Note: I tagged Character Death to be safe, but the character deaths are all canonical and take place before the beginning of the story. Contains brief references to canonical suicide and child death.
Written for the Trick or Treat Exchange 2015, for the prompt: “Finduilas as Niënor's ghostly protector - or both of them guarding the forest and the Crossings of Teiglin after their respective deaths and finding comfort in a shared afterlife.” Though I couldn’t resist adding a bonus ghost.
Many thanks to Zopyrus for beta-reading.
Nienor was somewhere dark and cold, the sound of rushing water in her ears. She did not know how long she had been there, for time seemed to have no meaning, when she heard a woman’s voice, gentle and melodious.
“Dwell no more in darkness,” the voice said. “Take my hand and come with me.” Nienor reached out her hand and found it grasped by another, which drew her swiftly upwards into the light.
Opening her eyes, Nienor found herself kneeling on the burial mound beside the Crossings of Teiglin. The river rushed before her, swift and dark. Nienor shuddered and looked away.
In turning her head, she realized that someone stood before her: an Elvish lady with graceful bearing, her hair golden as Nienor’s shining in the summer sunlight. Her face was lovely but sad. “I give you greeting, daughter of Húrin. I am Finduilas. Shall I call you Nienor, or Níniel?”
“I am Nienor,” she said decisively. “That is the name my mother gave me, though it was stolen from me for a time.” She looked at Finduilas with wonder. Nienor remembered hearing Brandir speak of her, one of the prisoners who had been slain by Orcs when the Men of Brethil sought to free them. Túrin had spoken of her also, though he had never said much before falling silent in guilt and grief. “Were you not dead?” she asked slowly, noticing for the first time that the breeze which tossed the leaves of the beech trees did not stir the loose strands of Finduilas’s hair or the folds of her embroidered robe.
“It is so,” Finduilas replied gravely. “And you are among the dead also. Do you remember?”
Yes, Nienor remembered: her despair and horror, the wild leap over the edge and the long fall. But the grief that had driven her was less overwhelming, and self-reproach no longer dinned in her ears. She would not forget ever again, she thought stubbornly, no matter how painful the memory. Those memories were hers, good and evil alike.
Looking down, Nienor let her gaze travel slowly over her own body. She was much as she remembered herself, in youth and strength, except— She laid a hand on her now-flat belly and raised her eyes to Finduilas in sudden panic. “I was—”
Finduilas shook her head. “You were alone when I found you,” she said gently. “But the half-formed spirit of a child that never saw the light can have no strong ties to bind it here. I deem your child has gone whither the spirits of mortals go at their death. Túrin too,” she added. “I saw him depart together with the dark spirit of his sword. But my heart tells me that he has yet some part to play before the end.”
Nienor bowed her head and remained thus for a long time. But she did not weep. She had wept overmuch in her old life, and she felt all her tears were spent. Gradually, she became aware of her body, or what seemed to be her body. She could feel the touch of her own arms where they rested against her knees, but no pulse beat in her wrists, and she could see now that the grass did not bend beneath her weight. At last she looked up again at Finduilas. “But how is it that you are still here?” she asked. “Have you no choice but to haunt your burial mound?”
Finduilas leaned down and extended a hand to help Nienor to her feet. Nienor half expected their fingers to pass through each other, but Finduilas’s hand was warm and solid in hers. “I am a guardian of this land,” Finduilas answered. “I help guard it against the Enemy as best I may. I tried also to ward off Túrin’s fate and ease the darkness of his spirit; but his Doom was too heavy for me in the end, and he would not heed me.”
“You dwell here alone to protect this forest?” Nienor thought it sounded lonely, to dwell forever unseen and unheard, unable to speak to the living.
“In truth, I am not the only guardian, and the forest was protected before I came here. When I was slain, I—” Her voice faltered a little. “I drifted at first, still confused by the pain and shock of my death. But then I heard a woman’s voice addressing me. She said, ‘Why do you linger here? Why do you not go to the place of your own folk, wherever the Eldar go after death?’ When she spoke to me, I remembered myself and what had passed. I answered her, ‘Lady, I wish to protect this land and watch over one who is dear to me.’ She frowned at me, saying ‘The people of Haleth protect themselves, as they always have. We do not need the protection of the Eldar, given as a lordly boon.’ But I spoke humbly to her, and when she saw that I did not seek power over her people, at last she permitted me to stay and to share her watch over these lands.”
“But who was she?” Nienor asked, fascinated. “Will I meet her?”
Finduilas smiled. “Can you not guess?” She pointed northeast. “Her mound lies there, in the heart of the forest. She did not name herself to me, but I think she must be the Lady Haleth. I have often heard the woodsmen speak of her. Whether you will meet her, I do not know. In death as in life, she goes where she wills and does as she wishes.”
“And what of me,” Nienor asked, frowning. “Where do I go now?”
“That is your choice,” Finduilas said softly. “If you wish it, now that the darkness no longer clouds your mind, you will be able find the path that mortals take after their death. That has been the case for the Haladin I have encountered here before. Sometimes they are confused by their death and do not understand what has happened, and then I try to help them. Sometimes they stay for a short time, but always they go onward in the end.” She hesitated. “Or, if you wish it, you could remain here. You do not know me, but in watching over your joys and sorrows, I have come to hold you dear. I would be grateful for the chance to know you as a friend in truth, and not only from a distance as the dead watch the living.”
“I would be glad of a friend,” Nienor told her, feeling her heart lighten. “My life—both my lives—seemed too short to me, and I am in no hurry to depart.” She smiled then, for the first time since her death. “I will remain with you, if you permit it. It seems far better to me than either of us staying here or going onward alone.”
Finduilas’s answering smile was as bright as sunlight. “I will teach you the way of it then, what it is to be a Houseless spirit. The living cannot see or hear us, though it is sometimes possible to appear in dreams.” She hesitated. “I have discovered gradually, through experience, what I can and cannot do. But perhaps you will find it tedious to learn a new set of rules.”
“It is not the first time I have had to learn everything again,” Nienor said with determination. “Tell me everything!”
“I will tell you as we go,” Finduilas said. “For you are no longer bound to the place of your death.” Side by side, the two spirits went deeper into the forest; and all around them was the singing of birds and the rustling of the beech trees.