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The Silence  by Aldwen

Notes:

As the environment is entirely Noldorin, all names are in their Quenya forms. The list of the characters below. Those only mentioned appear in brackets.
Tyelperinquar - Celebrimbor
Nelyafinwë – Maedhros (his mother-name Maitimo and nickname Russandol are mentioned as well)
Makalaurë – Maglor
Tyelkormo – Celegorm
Morifinwë – Caranthir
Curufinwë – Curufin
Telufinwë – Amrod
Pityafinwë – Amras
Findekáno – Fingon
Nolofinwë – Fingolfin
Turukáno – Turgon
Írissë – Aredhel
Angaráto – Angrod
(Fëanáro – Fëanor)
(Arafinwë – Finarfin)
(Findaráto – Finrod)
(Itarillë – Idril)
(Elenwë)
(Moringotto - Morgoth)
Aldanwë
 is my original character.

Endórë - Middle-earth


I do not own the characters of this story, except Aldanwë. This has been merely a creative exercise from which I gain no profit.



I hate this place. I hate Endórë. I hate it deeply, fervently, with all my heart, as is my wont with all feelings. We are miserable here. True, we had been miserable before, when we were robbed of the Light, when despair and battle-fury took over in Alqualondë, when we heard the dire words of the Prophecy. Maybe even before all that, even while the Gold Tree and the Silver Tree still blossomed, but disquiet and treacherous whispers were already creeping through the white streets of our city. We were decidedly miserable later, in the storm, when half of the ships foundered in Uinen's wrath, and we others, we listened in horror to the roaring of waves and screams of the dying, helpless, unable to do anything, unable to save them. And, despite our spiteful pride and defiance, we were miserable afterwards, when the ships burned at Losgar, reek of smoke in the air, red glare on our faces. We, the family, we were closest to the shore, and we saw clearly how the white timbers caught flames, how the white silken sails flared up and withered, how beauty unequalled was turned to char and ashes. I excused the tears in my eyes with smoke, at least in front of my father and grandfather.

But Nelyafinwë, my father's eldest brother, he understood. Defying Fëanáro he alone had stood aside when torches were kindled and put to use, and his gaze had not been turned to the burning ships but over the water, towards the other shore, towards those who now were abandoned to their death or mercy of the Valar. But he had seen the tears in my eyes, and he had known that smoke had nothing to do with them. When we made ready to march on, he came to me and laid his hand on my shoulder.

"I regret you had to see this, brother-son," he quietly said. "I regret you had to take part in this."

And I knew then that he was not speaking merely of the ships. I raised his eyes towards him, unashamed of my grief.

"How shall we live now, uncle?" I whispered. "After all this? How? What shall we do?"

He looked at me long, then raised his hand and brushed away tears from my face.

"We shall go on, brother-son," he replied with a faint smile. "We shall go on."

But that smile did not linger, nor did it reach his eyes; they remained sad, so sad.

Still, on we went, and our misery deepened. After the first victory over Moringotto's creatures we pressed on, in high hope to regain our treasures, and grandfather hastened ahead with but a few others, without waiting for the reinforcements. From afar we heard the clamour of battle, but when we came it was already too late; demons of shadow and flame fled before us, but grandfather was beyond any aid or healing. Yet he lived still, and when on the high pass of Ered Wethrin the Oath was once more set firm at his bidding, it seemed to me that the misery had now settled to stay forever, even as we gazed, terrified, how Fëanáro's body was consumed by the fire of his spirit, and ashes were scattered in the bitter wind.

Then came the next blow, when Nelyafinwë agreed to treat with Moringotto. His brothers attempted to dissuade him, but he would not heed them. When his company departed, I too came to him and for the last time pleaded to reconsider his decision and not to go, but he only shook his head.

"Understand, brother-son, if there is even the smallest chance to regain our jewels, then I must take it, for so we have sworn," he said ere leaving, and I followed them with my gaze as they disappeared in the shadows, and my heart was heavy and full of dark foreboding.

They returned not. Instead, the embassy of the Enemy came to our fortified camp with news of dread and demands of our departure. Calm and cold Makalaurë listened to Moringotto's servants, calm and cold were his words as he refused all their claims, but pale was his face, and white were the knuckles of his clenched hand that held a strand of russet hair, given by the enemies as a proof that his brother was held captive.

Even as the embassy had left, strife arose among my uncles, as most of them accused Makalaurë of abandoning and betraying their brother. He listened to their reproaches in silence, but when he at last raised his head, white-hot fury glinted in his eyes. I had never yet seen him, the most gentle of my uncles, so angered.

"Is indeed anyone of you a fool enough to believe that Moringotto will release Nelyafinwë, were we to accept his terms?" he hissed. "And how can we forsake what we have sworn? Think on that, my brothers, think twice! Would you call the Everlasting Darkness upon yourselves and upon all our people? Varda and Manwë we named as witness, and Eru Ilúvatar himself; think you that an oath like this can be abandoned?"

He raged yet for a good while, and they stood quiet before him casting fearful glances at each other, for they too had not seen him in this mood and had not expected such an outburst. At length Makalaurë fell silent, but when he spoke again, his voice was cool and composed, yet steel rang therein.

"I am the eldest of our house here now, and you shall obey me, my brothers. There has been enough strife among the Noldor already. Our people shall not be divided further!" With these words he turned his back on them.

Without another word of objection they left the tent, but I remained standing by the entrance, for I wished to speak to him, to say that I thought his decision right, as grievous as it was. When I first heard his reply to Moringotto's emissaries, I was as indignant as my father, for, indeed, even though I love all my uncles, Nelyafinwë has ever been most dear to me. But as he spoke, I realized that in truth Makalaurë's decision was the only possible one, and I looked at him now with new respect. The choice he had made must have broken his heart, for he loved his elder brother dearly. And my guess was confirmed, when suddenly he bowed his head, his shoulders slumped, and he steadied himself against the table with one hand, the other still holding the lock of his brother's hair.

"Uncle?" I spoke quietly, hesitantly, and he slowly turned, and it seemed that the anguish in his eyes will break my heart as well. "Uncle, I merely… I merely want to say that I think you are right."

"Right?" His voice, usually so fair-sounding that it could put a spell on anyone, was now harsh and broken; he was choking on unshed tears. "There are no right decisions here anymore, Tyelperinquar, merely a string of disastrous choices. May it be so that I chose the least possible evil today! I truly do not believe that there is any hope in saving our brother. If he is even still alive. In truth…" his voice now sank to a fierce whisper, "I hope, for his own sake, that he is not!" And then I fled from the despair in his voice and in his eyes. Time passed, and our misery dragged on, and even the first sunrise did little to lighten our hearts, for with the Sun came the sound of the trumpets and of many voices singing, and it was followed by our shame, as those whom we had abandoned and betrayed now stood before us. Anger there was on many faces, for their losses had been grievous during the long march over the bitter plains of Ice, but the words that were spoken were cold and few. Resentment burned fiercely like coals beneath the ashes in the hearts of the people that Nolofinwë now led, and Makalaurë ordered that we move our camp to avoid strife. We withdrew to the southern shore of the lake. The days dragged on, and our misery deepened further.


My father's mood was foul those days, and I was usually the one to bear the brunt of it. He was harsh and unforgiving of my mistakes, and I often left the forge on the brink of tears, and the smithwork that I have always loved became a hard trial due to my father's sharp tongue.

To escape that I often fled to the mountains encircling the southern and western shore. There I wandered, scaling rocky terraces, overgrown with pines, soft moss and flowers of many colours, and at whiles I caught myself at treacherous thoughts about the beauty of the place. Then I would turn away from whatever I was looking at and firmly remind myself that Endórë was hateful to me, that I have come to the hills merely to avoid quarrelling with my father.

One day in late autumn, one of the last warm days of the year, after having listened to a lengthy talk about my flaws I was again climbing the rocky path, and tears stung in my eyes. My father rarely raised his voice, and he had not done that today either, but he had a way with words, and he knew how to wound with them. In that, as in many other things, he resembled Fëanáro closely, even though my grandfather had never used his skill to hurt me. I sat down on a Sun-warmed, moss-clad boulder, turned my gaze northwards and thought of him. I attempted to recall his kindness, his smile and his laughter, but all I could see before my eyes was his beautiful face, twisted in fey rage, red glow of flames reflected upon it. As much as I loved him, I had been terrified of him during those last days.

The memories of my grandfather brought no comfort, and I certainly did not feel strong enough to think of my mother, so I chased these thoughts away and looked around. It was midday now, and the Sun bright in the cloudless sky, but the northern mountains were dark, wreathed in smoke and fumes. Sometimes when the wind changed, these fumes would be driven as far as our camp, and they would coil about the tents and lay upon the waters of the lake, and they were poisonous, - if someone breathed them in too much, he would sicken. But today the wind was from the west, there was not a single cloud over my head, and the lake below glittered as if its surface was strewn with bright gems. A thought occurred to me that this sunlight upon the waves was as fair as the jewels made by our craft, but I did not allow myself to dwell on it. I did not love this land, nor I ever will, so what use to acknowledge its beauty?

Yet even though in my mind I denied myself the solace that Endórë was offering me, my heart somehow accepted it, and my mood was lightened, as I stretched upon the boulder and closed my eyes against the Sun, and I thought that I would rather remain here, where there was only my own sadness and misery, than return to the encampment where the weight of grief the others carried was added to my own. I was weary of being a target to my father's anger, even though I realized that often he lashed out at me merely due to the anguish he himself felt. Several times I had seen regret in his eyes after he had scolded me, but not once had he admitted a mistake or asked my forgiveness. Curufinwë was too proud for that.

I must have had fallen asleep with the Sun on my face and dozed for quite a long time, for when I awoke the sky that had been clear before was veiled with clouds, borne on a cool westerly breeze. Yet it had not been the cold that had awakened me, but the sound of raised voices from the camp. Fearing that we might be under attack, I sprang to my feet and looked down. Amid the tents people were running, talking animatedly to each other, and some were pointing towards the sky. I looked there too and gasped in wonder and awe.

A great bird was descending from now low-lying clouds, circling slowly, and I could discern a figure between the mighty wings, and when the eagle landed in the middle of the camp, I recognized Findekáno, the eldest son of Nolofinwë. Bewildered, I strained my eyes, for I could not understand why the son of Fëanáro's half-brother should appear in the dwelling of the enemies (for so they surely now saw us) astride of an eagle. My kinsman dismounted his strange steed, bowed low before the great bird with his hand over his heart, and then I perceived that there was something else on eagle's back, something wrapped in a cloak, and as Findekáno lifted it in his arms with great care, as if handling something fragile, I thought that I saw a flash of red. My heart missed a beat, I seized my coat and hastened down the mountain path.

When I reached the camp, I was already running. It was in a tumult; people hurrying in all directions, speaking together in hushed voices. I caught some words. Lord of the Eagles… Manwë… Angamando… I stopped one who came past me.

"What is the meaning of this? What has happened?"

He looked at me with slightly bewildered gaze.

"Lord Findekáno… he…. He brought lord Nelyafinwë back. They say… they say that he lives still."

I drew breath sharply. So what I had seen from above was indeed what I thought it was.

"Where?"

"The healers' tent."

I released my hold on his arm and hastened to the far side of the camp where two tents for the need of healing were raised.

As I was nearing them, the flaps of the furthermost one were thrown open and my father and four of his brothers emerged from within. Morifinwë's gaze was even darker than usually; he kicked a stone on his way with all his might, uttered an elaborate string of curses and disappeared amid the tents, nearly running. The twins were holding to each other, swaying as if they were injured; suddenly Pityafinwë stumbled, halted and hid his face in his hands, Telufinwë set his arms around him and whispered something in a broken voice. My father came next; he strode past me without a look or a word; I do not think he saw me at all. His hands were clenched in fists, and his face was white. Tyelkormo came last; his fair features frozen in a mask of horror. He perceived me, halted and laid his hand on my shoulder, and I felt him trembling.

"Do not go in there, Tyelperinquar." His voice was quiet and strangled. "Do not go there now." Then he turned abruptly and followed my father, but ere he left I caught a gleam of tears in his eyes. Cold fear was gripping my heart now, and my steps were faltering as I came closer to the tent. What was in there that could bring my father and his brothers, all of them valiant and battle-hardened during the recent years, to such a fright? There was but one way to learn. With obstinacy that has ever been a part of my nature I advanced and, drawing a deep breath and willing my heartbeat to calm, I entered.

As soon as I stepped over the threshold, my way and my sight were barred by Aldanwë, the one most skilled in healing in our camp. He wore a frown upon his face, and his voice was tense.

"You should not be here."

"But I…"

He did not move, and I saw that his patience was hanging by a thread.

"Young lord, but a short while ago I asked your father and his brothers to leave this place. I ask you the same. Please, go."

"He is right, Tyelperinquar." Makalaurë's voice was strained. "It were better if you left."

I very nearly obeyed them. But then my temper flared, and I shoved aside the healer, with little effort, for he had not expected this.

"I want to see my uncle!"

With a few quick strides I was in the middle of the tent. And there I halted, frozen.

The tent was lit with lamps and candles. Further back in the shadows Findekáno stood, his arms crossed on his chest, a shadow of helpless anger and grief on his face. Makalaurë was kneeling beside a low bed. As I rushed forward, they both turned and stared at me. And I stared at the one who lay on the bed. There was silence.

I stood and stared, and a violent whirlwind of feelings swept over me. What did I feel? Horror, pity and mad rage intermingled, threatening to send me flying out of here, away from here, anywhere where there was open sky and clean water running. For what now lay before me… Yet I did not stir. I stood there, frozen, and stared at the one whom I remembered tall and strong, and beautiful.

There was no more strength. All flesh seemed to have melted away from him, leaving but a frame, withered and frail, pale skin stretched over the bones; and his hair seemed flame-red against the white brow. They had not marred his face, and the sharp lines and angles now were a reminder and a mockery of its former beauty. But the rest…! I had fought battles before, I had seen injuries before, caused by arrow, sword and spear, and many of these injuries had been grievous or deadly. But the wounds that covered the body of my uncle, they were not given to kill. The wounds I now saw before my eyes, left by blade, whip and fire, these were inflicted to cause pain beyond imagination, to humiliate, to break will and spirit, and his face that bore none of these marks made for even more terrifying contrast. His right arm lay at an awkward angle, and where his right hand should have been there was only a stump, covered in bloody bandages. I felt myself shaking. How could anyone endure this and yet live? But Nelyafinwë lived, his chest heaved with slow and shallow breath.

"Whence… Where did you find him?" At last I tore my gaze away from the figure on the bed and turned towards Findekáno. My voice was shrill.

"Thangorodrim." Our kinsman quietly replied. "Moringotto had chained him to the cliff. By… by the wrist of his right hand."

My eyes widened in realization, and Findekáno confirmed my guess. "I could not undo that bond. Think not that I did not try. But I could not. So I… severed his hand."

He turned away. Aldanwë now took me firmly by the arm, to guide me out.

"You have seen your uncle, as was your wish, young lord." There was a strong undercurrent of anger in his voice. "And now, please, leave. His wounds need attention."

I do not know what kept me from running, from fleeing the horror or Moringotto's atrocities, but whatever it was, it was strong, stronger than revulsion or fear.

"Allow me to remain. Please." I heard my own voice as if it was someone other speaking. "I can help. I will not faint and I will not be sick. I promise. Please, allow me to stay."

Aldanwë's grip on my arm tightened, but then suddenly Findekáno came forward. He looked at me closely for a good while, as if measuring my resolve with his piercing blue eyes.

"Tyelperinquar could indeed stay. He spoke true, he will not faint." My uncle turned towards him to object, but ere he had said anything, Findekáno went on." We need help here. You are overwrought, Makalaurë, and I am weary. Besides, I have done enough harm already," he bitterly added, and then Makalaurë merely nodded his consent.

"Very well." Aldanwë released my arm, yet displeasure was still apparent on his face. "As you said – we do need help."

"Thank you. I regret that I pushed you on my way in." I bowed my head in apology.

Aldanwë shrugged his shoulders, but then nodded.

"Forgiven."

And so I drew a deep breath, steadied my trembling hands and remained.

"What must I do?"

"Bring water."

I fetched water. I washed away blood. I stitched wounds. I had treated injuries before, but never before had I been so afraid, so afraid to cause even more anguish. Aldanwë noticed this. He looked at me and shook his head.

"He does not feel our touch, Tyelperinquar," he said softly. "He is beyond pain now."

He spoke true. As we set his broken and dislocated shoulder, as we cleaned and bandaged his countless wounds, Nelyafinwë lay still and silent, with eyes closed, and only his shallow breath still revealed the faint spark of life that flickered in him. He remained still and silent even when Aldanwë seared his severed wrist with hot iron, when even the steadfast Findekáno blanched and turned away.

"Now all we can do is wait," said the healer after what seemed to me a very long time.

"Will he… recover?" Makalaurë turned towards him with whispered question, his eyes feverish, pleading.

"How would I know?" Aldanwë sadly replied. "I have never seen anything like this. Not even close to this. He has endured torment for years."

"For years…" My uncle echoed hoarsely. He had been calm enough while tending his brother, but all that time silent tears had been flowing over his face, and whatever composure he had had, that was now breaking, like cracks on too thin ice.

Findekáno noticed it as well.

"Makalaurë, you need rest," he said firmly. "You should go and sleep now."

"No, I cannot… I… I must remain here." He was again kneeling beside Nelyafinwë. "I must remain with my brother."

Findekáno pulled him to his feet.

"Go and rest. You are of no use to your brother like this. Nor to your people."

A bitter smile appeared on Makalaurë's lips.

"Yes, indeed," he quietly replied. "Of even less use than before."

"Your self-pity is misplaced!" Findekáno's eyes flashed.

My uncle flinched, as if stricken. His lips trembled, as if to say something, but he remained silent and bowed his head. The gaze of our kinsman softened.

"From what I saw in your camp, you lead your people with care and honour," he said. "Please, go, cousin. I shall remain with Russandol, together with Aldanwë, if you will grant me the hospitality of your dwelling. We shall send for you if he wakes."

"Let us hope he does not, yet," whispered Aldanwë, but so quietly that only I who stood beside him heard it.

"I certainly grant you our hospitality, Findekáno." Makalaurë nodded. "For as long as you wish to remain. I will ask that some food is brought you here."

"Do not bother with food," replied Findekáno quietly. "I will have none. I can stay until the morning; then I must return and face the wrath of my lord father."

"Are you saying that you went without his consent?" My uncle's eyes widened.  

"How else?" Our kinsman laughed bitterly at his words. "Certainly, I went without his consent and without his knowledge. He would have set me in bonds if he knew that I intend to approach Moringotto's lair to seek one of Fëanáro's sons."

"I… understand." My uncle stood silent for a while. Then he bowed low before his cousin. "I have not yet thanked you for bringing him back. You have been his brother more than all of us together. But then… Russandol is probably the only one of us who merits your forgiveness. When the ships…"

"The ships?" Findekáno interrupted him sharply, swift anger flared up in his gaze. "What of them? Why do you speak of that now?"

There was no reply. Makalaurë stared at him awhile in dismay.

"You… you do not know…" he whispered at length, turned abruptly and hastened from the tent.

Alarmed, Findekáno made a step to follow him, but then halted and turned towards me. His eyes narrowed.

"What of the ships, Tyelperinquar? What is it I do not know?" His voice was low, but sharp. I hesitated, but he seized me by the shoulders and shook. "What of the ships? Speak!"

And I told him.

"He spoke to grandfather of returning for you. He… begged him to do it. But Fëanáro… he was not in his right mind anymore. He refused. He laughed as one fey and he ordered the ships to be burned. But Nelyafinwë, he kindled no torch. He stood aside, the only one of us. He stood aside, defying his father, bringing his wrath upon himself." I shuddered, remembering Fëanáro's cold rage at his eldest son afterwards.

Findekáno released my shoulders, took a step back and closed his eyes for a while. Then he passed his hand over his face and looked at me with true regret.

"Forgive me for shaking you." I nodded. He regarded me closely then. "I think you too should go and rest, Tyelperinquar. And…" he frowned slightly, "before that you should find your father. He may need you."

I nodded my consent and turned to leave, but at the door I turned back.

"Thank you. For bringing him back."

Findekáno smiled sadly. "I wonder whether your uncle will thank me or curse me for bringing him back if… when he wakes," he softly said as he sat down on a chair by the bedside.

It was entirely dark outside when I left the healer's tent. I raised my eyes to the sky; it was long past midnight. The breeze had driven away the clouds, and stars glittered overhead, but their light seemed cold to me, and their beauty brought no comfort.

Bewildered by all that had passed today and heavy of heart, I turned towards the tent I shared with my father, but when I reached it, I saw that it was dark and empty. I stood in the doorway for a while, yet it was clear that I shall find no sleep now. Also Findekáno's words rang in my mind, and I thought that I should indeed seek my father, even though I did not know whether he wished to see me, the son who gave him nothing but disappointment. Still, I stepped back into the night and turned towards the forge, one of the most likely places to find Curufinwë.

The forge was one of the few stone houses in the camp, a low building slightly apart from the tents, so that the ringing of hammers would not disturb the dwellers overmuch. It was quiet now, yet there was light within. I drew a deep breath and pushed the door open.

The room was lit with several lamps hanging over the workbench. My father was there, but he did not turn towards me as I entered. He sat still as stone, his back towards the door, his face was hidden in his hands and even though I did not see his expression, his posture spoke of such hopeless grief that compassion stabbed my heart. Hardly thinking, I crossed the room in a few swift strides and laid my hand on his shoulder.

"Father…"

Slowly he turned and raised his head towards me, and I saw that my stern, swift-tempered father was crying and had done so for a long time already: his eyes were red-rimmed, and tears were still flowing over his face.

I braced myself for words of reproach, for I half-expected his grief to turn into anger towards someone who had witnessed his weakness, towards me maybe even more so, but my father rose from the stool and embraced me tightly. And so we stood there long, holding each other, giving each other whatever strength and comfort we had to give, even as in Tirion, in the hallway of our house, after the sound of my mother's light steps had fallen silent on the white stone stairs as she had departed from the city. At length my father released me, took a step back and brushed away tears.

"Where have you been?" he quietly asked, but from his eyes I saw that he guessed that already.

"There… I helped the healer."

"Then you are more brave than the rest of us." Yet there was no reproach in his voice as he said that, only sadness.

"Merely more stubborn. I did not allow Aldanwë to throw me out."

"I would give much to see the one who could throw you out of a place where you wished to remain." My father's lips twitched in a half-smile that did not reach his eyes.

I smiled faintly in return. He now turned away briefly as if to summon his courage for the next question. I knew what he wished to ask and answered at once, to spare him sorrow.

"He lives, father. We tended his injuries, he did not wake while we did that, and he sleeps still. Aldanwë said that all we can do now is wait. The healer remained there. And Findekáno too."

Curufinwë sighed in relief and nodded. But then a shadow of shame and guilt passed his face.

"He went after him and brought him back. While the rest of us… We are useless to him even now."

"There is nothing any of us can do now, father."

I saw that he will in a brief while descend into bitterness and self-loathing and desperately sought for something I could say to prevent that. My gaze wandered around the room, and suddenly I noticed on the workbench two sketches that had not been there in the morning. I took them up. These were sketches of a sword and a matching scabbard, rich and ornate, possibly the most beautiful things my father had ever drawn. The sheets of paper had wet marks on them. I looked at him.

"What are these?"

"They are for my brother," my father replied with a slight note of challenge in his voice. "He will need a new weapon when he will recover." He looked at me defiantly, as if expecting me to oppose him.

I flinched inwardly. I had not the heart to voice my doubt whether my uncle will ever again hold a weapon at all. Instead I turned back to the drawings. He must have spent most of this time making them, so elaborate they were. I noticed that the sword was one-handed and the fastenings of the scabbard – reversed.

"You are right, father," I raised my eyes." He will need a new sword. And this is the most beautiful weapon I have ever seen drawn. If you need help in making it, I will be glad to assist you." I handed back the sketches.

My father took them and nodded. "I may need your help, son," he replied. Then he smiled sadly. "I will make it for him, even if he may never carry it. I know it may be so, I am no fool."

I stood yet a while by the workbench, uncertain what to do, and suddenly I felt faint and dazed. My father noticed this and laid his hand on my shoulder.

"You are beyond weary, Tyelperinquar," he said, concern in his voice. "Have you eaten anything today?" I shook my head. Any thought of food seemed terrifying. He nodded his understanding. "Go and take rest. I will remain here and do some work. But you go to sleep. Even though," he added quietly, "you may have nightmares." I took my leave from him, returned to the tent, cast myself on the bed and attempted to find some repose. I fell asleep soon enough, but my father had been right. I did have nightmares. I saw Nelyafinwë in the dungeons of Angamando, and I watched again and again how the wounds I had tended were inflicted. And I was there too, a mute and invisible spirit, helpless to do anything, helpless even to cry out, and when at length I found my voice, I awoke with a scream of horror. Pale morning light was streaming through the open door, my father was sitting beside me gently stroking my brow, and my face was wet with tears.

The time set itself in a slow and quiet pace, a pace of waiting. Each day I would for some time work in the forge with my father, and I found him now much kinder to me than before. Then I would go to the healers' tent and help there as I could. Even though he had been unwilling at first, Aldanwë was now content to have me there to aid him; he said that I kept my wits about me and had light hands. We spoke together much, and so I learned something more about healing too. The healer did not allow my uncles to tend their brother, even though he did not object for them to be around at any time.

And they were there often, all of them. Already on the next day they returned, shame-faced, yet resolute, and from now on at least one of them was always around, sitting by Nelyafinwë, either talking to him softly or simply holding his hand. And, facing this new sorrow, they knit themselves together even more closely than before. All of them save Makalaurë.

Makalaurë withdrew from the others. He would still come and see his eldest brother when he could, he would sit beside him, and he would not shun me or Aldanwë, but he was ever silent, and whenever someone of his younger brothers entered, he would soon rise and quietly leave. It was but a matter of time when they would notice and demand an explanation.

It was an afternoon of another quiet day. Winter was nearly here, the edges of the lake frozen over, and there had been snow in the night that now lay white on the ground, a thin layer, but still it made everything look more cheerful for a while. I had helped my father in the morning; we had been folding steel for the sword he wanted to make for his brother, and he had even marked my precision and skill in that work. Even though this, strictly speaking, was not much of a praise, I had taken it as such, for each kind word from my father warmed my heart greatly. So I left the smithy in high spirits, hoping that perhaps when I shall come to the healers' tent I shall find some change for the better there too.

But there was no change. As in the days and weeks before, my uncle lay still and silent, face pale, eyes closed, and the only thing that gave away the spark of life in him was the slow rise and fall of his chest. Aldanwë was there, and I aided him again, as I had done every day. Then Makalaurë came and sat beside his brother in silence, but I retreated in the corner, to cut and fold the clean bandages. These quiet days had taught me patience I had never before possessed, and I found with no small measure of wonder that I was content to immerse myself in some dull task, and that the slow passing of time did not irritate me anymore. So we sat, and we watched over Nelyafinwë, and we waited, and the afternoon drew towards the evening.

Then Tyelkormo came. He had been hunting in the woodlands today, and it seemed that it was snowing again outside; he shook the snow from his cloak at the entrance, cast it upon a chair, then looked with question at his brother.

"No change?" he asked.

Makalaurë merely shook his head. Tyelkormo sighed, pulled a chair and sat on the other side of the bed. After a while Makalaurë quietly rose to retreat. Tyelkormo raised his head sharply.

"Leaving already?" There was a note of irritation in his voice.

"Yes, I must…"

"You were not so hasty when I came in. What message arrived so suddenly that you must flee again, brother?"

His irritation was swiftly turning into anger, and I fervently wished to be somewhere else, yet I could not now leave quietly, and I also had not finished my task, so I remained. Makalaurë made for the door in silence.

"Wait!" Tyelkormo did not much raise his voice, but his tone was commanding. "You will reply me, Makalaurë, and you will explain this at last! What is the reason for your bearing? You avoid us all like wildfire! And here you always sit in silence, without even a word to him!"

Suddenly Makalaurë spun around, his eyes glinted.

"Do you indeed think that my voice could call our brother back from whatever shadows he now wanders? No, Tyelkormo, it can only push him deeper in the abyss of suffering. It is hardly my right even to be here at all. His anguish is of my doing!"

Tyelkormo's eyes narrowed.

"Was it your hand that wielded whips and iron?"

"It was my decision to leave him in the hands of the Enemy!"

Tyelkormo sighed and rose, barring his brother's way to the door.

"I think, Makalaurë, you have enough wisdom to understand now, even as then, that your decision was right," he said. "Yes, we all reproached you for that," he added seeing that his elder brother was about to object. "But we were wrong, and we realized that soon enough. Our pride did not allow us to admit that to you. I do so now, and I ask you to forgive me. The others are of like mind, even Morifinwë. There was no hope that way, Makalaurë. None. And, believe me, Russandol, when he wakes, he will tell you the same. Had you agreed, we would probably all be in the Halls of Mandos now. Or rather worse, in Angamando. Now we have at least some hope."

Makalaurë bowed his head.

"Findekáno did not care about right and wrong choices," he quietly said." He went regardless of all we had done to his people. He went unaware that Russandol stood aside when the ships burned at Losgar. He did not know that, Tyelkormo, and still he went."

"He has certainly humbled us with this deed of his." Tyelkormo smiled sadly. "Yet with that, as with all else, we must live."

"Turning away Moringotto's emissaries was the right thing perhaps," replied Makalaurë. "But the other ways we did not even try. Findekáno went where none of us dared to go."

"Forget not that he had help, brother, help that none of us could expect to receive. Can you imagine Manwë Súlimo sending his eagles to aid any of our father's sons?"

"Findekáno could not count on that either."

"No," replied Tyelkormo. "He could not." He fell silent and regarded his brother strangely for a while. "None would expect you to go after Russandol, Makalaurë," he then slowly said, "with the burden of leadership you had to take, this burden you never wanted, yet have borne with patience and honour. Whereas the choices of the others…" a shadow passed his face, "…the choices of the others were their own."

His brother blanched at these words.

"Are you saying that you…"

Tyelkormo shook his head.

"I am saying no more, and you shall not ask," he firmly replied. "You shall not ask, neither me, nor any of the others."

"But…"

"You shall not ask, Makalaurë." Tyelkormo repeated, a tone of warning in his voice, and his elder brother nodded and bowed his head.

I never learned what desperate ventures my uncles had undertaken. For I never asked either.

The winter had come, and still the silence lasted. The lake was frozen over, snow lay thick on the ground, and all sounds were muted, subdued. The whiteness that had seemed cheerful at first now resembled a shroud, tightly wrapping in its cold embrace everything that was once green and growing. There were no birds; they had all left south, and the swans had been the last to depart, but a day before the first heavy snowfall started, a great phalanx, white shapes against the grey clouds that carried snow, and the sound of their wings and their keen cries long rang in my ears, even after the great birds had long disappeared beyond the mountain ridge. All was quiet now. And we were entwined in this silence and waiting, we were held fast by them, and we were not ready for the day when the silence was at last shattered.

The snow that had been falling steadily for more than two days had at last abated, the clouds had cleared away, and low winter Sun shone over the lake and the camp, drawing sharp the edges of shadows and turning the whiteness to a dazzling glitter. It was freezing; my breath hung in the air like a cloud, as I hurried to the healers' tent. We feel cold little but stepping outside from the heat of the forge had been like taking a plunge in icy water.

I entered the tent that was warmed by braziers, took off and set aside my coat and turned towards Aldanwë to hear what help he expected from me today. But the healer did not turn to greet me. He sat on the edge of a chair beside my uncle, leaning forward, watching him with intent face, listening closely. And then I too heard it, a sharp and ragged intake of breath and a soft moan. Nelyafinwë's eyes were still closed, but it seemed to me that his lashes trembled slightly, and his lips too. There was a sheen of sweat on his brow.

"Tyelperinquar, go and ask lord Makalaurë to come here!" Aldanwë said without turning. His voice was tense. "Only him. At once."

"Yes!" I hastily donned my coat again and hurried in search of my uncle.

It did not take long to find him. He was in the stables, another building of stone we had raised in this sad place to house our steeds. My uncle loved horses, and the horses loved him and obeyed him on a spoken word. Now he was brushing the dapple mare he usually rode, speaking softly to her, and the animal regarded him with large, clever eyes and snorted occasionally, as if in reply. Makalaurë finished brushing and briefly rested his head against the horse's neck. Suddenly he looked very weary. But then he heard me approach and turned, and the weariness was gone, and before me again stood the one whose quiet determination had held us together during these unhappy years.

"Are you looking for me, Tyelperinquar?" he asked and smiled his kind smile, but then he looked more intently at my face, and his smile faded. "What is it, brother-son?"

"Uncle, Aldanwë asked you to come at once. Nelyafinwë… he is waking."

He paled slightly, then nodded and turned towards the door.

"Let us go."

Suddenly there were swift footsteps behind, a grey shadow of the wolfhound passed by, and then there was Tyelkormo, keeping in step with us.

"I heard it. I am coming too."

"Aldanwë said, uncle Makalaurë only," I said with little hope that my words will be heeded. I was right.

"Try to stop me!" Tyelkormo's eyes glinted. I shook my head and sighed.

Little had changed when we entered. Aldanwë still sat in the same place; he cast a quick glance at us, frowning at the sight of two my uncles, yet he said naught, but turned towards the bed again. We stood awhile uncertain, awaiting. The silence in the tent was again broken by a shuddering sigh.

Tyelkormo stepped forward. Aldanwë raised his hand to restrain him, but my uncle, heedless of the healer's warning, knelt beside his brother and took his hand.

"Russandol…!"

The eldest son of Fëanáro opened his eyes. And then the silence that had already been unraveled was stabbed with words. The voice that uttered them was weak and broken, but the words themselves were angry and proud, words that are spoken in the uttermost end of defiance, the last weapon turned against the enemy when all else has failed. These words were not meant for us. The eyes of my uncle were wide open, yet they were glazed and sightless; he was looking through us, past us. Terror appeared on Tyelkormo's face.

"He… he does not know us! He thinks we are…" His voice trailed away in a strangled sob. He looked up; his face was pale, his eyes – full of tears.

Aldanwë pulled him away from Nelyafinwë, gently yet firmly.

"Do not touch him, lord," he said, not unkindly. "For years, the only touch your brother has known has been the one to cause him pain. Leave him be for a while."

"Yes…" Tyelkormo sank on the ground some steps away and covered his face.

The words had fallen silent, but my uncle's gaze was still glassy and remote; it was clear that he neither saw, nor recognized us.

"What shall we do?" Makalaurë's whispered question rang loud in the sudden silence. "In his mind, he is still… there."

Aldanwë nodded. Keeping a little distance from the bed, he started speaking in a quiet and calm voice, calling my uncle by name, reassuring. To no avail. The words did not return, but neither did understanding dawn in Nelyafinwë's eyes; he remained far away, trapped in some terrible place. I remembered my nightmares on that first night after Findekáno had brought him back and shuddered. Tyelkormo still sat with his face buried in his hands. Nelyafinwë's sharp and painful breath tore the silence into shreds, and healer's voice had no power to mend it.

But Makalaurë's song had that power. Quietly it started, a song of gold and silver Light that welled over the land in gentle waves, Light that embraced each leaf and each flower, and each blade of grass; and that song brought peace to everyone in the tent, and to his brother too. Nelyafinwë's eyes slid shut, and he slept, not in the senseless oblivion, but in true sleep, his breath neither swift and ragged, nor shallow like before, but deep and even. Slowly Makalaurë pulled a chair to the bedside and sat down, still singing; outside the day turned towards afternoon and afternoon towards evening, and the daylight faded, but inside the tent song followed song, and one fair vision before our eyes was exchanged for another. Evening passed on to the night, and still he sang, firmly setting his voice as a shield between his brother and memories of horror. Only when the night grew old and the dawn was not far off did he fall silent, as his voice failed him at last. Then he merely sat and watched over the one who was sleeping, and silent tears slid slowly over his face.

"Brother…" Suddenly silence was interrupted again, by whispered words, hardly louder than breath. "No, brother… do not weep… Not… not your fault…None of this… is your fault." Nelyafinwë's eyes were wide open, and his gaze was clear, and we were readily led to believe that he will now recover swiftly. We did not see or refused to see the anguish in his eyes. We refused to see that there was little else.

It was a slow and uncertain recovery. There was no knowing how much my uncle remembered or, indeed, understood. He seemed to recognize us, and he did not speak to us as to enemies again, but then, he spoke very little at all. After those faint words to Makalaurë he never talked to us first and mostly gave only short replies, a mere yes or no, or even but a barely perceptible nod or shake of his head. But we held fast to these quietly spoken words, to these tiny movements, we were clinging desperately to these small signs of hope, even though in our hearts we were afraid, seeing how weak Nelyafinwë was. He was also in pain, though he made effort to hide it. He suffered Aldanwë and me to treat his injuries, but as we did that, he would close his eyes and keep them shut, and the anguish he felt would be betrayed by occasional sharp intake of breath and a slight tremor that ran through his body. Yet he would accept water and food and, albeit by very small steps, he did grow stronger again, and our hope grew stronger too. Until that morning after the longest night of the year.

Some time ago we had started to mark this day with songs at sunrise. In this gloomy place even a slight brightening of daylight became a matter of song, and so this morning too many voices rose with the rising Sun, recalling the bliss and the beauty of Valinórë. I could not help but to see these songs as a lament of a kind, yet I could not also deny their beauty and the consolation they brought.

This time I was not singing with the others. It was my turn to remain with my uncle, for we dared not leave him alone, so I was in the healers' tent. Nelyafinwë was awake, as he had probably been for most of the night, yet, as always, he lay silent. Now, when the singing started, a spark of curiosity was kindled in his eyes, and when the voices fell silent, he looked at me with unspoken question.

"The days are turning towards the Light again." I explained as well as I could." They are not the same length here. When the Day-star traverses the sky, it is for a part of the year closer to the earth, and for a part – further away. This brings about the change of the seasons, and when the days start to lengthen again, we welcome the return of the Sun with songs."

He frowned, as if confused, and I realized with a sinking heart that very likely my uncle was unaware of Rána and Vása. He had ridden away under the stars; and what light Endórë had was likely not to be found in Moringotto's dungeons.

"There are two new things in the sky now," I said. "One of them is brighter and gives forth golden light, the other – fainter and more wayward. Its light is silver. The first one shines during the day, the other – at night. Vása and Rána we call them."

Nelyafinwë's frown deepened.

"Golden light…?" His voice was uncertain. "Bright against sky of blue, shining on spears and silver banners… There was singing… The gates trembled; the mountain shook. But my voice… my voice was lost in the echoes, carried away by the wind. Then… darkness."

"What are you talking about, uncle?" I asked, in part glad that he was speaking at last, but in part terrified of what he had said.

He looked at me, and his gaze that had been veiled and remote but a while ago was now clear and present.

"No… nothing." He shook his head. "I do not know; it must have been one of the nightmares."

"Yes." I nodded. Yet my heart froze at the thought that it was likely not a nightmare at all. With the first rising of the Day-star Nolofinwë's host had come to the very gates of Angamando. If my uncle had seen them and cried out to them without being heard… I shuddered.

But he said no more of that and retreated back into silence for a long while. Only when Aldanwë came, did he speak again.

"Would you allow me to sit up?" he asked the healer.

Aldanwë regarded him closely, then briefly smiled and nodded, apparently satisfied by what he saw.

"Very well, my lord," he replied, then looked at me. "Help me here, Tyelperinquar."

He then set his arm around Nelyafinwë's shoulders and slowly and cautiously raised him up and then eased him back again gently, so that he now sat resting against the pillows I had piled behind his back. A brief shadow of pain passed his face at the movement, but then it was gone again, and he sat there watching us quietly as we worked preparing remedies. The poisonous fog from the north had crept through the camp again, and several people were sick.

A while later Nelyafinwë asked for water. Aldanwë took the cup and was about to hold it for him, but my uncle shook his head and reached out his left hand.

"Allow me."

Aldanwë again nodded and held the cup firmly until Nelyafinwë's fingers closed about its handle; only then did he release it. My uncle raised it to his lips and drank deeply. Then, instead of handing the cup back to the healer, he reached out to set it on the table beside the bed. But his hand trembled, and he set it down too fast, partly over the side, and the cup lost its balance, fell clattering to the floor and rolled under the bed. Both Aldanwë and I stooped to retrieve it. And then we heard a sound, something between a gasp and a sob.

We sprang to our feet. In attempt to catch the falling cup, my uncle had turned somewhat sharply, and the blanket had slipped exposing his right arm. All colour had drained from his face now as he sat, wide-eyed, staring at the bandaged stump. Aldanwë and I, we looked at each other in dismay. We had not realized that he was unaware of this injury. Then Nelyafinwë closed his eyes, turned away and pressed his face into the pillow. Silence fell.

This silence now, this silence was evil. In that first one there had been uncertainty, but also some faintly flickering hope. In this one there was merely dark, disconsolate despair. That first silence I had endured, and it had tempered my patience. This one now terrified me, and I fled from it wherever I could – to the forge to aid my father, to whatever work I could help my uncles or, indeed, anyone in the camp, with. But my escape never lasted long. Within a few hours I was back in the healers' tent. I could not forsake Aldanwë who had come to trust me and to rely on my help. I could not forsake the one who lay still and silent again.

Nelyafinwë spoke to us no more, not even in reply when spoken to. He seemed not to care about anything. He would accept no food and very little water. Whatever strength he had regained, faded again swiftly away, and even on those rare occasions when his eyes were open, their gaze was void. Aldanwë's stern face grew more and more grim with each new day, yet I dared not ask him anything. Others, however, had more courage.

The year now had firmly turned towards the spring. It was still cold, but not freezing, and during the days the air grew milder, and the snow seemed to shrink in the Sun, even though it was not thawing yet. The nights remained frosty, but in the evenings daylight lingered, and the twilight lasted longer.

It was already past the hour of the twilight. I was helping Aldanwë to carry the blankets and sheets, and as we neared the healers' tent, its flaps flew open and Morifinwë stepped outside. At the sight of us he halted abruptly at first, but then strode towards us with determined steps, his face twisted in anger. When he had reached us, he seized the healer by the shoulder.

"What ails my brother?" His voice was low and menacing, nearly a growl.

Aldanwë's eyes glinted.

"Are you not aware of that, my lord?" he asked, and his voice was cold as ice. "If I recall rightly, you too were present when his injuries were revealed to us."

Abashed, my uncle released the healer's shoulder, took a step back and stood awhile in silence.

"I… regret." He then bowed his head. Anger in his voice had already turned to grief. "Forgive me. I should not have spoken to you so. I merely… I want my brother back. And I do not understand! His wounds are healing well, even… even his hand… Why is he not better?"

Aldanwë's face softened.

"There are wounds that go deeper than body, my lord," he said in a kinder tone. "There are memories too evil to overcome, to live with."

Morifinwë swiftly raised his head, his face was pale, his eyes – bright with tears.

"Will he… die?" he whispered. "Will my brother die?"

Now Aldanwë turned away for a while, but when he looked at my uncle again, his face was grave and sad.

"I will not hide from you what I know or guess, lord Morifinwë," he said slowly. "For I think that it is your right to be aware of that. What has been done to your brother should have killed him long ago. The Eldar are strong, yes, but what he has been through for years, that goes beyond any boundaries of endurance. There is something else that holds him to life, something that binds his fëa to his body, regardless of the anguish it takes. And this I guess also – it would be the same with any of the sons of Fëanáro. So no, I do not think your brother will die now, even though death would perhaps be a kinder fate."

Realization, mingled with horror, dawned in Morifinwë's eyes.

"The Oath…" he whispered in a broken voice. Then he turned and with a strangled sob disappeared amid the tents.

Aldanwë looked after him for a while, then turned again towards me who stood there frozen, terrified by his words. He looked at me closely, then sighed.

"I regret, Tyelperinquar," he quietly said. "I know you love your uncle, and I wish I had some hope to give you. But I have none, and I do not even know whether there is any hope to be found at all any more for this. It seems to me now that it were better if his cousin had fulfilled Nelyafinwë's request. If he had released that arrow as Nelyafinwë asked him." Seeing the expression on my face, he frowned. "You did not know that."

Soundlessly I shook my head. All words had forsaken me suddenly. I could not stay there. I could not go to that tent now. I shoved all blankets in Aldanwë's hands, turned and fled. Perhaps he called something after me. Perhaps. I do not know. I heard him not. All I heard was my own footsteps and the sound of my heartbeat. All else was silence, deep and cold and heavy; it was closing around me, threatening to crush me. To escape that silence I ran away from the camp, over the vast fields on the lakeside, where my feet made no imprint in the snow. I was far amid the lakeside plains when I halted at length, weary and breathless. I stood awhile, struggling for air, then looked up.

The sky was clear that night, and myriads of stars glittered overhead. Very bright they were, so bright that in their light the solitary trees that grew on the lakeside cast dim shadows upon the snow. And suddenly it seemed to me that silence was laced with a song, faint and far-away, but very fair, the sounds mingling, entwining, falling like shimmering dust upon the quiet land. And that starlight and that song, whether it was true or imagined, unleashed something in me. I fell to my knees and called upon Varda, the Valië my father had scorned, but my mother – revered.

"Please, Lady Starkindler…! Please…!"

I do not recall my words. I do not know what I pleaded for, tears streaming over my face, my voice broken by violent sobs. But whatever it was, it was heard. The starry night embraced me and held me, it wrapped me in gentle compassion, and suddenly, after so many long years, I did not feel so utterly and hopelessly forsaken anymore. Long I knelt there. When I at last rose and looked at the sky, I saw that it was past midnight, Valacirca was already far westward. Ere returning to the camp, I laid my hand over my heart, turned towards the West and bowed low before the starlit sky.

The camp was dark and still when I returned, save for the light in the windows of the forge. My father was likely there; he now oft spent nights at the workbench, making simple trinkets, thus attempting to dull the pain and escape from grief. The ornate sword and scabbard he had put away unfinished. He had not much hope left for his brother, if any at all.

I passed the smithy and went slowly amid the buildings. My thoughts were strangely confused; I did not look around and, indeed, thought little of the direction I was taking, until I found myself at the far side of the settlement, in front of the healers' tent. At the entrance I halted and once again raised my eyes towards the sky where the stars still glittered with the same gentle brightness. Then I entered.

Aldanwë was not there, perhaps he had been called away. A single lamp was burning, its faint bluish light somewhat pushing back the shadows. Silence was thick and heavy; its presence so solid that it nearly seemed a being of its own, almost more real than the one who lay soundless and moveless on the bed. The silence was so overwhelming that my heart missed a beat in fear that, despite the healer's ominous words, Nelyafinwë's fëa had torn free and fled to the Halls of Mandos. Haltingly I went closer, and my fear was proved false – even though my uncle's eyes were closed, his chest still rose and fell with slow breath.

Long I stood beside the bed, looking at his face, once so fair and determined, but now gaunt and ghastly pale. I recalled the wisdom in his eyes, the keen wit and excitement glinting there as he was engaged in some debate, sparring with words with his father, or with Findekáno, or with someone of his brothers, most often Morifinwë. I remembered his slow, quiet smile and patience. I remembered his resonant voice and stories that had captivated my childish imagination. My eyes strayed to his left hand that rested upon the coverlet, and I recalled how this hand, now thin and nearly transparent, had firmly held my small fingers, as we wandered in the plains of Valinórë, gold and silver light falling around us. I remembered how, even later, this hand had oft brushed away my tears after I had again failed to fulfil my father's expectations.

I stood there and remembered all that, and, even though my eyes remained dry, in my heart I wept, bitterly and desperately. But then something else stirred within me, something beside the grief, a fierce determination, mingled with stubborn anger. We were the Eldar, the People of the Stars, and yet here was one who had been deprived of the starlight for years, who was even now confined to the shadows! Hardly thinking at all, moving as if there was some other will guiding me, I lifted Nelyafinwë in my arms, feeling little weight. My uncle neither stirred, nor made any sound. I wrapped him in warm blankets and carried him outside.

There was a bench nearby the tent wall, and there I sat down with Nelyafinwë. After a while the cold night air awakened him. He stirred slightly with a quiet gasp.

"Look up. Look skywards," I said, holding him so that his face was turned towards the night sky, his head resting against my shoulder.

Slowly, he opened his eyes. His gaze was veiled at first but then it grew sharp, his eyes widened, and an expression of wonder dawned in them. For a long while he looked in silence, but when he spoke at last, the same wonder was in his voice too.

"Stars." He whispered. "There are stars."

"Yes," I softly replied. "There are stars. They are very bright here in Endórë, do you not think so?"

"Bright… yes…" His voice was faint but clear. "They are… beautiful. I had forgotten. I could see no stars… there. Merely smoke and fog, and darkness, until… until that golden light. But that light... it did not last. Mist and fumes swallowed it swiftly." He fell silent, then frowned, ere speaking again. "I do not know… I do not rightly know whether I indeed saw that, or… It was hard to discern. My mind… was not clear anymore. Even now… I am not certain..."

His words stabbed my heart.

"Be certain!" I whispered fervently. "All what you see is here! The stars are here. And there is still more light in the world! In the morning the stars will grow faint, and the Sun will be up, that is that golden light, but at night the stars will return again. And in two days a new Moon will rise! The moonlight is very fair too, it turns the shadows dark blue and the swiftly running clouds – silver."

"That must be fair indeed." My uncle's lips then twitched slightly, as if a shadow of a smile had passed them, one barely to be seen, and yet there, even if for less than a heartbeat. But then it was gone. He sighed.

"That light, that light is all here, uncle," I spoke on, fearing that he would again withdraw within himself. "That is all here for you to see. The stars, Rána and Vása. You will walk in sunlit fields. You will see the Moon rise over the mountains. You will watch the stars through the lace of tree branches in the woods. But first, you must get well again. You must get well. You must…"

"Brother-son…"

While speaking, I too had raised my face towards the sky, and now I turned back and found his eyes withdrawn from the stars and locked upon my face.

"Brother-son, do not grieve for me." And that was his voice and his gaze again as I remembered them, voice that had spoken words of comfort after my mother's departure, eyes that had looked upon me with kindness and pity when I, shaking all over, red-stained sword in my hand, had stood on the once-white stairs to the quay of Alqualondë. "Do not weep."

Only then I realized that tears were again streaming over my cheeks. I brushed them off angrily.

"You should not be the one to comfort me," I whispered, ashamed.

"Why?"

"For… this is not fair! None of this should be happening! Everything is wrong, so wrong, everything! What we have done is wrong, and what… what has been done to us is wrong too!" My voice broke, and my last words came as a strangled sob. "What shall we do?"

"We shall go on, brother-son. We shall go on." He replied with the same words he had said to me at Losgar, even though I did not expect any answer. But now my heart leapt with a wild, sudden hope. 'We', my uncle had said. I looked at him closely and found him watching me.

"We…?" My courage nearly failed me, but still I asked.

"So it seems…"  A shadow passed his face. "I have little choice left in this. There are… bonds too strong to undo... bonds I myself have forged. I have not the strength… to die. And yet… I do not know whether… whether I have the strength to live."

"I would give you my strength if that would avail!" I whispered fiercely.

"You already have done that, brother-son." A ghost of a smile passed his lips. "You already have." Then he shivered slightly.

"You are cold! Let us go inside."

"Not yet." His voice was quiet yet determined. "A short while longer."

I nodded, drew my cloak around us both over the blankets, and so we sat in silence. The night was peaceful, and the sky still clear, and when I looked again at my uncle, I saw starlight mirrored in his eyes, as he himself had strayed into dreams. But these were dreams of peace now, and his face was calm.

Suddenly I felt that there was someone looking at me. I raised my head, and there, some steps away, Aldanwë stood, watching us with a strange expression on his face. He said nothing. Without a word we carried Nelyafinwë inside and laid him in bed again. He did not wake. I was about to retreat quietly when Aldanwë laid his hand on my shoulder. I turned to face him, unsure whether he was now angry with me for taking my uncle out in the cold, but he just stood there, looking at me long and thoughtfully.

"It seems that there is hope to be found in unlikely places," he said at length, and his stern face was softened by a sudden smile. "Go and rest, Tyelperinquar. I shall now stay with lord Nelyafinwë." I returned the smile and nodded, but as I turned to go, I saw Aldanwë hastily drawing his hand over his eyes ere he sat down in the chair by the bed.

Even with hope it was neither swift, nor easy, and the light that the stars of Varda had rekindled in Nelyafinwë's eyes was faint and unsteady. His wounds healed, but the memory of torment and pain did not recede, if anything, it grew stronger. Yet my uncle bore it in silence. He never spoke of Angamando to anyone, not to his brothers, not to me or Aldanwë, and a cautious questioning my father and Tyelkormo once attempted at once threw him in rage.

"So you want to know what happens within the walls of Moringotto's fortress, my brothers?" His eyes glinted cold and hard. "Ask some Orc! You will learn nothing from me! I will not speak of that! I will not!"

Startled by his fierceness, they stammered some vague reply and left. I remained; the tasks that Aldanwë set for me oft kept me in the healers' tent for long whiles, and now too I could not leave amid my work despite I would have wanted to avoid witnessing my father being scolded by his eldest brother. There was awkward silence for a while, but then Nelyafinwë broke it.

"I regret, brother-son," he said, all anger now gone from his voice. "But there are things too evil to be spoken of. You would have nightmares, were you to know even a part of it."

"I already have nightmares, uncle." I shrugged my shoulders. "I have had them ever since we came here. Since Alqualondë. I am not questioning you," I added hastily, seeing him frown. "I merely… well, I merely want to say that you can speak to me, should you feel that it might help."

"Speaking will not erase the memories, Tyelperinquar," he quietly replied. "Nor will it make them less evil."

He then looked away and stared at the wall in silence, his eyes darkened. Grief and compassion smote me. From the sight of his injuries and tiny bits of his bearing I had put together some pieces of his captivity, enough to freeze my blood even without him speaking of that. Yet for my obstinacy I knew that I would never go back on my word. If he will speak, I will listen; and, indeed, could there be worse nightmares than those I already had?

A long while later Nelyafinwë turned towards me again.

"They say… they say that after I was brought back here, you broke into the healers' tent and refused to leave."

"Who says it?" I asked in surprise.

"Your father. Aldanwë too. But your father was the first to tell me that, and he was clearly proud that you did so."

I laughed, as warmth flooded my heart. For once, my father was proud of something I had done! But I did not want to deceive my uncle.

"That is not altogether how it was. I did not break into the tent. I entered calmly and only pushed Aldanwë aside when he stood in my way. But I apologized to him afterwards. And I did not refuse to go away. I asked leave to stay and to help and was granted that."

"Why did you stay? All my brothers, save Makalaurë, fled."

I shook my head.

"That too is true only in part. Aldanwë chased them out, for they were very distraught seeing you. The only difference between them and me is that they obeyed the healer's command at once while I did not."

"You did not. Why?" His deep grey eyes were questioning.

"I… I do not rightly know." I shrugged my shoulders and replied uncertainly. "I knew I had to stay. It seemed right. So, I stayed."

He looked at me long and closely, and his gaze was now sad.

"Some of your nightmares must be from that night."

"They are, but I do not care!" I shook my head fiercely.

A faint smile appeared on Nelyafinwë's lips.

"No, you certainly do not care." He agreed. Then he slowly reached out towards me. "Thank you, brother-son."

Deeply moved, I extended my hand too, and he lightly squeezed my fingers for a while, for less than a heartbeat, and yet I knew that this simple move must have taken great strength of will, far greater than his efforts to remain still and not recoil when someone touched him.

"Thank you, Tyelperinquar," he repeated, withdrawing his hand. "Thank you for staying." "I am glad I remained," I said. "But I was not the only one to aid Aldanwë then. Makalaurë was there, and Findekáno too, he stayed until next morning. He…" but then I fell silent as a shadow of anger passed over Nelyafinwë's face at the name of his cousin. With a sinking heart I recalled the words of our kinsman on that night – 'I wonder whether your uncle will thank me or curse me for bringing him back'. I feared the latter.

The winter had come to an end. One day a strong wind from the West came bearing dark clouds of rain, and when the downpour abated after three days there was no more snow on the ground, save in the shadows of woodlands and in high places. But that too was melting fast. Spring waters, foaming over the stones, rushed down in swift rivulets towards the lake, already free from the ice, its surface shimmering in the Sun that now gave some true warmth. After a few clear days the mud dried, and new grass appeared in patches, painting the lakeside in gentle green. Willows by the water blossomed golden, sweet scent rose in the air, and the bees were busy amid the branches, gathering the first nectar of the year. Small flowers opened amid the grass and even in the rocky crevices of the encircling cliffs, painting the grey stones purple, yellow and pure white, and I marvelled again, like every spring, at the persistence of life and renewal that this land harboured.

Nelyafinwë was restless. Even though he was likely the most patient of the seven brothers, he was irritated by how slowly his strength returned and by the restraints that Aldanwë laid on him to prevent him from exerting himself overmuch. He never spoke against the healer, nor did he disobey him, but occasional frown or flash in his eyes betrayed his impatience, and sometimes his brothers heard a sharper word. His pride showed itself; he firmly refused to leave the tent ere he could walk without support, even though he would go out on clear nights to look at the stars, leaning on my or Aldanwë's arm.

One morning I was in the healers' tent, by a small table copying some notes about healing herbs as Aldanwë had requested. Makalaurë was there too, softly playing his harp, and the rest of Nelyafinwë's brothers came and went, some lingering longer. Nelyafinwë himself sat in a chair, attempting to comb through the tangles of his hair, still damp after washing. He had refused our help in this, but now, when the comb again and again caught in the dishevelled strands, he grew impatient and then – angry. In a while he cried out in exasperation, and the brush flew across the tent and landed on the floor. The melody stopped for a while, then started anew. Nelyafinwë turned towards his brother, gathered his hair in a fist and yanked it sharply.

"Cut it!"

The harp fell silent again. Makalaurë looked at him with wide eyes.

"What?"

"I said – cut it!"

"I will do no such thing!" Makalaurë's face blanched. "Are you mad? Do you indeed think that I would agree to disfigure you thus?"

A heavy silence fell, and when Nelyafinwë at length spoke, his voice was quiet and cold.

"As to your first question – maybe so. But I believe that things I have seen during the preceding years give me some excuse for that. As to the second – you, my dear brother, you have not the faintest understanding what it means to disfigure someone! Your kind heart is not able to conceive such things, nor your hands – to accomplish them!"

Makalaurë sprang to his feet, seized his harp and stormed out of the tent in fury. Morifinwë who had been reading in the corner, now set aside the book, rose and took up the comb from the floor.

"Sit still," he said calmly, starting to pull it through his brother's hair. "You are unjust towards Makalaurë," he went on after a while. "It is but for him that we stand united. Through all this time he has held us together, despite he took the leadership against his will. And, despite his kind heart, he is neither weak, nor cowardly. I have seen him fight more times than you have, brother, and I would not wish to be on the side of his enemies."

A shadow of regret passed Nelyafinwë's face, but he said nothing. Morifinwë too spoke no more. But when he had finished brushing, he turned towards me.

"Hand me scissors, Tyelperinquar."

I froze, and the terror on my face must have been apparent. Nelyafinwë sighed.

"I cannot braid my hair with one hand, surely you understand this, brother-son!" he said impatiently. "I can hardly brush it as it is! I will not always have one of you close to help me!"

After a short while of silence I nodded and handed Morifinwë what he had asked. I could perceive the reason in this, but when I saw the first russet strands fall to the floor I turned away, took up the quill and bent my head over my work attempting to shut out the sound of scissors. At length it fell silent.

"There!" said Morifinwë. "It will be easier for you now. And in truth…" He fell silent, as if considering, "In truth this length becomes you, brother. It looks good on you."

"Do you indeed think that I care how I look?"

At my uncle's bitter reply I dropped the quill on the table and hastened from the tent, leaving my work unfinished. I did not look at Nelyafinwë before rushing out. I did not want to see.

I fled to the forge. It was empty today; my father was away hunting with Tyelkormo. Anger and hate towards Moringotto flared up in my heart, and I brought my fists down on the workbench with all my strength, once, then again and again. All our misfortunes were his doing, fruits of his deceit and malice! It was his fault, merely his, that we were now here, trapped in this hateful land, in this miserable camp, without hope, without healing and consolation! In Valinórë, in the gardens of Lórien, birds sang, and wind rustled in the leaves of trees, boughs bending low over softly murmuring waters of small streams, their banks overgrown with sweet-smelling grasses and bright flowers. In Valinórë, there was peace and Light, while here…

My thoughts came to a sudden halt. Peace and Light? There was neither in Valinórë anymore. The peace of Aman was shattered, the Light was destroyed, and I saw before my eyes the torchlit square of Tirion. 'Be he friend or foe, or demon …' The words of the dreadful Oath again rang in my ears, and then came the memory of the shadow-wrapped haven, drawn blades flashing fiercely in the dusk, clamour of metal, singing of bowstrings, screams of wounded and dying. The dreadful silence that had followed afterwards, ripped apart only by wailing of the seagulls, as if the birds were mourning for the mariners of the Teleri. My own hands and garment, drenched in blood. The moveless figure of Mandos on the cliff, speaking the words of doom. And then later, white timbers catching flames, smoke rising towards the starless sky. We had not drawn blades and set fire to the swan-ships at the command of Moringotto. We had killed and betrayed by our own choice. The lord of Angamando had no part in that. And, overcome by despair, I sank on the stool, laid my head on my hands and wept, long and bitterly.

But tears would run dry in the end. I drew my hand over my face and looked around. On the workbench in front of me lay the ornate sword, now finished. The folded steel blade had a pattern of stars upon it: long had my father pondered how to achieve this. The hilt and crossbar too bore an ornament of stars and were set with white and red gemstones. I looked and, as always, admired my father's work; this was the mastery that I too strived to achieve one day. Yet suddenly a desire came over me to make something entirely different.

I rummaged in the chests of the materials and there I found silver, a roughly cut piece of jet and several white crystals. I laid all that in front of me and contemplated what I wanted to craft, when sunlight suddenly fell on the stones through the window, and one of the crystals flashed with a sudden light. I took it up and looked at it closely. I took up the piece of jet as well and laid it alongside the crystal upon my palm. And then I knew. It was almost as if the gems were speaking to me, telling me in what shape they wished to be wrought. The stones in my hand felt alive, aware of my thoughts. Fear took me suddenly, and I stood there a while, frozen. My grandfather had done this, he had conversed with metal and gems. He had felt the material he worked with like a living thing. I did not want to become like him! But the gemstones in my clenched hand had a strange power over me, and the desire to craft them was stronger than fear. I set the jet and the crystals in a simple silver frame, and they became a snow-tipped mountain range. I made a figure of an eagle out of silver, and it spread its mighty wings over the peaks. I made the fastening for the cloakpin and polished the frame and the stones. A ray of Sun fell through the window, the crystals blazed white, and suddenly I felt great delight, and my heart sang for the sheer joy of creation. But then my eyes strayed to the sword that lay before me, to my father's work, and at once my joy was swept away. What I now held in my hand did not even remotely match the carefully planned pattern, the perfect symmetry and delightful proportion of the thing crafted by Curufinwë Fëanárion. What I now held in my hand was wild and crude, and its making had not followed anything I had learned being apprenticed with my father. In bitter disappointment I considered destroying my useless work, but the pain I felt at the thought made me change my mind. I put the pin in my pocket. I would not wear it, but it also seemed to me that I will not be able to cast it away. I tidied the workplace, extinguished the forge and left the smithy.

I knew I should return to the healers' tent and finish the writing I had started in the morning. But halfway through the camp I met Makalaurë, and he looked so distressed that I halted and spoke to him.

"Uncle, is something amiss?" I asked uneasily.

He looked at me, and I saw that he was not merely despondent but enraged as well.

"Findekáno," he replied at length, and suppressed anger quivered in his voice. "He came to see Nelyafinwë. But he did not stay for long. My brother… he was furious. He spoke unkindly, and… In the end, he told Findekáno to leave!" He then turned and strode towards the stables, and a short while later I saw him upon his horse galloping over the plain towards the woodland.

At a loss, heavy of heart, I stood amid the camp. Chill wind now blew from the West; it carried low, grey clouds that promised rain this evening. The overcast sky matched well with my mood, and, unwilling to speak to anyone, I took a path that led away from the tents, towards the lake. There, after passing through a thicket of tangled, gnarled trees, now covered in the first green of the spring, I came out on the shore. And there, some hundred paces away, was Findekáno.

He sat upon a tree-trunk close to the waterline, washed ashore and bleached white by the Sun. His gaze was turned towards the other coast, to the barely visible camp of his father, and he was throwing pebbles in the water, adding ripples to the already disturbed surface of the lake, stirred to sharp, angry waves by the wind.

At first I thought of turning back, but then changed my mind and went closer. At the sound of the gravel grating beneath my feet Findekáno looked at me, acknowledged my presence with a slight nod, and then turned towards the lake again. I sat down on the other end of the log. For a while none of us spoke, the only sound was that of the wind, of the waves washing against the shore and of the stones falling in the water. At length I broke the silence.

"Your father… was he very angry with you when you returned last autumn?" I asked hesitantly.

Findekáno looked at me with apparent surprise. He had probably expected me to speak of something else.

"No," he slowly replied. "He was not angry. He was… relieved. Overjoyed that I was alive. He had thought…" He did not finish. We both knew exactly what Nolofinwë had thought, with the knowledge of his half-brother's son taken captive. "He said – it was a noble deed I did," Findekáno added, somewhat bitterly.

"And such it was!"

"Indeed?" He frowned. "I am not certain of that. Not at all certain. And my cousin does not seem to think so too."

"My uncle did ill if he reproached you!" I exclaimed heatedly. Our kinsman merely shook his head in reply. I looked at him closely. "You… you are not angry," I said in surprise, half-asking, half-stating what I clearly saw.

"No, I am not. And neither should you be."

"He spoke unkindly to you! After all you had done to save him!"

"After all I had done, indeed…" Findekáno sighed. He then looked at me gravely. "None of us can fully comprehend the anguish and suffering your uncle has endured, Tyelperinquar," he said. "The pain he still bears and maybe will always bear. The accursed Oath and all that came after that. The torment in Angamando. And if we cannot understand it, what right do we have to judge his bearing?"

He turned his face towards the water again and sat silent, unmoving, holding in his hand a round black stone, smoothed by water. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet, and the words came slow.

"I searched for days amid the black cliffs for some entrance into Enemy's fortress. There was none to hinder me, for Moringotto's creatures were hiding underground, still dismayed by the Day-star, but there was thick mist and sickening fumes. I was bewildered, yet I did not relent. But there was no way to enter that mountain. At length I realized that my errand was hopeless. Caught in a maze of rocks, exhausted by days of futile search, I sank to the ground and lay there in despair.

"But then suddenly anger stirred in my heart, anger like a keen, white flame, and I sprang to my feet and sang. I sang aloud in defiance of Darkness, challenging the shadows around me, heedless of any danger my voice could draw. And my song was answered, by a voice faint and far above my head. I thought at first it to be some strange echo of the mountains and fell silent, but that other voice, it did not. I looked up. I had found what I had been searching for.

"He was chained to the mountain side by a single iron band around the wrist of his right hand. I desperately looked for a way to scale that mountain, but it was a sheer and smooth wall, without any crevice to hold to. I realized I cannot reach him, but even from below I clearly saw the pain he was in, the marks of cruel torture upon his body. I clearly saw the wild hope kindled in his eyes when he perceived and knew me. Not a hope of rescue. A hope of death." Findekáno fell silent; his fingers were gripping the black stone. When he spoke again, his voice was hoarse.

"He asked me to slay him. And I knew that I must do it, for there was no other way to end his suffering. I wiped away tears and strung my bow. I fitted the arrow. And, taking aim, I cried to the Lord of the Winds, begging him to guide my shaft and to have pity. Then came the eagle. Thorondor stayed my hand and bore me up.

"I tried everything to free him, but I could not. I could neither undo the shackle, nor loosen it, nor draw it from the stone wall. Each my attempt only made his anguish more unbearable; half-senseless, he would again and again beg for death, but I did not listen to his pleading. The coming of the eagle clearly was a sign from the Valar; there had to be a way to save my cousin! And when, at length overcome by pain, he passed into forgetfulness, I severed his hand at the wrist."

Findekáno raised his hand, the stone flew high through the air and landed in the water far from the shore. He then looked at me; his blue eyes were bright with tears.

"I failed him, Tyelperinquar," he said quietly. "He asked for a swift and clean death. But I, fulfilling the will of the Valar, guided by a false hope, I gave him life that would only prolong his anguish. I betrayed the one who has always been like elder brother to me. I betrayed him. Loss of friendship seems like a fair reward."

"No, I do not believe your hope was false! And the Valar cannot be so cruel!" I shook my head fiercely. "I do not believe it either! My uncle will get well, and he will understand…, and…" My voice trailed away. Findekáno smiled without mirth, rose, briefly laid his hand on my shoulder, then turned and with slow steps walked away, towards his father's camp. It was a long way to walk. Rain started, large scattered drops at first that soon turned into a downpour, but I still sat there and watched the solitary figure of my kinsman slowly fading amid the sheets of rain.

My garment was soaked through when I returned to the camp and entered our tent. It was still empty, and I sank in the chair and sat there long, staring blankly in front of me. And as I sat there, I recalled and pondered Findekáno's story, and it became more and more clear to me that there was more than his valour there. The way how he had found his cousin, the coming of the Lord of the Eagles, it all now spoke to me plainly, or so it seemed. I was certain – the Valar wanted Nelyafinwë to live. And the music of the stars I had heard on that winter night did not allow me to believe in their deliberate cruelty, even against one of the sons of Fëanáro. He was meant to be saved, he was meant to recover!

Suddenly alongside compassion towards my uncle I felt anger stirring in my heart, anger that Findekáno's calm patience had quelled for a while. My uncle had no right to treat his best friend thus! I am my father's son, quick-tempered and rash to speak my mind, and I knew that I will not have peace ere I will have voiced my thoughts, so I rose and, determined, went to the healers' tent.

Outside the dusk had fallen. The downpour had diminished to a steady drizzle, the wind had abated, and grey clouds hung low in the darkening sky. But in the tent lamps were burning brightly, and Nelyafinwë sat in a chair with a book on his knees, calmly reading. With some measure of wonder I admitted that Morifinwë had been right – the shoulder-long hair did look good on him. Slightly waving strands softened the still sharp lines of his face, and he seemed to me almost like before, in Valinórë, – at ease, sure of himself.

"Good evening, brother-son," he said in a level voice, raising his head from the pages as I entered.

But my fury flared up at the sight of him, sitting there so composed.

"For some, this evening is less good than for others," I replied, not even attempting to keep anger from my voice.

Slowly my uncle closed the book and looked at me intently.

"I am in no mood for riddles, Tyelperinquar," he said, his tone now cool. "Speak plainly. Or do not speak at all."

"Very well!" I replied sharply. "I will speak if you do not comprehend that yourself! This evening may be good for you, uncle. It is less good for Findekáno, who is likely still walking in the rain back to his father's encampment! It is less good for Makalaurë, who is grieved and embarrassed by his elder brother's discourtesy!"

"Are you here to speak for my cousin and my brother?" Nelyafinwë's eyes narrowed.

"No, I am not!" I advanced and halted a few steps from his chair; my voice quivered with rage. "I am here to speak for myself! I am here because I am grieved and embarrassed as well! I met Findekáno by the lake; whatever you said to him has made him blame himself for saving you!"

"Maybe rightly so!"

"How can you even say something like this? How dare you? He went into grave danger to find you! He saved your life!"

Suddenly Nelyafinwë rose to his feet; the book fell to the floor. He made a step towards me; cold light now glinted in his eyes, as he looked down on me. During these last months I had nearly forgotten how tall he was and how commanding his presence could be should he wish it.

"What if I do not want it?" He did not raise his voice, but it was sharp as a steel blade. "Has it not occurred to you, Tyelperinquar, has it not occurred to any of you that maybe I do not want this life? Findekáno took away the choice that was mine to make! And I would have chosen differently, indeed, I did choose differently! He disregarded that!"

I flinched, as if stricken. That was what Findekáno had said. Again and again I heard his words in my mind. 'Not a hope of rescue. A hope of death.' We all had seen death now, but it was a source of grief, of evil, of… wrongness! That one might hope for it, ask for it – this thought terrified me. And yet… 'I gave him life that will only prolong his anguish… There are wounds that go deeper than body. There are memories too cruel to live with.' Both Findekáno and Aldanwë had understood something that I had not. I stood there, staring at my uncle, desperately trying to find words to say. I found none.

After a long while Nelyafinwë turned away from me, sat back in his chair and covered his face with his left hand.

"Go away." His voice was quiet and hoarse. "Leave."  

I left. But I could not force myself to go further than the bench by the tent wall. The sky darkened, and the night fell around me, but I hardly noticed that in my misery. It must have been a long while later when I heard voices inside the tent.

"Are you here to give a just reprimand for my discourtesy and ungratefulness, brother?" Nelyafinwë's tone was now sad, utterly devoid of the wrath it had harboured before.

"Just you might call it perhaps, but – no," Makalaurë quietly replied. "My reproach will yield nothing. I admit, I was angry before. I am not anymore."

Long silence fell, and I thought that I should leave now, that I should not listen to the conversation between my uncles without them being aware of my presence. The tent wall did not keep away the sounds, and sitting so close I could hear every word, even softly spoken. But I could not summon enough strength of will to rise and walk away.

"It were better, Makalaurë, if you would not treat me like some fragile thing you are afraid to shatter with an unkind word." When Nelyafinwë spoke again, his voice was bitter. "I prefer plainly spoken truth, however harsh. Of you all, Tyelperinquar seems to be the only one who understands this. Or perhaps he sees more plainly that there is nothing to shatter anymore. You cannot break something already broken."

"You are not broken."

"My dear brother, in your kindness of heart and in your compassion you turn away from the bitter truth," Nelyafinwë replied wearily. "I am a shadow of myself, a mere shell of the eldest son of Fëanáro. I am useless, crippled and broken."

"No." There was calm certainty in Makalaurë's voice. "I do not believe it, say what you will. And it has naught to do with kindness or compassion. Yes, you have lost your hand. Yes, many of the scars you bear will not fade. But broken? No, brother. That you are not. I know it."

"Whence this knowledge?" my eldest uncle asked wryly.

Makalaurë was silent for a while.

"When… When you awoke for the first time," he at length slowly replied, "… you spoke. Not to us; you did not recognize any of us then. You thought you were still… there, and you spoke to the Enemy and his servants. The words you said… Words like that do not come from one who is broken, brother."

"Words…" Nelyafinwë's voice was quiet and distant. "Yes, words threw them in rage. But silence – even more so. I swiftly learned that silence unleashed their cruelty far more than defiant words. If I was silent… That was a path of escape. There is only so much pain one can endure ere passing into forgetfulness." He fell silent for a while, then sighed. "I had resolved I will not speak of this. You need not know any of this."

"So you would shelter us from knowledge of the horror you have endured, Russandol?" Makalaurë asked sadly. "You would protect us, like you have always done? But, see, brother, we are not worthy of such care from you. We failed you. I failed you. I refused to treat with Moringotto for your life and freedom. I betrayed you."

"I know. They did not hesitate to tell me that my brothers and my people had forsaken me. But know this, Makalaurë," Nelyafinwë's tone grew fierce, "I have never in my life been more relieved than when I learned that you had refused any terms that Moringotto would name! I laughed in their face. I did not laugh very long though; they took care of that," he then softly added, and I trembled at the vision of anguish his words implied.

"Do not blame yourselves for failing to save me." He went on after a while. "That fortress, brother… No place of strength equals Angamando, none that I know of. The power of all our people is not enough to assail it."

"Did you see them?" Makalaurë asked uncertainly, hesitantly. "Did you see our father's jewels?"

"Yes. I did see them," after a heavy silence Nelyafinwë quietly replied. "Moringotto, he has forged himself an iron crown and set the Silmarils therein. He calls himself the king of all Arda! After corrupting Valinórë, he has laid his hand over Endórë as well!"

Anger and hatred quivered in his voice now, and as he fell silent, I heard the sound of footsteps and pictured my uncle pacing restlessly back and forth in the tent. Suddenly the footsteps fell silent.

"His hand is scorched by the fire of the hallowed jewels, and his heart is as black as his hand." His words were slow and forced now. "When he realized that no torment will compel me to forsake our claim… There were others, Makalaurë. Other Elves, the Sindar. Moringotto… He made me watch how his Orcs killed them. Not merely killed. Tortured and…" His voice broke, and when he spoke again, it was in a strangled whisper. "There were women, Makalaurë. And… children. The Orcs… They… Our people do not survive when... Maybe, if I had consented… I cannot stop thinking that maybe, if I had consented to lay aside our claim, to leave Endórë… Maybe then… But I could not. I could not, Makalaurë! The Oath… it binds me! I could not…"

Silence fell, and my blood went cold. I had heard terrifying stories, stories of bodies found in the mountains, bearing marks of wicked torture, mutilated in unthinkable ways. I had once overheard Tyelkormo speak of this to my father after he had returned from the hunt; his face had been white and his voice trembling. He had fallen silent at the sight of me at once, but what I had already grasped from their conversation had been enough to call forth new nightmares, nightmares of dark beasts hacking our people to pieces, tearing them limb from limb, doing all kinds of atrocities to them. For several nights in a row afterwards I had awoken screaming.

The silence on the other side of the tent wall did not last. After a while I realized that the sounds I now heard were racking, heart-rending sobs, and, as clearly as if I were inside, I saw Nelyafinwë weeping in his younger brother's arms.

"No, brother." All sadness of the world was in Makalaurë's voice. "Brother, do not lay this burden upon yourself, do not carry this weight. Their anguish was not your fault; it was wickedly used against you. They are in the Halls of Mandos now, free from pain and suffering." He kept on speaking, calming, soothing words that after a while turned into a gentle melody.

Slowly the sobs subsided.

"You need not fight my battles for me, brother." Nelyafinwë's voice was still hoarse and ragged.

The song fell silent.

"I am not fighting them for you, Russandol," Makalaurë quietly replied. "But I am fighting alongside you. And I always will. Know that, brother mine. I always will. I will not betray you a second time. I swear that." There was a resolve of steel in his words.

"No! Do not swear!" Nelyafinwë whispered fiercely. "One Oath binding us is enough!"

"I will swear no oath if you do not want me to do it. Nevertheless, I regard this promise as such, and I will not sidestep it, whatever happens. I will never again abandon you, brother."

"You never did. I know that, in your heart, you never did. But I also know that you will not lay aside your guilt so easily." Nelyafinwë's voice was sad.

Makalaurë sighed, a long and shuddering sigh, and it seemed to me that he was himself on the brink of tears. But when he spoke, his voice was steady.

"However it may be, that guilt is mine to bear. Sleep now, brother. I will stay with you. Sleep."

The song started anew. I could have left long ago. But perhaps in part to punish myself, I remained, seated in the shadows, and I buried my face in my hands and wept quietly along with my uncle. Shame washed over me in hot waves. So certain of myself before, so certain of my own righteousness, only now I realized how little I knew or understood. Life for Nelyafinwë was so much more than the brave resolve I had admired. It was acceptance, acceptance of duty, of memories of pain and horror, of shame and regret, of all that he will have to bear until the end. And, fated to bear all that, had he no right to anger?

I sat there until a pale light of morning grew in the eastern sky, and for all this time I heard Makalaurë's voice from within, mostly singing softly, but at whiles speaking reassuring, comforting words, when Nelyafinwë drifted in one of his nightmares. Only when the song fell silent, did I rise and leave quietly, unwilling my eavesdropping to be revealed. I went to the lake and wandered there aimlessly along the stony shore as the day grew brighter and the Day-star climbed slowly over the tree tops. It was a clear and beautiful day, yet I could not find even a tiniest glimmer of joy in my heart. The Sun was already high above my head when I at length summoned enough resolve and turned back towards the camp.

With firm steps I approached the healers' tent, but my mind was in turmoil. What should I say? Will my uncle even listen? Will he be offended? Angered? I knew not. Still, I had to speak with him. I had to. I drew a deep breath and entered.

There was twilight inside; only one of the lamps was burning, and there was none there, save Nelyafinwë. He lay abed, asleep, and my heart clenched at the sight of his pale face and dark shadows lining his eyes. How cruelly I had misjudged him yesterday! I had not recognised the composure and assuredness I had seen in him for the shield they were, the shield to guard his soul after living through the cruel torment, after witnessing the unspeakable horrors. What a fool I had been. What a miserable fool.

"Forgive me. Please, please, forgive me," I whispered, yet I knew that it was not enough. So I quietly sat down in a chair and waited for him to wake.

After a while, he stirred. His breathing grew uneven, his lips moved without sound. Then he uttered a short cry, turned to his side sharply and hid his face, shielding his head with his arm. Dismayed, I looked at the door, hoping for Aldanwë to come, but in vain. As my uncle recovered, the healer kept away more and more often; he probably did not even know about the last night, unless Makalaurë had told him. My gaze turned from the door towards the bed again, and I saw Nelyafinwë's shoulders trembling; he was clearly trapped in some evil dream. Terrified as I was to do even more harm, yet I could not leave him there. Therefore, I knelt beside the bed and lightly laid my hand on his shoulder.

"Awake, uncle. Awake, come back," I quietly said.

And Nelyafinwë awoke. There was a lightning-swift movement, as he sat upright and seized my wrist with his left hand. I met his eyes, wide and glazed, and I realized that he did not recognize me. His grip tightened; he had regained much of his former strength.

"It is me, uncle, me, Tyelperinquar. I regret I startled you." My voice trembled despite my attempts to keep it steady. "Do you not know me?"

Slowly, very slowly his gaze cleared. A long while passed ere he released my arm. I hurriedly drew the sleeve over the bruise around my wrist. He sank back in the pillows.

"I thought… I…"

"You thought I was one of them." Nelyafinwë looked away. I drew a deep breath ere speaking on. "Uncle, I came… I have come to say how much I regret all I said to you yesterday. My words were cruel. I should never have said them. I regret with all my heart."

Long silence fell. His face was unreadable. Slowly I rose to my feet; there was a dull ache in my chest.

"I will leave," I said quietly. "I will leave right away. But ere I go, I ask you this – in time, try to find enough kindness in your heart to forgive Findekáno. He did what seemed the right choice. His heart guided him. He risked much for you."

I went to the writing table and gathered the half-written notes to finish them elsewhere. Stack of papers in hand, I bowed before Nelyafinwë.

"Once again, uncle, - I ask your forgiveness. Not for myself, my haughty and foolish words do not merit any. For our kinsman; for a noble deed he did, though it be a cause of your anguish. He knows and regrets that."

I turned to leave, but ere I had reached the door his soft voice called me back.

"Wait."

I turned and met the intent gaze of his deep, grey eyes.

"Are you leaving because you want to go? Because you are weary of hoping against hope?"

Wordlessly I shook my head. He sighed.

"Stay, Tyelperinquar, if you wish to stay. Finish your work. You did not ask for my forgiveness, yet I give it nonetheless. Besides, not all you said was untrue."

Slowly I went back to the writing table and set down the papers.

"I… I am grateful." My voice trembled. "After the evil things I said…"

"You did not think them so evil yesterday. What made you change your mind?"

I could have given some evasive answer. I could have lied. But, as soon as this thought crossed my mind, it made me sick. Lies were the device of the Enemy; I would not use them against one I love. My uncle had right to know the truth. So I steeled my resolve and looked him right in the eyes.

"Last night when you spoke with Makalaurë… I overheard."

Nelyafinwë drew breath sharply.

"And… how much did you hear?" he asked, his voice tense, his gaze intent on my face.

"Everything. I heard all of it. I sat outside, by the tent wall, for the whole night."

He closed his eyes. Dismayed, I crossed the space between the table and the bed and fell to my knees beside him.

"I am sorry, uncle! I am sorry for this too! I did not leave at once, and afterwards… afterwards I just could not. But maybe that was for the best. For now, now I understand better! I see where I was wrong and how I hurt you in my ignorance! I am sorry," I whispered once more and fell silent.

When Nelyafinwë looked at me again, I froze. I had expected anger. Perhaps reproach. I certainly had not expected the deep sadness I saw in his gaze.

"Brother-son, I would that you had remained ignorant," he softly said. "Loth I am to add this burden to those you already bear."

"No!" I shook my head furiously. "No, do not regret me knowing the truth. I would not have it otherwise! I prefer words to silence! Silence… silence is cold and evil! There is no hope in it!"

"Hope…" he repeated quietly. "Is there any of that left at all?"

"But…" I stammered, "you said yourself that we shall go on, uncle!"

"Indeed, so I said," he replied. "But there was nothing about hope in my words."

I stared at him for a while, but when I spoke, my voice was fierce.

"There is no way we can go on without hope! If we say we have none anymore, we can as well march to Angamando and surrender to the Enemy!"

"I did not say "we", brother-son. I spoke for myself," replied Nelyafinwë. I was about to object, but he raised his hand to silence me. "During all that time in Angamando my only hope was for death. For release from pain. Each day, each hour, each heartbeat. Now I may need time to find something else to hope for. But I did not say I shall never find it."

He smiled faintly and laid his hand on my shoulder. I returned the smile and covered his fingers with my own. His hand trembled slightly, yet he did not withdraw it. But then he frowned suddenly.

"What is this?" He asked, his gaze bent on the red marks on my wrist that had not yet faded.

"Nothing, uncle," I hurriedly replied, silently cursing my carelessness. "Nothing you should think about."

"I… hurt you," he slowly said. "Earlier. Is it not so?"

"It is nothing. I startled you from sleep. You did not recognize me at once, that is all."

He drew back his hand and sighed.

"And you speak to me of hope…"

"Yes, I do! Of what then would you have me speak? We have been without it for so long in this miserable place! When you returned… When the eagle descended in the midst of the camp… that was the hour when the first tiny spark of hope was rekindled in the hearts of many of us since… since…" My voice trailed away, and silence fell.

"I am not the one who can keep this spark alight now," Nelyafinwë said at length with a shake of his head.

"But you already are keeping it alight!" I exclaimed. "You live! You recover, despite… everything! That alone is enough to keep up the hope of the Noldor!"

"From whom I am hiding in this tent," he drily replied. "A rather poor way to sustain hope in others, do you not think so?"

"You need time to heal; everyone understands that!"

To that, he did not reply. Unwilling to quarrel further, I took up the quill and bent my head over the notes I was copying. A good while passed as I worked, the silence in the tent interrupted merely by the soft scratching of the quill on the paper, but then Nelyafinwë spoke again. `

"Talk to me, brother-son," he asked, his voice quiet and weary. "Tell me something."

I raised my eyes towards him. The expression on his face was tense.

"What do you wish to hear, uncle?"

"Anything. Tell me anything. I need to hear your voice. Otherwise… I hear other things."

I nodded and started speaking, striving to keep shadows and memories away from him. I spoke of small and meaningless things, of comings and goings in the camp, of daily works, of his brothers' pursuits.

"Tell me of Endórë," he asked suddenly.

I flinched. What was there to tell?

"I do not like it here," I replied after a while of silence. "Not at all. In truth, I hate this place. So I may not be the best voice for telling of it. You could ask Tyelkormo, he often hunts in the woods. Or Ambarussa, they travel oft, exploring this land and drawing maps. In truth, uncle…"

"They are not here, but you are," he interrupted me. "You wander in the woods and hills frequently, so says your father. Tell me what you find there. Tell me of this place you do not like, brother-son."

"Very well." I shrugged my shoulders. "But I have warned you. If my story bores you, just tell me to stop."

Nelyafinwë smiled and nodded, and I started speaking. I spoke of stony mountain paths, of boulders, overgrown with soft, green moss, of small flowers that blossom in the crevices of the rocks in the spring. I told him of swift streams leaping downhill over the stones towards the lake that glitters in the Sun, mirroring the blue vault of sky and clouds during day and countless stars at night. I told of the white swans swimming in the shallow waters near the coast or flying over the bay, the sound of their wings keen and sharp. I spoke of woodlands of pine and fir, with the thick carpet of last years' needles underfoot and the scent of resin sweet in the air. Many are better with words than I am, but this time, in my attempt to pull my uncle away from the dark thoughts, I was carried away in the telling, and my voice rose and fell with the story, filling the space of the tent. And Nelyafinwë lay and listened, and as he listened, light was slowly rekindled in his eyes.

"You tell beautifully," he quietly said when I had stopped speaking to catch my breath. "And you say that you do not like this land?"

"I do not like it." I stubbornly replied. "It is dull and hostile, and cold, and…"

"All that was not in your story." Confused, I was silent. My uncle too spoke no more. Weariness overtook him, and he drifted to sleep. I finished writing, set in order the completed pages, and tidied the workplace. Then I rose to go to the smithy; I had promised Morifinwë to make new bindings for several of his books. But before leaving I turned back at the door and looked at my uncle once more, as he lay there, deeply asleep, face peaceful, and a vague thought started to take shape in my mind.

I worked with the book bindings until late in the evening, and when I returned to our tent, the Sun was down, the stars were alight and the Moon was rising slowly over the eastern ridge, painting the few scattered clouds around it silvery white. The air was still and warm for the early time of the year, and some late birds still sang in the lakeside bushes in the distance. The tent was empty; my father had still not returned from the hunt. I laid myself to rest and soon fell asleep, but then awoke again deep into the night. For some time I lay awake, staring in the darkness. Then I rose and dressed. The thought that had started shaping itself in the morning was now full wrought. I knew what I would attempt to do. What was there to lose?

My uncle was awake, reading a book in bed. He raised his head from the pages and looked at me with concern as I entered.

"Is something amiss, Tyelperinquar?" he asked with apparent worry in his eyes and his voice.

"No, all is well." I shook my head. "I am sorry I came in so late an hour; I regret if I have disturbed your rest."

"The hour to me seems rather early than late," he said, and a fleeting smile passed his lips. "Anyhow, you have not disturbed me. I am well-rested; your stories earlier brought me deep and peaceful sleep."

"I am glad." I returned the smile, then, encouraged by his good mood, went on. "Uncle, there is something I would show you."

"Certainly." He nodded and looked at me expectantly.

I drew a deep breath.

"It is not here. It is outside. Not far, but we must walk a little. You have to come with me."

"Are you saying that we must now go out into the night?" Surprise appeared on his face.

"Yes." I nodded.

"Brother-son, I am not at all certain that…" Nelyafinwë frowned.

"Please, uncle!" I interrupted him. "It is important! Please, trust me!"

For a good while he looked me closely in the eyes, and whatever he saw there convinced him.

"Very well. If you say so. Let us go."

He set aside the book, rose and dressed, nearly without my help. I took a few spare blankets from the corner, tied them in a bundle and put them on my back. I scribbled a few words on a slip of paper and left it on the table. Then I turned towards my uncle. He had donned his cloak and stood in the middle of the tent, looking at me with a mingled expression of curiosity, amusement, and slight exasperation.

I nodded resolutely. "We can go now."

We left the tent and the camp, keeping to the shadows and eluding the guards, and then I turned towards the cliffs nearby the lakeside. The darkest hour of the night was already past, the eastern side of the clear sky started to brighten slowly, and the Moon too still hung over the western mountains, giving some light. I walked slowly, so that Nelyafinwë could keep up with me. I had offered to support him in the beginning, but he had responded with a sharp, resolute shake of his head, and I knew better than to offer again. In a short while we reached the cliff.

"We must get up there."

He raised his head and measured the stone wall with his gaze, his face unreadable.

"And how exactly do you propose we accomplish this, brother-son?" he asked wryly. "I do not possess the best ability to scale cliffs right now."

"No, no, there is a path!" I hurriedly replied. "We can do it; it is steep only in some places."

After a while of silence he nodded; we rounded a large boulder and started to climb.

The path was wide enough for the most part, so that I could walk beside my uncle and secure him at need. We made a few turns and passed the first steep stretches, and then I noticed that his steps were growing slow and his breathing - laboured. In a while, he halted, resting against the stone wall. Doubt entered my heart, but it was too late for that.

"It is very close, less than fifty paces now," I said. "Only one steep climb left. Allow me to help you."

He did not reply at once, but then nodded wordlessly. I set my arm around his waist, he leaned on my shoulder and so, half-supporting, half-carrying him, I climbed the last bit of the path. When we had reached the top, my uncle sank on the ground under a solitary tree that grew there, his back against its twisted, gnarled trunk, his eyes closed.

"I tire so easily now," he quietly said after some time.

"There is no wonder in that, uncle," I replied, wrapping a blanket around him. "This distance has likely been many times longer than what you walk each day inside that tent. Your strength and endurance will return. Give yourself time."

"Perhaps." He sighed. "But it takes far too long for my liking."

"And some say that I am the impatient one in this family!"

To these words of mine Nelyafinwë replied with a faint smile. He sat yet awhile resting, then looked at me with question.

"Are we in the right place, Tyelperinquar?" he asked. "What must we do now?"

"We are in the right place," I replied. "Now, we must wait."

"For what?"

"For that what I want to show you. You will see," I replied with a smile. I kindled a small fire to keep away the chill of the early hour, then sat down beside my uncle, and we waited.

The Moon disappeared. Slowly the eastern sky brightened, and the stars faded. The few scattered clouds started to glow golden. Birds awoke; a few voices here and there at first, but soon the lakeside thickets were ringing with their songs, tunes as joyful as renewal and awakening, as varied as life itself. The snow that still lay in high places reflected the glimmer of the first rays, and then over the eastern rim of the mountain ridge the Sun rose in all her splendour. Small waterfalls, fed by the melting snow, shimmered like silver ribbons, and the surface of the lake, stirred to tiny waves by a fresh morning breeze, glittered with dazzling radiance, as if someone had strewn countless jewels over it.

"Brother-son, this…"

I turned towards Nelyafinwë. His quiet voice was full of wonder. His gaze was taking in the view and the colours, his face was lit by the rising Sun and by the light that shone in his eyes. He smiled, and I saw his face restored to its former beauty, weariness and anguish fading away. A tear slid slowly down his face, then others followed. Yet these tears were not evil. Called forth by beauty that had moved him so deeply, they cleansed his soul, washed away humiliation and guilt, uncertainty and self-doubt, and when after a long while he turned towards me again, I saw before me the eldest son of Fëanáro, tall, strong and beautiful, and the fire of life burned bright in his eyes. But the words he said took me unawares.

"Tell me once more how you hate this land, brother-son."

I opened my mouth to speak, to repeat what I had already said several times, but then sudden realization struck me. I shook my head with an embarrassed smile.

"I cannot tell you that, uncle. That would be a lie. I do not hate Endórë. I… I love it."

He laughed, glad, full-hearted laughter.

"It is good you admit that at last. Love was in your voice and in your eyes whenever you spoke of it, regardless of the words."

I laughed as well.

"And you allowed me to go on ranting how much I dislike it here!"

"Think of it like this, Tyelperinquar: which one has a greater worth – a jewel someone has given you or one you have found yourself, against hope? Besides…" His smile faded. "I am not certain I truly did realize this before. My awareness and judgement have been clouded for a long time."

"But they are so no more! You are healed now, uncle, are you not?" My voice trembled slightly.

He smiled again and laid his hand on my shoulder. His smile was a little sad.

"Not all will fully heal, brother-son, and many memories will not fade. But I will not deny myself hope. In that, you were right. Without hope, all we do is to no avail."

"We should maybe return," my uncle said after a while with some reluctance. "We left unseen, in the dark; it will be far more difficult to return in the same way by daylight."

"They have most likely already noticed your absence anyway." I shrugged my shoulders. "And I left a note."

"A note? What did it say?"

"That we have gone for a walk in the hills."

He laughed.

"Think of the faces of my brothers upon reading such a note! And the face of Aldanwë! I fear, you have called their wrath upon yourself, brother-son."

"I do not mind, as long as you do not regret coming here."

"No, I regret it not." He shook his head. "Very well, then let us remain a while longer. This is truly a beautiful place."

He rested his head against the tree and sat there watching the tiny white clouds floating slowly in the sky, the distant mountains, the glittering waters of the waterfalls and the lake below. In a while he drifted into sleep.

I sat, relishing in the fairness of the spring morning, my new-found love towards this land filling my heart with a quiet joy, a dreamlike peace. But I was soon torn from that by a sound of footsteps. I turned and saw before me Makalaurë's enraged face, and behind him Aldanwë stood, looking down on me sternly, his arms folded on his chest.

"You… you…!" Makalaurë's eyes flashed, and his voice quivered in anger; furiously he shook his hand that was clenched in a fist and held the crumpled remains of my note. He was about to say more, but suddenly Aldanwë laid his hand on his arm; the healer was looking at Nelyafinwë now.

"Look, my lord," he quietly said. "Look."

Makalaurë turned. His indignant expression faded, and disbelief, then wonder dawned instead, as he watched his brother dreaming peacefully under the blossoming cherry tree. A swift morning breeze stirred the slender branches, and the white petals fluttered in the wind. Nelyafinwë awoke. He smiled, rose, brushing the cherry blossoms from his garment and his hair and stood there, looking at us all in turn. Makalaurë's lips trembled.

"Russandol…, you… you are…" But his voice failed him.

Nelyafinwë drew him in embrace.

"…ready to take up my duties," he quietly said. "Yes. And," he added in a lighter tone, "I am ready to shepherd six younger brothers again. And to comfort them at need."

Makalaurë laughed amid tears.

"We missed that most, brother mine," he replied. "We missed that most!"

Aldanwë stood some steps further, his eyes strangely bright. In a while Nelyafinwë released his brother and turned towards the healer.

"Aldanwë, my friend, accept my deepest gratitude," he said. "For your care. For your patience."

The healer clasped his outstretched hand.

"I am glad, my lord." His voice trembled. "So very glad. I… I must admit I did not believe… Never before have I been so glad for being proved wrong!"

"I did not believe either," my uncle quietly replied. "Yet there was one who retained hope." Saying this, he turned towards me and smiled. "Thank you, brother-son. For clinging to that hope against all wisdom. And for showing me the beauty of Endórë that is worth living for. Worth fighting for."

His eyes glinted at the last words, and I nearly pitied all those who will have my uncle for an enemy – even with one hand.

Soon we made ready to return, but ere heading towards the path Nelyafinwë stood for a while on the edge of the cliff looking at the lake and both camps facing one another across the water. He frowned.

"How long shall we stand divided?" he quietly asked. "We regard each other as enemies, while the true Enemy gathers his strength. Time is passing." With these words and a shake of his head he turned to go.

Descent was for him but little easier than climbing upwards, and yet after a short rest at the foot of the cliff Nelyafinwë released Makalaurë's arm he had been leaning onto.

"Thank you, brother," he said, determination in his eyes. "From hence, I will walk on my own."

And thus he entered the camp – without aid, steps firm, back straight, head held high. Instantly the dwelling was in a tumult, like then, in autumn, when the eagle had landed amidst it. People were spilling from the tents, their eyes wide in wonder, but disbelief on their faces was swiftly exchanged for joy. They spoke to my uncle and greeted him; and many had tears in their eyes. I saw that it warmed Nelyafinwë's heart to be again among his people whom he loved and who so clearly loved him. And I saw something else too. In the eyes of the Noldor I finally saw hope shining clear and bright, hope like a flame blown up from grey ashes.

Other Nelyafinwë's brothers appeared; Tyelkormo, blinking fiercely in vain attempt to hide his tears, the twins, weeping openly, my father, such expression of elated joy on his face I had not seen for many years, Morifinwë, standing a little apart, the smile awkward on his usually so sombre countenance. My eldest uncle regarded them, slightly amused and more than little moved.

"I miss but one hand; I still have both arms for my brothers," he said, and they rushed into his embrace, laughing amid tears.

Later that day Nelyafinwë moved back to his own tent that had stood empty for the time of his recovery. I helped to carry over and arrange his things, and I was setting back into the shelf his books when my father entered. He had in his hand the sword he had made.

"This, Russandol, is for you," he simply said, presenting his elder brother the weapon, and the lack of eloquent words clearly revealed how overjoyed and deeply moved he was.

Nelyafinwë took the gift and admired for a while the ornate scabbard. Then he laid it on the table, drew the sword and raised it up in his outstretched hand, his eyes bent on the star-like pattern upon the blade. In a while, he sheathed the weapon and turned towards my father with a look of wonder.

"I am most grateful to you, brother," he quietly said. "Not for your gift only, although this is truly an outstanding work, but also for believing that… that I will need a sword again one day."

Curufinwë bowed his head at these words.

"I could, of course, now say to you that it was like that for all the time," he replied after a long silence. "But to you I will not lie. There were whiles when my hope failed. When our hope failed. My son, I think, was the only one who held fast to it – even when we, the others, despaired." And with these words he turned towards me and regarded me with a gaze full of fierce pride.

"Indeed, Curufinwë, obstinacy your son has inherited from you in full." My uncle smiled. "And I am grateful to him for that, but I blame none for losing hope. How could I? Until this very morning I was not certain I could see any of that myself. But come, let us dwell on this no longer." He shook his head and laid his hand upon the sword on the table. "I thank you once again for your gift, brother. This is a work fully worthy of the most skilled son of Fëanáro!" "And a weapon fully worthy of the High King of the Noldor!" replied my father, beaming at the praise. Then he took his leave and did not notice the frown upon Nelyafinwë's face at his last words.

Nelyafinwë now took over the leadership of the Noldor from his younger brother who was glad of this but concerned also. Yet Makalaurë's concern proved false. My eldest uncle's strength now returned swiftly; indeed, it seemed that the responsibilities he had resumed aided him. He went about the camp, spoke to the people, and took counsel with them. He questioned his brothers about the events of the years when he had been absent, about the lands of Endórë and its dwellers, and he studied closely the maps that the twins had drawn from what they had seen on their own travels and learned from the journeys of other Noldor, or even of the Sindar, the Elves of this land. He also learned their tongue from Tyelkormo, who had the most dealings with the Grey Elves and something akin to a cautious friendship with them, and in less than a month Nelyafinwë too spoke Sindarin freely, with but a slight ringing note to his speech. In two months, he took up arms and started practicing swordfight, against Aldanwë's counsel at first, yet this time he did not allow the healer's restraints to overrule him.

Hope was indeed returned to the Noldor. Yet there was a cost to that hope. Even as my uncle had said, not everything was healed and forgotten. Despite all things he busied himself with, he would at whiles stray into dark thought, fall silent suddenly or halt in his step, his eyes darkened, turned inward. Some time passed ere he would draw a deep breath and shake his head sharply, returning back to the present. There was anger in him now that had not been there before, even though he never turned that towards anyone, yet we saw it smouldering within him, and, as the days passed, we noted a change of a different kind too. Nelyafinwë had always been resolute in his nature, yet now his determination was far more than before; now it was like a sharp sword, it burned like a bright flame within him, and none of his brothers, not even Morifinwë, dared to cross him.

The thought of the rift between the Noldor weighed heavily on Nelyafinwë's mind. Several times I saw him standing on the lakeshore with arms crossed on his chest, eyes turned towards the camp on the other side, face sad and thoughtful, but with each next time it seemed to me that his determination had grown keener, sharper. In this matter, however, he long took counsel only with himself and revealed his mind to none. It was the end of the summer when he called his brothers together and disclosed the thought that had been shaping itself in his heart.

It was an overcast and rainy morning when all his brothers gathered in Nelyafinwë's tent. I was there too, having come together with my father, and, as my uncle had not objected to my presence when we entered, I had remained. Ere speaking, Nelyafinwë measured everyone with a steady gaze in silence for a good while.

"My brothers, I have asked you today to take counsel with me," he said at length, but then shook his head and sighed. "No, this is not true. I have asked you to come and hear of the decision I have already taken." They looked at him with question, their eyes wary, but he went on, his voice resolute. "I intend to ask Nolofinwë to meet with me."

"Yes!" My father sprang to his feet; his eyes shone in excitement. "That is what you should do indeed, brother! At last! Make him see reason, let him know who rightfully is the High King of the Noldor!"

Morifinwë's dark eyes glinted at my father's words, and Tyelkormo nodded eagerly, but Makalaurë and Ambarussa looked uncertain. My eldest uncle regarded Curufinwë with unreadable gaze.

"So that is what I should do?" he asked at length. "Claim kingship?"

"Certainly!" my father replied, still in the same elated mood.

"I hear what you think, Curufinwë." Nelyafinwë then nodded slowly, but the tone of his voice was strange.

Silence fell, as his brothers eyed him and one another uneasily. Morifinwë was the first to break the silence.

"One would think you should do it," he quietly said, his eyes narrowed. "Yet it is not your intent."

"No. It is not."

"What… what do you have in mind?" asked Tyelkormo, his voice quivering slightly.

"I will waive the claim to the kingship over all Noldor on behalf of Nolofinwë."

Dead silence fell at these Nelyafinwë's words, then his brothers started speaking over one another.

"This cannot be your decision!" Anger bristled in Tyelkormo's voice. "How can you even consider something like this?"

"I do not believe my own ears!" My father's face had blanched. "Are you now saying that you will cast away what is yours by right, brother?"

"By what right is the claim to the kingship mine, Curufinwë?" my uncle asked, his voice dangerously, deceptively calm.

"It is our father's heritage we speak of now!" My father's composure broke completely; he was shouting. "It is the claim our father made, and you are his heir, by the Valar!"

Suddenly Nelyafinwë brought his palm flat down on the table with such force that books and other things that stood there jumped up.

"I am an heir to our father's Oath as well! That too is our heritage!" His brothers recoiled at the sound of his voice, cold, hard and bitter. "And do you want to know what I think of father's claim? I think our father forfeited all rights to the kingship at Losgar!"

"How… how dare you!" My father's hands were clenched in fists, his eyes glinted in wrath.

Nelyafinwë met his gaze.

"Oh yes, I dare! Look me in the eyes, brother, and say that it was a just and honourable deed! A deed worthy of a king! Can you say that? Can you?"

My father made a step towards him, but now Tyelkormo sprang to his feet and restrained him.

"Calm yourself, Curufinwë," he said, his voice shaken. "Calm yourself and sit down."

My father sank back in his chair, his eyes still smouldering, bent on his eldest brother's face.

"How dare you!" he repeated. "How dare you betray our father's memory, betray us, betray the Noldor? How?"

Nelyafinwë withstood his gaze, and only when my father averted his eyes, did he too turn away. For a while it was so quiet in the tent that our breath and heartbeats sounded like wind and thunder in my ears.

"In Angamando…" Nelyafinwë's soft voice then sliced the silence like a blade. "In Angamando, I saw our people being tortured and killed by Moringotto's servants while he watched and laughed. I saw them being mutilated. Ravished. Dying in terrible anguish. I will do all in my power to put an end to this. Everything in my power. I will do whatever it takes, hear me, my brothers, whatever it takes! My war is with the Black Enemy, not with Nolofinwë! We must stand together against the evil in the north, not against one another! Two thirds of our people dwell on the far side of this lake! Do you indeed have the slightest hope that even one of them would follow my lead? No, they will stand with Nolofinwë, and rightly so! They will stand with the one who led them over the Grinding Ice! Meanwhile, allow me to remind you, I walked right into a trap and allowed Moringotto to capture me! Nolofinwë already now is a far better king than I can ever hope to become! No, I will lay aside this claim without regret! And I will beg their forgiveness for the evil we have done!"

He looked at us all in turn; white flame burned in his eyes. In a brief while Makalaurë rose and stood beside his elder brother.

"Yes! I am with you in this, Russandol!" His clear voice rang loud and confident. "Will you not see reason, brothers? He is right, right in every word! It is our chance to do justice by our people whom we have so cruelly wronged! Will you deny this in your pride?"

The twins looked at one another, then slowly nodded.

"We agree. We are with you too."

Tyelkormo sighed and drew his hand over his face.

"Very well," he then quietly said. "If that is your decision, I will not stand against it. And… I must say…" He frowned and shifted uneasily in his chair. "I must admit that I too regret much of what we did. There are things I am not proud of. It will be a relief to lay aside that burden of guilt."

Nelyafinwë nodded; now his gaze shifted from my father to Morifinwë and back with silent question. Morifinwë sat gripping the armrests of the chair, anger burning in his eyes, and when he spoke, he was nearly gritting his teeth.

"I am furious," he said, and his low voice indeed quivered with rage. "I am furious, and yet… and yet I see wisdom in what you intend to do. My mind sees wisdom in this, but my heart… my heart is against it. Still, I will not thwart your intentions, for your decision is wise. You spoke true; we need allies, and Nolofinwë holds the greater power."

"And you, Curufinwë?" My uncle now turned towards my father who still sat with his head bowed.

Slowly Curufinwë raised his eyes, the expression therein anger, mingled with grief.

"I will not even pretend that I agree," he replied bitterly. "For I do not, neither in my heart, nor in my mind. With this deed of yours the house of Fëanáro will be made dispossessed of what is rightly ours. Yet I also will not oppose you – because you are my brother whom I respect and love."

"I am grateful for that too," Nelyafinwë quietly replied.

Their elder brother's decision made known to them, my uncles now left, and we were already at the door when Nelyafinwë called my father back.

"I regret that I have failed your trust and expectations, brother." He had the ornate sword in his hand and he now held it out to Curufinwë. "I return this gift. You said that it is fit for the High King of the Noldor. I will never be that."

My father frowned and regarded the weapon in his brother's hand for a while, then raised his eyes and shook his head.

"You have failed neither," he softly replied. "I may hate your choice, yet too well I also see the wisdom in it. And for me, you already are the High King. That will not change, regardless of what you will do. I said I will not stand against your decisions. I will not. But neither will I acknowledge any other authority over myself, save yours, my lord brother."

With these words my father bowed before Nelyafinwë, swiftly turned and left the tent. I followed him.

Messengers were sent to the other camp swiftly. Nolofinwë agreed to meet, the day was set, but the closer it came, the more darkly my father brooded, and his seething discontent was plain for everyone to see, even though, as he had promised, he spoke no word against his eldest brother. A day before the intended meeting Nelyafinwë called his brothers to him.

"None needs to come with me who wishes it not," he said. "I know that not all of you in your hearts agree with what I have decided. My mind I will not change, for I believe that this is the only way our hope lies. Yet you need not come."

"Nay, brother, you will stand alone no longer." Makalaurë shook his head. "Neither facing friends, nor enemies. Henceforth, where you go, I will go also."

The twins nodded their consent, and Tyelkormo as well. Morifinwë exchanged looks with my father.

"Me and Curufinwë, we are coming too, even though we do not like your decision. But you are not merely our brother, but also lord of our people. It is our duty to protect you, should the need arise," he added darkly.

Nelyafinwë sighed.

"I will bring no strife with me," he replied. "If that is your intent – remain behind. I will not have our chance of reconciliation undermined by offence and disdain."

"Why, my brother, we shall give no offence," my father said in a calm voice, yet there was something perilous in it. "We shall draw no blade. Unless they do it first."

"There will be no blades, Curufinwë," my eldest uncle replied. "We shall go thither unarmed."

Silence fell, as his brothers regarded him in disbelief. Even Makalaurë looked uncertain.

"Did Nolofinwë demand this from you?" asked Morifinwë, his eyes glinting dangerously.

"No, he did not. That is how I myself have decided." Unwavering he met their eyes. "I will go bearing no weapon, and any who comes with me also. Our armed guards will remain outside Nolofinwë's camp."

"So be it," after a while of heavy silence Morifinwë replied in a hollow voice. "We will then fight with our bare hands, if the need arises."

"There will be no such need, unless we shall call it forth," Nelyafinwë shook his head. "Therefore, I say to you again – come not if you cannot keep your temper restrained. Otherwise you will do more harm than good."

"We will do as you say, brother," slowly replied Tyelkormo. "And yet, I think, you are reckless in this. To walk unarmed into the camp of unfriends…"

"It is us who unfriended them, Tyelkormo, and it is us, only us, who can mend that breach! Do you not know who our true enemy is? I, for one, am reminded of that every day!" Nelyafinwë's eyes glinted and his voice now quivered with anger, as he raised his right arm before his brothers. "What else needs to happen ere you understand?"

"Peace, brother." Makalaurë laid a placating hand on his shoulder. "We do understand, and we will do as you bid. Is that not so?" His gaze, clear and sharp, now lingered on the faces of his younger brothers. "Is that not so?" he repeated, a note of warning in his fair voice, and I recalled his anger after the meeting with the envoys of the Black Enemy.

His brothers likely remembered the same. One by one they voiced their consent.

"I will not remain behind." My father was the last to speak. "And my bearing will not thwart your intentions, be assured of that."

Nelyafinwë nodded.

"Uncle, may I come as well?" Suddenly I heard my own voice ringing loud in the tent.

They all turned towards me. My father's eyes darkened.

"Are you so eager to see the house of Fëanáro being bereft of its honour and dignity?" he sharply asked.

"No!" I heatedly replied. "I have never known that admitting and repenting an ill deed would bereave anyone of honour and dignity!"

For a while my father looked at me closely, his will striving with mine, but I did not relent.

"Do as you will!" he then bitterly said with a shrug of his shoulders. "If my brother consents. His authority surpasses mine."

"Your son is of age, Curufinwë, and the decision is his," said my eldest uncle. "If he wants to accompany us, I will not forbid that."

"Do as you will," my father repeated. "I care not."

With these words he rose and stormed out of the tent, upturning a chair on his way. In a while, the others departed in embarrassed silence, and I too was about to take my leave, but Nelyafinwë still had something to say to me.

"Are you certain you want to ride with us tomorrow, Tyelperinquar?" he asked with concern. "I would not wish this to be a cause of strife between you and your father."

"I am fully certain," I replied resolutely. "It is better that I quarrel with him over some cause, not without one, and this cause seems good to me. Be not troubled, uncle," I added, seeing him frown. "I am used to his anger. It flares up swiftly and swiftly is again quenched."

Nelyafinwë looked at me long and closely.

"I wish it were so," he said. "Yet this time, I fear, it may be otherwise."

"Be not troubled for me," I repeated reassuringly. "I will be well."

"Yes," he replied with a faint smile. "Yes, I believe you will be."

Next morning dawned chill and overcast, and, as we rode along the lakeside path, wind arose, stirring the surface of the water to white foam. Low, grey clouds loomed overhead, and gusts tore at our hair and clothing.

Nelyafinwë was ahead of the others, deep in thought, his gaze bent on the road ahead, and I rode as the last of the company, followed only by the armed guards. Makalaurë and Tyelkormo rode side by side and spoke together in soft voices, and so did the twins. My father and Morifinwë rode beside each other as well, but they did not speak. Morifinwë muttered an occasional curse when a particularly violent breeze shook his cloak, but my father was silent. He had said no word to me since yesterday, indeed, he had not as much as cast a glance at me, and I thought that perhaps the words of Nelyafinwë had been true, and my father will be slow to forgive me this time. Yet I did not regret my choice; a spiteful determination had settled in my heart. I was certain that for once we were doing something that was the right thing to do.

The journey around the lake took many hours, and the day was nearing noon as we approached Nolofinwë's camp. The trees that had hindered us from seeing far ahead in the distance now ended, and we rode out in the plain, stretching for several hundreds of paces in front of the other encampment. It was a fortified place, walled and guarded, and wardens stood at the wide gate. On the edge of the woodland Nelyafinwë halted and turned towards our guards.

"Remain here," he said. "From here, we shall go alone and unarmed."

The captain of the guards frowned uneasily.

"My lord," he hesitantly said, "my lord, what if… what if there is trouble? What if you…"

Nelyafinwë interrupted him with a single sharp look.

"There will be no trouble," he said firmly.

The captain nodded. Now Morifinwë was about to say something, but his eldest brother silenced him with a shake of his head. In silence we approached the gates. They opened soundlessly, and we passed through.

Nolofinwë's camp was much larger than ours; it probably held twice as many dwellers. It was made more lasting too; only some of the buildings were tents, the others – houses of wood and stone, simple, yet fair, their lines and proportions pleasing to the eye. As we entered, the gate wardens greeted us with few, yet courteous words.

"You may leave the horses here, lords," their captain said. "They will be taken care of."

"We are grateful for your care," Nelyafinwë replied.

"You may leave the beasts to graze, there is no need to stable them," said Tyelkormo then.

The gate warden looked at him strangely.

"They will be left to graze, certainly," he then replied, and his voice was cool. "There are no stables here anyway. Now, would you, please, follow me? Our lord is awaiting you."

With these words he turned to lead the way and did not see Tyelkormo's confused expression. Makalaurë leaned closer to him and whispered something quietly. Tyelkormo paled first, then blushed, as if abashed. And suddenly I too understood. There were no stables because there were no horses in Nolofinwë's camp. Most of the animals had been on the ships, and the rest… The rest had not survived the Grinding Ice. My own face was now hot with shame. I had not thought of this when I had watched Findekáno walking away in the rain. I had not realized.

We went amid the houses and could not but see the difference. The place where we lived was a war camp. This here, even though fortified, was something else – a dwelling, something that had the beginnings of a city. We passed workshops of craftsmen and houses with gardens beside them, many of them bright with autumn flowers. The sounds of a flute drifted from one of the windows. Children's laughter suddenly rang nearby, and two fair-haired boys and a dark-haired girl rushed across the street in the distance chasing each other. A shadow of pain passed Makalaurë's face, his lips trembled slightly, and his left hand closed over his right, over the slender golden band on his finger, the ring he had tried to return to his wife when leaving. She had not taken it. In truth, he had barely convinced her to stay behind, and she had consented but for the safety of their children. The memory of their parting brought a sudden stab of sadness. How many families were sundered like this?

"They came here after us and brought less with them," Pityafinwë said in a low voice to his twin. "And yet – behold! They have built a city, while we still dwell in tents."

"There is small wonder in that, brother," Telufinwë quietly replied. "If heart is less heavy with guilt and remorse, hands are more eager for work."

At his words, Morifinwë frowned, my father's eyes glinted, but my eldest uncle made no sign that he had heard the exchange between his youngest brothers. He followed the captain of the gate wardens with firm steps, his face impassive.

After a while we took a turn and came into a square, at the far end of which there stood a large building of wood and stone. It had tall windows, it was roofed with shingles that gleamed golden even on this overcast day, and Nolofinwë's banners, blue, gold and silver, were flying proudly on the breeze. The captain led us to the door, carved with fine skill, and bowed slightly.

"Please, enter, my lords," he said. "You are expected. I must now return back to the gate, so I take my leave."

"Thank you." Nelyafinwë returned his farewell with a nod, and the gate warden left to resume his duties.

Before we entered, Nelyafinwë turned towards us and measured us all with a stern gaze.

"Remember our purpose and your promise," he said. "We are here to heal the breach between our houses, not to deepen it. You will utter no haughty word and give no insult to anyone. Is that understood?" He spoke softly, yet steel rang in his voice, and wordlessly we nodded in consent.

"Good. In there, I will be the one to step forth and speak. You need not say, nor do anything." We nodded to that too, and Nelyafinwë pulled the door open.

We came into a spacious hall; many lamps added to the grey daylight that fell through the windows, the columns were carved with flowing designs, the walls – covered with fair painted scenes. Many eyes turned towards us as we entered, and most of the looks we received were not kind. My father drew breath sharply; his hand strayed to his belt, only to find that the dagger that he usually wore was not there. One of the Elves who stood nearby the door now briefly bowed to us in greeting, then went forth to announce our arrival; and his voice rang clear and loud in the hall.

"Nelyafinwë Maitimo Fëanárion and his brothers!"

"Remember your promise. Remain here." And after these words, spoken so softly that merely we could hear them, my eldest uncle turned and went forth.

At the herald's words Tyelkormo had tensed, my father had frowned fiercely, but on Morifinwë's face there had appeared open anger.

"How dare they mock him thus?" he now hissed, ready to rush forward.

Makalaurë laid a restraining hand on his arm.

"Peace, brother," he softly said. "That is not their intent. If you had not seen what we have seen, would you indeed deem his mother-name unfitting? Look at him. Look closely."

We looked, all of us. And we saw that Makalaurë spoke true. Despite the wind-blown hair of awkward length, despite the missing hand he even did not attempt to hide, the eldest son of Fëanáro filled the hall with his presence, and none who did not know what his garment hid would have thought his mother-name out of place even now. His looks and bearing betrayed not the bitter anguish he had suffered, and only someone who would look closely enough would notice the lines of scars disappearing under the sleeve and the collar. With easy grace and firm steps he went forth, and on some faces now anger was exchanged for grudging respect. Tyelkormo relaxed, rage from my father's and Morifinwë's face faded, and from the far end of the hall we watched the meeting of Nelyafinwë with his father's half-brother.

As Nelyafinwë approached, our elder kinsman rose from his seat. His face was calm, but solemn, and it occurred to me how alike he was to my grandfather – the raven hair, the fair, yet stern features, the proud bearing. Except the eyes. He and his children had the piercingly blue eyes of the Vanyar.

My uncle halted a few steps from him and bowed.

"I am grateful, lord, for your consent to meet us," he said, and his deep, clear voice filled the room.

Nolofinwë nodded and regarded him closely in silence for a while ere speaking.

"I am glad to see you thus healed, Nelyafinwë," he then said gravely. "Despite the grievances that lay between our people."

"These grievances I have come to redress," my uncle replied.

Nolofinwë frowned.

"And how would you redress them?" he asked, his voice level, yet cool.

Nelyafinwë looked him straight in the eyes.

"First and foremost, by acknowledgement and repentance of evil that was done," he then said, loud and clear. "For my father I cannot speak, for his feet no longer walk the land of Endórë. Yet I speak for myself, for my brothers and for my people, and I say that we deeply regret the wrongs we did to you, and we beg your forgiveness."

Nolofinwë's face betrayed nothing as he held my uncle's gaze with his own.

"Cruelly have my people suffered from your treacherous deeds," he said at length, his voice as blank as his face. "You ask for much, Nelyafinwë. It may be that for too much."

"I am aware of that, my lord," my uncle replied. "Our deeds have indeed been beyond vicious, and we admit that. But still, we ask." His voice now trembled slightly. "Even though the memory of this evil may long lie between us. Not all we can redress, nor return life to those who no more have it. Our treachery has been a bitter blow, a grievous hurt to the Noldor. Yet wounds may be healed, despite the scars they will leave. But with scars, one can live. Forgive us, we beseech you! Allow the wounds to be healed!"

And with these words he raised his left hand, undid the clasps of his coat and his shirt and pulled at his garment, revealing the marks of torture upon his chest and shoulders. Then, he knelt before Nolofinwë with a bowed head.

"Allow the wounds to be healed, lord," he repeated softly, but in the dead silence that had fallen in the hall his voice rang to its furthermost corners. "Please. You now see before you that it can be done. Scars will remain, but with them one can live."

Deeply shaken, those in the room stared at him. There was neither sound, nor movement, but suddenly Makalaurë turned towards us with tears in his eyes and regarded us all in turn; and then, in unspoken agreement we all went forth, crossed the hall and knelt beside Nelyafinwë.

Time seemed to stretch on forever, but then Nolofinwë in few swift steps covered the distance that separated him from us.

"Rise, brother-son." His voice broke. "All of you, rise!" He pulled Nelyafinwë to his feet and looked long and closely in his eyes. Then he nodded. "We accept your repentance. Scars there may remain, but it is in our power to prevent the wounds from festering. With time, we may forgive you."

"We are grateful. It is more than we deserve," Nelyafinwë quietly replied. "Yet that is not all I would say." He raised his voice again, for all in the hall to hear. "Henceforth, I forego any claim to the leadership over all Noldor. Over my own house only do I retain power, yet we will all acknowledge the authority of the High King!"

A murmur of voices arose in the hall.

"Your father would not have approved of your decision." Nolofinwë frowned slightly. "What of the legacy he left you?"

"I look upon this matter differently than he would have done," Nelyafinwë firmly replied. "If there lay no grievance between us, lord, still the kingship would rightly come to you, the eldest here of the house of Finwë, and not the least wise. And for me and my brothers Fëanáro left a legacy of another kind."

Nolofinwë looked at him long and closely.

"Indeed, that he did." He nodded slowly, then turned towards his people. "So be it. I take upon myself the duty of the High King of the Noldor!" The silence in the hall was shattered with cheering voices, but Nolofinwë looked back at my eldest uncle. "I realize well enough that you need freedom to cope with that legacy, brother-son, far more freedom than kingship would leave you," he then said quietly.

A faint smile appeared on Nelyafinwë's lips.

"Your eyes are keen, lord," he replied. "Indeed, so it is. And I am grateful that you are not offended by this purpose of mine."

"I am not offended." Nolofinwë sadly shook his head. "I regret it has to be so."

My uncle frowned; his smile faded.

"Do not waste pity on me, lord, for I do not deserve it," he then said.

Nolofinwë regarded him thoughtfully for a while.

"Allow me to decide that myself, brother-son, will you?" He laid his hand on Nelyafinwë's shoulder. "Your own judgement in this matter may be flawed." Then he eyed us all in turn. "Come, sons of my brother, let us speak together of what is to be done now."

And we followed to the seats that were set for us beside the chair of the High King.


Notes

Nelyafinwë's mother-name, Maitimo, means 'the well-shaped one'. "If there lay no grievance between us, lord, still the kingship would rightly come to you, the eldest here of the house of Finwë, and not the least wise.” – this is a direct quote from The Silmarillion.

We sat down in the appointed places, at the large table set by the wall. After a short while food and drink was brought to us, and we shared a light meal, and we spoke with Nolofinwë, or, rather, my eldest uncle spoke with him, exchanging news, some of his brothers adding a word here and there, most often Makalaurë and Tyelkormo as could be expected, but also Ambarussa, surprisingly, for their knowledge of the land appeared to be great, and our kinsman was clearly impressed by that. Morifinwë and my father were silent nearly all the time, yet their faces betrayed not the displeasure they likely felt. I was silent too, being the youngest and feeling shy and out of place in their company.

"Long has my heart been heavy as I looked over the waters of Mithrim," later said the High King. "Yet for this I dared not even hope. I am grateful to you, brother-son, for taking the first step."

"No, lord." Nelyafinwë shook his head at his words. "Your gratitude is misplaced. We should thank another that we are here now and look ahead with some hope. We should thank the one who went into darkness, heedless of peril." With these words he looked towards his cousin who had not joined us but stood further away in a conversation with some other Elves. "It is he who made the first step."

"My son's deed has been praised and will be remembered, be assured of that," Nolofinwë replied with a smile.

In a while their conversation was interrupted as Nolofinwë was called away by one of the guards who came and spoke to him quietly. He rose and left, promising to return swiftly, and we remained at the table on our own, suddenly feeling exposed, pierced by many eyes. It seemed to me that it had grown cold in the room without the King's sheltering presence, and a shadow of unease settled in my heart. I saw that several of my uncles felt the same. Morifinwë frowned, my father and Tyelkormo tensed. The voices seemed to dim; it was as if a wall of chilly silence was building around us. Findekáno seemed to sense this too; with a look of concern on his face he made a step towards us, attempting to catch Nelyafinwë's gaze, but he halted as he failed at that. I turned towards my eldest uncle. He sat still as stone, looking down at his clenched fist upon the table, seemingly lost in thought, unaware of anything around him, but it seemed to me that he had strayed into one of his whiles of darkness again. Dismayed, I was about to speak to him, but then door to the hall was thrust open, and silence was broken.

Írissë hastened inside, gleaming like a snowflake in her white garment, but there was a smile on her lips, and she came to us with light steps and greeted us warmly, embracing my uncles, her friends from the times now past, and kissing me on the cheek. She then took a step back and regarded me with a mischievous glint in her eyes.

"Why, you have grown, Tyelperinquar!" she exclaimed. "Since when are you a head taller than I am?"

I blushed fiercely and found no words of reply, but her gaze was kind, and laughter rang in her voice, and I found myself smiling in return. My father laughed as well.

"Sit down with us, Írissë, little sister, then there will be no need for you to look skywards," he said and pulled a chair for her beside him.

She accepted that and sat down among us, and her easy bearing, her very presence seemed to lighten the mood around the table and elsewhere in the hall. Soon even my father and Morifinwë were at ease, and we spoke and we laughed almost as we had done before, before the Light had failed, before the blood had been shed, before the smoke of the burning ships had obscured the sky. But the shadow had merely slipped further away, not departed entirely, and we were reminded of that soon enough.

We spoke of building, and my father's gaze strayed to the wall paintings.

"Is it Turukáno's work?" he asked with a note of appreciation. There was little friendship between my father and the youngest son of Nolofinwë, but there was respect of one master of craft towards another.

"Yes." Írissë nodded. "Turukáno painted the walls and Findaráto made the carven pillars and sculptures."

"Yet none of them is here today." Noted Tyelkormo looking at her with question.

"No." Írissë shifted uneasily. "Findaráto went hunting, and Turukáno, he… he too went afield and took Itarillë with him. They wander around often like this, now. They are each other's support and consolation," she added quietly.

"Did Elenwë remain in Valinórë then?" Tyelkormo asked, frowning. "I would not have thought that…" He fell silent perceiving the glint of anger in Írissë's eyes.

"Not in Valinórë, Tyelkormo!" she replied sharply. "She remained in Helcaraxë! She and Itarillë, they fell in a crevice, in the dark, ice-cold water. Turukáno saved his daughter, but he nearly perished in the attempt to save Elenwë. Had he dived after her one more time, had my father and Findekáno not restrained him, he would have remained there, with her, and Itarillë would have lost both mother and father!"

Pale and shaken we stared at Írissë. Only now did we better comprehend the terror that our people had endured during their journey, the terror that was of our making. I recalled the golden-haired, ever-laughing Elenwë who had with her joyfulness dispelled the often-sombre mood of her husband. To think that she was no more… To think that my young cousin was now bereft of her mother… I felt a keen stab of grief in my heart, mingled with regret and shame. My father and uncles likely felt the same.

"I am sorry! I am sorry, Írissë," Tyelkormo whispered. "I… I will speak with him when he returns, and…"

"He does not wish to see any of you, Tyelkormo," she quietly replied. "In truth, he asked father's leave to be absent today and was granted that."

"I… understand…" Tyelkormo bowed his head; I saw tears in his eyes.

"Little sister…" My father's voice was hoarse. "Little sister, we thought that you would turn back. We were certain that you would return to Tirion. If we had known that you would venture that desperate road… we would not have… we…" He too fell silent and turned away.

Nelyafinwë had been sitting stone-still at this exchange, but now he looked at her.

"I do not know what we can do to make amends, Írissë," he said softly. "I do not know whether that is possible at all. I do not know what else to say."

"You cannot undo what has been done, Nelyafinwë." King's voice rang out suddenly; he had returned and took his seat again. "These are the wounds you yourself spoke of. But they will heal, with time, even if they will leave scars. People are weary of enmity. I think that you have said and done enough, for now."

"Done, lord?" my uncle asked bitterly. "I have done little after I rushed blindly into Moringotto's trap. And before that…" He fell silent, then shook his head. "No, I have not done anything of worth."

"Indeed?" asked Nolofinwë thoughtfully. "I do not agree, for I know otherwise. You stood aside when the swan-ships burned."

"Should that be praised?" Nelyafinwë frowned. "I did not prevent evil! I merely… I stood aside, even as you said."

Nolofinwë regarded him calmly for a while.

"You stood aside when the others did not. Could you have prevented it?" he then asked. "Could you have changed your father's counsel?"

Nelyafinwë laughed shortly, bitterly.

"No."

"And… if all seven of you had stood against Fëanáro?" The King had not done questioning. He held Nelyafinwë's gaze.

"No." My uncle answered at length, quietly, yet firmly. "My father was fey, and his mood was perilous. He heeded none, and most of our people then were still swayed by the power of his words. Even if we all had confronted him… that would have been to no avail. And maybe… maybe he would have turned against us. After Losgar… I was not certain of my own life, for a while."

His words made me cold inside. That my grandfather had been furious at his eldest son who had disobeyed his commands, that had been plain for all to see, but I had not realized the full danger of his wrath. I now recalled seeing them both on the shore, my uncle still gazing across the dark water, Fëanáro throwing insults at him, face twisted in rage. For a long while Nelyafinwë had seemingly not heeded him, but at length he had turned towards his father and said a few quiet words, his face frozen. I had been too far to discern what either of them said, but now I recalled that at his son's reply Fëanáro's hand had strayed to the hilt of his sword. But Nelyafinwë had stood there still and silent, with cold contempt in his eyes, and then Fëanáro had released the weapon, turned away abruptly and left, his cloak streaming behind him. Shortly after that, my uncle had come to speak with me and to comfort me.

"I believe you." Nolofinwë nodded sadly. "Well enough did I know my brother. Had you resisted him you may well have paid for that with your lives. You defied him in the only way you could."

"Perhaps I did." Nelyafinwë shrugged his shoulders. "But my defiance was to no avail. How do you even know of it?"

"The stories travel," replied the King. "My son learned that in your camp. He thought that others should know too."

At these words, a shadow passed Nelyafinwë's face, yet he said naught.

The conversation then turned to other matters. After some time, when the counsels were taken and the next meetings decided, we made ready to return to our camp. We took our leave from the King and departed from the hall, and it seemed to me that the looks that followed us now were somewhat less cold and less hostile than before.

We stepped out in the daylight, and, as we halted for a while in the yard looking at the sky where the clouds were now breaking, Makalaurë turned to my eldest uncle.

"Will you not speak to Findekáno?" he asked.

Nelyafinwë merely shook his head.

"Why not?"

My eldest uncle sighed.

"For I do not know what I should say," he then quietly replied. "I have been a blind fool. The dangers he dared… But I… In my selfish pride I did not see that courage and sacrifice. My words to him… I could say other words now, but would they erase the ones said before?"

"Will you then allow the memory of rash words spoken in anguish to stand between you? I do not believe that something as strong as your friendship could unravel so easily!" Makalaurë's eyes glinted; he was clearly annoyed.

"What has been said cannot be unsaid, Makalaurë," replied my uncle. Sadness veiled his gaze now. "There is a price for everything. Maybe, with time, he will forgive me. But I do not think I have any right to ask that now. Let us go."

He turned to leave, and we followed him, but we had taken but a few steps ere our departure was interrupted.

"Nelyafinwë, wait!"

We turned back; Findekáno had followed us, he now stood in the doorway, his face determined. Then he stepped down the porch and came towards us.

"I want no words from you, for I have none myself," he then said firmly to his cousin. "What you said to me then - it was all true. I disregarded your request. I denied you the choice that you had made." His eyes strayed to Nelyafinwë 's right arm, remorse darkening his gaze. "This deed of mine I too cannot erase," he added quietly, "and to your suffering I have added manifold, so speak not of your guilt. I have maybe wronged you more than you have wronged me.”

"Findekáno…" Taken aback, at a loss for words, my uncle stared at him.

"Forgive me!" Anxiety flickered in the deep blue eyes of the son of the High King.

"Certainly, I forgive you!"

"I… I am grateful." Relief dawned in Findekáno's gaze. "However, you must know… I do not regret what I did, not fully!" he then said with a note of defiance. "Your anguish breaks my heart, but you live, and for that I am glad! And the Noldor have hope now! Therefore, I do not regret!"

"Rightly so. You are too wise to dwell on vain regrets, Findekáno," my uncle replied. "Forgive me too. My words were cruel and arrogant. Despite everything, I had no right to speak to you like that."

"Does this mean…" Findekáno asked with an uncertain smile. "Does this mean that I have two brothers again?"

My uncle laughed.

"So it seems. And I am back with seven," he replied, drawing his friend in embrace. "And a nephew who refuses to let go of hope even in the darkest night," he added, casting a sidelong glance at me.

"Indeed! That I well believe from what I have seen of him lately!" Findekáno too laughed.

Our return journey was pleasant. The clouds broke altogether, the wind quieted, and the evening Sun shone on our faces, as we rounded the bay. Our mood was lightened, and even my father and Morifinwë did not seem to be brooding anymore. Makalaurë, Tyelkormo and the twins rode together, and a sudden laughter would break out now and then from someone in their company. Nelyafinwë rode alone, and his face was thoughtful. After a while he turned and spoke to me.

"Well, did you see the honour and dignity of the house of Fëanáro diminished today, brother-son?" he asked with a wry smile.

I was silent for a while, but then looked him right in the eyes.

"No, uncle," I replied with confidence. "Today, I saw them restored!"

Autumn came and went, and winter too, but they were no longer wrapped in gloom and in subdued, hopeless waiting. There was life bustling around now, new houses raised where tents had been, and instead of a forest path there soon was a road running along the lakeshore and a stone bridge built at the river crossing. There were oft comings and goings between our camps, and by the new road messengers on horseback would pass from the northern to the southern shore. Both camps had horses now; Nelyafinwë had sent to the King half of the steeds that we had brought over on ships, in atonement for the wrongs we had done.

My eldest uncle would now and then go and see the King, sometimes one or several of his brothers accompanying him, and Findekáno would come to our camp often. Their friendship was restored, and it was oft even as in days before - he and my uncles hunted together or, as Makalaurë's harp sounded softly in the corner, they sat in a heated debate, exchanging words for the sheer joy of their power, both winning and losing an argument a matter of kindly jest and laughter. And, watching them thus, at ease, it was at whiles tempting to forget that our deadliest foe was still close and gathering his strength, that our errand was still unaccomplished.

But, even if I was sometimes lulled into false sensation of peace, Nelyafinwë did not forget his war, and neither did the King. Counsel they took together, and together they set watch around Mithrim and sent forth messengers to explore the land of Beleriand and to treat with the people that dwelt there. It was clear that we needed allies to confront Moringotto but waiting and idleness irritated my eldest uncle.

It was near spring; the Sun warm upon the face, little streamlets on the southern side of the rocks were already free from ice, and patches of open water loomed on the surface of the lake. We were out hunting today, Nelyafinwë, Findekáno, my father and me. Having climbed higher in the encircling hills we were overlooking the camp and the plains on the lakeshore when the sunlight suddenly was obscured by a cloud, creeping over from the northern shore. Nelyafinwë clenched his hand in fist.

"I wish we could march upon that stronghold and raze it to the ground!" His voice quivered in anger.

Findekáno who was a few steps ahead of the others now turned back and regarded him with concern.

"Can we?" he quietly asked.

For a long time Nelyafinwë stood silent, looking northward with a darkened gaze.

"No." When he spoke at last, his words were heavy, reluctant. "No, we cannot. We lack the strength, even all our forces together. Fear not, brother," he added bitterly, perceiving worry in Findekáno's eyes. "I would not risk such defeat. I have taken enough rash decisions to last for some time. I will threaten neither others, nor myself."

We climbed still higher; a westerly breeze carried away the haze, and together with the returning Sun our mood lightened too. Yet my eldest uncle was still deep in some thought. At length he spoke it aloud.

"We may not have the strength to confront Moringotto now, yet how long shall we remain here, confined in this valley? We have fortified the shores of Mithrim, true, but the lands to the East may still be under his sway, unless the Sindar have succeeded to keep them safe."

"From what I have heard of the Grey Elves, I believe it not," my father said scornfully. "They have neither strength, nor wisdom to withstand a Vala."

"What we have heard of the Sindar, Curufinwë, is very little," his elder brother replied. "For myself, I will refrain from judgement ere I know more. And even if the lands east of Ered Wethrin are unprotected, is it not our duty to give aid? To lend our greater strength?"

My father snorted in disdain, but Findekáno nodded thoughtfully.

"I agree with you, Russandol," he replied. "We should indeed expand our lands. Speak to my father; I believe you will find him of like mind as well."

And so it came to pass that a few weeks later they all sat in Nolofinwë's hall in a council, the lords of the Noldor, – my uncles, Arafinwë's children, save Angaráto who was travelling, both sons of the King. Turukáno was present this time as well, but he sat silent with his head bowed and avoided even looking at Fëanáro's sons. The King was the first to speak.

"My kinsmen, we are here today to decide what is to be done next," he said. "We have established a strong dwelling on the shores of Mithrim, nay, two dwellings rather, but should we be content to remain here? Some of you are willing to depart, and if I should speak for myself, that would be my desire too. But whither shall we go?"

"Eastward our mind is bound, lord," Nelyafinwë replied. "So that we may keep safe the lands beyond Ered Wethrin and set our vigilance upon Angamando."

At his words Nolofinwë nodded, but now Turukáno raised his head, his eyes glinted hard and cold in his pale face.

"If any of the house of Fëanáro will travel east, me and mine, we shall go westward! Never will I take the same road as traitors and kinslayers!"

To that Nelyafinwë replied naught, merely frowned slightly, but there was anger on his brothers' faces, even though they kept silent for now.

"Peace, son!" The King's face was stern. "Your own road you may surely choose, but the Noldor will be stronger if standing together."

"I will not stand together with them," replied Turukáno, unrelenting. "The Enemy I will confront by my own strength if needs be. The western shores of Valariandë need protection too."

The King sighed.

"We shall speak of this later," he said. "But even of the lands to the east and to the south we know little."

"Somewhat more now." A new voice suddenly spoke. Angaráto had entered the hall, still clad in the travelling clothes. He bowed before the King and set on the table a folded parchment. "I bring greeting and maps of the eastern lands from the King of the Sindar. He allowed me inside Lestanórë and spoke to me, yet his welcome is cool. Elwë Singollo will allow none of the Noldor in his realm, save such as he calls his guests. In the lands east of Lestanórë he has granted us leave to dwell, and in Hísilómë, and in highlands of Dorthonion, and he names himself the Lord of Valariandë, saying that his word should be heeded throughout the land."

At this message anger flashed in the eyes of Nolofinwë, yet he sat silent. My father had less restraint, and he spoke harshly against the King of Lestanórë, but then Nelyafinwë laughed.

"Anger is of no avail," said my eldest uncle. "From this welcome much we may learn. A king is he that can hold his own, or else his title is vain. Elwë Singollo does but grant us lands where his power does not run. Indeed Lestanórë alone would be his realm this day, but for the coming of the Noldor!"

The King nodded at his words.

"You speak true, brother-son," he said. "Let Elwë Singollo reign in Lestanórë and be glad that he has the sons of Finwë for his neighbours, not the Orcs of Moringotto that we found. Elsewhere it shall go as seems good to us."

Nods of consent and murmurs of approval of the King's words sounded in the hall, but then Morifinwë rose to his feet.

"And why should the Noldor beg this woodland king leave to dwell in Endórë at all?" he asked sharply. "Even as my brother and the King have said, we shall go where we will! Yea more! Let not the sons of Arafinwë run hither and thither with their tales to this Dark Elf in his caves!"

"King Elwë is our kinsman!" Anger glinted in Angaráto's gaze. "You forget yourself, cousin!"

"Do I?" Morifinwë's eyes narrowed in contempt. "Nay, you forget yourself, Angaráto! Who made you our spokesman to deal with Elwë Singollo? Forget not that your father is a lord of the Noldor, though your mother be of other kin!"

"Speak not of my mother!" Angaráto's face paled, his voice quivered in anger.

Morifinwë laughed scornfully.

"I will speak of whom I will and what I will! You will not command me, Arafinwion!"

Hands clenched into fists, Angaráto made a step towards my uncle. My father sprang to his feet and stood beside Morifinwë, the other children of Arafinwë rose too, and fear welled sharply in my chest, fear that it will happen again, that the horror will repeat, that once again there will be violence and bloodshed.

"Silence!"

The King brought his fist hard down on the table, but the voice that spoke was not his. Quiet and cold it carried through the hall, resonated in all its corners.

"Silence, Morifinwë! Be silent and sit down. How Moringotto would laugh now, seeing the grandsons of Finwë at war with each other!"

The edge in his brother's voice and the fire in his eyes swept away Morifinwë's arrogance at once. Red-faced with shame and anger, he sank in his chair and looked away. Nelyafinwë turned towards his cousin now.

"Angaráto, I apologize for my brother's bearing. He may not have the wits to do it himself."

Angaráto nodded sharply.

"But for the respect I have towards the King and towards you, Nelyafinwë, I will lay this matter aside," he replied. "Yet for me this council has ended." And he went forth from the hall, slamming the door behind him.

Heavy silence fell. Nelyafinwë sat with a frown on his face, then reached for the map that Thingol had sent. He unfolded it and spread it upon the table. After a while he raised his head and looked at the King, firm resolve in his eyes.

"It is vain to hope for Elwë's alliance against Moringotto; that is plain now," he said. "Therefore, we must build our own strength and seek for allies elsewhere. Me and my brothers, we shall move east, here, beyond the second mountain pass," he pointed to a spot in the map.

The King looked too.

"Are you certain?" he then asked doubtfully. "We still know near to naught of the lands north-east of Lestanórë."

"Yes, I am fully certain," replied Nelyafinwë. "And we shall know more within a year."


Notes

Quenya forms of names and place-names:

Valariandë – Beleriand

Lestanórë – Doriath

Hísilómë – Hithlum

Elwë Singollo – Elu Thingol

 

“A king is he that can hold his own, or else his title is vain. Elwë Singollo does but grant us lands where his power does not run. Indeed Lestanórë alone would be his realm this day, but for the coming of the Noldor!"

“Let Elwë Singollo reign in Lestanórë and be glad that he has the sons of Finwë for his neighbours, not the Orcs of Moringotto that we found. Elsewhere it shall go as seems good to us."

“Yea more! Let not the sons of Arafinwë run hither and thither with their tales to this Dark Elf in his caves!"

“Who made you our spokesman to deal with Elwë Singollo? Forget not that your father is a lord of the Noldor, though your mother be of other kin!"

                   – are quotes from The Silmarillion, only Sindarin forms of Doriath, Thingol and Morgoth are exchanged for Quenya equivalents.

The time had come for us to leave Mithrim. Tomorrow my father will depart eastward, and I shall go with him. Nearly all things were packed already. The smith's and jeweller's tools lay in chests, carefully wrapped and arranged under Curufinwë's watchful gaze. I had decided to gather my own belongings later; they were few. But while the day was still bright, I had wanted to roam in the hills for the last time, to scale the cliffs, to feel the scent of the early-summer flowers. In these hills I had first discovered my love for Endórë, and they will always hold a place in my heart, a place that will be taken by no other fair memory.

I stretched upon a moss-clad boulder. Tomorrow in this time of day we will be on horseback, climbing some path of Ered Wethrin. But for now I was still here, in this fair corner of Middle-earth. Having wandered amid the cliffs for hours, the rays of the Day-star warm upon my face, I now closed my eyes against the dazzling light, and dozed off for a while. I was awakened by a presence of someone, a shadow falling over me that I felt even with my eyes closed.

I opened my eyes and perceived my eldest uncle sitting beside me, his hair gleaming in the Sun like a flame, his gaze turned towards the lake and the camp below on the bank. Sensing me awake, he turned towards me and smiled, that slow, quiet smile that always seemed a little sad to me, and now I suddenly wondered whether this sadness had been there always. Had it been there in Valinórë, as we roamed in the woods of Oromë and fields of Yavanna and sat under stars, listening to the stories our people had brought over the Sea, from Cuiviénen? No, it had not been there then. Had it appeared when enmity arose between his father and uncles? Or later? I could not recall, and I could not ask. So I merely smiled in return, and we sat in silence for a long while, watching the glistening ripples of waves, the white dots that were the swans, the play of the shadows of clouds upon the surface of the lake.

"I came here often earlier, to escape my father's anger and my own grief," I said at length. "Do you know, this is the same place where I sat when the eagle landed in our camp."

"That winter was not easy for you," he quietly replied, sympathy in his eyes.

"No." I bowed my head. "And the years before that… Ever since we came here, ever since you rode away… It was that hopelessness. And silence. Silence was the most evil."

"Ai, brother-son…" He sighed. "I am sorry you had to suffer all this. All of you. If I could undo all that evil I would."

I laughed shortly at his words.

"Uncle, you are the only one I can think of who, after having endured what you have endured, would ask others to forgive you!"

"My anguish is of my own doing. By my own evil choices I have brought this upon myself and upon others also."

I looked at him and saw that he meant every word. I opened my mouth to speak, ready to object, but he shook his head.

"Do not argue with me on this, Tyelperinquar. I am right, and in your heart you know that. For every voice there is an echo, for every stone thrown in water there are ripples. It is simply as it is."

"I do not want you to be right in this!" I whispered fiercely and squeezed shut my eyes, fighting angry tears.

"I know that, my dear boy." Nelyafinwë set his arm around my shoulders, and I leaned against him as I had done so many times before as a child, seeking support and comfort that my father was mostly too busy or too impatient to give. For a long while we sat there, side by side, and my grief retreated. After some time I raised my head from his shoulder.

"It is not fair that always you should be the one to care for everybody else!"

Nelyafinwë softly laughed.

"Not fair, maybe, yet fitting. I believe I have the longest experience, with so many younger brothers. And I do not see why I should not extend my care to my nephew."

"I am grateful to you for that."

"Tyelperinquar, I will remain in Mithrim for another winter ere I too go east," he said after a while. "If you would rather stay here than go with your father, you are free to do so. Or you may go with any of my brothers if your disagreement with Curufinwë still stands."

I shook my head. My father's anger at me was indeed still smouldering, at whiles flaring up, but I had not the heart to leave him.

"It still stands, but I think I should go with him," I replied. "He may still be wrathful, but he needs me."

"I think so too, brother-son." Nelyafinwë nodded. "I think you are doing what is right."

"Uncle, I want to promise you something ere I leave," I then said. He frowned, and I smiled. "It is not like that; I will swear no oaths," and when he nodded with a wry smile, I went on. "I promise you that from this day, all my deeds will be guided by duty and honour."

His smile faded, and he looked at me long, somewhat differently than before, and it seemed to me that in his eyes I noticed something that I had always been so desperate to see in my father's gaze. Then he nodded solemnly.

"This is an honourable promise, brother-son, and I value it highly," he said. "I only wish… I wish that I could make the same promise to you," he quietly added, his eyes darkened.

Only much later will the full meaning of his words be made clear to me. After Doriath. After Sirion. For now, only a strange and disturbing thought crossed my mind, a thought that in these deep grey eyes the light will henceforth battle the darkness forever, and, Ilúvatar be merciful, if the darkness should prove the stronger. But it was a fleeting thought, soon carried away by the warm evening breeze as I made my way downhill, to the camp, no, to the city, one of the first cities of the Noldor on the shores of Middle-earth. My heart was lightened by my promise, a promise I should have made to my father, maybe. Yet my father thought little of such things. But Nelyafinwë cared, and in his eyes I had seen that he had been proud of me. And somehow, that was enough.

 

~ The End ~





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