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The Silence  by Aldwen

Next morning dawned chill and overcast, and, as we rode along the lakeside path, wind arose, stirring the surface of the water to white foam. Low, grey clouds loomed overhead, and gusts tore at our hair and clothing.

Nelyafinwë was ahead of the others, deep in thought, his gaze bent on the road ahead, and I rode as the last of the company, followed only by the armed guards. Makalaurë and Tyelkormo rode side by side and spoke together in soft voices, and so did the twins. My father and Morifinwë rode beside each other as well, but they did not speak. Morifinwë muttered an occasional curse when a particularly violent breeze shook his cloak, but my father was silent. He had said no word to me since yesterday, indeed, he had not as much as cast a glance at me, and I thought that perhaps the words of Nelyafinwë had been true, and my father will be slow to forgive me this time. Yet I did not regret my choice; a spiteful determination had settled in my heart. I was certain that for once we were doing something that was the right thing to do.

The journey around the lake took many hours, and the day was nearing noon as we approached Nolofinwë's camp. The trees that had hindered us from seeing far ahead in the distance now ended, and we rode out in the plain, stretching for several hundreds of paces in front of the other encampment. It was a fortified place, walled and guarded, and wardens stood at the wide gate. On the edge of the woodland Nelyafinwë halted and turned towards our guards.

"Remain here," he said. "From here, we shall go alone and unarmed."

The captain of the guards frowned uneasily.

"My lord," he hesitantly said, "my lord, what if… what if there is trouble? What if you…"

Nelyafinwë interrupted him with a single sharp look.

"There will be no trouble," he said firmly.

The captain nodded. Now Morifinwë was about to say something, but his eldest brother silenced him with a shake of his head. In silence we approached the gates. They opened soundlessly, and we passed through.

Nolofinwë's camp was much larger than ours; it probably held twice as many dwellers. It was made more lasting too; only some of the buildings were tents, the others – houses of wood and stone, simple, yet fair, their lines and proportions pleasing to the eye. As we entered, the gate wardens greeted us with few, yet courteous words.

"You may leave the horses here, lords," their captain said. "They will be taken care of."

"We are grateful for your care," Nelyafinwë replied.

"You may leave the beasts to graze, there is no need to stable them," said Tyelkormo then.

The gate warden looked at him strangely.

"They will be left to graze, certainly," he then replied, and his voice was cool. "There are no stables here anyway. Now, would you, please, follow me? Our lord is awaiting you."

With these words he turned to lead the way and did not see Tyelkormo's confused expression. Makalaurë leaned closer to him and whispered something quietly. Tyelkormo paled first, then blushed, as if abashed. And suddenly I too understood. There were no stables because there were no horses in Nolofinwë's camp. Most of the animals had been on the ships, and the rest… The rest had not survived the Grinding Ice. My own face was now hot with shame. I had not thought of this when I had watched Findekáno walking away in the rain. I had not realized.

We went amid the houses and could not but see the difference. The place where we lived was a war camp. This here, even though fortified, was something else – a dwelling, something that had the beginnings of a city. We passed workshops of craftsmen and houses with gardens beside them, many of them bright with autumn flowers. The sounds of a flute drifted from one of the windows. Children's laughter suddenly rang nearby, and two fair-haired boys and a dark-haired girl rushed across the street in the distance chasing each other. A shadow of pain passed Makalaurë's face, his lips trembled slightly, and his left hand closed over his right, over the slender golden band on his finger, the ring he had tried to return to his wife when leaving. She had not taken it. In truth, he had barely convinced her to stay behind, and she had consented but for the safety of their children. The memory of their parting brought a sudden stab of sadness. How many families were sundered like this?

"They came here after us and brought less with them," Pityafinwë said in a low voice to his twin. "And yet – behold! They have built a city, while we still dwell in tents."

"There is small wonder in that, brother," Telufinwë quietly replied. "If heart is less heavy with guilt and remorse, hands are more eager for work."

At his words, Morifinwë frowned, my father's eyes glinted, but my eldest uncle made no sign that he had heard the exchange between his youngest brothers. He followed the captain of the gate wardens with firm steps, his face impassive.

After a while we took a turn and came into a square, at the far end of which there stood a large building of wood and stone. It had tall windows, it was roofed with shingles that gleamed golden even on this overcast day, and Nolofinwë's banners, blue, gold and silver, were flying proudly on the breeze. The captain led us to the door, carved with fine skill, and bowed slightly.

"Please, enter, my lords," he said. "You are expected. I must now return back to the gate, so I take my leave."

"Thank you." Nelyafinwë returned his farewell with a nod, and the gate warden left to resume his duties.

Before we entered, Nelyafinwë turned towards us and measured us all with a stern gaze.

"Remember our purpose and your promise," he said. "We are here to heal the breach between our houses, not to deepen it. You will utter no haughty word and give no insult to anyone. Is that understood?" He spoke softly, yet steel rang in his voice, and wordlessly we nodded in consent.

"Good. In there, I will be the one to step forth and speak. You need not say, nor do anything." We nodded to that too, and Nelyafinwë pulled the door open.

We came into a spacious hall; many lamps added to the grey daylight that fell through the windows, the columns were carved with flowing designs, the walls – covered with fair painted scenes. Many eyes turned towards us as we entered, and most of the looks we received were not kind. My father drew breath sharply; his hand strayed to his belt, only to find that the dagger that he usually wore was not there. One of the Elves who stood nearby the door now briefly bowed to us in greeting, then went forth to announce our arrival; and his voice rang clear and loud in the hall.

"Nelyafinwë Maitimo Fëanárion and his brothers!"

"Remember your promise. Remain here." And after these words, spoken so softly that merely we could hear them, my eldest uncle turned and went forth.

At the herald's words Tyelkormo had tensed, my father had frowned fiercely, but on Morifinwë's face there had appeared open anger.

"How dare they mock him thus?" he now hissed, ready to rush forward.

Makalaurë laid a restraining hand on his arm.

"Peace, brother," he softly said. "That is not their intent. If you had not seen what we have seen, would you indeed deem his mother-name unfitting? Look at him. Look closely."

We looked, all of us. And we saw that Makalaurë spoke true. Despite the wind-blown hair of awkward length, despite the missing hand he even did not attempt to hide, the eldest son of Fëanáro filled the hall with his presence, and none who did not know what his garment hid would have thought his mother-name out of place even now. His looks and bearing betrayed not the bitter anguish he had suffered, and only someone who would look closely enough would notice the lines of scars disappearing under the sleeve and the collar. With easy grace and firm steps he went forth, and on some faces now anger was exchanged for grudging respect. Tyelkormo relaxed, rage from my father's and Morifinwë's face faded, and from the far end of the hall we watched the meeting of Nelyafinwë with his father's half-brother.

As Nelyafinwë approached, our elder kinsman rose from his seat. His face was calm, but solemn, and it occurred to me how alike he was to my grandfather – the raven hair, the fair, yet stern features, the proud bearing. Except the eyes. He and his children had the piercingly blue eyes of the Vanyar.

My uncle halted a few steps from him and bowed.

"I am grateful, lord, for your consent to meet us," he said, and his deep, clear voice filled the room.

Nolofinwë nodded and regarded him closely in silence for a while ere speaking.

"I am glad to see you thus healed, Nelyafinwë," he then said gravely. "Despite the grievances that lay between our people."

"These grievances I have come to redress," my uncle replied.

Nolofinwë frowned.

"And how would you redress them?" he asked, his voice level, yet cool.

Nelyafinwë looked him straight in the eyes.

"First and foremost, by acknowledgement and repentance of evil that was done," he then said, loud and clear. "For my father I cannot speak, for his feet no longer walk the land of Endórë. Yet I speak for myself, for my brothers and for my people, and I say that we deeply regret the wrongs we did to you, and we beg your forgiveness."

Nolofinwë's face betrayed nothing as he held my uncle's gaze with his own.

"Cruelly have my people suffered from your treacherous deeds," he said at length, his voice as blank as his face. "You ask for much, Nelyafinwë. It may be that for too much."

"I am aware of that, my lord," my uncle replied. "Our deeds have indeed been beyond vicious, and we admit that. But still, we ask." His voice now trembled slightly. "Even though the memory of this evil may long lie between us. Not all we can redress, nor return life to those who no more have it. Our treachery has been a bitter blow, a grievous hurt to the Noldor. Yet wounds may be healed, despite the scars they will leave. But with scars, one can live. Forgive us, we beseech you! Allow the wounds to be healed!"

And with these words he raised his left hand, undid the clasps of his coat and his shirt and pulled at his garment, revealing the marks of torture upon his chest and shoulders. Then, he knelt before Nolofinwë with a bowed head.

"Allow the wounds to be healed, lord," he repeated softly, but in the dead silence that had fallen in the hall his voice rang to its furthermost corners. "Please. You now see before you that it can be done. Scars will remain, but with them one can live."

Deeply shaken, those in the room stared at him. There was neither sound, nor movement, but suddenly Makalaurë turned towards us with tears in his eyes and regarded us all in turn; and then, in unspoken agreement we all went forth, crossed the hall and knelt beside Nelyafinwë.

Time seemed to stretch on forever, but then Nolofinwë in few swift steps covered the distance that separated him from us.

"Rise, brother-son." His voice broke. "All of you, rise!" He pulled Nelyafinwë to his feet and looked long and closely in his eyes. Then he nodded. "We accept your repentance. Scars there may remain, but it is in our power to prevent the wounds from festering. With time, we may forgive you."

"We are grateful. It is more than we deserve," Nelyafinwë quietly replied. "Yet that is not all I would say." He raised his voice again, for all in the hall to hear. "Henceforth, I forego any claim to the leadership over all Noldor. Over my own house only do I retain power, yet we will all acknowledge the authority of the High King!"

A murmur of voices arose in the hall.

"Your father would not have approved of your decision." Nolofinwë frowned slightly. "What of the legacy he left you?"

"I look upon this matter differently than he would have done," Nelyafinwë firmly replied. "If there lay no grievance between us, lord, still the kingship would rightly come to you, the eldest here of the house of Finwë, and not the least wise. And for me and my brothers Fëanáro left a legacy of another kind."

Nolofinwë looked at him long and closely.

"Indeed, that he did." He nodded slowly, then turned towards his people. "So be it. I take upon myself the duty of the High King of the Noldor!" The silence in the hall was shattered with cheering voices, but Nolofinwë looked back at my eldest uncle. "I realize well enough that you need freedom to cope with that legacy, brother-son, far more freedom than kingship would leave you," he then said quietly.

A faint smile appeared on Nelyafinwë's lips.

"Your eyes are keen, lord," he replied. "Indeed, so it is. And I am grateful that you are not offended by this purpose of mine."

"I am not offended." Nolofinwë sadly shook his head. "I regret it has to be so."

My uncle frowned; his smile faded.

"Do not waste pity on me, lord, for I do not deserve it," he then said.

Nolofinwë regarded him thoughtfully for a while.

"Allow me to decide that myself, brother-son, will you?" He laid his hand on Nelyafinwë's shoulder. "Your own judgement in this matter may be flawed." Then he eyed us all in turn. "Come, sons of my brother, let us speak together of what is to be done now."

And we followed to the seats that were set for us beside the chair of the High King.


Notes

Nelyafinwë's mother-name, Maitimo, means 'the well-shaped one'. "If there lay no grievance between us, lord, still the kingship would rightly come to you, the eldest here of the house of Finwë, and not the least wise.” – this is a direct quote from The Silmarillion.





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