The house in the hills looked down to the sparkling bay below where the swan ships gathered like a flock of feeding gulls. But here, in the remote switchback streets winding up through the village where Isilinde and Curandir’s house perched, no soldiers marched and no thundering voices of the Valar echoed. Quiet springs bubbled in glades sung into pleasing shapes by the few Nandor who dwelt with Sindarin spouses, and glittering mosaics enticed the eyes quietly from the muted walls covered in trailing ivy. Here there was quiet.
Here there was nothing to do. Absolutely nothing. Nobody had so much as sprained a finger. Her mother’s garden grew and sent herbs down to the harbor, and her patients were all broken in their fear. Celeveren was, in a word, bored beyond bored. And Borasvar never came. Not the first day, nor the second, nor the week after that. Even Sidbron came, secured to his horse in one of Borasvar’s clever contraptions and aided by a nice fair-haired girl with piercing eyes. She must have been another artist or some such. Sidbron was nothing if not popular.
“Be gentle with Nana,” Sidbron had said on the way up the road.
Maicafairë, as Sibron insisted on calling her until the name stuck, scowled. Again. “I am no savage. My manners are better than yours.”
He rolled his eyes, muttering, “Right. I can tell.” More loudly he said, “Nana isn’t at her best right now. She’s a healer, you know.”
“Yes, yes, you’ve said.” Testy, since the horse she’d rented wasn’t quite up to her usual standard. “I don’t see why that should matter.”
“She’s a healer in Arda, you dense woman.”
She shot him an impatient look. “Explain, blast you.”
“She’s a healer who has lived through the sacking of three of her homes. She’s felt the death of kin and friends. Right now, the mere presence of Valinorians tromping through the streets has sent her running.”
“That’s ridiculous. I’m Vanya. The Kinslayers were a bunch of Feanorians: not even proper Noldor at that!”
“Have you ever had another elf standing over you with the intention of killing you?”
“I…” she looked at him, then stared. “You don’t mean to tell me you have?”
He nodded gravely. “One… never quite manages to see the world the same again. So if you would try, for my sake, to speak gently and make no sudden moves or mention your… profession, I would be grateful.”
She was quiet as they rode along. Three hamlets passed before she said softly, “Will you always be making me feel like a fool? Must you always treat me like a child? Must I be as marred as you and your Arda before you give me some credit?”
It gave him pause. He glanced at her, then tugged at a bit of his savagely spiked-out hair. “Maicafairë … er, Lalafairë. I’d not bring you near my Nana if I didn’t think you’d try. And… and I can tell you’re trying. Is it really so awful here, to you?”
She murmured, “Mostly.” Then with a shy glance to him, she added, “But not everything.” She added more stoutly, “I wish that you’d take half as much interest in my life as I’m trying to take in yours.”
He favored her with a crooked smile and admitted, “You’ve a point. Fine. Tell me about your Nana.”
Sidbron’s little Vanyarin friend was nice enough, if a little mousy. Hardly a word out of her, until Isilinde had pulled her off on some excuse to pepper her with Quenya. Her father went to ground and his pounding from the forge punctuated the air with the sounds of his new, disturbing hobby.
Alone with her son… no, ward. Always her ward, she must remember. Alone, they spoke of his latest ceiling mural. Taenhir’s understudy for the Midsummer opera, and the soaring price of grain. Anything and nothing, and not a word about Borasvar. Finally, she rose to help him out and onto his horse, and only then did the wretch say, “Nana, one thing more. Ada said I was to give you this.”
A letter-tablet. She flushed in anger, though she didn’t know why. “He wrote? Sidbron, what is the matter with him?”
He looked sheepish and worried, saying, “He’s… ah… busy. I don’t know. I’ve been…” he glanced toward the garden, “busy as well. Hasn’t he been here?”
“No.” She snapped. “He hasn’t.”
Sidbron frowned, and she softened her tone. “Don’t worry about it, dear one. Really, he hasn’t any reason to, now that your Daernaneth has me well in hand.”
Sidbron only looked at her with still more worry, then said, “I’ll talk to him. I…”
His golden-haired friend what’s-her-name bounded up, saying breathlessly, “Sorry to hold you up! Thank you for the lovely tour, Silmewen. You’ve a restful home here.”
Celeveren’s mother’s distant expression resolved into a faint smile laced with longing. “It’s the best that can be managed.”
“When we return…” Isilinde… Silmewen… cut the young woman off with a raised hand.
“My place is with my husband. Some day, perhaps… but not today.”
Celeveren frowned, first at her mother, then more deeply at… ah. Sidbron’s friend the Vanya. The youngster went red and jumped onto her horse, retreating.
Celeveren, for her part, held off on reading the letter. Suddenly, she had any number of things to do. She helped her mother with the garden, then dutifully engaged in the meditation techniques that she had only yesterday claimed to be ‘unsupported by data and without any mensurable merit’. Then she hovered around her father’s forge until he shooed her away, and then she washed the dishes. Finally, her mother said, “Celeveren. Read your letter.”
“Read. Your. Letter.”
And so she did, after finding the clearest fountain with the best light and the quietest street.
Forgive me for not coming in person, but business has grown beyond my ability to get away for long. I’d only be in the way of your naneth’s excellent care, and talk of my doings would do more harm than good.
I’ve been asked to leave with the Host when it departs. Those who can smith and repair the complicated devices brought from Valinor to combat the Enemy are sorely needed, and I couldn’t refuse Arda’s call. We’ll be gone within the week.
They say that letters will be carried along with the official post now that the Great Eagles and their ilk have agreed to help. If you should wish to write me, I will write back.
Oh! Odious man! She threw the tablets so hard against the fountain that they broke, fragments of hardened wax flicking back at her as the wood clunked sullenly into the pool. How dare he? How dare he decide to go marching off into the jaws of death without consulting her? How dare he assume she would write him? How dare he send such a short, spare excuse for a letter?
She bought a new tablet at the first shop she came to and scribbled furiously so she could catch the last runner to Sirion.
What on Arda has possessed you? Have you no notion of what goes on in these wars? Why would you possibly think Arda calls you to march off with a cohort of thrice-cursed Valinorians and trust them to give one fig for how safe you are? There are hundreds of smiths. Let them go! If the Valar have machines so complicated, let them fix their own devices. I don’t understand you. Did Gondolin teach you nothing? Not that I care, of course, but think of Sidbron! He needs an Adar and what will he do if your hroa and fea part ways? It’s selfish is what it is, and no talk of Arda or preserving it or any such thing makes any sense whatsoever.
Now, perhaps Noldorin flattery has made you think that they sincerely value you. And they should, for your genius is unparalleled. But these are Noldor, Borasvar! Noldor! They haven’t the sense to admire anyone’s work but their own. They’ll take credit for your work, no doubt, and who will be there to say them nay? Stay here and design even better engines of war. I will gladly aid you, for I have several ideas as to how one might create projectiles of considerable destructive power. We can do much good by staying precisely where we are.
Please don’t go. It isn’t sensible. It isn’t rational. There will be dwarves, Borasvar. Dwarves! I know you think they’re interesting, pleasant folk, but you have no idea of what they’re capable of when slighted. It’s so easy to slight them. Please be reasonable. Please don’t leave. Think of Sidbron and Noldorin treachery.
I mean it.
Borasvar received the letter on the march.