Silmfic: "The Message"
Tomorrow is my birthday, so I am offering this story as a mathom to my fandom friends. I used to write stories for my friends all of the time, and I really enjoyed this, but returning to school (as well as other obligations, fannish and otherwise) has meant that I no longer have time for as much writing as I would like. I miss it. One day, hopefully, I will return to it.
The summary I have given on my website and on SWG: Valinor has been left in darkness, and Finarfin is the new king of the Noldor. One night, he awakens with a strange vision: Someone has died in Middle-earth--but who?
I've rated this story Teens on SWG because of (obvious) character death and mature themes, whatever that is. I don't think there's much reason to tread with care unless you're bothered by canon characters biting the canonical dust.
The story is dark and weird and not very birthdayish at all, but I'm sure this goes without saying. As always, feedback (positive and negative) is welcome but certainly not expected. This story can also be read on my website and the SWG.
Arafinwë had yet to become used to waking in darkness. For long moments, he tried to wrench his eyes open, wondering what weight held them shut, imagining them shelled over with marble like the eyes of statues. But no--they were open. He settled back into the bed. Something had startled him from sleep--what? Silence pressed like a cushion upon the palace; no sound had disturbed it, or him. Nor had it been a dream. Eärwen slept beside him, her body unseen but intuited after long years of marriage. She had not wakened him. His children were … gone. What they cried now to the night was not his to hear.
Something touched him then, a feeling akin to an icy finger shivering against the flesh of his heart. A sudden desire--need--for light gripped him. He fought free of the bedclothes and didn't even bother to grope for his robe in the dark. Two hands shot out against the door to the balcony, momentum carrying him till his belly bumped the railing. Air unwarmed by Treelight lashed his naked skin. His chest hitched. His face tipped heavenward.
The stars, the stars.
But the wind had dragged clouds across the stars. The only light came from the direction of the avenue that passed in front of the palace, where a few of the lamps were allowed to remain unshuttered even in the darkling hours. Arafinwë had insisted upon it.
Now, he fixated upon that hazy glow until his pounding heart slowed. Yet his grip did not loosen upon the railing. It was not falling he feared but the growing urge to launch himself into the garden below and, without losing sight of the glow from the avenue, tear with all of the grace of a marooned fish into the street until he stood beneath the lamp and let the light soak his skin and restore his breath.
And there he was.
Breathing. Suddenly. Hands upon his knees, back rounded, gazing upon the tops of his bare feet. Breathing. He was winded like one of the messengers often sent sprinting between Tirion Taniquetil Alqualondë in the early days of the Darkening with a meager lantern in one hand and rolled parchments in the bag slung across the shoulder and shins barked and briar-bitten and mottled with bruises from being unaccustomed to moving in the absolute dark, with the only source of light a corona that moved and jostled with each step. Always breathless and wearied and sore. Arafinwë breathed. Beneath his feet was his shadow. At his back was light. He slowly straightened and wondered what had brought him here.
Hasty hands patted his body. He was clad, and not just in his night-robe but in a tunic and breeches--mismatched, but who could tell in the dark? His feet were bare and one was sore on the bottom. He tipped it into the light, balancing himself with one hand against the lamppost. A chunk of glass was lodged in the bottom of his foot. With a wince and a hiss, he extracted it and cast it into the gutter (thinking too late of the unwisdom of discarding it where it might wound another) and placed his foot--arcing to keep the wound from touching the earth--so that he didn't have to see the blood coursing afresh from his unplugged wound.
A glance around confirmed that he was on the avenue in front of the palace, beneath the nearest unshuttered lamp. Unwise, unwise, spoke his pounding heart. The lamps were shuttered, in part, in the darkling hours to keep the people from the streets. The Valar wished to establish rhythms of night and day, as had once been accomplished by the Two Trees. Arafinwë himself made a point to enforce the good sense of that law by keeping himself within the confines of his garden when he could not sleep during the hours that the Valar had termed "night." Once, one could walk the streets at Telperion's hour and find a wine shop--the candle-fire from within creating a glow much like that at the Mingling and just as inviting--or a gathering of insomniac poets and musicians with the house doors thrown open to all who shared their affliction. Now he kept company with withered trees and shrubs reduced to monochrome beneath the starlight and paced the dimensions of a garden grown smaller now that darkness pressed as walls on all sides.
Because the streets were dangerous now. One never knew. That was a saying borne of the Darkening. One never knew. Indeed, if Ungoliantë had crept from beyond Eä to weave webs of shadow in the Deathless Lands, unseen and uninhibited by the Great Ones, then one, indeed, never knew what might lurk in the streets in the darkling hours. Arafinwë recalled the ferocity that had made Macalaurë's features momentarily into those of a stranger when the Fëanárians had sent word to Arafinwë of the "attack" at Alqualondë. Those same eyes he'd met some nights in Telperion's gloaming when sleeplessness sent him walking in the light: a face bent over and hands busy with a harp; the drowsy trust in the eyes of one who had never known darkness; a nod and a smile of kinship and affliction acknowledged. One never knew.
At the thought of Macalaurë, that thing touched him again; that which had wakened him and which he'd been glad to forget in contemplating how he'd come into the street. Arafinwë gasped and forgot the danger. What was that? Nothing had broken the quiet of the night; the only sounds were trickling water in the opposite gutter and the scritch-scratch of a branch against the wall behind him. Yet deep in his brain, where sound writhed and twisted itself into sense, there was something scrabbling there, trying to be heard. He pressed his back to the lamppost and its cold through his thin tunic and the throbbing soreness of his wounded foot dimmed enough to be forgotten. He listened deeper. He turned his mind inside of itself, like a sock rolled wrong side out, revealing what existed but was hidden from sight. He let his thoughts wander like fingerpads over the exposed terrain.
Something scratched deep in his mind: the sound of tearing hair and rending flesh and agony taken out upon a tunic, a handful of leaves left crumpled and scattered. The stars blazed. There was fresh blood upon his palm; heavy booted feet pounded a path that was little more than a deer trail and his body flung itself, painlessly, upon a rock to scream his grief into the insensate night.
And something fled howling into Valinor.
Eärwen was speaking in the front room to one of the servants. "Well that is worrying, isn't it. I will ask the King. Meanwhile, have one of the young ones clean it--nay, that might be upsetting. Could I prevail upon you? Thank you, my dear-one. I will remember your kindness."
It had been a dream, he realized with relief. He rubbed at his eyes, lolling like metal spheres in his skull. What a dream! But, yes, a dream. He was unclad beneath the sheets; a scrim of sweat dried on his skin. Outside, the lamps had been unshuttered, and pale light reached from the avenue, the paths, and the garden and into his chamber. It was "day." That sound--if it could be called that--was nonexistent except in memory, same as the memory of the too-bright stars, the scent of broken leaves, the wild taste of the bitter-cold air. And--
"Husband? You are awake. Good." Eärwen these days was brisk and efficient, much more so than he, yet without having lost the tender empathy that made her beloved among her people and his. There was concern in her face. "Were you out walking last night? In the streets?"
"I dreamed," he said. "That is all."
"The servants found a broken vase and a trail of blood, out to the lamppost." Her gaze twitched to the sheets that covered his feet where the right foot--reminded of the assault against it--gave a low and sudden throb that settled into the rhythm of his quickening pulse.
It was a dream.
Her eyes widened almost imperceptibly. Was there a bloodstain there, at his feet?
"It was a dream, Eärwen."
It was a dream!
"Of … what?" she asked carefully. He knew that tone: when the Valar or the Vanyar asked something of her and she was unsure how to tread; a voice like arms thrust firmly out to both sides so as not to disclose her trembling knees as she balanced, poised, on a thread above the flood.
"Of the Outer Lands." There was a knock at the door to their rooms. She whisked from the bedchamber and left him alone with his revelation.
"Is that where I was?" he murmured. "The Outer Lands?" He could recall individual perceptions but not the composite experience, only a leaping, a gathering of the blood beneath his skin, a grief too great to be embodied into any single action. Flung upon a rock and screaming into the night. The memory alone left him limp and weightless as a rag once turgid with water and wrung empty between two fists. The pain in his foot was welcome, an anchor that kept him from drifting away upon the breeze from the open door to the balcony.
Eärwen returned then, in careful, measured steps this time. A message was crumpled in her hands. "I have canceled today's council," she said. There was a raw edge to her voice. "Námo is en route from Mandos and requests your presence."
Eärwen busied herself with candles. There were servants, yes, but such was always her response when something distressed her: She busied her hands. Often, Arafinwë had laughed that she was more a Noldo than he, at least in that. That was Fëanáro's and Nolofinwë's response to unease as well. Fëanáro went to work with his crafts and Nolofinwë his books and papers. Arafinwë sat with his hands drooping between his knees, staring out the window and letting his mind drift over the expanse of world beyond.
But the curtains in the parlor were drawn today, and there was only darkness beyond anyhow. The people of the Eldar had discovered, among the many shortcomings of absolute darkness, that an illuminated room left uncurtained hung like a painting for all to admire from the streets. And, suddenly, they had things to hide: guilt, grief, confessions. They drew their curtains tight and filled their rooms with candles until the hundreds of dancing flames made a light as near to Laurelin as their minds enfeebled by unrelenting dark could conjure.
You don't think it was … one of the children? Eärwen had asked him that before busying herself with the candles. He hadn't answered. Aside from his daughter and his half-brother's fourth-born son, Arafinwë had inherited most strongly his father's strange gift for the mind-sight. Pity that it went to you, without reason to use it, Nolofinwë had sneered once, made vicious by exhaustion, shortly before Fëanáro's exile (first exile), when peace amid the Noldor had balanced on a fulcrum so slender that it seemed it might be disrupted by a sigh. But Arafinwë had used the mind-sight more than either of his brothers had ever known, and that doubled after he was parted from his children. He would lie at night at watch the campfire play on Findaráto's face, tipped to hear Artanis's passionate exhortations, fingers twining his hair as he had done since his youth; Artanis's voice was clear like the water in fountains, her fist smiting her knee, until Artaher's voice swelled gently beneath hers, urging restraint and peace, and Aikanáro and Angaráto with their loud ideals and the flames reflecting in the dark centers of their eyes: a clamor of voices and the panoply of their faces, each beloved so that a hunger ached inside of him that would not--would never--be assuaged.
But then they'd reached the bounds of Valinor, and they'd stepped each fearlessly onto the Ice and into a new world, and Arafinwë could no longer perceive them. When he tried--when he tried to conjure Findaráto's face, Artanis's voice--he was met with a darkness impassive as though smashing face-first into a stone abutment. With no sense of who they were or what they'd become, he could barely remember them for who they'd been. As candles flared to life around him, creating an island of light in a land of darkness, his face fell to contemplate his fruitless, drooping hands.
The body flung upon the rock--he could feel the stone biting his forearms even now; could hear the shriek of agony. Where had he been last night? With whom? And then something alighted upon his memory.
The fourth-born son of Fëanáro had been born with the mind-sight nearly as strong as that possessed by Finwë himself. "He shares our affinity," Finwë had said of Carnistir after the boy's birth. He'd sipped cautiously at his wine, and Arafinwë said nothing. Our affinity--he dared name it neither gift or curse because it was both.
Fëanáro had never understood it. His mind was ever too busy with the sensual experiences of life--with his crafts and his passions and his ever-burgeoning family--to make the sluggish, idle effort of turning his thoughts upon themselves and exposing their tender, unweathered sides to the world. Morifinwë he had named his son for, to him, the boy was dark and unknowable: introspective and unpredictable, reacting seemingly to a shift in the breeze (Fëanáro had said once) like beasts would wheel and run and then fall still an hour before an earth-tremor.
The day before Fëanáro had pressed his sword to their brother's throat, Arafinwë had been in the kitchen; he was hungry, and he'd given the servants the day off. He'd gone to fetch an apple for himself, and while quartering it, had let the blade wander, carving it into a shape instead. A face. A laughing face. He liked to shape things, though he had no talent for it, and he never chose the permanent media mastered by his kin. No, his topiaries grew shaggy; his carved fruits sagged and rotted as though inviting nature to obscure his lack of talents and allowing him to practice his pleasures in secret. He carved a mouth, a laughing mouth. Then the air in the room changed.
He'd pried once into the mind of Carnistir when he'd been a small child--no more than four years old--and the boy had balked and, since then, developed a notable resistance to both Arafinwë's charms and "affinity" for mind-speak. To say that he cordially disliked his uncle was to make mild the black, obliterating emotion that Arafinwë felt whenever Carnistir was nearby. But this day, he felt no such thing. The air became almost sentient--it might have been as aware of him as he was of it--lying lightly upon his flesh, as though his movements touched it in much the same way as a cool breeze roused a shiver from him. He turned, and Carnistir stood behind him.
Their gazes locked for a fraction of a second before Carnistir whirled and, with a whip of ebony hair, was gone from the doorway. And Arafinwë did not see or sense him again until after Finwë's death, when he saw him slink like a beaten animal, the last of his brothers, into the fire-bright circle to swear his father's oath. Arafinwë was consumed then by the deadened expanse where his father's mind had constantly touched his own, now gone, and had sensed nothing of his nephew. Indeed had not thought of him since then.
But last night, that dream-not-a-dream, the mind that touched his had been familiar. Carnistir, he thought. Now he could see it fully: the young man sprawled upon a rock, his sword cast behind him, his tunic torn in his grief and his rage, blood not his own drying dark on his skin. His face was dark and twisted as one of Arafinwë's apple-faces left to decay. He did not weep. He screamed into the night with a grief none could know and--
No. I have known it.
"Fëanáro," said Arafinwë to the candlelit room. "Fëanáro is dead."