Author's Note: This is a very AU look at the journey to Mandos that is based partly on Greek mythology and on an old Gypsy folktale. Therefore, do not expect the story to conform 100% to everything Tolkien said about Mandos.
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When there were no passengers to be ferried, the boat and its steersman remained at dock in the black waters that separated the realm of Mandos from the rest of Valinor. Save for the lapping of the water against the quay, the lake was still. No fish swam in its depths, nor did loons or crickets sing in the perpetual twilight.
The shores of Cuiviénen were like this, they say, thought the ferryman. Much time he had for introspection, even when bearing the shades of the dead across the water, for most of the newly deceased were silent, obediently following the summons of Mandos yet stunned and withdrawn at the loss of their hröar. You do not know the half of it, he wanted to tell them. Enjoy what semblance of a body you have now. Those wispy forms you wear for the crossing will be shed like old cloaks when you go into Námo's house for His judgment, and you will become no more than little puffs of mist.
He had had a body once, a true hröa, not this bent and pale form with which he pulled the oars of Námo's barge. It had been strong and beautiful, as the hröar of the Firstborn were. Have you ever seen an ugly Elda? he thought, and laughed.
--Dost thou find amusement, even in this silent place?--
"I take what I find," he chortled. "I never hear You laughing."
A dark mist coalesced on the quay above him. --Laughter is not My business, Elda. The Halls are a place of reflection, repentance and healing--
"And laughter is not healing? I find it a most soothing balm in this dreary place."
--It is not within My sphere of influence. Much time hast thou had for thy contemplation. I have come to ask thee if thou art not filled with remorse, if thou art not ready to leave these shores and take up residence in My halls—
The ferryman looked out across the waters. When the mists cleared, he could see the distant hither shore on which the half-embodied fëar of the dead gathered to wait for him. "It has become rather…comfortable here."
--Thy comfort is not My concern. Thy healing and reembodiment is. Thou wert not set upon this lake for thy amusement--
"Then I shall endeavor to laugh a little less loudly, if it disturbs You so."
The faceless mist that was Námo roiled with agitation. That was not unexpected; he was very good at irritating the Lord of the Dead. --Nevertheless thou wilt answer My question: dost thou know any remorse, any sorrow for thy misdeeds in life? And do not bandy words with Me this time. I wouldst have a plain answer of you.--
"If You insist," he sighed. "Yes, I feel sorrow sometimes, especially when I see the children coming across. They do not have to tell me, I see how they died. I see it all laid out before me, as if spread on a loom, and I am sorry for that. But know this--I do not take back my deeds."
--It would have been most surprising to Me if thou didst repent so soon. Yet thy sorrow is sufficient. Thy term here is finished, and thou wilt join Me in My house--
At that moment, he would have expected to be able to rise from the boat that had been both dwelling place and prison for what might have been years or millennia, for indeed time in this place was not marked and flowed measureless. Yet the bent hröa Námo had given him for the task remained fixed in its seat, as if the judge of the Dead was playing some divine jest upon him. Had He a sense of humor, I might have believed it.
--I will tell thee again, I do not do this for thy amusement or Mine--
How splendid. He is reading my thoughts.
--But thou must perform one last task ere I permit thee to join Me. Look yonder at the hither shore and mark the one who awaits thee—
Across the water he looked, and saw a dark figure aggressively pacing back and forth along the shore. Even at a distance, this one was of fiery temperament, obviously another Noldo. Now what could this one have possibly done that was ill enough to warrant Námo's attention? For He does not trouble Himself with the mundane evils of Arda, and certainly does not bring them to my attention.
--Listen, and I will tell thee--