Lindissë sat by the window, periodically shifting her weight on the cushion, staring out westwards. Her straight, silky black hair coursed down her back, and though Silmariën could not see her face, she could guess at the obstructed, restless look on Lindissë’s face. This was hardly an unusual sight, and the further east Lindissë went from the Hyarnustar, the more restless Lindissë became.
“You didn’t go out riding with Meneldur today,” Silmariën remarked, as she rearranged the cloth flowers in the vase on her writing desk. Her mother thought her strange, but Silmariën preferred cloth flowers to real ones. They might not have been possessed of a pleasant scent, but neither did they drop leaves and petals all over the floor for the maid to sweep up. They didn’t wilt and they didn’t die.
At that, Lindissë jumped, and Silmariën almost felt a pang for startling her. However, when she considered the remote mood Lindissë had been in ever since she had come to Armenelos, she thought it better for Lindissë to be shaken from her thoughts. If not gently, at least being shaken from them abruptly would be more likely to be permanent.
Lindissë turned, blinking sunlight out of her coal gray eyes. “No, Silmariën. No offense to your brother the prince, but he mostly leaves the city to get a better view of the stars. He doesn’t ride to the same purpose I do.”
“And to what purpose do you ride, Lindissë?”
It was the echo of a game they had played when Lindissë was small.
“Where have you been, Lindissë?”
“And to what purpose do you wander?”
“To find all the hidden things of the land.”
Silmariën hadn’t thought anything of it at the time. Lindissë was thirty years Silmariën’s junior, much more of an age with Meneldur (who had still answered to Írimon at the time) than Silmariën or even Isilmë. Silmariën had already been grown when her cousin was born. She’d thought Lindissë’s restlessness an endearing trait, and hadn’t really watched the progression from carefree wandering to the restless pacing of a wild creature. Silmariën knew there must have been a progression, but she had only saw where it began, and where it concluded.
(Of course, she’d somehow managed to miss the progression from an awkward, gangly child to exceptionally tall, graceful woman. Lindissë had somehow become nearly as graceful and ethereal as one of the Elven women, and Silmariën could not for the life of her divine how. She could only stare. Isilmë joked that staring at Lindissë had become Silmariën’s new favorite hobby.)
Lindissë’s mouth turned half-downwards. “I’d rather not play that game, Silmariën,” she said stiffly, that stiffness that had replaced the ease with which she had once spoken.
No, of course she wouldn’t. The nobles of the royal court were one thing. Silmariën could work on them with ease, discerning their hidden fears and grievances so that they could be smoothed over before being allowed to fester. Her brother may not have wished for the crown, but he would have it nonetheless, and Silmariën would sooner go work in the shipyards of Rómenna as a tavern wench than have Meneldur, gentle and unsuited to the machinations of the court as he was, deal with these problems unaided.
But what Silmariën could do for the royal court, she could not do for Lindissë. They had sent Lindissë to Silmariën out of the hope that she would be able to ‘ground’ her. Silmariën, witty, clever, charming Silmariën—surely she would be able to make sense of Lindissë, strange as she had become, and bring her back to normalcy. What they could not know was that Lindissë was as much an enigma to Silmariën as she was to them.
Perhaps it was time to take a different tack, then. I don’t suppose tactics for the royal court would be appropriate for someone who was never a part of it to start with.
“What is it, then?”
Lindissë stared at her uncertainly. “I don’t know what you mean.”
It was entirely possible that Lindissë genuinely did not understand. Either way, Silmariën put aside her pretense of rearranging the vase of cloth flowers and crossed the room to where Lindissë sat. Lindissë let out a squeak of surprise as Silmariën put her hands on her shoulders and gently pressed her forehead against hers. “Listen, Lindissë,” Silmariën murmured. “I do not know what it is in your heart that gives you such trouble. I know that your parents worry over you—“
“And yet they seemed quite glad to be rid of me,” Lindissë muttered.
“—And you must know that I love you very dearly. Whatever it is, you can confide in me.”
For a long while, Lindissë’s silence filled the entirety of Silmariën’s chamber. There was no one else Silmariën had ever met who could make silence seem so resounding. She began to fear that Lindissë would push her away, that she would storm out of the room in a flurry of lavender silk and black hair. But then, Lindissë did something far more surprising than that—she slid her arms around Silmariën’s back. Though she seemed to be avoiding applying pressure with her arms, Silmariën could feel the prick of fingernails through her clothing.
“Well, I suppose it could be worse.” There was an odd light in Lindissë’s eyes, a strange timbre to her voice. She let out a trailing, high-pitched laugh, and promptly buried her head in Silmariën’s shoulder. “I could be in Rómenna,” she said, her voice muffled against her cousin’s dress.
Isilmë’s chamber was the best for practicing dancing—she insisted on having all of the furniture pressed up against the walls so that if she needed to leave during the night she wouldn’t trip over anything. Isilmë herself was resting on a chaise lounge with a quilt drawn over her head; when Silmariën asked her all Isilmë said was “Fine, just don’t open the curtains.”
As Silmariën was about to go collect Lindissë, Isilmë called, “Oh, Silmariën?”
When Silmariën turned around, Isilmë had sat up a bit, drawing the quilt from her head. Her face was pinched and drawn, her hair disheveled. “Don’t be too loud.”
“I… won’t.” Silmariën frowned as she looked her sister up and down. “Do you want me to get Mother?”
“No thank you, sister. I think I just need to rest.”
Silmariën remembered learning how to dance from Great-Aunt Vardilmë when she was small. She had never really taught anyone how to dance the Armenelos forms; Silmariën had never been much of a teacher in any regard. However, it seemed to her that the best way to distract Lindissë from whatever it was that left her so preoccupied was to have her put her energy into physical activity, until Silmariën could get Lindissë to tell her what it was.
“I already know how to dance, Silmariën,” Lindissë pointed out when Silmariën proposed the idea to her. A book concerning the history of the Noldor was open on her desk.
“You know the Hyarnustar forms, Lindissë, not the Armenelos forms. Erulaitalë is coming up soon, there will be dancing, and you will be expected to know the Armenelos forms.” Silmariën smiled encouragingly and rested her hand on top of Lindissë’s. She tried to ignore how immediately aware she was of Lindissë’s warm, soft skin. “I think you’ll enjoy it.”
Lindissë stared into her face piercingly, stared a moment too long. Silmariën’s skin began to prickle under her scrutiny. Then, she nodded, and stood. “I do think it would be good for me to learn a few new dances,” she said quietly.
And so they found themselves like this, Silmariën giving Lindissë instruction in the Armenelos forms of dancing as best she could. Fortunately, they were simple enough. They started out with two rows of dancers facing each other, going through simple steps that Lindissë already seemed to know, and as for when the dancers would turn to face another row, Lindissë seemed such a quick study that Silmariën’s warnings would likely be enough.
The Armenelos forms were often (and not entirely admiringly) referred to as the most impersonal dances in all of Númenor. Throughout all of it, the only contact the dancers ever made was when, after each fourth step, they touched hands. First the fingertips, then the fingers, then the palms.
Fingertips, fingers, palms.
Usually, Silmariën didn’t mind it. Today, it was driving her mad.
“How is the Erulaitalë kept in Armenelos?” Lindissë asked suddenly. She spoke in an undertone, presumably so as not to disturb Isilmë. “I’ve never been here when it’s held and we usually just hold bonfires in the Hyarnustar.”
For all that Silmariën had always been good at holding a conversation and dancing at the same time, she found that today she had to concentrate a lot more than usual upon her steps in order not to trip while speaking. “Well, Grandfather will lead a procession to the summit of the Meneltarma. Obviously, he is the only one allowed to speak once we reach the summit. He will offer an offering to Ilúvatar there—it’s usually bread or fruit, but every ten years he offers the boughs of an oiolairë tree and a laurinquë. Then we return to the city; there are several celebration days and feasts after that.”
Lindissë frowned, tilting her head slightly sideways. “So it’s true that only the king may speak on the Meneltarma.”
Silmariën grimaced and nodded. “Yes, it is. Those two Eagles roosting outside will circle the Meneltarma on the Prayer days.”
“What happens if someone other than the king speaks while on the summit of the Meneltarma?”
“…I have no idea, honestly.” It was an idea that had always troubled Silmariën when she stood at the summit with the royal family on a Prayer day. She had always been told that she must not speak at such a time, that it was forbidden for any but the king to ever lift their voices up towards Ilúvatar at that sacred place. But what would happen to her if she did? Would she be struck dead on the spot? Would she fall ill and die shortly thereafter? Would she meet with misfortune throughout the rest of her life? Would her lifespan be cut short to match with that of the Edain of the First Age? No one knew. The Valar had never made it clear.
“I think one of the Eagles will come and toss you down the mountainside,” Isilmë offered from her chaise lounge, still concealed beneath the quilt. It would seem that her headache had subsided somewhat—she rarely consented to speak if the situation was otherwise.
“Oh, Isilmë! That’s ridiculous!” Silmariën exclaimed.
“Why?” her sister retorted peevishly. The quilt shifted a bit. “We certainly don’t know what will happen to us if we defy the Valar’s edict on this score.”
“Still…” But Silmariën couldn’t really muster a rebuttal.
Lindissë’s brow furrowed. “Maybe it is something like that,” she murmured. She stopped dancing, and stared down at the ground, her shoulders stiff, back ramrod-straight.
Silmariën came to an abrupt halt and put her hands on her hips. “Oh, enough of this morbid talk.” If the note of cheer in her voice was a bit false, she supposed she would be able to dredge real cheer soon enough. “The Erulaitalë is a happy occasion; we should not dwell on these things. Now, Lindissë. I’ve shown you some of the Armenelos forms, and I have personally never seen the Hyarnustar forms; I wouldn’t mind learning.”
This had the desired effect. Lindissë nodded, and held out right hand, which Silmariën took. “Well, for the start, we dance in circles rather than lines, and we do not exchange partners during the course of the dance. I’ll lead—I put my free hand on your waist, and you put your free hand on my shoulder… The steps themselves are similar enough; let me show you…”
The morning was whiled away like that, in rhythmic steps and Lindissë’s low, tense voice brought to calmness by repetition. Silmariën barely noticed how much time had passed until her mother came to bring the three of them down for dinner.
It was the wine—rich, heady stuff from the Hyarnustar that could send even the hardiest to drunkenness after the second glass. The dancing after the Erulaitalë inevitably devolved into a mass of people careening into each other and tripping over their own feet trying and failing to remember the steps. Once graceful dancing was whittled away to a massive throng of revelers who could not even remember where they were, and that was certainly the fault of the wine.
Darkness pierced the halls of the King’s House. Darkness seeped through the windows and the cracks in the walls like ichor. There was no moon and clouds obscured the stars, and it seemed that some prankster had extinguished all of the torches. You could stumble down a hallway and not realize that there was a piece of furniture in your path until you tripped over it or it loomed out of the darkness like one of the boulders that littered the shoreline of the Forostar. Revelers leaving the festivities bumped into each other in the halls and muttered slurred apologies before going back to feeling their way to their chambers. The morning would be a quiet one, before the festivities started again in the afternoon.
Silmariën supposed that she had overestimated her ability to hold her wine tonight, or that she’d underestimated the wine’s strength, or something of that nature. When she began to lurch and stumble with every third step, Lindissë pulled her out of the line of dancers and murmured something in her ear about retiring for the night. It was a good idea, Silmariën decided; she wasn’t so drunk that she couldn’t see that she’d make a fool out of herself if she kept on like this.
They stumbled out together. Lindissë didn’t seem particularly steady on her feet either, though she’d only had half a glass of wine. She was taller than Silmariën, but of late had grown very thin; it could be that her strength was simply not what it had been.
“I fear,” Silmariën muttered, when Lindissë came to a halt, gasping slightly, “that I have done rather ill by my house’s dignity this night.” She pressed her back against the wall, pressed her hands against the cold stone, grateful for anything that would keep her upright.
“Who would notice?” Lindissë asked, gasping. “When I took you out everyone’s attention was on the King and the Queen.” She paused, and wheezed a bit, before commenting, “They’re horrible dancers.”
“Only when they’re drunk,” Silmariën replied. Even with her back pressed against the wall, the world seemed to spin to and fro. “I-Isilmë’s the only one of us with any sense tonight; you saw her slip out when they first opened the wine caskets. Casks. Oh my.” She began to sag.
It seemed Lindissë’s eyesight was better than Silmariën, because she caught Silmariën before she could fall to the floor. “…Silmariën…”
This seemed like a perfect opportunity to kiss her.
Silmariën missed Lindissë’s mouth in the darkness, finding her jaw instead. Lindissë had better luck. Her lips tasted not of wine but of salt. Silmariën felt Lindissë’s heart pounding, even as her fingernails dug into her back.
“This land is too small,” Lindissë said in a bare whisper later, as she lit a candle in Silmariën’s chamber. She stared at Silmariën desperately. “Can’t you feel it? The boundaries of this land are like the walls of a cage, erected as though to mock us. This is as far as we can go, and they want us to know that.”
From her spot lying on her bed, Silmariën shot Lindissë a look of some concern. “’They.’ The Valar, do you mean?”
Lindissë nodded, and directed her gaze at the candle flame. The reflected light in her eyes was like the light in the eyes of the Calaquendi, or the light of the touched who held knowledge in their hearts. “I… I’ve no doubt that the Valar genuinely granted Númenórë to the Adûnaim as a safe place for them to live. But they bid us to live only in this place, in this small land, and while we can stare westwards, and we can welcome friends from the West, we can never go there ourselves.”
Silmariën clambered out of bed and went to Lindissë’s side. “Lindissë—“ she planted her hands on the other woman’s shoulders and turned her to face her “—you cannot mean to go to Aman.”
To this, Lindissë bore a look of mingled indignation and longing. “Why would they forbid the Undying Lands to us and yet leave us capable of feeling longing for it?” Her voice grew thick with frustration. “Why would Ilúvatar make us a people who wander longingly upon the western shore and yet bar us from the West?”
“Lindissë, Aman has been forbidden to us,” Silmariën attempted to reason. So this is what drives her? She is not the first, surely, but can she not see that it is impossible?
Lindissë’s expression settled down to one of calmness. An unnatural stillness came over her. “Why?” she asked simply.
Silmariën said nothing, and her arms fell limp to her side.
“It seems to me,” Lindissë said, very quietly, “that there is no reason. And if the Valar have not seen fit to share it with us, there may as well be none. I do not know what will become of me, for they never made it clear. But I am not afraid.”
She leaned down, and blew out the candle.