2. The Uncrossed Gulf, 1
'Across the gulf that divides our kindreds!' said Andreth. 'Is there no bridge but mere words?' And then she wept again.
'There may be. For some. I do not know,' Finrod said. 'The gulf, maybe, is between our fates rather, for else we are close akin, closer than any other creatures in the world. Yet perilous is it to cross a gulf set by doom; and should any do so, they will not find joy upon the other side, but the griefs of both. So I deem.'
(Athrabeth, p. 323, HoMe, Volume 10, Morgoth's Ring)
Knowledge of the Athrabeth and my fic 'Fell Fire' before reading this story is recommended, though not strictly necessary.
The Black Foe has attacked after years of peace. A great battle rages close to our homes. My nephew Bregolas, lord of the House of Bëor, has taken a great part of his warriors to hasten to the aid of the Dorthonian Elven princes, the sons of Finarfin. His second son, Angrod, and the youngest, Aegnor, the Sharp Flame. My beloved.
He will fall in this battle, fighting in the forefront, heedless of peril, reckless, perhaps seeking danger beyond need. When his flame dies his spirit will flee to the Halls of Mandos, to remain there until the end of Arda. For Aegnor loves me, and will never cease to love me, and therefore he will not leave the Houses of Awaiting to see the bright stars crown the hair of any Elven maid.
Words like these his eldest brother Finrod spoke to me, half a lifetime past, and I knew and know them to be true. He sees Aegnor with the eyes of his brotherly love, and he has the ability of the Eldar to sight ripples of grief beyond where the river of time bends away from mortal view. By speaking thus, he tried to bridge the gulf between Elves and Men to his best ability, building pillars of comfort and friendship, understanding and wisdom, hope, and the pity that is near to love.
Yet there was no crossing of his bridge possibly for me. Too many of his piers were dead wood, brittle, unable to support the weight of my bitter grudge. For I was fourty-eight years of age, and turning into a hag. I still have to do my best not to be wroth at him. 'I fear the truth will not satisfy thee,' he told me, all those years past. 'The Eldar have one kind, and ye another; and each judges the others by themselves - until they learn, as do few.'*
Perhaps he deemed himself to be among the few. Perhaps he had indeed learned a little - which would be more than I did, for I have always remained envious of the Elvish longevity and I still fail to fathom their sadness.
Yet whatever Finrod had learned, he missed one point, and so I misled him. There is a darkness in humans, and he who is said to have seduced our race in days long past was always a master of lies.
A young maid I was when I met Aegnor, brother of Finrod. Fair and tall he was, stiff locks of hair rising from his head like golden flames as he rode along. He seemed hardly older than I was, not yet five-and-twenty, and at first I kept him for a mortal, one of the people of Hador Lorindol of Dor-lómin.
Peace reigned in those days, and women could walk the woods of Dorthonion without dread. I was alone that day, roaming the high hills and singing a song when he chanced upon me. Instead of following the main road he rode down the forest path that would lead him to the silver-blue crystal of lake Aelin and the dwellings of my kin. In a clear voice he greeted me, asking me how far it was to the halls of Boron, whom he wanted to visit.
'Not far,' I told him. 'You will reach them long before mid-day!' I drew near to have a closer look at him, for his voice had stirred something inside me. It was when he gazed down on me from his dappled grey and I met his eyes that I saw he was no mortal man. I had not encountered many Elves in my life, but enough to know at once that the rider before me belonged to that undying people. My heart began to beat faster. The Elves are fair to behold, and he was more fair thay any, I deemed. Moreover, he had to be a Noldo, an exile from the Blessed Realm of Valinor, for it is said that only they who dwelled there have such piercingly bright eyes. I stood there, staring, and smiling like a fool.
He returned the smile. 'Mae govannen, adanwen*. I am heading for Boron's halls. Do I guess rightly that you belong to his people?'
'You do,' I replied, adding 'my lord,' as his looks were lordly indeed. 'Do you wish me to show you the way?'
He shook his head. 'I know the way. I have visited them before - when they were Baran's halls,' he added when he saw my surprised look. 'You were not yet born then, I think.'
'Baran was still among the living when I was born,' I murmured, taken aback. 'But I do not remember him.'
A silence fell, which he broke by saying: 'You are quite far from home here. My mound can carry us both, if you wish to return.'
I did, now. 'If it please you, lord.'
He inclined his head. When I stepped closer he bent forward, took me under my arms and lifted me effortlessly to sit before him on the horse. He rode barebacked, as most of the Eldar do, and it was good to feel the animal's strong body beneath me, almost as good as it was to feel the Elflord's strong arm supporting me.
The horse set into motion without the rider having to urge it on, or so it seemed; such is the way Elves have with their steeds.
'Do you speak to it in your mind?' I inquired.
Not needing to ask what I meant he replied: 'Speaking is not the word. My friend here knows what I want of him. But tell me your name - or no. As I am the guest I ought to name myself first. I am Aegnor, son of Finarfin, brother of Finrod of Nargothrond.'
A lord indeed, and brother to a King - for that, I knew, was what Finrod was. Though being of the line of Bëor used to make me proud, my lineage paled besides his, as I knew my mortal attractiveness must pale beside his elven-fairness. 'My name is Andreth, daughter of Boromir, Boron's eldest son.'
'Then I have found worthy company,' Aegnor commented to my surprise.
'I am but an insignificant young maiden,' I said, though among my own people I was considered thoughtful and well spoken for one of my years.
'I am young, too, according to the measure of my kindred,' he assured me - but he laid no false claim to insignificance. And I did not ask how many years he had seen, for I wished to retain the illusion that he was truly not much older than I was.
We descended the stony slope towards the glittering chill of lake Aeluin in spring. At the lakeshore, where the path turned east, the horse halted. 'Look at those choppy waves; with this wind the lake resembles the sea,' Aegnor said. 'The tang is missing, but if I close my eyes I can persuade myself that I smell it. The sun has not yet reached her highest point; shall we enjoy the beauty of Aeluin for a while?'
'How long does an Elvish while last?' I wanted to know.
His mouth curled. 'It depends. But do you know the tale of my kinsman Elu Thingol and his bride Melian of the Maiar, who are now King and Queen of Doriath?'
I shook my head, for though I knew their names, I had never heard their story.
'Let us dismount and sit down, and I shall tell it to you,' he said.
So we settled on the shore to watch the waters of Aeluin, the hills beyond, and the pale blue sky above, while the breeze ruffled our hair. I closed my eyes, but as I had never seen the sea in my short life, I could not imagine its smell. When I opened my eyes again and looked at Aegnor, he began his tale.
He spoke of Elwë, or Elu, a leader of the Telerin Elves during the great journey to Aman: how he set out one night to find his friend Finwë of the Noldor, and how passing alone through the wood of Nan Elmoth he heard the nightingales sing, and among them the most beautiful of all voices. An enchantment fell on him, and filled with wonder and desire he forgot his people and all else that was on his mind, and he pursued the sound until he was lost in the darkness beneath the trees. 'But he came at last to a glade open to the stars, and there Melian stood. Out of the darkness he looked at her, and the light of Aman was in her face.
She spoke no word; but being filled with love Elwë came to her and took her hand, and straightway a spell was laid on him, so that they stood thus while long years were measured by the wheeling stars above them; and the trees of Nan Elmoth grew tall and dark before they spoke any word.' **
Had a mortal told me such a tale, I would have disbelieved him. But as I listened to the music in the Elflord's voice and was carried along by the cadence of his words it seemed to me that I saw Elwë and Melian before my very eyes in the starlit dusk of ancient days ere Man awoke in the East of the World. I followed in Elu's footsteps while the music pulled him forward; it seemed to me that I felt his awe when he beheld the beauty of Melian in the starlit glade, and sensed her wonder at being captured by a body caught in flesh. And I knew that everything had come to pass as Aegnor told me. I marveled; it touched me deeply that one of the divine race of the Maiar should join with one of the Eruhini to share everything she had with him and bear him a child, like so many of us who are born to be women.
For that was how he concluded his story, and when the enchantment passed and I saw the teller again instead of the tale, I could only sigh wordlessly. He looked at me, seemingly earnest, but with a glint in his eyes. 'That is how long an Elvish while can last.'
That unbound my tongue; casting a glance at the sky I said: 'What spell did you lay on me? For I see that the sun has moved far past the point of mid-day now, so we must have been sitting here longer than the length of the tale seems to warrant.'
'A minor enchantment, nothing to be compared with Queen Melian's.' Aegnor rose and held out his hand to help me up. He laughed aloud now. 'My whiles fall far short of hers.'
It was his laugh that undid me.
* well met, human maid
**cursive texts taken from the Athrabeth & from the Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 'Of Thingol and Melian'.
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