A strong blow of the autumn wind pushed Andreth inside her brother's house. The door slammed shut behind her, she drew back her hand from the frame just in time.
The quiet that she stepped into was oddly unfamiliar. It was ten years since she had left this house, and in her memories the hall was lit by many candles, bustling with children and servants and visitors. Now it was empty, and the four candles on the walls flickered in the wind that blew through a fissure in the wall. Andreth eyed that fissure with a frown, as though she wanted to scold it for just being there, for not having been mended.
She went a few steps into the middle of the hall. The great wooden table that stood there held nothing but a bouquet of dried flowers, lying there as though forgotten. Andreth touched a petal, softly, carefully, as not to crush the flower. She remained standing there, her head bowed, her bundle on the floor beside her, the wind piping through the crack in the wall, for quite a while. Then suddenly, she straightened up, pulled a chair from the table, and sat down on it, erectly, her shoulders squared, and stared out of the window opposite her, the only one in the hall.
The hills that she saw outside were grey and dreary on this afternoon in late October. Yet Andreth had loved these hills, loved them since the days of her childhood, the days she now longed for ever more often. She had loved them in any weather.
Andreth raised a hand and let it rest on her cheek, still sitting, it seemed, uncomfortably straight. In that position she remained, until suddenly the pressing silence was rent by a cry that came from one of the rooms to the left of the hall.
It was a cry the like of which Andreth had never heard before in her life. Not an agonized cry, not even an angered one, though piercingly loud. What nearly made Andreth's blood freeze were the unarticulated sounds that followed the cry; they were not quite intelligible, but left the hearer under the utterly bewildering or even frightening impression that the one who was uttering the sound was trying to form words—and failing miserably.
Andreth rose from her chair, a fear clenching her chest that she did not understand. She looked at the door to the left for a moment, then grabbed her bag and slowly, but not tentatively, made for that door.
But before she had reached it, another door opened at the opposite side of the room.
She turned around. Her brother Bregor stood in the doorframe, his shape outlined by the bright light that emerged from the room behind him. He came towards her, walking around the table. As he passed by the candles on the wall, the light fell on his face. The tiny creases around his eyes that had been barely noticeable when she had left this house ten years ago were now more strongly pronounced and had been joined by further lines around the mouth. They could be seen clearly, the way he was smiling. Along with that, there was a look in his eyes that was new to her: a look of weariness. Her brother had aged.
He stopped before her. "Andreth," he repeated, his eyes full of—yes, they were now full of love. "What a pleasure to have you back again."
She managed to smile.
"Come," he said and took the bag from her. "You must be tired from the journey." He took her by the arm and led her back towards the door from which he had come.
Andreth could not help but turn around before they had reached the door. But there were no more sounds from the other side of the house.
When Andreth woke up it was dark outside. She sat up on the settee and blinked, wondering how she had fallen asleep after she had so firmly made up her mind not to. The journey must have wearied her more than she had been willing to admit to herself. A fire was burning low in the fireplace on the opposite side of the small living room.
The door to the hall opened and a young woman entered. She was of tall, slender stature, with long dark hair and a light, elegant gait. When she noticed that Andreth was awake, she smiled and came towards her.
"Good evening to you, Andreth! Are you rested and well?"
Andreth looked at the face of the woman, puzzled that she should know her.
"Are you a servant in this house?" she asked, and at the same time knew it was not true, for the dress of the woman, though simple and unadorned, was made of a cloth far too fine to be worn by a servant.
The young woman laughed gaily, throwing back her head. The sound of it almost startled Andreth, it seemed too loud for this room and this time of day, far too…merry. But there was something else that struck her about it, something familiar.
The woman smiled at her, with affection, it seemed to Andreth. "Do you not know me, my aunt? I am Hirwen, your brother's daughter."
Andreth almost gasped as the realisation hit her. This was Hirwen indeed, Bregor's second daughter—a defiant, sulky child of twelve years when Andreth had left; and now, undeniably, a beauty of the outstanding kind, even among the noble descendants of Bëor the Old. Much had changed indeed since Andreth had left this house.
"Hirwen," said Andreth and smiled at her niece, "I must say, you have grown tall and fair."
Hirwen took this compliment with the calm dignity of a young woman that is well aware of her outward charms and, although not wanting to appear vain, will not strain for a look of false modesty.
"Sit down with me, niece, I pray you, and tell me of the doings and happenings in this land during the time of my absence," said Andreth and moved on the settee to make room for Hirwen. The young woman sat down on the edge of the settee, folded her hands in her lap and looked at Andreth with her blue eyes.
"What do you wish to know, aunt?"
"Tell me of your brothers and sisters."
Hirwen smiled, smirked almost. "Bregil my sister lives in great bliss with her husband, not many leagues from this place."
Andreth nodded. "Word was sent to Belemir last year that Bregil had wedded."
"Aye, and this spring she gave birth," said Hirwen. "A fine young boy, you could only love him. Brandir they call him."
Andreth smiled thoughtfully. A child was good news. A child was life, a child was hope, a child kept mind and body occupied.
"Bregolas," Hirwen continued, and the smirk on her face was not to be mistaken for a modest smile any longer, "Bregolas has at last come to cherish the virtues of a woman." She sighed ostentatiously. "Young Galadhwen, fair as the snow upon the hills on a cold winter's morning, frail as the flower on the cherry tree, gentle as the warm summer breeze—and yet unreachable as the smoke rising from the huts in November." She shook her head. "Poor, miserable lover."
She looked at Andreth, and something seemed to make her suddenly abandon the subject.
"Gilwen," she said, "is doing well at her studies, and Barahir has recently crafted his first bow." She stared into the fire.
Andreth nodded again. "What of my brother's wife?" she asked. "What of dear Cal—"
She stopped in the middle of her sentence when suddenly there was a noise from the hall, like the slamming of a door. Hirwen started and turned towards the door.
And then there was the voice again. The slugging, piercing voice that sounded like the speaker had his tongue tied and was trying to talk in spite of it.
"What is that?" Andreth got up. Hirwen did not look at her. "What is that, Hirwen?"
"Nothing, aunt, nothing," said Hirwen, shifting uncomfortably. "Will you come to the kitchen with me and—"
But Andreth was already on her way toward the door. Now there was another voice in the hall, a woman's voice. "Quiet," it was saying, "quiet. Aunt Andreth is resting."
Andreth opened the door.
Her sister was standing on the other side of the hall, a small, thin and fragile figure. And on the floor before her, back turned towards Andreth, was a child. It was a boy, no more than five or six years old, judged by his stature as seen from behind. He was holding something in his hands, looking at it and shaking it impatiently, all the while uttering unintelligible sounds.
When Beril spotted Andreth, she started just the tiniest bit. Then she smiled.
"Welcome home, Andreth my sister."
But Andreth's eyes were fixed ever on the boy. It was a kind of doll he was holding. The sounds he made seemed to be those of a toddler of no more than two years rather than those of a child old enough to learn to read and write. Could not this child speak? Andreth felt the same fear weigh down on her chest that had seized her earlier when she had arrived.
"Come, Cuilendil. Come and greet your aunt Andreth." Beril's voice was shaking, just enough to be perceptible, as she extended a hand and gently pulled the boy to his feet and turned him around by his shoulders.
Andreth automatically drew back when she saw his eyes. They were strangely slit-like, reminding her of an Eastern man she had once seen not far from Belemir's house. But what scared her much more about the eyes was the way they seemed to be out of proportion with the rest of the face—she could not name it, but something seemed to be entirely wrong about their size and position—and the way the boy stared at her with a look of indifference, if not to say stupidity. It all seemed so…un-human.
Beril took the child by the hand and led him on. Andreth went a step back and stumbled over the threshold, catching her balance just in time.
Beril looked at her, but the hesitation in her movements lasted only for the fraction of a second as she brought the boy to stand before Andreth.
"Andreth," she said. All of a sudden there was an unfamiliar glint in her eyes, sorrow and defiance at the same time. "I want you to meet my son."
Andreth opened her mouth—but as in a nightmare, she could not utter a sound.
Suddenly she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned her head and saw Hirwen, who touched her shoulder lightly for a moment, her face empty of all signs of emotion, and then withdrew into the next room.
"Andreth," said Beril again. She said it in a soft, gentle way; yet she was not pleading, and the glint was still there in her eyes. "Look at my son."
Andreth had to force herself to look down on the child again. He met her eyes. Then he started to make sounds again, his voice getting louder and louder. Andreth only noticed how hard she was clenching the doorframe when her fingers began to hurt.
"Quiet, Cuilendil," said Beril, seizing the boy lightly by the shoulders.
And Andreth noticed with horror that her sister was smiling.
When she spoke at last, Andreth's words came out loud and harsh. "You named him Cuilendil?"
The smile vanished from Beril's face as quickly as it had appeared. "I would not call him by anything other than his name," she said coldly, pulling the child to herself and putting her arms around him.
Andreth took a deep breath and released the doorframe. She felt the truth trickle through her body like a slow shower of cold water. Without haste, she went past Beril and her child to the window that faced north.
The hills were clouded in a grey mist, the peaks had vanished from sight, and the wind was gently swaying the branches of the birch trees that stood a little further down the slope from the house. Andreth's heart was moved by the rough beauty of it, but it was a beauty that was fit to make her weep today.
"Morgoth Bauglir, thou art cruel," she said in a low voice, almost a whisper. "Does thy evil infect even our children now? What harm have our children done to thee?"
And suddenly, a fear seized her heart. "Is't not enough," she cried, "that thou hast encumbered us with the everlasting burden of death? Must thou make us dotards even in living?" She turned her head to the left. "Oh Spirits that Be, ye Valar of the West! Why do ye not end this hell? If ye be there in your safe halls across the sundering seas, behind the shielding mountains, why do ye let harm come to your children? How can—"
"Andreth!" Beril had a hand on her arm, but Andreth shook it off.
"Can ye not, or will ye not destroy the greatest evil that has ever befallen your precious earth? If ye cannot, then there is no hope for Elves and Men, and we shall perish, but if ye will not…" Her voice died off. She was shaking all over.
"Andreth!" said Beril again.
"Do not touch me!" said Andreth and stepped away from her sister.
"Sister," said another voice. She turned around and saw Bregor coming towards her from the western door. "Pray be patient. It is not wise to rant and let the passions master your sense."
Andreth's jaw clenched. She stared at her brother. He seemed strained, his face had taken on a greyish colour, but his deep, sonorous voice had a calming effect on Andreth. The shaking was now confined to her hands. She released her breath and allowed Bregor to take her arm and lead her back to the living room. Beril did not look at them as they passed; she muttered to her boy in a low voice and took his hand and led him towards the front door.
"We are going for a walk, Bregor," she said as they reached it.
"We will expect you for supper," said Bregor.
He motioned Andreth to sit down at the small round table in the living room. There were four chairs around and another bouquet of dried flowers atop it.
"These are beautiful," said Andreth hoarsely. "Who thought of laying all those flowers around the house?"
"It was the maid who used to work in the kitchen," said Bregor. "Do you remember her? She is now Cuilendil's nurse."
"Nurse," Andreth repeated slowly. Her fingers felt stiff all of a sudden; she let go of the small flower she had been about to pick from the bunch.
Bregor went to an open cupboard on the wall and reached for a large brown bottle on the topmost shelf. From another shelf he took two glasses and put them down on the table. From the bottle he poured a clear colourless liquid.
Andreth drained her glass in one gulp. The drink burned warmly in her throat. "Tell me about that child," she said.
Bregor sipped at his drink. "Cuilendil was born five winters ago. He was a bright child and, except for his looks, no different from other children born at the time, but when he got older, he started to lag behind the others in development. To this day he has never learned to speak more than a few words. He cannot write or read. He wets his bed at night."
Andreth told herself to breathe deeply.
"But," said Bregor, rubbing his temple with the palm of his hand, "he is delightful company. Most of the time. He laughs a lot, and he likes to play games and pet the cat. He is dear to us all."
Andreth said nothing. She longed for another drink, but did not dare ask her brother.
Bregor put his forearms flat on the table and leaned forward. "We do not know why he is different from the other children. We do not know whose failing lies at the bottom of it; if it is a weakness of Beril's body, or a mistake in the early upbringing, a sickness that remained undiscovered…we do not know."
Why are you fooling yourself? Andreth wanted to ask. There is somebody out there who hates the race of men and wishes only to destroy them! But she held her tongue. It was her brother's house, not hers.
Bregor looked at her with his sad eyes. "Andreth," he said in a low voice. "We cannot say if this was brought about by the enemy. It is not impossible, I do not deny it. But if we were to be sure that it is indeed Morgoth's evil—then what should we do? How should we act?"
She wanted to break away from his gaze, but found that she couldn't. Instead she felt tears springing to her eyes and struggled hard to hold them inside.
"Should we turn this innocent soul out of the house and leave him to starve in the wilderness or to be killed by orcs? Or if we kept him, should we treat him as a tainted, an impure man, not to be touched by our pure hands? Should we subject him to that misery? It might prove worse a fate than starving."
Andreth's lips started shaking. She should not have downed the liqueur so quickly.
Bregor continued in a very low voice, bent down over the table. "If it be Morgoth that hath marred this child, how could we spite him better than by loving what he devised to harm us?"
Andreth felt hot tears running down her cheeks. All of a sudden, though it had nothing to do with their conversation, she wanted to tell Bregor, tell him of the elf-lord and his brother.
But he rose from his chair. She could see in his eyes how he retreated, distanced himself from her. And she realised that she was a stranger to her brother, changed as they both were, after the ten years of her absence.
"I will see you at supper," said Bregor quietly, and vanished into the further part of the house.
Andreth sat and wept quietly; and when it had turned dark as night outside the window and her dry eyes would not yield another tear, she laid her head on her folded arms on the table and closed her eyes. Thus she remained for another stretch of time.
She was on the verge of falling asleep yet again when she heard a door open in the entrance hall. There was laughter, merry and unrestrained. It seemed to shake the house down to its core; it felt to Andreth as if parts of the building that had long lain asleep awoke to the laughter and remembered they were there, that they were part of a house of the People of Bëor.
The laughter quieted down to a chuckle. There was a woman's voice speaking, then again the sound of a door. Then the door to the living room was slowly being pushed open. A head appeared through the gap.
Andreth raised her head from her arms. She wiped her cheeks with her sleeve.
The boy cocked his head, looked at Andreth as if he was awaiting the answer to a question he had just asked.
"How—" Andreth cleared her throat. "How do you fare? Cuil—Cuilendil?"
At the mentioning of his name, a wide smile spread over the boy's face and he pushed open the door so hard that it hit against the wall and sprang over to Andreth with light, eager steps. He took one of her hands from the table and clapped against it with his own, three, four times. He laughed uproariously.
Andreth drew back her hand. "Do you like…do you like dried fruits, Cuilendil?"
Andreth stood up and went over to the settee, where her bundle still lay. Cuilendil came along behind, holding on to the skirt of her dress. She reached into the bag and pulled out a wrapped-up object. It was her journey's supply of dried fruits that Belemir had provided her with.
Cuilendil laughed and jumped up and down for joy when she gave the fruits to him. He took a handful and stuffed it into his mouth all at once. He giggled, like he knew he was doing something he was not supposed to, and patted Andreth's knee with his small, fat hand. He grinned at her as if they were sworn to a great secret.
Then he reached for her arm and said: "Mama!"
Andreth allowed herself to be pulled out of the room by him. She told herself not to heed the uncomfortable feeling his touch gave her. They met Beril in the hall. Cuilendil let go of Andreth's arm and ran over to his mother.
"Wom," he said. "Wom. Nice. Nice wom."
"Yes," said Beril. "Aunt Andreth is a very nice woman."
But Andreth did not see the smile her sister gave her. She went over to the crack in the wall and stuffed her handkerchief into it, jammed it in, until there was not the smallest draught of air to be felt from it.
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.