Shades of Memory
Author: Enismirdal firstname.lastname@example.org
Warnings: Much doominess and angst.
Summary: In the end, death was all that remained.
Disclaimer: Characters and world are not mine; they all belong to Tolkien. No insult intended, no profit being made.
A/N: Birthday fic for the wonderful Uli, who is the best and likes things like angsty, sad Elves.
I see them constantly. They know that I see them and so they come to me. They ask no questions, request no favours; they never seem to judge, and I do not think they even hate me. But I sense their discontent. Perhaps it is all only in my mind. Perhaps their aura of deep-rooted anger and bitterness is simply an illusion created by my raw and aching conscience. Still, they are there.
I count them sometimes, and they are all present. Every Elf whose life was ever ended at the blade of my sword. Their faces surround me and, when I kill again, a few more faces join them each time.
Some of them were my friends once.
When I sleep they walk in my dreams. And when I wake I am never alone. Sometimes I find their presence almost comforting - it is only justice, after all - until I remember why they are here. Under the starlight the myriad faces take on a strange, sad beauty, I have found; for under the starlight they glow faintly red, like ancient bloodstains.
It is only in recent times, now that the Oath has succeeded in tearing apart my life, my family and my people utterly, that the others have begun to join them. These others were not slain by me - not directly, anyway - but I hold myself responsible nonetheless. The first of them was my brother, Ambarussa, the youngest, the doomed. I half expected him to appear with burns from the flames still marring his elegant face, but he seemed just as I remember him in life when he came, unmarred, but pale, eldritch. The sorrow in his expression was unbearable, just as his twin brother's sorrow at his unfortunate death had been. I tried to speak to him, offer what little comfort a murderer a thousand times over could offer to his dead brother, but my words rang cold and hollow in an empty room. It is not the fate of the dead to seek comfort from the living - even, that is, assuming that what I saw was indeed a final trace of Ambarussa, escaped like a stray tendril of smoke from the confinement of Mandos and seeking me out now, and not merely a device of my guilt-ridden imagination.
After Ambarussa the others came, one after another. First my other brothers, from the elder of the twins back to Tyelkormo. After that, my father, his eyes still haunted with madness and burning with the fire of fanaticism. Then, one by one, the rest of the dead of Finwë's house came to visit me, appearing in the evenings as I forced down another meal of flavourless food, or in the mornings when I left the sleeping nightmares to begin the waking ones.
Only one never came.
I often looked for him amongst the ethereal crowds now surrounding me, forever scanning the faces for his warm, earnest eyes, gold threaded braids - they would be translucent, faded, like all else, of course. I saw no sign of him, though. Why did I keep searching, knowing fully that it would break my heart if ever I did see him? I needed to see him, I suppose, needed the knowledge that he was with the others in Námo's care, safe from my taint now.
As months turned to years and still he was the only one I did not see, I began to wonder if it was by his own choice that he failed to come. Did he resent me that much, so deeply that he would not even suffer himself to haunt me? Dearer to me than any of the others, yet conspicuous in his absence and torturing me because of it.
The time of the Noldor was already fading as I stood each evening on a barren hillside, singing into the wind as I did once on Thangorodrim. Each evening I hoped he would finally grace me with his silent presence, punish me with the sense of grief on his face - and each evening I was greeted only by the familiar faces of the others.
In the end, I did see him. Years later, as I stared into the chasm with the Silmaril's searing heat burning into my palm. I saw flames in that chasm, tongues leaping up from lava the colour of blood - everywhere now, it seemed, was fire and blood. Faces stared up at me from the flames; they felt no pain, distanced by death from the physical heat. All the way up the chasm's walls they ranged, so many now. Those I had killed. Those who followed me and died for it. Those whom I failed to defend well enough. Others too, caught in the web of fate that began to be woven even before Ungoliant destroyed the Trees - perhaps even from the moment that my father was born.
Then, suddenly, he was standing before me, right on the lip of the sheer cliff. As perfect as he had always been, smiling sadly at me. He held out his hands to me, beckoning me into his embrace.
I did not move, astonished. I expected to find resentment and instead saw only understanding. He always was the best of the Noldor, I remember thinking. Blood was oozing from my burned palm as I gazed at him, running down my wrist, but I could not bring myself, even now, to let go of the Silmaril. So many had fought and died over it; it was not as if I was ever able to forget that fact. A thousand sets of eyes were all turned on it, staring up from the flames.
In the light of the Silmaril, their faces were black.
I looked down at my hand, fingers closed tightly around the scorching jewel, and sighed. "I despise it," I told him then.
Unlike when the others spoke, when he did I heard the words as clearly as if he had been alive. Perhaps even this was just my own madness, my reason so far abandoned in the bloodbath of history that I no longer recalled where sanity finally ended. But his rich, quiet voice reached me. "Then cast it away."
"I cannot," I protested. The words of the Oath echoed in my aching memory, each syllable speaking of another step towards another death.
"Let me hold you, at least." Only his eyes showed his sorrow and pain; his smile never wavered. I moved into those arms, knowing I would feel nothing but the wind; I had long since given up trying to thread my way through the crowds that followed me, now simply stepping through their substanceless bodies if they lay between me and my destination. Like the others, he was just a shade, an illusion. But I did feel his arms close around me, smelt the subtle scents of his hair - faint soap and leather - and for a moment the heat of the chasm and the Silmaril faded to a mere soothing warmth. As long as he held me, nothing would hurt any more - not me, not any other Elves.
He spoke once more. "Do not leave me again," were his soft words, spoken as a plea, not an order. I clung to him, promising over and over that I would not. I think we embraced for hours, though I cannot be sure. When he released me I felt suddenly cold, before the burning returned. My hand was blistered and raw, but still my fingers would not release the Silmaril. The flames in the chasm, framing the faces still staring up at me, fanned more heat on to my face. At least it meant that if I had cried, the tears would have dried instantly. I do not know if I did cry on that last day as I stood by the crevice, reunited with my dearest cousin...
He stepped away from me and a desperate cry came from my lips. I reached towards him as he walked, though the air as if it was as solid as the earth, across the chasm. "Come with me," he urged, holding out his hand. "Come with me and find peace again, dear cousin."
I took a few steps towards him, now teetering right on the brink of the crevice. I stretched out my arms, but he stood just a little too far from me. "I cannot..." I began.
"Just come and there will be peace," he told me, and I leaped into his arms.
The flames disappeared. The faces disappeared. The pain disappeared. There was peace.