Disclaimer: all the characters and places are Tolkien's. This small story is written between the lines of his great tale.
The cursive lines are quotes from The Silmarillion, mostly verbatim. My departing point was a sentence from the Lay of Leithian: 'And Finrod walks with Finarfin his father between the trees in Eldamar.' I found myself thinking a little too often: What about his mother? until I finally decided to do something about it.
She stood waiting on the quays while the last Telerin ships passed under the great arch into the harbour of Alqualonde. Her father's vessels, and one of them carrying her husband. And, by the grace of the Valar…
The shining hosts of Valinor had returned victoriously from the War of Wrath, having vanquished Morgoth Bauglir, the Black Foe, and chained him with his own chain, and thrust him into the Timeless Void beyond the Walls of the World. Yet one thing they had failed to achieve. The two remaining Silmarils in which Fëanor son of Finwe had imprisoned the Light of the Shining Trees - the Silmarils that should have been carried home in glory to rekindle what had been extinguished for so many dulled years - were gone. Grasped by the accursed sons of their accursed maker, though they had forfeited their right to them and the jewels had caused them unbearable pain. Taken and lost, one in the fiery bowels of the Earth, the other in the vast sea, it was said.
Eärwen walked a few steps, her eyes seeking a ship bearing her husband's badge. The Vanyar with their white banners had long since embarked. So had most of the Noldor: those that never left the Blessed Realm and the exiles who had shed innummerable tears in the lands under the Shadow, but had at last received the pardon of the Valar.
She halted. There it was, the banner of Finarfin, on the hindmost of the ships. Why had he tarried so long on those mortal shores? He had always been one to look back at what he left behind, Eärwen thought, vainly trying to ignore her misgivings, feeling dread creep upon her.
Not even the echo of your lamentations shall pass over the mountains…
Nothing she knew of the fate of her children: Finrod, fair and faithful and generous of heart and mind, Orodreth, kind and thoughtful, Angrod and Aegnor, steadfast, bold and fiery, and the youngest of them, her daughter Nerwen, strong and valiant, with a will of her own and a depth that even her sea loving mother had found hard to fathom. They had left the Blessed Realm in the wake of Fëanor's wrath and defiance. And after Fëanor and his sons had slain her father's kin - and theirs - they had not turned back to throw themselves upon the mercy of the Valar, as Finarfin had. They had gone on and the curse laid on Fëanor and his sons had cast its shadow over them as well.
But now the Noldorin exiles who survived the evils and torments of Morgoth had been forgiven and were welcomed back. 'Are they with you now, Finarfin?' Eärwen whispered into the wind. 'Do you bring them home?' Her far-seeing eyes sought to pull the vessel in, trying to make it approach even faster.
No one stood at the prow. No one raised a hand to greet her, although there were few left now at the quayside and she was clearly visible, a silver-haired lady in a sea-green cloak.
When the ship was moored her husband's warriors began to disembark. Subdued they seemed and silent, dimmed like the light turning from afternoon into dusk. The last warrior to leave the ship, his shoulders bent as in defeat, was her husband Finarfin, king of the Noldor of Valinor.
The very last.
Despair washed over her like a wave. So they were dead, her children, who should have lived in bliss in the Immortal Lands. 'Nerwen, my daughter,' her heart wept, and: 'Finrod, Finrod, my firstborn son!'
So the curse had indeed been their undoing. Though Eru appointed to you to die not in Eä, and no sickness may assail you, slain ye can be, and slain ye shall be, by weapon and by torment and by grief. Eärwen had been aggrieved when her children turned away from the Blessed Realm and their own father and mother, but not until this very hour had she known the grief that could slay. Leaving seemed easy. One last sigh was all it took to breathe out life…
Someone pulled her back from the darkness and pressed her against a pounding heart within a mail-clad chest . 'Do not go from me, Eärwen, my wife!' the voice of Finarfin cried pleadingly. 'Do not leave me utterly bereaved!'
Staring into his sorrowing face she said flatly: 'But they are all dead.' Their houseless spirits have gone to the Halls of Mandos, and long shall they abide there and yearn for their bodies, and find little pity.
He steadied her with gentle hands. 'Not all of them,' she heard him say. 'Our daughter lives.'
'Nerwen lives?' Eärwen said, without understanding. 'The exiles were granted pardon, were they not? Why, then, does she not come?'
'Nerwen refused the pardon,' her husband answered sadly. 'She calls herself Galadriel now, a name bestowed upon her by her lover. She refused to return. I did not even set eyes on her. She merely sent me a message.'
Their only surviving child chose to keep the sundering seas between them, then. Ever proud and self-willed Nerwen had been, and unlike her father not one prone to look back. But at least she had found love, a glimmer of light in the gloom.
Looking up Eärwen saw Eärendil the Evening Star rise, ready to sail his ship through the heavens, a Silmaril on his brow. The only one of the three great jewels salvaged from the wreck of Noldorin pride and possessiveness. Today its light seemed pale to Eärwen.
'But all our sons died,' she said. 'And no doubt the Valar knew, yet they did not see fit to tell us. Why did they abandon us to empty hopes?'
Finarfin gave no answer. It was plain that he had none, for the ways of the Valar were often a mystery to the Children of Ilúvatar. Yet after a while he said: 'I know the manner of their deaths. Orodreth and Angrod and Aegnor fell in battle, braving an enemy beyond their ability to overcome.'
'And Finrod?' she asked anxiously.
He hesitated. 'Finrod died in a dungeon,' he said at last.
A cry of agony escaped her before he could speak on. 'So one who looked upon the faces of the Valar was denied even the plain light of day in his last hour?' She tore herself from her husband's embrace. 'What did he do that he had to go like that?'
'He died to save the life of a mortal man, thereby enabling him to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown.' Finarfin pointed up at the evening star. 'Not for naught do the Elves of Middle-earth name it Gil-estel, the star of hope.' He stretched out a hand as if in supplication. 'Our son gave his life to salvage hope.'
But Eärwen, who would gladly denounce the Silmaril above her to have her children about her, did not look up.
'In time, our daughter may chose to return,' Finarfin said. 'In time, our sons may be re-embodied and released from the Halls of Awaiting, freed from the curse.'
So they might. But when? The Elves do not count the running years. Yet in that hour Eärwen thought in her heart that from now on, she would count them one by one.
The lamps on the quays of Alqualonde were lit, and their rays lit the waters lapping at the ships' hulls. Quiet had settled all about them. Finarfin touched his wife's arm. 'Shall we go home?'
I have no home, only a house, she wanted to say, but he had not deserved that of her. She nodded, and they made to go.
Even as they did they saw the cloaked figure standing tall and straight at the entrance of one of the streets leading from the harbour, his face hidden by a great hood.
Then they halted in wonder, for dark though the cloak was its folds seemed to conceal a glow both softer and stronger than the lamplight illuminating the quays. Suddenly Eärwen was breathless as after a long race. Who could this be – a messenger from the Valar, a Maia perhaps, who pitied them in their sorrow and came to ease their pain? If there was no healing in Valinor, where else could it be found? She took a step, and so did Finarfin.
The figure stirred and began to walk towards them, his pace increasing with every step he took. When he had almost closed the distance between them he lifted both his hands to his hood to pull it back, revealing a blaze of golden hair and a smiling face that shone with joy.
It was not one of the Maiar, though by his radiance he might have been. He opened his arms and leapt towards them to embrace them both, to rekindle their light with his own.
'Finrod,' Eärwen breathed, her voice barely audible.
'Finrod, my son,' Finarfin said, his eyes filled with awe. 'You have returned from the Houses of the Dead.'
Finrod's smile deepened. 'Yes,' he said. 'I am back.'