IV. For All Time
It was Sauron who told her, of course.
He knew of her nocturnal activities, and although disgruntled, did nothing, knowing that sooner or later they would tell on her. Particularly now that her better part had escaped her. He had to smile to himself, thinking of it. He was proud of her. Instead of pouting and whining incessantly about his neglect of her, she had gone out and gone him one better. Let her take all the lovers she pleased. He was still the most powerful, and ever would be.
She would never even come close.
"We shall see," she said seizing her cloak. He laughed as she flurried off into the dusk.
The moon was full when she reached the home of her son and the being who called herself his mother. Landing on the porch, she assumed the shape of an old beggar woman and tapped on the door, hoping hard that Gaergath would be the one to answer. It had been two years since she had seen him, in fact. Aye, she had been neglectful. She did not deserve to be his mother. But she would make it up to him …after she had done with that creature.
It was a pretty cottage in a hilly and forested area, flowers and herbs and young trees growing all about, a vegetable garden out to the side, fragrant and lush in the late summer night. An owl called out, its cry echoing through the trees, and she could hear the howl of a wolf far off in the distance. And the frantic whinnying of horses in the stable.
Well! She might have known there would be beasts about who would sense the evil that had approached. There was no way she would ever gain entry into this house…for she could not come in without being invited. She had nearly forgotten that fact. Naught to do now but go back…and yet, the Hunger was coming upon her. And animal blood would not satisfy now.
She managed to gain entrance into a neighboring house, where she took her fill without taking a life, and went back home. It was not over, however.
She began visiting the house in the form of various nocturnal creatures, watching the inhabitants through the windows. Occasionally one of them came out, to toss out a pan of dirty water, or use the outdoor privy, or check on the horses, or investigate a strange noise.
Sometimes she found herself inwardly sighing, looking at the stone cottage with its thatched roof in the dusk, the soft glow in the windows, the moonflower vines twining about the porch railing, the garden all full of green and burgeoning life, stalks, leaves, roots, blossoms, fruits, the carrot-tops and bean-pods, pumpkins and cabbages, garlic and onions. The sweetly pungent herbs: woodruff, rosemary, sage, pepper, thyme, mint, ginger, saffron, basil, oregano, green tea. Such peacefulness here, such fragrance, such settlement, such gentle work of hands and tools, such care, such easy music, such sanity. She thought of her own garden, now fallen into neglect, and seeming a bit resentful of her, so that she was absurdly afraid of it, and seldom entered into it.
But enough sighing over what might have been hers, what was hers, yet she could not partake of it, could only place the flat of her hands against the transparent wall, vainly pushing at the lid of the invisible box, unable to walk off the cramps in her feet and legs, extinguish the eternal fire in her skull and chest, and watch the others she had once scorned for their lack of impatience with their consigned levels.
And she would have her son. Night by night she watched, studying the house, brushing aside the threads of emotion like so many spiderwebs, biding her time. She could see that one, sitting by the large boxlike stove in the middle of the front room, sewing or knitting, shelling beans, or some such commonplace task. It was hard to see her face, which was almost invariably turned away, as if she knew she were being watched. Sometimes she would lay down her work in her lap, and sigh, and gaze into the fire through the grate in the stove door. There were little rush mats on the floor and embroidered coverings on the chairs, and lattice work on the windows, in which stood candles and flowerpots. Gaergath would come in at times, bend and kiss her forehead, then go off into his bedroom, and Celirwen would whisper, "Come back, come back to me."
She was not entirely sure which of them she was speaking to.
By and by, she noted that Gaergath would go off hunting, sometimes not returning until two or three days later. Following him in the guise of an owl, she discovered that he camped in the woods with friends. They seemed to enjoy themselves immensely, sitting about a small fire, telling ghostly tales in hushed voices, roasting apples on long sticks, taking secret sips from a flask they passed around. Sometimes it seemed as if they became aware of her presence, and would hush up, glancing fearfully about, then laughing softly, shoving at each other's shoulders.
And so one night she approached the cottage in the shape of none other than Gaergath, thereby gaining admittance.
"Back so soon? Why did you not let yourself in, my son?" Cúronel asked as she opened the door, ushering in the one she took to be her lad. "Did you lose your key?"
Without answering, Celirwen stepped into the doorway, smiling triumphantly as she reassumed her own shape, laughing at the look on her double's face…yet the laughter was somehow lacking body.
"So," Cúronel said, "you resort to tricks to gain entrance? It was entirely unnecessary, you know. You might visit any time you please."
It was then Celirwen noticed a delicate silver chain her twin wore, above the V neckline of her dainty grey gown. It had a shining pendant on it, in the shape of a crescent moon, with a tiny gem dangling from the top horn to represent a star. Celirwen had come to find that she could no longer abide silver, the slightest touch of it burned her severely, and even the smell of it sickened her. If she drew too close to it, it weakened her to the point of paralysis if she did not move away quickly.
What didn't Cúronel know about her?
"Will you not sit down?" she was saying. "You may visit any time you please, of course. There is but one stipulation: that you leave off the cloak. You may lay it outside the door if you wish. But I cannot abide it inside the house. I cannot even touch it, so you will have to be the one to remove it. You must do so now, or I shall have to ask you to leave."
"As you wish," Celirwen said coolly, stepping outside the door to lay the cloak upon a chair that stood on the small porch. She wondered if the cloak had the same effect upon Cúronel as silver had on her. There had to be some reason for her abhorrence of it. It surely could not be simply that she did not like its appearance.
Celirwen came back in and took the proffered chair, then fixed her steady gaze upon the face of her double.
It did not seem to faze her in the slightest.
"Gaergath is out hunting with his friends," Cúronel said conversationally.
"Aye," Celirwen said just as conversationally. "How is he doing? I have not seen him in a great while."
"He is coming along very well," Cúronel said. "He is very intelligent, and has friends in the neighboring village. He is well liked, and seems very happy."
"I am glad of it," Celirwen said carefully concealing her wariness. "He is quite tall now, nearly as tall as we."
Cúronel nodded. "He will be as tall as his father someday," she said smiling a little archly, "if not more so."
"Very likely," Celirwen agreed. "The resemblance is most striking."
"It is that," Cúronel said. "However, he will never resemble his father in aught but appearance."
She said this as a statement of fact, rather than hope.
"What is he like?" Celirwen asked after a moment of silence. "In character, I mean."
"Ah, very boyish," Cúronel said proudly. "Energetic, somewhat cocky, headstrong, inquisitive, and he has gotten into trouble on more than one occasion. He is by no means perfect, but a sterling son is he to me, and his friends quite look up to him. His name suits him well-'sea-cavern'. As a cave of infinite sunken treasure is he, waiting to be discovered, to reveal his full potential."
"He it was, I suppose," Celirwen said, "who gave you that jewel." She nodded at the pendant. Cúronel touched it, and smiled gently.
"He had it made for me," she said. "You prefer gold to silver, I presume." She nodded to the ring Celirwen yet wore upon her right hand. "Will you take some refreshment? I can put the tea-kettle on to boil."
"I would much enjoy a cup of hot tea," Celirwen said without batting an eye, giving a small shiver. "It is a cold night. Most chilling."
Cúronel rose and opened the door of the stove, and laid in a few chunks of wood that lay in an iron basket nearby. Then she closed it, and went into the kitchen to fetch the kettle. She had to go out of doors to fill it with water, and Celirwen watched the fire in the porcelain stove, which was attractively painted with leafy designs and worked in tiles about the edges. The door was quite large, and Celirwen could actually feel her own eyes glisten as she watched the flames through the long slots. Then she glanced once more toward the kitchen, rose, and went to the front door, opened it, and saw her cloak lying on the chair. She picked it up, folded it very quickly, went back inside and laid it on her chair, then sat upon it just as she heard the kitchen door open and close. Cúronel came in bearing the copper tea-kettle, and set it upon the stovetop.
"Twould heat faster if 'twere on the kitchen stove," she said smiling a little, "but I would have to build up yet another fire in it. And we have plenty of time, yes?"
"But of course," Celirwen said. She was starting to feel the Hunger again. But this time, she had no intention of leaving without her son.
But curse the Hunger—it would not allow her to remain composed for long. She could control it in herself longer than others of her creation, but she did have her limits. She should have fed before coming here; why had she not? It was unlike her to do a thing without all her wits about her. Perhaps she should come back another time….
"You look pale, sister," Cúronel said gently. A little too gently, it seemed. And her fingers brushed oh so casually across the crescent pendant. Celirwen noticed the faint rosy flush of Cúronel's cheeks, not for the first time. How would her blood taste? There was a glimmer in her eyes, so identical to her own…or so she remembered, for she had not seen her own reflection in many years…ever since she had first tasted human blood.
Cúronel was her reflection.
Her own lost self, the part of her that her mother had loved and named, had burst from her when she gave over her own soul.
Cúronel was her fëa.
It was not Melkor who had compelled her to drink the blood of humans, nor was it Sauron. It had been Cúronel, all along. She had caused her to do it, in order to free herself, to take back what was hers, to live as she was meant to live, to be human, sane, lovely, complete, hopeful, radiant, a friend of the day. It was because of Cúronel that Celirwen now belonged to the night, a slave of the darkness, a woman of the secret shadow, damned, an eternal enemy of the sun.
Her eyes burned into Curonel's, and for the first time, she saw a glitter of fear in the eyes of her double.
Then she remembered the cloak.
She shivered, vigorously rubbing her hands together…for they were growing cold, very cold indeed.
"Move your chair closer to the fire," Cúronel suggested.
"I should get my cloak," Celirwen said.
"Nay. I will fetch you a shawl."
"That would be most kind of you…sister."
Cúronel rose once more, whisked into another room and soon returned with a thick woolen shawl, dark green in color, which she placed about the shoulders of her double. Celirwen tried hard not to shudder as the pendant swung close to her.
Cold, cold, steal the warmth of my blood….
"Is that better?" Cúronel's voice asked from across the Void.
Slow, slow, the beat of my heart
Chill, chill, the winter wind blows
Freezing forever my moment and flow…
"Aye, 'tis better," Celirwen's voice rejoined from the bottom of the well.
Forever frozen in the bottomless Void….
"I will check on the kettle now," Cúronel's voice said. "It simmers a little."
"Perhaps the fire needs more wood," Celirwen suggested. The cloak was a floe of ice beneath her. The claws dug into the backs of her legs, clutching, clutching….
Cúronel's eyes were pits of ice, silver, blue, green, amethyst, points of beauty hanging from the eaves, catching the light, dripping, perilous, swords of crystal, diamonds of love and pain and glory and triumph….
"Perhaps so," she said. Celirwen bent forward to take a piece of wood from the iron basket, then Cúronel reached out for it also. "Nay, let me," she said. She opened the stove door…
…the glitter of the crescent catching the golden light of the fire….
…as the cloak descended over her as the very fell of night….
…and weak and tremulous and needy as she was, Celirwen took advantage of her rival's fright and abhorrence of the cloak, in order to push her headfirst through the stove door, momentarily quivering at the sound of her shrieks, yet even so it gave her the strength to shove the rest of her in, kicking and flailing as she was, and to shut the door after her and latch it….
…and to know that always she would be without reflection, without soul, without regret, without fear, without hope, without light….
But she would not be without her son.
She even forgot the Hunger momentarily as she sat motionless, smelling the burnt flesh, wondering how long it had been since she had tasted actual food….
She could not remember the taste of food at all. Nor the feel of grass, nor the smell of the spring air…
Yet she would have her son.
She looked at the ring on her finger.
After she knew not how long, she rose, went into Cúronel's room, found one of her gowns, and changed into it. It had a high neck, so Gaergath would not notice the absence of the pendant. She would have an identical one made of white gold. He would not know the difference.
She caught a glimpse of the round mirror hanging on the wall, and shuddered. She could not remember the last time she had looked into a mirror. She'd had all hers taken down. Going over to the wall, she seized the mirror and smashed it on the floor. He would think it had merely fallen.
Still, so still, she could not hear the cries and whispers of the night. It was as if they had been silenced for all time. No music of earth and sky and water and fire, only silence. And hunger.
When would he come? She could not bear this Hunger much longer…
At last she took her cloak and stepped back out into the silent and frosty cavern of night to seek fulfillment, as well as her son.
He would be hers now. Completely. His blood would mingle with hers, and hers with his. Already she could taste it, sweet as the sweetest juice of grape or apple or plum upon her lips and tongue. He alone would never leave her. He would love her without regret, without reservation, and without hope.
Now and for all time.