3. Meetings and Farewells
At first, darkness. It was a darkness so deep that he could see nothing at all, and could not even tell if he stood on the ground or floated in some void. Then, tiny lights appeared, near and far, flickering in the darkness. Fireflies, or so they seemed. More and more of them appeared in the darkness, shifting and swirling into a ribbon in the dark, like the river of stars seen in the sky on a clear night. He began to walk, following this trail. In his hand he still held the strip of paper, which now glowed with a brilliance that rivaled all the tiny lights together. As he walked, the fireflies began to fall away, tumbling into the darkness like autumn leaves from a tree. The elder brother fell with them, falling silently and softly into darkness.
He came to rest on a flat plain of pale green rock that shone in the night as if it were green glass covering a bright lamp. He got to his feet and began walking. As he walked the soles of his boots were worn away by the stone until they fell away completely and he walked barefoot. The stone he walked on was sharp and jagged, and it pierced his feet, and he looked behind himself to see the trail of his blood-red footprints winding across the plain into the dark distance.
He passed through a plain of bones of strange creatures. They were large as mumak bones, and some were broken and shattered, and the fragments crunched underfoot as he walked.
He walked through a marsh where the air was thick and hot and wet, and his clothes stuck to his skin. He found it hard to breathe, and the air was full of tiny black midges that got in his eyes and his mouth and his nose, and their bites stung him and raised welts on his skin. He held his strip of paper in front of him, and it lit his way. He walked on.
As he left the marsh he wiped the midges from his eyes and spat them from his throat.
He walked on, through a garden that spoke to him. It told him not to go on, but to stay in the shade of its trees, and sit beside its streams, and to be content. He could not have explained how it spoke to him, for it used no words and no voice, but he refused its entreaties, and walked on, determined.
He found himself on a path that crossed in front of a large still lake. At harbor, a white ship floated on the water. Two elves stood on its decks, arm in arm in fellowship.
"I seek the Lord of Dreams. Am I going the right way?" The elder brother asked.
"All the ways here go to him, for all the ways are his," said the taller of the elves.
The second elf frowned, but said nothing.
The elder brother held up the slip of paper so they could see it. As he did so, he knew for certain that he was dreaming, if he had had any doubt of it. The words on the paper that had before been confused were now clear as day. The words described the one who shaped and formed that-which-is-not-real, and blended chaos and nothingness together into patterns that had meaning.
The second elf coughed to attract the elder brother's attention, and pointed, as if accidentally, to a specific hill. The elder brother nodded in thanks, and walked towards the hill.
As he reached it, he looked back and saw the second elf floating face-down in the lake, blood staining the water around him with red tendrils, his murderer looking down from the ship's prow.
When he was halfway up the hill, he looked back one more time and saw that the lake was gone, and the elves and the ship, and where they had been was nothing more than a graveyard.
Ahead of him there was a huge house that seemed to exist in perfect harmony with the land around it. It was a place of beauty and of majesty and of simplicity. He could see gardens and orchards where the graceful tall trees were laden with spring blossoms and summer fruit and autumn leaves together on the same branch. Bright birds also flew nearby and perched in the trees. The birds were of such brilliant colors that they seemed to have been flowers that had grown wings and come to life, and they sang songs that sounded strange to his ears, but not unlovely.
The elder brother had never seen any place like it.
There was a gate carved of golden wood, with strange figures and designs upon it. As the elder brother reached towards the heavy bell that gleamed beside the gate, the gate shifted and changed, and before him suddenly appeared a falkdragon, a creature of legend that had not existed in the world since the days before sun and moon; its head was like a lion, and its body like a lizard, though it was covered in scales of pure white that gleamed like pearl.
"Who are you, and why have you come here to disturb my master? Speak quickly!" The falkdragon said. Its voice was like a clear bell, but it was all the more frightening for its beauty.
"This place is fair, and its fairness is only increased by knowing that all other places will seem dim and drear in comparison, for they will not be this palace. Do I truly stand in the gardens of the Realm of the Lord of Dreams?" The elder brother said. His words were gentle, but they carried rebuke, for even a creature of legend should remember certain civilities.
"This is indeed the palace of Dreams. Speak now, what do you wish?" The falkdragon answered.
The elder brother then showed the slip of paper that described the Lord of Dreams. It blazed with light. The falkdragon lowered its head. "I apologize; I did not know. I thought you were but a dreamer."
The elder brother became aware that he was being watched. He looked up into the tall tree beside him, and saw a huge black raven, which then flew down to the path before him with great flapping strokes.
"Follow me," said the raven.
"Will you take me to the Lord of Dreams?" The elder brother asked.
"You would not seek to question a poem, or the tree in bloom, or the clouds in the sky. Why, then, do you question me?" asked the raven.
The raven walked along the path, through the gates, and led the elder brother into the house. Together they walked through a maze of hallways and passages, through courtyards where streams flowed and sweet herbs grew, along paths lined with smooth perfect stones, the elder brother always following the raven.
"From your reply, I take it you are a poet," said the elder brother.
"Once I was, and like all poets, I spent too long in the Realm of Dreams. Now I serve the Lord of Dreams, and do his bidding."
The raven led the elder brother into a long hall. The walls were lined with canvas, on which was painted intricate murals, so that it seemed the walls were not walls but windows onto an unseen world. At the end of the hall was a raised dais, and upon it sat a chair of perfect simplicity and loveliness and strangeness. The elder brother guessed that this was the throne of the Lord of Dreams.
"Wait here," said the raven, and it strutted from the room.
The elder brother stood nervously at the center of the hall, waiting for the Lord of Dreams. He looked about him at the mural that circled the room, and though he could see countless details as he looked at it, it seemed to shift in the corner of his eyes, and when he looked back there would be new things that he had not seen there before, as if the scene were unfolding there on the canvas, a tale being told or a world in motion.
One moment the elder brother was alone in the hall, then he was alone no longer, and the Lord of Dreams sat in the chair upon the dais.
The elder brother bowed low.
The Lord of Dreams had skin as pale as the moon on snow, and hair as black as the darkness at the depths of the world, and his eyes were like a pool at night in which stars shimmered. He spoke then, in a voice that was gentle but strong as silk; it was a voice that spoke in the elder brother's mind. "You are welcome in this place, but you should not have come."
"I am here to plead for the life of my brother, who is lost in dreams. Without your aid, he will perish," said the elder brother.
"And perhaps that is what he wants. Certainly he has a reason, of which you know little."
"He is my brother, I must save him." The elder brother said simply, with a shrug.
"Even at the cost of duty, of honor? Even when you know what may be happening in your city, while you linger here in the hope of saving him?"
"A few hours will make little difference to my people, whether I linger or no. As I said, he is my brother, and the bonds of blood are strong."
The Lord of Dreams said nothing, looking at the elder brother as if waiting.
The elder brother lowered his eyes and said quietly, "…but he is more than a brother. He is my life, and if he were dead I would not wish to live."
"Ah," said the Lord of Dreams. He stood, and, beckoning, led the elder brother through a waterfall that concealed a doorway at the side of the room. As they passed through it they did not get wet, though they felt its touch passing them and could feel its coolness.
On the other side was a small room, unadorned and plain, but for the windows that looked out on the magnificent gardens of the palace.
"Your brother also came to me and asked for a gift, although he was more honest about his love than you. And I gave him my gift. He dreamed your dreams. He dreamed the first two dreams with you, and he dreamed the last dream for you, and he opened the dark door with the golden key."
"Where is he? How can I bring him back?" asked the elder brother.
"Why would you bring him back? It is not what he wants, and it will not bring you happiness."
The elder brother did not answer.
The Lord of Dreams pointed to the far side of the room, where the elder brother for the first time noticed a dark door like the one he had dreamed of on the island of rock in the sea. There was a golden key in the lock.
"He is in there. Follow him, if that is what you wish."
The elder brother walked to the door, and turned the handle and slowly pulled. The door opened, and opened, until it filled the entire world, and, without hesitation, the elder brother stepped inside.
He fell but briefly, and found himself in a room that seemed somehow familiar, as if it were a place that he had been to many times but had forgotten. There was nothing in the room but a tall mirror set in a backing of cold metal. The mirror seemed to glow like the last rays of sunlight as it falls below the horizon in the mountains, but it was covered in a layer of dust, or perhaps ash.
The elder brother walked to the mirror and studied it. If he looked closely he could see shapes of letters in the ash as if someone had burned a page from a book and laid the ashes on the mirror.
He wiped away the ash with his hands, sweeping over the face of the mirror until it was clear. Then he looked into the mirror.
There he saw his brother, and the entire mirror shone with light, as if his brother's countenance were painted of starlight and moonlight and the light of the sun. When his brother saw him, his face fell.
"Why did you come here?" he whispered sadly. "I gave my life for you."
"I found you asleep and wounded, lying beside a tree. I could not wake you." He told his brother.
His brother shook his head and sighed deeply. "I hunted the Baku. I went to the place where the Baku go, and went with them as they ate dreams, and I entered your dreams as you dreamed them. I was there when our mother gave you the golden key, and I was there when our grandfather showed you the dark door, and I took both when you woke. Through all the next days, I would sleep early, and find you in dreams, and I lay in wait for the dark dream that was headed towards you. When I saw it, on the tenth night, I leapt upon it and made it my own. And then I opened the door with the key, and it opened, big as the sky, and I had no choice but to enter. I fell, then, and when I found myself here, I could not leave, I could not find my way back to my body. But I was happy, though I was frightened and alone, for I knew I had saved you."
"Brother, why did you do this for me?" The elder brother said sadly, rubbing his brow, though he already knew the answer.
His brother smiled and answered with a question, "Why did you follow me? Why did you come here?"
"Because I love you, more than anything in the world." The elder brother answered.
The younger brother nodded, and the two looked into each other's eyes.
"So," said the younger brother, "you have come and you have found me, and you have learned why I did what I've done. And you know now that you must go. I saved your life, and I ask that you live it, and when you will, think of me and smile."
"No, brother. I have come to free you. I must." The elder brother answered.
"How can you? Can you break the metal of the mirror?"
"No, I cannot," said the elder brother. Then he spoke the name that had been written on the slip of paper given to him by Ossë on the bridge. Standing beside him appeared the Lord of Dreams.
"Are you ready to leave this place, then?" asked the Lord of Dreams.
"No, my lord. I ask that you return to me the dream my brother dreamed for me. It is mine by rights."
"But if I return your dream to you, you must die in his place."
"I know. Still, it is my dream, and I would not have my brother die in my place." The elder brother said.
The Lord of Dreams nodded, and though his expression did not change, it seemed that he was sad, but also pleased, and the elder brother knew he had made the correct request. The Lord of Dreams gestured, and the mirror was then empty, and the brothers stood beside each other in the dark.
"You have done the right thing, at some cost to yourself, so I shall do something for you. You may have a little time to say farewell to your brother," said the Lord of Dreams.
The younger brother threw himself to the floor at the Dreamlord's feet. "You swore to help me!" he cried in anger.
"And I helped you."
"It is not fair!" said the younger brother.
"No, it is not." And he left that place, disappearing and leaving the two alone.
That is all the tale tells us of this moment: that he left them alone to bid each other farewell. Perhaps they said formal farewells, awkwardly, bitter at the knowledge that although both had tried to save the other, only one could succeed, and the one who failed would now walk alone. It is certainly possible.
It is also possible that they clung to each other tightly as young boys who would not be parted, and wept.
But one might remember all that they had done for each other, and their devotion and care for each other, and one might conjecture that something more happened then. It is possible that, freed from all fear of opprobrium, knowing that these moments were the last they would have together, they made love. Or that they dreamed they did.
About this, the tale is silent.
When all their farewells were done, the Lord of Dreams rejoined them.
"Now all will be as it should be," he said, and the elder brother found himself looking out from the mirror at his little brother.
"I would have given my life for you," the younger brother whispered sadly.
"Live," said the elder brother.
"I will revenge you, brother. The wizard who did this to you will learn what it means to take the thing a man holds dearest."
The elder brother gazed at his brother from the mirror. "Seek not revenge, brother. Go and protect our people, and may you live to see days of peace and happiness." Then he smiled at his brother one last time, and raised a hand in a gesture of longing and farewell, and turned and walked into the heart of the mirror, and he was gone.
The younger brother slumped down and sat in the empty place in the garden where the small room had been. Beside him was the Lord of Dreams.
"I tried… Oh I tried… all for nothing."
"Nothing is done entirely for nothing," said the Lord of Dreams. "Nothing is wasted. You are older, and you have made choices, and you are not the man you were yesterday. Take what you have learned, and go on."
"Where is my brother now?" He asked.
"You will wake to find his body beside you in the place where you fell. His spirit will go where it is meant to go."
"So he will die," he said.
"He told me not to seek revenge, but to go and protect our people," the younger brother said, as if in a daze.
"Wise counsel. Vengeance can be a road that has no ending. So…?"
"I will go to protect our people. But I will also seek revenge."
"As you will." The younger brother could not tell if the Dreamlord was pleased with this answer or not. In a flicker of light and shadow the Lord of Dreams was gone, leaving the younger brother alone in a place that had faded into a flat gray plain, and he was more alone than he had ever been.
He woke, still wrapped in his brother's arms, leaning up against the tree. His brother's eyes were closed, his skin was deathly pale, and his breaths were shallow. Most alarmingly, there was an arrow wound on his shoulder that had begun to bleed in slow viscous dregs, staining the cloth around it. The younger brother realized that although his own wound ached, a scar had formed on it, smooth and white.
It hurt, having already said goodbye to his brother, to have him still there, but he stayed with him, attending to his body.
His brother died as the sun rose, casting its golden rays across the landscape and lighting the scene of the younger brother, kneeling at his brother's side, holding tight to his brother's cold hand and silently weeping.
The younger brother then gathered his brother's still form into his arms, and, although he was weary and the effort cost him much, he carried him all of the many miles to their home, where he was mourned by all the people of his city, and laid to rest by the side of his forefathers.
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.