Impendix IV: Vaimë’s egg

This is the tale of Färon son of Dân, from the day that his father was slain and he himself wounded nigh to death. As has already been told, he leapt into the waters of Aena, the River of Spirit, and so escaped; but it was not by his own power that he was saved.

Now the Díoni, Keepers of the Light, had grown to a numerous people; for they had taken forms like the bodies of living creatures, male and female, and bred new bodies after their kind, in which dwelt new spirits that the Maker sent into the world. The eldest and mightiest of the Keepers were the founders of great houses, and in those houses dwelt their kin, and the prentices of their lore, and lesser servants besides.

Vaimë, whose name means ‘Foam Maiden’, was a maidservant in the house of Cómar, lord of the waters, and went often forth on errands for her lord. It came to Cómar’s ears that foul things had defiled the waters of Aena, corrupted by the Destroyer; among these were the eels that poisoned Quelmë. Therefore he sent the spirit of Vaimë to inhabit the waters of the river and purify them from evil. And when Färon cast himself into the water, though he knew it not, he cast himself into the unseen hands of Vaimë; and she bore him up so that he did not drown, and stopped his wounds with the power of her song, and carried him upon the current into the land of Ereph.

There Färon remained for a long count of years, wandering without purpose, singing songs of lamentation; and no voice answered him but the sounds of wild things. Of all these, the mewing of the gulls spoke most to his mood; and following their cry, he came in the end to the shore of the Sundering Sea. Long he walked on the lonely strand, mourning for his lost kin, and adding his tears to the dark waters. Most often he remained near the bay of Drath Erem. Telkon himself had carved that bay out of the long shores of the South, so that the master of stone and the lord of water might have a meeting-place in that far part of the world; for they were wanderers both, and old friends.

In all these days Färon heard no voice that spoke with words, save his own.


Now the design of the Maker, as he had first made it known in the hearts of the Díoni, was to wed the sons of Dân with the lesser kin of the Keepers; and it was partly for this that some of the Díoni had taken forms like those of man and woman. Maidens of the great houses vied with one another to fashion bodies that would be most pleasing to the sons of men, hoping to be chosen. But after the fall of Morak and the flight of Vardan, the first design was changed. Lysana the Queen ordered a great tournament and pageant, at which three maidens would be chosen to voyage into the South, to find the three sons of Dân if they could, and offer themselves as their brides. And the three would be chosen by a scion of the Queen’s own house. She appointed a lusty youth and warm-blooded, quick to wrath or laughter, keenly awake to beauty, wise with wide journeying, and yet not jaded by the sameness of the years: Orandel the Bright Wanderer, herald of morning, who sported with the stars.

Many were the maidens who presented themselves at the pageant of the Queen. Now Dân and Eia were brown of skin and dark of hair, and their children also; but the Díoni decked out the houses of their spirits with all the hues of the Light. There were maids with faces of green or violet, maids with hair like living fire, or like the bright plumes of parrot and pea-fowl; as bright and as varied as the jewels and raiment of great ladies dancing, in a later age of the world. Indeed the pageant was a dance, and a festival of song, and a contest in wisdom and handicraft; for the brides of the sons of Dân were not to be chosen by looks alone.

Two maidens above all others Orandel favoured: Pirmala the fire-maiden, tender of Telkon’s forge, and Lyessë the Queen’s handmaiden, one of those who gathered the Light from the springs of Alenna. Lyessë took her colours from the palette of the stars, blue of eye and fresh of face, with hair like a river of liquid bronze. Pirmala was black from the heat of Ión Tela, her skin ebon, her hair like carven jet that glistened with the hues of her master’s fire. But Orandel was long in choosing the third, until one came who was not invited: a bone-white damsel clad in a kirtle of the same plain hue. Her hair was as white as the foam on the waves, her skin shone like the wan light on the shores of the Sundering Sea; her mien was sad and bitterly pale, and unshed tears glittered in her icy eyes. Her left hand was open, but her right was closed on some small thing. And as she approached Orandel, all the sounds of revelry died away.

‘I am come to wed a Son of Dân,’ she said.

‘Indeed?’ answered Orandel. ‘And what favour have you to give? With what colour of beauty will you feast his eyes? As well should the sons of men love a skeleton on the strand. A hundred here are fairer than you. Begone.’

But she would not go, and only said: ‘My favour does not come in by the eye, but out of it.’

Then Orandel would have bade the pageant go on, but the Queen raised her hand to stay him. ‘Child,’ she said, ‘stay and declare yourself. You are come unbidden in a strange guise, and your spirit is veiled from me. What are you?’

‘I am one who has beheld defilement, and redeemed it. I am one who has seen wounds, and healed them. I am one who has heard the song of despair, and answered it with help. I know what sorrows dwell in the hearts of men, now that the Destroyer has shown his power. My own power has gone forth, and I cannot call it back; it is lost to me now. But I have this to give,’ she said: and from her ice-pale eye she let fall a single great tear. ‘And this:’ and she opened her hand, and in it was a thing like the egg of a swan. ‘For I am Vaimë of the house of Cómar, who has looked upon a son of Dân, and known his grief.’

‘What folly!’ cried Orandel. ‘Grief should be answered with gladness, not more grief. Let another stand forth.’

‘Nay, my son,’ said the Queen. ‘For I also have known grief, before your time: when the Worm of the Ages was slain, and the stars of the sky were dark. A grief shared is a grief divided, but he who mourns alone is armoured against the arrows of joy. Shall a son of Dân be matched with a toy, a thing to please his eyes and stir his blood, but not to hear the word of his heart? It is good that you should send Vaimë; and I so counsel it.’

Then Orandel would have gainsaid her; but he saw the tear on Vaimë’s cheek, gleaming in the light like a jewel beyond price. Then he bowed low and said, ‘As you counsel, O Queen, so shall it be done. For your wisdom excels mine, and to me this is a new thing under the dome of heaven.’

So the three maidens of the Díoni embarked in a coracle of willow and hazel stretched over with shark’s skin, like that in which Telkon had sailed to meet the Worm; and making good speed into the South (for the guidance of Cómar was with them) they soon beached at the haven of Drath Erem.


Now Färon walks alone on the strand of the Lonely Haven, singing to wave and wind of his loss: of his father slain, his brothers corrupted or lost, his sisters scattered and his mother rapt away. And no answer comes, for the wind is silent and the waves are stilled, and the waters of Drath Erem are as glass. Even the gulls have lost their voice. But far off, so far that it seems no more than an echo in his mind, comes a sound like the laughter of Quelmë, when she played and plashed in the spring-fed pool from which she took her name. And for a moment he is moved to call her name, thinking that this is Quelmë returned indeed. But it is not so. There are three voices.

Färon went swiftly to meet the maidens of the Díoni, and they declared themselves to him, their names and their errand; and he for courtesy declared his name, but said, ‘I have no errand. Lost am I, and if my people yet live I cannot find them.’ And he told them all the tale of Dân, and what he knew concerning the fates of his kin.

Then Vaimë, by the lore she had learnt in the house of Cómar, put forth her mind into the waters of Aena, for it was there that the River of Spirit found the sea; and she heard and weighed the rumours that came down the three rivers in which Aena had its source. Then she knew the children of Morak, wild and lawless, fighting brother against brother, son against father, in the land where the bones of Eia lay forgotten; and the children of Vardan, the get of his own sisters, living by no rule but their own in a land beset by the Destroyer’s snares. ‘They are lost,’ said Vaimë to the other maidens. ‘They have taken ill brides and chosen ill paths, and of the sons of Dân only this one remains.’

‘What then?’ asked Lyessë. ‘Must we all share alike, and none of us have a husband of her own? That were a bitter end to so long a voyage.’

‘Nay,’ said Pirmala. ‘Many servants may have one master, as it was in the forge of my lord Telkon. But my heart is given to one only, and I will have a whole heart in return.’

‘In truth thou art a woman,’ said Vaimë. ‘So be it. Choose, then, Färon son of Dân. Take one bride to share thy fate, and in thy children thy blood and hers will be mingled. Those not chosen may return to the Isles, or wait. For the Díoni die not, and thy sons will take wives also in their time.’

So Färon looked upon Pirmala, black and proud and strong, mighty in the lore of Telkon, hardy against all perils that the Destroyer had loosed upon the outer world. He looked upon Lyessë, red-gold and joyous, filled with song and laughter, and with light of many hues; grief and loss would surely be far from her. But Vaimë he seemed to see with other sight, and it seemed that he had known her before. Maybe he guessed whose unseen hands had borne him up on the strong currents of Aena, and whose songs of power had stanched his many wounds. Or perhaps he only looked in her eyes, and saw that she alone of the three understood his grief, and knew what it was to mourn.

‘I choose thee, Vaimë, Foam Maiden of the house of Cómar. Be thou mine, and I will be thine all the days of my life, whatever may come after.’

Then either took the other’s hand, and with Lyessë and Pirmala to witness they plighted their troth; and Vaimë took the egg like to a swan’s, which she had borne with her through all that voyage, and broke it open, and ate of it. In that hour, the nature of Färon’s children was determined, and their fate set. For that was the Egg of Lasting Life, which she received in gift from strange Díoni that flew over Alenna in bird-form, perching at whiles in the branches of Ynd Urenn itself. And by that Egg her body, the house of her spirit, was bound for all time to that spirit, and both alike were set free from age and death. In the first design of the Maker, so it is said, all the sons of Dân and their brides should have eaten of that Egg; but Färon had no longer the strength to take such puissant food, and his brothers were lost.

Now Färon and Vaimë made their dwelling on the shore of Drath Erem, on the high ground nearest the river’s mouth. Lyessë and Pirmala departed for that time, and returned to the Isles of Light; but in time they returned, and were wed to Vairos and Telmon, the sons of Färon, and others of the Díoni came at Vaimë’s call to be husbands to her daughters. In those days the children of Vardan began to wander from their home by the lakes of Varan, and some few, coming down to the sea, found wives and husbands among Färon’s kindred, the Färinoth – the People of Spoken Fate. It was then seen that the children of a Färin woman and a Vardan man were long-livers, like Vaimë herself; but the child of a Färin father and a Vardan mother inherited his mother’s mortality, and his days upon the earth were fleeting.

After the fourth generation, therefore, the Färinoth and the Vardéni no longer took one another in marriage, but each kindred clave to its own. But from the days when their blood was mingled, pale skin and fair hair first came among the children of mortals, and also the black faces of Pirmala’s brood. Other hues and lineaments appeared also at first, but in the chances of time they were not passed on. It is by no rule of nature that men are not born with blue hair or violet, or with faces green or scarlet; but only by the happenstance of those first generations.

Färon lived long by the measure of the Vardéni, for he was in the care of Vaimë; but in the fulness of time he died, and Vairos took his place as lord of the Färinoth. Then Vaimë, when her days of mourning were done, embarked once more on her frail coracle, and returned to the Isles of Light, no more to be seen among her children. But the long life that came from Vaimë’s egg remained with her descendants until the last of days.

Comments

  1. This is a lovely, self-contained tale, reminiscent of the tone of parts of the Silmarillion, and yet wholly your own. Well done!

  2. E. Crook says:

    This is a lovely tale, if a sad one. All the best stories seem to have something of grief in them. I think it reminds us at what cost joy is purchased.

  3. Matthew Ess says:

    Wonderful. Absolutely mythic.

  4. Glorious and touching.

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