Many thanks to my beta, Lady Masterblott!
Middle-earth, the coast between Edhellond and Dol-Amroth, the second age of the world
It was in the days after the last alliance of men and elves had fought and ultimately failed.
It was a golden day at the end of Yavannië. The sea of Cobas Haven gleamed in an almost turquoise blue. The sky dreamed above the waves in a deep ultramarine hue. The southern heather that covered the cliffs glowed in brilliant shades of amethyst, violet and purple.
It was a beautiful day.
She rode towards the spring of Varda coming from Edhellond. It was her last task in Arda, before a white ship would carry her out of the harbour of Edhellond, out of Cobas Haven, out of the Bay of Belfalas and across the Sundering Seas.
She rode without a saddle as most elves did when they did not ride into battle. Her heavy tools were in a pack she had slung across her back. The pack hit the small of her back in regular, painful thumps as it mirrored the light-footed rhythm of her grey mare’s easy trot.
She was glad that it was not far to the small spring.
When she reached her destination she slid gratefully from the back of her steed. She dropped her pack to the ground. Turning to her horse she took hold of the beast’s head with the easy grip of long experience and whispered gentle words in Sindarin. Then she slapped the beast’s rump affectionately. Now the horse would wander around, grazing and enjoying the warmth of the autumn sun while she worked, always keeping close enough to notice when her mistress finally desired to turn back to the Haven City.
For a moment the elvish mason watched her horse as it lowered its head to the sun-dried grass close to the path. It had been a good summer here, at the Bay of Belfalas; a hot summer, but with enough rain to ensure a rich harvest.
She allowed herself a moment of letting her gaze drift across the hills, the cliffs and the sea. She liked this spot between the ragged red cliffs of Cobas Haven and the heathery hills that sloped from the heights of Tarnost towards the sea. She could not really explain the reason for her feelings, but the closeness of the hills and the sea touched something in her heart.
She was glad that her last task in Middle-earth had taken her here. She turned her back to the sea and picked up the pack with her tools.
In the small dell between the cliffs and the hills, surrounded by heather and gorse, a spring of clear, cool water surfaced. The taste of the water held the barest hint of peat and felt like liquid silk in her mouth. When she had found the spring, centuries ago, she had been moved to tears. She could not say how she knew it, but she was certain that this little spring and its clear, cool water had survived here from the first shaping of the world in the Ainulindalë. On golden, peaceful days such as this one was, she felt that she could still hear the soft, soothing whispers of Varda’s own blessing in the gentle murmuring of the spring. The spring called to her soul and to her hands. As if it was asking her to build a shrine around to keep safe its sacred waters.
Although she had not returned to this place between the cliffs and the hills for years uncounted, she had never forgotten it. The call of the secret well and the memory of the peace she had felt there had stayed alive in her soul. Even when she had felt her heart begin to stir as the weary wars of the last alliance dragged on for year after year, she had remembered its call. At first the stirring in her heart had been only a hint of weariness and loneliness. But soon – soon in elvish measuring of time, at least - the feeling had grown into a persistent ache, a deep longing she could no longer ignore. Her heart had heard her last call. The call to come home, the call to cross the sea. A call that could not be ignored or refused. At least not for forever.
Her lord had been astonished and discomfited when she admitted that her time had come, but refused to take ship. No one had ever denied the call of the Valar. She knew very well that she could not ignore the call either. Every dawn was an effort now. Weariness weighed down her heart and her hands. But there was one call to her heart here in Arda that she still had to obey.
She had to build the shrine for the spring.
She looked upon the small shrine as it stood there now, between the hills and the sea. She had used the smooth grey stone from the quarries of the southern slopes of the Hills of Tarnost, from the Dor-en-Ernil. In the golden sunlight of the day the stone shone almost like silver. She had shaped every single stone with her own hands. She had carried the stones up here by herself and mixed the mortar to set them with water from the spring.
She had placed each stone with care. At first she had walled in the spring, creating a small square basin, and a straight wall with an opening for the water at its centre. Then she had painstakingly added stone upon stone to shape a roof and tympanum for the well. At last she had split dark grey stones into slates to cover the roof of the shrine. Now there was only one thing left to do. She had to shape the spout for the spring and create the ornaments and blessings to grace the tympanum.
Today she would complete her task.
She opened her pack and placed her tools within easy reach. She inhaled deeply and closed her eyes. The image of the shrine was in her mind, as it had always been since she found the spring centuries ago. The image was that of a well in the shape of a house, built of smooth, silvery grey stone, in a classical style. A triangular tympanum delicately carved with runes and ornaments rose above its basin. The ornaments depicted a sailing ship with a bright star above it, framed by curling elvish runes, a blessing and a prayer in Quenya, calling to Varda across the Sundering Seas.
The spouts she had brought with her. She had shaped them in her room during long, lonely evenings, falling asleep with her hand still clasped around the chisel, waking with her hair dull with stone dust. What she had created were two curled leaves, leaves of ivy. Now all it needed was a little fresh mortar and it could be set for the clear water of the spring to rush through it and to fill the small square basin of smooth grey stone below it. The second spout would release the water behind the stepping stones she had set in front of the shrine. From there the water would disappear into the ground again, between the hills and the cliffs, or in rainy years run down to the cliffs in a rivulet sending its sweet drops down to the salty depths of the sea.
Finally she opened her eyes. The image of the ship and the star and the runes were firmly fixed in her mind. Calmly she placed her chisel against the plane, untouched surface of the grey stone and started working.
A ship to carry her home. A star to steer her by. A sign of hope for all who would come after her to this place. A prayer to ask for forgiveness. A way to capture the blessing that was still alive in this world and preserve it for those who would remain, for those who were not yet born.
“Mi oro-mardi Andúne pella”
“In the high halls beyond the West”
“Vardo nu luini tellumar, yassen tintilar i eleni”
“Beneath the blue vaults of Varda tremble the stars”
“óma-ryo lírinen aire-tário.”
“In the song of her voice, holy and queenly.”
“Sí man i yulma nin en-quant-uva?”
“Who now shall refill the cup for me?”
“Merale sa hiruvalye Valimar ar sa yulmarilya quatina.”
“Hoping that you shall find Valimar and that your cup shall ever be filled.”
She worked for hours. The runes she used were the tengwar that were most widely understood in this day and age, but she kept to the language of Quenya. As Quenya is the speech that is meant for eternity, for words that shall last even to a day when none of the Quendi would linger in Arda anymore.
The sun was already westering when her work was finally finished.
A sailing ship puffed her sails in the tympanum of the little shrine now, carved out into half-relief, delicate and yet robust. It would withstand rain and wind and the passage of centuries.
It was not her best work. She had to admit that. Both in Eregion and in Edhellond she had carved more intricate masonry into stone of higher quality. She knew that she would not be remembered for this, if she or her artwork would be remembered at all. No, it was certainly not her best work. But it was her last. It was her legacy to Arda and those who would come after. It was all that she had left to give to this land she had called her home for such a long time.
Her hands were shaking as she lowered the chisel. By now she was so exhausted that she could barely stand.
She sank to her knees, her eyes fixed to the carved star in the upper corner of the tympanum. Its rays flared outward to the surrounding runes in delicate strokes and layers of chiselled stone.
Her eyes traced the flowing lines of the runes.
The first part of the words had been taken from a song of farewell that had been written in Alqualondë in the aftermath of the kinslaying. For many Quendi the doom of the kinslaying had meant a bitter parting from loved ones and even life. Yet there had been some who sang songs of farewell and blessing in spite of it all during those bitter days, turning tears and pain into harmony and healing.
The second part was simply her own heart speaking, asking for guidance and blessing for those who would come after her, for those who would never know of the Queen of the Stars and the White Ships of the Elves passing into the West.
She knew that the runes would be the first feature of her last work in Arda to fade in the wind and the weather. She sighed softly. Like all elves she had little to no feeling for the measurement of time. The meaning of centuries and millennia was difficult for her to understand, even after many years spent among the Edain. Perhaps there would be no one alive in Arda who could read and understand Quenya before the runes would fade back into the grey stone from whence she had called them forth today. Perhaps it would not matter.
She inhaled deeply and moved her painful shoulders to relieve the tension of long hours of hard work and deep concentration.
Now there was only one thing left to do.
She pulled a small bowl from her pack and a small bag with the powder for the mortar. She added a little water, and then she carefully stirred the mixture until it had acquired the texture she needed for setting the spouts. She had to wait for a time to allow the mixture to thicken.
She spent that time sitting with her back to the well, looking out across the sea. The western horizon was still alight with the sunset, red and orange and gold. Behind her, above the hills of Tarnost, the first stars glittered already in a swiftly darkening sky. Her back was hurting. But for once it was a good pain, the comfortable ache of a long labour fulfilled to her satisfaction.
She tested the mixture of the mortar once more. She nodded her head to herself. It was ready. The carefully carved leaf of ivy felt curiously warm in her hand. Almost as if it was alive. Alive. She heaved a sigh. She would miss Arda. Oh, how she would miss Arda!
She was an artist. Her heart’s desire was to leave her mark in a changing world and take part in shaping this change. What use was there for her craft in the Undying Lands, in the Blessed Realm?
She clenched her teeth. It was time to set the spouts. To her relief the spout to release the water back into the dark earth between the cliffs and the hills was quickly set.
She was weary to her bones. She needed all her willpower these days only to wake up in the morning. A day of long and hard work in the open was almost more than she could endure. They were right. There was no way to withstand the call of the Valar. The call burned in the blood. The call was a constant ache in the heart. But the tears in her eyes were for Arda. For her beloved Arda, and for those who would come after her to this holy, peaceful place, whom she would never meet.
Now for the last. The last effort.
She slathered the mortar into the opening. Then she dipped the spout into the mortar. For a moment she tilted her head, looking critically at the way the mortar dripped. Yes. It was good. Just this side of too thick. But that was necessary in the damp environment of the spring. She inhaled deeply. For a moment she would need all the strength her weary muscles still had to give. She set the spout before the opening. She closed her eyes. With a slow, measured thrust she inserted the spout into the rear wall of the well she had built. She used all her strength, exerting exactly the right amount of power to place the spout. For a moment she held it in place, willing it to set, willing it to endure for all eternity.
Then her hand dropped away from the spout almost on its own accord.
She slumped down in front of the spring and the well she had built.
Her task was done. Her strength was spent.
She remained sitting at the well during the night, listening to the clear water as it found its way through the new spouts that were formed like the leaves of ivy, listening to the water as it dripped down into the simple, square basin she had built from the smooth grey stone of the Dor-en-Ernil, listening as the water as it vanished in a soft murmur in the humid soil again, between the hills and the sea.
When the sun rose in a soft misty dawn of early autumn she gathered her tools and called her horse. She was almost too weak to mount her faithful mare. Once in the saddle she swayed unsteadily for a moment. Oh, this weariness, this deep ache in her bones…
But now that her task was done, she could finally, finally board the white ship that was waiting for her in Edhellond. She would finally, finally board that ship and make the long voyage across the Sundering Seas into the West. Maybe she would find new strength there, beneath the blue vaults of Varda. Maybe the Queen of the Stars would fill her cup with new life.