Beleg Cúthalion heard the airlock decompress behind him with a hiss like an arrow’s strike. He waited, resisting the urge to fidget with his silvery rayon garments, until the circle of white plastic in front of him slid open.
He stepped out into Lunar Immigration and Customs.
It was strange, he thought, looking out the windows at the barren moonscape lit by stark sunlight. The moon was somehow, simultaneously, both a ball of rock hanging in a void and a silver flower carried by a god. Theology had never been his strong suit, even back when the loremasters of Doriath had still existed, and now it just made his head hurt to contemplate. He trusted that somehow the two ideas could be reconciled, just as he had reconciled himself to so much.
The man at the immigration counter looked frazzled as Beleg handed his paperwork over. He squinted at Beleg, then at the passport. “Citizen of Canada...Bill Strongbow.” He looked back up at Beleg. “First Peoples name, huh?”
Beleg smiled. “In a manner of speaking, yes.”
The shuttle to his new lodgings moved almost silently, with hardly even a whirr of machinery. He’d have a lot of work waiting for him there after his trip: new software to check, new systems to debug. He was pleased at how well he’d taken to coding, but perhaps it wasn’t surprising: it was, after all, only a different sort of tracking.
No trees here, on this barren wasteland. No animals to track, no dappled light under which to seek out the quarry. No comrade to share in the joy of the pursuit, or to rest with after on the long, fragrant grass, his eyes bright with laughter, his mouth sweet as any wine--
Beleg pulled his thoughts back to the present and found his lashes wet. How many ages had passed, and here he was, weeping like a child at a fleeting memory. And the thought came to him again, as countless times before: Lady, why did you give me a rede of such woe?
Galadriel turned from the rose bush she was tending and smiled at Beleg. “Well met, Cúthalion,” she said. “What brings you from the wild woods and your hunt to this place of peace?”
Beleg bowed deeply, feeling as always rough and uncouth before her beauty, though she had never treated him with aught but courtesy. Not all approved of her presence in Doriath, but Beleg was not one of those who held her ill-omened.
“My Lady, I come to bid you farewell and thank you for your gift.” He smoothed a fold of the heavy cloak between his fingers. “The north-marches are chill indeed in recent years.”
“May it keep you warm as you protect these lands,” Galadriel said. “And yet I sense that thanks alone are not the reason you have come to me.”
Beleg moved to the rose bush, cupping one of the deep red blooms briefly. “Túrin son of Húrin has begged to travel also to the north-marches, to prove himself there as a warrior.”
Galadriel’s golden brows drew together briefly. “Do you question his worth? Or doubt his valor?”
“Lady, I do not. And yet my heart misgives me, somehow.”
“You have trained him well in the bow and the sword, and spent much time with him. Do you mislike his company?”
Beleg swallowed. “Lady, I do not.” There was a brief silence, and he could hear the bees buzzing in the sunlight. “Yet he is but a boy--”
Now she laughed, and the sound was sweet and sad at once, and filled with understanding. “He is a boy no longer, Beleg. And this is what troubles you, is it not?”
His voice stuck in his throat; he had not expected her to understand him so very easily. “It is said that you are far of sight and among the wisest in Middle Earth,” he said at last, “And I hoped that you would give me council. If I link my life with Túrin, will only grief await us? Will there be...no joy?”
“Among the wisest in Middle Earth,” she said as if to herself, and her smile was wry. “Surely King Thingol and Queen Melian would be better choices?”
Beren bowed his head. “They are wise in all things, but to stand before them and say ‘I know not what to do, for there is a mortal who I dream of, whose heart I cherish...’” He let his words trail off, knowing she would hear in them the silence that lay in the forests where once Tinúviel had sung. “They...may not have clear eyes in such matters.”
Galadriel looked down at the blood-red rose beneath her fingers. “Loving a mortal is a terrible fate, Beleg.”
“And so I did not choose it,” said Beleg, “But here I am nonetheless.”
For a long, sunlit moment they stood there: Beleg waiting, Galadriel gazing at the rose. When she looked up at him and spoke, her voice was no different than usual, yet Beleg could hear a strange weight in it, like an echo from distant starlit peaks, and he grew still in awe and wonder.
“Beleg Cúthalion ,” she said, “If you link your fate with Túrin’s, great glory shall be yours together. Your happiness shall ever be shadowed with grief and sorrow, and yet your story will lead you at last to tranquility, and end in great triumph, and you will sing together in joy.”
She blinked then, and her gaze returned to the garden they stood in. “These are hard words,” she said softly.
“Yet they lead to joy,” he said, “And for that I will bear any sorrow.” And he kissed her hands and went to tell Túrin of his decision, that they would travel the north-marches together and be companions in all things. And his resolve to keep his heart hardened against Túrin wavered, and on the north-marches they were united in love.
Many hardships they bore together, many griefs they weathered together. When Túrin left Doriath in exile Beleg thought his heart would break, but he reminded himself of Galadriel’s words and sought Túrin out, pledging his life to him anew. Ever and anon, when sorrow and pain assailed him, he remembered that joy would be their reward, and he pressed onward.
And so when the black blade pierced his heart, the bitter betrayal he felt as his life’s blood poured over his fingers was not so much for the wild-eyed man bending over him.
Oh Lady, he thought instead, in grief and sorrow, Why did you tell me such sweet and empty lies?
And with no tranquility or joy in his soul, his spirit passed to the Halls of Mandos, and for many an Age knew only the shadows and silence of those corridors. He wandered always alone and sought out no company, but he saw on the tapestries lining the walls all of Túrin’s fate unfold, and his spirit was ravaged with the knowledge that Túrin’s spirit was gone beyond the walls of the world to whatever fate awaited the Secondborn, and there was no hope of reunion, no hope of forgiveness, no hope in all of creation.
The shuttle slowed and the doors hissed open; Beleg stepped off into the station, looking around.
“You must be Mr. Strongbow,” said a young woman with glossy black hair, bowing deeply. “Apple Zaibatsu welcomes you to Tranquility.”
Beleg looked at her sharply, the memory of Galadriel’s voice a golden echo in his mind. Then he shrugged internally and put it aside. It did little good to dwell on ages long past, he had found for his own sanity. “My thanks, Ms. Mizoguchi.”
She put a hand over her mouth as she smiled. “The thanks belong to Apple, sir.” She gave him an assessing look, and Beleg was glad that readily-available genetic manipulation and cosmetic surgery had eventually made it so that his appearance was fairly unremarkable. It had been difficult to explain them for the first four hundred years or so, and after that plagued book had been published it had become particularly annoying. Beleg still wasn’t sure which of the few remaining Firstborn had decided to unburden their soul to that young soldier in the trenches, but certain embellishments inclined him toward Maglor. He had never been one to suffer stoically in silence…
“I hope you had no trouble clearing your weapon with Customs,” Ms Mizoguchi said.
“Apple was kind enough to clear the path for me.” It had taken some work to convince Apple that he wasn’t going anywhere without his bow, but eventually they had shrugged and given in..
"This way, please, sir," said his guide. "You'll find your lodgings are cutting-edge smarttech, with everything you'll need for your work. Your team has weekly in-person meetings as well, of course, and there are optional daily meetings if you like."
Beleg smiled slightly to himself. As it had become more and more possible for life, work, and socialization to be carried out without physical presence, there had been mental health issues that eventually led to mandated in-person meetings among the more enlightened companies. "I thrive in solitude, actually," he said, settling the bag with his bow more firmly on his shoulder.
“As you wish,” she said without hesitation. “If you’ll come this way, I think you’ll find the atrium gives you quite a spectacular view.”
He followed her through the corridor and into what must be the atrium, an airy space of steel and white plastic. It was not unpleasant, but hardly worth mention--until he looked up and realized the arched ceiling was transparent, and he could see Arda radiant against the blackness. He caught his breath at the sight. He had seen pictures, of course, but nothing had truly prepared him for the sight of it as the Valar themselves must have once seen it, that precious glowing gem set into the black void. The white clouds in their radiance, the gentle greens and browns, the soft blue of the seas--
HIs heart turned over and he felt tears well up in his eyes as that familiar imperative tug caught under his breastbone. The Sea! He had hoped, somehow, that being so far would somehow weaken the yearning, but it seemed that even here, it would haunt him. He took a deep breath, staring up at the glimmering sphere. So many centuries, and he still didn’t understand why he was here, why he had been sent back.
Why he was not at peace.
“I don’t understand,” he had said, his utter bewilderment overcoming his awe for a moment. “I do not wish to return to Middle Earth. I do not even wish to return to Valinor.”
“And yet you shall,” said the shadowy figure enthroned before him, lord of the halls of the dead, and his words were not a command, merely a fact. “Your story is not yet over.”
My story ended when Túrin Turambar passed beyond this world, Beleg thought but did not say, but his baffled defiance must have shown in his eyes, for the figure next to Namo shifted with a susurration like a thousand silken threads and leaned forward.
“The Valar send you back to Middle Earth as their emissary, Beleg Cúthalion ,” said Vairë, “And as our champion. For we shall have need of champions one day.”
“You will not be alone,” said the one called Mandos. “Others already we have sent back. You need neither seek them out nor avoid them; we ask only that you be in Middle Earth, and be prepared.”
“Prepared for what?” he asked.
“For what will come,” said Mandos, and with that Beleg had to be content.
He was pleased, in later ages, that he arrived back in Middle Earth in time to see the plays of Shakespeare debut: he found Prospero’s exile particularly poignant. He picked up jobs and skills that suited the times: hunter at first, then--as that quickly grew obsolete--often working with animals, or manual labor. He found putting things together with hands soothing. He sometimes taught the bow to others--hobbyists and athletes, never soldiers, even early on.
Now and then through the years he spotted some of the others. He recognized Glorfindel from Vairë’s tapestries, for all he had cut his glorious hair short in order to fit the times. They made brief eye contact across a smoky salon and then Glorfindel returned to chatting with Oscar Wilde. Aredhel he recognized too, from a photograph of a suffragette protest, still elegant and cool even when chained to a railing next to Emmeline Pankhurst. The only one he stayed in touch with was Mablung; they had crossed paths in 1755 when they both found themselves in Lisbon after the great earthquake, helping the survivors dig out of the rubble, and after that they made sure to meet up every decade or so at least. They even briefly formed a punk band together in the late 1970s, along with two rather bewildered Secondborn. Neither of them could play their instruments well, and it didn’t matter; it was just fun to scream into the night now and then, a howl of rage at the stars. They’d started to get too popular, and they’d had to disband.
If there were others, they kept a lower profile. Mablung thought that many of them lived off the land, shunning mortal cities for the quiet of the woods. Beleg couldn’t blame them, and sometimes he spent a year or two in Siberia or the Amazon, just being alone. But always he found himself drawn back to the cities of Men, always he found himself scanning their faces on the busy streets. A foolish fancy: Túrin had no descendents, of course, and the Secondborn did not reincarnate as did the Firstborn.
And yet he still found himself looking, searching for a certain curve of the mouth, a particular prideful flare of the nostril. Listening in the cacophony of the city streets for a laugh as beautiful as it had been rare.
He eventually abandoned the recurve bow for the modern compound bow, though with a pang of regret at losing the smooth, clean lines in favor of the more angular, spiky, mechanistic look. But he wasn’t an archer because it was pretty, he was an archer because it was a weapon, and he wasn’t going to pass up improvements in stability and speed out of a sense of nostalgia. He missed Belthronding, though.
He found...not peace, exactly, but some kind of equilibrium. If he was doomed to live out his life here, if his own people were gone, he would serve Túrin’s people as best he could, in small ways.
So he came to the moon at last, to this place that was a barren rock and a shining silver flower, both together. And he worked and waited.
The sound of Mablung’s voice over the intercom cut through his work and his stylus clattered to the ground.
“Mablung! What are you doing here on--”
“No time.” Mablung looked incongruous in a lab coat, but the agitated expression on his face kept Beleg from teasing him. “I’m at the Tranquility Observatory, and I need you to get here right now.” He took a deep breath. “Bring your bow.”
Beleg grabbed it off the wall before the transmission cut.
He had expected to be stopped by security, but it was pandemonium at the observatory, and he just walked in, bow slung over his shoulder. There was a babble of voices and running feet everywhere. Beleg grabbed someone at random: “Where’s Dr. Mablung?” he asked, hoping his friend wasn’t going by an assumed name this time around.
“Down the hall, up the stairs.” The person was shuffling three different pads and looked likely to drop all of them. Her hands were shaking. “Telescope room.”
Beleg broke into a run and didn’t stop until until he threw open the door to the great hall that housed the huge telescope. People in white coats scurried around, looking blank or terrified, staring at monitors, arguing.
“Beleg.” Mablung hurried to him, clasped his hand. “We have a...situation.”
“It’s some kind of quantum singularity,” said the scientist at his side, staring at a pad in his hand. “A massive, localized distortion of time and space. A naked singularity, with no event horizon. Impossible! It’s--” He broke down into a string of words Beleg couldn’t parse, something about “Kerr metrics,” “the Penrose process,” and an “ergosphere.” “It’s only 23.5 micrograms in mass, but--” His voice broke, “--it isn’t dissipating like the Hawking calculations indicate it should. It’s growing.” He looked at Mablung, his face white. “At the rate it’s expanding it will rip the moon apart in a matter of hours. Then the rest of the solar system.”
“A quantum singularity,” said Mablung. “A quantum mechanical black hole. A rip in the fabric of the universe.”
He looked at Beleg.
“Morgoth is opening the Door of Night.”
“You want me to fight a black hole with a Bowflex Raptor 3000,” Beleg said.
“I want us to fight the Marrer of Arda with any weapons at our disposal,” said Mablung. He had pulled his long hair loose once more, and it fell around his shoulders as they ran through the halls. “This way.”
He handed Beleg a belt, silver and plastic--bulky, and yet you could see the elvish lines beneath it, somehow. “It’s still a prototype, so let’s hope it works.”
Beleg buckled it on. “And if it doesn’t?”
“Well, we’ll suffer explosive decompression in the vacuum of space and our blood will turn to ice almost instantly.”
“I’ll hope it works, then,” said Beleg, and was slightly surprised at how steady his voice was. War at last.
Mablung flashed him a quick smile and lifted a long metal shaft from the wall. He pressed a button, and the tip of the shaft blazed into incandescent blue light.
“Let us face Morgoth Bauglir together, my brother,” said Mablung of the Heavy Hand, “here at the Battle of Battles.”
When they stepped onto the surface of the Moon together, Beleg braced himself for a quick and ignominious end. But the force fields held, and together they walked across the Sea of Tranquility, lunar dust soft under their feet. Mablung held a small device that emitted chirps and whistles that grew more and more excited until finally he shut it off in mid-trill.
“The singularity is directly above us,” he said. “Morgoth will emerge there.”
Beleg took a better grip on his bow and stared up at the flat, calm blackness of space. “You’re sure?”
“The door is still too small, it won’t be visible to us yet. All we can do it wait.”
Beleg almost chuckled. “I’ve gotten good at that.”
He stared up at the sky, trying to clear his mind for the battle, but found it instead filled with a welter of images and sounds: The dark forests of Doriath, deep and beautiful. The sea foaming under the prow of his boat as he sailed the Caribbean alone, a hundred years ago. The laughter of Túrin as Beleg traced the scars he gained on the north-marches. The light of the Silmaril around Lúthien’s throat as she wept, limning her tears in unbearable radiance. A performance of The Magic Flute in Vienna, the music like birds, flying free. “My comrade, my heart,” Túrin had whispered as he drew him close. Lost, lost forever. A rainbow in the skies over Yosemite. Túrin woven into a tapestry with Gurthang through his heart, his blood soaking into the ground. Beleg had wept in front of that image for a century. Húrin bound to his lonely seat. Nienor’s light quenched in the dark chasm. Morwen lying by a lonely stone. Túrin. My comrade, my heart!
”Face us, Morgoth!” the sound of his own voice speaking Sindarin for the first time in centuries startled him; it seemed to come from some well of unquenchable grief inside him. Such suffering he had witnessed, such pain he had seen. “Face us and be defeated, vile one, breaker of the ancient harmony, destroyer of all that is kind and good!” It was impossible that his voice would carry through the vacuum of space, and yet he flung it outward, furiously defiant. “We stand against you this day at the end of all things! Come and be defeated!”
And Morgoth came.
There was a writhing wrongness in the sky, tentacles of unlight sprawling against the stars. The Door of Night opened and Morgoth came forth, and all the world was changed.
A vast shadowy figure, wreathed in ultraviolet flames, stretched forth his hand, and Beleg felt the very core of the Moon groan and shudder. He loosed an arrow into the sky, then two, and beside him Mablung cursed in their lost tongue and shook his spear.
The Moon started to fall apart.
It was peeled apart from under them as if Morgoth were opening an orange, the rocks dancing to a demented tune of destruction. Debris bounced off their force fields and Beleg saw Tranquility Base shudder and burst into flame. Their feet left the ground--or rather the ground left their feet--as even the Moon’s weak gravity gave way, crumbling, consumed by darkness.
For a flicker of a moment Beleg saw, superimposed on the rocks and dust, a silver flower, glimmering, beautiful beyond belief. And then it went out.
Beleg felt Mablung’s hand on his shoulder as they floated free. The air was filled with rubble. He saw bodies drifting, twisted in their last agonies. The harsh light of the sun illuminated everything pitilessly.
And then the Sun pulsed once, a bright gasp, and it went out as well.
Mablung wrapped his arms around Beleg in the starlit darkness. “He will come back for Arda,” he whispered, “And we will strike at him one last time.”
Beleg shook his head wordlessly. What did it matter? The Earth would be ripped apart by tides, frozen solid even before the shock wave from the destruction of the Sun reached it. The Secondborn were all dead. They fought for a dead planet. He closed his eyes in the darkness. I have failed you, my comrade, my heart.
Light pierced his eyelids, a cool and inexorable silver, starlight concentrated and sharpened. Mablung whispered a name, and Beleg opened his eyes again.
A silver ship sailed before them--not a spaceship, but an Elvish ship, glimmering with radiance. Behind the wheel--Beleg almost had to close his eyes again at the sight of Eärendil, the Silmaril bound to his brow, his hand outstretched to catch them and pull them aboard.
“How is this possible?” he whispered as he touched the silver railings of Vingilot, feeling the rightness of a ship made by his people. “The evening star is not a ship.”
“It is now,” said Eärendil, “For the Last Age is over, and things are not as they were. Behold!”
He gestured, and Beleg turned to see Arda glowing bright beneath them, neither frozen nor tide-torn. Hanging in the radiant air between them he saw figures of light: a man clad in a loincloth, laughing with joy of the battle; a being of light with great feathered wings stretching out as if to shield Arda, dressed in silver and sky blue; and beside them both--
Beleg felt his heart turn over, felt his breath stutter in his throat. Beside them was a figure in grim black mail, wielding a black sword, and on his head was the Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin, framing a face that was somehow cleansed of pain and suffering, filled now only with majesty and serenity.
“Long has the soul of Túrin waited until he could come forth in glory to this last of battles,” Eärendil said. “Now is the world wholly changed, now do we face the Last Foe on the Plains of Valinor. Strong be thy arms and valiant by thy hearts, defenders of Arda!”
Then did the Dagor Dagorath begin in earnest, and the Valar and their emissaries strove against the forces of darkness. From Eärendil’s ship somehow Beleg could see far below them Balrogs and dragons roaming the earth, could see Glorfindel and Aredhel and the other Returned battling them in great might, but he could watch no longer, for Morgoth came forth to meet them and Eärendil urged Vingilot forward.
Tulkas came forward first to grapple with Morgoth on the starry plains. It seemed that Morgoth might overcast the Vala, but Beleg’s arrows pierced his heel, deep into the old wound delivered by Fingolfin, and Morgoth faltered and Tulkas threw him down. Then Eönwë came forward in glory and sparred with his old foe, and the black mace of Morgoth shattered his sword, but Mablung cast his spear and wounded the black hand of Morgoth, and the killing blow flew wide.
Beleg’s eyes were blinded with tears as Túrin came forward, wielding the sword that had caused so much woe, which had pierced both their hearts. He watched as if through shattered light as the weapon which once drank his heart’s blood fulfilled its destiny, and struck through Morgoth’s dark armor, unmaking him, and in so doing it shivered into fragments and was gone.
A long shriek, jarring and harsh, was ripped from Morgoth’s throat--and as the echoes of it faded, so too did all discordance seem to fade from the world around them, leaving only a vast silence, full of potential, charged and waiting.
Much seemed to be happening, and the world was full of strange light, but Beleg had eyes only for the weaponless warrior, no longer brilliant with the aura of the Valar, standing in front of him.
Túrin reached up and removed the dreadful Dragon-helm, and his dark hair was tangled around his laughing, peaceful face, and he kissed Beleg there in the waiting silence, and all was bliss and triumph.
“What happens now?” Beleg said after a few minutes, or an Age. Time seemed not to matter much anymore.
“Now we sing a new song,” said Túrin. “And make the melody anew. And all our joys will form the melody, and all our sorrows the harmony, and all will be well at last.”
He reached out and took Beleg’s hand, there in that radiant world waiting to be remade.
“Sing with me, my comrade, my heart,” said Túrin.