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Note: Originally written for a task of Tolkien Mailing Competition to write “an account by one of the Edain of the journey from the East to Beleriand”. I wrote this inspired by the Teitho “first meetings” challenge, but didn’t submit it for the lack of Aragorn and Legolas, and never got to posting it until now, when Teitho dropped this rule and announce a Joker challenge.
A Shadow Behind
A shadow lies behind us. We do not speak of it. We do not mention it in our songs and stories. Maybe we believe that if we won’t talk about it, it will go away. Not talking about it does not make it less real, though. Fleeing from it does not make it less real, either. And yet we flee and do not talk of what lies behind, in a hope to keep the shadow there – in the past. In the past, not in the future. Let us not speak about it, so our children can be free of the memory, even if it does not make the reality of it disappear.
Let our children be free – it is enough that the memory is in our thoughts, that it haunts us at night and peeks at us from the darkness of our own mind when we least expect it. Let them not experience more than a distant echo of the darkness we came through, for I know that those echoes can never be silenced.
We were not meant to die when we awoke in this world, some say. Our race was meant to be immortal, free of the fear and darkness of death. We are being punished for something terrible we did, the elders say. What it was, nobody remembers. Maybe those who were before us tried to shield us from that memory like we try to shield our children. Terrible indeed it must have been, if an entire race is punished for it, denied the countless years of being, and given just a short glimpse of the wonders of this world instead. Just a short glimpse and then – nobody knows what comes then. That uncertainty is one of those fears that keep us sleepless at nights.
I do not know if they are true. I do not know if we were truly immortal at the beginning, if death is really a punishment for something unspeakably terrible we did in the past. Yet terrible things we did – that much I know. We worshipped a false god, a god that led us deeper and deeper into darkness. But that is behind us already – that shadow we left there, darker than starless midnight, darker than a bottomless pit of despair.
No, I do not want to talk of it – now, or ever. I gathered all those I could and that were willing to go, and we fled. To the West we wandered, not even with a hope to find light. That hope was the first thing we had to find. Many remained behind, without even a longing for hope. The shackles they are bound with are not of steel, but of fear and faith. The god they serve is not merciful, and fear is the weapon he uses against both his worshippers and enemies. We are tainted by it, carry it deep inside of our hearts. I do not know what to believe anymore. Maybe even that deepest of our fears, the fear of death, is his doing. Maybe death is not something we should fear… but I do not know for certain – and I am afraid to believe it.
We, who fled, did so with a vision of being free. We will never be truly free, though. That shadow will remain behind us and that fear with us forever. We heard rumours about the West, about powerful, majestic beings of light, mighty enough to stand against that shadow. That was what turned our steps towards the setting sun. Some who fled turned South or North, and wandered out of our tales and memory – we have never heard of them again.
And so here we are. A group of refugees without home, looking for something that might be just a phantom, afraid of our own shadow, but not daring to hope in light. Tired after a day’s walk, we lay down to sleep. The fire burns still, and there are stars in the sky tonight. The fresh beech leaves gently rustle in the wind and the scent in the air is sweet. Spring came into the woods, with its flowers and scents. May it be that no fear will keep me sleepless tonight…
Yes, my sleep is blessedly peaceful, like floating on a wide, slowly flowing river. I’m having such a wonderful dream… A creature of light sits amid us, and sings with a voice more beautiful than anything I have ever heard. I do not understand the words of the song, but the music touches my very soul. It caresses gently the parts of it that has known only pain. It soothes the unrest within it, and for a moment I have a glimpse of another country – green and fair, with light and music mingled in the very air that I breathe, and white shores washed by the ever-singing sea. I do not know where the vision comes from - maybe it is woven into the unearthly song that penetrates my dream. The music makes me weep with sadness and happiness mixed, with an overabundance of emotion that feels so deep and cleansing in the same time. But I do not sleep anymore, do I?
I open my eyes, afraid that the dream will dissolve in the reality of waking. It does not, though. He is there, sitting on a log by the fire, his hair shining like a molten gold in its dying light. But his face has its own inner light, pure and gentle and distant like the stars in the sky above. A simple harp is in his hands, one that someone of us left by the fire. But the sound that his fingers coax from its strings is just like him – light and distant, and breath-takingly beautiful. He is still singing the song about a green, far country. I understand it even without understanding the words. Tears continue rolling down my cheeks, but I do not care for them. I listen. Is he one of those beings from the West we heard rumours about? I do not know – and I do not care either, in the moment. I listen and I weep, and my heart opens and I feel that some of its darkness is lifted.
For the first time since the beginning of our journey, my heart is filled with hope.
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