Finrod was weary. He could feel it to the core of his being as he slowly mounted a set of stone steps, the scrape of his boots echoing hollowly about him as at last, he reached the level, stone tiles of a long corridor. A lone guard stood nearby, and Finrod lifted his chin, squaring his shoulders, and nodded to the young Elf, determined that no others would see his fatigue.
The young Elf, he could not have been over a hundred years, smiled eagerly at having gained Finrod’s notice, and returned the nod, though he stayed dutifully and unmoving at his post as Finrod strode past.
Once the young guard was far behind him, Finrod bent his head, lifting a hand to brush across his eyes. The faint smoke of the torches that lined the corridor stung his eyes, and wetness sprung in them as he continued on, remembering.
Andreth, dear Andreth, he mused to himself, lost in memory and thought. None are more deserving of happiness than you, my dear sister.
Finrod allowed a brief, broken sigh to make its way past his lips. You should have been his. You should have been my sister.
That you had been born among the firstborn, his thoughts continued. You were-, are-, fair as any Elf maiden, in truth. Even now, with your gentle brow furrowed, and your silken hair traced with frost, there yet remains that undimmed light in your eyes, that true beauty and brightness of your soul that first ensnared the heart of my brother, he who loves you far more than I. At the least, I wish that this had been a time of peace, that my brother could have been free to wed you in spite of your fleeting life, and share a fullness of joy with you before you faded, and passed on to that which awaits your kind. Mayhap, there might have been a way for him to follow you-, though it would have cost me my brother, I would let him go, knowing that it was you with whom he wished to be. The Valar know that had Amarië been a mortal maid, I would have been willing to do so, that I might be with her-,
At the least, I wish that this had been a time of peace, that my brother could have been free to wed you in spite of your fleeting life, and share a fullness of joy with you before you faded, and passed on to that which awaits your kind. Mayhap, there might have been a way for him to follow you-, though it would have cost me my brother, I would let him go, knowing that it was you with whom he wished to be.
The Valar know that had Amarië been a mortal maid, I would have been willing to do so, that I might be with her-,
Finrod’s measured steps faltered for the briefest moment as a shard of pain lanced through his heart at the memory of she whom he loved. Like his brother, he too could not claim his heart’s desire for the heavy, unwanted duty that he could not shirk. Yet no matter his own longing and pain, he knew he had that which his brother could not claim. For Finrod knew that somewhere, far away, Amarië waited, and hoped. Her beauty undimmed, her life unceasing. His brother-, brave, undaunted Aegnor could only trust to blind hope that the Valar would one day, beyond the ending of Arda, rejoin him with his beloved. And truly they would, Finrod believed. For they were not cruel. Surely there was reason why the Children of Ilúvatar were so close kin. That they could care for one another, that they could love-, there was reason for it.
Finrod drew to a stop before a bend in the corridor, the light of day falling across the mosaic at his feet, the scent of flowers flitting into his nostrils. He drew in a deep breath, composing himself, before he squared his shoulders, and rounded the corner.
The wide balcony he found himself upon was empty but for one figure, alone, seated upon a wooden seat set against the stone balustrade that arched outward over the courtyard below. A balcony that gazed off and away, southward. Finrod smiled at his brother’s familiar visage, though Aegnor did not look up. In his hand he held a shining sword, running a sharpening stone along the blade as his eyes moved now from the blade to gaze away southward, now to turn back to the work in his hands.
Surely he had sensed his brother’s arrival, but Aegnor did not speak as Finrod moved across the stone tiles nearer toward his brother.
At last Finrod paused, a pace away. His jaw tightened as he studied his younger brother, recalling Aegnor’s childhood and youth, when he had been bright with life and hope. Now, though his frame was set with strength and determination still, there was an anguish in his bearing, a sense of wild desperation as he worked, though it seemed muted and softened whenever his glance strayed southward. His hair, golden red, like the flames for which he had been named, hung down his back in unruly locks, his braids sloppily plaited. He had little time and care for such things after all, Finrod reminded himself. And perhaps he had not slept for days.
“We are well met, little brother,” Finrod spoke at last, to which Aegnor at last paused, and sighed, his work in his hands ceasing.
He set the sharpening stone upon the wooden bench, and rose, the sword in his hand, his eyes fixed ever upon the green plains of the south, and the mountains beyond. The tip of the blade, the hilt clutched lightly in his hand, touched the stones at his feet with a soft tap.
“I saw you coming,” Aegnor spoke at last, his voice soft as he gazed southward. A soft breeze that flitted across the balcony brushed through his hair as he spoke, and Finrod recalled the soft, words of Andreth, quiet with pleading, among the last words she had spoken to him, her eyes wet with tears, though the light of her soul shone so brightly through them, “Will he be there, bright and tall, and the wind in his hair?”
“You have seen and spoken with Angrod?”
“I have,” Finrod answered. “And I have satisfied myself that he is well. But I wished chiefly to speak with you.”
At last, Aegnor turned to him, and Finrod’s jaw grew taut at the sorrow in his brother’s eyes, mingled with his fierce determination and courage.
“You have seen her.”
It was not a question. Aegnor knew. Without asking him, without guessing, Aegnor knew Finrod had seen Andreth. As if the very nearness of her had left its mark upon Finrod, which Aegnor could sense, somehow.
Finrod drew in a breath and shifted his weight. “She wished me to tell you not to be reckless. Not to seek danger beyond need.”
A soft, mirthless laugh broke past Aegnor’s lips at this. “And well I wish that I could do as my lady bids me-,”
His words broke off, and he glanced away once again. “Would that I could do all that she wished of me-,”
“She never wed, Aegnor,” Finrod spoke softly.
Aegnor shuddered softly at this, and his head drooped. “You speak those words as if they would bring me comfort, Finrod,” he muttered. “They do not. I wish that she had wed another. That her heart had moved beyond me, and she had learned to love again.”
“Yet you have not, Aegnor,” Finrod reminded him gently, his hand tightening gently. “Could you ever think to give your life to another, when your heart belongs to her? Neither can she. For her heart is irrevocably yours. Her love for you is endless my brother, as is yours for her.”
“Did she weep at all?” Aegnor muttered, lifting his eyes and studying Finrod’s with a look of pleading.
“She did,” Finrod confessed, to which Aegnor flinched, a hint of pain crossing his face as he dropped his eyes. “But she knows now, why you left her. That were you free to have chosen, you would have stayed. That you would have bound yourself to her, and remained at her side all her days. She knows now, that you loved her and ever will, even beyond the life of Arda.”
Aegnor sighed at this, and turned his eyes away, again gazing southward, his eyes growing wistful as they studied the vista searchingly. “Beyond the life of Arda-,” he muttered, almost as if to himself. “Shall I ever-, shall she and I-,”
“Yes, you will,” Finrod murmured, as a swell of warm conviction grew within his heart, like a seedling sprouting and growing forth with unchecked swiftness. “He who is the Father of us all, has not forgotten you, nor her, nor any soul of his creating. He shall not leave you bereft. Whither she goes, she will find light. And she will await you there. And you shall join her there, one day. And I, and all our kin, and hers. We shall be there together, never to be sundered again by death, or by unending life.”
A ghost of a smile flickered at the corners of Aegnor’s lips at this.
“Soon my time upon these grief filled shores will end, Finrod,” he murmured quietly. “And that is as I would wish.
“I shall not remain as you shall, and I would ask-,” Aegnor’s words faltered, and his eyes fell.
Finrod’s hand darted out, and caught his brother’s shoulder, squeezing tightly.
“I would ask an-, an oath of you, Finrod,” Aegnor pleaded.
His eyes came again to train upon his brother, pleading within his eyes, and Finrod’s throat suddenly grew tight, recalling the days of Aegnor’s childhood, when his small boyish eyes had gazed up at his elder brother in trust and pleading, just as he did now.
“I shall do anything you wish of me, little brother,” Finrod returned, hearing the broken tones of his own voice. “Though it costs me all, even my very life, I shall do it.”
Aegnor’s brow furrowed at these last words, and his head shook slightly though Finrod only tightened his hand.
“You would not ask an oath of me, that I ought not to fulfill,” he assured Aegnor. “You have but to ask it of me, and I will see it done.”
“My brother,” Aegnor muttered softly, his own hand reaching up and clapping over Finrod’s wrist, “I would ask you, that if ever there is one of the Firstborn and one of the Secondborn who come to love one another as I and-,” Aegnor drew in a shuddering breath and murmured her name in a breathless whisper, “Andreth loved, that you will do all that is in your power to see that their desires are not thwarted. That they can find happiness together. That they can wed, and-, give life to the children of their love.”
Aegnor drew in a breath as he searched Finrod’s eyes with pleading intensity. “Do I have your oath, my brother?”
Finrod shuddered a little. The gentle breeze that brushed the air about them seemed strangely colder as a quiet premonition stirred within him. A faint forewarning as of an unavoidable destiny that was his alone to fulfill.
“Do I?” Aegnor asked again, his voice softer now, though still determined.
Finrod smiled at this, and shook himself as he met Aegnor’s eyes once more and squeezed his shoulder in affirmation.
“I gave you my word before you even asked it of me, did I not?” Finrod murmured. “You have my oath, little brother.”
He grinned encouragingly as he let his hand fall away from Aegnor’s shoulder.
“You need not let your heart be troubled. For I will see it done.”
Aegnor’s jaw trembled softly as he swiftly blinked away his tears before he stepped forward and threw his arms about his brother.
“Thank you,” Aegnor muttered, his voice a choked sob.
And Finrod could only nod to this as he embraced his brother in return, his thoughts troubled even as a comforting sense of the rightness of his oath filled his heart.