The trees were weeping.
Soft sound of drums echoed through the forest as droplets tumbled from the heavens. Even a thousand leaves were little help against the hard tears that fell from the skies, and the earth beneath them were damp and wet from the heavy rain. Grey clouds covered the daylight, so thick and dark that it seemed as if there was an endless night looming over the woodlands that made Doriath. It would be a cold summer, and only a fool would wonder why.
The land was grieving. One could feel it in their bones, deep in their hearts, and the depths of the earth. One could see it in the trees, crippled and bent as if they were hanging their heads in sympathy. One could hear it. The nightingales and many birds of the forest had long stopped singing; and even the flowers dared not bloom.
Dior watched, numbly, as the rain poured and poured. He himself was soaking wet from head to toe, his hair hanging like a black curtain down his face, tumbling like a waterfall of ink. He had not moved since dusk, and staring now up into the sky he noted it was already dawn.
Had time truly passed so quickly? Looking at the grey clouds, he supposed it was difficult to truly tell what time of the day it was, but time worked differently in grief. It was so fleeting- and yet ever so slow. Sometimes he wondered if it moved at all.
Shutting his eyes, he tried to ignore the foreign feeling that stung his lungs and clawed at his throat. In all honesty: he could barely feel the cold. His toes were tinted blue and his fingers shook as pulled his knees closer to his chest, and yet he could not feel the chill in the air. Only the soft rain trickling down his skin. It was difficult to feel the frost when all he could feel was–
Whatever this was.
He didn’t know what to call it; this messed up feeling that was a whirlwind of terrible emotions that left him aching and raw. All he did know was that it hurt. It hurt and the rain helped.
Opening his eyes, he listened closely to the voice that called his name. It was lovely, soft, and some distance away, but it called to him still. The first time he heard the voice had been some years ago, upon his first visit to Doriath when he had been eighteen years old. An important day, his father had called it. Dior had met an Elven maiden who looked every bit as much a lady as her father. She had newly returned from a patrol, there had been twigs caught in her silvery hair and a wild look in her eyes; but she had laughed and smiled and called herself Nimloth.
White flower, it meant. It suited her.
“Dior!” A part of him wished to remain unmoved, to stay still where he sat by the roots of a tree, tucked away from sight. He could stay a thousand years and no one would find him, but he could not do that. Not to her.
And so reluctantly, a little hesitant, he opened his mind to hers. First a soft brush, then a touch, and eventually she answered. She found him within seconds, and he felt her hands cradling his face before he could see her:
“Oh, my love. . .” she whispered, crouching down to meet his eyes. He could not bring himself to look at her, even as she tried to urge him to. Thankfully, she understood this, and instead took his hands into her own, cooing softly. “Your hands are cold. . .” Staring down at them, he saw that they were a pink colour, almost red. But he still could not feel the chill in the air.
“You must come,” she whispered gently. “You cannot stay here. . .” Because you are half mortal, he could almost hear her say in her mind. Or perhaps full. No matter, Men don’t fare as well as Elves do in the cold.
He continued to stare down at his hands.
At last, he found the strength and courage to meet her gaze, and immediately regretted it when their eyes met. In her eyes he saw many things: grief, sorrow and sadness all mended into a single form. But in them he could also see pity, and much to his shame realised it was directed at him. The tears streamed down his cheek before he could even consider stopping them.
Nimloth’s eyes widened in worry, and for a moment it seemed as if she was unsure of what to do. What should one do when someone weeps before you? No one ever taught you that. She was quick to her senses, though, and pulled him to his feet where she embraced him tightly. It was nice, her body was warm against his, but it did nothing to soothe the pain that burned in his chest.
“Come. . .” she whispered, kissing his cheek. “Come now, my love, let us go home. Grieve now, grieve tomorrow, but do not grieve here. . .” He felt like a child, falling for a soft, sweet voice. He listened to each word intently like it was a lullaby being sung into his ear.
“I don’t know what to do,” he whispered, feeling hopelessness wash over him. What was there left to do? Wait? Wait for what and until when? Wait for who?
“Rest,” she tried to urge him. “Sleep. Talk. Talking helps. . .”
Did it? He didn’t feel like talking.
“The children have been asking about you.” She whispered, and he startled. The boys, big enough to practice archery now; one gentle and the other cold. Elwing, still a babe tucked away in her nursery; Elwing who loved to hear him sing. How could he have forgotten about them? “They wondered why you didn’t come to their bed last night to tell them a story. . .”
Dior swallowed. “Do they know?” He didn’t need to specify what.
Nimloth shrugged. ”They must have figured it out by now,” she smiled, slightly sad. “They’re a lot smarter than people would like to believe. I worry sometimes, you know. They don’t behave like children; like they’re wiser beyond their years. . .”
Dior thought for a moment. It wouldn’t surprise him if they were. His grandmother’s genes worked in different ways. His mother had inherited much of Melian’s power, his uncle slightly less, and Dior something little to fiddle with. The boys had surely not been immune to it; and he wondered how it would affect them as they would grow. It was a blessing just as much as it was a curse.
The walk back to the palace was mostly silent. The guards said no words as they passed through the gates that led into the caves, and Dior almost shivered in relief when he heard the doors shut behind him; drowning out the singing of the rain. He was greeted with mostly silence, and in the distance were the echoes of laments sung by Elven choirs.
Many people turned their heads to stare at him as he passed, but he could not care less about what he looked like to them. Soaking wet, unkempt hair and dark-circled eyes. Thinking about it, he must’ve appeared half mad, and he supposed he was for the moment.
No one could dare blame him.
The palace wasn’t really a palace, he supposed. A large tree, larger than any tree Dior supposed existed, stood in the centre of the cave, and within it were carved hundreds of rooms and stairways that led you to what looked like infinite halls. They passed many servants, all who kept their heads bent and bowed, and Dior couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness.
These servants had known his mother, they had grown to love her. His mind thoughtlessly strayed to the woman who had raised him; who had been so perfect in every single possible way. He wondered what she had been like as a child, a small maiden dancing through misty halls; humming to the tune of a song no one but she could hear. What a darling she must have been– the precious jewel of the Sindar. He thought of his grandfather, who had died for the sake of a much different jewel.
Dior pondered whether he had tried to replace her, knowing she would never return to him. Perhaps Thingol had tried to fill in the empty hole she had left behind, thinking the Silmaril could be more of a comfort than burden. How quickly he had learned of its curse; quickly but all too late.
When Dior entered the bedroom that he and Nimloth shared he was greeted by a comforting sight. The boys slept soundly on their bed, tucked amidst blankets and sheets of pearly silk. He smiled, and approached them with soundless steps, careful to not wake them in their slumber. Eyes closed, just as the way of men. Nimloth came to stand beside him, her hand resting comfortably upon his shoulder:
“I sang them to sleep,” she whispered with a faint smile pulling at her lips. “They wouldn’t stop complaining. . . I suppose your voice is much lovelier than mine.”
Dior pulled her into his arms, resting his head atop of her in hopes he could banish some of the sadness that still tugged at his heart. “Your voice is the loveliest I’ve ever heard. . .” Not entirely a lie. The fairest voice he had ever come to love was his mother’s, but Nimloth’s was a proud second.
Silence reigned for a while. It was comforting and it distracted him for a moment. You could not hear the pounding of rain within the caves that made Menegroth. It was a city that would see impossible to breach, but Dior was not a fool. The impossible could happen. He himself was the very proof of that.
Nimloth broke it, her eyes distant as she spoke: “What will you do?”
He raised a brow, confused for a moment: “Do?”
She craned her neck to look at him, her eyes like twinkling stars. Then, her gaze strayed to the very thing in the room he had tried to avoid. A wooden box, beautifully carved, that had been left abandoned upon his desk. An elf had brought it to him a day or two ago, but even before that Dior had already felt his mother’s death. He had felt it.
Dior had not touched it since that day, and he dreaded to open it.
“It’s yours by right,” she whispered, her hands coming to cradle his face, her fingers calloused. Was it? His parents had certainly paid their lives for it, his grandfather as well, and his mother had worn it until she died.
Slowly, he let his arm fall from Nimloth, and with hesitant steps approached the wooden box. Each step felt heavier than the last. He felt as if he stood alone, as if he was approaching his doom, and that darkness was consuming him slowly. The box was all that he could see.
There was a strange voice in the air, distant and foreign, it took him moment to realise that the Silmaril was singing to him. It was urging him forward. It wasn’t a pretty sound, Dior had heard fairer music before, but it was a tune nonetheless. A voice that reminded him of a breathy mist, or the distant humming of stars. He reached a hand towards it, but just as the song had begun it ceased, and he returned back to reality; pulling his hand swiftly back as if he had been burnt.
“Dior?” Nimloth asked, quickly coming to stand beside him. “Dior? What is it?”
He shook his head, turning away from the box that now taunted him. “Nothing,” he whispered, running his hand through his hair. It was still damp. He gazed lovingly into her eyes, and hoped that the smile that he offered her was not strained: “I’m simply tired. . . I think I need a bath.” He paused. “And sleep.”
She smiled, almost in relief, and leaned up to place a tender kiss on his cheek. “You do that, then, my love. . .” she said, her voice hovering above a whisper. But still, he couldn’t help but fret, and knew that neither sleep nor a bath would help soothe his worries.
The jewel still sang to him, and he hoped to the Valar that it would not drive him mad.