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Many thanks to Fiondil for the beta.
Disclaimer: Playing in Tolkien's sandbox and making no money, but having fun just the same.
Silently he stood, as if a statue graven in moonlight – a wounded tribute to the fallen of this long sickening war. The fingers on his left hand still shook uncontrollably when he tried to move them. His mangled left shoulder and his broken shield arm tightly bound to his chest pained him increasingly as the soothing effects of the healing draught wore off. Yet he could not bring himself to move, could not tear himself away from the wreckage before him – the splintered gates and gaping pits of ruined Angband.
So much of his life had been mangled and ruined by Morgoth, it was time that such be returned tenfold to this bringer of madness, death, and war, this slayer of his atar and so many of his kinsmen and folk. The Army of Light would break camp at first light and he, Arafinwë Noldóran would lead the remnant of the Noldorin army in the long march back to the sea, back to Valinor, back home once again. But would it really be home anymore?
He departed Valinor as the only remaining son of the house of Finwë, hoping to return with those few sons of his brothers’ lines who still survived in Endórë, but now he knew it would not be. Anairë’s and Nerdanel’s arms would remain empty when he returned to Eärwen’s.
All he would bring when he returned to them would be news of brave or ignoble deaths and the stories of those who would persist and rebuild in spite of or perhaps in order to make amends for all that had happened in Endórë since the first rising of the sun and moon. But the tale of his brother’s death pained him most of all. Where all of the others died on the field of battle or in defense of those held dear, Nolofinwë brought his death upon himself in single combat with Morgoth – an ending he chose for himself.
Where was the sense in fighting a Vala – especially the most tempestuous one against whom there was no hope or chance of victory?
Yes, his brother was somewhat impetuous, well…sometimes a little more than somewhat, but he was wise and he was just and noble to a fault. Not nearly as rash of temper as Fëanáro.
“Why, Nolofinwë? Why did you sacrifice yourself this way?” Arafinwë called aloud to the abject wasteland about him. Blinking back tears, he cast his gaze about the torn and barren land.
“If I had been here, would you still have ridden off to face Morgoth alone? Could I have prevented your death or would you have gone to it anyway? Valar, Brother, why did you do it? Why? If you had not thrown your life away so rashly, would you still be here now? Would your sons and mine yet live? Would all of the Eldarin kingdoms still lie in ruin? Would we have fought this final War of Wrath side by side?” Bitterness and anger seeped into his voice as he spoke.
“We should have fought these last battles together, Nolo. But you are gone and I stand here bereft and alone. So very, very alone…”
Arafinwë bowed his head, wiping at the tears freely falling down his face, but the midnight of Varda’s cold faceless stars looked on him with compassion and not a little watchful knowledge.
The sounds of hooves in the distance caught his attention for the camp was at rest and none were about in the barrens near the gate but him. Whirling angrily toward the disruption, he saw a rider approaching, dust billowing in the wake of his hasty ride. Stopping short of him, the rider dismounted and Arafinwë took a few steps back, gaping in wrath turned to dismay at what he saw.
Striding toward him in silver mail, bearing a mighty sword and a blue shield set with crystals was Nolofinwë!
“Nolo! Nolo!” Arafinwë cried, reaching out toward his beloved brother.
But neither fear nor recognition showed in that handsome face set firm with purpose.
“Nolofinwë,” Arafinwë asked again in a softer awe-filled voice. “Nolofinwë, how are you here?”
With neither pause nor acknowledgement, the former king of the Noldor passed the present king by.
In spite of his injuries, Arafinwë struggled to catch up to his brother and match stride. Then Nolofinwë spoke softly as if to himself.
“Atar, I am sorry I was not there with you. I know now I could not have saved you, but at least I could have expressed my love one last time. Ever I tried to make you proud of me and earn your love and praise. The Noldor had many great realms in Beleriand. You would have been so proud of me and of our people. But now all lies in ruin. I tried, Atar, I tried, but Morgoth and his army overwhelmed us all.”
“I was there with you, Aracano, but I could not save you for your wounds were too great. I watched as your life blood spilled forth unstaunchable, and you died in my arms -- I, the first and last to hold you in life -- my beloved youngest son.”
“Aredhel, my dear little one, always so strong and bold and willful. When he could not save you, Turucano swore to me he would do all he could to love, protect, and raise your son well. A part of me died when the eagles brought me word of your death. I regret not being able to hold you one last time. Daughter, I miss you so much…”
Then Nolofinwë’s voice faltered a moment and a tear escaped down his cheek. “Anairë, my sweet, my life’s breath, what have I done?” He blinked as another tear fell. “I fulfilled my oath to Fëanáro, undeserved though it was. I promised you I would keep the children safe and I failed. I failed you and I failed them. I wish I had never left you, but my people needed me. I had to be the king my brother could not be. Forgive me, my love. Forgive me.”
“Nolofinwë,” Arafinwe hastily interjected, “I have cared for Anairë in your absence. She loves you still and misses you!”
After a few moments’ silence, Nolofinwë continued on unhearing.
“Arafinwë…Ah Valar …what right do I have to call upon them? I am forsaken and I have forsaken…” He sighed a long moment in frustration. “Arafinwë, I am so very sorry for all that has happened. You trusted me to protect your sons. Atar trusted me to defend our people and I have failed. I miss you so much, little brother. I have needed your wisdom and guidance, but you were not here to give it. I did not realize how much I relied on you for so many things until you were gone. Rather, I was gone, for you stayed behind. You always were the wisest of us all.”
Nolofinwë paused, smiling ruefully.
“And now you likely have paid for your wisdom in turning back with the worst punishment the Valar could have bestowed upon you – the crown of the Noldóran! You, the only one of us who never wanted it. Ah, little brother, our people deserve your leadership far more than they deserved the rest of us, we who failed them.” Tears slipped down his face unheeded as he spoke.
“All lies in ruin, now, Arafinwë. All that we fought for. All that we set out to do. All is lost. So… I go forth now.”
Nolofinwë sighed more deeply and closed his eyes. But when he opened them again, they shone with a light beyond that of any elf Arafinwë had ever seen. Suddenly there was a power emanating from the elder son of Finwë and light seeped from the edges of his hröa as if it could no longer contain such a mighty fëa, almost as if he were a Vala incarnate.
“Be proud of me, little brother,” Nolofinwë said, his voice full of power and confidence. “If you should ever hear how I died, though none are left to tell the tale. For I left Valinor for vengeance upon Morgoth, and I shall have it, on behalf of us all. For all he has done to our family, for all he has done to our people, for all the evil he has wrought in Arda. I shall avenge us all with all that is within me. I intend to inflict such wounds upon him such as he has inflicted upon us. And may he suffer torment ever after from what I do to him ere he take my life from me as well, a just atonement for calling this battle, this responsibility upon myself. Fare you well, my brother. Rule our people well and care for those we left behind. Now, I go to war!”
Raising a great horn to his lips, Nolofinwë blew a shrill and mighty blast. Then, coming to a halt, he lowered the horn. Raising a mail-clad fist, he pounded on the towering gates of Angband.
Cringing from the horn blown so close to his ears, Arafinwë looked up in awe at the solid gates before him.
“No!” he shouted. “We brought those gates down! Nolofinwë, we…”
He whirled on his brother only to find that he was alone. Turning back, he saw that the gates lay in ruins, a burned and splintered mockery to a fallen evil Vala.
“Nolo?” He whispered meekly. Turning in a circle, he desperately examined the dust and emptiness for any sign of his brother, any indication that the apparition had ever been there, any hint that he was not once again alone -- a badly wounded king stark amidst the desolate remains of fallen Angband.
But there was no sign.
Falling to his knees, Arafinwë wept in pride and love for the loss.
hröa - body
atar - father
fëa - spirit
Noldóran - king of the Noldor
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