Silmfic: "The Fallen"
The summary on B2MeM and the SWG reads: In her youth, Amarië of the Vanyar was an idealistic and gifted poet, a rising star among the Vanyar. Many thousands of years later, having weathered unimaginable loss, Amarië is called to Lórien to witness the awakening of her once-beloved and newly reembodied Finrod. I have rated the story Adult at both places for reason of mature themes and some violence and sexuality. Comments are, as always, very welcome. Thank you to those who have left me such thought-provoking comments already on B2MeM and the SWG.
4850 YV. Valmar.
Her first critiques of Amarië’s poems were that they lacked conflict, lacked a stake in anything significant. She had skill as a poet—lead-colored eyes flashed to hers with this pronouncement—in the technical sense: She could extract details that painted a character, could weave a thoughtful metaphor of two disparate notions, could intuit the vestigial meanings of words that, so long in Aman now, existed now as mere aches around the bones. Amarië nodded earnestly, rumpling her brow just so, and took down notes in her neat Tengwar. She accepted back her poems delicately, pinching the pages between thumb and forefinger. And when she let her bedroom door shut behind her an hour later, she pressed her face into her pillow and sobbed.
“It is no wonder, really,” the tutor had said, “born as you were in Aman, with no true sense of hurt or loss or fear.”
This, Amarië understood, was to be her first experience of true hurt: having her precious words pronounced inadequate by one with the wisdom to know. She would grow as an artist from it. For that, she bore it. She went back for the second week to the tutor her parents (with no small help from Findárato’s father) had procured for her. She made a careful effort to bear up under the hurt while cataloging the seething emotions she felt within. She had always been celebrated for her skill as a poet, identified so often and so easily as a true talent that she herself could believe nothing else and expected, when she was accepted as a student of the venerable Elemmírë, that she too would propel Amarië toward greater attainments by lifting her toward them, by stirring her excitement for the talent with which she’d been blessed that she’d feel driven to practice it. Indeed, this is how her career as a poet had progressed so far. Courts just shy of the king’s own in Taniquetil had applauded her and proclaimed her gifted, and from these performances, she’d returned to her bedroom to write into the silver hours of the morning, imagining the joy of accolade and acceptance pouring from her pen into words more uplifting than the last. In this way joy perpetuated itself in Aman.
“The conflict is at the heart of the story.” Elemmírë clenched her fist just above her left breast. Her gaze rarely lifted to meet her student’s; she watched the tabletop studiously. They were continuing the previous week’s lesson, with Elemmírë bringing this time what she termed masterpieces—the works of Rúmil, the sage and scribe of the Noldor—to read together and analyze. “I feel like overanalysis steals something from a poem,” Amarië had offered tentatively, broaching her first small, intellectual rebellion with her new teacher, but without looking up from the tabletop, Elemmírë had stated simply: “That is why we will not overanalyze.”
“Notice that Rúmil creates not just affection for his characters but a conflict that matters. The story matters.” Which, Amarië understood, meant that hers did not matter, any more than perfect marzipan decorations mattered if the food beneath was flavorless and dust-dry.
“There cannot be any 'story' without a fall – all stories are ultimately about the fall – at least not for Elven minds as we know them and have them,” Elemmírë added. “It is our nature, having been born upon and arisen from Arda Marred. Art imitates nature, Amarië.” Elemmírë managed to make Amarië’s name sound clunky in her mouth, like she was trying too hard to salvage some connection between them: women, poets, Vanyar. Her eyes flitted up to Amarië’s face—gauging a reaction?—and away again. “The world around us is marred and in perpetual conflict. Even here in Aman.”
They walked in the garden together, and Elemmírë wrested Amarië’s eyes from the blue skies and the summer leaves like silver-green banners upon the gentle breeze. There were ants eating a fallen nestling beneath the tree, carting off gobbets of its body in tiny, precise, gracefully arched jaws.
Amarië didn’t sob that week. She paced her floor with the pillow bunched in her hands, angry and sick, trying to use her considerable skills as a writer to construct the words she’d need to cease her sessions with Elemmírë without insulting the woman—who was a favorite of the king—and without offending her soon-to-be father-in-law, who had helped arrange the sessions.
“She’s mad, I believe,” she told Findárato later that afternoon. They were under a tree in a different garden—no ants dismantling baby birds this time but a littering of perfect cherries that Amarië gathered in her lap. “I can’t imagine why your father, of all people, would recommend her.” Arafinwë was buoyant, and he loved Amarië’s poetry. She couldn’t reconcile that with a simultaneous love for the work of a woman who insisted that poet’s need to latch and claw at the filth and imperfection of Arda’s earth.
“She’s considered one of the masters.” Findárato nabbed one of the cherries from her lap, rolled it around in his mouth, and spit the pit far enough that Amarië didn’t see where it landed. “She and Rúmil.”
“Well, I hated his work too.” Amarië sounded childish even to herself, although Findárato didn’t seem to mind. He launched another cherry pit across the lawn. Amarië took a deep breath and added, “I mean, it is not uplifting. Rather, it seems to hold us down here, beneath the grass even, at the level of the dirt. It seems … squalid. It seems contrary to our very purpose for being here, in Aman, I mean.”
Findárato’s eyes were on her now, bright blue, like the sea at Eldamar in the Mingling. “They did take the Journey.”
“So did a lot of people. The King, your grandfather … they have risen above the suffering and the struggle to make this a land where those things don’t need to occur. Why should art remind us about the worst of ourselves when it can remind us of the best? Why should it keep us lowly when we can use it to transcend, however briefly, the Dark One’s marring? Even if just in fantasy?” Findárato shrugged, and though she could tell by the glitter in his eye that he might like to debate this point with her, he knew that he was not really the one she intended to ask.
Elemmírë was a guest of honor at the King’s feast and so, as her student, Amarië was permitted to not only attend but also to sit at the High Table. “You need to learn how to present yourself before the court,” said Elemmírë. She dressed them both in understated gowns with modest jewelry. Amarië, in the first flushes of womanhood, preferred something lower on the bosom and that left her arms bare; the frock Elemmírë brought for her scooped just below her throat and touched her wrists. When it left her feet bared, Elemmírë had the dressmaker lower the hem.
“We are not royals. It is not proper for us to compete with them in appearance. And also, we are there for the words we offer, not our appearance.”
Amarië had decided to give Elemmírë’s tutelage a few more weeks’ trial. Those weeks had spun into just over a year now. Amarië gave the stories in her poems a conflict now: the hurt from Elemmírë’s criticism (ever-present, sometimes verging on harsh) and the frustration of trying to eke some manner of learning out from the words of someone with whom she was at intellectual odds. She wasn’t sure her work was better for it. They met twice per week now. In the days after, Amarië sat often beneath trees and argued with Elemmírë in her mind. Sometimes, she spoke these thoughts out loud to Findárato but never to Elemmírë. There was something in the woman’s manner that forbade that; Amarië felt it just as futile to argue with Elemmírë as with the high stone wall surrounding the old section of the city.
Elemmírë persisted in proclaiming Amarië’s conflicts inadequate. “You are making progress. But these are a child’s concerns. The poems and the tales that persist across a thousand year’s memory are those with the conflicts that matter.”
Amarië had never been called out to a High Table before; the few royal feasts she’d attended had been thanks to Findárato, and he’d only managed to get her a seat at the edge of the room. “Stay close behind me,” Elemmírë said. “Go quickly to your seat. Keep your expression demure.” The cornet sounded. “Don’t smile.”
Amarië saw Findárato at one of the lower tables near the front. She resisted the urge to return his wave to her. She was close enough to the King to hear his laughter and pick out the occasional word from what he said. She mimicked Elemmírë precisely, her pulse thundering so hard at her throat that she questioned her ability to swallow. She couldn’t taste the food or wine. She wondered at the courage it would take to cross that expanse of floor in front of the High Table and silence even the High King of the Eldar with her words.
But Elemmírë did just that, being called forward by King Ingwë between the cheese and ice courses. As Elemmírë rose slowly with the deliberate grace of something growing up from the earth, she whispered to Amarië, “Keep your hands in your lap. Keep your face unaffected.” And she glided out to stand before the King and Queen.
Amarië was glad for her hands in her lap; they balled into nervous fists at the mere thought of performing before the King and Queen. She could barely hear Elemmírë over the pounding in her ears, but the Queen’s stricken expression made her attend closer. Elemmírë was going on about a battle and blood; Amarië could not hear it all, but she heard that. Earth squeezed through a lover’s fists, leaving them red-brown. There was salt and keening; Elemmírë clutched and crumpled her gown at her breast, even as her eyes remained fixed upon a distant point on a featureless wall. Something grew from the earth and the lover was pregnant; Amarië missed the next bits because Elemmírë’s voice dropped a little, but the expressions on the faces in the audience were changing. Elemmírë’s hands were in the air, her voice rising again, and there was such beauty in her words—wind-thrummed leaves framed by stars, a newborn babe’s unblemished skin—that Amarië felt something seize in her chest, something sharp but quickly soothed, and she had to dab the tears from her cheeks before Elemmírë, returning to her seat before an audience just rousing itself from silence to offer applause, saw and scolded her for it.
Findárato came to her that night in the deepest silver hours. It was not the first time, but she was her most willing, abandoning the pretense of rule-bound morality to unlace his sleeping shirt, press her hand to his warm skin beneath, marveling at the ripple of his ribs and the curve of his spine before cupping his buttocks and guiding him into her, to soothe a deep, lingering ache at the memory, not even her own, of silver leaves caught among the stars.
3200 SA. Gardens of Lórien.
Irmo spoke softly and prepared her for what she’d see. He was thorough and unsparing of details that Amarië had long solidified from fiction into fact in order to sleep at night. It had been a swift arrow, to the heart—no, the brain—and death had come before he’d even known it was upon him, almost bloodless, beatific. Flowers arose where he lay.
No. He suffered and then died in pain, in strife, bitten to death by a wolf, and his body was never recovered, and flowers did not grow where his bones moldered to dust.
Amarië clutched her hands in front of her waist, disrupting slightly her long-practiced poise.
“I don’t tell you this to upset you, Amarië.” Irmo’s voice was gentle, level, like he was always talking someone into sleep. “I tell you because Findárato may continue to remember, and you should be prepared for that.”
“I understand.” She pitched her voice low so that he could not hear it tremble, a trick Elemmírë had taught her long ago, in a more innocent time, as she stood trembling before walking out to perform for the first time before the King. But she could see by the pity in his eyes that he knew anyway. She looked away.
A hush lay on the garden. “It can disturb the newly reembodied,” Irmo explained as they walked, “if they awaken to the song of strange birds.”
“But they would not have been strange to him once.” Amarië had lost her willpower to restrain petty arguments behind a perceived need for propriety. She even argued with Elemmírë now, even though she found they had less to argue about these days. Their views on art had all but aligned.
Irmo smiled. “That was long ago. He will find them strange from what he last and for many hundreds of years knew.”
She and Elemmírë did not often disagree on art any longer, but they had disagreed on this. When her lover had been embodied anew, Elemmírë likewise received a summons from Irmo, but she did not go. “It would not be him,” she said. “Not as I left him on the Journey, beneath the stars, innocent of death.” And if he knew that the greatest poet of the Vanyar was once the shy girl who carried his child, he never climbed to Valmar to seek her. In her poems, he had never died.
“You do not know how death changes them” was the last that Elemmírë would say, as ever simple in speech.
“But I am also changed,” said Amarië, as ever unable to leave off without the last word.
Finrod lay upon a soft green hillock, slumbering as Irmo had said he would be. “It upsets them if they perceive that you find them changed,” he explained. “We will not wake him until you can welcome him as you might have when you parted, all those thousands of years ago.”
Irmo had covered Finrod with a sheet, to preserve modesty or perhaps the illusion of propriety between him and the woman who had never been his wife. They’d parted in desperate passion, the noise of hasty departure loud outside the door of the blacksmith’s shop into which Finrod had pulled her and lifted her upon a worktable, thrusting into her hard and fast while she clutched his shoulders and prayed to whatever Valar were left to listen that he leave her with child. (He hadn’t.) Someone opened the door once and backed out hastily again with a mumbled, “Oh.” The Darkening had destroyed all power to be shocked at anything. He finished quickly and with a sound muffled by gritted teeth, leaving her unsatisfied, empty, a feeling which had yet to pass.
He paused long enough to cup the back of her head, pulling her into a kiss, their first and only kiss since the Darkening. “I love you,” he said. He knew better than to even ask her to come with him. “I will always love you. I’ll return to you someday. I promise.”
And he had. She knelt beside his body on the grass. She carefully peeled aside the sheet. Unused to the touch of air, his body rose into cold bumps. They’d known each other in their youth. Their times together had been infrequent, stolen in the silver hours when the chances of being caught together were minimal on the rare occasions when they slept in the same house. In the intervening years, she imagined his body many times. When he’d come to her once, it had been with a body blemished by use, bruised and scratched with scars as one might expect upon a young man. In her mind, she’d erased these even as she’d alternately dwelled on them, kissed and caressed them. She imagined him with twisted scars and forced herself to forget that. She’d imagined him after battle, healed him to newness in her mind.
She no longer recognized the body upon the grass.
He was as perfect as one would expect of one newly born. With the slow and artful hand of Námo, what horrors and agonies he’d endured were no longer remembered upon his flesh. She caressed him, chest to hip, and it was the body she’d once touched, yet not.
She kissed his mouth, their second kiss after the Darkening. Beneath his eyelids, his eyes began to rove. Irmo was bringing him to wakefulness. His eyes opened, and Amarië knew. In that instant, she knew. Despite the newness of the body, he’d never fully forget.
Author's Note: The quote for the archetypes theme--"There cannot be any 'story' without a fall – all stories are ultimately about the fall – at least not for human minds as we know them and have them"--is quoted in the story with a single word change of human to Elven. I don't want to spoil the source for those playing the scavenger hunt but will hopefully remember to update this post with my source at the end of the month. :)
This story is also posted on the Silmarillion Writers' Guild and Back to Middle-earth Month.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!