The Golden and the Black

Beginning Again

In that first moment between sleep and dreaming, after a calamity has struck, you wish, you hope, you pray, that you will awaken to find that it was, after all, only a nightmare. That it is not real.

I no longer pray. Not since my petitions were futile and my mother died; not since I begged all the powers that be for mercy, for an end to my torment, and remained condemned to a love that destroyed me.

But I do cling to hope, as I stir to consciousness. Hope that it was a cruel joke of the Vala, and that I am myself again.

I have a body. I am truly no longer in the Halls of the Dead. I feel myself tentatively through the shapeless sleeping gown I am clothed in, and with a curse and a groan I bury my face miserably in the pillow. I continue to mutter heartfelt curses into it until I hear a familiar feminine voice.

“I rejoice to see you awake, mellon. How do you feel now?”

Go away. Leave me alone. Let me die—but that last thought shrivels at the realization that death would mean nothing but another few cosy millennia in Mandos. And probably some new, tasteless Valian joke at the end of it.

I keep silence, but turn my face to glower at the kindly healer standing by my bed.

I think back on the royal healer at Gondolin who, regardless of my status, would have drawled, “My, my, aren’t we chipper this morning, my lord prince?” as he checked on my battle injuries. I had rather liked him for it. This elleth has neither the wit nor the nature for such sarcasm. She continues to smile sweetly, and with a light touch to my brow and my pulse finds out what she seeks to know. She looks pleased.

“Splendid!” And before I can even protest, she has deftly sat me up in bed and fluffed my pillows.

How does she do that?

“I am Thalanes. You have been in my care since your arrival. Are you hungry? I shall get you something to eat.”

And ignoring my angry scowl, she flits away blithely, and returns shortly with a small plate of food and a cup of drink on a tray. “Just a little morsel to refresh you before dinner. I shall send word to Lord Elrond that you are much better.”

And she flits away again.

I eye the plate, and I realize that I am hungry. I try not to look at my slender hands as I butter bread and peel off the orange skin of an unknown fruit. I focus on taste, texture, sensations. The crispness of a salad leaf. The chewiness of warm, soft, bread with a hint of salt. The sweet, warming trickle of wine down my throat. I find myself savouring the food with gratitude, as I never had in another life when eating had been more of an obligation than a pleasure. After several moments, as I stare at the empty plate of what had been very simple fare, I am conscious of having enjoyed it.

I am astonished by this. I feel different. Perhaps I am different.

Feeling refreshed and strengthened, I am curious about everything. I have so many questions. Where? When? What? The name Imladris that I heard the other night means nothing to me.

I look around at the small chamber. I take in the stonework of the walls, the graceful curves and flourishes of the carvings and designs on the cornices, echoed in the carvings on the wood of my bed. There is beauty and elegance, and a certain simplicity. It pleases me. It is nothing like the magnificence of Gondolin’s architecture, but then I had always thought that excessive.

On the wall opposite my bed, two tall windows. Their arches are decorated with similar carvings of flowers and trees. Their stained-glass casements are opened to let in the fresh air of what looks like a warm day in late spring. The soft breeze blowing in brings the fragrance of flowers and beckons to me.

I set my bandaged foot down on the cool stone floor. There is no more pain. I wonder how long I have slept; how long it took for my foot to heal. I walk slowly to the window, feeling a little giddy and unsteady on my feet. I clutch the window sill and look out.

It is late in the afternoon, and the sun is low in the sky. Mountains encircle a green valley—a valley much smaller than the other. Neither are the mountains as high as the Echoriad, where the majestic high peaks had been white with snow all year round. And here, too, are waterfalls; the distant sound of cascading water carries to me on the breeze. At the foot of the mountains are gently rolling hills, and before them orchards and fields through which a river runs, and lush meadows starred with flowers. And I see habitations, and something that looks like a village next to a curve in the river. From here, I can see that the building I am in appears to be part of a grand, sprawling house several floors high, and the healing halls seem to be on the ground floor. I see a couple of towers, and a dome. Below me is a fountain, and beyond it stretch terraces and gardens verdant with trees, flowers and running streams.

There are not many people in sight. In the gardens are two dark-haired elflords who are mirrors of each other, and sitting studiously between them is a young mortal boy poring over a large book. Far in the distance, on a green lawn, archery targets are set up, and warriors are riding and shooting at them. There are farmers in the fruit orchards and fields of grain beyond.

On a white horse far away is a rider with a head of bright flowing golden hair. Something in my stomach tightens, irked just at the sight of him. Some things have not changed. I must find out what this place is, and if there are others from Gondolin here.

But overall, it seems a pleasant enough place to start over again with a new identity and a new form. For no one knows who I am, no one could conceivably guess who I am, and I shall be sure to keep it thus. Surely no one could guess, and I concede some wisdom in the Valar’s plan. I am not grateful. But I am beginning to feel some… appreciation of what has been given to me. A new beginning. A second chance. Very well then; I shall make the best of it. And live free of a curse that, already fulfilled, surely has no more power to touch me.

A friend will be useful. This healer, Thalanes, seems to be the kind and guileless sort. She will do well for my purposes.

I am feeling weak, and turn to make my way back to the bed when the healer opens the door, holding a dress and a pair of shoes in her hands.

“Ooh,” Thalanes coos delightedly. “You are strong enough to walk! Wonderful! But I wish you had waited for me. You could have fallen.” And setting dress and shoes down on a chair by the door, she quickly comes to aid me back to the bed. I allow her to without protest, even lean on her a little. I am an elfmaid. I shall learn to act the part. Self-conscious about my accent, I am reluctant to speak Sindarin. I hear echoes of my father’s voice each time I do. But I need information.

“How long was I asleep?” I try my best to imitate her inflections. The vowels are shorter. Some consonants are articulated differently.

“Two days. It is normal. The draught is strong.”

More fluffing of pillows as I sit up in bed. She begins to unwrap the bandages on my arms.

“I have changed the bandages once since the night you arrived here. It was healing very well. Normal, for young ones like you—” I try not to wince at that. I tell myself that youth is an advantage for me. They say I look forty. I have about ten years to my majority. Ten years to learn and to think; to plan what to do and where to go.

“I hope you do not mind, but we gave you a name, since you could not recall yours. We did not wish to refer to you as ‘the patient’.”

A name. Of course, I need a name. “Who is we?”

“Me and the other healers.”

“And what name might that be?”

“Bainwen.”

“What?” I sputter. “Absolutely not! I am NOT going to answer to Bainwen!”

“Why, what then?” says Thalanes, not put out by the rejection of the name. “Hmmm. How about ‘Lothel’? That’s a pretty one.”

“No!!”

“Dúlinneth? You have a sweet voice.”

Oh, hammer of Aulë. “No! Nothing sweet, nothing pretty. Please.”

Thalanes looks at me helplessly. “What then? Hmmm. . . let me think. What flowers do you like? Stars? A graceful deer? Arasneth?”

“No, no, no!” Damnation!! I had only ever named horses and weapons and crafted objects in my life. Never had I ever needed to think of names for a maiden. Suddenly, I understand why my father took twelve years to think of a name for me. For those first twelve years I was just “the boy” or “son”. Finding a female name I could answer to is causing me to break out in a cold sweat.

“Lómiel,” I say hurriedly, before Thalanes makes me cringe with any further suggestions. “Call me Lómiel.”

The moment I utter it, misgiving twists deep in my belly. Lómion, son of twilight. The Quenya name my mother gave me. The name of a traitor.

But the healer’s face is unclouded. In fact, it brightens. “Lómiel! It is pretty enough. Lómiel!”

And as she utters it in Sindarin, I quietly exhale in relief. Daughter of echoes. There have been names far stranger than that. It will serve.

All the bandages have been removed. She applies ointment to the scratches on my arms, which have healed well. I am startled to behold the ugly ankle wounds, a pattern of fine stitches. The numbing sensation from the ointment she spreads upon it explains my lack of pain.

“We may remove the stitches in two days, I think, Lómiel,” says the healer as she gently winds a fresh bandage around the ankle. “But you need not stay here. I have asked Lord Erestor to let you have another room. And Lord Elrond says that if you feel well enough, you may join us for dinner. Would you wish to?”

A chance to explore the surroundings, find out more about this place.

“Will there be a lot of people at dinner?”

“Oh, the whole household.” She thinks for a moment. “About a hundred of us. It grows smaller with each year.”

“Why?”

“Because of those who sail west.”

“West?” I venture.

“To Aman, the Blessed Realm.”

As I slowly digest that, I say, and it is easy for me to be mournful as I say it, “I wish I could remember something. Anything. I know not even where this is.”

“Imladris?”

“I remember naught of an ‘Imladris’.”

“It is west of the Hithaeglir—the Misty Mountains. East of Eriador.”

“Is there a book or a map I could look at? Mayhap it will jolt my memory.”

“Oh, I will get one for you!” It is hard not to like her. She is so eager to help and show kindness. “But first, would you wish to join us for dinner?”

“Yes.”

“That is well, mellon! I brought this dress for you.” She holds up a dark forest-green dress, trimmed with just a touch of gold embroidery at the hem and at the fitted bodice. “It is simple, but I hope it will serve.”

Simple? I frown at the gold embroidery. Still, it is far better than the ostentatious, jewel-encrusted gowns of some of the courtiers at Gondolin. I will endeavour to be grateful. And not make a demand for black, which would unnecessarily cause suspicion.

“You like it not?” She looks crestfallen. “There is a store room in the basement full of clothes and other belongings left by those who have departed west. If you wish, you may come with me one day to choose a few. The prettiest ones have been taken. It is mostly plain dresses such as these that are left.”

“I like plain.”

She holds up a dainty pair of green silk slippers. “And there are these to match! You may slip them on even with the bandage on your foot.”

“They will serve,” I say. After a pause, I add as an afterthought, “Le hannon.”

Glassen,” she replies, beaming brightly. “We have no other patients at present, so I am available to help you any way I may.” She flits out of the room, and returns in a while pushing in a mirror on wheels and balancing a basin and a washcloth in her other hand. “Take your time to freshen and dress yourself. In the meantime, I will seek a book in the library for you.”

I make an effort to smile in return at her. I hope it looks civil and pleasant, and not like a grimace or a smirk.

On my own again, I cross over warily to the mirror, bracing myself for what I will see in it. Even as a man, I had hardly ever liked to look into a mirror. But I must see what I am now, what the Valar have done to me. What I have to live with.

The girl in the mirror stares back at me with piercing black eyes. Her long, black hair falls in a mass to her thighs. Her body is swathed still in the long white sleeping gown. Delicate hands and one bare, delicate foot peep out from under it. Her hair half-veils her face. A hand lifts to sweep it out of the way.

I scrutinise the face with as much critical detachment as I can. It is aesthetically pleasing in its symmetry. The face shape is oval, and the features are fine enough. The skin is pale and flawless. The long black eyes with the sharp glance are familiar. Like your father’s eyes, says a voice within. But I brush it away. Only the colour of the eyes, obsidian and opaque, is like my father’s. Their shape, their expression, are all my own. Maeglin Lómion’s.

With a deep breath, I pull the sleeping gown over my head, toss it aside, and look at the girl in the mirror as coolly as if she were one of the stone sculptures lining the Hall of Council at Gondolin. Breasts. Slender waist. Gently rounded hips. Slender long legs. Not bad at all.

For the first time since my awakening, I remember another face and body, one which I never saw unclothed except in my imagination. My memories paint, in every vivid detail, a vision of beauty with luminescent golden hair and brilliant grey sea eyes, the curve of a long throat, the womanly fullness of a soft white bosom, a tiny waist spreading to full hips.

How excruciatingly this beauty had filled my days and nights with longing, tormented me endlessly with burning lust. How despairingly I had loved, knowing with a rage that bordered on madness, that I could never, would never, be loved in return.

Then, it hits me.

I have not thought of Itarillë at all till this moment. She who had haunted my waking hours almost ceaselessly in another life.

And now, now that I am thinking of her, I feel. . . I feel. . .

Nothing.

My entire world shifts and tilts.

I replay my memories deliberately, moment by moment. Itarillë. Dancing in the white-silver dress I loved the most. Leaning close to me to whisper a joke, her breath against my ear, back in the early days when she did not yet fear me. The scent of her perfume. This takes a while. There are over a century of memories and moments, each of which had always driven me to intense despair with aching need and desire.

Still. . . nothing.

A strange emptiness fills me for a moment.

And out of that emptiness, another alien sensation awakens in my heart and begins to wash over me until, at last, it breaks over me like a tidal wave. I gasp with sudden amazement and elation. Lighthearted, lightheaded, relieved. . . there are not words enough to express it. . .

I am free. Free at last. Free of the madness of almost two centuries.

Free.

I feel light, so light that I might float away like a bubble.

It is so overwhelming that as I stand rooted before the mirror I barely see myself anymore, revelling, exulting, in this new lightness of being.

So overwhelming that when the knock comes at the door, I forget that I am standing there without a thread upon me and say absently: “Yes?”

The door opens, and an elflord stands there dressed for dinner in a dark blue robe bordered with golden embroidery, his golden hair flowing over one shoulder down to his waist.

I turn towards my visitor.

He freezes and stares, and his mouth falls slightly open.

In the same moment I realize that one, I am smiling, and two, who my visitor is. My smile vanishes at once. I glare at him, place my hands on my hips, and my lips part to speak. But before I can say, in Quenya, “Yes, Laurefindil. What do you want?” the realization hits me.

Where I am. What I am now. And what I am not wearing.

Ai, muk,” I mumble in confusion. I am astonished by a hitherto unknown instinct of maidenly modesty which causes me to lift an arm to shield my chest, and place the other hand over the triangle between my thighs.

“My apologies,” the Lord of the Golden Flower says in a barely audible voice. And quickly and quietly closes the door behind him.

I stare at the closed door. The image of the elflord’s shocked face and how the tips of his pointed ears had begun to turn red is branded in my mind.

Something warm gathers in the pit of my belly. Something that tickles.

Perhaps I should be embarrassed. But it is hard to be after years of common baths with fellow warriors at Gondolin, and answering the call of nature in the open air while on the march to and from battle with twelve thousand warriors.

When it comes to that, I can remember quite clearly what his looks like. An impressive enough package. But honestly, I think mine was bigger.

I turn my head to look back at the girl in the mirror. She is smiling broadly.

When was the last time I smiled?

Had I ever smiled that widely before, even as an elfling in the cool shadows of Nan Elmoth?

The girl in the mirror continues to smile. A comely wench. She has excellent teeth.

I am still thinking of the Golden Flower’s blushing face. I have reduced a mighty elven warrior of great renown to blushes and helplessness. This is power of a kind. One I am wholly unfamiliar with.

And it feels good.

The sensation in my belly has been building. The shoulders of the smiling girl in the mirror begin to shake. I feel unfamiliar muscles in my cheeks work, and hear a musical sound in my ears as the girl tosses her head back and gives way to laughter.

And ah, yes indeed, it feels. . . very good.


Glossary

Bainwen (S) – fair maiden

Lothel (S) – flower maiden

Dúlinneth (S) – nightingale maiden/girl

Arasneth (S) – deer maiden/girl

Lómiel (Q) – daughter of twilight (the feminine version of Lómion). I adopted this from EbonyKitty552′s Silmarillion Prompts (which inspired this story), but tried to find a reason why Maeglin couldn’t come up with a cleverer and less obvious name.

Lómiel (S) – daughter of echoes (which is how all the Imladrim will interpret it)

Le hannon (S) – thank you

Glassen (S) – my joy (you are welcome)

Muk (Q) – crap/shit

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