The Crossing - "The Winds Change" (Part 1 of 3)
Nariel shook the last of the water from her waterskin. That was it; she'd be thirsty until they reached Arda. They'd used the last of their fuel some time ago and could therefore melt and drink no more of the Helacaraxë. Wearily she looked out at the shifting ice. It did not matter which way she turned. All she could see was ice. Endless grey, starlit teeth that would swallow an elf whole if he or she didn't mind his or her feet and other senses. Sometimes it seemed like they'd never make the crossing.
She found her brother sitting alone, resting on his pack and looking at his hands. Calion often looked at his hands. They were delicate, with long slender fingers, better suited to harp-strings than swords, and yet gentle Calion had fought at Alaquondë. Like their parents he had no desire to join the uprising and leave Aman. For her part, Nariel was curious about the far shores for she loved to walk in the woods and explore unknown ground yet in truth she had never wished to rebel against the Valar. Lord Turukáno had respected her family's wishes in this regard and therefore had given them the grace to remain. So it was not as part of Fëanáro's rebellion that the two of them had been at the Swan Havens that day. Rather, they had been there only to pay a visit to kin and friends. Calion had had a love there; Inorwë was her name, and she was the daughter of a silver-haired mariner. They'd been wandering alone that day, walking along the quays and talking while Calion gathered the nerve to plight their troth. But that was not to be, for down upon them the Noldor came.
The lovers hid first, but were soon found by a helmed and furious Noldo. Threatened with his life, Calion killed the man, and he and Inorwë took off. One of the mariners recognized Calion as a Noldor as the two fled down the quay, and, misreading the terror in Inorwë's face as she fled, notched an arrow and aimed to kill. Kill he did, but not his mark, for Inorwë leaped before her lover, and the Telerin arrow pierced her Telerin heart. In fury, Calion killed the mariner, leaving him with the blood of both the Teleri and the Noldor on his fair and slender hands. Numbed with grief, covered in blood, he'd sat down there at the quayside, senseless. Inglorion, their friend of old, was the one who found him and brought him aboard one of the captured ships. Guessing the nature of the problem he sought Nariel. Aside from being Calion's beloved sister, Nariel had much skill in the healing arts, and Inglorion knew that if any could save him, it would be she. But Calion had retreated deep into the darkness, and he lay in that for most of the voyage. The day he woke was the day Mandos pronounced his doom, and it was a tribute to Nariel that he woke at all, though it was a bitter waking. As one of the kin-slayers (albeit an accidental one), gentle Calion came under the Curse of Mandos, and into Exile he went.
For her part, Nariel shed no blood at Alaquondë. She believed that a healer owed allegiance first to life itself and brought aid to any injured Elf she came across, Teleri and Noldor alike. She'd done so at her own peril, for an incensed Teleri would have killed her, a healer, as she held a dying Teleri sailor in her slender arms. She owed her life to Inglorion's quick sword, and at first blamed herself for his Exile until he reminded her that he'd already ***ed himself before he rescued her. Nevertheless, she still felt a pang of guilt that he should suffer even in the least bit on her account. She herself had commited no crime and could have turned back with so many of Lord Arafinwë's people. Turukáno had granted that grace to any and all of his people that had not drawn their blades at Alaquondë. But she felt that she now had a healer's duty to her lord and her people, and did not wish to abandon Inglorion to his fate either. More importantly though, she sensed Calion's aching grief and despair and knew it would kill him to leave him, especially in those early days. So it was that she followed Nolofinwë and his sons onto the ice, and let the Curse fall on her as it had on them. Many nights she sat with her brother while he screamed in his sleep about the blood on his hands, the same hands he was looking at now as she approached.
"They are clean brother," she said with a smile, sitting next to him. This had become her customary greeting for him since the journey began, and he acknowledged it with a despondent nod, and then gave her a flash of his bright smile.
"I hope they stay that way. I am out of water."
"Me too." She leaned back a bit, settling onto her pack. It felt good to get off her feet. This hill that they were resting on right now was stable enough that she felt she could drop her guard.
"Want some of mine?" a voice behind asked and they turned, looking up to face the bright eyes of Inglorion. "A mouthful for each of us," he added, shaking the skin.
"Let us save it then," Calion said, "for when we are truly thirsty."
"Very well, but if we are not truly thirsty now then I don't know when we ever shall be!" They laughed, for though their predicament was sore, laughter felt good, and it seemed oddly appropriate. "How fare the injured, Lady?" Inglorion inquired, stowing his limp waterskin.
"They fare well. Your brother's arm is mending, and Lord Glorfindel passed the dancing test." Lord Glorfindel had broken his leg rescuing a pair of scouts who got caught on a flow of ice that was drifting away from the main group. They were lucky no one had died. "And now I am sent to rest," she added, "for I have labored long without it rest since you and my brother went on your last mission." She did not mean to complain, but there was no hiding the weariness in her voice.
"And done a fine job of it," someone else said behind her.
"Aiya Lord Findaráto!" Inglorion cried, snapping to attention and bowing as Nariel lept to her feet and spun to face the tall, golden Elf-Lord.
"My Lord!" she gasped, also bowing. Calion also jumped up, standing straight, a soldier ready for orders. Findaráto bid them to rest with an impatient wave of his hand. Such formalities had no purpose on the Grinding Ice, and of the three the only one who owed him allegiance was Inglorion. Nariel knew she'd had no need to bow, but though she belonged to Turukáno's house Nariel had long had a special love for Findaráto, especially since beginning the Crossing. They all did, for he was as wise as he was kind, and the ancient light of Aman shone bright in his eyes. "I am sorry, I do not mean to complain..." but Findaráto silenced her with a laugh.
"You complain? Lady, should despair ever darken your eyes I will know for certain that we are doomed." Nariel blushed, ducking her head and Findaráto laughed again, a silver ripple across desolate, starlit ice. "The deeds of Nariel, Calion, and Inglorion have been spoken of oft of late," he said, turning more serious. "Some say you understand the language of the Ice, and that is how the three of you have managed to stray farther than anyone else has dared, and yet return before we have time to worry." His tone was still casual, but one look at his face told Nariel that she would not be getting the rest she so desperately wanted. She'd be getting a scouting mission instead.
"We are at your service, Lord," Inglorion answered smoothly, seething inwardly. He and Calion were only recently back from the last one, and he'd known before she said anything that Nariel had been tending the sick and wounded since before they left. The hardships of the Ice left them all weary and sore, Nariel not the least of all. Nariel's heart was kindled with a love for all things living and wild. A skilled healer when she wasn't wandering the wooded glades of Aman, on the Ice his friend had quickly displayed a talent for scouting matched only by her talent for healing. Their leaders needed her in both capacities, and therefore she was one of the few called upon to do double duty. Just as he and Calion, known also for their ability to survive the worst the Grinding Ice could offer, did double-duty as both scouts and rear-guard. It was honorable to be able to serve so well in not just one but two capacities, but it was tiring as well, for they rested less than the others yet, out of necessity, ate and drank the same. They took their cues from Nariel's graceful submission to duty, and never so much as admitted their weariness openly, until now. To see Nariel falter was frightening; to see Findaráto, who knew who and what Nariel was, turn such a blind eye to her predicament was maddening.
"Be not troubled, Inglorion," Findaráto said, looking into the younger Elf's eyes and understanding his suppressed anger. "This will be your last, I deem. The winds change, and the smell of earth is on them." Inglorion nodded, slightly embarrassed that his lord read him so easily.
"Yea, Lord," Calion spoke up, "I smell it too." Inglorion sniffed the breeze. Indeed, he could smell the clean, warm smell of fresh dirt. Nariel must have sensed it too, for her nostrils flared and a new light shown in her eyes. Nothing lit Nariel up more than a sign of hope. Even the most slender, vaguest sign would do. A dream, a healed wound, all these things somehow told her they'd make it off the Ice and into a land of beauty and bounty. Every shred of hope kindled her, and though Inglorion was skeptical of his nose he was glad to see the light returning to Nariel's weary eyes. Seeing her hope brought him hope. Even dour and quiet Calion was looking perkier now that Findaráto had pointed out the changing wind.
"We will follow it, Lord," Nariel promised for them, the soul of eager anticipation. "To its very source." And we will have a hard time keeping up with her, Inglorion thought, for she will follow this breeze at a dead run, urging us on with her brilliant hopes and fair dreams.
"I hoped you would," the Elf-Lord replied, "for I think that of all our scouts, you three would be the most likely to return. Turukáno knows that you two are going, of course, and he bids that the three of you carry arms this time. The Valar left the eastern lands for Darkness many an age ago, and though Moringotho's only recently returned he left many fell things to breed on its shores, and they are loyal to him still. I have told the healers, Nariel, of your mission. They were willing to let you go for as long as it takes. Let the wind be your guide, and come back to us."
The Helacaraxë did not suffer the Noldor lightly. Passage was hard to find, and deadly, and so they depended on their scouts to guide them. The scouts traveled in small groups with the hopes that they'd be more likely to return. Some teams were better than others, and for this mission Lord Findaráto had been right to come to Nariel, Inglorion, and Calion, for of all the scouts, they were the best. This, Inlgorion considered, was not pride - just a hard and simple truth. Not only did the three have personalities that harmonized, but their skills, skills that before the rebellion they had not known they even had, complimented each other. Nariel seemed to sense the flow of the ice before anyone noticed the hills had begun to move, and more than once her warnings had saved their lives. To him and everyone else, they seemed to move at random, with no warning, jaws that would crush an Elf to dust in a heartbeat, ye Nariel claimed there was a pattern, and if you could feel it you could follow it. Inglorion believed. They all believed her, for she was never wrong. Then there was Calion, who never lost his orientation. You could put him in a sack, spin him around until he was dizzy, and he'd still find north. They knew this because the experiment had been done. Rounding off the trio was Inglorion himself, a master route-finder. He could never explain it to anyone, but the easiest, safest path through the hills seemed to open before him. A typical conversation on a mission usually started with Nariel saying they had to get off this hill quickly, Inglorion pointing out the best way to do so, and after they'd finished running Calion telling them where they were and which way they needed to go now. Between the three of them, they could find the life that blew on the wind.
The Grinding Ice had a terrible, treacherous sort of beauty, Inglorion reflected as he kept pace with Nariel, who, spurred by the promise of the breeze, had taken the lead. She had run off at a jog-trot through the shifting, creaking hills, and had it been anyone else Inglorion might have yelled to slow down, for the ground had been known to open beneath them, but Nariel would know well in advance if such an event were to occur. In the pale light of the stars, the teeth of ice bit the horizons as silvery, grey-blue mounds, devoid of life. Stark, plain, and primal, it felt like they had fallen back through time to when the world was made, before their own people had awakened. All the world was this, this was the world. Endless cold, empty, shifting ice, with neither beginning nor end.
A short laugh broke his reverie. Calion, pacing beside his sister, was chuckling over one of Nariel's wilder fantasies about what they might find at the wind's source. Inglorion, in need of the comfort of friendship and humor, started listening. He'd not miss the Helacaraxë, but there was something in their stark emptiness that he could appreciate. Broken, torn, grinding, their cold teeath and bitter creaks spoke to the dark corners of his soul. He was a Kin-slayer. Intoxicated by the fell promises of King Fëanáro, Inglorion had gone to the Swan Havens and slaughtered the Teleri, stealing their ships and silencing their beautiful singing voices. When the spell was broken he'd looked at his bloodied hands and wept, and wept again when he found that gentle Calion had been forced to join their number. To bring the singer into such violence was a greater evil than the slaying, for Calion's spirit had not the fire of the typical Noldorim.
He'd found Calion collapsed in grief on the quayside, Ironowë in his arms and a dead mariner not far away. Blood was everywhere, and though Calion would not speak, Inglorion saw the arrow in the lady's breast and put the story together. Calion didn't seem to be at all aware as his friend of old led him aboard a ship, and, leaving him in a quiet berth, went to find Nariel. He'd only been in the nick of time for her, for while she tended one wounded mariner another was notching an arrow to send her to her grave. Though the fellness of Fëanáro's bloodlust had worn away to horror and remorse, Inglorion did the only thing he could to save her and the blood of one more Foam-singer stained his hands. It was not a moment he was proud of, yet in that one and only case, he had to wonder what the blacker evil would have been - for him to slay that Elf or for that Elf to have slain a healer? In the end, however, such a calculus did not matter. Doom was already on him when he rescued Nariel, for he'd come to the Swan-haven to sail with Fëanáro to Arda Marred and be free of the Valar.
Foolishness. He knew it for foolishness when he heard the King's fell laughter as they shed Lindar blood, and he himself was a fool for following. A cursed fool. That Calion, and his innocent sister, who followed only for her brother's sake, still accepted his friendship was almost cruelty, for he did not deserve their kindness. Worse than their kindness was their gratitude. The most crushing moment for him in all of this ordeal was when Nariel thanked him twice - once for saving her, and again for saving her brother - and then humbly apologized for his becoming a Kin-slayer on their account. Nariel wore her heart on her sleeve, and the sincerity of her gratitude and apology choked him. The apology he was able to brush off, but the gratitude neither she nor Calion, to his frustration, would not rescind. He deserved no gratitude for rescuing either of them. Had it not been for him and the others, they would not have needed to be rescued.
Thus Inglorion had accepted his suffering on the ice with a measure of gladness. Where others saw pain and cold, Inglorion saw redemption. In flesh he was paying for the blood he'd spilled, and he resented not the pains and privations of their long journey. He'd chosen to march, he'd chosen to kill, and he would pay the consequences of those choices. Weak with hunger and faint with thirst, and pained from injuries he deemed to minor to be treated, he picked a careful path through the ice desert, a path that anyone behind him could follow. He suffered, but there was glory in that suffering, for with his pain he bought his soul a measure of peace.
Calion had grown used to the creaking, breaking noise that was the Ice. It no longer unsettled him, to know that the ground beneath him could crack open and plunge him into water or carry him away from what family he had left. He'd come to terms with his fear, just as he'd come to terms with his anger. He'd no wish to be here, on his way to Arda. He wished he could go back through time, that he and Inorwë had risen earlier and stolen out of the city. Then he would not have been forced to kill an Elf of his lord's own house. Then Inorwë would not have had to leap before the bow of her own kindred to save him, and he would not have felt his wrath kindle as her blood flowered on the breast of her silver-grey dress. He would not have felt his blade sink into the flesh of another Elf as he avenged his love, and in doing so take the life of his mother's kindred. He'd fallen to darkness after that slaying, for with the mariner's spirit Calion's anger also passed, and he was left with nothing but emptiness and grief. When Nariel finally called him back to himself, he was on a ship bound for Araman, having been put aboard by Inglorion. He longed for Aman, but doomed by Mandos, he could not return, unless he was slain. And slain he may very well be, though not yet. Inorwë could wait forever in Mandos's halls. Nariel had assured him of that. He need not hurry, she persuaded, he need not seek his end before he'd seen what beauty and glory Arda might have to offer. So he continued the march, and sought no death in the teeth of ice, though living brought him no joy.
Calion could accept that he had damned himself. What burned him still was that Nariel came with him. He was glad of her company - he always had been and always would be - but she was innocent of the kin-slaying. She should not join in this Doom unless she had to. No Elf should. He could not, would not, did not ask such suffering of her. Yet she came. Out of love for him she came. Calion, whose bright singing voice had only been raised once since Alaquondë, and then all that could come from him was sorrow; Calion, whose hands would never be clean of red Quendi blood, who grieved for the loss of love and home, who almost collapsed again when the ships burned. She'd come with him to heal him, as she healed the others, to walk with him under the stars as she always had. She'd done it too, healed his soul as much as a soul could be healed in this cold and empty land of horrors, healed him with her gentle laughter and ever buoyant spirit.
Nariel knew nothing but hope, it seemed. Always looking for the favorable outcome, she was probably expecting trees of fruit and springs of fresh water just over the next hill. She'd called him back from grief on the voyage to Araman, and she'd brought him back from grief again when the ships, the beautiful swan ships that their kin had died to defend, burned at Losgar. He'd cried out in despair when he saw the flames, and understood that he remained as a leaf, blown without choice by the winds of fate. Screaming curses to Fëanáro, he lost his own voice and tumbled again into darkness, again caught and held back from Mandos by Inglorion's friendship, and called back to life by Nariel's gentle, sisterly love. He could walk now, talk, and even laugh a little, but he still could not sing.
In Eldamar he'd been among the best, and even studied under Lord Makalaurë for a time. He was nothing next to his former master, of course, but great in his own right, for he'd the fair voice of a Foam-singer, and he sang their joyful songs of adventure and the sea, but here there was no joy to sing of and the sea was closed to them. He lived because Nariel and Inglorion convinced him that the Ice could not last forever, that they would make it across. But there was no joy in his life. All he had was anger and sorrow, and having given it voice once, for the passage of Lady Elenwë, he would not sing it again. No one who faced the Ice would need to hear again. No one who'd never seen the Ice would understand it.
Author's note: This story is told from the viewpoints of the Noldor, before they have made contact with the Sindar. For this reason, I am using the Quenya names that I have managed to find. If anyone here knows Glorfindel's Quenya name, please tell me. Fan fic...every time I write one I swear it'll be the last.
Finarfin = Arafinwë
Fingolfin = Nolofinwë
Maglor = Makalaurë
Fëanor = Fëanáro
Finrod = Findaráto
Fingon = Findekáno
Galadriel = Artanis
Turgon = Turucáno
Morgoth = Moringotho
As always, comments are appreciated. However, I'd rather hear about content than grammar. I'm a scientist. I study RNA. If I cared that much about commas, I would have been an English major.