Notes: A very, very long time ago, kaywinnet requested fic from me for something, and I promised her Aredhel and Elenwë fanfiction because there is a severe lack of that out there, and also all the friendships/relationship between ladies. It took me somewhere on the order of seven or eight months (or something) to pull together something I was satisfied with, or at least somewhat satisfied with. Still agonizing over a lot of things about this, but, you know. Sometimes you just gotta take the plunge.
Elf ladies friendship, though, guys. These two would make the best co-queens ever. Dammit Tolkien!
Her first impressions of Turukáno's new companion – Findekáno's euphemistic terminology, not hers – were worried.
She looked so…well, fragile, when Turgon brought her in on his arm, plainly nervous and just as plainly entirely besotted. Her brother's eyes hardly left Elenwë's face, and he fussed over her like a hen. Are you cold? Do you want anything? Can I fetch you…
But Elenwë herself was so…willowy. She looked like too strong a wind might blow her over, and Erú knew their family was somewhat more than a strong wind. So it was with some worry that Aredhel approached her, half afraid of frightening her off.
Turgon was clinging to her arm like he was afraid someone might snatch her away when she found them. He saw her coming, though, and touched Elenwë's arm, turned them both. "Irissë! I was just going to go looking for you – my lady, this is Irissë Ar-Feiniel, my sister."
Elenwë's smile bloomed, and she tugged free of Turukáno to offer both her hands in greeting. It was a lovely smile, and when Aredhel took her hands her grip was firm. "Of course," she said, and her voice was low and warm. "I am delighted to meet you. Turukáno speaks often and so very fondly of you."
Well, Aredhel decided. She was nice, at least. "I'm glad he hasn't been telling any of the bad tales, then," she said, offering a smile of her own.
"Oh," Elenwë said, "he has told me a bit of what sounds like a streak of mischief I wouldn't expect from the White Lady." Aredhel felt her smile tighten a little.
"Yes, well. Someone has to keep my brothers – and my cousins – on their toes."
"Undoubtedly," Elenwë agreed, and cast a sidelong look at her brother. "If you ever need my assistance with teasing this one…"
Aredhel blinked, and then couldn't help a laugh. Turgon looked pained. "Certainly. I'll remember that."
"I hope you will." She turned back to Turgon. "I think I'd like to walk with your sister for a bit, Turukáno."
Turgon looked, for a moment, like he wanted to protest. Elenwë leveled a look in his direction and he actually…subsided. Aredhel revised her initial assessment slightly. "That is, of course, if you don't mind," Elenwë added, and this time the smile came easily and was wholly natural.
"I don't mind at all," she said. "It would be my pleasure."
Elenwë detached herself delicately from Turgon and offered her arm instead to Aredhel. "Shall we?" she said, with a bright little smile. Aredhel took it.
"You look very calm," Aredhel noted, after a few moments of just walking around the perimeter of the room. "Most people seem to find my family a bit…overwhelming." Elenwë smiled a little again, and Aredhel could understand how Turgon could fall in love with that smile. It was sweet like a spring day, sunny after weeks of rain.
"Turukáno seemed worried about that as well. He gave me all sorts of warnings and admonitions about who I must talk to and who I ought not to talk to…"
Aredhel made a face. "That sounds like Turvo. He's always so…" she struggled for a diplomatic way to put it, and it must have shown on her face. Elenwë laughed.
"Stubborn? Indeed. So am I, though." She gave Aredhel a sidelong look. "I think he was worried that you wouldn't approve of me," she added, with bluntness that startled Aredhel. She blinked a moment, taken off guard, not wanting to admit that at first she had thought, maybe…
"I'm not the one courting you," she said finally, a little bit awkwardly.
"No, but – if I were to join your family - you would be my sister." Elenwë's eyes were calm and quiet, but Aredhel realized suddenly, intense too. Thoughtful and proud and fierce, underneath that gentleness. Of course Turukáno had seen it – he always noticed the things others seldom did. "It is as important to me to know my sister as it is for me to know Turukáno."
Aredhel hesitated, feeling suddenly awkward. "I do not know much about sisters," she said, finally.
"Nor do I," Elenwë said, and tilted her head to the side to look ever so slightly up at Aredhel. "Perhaps we might learn together?"
Aredhel smiled, just a little. "I think I can do that."
Elenwë noticed her fuming, of course. Elenwë always seemed to notice. Unlike Fingon, though, who would have accosted her demanding to know what was wrong and who had offended her and how he could avenge her honor, or Turgon, who would have quietly but persistently pressed her for the same result, Elenwë set aside her needlework and stood gracefully.
"Sister," she said, eyes wide and the picture of innocence, "Shall we walk together?"
Aredhel cast her a nakedly grateful look and stood up quickly. "That sounds delightful." Elenwë took her arm and walked her toward the garden, her steps measured and calm. Aredhel did not glance back to see how her family was looking at her.
Aredhel breathed easier just for being outdoors. Elenwë glanced at her sidelong, her face now showing concern. "Is everything…"
"It's fine." Aredhel made a face and shook her head. "Well – I'm irritated, but it's nothing serious."
Elenwë gave her a hard look. "Are you just saying that?"
"It isn't important." Elenwë just looked at her, and Aredhel made a face at her. "I'm telling the truth. You don't have to look at me like that. It's just…Tyelkormo." Elenwë nodded, slightly, her head tilted, but didn't say anything, and after a moment Aredhel blurted out, "I'm just sick of the way he behaves sometimes. He's inconsiderate, thoughtless, I don't know why I bother…"
"Do you want to talk about it?" Elenwë asked, gently. Aredhel scowled.
"All right," Elenwë said. Her pace hadn't changed at all, and Aredhel gave her a sharp, suspicious look, and then shook her head.
"You're doing that…all right, fine, maybe I do want to talk about it." She heaved a sigh. "I simply…feel like some kind of – idiot whenever this happens. I'm not a fool and I don't like feeling like he's making me play one." Elenwë glanced sideways at her.
"It's always seemed to me you have that one wrapped thoroughly around your little finger."
"Tyelko's good at making you think that," Aredhel muttered. "Right up until he digs in his heels." Elenwë's lips twitched, and Aredhel gave her a sharp look. "What?"
"Merely noting the – ah – irony in you accusing anyone else of stubbornness. Of a branch of your family that has a reputation for obstinacy, you may be the worst." Elenwë smiled. "Which I say, of course, with fondness. Sit down?"
"Fine." Elenwë guided them to a bench and Aredhel sat down, folding her feet up next to her. She frowned ferociously at the ground until Elenwë nudged her shoulder gently.
"So what is it your cousin Tyelkormo's done this time?"
"I don't…" Aredhel breathed out sharply. "It's not just one thing. Over time, several small things always seem to accumulate and build up until I just can't stand it anymore, and – why do I bother?"
Elenwë's expression was intent, focused, and thoughtful. "But what in particular…pushed you over the edge, this time?"
"I don't know," Aredhel said, and when Elenwë gave her that Look again, threw her hands in the air. "I don't!"
"Hm," Elenwë said, and then sat back, head turning to look at some of the flowers. "Irissë…do you think you love him?"
Aredhel started, and hunched her shoulders, almost instinctively. "I don't know." She rubbed her eyes. "Am I supposed to? Sometimes I think I hate him. Right now, for instance."
Elenwë frowned for a moment, and then shrugged. "I don't think you need to know. Not now, certainly." Aredhel hesitated, and then glanced away, looking anywhere but at her friend.
"Tyelko says things, sometimes. Talks about…forever, and says that he loves me, and he's just so..."
"Are you worried that he's going to ask you for something you don't want to give?" Elenwë asked, quietly, and Aredhel snorted.
"He wouldn't. But I don't…" she trailed off. "I just don't know."
"That's fine." Elenwë shifted to sit a little closer, and offered one of her arms, and after a moment Aredhel tucked her head under it. "You know you don't need to make any choices until you want to. You don't have to say anything that you don't want to."
"I know," Aredhel said, but she felt a little well of gratitude nonetheless, almost of relief. She leaned into Elenwë a little, and let out a long breath. "Lately it feels like…I'm supposed to make a choice. That it's either him or my brothers, and I don't get to have both. Findekáno is always trying to tell me…" She scoffed. "As though he can say anything, given how close he and Maedhros are."
"He doesn't want you to get hurt," Elenwë said, quietly. "That doesn't mean he's going to stop loving you ." She paused, and then added, "and you know I'll be happy for you, as long as you're happy."
Aredhel smiled, a little crookedly. "If only my brothers didn't have their own ideas about that."
Elenwë laughed, and then tilted her head against Aredhel's. "You know what I think?"
Aredhel turned her head and pulled just enough away that she could see Elenwë's face and widen her eyes in slightly exaggerated attentiveness. "Tell me, o wise sister to be."
"I think you're wonderful," Elenwë said. "And the best sister-to-be I could have. I admire you, Irissë. Your willpower and strength and determination." Aredhel felt her face warm. "And whoever it is you choose to settle with – if you choose to settle – he will be lucky to have you."
"Or she," Aredhel said, after a moment, with a pointed look. "Turukáno had best be careful." Elenwë's eyes twinkled.
"You definitely make it tempting," she said, teasingly, and batted her eyelashes. Aredhel had to laugh, and flung her arms around Elenwë, embracing her tightly.
"I don't know how you do it," she said. "My bad moods just melt away around you. I guess I'll have to keep you around for that alone."
"Well, that's a relief," Elenwë said, and shifted. "I'm feeling restless. Walk with me a little longer?"
"Of course," Aredhel said, and added, half on a whim, "sister," and got another one of those bright, beautiful smiles that lit up the whole garden.
The ceremony was small and simple. Turgon looked happier than Aredhel thought she'd ever seen him.
Elenwë looked radiant. Truly, dazzilingly beautiful, gems gleaming in her hair. Joy seemed to spring from her in waves, that beautiful smile sweet and intoxicating. "You look beautiful," Aredhel told her, in a moment of quiet. "Truly. Everyone in this room is eating their heart out."
"Including you?" Elenwë asked, eyes shining a little bit with mischief. Aredhel tossed her head.
"Of course not. I know I'm the most beautiful woman in any room." Elenwë laughed, quietly, ducking her head like she was hiding the sound. Aredhel reached for her and gave her a quick embrace. "Besides, you're my sister. Be careful, though. Tyelko doesn't like it when anyone's prettier than he is."
The look Elenwë gave her failed entirely to be reproachful. "You."
Aredhel gave her her most dazzling grin. "You know you wish you were wedding me."
"Just a little." Elenwë leaned in and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Turukano's starting to look concerned. I'd better go reassure him that I haven't gotten lost. He seems to worry, you know."
"When doesn't he?" Aredhel smiled. "If you ever get tired of him, you know where to find me."
"Yes," Elenwë murmured. "I do." She gave Aredhel's hand a light squeeze and moved away. Aredhel looked after her for several moments, smiling.
"You're friends?" Celegorm said behind her, with obvious surprise, and she turned sharply and gave him a frown.
"Why wouldn't we be?"
He held up his hands, quickly. "I'm not saying – you just seem fairly different. I mean, she's so…" Celegorm looked like he was trying for tact, and Aredhel let her eyebrows lift and waited, watching him struggle. "…delicate," he said, finally, sounding slightly pained.
"To look at, maybe," Aredhel said, and prodded his chest firmly. "And are you saying I'm indelicate?"
Celegorm frowned at her. "You know what I mean."
"Maybe," she said. "But you might want to watch yourself or I'll loose another nest of beetles in your bed." Celegorm shuddered, she thought only somewhat theatrically. "But no," she went on, after a moment. "We're not friends."
Celegorm's expression was charmingly baffled. "You're not?"
"No," she said, and smiled, more to herself than anything. "We're sisters."
"She's so small," Aredhel said. The little girl in Elenwë's arms gurgled faintly and Aredhel tensed, but she didn't start wailing. Elenwë's smile was warm and fond and utterly distracted.
"Most babies are," she murmured, and Aredhel threw her a scowl that she didn't seem to notice. "Here." She held out her arms, and Aredhel took a quick step back.
"Hold her. She is your niece." Aredhel shook her head a fraction.
"If I hold her she'll burst into tears. I'm worse with children than Findekáno."
"I doubt that." Elenwë didn't lower her arms. "Come now, Irissë. My arms would like a rest anyway, and you'll have to meet Itarildë sometime." Aredhel made a face, and Elenwë made one back. "What are you frightened of? If she does wake and start crying, then you can soothe her. She's a baby, not a wild beast."
"You say that," Aredhel said, only half in jest, but she reached out hesitantly and took the baby. To her surprise, the little bundle settled easily in her arms with hardly a gurgle. Aredhel looked down at her niece's face, solemn in sleep, her pale lashes resting on her round cheeks. "Itarildë," she said, and smiled. "It's a lovely name."
"Turukáno suggested it," Elenwë said, and Aredhel saw him puff up slightly out of the corner of her eye, though he still looked nervous. Aredhel rocked her arms a little, side to side.
"Well, hello, Itarildë. And welcome," Aredhel said, after a moment, and felt a little foolish, but then the baby's eyes blinked open and stared up at her. She didn't start crying, though, just blinked silently and gurgled a little more.
"Look," Elenwë said, smiling. "She likes you."
"Maybe," Aredhel allowed. "Or else she's still too tired to dislike me." But there was a warm little bubble in her chest just the same.
"I'd like to hold her," Turgon said, after a few moments, and Elenwë laughed.
"You were just holding her, Turvo. She's not going to vanish. Why don't you go and talk to your elder brother, and give Irissë and myself a moment?" Turgon hesitated visibly, and Elenwë added in a firmer voice, "Please." Turgon went.
"How do you do that?" Aredhel asked. "I ask him to leave and he just ignores me."
"It's a gift," Elenwë said modestly, and then patted the setee. "Sit." Aredhel came around and sat down, still holding her new niece almost gingerly. She offered her back to her mother, and Elenwë accepted the little bundle of elf-child, though her smile grew. "Do you ever want a child, sister?"
"Maybe someday," Aredhel said, after a long pause. "But not soon. And no doubt I'll be asking for plenty of your help when the time comes." Elenwë nudged her with her shoulder.
"I would be happy to. I'm going to be asking your help with Itarildë, after all. When she grows…I want you to teach her some hunting, tracking."
Aredhel started, a little. "You do?" Elenwë nodded.
"I do. I sometimes wish you could teach me, truth be told." There was a faint note of regret in Elenwë's voice.
"I don't see why I couldn't," Aredhel said, starting to smile. Elenwë glanced sharply at her, and then smiled back, warm and easy. "I could teach you both. Together. I'd be happy to."
"When she's older," Elenwë said, and cocked her head to the side. "I don't think Turukáno will approve very much, but he will manage."
"It's good for him," Aredhel said sagely, and they both laughed together, softly. Itarildë's eyes had closed again, and she seemed to be back asleep. "It's good to have another woman in the family," Aredhel said, after a moment. "After all the sons…I hope she has a sister, though, or a cousin. It can get lonely."
"Maybe yours," Elenwë said, teasingly, and Aredhel flicked her fingers at her and made another face, but her news fluttered in her stomach too with the sudden urge to tell her sister, to tell someone and share what might soon be her joy. Elenwë saw it, of course, and turned to face Aredhel more fully. "What is it?"
Aredhel held it in a moment longer, and then burst out, "It's Tyelkormo. I think he might be truly considering…soon, maybe." She glanced aside, feeling her face warm. "I was just thinking…"
Elenwë started to smile, a little. "Well?"
"If he asks," Aredhel said, trying to keep her voice casual. "I think I would say yes. In a few years, maybe, if all goes well…if he doesn't do anything stupid, though of course with him that's a rather high standard."
Elenwe shook her head and laughed soundlessly, but her eyes were dancing. "So I might get to see your wedding soon, after all."
"You might," Aredhel said, and looked down at Itarildë, sleeping quietly. "I suppose we'll just have to see."
The wind blew ceaselessly, and she could hear the ice cracking in the distance, every moment expecting a chasm to open underneath them and swallow them all. She was exhausted, empty, but she couldn't sleep. Didn't want to try.
Elenwë sat with her, huddled under a quickly rigged shelter that did little against the constantly shifting, fierce wind that cut through clothes like they were nothing. Aredhel would have killed any beast for fur, but there was not a single living thing on this ice. Except for them.
She wanted to scream, but knew it wouldn't do anything but wear her throat raw. Nothing would change. All they could do was go forward.
"I'm going to kill them," she said, flat and ferocious, and Elenwë glanced over, her brows crinkling. "I'm going to kill them, one at a time."
"Irissë…" Elenwë said softly, and then just sighed, and shook her head. Aredhel's eyes burned.
"This is their fault," she said, viciously. "All of this. What did they think…" What did he think, she wanted to say, and knew the answer: he didn't. Of course not. He never did.
She'd been a childish, naïve, fool.
"I didn't think you would come," she said, after a moment. Elenwë's eyes lowered.
"How could I not?" she said, softly. "My family is here."
"My mother stayed," Aredhel said, and the words left an ache in her heart. Maybe she should have, as well. If she'd known…no. No, she would never have been able to let her brothers leave without her, and they would never have held back. She would survive this, and claim a new land for her own.
"I did not." Elenwë's voice was almost hard. "My loyalty is to Turukáno. And to you."
Aredhel glanced away, almost ashamed. "I am sorry. Nonetheless." Elenwë sighed quietly, and then shook her head again.
"Do not be. I made my own choice." Her voice sounded heavy, though. Resigned. Aredhel glanced away and looked out at the white landscape, the surface ragged and uneven like waves frozen mid-motion. It felt like they'd been here forever already, and they would be here forever more.
"I'm just tired," Aredhel said, after a moment, pulling her knees in to her chest. It was so cold, even huddled together; like they'd never be warm again, like no one would ever be warm again. "I'm tired and I'm angry and I don't understand how they - how he could do this to me. To all of us. And I should just…"
Aredhel glanced over. Elenwë was shivering. Her lips looked faintly blue, and she felt immediately guilty. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't…"
"No," her sister said, with a quick, small smile. "I don't mind, your talking helps me - helps me keep my mind off things."
Aredhel scooted closer and unfolded her arms just long enough to wrap them around Elenwë. Her brother's slender wife. The sister she'd never had by blood. "I'm glad you're here," she said, finally. "If it was just Artanis and me…and soon this'll be behind us, and we'll be able to see the stars again."
Elenwë nodded, after a bare moment. "Yes," she said, voice trembling just slightly with cold. "Soon."
She drifted off to sleep eventually.
When she woke, the wind seemed to have slowed, and for the moment the skies were almost painfully clear. She squinted, catching the glare of the sun, and quickly shaded her eyes. "Sister," she said, "The storm's stopped for the moment at least, you should look-"
She glanced over. Elenwë was curled on her side, so very still.
Aredhel leapt to her side and reached to shake her shoulder. "Elenwë!" Her voice rose, sharply. "Awake!" No. Oh, no. "Elenwë, sister, please!" She reached out, patted her face, but it didn't feel like flesh. Felt cold and hard.
For how long, she thought, recoiling, how long had she lain here, slipping quietly into death?
"Get out of my way – out of my way! My wife, where is- where is-"
No. Oh no.
She felt frantic, as though if she just found the right way she could breathe life back into her sister, but… I needed you to stay, she thought, feeling cold, and not in the flesh. In the spirit, where no fire would ever reach. You should have – I should have…
She stood and stumbled back, swallowing the sound she wanted to make. Why her, Aredhel wanted to ask, wanted to scream. Why did you take her? She only came because of us. She only came because she was loyal, a true friend, a true sister. Why did you take her?
Anyone else. Take anyone else. Turgon was howling, an awful, animal noise of grief. Aredhel didn't make a sound.
It should have been me, she thought, and wrapped her arms around herself, too cold to cry. Eru. It should have been me.