Storm Front - Chapter 19
Ancalima slowly swept a leaf off the vanity, watching as it joined its fellows on the floor. Over the long years of her life, she had heard many stories about the magnificence of the valley of Rivendell. But what she could see now was only an empty shadow of its former glory.
They had arrived, as Faye had predicted, around sunset. But even from a distance Ancalima had been able to see that Rivendell was empty. Empty of laughter, empty of song. . .empty of every happy thing that she had ever known about the Elf race. The only sounds that echoed were the scratching of the leaves as they fluttered across the ground. No crickets, no birds, and even the stars themselves seemed dim in the moonless sky above.
Ancalima turned away from the vanity, and looked towards the bed. Faye was sitting there, her shoulders hunched as she stared at the floor. In long years past, this room had been her bedchamber. From what Faye had said upon first entering, none of the furniture in the room had been moved. The wardrobe, though empty, was still in the same place. The bed remained tucked between the same side tables, and the rocking chair had not been moved away from before the fireplace. The leaves scattering the floor, furniture, and bed were only one of the many signs of emptiness and disuse.
But Rivendell was not devoid of all inhabitants. When they had ridden into the courtyard on the night of their arrival, a pair of handsome twin Elves had greeted them. Ancalima had known who they were instantly. Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Lord Elrond. Maida and Gimli, they had welcomed with great warmth. Elrohir himself had helped Ancalima dismount her mule, a courtesy that had made her feel very awkward. But Faye. . .Faye had been met with several moments of stunned silence.
"By the Valar," Elladan had finally murmured. "Faye. . .you are alive."
"We have heard rumors this past year, but we thought. . ." Elrohir had trailed off, seemingly unable to continue.
Faye had slowly limped forward, stumbling into their embraces. The twins had kissed her and grasped her as though she were a long-lost family member--which, on later reflection, Ancalima had realized that was exactly what Faye was--and supported her weight between them when they had seen her badly mangled legs.
The remainder of that night had been spent in solemn conversation. Faye had recounted her years away, and in a harsh, quiet voice, told the twin Lords of her reasons for coming. Elladan and Elrohir had reacted rather coldly to hearing of her attack on Aragorn, but by then the light of dawn was teasing the horizon, and no further discussion had occurred.
It was now a fortnight hence. Ancalima had spent the time exploring the quiet corridors and overgrown gardens of this once grand and magnificent place, trying to imagine what it must have been like in its prime. Faye had served as a silent shadow to these wanderings, following along behind but never saying anything.
In truth, the first time Ancalima could remember her speaking since the night of their arrival was barely an hour before, when Faye had stopped them at the closed doorway to this room. But after saying what she remembered about the place, silence had fallen once again. And Ancalima could tolerate it no longer.
"Faye?" she asked quietly, approaching and settling a hand on her shoulder. "What are you thinking of?"
For several long moments, Faye did not respond. Finally, she reached over and picked up one of the leaves that lay scattered on the bedcover, holding it in her hand.
"I thought I'd be used to it by now," she said softly.
Ancalima blinked, confused. Faye glanced up at her.
"Time," she clarified, closing her hand into a fist and crushing the leaf. "I have seen so much of it go by. I once believed I had witnessed everything it had to show me. That nothing could surprise me anymore."
Ancalima sighed quietly, shaking her head. She had no idea what Faye was trying to say, and suspected she was going to get a headache trying to decipher it.
"Faye, you are quite possibly the oldest living being in Middle-earth," she began tentatively. "I'd imagine anyone would think you'd lived through everything."
Faye gave a sudden snort, her eyes narrowing as she turned.
"You call this `living'?" she asked sharply.
Ancalima was startled. She could not figure out why Faye was suddenly so testy.
"Well, you're talking to me," she replied, fighting back a twinge of annoyance. "You can walk and breathe and eat. So, yes. I do call that living."
Faye stared at her for several moments in silence. Then, suddenly, she stood and gathered her walking stick, moving past Ancalima and out into the corridor. The old wandering woman was stunned speechless.
"Faye!" she called. "Faye, get back here."
Now very irritated at Faye's irrational behavior, Ancalima followed her through the shadowed, quiet corridors. For such bad legs, Faye moved very quickly, and Ancalima was panting by the time Faye stopped again.
"Faye, this is ridiculous," Ancalima snapped as she approached. "I want to know what I said to make you so. . ."
She trailed off. Faye was staring at a mural painted directly onto the wall across from a forlorn statue of a woman bearing an empty stone tray. The mural portrayed the High King Isildur standing before Sauron, wielding the shard of Narsil. Faye was staring at Sauron, her eyes wide. Ancalima frowned, her irritation fading away.
"I had forgotten this painting," Faye said softly. "Arwen was afraid of it, when she was an Elfling. She always believed Sauron's gaze followed her as she walked by."
Ancalima studied the painting for a moment, then glanced at Faye.
"Did you ever see him?" she asked softly. "Sauron?"
Faye was silent for several moments. Finally, she turned and glanced at the statue. Her fingers slowly grazed the edge of the tray.
"The Eye was ever burning," she said dully. "His presence never really left me until the moment he cast me away."
Footsteps suddenly echoed from the direction they had come from, and after a few moments Elladan appeared. He cast a quick glance around, then turned to Ancalima.
"Is something wrong?" he asked, switching his gaze between her and Faye.
Ancalima opened her mouth to speak, but Faye interrupted her. The sharpness from a few minutes before had returned to her eyes.
"Ancalima claimed I was a living being," Faye said coldly. "You've known me many long years, Elladan. Would you agree?"
Elladan appeared quite as surprised as Ancalima had been at Faye's sudden fierceness. He seemed at a loss for words. Ancalima, however, had finally come to the end of her patience.
"Faye, what in Arda is wrong now?" she snapped harshly. "You've been acting strangely ever since we arrived here."
"I am not alive!" Faye snarled back. "Vampires are not living creatures. They are cursed beings. Nothing awaits our passing from this world." She paused, her expression softening slightly. "My spirit is anchored to my body. When I die, it will die with me."
"You have said this before, Faye," Elladan said. "It is hard to forget those stories you told Arwen, as well as Elrohir and myself, about our immortality. Elrohir used to be able to recite them from memory."
"Enlighten me," Ancalima asked. "I am afraid I was never given the pleasure of these discussions."
"Faye used to praise us on how lucky our people were to have the Undying Lands," Elladan explained. Faye was concentrating on the mural again, and appeared not to be listening. "She always used to say that death was an unforgiving foe, and that Elf souls were blessed to not have to be as worried about whatever awaits afterwards."
"And a fine job I did," Faye suddenly spat, her voice dripping with venomous sarcasm. "I believed I had done enough to keep you all safe. I made the vow, I kept my promise. And I return to find she has thrown herself into death's arms!!"
Faye had seemingly forgotten Ancalima and the others were still standing there. With a sudden, wild cry, she whipped around and lashed out at the statue, smashing the cloth-draped tray into oblivion. Maida, who had appeared at some point during Elladan's speech, gave a loud gasp of shock.
"Faye, no!" she cried mournfully. "The watcher of Narsil. . ."
But Faye had gone, taking off with astonishing speed down the corridor and out of sight. Ancalima exchanged bewildered glances with Elladan and Maida before hurrying after her.
"Faye!!" Ancalima called. "Faye, wait!"
However, it soon became very clear that Faye had evaded them, for though Ancalima, Maida, and Elladan searched, she was nowhere to be found. Finally, after a long hour of looking, Ancalima sat down heavily on a padded bench and sighed in exasperation.
"Where could she have gone?" she said, mostly to herself. "And what in Arda is upsetting her so much now?"
Neither Maida nor Elladan could reply. Finally, after a few minutes of silence, Elladan spoke.
"Faye will reappear soon," he said, though there was a slight lack of confidence in his tone. "There is little we can do until then."
Elladan departed, and Ancalima stood and slowly headed out into the gardens, Maida following. No words were exchanged between them. They simply walked, side by side, each lost in her own thoughts.
The shadows had lengthened into early evening by the time Ancalima froze, halted by a sound carried in the breeze. It was a low, rattling sob, and it seemed to be coming from just beyond a copse of trees. Ancalima beckoned to Maida, and together they headed towards the source. They soon entered a small clearing, in the middle of which was set a lovely old marble pool that might have once been occupied by fish. The waters were leaf-strewn, but clear. And at the other edge was Faye, lying prone upon the ground with her head buried in her arms. The trees behind her showed evidence of a very violent passing. Her walking stick lay broken in two nearby, and from the way she was laying, Ancalima guessed Faye had tripped and fallen, and had not attempted to get up since.
"Faye," Ancalima said sternly as she walked around the pool and approached her fallen friend. "Faye, get up."
Faye slowly raised herself to a sitting position, but did not look up or speak. Ancalima, who by now had reached the very end of her patience, had little sympathy for her.
"Alright, Faye, listen up," she snapped. "I am sick and tired of all this brooding. You, right now, are going to look up at me and tell me exactly what is going through your head."
Faye did not move. With a sigh that was half a growl, Ancalima bent down and grabbed Faye roughly by the chin, forcing her to turn her head.
"Right now," Ancalima said flatly.
For a moment, it seemed as though Faye wanted to strike her. But Ancalima held her ground, and when Faye pushed her away, it was with considerably less force than she had expected, though it still caused her to stumble backwards slightly. Maida, who had been right behind her, braced her with a firm hand on her shoulder.
"Time," Faye said abruptly, her voice choked with emotion. "I used to care little of it. Seconds, hours, years. . .they meant nothing to me. It was all the same. Nothing ever changed." She paused, her fingers curling slightly, as if she was tempted to make fists. "But now. . .every hour, every second. . .why? Why?!"
Faye's voice had become a terrible screech, her expression wild as she raised her hands to grip her head. She arched her back, and screamed loud and long to the sky, the sound equal to the shriek of a dying eagle magnified a hundred fold. Both Ancalima and Maida clapped their hands to their ears.
"Why what?" Ancalima shouted to Faye.
"Why has everything changed?!" Faye ended the scream with these words, and as though she had suddenly lost all strength in her muscles, collapsed onto her side. "Why has Arwen gone beyond my reach? Why has she given up the blessed life of the Eldar? Why did she choose death over me?" Her shoulders were shaking violently, the blood of her tears already staining the grass by her head crimson. "I love her so much. I would have followed her anywhere. But why. . .why has she chosen death? Why death?"
And suddenly, something clicked in Ancalima's mind. Glancing at Maida revealed the same thing. A realization had dawned over them both. The true reason to Faye's turmoil and despair lay not in her anger with Aragorn, nor even in the breaking of her vow with the Lady Celebrían. Those were trivial compared to the pain of having realized Arwen--the being who had given the once cursed and feared creature a reason for existence--was accepting a fate that she could not share. Due to the curse of the vampire, Faye could not join Arwen in her inevitable passing from the world.
"If you could follow Arwen in death, would you?" Ancalima asked softly.
"Unfalteringly," Faye replied, her voice choked by silent sobs.
Ancalima could think of nothing to reply. For several minutes, there were no further sounds save the slight shuffling of the tree branches overhead. Darkness had almost completely fallen now, but the moon and stars seemed to have been convinced to shine brightly once more. Their light cast a faint silvery glow over everything.
Suddenly, Maida stepped forward and sank to her knees at Faye's side. The look on her face was one of defeat, which took Ancalima a few moments to understand. Then, she realized that Faye had just flat-out admitted her preference to Arwen over Maida. The she-Elf seemed to be struggling to quell her own tears as she gathered Faye into a tight embrace. For the moment, Faye seemed oblivious to Maida's pain, and she rested her head on Maida's shoulder with a dull expression on her face.
"Love is one of the most powerful emotions of our world," Maida began, her voice wavering. "It is love that keeps you thinking of Arwen in every waking moment. It was love that made Arwen's hope for your return burn so long, and sent her on the quest to find you. But Faye, you know as well as I that the love between a mother and a daughter is different from the love between a husband and a wife. Even now, there is not a day that passes that I do not think of my Thendril. I cannot see how I could love anyone more than I did him. . .and still do."
Ancalima did not know who Thendril was, but guessed it could only be her departed husband, the father of Enarion. Faye shifted position slightly, clearly listening to Maida's words.
"Arwen chose to remain with Aragorn because she loves him, more passionately and fully than anything else, and he completely returns that love." Faye shifted again, as if to free herself, but Maida did not loosen her hold. "She loves him even though she knows he will die well before the years of her life are spent. She knows she will have to face years of deep, painful darkness when that time comes. But she still loves him." This time, when Faye moved, Maida released her. However, Faye did little more than sit up. She was still listening attentively to the she-Elf. And Maida was gazing right back at her, her expression firm. "Faye, I cannot see how you would curse that love. What if the Mother had come while you and Arwen lived here and asked you to return to the jungle with her. Would you have gone?"
For a long moment, Faye did not answer. She seemed to be thinking. Ancalima shifted her position and crossed her arms. At last, Faye seemed to be experiencing a change in thoughts. A faint glimmer had appeared in her eyes. And Ancalima was old enough to recognize understanding when she saw it.
"No," Faye finally said, in a tone that suggested she was amazed with herself.
"So? What is different between what you would have done and what Arwen has chosen to do?"
Faye opened her mouth to speak, suddenly appearing indignant, but Maida held up both hands to silence her.
"And what, Faye, would make you think for a moment that the blessed Valar would be so cruel to you?" There was a pause, in which Faye blinked in astonishment, and a rustle of wings told Ancalima that--with the incredible timing the creature seemed to innately possess--the eagle had arrived. Maida smiled slightly. "Look at what all they have done for you in your life. How can you possibly believe that they will not allow you the same death as Arwen? You were to be welcomed in Valinor, a reward scarce few non-Elves have achieved. They will allow you passage into the Halls of Mandos as well. I am sure of it."
The eagle suddenly appeared, settling on the ground between Maida and Faye. It turned to gaze at Faye, who stared at it incredulously.
"Is this true?" she asked hoarsely, as if she could not believe it. "Will I be allowed to follow Arwen to the sacred Halls?"
Ancalima was given a heavy shock at the way the eagle answered.
"My masters never intended it any other way," it spoke, its voice deep and soothing. "It was by their will you came to Arda. And it will be by their will that you will receive your just and eternal reward. It is by your choice, and not theirs, that you are apart from Arwen even now."
Faye was crying again, but this time, it was tears of joy. Maida was crying as well, but her smile was brighter than the stars themselves.
"Your time in Arwen's life is not over yet, Faye," she said. "She will need you in the end. And Eldarion and Tinúviel, they need you now. Who else in this world is strong enough to watch over them?"
"But what of you?" Faye asked, wiping her eyes but doing very little to clean up her face, which was by now quite the bloody mess.
"I decided years ago that I was going to stay with Arwen for as long as she needed me," Maida replied. "So I will never be too far away."
"Well, then?" Ancalima interjected, stepping forward. "What are you two here in Rivendell for? Queen Arwen is waiting for you, so go."
Faye paused only long enough to wash her face properly with water from the pool. Then, she slowly regained her feet, grasping Maida's arm for support.
"But aren't you coming with us?" she asked.
"I've already told you, I do not belong in the White City," Ancalima replied firmly. "I am content to remain here in Rivendell for a time."
The old wandering woman studied her friends for a few moments, then smiled.
"I wish you all the best," she said, approaching and allowing them to embrace her. From the ground, the eagle crooned happily. "And do not worry. I have confidence we will meet again someday. If not in this life. . ."
Ancalima paused, gripping Faye's hands and watching as the eagle spread its wings and took flight.
". . .then in the next."