36. Scene IV.xiii - part II
- Captain: [ignoring them]
So I poured him a cup, and while I was unrolling the cloth -- and it wasn't a tablecloth, whatever these louts tell you -- he's holding the wine, looking at it, and at me, wondering when the joke was going to happen, and I poured myself a cupful, and he kept on watching me, very wary, and I, in a stroke of, if you will allow me to say so, brilliance, made the toast to absent friends. And he whispered, "Yes," and drank with me, and so we had our own little feast on the steps of the dais, under the golden trees, and we talked. And listened. And I learned that the noble Edrahil, esteemed counselor of the eldest of Finarfin's scions and lord entrusted with the most vital matters of our lord's household, and accounted of no small skill with word or note either, considered himself a failure and a squanderer of his time and a miserable excuse for an Elf besides.
Captain: [disregarding her cold tone]
Indeed. For, so he said, he had thought himself excellent, and although he was willing to concede the Vanyar our superiors in song (though naught else of skill) and to be accounted in the second rank after the children of the King (meaning in this case our first lord, Finwe)
[with a quick glance to make sure Beren understands]
--he had never been content to allow any other might be his better, nor rival, and yet here so many were his equals, and it was easy as breathing to them, for all that they had not the same scholarship here (meaning there) and he could not dismiss it as but a rustic sort of music, and of a different kind, and hence no competition, for he'd heard compositions of the greatest, like Elemmire, learned in a few hearings by the Doriathrin and changed into their own modes and sung back with the most elaborate variations. And that was many, not a few, before ever he should speak of Daeron, whose mastery he had no more hope of equaling than he had of the Powers' --
[to the Steward]
See? I can do your style as well as your tone of voice pretty fairly, hm?
You're just remembering it.
Not just. There's skill and effort involved.
[to the Sea-elf]
And I couldn't figure out what this had to do with you, and I wanted to say something about him conceding that the gods could manage to do something better than us, but I restrained myself.
[raising an eyebrow, as the Steward visibly restrains from speaking in turn]
--Of course, my mouth was full at the time. And anyway he soon cleared that up talking about how he'd constantly made light of your pipe-playing and your people's songs and how everyone and everything here made him remember you, in spite of the fact that the cultures were so different, and he had been so thoughtless not to realize that his words to you would have had the same effect on you as Lord Enedir's telling him to stop wasting his time on that for which he was not suited to him, only worse, for his family thought him much talented in painting and would have had him study that, but he had never praised any deed of yours at all.
[she snorts and tosses her head at his words, her eyes very hard at the memories, as he continues in the same mild nostalgic vein]
I remember being most confused over his berating himself for his cruelty in deriding you as childish for skipping, and climbing in trees, and not understanding what that had to do with the Moon Feast at all, though I agreed as I had all along.
[looking meaningfully at Beren]
And he says that who was he, after all, to declare what was childish, and what was unfitting of the Eldar, when our lord's eldest cousin and the King of this land's own daughter had been up in an elm the day we arrived, and but a day before had enlisted all that she could find unoccupied into a complicated game of tag that involved, among other steps, skipping. And he'd attempted to explain it as having some deep metaphysical and ritual significance, but when he inquired of Lady Galadriel-also-known-as-Nerwen what it meant, she answered, after she'd got her breath back, that it but made it much funnier, to have to obey the rules of the dance, even if it makes the game harder.
Teler Maid: [bemused]
Skipping. --Lady Nerwen.
[he nods seriously, while she shakes her head in amazement]
Not even your sister skipped with me, though she never chid me for it, nor for scaling the bannisters as though 'twas a hawser. --Nor did you.
Well, she would have if she'd been there. Joined her lady in the game, I mean. Princess Luthien's hard to argue with, as Barahirion could tell you.
[Beren hides a grin]
Skipping -- backwards -- and with her hair falling down all over the place like Treelight, and laughing "like a loon"--
[he nudges his companion, who affects indifference]
--till she could hardly stand up, by the end of it, and the rest of us; not much better. Though I did notice that she wasn't waving off offers of a supporting arm as we would all expect, when it was young Celeborn doing the offering. And nobody saying anything scathing about being silly, or shouldn't we be less frivolous, or was this any way for adult Eldar to behave?
I think that the realblow was when your lady's parents lamented the fact that they'd been too busy with organizing the feast to join in.
[Beren joins the Teler girl in looking both amused and half-disbelieving]
And he kept on explaining about how he realized now how wrong he had been to disdain you, Sanderling, and I kept on agreeing with him all the while, and yet he didn't once get angry with me for presuming to do so. --So, did I tell it to your satisfaction?
What have I left out?
That you spent the whole of the time listening to my complaints without complaint of your own, when you had far rather been at the dancing and under the stars and moon, nor made reproach for having missed it, but only to jest about having failed to secure enough wine for such a thirsty night of talk when the flagon ran dry.
Well, it wasn't all on one side, I wasn't just commiserating with you -- I do recall ranting as well about the fact everything was strange and much of what I knew didn't apply to animals in this continent (which is to say, that continent) and that I'd tell people to do things and they'd listen and go off and do something else altogether, and so on.
Truly, I did not notice--
Teler Maid: [breaking in]
But of course you did not notice -- for when did another's concerns ever concern you? Nay, Edrahil, you need not even say so much!
I think he meant it as a common courtesy, Curlew.
Nonetheless it was equally the truth -- against my own cares I fear yours mattered not, so that you might have complained of mutinies or plagues of vampire bats and I'd not have noticed while I bemoaned my state. Moreover you have omitted what followed -- how upon the morrow I was so dismayed to have disclosed my cares and uncertainties to your hearing that I avoided you for days thereafter, all the while in a fear that you'd make merry over my admissions among your friends, or presume upon me in public fellowship before all, and spent the whiles in an agony of regret and shame over my weakness.
The whiles Ithought it was because I'd tried to convince you to join a proposed excursion to the southern marches and then perhaps if the weather held good out to the site of the First Battle. --I still think it would have cheered you up.
To be trapped with you, Captain Beleg, the Lady Galadriel and a collection of the least-sane followers of Elu Thingol and House Finarfin combined, for weeks on end? --And innumerable trees, of course.
There would have been serious cultural and historical stuff too, visiting Amon Ereb.
[the Steward just Looks at him]
--And bugs, and no furniture, and rain, and songs sung most uncarefully of technicalities, and whatever we managed to scare up for dinner, and you could have complained for weeks on end while enjoying the whole business just as you did in after years.
That was after, and not unconnected with the events you insist upon recounting.
Captain: [very smug]
You finally admitted to a liking for cross-country excursions and hunting trips and the whole outdoors life.
[the other grimaces in self-directed disgust]
--What did I say, people?
[there are groans and resigned sighs from around the circle]
Pay up, now.
[one by one the other eight find or manifest some small article of value and hand over the items to their commander, who pockets them all into his wallet, while the subject of the bet affects dignified obliviousness to it all.]
Beren: [aside, to the Sea-elf]
That's a wager.
Teler Maid: [shaking her head]
I still do not see the purpose of it.
Would you just finish the confounded story?
You mean you want me to tell it?
Steward: [not fooled by the innocent query]
No, I want it over with.
Oh, all right. --As he said, for a couple of days he moped about, dodging out of my sight and worrying me still more -- though not much since I had some of my people looking out for him meanwhiles -- and then abruptly and quite unpredictably abandoned that policy by coming upon me unexpectedly and collaring me, and demands without any sort of explanation, "What do you think you're about?"
You exaggerate shamelessly. I did not lay a hand on you, and you knew quite well at the time the matter whereof I spoke.
So? And I meant "collared" figuratively, the way it's usually meant.
--And I said, "Er, what?" and he snarls back, "Why did you tell him I was not doing well?" and I said, "Because you aren't. Are you?" And that shut him up quite, for a bit at least. And then he gives me a look that would have frozen boiling water solid and asks me, "What are you looking to get out of this?" and I said, "--I beg your pardon?"
[the Steward clears his throat]
Well, what I actually said was, "Er, what?" again, which admittedly doesn't sound so intelligent but means the same thing--
[his former colleague giggles before recollecting herself]
--and while I was trying to figure out which of several possible meanings of "this" was intended he reiterated, in very simple syllables and extremely slowly and then over again in Quenya too--
[the Steward's expression becomes more pained]
"What -- do -- you -- want -- from -- me?" And I told him the plain truth again: "That you not be so gloomy."
"Why?" says he, which was such an idiotic question that I gave it an equally foolish answer: "Then you won't have to spoil any more perfectly fine evenings by moping off in a corner." At which point he gets all haughty again and tells me, "If you minded it so much, then you ought have said something at the time."
"If I had, I would have," I told him. I swear it felt like the Helcaraxe in there, for all 'twas midsummer. So, of course, I made a joke: "The House of Finwe already has one grim, bad-tempered Elf -- we don't really need another Caranthir about, do we?" Which threw him for a moment, and then he comes back ever so smoothly, "Belike you will be less high-humoured yourself when you have heard my message for you: our lord would speak next to you, and upon the moment."
"I doubt it," said I.
"You have not the Sight, I think," he tells me, just like that, and I said back, "Don't need it -- he's just going to tell me that you've agreed to the mission I suggested and ask me to take care of the necessary arrangements for the journey, and I'm going to tell him I've already done so." And he stands there scowling at me like a pup that's got out of its nest and can't find its way back to the litter, ready to try to chew your fingers off when you try to fetch the poor mite from behind a cask or under a chest or wherever it's backed itself into. "Just mind you don't get me shot, this time," I said as a joke, and he stops looking angry all of an instant and gives me a look completely guilt-stricken, which wasn't what I'd meant for to happen at all.
[he stops, and does not go on, despite the Sea-elf's expectant look; the Steward clears his throat]
Your turn. I'm tired of talking.
That is so unamusing that it cannot even be considered a joke.
[continued silence -- he gives the Captain an even sterner Look, to no avail.]
You said you wanted it finished. Well, prove it.
[after a moment of impasse the other capitulates, shaking his head]
Steward: [acerbic tone]
This lunatic stood there grinning, and while I was distracted with the consideration of my prospects for surviving a journey halfway 'cross Beleriand with a mad Elf who deemed it a fine jest to be shot, he declared to me, "You'd best not, for I'll haunt you if you do, I vow it," and dealt me a blow that sent me reeling to the wall before turning to go answer his own summons.
Teler Maid: [troubled, to the Captain]
For what did you hit him, that were not angered with him beforetimes?
Captain: [snorting with disgust]
I clapped him on the shoulder, is all. I didn't realize that the shock of it would knock him off balance like that.
You have to admit, sir, you're the only one that was ever so bold to slap Lord Edrahil on the back. Not even the King does that.
Steward: [extremely austere]
Finrod Felagund is a most civil, courteous and gracious lord whose humour never exceeds the limits of decorum; I leave you to your own conclusions as to the corollary.
[picking up as though he'd been telling the story all along]
--And so I found it even as he'd said, that my gear should have been readied and horses called and the other riders all waiting upon us, and so we gave thanks and farewell to our hosts and companions and betook ourselves upon the journey to the High King's holdings. And for those days and nights I sulked exceedingly and my wrath that I should be so judged and dealt with for mine own good, as were but a child, contended for precedence with indignation that a mere fighter's counsel should count as high as mine in our sovereign's sight (and also that manifestly should be deserved), and that his friendship should be so divided (for so I saw it) and both of those with the truth, which was that answer that I might not deny, and relief that the King should know and take thought for the burden of my griefs, and anger that it had been made known thus and in my despite, and I be reproached for keeping mine own counsel and my cares so long; nor was I good company the whiles, as might well be imagined--
--You take so long about even the simplest story. What happened was this: we kept having horse races -- which we always did, when the ground was level and clear, as a way to make the journey more fun, just as you'll recall from here -- and he kept losing and getting more annoyed, mostly because he wasn't concentrating on the course but getting distracted by his inner turmoil, and so his mount kept getting put out with him and back at him by doing things like going forward at an angle or splashing through the muddiest parts that could be found, and annoying everyone else -- and I ignored it all on the assumption that he'd get over it soon enough.
[with a sidelong glance]
--How hard is that to recount?
Do not be fooled -- he but did so of a purpose, that you would resume!
I know. We're almost done. He'd said nothing for the whole of the day -- if you can believe it -- and we'd almost reached the end, when we stopped to watch the sunset on the water, and he rode off a little ways on his own, so of course I went along. After a bit he asks, "Am I truly like Lord Caranthir?" which I wasn't expecting.
"Not so much," I said back, which was the truth. And he didn't say anything, so I said, "You're not really giving up your music, are you?" And he answers, "It was not sturdy enough for the journeying that lies ahead of us." I wasn't sure I liked the sound of that -- I mean, he'd managed to bring the instrument unbroken over the Grinding Ice, after all -- but I wanted to get on to the High King's hall before it got too late so instead of getting into that, I said, "You could make another that will be."
"I don't want your pity," he says to me, not angry nor sharp nor anything of the sort.
"I know," I told him. "I'm sorry." And he gave me a look to match the tone of voice, very plain, very straightforward, -- not like him at all, you'd probably say -- and returns, "Then since you will not rescind it, I must thank you for it." And She went down and we got back on the trail and went on from there.
Teler Maid: [not entirely happy still]
So it is of mercy that you did befriend him . . .
[suddenly, rather fierce]
For what do you spend so much of your time speaking but of him, when have you not your own lives and stories and deeds to be telling?
Beren: [reasonable tone]
But that's who you're really most interested in, and you know it and we know it.
You are unkind and do amuse yourselves at my expense, to find diversion in my folly.
Fourth Guard: [earnest]
Would you rather hear about the building of the City, Maiwe? I worked on the Gates: do you want to know about dressing stone so that a dry-set wall will line up perfectly and still appear completely natural from the outside? It isn't at all easy to make an ashlar facing look like weathered rock, you know, even though it does seem that it would be the easiest thing in the world to make broken stone look like broken stone.
Teler Maid: [coldly]
You do make sport of me.
Do you mean you want us to talk about him, or you don't want us to talk about him?
[somehow his former colleague finds her toes more interesting than anything else.]
Sulking's also an option, I suppose.
[she looks up at him with an angry expression]
You're not helping matters, you realize.
On the contrary, that's exactly what we're doing.
I didn't ask for your assistance.
Well, not in so many words, no.
Not in any words.
You don't think we can make it worse, do you?
Look, all you're doing is imitating a statue, and--
Captain: [not missing a beat]
--not by much, when the Sea-Mew wants to know what happened to change a self-centered, neurotically-insecure-yet-overconfident musician into an unselfish, self-effacing hero?
Steward: [grit teeth]
I am not any sort of a hero--!
But you are, sir.
Even if we didn't see it before, we couldn't help it after Serech, when the King was down and you held us long enough for Beren's father to get there.
What else could I have done?
Given up and died.
Forsaken your duty because it was hopeless, instead of proving that sometimes it's a good idea to have a pessimist in charge, since it comes as no surprise to him not just that things could go wrong, but that there's no hope of them going otherwise. Instead of the chap who was convinced that yes, we could easily take out Melkor-now-Morgoth, retake the Silmarils (ignoring the problem of the Gloomweaver), and make Endor into what Valinor ought to have been, all in time to hear his epics chronicling it at dinner.
[looking over at the three youngest members of the group:]
--We were idiots, if you haven't realized that by now.
[the object of their praises struggles with embarrassment, and then takes the offhand approach]
--What became of him? He faded, for the most part, unmarked and unmourned, during the crossing of the Ice; when it became most eminently clear that a talent for remembering was of far more worth put to the accounting of consumables and not for the rehearsing of lore, and a gift of eloquence more valuable employed in passing on a leader's instructions than any new-fashioned verse of his own devising. What little was left of him did not survive the knowledge that his ambitions had set another far on the Westward path, in his own place -- or in the stead of a Northern destination -- and a hard reckoning of the worth of that exchange, listening for heartbeats in terror of silence. He did not return from that parley, and none missed him.
--Unregretted, perhaps, but not unnoticed. --Though I was late in recognizing it, I must admit. We were well-settled along the Lake by the time it occurred to me that you were saying things because they were the sorts of things that you would have said, and well aware of how arrogant and pompous they sounded, and allowing folk to laugh at you not to have the better laugh on them, but as a strange way of joining in with the general mirth.
What curious notions you do come up with.
Teler Maid: [narrowing her brows]
Do you know what he would say, when gone from among the House, and neither Lord Ingold nor any other of the family to reprove him present, -- how he would declare that there was scarce any art whatsoever in the making of gardens, for so much did the plants do of their own, without care, and to but arrange them in differing place was the play of children, not of minds full grown--
[in a rush, to the Steward]
--and when I did say that it was insult to the Earthqueen to say such you would but disclaim that it was honor to her to say that no hand could better hers, and your friends laughed at me behind their wine-cups, but can you say here that you did not twist words like hawsers?--
[not waiting for him to answer]
--and of those who followed the Rider that there was little greater skill in those that did hunt than among the beasts themselves, for so much did they do indeed, that it should take no thought nor speech, nay, for must be silent when stalking prey--
[to the Steward again]
--and that was much of mirth between your fine lord Maglor and his brothers, and all of the general bandying of words about, in that so-witty company -- but you did think it, I knew then and know it to be true!
[to the Captain, demanding:]
It does not astonish you to learn that?
Er -- no, I can't say it did when he told me.
Teler Maid: [outraged]
Is there nothing that he might do or yet have done, that would aggrieve you then?
What, you think it's easy, having a compulsively-hypercritical despondent type who's harder on himself than anyone else for a friend?
[she shoots a Look at the Steward in turn]
And you say naught to that?
Steward: [very dry]
Rest assured, I would contradict him, -- if there were any point on which I might. But there is, for good and ill, nothing I can say.
[she snorts angrily, her lips tightening]
Only that is not so. There are many things you might say, many things hard and sharp and pointed as swords, cold as iron, burning as fire, that should wound the spirit, -- only you choose not so, but let them make game of you, and answer not, but smile from your high vantage point and fancy yourself most generous, that you withhold your mockery! And these are grateful for even the crumbs of your notice that you so jealously grant them!
[Beren and the Youngest Ranger exchange a startled glance]
Beren: [whispering, to the Youngest Ranger]
Whoa, does that sound familiar or what?
Youngest Ranger: [nodding, as quietly]
It sounds like the Fall of the Noldor, the bits with Feanor.
[through the rest of her tirade they carry on a low-level exchange of nervous banter, making it increasingly harder for the nearer of the Ten to behave]
Teler Maid: [glaring around at the rest of them]
You sit at his feet in eagerness and hope that he should approve ye and make remark of your words as though he were Lord Ingold himself!
Captain: [straightfaced, not showing any anger in response]
Oh no, we never get them mixed up. They don't look anything alike. --Sound different, too.
[this just makes her lose her temper still more]
You know whereof I mean! You are pleased even to have his mockery, as though you merited no more, as though such attention were honour of itself and enow for your content!
Youngest Ranger: [aside]
Only we never thought of him as a god.
Speak for yourself.
Are you blind, then, that can see all else so clearly, and nothing of this? What fog misleading has he set upon the lot of ye, that should be so fondly led and misled that have not my excuse for it?
Well, perhaps a demi-god.
You are even yourselves Noldor, -- well, for the most part -- and that high precedence he cannot claim against you. --Oh, but you came to the Light sooner than we -- and yet you left it fast enough in truth as well!
I'm not really one to say, though, being mortal.
Or is it that you believe in his assurance of greater wisdom, and that you less skilled in words, less truly are the Quendi than he and his honored companions?
You met all the same Powers I did when we were alive.
Teler Maid: [gesturing sweepingly]
Only not any of ye has not the gift of thought nor song, but instead to it do add other skills, so far from diminished that are not bards or scribes!
Beren: [quick headshake]
Didn't meet him.
Teler Maid: [impassioned, not noticing (or caring) that no one is disagreeing with her]
But what of that which all must have to live, nor there might be speaking without?! Is it not so -- that to grow and catch the stuff of food, of clothing, to make the things that must be had for other making, is that not as worthful as to make words and letters to hold them in?
Youngest Ranger: [nodding slightly towards the Steward]
--He's not much like Queen Melian.
Beren: [biting his lip]
[there is some suspicious coughing from his left as well, but Earwen's former servant is too caught up in her harangue to notice them.]
Or why are things of stone more noble than the same designs when made in woven rushes, more worthy a vase than a basket, tell? Or why is a house of stone more noble than a ship of wood?
Nor Huan neither.
[the Hound perks up his ears and rolls his eyes to look at them without lifting his head]
Oh, I don't know, you haven't heard Huan being sarcastic--
Is there not no less skill in either, and so too in the makers of them?
Well -- perhaps so. But really I'd say--
Beren: [interrupting, glancing at his neighbor on the left]
--Don't say it.
I know what you're gonna say. Don't.
Teler Maid: [rhetorically]
Have you not anything of respect left for the worth that is your own? But must you cede it all up to him, who does not give any back?
Yes I can.
[Beren looks apologetically at the Warrior, who is trying with supreme effort to keep a straight face, and leans over to try to whisper his guess too quietly for anyone else to overhear -- but the strain is too much and all three dissolve into sputters of laughter, drawing wrath upon themselves]
Teler Maid: [snapping about to direct a furious Look their way]
What do you mutter when I attend you not?
[now the object of scrutiny from all about the circle, the culprits attempt to display a spirit of reform: the Warrior by straightening up, eyes front, the Sindarin Ranger by bowing his head apologetically under his commander's stern expression, and Beren by looking innocent. None of this works particularly well.]
Pray, what of my words does so greatly amuse you?
[she leans around to glare at them; Beren leans back, trying to stay out of the line of the glare]
. . .
[she reaches around behind him and pokes Beren hard, making him look at her guiltily]
Uh -- we were just -- ah -- being silly.
Teler Maid: [innocently]
Nay, and I thought you but spoke of the winds.
But -- there isn't any weather in here.
Teler Maid: [grimly meaningful]
Beren: [looking at the senior officers]
Er, sirs -- we have to tell the truth, right?
Or else remain silent.
Beren: [glancing nervously at the Teler girl, who is leaning around still scowling at him]
I don't think that's an option right now.
Then, as you understand it, yes. But you will find it simply to be so, not something to be worked at.
[aside to the Captain]
--And no, we are not going to explain how to get around it, things are bad enough as it is.
Can I leave things out?
[he sighs heavily]
Promise you're not gonna yell at me?
[she keeps glaring at him, and he squares his shoulders, sighs again -- and breaks into helpless snickers once more.]
Youngest Ranger: [aside]
--Just run for it, Beren.
Oh, you're volunteering to explain?
No, I'll be retreating right alongside you.
Lads -- you're straining my patience, now.
Beren: [straightening up]
[to the Sea-elf]
When you started saying we were all being like a bunch of dumb kids just looking up to Lord Edrahil even if he was looking down on us, it reminded us of what Feanor said about the Valar and the Noldor, or the Noldor and the Valar rather, and when I say "reminded us" I mean "about" since the two of us weren't around for it, so we can't actually get reminded of it, but you know what I mean, right? So -- that -- just got us going about the Powers we did know, and if they were like him at all or not, and he--
[lightly elbowing the Teler Ranger]
--was just about to bring up Morgoth's second-in-command, and I lost it.
[his co-offender gives a huff over being proven wrong; the Sea-elf's Look becomes still icier]
I know it wasn't really appropriate, but we weren't trying to be rude, and I guess it wasn't really all that funny either--
Warrior: [aside, straightfaced]
[Beren breaks down again, but the Youngest Ranger manages to maintain his composure -- for all of a half-second. The Captain just shakes his head, sighing.]
Sorry, my lords.
One supposes you were incapable of refraining, and hence not culpable.
Youngest Ranger: [nodding seriously]
That's it precisely, sir.
Teler Maid: [furious]
Even you! Even you that are of the free kindred that went upon your own ways, you too are content to be his thrall and fool and make jest even of yourself for his amusing!
[her distant compatriot bows his head, trying to avoid conflict, but the Steward looks up at last and leans forward, his eyes blazing]
Think you so, my lady? --That I know not the worth of these my friends, nor rate theirs properly against mine own, but deem it no more than due? That no more do they, but like fools do believe a glamour of words and certainties and pride, as they were deceived by the Enemy himself? Listen, then, and then judge them as you will--
[she glares back, not backing down, though the others do not look happy]
You will hear whether or not they know my limit, and the boundless depths and heights of my cowardice, and if their kindness and care of my uncertain temper is of aught other grounds than their compassion!
[the Captain grips his shoulder, but does not make any attempt to interrupt; but when he goes on the heat is absent from his voice almost completely, and the edge is replaced by a calm, if somewhat wearied, factual tone]
When we were taken prisoners, and sentenced to die unless we should betray which among us were our leaders, and what our mission had been, I held at first that I should endure far better than my fellows, for my greater understanding of all things, that I judged but second to our royal master's, and for that those things which grated so heavily upon certain of us, and that some had no power whatsoever to withstand--
[he looks apologetically at the Youngest Ranger, who is watching him with a serious, intent gaze]
--to me were almost nothing, compared to those burdens which did trouble me deeply. But that confidence, which was indeed pride, and in equal part fear that another less able to resist would break and give Sauron the Abhorred the word he wished, and thus the keys that might unlock not only Nargothrond but also haply Doriath, did news of our fate come to King Elu's daughter. --We did not at that time know that she had already learned some part of it, and even then was making effort to come to Beren's rescue, but had been twice thwarted before reaching more than halfway to our holding-place.
[he frowns, looking off thoughtfully -- she snaps her fingers impatiently to get his attention]
[to his confused look]
But what of that confidence--?
Forgive me -- I am somewhat distracted with many things, and this is not so easy a tale, nor one I am much used to tell.
Second Guard: [aside]
Huh --That's an understatement.
Teler Maid: [aside, suspicious]
Who is this, that addresses me in such a fashion?
As I had begun, but finished not, that confidence of mine was far from well-founded. Instead of other and more noble cares, the one that came to prey most upon my mind was fear, not of pain but of being unhoused: the certainty grew upon me that I should be lost there, unable to find my way, unable to escape the snares and power of our captor, and the dread of it was worse than sleeplessness, nor the burning of the chains that caused it, nor the dark itself. So great did this conviction become, and so wholly did it consume my attention, that I grew to most bitterly resent the giving of my place to you--
[glancing at the Captain]
--and to waste much fruitless energy in wishing to have the deed undone; and in fury, that Barahir's son might not be obliged as we to spend a measureless Age in yet another prison after that one, but should go free, nor be held shelterless within these Halls--
[to Beren and the rest of the Ten, wryly]
--I am often wrong, you see.
[Beren shakes his head]
Nobody Saw this one coming. Not even Lord Mandos.
In any case, Maiwe, you must surely concede that none that were present can have any doubt of my vanity, nor my weakness, nor my inability to rule the same--
First Guard: [interrupting, very definitely not rudely]
--That -- wasn't how it seemed -- to us, sir. That you could be that frightened, and not give in, and still care about us, the worse it got -- how could we do any less?
[the Steward bows his head in embarrassed acceptance]
Teler Maid: [shaking her head]
But that does not make sense. How could one not come here, when your body is not there to stay in? What foolishness is that, to worry about "finding your way"--?
Captain: [aside to her, urgently]
It -- isn't the same, for everyone.
--Unreasonable, perhaps, but reason had long abandoned me. I strove to conquer it, and thought I had at last, by virtue of silencing my mind, that I thought of nothing, but only the ever-changing, ever-familiar, never-silent vistas of the Sea; and thus could not afflict my companions with my fear, nor they to shake me with their own. But I had not escaped it, only hidden for a while, and again the dread of it grew so strong upon me that I could no longer speak, for it drowned out all other thought, so that when my time came at last, I had not strength even for wrath, or for any other thought than that I should at least no longer be obliged to hear his coughing--
[nods towards Beren]
Teler Maid: [confused]
Was there smoke?
[the Steward shakes his head]
Then what was it made you cough?
Not us. Only he.
Teler Maid: [frowning still more]
[the Ten exchange looks of dismay and distress, while her expression changes from confusion to anger at being apparently treated as unworthy of response. Huan starts whining, very softly, and gets a ight tap from the Captain to make him shut up.]
Beren: [to the others, earnestly]
She doesn't understand. How can she? No one who stayed has ever met us. You said that not even animals get sick here the way they do back home, there's no blight on crops, things don't grow wrong, they just grow until they get old and stop, or something eats them first -- they don't start dying while they're alive.
Teler Maid: [sudden understanding]
That is what they meant, those I did overhear talking that are returned, when they spoke of the Sickly Ones--
You mustn't say that--
Teler Maid: [concerned]
Is that unmannerly? Was that insult, then?
Beren: [shaking his head]
Not from you, no.
No living thing fares well in chains, in darkness -- not even the Children of Aule could bear such forever, I think; but for we that were born of earth beneath the sky, it is death to be held under stone, and falls hardest on the youngest of us. No more than a bird or a green plant might live without free air or light -- yet the bodies of the Secondborn still strive to mend and to live despite the harm even as our own, and that is sickness.
For how long were you imprisoned?
[none of the Elven shades answer her -- they do not know]
Beren: [in a weirdly-detached manner]
The leaves were partway-turned when we reached the southernmost edge of the delta, the farthest point north we got. The trees were bare when Huan broke Tinuviel out of Nargothrond. Closer than that, can't tell. I don't even know if that means anything to you, if you had seasons here before like we do now.
Teler Maid: [quiet]
But a long time -- longer than days--
But not so long as years, as those that are thralls of the Iron Lord must serve without hope, until, and if, they are allowed to die.
[she stiffens, her expression growing hard]
They are Kinslayers, and such is their fate.
[the Youngest Ranger starts and looks grim, but the Steward replies before he can say anything.]
Steward: [still dispassionate]
Not all. Many are of your tribe of our people, and guilty of no murder -- for the Lord of Fetters cares nothing for the deeds or misdeeds of those he takes for slaves, saving only as he might use them against his foes. It is a terrible choice to be given, between dying and giving slavery to those that have been one's friends.
Teler Maid: [chill emphasis]
I had no choice.
And for that I do envy you.
[she makes as if to say something, and he waits, until it is clear she will not, before he goes on]
But even though I did make it, there was no respite there, no satisfaction in the deed of choosing, for the slave-demon made no haste in its work to end my time of captivity, and the fear of being stranded as an unquiet ghost grew to outmeasure what dread I had known before as a true hurricane that uproots ancient trees and hurls the Sea upon the land and casts down the sand cliffs into it outpaces the wind and tumult of a common thunderstorm.
[again her braids are being turned into knots without her realizing it]
And that was worst of all -- I had not dreamed that fear could be so strong, nor that any emotion might consume so without killing, and I was still bound there to life, even as I was torn from it and from my friends, who might not save me, no more than I might aid them. All that was left of my mind was fear, and a longing to be free of it, as might a wild bird trapped in a burning cage know, and in my yearning I reached for that dream that had given me rest when no rest was to be had, and the Sea was there.
[at these words the Captain slides his arm across to grip his other shoulder, and he leans his head back against his friend's elbow in acknowledgment of the gesture, but doesn't hesitate or stop:]
And I understood at last, in the place beneath all speech, all mastery of words, beneath the biting roots of that fear that had devoured my wits more thoroughly than the Enemy's beast devoured my body, that it was no mere memory nor fancy born of my own wishfulness, but truth: that the voice of the Sea is wherever the Lord of the Waters holds dominion -- and the salt currents run endless through our hearts, through every least inch of our flesh, through our brains and our bones living, and never can we escape the Deep, though it lies so near to us that we do not even mark it for the most part.
And I knew also that my fear, for me, was the truth -- that I had so weakened myself in my lonely war against it that I might not have the strength to make my way Westward against the dark winds that blew across Middle-earth, and I should indeed perhaps be trapped by the Enemy's might, if not as his slave, then as a lost thing that once had a name, within the shadows.
Teler Maid: [doubtful and resentful at once]
But -- you did mean it for mercy's sake -- to keep your fears to yourself.
So I did indeed.
But that is not fair--
That I should be free to harm myself for good cause as for ill? 'Twould be hard, I think, that I should be let Doom myself for vainglory, and not to protect those I loved, whether it made any difference in the end.
[she subsides again with a troubled expression]
Only might I turn to the Waters, while yet they ran within my emptying veins, and forsake the dry cliff from which I watched the breakers in my thoughts, and let the god of the Deeps protect me, and thus find safety -- and this I knew, as one knows the embrace of one's parents from the first, before ever word or name is known, and yet -- I did not dare to enter the Sea.
Teler Maid: [baffled]
But why should you yet fear the Sea, and more so than houseless death?
But I did. Nor was it all unreasoning in its root, though there was no reason in me then; for your Lord nor his folk had cause to love me, being Noldor.
Teler Maid: [suppressed intensity]
But you have sworn to me, Edrahil, most solemnly, that you had not any part in our deaths!
I have, and ever shall. But many were on those ships that had not wielded blade, and I had seen the sorrow of the Long-Haired Lady more terrible than the wrath of Feanor, ruining that which he had accounted more worth than lives, and with their destruction those lives as well.
Teler Maid: [taut]
They did consent, still. --Though it be after.
And might I have been among them, had I not feared the Deep so much even then, full as much as I did trust Finarfin's son, and refuse the urgings of those that had been among that company you recollect, that smiled at you behind their cups, and praised me for my wit. And despite my innocence of blood, I dreaded that my unkindness to you and to your kin, and my contemptible thoughts of all your tribe, should be known to them of the Sea and I tarried in dread, while the tide ran ever lower, and I wished that the decision might be made for me without my making it, that a crashing breaker might sweep me from the rocks; but that might not be.
[he sighs; the Captain swats Huan preemptively again]
But you did at last.
I did. As reluctantly as I had eagerly fled thence did I turn West at last, and yielded and cast myself into the mercy of your Lord, and the Sea took me, and all the tangled ambitions and regrets and certainties and remembrances dissolved as I had feared, and I was free, no shred cohering to be caught by grasping foe, nor caught upon that other shore, and there was peace, though I cannot well say for me -- for where is difference, once the berg has melted into the summer wave?
[she is looking at him seriously, without her previous skepticism or hostility]
A time passed, and the tide washed upon this shore, and here did I remain, bodiless and broken, upon the land where I was born, blind, and without remembrance even of my names, that I might from that small coal of knowledge rekindle my self's shaping -- and thus might I have remained even to this instant, for all of mine own strength. None of my ability or wisdom or will should have sufficed, so far had I lost myself in my wanderings, had not these sought me out most loyally and lavished their sorrow upon me and called me by my names and stayed me until I returned from my darkness -- all that endures, that is to say.
[as he finishes he looks now at Beren, who is watching him with an expression both grief-stricken and under control.]
Steward: [as softly]
[the moment is one of complete mutual acceptance, and recognition of that acceptance, and consequent peace, broken almost immediately]
But for what does he ask your pardon, that was taken in the same cruel punishment? --Only--
[looking at Beren uncertainly, then back again]
--he did say he was the cause of your coming hither . . .
[she trails off; Beren starts to answer, but the Steward raises his hand commandingly]
Hush, child, she did ask of me.
[to the Sea-elf]
--The Lord of Beor begged aid and guestright of Earwen's son our King, that never should have needed to do the same, but such have the times become in the lands beyond, that news be scarce, and help scarcer. And he in his turn repaid his life-debt and kept his promised word to give such help, though the price of it be life as well as kingdom, robbed of him by faithlessness, though none should have prevented him from answering the mortal with silence, and barred doors, nor obliged him to honor pledged faith save his heart's honour.
[the detatched, factual tone displaced by great intensity]
And none did compel me, nor any of these our friends to follow, saving our own hearts likewise, though any could see, nor the King alone, that for this endeavor should be no likely ending save disaster. And so we were taken by the demi-god who now rejoices in a name of loathing, and but little more than half our journey made, though the way in end did prove far longer than any had guessed. And there we perished, that he might not.
[she looks at him with a wide, fixed stare -- then suddenly springs to her feet]
Teler Maid: [through clenched teeth]
I do not want to pity you, -- nor to honour you!
[silence -- she turns to look at Beren]
I wish I could hate you. I wish--
[in a rush]
--I wish I had never to have left my home for Tirion, that never should I have known any of ye, nor should I have perforce to cared, that had I been slain upon the Night yet would the Doom upon you meant no more to me than justice done, nor I to have stayed here when most all have long gone home, to wait for you that now are strangers all, for love and hate for him that ever was a stranger! I wish I were not here--
Captain: [reaching his free hand up towards her]
Teler Maid: [cold]
You are kind and will urge me peace regardless. Let him speak, that I should stay, or go -- as he'd rule me.
[the Captain winces and looks away; she does not rescind her no-win mandate, but continues to stare down at the Steward, who does not flinch at her anger]
Steward: [very simply]
Please -- don't leave -- like this.
Teler Maid: [in bleak admission]
If I go, where shall I go? Where is there for me to be, but here, and beside you? If I go -- I shall only return, like fish to a bow-lantern, drawn to your light and your song--
[looking around at them all]
--from my shadows, for I cannot unknow what I now know. Only might I stay hidden, that none might discern or touch me -- and I to affect none in my turn, silent as mist. Long enough was I quiet beside you! -- or would you have me in death as in life, Edrahil, silent in your shadow, when you would not have my chattering to interrupt you nor shame you amid the wise?
Not though your words be harder than hail upon my soul.
[she stands with her fists clenched, then in abrupt, disjointed motions in succession puts her hands on her hips, folds her arms, and lets them fall to her side]
Teler Maid: [tired and frayed-sounding]
I am much overset with all that I have heard and seen and learnt this day.
Beren: [quietly, with the hint of a smile]
Join the crowd.
[he gestures to her place, and after a moment's hesitation she sits down again with a heavy sigh]
Teler Maid: [to him, dispirited]
Moreover if I were to hate you then these all should hate me in turn.
Captain: [in a good imitation of his usual tone]
We'd not hate you, Ternlet -- though we might toss you in the drink if you're too obnoxious, to be sure.
Teler Maid: [startled]
Well, if I were involved, it might be considered a much-belated revenge for the time you incited my sister to help you push me off of the sea-wall at your lady's parents' House.
Teler Maid: [affronted]
That was not mine, that idea was hers!
That's what she said.
I tell you, it was Sulilote thought of it! --First.
Captain: [shaking his head solemnly]
Led astray by my perfidious sibling. And you didn't say, "Oh, that wouldn't be nice, when he's got his pack still on and all his gear there, think how long it will take him to dry it all out and clean the salt off and polish and wax everything so stuff doesn't rust (and the bowstrings are going to be ruined anyway) so why don't we let's not?"
Um . . .
Of course not, never even crossed your mind, I'll wager.
Teler Maid: [stubborn]
You did think it most droll, as well.
Captain: [raising an eyebrow]
And you think that excuses it, Sanderling?
[she makes a strange little exclamation, half-laugh, half-sob, and looks away quickly, scrubbing hard at her eyes with her hair]
Teler Maid: [forlorn]
Not even you can make me to be cheerful now.
[pulling herself together]
But why should you do so to me?
Apparently it's something they do on a regular basis. Only usually it just involves pushing unsuspecting hecklers into puddles or something. Nothing quite as elaborate as all this.
[nodding towards the waterfall. Simultaneously:]
First Guard: [wistful]
We never thought of doing this before.
They tripped, I assure you, on my honor! All of them.
Yeah, just like Prince Aegnor.
Teler Maid: [wide-eyed, not sure if this is for real]
You flung him into the water?
[they nod; Huan's tail thumps twice before he remembers he is being unobtrusive and a Sorry Dog.]
Wherefore he spoke hatefully to your friend? --And what said Lord Ingold of it?
Oh, he said we could.
Steward: [sighing heavily]
That is not exactly correct. What he said was, if you'll recollect, in essence, that he could not stop us. Which, strictly interpreted, is the truth -- but rather begging the question, if you ask me (which no one did) of whether or not he had any intention of trying. --Which, as he had not, made it entirely impossible for him to do so, by logical necessity.
Captain: [to the Sea-elf]
See? He can still manage a properly supercilious set-down when it's appropriate.
[she gives him a quick, forced smile]
Teler Maid: [frowning suddenly]
Was not his brother angry with him?
I expect so.
What said they following?
He wasn't here. --Himself, I mean, not the younger one. --You really are a bad influence, Barahirion.
Sorry, sir. I'm trying my best.
Fourth Guard: [patronizing]
Yes, Beren, but that's the problem, you see.
[the Sea-elf ducks her head quickly, letting her hair fall forward to screen her expression]
Beren: [aside to his neighbor on the right]
--If you made a pebble and gave it to me, do you think I could throw it at him?
I don't see why not.
[obliges; Beren tosses it accurately though left-handedly at the Guard, who catches it easily and goes to flick it back]
[the pebble mysteriously vanishes]
How you do go on about nothing.
Teler Maid: [harshly, still hidden behind her long hair]
Keep on with the telling of this tale of yours, for there must have been things to happen between your sojourn by this lake and your deaths, I think--!
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.