Tainted Light: 4. Sea

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4. Sea

Alcániel means Blazing Maiden. Thank you to realelvish . net.

Chapter 3

Sea

The tea was hot in the cup between my hands, the smoke rising from its dark surface a bluish curl in the air. Sat in front of me, Artanis chewed on a piece of bread and honey with the soulful expression of somebody who wishes she were still in bed, her hair gathered in a single braid hanging over her shoulder. From the door, open on the orchard, came the sounds of moved earth as Eärwen greeted the returned golden light by tending to the bulbs the lady Yavanna had given her as a present for her last begetting day.

The early morning was threaded with that silent expectation shared by those who are waking together when the new day comes; the promise of novel things hung suspended in the silent kitchen together with the warm scent of toasted bread and rich milk. I took a morsel of the strawberry cake left over from yesterday's dinner and started eating, my thoughts uneventful, an empty plain in the last peace before the light became full. When the day has risen you can't hide anymore.

When Findaráto came into the room I barely lifted my head to greet him, my eyes enticed by the shaft of light that played on a cobweb suspended by the corner of the window. Dewdrops shone on the silvery threads, and the weaver mended its work the hours of the brilliant night had hung with pearls of wet light. When my cousin put the letter in front of me, the sound made me start.

"Well awoken, Silmë," he smiled, "Although it looks like you might still be dreaming."

I shook my head, taking another sip of tea. Its scent was wood and smoke.

"I am afraid this morning my dreams have followed me out of bed like a trail. A letter for me?"

He nodded.

"The messengers came to the door. Yours is from Findekáno , Artanis, isn't it?"

I looked up to her, recognizing the blue seal I had seen so many times on the messages I had been sent from Tirion. But Artanis was not looking at the envelope she held in her fingers; rather at the one that lay in front of me. The seal was unfamiliar; impressed into scarlet wax, an eight-pointed star.

"The House of Fëanáro," said my cousin, her words suspended between uncertainty and her usual distaste.

Findaráto lit up.

"I was so glad you invited Maitimo the other evening, Artanis. Our reconciliation with our cousins is long overdue."

She shook her head, her eyes still on the letter.

"I have no credit for this."

She met my stare, her expression unreadable.

Strangely calm, I swallowed the last of the cake, feeling with my hand on the table for a knife. Later my heart would pound into my ears remembering that moment, as every wild supposition, every last fear and hope could have hidden into the folded message. But it was with careful skill that I cut the seal, the creamy paper thick and silky between my fingers.

My eyes took in the few lines at once, looking at the letters traced as if to a precious hint to something hidden that I wished to know. The tengwar were more widely spaced, more briskly penned than good calligraphy would advise; but looking at them it was easy to recall the hand that had written them. Hi eyes when we had said goodbye after the dance were a memory carved in the back of my mind as I read.

My lady Silmë,

 

my uncle's courtesy would have me free to come unannounced at his door, following my spirit's wish to find again the light that shone in that evening, two days ago. And yet the remembrance of our long sundering is too fresh for me to take advantage of such kindness, and I rein my desire in a request that I dare hoping you shall accept.

Tomorrow, the first day of a new season, the winds shall blow from the Sea, and as every year in that day I will ride with Findekáno to the coast, to breathe in the scent of the blue with the faint promise of far lands under darker skies than this.

And yet this year I cannot help but feel that the joy of the day would be marred should I contemplate its beauty alone, and the silver of the crested waves would be for me no longer a jewel to treasure in my eyes, but rather a keepsake of something left, however unwillingly, behind.

If you and Artanis wished to join us, once more I would find myself in debt of a graciousness I have no words to repay; but it is a debt I would gladly owe.

I await your reply; and in the meantime I remain

Yours,

Maitimo

My mind would not believe what my eyes had read, and again and again I would have run through the lines, the joy born into my chest a small bird that only now began to stretch its wings, and fly. But Findaráto, if too well-bred to be curious, looked at me from over his buttered bread; and a smile that was but a spark of the fire I felt growing inside me creased my lips.

"Nelyafinwë has invited me and Artanis to join him and Fino in a pleasure trip to the Sea."

My voice sounded assured, unsurprised. Artanis' was cool, a breath of chilly night unexpected as she commented: "That is, in short, what Findekáno also writes."

"I hope you shall accept. It has been too long since you have last listened to Uìnen's voice, little sister."

Artanis made no reply; merely sought my eyes. I did not nod, nor say a word; my smile remained unchanged. My determination even stronger than the day – was it in truth so close? – when I had first met him. And my cousin, that would rarely yield to plea, acknowledged my desire with a brief gesture, closing her eyes.

I turned to Findaráto, my smile now gentler.

"Be kind, cousin. Give me paper and ink."

***

The grass was a path of velvet under the hoofs of our horses as we ran, the promise of the Sea a blue smile at the horizon. Behind us loomed the mountains, the clouds crowning their heads with shades of diamond. The golden light filled the air with a softness that contrasted with the sharp wind, reaching our nostrils with the scent of salt and wave. Seagulls cried, another note to the symphony of the tense breeze.

Maitimo's black horse ran beside the blue roan Aikanár had lent me, while Artanis' dapple gray mare devoured the ground ahead of us, like a swift cloud of spray born over the waves by the wind.

Yes, too long had passed since the last time I had run like this, too long since I had breathed last the smell of free water. I smiled, and let the roan find its pace, without spurring it, but feeling its elation in its unrestrained race like an extension of my own. I looked aside, and met Maitimo's eyes; the green sparkle of a moment before all our senses turned again to the joy of the speed.

Soon the edge of the plain drew nearer, spiky bushes with large white flowers interrupting the evenness of the grass, and Artanis ahead halted, waiting for us. When we reached her, her cheeks were flushed, her hair had escaped the ribbons, a silver and golden halo around her face. Her beauty was such to make me smile.

"First," she breathed, "And Fino last, as I should have expected. Although I don't think you two have tried at all to win."

"Why, Nerwen, you take too much joy in victory for us to think of depriving you of its pleasure. Letting you win was far better than beating you."

"Always the witty one, Nelyafinwë."

But as she said it, she smiled. On that morning our joy was honed to a fine point, a shining peak. And when I turned, I saw the Sea.

The Sea…too few are the words one might try to say, even as many a poet has attempted to sing of the harmony of the deep. For in the face of such majesty even the best pen is broken; and the attempts are but pale veils before too great a beauty for even the immortals to ever grow used to it. Endless words have the Eldar wrought in praise of gem and star, and dappled light, and growing tree; and sometimes their words have been fair and brilliant, and have graced their objects of newfound shine. But forever the Sea escapes our words, and fills our minds with a voice that, the sages say, speaks of the Music ere the World was made. And in our silence we are uplifted, and something greater than joy, something we have no name for, grows into our spirit, and makes it great.

Beside me, Maitimo smiled.

"You shall not regret having come, then?"

"Never."

A moment more I held his eyes, as if challenging him to see past that word, into its deepest meaning; but before he could guess, I dismounted. Findekáno had reached us, contentedness a light upon his face.

"I saw no reason to run. Today is too fair a day to make haste."

"Still, as the last, you'll carry the basket all the same." Artanis dismounted herself, taking the reins. "Let us bind the horses, and then go down to the beach."

So we did; a sheer path led down from the cliff to a pebbly stretch at its feet. Contorted trees, shaped by the wind in fantastic curves, offered shade; and we spread a cloth over the stones, and took out our refreshments. Artanis discarded her riding gloves and took the wine flask, the last that remained of my father's gift.

"Breakfasting in the open again," she said, as she poured the scarlet flame of the liquid in a vessel, "It is a habit I have developed fast."

I smiled. "I have yet to hear you lamenting it, cousin."

She raised her cup as we filled ours: "Nor will you."

We drank and ate as the morning grew to full maturity, exchanging jokes, our laughter a different chord in the song of wind and wave. When the chalices were empty, the plates equally vacant, Artanis rose.

"No rest under trees for me, I should say. The light over the Sea is too pure to waste it by looking at it from afar. I will go walking."

Findekáno rose himself, offering her his arm.

"You are right, it is too beautiful a day to be spent idling. Will you allow me to accompany you, Nerwen? We can leave these lazy creatures to their catlike rest, if so they wish."

Maitimo, lying on his back, his arms crossed under his head, smiled lightly.

"Fino knows me well. Have a pleasant walk."

"Won't you come, Silmë? Russandol would deserve we left him on his own."

"No, thank you, cousin. Someone must make sure he doesn't fall asleep until the next season changes."

Findekáno smiled, bowing his head in acknowledgement. He did not see the glance Artanis threw me before they started; but that day was too resplendent for it to dim it, and even her dislike, I perceived clearly, was laced with doubt. Artanis did not understand; and this new sensation confounded her.

Soon the steps of the walkers and their voices were nothing more than an echo brought by casual puffs of wind. The seagulls alighted on the water in the peace of midday, their silvery bodies cradled in the palm of the waves like broken toys. Sitting on the cloth I watched them, as the light sowed the Sea with brilliant scales. Beside me, Maitimo did not stir, and for a moment I thought he had indeed fallen asleep. I tried to imagine his dreaming face, sleep draped over his features like a pale veil; but when I lowered my eyes the green jewel of his irises was fixed on me, and he smiled at my surprise.

"Indeed you think too badly of me, lady," he joked, guessing the reason for it, "That I should fall asleep on such a day, and in such fair company." A pause, and his expression became gentler, it lost its jesting lightness. "I thank you for coming."

I smiled at his seriousness.

"I thank you for inviting me."

A small silence followed, an empty space framed in the cry of the birds, in the green of his glance. Unexpectedly he rose, offering me his hand.

"Come, my lady. The other day you showed me something precious, and rare; and now I will try to repay my debt."

I accepted his help, feeling under my fingers the texture of his skin, his palm, and the strength resting in his hand, a force ready to spring. He let go of my hand far too soon; and I turned to the Sea, not daring to look at him. As I bent to take the shoes I had taken off he stopped me.

"You shan't need them where we are going now."

Barefoot we walked along the waterline, the Sea coming to die at our feet, the waves eternally reborn in the glassy lacework of their foam. We walked in silence, the light draped around us like a cloak; until we came to the foot of the cliff, where it came to interrupt the beach thrusting out a buttress of rock. Its sheerness was tempered by the small, golden flowers of bittersweet smelling plants; and a cleft opened among them, a dark mouth in the splendor of the day.

I stepped back; but he offered his hand again, smiling.

"It is larger than it looks, and it conceals well its treasure. Follow me." A ripple of gentle laughter ran through his next words: "Unless you fear to defy a little dark…"

"Never."

I took his hand, even the joy of touching him again forgotten in the excitement of the moment, my heart beating fast as he led me in the darkness of a narrow opening. Humid stone that had never been touched by the grace of the Trees grazed my sides as I walked; and Maitimo had to stoop to pass. But eventually we were through, the uneven floor falling into a larger opening, pebbles made smooth and round by the water under our soles.

A blue radiance filled the cave; and light fell in a gilded shaft from a rough opening in its roof, where the cliff had given in. The crescent moon of a small beach encircled the shallow water in the cave, a pool lit with brilliant blue by the reflection that came through a larger opening towards the Sea. No gem wrought by skill or chance could rival such pure radiance.

"Maitimo…"

Any other word would die upon my lips; smiling, still holding my hand, he led me to the uttermost end of the cave, were a black spot stained the water, and the pale submerged rock.

"Still, this is not all I wished to show you."

He rolled up his breeches, wading into the water, until he reached the darker stain. Sinking his arms in the Sea, he seemed to clasp something. I drew nearer, standing at the very edge of the weak waves; and when he turned, he bore in his open palm the gift of a sea star.

Red had looked black in the water; but now it shone wetly on his hand, the arms of the creature delicately probing his wrists, seeking the road to return to its element.

Caring not for my dress, I followed him in the water, and with my fingers I lightly stroked the body of the sea star. It was at once hard and supple, minuscule scales covering its tender flesh; and beneath my touch it seemed to shiver. Breathless, I looked at Maitimo, and his smile told me he knew well what gift he had given me.

"Once, long ago, my Telerin uncle showed me one such fish," I said, my voice low, not daring to speak aloud under the spell of that blue light, "But I had never seen one again…"

"Then I am glad I could show it to you. My debt, if not extinguished, is made smaller."

He bent, replacing the star among its companions on their bed of rock. When he straightened again, his eyes shone, their emerald made dark by the halflight; and his beauty was greater in that moment than ever before I had seen it. In this corner of Arda stolen from the sight of the Eldar, he was free.

"This is your garden, is it not?" I asked, "The haven when the world hangs heavy on your shoulders, and all tastes bitter to your mouth?"

His smile disappeared; his eyes now polished jade as he looked at me. But I did not lower mine, and time stood still as the sound of the wave was the only thing that could be heard. My blood burnt; but it did so in silence.

"None apart from us know of it. But so easily you see what it means to me..:"

"You always speak of debts. But bringing me here, you have given me a gift greater than any I could ever make you."

"So assured you are, my lady; and yet so wrong."

His fingers rose to my face, but never touched it; remaining suspended beside the skin, a broken caress that cut more keenly than any knife.

"May you never know the bitterness that brings me here; for Artanis is right, and of such an ill sorrow in this land that should be blessed there is kindled a fell fire."

"But not in you, Maitimo."

His eyes were softer now, and the abyss I had unveiled was left behind. He bent over me, his face close to mine.

"Alcániel," he whispered, "Too clear blazes your light not to wish to see things as it shows them. And yet they seem to me purer and better than they were before."

As they fell his fingers brushed my arm, and a shiver rippled through my muscles, as suddenly I became aware of the icy crystal of the water around our feet; and yet I could not move, his warmth binding me, my blood singing quietly in my veins.

Until a longer, stronger wave than the others rolled in the cave, drenching us to the waist. He laughed quietly as we detached, giving me his hand as we climbed back on the beach.

"It will be better to start back, my lady. The others will be on their way now."

He led the way to the cleft, diving without hesitation into the shadows. I looked back once; and the cave shone secretly in its azure light, the song of the Sea undisturbed, as if we had never been there.

A strange melancholy, a subdued elation joined in my spirit, I turned and followed him towards the open sky.


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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