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Akallabeth in August
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But Ilúvatar showed forth his power, and he changed the fashion of the world. And those that sailed furthest set but a girdle about the Earth and returned weary at last to the place of their beginning; and they said:

'All roads are now bent.'

Bedtime Tales of the Sun

Dawn Felagund

There was once a small maid in the rough-hewn courts of Anárion, in the early days of that people's tenure in Middle-earth, who would escape from her nursemaid to the place where a pear tree grew unto a low wall already decaying into the sea. If she climbed into the utmost branches--those that bowed and swayed perilously with her weight--and stretched her neck like a heron, then she could see the waves battering the shore and the sea that stretched behind it like an up-turned plate of battered steel.

This grieved the nursemaid direly for she was of the age even of Tar-Míriel and the two had been companions in early youth, parting only when Tar-Míriel had gone to the palace and bedchamber of the King and her companion to serve the new-born sons of Andunie. But age was upon her now, especially in these colder climes less kind with the weight of years pressing her bones, and she puffed into the court like a winded dragon and had to fetch a stableboy to extract the little maid from the top of the tree.

But when punishment was meted, the girl's grin remained so wide as to show the first tooth missing on the bottom and the spots of color would not blanch from her face. "The world is as an overturned tin," she exhaled, even as the nursemaid spun her by the shoulder to receive her smarting, "with a curve just like it. Why is it so?"

This was her favorite refrain--Why is it so? Why is it so? Why is it so?--and it would have driven the nursemaid to distraction but for the fact that it had ever been so with the maids of Númenor, that their hearts were stirred to lust, not for power, but for knowing.

So the nursemaid gathered the girl onto her broad knee and sang,

Eru made the world as a paper flat
And drew upon it, this and that:
Mosses, flowers, trees tow'ring tall--
What's in your sight, Eru made it all--
Deserts, forests, mountains and sea,
Beasts and folk like you and me.
We capered upon His parchment page
And spelled the stories of our days.
But by Ar-Pharazôn foul ends pursued
And our world Eru nearly did undo.
Crushed in His fist like a ball of clay,
To toss like rubbish thrown away.
But He was struck with a sudden qualm
And looked to see the world upon His palm,
A small round fruit, not wholly rotten yet,
To where He could discard it and forget.
And His people yet laughed and capered
Their stories out upon the paper.
So He set the world in stars abound
Once paper-flat and now made round.

And the girl had her answer and was, for the moment, content.

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But the world wheeled round the sun and the girl grew until she was as haughty as the maidens carved onto the prows of ships, with her hair thrown back into the wind and her lips unable to creep beyond a smirk and into a smile. She was of marriageble age, and it was midsummer, and she would have done with the white silk garment required on such a day and feel only the weight of the sunlight on her skin. But the old nursemaid squatted beneath a tree, leaning on her stick and panting through her mouth, and she would not have it.

The girl often looked to the horizon for she was of seafarer's blood and where the curve of the earth--the overturned tin plate she recalled from her youth--slipped away at the edges of her vision, sea blurring into sky, she felt a deep longing--not that of heart and loins, though she knew that too--but a gathering of the legs as though to spring her forth and carry her for leagues and leagues and leagues, until she came to know what lay where sky became sea.

"Nothing lies there," the nursemaid had chided in her voice grown overloud and ragged with age, when once the girl had dared confide in her that longing. "The world is gone round and to go hither or thither in any direction, keep a straight course and you will come back to your origin and stand just so. And so it goes." And she sighed with the memory of forgotten days, when in bedtime tales ships could tip over the edge of the world and fall endlessly between the stars.

The girl burned at the thought of the world rounded, with the fire of some injustice that she could not articulate, only that she found herself on this day, on midsummer, gazing at the sun and at Arien with some unspoken regret. "What of rest for you?" she whispered. "What of slumber beneath the earth and in the cooling Vai with the world round and no place to go?"

"What, girl?" called the nursemaid, but the girl shook her head and turned heavily from the horizon, and a song kindled in her thought that expanded across her days until she was wed and became a woman, and it was finished: a kernel that lay inside of her, unto the heart, awaiting the birth of a daughter to whom it could be sung.

In her dreams, there was Arien, the steerswoman of the sun, standing upright as a reed at the helm with her gown and her hair streaming back as light; there was a high arching course and the perils of the playful winds that sought to capsize her and the twisted routes amid the stars that envied her and, by day's end, she stood at the furthest shore of the world and let the Outer Sea drift up and over the tops of her feet, a touch no more substantial than a bitter breath:

Weary, at the day's conclusion,
Arien rests at the verge of Vai
Until passing forward slowly
Her gown as a satin light does lie
Upon the surface of the water
As she drifts down and down and down
While the thin waters of the Outer Sea
Wrap her like a silken shroud.
She drifts down and down and into dreams
With a sigh, freed of despair,
Bubbles of light swirl to the sky
And burst as sparks upon the air.
Drifting, drifting, down and down,
Her light stirred by Vai's gentle play
Buoyed by Vai's heavy airs
Till touching bottom--
    She awakes.
For she must yet pass, west to east,
To rise from the slumb'ring world at dawn.
The sands beneath her feet are fallen stars;
At her right, a cavern yawns.
The stars ring out as she shifts her feet,
With tender mewls of the forsaken.
She crouches, hesitates, squeezes forth,
For it's a perilous road she's taking.
Rock scrapes her shoulders made tight and small,
As behind her burnished light streams,
Tossed and turning at the whim of Vai,
Like a ribbon upon the breeze.
Inching through the caverns beneath the world
Upon her elbows and her knees,
While clods of soil drip and drop
From the writhing roots of giant trees.
Spiders drip and filaments slip
To tickle across her face,
And she catches her breath
    - and pauses -
Waiting for the bolt of numbing pain.
Then inching, inching down and down
As the roofs ever still decline
Till a slender maid in a straw of light
Bears the world's weight upon her spine
Until for a single moment pauses--
For scarcely can breath she draw in--
Then inching forth her elbow
The stream of light surges forth again.
Inching, inching, on and on
Through the long hours of the night
Till forth from the tunnel sudden light blazes
And she emerges to stand upright.
In the world above, restless sleepers toss
As the midnight bell sharply tolls,
While in the secret dark near Arda's heart
Dawn emerges in the deep places of the world.
In a high-ceiling chamber she passes
Amid the abortive wrecks of the Gods' plans:
Fleshless skeletons and wrecked machines,
The air still loud with echoing commands,
While dancing shadows long and strange
Are cast by the light-stepped maiden as she goes,
Her mind shut tight against nightmarish sights
Waiting to swallow her if she slows.
She ducks back into the passageway
And the closing dark is a relief.
Squirming through toward the Gates of Morn,
A bell overhead chimes thrice in its grief.
Many a sleepless dreamer
Lies anxiously abed.
As the dawning hour creeps nearer and nearer,
He is stricken with nameless dread.
Maidens wait in temples in the desert
Holding 'neath their tongues the matins song
Watching, anxiously, the eastern sky
For silvering that means morning to come ere long.
While beneath the world a single maiden labors,
Yet dragging her train of light,
Ever-wearying, slower and slower,
Then stopping. The world in perpetual night
Watches for the stars to dim.
The milkmaids and the bakers' boys wait
As light pushes o'er the world's rim.
Uncheered, unsung goes the meniscus of fire
As the world's folk resume their chores,
But wrenched free of Vai and the world's dark heart
Arien sails into the West once more.

"So she never had much rest anyway. Did she?"

The impertinent voice of the little girl ends her mother's song like the snick of scissors. The woman--no longer a maiden, no longer haughty and wont to dare the tops of trees or the midsummer heat on unclad skin--meets her daughter's words with startled eyes. "No, I suppose ..." Yet that nightly journey on the underside of the world to emerge each day in a true morning--the woman felt the old gathering in her legs, the desire to leap for the horizon and arrive somewhere, not to simply return where she had been, again and again and again.

From the courtyards below the balcony, the servants sing along with their morning chores.

Sweep! Scrub! Milk and churn!
Spin and weave and mend!
Make the beds and cook the feast
And then begin again!

There was a sudden weight upon the woman's back, so forceful that her proud shoulders might have bowed with it. She might have had the world upon her back, as once had Arien, but when she looked up, there was only sky.

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