Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Last Fruit, The: 1. The Last Fruit
Silmarillion/HoMe-based. Following the version where Finarfin has four, not five children. Not entirely compatible with my fic The Return.
When he made his decision after Mandos spoke his Curse and doomed the Noldor, he thought the pain would dull and the nightmare pale. Not at once. The blood of the Teleri kept burning angrily in his waking dreams, his wife kept weeping in the night without end, and the shock of seeing all his children doom themselves by going on kept reverberating through his mind. No, it would take time. A long time.
It was a pitiful remnant Finarfin led back along the shores of Aman to the Calacirya, the Cleft of Light that was an abyss of darkness now. Most of his followers had turned towards his children; not surprisingly, the drive of Finrod and Galadriel obviously held more appeal than Finarfin's bitter remorse, and warnings were never popular. For an indefinite time those that did return trudged on through the gloom, the taste of ashes in their mouths now that the fires lit by Fëanor's words were spent. Some, Finarfin himself among them, wondered why it had taken the chilling words of a Vala to achieve this, instead of the wails of Olwë's people. Few of them looked forward to return home, as most were deeply ashamed and feared to face the Valar. But they repented of their folly, and conscience kept them going.
Near Alqualondë, Eärwen left him. 'To go home,' she told him.
'But your home is in Tirion, with me,' said Finarfin.
'My home is with my family,' she mumbled dully.
He cringed. Once, her children and he had been her family. The children were gone, cursed, doomed. Did he not count? 'Do you blame me for the Kinslaying?'
'Leave her alone for a while,' said Anairë, who had turned her back to her husband Fingolfin, his brother, and joined the thin ranks of the repentant. 'Give her time to remember that you bear no guilt and have no blood on your hands. I will take her to her father's halls. Go to her when you think the time is ripe.'
And so they had left. Finarfin had turned west towards Tirion upon Tuna, and passing through an almost empty city he had gone on to Valimar to kneel in the Ring of Doom and be tried for his part in leading the rebellion.
The Valar were more merciful than he knew he deserved, for only the Curse of Mandos had made him retrace his steps, and not the slaughter at Alqualondë. But as a reward for his folly they gave him the crown of his father Finwë to rule the remnant of the Noldor in Tirion. A bitter jest this seemed to him: of his father's three sons he was the only one who had never desired that crown. But knowing his sense of duty, they told him there was no one else, and when he asked why they did not condemn him they told him his remorse was punishment enough. And so Finarfin became King of the Noldor, a people now mostly consisting of wives and daughters who had refused to depart.
King of a sorry remnant, and not all his willing subjects. Among the small group that had never listened to Fëanor and never left, some thought he was not the fittest person to rule them. Finarfin advised them to complain to the Valar. They shrugged and went home, leaving him alone.
And alone he was. Though he shared his halls with a few retainers they were mostly hollow caverns that echoed with his unresilient tramp of his feet. The possessions he brought back filled less than a fifth of the rooms, and much of the beauty was gone, for the Light that had given them life was dead, killed by Morgoth and Ungoliant.
Finarfin found himself wandering, looking for faces, listening for voices. He searched the rooms of his children for things they had left behind, so he would be able to cherish the shreds of memory still clinging to them, and evoke their faded images before his mind's eye.
In the chambers Angrod had shared with his wife and his young son he found a wooden toy horse that Angrod had carved for the boy. He remembered that the tail - made of real horsehair - could move. It had probably done so a little too often and ended up removing itself for good, for it was nowhere to be found.
In the room of his youngest son Aegnor he found a homemade folding knife. The mechanism did not work anymore, but that did not matter.
In his daughter's chamber he found an embroidered cushion. It was sloppily made, for Nerwen(1) had no particular liking for needlework. Finarfin remembered her throwing the cover at Aegnor (the needle, which seemed to have acquired a life of its own, had scratched his cheek) when he asked if the bird she tried to produce was a hawk or a dove. Perhaps it was because of the tears blurring his eyes that he could not identify the bird even now, or perhaps it was because his daughter had never decided which of the two it was to be. Finarfin carried the cushion to his bed to cradle it during the lonely nights.
Searching those chambers was punishment enough. Searching Finrod's was sheer agony. This room was emptier than any other, and it seemed as if nobody had ever lived and been happy here. His eldest son must have packed everything he had ever made or owned. It would be just like him; Finrod, too interested in everything to discard anything, a trait his father had always loved. But now, it drove him to despair. On hands and knees Finarfin crawled about the room, searching frantically for something, anything whatsoever, even dropping to his stomach to grope in the darkness under the bed - and gathering nothing but dust.
There was nothing else to be found.
Something in him snapped. Finarfin sat down in the centre of his own void and sobbed until he did not have a single tear left.
The next day, he decided he needed Eärwen to prevent him from losing his mind. Perhaps he could talk her into returning home; surely her wounds must have healed a little by now?
Her father Olwë, lord of the Teleri, received him courteously, though somewhat less than warmly, and dismissed his attempts to beg forgiveness for the Kinslaying. 'You and your people were nowhere near Alqualondë when it happened. You turned back and the Valar pardoned you. Let us not speak of it anymore.' And he invited Finarfin to dine with them.
Finarfin was disappointed: he had wanted to speak of it, thinking that even reproaches might have dispelled the clouds of bitter loneliness gathered in his heart. But Olwë's forbidding glance and his own reluctance to argue sealed his lips.
When he asked about his wife, he was told that Eärwen was in her room, but that he could always try to talk to her. This was hardly encouraging, so it was with apprehension that he knocked on her door.
She did not seem surprised to see him. In fact, she failed to show much emotion at all, looking merely wan and pale. Her hair, once like to silvery moonlight on the night-dark sea, lacked lustre and hung down her back in lank, unadorned locks. She missed their children, too - maybe more so than he, Finarfin thought guiltily.
'Eärwen,' he said, crossing the room to kiss her on both cheeks. 'My love, you do not look well at all.'
'Neither do you,' she replied.
Finarfin had scarcely seen a mirror since his return to Tirion but was willing to assume his appearance matched hers. He did not know that he cared. Grabbing her hands he said: 'Will you not come back to me?'
'Our children are all gone,' she said tonelessly.
'I am still here, Eärwen. I miss you. Will you please come back?'
He had just told her why, but perhaps it took more than sounds. Raising her hands to his lips he kissed them. 'They will not return, but why should we stagger alone under a burden we could bear moe easily together?' Then, following an impulse, he let go of her hands, pulled her towards him and kissed her full on the mouth.
'Finarfin,' Eärwen sighed tiredly, 'we decided to stop joining our bodies more than hundred years ago, and I have no passion left in me.'
He was not certain what he wanted when he kissed her - to bridge a gulf that his words could not cross with a different move of his mouth? But now he did know, and a near-forgotten desire stirred inside him. 'That decision was ours to make then, and it is ours to revoke now. Whatever may betide in this marred world, we remain husband and wife, and we are not yet too old to bestow such honour upon each other.' Once more, he kissed her, pressing her against him. At first she remained limp; then, to his surprise, her mouth opened under his, and he felt part of her her tension dissolve.
They did love then, not passionately but tenderly, and Finarfin was convinced that afterwards Eärwen's hair and eyes were less dull than before. But when he asked if she would follow him to Tirion now, she still refused. 'I cannot go there,' she told him. 'Please understand. I have no wish to be separated from you, but Tirion is the city of those who killed my kin and my childhood friends. And our halls are empty. Why will you not stay here?'
'They made me King,' he replied. 'I cannot rule Tirion from Alqualondë.'
Sadly, Eärwen shook her head. 'You may be wiser than your brothers, but you are no less stubborn.'
'No more stubborn than my wife,' he said, embittered.
They dressed and went to the dining hall, where they discovered they were late. Olwë's entire household was seated when they entered. To judge by their stares some people guessed the reason for their delay. The latest King of the Noldor, stopping by to satisfy the cravings of his body as if he were a newlywed. How like them, to lack such restraint.
Finarfin could not care less, and back home he could not remember what he had dined on that night.
The long darkness continued, with only the light of the Mindon Eldaliéva on the Great Square of Tirion illuminating the sky above Túna and the remnants of diamond dust in the streets. Finarfin found himself thinking the Valar ought to do something about it. Rebellious thoughts, but they did not result in actions, for it did not take much thinking for him to realise that they, too, were suffering. How did he know they were idle? And if they were, they must have a reason for it, as he told Galadriel's ambiguous bird and Angrod's tailless horse every once in a while, when he felt like going to bed.
Being righteous ought to be its own reward, but as it turned out it was not, or perhaps he was merely right, instead of righteous. But whichever it was, life was tedious as well as bleak. The Noldor had become a subdued people, and there was little left to rule for him, as most of the women populating Tirion seemed competent enough to rule themselves. His own mother came all the way from Valimar to visit him, but he took care to shield himself from her, loath to burden her with his despondency, for did she not have her own grief to cope with? They spoke of her husband, his father, who had exchanged self-imposed exile in Formenos for self-imposed confinement in Mandos, and briefly their spirits touched in shared and mutual mourning. But but their losses were different, and after a while she left again. Others came and went, but none to fill the empty rooms of his house and heart. Finarfin doubted if this life was worth living, but the Valar had entrusted him with Finwë's kingship, so he could not simply lie down and die. At some point he stopped measuring the hours, lacking the spirit to do so in the unchanging gloom lit by the unchanging light of lamps and torches. And so, when Eärwen came, he was unable to tell how much time had passed since his visit to Alqualondë.
He stared at her when she stepped inside, his mind already stamping out the tiny flicker of hope that suggested she was coming back to him.
'I am not an illusion, Finarfin,' she said when he remained silent.
'Yet I fear you carry one with you.'
Eärwen came closer, removing the great cloak she wore against the ever-present chill reigning in the Calacirya now. Somehow, she looked different, but Finarfin could not say in what way, nor was he sure that he cared anymore.
'Why have you come, Eärwen?' he asked.
'To rejoin you.'
Because he failed to understand, his mind refused to believe what his ears heard. 'Do not mock me,' he said. 'You made it abundantly clear why you would not do so.'
His wife shook her head. 'I do not mock you. My reason to return overrides all my arguments to stay away.' To his amazement, her face lit up in a smile. 'Have they never told you it is a grievous thing if a wedded pair is sundered during the bearing of a child, and during its first youth?'
It was only now that Finarfin realised what was different about her, only now that he saw the gentle swelling of her belly, the fresh glow of her skin and the renewed lustre of her hair that had escaped him before, because he lacked the will to see her truly. So dizzy was he with joy, that he had to support himself against the nearest column.
Eärwen closed the remaining distance between them. 'Look up again, son of Finwë,' she said, 'for so do I.'
Still unable to speak he embraced her, very carefully, as if she and the child were made of blown glass, light taking the shape of matter. When he laid a hand against her womb, his tongue was untied and he said: 'We have been graced beyond measure, to have this new life added unto us.'
She nodded, and leaned into his embrace.
Suddenly it struck Finarfin how dark it was in the house, and he resolved to make more lamps.
The last fruit of their love was a daughter. She had the silver hair of her mother, she was born when the last fruit of Telperion(2) rose to adorn the sky, and Finarfin named her Isilmë.
For those who wonder why Indis did not live in Tirion: According to HoMe 12 (PoMe), p. 343, she and her daughter Findis dwelled with the Vanyar after the slaying of Finwë. When Finwë moved to Formenos to share Fëanor's exile, he and Indis seem to have become estranged (HoMe 10, MR, p. 253. n. 17).
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