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Mercy

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The ferry bumped against the dock. After it had been secured, the ramp dropped down and several Telerin guards came aboard. Two of them approached me, one holding manacles. I held out my hands and silently let them restrain me. A wince slipped across one of their faces as he saw the wide scars on my wrists from the chains Morgoth had me in. The other remained blank-faced.

A third guard grabbed the pack at my feet and emptied it. He put everything back, not roughly, but still disorganized. Mother had the weapons; the only thing I had that wasn’t clothing was the reed pipe I’d made in Middle-earth and a small bundle of letters Arafinwë and Sedil had written me.

“Let’s go,” the officer in charge said.

I smiled at Mother in farewell and stepped off the ferry onto the stone quay. Four guards surrounded me, but unlike my arrival from Middle-earth a year ago, few stopped work to look at us as we made our way to the open-topped wagon. I had help climbing in and sat down on the cushioned bed. One guard jumped up to the driver’s seat; the other three sat around me.

It was to be a parade through the streets, then, as had happened when I’d gone to the Máhanaxar, though I was in a proper carriage then. Now I was in a small wagon, dressed in clothing that had seen better days, suntanned from a year spent mostly outside, and traveling to the man who would deliver my actual punishment for the crimes of murdering his people and stealing their ships.

The wagon rattled as we left the quay and then smoothed out on the paved city streets themselves. The riot of colors hadn’t diminished from the previous year-- but there was no silent, accusing crowd lining the streets. Instead, it was as if this was simply a normal day.

I couldn’t help but stare. A few people spat at the wagon, yes, but most were content to glance at me-- if they looked over at all! When the horses turned onto the main thoroughfare leading to Olwë’s palace at the highest point in the city, the crowds and vehicular traffic grew heavier. Shops lined both sides of the streets; the sidewalks had plenty of pedestrians dressed in styles that were familiar to me from my childhood to garments I would not have considered decent public wear. The shops were of all types; there was a fabric store next to a bookstore next to a greengrocer. Many of the shops had black squares in their windows or on their doors.

We reached the gates of Olwë's palace soon enough and I was gestured out of the wagon. I took a deep breath and looked around. The water gardens that made up the front courtyard had not changed overly much in six hundred years. Yet there were differences-- plants, sculpture, even the flow of the water from one pond to the next. The more I studied it, the more differences I saw to the point I wondered why I thought it had been the same.

A guard said, “The king awaits.”

I swallowed and followed the guard through the front entrance. I could guess where we’d go-- to the throne room, the formal receiving hall. No other place would be appropriate.

Yet the guards led me to a smaller chamber, lit only by an open window. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dimness and to see Olwë seated at the desk next to the window. I didn’t know why the other drapes were closed. The guards left me alone with him, though I faintly heard them settle outside the door.

“Come closer, Kanafinwë. Or do you prefer Maglor now?”

“As we aren’t speaking Sindarin, I prefer the former.”

I moved to stand in front of his desk, neither blocking the light nor blocking his view of me with the unlit candelabra. A stack of paper stood on his desk, next to the sheet he was writing on with a quill pen. He finished writing the letter after consulting with some of the stack of paperwork and then looked up at me after he cleaned his pen. His blue eyes shown almost silver in the light.

“Quiet patience? I almost didn’t expect that of you.” He leaned back in his seat. “Did you anticipate some panoply of a public sentencing?” I nodded. He smiled grimly. “I decided to not play to your Fëanorian pride. The people knew you would come here today; I published your punishment weeks ago. They have better things to do with their time than focus on a Kinslayer.”

“Weeks?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “I sought input from everyone who wished to give me their opinion-- though I did warn them it was advice that may not be heeded.” He stood. “You should know that a sizable minority wished to execute you.”

“It would be deserved.”

Olwë raised an eyebrow. “You won’t argue against it.”

I snorted. “Eöl was executed for less. The Valar wouldn’t, but it wouldn’t be murder if you did.”

“I did think about it. Had I been given the opportunity immediately after the Kinslaying-- the first, Kanafinwë; do you know how shocked and appalled we were to hear of the second?-- I would have without a moment’s hesitation. But time moves forward.”

That was no answer. “Why did you choose not to execute me?”

“Because I did not execute the Teleri who are Kinslayers. I sent them to Lórien. Several of them remain there. You need to face those you harmed. You cannot do that there.”

He paced around his desk and moved to the window, looking out over the formal garden, hands clasped behind his back. He stayed in there in silence just long enough for it to grow uncomfortable and then turned around to face me. “There is no point in continuing this conversation here. Follow me.”

I did so. The guards surrounded me when we stepped into the hallway. I remained silent as we made our way through the palace. Servants and nobles alike stepped out of our way, many of them with hard faces. But I knew where we were walking: to the gardens at the rear of the palace.

We stepped outside into the growing heat of the morning. We made our way through the formal garden, then skirted the walled private garden for the royal family, with the kitchen garden on the other side. When we reached the back of the garden complex, out of view of the palace, Olwë stopped beside a door in a tall stone wall that, due to youthful shenanigans, I knew led to a garden shed and supplies storage area. He placed his hand flat on the solid metal-clad wooden door and hummed something.

The door opened and the sight took my breath. There were no equipment or piles of mulch. It was simply weedy soil with a tarp-covered wood pile in the far corner. Olwë entered and I slowly followed after him after the guards removed the manacles. The guards shut the door behind us and remained outside.

It was as small as I’d remembered, about fifteen feet wide by twenty-five feet long, not including the area covered by the south-facing shed built against the wall on the right. Bare dirt and weeds made up the entirety of the yard. The shed, though, had been rebuilt. There were two doors-- one clearly to what was a tiny garden shed-- and the other to where I guessed I would be living for the next while. The stone was painted white; the window framed by sky blue curtains. The simple wooden door was closed, but there was a screen door propped open in front of it.

Olwë raised an eyebrow at me and gestured at the former shed.

I pushed open the door-- there was no lock on it-- and stepped inside. The single room was small, only barely wider than I was tall, though the white paint made it feel a little more open. A bed was placed flush against the left wall. Next to its foot was a small wood table and a chair, with three book-like items on the table. The topmost was a seed catalog. Next to the head of the bed was a low cabinet with three drawers taking up the left side and a couple of shelves on the right. The top shelf held a small pot, plate, bowl, and eating utensils. Above the counter were two narrow shelves, the items on them consisting mostly of basic kitchen supplies, along with three mugs. Next to the cabinet in the corner directly opposite the door was one of the smallest wood-burning stoves I’d ever seen, with just enough room on top for a single burner. I turned around and stared at Olwë, who stood in front of the now-closed screen door, the entry door to his right.

He said, “The opening to the toilet and bathroom is behind the door. Your cell has been attached to the septic system; you need not worry about that.”

“Thank you?” I said, unsure of what to say.

He nodded and went back outside. I took the opportunity to peak into the bathroom-- simply a sink, a toilet, and a bathtub-- before joining Olwë outside. He didn’t look at me at first, but he turned to put himself between the gate and myself.

“The evening meal will be delivered to you at sunset; you are responsible for cooking any other meals you eat. You will have no visitors apart from those I approve. Arafinwë and Nerdanel are two of them; Sedil never will be. Correspondence will be treated the same way. Nor will you participate in any musical activities-- no one will publish your compositions, not even the Noldor.” He paused and then in a slightly kinder tone said, “I am not forbidding you from playing or singing to occupy yourself. You will also be allowed free movement from your cell to the healers at any time you feel you need it.” His gaze lingered on my face and I knew he was staring at my scar.

Morgoth had threatened to blind and deafen me if I so much as hummed. He’d left the scar as a reminder.

“Apart from the healers, you are forbidden from leaving your prison. In order to give you something productive to do, my wife arranged for you to have a garden. Some tools are in the shed. The books on the table are a seed catalog, a gardening manual, and an empty notebook. Use them wisely.”

I laughed. “That’s it? You want me to stay here and garden?”

His face grew grimmer. “You will not leave Alqualondë until you sincerely apologize in person to every person you murdered. That is your sentence. Many of the Sindar are in Mandos and I do not know when they will be released.”

I stared at him. “I can apologize now to those--”

“Apologies require regret and repentance, Fëanorian. Do you regret?”

“I do.” How could I not?

“You regret. You wish you would have never committed your crimes. But unless and until you know you would have made a different choice when given the opportunity, you have not repented.”

“I--”

“Would there have been a third Kinslaying?”

He would not like my answer. But then, I suspected he already knew it. “The Oath required--”

“Damn the Oath,” Olwë said with a swift slice of his right hand. “You should have died rather than murder someone. For you to do it again, and then nearly having done so a third time--” He breathed harshly through his nose. “What stones, what jewels, no matter how unique and prized, are worth countless lives?”

I had only one answer for him. “My father’s life was and is tied up in them--”

“So you sacrificed entire peoples in a failed attempt to save them? He may have thought it worth the cost. You obviously still do, at least in part.” He glanced down at my hands and I curled the right so he could not see the scar on my index finger. “Even the Silmarils reject you now. What does that make you, Makalaurë? It makes you a monster.”

He pulled his shoulders back, no longer leaning forward in fury. “Your punishment has been decided. Once it is complete, you will be escorted from Telerin and Sindarin lands, never to return.”

I waited in silence. His words had already wormed their way into my head, never to leave. How could this be worse?

“As you have not repented, you will not leave this cell. You cannot apologize when you know that you would have murdered them regardless.” He met my eyes with his cold, furious ones. “You are a Kinslayer, Makalaurë. You deserve worse. This is my mercy to you: that you live with what you have done, that you face it, that you understand who and what you are. And maybe, just maybe, that will allow you to actually repent and regret. Until that day comes, you will not walk out of this gate to apologize to anyone. Do you understand?”

I nodded sharply. “I do.”

Eru help me, I did.

I watched him in silence as he strode across the yard, opened the gate, and slammed it shut behind him with an awful clang.

I flinched, unable to stop myself, and then looked around at the stone walls, the weeds, and the blue sky dotted with puffs of clouds that would turn into afternoon thunderstorms. This was not Angband. I would not be tortured here.

But this was a prison of my own making, one I could never escape.