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In Bitterness and Loss  by Bodkin

In Bitterness and Loss

‘You should not,’ her mother said, her thumb rubbing twisted circles on the back of Eärwen’s hand until the gentle touch burned into her pale skin, ‘hold him responsible for the actions of others.’

She lowered her free hand to trap the movement – a contact that comforted her mother more than it did her.  ‘I do not blame him for what others did,’ she said tonelessly.  ‘Only for his own indecision.  Had he made his choice earlier …’  Her voice fractured and failed, leaving her to draw steadying breaths until she could resume.  ‘Had he refused to follow his brothers from Tirion … perhaps more of the Noldor would have chosen to reject Fëanor’s call.  Perhaps Alqualondë would have remained safe.  Perhaps my brother would still be alive and my children safe.’

‘And perhaps those who chose to heed the Doomsman’s words would have had no-one to lead them home,’ Vórima sighed.  ‘Finarfin wanted to avenge his father’s murder, my child.   There is nothing wrong with that.  And, when he learned what vengeance entailed, he had the courage to turn his back on it.  It is more than most could do.’

The faded garden whispered beyond them, like sharp-tongued gossips hiding in the gloom, while a chill breeze stirred the few night-blooming flowers.  There was an austere beauty to the endless night, now that their eyes had adjusted to it, with the distant stars casting a cool light on the darkened realm of Aman.  Eärwen missed the colours that had been leached from the world – but the sombre shadows were better matched to her desolate mood.

‘He needs you, my daughter.’

‘But I do not want to be needed.’  Eärwen pulled her hands away and stood up, stepping back from her mother.  ‘I have been abandoned and betrayed and forsaken – and I will not run to his side like a besotted girl now that he has chosen to heed the cries of those deserted by their kin and returned to Tirion.’

‘Bitterness becomes you not, Eärwen Olwë’s daughter.’ Her mother’s voice stung, much as it had when Vórima had reproved her younger self.  ‘Do not wallow in your own suffering – there are others who have far worse to endure.’

She felt a flush warm her cheeks.  ‘I do not mean to belittle your loss – or deny Salmar’s sacrifice.  Every pyre that burned in Alqualondë has left a mark on my heart, believe me.  But …’  Eärwen tilted her head back and watched the stars dance as her eyes filled with tears.  ‘I have lost all my children to Fëanor’s madness – and they will wander unforgiven in the wild lands east of the sea until the world ends.’

‘The Valar are not so cruel, child.’  Vórima moved swiftly to embrace her daughter.  ‘They would not make us suffer so.’  She spoke with conviction.  ‘They brought us here out of the darkness and cared for us – they will not abandon us now.’

‘They will die and remain houseless – and wane and become as shadows of regret,’ Eärwen whispered.  ‘Finarfin told me what the Doomsman said.  And still they defied him and went on.’ 

Vórima’s arms tightened and she swallowed before replying.  ‘What is heard is not always what is meant,’ she said.  ‘It is for my grandchildren to prove themselves worthy of pardon.  They will come home – they have done nothing unforgivable.’

‘Not yet.’  Eärwen’s words dropped like stone.

‘Not ever.’  Vórima declared.  ‘Can you imagine Findarato abandoning his values?  Can you see Nerwen allowing herself to be bullied into swearing allegiance to her uncle’s perversions?  Your offspring will shine in the Hither Lands – and draw people to them as moths to flame.’  She patted her daughter on the back before releasing her.  ‘But the living need us, child.  I cannot lose myself in grief for Salmar – and you cannot abandon your duty to brood over those you cannot help.  You may not remain in Alqualondë, daughter.  You must go home to your husband.’


The flames of the torches spluttered sullen red, casting but little light over the streets of Tirion.  Eärwen’s horse trod carefully across the cobbles as it sought its stable.  The town smelled of hanging wood smoke and constant damp, and she yearned again for the golden light and warmth of Laurelin and the soft silver of Telperion.  Her parents, whose early years had been passed by Cuiviénen, relished the starlit night, but to her … well, the darkness represented the evil of Morgoth, that had led to the shattering of Aman.  The deep shadows between the buildings, the chilled shivers of the weakening greenery, the hiding of the remaining Noldor behind closed shutters – none of this spoke to her of the splendour of the Lady Varda’s creations.

‘My lady?’ A surprised groom emerged from the yellow candlelight.  ‘We were not told …’ He stopped and smiled ingratiatingly.  ‘You are most welcome, my queen.’

Eärwen winced.  Once, perhaps, she might have enjoyed being addressed as queen, but the cost had been too high.  A king’s daughter she was – but a king’s wife?  That was Indis, surely, or, perhaps, once Finwë had accompanied his firstborn into exile, Anairë.  It was not who she was – not who she wanted to be.   

‘My lord – the King,’ the ellon corrected himself, almost preening himself in self-congratulation for his unexpected proximity to power, ‘is home.’  He bowed slightly to her.  ‘He spends many hours at Lord Finwë’s house, my lady, but today he returned early.’

She was unsure that was a good thing.  She had wanted to have time to walk through the rooms of her old home, time to absorb its emptiness, time to sense how he had been, alone here among all the memories of family life, before seeing the ellon who had, for so many yeni, been her husband.   She rubbed her horse’s nose, offering him a handful of oats from the half-empty barrel behind her, and lingering in the stable as her entourage went through the process of settling their mounts. 

Her mother’s insistence that she should return to Tirion had hurt her.  Was she so much less important to her parents than her brothers?  Had she, in marrying a Noldo, made herself less a Teler?  Would her husband be any more welcoming?  After all, the Noldor King’s Teler wife could only remind his people of the … error … committed by his half-brother’s blood-crazed warriors.  Would her presence in Tirion not exacerbate the guilt of those who remained?

She sighed.  She could not remain indefinitely in the stables.  She needed to face Finarfin.  They needed to discover whether either could forgive the other and learn to live again in this world so sorely changed.  Eärwen nodded at the groom.  ‘Send my bags to my rooms, please,’ she said.  ‘And see to my horse.’

The house – the house where their children had laughed and run and tumbled from mischief to mischief – appeared dark and deserted, its windows staring blankly into the everlasting night.  Appeared, Eärwen reminded herself.  It was in the highest degree unlikely that the remaining Noldor had abandoned their king to dwell alone.  She would have to face her mother-in-law’s disapproval.  And, doubtless, her sister-in-law’s.  Both would feel that their fates were far worse than hers and do their best to make her feel undeserving of both her husband and the position she now had to fill.

She could not remain here and make it look as if she was uncertain of her welcome.  Whether she was wanted or not, she was here.


He sat at his desk, defended by a shield of parchment, armed with a forest of scrolls, but he was not giving them the attention his aides doubtless felt they deserved.  He rested his head on his hands, his long fingers acting as combs to hold his golden locks in place, his palms hiding his face.  He looked beaten: beaten and lost, like one whose dreams did not allow him rest.

She had always loved his diffidence, his reluctance to see himself defined by his position as his father’s son, as being someone of greater worth than others.  Finarfin was a gentle elf, striving to please a demanding family, willing to go further than he needed to make his Teler wife at home among the Noldor, happier to play with his children than play politics.  Yet now – he was left to rule the remnant of his people, this shattered group of abandoned wives and children, those old enough to have undertaken the Great Journey, those resolute enough to withstand the hysteria inspired by Fëanor’s oratory, those brave enough to turn back.  He had shouldered the burden – but there was no reason why he should bear it alone.

Eärwen did not move.  Suddenly tentative, she was unsure whether her arrival would be welcomed.  What if her rejection of him, her need to hide behind her childhood protectors and seek safety, had wounded him more deeply than he could endure at this time when all his security had left him?  What if he pushed her away, as Fëanor had done with Nerdanel?  Her eyes closed as she issued a heartfelt plea to whichever Valië might be listening.  

‘My sea-pearl.’ 

His voice caressed her, like the spray of a breaking wave, refreshing the arid desert she had become.  She opened her eyes to see him stand and hesitate, the laden desk between them.

‘I am sorry,’ she said.

He stiffened, arranging his face in careful neutrality.  ‘You will return to your Atar’s house?’  He had clearly convinced himself that her rejection of him, of his house, of his race, was inevitable – but in his acceptance of her choice, she could only see the ellon whose tentative courtship had won her heart in the first place and drawn her from the sea.

‘We share too much to let what is not your fault divide us.’

The candlelight caught his eyes and made them shine.  ‘I am not blameless.’

‘Neither am I.’  Eärwen stepped further into the room.  ‘But we have chosen to let them go – and their fate is now in their own hands.  Our children have grown, my husband, and they must live with their decisions.’

‘So must we all.’  Finarfin looked … aged.  Not in body – he was, after all, an elf – but it seemed that the weight of a people’s despair had landed on his back.  ‘And I do not know how we will ever be able to …’  He choked, as though the shadow of evil had wrapped itself round his throat and strangled him. 

It was as if he had been waiting for her over the countless breaths when only the slow dance of the stars had served to indicate the passing of time – as if only in her company could he lower his guard.  She reached for him, allowing her anger to seep out of her in her long sigh.  It was not his fault, any more than it was hers – they were both victims of circumstance.  They bypassed the barrier of the desk, so that there was no longer anything to keep them apart, and touched for the first time since he had deserted her for the grim ranks of defiant Noldor trailing Fëanor from Tirion.  The desperation of his clutch frightened her, filled her with helpless guilt, enraged her, made her want to comfort him. 

Unbalanced, the pair of them side-stepped to topple rather inelegantly onto a convenient sofa – one fortunately solid enough to withstand their arrival – and Finarfin buried his head in the junction of her neck and shoulder, like a child begging consolation.

‘Is it that bad?’ she asked, alarmed.

‘Worse.’  Finarfin raised a hand to brush gently over her silk-clad upper arm.  ‘I know not how the Noldor will endure this.’ His breathing steadied as she smoothed her hand over his golden hair.  ‘Nothing is growing as it should, the cattle are lowing with hunger, our food stores diminish steadily, many of our essential artisans have followed their lords into exile, leaving behind their wives and children with none to provide for them, we cannot trade with the Teleri, the Vanyar will not trade with us … if nothing changes, we will not survive long enough to seek the mercy of the Valar – which will, in all likelihood, not be forthcoming.’

‘The mercy of the Powers is always forthcoming – or so my mother says.’

He shuddered.  ‘You would not say that had you …’ His jaw clenched.  Bad enough that he had heard the Doomsman speak: he did not need his children’s mother to know the relentlessness of his words.

Her hand stilled momentarily before resuming its soothing caress.  ‘The elves survived in the darkness of the Hither Lands before they dwelt in the light of the Trees,’ she reminded him.  ‘We will continue to survive under Varda’s stars – it will just take time to adjust.’

‘I am not sure we have time.’  Finarfin sat back to look squarely into her face.  ‘Our survival is already on a knife’s edge.’ 

Her hand had slid from his hair to rest on his chest and she took comfort from the slow beat of his heart.  ‘Where is your mother?’ she asked.  What they needed were practical solutions.  Let guilt and penance – and philosophy and debate – wait.  If there were children likely to go hungry, then there were more important matters to tackle.

‘Gone to Ingwë,’ he said.  ‘Amarië is with her.’


‘Seeking out those who will not ask for aid.’  He sighed.  ‘We are attempting to place them with kin – and, in the absence of blood relatives, I am …’ he smiled wryly, ‘exerting my authority to build new bonds of patronage.’


He shook his head.  ‘She will not come out of her forge to speak to any who ask after her.’  He hesitated.  ‘I think she would welcome death.’

‘There are better ways for her to help.’

Perhaps.  But …’ He brought a hand up to cover hers.  ‘There are all too many who blame her for what my brother has done – who say that her departure drove Fëanor to his worst excesses.  It is hardly fair, I know …’ He acknowledged her snort of indignation, ‘but Nerdanel is here to condemn, while her sons and husband have gone beyond the wrath of those Noldor still in Aman.  She is safer kept away.  For now, at any rate.’

Eärwen closed her eyes.  ‘Poor Nerdanel,’ she said.  ‘She will not find it easy to rebuild a life without her sons, knowing what they have sworn.  And Fëanor – she loves him still, for all she refused to tolerate his obsession.’

The cool breeze stirred the stacks of closely-written papers on the Noldor King’s desk, as if to remind him of the vast number of problems presented for him to solve. And there were those who accused him of cowardice!  Of having taken the easy path in heeding the Doomsman’s warning, of seeking to oust his brother and seize his throne!  Eärwen squeezed her husband’s fingers in hers reassuringly.  She acknowledged – silently and with shame – that she had nearly been among them.

‘I can …’ Finarfin swallowed.  ‘I can understand why those who chose to pursue the thief decided to leave their families behind – but they have left us with problems I would never have considered.  Every time I turn to someone for advice … assistance … action – there is no-one there to provide it.  All those people you do not even realise you need … We will have to change, Eärwen, if we are to survive.  We are a people of parents left childless, abandoned wives, sweethearts who will never marry, fatherless children – children who will never be born.  Our … expectations … need to change.’

‘Nerdanel is not the only elleth to manage a forge,’ Eärwen said gently.  ‘Farmer’s wives can tend their livestock and harvest their fields.  Artisans can bake bread and create pots and weave cloth and tan leather.  Being female does not deprive an elf of the ability to be skilled, or educated, or wise.  Or, come to that, of having a strong back and a stronger will.  As the … the shock wears off, we will all do what we must.’  She drew her hand from his to cup his face.  ‘As the immediacy of the act passes, the Teleri will know better than to hold children responsible for deeds that are none of their doing – Olwë will see to it.  The Vanyar will hear Indis’s words and offer their aid, and their intercession with the Valar, should that be needed.  We will survive, Finarfin, and see that the remaining Noldor thrive, as your father would have wished.’

Silver gleamed in her husband’s eyes, reflecting a shaft of cool light that outlined the wide windows.  She gasped and turned.  Outlining the crisp silhouette of the trees, a pale disc rose slowly, dimming the distant stars.  Finarfin’s fingers tightened, the grip on her arms almost painful as they stared at the unexpected sight.

‘It would appear that the Valar have not been indifferent to our plight, after all,’ she murmured.  ‘We will carry on – and have faith – and, perhaps, one day …’

Her husband felt warm against her back, and his touch reminded her of better times. ‘Reconciliation,’ he said.  ‘One day.’


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