1. Bonfires of Trust, Flash Floods of Pain
The title of this story (having been changed from "Once We Were") is taken from the song "Exitlude" by The Killers.
Also, due to my long-time love affair with Quenya names, they've been used a little (only a little!) here:
Findekáno = Fingon;
Fëanáro = Fëanor;
Arafinwë = Finarfin;
Nolofinwë = Fingolfin (=Nolyo, although I where in fanon this came from I can't quite remember!)
No Telerin Eldar fell by my hand, but I am tainted by their blood that stains my eldest child. I have lost count of the number of times he has washed his hands and sword, but he still sees them dripping with dark red blood as they did when I arrived.
The pungent smell of anarchy and chaos in my nostrils had preceded the scene. There must have been corpses on the ground, but I did not want to look at them. I had seen my first dead body not long before, my Father's lifeless hröa, and that itself I deemed enough to haunt me for many millenia to come.
Many things I witnessed in those following minutes (despite my reluctance, I could not avoid them), but the one sight that was clearest to my eyes was the most horrible: my Findekáno, staring at crimson-stained hands; hands that were once so tiny that they could only wrap around the shortest of my fingers.
Those hands, now, rough and calloused, the skin stretched taut over white knuckles. Findekáno looks up at his mother, silently pleading with her to say something, to comfort him as only a mother may. He is shaking, his mouth is trembling; and in this moment of his vulnerability I recall him at age four, no taller than my knee and trying not to cry after falling - hard - from a long flight of stairs. I see my baby Findekáno, my little son, and he is stretching his arms out toward me and his mother...
I have barely blinked once more before the illusion passes. No doubt that I should never revisit that innocent memory once again without also being reminded of this day.
Anairë does not meet our son's eyes. She is thinking what I am thinking; we have raised kinslayers, how did it come to this? She cannot bring herself to absolve Findekáno of his tortured guilt, not even with gentle words or a tender gesture. She is stiff, fists clenched and eyes cast aside - and I do not suppose she loves herself for her present apathy.
I put my arm on my son's shoulder, trying not to flinch at the sticky warm liquid that is smeared all over his cloak. Standing over him as he begins to weep for his sin, I see how wrong I was - how wrong I was, to think that my love for my children was as vast as the reign of Ilúvatar upon all that is and is not. My love - not even a thousand times over - will never be vast enough to deliver him from this... this.
My wife stays hidden in the shadows, turned away from her children. But I can see that her face is streaked with grief, the anguish of endless tears.
Even as Fëanáro cries his defiance of Manwe's will upon us, I hear the hidden taunts in his voice. After all, here now is an easy escape from me, to release myself from the vow of loyalty I promised him. I would only have to use the Valar's prophecy of Doom upon all Exiles as my excuse... You, son of Indis, have not the fortitude or nerve to carry on and avenge the death of my father, your King.
He is daring me to prove him correct. The will of the Valar is no small thing to fool with, but I will not give Fëanáro the satisfication of calling me craven. I have sacrificed much in this war of our wills - my pride, the innocence of my children, the love of my father. I do not know if I can simply turn back now, and face the consequences of my choices.
My sons tell me that we cannot return to Aman; "in doing so, we shall only prove indeed that we are thralls of the Valar," they say.
But I am their father, and they cannot hide the true thoughts of their minds from me. I see the fire of ambition in their eyes, they will carry forth on this path in their bid to become Kings and Queens of Beleriand, come what may. They lead our people on before me, steadfast and resolute.
Behind me, my younger brother takes a small group back to Aman. Anairë stands beside me, watching them walk on.
"I could not protect my children from the taint of Arda Marred," I say, slowly, staring ahead at the great host of Noldor gathered before us. "But I can save them from further misguided leadership from my half-brother, he who has led us reckless fools to this Doom."
"You yourself have said that Fëanáro is not in his right mind," she says, hugging her arms to her chest and shaking her head. "And yet, you have allowed us to be forced upon this treacherous journey with him. For all the pain he has caused, you wondered why he still had your father's loyalty. Now, for all that he has done to you, and our family, I on my part must wonder what he has done to inspire your continuing allegiance."
"I made a promise, before the Valar, no less."
"But did you swear upon the name of Ilúvatar?" she asks sharply.
"Melkor murdered my father..."
"You seek vengeance, and perhaps that is fair. But, truly, what end do you believe it will achieve, Nolofinwë? Death is a strange thing for us of the Eldar, but we know also that it is not the absolute end for the deceased. When the Lady Míriel forsook her hröa, did the Valar not give her the choice of rebodiment?"
"Yea, but she did not want it."
Perhaps she knew what I feared, because Anairë eyes upon me were pitying, almost understanding. "You think that Father will remain in the Halls with Lady Míriel?"
I shook my head. "Míriel was my father's first wife, Fëanáro his first son. Father has always favoured Fëanáro above me, and in following him to Formenos he also chose him over my mother. I do not know what to think, anymore."
Anairë does not respond; after all, it is not her place to presume to know what my father's mind is inclined to.
"Melkor has done more than commit an evil murder," I say, after a short time of silence. "The nightmare that has been the past few years, it has all been a result of his machinations. Would that I had known better, and turned down his counsel."
"Even the Valar were ignorant of his poisonous doings."
Another moment of silence stretches out between us. This time, she is the one to speak up.
"For all the reasons you have given me, the only things I see awaiting us in Middle-earth are calamity and destruction, our downfall." Anairë shakes her head. "Who are we to defy the Ainu, and wage war upon the mightiest of them? See now, this Kin-slaying? It is an omen. It has already tainted our children beyond our reach, we can no longer protect them from anything. I have not the strength to see what destruction this curse ravages upon my children, they who are the very flesh of my womb."
I turn to her, trying to speak, but not knowing what to say. What could I say in response to such loaded words?
She is not done speaking, and she is determinedly not meeting my eyes.
"I would ask you to stay, if only so that our children would follow your example. But I know also that they are too proud to turn back, and that they would go on, regardless. Would they be otherwise, with the Noldo blood that runs so swiftly through their veins? For my sake, and theirs - and yours - I must return. I must pay what penance I can, on behalf of my cursed family."
Words come to me, finally. "You will fail. This Doom seems to me to be beyond reprieve. It matters not if you turn back now, even if you fall upon the Valar's feet for forgiveness, it will not save our people from whatever catastrophe they have called upon us."
She does not speak against me, but the tension between us hangs in the air. Like the putrid stench of death in the swan havens far behind us.
"This is where we part, husband," she says finally, and immediately I open my mouth. But my chest tightens and I think my heart will burst, if I should even attempt to breathe.
I had been afraid, when Eärwen had announced her intention to remain. My wife and sister-in-law are close and have ever held each other in the closest of confidence, and I worried that Anairë would follow her friend's example. When, on our day of departure, my wife joined me by my side, I had been so relieved - relieved! I had seen what Nerdanel's loss did to Fëanáro, and I knew - I know - that I should not take the loneliness of separation half so well.
"You said you would never leave me," I say, finding my voice, and finding it lowered to a almost-inaudible whisper.
"And you said you would never leave Aman," she shoots back. "I remember, that night all those years ago, when we looked out from Taniquetil together. I saw the wanderlust in your eyes (the Hither Lands reflected upon them) and I did not like it. You promised me that you would not leave. I made you make that promise. Yet, here you are. And yet, here I am. I have followed you this far, and this is farther than wisdom would have allowed for."
She pauses briefly, for presently her voice has risen to a feverish pitch and she is breathing too quickly.
"It breaks me to say it," she continues, calmer now. "But it pains my heart more that I cannot look upon my child, my beloved Findekáno, without seeing the blood of Eärwen's kin - my dear friend Eärwen, who had the wisdom to remain behind - drenched upon him. Bloodshed is written in his eyes, it is as clear as the waters of Alqualondë used to be before we defiled it. The blood of kin, enemies, it is all red and it is everywhere I look. I cannot go on. I will not. Tell our children... say that... send them my love."
I cannot listen any further, and begin to turn aside - but I pause, halfway, and consider my options: to leave her with no words of farewell, to give her a taste of this sick grief that now overcomes my heart - or to fall upon my knees and beg her to stay with me - to weep, and say do not leave me, beloved, please!
My heart has, at some point, started beating again, and now I hear it as a dull throb pounding in my mind. I did not want to believe it. She would leave, and have us sundered for the remainder of this unforseeable future? I thought I knew her heart, I thought that if she had followed me from Tirion (and I hoped she would, I had), she would follow me to the Middle-earth.
I thought she loved me.
Anguish can burn as cruelly in my fëa as it does in that of my father's first son, and the pride of the Noldor that runs so strongly in my sons' comes verily from me - so I complete the turn, looking forward to where my people are gathered ahead of me, their raven crowns further darkened by the shadow of night.
Should I respond to her, and look back?
I find myself unable to walk on. But I do not want to make even the vaguest of implications that I understand or respect her choice, petty thought it may seem. Fëanáro's recently elevated vindictiveness, my father's choice to follow the son who would draw a sword against his brother, even Arafinwë's decision to go back and grovel before the Valar; these were betrayals I could handle. Not this. Not this.
Her hand comes to rest upon my arm. I know this triumph of my pride over hers (that she comes to me, not I to her) is meaningless, and I care not if I am being foolish - I do not let her turn me back towards her. We meet halfway instead, and she leans in toward me, pressing her lips to mine.
I am unresponsive, at first; wanting to inflict my unhappiness upon her, for her to feel as desolate as I do. But, oh - oh. Her lips are as soft and sweet as I remember them, she is still my Anairë. My Anairë. I return the kiss... but where she is achingly tender, I am desperate and wanton. She tries to temper my hungry passion to something gentler, but I have become unfamiliar to her; my face is streaked with salty tears and my lips, chapped and dry and bloody, do not to her taste the way they once did.
All too quickly we part, and I cannot help but meet her eyes when we do. Her grey irises are despondent, and seem strange to me now, and arcane. I cannot recognise them, these eyes that I have shared my most intimate moments with. There is a veil between between us, as if everything I should want and need from her is now leagues away, far beyond my reach.
"What have you seen, Anairë?" My voice has been roughened by the dry winds and I come across more demanding and sounding angrier than I intended. Her eyes widen slightly and she steps back at the harshness of my words - and in that moment, there is weakness; the veil is lifted:
I see darkness, a monstrous phantasm that laughs (discordant clanging, like the clash of heavy metal when Noldorin swords met Teleri blades), as one colossal foot comes rushing down like thunder, great zephyrs generated its wake as it moves to crush a star, which once blazed white and radiant, but now stumbles in its dance with evil, fallen and finally come unto -
"Death. I see death."
I blink. Anairë is staring back at me, expressionless. Her eyes are darkened once again, her words but faded echoes in my mind.
"Would you have me remain?" It is a pointless question. But I ask anyway.
"If you stay, you will have me. If you go, only sorrow and tragedy shall be waiting for you, and our children."
I turn away. An eternity passes, in the span of one moment.
"I love you," she whispers, her voice coming out in a rush and her words tumbling over each other.
When first we lay together, I could hear our joined heartsong as I lay my head upon her breast; and as her voice breaks, now, that tempo becomes mangled. Discordant. In a sudden instant, what once blazed mightily has dimmed to mere embers. Lukewarm and in danger of fading to ash.
Yet - to linger, even in that lesser heat, would still be my own undoing. Perhaps it is fitting, then, that we should part here in this lifeless place. The breath of Manwë angrily whips our hair and cloaks about us, covering us in biting, freezing, unbearable cold; this desolate wasteland will not suffer fires to burn within it.
I walk away. The harsh winds are at their most unbearable. A great lump has risen in my throat and the sound of my footsteps fall heavily upon my ears, each step aggravating the gap between my wife and I. I can feel her eyes upon my back, watching me as I go.
It is a very long time before she, too, finally turns to leave.
I do not look back. I know I will do this often enough, in anger and regret, during the long damnation that awaits me.
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.