When Arafinwë arrived it was all over and done with. The ships had been seized, the bodies removed from the gangplanks where the Teleri had stood until their last breath. The Noldor unfurled the sails, loaded the luggage, readying to go. Nolofinwë had hesitated until the last; he had only come with his brother, and the last of the Elves to abandon Tirion. Now he came to survey a scene of devastation; his son, standing aside, still had not sheathed his sword. Still he had not wiped from its blade long streaks of dark blood.
"What has come to pass here?"
Findekáno looked at his father. There was no answer he could make.
I sat with Artanis on an upturned crate, our hands locked. When I had met her, after the strife, her gown had been sprayed with blood, as mine was – blood was on her hands, blood on her cheek where a cut interrupted the ivory of her skin. I cleaned the wound, asked no question. It was not an hour for them. We would never speak again of the slaying of the Teleri, of the killing of our own kin – the kin of our mothers. The blood that had been spilt was our own blood. That line could never again be crossed.
Macalaurë had taken our horses for us; Maitimo had seen to it. With nothing to do, nobody to turn to, we sat in silence, in the deathly, pearly light of a lamp. The stars still shone; and no lamp could darken them. Arafinwë came to us, walking carefully, as if his path was occupied; but nothing impeded his steps, save his horror, his fear.
His brother's own question; Artanis met his glance, her eyes empty. Nothing left in them to grieve or pray. She was not Findekáno; she would not let silence hang like a curtain between them. When she spoke, her words were clear-cut, and simple. Like swords, and the death they bring.
"They would not let us take the ships."
Us. Our fault, our stain, until the end of the world.
Arafinwë took a step back. If he would have asked what I had had no heart to, how we had come to be drenched in the blood of the Teleri, whether order, or sheer willfulness had kept the Elves of Alqualondë from conceding their vessels, his bravery was not enough for it. Nodding slowly, he walked back. Artanis watched him go, saying nothing.
It was then, as her father left us, that I saw them – Nolofinwë and Fëanáro face to face, eyes in eyes, a mute challenge going from one to the other, wordless, useless defiance, for in the eyes of the eldest there shone the same certainty, the same cruel necessity that had rung in his voice as he decreed the exile of his people, and the wrath etched in Nolofinwë's features seemed to be made not to disappear for all the ages of the world. But at long last, as he had always done, as he forever would do, Fëanáro won. Nolofinwë bent his head, his rage quenched, a silent assent in his bended head.
"We shall go by land," he announced. His whole host, many of those that had been with Findekáno when we came to Alqualondë, followed him. Maitimo came to fetch Artanis and me, in his eyes a naked courage, a hopeless denial of what was. Not allowing himself to see the corpses that still littered the quays.
"Silmë, Nerwen, come. The ships are ready."
I looked at him, the pale shape of the vessel beyond him, riding at anchor, its unfurled sails unquiet spirits the lamp painted with curved shadows. But he offered me his hand, and I took it. The blood had washed away. Its memory lay on my spirit as much as on the fingers that had held the sword's hilt.
For a moment I thought she had not heard me. Her eyes were fixed on the King, where he still stood, directing his people, giving orders – she looked at him, boring into his face which the uncertain light cut up in black and alabaster white, as if asking questions that, she knew, would never have answer.
Still she would not look at me. Fëanáro had turned. His eyes met hers, they held her gaze for a long moment, as if he understood. As if he could have healed her, erased with a word, a glance the weight that had descended upon Artanis the Fearless, the guilt as heavy as lead upon her shoulders. As if he could have done all this; but wished it not. For he turned his back on her, and would not look at her again.
"I shall walk."
She gathered her blood-stained gown in her hand, and rose. A caress to my hand, ever so light. Saying that she did not lay on me this fault. But she walked away from me, to where Aikanár stood. They exchanged a glance, no more. They understood each other in it. Nolofinwë's host prepared to march.
"Aboard. The tide shall not wait."
Taking Maitimo's hand, I joined the Fëanárions on the first vessel.
The Noldor were no mariners; it was only in a long time, and with long labour, that we detached from the quays, leaving behind the battle and its tainted rests. No wind to fill the sails – the Sea bore the ships over water sullenly calm, as dark as night. All of those with me found themselves to be busy with rope and canvas, incapable of throwing one glance back – all but me. Standing by the railing I watched the pale piers of Swanhaven being left behind, a wedge of black silk opening between us and them; and the blood was now dry and black on the stones, on the ruined pearls, and those who had fallen slept in peace.
Slowly, one by one the Teleri came out of the houses, and they walked to the edge of the Sea; silent guardians at the gate of our voyage, in their far eyes a dark reproach. Silent; their voices raised neither in insult, nor curse. They had no need. No wailing would they raise against the slayers who fled; for their voice was in the waters, and the Sea had ears only for their sorrow.
Beyond them, past the breach above the sullied streets of Alqualondë, the last memory of Tirion upon Tùna was a lost and a colourless light.
Ossë the Thunderous, guardian of the waves, let us go past. A dark shape was the Maia of the Sea, servant of the Lord Ulmo; a dark shape crouching upon a rock by the mouth of the haven. He, that seldom took form, he that preferred to speak in wind and foam, and tempest, brooded at our passage, and held his fury; and his eyes, pearly slits in a black face, slipped upon us as upon something unworthy even of his wrath. The Noldor bent their heads in shame beneath his glance, and prayed to the One that watched above the circling stars; but Fëanáro looked to him without shame or regret, and neither of them could stare the other down. And then we had passed on.
Maitimo came by my side, his hand upon mine as it rested on the wooden railings. Wordlessly, I let my head rest against his shoulder, and his arm found its way around me, holding me closer. His vest was stiff with spilt blood; and against my hip I felt the cold metal of his sword's hilt. But slow and strong beat his heart against mine, and closing my eyes I knew nothing else mattered. Under this shadow we stood together. And neither of us talked, for no words there were to fill the void of the hour of our guilt; each other's warmth the last landmark upon an unknown road. The ship cleaved the water, black wings laced with white bearing its prow over our unseen route.
It began with the wind. Like fingers skimming the surface, at first, like a maiden playing by a fountain in an idle day. Then stronger, pulling our sails, filling them with a crack that startled us, a powerful, brisk call from vessel to vessel. The waves now nudged the keel along, they probed it with curious fingers, they shook it like a child that does not know his strength. And then the waters, like ribbons, like snakes, slithered around the prow; with cold hands they grasped it, and the Sea heaved its bosom in fury, the wind now its voice, the tempest its angered cry.
With powerful tears the fleet was taken from the chosen path, the vessels tossed in wrath from wave to wave, toys hurled by a whimsical child. The water rose high above us, it towered in strength and might, black wall that fell like melted iron over the flooded decks; dark hand that broke the slender prows, with hungry claws like steel ripped apart the hulls. The wind, like a hound, pursued us; and it howled for our last breath.
Maitimo shielded me with his body, and on our hands and knees, like toddlers, we fought our way away from the railings, from the closeness of the open mouth of the Sea screaming and claiming us back. Many of those who were with us slipped and fell in the mounting waves; and without a cry they disappeared overboard.
And then the voice of the wind took form and shape, and its tone was known to our ears; and in its fell words was implacable hatred.
Slayers! Treacherous and cursed! Slayers of those that I loved!
"It is Uìnen!"
My scream was drowned by another wave – I closed my eyes huddling between Maitimo and the mainmast, drenched already, and to the bone; my dress, my hair one net that whipped my skin with every furious breath of wind. All around the Noldor secured ropes around their waists, their ends tied to the mast, one vain defense against death by water in that moment when even the stars had disappeared, the boundary between water and sky erased in the embrace of air and water, in their dance that to us spelt death.
I had not been alone in recognizing Uìnen's voice, the wailing of the Lady of the Waters, the spouse of Ossë that so often had tempered his wrath; the Maia of fair breeze that unleashed her power, now, in the cold fangs of a merciless storm. The Noldor called to her, imploring her with beseeching voices; and she who had listened to so many, she who knew pity for all creatures that sail the waters above the sunken earth, she closed her ears to their lament, and taking the stolen ships into her liquid palm she crushed them one by one, bringing them like driftwood to the bottom of the Sea.
For in her heart still rang loud the cry of the Teleri as they lay dying; for on her fingers she had collected the drops of their blood. Gentleness turned to wrath is fearsome to see. Nothing could one do against the fury of the sea; and closing my eyes I held on to my betrothed, my only fear to be torn from him, cast adrift, alone, in this endless night. He sank his nose into my hair, and together we waited for death or relief, beneath us the deck screaming in pain, its planks creaking and wailing with each new wave. Only once did I, again, cast my glance upon the storm: and it was when the voice of Uìnen became call and curse.
He clang not to railing or mast for security; he stood tall and sure among us who crouched in fear, and his waist was unhindered by rope. He let the water whip his face, and in the face of the fury of Uìnen he smiled.
No tempest shall blow forever. No Sea shall remember its anger for more than a few hours. Havoc may the water wreak, and the spirits of the deep claim a tribute of life – but at last the water shall tire, and the waves calm themselves; and the howling of vengeance be quietened, for the count of the dead has risen enough. Then those who have survived the storm shall look at each other across water like glass, and the stars shall twinkle anew; for behind the sullen cover of the clouds they had never ceased to shine.
Thus it was with us; and the Sea eased its fury into an unsettling calm, the swan ships riding low in the cup of the waves. Slowly those who still breathed undid the knots of their ropes, and looked around; and the lamps hung from the masts were lit again. In their uncertain light I met Maitimo's eyes, green jewel under the wet fringe of his hair; his soaked fingers cold upon my cold skin. Salt water tasted bitter on our lips; drops of Sea or tears that before we had had no heart to shed. I clasped his hand, and counted the ships that now flocked to us, to the silver star flying heavily beneath Fëanáro's own standard upon the mast.
Lost fireflies in the dark were the beacons of the other vessels; calls from home were the lamps of Nolofinwë's host, when we turned to the land. They had watched our struggle from the coast; and now, their march halted, they searched the Sea with feverish eyes for those they loved and that had gambled their lives on the stolen ships, on the unquiet wave.
With luminous signals they called us closer, they asked us to lay anchor; and Fëanáro gave order to our pilot to comply, for the tempest had brought us far North, away from the lights of Alqualondë, to forsaken Araman where no plant grew. Nearing the cliffs, our eyes saw her, and in awed murmurs we whispered her name; but perhaps it was just a trick of the fading light of our lamps, or of our crushed spirits the last wish. In the shape of a crying woman, her head laid low on her arms, her long hair trailing down upon the rock, Uìnen weeping.
We came ashore in longboats, beneath our feet the hard soil a new blessing. Stumbling in the low water we reached the pebbly beach, the outstretched arms of those who had waited there. Nolofinwë greeted his brother, on his face relief mingled to his bitter sadness after the slaying.
"We thought none of you would survive."
"If this be the worse that the Powers can throw at us, then our passage to Middle-earth shall be swift."
Arafinwë that until then had stood aside rose in anger at such words, on his face wrath and pain.
"Fëanáro! Have you not challenged enough the fury of the Valar? Have you not stained already this deed with the blood of our kin?"
"I know only one kin, and only one allegiance: that to those who shall follow me."
"It is folly that you ever speak! How do you propose to lead us to Middle-earth, you that have long since forgotten reason in any of your counsels?"
Fëanáro's eyes lit with anger, and their sparkle was the terrible light of the stars when they are dying; but ere he could answer a sudden wind chilled us to the bone, and a dark voice called into the night: "Elves of Tirion! Hearken now the voice of the Valar, your lords!"
Fear gripped our hearts, and turning we saw, looking down to us from the high cliff, a tall and a black figure; a hood hid its face, but the voice was deep and loud, and even the last in our hosts heard it. And in it rang the truth of doom; doom that only one among the Powers ever comes to announce. In his words our destiny was set down, and for us a path was forged in iron and blood.
"Tears unnumbered you shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanáro the wrath of the Valar lies from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever. You have spilled the blood of your kindred unrighteously and have stained the land of Aman. For blood you shall render blood, and beyond Aman you shall dwell in Death's shadow. For though Eru appointed to you to die not in Ea, and no sickness may assail you, yet slain you may be, and slain you shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief; and your houseless spirits shall come then to Mandos. There long shall you abide and yearn for your bodies, and find little pity though all whom you have slain should entreat for you. And those that endure in Middle-earth and come not to Mandos shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger race that comes after. The Valar have spoken."
Silence fell upon us, silence like rock falling from a high mountain, silence crushing our spirits with guilt and dread. And none looked to his companion, for fear of seeing in his eyes the shadow of the same curse; and none dared to look again at the figure of the messenger, who towered above us, his voice still echoing in the dark wind. By my side Artanis found my hand; and I clasped hers, our courage sustaining itself in that dark hour. But in the fearful silence of the Noldor one voice was raised, and it was that of Fëanáro; scorn and pride erasing fear from his words, madness obliterating rightful dread from his defiance.
"Do not hide your face as you speak to me, Námo of the Dead! Do not think you can, with threatening words, bend the will of Fëanáro, and of the House of Fëanáro! An oath we made, and we shall keep it; a path we chose, and we shall tread it. No shadow of cowardice shall fall upon our name, should every other insult be thrown into our face; and you, courier of Manwë, go back to your master saying this: that not a step back shall Fëanáro take, but forward he shall march, and his deeds and the deeds of those who follow him shall echo in glory until Arda may last!"
His voice was full of power, and I felt that in his words, too, was a shadow of the truth. The Lord Mandos then uncovered his face, revealing in majesty his power; and he stood tall and proud, and he shone of a dark light.
"Glory you seek, and glory you shall have; but dear-bought glory, and in blood you shall pay for it. And your courage shall have two edges, for it will be tainted by your own curse; the shadow of evil shall mar even the brightest of your deeds. Go forward, Fëanáro! Bring your flame into the darkness of Endor under the stars. But to me you shall come soon."
Like smoke that dissolves in darkness when the fire is suddenly smothered, as swift as he had appeared Námo was gone. And dread lay heavy upon our spirits, for they were crushed with the weight of things to come; and among the mists of the future we could discern shreds of truths and evils to be, and fear was like a fist choking our breath. But Fëanáro was silent, his eyes as hard and as clear as adamant, as pitiless as tempered steel. Arafinwë then raised again his voice, and he said: "You hear, fools, what the Valar decree unto you! You hear to what ends this shall road lead you. Never we should have left Tirion the White, land of our fathers; and there now I will go back, retracing the steps of this evil, hoping to undo its threads for a new hope. And those who shall follow me shall be welcome; and together we shall see if the Powers may have mercy upon those who had gone mad."
Many among us, and especially those who had come last with his host, murmured approval at his words; but Fëanáro laughed.
"Indeed, why did you even put yourself on the road, little brother? Why? I could have told you myself, if you had asked, that in your heart was not courage nor strength enough for such a feat. Go back then, go back like a beaten dog; and all those who will may follow you. For such servants of the Valar I have no use."
Turning he left us, and aside he stood among his House; and a mocking light was in his eyes as he watched the hosts dividing.
But Arafinwë, if he was stricken by his brother's words, soon overcame his grief; and turning to Nolofinwë he said: "And you? Do not tell me that you swore to follow his lead; do not tell me that you hold yourself in debt to such a promise. Folly now inhabits him; and none shall bind your oath to the actions of a maddened Elf."
But ere Nolofinwë could speak, Findekáno had stepped forward, and on his face was the shadow of decision that nurtures no doubt.
"If you would go back, uncle, you that would not have come in the first place, then do it; but know that all those who marched before you now fall under this doom, whether they will it or not. And it shall not be said of the House of my blood that we have no courage to see to their end all of our actions, however bitter that end may be. Father, if you would listen to your brother, and go, our ways part now. I only wish we shall meet again, ere Arda is remade, or after."
And having spoken he stood aside, and for many then the decision was made, for they loved their prince dearly, and would not abandon him. Nolofinwë said nothing; but he embraced his brother one last time, and he went to his son. Arafinwë bit his lip, and tears were in his eyes; but he held them back, and turning to his children he cried: "Will you too forsake your father and kin? Even you, Artanis, my only daughter, shall not see reason, even now?"
I looked to my friend then, and she was paler than she had ever been; and her lips were bluish in the light of the torches. But her eyes were gems, and her will unbent.
"Farewell, father. My love for you, and for my mother, I bring in Middle-earth under different stars."
Arafinwë cried then, a wordless cry; and only then I saw to what depth could his grief descend, he that I had always known to smile, and be gracious, like one who cared nothing but for those things that make life pleasant, and easy. And he turned, covering his face with his cloak; and his host followed him in silence. On the shore they trod, rollers coming to die at their feet, a long column retracing its steps in the lightless black. And they said no farewell; and soon the night swallowed them.
Artanis then sat heavily upon the beach, her eyes tearless, but fixed; for now one last line had been crossed. And I was torn, ad if a knife had been sunk into my heart; for only now I felt fully the weight of what had come, and the light of the Valar, in which I had grown, I missed like my own breath. For this disobedience, this curse hid from me the guidance I had always sought; and I was like a thing cast aside in a storm, for the wind and the rain to play with at will. For a long moment those of us who had stayed behind were lost, as if they knew not whether to turn their steps.
Maitimo then clasped my shoulders, and shaking me he called me back. His voice was painfully low, broken and cracked, as if his throat were full of shards of ice.
"Run. I pray of you, run. You may still reach Arafinwë now, you may still go back."
For a long moment I looked at him, as if I did not understand; and then comprehension dawned upon me, and even as the crack throbbed into my heart, I shook my head.
"Ever you have been faithful to me; ever you have followed me. But under this curse I shall not let you dwell; I will not let your spirit be marred, and your life be shredded and ruined. No, such a fault shall not weigh upon me; you I will not let you stand under this doom."
I looked to his eyes, and I saw that they were frail, like crystal through which light shines. And his broad shoulders were curved as he realized what weight had been lain upon them; a weight from which he would shield me. For one long moment I listened, anew, to myself; and a part of me died on that day, and a part of me forever I forsook. For Silmë of the Vanyar died on that shore, and I killed her with words I uttered with voice loud and clear, looking into the eyes of the one I loved. Knowing then that Findaráto was right; that this would be my blessing, and my curse. But accepting it; knowing that if I turned back now I would live to see my spirit consumed in pain and regret.
"I take upon me the Doom of the House of Fëanáro; I take upon me their destiny and their curse. I take them upon me of my free will, and not a step I shall take to go back. If Valinor be fenced against me, and my spirit denied asylum because of my choice, then so be it. But I shall not leave you alone. I shall not be parted from you."
His tears broke their dam now; his arms iron crushing me as he embraced me, despair bitter on his lips as he kissed me. And my heart was healed; a black scar running where my old allegiance had been. My spirit crying; wailing as my past died in that moment. No other love, no other pledge than those that surrounded me was left. When we parted I saw that Maitimo cried no more; strong in my resolution as I was in his. He left me, one last caress upon my face a seal upon our promise. He went to organize the column; and I sat by Artanis' side before the black face of the Sea, in the hissing of the wind a forlorn memory of Uìnen's grief. We did not touch; but each other's presence we acknowledged without words.
Still my heart grieved; but in its grief it had found new strength. The test had come; and it had chosen. As I sat by the Sea I knew not, and I could not have guessed, that ere long time had passed it would have to choose again. And that then it would break not to be healed again for long years beneath the stars.
Four more days of march brought us to the uttermost end of Araman, last shred of Valinor before the ice of the Northern straits. We had gone swiftly, but our progress had not been easy, hindered as we were by luggage; the ships following the column, steering with difficulty against wind and tide. Nolofinwë led those who walked; Fëanáro had retained control of the ships. I divided my time between the two; for Artanis had grown grim and silent since she had said farewell to her father, and her heart was hardened in willfulness to keep grief at bay. We marched; and she seemed to care not for the cold that had many of our companions shiver and cry. It was then that the first of our horses died.
It was a long march; and it was bitter on us that had never known other things but the sweetness and the ease of Aman the deathless. Light felt even our cloaks in the cutting winds that came down from the frozen plains of the Helcaraxë that none but the Powers had trod; and some cursed under their breath the moment they had decided to follow Fëanáro upon this road. I looked at them, and they fell silent.
For me that march was an interregnum of sanity, an empty space where to collect my thoughts. I walked, or sailed; sewing together what remained of my affections, mending my heart day by day. When we rested I would sleep upon the deck in Maitimo's arms, covered in his cloak, each other's warmth our only comfort; a timid smile coming to our lips when we woke up together, resuming the journey. There was a light before me, a light I could follow; a light of which I would not be deprived. Hope was reborn in me under the gentle caress of his fingers.
When I was with Artanis I would remain silent, respecting her grief. She mourned; mourned for those she had left behind, and her pain was clear to my eyes. Findaráto was always with her; for to us what to others looked like willful pride was the shield behind which she hid her pain. And with each day, even as I did, she mended her spirit; and her choice was strengthened and laid down in stone. When we came to the end of Araman she, too, was healed; a darkened wound where her joy had been.
There, when the smell of the ice was a fist hitting our tired lungs, we stopped; and Fëanáro came ashore among the murmurs of our host, to discuss how to complete the journey. If he was aware of the discontent that surrounded him, he hid it well; in his eyes the maddened light had now quietened in silent strength, resolution that would not yield. At his passage the murmur stopped.
On that day I had walked; coming ashore Maitimo reached me, and we were together as the sons of Finwë discussed.
"We cannot hope to pass the ice; a long and a hard journey, and one whose end many could not hope to see. Our only way is the Sea."
Like a fist the straits of Helcaraxë grasped and joined the ends of Aman and Endor; and beneath its jagged arch a bay stretched between them. Mist now hid the other shore; but a thrill run through us, for now we were nearer than ever we had been to our destination. And some smiled even as their lips cracked with the cold, for they thought the end of the voyage near.
"The ships are not enough to carry us all at once. It will have to be done in two crossings."
Nolofinwë nodded at his brother's words, agreeing: "You shall have to ferry your people across, then come back for us. Perhaps in a day or two we should be done. It will depend on the tide."
"I will start immediately then."
Countless times since that day I have thought again of Fëanáro's face in that moment; countless times I have gone over my memory of his eyes, his voice. Countless times I have looked for a clue to tell me what would come to pass. Countless times I have found nothing.
For then he spoke calmly; and reasonably, like one who is only concerned for the journey to progress without further trouble; and none that looked at him would have guessed to which heights his anger could rise. When I reflect upon that day now I suspect that his very calm should have frightened me; but then I was tired, and at peace. Such reasonable counsel was balm to soothe deep wounds, and I said nothing.
There was mistrust when the arrangements were announced; for by then fear and suspicion had seeped among the ranks of the Noldor, making their blood run bitter. And the words of the Oath, the words of the Valar's Doom echoed heavy in their spirits, and like angry bees they spoke in low murmurs against Fëanáro. But he acted as if he cared not; and, faithful to his word, he walked to his longboat. I accompanied Maitimo, as yet undecided whether to go with him, or stay back; but as we reached the boat Fëanáro looked back, and in his amused tone he asked: "What, Nelyafinwë, shall you not lead your Vanyarin bride with us? How ungallant; I thought you would have dreamt of the moment when you would first set foot in Endor together."
Maitimo turned to me, taken aback; for indeed, our mind absorbed by our long march, our memory struggling to forget what had passed in Aman, we had not thought of the end of the journey. And after a moment my beloved smiled; for now the end of our toils was at hand, and there was time and strength again to play such games. With brilliant eyes, he offered me his hand.
"My father speaks the truth. Upon this new land, Alcániel, I would first tread with you."
I smiled back. Like a ray of light was his offer; like a memory of things long past. I turned to Artanis, my voice light: "If you will forgive me then, friend, I shall see you when you will come."
But she made no answer; her eyes fixed on Fëanáro, and she was frowning. As if she did not understand; as if a thought troubled her she could not yet frame into words. But at last she nodded, shaking her head as if to chase an unwanted thought.
"I shall see you then," she answered.
Playfully, as if a weight had been lifted from his spirit, Maitimo took me in his arms, and lay me himself in the boat, so that my dress would not be wetted; and when he jumped in and took my hand I saw that his eyes sparkled as they had not done since the morning – was it only days? – when we had ridden forth from Formenos in the golden of Laurelin's light. And then the boat pushed off, the rowers bent on their instruments.
Artanis waded into the water to her knee, still looking at us; in her eyes the same, perplexed question.
The ships, riding at anchor at some distance from the shore, were soon ready; and Maitimo and I stood by the railings as the anchor was taken in, and the sails unfurled in the feeble wind. Rowers then put out their long oars, aiding the vessels; and the prows were turned like the nose of curious animals, and Middle-earth drew nearer with each stroke.
Upon the beach we could see Nolofinwë's host rearranging their baggage, some sitting down or lighting fires, preparing to wait; the other shore still hidden by fog. But the cold and the dreariness of the land, for once, weighed not upon us; and Maitimo's hand rested light upon my waist, our eyes meeting in expectation. For now, once this journey was over, the moment would come for our long-held promise to be fulfilled, and for us to be wed beneath the different skies we had chosen. And in that moment oath and doom seemed far, infinitely farther than the new hope of Endor closer with each moment that passed.
It was in that lightness that he spoke, when he asked of Fëanáro, who stood near: "Which shall we ferry across first, father? Shall we first bear Findekáno the Valiant and all his blood?"
Clear were his eyes; and unsuspecting. A memory to bite me until the end of the world. For at his question, Fëanáro laughed; and when he had laughed his answer was spoken in a cold voice, like a sentence that stands no appeal: "Nobody we shall bear! I hear them cursing, and I regret them not; let them follow the steps of Arafinwë the Coward! Let them weep and bend, for this is all that they avail to; let them go back to their thralldom under the Valar's rule! For I shall burn the ships as we will land; and none of them shall come this way."
And as he fell silent I saw in his eyes the fire of his madness burning ever brighter, brighter than in the hour he had spoken his oath; and it was as if the margins of the world had blurred in his spirit, and he could no longer see what even in his folly he should have spared us and himself. He walked away from us, without looking back.
My eyes and Maitimo's met, and despair was in both; and grasping the railings we turned in vain to the shore where unsuspecting our friends waited, Findekáno and Artanis and Findaráto, and Nolofinwë, all of their host; and anguish was in my voice as I cried: "Something must be done!"
I know not what I thought we could do; I know not whether I had, myself, gone fey in that moment. I know only that I turned, and Maitimo's eyes were empty, as if broken; as if one last stroke had finally fell all resistance that he still harboured against his father's wishes. He stood aside; and in silence.
My words were heavy when I uttered them.
"You shall do nothing."
His eyes then sought mine, and the abyss I had guessed in that far day in the sea-cave, the abyss in which I had lived with him in the years of our exile, was open and bottomless; and it hit me hard and fast and sudden, full comprehension of what it was, now, to be Fëanáro's eldest; to be tied to his will, to bear his legacy in one's blood. Part of his spirit, spark of his fire, until the world should end. No, he would do nothing; for nothing there was he could do.
But in that abyss I saw my own; and I that had renounced my family, I that had disowned my blood, I that had dreaded for one of the slayers as my mother's kin was killed, I saw then the one allegiance I could not betray. My heart was broken as I tore myself from him; my spirit screamed in pain even as my resolution became steel. Artanis, cousin and friend, was my sister in this; with her I shared the knowledge of what I should do. And I was young then. I was strong. I could recognize what hurt this would do me, and choose to take it.
In one gesture I grasped the railing, heaving myself above it with all my strength; and ere he could reach me I was beyond it, below me the water churning with crested foam. No hesitation I could afford; and I jumped.
His cry followed me as I coursed through air; and the water was iron when I hit it. I did not look back: knowing that the ship left me behind with each stroke of its oars, knowing that Fëanáro would spare no boat to retrieve me. Knowing that I could not have faced looking at Maitimo again, without breaking in two.
My dress drenched and heavy, my spirit wounded, I swam. Rarely I had done it in the Sea; never in such rough waters. And death would have been welcome then, welcome to my broken fëa, welcome to my cloven heart. But from the shore they had seen me jump; from the shore that was still near enough for them to discern me.
Nerwen, Man-maiden they called her; and in truth Artanis was stronger in body than many an ellon, and without hesitation she came in the water, swimming out to meet me. Not alone: for in that hour Findekáno forgot his reasonless hatred, and I was again his cousin, the friend I had been, the maiden he had known since we both were Elflings; and he dived along Artanis, coming to me.
This I knew but later: for in that moment I knew only of the water that won my resistance, of the numbness that it brought as it burnt my throat, it choked my breath. It was death; and it was bitter and sore. From it, strong arms took me, and swiftly I was borne to the shore. Many rushed to meet us on the waterline, and only then I recognized my saviours, incapable of saying a word as I vomited water, Findekáno and Artanis still holding me, for my ankles, my knees had melted.
My vision still blurred, I looked up: to Nolofinwë's eyes, to the question burning on his lips. In choked words I spoke; but he heard.
"They won't…come back…"
Perhaps I fainted then; perhaps I dreamt of his scream. Perhaps no voice of Vala, Man and Elf can hold such pain, and only in hallucination could one hear it. But my spirit knows that when I folded in Artanis' arms, my strength exhausted, I still could discern; and that it is no dream my memory of Nolofinwë as he advanced in the water, as clawing at the Sea he cried, and in his cry were anguish and wrath, and rejected love.
But his pain and his cry were drowned by a fell wind.
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.