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nights so frozen

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Firelight is safety: whether the warm dancing flames from a burning branch, or the ruddy glow from the mountain heights. You can stare into the flames for hours, and take no harm from it.

Your people dwell in caves, the rock above you a reassuring weight between you and the sky. Others take shelter in Yavanna's trees, the broad spread of leaf and branch; but always wary, lest the ever-present clouds should part for a moment, leaving only Manwë's clear airs to protect you from the naked heavens.

Sometimes, when the clouds part and the fog of volcanic ash gives way, the unlucky or unwary are said to have glimpsed that most terrible of visions known as the stars.

***

In Valinor the smoke from the Pelóri is an endless dense black cloud. People can stroll outside in the open spaces, even glance upwards without fear.

From the Corollairë the red-gold light of the Everflame pours out across the continent of Aman, sometimes waxing or waning, but dying never. In Yavanna's grove there - known also as the Unburning - the tree-bark glows cherry-red with heat; the trees put forth leaves and blossoms of flame, endlessly consuming their own substance, and yet unconsumed.

The Vanyar and the Noldor and the Teleri dwell there under the Valar's protection: for these are the years of the Treelight, and the Bliss of Valinor.

But in the Middle-earth there yet dwell the Avari, and they fear the sky still. For the Star-Kindler's palace stands in the North; and in the cold mountains of that realm that pierce above the clouds, exposed to the heavens, there dwell the Calaquendi, known also as the Eldar: the People of the Stars, whom the Void-Queen has taken and twisted to her own purposes.

***

Ungoliant makes her home in the South, in a sheltered nest of rock where the air is choked with smog and her webs drape thick as velvet between the mountain walls.

She curls in on herself there, hugging herself to the heat below the earth in a world of endless gloom and shadow, and is almost - almost - satisfied.

And perhaps she could have passed the Ages there, content to weave her darkness-tapestries in solipsistic contemplation, if her visitor had not come.

Light is pain. The Star-Kindler's presence cuts through her tapestries like a freezing knife; sears and blinds her. Ungoliant writhes, scuttering deeper into her lair.

But the Kindler speaks to her -

Sister -

and, cautiously, slowly, yearningly, Ungoliant dares to approach.

***

"Burn the ships," says Fëanor, feeling angry and wretched. He hasn't slept through the night in a very long time, not since - even before -

The light in her eyes will never leave him, not until the day of his own death. But that itself is not so long to wait.

***

You remember the Starlit Isle.

Under the Lady Ilmarë, it was a place all of white stone and clear air and shining glass, the fogs above parted so that the fortress was open to the sky, painted endlessly in faint silvered light -

The Calaquendi, tall and fair and pale-eyed, their attenuated limbs and too-long fingers moving swiftly and gracefully around you -

Build for us, one of them had said, and you did: lovely harmonies of spun glass and reflected light, strange instruments you could only guess the use of, their alien geometries echoing endlessly through your mind.

Then the Princess came.

You try to build, but you can't.

You try to create, but everything you touch turns to wrongness in your hands.

The angles are wrong. The walls are wrong. Nargothrond is a twisting maze of darkness through which stunted strangers shuffle and creep.

You try to carve the harmonies that echo through your mind, but the mathematics are wrong, twisting back on you, falling apart each time you approach them. You dash the sculpture against the wall in disgust, watching it shatter apart.

You look down at yourself.

My hands are wrong, you think, taking up the chisel.

***

Come, Lúthien , says the Void-Queen. Let me see you.

The Void-Queen's palace is all the sky. Her court stands open to the heavens, a place of tall columns and glittering ice.

Lúthien feels cold with terror. The chill breeze tugs at her hair and swirls the folds of her shadowcloak around her as she raises her head to meet the Void-Queen's gaze, beneath where the Silmarils burn in her crown.

Be not afraid, child, the High One says.

Her eyes are bright and dark at once, and in them is every star in heaven.

The stars are -

Lúthien understands.

The light in Varda's eyes is the serene beauty of annihilation.

Lúthien aches for it. Tears drip unheeded down her face.

Come to me, Lúthien, Varda says, sweet and soft, her voice the only music Lúthien will ever want to hear.

But -

Beren, Lúthien thinks, her heart breaking inside her.

She draws in a breath and begins to dance.

***

"What would you have me change?" Melkor asks, his voice infinitely weary. "There can be no world without light."

***

When Varda passes through the Door into Night, she leaves her stars behind her: and they are burning still.