Nénuwen looked out her cottage window at the path as she chopped freshly washed carrots on her cutting board. Although off the main road that led up to Imladris, the path was well traveled, and she saw her share of visitors. Elrond was a great healer, but everyone knew he obtained his raw materials from her cottage, and the women of the Last Homely House regularly came to her for fragrances and essential oils. The Elf-lord's sons occasionally returned from their errantry with wounds they did not wish their father to see; their adopted brother, the mortal Estel, sometimes rode with them, though he insisted on nursing his own injuries.
And at twilight and dawn, she might catch a glimpse of Elrond's sentries, far more numerous these days, it seemed. At times, glimmering like moonbeams through dark leaves, more brilliant even than the snowy white horse he rode, Glorfindel appeared on the path. A sword was girt at his side, and under his green mantle he sometimes wore mail. Nénuwen had not heard tell of him riding abroad so since the days of the Witch King and the evil Men of Carn Dûm.
"You should move to the fastness of the Last Homely House," he told her.
"And leave my little house and garden?"
The Elf-lord remained stern in the face of her merry laughter; he always seemed more forbidding in the saddle. "Elrond would grant you a plot in which to plant a new garden, if you wished it." His gray eyes took in the house and swept down the path to the shores of the Bruinen beyond. "After the fall of Eregion, Sauron's creatures came up this way, seeking to lay siege to our refuge. They may even have come this far, if my memory serves, before the forces of Khazad-dûm and Lórien took them from the rear."
"War has never been my study, Lord Glorfindel."
Full of strength and joy they said he was, yet Nénuwen rarely saw the joyous side. Then again, many Noldor seemed stern to her, and for their part, they thought her Lindi ways strange and somewhat quaint. Still, his concern was genuine. "Would you have Orcs at your front door, lady?"
Again she laughed. "Imladris is well guarded. I have the utmost faith in Elrond's ability to keep us safe."
"Such things were once said in Nargothrond and Gondolin of old, and a Shadow is growing against which even Elrond's power might not avail us."
The Elf-lord was far more personable when he did not come to her with tidings of gloom, but was rather more interested in finding the right apple or carrot for his horse; wild apples grew a stone's throw from her croft, while her neighbors averred, and quite rightly, that the best carrots in the valley came from her garden. They were always white, his mounts. Over the centuries, it was said, he had had so many that he could no longer tell them apart and had simply taken to calling them all by the same name: Asfaloth.
Talk of shadows and war was something for which she had no interest; it was to her merely a relic of an older, unhappier time. Her father Máramo had fought with Elrond and Gil-galad in the wars of the Second Age, but she had been born many centuries later, during the Watchful Peace. Her parents were gone over the Sea now, though her mother had gone unwillingly and only out of love for Máramo; Tuilindë had been of the Lindi, that other cwenda called the Nandor, and rarely did her people feel the Sea longing.
War was but a distant threat out of story and song. The Shadow would not come here, for she perceived without truly knowing that Elrond kept them safe through a power beyond her ken, and she told Glorfindel as much.
So she continued to dwell in the little cottage where she could hear the bubbling surge of the Bruinen, for like her mother's people she loved the sound and sight of water. Visitors came to her and she went at times on errands to the Last Homely House, so she was not lonely, yet rarely did she see the one whom she most wished to see.
He dwelt in the Last Homely House, one of Erestor's secretaries who toiled in the archives with parchment and ink, and spent his evenings singing in the Hall of Fire. He was not especially beautiful, perhaps even homely to the eyes of the cwenda. The Noldor always seemed so grim to her, as if they carried the sorrow and guilt of Arda upon their shoulders, but in him there was an unabashed joy and wonderment Néruwen did not often see in his kind.
Rarely did he have occasion to walk down to her cottage, but when he did he lingered well past the hour when any other visitor would have gone. He brought beautifully penned labels for her jars and vials, and climbed up on the stool to bring down herbs she needed. Ah, she thought wistfully, perhaps I should turn my talents to making ink, if I but had the materials to hand.
Many times he urged her to join him in the Hall of Fire, but though she went on a few occasions to please him, the stories and songs did not appeal to her Lindi sensibilities. Too many sad or fierce things, all tears and longing or fire and blood, like the Noldor themselves, and the Sindar were not much better, for they were always pining for lost Doriath and the beauty of Lúthien and Melian. One song she liked, about the beech trees in starlit Neldoreth, but it was a lament and left her sad and longing.
He noted her discontent and inquired after it as he walked her back to her cottage. "What manner of songs do you prefer, lily maiden?"
"The Lindi sing under the stars, of the music of the rivers and streams, and the sigh of willows in the evening breeze," she replied. "Halls we have, but they are not so close, so oppressive."
"Oh, but you say you were raised in this valley," he laughed. "Have you perchance lived among the Nandor then and I did not know of it?" He was teasing, seizing her hand and pressing a chaste kiss to it, for he was many centuries older than she and they both knew she had never ventured outside Imladris.
Laughing, she pulled her hand away. "Nay, you know I have not, but my mother says they dwell mostly in Lórien, in the trees by the waters of the Nimrodel."
"Yet your sire was a Noldo. Did he not teach you to love our ways also?"
"My mother would not permit him to bring his goldo ways in here. She said he was to leave all swords and blood outside." A slow smile stole across her face. "He kept his sword hidden in the thatch eaves just outside the door. Perhaps it is still there."
She smiled at the memory of her lover's teasing as she swept the carrots off the cutting board and into a bowl. Perhaps a bit of parsley for seasoning, soaked in some of the precious olive oil Estel had brought her from distant Ithilien. As she reached up to pull a few leaves from the hanging sprig, her eye fell on the path outside the window and she saw her lover, walking toward her door out of the twilight, emerging as if out of memory.
In the garden, halfway between her gate and the door, she met him. Always he was proper, offering some gift of flowers from Elrond's own garden or a pretty stone he found by the Bruinen. If he kissed her, it was always upon the hand or wrist, though in his eyes she sometimes saw a hunger for more. Noldor were always hungry for something, her mother told her, even if their hunger brought them nothing but grief.
And yet, for all their passion, the cwenda of Aman were oddly straitlaced when it came to lovemaking. Bodily union to them meant marriage, though she had often pointed out that among the Lindi other pleasures were available that did not mean marriage. When she mentioned it, he only smiled and shook his head.
"That joy I would taste only with the exchanging of rings," he said.
That he wished to marry her was plain; he had said so many times, though she demurred, saying she was not ready to be bound. For he had also spoken of going West when the time came, and he would expect her to go with him as her mother had gone with her father. Nénuwen remembered her mother's sorrow as she took her last look at the cottage and the river and then placed her hand in her husband's.
"Rivers and meadows they have also in Aman," her father laughed, but her mother only shook her head and said it was not the same.
Rings, the Noldor always bound up their bodies and spirits in circles of metal, as if gold and silver and iron somehow lent power to what they did. Tuilindë sometimes looked with scorn at the band of silver Máramo had placed upon her finger at their marriage and told her daughter that the Noldor did not understand that, though their works were beautiful, they were chains to bind themselves with.
"If you did not love him," Nénuwen once asked, "why did you bond with ada?"
Tuilindë shook her head. "Nay, we are not mortals that we may join ourselves without love, though in time we may grow distant. And I have never said that I did not love your father, or do not love him still. It is merely that his ways are not mine, and I yearn sometimes for what was."
"Then why did you not bond with one of the Lindi?"
"We do not always choose where we love," said Tuilindë. "Should it ever come to you, that desire to be part of another, you will understand it and follow, though it may give you grief to lose yourself so."
Nénuwen looked at her lover, with his dark hair and gray eyes so unlike her own fair features. And would you, my lindilissë, bind me so with such chains? For that was what he had told her to call him from the beginning; he was her sweet singer, though his name was much like the endearment itself.
"The evening meal is nearly ready," she said. "There is plenty for us both, if you would dine with me."
"If I had known," he murmured into her ear, "I would have brought something for the table."
She liked it when he held her close and she could feel the warmth of his body and his breath upon her skin. If only he would do more than that, she thought, knowing he would not. She honestly did not know how the Amanyar were able to stave off such temptation; it was not healthy for the fëa or even the hröa to deny one's desire.
Glancing past him, at the carrots soaking in oil, a thought came to her and she smiled. "Nay," she said, "I will prepare this meal and you may bring your pastries for the next."
Some fish she had, ready to be warmed over the coals; a pinch of rosemary provided just the right seasoning. Fennel was better for what she had in mind, but it did not grow well in her garden and Estel had neglected to bring her any from the wilds of Ithilien; she made a mental note to remind him.
Her lover watched from the table. "I should at least have brought bread," he said.
"If it was to be anything like the stale lembas cakes the young lordlings brought me last time," she snorted, "you may keep your bread."
He laughed at her discomfiture. "If Elladan and Elrohir cannot keep their waybread in its leaf wrapping where it belongs, they have no business offering it to anyone in payment."
She brought him the platter with his portion, watching as he nibbled at the fish grilled in its wrappings. "Is it to your liking, sweet singer? You goldo have ever preferred red meat."
"Not even Elrond's own cook could surpass your skill." He chewed and swallowed, but did not reach for another morsel. His eyes, fixed on her face, dropped to her plate with its untouched portion. "However, I will not take another bite if you do not join me."
The meal was finished and the plates cleared away. On such evenings, they preferred to go outside and linger in the starlight by the river. He had not brought his harp, for that he left in his study, but from his tunic he produced a small bone flute. "So you may accompany me with your lovely voice and sing what songs the Lindi prefer," he told her.
She sang for him a song her mother taught her, that Tuilindë said Lenwë himself had sung on the journey from Cuiviénen, when he heard the music of the waters of Ossiriand and turned aside on the march to Aman.
At the end of it, as he lowered the flute, his eyes were shining. Carefully, without taking his eyes from hers, he set the instrument down in the grass where it would not be crushed and took her hand. His breath was warm and moist upon her palm, and his lips…. When he pulled her to him, it was what she had planned and all she had hoped for.
After that first kiss, his lips lingered on hers. "What is this I taste upon your lips now, lily maiden?" he murmured, and she stiffened slightly in his embrace. He pulled back slightly, though he continued to hold her. "Do I detect the taste of fennel, and carrots seasoned with parsley? And were those perhaps rose hips in the tea I drank?
"You know I always use the herbs of my garden in my dishes," she answered. Oh, why did he not stop questioning her and kiss her again? His goldo lips were so perfect for kissing, if only he would use them.
"So impatient are you, meldanya." But he kissed the tip of her ear anyway, letting his tongue trace a warm path to her earlobe. "A singer and scribe I may be, but I have spent enough time in Elrond's care to know what herbs are used for healing and seasoning…and yes, for love."
He pulled away, but before she could protest his lips were on hers again, and she reeled at the mouth that eagerly plundered hers. Her hands ran up along his back, pulling him closer.
And then, maddeningly, he stopped.
"I will gladly continue, melda, for I desired you even without such urging," he said, tracing her lips with a finger, "but know that if I do it will be as your wedded spouse. Even in passion I do not take such things lightly."
She made a strangled noise. He had discovered her, and now she was snared in the web meant for him, for she had also eaten. "Do lovers not play among your kind? Is there only love in bondage, then?"
"Think you so? You desire to be one with my body, why not with my soul? Do you so fear to lose yourself to another, to wear my ring?"
Nénuwen sought escape, but he lay partially atop her, pressing her against the cool grass, caressing her with his warm hands. "Say rather I do not wish to be bound by metal chains."
He sat up, and in the starlight she saw his face grow thoughtful. "You do not care for gold or silver, though I should give you a ring worthy of one of the Valier?"
"I am not a goldo, to find joy in gold or jewels or other cold things."
"Even should that gold be warmed by your body and your love? But nay, do not say you care not for ornaments, for I have seen you wear them."
She pulled loose grass and twigs from her hair as she sat up. "Would you give me a ring of flowers then, or vines?"
"Nay," he said, "but I would give you one of living wood, if you would bind yourself to me. Or if you do not wish to wear a ring at all, I would honor it, as I know your people do not wear such and I believe the marriage of fëar does not require ornaments to make it good. I care only that you would consent to be at my side until the ending of Arda, as I would be at yours."
"You would give me that?" Even her father had not been willing to grant that concession to her mother, desiring that all others should see that she was his lawfully wedded spouse. But even as her heart lifted, she perceived what lay beyond the vows of marriage and the joy of conjugal passion, and she shook her head. "Nay, Lindir, for it would not end there. You will want me to live with you in Elrond's house and a day will come when you will ask me to go into the West with you."
"And is that so terrible a thing, meldanya? Has not Glorfindel told you there is safety in the Last Homely House?" he asked. "And do not say to me that no evil might ever come here, for they said that also in Doriath and Gondolin ere they fell."
"Then if that is so no walls will protect me. Nay, I would prefer to live free in this place and brave such peril than spend all my days stifled by goldo ways and walls that may fall anyway."
Smiling, he laid his head back against the tree. "I knew you would make such argument, but Glorfindel and Elrond have both told you that there is a place within sight of the Last Homely House where you might have your dwelling and garden. It is shaded by trees and watered by a bubbling stream that feeds into the Bruinen, so you might hear the music of the waters you love. And each night, when my work is done, I might come to you and stay."
For decades, ever since he had first come upon her gathering watercress by the banks of the river and loved her, each had known the mind of the other. In this matter, she knew he would argue thus, and was tempted, for it meant she would have him always and not simply on the evenings when he was able to make the long walk to her cottage. Yet the cottage had always been her home, and a beloved garden was not so easily moved. She hung her head.
"Meldanya, pitya nénunya." She felt his hand warm upon her cheek, his fingers tracing her lips, trailing down to her jaw where he gently tilted her chin up that she might look on him. His words of love were always in Quenya, which she did not understand; she never asked him to translate his endearments, and read only their music and tenderness.
"There will come a day when you will no longer be able to keep your home. You have been fortunate that you have dwelt here so long and in such joy, but you have not ventured outside this valley and never seen the fading that so marks the rest of Middle-earth. For our time here is ending and the day will come when we must leave these shores."
"Not all of us will leave," she murmured. For though she had never seen the outside world, she knew something of its workings, and she knew there were cwenda who had no desire to go West.
"And what will become of you then?" he asked. "When Elrond leaves and takes his household with him, will you go in search of those others, or will you remain here and dwell alone? Even were I to stay with you, the two of us alone in this valley, we could not hold back the inevitable. Middle-earth does not belong anymore to the Firstborn, meldanya, but even if Men do not eventually find their way to this place and evict us, even if we are left to ourselves until the ending of Arda, the fading will still find us."
Gentle fingers, no longer heated with passion, took her hand, twining with her fingers. "Will our children be content to remain in this valley? Even if they remain, who will they love? Who will they espouse, and what future will they have, once our people leave these shores? Nay, we cannot remain here forever, regardless of how we may wish it."
She looked away, wondering yet again why she could not have fallen in love with one of her own kind. "Always you goldo are full of doom and dark words. Even your songs are such."
"Because no one else is willing to speak thus," he answered. "Do not think sorrow or evil cannot find us if we ignore them. Only in the West is there release from such cares."
"How do I know Valinor is not some mere child's tale?" she asked. "Perhaps there is no such place." Her mother had asked her father the same question, but she had not been there to hear the answer.
Lifted eyebrows indicated his surprise, for obviously none among Noldor would ever question that the Blessed Realm existed, and that it was a place of beauty and solace. To one whose people had turned aside on the march, however, perhaps fair images and tales were all that was.
Then he laughed. "Have you never heard Glorfindel speak of Aman? Twice he has been born in that land, twice he has seen it, and he does not lie. Aye, I believe Valinor is all that he says, and more, for he himself has said he has not the words for its beauty." He lifted her fingers, still enmeshed in his, and kissed the tips. "But I do not ask you to leave for the Havens with me this moment, nor even to bind with me on the morrow if that is not your will. I ask only that you dwell in the place Elrond has offered, that I might ever be near you."
* * *
Lindi: (Nandorin) What the Nandor call themselves. The word means "singer."
cwenda (Nandorin) Quendi, Elves.
goldo (Nandorin) Noldor
In "Laws and Customs of the Eldar," Tolkien does not specify whether all Elves, including the Nandor, ascribed to the notion of sex being equated with marriage or whether it was somehow biological and/or instinctive behavior. The Umanyar, or the Elves who did not make the journey to Aman and (unlike the Sindar and Teleri) had relatively little contact with the Amanyar, and might have had very different ideas about sex and marriage.
For the purposes of this story, the more conventional view holds among the Elves of Aman, that the act of penetration equals marriage, but unlike their more conservative cousins, the Nandor do not see a problem with seeking other pleasures before marriage.
lindiliss: (Quenya) sweet singer.
meldanya: (Quenya) my love
Meldanya, pitya nénunya: (Quenya) My love, my little lily