Storm Front - Chapter 16
Maida gently gathered Tinúviel in her arms, making playful faces as the baby cooed and laughed. Tufts of curled black hair framed the babe's plump, rosy face, making her look all the more adorable. She was a favorite in the Citadel. No servant could resist visiting her when they passed by her chambers.
"Come help me with your sister, Eldarion," Maida called, glancing towards the boy, who sat nearby.
After a moment, Maida blinked and turned fully to Eldarion. He was looking down at the floor, the expression on his face so sorrowful that he appeared close to tears. Maida frowned and approached him, Tinúviel burbling happily in her arms.
"What's wrong, Eldarion?" she asked, sitting down next to him.
Eldarion slowly looked up, and Maida could see tears at the corners of his eyes. Her frown deepened, but before she could ask, he had fiercely wiped the tears away.
"Naneth is never going to be happy again, is she?" he snapped. "Faye spoiled everything!"
Maida sighed. Time had not passed smoothly in the White City. Only very recently had the citizens started walking the streets at night without fear. Faye's attack had put the city on alert, and had kept the people demanding for patrols at all hours of the day and night. That had meant a great deal more stress for Arwen and Aragorn. Combined with the sheer emotional trauma from the fight and having to work through the shoulder injury, and Arwen's mood had darkened to the point where she seemed almost constantly depressed.
"Your Naneth will be fine, Eldarion," Maida said gently. "She just needs time."
"How much time?" Eldarion demanded, his voice so sharp that Tinúviel protested with an angry cry. "It's been so long already."
"No," Maida said slowly, shaking her head. "It has not been so long. At least, not so long in her eyes."
Eldarion stared at her, blinking in confusion. Tinúviel was no longer crying, having been distracted by the small lace frill on the collar of Maida's dress, and for a moment the she-Elf was distracted by the babe's innocent play. Finally, she turned back to see him still staring at her.
"I can only hope you understand just how much Faye used to be for your Naneth," she began. "She was a friend, a guardian, and a second mother. They were together for almost all of Arwen's childhood. And you know how much longer an Elf's childhood lasts."
Eldarion blinked again, still appearing puzzled. Maida waited patiently for the boy to work over whatever he was thinking.
"How long?" he asked finally.
"In mortal eyes, about 2,500 years," Maida replied. "Bonds made over that length of time are hard to break, and impossible to forget."
"But why did this happen, then?" Eldarion cried, anger reappearing so suddenly that Maida was quite startled at the boy's forcefulness. "If Faye loved Naneth so much, why did she get mad? Why did she attack my Ada?"
"Eldarion, that is something I cannot hope to explain, for I do not understand myself. I do not think anyone really understands."
"Except for Faye," Eldarion grumbled darkly.
Maida felt a sad smile form on her face. Tinúviel was playfully tugging on the frill, but for the first time, she was being ignored.
"Especially Faye," Maida corrected gently. "I saw it in her eyes. She was confused. Faye had never found it very easy to learn and accept new things, and Arwen's decision to stay here with your Ada was just too much for her."
Eldarion glared at her.
"That does not make any sense," he said.
Maida furrowed her brow, trying to think of a different way to express what she was trying to explain.
"Did your parents ever explain to you about Valinor, and the sailing of the western sea?" she asked tentatively after a few minutes of silence.
"Yes," Eldarion replied, though by the look on his face, Maida could tell it was not a subject he was comfortable thinking about.
"And has Arwen ever told you stories of her Naneth, Celebrían?"
"A few times."
"And did she ever tell you what happened to Celebrían?"
Eldarion was silent for a few moments.
"Naneth said that she was badly hurt, and had to sail to Valinor to be healed." The boy paused. "Was Faye a part of that? Naneth never said anything about her."
Maida smiled softly again, then stood and cradled Tinúviel more securely in her arms.
"Come take a walk with me, Eldarion," she said.
Eldarion followed her through the Citadel and out into the central courtyard, where the White Tree of Gondor stood. Both Arwen and Aragorn were sitting in court, but Maida knew they would not be much longer. Neither of them could stay away from their children for long.
"There are many stories about Faye that your Naneth never told you," Maida said as they walked along the sharp plateau that was the signature sight of the city. "Mostly because it was too painful for her to think about Faye back then, back before any of us realized she was still alive. But, yes, Faye played a very important role in what happened to Lady Celebrían."
With Eldarion's attention firmly fixed upon her, Maida related to him what she knew about that terrible event of over five hundred years previous. Though she was not very talented at telling stories, the tale itself was rich enough without any further assistance on her part.
"And so, Faye knew she had to destroy Thuringwethil once and for all, no matter how long it would take," Maida was saying as they completed their third lap around the courtyard. Tinúviel had long since fallen asleep. "She swore to Celebrían that she would guide Arwen to Valinor, and departed on the quest with the knowledge that she would return to fulfill her vow. That vow, which is symbolized by the amulet you wear around your neck."
Eldarion grasped the Evenstar with his right hand, a look of realization dawning in his eyes.
"So that is why Faye did not attack me again at the plantation," he said, his voice filled with amazement and awe. "She recognized the Evenstar."
"Yes," Maida replied, smiling and nodding. "Even in her most primal state of mind, the conviction of the vow she swore to Lady Celebrían was enough to stay her hand and heart."
"And that. . ." Eldarion froze, eyes growing wide. An even greater sense of comprehension seemed to be growing inside him. After a moment, he looked up at her. "That was why Faye was so mad at Ada. She thought it was Ada's fault she could no longer fulfill her vow. I remember her saying that."
A strong sense of pride was filling Maida's heart as she watched Eldarion figure out for himself what she had been trying to explain. She did not need foresight to know he would someday become a wise and mighty king, maybe even stronger than Aragorn himself.
"I think I understand now," he said softly as they sat down on a stone bench half-shaded by the shadow of one of the Citadel's many towers.
Maida could not help but smile again. Talking with Eldarion had also helped her to grasp a sense of Faye's turmoil.
"Is that why Naneth is sad?" he continued. "Is she sad because she can't follow Faye anymore?"
"Never," Maida replied quickly, for she knew what the boy was implying. "Arwen will never regret the decision she made. She is sad because she has to relive watching Faye depart from her life without a proper farewell for the second time. To her, it's like. . ."
"It is like seeing my Naneth leave for Valinor all over again, because I know that is the last time I will ever see her."
Arwen's sudden appearance had startled both Maida and Eldarion, and had caused Tinúviel to awaken with a delighted squeal at seeing her mother. Maida stood handed Tinúviel to Arwen, frowning crossly at her friend.
"Now, Arwen, you do not know that," Maida said firmly. "Faye might come to her senses someday."
Arwen said nothing as she sat down in the space Maida had just vacated, Eldarion frowning at her as she did so.
"Naneth, I think I understand why Faye. . ." he began, but Arwen raised a hand to stop him.
"Please, Eldarion, not right now," she said tonelessly, rocking Tinúviel gently though she appeared to have no realization that she was doing so. The child was already starting to fall back to sleep. "I do not wish to discuss it today."
"Please, Naneth," Eldarion pressed, gripping her arm. "I don't want you to be sad anymore. I think I can help you feel better." He glanced at Maida. "Like the way Lady Maida helped me feel better."
Arwen glanced from her son to Maida and back again. Her expression did not change.
"I overheard you two speaking," she said finally. "I know what you mean to say to me, and I understand it just as well as you do. I am glad it makes you feel better about Faye, my son, but. . ."
"So why shouldn't it help you?" Maida cut in. "Arwen, you must bring yourself out of this darkness. Accept what has happened, and go on. We can only hope that Faye will come to her senses someday and return to make amends."
Arwen's eyes flashed, her face twisting in a look of fury so quickly that Maida took a step back.
"I waited for countless years for Faye to return to me," she hissed, her voice soft but dripping with such malice that even Eldarion flinched. "Waiting and hoping and praying. I do not want to go through that again. You were right, Maida, when you told me it is better to just forget." She bowed her head, her entire body trembling. "Faye is gone, and there is nothing I can do about it."
It was a long while before Maida could compose herself enough to speak, so shocked was she by Arwen's words. Eldarion was sitting on the bench as far from his mother as possible, and it was only through luck that Tinúviel remained blissfully unaware of the rising emotional chaos around her.
"And this is coming from the same woman who placed her own life on the hope of a seemingly impossible outcome," Maida said finally, gesturing towards the shadowy peaks of the Black Mountains in the far distance. "This coming from the mother who gave birth to two children who, apart from my own son, are the most wonderful young souls I have ever known. This coming from the same friend who told me on my wedding day that she hoped never to witness the same kind of chaos with her future family that she experienced with her Naneth."
Both Eldarion and Arwen were now staring at her, but Maida had not yet reached her point. She sank to her knees before Arwen and gently gripped her arms, looking firmly up into her dear friend's stormy eyes.
"I am sorry, Arwen, but you are not living up to your hopes," she said slowly. "Eldarion and I are watching you fade away, just as you were forced to watch Celebrían fade. You may have not been able to bring your Naneth back, but I for one refuse to let you continue on this way." Tears were welling up in her eyes now, and Maida let them fall freely. "Please, Arwen, do not hide your pain from us. Let us do for you what you could not do for Celebrían. Let us help you."
It was at that precise moment that Tinúviel aroused again, awakened possibly by the feel of Maida's hair touching her cheek and forehead. Immediately, the baby reached up and grasped fistfuls of the long flaxen strands, thoroughly distracting the she-Elf and causing her to let out a quite undignified yelp of pain and surprise. Tinúviel laughed in complete delight and continued to pull, as if hoping she would make the sound again. Maida was an instant away from trying to force herself free when she heard the baby's laughter echoed by Arwen herself. There were tears in Arwen's eyes, but those same eyes were now sparkling merrily, and she was smiling as she had not done in many months. Eldarion was laughing, too, his arms clutching his sides.
"Tinúviel, my love, you do not play with Maida's hair," Arwen said breathlessly, but she was making no further effort to get the babe to release her hold.
"Yes, please," Maida added, having had to bend her neck clumsily to release the pressure on her scalp.
A sudden twinkle above her told Maida that Eldarion had removed the Evenstar from his neck, and was now dangling the amulet above his sister. As expected, the baby immediately released Maida's hair in favor of swinging her tiny hands playfully up at the glittering amulet. All the while, she had never ceased to giggle and squeal happily. Maida sat back and sighed, smoothing her hair back into place.
"See?" Eldarion said lightly, smiling at her. "The Evenstar saved you as well."
"Praise the Valar for the Evenstar, then," Maida replied jokingly, satisfied to hear Arwen chuckle in response.
"And praise the Valar for the blessing of children," Arwen added, to which Maida agreed enthusiastically.
In Maida's heart, she could feel the shadows begin to lift from the city. What had once been a monotonous drone from the city below was now a merry chorus in her ears. Standing, she moved towards the edge of the plateau and looked out over the lands beyond. Simple things had brought Arwen the comfort and solace she had needed to raise her spirits. Perhaps it had not been the same conclusion Maida had been expecting, but it worked nevertheless. And if it worked for Arwen, then maybe. . .just maybe. . .it would work for Faye.
And, quite suddenly, Maida knew exactly what she had to do.