Epilogue: Out of Mandos
The Lady of the Golden Flower awakened as her Lord wrapped his warm body around her, his kisses warm and soft on her neck and face.
“Mmm… what time is it?” she whispered, eyes still shut, as she responded with sleepy contentment to his kisses.
“Time for this...” he murmured, burrowing beneath the bedsheets. She gave a throaty chuckle and sighs of rapture as he worked his way down her body… then opened her eyes and saw the snow-clad mountain peaks framed by their large bedchamber window. Already the mountain tops were golden, catching fire in the morning sun.
“Balls of Aulë!” she swore as her amorous mood evaporated. She almost kneed him in the chest as she sat up suddenly. “Why did you not wake me earlier?”
“You were having such lovely dreams,” sighed her beloved in disappointment. His face peered at her from under mussed golden hair and a tangle of silken bedsheets.
“The day is already bright!” She struggled to unwind herself from the voluminous bedsheets and pillows piled on the bed.
“So what if it is? Why do you even need to go the forge today?” he said.
“I was to meet Eneldur to discuss some designs… the lamps for Meren Calameneldë.”
“Send him a message. Let us stay in,” he coaxed her. “I have no urgent matters to attend to today, no petitions or disputes to settle. No business except my lady’s pleasure.”
She sighed, her shoulders relaxed, and she sat on the edge of the bed. He sat by her.
“You have been here almost a month,” he said gently. “Why do you creep out by a side door to Rauco’s House each day before the sun rises, and sneak back after the sun sets? Have the Alcarim not welcomed you as their guest at many a feast and royal occasion?” That amounted to thousands of visits over the millennium they had been in Aman. “You hide. You bury yourself in the bowels of the House of the Hammer each day to avoid the people of my House—your House, now—and to avoid the Alcarim in the streets—”
“They tolerated me as a guest. That does not mean they welcome me as an inhabitant.”
He sighed. “These are but your fears and imaginings at work. You read coldness or judgement where there is none. Since we arrived here, I have watched those around you with the eyes of a hawk, and seen naught in their faces but acceptance and hospitality. Lay down this needless guilt of yours once and for all. Many in this House have been asking after you, melmenya. The gardeners wish to create a Lady’s Garden for you—”
She cut him off with a rude snort, but her eyes were shining soft as she smiled wryly. “A Lady’s Garden. Am I to sit there doing dainty needlework, or playing a harp?”
“You could read and sketch your designs there. We could even spar and practice archery there! Come, melmenya. The kitchen and the stables, the weavers and musicians, the librarians and housekeepers and herbalists are waiting for you to meet with them. Arman and I have advised them on your favourite things. They are anxious to make you feel welcome. To make this a home for you.”
She made much of heaving a huge sigh. “If I must, I must. The Lady of the Golden Flower shall do her duty to her people. Damn, what shall I wear? I have not donned a dress since I arrived.”
But at the end of the long tour of the House of the Golden Flower that followed, Glorfindel thought she had almost enjoyed herself.
Arman had served well for almost a millennium as the Lord of the Golden Flower, at the end of which his fëa’s longing for the forest had re-awakened. As his lady, the daughter of the Tree, also wished it, they had departed for the elm woods of Alalminórë to join Thingol and Melian’s court. Thus had Glorfindel at long last re-assumed the leadership of his House. On the way to Alcarinos, however, Maeglin’s nerve had failed her. A detour to the Halls of Aulë had followed, and she had remained there for the next decade, absorbed in craft, whilst Glorfindel went ahead to Alcarinos.
Mirimë, who had assumed her mother-name once she came of age, spent half her time in Oromë’s woods, and half her time in Tirion. She was fast friends with Rasco the hunter, who had departed Alcarinos for the south shortly after Arman came to Alcarinos. But it was to Galdor’s grandson Almion she was betrothed, for the two elflings had loved each other from the moment they first met at Argon’s wedding.
And as for Aryo, after a few centuries with the House of the Hammer he had headed north to Formenos. He was now one of Celebrimbor’s trusted smiths, and the creator of many exquisite and ingenious works there.
But each night he returns to the elusive shaping of a palantír. A palantír like no other, which could pierce the veils that separate Aman from the mortal lands, and watch the histories of Ennor unfold.
But let us leave the living for a while, and visit the Halls of Mandos. There, a fëa in the halls of history is watching the story of a traitor continue to unfold.
Námo quietly comes to the side of this fëa, and they watch in silence as a black-haired nís radiant in robes of green and gold walks arm-in-arm with her lord through the House of the Golden Flower, graciously greeting her people. They watch her in the forges of the House of the Hammer, as she shapes metal on her anvil, her face rapt in concentration. Watch as she visits her children. As she hunts the woods with her mother, both dressed in white. As she has another fierce quarrel with her stiff-necked father, then reconciles with him yet again. As she travels the wild lands of Aman at the side of her golden-haired love, and they swim in waterfall pools and fly on the backs of eagles.
“A fair enough outcome to a foul trick,” says the fëa at last to the Lord of the Dead. “Is this what you have planned for me? I might find my way sooner to a fiery chasm if you do.”
“Fear not, ’tis not as a nís you shall return to Aman…”
“And for that I should be grateful? Why need I return at all?”
“You are not happy here.”
“Who can be happy with unlife? But in life there is… so much pain.”
“And joy, and glory, and purpose, and love. You have forgotten the taste of these. But they can be yours again.”
There comes a small sound that is a soul’s sigh. And whether it is from yearning or resignation, I could not say.
“I should be grateful, I suppose, to be granted the courtesy of a conference and a choice. Very well. Yes.”
“That is well, child. That is well.”
“What of my brothers?”
“The twins will go with you.”
“And the others?”
A ghost of a smile flits across the vala’s face.
Across the ocean, the ages of men have passed, and kingdoms have risen and fallen.
Far north in the Iron Mountains, a hunter was returning to his caves without kill. It was no great matter. They would not be hungry for another week. It was a land harsher than Himring had been, though not as cold. They had dwelled south in fortresses of wood and stone a millennium before, but the atani had grown too numerous, and their wars had raged through the land till the quendi were driven into deep wood and cave. There were only a dozen of them left of their tribe. His tribe. He had long ceased to think of himself as one of the strange Lachend, for the flame of his eyes had dulled. The hunter lifted his head and looked at the stars above the black shadows of great firs and pines. And in his mind he heard their names in the musical tongue he had not spoken for ten thousand years. Sorontar, King of Eagles… Alqua the Swan… Angulócë the Serpent… Quingamo the Archer…
No, they did not speak it anymore, the tongue of the Lachend. Not even among themselves. Theirs now was the tongue of the moriquendi, the tongue of his black-eyed mate.
He thought it was the newborn of a mountain cat when he heard it. A faint, tiny mewing through the wind in the firs. He picked his way lightly towards it, and froze with disbelief when he saw it—a tiny babe, newborn and naked, lying in the needles beneath a clump of black firs.
He picked it up gently, and with awe. Saw the tiny pointed pink ears, the fuzz of raven hair, and the sheen of the silver eyes in the red, crumpled tiny face.
There had not been an elven birth he had heard of for four thousand years. He looked about with his keen hunter senses for traces, foot prints, scents. And found naught. A babe, still wet, as though just dropped from the womb, and all about it, no trace of man nor elf nor any other creature. He shivered.
Quickly, he wrapped the babe in his cloak, and hurried back to his cave.
The guards stared entranced at the prisoner in the windowless cell. It was a small cell, dwarf-sized. There was the sound of water flowing, a subterranean river rushing to meet the waters of the Tawarhir. And song. The prisoner sat unmoving but for his lips, and from them poured a stream of song, a melody so fair and so sorrowful that it spoke of every grief and every loss, every heartbreak and every betrayal and every death since before the sun began. The guards stood with tears flowing down their faces, and wished that it would cease, and prayed that it would not.
They snapped to attention as the clang of a gate announced the arrival of the king.
The Woodland King looked at the bowl of gruel on the floor before the bars of the cell. Untouched. Again.
“You will eat,” he said coldly, “If we have to force your jaws open and pour it down your throat. As before.”
The prisoner was silent. Not a muscle twitched.
“Tomorrow we will feed him.” The king waved his hand, and the guards took the cold gruel away, and left them alone.
Their eyes met, silver and azure.
“I would like to strip you naked, and hang you by your wrists,” said the king, “and flay you till your bones are bared, and feed your entrails to the wolves, and tear out your tongue to silence your song forever. But I will not. Because you might just die. And I will never be as you are… kinslayer.”
The prisoner’s silver eyes gazed back into the king’s azure ones unblinkingly.
“And we do not wish your death, do we? Death is too good for you. The peace of Mandos is too good for you.” The king walked closer to the bars. “You have cursed yourself more than I could. Your song pains you more than muteness would… and yet you cannot but sing. Your life pains you more than death… and yet you cannot but live.
“Live then. And I will take from you that which remained to you. Never again to see light of star or sun. Never again to feel the breezes of the forest, or see a flower bloom, or feel the sweet grass beneath your feet. Food you shall have, and water. And may my mercy rot your kinslaying fae more than my wrath ever could.”
The silver eyes did not follow the king as he left. He stared a long while unseeing at the iron bars. Then his lips parted, and the song returned, each note like the welling of a crimson drop of blood.
The blizzard howled around them as the two shivering, naked elflings stumbled through the woods and the blinding snow.
“Where are we?” said the tinier, dark-haired one who looked little older than a baby who had just learned to walk.
“Can’t see. We might be going round in circles,” replied the elder, who was a head taller than the other, and on whose head shone pale silvery-gold locks that had been an eternal mystery to his tribe and his parents ever since his first birth.
“Is this penance for Losgar?” whimpered the younger one.
“At least they had clothes on the Helcaraxë. My puntl is going to freeze off.”
They tripped over a root and landed deep in a snow drift.
“Grab my hand! I’ll pull you out.”
“I can’t! I can’t feel my hands! or my feet,” whined the baby.
“Á puhta,” swore the older child as with a struggle he finally pulled the baby out of the drift. Then through the howl of the wind and the driving snow, he sensed in his fëa a terror near them. And through the snow he saw the shadow loom black, saw the glow of red eyes, and heard even through the wind, the growls.
“I can’t!” sobbed the baby, stumbling through the snow.
The elflings were beyond thought as they ran in sheer terror. If there was anything in their heads, it was strangely a vision of their golden-haired cousin.
Then it was upon them, the nauro, mad red eyes glowing like lava, fangs bared and slavering. The elder child pushed the baby behind him, and waited with dread for the fangs to sink.
But there was the whistling of many arrows, and the nauro fell at the child’s feet, pierced like a porcupine.
A vision of beauty dropped from the trees above, white-gold hair flowing, azure eyes glittering. She drew a great hunting knife, and with a casualness that made the tiny child instantly worship her, sliced open the throat of the monster with one stroke.
Then she looked down at them and regarded them with wide eyes, almost reverentially. “Elflings… there have not been elflings four thousand years,” she murmured musically in Sindarin.
And staring up into her azure eyes, he recognized her. From Doriath. “Oh, muk,” he muttered under his breath. Not that he had killed her, but…
Please, please, Eru, don’t let her recognize me.
She smiled luminously at him. “Where are your parents, little ones?”
“Don’t have any,” he replied in Sindarin.
“I’m hungry,” whimpered the tiny brun in Quenya.
“Shut up,” hissed his brother, elbowing him.
She heard it, of course. Hunter-sharp ears. She did not understand Quenya, but she looked at them intently, without hostility.
“You will have to come with me, then. My name is Teliaris. Teliaris Oropheriel.”
And she held out her still-bloody hand with a smile.
Puntl [Qenya] – penis
Á puhta [Q] – imperative form of “to have coitus”