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Amarië roused with a start, breathless and shaking in the cool silver light. She could feel his presence, golden and warm, curious and kind, and see about him a glade of dark trees and a fire and a group of creatures – elf-like, in a way, but smaller, darker, hairier. They were looking at him with wonder, his beauty reflected in their eyes as he sang softly to the music of his harp. How could they not be amazed by his shining presence? A tear spilled over and wove a path down towards her lips, but she ignored it and let it fall.
She would have defied her parents and gone with him – if only he had asked. But his fingers had touched her cheek – a lingering caress, as if he was impressing the sensation in his memory, to give him something to hold close to him in the long days ahead, and he had refused to offer her the choice.
But she had given herself to him, nonetheless. She had often wondered if she had been right to bind her fëa to his – in promise of a future that might never come. Whether he had come to resent this tie to a maiden of the Vanyar, come to wish that he had been free to offer his love to one of those who had had the courage to venture forth with the Noldor – or, perhaps, one of those who grew up there in those starlit lands. Thoughts that haunted her on nights like these. She passed her days quietly, dutifully, smiling and singing and behaving just as she ought – but the nights … She could not control where the dream path took her.
She sat up and took a sip from the glass of cool water that she kept beside her bed. No regrets. She must not have regrets. She had not tried to hold him – she had seen in his eyes that this was a challenge he longed to take, an adventure with a serious purpose. He wished to avenge his grandfather’s murder – and who could blame him for that? What had come after – she shuddered – no-one could have foreseen, but it was no fault of his. And, from that moment, every step the Noldor had taken had tumbled them down a chute littered with sharp-edged rocks, dropping ever more steeply, until there had been no possibility of clawing their way back.
Finarfin had come to her, white-faced, despairing, and told her of the Doom. Told her that his children, all of them, had defied the Valar’s warning and continued on a path that could only lead to disaster. Warned her that Finrod could not return to the lands of his birth.
But how could she conceive of a Doom that had no possibility of forgiveness? The Valar were wise – they might warn of disaster and the folly of disobedience, but they were generous and loving. They had taken the quendi from the dangers of the dark lands and brought them to dwell in the glory of the light of the Trees. How could they not forgive those who had taken upon themselves the duty of dealing with Morgoth? Forgive them and welcome them home.
Yet, as time passed, she had found it difficult to suppress the doubt that began to grow within her.
Finrod’s spirit was not wholly bound with hers – not as it would have had they truly been wed – but sometimes, when the business of her day did not get in the way, she felt she could see through his eyes the trials and wonders of this alien world. She thought he knew, believed that he could sense her closeness and had learned to guard himself – but there were times when he had been unable to subdue his pain and she had glimpsed his struggles. He had come close to despair in the bitter cold of the Crossing. Beautiful, golden, laughing Finrod had discovered a resolution in himself that had never before been tested. Found himself to be a leader like Finwë, one with the kindness of Finarfin, one who cared more for those he led than the impersonal heartlessness of exacting revenge.
And his restlessness drove him still – to new acquaintances in new lands, new loyalties, new duties. And occasionally, just occasionally, when his spirit was on fire, he called her from her rest to watch him from afar.
She rose from her bed and dressed swiftly. She needed to see the stars above her, watch Tilion drive his chariot across the night and know that somewhere far from her, somewhere she would never see, Finrod walked under the same skies.
His destiny stalked him. Finrod raised his head from his inspection of his hands. He had survived battle that had consumed his kin, sought to make friends among those born east of the sea, built this refuge to keep his people safe – but his fate was catching up with him.
He examined the man before him. Tall, he was, and proud; bearing on his finger the ring he had given to Barahir after the Dagor Bragollach. He was a fine man, doubtless, a worthy son of his father – but this quest of his was folly.
‘You would take on the might of Morgoth and his servants alone?’ he said incredulously. ‘Where Fingolfin failed you think you will succeed?’
‘A Silmaril,’ Beren told him. ‘The bride-price set by Elu Thingol, who would not see his daughter bestow herself on any lesser creature than one who could free a Silmaril from the Lord of Angband.’
‘He sends you to die,’ Finrod said bluntly. ‘Thingol would not welcome his daughter’s choice of the fairest elf under Elbereth’s stars – he certainly does not intend to let her wed one of the Secondborn.’
Those stars shone from the man’s dark eyes. ‘Then die I shall,’ he said, ‘for living without her would be a worse death.’
Finrod closed his eyes. He had given his word. This man bore the token of it – he had promised, when Barahir had saved him, that he would aid the one who asked it of him. That he knew his death came in the shadows that stirred round Beren was of no import – his honour called him to take up arms in his support.
He stood deliberately, waiting until all eyes were on him. ‘Then I shall go with you, Beren, son of Barahir, and do what I can to bring your quest to fulfilment.’ He turned his head just enough to hold his brother’s eyes. ‘And the care of my people I shall leave in the hands of Orodreth Finarfinion.’ He removed the circlet from his brow and ceremoniously handed it to his darker-haired brother. Orodreth had a stunned look about him, his mouth opening and closing, so that he looked rather like a landed fish. Despite himself, a glimmer of amusement lightened Finrod’s rather bleak mood. ‘Guard them well, my brother.’
The outrage of his court could not weaken his resolution. This was his task. He knew as well as they did that he would not return to Nargothrond to take up his crown again, but to deny this petition would be to abandon the intentions with which he had started this journey in that time long ago when this had seemed as much to do with adventure as Doom.
He stepped away from the dais, leaving the trappings of kingship for another to bear, and looked at the man. ‘What is your plan?’ he asked.
The golden day had disappeared. All she could see was shadow and flame, while cold chains bit into tender flesh and sought to drain the warmth from the blood that pulsed slowly through aching limbs. Yet courage still flared, courage indomitable. He would not give in – he would offer himself to save the one in his care. And searing into her was the echo of pain, pain indescribable, pain that clawed and chewed and ripped, stealing blood and breath and rending… A sound like a dog tearing its prey apart, hot breath on cold skin, the shredding of muscle, the wrenching of bone from bone and the stench of spilled blood and worse…
A phantom touch, a ghostly breeze brushed against her cheek, a sensation of sorrow, of apology – and he was gone.
Amarië fell to her knees, vomiting and weeping hopelessly, unable to control her body, shuddering and jerking as she tried to bring herself back to the ordered gardens of Valmar and the exquisite song of the Vanyar as they praised the wisdom and generosity of the Powers. But she could not, and she felt herself falling, falling …
The world to which she returned seemed grey, its colours muted by the film across her sight. Her parents did not understand – how could they?
She sought out Indis. Indis knew – far more clearly than she could – the anguish of losing the one to whom she had given her heart. Indis knew the reality of enduring in his absence.
Finrod’s grandmother had welcomed her, clasped her as kin by more than love, held on to her as if she had been in truth Finrod’s wife.
And, after a while, her parents came to terms with her absence. Service to the wife of Finwë, to Ingwë’s kin, was acceptable. Not, perhaps, as worthy as dedication to the Powers, but enough to give them the feeling that she was not wasting her talents.
And time passed.
Unlike the dreams.
She had hoped that, as she grew accustomed to his absence, her memory of Finrod would become more remote, something she could take out when the business of the day was over, something she could enjoy with thoughts of wistful might-have-beens.
But her dream path was not tranquil. The Finrod who had danced with her in the meadows of Valmar, who had walked with her, whose golden presence had warmed her heart, was not the one who made her afraid to rest. This Finrod’s spirit was haunted by the trials of the life that followed the slaughter of the Trees, the shock of Alqualondë, the cruelty of the Ice, the horror of battle, the despair of continual loss, but, most of all, plagued by his protracted death.
Indis said nothing. Half the time she seemed barely aware of the world around her, needing to be reminded to eat, to drink, to continue with the necessities of life. Of course, the rest of the time she reverted to the sharp-eyed, gentle lady who had devoted herself to the love of Finwë and her sons. It was Amarië’s need that roused her, that caused her to seek out Irmo’s Gardens. Not for herself – she had no wish to heal – but for her grandson’s beloved.
Yet Estë’s understanding had helped them both. Both Finwë and his grandson were bound to Arda and their need of Námo’s care was only temporary. They would take the time they needed for their wounded fëar to heal and the Vala would return them to the world. To their kin. To those who loved them.
‘Sharing the knowledge of what he suffered,’ Amarië said, ‘is not a bad thing, then? It will help me understand the elf who returns to walk his father’s halls?’
Estë’s serene glance was like balm. ‘What do you think, child?’ she asked.
‘I think…’ It was almost impossible to resist the Valier’s desire to make her work out the solution to her own questions. ‘I think that Finrod would – will – take consolation from the fact that I have been safe and know not the perils of the Hither Lands, but…’ Her voice trailed away as she tried to find a way to explain her thoughts. ‘I doubt whether complete ignorance of his sufferings would be helpful – it would isolate him and make him turn away…’ She stopped again and looked doubtfully at the gleaming figure.
‘If he had not needed you,’ Estë remarked, ‘he would not have permitted you to be with him. He would not have sought you in his last desperate moments.’
‘Sought me?’ Amarië’s voice sharpened. ‘Or just been unable to keep his guard in place to keep me away?’
Estë tilted her head sideways and simply regarded the Vanya.
‘He sought me.’ Amarië recalled with certainty, gazing straight ahead at the bubbling fountain. ‘He bade me farewell.’ A wave of heat flushed her cheeks and hot tears spilled. ‘He will return,’ she said.
‘And he will seek you again,’ the Valier murmured. ‘When he emerges into the light, he will need you to be ready.’
Amarië looked at her, wide-eyed. ‘I will be waiting,’ she said.
Finrod blinked. He felt as if he were floating, a mote of light drifting on the winds of time. He was nowhere and everywhere, nothing and everything, an insignificant speck of life and the whole world. And yet … and yet …
He moved – and watched the hand stretch its fingers, long and pale and responding to his thought. His … his being was confined, brought together and placed in a shell – a body.
He took the time he needed to let the thought spin. The elf he had been … the product of his experience, his suffering – his death. The elf he was now … the elf he could be. He flexed his fingers, like an elf trying on new gloves to see if they fitted him.
The Vala watched him, his dark eyes devoid of obvious expression. Finrod thought he was eager – felt he was still close enough to freedom to sense the emotion behind the screen.
‘Are you ready?’ Námo asked.
‘Ready for what?’ Finrod did not think he had spoken. He did not think he remembered how to speak – but words were unnecessary here. Wherever here was.
‘To resume your interrupted life.’
A momentary qualm made the elf feel … nauseous. He did not think he wished to return to the situation that had seen him …
‘Not then.’ Námo hastened to reassure him. ‘You have moved beyond the trials of Endórë to return to the Blessed Realm.’
Something about that sounded wrong. Finrod gave himself time to consider. ‘But the Doom?’ he asked.
‘You have moved beyond that, too.’ The Vala looked at him dispassionately. ‘The Finrod who emerges from my halls is not the same elf as the one who defied the Powers.’
Finrod turned the thought over in his mind. ‘Is death what it takes, then,’ he asked, ‘to be forgiven?’
‘Not necessarily.’ Námo did not seem to be in any hurry to move. ‘There are as many paths to forgiveness as there are elves seeking it.’ He watched the elf’s fëa shape itself to the hroa that now confined it. ‘But it must be earned – through selflessness and service, through atonement.’
‘My kin will return?’
‘When it is right for them to do so.’ Námo kept his tone non-committal. ‘The process cannot be hastened. Each case is different.’
‘Where do I go from here?’
Námo contemplated his answer. He had assumed that the elf would know. Perhaps Estë had been right to say that returned elves would need a period of adjustment. Perhaps the process was another birth – with the elf needing time to learn how to relate to the world. Elves were not, of course, accustomed to their spirits journeying unclothed. ‘My brother will take you into his care,’ he said. After all, his business was done. He had released the elf from his charge – and what became of him now was no longer the Vala’s problem. ‘Until you are ready to take up your new life.’
Finarfin had deserted his court without a second thought. Eärwen had abandoned her customary tasks. They had ridden as if chased by Morgoth’s dark creatures, scarcely noticing the lands through which they raced.
They arrived, dusty and breathless, in a haven of timeless tranquillity. Estë’s handmaidens had offered them space and quiet and cool, sparkling water. Finarfin gazed at their surroundings blankly. It was not the time, surely, for bathing and taking wine and sitting beside the pebbled pools in silent contemplation. They had not been summoned for this.
His wife’s hand rested on his. ‘Come,’ she said gently. ‘You need to rest.’
‘I need to know,’ he told her, speaking for the first time in days. ‘I need to know what is so serious as to make the Valar require our presence. Is my mother following Miriel’s example? Has she given up all hope?’ His eyes were dark, haunted by more than his current fear.
Eärwen shook her head. ‘It was not a summons to bid Indis farewell,’ she said with surety. ‘You know it was not – you are trying not to let yourself expect too much.’ She wrapped her arms around him, offering him support in the only way she could. Blood staining the wharves of Alqualondë had come between them, their children had deserted them, the shadow of the Valar’s war had scarred them – but they still had each other. Together they could endure what would have broken one alone.
How long they stood there, they knew not. But the calm of the place strengthened them and readied them for whatever they had to face. Finarfin relaxed his hold on his wife and looked into eyes grey as a brooding sea. ‘What else do we have to lose?’ he asked. ‘If not Indis, then none of my kin remain to be taken from us.’
Eärwen’s hand caressed his back. ‘The Doom of the Noldor does not seem confined to those who followed Fëanor east,’ she said bitterly. ‘Those whose loyalty is unquestioned still have to pay.’
Her husband touched a gentle finger to her lips in warning. ‘We must have trust,’ he said. ‘The Valar do not look at time as we do.’
‘They do not,’ a voice agreed.
Her son stiffened, forcing his face to a cheerful smile before he turned to her. Indis looked better, he thought with relief. Not like someone who could no longer endure the endless repetition of empty days. She seemed in tune with the eternal beauty of the gardens – and bright with expectation. ‘Adar?’ he asked.
Her light dimmed the barest amount. ‘He will not return,’ she said simply. ‘He followed Fëanor to Formenos, surrendering his duty to his people for love of his son. He will not leave Námo’s Halls while his firstborn remains – and Fëanor will not leave Námo’s care while Arda endures.’
Finarfin closed his eyes. It hurt. It did not matter that he had always known that Fëanor came first in his father’s eyes, it still hurt to be reminded that Finwë’s second family were somehow less to him than Miriel who had deserted him and Fëanor whose … intransigence had led to the Noldor king’s death. And the death of so many more.
‘But Námo has more in his Halls than Finwë,’ Indis reminded her son. ‘And not all of them wish to remain. There are many who will return to walk beside their kin in the groves of Aman.’
‘Finrod?’ Eärwen breathed. ‘I have been more … aware … of him in recent months.’
Indis glowed. ‘Come with me,’ she demanded.
They yearned to speed across springy turf studded with tiny white stars and golden bells, turf that released a fragrance that brought peace even to hearts in turmoil – but this was not a place where even desperate parents could hasten to a reunion that had could offer them a new start.
‘Breathe deeply,’ Indis advised. ‘Prepare yourselves. You must go calmly into this meeting.’ She hesitated. ‘Finrod is … both more and less than he was – and his fëa is very close to the surface. He needs serenity and acceptance – and no questions.’
‘Does he remember us?’ Finarfin had, after his father’s death, spent many starlit nights pondering the promise of Námo’s care and the elves’ bond to Arda. Would those who were rehoused return as infants, or come forth in the power of adulthood? Would they be emptied of their experience and have to learn to live again? Would they know their kin – would their kin know them? No matter how long he spent on the questions, he had never found the answers and he had finally accepted that not until the Vala considered that the fëar in his care were ready to resume their lives would he discover what he needed to know. Maybe, indeed, the Powers themselves were not aware of what would happen.
‘He knows who he is,’ Indis said. ‘He knows who we are. He is not yet entirely sure how to combine knowledge and emotion.’ She took her son’s hand and extended her other to his wife. ‘Be patient. Estë has told us to respond to the need he shows. To answer questions as he asks them and not to show distress at anything he says or does.’
Eärwen drew a deep breath and forced her emotions behind a mask of control. ‘We can do that,’ she said.
Her hands clasping theirs, Indis began to draw them forward. ‘Then come and welcome your son,’ she said.
He stood tall, his face turned up toward Elbereth’s stars. The cool of the night washed him and soothed his raw spirit. This was hard. Part of him hankered for the unchanging remoteness of Námo’s Halls, where his fëa could just drift in silence. But another part – a larger part – wanted what came with this embodied life. Wanted the contact, wanted to discover things he did not know, wanted to throw himself into an effort to make the world better, wanted to please the anxious-eyed elves who dealt with him so carefully.
Yet something was missing. He turned his thought inward, inspecting the person he seemed to be. He saw himself in his mother’s eyes – her firstborn, loved and treasured. Nurtured. Brought to full growth and freed. His father’s son – challenged. Stretched. Offered the chance to shine. The product of two proud houses – this much he had learnt: this much he had remembered. But there was more.
He turned slowly, palms open to the sky, gleaming in the muted light. He needed to know the bad as well as the good. He was not perfect – he knew that. He was an elf, as fallible as any other. He needed to come to terms with the shadows as well as the sunlight.
And he needed someone who needed him as an adult rather than a child.
‘Amarië,’ he murmured, tasting the name on lips unused to speech. ‘Amarië.’
Golden-fair, eyes soft and trusting, gentle – generous. He could put together images, but his pictures of her were fragmented. Each one no more than a flat reflection. A maiden in soft green, dancing beneath the light of the Trees; her concern when he had gashed his leg leaping from rocks – showing off to impress and failing dismally; the brightness in her face when they walked beneath avenues of lime trees; the feel of her hand in his; the touch of her lips; her brave attempt to conceal her hurt when he bade her farewell…
He must find her. He did not know, but he suspected that she could offer him the missing part of himself, the part his loving carers were so careful to keep away from him. Perhaps, with her, he could begin again.
He was not to know of the whispered conversations that were taking place out of earshot. Not to realise the debates as to his state of mind, his readiness, his need. He only knew that when he lowered his eyes, she stood before him.
Clad in white, barefoot, her hair loose, her eyes fixed on him, she waited for him to acknowledge her.
‘Amarië,’ he breathed. ‘Forgive me?’
‘What is there to forgive?’ she asked.
Hesitantly, he took a step towards her. ‘So much,’ he told her, although he found himself unsure as to what it was. ‘And I am not the elf I was.’
He did not even notice her cross the distance between them. ‘You are Finrod,’ she said fiercely. ‘No matter what has happened to you, no matter what you have suffered, no matter what becomes of you in the time to come. You are Finrod – you are honest and true and courageous and loving. You are the elf I have carried in my heart over long years. You are Finrod – you do not need to be anything else.’
He tested the thought. Did he really not need to try to fulfil the expectations of others? Was he trying to take his parents’ memories of him and fit himself to them? He could not tell. Would it be any different for him to be the Finrod he found in Amarië’s mind?
Thinking was too painful – and none of his questions ever seemed to offer him answers. He was an elf of action – introspection was better left to others. He reached out a tentative hand and was pleased when Amarië did not move away.
Her skin was soft and warm, and his fingers tingled as he brushed the tips over her cheek to tangle them in her hair. She trembled, he noted, but not with fear. She had dreamed of this through so many quiet nights, dreamed of this while pacing moonlit gardens to keep away darker visions.
How had he known that? Finrod paused briefly, but the distraction of her presence was too much to let him take the thought further. The scent of her hair intoxicated him and he shivered at the warmth of her breath on his wrist. She was so near after so long apart. She was forcing herself to be cautious, to hold back as they all did and let him set the pace, but he could feel her shaking, feel her leaning towards him. Finrod smiled and bent his head so that their lips could meet in a gentle kiss that was, at first, so chaste…
‘We have done this before,’ he murmured against her mouth.
‘We have,’ she agreed, her hands lifting to caress his chest gently before sliding round to hold him against her.
‘May we do it again?’ Finrod asked, and did not wait for her reply before beginning a kiss that was rather more intimate. Amarië, he noted, seemed quite happy to participate in the game, even if she was reluctant, at the moment, to initiate it.
‘As often as you like,’ she said recklessly.
He laughed. ‘You might come to regret that promise,’ he said.
‘Never,’ she told him. ‘I have waited long enough.’
Finrod kept his arms round her as he lifted his face to the stars. This felt right. Amarië was a part of his past that he needed – and she, apparently, needed him, too. He already felt more … real. More grounded. His clasp tightened. ‘I will not leave you again,’ he promised.
‘You will do what you must,’ she said. ‘I will not put limits on you.’
‘That seems hardly fair,’ he remarked. She felt so right beside him, he marvelled. As if a gap was filled that had been empty since he first buckled on his sword belt in the darkness that had swallowed the light of the Trees. ‘But I would accept any terms you offer – they would be more than I deserved.’
‘Then it is as well that I have more care for you than you have for yourself,’ she smiled. ‘You were not meant to be caged, Finrod Finarfinion.’
‘Love is not a cage.’ It came as an illumination. He blinked in amazement as a collection of fragmented thoughts blended together.
‘Maybe not.’ She gazed at him soberly, inspecting him as if to convince herself that he really was before her. ‘But it is a responsibility. And I do not know if you are ready for it – not yet.’
‘I rely on you to teach me,’ he said confidentially. ‘To let me know when it is time.’
She looked up, startled. ‘It is not my decision to make.’ She laughed and he lost himself in the sound. ‘When you are ready, everyone will know. You will sweep us all along in your wake, my lord, and have us all doing your will.’
Tentatively, he rested his head against hers, and her closeness warmed him. He closed his eyes and explored the sensations surging through his body. Amarië was right, he supposed. It was too soon. But that did not mean he was going to let her go. Once was enough for that. His new life – he did not know where it would take him or what it would ask of him, but of one thing he was sure. Amarië would walk it at his side. ‘As long as I convince you,’ he said. ‘I will be content.’
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