Songs of Power by zopyrus

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Thank you to suzelle for the beta!

Tree and Flower Awards, Silmarillion, First Place


When Menelmakar, the Swordsman, rose on the horizon, the Host of Fingolfin marched.  Of necessity, they moved slowly, for the Ice was perilous and full of unknown dangers; moreover, there were children to be cared for, and a few hardy animals who would not be parted from their masters.  As night followed night, the count of the wounded increased also: for Fingolfin’s people were sometimes stalked by large white creatures, like bears in form but much larger in size.  Many of the bravest and most valiant Eldar were killed assailing these animals, or received grievous wounds from them.  Others lost fingers, or even whole limbs, to the cold: a more bitter, implacable enemy than any living being.

When the lights of the Swordsman set, and were replaced by other stars, the Host of Fingolfin rested.  This was the time in which they slept, and hunted, and entertained themselves as best they could.

Finrod son of Finarfin marched with his cousin Turgon near the rear of his uncle’s army.  They would have both preferred to be out in front, exploring and defending—but Turgon had a young daughter to keep an eye on, and for her sake they walked slowly, surrounded by friends and protectors.

Left to his own devices, Turgon would likely have marched in grim silence, but Finrod considered it his friendly duty to be as cheerful and entertaining as possible.  They had been marching for hours, but Finrod was not even close to running out of conversation topics.

“Do you hear that sound?” he asked, excitedly.  Of course the loudest sound was of marching feet; but with their keen elven hearing, they could pick out other noises if they chose.

Turgon grunted.

Finrod listened again, and the sound lightened his heart.  It was several sounds, really: high, joyful chirping, and low thumping, as if from deep drums.  There were also many sequences that began high but ended low—descending not with distinct notes, like a scale on the harp, but encompassing every possible pitch between start and finish.

“I think the seals are singing,” Finrod said.

Seals were everywhere, on the Ice.  The Noldor ate them, and wore them, and carved jewelry out of their bones; but Finrod also appreciated their soulful eyes—and now, their beautiful music.

Finrod tried to hum along with the seals, but they were mostly singing outside his range.  Undefeated, he started to fashion a poem in their honor—but when he spoke the first few lines aloud, he earned nothing but a flat glare from his cousin.

Turgon was probably just worried how Idril would react, when she realized that her dinner came from tribes of intelligent animals who sang to each other under the water.

“In Aulë’s name, why would you say that?” said Turgon, sounding sickened.  “If we don’t kill them, we’ll die.”

It was an interesting, and upsetting, philosophical quandary—which was why Finrod wanted to talk about it.  Turgon was his best friend; they talked about everything.

“I know,” Finrod agreed sadly.  “I eat them, too!  But I still think—”

“I think you talk too much,” said Turgon, with such pure sincerity that Finrod snapped his mouth shut in surprise.

A great deal had changed in the last year; and Turgon was grieving still.  Finrod wanted to be understanding.

“Let’s talk about something else, then,” he said quickly, trying not to be hurt.  “Forget the seals.  Whatever you like.”

"How can you act so happy?"  Turgon asked, bitterly.  "Is none of this real to you?"

"I'm sorry," Finrod said, not quite sure what he was apologizing for.  If Elenwë were there, she would say something light and clever, and Turgon would relent.

 “You think there two sides to everything, but there aren’t.  You think you can talk and talk, and then change your mind and take everything back.  I don’t want to debate your maudlin ideas about the wonders of nature, let alone the morality of killing to live.”

Elenwë, of course, was dead.  It had been a deceptively warm night.  She had slipped in melting ice, and fallen into the water.

Now Turgon, Finrod's oldest friend, was either going to recover, or not.

“Fine,” said Finrod, and took his questions elsewhere.

~~~

Finrod had always enjoyed his little sister’s company, but on the Ice, in the absence of their parents, he and Galadriel had grown even closer.  She was brave, and athletic, and she gave unfailingly good advice—or at least, the results of her advice were always interesting.  She was definitely a relative he could be proud of.

As they set up their tent for the night, Finrod thought about telling her about his quarrel with Turgon.  But as he was opening his mouth, he realized he didn’t really want to talk about it—so he just told her the part about the seals.

Galadriel smiled at him fondly.  Sometimes she acted as though she were the indulgent older sibling, instead of the other way around.

“I can see why Turukáno didn’t want to talk about them, if you phrased it so ghoulishly.  ‘Tribes of intelligent, singing animals?’  You could speak similarly about every creature you ever hunted in Aman.  Or are deer not intelligent enough for you?”

“Of course they are!” Finrod said.  He missed deer a lot—and every other warm-blooded, ordinary creature they had encountered in childhood.  “But I’ve always known about those other animals.  These are the first new beings we’ve met in our exile, and instead of befriending them, we made ourselves their enemies.  Aren’t you even a little curious to know what they’re singing about?”

“Yes, I’m curious,” said Galadriel.  “But I’m also too exhausted to worry about it.”

She didn’t look exhausted.  She had opened her pack, and was combing her remarkably clean-looking hair.  Galadriel had always been good at keeping up appearances. 

“Do you think they all know how to sing?  Or do they have seal-poets, to teach the songs to everyone else?”

Galadriel barked a laugh.  “Findaráto, I would actually love to hear your speculations about seal-poets, but Teleporno is going to drop by any moment now.  Do you mind?”

Finrod liked Celeborn, although they never had much to say to one another.  He couldn’t quite fathom why the Teler didn’t turn back with Finarfin’s folk after the Doom was announced.  It seemed unrealistically and unfairly romantic of him, when so many Noldorin husbands and wives remained in Aman with far less cause.

If Celeborn could forgive the Kinslaying, why couldn’t Amárië?  Finrod bit back a sigh.  His heartbreak wasn’t Galadriel’s fault.

“Of course I don’t mind.”

He took himself elsewhere, again.

~~~

He found his cousin Fingon outside, near one of the cooking fires.

Fingon was gutting a seal, but he looked upset about it; and Finrod couldn’t resist.

“Do you think these creatures know anything of the Valar?” he asked.  “Do you think they pray?”

Fingon glanced at him with dark amusement.

“Perhaps they do,” he said evenly.  “But Ulmo isn’t doing them any favors now.”

What a depressingly plausible thought.

“My harp strings all broke,” said Fingon.

That was even more depressing—but not surprising, given the terrible cold.  Finrod’s harp strings had only survived this long because he took care to rub seal oil on them every night before he went to bed, and to loosen them whenever he wasn’t playing.  He knew that even with the best of care, they were going to wear out eventually.

“Did they snap all at once?”

Fingon grimaced.  “Yes, actually.  I wasn’t exactly thinking about instrument maintenance when we left.  I haven’t had a working harp since our first night on the ice.”

With so many other things already taken away from him, Finrod thought he might actually die without his harp.

“I’m so sorry.”

“I tried to make new ones right away,” said Fingon, gesturing gruesomely at the seal intestine.  “There was a luthier in Tirion who used to let me watch her work, so I sort of knew how to do it—only you’re supposed to treat the gut with some secret substance, and then let it dry.  I couldn’t figure out how to make that work in the cold, and the first set of strings I made ended up rotting off the harp.”

Finrod swallowed hard.

“And the second set?”

“You should judge for yourself,” said Fingon.  He took what he needed from the seal, and delivered the meat to the kitchen tent.  From there, Finrod followed him home.

~~~

Fingon had already figured out Finrod’s trick of untuning the strings to keep them from snapping; so it took several minutes before the harp was playable.  As soon as it was, he handed it to Finrod, with a challenging smile.

“Play something.”

Finrod thought for a moment.  He didn’t want to share the seal song until he’d had a chance to work it out on his own instrument.  Instead, he picked out the chords for the first old piece that came into his head: a silly rhyme about seagulls, and the sea-shore.

The strings Fingon had made had a different resistance than what Finrod was used to, so it took a verse before he felt proud of his playing.  All things considered, he was pleased with his cousin’s craftsmanship.  When the song was over, he glanced happily at Fingon—but the compliment died on his lips.  Fingon didn’t just look unimpressed—he looked angry, and sad.

“Did I play it that badly?” asked Finrod.

“I’m sorry.  It’s just that song.”  Fingon hesitated.  “Kanafinwë wrote it.”

“Oh,” said Finrod.  How stupid of him, to forget that people didn’t like being reminded of the sons of Fëanor—especially not the ones everyone had liked.  “I honestly didn’t remember.”

Fingon shook his head. 

“It shouldn’t matter.  Half the songs I learned by heart are his.  We used to give concerts together.”

Finrod didn’t know what to say, so he played another song.  This time it was something his mother had taught him: his Telerin mother, Eärwen, who had walked with Ulmo himself in her youth, and learned his arts.  But her song had nothing to do with the sea.  Finrod sang about warmth and kindness, and hope—and as he sang, the lamp in Fingon’s tent burned brighter.

Fingon stared at him when the song was over.

“How did you do that?”

Finrod bit his lip.

“I’m not sure if I can explain it,” he said.  “I can show you the chords, but my mother always said that if the feeling was right, the notes didn’t matter.”

“Show me.”

Finrod carefully positioned his hands over a six-note chord, and played it.

“This signifies warmth,” said Finrod.  He played the chord again, but in its first inversion.

“And this is hope.”

Fingon looked skeptical.  He took the harp from Finrod, and played both versions of the chord with perfect accuracy.

Nothing happened, of course.

 “That’s good!” said Finrod, in what he hoped was an encouraging tone.  He took the harp back and played the beginning of the song again.

“But you have to sort of…make yourself feel warm and hopeful when you play,” he said.  “Otherwise it doesn’t work.”

“Warmth and hope,” said Fingon.  “Most of us find those feelings hard to come by.”

He didn’t look angry about it, just wistful.

“So do I,” said Finrod.  “If I dwell too much on how cold it is, or how much I miss Amárië, obviously I become as unhappy as anyone else.  But even here, in this wasteland of ice, we have found beautiful things.”

He touched the silent strings of Fingon’s harp.

“You gave this poor seal a second life, and made it sing again.  My little sister invented unfreezable shampoo.  It’s dark and cold, but the stars here are brighter than I’ve ever seen them.  If there is so much wonder to be found on the Ice, imagine what Middle Earth is going to be like.”

“Less cold, but with more Fëanoreans.”

Finrod laughed in surprise, and they smiled at one another.

“Try again,” said Finrod.

Fingon played the chord in its third inversion: friendship.

The lamp flickered.

~~~

In the first hour of the next night’s march, Galadriel took her brother’s gloved hand and spoke in his ear, so they wouldn’t be heard.

“Thank you for being understanding about Teleporno.  I know you wanted to talk, before.”

Any resentment Finrod might have felt was long gone, so he only squeezed her hand and smirked at her.

“Just don’t tell me the details.”

She kicked his boot, and they lurched over the ice for a few seconds until Finrod, heart pounding, found his balance again. 

Ahead of them, an elf-woman glared at Finrod over her shoulder.  With so many real dangers to watch out for, play fighting was understandably frowned on.  Finrod tried to smile an apology while he recovered his breath, but it was ruined by Galadriel, who was still laughing.  The woman turned back to her friends, unappeased.

“Actually I did want to talk to you about something,” Galadriel said, suddenly serious.  “You know that Teleporno and I haven’t exchanged vows.”

Finrod nodded.  With all four of their parents absent, a traditional betrothal ceremony—let alone a wedding—would be impossible.  But they might still make private vows, and name the Name.

“And I don’t plan to,” she continued, with a touch of defiance.

“This is hardly the time to get married,” Finrod agreed.

“But sometimes I think…”  She hesitated.  “He doesn’t say it, but I think he must regret leaving.  We all left people behind, but at least I have you, and our brothers, and Uncle Fingolfin’s children.  Teleporno’s parents never left in the first place, and his sisters turned back with Father, after the Doom.”

“It must be hard for him,” said Finrod, tentatively.  “To have come all this way—for you, Nerwen.”

She sighed.

“I know.  Sometimes I am afraid that he will come to his senses.  He is so gentle, and good-hearted.  He doesn’t belong here.”

“He belongs with you,” said Finrod, simply.

They walked in silence for a long time.  Finrod listened to the seals, and the wind, and the sound of his sister’s light, steady footsteps over the frozen ground.

“He doesn’t call me Artanis,” said Galadriel suddenly.  “Or Nerwen.  I can’t promise him anything, but I did let him name me.”

Finrod smiled at her.

“Is it a private name?”

“Yes—no.  Not any longer.”  She sounded uncharacteristically shy.  “He calls me Alatáriellë, for my hair.”

The name meant “crowned with gold,” which wasn’t a bad description of the way Finrod’s sister wore her golden hair, coiled carefully around her head.  He wondered if Celeborn had meant it to be prophetic, too.

But if Finrod suggested that, it might go to her head, so to speak.

“It is a little more flattering than ‘Tomboy’—and almost as accurate,” he teased.  “But what about Teleporno?  Are you going to rename him?”

“No,” said Galadriel, with a shake of her golden crown.  “Everything about him is perfect, including his name.”

~~~

A few hours later, Fingolfin’s scouts spotted the ice bear.

“She is alone,” said Fingon.  It was grave news; but he sounded thrilled.  “She is far in front of us, and with the wind blowing west, she has not scented us yet.  It would be easy to catch her by surprise.”

“And is that your father’s wish?” asked Galadriel, eagerly.  “Will he send warriors, to hunt her?”

Fingon let out a frustrated breath.

“Of course not.  We are to camp here, and watch them closely.  Father hopes the beast will move on without ever knowing about us.”

“That seems a vain hope,” said Finrod.

The first time the Noldor had encountered ice bears, half the Host had been spoiling for a fight.  It had not ended well.  From far off, the bears had looked like ordinary animals—larger perhaps, but that had seemed good to the starving, would-be hunters.  It was not until they were too close to run that the Elves had seen the flames of blue ice in the bears’ eyes, and understood that they were creatures of Power.  The bears stood twice as tall as any long-limbed warrior, and ran faster than horses.  They rarely ate their prey, but killed for sport.

“I understand Father’s reasoning,” said Fingon, loyally.  “If we attack her, and fail, she will only seek out the rest of our people.”

“If we attack her, and succeed,” said Galadriel, “we might save our people much suffering.”

Finrod could see both points of view.  He was glad he wasn’t in charge.

He asked, “Are we certain that she is alone?”

“That is part of the problem,” said Fingon.  “Only one bear was seen—but she might have kin nearby.”

Last night, it had been clear; but now a mist descended, fouling the air and enveloping the Elven host as they made camp as silently as they could.  They could not avoid lighting fires for warmth, but they cooked no meat, and prayed, in whispers, that the mist might at least shield them somewhat from prying eyes.

There was no question of further experimentation on Fingon’s seal-string harp, but Finrod followed him back to his tent again, anyway.

“My sister is busy keeping warm with Teleporno,” he said, by way of explanation—and Fingon laughed, and let him in.

Fingon’s sister Aredhel was there, too.  She was wrapped in a fur blanket and sipping out of something that looked suspiciously like an insulated wineskin.  Alcohol had been strictly rationed since the beginning of their journey over the Ice, and was used only at the discretion of the healers who guarded it.  That must be how Aredhel had obtained the wineskin in her hand: she was a surgeon of no small skill, and had saved many lives.  She was also, apparently, a thief.

“Before you judge me, cousin, please consider how many hours I have just spent playing nursemaid for my ungrateful brother.  Itarillë is a charming girl, and much less irritating than I probably was at that age—but there are reasons I chose not to get married, and children are one of them.”

Aredhel offered Finrod the wineskin, but he hesitated.

“When we left Tirion, I had certain expectations,” Aredhel continued.  “I wanted to be free.  I thought we would ride about in the untamed forest and kill monsters for sport.  Instead, here I am, in the middle of nowhere, abandoned by my friends, holding the hand of a twenty-year-old child while she asks stupid questions about the sky and makes fun of my hair.”

Finrod wondered how much Aredhel had already had.

He asked, “When somebody arrives on your surgery table a year from now, and you have to tell him you have run out of miruvórë, how are you going to feel?”

“Terrible,” said Aredhel.  “Truly.  But if we are still here a year from now, I think we’ll have bigger problems than that.”

“No one knows how far the Helcaraxë extends,” said Finrod.  “Based on your father’s original calculations, we should have reached Middle Earth already—but we haven’t.”

“Like I said,” she replied.  “Bigger problems.”

“We’re already cursed,” Fingon pointed out, helpfully.  “Why not live a little?”

Aredhel offered Finrod the wineskin again.  

He drank.

~~~

“Let me get this straight,” said Aredhel, much later.  “You are telling me that where sensible people would invent a tool, or build something, the Teleri just…sing songs?  And it works?”

“It’s not exactly the same,” said Finrod.  “I don’t think they use their songs as casually as we would use, say, a Fëanorean lamp.  It’s more emotional than that.”

“I’m told that hope is the necessary ingredient,” added Fingon.

Aredhel’s wine-skin was almost empty.  Finrod was lying partly under her fur blanket, staring up at the tent ceiling.

“I want to know why nobody ever told me about this before,” said Aredhel.

“Somebody must have,” said Finrod, indignantly.  “Haven’t you heard songs from the Great Journey, when the poets warded off the evil servants of Darkness?”

“I thought that was just propaganda,” she said.  “Or metaphor.”

“Some of it probably is,” he admitted.  “Where were your music teachers from?”

“Tirion,” answered Fingon.  “I expect yours were all from Alqualondë.”

“I only had one music teacher,” said Finrod.  “My mother.”

A wave of homesickness swept over him.  Eärwen would be much better at explaining this than he was.  She had been endlessly curious about the differences between Telerin and Noldorin customs, and had discussed them at length with anyone who would listen.

He missed her so much.

“I expect your Noldorin music teacher began by teaching you the names of the great composers.”

“Obviously,” said Fingon.  “He made us memorize them:

“Elemmírë, whose silver tune
Enchants on summer nights in June
And kindles the pale firstling star;
And she who harps upon the far
Forgotten reaches and dark shores
Where western foam forever roars
Ivárë whose voice is like the sea
And Rúmil, greatest of the three.”

“Right,” said Finrod, impressed.  “Exactly.”

Aredhel snickered into her hand.

“The point is, us Noldor care about that sort of thing.  We praise the creator first.  And we use Uncle Fëanáro’s ridiculous music notation system to scribble down every single thing our poets say, so their songs will stay the same forever.  But in Alqualondë, people don’t write down music at all.  They care more about the moment of performance.  My mother categorizes songs by what they are about: ‘songs about the Valar,’ or ‘songs to sing at sea’—so that she can have them ready at the appropriate time.  But even that breaks down, because no one cares if you change the words.  The idea of owning a poem is as ridiculous as the idea of owning a child.  No song is ever the same after someone new has sung it.”

“I’ve just had a horrible thought,” said Aredhel, clearly bored with Finrod’s explanation.  “What if the demon bear attacks now, when we’re drunk?”

“There are worse ways to die,” said Fingon, dismissively.  “I have just had a wonderful thought!  What if we could kill an ice bear by singing at it?  Just like the bards in those old songs.”

“Now you’re talking,” said Aredhel.

 “I don’t think it works like that,” said Finrod, alarmed.  “It wouldn’t be right.  All the songs my mother taught me are  meant to comfort and protect—not to mar, or destroy.”

“Not even if the thing we’re destroying is a servant of Morgoth?” she asked.

“We don’t even know that they are his servants,” said Finrod.  “They obviously don’t like us, but we don’t know that every ancient evil is still allied with him.  Even if they are, do you want to literally recreate the Ainulindalë?  Perverting peaceful music for our own selfish ends?  If we follow Morgoth’s lead in this, how can we ever hope to defeat him?”

“Maybe we can’t defeat him,” said Fingon.  “No matter what we use to kill ice bears, it won’t be as bad as killing people—which we’ve already done.”

“Don’t be so depressing,” said Aredhel. 

Finrod wondered if he should point out that, unlike his cousins, he actually hadn’t killed anyone yet.

By the time he and Amárië had reached Alqualondë, all the fighting was long over.  The Noldor had been loading the ships; but there was no hiding what had happened.  He could still remember the look of horror on her face, when she realized what his family had done.

“Until this moment, you and I have done nothing wrong.  But if you board that ship, you sail with murderers.  How can you bear to profit from their crimes?”

Of course, he had boarded the ship—which, to Amárië, meant that he was as good as a Kinslayer.  She had turned back before the Doom of the Noldor was ever uttered.  Finrod’s beloved hardly needed the Valar’s messengers to instruct her in right and wrong.

“Are you even listening?” asked Aredhel.  She waved a hand in front of his face.

“We’re playing a game.  When we get to Middle Earth, what are you going to do first?”

“Hot bath,” said Finrod, promptly.  He let Amárië slip from his mind.

“I’m going to punch Maitimo in the face,” said Fingon.

“Oh, is that what you want to do to him,” said Aredhel.

He glared at her.

Finrod said, “What will you do, Írissë?”

Aredhel grinned, fiercely.

“I’m going to track down our idiot half-cousins, if any of them are still alive, and I’m going to steal one of their horses.  Then I’m going to ride out by myself, as fast and as far as the horse can stand it.”

“Father might object to you riding out alone,” said Fingon.

She tossed her head. 

“He might not like it, but he won’t stop me.  I hate being cooped up like this, trapped in the same sweaty tents, night after night.  I’ve never been more sick of the people I love.”

“How much longer do you think it will take?” asked Finrod.  He thought about the star charts his aunt and uncle had consulted, so long ago.  They were useless now, except as a reminder of more hopeful times.

“Tomorrow wouldn’t be soon enough,” said Aredhel, her voice tinged with bitterness.  “Nothing will ever make up for this.”

Eventually, they slept.

~~~

They woke at the usual hour, but the camp was still and silent.  There would be no marching tonight: not until Fingolfin’s scouts were certain that the ice bear had moved on.

Aredhel left first, grumbling, for the medical tent.  She was impatient to be moving again, but glad of the respite her patients would gain from the delay.

“We move too fast for people to recover properly,” she said.  “I wish there were another way.”

When his sister was gone, Fingon said, “I’m going to volunteer for patrol duty.  You should come with me.”

“You should ask my sister, too,” said Finrod.  “She’s a lot better in a fight than I am.”

In the end, they were four: Fingon, Galadriel, Finrod, and Celeborn, who looked as apprehensive as Finrod secretly felt.  Aunt Lalwen sent them off, with spears and a compass and strict instructions to turn around as soon as they had covered their assigned territory.

“If you see anything—anything, Findekáno—that isn’t an elf or a seal, turn around no matter how far out you are,” she said sternly.  “It’s more important that we know about it than that you die in useless heroics.”

“Don't you trust me, Aunt?” said Fingon, eyes wide.

“Please don’t worry,” added Galadriel, piously.  “I’ll keep him in line.”

The Noldorin army usually marched within easy sight of the frozen sea.  When their maps proved utterly useless, following the coastline was the only way to reassure Fingolfin’s people that they were not hopelessly lost.  Now, Fingon led them northeast, into the shadow of the towering cliffs.

They walked silently, bundled against the cold.  Not wanting to be seen, they had brought no lamp: but the stars twinkled overhead, and the winds were light.

Galadriel and Celeborn were holding hands.  Finrod watched them for a moment, then looked away.  Fingon caught his eye and smiled crookedly, understanding.

They kept walking, scanning the horizon and silently counting their steps.

Finrod was about to suggest that they had gone far enough when Celeborn knelt down and said, “Look at this.”

The ice was scored deeply, with claw marks only a very heavy creature could have left.  There were more marks like it, curving north.

“You found her,” said Galadriel, with grim joy.

Fingon said, “We’re far from camp.  If we follow those tracks, we could kill her without putting anyone else in danger.”

This was, of course, exactly what Lalwen had told them not to do—but Celeborn nodded eagerly, his earlier timidity apparently gone.

“If we don’t follow her now, the trail will go cold.”

Finrod didn’t bother to argue.

The landscape had changed.  They were almost to the cliffs now.  In the distance, unless Finrod’s eyes were playing tricks on him, he could see spots of blackness that must the entrances to caves—made not out of rock, but somehow carved out of the ice itself.  He shivered.  He hoped the bear tracks wouldn’t lead them there.

The noisome mist descended again, but they kept moving, crouching low to the ground so they wouldn’t miss the ice-bear’s trail.

They hadn’t gone far when Finrod’s ears caught the click of claws on the ice.

Everyone froze; and the clicking stopped.  Finrod could hear himself breathing.  He strained to hear more, and felt the rush of air as an enormous creature leapt past him, out of the mist, and landed on the exact spot where Fingon had stood a moment before.

It was the ice bear.  Her muscles rippled under her fur, and her teeth gleamed.  Even on all fours, she towered over them.

Fingon had rolled out of the way before Finrod had registered the danger: now, he leapt swiftly up and jabbed his spear at the ice bear’s throat.  But she turned aside, and the point of the blade broke against her hide.

Fingon cursed.

The creature roared, and reared up to her full height, eyes blazing terrible blue.  Undaunted, Galadriel tried to stab her in the softer flesh of her belly—but the ice bear clapped her front paws together and shattered the spear mid-stroke.

Finrod cried out, and tossed his own spear to his sister.  She tried again.  This time, at least, the blade struck its target, biting into the bear’s right flank.  The creature roared in pain, but did not falter.  She landed back on all fours again, bristling with rage.  Galadriel’s spear stuck out of her at a sickening angle.

The ice was slick.  Celeborn lost his footing.  As he stumbled, the last spear slipped from his hand, and the bear turned toward him, cold hunger in her eyes. 

No, Finrod thought.  He can’t fall, too.  My sister won’t be alone.

He leapt.

The ice bear growled with surprise as he landed on her shoulder, but the moment couldn’t last.  Finrod tried to cling to the bear’s body, clawing with his fingers and biting down as hard as he could; but his mouth just filled uselessly with fur, and his fingers slipped.  With a shrug, she sent him flying.

His balance was still good: he landed on his feet.  But she had thrown him hard, and as he stumbled backwards, his left leg crumpled beneath him.

Pain washed over him.  He screamed.

His sister screamed, too: but in triumph.  In the time Finrod had bought her, Galadriel had snatched up her lover’s spear.  As soon as Finrod was clear, she threw it with brutal, deadly accuracy, and the point sliced clean through the ice bear’s eye, and buried itself in her skull.

The ice bear crashed to the ground, dead.

Finrod tried to get up, and failed.  Galadriel ran to him.  One of her braids was swinging loose, unpinned, and her face was shining with triumph.

“We killed her,” she said, in a rush of pride.  “You and I.”

“Mostly you,” he said, teeth gritted in what he hoped was a smile.  She tried to put her arms around him, and he hissed in pain.

“Aiya Elentári,” said Celeborn, with dread.  Finrod heard a low growl in the darkness. 

“Get up,” said Fingon, urgently.  “She wasn’t alone.”

Galadriel sprang to her feet.

Two more ice bears had crept out of the mist. 

They looked a little scrawnier than the creature Galadriel had slain; but that was small comfort.  Their spears were already broken, or out of reach.  Finrod was going to die.

“Run,” he said, hopelessly.

His sister squared her shoulders , and drew the slender knife she kept always by her side.

Finrod closed his eyes.  The ice bears were getting closer, and louder.

Somewhere above him, Fingon started to sing.

It was a song of strength, a song of protection; and Finrod felt some of his pain ease away.  It was song of loyalty, of trust unbroken; and Finrod sat up, and opened his eyes.  He would have picked a different melody, but he was jealous of the rhymes; and his mother had always said that it didn’t matter how you sang, as long as you said what you meant.

Finrod started singing, too.  He sang about the beauty of the stars, and the beauty of the ice.  He sang the delight of the seals as they swam beneath the frozen sea.

Then Fingon took up the song again, and sang about the creature Galadriel had killed.  The ice bear had been ruthless, but valiant.  Tales would be told of her glorious bravery.  Finrod’s leg started to hurt again, but he ignored the pain and filled in the harmony for his cousin’s praise song.

The ice bears were starting to look smaller, and younger.  Their blue eyes flickered.  They peered at Fingon, then backed away from him, and disappeared into the gloom.

Finrod felt sorry for them. 

He also felt sorry for himself.  His leg felt worse and worse.  He stopped singing, and fell forward into darkness.

~~~

When he woke, it was cold and dark and his leg hurt terribly.  Someone’s arms were around him, shaking him.

“I don’t really think you should sleep,” said Fingon, nervously.

Finrod blinked, and looked about him.  They were alone.  The mist had cleared, and he could make out the shape of the ice bear’s carcass, not far away.

“Artanis and her friend went for help,” said Fingon.  “She didn’t want to leave you, but frankly, I didn’t trust Teleporno to make it back on his own.”

Finrod laughed a little hysterically.

“I’m a lot more useless than he is, at the moment.”

“Maybe—but you earned it.” said Fingon.  He whistled.  “That leap!”

Finrod couldn’t really remember the leap: just the helpless fall, and the sound of his own leg shattering against the ice.  He shook his head.

“I’m not trying anything like that ever again.”

His cousin, bless him, was still looking at him with admiration.

Finrod’s mind drifted.

“Do you think Turukáno is still angry with me?”

“Are you fighting with him, too?”

Finrod nodded, weakly.  He still hadn’t told anyone about it, but the details didn’t really matter.

“My brother is angry with everyone right now,” said Fingon.  “He overheard me and Iríssë talking about Fëanáro’s family the other night—and absolutely lost it.  We weren’t even saying anything nice, just that we missed how things used to be.”

He sighed.

“She has more patience for him than I do.  I don’t know where she draws it from—usually she’s the most impatient person I know.”

“I wish he would confide in me,” said Finrod.  “We used to be so close.”

“I know,” said Fingon, tiredly.

Everything was still.  The stars shone silently down on the white ice.  Finrod wondered what the Helcaraxë would look like in the light of Telperion, bathed in silver; or in the yellow light of Laurelin.  He wondered if their light had ever reached so far.  Would the ice have reflected their beauty, and increased their brightness?

“How did you know what to do?” he asked.

Fingon’s arms tightened across his shoulders.

“I thought a lot about what you said, about your mother’s song, and the six-note chord.  Iríssë and I talked about it more after you fell asleep, actually.  She thought it was stupid that the song was only for protection—but of course you were right.  I guess it was just lucky our voices didn’t give out, and that we sang about the right things.”

“How did you know to praise the ice bear?”

“Well, you were praising the seals.”

Finrod laughed.  “Are you seriously saying that you thought that monster was beautiful?”

“She was,” Fingon said, softly.  “We don’t know what they are, but they aren’t mortal—they must have been Ainur, once.  However they came here, and why, they’re still part of the Song.”

“And you taught them mercy,” said Finrod.

“No,” said Fingon.  “They remembered it.”

Finrod was so used to hearing the soft tramp of marching feet, night after night, that he barely noticed the approaching sound.  It was Fingon who let go of him and jumped up, waving and crying out to the search party.

Fingolfin, the High King, was at the front of the group.  When he saw his son, he ran to them.

“What were you thinking?” he demanded, and Fingon laughed with relief as he embraced his father.

“I’m sorry, Atto.  But Artanis did kill her for you!”

Fingolfin released him, and knelt on the ice to hug his nephew, too.  Two of Fingolfin’s retainers ran up behind him with a sled, and bundled Finrod into it.

Slowly, they dragged him back to camp.

~~~

The next several hours blurred together.

Aredhel dosed him with miruvórë and painstakingly reset the bones in his leg.  Finrod had expected his cousin to be vaguely insulting, as usual, but she was gentle and silent as she worked; and when the plaster cast was finally drying on his leg, she kissed him on the cheek.

“I’m glad you’re all right, cousin of mine.”

“We should have brought you with us,” he said, drowsily.

That earned him a real smile.

His brothers visited: Aegnor and Angrod, and Angrod’s wife, Edhellos.  Aegnor told him excitedly about the new song people were singing in camp.  It was all about Galadriel the Bold, and her gallant attack on the Queen of the Ice Bears.

“It’s perfect,” said Finrod.  He planned to learn the whole thing, later.

Aredhel kicked them out when Angrod started fussing over his bandages.

Turgon came, his daughter Idril in tow.  He still seemed sullen, and distracted: but he asked Finrod how he was feeling, and Idril gave him an ugly hat she had sewed out of seal-skin. 

He put the hat on instantly, in the spirit of friendly reconciliation.  Aredhel burst into laughter, as soon as her little niece was out of hearing, but Finrod didn’t care.

When Galadriel came to see him, Aredhel jumped up from beside his pallet to embrace and congratulate her.  They whispered together for a few moments, before Galadriel knelt down and took his hand.

 “I’m sorry it took me so long to get here.  Uncle Nolofinwë and Aunt Lalwen gave me and Findekáno quite the double lecture about living up to our responsibilities and talents—and not getting other people killed.”

“The only person who got killed was that bear,” said Finrod, indignantly.

“This time,” said Galadriel, her face shadowed.  “You are the only reason Teleporno isn’t badly hurt, or worse.  And you—”

She broke off, and took a shaky breath.

“Thank you,” she said, simply. 

“We make a great team,” said Finrod, as cheerfully as he could.  He didn’t want his little sister crying over him.

“Findekáno says he’s going to make you a crutch out of bear bone,” she said.  “He would tell you himself, but I’m pretty certain Uncle Nolofinwë is still lecturing him.”

It must be nice, to have a father who wanted to lecture you.  Finrod hoped his cousin appreciated it.

"When she was done pretending to be angry with us, imagine how proud Mother would be," Galadriel said, as though she had read his mind.  "Remember how she used to sing us those old epics, about Middle Earth before the Great Journey, and the adventuring bards?  And here we are, living up to the stories.”

“I wish we could tell her,” said Finrod.  “I wish she could see how brave you are.”

“Have faith,” said Galadriel.  “We will see her again.”

"We can never return," said Finrod.  Had his sister forgotten the Doom of the Noldor?  "Even if we die, they will never release us."

Galadriel just looked at him.

"I may not be much of a singer," she said quietly.  "But I, too, inherited much from our mother.  We will see her again."

The certainty in her voice filled him with hope.


Chapter End Notes:

1. Fingon’s drunken composer rhyme is lifted with 95% accuracy from the “Lay of Leithian.” In the original Lay, the three names are Tinfang Gelion, Ivárë (later changed to Maglor), and Daeron. I kept the name Ivárë, and filled in the other names with poets all three cousins would have known in childhood: Elemmírë of the Vanyar, and Loremaster Rúmil of the Noldor. (I also changed one pronoun and took out a reference to the moon.)

2. On Finrod’s beloved Amárië, the Silmarillion has only this to say: “she went not with him into exile.” For better or worse, my Amárië’s crisis of conscience doesn’t quite line up with the additional statement in Grey Annals that “she was not permitted.”

3. Teleporno the Telerin Elf: The basis for my Celeborn backstory is this sentence in “The Shibboleth of Feanor:”

“Galadriel was chosen by Artanis (‘noble woman’) to be her Sindarin name; for it was the most beautiful of her names, and…had been given to her by her lover, Teleporno of the Teleri, whom she wedded later in Beleriand. As he gave it in Telerin form it was Alatáriel(lë).”

However, I chose to ignore most of the late writings in which Teleporno appears. My Galadriel is definitely a rebel.

4. Eärwen’s six-note chord is loosely inspired by the so-called “Mystic Chord” of Alexander Scriabin. Scriabin was an early 20th-century composer who was deep into mysticism and really did think he was writing songs of power that would ultimately bring about the end of the world through bliss—in other words, he would probably have been a big fan of the Ainulindalë.

PS. Seals really do sound that amazing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbLynJJzkE0



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