Heart of Flame: A Tale of Sauron

Pearl Diving At Dawn

Diving under the surface, the muted roar of waves dulled to a quiet hum. She stroked against the tumbling current, her silver hair billowing around her like smoke, Luimëníssë scanned the sea floor.

It didn’t take long to discover her prize.

A crevice in the glimmering reef showed a cache of unopened mollusk shells. Gathering them in the netted bag slung over her shoulder, her lungs aching for air, she pushed against the sand and rose to the surface.

She emerged into the bright morning air. She had swum out far from the relative safety of her family’s cove, but what her mother didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Securing her discovery, she made for the glistening shore.

The sandy beach beyond was strewn with emeralds and opals. Pink crystals gathered in the tidal pools. She had helped scatter them as a child with her mother after they received chests bursting with jewels from her Noldor cousins in Tirion upon Túna. Her mother used to dwell in the city upon the green hill before marrying her Teleri father.

Wringing her long hair out over her shoulder, she climbed the stone steps to her family’s home. The mansion of her father Calarmo stood daringly at the edge of a cliff and set apart from the others of Alqualondë. The youngest son of the Lord Olwë, the ruler of the Teleri, Calarmo was known for his charisma and audacious nature. His daughter had inherited his personality. There was almost nothing of her grave Noldo mother in her, except for her silver-grey eyes that nearly matched her hair.

Sneaking up through the tangled rose garden at the eastern wing of the home, Luimëníssë swung a white robe over her freckled shoulders and tied it at the waist to cover her drenched tunic and hose. Tip toeing up the marble steps, she slipped through the hidden door used by servants during feasts held in the gardens or at the shoreline.

In the cool of the palace, the airy domed ceilings glimmered in the first light. Encrusted into the alabaster were shards of jewels and pearls. When Laurelin was in full bloom, the golden glow of day made their home iridescent.

Voices whispered. Luimëníssë ducked into an alcove as her mother’s two handmaids whispered past her. They would certainly tell their mistress if they spied her. The dark haired ellith were Noldor third cousins and too prideful to play Luimëníssë’s games of hide and seek.

Skidding down the hall into her bed chamber, Luimëníssë shut the door and pressed her back against it with a bright laugh. She slid to the floor and opened her stash. Rifling through the shells, she found a few large ones that appeared promising.

The elleth hopped to her feet and stripped off her soaked clothes, leaving them in a pile by her ivory vanity. Tugging on a periwinkle gown, she brought the shells onto a balcony overlooking the gleaming Bay of Elvenhome.

With a rough dagger pilfered from the kitchens, she cracked open the mollusks. Most held only their fleshy inmates. Heartlessly, she tossed the hapless creatures over the balcony into the sea. Others held a smattering of pearls, varying in quality and size.

Some were icy blue, others blush, some the size of pebbles and others only seeds. None were impressive. Not for the coming Feast of Pearls when the most beautiful pearl would be judged the winner. This would be the last time she’d be able to dive for them before the feast.

Two shells were left. She cracked opened the largest one. Sitting on the pink tongue of an oyster was a pearl no bigger than the eye of a needle. With an exasperated groan, she tossed it aside.

The final oyster was cracked the length of the bottom and dark grains of sand gummed the edges. Pushing back the curling strands of hair from her forehead, she dug the blade into the oyster.

It popped open, then fell to pieces. Something rolled from the inside and onto the floor. Luimëníssë dropped the knife. Rising to her feet, she held her discovery to the light.

A perfect black pearl. Obsidian in color with a dark green sheen, it was the size of a grape.

A knock came at the oaken door. Luimëníssë hid the pearl behind her back. “Who is it?”

“Are you decent?”

“Yes, atar. You can come in.”

Calarmo swung open the door, carrying a broad necklace with an opal pendant. It had been his jeweled wedding gift from her maternal grandmother as Eldar tradition demanded. Brow furrowed, he fought with the complicated latch.

“I can never seem to hook this and I’m overdue at the Lord Olwë’s. And your mother is too busy with her books to bother with her hopeless husband.”

Luimëníssë tucked the pearl into the waistband of her dress. “Here, let me try.”

He pulled his thick silver hair over his shoulder as she hooked the pendant around his neck. “I’m sure that was much simpler than I made it out to be.”

“It was,” she replied with a snide grin, hopping out in front of him. “But you look splendid, atar.”

“And you look like something that got caught in a fishing net,” he laughed and picked a piece of seaweed from behind her ear. “Morning swim?”

"Something like that,” she replied coyly.

Calarmo did his best to hide a proud grin. “Don’t let your mother hear about you pearl diving. You’ll be locked away in a tower for all of eternity. Or at least until you are betrothed.”

“Betrothed? Bah!” She swatted away the word like a fly. “I’m still much too young to leave the both of you.”

“You are of age, child. 101 years on your begetting day this last spring at the end of Tuilë, if I’m not mistaken. I wasn’t much older than you when I met your mother.”

“But mother was nearly three hundred by then.”

“No offense, dear daughter, but your mother is a much more sensible individual than you are.”

“None taken,” she answered flippantly. “When do our illustrious guests arrive?”

“On the midday tide, the swan ships should be prompt as long as there weren’t any unforeseen delays.” He shot a quiet grin as she meandered over to her dressing table for comb. “You want to know a secret?”

She snorted as she worked through the salty knots in her hip length hair. “You really aren’t good at those.”

He sauntered over to the chair in front of her vanity and sat down, peering at her in the mirror’s reflection. “No, I’m not. There is an unexpected guest arriving with the party from Tirion. Your brother. Your mother doesn’t know so let’s keep it between us.”

Luimëníssë dropped the comb as her father rocked with silent laughter. “He’s coming home for a visit!?”

“Yes, he’s taking a well-earned break from his apprenticeship for a fortnight and hopped aboard the swan ships with your cousins.”

“That’s wonderful!”

It had been years since her older brother, Náretarnon, had been home. He had lived in Tirion for decades, training in silversmithing as the Noldor craftsmen were the best in Aman.

He had been full grown when she was born and had doted on her when she was a child.When he’d left home, she was devastated. He’d departed the morning she had scaled the cliff with the oil beacon.

The morning she’d stolen a ring from a stranger.

“I wish mother would let me go to the city to welcome them,” she said, her face dimming. “I was more than happy to stay behind with her when I thought it was only our dreary Noldor cousins. But now, I’m disappointed I didn’t put up more of a fuss.”

“Don’t fret.” Calarmo stood and cupped his daughter’s hands in his own. “You will have plenty of time to visit with your brother. I will make sure of it.”

“Mother is still insisting that I sit with cousin Írissë at the feast.” She glowered at the prospect. “You know how much I adore her company.”

Calarmo cocked his head to catch her eye. “I thought you liked Írissë. She’s a great huntress, you know.”

“Oh I know. She never speaks of anything, but her triumphs. She’s so very arrogant, it’s simply dull.”

He patted Luimëníssë’s hand with a sympathetic nod. “Well, not everything in life is to our liking. Even in Valinor.”

Kissing her forehead, he left her to dress before her mother saw the state of her hair and sandy skin. As the door closed after him, Luimëníssë slipped the black pearl from her waist band and unlocked the short drawer at the center of her vanity.

She dropped it inside, gazing at the other occupants of the secret compartment. A few pieces of silver work from her brother and a dried flower she’d brought back as a child from Tirion.

In the shadows, at the very back, was a slim silver band with a trio of beaded pearls. She slammed the drawer shut and locked it tight.

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