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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 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.
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."
"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.
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