In which Davne shares strange dreams with her fellow maidens and the Princess's retinue continues its journey.
My wide white wings beat the air in long lazy strokes. The night wind carried the scent of water and evergreen trees and the stars of Varda burned around me like lanterns. I was not alone other swans flew at my right and my left, their wingtips inches from mine, all of us part of a spear-point formation of some dozen or so. At a signal from our leader I angled my wings downward and we descended smoothly, still in formation, onto the grey surface of a large lake.
Mist stood above the water like pale flames and reeds rustled along the shores. Behind them grey-green sward rose in a smooth slope to a dark wood of hemlock and pine. My companions and I glided across the water to the shore. Then suddenly the lead swan turned into my Princess, standing ankle deep in water and draped from shoulder to heel in a cloak of soft white feathers. The other swans too began to change into my fellow maidens and then I did something and became Davne again.
I was wearing a cloak of swan feathers, just like the others, and the water seemed colder to my Elf feet than it had to my swan's webs. I followed the others through the rushes and up on to the grassy shore. And then we saw the stranger Elves, little more than dark shapes at the forest's edge.
Istafinde's voice quivered with excitement as she greeted them in the Eastern tongue. They came closer. They looked none so different from Amanyar, a bit shorter perhaps, most dark haired but some with pale locks that glimmered under the stars, but the light of their eyes seemed strangely dim.
One answered my Lady, but his accent was different from my grandmother's making him hard to understand. Uncertainty flickered over Istafinde's face. "Nolowende."
I moved swiftly towards her, as if I had been called -
- Then suddenly it was full light, bright as Laurelin at his third hour, yet it was not Laurelin's light though very like it. Our swan robes lay on the green shore of a clear pool, fed by a small waterfall and dotted with stones worn smooth and shapely by the water. The trees that crowded close around, larch, rowan and cherry, were in full, springtime bloom.
We had been bathing in the pool but now we were all staring at the three men who had intruded upon us. They were tall and fair to look upon with golden hair and blue eyes but they were not Elf-Kind, that much I knew for certain. Unlike us - and yet like to us. What were they? -
- We were flying again, cleaving like arrows through a strange, smoky darkness. The ground below us was black with hideous creatures, sheathed in iron and leather, fighting with Elves of both Western and Eastern kinds, and the Strangers who were not Elves but kindred to us.
Istafinde, at the point of our formation, gave a harsh cry and we swooped down upon the dark ones, changing from swan to woman as we struck. I wore a corselet of shining silver steel beneath my feather cloak and there was a long spear in my hand. I struck down the evil warriors before me easily, as if I had done it often before -
And then I awoke to find myself curled in a stone seat on a terrace overlooking the Lady Ancala's fiery gardens. The other girls who'd slept outside were moving inward to gather around the tank of Telperion's dews, I uncurled rather stiffly and joined them.
"I had such strange dreams." I told Dorme as we splashed silver light over ourselves.
"That's the limpe." she assured me. "It always gives dreams."
"True dreams?" I asked rather uneasily.
She shrugged. "That depends on who did the brewing.
"Those who dream in Ancala's house always dream true." Istafinde said quietly.
I didn't mind learning how to turn myself into a swan but I wasn't at all sure I wanted to become a warrior. And what where those horrible things we'd been fighting - and who were the Strangers who'd fought beside us?
After fortifying ourselves with Telperion's dews we followed our Lady back to the Hall where she took leave of our hostess. The firebed and extra braziers had not been relit nor the window casements closed so the temperature in the Hall was almost bearable - for Elf-kind. I wondered if the various Fire-Maiar standing around found it uncomfortably chilly. Ancala kissed Istafinde lightly on the brow and then Makarion and two of her Handmaidens escorted us down the terraced gardens to the gate.
Outside Ancala's hot golden demesne it was the dawn mingling of lights. Our serving men were where we had left them and had set up a tent far larger and grander than the little one I had used on my journey to the City. This one was white striped with gold, Istafinde's colors, and had her banner flying from its peak. Inside we found carpets and cushions and low tables and chests containing our belongings.
Each of us had three; a sandalwood chest for our gowns and body linen, an ebony chest for shoes and girdles and the like, and a small, ivory casket for the jewels that went with every costume. We replaced our thin flame colored shifts with green riding dresses, each the shade of a different kind of leaf, worn over chemises the delicate pink, white or yellow of blossoms. Only Istafinde's costume was different, as usual, ivory white over pale gold.
When we were dressed we went outside again and found Lord Moritarno and Talagant had returned from their own visits. The harpist played for us while the serving men took down the tent and loaded the pack horses. When our camp was all neatly packed away we called our horses and mounted and resumed our journey.
Findorie was riding beside Istafinde at the head of our line but suddenly she reined in her mount falling back to talk to each of us in turn. I was near the end of our procession, with Quessetal the dancer beside me and the serving men behind. Finally Findorie reached us.
"Did you dream of flying last night?" she asked.
"Yes!" we both said at once - then looked at each other.
"You dreamed of turning into swans too?" I asked.
"Yes." Quessetal smiled happily. "It was wonderful."
"It seems we all dreamed the same." said Findorie.
"Did you see the Strangers?" I asked. "The ones who are like us but different?"
"Not I." Findorie answered. "But Istafinde did. And Olliante too."
“Not quite the same then.” said Quessetal. “I saw no Strangers but I did see the Eastern Elves, and a city of white stone like to Tirion.” she frowned a little. “I saw it besieged by a great dark army, but Istafinde fired it from a white flame she held in her hand and then we all turned into swans and flew away leaving our City and the enemy to burn...”
“I saw fighting too,” I said, and shivered a little, still troubled by the memory, “but not a City.”
“We all dreamed of battle but not the same battle.” said Findorie. “There is bound to be fighting when we return to Middle Earth. Melkor may be here but his creatures still haunt the darkened lands.”
“But they weren’t dark!” Quessetal blurted. “There was light; silver and golden both, like the Trees’ but not quite.”
“I dreamed that too.” I agreed. “What does it mean?”
“Perhaps that the Valar will find a way to share the Light of the Trees with Middle Earth.” said Findorie doubtfully. “But one thing is certain. The Prince will get his wish and we will go home at last.”
I was surprised by Findorie’s choice of word, then I remembered. Yes, for her Middle Earth was home. But for the rest of us?
The road wound northward through the flowering meads and woods of the Plain of Valinor. The houseless land seemed empty to the eye but was not so, here dwelt many lesser spirits of wood and meadow and stream and lake. One could feel their eyes upon us and every so often one or two or more would clothe themselves in Elf-like forms and approach to ask our business, or even keep company with us for a time as we passed through their country.
The trees dwindled to two bright points of light, like the stars of Elentari, on the south-eastern horizon but still we traveled with no sign of any ending to our journey. I had never realized Aman was so vast, for few Elves wander far from our dwellings on its eastern margins, but my Princess and my fellow maidens were among those few. They had passed this way before, many times, especially Istafinde and Findorie, and could greet many of the spirits we encountered by name.
We stopped at the mingling of lights to take a meal and each evening the men erected our tent and we took an hour or two of rest before resuming our journey by Telperion’s silver light. It was not a disagreeable way of life; we sang to Talagant’s harp as we rode and the girls told me stories of the odd friends they had made among the lesser Maiar and spirits on other journeys. Had this been a journey of pleasure we would have turned aside to visit some of them but we were on a mission for our King and so kept to the road and rode steadily northward.
Finally the land began to rise in hills that grew steadily steeper and wilder as we approached the northern mountains. The air grew cooler and the land we traveled through seemed wild and inhospitable compared to the Plain.
“We have passed beyond the power of the Valar, they do not tend these hills or the mountains beyond them.” Istafinde told me. “Does that make you feel unsafe, or oppressed, Davne?”
“No, my Lady, I like it.” I looked around at the cold, purple-grey hills rough with heather. I did like it, even better than the rich smiling lands to the south which was very strange. “I like it here, but I don’t know why.“ I admitted, puzzled.
Istafinde smiled. “So do I.” was all she said.
I asked the others, one by one, and they all admitted that they liked it too.
“It has a kind of beauty you don’t see in the meads of Tirion.” Helianwe said. “Everything there is bright, here it is muted but richer. You don’t see such colors in the south land.”
“It’s so lonely and untended, nobody appreciates this country but us, even the Nandini and Orossi prefer the sea facing mountains.” said Dorme. “Sometimes I feel I’d like to live here, watch the seasons change, take care of the land and love it, make it bloom. Not like in the south but in its own way.”
“Listen to the steams,” said Lindele, “they sing a different song from those in the south. Their own song.”
“This land is free.” said Findorie. “It belongs to itself, not the Valar, and when we are here we are free from their trammels.”
I stared at her, shocked, and Olliante, who rode nearby, clucked disapprovingly. “That’s a harsh way of putting it.”
“But a true one.” Findorie retorted grimly.
“It is as my Lady said,” Istafinde put in gently, “the Valar brought us here for the best of reasons but they were wrong to do so. This land belongs to them and here we can never be more than guests, eternally cosseted and protected.” she looked gravely at me. “Some, perhaps many, of our folk like it so. But not all. We have learned much of the Valar but we cannot remain pupils forever. We would like to exercise our new powers and that we cannot do here under the hand and eye of the Powers.”
“And that’s why the Prince wants to go back to Middle Earth.” I said with sudden understanding.
“That is why.”
“I want to go with you when you leave.” I told my Lady.
“You will.” she promised, and smiled.