“Every love story is a ghost story.”
--David Foster Wallace
2730 SA: The shores of Andustar, Númenor
There was a maiden once, born in the lost land of Númenor, now long forgotten save in a few quiet corners of the World. But once she was a lady of the Western Shore of Andustar, and in the summers she danced day or night upon the golden sands of her fair home, adorned with silver beads that flashed and glittered against her shining black hair like stars in the firmament. Narthanes, lady of the beacon she was named in Sindarin, and the elves that landed upon those golden shores called her Silivressel, the glittering. And in her dark eyes burned the spark of the Second Born: a yearning for a life and love so great and so joyful that death would matter not at all, and that the passage of the ages would never extinguish the burning embers she left in her wake.
On a particular summer night--one that she would cherish and curse forever after in the same breath--she went to the shore to dance as she always did. But as she approached the restless, swirling sea, it appeared to her that the moon had lost its footing and fallen to the earth. For the sky was dark and impenetrable, but on the shore lay a silver figure, bright and still. No breath appeared to stir in his breast, and she sat beside him in the brine and traced his face with a finger, marveling at his tragic beauty. For though his hair was the color of moonlight, his face was young and serene, and he shone from within.
And though she did not know him, her tears for him mingled with the saltwater and washed over them. Then, by some unknown mercy, the sea was calmed, the sky cleared, and under the light of a thousand stars, his eyes opened. He looked up at her in wonder, for in her black hair he saw the lights of Varda enveloping him in a starry mantle. She spoke to him in Sindarin, with a voice low and sweet. With hands soft and delicate as birds, she raised him to his feet and covered him with her light shawl, and though she was small and slight, she bore his weight against her shoulder as she steered him gently to follow her to the house of her father, where she said he would be welcome.
Once the moonlit stranger, had eaten and dressed in the white cotton garb of Andustar, he began to speak freely, and he addressed the court of the castle of Andunie with a voice that was more song than speech. He was one of the Falmari of Alqualonde, and he told them that he had set out on a clear, bright night, the better to endure the travail of the Shadowy Seas. He had raised his voice in song to Uinen, begging safe passage from that fairest and most merciful of ladies. But her husband Osse had risen in anger as his swan-ship caressed the water, and he was flung far, far east--much farther from his beloved Alqualonde than he had ever dared to roam. His ship--his lovely ship, for which he wept as bitterly as for the fellow mariners who had drowned with it--had been dashed and sundered by the rocks.
Only by the grace of the Lady Uinen, had he been born by some secret, loving current, along to these distant shores. And here had he landed, naked and alone, far from the songs and lights of his people. Now he stood before her and her father, begging their hospitality until he could gain passage on an elven ship bound for the Blessed Realm.
In those days, Andunie remained the capital of the elf-friends, the Elendili, and now and again a ship from Tol Eressea would still grace their shores. But already a shadow had begun to creep towards Numenor. The great kingdoms of Men grew ever prouder and more avaricious, and many envied the deathless elves and coveted the Undying Lands for themselves. The Lord of Andunie, who was called Baralin by the visiting elves of Tol Eressea for his flashing dark eyes, gladly granted his hospitality to the shipwrecked singer. For he was a great friend to the elves and the leader of the Faithful who still followed the Valar. But as he looked upon the moonlit stranger his heart was troubled--for he perceived that between this supplicant and his daughter Narthanes there was much that was not yet spoken, but that must soon come to pass.
The moonlit stranger passed many months in Andustar, awaiting the sight of a proud white ship sailing from the West. But in that time he was not idle, and he came to be known as Glirron, the Singer, and he was much loved in the court of Baralin. And much he came to admire the boldness and beauty of Lord Baralin’s daughter, who governed the city beside her widowed father, fair and wise as a great queen. Much talk there was in the city that she may someday marry the King of Numenor himself, and restore the line with her faith and her blood--for she was a descendant of Elros himself, and longevity and health was her birthright.
Glirron wrote many songs for Lady Narthanes, and at first he sang of her beauty, her charm, the grace of her dancing. But though these delighted the court and greatly flattered her father’s vanity, she received them only with gracious courtesy, for she found herself wearied by such tributes. And though he liked to please his audience, it was for her smiles that he came to yearn. So he sang to her of oceans beyond her view, of distant starlit towers, and of deeds great and valiant in times long past. Then in his voice, she heard the melancholy echoes of the ocean, and she felt a pull on her heart like the sounding of a bright chorus of clarions off away in the distance.
Enthralled as she was by his songs, his voice, by his steady, earnest gray gaze, she knew that not long could she resist him while propinquity continued to test her. But soon, he would sail away upon a ship bound for lands forbidden to her, and she would return to the duties she owed to her own people. And so, if she could not deny him, she sought to evade him, and to wait for him to fade forever from her view. Privately she mourned the love that was never to be, and publically she changed but little. Only in the depths of her sloe eyes could a secret sadness sometimes be perceived, and then only for fleeting moments.
And so, life went on in Andustar, and the Maiden danced, and the Singer played, and the Lord sat upon his throne, and Disaster paced unmarked upon the golden sands.
1600 SA: The Grey Havens, Lindon
Upon the Gulf of Lune, in the great elven kingdom of Lindon, the beacon of the Grey Havens shone out upon the dark waters, bright and welcoming. On a night of particular clarity, when the firmament shone lovingly upon calm waters of the harbor, an elf lord, slender, dark-haired, and grave, looked out over the gulf with eyes gray and clear as a midsummer twilight. He gazed out upon the radiance of Varda’s stars, and smiled at the western light of Earendil. But sad was his smile and troubled was his high, fair brow.
“Well, father, you rank sentimentalist,” he said to the star in the west, “you told me of all the beauty and joy of love. Did you forget to tell me of its cruelty as well? For my beloved does not wait constantly for me, to greet me in rapture, as yours does for you. What becomes of the rest of us, who love in silence and doubt?” Elrond, squire of King Gil-Galad sighed deeply as the star seemed to twinkle and grow in luster for a moment, as if in response. “If only it were so easy. I could slay a thousand goblins before I dared ask her mother for her hand--well, you met her, you know what the Lady Galadriel is like. If only Elros were here. He would know how to disarm her. Or at least how to put courage into my heart to face her down.”
So had Elrond passed many a night, sighing and fretting in a manner most unlike him. For he loved the Lady Celebrian, the maiden of the silver-bright hair and eyes like the sky on a clear winter’s morning. But those eyes passed over him without regard, and the lady’s mother watched him, Elrond Half-Elven, with suspicion and distaste.
On this night of particular clarity, Elrond’s laments were cut short, for a ship of beauty never before seen in that part of the world came sailing out of the darkness. Standing upon the bow, brighter than the beacon, brighter even than the clear sky, a golden figure leaned forward into the wind, smiling out upon the harbor. And Elrond, shaken from his mournful soliloquy, leapt up and hurried to meet the newcomers.
He stood upon the harbor, holding rope to secure the bright vessel, but as if of its own accord, the ship bumped gently against the silver pier and stayed there securely moored, and three tall, proud figures descended. First, side by side, in robes that shimmered in all the shifting blues of the sea, two men tall and grave, with eyes like lightning. Solemnly they gazed upon the shining harbor, and they spoke between the two of them in murmurs.
After them descended the golden man, and all that beheld him found their hearts lifted as if by the rising of the sun. He leapt lightly over the railing of the ship and landed noiselessly upon the wood of the harbor.
Tall he was, and broad of shoulder, and his hair glowed with the golden hue of Laurelin. His countenance was noble and full of mirth and youthful beauty, and in his eyes shone the wisdom of the Eldar and the laughter of the breeze. Even lovelorn Elrond could not help but feel a lightening in his burdened heart, for in the manner of this stranger there was a measure of the familiar. In his carefree smile Elrond saw much of his long-passed brother Elros, and in his effortless strength he saw the courage of his father.
And indeed, when Glorfindel, for that was his name, saw Elrond, his beautiful golden eyes filled with happy tears, and he pressed his hands as though he had met his own kin upon that distant shore.
“Oh, son of Earendil,” he cried, “how I welcome the sight of you, my friend. I bear messages of great love from your mother and father. They miss you dearly, and wish you joy in your life here.”
From that night, Elrond and Glorfindel passed their days almost always in each other’s company. And Elrond saw in the heart of his beloved friend the courage of the lion and the kindness of a warm summer afternoon. But slowly he came to see too the restlessness of the eagles, and a yearning that could not be named, nor allayed by any of the grandeur and hospitality of the court of Lindon.
And, presently, he perceived that the beauty of his newfound brother had brought joy to more hearts than just his. For they lived in a time of fear and dread and looming shadows--the arrival of the hero of Gondolin, slayer of dark and evil things, defender of the weak, shed light over the realm that drove back the shadows for a time and that kindled fires in the hearts of many of the maidens of the court of Gil-Galad.
So it was with a bittersweet joy that Elrond watched as the ice over the heart of Celebrian was melted by the warm sunlight of Glorfindel’s presence. He appreciated in agony the loveliness of the glowing smiles she bestowed upon the golden lord, and when they danced together, he reveled in the excruciating beauty of their gold and silver orbit.
And so hope returned to Middle-Earth, and with it walked heartbreak.
2803 SA: Andúnië, Númenor
Until his sixteenth summer, Gimilzagar, son of Zôrzagar, had never seen a dead body. Death seemed to retreat instinctively from the golden glow of the sands and trees of Andustar. On that enchanted shore, the children of the Faithful laughed and tumbled carelessly in fields of fragrant flowers, and covered their skin in the crystalline salt of the pure waters of the sea. So when Gimilzagar pulled his prettiest friend into his favorite grove of sweet-scented Yavannamírë trees, hoping to finally find a moment of solitude to sing her his courtship song, he took many long moments to understand the strange smell and the dark shapes that hung, swaying slightly from those lovely branches. Only when his companion uttered a soft cry of horror and ran forward did he register that something may be amiss in his enchanted clearing. By the time his eyes had adjusted to the filtered green light and his mind had painstakingly identified the hanging objects, his companion had scaled a tree and pulled a small dagger from her belt as she walked along one burdened tree branch like a cat.
“Gil,” she whispered sharply, “come on, we need to cut them down. Help me.”
Gimilzagar gazed up at her, paralyzed with horror.
“Azruarî,” he said hoarsely, “these are… they’re…”
But Azruarî was occupied on her tree branch, hacking at the rope that suspended one of the lifeless bodies in midair. So occupied was she, in fact, that even her unusual ears did not detect the rustling on the outskirts of the grove. Only when an arrow came whistling out of the trees, burying itself near Gimilzagar’s heart, did she look away from her macabre work. This time, it was she who watched motionless, unable to comprehend, as Gimilzagar--sweet, naive, misguidedly romantic Gimilzagar--crumpled to the ground with a cry. She swallowed her scream, willing her muscles to move. After what felt like an age, though it could only have been seconds, she crept silently back along her branch, retreating into the leaves of the fragrant hanging tree, and the shadows reached out to shelter her. She watched, suspended in the horror of the moment, as three men, one holding a crossbow, ran into the clearing and knelt over her dying friend.
“Just a boy--no elvish blood,” the largest of them announced to his companions. “Take his satchel and purse and leave him--we must hurry back before someone discovers us.”
“There was another,” murmured the bowman in a soft voice that made Azruarî’s blood run cold. “I saw two enter the clearing. One vanished easily into a tree--too easily. There’s an elf here.” He raised his eyes to the trees, and the hidden girl shuddered as his gaze swept over the branch that hid her. They were of the palest blue, full of coldly seething hatred. Then he dropped his eyes to the dying boy at his feet.
“Look. The boy carries a lyre. I think he was more than a friend of these pestilent elves. I think he brought an elf maiden here for courting, didn’t he?” The odious bowman bent over the injured boy and scrutinized him. But Gimilzagar stared into the man’s dead eyes with an impassive gray gaze and said nothing. “Come, boy, tell us where the elf maid is and I’ll spare your miserable life.”
“There was no one here,” the boy declared in a strong, ringing voice. “I came here only to sing to the shadows and the sea wind.” The bowman aimed a kick at Gimilzagar’s ribcage.
“Liar,” he spat. “Elf-loving scum.”
“ And proud of it, ” said the boy in clumsy Sindarin. With a snarl, the bowman drew a thin dagger and plunged it into Gimilzagar’s throat, twisting it cruelly. The boy gurgled, twitched, and lay still.
“He deserves much worse than mere death. Let us make an example of him. Quarter him, take his manhood, pin him to the gates of his cursed city.”
At these words, the girl in the tree felt the ice that kept her still shatter, as rage tore through her body. Her vision blurred red and she coiled, preparing to leap down upon the murdering King’s Men and sever their throats with her dagger. But the split second before she struck, she heard, so close it might have come from the tree itself, a woman’s voice of almost unbearable beauty, musical and powerful as the sea winds, command her.
Something seemed to brush along the nape of her neck, like cold fingers tracing her spine. She found herself immobilized by the authority in the voice, only able to wait and wonder, expecting the men to turn and fire upon the source of the noise. But no one seemed to have heard the voice of power, and she was alone in the branches.
Then several things happened simultaneously. The cruel bowman raised his dagger to begin mutilating Gimilzagar’s lifeless corpse, and Azruarî let out an involuntary gasp. As the men turned to find the source of the sound, a whistling sound announced four knives, thrown from the shadows. One buried itself in the forehead of the large man, dropping him instantly. Another sliced through the bowman’s right hand, drawing a hideous shriek from his lips. The last two severed the ropes holding each of the corpses, casting them down upon the King’s Men.
Without looking around to find the source of the commanding voice, Azruarî launched herself from her branch upon the back of the bowman’s other companion and cut his throat from ear to ear before he could scream. She looked up from her kill to see a familiar female form emerge from the tree cover. The small woman drew a long dagger from her belt and attacked the bowman as he whirled on Azruarî. The silver adornments in her dark hair glittered in the dappled light as she slashed at her enemy, disarming him quickly and driving him back against a tree. She pinned him there with her dagger to his throat.
“Rope, Azruarî, bring me rope,” she barked. Azruarî hastened to cut rope from the neck of one of the hanged and brought it to her mother. “Bind him.”
Azruarî hesitated. She wanted to kill him right then and there, to soak her hands in his blood. She had never felt bloodlust before that day, but now she was overwhelmed by the desire--nay, the craving --for violent revenge. But her mother caught her with a stare that shook her back to her senses enough that she could restrain her hatred and hurry forward to help. Her sailor’s hands made quick, powerful knots around the man’s hands and legs, hogtying him in the most painful way she could manage. The four Andúnië guards who had accompanied Azruarî’s mother to the clearing chuckled at her work.
“Your daughter has developed quite a sense of justice, Gimlîth,” observed Aglarân approvingly.
Gimlîth raised a brow as she surveyed her child’s work.
“Yes,” she agreed, smiling sardonically, “I’m exceedingly proud of her.” She began swiftly checking her daughter for injuries like a mother panther rolling her cub over for grooming.
“I’m alright, mother,” Azruarî said automatically, though she was not at all sure that was true. Her mother seemed to share her doubts.
“If you are truly “alright” after this, I will be terribly concerned. What in the name of the Valier just happened?”
Calmed enough by her mother’s gruff presence, she told them everything. Or at least, almost everything. She told them of the walk with Gimilzagar, of coming upon the hanging bodies, of scaling the tree to cut them down from their ignominious display, and of Gimilzagar’s death… here, she choked slightly and could not continue. Nor did she entirely wish to explain the mysterious, commanding voice that had saved her. Aglarân placed a large hand upon her shoulder and squeezed gently.
“These are elf bodies.” Gimlîth’s voice was clear and carefully neutral as she said it, but Azruarî could see a deep fear stirring in her mother’s dark eyes. “Two of the Tol Eressëa envoy, Sildaner and Yualo.”
Aglarân cursed and shook his head.
“I have heard of incidents like these happening to the East… but I did not believe the King’s Men bold enough to come to Andustar. In their craven way, Gimlîth, they are growing braver. We cannot hold them off forever.” The guard cast a significant glance at Azruarî, his eyes falling upon the points of her ears.
“I know,” Gimlîth murmured. “I know.” She raised her eyes from the corpses to look with an expression of unbearable love and sadness at her daughter, who looked suddenly so small and fragile. The forest light fell upon her translucent skin curiously, and Gimlîth noted how undeniably different her daughter looked from the other citizens of their beautiful island. “I am sorry I have delayed this for so long, my love. It was wrong of me to keep you here--Númenor is no longer any place for an elf.”
Azruarî moved forward to take her mother’s hands and kiss them.
“You are not to blame for that--this is my home, mother. I belong here too.”
“Perhaps you did once, but no longer. I followed you to this clearing because I felt a chill--as if someone whispered in my ear that you were in danger. Someone is watching over you, Azruarî. I know not by whom, but now you are summoned away from this place. Once we make funeral arrangements for Gimilzagar, Sildaner, and Yualo, we must leave.”
“Where? Where can we go?”
“I know not. We must put our faith in the sea and the sky to guide us, as we always have. Aglarân, I shall escort my daughter back to the city and inform the families of the attack. Would you deal with this,” Gimlîth glared down upon the bound man with eyes full of contempt, “child killer until I return?”
“With pleasure, Captain,” said Aglarân, his voice little more than a snarl as he sneered down at the bowman.
As Azruarî left the clearing, and her blood slowly cooled from her state of fear and alertness, she finally smelled the odor of the blood mixed with the fragrance of the trees. Sorrow overwhelmed her and she walked beside her mother in silent tears. She passed through the fields of flowers and beneath the wondrous trees, walked along the shore as a stranger in her own land. Her feet left no mark in the soft sand and the breeze did not disturb her wild hair. Only once did the world touch her--as she passed under her favorite Laurinquë tree, her head brushed one of the low-hanging clusters of golden flowers, and a single blossom caught in her dark tangles.
In the year 2803 of the Second Age, Lady Gimlîth, Captain of the Marine Guard of Andúnië, and her daughter, Azruarî Half-Elven, departed Númenor on a ship bound for the haven of Pelargir. Their voyage was watched by curious eyes, and guided by hands unknown. On the night they left their beloved city by the sea, a detachment of King’s Men infiltrated Andúnië and slaughtered four of the Night Guard, acting on a rumor of a young half-elf living among the Faithful as one of their own.
In years to come, Gimlîth, never one of much superstition, would speak of a woman’s voice, deep and commanding, that had come to her in a dream, roused her from her bed, and ordered her to board the first ship departing that night.
So began the journey of Azruarî the Wanderer. Not for many lives of men would she come to rest again.