Wherein the Princess Istafinde returns to Tirion and proves to be far less fearsome than Davne had imagined.
We spent a great deal of time in the hall of looms, either working on our own projects or helping weave the vast amounts of cloth needed by the Prince’s household. The other girls were bored by such plain work and complained about it among themselves, but I didn‘t mind at all. It was no different from the weaving I had done at home, and I was as good at it as any of them.
We were laboring away at our allotment of linen, some girls spinning tow and others weaving, when a page ran in and announced breathlessly the Lady Istafinde had returned. Findorie promptly threw down her spindle and hurried out leaving the rest of the girls whispering with pleasurable excitement.
I told myself firmly not to be nervous. But what if Istafinde didn’t like me? I no longer wanted to be sent home, not now that I’d learned my letters. There’d be nothing to read.
Dorme, who was working at the loom next to mine read my face and said: “We won’t be seeing Istafinde today, she’ll need to rest after so long a visit to Ancala’s Halls.”
“Why?” I asked. “what does she do there?”
“Because Cullulin is very hot.” Dorme explained. “The Princess became somewhat inured during her time of service but not even she can bear it for long. And as for what she does there -” she lowered her voice, “nobody knows for certain but they say Istafinde looks into the Flame and sees visions that Ivende (1) interprets for her.”
“What kind of visions?” I whispered back.
Dorme shook her head. “Nobody knows that either. But they say the White Flame shows not what is, or will be, or might be but what *must* be.” her voice dropped even more. “I’ve even heard it said it shows the thought of Eru Himself!” she saw my eyes go round and added hastily; “But of course I don’t believe that!”
It didn’t seem likely. Even I knew Eru, the Ainur’s Father and ours, was outside the world not of it and had delegated its care to his vice-regents the Valar. Our voices could not reach Him so we venerated and served the Valar, and through them the All Highest.
We went from the hall of looms to the scriptorium at the appointed hour and waited. Findorie arrived several minutes later. “Istafinde is sleeping.” she told us. “We will see her tomorrow.”
The other girls accepted this without surprise. We opened our books, took up our pens and began our copying. My hand trembled a little as I shaped the now familiar letters. What if the Princess was as hard to please as Findorie? I was certain to do something wrong - I always did.
We went upstairs about the fifth hour of Telperion and I saw the door to the Princess’s private chamber was closed as always, but now there was a presence behind it.
We prepared for rest, changing to soft, loose gowns and combing each other’s hair. As Herinke did mine I told her: “I just know I’ll make some terrible mistake in front of the Princess.”
She laughed softly and gave me a quick hug. “Of course you won’t! Nor would it matter if you do. Istafinde isn’t anywhere near as particular as Findorie. You have nothing to worry about.”
But I course I did worry.
We rose at the first mingling of the lights, as Laurelin waxed and Telperion waned. As usual Herinke told me what to wear. Today it was a short kirtle of pale green that left arms and legs bare, plain work clothes as we had our fresh woven linen to bleach. But Findorie didn’t marshal us into line as she usually did. Instead she stood looking towards the Princess’s door. So the rest of us looked too, the others happily expectant and me quivering inside. Then it opened and my heart gave a great leap into my mouth.
I had heard the songs praising the beauty of Miriel Istafinde and beautiful she was, pale as the snows of Mount Oiolosse with a cascade of magnificent black hair hanging to her knees, and her eyes gleamed silver. She was dressed, like us, in a short kirtle the green of beach leaves and her hair was bundled into a loose plait down her back.
She smiled at us. “This is a fine welcome, having to work my first day home! I was hoping you’d finish our allotment of linen while I was away.”
“Oh no.” said Findorie, grinning broadly, “we’re not letting you out of doing your share!”
Istafinde laughed and went to kiss her foster sister. “I’ve missed you all.” she said as the girls clustered round. “But where is the newcomer?” then she saw me hesitating behind the others and held out her hand. I took it, then remembered to curtsey. The Princess pulled me closer and kissed my cheek. “Welcome, Davne. I hope my girls have made you welcome?”
“Oh yes, my Lady.” I stammered.
“Good.” her smile twisted into a comic grimace. “And now for that linen!”
A stream ran through the Princess’ pleasance, just below the lily pool it spread wide and shallow over a bed of smooth many colored stones and there we laid our linen to seep with herbs in the warm water, then danced on it to make it soft. Country dances with much stamping of feet to the monotonous beat of our washing songs. Then we wrung the cloth out and covered the meadow with sheets spread out to dry and bleach in Laurelin’s hot golden light.
Then we went upstream to the lily pool, shed our kirtles and unbraided our hair and slid into the pleasantly tepid water to splash and giggle and tickle the gold and silver fish hiding among the lily stems, and pick the blossoms to weave into our wet hair.
It had been a lovely morning, the most homelike I’d spent since coming to the City, and I was feeling far too happy to be nervous when the Princess, escaping from a splashy rough and tumble in the middle of the pool, came to rest beside me among the lilies at the shallow end.
“Findorie has been working you hard.” she said.
“Well, yes.” I admitted. “But only because she wants me to be a credit to you and our House. I don’t mind, I just wish I did better.”
“She told me you were willing and worked hard.” the Princess said. “And that she was very pleased at how quickly and well you had learned letters. Don’t worry about not being good at everything, none of us are.” she grinned suddenly. “I am a very bad potter, as Kentanie (2) will be glad to tell you - at length! And you haven‘t had a chance to show us your own skill yet, that‘s my fault I‘m afraid.”
“Findorie said I shouldn’t begin teaching the Eastern language until you could join the lessons.” I said.
Istafinde nodded ruefully. “I know. I’m sorry I was away when you came. I’m not usually so rude as to go off on a trip just after inviting a girl to join my companions. But my Lady had asked me to visit and I expected to be back before you came. Only once in Culullin I forgot all else, as I always do.”
This was not at all the kind of conversation I’d expected to have with the Princess. “I think maybe it was better this way, I had a chance to get used to the House and the City before...”
“Before facing me!” Istafinde said mischievously.
“Well yes,” I said, “It gave me one less person to be scared of.” and we both laughed.
“My father will be joining us to learn the Eastern tongue.” she said. “Have you met him yet.”
“Oh yes, my Lady.” I said, grinning as I remembered how.
“What’s so funny?” she wanted to know, so I told her and we shared another laugh.
“Did my father tell you why he’s so interested in the lore of the Dark Lands?” the Princess asked.
“Findorie said he likes learning new things.” I answered, but I could see from her face there was more to it than that.
“That is true.” said Istafinde. “But in this case he has a deeper purpose. My father means to return to Middle Earth.”
I stopped weaving my lily chain and gaped at her. “Will the Valar allow it?”
“They are reluctant, but will accede in the end.” she answered confidently. “After all they have no right to forbid it, we are their guests not their prisoners.”
“But why -” I was beginning when suddenly Vanamire, the jewel cutter, called out:
“Riders coming, my Lady. It looks like Prince Maitimo - and he has Lord Artaresto with him.”
“Does he indeed.” Istafinde stood and waded into the deeper water to join Vanamire among the lilies beneath the far bank.
I wound my chain of blossoms around my neck and followed. The other girls too drew nearer, watching with alert interest as Prince Feanaro’s eldest son, his companions and a handful of lords I didn‘t know, reined their horses to a stop and looked down at us.
“What’s this, sister,” Maitimo asked laughing, “idling when there is work to be done?”
“You see us enjoying a well earned rest after a hard morning‘s labor.” the Princess answered with dignity. “Ride on and see for yourself, but don’t you dare trample our clean linen with those great dirty hooves!”
“Blessed Weaver forfend! I will take your word for it, little sister.” he looked at one of the unfamiliar lords, who cleared his throat.
“My Lady, I had only just now learned of your return from Maitimo,“ he said, “so I beg you to forgive such short notice, but my mother is hosting a gathering this evening to hear the songbirds in our garden. I hope you will grace it with your presence.” His manner was formal and a little stiff - but his eyes gave him away. He was in love with my Lady.
I looked at her curiously but her eyes were veiled and I could not read their expression. Her fair face showed nothing but courteous interest and her long coils of black hair floated on the surface of the water, wreathing white shoulders and breasts.
“Nerwen will be there.” said Prince Maitimo.
Now the silver eyes opened wide, glittering with amused malice. “Will she indeed?” the Princess purred. “Then I must come, it has been too long since I have seen my dear cousin.”
A couple of the girls hid giggles behind handfuls of lily flowers. Lord Artaresto looked slightly apprehensive. The Prince wryly amused. “Misbehave yourself my girl and I’ll take you straight home, if I have to carry you!”
She made hurt eyes at him. “Brother you wound me! I will be the soul of courtesy as always to my dearest cousin.”
The Prince rolled his eyes, but Artaresto smiled. “I look forward to seeing that - my Lady!”
Istafinde laughed and splashed water at them - it fell short - then the lords all bowed and rode on upstream towards Prince Feanaro’s hunting park.
Turning away Istafinde saw my puzzled face and explained. “I do not like my cousin Nerwen, my uncle Arafinwe’s daughter.”
Findorie snorted. “Who does, apart from her besotted admirers?”
“Her parents and brothers seem fond of her,” the Princess shrugged, “though I cannot see why!” She hoisted herself, dripping, onto the bank and began wringing water from her hair. “I’m hungry. Let’s see what Irimor, (that was the kitchen master) has given us to eat.”
We ate the fruit and cakes as Laurelin’s rays dried us. Then put our clothes back on and combed the tangles from our hair and made ourselves presentable before returning to the City to prepare for the evening’s party.
1. Ivende, ‘the Maiden’ is one of the names or titles of Ancala. Like Ulmo and Nienna she dwells alone.
2. Kentanie ‘clay wright’, is Herinke the potter’s epesse.
The Valian Day is made up of twelve hours but these are hours of the Trees, seven times longer than ours, making a ‘day’ some eighty-four hours long. Each of the Trees takes seven Valian hours to wax and wane, the overlapping hours are called ’the mingling of the lights’. A day begins with the waning of Telperion and waxing of Laurelin, and ends with the waning of Laurelin and waxing of Telperion. Thus the ‘mingling of the lights’ corresponds with our dawn and dusk.
In Prince Feanaro’s household formal meals are served in hall at ‘dawn’ and ‘dusk’ but those who grow hungry between times are free to send to the kitchens for a snack, like the maidens’ picnic. Elves in Aman need to sleep as Men and Dwarves do only after an unusual exertion of mind or body, such as looking into the Flame. Otherwise they rest for an hour or so a day by walking ‘the path of dreams’ - what we might call a form of meditation. There is no conventional hour for taking one’s rest, just whenever is convenient, and it would be most unusual for the members of a large household like Feanaro’s to all choose to take theirs at the same time. Normally the bright hours of Laurelin are used for work and the hours of Telperion for leisure and socializing.