A Handful of Light by Zdenka

Story Notes:

Originally started for Legendarium Ladies April 2016, finished for LLA 2017.

Written for the 2016 general prompt for April 11th:

“General Prompt: Everybody Lives!

In particular in the Silmarillion (but not only there), many characters suffer an untimely death, and many times that is before they can unfold their full potential and change the story through their actions. For today’s prompt we’re asking you to go down the AU road and imagine what might happen if one of Tolkien’s female characters (or more than one!) had lived ... Explore how their continued existence might have led to different stories, for better or worse.”

Also inspired by the 2016 picture prompt for April 6th: Gold Mask from Venice by Jozef Sedmak.

Chapter 1 by Zdenka

Golden drops of light welled forth from Laurelin’s clusters of flowers, falling downward to pool on the ground below. Míriel sat on the green mound nearby, close enough that she could feel the radiating heat on her skin. She watched the process intently, noting the strength of the light that shone forth on earth and sky, and silently counting the interval between the drops. From time to time, the Valar’s servants appeared, gathered up the falling light in what looked like great earthen jars, and disappeared again—though perhaps that was only how her mind made sense of it. Surely no ordinary vessel could hold the light of Laurelin. And how could light be both a beam and a liquid? There was a mystery here that she had not yet solved.

Her hands began to feel restless; she pulled out a spindle and a tuft of wool from her bag and began to spin it into thread, her fingers going about the familiar task without requiring her attention so that she need not take her gaze away from the Tree. Her thoughts were often clearer when her hands were occupied.

Half her thread was twined around the spindle when the air before her glittered and resolved itself into one of the Tree’s attendants. Míriel looked up, pleased but not surprised, and carefully set down her work. “Arien.”

The Maia inclined her head. “Míriel. The Trees shine upon our meeting.”

“They do indeed,” Míriel said, smiling. “How goes your work?”

“It goes well,” Arien said with certainty, as though it were impossible for it to be otherwise. “The Trees flourish.” Arien’s feet left no impression in the grass as she stood near Míriel. She did not move or stand quite as an Elf would; there was a sense of motion about her even when she remained still, like a hummingbird hovering in the air. When Arien moved quickly, Míriel thought she could see a hazy afterimage trailing in the air behind her, like bright wings of gold.

“You have not come here for some time,” Arien continued, turning her bright gaze toward Míriel.

Míriel sometimes wondered whether the Maiar experienced the passage of time in the same way that Elves did. But it seemed Arien had noticed her absence, at least. “No,” she agreed. “I was in Tirion to celebrate the birth of Finwë and Indis’s second child. A son this time.” Míriel had been close in friendship with both of them since early in the Great Journey, and she was pleased to embroider a robe as a gift first for their daughter and then for their son.

“They are well?” Arien inquired.

“Yes, they seem very happy. For myself, I am content with my craft -- but Finwë always said he wanted many children, even when we walked in the darkness of Middle-earth.”

“They will grow better here, in the light of the Valar.”

Míriel tilted her head, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. “They will have more light, certainly. That is good for trees, and it may well be good for Elves.” She turned her gaze back to Laurelin. “Arien, I would ask something of you. Could you bring some of the light here, so that I can examine it more closely?”

Arien inclined her head. “I will,” she said. “But you must not touch it.” She went to stand below Laurelin and held up her hands, gathering the drops of light as they fell. More drops of burning light fell harmlessly on her hair and shoulders, where they shone gold for a moment before slipping to the ground. Wisps of steam rose gently from between Arien’s fingers as she returned. Míriel knew that if Arien let her concentration lapse, Míriel could be badly burned, but she did not fear it. Arien’s arms were completely steady as she held out her cupped hands full of light for Míriel’s inspection.

Míriel rose to her knees and looked down at the liquid light. Its surface shone with glimmering reflections, and Míriel carefully observed its motions, both like and unlike to water. Arien was reflected in it too, the light of her eyes burning even brighter in that golden mirror. Míriel amused herself for a moment by imagining that Arien’s reflection was an image of her true self, a leaping spirit of fire, when not constrained by the need to be seen and spoken to by incarnate beings. Reflected in that shimmering pool, not only Arien, but Míriel too seemed an impossible creature of golden flame.

Light that could be held in the hands, that could be made to form a shape—Míriel was fascinated by it. Once again, she felt there was something she could almost grasp, if she studied it a little longer. At last she settled back on her heels. “Thank you,” she said. “That is enough for now.”

Arien turned to face away from Míriel and gently blew on the handful of light. As Míriel watched, it evaporated into what looked like a golden mist and dissolved into the air.

Arien’s expression had softened slightly when she turned back toward Míriel. “Few of the Eldar,” she said, “come so often to look upon the Trees’ beauty. Of those who do, most are Vanyar rather than Noldor. It seems to me that you must love them, as I do.”

“I do not come here only to contemplate their beauty,” Míriel answered. “Though they are truly beautiful, and I admire the master-work of Yavanna. But I have a purpose beyond that. Tell me, Arien, do the Ainur not wonder, or feel curiosity? I have spoken with many of you, and often the things I wish to know, it seems they have never thought about. You tend Laurelin and gather her light as it falls, but have you ever considered the nature of light?”

“It is part of the Song.”

“But what is it? What are its properties? What can be made with it?”

Arien tilted her head to one side. “Lady Varda used Telperion’s light to make the brighter stars.”

“Yes,” Míriel said quickly. “And so it must be possible to shape it somehow. And those vessels—you gather the light in them, so it must be possible to contain it. How were they made? What are they made of?”

“I do not know. I did not have a part in making them. I could ask, if you wish, although I do not know if it is possible to fully explain the answer to one whose spirit is clothed in flesh.”

“But are you not curious?”

Arien was silent for a moment, looking at the blaze of Laurelin’s falling light as if she had never seen it before. “I am curious now,” she said finally, turning back toward Míriel. “What do you see, when you gaze at the Trees so intently? What is this purpose you speak of?”

Míriel smiled, her eyes distant. “I have been considering,” she said, “whether it is possible for one of the Eldar to shape or capture the light of the Two Trees—to weave it into a sort of a fabric.”

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