THE QUALITY OF LIGHT
Based on the published Silmarillion, not on any of the confusing and conflicting versions of how the Silmaril came to Ossiriand that are found in The War of the Jewels (HoMe 11)
Disclaimer: Tolkien owns these characters
PG-13 for references to violent deaths
We have taken the Silmaril. My son for the first time, I for the second. It is strange to set eyes upon it again, after almost half a lifetime, and even stranger to find that it shines more brightly than I remembered. I used to think that memory tends to exaggerate, but that does not seem to be the case here. Why this should be so I cannot tell. Perhaps the remembrance of light will always be less bright than its real presence?
That sounds like something Finrod might have said. Finrod, who died because of this jewel. Like Thingol, my Lúthien's father. Light is something Elves die for, it seems, just as I would have died for my love.
My son Dior drinks in the brilliance with his eyes. He is already enamoured of it, I can see it clearly. If I am right about the light, it must be his Elvish heritage.
'This is for Mother,' he says to me. 'Dearly bought, justly reclaimed, hers to wear and to treasure.'
I look at the corpses of the Dwarves we slew to take the Silmaril back. They robbed it from Thingol, who received it from Lúthien and me, who took it from Morgoth, who stole it from Fëanor, and he... Well, perhaps Fëanor did not steal the light he locked into his jewels, though I have not heard it say he asked the permission of the Valar. But I am told there was stealth in the way he kept them to himself, begrudging the sight to all but his closest kin, and that he refused to yield them up to the Maker of the Trees, the source of their light. So yes, he was as much a thief as all of us were.
And he sired seven sons who swore a blasphemous oath to claim this stolen property from anyone who lays hands on it, as I did - and perhaps that is why I lost the hand that held it. But what will Fëanor's sons do if they hear it is with Beren and Lúthien, the dead that live like the dead Trees live in this Silmaril?
That is something I cannot foresee; all I can tell, is that even if I were prepared to yield it up my Lúthien will not, for it was dearly bought, as my son said. Yet I dread the power of their oath, for no one knows better than I do that Elves keep their oaths.
Why do they bind themselves with such fatal words? If Thingol had not sworn an oath to let me live, he would have executed me for a trespasser; I would be dead, but he would live and his daughter's fate would not be separated from his own. Yet he swore it, and in the end it bought him the jewel he had bargained for with death as the ultimate price. If Finrod had not sworn his oath to my father, I would also be dead, for I would have set out for Angband alone, perishing before Lúthien could join me. Yet he swore it, and so he felt bound to aid me unto death. If Celegorm and Curufin had not sworn their oath, Finrod's people would not have turned away from him and -
My son speaks to me again, urging that we go. His hand holds the Silmaril, and I wonder if I have not made a mistake by letting him touch it. He is Thingol's grandson as well as Barahir's. How will this affect him?
I ask the jewel back and he gives it to me, yet not wholeheartedly, I sense.
We leave, and again I find myself pondering these Elvish riddles I do not understand. The Eldar are a great race, and yet they turned what was meant as a blessing to everyone into an object to be coveted, a thing that can corrupt. And while it is said the Music of the Ainur is as fate to them, they do feel the need for oaths to seal this fate. No, I do not understand them.
Yet I am glad Thingol's oath kept me alive, and as for Finrod: what else could he have done? Just say thank you to my father, and move on? Would he not have helped me under any circumstances, he, who was rightly called the Faithful, and the Friend of Men? Or am I fooling myself, because I feel guilty about his death, as I never will about Thingol's?
I clearly remember Finrod's face on hearing my request, I saw sorrow and regret, loss and even fear on it, and the determination to face all of these. Had I known what would follow... had I known the sons of Fëanor were in Nargothrond... but no, I was mad with love for Lúthien and mad with despair at the thought of losing her. I know I could not have acted differently, so it seems I was caught up in the fate of the Elves the moment I set eyes on her.
And Finrod understood. I knew he did when he told me about his own love, whom he had left behind in the Blessed Realm, to his undying regret. That, more than anything else, convinced me I had found friendship as well as aid. And I would like to think his willingness to help me was founded in his belief in love, rather than in an oath.
'You are much too silent, Father,' Dior tells me. 'Is something still troubling you, now that we have what we wanted and did what we set out to do?'
'I begin to wonder why this jewel has not turned the colour of blood, after all the lives it cost,' I reply sharply.
'Pure light cannot be sullied,' he says confidently.
'The purer the light, the more dangerous it is. Look straight into the sun, and it will blind you - and they say this light is sprung from the same root.'
'Yet we can look at it without being blinded,' he counters.
'And it is stolen' I go on.
'But if not to us, to whom would you say it belonged? Do you propose to yield it to Fëanor's accursed sons? Do you consider returning it to the Valar, who do not seem to interfere in the affairs of Middle-earth anymore?' A hint of condemnation has crept into his voice. 'Can it be that you fear this light, Father?'
'Possibly,' is my answer. I refrain from pointing out that in my case at least one Vala interfered*, for I do not like to dwell on that. It reminds me of the worst of my errors: going beyond my own vow, trying to take all the Silmarils - and paying the highest price. 'You would do well to share my misgivings,' I add. 'Remember I died because of this Silmaril.'
For a while, this silences him, giving him food for thought - I hope.
My own thoughts return to that terrible dungeon, our cutting bonds, the werewolf devouring Finrod's warriors, the reek of blood, the stench of excrements, the beast's foul breath, the smell of fear, the odour of death - I remember it as a place of smells before anything else.
I still hear Finrod say: 'I failed you, my friend. I promised more than I am able to keep. Forgive me.'
'It is you who should forgive me for bringing you down,' I recall saying. 'And as your life is worth many of mine, I will release you from your oath by telling Gorthaur all he wants, so he will let you go.'
He laughed softly at that, an incongruous sound in that pit of despair. 'Bravely spoken, Beren. But if you truly believe that Gorthaur will set me free - the former King of Nargothrond, a member of the House of Finwë, a sworn enemy - you do not know him yet.'
He gave away our names with that, but it made no difference. The beast would have come for me anyway and I would have perished if Finrod had not bought the time Lúthien needed to reach me. But he did - biting the throat of a werewolf, turning himself into a beast to save my mortal skin, putting aside reason and sentience to find the strength to save me. I did that to him. It was only fitting that one day I fell prey to my own wolf, and felt what he must have felt.
I also recall everything we said before he passed away, though I did not repeat our final words to my listeners in Doriath.
'It is dark,' he whispered, dying. 'It has been so since the Trees were killed, though I never truly saw it until we came to this black dungeon.'
'But if you can see that much,' I heard myself say, 'there must be some light somewhere.'
'There is, now,' he breathed. 'Perhaps you shall see it, too, son of Barahir.' And he spoke no more.
We may not meet again. That is one of the burdens I must bear: that I bought the fulfillment of my love with the death of a friend as I have never had before or after, though I knew him but a short while.
'Do you not fear the dangers of this light?' I suddenly ask my son while we move on.
Dior eyes me strangely. 'You believe we ought to shun it?' I can see he is not in any way daunted.
I do not reply. But I know in my heart that it is ourselves we must beware of. Light reveals where darkness hides, and it is what the light brings out in ourselves, which should make us tremble. Finrod knew it in the end, and overcame.
My Lúthien is Elven-wise, though she is mortal now. She will know what to do with this Silmaril, I trust.
*Mandos, in case anyone wonders
'Splinter of light' is a reference to Prof. Verlyn Flieger's admired and admirable Silmarillion monography 'Splintered Light'.