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The Silence  by Aldwen

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?

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