It’s Not Permanent
The last fifty years of her life, perhaps a little more, had passed her by as in a haze. There were parts that clarified and bubbled to the surface in her memory but for the most part it was foggy, as though she had carried through things in a trance. Here, on the other side of the worst of the rapids she sat in a still, clear pool and tried to remember the rush of the water and the way the river had bent.
The company walked forward along the mountain paths, feet treading the light summer snows that clung so high above the world. The air was thinner here and it caught in the lungs and didn’t satiate. Thin broth, really, but the Elf didn’t notice that sort of thing. Nor did she notice the ice beneath her bare feet. She just walked, followed along in the middle of the company with the thin volume open in hand.
Hallem had helped her find it, the book. When Halgruith had died and she had not his memories had drifted in with the others. It had not been intentional, she knew that, he had taken her memories as a kindness and dying had returned them to her but like a river in flood in those last moments it had been hard to control how it flowed. Debris had got caught in the water. In one of those he had hidden this book in the library of Rivendell and she had now found it. Leather-bound and thin, a drawing book filled with strange figures.
Clustered in pages were people, rarely labelled, most of them Elves (she supposed most were Elves of Eregion), but sometimes the page would open up there would be a glimpse of some ancient tower, of the docks of Numenor when there had been docks and a Numenor, a distant view of hidden Gondolin. Sometimes she would come across a person she recognized hidden in the clusters. Her father was there, and two people she assumed were her cousins who had died long ago, her aunt… But mostly they were just faces and she did not have any of the memories to place them.
The walls of the harbor rose up and up and atop them lay a garden that was open to the great sea. This garden looked West and below the Men made their way around and over the fair ships. The sun dipped low over the sea and made it look as though fires burned beneath it.
“Can you see it? All the way to the West?” Asked the woman who stood while he sat on the bench looking out. He shook his head and looked back at her.
She was tall and slender, when he had first seen her it had been bent over an oven, black hair plaited in a braid and slim shoulders peaking out of a white blouse. She wore boots then and an apron and there had been a smear of flour over one high cheek. Her dark eyes had taken in the world around her, the baker’s oven with its counter-top decorated with bread and pastries, and she had scoffed at it all. As if she too could see the future and could see that this place would one day be worth forgetting.
This he thought in memory, but really the first day he had walked past her without a second thought. Like all the denizens of Eldalonde she blended together and the Elf had carried on his long conversation with the Man he was staying with. It was not until the second month of his stay that their eyes had met and he had seen her staring at him with eyes that held some strange challenge. A challenge to him and to everything else that had ever been. That would ever be.
And now she stood there dressed in silk. He had bought it, had bought her a wardrobe of clothes because he could not say what he wanted but could fling gold at the problem as he willed. He was a jeweler after all and he could decorate her like a doll over the course of years, braid her hair with gems like fire and golden threads and wrap diamonds around her neck until they both choked on them.
“No, not from here really. Maybe if I were up higher,” he replied and moved over to let her sit. There was a bundle of cloth in her arms and she set it aside. Red silk lay in artful drapes below her hands and rose to those fair shoulders that seemed to glow luminescent in the setting sun.
He could say it, right now he could say it and what was even the point of all of these gems and all of this gold?
“Which one?” She asked, and leaned forward to look down at the docks.
“Below on the right, with the green on it,” he gestured with his open hand, his black robes came down over a slender hand, his long silver hair was caught in a breeze and trailed behind him.
“And it harbors up north? Near those Havens?”
“Yes, where the High King’s lands begin.”
He knew how it ended, already he could see it all. It had come to him late one night when she had fallen asleep nestled against his arm, it spread out like the streams which flowed from a river and into the sea. She had been beyond the bakery then, two years beyond it and instead she walked with him to the parties of the noble houses and played cards with highborn women in gardens during the day. And in the evenings they walked to gardens or sat in the little house and played games of their own devising which took up the space of words when he should have said something. The streams he could see carried him away and she remained upon the shore.
“You could come with me. It isn’t safe here, even when I leave they’ll count you wrongly, find you suspect,” he said. “The new king is-”
“I told you no,” she snapped, turning away from the sea to stare at him. “I’m not going to run away. This is my home, if I run away who will be here to speak up?”
He couldn’t keep looking at her. Her words were delivered softly but her eyes were all fire. The sunset caught the diamonds on her neck. She didn’t say the words but he could hear them. Coward, she said.
“It won’t be safe,” he implored and reached to put a hand on her cheek. She pulled away.
“Can you see so?”
“It won’t all come true. It’s just something that might be. You said so.”
“Minuial…” He began desperately and reached instead for her hand. She didn’t move it away and that was something. He opened his mouth to say something but the words wouldn’t come out. Her eyes pierced through him and he thought he could stay, if he wished to. But he wouldn’t.
They sat in silence as the sun fell and the night breezes from the sea turned cold. Eventually, like always, she fell asleep nestled against his arm. But she woke up eventually and in silence again they traded final gifts. Halgruith handed her the key to the house, he wasn’t carrying anything away with him, just his books and the bundled cloth she swore him not to open until the ship was free on the water.
It was a loaf of bread, and he ate it in pieces while the docks receded upon the shore.