Tainted Light: 19. Absence

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19. Absence

Chapter 18
Absence
Our journey back was a tired cavalcade beneath the new light. The retainers spoke in low voices, they pointed to each other the silver face of the new lamp that filled the black havens of Middle-earth with white radiance, like spilt mercury polishing them. The stars were erased and hidden within its reach: the vessel triumphed over their cold light. Even as Telperion had done; but where he had covered Valinor with a dome of woven threads, where all remembrance of the dark had been erased by his presence, this novel light was weaker and paler, white rather than silver, as if no new radiance could ever substitute the one we had lost.
Work of Valarin hands, no doubt: for it was beautiful and close to the forsaken earth. Their power had followed us into the dark, a reminder that our rebellion could not go unpunished, a reminder that this world was their fiefdom and their charge, for them to light and darken at will. And even while our hearts welcomed its coming, our spirits looked up to the round, bright circle, and its light was to them cold and aloof. It lit our misery, it flooded it with indifferent white. 
Misery. Clinging to our limbs, trailing from our garments like thin, humid mist. Clouding our eyes, dimming our voice. Weighing down with lead our every gesture. A sorrow and a mourning spoke beneath the pearly skies, grief too raw to be put into song. Fëanáro was dead. The fall of the Noldor was complete.
What he had done to us, his curse, his hatred, had left upon us a print that would not fade: in the shadow he had cast we had walked in doom. In the legacy he had left all our hopes, all our dreams withered and died. But he had been our prince; he had been our king. The brightness of his spirit unrivalled among Elf born since the beginning of the world. Even his evil had been made noble by his blinding light, even the burns and sores his fire had brought us bore the taste of his pure flame. And now he was dead, he that had walked like a giant among us; he that had crushed us with careless waste. Where he had fallen, how could those he had left behind succeed?
Artanis rode beside me, her eyes fixed upon the reins. Empty, cold eyes; eyes like dimmed glass where adamant had been. For I saw now that her hatred for Fëanáro had led her across the Ice; I saw now that in its fell fire she had found strength not to surrender to coldness or dread. She had ridden to him, in her the burning need to give hurt for hurt, wound for wound. But he was no more, a fleeting shadow in Mandos' Halls. The words of the Powers made true so soon; and the death of one that had been so similar to her, even if his talent for darkness had driven her away, spoke of her own doom. We had fled Aman when it had been tainted by death; we had left its shores telling ourselves we would be leaving our curse behind. But our curse had followed us, its footfalls soft and silent: now it breathed upon our neck like cold wind, and its blade was stained with blood. 
Nolofinwë ahead rode with his head held high, in his dark eyes tears that would not overflow. He would not scream; not now. Even the strength to cry had been lost. And in his measured gestures he caged his pain: a raging beast devouring his spirit, his heart. For his love had been unanswered, his forgiveness, or his wrath, escaped, and Fëanáro had left this life mocking him. Even unto the threshold of death he had refused him, and his spirit had remained sharp, and unyielding. Few shall be changed in the face of death; many more shall reveal naked the full make of their hearts, the true colours of their thoughts. Fëanáro had lit his brother's life with doomed light: unattainable, and desired with maddened will. Now he left him in the dark; and the last remembrance was that of his scorn.
My cousins' mourning, its strange mingling of sorrow and rage, enveloped me like a thin cloud. And in it my sense were dulled, for my own heart struggled to reason with itself. Silent tears I shed: for Fëanáro, and for Maitimo. For Carnistir and his broken cry. For Nolofinwë who would not weep, and Artanis who could not. And for myself, whose destiny this death had sealed with melted iron. I, whose happiness Fëanáro had destroyed, felt the void of a world where the light of his eyes no longer shone; I felt the cold of a time where his flame no longer burnt. But with sudden rage I felt that truly he had left us in chains: the chains his Oath had tightened around his sons, the chains that would fall upon all those who followed them.
I had followed Artanis; I had been wise. I had left behind Maitimo, the darkened emerald of his eyes, the broken will with which he had sworn anew. His father was dead. In his eldest hottest and darkest smouldered the remembrance of his flame. Artanis who had lost so much had called me away, and now I had recognized what scorching remaining would have brought me. Fëanáro's curse burnt into my soul in letters of fire.
Thus reasoned my shaken mind; but my heart was silent, and gave it no answer. Its every beat was painful, and in this new void that the white light of the Moon cut into white and black it was like a lonely and a forlorn traveler, last living thing upon forsaken shore. From such nightmare it would not awake. For such a riddle there was no answer it could give. Stranded as it was in this new world that had been made without its choice; lost in this empty space where it could find no solace.
And the arrival at our camp was like the awakening to a harsher place, a naked reality where no hope was left; I dismounted, my conscience an armour protecting me even as it cut through my flesh. On our faces must have been written  the heaviness of our doom; for Findekáno  stepped forward, and the eyes of the whole host were upon him, eyes of animals lost into the night. Nolofinwë himself gave the news, his voice mantled in ice not to crack.
"The King is dead."
The King. He did not say his name. For three years more, he would not; and when he would finally allow himself to utter it again, it would be with the aching voice of one whose wounds cannot heal. But then the word fell upon us like a broken sword, might made useless by stronger fate. Even those who had hated him cried out in dismay; even those who had cursed him quailed in fear. The death of Fëanáro brought us no joy; and the curse we had woven under his guide did not slacken.
"Nelyafinwë is now king then."
Findekáno's answer cloaked itself in the same coldness, hardening not to break. Nelyafinwë. His other, sweeter name did not belong to us anymore. In that hour, Maitimo was lost. The third of the Finwions had been brought to the crown: an ill wind, a strange fate had lain it upon his copper head. His life was not his anymore. For kings have no choice but to follow their doom.
It was in silence that our temporary camp was dismantled; in silence that our things were packed. Our dead had been burnt, new ashes beneath the cold light. What Fëanáro had not lived to see was an empty lamp shining over his death. And when we marched, Nolofinwë calling us forward with a harsh cry, Findekáno  came by me: his hand finding mine, clasping it until it hurt. He walked away immediately without looking back. But I understood.
Sole among that large host that this death left alone beneath the vaults of the sky, sole among those who grieved, we had lost twice. Fëanáro's last blow had been dealt to us; and our love, and our hopes, shattered. 
I looked to Artanis, wishing not to linger on this thought. Hoping that still her strength could resist, hoping that it would not have faded. But when I looked at her I found a grieving wrath, a pain enraged with itself; a sorrow born without her consent, a woe that could find no solace, for she would not express it. Empty eyes; and that the novel light of the Valar filled with pale light, making them dull, and dead.
***
In later times we would call Mithrim the lake by which we camped: a polished mirror beneath the newly arisen light. Trees enclosed its distance, leaving only a soft border of grass by its shore. Here our tents were pitched, and, laying a guard all around, we lay down to sleep. But sleep I could not, as much as I would have, and I tossed beneath the blankets, their folds swathing my body like bandages, or chains. I could find no rest; and eventually I rose taking a cloak, and walked outside and to the edge of the water. Artanis sat there, upon a rock made soft by moss, her fingers tightly wound around her knee. She said nothing when I sat by her, and together we waited for time to unwound itself, and bring a balm to our spirits.
A restlessness had come over me, and unquiet my fingers tormented the thin blades of grass, staining my skin with their green blood. Mud stirred quietly with each new wave that came to die a few steps from us, and sometimes the quick flicker of a fish would break the still, hard surface of the lake. Behind us the host had lit fires, they slept huddled in cloaks and shawls. Across the water was the camp of the Fëanárions, an orderly enclave that already some toiled to fence with wood. High upon a pole flew Fëanáro's red standard, that a black list now darkened in mourning. 
Tomorrow,  the day after, if days could be called the endless hours this new light would count, the new King would ride to his camp. Crownless king, as his father had been; but in his hands would be the lordship over the Noldorin Elves. And across this water he would have looked to those to which forever, whatever their grief now, the name of the Fëanárions would spell grief, and betrayal, and mistrust. Evil seeds that is allowed to flourish cannot be uprooted; it taints the garden like a pest. Fëanáro's last legacy was a sundering not to be mended by love or blood.
Across this water I would see him come back; and I could not have gone to him. But once more my mind refused to face the pain of a separation to last forever, once more it tried to frame in words, in thoughts a compromise that could save me from such grief. Nelyafinwë was not Fëanáro. He would not allow such break to run among the Noldorin Elves. But will as he would, the betrayal of the Ice he could not undo; and those that had died because of his father he could not call back to life. In the Halls of Mandos Fëanáro would not walk alone.
But all such thoughts seemed vain, even as their hope was sweet to my tongue, soothing to my sore spirit. All my wishes had been turned into a child's games, fantasies I had never been able to see realized. Even now, my love shielded itself from the raw truth. Even now it pretended there were choices we could make, as if all of our choices had not been presented always on the cut of a sharpened blade. No compromise was possible. Not now.
My eyes clouded, my lips tight, I did not expect it when Artanis spoke. She did not look at me, her eyes fixed on the far peaks of the mountains, on the saddle, barely visible at the edge of the horizon, where Fëanáro's flame had burnt itself, and turned to dust.
"Still you would cross this mere swimming if you could reach him now."
A long moment of silence; and then, upon my lips, a sad grimace that could be called a smile.
"You have no need of my answer, friend."
"No. I do not."
Quiet returned; ere again she let words fall like raindrops in a hot day.
"As we crossed the Ice I thought I would kill him with my own hands. I imagined the feel of a naked blade, the softness of his skin beneath its edge. The warmth of blood as it poured away. The last sparkle of his eyes before they became dull."
I had no need to ask whom she would have thus slain.
"Oh, I imagined his smile…its crazed glint, its spiteful mocking. I imagined to destroy and unmake him, and thus undo what he had done to us. Or perhaps I deceive myself. I cared for nothing but to see him suffer. I would have had him beg on his knees for release from pain. And then I would have smiled, smiled as he has done, when he has taken our destinies in his hand and he has broken them."
Empty her voice; toneless. Her hands now so tightly entwined her knuckles had become white. 
"But then I have seen him die, and no joy has touched me. In his defeat he was more glorious than we shall ever be in victory, and he has departed untouched, unblemished from this earth. All that he has done, all that he has taken has not stained his flame. As if his own splendour could put him above evil and its contrary."
Her voice now lower. No tears in her eyes; they were hard and clear, and sparkless.
"Untouched. And now that he is gone I know that none that shall live can understand now why I came upon this road, and which other roads I shall take. For he understood. On the quay at Alqualondë he looked at me, soothing not my guilt – but understanding. He denied me solace, but he knew for what I would have asked. Which words would have released my conscience. He looked at me – as if he were telling me that such was the price of my dreams. Yes. He understood. Now I am last."
I looked at her. Motionless, composedly she still sat. My own words felt inadequate ere I uttered them, they stumbled inside my throat, lost lambs.
"Artanis…"
"Speak not." A demand. "I know what you would say, and it is precious to me. Your friendship I value high, highest among the things that I have left. You, my brothers. But none of your words can reach me, and even with open eyes you could not fathom what has come to pass." Extending now a hand, touching my cheek lightly. "For yours is an altogether different curse."
Often Findaráto and Artanis would speak the same words, knowing it not. 
Before I could reply to her, before I could decide whether any reply could be made, her sharp eyes left me, looking across the lake, to the other camp.
"Messengers," she said, "And they ride in haste…"
Ere I could turn she had risen , walking back to our camp, demanding of her uncle in urgent tones. I followed her: one glance telling me what she had seen. A file of three riders entering the Fëanárions' fence, the white light showing their faces in a mask of worry and despair.
Nolofinwë came forth from the tent where he had lain sleepless, Findekáno  following him. The eyes of both sunken as if bruised in features creased by too many of these lightless days.
Artanis told them what she had seen, pointed to the camp where a new group of riders hastily approached. Among them three of Fëanáro's sons; and Maitimo none of them. Where the other four were, none could say; but borne across the water was the ill wind of new pains. My heart beat faster, a shade of dread coming over it; my eyes looking to Nolofinwë, my words hasty when I spoke.
"Could not messengers be sent to them?"
For a moment he hesitated, his grief still too fresh for him to think past the few moments of our future; caring not for what now happened to his brother's House. Fëanáro he had loved; what he had left behind was ruins reminding him of what was. But at long last he nodded.
"Signal with fires. If no answer comes, dispatch a rider."
It was Artanis herself who manned the lamps, using the system in Valinor we had devised to communicate rapidly from Tirion to those who lived scattered in the countryside. Again and again she signaled, her gestures quick; but the only answer that came was short, a fear and a dread crippled by the necessity to use few words.
Distress. Stand by.
New messages were not answered. Together we stood on the shore as Nolofinwë's messenger departed, using one of the horses Carnistir had given us; and I wished I were with him as we watched it circle around the lake, the rapid hoofs choosing a way among the beaten grass. I sought Artanis' hand; and held it. For fear grew ever stronger in my heart, fear even as I told myself that surely Morgoth would not attack again, not so soon, not while still Fëanáro's blows were new and bleeding among his armies. Not now that the king to lead the Fëanárions to charge would be Maitimo.
Maitimo: the name I had called him by ever since I had known him. The name my heart whispered as the messenger disappeared inside a thick of willows coming down to the water's edge. Flying with it for the last stretch of his journey, as the Fëanárions' camp drew nearer; having no eyes for the last group of riders that entered it from the other gate. My eyes straining to distinguish the messenger's horse when it would emerge from the trees. 
But unexpectedly the gate closer to the water's edge opened, and from the camp in haste rode away another courier; one that met ours midway as it covered the last stretch, exchanging few, hastened words, ere together they came back towards us. Running, and now truly in haste and fear and need, cutting corners to gain time, the horses splashing through the water, the only sound I could distinguish  in a night that had gone silent and black. Certainty now filling me; certainty as all my hopes were reduced to fuming ash, dust forgotten upon the earth.
Heeding not Artanis' call I ran towards them, meeting them before they could reach our camp's guards.
"What passes?" I cried, my dress stained with mud from my race across the grass, and the messenger of the Sons of Fëanáro drew to a sudden halt, his horse rearing. I recognized him then: one of Fëanáro's retainers, the guard that had admitted me to Formenos, one day, six years before. 
And seeing me he stopped: seeing me he hesitated, as if he thought that what he had to say I should be told before all else. From the camp had emerged, called by the commotion, Nolofinwë and Findekáno; and upon their arrival the courier's mind was made up. Talking to none, his voice loud with pretend assurance, the fake indifference of those who bring news of distress, he spoke what he had to say; and his message rang void into the night.
"The King is dead."
Silence; silence where no sound could fall. Silence where I looked to the courier, and his words tolled hollow inside me, as if I could not understand them. 
"Morgoth called a parley and a truce; and the King Nelyafinwë rode to it. He mistrusted the call, but would not refuse it, bringing an armed escort for his safety. He was himself well armed. But the Enemy was more treacherous."
Findekáno 's face was now bloodless, as pale as the white Moon. What did he see coming that my dazed mind could not understand, what had he guessed that my numbed spirit could not imagine?
"Balrogs were hidden among Morgoth's party. They slew the escort. Captured the king. They brought him to the fortress of Utumno with them."
The messenger's eyes were empty. A task to be fulfilled to its last. 
"Messages have been sent claiming that the King is an hostage, but his brothers know what being brought to Morgoth means. The new King, my lord Canafinwë, thought well you should be alerted."
Bending his head. A duty accomplished. Findekáno 's eyes now abysses I could not look into. Artanis' steps reaching me the only sound. Someone, somewhere, was wailing. Someone was crying, because new blood had been spilt. A good prince had died. 
Artanis' fingers touching my arm. No more sounds. Only an empty word filling my mind.
Dead.
My mind struggling to understand it. Fleeting pictures, Finwë, Fëanáro, the slain Teleri on Swanhaven's quays.
Dead.
Comprehension dawning, disbelief shielding me. My spirit stretching, extending past that hour. Reaching the place where my love for Maitimo had been. Finding a raging pain, like a sea ready to swallow me whole. Artanis talking; and I listened not. My eyes upon the messenger, for on everyone else there lay the same doomed pain. A truth I would not see.
"You lie."
A compromise. A denial. Walking away from Artanis' fingers, wrenching them from my arm with a strength newly found when she tried to hold me back. No might in this world could have done that.
"You lie!"
Proclaiming it aloud, a voice not mine, a scream not mine following it. Slapping away the hand Findekáno  held out to me, looking away from the tears that would not fall congealed in his black irises.
"YOU LIE!"
Turning and running, grass that slips under the feet, mud that cannot hold them, water splashing when, like the horses have done, you cut a corner; voices and steps behind you, but you leave them back, for not even Nerwen the Man-maiden can catch you now. Not even  the Valar could reach you, no more a maiden, who cares for the thorns that tear at your dress when you cut through the bushes, no more a maiden, no, just a thought, a thought running on the edge of a lake, a conscience promising, frantic words, you shall not leave him, you shall not part from him, you shall follow him, a spirit crying that it cannot be, that it would have known, that it would have felt it had he been dead.
The willows looming ahead, weeping branches for a weeping day, tearing at them with unhealed, clawing fingers that start to bleed again, stumbling upon the roots, wrenching yourself upright again, running and running out of the trees, to the open doors where they waited for a messenger and they see a running maiden, mud-spluttered blood-stained, looking not at them, passing past them and into the camp where they sit in circles empty-handed, empty-hearted, because the King is dead. 
Seeing them not.
Until the tent, richer than the others, where those who have been left nurse their spirits through another loss. Pushing aside the guard, tearing away the flap. Six of them around a chart spread on a table. Six of them. Your spirit telling you again it cannot be. The messenger was a liar. He will come soon. Looking at the tallest, black hair black eyes, looking at him with a mute question to which his answer is an  outstretched hand. Blood-stained, mud-spluttered himself. And you remember him on another day, dressed for a feast in Arafinwë's garden, when with Artanis he witnessed your promise being exchanged. 
You hit the hand. You cry out the words with all the breath you have left.
"It cannot be."
He looks at you, and in his eyes is all the sadness of this world.
"It is."
No more thoughts. Just one last hope, a child's defense. One last gamble in the face of fate.
"SWEAR IT!"
Hard eyes.
"I swear it. I would not have called myself king if I had not known it. Maitimo is dead, Silmë."
Someone cries. You do not know whom. Whoever it is, their pain grates like a growl, the last challenge of an animal that is dying. Your throat hurts. Your knees are unknotted, unmade, like a puppet whose strings a spoilt Elfling has cut.
***
Later they told me it was Carnistir that lifted me from the ground, and brought me back to Nolofinwë's camp.
***   
The five years that followed that day remain in my memory like a haze, a thick fog where I moved blind, my senses dulled. The Sun rose, following the Moon – gold that shone pale beside the remembrance of the warmth that was when Laurelin still lived. Bards entwined songs about what we had left behind, lords set a-conquering the kingdoms they had promised themselves. I watched it all as if from afar, a spectacle that did not concern me, where I was but someone forgotten and left aside, like a trunk cast adrift by the current, far from its native forest. 
I lived, yes. Eating and drinking, walking and talking. Answering questions, mostly: for when I was not questioned I would sit back, absence painting itself on my face. I looked out of the window, my chin abandoned on my bent hand. They respected my silence as they would respect a widow's mourning; and they marveled at my lack of tears. Artanis alone looked at me, sometimes clasping my hand. Looking into my eyes for the Elf I had been.
But I was not there. Living in those years was like breathing underwater. When left alone I would cock my head sideways, like one who is listening. Waiting, unconsciously, insensibly, for the endless count of eternity to pass. 
I did not die. There are some who shall relinquish life when it becomes a burden to them, some who shall knock on Mandos' doors of their own accord; but I was not one of them. Artanis and Findaráto watched me closely, waiting for grief to swallow me, waiting for a despair they could soothe: they met with an absent voice, distracted eyes that looked beyond them. Docilely, I followed them on the isle of Tol Sirion. Docilely I accepted the new clothes the maidens wove for me, a new horse to substitute the one I had lost. I never went again to the Fëanárions. From the opposite shore of lake Mithrim the Noldorin Elves faced each other; but I no longer cared for it.
Life still held joy for me, the smile a newborn flower would bring to my lips, the silent warmth of the Sun. And yet all was strange, subdued, colours and sensations incapable of touching me. Almost within my fingers' grasp; but not quite. The world was far and distorted, as if I watched it through a thick glass. Sometimes Artanis would fall silent, her lips drawn into a tight line, her spirit reaching out to mine tentatively. Again and again she met with the void my mind had made: an empty space to protect itself.
Findekáno  had locked himself in a world where he lived alone, a harsh reality of sharp truths, where no room had been left for such things as joy, or at least gladness. He would lead the soldiers, guard the borders against the creatures we had learnt to call Orcs; but his eyelids were red-rimmed, his skin taut above his cheekbones. He looked around with the eyes of an hunted wolf, one whose pack the pursuers have already taken down. He walked alone, and the past stalked his steps, a shadow and a regret.
Some called his pain excessive. After all, they said in whispers, he has lost a friend, however dear. Not a father, not a sibling. Not a lover.
When he caught them whispering he said nothing. He turned on them pupils as ardent as coals, pupils where there was written the truth sometimes people forgot – that in his veins, too, ran Fëanáro's blood. A kinship spoken in darkest times.
Such bottomless pain I could not share. For on that first morning after the news had reached me, when I woke in a tent whose corners had been stuffed with shawls to keep out the noise of a mourning camp, for a long moment my eyes adjusted to darkness, and my mind groped in the void dark dreams had left, looking for the dreadful void Maitimo had left behind – but it found nothing.
For the bond that had united us had not changed, nor been broken; for the world was still the one I had known, one his presence had made precious to me. Truly then I discovered the Valar were wrong when they told us that only wedding vows shall unite two spirits; truly then I acknowledged that the union of bodies cannot forge a bond if spirits have not already tied it. 
For I reached out into the void, and found his presence there: an aching and an hurting one, as if still once his spirit had left his flesh the wounds of this life could touch him. But he was still within the circles of Eä. And silently I listened for his pain to unfurl in the long years of his absence, like a cold touch upon my mind. The Eldar do not abandon Arda, not until its breaking. Still his spirit was with me, and it called to me with beseeching words.
In the Halls of Mandos, reunited to his father, calling me back.
But I did not die, I have said that. In what had happened I recognized the print of a deserved punishment, the design of a project of atonement, and redemption. To be sundered from him was the penalty that had been sentenced upon me, the price to be paid for the Kinslaying at Alqualondë; one that I accepted, even if it cut through me like daggers of fire.
Breathing slowly, living lightly, I waited. For the Valar to be sated by my silent, noiseless grief, and the Doomsman to decree that the sentence had been served to its last. The bitter cup must be emptied to its dregs. Then one day death would come to me, and the count of this eternity of the flesh ended in the light of his spirit that I would find again.
His remembrance behind my eyes was the only thing upon this earth that still made my heart beat. 
***
Such were my thoughts, such were my days when there came a time of festival, and Artanis, Findaráto and I made our way to Mithrim, at Nolofinwë's call.    
 

Chapter 18

Absence

Our journey back was a tired cavalcade beneath the new light. The retainers spoke in low voices, they pointed to each other the silver face of the new lamp that filled the black havens of Middle-earth with white radiance, like spilt mercury polishing them. The stars were erased and hidden within its reach: the vessel triumphed over their cold light. Even as Telperion had done; but where he had covered Valinor with a dome of woven threads, where all remembrance of the dark had been erased by his presence, this novel light was weaker and paler, white rather than silver, as if no new radiance could ever substitute the one we had lost.

Work of Valarin hands, no doubt: for it was beautiful and close to the forsaken earth. Their power had followed us into the dark, a reminder that our rebellion could not go unpunished, a reminder that this world was their fiefdom and their charge, for them to light and darken at will. And even while our hearts welcomed its coming, our spirits looked up to the round, bright circle, and its light was to them cold and aloof. It lit our misery, it flooded it with indifferent white. 

Misery. Clinging to our limbs, trailing from our garments like thin, humid mist. Clouding our eyes, dimming our voice. Weighing down with lead our every gesture. A sorrow and a mourning spoke beneath the pearly skies, grief too raw to be put into song. Fëanáro was dead. The fall of the Noldor was complete.

What he had done to us, his curse, his hatred, had left upon us a print that would not fade: in the shadow he had cast we had walked in doom. In the legacy he had left all our hopes, all our dreams withered and died. But he had been our prince; he had been our king. The brightness of his spirit unrivalled among Elf born since the beginning of the world. Even his evil had been made noble by his blinding light, even the burns and sores his fire had brought us bore the taste of his pure flame. And now he was dead, he that had walked like a giant among us; he that had crushed us with careless waste. Where he had fallen, how could those he had left behind succeed?

Artanis rode beside me, her eyes fixed upon the reins. Empty, cold eyes; eyes like dimmed glass where adamant had been. For I saw now that her hatred for Fëanáro had led her across the Ice; I saw now that in its fell fire she had found strength not to surrender to coldness or dread. She had ridden to him, in her the burning need to give hurt for hurt, wound for wound. But he was no more, a fleeting shadow in Mandos' Halls. The words of the Powers made true so soon; and the death of one that had been so similar to her, even if his talent for darkness had driven her away, spoke of her own doom. We had fled Aman when it had been tainted by death; we had left its shores telling ourselves we would be leaving our curse behind. But our curse had followed us, its footfalls soft and silent: now it breathed upon our neck like cold wind, and its blade was stained with blood. 

Nolofinwë ahead rode with his head held high, in his dark eyes tears that would not overflow. He would not scream; not now. Even the strength to cry had been lost. And in his measured gestures he caged his pain: a raging beast devouring his spirit, his heart. For his love had been unanswered, his forgiveness, or his wrath, escaped, and Fëanáro had left this life mocking him. Even unto the threshold of death he had refused him, and his spirit had remained sharp, and unyielding. Few shall be changed in the face of death; many more shall reveal naked the full make of their hearts, the true colours of their thoughts. Fëanáro had lit his brother's life with doomed light: unattainable, and desired with maddened will. Now he left him in the dark; and the last remembrance was that of his scorn.

My cousins' mourning, its strange mingling of sorrow and rage, enveloped me like a thin cloud. And in it my sense were dulled, for my own heart struggled to reason with itself. Silent tears I shed: for Fëanáro, and for Maitimo. For Carnistir and his broken cry. For Nolofinwë who would not weep, and Artanis who could not. And for myself, whose destiny this death had sealed with melted iron. I, whose happiness Fëanáro had destroyed, felt the void of a world where the light of his eyes no longer shone; I felt the cold of a time where his flame no longer burnt. But with sudden rage I felt that truly he had left us in chains: the chains his Oath had tightened around his sons, the chains that would fall upon all those who followed them.

I had followed Artanis; I had been wise. I had left behind Maitimo, the darkened emerald of his eyes, the broken will with which he had sworn anew. His father was dead. In his eldest hottest and darkest smouldered the remembrance of his flame. Artanis who had lost so much had called me away, and now I had recognized what scorching remaining would have brought me. Fëanáro's curse burnt into my soul in letters of fire.

Thus reasoned my shaken mind; but my heart was silent, and gave it no answer. Its every beat was painful, and in this new void that the white light of the Moon cut into white and black it was like a lonely and a forlorn traveler, last living thing upon forsaken shore. From such nightmare it would not awake. For such a riddle there was no answer it could give. Stranded as it was in this new world that had been made without its choice; lost in this empty space where it could find no solace.

And the arrival at our camp was like the awakening to a harsher place, a naked reality where no hope was left; I dismounted, my conscience an armour protecting me even as it cut through my flesh. On our faces must have been written  the heaviness of our doom; for Findekáno  stepped forward, and the eyes of the whole host were upon him, eyes of animals lost into the night. Nolofinwë himself gave the news, his voice mantled in ice not to crack.

"The King is dead."

The King. He did not say his name. For three years more, he would not; and when he would finally allow himself to utter it again, it would be with the aching voice of one whose wounds cannot heal. But then the word fell upon us like a broken sword, might made useless by stronger fate. Even those who had hated him cried out in dismay; even those who had cursed him quailed in fear. The death of Fëanáro brought us no joy; and the curse we had woven under his guide did not slacken.

"Nelyafinwë is now king then."

Findekáno's answer cloaked itself in the same coldness, hardening not to break. Nelyafinwë. His other, sweeter name did not belong to us anymore. In that hour, Maitimo was lost. The third of the Finwions had been brought to the crown: an ill wind, a strange fate had lain it upon his copper head. His life was not his anymore. For kings have no choice but to follow their doom.

It was in silence that our temporary camp was dismantled; in silence that our things were packed. Our dead had been burnt, new ashes beneath the cold light. What Fëanáro had not lived to see was an empty lamp shining over his death. And when we marched, Nolofinwë calling us forward with a harsh cry, Findekáno  came by me: his hand finding mine, clasping it until it hurt. He walked away immediately without looking back. But I understood.

Sole among that large host that this death left alone beneath the vaults of the sky, sole among those who grieved, we had lost twice. Fëanáro's last blow had been dealt to us; and our love, and our hopes, shattered. 

I looked to Artanis, wishing not to linger on this thought. Hoping that still her strength could resist, hoping that it would not have faded. But when I looked at her I found a grieving wrath, a pain enraged with itself; a sorrow born without her consent, a woe that could find no solace, for she would not express it. Empty eyes; and that the novel light of the Valar filled with pale light, making them dull, and dead.

***

In later times we would call Mithrim the lake by which we camped: a polished mirror beneath the newly arisen light. Trees enclosed its distance, leaving only a soft border of grass by its shore. Here our tents were pitched, and, laying a guard all around, we lay down to sleep. But sleep I could not, as much as I would have, and I tossed beneath the blankets, their folds swathing my body like bandages, or chains. I could find no rest; and eventually I rose taking a cloak, and walked outside and to the edge of the water. Artanis sat there, upon a rock made soft by moss, her fingers tightly wound around her knee. She said nothing when I sat by her, and together we waited for time to unwound itself, and bring a balm to our spirits.

A restlessness had come over me, and unquiet my fingers tormented the thin blades of
grass, staining my skin with their green blood. Mud stirred quietly with each new wave that came to die a few steps from us, and sometimes the quick flicker of a fish would break the still, hard surface of the lake. Behind us the host had lit fires, they slept huddled in cloaks and shawls. Across the water was the camp of the Fëanárions, an orderly enclave that already some toiled to fence with wood. High upon a pole flew Fëanáro's red standard, that a black list now darkened in mourning. 

Tomorrow,  the day after, if days could be called the endless hours this new light would count, the new King would ride to his camp. Crownless king, as his father had been; but in his hands would be the lordship over the Noldorin Elves. And across this water he would have looked to those to which forever, whatever their grief now, the name of the Fëanárions would spell grief, and betrayal, and mistrust. Evil seeds that is allowed to flourish cannot be uprooted; it taints the garden like a pest. Fëanáro's last legacy was a sundering not to be mended by love or blood.

Across this water I would see him come back; and I could not have gone to him. But once more my mind refused to face the pain of a separation to last forever, once more it tried to frame in words, in thoughts a compromise that could save me from such grief. Nelyafinwë was not Fëanáro. He would not allow such break to run among the Noldorin Elves. But will as he would, the betrayal of the Ice he could not undo; and those that had died because of his father he could not call back to life. In the Halls of Mandos Fëanáro would not walk alone.

But all such thoughts seemed vain, even as their hope was sweet to my tongue, soothing to my sore spirit. All my wishes had been turned into a child's games, fantasies I had never been able to see realized. Even now, my love shielded itself from the raw truth. Even now it pretended there were choices we could make, as if all of our choices had not been presented always on the cut of a sharpened blade. No compromise was possible. Not now.

My eyes clouded, my lips tight, I did not expect it when Artanis spoke. She did not look at me, her eyes fixed on the far peaks of the mountains, on the saddle, barely visible at the edge of the horizon, where Fëanáro's flame had burnt itself, and turned to dust.

"Still you would cross this mere swimming if you could reach him now."

A long moment of silence; and then, upon my lips, a sad grimace that could be called a smile.

"You have no need of my answer, friend."

"No. I do not."

Quiet returned; ere again she let words fall like raindrops in a hot day.

"As we crossed the Ice I thought I would kill him with my own hands. I imagined the feel of a naked blade, the softness of his skin beneath its edge. The warmth of blood as it poured away. The last sparkle of his eyes before they became dull."

I had no need to ask whom she would have thus slain.

"Oh, I imagined his smile…its crazed glint, its spiteful mocking. I imagined to destroy and unmake him, and thus undo what he had done to us. Or perhaps I deceive myself. I cared for nothing but to see him suffer. I would have had him beg on his knees for release from pain. And then I would have smiled, smiled as he has done, when he has taken our destinies in his hand and he has broken them."

Empty her voice; toneless. Her hands now so tightly entwined her knuckles had become white. 

"But then I have seen him die, and no joy has touched me. In his defeat he was more glorious than we shall ever be in victory, and he has departed untouched, unblemished from this earth. All that he has done, all that he has taken has not stained his flame. As if his own splendour could put him above evil and its contrary."

Her voice now lower. No tears in her eyes; they were hard and clear, and sparkless.

"Untouched. And now that he is gone I know that none that shall live can understand now why I came upon this road, and which other roads I shall take. For he understood. On the quay at Alqualondë he looked at me, soothing not my guilt – but understanding. He denied me solace, but he knew for what I would have asked. Which words would have released my conscience. He looked at me – as if he were telling me that such was the price of my dreams. Yes. He understood. Now I am last."

I looked at her. Motionless, composedly she still sat. My own words felt inadequate ere I uttered them, they stumbled inside my throat, lost lambs.

"Artanis…"

"Speak not." A demand. "I know what you would say, and it is precious to me. Your friendship I value high, highest among the things that I have left. You, my brothers. But none of your words can reach me, and even with open eyes you could not fathom what has come to pass." Extending now a hand, touching my cheek lightly. "For yours is an altogether different curse."

Often Findaráto and Artanis would speak the same words, knowing it not. 

Before I could reply to her, before I could decide whether any reply could be made, her sharp eyes left me, looking across the lake, to the other camp.

"Messengers," she said, "And they ride in haste…"

Ere I could turn she had risen , walking back to our camp, demanding of her uncle in urgent tones. I followed her: one glance telling me what she had seen. A file of three riders entering the Fëanárions' fence, the white light showing their faces in a mask of worry and despair.

Nolofinwë came forth from the tent where he had lain sleepless, Findekáno  following him. The eyes of both sunken as if bruised in features creased by too many of these lightless days.

Artanis told them what she had seen, pointed to the camp where a new group of riders hastily approached. Among them three of Fëanáro's sons; and Maitimo none of them. Where the other four were, none could say; but borne across the water was the ill wind of new pains. My heart beat faster, a shade of dread coming over it; my eyes looking to Nolofinwë, my words hasty when I spoke.

"Could not messengers be sent to them?"

For a moment he hesitated, his grief still too fresh for him to think past the few moments of our future; caring not for what now happened to his brother's House. Fëanáro he had loved; what he had left behind was ruins reminding him of what was. But at long last he nodded.

"Signal with fires. If no answer comes, dispatch a rider."

It was Artanis herself who manned the lamps, using the system in Valinor we had devised to communicate rapidly from Tirion to those who lived scattered in the countryside. Again and again she signaled, her gestures quick; but the only answer that came was short, a fear and a dread crippled by the necessity to use few words.

Distress. Stand by.

New messages were not answered. Together we stood on the shore as Nolofinwë's messenger departed, using one of the horses Carnistir had given us; and I wished I were with him as we watched it circle around the lake, the rapid hoofs choosing a way among the beaten grass. I sought Artanis' hand; and held it. For fear grew ever stronger in my heart, fear even as I told myself that surely Morgoth would not attack again, not so soon, not while still Fëanáro's blows were new and bleeding among his armies. Not now that the king to lead the Fëanárions to charge would be Maitimo.
Maitimo: the name I had called him by ever since I had known him. The name my heart whispered as the messenger disappeared inside a thick of willows coming down to the water's edge. Flying with it for the last stretch of his journey, as the Fëanárions' camp drew nearer; having no eyes for the last group of riders that entered it from the other gate. My eyes straining to distinguish the messenger's horse when it would emerge from the trees. 

But unexpectedly the gate closer to the water's edge opened, and from the camp in haste rode away another courier; one that met ours midway as it covered the last stretch, exchanging few, hastened words, ere together they came back towards us. Running, and now truly in haste and fear and need, cutting corners to gain time, the horses splashing through the water, the only sound I could distinguish  in a night that had gone silent and black. Certainty now filling me; certainty as all my hopes were reduced to fuming ash, dust forgotten upon the earth.

Heeding not Artanis' call I ran towards them, meeting them before they could reach our camp's guards.

"What passes?" I cried, my dress stained with mud from my race across the grass, and the messenger of the Sons of Fëanáro drew to a sudden halt, his horse rearing. I recognized him then: one of Fëanáro's retainers, the guard that had admitted me to Formenos, one day, six years before. 

And seeing me he stopped: seeing me he hesitated, as if he thought that what he had to say I should be told before all else. From the camp had emerged, called by the commotion, Nolofinwë and Findekáno; and upon their arrival the courier's mind was made up. Talking to none, his voice loud with pretend assurance, the fake indifference of those who bring news of distress, he spoke what he had to say; and his message rang void into the night.

"The King is dead."

Silence; silence where no sound could fall. Silence where I looked to the courier, and his words tolled hollow inside me, as if I could not understand them. 

"Morgoth called a parley and a truce; and the King Nelyafinwë rode to it. He mistrusted the call, but would not refuse it, bringing an armed escort for his safety. He was himself well armed. But the Enemy was more treacherous."

Findekáno 's face was now bloodless, as pale as the white Moon. What did he see coming that my dazed mind could not understand, what had he guessed that my numbed spirit could not imagine?

"Balrogs were hidden among Morgoth's party. They slew the escort. Captured the king.

They brought him to the fortress of Utumno with them."

The messenger's eyes were empty. A task to be fulfilled to its last. 

"Messages have been sent claiming that the King is an hostage, but his brothers know what being brought to Morgoth means. The new King, my lord Canafinwë, thought well you should be alerted."

Bending his head. A duty accomplished. Findekáno 's eyes now abysses I could not look into. Artanis' steps reaching me the only sound. Someone, somewhere, was wailing. Someone was crying, because new blood had been spilt. A good prince had died. 
Artanis' fingers touching my arm. No more sounds. Only an empty word filling my mind.
Dead.

My mind struggling to understand it. Fleeting pictures, Finwë, Fëanáro, the slain Teleri on Swanhaven's quays.

Dead.

Comprehension dawning, disbelief shielding me. My spirit stretching, extending past that hour. Reaching the place where my love for Maitimo had been. Finding a raging pain, like a sea ready to swallow me whole. Artanis talking; and I listened not. My eyes upon the messenger, for on everyone else there lay the same doomed pain. A truth I would not see.

"You lie."

A compromise. A denial. Walking away from Artanis' fingers, wrenching them from my arm with a strength newly found when she tried to hold me back. No might in this world could have done that.

"You lie!"

Proclaiming it aloud, a voice not mine, a scream not mine following it. Slapping away the hand Findekáno  held out to me, looking away from the tears that would not fall congealed in his black irises.

"YOU LIE!"

Turning and running, grass that slips under the feet, mud that cannot hold them, water splashing when, like the horses have done, you cut a corner; voices and steps behind you, but you leave them back, for not even Nerwen the Man-maiden can catch you now. Not even  the Valar could reach you, no more a maiden, who cares for the thorns that tear at your dress when you cut through the bushes, no more a maiden, no, just a thought, a thought running on the edge of a lake, a conscience promising, frantic words, you shall not leave him, you shall not part from him, you shall follow him, a spirit crying that it cannot be, that it would have known, that it would have felt it had he been dead.

The willows looming ahead, weeping branches for a weeping day, tearing at them with unhealed, clawing fingers that start to bleed again, stumbling upon the roots, wrenching yourself upright again, running and running out of the trees, to the open doors where they waited for a messenger and they see a running maiden, mud-spluttered blood-stained, looking not at them, passing past them and into the camp where they sit in circles empty-handed, empty-hearted, because the King is dead. 
Seeing them not.

Until the tent, richer than the others, where those who have been left nurse their spirits through another loss. Pushing aside the guard, tearing away the flap. Six of them around a chart spread on a table. Six of them. Your spirit telling you again it cannot be. The messenger was a liar. He will come soon. Looking at the tallest, black hair black eyes, looking at him with a mute question to which his answer is an  outstretched hand. Blood-stained, mud-spluttered himself. And you remember him on another day, dressed for a feast in Arafinwë's garden, when with Artanis he witnessed your promise being exchanged. 

You hit the hand. You cry out the words with all the breath you have left.

"It cannot be."

He looks at you, and in his eyes is all the sadness of this world.

"It is."

No more thoughts. Just one last hope, a child's defense. One last gamble in the face of fate.

"SWEAR IT!"

Hard eyes.

"I swear it. I would not have called myself king if I had not known it. Maitimo is dead, Silmë."

Someone cries. You do not know whom. Whoever it is, their pain grates like a growl, the last challenge of an animal that is dying. Your throat hurts. Your knees are unknotted, unmade, like a puppet whose strings a spoilt Elfling has cut.

***

Later they told me it was Carnistir that lifted me from the ground, and brought me back to Nolofinwë's camp.

***   

The five years that followed that day remain in my memory like a haze, a thick fog where I moved blind, my senses dulled. The Sun rose, following the Moon – gold that shone pale beside the remembrance of the warmth that was when Laurelin still lived. Bards entwined songs about what we had left behind, lords set a-conquering the kingdoms they had promised themselves. I watched it all as if from afar, a spectacle that did not concern me, where I was but someone forgotten and left aside, like a trunk cast adrift by the current, far from its native forest. 

I lived, yes. Eating and drinking, walking and talking. Answering questions, mostly: for when I was not questioned I would sit back, absence painting itself on my face. I looked out of the window, my chin abandoned on my bent hand. They respected my silence as they would respect a widow's mourning; and they marveled at my lack of tears. Artanis alone looked at me, sometimes clasping my hand. Looking into my eyes for the Elf I had been.

But I was not there. Living in those years was like breathing underwater. When left alone I would cock my head sideways, like one who is listening. Waiting, unconsciously, insensibly, for the endless count of eternity to pass. 

I did not die. There are some who shall relinquish life when it becomes a burden to them, some who shall knock on Mandos' doors of their own accord; but I was not one of them. Artanis and Findaráto watched me closely, waiting for grief to swallow me, waiting for a despair they could soothe: they met with an absent voice, distracted eyes that looked beyond them. Docilely, I followed them on the isle of Tol Sirion. Docilely I accepted the new clothes the maidens wove for me, a new horse to substitute the one I had lost. I never went again to the Fëanárions. From the opposite shore of lake Mithrim the Noldorin Elves faced each other; but I no longer cared for it.

Life still held joy for me, the smile a newborn flower would bring to my lips, the silent warmth of the Sun. And yet all was strange, subdued, colours and sensations incapable of touching me. Almost within my fingers' grasp; but not quite. The world was far and distorted, as if I watched it through a thick glass. Sometimes Artanis would fall silent, her lips drawn into a tight line, her spirit reaching out to mine tentatively. Again and again she met with the void my mind had made: an empty space to protect itself.

Findekáno  had locked himself in a world where he lived alone, a harsh reality of sharp truths, where no room had been left for such things as joy, or at least gladness. He would lead the soldiers, guard the borders against the creatures we had learnt to call Orcs; but his eyelids were red-rimmed, his skin taut above his cheekbones. He looked around with the eyes of an hunted wolf, one whose pack the pursuers have already taken down. He walked alone, and the past stalked his steps, a shadow and a regret.

Some called his pain excessive. After all, they said in whispers, he has lost a friend, however dear. Not a father, not a sibling. Not a lover.

When he caught them whispering he said nothing. He turned on them pupils as ardent as coals, pupils where there was written the truth sometimes people forgot – that in his veins, too, ran Fëanáro's blood. A kinship spoken in darkest times.

Such bottomless pain I could not share. For on that first morning after the news had reached me, when I woke in a tent whose corners had been stuffed with shawls to keep out the noise of a mourning camp, for a long moment my eyes adjusted to darkness, and my mind groped in the void dark dreams had left, looking for the dreadful void Maitimo had left behind – but it found nothing.

For the bond that had united us had not changed, nor been broken; for the world was still the one I had known, one his presence had made precious to me. Truly then I discovered the Valar were wrong when they told us that only wedding vows shall unite two spirits; truly then I acknowledged that the union of bodies cannot forge a bond if spirits have not already tied it. 

For I reached out into the void, and found his presence there: an aching and an hurting one, as if still once his spirit had left his flesh the wounds of this life could touch him. But he was still within the circles of Eä. And silently I listened for his pain to unfurl in the long years of his absence, like a cold touch upon my mind. The Eldar do not abandon Arda, not until its breaking. Still his spirit was with me, and it called to me with beseeching words.

In the Halls of Mandos, reunited to his father, calling me back.

But I did not die, I have said that. In what had happened I recognized the print of a deserved punishment, the design of a project of atonement, and redemption. To be sundered from him was the penalty that had been sentenced upon me, the price to be paid for the Kinslaying at Alqualondë; one that I accepted, even if it cut through me like daggers of fire.

Breathing slowly, living lightly, I waited. For the Valar to be sated by my silent, noiseless grief, and the Doomsman to decree that the sentence had been served to its last. The bitter cup must be emptied to its dregs. Then one day death would come to me, and the count of this eternity of the flesh ended in the light of his spirit that I would find again.

His remembrance behind my eyes was the only thing upon this earth that still made my heart beat. 

***

Such were my thoughts, such were my days when there came a time of festival, and Artanis, Findaráto and I made our way to Mithrim, at Nolofinwë's call.     


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.

Story Information

Author: Aredhel Serindë

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Romance

Rating: General

Last Updated: 09/29/10

Original Post: 04/22/10

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Tainted Light

Cuinwen - 02 Aug 10 - 9:00 PM

Ch. 19: Absence

This is the most powerful chapter so far.  Silmë's agony is palpable, as one might expect, but so are Nolofinwë's and Findekano's, and your insight into Galadriel's point of view at this time is most intriging.


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