An interlude in Valinor before the War in Beleriand. Something of a prequel to "Before Thangorodrim", which can be found on HASA or in my LJ memories.
BRIGHTER THAN TEN THOUSAND SUNS: FINARFIN IN TIRION
The High King of the Noldor stretched his legs out on the grass and leaned back against his jujube tree. A flock of multi-coloured parakeets squabbled amiably in its upper branches, strays from the moist jungle lowlands east of Tirion’s heights. It was just after lunch, the air was cool and the sun warm, as always in the City in these new Days, and he had many things he would rather be doing than dealing with his correspondence.
The brightly coloured folders sat on their low stand, waiting. Vanamirë refused to fix a meaning to a colour; he said that it encouraged “people” not to pay attention. Finarfin could see enough sense in this that he had not seriously tried to persuade his nephew and secretary to do otherwise. While Findis was still,infuriatingly, refusing to do her duty as Finwe’s second child and take the throne, she had at least sent one of her sons to his beleaguered uncle’s aid, and the boy was competent, despite his quirks.
After a while Finarfin sighed, took a sip of tea, put the cup down, reached for the folders and paid attention to their labels. Ruby was “URGENT” today, emerald was “IMPORTANT” and heliodor-yellow said “READ THIS FIRST”. It only held one sheet of creased paper, unadorned in the manner of the Vanyar.
Findis daughter of Indis and Finwe(1), to Finarfin her brother, affectionate greetings. Dear brother, the Dancer has come among us in her most ancient name, to teach the dances of war. Be advised and ready, for She and Her people will come also to the Noldor soon. I wish you a peaceful heart, a steady hand and a clear mind, my brother. Greet Vanamirë for me.
Finarfin looked at the innocuous-looking sheet on his lap-desk, remembering his youth among his mother’s kin, learning the arts of spear and bow and empty hand from the ancient masters of the Holy Mountain. The Vanyar had been the vanguard of the Quendi, the pioneers and way-clearers of the Great Journey, but in Aman their martial arts were taught as exercises for meditation, no more. But the Dancer is coming. (2) Wearing the face that She had worn in the great battles before ever the Children were born, when the new world was rent with the contention of Powers. The face that no one of the Quendi had ever seen until now, knowing her only as the laughing Bride, the merry Power of woodland and greensward. Finarfin shivered despite himself, in both grief and dread. He did not want his people to become the pupils of the Lioness, the Mistress of Battlefields. But it was too late, had been too late from the moment Feänor lifted his sword against the Teleri.
He wrote the instruction to his Steward across the top of Findis’ letter:
Finarfin to Meneldis, greeting. The hour we feared has come. Act as we have planned.
The guard at the garden gate came at his wave, refilled the teapot and took the folder. The King and the Steward had known that this day was coming, had accepted the path and had made their preparations. But it was still difficult to know that one was cold-bloodedly choosing to become a murderer, in however worthy a cause.
Finarfin took a fortifying gulp of tea and turned to the emerald-coloured folder.
It bulged, but Vanamire’s judgement was trustworthy. The first document was Nerdanel’s latest progress report on the building of the new port and shipyard on the coast. It had become obvious that the Noldor would need their own port. Finarfin had said this and no more to his council, and not a woman had objected. Nerdanel had designed it, and was now overseeing its construction.
Being Nerdanel, she had also invented a new building material, involving crushed stone and a binding mortar made of lime, sand and water, which, when prepared in certain ways made structures that were stronger, longer-lasting and potentially more beautiful than stone(3), and, just as important at this point, much faster to build. Sensibly, the details were in an annex, with renderings of some remarkably lovely parabolic structures which were to roof the new buildings of Falastirion(4). Construction was, naturally, proceeding under budget and ahead of schedule.
Finarfin set the annex aside, (with some regret at having to pass over the fascinating equations describing the stresses that had to be incorporated into the new material to make it fit for its purposes) with a note sending it to the School of Civil and Mechanical Engineering for review and potential publication as a major development in Materials Science. To the report itself he clipped a note saying simply
Finarfin to Nerdanel his sister, loving greetings. I rejoice in the elegance and ingenuity of your thought, and thank you for your diligence in the service of our necessity. Proceed with all haste, for your work will be needed soon.
Next was a terse note from the High Queen, confirming that the Teleri were, at Lord Ulmo’s request (and only at His request), preparing yet another port, this one on the far coast of the Lonely Isle, deserted for more than an Age of the world. Finarfin held the fine paper in his fingers for a long time, reading and re-reading the strong, elegant hand that flowed across the sheet in pale lines of shellfish ink. Eärwen had refused to return to Tirion with him, even after the grisly work in Alqualondë was done and the last of the blood had been scrubbed from the marble quays. At her request he had sent masons from Tirion, to help the Teleri build walls around their City. That pain had been a Great Year and two dozen and three rounds of the Sun past, and he had not seen her since. There was nothing that he could say to her, so he simply wrote across the top of her letter Thank you and his name. Then he folded it, found a wafer of wax from the desk drawer and sealed the fold with the seal that he always used when writing to her.
There was a familiar finality in the little hiss as the pressure of his finger on the jewelled cylinder activated the chemical heat to soften the wax and impress the image of Galathilion’s flower upon it. Her own seal, the Queen’s seal. He wrote to her regularly, telling her the news of the City, as if she were still ruling with him, still sitting cross-legged at his side on the throne dais in the great hall of Ingwë’s Tower. Only once had he asked her to come back to him, and that only in the barest terms, knowing that he had no right even to beg. Come back, he had written. Come back when you can, if you can. She had replied, only that once, When I can. He held hope to himself because of it, nonetheless; a dry, hard seed from which green life might yet come. Eärwen, High Queen of the Noldor, Queen in Tirion, he wrote on the outside of the folded sheet, against the day that the words would be true once more.
The next report was from another kinswoman, his nephew Curufin’s wife, known as Nariel. She was not popular in Tirion, for her fire was cold, of the mind not the heart, and she had little interest in the concerns of others. Finarfin respected her skill of mind and hand, and her unbending honesty of judgement and they were friendly, if not friends. He had given her Feanor’s notebooks to decipher as soon as Nerdanel had retrieved them from the wreck of Formenos, in the hope of finding something useful. He had not needed to tell her what to look for.
Nariel daughter of Telumaike and Angahanda, to Finarfin, High King of the Noldor, King in Tirion (Nariel did not write informally), respectful greetings. Your Majesty, we make progress, though more slowly than I would wish. We have deciphered two new notebooks since my last report. One shows promise in the area of communications and reconnaissance and I have assigned a team to investigate further, with the kind co-operation of Lady Nerdanel, who has lent me her late husband’s seven prototypes for experimentation and research. In respect of the other, I seek Your Majesty’s guidance most urgently. Lord Feanor appears to have abandoned his enquiries into this field deliberately, and if my understanding of his notes is correct, I can only commend and support his judgement. If you wish me to resume his research I will do so, but I must most strongly recommend otherwise. At the very least, I would prefer to do this work only with the guidance and advice of Lord Aulë and Lady Yavanna. I await Your Majesty’s instructions.
Finarfin raised an eyebrow. This was not at all like chilly Nariel. He took up her report and began to read. An hour later, he set it down, white-faced. It took him some time and the rest of the tea(5) to compose himself to the proper state for communication.
Lord Aulë he thought, with all the considerable power of his mind, Lord Aulë, Lady Yavanna, I am in most urgent need of Your counsel.
As always, the moment of contact took him by surprise, as his small, single mind was suddenly snagged in the net of an attention both too vast and too fine-grained for an embodied mind to compass. For a moment, less than a heartbeat, he was not Finarfin but the City, from the vast glacial moraine that had been the foundation of Túna hill, to the rammed and piled earth and stone and gravel, seamed and scaffolded with pipes and workways and inner chambers that supported Tirion, from the great slow life of the White Tree to the smallest microbe in the soil beneath his bamboo mat. Then it/they were gone and he was himself again in the instant before even his strong mind collapsed beneath that breadth and intensity of awareness, and Lord Aulë was sitting cross-legged on the grass, turning the pages of Nariel’s report.
He was in his usual clothes, as a very tall Personage with red-brown hair, grey eyes, brown skin and a friendly face. He wore the Noldorin style of long, wrapped kilt and embroidered vest, both in multiple shades of blue; an unnecessary courtesy but one that Finarfin appreciated in the spirit that it was intended. His feet were bare.
Finarfin waited. The Mountain-maker avoided ceremony whenever He could, and liked to take his time before speaking. But the fine line of worry that deepened slowly between His heavy brows as He read was not reassuring. Two of the kitchen staff arrived with another cup, plates and a footed tray of assorted fruit and nut sweetmeats, the gate-ward having noticed the divine Presence. Finarfin waited.
The god looked up at last.
“Nariel’s work, this? Clever girl.” He worried the pages between His long, blunt fingers but did not say anything more. That was unnerving too.
Finarfin did his Kingly duty and broke the heavy silence. It was harder than he had thought it would be.
“Holy One, is this...do these notes describe what they seem to..Is this.the Secret Fire?”
“Yes,” said Aulë.
“No,” said Yavanna. The green grass, dappled by the leaf-shadows of the tree, had evolved unexpectedly into the long skirt of a very tall woman with dark brown skin and hair (as always since the death of the Trees) the same golden-yellow as the flowers of Laurelin. Her full, bare breasts were decorated with silver leaf in an intricate pattern of lynxes and hares. Unusually, there was no smile in her deep green eyes.
“In a manner of speaking,” said Aulë. The Earth Queen sat down next to him and peered over his shoulder at Nariel’s report.
“These equations,” said Yavanna, “and yes, Nariel is a very clever girl, a pity she’s not interested in biologicals, might be considered, to use a very loose and inexact comparison, to describe a process that is to the Secret Fire as the hröa is to the fëa among the Children of the One.
“Your brother was even more remarkable than he thought he was.”
“He did not pursue this knowledge,” Finarfin said bleakly. “I do not know why, whether from wisdom, or lack of interest or because some new thought distracted him. But I may, or rather, I may command my people to the work. I ask for your counsel, Holy Ones.”
The gods looked at him, expressionless. He was the King, however unwillingly, and he looked back.
“The war is coming, Holy Ones.”
Yavanna nodded. “We do not know how or when,” She said, “Though I suspect that Ulmo has some idea, but it will come. We will go to war again. Against Melkor and his allies. Again.” There was no particular emotion in Her deep, calm voice, but Finarfin was still vaguely surprised that the earth did not shake.
“And so will we,” he said. “And I would have it end as swiftly as possible, for my own sake, and my people’s. I would spare them from becoming murderers, as far as I can.”
“By using this knowledge,” Aulë said. “By using the weapons that Nariel and your people could devise with this knowledge. Do you know what the consequences might be, for Beleriand and all that lives in it?”
“Yes,” said the King. “And no. Wherefore I seek your counsel, Holy Ones.”
The gate-ward had noticed the further divine Presence. He brought another cup and tray, poured tea and served sweetmeats, with a glance of reproach at his neglectful and impolite monarch. The Valar smiled at him and made complimentary remarks about the sweetmeats and he returned to his post, the honour of the King’s House upheld.
Aulë picked up a delicate confection of chopped nuts, condensed fruit juice and powdered spices, popped it into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.
“Tasty. Something new?”
Since the rising of the Sun and the Moon, both olvar and kelvar had been changing in swift and unexpected ways. In the sudden flood of new light and warmth, great jungles and forests had sprung up north and south along the coast in the shelter of the Pelóri, where there had only been cold barrens before. Yavanna’s rage and grief had overrun the shadowy glens with a nearly impenetrable tangle of trees and vines and the myriad creatures that dwelt among them, erasing the silence and the dark with the endless cacophony of life and death. Even in their sorrow and distraction, the Eldar had not been slow to investigate the novelties appearing on their doorsteps. The School of Practical and Theoretical Gastronomy was among the foremost in taking full advantage of the flood of fresh materials offered for the practice of its art, and the King and his household had the honour of being the first recipients (or, Finarfin thought occasionally, test subjects) of all new recipes.
Yavanna said, not waiting for Finarfin to answer, “She’s almost there. There would be very little fall-out, even at the conversion rates that she could achieve with what she has so far.”
Aulë looked at his wife. She looked back, impassive.
“My love, Beleriand is already doomed.”
Among Finarfin’s teachers in his earliest youth had been Rumil the Wise, who had been born by Cuivienen and was now the Archivist of Tirion. Finarfin had learned from him the lore of the Ainur and the art of hunting cave-lions, and he had never forgotten either lesson.
Remember well the names of the Valar, Rumil had said, for warning is in them. Remember especially the Valier, for the knowledge of Their names is not simple. Varda is Light, but remember that we may see Her stars only in darkness. Vaire is the Weaver, and no word or deed escapes her nets. Estë heals and who can heal can also rend. Nessa is the Dancer and the Bride, but once upon a time She danced alone in splendour and terror upon the fields of war, in the battles when the world was made. Yavanna is the Giver of Fruits, but what is a fruit? It is a portion of the tree’s own strength, yielded up for the chance of continuance. Remember that all that lives must also die and name Her also Mistress of the Sacrifice.
“It’s still salvageable,” Aulë said, in the stubborn tone of one who has made the same argument many times, despite knowing that he is losing. “I could stabilise the fault-lines again...”
“As long as Melkor occupies it, Angband is a locus of instability in itself, in both your realm and mine,” Yavanna said. Oh yes, Finarfin thought, this was definitely a longstanding argument.
“Melian has secured the situation within her realm, and the Blue Mountains and the Seven Rivers have been barriers to some degree, but the teratogenic effects of Melkor’s presence have been spreading since he re-occupied Angband and they will not stop even if we manage to winkle him out. Again. The processes are self-sustaining now!(6)”
“And will you sacrifice all that lives in Beleriand to stop them?”
“A tumour must be destroyed before it spreads!” Yavanna glanced at the puzzled High King. “A tumour is an effect of the Marring upon the living; it turns flesh against itself and kills by unrestrained growth.” It sounded utterly repulsive. Finarfin made a mental note to ask the Yavannildi to investigate this horror, in case it needed to be guarded against when the remnant of Tirion went in search of their wayward kin. The thought must have shown in his face.
“It does not affect the Firstborn,” Aulë said reassuringly. “But the Secondborn are less secure in their hröar, and they are very vulnerable. And the forces that your brother turned away from...also re-shape the flesh.”
“It will hardly matter,” Yavanna said, “Once Melkor re-awakens the faultlines along the Blue Mountains, which he will (7). It will only take a few years after that until Beleriand slides into the Sea anyway. My guardians in Middle-earth, My tree-herds...” She smiled faintly, “ are seeing to it that enough of the wild populations move East over-mountain to ensure the survival of all kinds that live now in Beleriand, from least to greatest.”
“But the Secondborn,” said Aulë in protest, and more quietly, “and My own Children...”
The Lady’s glance gentled. “Beloved, your Children are well-shaped to survive any catastrophe, even the fall of mountains, and you were wise and scattered them across Middle-earth. They will be well enough. As for the Secondborn, there is no lack of them outside Beleriand either.”
Finarfin blinked. It had been his understanding that the Valar loved Firstborn and Secondborn equally, which had seemed fair enough. It now appeared that some Valar, at least, loved Their own Children, if not more than the One’s, then certainly not less. He folded the thought away for later consideration; it was at times like this that he missed his eldest son and his daughter most poignantly.
“Holy Ones,” he said, bringing the attention of the gods back to him. “Do You forbid me to pursue this knowledge?”
“We do not forbid the search for knowledge,” Yavanna said, rather grimly. “We at least have learned that lesson.”
“Oh come now,” Aulë said, “It wasn’t restrictions on his research that drove Mairon(8) away.”
“Mairon,” said Yavanna, “was a nasty, petty, unoriginal little sneak who chose to make up for his lack of talent and creativity by becoming Melkor’s pet bully-boy.”
Aulë looked stung. “At least he’s not riding around in a Secondborn’s body setting himself up as Queen of the East and fiddling with the local genomes!”(9)
“She hasn’t gone completely over to Melkor’s side,” Yavanna said, rather defensively. “If she had, the whole of Beleriand outside Doriath would be a defoliated wasteland by now.”
“Only because Melkor is a self-dramatising idiot who won’t listen to anything but his own delusions!”
Fascinating though all this was, a fine, barely perceptible tremor was running through the ground beneath him; the leaves above were shivering, not in the wind. Wings clattered overhead as the parakeets fled, not even daring to shriek. Finarfin could feel the strain in the substance of his City. He shook his head at the guard, poised to run for the Steward (a follower of Nienna, with her Lady’s ear).
“Holy Ones,” he said very firmly, “I seek your counsel.”
The incipient natural disaster subsided abruptly. Finarfin poured more tea into all three cups and took a sweetmeat in a marked way. After a moment, the gods followed suit. Finarfin swallowed the mouthful of dried, pickled mango and said,“Please.”
“We apologise.” Yavanna said. “The prospect of war and the necessity of it...pain Us greatly. Not least because it will mean also battle against Our own people, Our own kin, whom We loved and who turned against Us and all the love and labour that We shared.”
The Mountain-Maker took his wife’s hand and squeezed it comfortingly. She did not look at him, but looped her arm over his shoulders and hugged him in response.
Aulë said, “You could make weapons from this knowledge that would kill every living thing in Beleriand and so poison what remains that for ten thousand years of the Sun nothing would live there, save in forms Marred and twisted as badly as ever Melkor’s own work would make them.”
There was a very long silence.
Finarfin said at last, “Would they defeat Morgoth? From the news that the Returned have brought from Beleriand, swords and axes and bows have done little save delay his final victory a little. And then Beleriand and its peoples will wither and die in any case.”
He considered his own words and added, “I do not know that land or its folk, save in the tales of my elders and the reports of the Returned. I have no heart’s memory of it or them and so perhaps my judgement of their fate is too easily cruel.”
Olwe and Falmariel(10) had given him this much kindness, that the knowledge of those of the Sindar of Beleriand who Returned and came to them in Alqualonde was recorded and sent to him in Tirion. Together with the reports of Returned Noldor, it was all the information that he had with which to plan a war. No one knew better than he how little it was.
Aule laid Nariel’s notes down carefully. Grief was open in his face.
“There is no weapon that your people have to their hands in Beleriand now that would let them stand against Melkor in the end, even diminished as he is.”
Yavanna said, “The world is remade in pain each time that the Powers contend, and the only ones who suffered before were My Children. Now that the One’s own are scattered over the face of Middle-earth it may be that our King and Queen will no longer allow us to fight as we did before. Then it would be for your people, and whomever of the Secondborn remain their allies, to go up against Melkor, who was mightiest among us. I consider this unfair and I will assist you in any way that you ask.”
Finarfin absorbed the implications of this. The gods waited patiently.
“If you teach me,” he asked at last, “If we use this knowledge, can it be used for purposes other than war? Can there be light to come from it, as well as darkness?”
Yavanna looked skywards, where Anar was slowly moving towards the West. The Trees were Her children too, Finarfin thought. Melkor killed Them...
“Oh yes,” said the Lady of Life and Death. “Brighter than ten thousand Suns.”
The Valar were long gone and the Sun was setting and the new gate-ward on shift was eyeing her King anxiously. Finarfin took up his pen and wrote across the top of Nariel’s report: Proceed, upon my authority. Finarfin, High King.
. . . . .
“Of the march of the host of the Valar to the north of Middle-earth little is said in any tale: for among them went none of those Elves who had dwelt and suffered in the Hither Lands, and who made the histories of those days that are still known; and tidings of these things they only learned long afterwards from their kinsfolk in Aman...... the northern regions of the western world were rent asunder, and the sea roared in through many chasms, and there was confusion and great noise; and rivers perished or found new paths, and the valleys were upheaved and the hills trod down...”
. . . . . .
(1) Indis is a royal Vanya and therefore ranks above Finwe, who is a Noldo, even though the King of the Noldor. Not that the Vanyar care, but the Noldor prefer to observe the forms of courtesy and Findis is considerate.
(2) Yes, I’m talking about Nessa. She’s not just a heavenly hoofer, you know. Think of Shiva Nataraja and Durga the demon-slayer, and you’ll get the idea. In very early versions of the Valaquenta there was a Maia who was the violent sort. I have simply conflated her with Nessa, as the latter’s martial aspect.
(3) Bear in mind that concrete is a pre-industrial technology that goes back at least to the Romans in the Primary World.
(4) “Shore-Tirion”. I like parabolic roofs.
(5) Elvish teapots, naturally, keep the tea hot without stewing it.
(6) Cf Nan Gorgoroth
(7) Cf The Battle of Sudden Flame.
(8) The entity later known as Sauron, and formerly one of Aulë’s people. Published in Vinyar Tengwar.
(9) An OC, the Sauron-equivalent among Yavanna’s people (there had to have been some).
(10) The Queen of Alqualonde, Earwen’s mother. Quasi-canonical, in that her existence is a logical necessity. The name is mine.