"Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be an exile in your homeland, in your own house, in your room." ~Mahmoud Darwish
The golden haired children of Finarfin sat by golden lanterns at the gold table in the honeysuckle garden, but the darkness lay over them like a cloak.
'It would be exile.' said Finrod, after a long silence. None of them turned to look at him. Their untasted food was ignored, they scarcely sipped at their wine. Angrod sighed. After another long, dead silence Aegnor gestured sharply at the decaying garden and almost wailed
'But the stench !'
Finrod looked at Galadriel, who buried her face in her goblet. Since the death of the Trees, the sweet air of Valinor had become fouled, as the dying plants rotted in the cold darkness. They all knew, from the talk of their elders, that the lives of the plants across the Great Sea were very different from those of the delicate and colourful flowers that had once spread their leaves in the Light.
Back there, untroubled by the return of a darkness which for them had never been lifted, life would be flourishing yet, and perhaps even those who had remained behind awaited still the return of their wandering kin.
Finrod sighed 'Amarië will not...' he broke off; it was pointless to restate their positions, they knew they would be leaving. The restlessness that Fëanor had inspired in all, no matter what personal opinion people had about him, had made them feel as though they had already departed, and that this was now merely a time of waiting with the luggage, while their father dealt with the details. The enclosed garden, once their favourite, where they had always met to discuss important things, was now a place of slime and rot; the falling of dead leaves often the only sound, for all the birds were silent now, the very nightingales were silent, moved by the same shock and fear which gripped even the Valar, or so it was said.
Fingolfin watched the exhausted members of his family take their seats around the brazier, still thickly wrapped, only their eyes showing, only their ice-whitened lashes moving. They stared into the flame, hands outstretched; the children of the Light craved the warmth with an uncomplaining longing which tore his heart. He poured the spiced cordial into a flagon, added honey, and filled the flagon with steaming water. They did not glance at him, but when the goblets were passed into thickly-gloved hands, and the scented steam released their frozen faces from the fast grip of the ice, they began to stir, and look at him. All save Turgon, though Finrod, at his side, put a hand on his shoulder and murmured in his ear. Turgon started, looking at the goblet as at an unfamiliar creature, then, after a brief sip, returning to his stare, frozen as the ice.
Though Fingolfin knew that he himself was not to blame for the loss of Elenwë and the many others, he yet was tormented by the fact that he was the leader of their pitiful expedition, and therefore responsible for all. He had to clench his fists to prevent himself leaping to his feet, gesticulating wildly and screaming his innocence and fury at their impotence and insignificance in the vastness of Arda, whose size had staggered his Valinor-bred mind. The cold empty ice, the cold empty sky, the desolate cries of the remote birds of the sea, which scarcely spared the long trudging column a glance, crushed his spirit; he wondered again why Eru had made them so small, so puny, so frail. Why he had made them at all... The memory struck him again, he put aside his goblet and covered his face with his hands, feeling the arm of Galadriel laid across his shoulders.
He had been exhausted already, first there had been trouble with the sleds; Orodreth was full of hesitant stammering enthusiasm for a new knot that his mountaineers had devised to grip the parts of a sled together with fewer joints. The knot would be self-tightening, and Fingolfin knew that once he would have loved to hear the tale Orodreth was attempting to pour out, once he would have understood swiftly enough to aid Orodreth when he stumbled over a word, and soothed him with patience and wine until he had shared his delight. But the long darkness, the deep cold, the horror of finding himself, who had neither foreseen nor desired nor imagined being expected to lead, at the head of this forsaken expedition, had deprived him of even his manners.
'Oh Orodreth, really, transport is your responsibility.' Orodreth had stepped back, a brief flicker of hurt in his eyes, then bowed in silence and stepped out into the darkness. Fingolfin had raised a hand but then shaken his head slightly and turned back to the meeting with a sigh. They met at the end of every march, the family and the Captains, to regroup and plan. Turgon rose to speak; charged with the oversight of their tents and pavilions, he also had good news, concerning wax and grease to seal more closely the seams of their fabric homes. Fingolfin looked around at the smiling faces and rebuked himself for his dark mood. They were strong, the children of the House of Finwë, and Aegnor even jested that Turgon should use his grease to loosen the tongue of poor Orodreth. But Finrod, as ever, defended his favourite brother
'Better to have something worth saying and struggle to say it than to speak eloquently of nothing.'
But Aegnor threw a glove at Finrod, and they laughed, drinking their mulled wine and nibbling at their meagre rations as though already sated after a long feast. But the endless howling hiss of the wind, and the shifting groans of the troubled ice gave way to the sharp noise of an ice crack, and the pavilion shook. The sound had been so loud that they rose to their feet, and Orodreth dashed inside
'Move ! Run ! Save yourselves ! ' he cried ' 'Ware ice !'
They hurried out behind him; as the groans of the ice deepened, the creaking crack stabbed across the ground towards them and they watched in horror, such cracks devoured the unwary as though beasts of Morgoth. The crack seemed to pause, then flicked away to the right, like a fallen blot of lightning seeking its path. They hovered, watching the crack as a deadly serpent, waiting to flee the strike. The crack flicked again, the ice shifted, the crack was on an instant at the feet of Fingolfin, who leaped aside. But as he drew his breath, a stillness fell. They waited in the rare silence, the many fingers of the cold wind had paused in their ceaseless quest for the warmth of flesh, and the distant cries of the birds of the open sea drifted faintly across the dark ice. Finrod gestured to him, and to the scarf still loose at his throat. Fingolfin nodded and smiled gratefully as he tucked the scarf back into his thick hood. They had made it their first rule, to watch over each other, for the cold had an insidious quality which dulled the senses and lulled the wit, and many a smiling corpse had been found, hoodless, hair frozen into icicles.
The first such corpse had been claimed by the grieving father, who had asked for wood for a pyre. Fingolfin had been forced to dicuss the practicalities with the appalled, bewildered Elf, who had finally agreed to ice burial. They had slowly poured icy water over the corpse until embedded in layers of ice, until buried by the slow grinding weight of falling snow.
In the stillness the ice dust sparkling in the glow of the tent lanterns was the only thing that moved, until they began to breathe steadily, and the mist to rise once more about their faces.
Fingolfin sighed, and drew breath to speak, but the ice beneath them shook, gently at first, but with growing vigour, until the sound began to reach them, echoing back from the hills of ice to the south which sheltered the main camp from the sea wind. They stood poised, hands out for balance, for the shifting ice had been seen to tilt in sheets and swallow whole the unwary. Turgon had already lost his close friend and Captain to a moment of inattention. None who had seen would forget the horror in the staring eyes of the captain as the shocking, stunning cold of the black water gripped his helpless limbs, nor his scream as the black streaming slab of ice, scattering icy water, cascades of snow and fragments of ice, had settled its fathom-thick weight back into the ocean, grinding finally into place on the plains of ice around it, betraying by neither sign nor trace that it ever had nor ever could, be anything other than an immutable grain of the endless vastness of the ice.
In the distance, along the face of the ice hills, the rumbling deepened, and a great wave of sound hammered across the plain; the ice shook, their teeth rattled, their bones seemed to tremble from the shaking, not of the ice beneath them, but from the terrible, spirit-shrivelling noise.
The sky was clear, the air colder than ever, and the stars of Varda were scattered across the sky like the diamonds in her train. The ice-cliffs above the main camp sparkled blue and grey at the top in the starlight, then deepened to black, before finally glowing again from the reflected lanterns of the camp. But the horrified eyes of the watching Elves saw a wonder and terror that seemed to crush their spirits utterly, for the whole face of the ice was in motion, at first scattering drifts of snow and ice, then beginning a slow vast slide to the east. The great shift broke the face of the cliff, it crumbled, each fragment larger than than the camp beneath. Turgon, as one waking from a nightmare to a tent on fire, cried with horror and darted towards the main camp, but Angrod leaped after him and siezed his arm. Turgon turned with a snarl, his eyes wild with fear and fury, his voice anguished
'My wife ! Elenwë is there !'
But Fingolfin shouted 'Turgon ! ' and Turgon was still. Fingolfin strode towards him and put an arm around the trembling Turgon, with the other hand he gestured to the staggering ice fall, and shouted against the still-rising assault of the staggering sound.
'Wait ! They will be fleeing, you could not give her feet wings, nor bear her more swiftly than she herself can run !' But Turgon turned wild eyes upon Fingolfin, whose heart cracked a little more, breaking in starts, like the treacherous ice beneath them.
Their eyes were fixed on the slow remorseless collapse of the cliff, the scale staggered their minds, even after life with the Valar, under the Trees. Despite being darkened by the Enemy, and despite the dying and the decay, Valinor seemed now homely and welcoming in the face of the great vast indifference of the forces of ice and water striving ever against each other in unimaginable conflict, while the insignificant Elves, less than flies on this battlefield, watched in frozen, wordless awe.
Each part of the long cliff moved in its own manner, here a mountain would vanish into a roiling, cascading cloud of snow, there a great slab would tilt up on end and slide into the unseen ocean black beneath the ice, then lumber back upwards, tipping over with monstrous waves spilling forth around it, or slide sidewards with a deepening of the dread howl of tormented ice. The lights of the camp were moving towards them, growing brighter as the frantic Elves fled the destruction, but dimmer here and there as the ice devoured the ill-fated. Turgon made a low despairing moan, Galadriel, ever watchful, stood on his other side and put her arm about his waist. He turned to her in anguish but she could only shake her head helplessly. They turned back to the icefall, the breaking segments of ice seemed to suggest purpose, but even the comfort of the thought that there was a guiding spirit ordering this destruction, a mind that could be placated if not reasoned with, even the hope of such thought was extinguished by the sensory barrage, the deafening roar, the great slabs of ice spilling and crumbling, the mountains falling and the mountainous seas rising.
Fingolfin felt uprooted like a tree in a storm, exiled and alone. For all his life he had merely advised, suggested, helped. Never had decisions rested in his hand alone, never had his opinion carried such dreadful weight; always before, even when he had seated a House of his own, there had been those whom he trusted, his parents and grandparents, Nerdanel the wise, and Olórin the maia, who could direct his course and check his folly. Now he was alone, no Vala would save them, no Maia come with aid and counsel, no Elf with comfort. Here, so far from home that Lindir the navigator had ceased to speak of leagues at all, he was confronted with disaster on a scale for which nothing, not the wildest legend of the old world, not even the grim blackness of the fall of the Trees, had prepared him. He was alone, in exile, on the empty ice under the indifferent stars, watching helplessly as his people were slain in their thousands, shivering with cold and with terror, the icy hands of the night seeping under his scarf, the icy hands of despair clutching at his heart.
The light grew dimmer. Screams began to emerge from the remorseless thunder of crushing ice, amid the roar came faint cries of farewell, or despairing voices uttering the name of a loved one, cut off by the tumultuous collapse of the very surface across which they ran. Faces became clearer, then recognizable, open to the cold air, breathing in screams, or running in clench-toothed silence, torches lashing back and forth as the wind of their desperate race buffeted the flames against the howling ocean of fury that blasted their backs. Turgon jerked in the arms of Fingolfin and Galadriel, desperate to fly into the storm in search of his beloved wife. They gripped his thick cloak and held him back, offering only the silent comfort of their presence, having, indeed, nothing more to give. The first survivor, a guard of Fingolfin, young, fit and steady, staggered to a stop before Fingolfin, tearing the scarf from his face and gasping desperately for breath. He held his hand to his side, his thin face blue around the eyes and lips; exhaustion and the dwindling rations had withered even the fairest of the youthful, and Fingolfin almost wept, wondering desperately what he could have done, other than turn back and leave them, when so many, even his own children, were determined to press on, to see the old world, to abandon home, family, the Valar, the Maiar, fair Tirion... A wave of agonized longing for home choked him for a moment, but Galadriel, a healer, as were all the children of Finarfin, held her silver flask before him. He pulled the scarf from his face and sipped the warming cordial, and smiled at his niece, who nodded and passed the flask to the guard. Others were slowing their flight as they reached the command post, some few still screaming, others shouting warnings or the names of the lost, some in grim silence, many weeping.
Turgon threw off the arms of Fingolfin and Galadriel in a desperate lunge, then ran among the survivors, searching their faces and calling her name with horror in his eyes. The survivors looked blankly at him, exhausted, stunned and overwhelmed; few could focus on his words, none could answer. But Fingolfin nodded to Finrod, who darted after Turgon, took his arm and led him back to the pavilion
'Patience, dear cousin, the feet of Elenwë are swift, await her within, for you are distressed and weak, and the cold is deadly to the unwary. '
He led Turgon to a seat, and knelt before him to remove his thick gloves, then rose, smoothing his own face anxiously, and poured him a goblet of the warm spiced wine. Turgon smiled weakly in gratitude, as Finrod crouched before him, searching his face.
'Turgon, will you remain here ? Please ? I must help the survivors, but I will send someone to watch with you, and you may be sure that when dear Elenwë reaches us, you will be informed at once.'
Turgon looked desperately at Finrod, longing for the reassurance that he knew Finrod could not give him. Finrod removed his own glove and gripped the hand of Turgon.
'Elenwë defied the will of Ingwë to be with you on this march. She would never permit mere snow to come between you.'
Turgon smiled more warmly, and Finrod nodded with a smile, then stood, laid a hand on the shoulder of Turgon and with a sigh thrust out of the pavilion into the face of the storm.
Fingolfin watched while the slow stars wheeled above them, and the roaring ice began finally to slow its tumult, and the lights, extinguished in the black darkness where once the camp had been, now clustered around the pavilion, and began to scatter among the long lines of tents of the soldiers of Turgon, as the survivors were given shelter. The noise of the destruction had seemed to last forever, though Lindir, clutching his precious copy of the Map of the Stars, the original of which had once guided the Vanyar to the sea and hung still above the throne of Ingwë himself, assured them that little more than an hour had passed. He gestured to the stars, now joined in brightness by the thin veil of sparkling ice-dust borne on the wind of the devastation, as though they could be read at a glance, like words.
The watching Elves fell silent, the impenetrable black of the scoured empty ice filled their eyes and froze their hearts. Fingolfin remembered the words of Doom, 'not even the echo of your lamentation...' He had never understood loneliness before, he now knew, though the many rebuffs he had had from his older brother had made him think that he had. But finally, in the terrible indifference of the Helcaraxë, which could feel neither pity nor remorse, he understood the desolation of exile, and was alone.
Galadriel moved first, taking a sip from her flask, and passing it to him. He looked hopelessly at her grave expression, but no trace of fear showed in the calm eyes of the daughter of Finarfin. Around them the others began to stir, as the shock of the devastation gave way to the needs of the living. But Fingolfin could not so recover, for his spirit was as scoured as the cliff face. The grief at the death of his father was raw within him. Exile from fair Tirion, exile from his wife, from all those who had remained, from kin and friend alike, had deepened the wound. This new disaster after the long cruel march; the loss of so many, the loss of Elenwë most of all, and the pain of his own son and granddaughter, stabbed his heart as the spears of the ice. His world had crumbled like the mountains, his heart within him had cracked like the ice, he was part of the ice, like the Elves lost beneath the reshaped hills of the ice. He was frozen.
But the hand of Fingon was on his shoulder, and he turned to his eldest child and gazed at him in silence for a time, though even his customary pride in his fine son seemed now an unheard echo of former joy. Fingon frowned slightly, and Fingolfin knew that in this nightmare, this catastrophe, this awful death of so many and this loss of so much, and of so much of their hope, that even yet, not only the eyes of his son would be turned to him for guidance, but that all who yet lived would look to him, not only for leadership, but for the strength of spirit they would all need to face the ice ahead. In his shock and exhaustion he seemed unable to believe that he could ever feel differently, or ever feel anything at all. He had no notion of where to find such strength, nor how to lift from his heart the icy blackness that had engulfed it as it had engulfed the lost camp. He sighed, remembering the words of Indis his mother, whose uncle Ingwë had first led the Vanyar to Valinor. She had smiled at his reluctance to greet a fellow child whom he disliked, and told him that Ingwë had always said that by the time the Vanyar had reached the coast, Ingwë disliked almost everyone, but that he had continued politely to solve their problems even as his heart had raged within him at the endless parade of squabbling and minor complaint.
Fingolfin sighed, this was no joyful passage to the warmth of the Light, this was a journey into darkness, with little hope, cursed by the mighty and forbidden by Ingwë himself. The blackness around him made him shrink inside, he wanted to cower, the deep and endless cold scoured away each flickering flame of warmth or hope within him, as he searched with gritted teeth for the strength to continue. His mind began slowly to clear, and he knew what must be done. In practical deeds would they find the distraction of purpose, and perhaps even salvage somewhat from the ruin of their world, and there was much that must be done, and done at once. But his darkened spirit weighed at his heart and he stood, still as the others, staring long into the blackness, waiting for hope.
Fingolfin finally spoke, his voice toneless with resignation
'Let us seek the injured.'
But Orodreth shook his head
'Sire, uncle, please do not consider approaching the broken ice, I urge you, and allow none to venture near. These falls... I have never seen one so large... these falls will flow like water, my lord, which collects in pools until it overflows. There may be more falls at any time. Those beneath the ice... They would perish before ever we came to them, risking precious lives for naught.'
Even in his anguish, the courtier in Fingolfin could not but smile at Orodreth, ever shy and quiet, whose wisdom and experience in the high cold places seemed to focus his mind, and grant him the wits to discuss his chosen field with a spirit he could bring to few other topics of conversation. His skill had saved many lives on the ice, and gratitude glowed like a dim candle in the darkness of the mind of Fingolfin, warming his spirit.
'Thank you Orodreth, I shall so order it. Do you think we shall be able to salvage anything at all from the wreck of the main camp ?'
Orodreth shook his head slowly and gestured at the now sharpened sweep of the vast cliff-face. 'My lord, the camp is gone, lost forever, crushed flat. Do not underestimate the scale of the destruction. That slope, that cliff, is many fathoms high, and it fell for a long time. There will be nothing to find but empty ice, and ice which may move again at any moment. '
After the last of the survivors had been found shelter, Fingolfin yet stood, Fingon at his side. They gazed at the now quiet darkness; it seemed to defy acceptance that the main camp should be gone, that the vast devastation should ever have assailed their senses. The featureless plain stretched before them, empty of light and life. Fingolfin sighed and turned away, but Fingon siezed his arm
'Wait !' he cried urgently. Fingolfin turned to his son in surprise, until his own eyes saw, at the edge of the light, a figure approach. A chill, of other kind to the cold, troubled his skin, but he gestured to a guard with a torch, who hurried to welcome the straggler. It could soon be seen that he bore another in his arms, whom he placed in the arms of the guard with a relieved smile. For a moment Fingolfin hoped still, but the wounded survivor was a dark haired male whom Fingolfin did not recognize. But the straggler was known to him, Glorfindel the athlete, friend to Turgon, and promising soldier in his charge. Fingolfin thanked him personally, and asked, though now without hope, if he had seen Elenwë.
'Alas, my lord, if you had... it was impossible... the noise... there was snow everywhere, like a terrible blizzard, armed with teeth and knives, that cut down the fleeing people like a barrage of missiles. The air was thick with snow and ice, falling in spears and shards of every size, impaling... crushing, it was... I...' Glorfindel swayed, but Fingon held him up, pulled out his own flask and held it to the lips of the fainting Elf. Glorfindel sipped the miruvor, then took a great mouthful and handed the flask back. Fingolfin could see the distracted eyes begin to focus, and smiled at Glorfindel
'You have our gratitude, Glorfindel, no other survivor carried an injured person to safety. When a time comes for ceremony, I shall ensure that your heroism is recognized by all. May I ask, before you take your well-deserved rest, whom you have rescued thus ? A close friend ?'
Glorfindel, astonished to hear his own name on the lips of the king, held up both hands and shook his head
'Sire, no, I beg you, for in truth, I have no notion who he is, I... it... I fell over him, I did not see him in the swirling snow and ice, he was stumbling along in front of me, and I ran into him... I... I fell onto him, but he did not rise. I could not awaken him from his swoon, so I carried him. My lord, it was not heroism, it was the least I could... I beg you not to... to draw attention to my clumsy...'
But Fingolfin smiled, and laid a kindly hand on the young soldier, feeling a liking for the deep blue eyes in the handsome face 'Take your rest, soldier, and go with the favour of Fingolfin, for I count your deed heroic, and so shall I remember you.'
Glorfindel turned to Fingon, whom he knew slightly, and Fingon smiled
'You are the only one to have carried another from the midst of that... that devastation. If that is all that anyone ever knows, it would still be impressive. We thank you, Glorfindel.'
Turgon was rigid, his hands gripped the arms of his chair and he stared into nothing, ignoring the healers busy around him. There were many injured, cut or battered by the flying ice. One thing was plain, none who had fallen had risen again, for below the barrage of splinters and shards, spreading in icy ripples, the cold ocean had come, welling up onto the ice in shock waves from the mighty slabs of ice crashing into the sea. Those who had fallen had been drenched, and their clothes had frozen solid, and they had fallen again, and risen no more, buried swiftly by the deadly blizzard.
Galadriel, who had worked with Turgon in her eyes and thoughts, looked up at Fingolfin as he entered the pavilion, but did not need to see him slowly shake his head, for his mood was graven in grim lines of grief on his face. He stood before Turgon, hesitant to finally crush his hopes, fighting off the horror of the loss of the camp, so many of their people, and so much of their store and equipment. He longed for the relative peace of mere hours before; they had felt that their circumstances were desperate then, now, after such catastrophic loss, the death of one Elf, however beloved, seemed a detail in the despairing vision that the future seemed to hold. Fingolfin felt tears burn his eyes, as the familiar bite of sensation renewed, in the warmth after the icy wind, stung his thawing skin. He looked down at Turgon, longing to find words of comfort and hope, but his exhausted mind was as black and empty as the howling plain of ice.
The children of the House of Finwë had struggled to rest, the despairing screams of Turgon still echoing in their minds. Fingolfin did not wonder that the cry of an Elf should be clung to as a familiar sound, understandable to their limited minds, to shield themselves from the staring horror of the bone-shattering ice-fall. The healers had gathered in a corner of the pavilion to argue in fierce whispers, while Fingolfin and Fingon had struggled to restrain the screaming Turgon. Idril, in training with her fellow soldiers, had been finally found, but her own tears of grief had her helped to a seat by a bandaged survivor.
Finrod finally spoke aloud to his siblings
'Very well.' and beckoned to Fingolfin, who hurried over anxiously
'Finrod, what is amiss ?' he asked
Finrod pressed his lips together, still doubtful, but spoke with the calm certainty of the wise healer
'There is a draught, a potion, that we could use to aid Turgon. It will permit him to sleep. Indeed, he will be rendered senseless for many hours. But we feel that the...' he looked anxiously at Fingolfin, then seemed to brace himself 'That the camp will be swiftly restored to order, and that when Turgon awakens, he will find that the activity of moving on will ease his suffering.'
Fingolfin gaped at them; the world as he understood it had been destroyed, their main camp, with most of their people, had gone as if it had never been, their course led only into darkness, his mind had reached the end of his strength. But Finrod smiled warmly at him
'You also must rest, dear uncle, though we shall not treat you with potions. Aegnor will now go with you to your tent, and watch with you while you sleep. You may think me over-anxious, but I fear that your rest will be broken, and Aegnor will comfort you should his help be needed. '
But Fingolfin had no desire to defy the healers, and followed the smiling Aegnor out into the darkness. Fingon, who had joined the healers, looked in still-stunned astonishment at Finrod
'But whatever can we do ?'
Galadriel, her keen eyes ever watchful, became aware of Lindir, hovering anxiously by the entrance, maps and papers gripped between his hands, watching as the struggling Turgon was persuaded to take the sleeping draught, and breathing more easily as the terrible screams ceased.
She beckoned Lindir, who stepped nervously towards her, as intimidated as all by the radiance of the daughter of Finarfin.
'Have you tidings, Lindir ?'
He nodded and unrolled a map, Galadriel cleared a space on the table as he spread it open, they weighed the corners with goblets. Lindir pointed to the map, to where the white of the Helcaraxë met the brown of the land
'My lady, we think, that is, we calculate, that we may have come too far to the North. The crevasse which drove us so far around may be the first sign that there is' his voice lowered to a whisper 'that land is near, and the cliffs of ice to the South may be from a frozen river, pouring slowly into the sea. The mountaineers say that it speaks to them of a glacier, but we had... we had considered their words folly, for what river could... the scale...' he faltered, but she gripped his arm with wild hope and whispered urgently into his ear
'Land ? We have reached land ?'
He nodded 'I, so we believe, though it may be some leagues hence yet. The calculations say that such a river would thrust far out into a frozen sea such as this'
They both looked down, the ice beneath their feet was a constant horror, full of sudden movement or sound, or moaning and howling in long trembling echoes of far away destruction, and prone to swallow Elf or tent at whim.
'Oh Lindir, if this is true !' her sparkling eyes shone with joy, she smiled, her tired face more beautiful than ever in his eyes, lit from within by the Light which glowed in her golden hair. Lindir was as hopelessly besotted with the remote Galadriel as the rest, now his heart seemed aflame at her beauty. But she had already turned to Finrod, and was sharing the tidings with him. Finrod turned his own radiant face to Lindir, who clutched his papers protectively before his chest. They were too lovely, the children of Finarfin, breaking the hearts of all, especially him. He had found relief only in the cool remoteness of the stars, and the elegance of the patterns in the numbers that mapped their movements.
But Finrod spoke to him 'Are you certain ? Forgive me, Lindir, I know that you do not speak unless your calculations have been checked and rechecked. I myself will lead the scouts, and we are more grateful to you than you can know; when we are at ease before a homely fire, I shall one day thank you more fittingly. Rest now, for we have not yet found land, and may need your skills again ere long. '
Fingolfin woke to silence, his mind cleared as air after rain. He did not move, but watched quietly as Aegnor stared into the candle, his eyes brighter than the flame, shedding his own Light, which shone like awe on all who dared to meet his fell gaze. Fingolfin suppressed a smile, Aegnor seemed unaware that his eyes had cleared his path through life before him, charming all, and that words of dispute or criticism had been silenced, that disdain had withered in the scorching glance. But Aegnor, who had shunned the painstaking work of hand or mind, had come slowly to patience only in the hunt; watching, and riding, with Celegorm and Curufin, the cousins whom he most admired. His own bitterness at the betrayal of the Burning of the Ships must be as great as that of Fingolfin himself. Fingolfin tried to suppress his own wrath and hurt, and remember that the very light of the eyes of Aegnor, now glowing in the dark of the fall of the Trees, must have already driven the hunters, the sons of Fëanor, to abandon him; for in the darkness shining Aegnor could do naught but draw the gaze of every creature left stumbling in the dim, unfamiliar starlight.
Fingolfin sighed, and spoke
'Where is Finrod ? We must send out scouts at once. '
Aegnor smiled 'My lord, Finrod himself led the scouts some hours ago. Lindir believes that we may be near land. '
Fingolfin sat up, still faint from the exhaustion of horror, and stared at Aegnor, wild hope in his grey eyes
'Land ?' he cried, and leaped from his bed. With snake-like speed Aegnor took him by the elbow and lowered him back to sit on the bed. Fingolfin sighed, but looked up at Aegnor
'Lindir has found the land at last ?' he said finally, and Aegnor nodded
'It seems that the very ice which fell... It seems that this is the nature of the ice upon the mountainside, that it falls little by little down the slopes, crushing all in its path. But those who study such matters say that ice alone cannot rise to such heights as these, and that beyond the fallen cliff, there must be mountains, and land. Lindir knows of no map of this region, for no known traveller has ever ventured here, nor, I think, will ever return here. But he is certain of his course, and expecting to see land within a few marches. ' Aegnor shrugged 'I myself am so far beyond the world that I know that I am, perforce, in the hands of others. But the thought of land ahead has filled my heart with hope that I had thought lost when I saw those cliffs fall.' his anxious eyes looked to Fingolfin, who smiled with a warmth that he could almost feel, and rose slowly to his feet
'You are weary, dear Aegnor, watching patiently while I myself rested. Rest now, while we prepare the camp for the next march, and you will find your spirit renewed.'
Fingolfin sighed as the strap of the sled harness bit into his shoulder, the ice was ridged and furrowed like a field ploughed by one intoxicated. The sled would stick fast, and they would stop as the runners were hacked free of the splintering ice, moving with dull resignation and the silence of long custom. There had been a time, when first they moved onto the grinding ice, of laughter and jesting, as the starlight sparkled in the cold air, or the everchanging colours of the train of Varda the Kindler fell like jewelled waters, silent as dust, in rippling waves that flickered across the sky, and turned the dark plain to a glowing wonder. But the cold, the hunger, the desolation and terror of the grinding ice had silenced even their words, until it was enough to merely endure.
The sled moved freely over the smoothest of the ice, giving the idle mind time to drift, and the weary Elves stumbled in their harnesses, the blank emptiness lulling their minds into dreams as they trudged across the endless leagues, too numb to fear the shifting surface in the sharp relentless cold; slow jaws closed on them with teeth of steel.
Thick fog had blinded them for many hours, until Lindir had found Fingolfin in the gloom, and urged him to halt, or face the unknown. Fingolfin had given the signal, his spirits weak with relief, he had found the impenetrable mist terrifying, beyond fear of the unknown. It was if his senses had been wounded beyond all healing, or worse, that the world itself had vanished, destroyed at last by the malice of the Enemy. When finally the cries of joy had greeted the first star sighted through the endless fog, the long march had sung as never before, raising their lanterns and their voices to salute the Kindler. But the time of rest had healed their bodies, they had pressed on, desperate to feel the earth solid beneath their feet, each hour on the dark ice draining life from them, the desolation seeping into their bones, colder than the wind.
The regular, well-ordered camps of the first days on the ice had given them the illusion of security, of home, but waking to screams of terror and despair as the unstable surface of the ice crushed or swallowed an Elf, a sled, or an entire tent, had driven them to hasten forwards without cease. When their exhausted limbs would bear them no further, they pitched their tents as well as they could, and more were lost to the fierce gusting wind, sweeping unchecked across the endless leagues of ocean and ice.
To wake shivering, to meagre rations, pain in every bone, teeth clenched stiff, to face the grim eyes of family and friend, and the silence of kin and fellow, to struggle on, dragging the stubborn sleds over the jagged shards, to be no longer an Elf and a part of the completion of Arda, but merely dead leaves, scattered across the indifferent wasteland of ice, to merely endure...
Beside him Aredhel was coughing. She had been weakened by her rash attack on the bear; one of the monstrous white ghosts of the North, but the only one to have attacked their camp. The mortified scouts found finally the den in which it had slept, buried by snow. Wounded itself, and starving, it had fallen upon a tent, and the screaming had brought the nearby Aredhel in desperation to leap onto the great heaving back and drive her long knife into its throat. She had thrown herself clear, but in its thrashing before death, with the red blood spraying across the anxious watchers, it had caught her arm as she rolled away and broken it like a stick. Though she made light of it, and had refused the offer to ride on a sled, he knew she suffered; her wit and vigour in debate were quieted, and some of the eager pride that she had brought to council was felt now most keenly in its absence. He had ordered the hide of the beast to be preserved, to be turned into a cloak for his daughter; for despite her defiance of all who would direct her, she seemed to him the one who most resembled him in mood, of all his children.
Beyond his own bitterness at the burning of the ships, he felt her pain; the wonderful sons of Fëanor, Celegorm and Curufin, whom she had admired as a child, and followed ever in the wake of as an adult, had abandoned her, and her great pride had taken grievous hurt. His exhausted mind trudged as wearily through its futile path of bewilderment as his weary feet sought foothold on the rough, shifting surface of the ice. But there was no knowing the mind of Fëanor, and Fingolfin, shock-numbed in his own grief, abandoned the thought as beyond him, hoping indeed that he himself should never arrive at a place in his mind in which such a deed should seem to him a worthy act.
Fingolfin struggled with stiff fingers to steer the sled, a bitter wind blew sparkling splinters into his eyes, blinding him to the shards scattered in their path. He gripped the handles and jerked the sled back into the ruts left by those in front, it settled more evenly and Fingolfin sighed and trudged back to the front to take up again the painful weight of the harness, which seemed to him a fitting symbol of the burden laid upon him by the treachery of Fëanor. Ahead of him, Aegnor had jested, and the rare sound of the laughter of Fingon and Angrod echoed across the dark plain. He knew that Fingon blamed himself for the ship-burning, and felt most keenly the loss of so many, and above all, the loss of Elenwë. The anger of the resolute Fingon, whose innocent valour had swept aside the half-hearted Fëanorians and led the Noldor to victory in that most shameful of battles, that wrath which Fingon, fresh from battle, had turned upon Fëanor, had filled his father with pride, and shame, that he himself had not so confronted his brother. But the words of Fingon, his eyes aflame in his righteous fury, had silenced even the eloquent Fëanor, who had turned away, pale and silent, fey with wrath, his burning spirit brooding on the curses of his nephew. Fingolfin considered Fëanor, and his burning pride, and whether Fingon had truly abashed him, but knew that others had added their voices to his, and that it was both shame and fear that had driven the flight of Fëanor, red-handed from the Kinslaying.
The heat of his own rage kept the vultures of his thoughts uplifted, as the eagles of Manwë had once circled effortlessly in the rising air from the Trees. But the vultures waited to tear at the mind of the unwary Fingolfin, and gave him the strength to set foot before foot across the endless dark of the ice, for only thus could he come once more before his brother. Many and bitter were the words Fingolfin intended to utter, his fury would last ten thousand times the length of their suffering on the ice, and no curse or word of contempt could carry the violent rage that seared his spirit. He wished, finally, merely to meet the fell eyes once more, to see for himself what remained of his brother, the mighty Fëanor, whom once he had loved.
Fingon raised an arm, and the long column settled to a halt. Fingolfin shrugged off the wretched harness and picked his way across the uneven surface, to where Fingon stood by Angrod at the edge of another black crevasse. Aegnor was uncoiling rope, and securing it to the end of his sled. Fingolfin, sighing, picked up a shard of ice and tossed it into the abyss. It could be heard, bouncing between the thick, sheer walls, until it dropped into the black sea below, the deep splash echoing hollow in the narrow cleft. Aegnor bound the rope around his waist and walked back, then sprinted forwards and leapt, agile as a goat, across the crevasse. In the dim light, the crevasse was wider than his guess, he fell short, rebounded from the dark face of the ice, and slithered down to the end of the rope. His curse as he crashed back into the near side of the crevasse rose eerily from the darkness. But the mountaineers were arriving, and Orodreth led their cautious survey, finding a wider crossing with a stable ledge or shelf a fathom down, which led to a swifter ascent for the climbers. They strung their ropes across the path, and set up their scaffolds, while rations were eaten by the waiting column. The sleds were hauled across, swinging from scaffold to scaffold, and then the long stream of Elves trudged across the rope lines, and wearily took up their harnesses, and leaned into the rising wind, silenced by the remorseless cold and the spirit-sapping darkness of the ice.
The ice... The surface seemed crafted for their especial torment, unyielding, yet ever moving, slippery, yet full of cracks and holes in which the soft snow gathered, traps for unwary steps. Those with broken limbs suffered cruelly from the cold, and many perished, unwilling passengers on sleds they had dragged so far. For the struggle to move their tents, their supplies, their armour and weapons, and the many useful tools they had carried had warmed their limbs and strengthened them against the bitter wind.
Their path across the landscape of a dark nightmare led them around great boulders, wind-carven into fantastic shapes, that none save their eyes alone had yet seen. They crossed crevasse after echoing crevasse, some shallow, with merely a leap needed to clear, others open to the sea, requiring ropes and the cunning skills of the mountaineers to cross. And for every crevasse it seemed, there were two ridges, stretching away into the distance, that must be crossed. They carried ramps, and laid them carefully on the uneven ice, and by strength of arm each sled was hauled up the face of the ridge, and lowered carefully back down onto the uneven ice.
Finrod and the scouts had warmed the heart of Fingolfin, scouring the ice ahead, their lanterns like fireflies in the distance, seeking the smoothest path for the sleds and the weary Elves, tired beyond complaint, heaving on the ropes that chafed their shoulders and burned their sinews.
But there were times when Finrod would take Fingolfin aside and speak grimly of fields of great boulders ahead, broken blocks of ice which covered the path and the ice for leagues in either direction. Fingolfin would sigh, and order larger rations for all, and the dispirited Elves braced themselves for a painful time of testing, as they pitted their bodies against their indifferent foe, the ice itself. Each sled must be lifted, by hand, over every boulder, some hard as stone, others flawed with layers of fine dry snow, which slid away when pressed, splitting boulders and tripping hapless Elves. The healers hurried to and fro, struggling themselves over the tormented ice, but too many were lost, perishing from cold, or worse, overwhelmed by cruel despair.
The scouts of Finrod returned, the way east was blocked by small broken ice, floating in the black water, in an open channel too wide for their ropes, but impassable for their small crafts.
Though Finrod was discouraged, Lindir remained certain that land was near, and Orodreth stood with him. Finrod returned to his tent, and Orodreth watched him remove his boots with a sigh and stretch his aching legs. Orodreth found the jar of the salve prepared by their mother, in that other world, which grew less real to Orodreth with every league. He held the jar out and Finrod accepted it with a sigh, his breath steaming in the still-cold air of the small tent. Orodreth pursed his lips sympathetically, the scouts had walked twice as far as everyone else, scouring the frozen plain for danger and losing scores to the deadly ice. But they did not pass their days harnessed to a sled, cursing every shard of the hateful ice. Orodreth had been a keen mountaineer, and at first untroubled by the snow and the cold. But the ice seemed like a slow poison, swallowing their people, creeping with evil intent and brutal weapons to destroy them all, and deep in his heart the cold fear grew, that they would vanish in the frozen waste, and no tale would ever reach his mother of their desperate fate. The words of the curse echoed in his mind, "treason of kin unto kin", and he was awed that the prophesy had been so swiftly fulfilled. It seemed to him that they would never find land, though Lindir and the others were hopeful.
Aegnor slipped into the tent
'Where is Angrod ? I had thought him in our tent... He is not here ?' he asked, as though there were anywhere that Angrod could hide in the tent that barely had room for two. Orodreth stopped himself from looking around and rose to follow Aegnor 'I shall help you seek him, but Finrod must rest. '
Aegnor sniffed the air 'Mint, true-hazel... do you still have some of mother's salve ? A little for my shoulders would be a comfort.'
Finrod grinned up at his brother
'You know very well that she gave us each a jar, what have you done with yours ?'
'Oh Finrod, it is in my chest, but my chest is under the baggage, do not make me unload the sled...'
Orodreth laughed, for a moment it was as if they were at home, his brothers bickering amiably among themselves. He could not believe in Fëanor somehow, and the idea that he was the brother of dear father seemed absurd. He hoped that the jesting of his own brothers would never sour as badly. He smiled at Finrod
'It is good to know that we yet have the salve in store, for though we come swiftly to land, we are in the realm of ice still, and shall not soon put aside our sleds.'
'Put aside !' said Aegnor as the laughing Finrod gave him the jar 'I shall warm my hands on the pyre of that cursed sled, for I begin to loathe it with all my heart.'
But Finrod shook his head 'When the snow is gone, we shall be forced to bear our burdens on our backs, and you will soon long for the ease of the ice.'
'Never !' cried Aegnor, and stepped out into the bitter darkness.
Orodreth followed, and laid a hand on the arm of Aegnor 'He is not in the pavilion ?'
Aegnor shook his head, his eyes anxious, but Orodreth smiled 'Do not fear for him, there has been no alarm, he would have called for aid should he need it. ' Around them, the camp was as ever, the long lines of tents, the empty ice, the scattered lanterns, and those on watch checking rope and sled for fraying and damage. A guard with a lantern came to usher them inside, then apologised as he recognize them. He had not seen Angrod. An apprentice healer, hurrying to the pavilion, also knew nothing, and the four were looking helplessly at each other when the sound of laughter carried over the ice. A furlong into the darkness a pool of light showed, where three guards with lanterns had gathered. With no better aim in sight, they made for the lanterns, the guard and the apprentice following.
It was Angrod, red with frustration and embarrassment, his cloak covered in bright powder, a paintbrush skittering across the ice in front of him. The guards, not unkindly, were laughing at his discomfiture. He saw his brothers approach and in an echo of the hurt child within, he wailed 'My paints are frozen ! '
Orodreth found himself laughing, beside him Aegnor too was laughing, they hurried over to Angrod, and Aegnor put an arm around his shoulders
'Of course they are frozen, this is the ice, did you think that the cold would permit a drop of water to remain in this desolation?'
Angrod sighed, then looked at the laughing faces around him, then down at his colourful cloak, smattered with a dozen hues of bright paint. His Light heart soon had him laughing along, but he wailed again 'But I wanted to paint the ice, the camp, the...' he waved an arm at the vastness around them.
The sky was clear, the stars were sharp and bright, and in numbers that none of them had seen before. To see the sky for once as an artist would see it lifted their hearts, it no longer had the cold blankness of the indifferent ice, full of peril and menace, to be shunned as they hastened to the meagre shelter of their tents. For the first time on the ice Orodreth felt himself free again, free to cherish the beauty of the work of Varda, an Elf of the House of Finarfin, not scuttling to his den like a hunted animal.
But Aegnor gave Angrod a gentle shove 'Foolish child, do you await the passing of Varda ? It has been many leagues since last we saw her train. You would perish as you waited, and freeze as hard as your paints. '
But to their surprise the apprentice spoke up, his voice soft with awe at the majesty of the stars 'My lords, surely this picture is worthy of remembrance, though none who have come this way will forget it, I am certain. But my lord' he turned to Angrod 'Your brother is right, you need no colours here, for if ever there were a picture that could be worthily captured with mere charcoal, it is this one. '
Angrod nodded slowly 'Yes, I have many sketches in charcoal, but the colours at the edge of the light, the gold of the lantern-light and the silver of the ice, blending together...' his voice tailed off, but it was as if the eyes of Orodreth had been opened anew, for now the subtle blues and violets of the ice itself became clear to him. All around him, beyond his fear, the beauty of Arda unfolded, whether Elves were there to witness it or no. His mind seemed to open itself, as once it had opened before on Taniquetil, before the face of Manwë, and he felt that there were wider perspectives than his own, that the wonder and glory of the world, from the fragility of the snowflake to the crushing power of the falling ice-cliffs, must unfold itself fully only to one such as Manwë, or Eru Iluvatar himself.
The lanterns cast their shadows long across the fractured surface, revealing depths of colour both on and in the windswept ice; opal and nacre, pale emerald and sapphire, marbled with the pearl and smoke of the rents and fissures that moved with the grinding of the ice. As the Elves turned to each other with awe, an almost forgotten sound echoed faintly across the frozen plain, the desolate howl of a wolf.
'Land ! ' cried Orodreth joyfully, and they gripped each others hands, overcome with relief; for though they did not doubt the word of Lindir, the path ahead led only into darkness, and the first scouts had found nothing. But the call of the wolf must signify land close at hand, and the tears sprang forth in their eyes as they laughed and cheered.
Angrod forgot his paintbrush as they scrabbled across the ice to the pavilion, where Fingolfin, Fingon and the captains were planning the next stage of the march. The king looked up at his nephews, the apprentice and the three guards, rank and formality forgotten as their excited voices broke the good tidings. All those still in gloves ran out, but the lone cry did not sound again. Fingolfin stood by the trestle table, hand on his rapidly beating heart; hope returned with pain, and scattered the darkness of his despair. The unknown perils and problems of the old world could be faced in time, for the present it was enough, more than enough, to know that land was within reach, that the end of the nightmare was close, that they had not endured in vain. The shock weakened his legs, he gripped the table, then sat hastily before his weakness could be observed. He laughed at himself, at his whining for home, feeling exiled and as lonely as a lost child, for only now, so close to land, did he consider that exile could truly begin. The ice was not a place, it was a nightmare, a world between worlds, where none could live, callous as the deeps of the sea, indifferent to their little invasion, it would shrug them off, or, like the deep sea, swallow them whole.
The camp was astir, all were willing to forego rest and to hasten forwards, and the learned and wise gathered in the pavilion to discuss their plans. But Fingolfin brought the meeting to a swift close
'My friends, for so I count you, you and all who have made this crossing with us ! A wolf has been heard, and all here know that such beasts are less foolhardy than we Elves, and venture not upon the ice. We are told also by those who study the stars that land must be near. We are resolved therefore to press on with all the haste permitted by the ice. ' there were snorts at his words, for the fickle ice mocked their expectations with its ever-changing perils. But Fingolfin nodded 'Does any dispute this judgment, or wish to remain out here ?'
So they struggled on, the scouts hurrying ahead, Finrod himself, lantern in hand, out in front, examining the ice for signs of cracks and flaws. He paused, stooped, and then gave a joyful cry, for there on the ice lay the body of a white-coat fox, frozen to the ice. He waved his lantern and the other scouts hurried towards him. Their joy choked them, but their shining eyes spoke all that must be said, and two scouts hastened back to the lights of the march to share the tidings.
But Finrod pressed forward, his heart aflame with pride, recalling the great day when Ingwë had presented him with the green badge, in honour of his triumph a third time at the scouting trials. For the first time he felt worthy to bear the colours; this was the first expedition that he had led, and they had found their destination. The calls of seabirds grew louder and more numerous, and there were tall dim shapes looming on the edge of sight, as though a silent army awaited them. Finrod paused and held up his lantern, but the feeble light showed little in the gloom, beside him, the scout turned puzzled eyes upon him, but he could only shrug. They moved forward more cautiously, the eerie shapes spread out ahead of them, seeming to be some new manifestation of the strangeness of the ice, until on an instant the eyes of Finrod opened to the wonder, and joy filled his overflowing heart. He gripped the arm of the scout, his eyes almost as bright, for once, as those of Aegnor, but the scout had seen, and shouted joyfully'Trees ! Praise Yavanna ! Land ! Land ! We have found land !'
But Finrod pressed forward, so close to land... He checked the ice, testing with his foot each new segment of the fey mosaic, marking the danger with handfuls of ash, turning aside until a safe route was established. As they neared the rocks, black against the ice, he paused and turned to the scout, his joy had grown, until his heart would burst, but in the heart of his joy a deeper awe unfolded, for this was the Land of the Awakening, the ancient home of their ancestors, the land of Cuiviénen, Home of the Eldar. Tales of myth and legend sprang before his enthralled mind; of the first long march, of the lost Avari, of those who had joined the march but stayed for love of Ossë, of the disappearance of Elwë... It was impossible to believe that Finwë, his own grandfather, had stood on these shores, long before, and called them home.
Slowly, reverently, his breathing stilled by awe, Finrod at last set foot upon the comforting hardness of rock, and the tears froze on his face as he wept, throwing both arms around the scout, who wept with him. Closer to, it could be seen that the trees were pines, but so thickly did the snow lie upon their bent branches that their shapes were shrouded and concealed. Finrod broke a small branch and held the twig before his face. The scout silently brushed snow from the needles and they looked in silence upon the first green thing they had seen in an uncountable time.
With a joyful shout, Finrod darted away, down across the icy rocks and back onto the ice, sliding and skittering his way as swift as the limits of prudence, to where the vanguard approached. Finrod waved his lantern, and the green branch, crying
'Land ! Land !' and hearing his cry echoed with rising joy down the length of the long column.
Fingolfin glanced at Aegnor beside him in the harness with shining eyes, but was forced to look away, for the brightness of the flame of the joy of Aegnor not even his own father could long endure. They hastened forwards, shedding tears that froze as they fell, as though the purpose of the march were to scatter the ice with the jewels of Elven tears. But within a fathom of the shore Fingolfin halted, and tore the scarf from his face. Aegnor looked at him in concern, but Fingolfin beckoned the Captain forwards.
'Unfurl the standards, let our banners be flown as we step forth into the land of our fathers, and summon the musicians ! Sound the silver trumpets, that we may have pride in our arrival here, at the edge of the world of old.'
The weeping captain hurried away, as Finrod, struggling for breath, bowed to his uncle and presented him with the pine stem. Fingolfin curled his fingers around it, unable to speak, then held up the small green token of life. He showed it forth to those behind, and a great cheer arose, carried down the long column by those far from the front, echoing across the ice with a joy that seemed to complete the breaking of the heart of Fingolfin. The standard bearers moved into place at his sides, the trumpets sounded, and Fingolfin breathed deeply, eager to take his last steps upon the ice.
But a new cry was passing up the column, 'Look to the West !' and all heads turned. There in the far West, across the ice, the sky began to glow, not with the red of distant flame, but silver and blue, until the low stars faded, to the dismay of the Elves. Their suffering on the ice had altered them, they were alert to possible danger at every moment, their wounded nerves strung tighter than harpstrings, and Fingolfin gestured to the captain, who nodded and gave the signal to move on.
So with caution, not knowing what menace followed in their wake, the Elves blew their trumpets and Fingolfin son of Finwë at last set foot upon the land of his ancestors, and turned to accept the silent gratitude of the marching column now hurrying past to spread out on the rock-strewn shore among the broken floes of ice. Even in his triumph, his very relief at the successful crossing, his mind turned ever to Valinor, forgetting never that henceforth this land would be his home, and that he had stepped from the ice into exile.
In the West the sky grew brighter, and Fingolfin sent for Lindir with his map of the stars. But Lindir was more baffled than any, for no sighting of the brightest appearance of the train of Varda had prepared him for the great light glowing across the ice.
And silently the Moon rose.
About the Author
hennethgalad writes Tolkien fanfic on AO3 and The Silmarillion Writers Guild.
Dancing with wildness
Moving with kindness, writing
Troubled thinker I.