When Grandfather was murdered, the sea was denied a taste of his blood and our grief; that was spilled onto the land of Aman, where such things such as the treachery of Morgoth had been deemed impossible by all save my father. He'd shouted as loudly as he could about it, but no one listened. They'd exiled him. They'd exiled him because he'd raised his protest at a portent rather than an actual provocation. I'd felt it too. As he sat in Formenos, his hands lying useless in his lap, grown bitter to hide his fear, I believed that he understood me then, as he never had before.
Or maybe not-for he turned his efforts to building locks and cages for that which he held dear, as though metal could withhold fate. Not the case: as in my grandfather's paintings of the sea, it loomed larger than even the most important actions by the most powerful of us.
On the long ride back to Tirion, my brothers wept and the earth drank their tears. Did life wither beneath the salt of their tears or did strange new forms arise, hungry for grief, beholding Aman for the first time, as we had so long ago?
The sea had not yet marked this night or our grief but it would: As I stood at my father's back, holding a torch so that he could speak with King Olwë of the Teleri about the lending of his ships, I knew that it would soon drink its fill of us.
We were borne upon the sea to the Outer Lands, white ships caught between the black sky and the black sea that rose in anger and grief, casting some of the ships onto their sides and spilling the Noldor upon them into the water, screaming, floundering, dying. We watched from the deck of the ship our father had commandeered-Olwë's own ship, his son slain on the foredeck, his body still living, gasping, gurgling upon blood, kicked unceremoniously into the sea-as the other ships capsized. We waited for our turn. Behind me, Tyelkormo would not stop shivering, and I felt his terrified thoughts, lacking in logic, like small, sharp projectiles launch into my own mind. But the sea bore us in safety to the opposite shore, the way before us as smooth as glass.
It leaped up to lap at my fingers, clutching the railing: Taste of me! My mouth pinched shut against it, to the taste of grief, some of which was now my doing.
We had knelt by the sea and tried to wash the blood from our hands, but the water was red with it by then, and it splashed our faces, and we tasted salt and blood upon our lips.
Taste of me!
When I'd turned my sword in the gut of the first mariner I'd slain, I felt his pain as sharply as though it had been mine. I screamed with it. History would remember the madness of the dark son of Fëanáro that night; they did not know. I felt his fear smother me; I felt the pain of his spirit tearing from his body; I watched his memories come one by one before his eyes, my eyes: his first silvery fish caught from the docks at Alqualondë, his marriage, his daughter held in his arms for the first time, her wedding, her first silvery fish caught on the docks at Alqualondë-
And then he was gone.
I felt the spirit tear from the body and I screamed, head thrown back and mouth open, twisted, contorted. The strength of my screams tore my throat like claws. Then the spirit departed, and it was over.
Mad. Strange. Dark. That night, I was all of those things.
And also: Murderer.
At last, I understood why the sea had always risen in wrath against my father and my brothers. The Teleri whom it had always coddled bobbed on the surface, facedown, anguished faces looking down into the water, perhaps staring into the eyes of the sea itself. Hair tangled like kelp, darkened by blood, and pale hands floated upon the water, open and empty, hands that had never known what it was to hold a steel blade but had nonetheless died by one. But as I watched, the sea splashed over their hands, and the floating bodies tipped one by one, drawn into the deeps. And I knew then that they would be cast upon the shore, upon the beaches of Eldamar, washed of blood and faces fallen into peace, framed by pearls upon silken white sands.
For that, the sea had exacted retribution for the deed undone by my brothers and father. Yet not me. For me, it laid down flat and smooth as a ribbon leading our ship into the Outer Lands. My brothers stared at me, as if they knew.
Guilty, I locked myself in my cabin below-deck and sat upon the bunk. Why? Why have I been spared? I deserve perhaps even more than the others to be cast into the sea and drowned.
The ship rocked gently and above-deck I heard shouting as another of our ships floundered. I heard Nelyo and Tyelkormo scrambling for rope to rescue those cast into the sea, but our father stayed them. "No hope," he said, but his terror was thick and sour that one of them should bring aboard the curse of Ossë that was beleaguering the other ships while ours sailed in a flat calm. And so they drowned: another kinslaying, unmarked by historians.
Why was I spared? By my fortuitousness, others still should perish.
We are alike, you and I, Carnistir. Like you, I am a murderer, and like you, death is not something that can be left in the past, a memory. It becomes me, and when you wash in my waters, you wash in the blood of every one that I have slain.
We are alike, you and I. Misunderstood. Feared.
It was a dream. I awoke with a start when I felt the ship's belly scrape upon sand. The coarse cotton bedclothes had wrapped themselves around me; they smelled of unfamiliar flesh, of someone who now lay stretched upon the beach, eyes closed to darkness, framed by pearls.
In my mouth was a deep, puckering thirst, a thirst that reminded me of hot popcorn eaten around the campfire by the handful, of Fëanáro shaking the grate over the tossing flames, of Nelyo lavishing it with handfuls of salt, of the twins calling, "More! More! No, more, Nelyo!"
And so my first thought upon landing in Beleriand was not of death and grief and guilt; it was not of courage and freedom, as my father would have liked; it was a memory of a time of joy that had passed unnoticed by us all. I touched my lips and found them dry, tasting of salt.
We moved inland, first to Mithrim, then farther than that, carrying our belongings upon our backs, sleeping in the wild like animals. When Nelyo divided the realms among us, he didn't ask: He gave to me the land farthest from the sea. "With a lake. A cold lake," he said, smiling grimly. The servants of Morgoth had not touched his face but for a thread-thin scar across his cheek that he said came on the day that he'd been captured; after that, to mar his face came with the penalty of death. Still, he was no longer beautiful. The light in his eyes: I had seen light glinting like that once, on the day we'd the hill to Alqualondë for the first time, light that was but a reflection of what the sea-what my brother, marred beneath his clothes in ways too hideous to contemplate-would never again celebrate.
"Do you remember that day?" Nelyo asked suddenly. "The day you almost drowned?" Our other brothers had filed from the room, arguing over petty things. Nelyo's one remaining hand pressed against the map, right above my realm. Thargelion. I tasted the name on my tongue. The lake of which he'd spoken rested in the fork between his thumb and finger. "Or rather, pretended to drown?"
I had trouble meeting his eyes. The light in them-silver light upon water-was painful to look upon. "When did you know?" I asked. "Did Amil tell you?"
"Nay, I have always known, Carnistir. Just as I know that you are not really afraid of the sea. You are like a boy smitten with a girl and not wishing to show it, so you never say her name and hope that no one will notice, when really, she is the only destiny that you have." He rolled his map then with a left hand grown strong and dexterous and departed the room before I could reply.
I swam in Helevorn even when it was cold, in the middle of the bitter winter, cutting the water with my body like a knife, as I had done so long ago with Tyelkormo at my side. I thought of all of them, of my family. With my body numbed by the water, my mind stretched towards each of them in turn and held commune with their secret dreams, my thoughts pressing theirs like sharing an embrace. I learned that none of them cried anymore. I was no longer the only one among us who was cold and strange.
As my limbs grew heavy with cold and weariness, I stretched my thoughts into the West, but the sea snatched them first and, laughing, denied me the one with whom I desired to speak the most. Come to me. And you shall speak with her.
And I would awaken with a start, floating facedown in the water, the cold beginning to take me, with strength enough to swim to the shore, stretch my cloak over my naked skin, and sleep.
I thought often of my mother. I thought of her alone in our father's big house, only I did not know what she would do there without a husband and seven sons to occupy her; there would be no bread to bake, no clothes to wash; I could not imagine that, without us, she even possessed the inspiration for her sculptures. Silly and self-important, I know, but I believed it.
In the big empty house, her skin rang like bells, crying from beneath her clothes: seven bells, one ringing lower and stranger than the others, each a flinch of pain radiating across the sea-a pinch felt in a nerve distant upon a fingertip-racing like fire back to its home: her. But she could not come to us to soothe our sadness, as she'd once promised. The sea lay between us.
Word came to my brother Maedhros that one of the Silmarils had been recovered and lay with Dior in Doriath. I stretched my thoughts to each of my brothers that night, as we lay beneath the same roof for the first time in years; I felt each of them reluctant, most of all, Celegorm and Curufin, who would speak the loudest in order to convince us that they were not cowards. I felt their fear of death bitter as poison upon my tongue, and Curufin's dread of leaving his son-estranged from Curufin but still secretly adored-alone in this treacherous land. I sampled the dreams of the twins, mingled in the middle like the blood they'd once shared, that did not concern themselves with oaths and Silmarils, and the dirge-like darkness of Maglor's sleep. Maedhros dreamt of Thangorodrim, always of Thangorodrim. And revenge.
Beyond them, I stretched to my mother, wondering if she knew the treachery her sons pondered against their own kin. But the sea lay between us and kept her from me.
I imagined the seven phials, one ringing lower than the others. Stranger.
He is strange.
It would never be filled, I realized, and so all of this grief and endless pain I felt: It would not move mountains or shape rivers. It would accomplish nothing.
A moon before we left for Doriath, I woke from a dream of my mother; she pressed her breast with a trembling hand to quiet the phials that rang almost constantly now, loud as bells. Still, they cried out and would not be silenced by anyone less than Eru, much less someone of flesh and earthbound as she.
I no longer visited my brothers in their dreams. I dared not even consider my own.
Before the sun rose, I had saddled my horse and slipped a note beneath Maglor's door: Maglor because he was the only one who had found sleep that night, however restless, and I hoped that he would not awaken before I'd had my chance to escape.
I rode to the sea.
It took many days, but I was tireless and my horse was loyal and eager beneath me, and when the first strong breeze wrapped my face, I scented salt and almost turned back but for the memory of my mother, with the phials pressed beneath her hand. I tried to send my thoughts to her, but always, I was blocked by the sea.
I came to the beach unseen and turned my horse free. He would come to my whistle when I was ready, and he had earned his reprieve. The sand gripped my feet, awkward in their boots, and threatened to cast me upon my face, but then, the sand had been shaped by the sea and so was itself treacherous. Winter was coming, and the sky was the color of slate and the sea beneath it just a bit darker, the horizon darkest of all: the west, where we could not go. The waves were rough, and I waited for them to settle, as they had always done in my presence before, but they surged harder as I drew closer, and I saw that they would at last exact their retribution.
I stripped off my clothes and boots and the wind slapped my skin and colored it red and sore. The sand at the water's edge was so cold that my feet ached at its touch, but I plunged onward, heedless, into the foaming anger of the sea, my body striving against the waves that sought to push me back even as I felt a current deep below the surface wrap my legs with lover's arms and drag me into the embrace of the sea.
I had enough time to take a final, gasping breath before I was dragged beneath the water.
Grandfather Finwë had been a favorite in our house because whenever he came to visit, he brought a big picture book of stories from the Time before Elves, as he called it, pronounced with such reverence that even my rambunctious brothers and I were awed into silence. But what had existed in the Time before Elves? we asked, and with the self-centered fears of small children, Where had we been? Grandfather Finwë would laugh and draw the littlest of us-the one permitted to sit in his lap while the others formed a half-circle around him on the floor-closer to his chest, making the others lean in as well, as though with a shared breath, taken in anticipation of his answer: Why you were in the thoughts of Eru! A wonderful place of all colors and music more beautiful than any we shall ever hear on Arda. This book is but those of Eru's designs that have come into being; many more of these books exist, unwritten, in His thoughts.
Because it was the Time before Elves, we understood that it was stories about the Valar, about the creation of Arda. When I was very small-small enough to be the one held in Grandfather's lap-there was a particular story that Macalaurë would always request. "Tell of 'The Betrayal of Ossë!' " he would cry. Macalaurë always liked a dark edge to his stories and a happy ending, and "The Betrayal of Ossë" had both.
In the days when Arda was being made, Grandfather told us, the Dark One swayed Ossë to his allegiance, promising him dominion over the seas that he loved. Ossë was loved as a dearest friend by Ulmo, the Lord of the Waters, and Ulmo grieved in those days, thinking his friend lost. Ulmo has no spouse to comfort him, and indeed, Ossë had been all that was dear to him, and at his betrayal, Ulmo drew to the shore and wept until the sea rose with his tears and tasted grief for the first time.
The ending we knew: That Ossë had been convinced to come back to Ulmo, and he'd been pardoned as one must always pardon a dear friend, and has since served Ulmo in the waters, remaining loyal but nonetheless-at times-perilous. The ending was happy, and when we were away from Grandfather and being honest, a bit boring.
But the sea ever after tasted of tears. Of salt.
And, I would learn only short years later, when it laid its treacherous hands upon me for the first time, that it had also developed a tasted for grief.
It pulled me under, and as the dreams and memories of others are mine to idly peruse like fingers turning the pages of a book, so the memories of the sea become mine, all of the pain and death and partings to which it has borne witness over the ages. I tasted the salt of tears cried into its water and, beneath that, something filthy and metallic: blood.
I could see the waves raging overhead, but the sea wrapped me and cradled me as gently as one might an infant, and I opened my heart and spirit and shared in its grief.
The breath in my lungs was growing scarce, but the cold water had numbed my limbs, and the current jerked me deeper, and I wondered if the sea meant to take me too, to add my blood to that already spilled by thousands before me. I waited for the certain despair at this realization and thought, at last, that I might weep. Pity that the sea divided me from my mother, and the dark violet phial around her neck would remain bereft a single tear.
My eyes were open, but darkness took me, creeping from the edges, and I let forth the last of the air in my lungs to bubble to the surface and be lost.
With the last of my energy, I stretched my thoughts towards Aman, towards her.
She was not living in my father's house at all. This she had given to my cousin Findaráto, the first of us to return from the dead, and his new bride. And soon, their first child as well. The house hungered for joy and laughter and we had once given it both in great measures. Since we'd left, the house had starved with only our mother for company; now both would be happy once more.
My mother lived in Alqualondë. She was rebuilding the damage done by her people, her husband, us. I saw her helping the Telerin queen choose a statue for the nursery. She was also with child. Life flourished in Aman, despite all that we had done.
The statues were all my mother's, all done since we had left. But how?
Life flourished in Aman.
At night, my mother walked the beach beneath the palace, the beach strewn with pearls that had once cradled the heads of the departed mariners, washed gently ashore by the delicate hands of the sea, their wounds washed and bloodless, their faces tranquil and eyes closed as though in sleep. The mariners were gone now but the pearls remained and caught the light of the moon.
She touched the phials and thought of us, gazing at the sea, striving for a single flicker of contact between us. But the Curse of Mandos-she believed-had locked us away from her. But this night was different; this night, she clutched the phials and stretched her thoughts over the sea, and I answered.
Mother! Mother, I will be home soon!
One of the cords had broken in her hand, and my phial lay across her palm while she stood frozen for a long time, staring at the sea that had finally answered her this night, the tears on her face not of grief but tasting of salt nonetheless, dripping into the eager waves that lapped her feet. Trembling fingers were working the cork free of the phial that had not been opened in years. The water surged as high as her knees, reaching for her hand and the phial that she held in it. She did not have to bend far to give the phial its final tear, taken from the sea.
And when the phial is filled, then the tears you cry shall erode mountains and change the course of rivers with their power, maybe even fill the sea.
With a ragged, choking gasp, I drew a lungful of air and found my vision restored, my feet rooted solidly to the sand and in water to my waist, water as placid as that of the lake Helevorn that I loved. Foam left from the sea's earlier rage floated on the surface, forming Tengwar shapes that I no longer needed to read. I knew what they said. I knew all of the sea's secrets.
A playful wave rose suddenly and slapped my belly. The water trickling back to the sea sounded like laughter.
As I drank hungrily of the air, I realized that my face was damp. Numb fingers rose and touched my cheeks, then slipped into my mouth, curious and no longer afraid.
They tasted of salt.
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.