Knowledge of The Silmarillion and the Athrabeth Finrod ar Andreth in The History of Middle-earth, Volume 10: Morgoth's Ring, is strongly recommended.
Disclaimer: Completely dependent on Tolkien, to whom I am ever indebted.
PG-13 rated for character death.
'This siege of Angband cannot last,' warned Fingolfin, my father's brother and the High King of the Noldor of Beleriand. 'Morgoth must be attacked before he grows too strong for us. He sits not idle in his great stronghold; who shall tell what force he is preparing and what evil he devises even now in the depth of his mines, where the fires never cease to burn and his slaves and minions labour to our undoing?'
From where I dwell in the pine-clad hills of Dorthonion my eyes can see, beyond the plain of Ard-galen, the towering peaks of Thangorodrim that rise above Morgoth's fortress. His threat is ever present to my mind, and Fingolfin's plea did not fall on deaf ears here. Yet elsewhere the people of the Noldor lived in peace and contentment, loath to take up arms lest many of the long lives of our kindred be cut short, be it in victory or in defeat. I was one of the few who would heed the High King's warning. Not even his own sons did, and therefore the foe remained unchallenged.
'This may be our undoing,' I said, echoing Fingolfin's message while I poured the eldest of my brothers a goblet of wine. We sat beside the fire in the privacy of my rooms. Finrod had come north unexpectedly, and glad though I was to see him, his coming renewed my sense of foreboding. 'We must deal the blow, not wait for it to fall. This peace begins to smell foul.'
'You are always most eager to fight,' he said, staring into his wine without drinking, his brow creased as if he read a doom in the dark red liquid. He seemed unusually subdued.
'Is it so strange?' I asked. 'Did we not lead our people to these lands to take revenge on Morgoth for slaying Finwe, our sire and grandsire? At least Fingolfin has not forgotten.'
Finrod looked up, his eyes flashing; a fire burns in him, too. 'And I have? Is that what you mean to say?'
'Have you not?' I retorted, hearing the bite in my own voice.
He drank of his wine, and suddenly he smiled, for he is not easily offended. And none smile quite like my brother Finrod does; his smiles can disarm anyone save the foul creatures of Morgoth, and some of the sons of Fëanor, alas. But this time the smile faded too quickly.
'You know the answer, Aegnor,' he said. 'It was more than a thirst for revenge that drew me here; seldom are we moved by one desire alone. When we departed for these mortal shores I dreamed of wide lands full of unseen wonders. Ever curious, I found many things to delight me and some to grieve me. But never can I forget our quarrel with the Enemy, for it, too, haunts my dreams, and more so with each passing season.'
It was plain that my brother had not sought me out for the sake of talking and drinking by the fireside. 'What have you come to tell me?' I asked.
Finrod put down his cup and rose, turning to the restless flames. Finally he spoke. 'To convey a message, for one. Though when you hear it you will not like it, I deem.'
'Tell me nonetheless,' I urged him.
'The message runs thus: Tell him not to be reckless. Not to seek danger beyond need!'
It was well that my cup was almost empty, or I would have spilled much of its content. The room disappeared. I saw a maiden with raven-dark hair on a morning in the high hills of Dorthonion, smiling in the sunlight, braving the shadow of her own mortality, inviting me to walk with her. I touched her hand, for my heart went out to her.
Yet I did not tell her.
The image curled up like burning parchment. I was back in the room, grateful that my brother knew to avoid the naked pain that must have shown in my face.
'You have seen her, then,' was all I could say.
'As you have not, though she dwells near you?'
It was nigh on seventy years of the sun ago since I last met her, drinking in her face from the mirror of Lake Aeluin. In the twilight, a star had adorned her hair.
'I go there no more,' I answered.
Finrod tore his gaze from the fire to look at the flames of gold that burn on my head; my hair will never ripple down my back like his long tresses do, though we share the colour. He still avoided my eyes, or what he perceived in them – unless it should be that he did not wish me to see what was in his eyes: the image of a bent and toothless old woman, the ruin of youth and beauty.
'Yes. I spoke with the woman Andreth in the house of her kinsmen, beside another fireplace,' he said at last.
'When was this? On your way here?'
He shook his head. 'No. Forty-five years of the Sun ago.'
'Why did you not come sooner?' My brother is not wont to restrain his tongue for half a mortal life span when speech is called for, unless his mind is sorely troubled.
Finrod threw a log onto the flames and turned towards me. 'I never thought you would heed those words, Aegnor.'
Indeed, for how can a warrior avoid danger and remain a warrior? Yet I guessed there was another reason why he had kept his silence until now. 'She died.' I said, a taste like ashes of a fire spent filling my mouth. 'That is what you came to tell me.'
He shook his head. 'No. Old though she is she clings to life, knowing that you and she look up at the same stars still. But not long now.'
This, my embittered heart knew, was why our love was doomed to remain unfulfilled in the very hour of its awakening. The ways of our kindreds are sundered. Mortals wither like leaves, whereas Elves by nature have the life of Arda. Dying, mortals leave the circles of the world, whereas Elves are bound to it until it ends, and can regain life to walk its paths once more. How could Andreth have borne to see my love for the maiden change to pity for the hag, slowly and inexorably? How could I have let her suffer the agony of seeing me remain young and unchanged?
'What more did she say?' I heard myself ask, against my better knowledge.
'She feared herself scorned when you turned away without declaring yourself.' Seeing my hurt Finrod added earnestly: 'But I said to her that if your heart had ruled you would have taken her and fled with her from Morgoth's shadow, forsaking your own kin, forsaking our war with the Enemy. And I told her why you could and would not do so.'
'Do you not presume too much?' I snapped, unable to restrain myself, even glaring at him.
'Save your wrath for our Enemy, my brother,' Finrod said. 'Do I not know your heart? I see that your pain and bitterness vie with hers, and I would comfort you as I comforted her by saying there is hope beyond her death and yours, beyond the end of Arda, though all seems dark and doomed now.'
Then I knew the truth behind his coming. Not long now… My brother was here to bid me farewell. He had seen my death as clearly as I had; he knew that it would be soon. And his last words told me he had also seen what I had known for years: that I would never leave the Houses of the Dead to re-enter a world where Andreth was no more. Slowly, I rose, and when our gazes met I saw that it was so.
There was no more need to speak. Finrod stepped close, and we embraced.
After he left I pondered his words for a long time. They come back to me once more now that the siege of Angband has failed. Morgoth has scorched the grassy plain of Ard-galen with a sudden fire, devouring those that dwelled there, leaving naught but choking dust and charred bones. The Noldor and their human allies fight to brave the onslaught of black foes following the flames, but we are greatly outnumbered. I lead the vanguard, knowing we will only stem the tide at terrible cost, and not for long. But I am a spirit of wrath, my fire being all the more fell for the pain that fuels it. I shall wreak havoc yet among our foes before I am blown out.
Yet underneath my wrath there is a burning regret. I would not declare my love and flee with Andreth because I would keep faith with my own kin, and because I feared to see her wither. Yet now in the face of death my heart is unguarded, and I find myself wishing I had grasped what lay to my hand.
Seldom are we moved by one desire alone, as my brother said. Mercifully he did not add that when desires clash, all choices bring grief. And wisely, he did not tell Andreth, the only woman I will ever love, that I would regret my choice before the end, even though he must have foreseen it.
Tomorrow, I will fall. When I do, Andreth will know I shall nevermore look at the stars of Arda Marred, and close her weary eyes.