Nienna sat on the grass of the Ezellohar, her back against what had once been Telperion. She wrapped her arms under her thighs, pulling her bent legs against her chest, and rested her cheek against one of her knees. Once she had seen a young elf sitting just that way in Lórien's gardens, near where his mother had laid down and never woken again. She – Nienna, not the mother, for the elf was beyond all such concerns – had thought the posture would be uncomfortable, but now she found it soothing. Deep inside herself, she felt bereft.
She needed to be held. That must be it.
Somehow, Nienna knew this was more than feeling bereft. To feel might be an illusion. Nienna was not deceived; she was bereft. For seven days she had known that gnawing emptiness, that sense of something ripped away that had once been a part of her. At least seven days –she sometimes lost count – since the Valar had laid down their power, and still she felt that loss keenly. Seven days since the One had broken their world and let loose His floods against Númenor that was.
Númenor that was… She laughed at that thought, bitter sound bursting past her lips. Why did she laugh? To laugh was Tulkas's part; Nienna was she who wept. Their parts seemed reversed of late, somehow, but not wholly; Nienna's laugh was not as Tulkas's had been when he made war before ever the Trees were born. This laugh was tinged with grief, and with disbelief. Nienna remembered those words, Númenor that was, and they pulled the laughter from her.
She had heard them before; they had been part of her Song, before Time, though she had not understood them then. Her brothers had fashioned Númenor as a gift, and at the time she had wept with joy that the Secondborn should know such peace. Was she made complicit, then? Were they all? Had even the One known that things would turn out this way? For if Númenor that was, if that was written into the Song from the Beginning, if He had ordained….
No. She would not let her mind travel down that path. Thought, these days, should not go unchecked.
Instead, she turned her mind to simpler things. The grass was wet from all the storms, and full of color at the height of summer; her dress was sure to stain. It occurred to her how absurd it was to worry about dresses at a time like this, or for one such as her to worry about such things at any time; was she not free of bonds to any body? This dress was no more real than her eyes, curiously tear-free of late. Still, it was a thought, something she could hold to, and all minds grasped at what it could in times such as those. So Nienna considered whether or not to stand up.
She decided that she simply did not care.
Behind her, she heard the slide of mud and stone, and the thud of flesh against the earth. She turned her head and saw him: the Quendi historian, one of Finwë's folk, who had written so much about their suffering – Pengolodh, wasn't it? She had enjoyed his company, once upon a time. Their tasks were not so different, and she sensed in him a kindred spirit; she eased hearts with tears and empathy, and he with words and the same. On most days she would welcome his company, perhaps even help him clean himself from his fall; but today she longed for solitude.
Pengolodh pulled himself to his feet with a groan and nodded at her. He ran his fingers along his robes, trying to flick some of the mud off, but soon gave up the task as hopeless and walked around the hill until at last he faced her. He grinned at her wanly, but then his face grew sober. Had he thought better of such a display, or was he truly as weary as she was? His folk had never been overly fond of the Valar, had never courted their favor, and he would not feign whatever mood he thought she expected from him. And Pengolodh had always seemed guileless to her; she could not imagine him posturing, least of all now.
Nienna looked at him for a moment, waiting for him to explain his presence, but he seemed lost for words. She supposed she could not blame his unease in this place; his people's story began with these ruined trees, and while he had never seen them in their glory, Nienna knew that someone such as him, so used to thinking on others' tragedy, would be mightily affected by history's ghosts. And she had not the will left to insist on protocol. She nodded to the ground beside him, silently inviting him to sit; and he did.
He smiled again, and from this distance she thought she understood his mood better. He was not trying to curry favor; no, they were beyond that. He seemed ill-at-ease, and frightened. The smile was almost an apology, as if he had no words and did not know what to do with himself. That did not bode well. Nienna's cheeks were wet but from rain, not from tears. That She-who-weeps should be dry-eyed was disconcerting enough, but that He-who-writes should be wordless as well…
"I have been down to the beach," Pengolodh said after some time. "There are…" He broke off and closed his eyes as if fortifying himself for a great battle. Which of course this was; for a wordsmith, 'twas a greater war than the Dagor Dagorath. "There are rows of… of them. Of Elros's folk. I saw a boy, a lord's squire I think…" He swallowed hard. "Olwë is seeing to them, I've heard they're preparing cairns."
He blushed at that, and while he said nothing more, Nienna could guess his thoughts: My people have given them the practice. Alqualondë was so long ago, before Pengolodh was even born, yet its taint still lingered. A part of Nienna wanted to reach out, to take his hands in hers and give what comfort she still could, but she decided against it. The old answers seemed false, now, and she had not yet found new ones. And Alqualondë was but the flea on the dog. Better that he not see how bereft she was; she said nothing, and listened.
"There is more," he said once he had mastered himself again. The smile was gone, and he leaned back cautiously against the tree – Nienna guessed he wondered how much weight the old wood could bear – but his eyes shone with a hope. A desperate, pleading hope, but a hope still. Nienna knew that this was why he had approached her. After a moment Pengolodh continued: "The man-king, Pharazôn, he has not been found. Olwë tells us that he landed, but cannot say what became of him after. And…" Pengolodh blinked frantically; Nienna could not say whether he fought tears or was merely frightened. At last he said, "What became of him, none can say."
Not none, Nienna corrected him in her thoughts. He must think that she knew, that her kin had discovered something of the mannish king's fate; else he would not be here. A fair guess, for if any knew of such things it would be the Lords of the West. And indeed, she did know. Varda had told her. Varda had turned her keen ears away from Middle-earth, only for a time, and had first heard the man pacing three days past. She had heard the iron-toed boots against bare rock, three clacks as he paced off his prison and then a scrape as he turned on his heel.
Nienna thought she heard it, too, sometimes. A man counting, counting in the ancient tongue of men; she had prayed it was only fancy. She still prayed. Irmo had dreamt of the man, huddled against cold stone as the waters crept closer; but dreamers could be misled; if it had been only his word Nienna would not have been so sure. Námo had said nay, when she asked if Pharazôn had come through Mandos. Perhaps, perhaps he had missed him in the great onslaught. Nienna had not ventured into his halls, but she could imagine the place was near teeming with mortal souls these days. Her kindred could perhaps be deceived, oh let them be deceived!
But Varda… Manwë's eyes could not peer through stone, and so even he was blinded; but Varda's ears did not lie. Nienna might doubt herself, might doubt her other kindred, but she could not doubt what Varda heard. And seven days was long enough. His steps should be less determined, if the Doom of Men still held sway over him. Surely… But no; Pharazôn had at last cheated himself of Ilúvatar's Gift, or been cheated.
But how much of that should she tell Pengolodh? She could feel his eyes fixed on her, so expectant, yet she found that she could not burden him with that truth. He would not understand, and certainly could not help others see, even if he grasped it himself. At last she said: "Manwë sees little, and for the others, what they know or hope, I cannot say." Which was true enough; she was Nienna, she who weeps, she whose tears wash away weariness – she could not impose pain on another.
She did not look over at him but instead wrapped her arms more tightly around her thighs and buried her face in her skirts. She thought of Alqualondë, and of Gondolin, long-past tragedies, and she found that she could weep after all. She must weep, be She-Who-Weeps once more, for this elf expected it of her; if she was carried away by tears he might ask no more questions. But she was no longer She-Who-Weeps, only She-Who-Wept. She could not cry for Númenor that was. Not even for the child-squire who had so horrified Pengolodh, his face half eaten away by fish. For them, her eyes were as dry as the deserts of the Avathar.
What kept her from weeping? She so wanted to, her body ached from the dryness, yet for some reason she could not make the tears come. She wondered: was this what it meant, to lay down their powers? She had always thought herself weak when compared to her kindred, for she had no great feats to point to. She had not forged the chains that held Melkor's hands tight, or hung the stars in the sky, or carried whole islands across the Sea. For her, to lay down her power had seemed easy enough. Before. Easy, and necessary.
Manwë had seen the ships coming and warned they must stop them, stop them before they crossed the Sea. If they were not, then Tulkas would stand on the beach and perhaps spill the Children's blood on Aman's hallowed earth. Oromë would stand beside him, too, and sound his glorious horns not as a call to hope but as a show of power, to drive fear into those who would set foot in these Undying Lands by force. And their ruling must not be made a mockery; even Nienna had seen that. Her brethren had told the men not to sail West, and yet they sailed, which could not be allowed. But what price justice? Should the Valar torture the Children, as Morgoth had; or make a punishment of the One's gift? So they had all laid aside their powers and asked the One to enter into Eä, to right things so that their hands would not be made dirty.
Suddenly she was reminded of an evening in Lórien's gardens, some time ago. Pengolodh was there, too, newly arrived from Middle-earth. He had grown up in Gondolin and had never before met the great Lords of the West to whom he had devoted so much ink and parchment; and now that he had the chance, he would talk to her. Her, not them, but that scarcely surprised Nienna. Many of the Children were scared of her brethren but felt more at ease in her presence.
She had smiled patiently at him, then; he had sat on the bench beside her and they had talked. She was intrigued by what the Children said of her, those who had lived in the Undying Lands and then ventured east again. So he had told her what he had written of her: that she weeps for every wound Arda has suffered in the marring of Melkor. Even then, that had struck her as an odd choice of words, though perhaps not for one who came of age under Angband's shadow.
"Pengolodh, you once said –" She looked over to where Pengolodh should be, but he was gone. Eärendil had passed from the skies, and the Valacirca shone high above against a night's sky. How much time had passed? Sometimes she lost count.
So Pengolodh was not there to answer, but the question stayed with her. Why only Melkor's marrings? Why qualify? There was pain enough in the world, pain caused by kinslayings and the one-time servants of Morgoth who now did evil in their own names. She recalled the rumors she had heard of Middle-earth, of the hardships and the doubts born of Sauron's lies; and she thought, too, of Pharazôn. His doom was now unspeakable, but that doom had come upon him only because he sailed into the West. What of his other deeds?
She had heard the Eagles whisperings: of the searches without warning, the fathers bound and rushed away while their children watched, and the smoke that always rose from Armenelos's golden temple. She had wept then, for those who suffered by Pharazôn's orders, wept because she could not see how to comfort them. It was much the same as after Alqualondë: what could she say, what could she do, in the face of such pain? In a way, Pharazôn's deeds on Númenor were bound up in Melkor's marrings. It was that sweet lie that Sauron had learned at Morgoth's side, and that Númenor's kings had heard from the people of Middle-earth: that might makes right, and that the most powerful were, by virtue of power, the greatest of kings. That lie had let Pharazôn do what he did without shame; while he certainly had much to answer for, the blame did not end with him.
This sailing West, though, this attack upon Aman… was that truly the marring of Melkor? If he had never entered time, still men would long to know what happened when they died – and still the Valar could not have answered them, for they would not have known. Did not know. This latest fall did not come from Melkor's marring; it was perhaps the marring of Pharazôn, and by Pharazôn. Yet did this marring not have deeper roots than that? Pharazôn might never have lived, and still this tragedy would have come about; Nienna knew the Children, she knew how poorly impenetrable mystery mixed with their explorer's nature. The marring was not Melkor's; it reached deeper even than the bones of Eä. For who made the mystery, and who made the Children?
Was that why she could not weep? Perhaps; she could not say, for these days her thoughts were as muddy as the rain-soaked earth. The pain in her chest, the listlessness in her spirit – that was all that seemed real.
Sometimes, she thought she could hear what Varda heard, when she bound herself to a body and pressed her ear to the earth. Before it had been but a whisper, but now she heard it as a man pacing in the next room. She laid flat to the ground and pressed her ear against the grass, straining to be sure of the sound. And she heard with her own ears, she knew that she did not imagine it: that scrape of iron-toed boots against bare rocks, the slide of worn leather, the splash of the water as he fell in; and the groan as he pulled himself out again. Then those words, always the same words: êru, satta. The counting. He counted off his steps, always in the mannish tongue of Númenor that was. That was Pharazôn's power, his might; he was King's Man to his last breath.
He should be weakening, Nienna could not keep herself from thinking. He should be dead. But Nienna was no longer deceived; she knew that, for Pharazôn of Númenor that was, should no longer applied.
She was glad, just then, for the feel of rain against her cheek.