Outside the porthole the sky hinted only at the barest dawn-light, with a few stars lingering at the edge of dark. Anairë was unsure what had woken her, but her leg throbbed painfully as though she had kicked or twisted it in sleep, and there was a faint sense of something hideous and snarling on the back of her mind. She put an arm around the curve of Eärwen's hip and nestled closer, the fingers of her free hand slipping through Eärwen's hair, free of its night-braid and spilling over her bare shoulder onto the pillows. "You are awake. Are you nervous?"
"I am too tired to be nervous," Eärwen murmured, after a pause. "Returning to Alpalondë, scattering the jewels anew, and putting the griefs to rest at last... and the sea was too choppy to sleep well. You should think that sailing under the protection of the Valar would smooth the waves."
"What, the Queen of the Teleri is kept awake by a little swell?" Even though she shared Eärwen's apprehension of the event to come, and her leg continued to trouble her, Anairë smiled softly. She had noticed nothing more than the ordinary rise and fall of the ship before she had slipped into sleep the evening before, and the sea still lay calm.
"Oh, but you are the one to talk - you sleep like one of your Noldorin rocks whenever you expect a day of trials. I would not expect you to have noticed." The words lacked bite, and although Eärwen's back was turned to her, the twitch of muscles along her shoulders told Anairë that she might be laughing softly and soundlessly. But the moment passed and Eärwen tensed again, sighing. Anairë pushed herself up on her elbow, pressing a kiss to the junction of Eärwen's neck and shoulder, and lingered there.
"We have vanquished Moringotto; all else will follow. Trust yourself, dear heart. It is a while until daylight; you still have time to rest."
* * *
Anairë was sitting up in bed, her dress pushed up around her hips and her leg in fresh bandages above the blankets when Eärwen next woke. She put aside the design she had been working on, and noting Eärwen's quizzical look, said, "Your niece was here while you slept and insisted on seeing my leg."
"She is looking to keep busy, I daresay. She only changed your bandages last night, and the wound is no longer so bad that it needs constant care," Eärwen said. "Small wonder. Alpaher's grave is the first to be uncovered, and she... we... never stopped missing him. It will be hard on her."
Anairë sighed. "Elcánë barely knew him – but it cannot be long now until he returns. The war will already be showing in the Tapestries – and it will be a token of hope to see our success. Your brother of all people will like that; I remember his scowl whenever the matter turned to Melkor and his gifts."
"And you?" asked Eärwen, sitting up and resting her cheek against Anairë's shoulder. "What will you do if Nolofinwë takes heart and returns to un-widow you?" Her lips twisted, but this time it was not a smile.
The words of her reply came out clipped, more so than she intended. "He may already know, but at any rate I trust that he understands that he will be returning to a very different land than the one he left. And he will not be surprised that it is you. He knew before that I loved you. What will you tell Arafinwë?"
"I do not know. What do you suggest I tell him - that our people are to reconcile, but he and I are to go our separate ways while you and I betray his and Nolofinwë's trust? That we have been concealing the truth from him for a long time? Shall we trouble the renewal of the peace of Aman for our own selfish sakes?" Eärwen withdrew and rose from the bed with choppy, wooden motions, pulled a dress over her naked body, and stepped outside. The ship rocked; the door slammed.
* * *
When the fleet passed Tol Eressëa and Eärwen had not yet returned, Anairë rose, leaning heavily on her crutches. Since there was no option to elude Anairë on the ship, she did not think Eärwen would attempt to hide, and indeed she was leaning against the foremast, watching the crew in the rigging above until Anairë cleared her throat.
"Well?" Eärwen made a step toward her, but caught herself. They had agreed long ago that they would restrain displays of affection when there were others to see them. It was not – no longer – unheard of for women or men to love one another, and in the wake of the Exile that had stripped the Eldar of men especially, many women had turned to one another for comfort and eventually more, regardless of whether they had husbands who had left them. It still was not spoken or displayed of openly by most. Two of Nerdanel's wards she had taken in after the Darkening were among the exceptions, and a poet writing by the name of Helinillë circulated her songs and poems through Tirion in secret. Her identity was unknown, though her admirers and supporters had taken to wearing violets in homage to her name.
She lowered her voice to a whisper. "I have been thinking that you owe Arafinwë no explanation. He may have been the one to shun the Exile and the Prophecy and we both know that he was... wise in doing so. But he was prepared to leave you, and left you, and neither of you reached out very far since his return, nor did he object when I joined you at Alqualondë. He may be content to let it remain so – neither you nor he were stripped of your raiment and were banished to Mandos. Nor did any of Námo's messengers come to me stating that I condemned Nolofinwë by our... acts. Would there not have been any such indication? Even without any fault upon her, they came to Nerdanel to inform her that Fëanáro would remain in Mandos while the world lasts." Anairë hesitated. Eärwen's face was placid – frozen, even – but her eyes were brimming with tears.
"You think it may be so easy?"
"I do not know - not until we have spoken with him, and there will not be time for it at the official act. But I do not think it is reasonable for him to expect you to throw yourself into his arms again with no reservations. Nor would your marriage be a fitting discussion to have in front of the Noldor and Teleri.
Eärwen nodded, grasping for the composure that seldom eluded her, and Anairë slipped an arm around her shoulders. They stood watching the shore advance. The Pelóri rose high in the sky ahead and threw their shadows onto the glassy water, but shimmering white at their feet lay Alqualondë low above the waves.
* * *
The sailcloth dress still fit Eärwen, although Anairë had had to expend all her craft to make certain the ancient material did not tear, and seams and blemishes did not show. She had suggested that she sew a new one entirely, even, but the idea had been rebuffed outright by Eärwen, who insisted that it was the only appropriate garment to wear for their victorious return.
"I wore it for my coronation. That was as much a time of renewal as this is, and the people will remember and understand."
"But your renewal then rejected the Noldor. Now you are to welcome them as friends again. Will the people not misunderstand?"
"The express purpose is to welcome you. If you were any more obsessed with symbolism, I might take you for a Vania. It is well as it is." If Eärwen still felt nervousness about disembarking, she was hiding it well, Anairë thought. Only the muscles of her back still were tense under Anairë’s fingers, and if anybody observed that, they might attribute it to the rigidity of her posture rather than any unease.
She retrieved the swan-crown from its casket next, and set it on Eärwen’s head. Pearls, amber and silver wrought in the likeness of two swans in flight sat on her brow and framed her face with their wings, and it was astonishing what change it brought to Eärwen’s expression. A calm, gentle confidence returned to her eyes, and even her lips curved in a soft smile. Her bearing relaxed.
"There," Anairë said. "Perfect."
Eärwen smiled into the mirror before her openly now, and twisting around drew Anairë into a kiss, shaping words against her lips. "Knowing you behind me is all the support I could wish for."
* * *
The ceremony had been planned meticulously even while messages of ship-building and war councils flew between Tirion and Alqualondë, and had been planned for more than eventuality - the loss of the war and the failure of the hosts of the West to return alive, the return in loss and defeat, and the victorious parade that twined along the garlanded road to the silver gates of Alqualondë. Led by Eönwë and Ilmarë, it consisted of the hosts of the Maiar, Vanyar, Teleri and Noldor, while flower-crowned musicians and the celebrating folk of Alqualondë completed the procession.
Anairë, struggling to scale the steep upward slope of the road, felt more sweat soak her beneath her armour with every spike of pain through her leg, and even though she had been accounted a place among those who had suffered wounds in the war and could walk at their leisure rather than march in line, she was soon almost swept to the back of the host, and the fanfares and flutes of the minstrels made her ears ring.
"Anairë," said a well-familiar voice in her ear when the music paused, and she was drawn aside out of the procession. "They will not miss you?"
"I doubt it. They would have afforded me a place further to the front if that were the case." She gestured with her crutches, and, grateful for the reprieve, shifted her weight from her injured leg. "Elemmírë, it is good to see you. You look well."
Elemmírë smiled, and drew her down to sit on the doorsteps of a house. "It is an occasion for happiness. You are ashen," she said. "But likewise seem glad."
"I am," Anairë replied. "I am also a wounded soldier, but I will heal."
Elemmírë laughed good-naturedly at her show of bravery. "And swifter now that Moringotho’s shadow no longer troubles the world, some believe. I hope they spoke true - but that is not the reason I drew you from the throng. There is something I was bidden to pass to Queen Eärwen, but I could not do so without disturbing the procession unduly. It is not urgent, but she may be glad to have it before she speaks privately with Arafinwë. Indeed, they both may."
"I will give it to her when I have a chance to speak with her next," Anairë promised, and took the slip of paper that Elemmírë drew from beneath her belt, tucking it beneath her own.
"Thank you," she said. "Come now, let me help you up the hill. I would not miss the Opening of the Gates for the Noldor. Findis is awaiting me there."
Anairë nodded. "Only a moment." She drew out a handkerchief and passed it over her face to dry the sweat from her brow - and paused.
Her fingers smelled of the perfume of violets, that could only have passed from the paper of the letter and when Anairë looked closer at her old friend, she found her suspicion confirmed - innocuous and almost invisible among the wealth of other flowers comprising the wreath on Elemmírë’s golden hair, violets nestled, nodding as she walked.
* * *
Anairë finally caught sight of Eärwen again in a lull of the festivities. The gates had been flung wide to admit the people of Tirion encamped without the town, speeches of welcome had been made, the war had been recounted, and hymns been sung, then giving the masses of people leave to explore and rest. Many of the squares and courts of the city had been decked with food and drink for the visitors as a token of goodwill before the final ceremony in the evening.
Eärwen, leaning against a rock in the private quarters of the palace garden, was draining her second goblet of white wine. "It was thirsty work. My throat is parched." She gave Anairë a quizzical look. "But unless you fear that I may drink myself into a stupor before the day concludes that is not the reason for the look on your face, is it?"
"No. No, it is not." Anairë had taken the occasion and instead of her armour had donned a loose-fitting, comfortable dress, but she had remembered to take the note with her again, and curled her fingers around it now. "You are much too conscientious for that, although I make no guarantees for what you may wish to do after reading this."
Eärwen took the note, frowning. "Who gave you this?"
"Elemmírë. I met her during the procession to the Gates. Or perhaps I should say… Helinillë -"
" - is Elemmírë? Did you read it?"
Anairë shook her head. "I was directed to give it to you before you spoke with Arafinwë in private. As much as I would like to pry… you will tell me, will you not?"
"Yes," said Eärwen slowly, and unfolded the paper to begin reading. A dried violet bloom slipped out.
"Helinillë sends greetings to Arafinwë King of the Noldor and Eärwen Queen of the Teleri on this occasion, drawn in part from assumption and conjecture, in part from understanding.
I loved thee,- hark, one tenderer note than all -
Arafinwë, of old time, once - one low long fall,
Sighing - one long low lovely loveless call,
Dying - one pause in song so flamelike fast -
Arafinwë, long since in old time overpast -
One soft first pause and last."
Eärwen let the note sink. Anairë closed her eyes.
"She must have had it from Findis that Arafinwë means win you back after all. She spoke of Findis awaiting her, she wore violets in her hair. Her conjecture about us not hard to come by since she knows us both - and if you were to give this to him, he may understand. It is…"
"... perhaps the answer we have been hoping for. I will go to speak to him. He is a kind man. He will understand," Eärwen said.
Reaching for her crutches, Anairë was already seeking to push herself up, but Eärwen’s hands coming to rest warm and heavy on her shoulders pressed her back into the grass.
"Stay here. You went to war for your family, but Arafinwë is my husband - or was, I am not certain which… but I am certain that this task is mine. You already had your closure and bear your wound." She bent to kiss Anairë, briefly, on her forehead, and mustered a smile, before straightening to walk away through the trees in direction of the festivities.
* * *
"... and hereby I declare, and all that can hear and see me shall stand to witness…" Eärwen’s voice shook, but it carried, and in the distance was taken up by the minstrels to ensure that the entirety of the host heard. It rang like an echo along the beach. Anairë had not seen Eärwen since she had left her in the palace garden, and thought her heart must burst seeing her reddened eyes, and the mottled flush that tears always brought to her face.
"... the feud ended and all our griefs forgiven."
Her family stepped forward as she knelt by the great mound that had been piled in the sand - Alpaher’s grave. Once the crown prince of Alqualondë and Eärwen’s older brother, he had been one of the first to fall, followed shortly by the youngest of the siblings, Telepáno. Olwë and Alpanellë had never forgiven themselves for their loss, and at their abdication the crown had passed to Eärwen.
Breathless silence broken only by the surge of the sea settled as Eärwen brushed aside the topmost layer of sand, and the evening light illuminated the hoard and of gems and jewels that the motion of her hand uncovered. She cupped her hands and held them up to receive the handful of gems that Arafinwë took and passed to her, his hand lingering and their fingertips almost - almost - touching.
Anairë’s breath caught in her throat, and something cold coiled in her stomach, the same thing that had told her to adapt her dances to swordplay, and to go to war at all. It cost her more strength to stand still than it would have to intercept, but before she could even will herself into moving, Arafinwë withdrew his hands, inclining his head in direction of the spectators, and his eyes rested on Anairë.
Eärwen rose. "As a sign of the renewed friendship between the people of the Noldor and the folk of the Teleri, their gifts shall no longer lie in mourning on the graves of those who died, nor shall the past be a burden to the living. Once more shall these gems make the shores of Aman as beautiful as they did of yore!"
She lifted her hands to the watchers, turned to the sea, and flung the jewels wide.