1. Facing the Darkness
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Tolkien.
Note: Big warning for indiscriminate bouts of foreshadowing.
Facing the Darkness
Finwë watched the dancing flames wistfully, wondering whether to put the fire off or not before he went to sleep. Fire was a blessing, he knew, and when mastered and controlled it could warm the chill of the coldest seasons, or glow quietly in the eyes of the raven-haired Broideress and Healer as they worked their miracles with their white flower crowns. But it was also the most terrible of monsters, and unwatched, its unleashed power could rise and destroy homes, people and forests.
Pondering this strange case of double nature, the Elf drew closer to the gleaming embers, studying them in fascination. Back when the Eldar had discovered fire, there were some who had burned their fingers as they tried to embrace the beautiful bright flames. He knew that it still happened sometimes, though everybody was aware of its nature since long ago. And it was something that he thought he could understand; the light beckoned to him even now.
A deep whistling sound reached his ears from far away, followed by the cracks and whispers that used to frighten him so much when he was a child. It was the wild, frozen wind, trying to uproot the trees of the forest. He smiled at his own start; it would take much more to shake the foundations of his house, built with far more ambitious materials than the woven weeds of Elwë´s people in the valley - not to speak of Ingwë´s people, most of which did not even build anything, as they rejoiced upon feeling the wind and the rain upon their faces.
Yet another difference, he thought, stopping the chain of his musings in order to consign it dutifully to his long list. Since he had been able to think, he had wondered about the different traits of the peoples he had met, trying as he could to nail the essence of each one of them and its purpose. He had interested his sucessive friends on that subject, and got involved in endless discussions with Elwë, -Elwë loved to argue-, who said that birds had wings and beaks, fish were slippery and had scales, deer had prongs and four legs, but the Quendi all had similar faces, two legs, no hair in their bodies, and could speak, so they all had to be of the same kind. Finwë conceded to this point, but added that not all birds were the same, and that there was a family of birds that used to fly high and prey on animals, while others were whitish, ate fish and could swim, and others were small and sang beautifully on tree branches. They had the same traits, and yet they were not the same, like the different peoples of the Eldar.
"You speak of differences, yet there are differences between each one of us. What about Linwë and me, then?" Elwë pointed at an elderly Elf who was trying to catch a fish in the nearby stream. "We came here together, and we belong to the same people, and yet our traits are different. My eyes are grey, and his are blue. He has fair hair, and I silver. He is very good at catching fish, and I am not. Will we all be a kindred on our own?"
Finwë frowned, exasperated at not being understood. He could see a myriad of links joining Elwë with Linwë, and Olwë, and Elmo, and he could see those same links joining him to the quick-thinking people among whom he had been born. He knew that the differences between the individuals were not at the same level as the differences between his larger groups, and that Elwë and his silver hair was to his own people like a raven with a white spot.
Each of their peoples had originally been awakened at a different shore of Cuiviénen, and sometimes he wondered if their Maker had wanted them to meet and mingle like they had done. Why, then, give them such different approaches, such different likes and dislikes, such different abilities?
It was Ingwë who had heard those much more confidential musings, years later. He had shaken his head with a smile, and asked him why did he think that the Maker had distributed His gifts between their peoples, if not because He wanted them to help each other.
For once, Finwë had felt oddly convinced. Still, he had stubbornly kept consigning all their differences in a list, swearing to himself that one day he would find time to study the matter further.
If this time would come one day, he added now with a sigh, in the ceaseless struggle for survival that he had been fighting daily since his parents were taken by the Shadow. People turned to him because he was the first man in his village to have fought Orcs back, and the first to have killed one of those monstruous beings. As he had gained in leadership and consideration, he had persuaded them to join his friend Ingwë´s village and search for protection in numbers, but the result had not matched his expectations. Lately, there had been a project tossing and turning in his head, of enhancing the protection of their settlement by building a wall around it, as if it were a huge hut, and have people shoot from behind it if a herd of Orcs appeared. Ingwë´s golden people, however, -yet another difference- did not favour this plan, as it would make them feel trapped and miserable, hindered in their free comings and goings.
Finwë laid his head to rest over the earthy floor, eyes still fixed on the fire. What if...? Maybe that could work with this, too. If the fire was trapped by a wall of stone –fire couldn´t eat stone-, he would control it and sleep in safety. But curiously enough, this idea made him feel like Ingwë would; he still preferred to look at it in its full glory, unhindered, no matter the cost.
Some time later, when a knock in the wooden door took him out of his musings, he realised that he had fallen in a doze.
"Ingwë?" he asked sleepily, sitting on the floor to rub his eyes, and checking that the fire was still as he had left it. His friend came to visit him often, and Finwë suspected that he did so out of pity for his loneliness. No Quendi should live alone when they had been given language to speak with each other, or so he said often in their conversations. Finwë kept a stubborn silence.
Instead of pushing the door to enter, however, the visitor knocked again.
"Enter!" Finwë invited, a bit worried. As there was still no answer, he discarded the blankets and stood up to open the door himself.
Two dark, frozen eyes stared back at him, with such raw pain that he felt struck and tempted to reel back into the warmth of his refuge. She was standing still like a statue, no sign of life in her pale limbs except for a persistent shiver. Her black hair hung dishevelled down her shoulders in half-undone braids, and she was clutching a trampled white flower in her hands.
"Broideress." he muttered, in shocked awe. She barely nodded, her charm and her arrogance, her fire quenched under waves of consuming grief.
She was alone.
Some people said that they had been among the Unbegotten, and that they had awoken side by side under the stars instead of alongside their rightful spouse. They both shared a deep black hair, which did not shine and reflect the light of the stars like that of the other Eldar. Small of stature, thin, yet regal, a bright fire burned inside them, gentle for one and fiery for the other. Nobody knew their names, and they took pride at being known only for their abilities.
The Healer was quiet; she seldom spoke, but her eyes could hold many in a spell like insects lost in sticky amber. It was rumoured that she could heal with her sole touch, and still she always came with her bags and baskets filled to the brim with miraculous plants and herbs that she herself had found and named. Many had learned her arts, but none was near as skilled as she was.
The Broideress, though she always walked beside her, had a very different temperament from her sister. She was proud and quick-tempered, and she loved to talk and to argue, stretching language, playing with words and inventing new ones. She had long and nimble fingers, so skilled that they were a source of wonder and endless whispered legends. There were people who believed that she had invented different cooking tools; others, that she was the one who made the first hunting spear, or toys for the children.
Her greatest glory, however, came from the skill which had given her her name. With a substance taken from plants, she had created a strong yet subtle thread, and she had been the first to weave it and make beautiful and light garments to replace the animal furs and skins used by the Quendi. Wherever they went, she scattered her latest creations around, and the thankful people of the countless villages they had visited had offered to build huge houses for them if they agreed to stay.
Finwë recalled the woman who had rejected those offers, defending fiercely her and her sister´s freedom to roam where they pleased, and fixed his glance upon the stirring water on the pot. There was something cruel in the vision of her now, sitting alone, and watching the walls of his hut as if she would never wish to lay a foot outside of them again.
She did not speak.
"Here." he whispered, handing her the bowl of soup. With the barest flash of recognition, she tried to gather it on her lap, but her hands were trembling and she spilled several drops over her dress.
Finwë sat at her side, and slowly covered her hands with his. Many times, he had stood in the crowd behind her, with eyes widened in wonder as he tried to discern something from the blur of swift movements of her working fingers. He could feel them now beneath his, and they were cold and clumsy like those of a child.
He felt the unbearable pain.
"Thank you." she muttered, accepting his help.
Finwë nodded, unable even to mumble a coherent answer. And yet, as she ate the food that he had prepared, he became aware of more and more unvoiced questions tossing and turning in his mind. How had she been able to escape? Why, oh, why hadn´t she asked for help before it was too late? Had it... happened so far away from the village?
Had they followed her, tracking her footsteps like hunters in the wild?
Even more than those things, however, he wanted to know why she had come to him. To him, Finwë, and not to any other. They had done little else than talk, before- and sometimes argue. He was no better than anyone of the many people who would have died to comfort her, to help her, to carry her wishes...
"You always told me." she whispered. Surprised, and seized by the sudden eerie feeling that she had been prying into his thoughts, Finwë turned his glance from the flames to her face again. The proud Broideress stared hard into the bowl of soup, like a contrite child.
"You said that we shouldn´t wander alone. That it was dangerous." she continued after a long while. He tried to remember; it was a distant memory that refused to unfold in his mind without a struggle.
"Many peoples will grieve if you are lost to the Shadow."
"If I am lost, I will cease to be. If I cease to be, nothing else will matter."
"It will matter to others."
"Others cannot make my decisions. They cannot hold me back, as much as they cannot guide my steps."
"You might win the argument, but you are not right."
A hard spark. A flame.
"You may be skilled, but you are not wise."
Two dark, fiery eyes glared at him before she turned away and strode past the trees.
"I was angry at you, but she was not. She said that she would want to stay, if she only could. If we only could." she rambled on, inconnexely. "She left our camp to pick her herbs, and I fell asleep. I found the flowers of her hair. Right there, on a bush. One was on the floor, trampled. She would have cried to see it like this. Oh, how she would have cried."
Finwë nodded, still unable to speak. As she leaned closer to him, he embraced her, and let her head rest on his shoulder. It was the first time that he felt her hair against his skin, and to his surprise the opaque blackness felt warm. Her dress, an extravagantly beautiful gown made of hundreds of tatters of different embroiderings sewn together, made a soft noise as it was crumpled between their bodies.
He kept his own memories at bay. He was good at it, he had been for all his life, since the day when a young child had waited in vain for his parents to return.
Her voice became harsh, proud once again.
"Tell me. Tell me that I should have listened."
Finwë inhaled a deep breath, and pulled her closer. How could something that looked so frozen feel so warm?
"Why should you have listened to me?"
Instead of crying, she held him tight, and closed her eyes.
Hours later, Finwë was roused from a fitful sleep by the faint notes of a song. Feeling immediately that something was amiss, he stretched a sleepy hand to touch the space at his side, and realised that the couch was empty.
Remembrances came back in a rush, causing him to jerk up with his eyes wide open. She was gone. Her things were gone. In the place where her warm body had been lying next to his own, there was only a folded blanket, with an embroidery that, he realised belatedly, had not been there before.
Finwë crawled to take a closer look, and saw a woman with dark hair crying in the middle of a forest. Starlight pierced the dark foliage of the trees, with a brilliance that looked almost real to his eyes instead of woven into a fabric, and it made the tears in her eyes gleam with a silvery spark.
Then, he realised that there was another figure at her side, laying a hand on her shoulder. It was darkened by the shadow cast by his own body, and immediately he struggled to his feet and gave a step backwards, to allow the faint luminiscence to fall over it.
His own eyes looked back at him, and she grasped his hand to smile through her tears.
It was so early that not a single movement, not a single sound stirred the village as Finwë hurried among the huts and tents, trying to attach bow, quiver and sword as he went. The only sign of life came from the song he had heard upon waking, and when he reached its source, he found a beautiful maiden making bread of sweet herbs. The light of the stars kissed her brow, reflecting pale threads of gold.
As soon as she saw him, she began to wipe her hands and face in frantic yet graceful movements, song and endeavours promptly forgotten.
"Fair Indis." he greeted her, in a hurry. "Did you see the Broideress?"
Indis nodded, and wrapped a cloak sparkled in magnificent flower patterns around her shoulders with a touch of girlish pride.
"She went into the forest, not long ago. She gave me this."
Muttering his thanks, and ignoring the beginning of a question, Finwë clutched his sword tightly, and ran past her. Soon, he left the site behind, hurrying down the riverside until he reached the first trees. An unknown fear clenched his insides, and he saw the ground full of hundreds of trampled white flowers.
Suddenly, he heard a noise in front of him.
"Broideress!" he shouted, disregarding his own safety. No voice answered him, but the noise became the persistent sound of quick footsteps over fallen leaves.
"Broideress!" he repeated, running towards her. She did not turn back, and when he caught up with her furious strides, she didn´t even lift a glance towards him. The leather bags that she carried everywhere hung from her back, and a crown of white flowers adorned her black hair once more.
"I will not be afraid. "she hissed, then repeated it several times as if she was trying to engrave the words in her own brain. "I will never be afraid."
He grabbed at her arm, forcing her to stop. It burned like fire.
"You will be taken, like her." I won´t let you be taken, the words came unbidden to his mind, and he remembered the heat of her limbs on his own that night.
"If we cannot roam those forests at our will, then we will be all thralls of the Shadow even though we are not taken." she replied, starting to walk again. He followed her.
"Will you inflict your sufferings upon others?"
Her pace grew slower. With one of her hands, she cut a twig from a tree, and absently began to play with it, bend it, braid it at such an astonishing speed that Finwë was unable to follow her movements. Then, she threw it to the floor in the perfect shape of a flower, and for a second he felt tempted to pick it back reverently and remember the great distance that lay between them, but he managed to resist the urge.
"Come with me."
"I will not. "
"Then," his eyes stared into hers, unflinching, "I will go with you, Broideress."
It seemed ages before she finally withdrew her glance, and her gesture proclaimed their silent fight of wills to be over. For the first time since she had knocked at his door in the madness of grief, her lips curved slightly, and Finwë stood there, feeling how everything that had once mattered to him; his friends, his people, and their safety had suddenly vanished with this smile. At that moment, he knew that if it would have been possible to go to the end of the world to find a forest where she could roam freely without pain or danger, he would have done it without the briefest hesitation.
"Míriel." she whispered. He gave her an inquisitive look, and her smile became wider.
"My name. Míriel."
When she turned back to continue her journey, he followed her.
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.