Title: Of the Light
Theme: POV challenge
Elements: red, circle, three
Author's Notes: This is a response to the August challenge; it's set roughly in the bookverse, but I make no promises about canon, as I can't recall at the moment actual ages or anything like that, and I know nothing of Elven burial customs or foliage. I usually try to do some research, and maybe someone will be so kind as to correct me off-list for future reference, but I've been ferrying my sister from work and then weaving a LOTR crossover fic for a friend who needs some cheering, so I didn't allot myself research time for this.
Summary: Now, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Word Count: (I don't know; I don't do word counts, and I write it wordpad, which doesn't have the option.)
She loved this place. Of course, it would be difficult to find a place around her former home that was not breathtaking and close to her heart, but this spot... there was just something special about it.
She cast her gaze about, taking in the little clearing surrounded by the almost-perfect circle of evergreen trees, inspecting every rock, every flower, every blade of grass, as if somehow her ephemereal hand could hold onto this world now as it hadn't been able to when she'd been a part of it.
The clearing was not overly large, probably a score of paces across for a tall Elf, and were it any other place, it would be just a clearing. But this was not any other place--the white stones culled millenia ago from a quartz mine marked this place as one of final rest, which in itself was uncommon in the Elven realms. Rarely did an Elf die, especially in times of relative peace, so her people boasted no cemetaries, electing on most of those rare occasions to immolate the deceased and spread the ashes over water to facilitate the journey to the Havens. This place bore a bittersweet exception, for here rested the earthly remains of a sister she'd never met, not an Elleth, but a Woman, of the race of Man, a young queen who would never know her own throne, passed out of this life far from her own lands, taken in by a people not her own, and here granted her own haven amongst a people who had perfected and then all but forgotten the idylls of mourning. The woman had been placed here in this clearing as a concession to her own people's custom of interring the dead, but rather than the grave markers of companions in the long reverie, the young queen-who-would-not-be was accompanied forever by sunlight and rain and mist and sweet air; if the visitor turned just... thus, and held very still, she could almost, almost smell the fragrance from the trees, pine and fir that would not, for some reason passed from living memory, grow anywhere else in Middle Earth.
She missed that aroma, and she found herself wondering about the fragrance of the strange, beautiful red flowers that inexplicably reached up between the soft carpet of deep green needles, like clusters of fingers in crimson goblets toward the light that dripped down between the dissipating rain clouds. No, not goblets, she decided--bells. Inverted bells, literally peeling, their vivid petals appealingly freckled, some turning to a passionate yellow near their hearts, as if the fire of the quiet woman beneath them was emerging more visibly now than it ever had before. The visitor had lived centuries upon centuries, had walked this very earth with her husband and their children, had come from the other most beautiful place in the world, and she knew that she had never seen blooms such as these, delicate and strong, with a velvety look that offered both joy and challenge. She somehow knew that those flowers suited this place. She would have liked her sister.
True, they had never met, in life or in death, but she had had occasion to look in on her family and her home since her own passing--she supposed that this was the Valar's gift to those no longer bound to corporeal remains, that she could visit the Grey Havens but could also come here, though she had nothing to anchor her to either place--and so knew that her dear husband had set aside his own grief and consternation to take in the young widow and her child, opening his home and his heart to them as a brother, an uncle, a guardian, a liege, and now, with the passing from illness of the mother, as a foster father to the child who would have no memories of his own sire or of the life to which he'd been born. Her children, too, her sons, when they were home, doted on the child, both amused and amazed at the depths of affection that such a small being could rouse in them, especially when they knew that not only was the child not of their race, but would grow with startling speed, would change and quest and live and love and hurt and die in less time than it had taken either of them to earn the privilege of caring for a full-grown horse, and that there was precious little they could do about it. Her daughter had not yet set eyes on the lad, but she had faith that her Elleth would just as readily take the boy into her heart.
The woman had been lain to rest here scarcely a year past, but the visitor knew that the child would have no memory of his mother, of the pain and the loss and the burial, that he would not understand for many years that his foster father had chosen this spot to honor the woman who had been with them so short a time and had left them such a profound gift; oh, she knew who he was, who his father had been, had an idea of his destiny, but more than that, more than any kingship or crown or valiance or victory, that child was a balm, healing for the healer, a tiny flame warming a heart grown chilled in the darkness of grief. Her husband cherished each of their children, but while they had needed him as he'd needed them after her own passing, they had soon gone from him, the daughter to her ancestral home and the sons out to slay or reconcile with their demons, and their father had been left to manage his own pain, feeling that he had outlived his own soul, until the morning that he had been summoned by guards and had lain the Manling in a nest of freshly-dried linens while the young one's mother had begged succor. She had not lived long, having concealed her own maladies to ensure that her son was strong for the journey, but a part of her would always be here, in the flowers and in the eyes of her child, and the child was now quite simply family, in need of everything. That boy, that son of Man, with so short a life before him, would likely never fully understand what he meant to a being older than these trees.
It was so peaceful here... no, not peaceful, she revised, though there was some of that; it was more a contentment, a familiar waiting, a... pleasant anticipation, as for a lover or for...
And no sooner had she thought that than her solitude was broken, and it seemed that the flowers and the very trees released a collectively held breath at the fulfillment of its deepest desire.
He should not be here, not on his own--he should not be anywhere on his own, for while this land was friendly, even here shadow defied light; besides, she remembered all too well just how easily small ones could find trouble of all shapes and sizes when not properly supervised (and sometimes even when they were.) Still, she fancied that she could feel herself smile as she watched the short, chubby child sneak into the clearing--obviously, someone knew that he was not where he'd been put, and was determined to make the best of his little misadventure.
She watched him run and sneak and creep and crawl and play, as the most secure of children seem wont to do when given a moment to themselves, and she thought about how beautiful he was--short, rounded, with stubby little legs, wild hair nearly as black as her husband's, and face and hands that fairly called all manner of dirt and crumbs to them. She could almost imagine how sticky his fingers would be, probably with something he should not have had, how those bright, curious eyes would light up at the simplest treats, how the long lashes would fan over his cheeks when he finally gave in to the undoubtedly dreaded nap, and she marveled. Only three years old, and with his life already sifting through an hourglass. She felt an ache pass through her at the thought of her husband having to experience the loss of this child, even if from old age, and she had the urge to try to tell the boy to be careful.
She did not realize that she'd actually moved until she saw that she was closer to the center of the clearing now, to the little patch where the fireflowers grew. Until this moment, he had avoided that area, sticking close to the stone perimeter, but now he stopped, the toes of his for-growing-into boots a mere whisper from one of the flowers, and he froze. So did she, and seemingly so did everything else, even time itself, as if waiting for something again. She expected him to romp and stomp through the flowers, to continue playing in this place he could not possibly remember, over the grave of his mother whom he could not possibly remember, and she found that part of her hoped that he did just that, that he continued to be just a little boy for as long as his race would allow, to not allow old traditions to dictate who he would be, while another part of her all but prayed for him to leave this place and leave the dead in peace, to take his noise and his dirt and his war and his destiny away out of respect. What he did was...
For the longest moment, he simply gazed at the flowers, seemingly entranced. Just as she started to wonder if something had actually entranced him, as she'd shifted a little nearer to the patch of flowers and to his left side, he moved his head, snapping it up as if he'd heard a noise or woken from a doze, and his gaze lanced right at...
He was looking at her, or rather, at where she was. And that was exceedingly odd, not only because she had no tangible presence on this plane, but because he was a mere Man, albeit of the Dunedain, but still a Man, and Men were not possessed of the perception of other planes of existence. So why was he still looking straight at her?
Sure now that she was the one who was imagining things, she gathered her energy and shifted up and to her left, and his eyes... moved... with... her.
She had never seen one so young from any race hold so preternaturally still for so long. And that was what he was becoming in her eyes--a boy, yes, a son of Man, a mere toddler, but there was something preternatural about him, something that both warmed and chilled her, which would have been curious even if she had been capable of feeling warmth and the lack thereof, but in her current state, was... she found herself without a word in any tongue for the sensation. When she saw his slow smile, though, she felt something else entirely.
And no sooner had she admitted that to herself than he came, bursting into the clearing from the direction in which the boy had come and striding to the child, his long, powerful legs carrying him with a dangerous grace that had once set her heart tripping and still caused what she could only describe as a flutter. He snatched up the child from behind, deftly turning the toddler in his arms to examine every inch for injuries, all the while scolding him for running off and hinting at consequences. He sounded angry, had undoubtedly left his business as lord of the realm to search for the child himself out of fear, but he crushed the boy to him, all threats stemmed as he assured himself that his beloved ion was whole and hearty. He cast his gaze down at the flowers, blinking rapidly, then raised his eyes in a silent prayer of thanks for the safety of his son before turning on his heel to leave.
The boy was in trouble, that much was certain, but as he was carried away, he perked up over his father's shoulder, his gaze unerringly returning to her, and he smiled and waved, flexing his hand as toddlers do. She wanted so much to wave back that perhaps she did, though she would never be sure.
What she was certain of was that, while the boy had essentially seen a ghost, she had just seen so much more. He might tell his ada about her, and his ada might respond that it had been just a trick of the light, but the boy would know, and she would know, and it would be their little secret. He would know that he had seen the past, a kind of faithfulness that transcended time and space.
And she would know that she had seen the future, a kind of light that went beyond mere destiny.
She had seen hope.