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4
A Concert of Songbirds

Wherein Davne attends a formal City entertainment with her Princess and is presented to King Finwe Noldoran.


~~~

We took an unusual amount of time and care with our dressing as Laurelin faded to the mingling of lights. We were all to wear gowns of the same clear light green with a shade of blue - like seawater - made of the finest and most lustrous silk and bedewed with pearls.

I had thought myself accustomed to fine clothes but this dress was so beautiful that I was almost afraid to touch it, and once it was on I was afraid to move for fear of somehow damaging it. The other girls flew around, careless of their finery, choosing and trading ornaments, gossiping and giggling.

Dorme came over to me as I sat, stiff and silent, on a stool. “I have something for you.” she showed me a fragile web of silver thread netted with sea colored crystals then draped it over my hair. “Yes, that looks lovely!” she said, and continued happily. “We’re going to have a good time tonight.” My face showed my doubts and she laughed. “Oh yes we will, you’ll see. I suppose you thought it was always work, work, work, with us. But now Istafinde is home again there’ll be parties and excursions and all kinds of fun.”

“For awhile.” said Quessetal, who’d overheard. “Until the Princess tires of the City and either drags us off on some journey or leaves us to Findorie’s tender mercies!”

Dorme laughed. “Traveling is fun too.”

“Sometimes.” Quessetal conceded.

The golden door to the Princess’ chamber opened and Istafinde emerged, clad in a gown of deep, soft, brilliant blue, with a tinge of green, just the color of the sky outside our windows, and all a shimmer with crystal, silver and pearl embroideries. Ornaments of opal and adamant glistened in the abundant black hair, falling almost to her knees. We fell in behind her, two by two, and she led us down the great stair - not the back one we usually used - to the gigantic entrance hall then out the tall doors into the Kings‘ square.

As usual it was crowded with splendid looking Elven lords and ladies but tonight most of them seemed to be making, like us, for a palatial mansion, on the west side of the square. An entrance hall fully as large as our own led to a marble paved courtyard with a porphyry stair winding up several stories to a roof terrace planted with slender trees of ash and beech and silver birch. Colored lights hung from their branches banishing the shadows beneath the interlacing boughs. Songbirds of all kinds darted about calling to each other in happy excitement and bursting into snatches of song. A close clipped green turf starred with tiny flowers of gold, scarlet and blue covered the ground, spread with rugs and cushions for the guests to rest upon and Fruit and sweetmeats and pale wine were set out for our refreshment in vessels of crystal on low white tables. The King himself was there, with Queen Indis, seated on chairs of woven wands beneath a tall beech tree.

“Davne.” the Princess called me to her side. “You haven’t been presented to my grandfather yet have you?”

I gulped. “No, my Lady.”

“Then I will do it now,” she smiled kindly at my apprehensive face, “better here, informally, then at a full court reception!”

I shuddered at the thought and followed her obediently over to the King and Queen. Istafinde kissed her grandfather’s cheek and dutifully embraced the golden haired Queen, who was not her grandmother. Then she turned to me. “This is Davne, the newest of my companions.” I curtseyed.

“Welcome, Davne,” the King said pleasantly. “I hope you will be happy here among us.”

“Yes, my Lord - I mean I’m sure I will be.” I stammered. And then my Princess took me by the arm to lead me away and that was all there was to it.

“And now that’s done with we can relax and enjoy ourselves.” Istafinde told me smiling.

We settled on soft rugs not far from where the King and Queen sat, our pale gowns forming a glimmering background - like sea foam - for the Princess. Lord Artaresto came over with several companions to greet my Lady and soon we were surrounded by young lords paying court to the Princess and her companions - even me! I didn’t know what to say and was beginning to feel overwhelmed when Prince Makalaure, Feanaro‘s second son, came to my rescue deftly answering the lords’ gallantries on my behalf then settling himself down beside me so the others must in courtesy shift their attentions elsewhere.

“New faces are rare here in the City,” he explained kindly in that wonderful voice, “and so more than usually interesting - especially when they are young and fair. You will soon grow accustomed.”

“I hope so, my Lord.” I said above the pounding of my heart. Makalaure was very beautiful in those days, even more so than his father, and I didn’t try to tear my eyes away but stared my fill. I smile now at the memory - and am fortunate that I can smile rather than grieve. For I chose the best of the Princes, the only one to find his way back from the abyss, for my first love.

Makalaure named the other guests for me as they passed to pay their respects to the King and Queen, not all were of Elven kind: Ilmare and Erinti, two of Varda’s handmaidens, were there, tall and fair with bright stars glittering in their long hair and scattered over their gauzy robes. And Aiwendil, a Maia of Yavanna, clad in shades of brown and green. And a host of the folk of Vana, all dressed in living flowers and led by Timpando with his golden flute.

Then a very tall lady, all in white, with pale flowers and strands of pearls woven into hair golden as Queen Indis’ entered the garden on the arm of a tall, white clad lord as fair as she.

“That’s her, that’s Lady Nerwen." Aramaite leaned over to whisper
in my ear. "And that’s her eldest brother, Lord Findarato, with her.”

She was also the lady I’d seen chatting with her admirers beneath the boughs of Galathilion on the my first day. Behind brother and sister came several gentlemen in blue and gold and four maidens in soft green gowns. They went first to the King and Queen and then came to us.

My Lady and Prince Maitimo, who was sitting with her, stood to greet them. Murmuring a polite excuse to me Makalaure rose to join them. The two Princes welcomed Findarato with genuine warmth. The same could not be said of their sister.

Nerwen was the taller, but by no more than a finger’s breadth, and as for which was the fairer, it was like comparing the stars shining above the eastern sea to the golden light of Laurelin - though I knew which I preferred.

They embraced, but lightly, and my Lady said: “Greetings, Nerwen, it seems a very long time since I’ve seen you.”

“You are always off on your travels, Cousin.” the other replied with a brilliantly false smile.

“Strange is it not how often you are away when I am at home, and at home when I am away?” my Lady answered, all sweet innocence, but I saw the other girl’s turn their heads to hide their laughter.

A hint of pink flushed the Lady Nerwen’s pearly cheeks but her smile stayed in place. “We are both at home now, we must enjoy each other’s society while we can.”

“Indeed.” Isftafinde agreed just as sweetly. “I hope to see you and your brothers at a small entertainment I mean to give in a few days.”

“We will look forward to it.” said Lord Findarato firmly, taking his sister by the arm. “Come, Nerwen, we must find ourselves seats before the singing begins.”

My Lady sat back on her rugs with a look of satisfaction as her brothers sighed and several of the girls giggled softly behind their hands.

Dorme explained the joke to me in a whisper; “Lady Nerwen does not enjoy taking second place to our Princess, as she must being the daughter of the youngest prince, and so takes great care to be in either Aqualonde or at her uncle Ingwe’s house on the slopes of Oiolosse when Istafinde is in Tirion. But this time she didn’t hear until too late that our Lady had come home, and now she cannot leave without all knowing why she does so.”

“Why do they dislike each other so?” I whispered back.

“It’s a long story,” my Lady answered, having overheard, “I’ll tell you all about it later. Now we must be quiet, the singing is about to start.”

The last guest had arrived and the garden gate was shut. All sat quietly in their places waiting. Gradually the many birds stopped darting restlessly about and settled in twos and threes upon the tree boughs. There were Tuilindi, Aimeneli, Lirulindi, Eleninki and Morilindi, plump and pretty with sleek feathers and bright little eyes.

Suddenly a Lirulinde lifted it’s voice in song, soon others joined in and finally the whole chorus was giving voice in merry harmony. It was wonderful to hear and seemed to last all too short a time, though in fact it must have been nearly an hour before the last songbird fell silent.

The guests took breath and began to move and talk again, and the birds came down from their branches to accept our praises and tidbits from our fingers. Then Timpando began to play a lilting tune on his flute and some of his companions raised their voices is wordless song as sweet as that of the birds who gathered round to listen and when the music ended answered it with their own.

Lindele and Findorie had brought their flutes, and Istafinde a silver pipe which they played to the birds who had settled around us. The rest of us sang, rather less sweetly than the Maiar had, and the birds sang back to us. The men did not sing as their deeper voices were unfit for this kind of music. And I saw the Lady Nerwen didn’t sing either, though she played a little lap harp as her maidens did. I had noticed her voice was deeper than most women’s, no doubt she could no more reach those soaring notes than a man.

The men resumed their polite gallantries in the interludes between the music. I did my best to imitate the other girl’s easy banter and acquitted myself none so badly, or so I hoped. I recognized several of the lordlings I’d seen surrounding Lady Nerwen that day in the square among my own Lady’s admirers and wondered what Nerwen thought of their defection.

I found myself feeling a little sorry for her. It would be difficult to be condemned always to second place by a mere accident of birth. I could easily see how Nerwen could dislike Istafinde for that alone, but what my Lady had against her I couldn‘t guess. Though I didn’t doubt Lady Nerwen had somehow given her good reason to dislike her.

The dawn mingling of lights was almost past before we finally returned to our own House to slip out of our fine gowns and settle down to a belated rest. When we finally rose, midway through the second hour of Laurelin, it was to find ourselves deluged with messages and tokens from the gallants we had met the night before. These pursued us from loom hall to potter’s shed to music room until finally we abandoned all hope of doing our regular work and settled in the library to read our notes and compose our answers, interrupted at frequent intervals by still more messengers bearing still more polite compliments.

Prince Feanaro came in pretending to be much annoyed, but anybody could see how proud he was. “I should lock you all up in my hoard,” he teased, “every time I let you go abroad I find my house turned upside down the next day by languishing gallants.”

“At least now they send notes instead of calling in person and cluttering the halls.” Findorie laughed.

“Yes indeed.” he agreed fervently. “I well remember the crowds that thronged my father’s house when my sisters first were of an age for admirers, before writing became fashionable. At least I am spared sighing swains underfoot!” he looked ruefully at the rolls of paper and pretty tokens littering the library tables. “I had hoped to begin our lessons in the Eastern tongue today, but I suppose there’s no chance of it now?”

“None at all.” Istafinde said briskly. “Poor Davne is quite busy enough - as you can see!”

I blushed brightly. It was true I had received far more than my share of tributes, almost as many as the Princess herself, no doubt because I was a new face as Prince Makalaure had said. Fortunately the other girls didn‘t seem to mind.

“Tomorrow then,” Feanaro conceded reluctantly, “but no later.” and he left us to our labors.

Each little scroll had some small token attached to it to bring the sender to mind, such as a golden flower for Prince Findelaure or a harpstring for Makalaure, and was inscribed with a complimentary linnod often related in some way to the token. Findelaure’s compared me to a flower transplanted from a peaceful mountain dale to a City garden. And Makalaure’s likened my voice to the high clear note of a harpstring.

Findorie explained that courtesy required I answer each and every message with a linnod of my own, capping the sender’s. Olliante helped me compose them as I was not as practiced in fashionable poesy as the other girls. But she liked my linnod for Prince Makalaure, that a harpstring needed fellows to make its music, very well.

“A bit forward,” she said, “but a good use of the image.”

“Too forward?” I asked anxiously.

She smiled kindly. “For some perhaps, but Makalaure will understand.”

I blushed and wondered if I really wanted him too. But I couldn’t very well withdraw the poem after Olliante had approved it and so I sent it off with the others, though with much fear and trembling.
***

Notes:

Timpando: a name from the Lost Tales, apparently meaning flute player or warbler.

Tuilindi = swallows; Aimeneli = robins; Lirulindi = larks; Eleninki = starlings and Morilindi = blackbirds. Except for Eleninke all these names were coined by the Professor himself.

Findelaure means ‘Hair of Gold’ care to guess who this is?

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