Warnings: Past character death
Summary: Írimë lives again.
Notes: Written for International Fanworks Day 2015, for the prompts: The Circle of Life, New Beginnings, and Traditions. Thank you, ladyelleth for beta-ing!
Beneath her dress a woman's heart was beating
The rhythm of love's eternal eloquence,
And I confess to you, in confidence,
Though flowers have grown a thousand years above her,
Unseen, unknown, with all my soul I love her.
- Gawayne and the Green Knight: A Fairy Tale, Charlton Miner Lewis. [x]
It was her mother’s voice that called her back.
Írimë opened her eyes to see light filtered through green leaves, and a cool hand on her forehead. For a moment, she rested, content and yet still uncomprehending. She felt a queer heaviness around her and wondered what it could be -- and then, with a start, she realized that it was the feeling of having a body once again.
She started, a new pounding in her heart, her lungs taking in air -- alive! She tried to rise, but the arms that had held her so gently now wrapped around her like bands of iron. Was this a trick of Námo’s -- another punishment?
The last moments of her old life roared in her ears and before her eyes, a jumbled echo, loud and fast. Írimë remembered breaking away from Idril’s grip and racing, stumbling, falling towards the Tower of the King, to get Turukáno, to make him see reason at last, to leave when there was still a chance to do so.
Her final memory was a dark and narrow flight of stairs, and outside, Gondolin shook and crumbled. She had died, not achieving her goal. Turukáno’s grey fëa slipped past her in the Halls, the memories of which, even now, faded unnaturally fast from her mind.
Írimë looked up to see her mother look down at her. Indis let her go as soon as she had stopped thrashing around. She felt as weak as a newborn kitten, unable to stand.
She wanted to weep. She wanted to laugh.
Laughter, as always, won out. It bubbled up in Írimë’s throat, and she let it tumble down, more raucous than ladylike. She was alive! She rolled away from her mother, pressed her face against the grass and breathed in. Her mother did not scold her.
Instead, Indis waited until Írimë sat up again and hugged her daughter fiercely, as if she was afraid that something would snatch her away.
Their first argument came two weeks later. It was over a shattered wine-glass, which Írimë had quite deliberately let tumble from her hand.
In truth, the argument had been growing just as soon Írimë could tumble out of her bed and wander the cool white halls of her mother’s house. She had been put in her childhood bedroom, overlooking the garden. Two doors down was Fingolfin’s bedroom, which had long stood empty. When Írimë had looked into it, she was not surprised to see that it had not changed a whit since the last time she had seen it. It seemed that a tradition had sprung up, to replace the curtains, the bed, the carpets, everything, year after long year until Nolofinwë at last returned.
The house itself was large and spacious -- and many of the rooms lay empty. Írimë knew that Nolofinwë’s wife, Anairë, no longer made her home in Tirion, but Idril and her husband made their home in the east wing, when they were not living on the coast.
She was glad her own room was light and fresh and bore little resemblance to what had come before it. Either way, she spent precious little time in her own room. Restless as always, she longed to go out, to see the Tirion under the light of the sun. But the healers advised her to be conservative with her strength, and her mother listened to the healers.
Írimë wanted to shout. Do you know what I have done? I walked across the Grinding Ice to come to Middle-earth! I fought through bands of Orcs, I planned, I built, I sewed, I bled, I died. A walk around the city will not send me back to Mandos.
Instead, she dropped the wineglass just to hear it shatter, to remind herself that this was not another long dream in Mandos. It made a light little noise against the stone floor, barely satisfying. Keeping her voice as steady as she could, Írimë said, “I think I should find my own place.”
Indis made an impatient noise, and straightened, leaving the shards where they lay. “We will speak of it later, when you are better.”
“Amil, I’m not ill. I died, but now I am alive, and well. You cannot treat me like a child.”
“Then perhaps you should stop acting like one,” Indis said, sweeping away before Írimë had a chance to reply. She sulked for a minute, before turning at the sound of a stifled laugh.
“That’s not funny,” she said sternly, but Idril, who was at the door, disagreed.
“It is amazing to see you getting scolded,” Idril said cheerfully, coming into the room. She looked exactly the same as she always did, beaming and energetic. Her dress was simple but rich, white gemstones stitched into the gown. Írimë was surprised to see that Idril wore a pair of slippers that complimented her dress.
Despite her cheerful words, Idril came into the room with an uncharacteristic tentativeness in her step. “I’m not intruding, am I?”
“Of course not! Come in, you know I was never as frightening as my mother,” Írimë groused, and embraced Idril, feeling tears prick her eyes. Idril laughed quietly, a sound like a sob. Írimë pulled back and cupped her grand-niece’s face. “It is good to see you.”
She had to look up, a little, for Idril was taller than her by several inches, but that was nothing new. Of all her brothers and sisters, and later, nieces and nephews, Írimë was always the shortest of the lot. Her father had always said that she was very much like his own mother in that way -- small and well-shaped, with dark hair and wide, grey eyes. Not exactly a beauty -- Findis was the beauty of the family, until Artanis came along -- but Írimë’s expressions were vivid and her manners impassioned, and that was enough for her.
She examined Idril almost hungrily. “And how are you? You are well? And Tuor? I have heard a little of what happened after Gondolin fell; it is all garbled and confusing, but I want to hear about everyone.”
“Everyone in the city? Everyone you knew?”
Írimë grasped Idril’s hand and guided her to the chair near the window. “Everyone,” she said, settling in.
The story of everyone was long and frequently depressing, and soon they stopped for lunch. Sunlight filtered in through the lofty windows beside them and it became quite hot. The heady scent of flowers drifted in with the cool westerly wind. Meryë came in with a tray burdened with light, crisp bread and apples, and a bowl of sweetened cream, whipped into soft peaks. She was a tall, spare woman, who had made the great journey from Middle-earth. She rarely did the serving now, but she stood by and watched until Írimë had finished her portion.
Írimë looked up and smiled, and said, “Meryë, you needn’t hover over me like that. I don’t pick at my food as I used to, you know. Beleriand cured me of that.”
Meryë allowed herself a small smile. “The apples are the kind that you like, remember?”
Írimë picked one up -- a small apple, blushing red, and bit into it. It was tart, with a deep sweetness that filled her mouth. She closed her eyes for a moment, letting herself appreciate it. “Is it from that orchard by Nolvo’s country-house? It tastes like it.”
“No, but it comes from the cuttings from those trees,” Idril said, slicing an apple for herself. “That orchard has gone back into the wild a long time ago. The house itself is a ruin.”
“Oh, yes, I suppose it would be,” Írimë said, after a pause. “But still, all of it is yours now, I should think?” The mere thought of the tangled web of her family’s inheritances gave her a headache.
Idril gave her a wry look, as if guessing her thought. “For now, anyway.”
Írimë had expected the city to be empty, as it had been the last time she had seen it. But it was not, rather, it was bustling, full of people who had never seen the light of the Trees. Strangers, in all. Tirion seemed diminished somehow, under the light of the sun. Or perhaps only seemed so because of all the absences that could still be felt, empty spots where certain people should be.
Írimë looked out the window onto the streets below and wondered if she could ever feel used to living here again.
If she could feel used to living again. Her body still felt uncomfortable to her, as if her skin was wrapped around her too tightly. There were moments when she was simply bewildered at being here, when she should be...
Where? Where did she belong now?
“Many of the rehoused report feelings of discomfort and disorientation,” the healer Fúmella had said, on her last visit to Írimë’s chambers. She was a tall woman, more handsome than beautiful. Her fair hair, hallmarks of her Vanya heritage, was cut short, around her ears.
“It will pass.” She leaned forward to examine Írimë closer. “You’re looking very pale. Have you not been walking? You must exercise those legs of yours, you know.”
“Oh, you know how bored I am of pottering around in the gardens! Would you not -- please,” she took hold of Fúmella’s hand. “Tell Mother that I should be allowed to go out? She treats me as if I will break the moment she lets me out of her sight.”
“Perhaps she is afraid of losing you once more -- it has only been two weeks since you were released from the Halls,” Fúmella said gently.
“Or perhaps she feels that her other dead child should be returned to her, instead of me,” Írimë said sharply, and then she looked away and apologized quietly. Fúmella only shrugged and gave her a sad smile.
“This is something you must speak to your mother about,” Fúmella said, “but I do not think that is true.”
“I know it is not true, but I feel it nonetheless,” Írimë said, feeling a dry burning in her eyes. She rang for the servants to bring in tea, and Fúmella took her cue to leave.
Arafinwë greeted her with a beatific smile and a kiss on the cheek. Írimë laughed and embraced him, nearly throwing him out of balance. They were of a similar height, though Arafinwë was slightly taller. Growing up, Írimë had always felt a great responsibility for her adorable little brother, but she had spent most of the time longing for Nolofinwë’s company. Arafinwë had understood it, and had forgiven her.
Now she looked upon her younger brother -- so much older than her now! -- and was at a loss as to what to say. Arafinwë seemed to sense this and clasped her hand. “My dear heart, I am so happy to see you again.”
Írimë felt her eyes fill up with tears. “Have you missed me, Ingoldo?”
“Everyday,” Arafinwë said, his eyes bright. Soon they were both crying and holding each other, like the children they no longer were, until Írimë pushed away from him.
“So silly!” she muttered to herself, brushing away her tears. "A complete departure from protocol, I'm afraid."
“Not so,” Arafinwë said. “Well, perhaps. But no one has departed from protocol for me for such a long time.”
“Poor little brother! You have been king almost as long as our father was. Do you like it? Besides the slavish adherence to protocol, I mean.”
Arafinwë nodded but it did not seem as he had heard her. But just as Írimë was to speak again, he said, “At the beginning, I was dismayed, of course. Unlike -- unlike our brothers, I had no desire to rule, but --”
Írimë bristled. “You make Nolofinwë sound power-hungry. I have seen him rule and I know he was not so.”
“You misunderstand me, sister. It was not that. I knew too well how capable Nolofinwë was! I was only afraid that I would never be able to be equal to my task. And Eärwen and I became estranged after Aqualondë …”
“My dear, I do not wish to raise painful memories,” Írimë said, hating the look of utter sadness that crossed her brother’s face. “Though I think my mere presence does not help…”
“No, you are very welcome,” Arafinwë said, visibly pushing aside his melancholy. “Tirion has missed its Laughing Maiden.”
“Well,” Írimë said delicately, “certainly laughing someone, anyway…”
Arafinwë shot her a brief, puzzled look before Írimë began to laugh. Soon, he joined her.
Írimë’s reintroduction to society came in the form of a ball. She had been prodded and poked, fitted and trimmed until her reflection seemed nigh-unrecognizable in the mirror. The fashions had changed utterly since her time, and, she thought, for the worse. Well, among the nobility, anyway. In her slightly clandestine trips to the city, things had not changed so very much.
Now there was a crowd, all eyes on her. Írimë smiled and set forth to dazzle. She did her best, smiled when she needed to, spoke when she needed to, convinced them that she was indeed alive and recovered -- when she needed to.
Across the ballroom, she caught a glance of Fúmella, dressed in understated finery. Perhaps Fúmella could feel the weight of her regard, because she in turn, watched her, eyes aglow. Írimë blushed, though she could not find the reason why.
It was at the end of evening when her chance came. There was to be dancing, and the attention that had been fixed on her the entire evening shifted, everyone absorbed in the pleasures of dancing, or watching others do the same.
Írimë’s escape was perfect; no one stopped her when she slipped away from the ballroom and ran lightly to her room. She exchanged her large and impractical dress for a simple traveling clothes, and gathered her things into a bag. One last look confirmed that she hadn’t forgotten anything, and Írimë smiled.
Her smile only faded when she opened the door to see her mother waiting for her in the hallway.
“Are you going somewhere?” Indis asked, her arms folded across her chest.
“Ah,” Írimë said, “... perhaps?”
Indis’ stern expression softened a little, and she sighed and shook her head. “I’m not a despot, you are free to go.”
“Mother, I would never call you that --”
Suddenly, Indis embraced her and said, in a fierce whisper, “ I love you, and it was one of the happiest days of my life to have you returned to me. You know that, don’t you?”
“I know! I’m not going across the sea,” Írimë said with a surprised laugh. “I only want to see how my old friends in Aqualondë are faring, and what else there is to see… I will be all right.”
“Yes, you will be all right. If you need anything -- money, clothes, anything, just write to me.”
“Of course,” Írimë said. Impulsively, she leaned in and kissed her mother’s cheek. “I will be back soon!”
“And in one piece,” Indis said faintly.
There was so much more to do. Írimë couldn’t forget them -- those who were still on the other shore, or in Mandos -- but there was so much that she still had left to do. As she scaled down the side of the house -- much easier than it looked, even without her previous experience in such matters and much more preferable than to simply walk out -- Írimë thought of her brother, Nolofinwë.
He wouldn’t quite approve of what she was doing -- Írimë had never been a very proper princess -- but, she knew, despite it all, he would be proud of her still. And when he came out of the Halls of Mandos, they would have one last adventure together.
She landed on the ground with a thump. The stars overhead were bright and twinkling. Írimë laughed as she ran, out the garden and over the walls, down the stairs, ever onward.
She was free.