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Abundance by pandemonium_213

Author: pandemonium_213
Title: Abundance
Rating: PG-13 (language; sexual references)
Theme: Feast
Elements: Sieve
Beta: Many thanks to Core Lizards drummerwench, grey_gazania, heartofoshun, nelyo_russandol, and surgicalsteelfor feedback and careful nitpicking. Linguistic assistance kindly provided by elvses, a.k.a. Darth Fingon and nelyo_russandol.
Author's Notes:  Abundant thanks to Steel for allowing me to borrow her OMC, Haldanar.  Also, please see foreword and end notes below the cut.
Summary:  During the waning of the Third Age, an elven-smith returns to northern Eriador after a long absence. There she receives a cold reception initially, which unfolds into an abundantly warm welcome. 
Word Count:  approx. 8035, including foreword, end notes, and recipe.



Foreword:  The narrator of this story may be familiar to some readers and participants of the lotr_communitythrough my work archived on The Silmarillion Writers' Guild and on [info]surgicalsteel's fiction website, surgsteelfic, where we have co-written stories together.  The earliest story in which the protagonist of Abundance appears is Risk Assessment (although the need to justify her existence occurs in Trinity), followed by early appearances a few chapters of The Elendilmir.  More stories, in which this protagonist has been featured in major and minor roles, have since been archived.  

Over the past three plus years, during which I have built the Pandë!verse with its humanistic and scientifictitious interpretations of characters in Tolkien's legendarium, I was cagey about revealing the Istyanis' full identity and did so by dropping crumbs of clues.  I did this because I wanted this OFC to be accepted for her own merits in a fandom that is so swift to shriek "Mary Sue!"  I think that has been accomplished, based on historical reception of the character.  

That said, I do not write linearly, so I beg the indulgence of those less-than-familiar with the Pandë!verse, a place that encompasses events prior to the entry of the Ainur into Arda (our Solar System as JRRT wrote) to contemporary times.  The vast majority of my stories are interlinked, whether overtly or otherwise.

Companion pieces to this story are Inner LightRed Herring, The Glitter of Swords, and The Token, all of which take place after Abundance, but within the immediate time frame.

Nouveau bar 5

Abundance

Narquelië, Year 3018 of the Third Age, Steward's Reckoning; Winterfilth Year 1418, Shire Reckoning

Her three captors loomed in the cold rain that pelted from the autumn sky. Their hoods fell forward to shadow their faces, hard and stern as the standing stones that dotted the high moor, although occasionally the stars entangled in their eyes glinted with the remaining light of the day. Ancient eyes, Mélamírë thought. They are far older than I.

A gust of wind blew the hood of her cloak off her head. She yanked at the woolen fabric with one hand, while she grasped the reins of her horse in the other.  The wind blew back her hood again. She blinked against the rain that stung her eyes. Had she ever been as chilled and wet as this? Surely she had. After all, she had crossed the high passes of the Mountains of Heaven, but her current misery surmounted all past memories.

Kumuda snorted and stamped her hooves, much put upon, and shook the rain from her hide with a great shiver.

She's as miserable as I am. She is a child of the desert sun and the warm rains of the monsoon.

Mélamírë patted her mare's flank in sympathy, and noted that Kumuda's black coat had thickened, no doubt in response to the colder clime and the fast approaching winter.

She already adapts to the North, just as I must.

Mélamírë shifted back and forth on her feet, willing herself to stay warm, but the hardships she had endured over these past months of travel had weakened the connection between her hröa and fëa. So she shivered.

Had the sun been shining, the moor would have been ablaze with hues of copper, russet and ochre in late afternoon light, but now it lay dull and dank. The guards, bows slung across their backs, spoke amongst themselves in what sounded to Mélamírë like one of the Doriadhren dialects of the Grey-Elven tongue, which meant she did not understand these men particularly well. It had been, what?  Thirty-five long-years since she had spoken even common Sindarin?  Bad enough that she had returned to find the languages of the Men of the West so utterly foreign, save for a few words here and there.  She listened past the rain to overhear one of the guards say golodhren elleth once and then the other replying something to the effect of The East Wind blows nothing good to the West, which she concluded was a reference to herself.

Perhaps if she had removed her earrings and the diamond stud in her nose, all trappings of the East, she might have been better received.  Or if she could speak their dialect instead of a long unused language that now felt thick and awkward on her tongue.  She doubted it, though.  A thick pall of fear hung heavy over these western lands.  Suspicion infused every movement and every murmur of the guardians of the hidden valley.  She supposed she had been lucky that they had not just loosed their arrows on her when she had ridden into their sight, no questions asked.

I would not blame them if they had. For all they know, I am no different than one of the thralls released by Morgoth.

She recalled her mother's stories of the thralls:  those Elves, mostly Noldor, for Morgoth had hated her people with a special hatred, who had been enslaved in Thangorodrim, but released to wander throughout Beleriand.  They were often pariahs among their own people, and not without reason, for some were so bound to Morgoth that they served as the Black Foe's spies, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes deliberately.  The Sindar, who harbored simmering animosity toward the Noldor, despised the thralls, who, her mother said, vanished near the borders of Doriath, never to be seen again.

She eyed the men who had intercepted and detained her.  Had they once been among those who had prowled the outskirts of Melian's Girdle, picking off the Noldoli-thralls with their piercing arrows?  A shudder of fear layered itself on the chill of the rain and wind that gnawed at her.

If they had any inkling of who I am, they'd surely toss me off a cliff, just like Eöl.

She attempted to quell her apprehension.  These men likely did not know exactly who she was, but their lord would.  Oh, yes, he would know.  He would know that she had been captured when Ost-in-Edhil fell.  She guessed that any who survived the destruction of Eregion presumed her to be dead or imprisoned in the Barad-dûr.  Yet here she was, alive, cold and wretched on the borders of his domain, requesting entry into the valley.  She knew Elrond and thought of him fondly, and he had been kind to her many years ago.  But what would he think now?  That Sauron had released her from his dungeons, from which there was no escape, to serve as his spy would be a perfectly logical conclusion, and Elrond was nothing if not a logical man.

She was no spy, and she had escaped the inescapable.  How to tell that to Elrond by means of these hardened warriors?  Yes, please inform Master Elrond that I took my leave of the Barad-dûr, thank you.  How, you ask?  Why, I changed into a bird and flew away.  She imagined the reaction of these grim Sindar to that snippet of her harrowing tale.  A gasp of a laugh escaped her lips at the absurdity of the thought, and one the guards turned sharply toward her, his hand on the hilt of his dagger.  She composed herself and met his glare.  He looked away.

She had been far more circumspect:  "Please tell Master Elrond that the Istyanis requests an audience with him."  The fourth of their number had left to do just that nearly two hours ago, judging by the darkening sky.

She might have invoked Laurefin's name to gain entry, but she wanted to be received on her own merits.  Had she arrived in his company, she imagined the guards might have been more welcoming.  She might already be sitting before a fire, or better yet, wrapped in Laurefin's arms beneath a downy coverlet.  That thought warmed her, at least temporarily.

She wondered where he was by now.  After they parted nearly five days ago, he went tearing away on that white horse with those ludicrous bells on its headstall, an eccentricity that assured her that Laurefin was still Laurefin, even after all the long-years of their separation.  She had ridden in the opposite direction toward the ford, crossed the river, and reached the moor to follow a meandering path, almost overgrown with grass, but marked here and there with small piles of stones that served as subtle guideposts.

Laurefin had been both forthcoming and vague about the urgent nature of his errand.  Forthright in telling her that the Nazgûl were abroad, vague in that he would not say whom they hunted.  That was enough to send shivers down her spine even before the cold autumn rain lashed her.   It also explained the growing sense of dread she felt as she made her way northward.

"You will return to me, won't you?" she had asked.

He looked at her as if butterflies had popped out of her mouth.  "What a question!  Of course, I will return to you!  Those wretched excuses for wraiths don't stand a chance against me."

The tension around his eyes belied his breezy swagger.  He brushed her forehead with his lips.  "I hope that mare of yours is less delicate than she looks because you must ride hard to reach the Ford of the Bruinen.   The Nazgûl will hunt their quarry on this side of the river, and we can't risk their master discovering that you have returned.  You must promise me that you will seek protection from Elrond."

"I promise, but don't expect me to always be so compliant."

He chuckled at that. "You? Compliant? If I wanted an obedient little wife, I would not have sung the vows with you last night.  I must be off. Look for me to return in a fortnight or less, if all goes well.  In the meantime, keep the bed warm for me."

Her husband had kissed her — thoroughly this time — before they parted and he made her promise yet again she would seek Elrond's protection. She agreed with no argument.

My husband, she said to the rain and wind, although not aloud. The idea was so ridiculously improbable that she suppressed another snort, but here she was: married.

Had she remained in Bharat, she might have been married, too. She might have donned the crimson wedding sari with the help of her handmaidens and draped herself in gold bangles and necklaces set with rubies and topaz. Lakshman might have ridden a bejeweled, painted elephant to the ceremony where they might have circled the sacred fire seven times. Later they might have lain together on a bed of flowers.

All were might-have-beens, and in the end, she knew she did not want of Lakshman what he wished of her.  She had no need of a husband. Had she not lived as an independent woman for most of her life?  But the longer she remained in Bharat, the more she felt mounting pressure to marry, not only from Prince Lakshman himself, but from Lord Rama and his wife Lady Sita, too, for their people regarded them as the ideal of a married couple, and they, in turn, held marriage as an ideal.  That made her decision to leave Bharat and seek her northern homeland marginally easier.

Now here she was, she, the independent woman who had spurned a princely suitor, drenched by rain and shivering in the northern wind, and abruptly married to a man of the North, who had ridden away to leave her alone, an exile in her own homeland. It was so ironic that it was laughable,

How long ago did I leave Bharat? Has it been five months? Six months? Time blurred. The wind lifted the edges of her woolen cloak, making them flap wetly. Ever so carefully, she opened her thoughts, listening for the mysterious inner voice that had urged her to return to Eriador, but was met with silence.

The elusive but persistent voice began haunting her dreams nearly two years ago. She had ignored it at first, but its insistence had awoken a long-suppressed desire to see her western homeland again. Then Alatar and Pallando, the two Istari who roamed the East, passed the rakshas who guarded Lord Rama's kingdom and had come to her, telling her of dark tidings from the northwest of Middle-earth.

Lord Rama's servants had taken them by boat to the pavilion built in the middle of the Lake of Lotuses where she and the two Istari dined on delicacies prepared by the court cooks. With the languid notes of sitar and flute in the background, Alatar and Pallando advised her:  she ought to return to the West where she might offer her unique knowledge of the Ringmaker.

"The last thing I wish to do is put myself within reach of Sauron, even if the Wise of the West might benefit from what I can tell them," she said as she poured tea into fine porcelain cups, gifts from the Emperor of Kitai to Lord Rama.

"It is dangerous, true," said Pallando, "but we have no doubt you can elude the sight of the Great Eye."

"The Great Eye?  Is that what he's calling himself these days?"

"Mmmm…"  His mouth full of rice and mango pickle, Alatar mumbled agreement with his brother.  He swallowed.  "Yes.  But you have learned well to shield yourself from his gaze, no?"

The wizard was right.  She had learned to do just that, even from early childhood, if only to preserve the privacy of her thoughts rather than guard herself from anything sinister.

Then she asked Alatar and Pallando of him, of Laurefin, the man who had been their companion when the Istari had traveled together from the bright fields of Valinor to the shadows of Middle-earth, and who had been her lover many years ago.

"Laurefin?  He has not taken ship.  This I know," Pallando, serene and contained, had replied after sipping hot black tea and smacking his lips.

"I hear he dwells in a valley named Imladris, somewhere on the west side of the Misty Mountains.  Ah, this curry is very tasty, my dear.  Very tasty.  My compliments to Lord Rama's cooks."  Alatar scooped up the brinjal curry and rice with a piece of dosa.  He always appreciated the food of Bharat and many of the other eastern lands where he roamed, judging by his round cheeks and soft middle.

That had been enough for her to make her way back to the land where she had been born and raised, a land now blanketed in fear as Mordor flexed its muscles.  She had been so unsure of Laurefin's reception.  She needn't have worried, although she had not expected to meet him while she wandered lost in the wilderness.

She smiled to herself as rain streaked down her cheeks.  Where he had been so cautious during those last weeks in Ost-in-Edhil, vehement in his adherence to the laws and customs that advised against marriage in times of war, and all but rejecting her, he was the exact opposite when he found her near the old road.  He had leapt off his horse and gathered her in his arms.  She felt, rather than heard, his weeping of relief, just as she wept with the realization that he had not forgotten her and that he still loved her.  He brushed aside his tears and hers.

"Marry me. Now."

That was all he said.  Nothing elaborate.  Nothing flowery nor glib as was his wont.  His proposal was blunt and urgent.

If she had any second thoughts, she tossed them to the wind that sighed through the trees, and just as impulsively, she answered: "Yes."

"Then sing the vows to Eru with me," he said, his breath hot against her neck.

"Why Eru? Why not Brahman?"

"I do not care if we sing the vows to that rock over there. Just be my wife."

So as the sun set behind violet clouds in the West, they lifted their voices to Ilúvatar and lay down on a marriage bed cobbled together from his cloak and her worn wool blanket.  The cold stars of Varda bore remote witness of the consummation of their nuptials, consummated again and again with joyful vigor before they parted ways.  Her crotch was sore the next day, a delicious reminder of his eagerness and her pleasure.

"Istyanis?"

The familiar address snapped her out of her reverie.  "Yes?" she replied to the slight figure standing by the guard who had been sent to the House of Elrond.  The messenger raised a lantern, its flame shielded against the wind and rain by glass,  illuminating the vulpine face of a woman.

"I am Maelloth. I have been sent to tell you that Master Elrond grants you permission to enter the valley," she said.  The messenger also spoke in the Grey-Elven tongue, but with the rolls and turns of vowels and consonants more familiar to Mélamírë.  "Please, come with me." The woman turned and walked into a curtain of rain and mist.  Mélamírë followed her, leading Kumuda.  The other three guards melted into the dark, but the fourth, his sword exposed at his side, trailed behind her.

They do not trust me. That reality still stung.

The path dropped abruptly, and they began their descent into the valley, the messenger ahead and the guard behind both silent.  The wet leather of her shoes rubbed against her bare skin as she negotiated the edge of the path where a small stream rushed down its center. Soon she felt the pain of blisters.  She regretted her neglect of her worn stockings.

Chilled, wet, and my feet are rubbed raw. What could be better?

The tops of the pines and firs that lined the path thrashed, but they left the wind of the moor behind.  The cold rain still fell, but it no longer pounded.  The conifers gave way to oak, ash and beech, still thick with leaves, and the path widened.

A familiar sensation, indistinct at first but stronger as they continued their descent, tugged at Mélamírë's perception.  It was as if the swift current of the River of Time had slowed, or more accurately, spun off into an eddy that swirled in and around itself rather than progressing. She had not experienced this sensation for many, many years, but she recognized it: someone wielded a Ring of Power in this valley.

It must be one of Tyelpo's making, but which of the Three?  Wait…there's more than one!  Who are the Ringbearers?  Elrond most likely, but who is the other?   Whoever they were, they shielded themselves effectively from her probing.

She heard the rush of a swollen river and saw wavering specks of golden light through the rain. The lights resolved into windows of a large house, three stories in height, with a central tower that disappeared in the mist. They walked across wet stones that paved a court spread before the house.

Mélamírë had a better look at the structure, made of stone and oak, solid but its lines softened by curves that suggested the swirl of leaves, the sway of grasses in the breeze or the arc of a waterfall.  A wide porch ran across the entire front of the house; carved vines snaked around its columns.  A pair of huge oaken doors, also carved with figures, marked the front entrance.

Noldorin craftsmen surely built this house, but when?

Two men came out into the rain to greet them.  Mélamírë made to lift her saddlebags from the mare's flanks, but one of the men took them and walked swiftly to the house.  The other man saw to her horse.

"She is beautiful," said the groom, who took Kumuda's reins from Mélamírë.  The wiry man, a Sinda from the looks of his face, reached beneath the folds of his woolen cloak and produced an apple.  The mare did not bother with her usual courtesy of mouthing the apple first but devoured it in two great bites.  The groom now had a friend for life.  "I have not seen her like before," he said.  "She is so lithe and compact."

"She is descended from a horse named the Son of the Desert Wind," Mélamírë replied, translating the grand name of Sharif's prized stallion that he had brought all the way from his desert homeland to the lush forests of Bharat.  Mélamírë had more often called the beast a "right bastard" due to his foul disposition.  Fortunately, the mare had not inherited her distant forefather's temperament.  "Her name is Kumuda.  It means night lotus."

"Kumuda," the man repeated, stroking the side of the mare's face.  "You are a graceful lady. We will take good care of you."  The mare whickered and obediently followed the groom to the stables.

Maelloth, who had been waiting patiently, did not lead Mélamírë to the front entrance, but instead toward one of the wings that ran from the sides of the main structure.  Mélamírë's pride flared with indignation.  She, a descendant of the eldest son of Finwë the High King, scholar of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain and an honored member of Lord Rama's court, was being led to a servant's door.

As quickly as the surge of pride arose, she checked it and mashed it down.  She reminded herself that indulgence in such hubris could lead to terrible consequences.   That and Elrond also claimed descent from Finwë.  Yet he had not claimed kingship after Gil-galad's death, Laurefin had told her.

"We are a diminished people," Laurefin said solemnly.  "What need do we have of a king? But I'll gladly serve you, my queen,"  he added hopefully, as they lay entangled beneath the threadbare wool blanket.

"Then serve me," she had commanded.

No! Stop thinking of that!  Such thoughts just made the yearning for him worse. Now the pit of her belly felt heavy with desire with no relief in the near future, save by her own hand, serviceable enough, but the thought paled in comparison to what had transpired under the stars with Laurefin.  She turned her attention to the woman ahead, who had slowed as they approached an oaken door with black iron hinges, sheltered by an awning and flanked by several large clay pots with herbs growing in them.

"My apologies, Istyanis, for not taking you through the front door, but Master Elrond thought you might like hot food and drink first, after traveling during this raw day." Maelloth pulled the door and held it open.  She gestured for Mélamírë to enter.

Mélamírë hesitated.  Once she passed through the door, she would learn of those who had found refuge in Imladris after the fall of Ost-in-Edhil.  Laurefin had said that Elrond brought "a number of refugees" here, but he did not specify how many nor who exactly they were.  She dreaded the discovery of who among her friends and colleagues had perished.

"Please, Istyanis." Then the woman smiled for the first time since she had spoken to Mélamírë up on the moor.  "You are welcome here."

Mélamírë limped into the warmth and bustle of a large kitchen.  Men and women scurried to and fro, evidently in the throes of preparations for the evening's supper.  She searched their faces, but found none she recognized.  But that man, hunched over a cutting board chopping tomatoes. She could not see his face, but there was something familiar about the set of his shoulders, the way he moved.

Then he looked up.  The knife dropped from his hand as he stared at her.

"Well, fuck me and toss me to Makar's hounds!"

"I'll decline, if you don't mind, Master Haldanar. I can't speak for the hounds though."

His laughter caused the rest of the kitchen staff to turn and watch as he strode across the floor.  He stood before her, the man who had been the brash young chef impertinent enough to prod Tyelperinquar, talented enough to be lauded as one of the most brilliant cooks of Ost-in-Edhil.  Now the signs of past hardship were scored in his face.  Mélamírë realized that Calascon was nowhere to be seen.  Haldanar and his colleague — his lover — had been inseparable.  That meant that either Calascon was elsewhere in the house or...

"We thought you were dead, Istyanis."

"I am glad to prove you wrong."  She cast aside the barrier between their stations by opening her arms.  He responded by pulling her into a warm hug, which made her feel as relieved as hearing him speak in her mother tongue.

"You smell like wet horse," he grumbled.

"I'm sure I do and worse. Perhaps you could direct me to the bathhouse?"

"Someone will.  But first, we need to put some hot food into your belly."

The kindness in his voice evaporated after he released her and rounded on those who watched them.  He bellowed: "Stars' blood!  Why are you all gaping like beleaguered sheep?  Why has no one fetched hot tea for the Istyanis?  No!  Make that mulled wine.  You do want hot wine, don't you?  Yes, I thought as much.  Someone take her cloak!  Barthor!  Go fetch the Master of the Forge.  Tell him he's wanted in the kitchen.  Yes, that's it.  Tell him to bring the sieve he promised to repair.  Tell him I need that sieve immediately!  Say just that!"

"The Master of the Forge? Who might that be?"  Whoever he is, he must be one of the smiths from Eregion, and he will know me for who I am.

"You'll see soon enough.  Now I must go back to work.  It stands to reason that you'd arrive when I am making láreasulpa.  Now sit over there."

Mélamírë obeyed, as it was easier than arguing at this point. She sat on the end of a bench by the long table off to the side of the kitchen. "Bring the Istyanis bread and a plate of sliced meats and pickles," he barked to no one in particular, but a woman in a stained apron brought the requested plate and basket. Mélamírë plucked a slice of bread, still hot from the oven, from the basket and gulped down the mulled wine in only a few swallows.

"You are gaunt as a starved wolf,"  Haldanar said, not looking up from the tomatoes he diced with what was no doubt a razor-sharp blade.

"I have been traveling for almost six months.  I suppose I haven't been eating well."

"Now that you're here, I shall correct that sad state of affairs."

"Do you mind if I help with the soup?"

It was a bold request, bold enough that he stopped chopping the tomatoes. "Varda's bloody stars, I mind!"  Then his face softened.  "But just this once, you may."

She munched on the piece of warm bread while she stirred the soup, so thick and rich it was more akin to a stew.  It had been a favorite in many households of Ost-in-Edhil, including that of her family.

Unbidden, an image of her father chopping onions and garlic came to her:  he cut the vegetables for this soup so precisely and placed them in the exact order in which he believed they should be added, and woe to anyone who disagreed with his procedure.  She tried to veil the painful memory, but it was difficult, standing here by the black iron stove, the centerpiece of Elrond's kitchen.  Whoever had crafted it was familiar with the dragon-stoves that lived in her family's household and that of Tyelperinquar.  The embellishments that decorated this stove, however, formed a dragon-like visage much more cheerful and friendly than those, and it certainly bore no trace of sentience like its predecessors had.

She peered down into the copper stock pot to see translucent onion, celery, sweet pepper, carrots, summer squash, white beans and mushrooms simmering in a thick broth with bits of beef.  She caught the whiff of garlic, bay and rosemary mingled amidst the delicious scent of vegetables.

"There are more mushrooms in this than usual," she observed.

"Yes. One of our residents is surpassingly fond of mushrooms.  I accommodate his tastes."

Haldanar did not elaborate on the mushroom-loving fellow, but continued to chop.  Red juice dripped from the cutting board to the floor. "These are the last of the tomatoes," he said. "They are not pretty, but good enough for soup. The spinach is washed.  I just need to slice the boar sausage.  Here, Lhosseryn, give the Istyanis that bowl of rótinci"  He eyed Mélamírë over his shoulder.  "I trust you still remember know what to do?"

"I do.  Thank you," she said to the servant, who handed her a carved birchwood bowl.  She dumped the little tube-shaped bits of pasta into the pot and stirred them into the simmering broth.

"Good,"  he called from the cutting board that he had wiped clean.  He now sliced the cooked sausage. "Lord Glorfindel will be pleased to hear of your return."

"He has already heard.  We met in a forest on the east side of the Mitheithel, and he directed me here."

"Ah." Haldanar cut a sausage in half lengthwise while Mélamírë continued to stir.  "I hope it was a worthwhile reunion."

"It was.  Very worthwhile."

He stopped mid-slice to give her a keen look.  He opened his mouth as if to say something but thought better of it.

"Well, I hope he will not be gone too long then.  Now pay attention to the soup!  I won't have you ruining it."  He walked to the soapstone sink where two large colanders held spinach, the green leaves glistening with droplets of water.

However, her attention was diverted when the door was flung open.  Along with a gust of cold, damp air, a tall man stepped across the threshold. He flung back his hood to reveal black hair knotted at the nape of his neck as favored by so many smiths.  His blue eyes flashed when he brandished the sieve in his left hand.

"Haldanar!  What is so urgent about your damn bloody sieve that you must drag me out of the forge…"

Then he saw her. The sieve dropped from his hand just as she dropped the wooden spoon.  She was dimly aware of a servant rescuing it from the stock pot as she closed the distance between her and the smith.

There was no hesitation in their embrace.  His powerful arms enveloped her.

"Istyanis."

"Oh, Thorno…"  She willed the tears from rising in her eyes, but she could not contain the emotion that welled up in her voice. He hugged her tighter.  "You're crushing me, lad."

"Oh!  Sorry!"

She pulled back and reached up to put her hand against his cheek, which had lost the softness of boyhood and the blemishes of adolescence.  His face now boasted a most pleasing structure with high cheekbones and a square jaw line.  The corners of his eyes and mouth were embellished by the etchings that characterized an elven-man in his prime.

 My Thorno has become quite handsome. When did he grow so tall? And he has filled out so much! 

Within those bright blue eyes, she saw the spark of the child from a family of little means, the boy who had followed her around like a kitten, first as her assistant, and later, becoming her first apprentice and journeyman before her world crashed down around her, around them all.

She could not stop herself from voicing her next thought:  "Sámaril. Where is he?  Is he..."

"He took the Straight Road almost twelve yéni ago."

"I see."  Relief flooded her.  Although she still might never see him again, at least she knew Sámaril still lived.  "What of Nierellë?  Teretion?  Midhel and Cúroneth?"

Thorno then set his lips into a hard line and shook his head.  Mélamírë's relief became grief.  She would ask no more this evening.  Maybe later.

"Istyanis!"  Haldanar's sharp tone cut through her sadness.  "I told you I'd put some meat on your scrawny bones, and I intend to get started. Sit down if you would.  And Master Thornangor, sit your firm arse beside her, and I'll get soup for you, too.

Thorno's grim expression disappeared when he winked at Mélamírë.  "He does admire my arse from time to time."  Then he raised his voice to Haldanar. "What about the sieve?"

"The sieve? Oh. That. Barthor, pick that thing up, would you?"

They sat side by side at the table.  Thornangor's excitement when he described the forges of Imladris might have been infectious had she not been so hungry.  Her mouth watered while she watched Haldanar and Lhosseryn prepare the soup for serving.  Lhosseryn pinched minced herbs from a small white bowl and dropped the green clumps into two soup bowls, set upon plates on the preparation table. Mélamírë knew the herbs were a mix of basil, raw garlic and parsley, the traditional garnish of láreasulpa.   Lhosseryn then carried the bowls on their plates to Haldanar, who ladled generous servings of the soup into them.  The maid placed the steaming bowls of soup before Mélamírë and Thornangor.  Servants brought glasses of red wine and yet more slices of crusty bread, but these had been brushed with oil, sprinkled with grated cheese, and then toasted.

Mélamírë picked up a slice of toast and dunked it into the bowl of soup to soak while she brought a spoonful of soup to her lips.  She blew on it briefly to cool it, but could no longer resist closing her mouth around the hot spoon.  The mingled flavors of the vegetables, spicy sausage and pungent herbs sang a song of comfort in her mouth and warmed her as she swallowed.  But she did not have a chance to take a second spoonful. She was acutely aware of those who had entered the kitchen even before she looked up to see them.  She rose from the bench to walk toward the arrivals and bowed her head.

"Master Elrond.  I…thank you for allowing me to come to the valley."  She glanced down at his right hand and saw the gleam of a large sapphire.  He wields Vilya, just as I suspected.

"Istyanis, please.  What else would I have done?"

The master of Imladris stepped forward and took her hands in his. She felt a pleasant tingling in her fingers that ran up her arms, and she caught the fleeting scent of a woodland twilight, mysterious and earthy.

It had been so long, but he looked little different from the man she had first met in Ost-in-Edhil, although perhaps the lines around his mouth and soft grey eyes were deeper than before.  She felt his presence at the gates of her thought, asking permission to speak to her in silence.  She opened the gates as she had done so long ago when he had pulled her from the black pit of despair.

Your mother was dear to me, but it is not for her memory alone that I welcome you. I would never doubt you, Mélamírë.

"So much has changed," she said aloud to him, clutching his hands.   "So much."

"Yes, it has.  We have much to discuss, you and I, but that can wait.  Now let me make introductions.  Please allow me to present my daughter, Arwen Undómiel."

The dark-haired woman, who stood at the right of Elrond, gave Mélamírë a graceful but cautious smile, but did not reach out with her hand.  So.  She is one of those ladies who will not shake hands.  Mélamírë stifled a brief flutter of judgment and reminded herself that this manner of greeting was rare in the East, and she had accepted that when she lived there.   But it was a friendly gesture of men-folk among Firstborn and Mortals here in the West, and one that came naturally to her, a woman who had long worked and studied alongside men.  I am too accustomed to the ways of the neri. I must not hold this against her, and that smile may be shy, but it is genuine.

Mélamírë made a swift examination of Arwen's features.  She looked very much like her father, but there was something else, the way her cheeks lifted when she smiled, the way her eyes were set.  Mélamírë recognized the signs of Galadriel and Celeborn.  The connection clicked in her mind.  She remembered Galadriel and Celeborn's daughter.  Elrond had spent a great deal of time with Celebrían during the unveiling of Galadriel's Mirror.  They must have wed.  But where was she?

Elrond's hand on her arm guided her to turn.  "And this is Mithrandir."

Mélamírë faced a man who looked like an aged mortal.  His hair was white, and his beard grey as the rain that still fell outside.  He appeared disheveled and careworn, as if he had just returned from a hard journey, but despite this, his movements were that of a younger man.  Beneath his snowy brows were eyes so dark that they were almost black, eyes that were youthful and ancient at once.  

He made no hesitation when he proffered his hand to her.  She took it and only for a moment felt the warm metal of a ring before the shock of recognition shot up her arm and went snapping down her spine.  The sweet scent of wood smoke on a winter's day, the scent of empathy and kindness, filled her nostrils.  She knew then.  Within this old man's form was a Fay.

It was with an equal shock, and one of fear, that she realized her blood, although diluted, had called to his.  He knows now! He knows!  She reflexively flung up iron walls around her thoughts and hid that which would identify her as anything other than an ordinary elf-woman, but she suspected it was too late to disguise herself from this Fay in mortal raiment.

Mithrandir's expression remained kind, neither surprised nor repulsed, which eased Mélamírë's panic although she remained on guard.  "I am most pleased to meet you, Istyanis," he said as he released her hand after a final firm shake.  The scent of wood smoke disappeared, but the warmth of compassion lingered.  She glanced at his hand and saw Narya with its red stone on his finger.

The old wizard was not the only one looking upon her with kindness.  Elrond and his daughter bore welcome in their fair faces, too, but in all three, Mélamírë discerned the unmistakable signs of anxiety lodged around their eyes and brows.  It was the same tension she had seen in Laurefin's face:  The Nazgûl hunt their quarry.  Something dire was afoot, and she had a strong suspicion of what it was, but she knew it was a matter best left unspoken here in the kitchen.

"Master Elrond, Lady Arwen…I will bring your soup to the dining hall whenever you are ready,"  said Lhosseryn.

"The dining hall?  No, we shall take our supper here, and now is as good a time as any.  My apologies, Istyanis and Master Thornangor, for interrupting your meal."  Elrond inhaled deeply, and for a moment, the signs of worry disappeared from his face.  "Ah, láreasulpa.  The soup of abundance!"

They all returned to the homey kitchen table, where Elrond sat directly across from Mélamírë with Arwen seated between him and Mithrandir. Three more bowls of láreasulpa were placed on the table, and more wine and toasted cheese-bread were served.  Mélamírë's soup had cooled enough that she wolfed it down less than graciously.  She had not realized just how hungry she was.  Lhosseryn brought her another bowl, redolent of garlic, basil and the scents and flavors of summer's last bounty.

The soup of abundance.  Spoonful after spoonful, she ate the soup, its hearty reassurance nourishing her with every swallow.  After suffering the cold suspicion that had soaked her to the bones out on the dark moor, now she was warm and welcome.  The fire of comfort began to build within her.  So much has changed, yes, but not láreasulpa.  Her true home lay in ruins to the south of this valley, and she had a feeling this was not the end of her journey, but for now, here in the House of Elrond, she was safe among friends.

Nouveau bar 5


Notes:

Bharat - in the Pandë!verse, this is a mythic equivalent of the India of Middle-earth.   The Man Who Grew Tomatoes  is entirely set in Bharat, and The Jinn is partly set in Bharat.

Raksha - Sanskrit, demon

Brinjal - eggplant or aubergine

Dosa - a thin flatbread made from a batter of rice and lentils then grilled. Common in South India.

Láreasulpa - constructed from the Quenya lárëa (rich, fat) and sulpa (soup).  Minestrone translates as "big soup" in Italian.

Rótinci - Quenya, little tubes.

The references to Makar (a fierce Vala of strife and war) and the Noldoli-thralls are taken from The History of Middle-earth, Book of Lost Tales I and II, respectively.  The "hounds of Makar" are my own invention, but give a nod to the dogs of war that tear through our primary world's mythologies.

Thornangor, formerly of Ost-in-Edhil and later, the master smith of Rivendell, appears frequently in The Elendilmir.  Sámaril, Nierellë and Teretion appear in The Apprentice and also, along with Midhel (Teretion's wife and future mother of Cúroneth), in Risk Assessment.  Sámaril, Midhel and Cúroneth also appear in Ch. 17 of The Elendilmir.

My vision of Ost-in-Edhil is reminiscent in certain respects of Firenze (Florence) of the Renaissance.  Hence, the more homely cuisine of Eregion resembles Tuscan cooking, which includes minestrone. With regard to the presence of "New World" vegetables in "Old World" Middle-earth (a source of contention in some quarters), please see The Man Who Grew Tomatoes for the rationale behind this. Hint: Númenórean mariners.

Finally, because this story is told from an elvish POV, "man" and "woman" may be assumed to be males and females of Homo sapiens eldarensis unless otherwise indicated.  When in "mixed company," i.e., with other races present, I use elf-man and elf-woman, just as Tolkien did.

Nouveau bar 5


Láreasulpa a.k.a. Minestrone
Adapted from Food and Wine, vol. 1 (5) Sept. 1978, p. 58.
Serves 12 or more

This minestrone soup recipe produces something more akin to a stew rather than a mere soup.

Ingredients:

• 8-10 cups chicken stock, either homemade or canned. I often use 3 “boxes” – about 4 cups each - of Pacific Foods natural chicken broth, and reduce it somewhat while simmering with the beef bones (see below); this yields a rich stock.
• 3-4 beef soup bones (also beef shanks, beef shin bones, or 2-3 really meaty short ribs will work nicely)
• 4-5 T virgin olive oil
• 3 medium sized onions, peeled, halved and coarsely chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic, minced
• 3 large ribs of celery, chopped
• 4 carrots, trimmed, peeled, and sliced (fairly thick slices, ~ 1/4 inch or so)
• 1 large green pepper, seeded, de-ribbed, and coarsely chopped
• 1-2 tsp salt
• 10-12 grinds of black pepper (or 1/4 tsp)
• large pinch of rosemary, dried or fresh
• 1 bay leaf
• 3 zucchini, washed and skin on, trimmed, halved lengthwise and sliced medium-thick
• 1 cup (or so) fresh mushrooms, sliced
• 1 cup coarsely chopped parsley (no stems!)
• 3-4 cups canned white beans, e.g., Progresso cannellini, also called white kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
• 1 pound sweet Italian sausage links
• 1 and 1/4 cups (~10 oz) of ditilini or other very small pasta (vermicelli broken into 1 inch lengths works, too, but I prefer ditilini)
• 8 fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped (alternatively a 16 oz can of well drained plum/Italian tomatoes will work, but fresh is superior)
• 3 cups or so fresh spinach leaves, washed, de-stemmed, and coarsely shredded or use baby spinach.

Garnish “gremolatta” (optional but really tasty)

• Reserved (see directions above) 1/2 cup of parsley
• 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
See step 6 below for directions

Parmesan toast (crostini) for accompaniment

• loaf of Italian bread
• high quality virgin or extra virgin olive oil
• Parmesan cheese
See step 9 below for directions

Directions:

1. In medium sized uncovered saucepan or stockpot, brown beef bones or ribs over medium heat in 1T olive oil.  Add chicken stock and simmer with beef for 15 minutes to intensify flavor. Do this while preparing vegetables. Stock may sit covered while the vegetables are sautéed

2. In second large stockpot, add 4 T olive oil and heat at medium flame or setting until olive oil is hot and shimmering (not smoking!) then add onions and garlic. Sauté until translucent while stirring (~3-5 minutes).

3. Add celery, carrots, and green pepper. Toss to coat vegetables in oil. Add salt, black pepper, rosemary and bay leaf and toss again quickly. Lower heat to a low flame or setting, cover the pot and cook for 5-8 minutes to “sweat” the juices out of the vegetables. At this point, they will lose their rawness but will still be quite firm.

4. Uncover the pot, raise the heat to medium-high and give the vegetable mixture several quick tosses for a minute or two. Add the sliced zucchini and toss for another minute or two. Add the mushrooms and again, toss for a minute or two.

5. Add 1/2 cup of the chopped parsley, reserving the other half cup for the garnish. Toss to mix. Pour in the hot enriched stock (remove bones first and reserve for step 7). Add beans. Lower the heat to medium-low or less and simmer the soup, uncovered for 10 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Remove bay leaf and adjust seasoning, i.e., add salt (likely not necessary if using canned stock) or more pepper.

6. Make the optional garnish by combining the 1/2 cup of reserved parsley, the chopped basil and the minced garlic.

The soup can be prepared ahead to this point. For same day preparation, simply turn off heat and cover it, and take a break. If you’re doing this a day ahead, refrigerate the soup. Also, if preparing the soup a day ahead, the sausage preparation, “de-meating” of the beef bones,  and preparation of tomato and spinach and the garnish may be done on the day or serving. Allow an hour or so to reheat soup and continue with the recipe as follows in Steps 7 through 10.

7. Boil sausage links in 2-3 quarts of water for 15-20 minutes. If soup was refrigerated, bring back to a low boil/simmer. Meanwhile, remove the meat from the reserved beef bones. Trim fat. Add to soup. When sausage is done, microwave the links on microwave safe dish covered with a paper towel (also cover top of sausages with paper towel or waxed paper to prevent splattering) at high power for one minute, then turn sausages over and microwave one minute or so more. Allow to cool, cut in half lengthwise, then slice medium-thick on the bias.

8. Raise heat to medium and bring soup to somewhat more than a simmer, i.e., moderate boil.. Add ditilini or vermicelli to hot simmering soup and cook about 2-3 minutes. Then add tomatoes, spinach and sausage until heated through, another 5 minutes or so. Turn the heat off or down to a bare minimum simmer before serving.

9. Just before serving soup, prepare accompanying toast by slicing Italian bread (ciabatta is the best choice) to 1 inch or so thickness. Brush one side with olive oil (preferably extra virgin olive oil), then sprinkle generously with grated Parmesan or Grana cheese (~1 T per slice). Toast in toaster oven (or under broiler but keep a sharp eye on the bread since they can burn rapidly) until cheese begins to bubble and turn brown around the edges. If this is too much trouble, good quality sliced and warmed Italian bread is a good accompaniment.

10. To serve soup, add a generous pinch of the gremollata garnish to each bowl and ladle soup over this. Alternatively, place the garnish in a small bowl on the side with garnish to be added to taste by each individual. Serve with the Parmesan/olive oil toast.

Notes:

This is not a simple quick and easy recipe, but it is well worth the time and effort. The preparation of all the vegetables consumes some time. I typically have the vegetables for steps 1 through 6 ready before I brown the beef bones and simmer them in the stock. If this is a same day preparation for dinner that evening, I usually start around noon. It takes, including vegetable chopping time, about 2 – 2.5 hours to get to step 6. In the event of leftovers (and this does make a wonderful leftover) add a bit of water to the soup before reheating.

Any dry red Italian wine, e.g., Tuscan or Piedmont varietals, works well with the soup.  Addition of antipasti to start and ricotta cheesecake or canolli for dessert turns this into a full-fledged informal dinner party.

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
surgicalsteel
Nov. 16th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)
Drooling over the recipe.

The story's fantastic. I like the intro: the weather, the linguistic drift, all of that gives a feeling of being not quite home any more. The guards' suspicion seemed perfectly natural, as did her stifled laugh at her imagining their reaction if she told them her tale.

The hints of romance were fantastic - I especially liked that even as she's agreeing to marry Laurefin, she's trying to start an argument over religion.

The happy reunions were wonderful, as was her recognition that there are some people she may not want to ask about just yet - because the news won't be good.

And I like that Arwen's hesitant on meeting Melamire, which seems natural to me.

Really liked it!
pandemonium_213
Nov. 17th, 2011 03:56 am (UTC)
Hey, thanks! This is not the best venue for a story of this length but what the heck. I expect that religious argument will come up again.
engarian
Nov. 16th, 2011 10:08 pm (UTC)
It is a pleasure to have a story in your Pande-verse again, I have missed it. It's like revisiting old friends again, and the best thing is that they are all gathered around the kitchen hearth eating good food and good soup. If I only was a cook...but alas, I am not...

- Erulisse (one L)
pandemonium_213
Nov. 17th, 2011 03:58 am (UTC)
Thanks muchly. Frankly, this isn't one of my more stellar stories, and this may not be a particularly fitting venue for something a) so long and b) so far into the Pandë!verse, but what the heck. There it is.
heartofoshun
Nov. 16th, 2011 10:30 pm (UTC)
As I told you, I love this story. Too many good parts for me to list them all.

golodhren elleth worked into the paragraph there sound so disparaging! I know the feeling (ugly American, all sort of thing).

And then again, The East Wind blows nothing good to the West and they would think that with some basis!

I love her meeting with Elrond and her reunification with Thorno, who won my heart a long time around.

I also know the recipe which I was privileged to taste a couple of years ago.

Lovely, lovely story which submerged me into your world as though I had always been there.

Edited at 2011-11-16 10:30 pm (UTC)
pandemonium_213
Nov. 17th, 2011 03:59 am (UTC)
Thanks, Oshun, for having a read. I don't think this is one of my stronger fics, but so it goes.
heartofoshun
Nov. 17th, 2011 04:05 am (UTC)
Stronger? I don't know that it's not strong within the context of your story cycle--I would not want to have to rank them. I know I found it perfectly satisfying. Like I do when Ellen Kushner comes out with a short story or mini-novella about her characters that I have already fallen in love with. I bring a lot of history of your world with me that only enhances my appreciation at this point.

Edited at 2011-11-17 04:08 am (UTC)
pandemonium_213
Nov. 17th, 2011 04:10 am (UTC)
Like I do when Ellen Kushner comes out with a short story or mini-novella about her characters that I have already fallen in love with.

Now that is a very flattering comparison! I think you're right about your knowledge of the history of the Pandë!verse. You've been there since its beginning on the plains of Alamogordo.
heartofoshun
Nov. 17th, 2011 04:13 am (UTC)
Oh, you made me laugh: Alamogordo! Talk about obscure. I love it.
pandemonium_213
Nov. 18th, 2011 02:23 am (UTC)
Obscure and esoteric! :^D
alfirineth
Nov. 17th, 2011 05:09 am (UTC)
That sounds like a wonderful recipe. I am definitely going to try it sometime.

I liked the fact that I didn't feel like I needed to know the rest of her story while reading this one. Even though it is part of a bigger whole, it is a complete story in and of itself. Just like Tolkien, there were intimations of further stories that had yet to be explained. For me, that is part of the joy of reading.

And thanks for having translations for most unfamiliar terms.
pandemonium_213
Nov. 18th, 2011 02:28 am (UTC)
Oh, I'm glad that the unfamiliar backstory didn't put you off! I'm afraid that I have been building on the Pandë!verse for almost 4 years now, and the interconnectedness could potentially (and probably does) put off a lot of readers. So it's great to know it read as a complete story. Thanks!

The recipe is involved, but the results are worth it. I've made this minestrone as a gift for a family with a new baby, and I have taken a big batch of the same to wakes.
blslarner
Nov. 17th, 2011 09:06 am (UTC)
A good soup to enjoy as she becomes reaquainted with those she's not seen for so very long, and I rejoice that she and Glorfindel have at last married!
pandemonium_213
Nov. 18th, 2011 02:32 am (UTC)
Thanks, Larner! In our primary world, it is an excellent soup, if a wee bit involved.

Pairing her w/ Glorfindel made me wince at first (seemed so "been there, done that" and clichéd in terms of fandom), but scientifically speaking (yes, scientifically :^D), he was by far the best choice for my motives.

shadowbrides
Nov. 17th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
The story was great! It also made me really hungry.

The apparent open distrust from the guards and Mélamírë's irritated reaction to Arwen's polite curtsying were particularly nice touches. They made the whole thing very realistic. I also like how she picks up on her being related to Galadriel and Celeborn but not on her supposed overwhelming beauty, hah. And the few snippets of romance with Laurefin we got to see were adorable as well as believable, which is hard enough to pull off.

I second the religion argument's being great, too. I remembered her speech/arguing about dogs in the Elendilmir(?) so this felt very in character! I wonder what else she picked up from Bharat, and whether she will keep her new habits and nose stud in this environment.

Also "The Great Eye? Is that what he's calling himself these days?" made me laugh a lot.
pandemonium_213
Nov. 18th, 2011 02:39 am (UTC)
Oooh, thanks for having a read, twirly shadowbrides (*points at spinning icon*)! I know quite a few folks prefer their Tolkien fan fic to be, well, more fantastical rather than smacking of realism with a healthy dose of scientifiction, :^D so it's always gratifying when my crazy alternative history works for others.

Yes! That chapter had Sámaril flashing back to the debate between Mélamírë and the orthodox loremaster. Shades of Wilberforce and Huxley, the latter of whom may be one of her descendants in the Pandë!verse. :^D

Also "The Great Eye? Is that what he's calling himself these days?" made me laugh a lot.

I know it's gauche to be amused with oneself, but I have to admit, I snickered as I wrote that. The poor Dark Muse. He puts up with so much indignity from me. He usually gets his revenge though.

Thanks again!
dreamflower02
Nov. 18th, 2011 01:10 am (UTC)
You already know I love this, but-- I love this!

What a homecoming for Mélamírë! To find Glorfindel--Laurefin-- while he's on his errand of hunting for a party of lost hobbits and a ranger and then for them to marry on the spot! That touched the hopelessly romantic in me!

Her whole homecoming felt realistic, as she anticipated that everyone would be suspicious of her. I love Elrond's graciousness, and the wariness with Arwen, who's not quite sure what to make of her, and Gandalf being there...

*grin*

And the recipe sounds wonderful, too! I would never have thought of mixing the chicken stock and the beef bones. It all sounds REALLY delicious!

pandemonium_213
Nov. 18th, 2011 02:47 am (UTC)
Oh, thank you, thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed this!

It is terribly romantic, isn't it? I took pause at the idea of such an impulsive proposal until I reminded myself that a) this is the same guy who will drag Elrond (and Gilfanon) out into the Valinorin desert on a harebrained adventure; and b) Mélamírë has impulsive moments herself.

I figured that Frodo, Aragorn et al were expected, although not in the way they arrived, but that others would not exactly be welcomed right into Rivendell during those dark times.

Re: the stock. Using the beef bones enriches the stock beautifully. It would make a lovely base for your mushroom and barley stock!

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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