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Olórwendë by Formegil

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Story notes:
Appropriately enough for the theme, the basic idea for this story came to me in a half-dream while I was having a nap. The character of Olórwendë suddenly appeared to me in full bloom, and around her had formed a bare sketch of a short story. It is told in one chapter only. In style I strived for the semi-biblical tone of the Silmarillion, but a bit more readable for modern audience, but am unsure how I succeeded. If it seems too stilted, I am open for the possibility of a slight rewrite. In any case, the idea appealed to me so much I had to break my hiatus of many years from Tolkien fanfiction and give it a shape.
[The following is a translation from a document authored by a Man named Anwardil (of which nothing else is known, save that he must have been either a minor noble or some kind of an official in Andúnië), deriving from Númenor and afterwards preserved in the archives of Minas Tirith. The very beginning of the text has been lost, but all the rest is preserved nearly in full.]

------

… and through my sleep I heard the sweet sound of flowing water, and wondered, for there was no fountain nor stream outside my chamber. Thinking that it was raining, I prepared to wander back to sleep, when there was a touch on my forehead, gentle as a spring wind. I opened my eyes, and saw I was no longer in my bed, but rather lied on a bed of fragrant grasses. At some distance there ran a swift stream in its bed, singing softly as it went down the dell where I was. It was twilight, by the feel of the air that of the earliest morning.

Before I had recovered from my astonishment, I saw a wonder even greater than this unexpected change of location. For above me knelt a maiden, the fairest I ever had seen. Her beauty was like that of the Eldar who still sometimes come to the harbour, but at the same time more delicate and firmer, if that word can be used. Her long face had the smoothness of youth and yet expressed with perfect clarity emotions and thoughts of many lifetimes, and in her blue eyes starlight glittered as if from within. But even in the dark I could see her hair was her most striking feature; a red-golden flame that flowed down her neck and back as a river or living fire.

”Arise, Anwardil! Dawn is soon at hand,” she said to me, smiling and rising herself to her feet.
”How do you know my name, most fair lady, since I do not remember having met you? And where am I?” I said, filled with wonder, when I stood up.

She laughed and answered:

”I know many things, and many Men and Elves, even though they might know me not. But especially I know all those who dream of wondrous and fair things. And were you not engrossed in such a pastime all yesterday?”
”Quite so,” I said a bit shamed, for I indeed had wasted the previous day in idle daydreams and fanciful musings.
”Be not embarrassed, my friend,” she said. ”What is life without flights of fancy? A dreary desert it would be, not worth to be dragged through. But come! I shall show you where you have been brought, and I trust you shall not be disappointed.”

She took me by the hand, and her grip was soft as down yet strong as that of a man. When I followed her, I saw she was only an inch or so shorter than I.

”May I ask your name, fair lady?” I said, remembering only now what courtesy called for.
”I am Olórwendë, as the Eldar dwelling here most often call me. Another name I also have, a truer one, but that I shall not tell you yet,” she answered.

We rose to the rim of the dell where I had awoken, and I realized it had been a depression high in the side of a tall hill. Facing the eastern sky, I saw the horizon already bright and colored with the joyful hues of dawn, only richer and more radiant than I had ever before seen. Even as we looked, the sun climbed above the mountains on the edge of sight and filled the land with light.

Olórwendë's hair sparkled as if lit on fire. In a rising wind it waved around her like a wild flame. Heedless of that she spread her arms and cried aloud, gazing directly into the sun:

”Greetings, friend Arien! May your path be easy and safe also today!”

Then she turned to me again and said:

”Look around you, and I daresay you will know where you are.”

I did as she intructed and swept my gaze from north to south. All around it met distant chains of mountains that encircled the land, and whose peaks shone in the morning light so that they reminded me of the Great Lamps of old, before Arda was marred. In the centre of the eastern range I thought I could see a gap, but was not sure. Between the mountain ranges there lay a vast land of fields, meadows, rivers and forests, and even some cities and strongholds could I descry. All I could see was beautiful, sleeping as flawless and pure under the morning dew as anything could be in this world. Realization was coming to me, but still I could not believe.

But then my attention was drawn to the tallest mountain there could be. Greater even than Meneltarma it rose before my awed eyes, rocky shelf upon shelf, pathless and massive. It was crowned by a veil of snow that shone so brightly I could hardly look at it. I deemed and still deem it a wonder, that the earth can carry such a load of stone and break not into the Void.

”Taniquetil!” I cried. ”It cannot be anything else than the Mountain of Manwë! And that means –”

I could not finish, so agitated I was. My ears hardly caught Olórwendë's voice:

”Yes, Anwardil, you are in Aman. Rejoice, for before your eyes is what no Man has seen except Eärendil, and Tuor who was accepted among the Eldar!”

She looked at me, and her eyes were full of mirth shen she spoke:

”Is this not what you thought of all yesterday? I hope you will not still count the hours wasted.”
”Not indeed!” I said. ”Even a glimpse like this is a wonder beyond any dream.”
”And you shall have more than a glimpse, that I promise,” she said and began to walk down a path that led to the meadows below. ”Follow me.”

Nothing could have prevented me from obeying her, and so I sprang after her until we walked side by side. In a short while we were in the midst of a riot of flowers and grasses. Many of them were unknown to mortal lands and of otherworldly fair shapes and colours, to which I have no names. Their fragrance was sweet and intoxicated me like white, sparkling wine on a summer's day. Olórwendë stooped, picked two golden flowers and tied the other to her hair. She wore no other ornament, save a silver clasp in the shape of a star on the shoulder of her gown.

She came to me and tied the other flower to a buttonhole on the breast of my coat, saying:

”There! Now we are dressed like those celebrating a day like this should. For every day here is joyous and yet solemn like a holy feast.”

She waved her hand to me as a sign to follow and began to walk along the edge of the hill northwards. As she went, it seemed to me that blades of grass and the tallest flowers raised their heads to gently sweep the tips of her fingers, as if kissing them.

We went around the hill and westwards for some time, before I dared to speak again.

”Lady Olórwendë, where are we going? Should we not go and see Taniquetil closer, and the fair Tirion?”
”All in good time,” she replied. ”I mentioned solemnity a short while ago, and first I would you to visit those abodes, where holy sorrow and eternal memory dwell in this land. After these the radiance of other places will seem the brighter.”

I understood what she meant, and said:

”But shall the journey not take days? The lore of old says Valinor is a great country, and I cannot abide here for such a long time. My duties await me, and others at home will wonder where I have gone, maybe even think I am dead.”

A slight smile curved her lips.

”It shall not be as long as you fear. You shall see that time here is a curious thing, and shall turn into space, or the other way around when needed. Especially so when in the company of such as I.”

And so it proved to be. We walked in an apparently leisurely pace a vast distance, and not a foot was left away from it. Still, whenever I concentrated to listen to my fair guide's words or was for a moment lost in thought, I realized we had journeyed miles upon miles in that brief moment. Thus it was long before noon that we stood on a ridge facing west, and a dark ocean that lay beyond a misty field of mournful grass, hoary oaks, dreamy elms and bended willows.

On the shore I saw two great mansions. The northernmost was a mass of dark grey and white arcades and towers that extended even amidst the very waves of the sea. A dim cloud of grief, almost perceptible to bodily eyes, hung over the house and it seemed to me as if the spray of the ocean against the pillars were tears of the tormented world.

”There dwells Nienna, she who weeps for the sorrows of all Arda,” said Olórwendë with a subdued voice. ”Ah, how much indeed there is to mourn, and will be! To think of it almost drives even my mirth away, happy as this land otherwise is. But not only weeping is Nienna's duty, for in her the Children of Ilúvatar find also strength to live through their sorrows.”

She fell silent for a while and sighed. Then she pointed with her arm at the more southerly mansion. It was a wide and heavy house, with many wings, few windows and many shadowy courtyards between the buildings. There I could see small darker shades, either moving slowly about or sitting still under great oaks that grew there.

”That must be the Hall of Mandos,” I murmured with a shudder.
”Indeed,” she whispered with a slight nod of her head. ”There, friend Anwardil, will you also one day abide for a short while, before you pass beyond the confines of the world. Then you shall walk further into its halls than even I have.”
”Let us go,” I said, for a holy terror had descended upon me.

And so we turned away after a last glimpse on the gloomy halls and returned along the paths we had come. On the way back I took a better look at my guide. An Elf-maiden was her form, yet she was not such. There was an ever changeful yet restful – I find no better word – air about her, and starlight was still in her eyes even in the noontide sun. As we went, her gown changed its hue subtly according to light and shadows which fell upon it: Now dark blue, now greenish as the very first glimmer of dawn, then rich red as the clouds at sundown and so forth. Of dawn and evening twilight were her colours, of the time made for dreamers. She noticed my scrutiny, and even as my cheeks reddened, she laughed:

”You wonder at me so? Yet I am lowly according to the measure of Aman. Look at me, if you wish, and do not blush. What beauty and wonder I have, is only part of those of this land, and I am glad that you take joy in it.”

I bowed to her, and all of a sudden my mind was again at ease. In her company no needless shame, burning grief or undue agitation could long endure.

It was noon when we were back at the hill from where we had left, and there we paused for a while. I was hungry, and Olórwendë picked with me some fruits and berries that were already ripe. We ate them and drank from a clear spring. After the meal I found to my surprise that I was better sated than after many a feast.

To me it had seemed the meal had taken an hour, but the sun had not moved. So it was still at its highest when we went on, towards the southern edge of Valinor the beautiful.

Soon we came to a vast maze of fields, orchards and vineyards, all bathed in Arien's light. My fair guide halted when we came to a ridge that offered a wide view of the landscape. She clasped her hands to her bosom, and her face was lit by joy so radiant, that my heart leaped in my breast.

”Behold the Fields of Yavanna the bountiful!” she cried. ”See, how the very earth rejoices from her care and gives its best gifts to those who tend it!”

I looked, and a great joy and serene happiness came to me. A scene of vibrant life opened before my gaze and I could not but be captivated by it. Golden were the fields already, and heavy did the heads of corn sway in a gentle wind, since in that land they reap many harvests a year. In orchards some trees were still in bloom, some carried heavy loads of fruit. I longed to walk among such splendour of fruitfulness, and my wish was granted. For hand in hand I and Olórwendë walked down to Yavanna's realm.

We went through it all, and my eyes wearied not from the sight, and such a fragrance arose from the fruits and fields that almost it was tangible like food and drink. Sometimes, when we halted for a brief while I raised my head, eyes closed, to the sky and let the scent and the songs of thousands of birds fill my other senses, until I almost burst asunder from my bliss. Such gardens there are not in the mortal lands, not even on our island.

I realized, when we walked on, that our steps did not break a single stalk of wheat or a flower, but only bent them. After we had passed, they rose again slowly, so that no one could see our path after us. Such is the virtue of Aman, that even the things that grow from earth heal quickly and are slow to take any unmendable hurt.

------

I could not ask for a better guide. She was always by my side, now smiling, now thoughtful, but ever ready to show me some small wonder of nature or to relate some tale of how the denizens of such a land lead their blessed life. I heard her as if through a dream, and often awe or wonder stopped my tongue so that I could not utter a word. Yet she seemed to understand all that went through my thoughts. Save one thing only – perhaps.

In that garden, when I saw her beauty magnified by that of Yavanna's blessings, my heart beat stronger, yea, sung like never before for any maiden. I rebuked myself for my folly. Does a fly dare raise its admiring eyes to a swan? Such, and even greater, was and ever remains the distance between a being like Olórwendë and I. And still I admired her and basked in her dreamful light, even as I strove to mask my feelings even from myself.

Ah, there indeed are dangers for mortals who venture to Aman, but not all of them foreseen! To such a snare I had put myself.

Still, the touch of her hand and the sight of her made even the beauty of Valinor manifold. If I have taken a wound, let me endure it gladly after seeing the holy glimmer in her eyes, and hearing the sweet music of her voice!

------

As I was still pondering these, and other things, we went on in the afternoon light. We were by ourselves; I only now recalled that during all our journey I had only occasionally seen anyone else, and even then only at a distance. I mentioned this to my guide, and she replied:

”Yes, you have seen right. It is by my design; I have brought you here on a day of gatherings and feasts, when most others are in Tirion.”
”Why is that?” I asked.
”For two reasons,” she said, raising two slender fingers. ”First, because I wanted to spend this day with you without any disturbance, so as to better show you the wonders of Aman. Secondly, it is not meet that you, a mortal Man, should either see or to be seen by the high Eldar who reside here, let alone by the Powers who rule the land.”

I smiled at her.

”When combining the first two reasons, I see also a third. My dear lady, now I fear you did not have the leave of those Powers to bring me here, and that is partly why they must not see me.”

The slightest hint of red bloomed on her cheeks and she looked at me sidelong, as she answered:

”My nature is volatile and ever playful, and not truly bound by laws or decrees, for it cannot be. Sometimes I act ere I have time to think. Perhaps I asked for leave, perhaps not.”

Then her mirth returned and she continued:

”But fear not! No harm shall come to you, and soon you will be home again.”

I nodded my head, and spoke not of my innermost thoughts. Still, they drove me to ask further:

”You said you had wanted to spend this day with me. Why is that, lowly as I am, and you so high?”
”Even the low – and you are not really such by the measure of Men – can dream of high things. My path crossed your fancies of yesterday, and when I entered them, a fancy of my own struck me: This man ponders so earnestly what Aman is like, as he has often done, so why should I not show him?”

She fell silent for a moment, then added:

”More I cannot – nay, should not – say of my reasons.”

A foolish, even impossible thought began to grow in my mind, and a yet formless joy smoldered inside me. But before the thought could take a firm shape, lady Olórwendë walked on and said:

”Come, dear friend! Arien already hastens towards the Gates of the Night, and we still have much to see. Let us go and walk in Oromë's domain!”

------

And so we did. From an abundant garden we took a path and ascended to neighbouring hills. There grew a wild forest, which the rays of the lowering sun wrought into a temple of light and shadows, as those alternated like pillars amidst the wooded paths. The woods were ancient beyond reckoning, yet there was no rot, no blemish upon a single thing that grew from the earth. As we wandered among the hoary oaks, grey alders and lush elms, my gaze caught many animals, who watched our progress with their anxious eyes, ready to bolt at any provocation. Stags and elks there were, also bears, foxes, boars and every other kind of animal and bird that is hunted. Besides I saw some which are not found in mortal lands. Every being was healthy and in the full bloom of youth. For Oromë does not relish the ease of hunting anything that is old or infirm, but desires challenge according to his nature.

”Look at these trees,” Olórwendë said when we paused for a while. ”How full of life they are, still as they seem! And yet, how slow and deep are their dreams which whisper to me even now!”

She lay her hands gently on a trunk of a great oak, and I did likewise. To my surprise, the tree truly felt like a living being in a manner I had never before thought possible. It was as if some inner force or power was emanating into my hands, and for a moment I could glimpse into a thought, the form and pace of which were alien to me. A slow, measured thought indeed that went on in eternal circles that in every time were the same, yet still new.

Olórwendë smiled at my expression and said:

”Ah, you feel it also? This oak has seen an untold count of years, and ever its thoughts come to a spring, then summer and so on until a new spring comes. So it is with all trees; they all think of seasons gone and seasons coming, and the past and the future meld into one in the great wheel of nature's years. No wonder the Eldar love trees so much, for there is something similar in their minds. More active are they indeed, but still they recognize the great circles of Time. It reminds them that everything comes from one source, and will return to it in time.”

After this speech, she let her hands fall on her sides and turned slowly away. We left the tree and went on.

Of the Woods of Oromë, and of other things I saw in other parts of Valinor I shall write a fuller account in another scroll. For the real purpose of this writing is still unrelated, and I must hasten to it so as to not weary my reader.

------

From Oromë's domain we passed on to a dreamy garden when the evening-shadows began to fall over the land. It was a land of water, flowers and trees; a land of small gently murmuring streams, still ponds that reflected the stars as if in a polished mirror, of willow, birch and alder, of lily, of fuchsia and rose.

”We have come to my home, the Gardens of Lórien, for I am of the retinue of Lady Estë”, said Olórwendë in a quiet voice. And when I looked at her, I indeed saw that she belonged there. The hues of sunset were upon her and made her beauty full, for they complemented and clarified the colours of the form she had taken. In the growing dimness a faint dreamy light shone about her, and her hair was like a glowing ember in the hearth.

We sat on a moss-covered stone, and fell silent for a time. I breathed in the soothing, cool air of evening and felt a serene happiness the like of which can be experienced only once in this life.

”Oh, if only I could dwell here for ever!” I sighed at length. But she shook her heard gravely and gently laid her fair hand on my shoulder. When she spoke, there was an earnestness in her voice that I had not heard before:

”Say not so! You have seen, but not understood. Aman is not a bodily state, my friend, but that of soul and mind. This land is not holy and blessed by its own virtue, but only because it is ruled by those who are. And so it is according to the measure of each, even mortal Men. So, wherever you go, there is an Aman in you, if only you do and think blessed things and so find happiness within, whatever fate befalls you. If you dwelled here in body, you would soon perish from the land's splendour, like a tree withers young when the sun is too bright and hot.”

She put her other hand on my heart and went on:

”But if Aman is within you, you can carry it many a long year still, for you are still young, and call it to you whenever you wish. You can even carry it beyond the world, when your hour to leave comes. Behold! you have seen the land, and it is more your joy of it than the land itself you will remember. That memory shall give you greater happiness than a shipload of Valinor's earth, if you took it with you. Am I not right?”

I took her hand in mine and answered:

”Yes, it must be so. Indeed I have seen much that I shall treasure to the end of my days, and even beyond if there is memory where every Man must go. But the remembrance of one thing I shall hold dearer than any other in Valinor, and the flame of that shall not dim.”

There was deep joy in her gaze, when it met mine. Her hand pressed mine tighter. But after a moment she looked half away and sighed.

”What a delightful day it has been, my dear Anwardil!” she said. ”But alas! it has to end like all days. Not even the Valar can wholly stop the flow of time, much less someone lesser such as I.”

And in almost a whisper, as if half to herself, she added:

”Indeed it was perilous to bring you here. Even – even for me, perhaps. It is better that you go now, for the bliss of this moment cannot endure much longer, ere it turns into grief and regret. I shall not selfishly keep you from among your own kind, where you truly belong as much as I here. If I have used my power rashly, let me now turn onto a wiser course.”

”So now we must part for ever,” I said with voice half choked by sorrow.

She stroke my hair, as she replied:

”No, dearest friend, not truly part. It may be that we shall not see each other again in such a way as we today have. But I ever walk amidst thoughts and dreams, and so shall come to you also, from time to time. And when you but remember me, I shall be beside you. For flesh is no shackle for us of the kindred of Aman, since the mind and the will are our domains. When our names are uttered even in thought only, we shall hear it, be sure of that.”

Olórwendë rose to her feet and gently pressed me down onto the moss, until I lied on it fully. Then she lowered her hand onto my forehead and said:

”Now receive the blessing of Olórwendë the Dream-Maiden, of Laurëlórantallë, the Giver of Golden Visions! Till our next meeting, be it in the fields of Mind or in some other place unforeseen!”

She breathed into my eyes, and heavy sleepiness conquered me. I could only murmur:

”Farewell for a time, loveliest maiden!”

And last of all, before I wandered into sleep – dare I even write it – I felt the light touch of her lips upon mine.

------

I awoke in my chamber, and from its only, east-facing window flowed the bright light of the morning sun. When I rose from the bed, I could not tell if I had dreamed or not. Fair Olórwendë was nowhere to be seen. But on the table was a golden petal of a flower, and the fragrance of the garden outside reminded me of her.

Still dazed I changed my clothes and went outside the palace, to the western garden. Spring had come to Númenor, for apparently in one night all the flowers had ripened and now fully opened their petals in the light of the dawn. I walked down paths between them, careful not to tread on a single flower. When I came to the wall I ascended the stairs leading to its top. There I leaned on the parapet and stared long across the sea, beyond which lay the Blessed Realm – and its fairest flower.

”Olórwendë, sweet Laurëlórantallë, were you truly or are you but a dream?” I whispered.

At that moment a gentle sea-wind came from across the waves, as sweet as it ever is when it breathes from the shores of Valinor. As it touched my brow, it was like the caress of her long, slender fingers, and in its song I thought I could faintly hear the echo of her voice. I knew then, and murmured into the wind:

”Thank you, my fairest lady.”

There I stood until a servant found me and told me that the Prince ordered me to come to his presence. I turned and went towards the palace, and my lady's steps followed mine, unheard by all save me. There was a smile on my face and an Aman in my heart.
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