1. Nai Etelehtuvanyet
There are subtle changes in his acts and motions, so slight that they are only noticed by one who cares too deeply. He moves like a noble, wounded animal trying so hard not to show his suffering. The way he holds his cup. The way he pauses to chew bread. Everything is second-guessed: a hiccup of hesitation. Is this how it went in my last life? he must be thinking. Was I right-handed or left? Did I hold the spoon between my fingers? Did I sit with my ankles crossed?
Amárië, who cares too deeply, watches with a pain in her ribs: a hollow niche where the memory of her husband used to live. The man who sits at her table, the man who cannot remember if he likes sweet tea or bitter, is not the right size to fill that niche. In some small ways, he has shrunk. Memory's garment hangs awkwardly on him now. It droops on his shoulders. The sleeves are too long. The colour makes him look pale and fragile.
Arafinwë says to Amárië, 'Every day, I see improvement. He never spoke when he was first returned. Now he begins to speak without prompting.'
Findaráto sips his tea, sweetened, and stares at the wall, missing the window by inches, unaware that he is unaware. His father squeezes his arm too heartily in compensation.
'Sometimes,' Arafinwë adds, in answer to his son's silence.
Then Findaráto, with a quick shake of his head, makes a crack in the cloud that binds him. A mirrored ray of his old smile shines through. 'Atya,' he says, 'we should go to Alqualondë. I can't remember the last time I saw my cousins there.' And to Amárië, 'You're wearing the scarf I gave you. It's beautiful with your hair.'
'Thank you,' she replies, while Arafinwë nods.
'We may go to Alqualondë if you wish. I shall arrange for it.'
Later, in secret, Arafinwë tells her, 'It is good that he is thinking of his family. It is the first time I have heard him mention Alqualondë since...'
He needs not say since what. Amárië nods to agree, though somewhere in the corners of her mind a worry is hidden between frightened recollections of second-hand stories. It stains the fabric of her will with hesitance. What good will it do, this foreign Alqualondë place, if Findaráto's memory is jogged by the wrong sight? If he recalls the wrong event? He is still so breakable. This is what she thinks as she watches Arafinwë's back disappear down the corridor.
Sometimes he speaks Sindarin to himself without thinking. It happens rarely during the day, during conversation, but at night Amárië can hear him mumbling unknown words into the pillows. They pull her ears and strain her head as she fumbles to make sense of them, but always to the same failed end; she cannot understand what Findaráto is saying. Are the hard sounds words of peace or fear?
'Findaráto,' she says, 'Findya... What do you speak?'
It is a while before he turns to her, but when he does, she nearly gasps at the look in his eyes. Her hand jumps to her cheek. In that second, in that blue-laced moonlight, the old Findaráto stares back at her, and her heart pounds louder to shout out to a thing it has not seen in so many years. There is her husband, as plain as if he had never gone.
His eyes scan her face and he smiles in sly recognition. 'You shine even in the dark,' he says as his hand covers hers like a shell. The first kiss is as delicate as insect wings, but the second comes coloured with a feral growl. By the lust that charges his blood, it seems like he has been gone forever.
It is frightening what frustrated time can do to lonely bodies, Amárië thinks.
Arafinwë has been to Alqualondë many times since its changing. He has trained himself not to flinch at memory. But he still pauses to lean a moment against the carriage door before striding, hands out, to greet his marriage-father.
Findaráto, who fell asleep through the jostling and rocking from Tirion, leans against Amárië with the uncertainty of a child while his mother in the seat opposite coos reassurance. He has never seen Alqualondë by the light of the sun, but Eärwen has, and she does her best to champion its beauty. She is next out of the carriage, then Findaráto, then Amárië with tense features. It is silly, Amárië tells herself; they are in a fine, family place. But she still cannot help but keep her hand at Findaráto's elbow, lightly steering him as if he were liable to run off in an instant, as if he were twelve years old. Her vigilance will cling to him if he moves too suddenly.
Arafinwë has packed a dinner basket, and Olwë leads a procession of aunts and cousins and great-nephews bearing cartons of food down to a grassy plain near the beaches. Sixty or more have come to join the spectacle. The younger ones look at Findaráto curiously, trying to remember who he is, if they remember him at all. He knows none of them.
'Who are they?' he asks his father.
And Arafinwë replies, 'This is your mother's family. Her sister and brother and their children, and children of their children, and cousins and husbands and wives... You must remember some. Your cousin Alparan is there. And his wife, Rigallë. Your uncle Alatuë and auntie Cirialla. You remember them?'
Slowly, Findaráto nods, and takes his seat within the circle of family as the day's guest of honour and prize possession. It takes only seconds for him to slip behind the wall of some faraway place in his mind, caught in a cage that will let him give no more than an absent nod or 'thank you'. He looks overwhelmed and serene at the same time, Amárië thinks. He picks at bread with this fingertips and stares into the waves.
When they are back in Tirion, in their bed, Findaráto leans against her. His body, in defiance of his patchwork spirit, is warm and solid. Amárië strokes his hair. She has made a vow. She will not say it aloud, for fear that giving her words a voice might conjure new obstacles and guarantee failure, but she recites them in the silent, back part of her throat.
Findya, I will help you. I will hold your arm and guide you. I will pull this veil from your eyes and let you know the stars again. I will lift this weight from your tongue and let you find your voice again. I will teach you the dangers of this world, and the treasures. I will show you the history of our life, and the future. I will embrace you at my side and refuse to let you fall. I will shield you with my love and ensure that you are well. This I promise.
As if he could hear her, as if her mere thoughts were enough to make him whole, he shifts in his sleep and, for once, seems utterly content.
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.