Chapter 1: Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Table of Contents
Chapter 2: Swords, Once Drawn, Are Never Sheathed
Indis comes to terms with Finwe's decision to follow Feanor into exile.
Chapter 3: Alqualonde
A swimming contest between cousins, in happier days.
Chapter 4: Empty Nest
Earwen and Finarfin, when nothing else is left.
Chapter 5: Happy Endings
13 short alternate universes. If only, if only...
Chapter 6: Ancient Friendship Stung His Heart
Fingon plans a rescue mission.
Chapter 7: Little Love
When no one is paying attention, Feanor might tolerate his half-siblings...
Chapter 8: Gemstones
In Beleriand before the move east, the Feanorians are coping. Mostly.
Chapter 9: To Turn a Friend From Folly
What if the Noldor had not tried to steal the ships of Alqualonde?
Chapter 10: Indestructible
The Noldor with nukes ... AU, obviously.
Chapter 11: And are not bound to it
Elrond and Elros - a conversation by the shores of Balar that doesn't really resolve anything at all.
Chapter 12: The Unexpected Complications of Interracial Parenting
Annael learns more than he planned about the differences between Elves and Men while raising little Tuor.
Chapter 13: Geography Lessons
Findekano's too young to understand the divisions in his family. Maitimo isn't.
Chapter 14: Laundry day
Maitimo finangles his little brothers into doing their chores.
Chapter 15: The youth of their days
As Tirion nears completion lovers talk about eternity. Fluff.
Chapter 16: Traveler
Celegorm: a character study with a little bit of mutually-oblivious shipping.
Chapter 17: Happily Ever After
Amarië, left behind, moves on.
Chapter 18: Secrets
FIngon and Turgon part for several hundred years.
Chapter 2: Swords, Once Drawn, Are Never Sheathed
Her husband is fidgety. He spends the hearing rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, his eyes flickering between Fëanáro and the Valar who will judge him. She is not sure why he bothers. The Valar are unreadable and Fëanáro’s expression never budges – has not budged in years, in fact – from a terrifying, condescending sort of obstinacy.
She watches her son. He carries himself with dignity, of course, but a mother’s eyes can sense that his patience is fraying. It is unnerving, certainly, to see Melkor’s lies unravel before Manwë’s keen questions, to see how they have all been inexorably driven towards precisely the nightmare that faces them now.
It is more unnerving to see how little the revelation affects Fëanáro, whose lip curls whenever Melkor is mentioned but who is otherwise impassive, and who has not looked at Nolofinwë at all. Anyone else accused of a crime of this magnitude would be kneeling before the Valar now, begging forgiveness.
He has not even apologized.
The sight of that sword slicing through the peace of Finwë’s court to land at her son’s throat had activated in Indis an instinct she did not know she had: she had wanted to leap from the balcony and grab Fëanáro by the collar of his robes and drag him kicking and screaming back from whatever mad delusion he inhabited. She would not let go until he lay, bedraggled and panting, at their feet in the real world, and then she would scream at him until her voice was hoarse.
Courtly propriety had restrained her, of course, along with common sense, but the impulse had not weakened in the slightest with time. Even now she was extraordinarily tempted.
She had prayed to the Valar to give her the wisdom to understand her husband’s son, but if they had seen fit to grant her prayer it seemed that wisdom was not sufficient to come to terms with Fëanáro.
(She had also prayed for them to give her the strength to forgive him, but she is not entirely sorry that they didn’t.)
The sentence is pronounced: at least twelve years exile from Tirion. She lets out a breath, feels the air burst gratefully free of her lungs as if she had not breathed in a long time. Horror and grief and shock are rippling across her husband’s soul, and so for his sake she conceals the relief in her own.
Fëanáro does not react.
And then Nolofinwë speaks, calm, polite, regal. He promises to forgive his brother, lift the sentence; his eyes are fixed on Finwë’s as he speaks, not on hers, which is well, because her first, spiteful thought is “No!” He should insist on seeing every sword Fëanáro ever crafted melted down and sold for scrap; should demand an apology, and then a more sincere one, and then a more eloquent one, until Fëanáro crumbles and begs for forgiveness, or else stalks out of their lives forever.
If Nolofinwë has been granted the strength to forgive which is denied her, she reminds herself, she should take joy in his virtue.
But she is not sure it is forgiveness that motivates her son as much as the anguish in Finwë’s eyes, and that is troubling.
Fëanáro does not bow to the Valar before departing.
They spend the night in her brother’s palace, and barely speak; Finwë paces the marble floor and occasionally mutters something about how unjustified the intervention of the Valar is; she gives noncommittal answers. The only reason the intervention of the Valar was necessary, of course, is because Finwë’s devotion to his eldest is so blinding he can hardly see straight; but the time for that conversation is not tonight. In ten years, perhaps, when Fëanáro’s sentence nears its close, she will bring it up.
When they return to Tirion it is to find that word has spread ahead of them, and, as is ever the case, mutated into a thousand outrageous lies. Finwë, still angry, is made more so by the rumors and retreats into his study; she invites her most talkative maids to help unpack her luggage while she tells Findis and Lalwen the true story, knowing that in this manner it will ripple across the city in no time at all.
Then she goes to visit Nolofinwë, who is playing High Prince of the Noldor, calm and restrained and trusting completely in the wisdom of the Valar. The moment the servants leave the room he crumbles in her arms. She holds him, listening to his uneven breathing and wishing she could shelter him forever, until the lights have changed and they have both missed dinner and a breathless messenger comes to tell her that Finwë wishes to see her.
“I will follow Fëanáro into exile.”
The words freeze her at the door; they are so outrageous, so impossible, that she must replay them in her head four times before they sink into her heart and lodge there permanently.
“He needs me; he needs to know that the Valar cannot sunder the love I bear him, that our people will not be manipulated so easily, that our family will not be shattered –”
“It is you who shatter our family! It is you who has always chosen your arrogant brat of an eldest over the four other children who love you also, and deserve you more; it is you who allowed Fëanáro to forge swords, who let his ambition rise unchecked until he was mad enough to use them –”
“Indis! I love all of our children; I would be there to support any of them! But Fëanáro needs me most right now!”
“You are an idiot. Nolofinwë needs you now; his half brother has threatened to murder him. He will see that you are choosing Fëanáro over him, yet again, he will see that Fëanáro truly does have free rein here – if the incident had occurred in private, you would not have punished him at all, would you?”
“Nolofinwë can act as King of the Noldor in my absence; he will be honored by the responsibility, I think, and bear it well.”
“Are you blind? He does not want your crown, he wants your support – he wants his father, dammit, not his King.”
“It is only for twelve years…”
All she can manage is a disbelieving, shattered laugh.
But perhaps she has finally gotten through to him, because there is dawning realization in his eyes. “You will not come?”
“No, I will not follow you and your lunatic son into exile. He despises me; I am certain he will delight in the knowledge he shattered our marriage.”
She taught all her children restraint, some more easily than others, but it always came naturally herself. In this moment, though, it takes all her strength to close the door calmly behind her, to give a passing servant a gentle smile, to wade down the hallway to her own room where she can finally collapse on the bed and allow the grief and pain to crash over her like a wave.
It is an appropriate analogy; for a long time she cannot breathe, and when she surfaces, exhausted, there is a bitter taste in her mouth and salty trails down her cheeks.
Chapter 3: Alqualondë
For Almárë, who requested fluffy happy Maedhros/Fingon in the early years.
There is a battered sign on the quayside honoring everyone who has successfully made the swim from Alqualondë to Tol Eressea.
It is a relatively short list, and a very long swim. Ossë tired long ago of rescuing daring young Elves who tried and failed, so now it is forbidden unless you hire a boat to trail after you and pluck you out of the water when you tire.
“That would be horribly humiliating, though,” Findekáno says. “Especially now that your obnoxious brothers have started calling me ‘the Valiant’. We should not try until we’re certain we can make it.”
Maitimo is lying on the sand drawing patterns with his fingers. “Next summer, perhaps?”
It is a promise that they will spend lots of time in Alqualondë, evenings spent with Arafinwë’s family or attending Macalaurë’s performances and daytimes spent swimming along the coastline with Maitimo until they both crawl ashore exhausted. It sounds perfect. So Findekáno wholeheartedly agrees.
His family is less amused.
“Don’t you have more important things to do?” asks Turukáno.
“With Maitimo?” asks his father.
“Don’t drown,” says Irissë, and her worries are far easier to answer than the undercurrent of worry behind his father and brother’s questions, so he scoops her up and promises solemnly that he and Maitimo are both excellent swimmers and that in any event there will be a boat tracking them the whole voyage, just in case. “And if that failed Ossë would probably scoop us up, he’d just be terribly irritated about it.”
It is the best year of their lives, he thinks much later. Laurelin’s light reflects off the water and bronzes their skin until by year’s end they are dark brown; Maitimo is taller and stronger and the better swimmer at first, but he has more responsibilities in Tirion and Findekáno is not above going down to the sea without him and training relentlessly, and by the end of the year he is the stronger one, the one capable of pulling out in front and choking his cousin with a well-timed kick of seawater (neither of them are above cheating).
For lunchtime they return to shore and buy a little bit of everything from the vendors by the sea, paying in gemstones and jewelry or (if Macalaure is with them) with a song. They tease Macalaure’s girlfriend and debate with Findaráto and scare little Aikanáro and Angaráto with stories of the Outer Lands.
“If we miss Tol Eressea and just keep swimming, we’ll end up out there,” says Maitimo, who has four brothers by now and has perfected the art of telling terrifying stories. “We’ll drag ourselves onto the beach and realize that there’s no light at alll We rub the saltwater from our eyes – we’re wondering if we’ve gone blind. We can hear wolves howling. And suddenly some orcs will rustle forward from the bushes and pounce”and he jumps forward and sets them both giggling with glee.
“I think it’s interesting,” says Findekáno the day before their swim, “that the Teleri are generally better swimmers, but nearly everyone on the list is a Noldo. Do you think the difference in height is that much of an advantage?”
“I think it’s because the Noldor are arrogant,” says Maitimo. “The Teleri are content to swim – but we have to swim the greatest distance. The Vanyar are content to climb – but we have to climb the tallest mountain.”
Your father makes beautiful gemstones that come to life in the palm of your hand and light everything around them, Findekáno thinks, but he has to capture the light of Laurelin.
“I don’t think it’s an arrogant impulse,” says Findaráto mildly, “to try to always surpass yourself. As long as you’re trying to surpass yourself and not other people.”
“What if you’re trying to surpass your cousin?”
“That’s probably allowed.”
And they lie down on the beaches and watch the mingled lights catch a hundred thousand gemstones, and make steadily more absurd toasts – to their success tomorrow, to surpassing your cousins, to Ossë, to Olwë, to fried octopus vendors and gifted musicians and happiness that will endure until the end of time.
Findaráto wakes up first, and finds his cousins nestled against each other, red and black hair tangled in the sand; with a sudden impulse to make trouble, he braids it together (and adds some gold for contrast) and then leaves them on the beach. They will wake to another glittering golden day, and take far too long to disentangle their braids.
Chapter 4: Empty Nest
Arafinwe and Eärwen, when there's nothing else left.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Their home in Tirion is built in the style of the Teleri: spacious, high-ceilinged, with wide glass windows that let in the light of the Trees. Except for the bedrooms and bathing rooms it has no walls; instead there are fluttering silk sheets that pool on the floor and let the afternoon breeze or the laughter of her children echo through the space. It is beautiful.
Their home in Alqualondë (because Tirion grew stifling, and because she could not shake the feeling that her own brothers were a better influence on the children) was built in the style of the Noldor, partially for symmetry, partially because it meant Fëanáro could take part in the building and in craftsmanship, unlike in everything else, he is generous in spirit. He and Nerdanel planned the architecture together, an intricate lacework of arches in gray marble and rose quartz. Effortless. Majestic. That house is also beautiful.
Now she despises them both.
Arafinwë lives, officially speaking, in the palace, but he has never cleared out his father’s rooms or Nolofinwë’s. He does his work in a study designed for a dead man and rearranged only slightly by a man who is exiled forever.
It is not healthy, she tells him, but he says he has other priorities, and that is certainly true, and when she is clinging to two houses worth of memories she can hardly reprimand him.
Artanis’s room in Tirion is filled with things half-finished: books left overturned in that manner that strains the bindings. Letters half-written and discarded. Sketches – of people, of course, her daughter never had the slightest patience for drawing stationary things – with only the faces completed, so the subjects seem to float through a blank, empty mist. She was pressing flower petals between two panes of glass; they are still there, pink with a little touch of red around the edges.
Findaráto straightened up his room before departing. She tries to imagine what ran through his mind in those mad weeks before the Noldor departed, but the room – tidy, clean, respectable – offers only tiny hints. Flecks of ink on the dresser? Perhaps he tried over and over again to write that last letter to Amárië, perhaps the heap of ashes in the fireplace are his failed attempts. Light summer clothes folded a little hastily, tucked into his dresser? Perhaps as he packed he was wondering what to expect from the climate of the Outer Lands, weighing the necessity of packing lightly for the journey against the trouble of sewing new clothes on foreign shores…
Angaráto has not lived with them since his marriage, and when he visits he stays in the guest rooms. The room that once was his is as tidy and impersonal as a room at an inn, and yet still she breaks down weeping every time she walks into it.
Aikanáro’s room looks like a thunderstorm hit it, and always has, since he was old enough to pull things off shelves for the first time. The clothes he did not take with him are crumpled in the corner. Books are stacked the wrong direction on his bookshelf; as a result, they do not all fit, and so there are stacks of them on his desk as well and on his dresser and on a chair in the corner of the room. His jewelry box was opened and shuffled through and gems are spilled across his bedcovers, catching the light of the new Sun, setting random corners of his walls alight.
They remind her of something else, and for a moment she must hold tightly to his desk to stop the world from falling away from her.
The house in Alqualondë is much worse.
She has returned only once, since, and she has not visited their bedrooms, cannot visit their bedrooms, but the rest of the house is stripped bare, empty, because she took out everything they owned and gave it to the widows and orphans of Alqualondë. She would offer them the house, as well, but who would live in this marvelous stone house of the Noldor, who could look up at those intricate stone arches without seeing the man who built them?
She would burn it to the ground, if stone could burn.
Arafinwë has not visited Alqualondë at all, though he and Olwë exchange letters and her father no longer says her husband’s name with raw hatred in his voice.
Two houses and a palace, but Eärwen daughter of Olwë King of the Teleri, wife of Arafinwë King of the Noldor, has nowhere to live.
He sleeps in the waiting room outside his father’s study (yes, it is still, in his mind, his father’s study. It always will be). There is a long couch and thick curtains on the windows and that is really all he requires. He cannot return home, will not return home; he left that house behind when he marched from the gates of Tirion and he has returned to Tirion but he will never return home.
Not until his children do.
They eat meals together, in silence, a pale mockery of the family dinners his father used to host. They cannot talk about the children – the children go, he knows it, to their deaths. He replays that frantic Year in his head a thousand times and does not know how he could possibly have saved them, and until he has an answer how can he meet his wife’s eyes and apologize for letting their children die without even the fragments of a plan to save them?
He cannot. So they do not talk about the children. And without the children, what is there to talk about? What did they talk about (in those years that now seem like a fleeting dream) before the children were born?
So they eat in silence, and then he returns to work and she returns to – however she fills her days, he does not know – and when one night she speaks at dinner her voice is hoarse from infrequent use.
“I cleaned the palace.”
He jumps and then is embarrassed. “You – sorry?”
“I know you don’t want anyone changing around your father’s rooms, but I talked to your mother and she agreed that this is utterly unhealthy, and so together we cleaned out the King’s Suites and put all of his things into storage. Then we moved everything from our bedroom into the palace, and boarded up both houses – the one here, and the one in Alqualondë. We’ll return to the house –” she swallows, stabs a potato with unnecessary force, and then continues bravely -“when the children return. Then I set up the palace library with all the things in your old study. Rearranged the furniture and everything.”
He is lost for words, but only one thing she said stuck. “The children aren’t going to return.”
They finish the meal in silence. But when the servants have come to clear away the plates she does not rise. “I know,” she says. “But… but there was something more, wasn’t there? You and I? Arafinwë, I cannot live with their ghosts any longer. We’ll wait for them. Until the end of time, if that’s how long it takes. But in the meantime…”
None of his work is all that urgent, and so he lets his wife drag him through the hallways to his father’s suite, lets her pull open the door and show him their bedroom, transplanted. “Fit for a King,” she says, with a bitter smile, and suddenly all of his reasons for not talking about the children seem childish and transparent and utterly stupid.
“I failed them,” he tells her, a note of panic in his voice, “I failed them, all of them, or it would never have come to this. My brothers, your family, our children. Our children. Eärwen, they might be dying out there and…”
“Stop,” she says tensely, “before I punch you.” And then instead she hugs him, breaks down sobbing on his shoulders. “I keep thinking, I keep thinking, Arafinwë, where did we go wrong? Do you remember when Findaráto was twenty and told us he was running away to the Outer Lands? He had a rowboat and a live lobster, and…”
“Yes,” he says with a sharp gasp, because he has been not-thinking of that moment for ten long years, “and you told him – oh, Eärwen, you can’t possibly have been blaming yourself for that! In any event, I was the one who…”
They fall asleep still clothed and lying sideways across the bed of the High King of the Noldor, the necks of their robes damp with tears, tangled in each other’s arms.
For the tumblr 30 day challenge prompt: Something about parents
13 different alternate universes...
“In recompense,” Dior says, “I will want the weapons and armory to protect a hundred thousand men. I will expect your people to hold the southern border and to come to our aid in any need. I will want three of the palantiri so I can coordinate my troop movements. The strength to hold Doriath without the girdle – for that alone I will surrender my birthright.”
“You will have it,” promises Maedhros, and whatever else is said of the sons of Fëanor they are not known for breaking their word.
“The boats are our treasures, as near to our hearts as the Silmarils are to yours. We will not lend them,” says Olwë. “But in friendship we will gladly teach you how to build your own. In a Year you will have a seaworthy fleet, if you are willing to work hard – ”
“Do not doubt it,” says Fëanáro.
“Though I hope that with time cooler heads will prevail.”
They share a tight smile.
Cooler heads do not prevail, but the Noldor leave the shores of Alqualondë with beautiful boats, cheerful smiles, and Olwë’s grudging blessing.
For a sickening moment he thinks he has arrived too late.
But no, Denethor’s people are still alive, still fighting; Elu charges forward with a cry of mixed wrath and relief and the monsters scatter as he reaches the side of his embattled friend.
“That was too close,” he says hoarsely when they have routed the orcs.
“There’ll be a lot of close ones,” Denethor answers.
“Come live where Melian can protect you.”
His friend is bandaging his own arm and does not answer for a long moment, and Thingol dares to hope -
“It would not be right for our people, Elu. I am glad you have Doriath, but our home is here.”
There are a lot of close ones, but the first sun rises on two kingdoms only strengthened by the evils they have faced.
Once they trade the new arrivals for some metal weaponry, they are unstoppable.
“It is a strange person who needs to tear something out of its home to preserve it,” she says. “But yes. You can have a hair.”
He makes hundreds of gorgeous glowing gemstones, the perfect image of Laurelin’s light, and soon they adorn every home in Tirion but hers, because she alone is not impressed.
When it turns out that they are sufficient to restore to health the injured trees, then, little as she’s grown to like her uncle, she will admit a grudging admiration.
When she departs with the host of the Valar to destroy Morgoth, she takes some with her; her uncle stops outside her tent and weighs one in his hand, smiling, and when she stalks outside to yell at him he says with feigned surprise, “Artanis! I was impressed with you in training today, and I was wondering…” and somehow they end up spending the evening discussing tactics. The following month he assigns her a cavalry wing all her own.
The path from her kingdom to his is lined with glowing golden lights to guide the merchants, and the once-a-yeni diplomatic dinner with the High King of the Noldor in Middle-earth is not quite as unbearable as her complaints to Celeborn would make it sound.
“Gone?” asks Fëanáro, and impulsively his father pulls him closer. “Everything I’ve ever made? All our treasures? The Silmarils?”
“We barely escaped alive,” says Finwë, “I would have stayed and fought, if I hadn’t been watching your grandson…” but the reassurance is unnecessary. Whatever emotions are stirring in Fëanáro’s hollow eyes, blame is not among them.
“I’m glad you ran. But the Silmarils – I have to get them back.”
It is a horribly selfish thing to say, to think, when all the world has been plunged into darkness; or perhaps it is because all the world has been plunged into darkness that they can think of nothing else. “We’ll get them back.”
“And Melkor - we can’t let him free. The Valar were fools – Father, I’ve studied the histories, I know what he’s capable of!”
And, as ever, it is with a mixture of irritation and love that he comforts his brilliant, shortsighted, fool of an eldest son. “Studied the histories? Fëanáro, I was there. I know what he is capable of. We will fight as soon as we can win, and no sooner. Fëanáro –” and it is the fear of losing his eldest son that grants the sternness to his voice, “- on that I will not compromise. I am your King.”
“Return to Doriath,” pleads Beleg.
“Hmm….” says Turin. “I guess you’re right. That’s a good idea. Let’s go!”
Eru raises a hand, and the Music halts.
“Melkor - ” he says impatiently, and gets a defiant glare in return (or the emotional equivalent of a defiant glare; they have yet to invent bodies). “That’s all fine and well, but I’m trying to achieve something here. Look, you want to make your own music? Be God of your own universe?
Fine. Just go out of earshot.”
Some left with him. Those who remained raised their voices in joyous harmony, and Arda Unmarred took shape…
“You will remain here, then,” says Fëanáro, and his voice is chill and cold although he will never persuade her that he does not care. Perhaps he is not trying to persuade her. Perhaps he is trying to persuade himself.
“I would gladly follow the man I married to Formenos,” she says, matching his tone. “The man I married would apologize to Nolofinwë right now, apologize to his children for the terrible example he has set them, melt down the damned swords, and leave those accursed gemstones here.”
He turns and leaves; she cries herself to sleep.
But in the morning she wakes to a happy song, the first one Macalaure has felt inspired to play in quite some time. In the forge there is a smoking pile of twisted, melted metal; in the wastebasket in the library there are thirty-seven sheets of paper addressed to Nolofinwë.
She finds him in the vault in the basement of their home, watching the sickeningly glorious glitter of his greatest achievement to date.
“Just one?” he asks, longingly, and she distracts him with a kiss (that still works!) and pulls him out of the house and they depart for Formenos riding in parallel, so close that when the horses slow they can reach out and touch hands.
“Lúthien, can we speak?” asks the King of Menegroth with a voice like dead wood snapping.
He storms out of the hall without waiting for her answer; she shoots Beren an encouraging smile before following him.
“He is mortal.”
“In fifty years he will be dead.”
“You will be alone for the rest of…”
“Do you really think this has not occurred to me? Father, perhaps we’ll think of something in time. Perhaps we won’t. But he is the only one I will ever love.”
They glare at each other for a moment.
“You’re old enough to make your own decisions,” he says at last, “But honestly – ”
“Oh, thank you Daddy!” she says gleefully, and pulls him by one hand into the hall, where he grudgingly informs Beren, erstwhile Lord of Dorthonion, that his daughter can wed as she pleases.
It is the closest to a blessing Beren hoped to get.
But later, when their infant son reaches out to cling to his grandfather’s hair, the two men look up at the same instant and neither looks away.
“I just want her to be happy,” Thingol says, a little defensive.
Beren’s eyes dip to Dior, and then up again; he does not answer, because Lúthien’s radiant smile on reentering the room is all the answer either of them need.
Fëanáro’s letter is vague, which is unusual; Fëanáro usually says precisely what he means, with few words and quick sharp strokes of the pen that show he did not hesitate, he did not linger over his words, he did not hold the finished letter up to the light and imagine it in the hands of the recipient.
This letter is vague, and Fëanáro’s handwriting is never hesitant but it is slower, more cautious, as if the words for once did not come easily.
“You’re overanalyzing,” says Anairë, amused; she has taken to keeping him company when he works late (which is often, in these days; he is the King), and she has been watching him reread this letter for nearly an hour. She is not pleased that Fëanáro has chosen at last to write to Nolofinwë. She is not inclined to forgive Fëanáro. Fëanáro has not precisely asked for forgiveness.
If Finwë had not accompanied Fëanáro into exile, everyone around Nolofinwë would be perfectly content for him to remain in Formenos forever.
“Probably,” agrees Nolofinwë. “But I think I’ll agree to meet him.”
“In public,” Anairë says, and now there is genuine fear in her voice, “preferably with your father there.”
“Fëanáro won’t take well to my imposing conditions.” But, calm as he has pretended to be, Fëanáro frightened Nolofinwë on that fateful day in the palace; Fëanáro pressed a sword against his brother’s throat and seemed mad enough to use it. So he replies that he will meet Fëanáro in Formenos, in public, if their father will consent to attend as well, and he sends away the letter expecting a scornful reply or – worse – silence.
Father looks forward to seeing you again. The town square has been much improved since we took up residence here and will be acceptable. Noon, 14 Coirë. Your kinsman, Fëanáro Curufinwë.
“He agreed,” says Nolofinwë.
Anairë is less than pleased. “That hardly obligates you to attend. You have responsibilities here –”
“Which you have been trying to persuade me to take a break from!”
“This will only end with you miserable again and Fëanáro in trouble with the Valar again. We’ve achieved peace, even if the price was high. Let’s not upset the balance…”
“Eventually,” says Nolofinwë heavily, “he will return to Tirion. And when that happens, I would rather not have him as an enemy.”
She notices the conversation is hurting him, and so she does not press it further.
He rides out from Tirion with an escort fit for a King; Findekáno wanted to accompany him as well, but Nolofinwë has more than one reason for insisting his children stay in the city. The journey is quick, and uneventful (but then he was not expecting it to be eventful. Fëanáro is many things, but not subtle; Nolofinwë knows that whatever he needs fear about his half-brother, he will never need to fear an ambush or an “accident”.) They reach Formenos a day ahead of schedule, and camp just outside the city so the fact that Nolofinwë does not stay with his kin will not be remarked upon.
He arrives five minutes late, because there is a petty vindictive part of him that wants to keep Fëanáro waiting. He does not wear the crown, because he cannot bear to face his father wearing it.
His father is seated at a table all the way across the square. He waves to Nolofinwë, and then tilts his head towards Fëanáro, who is sitting next to a fountain, his eyes following the leaping arcs of water, ignoring Nolofinwë entirely.
Fëanáro does not look up until he has closed almost all of the distance between them, but when he does his smile seems almost genuine. “Nolofinwë.”
He grits his teeth and pretends it was not an order. “Thank you.”
And suddenly Fëanáro drops his unaffected air entirely, turns to focus on Nolofinwë with an unnerving intensity. “No, thank you for coming. I would have understood if you preferred to remain in Tirion.”
“You implied that – this – would be difficult to settle with letters.”
“You have no reason to want to settle anything with me. No, never mind, it hardly matters. Nolofinwë, I think it is very telling that when Melkor wanted to hurt the Eldar as much as possible, he aimed to drive apart our family. And I blame the Valar for the fact that he was released with so little supervision, that he was able to persuade our people of such lies without anyone noticing. But – the fact that he was able to make us mistrust each other so easily – ”
Fëanáro’s hands have clenched into fists, and he is as rigid as a statue even as he continues speaking, dully, from memory. “That was – and is – entirely my fault.”
This is not one of the topics of conversation Nolofinwë had prepared himself for.
“I have given you very little reason to trust me, Nolofinwë. And I have not tried – at all – to explain why the succession is so important to me, why Melkor’s lies cut me so deeply. And I have been so inaccessible that it is not surprising you didn’t feel you could talk to me when you heard I would try to drive you out of Tirion.
I would not have. Incidentally.
And, ah, my reaction was entirely inappropriate. I have other objections to the intervention of the Valar, Nolofinwë, and I have no desire to set aside my grievance with them, but the sentence was – is – just. I should not have –”
For a long moment the bubbling of the fountain fills the quiet between them. Nolofinwë’s head is spinning. “Are you – apologizing?”
He does not want to say anything at all, for fear it will shatter this illusion, this truce, this whatever-it-is, but the words come tumbling out of his mouth anyway. “You know, for someone who is good at everything, you are remarkably bad at apologizing.”
And Fëanáro takes Nolofinwë’s hand, raises it into the space between them, pulls it towards him in something that is not quite a gesture of fealty but is far more intimacy than he has had with his half-brother since they were both very small. “I apologize for threatening you. I apologize for being so distant. I apologize for being such an abominable brother.”
And again the words that come to his lips are not the ones he would have chosen. “Half-brother.”
“No,” said Fëanáro wearily. “No more of that, all right?”
“Of course you can have horses,” says Celegorm impatiently, “you can have an army, if you need it. That þinda bastard dared – ”
“Maeglin’s father,” she reminds him sharply; they are speaking Quenya but her son is probably still picking up enough. “Just the horses will be fine.”
“Horses,” he says, “and better riding clothes; you stick out like a Silmaril in a pile of pebbles. This is hardly the time to make a statement, Irissë – ”
It has been a long time since she has borrowed her cousin’s riding breeches, but they still fit her just fine.
Eöl searches the whole of central Beleriand in vain.
She demands reembodiment almost the instant she has heard the whole story from her husband’s lips. She had given the marriage her blessing, of course, but she could hardly ask Námo to keep her up to date with the daily gossip, and so she had no way of knowing how things had gone from there; now she knows, and is horrified.
There is no time to waste.
She wakens in Lórien and demands a horse.
They have turned away from Araman, are returning south. Fëanáro’s expression is terrifying and his eyes are blank and empty. When they hear the thunder of an approaching rider, his hand snaps to the hilt of his sword.
She dismounts clumsily, in the dark; she is still not accustomed to having a body and it is slow to obey her commands.
“Who goes there?” cries a frightened guard, and she has never been one for dramatic entrances but if ever a situation has called for one this is it, so she throws back her hood and steps forward.
“I am kin to your King, let me through!”
At that the whole camp turns toward her, but she has eyes only for her little boy, his hand slipping from his sword to land limp at his side.
His lips are moving but no sound escapes them.
She sweeps him into her arms and she was not reborn in Lórien, she was reborn here, when first she closed her arms around her son and buried her head in his shaking shoulders and felt his ragged breathing wrack her body like her own.
The stars wheel halfway through the night before either of them speak.
“I am leaving,” he says, his voice hoarse and his arms tightening around her as if to prove his words a lie.
“I will never be parted from you again,” she answers, and means it. “But I’ve heard a great deal in the Halls from the victims of Morgoth, so when I tell you to be careful you will listen, yes?”
For the 30 day challenge on tumblr. Prompt: Something that makes you impossibly happy to think about
Chapter 6: Ancient Friendship Stung His Heart
The days are too short, and he is grateful for it.
There is too much to do, and he is grateful for it.
Whether because the other camp has hunted the area dry or because there was never much game to begin with, there is no meat. They aren’t sure what will grow here (the cold rainy weather, the odd new lights, the strange rocky soil), so they plant everything and record, obsessively, each sprout. They sleep on the ground, at first, while they hew trees into an exterior wall and limited fortifications; the first houses are low and squat and ugly (and yet it is such a luxury to sleep in a bed again!) They begin scouting on foot; the natives know the rivers, know the dangerous passes, know the orcs, but there is no way to communicate the concept of “stone quarry” or “mine” and without stone or metal their defenses are far too fragile for comfort.
They throw themselves into the work as if a second’s pause will kill them.
The days are shorter here than in Valinor; the new lights rise and fall so quickly that he is never tired enough to sleep when nightfall comes. He takes to working through the nights as well. Building, planting, scouting, fortifying by daylight – analyzing, recording, debating, decision making by night.
As long as there is never a moment to think, [he cannot even complete the sentence, that would be thinking, that would break the illusion].
“You should rest,” says his father, but his father is doing precisely the same thing for almost precisely the same reason, and so Findekáno just smiles slightly and promises he will rest when he is tired and keeps on going.
“Watch Itarillë for me?” asks Turukáno, which is his way of saying “you should rest,” because on the Ice Itarillë has grown into a solemn and productive young woman who does more than her share of the work and hardly needs watching. But Findekáno is so grateful to see his brother worried for him – to see his brother worrying about anything at all – that he agrees.
Itarillë requests a bit of music, and he indulges her even though he has not played in a long time and his fingers are stiff and heavy on the strings. Her eyes flutter shut after two songs and he stops, stands, thinks to return to his work, but…
“They probably know,” she says suddenly.
He pauses. “Sorry?”
“They probably know which crops grow here, how long the cold season lasts, whether there are iron deposits in those hills you were planning to search.”
He feels cold, suddenly, the deep bone-searing cold he has not felt since the crossing. “We don’t talk to them.”
“Well, maybe we should.”
And it is easy to blame the Feanorians for everything – it is always safe to blame the Feanorians for everything – but it is not the Feanorians who cut off communications between the two camps.
“Tell me what you’ve done,” he demands of Macalaure, the horror thundering through his veins. He had thought that his hatred for them was powerful. He had thought that the fury he felt when he saw that glowing horizon was everything than he could ever feel, was enough to burn away all the other feelings. But this – this is a thousand times stronger. “Tell me what you’ve done to try to rescue him.”
But somehow he knows the answer even before he hears it.
“There really is no one you wouldn’t sell out,” he says, and he is being intentionally vicious but who wouldn’t be? “Not just us, but your own brother… all for the sake of the cause, right? Love is nothing, family is nothing, we’re the sons of Fëanáro, that’s all that matters. You faithless, traitorous scum –”
“Get out,” says Macalaure, rising.
“He would have rescued you.”
He tells his father that there will be no further discourse with the Feanorians, and his father is too shocked by the news of Fëanáro’s death and his nephew’s capture to ask for the rest of the story.
“Itarillë, you know why we shouldn’t.”
She must have been feigning sleep earlier, because now she is as alert and awake as he has ever seen her. “To be honest? No, I don’t. I don’t understand – they used to get drunk with you at parties and tease my father and dance with my mother and go hunting with Aunt Irissë and build me ridiculous homemade begetting day presents – like that music box with moving dancers made entirely out of gemstones – remember? They used to play music with cousin Findaráto and track mud through Great-Grandfather’s palace and tease cousin Angaráto until he was pulling out his hair. And, of course, you and Maitimo –”
“I don’t understand. I don’t understand any of it. But I don’t think they’d let us starve.”
He is ashamed of it, later, but he gets up without speaking and slams his niece’s door and leaves the harp lying on the floor and Itarillë sitting upright in bed, looking troubled.
He is ashamed of it, later, but he barricades the door with the only piece of furniture in the room – the bed – and then buries his face in the blankets and sobs.
They meet when Findekáno is old enough to pick up on the tension between their fathers, but too young to understand it, and to both their fathers’ dismay they get along at once. Maitimo has all of his father’s brilliance without his father’s impatience and perpetual air of distraction – he can tell the stories in Findekáno’s history books so well Findekáno shivers, his quick hands can explain any craft so well that Findekáno gets it the first time, feels skilled, feels clever. He is never condescending. He handles people so easily that Findekáno always finds himself watching, awestruck, mouthing his cousin’s words so he will remember them when he is grown.
And he is beautiful. The Eldar are a people who appreciate beauty, so it is not at all inappropriate for Findekáno to notice this. When he was young he would reach out and touch his cousin’s hair, curious if it would feel like metal (it looked like metal, bright and shiny and glorious and too perfect to be crafted by nature) and Maitimo would laugh and ask “Still hair?” and Findekáno, embarrassed, would let it slip through his hands as they went back to his own lap where they belonged.
When they are both fully grown they go out riding together. It is exhilarating to leave the world behind – it is more exhilarating to do it with Maitimo, who (when he is not trying to set a good example for his little brothers or behave appropriately for his station in Tirion) is fearless and creative and a little rash. They go cliff diving together; they climb the tallest mountain in Valinor together; they train for a whole Year once to make the swim from Alqualondë to Tol Eressea (Findekáno wins) and then sleep on the shoreline and the next day swim back.
They do not marry. In happier times this might have been the cause of talk, but trouble is brewing in Tirion and there are more important subjects for the gossips. They are careful not to invite attention, and it strikes them both as deeply ironic that when they return to the city it is always to discover that any number of scandals have flared up in the troubled House of Finwë – but none at all concerning Fëanáro and Nolofinwë’s eldest sons.
Tirion sucks them in, inexorably; it begins to feel as if Tirion will suck in the whole world and grind up everything that matters. They are both, when it comes down to that, their father’s sons. Findekáno stops idolizing his cousin – stops, sometimes, respecting him at all – and their fights shake walls just like their fathers’ do, even if the end is usually happier. And so when Findekáno hears the news it is with a mixture of shocked disbelief and weary acceptance - “How could he do this to me?” and “Of course he would do this to me.”
“You will never change your father,” he finds Maitimo to warn him. It is the closest he will come to pleading. “And you don’t have any obligation to throw your life away after him.”
“Twelve years,” says Maitimo, “not all my life, hopefully.”
“But if it was,” Findekáno says, “It wouldn’t change a damned thing.”
And so Maitimo follows his father into exile and Findekáno follows his father into a palace they never wanted for their own.
The next time he sees Maitimo it is all his life he pledges.
And it doesn’t change a damned thing.
The long Years after that seem a blur of horror and darkness and marching as their grandfather’s death finally shatters what little held their family together. Perhaps they were all a little insane. Perhaps they were all completely insane. Fëanáro certainly was.
But just as their insanity does not excuse Alqualondë, does not diminish in the slightest the sickening guilt that twists Findekáno’s stomach, that drove his mother and his uncle to turn back, insanity does not diminish or excuse the burning boats. There can be no forgiveness. There can never be anything between them again.
On the Ice he thinks, sometimes, of this reunion – wonders whether Maitimo will deign to make excuses, to apologize, to plead for his forgiveness. He refuses to believe that Maitimo felt nothing at all. The thought sustains him when they cannot taste food, cannot feel their hands, when the tears freeze on their cheeks and they leave the dead behind without burial because the ground is too hard for their tools to dent. There is nothing his cousin can say to counter that, and so it will end. Maitimo will explain, and Maitimo will excuse, and Maitimo will beg, and he will shake his head and walk away.
It hurts, but it hurts in a righteous sort of way, and so he goes on.
How many days did he fall asleep clinging to the comfort of that petty vengeance, while Maitimo was lying bleeding in a dungeon? How many days did he fight down the impulse to punch his cousin in the face, while Russandol was tortured? How many days, since then, has he been sitting here farming -
His father is concerned the next day; his father has always been too perceptive for his own good, or perhaps Itarillë told someone that she’s pushed Uncle Findekáno into a mental breakdown.
Uncle Findekáno is not suffering a mental breakdown. He has been working too hard, and needs a little rest, he tells his father in a dull steady voice that is probably even more frightening than his silence. His father agrees.
He ends up spending his rest working anyway, his expression so forbidding that no one points out to him that he’s not supposed to be on duty. But instead of working so he does not have to think, now he is working so he can think without smashing his fists against the wall.
Their people are divided.
Macalaure is not going to take any steps to unify them. His father is not going to take any steps to unify them.
Maitimo needs rescuing.
Maitimo’s brothers are not going to rescue him.
It really is startlingly simple, in some ways.
Going alone, he tells himself, he’ll stand a better chance than with an army. This is partially true, but only partially; the other reason he does not want to take anyone with him is because he is not entirely sure he trusts his own motives, and it would be silly to ask anyone else to die on what could be not-entirely-inaccurately characterized as a lover’s quest.
Even if it will never be like that between them again.
That evening he packs the supplies he will need; he will travel lightly, in case he needs to carry someone back. (He is carefully not-thinking about what condition Maitimo might be in). But if he is discovered he will go down fighting, and he will not be taken alive; a sword, a dagger, a bow and quiver of arrows… in the end he takes his harp also, for they have discovered already that the orcs shy from the power Elves can weave with song. He returns to Itarillë’s room to get it after she is sleeping.
Or he assumes so, until in the darkness he inadvertently strums the harp, the chord ringing out far too sharply in the quiet of her room, and her mouth twitches as she fails to suppress a smile.
He is too tense to smile, but he manages an exasperated sigh. “Good night, Itarillë.”
“I’ll tell Grandfather you’re safe,” she says, eyes still closed. “Prove me right. Okay?”
Chapter 7: Little love
His first inclination was to think of the girl as a miniature Indis (even her name invited that interpretation), but that was both insulting to his father – whose bloodline was stronger than his judgment, and who presumably had some effect even on the Vanyar spawn – and insulting to the girl, who cried frequently and was ugly even for a baby but who, once she grew up enough to form coherent sentences, was actually perfectly acceptable.
Not sister material, but all one could really expect from a half-sister.
He was tempted to do all the ordinary brotherly things like reading her stories and teaching her gemcraft and braiding her hair and frightening her suitors, but her parents would interpret any steps in that direction as acquiescence to the marriage, and while his mother remained dead there would be no acquiescence to the marriage, even if the price was a relationship with Findis (who, in his head, he had called Raucelaurëa since she was a small child. He actually considered it a much kinder name than her given one.)
But every once in a while, when his parents were both absent and he could be absolutely certain that there was no one present to misinterpret the gesture…
She was standing in the palace library, which was Fëanáro’s favorite room, designed by someone who obviously knew precisely what was to be appreciated about libraries. The ceiling was high and the windows tinted so shafts of golden light illuminated random corners where one could curl up with a good book. The Noldor excelled in stonework, but the library was in wood, from the shelving to the floors to the paneling on the walls.
Scrolls were neatly archived with gold-plated placards, just in case anyone was in doubt that this was the palace library.
He carefully checked that the whole room was empty, before walking up to Raucelaurëa, who was standing on tiptoes to see the top shelf.
“Looking for something?”
She jumped, which was difficult to do on tiptoes, and crashed onto the ground with a thud that rocked the silent library.
As he’d said – half sister.
Her mother would have smiled too brightly and asked him personal questions, but Raucelaurëa just turned back to the shelf. “Practicing walking quietly?”
“Actually, no. You were just thoroughly distracted. Looking for something?”
“You already asked that.”
“You didn’t answer.”
“I was just wondering what kinds of books they kept on the top shelf. You know, they’re a pain to get up to and a pain to get down, so I thought perhaps they’d be interesting…”
“That would be stupid.”
She glared at him.
“If there were only a handful of interesting books and reference scrolls in the library – and I’m not saying there are, I’m just saying I designed the filing system and if, hypothetically, there were, I would know… - would you keep them all in one place on the highest shelf of the back corner? That’s like putting a big sign on them saying “interesting and unobtainable”, and all anyone has to do to get to them is drag over a footstool! No, you’d put them at around knee-level in one of the boring sections, sandwiched between hymns to Manwë…”
“That’s what you would do, if you were designing a library. And anyone who knew you would know in a heartbeat where to look. No one else thinks hymns to Manwë are boring – they’re some of the ones that most frequently require rebinding! If I wanted to hide books and also hide that I was the one hiding them, I would check the last five years of catalogue records and see which books were the least checked-out, and hide them there. Probably among the linguistics books –”
“It’s not a question of whether they’d be found, it’s a question of who you want to find them. The sort of person who runs across an interesting book while looking up hymns to Manwë is the sort of person who would ignore it; the sort of person who runs across an interesting book while looking up linguistics would… well…”
Her eyes made it clear she was not at all buying his pretense of the hypothetical. “So where are they?”
They were, as it happened, precisely where they belonged, in the history section; Fëanáro had, in the end, valued the integrity of his filing system more than his ability to hide good books. “This one was my favorite when I was your age. Oral histories of the Outer Lands. And this one you shouldn’t let your mother see – it’s a critique of the handling of Melkor by the Valar. Very well written. This one’s about orcs. It’ll give you nightmares – ”
“Findis, it gave me nightmares.”
His sister looked at him, startled for a moment out of the game they were both playing, and he might have said something more – maybe something about the book right next to it, the records of the debate surrounding the Statute of Finwë and Miriel – but at that moment a bright cheerful laugh echoed through the library.
He was three strides away before he was even conscious of moving. Rauce seemed to catch the trapped-animal look in his eyes, because she dumped the books on the shelf and went out to greet her mother without the slightest indication that she had not been alone.
He returned to the shelf, straightened the books and stood stock-still listening as their voices mingled in the hallway. They laughed - even Indis’ laugh did not sound unnatural, joined with her daughter’s - and he strained his ears to hear their footsteps fade.
Chapter 8: Gemstones
There were a lot of reasons to leave Lake Mithrim behind.
paradife-loft asked for:
could I request some fic with inter-Fëanorian conflict/tension, preferably involving Caranthir as a principle character? I’m flexible on timing, but the time in Beleriand before they move east would be cool if it strikes your fancy.
One of the horses came up lame half a day’s ride from camp, so Ambarussa handed his saddlebags to Carnistir and jogged the rest of the way home. It was only a minor inconvenience, but it seemed rather symbolic of the whole trip.
There were suitable sites for stone quarries two days southeast, but they were fenced in by an impassable river to the southeast and a valley to the northwest that was swarming still with Moringotto’s creatures. They would have to launch an offensive to clear the valley, or else assign significant forces to protect the workers. There was a safer site three days riding farther east, but transport costs would be outrageous. And a site both close and safe, but so little stone that Carnistir doubted it was even worth the resources to set up a quarry there.
This is Beleriand: nothing impossible, but everything so much more difficult than it ought to be. A thousand things to keep track of that he would never have considered before, and if he let one thing slip people would die.
On the edge of the intensively-farmed plot of land just outside their camp, there is a row of rocks with holes bored through the center and gemstones – the cheap sort that you could hardly trade for lunch back in Valinor – affixed in the holes. Green if they died in combat; blue if they died in an accident; red for those who died when the Valar attempted to prevent their departure by drowning the ships.
He has never counted them – he does not really want to know. But (part of his brain cannot notice a math problem without attempting to solve it) the farmland is thirty-six acres, which implies a perimeter of 1650 meters, and they are spaced roughly three per meter – five thousand dead, give or take.
This is the problem with being a son of Fëanáro – you can never not know. Five thousand dead. And if he and Pityo missed a dangerous pass in their scouting, they will have to find space for a few more.
(Maitimo, when he returned, expressed dismay over the waste even of cheap gemstones. “We could trade them with the locals,” he points out, and they debate it and conclude in the end that the cost to morale, at this point, would be greater than the benefit. If Maitimo had been there from the start, things would be different.
At this Macalaure excused himself, slamming the door, and Maitimo rose to go after him and in their absence the younger sons of Fëanáro sat around the conference table feeling (or perhaps it was only Carnistir that felt this way) like imposters, like they had snuck into their grandfather’s council room and were sitting on the chairs waiting for Finwë to walk in and shoo them out with a stern face but laughing eyes.
“I should get to work,” said Curufinwë – that was all he said, lately, and there was certainly more than enough work – and the rest of them filed out as well.)
That was when Maitimo had only recently returned, and they all treated him like glass, because if they pushed too far and saw weakness they would never be able to unsee it. Since then Maitimo has recovered his strength and surrendered his crown and now Tyelkormo pushes him a little farther each day, hoping (praying, even, except that Feanorians do not pray) that there is no weakness left to accidentally reveal.
(And if there is – better to reveal it, right?)
“You can go ahead,” Ambarussa said, when the sun began to set. “They’ll be wondering…”
“It’s not safe,” said Carnistir, which was probably untrue – the orcs that remain in these lands are scattered and would not be foolish enough to attack an armed Elf – but the risk was unacceptable. If Maitimo worried a single glance in the palantir would suffice to reassure him.
So they arrived well after midnight, to the dismay of the late night guards who were playing castles instead of running patrols. Carnistir felt what remained of his good mood boil away instantly. One would expect that patrolling fields of memorial-stones would be sufficient reminder to take their jobs seriously. His hand flew to the hilt of his sword and they scrambled to make apologies and eventually his shouting fetched Maitimo, who never seems to sleep anymore and who dismissed the guards coldly and turned to Carnistir and Ambarussa with a strange expression on his face.
“We can replace them,” Carnistir said, “or replace the person responsible for unit discipline. I’m not going to wait until someone’s dead to-”
“It’ll have to wait,” said Maitimo, “we’re in a meeting.”
His voice conveyed the rest. Carnistir was tempted to slam the door so forcefully the whole frame of the house rattled, or punch straight through the drywall, but instead he nodded to Ambarussa and they hurried to the house, where the dining hall doubled as a gathering place for the House of Fëanáro to hold council.
Maitimo waited until they were seated to confirm the rest. “Mining accident. As you know, some shortcuts were taken in the effort to get the east valley mines running as quickly as possible. Twenty-three people are dead.”
“Túretulco is one of them,” added Curufinwë flatly. “It’s a blow because that was our only hope of starting metalworking here before the cold season, and because he was doing some useful work for me on reusing scrap metal from the enemy.”
It’s a blow because they grew up together, because Túretulco was their father’s apprentice for forty years, because once he helped Carnistir and Curufinwë in a convoluted plot to stop a fight between their parents by finishing Fëanáro’s simple commissions for him in the dead of night. It’s a blow because Túretulco has two children not yet of age whose mother was killed at Alqualondë. Curufinwë does not say any of these things and Carnistir does not bring them up, because his brother would shake his head impatiently: “None of that is important any more, don’t you realize?” and if he hoards the memories then he need not be reminded that they don’t matter.
“…someone with greater familiarity with our father’s work. Carnistir, can you take over?”
He is competent in the forge, though he doesn’t have Curufinwë’s genius and it is not where his heart lies. It is funny to think that things like that mattered once. “Of course.”
“Please tell me we’ll no longer need scouting,” said Maitimo, and Carnistir winced and shared the mixed news.
“At this point we’re not going to find anything better,” said Macalaure, quickly transferring their site sketches onto the oversized map of Beleriand that is the centerpiece of all these discussions, “agreed?”
“Yes,” said Carnistir. “If we can spare four hundred men to clear the valley – ”
“Half that will have to do.”
“With two hundred we’ll lose a lot of people. I’m not taking men off to die, not after –”
“That’s right,” said Maitimo tersely, “after the terrible losses we’ve suffered recently, we don’t have the resources to send four hundred men or supply them for – what, a three-week campaign? Two hundred. Do your job and they’ll live.”
“Someone else will have to do my job, since you just asked me to work on the metals problem –”
“Carnistir, don’t be difficult.”
If it were his father he would stare at the table and say “Yes, my lord” and Fëanáro would relent and grant some minor concession as a way of proving to himself that he was still capable of compromising. But Maitimo was not their father and had made too many concessions already. So Carnistir just glared at him.
“With three hundred men we could do it in two weeks. Makes supplies substantially easier,” said Tyelkormo, and Carnistir wanted to punch him – he hadn’t seen the terrain, he had no idea what he was volunteering for – and also thank him for taking his side. He settled for glaring, yet again, and Tyelkormo was focused on sparring with Maitimo so Huan took up the slack and glared back.
“Is there a reason we allow dogs in these meetings?”
Tyelkormo spun in his seat with a look of disgust on his face. “You can’t take a damned thing seriously, can you? Never mind, Maitimo, I can do it with two hundred.”
“You’re going to get your arrogant ass kicked, “ growled Carnistir back, “and more people are going to die. I’ve seen the damned place. You haven’t. I know the terrain –”
“Well, it’s a shame I can’t melt down orc armor, or we could just switch places. And it’s a shame you couldn’t find a safe quarry in the first place. And while we’re wishing for ridiculous things, it’s a shame the Enemy doesn’t respect parley, and it’s a shame father’s dead, and -”
Huan’s sharp howl cut off whatever he was going to say next.
“Right,” said Maitimo, “Macalaure, how soon can you equip and supply two hundred people? If we don’t have metal we need stone as soon as possible – ”
“Three hundred,” said Carnistir stubbornly. “Maitimo, please…”
“Five days,” said Macalaure, “eight for three hundred.”
“Turko, leave in six,” said Maitimo and the council of the House of Fëanáro ended as abruptly as it began, as each of them suddenly realized they have better places to be.
Carnistir left the camp again. This time the guards were in place and saluted nervously: he ignored them completely and returned only a minute later. It was not difficult to find what he was looking for. That, at least, they will not run out of.
Maitimo found him in the workshop with a chisel. “You should sleep.”
“You never do.”
“What are you working on?”
He had nearly finished Túretulco’s memorial stone. “His wife is dead and his oldest is only forty two. There’ll be no one to –”
Maitimo reached into his pocket and pulled out a cheap blue gemstone. “Thank you,” said Carnistir, bending over to fit it into place, but when he straightened up again his brother was gone.
Chapter 9: To Turn A Friend From Folly
About Alqualondë, but not really. AU.
“No aid at all?” Carnistir repeats, not even angry for once, just astonished.
“Not even a brief loan, of a single ship, for any price?”
“They will not even tell us how we might build our own –”
“They do realize –”
“We will not discuss it further,” says Fëanáro, and they all fall silent, faces filled with anger and shock and dawning horror. An entire Year they have now spent on a nightmare march up the eastern shore, seeking any path at all out of the land where their father died, where their homes were shattered, where everything they possessed was stolen, where the Valar still have not stirred and the darkness grows heavier, suffocating, while Morgoth builds his strength on distant shores.
“Go home,” says Olwë, but he did not see Formenos as it was left in Morgoth’s wake, and he cannot comprehend that they have no home, that any prospect of feeling at home in Valinor died with their grandfather, that home, for them, must now be found across the sea or not at all.
The night’s council discussion is heated, and more than a few people are in favor of taking the ships, Olwë’s blessing or no.
“It is a crime, but perhaps the lesser one,” Lord Nyellaure says, “The only alternative is the Ice, and on the Ice we will die by the tens of thousands. Fëanáro, you cannot condemn our people to death when the option of safe passage is right here.”
“We could build our own boats,” someone says hesitantly, and Fëanáro, who has not spoken, at last stirs and shakes his head.
“Ten Years, maybe more. We could do it in one, if they agreed to tell us how, but…”
“Olwë calls this friendship?” Lord Hallaxan snaps, “if he has renounced our friendship, let us renounce it also. Thralls of the Valar they may be, but that is no excuse for condemning our people –”
“And yet,” says Fëanáro sharply, and the room falls silent, “Condemn our people they have. So we choose – do you slink back to Tirion defeated, and leave me and my sons to face the Ice alone?”
“We will cross the Ice with you,” Nyellaure says, “but that is not – cannot be – the only alternative. If we take the ships –”
“I have considered it,” says Fëanáro. “The Valar do everything in their power to turn our strength against our own people, to force us to take a step they can condemn and thereby doom us all. No, we will not make it so easy for them. Let Olwë live with himself, if he can. We will cross the ice.”
The march up the eastern coast is all the worse the second time; their feet are heavy with horror at the ordeal that lies ahead, and the betrayal that lies behind them. They have abandoned by the quays of Alqualondë all the things they will not need – family heirlooms, books, scrolls, portraits – and carry only what will lend them strength on the road.
The treasured possessions of the entire host of the Noldor make quite a pile on the sands of Alqualondë, and perhaps it is a little discourteous to leave it there, but they cannot help but hope that the Teleri will be slow to pick it all up, and maybe even feel a flicker of regret as they comb through the treasures of the kin they have condemned.
“I expected you to turn back,” Fëanáro says to Nolofinwë when they reach Araman. “The children of Indis will be welcome still at the feet of the Valar –”
“We will not turn back,” says Nolofinwë, his face set, and even the question of the kingship – still open between them – seems to have shrunk in the face of the horror that awaits them, of the shock of Olwë’s betrayal, and not a soul has turned back, even as the cold clinging mists now descend around them, even as the rocky ground gets steeper.
They let the horses go. Tyelkormo speaks to them softly and they turn and depart in a remarkably orderly manner, returning through the darkness down the eastern coast, and on seeing the Ice some Elves turn back with them, but very few.
With Arafinwë mediating, they manage to settle on an agreement for crossing the Ice; Fëanáro’s host will go first and risk the most on the treacherous terrain, but Nolofinwë’s will carry the greater share of supplies.
Something has settled like lead into their veins and their bones, and it may be cold or it may be fear but it does not seem to affect Fëanáro at all. For long months in Araman his madman’s energy sustains them all in hunting for provisions that will last the journey, repacking their burdens, abandoning more beloved possessions, practicing the dangerous rock crossings with rope, testing the Ice, learning the face of the enemy.
They disagree on when they are prepared to depart and Fëanáro, as ever, takes matters into his own hands by vanishing while everyone is asleep. Nolofinwë and Arafinwë wake up to an empty campsite and the blur in the distance of Fëanáro’s departing host.
“You are,” Nolofinwë says when they catch up, “an arrogant damned idiot.”
“We are all damned,” says Fëanáro, and it is impossible to argue with him; even those who doubted that the Valar meant them ill can no longer have any doubts.
They hold out for years, but in the end Ulmo’s blessing and the heroism of their warriors and the strength of their spirits is not enough. Morgoth’s orcs break the siege in one horrific night, accompanied by demons of fire of the likes Beleriand has never seen before, and they are chased to the shoreline in frantic retreat, losing thousands and thousands of civilians along the way, and of the population of the Falas only a fraction make it onto the ships which carry them to the Isle of Balar and to temporary safety.
The remainder of the Sindar outside Doriath are hunted down one by one, at Morgoth’s leisure; orcs trespass through Ossiriand constantly but cannot seem to find an enemy to shoot at, so Morgoth sends the Balrogs instead to reduce the continent to ash and render the question null. The survivors of the Laiquendi leave Beleriand forever, heading south.
“I cannot stand against him forever,” Melian warns her husband, but of course they have no other choice.
Most of their losses come early, before they learn the full treachery of the Ice. Turukano nearly loses Elenwe and Itarille both, and can save only one; both his parents, his sister, and his brother are needed to drag him forward through his grief.
“Damn Olwë,” he spits when he is coherent enough to speak again, and they slump with relief, because his rage is better than the wild empty grief. “May Morgoth take him. I hope – I hope he comes back to Valinor – I hope he kills their king and we can tell them – well, friendship obligates us to refuse you any aid – damn him.”
Arafinwë defended Olwë earlier, but the sickening horror of the Ice has driven all defense and kinship from their minds, and there is only the cold, only the path ahead, only hunger and bitter winds and ever-present darkness and even Arafinwë can think of nothing to say in Olwë’s defense. A single word could have spared us all of this.
It is only a few days later that a anguished scream from Fëanáro’s host freezes them all in their place; Macalaure’s wife fell asleep and will not wake, and he kneels weeping by her side while all three hosts pass him by and to Nolofinwë’s surprise Fëanáro kneels with him, and perhaps there is something like regret in those madman’s eyes.
It is because Fëanáro is still at Macalaure’s side that, when a sudden thunder of falling snow strangles the younger Ambarussa, there is no one to restrain his twin from jumping into a chasm after him.
(And, of course, these are only the deaths given name in our histories; countless thousands perished on that crossing who were not of the house of Finwë and not, by the telling of our loremasters, significant, and Fëanáro or Nolofinwë could tell you all their names but none now living could tell you their stories).
They arrive with the rising of the Sun, still determined, still defiant, the grievances that once laid between them insignificant in the face of the horror they braved together, the losses they are still grieving. The orcs pause in their reducing Beleriand to ash and, on Morgoth’s direction, head northward. Their strength has not waned, the fire of Aman still blazes in their eyes, and the orcs still die on their swords – but they have come too late to be saviors, because in the thirty years they crossed the Ice Morgoth has ensured that there is nothing of Beleriand left to save
Chapter 10: Indestructible
Prompted by a conversation about how, in some of Tolkien's timelines, Feanor lived for 45,000 years in Valinor before the Darkening. If Feanor had had 45,000 years to invent, I think he would have created more than the Silmarils...
“Of course I have GPS tracking on the Silmarils” Fëanáro says tersely. “I have GPS tracking for everything and everyone I value. The Silmarils, my external hard drives, the boys, their wives, A-Atar…”
His voice breaks on our father’s name, and so I almost forgive him my conspicuous exclusion from the list of “everyone I value”.
I have never seen Fëanáro in pain before, and I cannot take my eyes off of him. It does not make him weak; it makes him terrifying. Wounded animals are far more dangerous than healthy ones. My half-brother, of course, is sufficiently dangerous when he’s not half-mad with grief.
(There is still a small patch of discoloured skin on my neck where he held the lightsaber a little too close. I have not forgotten the reason that, strictly speaking, he isn’t even supposed to be in Tirion right now).
“If the Valar want to start enforcing the peace in this land,” Fëanáro said grimly when I reminded him of the terms of his exile, “they can go right ahead.”
Fëanáro does not have GPS tracking on the Valar – some things are beyond even him – but we both know that they have not stirred from Taniquetil.
Which is the reason my half-brother currently stands in my study (in the King of the Noldor’s study, and strictly speaking I would be well within my rights to kick him out), his hands flying across the keyboard (he designed it, of course, for optimal typing speeds) as he positions our intercontinental ballistic missile systems.
“Target is stationary,” he says out loud, and he is talking not to me but to posterity, which will doubtless be breathless in recounting the heroism and decisiveness and clarity of purpose which guided the King’s eldest son in avenging him.
Posterity will never see the fevered light in his eyes, and so it will never be recorded in the history books that the King’s eldest son is most definitely insane right now.
There’s a quick, assertive tap on the door – Maitimo, presumably, because the younger ones would barge right in without knocking.
I do not like the idea of being outnumbered. “We’re handling a classified situation, please remain outside until the all-clear has been issued. My apologies -”
“Come in,” says Fëanáro, and the door opens while I grind my teeth.
My eldest nephew usually at least manages an apologetic smile in my direction before he blindly obeys his father. Today he does not even attempt one.
“Satellite imagery?” asks Fëanáro.
“All light in the world was just extinguished,” I object.
“No satellite imagery.” Maitimo says apologetically. “In any event, we can set orbital trajectories from the GPS data alone –”
“Already done. You’re late –”
“I was holding counsel with your lords. Arafinwë thinks we should wait.”
“Of course he does. Launch protocols complete. Nolofinwë, go to the secondary console and enter the launch code.”
I could refuse. It is possible he would knock me out of the way and have Maitimo do it; it is possible he would deign to attempt to persuade me; it is likely he designed the system with a back door so he can do launches without proper authorization anyway. But he is not the only man here who lost a father in Formenos, who has lost all patience with the Valar’s prevaricating, who is in the mood to show Morgoth precisely what the Noldor are capable of.
I enter the launch codes.
“t-minus 10 seconds,” says Fëanáro, and grim satisfaction is beginning to replace the haze of rage in his eyes. We all turn towards the window: Elvish eyes are keen, and the launch site ought to be – just barely – visible from here.
“t-minus 5 seconds.”
I cannot breathe.
“3…. 2…. 1…”
The missiles move at extraordinary rates of speed, but my first thought as the tail of fire curls its way upward from the foothills is, “How slow!”
And now the door crashes open and my brother is there with his children, and my sons (Findekano looks to Maitimo before he looks to me, but I will pretend that is because Maitimo’s height and hair are striking) and the rest of Fëanáro’s brood. There is half a second of awed silence as the rockets, blazing against the night sky, soar eastward; but half a second is the longest any silence lasts in this family before the shouting and recriminations break out.
Fëanáro does not participate; he lets his children and nephews shout themselves hoarse while he plays with the keyboard, almost idly. Only when Carnistir and Aikanáro are about to come to blows and Artanis is very close to throttling Tyelkormo does he speak, and all he says is “Look.”
He has somehow rigged the projector to display on the ceiling; it is a clever move, because everyone tilts their head up to look, which simultaneously makes us all look like gaping birds and makes it very difficult to continue arguing.
The satellite images, as I anticipated and Maitimo confirmed, are black.
“That’s Angband,” says Fëanáro, fanaticism gleaming in his eyes. No one dares to challenge him.
And then a comet blazes across the ceiling, tailed closely by two others, in a formation so perfect that it is impossible to doubt that this is Fëanáro’s work.
And my work. I had a hand in this.
They do not land; my half-brother says that the destructive power of the bombs is greatest if they detonate in mid-air. The intensity of their fire, though, lights the ground beneath them; I see vague outlines of walls, towers. A fortress. Did Morgoth truly think that walls could stand against us?
The bombs detonate.
It is only a video feed, of course. But in the darkness, in the sudden hush, as we watch an explosion shake the earth half a world away, what we have done seems terribly, sickeningly, shockingly real.
The world is fire. Morgoth’s fortress is illuminated for a second by the intensity of the blast; then it is gone, vaporized, vanished instantly, the particles that made it up rising on the currents of flaming air as the bombs curdle into a shape like a mushroom, blazing golden fire like some sickening parody of Laurelin.
Laurelin is dead. This is vengeance, I remind myself, but it is not any easier to breathe.
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” whispers Fëanáro behind me.
Artanis slaps him.
The runways are not equipped for takeoffs in darkness; Fëanáro has his minions scurrying about placing lampstones at a regular distance, and Macalaure is arguing politely with the pilot. This is Air Force One, Atar’s plane. I think Fëanáro expected me to argue with his requisitioning it. I did not.
All of Fëanáro’s sons and most of his supporters are going with him. Air Force Two and Three and Four have been requisitioned as well. The Silmarils are indestructible, but it will take a long time to dig them out of the slag heap that was once Angband.
They will have to wear absurd-looking radiation suits the entire time. I will confess that this thought brings me no small amount of vindictive pleasure.
“You are certain that you wish to remain behind?” asks Fëanáro suddenly, and it takes me just a split second too long to realize that he’s talking to me.
“Yes, neon orange looks hideous on me,” I say smoothly. It is an absurd answer, carefully phrased to be too silly even to earn his scorn. It is my last interaction with my half-brother before the runways are declared satisfactory and the jets, one by one, set off into the night sky.
The stars are remarkably beautiful without Telperion clouding them, I think absently. It is a rebellious thought; once I would have flinched from it. But what we have done today goes far beyond rebellion.
As does what I am about to do now.
“Remove the lampstones from the runways,” I say. Turukano is the first to understand, and he smiles broadly; Findekano is next, and he gasps.
“We’ll restore them eventually, if the Valar don’t come up with a solution to the light problem first. But I think it will do my half-brother good to spend a little time cleaning up the disasters he creates.”
“The ground is poisoned,” says Artanis. Her tone is carefully neutral. “Nothing will grow there for a thousand years; even the dust will make them sick and kill them, if they breathe too much.”
“Is that so? Well, Fëanáro is a remarkably innovative person; I am certain that, once he sets his brilliant mind to it, he’ll be able to surmount that challenge as easily as he surmounts all others. And perhaps then he can begin making amends to any peoples of Beleriand whose croplands we have poisoned for a thousand years.”
I am smirking. It is a decidedly Fëanorian smirk; Curufinwë (the younger) is credited with perfecting it, but all of them are remarkably good. I can tell by the expression on my brother’s face that he is a little concerned for me.
“Are you well, Nolofinwë?”
“You know, I am.” I say, and realize to my own astonishment that it is true.
Chapter 11: And are not bound to it
Elrond hates the cliffs, cannot go near them without feeling sick. So they walk down the beach the other direction, where there is jagged gravel instead of sand and the shoreline bends and twists around piles of black rock until civilization is entirely out of sight.
“We could leave,” said Elrond. It is not really an option, but he must pretend that there are still options and that means listing them, absurd as they are. “I might be able to persuade Círdan to help us. We don’t have to choose at all – we could settle on the shore somewhere, down south, and live alongside each other, Elves and Men, none of this nonsense about choosing.”
Elros’ laugh is short and bitter. Already he seems older, gruffer, more of a Man – but, of course, they have not chosen yet, so that is impossible. Merely Elrond’s mind filling in the gaps…“The Valar would love that. And rebelling against them worked so well the last time…”
“If the last time in any precedent, they will disapprove vehemently but spend a good five hundred years not doing anything about it.”
“I actually think I understand, you know. Why they disapprove. Elves and Men living alongside each other inevitably ends… well, like this.”
“This doesn’t have to end,” says Elrond, and then because he is snatching at any thread of conversation other than the one that brought them out here, “and you’re wrong anyway. There were no intermarriages in Hithlum or in Dorthonion, maybe because when Elves actually live among Men they see how unromantic and horrifying the Gift of Men really is. All of them happened with women who had never seen a Man age, never seen him die. Who had no idea what they were doing to themselves, what they were doing to their children…”
“So in your happy colony of Elves and Men there would be no intermarriages.”
“No,” said Elrond vehemently.
“It doesn’t solve the real problem, though,” says Elros seriously – “the problem for us, which is, do we age? Do we die? And where do we go afterwards?”
“A problem that’s solved, if you stop this. I don’t understand how you can handle not knowing –”
“The same way every single Man since the first sunrise has handled it. Or do you think I’m of a weaker temperament than all of them?”
“That’s not fair.”
Elros runs his thumb across a smooth piece of black rock, and with a quick flick of his wrist sends it sailing out to sea. It does not skip across the waves. It sinks.
He picks up another one. “I’ve been thinking – Elves or Men, we don’t know what happens to us. As Men, we die and then face some mysterious fate –” his dismissive gesture reassures Elrond that it is not curiosity about that fate, at least, which is motivating him – “and as Elves, we change. Don’t tell me that Círdan is the same person he was when first he settled on these shores.”
“Of course not.”
“So… the person he was is dead, right? Doesn’t exist any more. The only difference is that Elves live on in the same body, men live on in their children…”
“Elros, that doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“Maedhros, Maglor… do you think they would even recognize the people they were in Valinor? Do you think they’d have anything to say to them?”
For a moment there is silence save the jarring caw of seagulls. Elros never speaks of them. That he would choose to now… “You can’t be worried that you’ll…”
“I’m not worried. I’m not choosing because I’m afraid. I’m choosing because either way, Elrond, either way in five hundred years, the person I am now will not exist. So what do I want to carry on from him? His children? Or his memories?”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“That’s because you’re not even trying to understand me.”
“I understand you just fine. You’re going to leave. You’re going to die. Jump off a cliff, jump into a fiery chasm, tell the Valar you want to be mortal – it’s all the same damned thing, Elros. In five hundred years, if you want to look at it that way, your bones will have rotted into dirt and it will be like you never existed and you will leave me all alone –”
“That’s the part I would change, if I could. Elrond –”
“Don’t tell me you care. If you cared, you wouldn’t leave.”
Elros lets his hand fall to his side but keeps it clenched around the rocks. “If that’s true, then no one ever cared. Do you believe that?”
He cannot answer truthfully either way, and so they walk back up the beach in silence. Every few steps Elros lets a rock slide form his grip; they plink against the shore with an odd finality.
Chapter 12: The Unexpected Complications of Interracial Parenting
Annael learns about the differences between Men and Elves as little Tuor grows.
In the first few years they worried about everything. His violent temper tantrums, his occasional bouts of illness, his strangled breathing when he slept –
“He is a Man,” Annael repeated whenever they came to him with a new concern. “They are different, perhaps this is natural, for them…”
But, of course, perhaps it is not. Perhaps Tuor’s hot forehead and ceaseless coughing is one of the typical human illnesses, or perhaps it is the precursor to a terrible disease that will worsen until they are helpless to heal it, and tear their little blond-haired boy away from them before he has even seen six years.
Even if it does not, Annael is uncomfortably aware that he will die very young anyway. Sixty years, perhaps seventy…
“He is a Man,” he repeats, “perhaps this is natural for them.”
“Annael! All of his teeth are falling out!”
It does make him uneasy, but he hasn’t the slightest idea of a remedy, and panicking Tuor with a close inspection of his mouth will do no good. “Perhaps we ought to vary his diet more. Or more sunlight – good for the bones. You know, I think that might be it. The Men need more sunlight than us, and doubtless in this cave his condition worsens…”
No one else volunteers. So Annael takes Tuor outside whenever it is safe; he was hoping that they would simply lie in the sun and relax quietly, so he could listen for approaching danger, but Tuor cannot lie still for more than twenty seconds at a time.
“Look, what kind of bug is this?”
“I bet I can climb that tree all the way to the top!”
“Look, that cloud looks like a dragon. Have you ever seen a dragon? Tell me about the dragons!”
Worst of all, two more teeth fall out.
“You’re not going to be able to eat!” says Annael, distressed, when Tuor shows them to him.
“Thure I will! New ones are growing in! Thee?” and he opens his mouth wide to show Annael that, indeed, new teeth are growing in.
“Men,” he tells his wife later, “are just different. I told you it was nothing.”
But just in case, he does not stop taking Tuor outside.
Chapter 13: Geography Lessons
Findekano's too young to understand the divisions in his family. Maitimo isn't.
“That’s excellent,” Russandol said.
Findekáno frowned at him, annoyed at being patronized again. “Is not. Your father says my letters are crooked.”
“My father takes the precision of the letters very seriously. Can I tell you a secret?”
It was a silly question, because Russandol did not hoard trivial secrets like the children Findekáno’s age who he was supposed to play with while his father met with theirs. His secrets were all important, grown-up ones, and of course Findekáno wanted to hear them. “Yes,” he said.
Russandol leaned closer and tucked his cousin’s hair behind his ear. “Things can be excellent even if my father does not think so.”
“That’s not a secret,” he said, disappointed. “My father thinks most things are excellent only if your father doesn’t like them.”
“Then he will be all the more pleased with the map because my father thought it was unsatisfactory.”
Findekáno looked back at the map. It was copied from one Fëanáro had made himself - not just written himself, travelled and studied and discovered himself, and then drawn up so everyone else could know the shape of all of Aman. It had every river and every mountain and every significant Elven settlement. But the letters were crooked, and his father would probably notice also. “I don’t think it works that way,” he said suspiciously. Russandol was never wrong, so if Russandol said it worked that way, then it was probably a test to see if Findekáno was paying attention. “He would want the map to be right, not crooked, and he would want your father to be unhappy about it, probably. But he did send me here for lessons…”
Russandol, for some reason, was laughing. “What do you make of that?”
“Our fathers are silly.”
“If you use a straight-edge you can keep the baseline of your lettering consistent,” said Russandol rather than answering. “Shall we try it again?”
“I tried that, but then I couldn’t make any of the stems properly.”
And yet with Russandol’s guidance the stems take shape just fine. It is still golden outside when the map is finished and the lettering is precise and even.
“Why do you think it worked this time?”
With his father he would say, “My penmanship has improved.” With his mother he would say “Practice makes perfect!” With Uncle Fëanáro he did not know what he would say, because Uncle Fëanáro had never once been satisfied with his work. But Russandol was not looking for either of those answers.
“Probably I was trying harder this time, because you were watching.”
“And what do you think about the map?”
That is why he liked working with Russandol better than any of his tutors, or his mother or his father or even Uncle Fëanáro who was supposed to be the smartest Elf in the world. Because they would all help him get the map exactly right (with varying degrees of patience), but none of them would bother asking what he thought about it. Until Uncle Fëanáro got impatient and he started lessons with Russandol, he hadn’t even realized that you were supposed to have opinions about maps. “Tirion is awfully small.”
And then, because Russandol looked genuinely interested, he continued: “All these places! All these rivers and mountains and valleys and most everybody lives right here. I want to give them all maps so they can see all the other places. And maybe – if there’s some place no one has ever been – we could go there together and map it out ourselves.”
Fëanáro would stare at him impatiently for the count of four, and then look away, leaving Findekáno with the vague impression that he had come close to saying something interesting. But Russandol smiled. “I’d like that. You see this segment of the northern mountain range? It requires excellent climbing equipment to get there. That would be an interesting place to visit together when you’re older. Now, take this home and tell your father that my father was displeased with the lettering, and then they’ll both be happy, all right?”
There was something odd about Russandol’s tone and Findekáno could not find the words to express it, so he gave his cousin a comforting hug (which was silly, because Russandol was grown and didn’t need hugs any more) before departing.
Chapter 14: Laundry day
If he'd lived a little longer, Feanor would almost certainly have invented the first laundry machine...
Nerdanel usually continued sculpting right up until the moment she went into labor. Other chores, though, she happily handed off to her husband and her children in the sixth month of her pregnancy. Laundry, cooking, cleaning…
“It’s counterproductive,” said Tyelkormo to Maitimo, because that was how you had to phrase arguments if you wanted Maitimo to be convinced. “Instead of eagerly awaiting the arrival of our new brother, we resent him for having already been an enormous amount of work. And then when he arrives and inevitably keeps us all up screaming and crying, there’s even more work. And after that, when he’s been nothing in our lives except an outrageous imposition, we’re expected to do the tour of important people and coo about how much we like him!”
“I don’t like him,” added Carnistir.
Their eldest brother had listened with wide eyes and a patient expression that even their father couldn’t usually rival, but now he smiled and shook his head. “You will like him. Even if you had to sweep the whole house by yourself, you would end up liking him. Once brothers arrive, it is tremendously difficult to rid yourself of affection for them –” and he swept them both up into his arms at once, even though Tyelkormo was nearly his height and far too old for that. “What you don’t like are the chores.”
“Same difference,” Carnistir muttered into his brother’s hair.
“Hardly. See, disliking a brother would be a problem, because you are stuck with them for all eternity. Disliking chores is not a problem, because by nightfall we can have them done. And, if we’re honest” – he stood, bumping them both off his lap – “it’s not the chores you hate, Turko, it’s that they’re keeping you from something else. So, what is it?”
Nelyo was far too smart for his own good sometimes. “Oromë said I could ride with him to the falls this summer. But mother said I have to be here to help the family, and I wouldn’t want to miss the birth of the baby…”
“Do you know how long Oromë waited for the Elves to decide whether they wished to leave for Valinor? Years. I am certain he will take you to the falls next summer. Or do you think he is horribly indecisive and will reconsider?”
“I want to go this year.”
“So Oromë is not the impatient one! I should have guessed. Why? Will the falls be more beautiful this year?”
The falls, of course, would look exactly the same. That is the nature of Valinor. Nelyo knew this and so it was a question to which he had the answer already, which was a rhetorical question, which was hardly fair. Tyelkormo pouted. “I’ll be different.”
“So you will! You’ll be bigger and stronger and your horsemanship will be unparalleled and Oromë will be all the more impressed with you.” Somehow, without visible effort, their brother had swept baskets of laundry into both their hands, kissed the top of Carnistir’s head, and pulled them outside. Tyelkormo halted for a moment, feeling vaguely cheated.
“I did not agree to the chores!”
“And I did not agree to doing them all by myself!” said his eldest brother. “What a dilemma. Moryo, last time you scrubbed a hole straight through Amme’s formal clothes, so this time I am not putting you on scrubbing duty. Will you hang things up to dry as we finish them? Turko, you are old enough not to destroy anything valuable, yes?”
He tossed a tunic at Tyelkormo so he had no choice but to catch it or let it sail into the dirt, which would only make more work. Worse, he tossed it slightly off-center, so to catch it Tyelkormo had to take the two remaining steps to the edge of the water. Even so, his fingertips only barely snatched it out of the air before it hit the ground.
“Sorry,” said Nelyo, who had almost certainly done it on purpose, and tossed a bar of soap also.
Macalaure did not make an appearance until the basket was half-empty and Tyelkormo’s hands were red from scrubbing, which inexplicably seemed to require even more calluses than archery. “Nice of you to drop by,” Tyelkormo said, a little more bitterly than was actually justified by his brother’s lateness, “were you planning to entertain us while we work?”
“Hmm? Without me, do you just work in stubborn silence? No wonder you hate laundry, if you set about making it as hideously boring as possible!”
See, that was the difference – Maitimo would just inexplicably have you doing what you were told, which was bad enough, but Macalaure would, if left to his own devices, compose a ridiculous and catchy song about laundry-scrubbing and you would (unless you were careful) end up enjoying yourself. Turko tossed a tunic at his brother’s face. His throwing was more accurate than Nelyo’s and Macalaure’s reflexes slower, so he caught it too late to stop it from soaking him thoroughly.
Carnistir, who was too young to have original ideas like that, threw his also, but his aim was horrendous and it landed in the river. Macalaure was angrily wringing out the first shirt; Nelyo was restraining Moryo from throwing in the rest of the load as well. There was only one option.
“Wasn’t dangerous,” he told them when they pulled him ashore, “if you hadn’t panicked and jumped in after me I would have been just fine.”
Nelyo’s red hair turned dark when wet, and was plastered to his face and dripping down his back. His clothes were soaked and transparent. The girls in Tirion would have been falling all over themselves, but Tyelkormo thought he looked ridiculous. And yet he was doing much worse than usual at attempting a grown-up disapproving glare; the corners of his mouth were quirking. “Of course you would have! That’s why you were several hundred meters south by the time we caught up to you.”
“Strong current. Spring rains.”
Macalaure had gotten muddy as well as wet; he pulled his tunic off entirely and started rinsing off his shoulders in the river. “There’s a reason Atar says to never underestimate a river. I’m quite glad you didn’t learn the lesson with a trip to Mandos, but it’s a lesson that needs learning nonetheless. Finish the rest of the laundry?”
And he flipped his muddy shirt back into Tyelkormo’s face with such precision that Tyelkormo was sure he must have been planning it for a while. “I hate you all!” he shouted as they headed back to the house to change, Carnistir with them. “The new brother is my favorite even though I hate him too!”
But ten minutes later he was reasonably sure he saw a flash of red from behind the bushes, as if Nelyo had snuck back out to make sure he didn’t fall into the water again. And even though the laundry took the rest of the day, he found himself not really hating his brothers very much after all – not even the useless unborn baby.
Chapter 15: The youth of their days
Unapologetic Miriel and Finwe fluff.
“They say,” he told her once, when Tirion was nearing completion, “that the first word our people invented was ‘beauty’, and that they first had need of it when they beheld the ones they loved. And that is the true meaning of the word; everything else we see or create or behold is only an attempt to make the world as breathtaking as the faces of our lovers. Thus the saying – ”
“Everything I create I create in your image,” she completed the sentence, and turned his face towards Ezellohar so she could see it illuminated. Something about the Mingling made sentiments that would otherwise seem hopelessly sappy seem appropriate, fitting. “Yavanna and Aulë must love each other well, then, for all their differences.”
He lowered his voice. “Manwë probably made chickens after a marital spat.”
“And Varda probably wrote an insult in the stars that are too dim for Elda eyes to see.”
“Perhaps Ulmo has a lover after all, for there is little that surpasses the beauty of the sea…”
“Is that right?” she asked peevishly, and his eyes widened in alarm before he realized she was joking.
“I said little, dear, not nothing. You are more beautiful than the sea – more beautiful than the Trees. I risked so much to take our people to this world but I would give it all up again for you, because the only light I need in the world is-”
This was ridiculous even for him, so she shut him up with a rather forceful kiss. “You must want something from me,” she said when they broke apart, “or else you have had far too much wine. You are being absurd.”
“I don’t want anything from you, except the rest of eterni-”
“You must realize, dear, that if you shut me up by kissing me I have an incentive to be as outrageously sappy as possible.”
“Or,” she said, “you risk setting the bar too high: I will become accustomed to outlandish praise and you will have to spend all your time composing steadily more absurd compliments just to maintain my attention.”
“Is that a challenge?”
She did not answer.
“I feel very privileged,” he mused a moment later. “To be the one to build Tirion. There are not many men lucky enough to create an entire civilization in the image of their love. And it will be beautiful, Miriel, a beautiful city. Most beautiful in the world. But I will never, ever be able to look at it without seeing you…”
“You are drunk,” she said, amused. But Tirion, rising behind them, was achingly beautiful, and she had watched him pour his soul into its creation, and by the bright pure light of the Mingling she could almost pretend that she did see herself in it, that she could foresee their happy eternity in those wide bright roads, that she could imagine their children avoiding the summer’s heat in the extravagant, breathtaking fountains. And it was true, after all, that in these last few years her greatest tapestries had seemed to draw their life from his grave dignity or his booming laugh or the impish twinkle in his eyes…
Atop the newly constructed Mindon, a few sculptors watched their King and Queen engage in a highly inappropriate public display of affection on the sloping hill that led up to Tirion. “Newlyweds,” Mahtan said in a voice that conveyed remembrance and amusement and approval all at once.
“It is said,” agreed his companion, “that the greatest creations are those born of love.”
Chapter 16: Traveler
Celegorm: a character study, with a little bit of mutually-oblivious shipping near the end
He shares his father’s temper and his father’s intolerance for stuffy Tirion; sometimes he fears that is all they share, and so he is inclined to consider both traits virtuous.
In the early years they shared also a love for exploring. They would travel from Mingling to Mingling, carrying nothing, living off the land, leaving Tirion and the outlying farmlands and even the rural settlements far behind them. In the far north of Aman the Treelight was weaker, and they could sleep beneath the stars. “This is what it must have been like in the Outer Lands,” his father would say, and launch into speculation about the ecosystem and culture and society of a world he’d never seen.
Tyelkormo listened, and asked the right questions – he is brash and so he is rarely taken for intelligent, but Fëanáro raised no stupid children – but it is not the society and culture that draws his heart across the sea. It is the land.
Beyond the sea there are mountains eroded by time, not forged by the careful hands of the Valar. There are plains scarred by war, instead of carefully plotted and planted with flowers. With the exception of Oromë’s woods, where he spends much of his young adulthood, Valinor feels gratingly like a garden.
(Oromë understands – Oromë, the only one of the Valar to return to Middle-earth when his brethren were content to abandon it to Melkor. When Tyelkormo has done something exceptional – talked down a spooked horse on a dangerous mountain pass, perhaps, or calmed a foaling mare– and feels entitled to ask a favor, he always begs Oromë for tales of the Outer Lands. And Oromë, with a laugh like the roar of thunder over the foothills, complies.)
He never says it to Grandfather Finwë – it would seem ungrateful – but, had he been born beside the waters of Cuivienen, he would have chosen to remain behind.
Fëanáro understands - he is perceptive, their father. Little escapes him. Perhaps it is the longing in his thirdborn son’s eyes that prompts him to first start planning departure to the Outer Lands. Or perhaps – it is rare that Tyelkormo dares hope for more common ground with his father – Fëanáro feels the same.
In the later years his parents do not join him. His cousins do, sometimes, and occasionally he can even drag along Carnistir or Curufinwë, but Nerdanel can no longer match their exhausting pace, and Fëanáro cannot stand more than a few weeks without her; even worse, there is trouble in Tirion, and so their father must drag himself regularly to the palace or risk returning from a trip to learn that Nolofinwë has taken the kingship.
Tyelkormo hates Tirion. It is glorious by Laurelin’s light, gilded and white and glittering; it is orderly and beautiful and utterly stifling. When he walks through the street people stare and whisper; their conversations are double-edged, layered with careful insults. The trouble between his father and Nolofinwë is worsening, and Tirion is choosing sides.
If the provocateurs are subtle enough he ignores them; if they are too brazen he slams them against the nearest wall (with the ingrained caution born of wrestling six brothers, of course; he has never actually injured anyone) and clarifies the issue in question. This inevitably causes a minor scandal and a scolding from Maitimo – though not from their father, who often looks tempted to do the same.
Once, when he is feeling especially bold, he says to his father, “I am not certain why anyone would want to be King of the Noldor; they are a petty and quarrelsome people. More trouble than it’s worth.”
Fëanáro laughs and then, in his disconcerting way, gives such a serious and thorough answer that Tyelkormo is reduced to speechlessness. “I expect your grandfather to hold the crown for many Ages more, Tyelko, and with my blessing. Perhaps when he finally decides to surrender it I will pass it on to Maitimo immediately. But what Nolofinwë is doing now is seeking to undermine our father – to drag the questionable remarriage to the forefront of everyone’s minds, to challenge Finwë’s trust in me and by extension his judgment. To force him to renounce my mother.
Tyelko, it is not the crown that makes a King. It is his honor, his heritage, his ability to earn the confidence of those who follow him, to inspire their loyalty instead of demanding it. Such a man is a king even if he rules none save himself – and, if a man is no king, giving him a crown will not make him one.
Nolofinwë strikes at all of those – my father’s commitment to us, his first family, and the confidence of our people in his leadership. He seeks to divide the loyalties of the Noldor. And so tiring as it is – as much as I long to return to the forge or to take you and your brothers hunting – I have no choice but to stand beside my father. Do you understand?”
Everything seems very simple when Fëanáro explains it. But when he finds himself trying to explain it again to Nolofinwë’s daughter, it gets muddled.
“No,” she says (they are lying in a meadow a full day’s ride north of Tirion, soaking their ankles in the stream and idly uprooting stalks of grass), “he’s not. He doesn’t even want the crown. He’s just worried you’re going to drive us out of Tirion.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” says Tyelkormo, “you can have Tirion. It’s a horrible city.”
“Isn’t it?” she says, and after that they do not discuss such matters.
She is better with a horse than any of his brothers, and his equal in archery; roaming the countryside with her is nearly as good as roaming it with his own family. She is fierce and impatient and utterly unlike her father; when he asks, once, if she’s entirely sure of her parentage, she leaps at him and pins him to the ground, one of her arrowheads serving as an improvised knife at his throat. Only Huan’s counterattack saves him from being forced to concede defeat, and the argument ends with all three of them rolling around on the ground, Huan licking them both fiercely.
He is not in love; he has romanced several girls in Tirion, and the way he feels about her bears no resemblance at all to the way he felt about them.
(Leaping off her horse after a long day’s ride, or plunging into a river, or at night in the far north with starlight glinting off her hair, she is remarkably beautiful. But he can appreciate beauty without being in love, can’t he?)
The twins are half-grown and full of energy; Nerdanel is exhausted and snaps at everyone. The situation in Tirion is wearing on their father, and he snaps back; usually their parents’ fights are fierce but short, like a summer thunderstorm, but now they are long and cold and bitter. Tyelkormo storms out of the house and seeks Oromë’s counsel, but for once the Vala is utterly unhelpful. He wants to talk about the situation in Tirion – which is escalating, people have started carrying shields around – and about Fëanáro and Nerdanel he offers only vague reassurances that love lasts until the end of Arda.
Tyelkormo takes it on himself to raise the twins; the house is toxic, so he stays away from it as long as possible, teaching them horsemanship and archery in the woods, teaching them lore around a campfire. Craft they learn in the forge beside their father – no situation in Tirion will keep him from teaching his children the forge, especially now that Curufinwë has blossomed into one of the best smiths in Aman. But everything else they learn from their brother.
Irissë ceases to ride out with him; Turukano makes no secret of the fact that he does not trust Tyelkormo to bring her back, and while he is sorely tempted to defend both of their honors, Turukano is the one person he really cannot slam against a wall and discuss things with; at the rate things are currently going, it would cause a war.
Ambarussa are old enough to be decent riders by now, and he tells them that he does not miss his cousin’s company.
All three of them are out of the city the day of the incident, but Carnistir tells him the whole story as soon as he returns. Tyelkormo knows that he ought to be grave and concerned, but his first feeling is a surge of triumph; perhaps the issue has been settled once and for all now. Nolofinwë will cease publicly naming Fëanáro a traitor, challenging Grandfather and dividing their people.
That night is one of the worst fights he has ever witnessed between his parents; Huan howls nonstop and Tyelkormo crouches in Ambarussa’s bedroom, twining his fingers in Huan’s fur and whispering reassurances to his brothers that sound false even to his own ears. And in the morning a messenger comes from the Valar; their father has been summoned to Taniquetil to answer for his threat against his half-brother.
Carnistir rages and smashes walls; Maitimo calmly but viciously demolishes the tenuous logic by which the Valar override Finwë as King of the Noldor. Tyelkormo is tempted to ride out again, but he is starting to realize with a sickened feeling in his stomach that he has been fleeing from trouble for too long. Perhaps if he had swallowed his pride and stayed in stifling Tirion…
It is a long wait, and none of them are expecting good news. At Macalaure’s tentative suggestion they pray; some houses pray every day, but Fëanáro’s children never have, and the prayer is hushed and awkward. Tyelkormo directs his thought to Oromë, though it is odd to think that Oromë will catch them, when frequently they have been riding together and the wind has caught Tyelkormo’s words and forced him to repeat himself.
“Please,” he mutters to himself, “please do not interfere with our family. Please help Finwë retain the confidence of his people. Please let my father return to his family and to his work. Please stay out of this entirely…”
They do not.
The exile itself does not bother him, but the insult that accompanies it – the presumption, the nerve, the chilling, dictatorial confidence with which Manwë had sentenced their family – bothers him greatly. There is never any question of whether they will follow their father north, even when Nerdanel announces that she will not. He is not even especially surprised to learn Finwë will follow their father north; it merely confirms in his mind the outrageous nature of the Valar’s intervention.
“Are you going?” Pityo asks him, and he is at once flattered and troubled that this matters to his brother’s decision.
“Of course,” he says firmly. “I will stand by our father no matter what the Valar say or do.”
And so they depart; Fëanáro fierce and determined, as always; his children quiet for once, resolved, enjoying their newfound unity of purpose. Finwë travels with them.
Nolofinwë takes the crown.
“Were you lying, Irissë, or naïve?” he whispers to himself, and it is ironic that Tyelkormo, who hated Tirion, is the only one to look back.
Chapter 17: Happily Ever After
The first time was eight years after his departure, and she did not even think of it as a betrayal - not really.
He was, after all, the one who had left.
Eight Years was a long time. New lights had risen in the sky and healing had begun in Alqualonde, in Findarato’s birthplace, in the place where the host her lover marched with had drawn blades on their own kin. (She had not visited. Her sympathies would be meaningless. She was angered, in fact, by those among her people who memorialized the tragedy in song. As if there was, for a sufficiently creative mind, beauty in that story. The glorious contrast, white ships and bloody sands… the terrible irony, starlight glinting off strewn gemstones… if you saw those things you were missing all the things that were important.)
Eight Years was a long time. She no longer heard his laughter echo in empty corridors; her heart no longer leapt at the strumming of a harp. She had sketched him, carefully, so that his face would not become distorted in her memories. But she looked at the sketches less and less.
The first time was not at a festival; she was not drunk; it was not an accident. She was at a poetry convention, a quiet, staid affair in which everyone dressed well and ate undernourishing delicate snacks and took turns reading aloud, their voices swooping through contrived emotion and yet somehow muffled still.
"Well, aren’t you cynical," a voice said behind her when they took a break for tea.
He was dreadfully bad with a harp; he had never left Valmar, or desired to. About Alqualonde he felt vehemently that anyone willing to follow the host that had committed such crimes had declared themselves complacent in them: an opinion he concealed behind careful courtesy for her sake, until she admitted that she shared it. About the Valar his admiration was unshakable.
They were utterly incompatible, in the long run. And yet…
"I am not looking for love," she told him.
In truth, she was not sure she believed in it.
The first time was on the third anniversary of the arrival of Arafinwe on her doorstep to deliver back their betrothal rings and his son’s last message. “For me there will be no other," he had promised, but so many promises lay shattered in the dust of that departure that the words were hollow in the air. Arafinwe himself did not look like he believed them.
She told him that afterwards, when they lay in the harsh light of the new Sun together and watched its beams catch dust motes in the air.
"If he returns," he asked absently, “will you go back to him?"
"I don’t know," she said. And then… “I should not have told you… you are terribly tolerant of me."
He was silent for a moment but then said, “Do let me know when you figure it out."
The second time was three years later. They were in no hurry - there was none of the urgency lent by the Noldor and their intrigues, or by parents demanding grandchildren, or by the whirlwind of true love.
This time she told him. “I think love is a lie we tell children."
"It would be in good company," he said, and she was wrong to do this, not because it was a betrayal - betrayal of who? - but because her reasons were utterly selfish.
After that she stopped counting because the numbers did not exactly assign their meetings any additional significance. "Don’t you want someone who loves you?" she asked him once.
"Yes," he said, “and I also want you. And we can’t have everything, is that right?"
"Even knowing that love is a lie, you want it?"
"I don’t love you," she repeated firmly, well-aware she was answering a different question.
His valor had earned him special pardon - he alone returned early in the dawning Age, a reward from the Valar, living proof that time in the Halls of Mandos was not merely for healing, as claimed - because, of course, if the Halls were healing then spending the rightamount of time there would have been its own reward.
It took him a long time to come and find her. If he had rushed into her arms and let his hands flutter across her hair and whispered that the thought of her had sustained him on the Outer Shore, she would have told him the truth and departed at once. But instead he knocked on the door early in the morning dressed as the heir to the King of the Noldor, requested her company, and waited alone in the foyer while she boiled some water for tea.
"You left," she said when she returned. “After everything…"
"Yes, I did."
"Do you regret it?"
"I think I might hate you."
More emotions flickered across his face in that second than she had seen on it in all the years they’d had together back before. “I think I understand."
"You think so?"
"There are a few people I have been trying to resolve whether I hate. But you don’t want that story - or maybe you do. Amarie," he said carefully, accepting the tea with a shaking hand that sloshed boiling water onto his fingers, “would you like to hear about the Outer Lands?"
"Yes," she said, and then, to avoid leading him on, “I do not love you."
"That’s all right," he said, “if you were still in love with the man who left you’d be sorely disappointed by the one who returned. But - if you want to hear it - Amarie, the things I saw!"
He spoke until his voice was hoarse and the tea was cold.
"I do love you," he said, departing, and she was briefly furious with him for being so damnably sure.
Chapter 18: Secrets
The logistical challenges of moving the entire population of Nevrast were intimidating; the added complication of doing it in complete secrecy made everything ten times worse.
Turgon, of course, refused any assistance.
“Do you want a couple hundred people to – ”
“No, we’re fine.”
“Should I maintain a presence in Nevrast once you’ve departed, so I can tell anyone who arrives –”
“What should I tell people who ask me where the population of Nevrast has gone?”
“You don’t know.”
Which is true – Fingon did not know the precise location of his brother’s hidden city. Turgon had not volunteered it, and he had not asked, though it stung to think Turgon trusted him so little.
(“Or he’s sparing you the necessity of lying to our cousins,” said Aredhel, always the optimist, when he raised the issue with her. “Because he will certainly never agree to telling them.”
“We’re all on the same side-”
“I’m not entirely certain they wouldn’t sell out us all for a Silmaril, and Turvo is pretty sure they would.”)
There was too much unspoken between Fingon and his brother, and now Turgon was leaving and it was chillingly plausible that they would never see each other again. He could not set right any of the things that were wrong, and he did not want what little time they have to be marred by bringing them up, so he threw himself wholeheartedly into keeping Turgon’s secret.
“The road is unsafe,” he told merchants who ran into the patrol on the southern border of Dor-lomin, “there was an avalanche. It will be a few years before we straighten things out” and then spent the next several hours deflecting criticism of his abilities, his character and his father’s leadership. Only the latter really rankled.
Fingolfin was not delighted with the decision to retreat to Gondolin. Turgon promised – with a smile and the easy sincerity that Fingon could never quite manage with his father – to fight by their sides when the time came, but it was an empty promise if they did not know how to contact him. In the end, when it became clear that Turgon would go ahead without his father’s blessing, Fingolfin gave it – and, he too, was now determinedly keeping the secret.
“Of course commerce is a priority of the King. Defeating the enemy might safely be said to be a greater priority, but we will get the road open again when it is possible. In the meantime you might find a market in Dorthonion –”
Every ten years there are military drills held on the plains of Ard-galen, held in conjunction with the armies of his cousins. Fingon was planning to lead them this year in his father’s absence; Fingolfin was visiting Nargothrond and the Falas. When he mentioned this to Turgon his brother panicked. “Tell them nothing.”
“I’ll tell them that your armies got lost on the way,” Fingon answered, irritated. “Seriously, Turvo, the location of Gondolin you can keep a secret, but not its existence. People will wonder –”
“Let them wonder. But don’t tell them. Even vague hints will give Morgoth an idea of what he’s looking for, and you let slip more than you intend…”
That’s not true at all. It was untrue even back in happier years, when there were few secrets worth worrying over; it was certainly untrue now. Turgon was being utterly unreasonable and so he did not try very hard to keep the anger from his voice. “Wild rumors about the disappearance of Nevrast are more likely to reach Morgoth’s ears then sensible half-truths. But I’ll do it your way, I’ll turn completely and inexplicably silent whenever the conversation even touches on you. People will assume we had a terrible fight. All right?”
Turgon stormed out of the room and left Dor-lomin at dawn, leaving an apologetic and perfectly courteous letter thanking the Lord of Dor-lomin for his hospitality and expressing again his regrets at his inability to send his forces to the drills in Ard-galan.
Due to a catastrophic crop failure.
“You need shipments of food?” asked Celegorm, only slightly too pleased with himself. Things were going very well in the east; by all accounts Himlad was thriving and the fortifications of the Pass of Aglon growing steadily more sophisticated. He had been vehemently opposed to giving Fingolfin food as reparations, of course, but as charity…
“We’re closer,” Angrod said, “and we’ve had a lot of success with that new strain of grain.”
“No,” Fingon reassured them, “Dor-lomin had a surplus and the situation has been resolved. But all Turgon’s men were needed to resolve it.”
“Do you know the cause?” asked Maglor, “A similar failure would be catastrophic in Lothlann, the land is so marginal anyway…”
So he found himself making up steadily-more-absurd details about an imaginary crop failure and resenting his brother far more than was actually reasonable.
Maedhros sought him out later, after a full day of meetings and drills had left him bone-tired and completely incapable of making any more polite excuses. This was almost certainly on purpose.
“Are you all right?”
“You seemed on edge all morning. If the situation in Nevrast is worse than you made it out to be –”
“There is no situation in Nevrast,” he growled, and then was immediately angry – with Maedhros for seeking him out when he was already exhausted, with the rest of his cousins for asking trivial questions, with Turgon for insisting on secrecy, with himself for maybe letting more then he’d planned slip after all.
If Maedhros was taken aback, it did not show – but then, Maedhros had needed to reteach himself facial expressions and his default was politely disinterested. “I’m glad,” he said, and spoke of it no further.
When the two months of drills ended he rode immediately south, to reassure his brother that Nevrast’s absence had not caused a stir, that the secret was safe, that he hoped the city would be equally so.
Nevrast was silent, save the whistling of the wind. The spotless marble fountains were silent and splattered with bird droppings. The palace loomed over deserted streets.
He knew what he was going to find.
He looked anyway.
Everything had been packed up very efficiently; only the occasional hole bored in the wall hinted at where paintings had been, at where tapestries had hung, at where Fingon had first tasted the strange seafood of Middle-earth at a table with his brother and his sister and his niece, and entertained them afterwards with a Sindar musical sing along…Turgon’s rooms held only what Ulmo had instructed him to leave.
“I wish he’d said goodbye,” he told his father, much later. “I wish I could have told him that his secret was safe.”
“Well, he knows that,” said Fingolfin, and the reassurance was all the more meaningful for the fact that his father had not indulged in reassurances in a very long time. “Every day he wakes up safe in his city he knows we hold the North. And keep his secret.”
Chapter 19: Green Wood
When he came home Dior was hiding in a tree.
He wasn’t actually hiding poorly - for a six year old, he’d been quite thoughtful about it, picked one with enough foliage to hide him, crawled out onto a branch that would hold his weight readily but wouldn’t support Beren’s at all. He was lying quite still.
Beren still knew he was there from several hundred paces away, of course. The birds displaced from the tree were singing their distress. The bark at the base had been ripped away where Dior had scaled it. The leaves were fluttering in the wrong direction for it to be wind.
This forest did not care for him as the dying woods of Dorthonion had. He had not needed to fight for this forest. But still they were on friendly terms, Beren and the trees, and the woods sang out that there was someone hiding above his head, waiting to pounce on him.
He kept walking.
When he stepped under Dior’s tree his son cried ‘gotcha!’ and tumbled from the tree, totally unafraid, ripping through leaves and snapping twigs until he landed in Beren’s outstretched arms.
"No," Beren whispered into his tousled hair, "I’ve got you! Grrr!” And Dior shrieked with delight and indignation and energy, but not at all with fear, and that was -
- Beren didn’t have even the memory of being six years old, and he did not have any memories at all of being fearless, except the numb unwanted fearlessness of indifference whether you lived or died. He swung Dior through the air and growled menacingly and set him on the ground. Leaves twirled down around them.
Dior stared back at him. Six, and as tall (Lúthien said) as an Elf of fifteen or twenty. When she’d said it she had been, in her own studied understated way, afraid.
Sometimes when he heard it sung, the song of their deeds, he wondered if they romanticized a little much how unshakeable she was. They certainly misunderstood it. It was not courage of the conventional sort. It was closer to arrogance, if it was called arrogance to believe yourself worthy of your own desires, arrogance to see every impossibility standing between you and your dreams as an obstacle and to turn at once to surmounting them.
People who were not arrogant, he thought, saw the impossibilities and pared away at their dreams. People who were the other sort of arrogant saw the impossibilities and thought they were nothing.
But Lúthien -
- well, enough had been said on the topic of how Lúthien confronted obstacles. Said in song, and better than he could have told it. They said the song was whispered among the slaves of Dor lómin, farther than he could have hoped his deeds would reach.
Lúthien had chosen a mortal life, but Beren suspected she had not resigned herself to a mortal son.
"You didn’t hear me coming," Dior said.
"I heard you," said his father, "and saw you," and he pointed out the birds that would chatter when disturbed, the bark that had been scratched in Dior’s climbing. "And a good thing," he added gently, "or I wouldn’t have been ready to catch you, and you’d have fallen."
"You’ll always catch me," Dior said.
Dior was eleven and as tall as an Elf of thirty-five. He wanted to learn woodworking and music and rhythmic dance, and the quiet following that Lúthien has accumulated here, unasked for, all set aside their days to teach him.
"Should I do something for them?" Beren worried. "For their time?"
"It’s so little time," she said. "A few years, that’s all." Then she caught the look on his face. "Our gratitude will be enough. And really, I think it’s a gift to them as much as otherwise."
"A few years isn’t a short time," he said. "Eleven stretched on for ages, for me, I was dying to be twelve.”
She looked at him sharply. “Dying to -“
"It’s a mortal expression."
"It would be.”
Dior came home that afternoon with his hair flying loose about his face and cuts on the tips of all his fingers and a whittled flute that sounds absolutely dreadful. Lúthien sings along and makes it beautiful, somehow. He watches them and thinks about that offhand comment, maybe too seriously. At eleven I was dying to be twelve.
That night he said it to her for the first time. “Our son is mortal.”
"He’s growing up fast enough to be," she said.
"He’s never met men - other than me, that is. He’s had an elven childhood and I don’t regret anything, Tinuviel, but I especially don’t regret that. And yet -“
"Next time I talk to Mandos I’ll sort it out," she said. "If he marries a Man I expect he’ll want to stay one. If he marries an Elf then we’ll see to it that he’s an Elf."
"You would have had fifty years," Beren said, "to watch a child of yours grow up. And then forever to watch them live. It feels to me like he’s growing up so quickly, so I can’t imagine how it must feel to you.”
"He’s no good at the flute. Tomorrow he’ll still be no good at the flute. But if someone visits in a year, they’ll remark on how good he is, and we’ll realize with astonishment that he was getting better all along, only infinitesimally." She rolled over and pulled him closer. "Same thing with how tall he’s growing, really. It does feel fast. But at the same time, it feels very very slow."
"I condemned you to this."
She kissed his chest and rolled her eyes. “No one - no one at all - has ever successfully condemned me to anything.”
A year later Dior was still very bad at the flute, but remarkably good at woodworking. The cuts on his fingertips had healed into thin white scars, and a bear or a cat or a dragon would emerge from the knot of wood he gripped with it.
"What did Carcharoth look like, Dad?"
"Ask your mother."
"What did Carcharoth look like, Mum?"
"Ask your father."
"Bigger than that," Beren said, leaning forward to watch. "He had fangs. He was drooling. The fur was patchy, matted, with black blood dried all around his muzzle -"
"Did he eat orcs?" Dior said. "He must have eaten orcs."
"I don’t know anything else that bleeds black," Beren agreed charitably, leaning back. Carcharoth emerged swiftly from the tip of Dior’s blade. There was nothing frightening in it, and not because Dior lacked skill. Lúthien looked over and caught him grinning stupidly.
Later she asked. “I thought it was a fairly good resemblance.”
"No," Beren said, "it was. That’s the thing. When he was younger, you know, I’d watch him and think that I do not remember what it was to be fearless. And now, somehow, I watch him and I cannot remember what it was to be afraid."
Chapter 20: Paved With Good Intentions
"1,500 people died today.
1,500 people died yesterday, too.
Civilians, all of them; unarmed, all of them; gone forever, all of them, erased (as far as we understand it) from the world. Their children are next.
There are, by the best estimates of a generation of bright young scientists, 80 million subjects of the far-flung Númenorean empire, and within three hundred years all eighty million of them will be dead. One thousand five hundred, every single day.
Ah, now you realize what I meant with those first words. I don’t mean “a plague swept through Rómenna and killed fifteen hundred people’ or “soldiers in Umbar suppressed an uprising by slaughtering fifteen hundred civilians” or “fifteen hundred children died of famine in the East’. I merely mean that they got old, and that they died of old age, and now that you know what I mean you aren’t shocked, are you? You aren’t frightened, you aren’t horrified. If I told you our soldiers slaughtered fifteen hundred innocent people you’d be moved to outrage, to rebellion. You’d kill to end the murders and protect their children, and their children’s children, from meeting the same fate. You’d fight all your life to see the killers brought to justice.
But they were not slaughtered by swords or plague or hunger. They were slaughtered by old age. So you don’t care at all, do you? You’ll sleep well tonight.”
"No," I said, "I won’t."
I hadn’t seen Minluzîr in forty years and I could not take my eyes off of her. We were sitting on a park bench in Armenelos, one that had been built inadvisedly along a narrow avenue such that all the wind off the streets was channeled straight at us. Her hair was blowing in the wind, her skin chapped and red, her well-bundled bulk shielding me from the wind except for my forehead - I was taller than her.
She blinked at me impatiently. “Yes, you will. I’ve been the King’s advisor on this for as long as he’s held power and no one really processes it, no one really listens. No one looks out on the world and really sees a screaming, desperate tragedy, a thousand deaths on their hands every day. Perhaps it’s better they don’t. People can’t live like that.” The wind whipped her hair in a halo around her head.
"We should go inside," I said.
"No," Minluzîr said.
"Rather loud, isn’t it? It’s hard to hear anything over it."
"Yes, exactly," I said impatiently.
She was giving me a stare as if I was very, very dense. “It’s hard to hear anything over it.”
Well, I hadn’t been advisor to the King-of-dubious-right-to-the-throne for my whole life. ”Oh,” I said.
"I don’t particularly care whether you sleep well," she said, "I’ve come to believe it’s not actually a very good predictor of whether people will help. Do you think that causing unwilling death is a crime?”
"Obviously." Nearly everyone did, these days, even the Faithful. I’d never seen it presented in terms as stark as Minluzîr’s, but it was hard to find anyone who thought that unwilling death was right and natural. My hands were getting chapped in the wind; I rolled them up inside my sleeves. "Speaking of which, the King’s policies in the south are getting less and less defensible-"
"I know," she said. "I know."
"I would have resigned in protest."
"Oh? And what would that change?"
"Nothing," I said, "but you wouldn’t be a part of it. I felt sick when you wrote, truth be told. I assumed you’d have resigned long ago. You’re -" an idealist, Minluzîr, the writer and ideologue who turned public opinion in favor of deposing Sauron, the thinker that people compared to Andreth, no politician at all, really -
I didn’t say it but she read my face with sharp, intent, unhappy eyes.
"Their deaths - all deaths, every death in the world - would still be on my hands," she said evenly, "if I surrendered what power I have to effect change."
"What are you trying to do?"
"First project," she said, "give Men the choice granted to the half-Elven, the choice we should have anyway by ancestry and birthright - you know me, of course, you know I don’t think any of that nonsense matters, but if it helps other people support it than I’ll mention it every time. Men should be able to choose to live forever on this world. If the Gift of Eru is truly a kindness, we should be able to choose it. Stop all of those pointless, stupid, tragic deaths. Fifteen hundred every day - that’s my priority.”
"Let me finish," she said impatiently. "The King is …intractable, right now, and it’s because he feels age creeping up on him and he’s terrified of dying. His actions in the colonies are atrocious and they need to end, but - well, he’s not killing fifteen hundred people a day. Eru is."
"Cold," I said. I’d meant to sound angry but I think it came across as impressed.
"If when all this is over," she snapped, "some future court of enlightened and immortal men wants to sentence me for complicity in war crimes, I will tell my truth and accept their judgment. I’m fighting for that future court of men, for that future time of judgment, to even get the chance to exist.”
"1,500 dead each day," I said, "how many are born? More than that, right? 1,600? 1,700? Mankind will live on."
"Does that comfort you when you hear about crimes in the colonies? Do you think ‘well, more children are born than killed’? Do you think ‘well, we sent them on to Eru’s blessing early?"
"Of course not."
"Because you don’t really believe there’s anything beyond this world. No one does, or we wouldn’t grieve."
We met at her brother’s funeral, did I mention that? You need to understand that, or you won’t understand Minluzîr. It had been an accident. He had been forty-one. They found his body three days later, too late for them to freeze it, as they do these days for everyone who can afford it, in the desperate hope that future scientists will learn enough to bring back the dead. Her brother was a friend of mine from university. I went and I listened and I felt hollow.
Her family was Faithful, and there were prayers. I don’t know if it helped them. I hope that it did.
And then the ceremony ended and I sat there, still hollow, missing whatever pieces would have permitted me to stand. Minluzîr stood beside his grave, her whole body shaking violently for so long I thought perhaps she needed help, and I stood very carefully and walked close, close enough to hear what she was saying.
"If this is the will of Eru," she said, "then I defy his plan. If this pain was planned in Heaven then I’ll break Heaven, I will shatter it, I will smash it wide open and I will march up to the throne of God and burn him where he stands. And if there is no God - if this was no one’s will, if it just happened - then I will tear apart the whole world to make sure that it never, ever happens again.” She was reading from a piece of paper; she’d written it out in advance. I stood transfixed. “Heaven did not need another angel. But here - here on Arda we are going to need a whole lot of them. It will happen again. And again. And again. But someday it will happen for the very last time.” She knelt, then, and I realized she was sobbing - had been sobbing, actually, the whole time. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to the ground, “I’m sorry that I did not finish it in time.”
At her parents’ funerals she’d been more possessed, more eloquent, the speeches more coherent and accordingly more moving. The speeches she gave in the squares of our great cities were better-crafted still. But the one that stuck with me was that first one.
I do not think the histories will look favorably on the advisors of Ar-Pharazôn-our-King-of-dubious-claim. But if someday she is called up before that court to face her justice, and I am called to testify, I’ll tell the truth. She hated death. She wanted everyone to live forever.
"Zigûr?" I said disbelievingly. "You mean Sauron? The one you captured in the War?”
"Do you trust him?"
"I didn’t at first, obviously," she said. "Then he shared all the work that Mordor had been doing on a polio vaccine."
I blinked at her. “We got that from him?”
"It’s a state secret," she said impatiently. "There are enough people with doubts about vaccination, and if they found out that it’s Mordor’s work, not ours…"
"Right," I said. "How many?"
"How many people died of polio before the vaccine became available?"
That earned me the first smile of all afternoon. “Ten thousand a year,” she said.
I buried my head in my hands, only partially to protect it from the wind. “Zigûr claims that everything the histories say about Melkor is nonsense?”
"And that the Valar have the power to grant us immortality, but won’t?"
"We know they do," she said, "they offer the choice we want for ourselves to the Half-Elven. They refuse it to us because we are of mortal descent, not because they can’t do it." Her words were tripping over each other, eager. It made me nervous. Dangle before someone the hope they’ve spent their whole lives chasing, and-
"I don’t like it," I said.
"Nor do I," she answered instantly. "But my position at court does not leave me in much position to verify his claims. You could. Can.”
Her eyes sparkled dangerously in the wind. “You have the connections to get to Middle-earth safely, don’t you? Our answers are in Imladris. There are Elves there who saw the First Age.”
I felt dizzy. “Why are you putting this on me?”
She stood abruptly. “I should get back to work.”
"No. Wait. What? I’m not saying no, I just asked-"
"You won’t like the answer."
I stood too. “Oh, come on.”
"Fifteen hundred a day," she said, "six hundred thousand a year, thirty while we were having this conversation. I’m not putting this on you. I’m offering you a chance to help end it.”
"All right," I said. "I’ll do it. Ah. See you in four or five years. It’s not a trivial trip." My lips were numb as I said it. My head was spinning with what I had just agreed to do.
She nodded and walked off, straight into the wind. As soon as she was out of sight I sat back down, heavily. Zigûr had found someone who dreamed of tearing down the gates of Heaven, and told her that was exactly what we needed to do. Convenient, right?
On the other hand, there’d been people saying it for a long time. That our trips east inevitably turned to domination and conquest and evil precisely because we were meant to be going west.
"Well," I said, taking comfort in how swiftly the words were ripped away by the wind, "I’ve always wanted to visit Imladris anyway."
Zigûr came up on Minluzîr in the library. She was never sure if he was using his supernatural capacity to move silently, or if she’d just been too absorbed in her thoughts to notice him.
"Bad year," he said.
Her voice came out ragged and raw. “Yeah.”
"Shipping losses are up by a factor of three."
The ship had gone down somewhere between Rómenna and Lindon, a freak storm. No survivors. She’d given a hell of a speech at the funerals.
"Yeah," she said.
"The superstitious will say that it is because we have strayed from the favor of Ulmo." He was watching her intently.
"I’m not superstitious."
He sat down. “Of course not. But the losses have been the work of Ulmo, you cannot doubt that.”
"I haven’t been given any reason to believe it."
"That route is perfectly safe. With modern navigation technology, there have been no losses in a hundred years. And the ship had lifeboats. Do you know how long it’s been since a ship was a total loss, no survivors, on such a busy route?"
"Four hundred," she said automatically. Zigûr smiled like a proud teacher and she remembered herself. "Though I don’t know why we’re talking about that ship particularly. There have been a lot of losses this year."
Zigûr waved a hand dismissively. “But that one I have proof was Ulmo. And I have a suspicion you know why he did it.”
"I don’t," she said.
He stood up again, as effortlessly as he’d seated himself. His face was troubled. ”Minluzîr,” he said, “who is the Vala of the winds?”
He did not wait to see how the words landed. He turned around and walked away.
"They heard us?” she asked from behind him. Her voice was high-pitched but otherwise quite steady. He disguised a smile before turning back around.
"They have been keeping these lies alive for three thousand years. Did you think them amateurs?" He swallowed and added apologetically, "I didn’t say anything because they’re assuredly watching me more closely than you, and anything I would have done would have put you in more danger."
"Of course," she said.
"I’m working on ships they can’t sink," he said. "I respect tremendously the impulse to wait for complete information, but I think, Minluzîr, it is time you decided. Are you in?"
She had a counter on her desk, a mechanical marvel, flipping through the numbers, counting up to fifteen thousand. A reminder of the stakes. She reset it every day. She took a long time to answer him.
"I’m in," she said.