The Silver Queen by MP Brennan|
Summary: Estel asks a question that Elrohir doesn’t want to answer. Rated T for mentions of torture, just to be safe.
Elrohir entered his chambers after a long day only to find that, as usual, his seven-year-old brother was sprawled on his hearth. The Elf approached the child silently. Estel had a large piece of parchment stretched out in front of him and a long tray of paints—some of which had dripped onto the carpet, Elrohir noted. “What do have there, gwanur-tithen?” He asked.
The boy looked up, his trademark gap-tooth grin splitting his face. “A painting.” He held up the parchment, which promptly dripped onto the carpet some more. Elrohir studied the artwork carefully. If he stretched his imagination, he could guess that it depicted him and his brother Elladan on their war horses. Still, the last time he’d checked, his steed hadn’t resembled a bloated ant with four long stilts for legs. Nor did Elladan usually go on patrol while wearing lime-green armor.
“A fine work indeed,” Elrohir intoned seriously, “Is that for Ada’s gallery?”
Estel’s grin widened. “It’s for my naneth! But, I could make one for Ada. Do you really think he’d hang it in his gallery?”
“Erm, you’d have to ask him.” Elrohir evaded carefully.
Estel made a few more swipes with his brush, completing the masterpiece by adding random swathes of pink to the sky. He carefully averted his eyes from Elrohir and spoke in a tone that was forcibly casual. “’Ro,” he began, “My naneth isn’t your naneth, is she?”
Elrohir smiled. “No she isn’t. We’ve talked about this, little brother; we share an Ada, but not a Naneth.”
“But everybody needs a naneth. So, what happened to yours?”
Elrohir sighed. Estel would be a keen man indeed. Already he asked the questions that Elrohir least wanted to answer. He studied the boy for a moment. Estel was sprouting up right before his eyes, adding more inches with every sleep it sometimes seemed. Yet, for all that, he was still little more than a babe. The Elf pursed his lips. How does one answer such a question when the true story has terrified men far taller than Estel? Can a child be made to understand the sufferings of the world? Should he be?
Elrohir lowered himself into a chair. “Estel, would you like to hear a story?”
The boy eagerly pushed himself up and sat cross-legged, facing his brother. Estel loved his brother’s stories. “Will it be about adventure?”
“Some adventure. And a beautiful lady. Will that satisfy you?”
Estel considered for a moment then nodded eagerly. Elrohir smiled and began.
“Long, long ago when the earth was young, there lived a Lady, more fair than any other who has walked under the sun.”
Estel rolled his eyes. “That’s what the stories say about all the ladies.”
“What? No it isn’t!”
“It’s in the story about Luthien and Galadriel and Tar-Ancalime and Elwing and—“
“All right, all right, I take your point. Suffice it to say that this Lady was very fair. She was called the Silver Queen. She had hair as golden as the sun and eyes the color of the sea.” Elrohir allowed his own words to create a tapestry in his mind. He could almost see Celebrian’s face shining down on him, full of life and light.
“But, in the paintings, the sea is all different colors: silver and blue and sometimes green but orange at sunset. Her eyes weren’t orange, were they?”
The Elf could not help but laugh a bit. “Estel, do you remember that lake we went to up in the mountains?”
“With the sand and the rope swing?”
“That’s the one. Do you remember how the water looked when the sun hit it? Not the muddy parts where you were splashing, but the deep water out in the middle of the lake under a cloudless sky.”
“There were some clouds . . . but, yes I remember. It was brighter blue than Ada’s company robe, and it sparkled where the sun hit it.”
“That was the color of this Lady’s eyes. Now, in those days, Elves were like glass vessels—clear and see-through. You could see their souls shining out of them.” While this wasn’t exactly true, everyone agreed that it seemed so for Celebrian. Her eyes always seemed to hold some special spark—a light, a joy that could break free at a moment’s notice.
“Their souls? What’s a soul look like?”
“A very bright, silvery light like the lanterns we use. The stronger the soul, the brighter the light shone.”
“But, Ada says you can’t see souls!” Estel sounded scandalized.
Elrohir sighed as he searched for a suitable response to that. “Well, Ada’s not telling the story, is he?” That seemed to satisfy the young Edan. He cocked his head to the side and nodded thoughtfully. Elrohir continued. “Their souls were like lanterns, but the Silver Queen had the brightest of them all. Her soul was so bright that when she walked beside the waterfalls, the water caught the light and glimmered like a thousand diamonds.” Estel seemed enraptured, though by the depiction of the Silver Queen’s beauty or by the mention of a thousand diamonds, Elrohir couldn’t be sure. He continued with his tale, thinking fast to fill in the blanks.
“Now, as I’ve said, this Lady lived by a waterfall, but above all, she loved to garden. She had a special garden where all the flowers bloomed silver and gold.” And, how she loved her garden—the golden mallorn blossoms falling among the silver pillars. Yet, more than that, she loved the people who walked it with her—the golden-haired mother, the gray-eyed husband, the two little Elflings who shadowed her steps.
“This garden was in a special place. The trouble was the path to reach it led over a high mountain. So, to reach her garden, her Beloved gave her a winged chariot.” Well, not a chariot, but a beautiful gray palfrey and two tall guards sped her way over the Misty Mountains time and time again. And Elrond lived ever in fear that his beloved silver lady would come to harm in the treacherous ascent.
“She had to fly over it because . . . monsters lived on this mountain.”
“Monsters? Like orcs?” Elrohir cringed at the sudden excitement in his baby brother’s voice.
“How do you know about orcs?” He asked sharply.
“There’s books in Ada’s library.”
“The private library that you’re not supposed to enter without your ada or naneth?”
Estel inspected his shoes. “And sometimes Glorfindel tells me stories.” He said it defensively, as though the act of soliciting more tales of war from his ada’s advisor made up for reading about the violence in the first place.
“Very well, I see your education progresses without me. Orcs lived on this mountain. Now, since you know all about orcs, you of course know their greatest weakness?”
Estel shook his head. “Glorfindel just said that they were fierce enemies.”
“I thought as much. What you must realize about orcs is that they see everything backwards from how we see it. Good is bad and bad is good to them. They’re afraid of light the way that we’re afraid of darkness.”
“Orcs get scared?”
“All creatures feel fear, Estel. Beings that seem particularly fearsome to us usually act that way because they themselves are afraid of something.”
Estel considered that for a moment. “So, Ada’s afraid of his vases breaking?”
At that, Elrohir laughed out loud. It took him a minute to compose himself. “Yes, Estel, he lives in terror of what new havoc you might unleash on his poor homely house. It keeps him up at night. That however, is not the focus of our tale. Now, as I’ve said, the orcs are afraid of light, so they hated the Silver Queen. Her soul was so bright that they could see it coming from miles away. They would hide deep in their caves until she passed.” Perhaps it was the bright mail and long spears of her escorts more than Celebrian’s shining soul that kept the fell beasts away for so long. No one could know for sure.
“The orcs didn’t like this one bit. They began to hate the Silver Queen and spent their days thinking of ways to put out her light. The trouble was, their spears didn’t reach high enough to hurt her. She flew by above them, her light bathing everything. Eventually, one of the orcs had an idea: they would build a bow—a huge black bow powerful enough to reach out and strike the Silver Queen down from the sky.” This bow had been made of dark, sinewy bodies—orcs, twenty strong at least, their armor black with blood, their swords and teeth razor sharp but never clean.
“They drew back the great bow, and shot the Silver Queen’s flying chariot from the heavens.” Elrohir himself had tracked the fall of this “flying chariot.” He’d found the frenzied hoof prints . . . and later, the gnawed, scattered bones of the beautiful palfrey.
“The Lady fell and was seized by the orcs. They dragged her into their caves and tried to bury the light in the deepest reaches.” Elrohir had tracked their passage deep into the bowels of Caradhras. And, he now knew that it was folly to believe that the mountain’s cruelty came only against those who walked upon its face.
“But, even in the deep places, the Lady’s light shone out, until none of the caverns were safe for orc or orcling.” They were never sure how long it went on—her torment in the deep. Celebrian herself didn’t know. They could only judge by the age of wounds; how much filth had accumulated in this cut, how painful was it to reset that bone.
“By now, the orcs were really worried. They couldn’t put out the light, and they didn’t want to kill the Silver Queen for fear that her soul would spring out and eat them all up.” Estel giggled a little at that. Elrohir knew he’d made the right decision in abridging this tale. Perhaps it was fear that kept the orcs from slaying Celebrian. More likely, it was simply sport. This, too, they saw in the injuries she returned with; her cuts were deep and carefully placed to run along nerve fibers rather than blood vessels.
“I told you earlier, good is bad and bad is good to orcs, so when they look for a leader, he has to be the worst of them all. These orcs had such a leader. He was evil through and through, but clever like an Istari. He told his fellow orcs that he had a way to put out the light at last.” Elrohir hesitated. His eyes were stinging.
“He took a long shaft coated with special oils.” A poisoned arrow.
“With it, he pierced the Silver Queen’s glass body.” And her blood stained the stone.
“And, just as he’d planned, the Lady’s soul poured out of the hole he’d made. He collected it all in a magic stone and flung the stone into the river.” Elrohir could see it in his mind. The poison entered her bloodstream slowly. Inch by inch, it crept through her body, bringing fire in its wake. As the torment went on and on, the sparkle in her eyes faded to a slight glimmer and was gone. Elrohir swallowed past the lump in his throat.
“Once the light had all drained out of her, the Lady was cold and brittle. The orcs thought this was better. Now, they thought, they could slay her and not be endangered by her soul’s light.” Estel’s eyes were as big as saucers. Elrohir managed a smile for him.
“But all was not lost for the Silver Queen. For here, along came two fierce warriors.” Elrohir affected his fiercest face. Estel laughed. There was no need for the boy to know the truth of these warriors—to know the fear and rage that drove their every step, the dark dreams that denied them sleep. There were few things Estel truly needed to know.
“The Warriors swept into the caves with their bright swords and orcs fled before them. They cut down all in their path until they came to the place where the Silver Queen was held.” There was no reason to tell him now. Let the boy sleep easy for a few more years, free from visions of blinding pain and battle fever, the sickening scrape of swords through flesh and grounds slippery with blood and bowels. The little Dunadan will experience such things for himself all too soon. Wait a while. Let his innocence remain.
“They were just in time because the Lady was in a bad way. A person can’t live long without their soul, and hers was rushing away with the river. The Warriors scooped her up and bore her back to her Beloved by the waterfall.” Celebrian spent the journey in a fevered haze. She didn’t realize she’d been rescued. She screamed and cursed at Elladan and Elrohir, thinking they were the orcs who tormented her. She cried out with every jostle of the horse. The journey took three days.
“Her Beloved was heartbroken when he saw his Lady, for the light was all gone and she was withered and fading. He tried everything to save her, but nothing could bring back the light. Desperate to save the Lady’s life, her Beloved did what no one has done before or since; he made a hole in his own glass breast and allowed a piece of his soul to leak out into the Silver Queen’s dark, failing body. Though the light dimmed in him, in grew and sparkled in his love, and he was glad of it.” This was the truest part of the tale. Elrond did not sleep in the month after Elladan and Elrohir brought Celebrian home. He didn’t leave her side for food or drink. Every remedy that had ever been tried, he used on his beloved wife, and when none of them worked, he simply stayed with her, hour after painful hour. He held her through her screams and delirium and blessed her fevered head with a baptism of tears. When Celebrian’s fever finally broke, Elrond’s immortal face had aged decades after the fashion of men, and the spark in his silver eyes had dimmed to a rare twinkle.
“The Lady was healed, but only for a while. Your soul can only stay in someone else’s body for so long without another soul to keep it warm. All alone in the Silver Queen’s body, that piece of her Beloved’s soul began to fade. This was dangerous, and not only for the Silver Queen. You see, if any part of your soul dies, the whole light dies. As the spark faded in the Lady, so too did it dim in her Beloved.” Elrohir had seen it. The sparkle never truly returned to Celebrian’s sapphire eyes. As she wearied and faded further, Elrond suffered with her, bearing her pains as his own. He gave all his joy to his wife; he kept none for himself. Elrohir swallowed hard.
“All the while, the Lady’s own soul rested in the magic stone. It rolled down the great river and away into the Sea. The tides carried it to and fro, until finally, it came to rest on the shores of a distant green land and rested there in the sand, waiting for the Lady to return for it.” Estel’s restlessness had faded. His gray eyes reflected rapt attention. All thought of gallery entries and forbidden libraries had vanished from his mind.
“As the spark faded, the Lady’s Beloved knew there was only one way to save her. He had a ship built—a very tall ship with white masts and silver sails. There was room on this ship for only one passenger. The Lady’s Beloved put her on this ship and sent it out to sea to seek the fair land where her soul had strayed.” For long moments, Elrohir spoke no more. It moved through his heart once again—sorrow not tinged by bitterness; the gift of the Eldar.
“What happened to the Lady?” Estel’s voice was tentative, as if he feared to break the magic of the story.
“No one knows for certain. She never returned. We do know that not long after she departed, the spark of her Beloved’s soul grew strong once again. That is how we know that she found her own soul and placed it within her to warm and sustain his.”
“But then what happened to her Beloved?” Estel, in his childish wisdom had lighted upon the question that had been plaguing Elrohir’s thoughts for centuries. He responded slowly.
“A soul cannot always be divided. The Lady still carries a piece of her Beloved’s soul. He must follow someday, and seek her on strange shores until they are whole and reunited at last.”
“But, he hasn’t seen his Beloved since the world was young? He just let her sail away without him?”
Elrohir smiled sadly. “Sometimes, Estel, you must love someone enough to let them go.”
Their contemplative silence was broken by the rumble of Estel’s stomach. Elrohir smiled. “But, here I am going on about love and loss when you’ve more pressing matters, like dinner to consider, not to mention the supplementation of your naneth’s gallery.”
Estel climbed to his feet with a wry grin. “But it was a good story, ‘Ro! Will you tell me another?”
“Not while your stomach threatens to drown out my words. Run along, gwanur-tithen, and don’t forget to give your mother that masterpiece!”
The boy snatched up his parchment and headed towards the door. He paused with his hand on the knob and turned to face the Elf. “Gwanur, will you ever tell me what happened to your naneth?”
Elrohir smiled, his eyes overly bright. “Someday, gwanur-tithen.”
Responding to the impulsive, instinctive affection that sometimes grips children, Estel raced over and threw his arms around his brother’s waist. Before Elrohir could return the hug, Estel was darting out the door, parchment in hand. The smile stayed on Elrohir’s face, but an edge of melancholy entered it.
“Someday, little brother.”