A Good Ending

A tale of Numenor, as derived from the chronicles of the Second Age of Arda, translated by J. R. R. Tolkien

He had been getting steadily worse through the long hours of the night, as the stars circled lazily in their velvety thrones in the heavens and the sea crashed gently, singing a lullaby to Numenor. They spoke at first, thinking their voices a lifeline for him, if merely for the last few hours to be clear as the midnight air, but he drifted, half dreaming, half past the threshold already. When he whispered that he could not see their faces, when their touch found nothing but cold, they quietly rose and left the room, shutting the door and leaving but the last flickering of a candle to light the dying man's final hours. Mayhap it should have been different, and he should have lain in some great house and breathed his last in a sigh of content weariness, but fate willed it otherwise. Elros Tar-Minyatur king of the Star-land wished in these moments nothing but his own room, with his own windows and his own view of the stars through them.

At first it has grown easier when his wife and children were no longer present, as if a great burden was lifted now that he did not feel compelled to hold on by their presence. His eldest son had grown up well, a magnificent warlord and scholar, truly as one of the Eldar; he had few worries for the future. Sleep crawled subtly upon him waiting to seize its chance. He breathed more lightly when the dreams came nearer, and even had strength enough in hands winter-withered to reach for the candle and shove it farther, so that he may have a clearer view of the stars. In dreaming he forgot that the window was above his bed and opposite of his line of sight, and trailed the pictures in the heaven with childlike fascination, pondering fate.

It was a good ending if one had ever been, he took to thinking after a short time, able now to do nothing but reflect, look backwards, for it was very much dark up ahead. Seeing the stars, he had little trouble seeing Numenor also, in all its splendor, its people, its towers, its mountains. In five hundred years of the sun – five hundred years!, he marveled – not one spot remained that he did not thread, not one mountaintop he did not know. Here, and in Lindon, and Mithlond, and many other lands alive in his fading mind as pictures from an ancient storybook. Images of them came haunting now, fresh and green and lively, unchanged. Faces floated along, some wearied with age, some eternally young, at there very moments as well. The letter to his brother, had he sent it? Elrond must not come, must not see, did not need the reminder, or the regrets.

Elros turned to ponder regret in his silence. It was a good ending if one had ever been.

The thought turned itself over in his mind, with a vague recollection of a young man of thirty letting drop his bloodied sword as a great light shone from above. Looking up in wonderment and shielding his eyes, faced in the dead of the night, Orcs and wolves about him and dead and dying Elves and Man, with a brilliance from the heavens, a moment of hope so sheer and bright it crystallized in his mind into a mirror-like image. Through its radiance came clear the minutes before, deep and dark in their horror as the image was lightened. Minutes of despair and desperate pain, and desperate awareness as he stared ahead, looking death – mortal death – eye to eye.

He had no name for these minutes now, nor a clearer understanding of them when so close to the very same thing that seemed so distant to a man of thirty, who had then kept himself sane by remembering how far it had been. He was wiser for his years, as much as wisdom was more than legend, and with wisdom some fears dissipated. He was weary in body and spirit, and in weight of memory growing too heavy to bear with every moment of flickering of fire and movement of stars. Dreams came easy, but for the hand of fear that grabbed him of a sudden, and an unwillingness, a firm and terrible determination not to go forth into darkness.

As his eyes flew open, a gasp rushing to fill his failing lungs, Elros cursed himself and his mortality. He thought himself prepared after the countless years. Not into darkness, he would not go, he would not go.

He dripped tightly the end of the bed and with a trembling hand brought the candle closer. Its tiny light comforted him in the sea of night becoming of the room. The darkness waited in the corners and outside. No, he could not go, not willingly into darkness. The Elven blood seemed to burn in his veins, pulling him from the dreams, lighting a match to the firewood of his fear. He knew not what use was in resisting with his last breaths, but could do no else.

He lay there almost sobbing, and then the door opened.

Elros straightened in his bed as best he could, trying to see who was it that sought entry to this place and moment. One of his children, he thought, surely, or his wife, who could not bear the parting. Yet he was wrong, soon he learned, it was neither, it was not anyone he could remember.

A young man stepped into the room, tall and golden, his garments of silver and blue and his eyes blue also, and the seeming of a light about him. In his wake followed a woman, her face very beautiful, young as well, but her eyes deep and old under the shadow of her dark hair. Slowly they stepped in, and stood a short while side by side, their fingers entwining as they looked at and into him.

Elros stared at them with his heart pounding in his chest, then feebly, slowly, lifted up his arms to them, his hands, pleading, to reach them and touch.

"Ada," he whispered, "naneth."

And they heard, or so it seemed, for they came forward, and took each an outreached hand. Earendil knelt by his son's bed as Elwing settled upon its edge, and their touch was warm against his cold, cold skin. They were silent.

He did not ask how they could have come, did not ask how he knew them. He did not wonder why or if he still was dreaming. Their presence was soothing as it had been when he was a child of two, frightened in the dark nights, and they had come to sit with him until he slept, secure in their presence. No questions were asked, no greetings exchanged, no joy at the reunion nor anger at the lost years. It all had no place now, in this moment, nothing did save the child and his parents, and all the joys and sorrows of Men.

"Tell me a story, ada, please…" Elros spoke softly, knowing not why he had asked, save that he was a small child afraid and wanted his father nearby. Earendil nodded with a faint smile, and stroked his son's brow. He did not speak, yet it seemed to Elros that he did not need to. The story unfolded by itself in his eyes and mind, as if he was watching it from far up high in the distant heavens.

The story unfolded, the story of the world, in all its long years. All the woes and the victories, the battles and blessings, all the births and deaths and the lives in between. All the world flowed past from the moment of its creation, the great melody, the great tale, begun and yet not ended. Light, beauty, song and life, and the dark that made light possible, the horror that made song and the courage that created beauty, and the deaths that made something of life. And yet it continued, ere the changing of the world and the breaking of the sky, ere the fate that he saw in the stars, ere something greater came into being, born anew from endings.

Earendil's hand fluttered over his son's eyes, closing them gently, the sights gone into blackness, blessed after so much light. Elros settled against the soft comfort of his bed, thinking of the morning of tomorrow.

"I am tired, naneth," he muttered, and tired he was. The story was long and beautiful, and he wished to sleep now, spent after so many battles, so much beauty, so many songs; to dream of it.

Elwing smiled faintly and began stroking his hair, as she had so many times when he needed but a soft touch to be put to sleep. He sunk into the depth of the touch, like the stars' velvety thrones.

And before long, he was dreaming.

The bells tolled that morning in Numenor. Elros Tar-Minyatur had left Arda behind him in the night; softly, it was said, and without fear.

A good ending if ever there was one.

~~End~~

Adar: Sindarin for "father". "Ada" is therefore something like "daddy".

Naneth: Sindarin for "mother".