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Odysseus, Elpenor, Teiresias

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When Finarfin finds out about about Fingon’s daring expedition into the depths of Mandos - from Finrod, of course, who had spoken of it with such alarming enthusiasm that both his parents had spent the next few days attempting to subtly discourage him from trying a similar stunt - he had had to do his best to restrain a shocked laugh.

Really, sometimes he suspects that he is the only reasonable member of his entire family. Such things can be done without any kind of fuss, if a person merely observes all the proper rites, and does not simply try to force a blunt entry into the Halls shouting ritual words - and Fingolfin should know this from him by now.

Of course, he cannot imagine it was half as easy to gain an audience with a thrice-over kinslayer as it is with a person who is not even, technically, any longer dead.

The first time had been almost an accident.

His coronation had been a grim affair, overshadowed by the slaughter and exile that had preceded it, with the only other members of the royal family present being níssi in mourning - Anairë, Eärwen, Findis, Nerdanel, Indis, all united in their grief and shock, and all furious at the circumstances that had torn their families from them. Moreover, it had been hasty, done only because the faithful Noldor had needed a king, to heal their relations with the Teleri, to mend the infrastructure broken by the flight of such a large number of their kin. He had not thought, at first, that it would be forever; the Doom had been terrifyingly final, but then, surely it would not apply to his father? Finwë would be reborn once he had healed from the manner of his death, and then he would resume his position as king, the only king Finarfin, and most of his people, had ever known.

But Finwë had not been reborn. The word had come from Valinor, from his mother first, in fact: Míriel, as healed as she could ever be, had been re-embodied, although no one had seen her, and the Valar would not suffer a ner living with two wives.

He had ruled as long as he could as king before it had become too much to bear, and then he had begged his advisors for a moment, only, just a moment to rest, to grieve. And they had granted him it - or, he had granted it to himself, for he outranks them now, and it had seemed to him a bad sign that he had had to remind himself of that fact.

Finarfin had gone to Lórien to rest, but he had not found any there. Sleep for his overworked body, certainly, but no respite for his mind. And so he had travelled on from Lórien into the pastures of Yavanna, and once he had explored every last wildflower there he had gone further, travelling cautiously into the dark space between the Halls, and wandering carefully up the stairs.

Quite unlike young Fingon, he had asked permission from the relevant ainur before every step of his journey. If I am not permitted here only tell me and I will go, he had thought to the quiet, reverent air. But no one had denied him permission to pass, and so he had gone onwards, and stared in astonishment at the nís he found sat with her embroidery set aside, hands folded in her lap, clearly waiting for him.

He had known who she was instantly, and she had known him in return.

“You look very like your mother,” Míriel Serindë had said, her voice delicate with lack of use, and with the shyness present on her slender face.

She does not look particularly like her son. Finwë, Fëanáro, Curufin, Tyelperinquar, each of them are as similar as a portrait of his father come to life - but Finarfin recognises her still in Fëanáro’s sons, in Maedhros’s slender build, Maglor’s bearing, Celegorm’s hair, Caranthir’s nose, the soft eyes of the twins.

He had not known how to reply.

They had exchanged hesitant platitudes, about their family, about the kingship, about her return to life. Congratulations , they had both said, over and over, as though it could erase their pain.

The tension had pulled taut until it snapped; Finarfin had collapsed, and Míriel had drawn him close, so that his forehead rested against her knee as he wept, and carded her clever fingers through his golden hair.

“I was fourteenth,” he sobbed, through the guilt of getting tears on her delicate grey gown. “I was never meant to take the throne - I was only the fourteenth in line,”

And Míriel made no apology for the actions of her son - not that Finarfin would give any of the responsibility to her, dead before Fëanáro was grown, before he was mad and jealous and covetous - but she listened to him, and she cared, and she gently touched his head and knew what it is to have the floor fall out from underneath you while the world seems not to move.

“I cannot show you,” she had said eventually, in the tone of an offer. “But I can tell you?”

He had slowly raised his head, spoke thickly.

“Tell me what?”

“What the tapestries show. Vairë’s tapestries.”

Finarfin’s jaw had dropped; he had searched for the words of longing, of gratitude, in his heart, and found none, but she had smiled a very small smile down at him in understanding anyway.

“Come to me in three days’ time,” she had said, pushing him gently back from her knee, and he had felt suddenly that Fëanáro must have looked up at her from almost the same height, while she was alive. “Observe the rituals to Vairë, to Námo and Nienna. Then I will tell you of your children in Beleriand.”

He is a busy elf. But he had travelled back when three days had elapsed, and he has found time to travel back again and again ever since; she had told him of elves drowned or frozen to death on the Helcaraxë, elves lost in battle, elves taken by Morgoth, many of them his kin, the nieces and nephews he had remembered bright and young, his own brothers, his sister. May they find peace , he prays each time. May it not be my children.

They had remained untouched by the Doom for longer than most. But even they, too, began to fall: first Aegnor on the battlefield, and Angrod so distressed seeing his brother’s death that he too was felled, those two elflings Finarfin remembers playing together, inseparable; then sweet Finrod, friends with everybody and always so devoted to his friends, fighting tooth and nail against a wolf in the darkness, surrounded by the bodies of his companions; Eldalótë, who had beamed up at him at her wedding to his son and called him father, caught in an orc raid; that beautiful, clever secondborn woman who had loved Aegnor, blown away on the wind by nothing more than her own age; Orodreth, who had been only a child when he crossed the Grinding Ice, battling to defend the kingdom Finarfin’s family had built so far from home, with his bold wife beside him; and Orodreth’s kind young daughter, the great-grandchild Finarfin had never met, killed so unjustly by her captors and laid so gently to rest by those secondborn in the woods who had almost saved her.

Of those that have died, only Aegnor, Orodreth, and Finduilas are unreturned to him now, and he trusts in Míriel’s promise that they will be, in their time. He still visits her part of habit, part because he knows she is alone and, well, she does not tell him so, but he wonders if she is lonely - but in largest part for his only daughter, still alive, mercifully evading the worst of the War of Wrath, so very in love with her flustered Sinda husband, a queen in her own right and growing in her powers of foresight and protection every day. Galadriel, Míriel tells him she has chosen for her name, and he welcomes it into his heart without a moment of hesitation, for he knows that she has changed and grown apart from the restless Artanis he knew, but he will embrace any change in her at all if it only means that she is returned to him safe, without any of the suffering that has sent his sons and daughters-in-law back to Aman.

And now he is here again, at the edge of the meadow and the beginning of the hall of columns, with thoughts of brave Fingon and poor Maedhros in his mind, as well as of Galadriel, as always. He adjusts the bag on his shoulder.

A spark of light in the shadows catches his eye, and Finarfin turns just in time to see a small, vaguely elf-shaped form retreat back behind the column it had poked its head around. He leans curiously forward, and this time the light does not hide, instead forming itself into the faintly glowing figure of a young boy, staring up at him with longing.

Oh. An unhoused spirit, then; a very old one, by the look of it, old enough to be an early inhabitant of Cuiviénen. His clothes are primitive - deerskins sewn together into a long kilt, held up by a woven-grass belt - and his hair is loose, falling to his waist. Finarfin recognises the pattern of spirals he can see painted on the boy’s forearm where it rests against the column, but struggles for a moment to remember which of the ancient tribes it represents; Minyar, he thinks.

“Hello.” he says, softly. The child does not respond, not comprehending the Quenya in which he speaks, but neither does he draw away.

Finarfin wonders how he must have died, to have remained unreturned for so long. Perhaps it is only that he has no family yet in Aman, and wishes to wait for them. Or perhaps it is that he was one of those first victims of ‘the dark hunter’, too young and scared to wish to return to the life that hurt him.

The spirit takes a careful step towards him, something other than lonely curiosity glinting in his expression. Finarfin raises his eyebrows in silent question - and draws his hand back quickly into his sleeve as the boy reaches out to him.

“Ah, no,” he tells him, gentle but unyielding. “I am using this body. You may have one of your own, if you like.”

The spirit drops his arm with an expression of great disappointment, and fades back into merely a shape of light that flits away. He was only seeking comfort, unaware of all the damage he might do.

Finarfin watches him quietly until he is gone, and then passes on into the gloom, the bottles in his bag clinking slightly as he walks. Milk, honey, sweet wine, water. The milk and the honey is for the ritual; the wine Eärwen had given him as a gift for Míriel, and the water he thought best to take to dilute it. There is a reason she has never ventured out into the realm of the living proper, after all, and he rather suspects the way that her thin arms tremble is a sign of it.

The old rituals that he has studied call for a sword, but Finarfin has never worn one. He had thought maybe he should, after the Darkening, before the First Kinslaying, but he had never taken that step - and after the Kinslaying, he had known that it was his duty to keep the peace, to show his people that such weapons of war were not necessary. Not in Aman, anyway.

So, instead, he smoothes out his robes, kneels down on top of them, and begins to dig with his hands. Perhaps the trench is a little smaller than the half-forgotten Vanyarin rituals describe, and he has no blood for it - Really, where is a person meant to just get blood? They cannot possibly expect me to harm something for it, can they? - but he murmurs prayers as he pours the milk and the honey into the thirsty dirt, milk for new life and honey for the sweet gifts of the world the Valar have given them, and he thinks to himself that it is the intention that counts. Or at the very least, his family have set an astonishing low bar when it comes to offending the Valar, and he likes to think that trying to be polite is worth something.

When enough of the milk has soaked into the earth that the ground is black, he stands, asks for the permission of Vairë once more, and steps over the trench, the symbolic border he has made.

When he glances over his shoulder at it he sees the Minyarin child crouch to gather the honey on his finger.

 

*

 

“Stepmother?”

The word is Sindarin, unfamiliar on his tongue, but it is a word that he likes. Angrod had taught him it, both of them pleased by the acceptance of such families by the Sindar and the Avari - for whom death, and love again following it, is more present than it will ever be in Aman - as well as, his children assure him, the practical ubiquity of them among the people of Bëor that they have known.

She carefully puts aside her weaving, and smiles wryly in greeting.

“I have seen that perhaps it is unnecessary for you to visit me, yonya? You could simply run straight into the Halls of Mandos to see your kin, it seems.”

Finarfin reaches up to tuck his hair behind his ear, in what he knows is a very obvious tell that he is trying to hide his expression - in this case, one of exasperation and fondness.

“I am afraid I am less inclined to rebellion than Findekáno.”

I know, she does not say, although he sees it in her eyes. They embrace warmly enough despite it all, though - and that is a true enough summary of his love for her, hers for him. Despite it all. He thinks in these moments not of his wife, of he and Eärwen holding one another together through the ages, but of Amarië coming to drink tea with him as though she were still courting his eldest son, while Finrod was gone. I love him both because and despite it, she had said once, quite calm and quite out of the blue. Her tea dates with Finarfin’s family have continued on, after Finrod’s re-embodiment and his tearful return to her; it is only that she has moved unceremoniously and unannounced into Finrod’s bedroom, as well, and married him, so her presence in Finarfin’s house has ceased to be remarkable.

“I have wine for you,” he mumbles into her shoulder. It is bony, and vaguely uncomfortable to hug, but that is not really the point.

“I have a prophecy for you.” replies Míriel, then withdraws to give him a look that makes him feel unsettlingly like a wayward child being inspected for mud. “Come, sit down.”

There is nowhere but the seat at her loom, so he folds his robes neatly out of the way and sits cross-legged on the ground. All around them, reflections of Míriel alternately continue their work, stand to greet him, and go back to weaving; his own reflection is fragmented, appearing only occasionally in the mirrors. There are more things to be recorded in tapestry than only one nís can keep up with, after all.

“How are your siblings?” she asks distantly, walking away from Finarfin and, he knows by now, looking at tapestries he cannot see as she retrieves two glasses from somewhere further down the hall of mirrors. As far as he knows, she has never met his brother or sisters in person, and of course she can see all that they do in her weaving, if she so wishes, but she likes to ask.

“They are well, thank you. I am afraid I do not see much of Findis - she is very taken up with her work with the re-embodied of the wars in Beleriand - but I have heard nothing of her but admiration for her dedication; Fingolfin I see more of, and he is certainly not as busy, but he is meddling in his children’s mischief, as ever; and I -” She hands him a glass, about half full of wine, and he reaches for his bottle of water. “- thank you - I believe Írimë is courting a Telerin nís, despite her best efforts to be subtle. She is being very coy about it.”

Míriel is smiling as she settles above him. Despite the fact that she sits higher than he does, her hair brushes the floor - it is silver, and very fine, and when unbound extremely long in the way that only the truly ancient of the Eldar seem to wear their hair, like a cape. Of course, in this body Míriel is not ancient, but it seems Námo has given her the exact same hröa she wore before her death, right down to the length of her hair. Finarfin wonders absently, if the unhoused spirit of the Minyarin child had lived, would he be so old as her now, his hair so long?

“I am glad to hear,” she says, and it is strange: she does not have the intensity that had driven Fëanáro’s words, but her delivery is much the same, and although she is neither as tall nor demanding as her son, her charisma is very similar. “There has been… so much pain, across the sea. I am happy that it has not spread to you in Eldamar.”

As ever, Míriel isolates herself from the rest of Aman in her manner of speech. It is true, seemingly, that she cannot rejoin society in Eldamar, and that it would not be proper to start inviting the entire family up into this area of Valinor - but, well, if Fingon can find his way here, surely others can too? She should not be alone. No one should.

“There will be more fighting,” she tells him, sadly. “A lot more. I think not for a while now, though.”

Her hand comes to rest gently on the top of his head.

“You will have more grandchildren soon,” she says, still softly but joyful now too, as is he; he feels his heart and his brow lighten immediately at the prospect. “Three girls, one in Middle Earth.”

When she speaks again, it is with the heaviness of fate, and her hand feels less like a mother’s touch and more like the benediction of an ainu. He has seen this before, and does not need to look up to know the expression of dream-like distance on Míriel’s face.

“Though your daughter greatly desires her sweet return to this honeyed land, her Doom still lies heavy upon her; many will be permitted their homecomings, now, but the wrath of the Doomsman is still against her, angered that she would lead so many astray and presume still to lead, both noble and a kinslayer and unpunished for it. Yet even so, she will reach home one day, her daughter sent ahead of her…”

Her daughter - little Artanis, a parent, and a parent to a child grown enough to come here?

“She will come in evil times, for the sake of evil, and she will sleep long.” When, dismayed, he glances up, he sees Míriel blink off some of the sense of prophecy from her face. “Arafinwë,” she half-whispers, urgent. “When Galadriel’s daughter arrives, she will do so on a ship, and she will go to Lórien. Before she wakes, take an oar from the ship, and walk inland until you cannot hear the crash of the waves, cannot smell the salt, until you meet children of Aman who have never set foot in the water. Bury it there, and let it keep her here. Let it call your daughter home.”

He flounders for a long moment, the prophecy too huge to grasp all at once, and his tongue leaden and heavy in his mouth.

“Evil times?” he manages to breath eventually, hoarse and sincerely distressed. There will be more?

Of course, Míriel cannot reply, but she takes his hand and presses it for comfort. Finarfin clears the sudden thickness of encroaching tears in his throat.

“I will see her again? Without-” He breathes roughly, as though he is still young and lost, and not a great-grandfather, a king in his own right. “- without her dying?”

“Yes.” replies Míriel, simply, quietly.

Finarfin leans back, closes his eyes, and tries to hold down his feelings. How long , he could ask, how old will she be, what evil will touch her and how can I be ready to help her? But such questions are not in the nature of prophecy, and nor is it in Finarfin’s nature to ask. He will walk inland with an oar, and he will bury it, and if that is all he can do at least it is something.

“Thank you.” he says, instead of any of that, and swallows hard.

But then -

“Two more granddaughters?” he blurts, so suddenly that Míriel drops his hand in surprise. “Here?!”