Part Five: The Lady
They left Rosewood Park in silence and followed Galadriel back to the centre of the city. There was no uncertainty now, she knew where she was going as if she had never left home. She walked in long strides, almost a glide, and after a good look at her face Erestor kept his eyes averted: she wore the same expression he recalled from the day she had thrown down the walls of Dol Guldur, perfection sculpted in ice.
At the imposing entrance to the palace they parted company. Erestor knew Elrond would much prefer to go exploring with him after meeting Brethil and her family, where there would be no pressure on him to smile or even speak if that was what he wanted, but he could hardly leave Galadriel alone to deal with a major family reunion right then. Instead they arranged where to meet afterwards and at what time and Erestor quietly wished them luck.
They had barely finished speaking when a glittering personage, dressed in similar garb to the guards flanking the entrance, came bustling over to sweep the long lost princess and her law-son inside. Erestor was amused for the first time in hours and also intrigued by the guards. He assumed they were for show only and as a mark of respect, not in fact to protect the royals from some popular threat, though the idea of Noldor insurrection wasn’t unheard of or unknown.
Alone on the streets of Tirion, Erestor was now free to wander at will. The square fronting the palace was the first place they had attracted any real attention from passersby, so he retraced their steps with some haste to get away from it. Galadriel had supplied the directions to Brethil’s lake so he made his way back to the marine street, as he was calling it to himself, then followed that up towards the mountain.
People passed him, mainly going in the opposite direction, all of them seeming intent upon some task or destination and without a second glance for an outsider. After a while he started wondering if this was due to lack of interest or was a local tradition of some kind. He decided on the latter: one glance should have been enough to tell anyone he was out of place.
The lake turned out to be an artificial construct, absolutely round with grey-blue water and pretty wooden walkways along the edge, interspersed at intervals by grassy banks. A few couples were out rowing in flat-bottomed boats with bright little sails that could only have been for show as there was no wind to fill them. Otherwise the surface was still.
There were wooden steps down to mooring spots, nicely camouflaged with screens and trailing greenery. A trellis supported a vine with bright flowers, and singing birds clustered on it, harmonising. Erestor went closer, moving carefully so as not to startle them, but they ignored him and went on with their song. There was no cage, nothing to keep them from flying away, but he knew without being told that they would stay because this was their place.
It all felt contrived and rather depressing, especially right after the bittersweet meeting with the girl who had been Celebrían. Erestor almost regretted not encouraging Elrond to come with him. They could have felt lost together.
There were a number of places that he equated with cafés amongst the flower-studded bushes and little stands of beech trees that surrounded the lake. Erestor had some coin now, little white and silver disks for use on the mainland only, a way of keeping the balance correct between Aman proper and the island. Hweston had explained this carefully, glancing at him occasionally as though uncertain he would understand the concept of ‘money’. Erestor had smiled nicely and kept quiet in case it turned out to be more complicated than it seemed at first hearing.
He chose a café at random, one near the songbirds that did not seem too busy, and took a seat. The tables were small and round, suitable for two people, with a highly polished surface he could dimly see his face in. The chairs were unexpectedly comfortable, subtly padded.
A young man he had seen serving the other patrons hurried over as soon as he settled into his seat and smiled brightly at him. “Good afternoon. My name is Térandil and it will be my honour to attend to your needs. What can I fetch for you?”
Somehow Erestor hadn’t decided how to manage this part of it, but he could still think on his feet. “Tea, thank you Térandil,” he said, trying to match the server’s brightness.
Térandil looked even happier. “Tea? Of course. Would you like jasmine, lemongrass, meadow spun, lotus, plains or seaweed?”
Erestor hadn’t a clue, and none of them sounded like the regular beverage at the inn. “Surprise me,” he suggested. “Something not too bitter.”
Térandil blinked but recovered immediately. “Of course, sir. Meadow spun perhaps?”
“That would suit me, yes.” It sounded harmless and his spoken Quenya was already being stretched.
He sat back and watched the light shimmering on the lake and the motion of the little boats. The whole scene had a sense of unreality, like a waking dream. The colours were a little too firm, the air too clear and the floral odour might equally have come from scented candles. There was a buzz of voices, pitched higher than he was accustomed, which seemed to be common over here on the mainland. So many people had passed through or settled on Tol Eressëa, he supposed, that at least some Eastern habits had taken hold. For example, everyone he had so far met could speak Sindarin, which he doubted was the case here.
Térandil brought his tea and a little biscuit with a sugary dusting on it and he could finally relax and watch the people going past while he sipped something that tasted disturbingly green. The parade along the lake front showed him with absolute clarity that he was no longer at home. It was not just the way they all completely ignored one another, which he was starting to think might be their version of being polite, but also something in the way they moved and the strange clothing and hair styles affected by both men and women. There was also the occasional being that walked in human form but radiated a diffuse yellow glow that made him wonder if these were Maiar in their true state, but there was no one there to ask.
He was following one such with his eyes, the third that had passed, when a soft, delicately accented voice said, “Erestor? How nice to see you here. May I join you?”
Erestor had not seen the girl approach. She was short and slight with a mass of soft brown hair and bright hazel eyes set in a sweet, youthful face. “I’m sorry, have we met?”
“Well, I know you so of course we must have met,” she told him with a winning smile. Erestor stared, quite sure he had never seen her before in his life. He would have remembered. She took the chair opposite as Térandil came hurrying out. He plainly knew who she was, greeting her with a small, very respectful bow. She gave him a happy smile. “Hello, Térandil. Apricot nectar for me, please. And a bowl of lava bites to share would be nice.”
As soon as they were alone she turned those bright eyes on Erestor and nodded as though he had spoken. “It must all be very confusing right now. Even the food is different. Like being in a foreign land where everyone expects you to feel at home, yes?”
Something tight in Erestor’s chest threatened to respond to this kindness. He reminded it that this woman, no matter how sweet and empathetic, was a stranger. “It is all new, yes. Even for those born over here, because it’s been a very long time. As for the rest of us… I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive me though, I don’t seem to recall your name.”
“Oh, you do,” she said with an airy wave of her hand. “You just forgot it for a little while, that’s all. Why Térandil, that was so quick. Thank you. I think you might enjoy these, Erestor.”
She pushed a shallow bowl into the middle of the table between them and smilingly gestured for him to help himself. Lava bites turned out to be little straw coloured nuggets with a bread-like texture and a bright, savoury taste. He stored the name away so he could ask for them again.
“Very lightly seasoned foods are the fashion right now,” she explained to him. “It’s popular to be able to discern all the different natural flavours in a dish without interference from additions. I love salt the way others love sugar, so I always ask for these.”
“That explains a few things. I wondered why everything tasted so plain.”
“When in fact, it was the best and most modern cuisine poor Rainano could offer you.”
He stopped with his cup halfway to his lips. “You know where I’m staying?”
“Oh yes, I try and find out where all the new people are staying in case they need my help with anything. New beginnings are always difficult, especially when they weren’t deliberately chosen as part of a grand adventure.” She ate another of the lava bites delicately and sipped at her juice. “I can often weave the right people together to solve a problem, so that is what I try and do.”
“Sometimes there aren’t solutions,” Erestor said, thinking of Celebrían. “Sometimes you just have to keep on until it makes sense again.”
She nodded. “Very true. But when people feel lost, often all they need is to find a space, a little support. You are very good at being that, of course, so you will know what I mean.”
“I was good at that at home, where I knew how everything worked and who to speak to if I needed to get something done. Here – I know no one here and understand less.” He was embarrassed by the way it sounded; he had never been one to whine.
She reached across and placed her hand over his. It was small and capable, the tips of her fingers slightly roughened in a way that was familiar and touched a memory he could not quite recall. “But you will learn, because you are good at that. And in the learning, you can help others. But to do that, you need to be strong within yourself, with a purpose.”
“We have no purpose here,” he said softly. “I think that’s why it’s all such a shock. We had purpose and now we are – here, scattered, directionless.”
“As has happened to others,” she said, giving his hand a squeeze before drawing back, her tone brisk now. “Some sit on the beach and watch the waves or walk in the forests and count the leaves on the trees. But some find deeper resources within.”
Erestor watched the next couple walk past, turning the little delicacy around in his fingers. “I could always find things to put my hand to,” he said finally. “But when I’m told I need to find a hobby to keep me busy…”
“Hweston means well,” she said, laughter in her soft voice, “but he is not as you are. Put in an unfamiliar situation, he is one of those who would watch the waves break until someone told him what to do. I do not know why they use mentors who have not been in the east. How can they possibly understand what you need? Fortunately, not everyone is counting the leaves on the trees.”
A mellow golden glow caught his eye before he could ask what she meant and another of the beings he had wondered about earlier came past. He watched for a moment, then turned back when he felt her eyes on him and said quickly, trusting her not to laugh, “That person… I sound as though I lived my life under a rock, I know, but is that one of the Maiar? The way he glows…”
She shook her head, serious. “No, the Maiar look the same as you or I. Remember Olorin? Though usually younger than the form he took. What you are seeing is an ancient elf whose fëa has begun to consume his body. In time he will be wholly energy, and when that time comes he will possibly go to the Halls of Silence or to one of the quiet places the formless favour.”
It felt as though someone dropped cold water on him. He had heard of this, of course, but it had never seemed real, and certainly not something that might one day apply to him. Like fading, becoming part of the energy that pulsed within Arda… He shivered.
She was finishing her nectar and moved the bowl of lava bites over to him before rising gracefully. “It takes a long time and I never knew a fëa that did not take that road willingly. Now – the day passes, and there is still so much I must do before dark. But I’m glad I found you and that we could talk for a while.”
Erestor rose when she did, about to take her arm and ask her to stay a while longer, but something held him back. Instead he said, “You never gave me your name or told me where I could find you?”
She laughed, a young, merry sound. “I will find you if you need me. Meanwhile, go and start making a new home. Though perhaps that new home will come and find you instead. Stranger patterns have been woven.”
Erestor watched her cross the grass to rejoin the path and hurry back along the way he had come, quick movements putting him somehow in mind of a little bird. He looked up as Térandil approached, his eyes also following her even while he reached for the empty glass. He smiled at Erestor, his face alight with pleasure. “She is so wonderful. I’d seen her a few times but not met her before, and yet she knew my name.”
Feeling that he was missing an important point somewhere, Erestor said, “She was very kind and friendly, yes. She said I knew her name but I still cannot recall that we’ve ever met. Who is she?”
Térandil gave him a disbelieving look and then seemed to realise this might be a reasonable question from someone new to the civilised West. “Why, she is Lady Vairë,” he said. “The Doomsman’s wife. She who they call the Weaver. It is not into tapestries alone that she weaves fate, I’ve heard. Sometimes, they say, her approach is more – direct.”