Handful of Grey Ashes, Handful of Silver Tears
Thanks to Isis and Lalaith for betaing this.
Reviewswould be nice. :D
The years passed with the slow languorous grace of Valinor barely distinguishable but for the bronzed burnishing of the leaves in autumn, and the changing paths of the scudding clouds. Life continued as it ever did, unmarked by the turning of the seasons as the sullen grey seas of winter melted into summer's deep, vivid blue, and back again. The Teleri still sang the songs of mourning for their lost dead, and still the exiles returned, the ships scything through the waters, proud and fair as those they bore. Still Finarfin ruled in Tirion, bending all the might of his will to heal the gaping rifts which had sprung up between his people and the other kindreds through the deeds of the brothers he neither could nor would repudiate.
And in the golden light of the great city of the Noldor, among the arched colonnades of the palace of the king, Finrod Felagund grew to the full stature of his adulthood in mind and in body, and again he became beloved of the people, for it was not hard to perceive the greatness of the spirit which dwelt within him, noble and fair as the deeds of his renown. And he grew fair of face as he had ever been, unmarred by the signs of suffering and death, but there was a shadow of old grief in the depths of his grey eyes which lingered to be seen by those who would look deeply enough.
But Amarië of the Vanyar did not see, for she came not near him, nor could bear to, for the pain of such meetings was great indeed, and but grew with each passing season. Most contrary to the nature of the immortal life of the Eldar, the years lay heavily upon her, although she was still straight and fair as a lily in springtime. For as Rána waxed and waned in her unruly phases, she had at first beheld the changes that they wrought in him, taller every time they met, his face losing its babyish roundness and claiming the contemplative look of ever-present curiosity which it had been used to wear, sitting comfortably on the fine, strong bones. And it wounded her to the core, although it also woke a bright flame of joy within her to see him again as he ought to be - for he had become too much alike unto the full-grown Elf she had known and loved, and still loved despite all the years of separation. And yet it was palpably not so, for in his eyes there was no love to answer her own, only a distant, sad smile, old beyond his years and a kind welcome which spoke of remembered friendship. As at that first reunion, he felt their former closeness, their intimacy, but knew not its character. It was as if he could hear all the notes of a song, but found himself incapable of understanding the music they created.
Again and again Amarië had assured herself that she ought to be content with his return, such as it was; that it was sufficient, and more than sufficient; that she had no right to ask for more. But she could not still the treacherous hunger within herself which craved more, so much more.
And Finrod saw the sad longing which shrouded her as a fine mist on a meadow in autumn, beautiful and cold. And he answered it with a sadness of his own, and with fear, for he held the beautiful maiden dear to his heart, ignorant though his youth made him of his past, and it was his greatest wish to see again in her face the happiness he dimly remembered there.
So it came to be that Amarië of the Vanyar went no more to the halls of Finarfin the king, on the hills of Tirion, even as the elf-child grew to adulthood. To spare the anguish she kindled within him, and he within her, she came but rarely even to the city, deeming it wise to renounce that craven hope.
Once, she saw him trotting at his father's heels as the king made his way through the city in formal procession, crowned and garbed in rich velvet. The elfling had stared about in unabashed curiosity, the sweetness of his open countenance wringing roars of applause from the crowd.
When he was perhaps thirty sun years of age, tall and gangly-limbed, lacking as yet the muscular leanness of full maturity, she glimpsed him across a bustling stall in the marketplace, on a festival day lit with the brightness of spring. From the corner of her eyes, she caught a glimpse of golden hair, a whisper of movement so familiar it seemed to sear her senses. She turned, her heart beating a rapid tattoo in her chest, and found herself standing not half a dozen yards from him. He was riffling through a stack of books, his agile fingers darting over spine after spine, tracing the patterns of gold leaf inlaid in the soft, buttery leather. . So alike, and yet so unlike to that which he had been...
How often had she watched him thus, laughed at his single-minded concentration before being forced to admit that it was matched by her own?
She must have stared a moment too long, a fraction too intently, for he glanced up, across the mounded volumes, as if startled by something, and his eyes met hers, grey on blue. The book he was holding slipped through his suddenly nerveless fingers, hitting the cobblestones with a soft thud.
Amarië swayed, clutching at the edge of the battered trestle table to support herself, her eyes searching his face for some sign, any sign that he might feel an inkling of remembrance...
But there was nothing ... nothing but sheer terror, as blank and dreadful as a wall of black ice. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but closed it again with an audible snap. He stood stock-still for a smattering of heartbeats, pale, tall, and thin as a wraith, a mere boy yet. But behind him, like a shadow of lingering darkness and light, it seemed to Amarië that she could almost see the outline of another figure, of the man he had been, and could be again, the most beloved prince of the Noldor, wise and passionate in his decency. The man who had been her lover; the man whom she had thought to marry before the Darkness came.
She stretched out one hand towards him, and let it fall to her side in a gesture of abject defeat. He was still there, her lost Findárato, and yet beyond her reach, for she could not be so cruel as to deprive this half-grown lad of his youth for selfish, crippled hope alone.
A muscle in Finrod's cheek leapt erratically, and, as if forcing himself by an effort of will to engage in any other movement, he bowed deeply, stiffly, and turned on his heel and fled into the crowd.
She had shunned the sympathetic smiles shot in her direction by passers-by. The story was well enough known, had been revived by idle tongues in the years since his rebirth, and she had no wish for their pity, so tinged with bitterness.
In silence, all thoughts of the festival driven from her head, she picked her way through the roiling crowds, her feet leading her while her thoughts swam in a thick daze. She stood in the portico of her cousins' house almost before she had realised she was moving. She closed the door behind her, passing into the shadowed colonnade, soothed but a little by the cool air. The next day, she left Tirion, and did not return for nigh on twenty years of the sun.
The house, was silent and still in contrast to the revelry outside. Once again, it was the spring festival, and the city was at feast, the streets ringing with music and singing and the raucous sounds of merriment. Wine flowed freely and spirits were high, for this day was marked not only by the festival, but also by the coming-of-age of the prince. Fifty fleeting years had passed since Mandos released him, and the city celebrated with great joy
She had not meant to be here, had not wanted to be here. But such dreams had tormented her in the last few months, leaving her to awaken with the taste of bile, thick and foul in her mouth, the linen sheets clinging to her body, her mind in disarray. Dreams of darkness, of immeasurable darkness, of a great pit that stank of damp and filth, where she was never dry, never warm. Where there was never any sun, until she forgot that there was ever such a thing in all the marred world. And the beasts, great and fell and filthy with fresh blood, always beyond the reaches of sight, but their gobbling growls all too audible to Elven ears. And pain that did not end until dawn wrested her from her tormented slumber, and the chant rang in her ears, low and soft like the murmur of desperate prayers, telling her that her freedom was not to be found here in the city of her birth.
So Amarië of the Vanyar had remembered the city of the Noldor, and the memory of it grew in her mind, consuming her thoughts and her strength until she had no choice but to go it, for to stay would be to call the danger of madness upon herself, even as if she languished in the pits of Tol Sirion instead of living here, beneath the blue skies of the Undying Lands.
She remembered her cousin, who had ever held her house free to her, her cousin who had married a Noldo in the Day before days, in the shadowless shadows beneath the branches of the Trees, when there was naught but friendship between the two kindreds. And so she had come to Tirion, with neither hope nor intention to see him, although she could not in truth say she had no desire for that. She lodged with her cousin, an elf-maiden whose kindness was as legendary as her sharp tongue, ignoring her pointed suggestions of excursions which might bring them near to the palace precincts, and her even more pointed suggestions that she should go straight to the prince and rail at him until he remembered. "For he is a sweet-tempered lad, and wise, and thus it must be that he will meet your words with understanding and with love."
Amarie had greeted this skewed logic with a laugh, but she could not ignore the lump which rose in her throat, or the tears prickling behind her eyes.
She had not gone, but in the end, it had mattered not. Fate, it seemed, did not deem her objections even as valid as Sessarië had.
Ignoring her own misgivings, she had gone out into the streets of the city, finding the high walls of the house stifling to her breath. Long she had wandered with no thought in her mind of destination of intent, glad simply to walk the familiar ways once more.
And yet it seemed that her very feet were treacherous to her this day, and did not do her bidding, for they brought her into the great courtyard of the halls of Finarfin, which was open to all, where the sun streamed down on pale marble rippled with gold, and on marvellous materials which not nature but the hands of the Noldor had wrought. Before she could leave, before she could summon up the will to turn away, it had been too late. She heard the deep tones of the king, not grave this day but kind and joyous, and another answering him, low and melodious and very fair. The Lord Finrod. She did not need to see him to know that voice, for it struck a chord within her and she could neither think nor move.
They came down the steps from the great door, and the king's crown shone in the sunlight, a simple circlet, but wrought with great skill. He was mantled in the colours of his house, his robes of a burning white, and there was a great gem upon his breast. But Amarie had scarcely noticed him, for all her attention was bent upon his son, who stood at his shoulder, tall and slender and unbowed by grief of wounds, as he had been when first she set eyes upon him. He, too, was garbed in white, and the rich cloak hung negligently over one arm, its clasps swinging free. No sword he wore for this day of peace and rejoicing, yet he stood as a warrior might, his gaze clear and penetrating. His golden hair fell free about his fair face, dappling the light in those grey eyes, and a gem was bound upon his brow, shining brightly as it caught the light. Amarie thought - nay, felt, for thought was as yet impossible - that it suited him greatly, for the flecks of light that it shot out were wondrous with many colours, never the same, always changing...
"Atar, I cannot wear this. I shall be laughed from the city if I dare to dress like a popinjay for their delectation."
Finarfin laughed, gesturing to his own garb. "Do you dare to call your father a popinjay?"
"In that garb..." Finrod smiled wickedly.
"Wear it. It is your inheritance and you deserve it. They wish this day to see you as the prince you are, a scion of the House of Finwë."
"Accursed show," Finrod grumbled, but he was already shrugging the mantle over his shoulders, adjusting the heavy fabric so that it fell in smooth folds around him. "Could we not truss Uncle Fingolfin up again and serve him to them instead?"
Finarfin grinned. "Much as it might delight me to torment my brother thusly, it is you that they wish to see, pityonya. They wish to see the Prince Finrod on the day he comes of age once more."
The younger Elf blushed at the words of praise, and squared his shoulders. "I am ready."
Amarië, sinking back into the shadows, had found that there were tears on her cheeks. This truly was Finrod as she had known him, Finrod as she had loved him.
When she had accompanied Sessarië and her husband to the feast set beneath the wheeling stars of the heavens, she had found herself unable to concentrate, unable to enjoy the festival, and when the dancing had begun, she had slipped away into the silence of the back streets.
Now, she rested her forehead against the cool stone, feeling the first chill of the spring night spread through her, softening but a little the harsh pain which beat between her eyes. Slowly, she moved forwards, tugging the thin shawl from around her shoulders and removing the pins from her hair until it fell about her, veiling her face. Exhaustion caught at her, and old pain as bitter and cruel as poison, and she sank down into a chair, her fingers clenching tightly about the carved arms.
The silence enveloped her, although it brought her no comfort, for she thought then that she was the only in all the city unable to celebrate the prince's coming-of-age, she who wished to celebrate it most of all. She bit her lip, unwilling to cry again, and then she heard a sound in the silence. She cocked her head, listening, and then it came again, a noise like the sighing whimpers of a wounded animal nigh on death, broken and raw with pain.
Amarië knew not what it might be, friend or foe, but nevertheless she stood and moved towards it. Her hand found a sturdy fire poker standing by the grate, and she held it before her like a sword as she crept into the walled garden, a small, quiet place for all that it backed onto the street. Willow trees bent their branches low to the ground, sweet perfumes filled the air, and somewhere in a distant corner, she could hear water trickling beneath the tendrils of climbing plants that blanketed the walls.
Amarië stopped, listening again, and caught the sound, much clearer this time. She searched the darkness for its source, and at last she saw him.
Tall and slender, his shoulders hunched and his head buried in his hands; his hair silvered by the moonlight and the starlight which fell upon it.
"Finrod..." She never knew whether she meant that as exclamation or supplication, for he raised his head from his hands, and her heart stopped. A thin trail of blood marred the pale skin of his chin, dark in the faint light. He had bitten through his lower lip, and a faint keening, cracked and hoarse, escaped him, but not for that pain. The grey eyes which gazed upon her were sightless with anguish, blank and yet filled with a pain that she could not assuage.
The poker dropped from her hand with a clang, and she went to him then, mopping the blood with the trailing end of one sleeve before it stained the pristine glory of his garments.
"Ai... Finrod..." She guided him to the fountain and sat him on its brink, leaving him only to retrieve a lantern from the colonnade.
Returning, she found him sitting with his hands trailing in the cool waters, watching the barely visible patterns his movements created.
The golden lamp light fell in a shaft upon his face, restoring his vibrant hair to its true colour. But when she looked upon his countenance, she saw such devastation that she recoiled, cursing once more the Silmarils.
His face was ashen and drawn, his lips white and blue, and his eyes sunken deep into their sockets until his handsome face resembled nothing more than the skull of a cadaver. He was almost unrecognisable as the fair prince she had beheld that morn.
His eyes focused at last, not on her but on the lantern, but their once bright and curious gaze was dim and confused. "Darkness without light. I did not remember. I remembered yet did not... What darkness was there that it could so creep within and poison my veins so I knew not its power?"
She sat beside him as he mused in that broken voice, and began to understand. "You remembered... tonight your memory was completed?"
"Aye." He smiled crookedly. "I remembered everything. Every feeling, every last pain of body and mind. I had wished for it, all unknowing as to what it might entail, and then it came upon me, and I wished not for it, for such was its power and its dread..." He trailed off, his eyes distant, shuddering with chill which had nothing to do with the dissipating heat of the night.
Tentatively, so very tentatively, Amarië placed her hand over his and squeezed it gently. He came back to her, back to the present and the night of Tirion, but he touched his breast above the heart as if searching for some mortal wound which was alien to this new hröa.
"With all the city at feast, I remembered..." His hand crept to his lip, and he touched the clotting blood wonderingly. "I must have... And I ran; I kept to the shadows, and they did not notice me..."
Only then did Amarië realise the full import of the fact that he was still wearing his festive regalia, although it looked slightly the worse for wear.
"And you came here?" she asked, not knowing what to feel.
"I ... the Lady Sessarië had left a message as to where you might be found. I climbed the wall," he said as if in explanation.
"Why did you come?" she asked, and was surprised to see sharp hurt flaming in his eyes.
"I..." He stumbled to his feet, very much a youth caught in some snare of the unwitting mind. "I must be going; it is not right of me to impose this burden you."
She rose too, and placed a hand upon his arm, feeling the feverish heat of his skin through the cloth. "Nay. I merely asked."
He paused, and she could see the emotions warring in his face, and when he spoke, she could hear the rigid control in every syllable. "For the love that once you bore for me, and that which I bear for you, and which has never faded in my heart, not even in the depths of Tol-in-Gaurhoth, I came. I came because I thought that to see you might mitigate some of the pain of this storm of memory."
"And?" she asked, barely daring to speak.
"It helped a little." He dropped his eyes.
At last she dared to hold him, sliding her arms around his waist and pulling him close. For a moment he froze, rigid within the circle of her arms, and then he relaxed against her, his head dropping to her shoulder, his breath coming in ragged gasps.
Neither could tell how long it was before she spoke. "Why did you not come to me before?"
He lifted his head, his cheeks streaked with drying tears, and she was glad indeed to see the life returning to his face.
"I loved you anew from the moment I saw you on that beach, as a child does, and later as a man. And I remembered that I had loved you before, remembered why I had loved you - if there can be a why for such a thing. And yet I could not remember how it felt." He cupped her chin in one hand. "I would not ask for you to take me - if you would take me at all - maimed and incomplete."
There was only one answer Amarië could give to that. Brushing the last tears from his cheeks, she pulled his mouth down to hers and kissed him until his stubbornness gave way and he kissed her back, eagerly, hungrily.
"I did not come to ask this of you," he said when they finally broke apart.
He grinned. "I thought you learnt that long ago."
"Stubborn, beloved fool," she amended, and then a thought struck her. "A prince of the Noldor climbing walls like a smitten elfling! Did you never think to use the front door?"
"Never, melmenya, never. I believe I have never knowingly done that which is counted the fruit of wisdom."
He laughed then, and she with him, together in the courtyard of the house in Tirion, beneath the canopy of stars, with the past remembered, and the future awaiting them.