Written for Chocolate Box Exchange 2016.


There was only darkness and terror, and she fled she knew not what. Sudden loud noises sounded all around her, and cold water poured down on her, drenching her skin. There was a darker place beneath the darkness, and she took shelter there by instinct. The water did not pour on her so harshly there, though a sudden scattering of drops from the things above her gave her a new impetus of terror and spurred her to further flight. At last she could run no longer; her breath rasped in her chest and her legs felt weak. She still staggered on, until even that was too much. She dropped to her knees and crawled, and when she could no longer crawl, she simply stopped where she was.

There was a slight rising in the hard surface below her; she pulled herself up onto it so she was no longer lying in so much water, and then she could only endure the noise, the darkness, and the cold water dropping down.

Eventually, it stopped. The loud noises rumbled off into the distance, and the darkness became less. She lay there, shivering and exhausted.

After a time, she became aware there was something bright in the space above her. She felt it touch her back and she became afraid again. She was less cold, but still she shivered.

And then there was a noise from close in front of her, and she raised her head in alarm. She was frightened and cold, and water spilled from her eyes as before it had fallen from above, and her sight was dazzled with the scattered light. She blinked to clear her vision.

Two people stood before her; the nearer one was speaking words she could not understand in a musical voice (though she had not known what a voice was or what words were until she heard them), and light was all about her. She longed only to be near that light, to touch and hold it, but she was too weary to raise her hand. But the bright one came to her and knelt beside her, as if guessing her wish, and spoke to her again; the words meant nothing to her, but the tone was gentle.

She had no words then for what was happening, for the things she saw, or even for herself. It was not until later that she could say to herself, practicing her words within her own mind: "The storm passed over, the rain ended, and the sun came out and shone upon me. I first saw you with your golden hair shining in the sunlight and the light behind you; and I had no memory, but I knew you were the fairest thing I had ever seen. You found me lying on a dead woman's grave, and you drew me out of darkness. You wrapped your cloak around me and wrung the water from my hair. You gave me a name. You warmed me and lifted me up." Of all the words she learned among the folk of Brethil, the one she cherished most was Finduilas.

As she lay in bed, still too weak with fever to rise, she silently spoke to herself the names of the things she could see or remember, and always she added Finduilas's name. Table, chair, pitcher, Finduilas. Sun, sky, tree, Finduilas. Whatever had made her forget all else, she was determined not to forget this. Somehow she could not help fearing that if she lost Finduilas's name, Finduilas would be taken from her too.

She did not feel so about her own name. Because Finduilas found her lying on Haudh-en-Arwen, the burial-mound of the Lady Haleth, she had offered her the name Arwen. With other words, when she learned them, it was like finding again something that she had lost. There was not that sense of rightness about her name. Arwen felt neither right nor wrong; it simply was. But the name was a gift from Finduilas, and so it was dear to her. "Arwen," she had repeated, the first word she could remember speaking; and she was rewarded with her first sight of Finduilas's smile. She had no words for it, but she had known even then that here was something she did not want to lose.

She learned that it was Brandir who healed her of her fever, and many of the women of Brethil took turns to teach her speech again or tend to her. But most often it was Finduilas who sat by her bedside, Finduilas who spoke with her, patient while she drew each word again from darkness, Finduilas who lent her a shoulder when she struggled to walk again after her illness. There was sometimes an air of sorrow about her, and Arwen delighted in all the ways she found to draw out Finduilas's rare smiles. She did not yet have the word for the feeling of warmth and tenderness she felt when Finduilas was near, or her private delight at the touch of hands or arms when Finduilas helped her to complete some task, but she trusted that she would find it and that the time would come to speak of it.

Brandir came to visit her one day when she was attempting to increase her strength, struggling stubbornly to walk the distance back and forth between the house and a nearby tree as many times as she could.

Brandir stood a moment to watch her, leaning on his stick. "You need not push yourself so hard, Arwen," he said kindly. "The widow Lalvellas can spare the room in her house as long as you need it, and you need not fear being a burden on us."

"I am grateful to Lalvellas who has taken me into her house," Arwen said, "and all your people have been kind to me, Finduilas most of all. I do not wish to seem ungrateful! I only wished to be able to walk about and see more than what is within the house, since everything is new to me."

"There can be no harm in it, so long as you stop when you are too weary or if you feel any pain."

She smiled suddenly. "I will be guided by you," she said. "Since your counsel has healed me, I will not forsake it now."

"I am pleased to see you regaining your strength," Brandir continued. "Finduilas, too, is better since you came."

She gave him a questioning look.

"She alone survived when some of my folk sought to rescue prisoners from the Orcs. She was badly wounded and lingered long near death." He fell silent for a moment and bowed his head. "I had the skill to heal her body, but I despaired of drawing her spirit forth from the shadow, until you came. I taught her something of healing, as she wished, and she has been helping me, but her heart was distant until the day the two of us found you on the Haudh-en-Arwen. She asked then to move into Lalvellas's house to aid in your care. It seems that tending to you has been her healing as well."

Arwen's heart lifted to hear it. "I would ever wish to bring her only joy," she said. "Finduilas is dear to me above all others."

Brandir gave her a thoughtful look, but he said only, "Two of my patients are recovering, and that eases my heart also."

As Arwen grew stronger, she was able to aid in the household work, and she was pleased to be able to make some recompense for the care she had been shown. Arwen and Finduilas were hanging laundry to dry outside the house when a man came walking along the path, someone Arwen had not seen before. She was surprised, since she thought she knew all the neighbors by now, by face if not by name. He was still a young man, but his face had been marked with sorrow. He was taller than most of the Haladin, like Arwen herself, and he bore a sword at his side as if it were natural to him. There was a wild and wary look to him, his cloak faded and his dark hair unkempt. He stopped when he saw them.

Arwen found herself gazing at the stranger. There was something she wished to grasp, something she had sought for—but it slipped away again into darkness, leaving her unsatisfied. He returned her gaze with curiosity.

"Turambar," Finduilas greeted him softly.

At that, he seemed to draw into himself a little. He bowed to them in silence, a surprisingly courtly gesture coming from one so wild in appearance, and passed onward without speaking.

Arwen turned to follow him with her eyes. "Who is that? Turambar, you called him. Why have I not met him before?"

"He does not stay here long," Finduilas replied with an odd constraint in her voice. "He ranges far abroad with as many of the Haladin as will follow him, striving always to do harm to the servants of the Enemy. His secrets are not mine to tell, but he was my friend in Nargothrond."

It seemed to Arwen that there was sorrow in Finduilas's voice, and she turned back to look at her. "But then why has he not come to visit you, and why did he not stop to speak with you? I will not be his friend if he has wronged you!"

"He has not wronged me," Finduilas said quickly, though she turned her face away.

"Why does he avoid you?"

"He holds himself apart," Finduilas said quietly, "because he came too late to save me from the Orcs, and because of the death of my father and those who were dear to me." Her voice faltered. "I do not hold him to blame; but he blames himself and avoids me. When I go into the woods to gather herbs, he sometimes follows me from a distance without approaching, to keep me safe, and he thinks I do not realize it. Though I no longer look on him as I once did, I have missed his friendship."

"If you wish him to speak with you," Arwen said, smiling, "then we will track him to earth, be he never so shy! I too wish to know more of him. When I saw him, he seemed to me like a word that was lost and that I wished to find again. But when I search, there is only darkness."

"There is something alike about you," Finduilas said, frowning, "though I cannot say what it is. It is not the manner of your speech, for he speaks with the accent of Doriath, and your speech is like the Men of the north. Something in the tones of your voice, perhaps, though his is deeper." She sighed as she spoke and kept her face turned away, as she busied her hands with their task.

"But you are growing sad, Finduilas!" Arwen said at once. "If it makes you grieve to recall such memories, we need not speak of Turambar at all."

"It is not that," Finduilas said with constraint. "Only it made me think that perhaps you will wish to leave this house, now that you are well; and I have had joy in our time together."

"I will not leave this house unless you do," Arwen said with certainty.

"And yet," Finduilas said softly, "your heart may turn toward love, either for Turambar or another; and then you will wish to wed and go to your own house. If that day comes, do not tarry for Finduilas's sake."

"No, Finduilas!" She stepped forward and caught Finduilas's hand. "If it is love to cherish one above all others, to feel the warmth of desire, to wish never to forsake her, that is what I feel for you only."

There was a slow dawning of hope in Finduilas's face, and her fingers tightened around Arwen's hand in turn. She said in a wavering voice, "I did not wish you to know that my heart has become yours. I had not thought it was my fate to be happy."

"If your fate is to be unhappy, then I will change it," Arwen said fiercely. She took Finduilas's face between her hands and kissed her. Kissing Finduilas was very sweet, her mouth warm and eager against Arwen's. But when she drew back, Finduilas still hesitated.

"You know nothing of your past," she said. "You may have kin who are searching for you, or perhaps even one that you loved—"

Arwen shook her head. "A darkness lies behind me," she said. "I would not return thither. Shall I wait my entire life, refusing happiness for an unknown chance? No, beloved! Let us take happiness now. I have only a mortal's years, but what life I have, I wish to spend with you."

Finduilas's expression softened. "I have known sorrow," she said, "but with you I have found hope again. I will not refuse you!"

That night, she stepped barefoot to Finduilas's bed, and Finduilas gladly opened her arms to embrace her. She found that Finduilas's hands and mouth could make her forget all the words she knew; but they returned to her afterwards, and lying breathless with her head on Finduilas's breast, she thought it a fair exchange.

With the return of her health and strength, Arwen found herself becoming restless. When there were no tasks to be done, she wandered the woods near Ephel Brandir, Finduilas at her side. There were a myriad new sights and sounds, new things to rediscover words for and for Finduilas to teach her. Once Arwen found herself halting to stare at a cluster of newly budded green leaves.

"What is it?" Finduilas asked gently.

"I used to walk in the woods like this," she said haltingly, "the woods of—" But it was gone. Finduilas remained silent, knowing that she did not wish false comfort at such times. After a moment, Arwen raised her head. "This tree is an elm, you have told me. And that one?" They went onward, and after a short time she could smile again at the sudden flight of a bird, or point out a new flower whose name she wished to know.

One day as they walked together through the forest, Arwen became aware of a darker shape among the young green. A hunched figure in a tattered cloak sat at the foot of a tree, its head resting on its knees in weariness or grief. Fearlessly, Arwen went closer. Some old woman, she thought, who was lost in the forest or taken ill – though her heart was beating faster and she could not tell why.

Arwen knelt beside the stranger and touched her shoulder. The woman raised her head to look at them, and Arwen felt a shock run through her. The stranger's face was lined with grief and weariness, and her dark hair touched with iron-grey, but her gaze was keen and piercing. Her eyes were a clear grey, like Arwen's own eyes when she caught sight of her reflection in water; she was caught and held by them. "Nienor?" the woman said in wonder.

The truth and rightness of it came to her like a flash of lightning. "Yes," she could only say, "yes."

The woman reached to grip her shoulders with her thin hands. "Nienor, my daughter! How came you hither?"

"I know not how I came here," she said with a catch in her voice. "For my memories have been lost in darkness. But I know you—"

Finduilas was looking back and forth between them. "Yes," she said, her voice caught between laughter and tears. "Yes, I see it now. Your eyes are like hers, but your face is like Adanedhel's—"

"Adanedhel?" The woman's tone was wary, but she showed no fear.

"So he was called in Nargothrond," Finduilas said, "and the Men of Brethil call him Turambar. But his right name is Túrin son of Húrin."

She drew in her breath sharply. "Túrin? My son is here?" She turned back to Nienor. "How did you find him?" Nienor could not answer; she felt tears running down her face, though her heart was joyous. "And who are you, who seem to know both my daughter and my son?"

Nienor laid one hand over her mother's hand where it rested on her shoulder and extended the other to her beloved. "Mother," she said unsteadily, taking Finduilas's hand, "this is Finduilas."


Notes:

Haudh-en-Arwen: Canonically, Nienor was found by Túrin on Haudh-en-Elleth, as Finduilas's grave was called. Since Finduilas is alive in this version, I had her find Nienor on Haleth's grave instead and name her accordingly. I hope giving Nienor another name, and choosing one that belongs to another character in the Legendarium, is not too confusing to read. It seemed to me that if Nienor was found by someone other than Túrin, she might have a happier name than Níniel!

"A darkness lies behind me," she said. "I would not return thither." – An echo of Bëor's words to Finrod, "A darkness lies behind us . . . and we do not desire to return thither even in thought."

Nienor's eye color: In The Children of Húrin, she is described as grey-eyed in chapter 14 and blue-eyed in chapter 18. I went with the first option for this story.