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The Silence  by Aldwen

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.





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