Handful of Grey Ashes, Handful of Silver Tears
Disclaimers:Middle-earth, Aman and all their inhabitants belong to J.R.R. Tolkien and his estate. I have no claim on them. I intend no infringement of copyright, and am making no money from this.
Summary:He was hers once, and may yet be again, but for now he is only a child, and does not remember what once was. And reunions are rarely what we expect them to be.
A/N:The title is derived from a line of William Cory's 'Heraclitus':
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.
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The tiny boy ran screeching towards the waves, his long golden hair flying out behind him in the cool breeze which decorated the swell with the faintest tracing of white lace. His small legs flailed wildly as he charged once more away from the pursuing water lapping at his heels. Turning, he laughed, high and merry, and chased the wave away. A brightly shining pebble on the shoreline caught his eye and he hunched down to scoop it into his hand, twisting it this way and that to catch the bright rays of the afternoon sun. The breaker tumbled over him, and for a moment there was nothing but the grey-blue of the sea. But then he came up spluttering, and, scrambling to his feet, his green tunic plastered to his body, danced among the waves, screeching with glee.
"Finrod," his mother reprimanded him.
"We have a visitor, and now I have a drowned rat to show her, not the calm elfing I had hoped to present."
He glanced up at her guiltily through his briny lashes.
"I am sorry, ammë."
But he caught the glimmer of affectionate amusement in her blue eyes, and threw his arms around her neck, burrowing into her hair.
"You are not angry with me, are you, ammë?" He jumped up and down, his boots kicking at the sodden sand. "Look what I found!"
"No, I am not angry. And that is very pretty – a jewel fit for a lady."
Eärwen of Alqualondë balanced her son on one hip and began to make her way up the beach to the figures who awaited them in the dunes.
"I … I should go. 'Tis not right. I … I … I cannot see him."
"Nonsense, child." Finarfin placed one reassuring hand on the elf-maiden's shoulder shoulder. "Did you not say that 'twas better to meet once more here than to do so in Tirion with all eyes fixed upon you?"
"Aye." She laughed brokenly, twisting the edge of her embroidered mantle between her wan fingers. "But now I find that 'twould be better if we met not at all. The eyes that would have judged us only confirm what I feel in my heart. This is not the time. You cannot force this upon your son, Lord Finarfin…"
"I have found that 'tis nearly impossible to force anything upon Finrod. If he does not wish it, he will simply slip away and find a fishing net to become entangled in instead. And if he does wish it…" He shrugged.
"That is poor encouragement for a weary heart." She smiled to soften the rebuke.
"Ah well, 'tis too late now. See, he comes."
Finrod slipped from his mother's arms, his small hand still nestled in hers, and looked up at the visitor with guileless grey eyes.
"Pityonya." Finarfin took his other hand. "May I present to you Lady Amarië of the Vanyar. Lady Amarië, this is my son Finrod."
Another meeting … Tree-light mingled on the dancers, his bright hair shining as he ducked behind the venerable oak to avoid his younger sister's attempts to unravel his braids…
"Good day to you, Finrod." She steeled herself and carefully framed a smile. "I see that you are trying to impersonate Ossë himself."
And without thinking, for it was so natural as to preclude all thought, she reached out and tenderly removed the strand of seaweed which adorned his head. A small grubby hand reached up to cover her own, and with a shock she met his eyes for the first time. It was hard then, harder than she had ever thought it might be, to remember that it was not the silent, shadowed lover who had left her in the darkness without light, who stood before her now, but a mere elfling. For his eyes were the same, boiling with the same irrepressible fury of joy and curiosity.
"You are very pretty, Lady Amarië," he said with a startling directness. "Are all the Vanyar so very pretty? I do not know many."
"So very beautiful, melmenya. Had I no eyes, yet still I would know your beauty…"
"Over-fulsome compliments, my lord?"
"Never, my lady, oh, but never."
"I fear that I am but the least of my kinsmen in matters of prettiness." She shook herself out of her reverie, reminding herself once more that it was not as it once was, and might never be again. The memories that would one day return to him were beyond all her comprehension.
"Oh." He digested her comment for a moment. "Then I would very much like to see more of the Vanyar."
"Your grandmother is of the Vanyar, is she not?"
"But she is grandmother, so she does not count," Finrod dismissed it.
"I shall be sure to tell Indis that," Eärwen teased, but her son's attention had already been diverted.
"Look, atar, it is a starfish." He deposited the desiccated exoskeleton in his father's outstretched hand.
"Why so it is."
"Why do they have five legs? We have two, and the Atani have two, and even Mavar only has four, although he is a dog, and he needs many, many legs to run with. So why do they have five?"
"I shall tell you as we go back to the house."
Finrod cast his father a withering look.
"You will tell me, will you not, atar? Please tell me."
"I shall tell you to the best of my ability," Finarfin said solemnly.
"Your are my atar, so you know everything."
The two women stood still for a moment, looking out over the dunes, the eerie melancholia of the seagulls' cries re-echoing in their ears. Eärwen slipped her hand into the crook of Amari's arm. The younger woman ducked her head to hide the tears springing to her eyes, but it did not avail her, and the Teler waited patiently for her to speak.
"It is really him. He is really here." She brushed impatiently at her streaked cheeks.
"Aye, he is returned to us."
"Maybe to you, but not to me." There was no rancour in the Vanya's voice, only bitterest regret. "He remembers me not."
"Patience, pityo, patience. His memories will be hard indeed. The Ice … his death. Mayhap 'tis better that he does not remember too soon."
Amarië blushed scarlet with embarrassment, her eyes fixed on something far-distant that her Teler host could not see.
"Ai … forgive me my selfishness."
"Love is never and always selfish, dear child. I know that you miss him, and yearn for his return…"
"I would rather have him never return to me than see him suffer the torments which await him in his past," she murmured fiercely.
"Yet neither you nor I have any choice in this matter, and only the Valar can tell when the recall of things past shall come upon him again. Be at peace. I believe that tea awaits us, and if we do not hurry I fear that my husband will begin to describe the life of the seas using the cups and saucers as handy tools…"
Amarië watched in bemusement as the elfling fumbled with the sugar tongs, hefting a single cube precariously into the air, his tiny hand waving to and fro. She prepared herself to accept a cup of sweet tea, despite her aversion for it, as the cube hovered over the steaming liquid. Grey eyes met hers, and she felt once again that shock of recognition, that certainty that the man lay within the boy, not dead but asleep. The tongs swerved away abruptly.
"You do not like sugar in your tea, my lady," he stated calmly. The sugar cube plunged into his own cup with an audible splash that sent shock-waves of fragrant water into the saucer, and was soon joined by several of its companions.
"Do you always drink your tea like that, melmenya?"
"Like what?" Grey eyes twinkling at her over the rim of the bone china.
"So full of sugar that you might as well just eat the cubes and have done with it?"
"Always, my lady, always." And, reaching across, he had captured her hand in his and drawn her into a kiss. And she had not minded that he tasted of sweet tea…
She sipped at her drink, exchanging commonplaces with Eärwen and Finarfin, while all three observed Finrod's attempts to build a ship from sugar cubes.
"No, Finrod," Eärwen said at last, removing the sugar tongs from her son's clammy paw. "You cannot use these as the mast."
"But ammë," he remonstrated, pouting, "no one else wants the sugar anyway."
"And what if Fingolfin comes to tea?"
"Then we will have more sugar for him," he argued with impeccable, if slightly skewed logic. "He cannot have the sugar I have been building a ship with, so I can use the tongs now."
"My brother is but recently returned," Finarfin commented in an undertone, "and not much older than Finrod. He, too, seems to like his tea thick enough to build houses on, as he always did."
Finrod surreptitiously slipped a sugar cube into his mouth and sucked on it thoughtfully.
"Why are there no Atani here, Lady Amarië? I like the Atani, but there are none here to play with me."
The Vanya winced, but his parents seemed accustomed to such outbursts. The elfing ferreted among the cushions before pulling a book out triumphantly.
"See. Here are the Atani … but there are not any here. Why are there not any Atani?"
"Because the Atani abide in the Hither Lands, not in Aman, my son."
Finarfin spread his hands helplessly.
"Because that is their home and this is ours."
"Because such is the way of things. Now, drink your tea before it cools too much."
Finrod slurped discontentedly at his tea. Amarië, catching his eye, shared a wink, and passed him a stray sugar cube, which he crunched upon noisily.
It felt odd thus. Always, he had been the elder – not by much in the reckoning of the Elves, but enough. And yet here she was, slipping treats to an elfling who was at one and the same time the iron-faced lad who had strode off into the darkness…
Dusting crumbs from her fingers, she made to stand.
"I should leave now; you all need your rest, and I should not disturb it."
"Such absurdity becomes you not, Amarië. The hour grows late, road back and the road is long "
She stood stock-still, for the words had issued from the mouth of the elfing who perched on the edge of his chair, steadily unravelling his braids with one hand, the other creeping towards the last biscuit. Yet the utterance was old, its memories painful to behold, and the voice deep and grave with adulthood.
"What did I say?"
"It matters not, pityonya." Eärwen pressed a kiss to the crown of his head, yet the younger lady could see that her face was drawn into stark lines of ancient grief. Finarfin was frozen, one hand raised as if to ward off some terrible ill. "You spoke true."
Indeed, the westering sun burnished the fields outside the window with its last rays, and turned the sea a dull bronze. Swallows swooped and dived among the seagulls, intent on their pursuit of the insects that were only now awakening from the lassitude of the day.
"Come, Amarië." Finarfin seemed to recover a fraction of his composure, but his hand trembled as he returned it to his lap. "There is room and enough here for you. Do not deny our hospitality."
Amarië looked helplessly around the room, seeking some pretext for escape in the rich tapestries and simple furniture, but none came to her.
"I defer to you, my lord."
She was roused from the very depths of sleep, from a dream she was only too eager to escape – a hideous, many-armed shape rearing up against the sun, reaching not for her, but behind her, to the elfling shrinking against the blood-streaked wall of the house. But nay, 'twas not a spider, but a wolf, and the crouched figure behind her swung broken shackles aloft, a terrible, despairing cry torn from his throat as she clung to the hewn stump of Laurelin… Amarië struggled upright, her shoulders hunched against the terror that assailed her.
"I did not mean to startle you." The boy's voice was apologetic, soft in the nighttime gloom.
"You did not startle me, child." She swung her legs over the edge of the bed, and peered at the elfling who stood on the threshold, a blanket draped over him, sucking relentlessly on the ear of a rather bedraggled toy rabbit. "Why are you awake? I would have thought that the sea had tired you out. You nearly fell asleep in your soup, and your ammë had to save your hair."
"I could not sleep… well, I did, but I had a horrid dream. And you were not there. Why were you not there?" he accused. "Why matters it to be that you were not there?"
"It matters not, little one. 'Twas merely a dream."
"Everyone says that. Ammë says that, and atar says that, and grandmother Indis will not speak of it at all, and Fingolfin goes all quiet. He will not speak to me for days afterwards. They are not dreams."
"Nay, they are reality reborn within me." He looked confused as soon as the words had passed his lips. "I mean, they do not feel like dreams. And there is this big nasty dog, and you are not there. I know not why I should care." He lifted his chin stubbornly. "But you are not there."
"Ai, Finrod, I am always there, although you see me not."
"Promise?" The boy looked dubious.
"Promise. Will you go back to bed now?"
"I shall." He shyly uncurled one tightly clenched fist. "But would you like this?"
The grey stone from the beach lay in his palm, its crystalline depths shimmering in the dim candlelight. She took it gently.
"Thank you, little one. Now, go to bed before your parents eat me alive for keeping you up too late."
Finrod giggled and scuttled off towards his chambers.
Amarië buried her head in the pillows and wept, clutching the matching stone which hung around her neck. 'Twas all too much, that he should be here, and yet not, but the two stones testified to the unity of past and present, grey as his eyes, bright as the starlight.
And Finrod slept, clinging desperately to Nyello's soggy cloth ears with one hand, the thumb of the other jammed firmly into his mouth, and dreamed of Tol-in-Gaurhoth, and of the light of the Two Trees in the Day before days, and a maiden dancing beneath their uplifted branches.
Pityo – little one.
Pityonya – my little one.
Melmenya – my love.
Mavar (the name of the dog) – shepherd.
Nyello (the cloth rabbit) – the singer – short for Nyello Melima – lovable singer.