Tainted Light: 5. Ask

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5. Ask

Chapter 4

Ask

What words cannot say is sometimes the only thing that is worth uttering.

Never again would Maitimo talk with me of that morning in the cave, and yet it stood between us, like a threshold that, if never crossed, still bound us. Like a jewel was that remembrance; and at the bottom of his eyes when they met mine it sparkled.

For a long season of the Trees I resided in Tirion the White, and every day brought me new delight; and if I could still pretend, in the letters I sent home every few days, that my pleasure was due merely to the closeness to the cousins I had long missed, still I could not help but feel the lie as I sealed each message before I entrusted it to the courier.

No, never did my pen trace the name of the son of Fëanáro; and if my mind faked that it was because it had no importance, repeating to me that his hold on my spirit would vanish and disappear, like foam that laces the rock before the heat dries it, still my heart denied it, and its every beat was another layer on my pretence.

For even as our fingers touched in a figure of dance, even as our voices joined in song, even as the wind braided together our hair when we went riding out over the hills, still our bond remained one unspoken and unpromised, and no ties that the Eldar would acknowledge existed between us.

Love, the word poets have spoken too often, and true lovers too seldom, remained unpronounced, suspended in the silence between his sadness and my uncertainty. We balanced our days, our glances on the edge of a razor; for when Elves grow to the age we had reached without wedding, they begin to believe that solitude shall be their lot, and they shall remain unaccompanied for all the ages of the world.

But as I played with this thought, as I drew closer to it only to flee again, for the first time I began to doubt what I had been educated to believe: that love shall necessarily come only to those who are destined to bear the fruit of new children to Arda, and that such a fate shall show itself soon, if it has to become manifest at all.

In Valinor Elves married young. We did not turn our memory to the accounts of the days before we learnt from the Valar the custom of marriage, when our love was celebrated in silence on the grass, beneath stars that shone cold and kind in a black haven like a vault over our heads.

But now I, that had come so far without feeling once the exquisite thrill that had lit with pleasure and expectation my friends' faces, now I harboured it to find that it was a different thing altogether from what I had been promised and sung of.

Maitimo and I, grown among the elaborate rituals, the elegant courtship of our kind in those days of splendor, never complied to its roles. Never he came to sing beneath my window; never he wrote for me verses, or asked for a lock of my hair. Never I pretended to forget my kerchief where he could find it, or offered him in present one of my jewels. Love as we had been described it was a thing to embroider and gild, to make graceful and brilliant, yet another of the works of art of the Eldar to be admired and to take a refined pleasure from.

For us, it was not so. We hesitated on the brink of the untold, living each day like another thread in a tapestry that would not yet reveal its theme. Not a step went too far, not a gesture took the place of the words that others would already have spoken; and yet each of his gestures, each time his skin brushed against mine, each glance his eyes bestowed on mine, I felt more keenly than all the words, all the serenades I could have expected before I knew him, when this idea, like a fluttering bird inside my mind, a tree growing in my heart, was still nothing more than an abstract notion among thousands of others.

I that had resigned myself not to know this, discovered it day by day and yet did not dare to call it by its name.

Yes, we hesitated. So many years have I spent now in this resolution, like a stronghold built around my spirit, that it is strange to look back and retrace my steps on the paths of the gardens of Arafinwë's house, and to recognize the confusion that reigned around me, as the joy of the present moment wrested with the barrier of a future that each day drew closer.

A shadow hung upon us; his unspoken pain, the abyss I had only glimpsed in that moment filled only by the sound of the waves, and my own conscience of a choice that lay ahead of me, a choice that would bear me hardship whether I resolved to take it or not.

My silence of Maitimo's name in my letters was but a procrastination of that choice; and the absence of Fëanáro, that had departed with his sons Macalaurë and Curufinwë for a long voyage a few days before I came to Tirion, was a momentary relief of the darkness that seemed to blight for Nelyafinwë even the radiance of Aman the Blessed.

I, that had been born in Valmar of the Bells in the wisdom unwavering, the unshakeable majesty of the Powers, I could not guess the depth nor the origin of his sorrow, something as alien to me as the bitterness that was woven sometimes into Artanis' strength. But those that were born in the House of Finwë have destinies that are set apart. Later I would learn it, later I would understand it, never to forget again; but now I felt this shadow lapping at my feet, an uneasiness and a dimming of the light that I had known. Not all in Valinor was spotless joy; and such a conscience was a painful and a frightening one.

And yet, light I would find everyday in the company of the one whose name tasted on my lips like honeyed wine; a different kind of light, it is true, but one that filled me, erasing my doubts when I found the jade of his irises, the alabaster of his skin; or the sound of his laughter, like that first day. My spirit found new wings; and it flew high.

In that daily joy, choices could be postponed indefinitely, the happiness of the moment savoured in expectation of a thousand more hours spent like the one that had just gone. There would come a day, one told oneself, there would come a time to undo the knot that our spirits tied as our mouths were silent, to cast clarity into the half-light of our time together; but not now. Now the brilliance was too much to mar it with the blinding flash of a certainty to pin it down in words everyone could understand; now there was still time.

Time. We Elves were born to inherit eternity; and our plans span ages in which our fears hide behind the promise of infinite days to solve our riddles. We grew to think we would never lack the chance to accomplish what we began; and when we do run out of time, we can scarcely believe it.

*** 

Maitimo never asked when I would leave, nor had I ever talked about it myself. When I woke up one morning to find my mother's letter rejoicing of my return three days from then, that whole season felt like a fabric too precious and too thin that a violent wind had snatched from my fingers, and torn apart.

I had no illusions: I had found Nelyafinwë in a fortunate twist of fate, an unpredicted bend of time where we had met and walked together. But were I to leave him behind like this, the pearls of our days together sill unconnected by the courage of a word, a final gesture, the thread that had joined us would snap.

There is a bravery that is needed to embrace the reality of our thoughts, a bravery that even the most courageous may from time to time lack; for there are territories hidden behind all our words, past our conscience itself, that we afraid to tread. And yet imagining never to speak the words that burn our tongue, never to fulfill the desire that lights our blood cuts us deeper than any cowardice; and driven by such a whip we may overcome our fear, and cloak ourselves in resolve.

Pale was my face, but scarlet my cheeks as that evening I dressed for yet another reception in the house of one of Artanis' friends; and while we walked there I was silent, my lips drawn in a tight line, my nostrils flared, as if I were breathing in deeply before diving underwater, readying myself for what I had to say. A few words, but enough to cast the die, and wait for it to show my victory or my defeat. I was going away. The time of postponing was behind, and I knew not which fear was greater in me.

Findaráto joked aloud about my silence, he put it down to the sadness for leaving so soon my beloved family; but his laughter was uncertain, and it barely veiled his concern. My cousins were not blind; and their perplexity at such an unlikely union had not been hidden by their joy at seeing the blood of Fëanáro reunited somehow to that of Arafinwë. Tonight the course of this strange encounter would be decided; and Daro loved me too well not to worry that I might be hurt.

Artanis watched me between half-closed eyelids, in her eyes the ice and the bite of the suspicion that had never abandoned her. She feared the taint of Fëanáro's fire; but she was not immune to it, her refusal to trust Maitimo begot of the same easiness to bear a grudge. Many things my cousin and friend understood; but what she could not understand she would not condone nor make allowance for.

But such thoughts were far from me when we eventually reached the house of her friend, and to the hostess' greetings I returned automatic, unconscious responses. Until the courtesies had been exchanged, the protocol preserved, and stretching my lips in a dead smile I asked: "Is Findekáno already here?"

She pointed a direction, and I followed it, gathering a chalice from a tray, sipping the wine and tasting nothing on my tongue. Findekáno was talking to the host; and when he turned to greet me, he was alone.

"A pleasure seeing you, Silmë. Together with my greeting I bear Maitimo's excuses."

"I do not understand you, cousin."

"An urgent message from his mother's kin. Nothing worrying, and he'll be back in two days. For this evening, again I have the pleasure of your company for myself alone…"

What did I say to Fino to excuse myself? Which words could I find at the bottom of a throat that was parchment and dried earth? Or did I leave him alone in silence, my eyes far from him, not seeing him anymore? To such questions I have no answer; nor do I remember where I left my chalice, or if I drank the wine to its last drop. I wandered away from the guests into a garden that was too small, too open to hide my sorrow; and like one that has abandoned this world and its toils for the Halls where all is peace, I sat looking nowhere, my hands gathered composedly into my lap.

When I tried to listen to my heart, I found only beaten ash.

It was there that Artanis found me, a long time later when she realized what had come to pass; when the absence and the conscience of my pain uprooted her mistrust for a moment, and she came looking for me bearing wine and cake as if nothing had happened, and we were still Elflings playing to be already grown to a world of responsibility and great concerns.

Wine and cake. It had started from a morning that had tasted of that; and it seemed fit that the same flavour, however embittered, should accompany this moment.

She sat by me in silence, laying plate and cup aside, asking nothing, waiting for my words to pour out, and my sorrow to speak. She did not lie to me, she did not try to console me with an untruth. When my words did not come, she spoke with a voice that was flat and cold, the facts that remain at the bottom when all dreams have been taken away, and cast aside.

"You will not wait a day more."

"No. I shall not force out of him in an hour of haste what a season of leisure could not bear to fruit."

"And yet you shall grieve."

"That I cannot help. I watched the plant of my joy grow, Artanis. Seeing it wither I pay a high price for its brief flowering."

In the silence that followed I perceived her tension, the violence she did to herself to utter the words she spoke next. As I lost Maitimo, she saw the shadow withdrawing, however small the space it yielded. But those whom she understood, Artanis suffered with; and she had known me too long not to understand me now. So in a voice that was hard and thin, the bone and tendon of words that speak even when they do not wish to, she said: "You could write to him."

"That I will do. But it is far too late."

***

Write I did. It was still early when I abandoned the reception, taking my leave with distracted words I forgot the moment I pronounced them; and I walked home in a silence that was the broken child of the expectation of my coming. By my side, Artanis kicked the hem of her gown, her face severe.

When we arrived home she left me alone in the room we shared, calling a messenger while I took a sheet of paper, a sharpened pen, and buried without rereading my stillborn love in a message that was as dry as my spirit in that silvery evening that held no splendor to my eyes.

My lord Maitimo,

the time of joy is the one that runs the quicker, and the end of the race comes unexpected and sudden. Two days from now I shall leave for Valmar, in my heart the memory of this season a precious and an unforgotten thing. To you goes my gratitude for the brilliance of the hours we have spent together; a memory that no distance can erase. And yet painful is the farewell, and bitter the thought of not delivering it in person. Still, such is the way this farewell has come; and before its sadness mars even our memory, I take my leave.
I remain,

Yours

Silmë

Beneath the seal I crushed what remained of my hope. I gave the envelope to the messenger, and went to sleep. I did not dream nor wake up until the next day, when the full power of Laurelin had already begun to wane. And yet, while I stood up, before me the empty bags to be filled for the next day, I felt that I had slept far too little.

***

Packing after a long visit is like tidily undoing the fabric of the days we spent. We throw away the papers, the flowers, the ribbons that were once precious; and what we bring back home is but what we brought from it, only sadder, blighted, a witness to something that we are bound to regret. But that we could not help abandoning.

The house was quiet that day, in the air the aftertaste of disappointment. Arafinwë made excuses and left for an important dinner with his wife, and I urged Findaráto and Artanis not to remain home. They had been invited to a reception I no longer cared for. Respecting my wish, they left. My bags ready, my hair loose, I sought the peace of the saloon, its wide glass doors thrown open on the garden; there Aikanár reached me, and together, our gestures tired in the excessive warmth of a glorious afternoon that slid unwillingly towards the mingling of the lights, we played draughts countless times waiting for the endless count of that day to end.

When we heard the knocking on the door, the prolonged sound of a call that would not be refused, I barely lifted my head, already too far in thought from Tirion to wonder. Some friend who had come to claim my cousin, no doubt. The Noldor can be impetuous, I have said that.

Aikanár rose to answer and I turned towards the garden, my eyes taking in the well known trees, the bushes, the path that had brought me to joy not so long before…but too long now. Too far, too late. I closed my eyes, and thought of home.

"Silmë."

Not a question. A statement. A voice I would answer had it been calling through fire and storm.

"Maitimo."

Dead hope that is reborn makes no sound. It does not wish to be deceived twice. Biding its time, it watches the events unfold, a suspicious light in its eyes.

Leaving the house behind we walked together towards the garden, our road already chosen by our feet. We did not speak. There was nothing in us of those whom, sumptuously dressed, had taken the same path a season before.

I was barefoot, my pantobles forgotten beneath my seat in the saloon. My loose hair fell untidily on my simple dress. Maitimo's shoes were stained with dust, the same fine grains clinging to his tunic, dimming its subdued reddish brown. Clothes to travel in. His hair escaped the braid that had hastily bound it, it spread in cloudy locks over his shoulders.

When we reached the pond we did not speak, nor did I sit on my accustomed bench. No courage in that moment, no fear. Only this wait. When he spoke, it was in a passionless voice.

"I overrode two horses to arrive in time."

Raising my eyes, finding his green stare.

"I am grateful you did."

"I have not come to say farewell."

"I cannot stay any longer."

"You cannot, or you will not?"

The fire. It burnt low, but it was there, it was in the tension of his shoulders as he bent over me, it was in his contracted face as I answered: "What would my lord wish of me that I have not already given?"

"Don't play, Silmë. Do not."

"No. I do not play. I only leave, because I have to; the time for playing is over."

"Shall this then be the end?"

"It is with you that the answers lies, not me."

So many words we waste, talking of truth. And yet it is so easy to tell, it slips off the tongue, like something of no importance. It hurts. But when we have renounced all comfortable lies, it is easy to find, because it is all that remains.

Maitimo looked at me, and the edge in his eyes cut me. The abyss, again. And this time I would look into it, or be swallowed whole.

"You do not know what you are asking for."

"I ask for nothing more than for a decision to be made. We had a season; now we will stand together, and put roots, or be swept away in different directions, as if we had never met."

"You saw the bitterness, you saw the sorrow. You saw it in me and in Artanis, and my uncle's gentleness cannot hide his own wounds. Mine is not a family that it is easy to be part of."

"Once you said my spirit blazed. I do not fear this, only the waste." I looked elsewhere, and my life stood before my eyes as clear as crystal. And as empty. "This seed was planted in me once. It shall not be born again."

"Can't you guess that for me it is the same? And yet I look at you, Silmë, and see a light that I do not wish to blight, that I cannot bear to dim. It was sweet to see by it for a while; but what my blood touches, it ruins."

"I do not care!" The words cut my mouth, my controlled despair broke its dam: "Look at me, Maitimo! Mine is the choice. Look at me, and forget the rest. Look at me, and tell me what is it that you ask of me now."

Words like knives, words like wind. Eyes that sought mine, and a hand that rose to touch my face. Reluctantly, until my fingers found it, and entwined with its own.

"Alcániel…"

Reasoned choices, choices unthought of. And the truth that slips off the tongue, as simple as the light.

"Remain. Not for a day, not for a season. For the eternity of the Eldar, remain with me."

Broken paths that eventually meet.

I let him embrace me, and his fire did not burn.


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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