As I passed the gates of Valmar I knew not, and indeed could not have guessed, how long it would be ere I crossed them again. Ingwion led me by the arm, his grip firm upon me, his face that I had never seen smile petrified in a sternness Ingwë had distilled for him in long years of cold aloofness. He was the son of the High King. He would not show the rage I saw flickering in the ice of his pale irises.
I turned once to look at the plain, but already the party of Fëanáro's House galloped away. Maitimo had mounted with Macalaurë his brother, and my horse stood forlorn in the plain, walking hesitantly, waiting for a retainer to come and pick it. Ingwion did not let me linger, steering me away. I was too empty to fight him now. The murmur of the people around me was harsh to my ears, even the weak light too strong. My father did not speak to me, nor look at me. I cared not. I was beyond it all.
Upon my house's threshold stood my mother, waiting for us. She would have come to me, embraced me, but my father signaled to her with a gesture of his hand to stay aside. Falwing's eyes narrowed, her sweetness turned to harshness at this treatment; but Olorimo paid no attention to this. Closing the door behind our shoulders, he turned to face me. Before he could speak I raised a hand.
"I know already what you have to say; you guess already what I would reply. I have ridden long and hard to come here, here to see all my hopes destroyed; and if affection for me lingers in your heart, I ask of you this thing alone, that you shall let me rest until the morning. Tomorrow we shall speak. But if you forced words out of my mouth tonight, many things I could say that you would regret having wanted to hear."
For a moment it looked as he would reply, and forbid me to leave them; but my mother walked to him, and in warning silence lay a hand upon his arm. And he kept his peace. But caring not for what he would say I had already turned, wrenching my wrist from Ingwion's hand in disdain. His eyes met mine, and I raised my chin in challenge. But truly I felt I could take no more. Mustering what was left of my courage, I climbed the stairs. Outside the great windows a rain much unlike the gentle caress that made the young wheat grow fell in sheets thick and cutting, it lashed in rage against the stained glass.
Step after step I rose to the darkness that was the first floor, leaving them all behind me. My ears heard Ingwion taking his leave with a few, brisk words; but I did not turn to watch him go, nor strain to catch my father's reply. My room was the first at the top of the stairs. I pushed open the door, and sought its refuge.
It was dark then, darker than in Aman it had ever been. Truly this storm, the rage in which Tulkas' war cry resounded, had obliterated all thought of light. I looked around, and saw but what monstrous shapes the sudden strike of lightning would allow me to distinguish. And above all I saw emptiness. In the nine years passed since the day Maitimo had come to ask my father's consent I had dwelt in Tirion, coming back only rarely, and always simply passing through. They had known when I would come, and prepared accordingly. Now the nakedness of the chamber I had outgrown stared back at me, and there was no comfort between the walls that had been the cradle of my earliest dreams.
I prayed to Estë the Kind for a gift of sleep, reaching out gropingly in the dark for my bed. There were no sheets and no covers, only a coverlet hid the desolate coldness of an unmade mattress. I was not expected. I was not foreseen. I was stranded in a place I no longer belonged to, cut adrift from the place I had elected as mine. Even the wardrobe would have been empty if I had opened it.
Without taking off my mantle I curled on the bed, the light coverlet wrapped around my shoulders like a shawl. Sleep, I begged of my unquiet spirit, sleep, and forget. Too soon the morning shall come, too soon you shall have to fight. If only I knew what to fight for.
In the dark my right hand clasped my left one, I brought the ring Maitimo had given me to my lips. In the night its stone was cold, but it was all I had left. For looking around in that deserted room it was as if he had never been; and as if I had been nothing more than a passing dream, a puff of smoke.
For one year I would remain in Valmar, and that year passed for me in a dance confused and fiery, a continuous fight and a tearing of my own heart. No messengers were sent to Maitimo; nor did he write to me. The only thing that could possibly be said now was the outcome of my choice. A choice I could not bring myself to make.
My destiny, my blood, my fire. It was not true for him alone. Fate had brought me on the edge of a precipice I would have to jump blind. For nine years I had balanced myself on a razor's cut, for nine years I had sewn together my family and my love, pretending to myself all would be well. Pretending to myself wounds older than I was could be mended by my preposterous courage, by the trust in the platitude Artanis had denounced as a lie. Love cannot conquer all.
The words haunted me; they were the background music for every new argument that rang loud and shrill between the pearly walls of the house that for a long time had known only melody, and light. For there are many kinds of love; and in that long year I saw them all fail.
As I woke up the day after Fëanáro was banished I thought I would do again what I had once accomplished so well: another impossible compromise to save my spirit from a sundering, a bending of wills to meet the one end that would spare me a pain I thought I could not take. But we had all come a step too far.
My father Olorimo that I had loved so dearly, my father that once had understood me better than I knew myself, before my proposition not to break my engagement roused a storm and a clash such as I had not suspected he had ever had strength nor will for. I stood up and spoke, I cried and beseeched; I wept tears to last me for many lifetimes of Men. But he would not bend. Again and again I fought for his approval, and the same words chased each other in endless circles; again and again he refused to listen. He who had been tender to the Elfling I had been, he that had wished for me only happiness forced me in a corner where all possibilities burnt my soul in the same degree. He cut me with words as sharp as blades through the numbness of my pain, and drew blood.
"If he had renounced his father, then he would have shown that what you repeated for long years had been true, and that indeed Nelyafinwë did not partake of Fëanáro's darkness. But he h
as chosen which path shall be his; and down such a path I will not see you walk, not unless you should break all ties that bind you to me, and no longer call yourself the daughter of Olorimo."
Another argument, a retort final enough to end them all. Many words or none could have answered this last sentence, a judgment passed once and for all; and I left the room without looking back. Like a wounded animal I sought refuge in the thick of the garden, I sat huddling in the shade of a willow. The same that had seen me walk with Maitimo, such a long time before.
I wished for a friendly voice, for somebody whose advice I could trust; but Artanis was far in that white day, and the rare letters we exchanged were guarded. We both knew this I was living was but a trapped life, waiting for a decision I alone could take. Her mind tormented by the vision of things to come, her heart oppressed by a certainty and a fear she could no longer hide, she waited in silence for me to choose. She knew that no help she could offer would be enough for me now; and it was on my shoulders alone that the burden lay. The time for pretension and kind lies was long over.
I looked around, to the garden where birds sang, heeding not the trouble of the Elves. The place where we were born lays a claim on us, it talks to us of a bond that no time and no distance can dispel. To go somewhere else is just to grow; to renounce to our right to come back is to give up the ground we stand upon. And yet this was the only possibility before me; not unless I rejected the love that had awoken me from a long, dreamless sleep. Already in thought such a proposition burnt.
My mother crossed the garden noiselessly, she sat by me on the grass. Her face was lined with the strain that these months had proven for her, torn between her husband and her daughter. Like me, she had sought a reconciliation that was past her power to grant. She caressed my hair lightly, as she had done when I was a child, and she brought me back from nameless nightmares. I closed my eyes, savouring the lightness of her touch.
"He loves you," she said under her breath. I tensed. She let her hand fall, and when I opened my eyes slowly hers were full of concern.
"How should I believe it?"
"He does what he think is best."
"No. He does what suits best his old grudge."
"Fëanáro showed – "
"Maitimo is not Fëanáro!"
The birds fell silent. Only the leaves kept dancing at Manwë's breeze.
"No, he is not. But he chose to share his fate."
"He is his father."
"As Olorimo is yours. Silmë," she took my hand, and now she spoke in earnest, "We tried. You know I wanted to help you. You know even now I would let you go to him. But your father – "
"My father only listens to his rage."
"No! Don't do him injustice. Olorimo – "
"You still love him, do you?"
Her eyes widened in surprise, but then her face grew sweet, and sadder.
"Yes, I do. With all he is, like the day I saw him walk by the shore of the sea."
"Then you understand why I cannot let Maitimo go."
"Silmë…" Clouds now in her veiled irises, in her voice a note of subdued request. Almost a plead. I rose; again, she took my hand: "We may love more than once. We may forget those we have held dear. But we cannot have other father, other mother than those that were given us by the One, however imperfect they may be."
I looked down to her, to her eyes that shone like Varda's own stars; and I knew that I would not lose her, whatever my decision would be. I looked at her; and I saw a love that dictated no conditions, that forced on me no choice. She pleaded for my father, whose pride was too strong to allow me to come back had I disobeyed him now; she forgot herself.
I looked at her, Falwing of Alqualondë, as if I had never seen her before; I looked at her and remembered that for longer years than I could count she had not seen the land that had given her birth, she had not embraced, however warm their letters were, her parents. Far from the Sea that had sung her to sleep she begged me to renounce the same love that had led her here.
I looked at her. And I recognized myself.
I caressed her face once, gently. I kissed her on the forehead. Then I walked to the house, without looking back.
Half an hour later my horse was ready, a small saddlebag packed.
Olorimo did not see me leave, he had left the house after our argument, seeking rest and quiet in the High King's abode. Falwing stood on the threshold as I fastened the mantle, as a stable hand helped me mount. I did not take anyone as escort; I would leave Valmar without owing anything that would have to be returned. My mother did not try to persuade me, she did not try to reason with me. She looked at me, quiet, silent tears tracing silvery paths down her honey-coloured cheeks. I turned the horse to hide my own. Spurring the animal forward, I left.
I abandoned the city at a gallop, stopping not for friend nor relative, nor for the call of the Maiar who marveled at the niece of the King leaving Valmar in such a haste. The last time, screamed the rocks and the stone and the white walls; but I had chosen now, and would not come back. The open gates were the way to a new world, and no fear there was in my heart. Long and tortured may our decisions be; but when they are taken a weight is lifted, and all that is left is a light spirit. The elation of certainty is a new freedom. It was only when Valmar was no longer in sight that I let my horse slow down.
As seat of his exile Fëanáro had chosen his estate of Formenos, in the high hills in the north. It took me two days to reach it, never laying down to sleep, stopping only to make the horse rest. And strong were the horses then bred in Valinor; strong, and fast. The air grew chilly as I rode, and fewer and fewer people were to be met in these almost inhabited lands: only those whom, even if they had abandoned the starlit darkness of Middle-earth, would not completely renounce the ancient custom of hunting and ranging as free travelers beneath the sky.
The food I had brought with me was over by the second day, and as Laurelin's gold replaced Telperion's silver I watered my horse at an icy brook, preparing to move. Here the light of the Trees was paler, like a remembrance of their true radiance; and the heavens were streaked sometimes with darker tones, as if the deep blue of the night that enveloped Arda reached tentative fingers over Aman's light. It was not a good omen; but as I lay on the grass on the first night, waiting for the horse to be ready to start again, I thought I could glimpse between passing clouds the adamant twinkling of the stars.
One last range of low hills stood between me and Formenos, and my heart was awoken, it beat hard and fast as I remembered Maitimo's voice, the texture of his skin beneath my fingers. And I would have spurred my horse once again, and run all the way there; but I reined in my spirit, and passed the hills at a measured pace. And well it was, for something awaited me I did not expect.
Maitimo had once spoken to me of Formenos as a hunting retreat, a modest palace of stone nestled in the rocky side of spiky hills. But what I saw now was a strong place, a fortress surrounded by high walls, whose towers rose slender and graceful in challenge to the sky. In one year Noldoring hands, Noldorin wits had sharpened and widened the palace, they had made of it something that had no comparison in the realm of Aman. And I saw now that the voices that had reached Valmar were true: many had abandoned Tirion, and Fëanáro had called to him a whole kingdom in exile.
For a long moment I stood motionless, admiring the work of the son of the King, but a shiver ran down my spine, for if with a stark beauty was the stronghold endowed, still it spoke of growling strength, of deep-rootedmistrust. I rode on; a narrow path slithered up the hills, taking long curves that brought whoever walked it under constant gaze from the battlements. Sentinels paced them up and down, and they were armed with spears thinner and more pointed than those the hunters used.
Entrance to the path was barred by a gate, and two Elves guarded it. None of my Noldorin clothes had ever been brought back from Tirion while I was away; I had left Valmar in garments that followed the Vanyarin fashion, in subdued colours of ivory and creamy yellow. When the guardians looked at me, they saw I was of the people their lord so much hated. But when they approached me I spoke to them with tones that affected an assurance I did not possess; and I demanded they made way for Silmë Lirillë, betrothed of Nelyafinwë their prince. They looked around at the deserted plain, marveling at the lack of an escort; but they let me pass.
I climbed the long path, holding my head high, but feeling upon me the glance of the sentinels. A cold foreboding had fallen on my spirit, like a damp cloak on a windy day. No happiness could be experienced in this harsh place; and here my love had dwelt one year in doubt. I cursed my indecision; but knew well that none should be asked to make such a choice as I had had to in haste.
There was another gate at the top of the path, and here I relinquished my horse and my bags. Two courtyards I crossed, everywhere carpenters and rock-hewers, and smiths finishing off blades with sharp and cutting edges. I would not ask of them where Maitimo was, and aimlessly I wandered, my unease growing, until I heard familiar voices coming from an open arch; and passing it I found myself in a smaller court, where Carnistir instructed his little brothers in the use of the bow.
As they often did, the twins fell silent as a stranger approached; drawing together, their faces eerily alike, their cheeks hollowing as their adulthood drew nearer. They had oblique eyes, and thin mouths now pursed as they observed me. An equal destiny bound them, like a ribbon setting them apart. But Carnistir hid not his surprise as he saw me, and laying down his bow he looked at me, a dark light in his black eyes.
"You come unexpected, daughter of Olorimo," he said, "None would have guessed we would ever see you again."
A pang troubled me at his mention of my father, for even if I did not repent of the choice I had made, still my pain at it was fresh. But shrugging I forced myself to smile; and when I answered my voice was falsely light.
"There are those who would say that it is better to come late, than not to come at all; and for once I will trust them. Will you tell me where your brother is?"
Carnistir laughed; a bitter and a short laugh as he threw back his black hair. He took again his bow, and for a moment I thought he would not answer; but as he drew a new arrow he said: "I have more than one brother, but it is easy to guess which one you are looking for. You will find him in the forge. Next courtyard, the door in the gallery with the chiseled columns."
I nodded my thanks; and as I left I heard the target practice resuming. Beneath an overcast sky the voice of the twins rang harsh.
I followed Carnistir's instructions, and found myself in a long gallery whose roof was supported by thin pillars, their flanks elegantly carved. Here no one was around; I guessed I had entered a private part of the palace. I found the forge: my spirit, discouraged and beaten by such a welcome, now found new strength as I heard the hollow music of a single hammer beating past the door. I pushed the wooden wing open.
A long, low-ceilinged room, the forge was empty but for him. A white light entered from the narrow windows, falling on the empty anvils, the abandoned tools. A single furnace was open; and by it he laboured. He did not turn as I advanced, his arm keeping on hammering a long blade he was shaping. He wore no shirt; new muscles glistened beneath his skin. Even when I stopped by him he kept working; and after a brief moment I spoke.
His next stroke went wrong; the work was now bent. With a scream of frustration he threw away both hammer and blade, turning to me, a savage light in his eyes. It was then that I saw that his hair was not bound, as I had at first thought, but cut without grace, in rough locks that barely reached the base of his neck. And his face was sadder and thinner, but also harsh, as if a fury he could barely contain lit it from behind. He did not speak; but looked at me, scowling.
I could say nothing else. Here, after my long voyage, at the end of all that had been, all my words had died. Wrong, so wrong was all this; and in my heart the fear was awoken that I had come too late. He would not break the silence; he looked at me from under the disarrayed fringe of his hair, and remained silent. A tension unnamed rested between us, it strangled every sentence I could form.
At long last I forced out: "We should speak. But not here."
For a moment I thought he would refuse. But he slammed the door of the furnace shut, and grabbing his shirt from a stool he led the way out of the forge and into the naked courtyard I had crossed before. A milky sky was above our heads, clouds like a woolen blanket spread over the roofs. He leant against a column, waiting for me to begin. But here I felt unprotected and exposed, and the windows in the walls were like eyes prying at my discomfort.
"Is there no garden here? No place where – "
"You always liked gardens, did you not?"
They were the first words he had told me; and they were thick with derision. But he preceded me past an arch and down a few steps, into a garden planted on a terrace overlooking the hills. It was a secluded spot, dark cedars twining their branches, at its center a pond where no ducklings swam.
"No fine flowers here, I am afraid. For those you shall have to be back in Valmar."
"Why are you so harsh to me?"
He looked at me, as if considering whether I was joking. Then he laughed; a mirthless, a dead laughter that the cedars muffled, their branches rustling darkly in the cutting wind.
"I can see no reason why I should be glad to see you. One must admire your precision: you could have sent me back the ring by a courier. After such a long time, I thought you had just thrown it away."
"Is that why you think I have come?"
No doubt in his eyes; in that absence of light, they were black.
"There was a choice I had to make. I came to tell you what decision I have taken."
"A choice…your silence was your answer. One year! It could not have been clearer."
Anger rose suddenly in my throat, a bitter taste in my mouth.
"Do you think it was easy? You're not alone in having loyalties to answer to!"
"Loyalties! What do you know of them? Perhaps that your father threatened to ban you from your precious white city?"
"Don't you dare speaking like that of my father!"
"You would have had me reject mine like a dog at my door!"
"For the love he ever showed you, it has done you much good to follow him here, answering his call!"
"But at least I came of my own will; what of you, who remained obediently at the loom at the beck and call of your father's uncle, the King?"
"You know nothing of my life in Valmar! You never cared…"
"What was there to ask? Sometimes I think my father was right about the Vanyar…"
It was too much. My vision was blurred, my spirit incapable of accepting that this was what I had ridden to meet. Refusing to acknowledge that one year had done this to us.
"Don't you dare!"
My hand had sprung before I had thought about it, in my veins a desire to hurt and erase, to refuse this moment where I saw all my hopes wither and die. This was not him; this was not me. I wanted to quench my anger, my wrath, my grief, to drown them in pain inflicted and received. Despair filled me; and I struck. Or tried to.
He grasped my wrist before my hand touched his skin, my gesture broken midair. It hurt me when he forced my arm down, it hurt me when he grasped my other wrist, drawing me to him. I tried to wrestle myself free, but he was stronger than me. His mouth contracted in a grimace of pain, he kissed me even as I tried to draw away.
I bit his lip, without stopping until I tasted blood. He let me go and I detached from him, strong in me the desire to escape; but as he let his arms fall by his hips, as he looked at me, his eyes pools of a stark sorrow that hurt me more than my own, hatred and pity for myself and him mixed, and over and over I hit him, covering his chest, his shoulders in punches.
His arms closed around me, and I fought him, but he did not let me go; and then it was I who kissed him first, a kiss that was almost a new bite as my nails sank in the nape of his neck. Shivers shook me as his hands run along my back, rough, heavy strokes that my skin felt through mantle and dress. We fell on the ground, my nostrils filling with the scent of musk; with impatient hands he tore away the pin that had closed my cloak.
My mind was empty, desire running through me like wildfire; bitterness and pain, hope and passion mingling in the feverish gesture with which my fingers traced the contours of his back, in the spasm of pleasure that ran through me as he kissed my neck left naked by the discarded mantle, his teeth a print on my skin. I did not care; all was left behind, all was blindingly clear in the wave that took me as his hand closed around my ankle, as his palm ran up the bone, pushing my gown further up, stroking my knee.
My fingers sank in his hair, pulling his head up by it, our lips meeting again in urgency before his found the line of my collarbone, and their brush upon my skin was warm, love overwhelming me as desire washed over my spirit. Then my fingers' grip on his hair relented, then I felt my tension unknotted, destroyed in the clarity of that moment; then the words that were all that mattered escaped me, a feeble sigh in the wind.
"I love you."
His kisses stopped. For a time I did not count we lay like that, his body an abandoned weight upon mine. Over us, that pale sky. It was only when his tears wetted my skin that I knew he was crying.
I did not move. Alone my fingers caressed his hair, a quiet stroking, a gesture for the words I could not utter, but that my spirit screamed. You're here now. You're safe.
A long time before his head rose, his eyes finding mine.
He caressed my cheek. Gently our bodies readjusted, finding each other, his arms encircling me over the crumpled heap that had been my cloak. I let my head rest against his chest, the uneven drumming of his heart beneath my ear the only music I wished for. His nose sunk into my hair, he caressed me lightly, as if he wished to erase the violence that had filled our gestures before. His voice was subdued, barely more than a whisper. For a long time I listened, and did not say a word.
He spoke of his love, and his despair when he thought I would not come again. He spoke of the gray twist of time where he had lived, of the sleepless dawns when he had watched all his dreams consumed. Of the grim life Fëanáro brought with him, of the feverish fear with which he had built for himself a stronghold that still could not satisfy his need. Gray twist of time, black back of fate. Alone, listening to the madness that grew around him, for madness it was to forge weapons in the land the Powers had for so long held in peace. Listening to his brothers' voices grow darker. Forgetting who he had been, for every memory was a pain sharpened to wound his heart, until nothing was left of our ancient joy but unhealed scars.
My voice wove with his as his long speech ended, my own fear, my doubt, my endless grief at my father's deafness to my pleas unfolding in words as plain as the truth they told. I asked for his forgiveness as he begged for mine. Giving me no answer, he took my hand. Our fingers squeezed each other until it hurt. And then we rose, the sky now dark, the clouds holding Telperion's silver gift at bay. I cared not. I only wished I could have seen, or guessed, the twinkling of a star.