Chapter 1: Prologue
Yara had just started to understand enough Swedish to get her through ballet class without exasperated looks from her teacher, and she could finally relax enough to not continually fuck up their routines. It had made her self-conscious at first to see herself in the mirror, the way her shoes shone bright pink while theirs blended seamlessly into their skin tones. She would rather have black shoes, but only the boys were allowed those - and besides, where would she find black pointe shoes on her budget?
She got into position, her toenails pressing into the box. She felt her muscles tensing, and her posture lifting.
‘That’s it,’ she thought, ‘forget about your classmates. It’s just you and the music. Aaand, 5, 6, 7, 8 - go!’
She did forget, for just a moment. Not just her classmates, but everything else. She forgot that she wasn’t in Syria, she forgot that her house was rubble, she forgot that they hadn’t found her mother yet, she forgot that her brother was dead, she forgot that she didn’t have a home, and she forgot that she didn’t know if she would be able to stay or not. Then she reached the barre by the mirror and as her hands caught on it to stop her from crashing into the glass reality washed over her, and she walked back to do it again.
“How was dance class?” the immigration assistant asked as Yara sat down, still sweating.
“Good,” Yara replied, a little stiffly. “What news?”
“We’ve made the decision to move you to another town...”
“No,” Yara interrupted angrily, “not again! You said I could stay here, I am good here, right?”
“You still don’t have a home. There is a home for you in Sollefteå.”
“Where?” Yara frowned. “What home?”
“Sollefteå,” the assistant said slowly, as if Yara hadn’t heard.
“I have room here! I have friend! Dance class! I don’t want Sollef-tå, I want school. Dance school!”
“The decision is final,” the immigration assistant sighed, and despite Yara’s continued protests she was instructed to go and pack her things. Yara’s growl grew into a shriek as she left, holding her ballet bag scrunched in her hand.
‘Almighty God,’ she prayed under her breath as she left the building, ‘I only want a good place, where I can dance.’
“Fuck off back to arab-country, you cunt!”
She didn’t even look up, just kept walking.
‘Almighty God, let me find a place where people will not hate me.’
“I’m talking to you, monkey!”
She walked faster, but the man grabbed her by the arm.
‘Almighty God, help me.’
“In this country we speak SWEDISH!” He pushed her against the railing of the bridge. Cars were swooshing by, but no one stopped.
“I learn Swedish,” she mumbled, but she knew it was not going to help. He was already pulling at her hijab, and she closed her eyes on her tears.
”Soon you’ll be dead like the rest of your terrorist friends.”
‘Almighty God,’ she whispered one last time, ‘I have had enough of death and hatred.’
The pins ripped her hair as the fabric left her forehead, the tight bun below smelling of hairspray in the misty rain. She pulled hard to step away, but his leg was in front of hers, and she fell. He laughed. More cars swooshed by. He kicked her several times, and when she rolled below the railing and into the water below he left, as if nothing had happened.
She could feel her body hitting the icy water, but as it closed above her she felt nothing. There was no cold, no current, no roaring sound of water rushing. All was warm, and smooth, and dark. She thought she saw a glimpse of her pale blue hijab floating next to her face, and then nothing.
Chapter 2: Daughter of the Pale Leaf
Italics = Yara can’t understand
regular = Yara can understand
The tide was coming in on Mithlond, the water rising slowly on the pebbled shore behind the docks. A few small boats resting there bobbed in the starlight, the white wood shining in the dark. A shadow approached on the rippling water, and Círdan could see it from the balcony where he stood. It was not an ominous shadow, and too small to be an approaching ship. Just a tiny speck of dark, softly moving closer to the shore.
He jumped down on the paved road separating the house from the beach, and walked calmly to the water’s edge. The shadow came to him, and he could see its shape. It seemed to him like an autumn leaf, crumpled and dry, but large as a dolphin. It was light brown and brittle, and as his hand reached out to feel it he was afraid it might break. It was, however, sturdier than it looked. It hardly bent under the strength of his fingers, and he dared pull it closer, softly onto the rounded pebbles.
There was something light within its folds. Círdan leaned slowly over it, and pushed on the leaf as if begging it to open. It did, slowly and reluctantly under his strong hands, and he drew a deep breath of sea air at what he saw. It was a figure, dressed in black, except for the light blue fabric below head. Her eyes were closed, her skin dark, and yet he felt a light from her. She was certainly not a dark elf.
’Ae Elbereth,’ he whispered, and stood back for a moment. He waved to the house, and soon there were people all around.
”She is elven,” he said to them. ”Take her inside, let her rest on a bed, and make sure she is well.”
“What of her vessel?” asked a young elf after the girl had been carried inside. Círdan turned to face her.
"What of it?" he returned with a small smile.
"It is to me like a great leaf from the gardens of Ivon."
"For all we know, perhaps it is," Círdan said, and began to walk to the house.
The sun had risen when Yara woke up, and its beams were falling brightly into the room where she lay. She could hear the sea, and she was confused and unsettled as she opened her eyes. She saw a stone wall straight before her, blank save for a faded pattern along the roof. It reminded her dimly of home. There was a door to the right, arched and ancient looking, and then … a face. A kind, bearded face, that reminded her of her grandfather. He smiled, but she didn’t. She broke into tears.
“Ae, what ails you?”
Yara snivelled, and stared at him. That was not a language she recognised.
“English?” she asked.
He frowned at her, and then spoke again, this time sounding different.
“Do you speak quenya, perhaps?”
“Swedish?” Yara tried, trying to blink away the tears that would not stop coming.
“Westron?” the man tried, but he sounded hesitant.
“Arabic?” Yara sighed, expecting little.
The man sighed in resignation, but his face was still smiling kindly. He pressed a hand to his chest.
“Círdan,” he said, and then motioned towards her.
“Yara,” she replied, pointing to her own face. Círdan laughed, and Yara frowned. His eyes were sparkling brightly, but not with malice or mockery, and she was unsure. Unsure of where she was, to begin with, and him laughing made it little better. She had heard that there were still native people in Sweden, who spoke their own language, but surely, surely she could not have been sent to live with them? And would they not know any Swedish at all?
Then she remembered the water. The cold water, that had not been so cold. Surely she should be in hospital? Yet, she noticed, she felt no pain. Except still that pain inside her chest, that pressing sadness that she didn’t know what to do with. She burst into tears again.
“I apologise,” Círdan said. “I did not mean to upset you, I was merely laughing because your name in quenya means ‘growl’, and you hardly seem so vicious.”
Yara did not understand a word, but the melody of his mature voice calmed her, and for a moment she felt comforted as his hand took hers.
Then she remembered herself, drew back her hand, and touched it to her head. No hijab. She quickly wiped her tears and looked around her. There, by the bedside, her ballet bag and blue fabric folded neatly on top. She took it quickly and wrapped it around her head. She noticed Círdan looking curiously at her, and her eyes fell. He did not know what she had done, and she felt lonelier for it.
She noticed she was still wearing her clothes, and that, at least, was some relief. Her black sweatshirt smelled a little sour, but it didn’t look too bad. Below the blanket covering her she could feel her leggings and sweatpants, but no socks or shoes. She looked over the edge of the bed, and found her sneakers waiting neatly.
She sat up slowly, examining Círdan. He was just smiling, his white beard all soft and neat around his smooth lips. She noticed though, that his hair was long. Really long. His braid was resting on his lap. It reminded her of gurus and cults, and she became wary of him once more. She picked up her bag, and rummaged through it for a while. Her phone was at the bottom, as always, but at least it was there.
She pressed her thumb to it, and it came alive.
“Yes!” she called in triumph, and Círdan’s eyebrows lifted in surprise—not only at her exclamation, but also at the light emanating from her hand. He leaned in closer, but she leaned away, holding the screen to her chest. He slowly returned to his seat.
Still frowning over her smile she tried to call her best friend. Nothing. She looked back at the screen. ‘No service.’ The heavy feeling in her chest returned, and she was on the verge of tears. She took a deep breath, and stood up. She pointed to herself, and to the door. Círdan stood up and opened the door for her with a smile, holding his arm out to bid her walk before him.
Yara came out in an arched corridor, all made of stone.
“No wonder there’s no reception,” she muttered, and headed for the daylight in the distance, her steps rushed. Círdan followed, quick and smooth for his age, and it unnerved Yara. At least she still had her phone, she thought, and turned the corner into daylight. There was a balcony, and stairs, and then the sea, and it was beautiful.
She stopped, and forgot about her phone for just a moment. There was a beach of white pebbles stretching out into the calm water. The beach was in shadow, but out on the water the sun glinted, and illuminated two great cliffs protecting the natural harbour. She could see boats and even a large ship to her right, and on her left there were people, and laughter, and the song of both birds and people. She was in awe, and she slowly descended to the water, her phone hanging limply in her hand.
Then she remembered, and she took it up again. Still no signal. She put it in her pocket, her lips pressed tightly together. Behind her she heard Círdan’s steps on the pebbles, and he pointed to what she had thought was just rubbish, but she saw now was a great leaf.
“This is what bore you here to us, Iscalassiel.”
Yara shook her head to remind him that she didn’t understand. His smile remained, and he held a hand behind her elbow, leading her closer. He pointed to her, and to the leaf, and made a motion from the sea to the shore. Yara looked intensely on, but said nothing, and he repeated his motions. She squatted beside the leaf, and felt it. It was smooth, almost leathery to the touch, but it had a metallic resistance. Círdan bent down beside her.
“Iscalassë,” he said, and pointed to the leaf. “Iscalassiel,” he repeated, and pointed to her.
Did he want her to get into the leaf? Yara wondered with a frown, and backed away, shaking her head. He only nodded. She shook her head more vigorously, remembered her phone again, and wanted desperately to find somewhere where she had reception. She ran towards the crowd by the boats, and while they seemed a bit cultish with their singing and their long hair she hoped someone could at least speak English.
“Hey!” she shouted and waved to them. Círdan was still behind her, and she felt chased. “Does anyone speak English?” she called, and the singing stopped.
“They know no more of your language than I,” Círdan called exasperatedly from behind her.
“You speak quenya?” one of the fishermen called to Yara, eyebrows raised.
“She speaks no language I can understand,” Círdan called with a laugh to the man.
“Then why are you speaking quenya with her?” the man asked, laughing himself, and walked up to them. Yara could see he was young, and bright, and nimble.
“Because her name is Yara,” Círdan sighed, “and because she reminds me of ages gone by.”
Yara held up her phone to the young man’s face and waved it.
“Reception?” she asked. “Signal? Service? E.T. phone home?”
Nothing. Just a stunned looked and inquisitive eyes.
“Fuck this,” Yara muttered, and started walking along the road, away from the shore.
“What was that thing?”
“I don’t know,” Círdan sighed. “It makes light, but she did not allow me to see it.”
“It makes light? What do you mean?”
“She pressed her finger to it, and it lit up. Then she pressed it again, and it went dark. However, I am not sure that it will help her, if she is to wander away from our havens alone.”
“Ae, Círdan, if you want me to fetch her just say so! You are becoming worse than a wizard.”
Círdan chuckled to himself as the younger elf followed Yara.
“Galdor!” he called after him. “Be gentle with her!”
Galdor ran up to the road, but as he came closer to Yara he slowed down. She looked cautiously over her shoulder, and sped up. Galdor rolled his eyes, and kept up. She went faster still, and people were looking.
“Yara!” Galdor shouted. “Yara, stop!”
Yara breathed deeply and kept turning her roaming on and off, hoping to connect to something, anything, just to get her out of here. Everyone seemed to be a part of this cult, everyone had long hair and shining eyes and they were so tall, and a lot of them were singing way to happily and…
The paving on the road stopped, and so did Yara. An archway of stone went above her, and beyond it the road turned to gravel, lined with cliffs and trees. Wilderness. Pure wilderness.
“Finally,” Galdor breathed behind her. Yara turned roaming off and on one last time, and then she gave up. Had she not been so upset, she might have noticed that even after a brisk walk uphill she was hardly out of breath, but for all the pressure in her chest she might as well have been suffocating. The tears she had been fighting ever since she woke up in that room overcame her, and she sobbed violently, falling onto her knees in the archway. She might have prayed, if she had any breath, but all she could do was fight for air as her body seemed to want to do nothing but expulse the anxiety within, even if it cost her her life.
“Yara,” Galdor said with surprising softness, “Iscalassiel. Please, come back and rest. Do not despair. You are safe here in Mithlond.”
She didn’t move. She just cried. He placed an arm on her back, but she only shrugged him away, wailing louder.
“Iscalassiel, I mean you no harm.”
“YARA! Not your damned Islawhatever. YARA.”
“Yara,” Galdor repeated. “Come, please.”
He held out a hand, but she did not even look his way. He saw the little square thing resting in her hands, tearstained. His hand moved closer, curious. She pushed it away with both her arms.
“Don’t you dare!” she shrieked. Galdor stepped back, and he looked with worry on her shivering frame. If the Valar had sent them another warrior, it was a broken one. His heart was filled with compassion for her, despite her anger, but if she was so violent, how could he help her?
Yara wiped the tears from her phone. She needed to be careful with it. She needed it. In a place like this, she thought, would they even have electricity? She turned it off to save battery.
She had walked through wilderness once before, to escape war. Now she was facing the same prospect, and she didn’t even know why, or what she was escaping from. She remembered her things back in the room, but how would she be able to fetch them, if she could not even stand up? And what would be the guarantee that these nut-jobs didn’t just lock her in? She let her head fall to the ground, the warm stone against her forehead. It smelled like stone, like earth, in the most beautiful way. It was the same scent of the dust in her garden in Damascus.
‘Almighty God, let me go home.’
There were arms around her, and she screamed. Galdor had picked her up, one arm around her waist, and one under her knees. She was balled up in strong arms, and it wasn’t comfortable for either of them—not helped by her kicking and writhing—but he didn’t move. He just held her, tight as ever, until she stopped moving. She was still trembling from her sobs now and then, but she relaxed ever so slowly, and he placed her down on her feet.
“I’m sorry,” he said, one hand still holding hers. “Please, let us go back.”
She was still crying, but there was kindness in his eyes, and her legs didn’t buckle beneath her. She wiped her tears with her sleeve, and, even though she knew it was probably the most dangerous thing she could do, she allowed herself to be led back down the slope.
Círdan was waiting for them by the shore, and when he saw her huddled tearfully on Galdor’s arm his expression became grave.
“I told you to be gentle,” he scolded Galdor.
“I did my best,” Galdor replied. “She fell into tears at the gate. No, not tears. Despair. She fell to the ground, and she would not let me help her. I had to lift her to her feet, even though she struggled.”
“Take her to her room, let her rest. Then we must speak.”
Yara was grateful for the bed, and grateful to be left alone. Galdor closed the door behind himself, but she heard no lock. She pulled off her sweatshirt and sweatpants, her blue leotard and leggings shining brightly, but soon hidden under the blankets. She wrapped herself up, and cried herself to sleep, her phone safely in her hand under her pillow.
Starlight ruled again. Círdan, Galdor, and Êgraen, a female elf with long, black hair, were sitting on a cliff overlooking the sea.
“There is nothing that weighs on me so much as that we cannot speak with her,” Círdan said slowly. “Not only can we know nothing of why she is here, or why she is so burdened, but it also tells of fell tidings in the west. When the Istari came, and Glorfindel, we could speak almost fluently, and now comes this elf, alone and angry, with no words.”
“We must teach them to her, then,” Êgraen urged sternly, “so that we may know her troubles.”
“I want to know what her purpose is,” Galdor said, his eyes on the stars. “I want to know why she ran to the gate, and why she waved that … thing in my face.”
“I am curious about that too,” Círdan nodded, “yet I think we must be careful. Another possibility frightens me, frightens me so much that I almost dare not speak of it.”
“Yet you must,” Êgraen said.
“I must,” Círdan conceded with a sigh. “She holds power and light. She has seen the trees, I think. Yet I do not know what elf could come to us with so much anger. I fear … I fear she may not have lived long in the light, and that she may have been held by Sauron, or even Morgoth.”
“But why would she come to us now?” Êgraen questioned. “From where?”
“I do not have the answers,” Círdan answered softly, “only the questions.”
“She has the answers,” Galdor said after a long silence.
“Who will teach her the words to give them with?” Êgraen sighed.
“I will,” Círdan smiled. “Or at least, I will try. Perhaps I should not have laughed at her name when she gave it. It certainly fits her temper.”
Having fallen asleep in the middle of the afternoon Yara woke up in the night, alone, and a little cold. The first thing she did was to turn on her phone again, and check if there was a signal. Nothing. She turned it off and threw it in her bag. She was thirsty, and hungry, but she did not get up. She wanted to fall asleep again, but all she could do was to put the pillow over her head and try and block out the sounds of laughter and music in the distance.
The door creaked. Yara heard it, but did not move.
“It is I, Círdan.”
She recognised both the name and the voice. She did not move.
“I have water for you, and food, if you are awake. I cannot tell with your face so covered. A! but you cannot understand me, can you?”
Yara waited until she heard him leave, and then removed the pillow. There was a glass and a pitcher of water beside her bag, and a covered dish on the windowsill. Careful to not make noise she drank the water, but did not touch the food.
Outside the door Círdan smiled at the sound of water being poured, and he silently walked away down the hall.
Yara should not have drunk all that water, that much certainly became clear to her when the moon had set and all was dark and she had nowhere to go. It took her a long while, but finally the need became pressing enough that she got out of bed, and peeked out the door. She jumped when she was greeted, not by her own name, but by that strange one Círdan had given her. She tried to discern the face in the darkness, but couldn’t.
“I am Melmeleth,” the darkness said, in a light and sweet voice. “I saw you when you came here, in Yavanna’s leaf.”
“I can’t understand you,” Yara sighed dejectedly. “I need the loo.”
“What a strange tongue you speak!”
Yara then decided to do something so embarrassing that she for a moment contemplated if she wouldn’t have been better off just going down to the sea to do her business; she grabbed the woman by the arm, dragged her into the fading starlight, gestured in the area around her pelvis, and, just to make her point as clear as possible, made the sound of pissing.
The woman—who Yara was embarrassed to find was young, and absolutely gorgeous—looked first with wide eyes, and then laughed, clear and ringing. She took Yara by the hand, led her back through the corridor, and into a little room with a seat made of stone, with a hole in the middle. At least she had understood, Yara thought, seeing the stars glint on water far below the hole. The woman closed the door, and Yara felt sweet release.
After that sensation, the emptiness came back to Yara, and she had to struggle with herself to make it back to the room. The woman was nowhere to be seen, and Yara was thankful to be alone again. Then a knock on her door, and she sat up. Dawn was coming in through the windows, and she recognised Círdan when he came in.
“I am happy that you are awake, Yara,” he said, and sat down by her bedside again. He lifted the lid of the dish and found the food untouched, but he only gave her a sad smile. Then, he took out a paper, quill, and ink, moved the water pitcher from the table, and began to draw, smooth, long lines. She could see a leaf taking shape, and what she assumed to be writing below it. It reminded her of Arabic, with its flowing lines, but he wrote from right to left.
“Lassë,” he said, and pointed to the image.
“Leaf,” Yara replied in Arabic, and wrote it below his writing—only, her calligraphy was not so good. Apparently he had not expected her to write, and he examined the word carefully. His face looked troubled, and Yara gave up.
She had done this whole thing before, with trying to establish communications in a new language. Trying to learn just so that the people around her would be satisfied. Why should she satisfy this man, who was, by all she could understand, keeping her captive on some distant island to sacrifice her with this leaf-boat thing. No, she decided, sighed, and turned to stare into the other wall.
Círdan didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t even read tengwar, and from what she was making clear to him she didn’t want to, either. Why would she come here if she didn’t want to speak to them, if she didn’t want to eat, if all she wanted was to lay in bed?
He stopped himself in his thoughts, and he could feel tears building. Perhaps she had not come to them to stay. Perhaps she, like everyone else, came to leave. Was she fading? He inhaled sharply, and left.
Yara was not surprised. He was probably disappointed with her. Everyone was always disappointed with her.
Yara could hear music through the open window, singing and laughing, and the clinking of glasses. There was a party, to be sure. She was half-sitting in bed, the covers around her ankles, her black sweatshirt over a white linen shift she had been given. She was sliding her phone in a circle between her fingers, but it was turned off. In the beginning she had turned it on every day, but it had not been long until hope—or desperation—came to her less often. She still kept it close though, wherever she went, and carefully hid it from harm.
She hardly left the room, unless to go to the toilet. She had been worried about her hygiene at first, but she found she didn't smell as bad as she expected, despite not showering, and soon, other things became of greater concern. For one, she had quickly noticed her ears. There were no mirrors in her room, but when you put on a hijab every day you can't escape noticing if your ears have suddenly gone pointy. She had panicked at first, pulled at them, even tried to scratch them until they bled, but the pain had made her realise they were in fact her own ears. How long had she been in a coma, to have them alter her surgically?
Everyone else had pointy ears too, she noticed. She thought it a good way to counteract their unnatural beauty, to maim themselves in such a way, but the more she looked at them, the more she liked them. They were elegant, leaf-shaped… 'Lassë'. She had understood these people liked leaves, for sure, and despite her protests they still called her by that strange name. She refused to listen to it, but if she met someone in the hall, they would often smile 'Iscalassiel' as she passed, and it infuriated her—especially when they broke out in song about it.
Another thing had begun to plague her thoughts, too. It had been at least three weeks since she woke up, probably more, and she hadn't gotten her period. She was beginning to be convinced that she'd been raped by this cult, that she was some sort of fertility offering. Perhaps it wasn't her who was going in that leaf-boat, but her child? Both of them?
The thought of it made her disgusted, and it disgusted her even more to think that they were having fun in the garden outside, while she was in there, pondering her fate.
"Êgraen," Círdan replied, and stopped so that she could catch up with him. He was walking in the shipyard, quietly overlooking the empty space while he pondered Yara's fate. A new ship would not be ready yet for months to come—the last ship had left just days before her arrival.
"There is a messenger," Êgraen said once she was beside Círdan, "from Elrond."
"Who?" Círdan asked with a curious smile, one that Êgraen did not return.
"Balfauglir," Êgraen muttered, and Círdan laughed heartily.
"O, my dear friend, do not let Melmeleth know you give her brother such nicknames!"
"He is waiting for you in the garden," Êgraen replied, a small smirk now playing on her face.
Círdan could her the singing in the garden before he had even come halfway from the shipyard, and as he passed through the house he could clearly make out words.
"Oh, brother from inland,
and sister from shore,
have come now together,
to frolic once more!"
Círdan laughed, and wondered if Êgraen was not right in her nicknaming, after all. His smile lingered as she came down the steps into the lush garden, and in the light of dusk he could see lights coming to life in the trees all around him, lanterns hanging from chains and softly swinging. He could see their guest dancing merrily with his sister, the sounds of flutes and pouring wine in the background.
"Lindir!" he called to the merry gathering. "What news from Imladris?"
"Oh, sister, my sister,
I must leave you again,
yet only a short while,
then bottles we'll drain!"
Melmeleth laughed merrily at that, but let her brother's arm go, and he jumped up the last steps to Círdan, before bowing before him gracefully.
“Honoured host," he said, his tone now solemn and calm. "I bring word from Master Elrond."
"So I've heard," Círdan replied. "Come."
He led Lindir up the stairs and into his study, where charts and drawings were stacked neatly against the wall, and models of ships rested on shelves. The dusk came in through the windows facing the sea. They sat down, and Círdan gestured for Lindir to begin.
"Elrond calls for counsel," Lindir began. "Evil stirs. I know not of many details, but what I know is, that the Nine are again roaming, and in Imladris we have already received visitors from The Lonely Mountain, as well as many whispers from the rangers."
"Fell tidings indeed," Círdan said darkly, "and yet these news do not come without forewarning. Long have I heard of evil stirring, in dark stories from those who come here to journey on. Our time is coming to an end, and yet I would not be so quick to leave Middle-Earth to its fate. I will send one of my closest, but you must give me time to decide whom."
"We must leave soon," said Lindir. Círdan sighed, and looked out to the sea.
"An elf has come to us, alone and knowing no tongue of ours. I am afraid she is fading, and yet, knowing nothing of her fate, I would not be so quick to send her on. There is no ship leaving which can take her now, and from the way she arrived I feel she has a story to tell—if we could only understand it. She suffers, that much is clear, but we have no healers here who can find the cause. I would have you take her to Imladris, and see if Master Elrond might not discover her secrets."
"Strange tidings, indeed," Lindir replied, his eyes too resting on the darkening sea. "I will take her, and whoever else you choose to send with us."
"And your sister may go also, if she wishes it," Círdan laughed. "I feel that you are happy to see her again. So now go! Make good on your promise to empty my wine cellar!"
"Thank you for your generosity," Lindir said, and with a bow he traipsed off, humming a new tune.
Yara heard the party outside get louder, and it annoyed her to no end. Not only did it remind her of how lonely she was, but it kept her from sleeping. Or at least something did, because she could hardly seem to get more than a couple of hours of sleep, night or day, and her dreams were strange, often lucid. Not that she felt very tired, but she would rather sleep, than be awake to the reality she was facing. She sighed heavily, and got up to close the window.
"You do not like the sounds of our merriment?"
Yara scowled at Círdan, and returned to bed, pulled the covers up over her waist, and crossed her arms defiantly.
"I will take that as a 'no'," Círdan smiled, and sat down beside her. He unrolled a parchment scroll, and Yara sighed deeply at the prospect of another language lesson, her eyes averted.
"You will travel," Círdan said calmly, and caught her attention with a wave of his hand. He pointed to the parchment, and Yara could see now that it was a map. She frowned. It looked nothing like any place she had seen before, and it was drawn in ink, not printed. She followed Círdan's steady finger to a spot on the coast, and flicked her eyes up at him, her expression still one of disinterest.
"Círdan, Yara," he tapped his finger. "Mithlond," he circled it around the spot. He moved his finger across the map and circled another mark. "Imladris," he said.
Yara could sense where this was going, and she did not like it.
"Yara," he said again, and moved his finger from Mithlond to Imladris.
This time, Yara really lived up to her name.
"Why?" she growled. "So you can sell me to some other cult? Some slave-dealer? I'm in the system in Sweden, they'll look for me, they'll think … they'll think I'm hiding." Damn, she thought. If she ever got back, how would she explain that she had not gone into hiding, but been abducted by a human-trafficking cult? Her mind couldn't keep it together, and she began crying again, angry tears, frustrated tears. She pushed herself under the covers aggressively, and wiped her tears on the sheet.
Círdan sighed sorrowfully. If only he could explain to her that he was trying to help her, trying to save her from the darkness eating her up from inside. His eyes rested on her crying frame, and then he saw it, poking out from below her pillow. He touched her arm gently, trying with all his might to send comfort and love through the thick layers of fabric.
Yara felt it. She felt such warmth from his hand that it startled her, and she jumped, meeting his gaze with wide eyes. He smiled, a loving, calming smile, and for just a moment, she felt comfort. He pointed to her side, and she looked down. Her phone was sticking out from below her pillow. She immediately grew suspicious.
Círdan pointed to the black glass, to Yara, and then to the map.
His voice rolled like distant thunder, deep and comforting in the night. Yara looked to her phone, and back to his smiling face. Did he mean that if she went to this Imladris-place, she could use her phone? Her face immediately lit up, and then tears came again, fear and hope mixing together.
"Ai, there is no end to your sorrow, is there?" Círdan said softly, and took her hand.
He hummed to himself, and comforting warmth grew through her again. Yara relaxed, and more tears came. She was crying in relief, that for that moment, that single little speck of light in the dark, she felt safe. Then he let go, and it was as if a light had been switched off.
"I sense hope in you, too," Círdan said with a melancholy smile. "Elrond will help you more than I can."
Círdan called his advisors to him again two days later, and they sat in the sunlight, overlooking the sea below. Fishing boats were coming in from the sea, and distant singing reached them from the approaching fishermen.
"I must send one of you to Imladris," Círdan said solemnly. "Elrond asks for counsel, and we shall give it—but I too must ask the same of him, and therefore, my choice is harder."
Êgraen looked sternly on her Lord, as she often did. It was her nature to be questioning, even harsh, and that was what Círdan so valued in her. He would have sent her, without question, had it not been for Iscalassiel.
"I will send Iscalassiel to Imladris," he continued. "There is more knowledge and healing in Lord Elrond's halls than on these restless shores. Melmeleth will travel too, which is good. She has helped Iscalassiel during her stay here, and will perhaps be a comfort to our departing guest."
"And perhaps Master Elrond will know what her glowing stone is," Galdor said, a thoughtful expression on his face.
"I hope he will, but I fear that he will not," Círdan smiled. "I have seen nothing like it in all my years, and as you know, they are many. Yet perhaps in his house Iscalassiel will find her words, and be rid of some of her sorrows."
"And what of Master Elrond's request?" Êgraen said, her expression less sentimental than her two companions'.
"Darkness stirs in the east," Círdan replied, his voice suddenly harsh. "The Nine are moving, and, perhaps, the one has been found. Lindir did not say it, but I fear it is so. No other tidings could be so urgent."
There was a long pause, all three present lost in contemplation of the fate of the world.
"There will be need of strength in the world now," Círdan said, and his voice seemed ominous in the silence and the warmth of the sun, "yet it is not in the race of elves such strength must be found."
"Speak no riddles, I beg," Êgraen urged.
"I will send Galdor."
Êgraen sighed, openly disapproving.
"The task of elves lies now in compassion, Êgraen," Círdan explained. "I need you here to protect our havens, so that those who can take no more of the darkness have a path to leave by. I cannot do without you."
Êgraen seemed more at peace after this explanation, but a worried look graced Galdor's features.
"And what advice should I give Master Elrond?" he asked.
"I trust your judgement, my friend," Círdan smiled reassuringly. "Elrond will make his own decision, in the end, but you must listen, question, and return to me with answers when the decisions have been made. Answers also of Iscalassiel, if anyone has them."
"I do not envy you your task," Êgraen said, her tone now light and sharp. "Getting answers from Master Elrond will be a breeze after journeying with one who will not speak, and one who will not stop singing."
"Baw, Êgraen!" Círdan laughed, but managed a scowl. "Keep your thorns aimed at our enemies, and not our friends!"
"When do we depart?" Galdor asked once the laughter had settled.
"I will speak with Lindir and Melmeleth tomorrow," Círdan answered, and Galdor waited as Círdan's face turned to worry. "I will also try and speak again with Iscalassiel. She knows already—if we have understood each other correctly—that I wish for her to make the journey. I should also like her to know that she will be safe during its course. Will you join me in her room at dawn, to give her reassurances?"
"As you wish," Galdor replied, but his inflection conveyed his doubts.
"You think she will not be reassured?" Círdan inquired.
"She has looked at me most menacingly, when we have passed each other in the halls."
"I would too, if you had followed me and carried me against my will," Êgraen smiled mischievously as she stood up. "I will go see what bounty the sea has offered us today. Excuse me, my lords."
"Save some of the treasures for our friends' departing meal," Círdan instructed as she passed them, but she only smiled in response.
"I fear her jest carried too much truth," Galdor murmured once Êgraen was out of earshot.
"Do not let her harsh words weigh you down," Círdan smiled compassionately.
Once the sun had dipped below the horizon Círdan made his way down to the house, and outside his study he found the siblings waiting. He bade them enter, and they sat down by the window. All looked just as when Lindir had given his message from Elrond, except that on a table against the wall the leaf that had carried Yara to them now rested, gently leaning against the wall.
"Lindir," he asked, "what has your sister told you of our guest?"
"My sister tells me that she arrived on a leaf from Ivon's gardens, that she speaks no language known to us, and that her hair is so beautiful she must keep it hidden for fear that she would spark desire greater than Fëanor's for his stones. She says also, that she goes by two names, Yara and Iscalassiel, and that she hardly leaves her room. I have heard, too, from others, that you speak only Quenya with her, and teach her no other words."
"Melmeleth," Círdan laughed, "you share your brother's talent for tales, but the essence is truthful. However, we have both seen her hair, and we have not been overcome by its beauty, no?"
Melmeleth blushed slightly, and shook her head.
"But it is true that she hides it?" Lindir asked.
"That is true," Círdan admitted, "but I do not know why. She had many tales to tell, I think, if she could but speak them. That is why I wish for you to take her as soon as possible to Imladris."
“I am ready to leave by the setting sun, if you have but decided whom you will send to Master Elrond’s aid," Lindir informed.
"Good," Círdan nodded. "Then you will take Iscalassiel as well. I send Galdor with you, to Elrond's council. I gather it is most likely he who has told you of my language lessons?"
"Ae, no," Lindir smiled, "it was not him. Only a squirrel whispered in my ear."
"Brother, be serious!" Melmeleth scolded with a smile.
"Laughter does no harm," Círdan chuckled, kind eyes passing between them. "It may prove useful enough, in time. No matter—what I wished to say, was that whatever words in whatever tongue you may be able to teach Iscalassiel, as long as you both understand them, they are good. And if you can teach her to laugh, all the better."
The siblings looked with sad smiles on him, the weight of his last sentence weighing on them.
"Thank you, my lord," Melmeleth said softly, "for allowing me this time away from your service. You need but send for me, and I will return."
"I know, my friend," Círdan said solemnly. "This afternoon we gather on the balcony, and I will send you away with a feast of farewell. Before then, at dawn, I would like you both to join me in Iscalassiel's room, so that she may see with whom she travels."
"Of course, my lord," Melmeleth smiled. Her brother agreed also, and they left Círdan's study, eyes lingering on the leaf as they passed it.
"Was that the leaf she arrived in?" Lindir asked once they had come out into the garden.
"Yes," Melmeleth answered. "She came in with the tide, her eyes closed in deep sleep, yet she was unharmed. Her fëa seems ancient, and yet there is youth in her, below it."
"I look forward to meeting her," Lindir smiled, "and to singing her stories."
It was well into the night, but Yara had not caught a moment of sleep. She lay in bed, eyes open, and debated with herself about whether or not she should hope for anything in this move to Imladris. She had been moved many times before, with or without her consent, and mostly she had hoped too much, and received too little. Yet, if her phone would work, she would be able to find out where she was, and what had happened. She would be able to speak with someone—anyone—again.
She felt the longing build with the rising sun, and in the light of dawn she got up, washed, and for the first time since her arrival she prayed. She did not know where to turn, but something pulled her to the light, and compelled her to pray to the west.
It was like so the group found her when they opened the door; kneeling on the floor, head to the ground, turned to the door. Círdan stopped in the door first, and then gently entered, the group following behind, curious eyes on the woman on the floor.
Yara heard them, but she did not stop. She focused, finished her prayer, and then rose slowly to see the small crowd gathered in her room. She breathed slowly in calm resignation. 'So these are the guards who will move me,' she thought, and turned to gather her possessions.
"Yara," Círdan said, and she paused to look over her shoulder. "Galdor," he pointed, and Yara turned with an impatient expression. "Lindir," he continued, "and Melmeleth. They will go with you to Imladris."
"Well met, Iscalassiel," Lindir smiled, and bowed.
Yara raised her eyebrows. Did he just bow to her? Was he the man who'd raped her in her sleep? Was she going to be married off to him now? Her eyes grew stern with fire, and Lindir's smile faltered.
"He is my brother," Melmeleth smiled, and took Lindir's hand. She squeezed it demonstratively before Yara's eyes.
Ah, Yara thought, so he was her husband. Good. Unless they were polygamous, her brain pushed at her, and she frowned and exhaled.
"I am sorry if we interrupted you in your … exercise," Galdor said, even though he knew she couldn't understand. He smiled, but her frown remained set.
Yara turned back to grab her things, but when she walked to the door Círdan shook his head with a fatherly smile. She followed him back to the paper and ink, and watched him draw a setting sun. Her expression flattened impatiently at first, but then softened a little as she grew to wonder why they had come to her room, if they were not leaving now. She sat back on the bed, pushed her shoes off with her feet, and rubbed her forehead. They left her, all soft smiles and bowing heads, and Yara sighed deeply before she shut her eyes on the light.
Yara opened her eyes at the soft sound. It was Melmeleth, smiling softly at her. Yara had come to tolerate Melmeleth's presence more than any other—she did not try to teach her anything, but she came with food, clean clothes, and always left quickly again.
"Yara, we gather on the balcony. Círdan offers us one last meal before we leave. Come."
Yara looked questioningly at Melmeleth. The sun was still bright outside, and so she shook her head at Melmeleth's beckoning movements. Melmeleth smiled, and sat down on the edge of the bed. She took Yara's hand, and so Yara felt it again. That warmth, running between their fingers and up into her chest. She withdrew her hand quickly, wide eyes on the woman next to her.
Her smile was so kind, and her eyes so very bright. They were light brown, almost yellow, speckled with a ring of green. Her hair was golden brown, long and flowing. Yara stood up, and went with her.
Melmeleth led her onto the balcony by the sea, which was bathing in sunlight. An oval table stood on it, laden with food and flowers. At its end sat Círdan, not smiling exactly, but looking friendly, and kind. On his right sat Êgraen, and on his left, Galdor. Lindir was next to Êgraen, and Melmeleth took the seat opposite, which left Yara to sit at the end. She felt Círdan's gaze weight heavily on her, and looked down at the food and the wine.
It was a lavish meal, a feast, despite their few numbers, but Yara could not feel any happiness. Why should she celebrate being sent away yet again, to a place unknown? What joy was there in always leaving, even when she wanted to go? She didn't eat much, and drank only water.
The rest of the table, too, was not as merry as it could have been. Troubles weighed heavily on everyone's minds, and even Lindir could not bring himself to sing for joy. As the sun closed on the horizon, and they had all stopped eating, he began humming, almost to himself at first, a meandering and melancholy tune.
"Upon the hearth the fire is red,
Beneath the roof there is a bed;
But not yet weary are our feet,
Still round the corner we may meet
A sudden tree or standing stone
That none have seen but we alone.
Tree and flower and leaf and grass,
Let them pass! Let them pass!
Hill and water under sky,
Pass them by! Pass them by!
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today,
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun.
Apple, thorn, and nut and sloe,
Let them go! Let them go!
Sand and stone and pool and dell,
Fare you well! Fare you well!
Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
The world behind and home ahead,
We'll wander back to home and bed.
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall…"
His voice halted as he noticed Yara sobbing beside him, and his expression changed from remembrance to worry.
What Yara had experienced during that song, although she did not understand a word, had been stronger than anything she had felt since her arrival. Without even touching her Lindir had sent not only warmth through her body, but flickering images of memories, and feelings that did not come from within. And Yara understood them, she understood that the song spoke of leaving, and the melancholy of always moving on, and yet there was happiness in it, curiosity and longing, and comfort for a wandering soul. She was not so frightened anymore, but no less sorrowful.
"I don't understand," Lindir said. "It was only a walking song, written by a good friend of mine—a mortal. She could not possibly have heard it before."
"Music is a language that carries further than words," Êgraen said darkly, and it was impossible to tell if she was impressed with Lindir, or if she was scolding him for his reckless singing.
Melmeleth instinctively leaned over with a napkin in her hand, wiping Yara's tears. Yara scoffed, took the napkin, and wiped them herself. Then she looked out over the sea, glinting in the setting sun, and a few more tears rolled silently down her cheeks.
"It is time that you got ready to depart," Círdan said authoritatively. The company rose from their seats. Melmeleth took Yara back to her room for her things, and when they returned only Círdan remained, standing wistfully by a pillar. His eyes turned to Yara as they approached, and when Melmeleth left he held out his arm to stop Yara from following. Yara looked troubled, but met is gaze nonetheless.
"While I hope Imladris will serve your fëa better, I must admit it saddens me to see you leave so soon. I have grown fond of you, in these short days, and I long for the day when we shall meet again, whenever it may come. May the stars light your way, Yara."
Yara looked deep into his eyes as he spoke, and the grey seemed darker. If it was the light of dusk, or the sadness of his old age she couldn't tell, but she did not fear him. She was sad to go, and leave the closest thing to friendship she had found so far.
"Good bye, Círdan," she said, and gave him a rare smile, "and thanks for all the fish."
A small wagon rolled up the street below, pulled by two dapple grey horses. Galdor and Lindir sat in the driver's seat, and Melmeleth waved from the back. Yara began walking down the steps from the balcony, but two things made her stop. First, she saw the swords and longbows the men carried, and fear returned. Was she to be taken to her execution in the woods? Had they given their sacrificial victim a final feast? She began to feel sick, and then came the second reason.
Êgraen came running from within the house, and put her hand on Yara's shoulder. Yara looked up, and found kindness in the dark eyes she had not expected. Êgraen held out a long dagger with a beautifully tooled leather scabbard, lying flat in her palms in offering. Yara stared at it for a moment.
"For me?" she asked and pressed a hand to her own chest.
"For safety on the road," Êgraen nodded, and held the knife closer to Yara. Yara took it tentatively. If she was to be executed they would not have presented her with a knife, would they? She gave Êgraen a flickering smile of thanks, and joined Melmeleth in the back of the carriage, among pillows, blankets, and bags.
"It is rare for Êgraen to give gifts," Melmeleth smiled. "Especially ones she has fashioned herself."
Yara pulled the knife slowly from its sheath, worried that her travelling companions might find it a threat, and looked at the smooth curve of the steel. It shone purple and blue in the last light of the sunset, and when she sheathed it again she saw a little inlaid flower in the handle, shining with the colours of the sea. She fastened it to the outside of her bag, and looked out over the place she was leaving.
White buildings merged with the cliffs, but stretched not far from the shore. Trees and bushes surrounded the buildings, growing wildly, crawling from the very stone. From up on the hill it looked ancient, like the ruins of the Jupiter temple in her home town, but still filled with life, still cared for, never abandoned. A part of her heart tugged in her, as if she did not want to leave, and she bit her lip. There was something bigger happening here than just an abduction, or human trafficking. She could feel it.
"Ela!" Melmeleth called out in laughter, and Yara was pulled from her thoughts. A cloud of colourful butterflies swarmed around them as they passed the gate into the wilderness, glinting in the night. Yara was caught up in the joy of it, and when one butterfly landed on her bended knee she gave a little laugh.
"Yara," she said, and pointed to the blue winged little creature. Melmeleth met her eyes and laughed again.
"Yara?" she asked, and pointed to another butterfly, resting on the edge of the wagon.
"Wilwarin!" Melmeleth laughed. Then she looked intently at Yara, pointed to her chest, and asked again.
"Wilwarin," Yara confirmed with a smile, and decided she liked that name much more than Iscalassiel.
Of course I only copied Bilbo's song, as you surely must know. The rest is my own though - except for one little reference to another fandom.
As always, comments and kudos feed the muse! She also enjoys linguistic critique.
The laughter did not last long beyond the gates, fluttering away with the last of the butterflies. Yara laid herself down in the carriage, her feet propped against the edge to keep her steady. She closed her eyes, and tried to forget where she was.
It was impossible. She could hear too much. Not only the laughing and talking of the men in the driver's seat, but also the creaking of the carriage, the low hushes of fabric and creaking leather, every flicker of wind, every animal stepping in the woods. She was frightened and enthralled at the same time, and even though she had wished to fall asleep, her mind was soon caught up the sounds of the world around her, her imagination drifting through the landscape.
They stopped only a few hours later that night. The moon had risen and was casting its glow over the landscape, and Yara found that it was enough light for her to make out her surroundings without much difficulty. Not that she hadn't heard what place it was, before she had opened her eyes. There were horses there, many of them, and people tending them. Only, in the light of the moon she could see the beautiful wooden stables, hidden among the trees. The wood must have been light and fair when they were built, but now it was mottled with moss and discoloured with age—but still beautiful, blending in with the aged forest.
As she followed Melmeleth out of the cart she caught sight of fields in the distance, bathing in moonlight. There were more horses there, walking freely over the wild meadows. There was no road or building as far as her eyes could see—only wild fields and the shadows of hills on the horizon. The beauty of it all caught Yara off guard. For the first moments she didn't think of how far away from civilisation she was, or notice the fact that she could see more than she ever should have been able to in the thick of night. All she did was wonder at the calm of the sleeping landscape.
"Wilwarin, come," Melmeleth beckoned, and Yara followed, reluctantly turning her back to the view.
She could hear Lindir and Galdor talking to another man by one of the doors, and she could see a lantern coming alive with light in the doorway as they entered. They came in behind them, and Melmeleth closed the door on the night, snapping Yara back to reality. They were in a stable, sleeping horses all around them. Not a single sign of electricity or running water. Not even a plastic bucket. Yara remembered the wilderness outside, and felt lost and uncertain. Melmeleth must have noticed the worry on her face, because she gave Yara a reassuring smile.
"We need to make haste on our journey to Imladris," Lindir said to the elf that had greeted them. "We shall all need horses, ones that can travel both night and day, with little rest."
"I think your own horse is ready for the journey back, eager even," the elf answered with a smile. "She kept wandering too far afield, so we have kept her inside since yesterday. As for your companions…" The elf seemed to appraise them, and then called out names. "Celeg! Elu! Hûrlanc!"
Yara was astounded when three of the horses woke from their sleep and dutifully walked up to their master, groggily waiting by his side. Lindir thanked the stablemaster, and called for his own horse. Yara could only look on as her companions walked up to the horses, whispered to them, stroked them, and roused them from their slumber. She had never sat on a horse—much less talked to one. Yet the one called Elu stood lonely in the middle of the crowd for a moment, waiting for her. When she didn't come he walked up to her and butted his head into her chest encouragingly. Yara was caught off-guard by his strength and jumped back a little. The stable door opened, and as her companions walked outside with their horses, Elu followed, and Yara too, for fear of being left alone.
There were people unloading the cart they had come in, and Yara was struck with sudden fear. She had left her bag there, and her phone in it. How could she ever have been so thoughtless?! She ran up to the cart, jumped into it with surprising ease, and lifted the canvas tote greedily once she caught sight of it. The two who were unloading the cart gave her curious looks, but she only frowned at them as she jumped down again, hugging her bag close. She felt Êgraen's knife press against her chest, and the outline of her phone through the fabric.
"They would not have taken your things, Yara," Galdor told her as she passed him. "They are only unloading the supplies from Mithlond, as I told them to."
She stopped and looked at him for a moment. He had tied his own bag across the withers and shoulder, but aside from a thin blanket on the horse’s back there was neither saddle nor reins. The other horses looked much the same, and Yara saw the stablemaster blanketing Elu before holding out his hand to show that the horse was ready for her. She shook her head slowly, and Melmeleth stepped in.
"We shall have to move your things to another bag," she said, and dug out a leather bag from the cart. She tied it across Elu, and signed for Yara to move her things. Yara stood where she was, still hugging her bag. Melmeleth slowly detached the knife from the canvas, and tied it safely in place on the horse. She opened the lid of the leather bag, and Yara tentatively began to unpack.
She didn't have many things with her, but what she had was precious to her now beyond measure. Her ballet shoes and clothes, keys and wallet. A metal water bottle with a sports cap, a few hairpins, and then, her phone and charger. She folded the canvas bag neatly, and pressed it on top of the rest, to keep it all in place. Melmeleth smiled, and closed the buckle, but as she made to return to her own horse Yara took her by the arm.
"I can't ride," she said, pointing to the horse and shaking her head. "Yara ui," she said in Quenya, and pointed again vigorously to the horse, and Melmeleth gave her a curious frown, as if she understood, but didn't believe it.
"I think she's saying she can't ride," she said to the men, who were already on horseback.
"Can't speak, can't ride!" the stablemaster laughed as he approached them again. "Elu will not let her fall," he added reassuringly as he came in close, forming a step with his hands to let Yara climb up more easily. He nodded briskly to her, and with one hand on the horse, and one hand in Melmeleth's, Yara gingerly sat herself astride Elu.
"Relax," Melmeleth instructed, and took a demonstratively deep breath, sagging a bit as she stood. Yara caught the gist, and tried it herself. After a few deep breaths she felt more steady on Elu's back, and with his warmth reaching her through the blankets she gave Melmeleth a slow nod. She could do this, she told herself, if only they didn't go too fast.
Melmeleth nodded back at her, and gracefully swung herself onto Celeg's back.
"On we go!" she called ahead, and all the horses began walking in unison towards the flowery fields.
Yara tensed as the horse wobbled beneath her, but relaxed soon again, letting her body follow its undulating movements. It felt a little frightening, having no control over where her horse was moving, but even as the horses in the field moved around them Elu stayed on his path, following the other travellers.
As they moved through the landscape Yara became more and more comfortable with her place on Elu's back, and even braved a slow canter once or twice without protest. In fact, she said very little at all during the first two days of their journey. She sat on Elu's back, or on the ground while they rested, and it seemed that out there, in the wilderness, Lindir's songs didn't touch her so strongly. She was closed off and lived in her thoughts, increasingly concerned by the fact that no sign of civilisation was at hand. Just fields, and hills, and trees. And anyway, Lindir's songs were far too jolly, and all their smiles too unreasonable.
It seemed she wasn't the only one who didn't need sleep. A couple of hours here and there, usually around midday—and Yara swore she had fallen asleep on horseback at least twice, but how she had managed not to fall off she had no idea. It was as if the edge between sleeping and waking was less pronounced, and she could do a little bit of both at the same time, if she wanted to. And she really wanted to. After her first excitement at the beautiful landscape the monotony soon became almost as frustrating as the grey stone walls of her room in Mithlond. Anyone would fall asleep, she argued to herself, if all they had to look at were the wagging tails of horses in front, and repeating grass and trees.
Once they had passed the hills that had once been on the horizon, an entirely new landscape opened up before them, and Yara felt a surge of excitement. She could see roads, and houses, and fields of crops—and most of all, she could see specks of people moving in the distance. Her companions had already dismounted their horses and made camp by a little stream running down the hill, but Yara leaned forwards, still on Elu's back, and ripped her phone from the bag. She impatiently waited as it came alive, hit the wrong pin out of excitement, finally got in, and … nothing. No signal. She stared at the screen for a long while, feeling empty with disappointment. Perhaps they weren't close enough yet. She urged Elu forward, and he started to slowly move down the hill, but before they had gotten very far Galdor was in front of them, looking sternly at both horse and rider.
Yara dismounted, and Elu went to join the other resting horses. Galdor was still glaring at her, his eyebrows twitching a little as the screen of her phone went dark. Yara met his gaze unflinchingly, and tried to push past him towards the settlement below, but Galdor caught her with his right arm. She stood frozen there for a moment, staring at what little she could still see of the settlement below between the tree trunks, and then she turned the screen back on. She felt Galdor's head turn to look at it, and she turned it off. She had seen what she needed to. 78%. She grumpily dislodged herself from his grip, walked back to the camp, laid down on the blanket, and turned the phone off. She held it with both her hands against her chest, and kept her eyes open as she lay there, waiting for them to move on, and move closer to civilisation.
"I wonder what about the halflings makes her so eager," Lindir said to his companions.
"I'm not sure it's the halflings," Galdor replied. "She took out that glowing stone of hers. It seemed to have some image in it, but I could not make it out before she darkened it again. Surely it is some magic, even if I cannot sense it."
"She seems troubled," Melmeleth said after a beat, her eyes turned to Yara's tensely resting form.
"Let us hope the troubles are from within her, and not some foreboding of evil on our path," Galdor said.
"Why should we?" Lindir answered. "It is easier to fight evil with a sword, than it is to fight darkness within yourself."
"Always with your poetics," Galdor muttered, but it was clear that it was meant as a friendly jibe.
As the day turned to dusk they gathered up the few things they had strewn about them, and made to continue down the hill. Yara replaced her phone into the bag, but it made her feel restless not to have it in her hands. It was probably for the best that she didn't, though, because riding so steeply downhill was a new experience, and she had to concentrate to keep her balance. Not that Elu didn't do his best to steady her, but she remained tense and awkward nonetheless.
Once back in less dramatic terrain Yara was at first unnerved, then irritated, and then angry and afraid. They were not heading into the settlement, but rather they were passing on the left side of the road, cantering smoothly through the trees. She could see the road now and then, and houses in the distance, even hear the occasional laughter or song as they moved into more densely populated areas. Yara would have rode straight towards it, had it not been for Galdor riding steady by her right side, keeping her pace. Had she known how to she would have turned, stopped, even jumped off her horse, but all she knew how to do was urge him on, and she was not comfortable enough to do that yet.
But in time, her fear at being kept away from what little civilisation there was got the better of her. She felt trapped again, and her mind made up all kinds of scenarios as to why they weren't just riding along the road, like normal people. Normal people who travelled on horseback, that is. Besides, she couldn't risk taking her phone out at speed, she would fall off, or worse, drop it. So finally she gave up, and shouted one of the few words she knew.
"No! No! No!"
It had a more dramatic effect than she had expected. The horses all stopped, almost instantly, and she had to brace herself with her hands not to roll forward. Galdor dismounted so quickly she hardly saw it, and within seconds Melmeleth too was by her side, looking up with wide eyes, reflecting the shadowy canopy above.
Yara stared at them, shocked at their reactions. She might have expected protests, or a slowing down of their speed, but not two people rushing to her side as if she was about to fall down and die. In the corner of her eye she could see Lindir, riding in circles around them, peering cautiously into the woods.
"You must not shout so, Wilwarin," Melmeleth said, and Yara could hear the worry in her tone. "Our errand is pressing, and we have a long way yet to go. We do not have time for encounters with frightened and suspicious halflings."
Yara only understood her own name, but as they made no further movements, she slowly bent forward, and removed her phone from the bag. Galdor and Melmeleth exchanged wide-eyed looks, and Lindir, who had stopped riding in circles, looked curiously over his shoulder.
Yara held the screen close to her face, and although her companions were tall, they were not tall enough to see it, only the light which it shone onto her face.
"Nan Belain!" Melmeleth exclaimed at the sight, but Yara only gave her a quick glance to make sure she was not aggressive, before returning to staring at the loading screen. All was silent as they waited, the elves looking unblinkingly at her. No service. Yara didn't want to believe it. They couldn't be so close to a town—especially not one she was not allowed to go to—and still not have any cell phones. Landlines, Yara thought, even through the doubt in her mind, they must have landlines. She turned off the screen and looked with determination between the two elves flanking her.
"I," she pointed to herself, "must go there," she pointed towards the town. Melmeleth and Galdor exchanged a tense look.
"Do you think the stone is a map of some sort?" Melmeleth asked with a thoughtful expression.
"Even if it is," Galdor replied, "we cannot simply follow its whims without knowing. We have not time, and we should not show ourselves to the halflings."
Yara looked impatiently at them, and then dismounted beside Galdor, a determined frown on her brow. Galdor understood her intention, and made a quick decision.
"We can escort her closer," he said, "but not let her reveal us. She is determined of her purpose, and I would not be so quick to go against her magic stone. Círdan believed she is here for a reason, and it is imperative that we find it. Perhaps we do not need words, if she can show us."
"We go then," Melmeleth agreed, and came around to flank Yara on the other side.
"Lindir!" Galdor called. "Stay with the horses, and warn us with a whistle if need be."
Yara jumped a little at Galdor's hushed shout, but a reassuring smile from Melmeleth was all it took to calm her again. Melmeleth held out her hand before her, and they walked carefully towards the edge of the wood, Galdor just behind. Yara would have run if she was alone, but the retained energy of her companions controlled her pace. Her phone in a vice-like grip and her eyes on the twinkling lights of lanterns in the distance, she still had a thought to spare to the fact that their steps made hardly a sound at all, and that all was quiet and dark.
At the edge of the trees they were met with a grass-covered hillock, and Melmeleth stopped there, holding out an arm for Yara to do the same. With Galdor right behind her Yara decided it was worth a try not to push their patience, and tried her phone. Melmeleth looked with wide eyes as Yara's thumb flicked across the screen, and her expression reminded Yara of a nagging question in the back of her mind: Did these people not even know about civilisation? The thought was interrupted by the absence of a signal, and as the screen shut off Yara pressed into Melmeleth's arm, determined to go on.
Melmeleth resisted at first, but as she met Yara's eyes she saw a pleading in them that she could not ignore. So she crouched down, and motion for Yara to do the same. Reluctantly Yara mimicked her movements, and they crept through the grass to the top of the hillock, where they were met with an abrupt drop, below which was a little garden, and further beyond that, a road. Yara tried her phone again, but nothing. Tears were already welling in her eyes as she shut it off, the last swipe of her thumb feeling more final than she had expected. Then she heard singing, a melody in the distance, and the thumping of feet. Melmeleth pressed on her back, and they crouched further into the grass.
Along the road came two little children, they golden locks bouncing merrily around their round faces. At first Yara thought they were dancing along the road, but as they came closer she realised it was a drunken stagger as they pulled themselves, arm in arm, along their path. Their song was clearer now, but the language unrecognisable. Yara's mouth dropped open in shock. Drunk children in the middle of the night, all alone? As they passed the gate of the garden below she noticed their pointed ears, and large, hairy feet, and her brow furrowed. She stared at them as they passed, too shocked to do anything, and then she turned her frown to Melmeleth.
"Perian," Melmeleth said, and pointed to where the children were disappearing down the road. Yara's shock did not disappear. She lay there in the grass, not minding that Galdor was sighing impatiently behind her, until several more of the children passed. Were they really children? With such hairy feet, and some with distinctly male voices, and even one with full, round breasts—and all, Yara concluded with dismay, looking just as backwards and uncivilised as her companions. No, there would be no phones here, and no one to help her.
"Perian," she whispered, without really noticing, and Melmeleth nodded with a smile, one which instantly disappeared when she saw the tears rolling down Yara's cheeks. Yara sobbed, and then stood up quickly, causing Galdor and Melmeleth both to gasp, but before they were able to pull her down she was running back to the horses, silently and more quickly than she had ever done in her life, if one didn't count the sobbing.
Once there she was greeted by Lindir's friendly smile, which did not falter at the sign of her tears, but only took on a slightly worried note.
"What happened?" he asked as Melmeleth and Galdor arrived, only seconds later.
"I don't think she has ever seen halflings before," Melmeleth said. "The stone was alight many times, but it only caused her sorrow. If she is looking for something she did not find it."
"Indeed she is looking for something, or someone," Galdor continued, his tone darker, "by the aid of that stone. Every time it burns with light it brings her only sorrow and disappointment."
Yara had replaced the phone in her bag by that time, and was waiting by her horse, ready to move on. The tears kept coming, but what could she do now, but go on? Her mind was racing with thoughts, questions of where she was and how she had come to be there, but she hardly acknowledged them to herself. All she could do was move on, and even with the melodic speech of her companions around her she swung herself onto the horse, and urged it to move.
The others were soon on horseback as well, and once their voices had gone silent the horses moved again into a smooth canter, the woods racing by in the night.
During the following days Yara caught many glimpses of the perian and their settlements, but their small company always kept well away, and travelled almost exclusively by night. She wondered why they did not want to show themselves to the perian, who seemed happy and friendly. Even if they weren't, Yara pondered, they would have been no threat to her armed, and much larger, friends—she had yet to see a single weapon among the little ones.
She hadn't tried to communicate with her companions since the night she had last tried her phone, and they too had been surprisingly quiet. Lindir did not sing so much, Galdor seemed lost in thought, and only once or twice did Yara catch an encouraging smile from Melmeleth. Whenever they rested Yara preferred to lay down on the leaflitter, and close her eyes. She did not sleep, but she listened to the world around her. The soft voices of her companions, the horses wandering around them in search of grass, the wind and the birds, and the trees. The trees, really, were much louder than Yara remembered. Not only did they rustle with the wind, but it was as if they were whispering in their own voices, distant yet so close. A part of Yara's mind told her to be frightened, but she could not. Their voices were too comforting, soft, and calm.
She opened her eyes. It was night. She could see Melmeleth lay down next to her, and Yara's readiness to rise subsided. She had thought it was time to move on—how long had she laid there, listening?
"Galdor and Lindir are not returned yet from their foraging. I think the horses appreciate the rest."
Yara did not even try to understand what Melmeleth was saying. Her eyes were caught on the smattering of stars above. The sky was thick with them, more light than dark to her, and they seemed alive, just like the trees.
"Why do you always lay down to rest when we stop?" Melmeleth asked. "Are you so tired?"
Yara's mind caught on Melmeleth's inflection, but her eyes did not move from the stars. If she could have she would have told her every worry in her soul, right then and there, but she knew there was no way to make Melmeleth understand. Instead she just said two words in her own language, her left arm aloft to point.
"Trees," she said. "Stars."
She could feel Melmeleth smile next to her. She couldn’t even see the edge of her face, but she could feel it. Melmeleth's hand rose into the air as well.
"Aldali," Melmeleth repeated. "Eleni."
Yara smiled too, as something released inside of her. She did not feel so alone, in that moment, as she had done before. She and Melmeleth lay there for a long time in silence, gazing at the night sky above, and then Melmeleth took a hold of Yara's hand, and raised both their arms together. She pointed to a constellation, leaning close to Yara to make sure she could see it.
"Wilwarin," she whispered, and drew their fingers between the stars. When she let go of Yara's hand Yara retraced the lines slowly, her mind silently absorbing the information. 'Don't forget that,' she told her mind, 'don't forget those stars.'
When Galdor and Lindir returned, their bags filled with nuts and fruit, the women were already waiting with the horses.
"So eager today?" Lindir smiled at Yara, who only raised her eyebrows a little at his smile.
"It is you who are late, brother," Melmeleth countered as they mounted.
"We could not have rode sooner," he returned. "We cross the bridge tonight, and the halflings were still about until just a while ago."
Yara thought she heard the word 'perian', but made little of it, until they came out on one of the roads. It was deserted and dark, and yet she still felt as if they were doing something forbidden as they rode out on the smooth gravel, the hooves suddenly crunching loudly in the silence of the night. Yara gave Melmeleth a confused and questioning look, but only received a soft smile in return.
They did not travel long on the road, and soon came to a bridge crossing a river. It seemed to flow quite calmly below them, but the bridge was not large, and from her place atop her horse Yara looked gingerly into the dark current. Once they had passed some way after the water there came a forest on their right, but Yara was surprised to find they did not venture into it. Instead they veered left, and down among wild bushes and increasingly uneven terrain. There was no possibility of a canter here, and as the rough landscape stretched out before them Yara came to wonder just how far they had left to go.
Just a quick note on the language. Melmeleth is going with Círdan's idea, and is teaching Yara words in Quenya, but when the elves speak to each other they are using Sindarin out of habit.
Chapter 5: A Song in the Dell
The song in this chapter is 'Hal' by Yasmine Hamdan ( watch?v=XDepIDGKC2U). I encourage you to listen to it, because the translated lyrics do not do it justice—but either way, I hope you enjoy this, regrettably short, chapter.
The night was short, and when dawn broke they had still not gotten far. From the top of the ridges and hills Yara could still see the houses by the river, distant shapes on the horizon, and the forest on the other side of the road still loomed against the sky to her right. They did not stop for the light, but pushed on, and whenever they did come up above the bushes and high grass Yara felt exposed. She could see for miles around, and that meant that people would be able to see her, too. Granted, she tried to convince herself, she should be happy about that, if it meant encountering someone who could point her to the nearest wifi, but then, such prospects seemed increasingly bleak. Really, her mind dwelled less and less on her phone, and more on the eerie wilderness surrounding them.
She missed the trees, not only for the cover they provided, but also for their comforting whispers. She often lay her hand on Elu, for comfort, and he provided with a soft neigh, or a slow nodding of his head.
"You are beginning to like him, aren't you?" Melmeleth smiled from behind her. Yara could see Lindir turn his face back at them, and she wondered all the more what her female companion had just said.
"He likes her, at least!" Lindir called with a laugh, and started humming a cheery tune, to which the horses began neighing, almost as if with laughter. Yara was astounded. Was he really singing to the horses? Did they understand him? It was one thing for them to learn commands, but to respond with such gaiety to a song!
"Shut up, Lindir!" Galdor called from up front. "You are causing a right racket, and I need to listen to the landscape. My eyes can only see one way at a time, and we would not want to be caught up with some ruffians. The horses won't like you very much then, will they?"
"Ruffians such as that?" Lindir called, and Galdor's eyes searched their surroundings.
"I cannot make out who it might be," he replied in hushed tones, and even Yara could sense the mood shifting. She looked to Melmeleth with questioning eyes.
"All is well," Melmeleth assured with a calm nod, "but keep quiet." She signed silence with a hand on her lips. Yara looked forwards again, even her breathing more silent than before, and she could have sworn Elu's steps were softer below her.
It was evening before anyone of them said a word. The forest on their right was long passed, and Yara could see hills in the distance, and a settlement at the end of the road. Her mind, well-trained as it was, jumped directly to her phone, but she quieted it. What hope was there in a few wooden houses? Lindir had taken the lead then, with Galdor right in front of Yara, and she could sense them both tense and eager. The change was most apparent in Lindir, who increased their speed little by little, and when the silence was broken it was he who spoke.
"I know the man!" Lindir called. "He will be glad of our company, if he doesn't manage to slip away before we reach him."
"And will we be glad of his?" Melmeleth called from the back, hesitant.
"I will leave you to make up your own mind, sister," Lindir replied, dry amusement laced in his words. "Yet, I would be careful to judge him too harshly and too quickly. It may prove an embarrassment to you, if you do."
"Now I am curious," said Galdor, but he got only a sparkling smile from the rider upfront.
Yara noticed the tone being lighter, and took a long awaited deep breath. Her respite was short though, when she saw a fire flicker alive not too far away, its light soon brighter than the remaining rays of the setting sun. They were angling away from the village, down into a dell lined with bushes, and she could see the crouched figure of a man resting by the fire. His hair was dark and wavy, and he was wrapped in a thick cloak, but he was still far away. She could feel his eyes on them nonetheless, and soon enough she saw them glinting in the firelight, fixed intently on the four approaching riders. Yara felt less exposed, but all the more nervous, and when they rode between the bushes down into the dell she wished that Melmeleth had been in front of her, and not behind.
"Lindir!" the man called gruffly as they descended, rising from his seat.
'Ah,' thought Yara, 'so they know each other.'
"There are many elves I would not be surprised to meet in the wild, but to see you so far from Imladris is a rare sight," the man said, and although the language was the same as Yara had heard her companions speak, this man's voice was rougher, and his melody not so flowing.
"I have been on an urgent errand to Mithlond," Lindir replied as he dismounted. "I offered myself for it because of my sister, who has spent many years there now, and is returning with me to Imladris, for a short while."
As her companions dismounted, so did Yara, and she shyly came close to the fire by Melmeleth's side. Lindir smiled at them, and continued the introductions.
"My sister, Melmeleth, and Galdor of the Havens, advisor to Círdan. With us also is Yara Iscalassiel, who speaks not a word of Sindarin, and only one or two of Quenya."
Yara frowned at being introduced with the name she had learned to despise, and the frown was returned by the stranger.
"An elf who does not know her own tongue?"
"Aye," Lindir sighed, "and not a speck of Westron. She is a mystery waiting to unravel. However, I will not let her be your escape from being introduced. Friends, meet Estel, a ranger of the Dúnedain, and friend to Master Elrond. We have spent many a night in the Hall of Fire, telling tales and singing songs."
The elves bowed in greeting, except Yara, who had not understood a word, and was hesitant to bow to a stranger. The man, however, seemed not to mind, and even gave her a strange smile from the corner of his eye.
"We have moved almost continuously since last night," said Lindir. "Would we be able to share your fire for a while, before we press onwards to the homely house?"
"You need not ask, my friend," Aragorn smiled, and motioned for them to sit.
"We have travelled fast from Mithlond," Lindir said. "Have you any news from Imladris?"
"I have not been there for many weeks," Aragorn replied gravely. "Mithrandir has set me a task here, and I honour my word to keep the borders of the Shire safe."
"Safe from what?" Melmeleth asked.
"Darkness stirs in the East," Aragorn said darkly, "and its shadow reaches far. There are spies in the woods, of beast and of man, and many who would not leave the halflings at peace. Not yet do orcs wander this far south, but many are the dangers with fairer faces."
"We received news that the Nine were again at large," Galdor said.
"I, too, have heard this," Aragorn whispered, "but I have seen no sign of them yet. It is said they appear as black riders in the night, searching for the One."
Silence lay for a while, and Galdor's eyes passed contemplatively over Yara.
"Let us not speak of such things now," Lindir said after a while. "There is enough darkness in the world to remind us, even when our words do not. Let us instead speak of happier times and tidings from the west. In Mithlond, at least, there is no darkness, and the Shire was at peace as we passed through. In Mithlond there was wine, and we danced and sang! For I am joyous to be again with my sister."
"Aye, if it is one who cannot keep from singing for joy it is you, dear brother!" Melmeleth agreed with a laugh, soon joined by both Aragorn and Galdor.
As the night moved on the elves chatted jovially with Aragorn, and Yara sat silently with them, her eyes on the fire, on the darkness around them, and on the horses, who were wandering further and further in search of grass and water. She did nothing to alert her companions to the fact that the horses were disappearing over one of the hills, staying silent not out of resentment, but out of sheer exhaustion. She longed for sleep more than ever, not because her body demanded it, but because her loneliness did.
It was Galdor who first advertised the horses’ absence to his companions, and before he had even finished his sentence, Aragorn was on his feet.
"I will see how far they have gone," he said.
"No, stay here and rest," Melmeleth answered, beckoning for him to sit. "You need it more than us."
"They are probably searching for water," Lindir said, and stood up. "We should lead them to the closest brook."
"Which I know the location of," Aragorn smiled.
"Tell me the direction, and I shall find it," Galdor said and stood up.
"Northwest, it comes out by the third hill," Aragorn informed with an acquiescent smile.
"I will go gather the horses," said Lindir.
"Brother, wait up!" Melmeleth called and ran after her brother. "I want to hear the end of your story! What happened to the halfling? Did he come out from the mountain?"
And so it was that Yara found herself alone with a complete stranger, yet again. She had not even the energy to react, but sat unmoving in her place, her thoughts far away. That is, until the stranger decided that he should sit down again, right next to her.
God, he smelled. That was her first reaction. She turned to look at him, and found a kind smile in his grey eyes. The fact that he smelled seemed less important then.
"Nán Estel," he said slowly, a hand on his chest. "Estel," he repeated, and patted himself again. "Nán Estel." He motioned towards her.
Yara felt uneasy at first. She felt that she should put up resistance, turn away, just as she had done when Círdan had tried to teach her, but this felt different. There was no pen and paper here, no writing, no long flowing sentences of which she could not understand a word, and no expression of fatherly patience. Just a friendly face trying to introduce himself.
"Nán Yara," she repeated, and patted her own chest. His smile widened.
"Estel home Imladris," he said slowly. She frowned. "Galdor home Mithlond. Melmeleth home Mithlond. Lindir home Imladris. Círdan home Mithlond. Yara home...?"
Yara stared at him, her eyes wide. He was giving her an encouraging, but not pitiful look.
"Yara home Damascus," she said, hesitating at first, but as the name of that city rolled off her tongue for the first time in months she could not stop the tears. Memories came flooding back, and not only in images. She could feel the touch of her grandmother's dry hands on her cheeks, she could hear her brother's laughter as they played ball in the garden, she could catch the scent of her bedroom—and the feeling, the feeling in her entire body, of a home she would never be able to return to, because it no longer existed.
Aragorn was shocked at her sudden outburst. He had never, in his entire life growing up in Rivendell, seen an elf so suddenly burst into tears. He had no idea what to do, and only stared at her, wide eyed. Not long after Melmeleth and Lindir came walking back to the camp, and Aragorn stood up, waving for their attention.
"I…" he hesitated, but Melmeleth only shook her head with a smile.
"It is not the first time," she said with a heavy sigh as she sat down and took Yara's hand. "Her sorrows are endless."
"Did she perhaps take out a glowing stone?" Lindir asked, his eyes slightly narrowed.
"A glowing stone?" Aragorn returned with a frown. "No… I only asked where she hailed from. I'm not sure she understood, she said something, but I cannot repeat it. It was no place I know of, at least. And then, she was suddenly weeping."
The men sat down as well, and all was quiet as they waited for Yara to dry her tears. When she did, she looked up at Aragorn, and found his grey eyes piercing her with a curious stare. It was not unkind, but steelier than the elves'. She wasn't sure what made her do it, if it was his eyes or something else, but in that silent moment of scrutiny a song came into her head. It wasn't even something from Damascus, nothing from her childhood. It was a song she had danced to in Sweden, the first song in Arabic she had found after departing her homeland. And as it came to her, she started singing a slow and plaintive melody, the words painting away the wild landscape around her, and replacing it with memories.
'I adore you
and if a day passes by without seeing you
I forget you
how come this time I drew you
the Longing moves the nostalgia in my heart
the night gets longer and the day passes backwards
oh my fragile heart
the separation is killing me
I have no solution
I have no solution
my heart doesn't love once
my heart doesn't long for you once either'
As her voice fell away into a whisper, the only sound was the crackling of the fire reflecting in her eyes. Everyone was looking at her. Not staring, just looking. They could feel the sorrow in her words, even though they did not understand them. Lindir's eyes were filled to the brim with sadness, something Yara had never seen before, and Melmeleth's bathed in an uncharacteristic emptiness. Aragorn's was on the fire, just like Yara's, and in them, longing danced.
The spell was broken as Galdor came down the slope with the horses, and the elves slowly stood up.
"We must travel again," Galdor said to Aragorn, who stood up to bid his farewells.
"Did you hear her song?" Lindir asked in hushed tones.
"I did," Galdor replied. "I only waited to come so I would not interrupt her. I do not think that she has even once spoken so many words since her arrival, in any language."
As her companions said their farewells Yara stood up as well, her mind still half in dreams of Damascus and a life past. Then Aragorn turned to her, and she caught those grey eyes again, bringing her back to the present. He bowed to her, just slightly, but it was enough. She saw his ear poke out from his hair, and it was the first rounded one she had seen since she arrived. She could not stop herself, and her hand shot up to touch it, her mouth slightly open in surprise.
"Am I the first of the race of men you have seen?" Aragorn asked in Quenya, but Yara did not understand. Her hand fell to her side again, and her eyes bore into his with too many questions. She could see the eyes of her fellow riders fixed on her, as if expecting an answer.
"Do you speak English?" she asked, without hope or expectation. There was no reply, and all she did was return the melancholy in Aragorn's eyes, before she walked to her horse and mounted.
It was dawning on the second day since their encounter when they crossed the road, the village not far away in the distance. The sounds of the first people waking and making themselves ready for the day ahead reached Yara far too clearly through the morning mist. Once they were off the road she halted, and took out her phone listlessly. She knew that there would be no reception here either, but she also knew she would berate herself forever if she didn't try. So she did, and soon replaced her phone in the bag, no tears in her eyes this time.
Her companions stopped and looked at her as she took out her phone, waiting on the edge of action, and when she urged Elu to walk on they waited in place, their eyes following with mild disbelief as she continued ahead of them, into the forest.
"She takes it out when we are close to settlements," Galdor said as they followed. "That is why I conclude that she, or it, is looking for someone, not something."
"And who would that someone be?" Melmeleth asked.
"Whoever it was that she sang of," Lindir offered, his eyes still sorrowful.
"How do you know what her song spoke of?" Galdor questioned.
"I felt it," Lindir replied, "and so did you. It was a song of longing, and loss. Do not begin to question your own senses, Galdor, or you will soon find yourself more lost than she is."
The woods they had entered were not like those before. These trees were more wild, and the ground thick with bramble. The going was still slow, but they managed a canter now and then, and in the thick of the trees they travelled both night and day. Lindir was singing again under the stars, and Yara found she did not mind so much anymore. His songs were less cheerful, but no less beautiful, and she often found herself riding close to him. She was beginning to recognise two distinct languages in his songs; one she recognised as the language used to speak to her, and the other was smoother, and was that which her companions used among themselves.
She thought intently about those differences for many hours. Why were they not teaching her the same language that they themselves used? It made her feel uncomfortable, and frightened again, of who they made her out to be. It was clear by now that they meant her no harm, but also that they thought her strange. And yet, Yara thought, Lindir was singing in both languages. She could make no sense of it, despite her twists and turns, and her frown became more pronounced. Lindir stopped his singing, and examined her face.
"Do you not like my songs?"
Yara frowned deeper. There he was again, switching language to speak to her, as if it would make any difference. He remained silent for a long while after that, and Yara did not like it. She kept by his side, hoping that he would start singing again.
"Can you sing your song again?" Lindir asked. He hummed a few notes of the melody he could remember, and gestured towards her.
'He wants me to sing,' Yara thought to herself, her eyes fixed on the path ahead. She shook her head vigorously. She still didn't understand why she had started singing that night. It felt embarrassing to remember it. Lindir picked up a new tune shortly after that, and Yara fell in behind him as they passed the last thicket of trees.
Chapter 6: Blood and Tears
On the other side of the trees the landscape was uniform ahead of them. The setting sun was casting a warm glow on the still waters of the marshes ahead, and the clouds of mosquitoes were shading the pools. The company turned right along the edge of the forest, and Yara was both comforted and surprised when they came to the road in the middle of the night. A cloud of mosquitoes were following them, pestering the horses more than the riders, but what really bothered Yara was the silence. Lindir was not singing, and aside from the swish of the horses’ tails all was still.
They broke into a canter. They had rested in the woods in the afternoon and Yara did not expect them to rest proper until the next day again, but their speed picked up dramatically, and she could no longer sit comfortably lulled on Elu’s back, but had to lean forwards and clench her knees to keep steady over his rolling spine. It was not as frightening as she had expected, but the strange feeling of being chased by the darkness, which had until that point been their safe haven on their journey, scared her all the more. If she had looked up she might have noticed that the stars were not in the sky, despite the absence of clouds.
They did not stop until dawn was sending its light into the sky, and by that point the horses were completely exhausted, and Yara more nervous and weary than ever. They left the road on foot, leading the horses to a green field by a brook. Yara could see the marshes in the distance, but here the earth was firm and the air freer. There were hills in the distance, and on the one closest to the road, lonely against the horizon, she could see crumbling ruins. Aside from its beauty didn’t give it much thought, and her ears perked instead at the sound of anger in Galdor’s voice.
“Círdan may have seen the light of the trees in her, but he saw darkness also! Tell me, when has there ever been an elf who spoke no tongue or dialect know to their kin? Her voice may be fair, but such are the enemy’s many disguises. We have been too trusting. She did not despair at the light of her stone at Bree because she knew whom she was searching was close by. She knew we were riding into their darkness!”
“Then why would she have fled with us, instead of searching them out?” Melmeleth defended. “There is fear in her greater than your own.”
“All servants of Sauron fear their master,” Galdor countered.
“You are foolish, friend,” Lindir said softly, “if you cannot tell the difference between the fear of a lost girl and that of a servant of Sauron.”
“Many more cunning than I have fallen victim to his disguises!”
“Yet she is not him,” Melmeleth said firmly, “that much is certain. The wraiths passed us, and did not follow. It is not them she is searching, and she will not lead them to Imladris. Trust the command Círdan gave us, and let Master Elrond make his judgement when we arrive. Do not let your fears get the best of your compassion.”
Throughout the discussion Yara was standing silently to the side, observing them. It was the first time they had shown any sign to be anything more than cautious, and strangely enough, their anger comforted her. Perhaps they too were afraid of the dark and the unknown? At least then she was not so alone.
“Iscalassiel,” Galdor said in Quenya, his eyes locking with Yara’s, “take your knife from your horse. It is best not to let your weapon stray with Elu.” Yara stared at him, he beckoned her, walked over to Elu, and put the knife in her hand. She looked at him with a frown bordering on hurtful, but he only walked away, following the stream to fetch water further up. Yara looked to Melmeleth, who signed to her own knife in her belt. Yara had no belt, and ended up tearing a hole in her trousers to fasten the knife to. The weight of it felt more strange to her than the fact that she might have to defend herself, and when Lindir left to go forage for berries it came natural to her to sit down close by Melmeleth’s side, their ears and eyes not resting as much as their bodies.
Yara’s mind was working tirelessly, counting the days since they had left Mithlond. She had never imagined Imladris to be so far away, and it frightened her to not know how far they had yet to go, especially now that they had been chased by … what exactly? Darkness and shadow, Yara thought, and felt a cold shiver trickle down her spine. She hoped they had not long to go, after all it had been over a month since she woke up in the stone room, and she was getting mighty impati…
Yara’s thoughts interrupted themselves. A month, and still no period. She knew the thought should incite fears and suspicions, but even though her mind threw them at her, she could not bring herself to feel them. She could close her eyes and sense her own body in a way she had never done before, and she knew not only that she was not pregnant, but also, that she was untouched. Yet, she doubted her own intuition. She could not explain why she could suddenly feel these things, and while she did not doubt her experiences were real, she had no idea as to what caused them.
Yara opened her eyes, and placed her hand softly on Melmeleth’s knee. She responded with an inquiring smile. Yara sighed first, not knowing really how to express herself, but she gathered courage. After all, she had already embarrassed herself asking for the toilet, hadn’t she?
“Yara no,” she motioned to her womb. She cradled an invisible baby in her arms, and then shrugged in question.
Melmeleth looked utterly dumbfounded.
Yara took out her knife, and made a tiny cut on the back of her own hand. She squeezed it, and a few drops of blood came out. Melmeleth looked horrified, but Yara pressed on. She pointed to the blood, and for clarity dipped one of her fingers in it, holding it out to Melmeleth.
“Sercë,” Melmeleth said, and Yara nodded.
“Yara no blood,” Yara said, and rocked her invisible baby again.
Realisation dawned on Melmeleth, but she thought she must have misunderstood something. There was no way Yara could have been pregnant! Melmeleth would have sensed it, would have sensed both the presence of the child and Yara being married. And what did she mean by blood? Had something happened to her child? Melmeleth doubted herself long enough to place a hand over Yara’s womb.
Yara breathed in in shock. The warmth was so strong and so intimate, and she knew as it seeped into her womb that Melmeleth would only confirm what she herself already knew. She was empty.
Melmeleth took a deep breath as she withdrew her hand. Yara was not pregnant, but Melmeleth had felt something else in her search for another fëa. Yara was old, just as Círdan had said, and there was more memory in her than Melmeleth had ever expected. She felt for a moment that she had intruded on Yara’s privacy, but her curiosity had gotten the better of her. She blinked a few times as her eyes searched deep into Yara’s.
“I wish you could tell me all your stories,” she whispered, and Yara could feel the longing on her voice. She took Melmeleth’s hand in both of her own, and suddenly, without really thinking of it, she felt more than just Melmeleth’s skin. She felt … life. She let go in fright, but Melmeleth only smiled sadly at her worried face.
“I would allow you to sense me,” Melmeleth said, and held out her hands to Yara, but Yara stood up, and walked away. Melmeleth tensed, but Yara stopped on the edge of their little camp, and with her eyes fixed unblinkingly on her charge Melmeleth remained in her seat.
Yara wished the horses had not been so tired. She wanted to leave this place, and leave behind what had just happened. Not only did she feel embarrassed about her unfounded fears, but she was frightened and lonely. If the shadow chasing them had been frightening it was nothing compared to the panic she had felt at taking Melmeleth’s hand. All she had wanted to do was soothe her friend’s worries, and suddenly she had felt so much. She realised she had done exactly what Melmeleth and Círdan had done to her, and it dawned on her that she was not only in a new place—everything was new, including herself. She felt … new.
She shook her head. What was she even thinking? She didn’t have the words for these thoughts. She could handle new places, new people, new circumstances, but whatever this was, it was too much. For the first time since her arrival she questioned her sanity, and she searched her mind desperately for some proof that she was still herself. She looked down at the dried blood on her hand, and as she turned her hand the light of the sun made the dark red contrast with her skin. She had gotten paler during her time in Sweden, but there was still a deep olive colour to her.
At that thought many memories flickered like images before her. Her mind sprung to action, and she walked on towards the horses.
“Wilwarin!” Melmeleth called out behind her.
“Elu!” Yara replied as she kept walking, but she could feel Melmeleth’s eyes on her back as she went.
Her horse had heard her call, and trod up to her, albeit dragging his feet and snagging mouthfuls of grass on the way. Close behind him came Galdor, his countenance harsh. Yara made little of it, as she had noted long ago that he was the least friendly of the group. Not unkind, but not friendly. She reached into her bag and took out her phone, and now Galdor was close by her, his eyes narrowed. She ignored him as she turned the phone on, and then she stood herself next to Elu’s head.
It was a weird feeling, taking a selfie in this new place, and even weirder to try and look happy and comfortable doing it, while her insides were churning anxiety from all her feelings. Galdor’s presence didn’t help either, especially not when the camera clicked and flashed, and he gave a yelp of surprise.
Before Yara could look at the image she had taken she had to deal with Galdor, who had his hand on the hilt of his sword, and the other outstretched, as if expecting her phone.
“No,” Yara said firmly, and took a step back, her phone behind her.
“What did you do?!” Galdor shouted, his free hand emphasising his words, the other still on his sword.
“What happened?” Melmeleth asked Galdor, her voice unusually sharp.
“She took out the stone, it made sound and light, strong light!”
“Control your fear, Galdor,” Melmeleth said darkly, and Yara was taken aback by the sudden harshness, “this is not the time or the place for it, even though it serves you well many other times. She is harmless.”
Yara saw Galdor remove his hand from his sword, and fear she had not even realised she had alighted from her shoulders. She slowly took out her phone, and Melmeleth nodded encouragingly.
“All is well,” she said, her voice soft and reassuring again.
Yara slowly looked at the screen, and at her own face looking back at her. It was her face, but also, it was not. Her long dark eyelashes were covered in dust from the road, her hijab was faded from bright blue to dusk, and still, her skin glowed, and her eyes glowed. She could see the flash in Elu’s eye, and compared to the glow in her own it was nothing. Her breathing quickened, her heartbeat too.
She shut the phone off, and replaced it in the bag. She didn’t even look at Galdor as she passed him, and took no note of Melmeleth following behind her. She was out of her depths, and she didn’t like it. She lay down in the grass, shut her eyes, and forced herself to forget her fears. She listened to the earth, and the grass, and the wind. She missed the trees and the stars, but this wasn’t so bad either. Once she got to Imladris she’d make her phone calls, and get out of this mess.
Yara roused herself from sleep at the sound, and found Galdor shielding the sun. His face was not as harsh, and as she slowly sat up, he sat down by her side, facing her.
Yara examined his face closely. She could not read him as easily as she could Lindir or Melmeleth. He was more guarded, but no less sincere. She remembered still how he had followed her on her first day, and despite her anger then, she felt that he had done the right thing. It would have been much worse to be on the edge of the wilderness and despair by herself, even if he had not been the most compassionate in his actions. Yet, all of this was just thought filling the silence.
“I wish you could understand me,” Yara said, her expression sorrowful, and she did not know if she meant only her speech, or something more.
“I wish I could understand you,” Galdor sighed, and Yara caught a glimpse of something softer deep in his grey eyes. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.
Yara stood up and motioned towards the horses and the sun.
Galdor stood up beside her, nodded, and pointed to the road. Yara gave him a quick smile as he passed her, and soon enough they were on the road again, the afternoon sun on their backs and long shadows in front of them.
The following days were monotonous and disappointing. Yara had hoped they would soon be in Imladris, but the road seemed to stretch on forever, and they met not a single soul. The shadow that had chased them stayed away, but they kept a brisk trot or slow canter for most of the journey. Yara still preferred the canter, but was getting used to sitting steadily even in a trot, feeling more and more grounded on Elu’s back. She even braved looking up at the stars during their ride a few times, as she found them infinitely more inspiring than the fields stretching out around them. She had seen one or two farms in the distance, but other than that, all was green and wild.
Yara had mostly forgotten about the incident with taking Melmeleth’s hand, and the image of her own glowing face didn’t haunt her any more, except in her dreams. There it appeared sometimes, but it was different than the photograph. She dreamt about looking at herself in a mirror, but she remembered only glimpses of those dreams, faded images which her waking mind soon swept away.
Galdor had been nothing but courteous towards her, and Lindir was singing again, whenever they weren’t talking. Melmeleth and Lindir did talk a lot more, especially when they were resting, and Yara had found herself trying to listen in once or twice, looking from face to face as they spoke, even though she didn’t understand a word. They were so happy to be together, and no matter what they were saying to each other, Yara could revel in that happiness—at least until her longing got the best of her, and she settled down to listen to the earth instead, tears slowly running down her cheeks.
At dusk on the third day since the shadow had passed they were cantering along the road, when in the fading light they could see shimmering lights among a thicket of trees far ahead, and while some were surely fire, others seemed silvery like starlight. Yara heard the delight in the cries of her companions, and if she had not seen the trees by daylight she might have thought they were closing on Imladris. Alas, she had seen the empty landscape stretching far beyond the thicket, and while the laughter and happiness were contagious, she still felt a sting of apprehension as they closed on their target.
As soon as they left the road, before they had even come to a halt, Yara could hear laughter among the trees. It was a beautiful sound, clear and radiant, and she felt nothing but welcomed by it. It reminded her of the laughter she had heard in Mithlond, and despite all the anxiety she had felt there, those memories were sweet. As her companions dismounted, so did she, and followed them in among the trees.
“Well met, travelling friends!” Lindir called out on their entrance into the hall of light.
“Hail, Lindir of Imladris!” came the reply, spoken by a tall and stately elf with much life behind his eyes.
“Gildor!” Lindir smiled in reply, and bowed.
“You did not expect me here?” Gildor replied.
“I was wondering, when we passed through the western woods, if we would encounter you. I did not expect you to wander so far east.”
“We came this way by word from Imladris, and we are now heading west again. You were not so tempted by your visit to Mithlond?”
“Nay, for I have my sister with me again, and urgent business in Imladris.”
“It is well to see such spirit still,” Gildor smiled, and his eyes moved from Lindir to Melmeleth. “Melmeleth of Mithlond,” he greeted with a bow. “I am happy to hear your laughter in the woods again.”
“And yours,” she replied softly.“I am joining my brother in Imladris, for my charge requires Master Elrond’s wisdom.”
“And he in turn requires Círdan’s,” Galdor added with a bow.
“Hail, Galdor of Mithlond!” Gildor called out and bowed.
Yara had listened to their melodic voices feeling quite relaxed, and though her eyes had first been caught by the elf greeting them they had wandered after a while to take in the light and the feast behind him. They returned, however, at the bow Gildor gave, for she wondered why he was deserving of it, and not his companions.
“Hail, Gildor Inglorion,” Galdor replied, albeit a bit stiffly.
“Elrond shall be happy to have such wisdom by his side,” Gildor said slowly, and although Yara could not understand him, she recognised the reaction his words caused in Galdor, who’s expression set itself above tense jaws.
“And this must be your charge,” Gildor said, and his eyes glittered as they met Yara’s. There was silence for a beat, and then Melmeleth spoke.
“She does not understand you. She speaks only a few words of Quenya, and no other language that we know. Her name is Yara Iscalassiel, and she came to the shores of Mithlond only a few weeks ago.”
“Hail, Yara Iscalassiel,” Gildor said, his voice slow and melodic, and as he bowed his eyes remained on Yara’s.
“Hail, Gildor,” Yara replied, bowing her head only a little, and keeping eye-contact. She could feel his warmth through his eyes, and she let him feel hers. She thought, for a second, that there was a spark of recognition, but then it was gone.
“Come, rest with us!” Gildor called, and moved his eyes away. “It would be a great sorrow if Lindir of Imladris passed us by again, without singing for us, would it not?”
The elves in the hall of trees all cried out in agreement, and before he had even sat down Lindir began to sing to the sound of a harp. Melmeleth smiled and took Yara by the hand, leading her to sit by the fire, next to a stranger. The stranger only smiled and laughed at Yara’s wary smile, before offering her both fruits, meat, and drink. Yara accepted the fruit, and a goblet of water, but before she had managed to bring either to her mouth the music entranced her, and she leaned back, her fingers dancing on her thigh. It may not have been Imladris, but it was a beautiful place they were in, and between the laughter and the light and the music, Yara forgot all about her phone, and all darkness of the world outside.
As the night wore on the music came and went, but Lindir was always occupied. Melmeleth gave Yara a smile from time to time, but was busy laughing and singing. Yara did not even know where Galdor got off to—she saw him once pass by the fires, but then he was gone again—and as the laughter and merriment subsided into the light of dawn she found herself feeling strangely abandoned, despite being surrounded by more people then she had seen since she left Mithlond. The helplessness must have been clear on her face, because before she knew it Gildor sat down beside her, deep and compassionate eyes locking on hers.
“You have come across the sea,” he said, and Yara immediately noticed a few of the strangers listening in. “Sea,” he repeated, and Yara suddenly saw an image of waves in her mind. She shut her eyes, and turned away.
“Sea,” she repeated to him, her eyes still closed.
“My apologies,” Gildor said, “I will not touch your mind again. You are not ready.”
In the following silence Yara slowly opened her eyes, and she found Gildor still there, smiling, but looking somewhere around her shoulder. She looked at him for a long time, waiting for his eyes to turn to her face, but when they didn’t, she took his hand, and led his fingers to her cheek.
”Nírë,” he said, and withdrew his hand.
“Yara tear,” Yara repeated, and her crying intensified. She had not felt such a want to communicate since she had sung to the man in the dell, but at the same time her stunted words and gestures felt more painfully inadequate than they ever had. How could a simple word like ‘sea’ bring her so much pain?
“Rest,” Gildor said, and began singing softly as Yara reclined. She felt her mind drift away with the last of the music, and someone wiped the tears off her face by the light of dawn.
Yara could feel the camp around her being emptied even as she slept, but it was only when a kindly man made to fold away the blanket she was resting on that she woke up. She smiled at him, and searched the clearing for her companions. She saw Galdor and Gildor engaged in serious conversation, and she could hear from the tones of their voices that they were disagreeing. She frowned a little, and looked around. Lindir was resting below a tree, his eyes open and glossed over. She knew that her companions rested from time to time, but during their travels she had never seen more than a hint of their shapes next to her. Now that she saw him there, so vulnerable and open, it made her feel strangely protective. Then Melmeleth came up to her, a warm smile on her face.
"Drink," she offered Yara a cup of water. "The horses are waiting. I will wake Lindir once Galdor is ready."
Yara drank the water, and when she was done one of the elves from Gildor's company took the cup from her. She could see the horses waiting on the edge of the clearing, and she slowly made her way there, careful not to get in the way of the people packing.
Elu greeted her with a soft huff into her chest. He was half-asleep, and as she stroked him she could feel his exhaustion.
"We will be in Imladris soon, I hope," she whispered to him.
He buffed her chest reassuringly, and she smiled. She put her arms around him, her fingers nestled in his mane, and before she knew it he was asleep again, his head on her shoulder. It was a considerable burden, but she had not the heart to wake him, and it felt good that, for a change, she could be able to support someone else, rather than the other way around.
Galdor was the first to join her, and she could feel his brooding before he was even close. She frowned a little, and shifted her weight to try and catch a glimpse of his face. Elu woke at this, and she was able to look Galdor straight in the eyes.
He scowled at her inquisitive gaze, and Yara sighed in response. Something soft flickered across Galdor's face, and he shook his head slowly as he began rousing his horse.
"She does not even know the words to describe my troubles, and yet she still wants to share in them," he whispered to his waking steed. "I doubt my wisdom is enough for Master Elrond, if I cannot even bring myself to see good from evil. It pains me that Gildor will not go, and will give me no advice. Perhaps we elves should hold no councils at all, and leave your kind to graze freely."
At this his horse gave a great snort, and rubbed his head along Galdor's side, causing him to burst into laughter. Yara did too, not only at Galdor being thrown off his balance, but also because she had hardly heard Galdor laugh since they left Mithlond.
"Yes, you laugh!" Galdor shot at her, and mounted, still silently chuckling.
Once Lindir and Melmeleth were both there as well Yara sat up, and as they rode away she noticed that Gildor's entire company had disappeared, leaving no trace behind them except for a feeling of happiness in the grove. She smiled, even as she saw the long road stretching into the distance ahead.
They passed another bridge at dusk the next day, more sturdy than the one in the land of the Perian, and rested for a short while on the other side, before continuing their journey by moonlight. There was now a thick and wild wood on their left, but they did not pass into it. This encouraged Yara, not only because she felt safer, but because the road seemed less wild here, and she felt sure that they were moving closer to civilisation. The road was still deserted though, and they did not slow their speed, passing the trees at a canter whenever they were on horseback.
This went on monotonously for the first night, until the terrain became less flat, and they had to slow to a walk for the most part. However, that allowed Lindir to sing again without interruption, joined often by his sister, and sometimes even by Galdor. The mood was light, and Yara smiled more, even though beneath it her heart was still heavy.
Melmeleth could hear Yara whisper encouragingly to Elu now and then, and it always brought a smile to her face to see her friend's optimism. She wondered how much Yara really knew about where they were heading, and why, and what she was expecting once they got there, but all in all, she was happy just to see how much less shut in Yara was. She knew it wasn't more than a chip in the surface, but a chip was better than nothing, she thought.
And so it was that their small company passed the Ford of Bruinen, three engaged in song, and one laughing at the silly melody. The horses, although noticeably tired, lifted their legs happily in the water, and neighed as the spray hit their riders. Yara was sitting comfortably on Elu's back now, her hands swinging to catch the water without so much as a thought to her balance. Once they had come across the landscape became even more wild, and Yara expertly shifted her weight on Elu as they went up and down the ridges.
'If my brother could see me now,' she smiled to herself, and even as the sorrow of his death hit her, the smile lingered on her face.
The sun was high in the sky and Yara could smell the waterfalls before she heard them, the mists rising far in the heat as they came over the last ridge. In front of her Yara saw a stone bridge more narrow than she would have liked, and as they crossed it she closed her eyes, her hands trustingly placed on Elu's withers. She opened her eyes at a safe distance, and realised that the singing was no longer coming from Lindir alone, but from all around them, even if she could not yet see the singers. What she did see, though, were buildings, rising from the rock and mingled with the forest, stretching out along the river as they passed through an ornate arch not very unlike the one marking the entrance to Mithlond.
She could both hear and see the waterfall now, rolling with perpetual force down the rocks, and appearing from the glittering sunlit mists she could see an array of smiling, singing faces, all pausing to look at them as they passed, many shouting greetings with great mirth. Mostly she could hear Lindir's name shouted, but the only one truly left out from the joyous calls was Yara, and the loneliness it incited reminded her of what she had been longing for for so long—reception on her phone.
With a great gasp at her own forgetfulness she leaned forward and quickly dug her phone out. She gave no heed to the beauty of her surroundings any more, and had eyes only for the screen as Elu kept treading dutifully along. It seemed to take forever for the phone to come back alive, and Yara didn't notice that they had stopped. She unlocked it, turned roaming and wifi on, reloaded, reloaded again, and… Nothing. She froze, staring silently at the 'No Service'-message in the corner as the tears welled up painfully in her eyes.
Then she screamed. Not a beautiful wail of sorrow, but a deep, grunting, ripping scream. All the horses startled, and Elu stamped back and forth until Melmeleth was able to lay a hand on his forehead. Yara slumped down across his back, her phone clutched to her chest as she tried to breathe through her wails. She had been wholly unprepared for how deep a disappointment it would be to be let down of her last hopes, unaware of how much she herself had staked on this last proof that she was definitely, irrevocably, abandoned.
Galdor had jumped down from his horse, his face grave as he bent to catch Yara's eyes. They were shut tight, and, surrounded by the sudden silence Yara's outburst had caught, he took it upon himself to carry her again. With strong arms he scooped her off of Elu's back, and pressed her shaking frame to his chest. He tried his best to shield her from the curious and shocked crowd around them, but felt desperately inadequate.
"Lindir," he pleaded to his companion, and Lindir silently led him through a doorway to the right, Melmeleth running after.
Yara didn't hear Galdor's voice as he carried her, but she could feel the humming from his chest, and she instinctively pressed herself closer to it. She didn't care anymore if she was crossing boundaries or behaving wrongly. She didn't want to behave at all. She wanted to disappear, to fall again into a river and this time remain in the cold water and never have to wake again. Her crying renewed at the thought.
Melmeleth's eyes shot to Yara with worry at her whimpers, and she prodded her brother's back with her fingers to urge him to speed up. Lindir shot a frown over his shoulder, but Melmeleth had no time to speak before he flung open a door to an empty room. The mattress was covered with a dusty blanket and a few leaves had fallen through the half-open window facing the street below. Lindir hurried to close it, and Galdor deposited Yara on the bed. Melmeleth quickly pushed him away, and fell on her knees beside her friend.
"Wilwarin, what happened?"
Yara could feel the warmth from Melmeleth's hand on her shoulder, but she didn't want it. She wanted nothing. With a growl she pushed away Melmeleth's arm, and with a few aggressive rips she had wrapped herself completely in the dusty bedspread, sobbing in the darkness.
"What can I do?" Melmeleth called to her companions, for the first time truly shaken by Yara's emotions.
"I will find Elrond," Lindir said gravely, and disappeared out the door.
"It seems her mystery has proven more urgent than we expected," Galdor said, and his words came out harsher than he had intended, sounding like mockery to Melmeleth's ears.
"Only a cold hearted soul could see despair as a mystery," she hissed at him.
"No, I…" Galdor looked truly repentant, but Melmeleth was on her knees again, trying to whisper words of comfort through Yara's sobs and gurgles.
Lindir returned alone shortly after, pausing in the doorway to take in the scene, unchanged since he left, but still dramatic. He caught himself staring, and shook himself alive again.
"Master Elrond will be here shortly, he says for us to leave her."
Galdor did not need further encouragement, and left the room. Lindir stood himself next to his sister, and softly laid a hand on her back.
"Elrond will help her."
He spoke softly, but Melmeleth didn't want to listen. It went against her every instinct to leave Yara alone at that moment.
"Come, sister," Lindir said, and even Yara under her covers could hear the unprecedented stern tone he took. Yara felt Melmeleth's presence slip away, and as it did her wails subsided, but the ice inside her spread, until she was frozen as she lay curled up on the rough mattress, waiting for the dark to swallow her consciousness.
In the hallway outside Galdor stood silent watch. Melmeleth met his lamenting gaze for just a second, but in that second any ill will between them lifted, as they both shared their concern for Yara. Then Melmeleth let herself be led aside by her brother, and as Elrond strode past them she only saw the billowing red of his robes against the stone floor before she closed her eyes and leaned into her brother's chest.
Yara felt him in the doorway; this new presence of such radiating power, pulling her mind from sleep just by entering the room. She felt anger then, and pulled the cover closer around herself, her fingers like claws in the fabric. She heard his soft footfalls as he slowly approached the bed, and she heard his voice, deep and melodic, a soft and strong all at once.
'No,' she thought, 'leave me, leave me, leave me…'
"Leave me!" she shrieked. He might not have understood her language, but at least he shut up.
Elrond's breath caught at her outburst, and he stopped in his tracks. Lindir had told him that she couldn't tell them what was wrong, but not that she spoke another language. He was very eager, in that moment, to rip the blanket from her, to push himself into her mind, to find out everything—but he knew better. His face betrayed only compassion, and he allowed her to hide. He walked over to the windows and opened them wide, and then he left the room, closing the door behind him.
"It is best we leave her be, I think," Elrond said to the arrivals waiting in the hallway. "I should like for one of you to remain nearby, in case she comes out, but I do not expect her to."
"It should be I," Melmeleth mumbled.
"Very well," Elrond nodded. "Lindir, Galdor, if you would come with me to my study, we have much to discuss."
The men nodded and began walking, but stopped when Elrond remained still, his eyes on Melmeleth's still downturned face.
"Do not lose hope, Melmeleth," he said softly, and she peered up at him cautiously. "When the time is right we will speak of your friend, and together we will help her."
"Thank you," Melmeleth whispered meekly, and Elrond left her.
Yara was alone. She had been alone for what was probably hours, and even from below her blanket she could see that night had fallen. She had woken up from her anxiety-induced sleep by the feeling of the cold night air falling in through the open windows, and she slowly and carefully pulled the cover from her face, just to breathe it in. She could feel the salty remnants of tears on her face, and as she let her fingertips trace them she remembered their cause.
'I am truly alone,' she thought to herself as she let her hand fall. She took out the phone from below her ribcage, and stared at the black screen. She could see a muddled reflection of her own face, a shadow with those strangely glowing eyes. She accepted herself then, as she was now. She thought of Damascus, and all the destruction, and with tears in her eyes she accepted for the first time, that it was lost. Even if she could go back, it would never be the same.
She turned off the phone, and sat up, looking for her bag.
'Shit,' she thought. She had left it on the horse. She rubbed the salt from her face, and took staggering steps towards the door. She stopped with her hand on the handle. It was old, just like the door to her room in Mithlond, worn from centuries of use. She opened the door, and in a pool of moonlight she found Melmeleth, sitting on the floor of the hallway, her large eyes on Yara.
Melmeleth had heard Yara move inside the room, but she only looked up once the door had opened. She hadn't dared hope, and yet here Wilwarin was, bloodshot eyes blinking hopelessly as she stood frozen in the doorway. Melmeleth felt a surge in her chest, a desperate need to rush up and hold the woman in front of her, but she knew she couldn't.
"Elu," Yara whispered, her eyes trailing down the empty hallway.
Melmeleth held up the bag with Yara's things, and Yara took it. She turned to go back into her room, but with her hand on the handle she looked over her shoulder at Melmeleth, who had just stood up.
"Can I come in?" Melmeleth asked.
Yara stared for a while, and then returned to the bed. She plopped the phone in the bag and the bag on the floor, and curled up again. She heard Melmeleth tentatively follow her into the room, but her eyes remained staring at the leaves on the floor.
She reluctantly looked up. Melmeleth said something in that musical language, and waved her arms at the bed. Yara frowned. Melmeleth bent down and shook the cover a little, signed a square, put her hands under her head. Yara shrugged. She really didn't care either way, after having slept on the ground for the last two weeks or so. She just wanted to be alone.
Melmeleth sighed, in compassion, not frustration, and with a pitying look in her eyes she left. She would speak to Elrond, and she would get Wilwarin some damned sheets, whether she wanted them or not.
Melmeleth was standing outside Elrond's study, steadying her breathing. She had hoped so that her charge would be happy in Imladris, and since their encounter with Gildor's company her expectations had grown in time with Yara's happiness. Her disappointment was coloured by shame at having hoped, and fear that she had let down Círdan.
Melmeleth rolled her eyes. Was he always listening for footsteps in the hall outside? His work must be very boring, if he couldn't concentrate. She pushed open the door and stepped inside the warm firelight.
"Master Elrond," she greeted with a bow. Elrond gestured to a seat, and as she sat down she felt the weight of his wisdom hone in on her. Círdan might be the older one, she thought, but Elrond certainly plays the part of ancient wisdom.
"Tell me, now," he said, "of Yara Iscalassiel. Galdor said only that she drifted ashore about six weeks ago."
"She came in a leaf," Melmeleth began, her voice brittle and her eyes on the mess of papers littering Elrond's desk. "I was there on the night, but Círdan was the one who saw it drift in. We were gathered on the balcony overlooking the harbour when the tide came in, and he left us. It is not unusual for him to go wander by the water, but we saw him crouch down by a shadow, and then he waved for us to come.
"She was lying inside of the crumpled brown leaf, a great leaf from Ivon's gardens I thought it, and I told Círdan as much, while they carried Yara inside. She was asleep you see, eyes closed. She was dressed in black, head to toe, and yet she shone…"
Elrond waited patiently for Melmeleth to continue, and she did, with some effort.
"Círdan says she has seen the trees. She certainly has their light in her eyes, but why then can she not say a word of it? Galdor told me on that first night that he thought her some kind of warrior, returned to us like Glorfindel—but he came prepared, even eager, from what I know. Yara is neither. She is frightened and alone, always on the edge of fading, I fear. If she was so close to death, why would she be sent back?
"All these questions bother me not so much as her suffering, I confess. I have come to care for her greatly. I wish, nay, I am certain, that she could learn Quenya quickly if she only wished it. I thought her beginning to open up, as we came closer to Imladris, and then this." The last word came with a great sigh, and Melmeleth's eyes lifted to meet Elrond's intense gaze. His brow was furrowed.
"Quenya? Why the old tongue, when it is hardly used anymore?"
"It was something Círdan decided," Melmeleth answered. "He did say we could try and teach her any words as long as she was willing, but he only attempted Quenya, from their first conversation. He tried to teach her, sat with her often, but she does not read tengwar or cirth, and she did not want to learn. Yet, on our journey, I too found that Quenya seems to come easier to her, makes her listen."
"Then Quenya we continue to use, in her presence," Elrond said with a determined nod. "How is she now? I take it she left her bed, since you are here?"
"Yes," Melmeleth confirmed, "although she did not go far. She was only looking for her bag, and when I gave it to her she returned to her rest. I offered her sheets, but she did not seem to care either way, or she did not understand."
Elrond remained silent, and Melmeleth felt suddenly a little out of place.
"I should like to get her sheets, if I can," she added tentatively, and Elrond came to life.
"Yes," he answered, "sheets, and all other comforts. Perhaps, once available, she might take them, but we must not force her. I will have all brought to her room."
"And yours," Elrond added, his countenance more paternal. "You too must rest and replenish yourself after the journey."
"I would not like to leave her," Melmeleth said, and a slight blush came to her cheeks. She had not intended to voice her protectiveness.
"She will be well taken care of," Elrond assured her, and rose from his seat. Melmeleth followed him to the door, and allowed him to lead her to her room in silence. She felt the need for rest, now that she had begun to relax, but as Elrond turned to leave her she mustered her last strength.
"Master Elrond," she called after him, and he turned with raised eyebrow. "I am sure Galdor said as much, but please, do not attempt take the glowing stone from her. It will do no good."
Elrond gave her a nod, and Melmeleth went to rest.
While sheets and food and drink, bath and towels, a pile of clean clothes, lights and pillows were arranged in her room Yara remained sitting by the open window, staring out. It was certainly a more generous array of comforts than she had been offered in Mithlond, but still it didn't entice her much. She wished they would leave her be, but she had no mind to argue, and so she dejectedly took in her new surroundings. There was a road below, of sorts, paved with stone, and a big house opposite. It had no windows, but large arches and pillars casting shadows on the street, lit from behind by some warm fire. Occasionally the shadows of people moved across, but she saw no one, and heard no sound except the distant water. All seemed quiet and restful, and she was thankful for that, at least.
Once the door closed behind the last of the attendants she slowly turned, and it seemed to her a completely different room, then. The bed was made with a mound of pillows and shining white sheets, glowing in the light from the candelabra, and she could see steam rising from the small wooden bathtub set out for her. A screen waited for her to unfold it, painted with beautiful flowers. They reminded her of Damascus, with their colour and rolling tendrils. She gave in, and soaked herself in the bath, rubbing off the dust of the journey, and some of the anxiety with it. She ate fruit from the side of the bath as she lay there in the warmth, and as she sipped the warm tea she even managed a small smile. Imladris wasn't so bad, after all.
I've been thinking a bit about the formatting/paragraphs lately. Would love some input on whether or not it's easy to follow the POV-shifts. As always, thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy following Yara's journey :)
Chapter 8: In the Hall of Fire
The song in this chapter is 'Everyone is gonna love me now' by Ingrid Michaelson. I highly recommend you give it a listen before you read. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHnedneMfm0
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Yara stayed in the bath until the water went cold. By then the light of dawn was already falling in through the windows, and she could hear someone laughing outside. It was a gruff sort of laughter, not clear and ringing as she had become used to. She got out of the bath and swept herself in one of the towels. It was thin and clingy, worn with age, but soft against her skin. The feeling of her hair on her back was alien, and she remembered the last time she had felt it. It had been in Sweden, stepping out of a shower in the tiny immigration facility flat she shared with two other girls.
She dried herself in the light of dawn, and pulled on one of the white tunics. It had the wonderful, clear scent of clean linen, and she took long breaths with her nose pressed against it. There was a small table below a window, and on it was a mirror made of polished bronze. Yara sat down on the pillowed stool, her bare feet on the cold stone floor, and stared at her own face. It was glowing warmly, and the metal made it look distant, almost blurry. Yet she could see herself, in full detail, and she could see the long black hair highlighting her pointy ears. She leaned closer and examined them. She ran her fingertip along the edge, and it felt smooth, natural, covered in invisible downy hair. There was no scar, no edge, no point where she felt she ended and the ear began. It was her ear, fully and completely, just as the glow in her eyes was hers.
She sat still for a long while, just staring at herself. There was profound melancholy in seeing herself so unchanged, and yet so different. She was beautiful, she could not deny it, she was her, and yet there was something so alien about her reflection she never wanted to see it again.
She searched the table, now cluttered with trinkets for her use, and found a comb. Yara had always kept her hair long, only cutting the ends when they began to fray, and it was reaching for her waist. Combing it was an arduous task, especially when wet, but it had to be done. She began on her right, made a small partition, and began working from the ends to her scalp. Then the next tress, and the next. Once she was done she pulled it back, made a tight coil of the still moist hair, and rolled it on her head, fastening it with her hairpins. She didn't want to put on the dirty hijab from her journey, and so she took one of the smaller towels and wrapped it around her head instead. It was strange to have a white hijab—she thought it gave her a sallow look—but it would have to do.
She examined the rest of the items on the table. One box held a fragrant oily paste that she imagined was a perfume. Even if it wasn't, she liked the scent of moss and ice and stone that came from it, and so she smeared some on her wrists. There was a softer brush, perhaps for clothes, and a box of beautiful silver hairpins. There was paper, a leather case holding what appeared to be glass dip pens, still stained with ink. Green ink, not black.
She went back to the clothes, and immediately dismissed a few of the tunics and dresses which were sleeveless, and very low cut. She found a pair of dark green leggings that she donned, even though they were of a rougher fabric than she had liked, and on top of her white tunic she donned another one, short sleeved but loose and long. She felt awkward and out of place, but her sweatshirt and joggers were dirty from the journey. So were her sneakers and socks, and she decided to go barefoot for now, seeing as she wasn't planning on leaving the room anytime soon.
She took a deep breath, and slumped on the bed, her legs crossed over the covers. She couldn't deny that she enjoyed feeling clean and fresh, but in a way it only cemented the knowledge that she was alien here. Especially the clothes, which she imagined were some hand-me-downs given by kindly souls, made her feel out of place. She remembered her face in the bronze mirror, and the selfie she had taken on the road, and she felt lost.
The fear hit then. Fear that she had refused to acknowledge for so very, very long. Always had she remained strong and steadfast, goal clear in sight, and now she had nothing to fight for. Everything was either given to her freely or lost forever, and she was panicking. Her body was different, the world was different, the people around her—were they even people at all? She growled in frustration and hammered her thighs with her fists as the tears came again. She didn't want to cry, but she couldn't stop it.
There was a knock on her door, and Yara startled. She had so enjoyed her solitude. When she didn't answer a pair of eyes peered inside, and on seeing her in the bed the door swung open. Three elves came in, gracefully carrying out the little bathtub and the remnants of her breakfast. All the while Yara sat on the bed, pretending that they weren't there at all, and once they were gone she rubbed her face in her hands, feeling tired again.
Yara remained in her room, undisturbed, for most of the day. It was well into the afternoon when Melmeleth came to her, and with a smile exceedingly kind, she sat on the edge of the bed.
"Elrond wants to see you," she said.
Yara's eyes revealed only tired impatience. Melmeleth tried again.
"Círdan – Mithlond," she explained. "Elrond – Imladris. Elrond speak with Yara." She mimed the speaking and Yara seemed to understand. Or, at least, that's how Melmeleth interpreted her charge's pained expression.
In fact, Yara did understand, and was fighting an inner battle of fear and curiosity. In the end she nodded, but stayed in bed even as Melmeleth got up. She had no energy to face the world just yet. Melmeleth just left, and Yara waited apprehensively for steps in the hallway, staring at the closed door.
She heard a hand being placed on the handle, and she searched frantically for the right word.
"No!" she shouted, only realising after the fact that she had indeed said it in the right language.
No one came, but she could hear, perhaps feel, that they were there, outside the door. How could she not have heard them coming? In her fear she retrieved a belt from the pile of clothes, fastened her knife to it, and set it on her hips. She rubbed her hands over her teary eyes and pulled herself together from the sudden fear that had gripped her.
"Yes," she said, her voice still unsteady.
The door opened, and there was the man from last night. She recognised the feeling of him, perhaps it was the sounds of his movements, perhaps it was something more than that, but he was unmistakeable. He wore dark burgundy robes like she had never seen before, and his eyes were deep and ancient.
'Like Círdan's,' Yara thought, and she did not look away as he came to stand by the bed.
"Elrond," he said, his hand to his chest, and bowed his head.
"Yara," she replied, and she could not hide her impatience at having to stumble through introductions again. Elrond smiled, and gestured to the end of the bed, as if he wanted to sit.
"Yes," Yara nodded, and Elrond sat, now eye-level with her, but not too close. He didn't say anything, and Yara was beginning to feel a little awkward under the weight of his kind smile. Her fingertips traced the handle of her knife absentmindedly, and Elrond noticed the motion.
"Sicil," he said, and pointed to it. Yara paused for a second, and then slowly took the dagger from its sheath. She held it with both hands, twirling it like a spit between her fingertips. Elrond repeated the word, pointing to the knife.
"Êgraen knife Yara," Yara said.
"Anna," Elrond said, and pointed to the knife again.
Yara frowned, and Elrond's face deepened in thought for a moment. He touched his forehead just below his silver circlet, and then touched Yara's lightly.
"Ósanwë," he said, and moved his hand between them to indicate communication.
Yara stared into his eyes, and readied herself. She knew, almost instinctively, she could see it in his gaze, that he was trying to reach for her mind, just as Gildor had done. Now she was ready for it. She nodded, albeit with some measure of fright.
She saw images of hands extended, of things passed between peoples, of trinkets received with smiles. 'Anna,' she heard in her mind, 'anta.'
"Êgraen give knife Yara," Yara said, and she would have managed a smile, if she wasn't still taken by the experience she had just been given. Elrond, however, burst into an encouraging grin.
"Elrond gave Yara sambë," Elrond said, and gestured to the space around them.
Yara met his eyes again, and the word came to her.
"Room," she said. She did not know how to say thank you. She exchanged the knife for Elrond's hand, and patted her heart.
"Thank you," she said in Arabic, and she tried desperately to reach for his mind, to teach him her words, but no matter how far she pressed into his eyes there was nothing. Just a grey wall. She frowned.
"Yara ósanwë Elrond," she pressed, gesturing from herself to him. He didn't seem to understand.
"Thank you," she repeated, and leaned forward with every word, as if she was trying to physically press the thought into him.
Elrond frowned too. She was obviously not incapable of exchanging thoughts, as they had just done it, but at the moment she was giving him nothing. He pressed into her mind, carefully inquisitive, but there was nothing that he didn't put there himself. She was closed off to him, but he didn't understand how she could be, unless she wanted to.
Yara felt him, but no matter how many times she repeated the phrase in her mind it did not touch him. She began shouting it, screaming it, and then finally she gave up, and slammed her tired head into her palm. She was scared, and alone, and now she felt as if her head was about to burst.
Elrond took the hand she was not resting against her forehead, and spilled compassion on it.
Yara could feel the warmth, not only on her hand, but in her mind. Tears welled up, and she let go to wipe them. She heard the gruff laughter from outside again, this time two voices, and she couldn't stifle her curiosity. She moved to the window and looked down on the street below. There were two figures coming out from the archway on the other side, stout and with braided red beards. They looked nothing like anyone she had ever seen, and her mouth fell open. Then she saw another figure come out just behind them, and despite his hoariness he was unmistakeable.
"Perian!" Yara called in shock and turned back to Elrond, who was now standing slightly behind her. "Perian Imladris?!"
"Yes," Elrond said, and she heard a loving chuckle. "Bilbo Baggins."
Yara reached out and urged Elrond closer to the window, and then pointed eagerly to the two hairy figures disappearing down the road.
"Dwarves," Elrond smiled. "Glóin, Gimli. Glóin father of Gimli."
"Father," Yara repeated as Elrond let the concept grace her mind, and her face fell. Her breathing strained under the weight of her longing. Her father had come with her to Sweden, supported her all the way, but he had been too ill and too frail, and he had died there, not ever knowing what had become of his wife and son. She wanted so badly to tell Elrond, but no matter how hard she tried to bore into his mind she couldn't seem to touch it. She growled in frustration, and the tears began to fall.
She stormed to the bed and sat down violently, her head slamming the wall. She winced, and Elrond was there within seconds, his hand on the back of her head, a soft hum relieving the pain.
"Thank you," she mumbled, but there was no strength behind the words. Only sorrow.
Elrond squeezed her hand one last time, and then he left. While Yara was thankful for the solitude, a part of her couldn't help but feel like she was being punished for her inability to communicate. She scolded herself, despite knowing it was not her fault, and curled up again, hoping to fall asleep.
"How is she?" Melmeleth pressed as soon as Elrond came out the door, but he only gave her a kind smile before he pressed onwards.
"She puzzles me," Elrond admitted when he noticed Melmeleth following him, "but she is not in danger."
Melmeleth did not leave his side, and so he let her inside his study, bidding her to sit with a gesture of his arm.
"You told me yesterday that Círdan only communicated with Yara in Quenya," Elrond said, thinking as he went. "Did he not attempt ósanwë?"
"No," Melmeleth replied. "He expressly forbade me to attempt it. She was reluctant enough to speak, and so weak he feared she was fading. He did not want to strain her. He… He said that she was 'closed'."
"He feared that she was fading?" Elrond frowned.
"I would have assumed it still, had she not improved as she did, especially on the journey here. That is why I did not stop Gildor from attempting it, when we rested with his company one night."
"And how did she fare?" Elrond inquired, his eyes tensing in contemplation.
"She fell into tears almost instantly, but that in itself would not alarm me. She has been constantly on the verge of crying, I fear. Gildor was kind, and gentle, and stopped his attempt instantly, singing her to sleep instead."
Elrond was deep in thought, but just as Melmeleth was beginning to grow uncomfortable he sat down opposite her.
"Yara is closed," he confirmed, "but only of her own volition. Her pain is keeping her mind captive. She listened to the thoughts I gave her, but could send none in return."
"But then there is a way, after all!" Melmeleth exclaimed in joy. "She will be able to understand us, to know that she is safe, that we care for her!" Elrond shook his head slowly.
"No, Melmeleth," he sighed, "it is not that simple. She grows tired after just moments, she is frustrated at her own inability, she wants to speak and yet she does not. Do not attempt to give her your mind just yet."
"But we cannot just let her be," Melmeleth entreated. "It cannot be good for her to be allowed to wallow in her sorrows, to be alone in her room with nothing but her own thoughts to keep her company. For there is nothing here that would make her suffer, save for what is in her own mind."
"You speak truly and wisely, Melmeleth," Elrond agreed with a melancholy smile, "and yet I cannot force her to leave her room, or to think of other things. Neither can you."
"Then what would you have me do?" Melmeleth asked, and there was both sorrow and bitterness laced with her words.
"Be her friend," Elrond instructed, "as you were on the journey here. No more can you give than what you are already giving. We will speak again soon. In all that takes place here, great and small, I will not forget Yara."
It was late afternoon before Yara was disturbed again. It was Melmeleth, who came with a tray of fruit. Yara allowed her to place it on the bed, and pulled her knees under her chin while they ate in silence.
Melmeleth thought at first that Yara seemed a lot lighter in spirit, but as they ate she wondered if she had been mistaken. Yara's face seemed to darken, her chewing became mechanical, and her eyes tense with frustration.
"Yara," Melmeleth said, one hand outstretched in friendly beckoning.
Yara shook her head instinctively. She wanted nothing more than to bare her heart to her friend, but every word she knew was inadequate. She sighed. How long would it be before she could speak to them? Before she could ask all the questions she had been turning in her mind since she had first woke up to find Círdan's kind smile? She shook her head again, more dejected than ever, and Melmeleth retracted her hand.
Once Yara was done eating Melmeleth stood up. She looked upon the piles of clothing, and then began to move the ones she knew Yara would wear into the cabinet. The unwanted dresses and flimsy tunics she let lie.
Yara smiled when she noticed how Melmeleth understood her choice of clothing. 'You can take the dresses, if you like,' she thought with a laugh, and then turned sad at her inability to voice it. Melmeleth turned then to the dirty travelling clothes and began gathering them up. She turned to Yara and beckoned for more dirty laundry. Yara hesitated for a moment, and then let her have her hijab as well. From her bag she pulled her dance outfit, but as she removed it she caught a whiff of sea breeze on it.
"Mithlond," she murmured, and felt a strange longing. Melmeleth nodded.
"They were washed in Mithlond, yes."
Yara held them to her nose, and after Melmeleth disappeared with the tray and the dirty laundry, she carefully examined the clothes she had not worn since her arrival. It had been hard to find a leotard that would cover her skin, but she had, eventually. It was the same blue as her hijab—that had been much easier to find—and it had long sleeves, a high neck, and a zip up the back. The tights were blue too, although a shade lighter, and she remembered how they shimmered beautifully under her long skirt of white chiffon. She swished the skirt a few times in front of her, and then with a melancholy smile she put the outfit, together with her dancing shoes, on a shelf in the cabinet all by themselves.
Then she felt weary again, and she lay down on the bed, her eyes closed, her ears open. She could hear that Melmeleth hadn't closed the door fully—the sounds from the corridor outside were much clearer. She could hear laughter, and running feet, a dark voice calling, but not unkindly. Perhaps to a friend, or a family member. From the open window she heard footsteps, and the sound of someone sweeping the stairs. She heard the wind in the trees, and more laughter.
She was lonely. Weary into her soul with it.
It was afternoon the next day, and Yara was still in bed. It had felt so good, to sleep in nothing but her shift again, to feel the sheets on her skin and to wrap herself in the covers and blankets. So good, that she had stayed there all day, resting in the comfort of her bed, only occasionally sparing a glance towards the window. Now Melmeleth was there again, clean laundry in a basket and a bowl of berries balanced on top. Yara let her enter, but stayed beneath the sheets, the white towel wrapped lightly around her head.
Melmeleth looked a bit worried by it, and Yara wished she could have explained that it was not for sorrow that she stayed there, but for joy at having a bed again. As it was, she settled for smiling, and eating heartily of the sweet berries. Melmeleth seemed to cast her worry aside for the moment, at least.
"I feel much joy with every smile you give me," she said, even though she knew Yara couldn't understand.
Yara did understand the warmth in Melmeleth's gaze, though, and the fact that she alone had returned again and again to see her since their arrival. She smiled, and was surprised by Melmeleth's laughter.
“Thank you!” Melmeleth exclaimed, and now Yara was puzzled. She frowned to her friend in mild bemusement, but Melmeleth only smiled, her eyes twinkling with mirth.
When Melmeleth left that day Yara's loneliness felt even deeper than the day before. All the air seemed to flee from her lungs, and she bit down on her pillow to keep from wailing in despair. Even with the clean laundry waiting at the end of the bed she did not want to get dressed, and now she stayed in bed not for joy, but for sorrow. She covered her head with a pillow, and cried in frustration.
Dusk was settling once Yara finally pulled the pillow from her head. Someone had left her food, but she must have been asleep because she couldn't remember anyone coming or going. It was still warm. There was water as well. They must have noticed she didn't drink the wine.
As she ate she could hear music coming from outside. Singing she had heard before, but not music. Then there was laughter, and applause. She frowned, and in the shadow of the wall she made her way to the window.
She could see people going in and out among the pillars, and shadows flickered often across the yellow light that fell from within the arches. When Yara realised they were dancing she inhaled sharply. She closed her eyes to let her mind single out the music among the noise, and with food still in her hands she danced to herself, barefoot on the floor. Then she remembered she might be seen by someone looking up, and she retreated into the shadow again, peering longingly at the scene outside.
People seemed to be coming and going through the arches as they pleased, and she was struck with an intense longing. She left the window, but on her way to the cabinet her mind had gone back and forth several times already on what she was about to do. Doubt seemed to weigh heaviest, followed by fear and shyness, but she still pulled her dancing clothes from the shelf. Even as she was pinning her hijab tightly to her hair she could feel her muscles twitching whenever she thought about hiding beneath the covers of her bed, but still she pressed on.
As she was about to pull on her sneakers something came to mind that set her decision firmly. She saw her phone peeking up from the bag beside the shoes, enticing her with its promise of dancing to music she knew. She took her pointe shoes in hand and made her way out the door.
The corridor seemed empty, and much longer than it had looked from her door. Nervousness rose in her as she walked down the stairs at the end of the corridor, and it hit her like a wall when she could see in through the arches across the street. There was a great hall there, and in the far end a roaring fire. It was by no means full of people, but it was the biggest crowd Yara had seen since, well, since Sweden. She lingered on the edge of the darkness, biting her lip in apprehension.
'You have to,' she thought to herself. 'You want them to understand. Everyone understands this language.'
With a deep breath she stepped into the hall, and put on her pointe shoes while she waited for the musicians to stop playing. Little attention seemed to be paid to her, lingering as she was on the edge of the action, when everyone was looking to the flutists in the centre of the room. Yet she could see many faces. There was Melmeleth and Lindir, and the perian she had seen from her window. There was Elrond, and by him Galdor, and among them all such a crowd of beautiful and fiery faces that Yara begged for the music to stop, before she became too afraid to follow through. And then, the end. There was clapping, and conversation, and for a while everything seemed dulled.
Yara was shaking as she took the floor, and it was not improved by the silence that got heavier with every footfall. She looked to the wall for a nook to place her phone in, and began to turn it on.
Melmeleth's lips parted as Yara stepped into the light. Her surprise might have been great at seeing her out of her room, but at seeing her like this! She was utterly struck by her beauty as she walked with soft strides to the centre, dressed in skin tight blue, except for the mist of white about her legs, and the pearly sheen of her shoes. Melmeleth found herself wishing that Yara had left her hair run free, for it would have been so enchanting to see it flow as a dark river across that blue back.
Yara felt naked as she placed the phone against the wall, but as the first notes rang through the room the same thought she had had so many times before rang through her mind.
'It's just you and the music.'
And it was, for a time, but the moment she let her posture grow into that of a ballerina, it became so much more. With every word of the singer, every note on the piano, every movement she made, came a memory, and in her heart she knew that those watching could see and feel all the she saw and felt.
'Stars are lighting up the parking lot
It came to me the second I forgot
You gotta let me go'
She saw her brother's face, and felt the last time his hand had slipped from hers.
'If I knew the way to less alone
Then it wouldn't sink me like a stone'
She saw flickering images of leaving and arriving, of her father by her side always, as they travelled on from their home.
'Find the words to save
I wasn't born to fade'
She felt the determination of never giving up, not even at the death of her father, and the piano picked it up.
'Maybe I can go away
Where everyone is gonna love me now'
The intensity of her longing for home—any home—translated into the music.
'I was never right but never wrong
Everybody thought I'd finish strong
But I can get there soon
If you push me to the moon'
The faltering, the pushing on, the constant disappointments.
'Maybe I can go away
Where everyone is gonna love me now
Oh, maybe I can go away
Where everyone is gonna love me now'
Her loneliness echoed desperately with the moaning of the singer, and yet her feet moved faster. She had never felt like this as she danced. By all right she should be aching and falling to the floor, not having warmed up at all, but she was not. She was strong, and nimble, and flying through space together with every feeling the music wrought from her.
As the song moved into a desperate crescendo images of war roamed about her. Everyone she had lost, and countless others who were not hers to lose. Her home destroyed, buildings falling, children crying, people running, running desperately to wherever they could. She saw her brother fighting, as she had imagined it in her mind, and she saw her mother dead the same.
But as the song moved into its final burst of desperation other images came to her as well. Great fire, and bloodied swords. They were as fresh as her other memories, and yet she had no idea from whence they came. She kept dancing, until at the last note she stayed herself, frozen in a perfect arabesque, not a single waver in her body as the last repetition whispered through the room.
'Where everyone is gonna love me now'
And then, as the music fell, she rushed to her phone, and as she turned it off she realised that her face was wet with tears, and that people were crowding around her. She felt Melmeleth's hand on her arm, and she faintly recognised the feeling of the person standing behind her, but she couldn't make out if it was Lindir or Galdor—she was too deep inside herself. Then her eyes met Elrond's, and the moment seemed to stretch on forever as his eyes bored into hers. If her mind could have settled on one thing at a time it might have been easier, but as it was too many emotions and thoughts ran through her for her to be able to give him anything consistent. Yet she did give him something, and it was enough in itself. He smiled, warm and yet concerned, and with Melmeleth in tow they left for her room.
"What beauty!" Lindir called with awe to Galdor as they watched Yara and her caretakers depart across the road.
"Yes," Galdor replied weakly, still speechless.
"What dancing," Lindir added, his eyes alive with wonder.
"I should very much like to see her dance to one of yours, my friend," came another voice from below Lindir's elbow.
"If Yara Iscalassiel deems my music worthy of her dance, Bilbo my friend, I shall play for her whenever she wishes it," Lindir smiled.
"Who is she?" the hobbit asked. "I have never seen her before."
"Her eyes still burn with the light of the trees," said Galdor, his voice soft but solemn.
"Do they now?" Bilbo returned, taking a great breath on his pipe.
I am unsure if I have taken much liberty with the presence of the dwarves so early. I could not find an exact date for when the messenger from Sauron arrived at Erebor. If so, it is the second of my liberties, since including Lindir as a messenger from Elrond. That bothers me still, but I felt it was important to have him there in order to establish Melmeleth's relationship with him early on. At some point I might edit that though, if it continues to irk me.
Once they were back in Yara's room Melmeleth sat Yara on the bed, and Elrond closed the door and the windows. Yara was afraid that she had done something very wrong, and she looked almost panicked as she searched for Melmeleth's gaze, but Melmeleth only patted her arm reassuringly before letting Elrond take her seat. Yara looked imploringly between her friend and her host.
"Yara," Elrond said calmly, and she rested her eyes on his. They were pale in the moonlight, but she could still feel his warmth. She opened her mind to him, and tried in desperation to convey the concept of apology. Elrond broke into a warm laugh.
"No," he said out loud, and continued in thought. He replayed in his mind, and hers, the images of bloodied swords and fire, and Yara felt his longing for knowledge.
She shook her head. She didn't know.
"Melmeleth," Elrond begged, and Yara looked to her friend instead, letting instinct lead her in the sharing of her mind. Strangely, the first thing that came before her was that first night in Mithlond, when she had been looking for a bathroom. They both laughed at the memory, and then Melmeleth supplied her with words, a string of them. Only, Yara saw more at every word than just their meaning. She saw other memories like those of the swords, of other rooms in other homes, of corridors and of nightly wanderings. It became too much, and she shut down again, a sudden exhale as her eyes fell to the floor in shock.
Elrond's hand touched her fingers, and she hesitantly looked up at him again, and with great self-control, and no small amount of effort, she slowly opened her mind again. Elrond did not offer her any thought or comfort, and Yara filled the void with those words that she had longed to speak to him before.
"Thank you," she said in Arabic, and images flooded Elrond's mind, of hugs, and gifts, and help. He closed his eyes over his profound smile, bathing in the gift she had just given him.
"Thank you," he repeated back to her in Quenya, and again Yara was flooded with more than just the meaning of the words, but with new memories of hugs, smiling faces she knew, but could not name, and large hands holding hers.
Elrond could see the shock on her face, but he didn't understand it. He had not done anything but give her the translated words, just as Melmeleth had. He did not see what she saw, but he could feel her becoming overwhelmed. His smile turned to worry.
"No more ósanwë today," he said to Melmeleth in Sindarin, afraid of what the words might do to Yara if they were in Quenya.
"What happened?" Melmeleth asked.
"Too much," Elrond replied, his hand still on Yara's. "She was very brave indeed to come to the Hall of Fire, but I wonder if she truly knew how much her dance would convey."
"But now, she did open up, she showed me things," Melmeleth continued, a hint of desperation in her speech.
"She has opened up more than her ability to share thoughts," Elrond explained gravely. "She is beginning to remember. We must stay close, and offer all the support we can. She must lead the way now."
Elrond stood up, and made to leave the room. Melmeleth stood hesitantly frozen for a moment, and when Elrond was in the doorway she spoke again.
"Galdor thinks her stone is magic," she said.
"Magic?" Elrond returned with incredulity. "No, I think not. Some art we are as yet unaware of, and a marvel at that, but I sense no malice in it. Stay your worries now, and care for your friend." With those words, he left.
Melmeleth sat down on the bed again, closer to Yara than before. Yara's eyes were fixed on her own hands resting on her knees, and her feet were resting on the tips of her toes, as if in her mind she was still dancing. Melmeleth laid a soft arm about her, and pulled her close.
Yara felt Melmeleth's embrace, and heard her comforting hums, but her mind was swimming with thought and emotion. The new memories replayed in her mind over and over, and she could feel others lingering on the edge of the ones she had just seen, but they were as if clouded in mist and shadow, unreachable by her thoughts.
"Melmeleth," she whispered, and her friend ceased her humming. Yara looked up to meet her friend's eyes, and she could feel tears building in her own. "Thank you," she said, her voice unsteady.
Melmeleth's face broke into the most sincere of smiles, and she pulled Yara close, pressing her to her heart. Yara smiled on Melmeleth's shoulder, and she cried tears of joy. The experience seemed wholly new to her, this overwhelming happiness that she had almost lost memory of, and time disappeared.
"Galdor," Elrond said as he crossed the road, "come."
Galdor followed without question, and sat down in Elrond's study as he had done so many times before.
"It is time you tell me now what you truly think of Yara Iscalassiel," Elrond commanded.
"I know nothing for certain," Galdor replied calmly, "and perhaps now, even less than you."
"I have always valued your counsel for the same reason that Círdan refuses to allow me to take it too often," Elrond smiled. "Your fears are your strength, and I bid you divulge them to me without shame."
"Then I will," Galdor said. "I fear no evil from Iscalassiel, but I cannot say the same for her singing stone. There are many wonderous stones made by elven hands, and yet none we know of with such diverse powers as this.
"It gives light, and on our journey here I saw her use it on more than one occasion, searching, it seemed to me, for someone or something, whenever we were close to settlements. Once she pulled it out and it made sharp lightning, even in daylight, and a rattling sound.
"If I could but have asked her! Many times have I wished to hear her tell of it, to assuage my fears, but she cannot. And what power do we know of that is great enough to strip one of the Eldar of their memory? Dragons of old, evils and demons of the deep darkness!
"And then tonight, such strange music in such strange a tongue. Memories of men falling to their doom, of partings and of sorrow—and yet she is come from the west, if Círdan is in the right…
"You saw it too. You saw the bloodied swords and the fire of battle. If she was taken by the enemy, and then released with evil intent, it would not be the first time such a thing has happened."
"As always you speak wisely," Elrond said, his mind deep in thought.
"You are but the second person to say so, but you are the third to which I have divulged my fears."
Elrond met Galdor's gaze with narrowed eyes.
"As you know we met with Gildor's company on the road," Galdor explained. "He recognised her, I am sure of it, though he would not admit it. He bowed to her, and attempted to communicate with her mind. I pressed him for answers, and when he refused I bid him at least come with us here. As you know, he did not."
"I should never have expected it," Elrond replied slowly. "I assume he did not outright deny recognising her, for then I should hope you would have believed him."
" 'It is not for me to decide,' he said, 'when her secrets are to reveal themselves.' I say, rather, that he did not want to take responsibility for her himself."
"And rightly so, for the wandering company of Gildor offers no healing for despairing souls," Elrond said, "although there is truth in his own statement too."
"But what harm would there have been in revealing her identity to us?"
"Perhaps none, perhaps much. What would have happened then, I wonder, if you knew, and she did not? You might have treated her differently, in many ways, and perhaps done harm to her healing."
Galdor was silent for a long while, for he agreed with Elrond in that, but still he felt cheated of an answer to the riddle. At length he spoke again.
"Is she then of the Noldor?"
"We cannot yet tell," Elrond murmured, deep in thought himself.
"What if her crimes are such," Galdor continued, very carefully, "that it is because of them Gildor would not reveal her to us?" At this Elrond pulled himself from his ponderings, and met Galdor's eyes sternly.
"In this house," he said, "she is welcome."
Shortly after, Galdor took his leave from the study.
Yara was alone again, but she heard music outside well into the night. She did not regret her dance, not at all, for it had brought her much hope, and even in her fatigue she was more eager still to learn and to explore, and most of all, to tell her story. Melmeleth had stayed with her for a little while, but even Yara knew when she was spent. At least now she had been able to send the idea of sleep to Melmeleth's mind with the last of her strength, and she had gotten a word in response.
"Fúmë," she whispered to herself, and although she had found none of it, the word was precious to her. With it had come more memories, of many beds, and nights under the stars, of wandering along the shore, and of laying safely in strong arms. It was in the maze of her new memories that she finally found rest, and fell asleep in the first light of dawn.
She walked upon the path of dreams, but at the end of it there were no sweet visions to comfort and to calm her. At the end, there was war.
She was riding upon a muscled steed, her armoured legs clamped to its sides as it thundered back across the battlefield, over fallen foes and friends alike. Her mind was clear as she held her sword aloft, but her heart was brimming with fury. They had been betrayed, and she would not rest until every traitor lay dead among the orcs and the fell beasts of Moringotto.
In the light of the dragon's fire she could see her father's forces falling upon their former allies, but they were yet far away, and between her and them stood many foes. Below the black blood of orcs her sword shone with white, and enemies unnumbered died by it, and yet it was but one blade, and could not protect both horse and rider.
Thus it was that even as she rode to her father's aid, her steed fell by the spear of a great goblin, and she was forced to jump down to her feet. Yet the slaying of her beloved horse only caused rage to mount within her, and no orc-feet were quicker than those of a dancer of the Noldor.
"Cursed be the betrayal of men!" she called out in Quenya, and she understood every word. "For father," she called over the rage of battle, "for mother! For brother and uncle! For horses and elves unnumbered!" and many foes there fell before her.
Then she heard the trill of her father's trumpet, calling for retreat, but she could not dance to its tune. Those of her friends who had steeds were already far away, and those who had lost them were falling. The heat of the dragon's fire burned on her back, but even then she hewed the head off many an orc, and the sword which her grandfather had forged for her never failed her. Avacaurë it was called, Free from Fear, and even Undolaurë's fire could not mar it. Yet Yara fell to her knees upon the corpses of her enemies, her hair scorched from her back, and through her chest a black blade from Angamando’s forges pierced. Her eyes stared upon the darkness above, and in her last moment she could still hear the trumpets calling for retreat, and the thundering of hooves in the distance.
"I think it is time that you remember," a female voice whispered in her mind as she began to wake up. "Your rest is over. Your life awaits."
The ceiling appeared again before Yara's eyes, but it was blurred with tears. She breathed heavily, anger and despair still lingering inside of her, but the song of the birds outside and the first rays of the sun slowly brought her back to the present. She wiped her eyes with cold fingers, and she felt both release and more frustration.
She knew now, beyond doubt, that this world was not the same as the one where she had grown up, and she knew also that it was right that she was here. This was her world—and yet her memories of Syria and Sweden and all her childhood were still clear and real, just like the memory of her death. How could it be, that she had been alive twice?
She raked her mind for memory beyond the battle, but except for the snippets she had gained the previous day there was still nothing. The soft voice repeated in her head, and she snorted at its claim. 'I think it's time that you remember,' Yara repeated to herself, and her mind switched to Arabic, '—but then where are my memories?'
Yara's thoughts began to spiral, and the immensity of what had just transpired began to weigh on her. She needed something to clear her mind, and she turned again to prayer. She washed, turned west, and kneeled upon the stone, repeating familiar words in a low murmur. Slowly but surely, her mind cleared, and after the string of prayer ended, she remained on her knees.
"I am here, and I am alive," she said to herself. "I am Yara, from Damascus, and I will always be. I have God on my side, and he will always be there. I am remembering new and frightening things, but I am safe, and I am strong, and I will take it in stride."
She stood up, breathed deeply, and with her eyes closed she listened to the calm morning. She did not long for her bed, or for solitude. She longed for company, and something to occupy her mind. She left for the street below, and for the first time she saw Imladris by the light of day. She could see the fire roaring in the hall still, but it was almost empty, save for a couple of women steeped in low conversation. On the steps leading down from the road, which she vaguely remembered them riding down on their arrival, there was a woman sweeping again. She was singing to herself, and the gay melody reminded Yara of the songs she had heard in Mithlond, but this time the happiness did not annoy her. She turned and walked down the road, where she had seen the halfling and the dwarves in what seemed an eternity ago. 'Before I knew,' Yara thought solemnly to herself.
As she passed out from between the houses she could see the roaring river below, and gardens on many levels passing down by its side. There were people there, walking in the summer sun, or sitting below trees or on the grass. She saw the halfling not far away, sitting below a tree, his red weskit and white hair unmistakeable. He had a book in his lap, a pen in his hand, and a pastry in the other. Yara smiled at the curious little figure, and let her curiosity lead her to him.
"Hail, Bilbo Baggins," she said once she stood in front of him, and with a start he looked up. His surprised expression soon turned to a bemused smile, and he returned her greeting.
"Hail, Yara Iscalassiel," he said, his voice both darker and more frail than she had expected.
Bilbo examined her tall frame for a moment. She was not in her elegant blue raiment, but in a mismatched tunic and trousers, with a white scarf around her head, and clumsy black boots on her feet. A very curious look, even for an elf, he mused, and with a gesture he offered her a seat beside him. They had exchanged greetings in Quenya, but even with his extensive studies his knowledge of the ancient language was stunted at best, and he found himself at a loss for words. He held out a pastry for her, but she shook her head with a smile.
Yara leaned over Bilbo's shoulder, to look at what he was writing. The more she examined the signs, the more intelligible they became. She heard a commanding and kind voice in her head reading them, and saw images of them carefully drawn before her. The memory of her teacher filled her with sudden fondness, even though she couldn't see his face—and still the language they were spelling out was incomprehensible. Yara pulled a face.
"What words?" she asked, in her own still very patchy Quenya.
"Westron," Bilbo explained, a little bit flustered at having to explain the simple fact.
"I know not," Yara huffed.
"My Sindarin is better than my Quenya," Bilbo tried hopefully, "but still not as good as my Westron, I'm afraid." Yara frowned at the long string of words.
"I do not know your words," she said.
"Tengwar the same," Bilbo tried with a smile. "Learning happens?"
"Tengwar," Yara repeated slowly, the word in itself enticing new memories of texts, calling to mind new words, and a small avalanche of memory and meaning that did not stop until she consciously shut it down. She gave Bilbo an apologetic look, seeing how he was staring at her with a pensive frown.
"What is you writing?" she asked.
"Eh," Bilbo stalled, finding his words. "Story. Memory."
"Of Perian?" Yara inquired excitedly, remembering with fondness the drunken little people she had passed on her journey. Bilbo frowned.
"Perian…?" he repeated in thought, and then compared it to the Sindarin, catching her meaning. He smiled, and pressed his hand to his chest in a proud gesture. "Hobbit!" he declared.
"Hu-beet?" Yara repeated, falling back on her Arabic pronunciation. Bilbo dipped his pen and brought it down on a scrap of paper, writing the word in Tengwar.
"Hobbit," Yara read aloud, and as she did Bilbo motioned to himself again, a wide smile on his face, which Yara could not help but return, before her attention was snapped away by a familiar voice.
"Yara!" Melmeleth shouted, and came running across the lawn, Lindir following more calmly.
"Melmeleth!" Yara returned, and sprang up to hug her friend. Melmeleth was a bit shocked at the sudden gesture, and at seeing Yara keeping company with the halfling, but the happiness of seeing her newest friend smile washed away everything else.
"I am happy to see Lindir," Yara greeted once she was free of Melmeleth's arms, and both of her travelling companions gawked at her sudden flow of words.
"It is good to see you as well," Lindir replied, keeping his speech slow and clear, in case she did not understand.
Yara remained silent, but not because of any language difficulties. No, her eyes were travelling back and forth between Melmeleth and Lindir, a sharp expression on her face as she came to an instinctive realisation.
"You are not… pair," she muttered, frustrated at the lack of a proper word.
They responded with quizzical looks.
"Married," Yara said in Arabic, and moved the concept into Melmeleth's mind. Melmeleth instantly broke into a fit of giggles.
"Married," she supplied in wheezing Quenya. "No! We are brother and sister."
Yara fell into unbridled laughter together with Lindir, and she even heard Bilbo chuckle from behind her. She turned to face the hobbit once more.
"My friends," she said, and gestured to the elves behind her. "Bilbo friend. Yara will write."
"I am honoured," Bilbo replied with a bow of his head, though the solemnity of his gesture was somewhat diminished by the half-eaten pastry in his hand.
"We will meet," Yara ended, and walked on with her friends.
"You learn fast," Melmeleth said once they were back on the stony path.
"I remember," Yara replied, and her friends could both sense the strange tension that suddenly filled her words. They said nothing, and Yara pressed on slowly, doubting just how much she should divulge, when she did not yet know the meaning of all her memories herself.
"In dream I remember some things. Some words. Then more." She stopped as they reached the riverside. She continued in a whisper, locking eyes with Melmeleth. "I died."
Melmeleth did not seem as shocked as Yara might have expected, and it was both comforting and unnerving. Comforting, because she knew she would not be shunned by her friend, but unnerving, because returning from the dead should surely not be so common a thing. She looked to Lindir, whose face was plaintive more than anything else.
"Do you know when?" Melmeleth asked carefully, reaching for Yara with a comforting hand, but even as Yara felt its warmth on her forearm she could see the waver in Melmeleth's eyes.
"No," she replied truthfully, but refrained from adding the details she did know.
The siblings exchanged a look, but remained silent as they walked on along the river.
"I was…" Yara began, but then stopped mid-sentence as she tripped over her shoe rather ungracefully, even for an elf. The rubber sole had finally given in and dislodged.
"Oh damned cheap shit!" Yara exclaimed, suddenly reverting to Swedish, in which she always enjoyed to swear. She pulled off both the shoes, deciding to go barefoot. Lindir gave the broken shoe an almost comically scrutinising look.
"Come," he urged, and they followed him up through the levels, back in among the houses.
Lindir knocked on a small door, tucked in between the main house and many smaller buildings forming a shadowed alley between them. Melmeleth gave her an encouraging smile as they waited, which Yara returned with slight apprehension. Walking through the valley in silence had reminded her of their long journey together, and many questions had bubbled up in her mind again.
"Greetings, Bronwor," Lindir said happily as the door opened. "My friend just broke her only pair of shoes. They are of a rather strange make, I must say, but if you cannot mend them, perhaps you have some other pair that she might use? If it is not too much bother, I mean."
The elf in the door had given Lindir what could only be described as a cordial smile as he listened to the small monologue, but when Lindir stopped talking, and gestured towards Yara, Bronwor's face morphed into sudden shock. He bowed with a twitch, his hand over his chest in an almost defensive gesture, and when he spoke his voice was low and melodic.
"Hail, Lady Ecyáwen of Himring!"
As Yara's religion makes itself known again I feel a need to divulge that I am not myself religious. I know many people of diverse faiths, and I have deep respect for all beliefs, but I am neither trying to promote or denounce Islam, or make any claim as to what is right or wrong within the religion. It is a part of Yara, and plays a part in this story, and Yara's interpretations of her own faith stand as they are written, nothing more or nothing less.
All air left Yara's lungs at the cobbler's unexpected greeting, and she grabbed onto Melmeleth's arm with both her hands as two clear memories filled her.
First, she saw her own reflection, and was pierced by her own glowing eyes. Her hair was pulled behind her ears, but cascaded over her neck, down to her waist. She was wrapped in several layers of dark coloured robes, and from underneath them furry boots stuck out. She could feel the cold, and the image shifted.
There was a dry and icy wind blowing through the halls of the fortress. Banners hung on the dark walls, and crowds were gathered in the large open hall. She passed them by, following the sound of a familiar song—and then the scene ended, and she was staring at Bronwor, now standing straight, an alarmed expression on his face.
"It may be best if we go and see Master Elrond," Lindir supplied, his eyes large with concern, and they followed him in silence.
Yara was walking just in front of the cobbler, who was tall and sturdy, and she could feel the cold disbelief oozing from him. She might have expected to be happy at meeting someone who knew more of her new past, but as it was she felt only discomfort and wary apprehension.
They passed into Elrond's halls in silence, and Lindir knocked on the arched door to the study. It opened from the inside, but Yara did not recognise the man who held it.
"Lindir," he said, his face neutral. "Good to see you. We are just going through the…" He cut himself off as Lindir gestured to the small crowd in the hallway. He stood aside to let them enter.
Elrond was sitting behind a large table, a few papers strewn in front of him, and he examined the new arrivals with curious intensity before silently offering them seats.
"Bronwor," he greeted, as the man sat down to his right, but his expression betrayed no excessive familiarity. Yara dropped the shoes she was still carrying to the floor as she sat down, and their eyes turned towards her.
"Master Elrond," Bronwor picked up as he looked again to Elrond, "if this is a matter of me potentially revealing her identity to anyo…"
"Stop!" Yara shouted, her voice suddenly dark, and she fixed Bronwor with her most commanding gaze. His mouth snapped shut instantly. All eyes widened at her outburst, but Bronwor's most intensely, and it caught Yara by surprise when his eyes fell to the table. For a moment she faltered, but then she spoke again.
"Speak so that I understand," she said, only marginally calmer. "So I know you say nothing about me. It is I who decide what to say of me, even when you know the things." Elrond's face dawned with understanding.
"Say nothing yet," he said, and turned to the man who had opened the door. "Erestor, please find Galdor. Tell him Iscalassiel remembers."
Erestor gave a brisk nod, and in a single motion he collected the papers from the table and left the room.
They sat in silence as they waited. Yara was still breathing heavily under the fear of Bronwor's knowledge. She felt exposed, sitting there with naked, dirty feet, wondering if this stranger had already managed to tell everyone something about her that she did not even know herself. She felt as if she was losing control of the situation fast. The tension in the room rose exponentially with every heavy breath she drew, and when Erestor returned with Galdor they could both feel it drip through the air like a rancid syrup.
"Please wait outside, Erestor," Elrond commanded calmly. The moment the door closed again Galdor sat down, and let his pale eyes fall on Yara.
"Can you understand me?" he asked, excitement trilling on his voice.
"Yes," Yara answered through her teeth.
"Can you read?" he pressed on. Yara's eyebrows knitted together.
"Some," she muttered. Galdor held out a sealed letter.
"From Círdan," he explained. "He said to give it when you could remember."
Yara ripped it open without ceremony, and focused all her energy on the short text, not minding the stares of those around her.
'My lady Yarra Daughter of the Pale Leaf,'
Yara paused. Why had he spelled her name so? She focused on the word and pushed it through the mass of disjointed memories she now possessed, including the one of her first conversation with Círdan. 'Yarra,' she thought, 'growl.' She burst into a scoff of laughter, and continued to read.
'It saddened me to send you away so soon. You are not the first to come to me from over the sea, and to you as to all others I would offer my help and advice, had I but had the chance. Mithlond will always remain open to you, and when the time comes, your ship awaits.
May the stars shine on your path.
It took Yara some time to rake through the letter. Sometimes the words seemed in the wrong order, at other times the endings were strange, and some words she could not recognise at all, but in the end she deduced what the gaps contained. She held the letter fast in her hand for strength, and looked again to the faces observing her.
"I remember some," she said, her gaze steady on Elrond's kind eyes, "but not all. Bronwor knows things I want to know. It will be my choice after, what I tell you."
Bronwor frowned deeply, but it was Elrond who spoke.
"Could you relay how you came to know of Bronwor's knowledge?"
"My shoe broke," Yara said shortly. "Bronwor said my name."
"Your name?" Galdor put in quickly, earning him a stern glance from Elrond. Yara thought for a few moments, and began slowly.
"I was Yara—meaning butterfly—before I came here."
Bronwor inhaled, but Lindir was quicker.
"I thought Círdan gave you that name," he supplied. "Ancient Daughter of the Pale Leaf."
Elrond nodded in agreement, but a small smile flickered across Melmeleth's face. Yara saw it, and remembered their first laughter together in the cart heading out from Mithlond.
"I did not call you Yara," Bronwor supplied coldly. Yara took a steadying breath.
"No," she agreed. "You called me Ecyáwen."
It was Yara's turn to startle, because she had not expected Elrond's kind curiosity to vanish so suddenly, and be replaced by an empty, haunted look. She looked away, but she felt his eyes on her, searching, prodding.
"And," Galdor's eyes flickered between Yara and Elrond, "is your name Ecyáwen?"
Yara considered what her answer to this question would mean. Galdor might be asking whether or not Bronwor was correct, but if she said yes, she knew that she also had to accept the identity of her unknown past. Yet, she conceded silently, that was an inevitable thing.
"Yes," she said, her eyes rising to gauge Elrond's reaction. She could see the storm of his thoughts, but not the thoughts themselves. It meant something to him too, but he was not revealing it. "You will continue to call me Yara," she said, her voice losing some of its newly acquired harshness. "It does not mean 'ancient' or 'butterfly' anymore. It means 'growl'."
Melmeleth giggled, and even Elrond's face lightened a little.
"I will listen to Ecyáwen too," Yara continued. "Perhaps in time, it will feel…" her voice died out, suddenly afraid of the doubt she was revealing. Elrond gave her a small, calming nod.
"But," Bronwor said suddenly, "your name was never Yara."
So came the moment she had been longing for since her arrival, and now it only filled her with dread. How could she explain what she could not herself understand? Instinctively, she looked to Elrond.
"You saw, when I danced, that there were other memories."
"I was in a place, for a time, far away. With other people. Other languages."
"Where?" Galdor asked, his voice suddenly stern.
Yara was at a loss.
"I… It was… Different. Another life."
There was silence for a long while, as if they were waiting for her to continue.
"The water," Yara tried carefully, testing the explanation as she voiced it, "it took me to Mithlond."
"Who gave you the stone?" Galdor asked with suspicion, after yet another silence.
"Stone?" Yara frowned.
"The one that sang," Lindir smiled kindly. Yara's first instinct was to laugh, but she managed to restrain it to an amused smile.
"My father," she answered, not untruthfully, but perhaps a bit misleadingly. She could not have expected the effect it would have on Elrond and Bronwor. Bronwor slammed his palms on the table in surprise. All the air seemed to leave Elrond.
"That," he whispered, "cannot be."
"Who was he?" Galdor pressed instantly, his eyes burning.
"Sayid Haddad," Yara answered, smiling almost daringly at Elrond. His expression calmed somewhat, and she thought she could see relief, for just a moment, before it gave way to suspicion. She opened her mind to him, showing her father's face. He calmed visibly.
"How did you come to call him father?" Elrond asked, earning him bemused looks from the rest of the listeners.
"Because he was," Yara answered, unwilling to elaborate, "but he was not the only one."
"And do you remember," Elrond continued, "the other one?"
Bronwor leaned forward again, his face harsh. Yara gave him a quick glance, before she sent a thought to Elrond.
'Show me his face.'
And he did. Yara's nails dug into her palms at the sight of the pale skin, the long black hair, eyes carrying more sadness than she had ever seen in them.
"Yes," she said once the image withdrew, "I remember Kanafinwë Makalaurë Feanárion."
Melmeleth's hands shot up to cover her mouth. Lindir froze solid. Galdor gave what could only be described as a hiss, and Bronwor looked sour. Elrond's lips parted almost unnoticeably, his eyes filled with tired sadness, and deep longing. Yara's expression echoed Elrond's, and her mind reached out with her feeling as it overwhelmed her: the most intense longing she had ever felt, a burning need that threatened to consume her, and it made Elrond inhale sharply. An avalanche of memories rolled over Yara, and she shut her mind and her eyes at their approach.
As when mixing too many colours, so it is with memories. In Yara's mind the weight of thousands of years' worth of moments blurred into silent darkness. The only thing she could make out with clarity was a smooth, happy voice, and the sound of her own childhood laughter. 'Oh, my little dancer,' the voice called, 'how happy I am to have you.' The darkness was sucked into the back of her mind, and she opened her eyes, only to find her vision blurred with tears. She wiped them on her sleeve.
Elrond was thankful that everyone had mind enough not to break the silence. There would come a time for explanations, but it was not now. He had his own suspicions forming in his mind, and many fears besides. The sudden affection he felt for this person, who by all rights was still a stranger to him, was the most frightening of all.
"I think it is best if we let Yara consider how she wants to proceed," he said, "before we engage this conversation further."
Yara realised everyone was looking to her for some sign on what to do next. The stern and commanding demeanour that she had had during the conversation seemed alien to her then, and all she wanted was to get away.
"My shoe is still broken," she said softly, her eyes on Bronwor's blank face.
"I will sort it," he said, and rose from his seat. Yara grabbed her shoes, and with a final kind smile she followed him back to his workshop.
Elrond inhaled slowly, and all eyes now turned to him.
"I didn't even know he had a daughter," Melmeleth said lightly, and some of the heavy atmosphere dissipated.
"He did," Elrond replied without meeting her eyes. "He had two children, who both came with him from the west. One daughter, who perished in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and one son, who lived into the Second Age. Many know this."
"She remembers her death," Melmeleth said, eyes large with grief. "She told us, but not that it was in battle. She said she didn't know when it was."
Lindir gave his sister a plaintive look, sensing how much she felt for Yara.
"Are there any others who will know her?" he asked.
"Few now remain who would recognise her," Elrond answered, "and even fewer who know the full details of her life. Bronwor, Gildor, and Glorfindel, and perhaps one or two more, would know her face, of those west of the Misty Mountains. None of them knew her well, in life."
"Gildor and Glorfindel I could expect," Lindir said, "but Bronwor? I would not have judged him old enough."
"You are not the first to underestimate him," Galdor said with a smile. "When I first met him I called him young and naïve. Círdan gently alerted me to the fact that I was showing myself to be just that, in letting my tongue fly so wildly to a man at least three times my age."
"It must have been long ago, then," Melmeleth commented with raised eyebrows, "if you were young."
"It was in the beginning of the Third Age," Galdor remembered fondly, "when Círdan first took me under his wing. I was more reckless, then."
Silence settled again, for a little while, until Elrond broke it.
"I would caution you, before we part. Knowledge of a name does not make knowledge complete. There are still many questions to be answered. Pay careful attention to where your thoughts take you, and do not reveal her identity against her will."
With that, they dispersed.
"I can't pay you," Yara said with a flat smile as she handed over her shoes.
"You think Master Elrond would let anyone in Imladris walk barefoot, my lady?" Bronwor replied, and for the first time, she saw him smile.
"Bilbo Baggins doesn't have any shoes," Yara answered.
"Halflings don't wear shoes," Bronwor informed her lightly. Yara relaxed a little and sat down on a wooden bench.
"My father always used to say that you could learn everything about a person just from their shoes," she smiled. Bronwor changed his mind a few times before he answered.
"I would have agreed with him," he frowned, "until you gave me these. I can make no sense of them. What are they?" Yara broke into laughter.
"Sneakers," she replied, "and cheap ones at that. I should have thrown them away before, but I only have my dance shoes, and they're not good for outdoors."
"I won't attempt to mend these, but I think I have a pair of sandals that I can adjust for you," Bronwor said, still examining the broken shoe. "I just have to remove the ankle strap. Unless your tastes have changed?"
Yara's mouth formed a small 'o'. She remembered him now. She saw him kneeling on the floor, adjusting the ties around her boot. She felt … impatient. Why hadn't he gotten the measurements right the first time?!
"What are these soles made of?" Bronwor entreated, and his voice snapped Yara back to the present.
"Uh, it's … blood from a tree," she stuttered. "Rubber."
Bronwor gave her sneakers one final look, as if to scold them for eluding him so, and then disappeared into a back room.
Yara noticed how he didn't really look her in the eyes a lot. He didn't seem uncomfortable, really, just reserved, but something bothered her about it. Sure, she had one memory of being annoyed with him, but that was just one, and he had kind of deserved it, hadn't he? She looked down at her sneakers again, and was struck with another pang of sudden knowledge. She would never have worn those monstrosities back then. She would rather have gone barefoot in the snow.
Bronwor came back a while later, a pair of brown leather sandals in his hand.
"There," he said, "I've taken off the ankle strap, and adjusted the heel a little. I know they're a bit simple, perhaps, but I'll gladly make you whatever you desire if you just give me the time."
He wetted a towel in a bowl, and made as if to clean Yara's feet. She quickly snatched the towel from him.
"I'll do that," she said, not entirely able to hide the shock of knowing he had just been about to wash the soles of her feet.
"My apologies, my lady," Bronwor said quickly. Again, his eyes didn't meet hers.
"No," Yara winced, "I just don't…" She finished her sentence with a sigh, and washed and dried her feet in silence. Bronwor looked on as she slipped on the sandals.
"They're lovely," she smiled, and now Bronwor finally looked at her face, but with an expression of intense disbelief. "No, really," Yara continued, "they're just my size, and very … nimble? No, that's not the word. I mean … elegant."
Bronwor stared at her, but as she continued to smile at him his expression relaxed a little. Yara flexed her feet a few times, and then settled a little in her seat. There were so many questions she wanted to ask him, but she didn't know where to begin. It was a strange thing, trying to piece together yourself from others' knowledge, and she wasn't even sure she liked Bronwor, yet. How could she trust him to tell her the right things, and to not keep secrets?
Bronwor examined the woman he had not seen for over seven thousand years, and wondered at the change. Even though elves did not age as men, time could always be seen, especially in those as old as himself. Elves like him, and Círdan, and Galadriel, they set, like a muddied pond resting until the water was clear—but the woman in front of him was still moving. Perhaps even more so now, than she had been then. Yet time could also change people, he conceded, and he had always been just her shoemaker, not privy to her inner workings.
"What did you tell Elrond," Yara asked, "when we first came into his room?"
"I wanted to reassure him that I would not reveal your identity to anyone," Bronwor replied. "There are many who would be unsettled by your return."
"Yes," Yara replied contemplatively, "I saw how Elrond reacted." Bronwor searched her face for a moment, and then looked away again as he spoke.
"You need fear nothing from Elrond, my lady," he said, but did not elaborate.
Yara shot him a frown.
"He should be the one to reveal why," Bronwor said thinly. Yara felt sad at his short answer.
"Why would people be unsettled by me?" she asked, her eyes on her feet. "Melmeleth did not seem surprised by my death." Bronwor's face hardened a little.
"It is not your return from Mandos that would unsettle them," he replied, and when Yara showed no sign of understanding he continued. "Although few remain who knew you in life history itself is not forgotten."
Yara waited a long while, but Bronwor seemed perfectly content with his shrouded answer. Yara sucked her lip for a little while, pondering whether or not to continue the conversation at all, but then a thought struck her.
"Were you there, in the battle where I died?"
"I was not," Bronwor replied. "I heeded my king when he forbade us to fight beside the sons of Fëanor."
"Why would he do such a thing?" Yara questioned, feeling an unexpected rush of anger within herself. Bronwor's face paled, his expression bordering between bitterness and sorrow.
"If you truly do not remember," he said coldly, "I will not be the one to tell you."
Yara repressed her anger with great effort, but Bronwor heard her heavy breaths.
"It was a long time ago," he said. Yara looked up at him.
"Over seven thousand years."
All the air left Yara's lungs. It seemed an impossible amount of time, and yet her memories were as clear as if it was yesterday. Bronwor, too, seemed to have no trouble remembering. That was the first time that the knowledge of her immortality, which she had managed to evade at every turn in an unconscious effort to retain her sanity, truly hit her. She felt the bonds between her fëa and the earth, and she knew she was forever knitted together with the fate of the world. But then, where had she been, those seven thousand years, before being born in Damascus?
"It doesn't… It doesn't fit," she spat through her teeth.
Bronwor gave her a look of mild concern.
"I have no memory of those years," she breathed. "I have no memory beyond the moment of my death, not until Syria."
"Syria?" Bronwor inquired.
"The place where I grew up again," Yara murmured. "I lived there for twenty-four years. Not seven thousand." Bronwor pursed his lips very slightly in thought.
"You should not speak to me of these things," he said slowly, and Yara could discern a note of fear in his voice. "I have no knowledge of death."
Yara gave him a sharp look, but said nothing. Silence reigned as she stood up to leave, tired of his vague answers and sharp refusals. But the sandals were nice, her feet reminded her, and she turned in the doorway.
"Thank you for the shoes," she said, and he inclined his head as she left.
Yara had returned to her room at speed, and felt blessed to have encountered no familiar faces on the way. She knew, she thought as she was sitting by her window, that she had wished for answers, and in truth she was happy for the knowledge she had received so far, but it was very much, very fast. It wasn't really the content of the memories—not many of them she had truly engaged with yet, anyway—but the fact that she now felt she held two distinct persons within her, each as real as the other, but somehow still not reconciled.
"Ecyáwen," she whispered to herself.
It was her name, there was no doubt about it. If she closed her eyes she could hear echoes of it from the past; whispered, shouted, and laughed, in a hundred voices or more—but the name Yara felt less distant. She had never really thought about her name before. She knew it meant 'little butterfly', but she had never identified with the meaning. Not that she didn't like butterflies, but she had never felt like one. That was probably a good thing, she thought, and smiled to herself a little.
'Ecyáwen' meant 'sharp lady'. It was the name given to her by her father, and the one known most widely, but, she remembered now, it was not the only name she had listened to. Her mother had given her a name as well, but she had never liked it. 'Eryanel,' the only daughter. And then there was the name she had taken upon herself when she was still but a child, the one she had only given to her friends, her brother… Yara's fingers covered her mouth, as if the gesture would somehow keep the memory behind bars. It could not be a coincidence.
"Too much," she muttered in Arabic. "This is too much to take in." She sank to her knees and closed her eyes. "Allah, Eru—even you have too many names! Why is this happening to me? Help me understand, please. Who am I? I cannot see the point of all these names, if I do not know what to ascribe them to. I want to understand. I want to find some comfort. Help me see that I am not alone."
She took deep breaths, and she could smell the stone below her. It was not like the warm earth of Mithlond. It was too perfectly smooth, to distantly cool, to darkly grey. Yet here she was, and for now she could not leave. The thought echoed in another memory. The stone of the fortress Himring, where she had spent so many years, had been colder and darker than this, and yet she had stayed. She had stood by her father and her uncles—so many uncles—into the last. Her brother had been there too, but her mother had not been there. Yara tried to remember why, but couldn't seem to find any order in the images conjured.
She saw her mother's face. Bright eyes, but a stern expression. Curly hair slapping across it in the wind. They were at sea.
Yara was little, running across the bright green grass towards the horses. Her mother's arms swept her from the ground. Yara screamed to be put down, but her heart was not in it. Her mother's embrace was too warm.
Then, she saw her second mother, her Syrian mother, lying dead and maimed, half covered by a collapsed building.
'But I never saw that,' Yara thought as she opened her teary eyes. 'I don't know what happened to her.'
War, her mind supplied. War took them both. Yara shivered.
I nerded out a bit with all the names. Sorry, not sorry. It does have bearing on the story, but you don’t need to remember all of them. She will continue to go by Yara.
Also, I'd love to hear your thoughts on her evolving backstory. I know it’s all a bit intense right now, but hey, at least she can talk to them, right? :)
Chapter 11: Friend or Foe
Yara was still on the floor, but now her back was against the wall, and her eyes looking far into the distance. She was crying, but it was a softer, more drawn out sadness, seeping from her tear by tear. In the past twelve hours all she thought she knew about herself seemed to have been overthrown, and she was at a loss for what to do next.
There was a soft knock on her door, and Yara recognised who it was by the simple sound of that rhythm. She gave Melmeleth a soft smile from below her tears when she entered, but Melmeleth responded only with worry as she sat down beside Yara.
"I'm sorry," Yara said with a sudden laugh, "it seems like all I've done since you first met me is cry. I'm not really such a weak person."
"You have more reason than most to shed tears," Melmeleth responded, her worry softening a little.
"Maybe," Yara conceded, "but I'm getting tired of it myself. Tears don't change anything."
"Are you sure about that?" Melmeleth asked.
Yara was not, but she didn't admit it.
Melmeleth put a hand on Yara's knee. She couldn't count all the times she had wished that she could speak with Yara, but now that Yara could understand her, all words seemed inadequate.
"Did you continue to speak, after Bronwor and I left?" Yara asked.
"Only for a short while," Melmeleth replied. "Elrond told us you had a brother."
"Yes," Yara confirmed. "What happened to him?"
"Elrond didn't say," Melmeleth said cautiously.
"But he knows?"
Yara was silent. She wanted to know what had become of her brother and father, but she did not feel ready enough to go rushing back to Elrond for answers just yet.
"Melmeleth," she said after a little while, "why have you been so kind to me?" Melmeleth's eyebrows twitched a little at the question.
"Would I have any reason not to be?"
"I'm starting to think so," Yara murmured softly. "Ever since I've come here everyone's been very distant. Galdor never liked me. Bronwor treats me like I'm something he would rather put back where it came from and forget about." Melmeleth took a deep breath.
"It must have been hard for you," she said, "to have been here so long without understanding a word of what we said to you."
Yara scoffed in agreement.
"In Mithlond I worked for Círdan," Melmeleth continued. "Many come there, who are weary with the weight of the world. I help them while they wait for their ship. Make things bearable.
"When you had woken up Círdan asked me to help you. I did what I could. Usually I speak a lot with the ones waiting, but with you… well, I did what I could."
"It helped," Yara put in, her voice unsteady. "You were the only one who didn't make demands. I know Círdan was just trying to help with those language lessons, but I dreaded his every visit. When you came, you just gave, you never took."
Now it was Melmeleth's time to get teary-eyed. She laughed silently as she wiped the wet from under her eyes.
"I was so worried," she said, "that you hated me. You were always so distant… Oh, but I don't blame you! You must have been terrified, not knowing where you were." Yara shook her head.
"I was mostly sad," she explained. "It was not the first time I found myself in an unknown place."
Yara didn't elaborate, and Melmeleth didn't push her.
"But," Yara asked after a while, "why did we come here?"
"Círdan was afraid for you," Melmeleth whispered. "Círdan is powerful in many ways, but Elrond is the best healer in Middle-Earth."
"A bold claim," Yara smirked, "to make of someone who pretty much left me to my own devices."
"But it worked," Melmeleth smiled. "Elrond trained me in his arts, so perhaps I am biased, but he is the most compassionately wise man I know; and now you are speaking with us, just days after our arrival."
"How old is Elrond?"
"I don't remember exactly," Melmeleth answered, "but over six thousand I am certain."
"But he was not alive when I was last?"
"I make no claim to know for sure—I am not a master of lore—but I think not."
"He knew my father though," Yara supplied.
"He did," Melmeleth confirmed, but, again, she did not say anything more. Yara took a deep breath. She needed to speak with Elrond, but she was afraid. He had not shown her anything but kindness, and yet, his face when she had said her father's name made her want to run far, far away.
"Will you be going back to Mithlond, now that I am speaking?"
"I will stay in Imladris for some time," Melmeleth smiled, "unless Círdan calls for my return. I have not seen my brother for 220 years, and I wish to make the most of what time we might have together now."
Yara smiled. She wished she could see her brother. Brothers, she corrected herself.
"Also, I will not be so quick to leave you," Melmeleth added. "I would count you among my friends, after all." Yara placed her hand above Melmeleth's, and a warm glow mingled between them.
"And I count you among mine," she said.
Yara could feel some of Melmeleth's essence now, the warmth of her fëa. Melmeleth was young, much younger than Yara, but at the same time Yara felt herself a child next to her friend, who was so much more at home in this world. She removed her hand, but Melmeleth kept hers on Yara's knee. Yara didn't mind.
"Can I ask you something?" Melmeleth said after a while.
"You may," Yara replied, her eyes looking at the birds outside the window.
"Why do you always cover your hair?"
Yara laughed. It was not the kind of question she had expected.
"It is for modesty," she said simply. "I would show my hair only to a lover. For everyone else, I wear my hijab, my cover." Melmeleth looked utterly perplexed.
"But why? Have you always worn such?"
"I did not, before my death," Yara smiled. "It is a custom from where I was before Mithlond. It is dearer to me now, than it was when I lived in Damascus—that is the city where I lived with my second family."
"Is Damascus in Aman?"
"No," Yara replied, a little too quickly. "No, it is… I do not know where it is. It was a very different place."
Melmeleth searched Yara's face. It had suddenly gone harsh and steely, and her voice was sharp. She did not regret her curiosity—she had often wondered about the Undying Lands—but perhaps she should have been more careful in her asking.
"You saw what happened to it," Yara whispered. "It is no longer the place where I grew up." Melmeleth blinked a few times as she tried to hold back the new question pressing on her mind. She was not successful.
Yara's lips parted slightly as she realised the implications of her choice of words. She had been frightened of this, of revealing too much of her recent past before she herself knew what it meant.
"Please Melmeleth," she entreated, "do not tell anyone. I don't understand for myself all the things that have happened to me, and I don't want everyone around me drawing their own conclusions. Yes, I grew up there. I was born from a mother and I grew up again from childhood. It frightens me to even say it!"
"I will tell no one," Melmeleth said solemnly, her hand heavy on Yara's knee. Yara gave her a thankful smile, but it was weighed down by many worries.
"I think I need some time to myself," Yara said with a sigh.
Melmeleth tried to muster a smile as she left, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. Had she pushed over the edge? Had she been too bold? She knew nothing of Yara's past. She might think she had made a good friend in the lost girl she had cared for, but would Lady Ecyáwen, daughter of Maglor, be as kind? She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and went to distract herself in the kitchens. Baking bread was such a good way to get your mind off things, she thought.
Yara had tried her best to relax. She had found someone to bring her a pot of tea, she had snuggled up in bed, and she had tried to find some rest. It had not worked. She found she couldn't sit still, the tea was first too hot and then too cold, and her mind kept bombarding her with one worry after the other. She could feel the warmth of the late afternoon sun, and she got sick of the stillness descending. With a great huff she got up, and went to search for something to do. Preferably something far away from anyone she knew. She just wanted to forget everything again, and to go back to ignorant bliss, if even for just a moment or two.
She waved to the first person she saw once she was out on the street, and the young woman stopped, a friendly smile on her face. Yara had to decide on what to say quickly.
"Could you show me to the stables?"
The girl frowned deeply.
"Horses," Yara pressed on, "where?"
The girl seemed to recover herself, but her smile was not as bright, even as she answered in broken Quenya.
"Up, and on the right side."
"Thank you," Yara said, but did not stick around for an answer.
She had missed Elu, really. She felt they had really bonded over the past weeks—kind of inevitable when you're stuck together—and at least he wouldn't ask any questions. She just hoped her sandals would survive the stables, because she was not eager to go back to Bronwor just yet.
The stables were not easy to miss. Large carved arches stood open to a small field of grass, and the horses came and went as they pleased within the confines of a low fence which they would surely be able to pass over, if they really wanted to. It was a peaceful sight to Yara's mind, especially when she saw not a single person there. She climbed over the fence gracefully, and approached the building.
"Elu!" she called gaily. "Are you in here sweetness?"
As she passed below the arch she saw Elu coming to meet her, ears happy and a spring in his step. Yara kissed his forehead.
"I never was able to talk to animals," she said as she rubbed her fingers under his mane, "but perhaps now you understand me a little better?"
If he did understand, Elu made no effort to reply. Yara searched around a little for supplies, and then proceeded to give Elu a full bath, as a delayed thank you for his services. She was sure someone had already cleaned him, for he was certainly not covered in dust any more, but he didn't seem to mind being thanked twice.
As she cleaned and nuzzled the horse, Yara's mind seemed to clear a little. She no longer felt haunted by questions or pursued by her past, and the memories that did surface were pleasant and calm.
Her mother in Aman had kept horses, as much as they needed keeping in the Blessed Realm. She had talked with them, and befriended them. Yara had many memories of learning to interact with horses, of playing with them and riding them, and she was happy to feel that love again, unconditional and undemanding.
She remembered her mother had fashioned many things for the horses. Not many saddles or bridles—they did not need it—but blankets, shoes, plumes, and… armour. That last memory was not so pleasant, and Yara quickly pushed it out of her mind. Her mother had made other things too, she told herself. Bags of leather, quivers, even shoes. Yes, Yara remembered now. Her mother had made their shoes, until she died. After that, it had been Bronwor.
Elu noticed her tensing, and buffed her a little with his buttock.
"Sorry," she murmured, "unhappy memories."
She continued to detangle his tail with her fingers, careful not to snap any of the hairs. Her memory turned to braids, and her smile returned again.
She could hear bells jingling, and she looked up to search for their source. A door at the far end of the stable opened, and a shining white and nimble steed trotted inside, the bells on his headstall and breast collar bouncing with his steps. Yara smiled at the beauty, which seemed a perfect echo of the memories of her mother's make, but her reminiscence was abruptly cut off when a man entered behind the horse. A man she recognised instantly.
"Laurefindil," she breathed in shock, and the man froze as their eyes met. His steed stopped and looked back at him, as if asking what was wrong.
"Go on, Asfaloth," he told the horse, who casually sauntered off to greet his stablemates. The two elves continued to stare at each other for a long while, faces blank. This was precisely what Yara had not wanted. In fact, if it had been possible to do without consequences she would have simply run back to her room. That, unfortunately, was not possible.
It was a long time since Glorfindel had been in a situation where he didn't know what to say. A very, very long time. Fortunately, it made him more curious than uncomfortable. What did make him uncomfortable, though, was the presence of a former friend, one whom he had not parted with on the best of terms.
"It's Glorfindel now," he said, his expression unmoving.
Glorfindel's presence made Yara remember something she would rather not have. She remembered the reason why she could not call this man her friend, only, there was more doubt interlaced with that conclusion now, than there had been then.
In her memory she was shouting. She was furious. She was saying all the wrong things, probably because she had already tried all the right things. Still, he would not come. He would not fight by her side.
Tears welled up, just as they had then, but in the present they were not of fury. She had lost a friend that day, and she had been reconciled with the thought that she would never see him again. Now he was there, right in front of her. She blinked the tears away.
"Quenya," she said simply. It took a moment for Glorfindel to readjust his mind to the old language.
"I go by Glorfindel now," he said weakly.
"I go by Yara," she replied, her voice stronger than his.
"You were still in the Halls of Mandos when I left," Glorfindel informed her, his voice almost apologetic. Yara sneered darkly. Elu bumped her again, as if asking if she was ever going to be done with his tail.
"I don't have time for this," she said to Glorfindel, and turned her back on him, continuing to braid Elu's tail even as she heard Glorfindel whisper to his horse in the background, the bells singing sweetly as they were removed. She wanted nothing better than to leave, but she would not let Glorfindel come between her and Elu, who was innocent in all this. She left when she was done, and no sooner, but when she did she thought she could see Glorfindel in the corner of her eye, following her with his gaze as she left.
"Piss in hell," she swore in Swedish once she was safely in her room again. "He's going to go straight to Elrond, isn't he?" She groaned, undressed, and sank into her pillows. She couldn't believe it was still the same day as when she had woken up feeling so ready to engage with the world. "Fúmë," she begged, "now."
"Melmeleth!" Lindir called into the warmth of the bakery, hoping he wouldn't have to brave the flour and the heat. "Melmeleth!" he repeated, as loud as he dared. He didn't want to strain his voice before his evening with Bilbo.
"What?!" his sister shot irritably as she strode up to him, her sleeves rolled up and her face specked with white.
"I think Glorfindel met Yara," Lindir hissed when she was close enough, "and I don't think he likes her.
”I was just talking to Erestor about our plans for Yavanna's feast this year, you know, the same peaceful conversation as always: Which wine goes with which fruit, and then with which song, and then with which…"
"Get to the point, brother," Melmeleth muttered through pursed lips.
"…dance. So I stood up to relate to Erestor the tale of Yara's dancing, because it is my great hope that she will perform for us on the eve—which, by the way, is something I was hoping you could help me convince her to…"
"The point, brother!" Melmeleth shouted.
"Yes, well, the very moment I try to impress to Erestor the ethereal beauty of Yara's dancing, in strides Glorfindel, with a countenance so burning I could have sworn he was facing a Balrog, had he not, in fact, been facing me. 'What are you doing?' he asks me in the most disgusted voice, and so I began to explain that I was telling Erestor of our newest dancer, Yara, but before I could really make my point he interrupted me."
"I do not blame him," Melmeleth injected flatly.
"He all but shouted at us to get out, and Erestor was off quicker than wind to fetch Master Elrond. Then Glorfindel stops me in the door, and I swear he was about to say something very scathing, but then he just slammed the door in my face instead."
"He could have just been in a bad mood," Melmeleth said tiredly. "He has been out in the woods for days, hasn't he?"
"He has," Lindir confirmed, "but that usually puts him in a very good mood."
"What if he had a run-in with the wraiths?"
"He does not fear them," Lindir shrugged.
"And he would fear Yara?" Melmeleth questioned with a raised eyebrow.
"You did not see the fire in his eyes when I mentioned her name," Lindir whispered dramatically.
"No," Melmeleth sighed, "but I can see the fire in the oven there, and I must deal with it. If Glorfindel does have something against Yara there is little to do about it now, is there?"
Lindir pursed his lips in disappointment at his sister's disinterest, and with haughty puff off air he left to find Bilbo, who at least would listen to his monologues without interrupting.
As soon as Elrond stepped inside the room he could see that something was very wrong, but before he could ask, Glorfindel made known exactly what was bothering him.
"Why is she here?" he asked, his voice thick with emotion. "How is she here?"
Elrond's eyebrows rose in exasperation, and he sighed as he beckoned Glorfindel to sit with a gesture of his hand. Glorfindel sat down, but remained tense.
"I regret that I do not have full answers to give you, my friend," said Elrond.
Glorfindel frowned, but with a deep breath he steadied himself somewhat. He did not like being angry, and he would hate for Elrond to think any of it was directed at him.
"I suspected that you might recognise her," Elrond continued, "but I did not think you would be quite so… upset. Surely, after all you and I have spoken of, after all you have learnt in Aman, you would be able to see past what she did at Alqualondë?"
"Since the Valar have seen fit to release her from Mandos, I will not argue," Glorfindel began, but his steely voice softened under Elrond's strong gaze. "I knew her, Elrond, in Aman, before the Kinslaying. We were good friends. She was in Mandos when I left, and I had never thought to see her again. None of her kin had been released, then."
"And why are you angered to be reunited with an old friend?" Elrond asked softly.
"She has not changed, Elrond." Glorfindel's eyes were large, and now Elrond could see beyond the anger. Worry swam in them, fear and hurt, all mingled with love. Elrond lowered his gaze, unwilling to let his own eyes reveal as much. Glorfindel continued. "All elves released from Mandos are changed. You know this. Yet she turned me away as coldly now as when last I spoke to her, when I begged her not to follow her father and grandfather into Alqualondë. I do not wish to appear selfish or self-centred, but why would she still hold me in disregard, if she does not still scorn me for my decision?" Elrond took a deep breath.
"I hope your fear is unfounded," he said. "The manner of Yara's return is unlike your own. She had no memory when she first came to us, she could not even speak with us. Much has changed in the past few days, but perhaps she is not yet ready to engage so fully with her past."
"Why would she be sent back without memory?" Glorfindel asked, his frown deepening again.
"I was waiting anxiously for your return," said Elrond, "so that you might tell me."
Yara couldn't sleep. It was, perhaps, the one part of her humanity she missed, at least consciously. The night was thick around her, but the starlight was enough to keep her mind awake. She rose from bed, and sat herself at the little table. The cool air on her naked skin was calming to her mind. She untangled her hair from the edge of her shift, lit a candle, and began to write.
'Honourable Master Bilbo Baggins,
'I remember our morning with fondness. You know, you are the first halfling I have ever spoken to. On my journey here to Imladris I first laid eyes on your kind, and I must say it was a fascinating experience, and all too brief.
'I have gathered that you are the only halfling in Imladris. I hope I am not too forward in asking why you are here, of all places, and alone? You see, I too, am somewhat of a stranger here. I come from a place entirely different, a land very far away, that I can never go back to. I am much pained by this, and although I have friends and a comfortable life here, I find myself often missing the company of familiar things. Perhaps you understand.
'I hope, at least, that you understand this letter. Would it that I knew Sindarin, or Westron. Yet perhaps in writing, as you said, we can learn many things of one another.
'A star shone on the hour of our meeting,
Yara folded the letter, blew out the candle, and returned to bed with a lighter heart.
Galdor was walking in the starlit garden. It was not the cliffs south of Mithlond, but it was at least near water, and water always calmed his mind. Ever since the conversation in Elrond's study earlier that day he had tried to reconcile all the stray pieces of a puzzle which's shape he did not know. After Glorfindel's short encounter with Yara Elrond had informed Galdor that Glorfindel was as dumbfounded as them as to why Yara had lost her memories, and the fact only served to heighten Galdor's suspicions.
No, he did not suspect Yara of any conscious evil. Not any more, at least. Two people had now confirmed her identity, and while her history wasn't exactly speckless, she had died in battle against Morgoth. That did not wholly ease Galdor's worries, though. Had anyone been there to see her death?
No. No, it was Morgoth's forces who had won that battle, who had gathered the dead—or the wounded.
But she remembers her death, Galdor thought, and his face set a little as he peered up at the stars. Could any of her memories be trusted, if they had once been hidden?
Morgoth fell! his mind answered. She would have drowned in the ruins of Angband!
…but Sauron didn't drown. Some dragons fled, and Balrogs hid. Galdor rubbed his face, and moved his eyes to stare into the swiftness of the river. Oh, what he would have given to have Círdan by his side now! Elrond was not a bad man, but he was biased, even more so now that Yara's identity had been revealed. And he did not know all that Círdan knew. Galdor had long ago worked out that Círdan had some knowledge of Maglor that he did not share with anyone. He had been the one to send Galdor with word of his death to those few it had concerned, but he had never told Galdor how it had happened. Galdor suspected it was less than honourable.
The more Yara remembered, he thought as he continued to walk along the water's edge, the harsher she became. He had wanted to ask her about so many things. Where had she been, if she had not been in Aman? Who was this Sayyid Haddad who made her singing stone? What was she searching for on their journey?
Elrond had cut him off at every turn. Was it not Elrond himself who had called for counsel in the rising shadow?
But Elrond held firmly, still, that Yara was not enlaced with that darkness. Galdor was not so sure.
Yara slept long that night, and woke without memory of dreams in the first light of dawn. The day before now felt as distant as any other part of her past, and her mind was clear and at ease. She took breakfast in her chamber, and then she went out to find Bilbo, to give him her letter.
She found him under the same tree as the day before, writing in his book. This morning, however, he was sharing his breakfast with the two dwarves, and seemed severely distracted from his work. Yara approached nonetheless, and Bilbo gave her big smile.
“Good morning, Yara,” he said. “My friend Glóin of Erebor. Gimli, his son.”
“It is a good morning,” Yara returned, and then she bowed courteously to the dwarves. They stared at each other for a while, and then Yara remembered something. “Zai adshânzu,” she said with a smile, but instead of the looks of surprise she had wanted to garner, the dwarves eyes narrowed intensely as they began to question Bilbo.
“Who is this elf?” Glóin muttered from below his jam-stained moustache.
“Who taught her our language?” Gimli huffed indignantly.
“I will have words with Elrond of this!” Glóin continued. “If he has been going around teaching his people our language…”
“Please, please,” Bilbo interrupted pleadingly, “give me a moment and I’ll try and ask her.” He took a deep breath and gave Yara steadying glance. She looked thoroughly bewildered. “They ask how you learn dwarf words,” Bilbo said.
“In battle,” Yara answered. “I listened to the dwarves. I only know a few words.”
Bilbo’s eyes went wide, but he was not going to shy away from his role as interpreter. He turned again to the dwarves.
“She said she listened to dwarves while she was in battle, and picked up a few phrases.”
“IN BATTLE?” Glóin roared, and stood up.
“You keep your murderous hands and stealing tongue away from us!” Gimli shouted as he stepped up next to his father, his battle-axe held firm by both hands.
Yara’s mouth fell open as she backed away. She knew the dwarves were secretive about their language, but she hadn’t expected to be attacked. Questioned, yes, but not attacked.
“I meant no offence!” she called to Bilbo, who was looking thoroughly distraught where he sat behind the dwarves.
“No need to translate, Master Baggins,” Glóin shouted before Bilbo could even draw breath. “I will listen to no more of this she-elf’s insults!”
“Get thee gone, witch,” Gimli rumbled, “or you will taste my steel!”
Thankfully, they were not alone in the gardens of Imladris, and soon enough a small crowd of elves came to intervene. Melmeleth was among them, and she stood herself quickly in front of Yara, looking calmly upon the angry dwarves.
“What, pray tell,” asked one of the elves, “has caused weapons to be drawn in the gardens of Imladris?”
“This … wench,” Glóin muttered darkly, “brags about stealing our language and killing dwarves in battle.”
The elves around them all seemed mildly surprised. Yara was feeling thoroughly confused where she was standing behind Melmeleth. Bilbo spoke up.
“Now, it wasn’t exactly like that,” he said diplomatically. “I’m sure Yara wasn’t intending to offer them insult. There is a little bit of language barrier at play, you see.”
Melmeleth nodded in agreement towards the elf who had questioned the dwarves. The elf sighed.
“Put away your weapons,” he ordered the dwarves. “I suggest you do not draw them again, if you wish to remain in the valley. Melmeleth, if you would explain the situation to your friend.”
Melmeleth nodded and began to lead Yara away, but Yara remained in place.
“Bilbo!” she called over Melmeleth’s shoulder, and waved the letter.
“Thank you, my lady,” Bilbo said as he took it from her, and Yara gave him a wide smile before allowing herself to be led away.
“What happened?” Melmeleth asked once they were away from sight of the dwarves.
“I cannot say,” Yara replied with a shrug. “I understood nothing of their shouting. I only came to bring Bilbo a letter, and when I saw he was accompanied by the two dwarves I greeted them in their own tongue. I know they are secretive about it, but I tried to explain I never actually meant to learn their language.”
“Then how did you?”
“My uncles had many dealings with the dwarves, and they often passed through my father’s land. I fought beside them in battle. One cannot help but pick up a few phrases.”
“Ai Yara,” Melmeleth sighed deeply. “They thought you had fought against them in battle, not beside them.”
“What?!” Yara frowned. “Why would I have fought against them?” Melmeleth stopped and looked at Yara with a square expression.
“You really need to speak with Master Elrond,” she said. “People are beginning to talk, wondering who you are and why you are here. Inciting the wrath of our dwarven guests will not help, unless you want to be known.”
“I do not care either way,” Yara replied, but her eyes wandered listlessly. “I will speak with Elrond, but only because I have questions of my own.”
Elrond was waiting patiently for Galdor to speak, but his on-lend advisor seemed hesitant. It was not until Elrond encouraged him with a raise of his eyebrows that Galdor finally took to words.
“My mind is not at ease,” Galdor began. “I fear you are being too soft on Lady Yara, waiting for her to come to you when we should be pressing her for answers.”
“I trust that Lady Yara will come to us, when she is ready,” replied Elrond.
“What guarantee have you that she is trustworthy?”
“Guarantee?” Elrond gave Galdor a thoughtful smile. “Trust rarely comes with a guarantee, Galdor. Instead I say, what reason have we to doubt her?”
“I do not, as you might think, hold her peerage against her,” said Galdor. “Neither do I distrust her because of her actions in the past. I only distrust the darkness and the shadow, and the fair disguises it takes.
“She has told us nothing of her purpose here, nothing of Mandos or Valinor. She tells us she remembers her death, but there was no one there, after that battle, to count and declare the dead. We cannot confirm it. She could have been taken alive.”
“And been kept for seven-thousand years in what place? Under what power?” Elrond asked calmly.“Not even Sauron could survive unharmed all that time.” Galdor pondered how to express his thoughts on this, and Elrond waited patiently.
“Morgoth’s influence was not destroyed when he was cast into the Void. His powers remain in this world. If he had influenced Yara, and then released her…
“She speaks of a second father. He must have been a most powerful man, in order to fashion the singing stone, and yet his name is unknown to us. She has memories of a place where she says she has lived, but she told us nothing of it. Why would she keep such a thing from us, if indeed it was in Aman?
“And the stone does more than sing. You know this. She was using it in search of something, of someone. She has a purpose, but she does not tell it.”
Elrond looked sternly upon Galdor, but not in a wholly unkind way. He did not want to simply dismiss these suspicions, for Galdor had good reason to ponder them, even if Elrond suspected the answers were much less ominous in nature than the advisor assumed. But Elrond was caught on that last edge of Galdor’s argument, that Yara was there in a search. It might be, then, that Yara had every reason to be cautious and not to say too much to those she could not yet trust. But Elrond was spared the need to formulate an answer by a knock on his door.
Yara took a deep breath before entering Elrond’s study, and she looked to Melmeleth to garner some strength. Her friend smiled warmly, and Yara pushed the door open.
“I think we will have to continue this conversation at a later time, Galdor,” Elrond said, and he could not supress the glimmer in his eyes. “Yara, please, sit.”
Yara remained standing until Galdor had left the room, and then took her seat opposite Elrond. She felt a little bit awkward, but at least his presence was not as threatening as the crowd of listeners she had had the day before. She pulled her lip a little as she decided where to begin, but in the end it was the most recent discomfort that pushed itself to the surface.
“A dwarf pulled his axe on me, just now,” she said, and although she aimed for defiance her voice trembled with insecurities. Elrond’s eyebrows shot up.
“It was a misunderstanding,” Yara conceded. “He believed that I said I had done battle against dwarves, when I intended to say I had fought beside his kin.”
“Well, I am impressed that the dwarves have such extensive knowledge of ancient Quenya as to even be able to misunderstand something,” replied Elrond, and Yara had a hard time figuring out if he was being serious or not.
“No,” she frowned, “Bilbo was interpreting.”
“Ah,” Elrond smiled. “Well, he always was eager to show his knowledge. Most kind of him to try and help, even if it went a bit awry.”
Yara frowned, growing a bit impatient with Elrond’s circumflexions. The twinkle in Elrond’s eyes settled.
“Relations between dwarves and elves are not what they were in your time,” he said. “Even when speaking the same language misunderstandings and arguments are not uncommon. There are many relevant texts in the library, should you want to explore the history of our two peoples further.” Yara pursed her lips a little.
“I think I have other matters more pressing,” she said, and Elrond could see the hint of mirth playing on her face.
“Indeed,” he replied, managing to look both playful and grave at the same time.
“Did Glorfindel tell you of our encounter?”
“He did,” Elrond confirmed with a nod. Yara exhaled shakily.
“And what did he say about me?” she asked.
Elrond considered well what to answer. He did not want to betray the trust of his friend, and reveal more of him to Yara than Glorfindel himself had said to Elrond, but at the same time, he did not want to cause Yara undue worry. He was, after all, her kin—in heart, if not in blood—even though she did not yet know it.
“He told me of your friendship,” Elrond said, “and that he was … unsettled by your presence here.”
“Unsettled?” Yara questioned. Elrond looked into her eyes.
“Do you still hold it against him,” he asked slowly, “that he did not help take the swanships of Alqualondë?”
Yara held Elrond’s gaze while she searched within herself. She went past the anger of her friend not standing by her side, and looked deep into her reasons for drawing her sword on another elf. It had not been simply for loyalty to her father, or her grandfather. It had been in defiance of those who would not see the necessity of sacrifice. Had not her grandfather sacrificed enough, to preserve the light of the trees inside his Silmarilli, now stolen by Moringotto? She may not have sworn the oath, but she would gladly see it fulfilled.
“I do,” she replied, her expression clear and honest.
Elrond’s eyes darkened, and he moved them away from hers. He did not want to believe her. He wanted to find some reason why she would lie, or some source of self-deception from within her. Perhaps, he hoped, if she was made to remember her time in the Halls of Mandos, she could remember forgiveness.
“He forgives you,” he said, “for everything.” Perhaps it was not the right thing to do, to inform her of that. It may have been Glorfindel’s right to do so. Elrond pressed his jaws tight. He had been overtaken by his own compassion, and he knew it.
“I do not seek his forgiveness,” said Yara, and she knew that truth as it came out of her mouth. She knew it deeply, and fully. She did not regret what she had done.
And yet, there was that part of her that felt sorrow at her own words. For she wished, still, that she had never seen war. She wished that she had never been splattered with any blood, neither from elf, or man, or even orc—but it had never been her choice.
No, she did not regret.
Elrond closed his eyes over her statement. The pain of it weighed heavy on his heart. It echoed conversations from his past, ones he had not thought about for centuries, but for a trickling dream here and there, a shimmer of a memory on the foam of the Bruinen. He opened his eyes, and found immediately the deep brown of Yara’s irises.
“I knew your father,” he said. “I called him by that title too, for a time.”
His statement was as a fist to Yara’s stomach. That Elrond had known her father she had surmised, but that he would have the audacity to take her father for his own she could never have imagined. Yet in the midst of sudden jealousy she knew that Elrond would not have been allowed to call him such without her father’s permission. Had her father, then, called him son? If they had been so close…
“What happened to him?” she breathed. “What end did he meet?” Elrond’s entire frame grew heavy with sorrow.
“It is a long tale,” he said, and even his voice was brittle and aged, “and its end is not known to me.”
Yara’s lips parted ever so slowly as she realised what he was saying.
“I thought for a time that he had perished in his last attempt to reclaim the Silmarils, but soon thereafter I heard him singing. I did not see him, but I heard his voice, and it is unmistakeable. Where he is now, if he is still alive, I do not know,” Elrond ended.
“And my brother?” Yara pressed on instantly.
“Is dead,” Elrond confirmed. “I never met him, but word reached me of his death before the end of the Second Age.”
Yara’s breathing was heavy. In a way it felt strange, that the fates of these people whom she had not known existed until the day before could garner such response. Yes, they were real, but they were also only memory, and memory is fleeting and intangible. Knowing now that one of them might still be walking the earth overwhelmed her, and the sorrow that one of them was not stung sharper than mere memory should allow.
“Everyone is lost,” she breathed over the tears erupting suddenly. “All is lost.”
Elrond looked gravely at her. ‘Sister,’ he thought, but he dared not say it.
“I have nothing,” Yara voiced through trembling lips. “I thought, perhaps, that there was something here for me, some reason I was taken from my life in Sweden, in Syria… Ai, but it was bliss! It was bliss not to know this truth. Now I am doubly alone.”
“You are not alone,” Elrond whispered weakly.
“What do you know of it!” Yara cried. “Twice I have lost my mother to war, twice I have received message of my brother’s death from afar, and two fathers have abandoned me in the end.
“I lived again, Elrond, in Syria I grew up to another family, a family who loved me just as strongly, and I them. I grew up in a city as beautiful and ancient as any in Middle-Earth, and it was ripped to rubble by war. I know no home, I know no love. I am alone.”
Elrond was frozen and silent, but he could not stop the tears of compassion.
“Yara,” he began, but his voice failed him. He swept forwards instead, and pulled her into a strong and steady embrace. Yara did not protest, but she did not return it. Elrond made nothing of it. It was not the first time he had given love unconditionally. After a little while, he felt her cheek on his shoulder, and he closed his eyes.
“Tell me of them,” he said, his voice deep with sorrow but steady again. “Tell me of Sayid Haddad and his family, and I will tell you of Maglor Feanorion’s fate.”
And so Yara told him. She told him of growing up in Damascus; of the scent of oranges on her mother’s fingers, of her brother walking her to school every day, of her father taking them to see all the temples and the ruins. She told him of the war; how her mother had disappeared suddenly without trace, and her brother had gone away to fight. She told him of fleeing with her father, of coming to strange lands and learning new languages, and finally, she told him how her father had died, leaving her alone among strangers.
Through it all Elrond listened with unwavering attention, sitting right in front of her, his deep eyes taking in every wave of emotion rolling across her as she spoke. Only when she fell silent after telling of her father’s death did he speak.
“I do not purport to know the reason why any of this has befallen you,” he said, “but I urge you not to forget it. Your tale, to my knowledge, is singular in the history of Arda. Never before has an elf come out of Mandos to be reborn to new parents. Where Syria or Sweden is I do not know, but I do not doubt that they exist. However it came to be, you are here now, and with your permission, I would call you sister. Nay! Do not answer me yet. Let me first tell you my tale.”
Yara listened to all Elrond told, despite sorrow and fatigue. He relayed to her how he had been but a child when he had come into her father’s care, abandoned by his parents, and how they had come to love each other, and both consider the other family. He shared the tale of the sinking of Beleriand, and of the defeat of Morgoth. He told her of the fear he had felt when his foster-father left to retrieve the Silmarils from under Eönwë’s guard, and how he had mourned afterwards. He shared also the loss of his brother to the fate of all mortals, and how he still, sometimes, felt betrayed by his brother’s decision. He bared his heart to her, and when he ended in tears with the departure of his wife to Valinor Yara reached forward and took his hand in hers.
“Sister I shall be,” she said softly.
Elrond smiled softly at her, and she could feel the by now familiar feeling of warmth spreading from their touching hands. She smiled back, and felt a little bit less alone. They sat like that for a moment, and then let go.
“Even though I may call you kin,” Yara said softly, “I still feel I should not continue to leech on your hospitality so blatantly. I should like to contribute to the running of this house in some way, if you would let me.”
“Indeed,” Elrond smiled. “You are welcome to seek out such tasks as might suit you, but a word of warning I will offer. Your language is still foreign—even to those who understand you you are marked out. It was very long ago now, that anyone was a Ñoldo or a Þindel, and while I understand you never learnt Sindarin, it is the language spoken among the people of this city, indeed, among all elves in Middle-Earth.”
“Then what would you have me do? Lock myself in my room and speak to no one until I learn perfect Sindarin?”
“Certainly not,” Elrond replied. “I simply wish to make you aware of the fact that you cannot hide your past. What you do with that knowledge is up to you.”
Yara searched his face for a good while before submitting to the fact that it bore no hint of what he might think of it, one way or another. She shook her head mildly.
“I feel the mystery of my life in Syria to be far more troubling than my past here, if you can believe it,” she said. “Here at least I am part of a bigger history, and I am not ashamed of it.” Elrond gave her a queer look, but changed the subject.
“Do you know what kind of task you might set yourself while in Imladris?” he asked. Yara hesitated.
“I should like to dance for you again,” she said softly, but Elrond could see the dangerous sheen in her eyes.
“Speak to Lindir,” he said as he rose, and he held the door open for her. As she passed away down the hallway he took a deep breath. He had seen that sheen before, in her father’s eyes, and it both excited and frightened him.
I stole the Neo-Khûzdul from Memrise: /course/1399741/200-everyday-neo-khuzdul-phrases/1/ . Should mean ‘at your service’.
Chapter 13: In the Library
The song in this chapter is the classic ‘Goodmorning Starshine’ by Oliver. Give it a listen here to fully appreciate its role in the text: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whmzEXywq40
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It had taken a long time for Yara and Elrond to tell each other’s tales, and when Yara left the study the sun was already leaning towards the west. She had decided to go in search of Lindir right away, but was soon waylaid by Melmeleth, who appeared by her side the moment she was outside of the building.
“Are you following me?” Yara asked with a sly smile. “You always appear right when I need you.”
“I am not following you,” Melmeleth replied innocently, “I am simply remaining close by, should you need me.” Yara raised an eyebrow.
“I am looking for your brother,” she informed.
“Oh?” Melmeleth became thoughtful. “I think he is working at present, but I know that he meets with the halfling in the evenings. They sit in the library and spin songs and tell tales. I am sure they would not mind the interruption, but if it is urgent we may seek him out now.”
“No,” Yara shook her head, “it is not urgent.” Melmeleth smiled.
“Will you then join me for a meal?” she asked.
“Gladly,” Yara smiled, and followed Melmeleth. They walked up behind Elrond’s halls on winding stone steps, passing houses and gardens, until they came to a low building set against the cliffs.
“These are Lindir’s rooms,” Melmeleth said as she pushed open an arched door. “They were our parents’, before that.”
It was interesting for Yara to see how Lindir lived. She would have imagined a wild, creative space, but found instead neat order. The place, was, however, filled with instruments of various kinds, neatly covered in sheets or put away in boxes, and she laughed when she noticed his pens were arranged in a perfect starburst, tips meeting in the middle.
“He is very neat, your brother,” she called to Melmeleth, who was already busy at the cupboard. “Reminds me of my own brother, Calimórë. He refused to even let me in his room, saying I always moved something, even if I only passed the doorway.”
“Lindir is less adamant about it, thankfully,” Melmeleth said as she started setting the table. “I think it’s just a way for him to gather his thoughts, when he’s working on some new piece or other.”
She sat down gracefully and gestured for Yara to join her. Melmeleth tore a large chunk of bread from the sweet scented loaf between them, drizzled it with oil and salt, and handed it to Yara.
“I baked it myself,” she smiled. “That is my way of keeping my mind at ease.”
“A very good way,” Yara agreed and took a bite of the moist bread. “Mm! A very good way indeed.”
“I am glad you like it,” said Melmeleth. “My mother taught me how to bake. I’m not sure I will ever surpass her, but I do my best, now that she is gone.”
Yara shot her a melancholy glance.
“She sailed west,” Melmeleth explained. “Not too long ago. Father too. I do not think they would suffer being parted.”
“It feels odd to me, to hear of people sailing west,” Yara said with a strange smile. “When I left Aman I accepted that I would never return. Only today did I learn that the Valar saw fit to let us do so.” Melmeleth’s eyes widened in realisation.
“I forget,” she said slowly, “how truly ancient you are. I grew up with the knowledge that the Blessed Realm was waiting for me. I cannot imagine what it must have been like, to have that possibility taken away.”
“Taken away?” Yara returned, her smile still lingering coldly. “I suppose one can see it like that. But the Blessed Realm was robbed of its peace and beauty long before I left. Perhaps it was since then restored, but when I last looked upon its shores I did not do so with love.”
Silence fell as they continued to eat. Melmeleth looked saddened.
“Do not look so crestfallen,” Yara said lightly when Melmeleth’s mood did not pick up. “It is only a memory. For now I am happy to be here, in this moment, with you.” Melmeleth did smile then, although there was still a note of melancholy in her eyes.
“Wilwarin,” she said softly, “you may call me Nimbell, when we are alone. Only Lindir and Círdan know my chosen name, but I consider you already a good friend, so… If you would like to.”
“Certainly,” Yara smiled widely. “Nim-bell,” she tested. “What does it mean?” Melmeleth blushed.
“Small but strong,” she mumbled. Yara’s laughter was like a spray of cold water on a hot summer’s day, and it breathed away all lingering sadness from Melmeleth’s mind.
“A fitting name, no doubt,” Yara smiled playfully, and took another bite of bread.
“What did you and Elrond speak of?” Melmeleth dared ask now that the air was clearer.
“I told him of my family in Damascus,” Yara replied, “and he told me of what has befallen mine since my death. Did you know he was raised by my father?”
“Yes,” Melmeleth admitted. “I hope you do not scold me for leaving it to him to tell you these things.”
“No, it was best that way I think. I should not have understood the true meaning of it from the mouth of another.”
Melmeleth gave Yara a soft smile.
“It is strange,” said Yara, “how quickly my life has become, well, almost normal again. These past few weeks of loneliness and confusion seem but a drop in the ocean of time, a small shadow in a sea of light.
“Yet I still feel torn. I may be able to care for myself again, as much as can be expected, but there is a deeper rift within me than what time only could be able to create.”
Melmeleth frowned. She could make no sense of Yara’s sudden honesty.
“Things have not changed so much, even in seven thousand years,” Yara clarified. “I always knew I was being defiant to the point of detriment in not learning Sindarin, and I always suspected there would come a time in my life when the speaking of my father’s name would not be welcomed by my companions. These things I can accept.
“What I cannot reconcile are my experiences in Damascus, and the life I led in the most recent past. I was… I was an entirely different person, Melmeleth. The world was so different there that I cannot even begin to describe it to you. I do not even know where to start. We had the sun, the moon, and the stars—but I fear that is where the similarities end.
“I cannot simply discard those pieces of my past, even if they do not fit in with the rest. I feel I am two people, stuck in one body, in one mind even, struggling against myself in almost everything I do.
“I told you about my hijab, for instance. It is important to me beyond measure, especially now that it one of the few things that remain of my time in Syria, but still I sometimes feel the impulse to rip it off, to let my hair run free, as it used to. I have memories of standing on the windswept hill of Himring, proudly letting my hair glisten in the sunlight for everyone to see, and I also have memories of wearing my hijab defiantly, even as people made to tear it off me for anger at what it represented to them. Which part is true, Melmeleth? Which part is me?” Melmeleth observed Yara with deep eyes. It was a new thing, for Yara, to see her friend and caretaker so deeply thoughtful, so wise in countenance. To Yara she had simply been a joyous companion, a source of laughter and kindness, until now.
“I cannot say,” Melmeleth admitted. “I do not think you have been given this experience for nothing, Wilwarin, but I cannot say what you should or must do with it.”
“No,” Yara agreed with a dejected sigh.
“Why did you want to see Lindir?” Melmeleth asked in order to steer the conversation to a lighter subject again.
“Elrond told me it is him I should speak to about dancing for you all again,” Yara replied, and her smile slowly returned. “This time under more ordered circumstances, I hope.”
“Oh, he will be delighted!” Melmeleth laughed. “He has hardly shut up about your dancing, and he will eagerly relay the experience to anyone who wasn’t present. Apparently he even tried to imitate your movements when he described it to Erestor, but then…” Melmeleth trailed off with a blush.
“Erestor is Elrond’s right hand, no?” Yara asked, even though she was curious about Melmeleth’s sudden embarrassment.
“Yes, the tall one who let us in to the study yesterday. He is in charge of all the comings and goings of Imladris. Lindir and he get along well, but I don’t really know him beyond work. Seems a bit stiff, to my mind.”
“It is a good trait for one with his duties,” Yara said authoritatively. “My uncle Ambarto, for instance, always seemed very dispassionate to me, but father said if it wasn’t for him life at Formenos would have been a complete disaster.”
Yara looked up from her food and frowned. Melmeleth was staring.
“What is it?” asked Yara.
“You speak so casually of something that is but legend to me,” Melmeleth almost whispered. “Perhaps I can understand clearer some of what you were trying to say before. You are not the same as the crying girl I tended in Mithlond.”
Yara had to focus to let go of some of the harshness in her own expression. It seemed it was getting easier and easier for her to slip into the role of Ecyáwen, sharp and domineering. She was not sure that she liked it.
“No,” she said softly, “but I am not entirely different either. And I am certainly not the same as I was when I lived in exile in Formenos.” Melmeleth took a deep breath and smiled.
“I am curious though,” she said, “about what it all was like, back then. Both your life, and the world in general. Glorfindel sure doesn’t want to talk about it too much, he always says the past is best left to itself.” Melmeleth could see the light flickering in Yara’s eyes, and she silently cursed her own blabbering tongue.
“Don’t look so stricken, Nimbell!” Yara laughed. “It is perfectly all right. He is here, and I am here, and so it must be. Who told you I knew him?”
“Well, that’s why Lindir had to interrupt his demonstration,” Melmeleth said warily, “because Glorfindel came rushing in, looking rather upset at the mention of your name.”
“Ugh!” Yara exclaimed. “I wonder how he could keep himself alive for so long with such a temper.”
Melmeleth was suddenly wide eyed, and Yara’s eyes narrowed.
“He died,” Melmeleth whispered. “He died and was sent back. He is the only reembodied Eldar to return from over the sea, except yourself.”
Yara’s breathing hitched, but she soon calmed herself. She did not want to deal with this new information. She simply wanted to have a nice, calm afternoon with her friend.
“I wish my brother Amir was here,” she said lightly. “He would have no qualms about mocking Glorfindel in the most delightful ways. He used to tease me to no end when I was little, but I soon learned that his tongue was just as eager to defend me if need be.”
“Sounds like a good brother to have,” Melmeleth smiled. “Lindir was never eager to come to my defence, but then, I rarely needed help with that. I was the only child in Imladris when I was little, so naturally everyone doted on me, and I had no enemies.”
“I was not so lucky,” Yara smiled, “neither the first nor the second childhood. There were many children in Tirion at that time, and in Damascus I went to school with hundreds.”
“Hundreds?!” Melmeleth exclaimed in shock.
“It was a very large city,” Yara shrugged, “and full of love, even in the darkest of times.”
When the shadows began to grow long outside Melmeleth led Yara back to Elrond’s halls. They ascended the stairs to the library, and with every floor they passed the sounds of laughter and singing increasingly gave way to contemplative silence. At the very top they were met by a silent corridor reaching in between study rooms and archives. Melmeleth pointed to the warm glow coming from the room at the very end, and with a press of her hand she left Yara to find Lindir by herself.
“Thank you,” Yara called after Melmeleth, but when she turned again towards the halls of the library her smile fell. Galdor was standing there, just outside one of the doorways, looking pensively in her direction.
“Good evening,” she greeted when he remained silent.
“It is,” he returned. “I’ve been meaning to speak to you, Lady Yara.”
“Oh?” Yara said as she walked towards him. “About what?”
Galdor stepped aside to invite her into his makeshift study. A desk was strewn with a mess of documents and books, but through the arches of the open balcony the evening wind swept in. They sat down on a bench there, at the border between intuition and knowledge.
“Lord Elrond told me that your conversation today was most enlightening,” Galdor began, “and that his trust in you is complete. I am not one to doubt the judgements of my betters, and so with his reassurances I, too, must trust you. In spite of this, I have questions I want to pose. Not for lack of trust, but to assuage my inquisitive mind. Will you grant me this kindness, and answer my inquiries?”
“I will,” Yara replied calmly, her eyes lingering on the growing darkness above the tops of the Misty Mountains.
“The first thing I saw you do was wave your singing stone in my face, and then you ran to the gate. Again I saw you use the stone on the road, whenever we were near settlements—and then upon our arrival here. It flashed light after our encounter with the Úlairi, the shadow from which we fled.
“It does more than sing, my lady. What is it, and why do you carry it?”
Yara drew a deep breath. She could not help but smile, for she sensed Galdor’s fear and suspicion as clearly as she had done on their journey, but now she knew it was woefully misplaced. She pulled the phone from her pocket, careful not to scratch it against the quillon of her dagger. The dark screen was a mirror more than anything else, and to her it looked perfectly innocent. Galdor tensed a little beside her.
“My father gave this to me before we left our home city of Damascus. It is called a phone. My father had one of his own, and so did my brother, who we left behind in the city. He would not leave to let his friends defend it alone, but with these phones we could communicate over vast distances. It is no magic or evil craft, it is simply a way to keep a family together.
“Whenever I took it out on the journey I was trying to communicate with a friend back in Sweden—that is where father and I went after the war. Usually it is easier to do when close to cities. I had hoped—well, Círdan made it seem so—that in Imladris I would be able to use it to reach my friend, and when it didn’t work… You were there. It was not easy.”
“So it is like a shard of a Palantír,” Galdor murmured, more to himself than to Yara.
“You know of my grandfather’s stones?” Yara smiled.
“Indeed,” Galdor said, a little louder. “Seven of them were brought to Middle-Earth in the Second Age. They are now lost. If Círdan suspected it was something akin to a Palantír he did not say, but perhaps that is what he meant, if he urged you to take your Phone to Imladris. For Elrond would be familiar with such craft, I think, having had more dealings with men than Círdan. It was to them the seeing stones were entrusted.”
Yara slipped into deep thought. For a moment she had wondered if she might have gone to find a Palantír, for she would be able to make use of it. Her grandfather had taught her well how to wield them, and perhaps then she would have been able to see…
“But what of the flash of light at Amon Sûl?” Galdor asked, interrupting her train of thought.
“Oh,” Yara laughed nervously. That was probably the hardest part to explain. She could not see how she would avoid his suspicion; too much detail and he would only have more questions, too little and he would think she was hiding something.
“I was frightened by the shadows we passed through,” she said slowly, “these Úlairi as you call them. I was desperate to find some connection to home, or, what I then considered home. You may have been right in your reaction at that time, for I was acting rashly, trying to connect with something I think I knew, deep down, was lost. So I wielded my phone without caution. I am sorry for the fright it caused you, but it did no harm.”
She could feel Galdor’s body still stiff beside her. Too little, then, she thought with a sigh. She turned the phone between her fingers a few times, enjoying the feel of the smooth surface.
“You need not worry, Galdor,” she said, and he could hear melancholy on her voice, “its power is finite. Without its home any power this stone has will eventually wither away, and in the end it will be little more than a pebble on the beach. The more I use it, the faster it will die.”
“You speak of it as if it was alive,” Galdor noted.
“I have become very attached to it, through the years,” Yara smiled. “And besides, now it is the only way for me to dance to the songs of my people.”
“How is it that it sings, Lady Yara?” Galdor asked, and Yara thought she could discern a hint of awe in the question.
“It has the power to retain memories, much as we do,” Yara said. “When it is dark, like now, it neither hears nor sees, and nothing can it convey. When I touch it and it comes alive, it can sing what it has heard in the past.”
“Sayid Haddad must have been a most powerful man to create such a thing,” Galdor said darkly. “Much as your grandfather.” Yara smiled a most twinkling smile.
“He was nothing like my grandfather,” she said, “but he was, indeed, a most powerful man. He held my heart.”
There was silence, and Yara stood up to leave.
“One more question,” Galdor said, still looking out into the night.
“When will you reveal the purpose of your return?”
“When I know it, Galdor,” Yara said softly, and left the room.
Yara turned the corner into the warm light of a fire. This room was large, and long shelves stacked with books cast dark shadows through the room, but by the light of the fire sat Bilbo singing to Lindir, and as she approached she listened to the song, although she could not understand it.
“…and all the fruits her garden bore
Were sweet and ripe and full
So all the elves there came ashore
And sang and drank their fill
In Ivon’s gardens filled with life
Where weary none can be!”
“Ah, but Bilbo!” Lindir called out at the end of the song, “here is one that might give you much material for your tune. For it is true, Lady Yara, that you have participated in Yavanna’s own harvest feast?” Yara’s eyebrows rose in surprise.
“I have,” she laughed, “but it is a far memory.”
“Has she really?” Bilbo asked with glittering eyes, and Lindir nodded.
“Indeed. Lady Yara lived in Aman during the Noontide of Valinor. Her age is only matched in Middle-Earth today by Glorfindel, Círdan, and the Lady of Lórien.”
Yara sat down while Lindir and Bilbo continued to converse in Westron, and from the excited looks Bilbo was giving her she could only assume Lindir was telling him of her past, both recent and ancient. Then she saw the halfling blush as he took out a folded letter, and Lindir passed it to her with a soft smile.
“He tells me he feels foolish now,” he told Yara, “for daring to give advice to one so ancient and wise, but he hopes you will not judge him too harshly when you read his letter.”
“I shall cherish it,” Yara said warmly and fixed her eyes on Bilbo’s, “and any advice it contains. For I find elves today have grown cautious, and are wont to guide me not one way or another.”
Bilbo gave her a nervous chuckle, but seemed to relax a little after that.
“Though I am happy to find you both here,” said Yara, “it was you, Lindir, that I was searching for. I spoke to Elrond of the possibility of me dancing again for the court, and he told me that I should speak with you about it.”
“Would you really?” Lindir exclaimed gaily. “I dared not hope! Oh, Yara, I shall give you every opportunity to dance for us. However, I must correct you on one point. In Imladris there is no court. All who live here and all who visit are afforded the same courtesy. You will perform, if you are willing, for any who wish to attend.”
“All the better,” smiled Yara.
“Did you understand that, Bilbo?” Lindir called to the hobbit. “She will dance for us again!”
While Lindir launched into another excited monologue—and Yara could only commend Bilbo for his ability to at least look attentive—Yara’s eyes wandered around the library. For all its vastness it seemed to her particularly empty and silent.
“Oh, Yara, I am sorry,” Lindir said, and Yara turned back to the company, “I forgot you cannot understand Westron. I was just saying tha…”
“Lindir,” Yara interrupted, “where is everyone? Where are the scribes and the archivists? The librarians?”
“We have three librarians,” Lindir replied, “but that is all. One is always on duty. Would you like me to call for her?”
“No,” Yara replied pensively, “that is not needed. It is just, in Himring we had a much smaller library, but there were always scribes there working to copy and preserve the texts. I did a lot of that work myself, and I remember we were always trying to keep up with the decay. Surely here, in such a moist and changeable climate, there would be much need to preserve the texts.” Lindir frowned.
“There has never been such a need for so long as I have lived here,” he replied. “The texts keep, unless handled very often. The only work of the librarians is to keep order, and file new documents correctly.”
Yara frowned more deeply, but dropped the subject.
“Lady Yara,” Bilbo said, and she found her frown disappearing at once at the sound of his friendly voice, “could I request of a song from your home?”
Yara hesitated. She was not sure what home exactly he was referring to, but even though she suspected he would like a song from Valinor, the word ‘home’ had made her think of Damascus first. It saddened her a little, that the place furthest from her was still closest to her heart, but in the end she relented to Bilbo’s request.
“Very well,” she said with a playful smirk, “although it is not in Quenya, so I will have to provide you with a translation at a later time. It was one of my father’s favourite travelling songs.
“Good morning starshine
The earth says hello
You twinkle above us
We twinkle below
Good morning starshine
You lead us along
My love and me as we sing
Our early morning singing song
Gliddy gloop gloopy
Nibby nobby nooby
La la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba dabba
Le le lo lo
dooby ooby walla
dooby abba dabba
Early morning singing song
Good mornin' starshine
There's love in your skies
reflecting the sunlight
in my lover's eyes
Good morning starshine
so happy to be
My love and me, as we sing
Our early morning singing song
Gliddy gloop gloopy
Nibby nobby nooby
La la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba dabba
Le le lo lo
dooby ooby walla
dooby abba dabba
Early morning singing song
Singing a song
Laughing a song
Song song song
Sing sing song”
Yara could barely keep from laughing through the song, especially when she saw how seriously her audience was listening, not knowing that most of what she was singing was absolute nonsense. She could see her father in the car beside her, and she had to blink over her smile to keep away the tears, although they were both of joy and of sorrow. He had always been a hippie at heart, Sayyid Haddad.
It was late at night when Yara finally returned to her room. She was happy and tired all at the same time. Both Bilbo and Lindir had commended her singing, although she thought Lindir might have picked up on the nonsense-bit despite the lyrics being in an unknown language. Not that he had anything to put against it, what with what silliness most of the elves around the city used to sing.
Bilbo had fallen asleep in his chair not long after that, but she had stayed with Lindir a good while, listening to his plans for the harvest feast. It seemed like it was going to be a large and wonderous feast, and Yara had no complaints about that. The only thing she didn’t like about it was the fact that she had to go to Bronwor the next day and ask him to craft at least one new pair of shoes for her—but that was then, and now was now.
She undressed and slipped into bed, but before she lay down she unfolded Bilbo’s letter, and read it in the silvery moonlight.
‘Dear Honourable Lady Yara,
‘I hope you will soon have cause to return to the Shire (for that is the name of our homeland). My nephew Frodo would receive you with joy and show you all such pleasures as are to be found there—although they are not so magnificent as are to be found in many other places. No, we hobbits take delight in a simple life: Good food, close friends, and a song or two. I find I often miss the Shire, despite all the comforts of Imladris, but alas, I fear I will never return there.
‘I came here nigh on seventeen years ago, seeking new experiences. That in itself is not something we hobbits are well known for, but then, I am not like most hobbits, I have learned. And yet, I do understand your predicament, for how ever brave a hobbit I am, I still often long for home. I find the best thing for it, when my homesickness overtakes me, is to write in my book, or sing one of the old songs from home.
‘I am writing, you see, of my travels, but on the side I find myself recording many memories and aspects of Shire-life, and I have found the librarians here most kind, and willing to keep my simple texts in great company among the histories of their own people. It gives me some comfort to know, that after my time, a part of the Shire will be preserved here. It makes me feel less alone, if you understand.
‘So I say, write down your songs, and I shall help you translate them to Sindarin and Westron! Write down your story, and the librarians shall keep it safe. And also, I will always be here to read, and to listen, and to see you dance, if you should like it.
‘Give me some time and I will provide you with a Quenya translation of one of my own songs—I have been working at it for a while.
‘May the stars ever shine upon you!
Yara laughed to herself. So that is why he was so eager to hear her singing! She folded the letter away, and lay down to sleep.
I am beginning to wonder if there are any readers still following this story, who have not read the Silmarillion. Does it make sense to you, or do you feel you need more thorough explanations of the names and places from Yara’s past? Even if not, do you feel it distracts a lot from the flow of the story, for you?
Yara only managed an hour or two of sleep, as usual, and woke up well before dawn. It didn’t bother her like it had used to, instead it felt peaceful and comforting to catch the stars before they were drowned out by the sun. She cleaned herself and prayed, but then she caught herself sitting listlessly on the bed again. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the room—actually, she was quite surprised that they had given such a good room to what had been, at the time, a stranger—but it felt too impersonal, especially after having seen Lindir’s chambers the day before. Her clothes, too, felt estranged from her.
She remembered the rich red of Elrond’s robes, and she could not help but think that she, who was in truth his elder, should be wearing garments just as fine. Soon enough people would know, one way or another, who she was, and she had to live up to that. A part of her longed for it, another part detested it and wanted to remain simply Yara. She knew that wherever her thoughts might take her it made no difference: she was both, and she had to accept it, and live it—so instead of dwelling on that she took up Bilbo’s advice, and started to work on translating the song for him.
The light of dawn was trickling through the windows once Yara was somewhat pleased with her translation, and when she was done adding it to the end of her letter to Bilbo the light was strong and mixed with the sounds of people moving about outside. A longing grew within Yara to go out and meet the morning, and she laughed for it, and the contrast it made to the sorrowful attitude she had held for so long before. She would be heading to Bronwor first, she decided, to get the unpleasant business out of the way, and then she could have breakfast with Bilbo without the prospect of engaging with her past looming in the future.
She took her time walking through Imladris, trying out the name of ‘home’ as it might imply to this new place. Somehow, it didn’t seem to fit. Not that she didn’t like the place; it was beautiful, calming, and it certainly had a sense of familiarity to it, but it was far from anything she would have considered hers. So it was with a trickle of melancholy in her optimism that she knocked on Bronwor’s door, the sound ringing loud in the calm of the early hours.
“My lady,” he said with a bow of his neck once he had opened the door.
“I have come to take you up on the offer to make me something more sturdy than sandals,” Yara said, finding her voice again taking on a more commanding tone, even though she did not consciously intend it to.
“Certainly,” Bronwor replied, and stepped aside. Yara entered his little workshop, finding it looking rather different in the grey light of morning, the air colder and yet the atmosphere warmer. She could see her sneakers on a shelf behind his workbench, the sole ripped completely off the broken one, the tongue poking forward and the laces loose, as if it had been well examined. She smiled at the sight, and did not let it fall from her face when Bronwor faced her again.
“I should like some sturdy boots,” she said, “suitable for use in the stables and such. A pair of proper shoes, for about the house, and some boots or shoes for walking in the forest. Does it get well cold here in autumn and winter? Because in that case perhaps some of your lovely fur creations might be in order.”
“The weather is far milder than it was at Himring, my lady,” Bronwor replied, and Yara thought she could discern a nostalgic glimmer in his eyes. “There will be no need for fur. But let us look at some options for leathers, and perhaps fabric for the shoes? I have a small supply of weaves, but if you want them to match some other garment I will happily work with what the dressmakers might supply.”
“I have not spoken to the dressmakers yet,” Yara confessed. “I thought it best to start at the familiar end.” Bronwor gave her a crooked smile, as if he was a bit uncomfortable at being referred to as ‘familiar’, and then he went to fetch the leather samples.
Yara felt the textures of the materials rather than looked at them. She already knew she would prefer black for the leathers, and blue for the shoes. Blue had always been her colour, one of the few things which had rang true both for her life as Yara and as Ecyáwen. As her fingers slipped over the strong blue silk a clear memory came to her, of standing on the rocks outside Himring, her eyes on the distant grey mist to the north, waiting for her father to return from one of his patrols. She had been wearing blue then, blue and red, and a white fox’s fur around her shoulders. Her hair had caressed her cold cheeks, and it had been as soft as the fabric now under her fingers.
“I spoke to Elrond,” she said once she had picked out the samples. Bronwor did not answer, his back turned as he prepared further details for Yara to pick out. She continued. “He calls me sister now, and I call him brother. Were you in my uncle’s and father’s service, when Elrond was in their care?”
Bronwor stayed his motions for just a moment, and then turned around with examples of tooling, options for lacing, and other ornaments and patterns. His expression was not changed but Yara could sense the shadow in his mind. She remained silently waiting for an answer while she decided what she wanted, but not until she handed him her choices and met his eyes did he respond.
“After your kin abandoned Himring I did not see any of them again,” he said, and his voice was pained. “Not until the Second Age, when I dwelled in Lindon, by the coast. There I saw your brother, only once and in passing.” Yara’s lips parted ever so slightly in thoughtful surprise, but Bronwor was already bending down to take her measurements.
“Did he dwell there?” she asked breathlessly.
“He did not,” Bronwor answered. “I do not know why he visited, but he came and went fast, and not many, even among those who dwelt there, knew it.”
Yara sank into deep thought, and said nothing more. Many questions came to her mind, of what business her brother had had in Lindon, who he had seen there, from whence he had come and where he had gone to—but she did not think Bronwor had the answers. She was sure Elrond would have told her already, had he known, and if he didn’t, probably no one else in Imladris did.
“That is all I need, my lady,” Bronwor said as he stood up. “Which pair would you like me to finish first?” Yara shook herself from her thoughts, her posture straightening and her eyes clearing.
“The work boots, I think,” she answered. “I shall need them most—but the shoes need to be done before the feast of Yavanna.”
“All will be done by then,” Bronwor answered with a nod. “I will come to you when the first pair is ready.”
Yara smiled cheerfully, and gave him a big thumbs up. Bronwor frowned sternly at the erect digits, his expression very similar to the one he had worn when her sneakers had eluded him. Yara laughed, loud and clear, but his expression only hardened.
“Thumbs up,” Yara explained and held them closer to his face. “It means ‘great, good, yes’.”
Very slowly and carefully Bronwor lifted his broad and stained hands, and in one smooth motion imitated the gesture.
“This is not a Noldorin sign,” Bronwor murmured, his eyes travelling between their thumbs.
“I think it was Roman, originally,” Yara chirped through her continued chuckles, “but that’s a story for another time, I think.” She retracted her thumbs, and with a wave—a gesture which they were thankfully both familiar with—she left the puzzled man to his thoughts.
The sun had yet to rise properly above the ridge of the Misty Mountains, but the warmth fell over the river and great swaths of glittering mist rose through the levels of Imladris. Yara ventured on new paths on her way to the garden, up behind the House, among trees she had only glanced at a distance from outside Lindir’s rooms. Night seemed to stay longer there below the boughs, and no birds sung in the thick mists, but there was warmth and comfort still, as if a memory of the Elder Days lingered among the ancient oaks and beeches. Yara took her time walking over the moss-covered paths, and she found that here the scent of her perfume was echoed in reality. She closed her eyes and breathed deep.
“You are trespassing.”
The voice cut clear through the mist, and yet it was smooth, and dangerous. Yara kept her eyes closed, but she could not keep the edges of her mouth from curling in anticipation of seeing the woman such a voice could belong to.
“I passed no gate or standing stone. Is not the House of Elrond open to all?”
“You passed below an arch and up a stair,” the voice said, now closer.
“I did not see an arch,” Yara answered, finally opening her eyes, “but I blame it on the mist.” She could see nothing for a moment, and then the mist opened to reveal the most beautiful maiden she had ever seen. Her hair was dark as Elrond’s, her eyes shimmering grey like the morning, her dress raining about her as if it was the dew itself running over pale skin. Yara felt the spear of desire through her heart, but if it showed in her eyes the gaze meeting them did not reveal.
“You are Yara, daughter of Maglor,” the woman said, and stepped closer. “Father told me of you. I am Arwen, daughter of Elrond, and you have wandered into my private garden.”
“It was not my intent,” Yara answered, her own voice now slow and dangerous, darker than it had been in Bronwor’s company.
“You are not unwelcome,” Arwen answered.
“And yet not wholly welcome either, I feel,” Yara countered. Arwen laughed, and it was as if the clouds shattered to show the glittering stars.
“Why have you come this way?” she asked. “Your room is on the other side of the house.”
“I was visiting Bronwor, to have some proper shoes fashioned,” Yara answered. “The mist tempted me to take a longer walk back. I was heading for the garden, and then perhaps to find Elrond and ask that I be given some clothes more suited to my stature.” Yara felt that in Arwen’s company she would easily spill every secret of her heart, as long as there were ears to listen. She promised herself silently that she would guard her tongue better in the future—but even as she did she wondered if the promise would be kept.
“Were you not offered gowns upon your arrival?” Arwen asked, and for the first time her gaze fell from Yara’s face, to examine her clothes.
“I was,” answered Yara, “but I am accustomed to looser cuts and longer sleeves.” Arwen gave her a curious look, and stepped closer once again.
“I will take you to see one who can help you, if you wish,” she offered.
“Thank you,” Yara said, and followed the silent steps of Arwen on through the garden, and up further steps among the trees. They came up out of the shadows, the air cleared, and for a moment Yara stopped, her eyes fixed on the bright figure silently walking before her. Was this, she wondered, how her uncle Tyelkormo had felt when he met Lúthien?
The air left her. She remembered now why Bronwor and his kin had not come to their aid in that disastrous battle. Her uncle had taken Lúthien, the King’s daughter, captive, and in revenge King Elwë would send them no help. It seemed to her a foreboding memory, a warning of what paths love untamed might take a wandering soul. She hesitated for a moment, and then continued after Arwen, her eyes lowered and her heart heavy.
Arwen led her up closer to where Lindir lived, but still further below that on the slope, into a rounded building, very old and shadowed by tall trees. Yara waited by the arched doorway as Arwen spoke gaily and with great familiarity with a group gathered there in the half-open space below the light of tall windows facing west.
“They do not speak the old tongue,” Arwen called to her, “but they are willing to help you. Shall I translate?” Yara hesitated, hoping that her blush was not too obvious.
“Would you be able to send for my friend Melmeleth? I should not like to keep a Lady of the House of Elrond occupied with such trivial matters as dressing a guest.” Arwen walked back up to Yara, and examined her with deep, twinkling eyes.
“But you are not a mere guest,” she almost whispered, pausing before she went on. “Yet I understand you will trust your friend to translate better than I. I will go and have her sent for. We shall meet soon again, Yara from beyond the Sea.”
Yara did not recall closing her eyes, but it was as if she blinked and then Arwen was gone, and her heart was empty and cold.
Melmeleth had been close by as always, but it was not Arwen herself who had relayed the message that Yara was waiting for her. Melmeleth got a strange light in her eyes when Yara asked about it, but it soon disappeared, and once fabrics were pulled out from chests and laughing elves began draping them about Yara’s frame any thought of either Melmeleth’s or Arwen’s eyes disappeared for a while.
“I should like a tunic or coat of sorts, of the green,” Yara commanded, quite enjoying how excitedly subservient the small crowd of elves were. “Fastenings in the front, but a high neck and long sleeves, just like the dress—perhaps with some more movement. I’ve been thinking I should like to continue going to the stables, the horses calm me and it feels more like work than the dancing. Only, I don’t like the prospect of running into Glorfindel again.”
“He is not much in the stables, I should think,” Melmeleth answered after she had translated the relevant parts for the tailors and seamstresses. “You are more likely to run into him around Master Elrond’s study, or about in the forests. It should not matter either way though. You have as much right as him to be in the stables, and you should not let his presence get in the way of your own enjoyment.”
“You are right, of course,” Yara sighed, and then returned her attention to the matters at hand. “I should like hijabs made out of the blue used for the underdress, and the green used for the tunic. Perhaps a black one as well—that fabric there, with the patterned edge.”
“They ask if they might copy the measurements of the one you are wearing,” Melmeleth replied, looking apologetic on their behalf, for the tailors did not seem to understand what they were asking.
“No, they may not,” Yara commanded harshly. “It is but a simple rectangle, about this long,” she measured with her arms, “and this wide.” The atmosphere became awkward for a moment as Melmeleth translated, but then she added some extra sentences which caused all their eyes to at first go wide and then be averted in giggles. Yara gave her an inquisitive look.
“I told them your hair was enchanted,” Melmeleth blushed.
“Why would you say that?” Yara laughed.
“I needed to explain why you would only show it to a lover,” Melmeleth shrugged, blushing even more, “and I did not think you would like me to try and tell them the long story of the truth!”
“But did they even need to know why I would not show it?” Yara frowned.
“They would have spread rumours worse than enchanted hair if I did not explain somehow,” Melmeleth returned. “They know you are from beyond the Sea, and important enough that Lady Arwen herself ordered them to dress you—and Mythiel saw you dancing! Enchanted hair is not so unexpected after all that.”
“Very well,” Yara huffed impatiently, thinking to herself that the truth would have been better—and yet revelling in the thought that myths were being woven around her, myths that might reach the ears of Arwen soon enough.
“One last thing,” Yara said a while later, when the fabrics were being packed away again. “If you could ask them to embroider three red, five-pointed stars on the chest of the green coat?” She borrowed a pen and sketched the stars, marking their placement above her heart. The seamstress agreed, and at the sight of sadness in Yara’s eyes posed no questions.
Yara and Melmeleth walked down towards the garden by the river. Melmeleth could see the melancholy in Yara’s expression too, and after a moment’s hesitation she reached out and took Yara’s hand.
“Why the stars?” she asked.
“My brother Amir fought and died under their flag, the Independence Flag of Syria,” Yara answered plainly. “I should like to wear them in remembrance of him.”
Yara leaned forward to get a better look at Melmeleth’s face as they walked, but her face revealed little more than her short answer.
“What did you think?” Yara frowned.
“I thought it must be the Silmarils,” Melmeleth admitted reluctantly. “Only the red colour confused me—but I think Mythiel thought the same.”
“Oh no,” Yara sighed heavily. “Enchanted hair and Silmarils! I should have realised when I asked that they would mean something different to you.”
“It will make little difference I think,” Melmeleth smiled kindly, “once your true name is known to all.”
Bilbo was nibbling on the remnants of his breakfast and the sun had risen high in the sky once Yara came to give him his letter. She did not linger, but went with Melmeleth to walk further down the riverside, away from the flagged garden paths and away among the trees. She related to her friend how she had come upon Arwen early in the morning, and while she did convey some of the wonder of the experience, she mentioned nothing of the feelings which it had stirred in her heart. Melmeleth made no real comment on the experience either, except laughing a little at Yara getting lost in the mist.
They walked for a good while, turning always a little to the right so that they came round the edge of the settlement, reaching the shore on the northern edge further into the afternoon. It was only then that Yara realised how truly small Imladris was, and how empty it seemed. She could tell the difference now between Noldor and Sindar, and found that most elves whom they encountered were of the latter people.
“Is this what remains of the Noldor?” she whispered, more to herself than anything else, but Melmeleth answered.
“There are some still spread in the wilderness, such as Gildor’s company. There is the Lady of Lórien. Other than that we are few. Most have sailed, and many more will do so. Our time in Middle-Earth is coming to an end.”
“Strange then, that I should be sent back now,” Yara mumbled, and they walked on in silence. The mystery of her appearance in Middle-Earth still spooked Yara, when she thought about it, and she did not want to think that the people she belonged to was now in decline, that the powers of old were waning. The more she found out about Ecyáwen and her own history, the more it seemed she wanted to forget the gap between past and present, and become more fully the person she had been then.
It was a tempting prospect, she thought as they reached the riverside and stood gazing into the waterfall, to bury the twenty-four years of human life below the thousands of years of elvish memory. To be Ecyáwen again, hard as diamond and dark as the depths of the sea. To be strong, untouched by war and death and loss, a Princess of the Noldor and a warrior worthy of Arwen’s love. She laughed quietly at her own presumptuousness, but even as she turned with a smile towards her friend, the temptation remained in her heart.
As if Melmeleth could see into Yara’s mind even without the art of osánwë she reached out for Yara’s hands and with a playful laugh she pulled them both down onto the grass, their rolling down the small slope shaking off any thoughts at all, until they stopped further down, in the shadows of a few birches on the edge of Imladris.
“Can you tell me a story?” Melmeleth asked. “A story or a song I have never heard before?”
Yara considered for a while, her eyes searching around her for some hint of what story she might share. She caught sight of a lizard, glowing red and yellow as it heated itself on the rocks by the river, and with a laugh she began to tell the story of Mulan, as well as she could remember it. Melmeleth listened intently, even when Yara got lost in the details or sang the songs in Arabic—more for her own joy than her friend’s.
“I’m sorry,” Melmeleth interrupted when Yara was describing the appearance of the leader of the Huns, “but are you saying he was helped by an eagle, even though he served the darkness?”
“I’m not sure he served the darkness,” Yara frowned. “They were all of the race of men, fighting amongst each other, and living in far off lands to the east. Don’t men here train falcons and hawks?”
“I don’t think so,” Melmeleth answered. “I have not seen it, but then, I know little of such things. I have never passed east of the Misty Mountains—perhaps far in the east even some of the noble birds have fallen to shadow and evil. But let us not thinks of such things, continue with the story!”
Yara did so with some reluctance at first, her own mind being filled with questions of what evils lay in the east, but as Melmeleth’s excitement grew and the sun moved further into the west she became immersed again in the story of Mulan, and fell into long and imaginative descriptions of the Emperor’s Palace and the final defeat of the Huns.
“I wonder if it is so among the men of Middle-Earth as well,” Melmeleth said as they descended into the city again, hunting for supper, “that women are not allowed to fight for their own freedom.”
“There were women of the race of men in the armies who fought with us in my last battle,” Yara answered, “but that was long ago, and how it is now I cannot tell.”
“I hope they are not forbidden to fight,” Melmeleth said, a darkness coming over her that could not be explained by the westering sun. “I am worried by the rumours of darkness rising, and there are not enough elves left, I fear, to hold it at bay.”
“Are there not elves further east?”
“There are,” Melmeleth said, and as they passed through the city and into the dining hall of Elrond’s house she told Yara of the Kingdom of Thranduil, and what little she knew of the realm of Lothlórien. “They say it is Galadriel who is the Lady of the Wood,” she whispered, and poured wine in both their glasses, “Artanis, I think you would know her as.”
Yara would have protested the wine, but at the sounding of another familiar name from her past she forgot momentarily about the drink. She felt at first a bolt of joy at knowing there were other remnants of the Elder Days still around, but it was soon replaced with the bitterness of their last parting, and a feeling of fear at the threat Artanis might pose to her own power, whatever it might be or become. For it was still there, the silent and persistent longing for her former greatness, and forgetfulness of her recent past.
“I should like water, not wine,” she mumbled once she returned to the present.
“Ai, yes,” Melmeleth giggled, “explain this to me now! Long have I wondered why you refuse the sweet wines we have offered you!”
“It is against my beliefs to muddle my mind with drink,” Yara shrugged.
“But this is not potent enough for that,” Melmeleth protested. “This side of the sea only the wines of Dorwinion can affect an elvish mind, and those are not well enjoyed in Imladris—although last I was here Lindir told me Elrond’s sons keep a store of it, hidden away.”
Yara scoffed with laughter, but said nothing and made no movement for either wine nor water.
“Come,” Melmeleth urged her, “take but a taste. Surely you have missed the taste of wine on your tongue!”
Yara sighed deeply. She had missed it, once she had remembered the sweet drinks of Yavanna’s feasts under the light of the Trees, and even though she doubted the wine of Imladris would live up to that taste, she gave in, and put the glass to her lips. Even as she did so she felt a sting of self-betrayal, because even if this wine would not affect her, it was still wine, and she was walking a thin line. She took a small sip, and she could see the expectation in Melmeleth’s eyes. Only because of that did she finish the glass as they ate, for the taste was nothing as sweet as her memories.
It felt good, at least, to eat where others too were dining. None came while they were there whom she recognised, but then, she did not yet know many people in Imladris. All of them, however, seemed to give her long looks, and she caught whispers in Sindarin that she cursed only because she could not understand them. She said nothing of it while they were inside, because she didn’t know who among them could understand Quenya, but once they passed out from the house she turned to Melmeleth with steely eyes.
“What were they saying about me in there, when they stared and whispered?”
“The tale of your enchanted hair has spread,” Melmeleth mumbled below a fierce blush. “Some must have overheard your singing earlier as well, for they said you had come with strange songs from over the sea.”
“At least there was no talk of Silmarils,” Yara conceded with a relieved sigh. They stood for a while on the road to the garden, saying nothing as the sun set. Then the stars began to appear above them, and Yara laughed at the sound of a familiar melody rising from many of the elves in the garden below.
Ambar equë Aiya!
Or tintilyë calima
Nu tintillmë canya
Melmënya a inyë lindammë
Lindamma lindë artuilë
Gliddy gloop gloopy
Nibby nobby nooby
La la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba dabba
Le le lo lo
dooby ooby walla
dooby abba dabba
Linda lindë artuilë”
“I see Bilbo did not wait long to share my translation with his friends,” Yara laughed.
“I fear he did not have to share it beyond my brother’s ears,” Melmeleth said, pointing to Lindir’s familiar face among the trees. Yara laughed as she met his distant eyes, and followed Melmeleth down towards him, joining in the second verse.
Imi hen melissë
Melmënya a inyë lindammë
Lindamma lindë artuilë
Gliddy gloop gloopy
Nibby nobby nooby
La la la lo lo..."
Let me just say that the Quenya translation of "Good morning Starshine" was not the reason for this chapter taking a few weeks longer than usual - it was actually finished long before the rest. If anyone is interested I've posted the full translation, with English, here: https://archiveofourown.org/works/18287459
Chapter 15: The Feast of Yavanna
The song in this chapter is 'No Deeper We Can Fall' by Elias. Give it a listen before you read to fully appreciate its role in the text: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-VtbycIDVc
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It had become a habit for Yara to eat supper with Melmeleth before the dining hall became crowded, and then slip away to her room in the light of the setting sun. She was waiting for the day when she would not be embarrassed to seek out Arwen again.
Try how she might, she couldn’t shake the image from her mind of the Lady in the Morning Mist, of that chance encounter that she didn’t want to attribute to chance. She wondered what Arwen had said to her father of it, but she would never dare ask Elrond. She had only seen him once, in passing in the garden. He had been speaking to Bilbo—who had not yet replied to Yara’s last letter—but Elrond’s eyes had been on her, deep like wells, sharp like spears.
Yara shook the image from her mind and sat down by her little table. She took out the box of perfume and held it open to her nose. Closing her eyes she let the image of Arwen fill her mind, more real than any memory and yet not real enough.
There was a knock on her door, and she quickly shut the lid and put the fantasy away.
“Yes?” she called out.
“It is Bronwor,” came a deep voice from the hallway. “I bring your boots and shoes.”
Bronwor entered, but looked uncomfortable at finding himself in her bedroom. He gravitated towards the windows, through which both the starlight and distant elf-song trickled in.
“The boots I could have given you earlier today,” Bronwor admitted as he handed them to her, “but there was so little work left on the shoes I thought it better to wait and give them to you at the same time. I hope you do not mind.”
“Not at all,” Yara said absentmindedly, her eyes travelling over the spidery silver lines adorning the leather. She sat herself on the bed and began to lace the boots, which rose high on her shins, and the feeling of them distracted her, for the time being, from the shoes Bronwor placed before her. Her fingers traced over her ankles—the leather was so soft she could feel every bone and tendon through it, and yet she did not doubt that it would keep off all dirt and wet she might encounter in the stables. She stood up and faced Bronwor with a smile.
“I feel I am myself again,” she said, rolling a little on her feet.
“Certainly my own work does not elude me as your sneakers did,” Bronwor replied, slowing at the foreign word. His eyes travelled over her, but Yara didn’t notice, too absorbed by her own feet and the shoes she now noticed. She had already received a few of the less complicated garments from the seamstresses, and was dressed in black leggings and a blue tunic edged with silver. Around her hips was a braided leather belt, of Bronwor’s make but worn soft with age—a gift from Galdor, in apology of his mistrust, handed over quickly in a hallway. Bronwor’s eyes halted at the sight of the dagger of Êgraen’s make, and before he could check his tongue he spoke again, soft like a whisper.
“I can see again the lady I serviced of old.”
Yara peered up at him from below raised eyebrows, and as their edges disappeared below the swaths of fabric of her new hijab he regretted his words.
Yara held in her hands the new shoes, which she would wear at the meal of the feast of Yavanna, but the joy she had felt at handling them had fallen to give way to cold walls against Bronwor’s statement—however true it was.
“I am happy with your work,” she said sternly, “but make sure the walking boots are not so stiff in the soles.”
Bronwor’s gaze fell, and with a bow he left.
As the door closed Yara inhaled sharply. Her eyes were fixed on the light of the stars, but she wished she could have shut out the singing. It was as if with every step she took towards becoming the elf-maiden she dreamed of being, sadness and sorrow held her back. She had thought less and less about the life she had been forced to leave behind, and she did not ponder the mystery of her time on Earth. The fear and the hurt built walls inside her, and every time she awoke from sleep she was dismayed that no new dreams or visions had come to rip them down.
She shook off the thoughts and with a deep breath made her way towards the stables. The horses would be sleeping, but it did not matter: Awake or asleep, Elu would not say anything to stir her mind.
Melmeleth was sitting with her brother on the step outside his door, the warm sun of the last month of summer beaming down on them. Through the weeks since their arrival in Imladris most things that needed saying between them had already been said, but they were happy to be together nonetheless, enjoying a rare moment of silence, until at length Lindir spoke.
“How do you think she will look, once she is in her fine raiment, sitting at the high table, lit by shining lamps at the feast of Yavanna?”
“Not like the girl we brought with us from Mithlond, that much I know,” Melmeleth answered, and though her voice bore a sense of pride, her melancholy eyes belied it. Lindir was not looking at them, though, but away towards the halls wherein he longed to see Yara dance.
“She already looks different,” Lindir answered. “She walks different, and her eyes seem darker—filled with songs of memory that were not there before. Bilbo is nervous about replying to her letter, and I am afraid the rumour of enchanted hair has not helped. Only Glorfindel and Master Elrond himself seem to scoff at the thought.”
“And Galdor,” Melmeleth added. “He asked me if I would not make for Mithlond soon again now that she is out of danger; he wanted me to bring a message to Círdan, but he would not say what until he knew if I would go.”
“And you will not?”
“Not yet,” Melmeleth replied pensively. “I am acting more as a translator than a healer, perhaps, but I still fear for Yara, in some ways.”
A silence followed, and Lindir turned to look at his sister’s face, his eyes searching.
“She may be coming out of her room more,” Melmeleth explained, “but I feel she is still withdrawn. She does not talk freely of her past, even now that she remembers more of it, and she does not smile much. Her time is spent in the stables, or in her room, and when she is with me she asks often that we retreat to some hidden corner.”
“When she is with me she is burning,” Lindir said, and his eyes went far away again. “Or I should say; when she is dancing, she is burning. Between the music she says little, but in her movements she bares everything. I fear my talk of her dancing has contributed to Bilbo’s hesitancy in writing to her, but once he sees it again and remembers how openly she shares herself I hope his fear will go away.” There was another short silence. “Perhaps,” Lindir continued, “if you were to come and see her tonight some of your fears might be lifted. The minstrels will be there, rehearsing together with us for the first time, so I do not think she would be put off by your presence.” Melmeleth shook her head.
“No, brother,” she sighed. “I will wait for the feast.”
“Are you sure?” Lindir pressed, excited by his own passions as always. “’Tis a marvel to feel the touch of her stories, glimpses of her past that run out from under swift feet.”
“She gives me glimpses too,” Melmeleth said softly. “Small gestures and words, a song or a touch… Her memory weighs heavy on her, that much is clear.”
“Go then,” Lindir smiled warmly, “and help the seamstresses array her in what beauty they have seen fit for the daughter of Maglor—but you keep your vision secret until the feast, and I will keep mine.”
“Agreed,” Melmeleth answered with a sparkling smirk, kissed her brother on the cheek, and left to help Yara at her final fitting.
Melmeleth could hardly recognise Yara when she came out from behind her screen. She was swathed in midnight blue and heavy petrol brocade, shimmering with all the colours of the moon, her body lithe and elegant and yet covered from the smooth skin of her fingers to the edge of her hardened face; it was in the eyes that the true change sat. Hard and imperious they seemed now, the sorrow glazed over with ice—and yet Melmeleth still saw in them the hidden glow that was not the remnant of The Two Trees, but a flicker of Yara’s humanity, even though Melmeleth didn’t know it was such.
“You are a queen,” she said, and her words were laced with sorrow and pride. “Yet where is your circlet and your sword?”
Yara looked upon her friend with a strange smile upon her lips. She took the compliment, if it could be called such, to heart, but did not know what to make of the question. Was it a call for her to acquire such signs of her stature, or a questioning of the statement they followed? Not that it mattered; she had already decided to ask Elrond for a circlet, and a sword she neither needed nor wanted. Perhaps if Avacaurë would have been available for her to grasp again she would have taken it, but even with all her questions of the purpose of her being there, one possibility she vehemently dismissed: She was not there to fight—or at least, she did not want to be. She had already gotten to know death intimately, and there was nothing left that seemed to her worth to die for.
“So it looks good?” Yara asked instead, and adjusted the knot of the sash about her hips.
“Yes,” Melmeleth answered. “You look as if you have stepped right out from the tales of old.”
“Have I not?” Yara returned, straight faced.
Melmeleth didn’t answer.
“Shit, shit, shit!”
The minstrels all stopped playing, eyebrows raised towards Lindir in questioning worry. Yara saw it, and rolled her eyes at them.
“Tell them not to stop just because I do,” she muttered to Lindir, but he did not immediately translate. “What?” she frowned.
“I don’t think they stopped because you did,” he said. “I think they stopped because you shouted, and because … because they have never seen someone jump like that, dancer or no. Where did you learn that?”
“That was a shitty excuse for a barrel jump, and I’ve never learnt to do that, and that’s why I swore because it’s not working out as I planned.”
Lindir blushed at her use of language. His Quenya was not as fluent as hers, but he still found it hard to comprehend just how freely she used it when she was dancing, throwing sentences together like he had never before thought possible and using words like ‘shit’ to describe things that were far from dirty.
“Let’s just go again from the top,” Yara sighed, when it became obvious that Lindir was not going to translate her explanation. He nodded to the minstrels and they went again.
In truth it was more than the botched jump that was bothering Yara. She liked the music and the dancing, she really did, but she was dancing to the long story of Yavanna’s Trees, beginning with the destruction of The Two Lamps and ending with the Silmarils, her grandfather Fëanor’s greatest creation, being stolen. It was an emotional challenge for her in more ways than one, bringing up memories of her elven and human lives alike, and the ending left a bitter quenching in her stomach. She remembered her grandfather with fondness, deep love even, as a person much more than a legend. When they sang of his refusal to let Yavanna use the Silmarils to heal the trees it was granted not more than a verse, and granted the song was not about Fëanor, but still she felt there was unjust blame placed upon him, his actions given little explanation or justification. What did they know, who had not been there, and not known him, the greatest of all elves?
And here she was, she realised, in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, trying to catch that feeling of defiant anger, love, and pride all in a simple barrel jump. It was impossible, and it would not do. She stopped, her eyes pressed shut as she swallowed the swearwords which rose in her throat.
Five, six, seven, eight—she took up the dance again, and made up her mind to show them some other way, that even at Yavanna’s own feast the name of Fëanor, her kin, could not be glazed over with blame.
Lindir saw the change in her movements after that verse. Stronger they seemed, and further again from the Yara he thought he knew. Perhaps he had been too quick to dismiss Melmeleth’s worries.
Once they were done for the day, and both Lindir and his minstrels had expressed their admiration and praise in many words and sparkling smiles, Yara seemed a little softer again, and Lindir was glad. He had finally been able to convince Bilbo to let Yara have a reply to her letter, but even as Lindir had watched her he had wondered if he should really pass it on; he did not know what the hobbit had written and to the harsh eyes of Lady Ecyáwen no word of Bilbo’s would probably be worthy—but now that she was smiling and happy again he did not hesitate, and held it out for her as the musicians left.
“From Bilbo,” he said, and was happy to see her smile widen as she took it.
“Thank you,” she said. “I was beginning to think he would never reply, even though I knew he must have read mine.”
“Yes, your song proved quite popular with everyone,” Lindir laughed. “Will you not translate more? Perhaps one with more to translate, and less nonsense in-between—not that I disapprove of nonsense, mind you—it has its place, but I should like more to ponder, if you understand.”
“Perhaps,” was Yara’s short answer from behind twinkling eyes. She put the letter away. “I have to see Elrond, do you think he’s hiding in his study as always?”
“It is most likely,” Lindir answered, “and if not there then perhaps about the upper garden somewhere. It is a lovely night for stargazing.” He drew breath as if to ask why she wanted to see Elrond, but then he thought better of it and checked his curiosity. She and Master Elrond were kin, and closer now than Lindir and his master, even if their time together was centuries shorter. He smiled as his eyes followed Yara out the door, and noticed she was headed back to her own room, probably for a change of clothes; so she was not yet quite so comfortable with Elrond as to go see him wearing the plain black cloth—even if it was the clothes she had come across the Sea in.
Yara found Elrond in his study, but from the looks of him he would rather have been out below the stars. He seemed troubled, deep in thought and far away even as he bid her enter. Only once she had closed the door and sat herself beside him did he stir and meet her gaze.
“I am sorry,” he said, “that I have not sought your company. I have thought much about you, but I am weighed by many worries at present.”
“Then worry less about me,” Yara countered, but even though she smiled Elrond could see the strain of it, like a thin sheet covering the truth in her eyes.
“I do worry less, especially now that I see you,” he answered. “There is no doubt now, even for Galdor, about who you are.”
“Then, brother, who am I?” She had asked it with a calm and even voice, but there was that dangerous glow in her eyes, shadow and fire all mingled.
“A Princess of the Noldor,” Elrond answered. “Strong and clear of mind, as beautiful as the westering sun set on its course, and as unstoppable.”
Yara felt deep inside of her a sinking stone, a Silmaril bound for the bottom of the sea. She could not—would not—dispute Elrond’s description, but deep inside something protested at being likened to the setting sun. There was still a feeling of newness within her, of being awakened after a long sleep, and she was not ready to welcome night; there was also, distinctly present but increasingly unwanted, Yara from Damascus, the human girl. She shut down that thought, and returned to the conversation she had come to have.
“Then introduce me as such at The Feast of Yavanna,” she said. “I have been clothed; now crown me, and let me dance again to a song of my own.”
“Is that why you have returned?” Elrond asked, thoughtfully examining her eyes of stone. “To dance and entertain what dwindling number remains of the Noldor in Middle-Earth?”
“Would you deny me the chance, brother?” Yara asked icily, not wanting to linger on the fact that she still did not known why she was truly there.
“Certainly not,” Elrond smiled, expertly deflecting the tension. “But for Lindir’s sake, try not to take too much of the glory.”
Yara laughed, and Elrond was pleased to see her relax a little. She reminded him a lot of his foster-father in her sharp turns of mood through which that commanding gaze prevailed—a commanding gaze she had not had before she remembered. He sighed, and his smile fell away.
“Yet not all things here decay,” Yara said, her voice now soft and searching. “I have noticed, for instance, that your library is exceptionally well-preserved, with very little work being put into the task.”
For the first time Elrond looked away. He had been thinking about this before she knocked, well, not precisely that question, but that he wanted to speak to Mithrandir about Yara, about her return and how much they should share with her; of what part she had to play in the events now unfolding. But Mithrandir had not been seen for a long time, and Elrond felt his distance weigh heavily on his own mind.
“Brother?” Yara pressed.
“Tell me,” he requested, still looking out the window as if Mithrandir might appear any moment, “how well did you know your cousin Telperinquar?”
“I knew him well,” Yara answered, frowning, “but he was closer to my brother, I think. What has he to do with your library?”
“Very much, as it comes to it,” Elrond said and turned again to meet her gaze, “but the tale is long and I think it should be told at a later time.”
“And if I ask someone else to tell it?” Yara said, almost threateningly. “Melmeleth would perhaps know it—she told me that Artanis is still here, by the way—or I might ask Arwen, who I assume has learnt much lore from you.” Elrond shot her a fatherly smile.
“They would be able to tell you much,” he admitted, “but not the tale in its entirety. Be patient, and try instead to find some hint as to the purpose of the twists in your own tale. As for Artanis, or Galadriel, we should say; she would be able to tell you even more than I, but she is not here. Would you seek her?”
“Nay,” Yara scoffed. “I would rather seek Círdan, whom I suspect would be more willing than either of you to speak to me,” at this a strange glint flickered through her eyes, and Elrond saw it, “but as it is I am not so desperate. I shall remain here for a while, and try my brother’s patience.”
Elrond laughed, but Yara could tell it was not as light as it could have been. She looked away. These strange fits of defiance she experienced seemed to come from nowhere, blossoming into harsh words. She had not always been so. Not in Aman, and not on Earth. Perhaps it was being east of the Sundering Seas that sparked the darkness in her, or perhaps it was something else.
“I will leave you to your thoughts,” she said, taking his hand in an effort to be more comforting. “I will not seek you out again before the feast, but if you would lend me a circlet—”
“I will give you one,” Elrond answered plainly.
Yara’s mouth opened and closed, and then she smiled, looking, for a short moment, childish and thankful. She squeezed his hand, and got up to leave.
“Sister,” Elrond called softly from his seat just before she opened the door. “I am glad to see you strong and willing to name yourself openly, but … remember that here few know who you were, and none expect you to be the same.”
Yara didn’t sleep that night. Granted, there wasn’t that much left of it once she got back from her conversation with Elrond, but still she had made it a habit to lay down every evening; if not because she was tired then because she had a secret longing for another dream with that soft-spoken voice, telling her what the meaning of it all was—but such dreams didn’t seem to want to come, and now she had a weightier matter on her mind.
Bilbo’s letter had been long, winding its way through both stories of the Shire and what tales he knew from the Elder Days (surprisingly many, Yara found out—he must be spending more time in the library than only his meetings with Lindir). He had ended with a translation of one of his own songs into Quenya, and then, right below it, and invitation and an offer:
‘I would teach you the melody, and many others, if you would consent to sit with me and my dwarven friends in the Hall of Fire at the feast of Yavanna. I have explained to them our little misunderstanding, and now that they know you have fought beside their kin they are most anxious to hear your tale in full. I have already asked Lindir if he would act as a translator to avoid any further misunderstandings. Glóin is a great friend of mine, and his son is a most honourable man. They are both eager to make amends for their misjudgement.
This, she gathered, was one of the reasons he had held back his letter after hearing glorified rumours about her. Yara knew it would be good to meet them, to show them her true self and quench any further side talk or ill-will, and yet still something about it made her feel unsure of herself, and she did not like it. But the dawn came, and she made up her mind—with the light came curiosity, and she was growing more eager to learn of the world as it was beyond Imladris, to see what it might say of her own purpose. She wrote an answer, and made a mental note to ask both Melmeleth and Lindir to be there to translate. With her mind made up she took a drink of water and gathered some fruits in her pockets; some for her own breakfast, and some for Elu and any other horse with a mind for treats, except of course Asfaloth, who never came up to her anyway.
Elu woke when she stepped over the fence. He was huddled with some other horses below a few trees—Asfaloth was among them, Yara noticed—but he happily came over to greet her. There were other elves in the stables as well, but they paid little notice of Yara, even as she began to talk to Elu in Arabic.
“You shouldn’t hang around with that one,” she muttered with a dark glance towards the sleeping white steed. “He’s making himself out all fancy, when really it’s you that’s the best. Besides, before you know it we’ll be heading back to Mithlond, and you’ll never see that horse again. Not that I think we’re leaving anytime soon, but I sort of feel it in my bones, you know? I don’t belong here, Elu, and neither do you, no matter how nice everyone here is to us.”
She gave him half an apple and he followed her inside for his daily grooming.
“I would very much like to take her with me when we go though,” Yara continued, whispering even though no one could understand her. “You know who. I’ve only seen her once, but I can’t stop thinking about her. Have you ever felt like that? Probably not, you being a gelding and all… Or maybe you can still love? You love me, right?” He rubbed his head on her arm. “Yes, yes you do.”
There was a knock on Yara’s door, and she frowned. She had just been about to begin getting ready for the feast, but luckily at least she was still dressed. She called for whoever it was to enter, the frown still lingering on her face, but disappearing instantly at the sight of Arwen in the moonlit doorway.
“I come with a gift from my father,” Arwen said, her voice soft and musical, and when she entered Yara could see that she was carrying something wrapped in soft cloth. “Ada said you might have seen it before.”
“Ada?” Yara asked.
“It is Sindarin for father.”
“Ah, yes, of course,” Yara answered with a blush, feeling silly for not having caught the meaning of a word so close in sound to Quenya. She held out her hands for the gift and as she had expected she felt the outline of a circlet through the cloth. After placing it on her table she unfolded the cloth and then stood staring for a long while, speechless. She had seen it before, many times, on her father’s head. Memories came rising from the dark recesses of her mind, of the silver line of mithril against her father’s black hair. It was a simple thing, but it was ancient, a gift from her uncle Carnistir, crafted by the dwarves in ages past. She laughed a dry laugh, and wondered to herself if she should tell the dwarves she was meeting that evening. Perhaps they would recognise the craft of their own kin.
“He has kept it all this time,” she whispered, for a moment forgetting that Arwen lingered behind her.
“So you do know it?” Arwen asked softly. Yara stirred from her thoughts, and turned around, meeting those dusky eyes with darkness of her own.
“It was my father’s. I should have thought all things of his were long gone, together with the true memories.”
“There are still those who remember him as he truly was,” Arwen said, and Yara felt the warmth of compassion run through her body even at a distance, so sweet was that voice. “Father speaks of him seldom, but when he does there is naught but love in his voice. I think he keeps many memories for himself, that few others get to know.”
Yara smiled sorrowfully at that, and said nothing even when Arwen left.
At first Yara placed the circlet gingerly on top of her hijab, but even without looking in her mirror she could tell it neither looked or felt good. She craved the feeling of the metal in her hair, close to her skin, a whisper of the memory of her father’s fingers running across her head. She unpinned the fabric and let it fall about her shoulders, and then pushed the circlet down on her head with eyes closed. It was not enough of a memory; the metal was cold as death against her skin, and she had to remind herself that her father was still alive somewhere, perhaps.
It felt good, for some reason, to wrap fabric over the circlet, hiding everything but the sharp point glinting on her forehead. Hiding the most intimate of her memories, those which she still wanted to keep for herself. She sat down by her table, and looked into the mirror. She recognised herself instantly, and yet she felt as if she was seeing herself from across a dark chasm, a distant and unknown spectre of something which might have been her, and then it might not. As her eyes reached the point where the mithril disappeared under midnight fabric she remembered that indeed one of her fathers was truly dead, forever gone, cold as the metal she now crowned herself with. It took stern and lordly determination to push the tears back with the memory of his kind smile.
Yara was among the first to arrive at the banquet, and she thought it a good thing, until she was led to her seat and found that until Elrond arrived and took his seat on her right, her only company was Glorfindel. Her face set, and she searched the slowly filling room for any other familiar face to look at. They moved over Bilbo, Lindir, and a few others whose names she did not know—but they lingered nowhere for long. In her mind Glorfindel’s expression was smug, but had she actually turned to meet his gaze she would have found his eyes pleading. Not that she would have necessarily approved of that either; her mind was hardened with nervous expectation, and she found that even Melmeleth, when she arrived, could not hold her gaze for long.
Only one managed it: Arwen, arriving at last by the side of her father, met Yara’s eyes with warmth and—dared she hope?—love. Elrond’s daughter was led to her seat out of Yara’s field of vision, on Elrond’s other side, and the moment passed. Only then Yara became aware of Elrond’s strong presence beside her, and she looked to him, but he remained standing, and the room fell silent. After a few short words of greeting he paused, and indicated with his arm to Yara, who turned rigid beside him, her eyes coldly fixed on the table in front of her, trying to make out what few words she could from his Sindarin speech.
“Many of you have noticed the continuing arrival of many guests in Imladris. One of them has remained hitherto unnamed. Tonight she takes her proper seat at my side. Lady Yara, who has returned to us from across the Sundering Seas. I say returned, for in the First Age of this world she was known by another name: Lady Ecyáwen of Himring, daughter of Maglor, son of Fëanor. For as long as she now remains in Imladris she remains my honoured guest, and I afford her all the privileges and duties of being a member of my House.”
At hearing her old name spoken, so clearly followed by her father’s and grandfather’s, Yara had inhaled and held her breath. When Elrond stopped speaking she could hear the pounding beat of her heart in her chest, and to distract herself she looked out on the listening faces. Her gaze met instantly with deep brown eyes set in Bronwor’s strong face, and despite his blank expression she felt as if he was reading deep into her mind, seeing too far below her cold expression and into the conflict of her soul. For even now as she sat there, crowned and named, a glorious relic of the Elder Days, there was the human part of her that whispered, deep in her heart, that she was nothing more than a lost girl from Damascus. She looked away, and met Elrond’s eyes instead, smiling at her with warm pride as he sat down.
Sitting at the high table proved to be both anticlimactic and empowering all at the same time. It did feel good, in a way, to be able to look out on the crowds below and know that she no longer had any reason to be nervous or feel out of place. She was accepted, admired even, if somewhat warily—and yet it was not so magnificent as she had imagined it to be. Not only was she still very uncomfortable with being seated next to Glorfindel, but she quickly realised everyone was speaking Sindarin and she could hardly make out more than a word here and there. Now and then Elrond would lean in and ask her some question or make a polite remark in Quenya, but there was no real conversation and Yara quickly shrunk back in her seat.
“You seem far away.”
Yara’s head looked to her left and saw Galdor leaning back in his chair on the other side of Glorfindel. Yara shrugged listlessly.
“You’ll learn Sindarin soon enough,” Galdor tried, his face alert and friendly. “You picked up Quenya very quickly, after all.”
Yara frowned over her laugh, a bit confused by Galdor’s, to her mind, uncharacteristic attempt at humour. He smiled, winked, and leaned forward again. She was thankful for Galdor’s friendliness, but wished deeply that it had been Arwen leaning back to smile at her instead.
Yara was relieved when the meal was over and the crowd made their way to the Hall of Fire. On the way she snuck aside to quickly discard the heavy overdress she was wearing, and change to her pointe shoes. They were, she noticed as she tied the ribbons with expert speed, beginning to look rather battered. A problem for a later time; she slipped down the hall again to meet up with Lindir and his minstrels.
“Everyone is quite ready for us,” he said, and Yara heard a distinct tremor of excitement on his voice that she had never heard before. Her smile widened gleefully for just a moment, and just as they turned to pass through the door she patted him encouragingly on the back.
The crowd was already rapt with attention as they entered—even a few of the more carefree elves of Silvan heritage stopped exchanging flower wreaths and turned to face the empty floor in front of the fire. Already all nervousness had fallen away from Yara. Not only was she still wearing her circlet, but she could also feel her phone pressed fast against her breast beneath her dress, heralding the self-constructed triumph she was expecting. But first; The Song of Yavanna and The Two Trees.
The song begun in deep, slow, dragging notes, the only light being Lindir’s piercing clear voice above it all. She let him lead into the melody for a good while, standing ready in a corner until she could feel and see the darkness it was describing. Then, as everything seemed at its most shadowy thickness, she burst forth, and so did the music, and it was to everyone as if in that great leap the light of Laurelin and Telperion filled the room. Only distantly did Yara note the collective sigh of awe, but her eyes burned with pride and pleasure, and she gave in to the music and the story.
Finally the song arrived at the point of Fëanor’s refusal, and the dreaded barrel jump in which she had previously attempted to capture all of her grandfather; but now that she knew that she would have the last word on him in just a little while she did not put so much into that single movement, and it passed smoothly and gracefully, as a curtain lifted by the wind to show the first trickle of dawn in the distance—and Yara knew what would come with the sunrise.
There were those in the crowd though, who saw the tremble of energy that had run through Yara at the mention of Fëanor. Glorfindel saw it and recognised it and feared it; it brought to life within him a distant feeling of dread, a sorrow for all that had been and a loving panic at what destruction Yara might yet bring upon herself. Bronwor saw it and it was to him the crack of a whip in the air, the disturbing of dust in a room long since shut. And Arwen saw it, but she did not know yet what it made her feel.
The song ended, and Yara was breathing heavily below her beaming smile. The crowd was delighted, that much she could tell without understanding most of their shouts. Her eyes moved over all the faces she knew, and all the warmth and love that she found in them surprised her. She had certainly made friends, that much she had been aware of, but now she suddenly had a feeling of family, of deep kinship, a feeling she had not felt so strongly since the last time she had been together with her family in Damascus. Lindir’s arms pulled her into a hug just as that memory was threatening to fade her smile, and all she could do was laugh as he whispered in her ear that she could have danced a Silmaril from Morgoth if she had but tried. Perhaps she should have tried, she thought to herself as the minstrels stepped back, and she took out her phone.
The glow of it felt otherworldly now, precious and distant like starlight—but she didn’t have time to contemplate such things. She found the song she had practiced to in her mind, and put the phone in the same niche on the wall as she had the last time. The room was again silent, and many of the smiles were replaced with tense expectation. The rhythm rose, and everything fell away. The lamenting words of the singer were the melody she chose to move to, but the deep beat moved her heart, and it was with fury and sorrow and fierce love she conjured the images in everyone’s mind.
‘You know it's not a long way to heaven
But I'm reaching for you from beyond
As I speak to your heart, you don't listen
Now you're the reason that I must walk alone
Can you hear me?
Can you hear me crying?
Can you hear me?
Can you hear me cry?’
Images of her grandfather appeared, his face lit up with fire, but not from his forge. It was the hearth of Formenos, around which they had all gathered on so many nights, the heart of their family even as it began to tear at the edges from the lies of Morgoth. They were happy still, and unwavering in their love and their loyalty, but the light in their eyes was tainted, and it was not Fëanor's fault.
‘What are you gonna say when it's all gone?
No, time won't stop here for no one
What are you gonna say when they've all gone?
Feeling like the world is aiming
What are you gonna give when you've already given it all?
And what are you gonna take when you've already taken it all?
I pray when you lay me down
I need the ground
There is no deeper we can fall’
All was dark except the lights in her grandfather’s eyes, burning more strongly than ever before. The trees were dead, a consequence of the Valar's folly, and now they dared place blame on her family. The fire in her heart, the fury of betrayal, spread through the room. To Melmeleth it was a hit in the chest, she lost the ability to breathe. Arwen’s eyes were brimming with tears. Elrond’s eyes closed, but even so he could not escape the visons Yara pressed on them.
‘There's a darkness that follows me down
Ain't no sun in my face and no one's around
What are you gonna give when you've already given it all?
And what are you gonna take when you've already taken it all?
I pray when you lay me down
I need the ground
There is no deeper we can fall’
The ships reached Beleriand in their chase after Morgoth and the Silmarils. A chase no one else dared, or wanted to, take up. Fëanor and his sons were mighty and marvellous and terrible, but they were alone upon the shore of Middle-Earth; the Valar would not aid them, and Yara felt it a great injustice.
‘The feel of your skin
Has got me burning
Our worlds burning
There is nothing that I, nothing that I can do
Oh, it's too late, it's just too late
Now it's too late and there is nothing that I can do’
Fëanor fought alone with the Balrogs, valiantly and feyly and more bravely than anyone in that room could have imagined—even Glorfindel. Fëanor was marvellous in his beauty and power, even though even Yara’s memories could not hide his madness. He burned from within as he died, a great fire rather than a fading; dying as he lived.
‘There is no deeper we can fall’
With the last beat Yara threw herself in a leap so dreadful and powerful with rage and mourning that none were untouched—but then, even as she remained crouched still upon the floor and the last fading notes of the song slipped through the air, another faint memory appeared, that Yara herself did not intend to remember: It was another face entirely. The pale face of a human corpse in a hospital bed. Sayyid Haddad, the last of her family to leave her.
The song ended, the image disappeared, and in the deafening silence that followed Yara retrieved her phone, turned it off, and left the room to change back into her shoes and full gown.
I've decided to try and include mostly Swedish and Syrian/Arabic music in this fic, but I need your help! It's really easy to find lots of Swedish music, but a lot harder to find Syrian/Arabic songs, especially in a format suitable to include in a fic (not too long, preferably with an english translation available). So PLEASE if you have any suggestions, comment or send me an email at deathherselfie (at) outlook.com. Thank you! :)