The Crossing - "Did you not taste the water?" (Part 2 of 3)

"The Ice grows more solid," Nariel suddenly announced. Her voice was soft and hoarse for lack of water, but it still had the power to bring Calion and Inglorion out of their darkest thoughts, and Calion turned his head to where she stood with a puzzled look on her face.

"More solid?" he asked, not understanding. The ice was always solid. It was what lay beneath the ice that caused them problems

"Like it's connected to something." She sniffed the air. "Land!" she suddenly, gleefully cried. "The smell is stronger now. If we stay on this piece, it will take us to the land!" Calion sniffed gently. She was right. Inglorion beamed, and took off like an arrow, racing up the snow, the other two in hot pursuit. Land. Nariel's hope had not proved false. The Ice did not last forever. Land.

Nariel was the first to step off the Grinding Ice and onto the glacier at the foot of a high mountain range. "Careful, it's a bit cracked here," she announced as she took a large step over the snow. "And we're off." Though they were still on pale, icy ground, Nariel could feel the Earth through the glacier. They'd done it. They were on land. At long last, they stood on ground that would not buck and break and swallow them. She'd been holding onto hope for so long that she'd not anticipated how it might feel to finally achieve one's desire, and so when Inglorion and Calion cheered and hugged her she could do little more than shrug and say, "Let's have some of that water." Inglorion took his swallow from the skin, Calion his, and hers was the last. She wiped her mouth, wishing she hadn't taken a drink. Water tasted so good she wanted more. "Do you think there's a way to real dry land, with creeks and springs?" she asked, passing the empty waterskin to her friend and staring at the hard mountains before them. She could see no way through them. Inglorion thought a moment, and glanced at Calion who grinned cockily, like someone enjoying a joke.

"You two are so used to looking ahead you forgot to look around as well." he chuckled and then pointed in a new direction, towards a ridge of rock. "Let us go southeast," he suggested, the crazed smile still pasted on his face. "There has to be a way off of this, but it won't be in those mountains." He waved dismissively towards the hard rocky teeth scraping Varda's bejeweled sky. By Manwë, Nariel hadn't seen him look or sound so happy in a very long time.

Inglorion led them off the glacier, over the moraine, and onto open land. Grasses and trees grew there, the rustling of their leaves the only sound in the still and empty darkness. The stars looked much the same as they had in Aman. No matter where they went, the stars were always the same. The greatest gift the Valar had left to them, the ones who remained in Arda and the ones who dared return, was those stars. Constant over the world, the Calaquendi and Moriquendi alike gazed on the same sky. All three were tempted to wander, and stay, and leave the rest to their fate, but that would be a cruelty and betrayal greater than any save Moringotho himself could come up with, so they agreed in mutual silence to do no more than find water, and food, if possible. Under the silent stars they walked, breathing the cool air of endless night and feeling the warmth of fertile ground beneath them.

She listened hard as she walked, listening for a spring, and she found one, nestled in a grove of fruit trees. Joyfully she swallowed great gulps of liquid, filling her water skin before letting the men have their turn, and it was in that water that she tasted it.

She could not quite describe what it was. It hung in her mouth afterwards, not so much a flavor as a feeling, a feeling of doom. Biting into the fruit of a tree she tasted it again, and as she swallowed the succulent morsel she understood what it was. As the followers of Fëanáro had left her people to their fate, the Valar had left Arda, and all who lived it, to its. Moringotho tormented these lands, and whatever Elves dwelt in the darkness here. He pillaged and killed and they fought back, but their battles had no hope. The bloodshed, agony, and despair were in the land itself, tangible in the fruits and waters, and now she could even smell it in the air. She'd been foolish, to imagine they could find bliss in this place of suffering and terror. She'd been a fool, to dream those dreams, to drive her friends so relentlessly after this breeze. They'd come here to die, forsaken and forgotten. No power of Elves could overthrow the evil that lurked in the mountains beyond them. No power of Elves could recover the Silmarils. They were doomed, and she had blame in this, for she'd so convinced her friends that they'd find rest and happiness that they'd kept right on going, when it would have been better to return to Valinor.
Well, they could not go back, not by way of the Helacaraxë. Some things are only possible once in the Ages of the World. Crossing the Grinding Ice was one of them.

She sat back, looking at the sky. The brilliant stars were loved by all, but they were not hung for the joy of those that remained in the Hither Lands. The Valar cared not for them. The Moriquendi were forgotten, as the Exile Noldor soon would be. Forgotten and without hope. She glanced at Inglorion and Calion. They clearly did not feel as she felt, for they rested in the grass, smiling up at the bejeweled sky, the throat-tearing thirst gone. She let them sit a while longer, and then, with a heavy heart she reminded them of their duties, and the three went back to the Ice. "This is my payment in full," Inglorion murmured as he crossed back onto the floating part of the glacier, "for the suffering I caused. To leave the Helacaraxë was my greatest joy. To come back to it my greatest sorrow."

"Say not so, friend," Nariel answered, alarmed at his despair. Inglorion rarely spoke aloud of the dark things that ate his heart. Maybe he'd tasted the marring of Arda as well. "Say not so, for we've hope now." Such a liar she was!

"For as long as we've had you and your dreams, we've had hope," Inglorion drily replied, though he lifted an eyebrow in alarm. Nariel realized that she'd just let on to her own despair, a terrible and dark secret she ekpt even from herself, hiding behind the shield of hope and dreams. But that did not matter now. She'd dreamed so many dreams iover that endless crossing. Dreams of beauty, dreams of love. Dreams of hope when there was none. So useless, and yet she could not help it. She could not live without love, hope, and beauty. So if there was none to be found she imagined it instead, and shared her imagined world with her friends, for they were Elves too, and needed these things as much as she. They accepted her dreams, and they too took hope. Frighteningly enough, they also believed her. She sometimes wondered what would happen if she were proven wrong. She'd find out soon enough.

"Real hope," she clarified, thought the qualification was empty to her ears, "beyond my musings and dreams." Real hope for what? No love or life or joy would they find here. Glory maybe. There was still a chance for glory.

"Your dreams are what makes the hope real, sister," Calion spoke. "Your dreams chase the darkness like firelight, holding it at a distance from you, and all near you can be warm and see." She smiled a little at the analogy.

"Warm, perhaps," Inglorion commented, scrutinizing her with a strange intensity, "but see? All I see in Nariel's dreams are what she wants me to see."

"But that is always beautiful, no?"

"Yes, always." She opened her mouth in protest but he gave her a hard and commanding glare, a look that commanded silence. She waw surprised - he'd never silenced her before. "And I would rather believe in her hope than in what I feel lies ahead." So he tasted it too, and it was for the sake of Calion, who was in many ways still fragile, that he ordered her tongue to be still. I dreamt of life and peace, but instead we will find only war and death, she though bitterly as they found their way back to the camp. It was wrong to give them hope, because now I know we have none, and Inglorion knows it too. Yet he does not know how I feel, he does not know that I know myself to be wrong, that my dreams are merely dreams, mere clouds coming off my breath, and that while he and Calion have washed the blood from their hands, but I have stained mine, for I am the one that drove them here, to this land of bittersweet glory and death. The Grinding Ice was but a taste of the pain we will find in this stained and tortured land. She glanced at her brother. If he felt as she and Inglorion did, he gave no outward sign.

In spite of the strange doom in his mouth that followed his swallow of the waters of Arda, Inglorion's heart was leaping. They'd made it. They'd reached the Eastern Shore. They'd bring the others now, and Findaráto could gloat in how right he'd been. Thank Manwë for that breeze! Inglorion had all but forgotten what dry ground was like. Now all they needed was some light in the world and all would be perfect...well almost perfect. He noticed that Nariel had grown silent, and the loss of her bright laugh worried him. So much had been lost already, but for her to falter would be the cruelest blow of them all. He drew up beside her, keeping one eye on the path ahead of them, and using her mother-name asked "Olorínel, what troubles thee?"

"Did you not taste the water?" she replied, not looking at him, eyes held on the ice before them.

"Yes, I did."

"Then do you not feel it?"

"Feel what?"

"The agony...there is pain in this land, Inglorion, pain and horror." There was agony in her voice too, and Inglorion's heart almost stopped in his chest. The worst had happened.

"What do you mean?" he grabbed her arm and pulled her to a halt. They were not in the safest place to stop, but this was more important than personal safety even. Beside him Calion also stopped, quietly and anxiously watching while Inglorion fixed his intense grey eyes on his sister. Nariel's despair was not a good thing for Calion to witness, and it was not fair that this should be happening now, where he could not be sent away, but then again, nothing about Calion's life had been fair since he and his sister journeyed to the Swan-Haven that day. So Inglorion ignored him, his focus entirely on Nariel as he pierced her soul.

She tried to turn away; she knew he could see right through her. Being a true friend, Inglorion refused to let her defend herself, and caught her chin, forcing her to face him. "Thou art in despair, Olorínel," he murmured. "We have found the land we have for so long sought. Even our lords have leaned on the power of your hope to make it this far. Do not falter now." She shook her head, and he saw a tear trickle down her cheek.

"But you tasted it, didn't you? In the fruit, and the water? Did you not taste the despair, the hopelessness that comes when you fight a battle you can not win? This is Melkor's realm, and the Elves here have only the power to resist. We can not conquer here. He is too strong, we need the help of Aman." Inglorion was shocked. These were the dark thoughts that had dwelt long in his heart, in the hearts of all the warriors, and yet like the others he'd chased them away, or let Nariel's laughter chase them away for him.

"We are of Aman, Olorínel," he began, telling her the same things he'd told himself. "We bring its power with us," he continued, "for we have seen the Light, as the Moriquendi have not, and we have lore that they do not."

"But they've already killed Fëanáro," she whispered. Both the male Elves grimaced at this.

They all remembered the day Fëanáro died. Nolofinwë called the march to a halt and announced quite simply, "My half-brother is dead. We shall not face him when we reach Arda."

"But his sons remain," Artanis had replied, "and they played part in their father's deeds. We will face with them, when we arrive, and ask of them why they abandoned their kin."

"Fëanáro no doubt died doing something foolish. His spirit was too hot for counsel," Inglorion said, taking Nariel by the hands. "He was mighty but fell, I think. There are many of us, and our leaders are wise. We can fence Moringotho, yea, even break him."

"Inglorion, do you not understand?" Nariel pulled away, her eyes flashing with frustration. "Did you not taste it in the water? The power of Aman does not run here, here in this starlit land that has not seen the Light of the Trees. Do you not remember why the Valar led the Quendi West? These lands have long been in the hands of Moringotho. They brought us West to protect us from him, and those that chose not to follow they abandoned to fate. Do you not see it? These lands are not empty, or populated by brave explorers and wrathful rebels. These lands are abandoned, and here the forsaken dwell. The Valar have forgotten this place, and those that dwell here. We walk into our doom." She was all but shouting, and the words rang over the Ice.

"We did that some time ago, sister," Calion remarked after a brief silence as Inglorion tried to formulate a response, "yet as Inglorion said, the power of Aman is in us, not in the Valar alone. And it is said that Ulmo and Ossë stil visit these shores, and there are Maiar that dwell here as well." He was bearing up better than Inglorion had expected. Calion's strenght was a curious one, the older Elf decided, as curious as Nariel's weakness.

"All we will find here is passage to the Halls of Waiting," Nariel said, shaking her head.

"Yea, that is so," Inglorion replied, "Indeed, that is the only path to Amn left to us now. But that is no reason to abandon hope. Melkor is a mighty foe, but we are a mighty people. The Valar may forget, but we do not, and we can teach Moringotho to fear us, and make this land a blessed one." But Nariel shook her head again. Inglorion knew something else was troubling her, and forcing her to look into his eyes again he saw the guilt in their grey depths. She knew that she'd been the one to drive them, and now that all she saw was death and grief, she felt responsible for what was to come.

He also saw, at long last, by what thin strings her hope had been hanging on. Curse him, for not seeing this sooner. He and Calion and so many others had leaned on her fair, waking visions for so long that they'd failed to notice that the dreamer had ceased to dream. Curse the water of Arda, for that had broken the dreams, and destroyed what hope she had. Curse Fëanáro too, for bringing this about. May he never leave Mandos's keeping!

"Nariel, you are not the cause of this," he said gently. "Whatever lies before us, you played no part in bringing forth this doom. You shed no blood, you swore no oaths. You shared with us many hopes and fair dreams, and while those hopes may prove false and those dreams may never come to pass, do not despair and do not hold yourself to blame for whatever happens when we finally cross into Arda. Had it not been for you, your hope, and your power as a healer, many more of us would have been lost on the Ice, and I think that a blacker fate than any that might befall us on these deserted shores." She nodded, but did not believe him. Well, he could not press the point. Either she would hearken to him or not; he could not force her heart. "Come, let us bring the water of Arda back to camp. It may not be as bitter in the mouths of the Noldor as it was in yours."

Author's note: As mentioned before, this story takes place before the Noldor met the Sindar, and leanred Sindarin. Therefore, I have done some digging for Quenya names. In some cases the translation is easy. In other cases, it isn't, so I have provided this list:
Finarfin = Arafinwë
Fingolfin = Nolofinwë
Maglor = Makalaurë
Fëanor = Fëanáro
Finrod = Findaráto
Fingon = Findekáno
Galadriel = Artanis
Turgon = Turukáno
Morgoth = Moringotho
Reviews are always appreciated. And if anyone knows Glorfindel's Quenyan name, feel free to tell me!

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