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Of nightmares ever waking

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On Helcaraxë, nightmares are his constant companions. 

At night, the darkness brings only the memory of blood, and even deep in sleep he can smell it, a sick metallic tang that catches in his throat and wakes him, retching. It is amazing, he thinks, how it can permeate all of his senses in sleep: the smell of it; the feel of it, slick on his hands and coating his sword; Valar, the taste of it when he wipes the back of his hand across his mouth; the color, deep and rich and red, and it drags forth twisted memories of rich, red hair, shining in the twilight, spread out beneath him –

But the sound, of course, is the worst. Because the screams never cease, even in the waking hours.

They follow him as he trudges across the end of the world. They ring in his ears, accusatory, even as he tries to stir his people to song, even as he seeks to rally them with cheer and forced good humor.

And then people start to die, and the screams become real. 

The nightmares come, painted in flame, wreathed in the oily smoke of Losgar, blazing with the agony of betrayal. 

How could you leave us? 

His dreams wrap him in fire, worse even than the blood, and somewhere in his nightmare someone is laughing, and the flames entwine him like whips, and he struggles back to consciousness, gasping, crying out. 

How could you leave me?  

He is not sure which is worse, the horrors that come when he sleeps or the waking, cruelly mundane horrors that present themselves by day. But of course, the waking ones are worse. Parents unable to rouse their children, keening their agony to the winds. Those white, lifeless bodies, frozen to the ice each morning, too stiff even for them to move or bury. They leave them there, lacking the energy to consecrate their dead, and those huddled, abandoned forms haunt him as much as the bodies at Alqualondë. 

We have forsaken them.

Cold claims dozens; exposure and despair dozens more; and then the chasm, the invisible, waiting maw, that seizes seven unsuspecting elves. Among them, Elenwë. 

He is already seizing an axe and a rope, making to chip an anchor into this ice that he might rappel down into the darkness, but his father is grabbing his shoulder, holding him back.

“None could have survived such a fall,” he says quietly, “and I would not lose more to it.” 

He wants to scream then, to grip his father and shake him, to force him to look at Turukáno, bent double by grief, tears frozen on his anguished face, his voice a thin wail on the unforgiving wind. He wants to point towards little Itarillë, so small and cold, as Irissë holds her close, turns her away from her mother’s broken body and her father’s agony. 

But then he looks into Nolofinwë’s face and knows that none of that would be necessary, for his father sees it all, and the pain written across his features is beyond that of a father, or grandfather – it is the grief of a king for his people. Full King in heart, he thinks. The Spirit of Fire has nothing on you. 

And so he drops his rope and instead sinks to his knees beside Turukáno, wrapping his arms around his brother and hauling him to his feet, whispering, “You must keep going, brother, you must, for your daughter if not yourself.” 

But thereafter Turukáno walks as the dead reanimated, and Findekáno despairs of seeing joy in his little brother’s face ever again. 

Look what you have done to us!

At night he shakes in his tent, despairing, afraid to sleep and loath to be awake, and part of him yearns to dream of the fire, for at least it would keep him warm, but he fears to dream of a certain flaming figure in particular, and he dreads those dreams all the more for how much he desires them. 

And so he shivers, and stays awake, until a tall figure comes to him in the darkness, and wraps him in long arms and golden hair, and he allows himself to weep against Findaráto’s breast, and Findaráto says nothing, but offers what comfort he can. 

Do you think of me? He wonders, as Findaráto cards absent fingers through his hair, now stiff and brittle from the ice and the filth of their journey. Do you think of me as I was, young and strong and full of joy, full of faith in you, in your love, alive at your touch? Or do you imagine me as I am now, thin and cracked and weather-worn, a murderer for love of you? 

Do you think of me at all? He demands of his flame-haired ghost. Do you wonder if I have taken another lover? Would it even occur to you to wonder such a thing? And he presses his lips savagely to Findaráto’s throat, and Findaráto pulls in his breath, his hand tightening in Findekáno’s hair, but he doesn’t pull away. 

Ghosts and nightmares and bitter dreams, he thinks, but he sings by day and carries Itarillë on his back. I will not let you conquer me. He tells jokes that set the children laughing and make even grim-faced Arakáno crack a smile. (But never Turukáno.) 

And when the grey mountains of Middle Earth at last stretch before them, he lifts his voice and joins the silver call of the trumpets, and wills the demons away. 

I will not let you make me cold, he thinks, and turns his face to the light.