Unforgettable Fire, The: 2. The Elf Lord

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2. The Elf Lord

Everything is finally in readiness. The great Hall has been decorated, the food for tonight’s feast is being prepared. The last of my brothers finally arrived at Lake Helevorn yesterday. All that remains is to ready myself for the ceremony ahead.

I have never been over-talkative; unlike most of my kind, I have always preferred action to discussion, and many apart from my close kin (I am told) regard me as reserved, even harsh. I am grateful for that reputation now. It simplifies things. No one will expect me to display my deepest feelings openly, which is fortunate, since those feelings are not what they would expect on such an occasion.

For this is one of the saddest days of my life.

* * * * * * *

It is said by the Powers that the marring of Arda, though tragic, will ultimately serve to bring forth beauties that otherwise would never have arisen; even in his spite, Morgoth ultimately serves the will of Ilúvatar. I am not a philosopher. I cannot judge whether there is truth in those words. I only know that I never would have met you if it had not been for the existence of orcs.

I had, of course, seen your people before. When news of the arrival of the Younger Children in Beleriand reached my ears, I made the journey from my home at Lake Helevorn to that northern portion of my younger brothers’ lands our people now know as Estolad. There, I was told, my foolish cousin Finrod had lead these newcomers, that they might avoid conflict with the Laiquendi of Ossiriand, in whose lands they had been discovered trespassing.

I was not impressed by what I saw. The Aftercomers seemed in all ways so inferior to my own kind! They were, I thought, nearly as homely as the Naugrim. Nor did they possess the stone-dwellers’ sturdiness; indeed, the Secondborn were as ephemeral as the morning dew, scarcely noticed before it is gone. At first, I could not believe it possible – how could any intelligent being die of weariness in the span of a mere 100 Years of the Sun! And they were so weak! So many died of minor injuries, or of strange failures of their ill-constructed hröar which they called "sickness", long before the time when their odd world-weariness would normally set in. No, I thought, these Secondborn are too far beneath us; there is nothing to gain by any association with their kind. I returned quickly to Lake Helevorn, laughing at my cousin’s silly infatuation with these frail newcomers.

No, I was not impressed by my first sight of the Edain. But though I thought then that they were of little consequence, I did not regard them as being any particular threat – indeed, what could such fragile beings do that could possibly discomfit the might of the Noldor? And so when small groups of the Aftercomers began to settle in the sparsely populated southern woods of my realm of Thargelion, my people and I paid them no mind. Although they seemed of little worth, they were causing no particular harm, and so we let them be. Then the orcs came.

Morgoth long ago learned the folly of directly assaulting our northern realms; the Sons of Fëanor stand firm in our determination to destroy him, and his craven forces have no chance in the face of our fury. On this occasion, he instead sent his hordes far north and east to escape detection; then heading south, the orcs crossed the Ered Luin on the Dwarf-road to enter Beleriand. There, in the southernmost portion of my lands, they began to assault the small settlements the Aftercomers had built in the woods.

When word of this assault reached me, I immediately assembled a sizeable force and hurried south. I cared not so much for the fate of the Aftercomers, those uninvited squatters on my lands, but for the safety of my own people living just north of those woods, and for my twin brothers’ realms farther south. The orcs, I knew, would not content themselves merely with slaughtering the mortals living in the woodlands, but would soon move on to wreak harm upon the nearby Noldor. And I would allow no forces of my family’s hated Enemy to touch foot on my soil. We rode south in haste, determined to destroy the invaders utterly.

When my troops arrived, the orcs had decimated the forests of southern Thargelion. The foolish Aftercomers did not groups together in defensible villages or towns; instead each family built its own small homestead, standing independent of the others, and these the orcs had quickly overrun. The survivors of those previous massacres had gathered at the junction of the river Ascar and the great river Gelion, behind a hastily constructed stockade stretching from river to river. Orcs are persistent when they sense vulnerability – they had continued to patiently test the stockade, knowing that eventually the defenders would weaken from hunger and they would finally be able to pierce this flimsy barrier. They were in the process of doing so, having hewn a great hole in the wooden wall, when I arrived with my soldiers. The orcs had not expected an attack on their rear; surprised, they were easily scattered, and my troops happily slaughtered them, driving them into the rivers to drown. None would return to Angband, and Morgoth would again be reminded of his limits. Pleased at this victory, I proudly rode past the stockade to meet the leader of the mortal defenders; although not my subjects (for they had never sworn fealty), and therefore technically not my concern, I am not willfully cruel. These people had lost their homes, and many had lost their kin; I would offer some assistance to help them recover.

My eyes widened when I saw the number of orcs lying slain just inside the walls of the stockade, and the relatively small number of men who had so desperately stood their ground against that foul horde. Most of those who had huddled behind the barricade for safety, I quickly realized, were defenseless women and children – only a small handful of men, desperately brave, were responsible for the slaughter I beheld. What fighters they were! Belatedly, I realized I had underestimated these people. My own forces, were they to find themselves in a similar situation, could not have done better. These Aftercomers might be frail, but they were no cowards. Perhaps my cousin Finrod’s interest in them was not as foolish as I had thought. The Noldor could use such valiant allies. "I am Caranthir son of Fëanor, ruler of Thargelion," I announced. "The orcs have been destroyed, and your people are now safe. I regret that my forces were unable to arrive sooner, and that your people were forced to endure such hardships; I would lend you what aid I can now, that you might rebuild your lives. Where is your leader? I have much to discuss with him."

At my words, a short figure stepped forth from the ranks of the men, clad in poorly fitting leather armor covered in blood and wearing an over-large helm. A boy, I thought, perhaps the son of their leader? Surely he is too young to govern these folk himself? But then the figure removed the helm, and a mass of curls tumbled out, shoulder-length hair the color of ripe wheat, and the voice that answered my query was lyrical, if firm. "If you wish to address the leader of these people, Lord Caranthir, then it is to me that you must speak, for I guide them now. I am Haleth, daughter of Haldad." Not a boy, I marveled, but a woman.

The women of my people are nearly as strong and tall as the men (until their strength flows, as it is meant to, into the bodies of the children they nourish within themselves); not so the women of the Aftercomers, who are generally shorter and more slightly built than their thick-set, muscular mates. You were no exception to that rule. A mere reed surrounded by a forest of sturdy trunks you seemed, and yet you stood before me in stained warrior’s garb, calm and confident, with an aura of strength and command; and the men’s deference to you was apparent in their expressions. Haleth, daughter of Haldad, was obviously no ordinary mortal woman. Such a one, I thought, is worthy of respect, and so I dismounted that we might speak as equals, rather than remain on my horse and address you as a lord does his vassal.

I had had little experience judging the ages of mortals, but as I came closer, it became clear to me that you were no young girl; streaks of silver were beginning to frost your hair, and your skin had lost the smoothness of youth. And your face was plain, even by the lower standards of your own people. But your eyes were a wonder - full of fire, they seemed, and colored quite unlike the sea-grey eyes of my people, a rich deep brown never seen among the Eldar. I was unsure of what to make of the expression I saw there - confidence, certainly, but also a certain reserve. Could it be that this mortal was also judging me? I wondered uneasily, for I was not used to such scrutiny.

"My lady Haleth," I said courteously. "I know little of your people’s customs, but is it not unusual for one of your sex to lead in times of war? Forgive me," I continued hastily as I saw the anger flash in your eyes at the sound of my question, "I did not mean to give offense, or to question your leadership. I only meant to assuage my curiosity, that I might understand your ways better."

"My people have no use for kings or princes, Lord Caranthir," you replied, meeting my eyes with a steady gaze gone grown cool. "Their choice of whom to follow is a free one. My father Haldad and my twin brother Haldar were valiant and much loved; it was my father who organized these folk against the orcs. But they were both slain, and the people turned to me. I lead because my people wish me to – they believe that I am now the one most capable of guiding and protecting them, and I will not fail their trust."

I saw you standing there, strong and proud and determined, and for a brief moment I was reminded of strangely of my mother Nerdanel; for it seemed to me that you possessed a similar resolute spirit, abet naturally one of lesser intensity. "No," I said, "I am certain you will not."

* * * * * * *

The provisions in the stockade had nearly run out, and my men and I spent several hours hunting to provide food for the starving mortals. That evening I invited you to share my fire, as befitted a fellow ruler, and so that we might talk. "You told me that your father and brother were both killed by orcs in battle," I mentioned. "I also know what it is like to lose kin at the hands of Morgoth’s foul creations, for my own father was slain so, and I grieve for your misfortune. Since they died in the defense of land under my protection, it is only right that I should give you recompense for their loss."

"No such recompense is necessary," you answered. "They did not fight to defend this land; they fought only in defense of the people living on it. My people, Lord Caranthir, not the Elves. Since they did not die for your sake, you owe me nothing."

"Perhaps they fought solely to defend their own; nonetheless they did me service, even if unwittingly," I responded. "Therefore, I will do what I can to compensate you for their deaths, and thus ease your people’s plight."

"For my people’s sake, then I will accept it," you replied. "As for my own loss – no amount of material goods would ever be enough to fill the hole in my heart their deaths have produced."

"I would not expect it to. My youngest brothers are twins; I can scarcely remember a moment when they were apart. I think that if one of them should ever die, the other would shortly follow, simply out of grief. And yet you have managed to endure the loss of your own twin brother. You are far stronger than you appear at first sight, my lady Haleth."

Your eyes flashed in the flickering light of the flames. "I have but seldom met your kind, my lord, but my father had more converse with your people; and I learned much from him. I know your people see us as weak, evanescent creatures, scarcely worth your notice. You undying ones look down upon us lowly mortals from your great height, and smile, and think us children. But we are not children, my lord, and we are not so frail and ignorant as you believe. For all of your supposed wisdom, it is you who are the foolish ones, to judge us so."

Those words stung, and now it was my eyes which were lit with fire. " You fancy yourself a seerer, then, my lady Haleth," I spat, "to peer into the depths of my heart and weigh what you might find there – you, who by your own admission know little of my people and even less of me. You claim my kind is arrogant, yet what is it but arrogance to judge so harshly one whom you have just met, a judgement based solely on preconceptions and a few hours’ acquaintance? Who are you, that you dare to judge me?"

"Who do I need to be?" you replied evenly as you rose up onto your feet. "The hour is growing late, Lord Caranthir, and I will have much to do in the morning. I regret I must take leave of your company now." And without a further word, you turned and quietly left my fire, leaving me to sit alone in the darkness.

* * * * * * *

I spent the remainder of that night sitting by the fire, staring into the flames. At first, their heat matched the burning in my breast, for I was furious. How dare that impudent female speak to me so! I, Caranthir, am the son of Fëanor, who was the greatest of all the children of Ilúvatar; I was a prince in Aman long before her father’s father’s father was even conceived! Just who does that no-account mortal bitch think she is? But as the night wore on, my anger slowly cooled, and I began to recognize an unpleasant truth – you were right. Indeed, your words would have had no power to wound me were it not for the truth within them. Had I not ignored your people prior to the orc raid, precisely because I had deemed them too insignificant to trouble with? With growing shame, I remembered the way I had ridden into the stockade earlier that day, carrying myself on my horse as though I were gracing such lowly beings with my presence. In my mind, I heard for the first time the subtle patronizing tone in my voice when I had invited you to dine with me – how magnanimous of me to permit a mere mortal woman to share my company, that tone had implied! She was right to treat me so, I realized, for have I not always held scorn in my heart for her people, the Younger Children? The Valar, after all, had not treated my people with such condescension, though they stood much further above us than my people did above the Aftercomers, after all – for were we not both, Firstborn and Aftercomers alike, mere incarnates, bound alike to our flesh? Had Oromë treated Finwë so, when he first discovered my people at Cuiviénen, how would my proud grandsire have reacted? When the first rays of the sun began to spread across the eastern sky, I rose and left my fire, now little more than softly glowing embers, and set out to find you.

Mortals, I knew, require more rest than my people, and I was not sure that you would be awake. But I found you already working, organizing groups to hunt for food and supplies, and drawing up search parties to scour the woods for any possible survivors of the raids who might have scattered deeper into the forest rather than joining together with the others to build the stockade. When you saw me, you frowned slightly. "Lord Caranthir," you spoke stiffly, "I regret that you have come at an inconvenient moment; I am sorely needed here, and can spare little time for pleasantries. And I am sure that you also must have much to do to ready your men for the long journey back to your homes. Please accept my regards; I hope your journey north will be a safe and pleasant one." And with those words, you turned your back to me and resumed speaking with your people.

I was not deterred. "My lady Haleth," I replied, "what I came to say will not take much of your time." Reluctantly, you turned again to face me, and I continued steadily, "My people will be remaining for some days more; I thought we might be of some assistance to you in your efforts to rebuild what has been lost. But that is not why I have come to speak to you now." I paused briefly, to swallow my pride, then said, "I came looking for you, my lady, because I wish to apologize to you for my treatment of you yesterday. You were quite right in your judgement of me – I was a fool, and by my conduct earned your scorn. Please forgive me for my arrogance towards you – you did not deserve it."

As a prince, I have had little practice in apologizing; as I stumbled over the words, I winced inwardly at my awkwardness. She will never believe I am sincere, I thought; strangely, I found that thought upsetting. I did not know why your acceptance of my ill-delivered apology was so important to me, but it was. But to my surprise, you appeared to soften slightly at my words, and I saw a faint smile brighten your homely face. "You were arrogant indeed, my lord – but I believe that your arrogance has met its match in my own. For you were correct in one particular – I do not know your heart, and yet I presumed to read its depths. I will accept your apology only if you will in turn accept my own."

"Agreed," I said, grinning. "Let us resolve now to begin anew. You said to me that you have had little direct experience with my people; I will now confess I have had but little more with yours, and I have not your excuse of years. Would the lady Haleth permit me to join her at her fire tonight?"

"I would be honored at your presence," you replied gently.

I nodded slightly, and said, "I look forward to joining you tonight, my lady. Now I will leave you to your work, and I have tasks of my own which I must attend to." And with that, I left to rejoin my men, my heart strangely light.

* * * * * * *

My men and I remained in southern Thargelion for nearly two months. The orcs had been thorough in their destruction; little remained to be salvaged from the ruined and burned homesteads. What few items of value could be recovered were quickly distributed among the survivors, whose numbers increased slowly over the weeks as more people drifted in from the woods to join your encampment by the river. My soldiers were kept busy building temporary shelters, hunting for food, and bringing in supplies from the lands just north of these woods, where I wielded my rightful authority as the ruler of these lands by imposing a tithe. We kept a sharp watch, but there were no more signs of orcs. Nonetheless, your people seemed restless and uneasy; I could only guess the source of their anxiety, for I did not speak their tongue, and few among your people besides you were fluent in mine. But I needed no interpreter to understand the dark looks in the eyes of many of your men when I walked with you through the encampment; their disapproval required no translation.

Your position as the leader of your people required us to spend much time in each other’s company; and each day we spent together I was more surprised by you. Your form was so deceptive. Next to the burly men of your people you seemed at first glance frail – but within your small frame I sensed there was a core of iron. Nothing seemed to daunt you, and by the firmness of your will you held your frightened and divided people together. And the steadiness of your voice and manner, and the high heart and courage that shone in your strange brown mortal eyes, served to give them hope. At times I could almost imagine that you were one of my own people, a Fëanorian in spirit if not in bodily form.

One evening, a few days before my troops and I planned to return to Lake Helevorn, our conversation turned towards the future. Spring had nearly arrived; soon it would be time for planting, and you spoke of the need for your people to begin to rebuild their lives, far away from the devastation and the evil memories that filled the woods of southern Thargelion. "The nearby mountains cast a darkness in my people’s hearts," you spoke quietly, "and they will never again be content in their shadows. I fear, my lord, that I will soon need to lead them far away from this place, that we may begin anew. We must move quickly, if we are to gather enough in the coming months of plenty to carry us through the winter."

"Then move your people north," I suggested eagerly. "There are rich and fertile lands in the northern portion of my realm which remain unsettled. I will grant them to your people, that they might live there freely and in safety – for there they would also have the friendship and protection of the Eldar."

"Your offer is generous, Lord Caranthir, and it pains me to refuse it – but refuse it I must. My people are woodsmen, and would pine on the open plains of your lands. And," and at this point, you hesitated for an instant and met my gaze, and the expression I saw there was mingled regret and steely determination, "my people have our pride; we will not consent to be ruled by another not of our kin, however mighty and valiant he may be. We cannot go north with you."

I felt strangely numb as I listened to your words. "Where will you go?" I whispered. "There is little unsettled land remaining in Beleriand that your people might claim, and none that is not under the dominion of the Eldar in one form or another. Surely you will not return east over the mountains?"

"No, of course not! We will go west, to join our kin in Estolad," you replied, laughing. "The land there is like unto the woods here, or so I have heard – it should suit my folk well."

"Yes, I have been there before – the land is peaceful and well-protected, and although not so heavily wooded as here, there are many trees. And it will be an easy and rapid journey – if you depart now, there will still be ample time to plant whatever crops your people require, when you arrive." Estolad, I thought to myself as I babbled. That is not so very far away. And I have reason to go there, after all – I occasionally visit my brothers Celegorm and Curufin, who live not far north, or go hunting in the woods to the south with the twins. Perhaps I will see Haleth again at some point in the future. "Estolad will suit your people well, Haleth," I concluded. "I am sure of it."

The following morning you began to organize your folk for the long march ahead, as I prepared my soldiers for our return north back to our homes. On the slow return journey to Lake Helevorn, I was surprised to find my mind remembering in dreams, not the beauty of the Trees in Aman, or the Silmarils, or Lake Helevorn on a frosty night under the bright moon, but hair that rippled like grainfields in autumn, and eyes the color of freshly plowed earth.


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 this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Ithilwen

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Romance

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 04/14/03

Original Post: 07/24/02

Go to Unforgettable Fire, The overview

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