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Out of the Timeless Halls
He felt better. Why, he knew not – after all, wandering the pathless paths between the smooth trunks of ancient trees was not really much different from sitting in contemplation in the timeless beauty of Lórien. Only – the air smelled of life and change. Of continuity and beginnings. Of matters small and great, bound together in a seamless whole, where the brief-lived flower of a tiny plant was of as much importance as the greatest tree, whose memory stretched back to the time before the light of the Trees had been extinguished.
Finrod raised his face to the dappled light seeking its way through the canopy and slowed to a halt as it warmed him.
His father waited patiently. Finarfin had received enough instructions on caring for his son to bemuse even the most anxious of parents – but he intended to disregard them almost entirely. His firstborn needed time to adjust and a willing ear. And, perhaps, someone who would talk to him in return. Expecting all the work to come from the returned seemed to him – a little unreasonable. He would not offer information, he thought somewhat guiltily, but neither would he refuse it.
This would, it seemed, be a good place to settle for a while. A night – ten – however long this child of his needed. The Noldor’s king looked around him critically. A green bank, a stream, trees to shelter them from the mild weather – what more could they want? Keeping an eye on his motionless son, Finarfin eased his pack to the ground and padded silently to the gurgling water to see if it would provide them with fish for supper.
The cheerful crackle of fire eating at dry wood and the smell of roasting fish roused Finrod from his reverie and he blinked to see that night shadowed the glade. For a moment – just a moment – he tensed, readying himself for the dangers that came from the dark, but then he released his breath and moved to sit next to his father. This was Aman. The greatest threat they might face would be the curiosity of a young bear – he remembered playing with wild creatures in the forests of long ago, before he followed his kin eastwards. There were animals big enough to hurt an elf, but they never did so intentionally and were happy enough to extend a cautious friendship to strangers in their territory.
Finrod accepted the large leaf his father offered him as a plate beneath the succulent small fish and used his long fingers to pick flakes of the hot flesh. ‘It is good,’ he said, sounding almost surprised.
‘Very good,’ Finarfin said contentedly, tilting his fair head back and inspecting his son. ‘No matter how splendid the banquets that are created in the halls of the great, there is nothing to compare with the simple pleasure of eating food you have prepared yourself in the company of those you love.’
The words rang with truth, Finrod realised. People had always been more important to his father than position or power. Perhaps, as a youngest son, he had never thought he would have to bother with either. Finarfin had supported his own father and brothers loyally – not an easy task, since they had, as often as not, been at odds with each other in some way – but he and Eärwen had concentrated on raising their family of adventurous sons and an enterprising daughter.
Only, Finrod mourned, to be deserted by them all.
‘Why did you turn back?’ he asked abruptly. ‘It was not through any fear of what you might face – I know that.’ The faint glow that surrounded the returned elf flared, as if Finrod could not altogether control the strange combination of elements that filled him.
‘Not cowardice?’ Finarfin smiled tightly. ‘How long did it take you to decide that?’
Finrod frowned slightly, seeking the answer from some as yet inaccessible corner of his mind.
‘One who was neither brave enough to reject Fëanor’s call at the outset, nor yet bold enough to see it through – is not that what they said of me? Finwë’s weakest son, one who cowered before the Valar’s threats? One whose resolution broke before it was tested.’ Finarfin contemplated his son. ‘I turned back,’ he said simply, ‘because it was not right to go on. Not because it was the easy path.’ He drew a deep shuddering breath. ‘Do you think it was easy to face your grandfather after what the Noldor did in Alqualondë? To build bridges with your mother, with her brother dead and all her children flown to exile? Do you think it was easy to walk through the streets of Tirion? To tell my mother – your Aunt Anairë – of the Doomsman’s words? To try to rebuild a shattered people?’ He looked down at the remnants of the fish and cast leaf and bones into the fire to be consumed. ‘There were times – many times – when I wished that I had ignored the voice that had spoken within me and gone with my children to a different fate.’
Finrod’s fingers reached tentatively to rest on his father’s wrist. ‘I am glad you did not,’ he said. ‘It is only fair that one member of the family was able to show some sense. And a shame that none of us swallowed our pride to join you.’
His father smiled more easily. ‘And which of you would that have been?’ he asked teasingly. ‘Not your sister, for sure – she would leave no mountains for others to climb. Orodreth, who yearned to show himself your equal? Angrod? Aegnor? Neither of them would have turned aside from a dare – especially if they had been forbidden to continue.’ He sighed. ‘And it seems as if they all had a role to play – and that matters would have turned out differently had they not continued in their defiance.’
The embers of the fire glowed comfortingly and a breath of wood smoke twisted into the air. Finarfin had grown into his choice, it would seem, and come to accept that his children had chosen another fate. Finrod watched him doubtfully. Had his return opened old wounds – reminded his father of those who remained still in Námo’s care? Refreshed his grief for those who would not return?
Finarfin placed his hand on his son’s – not firmly enough to make him feel trapped – and squeezed his fingers warmly. ‘You were always missed,’ he said, ‘and loved. But you had other tasks – and time … passes. To have you back … it is a promise to all those who mourn sons and daughters – husbands and wives – fathers and grandchildren. But … it will not be easy. There are those who feel that you should not be the one to lead the way.’
‘It was not by my choice,’ Finrod said mildly. ‘Námo said I was ready – and that I was here to teach as much as learn.’ He drew a deep breath. The air was cool and green-scented and filled him with life. ‘And if it is hard, so much the better. That is as it should be – I cannot deny my guilt and would not avoid its consequences.’
‘If you had not paid, you would not be here,’ his father said, fierce love in his tone. ‘The Valar do not play favourites – they have a reason for deciding to send you back, but it is not to be punished.’
‘Maybe not.’ Finrod frowned. He did not know what was ahead of him, not for sure, but of one thing he was certain – it was not going to be easy.
‘It will not be easy,’ Indis sighed, echoing, although she did not know it, the thoughts of her grandson. ‘There must be many, many fëar in Námo’s halls ready to return to life among their kin – but how are we to smooth the process? Finrod has had the attention of the great among the Valar, Maiar attendants, both his parents, his grandmother and his betrothed – and he has still found adjusting to life to be … complex. How are we to accommodate the arrival of dozens upon dozens of confused elves? Even Lord Irmo’s gardens will not be great enough to house them all.’
‘One thing that confuses me,’ Amarië said tentatively, ‘is …’ She paused. ‘So many elves died in the Hither Lands – long ago, before the Great Journey … Why do they remain still with Námo, when Finrod is deemed recovered enough to return?’
‘And the dead of Alqualondë,’ Eärwen said, a hint of bitterness in her voice. ‘Why do they not return to their families? There will be many who resent my son’s presence while they wait still for the presence of those slaughtered by the Kinslayers.’
‘Do not ask me such questions!’ Indis threw up her hands. ‘Simply because I have been presented with this …’ She looked round warily, ‘opportunity … does not mean I have any greater understanding than any other of the way the Valar’s minds work!’ The leaves of the bushes round them seemed to tremble with laughter, but the breeze stirring her hair seemed to suggest no other reason for their joy. ‘Perhaps …’ She stopped, staring at a leaf ripped from its parent plant to dance across the grass. ‘Perhaps it is not the dead who are not ready, but the living.’
Eärwen gasped as if at a blow and her eyes blazed like hot quicksilver. ‘How can you say that? Do you not see that the Teleri would find it easier to forgive if only those for whom they long were to emerge from the Halls of Waiting?’
‘But should forgiveness be dependent on reward?’ Indis mused, unintimidated. ‘Should it not be something achieved within oneself – something that brings its own peace? Perhaps the newly returned need the … the serenity of returning to kin who have put their resentments aside. After all – we have seen with Finrod that he did not deal well with strong emotion and needed understanding. Perhaps the newly-housed fëar of the slain need the … absence of enmity in their carers.’
Eärwen cooled as if struck by an icy wind as her mother-in-law’s words rang in her. What if it were true? What if grief and anger and bitter hurt were a barrier to the return of those much loved and long missed?
‘What can we do?’ Amarië asked.
Indis drew a steadying breath and closed her eyes. ‘I will go to Ingwë,’ she said, ‘and ask him to support the establishment of … of a house. Ask for volunteers to come to Lórien to train in the care of those newly returned. With the High King’s approval, it should not be too difficult to make a beginning – and we can build from there.’
‘I will go to my atar,’ Eärwen said. ‘He will listen to me – and be prepared to follow the Lady Estë’s advice. I know a cove – deeply wooded, with a stream running down to the ocean – that would be perfect for our needs.’ She looked briefly at her entwined fingers and deliberately separated them to smooth over the fabric of her blue gown. ‘Amarië – if you would agree to come with me, I could leave you in Tirion to tackle the problem of organising the Noldor.’
‘But why would they listen to me?’ Amarië was uncertain. ‘I have no authority over them.’
‘You have whatever authority I choose to give you,’ Indis declared and her son’s wife nodded her agreement. ‘If we are to do this, we will do it well – and soon. Finrod might walk beside his atar under the trees, but I would not deprive other parents of the same joy any longer than I must. It is time for our lost kin to come home.’
Ithil’s light bathed them, cool and calm, taking the green woods and turning them into a secret world, silhouetted in silver and cloaked round in velvet, where thoughts usually kept buried could be freely spoken and ancient wounds laved.
‘Fëanor took my brother’s promise of loyalty and threw it back in his face,’ Finarfin said bitterly. ‘Yet still Fingolfin followed him.’ He paused and poked the stick he held into the moss at his feet. ‘But how could he do otherwise? Even after the betrayal of Alqualondë, my brother would hold true to his word – and his despair was too great to allow him to turn back. Even though he had never meant to support such a vile act, he had taken part in Fëanor’s madness – he would have felt himself to be beyond forgiveness.’
His son reached tentatively to clasp Finarfin’s hand. He who had been King of the Noldor since before Anar rose drew a deep shuddering breath. ‘I had put this away long since,’ he murmured ruefully, ‘buried it deep and covered it over.’ He glanced at the gleaming purity of his returned son. ‘But apparently, it still festers within me.’
‘We had already turned our backs on Aman when Fëanor took the stolen ships and abandoned us to the ice,’ Finrod said, the recollection as fresh in his mind as if the jagged shards of the Helcaraxë were sawing at him and the bitter fogs freezing his blood. He smiled wryly. ‘And we would not be driven – neither into pleading for the Valar’s forgiveness nor into allowing Fëanor to make us abandon our part in the Noldor’s revenge. Finwë was Fingolfin’s father, too, and he would not be dismissed while Fëanor took it upon himself to avenge his death.’
Finarfin sighed. ‘My brother was always obstinate. To tell him he could not do something was to make him all the more determined.’
‘My uncle was an elf of indomitable courage – and I think he …’ Finrod hesitated, ‘I think he burned to meet Fëanor face to face and confront him with what he had done – but, of course, by the time we reached the further shores, it was too late. Fëanor was already dead. But he could not leave his quest to die with him …’ Fëanor’s nephew pressed his lips together. ‘The oath they swore for him still drove his sons. When we met my cousins again, you could see – you could see it in their eyes. They were already broken, bound and broken, but not by Morgoth.’
‘I would have more sympathy with them,’ Finarfin said rather dryly, ‘if it had not been for the Second Kinslaying – and the Third. They showed a distressing inability to learn from past errors.’
‘How could they?’ Finrod said with heartfelt pity. ‘They had always needed to please their atar – and nothing they had ever done had been good enough. They did what they thought he wanted – what history had shown them he would have done.’
‘They should have taken a leaf from Nerdanel’s book,’ Finarfin observed. ‘If they had followed her, my brother might have learned that he could not bend the whole of elvenkind to do his will.’
Finrod watched Ithil sail lower in the enrobing sky, as he sought his rest. ‘My aunt still lives apart?’ His father’s sigh answered him. ‘She should not blame herself,’ he said.
‘She is bowed beneath the burden of her sons’ crimes.’ Finarfin looked down at his hands. ‘Anairë resents her family’s desertion of her still and finds it hard to endure the separation from husband and children and your grandmother grieves that she will not see Finwë again before the world’s end, but Nerdanel has no heroics of which to be proud, no hope of absolution, no hope of a happy reunion.’
‘There is always hope,’ Finrod said, the silver light catching his eyes and making them shine like stars. ‘Always.’
‘Maybe,’ his father sighed, ‘but it is sometimes hard to find – and harder still to hold.’
It had been, Indis knew, far easier than it might have been. Ingwë had appeared aware that she was coming to ask him for his support – and he had already set in motion the process of selecting the first candidates for the new … order. Gentle-eyed ellyth and serious ellyn had been diverted from their customary paths and shepherded in her direction and she was only left to wonder – however was she to manage this? It was one thing being wife to a king and quite another being expected to build this system of support from nothing. It gave her a quite different level of respect, in truth, for what her brother and husband had achieved in settling their peoples here in Aman. How had they done it with such apparent ease? She sighed. Whatever qualities they had, she clearly lacked – for she had no confidence whatsoever in her ability to establish anything serving the needs of the newly-returned.
‘Small steps,’ Ingwë stated.
She blinked, having failed to notice that he had joined her in the gardens. The roses nodded their agreement, as if even they were better suited to this task than she was.
‘The Valar want you to succeed, Indis,’ the High King continued mildly. ‘This is about far more than you – Lord Námo’s halls are filled with those who need to be eased back into life. They are not about to make this any harder for you than it must be.’ He smiled. ‘And if I can offer you one piece of advice from my years of kingship, it would be – do not seek out problems. Most of them will fade away before they ever need you to do anything, and it will save your energies for the few that need addressing.’ He drew her hand through his arm and patted it warmly before starting to stroll with her through the clouds of fragrance. ‘Delegate – pick those you trust and rely on them to delegate to others.’ He grinned. ‘And, at the same time, be there. It is not wise to give others too much autonomy – they might begin to play their own game. Ask for help – the Valar will be only too willing to advise you.’ He squeezed her fingers. ‘And do not expect to do it all at once. If we have waited this long for our lost kin, we can continue to wait in patience until they are ready.’
‘But…’ she said. And sighed. It was an enormous undertaking – but Ingwë was right. Even the greatest enterprise started with one action.
‘Lady Estë will guide your steps, Lord Irmo will guard your walls and Lord Námo will – er – ease you gently into your responsibilities.’
Indis drew back suspiciously.
‘I hear…’ Ingwë appeared to be addressing the roses, ‘that the trainees arriving in Lórien have encountered their first newly-returned elves.’ He turned gleaming eyes on his sister. ‘And appear to be coping – if confused.’ His smile widened as she blinked. ‘While Amarië has returned in the company of a dozen select Noldor willing to serve, having persuaded scores more to wait until the houses are established and the wisdom codified. Eärwen has gained Olwë’s co-operation – or, more likely, her mother’s – and the Teleri’s first sanctuary is half-ready.’
‘So quickly …’ Indis groaned.
‘We have been awaiting this for a long time.’ Ingwë spoke mildly, but could not conceal the anticipation beneath his calm tone.
Indis returned the clasp on his arm warningly. ‘There can be no guarantees, my dear one,’ she said. ‘Or Finrod would not have been sent to us when he was, while so many others remained behind.’
‘I know,’ Ingwë reassured her. ‘I know – but I can hope, can I not?’ He smiled wryly. ‘I ask no favours, my sister – I would claim no precedence for my son over any of those eager to return. Yet, sooner or later, he will come – and, if what you are to do will speed the process by a single day, then that makes it worthwhile, and I will do anything I can to help you.’
He heard the singing first. A thread of sound on a drifting breeze, pure and clear as a mountain stream laughing its way down its rocky bed towards the blanket of the woods beneath.
It made him pause.
Family was … different. They knew him as he had been – accepted what he had become – but how might others react to him? He had regained enough of himself to know that others might not be so accommodating of him – rebel, exile, warrior, king, werewolf’s quarry, now returned to a new life – and he was still … unshielded. If these strangers rejected him, how would he survive it?
Finarfin waited patiently. If his son was not yet ready, then he was not. Only Finrod could decide whether to open himself to contact with those who had not been instructed carefully in the care of the newly-house fëa. He smiled inwardly. But his understanding of his firstborn had lost much of its acuity if he missed his guess that the evening would see them sitting round the same fire as these strangers.
‘Foresters,’ Finrod said tentatively.
‘There are few who live this far west,’ Finarfin told him easily. ‘The forests are too dense to sustain permanent villages – and the foresters are mainly wanderers across a wide range. They guard all that grows here and harvest what food the trees offer. I find them to be a peaceful people.’
‘Are not all those who dwell in Aman peaceful people?’ A smile brightened Finrod’s face, like a ray breaking through the canopy, encouraging his father to relax his guard further.
‘Some,’ he said solemnly, ‘are a lot more peaceful than others. I find that foresters rarely impose many demands on my store of patience. And that is a quality worth appreciating!’
His son laughed. ‘Will they find us here, do you think?’ he asked.
‘I would be very surprised if they were not already watching us. Even in Aman, your chances of surviving in the wild are greatly enhanced if you know what dangers surround you.’ He grinned. ‘But they are reserved – and courteous. If we wish to remain alone, they will respect our privacy.’
‘I think I would like to meet them.’ Finrod inclined his head to one side, letting the breeze sift through his hair in a comforting caress. ‘It would be … pleasant, to remember that I am only a small part of the whole.’
‘Well, then …’ his father said encouragingly. ‘Let us follow their song – and let them know we are seeking their company. If they are willing to share an evening with us, they will find us soon enough.’
Finrod began to hum, his voice echoing the foresters’ song and adding another dimension, as he led the way between the trees. His father stared at his back, wondering if his son realised just how much he stood out in the dappled shadow, just how much the blend of the experiences through which he had passed permeated his fëa and brightened his hroa. He hoped – he hoped desperately – that the inhabitants of the Blessed Realm were ready to welcome his son back among them, for it would rend the newly-restored elf’s father to see that pure gleam dulled and tattered.
Elves – dark and slight and shy – approached cautiously from the trees, clearly uncertain of the two golden-haired ellyn wandering these remote forests, but drawn, somehow, to the light within Finrod. They watched him, even as they greeted the older elf, bowing in a way that informed him that he was not quite as unknown as he had thought, even here.
‘My lord,’ a soft voice said. ‘We would be honoured if you would eat with us.’
Finarfin stepped back, drawing the elf with him. ‘My son,’ he murmured, scarcely loud enough for him to hear his own words, ‘is …’
Eyes the grey of granite glinting in the sun met his as the elf lifted his face. ‘But newly come among us,’ he said. ‘We know.’
The Noldor’s king blinked, not sure he grasped the ellon’s meaning, and several moments passed before something about the elf standing before him sparked bewildered recognition. ‘You are returned from Mandos,’ he said with certainty. ‘But I thought …’ Why the fuss, he asked himself? Why, for Finrod, the hovering family and the proposed order of careful attendants, if these elves had already dealt among themselves with the arrival of those whose spirits had been … refreshed? ‘I do not understand,’ he admitted.
The elf shrugged. He clearly did not feel it was his place to educate the Noldor’s king.
A Noldo, Finarfin thought, but not an Exile. Nor, if he was not mistaken, one of Finwë’s followers, lost in the Hither Lands before the great journey. One, perhaps, whose inadvertent death had shadowed the tranquil delight of the blessed days before Morgoth’s perversion had darkened the land. He looked speculatively at the gleaming elf. How had his kin dealt with him? And how long had it taken him to regain his understanding of the elf he was? Was the process easier for one whose experience had been … innocent – and whose death had been swift? There was so much, he suspected, that even the Valar did not know.
‘You have been long here among your kin?’ he asked.
He recognised without any difficulty the protective and slightly defensive attitude of the elf who came up behind the youngster and placed a fatherly hand on his shoulder. ‘A good while,’ he said. ‘But not as long as we spent without him, my lord.’
‘Those years pass slowly.’ Finarfin did not realise that his eyes had been drawn irresistibly to his own son, a buttercup among bluebells, effortlessly charming the reserved foresters.
‘And end abruptly.’ The elf paused, squeezing his son’s shoulder and giving a slight shake. The ellon accepted the message and bowed slightly to the king before stepping away from them. ‘I was a coppersmith in Tirion, my lord, when my wife and I knew we must leave and come west, if we hoped ....’ He drew a deep breath. ‘And I would do it again, without a thought – but …’
The resolve behind the words trickled ice into Finarfin’s veins. A score, a hundred – a thousand, even, abandoning their lives to ease long-mourned kin back into the world would make little difference to the elven realms – but everyone grieved for those lost. There existed in this most blessed of realms barely a single family that had not lost fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, mothers, grandparents – some many of them – to Námo’s care. If each return required the complete attention of loving kin and isolation from those living normal lives, then Aman as they knew it would cease to be. ‘We must talk,’ he said. ‘I need to know more. We all, I think, need to know more.’
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