14. In Evil Hour
In Evil Hour
We watched Fëanáro leave from the battlements overlooking the plain, his red roan purposefully cutting open a way through the tall grass. He had taken no escort; he would go to Valmar alone. Proud was his demeanour, and he did not turn back for one last goodbye. By our side, Finwë watched his son go intently, his brow creased, as if prey to thoughts darker than the promise of that morning. He would not go. Not as long as upon his eldest weighed the penalty of exile.
Slowly, one by one the sentinels and servants returned to their work. They had all stopped to watch their lord go; for Fëanáro and not Finwë the High King was lord in Formenos, and to him went the fealty of all those who dwelt there; a fierce loyalty that was but another face of the love they brought to the King. Silently, Curufinwë left us too, his duty with the forges his father had entrusted him. The die was cast. Now we lived waiting for whichever news Fëanáro would bring back.
My hope had wavered as I had watched him saddle his horse, his raiment that, simple and unadorned, of one who go goes for a long ride. No jewels to honour the festival where he had been summoned; and the Silmarils had remained hidden, resting in the iron chamber deep into the foundations of the stronghold. He went to Valmar like a riotous vassal who knows his lord wishes to point out his faults; and yet his bearing was that of a wronged sovereign. His eyes shone fierce under his thick lashes.
For a long time I remained by Maitimo's side, listening to the wind as it shook the long blades of grass, bending them in silvery paths, entwining them in new and beautiful designs. All too soon every trace of Fëanáro's passage was erased.
My betrothed turned his back to the plain, leaning against the merlons, his arms crossed. On his face worry and relief battled. It was out of our hands: now doom was balanced on his father's fingertips. In other times, an occurrence to be feared; now, after years in exile, nothing more than the final thrust that decides the duel. Change would ride back with him; a deepening of our misery, or its end. The crystal stairs of Tirion glittered in my memory, a beacon at the end of the path. To walk them again with Maitimo would be bliss unhoped for.
But we had long since decided that to brood upon joys or sorrows that yet had to come would be pointless; and so, touching his arm with light fingers, I recalled Maitimo to the present. Meeting my eyes, he smiled, nodding his assent to my unspoken question. We took our leave of the King, going back to our usual occupations. But Finwë nodded distractedly to our salute, his eyes still fixed upon the plain; as if he hoped to catch, with eyesight keener than even the Eldar are endowed with, another glimpse of his son as he rode to Valmar.
That day passed in merriness: I wrote a letter to Galadriel as Maitimo trained with Macalaurë in the use of the sword, and when the evening came I stood on the tower, watching the lights mingle as the pigeon carrying my letter left, his flight an invisible path across the rays of the Trees, where his feathers shone like amethyst and pearl.
I slept, this I recall clearly, without a single dream. Time uncounted has passed since that night; time uncounted, and yet I marvel still. For no inkling nor hint had come to me when Fëanáro had broken our dreams with the unsheathing of his sword; but that no hint should come now seems to me proof that the fates of the Eldar are indeed sung and laid in stone before we were ever born. Against the decrees of the future no foresight shall be defense.
I awoke to the subdued knocking of a familiar hand on my door, and hastily wrapping a robe around me I rose. I opened the door so quickly Maitimo's hand remained suspended midair, on his face a puzzled expression. Laughing, I took his hand, drawing him inside. We huddled in my bed, playfulness a safe land where to dwell in the clear light of the morning. Curling up against his great body, I closed my eyes.
"I do not think I am quite up to riding today."
He buried his nose in my hair, laughing softly.
"Oh, but you should. I know of a wonderful little vale I wanted to show you."
"This vale of sheets and blankets is wonderful enough."
"Now now, my idle lady," in one gesture he lifted me, and rising deposited me neatly on the stool before my mirror, "Your pleas shall not move me. Now make yourself even more beautiful than you already are, and I shall wait for you in the courtyard. With saddled horses, so do not procrastinate."
I pretended to sulk; but all pretension melted as he leant over, laying a kiss on my forehead. His lips lingered a moment more than I would have expected, and shivers ran down my spine as he whispered to my ear: "Besides, new grass shall make a very comfortable blanket to lay upon."
I watched him leave in my mirror, as he closed the door behind his back. I found myself chanting a joyful tune as I chose a dress; and called myself silly as I left the room. But it did not matter.
The day was a long dream woven of moments of delight, all thoughts of Fëanáro and his encounter with the Powers banished from our minds. I would not have risen even as evening approached, Laurelin's light growing weaker. It had been a cloudless day. The sky was an uninterrupted stretch of gilded splendour as I shook the grass seeds off my mantle, as Maitimo untethered the horses from a low bush. Leaning over, he kissed me once more, his lips bringing to mine the seal of hours of happiness. I that would not have risen in the morning now wished I could hold the Trees still, stretching that moment to fill all the hours of my life. But Time cannot be stopped; even for those who within its boundaries are fated never to die. We mounted, starting on our way home.
It was in a companionable silence that we trotted back, the horses at ease in the warmth of the mingling of the lights before Telperion's silver brought back coolness and quiet in its wake. A shout reached us over the grass, and we stopped. Macalaurë and Carnistir had been hunting together, and they caught up with us, their game bags full, the dogs yapping joyfully, dancing among the horses' hoofs. The brothers bantered as we spurred our horses forward once more; in the soft light even Carnistir's usual scowl was sweetened. Closing his eyes, he enjoyed the last of the gold. The mingling of the lights had come to full ripening, and on the line of the horizon Formenos was a black and elegant shape, its stark beauty outlined against the pale amber of the sky.
When darkness suddenly fell, it was as if a blindfold had been tied upon our eyes without warning.
Thinking about it much later I would remember the moment of uncertainty, the timeless instant in which only Laurelin had failed, and Telperion's splendour still held out bravely against a sea of night. But it was not to last. For in a moment more even silver had wavered and disappeared, one last flicker and then a darkness where not even the stars could be seen. A darkness deeper than that which had endlessly enveloped Arda forsaken under the stars.
The dogs fell silent, their voices reduced to a whining yelp. Terror seized the horses that had never known the dark, and we called to each other in shouts, suddenly blind. None could count the time that passed before we closed ranks again, each rider holding onto the bridle of the next, finding reassurance in our presence. Our eyes tried in vain to adjust themselves to the black, and yet they failed; for that darkness was like a living thing, and its evil breath was upon us.
Fumbling Macalaurë reached for his saddlebag, and a moment later his hand came out of it shining: it held the light of a lamp. Delicate silverwork protected a crystal, shining blue and cold; and at its sight the animals were pacified, and our hearts made stronger. Of all his creations the Lamps of Fëanáro, that neither wind nor water could quench, were among the most beloved by the Eldar, and the rays of their icy light were a core of surviving hope in this unbroken blackness.
"I brought it, should we chase the animals in caves. I had forgotten it was there."
Macalaurë's voice was subdued, and indeed a silence heavier than lead had fallen upon the plain, and the hounds huddled closer to our horses. He held the lamp high; but its light could go but a few steps away. Darkness unconquered lay outside its feeble reach, and what of the grass it could light was an ethereal, unreal shape. And yet it was light; and, able now to see our way, we marched forward once more.
I let my horse stray closer to Maitimo's, and without looking at me his hand found mine. I allowed my voice to form the question that had haunted me ever since the darkness had come: "What has come to pass? Why has the light of the Trees failed?"
But before he could make an answer, if answer there could be, blows resonated from over the unseen hills; blows that made our blood grow cold and still, for a wind came over us, and a booming voice spoke words we could not distinguish. And the horses fled, casting us upon the ground, for no talent of horsemanship could master their terror; and a single cry was heard. Upon the grass, my mouth full of earth, I raised my eyes, and ahead, closer than we had suspected in the dark, I saw the turrets and walls of Formenos lit up by sudden flame, a red, raw shape as the last of the clamour filled us with dread. And then even the flame disappeared, and darkness came again.
But even as the wind fell, we could not move; and I felt my fingers, my whole body numbed and still, and my spirit could not command it; my heart was crushed in a grip of unspoken, nameless dread. It was but with great labour, all of my strength sapped and exhausted by that overpowering darkness, that I turned my head, meeting the eyes of Maitimo fallen a short distance from me, his limbs held down by the same heaviness. With supreme effort he stretched an arm, his fingertips almost reaching mine; but then he could not move further, and we lay motionless on the ground.
It was only after a time we did not count had passed that finally sensation returned to our bodies, and wearily we struggled to our feet. As soon as he could move Maitimo grasped my hand, hauling me up, his strength coming back. Still on his knees, he clasped me to his breast, as his brothers regained standing but with effort.
"What was that?" Carnistir's voice was harsh and broken.
"A spirit of great power and great evil, certainly. Maitimo, you do not think…?" Macalaurë's eyes sought those of his older brother, and Maitimo held them for a long moment, deep in thought.
"It could be. We must return to Formenos."
The lamp had fallen sideways on the grass, its light still shining, a vain threat to the encircling black. In the circle of its rays the hounds crouched, heaped together, trembling with fear. Carnistir soothed them, a mindless touch of his hand as Macalaurë and Maitimo whistled for the horses.
I called back my own, her name made unfamiliar by the dark; and she came out of the night at a guilty trot. Her silky coat beneath my fingers was like a message from times past. We mounted back, now spurring forward our horses, heedless, for what we could, of the dark; for even its threat was nothing compared to the dread of discovering what had come to pass in Formenos as that great flame struck.
Trusting the lack of obstacles on the grassy plain, we dared break into a quicker pace, and at last we could see the stronghold emerging from the black, its battlements crowned with torches, pearled with the blue of other lamps. The guards at the gate shouted in warning as our group drew closer; but Maitimo's call had them greet him with grateful, panicked voices.
"My lord…it was the traitor Vala…Melkor…"
He needed no other encouragement. We ran up the path to the main gate, and the portcullis was broken and bent, and the courtyard blackened by flames the servants struggled to tame. Abandoning our horses, Maitimo leading us, we penetrated further into the palace, to the private courts, and then to the entrance to the stairs that led down to the strong chamber.
At his brother's voice Curvo turned, his face as pale as chalk beneath his raven hair.
"We could not stop him! A spell was cast on us, we could not move…"
"It was like this for us too. But what happened? The guards said…"
"It was Melkor! He came like a cloud over the hills, in his wake an even blacker threat! He took shape before the gate, and we could not hold it…wherever he went our wits and strength failed, as if he sapped them with his sole presence. Only the King could resist…"
"Where is he? Where is the King?"
Grandfather, the unspoken word hung heavy among them, affection now a hand strangling them. Curufinwë's voice was thin when he replied: "He unsheathed his sword, standing alone before the iron doors of the chamber of treasure…the archway has collapsed. We are trying to move the stones…"
Moving him aside like a puppet Maitimo went on, to where Tyelkormo and the twins laboured among the servants. The roof had caved in, fallen brick and stone blocked the entrance. Anxiety seized me as it seized every of us, and for a while we worked together in silence, each removing with frantic gestures as much stone as he could carry. My nails were broken, my fingers bleeding when at last a passage was open, and Telufinwë that was the smallest of us slithered in before his brothers could stop him.
In his anguished cry lay our answer even before we followed him and saw with our own eyes. For Finwë the High King, Finwë the beloved, lay on the floor before us dead.
Nobody spoke as Telufinwë cried, his twin joining him, subdued sobs choking their breath. Slowly, Macalaurë and Carnistir knelt on the ground, incapable of moving one step further. Maitimo was the eldest; on him lay a duty Valinor had never known before this day, ere this evil hour.
Carefully, as if he feared he might woke him from a pleasant dream, he knelt by Finwë's body, his hand touching lightly his white skin, his neck streaked with blood. His head was crushed as if by a great mace, his beauty destroyed. The sword in his hand was untempered and undone as if by fire, its hilt fused with his palm. Horror clenched my throat, my strength waning; but forcing myself to be steadfast I walked to Maitimo, my hand brushing his shoulder. He looked to me as if one awoken by a nightmare; and his voice was stone when he commanded: "Curufinwë. The treasure."
Curvo and Tyelkormo had remained by the fallen archway, but at his brother's order the first moved as if in a dream, walking past Finwë's body, past the iron doors of the chamber twisted and unhinged. Down the stairs he went, his steps sounding hollow as he penetrated deep into the bowels of the hills, until they stopped. And then his cry echoed from the deep place beneath our feet, and his rushing feet brought him up again as he yelled: "The Silmarils are gone! All the treasure has been taken, and the Silmarils with it!"
Cries of dismay filled the air, but Maitimo did not cry, his eyes hard and blank as he turned to Macalaurë: "Our father must know. I shall go to Valmar. Carnistir, Curufinwë: with me. Macalaurë, gather what has remained of the precious things here, and lead all our people to Tirion. We need the strength of our kin."
Pain compressed in a single word, but no time for it. Mourning would bide its time, a black eagle haunting our steps. Swiftly the three brothers strode away from the rest, turning their backs on the pitiful remains of Finwë, that was once great. I hesitated a moment as Tyelkormo knelt by his younger brothers, seeking in vain to soothe them even as he himself fought back tears. But there was nothing I could do; and turning myself I rushed by Maitimo's side. His voice was hard when he saw me.
"Go with Macalaurë. He shall keep you safe."
"No! I will not leave you now. And the road to Valmar I know far better than you ever could."
Briefly he held my glance, but then briskly he nodded.
"Ride with me."
Our horses still waited in the courtyard; Maitimo mounted in one leap, drawing me upon the saddle in front of him. Without waiting for his brothers he careered down the path, snatching a lamp from the guards as he went. So did his brothers; cold flickers of sapphire in the onyx of the night, we traced the road to Valmar.
My senses were strained, my spirit turned to the place that had seen me being born; my soul yearned for the light that even now the Valar held. We rode in silence; they followed the instructions I sometimes gave them, recognizing the road I could not see. Maitimo held me tightly, holding the reins with one hand; the fingers of the other digging deep into my flesh. His grief was like a hood surrounding me, a tangible thing, and the disbelief that had coloured my thoughts, the sense of unreality that had held me when we had discovered the body of the King now faded. My memory filled, remembering Finwë; and hot tears streaked my cheeks in silence.
Perhaps he felt the quiet sobs that shook my chest; perhaps he guessed. Maitimo held me closer, his nose buried in my hair, my back hard against his breast. With clenched teeth, with choked breath, he too was crying.
Many enchantments the Noldor had made in song, to drive their horses faster in hunt and play and race; and now the Fëanárions said them all as we galloped to Valmar, doom hot on our heels, on our lips the news of evil times. One night it took us to reach Valmar the Silent and White; one night, or what would have been night, had night and day still existed. For any hope of the light of the Trees vanished as we came in sight of the pale walls crowned with flickering flame, and the guards gripped their spears with whitened knuckles.
But as we drew closer to the seat of Manwë, King of the World, and to the power of Taniquetil the pure, the darkness grew thinner, and through its shredded veil the stars appeared, the dome of the sky Varda Tintallë had embroidered in better and happier times, when the promise of Eä was untainted. Black was the sky, cut into glass in clean lines; and the stars were diamonds sewn in its folds. Their light was cold and far, uncaring. Nothing as beautiful or as cruel had I ever seen.
The guards let us pass, and in a silence that I would have thought could not exist, a silence where the frantic beat of our horses' hoofs was the only sound, we ascended the streets of the city to the mountain and the Ring of Doom. My heart was rended from every glance I stole of the city, for here I had thought I would never come again. The streets, the squares were full, Vanyar and Noldor assembled together to celebrate a time of feast and joy, garlands of flowers on the hair of the maidens a mocking tribute to what had been. Darkness had caught them; and where they had been standing they had crouched, trusting each other's warmth, trusting each other's frail comfort against this night. They watched us pass with empty eyes.
Endless seemed our ascent, a stretch of time outside the jurisdiction of Vala or Elf, but at last we were there: two Maiar guarded the double doors, but they let us through. And when we came in, in the Ring of the Valar lit only by shivering lights, the eyes of all those who there stood turned to us.
The Powers did not sit on their thrones; for they had been defiled. With them stood Fëanáro and Nolofinwë, and they stood, however unwillingly, side by side; and there were Nolofinwë's sons and daughter, and Arafinwë and his children by them. Artanis looked at me, and her eyes were hard, but filled with tears; like rain that washes over rock they sparkled. But I did not look at her. For by them were my family, and Olorimo my father by the side of Ingwë the High King.
Maitimo advanced, and he held me by the hand. The Queen Varda raised sharply her head, for she had been gazing at the floor, and the air was tense, as if we had interrupted some great council.
"Nelyafinwë, son of Curufinwë, in an hour of distress you come, and upon you is the shadow of a great evil. Speak, and say what you have come to tell, however bitter."
"I shall speak, Queen; and to my father above all others. Heavy is my heart, and broken my voice as I do so."
Fëanáro had looked at us with suspicion, as if he guessed that pain was to come to him of our news. And now his eyes shone like obsidian, like stars reflected in a lake; under his gaze I trembled, for I knew that Fëanáro loved his father of a love that was both great and fierce, and of such a flame now could come nothing but a grief that would burn. Like me, Maitimo knew; but he did not hesitate. Letting go of my hand he stepped forward, and said: "We came running from Formenos; the fortress has been attacked. Melkor the Vala has subdued its inhabitants with a spell, intending to sack its treasure. The King Finwë, father of my father, stood between him and his purpose, and he was stricken down. Now he is dead, and the Silmarils lost."
Cries of dismay filled the vaults; but Fëanáro said nothing. On his face he fell, like wheat when the sickle reaps it in the field, and for a moment we feared that his heart had been broken, and he had fallen dead. Nolofinwë bent upon him, concerned for his brother even as his face was twisted with pain upon hearing our news; and love and concern were written upon his brow. But Fëanáro refused all help, and rising alone he cried against the Powers assembled: "What have you done to me, that you have held me here while it was slain and stolen the better part of myself?"
The King Manwë raised his hands, asking for silence, and his noble countenance was full of grief. But Fëanáro was fey, past help, or fear, or respect, for he had lost the two things he had held dearer upon this Earth. And heeding him not he cried: "Ask not silence of me! Ask nothing more! The work of my hands you would have had, and now the blood of my father you got! For is he not your brother, your same fabric, the one who has done this? I curse him before the One and the stars over Eä! I curse him, Morgoth, Black Enemy of the World, and with him I curse you and your treacherous summons!"
His eyes were now wild, full of a savage light and a boundless hatred, grief a barrier setting him apart; and turning he fled the Ring of Doom, not looking once back. And his sons rushed after him, for they feared that in the heat of his pain he would do the unthinkable, and slay himself. Hastily, Maitimo turned to me, and taking my hand one brief moment he said: "I shall find you in Tirion." And before I could reply, out he ran.
Nolofinwë seemed for a moment determined to go himself, but Arafinwë held him back; slowly, her voice cracked with pity, Varda spoke: "Bitter has long been the heart of Fëanáro, and dark his thoughts. But few shall ever suffer as he does now, and for this pain much could be forgiven."
But Nàmo, the Doomsman, raised his head, and from under his lifted hood came his voice: "Much. But not all."
And the Valar were silent.
Artanis came to me, her pace unsteady, her tears now overflowing; and quietly, taking my hand, she leant her head against my shoulder. Thus we stood together, for we knew now that this was the darkness long years of black dreams had foretold, and the storm long announced had broken.
Still the Powers kept their silence, and the Noldor realized Tirion had been left undefended; and as the Vanyar gathered around the tainted thrones, seeking the protection of the Guardians of Eä, the Noldor orphaned of their guide prepared to leave, and go back.
Artanis straightened, drying her tears with the back of her hand.
"Findaráto, Aikanár. Angaráto. Father. We have to go."
Her kinsmen nodded assent, following Nolofinwë and his children, who already strode out of the Ring of Doom. With them I prepared to go, my heart gripped with grievous thoughts. But someone grasped my wrist, holding me back; and turning I met the eyes of Falwing my mother.
"I beg of you, do not return to the city of the Noldor! For now a foreboding has come over my heart, that if you shall leave now, I will not see you again."
"Mother, it is in an evil hour that we live now, and evil thoughts come with it. But it would be madness to allow fear to control our actions. I have to go."
"No! For me, for your father, for your whole family, remain. You heard the words of Fëanáro; and those who curse the Powers curse themselves."
And as I looked at her I saw, beyond her, my father gazing at me with a cold glance; and in his arms was Indis, whose pain had brought her to her knees. Ice there was in Olorimo's gaze; ice, and hatred. For he thought Fëanáro himself had brought upon him, and upon us all, this accursed day; and that of Fëanáro's fault all of his House partook. My heart, that so many times had cracked that night, was still for a long moment; and then it hardened in a resolution stronger than steel, and merciless to me and them alike.
It was not mine the voice that answered my mother's pleas.
"Nelyafinwë my betrothed shall wait for me in Tirion. There is my place."
I bent, kissing her forehead. And then I left, without looking back, knowing now forever that to lose this part of myself was the price I would have to pay, and that fear and grief were not the only tribute this black day had exacted of me.
When we crossed the threshold the Maiar guarding the door shut it behind our backs, and its wings closed with a sound of doom.