3. Betrayals, Renunciations - II
—Escape — escape — yet have they not thought of that from the beginning, and found no way to it, save only one? It is bitter, bitter anguish to him that he has spent so much of his own strength on this very place, this Pit, working the foundations, crafting the structure in mind ere ever it took shape, setting hand to stone in shared labor, so much power, spent so thoughtlessly under the bright Sun, careless of need, deeming it ever to hand, ever free of renewal… Ai, if only —but it is not possible to draw back what is spent, not even in the words of unmaking can one recall it, only spend more in the destruction…
He tries, nevertheless, sending his will and his power into the close-set stones, seeking some way to call out the strength expended in the setting of them, call back, take what was given—
In greater exhaustion and greater agony still he ceases, trembling from effort, having gained naught but only lost much of what little remained, and he feels his strength ebbing from him, cold pouring into his heart, his bones, his bowels. It was pride, arrogance worthy of his adversaries, to believe himself able to count for more than his fellows in this long defeat, as it is now revealed to him to have been, that he should, perhaps, serve the Valar, even in opposition to their will — a torch not to be quenched, a weapon even as the Sickle of the Kindler, a strong and unbreaking tool in the hands of the builders of the world—
So clearly he sees it now, that which he should have seen, that which he should have been — Neither sword nor hammer to be wielded in the work of the Powers, nor even ore for the forging of them, but merely coals…
—Consume me, then, he cries, to no single Power but to all, and unhesitatingly above all, daring and presuming all in surrender, to the One — let me be spent to ash, but let me save my friend, innocent of kin-blood, that I have Doomed…
Knowing it to be impossible, he asks for it all the same, and, impossibly, is given it—
In the stillness of his defeat, in the lull of battle, between breath and breath it comes to him, the revealing: stone too lives, even as water, even as flame — no less than the green things and warm that dwell on the soft earth above it — slower even than trees, deeper than oceans, holding in heart a fire more fierce than any brief burning of fuel, the flame that in darkness is strong as the Sun's…
That is what he failed to comprehend, when he heard it, why his Naugrim teachers only shook heads and sighed and smiled at his efforts as one smiles at the skilled efforts of a child that copies exactly and without understanding the gestures of a master, producing a work of sight or sound flawless but lacking originality, not hearing the greater Song beneath it… He regrets that he knew this no sooner, but even as this flickers through his thought he recognizes that only in such extremity, his mind and spirit annealed by privation and torture into strangeness and ways of working, of escaping, that no thought unsubject to such changes and such pressures could ever mimic, only thus is the way even open to him to accept and follow—
—the strength of the living rock flows into him, changing him still more, forces that his flesh was never patterned to withstand, nor master — but he does not seek to master them, only himself, drawing in power from the stones whose ordering he ordered, replacing that which their cold has stolen from him, what hunger and horror have burnt away, letting it merge and mingle with what fragment remains to him in union strange and inexplicable yet not utterly painful, his blood beating thickly as though changed to molten rock, his muscles tightening with the slow inexorability of pyroclastic flows, the sense reversing in his blind groping of lying not beneath, but rather above the immense, unfathomable depth of Arda's foundations beneath him…
…slowly, slowly it fills him, driving out the tendrils that wrap him within and without as hot metal replaces wax in the mold, coursing into his veins, into the filigree of meat and marrow that surrounds his bones outside and in, pouring into the gaps of his mind, his thought, his self — he is glad, as never dreamed could be, that so much has been ruined, destroyed, for there is little left to displace, to resist, in his being, the treasures of memory and devising already lost into darkness, only will abiding — and this does not take place of but fuses together, as red metal with white in the forge, each soft and unsuitable for the work, so blent, yield bronze…
Still the cruel eyes are not seen yet, but he is growing blind, the glow of power drowning out all else, and he is in terror that he shall still fail, cannot know if their foe draws near — but then he feels through the stones of the floor his friend's life, as far past he can touch the river itself, and sets that fear aside. The weight of it presses him, past limits that once were, and are no longer, and still more he accepts, so much as he may, quivering in the forge-flow spilling through him — only it be enough — and then he feels the touch of cold paw on bed of stone, the heavy footfall of the wolf-demon, and it must be enough.
The struggles of his friend in raw bodily resistance against iron and evil, beyond thought or sensible purpose, touch him, but do not shatter him, do not distract him, he is as the stone that strengthens him, and no iron can resist the might of stone, slow though it be, turning in ages of inexorable heave and roll like the Sea — or fast, fast as fire racing over the land, pouring molten from the hot earth's heart, a flame, but a solid flame, rising like fountain in darkness to crash far and wide, a wave of Doom that cannot be turned aside—
So they converge, dark cold of Ice and white-hot Fire, driving together over their very prize, prey to one, precious to other, the one who would save and the one who would devour, each trampling the helpless enchained in their striving, a roaring like fire, fierce as dragons, each carried on wave of fury to the attack, the wolf in its rage at such insult, such daring, challenge to its ancient prey-right, fearlessness where fearing should tremble, crumble as mortar long-dried at knowledge of Fate — the King in anger briefer in bearing, but no less fierce for that, fury at so much taken, so much ruined in careless, mocking, meaningless destruction, so much fair, so much of labor, so much of love — this one, at least, he will not lose — shall not lose—
They hold, they contend, like mountains contending, shelf against stone-shelf in Ages-long impress, slipping like earthquake as first one gains ascendence, and now the other, but ever the Lord of Caves secures his hold, as stone imperceptibly drives from under the frozen earth, lifting through depth of cold and darkness to overset whatever resists it, pressing back as surely, inevitably as landslide—
—But he too is flesh no less than the Secondborn, not stone nor flame, truly, no more than frail fabric of earth's weaving under fang-grip, and power can only turn aside power while it lasts, and fire burns out at last, and is quenched under flood, and the poison tide that floods his veins slows him, but he does not spare strength to heal self, only sets himself the more strongly to the defeat of their Enemy's minion, until being of body no less than he, for all its well-fed might, it too breaks, vertebrae grinding like boulders, bone cracking even as his ribs give way under the jaws that crush his chest, its brutal fëa finding no joy in being so served in its turn, resisting death, yet unable to remain housed where neck is broken, spine snapped, windpipe crushed, veins torn open, quivering, stilling, cold slaver of venom gushing from its maw…
The weight of it is like weight of snowpack fallen from mountain in winter, thick fur soft on his skin where it lies on him, but so cold… He makes effort to push it from him, and is surprised to see that he has not acted on his thought… again he would roll it free of him, and again does not — and the cruel truth opens before him, like the gaping of the Pit as he was dragged hence: he has not the strength for it now. Nothing is left, he has burnt all in the fight, and cannot even seek after more now, having emptied all out, the crucible cracked, the forge-hearth gray ash, no hope of recovery, and were it only his life at the hazard, and lost so, he would laugh…
—Beren — he whispers, softest ghost of sound in shadow, hardly even himself to hear… Ice and darkness engulf him, then—
Fire in darkness — not fire as he has known it, red and yellow and hot even in seeing, but as though the brightest fire of the Sun at noon cast back by water should be flung into his prison, his tomb, white-gold and unbound to any burning thing, flame self-fed, blazing unquenchable before his eyes, that should be blind, twice-blind, for darkness and for light—
There is scarcely form in the blaze, as in the brightest of fires the shape of wood or coal is almost vanished in the flame, only force, striking aside the cold glare of eyes that bent upon him in his turn, venomed breath caressing his side as he waited alone, rejected, cast forth by his King into silent darkness without word of comfort, now slack in his chains after struggle, past fear, past despair, past defiance or caring, his soul growing entranced into stillness as the wolf-beast gazes into his self, seeking for what he could not tell, be it terror or anger, or mere subjection, waiting for him to worship its might in his weakness, setting clawed foot to paw at his breast as a hound does sometimes to its portion before eating, flesh flinching under its loathesome touch.
All silent now, the world around him, deafened in his solitude, blind to anything save the eyes of his devourer, he knew not what struck them, struck the wolf in its play, struck him too, not meaning, glancing in haste of going, hurtling as the brightest of falling stars of Summer, light roaring across his horizon, a shock like the brightness of the cavalry charges his elders had told of, the shining warriors from beyond the Sea unstoppable, riding down wolf and wolf-rider like the storm of midwinter — brighter and more savage than snow, the battle raging over him bewildered, brightness as of lightning blast, crashing as of thunder, sharp slashing pellets of hail, droplets of venom, footblow and claw-slash covering him where he flails blindly, unknowing what help he should give, hand-bound, trying to move away from under the fighters—
—until the fire-roaring dies away into silence, and he pulls himself from the stunned depths of his soul and casts about him in the darkness.
Fire burns before him, leaping and swirling like spill of oil on the floor, only with a purer and clearer light, sight of flesh or of mind he does not know, truth or dreaming or one and the same, and he knows terror then, not for self, but for other—
"My lord—" There is pain, scoring of claws and hard bruises along him, and thick warmth of blood stinging into the clawmarks, deep scratches dug into yielding skin, gouges torn where one strove to stay as other strove to send hence — and he was scarcely touched, save in accident — Dread strives to choke him then, but he forces his throat to rasp forth sound — "My King—" Ah, please, Lady, no — his Lady of the woods and fields, or his lord's of the changeless Stars, neither known, nor mattering in the least — "Finrod—!"
The answer when it comes is so faint he cannot tell if it is in the air or in his thought:
—I am dying, Beren. The chains — I — Sorrow washes over him like a sudden rain and as suddenly is gone — no sense, no presence, though the light still flickers in his vision.
—Do not shut me out! he entreats — the reply, when it comes, is a sigh: Neither would nor may—
He knows not how he does what it is that he now accomplishes, as though he were to track back the flight of a wild-swan's passing through the air as easily as a deer's track in the forest, save that he must, and the way is there before him—
Pillars, tall, like a forest of birches, a forest of white stone in the forecourt — a house as far from any he has ever known as could be imagined, vast as a glacier, fretted like the froth of a frozen stream, like the feather-fine interlace of snowclad branches — and it is broken, the gates hanging as open as those of his own abandoned hall, the roof half-fallen, the fragile screens of stone gapped and tattered as though they were embroidered hangings left for moths—
—the Ice shudders beneath him again, flinging him off balance, each jarring tremor accompanied by a single loud knock like a hammerfall on vastest anvil, and the wailing wind rips around him, turning him against his will as he seeks the companion whose hand tore from his grasp, the faint light in this unrelieved darkness, struggling onward without hope, but without halting either—
…Behind him the doors stand open to the slow-dimming sky, the starless hour when no Sun is to be seen, yet too bright the air yet for any glimpse of lesser lights, though warmer than the starless watches before dawn…Before him, the halls stand empty, in wreck, not as though after battle but as if a storm of late Autumn had swept them, driving wind and streaming rain surging across all the fair murals and strewing the fine ornaments over the stained marble like leaves. Somewhere, within, is the light of the house that he seeks, that in the house of his own thought was the hearth-stone, that here in this strange place he can but seek for as huntsman in strange forest, seeking after his quarry…
In his distant understanding he knows that this is but a symbol, all these but symbols, fashioned of memory and dreaming and the crumbling shards of their common strength, even as the Ice, the flame, all but shadows of the spirit, and all true: that he labors over the frozen wastes in seeking no less than he lies sight-blind, soul-seeing, on stone scarce less cold than ice, watching a blaze burn out and powerless to prevent, as he presses on past tumbled snowdrifts of scrolls and illumined pages, past lamps toppled and spilled on lecterns, the library of a thousand years and more flung to waste across the inlaid floor…
—Soul-light burns dimly before him, off to one side, distance deceptive in the omnipotent darkness, and he finds the lip of the crevasse where it falls beneath foot, downward drop to depth unknown, whence the fallen does not answer. Edging over the break in the Ice, he lets himself down so far as arms' stretch will allow; foot finds no support yet, the cold slope of the wall downcurving all that is there: he lets go, neither knowing, nor caring whether he will be able to climb up again. It is nothing to him now, nothing matters but finding the one he has lost in the dark—
—Aisles of beauty pass him in his hurrying like the walls of mountains glimpsed through mists, half-seen, tables of carven stone covered with things fair and splendid and often beyond his comprehension, his ability to name or name use for — one he touches, helplessly drawn by the brilliance of gold and gem and light shaped in spirals cunning as snail's shell, and it crumbles to glittering dust at the brush of his fingers. He presses on, hearing distant falls as of heavy snow far-off, the rustle and muffled dullness of collapse, when structure no longer may support its own weight. The way is clearer now, a light not too far distant reflecting down the polished walls before him to an open space, rent as by earthquake to the world outside.
Here in the heart, by the water's edge, beside the star-pool choked with broken glass as with ice, the reflections of the twilight sky chopped and scattered across the cracking tiles, half under a great column fallen like a storm-blasted pine, spreads like a pool of moonlight the pale robes and the paler hair, like flax awash in a stream for retting, of him whose dwelling-place this is.
—In the deep shelter of the crevasse, far below the scouring winds, he crawls to where the dimming light summons him, beaten and bruised from the long fall and slide to the sharp angle of the cleft, heeding of only one thing, one goal, and reaching before it is too late—
—He makes his way across the floor, ice-fragments crunching underfoot, a sudden silver ringing making him whirl and guard — but it is only his own foot striking a round of worked metal, shining and winged, that slides away into the shadows. He steps over a tangle of bronze-gold coils, like new-hatched serpents basking in sunlit forest-litter, fine as cords, threading a splinter of wood once-carved…
Silent he drops to his knees, beside, and ever so softly moves the silken masses aside, the sleeve so fine-woven it is as if he touched water, the strands silk-fine in his fingers, unshrouding the still, stone-smooth countenance, beardless, unlined, ageless — and the ever-young eyes that open to greet him.
Thus is his trespass made guesting, and no invasion at all. He bows his head in sorrow and homage, his hands on his knees, and in return comes the question, gentle in its irony:
—Still so careful of my dignity, friend? —Not so thy father bearing me from Serech—
—the memory is given him, more touch than sight, of Barahir's firm grip shaking him back from that dark brink into which toppling were only too easy, body and spirit spent alike in anguish and comprehension of certain defeat, his face crushed against chill mail and tingling wool, his ungainly length dragged ever from the slip downward off saddle-bow of each jolting stride by rough yank at shoulder and shove under thigh — not careless of his wounds, but far more careful of his life—
Softly he asks, letting the warm mercy of that thought wash over him without effort to hold on to it:
—Is there pain?
At that he lies down, edging in close under the shadow of the pillar as he can, slipping one hand between the cold of the stone and the cold, ice-pale cheek resting upon it; the other sliding between cool silks, between side and slack-lying arm to cup the skull softly in his palm as he held in another life his cousins' newborn daughters, cradling them as carefully as though they were eggs new-laid and warm from the nest, the width of his shoulders a useless shield against disaster already fallen, presuming in death as never had he in life, in flesh and not dream, to comfort his King…
—Tarry not long — the thought comes that he too shall be caught in the collapse of the house that swiftly draws near. He is not troubled, and there comes sad amusement at self at the foolish concern: that would be far the best thing, should it befall; but he does not think so, does not dare hope so — the deep link is broken, there is no yoke binding them flesh as spirit now, only this free, fragile clasp of soul to fellow fading soul.
…in the depth of the endless night, buried at the farthest fall of opened gap in the unsteady Ice, he holds him, shattered limbs sheltered in cage of frame only a little less ruined, only companionship possible, slightest ease to alleviate such dreadful state, that is nonetheless all—
—My King, take my strength for healing, for freeing — save thyself and I shall go without regret — If he knew how, if it lay in his mortal power he would not even beg so, only give — but his lord only smiles, sadly.
—Fearless as always — ever brave in thy love as thy name, my Beren — but no use the gift, even I may—
He stirs, the least stretching of fingertip towards face, would-be caress, lacking strength even for raising of forearm, not able to lift head from the floor unassisted—
—I am spent, nothing remaining, not even mind in great measure — did you not stay me so, I were lost… Forgive me that I have spent thee as well in my pride — and in that last plea is sorrow for centuries, not for him alone but all his House, all his holding that he could not defend, that slipped through his hold like ash, like dust, leaving but him alone—
—Rather I should beg mercy, that have destroyed the Guide and Friend and Light of my people — Self-hate for his stupidity rises in him like poison in vein—
But the other stops him, not with power but with plea:
—Do not blame yourself: this was none of thy making. I knew it must come to this some day. So easily it had been far worse—
—You should not die for my sake, he still must object, refuse, deny—
—Nor thou for mine. —But die we must. It is thanks to thee that I die clean, in my own thought, not held in our Enemy's song — the light of thy love, not his darkness—
—It's but cast back to its source, he returns, thinking of his long-past forbear, of a torch reflected from level water…
—Nay — not source — and the thought is given back to him changed of radiance like the Sun and Moon at once shining through three clear rounds of solid light, splintered to brilliance many thousand-fold in the ceaseless outleapings of a waterfall and cast outward to the world — vessel — no more than that—
—Still yours, my lord, still of you—
—In death is neither lord nor liege, only comrade in battle, my friend—
It comes to him then, the bitterness that he should not be accounted even worthy of torment, that after all the long, hard days and the hunting and harrying and having expended all his strength in the battle, a mere year of the Sun after it has become as nothing — out of the fray for a little more than a twelve-month and he had as well be long dead, for all the trouble his being has caused to their adversary… Even that was a wasting of work, senseless struggle that achieved none of what he had hoped, so vainly proud that at least he had struck hard at the tyrants, if but a scratch, a blow at the heel—
—Nay — regret not — rejoice that our foe is so blind — so earnest is the urging that he is shaken from his fretting in surprise, and the thought is given to him of worse-than-worst, agony made crueller than believing, to see held in the torturer's iron talons the one sworn to save, and pain made a lever, laid as a balance between them, to choose between self and self who shall bear it — better, far better this arrogance, that cannot conceive of such love, insult a small price for escaping the alternative — I could not have borne thy hate…
—Not even then — he denies that potentiality: perhaps folly, but no pain could be worse than to witness his other self's torment, and torture redoubled in his own.
—Then I had enough for us both, the sorrowful answer comes to him, and with it a flood of misery at failure upon failure, loss mounting upon loss, the weight and weary guilt of an Age of errors and omissions, deaths upon deaths, on both sides of the Sea and between them, despite his fervent denials — How long shall I await my release, making payment for my folly, for so much of pride and willful blindness and carelessness that cost so dear — may it be long, indeed, and long ere I must meet those I have wronged, and longer still ere I must once again make apology for this—
Anguish, like a spear driven through two together, burns in them both, the comprehension and dismissal not enough to salve away the pain, the terrible last cry of sorrow at lost lives and betrayals and failures, of burning on the water, kin-death at Alqualondë, on Helcaraxë, before Thangorodrim and across the lands of the North, — all my lost people — and thou, last and greatest of my wreckings — horrible the thought that someday he must kneel and tell her, knowing too well it is both cowardice and honor that he begs that day be far off as world's-ending—
Darkness wells up on the horizon, not sunset but dense vapours, choking the nightfall like smoke, like webs of shadow, poison too heavy for any wind to ever clear—
—How can he, being mortal, counter a grief greater than all the lives of Men? Words fail — he thinks of light, of Stars, of the bright Moon rising among them, and the Moon is there, though but a slivered arc like a curving sail at the cusp of a headland (—and whence that thought, that image?) But it is enough, and the welling dark falls away from the bent bow of the Archer…
Stillness: pain subsides, sinking like flames starved of fuel…
—Ai, my brave one — and the warm gratitude that washes over him, like shallows of water in late summer, is a reproach to his soul, that is wound tauter than bowstring with fear for what cannot be halted, dreading the moment that approaches, the last severing — the solitude thereafter. — Nay, rest while we endure —But a low sound, a rustling or hissing far off, troubles his hearing at its limits and though he stirs not from his post his guard-sense grows more keen and awareness heightens…
Hush — 'tis but the Sea — The other soothes him, with a deep gladness thus to end within earshot of shore… Now he recognizes it as wavesong, like and unlike the soughing of the waves of the tarn, fainter with the distance, and yet far greater… with it on the evening breeze a tang of breath like some strange tree, spicy as hemlock, and yet other, unknown: a hotness rises in his throat, almost melting to tears, in spite of his cold… Yes, that is the Sea—
The twilight is almost fully deepened to night — he can barely distinguish his comrade's features, the ragged heartbeat feathering into soft fluttering tremors again — and then the slow failing changes to fierce struggle, wild hammering against the walls that pen within, and the arching gasp, far too familiar, the wrench of dreamed nerve and sinew that mirrors that without, feä resisting apart from will in final rejection of unhousing — he locks his arms fast about his friend's body and pulls him close against his chest, futilely trying to shield him against that which rends apart from inside—
walls crumble, stone falling inward to nothingness—
the deep subaural knocking thunders overwhelmingly through them, through bone and brain, the rending scream of the Ice a thousand forsaken phantoms as the chasm drives shut—
the light flares wildly, the flames still clear-bright to the last, and swirls into the totality of consumption, though afterimages still dazzle—
he is encompassed, drenched as with a sunlit breeze of Summer warmth—
and he wakes in darkness, alone.
—There you are, remarks the voice, ancient and disdainful, that now he has with face and form to set upon the Name that slew his father, his folk, all who have last loved him and defended him, save one. Awake at last — waster of my time, hardly worth the effort of breaking. So the Elf-lord escaped at the last, leaving you to endure his fate — but then is that not how it has ever been, fool and child of fools? Your House had not the wit to heed my words, my guidance, no more than the fools of Marach. —But you are both, no? Bëor and Hador, heir of Dorthonion, blood of Hithlum — and lord of nothing!
He does not answer: there are not words in Arda to speak his heart now, which is frozen as dry as the lightless Ice, as heavy and sharp as shards of fallen floe, never to be melted beneath the Sun. Again he is left — last — lost — alone, of all, to mourn: this time unable to avenge, to praise, to bury—
Bereft of protection, his mind is pawed through, as a looter might scuff through a burnt holding's ashes, turning over this and that with a casual heel, before kicking aside in disdain. He in his turn crouches still as the hunted who hides, outliving the burning, scarce daring to breathe lest the horde-captain notice him, thinking of nothing lest it be snatched up and profaned.
Not much of worth here for me, scoffs the Necromancer, but then there never was. Only blind, stupid loyalty, more worthy of hound than mindful being. And thus you are well-repaid for it, truly!
In that instant he realizes, and smothers the thought as one might smear out a flame with bare hands to save more, that it was no illusion, though semblance merely, that he shielded his lord from the darkness, not mere hollow consolation of company, but true that his will made shield-wall over that passing, over them both — he turns his mind to the raw wounds, aflame and aching, of the body, not the deep hurt—
But — I am not entirely unmerciful. Such courage, however foolish, however ill-given, surely deserves something. You will find me a more faithful lord than your last, and your service to me will be meetly rewarded. I promise you gift of mercy, do you earn it, Beren son of Barahir—
—That is an old lie, he cannot help but retort, and in that act the hiding-place is revealed, and torn open, and secret thoughts dragged out naked to view and slaughter — but the Enemy sees only what he looks for, only what is within his ancient ken, not what is past his imagining. Chill comfort, that—
—Yield to me, and serve me, and undo some small measure of the harm you have worked to my King, and in return I shall give you news of one you have long wondered for: Emeldir, who journeyed far, and never guesses the fate of her only child—
—Even as you kept your promise to Gorlim, he thinks, and braces for the gloating and cruel mockery his slip must surely call forth, but the name is meaningless to his captor, and the answer but a dismissive — Who? Claws dig through his soul, ravaging through the ashes that are his heart—
—I the last, shall I fail now my comrades, my people, my family? He sets his will like a shield, like the ashwood spear with its sharp fang upreared to the onrushing throng, and deafens himself to the lying lure, though it is an iron driven into him at each press of his Enemy's will.
—I hoped you would not break so swiftly, mortal lordling, and so! you promise me good sport. How long shall you hold, Man, against my patience, and iron cold and hot, and fire: how long, before you plead that I give you to the swift jaws of my wolves? You who dared wound me, coward, from the shadows, how will you bear the same blow to your ownhand—?
—Image blinds him, coals sullen in bed of iron and ash, claws of iron nested thereupon, wheels and bars of things he cannot fathom, that are yet of dread in their promise, in the thought of soft flesh caught therein, and he cannot close his thought to them. He wastes not word or strength in vainglorious boasts of defiance, in mockery of his Enemy's might, nor deceives himself that he will endure better than his old comrade — is only glad that there is none left to betray, now, though he had never thought to find blessing in being the last—
Hate me, loathe me, abhor me as you will — so that you fear me, O brave Elf-friend! In a while you shall taste the fruits of your service, and we will try how well your valour endures. —But for the moment I have more important concerns. Wait but a little, and your testing shall come — have no doubt, you will not die ere the hour I appoint for it—
The dreadful presence departs, leaving him spent and shaking, as though too long underwater, struggling for air. Still he dares not think on anything, lest his thought be overheard, without his knowing. Nor does he waste effort on imagining the horrors that approach him, await him, draw near at the appointing of the Master of Wolves. There is no worse that can be done to him, now — only more.
It is strange, so strange to hear only his own breathing in the darkness, only his own small stirrings of the chains as he shivers, to wear but the weight of his own pain and sorrow, the mesh of foul magic tangling none to him now… its savour scarce touches him, so long had the encompassing veil grown thin unawares that he has grown used to it without ever knowing, though his gorge rises and he still shudders from time to time at the sensation of its webs moving through him in the unholy work of renewal that is not healing, the fever in his flesh growing even as the weals spread wider about his wrists like charring from coals…
—I think it will be little time ere I follow, my lord, whatever our destroyer believes… for he knows his own strength and mortal weakness all too well, and this is bad, so that were he keeping the death-watch beside a friend in the shelter of hut or cave he would not expect to see dawn together, though he has never done so from this side of the pallet: but that he cannot even manage to turn on his side of his own strength, cannot lift his head now, is dire. But I shall not join you, my friends, nor ever again see — but he will not betray, not that last, not — he silences thought in stillness, drowns name, vision, voice in dark of mind…
—At the least it shall come, perhaps, that when it is ended for him his bones, too, fang-splintered, shall lie with theirs, cast aside as worthless trash by their Enemy when his wolves have done feasting, mingled, not one to be told from the other, even as the bones of his kin and theirs are scattered together on the black ash of Anfauglith. And for barrow what more need they, than this high hill of stone that is over them, taller than any haugh in Beleriand, self-raised in sad irony, the citadel of their King?
And this is all his consolation as he waits, brief traveller on a way not of his own making, path laid long ere his people were named, for the road's ending, and again the only, exiled to life though not long for it, solitary mourner for ten who spent themselves and their soul-light in battle against the dark gulf of the Void, and one who was lord to him and more than lord—
And then — there is a then that is not the eternal now, and the world is changed for him: in the foundation-pit of the Wizard's Isle he is in Doriath, in Neldoreth, by the waters of Esgalduin, and it is Summer—
—and he knows that he is dying, that this is something beyond his own willing or imagined dreams, perhaps gifted to him by the Powers he has served his whole span of days, in pity: for no dream that he has yet tasted, drawn of his own memories and yearnings, has ever had such truth, such presence, for him—
The night that is Sauron's is vanished, made in homage and imitation of Morgoth his Master, lightless and killing-cold and bitter with breath of misery and decay. In place of it, displacing it utterly, warm air of hawthorn and wild-rose redolence, sweetness of deep-woods' growing, rich earth underlaying, the fragrance of clean water and clear air, darkness living and filled with the untamed music of birdsong, ever-varied, ever-changing, holy as the wrought world is holy — and above him, bright as crystals filled with living flame, bright as sung notes in stillness, bright as eyes shining with love, clear and deathless, the Stars…
He does not know if his body stirs, or if he but answers in spirit, raising himself in his chains to stare about him in wonder and surprise, held in the hour that his being was changed again past all earthly imagining, seeing the living forest that is his life, his strength, his true-home, and his blood thunders madly, ferociously until it seems as though heart and ear alike shall rip for the force of it, for the hour, the instant, the watch of the night that was his life's changing beyond all changes good or ill, before or since, save perhaps the forgotten hour of his birth, the instant of his self's past healing and his most present destruction, the one still worth the other, when first in glorious midnight he beholds, as now beholding—
In that instant his soul must speak, must utter something, give voice to itself as the spring-melt must overflow the mountain-stream, carrying ice and stone before it: words come to him, words that he has known all his life long, the songs of those who faced the North and dared defy its cold power for all their lives, stories of pride and duty and rejoicing, free-given service to quell the lord of slaves and fetters, filled with names and the power of those names, names of places, deeds, battles, of valiant men and women now forgotten save by him, names of a dead land and a vanished people — and in another's thought it might be harshest jest, but in his it is but truth — the clinging-fast to faith, undeceived by hope false-founded or wishing, expecting nothing of future good, but staying nonetheless—
He cries forth an offering, of thanks and homage to a glory not made glorious in mere brute victory but in defeat, of comprehension that sees and accepts the past and present and yet-to-come in all its sad strange weavings of good and ill and in-between, tangled beyond hope of untangling, each deed meshed within another like the rings of a mail-shirt, none able to be pulled free and considered alone, but all of a piece, of one fabric, flawed and yet real — he hails his fallen in certainty of their failure, affirming their cause in the hour of loss, and claiming it still for his own, even as his father, his family of five generations before him—
—and then in final defiance, his last stand, bereft of everything, weapon, shield, armour, clothing — bleeding, starving, enchained, even the fastness of his soul and self breached by his Enemy — he sets words of his own fashioning to the old song's pattern, a verse of power and hope from one who has naught but despair, naming those who stand against the might of the North and their Signs, in honor he flings it down as a blazing torch before a chieftain's barrow in mark of mourning for the teacher, the lord who led them, gave them those Names and inspired the songs of them — he hurls it against the Void as though it were the very Sickle he chants of, the bright-flaming spearpoints of the thangail of Heaven, refusing to bow before strength in his weakness, though he be crushed for it—
—for had his ancient father never set forth on his far-off road, never harked to that first song in the clear nightfall, never laid sword in service thereafter — then never had he heard this last song, that is his soul's truest self, without which he is naught — and nothing he grudges, crushed in this trap of the Shadow, rejects not the first Singer no more than the last, accepting all as the price of the gift he now pays—
—whatever shall come—
And thus, having poured out all his will and yearning and unbroken fealty in that song, he sinks as one slain by the side of his King, helpless to hinder the foe who shall come to dishonor their bodies, living and dead. He has passed the limits of his strength, hröa and fëa alike, and for a little at least there is stillness and release, so that he does not even perceive the opening of his chains, the dissolving of spell-mesh that enlaces him, the gaping of the stones of their tomb overhead as the sky comes to him as it came in his last dreaming—
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.