This day has been everything that I was hoping for it to be! I can hardly believe that it's possible for anyone to be as happy as I am now. Well - Anairë might be just as happy, perhaps.
I could hardly concentrate on anything today while I was waiting for her. I had to find something to read in the end, it was impossible for me to do any work.
Don't ask me what I read. I believe I chose poetry. I don't usually read much of it, but I've got a couple of Makalaurë's books on the shelf. It seemed to fit the situation. I hope he doesn't ask me whether I've read them. Or perhaps he would understand, and write a poem about it ...
Finally a servant arrived.
"There's a woman here to see you, my lord," he said. "One Anairë."
I would have been on my feet in one leap, but I tried to retain some of my dignity.
"That will be Lady Anairë, actually," I said, calmly standing up.
"She didn't look like a ..." he began, but stopped when I stared him down.
After a few moments he bowed his head and murmured,
"If you say so, my lord."
No lady? She's my queen, right?
She was waiting outside the door. Poor thing, he hadn't even let her into the hall. But the good thing about it was that I could take her straight into the gardens. More privacy there.
She delighted in the flowers, kneeling in front of a rose bush, having left the parcel she was carrying, on a bench. Yes, our gardens are rather splendid. They keep the head gardener and his assistants busy all the year round.
Anairë isn't used to splendid gardens and a grand mansion, though. They seemed to overwhelm her, perhaps even frighten her a little. I hope she will get used to it. Eventually. She told me about her dream of having a small garden of her own, with flowers, and with herbs for the sick.
I loved the delight in her eyes when she was watching the roses. Oh, I could gaze at her for hours! Beautiful? Perhaps not stunningly, at least not according to my sisters' definition of beautiful. But there is noone I would rather be gazing at for years and years to come.
Finally she rose, picked up the parcel and gave me. I sat down and opened it.
I've never seen a more exquisite piece of pottery, and I told her so. Findis should be ever so pleased.
"You really think she will like it?" she asked. "If not, I would have started all over again, but then it wouldn't have been finished on time."
"I'm quite sure," I reassured her, and put the vase down safely on the ground next to the bench. I didn't want to go inside with it just yet. I wanted to sit here and talk with Anairë.
I was toying with the wrapping paper. She was staring at my hands. As if she could see what they wanted to do. To touch her, to caress her - and to hold her tight and protect her against anything that might frighten her. She seems so easily frightened.
"I fled that night because I didn't want you to think me presumptious," she said. "I didn't think I had a chance with you, and I wouldn't want you to think I did. It feels so strange to be here now - and yet, when I look at you, I feel at home ..."
I want you to feel at home, I thought.
"So that's why you fled?" I said. "I wouldn't have thought you presumptious even if you had stayed. I had to be polite to a man I was talking to, but I was only waiting for him to finish and go away, so that I could find out who it was that made me relax so much. I've thought of you as my healer ever since. You mentioned herbs for the sick - do you really do healing?"
Her eyes brightened.
"I do," she said. "My grandmother taught me many things - about sleep draughts, and calming teas, and ways to help cuts and wounds heal, especially with children."
She will be a wonderful mother.
Her eyes brightened even more, and she was proud, when she said, "I even created a special burn cream for your half-brother, Lord Fëanáro, after he burned himself badly at his smithy."
Even into a moment such as this he must follow me, cannot leave me alone, must remind me that he would begrudge me the right to be happy, the right to even exist.
She must have seen something in my expression, because she started to talk faster than before, telling me that she was learning massage as well, often practising on her father.
I shouldn't be taking it out on her. It isn't her fault. As so often, I knew that I needed to relax.
And when she, blushing, asked if she could practise on me sometime, I realised how much she could help me in this way. My heart raced as I thought about what it would feel like to have her hands kneading my shoulders. Not there and then, I wouldn't risk being found in my gardens receiving massage from a female stranger, it wouldn't at all be proper - but later.
"That would be so good sometime, my dear!" I said. "I go to the healers occasionally for massage, and getting it from you would be so much better. Sometime, when you're more at home here. You said that you feel at home already. I hope - nay, I rather believe - that you'll let me make you at home here completely. Will you marry me?"
She stared at me.
She tried to speak, seemingly unable to do so. She just blinked at me.
And then she began to weep.
I forgot everything. I threw away the wrapping paper I had been toying with, would probably have thrown away the vase if it had still been inside it - I forgot that people might come and see us, and that it might not be quite proper. I only knew that she needed comfort.
I put my arms around her and pulled her close to me. I murmured soothing noises into her hair, stroking it gently.
"Oh, my love," I whispered, "did I frighten you so much? I didn't mean to. Was I too sudden? If you need more time to think about it, just say so. I don't mean to put pressure on you. I wouldn't hurt you for the world. Just take your time."
She relaxed in my arms. She snuggled into my embrace, laying her head against my chest, her weeping eventually stopping. She looked up at me and softly touched my neck with her nose.
"Of course I don't need longer, my beloved," she said. "Yes, a thousand times yes, I will marry you."
The words that I had been hoping for. Words that made me so immeasurably happy. What else was there to say other than 'thank you'?
I brought my face down to hers, and as gently as I could, I kissed her.
And she kissed me back, uncertain at first, and then more and more boldly.
Finally she withdrew, a big smile breaking out on her lips, to be replaced with a happy laughter.
I could listen to her laughter for centuries!
"We must share this," I said. "I told my parents about the vase, and that I would like them to meet the artist. They would like to meet you. I'm sure mother has guessed what's going on already. And I just can't wait to present such a lovely fiancée to them."
I was prepared that she would be a little taken back at the prospect of finally meeting the King - but I wasn't prepared for her reason.
"But I cannot meet the King!" she said. "Not like this!"
I didn't understand at first. Like what? Then it dawned on me that her dress was a different style from what my sisters are using. Something to do with fashions, probably. I didn't care. But perhaps she did.
I tried to reassure her, telling her that I could see nothing wrong with her dress, and that father met all kinds of people wearing all kinds of clothing all the time anyway.
She protested that she was afraid that he would see her as a poor supplicant, as a gold digger. I said that he would think nothing of the sort, seeing how proud I was of her and how much I loved her. I told her about the research I had made, and that I knew that her lifestyle didn't include all this wealth.
"And I know that you never looked for it," I said, "that you speak truly when you say that you would be happy with a simple life. But this is my lifestyle, you see. You'll just have to learn to live with it, as it will be yours as well. As soon as possible, you shall have a garden of your own - that will be the beginning."
We talked a little more, about gardens, and about being able to spoil children ... we agreed that we wanted to have more children than my half-brother, and she suggested we have ten! He only has three so far, and I doubt he'll beat ten ...
It's so different now when she mentions Fëanáro, now that she's joined me and is on my side! The future mother of my children. I will enjoy my part in making them. I told her so, and as expected, she blushed, but she smiled, agreeing with me.
Then she decided that we might as well get the introduction over with, and we went inside. I nearly forgot the vase, but she reminded me. I had us announced, and my parents were awaiting us in a small parlor. I led Anairë in, holding her hand.
"Mother and father," I began, and found to my surprise that I had to make an effort to keep my voice steady.
"I am proud to introduce to you the Lady Anairë, the artist I told you about. She has just done me the honor of promising me to become my wife."
"Your wife, my son?" father asked, sounding a little surprised. I don't blame him - I must admit I had sprung it upon him a bit suddenly. It had all happened so fast.
Father rose, came over to us, and took Anairë's hand in his.
"Your are very welcome, my dear," he said. "I am glad to see that my son has found someone special."
Anairë curtsied and tried to speak, but again she couldn't. Father gestured for us to sit down, and asked her about her parents and about how we'd met. She began to say something about her father, but very soon she was overcome with nervousness again, and I filled in, telling what I had found out about him, and even mentioning the ball - but then I stopped. I really should let her tell her own version of that.
It helped, apparently. By now she had regained some of her confidence, and she told about what had happened at the ball and later at her stall in the market.
"Very well, son," he said, "if she is the one you want, I certainly will not keep you from her! You shall have to have her parents here, and I shall plan a feast for your betrothal."
"She is indeed the one I want," I said, putting an arm around her shoulders.
"Thank you, father."
He rose to dismiss us, and mother gave me a tight embrace - and when she was done with me, she embraced Anairë as well.
Back in the garden, I smiled at my beloved.
"You survived," I said. "Meeting parents isn't all that dangerous. And I'm next, I suppose? What about tomorrow?"
We agreed to meet in the market the next day, and then go to her home together. We talked a little more about the gardens, and then we kissed each other goodbye, and she left.
I miss her already.
But I can reach out to her, like I have done so often over the last couple of days. We're not really apart. It's a good thing.
Was there a meeting this morning?
I am to be married!
Even writing the words they hardly seem real. I stare at them on the page and I can barely believe them.
Anairë, engaged to Prince Nolofinwë!
I spent most of the day pacing the house nervously, trying to hide my unease from my parents. Raimë knew, of course, and did her best to soothe my nerves without alerting mama and papa to the reason, but there was little she could do. Never have hours passed so slowly!
When the time arrived for me to leave, I checked my appearance again in the mirror (never good enough!) then took the gift for Princess Findis, and made my way into Tirion to the house of King Finwë. Standing there and knocking on the door made me feel very small indeed. It is such a grand house that even the door is ornately carved! The servant who answered looked at me in disdain, making me clutch the vase I had made even more tightly and choke out my request to see Prince Nolofinwë.
"Do you have an appointment?" he asked, his disapproval evident. I suppose I cannot blame him. If every maiden were allowed to see Nolofinwë at their request, he would do nothing except entertain them!
"Yes," I said, ashamed at the sheepishness in my voice. "He asked me to bring this gift for Princess Findis."
The servant looked at the wrapped package in my hands and held out his to take it.
"I shall take it to him," the servant said, seeming pleased to have come up with a way to get rid of me.
"No," I said, summoning my courage. "He wanted me to give it to him myself." I wrapped my arms tightly around the wrapped vase, making sure the servant could not relieve me of my reason to be here before I saw Nolofinwë.
He looked at me, annoyed, but turned on his heel and stalked down the hall, leaving me standing alone in the doorway. I looked down at the marble floor, and at the artwork and carvings that decorated the walls. It was like a house out of a fairy story, every inch of it more lovely than the next. And my Nolofinwë lived here. As I waited for him to arrive, I tried to imagine what it would be like to walk down these halls as if I belonged... I swallowed the feelings that created in me, determined to examine them later. For now, there was enough to worry about.
After several minutes, I heard steps in the hallway and turned quickly. My heart caught in my throat. What if the magic were gone? What if what we had felt four days ago was gone, a fleeting attraction that waned with Laurelin's light?
But it was not.
The moment he entered the room, my heart seemed to come alive, pounding within my chest as if it wished to run to him and throw myself in his strong arms. I looked up at him, for a moment trapped in the depths of his blue eyes, coming back to myself only when he spoke.
"Welcome, Vórimatári," he said, using my mother name in a way that seemed to caress my very fea. "Won't you come with me to sit in the garden for a while? We can be in private there, and you can show me what you've made."
I nodded and managed a slight curtsey, before he took my hand and tucked it into the crook of his, leading me out to the gardens.
He must have thought me provincial, but I could not help but gasp with delight! I have never seen such gardens! Flowers of every hue and shade surrounded me, their blooms bright and their fragrance filling the air around me. I smiled; I could speak of flowers without fear. It was comforting to have something to talk about where I did not feel completely out of place.
"Oh, I have never seen such lovely flowers! We have neither space nor time to care for them properly...I have always wanted to have a little garden. Nothing so grand as this, of course, but a place in which I can grow flowers of my own. And herbs, as well, for the sick, of course. But your garden looks as if it is tended by Yavanna herself!"
And suddenly, with Nolofinwë's indulgent smile fixed on me, I felt again very out of place. Did he think me provincial? I looked down, and clasped my hands tightly in my lap, suddenly without words.
Needing desperately to break the silence, I rose and went to the bench where he sat, lifting the parcel and giving it to him carefully.
"Here is what I have for your sister, my lord. I hope you like it..."
Should I have said that I hoped that she liked it?
"Oh, this is beautiful!" he exclaimed. "I don't think I've ever seen anything more exquisite. Thank you so much! My sister should be ever so pleased."
His words warmed my heart. Words of praise from Nolofinwë mean more to me than I ever deemed possible, but my eyes found his hands, entranced by the way they held the vase. Strong hands. Big hands. Hands that could hold me and keep me safe from everything that threatened me or frightened me. Hands that could brush away tears, and hold me close. I could almost feel his caress as I watched him hold the vase, and a tiny shudder travelled my spine.
Finally I found my voice, but the words that came out were not the ones I had planned. As if I needed to spill my heart to him, I told him about fleeing from the party, confiding in him my fears and insecurities, my eyes now fixed on my hands in case he found this explanation ridiculous or in some other way unpleasant. I did not think I could bear his censure.
But he did not censure, or scold.
Hearing his words, I looked up at him, and smiled as he asked about my healing. Wanting him to think well of me, I began to tell him of the things I had done, and the people I had healed, thinking he would approve of the fact that I had once healed his half-brother, Fëanáro.
I was desperately wrong.
The moment I mentioned Fëanáro's name, his face went black with an emotion I could not quite read.
I began talking faster, hoping that I could dispel this negativity. I began to tell him of the newest skill I was learning from my grandmother: the art of massage. I told him how I had practice on my father, and then before I had a chance to think the words through, I heard myself say:
"Perhaps you would let me practice on you sometime, my lord?"
I turned bright red. Had I really said that?!
But his smile had returned, and he seemed pleased by my suggestion, telling me that he would love me to do that when I was more at home here.
At home here?
I looked up at him, almost in disbelief, knowing what was coming next.
"I hope...no, I rather believe...that you'll let me make you at home here completely. Will you marry me?"
I blinked, because it was the only action my body would allow me. I was stunned, paralyzed, shocked. I wasn't sure if I was breathing, or even if my heart was still beating.
I had been expecting this, since Nolofinwë and I had met in the market four days ago. Or I thought that I had been expecting it. He had told me that he would ask me, had he not? And yet I understood now that believing in my mind that this moment would come and actually experiencing it were two separate and profoundly different things.
I tried to speak, but the words would not come. The best I could do was make a kittenish mew, which forced me to cover my mouth with my hand.
I blinked again. That, at least, seemed within my power.
I felt almost as if I were looking down on myself, seeing this conversation and this situation from someone else's point of view.
A girl who would soon be the betrothed of Lord Nolofinwë. A very lucky girl, but a girl who could not possibly be me. Right?
And suddenly, the reality of it hit me, like a drenching wave off the sea. It swept over me, the emotion choking me, drowning me. I felt the tears welling within my eyes, and before I had a chance to control them, I whimpered, then began to weep; choking, consuming sobs that reddened my eyes, and left paths from the salty tears down my cheeks.
And then I was in his arms, snuggled as naturally as if I had been born to be there. I lay my head against his chest, listening to the beating of his heart and feeling waves of safety and calm washing over me. Everything would be fine. I would be happy.
We would be happy.
My sobs subsided into mere sniffles, and I looked up at him my eyes streaked with tears, but the fear melting into something far happier. I nuzzled his neck with my nose, cuddling into his safety, his warmth, his comfort. This was my home, had always been my home, here, in his arms. I snuggled closer, breathing in the scent of him as my heart, fëa and hröa, all together, accepted his proposal. I gazed up at his eyes as he thanked me. Thanked me!
And then he kissed me.
I had always before thought kissing to be a rather strange and unhygienic practice, but perhaps that was because I had never been kissed. Kissing Prince Nolofinwë filled me with joy beyond reckoning, and after a few moments, laughter, joyous laughter, burst from my heart.
And then he said that he wanted me to meet his parents.
In this simple dress.
I looked at him, stuttering, trying to explain to him why I could not meet the king of my people dressed like this.
He didn't seem to understand. Of course he would not understand: he is a man.
I should have known.
"You must understand, my love, that I have never wanted more than a simple life," I told him gently, indicating the garden around us. "I never wanted any of this splendour, any of this wealth. I would love you equally if you were a craftsman or a labourer...but will your father believe that? I fear that all he will see is a poor girl who has somehow bewitched his son."
I reddened when he told me that he had looked into my father. Had he feared I would not be good enough for him as well?
"But this is my lifestyle, you see. You'll just have to learn to live with it, as it will be yours as well," he said, and I could not help but stare at him. It was true, of course it was true, but to hear it stated so baldly drove it home. Could I ever belong here? I belonged with Nolofinwë...but did I belong here?
The fear from earlier returned, and although I tried my best to push it away, it settled in a lump at the pit of my stomach. But I thrust it away for the time being, again to examine later, and began talking of the first thing that came to mind.
The children we would have together.
The joyful talk temporarily eased my fears and after a few moments I decided that it would be best to get the talk with his parents over now, before I had any more time to stew and fret over it.
We went inside, and we were given an audience with the King and Queen. I think that only Nolofinwë's support kept me standing as my nerves took over, and I began to shake from head to toe. King Finwë looked at me kindly, and took my hand. I thought I would faint at such familiarity from the King, and I found myself once again unable to speak. I curtsied, struggling to regain my voice, as Nolofinwë explained to him about my father.
Then he addressed me.
"Ah yes, and tell me how you met my son."
Thankfully, I had found my voice, and squeezing Nolofinwë's hand, I also found strength.
"It was at the ball," I told him, "and although we didn't speak, I knew when I first saw him that I loved him. But I left hurridly, because I never dreamed he would return my feelings! I met him again just four days ago, in the market where I was selling my pottery. That is when we spoke for the first time. And when we knew."
I glanced over at Nolofinwë with a twinkle in my eye, and felt a surge of joy unlike anything I had ever felt before surge through me.
This was real.
We are to be married!
I reached out to him, touching him, and feeling his happiness, I almost began to weep again; this time with joy.
The meeting with his parents ended soon after that, and he escorted me back to the garden, smiling.
I assured him that meeting his parents hadn't been that traumatic, and couldn't help but laugh when I warned him that yes, it would be his turn next!
After a few more precious moments, we parted with a kiss.
How can I miss him so much already?
Here, without him, I find my heart misgiving.
Will I be able to be what he deserves?
Will I be able to do what is necessary of a wife to a Prince of the Noldor? Will he decide in time, after the novelty wears off, that he would have been happier with one of the Vanyar princesses his sisters had pushed him to accept? I am but a humble girl from humble backgrounds. I have not been trained to run a grand house, and I fear that he shall be disappointed in me...
When he comes here tomorrow, will he be disgusted by my simple home? Will he find us lacking culture? Will he think us beneath him? My house is small, but it is my home, and it has shaped me, and who I am. If he is displeased with it, does it mean that he is displeased with me? He can give me amazing and wonderful things, but what I want most from him is acceptance of who I am. And tomorrow will be the greatest test of that.
But through my worries, I feel his touch. Gentle and loving, yet strong. Supportive.
All will be well, he tells me, and I hope that it is true.