Tainted Light: 18. Ice

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18. Ice

We know the manner of Elenwë's death from HoME. To try and reconcile the different chronologies that Tolkien gives us of the Battle Under Stars and the rising of the Sun and Moon has proved an impossible task; eventually, with the help of Dawn, who is an expert in such things, we have reached a compromise and tailored a timeline for this chapter. Enjoy.

Chapter 17

Ice

For a long moment none of us spoke; for a long moment the whole of Nolofinwë's host remained still and silent on the shore, their eyes fixed on the lights of Fëanáro's fleet fast retreating. Word was passed then, and swiftly, like a bitter fruit that one shares not to bear its savour alone. Kind news treads heavy and slow, it reaches one like honey that is spilt, advancing but an inch at a time; but ill news is a raven with bronze wings, that never tires, and flies light and fast upon the wind. For one moment more, all were silent; and then came the wailing.

Like lost seagulls, like abandoned children the Noldorin Elves cried, their hands held out to those who could no longer see them, no longer help them. To those who had left them behind. All loyalty broken, all friendship forgotten on that black day; and laying as I did on the cold sand I watched them as their faults and their doom fell upon them, for they were now truly alone, their home barred to them, those who had led them to this land departed without them. And pity should have touched me then; pity for them, and for myself. But numbness was over me, a thick cloak covering my mouth; and I said nothing.

Artanis held me in her arms; and she did not wail, she did not cry. For a moment in her eyes rage and wrath were awakened, and hatred that had been nourished on suspicion alone then grew never again to die; fed on the truth of that cold betrayal, of that pitiless damnation. Fed on the bitterness of the hour where all of her fears became true. She was silent; her lips tightening, steel filling her eyes. Biting back every word of anger, for anger was a luxury not to be afforded when all our hopes had died.

Her fingers sank into my flesh, and iron rang into her voice when she said: "Silmë, stand up."

Feebly, I shook my head. No bone and no sinew left in my tired flesh; the Sea a promise of painful but final rest. Like Mìriel, I was empty. No fire left, nor will. Just this tiredness.

Artanis heeded me not.

"I said, stand up."

It was she who drew me upright, her nails digging deep marks into my skin, her eyes daring me to fall again. I remained standing. Even a childish defiance would have been past my reach.

Nolofinwë was still in the water, his hands clenched into fists; his eyes dampened flames. His scream had died; his pain had not. Like a dragon, it clawed at him, it would not let go. Artanis reached him with heavy steps, splashing in the water like a dying animal. But her voice was firm when she lay a hand upon his shoulder.

"Uncle."

For a long moment it looked like he had not heard her. For a long moment his eyes did not abandon the horizon, the departing ships one last flicker of the lamps before they disappeared into the mist. When he turned to her it was as if a veil had fallen into his eyes; a deep chasm opened by a knife's stroke. But Artanis would not allow him to fall into such a grief. Not now.

"We must cross the Ice."

"We cannot."

A tired voice; an obvious answer. Around us, the Noldor sitting on the sand, silent tears now digging silvery streaks on  their cheeks.

"We must."

Adamant into her voice; the same certainty that sparkled in Fëanáro's will. But Nolofinwë's irises were clouded, and faded.

"We could go back."

"I shall not. I made my choice; now I will not beg."

Without another word she strode ashore, her pace brisk. Her beautiful face contracted halfway between anger and pain. Like a bird of prey, she looked around with hungry eyes. Seeking a way out of this limbo where no choice had been left.

"Findaráto."

His arms had been around a fallen Elf, his soothing voice had consoled her despair. Now he rose at his sister's call.

"Help me rouse them. We must go on."

"You mean…?"

"The Helcaraxë is the only way."

"Yes."

The same wisdom; the same will. Ere he began Daro looked to me.

"Silmë?"

"She will be well."

A sharp glance, cast my way. As if defying me to challenge her words. Slowly, I nodded. The only allegiance I could not have betrayed: that to her, and to myself. As they organized the host I stood aside. I had no baggage left, no horse. Just my tired, numbed limbs, and the soaked clothes the wind blew against me. It was cold. My aching skin was the last part of me left alive.

Sitting before the Sea I watched the rollers come to die at my feet, the black water fringed with icy foam. Its delicate lacework draped the pebbles like a shawl. Even here there was beauty. Perhaps the One could look down upon us and recognize in our solitude His purpose, His design. But as I looked around me I could not. All I saw was loneliness in the place where all things we had valued ended, and lost themselves.

My fingers, when they rose to hold my face, were a cold touch. I looked at them as if I could not recognize them, as I had looked at them when the carriage had brought me back from Valmar after Finwë's death. A few days before. The wounds upon them had not yet healed, their margins were scarlet and raw. Upon the third finger of my left hand, dulled in the weak reverberation of the torchlight, my ring. Slowly, I caressed it. It was cold and hard beneath my fingertips, a memory made of stone. Silent tears fell from my eyes, they blurred my vision, hiding the sharpness of the night like a merciful veil.

The coldness outside, the emptiness within. Two faces of the same coin. My hands abandoned in my lap, I looked to the black, wished I could melt into it. No more pain. Just a dreamless, endless sleep. I did not think of Maitimo. There was no need. My spirit was torn, one jagged wound burning for his loss. In a corner sat the conscience of the rightness of my choice, a small voice telling me even now that disgust at my cowardice would have been harder to bear than pain. But it was no consolation; just another, sharp absence against which to cut myself.

I did not hear him approaching, I did not turn when eventually I recognized his steps. I did not expect him to speak; and truly he did not. Silently, his gestures curt, he bent over me, letting his cloak enwrap my shoulders. With brisk movements his fingers settled it better, they fastened it beneath my chin. It was only when I heard his steps leaving, his quick, unthinking pace, that I turned to watch Findekáno walking fast to rejoin the host. He did not look back.

Slowly, I turned again to the Sea, to its unbroken surface whose voice was a whisper upon the shingles, a murmur among the sand. A lightless, hopeless night stared back.

*** 

Artanis came to me when the host had already begun to march, in her hand a torch held high. She made no comment upon the cloak, no comment upon my swollen eyes. Her own told me she would shed no tears. There was a hardness now to her jaw, like a chain settling it more tightly against her rigid neck. This new bitterness she would never lose. She offered me her hand, and I accepted it.

Slowly the column moved, and we made our way to its head, where Nolofinwë opened the march, leading the rest. At the close were Findekáno  and Findaráto, making sure that no one strayed. My eyes sought my cousin, but he would not look at me. He carried a blanket around his shoulders now, fastened with a brooch that shone preposterously bright against the coarse fabric, at the light of the torches. Another memento from a world we had lost.

Nolofinwë spoke not when we reached him, he stepped slightly aside to make way for us. His pace was that, slow and heavy, of one who nurses a grievous wound. His eyes were black now, black unbroken; in them his mourning like a sunken wreck beneath the surface. A cold season covered his beauty with the trappings of frost. Anairë had not come with us, she had remained behind, filling the void of their house in Tirion with unanswered calls. Perhaps the women of the Noldorin were right; perhaps no love could be worth this sacrifice. The blood of the Teleri, and now this.

But even as my reason recognized such truth my split heart throbbed, and I knew that no mercy could have saved me from this doom. All of my choices I would have taken anew, again and again, even if I had known that they would have led to this abandon that smelled of death. The greater price that Artanis had foreseen for me had come; with each step I took I paid it. And looking at Nolofinwë I knew that in such a mourning I was not alone.

There are many kinds of love with which to be blessed; many kinds of love with which to be cursed. My steps lengthening, matching my cousin's, I walked on.

Beneath our feet the sand became harder, the last of the pebbles froze. The cold closed itself around our throats, and our remaining horses neighed feebly, as if they knew what lay ahead. We had reached the ice.

Artanis did not hesitate, she opened the way into its blinding white, among its hard sheets as clear as water. We followed her, our memories a burden heavier than our bodies as we left the last of Valinor behind. Looking back, the host of the Noldor was a tired snake slithering slowly across the plain, their torches weak defences against that forsaken night.

The fires of Fëanáro's ships tinged the sky with blood on the far shores of Middle-earth.

***

Not many accounts have been written of the crossing of the Helcaraxë; not many tales are told of its endless pain. Not many; for it is a memory that burns with frost the minds of those who were there to live it, a memory tainted and stained with the empty eyes of those whose bodies were left behind us in the march. No, not many words shall I say of it; and in my mind such passage is but a remembrance of cruel white.

No animal, no plant could live there, for the power of the Grinding Ice far exceeded its simple inhospitality; and its cold was like a living thing, a prying animal whose fingers and paws probed and wounded our skin. No heat could be found in the flame of our torches; no heat in the frantic movement of our bodies starving for warmth. And after a few days our steps became heavy, and those who lay down to sleep would not awake.

It was then that we knew of another death, death by cold that came like the illusion of a pleasant slumber; death with muffled steps and soft hands taking away our breath if we dared stop. Death wandering transparent and fine, like an unquiet spirit haunting our steps as we walked; death talking of other worlds, of rest and untroubled dreams. Many gave such a death their hands in pledge; and they lay down upon the white.

The horses died first; one last, inaudible neighing, one last appeal against such an unkind fate. Then their legs, once strong in canter as in rest, would bend, and they would lie down closing their eyes like black pearls in the unrelenting white of ice and snow. Their great hearts would stop, and if their masters shed tears at their departure the drops turned to diamonds of frost upon their skin, breaking it.

And then, after three days of march, for the first time some did not rise when called, their forms abandoned upon their cloaks sprayed with frozen dew, their eyes open, looking at the stars. The name of Elbereth on their lips one last prayer. Naked was the sky above the Helcaraxë, for in its cold no mist could gather; and the heavens were a vault of crystal sealed above our heads. The stars gems woven of unshed tears. The eyes of Varda watching our progress with distant pity; leaving us to the fate we had chosen.

We did not close the eyelids of those we left behind; we took their cloaks, their shawls to warm the living. When we looked one last time at them, their skin was pale, alabaster untouched and pure, beauty Arda took back with fingers of ice. Their spirits had fled, in the shadow of Mandos they abided, knowing nothing of what those who remained suffered.

All this I watched with numbed eyes; all this in my mind passed like a fleeting cloud. And Helcaraxë was to me like the place where all illusions were lost, where no dream could survive. Truth had waited for us beneath the cover of the snow, truth had come to us, and it spoke of a lonely death. Had I been alone I would have lain down with those who stayed behind, and watched the stars circling above my head, my eyes open until a starker truth would fill them. It would have been sweet to do; it would have meant laying aside a burden I could not carry. The last gift to the Eldar when their eternity becomes too harsh.

It was not his absence alone that I mourned; it was not the remembrance of his touch, his laughter alone that I missed. No, even if every step brought back a new memory to sting and bite, a new burn upon my charred heart. For after twenty-six years of the Trees I had come to know Maitimo like my own self; for even now I could guess the thoughts of his spirit, the beatings of his heart. His pain, his confusion and guilt I felt upon me; his anger, his frustration mingled with my own, and in our shared pain the cold was a temptation to which I would surrender. Truly then it was revealed foolish the law of the Valar that says that it is the union of bodies alone that can wed two spirits; untrue it was shown their belief that only in  the making of new life shall souls mingle. For while I was parted from Maitimo, still I was with him; and his grief and mine were new ice upon my frozen heart.

But Artanis watched me, and her keen eyes guessed which thoughts inhabited me; and never would she leave my side, her hand upon mine as she led me on. Her voice echoed fair and clear over the ice, a call to go forward, beyond our pain; and her body sustained mine when my steps would falter.

"You shall not die."

A vow she made through gritted teeth.

Her stubborn friendship, her unrelenting will held me to life; her eyes told me she would not take my loss. For love of Artanis I bit my lips that the cold had cracked; for her affection I slept standing not to fall into the sweetness of the slumber of the ice. And when others would fall to their knees, and refuse to rise, then a new strength would be born in me as a new flicker of doubt and sorrow crossed her blue irises; and with a voice I did not feel as mine I would incite others to go on on the same path I would forsake. The spark of joy in my friend's eyes when another would find the strength to progress was the last fair thing I had left in Eä.

No account of time could be taken in that eternal night under the stars; but perhaps no more than ten or fifteen days were necessary to us to cross the boundless bulk of the ice. In one hour we shall not forget we looked to the horizon, and it was black; opaque, unyielding land where no more ice we would find. And then our heart rejoiced, remembering again how to beat in thrill; our blood warming for a brief moment our white cheeks.

It was then, as our goal lay close to our fingertips, that Helcaraxë sneered; it was then that it revealed to us that gentle death by cold was not the only weapon it would use against the host of the Noldor. And again the wrath of Arda itself fell upon the Kinslayers.

***

Joy had run through the host at the sight of the land, Endor solid and dark growing closer with each step; and no one more would lay down, not now that all our efforts were woven together at the approach of our heart's desire. The column spread like a fan, and friend encouraged friend to walk faster; for now the cold relented as the mainland neared, and the ice beneath our numbed feet yielded more and more. An unwilling joy had curved Artanis' lips as she counted those who had come; much less than had left Araman under the dark omen of Fëanáro's pyre, but many more than any could have guessed or hoped for. And her smile touched me, like a ray of light on a sullen day; and I clasped her hand, a similar smile forcing itself upon my lips.

"It is to you that we owe this victory."

"But not to me alone."

"In the end, Artanis, of no ungratefulness you shall be accused; for the fabric of kings has shown in you as we passed the ice, and your ambitions prove legitimate at last."

No answer she made, her smile dying; bitterness erasing it as she remembered whom, now, would be called King among the Elves. But ere Fëanáro could cast once more his shadow upon that day, small hands covered our own; and the trill of a child's voice came sweet to our ears.

"Aunt Nerwen! Aunt Silmë! Is that Middle-earth at last?"

Together we bent above the smiling face of Itarillë, Turukáno's daughter that had  come with his spouse and him across the Ice; and her face was lovely, if raw with cold. I remembered then, as if after many years, what it is to look at innocence untainted; and Artanis' voice was gentle when she answered: "Yes, it is. A few more hours, no more."

A new smile blossomed upon the child's face, and calling to her mother she ran to her. At her passage many more recalled then what it is to be joyful, like children, for few of them had come on our voyage, and fewer still had survived; but in Itarillë's silver voice the Noldor recognized the promise of a future we might still conquer. Elenwë held out her arms to her daughter, her eyes seeking her husband, that walked with his brothers; and in that hour the spell had been broken, and our doom left behind once more. We should have known then what price would forever be asked for the joy of the Noldor; but together, one last time, we smiled. Too close was safety now to think again of peril. And when ice cracked beneath Elenwë's foot for a long moment our stunned spirits would not believe in what had happened.

The Helcaraxë was not a fixed land, a tongue of earth rooted into the bottom of Arda; but rather a shifting snake of floating ice, a string that tied Aman and Endor according to the caprice of season and tide. When we crossed it it had just frozen over, for a cold wind had been blowing, last harbinger of the dead season; and in its middle the cold itself had held it together, making it as solid as dry land. But in the short days of our passage the wind had died; and now the closeness to the land changed the ice, it made it treacherous. Suddenly, under our weight, it gave way; and  Elenwë and all those who stood around her disappeared when the white fangs of the ice opened, swallowing them.

A cold silence followed their disappearance, a cold silence Turukáno's scream filled with anguish; and the ground slipped beneath my feet as with Artanis I ran to the borders of the caved hole, as I sank my hands into icy water reaching in vain for a living Elf. Unthinkingly, the whole host had flocked there; and growling ominously the ice crumbled yet more beneath our feet. With rushing hands we clawed back to what remained of the ground, and many of us achieved again safety; but those who still had not been rescued were now forever lost.

Looking around, I searched for the saved; knowing well that those I would not find I would not see again, not until my spirit should seek asylum into the Halls of Dead. Turukáno stood aside, Itarillë held to his breast; rocking her back and forth, warming her with his arms. But his eyes did not look at her, and his lips were tight; for his irises were fixed on the gaping mouth that had opened into the ice, to the water where Elenwë's last memory was the shadow of her Vanyarin hair beneath the surface. Lost.

For many days now I had walked within this white death, for many days now I had desired for myself its kiss; but now that hope was reborn this new stroke was too heavy. And as Artanis staggered to her cousin, even her sure feet made uncertain by this last blow, I sat down in dazed silence upon the melting ice; and holding my knees to my breast I closed my eyes. Tears burnt them; but tears would not suffice now. Maitimo, screamed my spirit, Maitimo; his touch his arms his heart his skin…wandering my mind lost itself on the edge of this new void, its last defenses falling; any allegiance forgotten in this renewed pain. But as my soul tottered on the brink of falling a hand brought it back to this hour; firm upon my shoulder, and heavy. I turned: and Findekáno sat beside me without looking at me.

"Do not surrender now. It would be an unworthy defeat."

Surprise widened my eyes; and uncertain was my voice.

"You speak as if you knew of my grief."

"You were not alone in being betrayed."

His eyes met mine then; and hatred had disappeared from their depth. They were mirrors of my own; but lost in bitterness uncountable in disappointment and betrayal. The words came to my lips, the last balm I had to give.

"He knew not what his father meant to do. Ere he discovered his treason he asked when we would bring you across."

Truth is heavy, I have said that. It fell in  the black pool of his eyes, its consequences rippling in his choked voice. Suppressed emotion that pain marred.

"And yet he did nothing."

You cannot understand, I would have screamed then; but something in his gaze held me at bay. The bottom I could not understand, the roots of his ancient grudge against me, the source of this new shadow I could not name. He rose; and having risen he offered me his hand.

"Yes, an unworthy defeat. On we must march, until we reach Endor." I took his hand, his strength drawing me to my feet. "To meet the fruits of our choices, and their bitter ends."

As he let go of my hand, briefly, he squeezed it. Why this forgiveness, I would have asked. Why the sundering that preceded it. But I said nothing. I clasped his fingers back. Fino again, my cousin, my friend. No reason I needed; no reason I asked.

Artanis had by then regained her control, she and Findaráto gathered the strayed host. Nolofinwë incited them on the last stretch. Side by side Findekáno  and I reached them, raising from the ground those still prostrated. Soon all were reunited; and the march resumed at Artanis' clear call. Turukáno  looked back once; and even the shadow of Elenwë beneath the water had disappeared.

Middle-earth drew ever closer, but now it promised us no joy.

***

Our journey to Endor was over as a steep chain of hills rose before us, broken teeth fencing off the land we had strived to attain. The ice died ingloriously in muddled pools on a naked plain before them, and our feet were dragged in it in one last effort ere we arrived. But as we climbed the hillside a new will was born in us, hard and cutting and clear; a stubborn pride for having come thus far, and at such difficulty. And when we reached the peak, Nolofinwë nodded to his standard-bearer; the colours of his House unfurling as musicians blew trumpets whose call echoed loud, unchallenged over the hills.

Middle-earth under the stars stretched at our feet; and Artanis' hand clasped mine, her withheld breath telling me of her emotion. Dark trees rose tall in the vale that we would have to cross; jagged mountains in the distance defied an easy passage. A silent, a stark beauty there was to this new world, a beauty unlike the easy grace of Valinor; but a beauty that we could conquer and possess. Endor had been made for us: and the Valar had forsaken it. The first step we took in it reclaimed it for the Eldar that had at long last come back.

Slowly the host followed us, aching feet choosing a careful passage among jarred stones, and when we reached again the plain without need for orders we stopped, the Noldor looking around in wordless wonder. Finding eventually ease for comfort and grief.

"We make camp."

Nolofinwë's order was passed rapidly, acknowledged by a grateful murmur. We had passed the Ice. The very lament of our muscles and bones was proof of our undaunted life. Middle-earth that we had finally reached would cradle our wounds, give us time, now, to heal. Bonfires were lit among the trees, like flowers of flame opening beneath a sky now mercifully veiled with torn clouds. I shared a light meal, all that remained of our provisions, with Artanis and Findaráto; but my mind was far from them, my eyes wandering above the trees, my glance a bird that did not know where to alight. Thinking back to the wish that all that had happened had turned in a regret that scorched.

Upon this new land, Alcániel, I would first tread with you.

Grief is a conjurer. Out of a simple memory he knows how to weave a torment that only unconsciousness can put to rest. His smiling face a seal upon my dreams, I fell asleep.

Wakefulness came with frightened cries. For a moment more I lingered on  the edge of sleep, wishing not to go back so soon, but a hand was shaking me, an urgent voice calling me back to reality.

"Silmë!"

I opened my eyes upon a world at war.

Tired Noldorin Elves unsheathed their swords, the women gathering the few children, the host gathering together for protection. For a moment I could not understand the menace; for a moment I doubted of the reality of what I saw, laying the blame on the memory of the Slaying of Alqualondë still raw upon my bruised conscience.

But as the enemy our sentinels had announced with angered trumpets came crashing out of the trees I knew that Middle-earth was showing us nightmares of its own. For the first time then I saw the Orcs.

Many years have passed since that day, centuries have slipped away on the face of Arda, and many things have changed. Like us, the Orcs have waned, their Elvish roots betrayed in their bond to our own existence. Weaker they have grown, and smaller, pitiful creatures their masters must augment with the use of shady arts. Monsters they are now; as in the eyes of the Aftercomers they have always been. But the eyes of Men are weak, and easily deceived. To Eldarin eyes the crime Morgoth had wrought in ages past was written clearly upon these creatures' faces.

For when they came out of the forest in our first hours in Endor the Orcs for which we had as yet no name still bore upon them, however tainted, the far memory of their roots;  in their clumsy steps still lingering a shade of their lost, marred grace. In their eyes, made yellow and narrow, eyes of beasts, still were the ashes of the spark that had once burnt.

The harsh tongue in which they cried as they assaulted us we could not understand, but in their hands were raw weapons, ugly to see, and whose metal shone dull, unpolished; but whose cut was as fine as a silk thread, whose blackened blade sliced through Elvish flesh in the evil triumph of their coarse war cries. We knew not what these creatures were; and what of them we could guess filled us with pity and dread. But the exhaustion of the Helcaraxë fell from our shoulders as with what weapons we had we defended ourselves; and new life flooded our pale countenance with each stroke.

The interregnum was over. Arda and its harsh truth had claimed us back.

The battle did not last long; our despair, that our passage through the ice had honed to a fine peak, crushing the mindless brutality of our enemies, unleashing grief and mourning in violent outcry. Findekáno led the warriors in pursuit of the fleeing creatures, his cry savage and fierce, a challenge beneath the silent heavens of Middle-earth. Trumpets echoed again, calling each other among the trees; filling the hearts of those who fled with dread. The Noldor have come, the high trills proclaimed; the Noldor have come.

I met Artanis' eyes as the host regrouped, the few casualties gathered together with hurting care. A price in blood that already this new land exacted; new horrors that it put before our eyes. But it was to the creatures that had attacked us that my mind went.

"What do you think they were?"

Her eyes were clouded, worried.

"They said Morgoth had wrought for himself fortresses in Endor beneath the earth; they said that there his mind was bent to the marring of a creation he could not enrich. But what he did, the Powers would not say."

"But you too saw it, I am sure."

"Yes. Upon them was our same print. Like a memory of what we were ere we crossed the Sea to Aman…do you remember the ancient stories, of a Hunter that took our kin from their grassy abode upon the hills?"

Slowly, I nodded. A design and a guess entered my mind, and scarcely could words frame what was my suspect. Artanis and I shared a look, our minds joining in a blinding guess; but before we could speak a different surprise filled our faces, and together we turned to the forest. For from its depth a different call had answered Findekáno 's trumpets, and hunter's horns blew dark. Horns that I had heard sounded on the last day of Valinor's light.

"The Fëanárions…"

Ere the echo of my voice died Artanis had turned, her light feet fast upon the ground, her face distorted in anger deeper than her cold countenance could have betrayed. A desire for vengeance deformed her features, a biting need to pay back her sorrow with bleeding pain. My heart beating to a different rhythm, I followed her.

The horns blew again as we ran, a confirmation of what otherwise I would have thought to be just a fevered dream, an exalted concoction from a mind already pushed to its limit. But my ears had not deceived me: truly these were the horns of the sons of Fëanáro, gifts from the Lord Oromë whose sound was deeper than that of any other horn. Artanis had always been faster than me; her dress a white stain before me, I followed her through the wood, my blood thumping in my ears, filling them as if with the roar of the Sea. Until we came to a clearing where all sound of horns and trumpets had stopped.

Findekáno and his warriors faced with proud countenance the mounted Elves before them; their haggard faces badges of valour before which the brilliant armour of the others faded. Leading the forces of the House of Fëanáro was one I recognized despite his tall, plumed helm; and my heart sank in disappointment it guiltily denied as Carnistir removed his helmet.

"You passed the Ice."

His words were quiet; his voice as dark as I remembered it. In his black eyes respect and regret mingling. Findekáno 's answer was just as subdued, his voice as strong as the pillars of Eä.

"Yes."

Carnistir's horse neighed, unquiet; its master calmed it before saying, his voice even lower, but firm: "I knew not of what my father had decided. Had he asked my counsel, I would not have agreed." A bitter smile drew his lips into a taut line. "But I imagine this makes no difference to those who have perished."

"No. It does not."

Their eyes met, a silent tension between them; a mutual understanding still marred by spilt blood. Just then Nolofinwë, followed by the last party of the pursuers, came into the clearing, and the sight of the Fëanárions he acknowledged with cold words.

"Nephew."

"Uncle."

Again, the horse neighed.

"You destroyed the creatures we pursued. I thank you for it."

"You know what they are?"

"Servants of Morgoth. Their nature is not clear to us."

Nolofinwë remained silent for a long moment ere he asked the question that I knew had burnt his tongue.

"Your father?"

"Morgoth's forces engaged us in battle. His stronghold is in the North, past an empty plain. In his service he has demons of fire."

We had heard tales of the corrupted Maiar that had served Melkor in his first rebellion; but in Carnistir's face was written the full power they could unleash.

"My father and brothers I left there many hours ago. I was sent to make sure Morgoth's fleeing rearguard did not cut us out. They must have found you on their path."

Nolofinwë heeded not his explanation; in his face only one desire clear, his eyes clouding, but steel entering his voice when he said: "You shall lead me to your father."

It was no question; but a demand. Carnistir's face hardened, for his spirit was proud and harsh, and Fëanáro alone could command him without suffering the penalty of his anger. But guilt haunted him, too, and with bitter voice he replied: "It is easy to guess that were I to refuse, still you would follow us with dogged steps. Take one of the horses the fallen left behind; ride back with us." He put on his helmet again, and his last words were muffled, but still audible. "For between two such brothers not even a nephew and son can guess what new sorrow will come."

Findekáno  was ordered back, with the host; and he obeyed his father's wish, his warriors' last glance to the Fëanárions an embittered and suspicious one, as if they had been ill at ease with leaving with them their lord. Artanis then stepped out of the trees, as the three retainers Nolofinwë had chosen to ride with him mounted; and she faced her cousin with the same determination her uncle had shown.

"You can spare me a horse, Carnistir."

He laughed; from beneath his helmet, a hollow sound.

"None shall keep you back, Nerwen. Many we have left on the plain; too many horses are now without riders."

His eyes traveled past her, upon me that, silent, still lingered beneath the trees.

"You left us in a hurried manner, Silmë; but I have long since ceased being surprised at your changes of mood."

His words stung; but no answer I could made, for with a harsh cry he had commanded his warriors forward. Artanis waited for me to me, too, to mount. We rode in silence, barely taking in the forests of Endor that slipped by, our steeds running close to Nolofinwë's own. Keeping together; the warriors of the House of Fëanáro leaving us space, the distance between us the hollow the betrayal of the ships had dug.

My heart beat slowly; knowing not what to expect. Once more Nolofinwë went to meet his brother, once more he went to fight his losing battle; and now, as then, our destinies hung in the balance. None could forget Fëanáro's betrayal; and yet in Nolofinwë's features was written his pain at the sundering of the Noldor. Was it vengeance and pride that drove him, or still his listless, impossible need? None could tell; perhaps not even himself. And I was driven by a kin desire; one that throbbed within my chest, my wound still unhealed bleeding anew. At the end of this road lay Maitimo; a dagger against which I would again cut myself.

And yet a call I could only obey.

For long hours we rode, in our silence different wishes, different thoughts conflicting, until before us the naked saddle of a mountain pass came in sight, and Carnistir stopped.

"Beyond that mountain is the plain. It's not long now…"

But his word trailed away as, upon that pass, there came a strange light: the sapphire rays of Fëanáro's Lamps burning bright among the rocks. Carnistir frowned; and digging his heels in its flanks he urged his horse forward.

We followed, the animals choosing their path carefully upon the steep hillside. The horns blew again, announcing our arrival; but the trumpets that answered them blew subdued, and mournful. The cold knowledge of an ill omen seemed to seize Carnistir, for there was a quality of despair in the haste with which he climbed the last distance to reach the pass; I turned, seeking Artanis' eyes, and they were full of darkness.

A darkness nourished by the presentiment of the sight we met as we reached Fëanáro.

Later we would learn of his last battle, Dagor-nuin-Giliath under the stars; later songs would be made of his duel with Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs: for Fëanáro fell in the glory he had promised Mandos with proud words. But then we knew nothing of this, and to see one so mighty laid down against the rock, his sons around him, knowing his hour drew near, was pain to seize even those who had ever born him little love. And Nolofinwë dismounted, even as Carnistir cried out to his father; rushing to his side as the son of Finwë remained where he was, as tree felled by sudden blow. But turning Fëanáro saw him; and upon his pale lips bitter laughter came.

"So far you have come, brother! And now you shall have your victory, for you will see me die while you still stand. But worry not: I leave enough of woe in this life to last you for many ages. Look!"

Curufinwë sustained him, and with effort Fëanáro turned his face, looking past his sons. The pass overlooked a grassy plain, and at its horizon  a dark mist hung, enshrouding tall towers. Taller than the Mindon Eldaliéva had been; but cruelly shaped like fangs that hungrily tore at the night sky.

"Look! There lies the Enemy, the Enemy that has, at last, stolen even my life. Fight him, then! But know, all of you know that as I have fallen you shall fall. He is one of the Valar. This world they shaped to their whim. In this world they cannot be beaten."

Countless wounds had torn his chest, and the singeing of the fire of Morgoth's demons was upon his hair and garment. But his face was still beautiful; and the light of his eyes terrible. For prophecy was in his words; and now turning away from Nolofinwë he looked to his sons. Maitimo stood closest to him, etched on his face unspeakable pain; and in his eyes a sparkle of the same light.

"Morgoth, eternal foe, thrice I curse you even as I lie dying! For the stars above our heads and the Sea that we crossed to come here, for the life you have taken from my father and me! May Fëanáro's curse haunt your steps to the edge of the Void; may the Silmarils you took unlawfully burn you! May my Oath ever deny you peace, until the end of Time shall find you whimpering on your knees, begging for your release!"

With one last effort Fëanáro straightened, and his hand grasped Maitimo's right; his eyes like stars fixed upon his sons, as he uttered his last command: "Sons of Fëanáro! In you alone shall live my fire. You I bind to my doom; to you I leave in legacy my quest, and the duty of my vengeance!" He fell again, his body heavy upon the rock, and this time he would not rise again. "Woe unto world's end."

Like a whisper his last words; like a breath of fire. One last spark before the flame goes out. And then his eyes shone, as clear as diamonds in the bluish light of the lamps; and with one last breath his life escaped his lips.

Thus perished Fëanáro, son of Finwë, greatest and most terrible amongst the Elves; thus his flame disappeared from a world that could not have sustained it. And as his spirit abandoned it, his material form withered and burnt, consumed by its own fire; ashes that a sudden wind brought away like smoke. A gasp of surprise came from all, and those of his house cried out in dismay and pain; but silent was Maitimo when he rose, tears in his eyes, but steel in his voice when unsheathing his sword he repeated: "Woe unto world's end."

His father's legacy that he took upon himself, until the breaking of Eä.

Our eyes met then, understanding and sundering made into rock; between us the scattered ashes that had been Fëanáro, the uttered words that had chained us in inescapable doom. In my heart the conscience, now final, that he would not walk out of this shadow until his life should last.

Artanis seized my arm then, in her fingers a tension made of steel. In her eyes the far remembrance of tears as hard as crystal.

"Silmë. Come."

Looking back to him, again; the dread of that hour, the weight of that Oath upon us. In Artanis' words the unspoken certainty of an ill fate.

"Silmë."

Without a word Nolofinwë had mounted again, biting back his grief, his loss as he spurred forward his horse. In Artanis' voice now a low command.

"Silmë!"

Taking back me at least from this bitter doom. Slowly, Maitimo nodded. His eyes were empty. And one last time I listened to my cousin and friend; one last time I ignored the need that bit my spirit, devouring it. I took my horse, and rode away.

As we left the pass behind us the sky was tinged with silver and white: in the forsaken land of Middle-earth, herald of the Valar that this world had shaped, the first rising of the Moon.

 


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: Aredhel Serindë

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Romance

Rating: General

Last Updated: 09/29/10

Original Post: 04/22/10

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