by Dawn Felagund
The rising city of Tirion still wore its bones outside its body. I'd been squinting at my work for hours uncounted, and my eyes wished to adjust to neither the distance nor the brightness of this new land. But I could see the scaffolding rising to clasp the tower; I could see the crane and its movements, slight and gentle at this distance, and I could infer the scurrying movements of workers upon both, effecting the great symbolic placement of the lamp upon the top of the tower.
"I suppose you don't have to be present at its raising," Finwë had said this morning at breakfast, when I'd announced my plans to go to the shadowy place on the shoulder of the mountain to work, and I knew that the sudden sweetness in his voice cloaked a bewilderment that I would not think to even suggest attendance. But, in truth, I'd forgotten. Every day brought him dashing home, crowing with our people's latest accomplishment: the hill mounded and the streets carved and stones placed and towers raised. It all blurred together, like objects at a distance. And now the lamp, this great glass thing, another point of light in an already refulgent land, as yet darkened except for the natural play of light upon its carefully sculpted surface, raised to the top of a tower. And I was supposed to crick my neck watching it transpire.
My eye caught a dart of light beneath the gentle, bobbing head of the crane. Or at such a distance, maybe it was my imagination.
My head was beginning to hurt. I looked away and back to my work, the embroidery in my lap. There was a vibrant tangle of threads spilling from my work bag, and I'd done the borders in coral and gold, to honor Laurelin, but in the middle, I found myself falling back into comfortable selections of blue and gray, and black for shadows.
Finwë was careful and specific in inviting me to the lighting of the great glass lamp atop the tower he'd secretly and eagerly confided to me would be called Mindon Eldaliéva after his friend Ingwë. Finwë did nothing without eagerness, but he was tentative when he invited me, as though crossing a fast river by way of a slippery and treacherous rock. The slippery, treacherous rock was me. "The lighting will be seven cycles of the Trees from this day," he said. "I would like you to attend?"
He might have sounded authoritative--kingly--if not for the lilt into a question at the end. It was night but there was yet Light: silver Light passing between the drapes he'd opened and giving hard, frosted edges to the wineglasses and bottle still left on the table. We used to both eat and drink from carved wooden bowls. We'd moved into the house--or the palace, as he called it--only a short while ago, on the top of the hill he'd raised. A crate, opened but still packed, spilled straw in one corner; my loom stood in another, a tapestry of the Great Journey half-finished and dulled by the endless white dust of construction. All but the chairs we sat in were humped under cloths woven by the apprentices of Vairë solely for this strange purpose: things made to keep clean other things dirtied in the process of making yet more things. Things unneeded to preserve more unneeded things. Each cloth could have clad four of us in the lands over the sea. Now they kept dust from chairs we'd obtained in such abundance that most were still unsat upon, when once we'd had no chairs and only earth. My head ached to think of it.
I rubbed the bridge of my nose.
Finwë interpreted that as an objection to attending the lighting of the great glass lamp, the Mindon Eldalieva, although I did not intend it as such. "Míriel, you are their queen, it will be expected--"
"You know I prefer not to think of myself that way. I am not the greatest of them." A hesitation, a contemplation, and words like the thrust of a blade between bones to something tender beneath: "Neither are you."
His fingers slid up and down the stem of his wineglass. Up and down, dipping in and out of the silver Light.
"I do not object to attending," I assured him, meaning reassurance, but he didn't hear that. He nodded.
The next morning, I regretted the inadvertent hurt I caused him. It was the pain: My headaches were fierce here. Unlike the others, I had not adapted: to the vast and empty spaces, to the arching starless sky, to the Light. It was hard to explain to him, who was not the best but was certainly the bravest of our people, who bled more than once on the Great Journey and simply bound his wounds and onward went without complaint.
"I don't understand what you mean by 'headache,'" he told me once. "Like you hit your head? Shall I cut some ice for you?"
I never excused myself with such again.
So I walked with him at the worksite of the Mindon Eldaliéva without being asked. It was hard to imagine such a place ready for a ceremony in only six cycles of the Trees. The area at its base was littered with construction implements. The scaffolding teetered high above us. White dust covered everything; I trailed my fingertips along a sawhorse and they came away powdered with the dust of pulverized stone. There was something that glittered in the dust, poignant scintillations in the interminable Light. Even the dust here did not soften and dull things but flashed and sparked, an excess upon excess of Light.
Pounding feet down a ladder on the scaffolding showered me with a light fall of the same dust. Finwë was talking to a engineer, unfurling plans and pointing and gesturing at the page, then at the sky, then at the page. I remembered her from the journey, making a shelter from branches and reeds for a woman in childbirth. Hammerfalls rang upon a chisel; the graceful curves of a woman's body emerged from pale stone. Vines flourished from her hand: Yavanna. I squinted up at the tower. It was tall enough that its top was concealed from such a vantage point. Manwë, I am sure, embraced the lamp there.
The Light was deepening into the gold of Laurelin's zenith. Sweat crawled down my spine. I looked with longing at the shadow of the tower and its relative coolness. The deep places of the forest summoned me in the thrumming weariness I felt, weariness for heat and, yes, Light. I touched Finwë's arm.
He turned. Concern was etched on his face but melted away as he lifted a hand and brushed the backs of his fingers along the fall of my hair. "The Light on the dust in the silver of your hair!" he exclaimed, and fell breathless. "You are like Varda! You are beautiful."
Finwë was my joy there. Finwë and my work.
I did know joy. I forgot at times that I did. I embroidered in gray, like colors still did not exist to me. I was at first astounded by them, by the skeins of thread presented to me by Vairë's apprentices when the Valië heard that the wife of the Noldorin king was a seamstress and a weaver in the awkward sense that we understood those terms in the Outer Lands. I was suddenly alive to the possibilities, to gold and red and violet and green. But my work always turned to gray, in the subtle shadings by which beauty was understood by one who knew only the light of stars. Even in a world afflicted by color at every turn, too much color looked false.
Not to Finwë. He delighted in the vibrant embroidery on the hems of his tunics, the more vivid the better: pink and orange with turquoise stars. "I always believed in the colors," he said. "I could sense them beneath the gray."
Oromë had told us of them when we were still at Cuiviénen and still knew the world only in shades of blue and gray: told the Noldor who would be moved by the possibility of creation in a dimension we'd yet to consider. Indeed, many shifted forward in their seats, Finwë--he was not my husband then, only once or twice a lover; we did not yet have husbands--among them. I spoke rarely, but I spoke then: "We know of colors," I said. "We see them in the firelight."
"But the colors beneath the Trees are like nothing you've imagined," said Oromë, gesturing expansively, as though he summoned the full splendor of a rainbow to arch over him. But there was only the stars, ever-watching.
I let Finwë into my bower that night. Alone, I lived in the shelter of a branch so laden with foliage that it brushed the earth. "I would love to see you clad in the colors he mentioned," Finwë told me, "adorned in flowers, in every color imaginable." Finwë always intimated something larger between us, but I believed he was probably like that with everyone, and I knew he never slept alone. Even before he saw Valinor, he was bright-eyed and eager to please. In my bower, beneath the touch of his hands, I believed that the world tilted along with me at its center. He was an attentive lover, as though he enjoyed my pleasure as much as his own. When he departed, I felt adrift.
I confess that I sought to bring him into my company in the days that followed and then the Great Journey. I was often at his elbow, my quick mind and rapid, quiet voice delivering solutions to our problems. With more consideration, we might have fared better, but I would not have turned his head and attracted his notice, much less his admiration. And we all arrived at the Sea, more or less intact.
That was where he asked me to marry him.
He and Ingwë spent the day with Ulmo. I could see them, seated on the rocks with their arms wrapping their folded knees, like children hearing a story. And maybe they were. Ulmo told us much of the great deeds of his people and the war they fought for our preservation. But when they returned, shoulder to shoulder and faces inclined to the other, whispering the half-formed phrases of one who knows the other's mind, they abruptly split. I watched Ingwë gather up the golden, lovely maiden who had captured his eye of late, and he led her away.
Finwë came to me and rocked on his feet and talked about the Sea for a long while before he asked me. And I was bewildered.
What is this thing? Marriage? Sovereignty? I was bewildered, understanding neither thing he wanted of me, and he struggled to explain. Whatever understanding Ulmo had given him had not penetrated deeply.
"How can I govern another?" I asked. "I know so little. I stitch our clothing and make things lovely when I can, but how could I instruct another in fishing? Or making shelter--or even fire!--or cooking food, or carving stones, or scribing letters--"
"It is not like that." He ran his hand through his hair. "It made great sense when Ulmo explained it."
"But it is not the way of things! All roots in the forest mingle, and even here at the Sea, all fish swim in the same water."
"It is though, Þerindë. The eagle is above the mouse--"
"The eagle eats the mouse. And at the top of them all? Isn't that the Dark One whom your Shining Ones took away?"
He sighed and looked out at the Sea. For a long while, he was silent, and I was convinced that I'd mastered the arguments of Ulmo by reminding him of the ways of the world: the ways he could see would he turn away from that Light in the West and toward what lay before him. And perhaps I had, but when he turned back and spoke at last, with uncharacteristic exhaustion shading his voice, he said, "It may be, Þerindë, but what Ulmo said made sense. It is hard to say now because I have just learned it myself. It is like any new skill and needs mastery before it can be taught. But it made sense enough … I accepted. I accepted the kingship of our people. And I need a wife. A queen. And … I'd like it to be you."
And so it was. If I were to remain at his side, I'd have to consent to these things: this marriage, this sovereignty. I'd have to trust in the Shining Ones he so openly adored but I mistrusted in the way of our people to always tread lightly near any new thing, people who had learned much by pain before the Shining Ones took notice of us. And suddenly my heart was full of love for Finwë. It was a sudden, desperate love borne of the realization that he could be taken from me. If I did not consent, he would pass across the Sea and become a king in this land of Light and color, he'd become the husband of another, and I'd remain here, and I'd be joyless, and alone.
So I'd stepped onto the island with him and stood steady as it was unmoored, and I watched the land of our awakening diminish behind us into it was only an inky stripe on the horizon, then gone, leaving only the Sea around us. Finwë and Ingwë were always busy, for the journey would be long. Finwë hewed wood and gathered stone to build us shelters, and Ingwë guided his people in the growing of food. Ulmo had gifted me with fabric and thread, so I was far from idle, although neither was I particularly useful. There was a long, smooth rock that thrust like a thumb into the Sea, and I would sit upon that, where the starlight was uninterrupted by trees and I was unbothered by my people, busy building the village inland, and I'd embroider my memories of the land I'd left behind. As though, in the burning Light of the Blessed Realm before me, I might one day forget the fine texture of shadow.
There was Finwë amid many others, some of them left behind. There was my bower with the heavy branches. There was the flat beach on the lake where we made fires. There was the stone where Rúmil carved our stories; in that way, I became the first to render his Sarati in embroidery. There was the place where my sister was taken. There was the path Oromë opened where we commenced the Great Journey, the underbrush peeling aside like it shied from us. The mountains like the teeth of beasts, occluding the stars before us. The people who stayed. The back of Elwë as I saw him going into the forest, never to return. Finwë clasping his knees and listening to Ulmo. The Sea. And all of it--joyful and fearful and sad--scattered with stars.
I don't know when I first became aware of her, or even how--perhaps as a slapping of water on my rock that sounded like a summons. Or a reproach. Or a trickle of commiseration when I stabbed my finger with my bone needle.
Then my name, Þerindë, soughing in the waves.
Then fingers of seagrass on my rock and, when I looked closer, upon the water like a woman's hair as she reclined to bathe. The starlight silvered the crests of the waves. Two points lay beneath the water. I looked heavenward, expecting perhaps a pair of the overbright wayward stars that sometimes traversed half the sky before dipping back the way they came, but nothing was there, only the path where Varda had drawn her hand, thick with stars. The points lay in the water like a pair of silvery eyes in the brush. I set my work aside and reached into the water.
And she was there.
Leaning on her forearms on my rock, her hair dark and wet and mantling her shoulders. Her small breasts were bared, her skin was as brown as the weeds that washed ashore. Her slender waist ended nowhere that I could see beneath the water. "Þerindë," she said. "You are the queen I have heard tell of, the nimble-fingered, clever, and outspoken queen, are you not?"
"I am Þerindë," I said, "and I am the things you said, but I am no queen."
She dipped her mouth against her arm as though to hide laughter. "You are exactly as they say. I am Uinen."
"As who says?"
"Ulmo and Ossë. They say you are easy in accepting nothing."
"I do not know how they would draw such a conclusion. I've spoken with neither of them." It was true. Many of my people--especially among the late-born Nelyar--had conversed often with the men of the waters. Some of their women, I recalled, had made mention of Uinen. But I'd learned swiftly, while yet at Cuiviénen, that to countermand one of the Ainur had the opposite effect of persuasion and, instead, encouraged my hearers to stubbornness and resentment. I'd listened at times to Ulmo's stories--we all had--and Finwë spoke often to both of them--though never Uinen, as far as I knew--but I had kept to my place and my work and my silence.
"Nonetheless, your reputation precedes you, Þerindë," she said. Water lapped suddenly and soaked the edge of the fabric I'd been embroidering. Her eyes glided shut with the motion of a wave receding and her head tipped back as though savoring something. "Your work is very fine," she added after a moment. "That was true as well. Vairë will rejoice to receive you."
"Finwë has not mentioned you," I said.
Ducking behind her arm, her eyes lighting with the sudden reflection of stars. "Because I only speak to women."
I opened my mouth to ask why, but with a curling wave that leaped against the rock and into a spray of silvered droplets, she was gone.
Yet she returned, most days that I worked upon my rock, and over time, I came to look forward to her company. Unlike Ulmo, she did not captivate my attention with stories but with her frankness and her wisdom.
"You will be bewildered there." It was perhaps our third meeting. "They did not tell you this, when they summoned you thence."
Her words startled me, but I forced myself to keep my hand moving through the stitches, briskly and evenly. "I am to be queen, am I not?" I challenged her. "Is not the land partly mine to shape?"
She bit her wrist as though to suppress laughter. "Oh, Þerindë. You go into a world that they have made. There are no queens and kings, not in nature--of that you spoke truly to Finwë. Only Ilúvatar--and they used His supremacy as a pretense to crown Manwë, but Manwë is no more the best of us than Finwë is the best of your people, or you. In some ways he is. In others, he is utterly bereft. There are things he is incapable of knowing that Ossë and I understand in our depths. Like evil. We understand that hunger swiftly becomes cruelty, and that the One made us with that need so that we might fight when needed to survive; we understand how he whom you call the Dark One could come to be. Yet we are not king and queen, though there may yet come a time when what we know will prove of greater value than Manwë's farsight.
"It will bewilder you, this land they have made. It will be like nothing you have ever known, and they will hem you with their laws that you will mislike and will not understand. But you are their queen. You have the nature of a woman. You must provide the constancy; you must not forget what you have learned of Endórë. Though you were snatched away too soon, you learned much of that land. And do not forget what you have learned of the Sea, and of me. And do not forget the beauty of shadows and stars. Your husband will be a good king to your people, but it is by you only that your people will not forsake Endórë and the lessons they once knew."
She tucked her lips against her arm again, but this time, it did not suppress laughter. My quick, even stitches had faltered. The tip of the bone needle stuck into the fabric, but I'd yet to push it through. Our gazes locked and held for a long moment, and I recalled the anger of Ossë on the day we departed, and I recalled the constancy of most of our journey. I only speak to women. My mind suddenly teemed with questions. My lips parted. But a wavelet cast itself against the rock, shattering into one thousand droplets, bright then gone.
Finwë was full of chatter that night at supper, after we went to see the worksite of the Mindon Eldaliéva. He leaned forward and close to his plate, and spoke around his food as he'd been counseled not to do by the Maiar who'd come to teach us the ways and customs of sovereignty. It was heady to listen to him, as he built his city of Tirion in words and imagination. I caught myself leaning forward too and nodding. That sensation I'd thought I'd left behind in the Outer Lands--that certainty that his eyes rested ever on the center of the world, and I stood upon it--returned to me. My pain dispersed, and my bewilderment ceased. I stopped him from time to time to ask a question, often to unveil a weakness I sensed in his plan. The streets he'd paved in his mind were unpaved and then laid anew. Towers tumbled and rose in new shapes. The food on our plates went cold, then was taken by an unnoticed servant, as our voices contended far into the night.
His hand reached across the table to clasp mine. "I am so grateful to you, Þerindë. I made the right choice of a queen to our people."
His hopes emerged from his words with the same sharpening as embroidery progresses from a singular splash of color, then acquires shape and shading, and then becomes as the thing it represents, clear and real. "I am no queen," I answered. "But I am glad to be your wife." But my voice lack its usual conviction, even I could hear that. His hand tightened on mine. His eyes laughed.
I went with him to his chamber that night. That was one of the bewildering ways of the Valar in this land they'd made and brought us to: that we maintain separate chambers at opposite sides of the palace, with the king looking toward the Light and the queen toward the Sea. On the Great Journey, I'd awakened often in need and would awaken and rouse him so that it might be alleviated, but now I slept alone, so the need often as not arose no longer. Our first coupling was made frantic by long deprivation. We filled the palace with our shouts and left the bedclothes awry. The second time was slower, a coaxing of each other that extended through the silver hours of the Trees, the kind of simmering pleasure with hands and mouths we hadn't known since Cuiviénen and my bower that bent to the earth. Telperion had dipped into slumber and Laurelin arose, and the half-formed city beneath us slept, when Finwë slid atop me and I twined my legs around his slender waist.
In the Mingling of the Lights, lying in his arms as he slept beside me, the feeling in my belly was suddenly that of a question, often asked and long unanswered. It would whisper to me on the Great Journey, but all of us women turned our faces away and refused to answer then. It is not the way of our people to get with child when we cannot trust safety for the birth. We were justified in our refusal. But now, in the Light and the silence of the night, the question was louder and more pressing.
Uinen's words came to me then: It is by you only that your people will not forsake Endórë and the lessons they once knew. I saw her leaning her forearms on my rock, tilting her head in inquiry.
"Not yet," I whispered and did not know why. There would come a time when I would answer--when I would have no choice but to answer--but not this night. Finwë and I would remain as two separate people; my womb would remain barren. For now. As Laurelin's splendor crept across the night, I slipped from Finwë's arms and back to my own room.
For the next five days, I watched the bones the tower wore outside its body slowly come away. I watched from the shoulder of the mountain and the shadow of the forest, from a place where Light happened elsewhere and apart from me. I kept waiting for the tower to wobble and topple--sometimes I watched so intently that my embroidery went untouched for hours--but it stood: my husband's mark of our people's presence in this land.
As Laurelin receded and I walked home, I passed those of the Vanyar who were already departing, even before my husband did honor to their king in proclaiming the tower he made in his name. They were going to Taniquetil, far above the earth, to learn more of the Valar and forget what we knew of the lands we'd left behind. Finwë had so worried over my attendance at the lamp's lighting, I wondered if he'd neglected to ask the friend he intended to honor.
But come the day of the lamp-lighting, Ingwë was there, and he accepted the naming of the tower after him and had the good graces not to tell my husband then that he would not long live beside him, in the twin palaces Finwë had built, though he would depart for Taniquetil within the year. He did give a speech--a bit overlong, a bit more flowery than the rallying encouragements he'd once launched at us from atop boulders on the journey--that spoke of ascendancy beyond what we might build. That dwarfed the accomplishment of the Mindon even as its light flared forth, new upon the brilliance of Valinor.
I dreamed that night, in my queen's chamber facing east and the Sea, that I climbed the tower, hands and feet finding purchase upon the knees and breasts and shoulders of the carven Valar. They did not clasp me but I used their bodies as I needed to climb. Above me, the blue light of the Mindon spread thin and blue, a screen between me and the stars. When I reached the top, the stone that made all of that light was small, tiny enough to fit where the lines of my palm intersected. I imagined closing my hand upon it and watching the light spear out from between my fingers.
I turned east. I wanted to see the light on the leaping waves of the Sea. I wanted to tease apart the shades of darkness on shadowy water and descry strands of slick hair, starlit eyes, a laughing mouth hidden behind a kelp-brown arm. Clinging to the hand of Manwë, backlit by the tiny blue stone, in my dream I spoke to her and said, "You were right."
But then my grip failed. Where was stone was only air. Bewildered, I fell.
About the Author
Dawn Felagund founded the Silmarillion Writers' Guild in 2005, which was the same year that she decided to start publishing Silmarillion fan fiction. Despite being profoundly unqualified to take on a project the scope of the SWG, it seems to have turned out okay in the end. All of Dawn's stories (except the few she's still too embarrassed to bring out of hiding on her LiveJournal) can be found on the SWG, and her Tolkien meta can be found on The Heretic Loremaster. Follow her on Tumblr or Twitter for the more half-baked stuff. Dawn will turn thirty-six the day after The Silmarillion turns forty, teaches humanities to tweens, and lives in a place called the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont.