case that your journey won't be over at this place I may not tell you anything about…
The hand was suddenly in front of Elentar, a huge hand of pale green, large enough that he could have lain down on it completely outstretched. At its centre a small something lay. Elentar squinted against the shifting, dim light filtered through the waters. It looked like a shell. Yes. It was a closed oyster. Gnarled and marked with barnacles, grey and white, with bits of stringy seaweed attached to it. But it was not only an oyster, Elentar realized. There was a hole in the thinner end of the oyster, and a silver chain was slipped through that hole. It was a pendant.
I would like to give you a token. You may find it useful in the darkest hour. But I warn you: you are still young. When I say the "darkest" hour my measuring of darkness may not be what a young and impatient peredhel considers dark. And I hope you have heard the words "keep it secret, keep it safe" before?
An oyster pendant? Elentar frowned. But he reached for the chain. He would not die. And Ulmo, Lord of the Waters, was giving him a token for a dark hour.
Elentar put the chain with the oyster around his neck and straightened up. He lifted his head and faced the Vala, feeling new strength flow through his body.
"Then take me where you will, my lord. I hope I will not disappoint you."
The Lord of the Waters inclined his head once more, and for a moment Elentar thought that he saw the ghost of a smile, like sunset on the waves. Then the water crashed over him, and darkness claimed him once more.
Elentar came awake slowly. He was aching all over and shivering. He had trouble opening his eyes, and when he rubbed feeble fingers over his lids, he found that they were encrusted with salt. His throat was burning, and he was thirsty, so thirsty that it was a sizzling pain that seemed to devour his body. He tried to swallow. His throat muscles did not seem to work, but the attempt made his stomach tighten and roil. Elentar rolled over and convulsed in spasms of agony, vomiting bile and seawater into the sands.
When the heaving finally stopped, he found himself on his knees in the sand. Sand. A beach. He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. A solid weight collided painfully with his chin. A pendant that hung from a silver chain. Elentar sat up. He had never seen this pendant before… a barnacled oyster, closed and attached to a silver chain.
Suddenly, his memories returned to him. Like a distant dream… a great helmet, plumed with cresting waves… a gigantic, pale green hand holding out this pendant to him.
And a choice…
Death, or life.
Elentar inhaled deeply, growing aware of the pain in his body, and of the heavy beating of his heart.
He was alive.
But where was he? He looked around. He was on a long beach in the shape of a sickle moon. Cold blue waters lapped at the shore. The sand under his hands was wet and fine, a dark dun colour, awash with pearlescent shells.
Gulls were wheeling above him and there were dunes grown with beach grass obscuring the coastline behind him. At the left corner of the beach, rocks jutted out of the dunes, rising up to form high, unassailable cliffs. And on top of those cliffs a grey tower rose up, round and forbidding against a stormy sky.
Someone lived on this island.
For it had to be an island: if Ulmo had not been able to bring him to Middle-earth or Aman, this had to be an island somewhere in between. Perhaps one of the Enchanted Isles encircling Tol Eressëa?
His parched throat constricted with the pain of vomiting and thirst.
He'd go to the tower. Maybe he could get some water there.
He staggered to his feet, his knees almost giving out under him. Almost drowning had weakened the strength of his body beyond belief. The thought of water kept Elentar upright. He stumbled across the sands, quickly learning that he had to stay on the firm, damp stretch of sand close to the sea, as he was too weak to negotiate the shifting sands of the dunes.
Every step was an effort, driving away all thoughts or memories. When he was finally close to the cliffs, he was drenched in sweat, and the encounter with the Lord of the Waters had taken on a surreal quality. He was not sure if he had only dreamed it now while he lay on the sands, washed up at the beach after the shipwreck… but if it had only been a dream, where had this pendant come from? He curled his hand around the rough shell of the oyster protectively. And it seemed to him that new strength flowed through his limbs as he did so.
"Welcome, Elentar Elrohirion."
Elentar jumped at the sound of a voice. It was the voice of a woman, but more than that. It was not the voice of a mortal woman: it held a hint of wind in the trees and the tinkling of bells. Elentar looked up and stared at the sight of a middle aged woman dressed in a white robe, standing on the crest of the dune above him. Her hair was grey, mingled with silver and floated down to her hips. Her eyes looked at him with a penetrating gaze, though how she could even see him, he did not know. For her eyes were like molten silver, swirling silver, with no pupil, no iris and no white.
"I am Lumenyáre. Welcome to the Lost Isles, Elentar. We have been waiting for you."
The woman took his hand and led him up the cliffs. How she did that, Elentar could not tell. But as long as she held his hand, there was new strength to his movements, and he could climb dunes and cliffs easily, even though the roughly hewn steps that led up to the tower were steep and would have made him breathe faster even if he had not been weakened by nearly drowning.
They entered the tower through a thick wooden door. It was made of dark wood, of the tulus dûr, the dark poplar, if he was not mistaken, and studded with large nails of mithril, shining brightly even in this dim, overcast day. The nails formed a meaningful design, but for some reason his mind would not provide the meaning. A slight smile on Lumenyáre's lips made Elentar wonder if she could read his mind. Who was this woman? he wondered. Or maybe rather, what was this woman?
"Excellent question," a bright voice interrupted his thoughts.
He looked around for the speaker, and out of the twilight of a shadowy arch stepped a young girl of maybe thirteen or fourteen years, a girl with bright silvery hair, and eyes that shone like mithril. The daughter of Lumenyáre?
"No," the girl laughed at him. "You have to do better than that!"
Then she stepped forwards until they were almost touching, her pointy breasts touching his chest, separated only by the thin white cloth of her robe and the tattered remains of his shirt. An icy shiver rippled through his body as if he had been touched by the eternal ice of the Helcaraxë.
"I am Amaurea," she whispered. Then she lifted her head and kissed him gently on the lips. "Welcome, king of the stars."
He gasped with shock at the touch, and for a moment his heart ceased beating. For a long moment there was no heartbeat, no breath in his body, no flow of blood or life. Then, suddenly, like the slow movement of scales after a shifting of weights, his heartbeat resumed, steady and deep, and his breath flowed easily.
He closed his mouth and swallowed hard, his throat like parchment, the little liquid that had formed in this mouth warm and painful in his sore throat.
A cackle of laughter alerted him to the presence of a third person.
It was the laughter of an old woman, dry, rough, vibrating with a hint of malicious amusement. He looked over Amaurea's shoulder, trying to discover the woman in the shadows of the hallway.
There she was: an old woman, her hair more white than silver, gnarled and bent, but still somehow graceful and beautiful beyond the beauty of a human woman. And her eyes, too, were pools of silver, like mirrors of mithril.
"I am Vanwië. And do not fear – I will not touch you."
Elentar stared at her, for a moment speechless. Then, trying to gather his wits, he asked the first question that came to his mind. "What are you?"
There was a chuckle at his side, then Lumenyáre stepped around him and drew Amaurea away from Elentar even as the crone Vanwië took a step forwards out of the darkness. The three women looked at Elentar in silence for a moment. A moment of half-formed thoughts and almost remembered legends, a moment of his mouth gasping a disbelieving oohhh…
"We are Vanwië, Lumenyáre and Amaurea."
"We are past, today and tomorrow."
"We are the Fates."
"We know what was, we know what is, we know what will be."
"You have crossed the tides of time and reached the Lost Isles from whence no one has ever returned to Middle-earth since the Enchanted Isles were lifted from the seas by Eru Ilúvatar."
"You are Ainur!" Elentar gasped finally.
Amaurea broke the silence with a sound that was almost a giggle, or perhaps the sound of wind chimes in a strong breeze. "Yes, we are."
"Give the poor boy something to drink," suggested Vanwië. "And maybe we should ask him to sit down… he looks as if he is going to faint on the spot."
Indeed Elentar felt his knees weakening, and he reached out for the nearest pillar to steady him. It was Lumenyáre who came to his aid. Offering her arm, she pointed ahead, where daylight shimmered at the end of a long hallway with vaulted ceilings.
"There is a small courtyard that way, a well with clear water and a bench where you can sit down and rest for a while."
He nodded weakly. Leaning heavily on Lumenyáre's arm, he allowed himself to be lead down the hallway and into the daylight once more. He noticed that both Amaurea and Vanwië carefully kept at a distance. Amaurea… the young girl… Ainu… Fate… with a shock he realized that she would be the one to dole out his destiny, all opportunities and chances of his life. And the old crone, Vanwië… It would be her wheezing old woman's voice that would one day send his fëa on its way, to the Halls of Waiting or beyond the circles of this world.
But for now she would not touch him.
"I am your life as you live it," Lumenyáre said. "Thus you may touch me without fear. You only touch what strength you have now… I am your now – not quite as dangerous as my sisters, you might say. Here, sit down."
He slumped down on the marble bench gratefully. On a bright day the octagonal courtyard would have been beautiful, paved with white flag stones, the archways lined with ivy, and a slender white tree on a patch of lawn near the well at its centre. Even today, with the sky overcast and grey, the courtyard was filled with light.
Amaurea and Vanwië remained standing a few feet away from him, unmoving, their bodies unnaturally still, as if they were stiff gowns that adorned their true forms only on rare and strange occasions.
Amaurea laughed again, a glittering sound that was almost visible as golden sparks struck from a blade. "Indeed, young peredhel, indeed. But you would find our true forms too terrible to behold. And the Lord of the Waters did not bring you here so that we would kill you."
"For what did he bring me here?" Elentar asked, his voice painful and rasping.
"Later," Lumenyáre said. Then she bent over the rim of the well, drawing up a bucket that had been tied to the side of the well with a silver chain. She dipped a simple goblet into the bucket and then turned to offer it to Elentar. "Drink, for I know you are weary and thirsty. And there is no time for you to rest here."
Elentar accepted the goblet. "Thank you, my lady."
He put the goblet to his lips and wanted to drink greedily. But wisdom gained in many years as a sailor prevailed, and he settled for many small swallows and deep regular breaths in between to force his abused body to welcome the life-saving liquid.
He could not tell how long he spent drinking the water of the Lost Isles, but later it seemed to him that it might have been hours as well as weeks. When he finally put down the goblet, he felt completely refreshed and rested, calm of mind and strong of body, as if he had slept peacefully for many nights and rested many days to regain what strength he had lost.
"Thank you," he repeated. Then a memory of a question drifted into his mind. "Why did Ulmo bring me to you? You said that no one has ever returned to Middle-earth from here. Am I to stay here, until I grow old and weary? Until it is time for my fëa to fly where it would?"
That did not seem logical to him; Ulmo had offerered him death then and there, why would he give him a choice of a quick death by drowning and a slow death of lingering on the Lost Isles until all the years of his fëa were used up?
"You are right, smart boy." This was Vanwië, a wheezing cackle barely kept back.
Amaurea rolled her eyes at the old woman. "Indeed you are, Elentar. You asked to cross the Tides of Time…"
"But I meant that I wanted to go to Aman," Elentar objected.
Now Vanwië was laughing in earnest. "You want, you want, you want! I want to know when you will learn that the universe and all of Eä does not revolve around you –" she stopped speaking, and laughed again, a shrill, malicious old woman's laugh that was painful to his ears. "- I forgot. I do know."
Lumenyáre shook her head at the other Ainu. "Like Ulmo, we may not take you to Aman, nor bring you back to Middle-earth. There is no way from the Lost Isles to Middle-earth, though there are many ways leading away from here… though only very few have the power, the fate and the strength to travel them."
Elentar stared at her. Not Middle-earth. Not Aman.
And he would have the strength to travel it?
"Are you willing to find out?" Amaurea asked, her voice suddenly sweet, full of promise.
Elentar looked up and discovered that Lumenyáre had gone to stand with her sisters. They stood as a triangle, Amaurea and Lumenyáre held the hands of Vanwië, thin hands, the veins thick and prominent, thin arms with fading skin, yet filled with the light of the Flame Imperishable. He shuddered at the sight. But Amaurea and Lumenyáre were holding their hands out to him.
"If you are willing to find out, come into our midst," Lumenyáre told him.
Not Aman. Not Middle-earth. Somewhere else.
"Is there a way back?" he asked, suddenly fearful.
It was Amaurea who answered, her voice gentle and full of sympathy. But her answer was less than reassuring. "Maybe. I cannot tell. Our powers belong to Arda, and not to that place. The place you can go to, if you choose to."
Involuntarily Elentar clutched the oyster shell that hung around his neck. Maybe…Was that good enough?
Suddenly it seemed to him as if a wave of fire flowed from the oyster shell, a wave of strength and courage. Somewhere else. Not Middle-earth. Not Aman. Not Arda!
"Take me where you will," Elentar said and stepped into the triangle of power formed by the Fates.
For A/N & questions, please check my forum "Fourth Theme of the Ainulindalë".
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.