The Next Step
A Quick Note: Due to a discussion on the Silmfics mailing list, I've been inspired to write a story on this. Sorry, I couldn't help it.
"You realize, of course, that adding mint to that bird will not make it taste any better?"
"Since when did you become a master cook, Brother?"
"I hunted and roasted my first bird when I was only twenty." Ishak's voice was smug, and he had a decidedly superior look on his face.
Those were happier times, yes? The voice came from everywhere and nowhere.
"One of the very few," whispered the spirit.
The lives of the Avari were difficult. I am sorry.
Strange, that once she had been so full of anger. Now she could not summon any emotions. "What would you know of our lives?" she asked dully. "We have never needed your pity, or indeed, anything else from you."
Your people have proven that many times over, from the earliest days of the Quendi.
"You speak of the summons."
Will you not tell me why your people refused to come? And how it was that you lived your life?
"Very well. For I have no pressing engagements." Perhaps she meant it as a joke, except no humor colored her weightless voice. "My father awoke at the shores at Cuíviénen."
He had two brothers, did he not?
"I believe I am the teller of this tale," she rebuked. "Now, he was one of the first to take a mate, for marriage vows had not been conceived of in those days - indeed, since marriage was a custom of the Valar taught to the Eldar in Aman, it never became rooted in our culture." Her voice turned dark. "This was one of the reasons why the Eldar saw us as uncivilized."
Her tone became flat again. "Children came more easily in those days, and my mother bore him three sons. I was born later, only a few years before the Great Journey began. My father named me Rihansu, and I was the fourth of his children - he would have a total of nine over the generations. I grew swiftly to my maturity, for those times were harsh. Food was always scarce, and the woods around the lake were ripe with danger.
"My father kept me innocent of the evil for as many years as he could, but still I learned of the Dark Man."
"Yes, but we did not know his identity for many years, not until Oromë told us. Then, he was known only for the darkness that cloaked him, and we feared him. But the Minyar protected us, for they were mighty in body. Still, since the Nelyar were newly awakened, our curiosity would not be restrained, and often we would wander far. Most of the time we would come back, but sometimes, some did not."
They were captured.
"Yes, but again, we did not know it at the time. At first we had thought that they had grown tired of living with us and had sought their own lands. But oft they would leave behind dear ones, and it seemed inconceivable that they would leave without telling us."
The spirit grew silent for a while, and how many years passed, she did not know. But then she began speaking again. "Life near Cuíviénen was like life in these Halls. Timeless. We knew no time, save by the growth of the life around us. There was only starlight, and the glimmering of the waters. We only knew that of all the kindreds, we were the youngest, and the Minyar were the eldest."
Ingwë was the eldest.
"Yes, and he was the wisest, even in the days of our youth. He was my father's friend." The spirit paused. "He wondered about the purpose of our creation and our fate. Many times great debates would break out, and the leaders of old, beautiful, valiant men, would argue about our future."
What did you decide?
"The Minyar wanted to attack Melkor, as did many of the Tatyar. But the one who called himself Olwë dissuaded the others from the act. My father was of like mind, for he feared the stifling darkness. So we remained for many more years uncounted under the stars, until the Rider came."
Another one of my kinsmen.
"You have many kinsmen," the spirit said. "But yes, it was the one called Oromë . He rode into our camp, and his light was so bright that many of us almost became blinded. In fear, many of us ran unseeing into the woods, some wandering so far that they were never found."
Did you fear Oromë?
"No, for I saw that my father and brothers did not. Indeed, for a long time, I likened the Huntsman to be of the starlight - beautiful, shining, and pure. We knew then that he was not the dark one, for his cloak was one of gentleness, not fear."
My sister agrees that he is indeed very beautiful, as do all other Queens of the Valar, to the disgruntlement of their husbands.
"Oromë bewitched us as well, but I suspect that we also bewitched him. For a long time, he watched us, just as we watched him. But then Ingwë approached Oromë, and he took the hand of Huntsman. From then on, Ingwë was lost to the light."
Is it such a bad thing, to be lost to the light?
"At the time, my father grew afraid, for Ingwë was the mightiest, and if Ingwë could become lost, then what of the others? Surely none matched the golden lord in will. Yet Finwë and Elwë, encouraged by the bravery of the Minyar lord, also accompanied Ingwë to Oromë 's lands. And since Elwë was our lord, for we were still of the Nelyar, we obeyed his will and promised not to pass judgment until he returned."
When the three came as ambassadors, Valinor grew even more beautiful under their feet.
"When they returned, they told us of what they had seen, and in Ingwë the burn grew the strongest. He spoke convincingly, and all the Minyar agreed to follow him. Finwë 's folk agreed as well, except later some changed their minds. But the Nelyar did not all wish to leave. A small group of us - perhaps a hundred or so - did not want to go to Valinor. For many weeks did Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë plead with us, each claiming that we were abandoning them. But it was they who abandoned us and the land of their birth."
They did not see it that way?
"No, for they were all bewitched over the tales of the light. Yet what more light could they need, when the glory of the naked stars shone down upon them? Those of us who were unwilling could not bear to leave Cuíviénen behind. We were like babies in a womb, for Cuíviénen had nourished us from the beginning. But our other kindred did not agree with us on this, and bitter feelings arose in all of us. For this would be our first parting - and the foresighted among us knew that we would never come together again."
"They left soon after, the Minyar the most eager to be gone. Finwë followed, but Elwë lingered behind. Even though some of us were remaining behind, the host of the Nelyar was still too large. So Elwë made his brother Olwë in charge of half of the host. Elmo, the third brother, and my favorite, chose to remain with Elwë. My father Nurwë became lord of the remaining. It was that day that Elwë called us Avari."
"That is how they chose to see it. But we chose to see them as unwilling, for they refused to remain where they were born."
A difference of words.
"At first glance. But the difference led to the first sundering of our race."
She grew quiet again, and time passed uncounted. But then she roused herself from the silence again. "After they left, Cuíviénen grew empty, yet we prospered. Those years were filled with happiness, for more of us were born."
"But we were also very vulnerable, for we were few still, and the evil would grow ever closer to our settlement. It was during one of these days that my father's youngest brother was stolen. Ithron he was called, and I loved him dearly."
A sigh. "He was hunting, for we had no food. But he became separated from his group, and when the others went looking for him, they found his knives. We knew something was wrong then, for no elf would ever be without his knife. That meant that Ithron had been stolen. All of us became frightened, but my father slipped away into the night and followed Ithron's trail as best he could. Later, when he came back, he could speak naught of the journey there, but I gathered that his eyes saw sights too terrible to remember."
What did your father see at Utumno?
"Nurwë watched from the hills surrounding it. It was a place deep within the earth, with towers rising from the black rock. But no creature ventured forth from its depths, save animals with red eyes. But after many days of waiting, he finally saw things. He saw hideous beings, beings that were tall and scarred. But when he looked closer, he noticed their facial appearances more clearly. They were our lost brethren, tormented beyond belief."
"Frightened, he came back to Cuíviénen, where we held conference over these new developments. We decided to rescue them, all of us, including the women and the older children. We armed ourselves as well as we could, but it was pitiful at best, for our knives were rough and our bows were not shaped well. But we were determined, and we were filled with love for our fallen kindred."
"Yet we were not prepared for what happened next." A long pause, and then, "My father ventured out to speak to the tortured ones - and his brother attacked him with a sharp stake. Soon, they were upon us, and we were defending ourselves against our fallen family. And the worst thing was that the dark lord and his minions only watched, as if they were content to watch us battle each other."
"Later, when the Noldor came, and word of the Kinslaying at Alqualondë spread, we Avari knew the truth. That the first Kinslaying occurred not at the Swanhaven, but long ago in front of the gates of Utumno, that Kinslayings would go on everyday, any time an elf and an orc would fight."
"We fled for our lives that day, and a few of our people died or were captured."
Such as your brother.
Could a spirit still weep? "He taught me to hunt and to find edible plants. I loved no one more than my oldest brother." Her voice became controlled again. "My brother's impact on my life, however, did not end that day."
Tell me of the other kindreds.
"The Sindar dwelt over the mountains of the Ered Luin, and we knew nothing about them. Some of the people, later called the Nandor, would sometimes run into us. But for the most part, we dwelt in the wilds of the far east, and we mingled only with our kind."
"Yet our time in the womb was over, and we had to leave Cuíviénen. The land was changing shape, and the lake began to dry. Too soon our lands of Awakening became hostile to its own children. So we moved westward, where we met the Nandor for the first time."
"They despised us, for in our terrifying years in the east, we had lost much of our beauty. Our voices could no longer put forth beautiful songs, and we had lost our elegance. They despised us because they feared us. The Nandor feared that we would bring to them the same ruin that befell us. They did not care that it was not that long ago when they had been our friends, and they did not listen when we tried to tell them."
"And when the Nandor went west over the Ered Luin, they would not allow us to join their companies. They did, however, take with them the stories we told them, in order to warn the Sindar of what we had seen."
"When we heard that Elwë Singollo still lived, my father went to Beleriand himself."
But his reception was cold?
"Yes. Elwë Singollo viewed my father as a traitor to his lordship, and when Nurwë refused to participate in the slaughter of orcs unless in self-defense, Elwë Singollo grew angry, and in front of his court, he claimed that the Avari were the servants of the dark. Nurwë came back east to us, and he told us that we would have no haven in the west."
"I was angry. Did Elwë Singollo not understand that we could not kill our forsaken kindred? My own brother was among them - should I slay him, he whom I had loved so much in my youth? He became evil, like so many others, yet it was hard for us to forget their love. We could not kill them unless it was in self-defense."
"They were our fallen family."
What of your brother?
"I have never gotten over losing him to Melkor. And over the years, I maintained that I could still bring him back to goodness. I whole-heartedly believed that he could find redemption."
"I spent many years dwelling on this matter, and one day, I took the chance. I followed the trail of an orc party to its camp. There, I waited until my brother was on patrol. And finally, when I saw that he was alone, I approached him."
Did he recognize you?
"Not at the beginning. When he saw me, he drew a knife to my throat and tied my wrists. He was horribly disfigured, but I could still recognize the shape of his eyes, the arch of his eyebrows. In the later years, orcs would lose all resemblance to elves, but in the beginning, they still looked like us."
"I told him, 'Ishak, do you not recognize me? It is I, your sister Rihansu!' He at first did not believe me, and I was saddened to learn that he had forgotten my face. This was my first clue that the orcs were diverging from the elven race, since elves never forget such things as the face of one's sister."
"But he then sniffed me, and he saw that I spoke truly. For a few seconds, he had stood there bewildered, for he had thought that I was dead. But then he grew hateful again and told me that I would be killed. I pleaded with him, told him that I would die if need be, but I only wanted him to return to our people. Something in him softened, for he told me, 'I am changed, Sister, and even if I could change back, I would not. For there is no difference between us.'"
"I did not understand what he meant, for my only thought at that time was to pull him to safety. But he only untied my bonds and told me never to seek him out again, and that if I did not leave soon, his comrades would come and kill me. I have still not forgotten that." Her voice drifted off, and another timeless silence fell.
What of the Noldor?
"We knew something was wrong, when one day the starlight disappeared to be replaced by the sun and the moon. We did not like these new objects, and we grew suspicious. When we learned that the starlight vanished with the arrival of the Noldor, we liked them even less."
"They too despised us, but since we did not care about them, it did not matter. But my younger brother found in ally in one of them, she who should have been a dark elf."
"But on the whole, the Noldor were strange folk to us. They had too many laws, even more than the Sindar. Among my kind, there is no such formal tie as marriage. Since death was frequent among us, we did not have the luxury of life-long partners. Too often we would become widowed, and we needed to remarry, for raising children alone is difficult, and procreation was very important among us."
"I remember that once, when I had ventured forth into Beleriand, I stopped in a village in Thargelion to trade goods. I met a young woman of the Noldor - beautiful, bright, and curious - and she persuaded me to have a meal with her. She was not repulsed by my scarred visage, indeed, she was curious to learn about it. We spoke long about our ways, and she was most amazed to learn of our philosophies regarding love."
"She told me that sharing bodies before marriage was infrequent and looked down upon. 'It is the end of your innocence!' she had declared. I had replied, 'For us, it is not the end of innocence but the beginning of adulthood. For who can call themselves adults if they have not even mastered their own bodies?' She had grown silent, as she considered my words."
"But most Noldor were not as opened minded as that young woman had been. They saw us as lawless and immoral, and later, undoubtedly encouraged by the Sindar, they began to see us as cowards."
"The Noldor were valiant, and we too sing of Fingon and Finrod. But how can they be less valiant than us, the first enemies of Melkor? Too often they forgot that."
"And then there were the Atani, whom we loved and hated, for they were young and untouched by our grief. Over time, they too moved west and did deeds of surpassing valor."
A sigh. "I dwelt in the wilds while the kingdoms in the west rose and fell. The Noldor and the Sindar changed, but we did not. And when the Eldar moved west, some of us who were willing to accept their laws merged with them."
"But many more of us still dwelt in the wilderness, forgotten by all others."
"In those years, I became more reflective, and most often it was my brother Ishak whom I thought about."
"Then one day, I finally learned the most shameful secret: that there is no evil."
Would you explain?
"In the beginning, there was only Iluvatar. He is neither good nor evil. He simply is. Generally, our interpretation of this is that there are two sides to everything. Light and dark, past and future, happiness and anger, good and evil. But I have realized that Iluvator does not even have sides."
"Since everything is a creation of Iluvatar's thoughts, then everything that is created is neither good nor evil. Good and evil are only words to label what we do not understand, words that show how we cannot perceive the depth of our existence."
Are you saying that Melkor was right in his actions?
"I do not say right or wrong. Melkor and Manwë are the same. Melkor is not evil, and Manwë is not good. The only difference between them is that Melkor's power is unrestrained and raw while Manwë controls and guides his power. But in the end, that power is the same, that it simply is."
Most would not agree with you.
"I do not doubt it. But I have realized that this is the truth. That none of us are born good or evil. That the darkness we fear is not the darkness of others but the darkness in ourselves."
"I have spent thousands of years thinking about this - I have watched kingdoms rise and fall, I have seen cultures shift, and I have seen the very shape of the world change - and I have finally learned that there is no right or wrong." She paused for seemingly another eternity. "Because of this, I lost my hate. For I cannot hate people, since in reality, there is no hate. That I could just as easily love them, if I truly wished it."
You are going against all wisdom.
"Knowledge and wisdom are two different things. A person can have one without the other."
"I lived for so long because I hated - elves, men, animals, and even fallen gods. But when I could not hate any longer, I found that I could not live."
So you also believe that life and death are the same?
"Yes. For I am dead now, yet it is the same as it was when I was alive."
Yet you entered my Halls. You could have faded away with the earth.
"Do not misunderstand, but I really did not wish to come here. I had planned to fade away with my beloved earth. But I was killed, and as a spirit, I do not wish to wander about Middle Earth. It would be painful, for me to be unable to live again."
You could have accepted oblivion.
"I did not. I do not know why."
Perhaps you have hope?
Amusement flickered from the spirit. "What can I hope for? I cannot go back to my beloved lands, nor can I ever see my family again - both the elves and the orcs."
You can be re-embodied and live in Valinor.
"With them?" Scorn colored her voice. "I have no wish to live with them. No, I would rather be here."
I am flattered that you prefer my company to theirs.
"You have never treated me as the scum of the earth."
Those were long days ago.
"Prejudices are a part of culture, and culture transcends the generations. Nothing has changed."
Nothing has changed and everything has changed.
"My family is dead, and I will never see them again. I have committed acts of hatred in my life, for which I am ashamed."
So have most of the elves.
"I cannot be re-embodied."
Because you are not beautiful?
But beauty and ugliness are the same. As you said, everything is a matter of perspective.
"Yet none of them know that."
Then perhaps you can teach them? For though they call themselves wise, they have not realized the truth - the truth that you have told me, the truth that everything simply is.
"I do not have the will to do this."
You said that you believed in redemption once. That someone could be brought back to goodness. Now, if good and evil do not exist, then no one needs to be brought back. They are already there.
"What are you saying?"
You are the first to step into this new territory. I am proud of you.
You have found the power to understand without hope and also without fear. Rihansu, I once proclaimed the doom of elves. But now I am telling you that there is redemption - for all of you. You may have faded from Middle Earth, but that does not mean that your existence is over. You do not know it yet, but the real journey of exploration has yet to begin for the Eldar - it is not a journey over land or sea, or anything else in your experience. It is a journey of perceptions, of possibilities, and of awareness.
The sunlight was strange upon her face. She had expected it to be the same as it was on Middle Earth. Even the grass she was laying upon was sweeter and greener. Valinor was alien to her. Alien because it was so beautiful, alien because it was so peaceful.
Her body was at it had been in her youth. Looking into a pool of water nearby, she saw that her face was smooth and free of scars. Her dark brown hair was silky again. Her only possession was the dress on her body. If there had ever been a homeless elf before, she was it. For she had no family on Valinor, and there was no one for her to take shelter with. Briefly she wondered why she had allowed Mandos to convince her into coming here. What he had said had made sense in his Halls, but now that she was actually standing here - the first of her kind - it did not seem right anymore.
"Rihansu!" The shout came from behind her in the forest. Who would know her name? Perhaps someone knew of her arrival? Patiently she waited for the person to emerge from the forest. "Oh Rihansu, you are finally here!"
It was Ishak her brother. Ishak the hunter. Ishak the Orc.
With a cry of joy, she ran toward her fallen brother.
Not fallen any longer. He was redeemed.
And if he can belong here, then so can I. She looked toward the shining white peak in the distance, and taking the hand of her brother, they slowly began trekking toward Taniquetil, as the dawn signaled a new day for the elves.
- This was a very controversial story, and I hope I haven't offended any of you.
- The Avari consisted of the Tatyar (Noldor) and Nelyar (Teleri) who refused the summons of the Valar and chose to remain behind at Cuíviénen.
- Elves were the progenitors of the elven race.
- It's stated that 144 elves awoke, but I had a hard time coming to grip with these numbers. I would think that there would have been more.
- In the Annals of Aman, Nurwë and Morwë are said to be lords of the Avari. But this idea didn't stick around, and it was not even mentioned in the Silmarillion.
- For the most part, men evolve while elves do not, which is why the elves fade away from Middle Earth. But in a place where elves do not fade (i.e. Valinor), then wouldn't elves evolve as well? Not physically but mentally?
- Surely orcs, who are fallen elves, can find redemption.