THE UNCROSSED GULF
The other side of Fell Fire, Chapter 2
When Aegnor walked towards his horse I did not immediately follow, preferring to watch his graceful steps and enjoy the way he held his head. It was only when he turned back to me that I moved to join him. While I approached him he suddenly said: 'Shall we walk the rest of the way?'
I did not understand then why we could not share his horse again, but I think I do now: he dreaded what the feel of my body against his would do to him - or me. My disappointment must have been visible, for he added: 'Surely Boron's halls are not that far now?' For the first time his voice held a note of uncertainty. That, if nothing else, told me our encounter had not left him unaffected.
As I did not want to seem lazy, I complied, saying: 'Indeed they are not.' And so, we proceeded on foot, Aegnor's horse following behind of his own free will. We spoke of nothing worth remembering - that is, I merely recall we talked for the sake of talking, and in my case, for the sake of listening to his melodious voice.
My father and grandfather greatly rejoiced to see the Elflord, receiving him with joy. My mother promptly began to arrange a feast in his honour, assigning me various tasks that kept me occupied for the rest of that afternoon; meanwhile my father and grandfather spoke with Aegnor about matters high and grave. At the banquet, I was not seated in his immediate vicinity, but at least I could see him and observe him at will. Though I had heard it say that Elves prefer wine, this Elf drank freely from the mead I helped brew. He did not appear to be affected by it like our men were save Boron my grandfather, who drank sparsely.
After the meal, the tables were removed to make room for dancing. At first, Aegnor seemed more interested to join the minstrels, borrowing a lute* to play some Elvish tunes for us mortals to dance on. He looked to be amused by our young men's mead-induced antics and the shrill giggles of us, maidens. At some point he began to play faster and faster, until one by one the dancers began to run out of breath and staggered aside but still the pace of his playing increased, as if his fingers attempted to get ahead of our feet or as if he was testing our mettle. And I thought I saw a spark in his eyes that was not entirely benevolent. In the end only my brother Bregor** and I were left, sweating and panting, yet determined to go on.
That was when he stopped. We collapsed against each other, while everyone laughed and clapped, Aegnor putting aside the lute to applaud us with the rest.
After all had regained their breath he also joined in the dancing, taking turns with all the girls until it was my turn. While we moved to the measure of the music I watched his face, discovering an almost imperceptible flush, and when my gaze caught and held his I realised he was not all that sober, though it had no effect on his motions. Only the stiff hair on his head strayed in all directions, making him look like a sun in disarray. He grinned at me, and there it was again, that same spark, not benevolent but not malevolent either, merely strange and slightly disturbing.
Then his eyes truly encoundered mine for the first time, and abruptly the grin faded and I saw him pale, just before our turn was over and we both had to dance on with someone else.
He stayed a fortnight, and during most of that period he managed to avoide me. I failed to understand. What was it I had perceived in his face, if not love? Why then, did he shun me - because I was mortal and too far below him? The tale he had told me on the lakeshore entered my mind. Was Thingol not as far below Melian as I was below Aegnor? Nonetheless she took him for her spouse. Why had he told me this story, if not to say that such gulfs could be bridged? Was it only women who stooped, or was the gulf between us mortals and the undying greater than all others, too wide for any bridges to be built?
Those few times I managed to cross his path and exchange a few words with him, we were always in the presence of others. He always remained courteous, but the spark, the flame I was looking for, was carefully veiled. Until that last evening, when I found out he had gone for a walk along the lakeshore.
When I set out it was not yet quite dark, and in the twilight I found him precisely at the spot where he had recounted the tale of Thingol and Melian. The lake was quiet and smooth now, a mirror rather than a choppy sea, and Aegnor was gazing at it, seated on his own cloak at the edge of the water. On seeing me, he pressed his lips together, but he did not speak.
'Can I also use your cloak to sit on?' I asked boldly.
He moved aside, still without a word, and I sat down. We remained silent, I because I did not know where to begin, he because he did not want to encourage me, as I deem now. For a long time we both gazed into the water reflecting our faces, until the stars began to appear overhead. When the silence became unbearable to me I slowly began to turn my head towards him, for I had to ask him the questions tormenting me both night and day.
'Do not move!' he said, almost anxiously. 'As you are sitting now, your mirror image in the water is... I see a star caught in your hair,' his voice fell unto a whisper, '... it makes you look like an Elf-maid, Andreth.'
It was the first time he called me by my name. I remained perfectly still, loath to spoil the vision for him, but my mouth opened itself and I heard myself say: 'Could you not briefly pretend that I am one, Aegnor?'
Aegnor's breath hissed, and when I did turn my head to gaze into his eyes it was there once more, the spark, brighter than ever, kindling me beyond help. An indefinite time passed, an Elvish while that could have lasted moments or hours. We threw ourselves into each other's arms, we kissed, and his flame scorched me. They seem so distant, these lofty Elves, shining down on us like the stars that do not spread heat. But it is not so, he was not, not there and then; a fire leapt up in him that frightened me like nothing ever had, and yet I wanted nothing so much as to be burned to cinders by that same fire. And burn I did when I felt his hand caress me, stroking my breast, and I drew him down with me on the soft turf. 'I love you. Take me. Here. Now.'
He kissed me even more deeply then, and pressing his body against mine I could feel the hardness between his legs. His hand pulled up my skirts far enough to reach under them and caress my bare thigh, sliding up and in, while my fingers fumbled awkwardly at the lacing of his leggings, eager and apprehensive at the same time.
Then, suddenly, he groaned, and with a visible effort he rolled away and sat up. 'No,' he said, his voice thick with anxiety. 'We cannot wed, and I will not abuse your grandfather's hospitality by taking something he would not offer for free.' He scrambled to his feet. 'I am sorry.' His voice broke. 'Forgive me.' And he turned and ran away.
He never said he loved me.
Utter desolation engulfed me then, for I knew I could never love another, not while he lived... With a bitter laugh I rose and walked home, slowly, like one of the aged of my race.
I never saw him again, though I kept hoping against hope he would return before it was too late for me. So I do know what hope is, oh yes, I do, Finrod. But some hopes die, even on us mortals, while we die away from those that do not.
His brother did his utmost to disabuse me of the notion that Aegnor thought me too lowly or himself too lordly. It was the war, he explained, his brother's sense of duty, the customs of the Eldar not to get children in times of danger, the fear of an Elf to watch his mortal love whither and die. For my sake, so he argued, Aegnor would fight the Enemy who had marred Arda and thereby my human race; fight him recklessly, heedless of peril. Hoping to fall, I thought secretly, for Finrod made it abundantly clear that his brother suffered no less than I did, telling me he would never leave Mandos for my sake. As if I had asked for it, as if I wanted to mar his soul because mine was marred! I wish I had seen then what I perceive to be true now: that Aegnor simply did not know what to do or where to turn, that all his Elven wisdom completely left him in the face of this unprecedented thing: the love of an undying Elda for a mortal maid.
In my turn I told Finrod I would have given all for a year or even a day of the flame, without telling him what had nearly happened before Aegnor banked the fire. I doubted his brother had told him everything, so I left the most aching moment out and refrained from baring my soul completely. Taking my words at face value, Finrod patiently told me why it could never have been, speaking of high dooms about which I cared not a whit. I knew it was brotherly love that made him defend Aegnor even against me, who certainly loved his brother no less - but he used too many arguments. What clumsy archer needs more than one arrow to put down a wounded animal?
Of course I would never have asked of my love that he should watch helplessly while I grew old and withered. Of course I would not have asked of my love to be my crutch when my feet could dance no more.
What I wanted, was to bear his children.
When Finrod and I spoke about these matters, I was fourty-eight, a maid turning into a hag without ever having become a mother. And undoubtedly he was aware of it. 'This is a time of war, and in such days the Eldar do not wed or bear child,' he said, giving me the opportunity to have my say. But did he really expect me to touch the wound that hurt most, the burn that ate deeper into my flesh with every passing year - at a time when it was beyond healing? Besides, what was I to say? Call his brother a fool for only seeing a lovely young maiden? Call them both fools for missing the crucial point?
The gulf we spoke of was no wider than a child can bridge. To us mortals, a child is visible, tangible hope, unlike the distant visions entertained by a deathless race. Mortals can live on, oh yes, we can - in our children and their children, long after we leave this world. That is what, being Elves, they failed to grasp. Throwing it at Finrod was useless. But I should have said it to Aegnor. Alas, I did not have the courage, for fear he should reject me once more. Yet this, as I sometimes think, was the one thing he might have understood, the only thing that might have opened his eyes.
Therefore, in the face of death, childless old Andreth daughter of Boromir has to acknowledge the fault is hers. And I can but forgive him, forgive them both, Aegnor and Finrod. If there is anything to forgive, for they did love me, both of them, in their own different ways.
So, if there is indeed a Father of All, I would beg him to have mercy on all his children.
*no, not another harp! That's Finrod's favourite instrument. Though I don't know if there were lutes in First Age Middle-earth. The range of instruments named in the Silmarillion is rather limited.
**father of Barahir and grandfather of Beren.
The ideas expressed by the main character of this story are not necessarily correct, or in keeping with Aegnor's views as found in Fell Fire. It is what Andreth tells herself shortly before her death - her personal truth .
I used to be angry at Tolkien because I thought he overlooked the issue of the children. But then I discovered he didn't. Finrod mentions them, and Andreth is 48 - definitely past the age where you can still start a family. This is by no means a coincidence; I think Tolkien knew exactly what he was doing. Another interesting point is that Andreth never really agrees with Finrod, which also says a great deal.