Return to Me

I. Arafinwë
Halfway to the Halls of Mandos, Arafinwë began to regret not telling Eärwen that their eldest son was being returned to life.

Halfway to the halls of Mandos, Arafinwë was very much a portrait of upright, dignified royalty. He'd seen his father sit this way many times and his brothers—all were gone now, but he emulated them with the same voracious desire to hide his difference, as he had all of his life. Arafinwë: with his tendency toward biting his nails, to laughing too loudly at inappropriate moments, to smiling or scowling when he should have been stoic. Now, he was stoic. His robes were impeccable; his circlet was not drooping crookedly, as it had a tendency to do. But inside….

He wondered if his father, always so magnificent upon the throne, had ever used his unfaltering dignity to hide a maelstrom of emotions, as Arafinwë did now. His heart was restless in his chest, pounding suddenly, without reason; his stomach twisted and ached; his nerves sizzled with the same capricious ferocity as lightning, making his hands twitch imperceptibly or setting in motion a tiny muscle beneath his eye.

He should have told Eärwen.

But Eärwen was in Alqualondë, attending her sister-in-law for the birth of her first child, Eärwen's first brother-child from her side of the family. For Eärwen's family had been shattered by the atrocity at Alqualondë, centuries before.

And so when the messenger came, bearing a message from Námo, Arafinwë had ordered a carriage to bear him hence the very next morning, sleepless the night before and pacing the bedchamber, longing for the comfort of his wife, but he'd been unable to send for her, unable to disturb her joy with this uncertain news.

oOo

A prince all his life and now a king, Arafinwë had traveled far and wide across the continent of Aman, from the uppermost peaks of Taniquetil to the forbidding valleys of the north country, from the lamplit quays of Alqualondë to the shadowy, mysterious towns within sight of the Doors of Night. But never had he gone to the Halls of Mandos.

It was not a place for Elves—at least, not the living—and of the dead, he dared not think. He dared not think that his children might be among the gossamer spirits of the dead. Not his children, not those whom he'd held in his arms—very solid, very real, very alive—only a few short centuries before, of whom he dreamt, awaking to see his ghost-pale arms stretched above him in the strange silvery darkness of the new night, grasping and clutching that which was no longer there, hurling himself from the bed to go to his study and pace, which seemed a far more kingly thing to do than to allow his head to drop to his desk and weep—and far less likely to smear the parchments.

But now, the carriage brought him ever closer to the Halls of Mandos. They crested a hill and there it was, in front of him, in the valley below, in a pool of mist. His heart pounded anew; he could not stop himself from worrying his cuticles until his fingers bled and rose trembling to his mouth, where he could lick away the signs of his weakness before he stained his robes. Amid the swirling fog he could make out the diaphanous edges of what might have been a building; the mist parted suddenly—like a drapery torn open—and revealed a grand marble entranceway that had the appearance of stretching infinitely to the heavens and infinitely into the earth at the same time. Arafinwë shook his head, trying to reawaken his senses—impossible! It is impossible! He was Noldorin—half, at least—and understood Arda to be a place of law and logic. A dull hum filled his ears, like that which followed in the silence after a sudden, deafening noise. The sound seemed to penetrate to his very center; it wrapped around his heart and curled inside of his gut; it made him feel slightly ill. His brain ached; he imagined a humming tuning fork being plunged between its folds and he winced. The air was cold in a way that had nothing to do with temperature. It smelled like damp towels left to fester in corners and—beneath that—the sterile smell of death.

The entranceway—and that's what it must be? Right? He begged his brain to find an answer, wishing suddenly for his father's—his brothers' even—wisdom in such things. But it had no door; it was not meant to be entered or left but endured. It stretched, filling his vision; he could see nothing else, and when he tipped his head back to find the top of it, he saw that it even curled over him, until he head was lolling back to the furthest extreme that his aching neck would allow and—like an rainbow sucked dry of all color and warmth—it appeared to touch the ground behind him, but even to his left and his right—all around him—there it was! Everywhere! Panic touched an icy finger to his heart; his arms prickled coldly beneath his robes even as he was overcome with the scalding urge to urinate. The carriage horses were rearing, their ears pinned, and the humming sound-not-quite-a-sound had increased to where he vibrated like a crystal conduit. We can go no further! Wobbles that might have been sound reached his ears, traveling like a shout made underwater, but he was doubled over and sick; the horses were screaming and the mist was in a frenzy, wrapping around the awful sound of those screams as though hungry for it, and Arafinwë's small hands—two of his fingers bleeding, the livid droplets maddening the mist around them—groped blindly for something solid, for some hope of escape.

But they found a hand, a hand that was very warm and wrapped both of his in just its one, and he had the sensation of being pulled. Once, an impetuous youth, he'd jumped into deep water off a pier in Alqualondë to impress his brothers, who had been fighting on the shore, and his boots had filled with water, dragging him down, his lungs agonized in their need for air. Fëanaro had plunged into the water; his ever-warm hand had enclosed on Arafinwë's and there was this weightless sensation of rising, of fighting gravity—the impossible—of rising to the light. This is what Arafinwë felt now.

And amid the mist, the carriage and the horrible, omnipresent entranceway—if in fact, that's what it was—nowhere in sight, he felt solid ground beneath his feet, and he was anchored there by that warm hand. The hand was very white; he followed it past the cuff of plain, gray robes; up a long arm to the broad shoulders and benevolent, stern face of Námo, his blue eyes two tiny flames amid the churning fog and his raven-black hair wrapped with it. Like drifting to the surface of the sea that day, into Fëanaro's burning embrace, forcing the water from Arafinwë's lungs, Arafinwë was conscious of drifting into the circle of Námo's arms, although the ground didn't seem to be moving beneath his feet so much as the space between Arafinwë and the Vala seemed to be folding, narrowing, bringing them into each other. Námo's arms closed on Arafinwë and he was conscious of shivering only because it suddenly stopped. Everything stopped—all sound and perception; all fear—except for Arafinwë's heartbeat, which soughed in his ears, the only mark of time. He tried to count the beats, but even his memory was gone: He got to three and forget where he was and had to start anew. Only what was "anew?" How did one "count?" What were "numbers" and what was the purpose of their arbitrary sequence? He was unperturbed by such questions; he was comforted by his beating heart and the feeling of nothingness.

"I am glad that you came."

And then he was standing in a chamber with the Vala. He had a feeling of being in a study, only there was no desk, no parchments or books. Still, it had the official, bureaucratic feel of a place where things were done, where non-threatening diplomacy was employed. He had much experience with such places, and he found his hands limp at his sides and his breath easy and steady in his chest, as though he was unafraid.

"Of course." He heard his voice answer, although he was not conscious of moving his lips or forming the words in his throat. "He is my son."

"This decision was not made lightly, Arafinwë," said Námo. "I feel that you should know that. He will be the first of the Exiles to be housed anew. He gave his life to save another, in the name of that which is right and good, and so it was thought that he should be granted a second chance at life. Before, some say, he is ready."

Arafinwë, a reluctant expert in matters of diplomacy, sensed it then: something moving beneath Námo's speech, the riptide beneath the face of the placid sea. He would have shivered but his body suddenly lacked the ability. Námo's words washed through him instead and away, and the feeling was forgotten. The Vala smiled—or rather, imitated a smile. It was no more a smile of genuine joy than is that placed upon a canvas by an expert painter. "Come, then," he said. "I will need you in the days to come."

oOo

Outside the chambers where Findaráto lay, Arafinwë felt sudden, cold curiosity: What will he be like?

Many of the Avari who had died in the Hither Lands had answered the call of Námo; many of them had been housed anew and now walked among the Eldar. Arafinwë occasionally encountered them in the streets of Tirion like walking apparitions—but to bump into one proved it solid enough. They preferred Alqualondë, though—as if drawn by the memories of pain and blood there, the memories of their homeland—or the savage towns to the far north and south of Aman. Arafinwë passed a band of them once, chattering in a strange, ugly language, and they had not so much as glanced at him, as though he was the one who should not exist.

But to think of his son as one of them, his beautiful Findaráto, with laughter brightening his eyes and his every word a song: Is that the way it will be? he wondered. Are they so ominous—leaving, it seems, an icy wind in their wake—because they never knew the Light of the Trees or because they are reborn? Perhaps, Arafinwë thought, his eyes burning with tears, his heart aching and rebelling in his chest against the thought, he is better left dead?

Holding Findaráto in his arms for the first time at his birth, a bar of Laurelin's light bright in the newborn's unblinking face, Arafinwë would have thought his son one of the Valar for he seemed at least as wondrous and mighty. Death should not touch him, but it had. In the moment of his birth—indeed, from the moment of his conception onward—Arafinwë knew that he would unhesitatingly give his life to save his son's, not that such sacrifices were required in Valinor.

Even so, he'd never been given the chance.

Námo stood beside him in what must have been a corridor; Arafinwë had a feeling of walls at either side, although they remained unseen, the feeling of infinity both ahead and behind him, the feeling of Time. "I have brought his body," said Námo, "as it was at the moment of his death."

"How—?" Arafinwë wept, although tears refused to manifest. I should never have to ask about the death of my own son. Not here. Not in Valinor. Although he had known, in the moment it had happened. Eärwen had known also, although they had not spoken of it. It had been as a sudden wounding, an unseen thorn reaching from behind the bright gem of a rose and snatching away a piece of each of them. Just as Arafinwë had known the moment of his son's conception, he knew the moment of his death. Just as a ball of light had settled into his chest at the first, a nauseating bit of darkness had weaseled its way into his lungs with the second, confining him to bed for a week with the draperies shut, confessing to no one the reason, even his beloved Eärwen.

But Námo would not say, except to intone, "It was a violent death. You may wait until I have healed him, if you wish not to see."

Not to see…it would be a blessing. Ignorance, sometimes, was the greatest gift. Nolofinwë would not tell him how their father had died. It had wound its way through whispered rumor and Arafinwë had learned eventually anyway, piece by piece, but for those first years, he'd been able to indulge himself in hope: No fear. No pain. Let it have been quick and easy.

Of Findaráto, he now thought the same: No fear. No pain. Let him have died beneath a swift blade in battle. Or unknowing, quickly, from a blow to the head, a fall from his horse, perhaps. I do not want for him the honor of having suffered; I wish for him a death humiliatingly silly and swift, where he was blissfully ignorant of it until the moment that his spirit was rent from his body. I care not if the songs in which he is remembered make a mockery of it, but I ask: No fear. No pain. Please.

With ignorance, Arafinwë could have his wish, he knew. But he also knew that Findaráto would bear the memory of his death—swift or not—until the ending of the world, and so with unshed tears hot in his eyes, he felt himself move forward as though carried by the will of the floor beneath his feet, his head shaking: "No. I wish to know. I wish to see him healed."

oOo

And then they were standing in a room, a room that seemed not confined by walls and ceiling and floor so much as the will of the tall Vala beside him. At the room's center was a sheet draped upon a shape with the size and contours of his son's body. Wincing, Arafinwë forced himself to stare at it. He looked for blooms of blood upon its pristine whiteness; he looked for a tendril of escaped, matted hair or gray, dead fingers. He felt simultaneous relief and resurgence of dread, for to confirm his fears even in part would be a relief of sorts. Let it be done. If I must know—and I must—then let it be done.

The floor that must exist beneath their feet—for Arafinwë knew that they must be standing upon something; levitation was not possible (Fëanaro had tried it in childhood, their father had told Arafinwë once, and broken his arm)—began to fall away and moved them closer to the shrouded body. My son…. Arafinwë breathed deeply when they were beside him, wishing for the scent that was Findaráto—the scent of home, of freshly baked bread and clean sheets—but detected nothing but a cold, odorless scent as of cold water. Námo reached out his white hands and took the shroud at its top. Slowly, Námo drew the sheet back: Findaráto's golden hair, his beautiful blue eyes—closed—his perfect lips, then his body beginning at his strong shoulders and chest, his narrow hips, his long legs. Only there was wrongness, pieces missing. His side was gouged, though bloodless, torn open. Arafinwë saw a piece of his son's gut—he looked away before being able to tell which organ—tucked inside the bloodless wound. His legs were cut deeply; on his wrists, the skin was ruffled and marred. At his throat, over the arteries, were punctures. Arafinwë became conscious of weeping, of shoulders shaking, and a very warm arm draped around him. "He feels nothing now. His pain is gone. And I will heal his body—and you will heal his spirit."

"I cannot," Arafinwë whispered. He reached out for Findaráto's colorless hand. It was so cold that it burned and his hand snapped back, but the pain of fire was gone as though it had never been.

Námo left his side and went to Findaráto. He whispered something in an awful language that sounded like metal scraping metal; with his stomach twisting nauseously, Arafinwë's hands rose to stop his ears. Námo began at Findaráto's throat; he stirred his finger inside each of the punctures, drawing it out with a piece of flesh attached to his fingertip like molasses, left to drip slowly back to Findaráto's body, leaving mended, unscarred flesh. This he did for the cuts on his legs, drawing his fingers up the length of each incision in turn, healing them. Arafinwë saw his lips moving but could not hear his words, gratefully. The abraded skin at Findaráto's wrists was easily made smooth, and then Námo set to work on the gaping wound in his side, taking the edges of it and drawing it shut over the glistening, brownish bits of organ, stretching the skin until Arafinwë wanted to cry out with the pain that his son could not feel, stretching the skin until the two edges met and the wound was closed as though it had never been.

Námo drew from the pocket of his gray robes a small knife, a blade simple enough to be ugly. He slipped it along the pad of his thumb, blood welling brightly in its wake. A few droplets fell and were devoured by tendrils of mist that had begun to curl around his feet; the mist writhed as though in pain—or ecstasy. Námo put his bleeding thumb into his mouth and his chest heaved as though taking a deep breath for a long plunge underwater, and he lowered his mouth to Findaráto's gray lips and exhaled.

Color rushed first to Findaráto's cheeks, and his lips became red with life; the tips of his ears became peachy-pink and the pulse in his throat began to wiggle. As Námo breathed harder into him, Findaráto's chest rose suddenly, and Arafinwë saw the skin on the left side of his chest move with his first heartbeat. The color rushed down the length of his body, coloring his fingernails a pale, lively pink and making one of his legs spasm suddenly as he'd once kicked out in his mother's womb. His long, dark eyelashes fluttered, and his eyes roved behind their shuttered lids as though in dreams.

Arafinwë extended a quivering hand and took his son's had again. It was warm with new life, as warm as he'd been in the first moments after his birth, but he did not open his eyes or wail or give any sign of consciousness. Námo lifted his lips from Findaráto's, a stream of bright blood still connecting them, dribbling onto Findaráto's cheek. The mist was beginning to rise, but before it reached Findaráto's face, Námo had wiped the blood away with a sleeve of his robes. It was as bright as paint on his lips, but the mist would not approach him, and he did not wipe it away.

As Findaráto's blood pounded in its first circuits around his body, bruises rose in its wake, injured flesh that had been invisible when bloodless. Over each, in turn, Námo lowered his mouth as though in a kiss, rising to spit blood into the frenzied mist hugging his feet. One by one, the bruises disappeared. On Findaráto's hip, there was a dappling of purple-black bruises, almost dark enough to be wounds, and Námo lingered long on these, and Findaráto thrashed his head and moaned. Námo rose when Findaráto's skin was again unmarred, smiling at Arafinwë through the obscene smear of Findaráto's blood on his lips, and said, "He is beginning to remember the feeling of pain."

Arafinwë clutched still at Findaráto's hand, and it tightened slightly in his and then relaxed; Arafinwë watched as his arms twitched, and the muscles in his face, as though reviewing all the expression of emotions: joy, grief, anger, ecstasy, sadness, surprise, wonder. Once, his face twisted into something Arafinwë had never before seen, least of all on the face of his son, and his hand jerked in Arafinwë's. "Now he knows agony," Námo said, still smiling, his eyes as bright as gems in his pallid face. Arafinwë wished for the ending of it: Findaráto's back arched, his fingers curled and gouged his own palms, his legs kicked futilely. "Please!" he whispered to Námo, his voice ragged with desperation, but as quickly as "agony" had visited upon his son, it was lifted and another emotion took its place, and Arafinwë's trembling hands lifted Findaráto's hand to his lips.

oOo

Leaving my children: it should have been a moment of great weight, a feeling of turning at least. But it was not.

They had been on the shores of Araman when Arafinwë had taken his final step forward on the road and felt the dull shock—too surprising to be described as pain—like bumping into a wall in the dark, disorientation of sleep.

"Findaráto," he'd said, the name erupting from him without thought, and his beautiful eldest son, his face lined by weariness, his dank hair tied unceremoniously from his face by a strip of leather, had turned back.

"Father. Please. We must hurry. I fear—"

"I will not go on. Findaráto—" His other children were stopped, the four of them the golden image of their father but noble where he was weak, courageous where he was silent. Other Elves surged around them, staying true to the road but too weary to notice that their lord had stopped. "Return with me." His voice dropped to a whisper. Findaráto stepped forward and cupped his father's face in his palm dirty and blistered by the hardships on the road. "You will return to me. In one form or another. Please. Come now and save yourself the pain of—"

"Father, you speak folly." Calling over his shoulder: "Artanis, bring him a piece of lembas; he is weak and delirious—"

"Do not dismiss me so!" Arafinwë's voice shattered the silence as it never had before. Findaráto's hand dropped and his four younger siblings stopped rustling in their packs and whispering between themselves. "I—I know it."

Manwë, grant me the strength to speak as do my brothers, to sway his heart as did Fëanaro. I am his father! Why should he follow my half-brother, who will betray him, and forsake me? Tears sprang into Arafinwë's eyes and Findaráto, his face flushed with shame, quickly erased them with the dirty cuff of his tunic. "Father, you know not of what you speak. We go—"

"You go to your deaths. All but one. You will return to me."

"Father, do not forsake us." Findaráto's lip wiggled, and for a moment, he was a small child again who had not gotten his way. But he collected himself. "Please. You do not know what awaits you back there."

"Findaráto, return with me. Your brothers and sister will follow, but you have to take the first step. Please. Have the strength to save yourself."

And Findaráto's eyes filled with tears that he could not so easily banish now, although he mopped them away with a gloved hand. But there were no more Elves to bear witness to his shame—only Arafinwë—and they were alone in the cold desolation of Araman. The others had passed them by. He caught Arafinwë in a sudden embrace. "Farewell then, Father. I love you."

Arafinwë prayed for the words, he prayed fervently with his eyes shut, as the warmth of his son's body left him and the footsteps crunching through the frozen mud grew more and more distant. Manwë, grant me the strength! But the Valar had indeed forsaken the Exiles, and when Arafinwë opened his eyes again, his children were gone and the sound of their host had faded, and he was alone beside the dark sea. There he stood, letting the vicious wind whip him until he was numb with the pain of it, whispering, "You will return to me," until his lips grew too cold to move any longer, and then it was only his thoughts, carried on the icy wind that would wrap his son's ears, leagues to the north, and make him shiver as though portended of death. You will return to me.

oOo

At last: a room with walls and a floor and even a bed, although Arafinwë knew that they were conjured out of mercy for him and for Findaráto, who had yet to awaken but muttered occasionally, both in the language of the Eldar and in tongues strange and unpleasant to Arafinwë's ears. Námo had pulled a sheet to Findaráto's throat, and his arms lay atop it, his fingers twitching and flexing. Sometimes, they moved as though playing a harp; other times, as though moving a chisel over stone or guiding a horse or twisting his golden hair into plaits, all without rising from the sheets. His face was full of healthy color but his eyes would not open, although they roved constantly behind his eyelids. "Bit by bit, he is remembering things from his old life," Námo explained. There was a table in the corner of the room, and Námo had placed upon it a pitcher of water and two crystal tumblers. "He may have water when he awakens, but just a bit, and only if he wants it." Námo slipped his fingers across Arafinwë's face then, and when Arafinwë blinked with surprise at so warm and intimate a touch from the cold Vala, he was gone.

Findaráto moved beneath the sheets and moaned with something that was not pain; a name formed on his rosy-bright lips: Amarië. Blushing, Arafinwë turned to leave his son in privacy, going to take a drink of water from the pitcher. He had never been sure if Findaráto had wed his betrothed in their last hours together in Tirion; she had lowered her eyes on the rare occasions when Arafinwë saw her in the streets and she had returned shortly to live with her mother at the base of Taniquetil. And Findaráto's eyes, in the calamitous chaos surrounding their journey from Tirion to Alqualondë—discovering their kinsmen there slain—and ever after, had been too full of turmoil for his father to discern the spark of light that marked those wedded. And he, also, had been loath to meet Arafinwë's eyes in those days and Arafinwë had been shamefully grateful for this, as though knowing that both would have seen things painful to realize if they had.

Behind him, Findaráto's restive breathing slowed, and Arafinwë finished his water and returned to his side. For many long hours, Findaráto lingered as though asleep, breathing deeply, only his twitching eyelids giving any clue to the memories whirling behind his placid face, and Arafinwë felt the gray silence of Mandos suppressing him with the weight of a heavy, warm blanket; he closed his eyes and felt sleep tickling his brain with her tantalizing fingers, but then….

Findaráto screamed. He screamed and bucked; his body writhed, kicking free of the sheet, and as Arafinwë's sleep-numbed mind struggling to the surface of wakefulness, one of the cuts on Findaráto's leg reopened violently, as though he'd been whipped, and blood pattered upon the white bedclothes in bright rosettes. Arafinwë fell forward, scrambling for his son's hand, but Findaráto recoiled, huddling against the headboard of his bed, whipping his head from side to side as the dark bruises exploded anew upon his hip—not as horribly dark as they'd been, although Arafinwë in his terror did not at first perceive this—his arms extended rigidly before him, fingers crooked as claws as though withholding something terrible, and a bubble of blood formed at his throat, first a pinprick, then swelling to a grossly ponderous bead like a bloody pearl, then popping and trickling down his naked throat and chest, pooling in his navel. And he hurtled from sleep, shrieking and gasping, clutching his chest as though shocked by his own body's existence, his first words being "No! No! No!"

Arafinwë did not know what else to do, so he caught Findaráto's body when it hurtled forward, and he held him close, feeling his son's frantic heartbeat as rapid as butterfly wings against his chest, rubbing Findaráto's skin gone cold and shushing him as he had done when his son had been a small child and awakened from senseless, terrifying nightmares. "Father?" Findaráto whispered in a high, breathless voice. "Father? How—"

"Hush, my son. Hush. It is over. You are home now."

"But you—you went back. To Valinor."

He does not know. He does not know that he died, thought Arafinwë, tears rolling freely down his cheeks. He clutched Findaráto's back; he'd thought he'd never hold his son again and now he wondered if he should be glad. Findaráto, in his confusion, fought to be free of his father, but he was weak and ended up limp in Arafinwë's arms, to be cradled gently and lowered back to the bed, the bedclothes rearranged around his heaving, trembling body. Quivering hands explored his own flesh, lingering on the side that had been so cruelly gouged open, coming away with his fingers damp with blood for a tiny wound had been reopened there. Tremulous, with the last of his strength, he held the hand aloft in the wan light that seemed to come from the walls themselves—for the room was without window or lamp yet was bathed in a faint, silvery glow—and looked at the bright blood upon his fingertips, until the weight of his hand became too much, and it collapsed upon his chest. "Father," he whispered, and his fingers were moving, seeking, and so Arafinwë took his hand and felt Findaráto squeeze weakly in acknowledgement. Tears raced down his son's face, and Arafinwë wished to kiss them away, but then he might miss Findaráto's words, for his voice was faint with weariness. "Father," he said again, and his voice broke, and he sobbed, "I died?"

oOo

The wounds were normal, Námo said. "It happens sometimes, when they wake up, if their deaths remain particularly vivid in their memories. It is as though they are wounded by the memories themselves; even years after, some of the Avari awaken with marks upon their flesh as though put to torment by the Dark Lord." Irmo was tending to Findaráto in the closed room behind them, and Námo held Arafinwë's hands in his own. His hands were warm and soft but Arafinwë found his touch slightly squeamish nonetheless for there was something cold about it as well, and the mist returned with him and slithered around their feet.

Findaráto slowly grew strong enough to leave his room, and he would walk with Arafinwë in the strange gardens of Mandos, where the vines twining the arbors were ashen as though dead but—upon touching them—were found to be turgid and waxy with life. Fat white roses of exceptional purity nodded their heavy heads at them as they passed, and Findaráto reached out to touch one, hissing with pain as his finger was caught on an unseen thorn and a bright bead of blood trickled down the rose's pallid face like a tear.

The gardens of Mandos had no birds and the only sound was the gentle rustle of the leaves, for the only breezes were mild and rare; mostly, the gardens lay in frozen stillness. There were a few butterflies but they were like none Arafinwë had seen in all of his travels through Aman: They were the size of a songbird but their wings were black and without markings; one brushed Arafinwë's cheek once, in its bumbling flight, and he shivered to find its wings waxy and thick, not the gossamer, velvety fabric of a normal butterfly's wings. Findaráto, though, let them skip across his palm, ignoring Arafinwë's pleas not to do so. "You do not understand, Father. They are Yavanna's creatures, and though they may linger in a place of death, they are not evil. They are here to brighten the spirits within Mandos." The butterfly in his palm flittered upward, toward the bone-white, cloudless sky. "I have seen creatures in the shape of Elves, with warm blood in their veins, who know evil these butterflies are incapable of imagining."

Findaráto was a bright apparition against the gray, gloom of the gardens, with his golden hair and blue eyes and healthy, rosy skin.

But he was still weak, and it was not long into their walk that he was leaning heavily on Arafinwë's arm, until his knees were nearly buckling and Arafinwë forced him to sit down in one of the gazebos twined with the voluptuous white roses. He was as ashen as the colorless tree behind them. Arafinwë, on Námo's advice, had brought a flask of honeyed water, and this he unstopped and lifted to Findaráto's lips. A pale, quaking hand rose with great effort and took the flask from him. "No, Father, let me."

The water seemed to help. A tint of color returned to Findaráto's cheeks. His hand lay curled in Arafinwë's, their fingers entwined, in a gesture of intimate affection that they hadn't shared since Findaráto had been a small child. Shortly after that, Artaher was born and Findaráto was a big brother and determined to prove his autonomy. And Arafinwë's hands were always busy with small children, Findaráto's little siblings, ever after, until Arafinwë was standing beside him at his coming-of-age ceremony, and he was too old for such small comforts.

But now, his hand was tucked in his father's, and as Arafinwë sat—the Arafinwë who always had to be shushed at festivals at a child, who was chided teasingly by his wife for talking too much when they made love—unsure of what to say now to his eldest son, his most beloved son, if he was being honest, and Findaráto's head tipped to the side and rested on his father's shoulder.

"What would you have said," Findaráto said quietly, "if when the midwife handed me to you and proclaimed me healthy, if she'd told you also that you'd one day be present at my rebirth?"

Arafinwë could feel Findaráto's hair sliding along his neck, his warm breath on his cheek. What would I have thought? He could remember Findaráto's birth with perfect clarity; both Fëanaro and Nolofinwë had once admitted to not remembering much about the births of their eldest sons, but not Arafinwë: Arafinwë could feel Eärwen's hand tight in his, could see the damp tendrils of her hair stuck to her neck and forehead and she made her final pushes; he could hear his own encouraging voice and her effortful cries. He heard her final shout and Findaráto's small voice as he expelled his first breath in a cry, and he was nestled into Eärwen's arms. She was sobbing, he was sobbing—they were all crying but Findaráto, who awakened the midwife's concern because he cried so little. Eärwen did not hold him long before kissing his forehead and saying, "Time to meet your father," and lifting her tear-streaked face to his and saying, "He is yours, my husband."

What would I have done?

Ten fingers and ten toes and, already, gossamer wisps of blond hair and blue eyes wide and curious. He'd fit in Arafinwë's arms like the piece that had been missing for the whole sixty-one years of his life and now, in the garden, Arafinwë felt that hollow place as keenly as he had on the day that Findaráto had died, and he lifted his arms to hold his son again—reborn this time—and felt that place filled.

"I would have done anything to stop it. We would have run away to the edges of the world, if need be, to the Outer Sea," he whispered.

Findaráto's hand rose to clutch his arm. "But, Father," he said, "you know that by my deeds, I have helped set in motion those events that will prove Moringotto's undoing. You would forsake that? For me?"

The gardens became a smear of gray, and Arafinwë closed his eyes against the tears. "You are saying that you would die again?"

"A thousand times, I would bear the pain of death, to see hope restored to Middle-earth." Findaráto's voice was strong; it was as it had been, on the shores of Araman, centuries before, but now it faltered, cracked. "You are saying, given the choice, you would not?"

He thought of the day that Findaráto was born, his perfect son caught in a beam of Laurelin's light through the window. It was Her zenith; when looking into his son's eyes ever after—even now—Arafinwë recalled Her brilliance. His perfect son, beautiful, nestled in his arms. The world for you. Anything for you.

Findaráto whispered, "You are the King."

Arafinwë shivered, remembering suddenly the sons of Fëanaro, their empty-bright eyes, swearing their Oath after their father. "Fathers who are willing to forsake their sons in service of a cause—" he stopped, considered. "Before I was a king, Findaráto," he said at last, "I was your father. And no price is too dear to save you."

Findaráto's weak arms circled him and they sat in the garden, among the sickly-scented roses, in a place outside of Time, and Findaráto said nothing.

-END-

Author's Notes: The character's names in this tale are expressed in Quenya, which they would have spoken at this time in Valinor. "Arafinwë" is Finarfin and "Findaráto" is Finrod.

Thanks to Fanged Geranium for providing me with the challenge to "write a conversation between grown-up Finrod and Finarfin." The result of that challenge was this story, which I gave her as a holiday gift. I owe her my gratitude for her friendship andsupport, as well as a keen eye that always catches my errors.

Thanks also to the Silmarillion Writers' Guild for their support and assistance. We've decided to observe Finarfin Appreciation Month this January, and this story is part of my contribution to honoring the peace and goodwill of this neglected Noldorin king. If you're interested in meeting with other Silmarillion writers, please check out our link on my profile.

This story, and all others, are dedicated to my husband Bobby, without whom I would have no reason to write.