Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on Fancrone Net. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the private enjoyment of readers at Fancrone Net, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.
The Voices of Stone
Many thanks to my beta, Lady Masterblott!
Middle-earth, the coast between Edhellond and Dol-Amroth, the second age of the world
It was in the days after the last alliance of men and elves had fought and ultimately failed.
It was a golden day at the end of Yavannië. The sea of Cobas Haven was an almost turquoise blue. The sky dreamed above the waves with a deeper, darker blue. The southern heather that covered the cliffs glowed in brilliant shades of violet and purple.
It was a beautiful day.
She rode towards the spring of Varda coming from Edhellond. It was her last task in Arda, before a white ship would carry her from Edhellond, out of Cobas Haven, out of the Bay of Belfalas and across the Sundering Seas.
She was riding without a saddle as most elves did when not riding into battle. Her heavy tools were in a pack she carried slung across her back. The pack hit the small of her back in time with the light footed trot of her grey mare. She was glad that it was not far to the small spring.
When she had reached her destination she slid gracefully from her steed. She dropped her pack to the ground, and then turned to her horse. With the easy grip of long experience she took hold of the beast’s head and whispered gentle words in Sindarin to her mare. Then she slapped the beast’s rump in an affectionate way. The horse would wander around, grazing and enjoying the warmth of the autumn sun while she worked, keeping close enough to notice when her mistress desired to turn back to the Haven City.
For a moment the elvish mason watched her horse as it lowered its head to the dun, sun dried grasses close to the path. It had been a good summer here, at the Bay of Belfalas, a hot summer, but with enough rain to ensure a rich harvest. She liked this spot between the red ragged cliffs of Cobas Haven and the heather hills that dropped from the heights of Tarnost towards the sea. She could not really say why, only that the closeness of the hills and the sea touched something in her heart. She was glad that her last task in Middle-earth would be done here.
She turned her back to the sea and picked up the pack with her tools.
In a small dell between the cliffs and the hills, surrounded by heather and gorse, a small spring of clear, cool water surfaced. The taste of the water held the barest hint of peat and felt like liquid silk in her mouth. When she had found the spring, years ago, she had been moved to tears. She could not say how she knew it, but she was certain that this little spring and its clear, cool water had survived here from the first shaping of the world in the Ainulindalë. On golden, peaceful days such as this one, she felt that she could still hear the soft, soothing whispers of Varda’s own blessing in the gentle murmuring of the spring. The spring had called to her soul and to her hands, asking her to build a shrine around it, to shape a sacred well for this saintly spring. Although she had not returned to this place for years uncounted, she had not forgotten the little spring. Its call had stayed alive in her soul.
As the weary wars of the last alliance dragged on for year after year, she had felt her heart begin to stir. At first it had been only a hint of weariness and loneliness. Then the feeling had grown into a persistent ache, a deep longing she could no longer ignore. Her heart had heard her last call. The call to come home, the call to cross the sea. A call that could not be ignored or refused.
At least not for a longer period of time.
Her lord had been astonished and discomfited when she had admitted that her time had come, but refused to take ship. No one had ever denied the call of the Valar. She knew very well that she could not ignore the call either. Or at least not for very much longer. Every dawn was an effort now. Weariness weighed down her heart and her hands. But there was one call to her heart here in Arda that she had still to obey.
She had to build the shrine for this spring.
She looked upon the small shrine as it stood there now, between the hills and the sea. She had used the smooth grey stone from the quarries of the southern slopes of the Hills of Tarnost, from the Dor-en-Ernil. In the golden sunlight the stone shone almost like silver. She had shaped every single stone with her own hands. She had carried the stones up here by herself and mixed the mortar to set them with water from the spring.
She had placed each stone with care. At first she had walled in the spring, creating a small square basin, and a straight wall with an opening for the water at its centre. Then she had painstakingly added stone upon stone to shape a roof and tympanum for the well. At last she had split dark grey stones into slates to cover the roof of the shrine.
Now there was only one thing left to do.
She had to shape the spout for the spring and create the ornaments and blessings to grace the tympanum. Today she would complete her task.
She opened her pack and placed her tools within easy reach. She inhaled deeply and closed her eyes. The image of the shrine was in her mind, as it had always been since she had found this small spring. It was a well that was shaped like a small house, built of smooth, silvery grey stone. A triangular tympanum that was delicately carved with runes and ornaments rose above it. The ornaments depicted a sailing ship with a bright star above it, framed by curling elvish runes, a blessing and a prayer in Quenya, calling to Varda across the Sundering Seas.
The spout she had brought with her. She had shaped it in her room during long, lonely evenings, falling asleep with her hand still curled around the chisel, waking with her hair dull with stone dust. What she had created was a leaf, a leaf of ivy. Now all it needed was a little fresh mortar and it could be set, for the clear water of the spring to rush through it and into the small square basin of smooth grey stone.
She opened her eyes, the image of the ship and the star and the runes firmly fixed in her mind. Calmly she placed her chisel against the smooth, untouched surface of the grey stone and started working.
A ship to carry her home. A star to steer her by. A sign of hope for all that would come after her. A prayer to ask for forgiveness. A way to capture the blessing that was still alive in this world, and preserve it for those who would remain, for those who were not yet born.
“Mi oro-mardi Andúne pella”
“In the high halls beyond the West”
“Vardo nu luini tellumar, yassen tintilar i eleni”
“Beneath the blue vaults of Varda tremble the stars”
“óma-ryo lírinen aire-tário.”
“in the song of her voice, holy and queenly.”
“Sí man i yulma nin en-quant-uva?”
“Who now shall refill the cup for me?”
“Merale sa hiruvalye Valimar ar sa yulmarilya quatina.”
“Hoping that you shall find Valimar and that your cup shall ever be filled.”
She worked for hours, using the tengwar runes most commonly used nowadays, but keeping to Quenya nevertheless, the speech that was meant for eternity, for words that should last even to a day when none of the Quendi would linger in Arda anymore.
The sun was already westering when her work was finished. A sailing ship was puffing her sails in the tympanum of the little shrine now, carved out into half-relief, delicate and yet robust. It would withstand rain and wind and the passage of centuries. It was not her best work. But it was her last. Her legacy to Arda and those who would come after. Her hands were shaking as she lowered the chisel. By now she was so exhausted she could barely stand.
She sank to her knees, her eyes fixed to the carved star in the upper corner of the tympanum. Its rays flared outward to the surrounding runes in delicate strokes and layers of chiselled stone.
Her eyes traced the flowing lines of the runes.
The first part of the words had been taken from a song of farewell that had been written in Alqualondë in the aftermath of the kinslaying. For many Quendi the doom of the kinslaying had meant a bitter parting of love and life. Yet some had sung songs of farewell and blessing nevertheless during those bitter days, turning tears into harmony and healing.
The second part was simply her own heart speaking, asking for guidance and blessing for those who would come after her, those who would never know of the Queen of the Stars and the White Ships of the Elves passing into the West.
She knew that the runes would be the first feature of this, her last work in Arda, her legacy in Middle-earth, to fade in the wind and the weather. She sighed softly. Like all elves she had little to no feeling for the measurement of time. The meaning of centuries and millennia was difficult for her to understand, even after many years spent among the Edain. Perhaps there would be no one alive in Arda who could read and understand Quenya before the runes would fade back into the grey stone from whence she had called them today. Perhaps that would not matter.
She inhaled deeply and moved her painful shoulders to relieve the tension of long hours of hard work and deep concentration.
Now there was only one thing left to do.
She pulled a small bowl from her pack and a small bag with the powder for the mortar. She added a little water, and then carefully stirred the mixture until it had acquired the texture she needed for setting the spout. She had to wait for a time to allow the mixture to thicken.
She spent that time sitting with her back to the well, looking out across the sea. The western horizon was still alight with the sunset, red and orange and gold. Behind her, above the hills of Tarnost the first stars glittered already in a swiftly darkening sky. Her back was hurting. But for once it was a good pain, a satisfied ache of a long labour fulfilled to her satisfaction.
She tested the mixture of her mortar once more. She nodded her head to herself. It was ready. The carefully carved leaf of ivy felt curiously warm in her hand. Almost as if it was alive. Alive. She heaved a sigh. She would miss Arda. Oh, how she would miss Arda!
She was an artist. She wanted to leave her mark in a changing world and take part in shaping this change. What use was there for that in the Undying Lands, in the Blessed Realm?
She clenched her teeth.
She was weary to her bones. She needed all her willpower these days only to wake in the morning. A day of long and hard work in the open was almost more than she could endure.
They were right. There was no way to withstand the call of the Valar. It burned in the blood. It was a constant ache in the heart. But the tears in her eyes were for Arda. For her beloved Arda, and those who would come after her to this holy, peaceful place.
She slathered the mortar into the opening. Then she dipped the spout into the mortar, too. For a moment she tilted her head, looking critically at the way the mortar dripped. Yes. It was good. Just this side of too thick. But that was necessary in the damp environment of the spring. She inhaled deeply. For a moment she would need all the strength her weary muscles still had to give. She set the spout before the opening. She closed her eyes. With a slow, measured thrust she inserted the spout into the back wall of the well she had built. She used all her strength, exerting exactly the right amount of power to place the spout. For a moment she held it in place, willing it to set, willing it to endure for all eternity.
Then her hand dropped away from the spout almost of its own accord.
She slumped down in front of the spring and the well she had built.
Her task was done. Her strength was spent.
She remained sitting at the well during the night, listening to the clear water as it found its way through the new spout that was formed like the leaf of ivy, listening as the water dripped down into the simple, square basin she had built from the smooth grey stone of the Dor-en-Ernil, listening as the water vanished in a soft murmur in the earth again, between the hills and the sea.
When the sun rose in a soft misty dawn of early autumn, she gathered her tools and called her horse. She was almost too weak to mount her steed. Once in the saddle she swayed unsteadily for a moment. Oh, this weariness, this deep ache in her bones…
But now that her task was done, she could board the white ship that was waiting for her in Edhellond. She would board that ship and make the long voyage across the Sundering Seas into the West. Maybe she would find new strength there, beneath the blue vaults of Varda. Maybe the Queen of the Stars would fill her cup with new life.
Middle-earth, the coast between Edhellond and Dol-Amroth, the third age of the world
Many years later a human woman was riding along the narrow road that skirted Cobas Haven. It was noon and the woman was tired and thirsty. The woman decided to take a break. She was on her way to Dol Amroth. It was not far anymore. There was time for a break. The woman dismounted and left the road, looking for a place suitable for a picnic.
What she found was a holy spring, a shrine built around a spring in a little dell surrounded by a thicket of gorse and heather. The shrine was made of smooth grey stone; it held a basin filled with clear, cool drinking water that tasted slightly of earth.
A spout in the form of an ivy leaf was inserted at the back of the well, and another at the top of the basin. From the latter the water dripped in a small rivulet down into a narrow channel of stone and then disappeared again into the ground. The roof of the shrine was fashioned in a pointed gable and covered in dark grey slates. In the tympanum the design of a sailing ship and a star were engraved, with elvish runes curling around the sides. The runes were fading, but still clearly visible.
After the woman had watered her white horse and had eaten a quick lunch of cheese, dried fruit and brown bread, she knelt down in front of the shrine. She stared at the runes and tried to make sense of their flowing lines. It took her a long time to figure out the individual words. Apparently she did not know the language that had been used, although she had some knowledge of elvish runes. Finally she gave a pleased sigh and nodded to herself.
After much thought and consideration she was almost sure that she could read the runes inscribed on the tympanum of the well.
She recited the words slowly, haltingly:
“Mi oro-mardi Andúne pella
Vardo nu luini tellumar, yassen tintilar i eleni
óma-ryo lírinen aire-tário.
Sí man i yulma nin en-quant-uva?
Merale sa hiruvalye Valimar ar sa yulmarilya quatina.”
When she had ended, the woman sighed again. Obviously, though she had been able to figure out the words that had been carved into the grey stone of the little shrine, her knowledge did not extend to the language of Quenya. She knew it was Quenya, and she could see where a word ended, where a word began, but she could not translate it.
But the way she gazed at the runes and at the small image of the ship and the star betrayed that it held some meaning for her nevertheless. A meaning that went beyond the understanding of the words. Even if her mind did not understand the words, her heart did.
She refilled her drinking bottle with water from the spring. Then she held her cupped hands under the spout and let them fill up with the clear water. She washed her hands and face and sprinkled a few drops on the tympanum, a gesture of gratefulness to forgotten gods and angels.
Then she mounted her horse again and rode away along the cliffs towards Dol Amroth.
Middle-earth, the coast between Edhellond and Dol-Amroth, the fourth age of the world
Three riders had made their camp in the small dell at the little spring.
The leader of the group was a dark haired warrior with a thin face lined with grief and suffering. His companions were a young woman with strangely piercing eyes and dark hairs and a hobbit woman with curly dark brown hair and a stubborn chin.
The woman with the fierce gaze was obviously delighted that they would stay in this spot for the night. She walked around the hollow and looked longingly out to the sea and yet she seemed grateful for the shelter offered by the bushes of blooming yellow broom that surrounded the dell. The ground of the hollow was not cliff-rock, but dark earth covered with heather. She nodded to herself. This was perhaps not quite as comfortable as the beds of an inn, but it was cosy compared to other resting places in the wilderness. She turned her back to the sea to investigate the back of the dell.
When she found the small shrine built around the spring at the back of the hollow, she gasped with astonishment and awe. The spring did not hold much water anymore, but it was enough to water the horses, make tea and allow the travellers to clean themselves up a little.
In the tympanum of the shrine was carved a ship with a star above it. The ship and the star were still easily visible, even though they had probably been carved thousands of years ago. But beneath the ship soft shadows flickered across the stone. The shadows echoed the memory of elvish runes engraved in the stone. The runes had not withstood the wind and the weather as well as the ship and the star. Worn and faded with age and weather it was impossible to read them or to recognize the language they had been written in.
Nevertheless the young woman seemed to feel comforted by their presence, because she sat down in front of the spring and listened for a while to the soft sound of water dripping from a broken spout that might have been formed like a leaf once upon a time. At first her face was quite drawn and pale. But after a time of listening to the sweet, clear drops of the spring’s water and of looking at the ship and the star that were slowly sinking back into the grey stone of the tympanum, a hint of peace returned to her eyes. Some indefinable tension left her lips, softening her appearance to a tender and vulnerable beauty.
There was hope for whatever purpose was driving her and her companions.
Brittany, the year 2001 after the birth of Christ
Years uncounted have flown by like leaves in the wind. Seas and hills and cliffs had heaved and changed. Stones had been removed and rebuilt. But between the cliffs and the hills there is a small dell, and at its back a spring surfaces between the heather and the gorse. A small shrine made of grey stones and shaped like a house receives the clear and cool water into a simple, square basin. The tympanum of the shrine is empty of any device or carved symbols. The water drips into the well in a soft murmur that echoes the voice of the one who first built a shrine between the hills and the cliffs. The water murmurs a prayer and a blessing for everyone who comes to this place.
“Beneath the blue vaults of Heaven tremble the stars,
In the song of a voice, holy and queenly.
Who now shall refill this cup for me?
In the hope that you shall find Heaven and that your cup shall ever be filled.”
There is a feeling of peace and quiet about this hollow and its spring that suggests traces of an ancient blessing.
And perhaps …
… somewhere, between the hills and the cliffs and the sea, it will always be there: a small shrine that encircles a spring of cold, clear water.
And perhaps, if you listen well, you will still be able to hear the voice of its builder, as it echoes between the stones of the shrine and the murmuring of the water from the little spring, as it whispers a blessing and a prayer across the tides of time and beyond the circles of a world.
“In the hope that you shall find your paradise and that your cup shall ever be filled.”
A/N: The blessing that is carved into the tympanum is loosely based upon Galadriel’s “Song of Farewell”. The Quenya is based on the elvish grammar and dictionary by H.W. Pesch. The well can be found at the Pointe du Van at the Baie des Trépassés in Brittany, France.