1. No Traveler Returns
At first I was not sure he would answer the call, torn by his ties to the land and his people. His spirit came to my Halls wounded, aggrieved, but intact. War took a greater toll on the spirit, but in war death was expected, in some situations even welcomed. We regarded each other for a moment before he spoke.
"So it is true," he said.
The simplicity of it, along with the distrust in his eyes, almost made me smile. Why does doubt linger when faced with reality? I have never understood this. It is the same among Elves and Men.
"Yes, it is true. Did you doubt it?"
He seemed taken aback. "Well, one reads the histories, hears the legends, but no one ever leaves and returns to confirm it. . ."
He seemed about to say more but broke off, shifting uncomfortably as though still in his body. He could not say the word, not yet.
An Elf of moderate height, strong arms, an archer. He had been a hunter. Long dark hair and, unusual but not without precedent, deep brown eyes. They always came to me clothed in the image in which they had envisioned themselves in life. His form was not as perfect as he had been but neither was he overly flawed. I was impressed with his honesty, with his sense of who he was, or rather, had been.
"No. No one who comes within my halls ever returns to Middle-earth. The way was closed by decree long ago."
I could feel his distress at my words but was not moved to pity by it. It was the way of things. As a hunter, he knew this.
"Then I should not have answered your call. I was afraid to answer but thought I must try. I have a wife and daughter. They will have no meat; the winter has been so harsh."
There would have been tears but that was impossible now.
"Their grief will stay their hunger for a time, and afterward. . . Do not fear, they shall survive."
"Without me," he said flatly.
"Yes, without you."
This was the most difficult realization, one I had seen countless times. His image before me faded a little. Within my Halls all memory of his past would be forgotten until nothing remained but the small, yet timeless, flame of his spirit. It happened sooner for some than others.
His image suddenly solidified, along with his anger. "I want to go back," he said suddenly, challengingly. "The Valar can do as they will. Send me back!"
"We can only do what Eru has empowered us to do. But even were I able to grant your request, I would not. Death is a transforming experience. You must face your past before you are ready for life again."
His jaw was set stubbornly. "I have no life apart from my family. They are everything to me. You will judge my deeds mercilessly only to keep me here, to keep me from finding a way to return."
"Here, it is not my judgement that matters. It is you who shall determine the length of your stay."
"You speak in riddles. What must I do to get my life back?"
"You must first consider your deeds, each triumph, each flaw, each emotion. You must understand your life with perfect clarity. . . then you must forget."
For a moment I thought he had faded again but he had only gone pale from fear. A strong self image indeed.
"Forget? Forget my family, my friends, my people? Everything?"
"Yes, renewal begins only by letting go."
I could see him ponder this. What would it mean? How would this square with his concept of his life, of himself?
His eyes grew dull, his hair lost its luster, his strong muscles sagged and weakened. This image was an ill fit and I hoped he would soon realize it.
I stood and placed a hand on his shoulder, escorting him to his room. It was empty, the walls slick and of the purest white. There were no reference points here, nothing to serve as a reminder. It was not home. It was not anywhere this Elf had been.
He looked up at me desperately. "Can you see the future? Will I ever see them again?" His voice was plaintive, like a child who seeks comfort when he is certain none will come.
"I cannot see the path of every life, for there are many factors working for good and ill in the world, but my feeling is that you will."
He nodded and his spirit grasped that hope, clutched it tight to his bosom. He would forget, his wounds would heal, his sorrow would cease, but his hope would never fade. It was part of him now.
In the days to come he would walk the empty halls, wander the gardens, and his grief would be as a live thing, threatening to devour him from inside. Yet he was strong and would not allow his grief to do to his spirit what the avalanche of rock had done to his body, destroy it.
He looked at the white oblivion in front of him with trepidation.
"What do I do here?"
"Cast off your garments and sleep," I said. "You led an honorable life. Your dreams will be pleasant, I promise."
It was a promise I made to every Elf, every Man, who came unto me. It was a promise I would always keep.
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.