the first part is excerpts from the journal of Helin, sister to Edrahil, who visits Tol Galen when Dior is a small child.
1. Bubble. by hennethgalad
My eyes were the colour of violets by the light of the Trees, in Aman where I was raised. Alas, but this wretched sunlight leaves them grey as clouds, and those few who have studied Quenya wonder why I am named Helin.
We crossed the Helcaraxë in the following of Finrod; my brother Edrahil, whose name will be known to all, was devoted to his Lord, and though my parents returned to Aman with Finarfin, my brother and I followed Finrod Felagund, and my beloved husband, who perished in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, came with us. I cannot yet speak of him, his passing burns my heart with wrath, but my mind is frozen, still as ice, as though the memory of Helcaraxë had become a force strong enough to return me to the black cold of that endless night.
The loss of my love being beyond my skill to heal, I have turned my mind back to the death of dear Edrahil, and I would know more of his mood in his final hours, and hear the tale of his passing from Lord Beren, the only one who lives to tell it. I am resolved, therefore, to journey hence from Nargothrond, where warmth and light, laughter and song have turned to cold whispers in dark shadows. I shall cross Beleriand and into the little known country of the Lindar, and visit Tol Galen, and plead my case, if I am permitted, to Lord Beren himself. I freely admit that I feel great curiosity, for I was absent from Nargothrond, away in Eglarest with my husband, and the quest had set forth before we could return. Alas for Edrahil, that I could not bid him even farewell !
The beauty of Tol Galen is beyond the wit of a mere healer to describe; here languid willows trail green fingers in the smooth river, while there the sharp cliff prow juts into the swift water foaming over tumbled boulders, gnawed from the living rock by the relentless teeth of the river. The forest is filled with song, for the Lindar come here to heal their spirits when they have been wounded, it is an ancient sanctuary, and the paths among the talans are older than Menegroth itself. Here the Music seems closer to that of the Valar than in all other places, though it may be that in the dark horror of Angband, the black scream is a true note.
It is a struggle to restrain my hand from filling pages with the word 'alas'.
The beauty of Lúthien is as has been sung, and her kindness to me so warms my heart that my frozen spirit begins to ease, though not as yet to thaw. But more than her beauty or her kindness, the warmth of her love for the Mortal Beren, the joy in her heart and in her radiant song, fills all the air of Tol Galen with a sparkle, like dew in the brightness of dawn.
Alas, poor Beren. Though young yet, in the reckoning of his kind, his face is marked by pain and suffering, and the scars of battle. His eyes are shadowed, from without by the anguish of his flesh, and from within by the torment of his spirit in the pit of a very different Isle. Yet still, his beauty is there, the perfection of feature of the finest of the Eldar, but with the terrible intensity of the Quick, the vivid, intoxicating urgency of the Mortal. Moreover, there is that in his colouring, the thick dark lashes and the deep red lips, that catches the eye and holds it. We hang on his words, to watch him speak, though he merely remark on the weather.
Time has passed, in the healing of Tol Galen, and as the creatures return to the water when the wolf has drunk and departed, so my thoughts return to me, and like the emboldened blackbird, I begin to sing again. The terrible story of Tol-in-Gaurhoth is known to all, and I at least feel pride that my brother remained true to the end, though I can conceive no end to my grief.
A scholar called on me, and invited me to meet those born in Beleriand, who would hear tales of Aman from one who knew it. I felt as one in water who knows not how to swim, nor yet of the depths below me, and indeed their questions showed such wit and insight that I felt my very memories shift within me, seeing them through the strange eyes of Lindar and Sindar, and wondering indeed how we ever came to leave such bliss. But it was a delight to me, in my grief, to recall the time of youth, of games with my brother, of his skill as a scout, of his laughter as his disturbingly bad singing voice was heard destroying another tune. We had no understanding of what disturbing and destroying meant, in those innocent times. Alas, for the time before Morgoth came among us, with his 'weapons'. Alas for the Noldor, and for all who live beneath the shadow.
I was invited to attend the Lady Lúthien, where she dined in a glade, through which a clear stream bubbled over small stones, and fallen trees thick with moss slumbered among the ferns. The child Dior was there, four years of the sun, it was the first I had seen of him, and I was fascinated to meet this first fruit of the mingling of Eldar and Edain. He was pale to transparency, every blue vein visible in the delicate-seeming skin, his eyes were those of his mother, but his mouth the same deep red as his father, and his brow was his own, though it may be that in this he resembled Melian the Maia, who departed Beleriand ere I saw her.
I have known no Mortal children, so to me, Dior was an Eldar, and I addressed him thus. He was charming, bright, and keenly interested in Valinor. He wished to know what we lacked in Beleriand that could recreate the bliss of Valinor. I told him of the vivid, delicate flowers and the strange wild creatures, large cats as the lion and leopard, and the hornèd giants with noses longer than their tails, who uproot trees that stand in their path. It was amusing to see his disbelief, to see one so young doubting my word, and already weighing the truth in the eyes of others. I warmed to him, this lost misfit, pining for the forbidden lands of the West, and for a time that will never return. So I told him of the balmy heat of Valinor, and the thoughts of the wise, that such creatures may yet live on in the lands to the South of Beleriand, though as all know, none of the expeditions to the South have ever returned. He stood up then, clenching his little fists, looking like his father must have done when he stood before Thingol. I struggled to hold my face still, as the eyes of Lúthien sparkled, while Dior solemnly vowed to travel to the South to find these creatures and bring them to Tol Galen.
Today I was honoured beyond expectation by a visit from Lúthien herself, with Dior hanging back slightly at her side. She accepted a glass of apple juice and sat at ease on a branch so old it had worn smooth with use, though the oak was hale. Dior, sipping his own drink, watched me with his large eyes wide and intent.
Lúthien smiled at him, though he did not see it, then turned to me with a smile.
"Your tales have enthralled my son. He can speak of nothing but big cats. He has been studying the wildcats of the forest, and asking if we could feed them lembas to make them grow bigger." she laughed again, and I joined her, though Dior merely pressed his lips together, in an older expression than usual for one of his age. But then, he is the most unusual ever born. Though Lúthien herself, I suppose, was also born; but it is hard to see her as one of the living at all, she seems a spirit of beauty, as Uinen is a spirit of rivers, to whom the Lindar sing as they cross. She spoke again, and like all who meet her, I was absorbed by the beauty of her face and the melody of her voice, and it was a moment before the import of her words made their mark on my mind.
"We would have you tutor our son, in whatever you know, I can offer no instruction to you since your world is as strange to me as to my son. But you are a healer, and wiser than most, and more than all, my son has taken to you, and will heed your words. We ourselves have taken to you for your own sake, and would have done so even if our debt to your family was not beyond all payment. The faithfulness of Finrod, and the faithfulness of Edrahil who followed him, shall be a matter of song in our House until the darkness engulf us all."
I was able to hold the tears from spilling until she and Dior had withdrawn, but when I wept, it seemed for the first time since the terrible news of the Nirnaeth came, that my tears were not endless, that the pain of grief would, in the unknown future, diminish, and that even I might laugh for joy again.
The Lord Beren himself called upon me today, bearing two finely wrapped packages, one he smilingly presented to me.
"A gift of welcome." he said.
It was a dagger, of the light, silvery metal that we call Mithril, though the Dwarves who fashion such stuffs doubtless use another name for it. The dagger, which seems so delicate, sitting lightly in the hand, is stronger than can be believed, and Beren showed forth the sharpness of the blade by plunging it effortlessly into the trunk of the oak. Set in the pommel is a great green beryl, while the hilt is graved with the vines which garland the forest of the Green Isle. I thanked him warmly, but his joy seemed excessive for the simple act of bestowing a gift of welcome upon a stranger. And on the table lay the still wrapped package. Finally he answered the question in my eyes.
"It is the begetting day of my son." He said simply, but his shining eyes glowed with tears amidst his joy, and I perforce gritted my teeth, and tried not to resent the happiness that had cost the life of my dear brother, and the beloved Felagund. I could see that Beren understood my grief, for he nodded slowly.
"Never doubt that I bitterly regret the passing of Finrod, your brother and our companions. Had it been within my power, I would have released him, and stayed to face the Enemy alone, for like all who knew Finrod, I came to love him. But you people..."
His fist cleched, his maimed arm was behind his back, for his pride could not endure pity, but his teeth were as clenched as mine, and in his eyes a cold wrath that chilled even a heart so frozen as mine. He swallowed and continued "Sometimes I feel that Men are as children beside the Eldar, whom time has granted the occasion to gather knowledge of the world that Men can never know. But at other times, the Eldar seem foolish and frivolous to me, spending years painting a flower, as it might be, or composing a song about a butterfly. And yet, when I see the painting, or hear the song, I am deeply thankful that someone has taken the time to really see the flower, or to feel the movement of the butterfly, and I bitterly envy you the lifespan that permits such close study of the life of the earth. " He sighed then, and looked deeply into my eyes. "How can I ever be forgiven for dragging Lúthien into the darkness with me ?"
I did not know how to answer him. A thousand thoughts like fireworks in my mind, told me to shake him, screaming at him with the anger and dismay of all those who mourned because Beren had chanced on Lúthien among the hemlock flowers. But Finrod, like so many more, was perished, and Lúthien had gone willingly into the dark, into many kinds of darkness, for the sake of this anxious Mortal, and I looked at him as though for the first time, and smiled. His shoulders seemed to loosen slightly, and the lines of fear and anger smoothed a little from his brow.
"My Lord, your fate has been entwined with the Eldar since Finrod found Bëor in the forest of Ossiriand. As the music is fate to the Eldar, it seems to those who have considered such matters, that all who know us must also be subject to that fate. We hold you blameless, and indeed, those who came with Lúthien from the House of her father, have come to love you for the great joy you have brought her, which they say has made her more beautiful than ever."
I thought of the customs of the Mortals in Beleriand and put forth a hand and laid it upon his arm "You have given Dior to the Elves, and though I think it has not yet been spoken of, it seems that all who know him, or even of him, feel that he holds within himself some promise of future greatness, whether by his own hand or thought, or in his legacy to the world. Even his existence... The blending of the blood of Eldar and Edain ! It is a wonder to all ! I freely admit that I was longing to meet such a one, to see what the labour of Lúthien had brought forth.
Truly, my Lord, none, not Finrod himself, would begrudge you your happiness. Indeed, if Finrod could have imagined the triumph of his venture, he would be filled with great joy. There are many thousands dead, who would have faced the Enemy whether you had lived or no. You have heard tell of the words of the Doom, you know your part in this tale is as small as any of the rest of us, and thus any blame you feel to be yours is also small. You must show mercy to yourself."
He sighed then, and nodded. "I am glad that you came here, Helin, I am honoured that you accepted the role of tutor to my son, and, though it pain me, I am moved to hear such words from the sister of the valiant Edrahil."
But at this, his feelings overcame him, he turned away, his hand pressed over his eyes. I took in a deep breath, then found the miruvor and poured a measure for each of us. He took the little gold cup in his one hand, wiping the few tears from his eyes with the back of his maimed wrist, and for a moment I saw him as Lúthien must have done; wild with hard living, forgetful of civilized manners, as innocent as the wolf.
After a time Beren smiled at me, and as though he were nearby, but across a fathomless abyss, I thought that I could even become friends with this strange but beautiful creature, and I smiled warmly back.
"Will you come with me now, to where my wife and child are at play ? I would have you there when I present this to him." He gestured at the package, and a new coldness reached my heart, for the dagger lay beside the package, and its shape was of a similar kind, and I guessed, rightly, that a small sword was within, and the fear and doubt of Beren Erchamion became clear to me. It was the wrath of his own wife that he feared, for this gift was not such as could ever be given to so young a child of the Eldar. This was a gift for a Mortal, for whom early death was certain, and only the manner of that passing could be determined by the individual.
"The land is at war, Helin, he must learn to defend his people." He paused, and the closing of the hands of love and fear about the sinews of his throat rendered his deep voice hoarse and strange "He must learn to defend himself."
I have known few Mortals, but as all know, they make a great disturbance when they move, their feet heavy on the ground, their breath noisy in the air, and even at rest, their swift hearts and radiant warmth reveal them easily to the subtle senses of the Elves. But Beren moved with soundless stealth, his heartbeat slow and steady, his breathing shallow and silent. Treading lightly on his toes he crept through the orchard above the bathing pool, where we paused for a moment, looking down the sandy slope of the cliff to where Lúthien encouraged Dior to lift his feet and swim. His trusting eyes fixed upon her, he finally leaned forwards, his little hands pointed together, and sank, kicking and flailing, into the clear shallow water.
Lúthien laughed "Oh my poor Bubble !" she cried, as he stood again, shaking the water from his eyes and clenching his teeth. I thought of Beren, clenching his own teeth just so, and realized that my own teeth were also clenched, behind my smile, and I forced myself to loosen my tense muscles. Beside me, I sensed that Beren also felt eased by the sight of his lovely family. I looked down at the child, who had again sunk, splashing, into the sparkling waters. I wondered briefly why she called him Bubble, then thought of how he must have looked as a baby, round and clear, as though a strange creature brought to the surface by the disappointed divers, who without fail would cry "But it was so beautiful under the water !" Sometimes it seemed that only bubbles could emerge from the depth and retain their form and beauty. Oh Eglarest ! Oh my lost love ! Oh my tears !
But we watched while the determined child fought the water and his own small sinews, until his mother began to sing. Then all grief, all pain, all fear for a moment left me, and the tears flowed unseen down my cheeks, as Lúthien, sweetest of nightingales, filled the clearing with a beauty that seemed to recall the Light of the Trees, and I heard, perhaps, an echo then of the voice of Melian her mother, most beloved of all the singers of Valinor.
Lúthien sang of the river, of the rain on the mountain, of the gathering of streams, and the parting of the waters at the prow of the island. My mind seemed to wander in a vision of the depths of time, the island was the real and solid place of Tol Galen, but also the real and solid moment in time in which we find ourselves, and the waters of each gathered moment flow past us in endless stream, unstoppable. My whole being seemed to dissolve into the place and time in which I was embedded, every part of me an open window, and the waters of time flowed through me, and my heart, with all its grief, melted into the song.
I looked up, the leaves were bright and clear in the sunlight, the sky a delicate blue, the gentle air was sweetened by the flowers, the green smell and the depths of the fallen leaves at our feet. It was as close to Valinor as I have ever felt, from the song of Lúthien who never was there, nor ever shall be. Tears filled my eyes again, that her voice should be lost to the Elves, to the Valar, to her mother...
I wept also for her son, still unaware of the riches that surrounded him, seeking Valinor in the forms of big cats, when all the time his own mother filled his life with such love and enchantment. I turned to Beren to try to share my thought with him, but he was gaping, and raising a hand to point. I looked down, to where Dior, on a sudden, had gained control of his limbs, and paddled towards his mother, his little teeth white in his delighted grin. He lifted his chin with pride, saw us at the top of the low cliff, and raised a hand to point. This upset his new-found balance in the water, however, and he sank in a flurry of splashing limbs. Lúthien laughed and moved towards him through the water, but he was already standing, shaking his hair back and holding up his hand.
"No, mother, please let me, I know I can do it !"
Beren was already moving, I followed him down the little path, we brushed our way through the ferns and came out onto the narrow sandy beach sloping down into the still water in the lee of Tol Galen, where two crooked arms of harder rock enclosed the crumbling sand that spread out across the river bed like slow-falling rain. The bathing pool was dear to all, and on feast days crowded with richly-clad Elves arrayed with many garlands, until the vale seemed as a bowl filled with bright flowers. It was quiet today, but for Dior earnestly splashing through the water.
"Look father ! Look at me ! I am swimming !"
But Beren did not pause on the shore as I did, but stepped into the river and strode towards his son, whom he scooped out of the water and gripped close to his chest for a moment. Then he held Dior away from himself and father and son exchanged a smile of triumph and pride.
"I did it father ! I swam ! You did see me, did you not ?"
Beren kissed his son briskly on the forehead "I saw you, we were watching from the orchard. You did very well, and I am very proud of you. I could not wish for a better son."
Dior twisted slightly in his arms, overcome by emotions that he could not express, then, walking his dangling feet up the soaked clothes of his father, he finally looked him in the eyes and said hoarsely "Thank you father."
The Lindar, like the Ents, sing each other's names, and Lúthien had made a name for Beren thus, which she now sang to him as she approached him. He put out an arm and folded her to him, and she kissed her son, her eyes brighter than the stars of Varda, and for an instant I thought of the Song of Eru Ilùvatar, and it was if a true note had been struck, unmarred by aught that the Enemy could wreak. But the arm that held Lúthien was maimed, the hand severed at the wrist, and even in that depth of love and joy, the shadow was around us, though we banish it from the moment.
But the restlessness of the child moved Dior to turn his head and arm around, and he saw me, and smiled delightedly
"Helin ! Did you see me ? I swam ! I can swim now ! And mother gave me a flute and soon I can play while you sing ! Will it not be splendid ?"
"I wish you joy on your begetting day, but you shall have to wait until my books arrive from Nargothrond ere I offer you the gift that I have chosen. But your gift to all of us has far surpassed any offering we could make to you. The skill of swimming may save your life in this land of rivers, and we are so proud and relieved that you have accomplished this feat so young. I myself was twice your age before I could swim."
At this he looked at me doubtfully, as though I spoke in jest, but when he knew that I was in earnest, a look of dismay crossed his still-rounded cheeks.
"You ? But how can this be, you are better at everything !"
I smiled sadly "There is no one who is better at everything, I can scarcely hold a harp, much less play it. But I know the flute as if it were another limb of mine. We are all different, Dior, each one of us with different skills and talents, and it is only together, the flautist and the harpist, working in harmony, that we can create the music that sustains us."
His brows furrowed, and I knew that my serious words were too much for his excited mind to fathom. He struggled in the arms of his father, and Beren released him to run splashing back into the water, crying joyfully
"I can swim ! I can swim !" and I watched his small arms and legs struggle through the water, glad to have something to watch other than the kiss of open love that his parents shared close by.
I was smiling at the back of Dior's head when he suddenly stopped, and stood up in the water, which yet reached only his chest, and turned to his father, who sighing released Lúthien and turned to his son.
"Is the flute from you also, father ? I have forgotten to thank you."
Beren smiled "No, the flute is from your mother, you must come ashore and dry your hands to see my gift. Why not swim to me, you will move more swiftly thus."
To my immense pride, the child turned his questioning eyes to me, and I nodded. As he swam carefully to his father I thought with dismay of the truly wise, among whose number I would never presume to count myself. But children always believe that those dear to them are as infallible as the Valar, just as they believe themselves to be invincible. I wondered if it were possible to warn him without breaking his heart. I must give this some thought.
Lúthien wrapped the child in a warm robe, and dried his hands, then lifted each little foot and dried it, while he clutched her hair gently in his fist. I wished I was an artist, to capture the tender care of the beautiful Lúthien for the little pale scrap of life she nurtured, the strange creature Dior, neither Elf, nor Man nor Maia, but a subtle blend of all three kindreds, whose beauty was all his own. Finally, with a smile at me, she stood up, put her hands on the shoulders of her son and turned to Beren. But some doubt in my face had caught her attention. She turned swiftly back to me for a moment, as though to confirm what she had seen, then faced Beren, who looked calmly into her eyes, then leaned forwards in a kind of bow, and presented the package to his son.
"I wish you joy on your begetting day, Dior Eluchíl, you are the son of a Mortal, but you are also the grandson of Elu Thingol, greatest and wisest of the kings of Middle-Earth, and on you is laid a heavy burden. I offer you this, in token of my pride in you, my joy in you, and my love for you. Use it as carefully as you would the flute."
Dior looked solemn, as the solemn words weighed upon his thoughts; at such times the Elf in him seems to drown out all else. Then he smiled, standing up as straight as he could, his little belly bulging in the thick robe. The ribbons of the package seemed to dissolve in his hand, slithering onto the sand while he threw back the embroidered green cloth that wrapped the sword.
It was surprisingly plain, the sword; I had expected bright gems, and gold, but here was a small, finely crafted sword, plain but for the flowing letters engraved on the leaf-shaped blade. Dior drew it forth from its scabbard, making light of the weight, and I knew then that this blade also was fashioned, at least in part, of Mithril, for a sword of steel, even such a small one, would be beyond the strength of so young to wield. Dior raised the sword above his head, pride and triumph in his eyes, but I, who had witnessed the Oath-taking in Tirion, was filled with horror at what the future held, though no glimpse of foresight has ever been granted me. I found the eyes of Lúthien upon mine, and I understood a little more what she feared, and why I was there, and the real lesson I had been asked to teach.
I thought of Nerdanel the Wise, whose counsel had been ignored by her husband and all seven of her once-fine sons, and for a moment the blackness of despair took me. I looked at Lúthien as though the moment was already upon us for that final parting which will outlast the world, and I could see that the shadow had already been perceived by the Elf in her, and for the first time I knew that she was, after all, an Eldar, as we all were, but that the power of her Maia mother was as to her a sword, or a flute, no more use to one who did not have the skill to wield it than a stick or a reed would be. And though the Elf was the child of the mighty Thingol, yet she had spent herself in labours of horror beyond the imagining of all, and the Elf in her, now weakened, was filling slowly with fear, as the land filled with shadow.
I tried to smile at her, and then understood her thought.
"Dior !" I spoke to the child "Will you show me what you can do with your gift ?" I pointed up the cliff to where a newly fallen tree thrust fingers of broken branches through the ferns. "Let us test your blade on the dead wood."
"Yes, Dior, and bring back as many branches as you can carry, then we shall light a fire, and have a little feast in celebration." said Beren. Dior looked at Lúthien, who smiled encouragingly and nodded.
"A fire at the bathing pool ! Such fun ! I wish it was begetting day every single day !" cried the child, and darted away across the beach. I followed with a laugh, and did not turn, for I knew that the debate between his parents would not, could not, be settled, for the child was neither Eldar nor Edain, but something else altogether, his own person, his own kind, a stranger to all the Children of Eru, who must find his own path amid the myriad delights and dangers of the world.
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