Tainted Light: 23. Himring

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23. Himring

Chapter 22

Himring

The horses snorted, their breath turned to fog by the cold air. It hung in tattered clouds over the frozen earth, a broken caress over the dark moss. The hilltop rose aloof from the surrounding forest, black trees ranged in tight ranks at its feet, the siege of darkness under the cover of a pale sky. Nothing grew where we had come to stand; the last bushes deserted the fragmented track lower down the side, leaving the top bald and naked beneath a light cloak of dying moss. All here lived; and yet all here looked dead, in the inscrutable silence of the place that no flight of bird, no twig snapped by prowling beast could break. Nervously Maitimo's black rapped the stone with its hoof, unspoken fear as it shook the bridle an esquire held. My betrothed did not turn; crouching on the earth, his fingers feeling lightly, as if in a gentle stroke, the surface of Himring that he would make our abode. A harsh place: a place where to atone.

I had not looked around, for my mind could guess what my eyes would see: the black sea of a dark wood, obscurity spilt over leaf and trunk, the land invisible beneath a canopy of cutting forest that had never let the Sun touch it. And no mist hung in the clear air, air cut into glass and diamond, where no light sparkled, and all was dim. Subdued colours in a silent fan of dark green and black. Past the hills, like broken teeth hemming in the tide of the wood, the plain of Ard-Galen was a grassy mantle made flat by distance and cold, water caught by a sudden frost, an opaque mirror for an unseeing sky.

Slowly, Maitimo rose; careful movements of one who is not yet sure of whether his body shall obey him or not. But when he turned to me, he was smiling; a sad smile, and a proud one. There was no bitterness in his countenance, no bitterness on his face where the scars of his pain were now but thin lines, mementoes of a time scorched into his memory. But now strangely far, even as Thangorodrim's peaks hung on the horizon, a darker line over its blended cut.

"Here we could stand. And fight."

A smile that mirrored his own took shape on my lips, and my skin tickled, cold tingling with the remembrance of other frosts. But I chased it away, my eyes lost in Maitimo's as he drew close, the warm print of his hand on my waist all I needed to free myself from the memory of Helcaraxë like a dark shape emerging from deep water. As Elenwë's last sight, printed behind my eyelids for the long eras of this world. Not alone was Maitimo in carrying a burden he could not share; but now, as he leant over me, his lips brushing my hair, I closed my eyes, and for a short moment pretended I could forget.

His voice, when it came, was subdued, almost chastised for his sad joy.

"And yet still my proposition stands. I would not hinder you if you would go back to Mithrim."

Secretly, I smiled; but they eyes that I raised to meet him were hard.

"Enough. My decision, I told you, was made. Or must I believe you would rather live an hermit's life in these sad regions?"

He made no answer; his hand rising, lightly, to trace the contours of my jaw. His eyes were too deep and thick with things unsaid, shadows and secret lights behind their mirrors. I looked away; feeling my own prickling with tears I would not shed. Wordlessly, he embraced me, and the threshold we had stood upon was crossed. A new life, and a cursed one. But together.

When we detached we saw that discreetly the esquire had withdrawn down the path, and retrieving the horses we descended slowly. Noldorin architects and engineers would now climb the rutted tracks, they would measure and sound the place their lord had chosen. No more a silent hill; and for this, for the breaking of the leaden cover that hung above us, for the song of hammer and nail, I was grateful.

Carnistir and Macalaurë awaited us at the foot of the hill; the first his arms crossed, kicked away the stone on which he had been leaning and came to us.

"Then?"

"We stay."

He assented distractedly, looking away. Past the bulky dome of the hill, past the wood, lay the land he had chosen for himself, and that now only small squads patrolled.

"Our brothers sent messengers. Curvo and Tyelkormo have remained past that hillrange. The twins have preferred to go into the woods, further South. They are trusting their defenses to the trees."

Maitimo looked at him, eyes of elder brother who knows those of his own blood.

"I would not blame you if you would proceed yourself to the lake. We are strong here. We can resist, even without your spears."

Carnistir laughed; the dark sound I had learnt to recognize.

"As always our brothers are impatient fools; and they haven't gone far from the protection you can offer. The small ones are bent on learning the stealth of savage wars; but as for me, I have waited long enough for my own lordship not to want to rush it now. Build your stronghold, Russandol. For my own, the time will come." He spat on the ground, turning as if to go. But at the last moment, as if an afterthought, he said: "One day we may well need a place where to hole."

It sounded like a prophecy; and many had said that it had come from Mìriel Therindë, the Weaver, the far-seeing blood of Artanis and Findaráto; and that the Fëanárions, or at least some of them, may well partake of it. And for a long moment a deeper silence lingered above us, as Carnistir strode away briskly, his steps thudding over the frozen ground.

Slowly, my betrothed turned to Macalaurë.

"What of you, brother?"

The other shrugged.

"Carnistir is right: we need a strong place. The gap cannot be manned in safety unless we have a covered retreat. I shall wait."

"My brothers, my love, and my land. One would say the One is smiling."

Maitimo clasped his brother's hand; but there was in their words' that moment's hesitation, the dark conscience that, never, here, the fates would smile. We celebrated the birth of a warring base; and that this was all we would celebrate now was a print of the times in which we lived. But when Maitimo turned to me, letting his hand slip into mine, on my face he could read nothing but content.

And in sincerity it was born into my heart as he walked with me around the base of the hill, describing with words what now was but flat design on parchment. For I could see his eyes sparkled as the counsels of his mind took form and shape; and a fortress I could see rising from the naked earth, defying an empty sky. We sat on a flat rock, the camp hidden behind the hill; and here for a long moment we lingered in silence, before us the forest a blank wall. Until, taking his hand, I gathered a smile, and spoke.

"You said no flowers would grow in Himring; and truly I see that you were right. But I ask you if still you would let me try and make a garden in this stronghold you shall build; so that even in war and coldness we may remember that beauty exists."

"What is it that your mind envisions?"

"Moss, and rocks; and birds, such as could be persuaded to nest there. And perhaps a pond. And ivy, to be trained to the wall. Not rich with colour, perhaps. But beautiful still, and starkly. A beauty to endure."

There was apology in the smile with which I closed my speech, offering all I could give to this enterprise he would make. Knowing that on one thing he had been right: that slaughter would be written in Himring's stones. Knowing that I cared not; and that what my unarmed hands could offer, I would give.

For a long moment Maitimo looked at me; and then, slowly, he leant over me, his forehead touching mine.

"I would be glad if you would tend this place. There I would sit with you, and gaze at the stars."

My voice was husky when I answered; love gripping my throat.

"This warring lord sounds sweet in his words; should his soldiers worry?"

"Never. But his lady should know it is to her that he has left of gentleness goes."

He stroked my cheek, his fingers light. And closing my eyes to darkness and wood and stone and cold, for one moment I believed his hope. That today, at least, the One was smiling.

***
Like a flower of stone the fortress sprang from the earth, its walls rising like petals opening to a sunless sky. Paths were made in the hillside, mules climbed them bearing the burden of stone, brick, tool. Swiftly, more swiftly than I knew fingers could work hands shaped the towers, the battlements, the merlons; swiftly hands dug trenches, opened portals, forged portcullis. Great portions of the forests were cleared, trees felled to make palisades as advanced defenses, land flattened and emptied to make the hill even more naked, lonely, aloof above the ranges. And the peaks of Thangorodrim looked closer, the sweet plain of Ard-Galen within reach.

Maitimo had forbidden me to enter the keep as it was built, its interiors, he had announced, a surprise to me. And he had smiled mischievously as he did so, the ancient playfulness glittering in his eyes; eyes that watched his ideas coming alive, earth and rock. And he would train his warriors as they maneuvered in the plain, and I would watch him from the walls where I ascended with a letter or a book.

Few women there would be in this household; and most of them healers. I helped them setting the healing house, a nook protected and walled at the donjon's base. I waited for the small courtyard assigned to my garden to be completed; and as the days passed I watched the talent of the Noldor unfurling, their faces now alight with the joy of making. And I understood how in less than a year Fëanáro had made a hunting retreat into the first stronghold of Arda; but none mentioned his name, even if among them many there were who had helped build Formenos that had not protected those within its walls.

Rarely, if ever, did the work cease; day and night the Elves worked, taking turns. And their princes were not above them, and would help with what talent they had inherited. And Himring grew, and took shape, growing as a challenge against Morgoth's strength, its gates a snarling mouth.

One day the stonemasons declared the main court finished; and they retreated to the outer walls. And there, unseen, my betrothed and his brothers met, with swords.

I had seen Maitimo trusting his strength, more and more; I had seen him walking faster, striding among his soldiers. I had seen him practicing writing with his left hand, his letters becoming surer, tengwar unlike those he had once traced, a different inclination to them, but the same will. Now, silent in a corner, the only presence allowed, I watched him take a blade.

There was silence as Carnistir sat by my side, and Macalaurë unsheated his own sword. Maitimo held for a long moment, looking at it, the new blade Curvo had forged for him, for his ancient sword, that Fëanáro had made, had been lost when he had been captured. This new one he wielded, uncertainty in his wrist, and arm; his own mind refusing to recognize such a different, and contrary action. But at last he met his brother's eyes; and he was not smiling.

"Do not spare me."

Without a further word he threw himself at him, sword held high.

For the six years of my exile I had watched countless bouts, sometimes with idle eye that seldom left the page of my book, sometimes with amused interest. For back then, ere the Kinslaying at Alqualondë taught us what ravishes can a sword inflict, fighting was a game to practice within a courtyard; a violent sport for princes with much time on their hands. There was none to fight, nothing to combat for; and any wound was but an accident soon forgotten. And in those far years, when still we told ourselves this most deadly of Fëanáro's creation could exist but to fill long hours, the hidden grace of fencing had been all eyes could detect, ere hatred and despair came to mar it.

Time had passed; the Trees had died. We had been taught despair. And through suffering all grace had been lost.

It was painful to see Maitimo stumble; painful to see his sword fall. Painful to see him circling, his balance off, Macalaurë holding back where the clumsiest of Orcs could have slit his throat. Painful to watch the fury awaken as my betrothed fell on his knees yet another time; and unable to do anything. Painful to hear the hurt grating in his voice as he rose, slowly, and looking at his brother he hissed between clenched teeth: "I had told you not to spare me."

Macalaurë lowered his sword.

"Perhaps it is still too soon."

"Or perhaps too late! What aid it is to make a fortress, where I cannot defend it?"

"We have time. Your warriors could – "

"My warriors shall not be the shield to hide my weakness! What commander could lead them to victory, that could not share their dangers?"

"Maitimo…"

"Do not spare me!"

This time he caught him off guard; his blade almost reaching him in a desperate pass. Until long practice awakened in a swift parry, and Macalaurë sword sliced through fine skin, opening a gushing cut on his brother's left arm. Maitimo's sword fell to the ground, and he clasped his arm. Before I could think I had risen, my spirit throbbing, but wordlessly Carnistir grasped my shoulder, and held me back. His eyes commanded my silence, or my retreat. And I sat by him, then, hurt tearing at me as I watched Maitimo examining his wound, shrugging away its pain. Picking his sword from the ground.

"Again."

But Macalaurë shook his head, taking a step back.

"No. It is too soon. This is insane. You cannot fight – "

"I shall not be made into a crippled dog!"

Beneath a white sky his rage echoed, chords screamed in anguish against impotence, despair. And any joy we had found here was erased; made nil before the possibility of a recovery denied. My ancient, broken spell now proven empty.

It does not matter.

But it did, and all too much. Macalaurë's face was a mask when he sheated his blade.

"No."

Maitimo growled; a wordless sound, anger and grief packed in his rasping throat. But he straightened; and blood oozed thick and dark from his cut, it trickled down upon his sword's hilt. He looked not to his brothers, but to the blind, unseeing wall before him when he called: "Carnistir."

Macalaurë said nothing; in his eyes the plead to see reason. Morifinwë did not stir: but his voice was even when he replied: "Are you sure?"

There was no hesitation as Maitimo turned, and his eyes were hard, glass and steel.

"Yes."

Slowly Carnistir rose, his long body distending, his fingers finding his own sword. Macalaurë opened his mouth, as to speak, but Maitimo turned his back on him, wielding the sword. My heart was empty as Carnistir took position, witnessing now strength found again turning once more to weakness, in this fight whose outcome only the hidden strength of will could decide.

And the last of Maitimo's ghosts unfurled cold wings over his eyes as he repeated, one last time: "Do not spare me."

He did not.
***

Silence echoed in the empty space where the last of the hammers had fallen silent, it echoed under the angular domes where many pillars met. The door of the keep had been closed behind us, the long shadows we had cast cut abruptly as light disappeared. Now, as Maitimo stood by my side, my eyes adjusted themselves to the dark, open space where I breathed slowly. The brush of his fingertips on my wrist all I needed to feel.

"Surprise."

He did not ask if I liked it. Indeed, he said nothing, nor moved as I took my first, hesitant steps inside the great hall, ample stairs like water falling from the upper floor. Curving; stairs that could be held in one last fight, step by step. But beautiful: their spiral carved into onyx, inlaid with alabaster. The inner core of a shell revealed by a sudden light.

Slowly, the shadows took a more definite shape – there were narrow windows here, like a serpent's eyes where only a few rays of light could penetrate. Truly, a keep. But from their demidarkness there emerged, now, a pattern, of curves intertwining, embracing the starkness of the walls; and I saw the pillars rising from a pavement inlaid with pale, green stones, strong columns, but like trees in their softening, tapering shapes, whose branches of stone met into archways, whose branches spread, like bejeweled fingers, upon the ceiling. No flowers there were; for Maitimo had been true to his word, and the only gardens we could make here would be gardens of stone.

But he had brought inside the forest that sieged our walls, a truce and a wergild for the trees we had cut, their life stolen and raped now made into something to endure for all the ages of Ea. And here I moved, my steps echoing dully, as if I were entering a sacred place, wood once unviolated now renewed, world we had locked outside our castle brought within. I walked; and when I turned still he stood framed by the portal, long scrollwork of sculpted ivy meeting in an acute arch. I went to him; and wordlessly I watched him, his beauty hidden in shadow, his eyes invisible.

"Thank you."

It echoed beneath the arches, deep truth I would not hide; words too simple where words mattered nothing.

"You have not seen all."

"Maitimo..."

"Come with me."

He took my hand: later he would show me the great banquet hall, where roaring lions chased each other in a long frieze, and deep entwining forests hid their famished eyes; later he would show me the library he had had made, stone shelves like trays treelike creatures held in long, leaf-like hands; but now he led me up the shell stairs and down a long corridor, cut by the narrow windows in partitions of pale light. Until a door hidden behind a tapestry, a work I recognized as coming from Aman, and woven, in days far gone, by Mìriel his grandmother. The first, unwitnessed wars of the Valar for the dominion of the world shone darkly, a design of silver and black that concealed a narrow opening. And up other stairs he led me, until a circular landing where two doors opened.

"Here, my lady, shall be your chamber, if you will accept it."

I looked to him; and in eyes was a gentle light, and pride in offering me the work of Noldorin hands. In silence I opened the door; and when I crossed it was as if time had never passed, and never had we left Valinor the blessed.

For on the wall opposite to me, frescoed by fingers that had known its beauty, was a vision of Tirion upon Tùna, the White City of the Noldor as we had last seen it, the Mindon Eldaliéva a forlorn ray in the last night of Aman. The last moment ere the Kinslaying robbed us of what was left of our heart. And at the corner where two walls met there was a high bed, its curtains made of lightest silk; blue, as the blue shore of the Sea painted behind it, a simple landscape of a pebbled beach, and of contorted trees. The setting of a haven long lost, for gentle dreams. Upon the ceiling that covered us, in silver and gold brushstrokes shone the lost light of the Trees, mother of the Silmarils whose curse had brought us thus far; and beneath our feet a mosaic of pale tesserae revealed a design of the skies, the embroidery that the Queen Varda had wrought of diamonds like stars.

My breath was taken away, and when I turned no speech would come to my lips; but gently, a secret smile curving his mouth, my betrothed led me across the threshold, and made me turn. Once shut the door fit seamlessly into the wall, and now turning I saw that this, too, was ornamented by a fresco of exquisite hand; and my throat was closed by thick nostalgia, for there it shone, whiter than pearls or silver, Valmar of my fathers, and its light was the purest shining of the mingling of a time long lost. I turned to Maitimo; and hiding my eyes against his breast let beauty and regret ebb through me, as love suffocated every word inside my mind. He held me long; until, swallowing my heart, I met his eyes again.

"No gift could have been more precious."

"No gift could have been more gladly given. I wish – "

Two fingers to his mouth, imposing silence.

"No more."

Silently he nodded; and his lips disclosed, kissing lightly my fingertips, and I closed my eyes as his hand was warm on the small of my back, and his mouth caressed my hand, my wrist. Until, with a sigh, he detached.

"Perhaps now it is time we let our people in. They will be glad to leave the camp."

Our people. But holding his arm as he turned to go, a light smile on my lips, I stopped him: "Will you not show me your own chamber?"

For a moment he hesitated, as if willing to deny this to me; but at last he nodded, and led me out of my room, a painted world left behind for the coloured halflight of the landing whose window was made of stained glass. He opened for me the door opposite to my own; and standing aside let me pass through. He closed the wing when he had entered, a dull sound. And I turned in confusion to face him; confusion painted upon my face. For his chamber was naked.

No paint, no tapestry hid the starkness of its stone walls, no fresco graced its domed ceiling. No beautiful furniture there was, none of the cushions, none of the settees and small tables scattered throughout my own.

No: a bed of black iron was against a wall, and a chest of dark wood against the other. A large sheepskin rug covered the floor, of unadorned stone. No mosaics here. And turning I saw that where my window, framed by a fresco of the breach in Tirion's hills, opened upon the wood, his own looked out to the gap in the mountainrange and past, to the empty menace of Ard-Galen, its sterile green. And to the challenge of Utumno's perpetual black, suspended above the horizon, a threat unveiled before his eyes. The last thing he would see ere he slept; and the first when morning would come.

I understood why he would not have shown me this.

"Why?"

He looked away; and his words, when they came, were as stark as the walls that surrounded us.

"To remember."

His eyes fell; and his mouth twisted in a bitter grimace.

"As if there were further need."

The imperceptible movement of his maimed arm.

For a long moment I stood still; his pain, his scars that he would shroud from me with lightness and smiles now bared. Listening, in that empty room, to their echo; like a wailing trapped within its cold. A chastisement; and forever so. Reminding himself of the only duty that would remain.

Purposefully, every movement as heavy as if my limbs had been cast in iron, my fingers took his right wrist, they held it against the movement with which he tried to draw back. Purposefully I leant over; until my lips touched the smooth skin, the rounded head of the bone. As I had done long before, on the night of our reunion; telling him that truly it could not matter. Not to me.

When I straightened he was looking at me me, his eyes those of one who searches a depth he has never fathomed before. Seldom had he touched me with his right arm; but now it was with it that he drew me to him, and I felt his strength fully regained, his might restored. Our desire had been restrained in the long nights in which we had lain together, when his body was still a fragile thing, a breakable branch around which I wove myself, as ivy might climb a supple tree. But now all carefulness had disappeared as his lips met mine, impatience in kisses that felt my jaw, my neckline as I shivered, my blood ice and fire as my hands ran along the smooth lines of his back, his flesh hardened by long exertion.

Even Elves shall be clumsy when passion burns them, even Elven feet shall stumble, and Elvish bodies fall heavily, fingers losing all deftness, tearing at laces, fabric now a prison one wishes to escape. Lips finding the hollow at the base of his throat, hands tracing the long contour of thighs between drapes, pleasure a wave that floods muscle and nerve, that reaches its peak ere it can be fulfilled.

Pleasure that tears the mouth, a strangled cry, a strength that fails as the breath catches in the mouth. And all limbs are undone, all purpose unmade; lying without thought, without will, skin trembling. The blood slowing down as desire denied once more takes its fleeting triumph, a broken heaven in the torment of a long wait that now resumes. A tainted pleasure, and a wasted one; without union, without rights. A small victory of bodies that once more have not found each other, kept apart by the impatient bliss that should have united them.

Together we lay, our proposition gambled once more on a razor's edge, our fingers entwined. Maitimo's head rested, cradled against my neck, and with light lips I kissed his damp forehead, the untidy locks of his hair. He had closed his eyes; frail and strong in my arms, against my skin through the loosened folds of my dress.

At peace; for life was delicate then, and yet invincible. 

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.

Story Information

Author: Aredhel Serindë

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Romance

Rating: General

Last Updated: 09/29/10

Original Post: 04/22/10

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