Wherein Davne struggles to learn how to be city lady and worthy companion to the Princess Istafinde. And has a most unexpected meeting with Prince Feanaro
Lessons, lessons, lessons! So much to learn that there didn’t seem time enough in a day for it all, and I was right at the bottom of every class!
“Well of course you are,” Laniel the weaver, whose esse was Dorme, told me kindly. “you’re new, you’ll have to catch up. It was the same for us all.”
“I’ll never catch up.” I moaned, on the point of tears.
“That’s what I thought when I was new.” Dorme answered, grinning. “And Dilme and Eleste and Serendis and Lissime and Herinke -”
“Especially Herinke!” our potter said emphatically. “I’m a country girl too, Davne, I grew up east of the mountains, in sight of Tol Eressea. It was all as strange to me as it is to you. But I learned, just as you will.”
I smiled at her. Herinke’s class was one of my favorites, it’s very satisfying to punch an misthrown pot back into a lump of clay. Mistakes in my other classes were less easy to correct, and I made so many!
I seemed to be constantly unweaving or picking out bad stitches. The colors I tried to mix all turned muddy. I cut myself as often as my wood carvings, which always turned out wrong anyway. And I’d spoiled more gems trying to cut them than I dared to remember!
But smithcraft was the absolute worst. I was afraid of the molten metal, coming liquid from the furnace to pour into molds, and of the way the sparks flew when we hammered at the white hot ingots.
“You must have a firm and steady hand.” Ammalien, our smith, kept telling me. “You are too timid, too afraid of making a mistake.” That too, but mostly I was afraid of being burned. Ammalien herself was quite fearless, handling fire like it was her native element. And the other girls seemed resigned to the occasional scald or burn.
“You’re doing well in Poetry and Song.” Olliante said encouragingly. Which was true, I’d always had a good memory for words.
“And not badly at all in music.” added Lindele, which was true too. Unfortunately the same could not be said of dance. Quessetal grimaced but kept silent.
The complicated City dances were too much for me, and my misteps threw the others off too. Just yesterday we’d tried an intricate new dance with colored streamers, I don’t know exactly where I went wrong but instead of weaving a many colored net, as we were supposed to do, we ended up tangled in our streamers like kittens in a ball of yarn. The others had just laughed, but I’d wanted to sink into the ground!
“And you’re doing very well in writing.” Findorie said quite kindly. “None of the others picked it up so quickly.”
I loved writing. It seemed a kind of miracle that I could, by drawing a few symbols, put down my own thoughts or read those of somebody I’d never even met. My hands, so clumsy with works of craft, seemed deft enough when it came to forming the elegant letters devised by Prince Feanaro.
All the girls did their best to be kind and encouraging - and to keep their patience with me though that was sometimes very hard indeed. Some like Dorme and Herinke I liked very much, but I was a little frightened of others, especially Findorie. She was so intimidatingly good at everything, and though she was always pleased with my writing she was frequently and witheringly critical of my manners and deportment which were still far to countrified for her taste.
“You must be patient with Findorie.” Dorme told me one evening, slipping into my alcove after we’d all settled down for a few hour‘s rest.
I looked at her in astonishment. “Patient?”
“Yes. She doesn’t mean to be unkind when she speaks sharply, it’s just she wants everything always to be perfect for Istafinde, and she has a great trouble of her own which gnaws at her heart.”
“Findorie?” I said disbelieving.
Dorme nodded seriously. “All the others know, so you should too. You know Findorie is the Princess’s foster-sister?”
“Feanaro and Nertanie have reared her from an infant, they regard her almost as another daughter. But she isn’t their daughter, which wouldn’t matter so much if she only knew whose daughter she was.”
“I don’t understand.” I whispered, thoroughly bewildered.
“It’s a strange story.” Dorme continued softly. “I’ve never heard the like, nor has anybody else. Findorie came from the Halls of Mandos, she was born in the Dark Lands and died there.”
Well that wasn’t so unheard of. Everybody knew about the re-embodied, even if they’d never met with one.
“Findorie died as an infant, too young to know her own name or her kin. And she came to Mandos alone so not even the Valar know who she was or which people she belongs to. She could be a Noldo who stayed behind. Or a Teleri, or even an Avari who refused the Journey. She doesn’t know and neither does anybody else. Istafinde says that’s why Findorie works so hard to be good at everything, and has so little patience with those who aren’t. She feels she has to prove herself worthy of belonging to the Royal Family since she has no other.”
“Poor Findorie!” I whispered, appalled. How terrible not to know your own parents and to have no chance of ever knowing them because they were back in Middle Earth. No wonder she was sometimes short tempered with such a trouble in her heart!
“You must never, ever breath a word of this to any one, especially Findorie.” Dorme warned. “She thinks it’s her secret, known only to her and the Royal Family. But Istafinde told Ramarie, Eleste, Pelorie and me when we were appointed to her service, and we’ve told every new girl since so they’ll know not to ask Findorie about her family or talk too much about their own in front of her.”
We spent most of the next day in the smithy. Ammalien called me away from my work, (which was going badly as usual) and sent me to the treasury for jewels of beryl, opal and crystal to set in the armlets we were making. I was delighted to obey though I had to ask a serving man where the treasury was, (Ammalien had forgotten I was new and wouldn’t know). I made it there all right but on my way back, clutching my bag of gemstones, I must have taken a wrong turn for instead of ending up back in our airy smithy with its thirteen workbenches and little furnace I found myself in a cavernous foundry.
The only light came from the white hot metal running in channels from huge blast furnaces. The figures of the workmen stood out black against the white and red fires as they shoveled coal and turned levers and wheels directing the flows of metal into different vats. The heat was terrible and the roar of the furnaces and the shouts of the men echoed off the smoke darkened vault.
I stood there, clutching my bag of gems, too frightened to move. Then I realized one of the men was shouting at *me*. “Turn the wheel! I mean you, girl! Turn it!”
I jumped, dropping my bag, looked around and saw a small wheel sticking out of a long metal trough nearby. It took all my strength to turn it and I wasn’t at all prepared for the gush of flaming molten metal that surged into the trough.
A strong hand pulled me away before I could come to any harm, and I found myself looking up into a pair of bright silver eyes in a smoke blackened face. “Where are your gloves and your hood?” my rescuer demanded. “Fool girl, you could have been burned!”
“I - I - I -” I stuttered, trying to answer. And then burst into tears.
The man shouted some instructions to the workers then led me out of the foundry into an open courtyard, sat me down on a bench and got me a glass of water. “There, there, little one. I’m sorry I raised my voice to you, but you must always wear your hood and gloves or you could be badly hurt.”
“I don’t have any.” I managed, sniffling. “I don’t belong here. I got lost. I should be with the other girls in Ammalien’s smithy.”
He frowned down at me for a minute, then his brow cleared. “Of course, you must be the little girl who knows Eastern Telerin. However did you get all the way over here?”
“I think I turned wrong when I left the treasury.” I admitted. “Ammalien sent me for gems for the armlets we’re making -” I broke off, looking around for my bag. “I must have left them in the foundry.”
I started to rise but the man pressed me down. “Ambarussa,” he called, “look by the copper vat, and bring me the bag of gems you will find there.”
A moment later a boy with reddish hair, not much older than myself, came running with my bag in his hand. “Here it is, Father.”
By then I had gathered enough wits to put name and hair together and realize this was one of the youngest Princes, which meant that the man I’d been talking to - I turned bright crimson. “My Lord, I‘m sorry I didn‘t recognize -”.
“And why should you?” he asked. He wiped a bit of soot off his face with a finger and looked at it ruefully. “My own wife would have trouble recognizing me at the moment!” I started to get up and he pushed me gently down again. “None of that, little one, no point in standing on ceremony now. Finish your water and Ambarussa here will show you back to your fellows.”
And that is how I finally met my Lord Feanaro.
Every day at the mingling of lights Istafinde’s maidens joined the rest of the household for dinner in the great hall. We sat near the head of a table set close to the dais with the other unmarried women of the household below us. Findorie sat with us, though I had been told she joined the Princess at the high table when she was at home. But that evening she stopped me from taking my usual place and instead led me up onto the dais. Prince Feanaro, washed and properly dressed with a jeweled circlet on his brow, made an alarmingly impressive figure. And he was very beautiful, (some said the most beautiful of all the Elves born in Aman) so much so that I was afraid to look at him for fear of never being able to look away again. So I looked instead at the lady beside him. The Princess Nertanie was a kind faced woman with strong rather than elegant features and the reddish hair her youngest and eldest sons had inherited.
“So this is Davne.” she said. “Welcome, my dear, and forgive our poor manners for not doing so before.”
“I told you she was here, Mother.” Findorie reminded her. Fortunately she had been as amused as the other girls by my encounter with Prince Feanaro.
“I know you did,” the Princess answered, “but I have been over absorbed in this new statue group I am sculpting, and of course your father never has room in his head for such mundane matters.
“I have been busy making the alloys you need.” the Prince said. “And your changing your mind ever other day hasn’t hastened the work!” then he smiled at me. “I am afraid, little one, in this house work makes us forget all else, including basic courtesy.”
I was too dazzled to speak, but Feanaro was no doubt used to that. He conducted me to the chair at his right hand. The Princess sat at his left and Findorie beyond her. I had the twin princes, Ambarussa and Ambarto, on my right. I recognized Romillie, on the other side of the table and a few seats down, but had no idea who all these other grand looking Elves might be.
The Prince kindly gave me a few moments to collect myself, and I needed them! Turning to his wife he put five small ingots of metal on the white table cloth, they were of strange colors I’d never seen before, alloys made from the mingling of many metals.
“Will any of these do?” he asked.
Nertanie studied them, then picked out two, one a greeny-grey and the other an odd pinkish silver. “But I still need a yellow.” she said. “Not gold *yellow*.”
Feanaro looked ruefully at the three ingots left. All were shades of gold. “I’ll keep trying.”
He turned to me and I snuck a swift short look at his face, just long enough to see it was alight with interest. “You were a great find to me, Mistress Davne, I have been looking long and hard for somebody who could teach me aught of the tongues spoken by our kin left forsaken in the East. Your name is one I have never heard before, is it Eastern Telerin?”
“Yes my Lord, it means ‘she who yields’ it comes from the same root as our word ‘lava’.”
“So it is still possible to trace common roots. The languages have not diverged much then?”
“Yes and no,” I answered, becoming too interested to be shy, “the sounds have shifted, sometimes in very odd ways. Yet other words are almost the same and I don’t know why it should be so - it seems very strange.”
“Give me a few more examples.” he said.
So I did. For the first time since my coming to the City my mind was too occupied with other, much more interesting things, to waste time worrying about my manners.
And when, at dinner’s end, the Prince said: “Once I have finished with these troublesome metals for my Lady you must begin your class in Eastern Telerin, Mistress Davne, and I will be first among your pupils!” I didn’t feel even a twinge of nervousness.
“Didn’t I tell you?” Findorie said, in a smug sort of way, as we joined the other girls for the long climb back to our great chamber.
“You were right.” I agreed. “He is very kind. I wasn’t afraid of him at all.”
Note: Twenty-two names for eleven girls is a lot to remember so here is a list of Istafinde's Maids of Honor, in order of seniority; esse, epesse, and specialty.
Irilde Findorie, writing
Ramarie Lindele, music
Dorme Laniel, weaving
Eleste Helianwe, grinding and mixing colors and dyes
Pelorie Ammalien, smithing
Herinke Kentanie, ceramics
Dilme Vanamire, Gem cutting
Onorie Quessetal, Dance
Serendis Aldariel, wood carving
Lissime Oliante, poetry and song
Tereval Aramaite, needlework