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Arafinwëan Week 2019

Chapter Text

The king had spared nothing for the celebrations of Fëanáro’s hundredth begetting day. Tirion the white was covered in banners of all sizes, hung from one side of the streets to the other in an endless repetition of the blazons of the two royal houses. The air was sweet with the fragrance of the thousands of flowers, which decorated balconies and every other surface available, their colours reflected in the diamond sand that glimmered between the cobblestones on the pavement.

The citizens, in true Noldorin fashion, seemed set on outdoing the decorations. They all wore their best robes, made especially for such occasions, the precious fabrics enriched with the finest embroidery and gems. They were ostentatious people, Arafinwë knew this well, but he had not been prepared for such a show of gaudy jewels and dresses. Even hair was not spared, but woven into intricate tresses, with ribbons, gems and even more flowers. He would have never noticed how excessive his people could be – and he himself was no exception, because he too was dressed in gold and light green, with the occasional touch of pale pink – if he had not seen her.

She had arrived that afternoon, accompanied by her two brothers as well as a following of princes, dignitaries, valets and maids. Not as many as the children of Ingwë had brought from Valmar, but enough that Arafinwë seriously doubted the palace’s capability.

He had been at his father’s side with the rest of his family, when they had welcomed the children of Olwë in the palace. Arafinwë had felt his heart tremble at the sight of the princess. She had greeted them with practiced ease, though her expression had been open and genuine. Arafinwë, like the coward he was, had barely met her gaze, bowing, as was protocol, to hide his furious blush. If their guests had noticed, they had said nothing. Eärwen’s smile had remained oh so gentle and polite throughout the greetings, and Arafinwë had felt foolishly disappointed at the realisation that he had made no special impression upon her.

_

 

Arafinwë was trying really hard not to stare at the daughter of Olwë, willing his mind – and eyes – to remain focussed on the empty conversation happening in front of him. He felt slightly guilty, all things considered, because Nerdanel was a pleasant woman, witty and polite, while her Maitimo (he refused to call him Nelyafinwë; doing so in public was enough) had grown up to be a very smooth talker like his father, a hint of shrewdness lighting up his grey eyes from time to time, sweetened by the gentleness he must have learned from Nerdanel. Young Makalaurë was peering up at them from behind his brother’s shoulder, biting his lips and fighting off his boredom by tormenting the hems of his robe.

Shifting his gaze to Fëanáro, Arafinwë suppressed a smile when he saw him fidget like his son. Nolofinwë and Nerdanel seemed the only two interested in continuing the conversation, with Maitimo chiming in occasionally. How uncomfortable it must be for Fëanáro to see how well his wife and half-brother got along. Arafinwë felt both relieved and vindicated, though he immediately forgot the sentiment when something moving beside them caught his eyes.

She was a vision of silver and white, her laughter free and delicate as spring water. Compared to her, in her light blue dress embroidered with threads of silver, a single string of white pearls adorning her neck and wrists, he felt uncomfortably overdressed, even frivolous. He would have given up everything – his title, his riches – if it meant she would turn and look at him, find him worthy of her time…

And she was turning, quick and graceful on her feet. In a swirl of her gown, her dazzling smile lighted up her face, blue eyes merry and warm, as they settled on the Noldorin princes. Arafinwë felt his own face burn. She had looked at him. She was looking at him (them, the logical part of his mind corrected) and her smile grew impossibly.

“Fëanáro!” she called.

Arafinwë felt sick.

Beside him, he heard the deep voice of his elder brother (half-brother, his mind reminded him bitterly) answer with a greeting so courteous, tinted with – dare he say it – genuine affection, that for a moment Arafinwë thought it could not be Fëanáro standing there, acting like the crown prince he was, no pride and no scorn colouring his words, as he bent at the waist to bow and kiss the princess’ hand. He could not help but notice how small and slender she looked compared to them, especially to Fëanáro’s strength, and Nolofinwë’s height. He might crush her, was his irrational thought, and a strange sensation had him shiver with sudden discomfort.

He was no more in his father’s palace, but on the shore, the sea in front of him as black as the starless sky above him. With every breath he took, the damp sand under his bare feet swallowed him more and more. He was terrified, he knew, but he stood motionless, staring ahead as if petrified, unable – unwilling – to free himself.

“But of course I remember her, Fëanáro!” Eärwen’s exclamation cut through Arafinwë’s haziness, dispersing his vision with ease. She was greeting Nerdanel with the enthusiasm of someone who meets again a dear friend; by the slightly confused expression of Fëanáro and the amused smile on both the women’s faces, Arafinwë guessed that the two had become good friends over time, with his brother none the wiser.

Nolofinwë huffed, shifting his weight from foot to foot. His smile remained congenial, although the slight tension of his jaw gave away his impatience. It was just like Fëanáro to introduce his whole family first – apparently, this was the first time Eärwen met his second child – and forget that the protocol dictated for his half – brothers to be introduced immediately after him.

When Eärwen finally turned to the second son of Finwë, Arafinwë felt his heart sink, because, of course, if anyone of the royal house were to marry her, it would be Nolofinwë. Had he not heard their father encourage him to think about marriage? An official union with the Telerin royal house was desirable, and who would be better than the princess of Alqualondë and the prince of Tirion? There was no hope for Lalwendë to marry, not now at least, and Findis was already betrothed. Arafinwë was yet too young, so his father said, so the only reasonable choice was Nolofinwë. Ever the diplomat, he had only said that he would prefer to get to know the princess better, before making any decision.

Which was, obviously, the only sensible answer. The whole conversation had seemed pointless to Arafinwë. He knew their father would have never forced a marriage, but a firm encouragement in the right direction was not to be excluded. It seemed it had not worked with Nolofinwë, though. He and Eärwen regarded each other with the curiosity of two people who had heard much of the other, but had never become acquainted. Behind the careful politeness, Arafinwë could not detect any sign of a deeper interest, least of all the sparkle of recognition that flared between two kindred souls.

Finally, the princess turned to him.

_

 

It was impossible not to stare. The three princes together were a sight to behold, with their proud countenance and striking features. Eärwen could not pinpoint it, but there was something extremely Noldorin in them. They stood out among their people, and they would have been complete strangers in Alqualondë, attracting curious stares and comments. It was not rare for Fëanáro to visit from time to time, but he never came dressed as well as he was right now. Even rarer was seeing him in the company of his brothers.

Knowing the conflicting sentiments of Fëanáro, she did not want to interrupt what seemed to be a pleasant and civil conversation – carried out mostly, she could well see, by Nerdanel. It was better than nothing, and her friend would be pleased, afterwards, that her wilful husband had put aside his annoyance. She could not claim to understand Fëanáro – no one in blessed Aman could, after all – yet, she could not really fathom why he would bear such resentment. Arafinwë was even younger than his firstborn!

So Eärwen lingered, keeping an eye on the princes as she danced around the lords and ladies, chatting with her brothers and their acquaintances, aware of the many eyes that followed her, waiting for her to speak with the sons of Finwë. She had caught whispers here and there of a possible match between her and Nolofinwë, and the thought of such a union made her both giggle and squirm uncomfortably. No one could chose a husband for her, it was a silly idea born from the minds of people with too much time on their hands. She could not imagine herself married to the stern Noldo and neither did she want to leave her home to be a wife and princess for another people. She doubted Nolofinwë would agree to such a marriage, no matter how Fëanáro described him – a strict, boring, obsequious man – which were the same words he used for queen Indis, so Eärwen had learned not to trust him on this matter.

She was close enough to overhear how the conversation was dwindling rapidly, giving her the perfect opportunity to intrude. Fëanáro looked bored, barely keeping still, Nolofinwë seemed increasingly tense, while Arafinwë…

Eärwen could not read him at all. When they had been introduced that afternoon, she had thought him the most beautiful man she had ever seen; yet, he had barely looked at her. She had felt a stab of irrational disappointment, mitigated only by her mind telling her that he must have been too polite and maybe embarrassed to look directly at her. Still, no matter what she told herself, she had been hardly able to breathe the moment she had caught a glimpse of his eyes.

She desired to talk to him, to have his eyes follow her, to see his perfect lips form a smile meant only for her… Silly fantasies that would remain as such if she did not find something to say to him, and soon.

“Fëanáro!” she called.

_

 

The princess was even more beautiful up close. Arafinwë could not contain his blush as her azure eyes settled on him. He saw her smile softly, a small thing curving her lips in a way that made his heart throb.

She gave him a small reverence, a delicate hand on her breast, “My prince Arafinwë.”

“My princess Eärwen. I hope Tirion has welcomed you well.”

“I cannot imagine a better welcome, thank you.”

“I am glad to hear this.”

“If I may, I have it on good sources that you are thinking of furthering your studies in music in Alqualondë, is that true?”

Arafinwë smiled, “Ah, I see the queen my mother has talked. Yes, I do. The school is well renowned even among the Noldor.”

“As it happens, my prince, I studied there myself. It would be a pleasure to help you in any way I can.”

“You are kind, my princess. If there is any way I could be of assistance in return, please, you need but ask.”

“I might ask it now, my prince.”

Arafinwë looked at the princess with surprise. The glint in her eyes made him shiver in anticipation.

“Would you accompany me for the night, my prince?” she extended her hand to him, “I could tell you all I know about the school, while you can show me around the palace and the garden.”

He took her small hand in his, with reverence, as if he were cradling something sacred. The air trembled between them, and he felt his own fëa reach out and flare with joy when it met hers. He looked upon her, wondering if he too wore the same awed expression as her. Eru, help me.

“With pleasure,” he said.

I’m going to marry her.

Chapter Text

He had known, when he had counselled Aegnor against marrying a Human, that if such a union were to be, it would be for a higher purpose. He had been right, but that had not dulled the guilt he felt every time he thought of his brother. Then, years later, he had seen fate unfold in front of his eyes, and he had known, again, that such union was unforeseen by the Powers, yet written in the very fabric of Arda. Had he not been there, had he not helped Beren, he was sure that Fate would have found another way for them to be together. Such was the nature of that cruel mistress. It spoke and acted through you, only to discard you when you had served its purpose.

Did he regret it?

He was not sure.

Or, better, he had been sure he did not, until he had seen his sister again, and his sister’s daughter, reunited after centuries of separation. He had seen how his dear niece had been overjoyed to embrace her mother and husband again, only to look expectantly at the ship, waiting for another face to appear. He had seen Elrond sigh, his shoulder sag as if he were carrying the weight of the world, his beautiful face showing such grief, that Finrod’s eyes had watered, already knowing in his heart what was to come.

How could he not know, when he had heard directly from Celebrian’s lips how her daughter resembled Lúthien fair?

From that moment, a part of Finrod burned with rage. It was cruel, infinitely cruel, that the two races should be so similar and yet suffer eternal sundering.

He had loved Humans, learned from them, believed in their strength – and yes, even envied them. In the end, they were free.

_

 

“Fin – Finrod?”

His father’s voice stumbled on the foreign name, betraying an uncertainty that tore at his heart.

“Yes?”

“Are you-” he cleared his voice, as if his throat were parched, “are you leaving, then?”

Finrod knotted the last of his bundles and turned to his father. He was hovering at the doorway, tense and disoriented, not even pretending to hide it. Finrod tried to smile reassuringly, but he knew it was a pale shadow of the bold expression he had worn in his youth.

“You can come in,” said Finrod. He swept the folded clothes, the bundled objects aside to make room for them to sit.

His father eyed the bed as he entered, covered with the things he would need on his journey. They were not many. He had learned to travel light.

In silence, they sat on the edge of the bed, side to side.

“I suppose asking where you are going or when you will return would be useless.”

“I don’t know yet,” he shrugged.

“But why?”

“I don’t think I can answer that. I’m not sure.”

“If you need to keep occupied-”

Finrod flicked his wrist, irritated by the mere thought. “No. You know as well as me that it’s not a matter of idleness. Not in the practical sense.”

Arafinwë regarded him for a long moment, “You are restless here.”

“I cannot stay, that is all I know. I need to – I would not say leave Tirion, for I love the city and I would return – but I need to seek answers to the doubts that have plagued me, and I know those answers are not here.”

Arafinwë nodded, “I see. I cannot keep you here, of course. Yet-”

“Father, I will only travel Aman, like I have already done.”

“I know, I know. But don’t think we haven’t noticed the difference from your previous journeys. You have never kept it a secret as you did this time-”

“It wasn’t a secret-”

Arafinwë raised an eyebrow, “Wasn’t it? You say nothing; you take maps with you and begin to pack your things. And we have noticed that you’re not exactly happy here,” he shook his head, “We just worry.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I wish I could do more to make you and mother stop worrying, but…”

Arafinwë raised a hand in a gesture similar to a peace offering. “If you think that this journey will give you something – peace, answers, a distraction – then you have my blessing.”

“Thank you.”

Arafinwë put an arm around Finrod’s shoulders and kissed his temple.

“Speak with your mother before you go, will you? She won’t try to make you stay; she just worries.”

“I will, father.”

_

 

Finrod was crossing the western gate of Tirion when a familiar voice called his old name.

“Ingoldo!”

He heard her light steps on the concrete drawing near and was tempted to break into a run. He had hoped not to see her, not so close to his departure. He feared his will would not resist to her pleas. Guiltily, he turned.

He marvelled again at how unchanged she was! Despite the long years of grief, her eyes were as radiant as the stars of Varda and her smile as sweet as summer.

“So the rumours were true,” she turned serious, “You are leaving. Again.”

He bowed his head, “I am.”

She looked around, and then stepped closer. Behind her there was a man Finrod should have recognised right away, but could not place. He was as fair as Amarië, tall and slender, not built as a warrior. A scholar, probably. He was looking at Finrod, his eyes hard and cold.

“I know I have no claim on you anymore, as you have none on me. But,” he saw her bite hard on her lips, “you would have left without a word for me?”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re not.”

“You always read me so well,” he said, but there was no humour in his voice.

She looked away.

“What are you looking for this time, that you cannot find here?”

“Maybe there are no answers to the questions I ask myself. Yet, I cannot stay here. But know this, my lady,” he closed the distance between them and took her hands. He kissed her knuckles with tenderness, “My heart lays here, in your hands. It always has.”

“Yet, it is not enough for you to stay. You never do. And it is never enough for me to follow.”

She squeezed his hands and freed herself from his hold, stepping back.

“I should not keep my brother waiting. He has somewhere to be.”

Finrod nodded, acknowledging the dismissal. She would not forgive him, and with his sudden departure he was widening the gulf between them. Their strained relationship was crumbling more and more with each passing day, perhaps irremediably.

“Then I bid you farewell, my dear Amarië,” he smiled warmly at her, “Until we meet again. I wish you joy.”

“Take care, Ingoldo. I hope you find your peace. Farewell.”

With a nod, she turned and walked away from him, her shoulders tense and her pace brisk. Finrod felt incredibly sad – and guilty – as he recognised her effort not to cry in public. Her brother sent him a glare that would have sent lesser men scrambling away in fear.

With a heavy heart and a last look upon the fair Mindon Eldalieva, he left the city.

How he would have wanted to be able to love her completely! To offer his heart and soul to her, and be content to have hers in return. Yet, he had nothing to give to her, but a soul tormented with guilt and ugly memories, that burned with unsatisfied anger. He was not the Findarato, the Ingoldo of old – not even Finrod Felagund. Those were dead a long time ago. Even if this strange new Tirion, filled with Exiles and old soldiers that had witnessed the horrors of the great Wars, had seemed a good home for two ages, he no longer felt satisfied within its confines. His anger and doubts had no outlet and he needed, wanted, answers.

_

 

He travelled through the forests that had grown thick and wild outside the Noldorin cities, underneath the Pelori, groomed by Maiar and the Quendi that now dwelled there. He had been welcomed among them, some remembered his name from the days of his reign in Beleriand, some had heard of him from songs and poems, some others had no idea of who he was. He learned their languages and their lore, shared their food and homes, until he found himself traversing the plains that separated the forests from the Ezellohar, its outline barely visible on the horizon.

Would he dare go there?

Would he dare go further?

His eyes set on the sacred hill, he took a step, uncertain. Then another, and another, until his stride became surer. He raised his voice in song, not wholly elfish in its rhythm, ancient but yet unheard in these lands.

Chapter Text

“During the darkest hours of a winter night the line of the horizon, far up north, tinted red.

The princes of Dorthonion had received few reports from their troops positioned at the front in the last month, but all agreed that the Enemy had been moving. His troops had avoided an open conflict for a long time now, and several of his legions had been espied moving north and east.

The siege would not have lasted indefinitely, this they knew, and the kings of the Noldor had not been idle, had kept their watch and reinforced their strongholds.

But what could stone and enchantments do against the fires vomited by the very womb of the earth?”

_

 

“Have the new reports arrived?”

Aegnor shook his head, his eyes fixed upon the burning line spreading at the feet of Thangorodrim, visible from miles away. “No, nothing from our men.”

His brother swore. “I fear the worst has happened, then.”

“Let us wait some more days, before assuming the worst. The messengers may have been merely delayed.”

“They may be dead. I am still waiting for news from our cousins and our Lord brother. That line has spread in the last two days, and the air is becoming more and more toxic. What evil awaits us, I cannot imagine.”

“Do you think the Worm has come out again?”

Angrod nodded, “That, and more. I suspect we will encounter the Valaraukar. I know not what else can burn for so long and move so quickly.”

Aegnor shivered, “We have no hope to slay them. Will this be our definite defeat then? Are we to die in vain, having accomplished nothing, swallowed by Moringotto’s unnatural flames?”

Angrod grabbed his brother by the shoulder, “Who is despairing now?”

“How can one not despair? Yet, I am filled more with rage and hate for the enemy.”

“Then keep that anger burning for when the hour comes and we will face his forces. But keep your head clear, brother. We have a duty to our King, to defend his land and people. We cannot give in into despair when there is but one child who needs our protection.”

“I know, Angarato, I know.”

Angrod searched his eyes for a long moment and Aegnor managed, barely, to hold his gaze. When he found what he had been looking for, Angrod nodded almost to himself; with a last squeeze, he released his brother’s shoulder and turned to look at the plain of Ard-Galen extending underneath Dorthonion.

“Have you received news from your son?” asked Aegnor after a moment of silence.

Angrod nodded stiffly, “Minas Tirith is ready.”

Aegnor eyed his brother. His expression had darkened even more at the mention of his son. “He has more chances than us to withstand a direct attack. He is safer there,” he said.

“He would be safer in Nargothrond,” said Angrod through gritted teeth.

Aegnor sighed, “So would we all.”

“He’s too young. If he were to…If something happens and I’m not there, Aikanaro, I don’t know what I would do. Eldalote wouldn’t…” Angrod clenched his fist, his arms trembled slightly.

“Have some faith, brother. Findarato is marching north; he intends to strengthen the Pass of Sirion before coming here. Artaresto will not be alone.”

“I pray you are right. I do not know whom to pray, if the Valar are still listening to our pleas, but…”

“They must be.”

Not even the echo of your lamentation, remember?”

Aegnor shook his head, “Yet, Vása and Rána rose when our need was the greatest, and was it not Manwë Súlimo who sent Sorontar to Findekano’s aid?”

Angrod shrugged, though it did not discourage his brother.

“We may be doomed, but it is not only the Noldor who face Moringotto. Sindar, Nandor and Men besides. They are not under our doom, and I cannot believe they will be left to the enemy’s mercy.”

“They already have been, according to some.”

“Since when do you listen to what a Fëanárion has to say about the Valar? Forget their bitterness, I beg you. It does not suit you.”

Angrod bowed his head, “Very well, brother. I will do as you say. Now come, let our sentinels do their duty; we are needed elsewhere.”

_

 

“The fire reached their woods before the army had reached the plains. Hordes of orcs, wargs, even men – unfamiliar and few, their presence left a bitter taste in the princes’ mouths – were upon them, their crude black armours making them similar to ants, crawling and scrambling in every direction. Nothing survived after them. Their feet trampled the once soft undergrowth, their axes wedged in the ancient trunks of the beloved pines and, coming behind them, quick and relentless, fire.

Unnatural, scorching, poisonous heat preceded the arrival of the Enemy’s creations. Valaraukar, tall, their body aflame and surrounded by the blackest of smoke; at their horrific sight many Eldar were seized by fear, forsook their lords and kinsmen in their flight, only to disappear.

A stench of death, rotting flesh and sulphur, was the herald of the great Worm, the leader of the horde. His size increased, and so his malice, he made desert of the land he trod. Warriors, hardened by previous battles and the long march though the ice, forgot their sanity in the face of the dragon, stood unmoving in the middle of the battlefield, or turned their swords against their men in desperation. Sweeter would be a swift death by the hands of a companion, than the slow torture inflicted upon the unfortunate thralls.

The princes held the lines for many a days, encouraged their men to abandon fear and fight with strength of Tulkas, the rage of Ossë, the wildness of Oromë.

Their golden helms seemed ablaze in the unnatural red light. On their soot-covered faces their eyes burned whiter and hotter than the fire around them. They were terrible in their fury, tall and sure against the enemies. Strength yet unseen was in them. Five times the enemy charged at them and five times they drove them back.”

_

 

Raise the shield, parry, steps, leap, twist the sword, lunge, lunge, parry, try to breathe, not too much, do not cough, keep your enemies in sight, keep your eyes on your men, where is my brother?

Angrod grit his teeth, parrying yet another blow with his shield. He ached, his body was weary, his hope waning. There were too many orcs, too many dark creatures crawling, crawling from every direction. No horizon was visible, only the endless red line of the fires, their acrid smoke had plunged the sky into an eternal darkness.

He shouted at his men, to keep the lines strong, to ward off the orcs, to have hope, looking frantically around for the golden helm of his brother.

And there he was, the fool! He had charged forward, and was now almost overwhelmed. Piles of bodies of the enemy were behind him, few warriors of his vanguard remained faithfully at his side, despite their several wounds. Grief took hold of Angrod’s heart, for he could not advance in time to save his brother, who risked being cut off from the main army.

I hope you find the glorious death you seek, brother dear.

He barely felt the brush of his brother’s fëa, before the Valarauko advanced.

_

 

“I…” the messenger swallowed, holding back tears, “What words can I use to describe their deaths? What words are there to voice the horrors of that battle?

Lord Aegnor died felled by more enemies than could be counted, after he fought long with wounds that would have killed a lesser man. Lord Aegnor… He was slayed by a Valarauko, the likes of which I have never seen. They both fought valiantly, for what it was worth.” The messenger bowed his head and stood there in silence, finally weeping.

The lords of the Noldor looked at each other with horror and grief in their hearts. The High King sat motionless on his throne, his eyes far away, as if looking at something beyond their present moment.

“No one survived of their army, then,” said one “And Dorthonion is no more. Our princes…”

The High King suddenly spoke, as if awakened from a deep revelry. “Tell us of your needs, messenger. What comfort you need, shall be given to you.”

The messenger shook his dead and met the King’s gaze, “My King, I ask nothing but to be allowed to join your ranks and raise my sword against this cursed enemy. Angrod and Aegnor were my lords, and I seek vengeance for their death.”

The King searched the man’s eyes and for a long moment silence reigned in the throne hall. He recognised something keenly familiar in the messenger’s pain. Without a word, the High King nodded.

The messenger bowed low in gratitude.

Chapter Text

Words failed her as her throat went suddenly dry. Her hands began to tremble and she felt cold, so cold, she could not stop her shivers.

Taken.

A curse.

Then came the guilt. If only they had married sooner, if only she had insisted more for him to stay behind…

No, of course he would not. It had ever been so.

I am a lord of my people and have a duty to my king, he would say when her excuses would begin to dent his resolve. None would reproach him for such loyalty. Except her.

If only to avenge my brother, I must go. He had felt guilty, she had realised later, that the enemy had taken Gelmir. No one had been sure of that, of course, but Gwindor had always been able to feel these things. His bond with his brother was strong, perhaps too much for Finduilas to understand. She had suspected he would not marry without his brother present. She had showed understanding and patience she did not have and hid her bitterness behind her duties.

Now, he was in the enemy’s hands, as his brother had been, before his gruesome death.

She wished he had died too, so that they could be reunited again, and maybe walk again in blessed Valinor, away from loss and hardships. However deep her resentment for his split loyalty, their love had been tender, and she wanted nothing but happiness for him. Even if he were not by her side, no matter how she wished he were.

Am I a wicked woman, to wish my betrothed’s death? Is this mercy?

For weeks she could not sleep, nor cry. She felt empty, scared, old nightmares visiting her again. Members of her family, people she loved were slipping through her fingers again, leaving her behind in this dark world of lies and betrayal. Faithful Felagund, once so golden and joyful, now only as a grey, bloodied ghost visited her dreams. Gelmir’s boisterous laughter and twinkling eyes became cruel and mocking in the flickering candlelight of her bedroom. And now, Gwindor’s haunted face begged her, then accused her, then regarded her with coldness.

 

Years passed and Finduilas smiled seldom, her heart closed, her thoughts guarded.

 

Then, one day, rumors. A man. No, an Elda. No, he could not be a light-elf. He was aged. He was an Avar. He was maimed.

A spy, a thrall. Servant of the enemy, what was he doing alone in their territory?

Few glimpsed him, none recognised him.

But how many men whispered Faelivrin as if praying for Elbereth’s herself?

He entered their kingdom accompanied by a tall dark Man. And Finduilas’ heart throbbed again with newfound love.

Chapter Text

Cradled in her arms, her daughter opened her small eyes, still scrunched up by the shock of coming to the light, and Celebrían knew, in a moment of motherly foresight, what her fate would be. She was the sweetest creature she had ever seen – even more than her sons, not that she would ever confess it. She would be the most beautiful, of this Celebrían was certain. A cute upturned nose, perfect lips so tiny it was a wonder they were so well formed already, sparse dark hair, finer than silk. And the eyes, almost identical in shape to her father’s, grey and incredibly bright, betrayed her Maiarin and Noldorin heritage.

Her weight was an unexpected comfort and Celebrían relished in the sensation of her daughter’s warmth against her breast. She felt proud and awed at having given birth to her daughter, hers to nourish, to protect, to love unconditionally. A greater joy Celebrían could not recall. What else could be better than this?

With immense effort, she looked around the room, finding her mother and husband seated at the end of the bed, both barely able to contain their happiness – and Celebrían could see, and feel, Elrond’s unshed tears that she was sure would fall only in the privacy of their bedchamber – yet waiting for her to allow them near, neither wanting to disturb the sacred moment between mother and child, that first exchange of love and reassurance held in a single gaze.

A wave of gratefulness passed between her and her husband, and he rose, stepping closer. Celebrían shifted aside on the bed, making room for him to sit comfortably beside her, suddenly longing for his embrace. His gentle hands caressed her cheek, her hair, cradled her hands around their – their – daughter. They trembled, hovered as if incredulous, before repeating the same gestures for the child. The little girl’s eyes widened in curiosity at the newcomer and Elrond’s face softened in a smile so tender, that Celebrían was reminded once again why she fell in love with him all those years ago.

 

_

 

No amount of knowledge, cold, rational, detached knowledge, could have prepared her for meeting her, well, family in Valinor. They were intense, if she were to describe them with gentle words. Annoying, noisy, stifling and a bit too forward were words that crossed her mind all to often when they were around her.

Ah, maybe se was too hard on them. They had known of her well before she had been aware of the size of her relations in Valinor. They had seen her coming, a wretched ghost of a woman, too wrapped up in her grief to notice anything beyond the dull ache that had governed her soul for too many years. She could not recall her first step on the shores of Valinor, could not remember if it had been her uncle Finrod to welcome her, or even her grandparents, the King and Queen of the Noldor in Valinor.

At that time she could not have cared less. She had felt numb, had missed her family terribly but could not have mustered enough energy to do anything but lay down and sleep, sleep for as long as she needed. She had spent endless days, one meaningless day after the other, in the care of the Maiar of Estë, weeping and begging for Irmo to visit her and twist her mind just so, so that she could simply forget.

It was not that Elrond had been unable to heal her, no matter how much he believed that. His sighs, his sagging shoulders, the lines on his beautiful face, the tension in his body – she had read him as easily as she had read her children, Elladan and Elrohir’s unaddressed grief that had driven them to silent vengeance, Arwen’s withdrawal from practical matters, a coping mechanism not dissimilar to her own…

Elrond, her sweet, gentle, caring Elrond, who should have deserved a life filled with the utmost happiness, carried in his heart, the part of it he tried to keep from her, guilt for what he perceived his biggest failure. So he thought. No words from her could have healed him. Celebrían knew the truth, now, after an entire age had passed and her suffering had diminished to the point of becoming more of a painful memory than a nightmarish companion. She was a creature of the land, bound to it, and nurtured by it. Sauron’s corruption of Middle-Earth had sapped the energy from her spirit as much as anyone else, and she did not have the light of Valinor to give her the strength necessary, as it had her mother, or the very essence of an Ainu in her blood as her husband. She was a Sindar more like her father, yet she could not rely on centuries of knowledge learned from Melian herself. She was not her husband, nor her parents.

She was just Celebrían, and had needed a different kind of help than that Middle-Earth had offered her. As simple as that.

Oh, her uncle would not suffer her to think of herself as just Celebrían. In his love she felt comforted as if he were her own father, and he looked at her almost as a daughter. That is to say, Celebrían loved him a great deal, and wished the best for him, but he was just a little overbearing. In truth, all those words she thought when she considered her family, were mostly directed to him.

And if his manners reminded her painfully of her mother, his fierce protectiveness of her father, as unlikely as that similitude was, she made no mention of it.

She was the baby of the family, or so she felt, and, while it would have been very sweet and understandable in any other circumstance, she had herself raised three children and managed an entire town alongside her husband. She knew how to deal with kings, taxes and crops, complaints from fastidious citizens, and even how to manage a garrison, if needed. There was no reason for Finrod to fuss excessively.

 

“He has always been like that, you know,” said Eärwen one day. They were taking a wonderful afternoon tea – Celebrían needed to know who made it, she had never tasted such a blend before – in the parlour of her and Arafinwë’s private wing in Tirion’s palace, one of the most magnificent buildings Celebrían had ever seen. Well, the whole city was as a dream brought to life, if a bit overwhelming.

In any case, they were sipping their delicious tea, Eärwen focussed on an embroidery work that was destined to decorate the new curtains, (because the current ones had been Arafinwë’s idea and it was time they changed them), a plate of pastries between them, and a book of politics, of all things, in Celebrían’s hands. It had been Angaráto’s gift to her, that morning, saying that perhaps she could be a more sensible advisor for Arafinwë than half of the courtesans he surrounded himself with. Celebrían knew her uncle had been, in truth, making a jab at Finrod’s tendency to baby her, and she had been grateful for it.

Eärwen’s gestures were quick and practical, their precision honed by centuries of experience. She was an efficient woman and seldom did she raise her eyes from her work to look at her while they talked. Celebrían felt a kinship with her that simply had never been there with her mother. Eärwen knew how to be commanding without being imposing like Galadriel had been.

“Like what?” she asked, “Hovering?”

“Nosy,” said Eärwen, with a twist of her lips, “Always asking inappropriate questions and regaling his listeners with his answers before they asked. I hoped he would gain wisdom and grow out of this habit, but alas, he has the thick skull of a Noldo.”

Celebrían laughed, “To be fair, I know a number of Sindar who can be as stubborn as any full-blooded Noldo.”

“I believe you. And I marvel at your patience, truly.”

“It’s not a matter of patience,” said Celebrían, suddenly fascinated by the texture of the book cover in her hands, “I genuinely like him.”

“But?”

How to answer? As a mother herself, Celebrían knew that some things would not have escaped her attention, despite her sons’ effort to conceal them. Yet, there were other things for which the counsel of a parent was not needed or sought. She was not sure how much she could reveal to Eärwen of what she had perceived about Finrod without stepping over some boundaries she had not seen.

“He seems just lonely, a little bit. And he cares, I can’t fault him for that.”

“Lonely, mh?” Eärwen put aside her needlework, turning on her seat to face her. “That’s one way to put it,” she said as she finished her cup of tea. She settled down the teacup on the tray, and then rearranged the small pastries on the plate, pushing it towards Celebrían, before smoothing the fabric of her dress with her elegant hands.

“Of course he cares about you, my dear. We all do. From the moment we knew of your birth, until the day we finally met you, we were all ready to love you and welcome you in this family. If he hovers and fusses that much, it’s because he loves, and does so fiercely, as all the men in the house of Finwë do. You are his little sister’s daughter, after all. He considers it his duty to treat you as his own daughter. He will spoil you rotten if you let him. A gentle rebuttal from time to time will not hurt him. He did the same with Artanis, you know? Of course, her rebuttals were all but gentle, at least when she was younger…”

She sighed and looked away to the great windows that overlooked the gardens, her delicate features betraying her distress. Celebrían recognised her expression.

“He misses her, I suppose,” she said carefully.

Eärwen’s eyes darted to her again, their light pinning Celebrían in place. There was something swirling in them that suddenly made her feel very young, but the sensation lasted for a second, and it disappeared the moment Eärwen blinked again, her expression smoothed in a small affectionate smile.

“But he has you, now.”

 

__

 

The day came. The white ship entered the harbour of Tol Eresseä in front of a crowd of curious and ecstatic Elves.

A great deal of preparation had occupied them the days before. Flowers and bells arranged in garlands had been placed on the façades of the houses, the corners of the streets. Banners and vases decorated every surface available. And then the chambers for the guests, the food to offer, the welcoming feast, the songs to sing. The King and the Queen themselves were present, finally ready to welcome their daughter home. Angaráto and Finrod were there beside her, always hovering, always protective. For once, Celebrían felt truly grateful for their support.

She was terrified.

And then she found Elrond’s face, and her mother’s behind him, and she thought she could face this too, this reunion that had been delayed for so long.

Her feet moved before she could think. She was the only one rushing forward, this she distinctly recalled later, and she was smiling even if her eyes burned and her throat was too constricted to call her husband’s name. But he had seen her, had seen her run and had wasted no time, had embraced her in that particular way of his that never failed to make her feel safe and loved and home.

It was almost too much to have is fëa so near, so bright and warm. To feel the solidity of his body against her, his breath on her skin, his arms wrapping around her, seeking and giving. They stayed like that for a long moment, reacquainting with each other’s body and soul. At last, Celebrían raised her head from where it rested on his shoulder and looked at him. She drank in his features, marvelling at how beautiful and gentle he was, remembering how much they had loved each other before their separation, before her depression, the grief, the horror. She loved him still, so much.

He was looking at her the same way he had when they had married, with wonder, awe, tenderness. The long years of grief had left their marks in the depth of his eyes, as they had in hers, she knew.

She could not wait, however. Now that he was here, she needed to know.

And she must have reached out through their bond (how strange it was, to have that again!), because she spoke no word but he understood her nonetheless. He took a step back, and Celebrían felt transported back in time, when she had been a young woman in the court of Lindon and had come face to face with the first King of Númenor during one of his visit to Gil-Galad, officially.

Elrond looked so human and frail that her heart broke anew. She knew then, what she had always known in a part of her heart since the moment she had gazed into her daughter’s eyes for the first time and had seen Lúthien’s doom in them.

So she did the only thing she could, and embraced Elrond again. For a moment, if she just closed her eyes and listened to his heartbeat, breathed in his scent, heard the seagulls crying in the distance over the waves, for just that perfect moment, everything was right in the world again.

Chapter Text

But long ago he rode away,
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are.

(The Fall of Gil-Galad)

 

He could not remember his name. He grappled with the mangled thoughts flitting through his mind, too stretched and inconsistent. No body was holding him anymore, yet he could not escape that place. Grave. There was water and darkness, the rotting plants – and corpses – emitted a foul stench of death. He remembered that. Death. He knew its smell, had been used to it even before.

He could see the stars, sometimes. He knew they were of significance for him, were part of his old self, but…

It was difficult to dig up memories.

Sometimes he was afraid like he had never been before. That much he knew. He felt a presence, looming, watching. It called him, yet the name it used he could never remember for long. It lured him, seductive, sharp, and terrifying. At times it was a command, others a caress.

He never submitted, but for what reason he could not tell. For a long time, though, he heard nothing, felt nothing.

By and by he emerged from the water. His body – now he was detached enough from it that he could…turn, and look at it. His body had been keeping him anchored to the bottom of the marsh and he had only been able to look up towards what he knew was the sky.

So he turned and saw. A flicker of his old consciousness reminded him that a dead body should not look like this. His own should have been burned, scarred beyond recognition. Yet, he looked at this man, unmarred, clad in armour and blue cloak, embroidered with stars. He was pale, his skin almost translucent, his long dark hair floating around. He had a circlet on his brow, another star of white gems at its centre.

Stars. Star. Gil.

They were important. Somehow.

He emerged fully. Around him there was nothing if not more water, mud, buzzing insects and grasses as far as he could see. Then the marshes ended by a chain of mountains high and barren, unnaturally dark. Grey and reddish fumes clouded the sky above them, and the sight of that landscape filled him with a violent emotion he struggled to name. It had accompanied him for a long time and he knew – he recalled! – that he had felt it when he had died.

Rage.

Burning, blinding rage.

But his face, down there in the water, did not look enraged. Just sad and resigned, much how he always felt in this place.

Lonely, too.

So lonely and so cold, always cold.

He knew at some point the greatest star of all should have vanquished the darkness and brought some warmth, yet only weak rays pierced with effort the clouds, their light but a pale reflection of what they should have been.

He began to long for something else. He continued to look at the stars, those rare moments they appeared his only joy. He took delight in them, coveted their beauty and remembered a name. Maybe a prayer, if only he remembered what those were.

Elbereth.

The stars above him flared.

_

 

Centuries passed, he reasoned. The cycle of pale light and utter darkness around him had gone on and on for too long for him to remember to count the days. Beside him a small flame had lighted up, pale and sinister, and he liked it not. It brought no warmth, it was no comfort. Some times he had seen travellers pass through the marshes. Always they looked at these lights – they were numerous – and always he had seen them fall limp and heavy in the water and never reemerge. He had tried to call out, to warn them, but his effort were in vain.

 

The wraiths reappeared. He knew what they were, knew that they were to be feared and hated, but could not understand why. They were mere shadows, inconsistent, unnatural. They were men once, he remembered. He should have known how they became such sorrowful ghosts, it was as much important as the stars, he knew, but his treacherous mind could not reach that far back in his memories.

He began to be afraid again. The dark, watching presence was near, as if awakened again after a deep slumber. He had felt echoes of it in the past, but never this close, never this strong.

One day, the wraiths circled around him. They stayed at a distance, no more than three of them – he knew they were more, but how many? – and black holes that once had been eyes stared at him, emotionless yet menacing. He felt cold dread seize him, a sense of foreboding telling him that worse was yet to come.

But what could he do as a mere ghost, trapped in that pitiful marsh, with his body unnaturally intact sunken deep in the water?

An old instinct arose. Defence. He needed a weapon.

He had had a weapon, before his death. A faithful companion, forged by the best – by whom? He was sure he had known the name of its maker.

That weapon now was at the bottom of the pit, and if his body lay intact, then the weapon should too.

He dove in.

 

Under the water, he felt the brush of other fëar reaching out, hungry and desperate for his light, his strength. They could not reach the surface, he understood. They were faces he recognised, that stirred some part of his old memories, but none of them recognised him in return. Their faces were devoid of any spark of consciousness, except their greed. They would have devoured his fëa if he let them.

He swam down, down, until no light penetrated, but he could still see the long fingered plants brushing the bodies, his body too. Beside it, something glowed. He reached for the light, and his incorporeal hands met something. He had touched something! How was it possible?

He had to dig for a while, the mud claiming back with insistence every inch he uncovered. Until at last, the weapon, his weapon, was revealed. It was a spear, breathtakingly beautiful, the metal and wood still intact, except for a thin crack running down its shaft. The head was engraved with letters for protecting charms, gems of every shade of silver and blue still filled with ancient power.

A name came to him. Aeglos. The gems flared. “Aeglos,” he said. The whole spear shone with white cold light and vibrated with energy.

_

 

The watching presence was the Enemy. His memories had become clearer since the moment he resurfaced with his spear, and he remembered of his death, at least. At the hands – burning, scorching – of this Enemy that now had returned and had directed his gaze on him. He knew he should resist. Whatever he promised, offered, threatened, he needed to resist.

His attacks were painful. He felt again as if he had a physical body, crushed and torn in his hold. His mind was constantly pierced, forced open, toyed with. Memories from his past were twisted and corrupted, had him shiver and scream with terror and desperation. Dark chains bounded his wrists, ankles, and neck, and the Enemy pulled, pulled, so much that he felt stretched beyond what should have been possible. If he had had a body still, he would have died again and again at every onslaught. But he was a ghost at the mercy of the Cruel – now he knew his true face – and the pain remained fresh. He fought, raged, broke the chains with his spear, repelled the Enemy from his mind with songs he had thought forgotten, called that name, Elbereth, over and over until the Enemy retreated, defeated once again, and he saw the stars above him, breathless and exhausted. Gil. Galad. Gil-Galad. He was…

This went on for an infinite time. The attacks became fewer, yet never stopped.

 

Then, one day, three unlikely travellers crossed the marshes. One of them carried with him something Gil-Galad recognised well, for he had felt its very surface imprinted on his jaw when the Enemy had seized him and killed him. He shuddered at the memory. What were they doing? What was their purpose, why bring such an object so close to the Enemy’s tower?

There was something else the traveller carried with him, forgotten. A light shone from beneath his clothes, visible only to Gil-Galad. For a moment he feared it was – no, it would have been impossible, two had been lost and one…

There was something familiar, though, a shard of an ancient and powerful fëa trapped within it. He looked up, to the hidden sky and the one star he knew would be there. “Aya Eärendil”, he whispered, “may you guide these unfortunate travellers well.” He kept his spear ready and the travellers within his sight for as much as possible, before they disappeared through the black mountains encircling Mordor.

 

Not a long time passed, before he felt the very air break around him. The earth shook and shattered. The hold that had kept him there, haunting the place where his body had lain, disappeared and he felt… Free, he supposed. Then, amidst the rumbling and thundering cracks of the earth, a faint music arose. A voice, deep and ancient called his name. He looked West, and saw the darkness fade, unveiling an immense white mountain. On its top, two thrones of equal size shone under the light of a million stars, and in their seats, two being of awing might and sublime beauty sat.

One of them turned their head and looked straight at him. He felt his heart burst with immense joy, and would have wept with relief if he had had a body again.

Ai Elbereth, he cried.

 

His fëa shone in Middle-Earth one last time, its white light blazed on the Dead Marshes before rising in the sky and fleeing West as a falling star.

At the bottom of the marsh, his body dissolved.

Chapter Text

I.

Lothlórien, Year 2980 T. A.

My dearest Finrod,

I – I do not know why am I writing to you, now. We have been separated for ages and, though my thoughts have strayed to you, I never once thought of writing. I doubt I will ever send nor show these to you. But I need to recollect my thoughts, and even if I know Celeborn will listen and understand me – even better than you would – I need to do this alone.

Elrond’s foster son, a Dúnedain, has been our guest for a little while. A distant descendant of those Men of the house of Beor you were so fond of. The generations that separate him and Elrond are too many to count for…It does not matter. He is a great man, I see this in everything he does and says. Perhaps the greatest of this age, and I do not say this merely because of his blood. Gilraen, his mother, and Elrond raised him well.

I reread these lines and I marvel at their banality. But I do not wish to write more about the matter, not now. I do not need to make sense of him, for I know his fate, or can well imagine what awaits him.

Yet, I could not foresee this. Perhaps, these pitiful lines are a way to make sense of my own granddaughter’s choice.

I saw your ring on her finger. I had known of his infatuation with her, I had seen in his eyes a deep love when he looks at her, but to think that she would – I did not expect that. Should I have? Should I have based the entire fate of someone I know and love only upon some circumstantial coincidence? That she is so similar to Lúthien in form that she must love a mortal, must decide to give up her immortality for him…Why? Because Fate works this way? Arwen is not Lúthien, their temperaments are completely opposite.

Pain colours my words, I am sure. I might be angry too, for there will be nothing I can do about it, as there was nothing that I could do for my daughter. And for you, and our brothers and –

This time, the parting will be much more sorrowful and definite. I do not know how Elrond will face it, for I can scarcely suffer the thought of it.

I should be happy for them, and I will be, when the time of their marriage comes. But many long years still must pass ere this happens.

The Shadow grows and my path has never been so unclear.

When I left Aman, I did with the hope of becoming the very centre of the songs that praise our histories, “until the last days of Arda”. How foolishly ambitious I was. And how blind. It was never us the centre of the story. You understood that, I think, when you gave your life for the love of Men.

 

Please, watch over Celebrían for us. I think of her often.

 

II.

Lothlórien, Year *, T. A.

Dear Finrod,

In my youth, I am sure you well remember, I had been compared to Fëanáro. For wilfulness, mostly, and strength. I always hated the comparison, and now some would say I surpass him in wisdom. I should well hope so! Yet, in skills I will not claim such a thing, and now more than ever I understand perhaps a fraction of his geniality.

I have finally succeeded in an endeavour that has kept me occupied for many long years. Failure upon failure, fatigue, research (I am sure Celebrimbor will not reproach me for leafing through his old notes), many arguments with my dear husband, who has more wisdom and patience than all of us children of Finwë combined, have finally bore their fruit.

I trapped some of the light of Eärendil in a phial.

If it is true that the same spirit is in me as it had been in Fëanáro, then it is also true that I will surpass him in this, at least: this trapped light will serve the purpose the Silmarilli should have had since their making. Guidance and hope in the darkest places. There will be much need for it, when the light of our most beloved star will be obscured. Which will be sooner than I had hoped.

 

III.

Lothlórien, Year 3019, T. A.

I was so tempted to take it. I wanted to, wanted that power for myself, so that I could vanquish his shadow and exact my revenge on him for all the senseless cruelty he inflicted on the world and on you, our family, our race. For the first time, I saw myself, my true self. I renounced that path.

Sometimes I think that Celebrimbor had been stronger than any of us. The Periain I met even more. Their love for things that grow, healthy and fair is almost elvish in nature, yet they are as Mortals, not bound to Arda the way we are. No, one of our kin would not have succeeded.

 

IV.

Gondor, Minas Tirith, Year 3019 T. A.

If one heirloom of Valinor must remain in the world of Men, it is fitting that it should be your ring, dear brother. The day has arrived, and I can finally say that yes, I am beyond happy for them.

Their story had needed not the sacrifice of a king in the name of old oaths, yet the song of Arda remains the same, the same elements entwined in its very fabric. A love watched over by death, an enemy whose cruelty knows no bound, courage found in unexpected places, and, of course, a jewel again. Now the jewel has been destroyed and the king has returned to his throne. Indeed, the serpent had bitten its tail. This story comes to an end.

It is with a heavy heart that I wait for my return and how I long, my dearest brother, to see you again, hale and joyous, though I am sure that age and death have changed you much. Yet, I yearn for your comforting embrace, for your sure voice to tell me that all this pain and loss had not been in vain. I know it had not been. But I am weary, and wish for rest. I wish for the energy of our youth, though not the hastiness and the pride that came with it. More than anything, I wish for peace and love among our family, and to embrace my daughter again.

It is the curse of our Noldorin blood to love too much that which we create; it is the doom of our elvish nature to desire for things fair and beautiful to remain untouched by the ravaging fingers of Time. My heart breaks in knowing what I am leaving behind. All these years spent building a sanctuary where I could recreate the blissfulness of Valinor, yet, now that I am about to return, despite my yearning, I feel a part of my heart will remain here, refusing still to come home. How could it, when this had been its home? But this place is no longer for us, I deem. It takes too much of our fëa, it consumes, and the malice of the Enemy lingers, though much diminished, and ensnares weakened spirits still. If I had retained some of my old pride, it is in this.

My beloved husband is stronger than me, for his bond with this earth is older and of a different make than that of those who had experienced Valinor. If there is healing he can provide for these lands, he will give it. I have given too much and my touch has no longer effect. Nenya is now a mere object of unparalleled beauty, but a simple object nonetheless.

Will you be there, brother dear, on the shores of Eressëa, will I see your golden head and hear your silvery voice raised in song to greet me?

Your little sister,

Galadriel.