Wherein an irksome task is laid upon the Princess Istafinde and her maidens and they depart Tirion in state.
Finally the last poem was sent off with the last messenger. We returned the unused paper, and the pens and inkwells to their proper places, collected our letters and tokens and took them upstairs to our own quarters. I put mine on top of my clothespress then followed the other girls through the golden doors into the Princess’s chamber.
It was perhaps a third the size of our own common room, and its walls were covered with hangings and tapestries of the most marvelous needlework I’d ever seen, finer even than Aramaite’s, their rich colors glowed in the light pouring through the crystal dome overhead. Istafinde sat in a high backed silver chair twined with clusters of golden flowers, with Findorie on a lower seat beside her. The rest of us gathered round them, settling ourselves on cushions, benches and chests.
“Now then,” said the Princess, eyes glittering with mischief, “what sort of entertainment should we give?”
“A picture competition.” Eleste suggested brightly, and all the girls laughed.
“No,” said the Princess, “that would be too obvious. We must give my dear cousin at least a chance to shine.”
“A musicale or poetry tourney then.” said Findorie. “She and her girls are good at nothing else.”
“No, be fair, Findorie,” said Dorme, “Silpien is a passable weaver.” More giggles, the Princess joining in.
Clearly the grudge between our Princess and the Lady Nerwen was of long standing, and extended to their maids of honor.
“Poor Davne,” said Istafinde, smiling at my bewildered face “We must sound very petty and malicious to you.”
“No, no of course not.” I stammered.
“Oh yes we do.” said Dorme affectionately, taking my hand. “And we are, but once you get to know Lady Nerwen a little better you’ll be as bad as the rest of us.”
The other girls nodded emphatic agreement.
“But what has she done?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Istafinde answered a little wryly, “nothing but be of like age and temperament to myself, but very different in tastes and talents.” she shrugged. “We were born to be rivals.”
“You are nothing at all like Nerwen.” Findorie said, tight lipped. “She’s arrogant, and selfish and cruel!”
“So am I, my dearest sister,” the Princess answered tenderly, “you don’t see it because you love me.” she sighed. “And at least I know when I’m behaving badly - I’m not at all sure Nerwen does.”
I thought I understood. I had a cousin and a few neighbors back home I disliked for much the same reason as Istafinde said she disliked Nerwen. But Findorie’s white face and shaking hands showed she had a far more real grievance. I wondered what Lady Nerwen had done to her.
“A poetry tourney then.” Istafinde decided. “I will have my grandfather set the themes and we will sing and dance to inspire ourselves.”
I noticed the other girls were carefully not looking at Findorie, giving her time to recover herself.
“Where?” Aldariel asked. “Here in the house or the pleasance?”
“The pleasance of course.” said the Princess. “My mother wouldn’t thank us for imposing a hostess’s duty upon her when she’s so busy with her casting. In the orchard I think, I noticed the trees are in full blossom.”
“Shall we serve a full banquet or just fruit and sweets?” Vanamire asked.
“A banquet.” Istafinde said firmly.
“What dances shall we do?” Quessetal mused, “Birds Flying of course, that’s our best.”
“And Lindele must play ‘The White Ships’.” said Findorie firmly, joining in. Apparently quite herself again.
It was Eleste who told me why Findorie hated the Lady Nerwen, and why the rest of them did too on her behalf. “It was years ago, soon after I joined the Princess‘s maidens, Findorie won some sort of contest against Nerwen - a footrace I think it was - and she was annoyed and after the prize was awarded asked Findorie why her parents weren’t there to see her race.”
Knowing what I did about Findorie I gasped, then said trying to be fair. “But Lady Nerwen couldn’t have known she shouldn’t say something like that to Findorie.”
“No,” Eleste agreed grimly, “she couldn‘t, and of course we didn’t tell her. But she saw at once that something was very wrong and she kept at Findorie nonetheless. Asking what her parents’ names were, where they lived, why she didn’t visit them if they couldn’t visit her and so on, and on until the King finally put an end to it. Istafinde can be cruel, just as she said,” Eleste finished grimly, “but never as bad as that - ever.”
I didn’t give my first language lesson the next day, nor did we begin preparations for our party as we had intended. We had just risen from our rest, an hour or so before the dawn mingling of lights, and were still in our loose gowns with our hair uncombed when the door unexpectedly opened and Prince Feanaro came in looking grim and unhappy. He walked past us as if we weren’t there straight to his daughter’s room and went in. Findorie followed him, leaving the rest of us to exchange alarmed looks. Something must be very wrong but what?
We combed our hair but didn’t dress as we did not yet know what had happened or how it would affect our plans for the day. It seemed a very long time before the Prince finally came out of Istafinde’s room.
Now he did see us and gave us a smile, but he didn’t speak and hurried from the room. He looked as if he had been weeping. Now we were really frightened and turned to Istafinde, who had followed her father into our room for an explanation.
She smiled reassuringly. “It’s nothing dreadful, just sad. The Lord Lorien sent to say my grandmother’s body has finally fallen to dust, and to return the robes and jewels it wore.”
We sighed in mingled relief and sympathy. Poor Feanaro! a strange and terrible fate had befallen his mother Queen Miriel. Soon after his birth her spirit left her body to go to Mandos and refused to return - not even for her husband and son‘s sake. Eventually she chose to stay in the Dark Halls forever and King Finwe had been allowed to marry his second wife, Queen Indis.
“At first the handmaidens of Este kept her body whole against her return,” the Princess explained, “and after she had chosen never to return they continued to tend it for my father’s sake as he would visit it from time to time.” she turned to her foster sister: “He took us once, Findorie, do you remember?”
She nodded. “Yes. We were very small, not yet twenty I think. I remember I was very sleepy the whole time we spent in Lorien and that the Queen had silver hair.”
“She was kin to King Olwe on her mother’s side.” Istafinde said. “Some time ago Lorien and Este advised Father to cease his visits, as they were feeding his sorrow rather than healing it. He agreed and they allowed her body to begin to decay. Now it is gone.” she sighed. “It is for the best but still it is very hard for him, and for my grandfather too. Neither of them can bear to keep the things she wore on her last day and so they have decided to give them, along with a thank gift, to Vaire in whose house my grandmother’s spirit now dwells. And I am to present them.”
A shiver passed through the other girls and I blurted out; “We are to go to Mandos?”
“I’m afraid so.” the Princess said, looking apologetic rather than frightened. “I am sorry but I am the only woman of my Grandmother‘s blood, there is no one else.”
“It’s not as if we’ve never gone before.” Lindele said steadily. Then to me: “It won’t be pleasant but truly there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“We do not enter the Dark Halls.” Istafinde assured me quickly. “We will go no farther than Vaire’s garden. We will see her and her handmaidens, and perhaps Lord Mandos, but no houseless souls.”
I could only nod. That sounded quite bad enough, especially the possibility of seeing the Doomsman.
“And when we have done our duty we will go to the Outer Ocean and watch the stars set.” she finished, as if offering a treat. The other girls certainly seemed to consider it such, they brightened a little at the thought.
We left the hour after the mingling of lights, walking in formal procession down the levels of Tirion to the gate and the crystal stair. First came a troop of noble sons, including Makalaure and the twins; then the heirs of the Noble Houses, including Prince Maitimo, Lord Artaresto and Lord Findalaure; and then the heads of the twelve Noble Houses followed by musicians playing harps, viols and pipes; then Lord Moritarno, King Finwe’s herald and Talagant the Prince’s harpist; and after them the Princess escorted by her father and grandfather with her maidens following three by three and a second troop of musicians bringing up the rear.
My very first lessons had been in deportment, including how to walk in a formal procession with folded hands and lowered eyes, and how not to trip over the fashionable overlong gowns, (the trick is to glide your foot along the ground, pushing the folds of your skirt ahead of it) . Even so I was glad to be nearly invisible between Olliant and Aramaite at the end of the line of maidens. We wore pale gowns and dark, gauzy veils that hid our faces to the chin and fell down our backs to the knees. The Princess too was veiled, but her dress was deep grey shot with silver so it shimmered softly like Telperion when he faded. The others in the procession were clad in sad colors, soft greys and purples and blues, so were the people who lined the great avenue to see us pass. They looked very solemn but I doubted anyone save Prince Feanaro and the King still grieved for the Lady Miriel after so many years.
At the foot of the crystal stair we found fifteen horses, including the pale gold I had ridden to the City, waiting for us. The two extra were for Lord Moritarno and Talagant who were to go with us. And a troop of serving men already mounted and each leading a packhorse.
We rode west over the processional way, the Vansamirin, that led straight as an arrow’s flight from the walls of Tirion to the golden gate of Valimar. It was made of fine white stones, so cunningly laid that no joints could be seen, and bordered with channels of bubbling water wherein blue and yellow irises grew. Here and there the road became a bridge arching low over one of the many streams that ran down from the mountains to the plain, or passed through a grove of shady trees, or widened into a square adorned with fountains and lined with arcades where a traveler might rest and take refreshment.
We did not stop but rode steadily for nearly three hours until the silver domes of Valimar came into view. My Lady beckoned and I urged my horse forward to ride beside her.
“Have you ever seen Valimar, Davne?”
“No, my Lady, not even for the festival, though my parents took me twice to see the celebrations in Tirion.”
“We will be passing through the City on our way to Culullin.” she said. “we will spend a few hours at my Lady Ancala’s house and take some rest before continuing our journey. There will be no time for sightseeing I fear, but perhaps on the way home.”
“Thank you, my Lady.” I managed. We would be visiting one of the Valier, even staying in her house? Oh dear!
Valimar had no walls but there was a gate across the Vansamirin to mark the city edge. It was made of gold in the form of two trees, their branches meeting and interlacing to form the arch, and its golden doors stood open. Inside the great road split into many streets winding between the gardens and parks that surrounded every dwelling. These ranged from great palaces to little cottages built of many colored stone and roofed with gold. There were Elves among the people playing in the gardens and strolling the streets, golden haired Vanyar for the most part with some dark haired Noldor and Teleri, but I knew many were Maiar by their height, a head or more above that of Elves, and by the light in their faces.
The silver domes we had seen from afar roofed the vast feast halls of Varda and Manwe which stood at the center of the city on one side of a great square. On the other rose a tall house with many glittering windows and a high tower adorned with figures and frettings of bronze from which came a great noise of mingled shouts and laughter.
“That is Lord Tulkas’s house.” Dorme told me. “Hear his companions at their sport!”
Pearly walls rose above a wide lake full of lilies. “That is the house of Lisinen, the Lady of Sweet Waters.”
An avenue of great oak trees led to a dark and cavernous door in what seemed to be a green turf wall around a grove of tall trees. “There lie the halls of Orome the Huntsman.”
A music of harp and lyre rose behind walls of sea colored stone. “That is the house of Salmar, Master of Music,” said Dorme. “And there close by is the home of his brother Omar the Singer.” This was built of ivory pale stone with pillars of honey colored marble upholding a wide spreading roof thatched with flowers. “Omar’s wife, Nieliqui, was one of the maidens of Vana Everyoung.”
As we approached the western gate of the City we passed a small, relatively modest house of grey stone glinting with veins of silver. In the garden a group of dark Noldor sat gathered close around the feet of a fair Maia modestly clad in sober grey, listening attentively to his talk. As we passed the Maia glanced up and I caught a quick flash of brilliant eyes before he returned his attention to his pupils.
“Do you know who that is?” Dorme whispered. Of course I didn’t. “That’s Melkor himself - no, don’t look back!”
I resisted the urge with difficulty and hissed: “What is he doing in Valimar?”
“Didn’t you hear? He’s repented and been forgiven. Or so they say. Lady Ancala told the Princess she doesn’t believe it, so of course neither does Istafinde. Feanaro will have nothing to do with him but, as you saw, there are plenty who will!”
I shivered. Even if Ancala was wrong and Melkor had truly repented how could he ever show his face to his fellow Powers or Eru’s Children after the things he’d done? And how could anybody bear to be near him? Then we passed through the western gate and my first sight of the Trees wiped every dark thought from my mind.
The mound of Ezellohar rose high and green before us with Teleperion and Laurelin standing like twin towers of silver and gold upon its crest. The Silver Tree was unlighted but his white blossoms and the pale undersides of his leaves glinted in the radiance of the Golden Tree. It was half passed her fourth hour but she still shone dazzling bright with light falling like a golden rain from her hanging clusters of flowers to run in fiery channels to the great vats ranged around the northern end of the mound. Similar vats full to the brim with the silvery dews of Telperion stood at foot of Corolaire’s southern slope.
Dorme nudged me. “There is the Mahanaxar, where the Valar sit in council.” it stood to the right of the road, between the mound and the gate, a circle of fourteen mighty thrones each richly decorated with the devices of its owner in precious metals and gems.
At the foot of Ezellohar the road split into two branches, one leading north, the other south. “There lie the Courts of Aule.” said Dorme, pointing southward at what seemed to be a walled park with the smoke from many chimneys drifting above it. “And there the gardens and groves of Lorien.” these were dark trees of yew and cedar, cypress and pine lying like a shadow on the green plain.
Northward the road ran past the Mahaxanar then bent between the golden vats of Laurelin’s light and the first terrace of hanging gardens of golden trees and flowers that gleamed near as bright as the great Tree herself. And on the topmost terrace stood a great hall of red gold its windows glittering like great adamant stones. I didn’t need Dorme to tell me that was Culullin the house of Ancala of the Flame, our Lady’s patroness and our hostess to be.