“It’s very dark here,” Nerdanel, and sniffed doubtfully. She turned and looked around the place that they had stepped into. “Fëanáro! What on earth is that, do you think?”
Fëanor turned and looked across at the great castellated towers lit with an unexpected sharp orange light against the deep blue-grey of the cloudy sky.
“It’s somewhat bright, isn’t it? I like it,” he said.
Nerdanel laughed. “You would. But they don’t use castles any more, do they? I thought England was at peace.”
“More or less,” Fëanor said, and took her hand in the darkness under the trees, looking away from the bright castle on the horizon to watch the subtle outline of her, the soft radiance that still faintly lit her face, and feel the shape of her hand, long remembered. “They’re decorative now. Relics of an ancient time, like us. Though rather less secret, of course.”
“Come along then, ancient secret relic of old wars,” Nerdanel said, a warm smile curling through her voice. “Let’s go and explore.”
The old bridge that Fëanor had remembered from his last visit to the town had broken and fallen away. In the distance, from the quiet gardens full of mist that surrounded the rushing of the river they could see a newer bridge, lit with a brilliant orange light, but they ignored it. There was nothing much left for the river to sweep away of Nerdanel now; she was only mind, heart and memory, and all of those can cross a river without any trouble. Fëanor’s body was still more present in the world, but the jump was not a difficult one for someone of his height.
They walked up towards the town, hand in hand, past brick walls dark with wet, houses with dark timber picked out against white walls. Windows with curtains closed glowing bright with the electric light behind them, flickering here and there with the light of the strange devices that people loved so much now.
“I like the texture and the pattern of that old red box,” Nerdanel said, pulling Fëanor to one side, to inspect a tall box of glass and metal that glowed from within with a warm light that shone and reflected on the wet paving around it. “It looks new and old at the same time. What is it for?”
“Telephone,” Fëanor read. “A communication device, rather like my old palantirs, though much more limited in scope. There was a great fashion for them for a hundred years or so: last time you came with me I think they must just have begun installing them. I believe they have rather fallen out of favour now though.”
“Hmm.” Nerdanel had finished examining the box. “I may make one. It’s rather jolly. No. It’s a device for communication... I must make two, or else the essence of it is lost. I could put one in the pinewoods of Dorthonion, to surprise anyone who should come wandering by... and one beside the sea, to reflect in the waters. I don’t care for the design of the inside, though. But a palantir would look wrong, I think, and anyway, that really would be old-fashioned.”
“Perhaps a figure using the device?” Fëanor said, delighted. It had been some time since Nerdanel had been inspired to create a new concept, and he had begun to be concerned for her.
She nodded, looking thoughtfully at the interior of the box. “Yes. Yes! A figure. I shall look around for one. But not that precise device. Too ugly. I shall study these telephones for a few years, I think, and then I can make them to my own preference... ”
“A delightful idea,” Fëanor said, as they began to make their way up the street again into the twinkling light of small bright lanterns hung across the road, and a warmer yellow glow from the windows of shops and eating-houses.
It began to rain a little harder. Nerdanel shook her head as if to dispel water droplets. “It’s terribly wet, Fëanáro. Why did we come tonight?”
“It seemed as good a night as any. It’s not as though the rain settles on you any more,” Fëanor pointed out. His own hair was wet, but the rain seemed to have difficulty finding Nerdanel.
“I still feel damp,” she said wrinkling her nose, and he put an arm around her.
“Shall we go inside and eat?” he suggested.
Nerdanel gave him an amused look. “I thought we were being inconspicuous?”
Fëanor laughed. “When I choose to be conspicuous, I do it properly, remember? They sing songs of my deeds through the ages. Therefore, I feel that I can say with complete confidence that entering...” he peered at the nearest window, “..a Lebanese restaurant and eating a quiet meal is in no way being excessively conspicuous.”
“Good point.” Nerdanel said with determination, and set off for the door.
They did not need to eat a great deal, now; Nerdanel probably did not need to eat at all. But from time to time it was still pleasant to sip wine and eat a little, and so they did.
“You know, I was expecting something strange and foreign, but this is rather the sort of thing one might be served in Valimar,” Nerdanel said, scooping a little hummus onto warm flatbread.
“I suppose it is. More interesting to be eating it in Warwick, though, and I think the flavours are a little different,” Fëanor said, attentively consuming rice in a vine leaf. “Anyway, it’s a very long time since I’ve eaten in Valimar.”
“Mmm.” Nerdanel said, somehow managing to sip wine with lips made of memory. Fëanor had deliberately refrained from investigating how that worked. There were some things he preferred not to look at too closely, now, lest something should be broken in the search. Nerdanel was well and full of joy and somewhat to his amazement, still his companion on their journeys, and that was enough.
“You could go to Valimar if you wanted,” she suggested. “All of that was over long ago.”
“I could. But what’s new in Valimar?” Fëanor said, waving a fork for emphasis. “ The Vanyar and the Valar singing the same old songs... The Round World is far more interesting. You know, this is a very good falafel.”
“Isn’t it? But I’d say you’d be better able to hold an opinion on what’s going on in Valimar if you went there occasionally,” Nerdanel said smiling. “But all right, the Round World is interesting too. For example, what in the world are those people doing with their food?“
Fëanor turned with interest to examine them. “I think they are capturing images of it. I wonder why.”
“Shall we ask them?” Nerdanel said, with a light of daring in her eye, just as she might have done so long ago upon the strand beside Alqualondë when the world was young.
“Why not?” Fëanor stood up, adjusting the glamour he was wearing to ensure that his appearance would not cause alarm, and Nerdanel laughed.
“Get the woman to turn her head more towards me, if you can,” she said. “I love her cheekbones. Wonderful contrast, the roundness of her body and the shape within just showing through...She can be one of the figures in my telephone.”
“Telephone box,” Fëanor said. “The box is named separately from the device contained within it. I’ll stand on the left, that way you’ll get a good view of her.”
“Nasri.” Adab said,some time later. “What’s this? Did you have to put Christmas decorations inside the till?”
“I haven’t had time to decorate anything, with David off with the flu,” Nasri said, pausing as he passed with a tray. “What, has someone put tinsel in there?”
“The notes tray is full of these!” Adab said, and held up a great red stone, nearly the size of her thumb, with a flicker of brilliance deep in its heart as it caught the light.
“Not guilty, I swear! Pretty though.” He swung through the double doors into the kitchen.
“It is,” Adab agreed to the now-empty room, turning it to watch the light flicker in the depths. They did not feel like plastic. Glass, probably. She scooped the bright stones from the till. “Too pretty to hide away,” she decided. She took them to the figures of the three wise men that they always put on the shelf near the kitchen doors, and scattered them around the feet of the camels, to brighten the scene.
Nerdanel and Fëanor wandered on up the street through the fine rain. There were more people about here, wearing a strange assortment of clothing that was most amusing. The lanterns that decked the street glowed with a soft radiance in the misty air.
They turned a corner and saw ahead of them a great tower, and around it tall windows coloured bright by the light behind it: blues and reds, violets and clear amber yellows shining to outmatch the electric lights strung along the street in richness and in subtlety.
“Ah!” Fëanor said delighted. “So the windows are still there!”
Nerdanel laughed. “So this is why we came here in the darkness and the wet! To show off one of your works, filled with light!”
Fëanor laughed. “No, it’s not all mine: you’ll see when we get closer. I thought it would have fallen long ago: glass is not an enduring thing among the troubles of Men, after all, and I was curious to see what they would have put there in its stead. But I was here with the Man who made it a few hundred years ago. John Prudde, he was called, you would have liked him, I think. You were busy with your wirework at the time, and so I was left to entertain myself.”
“It’s beautiful,” Nerdanel said as they approached. “I see something of the spirit of the maker in his hand, as well as your colours. I’d know them anywhere.”
“He wanted glass from beyond the Sea,” Fëanor said. “And so it is, though perhaps not quite the Sea that he was thinking of...”
As they admired the windows, standing in the wet street where the last damp leaves still clung to the trees in the graveyard, they could hear the sound of voices from within, and then a great rolling music began, and the voices lifted with it in song.
“Oh!” Nerdanel said. “Oh, how lovely.”
Fëanor held out his hand to her. The organ played, and behind the ancient shining windows, voices sang of holly and of ivy. Outside, two Elves more ancient by far than any work of man, danced in the rain lit many-coloured with a light that was both of Middle-earth and from far beyond the Sea.