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The Final Battle

Chapter Text


She was still crying bitterly. It could have been days, weeks, months, years or decades before she realized that she was no longer crying alone. It didn't matter. Celegorm was gone, vanished forever from her life, her unlife, her second chance, Mandos, Valinor and everything else. She looked at the spring where she used to wait for him, where he used to wait for her. If she closed her eyes, she could see his tall, handsome silhouette sprawled lazily, if it was after a spar, or alert and flexing if it was before. If she closed her eyes she could almost feel the touch of his hand on her face, his callused hand that held the sword too tight but never so much as put her hair out of place. If she closed her eyes…

Wrapped around her were the arms of Nienna, whose tears washed away the pains of the world with endless compassion. For a moment, she sobbed more loudly, wailed, even, when she knew that she was heard. Somehow, the knowledge that her pain was no longer lost to the four winds made it more acute, more endless. So she wailed, and screamed, and tore her dress, trying to flail out of the Valie's arms. "Leave me," she cried out, rebelling as the realization of who this was suddenly came forth. The tears of Nienna, she knew, might at the very least soften her grief. Aredhel would have none of it. "At least I can suffer as he does," she said, almost harshly.

The Valie cried still, but her eyes were full of pity, compassion and patience. "You are no longer under the Doom," she said, softly. "Does forgiveness not suffice you?"

Aredhel tried, again, to pull free of the Valie's hold, and though her efforts were useless, Nienna let her go. She remained close by, however, levitating softly, wind in her hair, compassion shining amidst the curtain of pitiful tears that filled her eyes constantly.

The words came out of Aredhel's lips before she could think little of it. "It does not," she spat. "I care nothing for your compassion, if you do not give it to my love. I care nothing for the forgiveness of Mandos and for the beauties of Valinor. If my love is not here, then I will not look upon them with anything but disgust."

There was fire in her that had not been kindled since her younger years, since the days of the Trees and the kisses by the fountain. There was fire in her that would not be extinguished, now that it burned in her, as painful and vivid as the Silmaril's scorching heat. "Tears unnumbered indeed," she told Nienna, bitterly, angrily. "You who are the beacon of compassion, the beacon of forgiveness and patience, how dare you tell me to be satisfied with the rotten present of forgiveness? I cannot be so selfish when the Dispossessed's fate is not known to me. They are my kin," she argued, "and Celegorm should have been my mate. I am dispossessed as well, and I will cry, and be angry, for as long as your own discourse is not coherent with itself."

And then she left, deciding that if she could not be rid of company, she could at least walk, and attempt to ignore it. Nienna gave up, troubled by the Eldar's words, and retreated to her dwellings to contemplate these words, so very unsettling as they were.

Left to her tears of grief, freed from Nienna's tears of compassion, Aredhel went back to the sweet little stream and lay her face to the earth. She cried herself to sleep, until her brother came to her. Fingon's face was taut with tension, and his eyes were blazing.

"Ireth?" His voice croaked aplenty. She did not reply.

"Ireth, if you can hear me, open your eyes, please," he said, urgently, worry peeking underneath the anger. "Please. I promise not to scold."

Slowly, she opened her eyes, inviting him to speak.

He cleared his throat, once, twice.

"Manwe Sulimo sent for you," he said, carefully. "I am to take you to him."

She did not stir. Fingon fidgeted, before he touched her shoulder, gingerly. "Ireth, I don't know what he wants, but you cannot refuse him."

She turned, looked away. "I will go to him when they bring my love to me," she replied, expressionlessly. Fingon sighed.

"Arakano wants to see you," he said, quietly.

She closed her eyes, again. "He can come," she whispered in response, tiredly.

That night, she spent in the same clearing. Argon and her did not speak, but him, she let hold her, as she had so many times when they were children and he'd stumbled somewhere, when he was a lad whose heart was hung on a girl, unluckily, but this time, he did the consoling and she did the crying. There were no words.

More time passed, before Manwë Súlimo himself came to her. He sat on the very rock where Celegorm used to wait for her, and she hated him for it. He did not speak. He only sat there, and waited, until the elven lady was uneasy, and broke the silence. She was stubborn, but not stubborn enough.

"Have you come to contemplate your work?" Her voice was tired, despairing.

"No," he said, voice heavy with power and melodious like the deepest winds. His deep blue eyes were heavy with compassion. "I am here to beg your forgiveness," he said, quietly.

That took her aback, enough for her to stir from her near catatonia.

"Forgiveness, my Lord?"

He nodded, slowly, a nod heavy with millennial regrets. "It was I who released the Enemy from the Halls and gave him the opportunity to slay Finwë," he said, quietly. "And now I wish to know why I should repeat my mistake."

Aredhel's mind soared with hope, only to be crushed immediately. But here was an opportunity, and so she took it. "Fëanor and his sons are not Morgoth," she replied, after consideration. "And it would be easy for you to contain them, should you needed to." She closed her eyes, and added, softly, "But you will never have to contain my Tyelkormo, if you let me have him again. This, my lord, I promise you."

He looked at her, long and hard, considering.

"Child," he said, at long last, "this is not the end of all things." Aredhel looked at him, eager for more, hungry for hope, now that she'd had a taste of it, now matter how little.

"My brother will break the Moritarnon," he said, quietly. "Melkor will destroy the Sun and Moon, and Sauron will rise again. Arda will rise, and so will Valinor, and we will rise into battle, Edain, Eldar, Naugrim and Valar alike. It is said that Turin Turambar will kill Morgoth with the steel of Gurthang and that the light of the Trees will be restored."

Again, hope sprung, immortal and eternal, in her soul. "But, My Lord," she gasped, a little. "If that is such, then – my uncle…" Manwë did not give her an answer. She pressed on.

"What of his sons?"

Again, he did not answer. The winds lifted, and he dissolved into blue mist that made her eyes water. She looked at the empty air, awed, aghast and confused.

It was only then that she heard Turgon's voice. "My sweet sister, you will never cease to amaze me," he said, sternly. "Who but you could bring the Valar to dust off old prophecies?"

She turned, looked at him, pained. "Do you think there's a chance?"

Her brother sighed, came over, put a loose arm around her shoulder. "We do not wed with kin so near, sister."

She gave him a look that said a million things. "Turukano, we are dead. Give it a rest." He was too happy to see her being a shadow of herself to grunt anything back at her, and he squeezed her shoulder without insisting.

Perhaps, one day , this shred of hope would be something close to enough. For the time being, however, it was not.

Chapter Text

When the Dusk of the World came nigh, a soft rain was pouring upon Valinor. Nienna looked at the sky, and then at her ward, and there was something new in the curtain of her unnumbered tears. On the bed of cushions, so soft it was almost impossible to describe, Ar-Feinel, the White Lady of the Noldor, lay, almost prostrate.

It had taken everything for her to let them take her to Nienna's home on the Western Wall. Argon had pleaded, Turgon had negociated, her father Fingolfin had ordered her to obey, Fingon had raged and pressed, but to no avail. In the end, it was Finrod Felgund himself who had convinced her, with soothing words and gentleness that were only equalled by his wisdom.

"Ireth," he said, quietly, "You cannot lay prostrate here until the end of times. You cannot fade, Ireth."

She had given her no reply.

"Ireth," he said, quieter, "Tyelkormo was my friend, do you recall? He and I hunted much in these same woods, and I loved him well."

She stirred, a little, which was better than nothing, perhaps.

"I saw him in Nargothrond, Ireth."

That was enough to pique her interest, and so she listened. Finrod told her everything: the tale of how the two brothers visited, the inflamatory words, the oath he had taken with the House of Barahir, and his final, deadly march to Angband. Finrod was gentle and spared her details of his passing, but by the time he was done, Aredhel was sitting up and listening intently.

"He did all that, Ingoldo?" Her tone was quiet, horrified.

"He did all that, Ireth." Finrod's tone was final, uncompromising.

She bit her lip, then, and new tears started to fall. It was a strange emotion, that. A mix of rage and disbelieve, horror and denial, and the want for an explanation, the complete refusal to believe that her beloved had done what they said he did. But she also knew Ingoldo, and how fair he was in his probity, and how true he had been to her brothers in all things. She remembered his bravery on the Helcaraxe, in that time where she was grieving secretly for the unexpected betrayal, and she nodded, eyes closing.

"Let Lady Nienna heal you, Ireth," he pleaded, then. "You deserve the rest, until the end of time has come."

Until the end of time has come.

And then... and then, maybe. She would see him again, and maybe at least she would have answers. She nodded, eyes closed, and when Fingon himself came to carry her there, scooping up his little sister with worried tenderness and a heart full of hatred for the sons of Feanor.

And so there, she lay, in the comforting place made by the Valie, so long ago for her grandmother`s care. It was fitting by many ways that the place be used again, that the girl who had loved a son of Feanor and been broken by it be resting in a place where Feanor`s mother herself had faded.

And so Aredhel rested. The moons waxed and waned, the suns rose and set, but she ever remained, eyes fixed on the horizon, waiting. She wanted explanations, she wanted to see him, she hated him and loved him, and sometimes the whole family all at once. Sometimes, Argon came and sat with her. He sung quiet, sad songs of the earth and held her hand. Sometimes it was Fingon who came, and just looked at her in heavily worried silence. Sometimes it was Turgon, who sighed heavily and looked at her as if he wanted to tell her something, but could not.

And then the Earth shook, and for a moment, fear gripped the hearts of the Eldar in Tirion and in Araman. The Earth shook, and a veil of darkness seemed for a moment to rise and fall, like a pulsing hand on the nape of the world's neck. Aredhel, in her silent prostration, shivered as the sky grew darker despite the brightness of the Sun. Nienna sat by her, a hand on her hair, and whispered something unintelligible in a tongue older than Arda herself. The hand in her hair trembled, and Aredhel stirred to look at the Valie.

"Lady," she asked, tiredly but with respectful concern. "What ails you?"

Nienna cried, and her tears fell on Aredhel`s face, soothing and wizening all at once.

"The Door of the Night was shattered," she replied, quietly.

And in her heart, Aredhel felt shame, for millenias of confusion, anger, regret and sadness had not been enough to quench her need for hope.

It was then that she stirred and moved to see her brothers. Broken though she may be, she loved them, and the thought of a new peril stirred her loyalties once more.

"I must see my father and brothers," she told Nienna, quietly. "They will not stand idle."

And indeed, they did not. In Valinor, Finarfin sat on the seat of the Noldorin High King in quiet and sober splendor. His robes were impeccable and his eyes were steady. Aredhel could not sit in the Council's chambers, but she put her ear to the door and closed her eyes.

"We must march at once," she heard her father say, brash and angry. "We must defeat the hand of Morgoth before his forces rise again." In the throng of the clappings and the discussions, she could hear Fingon agree. He rose, and the cling of his unsheathed sword made her close her eyes in grief. "I will lead the host, Father, and fight them again. The sons of the House of Fingolfin know no fear." And then, Argon roared in approval and supported his brother.

She did not hear Turgon's voice, and she well knew why. He was more cautious, more reflected, and probably thought there was a need to prepare the battle with care before engaging the Ennemy once more.

The voice which spoke then was quiet, thoughtful, and feminine. "My cousins are brave beyond words," the voice said, "but their courage will serve us little if we do not know where to strike." It had and could only be Galadriel, who had always managed to sneak into the places where only men were allowed. "The Mortoranon has been sent asunder. Already, Sauron's shadow stirs in the remains of the world, and the Enemy's host is unseen, but likely gathering as we speak. The world of man is divided and has long forgotten that we exist. The Naugrim hide in their caves, waiting to renew the world." Here, there were some sneers and the sound of a heavy object against wood. "What of it? We cannot strike alone."

Another voice was heard, then, and it was not Eldarin, Aredhel could have sworn to it. "You speak well, Lady Galadriel. Given leave, I will go to the Mountains of Solitude and the Caverns of Baruk-Khazad, and wake my brothers once more."

Another voice, again, this one, Sindarin without doubt, but unknown. "And I with you," he said, sternly.

The Council room was silent, and another voice raised itself. "I will go with you, Gimli son of Gloin and Legolas of Mirkwood," and here, Aredhel knew the voice well, Finrod the Hewer of Caves, Felagund, well loved of dwarves and men.

"Then so be it, my son," she heard her uncle Finarfin say. "Who will go to the sons of Men?"

Another voice rose, one she did not know. "I will," and it was commanding and strong, like that of a king long weathered to ruling. "It is fitting for Elrond Half-Elven to go," Fingolfin observed, thoughtfully. "Who will go with him?" There was a long silence, and finally, Turgon's calm voice rose. "I will go with him," he said, quietly. "In the name of my beloved Idril."

There were agreements and more talking, and she could hear Fingon grumbling things about bravery that smelled of impatience and anger. She waited in the hall for the council doors to open, then, patiently, and when they did, she rose.

There were pleasantries and courtesies, and Turgon barely greeted her before he slunk away under her saddened gaze. Argon celebrated her, though, embracing her and holding her much longer than protocol allowed, and Fingon's face brightened when he saw her, into a loving smile. Her father kissed her hair and left, almost absently – he seemed heavier with worry than he had ever been.

"I thought you were sick with sadness," Argon said, wryly.

"Even the ill hear news when they reach the ears of Nienna," she replied, almost teasing. She was better than she had been in a very long time, and it was eerily surprising, perhaps. She hoped she would not have to explain her sudden rise in hope.

"Walk with us, sister," Fingon asked, offering her his arm. Argon went at her other side side, walking companionably as Aredhel slipped her arm in her older brother's. Perhaps he would tell her why Turgon was acting the way he ways, she mused.

"I have had word of Tulkas," he said, at long last. "These news are most concerning."

Aredhel nodded, inviting him to continue.

"It is said that Manwe himself did not expect this to happen," he went on, somberly. Aredhel stopped in her tracks, stumbling into Argon, and both looked at Fingon with immense disbelief.

"It is not the worst of it," Fingon went on. "Mandos himself confirmed that these were mere guesses, and that he had not expected his words to come to realization so vividly."

"Eru," Argon gasped. "What – what does this mean?"

Aredhel did not say anything for a bit, too concerned by the implications. "It means that when we go into battle, we may lose," she gasped, after a moment, and hope was crushed. She understood why Nienna's hand was shaking, suddenly.

There was a moment of silent consternation between the siblings. At long last, it was Argon who summed it up for the three of them.

"It has begun."

Chapter Text

When Aredhel woke from her sleep, she knew the world was wrong all over again. There was something in the air that reminded her of rotting moss, something akin to Nan Elmoth and the touches of her husband, when he managed to give her pleasure despite her own promise to herself that she would not enjoy it.

She stood at the top of the fall and recounted her dreams. They had been strange, those dreams, full of a life she would never know, could never taste. They always started in the same place, near that stream she and Tyelkormo had loved so well. She got there and he was there, waiting, dressed in simple travel clothes and weary. Sometimes, he was bloodied, sometimes he only wore the look of one who had walked too long, a too solitary road. Her reaction was always the same; she died a little at the sight of him, blood stilled in her veins and tears flowed on her face. Her body gave way and she tumbled silently to the grass, but he was always there to catch her, calling her name with an anguished voice. She shed a few more tears and reached to touch his face, and then there was a manic and dark laughter resounding in the obscurity of the woods, as he vanished into nothingness.

The truth was, she would never stop mourning for what could have been, she admitted to herself as she lifted her tormented eyes to look at the moon. The sight she thought would soothe her, instead, was a source of great alarm.

In the sky, the stars scintillated as beautifully as ever, and Earendil's vessel kept its course. She gazed at it, mournfully, hatefully even, remembering that it was for it that her beloved had died. Elbereth Gilthoniel's jewels glittered in the heavens, but there was nothing else to look at, only the stars and a few rogue clouds. The moon was nowhere to be seen, and fear, mixed with hope, roused within her soul once more.

It may have been nothing, perhaps just a sky too dark for the light of Telperions's remains to shine through, but something in the depths of her mind told her it was not. She went, then, to seek out her father and brothers.

She found them awake, standing in one of the many halls of the house of Finwë and arguing loudly.

"We must go anon," Fingolfin replied, voice thick with anger that reminded her sharply of her uncle Feänor's.

"I understand your anger, Father," Turgon's voice was quiet, and she noticed that he was garbed for travel already. "Elrond Peredhel awaits. Together we will seek the leaders of Men and prepare them for the Last Stand. If we march now, all will be lost, Father."

Fingon added, arguing on his father's side. "If we delay, we will look craven. I will not let it be known that Findekàno Astaldo recoiled in the face of the Enemy."

For a moment, the brothers stared at each other, angrily. Aredhel slipped by Argon, and sighed.

"It has been this way for the better part of the night and half the day," Argon whispered, quietly.

"What happened, Arakàno?" She barely whispered, and fear gripped her heart. While their older siblings argued under their father's watchful and angry gaze, Argon slipped an arm around his sister's shoulder, and recounted in her ear the events of the day.

There had been a deep gash in the fabric of the void that kept Morgoth contained, and the rebel Vala had stepped back into the fabric of reality, angry and intent on mischief as he ever was. Tulkas had faced him unsuccessfully, and was lying in the halls of Manwë, under Nienna's care. Morgoth's power had been all projected in one single beam of dark light, throwing at the sun something that could only be a matter of his own making, and it had sucked the light of Laurelin's last fruit from the inside. Shortly thereafter, the same fate had befallen Telperion's last flower, and Morgoth's laughter had been heard from the depths of the hidden recesses where he was amassing his forces.

A rain of fire had descended upon Arda, alerting all to the new Dawn of Darkness. There were reports of dark forces gathering all over Arda. The Eldar were going to war – it was only a matter of time. Already, Findarato Felagund had left for the Halls of Stone in the company of Gimli son of Gloìn and Legolas Thranduilion. Turukàno and Elrond were leaving within the hour. Meanwhile, Findekàno and his father were to assemble the Eldarin host, while Finarfin and his sons were to captain along with the Teleri and Vanyarin forces. It was war.

All these dire news fell into Irissë's heart heavily. She closed her eyes and stepped between her arguing brothers, crying out their names with a heavy shout and teary eyes.

"Brothers, is this how you wish to part? Your road is long and treacherous, Turukàno, and you, Findekàno, your bravery will be tested soon enough. Will you not embrace each other in good will, ere you part?"

Turgon frowned as she spoke, Fingon looked a little sheepish, but it was Fingolfin who spoke in response.

"Ireth speaks the truth," he said gently. "Embrace yourselves, my children, for dark times are upon us and we may part for longer than we wish."

And so the children of Fingolfin made their peace, and Irissë embraced Turgon earnestly. In his arms, she whispered, "Brother, do you love me?" He closed his eyes and said, quietly, "I love you, Ireth. Would that we parted differently, this day." And he kissed her cheek, but she knew that he withheld from her, and it made her heart heavier for it.

That morning, or was it that night, for she no longer could tell the reckoning of days, she watched as the men furbished their weapons and the Noldorin smiths beat blades into submission. She walked up to the Taniquetil, but the Valar were in conference, and there was no-one to listen. And so she sat upon the slope, and wept, for those she loved who were no more, for those she loved who were but soon may not be.

And in the throng of fearful emotions and the deep sense of dread that filled her as the unending night flourished, the flower of hope bloomed inside her, that perhaps the sons of Feänor would rise again. And she hated herself for it, and she hated the little tingle of glee this thought pushed in her heart, but it was there, unending and stubborn, like a wild flower of the House of Finwë.

Chapter Text

The endless night had brought upon the kindling of braziers on the fields of Valinor. No longer rooted in time's reckoning, Aredhel walked, a lone figure, silent and unheeded. In the Noldorin forges, Celebrimbor worked without taking any rest. She had seen him in passing, but the creative and energetic boy she knew had grown into a stranger, and she had remained quiet about her hopes and fears.

There was a moment of cheering, preceded by the sense of awe that only the unexpected could bring about. Curious, and perhaps somewhat bored, she made her way to see the source of the disturbance. On the plains, the most awe inspiring sight of awaited her.

It had not yet descended from the heavens, but already there were some guesses, educated with lore. The ship was a beautiful and frightening all at once. On its prow, sat a white swan, and someone next to her whispered, " she has gone to fetch him, lady Elwing of long lost Doriath," and then Aredhel understood that one more step have been taken by fate to fulfill the guesses of Mandos.

With the majesty that was only natural, the ship finished its landing onto the plains with not so much as a thud. The Eldar had gathered around it in a dissent and respectful circle. The swan extended her wings, spun onto herself until her silhouette became a blur of white shining in the Endless Night until the spinning stopped and Elwing appeared. She was a beautiful woman whose features exhibited both Edain stoutness and Eldarin grace. Then, Aredhel knew her to be a descendant of Luthien Tinuviel, and her emotions were conflicted.

The crowd parted and Manwe Sulimo came striding. From within the ship, radiated a light that overflowed the plains entirely, and once again the memory of daylight was upon the Eldar. Aredhel regarded it with wonder, and thought to herself that no hope was lost, it stars could descend from the heavens in the Eldar's time of need. Then the crowd stirred, and she was distanced, and could see no more of the lithe half-elven figures.

Confused and filled with hope that wasn't all unworthy, she left the fields, then, to return to the quarters she was sharing with her brothers and parents. Perhaps they did not have the news as of yet, or perhaps they had more. She went up the stairs to the golden home, stepped into the halls, relaxed and with open eyes that shone, for once, and when her father saw her, he smile.

"Ireth," he said, hands open. "What news, child?"

She wasn't a child any more but she always would accept him dubbing her so. She slipped her hands in her father's larger ones, and smiled. "Aerendil and Elwing have returned from the heavens, Ata. They brought down the Silmaril."

Fingolfin stood, then, and dragged her over to the balcony. From there, the sight was another one entirely. It was as though the sun had risen on the fields of Valinor, though over head, night still loomed.

"Morgoth's work," Fingolfin pointed, under his breath. The sight made Aredhel feel tiny, and she moved closer to her father. "What now, Ata?"

He looked at his daughter, the littlest and wildest of his children, and put an arm on his shoulder.

"Now we wait," he said, quietly. "And make ready."

For a moment, they stood there, contemplating the fields. The braziers were no longer necessary, but they shone nonetheless their specks of light, more visibly so when they were away from Aerendhil's ship. Then, the light of the Silmaril dimmed, and night returned.

"Manwe would not have Morgoth know more of this than he already does," Fingolfin commented, a guess, perhaps, but educated enough.

On the fields, the commotion seemed to disperse, but then another movement of the crowds got her attention. It was hard to see, from where she was, but more and more visibly so, the warriors moved to another point on the field, as if attracted by a magnet.

She looked, and squinted, but she could not tell from this distance, and neither could her father.

The answer came from her brother Argon, who came, rushing up the steps undecorously.

"He has risen from the dead," he panted, on the door, and again, Aredhel's heart leaped to conclusions she should not consider, and she wanted to think... she wanted to think it was her Celegorm. "The Edain," her heart sunk at these words, "The Edain Turin Turambar. He has risen from the dead and walks the field of Valinor. As we speak, Uncle Finarfin treats with him in counsel, and Artanis sits with him. Angarato sits in Findarato's place, and plans are made."

She looked at him, in dismay. She only realized her father had left the room, surely to join the council, until the door had closed with a clang and she was alone with Argon.

"Where is Findekano?" She asked, after her wits came back.

"He rallies the Eldar on the plains of Valinor," Argon told her, and he wondered why she asked.

"He must sit on the council, Arakano. Fetch him, find him. His pride will be bruised if battle plans are made without his presence. He was High King as Father was, once. He thinks to lead the host. Find him. Please."

Argon left, and she stood on the balcony again, alone, eyes closing.

Morgoth. Aerendhil. Turin Turambar.

All the signs were coming together, Mandos's guesses were turning to prophecies, and then.... then... perhaps...

And she closed her eyes and wept.

Even if he were to rise again, what manner of a man would rise? Would he still know her, love her? What endless torments had he known? Would he still be the gentle man whose hands touched her so reverently, as if he feared to break her? Or would he be barely a shadow, broken beyond repair?

She remained there, lost in thought, for a long time. Eventually, the door opened again, clanging against the wall, loudly enough to make her start.

Her brother Fingon walked in, furiously.

"This will not do," he was ranting at an Argon who looked dismayed and tasked with more than he could handle. "This will not do. I will not be led by an Edain, not Findekano of the House of Finwe, Fourth King of the Noldor."

Aredhel sighed and came to take his hands, "Findekano, look at me," she whispered, trying to get him to focus on her.

He did, and his eyes were smoldering with fury. "What is it, Ireth?"

She bit her lip, then, and waited for her thoughts to be organized. "Findekano, is that the will of Manwe Sulimo himself?"

He regarded her flippantly, and raged again. "Yes. The Valar have once again dispossessed the Noldor, we can't even lead our own in battle. All that we did, our deaths on the field, nothing mattered, and---" She reached to silence him with a very gentle touch of her hand on his lips.

"Brother, we must obey, this time. Promise me that you will stop this madness. Look at me. I will not lose you again. Please."

His eyes were bleak on her, but at least he stopped raging.

"Fine," he finally said, angrily. "I need some time by myself."

He left, then, leaving behind him a huff of anger. Aredhel found Argon to put his arms around her, and sighed heavily.

"He'll come around," he said, softly. "He always does, sister."

She nodded, glumly. Now, though the fear of the battle was on her, and her mind clouded with imagined visions of her brother fighting Morgoth and receiving a lethal kiss from Grond itself.

"Eru, brother, I pray so."

Chapter Text

When he felt the breeze on his face, Finrod was relieved that he'd left one darkness for the other. His companions were behind, and he stepped aside, leaning against the rock to take in the strangeness of what lay before him.

There was the scent of spruce and pine needles every where in this forest where they had emerged. Distractedly, he found himself wondering if the Ents were about and if they would join the other folk of Middle-Earth in the coming hurdles. Perhaps, but perhaps not. There was no way to tell, here, and his party was ill-advised to go parley with the Tree-men, if they were about at all.

Next to him, Gimli son of Gloin grunted something about the smell of the wood, while Legolas Thranduilion looked relieved. By Finrod's side, the stout Naugrim host kept on pouring out of the rock in what seemed to be an endless wave. The Seven Houses were represented if only in dwindling numbers. Durin's folk, the Firebeards and the Stiffbeards, the Broadbeams and Blacklocks, the Stonefoots and the Ironfists passed by him in a long, military procession. They were only representatives, called forth by Thorin Oakenshield the Reborn after their long council had taken place.

It had been a long day, a long night, and moreso for the squabbles and the arguments that came forth.

All the same, in the end, the Naugrim had relented. When Gimli had raised his fist, slammed his axe on the table and roared that remaining in the earth was both craven and the surest way to preserving their wealth for the Enemy, his people's pride had been called forth. One by one, large hands had arisen in agreement, and heralds had been sent to other halls of stone, to summon the Seven Hosts.

They were small hosts, Finrod mused, grimly. Stiff and unprepared, weathered by millenia of seclusion, hidden away from the eyes of Men, the Naugrim seemed the most unready of allies.

It ended soon enough, though, and a call came for him. "Oh, Felagund," the booming voice called. "Leave the brooding to the rest of your kin, and come to us."

He turned and smiled politely, serenely. "It will not be long, Lord Durin," he replied, quietly. "I will be only a moment."

Finrod was allowing himself to wonder what became of his loved ones while he had been in the long and boisterous dwarven parleys. His brothers were readying for the fight, he knew. What of Artanis? His little sister had seemed so old when he'd left her,as if she bore on her shoulders millenia of solitude. He knew that this was not an illusion. And what of the other cousins, the sons of Fingolfin, of their ever-mournful sister? This was the First Age all over again, but perhaps it was worse. Up in the sky he looked for Elbereth and could not find her. He sighed, and prayed in his heart that Amaire would be safe, that Edrahil would be on the plains as promised.

"Felagund! Enough with the brooding!" He went, then, tired and concerned for the unfolding of events, which he hoped would end well, but for which he had little hopes other than an honorable death.

Around the fire, there was loud story-telling and little hopelessness. Now that they were convinced to join the battle, the Naugrim seemed happy enough to join into something that would be the stuff of songs. If there were to ever be songs again, Finrod thought, grimly. Unbeckonned, a hand tugged at his sleeve.

"Lord Finrod?" The smith looked at him, gentle and polite, a little less gruff than what he was expecting. His beard was long and black with soot, his face weathered and intelligent.

"Yes?" He smiled, politely, inclined his head.

"My name is Narvi, of Khazad-Dum," he said, introducing himself almost shyly. Finrod's reply was polite, open, but something about the way the dwarf made his introduction made him wonder.

"You were neighboring Eregion," he said, quietly. The dwarf nodded, and said, "I was he who made the guarding doors to the West Gate, My Lord."

Narvi smiled, again, but there was sadness in his eyes. "I once knew an Eldar well," he said, and there was almost a question.

"Who, then?"

When Narvi spoke to Finrod about Celebrimbor, and started telling him of his end, he stopped him, gently. "I know what became of my cousin," he told him, quietly. "He has risen again, though perhaps you would not know the man he now is."

A shadow came upon Narvi's gaze, and he closed his eyes, a moment.

"Will he march, my lord?" To this, Finrod nodded. It was impossible to think that the only descendant of the Feanorian line to walk the earth would pass on a chance to fight the Great Enemy once more, no matter how broken he could be.

Narvi did not smile, but there was a small blinker of hope in his eyes as he lifted his drinking horn.

On the morrow, the Longbeards started their long march to meet with the other hosts, if they were to join them. It was a long, tiring thing, and on the third day, as they passed the Crying Woods, they merged paths the Ironfists's host, onwards to the western shores.

The following days, nights or weeks seemed endless. Without the sun and moon to keep the reckoning, Finrod counted by the sound of the marching boots, the number of trees passed, the dim blackness's throbbing illusions.

On the eve of the third week, they were attacked. It came unexpectedly and Finrod barely had time to draw his sword to behead the dark and grisly being that lunged at him. Around him, the Naugrim screamed, fearlessly and fiercely as they drew axes and hammers, longswords and morningstars. The squire at his side lost an arm and shrieked in pain immediately before Felagund decapitated his foe, savagely, in one swift stroke of his broadsword.

In the carnage that ensued, blood and gore covered the Longbeards and the Ironfists for three long days and nights, but in the end, the attackers left, leaving the company reduced to dwindling numbers and a limited morale.

In the tent, that night, Finrod examined the carcass of what had been his foe. Not orc, not elf, not man. It had never been alive, it seemed, but it held weapons of metal and its flesh was cold and rotten to the touch.

On Durin's instructions, the Naugrim burnt the bodies on a pyre that rose high on the open plains of Arnor, or what was once Arnor, Finrod supposed. Whatever men called it, the names had changed too much for him to even know to pronounce them.

As the smoke rose and the fire lit the blackened sky, Finrod sighed, heavily, and wished for better foresight than he had for a short moment, until he thought better of it.

Some bitter ends, he felt, were best left to the unknown.

Chapter Text

So the day came. They had determined that it was day by recounting back until the moment where the sun and moon had been chattered, and all now kept to such reckoning, but the surrounding darkness never truly left them.

On the plains of Valinor, Turin Turambar rose his sword, and the Eldarin cheered. From where she was, Aredhel watched her brothers and cousins lifting their swords amidst the clamor. Orodreth, Angrod and Aegnor where splendid, but the captains she never stopped looking at were her brothers, Fingon and Argon. Despite the fact that Finarfin was the king in Aman, her brother had never removed the golden thread in his hair, and his jaw was set, his rage, she knew, was channeled towards the enemy, but his pride already was wounded.

In the cries of the host, she closed her eyes and turned away. This was too terrible to do nothing but remain behind to wait, she felt. What more losses could come her way? No-one noticed as the White Lady of the Noldor left the plains to wander by the House of Finarfin. When she went to visit her cousin, the guards looked at her with mild surprise, but introduced her into the waiting room.

It didn't take long for Galadriel to come to her. When she did, Aredhel rose. She had been born before Artanis, had seen her as a little toddler when she herself was not even a blooded maiden, but the look in her cousin's eyes was wise beyond her years.

"You do not come often to visit, cousin," Galadriel said by way of greeting.

There was a soft breeze of air coming from the open windows, and it seemed to like to play with Galadriel's silvery blond hair. There were rumors that she had been called Alatariel by her husband, and in the faint light of the torches, the radiance was dimmer, perhaps, but there nonetheless.

"Forgive me if I have been remiss," Aredhel replied, and there was tension in her words, for she knew that Galadriel disapproved of her proclivities.

"There is no room for dissension between us, now," her cousin replied. "Come now, what brought you to me this day?"

In Galadriel's eyes, Aredhel saw that there was understanding and educated guesses mingling, and she wilted, a little.

"I was wondering if you would once again stand tall against the armies of the Enemy," she said, her voice steady despite her growing discomfort.

Galadriel looked at her, her hand touched the ring on her finger, a moment. Its light was dim but even Aredhel could tell that there was remaining power in the ring, no matter how faint it could be now. It had been once a thing of wonder, but now was not the time for such questions.

"I will arise when the time comes, yes," she said, quietly. "When my brothers march, I will march with them."

Aredhel looked away, then at her hands. She hesitated.

"My father has forbidden me this honor," she said, at long last. "And I am restless."

Galadriel considered her for a long time. "What will you have me do?" Something about the question suggested that perhaps the question was rhetorical.

"I would join under your banner," she said, quietly. "If you will have me. There was a time where I hunted in the woods of Valinor. There was a time where my bow and arrow killed boar and bear. They could kill darker things as well."

There was a time where I hunted these woods with Tyelkormo. There was a time where light flooded Valinor and we had hope. Let me at least use these skills, now, she thought. And maybe, maybe... but the remaining thought was one she did not dare formulate entirely.

"You are asking me to help you disobey your father," Galadriel whispered. She was weighing her words and the proposition alike.

"I am asking you to help me be useful," Aredhel replied, firmly, though desperation peeked in her voice. "Please."

Then maybe, she thought, maybe – maybe on the battle field, if the Valar are merciful – maybe...

"You are asking me to help you find death," Galadriel said, again. Her tone did not suggest sympathy. "Or are you seeking something else in the burning embers of battle?"

Someone else, Aredhel almost corrected. She was silent, for a long time.

"He was your friend, once," she said, at long last, reluctantly.

"Once, I trusted him," Galadriel retorted, quietly. "But that was a long time ago, at the dawn of the world, and now at dusk, he is no where to be trusted or doubted."

Aredhel wrung her hands, a little, and she felt her eyes stinging. "Then you know what I will find on the battlefield," she murmured, "why not grant me at least this small mercy?"

There was a hesitation in the Lady of Lorien, and for a long time, she did not speak. Her silence lasted long enough for Aredhel to wipe a tear on her cheek with as much dignity as she could summon. At long last, she stood.

"Ireth, I hope one day the Valar will forgive me for what you are making me do," she told her in a tone that was forlorn and exhausted. "Go home, rest. I will send for you."

On her way home, Aredhel tried not to cry – she did not know what to believe or what to hope, but at least her destiny was sealed. Like her brothers, she would find peace in battle. She had no illusions about her chances of surviving this, and no hopes of finding Celegorm again, now.

Galadriel had crushed the last shreds of her hopes with her cryptic words.

On the morrow, the White Lady of the Noldor kissed her brothers and father goodbye, tenderly. Her behavior was meek, submitted, gloomy, even. She left her mother Anaire sleeping, kissed her brow and begged her in silence for forgiveness before she stole away to join the Arafinwean host.

In the breaking march of the Noldorin host to the ports of Alqualonde, she took the kilmessë Lomelindi, dusk-singer, for the sweet irony of stealing one of Luthien's epesses, but also in the memory of her son, lost to the secrets of passing time. It was her last song, she felt, one of arrows, steel and blood, one of darkness and sorrow, and she would sing the sour tune onto its last note.

Aredhel, the White Lady of the Noldor, no longer was. She was now the DuskSinger, an archer in the service of the Noldorin High King, one face lost in a forest of many, her dark hair cropped and her chest bandaged to hide her curves. A young and eager soldier, perhaps, though the shadows in her eyes isolated her from the others.

When they broke their fast, she did not speak, nor did she flinch when the blades cut her in the midst of practice. When her company stopped to rest, she did not dice with the men or tap her foot to their tunes, and in the quiet restfulness of the night, many whispered amongst them selves that the mysterious Lomelindi never sang and was poorly named, but she never replied to their jabs.

The singing would come later, and the sweet irony of it was that it would not even be a swan's song.

Chapter Text

It had been a long trek for Turukano Nolofinwion and his companions, to find the core of the Edain civilization. The horses of Valinor had drawn attention on every path, and Elrond Peredhel, like himself, had had to wrestle more than one of them away from his mount.

The poverty, the dirt, the smells haunted him. In the distance, there had been towers of glass whose majesty impressed him. Up close, the stench of death and decay had taken over the once glorious metropolis. Nature had reclaimed its rights, and the metal rusted, the glass shattered, the colors faded.

For days, the two emissaries and their honor guard had traveled undisturbed in the relinquished halls of humanity. Beasts of metal had left their carcasses to rot, and there were no flowers, and for a moment, Turgon wondered if this was what had become of his pride-inspiring Gondolin.

And then things crept in the shadows of dusk. Something exploded – a bust of flame and smoke reminded him of the Battle of Sudden Flame, and a screech warned him, too late, before he was knocked off his palfrey by a thing of metal and dirt. He'd twisted and spun, swept the ground with his leg and the little animal had crumpled to the ground with a small cry of pain. As he fell, blood revealed his nature, and Elrond's voice boomed in the Common tongue of Middle Earth. The little dark beings stopped, and Turgon removed what was the strangest helm he'd ever seen. The Edain boy was not even a man grown.

It took them time to find ways to communicate – Turgon could tell that what Elrond spoke to them was at best archaic, barely a memory of the tongue the Edain youths spoke. Around a fire camp, in an alley under the dark towers, they spoke for a long time, until a bookish sort of youth who had twisted metal rims on his face suddenly lit up and screamed Elrond's name in recognition. He knew little of Quenya, but enough Sindarin for halting things to be said, and enough for the elves to learn a little of the twilight of mankind.

There had been a war, of sorts, the youth they called Spectaz had told them. It was long before any of the boys were born, long before their forefathers were born. Now, there was little to no organization within their kind, they told them. They had not seen an adult in years, the last one had died of the cold before any of them had grown their first hairs on their chins. Spectaz was the shaman of the group, more or less. The only one who could still decipher the written word, the only one who had been raised in the legends of The Professor by his parents and their parents before them. It took very little for Turgon and Elrond to convince the boys to join them in a quest to find the remainder of man's force. Their force became a ragtag thing. Elven warriors filled with pride taught dirty Edain boys to ride pillion, and the small group set forth once more.

The boy Spectaz told Turgon, with whom he rode, that there were legends of underground cities, of houses of metal where men remained, fearful of the sun. He said, now that the sun is gone, maybe they will come out, and this broke Turgon's heart, though his face remained impassible. Spectaz knew where the siege of their world once had been, and so there he took them. It was long, once more, to go through large, empty, dead roads of a world that seemed like it wanted to be put out of its agony. It was dreadful to wander into another large town, hungry, barely fed, cold, where darkness beckoned more sadness.

Sometimes, they found others. Grown men, women, children, rarely, and when they did, the children were kept safe with growing reverence by the Eldar. When others were found, Spectaz spoke, and they listened with ears and eyes eager for any sort of hope. They thought that perhaps these glorious messiahs would save them and bring them back to fabled times of bounty, it was plain in their eyes, and Turgon's heart quavered with grief.

Their ever growing mass of folk pushed them towards the derelict Home of the Brave, as they called it, and when he entered below the broken white dome, Turgon felt a sense of misery – that such was all the greatness that the Edain had achieved, and yet.... it felt meager, when he compared it to his own folk. There were a few others in their following who could read the Edain script, and so they set to raiding everything that could be found in the ruins of man. There was little to be found, and so after weeks of hoping for a clue, for the hidden folk of the metal caves, they were on the way to giving up.

It must have been in the clear mists that would have announced the morning, but the night was ever dark.

They came, then.

Clean, shaven, clad of blue, of green, of black. Their boots were ugly but sturdy, but they had no helms. They had no swords, but items of metal and wood that hung to their shoulders with a pike at the end that Turgon judged feeble and ill-made. He stepped forth, then, and said things none of the elves could quite gather.

Elrond stepped forth as well, attempted to offer Sindarin words of greetings, but they seemed lost of the Leader of men.

A voice, then, came quietly from the rear guard of the newly arrived Edain. His accent was halting, as if he'd not spoken any Eldarin language in a long time.

"It has been long, since I heard the tongue of my fathers," the man said, quietly. The crowd of men parted. "What brings the Eldar here?"

Turgon looked at him, but could not place the elf. Elrond could not either, and so he bowed, only once.

"The Enemy has risen again. I am Elrond Peredhel, and this is Turukano Nolofinwion. Who speaks the tongue of my mother?"

"I am Ronnie," the elf said, haltingly, and if Elrond's name was familiar to him, it did not seem to alter his features. There was utter silence in the crowd and Elrond seemed troubled. Turgon knew they needed to confer with this unexpected godsend. He raised his voice then, for the first time in the meeting.

"We must speak, with you, and with the Edain leaders," he said, firmly. "Might we reconvene?"

"I have nothing to hide from the sons of men," Ronnie replied, firmly.

"Nor we. Can you translate, then?"

So Ronnie did, and the explanations were met with incredulity at first, but his word seemed to carry great weight within the community he had come with, and they rallied to the cause. The Edain captain informed them that they had other companies around Arda, with whom contact was possible, though what manner of magic, Ronnie was unable to explain to his satisfaction. When the time came to sup, Elrond pulled him aside, leaving the Edain to themselves.

"He lies," he told him, and Turgon knew that Elrond meant the Elda with the Edain name. "I could see it in his eyes, though his skill is certain."

"What manner of a lie has he brought forth, Peredhel?" He was unsurprised, though he was glad to be confirmed in his intuition by his companion.

"He knows me, or of me," Elrond said, carefully. "Though he will not say it. And Ronnie must be an Edain epessë."

Turgon sighed, but there was little to say. "Perhaps it will come forth later," he said, wisely. "Rest, son. We will talk more on the morrow."

But on the morrow, they did not talk. More would come, more came every day, and soon, the host was assembled.

Again, it was ragtag. Again, it was hungry and hopeful, though the first scavengers they had found seemed to be darkly determined, now. Someone had spoken to them.

The boy Spectaz and his group never quite left the Elven guard, though. First to know them, they were, and though they spoke only in gesture, there was a manner of loyalty that seemed to have grown between them, over the past weeks.

Their numbers grew, and as they crossed, over and over, Turgon grew worried about how he would bring the host back to the point of meeting. There were not enough ships. There were too many smallfolk following, hoping for protection. There was not enough time.

Chapter Text

She was sitting quietly by the fire, her head hanging between her knees. Once again, she mused on how trading the helm for the weight of her long hair was a strange trade off. There was soot on her face, and she dared take it off. Dusksinger had soon become Dirtsinger in the mouths of Galadriel's honor guard. She bit the dirt often enough, rarely washed her face and constantly sported a bruise on a cheek and a split lip. One of the men even mused that perhaps she was doing it on purpose, and in a way, she was. When she was dirty and bloody, little of Aredhel was recognizable, and that was a good thing, considering how many calls her oldest brother paid her liege.

Every time Fingon came by, striding proudly, his beautiful braided hair swooping from one side to the other. She averted her eyes, only looked at him once he'd passed her, and so Aredhel now had an intimate knowledge of her brother's back. She could tell when he was calm, when he was worried, when he was angry, and he had joy in his heart, just by the way his shoulders hung or stood, just by the movement of his braid. There was sadness in her eyes, every time, and she sometimes hid to wipe a tear of guilt, but he never seemed to notice the young soldier whose eyes spied his movements.

One day, he came calling, walking through the camp, his shoulders screaming of anger and fury, and the young soldier Lomelindi shivered while the elven princess tried to hide behind soot, blood and bruises. Shortly later, he reappeared, with Galadriel at his side. The Lady of Lorien was beautiful, frightfully so, but her brow seemed heavy with worry. She called all her forces to her, and Aredhel found herself uncomfortably close to her brother in the gathering.

Galadriel spoke, and all listened.

"You, who are of my honor guard, are you sworn to me in fealty, until Dagor Dagorath come, or until the Halls claim you?"

All the men hailed in response, a common oath of loyalty, and Aredhel did as well, for fear of being found.

"And your service is held in truth and goodness, in heart and mind, to be loyal until such is done?"

Again, the small host responded with a cheer, as did Aredhel, hidden behind her bruises and her dirt, her helm heavy on her head.

Then, Galadriel spoke the words she feared.

"My Lord Findekano seeks his sister, who has left Tirion, uninvited to do so," Galadriel said, then, firmly. "By oath, you are bound to speak, if you know of her whereabouts."

There was an uneasy silence, mostly caused by the trick Galadriel had just played on her honor guard. Finally, a man spoke. "If the White Lady of the Noldor were here," he said, "we would say so, but there are only soldiers here."

"Is that so?" Galadriel said, quietly. "You are bound to the truth, now, every one of you."

Fingon, meanwhile, looked at the guards, one by one, and stopped short of examining the bruised youth next to him.

"My lady," Lomelindi said, then, quietly, fearfully, almost, in a voice that was so strangled, it was barely recognizable. "Why expect the lady to return, when her brother stands here, seemingly ready to flay her should she appear?"

"Impudent boy," Fingon replied, and perhaps he was blind with rage, Aredhel mused. "What do you know of losing a sister?"

I know every thing about loss, and more, she wanted to say.

"Forgive me, my lord," she replied, instead. "I would seek her on your behalf, if my lady allowed it."

"And what is your name, then, you who seek to find a princess of the Noldor?"

"I am Lomelindi, the Dusk Singer of Araman, My Lord." The lie was good, practiced, repeated over and over.

"Sing, then," Fingon told him.

"I only sing with a bow, My Lord," she replied, with a touch of her Noldorin pride showing. For a moment, their gaze locked. Fingon gasped.

"You swore to speak the truth, soldier," he said, quietly.

"And so I did, my lord," she replied, stubbornly.

He looked at her, frowned, and with a head jerk, started to walk away from the men. She was fearful, then, fearful of having lost her brother as well, fearful of being sent back, fearful of so many things...

When they were alone, by the waters, he said, painedly, "Sister, why?"

She took off her helm, threw it in the water, angrily. "Must you ask?"

He moved, tried to seize her by the shoulders. "Ireth, I can't bear the thought – what if you – what if you died on the battlefield?" She tried to resist him, but he was stronger and his hold was unflinching. She screamed, then, through tears, "What if I did not want to return to Valinor, brother? What if I had no desire to keep on ? What of it? Can I not make my own choices?" She tried to resist him as much as she could, but he was too strong, there was too much of his hands on his shoulders. She slumped, against him, crying, and the soot started to stream off her face in dark little tongues of dirt. He gathered her in his arms, then, and tried to hide his own tears.

They stayed this way a long time, brother and sisters crying in each other's arms, and eventually, he said, firmly, "You leave to return home on the morrow." She screamed, then, hit him, flailed, but there was nothing she could do to slip out of his arms, and he started to drag her back to his camp.

In the tent, Galadriel was waiting.

The stupor on her brother's face was almost a pang to Aredhel's heart, and she started when she saw her cousin there, waiting.

"What is it, Artanis?" He looked furious with her as well, and the blond lady wilted, just a touch.

"You are holding captive a member of my honor guard, Findekano," she said, quietly. Fingon didn't quite move to slap Galadriel, but the urge was there.

"You knew where my sister was all along, Artanis," he roared. "You should have told me. You should have told me!" He took a breath and added, quieter, and Aredhel thought there was disappointment in his voice, "I trusted you, Artanis."

Galadriel looked like she'd just been slapped in the face, and bit her lip. "And trust me you should. Ireth is still sworn in my service, as you have seen."

Aredhel's eyes widened, even as she felt her brother's hold on her wrist tightening. "It was a stolen oath," he growled.

"It was an oath nonetheless," she replied, quietly. "Trust me, Findekano. No harm will come to her. It is written."

"No harm will come to her? Look at her!" His voice boomed as he thrust his sister's face at Galadriel. "Her hair is cut, her lip is split, she is bruised and dirty. This is no way for a lady of her standing to behave. She could have been maimed! Eru, she could have ---"

"I already have been," Aredhel cut him, quietly. "I will not be forsworn."

He relented, late in the night, and let her go, though he insisted that she accept to have some of his men to keep her safe.

When Dusk Singer returned to the Arafinwean camp, she looked like a young lord with his own honor guard, still scruffy, still bloody, still dirty, and yet there was something about the way Lomelindi held himself that shut up the sneers and the jabs.

Chapter Text

On the tenth day, or was it the twentieth, a soft and quiet snow spun down onto the camp's watchmen. Finrod was not sleeping when the cold little specks fell in his hair. He reached to touch it, silently, frowning at the cooling air. The supposition died in his throat – to him, winter was a thing of the Dark Lord, and a bad sign. Regardless, if snow could cover the lands, perhaps there would be hope to be had. In the growing whiteness, foes would be easier to distinguish in the distance.

He'd not seen Celebrimbor's alleged friend since that dreadful attack, but the mysterious foes had also not returned. They are at a standstill, it seemed, and he walked thoughtfully to the place where Gimli snored unabashedly. He was hard to wake, but a tug on his whiskers made him twitch and groan. "Damn elves," he said, sleepily. "Next thing I know, you'll be tossing me about, Felagund."

Finrod chuckled, low, affectionately. "Would it be a first, Master Dwarf?" The dwarf did not honor him with an answer, grumbled something in his beard about stupid kings and scrambled to his feet. Then, he saw the snow and eructed an oath to break asunder the skies.

"Curse them all," he said. "Now we get Caradhras all over again." He wandered over to Legolas who was lying with his eyes open. Legolas only made an amused noise, and stood. With a nod, Finrod went on his way to Durin's tent. There were plans to be made and words to be exchanged about the next course of action to be followed. Above his head, the sky was unchanged and dark, as it had been since that dreadful day. He missed the light of the sun, the pale gentleness of the moon, he mused. He found himself wondering if, on the shores of Valinor, his cousin Celebrimbor had reforged the Elessar, of if his efforts were directed elsewhere.

Soon enough, the remainder of the host set forth once more in the perpetual night. Orientation was more difficult. Every night, the stars grew dimmer. Torches were lit and scouts sent ahead. There was a silent dreadful enough to chill the sturdiest Naugrim, and for a moment, Finrod Felagund thought to himself that perhaps this was a purposeful action. For all he knew, it could well be. Within a week, they had lost their way and found their own tracks again in the low patches of snow.

The mountain's slopes were gentle, though, and the woods clear of critters as the riders led the walkers to the sea. A scout came forward, then. "Smoke," he said, fearfully. "What is it?" Thorin Oakenshield asked, dubiously. "A small hall of wood and stone," the scout replied. "It is unguarded."

There were suggestions for looting and sacking, but Finrod raised his hand, and Durin the Reborn bade his men be silent. "Let me go and see," Legolas ventured. "If it is a place of allies or foes."

So Legolas went, and the riders and walkers remained still as the elf went, quiet and silent like a shadow. He was fast as an eel, Finrod observed, and soon even he could not tell of the Sindarin's whereabouts.

They waited, then, playing cards in silence, until the elf returned.

"An Edain dwelling," Legolas told them. "A lone lady, unguarded, save by a hound, and helpless." He hesitated, and whispered, "I smelled bread, baking." At this, there were groans and noises of envy, and Finrod again begged for silence.

"Let me go with Legolas, and see what this is about," he told them, firmly. "The sons of Men are close to my heart."

As he walked with Legolas back towards the human home, he mused on his past allegiances, on his friendship with Beren Erchamion and Luthien Tinuviel, and his heart grew heavy with nostalgia. He had heard it told that they would never die, never go hungry or thirsty. He had heard it said that they lived quietly in a secret dwelling, and he found himself wishing to see them again, and saying goodbye to those dreams.

They neared the house, unhidden, save by the surrounding darkness. In the seemingly permanent twilight, Finrod could make out the gray of the cedar crops on the walls, the white bars around the porch, the darker blue of the porch's floor. As they walked on the freshly cut lawn that smelled of summer, still, despite the sudden snow, as they passed by the frozen lillies and the already dying moss bridge that hopped over a stream, a scream came from outside. The dog barked, only once, almost a greeting.

An old wench's voice yelled something, and Finrod and Legolas looked at each other, frowning. They could not make out the words or the tongue, but the tone was that of a warning. Finrod lifted his hands up in an offering of peace, as did his companion, and replied in the Common Tongue of Beleriand that they came in peace. Legolas did the same in the newer language of Middle-Earth, but there was no coherent response to be had.

After a long silence, a black tube of metal was pointed out a window, nudged them to the right. They did as they were told. A moment later, an old woman, dressed in strange breeches that covered the front of her bosom stepped into view. She was still pointing the metal thing, threateningly. She looked at them both, up and down, and seemed to decide that they were no threat, for the weapon, whatever it was, was lowered.

She barked a question that they did not answer. Finrod lifted his hand to his mouth, indicating a request for food. She frowned, sighed, and went back inside. Both elves looked at each other, bewildered. A moment later, she came back with a loaf of bread and a plate of meat that smelled terrible. She put both on her patio and stepped back inside.

Gingerly, they walked to the food. Gingerly, they tasted it – it was better than it smelled, and they made a show of making sounds of appreciation. Timidly, the lady's black hound came closer, as if assessing them, and Legolas knelt, politely. The beast wandered closer, closer, until it was receiving scratches from them both. Inside, the witch was lurking, observing.

It took longer for the old Edain woman to come out, bearing, this time, metal things that she thrust the elves' way. They examined them, curiously, and she eventually grunted, grumbled something and reached to tug on a small metal hook in the one she had in her hand. A hold popped in the object she was holding, and his eyes widened as the scent of ale filled his nostrils. She drank from hers, and both elves imitated her, took then a swig of cold ale, much to their bewilderment.

Then, communication became possible, if very slow. They drew figures in a small mount of sand on her land, asking her about a road. They did the same to ask where the other Edain were, and her answer was always the same, to go south, more south, but she did not seem to agree with their plans. She pointed at the earth, insistently, as if to tell them to stay, but they knew they could do no such thing. Finrod wondered to himself how he could convey to her that she must go where her folk were, that she should not remain alone, and found that there were no figures he could draw in the sand to explain it to her.

In their own tongue, the elves conferred as to what to do with the old lady, who was both gruff but helpful and endearing. They considered taking her against her will, but who was to say she would be safer with the Naugrim army? In the end, Finrod was sad that things could not be any different, but they had to leave her to her fate, he realized.

They bowed to her, then, and took their leave. For a couple leagues, the dog followed, walloping almost happily, friendly in every way, but as they passed a marker in the ground, it turned around and returned to his surly mistress.

When they returned to Durin, they had at least an idea of where to walk in the night. In the dog's growing disquiet, the dwarfs' crossed the lawn, passed the lilies, by the blue house where an old Edain woman kept watch on what seemed to be a deceased peace. Then, they found a road to follow, and they were no longer lost. It wined down around the hills. There were crossroads and occasional remains of human occupation, but as the road wore on, the seeds of destruction became more and more visible.

There had been fires. There had been war. Blood had flowed beneath the snow, Finrod could smell it, and the growing stench of death, and he found himself wondering what had become of Arda since the dawn of the world. Something made him uneasy as they neared the plains, as though the air itself had been made foul.

There were those who started to scratch themselves. There were those who were ill without reason. There was no grass, trees were dead and no bird song could be heard.

Then there was water, an island, the traces of what might have once been a large city... but no bridge.

Chapter Text

What manner of an army Turgon and his grandson were leading was the saddest one the Lord of Gondolin could have ever dreamed. The Metal Cave Men were disciplined, that was true, and the Edain boys from the city of glass were obedient. His concern was with the others. The women, the men and the weathered folk who followed them. They scavenged where they could, as their growing numbers walked, ever so slowly along the river. They were going to a bay, and there, the Edain leader had said they would find a means to cross the waters to meet with the Eldarin Host.

Ronnie, though devious he may seem, had proven helpful and knowledgeable. There were maps, and when he had been told where the hosts were all to assemble, he had frowned, showing Turgon and Elrond the distance to be crossed by water. It was an ocean away. There would be no time, he feared, but flying was not possible, he'd said. When Turgon had asked him why he'd even considered it a remote possibility, the elf had sighed, said things about birds of metal that were larger than Gwaihir, and Elrond's eyebrows had raised high in befuddlement.

Perhaps, he said, they would find one to use, but it would be far enough to warrant finding water transportation to get there, first. Despite the secrets they despised to see in Ronnie, Elrond and Turgon had agreed to the plan, frowning all the while. It was becoming clear that whatever this world was, it was nothing that the Eldar could fathom. Times had changed the face of the world irreparably.

Times and the foolishness of man both, Turgon thought to himself, darkly. From what he understood, the weapons had been too much for the Edain to handle. The wars their forefathers had fought were without honor and had led to the destruction of all that man had created, or almost. For himself, the son of Fingolfin saw no honor in killing a foe from a distance. How could one tell if they deserved to die if they could not look into their enemy's eyes before the final blow?

And still, the host of broken men walked on. By now, the elves barely noticed the decay that surrounded everything. They had been told that this place was once a great port, from which this country sent its bounty to the less fortunate lands across the ocean. They were told that other groups of hidden men were marching to meet them, from across the globe.

One Edain soldier had smiled, white teeth flashing beneath red lips, in the midst of a face that was dark as the blackest wood. He'd said something about how in the land of his fathers, the land was green and the soil was safe. He'd said then that there were still great cities of men, in Africa, where they used to wait for the bounty of the First World. He'd said that it was the only place where the nuclear holocaust had not spread its dark wings, and that had allowed Turgon to believe once more that perhaps the Dark Lord could be defeated.

The Edain tongue was not so difficult to learn, and the elves were learning it from the boys who rode with them, but also from the soldiers who shared their meals with them when they broke the march. It did not make understanding this world they were in any easier, Turgon mused.

That night, he and Elrond sat apart from the crowd. Spectaz and another boy had refused to leave them, but they spoke to each other in Quenya, keeping their conference to themselves.

"Ata, you look heavy with concern," Elrond ventured, carefully.

Turgon nodded, weighed his words. "I wonder," he said, slowly, "what is worth saving, in this world."

Elrond sighed, closed his eyes. For a moment, he did not speak.

"The children," he said, after a long pause.

Turgon made a noise, inviting him to speak.

"Look at them," he said, as he indicated the boys who were their squires and pages, now, despite all of the protests the Eldar had put forth. "Think of the life they had."

Turgon did. It could not have been a joyous prospect, to be sure. He sighed, though, heavily.

"Adopting an orphan is a heavy responsibility," he said at long last. The words were as grave as he intended them to be – he thought of Maeglin, and wondered if he could have done anything to prevent his betrayal. He thought of his sister, and wondered if anyone had told her what her beloved son had done. "Look at what their forefathers did with this world," he said, again. "What tells us that they will not do it again?"

Elrond winced, and looked into the dark waters of the river. The host was camping there, as it had, every eighteen hours or so. "What tells me that my blood does not run in them?" he said, finally. "I am one of them, as I am Eldarin as well. Your blood also runs in them, through my sons, through Elros and the line of Numenor. We cannot dissociate, Ata."

Turgon said nothing, but he saw that there was truth in these words, as true as his father's blood had also flowed in Maeglin's veins.

When they broke the fast, on the morning, Turgon felt less disengaged, but his doubts remained. Nonetheless, he forced himself to remain impassible as Ronnie came to walk by him. His words were strange, that day.

"My Lord, a word, if I may?" Turgon nodded.

"We will reach the port soon," he said, calmly. "Will you take all these people with you?"

Turgon knew that he was referring to the feeble and the impotents. "Do they not know that we are going to battle?"

Ronnie nodded, only once. "They do. They want to fight as well, tooth and nail, if they can. There are whispers that this is their world, that you and your guards only came to lead them to it. They see you for an envoy from the heavens and their God, my Lord. Will you disappoint them, and send them away?"

Turgon shook his head. "I will not, if that is what they wish, but blame me not if I lead them to their deaths."

The Sindarin elf shrugged. "Death is everywhere, now. If they do not die there, they will die here, of hunger and despair, of illness and radiation. Choosing one's manner of death is the last mercy a man can give another."

To this, Turgon nodded, then. A moment later, the question came forth. "Ronnie of the Edain, who are you, to love them so much?"

He received a shrug in answer. "A wanderer, lost to his own world, My Lord. My home and all that I love is gone, as yours is. They took me for one of them when I had no-where to turn. Why should I not care?"

Turgon looked at him, again, raised an eyebrow, and said nothing. He was intrigued, but he dared not ask. He knew little of the Sindarin courts, and perhaps this one was from after his own time.

"What world was that, then, pray tell?" After a long silence, he could not help but ask.

"It doesn't matter, it's dead," Ronnie replied, before he turned away without further adieu.

In the distance, a thing of metal and rust loomed, and there was growing agitation within the ranks of the Edain. Spectaz said, with awe, "It's a boat, Your Majesty. Biggest one I ever seen, I had no idea they still existed.... you know, at home, they only had the small skiffs, but this one... it's really big, and---"

The remainder of the boy's babble was lost to Turgon as he read the name on the hull.

U.S.S. Arcadia.

Chapter Text

The Eldarin fleet had set sail under a starless sky.

At the prow of the ship, Aredhel held herself as proudly as she could. Discovered, now, there was no need for her to remain under the cover of dirt and blood, and so her face was free of that shield as the black winds chased away her tears.

She had had another dream. They were getting darker and more terrible with every moment of rest she took. That last one had been dreadful. She remembered seeing him --- she did not need to speak his name, now, Tyelkormo was the quintessential man, the only one that haunted her sleep. Him.

Sometimes he was in battle. She saw him reaching for a Silmaril, so close, so close, and his fingers slipping, the jewel slipping from his grasp as he screamed in rage and cut down the elf who had thrust his sword through him. She saw him inanimate, tried to convince herself that he was only sleeping, but the truth of it was still there. He had died.

Galadriel had told her this one night, quietly, after she'd admitted to still hoping for him, from time to time. She had told her all. Doriath and his death at the hands of Dior, Luthien and his ill-advised wants, the little children that his servants had lost in the woods.

She'd wanted to scream, then, that it wasn't true, that he would never do such a thing. She'd thought of jumping from the ship's highest deck, but her brother Argon had lept and tackled her against the railing. She'd cried, then, yelled, wailed, again, until her throat was raw and her body was limp, and her brother had cradled her until she'd been peaceful again.

Weeks of ocean-sailing later, she still dreamed.

Where were you, she wanted to ask. Who were you, my love, when you did all that you did? What happened to you, that you became a man that I can only love in shame? Where were you, where are you, now, that I cannot ask you my all burning questions?

In some dreams, he reappeared, and when he reached to touch her, his hands were like fire, made her squeal in horror and despair. In others, he begged her for forgiveness, crawling. In every single one of them, she loved him, against her better judgment.

She still wore the livery of the House of Finarfin. Her hair was still cut in the fashion of the Eldarin men. She reached, touched it, a moment.

"You shouldn't look so forlorn," a voice said, quietly, behind her. She shivered in response.

"You got what you wanted," the voice continued, resentful. "And I am made to look like a fool in front of my men."

She sighed, then, and turned to look at her brother.

"It was never my intention, Kano," she said, in a small voice.

"It was still the result," he said, sternly. "At least you are clean, today. It is progress. When will you resume your robes of silver and white, Ireth?"

She looked at him, wryly. "When the war is over, oh great King."

Fingon bristled at the tease. "Don't call me that."

"Is that not what you want, brother? To be king, revered and obeyed, even by your siblings, even by those who love you?"

"You have a strange way of showing me that you love me," he said, tartly.

"I don't know that there is a good way," she replied, flatly. "What will you have me do?"

He frowned, and looked pained, a moment. She bit her lip. "You look tired, Kano."

"It is none of your concern, Ireth."

"It is my concern. I am still your sister, even if you hate me for my choices."

At this, he turned, walked to the railing, looked into the darkness. It was so deep that one could not tell the waters from the skies. She wasn't sure she heard his words, but she thought...

"You don't hate me?"

He shook his head, and she came closer, then. Wordlessly, she leaned against his side. Wordlessly, he put his arm around her.

"If something happens to you, I will be very cross," he said, sternly, but she could feel a bit more of him in his voice.

She leaned her head on his shoulder. "How will I live, brother?" He sighed, hugged her closer.

It was then that she told him all about Eol. She told him about how she'd gone to Himlad after she's found it in her to forgive Celegorm for his treason at Losgar, waited for him, lost patience. She told him of how she got lost in the forest of Nan Elmoth, of her honor guards' mysterious disappearance, of the dark elf who had offered her shelter. She told him of how she forgot Quenya, of how she became Aredhel, of how she bore that man's child, and how she loved her son. She told him of how she died, as Eol cursed Maeglin. When she was done, he was hugging her close, protectively.

"How could I allow any more harm to come to you, sister?" His voice was hoarse.

"I cannot be passive again, brother," she replied, quietly. "I will not sit in Valinor, waiting while my brothers and cousins go to the slaughter. Let me take my destiny into my own hands, please."

He shuddered, a little. "I don't want you to die," he said, softly.

"I don't want you to die either, but that is not going to stop you, is it?"

He didn't say anything, then, and she stifled a sob. For a moment, she was quiet. "You should speak to Artanis," she said, at long last.

"I have nothing to say to her," he said, resentfully.

"Yes, you do," she said, quietly. "Your anger was with me, not her. We must stand together, or not at all."

He sighed, but he promised that he would consider it. She did not think she could get more from him, but she owed it to their cousin to at least try to make amends for dragging her into this, she felt.

They were still embracing one another when the ship came to an abrupt stop. A wave came crashing upon the hull, and suddenly her brother was shouting orders. A dark shadow was looming over head. The dark thing opened its mouth, and she could only scream a word of warning as the fire rushed out and dread clogged her throat with its dark, strangling hand. It had brown scales that gleamed unnaturally in the starlit sky and its eyes were a strange glistening thing of black. The smell of sulfur filled Aredhel's nostrils, and she felt the warning die in her throat as she thought of her cousins Angrod and Aegnor.

"Dragon!"

Aredhel saw her brother rushing to the prow, his trusty sword still in its scabbard. The sail had caught on fire, and she found cover, drew her bow, armed an arrow. She aimed the dragon's eye, shot and missed. Another arrow, then another, but in the night, it was hard to see, hard to keep a steady hand as the boat rocked and her body was slammed between the cabin's wall and the railing.

Somewhere behind her, men were rushing to extinguish the sail, and suddenly the waters parted and she thought it was the last of their fleet. She thought of her brothers, feared for them, screamed their names, but in the chaos, there were no answers to be heard or understood.

From the parted waters, a giant of blue wrath rose and hope sprung forth. It sprouted water, or something else, perhaps, and the fire was extinguished as promptly as it had caught. The dragon whirled with a shriek and spun forth for another attack.

This time, her arrow hit the eye, but it did not stop the monster from opening its hellish mouth once more. Fire came, scorching and fearsome, and Ardhel recoiled, hiding from it as she could against the wet wood of the railing. Still, there were burns – were they on her hands? On her face? She could not tell, save that it hurt and the salty water made it only worse. The worst thing was that as she lost consciousness, she couldn't decide whether she was relieved or disappointed that it was all coming to an end.

Chapter Text

The host was running out of breath, and thus it was decided that setting camp, if only for of the equivalent of a day, was a growing necessity. In the pitch black night that seemed to stretch on like an endless blanket, torches were lit in an effort to keep what lurked around them at bay. This was done after much debate, and Finrod opted at long last to risk detection rather than to remain a darkness which invited attacks. Such was his counsel to Thorin Oakenshield and Durin the Reborn, though Legolas Thranduilion, for one, did not support his position: "One does not walk in the Enemy's night bearing torches," he claimed stoutly. "He already knows of our presence," Finrod replied, firmly. In his heart, he hoped that the fires would herald their presence to any Edain survivors.

Within their camp, however, strange happenings began to occur. It was a missing pipe, a stolen bag of dried meat, a disappearing loaf of lembas. It was hushed footsteps, barely a whispering wind, the accidental unexpected wandering brush of something undefined. Footprints were swept off in a botched attempt to conceal them, too light to be dwarven, too wide to be elven, too small to be Edain. Eventually, as rations were depleting, the decision was made to attempt a trap.

Legolas set up a small hole in the ground, covered lightly with a thatch of brittle wood. Over it, dry leaves and what light rubbish they could find was laid, mostly colorful parchment with portraits and Edain scrawlings, though all was dark as the ground, covering in dust. The host made a show of going to rest. Gimli himself set throughout the watch and slowly started to cant his head. Under his breath, Legolas told Finrod that he feared the dwarf may indeed be asleep. Barely visible, quiet and still like a quiet pond on long-forgotten sunny days, the elves waited.

They did not hear the footsteps. They almost missed the silhouettes, But the thud the small creatures made as they tumbled into the trap was all too audible. Within seconds, the hole in the ground was surrounded with dwarven warriors, clanging their swords to their shields angrily. Thud, thud, thud, went the angry warriors, and towering over them, Finrod Felagund barely got a glimpse of the small, dirty creatures that were cowering at the bottom of the pit. They were clinging to one another, he could tell. Their faces were covered in soil, soot and caked mud. Their hair, he could tell when they've been hoisted up, was caked in long are and dirty dreadlocks. So tightly the two creatures clung to one another, and they seem to be one same being with four legs. As of the angry mob went on, dragging them to the central fire, Finrod noticed that the beings were crying. If their eyes were bloodshot, it was by virtue of heavy tears which rolled down their cheeks, washing away the soot in thin streaks. Beneath, their skin was bruised in places, pink in others.

Suddenly, Legolas and Gimli, who had been conferring privately, called out loudly, as Gimli's hammer fell against his shield heavily. The shout interrupted a discussion about the fate of the little thieves. Some wanted to roast them. Others suggested an extended stay in the nearby waters. Others are simply opted for a quick and painless step. In the silence that followed, Legolas stepped in the accusing circle. The burglars cowered once more, and pity bloomed fully in Finrod's heart. He raised a staying hand, trying to appease the dwarves.

"Do you are not know them what they are?" Legolas' voice was accusing, almost. TThey are the Half-Men, Hobbits, of the Shire or somewhere else, perhaps." At the mention of hobbits, one of the thieves starred, as if to signify his acquiescence. Thorin Oakenshield stepped out of the crowd, then, pushing past the host's vanguard. He'd not caught a glimpse of them before then, but when he did his exclamation was booming. "By Aule," he exclaimed, gleefully. "It is so. I would tell their hairy feet apart any day!" The Halflings cowered more. It seemed clear they did not understand the language of Khazad-Dum and perhaps the common tongue of the Third Age of the world was too old for them.

Finrod stepped forth, knelt, away from the shivering pair. Very slowly, in Sindarin, he told them not to fear him, that he would not allow harm to come to them. He pointed Thorin, Gimli and Legolas, explained that they had known and befriended Perriannath of great renown. Then he asked, slowly, if they understood. His inquiry was met with a very small nod. It was Thorin, then, who spoke gently, though the loudness of his voice perhaps defeated the purpose. He however only uttered one name. "Bilbo Baggins." This made the halfling's eyes widen and they nodded. Encouraged, Gimli mentionned Perigrin Took, Meriadoc Brandibuck and Samwise Gamgee. Finrod smiled, thinking a moment of the two Bagginses. They were still in Valinor, most likely sitting closely to the Valar. He wondered how Frodo fared, and if Morgoth's escape had awoken his old wounds, but there were no way to tell or to find out now. He would have to focus on the present.

The pair of halflings were set to sit by the fire, a blanket on their shoulders. Slowling, in the presence of a select few, they started to tell their tale in halting Sindarin. They were a small colony which had been decimated, slowly, bit by bit, by the growing human population. They had retreated deeper and deeper in the forests. They had been obliged to abandon their dear burrows, and some, tired of scavenging in hidden darknesses of the wild woods, had started migrating to the human cities.

By the time of their births, the pair could not recount that any hobbit they knew had ever been born outside of town. They lived in man-made tunnels, sewers, under bridges. Some mingled with the Big Folk, pretending to be humans born different. Most remained in hiding. Then, there had been growing unrest within the human factions. On television (the word was strange and the concept remained nebulous to Finrod despite several explanations), they had watched the growing tensions between the East and the West, between those who held the fossil fuels and those who wanted them. Feeling sheltered enough in their underground hovels, the hobbits had watched in rapt fascination as humanity set on the path to its own destruction.

Then one day – they were younglings, then – the doomsday device was activated, and nothing was left for them to scavenge from. It was then that the New Colonists set out to explore new ways. They took to the countryside once more, until the sun and moon disappeared and their crops depleted. It was then that they took to following the dwarven host. Once of them added, almost defiantly, "If you don't release us, our families will kill the prisoner." Finrod frowned. "There is fire in you," he observed, calmly. "What is your name, then, Master Hobbitla?" The hobbit shook his head, flippantly. "You don't need to know it, Elf. Just release us, and the dwarf we hold will be returned to you."

Whereas Felagund had his own ideas about the identity of the hostage, he made sure not to let his thoughts transpire.

"If both of you go, how do we know that you will return our man to us?" Durin the Reborn asked, calmly, but firmly.

"Let one of them go, let the other stay," Finrod offered. "A trade can be organized."

There were arguments and negotiations, but ultimately, the hobbits agreed to cooperate. The one who had been meekest was sent away, the rebellious one remaining under Finrod's watchful eye. Eventually, he told the hobbit, "If you are to remain with me, tell me at least what name I should call you."

It took another while for the half-man to finally tell him, grudgingly, "Dandelion. They call me Dandelion." And then, under his breath, he added, "Gamgee. Satisfied?"

Chapter Text

There were problems. Turgon had spent all of his resting time pondering them. There were too many folk following them. Mostly, if they were to board a ship, they would not have enough supplies to feed them.

He could turn the problem around in his mind, over and over until it made his head ache, but ultimately there was only one solution to this: those who would not fight could not come. Those who were above what rations were available could not come.

In the morning, or perhaps was it in the evening, as his reckoning of time was growingly confused, he called for a meeting with Elrond Peredhel, Ronnie and the human captains. Solemnly, the last king of the Noldor explained his dilemma. His great grandson only nodded, expressing silently that he understood the wisdom of these words. The humans stared, long and hard. At last, it was Ronnie who spoke.

"You cannot let them down," he said, angrily. "They have waited for you to come, they believe in you, they will die whether they come or stay. At least give them hope. Please."

Turgon stood, looked down at the Sindarin elf for a long and silent moment. The silence would have stretched on for a long time, had Elrond not broken it.

"Ada," he said, quietly. "Let us give them hope, at least."

"We will be leading them to a slow and painful death," Turgon said darkly. "I would not be the one to bear such a weight when so much has already been lost."

"Then let me be the one to bear this responsibility," Ronnie insisted. "I am the one who led them to you, let me be the one they will blame when they die. At least for now, give them the present of a life lived with their heads high."

Throughout this exchange, which had been carried out in the Edain tongue, the human captains had remained silent, observing, taking notes, as if they were withholding judgment. Then, a man grown and weathered by unknown hardships spoke. He stood as he did, his dusty, cropped hair visible after he removed the small bonnet which all of him and his peers wore.

"I think it's up to us to decide what to do with our people," he told them fiercely. "Ronnie can have his say, he's been with us since forever. But you, new folk, you can keep your opinions to yourselves. Honestly, we're the majority, we're calling the shots."

At this, the elves were rather surprised. Turgon in particular was very unpleased with the turn of events, but it was his grandson who bade him sit. Elrond then spoke, slowly, soothingly, in the language he was still learning. His forefather glared at him, expressing silently his displeasure, but Elwing's son did not relent. He told the sitting council of the war he had waged in his time. He spoke of Gil-Galad, of Elendil, and later of the man who would win his own daughter's heart. He said then words he had once heard in other circumstances.

"I give hope to mankind, I keep none for myself."

The tales he told appeased both man and elf and it was decided that the followers would be allowed to remain. The plan for rationing, already frugal, which be all the stricter for it, but it would also allow them to man the gigantic ship effectively.

On the morrow, the now very large and very disorganized crowd of followers was called upon to take bridge duties. Turgon noted that the human captains had skill for such a thing in more than a reasonable quantity, and within another few days the USS Arcadia was ready to go afloat.

The boys that had followed the elven honor guard since their first contact with human civilization had taken those days to explore the ship. Where Turgon would have preferred to remain in a brooding solitude, he was rather dragged along by an enthusiastic Spectaz for a long and extensive visit.

The boy showed him everything there really was to see. He started with what remained the most mysterious place on the ship in the High King's eyes: it was a place where there was no sunlight. Doors galore garnished its sides, and there was the constant smell of something pungent which he could not really recognize. He found himself wondering what it was and lost an important moment of the explanation which ended itself with something concerning the return to the usage of coal. The boy called this place the furnaces, and Turgon understood that this was the seat of the ship's power.

They were rooms of every size and every level of comfort but everything smelled of mud, rust and dust. It was unimaginable and saddening that this place had perhaps been these people's pride. And yet, Spectaz showed Turgon everything with the enthusiasm of the child who thought they had discovered an object of wonder. The pity and sadness in Turgon's heart were great.

It would take another seven days before the lumber they needed could be harvested, stowed onto the ship and the large human host was more than helpful in achieving this tight schedule. And so the USS Arcardia set forth on a morning darker than the furnace in its belly.

There was little to say about the running of the ship. Turgon and Elrond were both uneducated in this matter and thus handed over the control of the ship to the human commanders.

One night, however, Elrond came to knock on his forefather's door. He had about him a look which was yet serious than was his wont, though Turgon did not think it to be somber.

"Ada, there is aught that I wish to talk to you about," he said as he entered the cabin.

Turgon invited him to sit with a gesture and tucked his hands under his chin, indicating that he was giving his great grandson all his attention.

"I believe I know who Ronnie is," Elrond told him, thoughtfully. "I believe he is of Doriath, and that he sees in me the blood of Luthien Tinuviel."

Turgon raised his hand, stopping him in his speech.

Silently, he walked to the door and opened it briskly. There was a yelp, and he peered over, to find his boy and Elrond's tucked in a doorway. Another few silent steps, and he caught them both, brought them back into the cabin, where they received a very thorough scolding.

At Elrond's insistence, they were allowed to remain but not to speak.

Turgon did not agree on the identity of Ronnie. He found him a touch too tall, a touch too proud, and there was no music to be heard. He had spent a long time reflecting on this matter, yet there was no face he could conjure from his memories of the past that seemed to resemble the elf's face. It was true that scarred as he was, even a familiar face might have been hard to distinguish and thus he had spent much time thinking on the matter, and could not bring himself to decide.

The following day, Turgon took a long moment to walk upon the bridge, and came across his mysterious ally. They nodded at each other, and for a moment he considered whether he should allow the silence to remain or break it. Curiosity got the best of him, and so break the silence he did.

"The night is dark," he said, "and yet your friends know where to steer us. What star do they follow? I cannot see Elbereth from here."

"They have other ways," Ronnie replied, his smile half sardonic and half polite. "We were lucky to find a ship with a radar that works, and luckier to find one with a responding navigation system."

None of this made any sense to Turgon, and he found himself lucky that Ronnie was patient enough to try and explain which he called technology. In the end, it sufficed him that these systems would allow the ship to find the Eldar's Fleet at the rendezvous point. It was a site which was still fabled in Ronnie's time, just as it had been in Turgon's period. The circle of standing stones could weather time and withstand erosion by graces that even the Eldar could not explain. Somehow, the mystery was reassuring. If anything, it was evidence that the Valar still held sway in Arda.

As he left the bridge to return to the quiet place where he pondered his next step, Turgon could not help but reflect on the fact that Ronnie's mystery remained as thick as it ever had been.

He mused to himself that perhaps the boys would find out more.

Chapter Text

She was dreaming. Again, and again. There was pain. She felt as though half her body was on fire. There were voices. There were touches. Somewhere, beyond her own ability to respond, she knew there was someone. The voice called. The voice tugged at her, as if demanding her attention, it was a scream, full of desperation, full of anguish, full of horror. In her mind's eye, she could almost see him. She reached, she called back, sometimes she clawed at the air, as if trying to tear the fabric of reality.

Sometimes, all she could hear was the quiet sound of childlike sobs that could only be a grown man's. Then, she cried.

There were times where she opened her eyes to find gray eyes, just like hers, full of worry and sorrow. But she closed her eyes again, retreating in an oblivion that at least allowed her not to suffer.

Sometimes, she spoke. Aredhel called his name, repeatedly, because she knew he could hear her.

"Tyelkormo, don't cry, please, you're breaking my heart when you sob like that." She would reach into the empty air, as if trying to free him from whatever kept him captive, and sometimes, careful hands would try to restrain her and she would tear free, attempt to flail them off, until sleep took her again.

It was as though the world of the living no longer beckoned her, and she had already set foot in Mandos.

The transition was brutal.

A sudden intake of air bag entered her lungs, uninvited. And suddenly, a pair of hands seized her face, and gray eyes she knew well delved hers.

"Ireth, Ireth, to you hear me, do you know me?" Fingon's voice was urgent, pleading, demanding. Her voice caught in her throat and she found that it was dry, aching and unresponsive. She nodded.

The relief in her brother's eyes was great, and she felt tears stinging her eyes. It took a moment before she could form words again and another before she could articulate them. When she did, there were only two of them.

"How long?" Fingon told her then that it had been weeks since the attack. They had been lucky. As the dragon of Morgoth had risen, so had Ulmo. The wrath of the sea had extinguished the fire before it got to the hull of the ship and it had also drenched Aredhel as she had caught fire. She was burned, she could feel it, but the worst of it had been prevented because her exposure had been very short. Unfortunately, her exposure to water have been longer. For a while, the white lady of the Noldor had been thought lost, but her brother had refused to abandon the search, stubbornly. They had found her drifting on a girder with all hope was lost.

He looked pained, and she worried that there was more. With her eyes, who could speak louder than her voice, she demanded he tell her what had come to pass, and reluctantly, he did. Their younger brother had been lost once more. Her grief was unending.

She could not speak, only look at him with utter sadness, and though her arms were still blistered from the flame of Udun, she opened them for him. Fingon allowed himself to sink in his sister's arms, and they shed tears together, that were, Aredhel decided bitterly, unnumbered. Yet this time, they had left Valinor with the Valar's permission, and yet Arakano once more paid the price of his family's bravery.

For a moment, she allowed herself to remember how he was the one whose silence was the most soothing, how he was the one who had never held anything against her for more than half a day, and she cried, wishing she'd been taken in his stead.

She cried herself to sleep, not daring to ask for more news. Thus the remainder of the traverse was spent, and it was put to the protection of the Valar that there were no further incursions from the Army of Morgoth. It took Aredhel another week to come out on the bridge, to stare at the endless night. Something in her had changed, though. She stared into the darkness without fear, despite the lingering kisses of Dragon Breath on her arms and torso, on her cheek. She found herself staring with fascination, as if there was a memory in the back of her mind that lingered, there, waiting to be unearthed.

Yet nothing came forth, nothing to reveal to her the key to a new and strange enigma which she could not yet even name. It was there, waiting to be identified, but not certain and not clear, not even known or showing the shade of its silhouette. Just a teasing mystery in the afterthought of her bruised heart.

Mourning, at least, was a business that was not new to her, and she set to it with a dedication that was unsurprising. She would have cut her hair, but it was already cropped as short as it could be, a short fuzz of a thing, shorter than a newborn's hair, coarser, as well.

Leaning lightly on the railing, she thought of her son, eyes still staring at the darkness. Where was her Lomion? Had he found a new breath ? She supposed so. She had not asked anyone what had become of him after her passing, not even Turukano, for reasons that she could not quite communicate to herself. It might have been fear, but she dared not even admit that to her own musings. No, no, it was not, and she decided that when she saw her brother, she would ask him. Not Findekano, no, Turukano, who was with the Edain, somewhere on the earth they had yet to broach. She could wait until then.

A soft noise disturbed her in her meditation, and she turned to find her cousin Artanis looking at her, calmly.

"Artanis," the greeting was quiet, courteous, polite, almost cold in her care.

"Irisse," the cousin replied, gently enough. "Have you no questions to ask me?"

She shook her head, hoping the conversation could be averted. Alas, Galadriel insisted.

"There is aught I would ask," she said, gently enough. Aredhel nodded, quietly. "I would like to know of your dreams, Ireth."

Aredhel closed her eyes, then. She had not wanted to speak of them. They were too vivid, too real, to saddening. There was enough to mourn about, without thinking on the fate of their lost cousins. Too much had come to pass, for her to consider the dreams in a light other than that of the fevers the dragons might have caused her. She blamed the water and the fire for her nights, and she would leave it at that, if she could.

"There is nothing to say of my dreams, Artanis," she replied, quietly, firmly. "They are fever dreams, and mean nothing. I do not have your gift."

Galadriel examined her, a moment, not quite frowning, but something passed in her eyes that Aredhel could not exactly name. She inclined her head, but something about her pose made Aredhel think perhaps her cousin was not going to give up so easily.

It was merely a pause in what she assumed would be a long series of arguments, she mused as the Lady of Lorien left her to her dark waking dreams.

What Aredhel could not quite bring herself to admit to anyone save herself was that part of her was starting to look forward to the moments where the world of sleep became as tangible as reality itself.

And perhaps she even had an excellent reason for that.

Chapter Text

There was never a moment of silence in the place where the Kinslayers dwelled. Nor was there any sad cry or screech to fill the silence. There was always a whimper of pain.

None of them escaped this kinslayer's lips, however. In the arbitrary sentencing that had followed his fall, it had been decreed that this son of Feanor would never utter sound again, so long as the Doom held fast. And thus he was given eyes to see, pain to feel, misery to witness in those he cherished, but no tongue to lament his family's fate. The harshest son of Feanor did not lament, nor did he mourn. He raged. Thus, to be forever silent drove him slowly in a lucid descent to madness.

The past years, particularly, had been dreadful because of his brothers' suddenly heightened distress. For each of his brothers, save one, the Valar seemed to have designed a torment, matched to his own nature. And thus his was to bear witness to his brothers' sufferings, and to be unable to comfort them. Just as in life he had been the odd one out, in death he was unseen and unheard, he who was loud and fierce in everything he did. And so it was that Carantir the Dark, who had nothing to say about the sins he had committed or about the follies he performed for love, became the quietest of the Sons of Feanor, the one who might perhaps one day report what had come to pass in the halls of Mandos.

And yet it may be said that mayhap his words were false or betrayed by madness, and perhaps it is so. If truth be told, only the Valar could sanction his tale, though it seemed to him they never might, nor would the need ever arise, for there was no audience for it.
In the black recesses of the nowhere – or was it a void? – where the Kinslayers dwelt, a keening sound had been heard, and cries of anguish had come forth, time and time again. Come closer to his maddened sibling, Caranthir listened, intently. His words were but a jumble of incoherence.

"Eru, please, not her, take me instead, why again, why so much has come to pass – you lie, you lie, it is not so – they dwell in Valinor, where all is fair…my hands, my hands, why be they unburnt, why my brothers have been? Would that it … tell them so," and so on, and so forth, said Celegorm, rocking on himself in what he thought was utter solitude. Once again, his little brother moved to embrace him, but it was but an illusion. Once again, he opened his mouth to speak words of comfort, but no sound came to his lips. And so they sat, both profoundly lonely, but in the most contrary ways.

They remained united in solitude for a long time. Caranthir had attempted to sleep, to find an escape out, rebelling once more against the Valar and their sentencing, but no longer. Then, he had listened to his father, who had been waiting there for his Ata's mad rantings, Carnistir Moryofinwe knew that as far as his father was aware, he and his brothers still lived, that they carried on their ill-fated quest. Feanaro was certain of their success, had utter faith in the loyalty of his sons, and believed that the ignorance he was kept in was a sign that the Silmarils remained within reach. It was a fright to hear him defy ruthlessly the Valar. It was another, a deeper terror, to watch him be so very indifferent to their silence. Then slowly, Caranthir lost faith in his father, and thought much of what his life had been.

After a long time – millennia, centuries, decades, it was impossible to tell – Caranthir had settled in a perpetual quiet rage that set him against the unseen walls of his prison, banging, but out of pain and frustration rather than rebellion. Alone with his thoughts, he performed mad tourneys with himself, trying to reconcile what he had done and why, and what had come to pass, understanding eventually that he had only a few pieces of the puzzle, just as practically as he had instated levies in Thargelion. He devised a plan to listen to his wailing brothers for the debris of what had been.

At first, he listened to his eldest brother, Maitimo, Nelyafinwe whom the Sindar called Maedhros. Nelyo screamed a lot. Sometimes, he tried to advert irremediable flames. Other times, he rocked on himself, muttering the names of his brothers, giberrish about how "they burned, how could they burn?" and litanies of regret in which he begged for forgiveness without hope, or that his brothers be released. Over time, Caranthir understood that long after he was taken down with Celegorm and Curufin in Doriath, the quest had been achieved – and yet, they were disowned, Dispossessed, and unable to cherish the two reconquered jewels. It was also then that Caranthir learned that Maglor yet lived roaming the world of mortals in what could only be unending madness. In his dark and lonesome musings, Caranthir had not allowed himself to think that Makalaurë Kanafinwë, his brother, Maglor the second son of Feanor and the most gentle, could have survived. The news were bitter-sweet, and he wept bitterly when it came to his mind that his brother was living only another kind of hell.

It was then that moved his attentions to Ambarussa, who were punished with the eternal separation of one from the other. While Telvo saw again and again his sword going through a Teleri youthful throat, his brother Pityo whom they called Amrod in Beleriand saw the ships burning at Losgar over and over again. This was hellish as it ever was to behold in Caranthir's eyes, for he loved all his brothers dearly, and would have given anything conceivable to console them. This, truth be, was his own personal torture. He knew this to be his punishment, and against it, he rebelled, banging voicelessly against invisible walls, crying against darkness which made everything nonexistent.
For a time, he tried to ignore the cries of his brethren, to harden himself to their suffering. For a time, it worked well enough, but the guilt that this attempt at indifference cost him was tenfold. It was then that broken, yet stubborn, the fifth son of Feanor went to his brother Celegorm whom he had loved so very well, though never as well as he had wished. It was painful, to sit by the brother and be unseen, but for a time, he found it nigh comforting. Celegorm had always been closest to their brother Curufin, who was the most opposed to Caranthir in temper. Oft, Caranthir the Dark had sat with his brothers, brooding silently. Rarely was his voice heard, and rarely either was his counsel heeded. And so to be seated by Celegorm or Curufin, to be unnoticed, was well nigh a relief at first. Soon, however, Caranthir's restlessness took over, and Celegorm's begins for a dog's life. His mooning over Lúthien Tinuviel became a source of exasperation, and yet he listened, because he felt there was little else to do and because at times, this brother's torment changed.

Celegorm cried, sometimes, quietly. He murmured her name, begging for forgiveness over and over again. He begged that she forgive abandoning her to the Helcaraxe. He begged that she forgive him for not seeking her out, for not being in Himlad where he should have been. He begged, most of all, for her to forgive that he had not been man enough to confront their fathers, the feud between them and all the Eldarin customs that forbade their mating. He begged again and again, and it seemed there was a negative answer and it sent Celegorm into deeper pleas and greater despair. Then, after some time, though how long it could not be told, he settled into a keening series of sobs, rocking onto himself, a broken man, with barely a shred of pride, and though Celegorm never knew it, his little brother watched him, trying to give him consolation he never felt.

Curufin, Caranthir often listened to, though his words were infuriating in the light of what had come to pass, and what punishment his brother endured, Caranthir could not tell. Mayhap it had to do with his son, Celebrimbor, for often his name was whispered, but mayhap it also had to do with the brethren with whom Curufin seemed to plead – as though, perhaps, he were not listened to.

Such was the fate of Feanor and his sons, a king and his princes, Kinslayers and crafty smiths, who had failed to uphold all that the Valar held in esteem.

Then, there was a light, and silence befell this place. So blinded were Feanor and his brood, that for some long moment, they cowered in awe. Then at last, they took notice of one another, but there was much wariness between them: perhaps this was yet another illusion of the Valar. And a man of great power appeared, all dressed in gray, and tired-looking, and they all knew him for who he was.

Mandos himself was before them.

Chapter Text

Dandelion Gamgee was a quiet sort of fellow. He spoke only when absolutely necessary, usually barking monosyllabic, resentful answers at the elves or the dwarves who spoke to him.

Dandelion Gamgee was positively seething – Finrod Felagund did not need to have his sister's talents to figure it out. It was spelled out in every one of the halfling's movements, in every single gesture he made, in the baleful look he cast around the company.

It had been judged unnecessary to tie up the hobbit, mostly at Legolas and Gimli's insistence. Finrod was wary of the little man, though he understood his anger. But wrath was the seed for sedition and violence, and he did not wish to see it bloom.

It took another week for the other halfling to return, heading a small company of ragtag dignitaries. They sat around the fire, elves keeping peace on a handful of overly enthusiastic dwarves. First, pipeweed was distributed, and pipes were lit. Then, lunch was served, or was it dinner – but the hobbits insisted it was lunch, and who better to know the time for a meal than a periannath?

"We must have our man back," Finrod started, clearly concerned about the proceedings.

"Oh, you will have him," Dandelion replied. "And then you'll be on your way, but you must give us half your rations."

This demand started an uproar. Again, the elves calmed down the dwarfs as they could.

"I have to feed my people," the hobbit continued, "and we are unable to cultivate. The land is rotten."

Finrod nodded at this, sadly. "It is. The Dark Lord has arisen once more," he explained, quietly, weighing his words. He might have paused for effect in appearance, but he was testing out the hobbits, trying to pry out of their reactions whether they knew about this, or not. The confused frowns that came in response were answer enough. Findarato Felagund let out a small, discreet sigh.

"Then we must tell you what has come to pass," he said, heavily. "And then you shall judge on your course of action."

There were mild protests, but a hobbit spoke up, quietly. He had an air of confidence about him that only matched the Gamgee lad, who, it seemed, was higher in his hierarchy than his looks revealed. "Dandellion, we must listen," he said after a moment. "Or will we disregard the renown of our forefathers?"

Finrod thought he caught, then, a flicker of recognition in the eye of the Sindarin elf Legolas, and he seemed to glance at Gimli. The hobbit continued on. "Do you think the great-great-great-great," after a moment, the number of 'greats' were lost to Finrod, though he never lost patience, "grandson of Meriadoc the Magnificent would insult the elves? Didn't Mayor Samwise write of how good and gentle they were? Didn't he tell his sons, and the sons of his sons, the children of Elanor the Fair, that Lady Galadriel was the gentlest and wisest being to walk this earth?"

There were gasps, and Finrod smiled, just a little, thinking of how embarrassed his little sister would be if she were there.

"Her brother sits here in counsel with us," Legolas said, after a moment. "And I am Legolas of Mirkwood, this is Gimli son of Gloin, who fought in the war of the Ring with your ancestors."

For a moment, there was a moment of silent awe, and then Dandelion Gamgee spoke up, harshly, angrily. "And you come now ? At the end of all things ? You come when all is lost and the world is coming to an end ? You come when the Shire is destroyed and the sun is blotted out? Go away. We don't need you."

"We're not here for you," one of the Naugrim barked back, impulsively. Finrod sprung to his feet, and for the first time in a long time, he spoke loudly and regally, King of Nargothrond from head to toe, suddenly. "No. We will not go down this road," he said, firmly. "The periannath need our help, and we will give it to them. It will not be said that a son of the House of Finwe turned his back on the last born of Eru Illuvatar."

Standing at his side were Gimli and Legolas, and in the clang and the arising brawl, Thorin Oakenshield's voice was heard, booming over the plain on which the camp was set. "Enough!" he cried, loud and clear. "Have you no decency? Have you no perspective? The enemy lurks in the shadows, and the world's end is nigh."

Durin spoke as well, more calmly, but no less imposing in his fierce quietness. "Come now. Let us find our kinsman, and let us speak. We must unite against the darkness, and not divide ourselves without reason good enough."

"We have reason good enough," Dandelion Gamgee replied, flippantly. "We were abandoned, when we were promised protection from Man's destruction. Is that not reason enough?"

There was an awkward silence, and Finrod kneeled to face the hobbit. "Then I promise you that over my own life, half-man, no further harm will come to you or your people."

He knew what oaths did. He remembered the last time that he had sworn his loyalty. Beren of the House of Beor had been a good and loyal friend, and he had deserved every inch of his friendship, every expense of his strength, every jolt of pain under the Gorthaur's duress. This was different.

This was redemption of the faults of a whole generation which he was not there to witness, but had he been there.... responsibility did run deep in his veins, his father always mused. Now was the time of reckoning for the people of Middle-Earth, and if ever there was a time to make a pledge, this was it.

The honesty with which he made his pledge must have mollified the hobbit: he only sulked a little, for form. "Well don't expect me to shine your boots," he grunted, reluctantly. Still, it was enough to buy peace.

The remainder of the night was spent in better spirits, and after the little people had rested, the newly increased company set forth towards the Hobbit colony.

It was time to see to Narvi.

Chapter Text

There was very little that didn't make sense to Turgon in general, but this place made no sense to him whatsoever.

This ship, the people on it, the boys who seemed to have taken an irrational dependency on the elven riders, the fascination which the humans lavished on the elves' horses, this thing they called technology, none of it was sensical to him.

It was odd, but at the same time, he found himself looking over his shoulder when the boy Spektaz wasn't close by, babbling away heedlessly like a carriage on a rocky road. He was growing attached to the boy. This could be a problem.

Turgon had never quite gotten over his nephew's betrayal. As he went deeper in the belly of the battle cruiser, he mused that this might not have been unlike Angband and the fortress where Maeglin uttered the secret location of Gondolin. Dark, filled with steel, smoke and grime, it was certainly not something he considered even close to beautiful - in fact, he had little to no taste for it, he decided.

His trusted travel companion wandered at his side and started to pace next to him as they slowly went down the metal stairs in silence. There were moments when the need to touch the horses became too strong, and in those moments, going to the bottom of the ship was a must.

They had been lucky - despite the darkness, there had been little to turmoil on the black waters which they were crossing. The turmoil, alas, was elsewhere.

The humans had started to realize that Turgon's predictions concerning the scarcity of food were coming true at an alarming pace. The elves could survive with very limited rations - Edain, on the contrary, became cranky, it seemed, if they did not have their three daily meals. Worse, they became feeble, sick, and died.

The deaths were starting to pile up, and isolated at mid-traverse, there was nothing to hope for, now, that wasn't a change in fate. If only they had winds to speed them --- but the thought itself was futile, as this vessel had no sail. No, it was only a matter of patience and prayer, rationing and controlling. Nothing else could be done.

The boys were starting to look emaciated - it was a pity. Yet there was no favoritism to be made. Equal treatment for all - there was nothing else to do, Turgon knew. If the strict division of supplies was maintained, perhaps they would make it to the landing with a very limited number of casualties. Maybe.

In the ship's hold, the horses were neighing. So far, all were safe, but there would be a time, Turgon knew, where their mounts would have to be sacrificed to feed the masses. That was the price he would pay for his accommodation of the mysterious elf's demands.

The thought made him angry.

With a touch that was tender and very reverent, he entered his horse's stall. The warhorse was stout but graceful, spotted grey and white, with long legs that crossed distances in long and easy leaps. He murmured Quenya endearments to the horse, speaking to it calming things. Elrond was about, either doing the same or doing aught else - Turgon, in that instant, did not care what his companion was doing, if truth be told.

It was then that the worst happened. The shockwave came unexpectedly, and the horse neighed as it rocked against its master as it struggled to keep its footing. Turgon uttered a curse and grabbed the stall, trying to keep still, but the strength of the overhaul was too much. Overhead, a scream indicated growing panick. He sighed but had no time to react as his beautiful grey-spotted stallion fell, legs broken in the violence of the shock.

Turgon could do nothing but hold on, before he managed to come to his feet. He took the horse's head onto his lap and murmured something soothing, caressing his mane, sadly. The waves rocked master and horse, and the rest of the ship as well, but all that the King of Gondolin could think about was that this good creature was dying in his arms.

When the tempest was over, he looked up to find Elrond tiredly looking over from the stairs.

"We lost several men to the waters," he announced, "but the boys are safe, and so is Ronnie."

Turgon nodded and sighed. "I will be in the meeting room in a moment," he told Elrond, quietly. "I just need a moment."

When he entered the room where he, Elrond and Ronnie were to meet with the Edain captains, he was sporting the grim look of a man who has lost all joy. The one they called McTavish stood, speaking fast and hard, as was his wont.

"We need to find more food," he said, firmly. "We need to fish, go whaling, something. People are sick, people are dying, and we can't do anything about it."

There was a look that crossed Elrond's face and it was inscrutable. Turgon nodded. "We will talk of it soon," he said, softly. "What of the storm?"

"We lost several soldiers and a dozen civilians," that was how they called the followers, Turgon recalled. "No material damage to the hull, but there's water in the back and some of the coal got wet."

Turgon nodded. "It could have been worse, then?"

Ronnie replied for the humans. "Yes, it could have been much worse," he said, grimly. "At least it wasn't utter destruction."

Turgon nodded, again. It's just a horse, he thought.

There were other points on the agenda, and he barely listened. Elrond nodded and intervened, calming the complaining parties when they were expressing themselves.

When the council parted, he said, quietly, "There will be meat, tonight," and retired without further explanation.

***

In his room, Turgon said, gently, "You can come out, boy."

Spektaz came out of the corner from where he was spying on him, smiling sheepishly. He had a few bruises but didn't look worse for the wear.

"I'm sorry about your horse," he said as he clambered on the elf's lap.

The king sighed and let himself be comforted by the boy - "It's just a horse," he said, gently. "I think I prefer it be the horse over you."

Spektaz grinned and gave Turgon a true hug.

"Thank you, Uncle Turgon."

The look on his face - no-one saw it - must have been a unique thing.

Chapter Text

As was her habit, she stood at the prow of the ship, waiting for land to appear on the horizon. As was his habit, her older brother came to stand by her in silence, slipping a protective arm around her slender waist. Without a thought, she leaned against him, despite the involuntary wince of pain the contact of their bodies would inevitably cause. She closed her eyes and sighed, but for a long lapse of time, she did not speak.

It was Findekano who broke the silence, then. His voice was a soft rumble, but it did not quiver as he spoke.

"Ireth," he said, quietly, "what ails you?"

It occurred to her that he should know, and maybe he did. Though he loved her and she loved him, her brother's heart and mind sometimes remained a mystery to her. Mayhap she was blinded by sadness.

"He did not even see the shoreline this time," she whispered after a long silence. Fingon sighed. "I know," he said after another long moment of quiet. "We shall make the Enemy pay this price as well."

Aredhel thought that perhaps she had heard anger in his voice. That, at least, did not surprise her. "Aye, we shall," she said with grim determination. "Will you stand with me, when the time comes?"

He nodded that he would, holding her a little tighter, protectively, though she hissed and he let her go with a small, rueful look. Thus was the remainder of the day spent, and often the siblings would gaze together upon the stars and thing about what had been, what was and what would be.

Sometimes, Galadriel would join upon the bridge. It seemed to Aredhel that her brother and her cousin had made their peace, and she thought well of it, for it seemed to give Fingon some solace. Aredhel, however, never quite found it for herself. There ever was something in the way Galadriel looked at her that spoke of untold secrets and somehow made her squirm with discomfort. Though Galadriel had helped her, she felt that her cousin's eyes were heavy with judgment, as though the lady of Lorien knew the deep secrets of her soul. It was unsettling.

Alas, however, the confrontation could not forever be avoided. That eve, Fingon was off aways, speaking with Angrod and Aegnor. When Galadriel addressed her, Aredhel was almost startled, so deeply she had delved in her own contemplations.

"Cousin," she heard, "if you would not be loath to converse, it would please me greatly that we share our thoughts."

Though she was the elder of the two, Aredhel could not ignore the fact that she had sworn herself into Galadriel's service, and so she acquiesced to her request. Walking side by side on the deck of the majestic ship, under a starry sky, they were silent a long while, until Aredhel nigh turned on her heels to return to her lodgings.

"Pray tell," Galadriel uttered quietly, "I wish to know one thing." Wary but trapped, Aredhel nodded, though it was with dread. "I would know," she went on, "if in your heart, truly, you have forgotten all that you were taught, and all that came to pass. It seems to me that you have forgiven the unforgivable and made your peace with the sons of Feanor, though what Tyelkormo did was not so different from what you endured in Nan Elmoth."

At this, Aredhel was struck and conflicted, and for a time, it seemed she might altogether abandon all courtesy and forego the conversation, but somehow, she spoke. "For a long time," she told Galadriel, "I was utterly angry at Celegorm. But he ever had my heart, though secret it may have been kept. Although it was through his treachery that my brother died while passing the Helcaraxe, though my brother Turukano lost his beloved wife because of this betrayal as well, though he seems to have lost his faith in be for Luthien, oh, alas, Artanis, my heart is true."

Her words were quiet and shameful, but they were spoken in earnest, and Galadriel looked sad for a long and weary moment, though unsurprised. "What of his brothers?" The question was asked at long last.

Here, Aredhel's silence was thoughtful, but then she spoke again and her words were weighed carefully. "If truth be told," she said quietly. "I cannot fault any of them for being loyal to their father. It is ill done to lose faith in those who give us life. Nor can I fault them for staying true to their oath, for it is shameful to be forsworn. No, my cousin, it is my uncle Feanaro whom I fault, for speaking in folly and in wrath. It is he again whom I fault, for not heeding wise counsel when it was given, and for what chagrin he gave my father."

At this, Galadriel frowned and looked wroth, for her anger was deep rooted. "They betrayed my brother while in his hospitality, though he did not hold the Silmarils. They held Luthien captive, although she was of no importance to their quest at the time. How can you excuse them so liberally? No, you are blinded by affection and do not know good from evil, cousin."

Aredhel sighed and closed her eyes, but she knew her cousin spoke true. "Pray not make judgments on my person," she said at last. "The Doom of Mandos is upon them, as it was upon you and I. Forget not that we also disobeyed the Valar, and that we also have made our mistakes. Neither you nor I were in Doriath or Nargothrond, and so we know not what truly came to pass."

At this, Galadriel looked angrier, though she said nothing further, as she simply disengaged from their stroll and abandoned the exchange she had requested herself. Left to her contemplation, Aredhel paced the deck, fretfully. For the remainder of the crossing, the tow women did not speak, and Fingon grew uneasy, soon leaving the company of his sister for his friend's, and vice-versa.

Aredhel feared that her brother might become estranged to her as well, for she felt guilty in her heart, and mayhap thought she might have deserved it, but he did not, though ofttimes their silences were less companionable. Nonetheless, they gazed at the stars together, and often she would speak of Valinor, or of their brother Turgon, for she wondered how he fared. Findarato, they never broached, and he ever remained an uncomfortable matter, though both of them loved him well and longed for his soothing presence. There were thoughts as well of Celebrimbor, who was on another vessel, and whom neither had seen since boarding.

Often they would scan the skies for more friends or foes to advert or greet, but the starry heavens remained clear and the calm waters remained still. From time to time, Ulmo would make his presence known, as though to remind the Eldar of his protection. However, he rarely did take any shape other than the one he was seen in when he vanquished Morgoth's dragon with lances of air and water. Tall and frightful he was, with his three forked spear and his deep green gaze, and he towered over the ships' masts. Yet he was only a silent presence to get accustomed to, and he only remained a while before he rejoined his heralds in skip over the waves in the shape of a large white dolphin. Aredhel then allowed herself to marvel, as did her brother, her cousins and all the elves manning the ship, and for a short while, her heart was at peace.

It was in one of those moments that the houses of Finarfin and Fingolfin were united in joy. Then Galadriel offered her peace with a gentle smile and handed Aredhel a silver thread to tie in her short black hair. "This," she told her, "is only a token of the love I bear you, cousin, and should not be construed as agreement to your views. Yet this ship is small and the fates are unkind, and united we must be. Wear it, then, as a token of friendship, that we must never forget to face the enemy together, and not apart. In fairness, cousin, I tire of this feud."

At this, Aredhel hesitated, though her coquetry already lusted for the pretty bauble. Yet in was in memory of the brother she had lost, she accepted the thread and embraced her cousin. "Pray believe my words when I tell you," she said, "that I never intended to disregard you or your brothers, and that I hold my cousins in the highest esteem. Let us be friends, then, and no longer quarrel."

And so there was rejoicing and embraces, and when Aredhel found that her brother was relieved, she knew that she had spoken well. Perhaps it was chance, then, or perhaps it was fate, but the great white Dolphin jumped higher, much to the Eldar's delight.

On the morrow, she found yet another emotion to battle with. Anticipation and trepidation filled her when at last she heard the call...

"Earth."

Chapter Text

"Darkness is at hand," the voice said. Feanor blinked and his mouth set to a stubborn frown. Caranthir himself eyed the Vala warily – was it not as Father had said? Had they not betrayed the Elda, in some way?

"Darkness has been at hand since the Years of the Trees," Feanor replies with fire. "What difference does it make today, that it has not made before?"

It took only a moment for the six sons of Feanor to gather behind their father, as they had once did in the days of old – in the face of his voice, even Maitimo who had been critical at times stood by him. It felt incomplete, though – to not see him. Makalaure. The brother whose heart was soft and whose song was magic. The thought was fleeting in Caranthir's mind as he gathered with his brother, between Pityo and Curufin.

Alone, again. It crossed Caranthir's mind that Maitimo must have felt the same way.

"Perhaps," the Vala replied neutrally to Feanor's arrogance. "And yet you are here, and no longer confined to your own minds. The Valar offer you – all of you – a chance to redeem your actions. Will you take it?"

In succinct and efficient words, Mandos explained the happenings – how the lights of the world had gone out, and how the Eldar had set forth once more, to reunite an army of the people of earth. Details were left out, but he told them that ambassadors had gone, that there was hope, but very little, and that the fate of the world was in the balance, as Morgoth had arisen once more.

He wanted Feanor's craft and his sons' strength. The Valar looked to him, to reveal the essence of the Silmarils, to bring light to the world once more. It was foolish, perhaps – but the Vala seemed earnest in his request.

There was a moment of stupor. Eons of madness do not go erased in one flash of light.

The answer came with virulent anger.

"No," Feanor said, and he may not have thought it through, Caranthir thought. Though he did not move, he felt the urge to rub his face. "And neither will my sons," the smith added.

Silence again befell the Halls of Mandos. This time, it lasted longer than expected. It was Maitimo who broke it.

"I will speak for myself, father," he said quietly. "As I have for longer than you have for me." And stepping forward, he said, quietly, "I would take this offer, Lord, and graciously."

Feanor's eyes widened and he stepped forward, looking as if he might slap his first born, but Mandos raised his own hand and the fiery elf held his peace begrudgingly – though he was shaking.

Caranthir could feel Celegorm's gaze on him over Curufin's head. He returned it. The expression on his brother's face was as transparent as it had ever been – for all his madness, there was no duplicity in this one (any betrayal of his was unplanned, or planned by others, Caranthir had realized). Celegorm's face was twitching – his lips were twisted in an unhappy expression.

He is torn, Caranthir realized. But he wants to stand with Maitimo. Of course he does.

And it hit him.

So do I.

So Caranthir stepped up – as he felt he should have so long ago, and said, after one long breath, "We were robbed of our lives once, by sheer madness," he told his father – his tone was not as respectful as Maitimo's, but Caranthir was never one to be considered well-mannered. "I will not be robbed of this chance this time, Father."

Mostly, he was doing this for others. For Telvo whom he'd missed so. For Maitimo who had spoken first. For Pytio whom he wanted to protect. For Turco whose secrets he knew. Even for Kurvo, whom he hoped might soften some.

Most of all, he wanted to find Makalaure again.

It was Telvo who stepped up next, Pityo clinging to him still, and they said with one voice that they would no longer be separated, and would follow their brothers' way.

Only Celegorm and Curufin were left, and Feanor who stared at his rebelling sons with simmering, burning eyes.

Mandos' voice echoed his halls once more.

"Will that be all of those of the House of Feanor who will join me, then?"

Celegorm looked at his father. At Curufin. Their disapproval was making him wilt visibly, and it was more than Caranthir could bear. He had faulted once – would he do so again?

No. Not this time.

"Brothers, father," he said, and his voice was full of shaking anger. "Will you let pride bereave you of your lives? Father, Mother certainly awaits you in Valinor – will you not find her again? Curufin, will you not find your wife, who bore you a son? Will you not find Tyelpe again?" But he spoke and looked at Celegorm, and the words were for him, will you not go and seek Aredhel once more, and find her, perhaps? Would you not have her bear you a son?

He looked at them three. Feanor's pride welled up some more, "Your arrogance and disobedience disappoint me, Moryofinwe," he uttered with a voice so full of shaking dismissal, that Caranthir thougth with satisfaction that he had hit a nerve.

Celegorm, however, had not been dim to his brother's secret injunctions. He opened his mouth to speak, but it was Maitimo who took over.

"Father, will you not come with us, and ride with your sons once more? Have you not dedicated your life to fighting darkness, and is this not what we are sought out for once more?"

Or was it for your own pride, Father? The accusation was heavy in Maitimo's voice. Feanor's eyes looked like they might pop out of his head. Caranthir was quietly cheering his eldest brother on and secretly enjoying every moment of it.

"Your insolence," Feanor begun... and stopped. "Tyelkormo, come back here," he ordered Celegorm, who had discreetly left Curufin's side and stepped in line with his brothers during the argument.

"No." It wasn't a very convincing no, but there it was, in Celegorm's mouth, for the first time.

"--- Stop your shenanigans, Turco," Curufinwe called out harshly.

Again, the same answer. "No."

Caranthir came closer to Celegorm and slipped a hand between his shoulder blades – as if to infuse him with courage he didn't know he had himself. Facing off with their father, even collectively, was terrifying.

"Is that all you can say? Come back here, all of you, traitors! I will curse you thrice and disown you."

"No," again, this time coming from Telvo. "I won't die by fire again, Father." He paused, eyes wide and a bit wet. "Don't you love your sons?"

That cut short Feanor's anger. For a moment, his jaw sagged open before he closed it by sheer strength of will. "Of course I love my sons. I died for my sons," he replied with hurt pride.

"You died for your Silmarils," Caranthir yelled out harshly, angry, with all the resentment and hatred of all passed millenia. "You never loved us, you used us!"

The slap came too fast. Perhaps Mandos allowed it this time. Caranthir's head snapped to the side with a painful crack and his face bore a stinging imprint for a few minutes. "Never. Say that. Again," Feanor said, or rather, hissed, in his son's face. "I love you. Your ingratitude irritates me."

"Funny way you have of showing it, Father," Caranthir went on, not caring anymore. What's a slap when you've been run through by a Sindarin blade, over and over, in your dreams? He laughed, low in his throat, darkly, derisively. Some fatherly love indeed.

That finally shut up Feanor. He frowned, looked at Mandos, and without looking at his rebelling sons, turned to the only one that had always stood by him.

"Come, Curufinwe. Let's show these Valar what the House of Feanor can do."

Thus Feanaro Curufinwe, son of Finwe, creator of the Silmarils and of the Tengwar script, and his sons, Maitimo One-Handed, Celegorm the Fair, the Crafty Curufin, Caranthir the Dark and the hunters known as Ambarussa escaped Mandos and returned to the world of the living.

Chapter Text

They had always lived in burrows – perhaps, Finrod mused to himself, that was what had saved them. The way to the New Shire was long and dark – night or day, the distinction no longer mattered, though it seemed to the elf lord that the patterns of the stars changed.

They were pausing on the road, when Baldaroc Brandibuck wandered over and sat by Finrod. For a moment, both were silent.

“The humans call her Ursa Major,” he said, pointing to a particular set of stars. “Or the Big Dipper. I'd prefer the latter. Imagine how much soup you could make with a stellar dipper...”

Finrod smiled wanly. The legendary halfling obsession with food was no longer about comfort – it was about survival. He could see it in the hobbit's lean cheeks, in the way he seemed, even in the manner in which his rations were counted and spared.

“We could not see it when the sun shone over Valinor,” Finrod said thoughtfully. “It must be night.”

The hobbit nodded just once, pulled out his pipe. “I'm almost out of pipeweed,” he said tiredly. “Nothing is perfect in this world.” And then, snorting, he laughed derisively. “That's the understatement of the decade.”

“The Naugrim will have some,” Finrod offered, but a staying hand from the mature hobbit told him not to bother.

“I've been thinking,” Baldaroc said. “About what is happening – what is going on in the world. We should not stay hidden in our burrows, Finrod Felagund, friend of the dwarves and of men.”

Finrod nodded, looked up at the starry sky once more. “You are offering to join the fight,” he said slowly – and it wasn't a question.

“I want to speak to them,” the hobbit replied. “My forefather fought before me, and bravely. His fame is legendary – why should I live in any lesser way?”

Finrod nodded, and sighed. “Do as you wish,” he told the hobbit - “do as you see fit. If your folk join in the battle, the house of Finwe will owe all Periannath a boon of blood.”

It took Baldaroc a moment to measure the weight of Felagund's promise. Then he nodded. “Best see of those dwarves have some pipeweed,” he said finally.

 

* * *


Another long series of walks and stays took the company of dwarfs, elves and hobbits to the edge of a river. Dandellion Gamgee did not seem pleased with the situation – as he had not been for the past fortnight, or perhaps his whole life.

“They're too loud,” he was telling Baldaroc, out of human earshot, but not elven. “The elves might make it, but not the Naugrim. We'll never get them past the gates undetected.”

Finrod was quiet – he was not exactly listening, but he could not ignore the conversation either. It was Legolas who asked the question that was forming naturally in his mind. “Undetected by who?”

“By the Snouts, what do you expect?” Gamgee groaned in utter annoyance. His voice was a loud and angry squeak. The whole camp fell to silence.

And here, Gimli's eyes lit up – he came closer to the hobbits, barely towering over them. His voice was a happy, excited, slightly manic rumble. “Snouts, you say? What are they?” and then laughed, and laughed again. The dwarf had clearly missed the screaming sounds of battle and the release of enemy blood, whatever it was.

Gamgee did not seem amused at all. “They came lately – started making camp in the city. All the men were dead, and they took it up, made it theirs. They eat hobbits when they catch them. Women, children, even the elderly.”

Legolas wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Lovely,” he groaned. His hand moved along his bow, as if stroking a lover's skin.

Gimli grinned. “I suppose they wouldn't find my hide very tasty,” he volunteered. “And we are not a small number. We will kill them and make our way,” he roared. Behind him, the last of Aule's children clamoured in excitement.

Finrod, in the meantime, rubbed his face. Whatever the Snouts were, he didn't want to lose his already dwindling number. “Is there a way to find your folk, and our companion, without them knowing of us?” His question was calm – he was trying not to sound tired.

The hobbits looked at each other, and Gamgee broke their silent consultation before his time. “We use the sewers,” he said bluntly. “Will his lordship kindly accompany us?” He was almost sneering at Finrod.

“Yes,” he replied, and Legolas, over Gimli's visible eagerness, added, “And I will go too.” He might not have trusted the angry hobbit entirely.

“And I will go too,” Gimli growled, and contradiction, in that instance, didn't seem to be welcome, to say the least.

 

* * *


“This place stinks,” Gimli groaned as he and his party – two elves and a rag tag band of hobbits – preceded him in the murky, damp and malodorous tunnel.

“You insisted,” Dandellion Gamgee groaned back. “So shut up and keep walking.”

There was an audible grumble that made Legolas smirk. For a time, there was nothing but darkness and the occasional drop of unidentified, dubious fluid falling from the ceiling in a quiet splash. Things were floating in the tunnel – wide enough for Gimli to walk, high enough that the elves could almost stand straight, but not quite.

Baldaroc Brandibuck had explained that this particular tunnel had not been, to his knowledge, noticed by the Snouts as of yet, just as it had been kept out of human attention for as long as he could remember.

Nonetheless, the darkness and the stench were not reassuring – just as the floating arm (was it human or halfling? Hard to tell, decomposed as it was) forbade few good things. Left behind, Thorin Oakenshield and the dwarven host had required quite a bit of convincing. They were all itching for battle, and it was easy to expect that one would be forthcoming.

It had been best to leave the host behind and keep the party as scarce as necessary, Finrod mused. They still had a long way to go to meet with the elven host, and those who had gone to find the humans. He hoped – prayed – that Turukano and Elrond would find them, just as he prayed that his siblings and cousins who had remained in Valinor had sailed safely to the island where all would congregate.

Splashing sounds, muted, quiet, kept hammering the rhythm of their wandering into the Periannath's tunnels. It would have been soothing, were it not for the bleakness of their surroundings.

Over Finrod's head, a hiss slithered, from the ceiling down to his ear. He looked up and found himself staring into incandescent red eyes that screamed of loathing and hunger. He did not hear Legolas arming his arrow as he unsheathed his sword, nor did he have time to strike.