I rated this story Teens on the SWG for reason of mature themes and some violence. You can also read it on the SWG. As always, all comments are welcome and appreciated.
Oh yeah and ...
... now I get to join the club with the other Impetuous Participants for the Season of Writing Dangerously! :)
The last corpse had been an hour ago: young, by his build, his wounds washed bloodless even as his hair was darkened by the storm-churned sea to where none could tell if he was Noldo or Teler, not that any wandered close enough to really look. The Mindon was a haze of light upon the shoulder of the mountain behind them; the Telerin ships—the Fëanorian ships now—bobbed as lights on the horizon ahead of them that winked out and then flared bright anew with the rise and fall of the still-angry sea. Pinned there between those two lights, wearied by something deeper than the unrelenting ache in his legs and feet, Arafinwë stopped and let his burden drop from his shoulder. "Here," he said. He hadn't tried to sound commanding, and his voice was reedy with weariness and sorrow, but the shadows around him thickened. The small host that followed him had stopped. "Here we will stop for the night."
Night. He cringed at his casual use of a word that had lost its meaning: With the Darkening, all was night. His day had once been governed so easily by the Light of the Trees that he'd never had to think about the effortless procession of waking, work, mealtimes, and sleep. He wondered, had the Trees survived, what hour it would be now. It was as impossible to imagine the shadows erased and the looming mountains behind him gilded by Laurelin's light as it was to imagine what had, to this point, been night to him: the silvery somnolence of Telperion's hours where light feathered into shadowy blue and purple hollows. A time of innocence, of wine and stories, of children tucked into bed and silent streets, of love and eventual slumber. There was as yet no word for what this was.
Findárato and two dark Noldorin boys were raising his tent over the sand, which remained wet from the storms but was softer to lie upon than the rocky feet of the mountains that rose as impenetrable shadows to the west. Arafinwë took a lantern with a Fëanorian lamp at its heart—once, perhaps, it had been used to make festive the shadow beneath a tree, to celebrate a wedding or a birth—and crossed the sand to the sea. Ossë's wrath at the assault on the Teleri had been considerable, and the sea still raged, waves curling high before falling to punch the shore. Delicate ridges in the sand showed how far the waves had washed up the beach, much higher, Arafinwë knew, than they rushed even at the spring tide. He went to the ridge highest up the beach and extended the lantern toward the sea. He heard the kettle-drum boom of a wave crashing against the shore, and dark water frothed with white rushed toward him and, despite his care in choosing his place on the beach, rushed over his feet, soaking his shoes and pulling back with frightening force toward the sea. He staggered back, fell, upsetting the Fëanorian lamp inside the lantern and causing it to clatter against the side. But the froth was white. White, not pink, not red. Perhaps he dared hope for sleep.
They'd arrived at the sea just south of Alqualondë. His children had always preferred that road and the view of the city it afforded, and taking that route was a force of habit that, in the churn of grief and terror and uncertainty, Arafinwë had trusted without considering the foolishness of it: There was naught to see but lights bright and brave as eyes of beasts in the dark, set against a darkened sea. Clouds clotted the sky over Alqualondë, but they didn't then know the reason for the storm, and the first fat drops of rain had just begun to fall when one of the children, having run to the edge of the sea to watch the play of lightning on the water, came back to report that the sea was pink.
Surely just a play of light, surely just a reflection of the lightning from the storm, surely … That's what they told each other as they followed the child to the beach and peered past her pointing finger to see the pink froth of foam at the edge of the water.
The first body came ashore closer to Alqualondë: a Noldorin boy with an arrow in his belly, borne upon a wave mounded high and graceful, frosted in pink like some hideous confection before being dashed upon the shore. They were close enough to the city then that, despite the dark, the lightning revealed the absence of ships in the harbor. Lights trailed north from the city upon the sea, winking out as the sea tossed itself over their decks, winking alight again as its dark hands pulled back into the sea and left the decks—and the lights—lurching. Periodically, one would wink out and never rekindle.
Alqualondë itself was a lacuna in Arafinwë's memory, like a page carefully excised from a book so that the history jumped from one point to another with the interval consigned to imagination. North of Alqualondë, the bodies were thick upon the beach and the water was red. The Telerin corpses were easy to tell from the Noldor because they were wept over; the bodies crushed and bloated by the sea and abandoned on the shore were his people. They hastened past. The sea piled pink foam high at the point of the storm surge and the wind lifted and played with it. Arafinwë's people moved headlong, silent, all wide staring eyes and trappling feet.
Did I stop in Alqualondë? Did I speak to Olwë? Did I even acknowledge what was done? Mercy, razor-sharp, had cut away all memory of the Telerin city on the sea.
He sat upon the sand and let the waves rush high and clutch at him before running harmlessly back to the sea. The waves had taken his lantern, and the light bobbed upon the water like one of the Fëanorians' ships, rolling up and down the beach with the motion of the waves. Once it went under and he couldn't tell if his heart started with relief or with the gut-punch of a portent, but then it popped back to the surface again, slightly to the north. In the pale halo of its light, he saw the figure.
No, not another … His shout to his son and his people—We must move on! Go yet further north!—caught in his throat as he realized that the form was kneeling at the edge of the sea, still very much alive. It was working over something furiously in the sand, and the lantern banged into it twice unnoticed before one of its frantically working hands caught the lantern and cast it up upon the sand. Arafinwë stumbled to his feet and in his heavy, sodden shoes made his way across the sand toward the figure. Dark hair lifted in the wind, lost against the starless dark. A sword, silvery and bloodless, delicate in its beauty, lay upon the sand, pointing north.
The figure was near-naked, wearing just underclothes, scrubbing at his tunic and trousers with great handfuls of sand. As Arafinwë laid a hand on a cold, pale shoulder, a familiar face lifted to meet his gaze.
The eyes that met his were mad with grief. "It won't come clean!" he said. "I—I can't stand the smell anymore. I can't sleep. I can smell it even under my armor as I walk. The blood. It reeks. It follows me. It follows me everywhere." The once-white tunic clutched in his hands was streaked with dark stains, the front soaked rust-black.
"Leave it. There are others." Let the sea take it to the same grave as our people.
"No, no, my trunk is in the van." But Findekáno was easy to guide to his feet and away from the water, his empty hands clutched in front of him, trembling with exhaustion and cold. Arafinwë let obligation to his nephew smother the emotions that, moments earlier, had threatened to whelm him with the same dark weight as the sea. His squelching boots as they climbed the beach were the only reminder.
For long years, he and Findekáno had stitched together the two halves of their family with a thread borne upon the tireless clatter of hoofbeats and footfalls, crisscrossing from one house to another, laughing and smiling, tireless, softening the news as they crossed back to the other side, smiling and laughing there, delivering messages made toothless, trying to draw the two halves together. Tireless.
Eventually, the thread must have worn, for it snapped.
On the day of the Fëanorians' exile, the streets of the royal quarter of Tirion were unusually quiet. Many of the people had gone to see off their king; even those who bore no particular love for the Fëanorians believed that the Valar had overreached this time. Those who remained brooded and spoke in whispers. Finwë's younger sons had bid their father farewell that morning, before the Mingling of the Lights. Nolofinwë, unsentimental as ever, went right to work in the palace, reviewing the parchments their father left behind on his desk to, knowing Nolofinwë, place them in piles by order of importance. Arafinwë lingered at the palace for the sake of their mother, but she never manifested, perhaps having said her farewells to Finwë long before. He walked home in the height of Laurelin's zenith, unbothered by the heat, feeling unmoored, purposeless, his hands shoved deep in his pockets where they might bother him less by their idleness. Usually, walking in Tirion, he was reviewing what he'd heard from one half of the family and molding it to be heard by the other. His kin worked in metal and stone but he worked in words and manners and inflections with the same intent of shaping something hard and obstinate into a thing of useful beauty, so lost in thought sometimes that he tripped on curbs or bumped the shoulders of hurrying pages. This intensity, he liked to hope, endeared him to his people, who might otherwise care little for a clumsy, golden-haired prince whose hands lacked any appreciable skill and whose voice any appreciable command.
Having arrived back at his home, he searched for something to do. His topiaries were scraggly and in need of a trim, but the midday heat suddenly overwhelmed him, and the walk to the shed at the back of the house seemed unbearably arduous. He went into the house but couldn't bear the sight of his unfinished, awkward crafts on the table in his study: a crooked bracelet for his wife, a splotchy painting, an aborted clay sculpture. The latter he even took in his fist, meaning to dash it to the floor and break it—perhaps, with that act, he would understand his brothers better; the thread would not break next time—but even something so ugly seemed undeserving of his violence, and he let it clatter back to the tabletop. He wandered into the sitting room.
Findekáno paced before the window. "Hello, Uncle," he said with his characteristic mild and effortless grace, one of the few traits that marked him the child of his stately parents. Although well past his youth, Findekáno still possessed a leggy wildness, lithe like something meant to be wind-whipped and yet stand tall, as though all of those years traipsing after the Fëanorians on their adventures across Aman had shaped him as much as the exceedingly noble blood of his mother and father.
"Findekáno," said Arafinwë. "You did not go today?"
He shook his head. "I made my farewells last night and stayed till almost morning with Nelyo. I went home, to show support for my father, but he never came home to notice." He was even dressed exceptionally well, Arafinwë noticed, with more embroidery on his tunic than was his wont to wear and gold threaded through his braids, although he still wore riding trousers and boots to his knees. Had Nolofinwë come home, his son would have been simultaneously acceptable and yet still shy of expectations. Arafinwë knew that, in this manner, Findekáno had carried his end of the thread between the two halves. In him, his father and uncle both saw glimmers of themselves, reason for hope, and so indulged him. But no longer.
Arafinwë went to the sideboard where several bottles of excellent wine stood in polite rows and opened the cabinet beneath, where a rough-hewn and slightly lopsided glass bottle stood half-filled with an amber fluid. He poured Findekáno a glass and then himself. Findekáno sipped it and raised his eyebrows. "Rum."
"From Tol Eressëa, yes. There are advantages to having a Telerin wife."
The attempt at humor was delivered as lightly as ever but fell flat. Findekáno tipped back his glass with no appreciation for the rarity of what he quaffed—the superior Tol Eressëan rum was not widely available even in Alqualondë—and held out his glass for his uncle to pour another brimming glassful. Arafinwë did the same and poured for them both. "I didn't think he'd go."
Arafinwë didn't have to ask who he was: Maitimo—Nelyo—the beautiful and gracious eldest son of Fëanáro, whom Findekáno had followed since he was a child, whom—under the influence of enough rum—he would possibly confess was the reason he'd worked so hard to keep their family together.
"Maitimo was part of Finwë's court. Of course he would go with your grandfather."
"Nelyo was a counselor to the king," said Findekáno. "My father is the king now."
Neither argument, Arafinwë knew, would have had any sway on Maitimo, who would have probably answered that he was Fëanáro's eldest son and made his choice accordingly. Arafinwë, too, had had his doubts; Maitimo too had done his share of carrying the thread over the years. Perhaps he would remain behind, a reminder to the Noldorin people of the rightful Fëanorian heir and a means to ensure that his father's interests continued to be represented at court. Arafinwë had even gone so far as to ask his brother if he'd allowed Maitimo to continue to serve as an advisor. Nolofinwë had leaned back in his chair and regarded Arafinwë in that way of his, chin tipped down to his chest and eyes narrowed, that always had the effect of making Arafinwë feel like a petulant child requesting some fanciful indulgence. But he'd agreed, reluctantly, eventually, that he would.
And if Maitimo had chosen based on love and loyalty, then he'd just proclaimed his father's worth greater than that of the cousin who'd adored him since he'd been a knobby-kneed and frightened boy, whose every word and deed betrayed that, had they been born in a different time and place, he wouldn't hesitate to die for his beautiful cousin.
Arafinwë's tent had been raised by the time of his return, and one of the dark Noldorin boys who was about Findekáno's size loaned him a tunic and trousers while Findárato heated washwater over the fire. Washed and dressed and revealed in the lamplight, Findekáno's noble bearing slowly returned. First his shivering stopped, then his shoulders lifted and then his chin, and by the time the meager meal of bread and cheese was unwrapped for all to share, by the rigid set of his mouth, none would know him for a murderer of kin.
Finwë had said sometimes that battle—especially a first blooding—had a dire effect on even the most dispassionate warriors. "It is one thing to kill an animal in a hunt," he'd said. "The look and smell of blood, the passion in the violence, the knowledge of yourself as a bringer of death—none of those things prepare you to watch the life drain from something with hands and eyes like yours, that cries to you with a voice." Of the sometimes hysterical, nearly maddened reactions of those required to kill, he said, "We did not speak of it. It confirmed our humanity, the very reason we'd had to kill in the first place."
He and Findekáno did not speak of it. Findekáno said, "Thank you for the clothes and meal," and that was that. Findekáno's reaction, he supposed, also confirmed his humanity, but certainly not the inherent goodness once assumed by such a designation. Humanity against perversion it had once been, in the fights against the orcs beneath the stars in the Outer Lands. With each killing in battle, their ancestors had defined humanity on the basis of a love of beauty and goodness and peace.
So how is humanity defined now? Arafinwë wondered as they tidied after the meal. Findekáno lent his hands and was more competent with the simple chores than Findárato, Arafinwë noticed—but he had grown up alongside the Fëanorians, who used few servants. He would be. Arafinwë remembered again the day of the Fëanorians' exile, of Findekáno in his embroidered tunic and riding boots, an embodiment of two worlds apart and Arafinwë's certainty of the deliberateness of that construction. Now, watching his regal nephew wipe dry the plates being handed him by a servant's son with the precision borne of much practice, he wasn't so sure he wasn't truly of both worlds after all.
"Keep the clothes," Arafinwë heard the boy who'd loaned them saying. "It would be an honor …" Findekáno embraced him, and the boy clasped him back with a desperation begging reassurance against the newly defined night that pressed outside. But Findekáno's bearing betrayed nothing of the same. Whatever had happened on the beach, Arafinwë knew, had passed away forever.
He will be king. The certainty of that—and what it meant for his brother, for himself—nearly knocked the wind from him, as Findekáno clasped the hands of both Noldorin boys and embraced Findárato. Yet even as Arafinwë turned away to hide the tears for his brother, he knew his own life was nowhere near ending, though he could not yet fathom what that might mean.
I might abdicate, give the crown to Findekáno, or I might—
"Uncle, I must go now."
With the present and the prescient overlapped and tangled in his mind—Findekáno on the beach, the red-frothed waves, the lights of the ships roiling upon the sea and the pale glow of the Mindon beyond the mountain—Arafinwë stammered, "Where—where are you going, back to—"
"My father's camp, yes. It is only a league or so along the road."
Arafinwë walked with him back to the road. Findekáno waited until then to speak. "When we came to Alqualondë, they were already fighting," he said. "I do not know who started it. I still do not. All I knew was that I saw my friends and kin being attacked, shot with arrows, tossed into the sea." There was something defiant to his tone. Humanity is not lost. I did what I must, as our people have always done.
"I didn't find my cousins until after it was over. It happened so fast; there was no time. But I found Nelyo on the docks afterward, and he was commanding where different items should be stored, on this ship or that. I thought—" Findekáno stopped. There had been only watered wine with supper, no misshapen bottle of rum, nothing to drive the words from heart to tongue. "I thought he'd be proud that I had joined. I thought he would put me on a ship too, but he did not."
So he walked between his father's host and his uncle's ships, and he wondered what he might do to fit fully in either, but he has been too long between, with me, threading the middle and trying to pull the two halves together, like using a filament to pull Aman into the Outer Lands.
Arafinwë embraced his nephew and watched him go, walking briskly to the north, where the lights of the ships could still be seen as the barest points of light like a smattering of stars on the horizon. When his shape melded with the unending night, Arafinwë turned back. He looked at the Mindon, then went back to his tent.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!