"Forth to War" is a story that I wrote in 2007 for my friend Marie (Hrymfaxe), who has always loved best the Sindar, in particular Beleg and Mablung. Writing the Sindar moved outside of my usual comfort zone, since I know and have thought little about their culture and history in comparison to some of the other Elven peoples. However, I have always been tantalized by the question: How did Beleg and Mablung alone of the people of Doriath earn Thingol's blessing to ride forth to war? This story seeks to answer that question.
This story is a series of seven double-drabbles. And, in 2009, I had the honor of being nominated for the Middle-earth Fanfiction Awards in the category Genres: Ficlets: Elven Lands Fixed-Length Ficlets for this piece. Thank you, Binka!
Forth to War
I have something to ask of you. Something that I must do."
Beleg stands tall in my modest chamber, his broad shoulders seeming to fill the room. There is unease in his face, and this worries me. Beleg? Brave and inscrutable Beleg, you feel the torment of worry in your heart--this I know--but never let it line your face. Why now do you come to me so vexed?
I bid him to sit. With a quick tilt of his head, he declines my offer. He does not meet my gaze. "This scheme of the Noldor to the north," he blurts, "I would like to march forth for it."
He squares his shoulders and, at last, meets my eyes. But he is a warrior and not a performer. His fears--and his hopes--are too plain in his eyes.
He hopes that I will agree to come with him.
And he does not know how to ask.
Brothers in arms across the centuries--friends even longer--there are few things that we have not suffered together. Yet our friendship comes not from silver words wrought by golden tongues but from something deeper, unspoken.
So I will go.
A page assures us that Thingol will keep us waiting only briefly.
Once, I'd been young and foolish and (in my private dreams) aspired to be just like Beleg, and I'd treasured his interest in me and sought to cultivate it further with flattery. "You should be king!" I'd blurted once.
I flush, even now, to think of it.
It was rumored that Beleg had arisen with the first of the Elves at Cuiviénen. Certainly, he seemed more the stuff of the earth beneath our boots than the flawed flesh of Elvenkind: strong, wise, and at ease with enchantments in the way of a spider with silk. To a young boy who saw no better virtues, what greater king could there be?
In his mercy, he had not laughed at my suggestion. "It is not my place," he'd said.
It took many years--and an appointment to work closely with Thingol--to understand why he was right.
So we wait for audience with a King whom we both know is his lesser; he will plead like a son to a father when it should be the opposite; he will probably be refused and rebuked. But this: this is his place.
The room is dim and Thingol is restless. The scent of whatever the page has poured into his cup is pungent, crafted to ward headaches, he would say, but smelling also of ferment. His foot jitters. "What now?" he asks of Beleg before we have even come forth far enough to bow in deference. Bejeweled fingers flit around his head where rests his crown.
"We wish to join the battle company in the north."
Beleg speaks plainly, and Thingol straightens. He has little patience, I know, for the slick diplomacy and insidious flattery of the Noldor. It is the root of his unease with his brother's kin and their perpetual smiles and crafty words. "Rather, I would speak as warriors," he told me once.
But even greater than his dislike of slippery speech is his hatred of the Fëanorians. That they have done fair work in keeping his borders safe from the Morgoth's minions--as once they'd promised--vexes him against the best interest of his people.
Beleg stands tall and relaxed, hands straight at his sides, but I am holding my breath.
Thingol's fingertips press briefly to his temple. "Granted," he mutters, and he waves us from the room.
I am surprised," I tell Beleg. We share a cup on the road leading to my house, a rare indulgence.
"Not so much am I," says Beleg. "I am more surprised that he has not granted his full might yet to the cause." Once, Beleg told me that this is why he could not be king. I could not withhold aid for political aim; I could not nurture a grudge when lives stand to be lost. I see life in simple terms, and it is in fact more complex than that. I admire Thingol, but I do not envy him.
Nor do I. I wonder what haunts his dreams after such decisions: a bitter heart sated but a mind full of turmoil and blame. His allowance of his two strongest captains to the cause might assuage the latter some.
And, suddenly, I understand, and amid my enlightenment comes misgiving: What have we enabled with this?
I glance at Beleg to see if the thought has come also to him. His eyes are sad as he sips from the mug and passes it back to me. Unfeeling hands clutch it, and I wait for his answer.
"We do what we must."
I walk up to the house alone.
It is a small place. I could build much better, but when? The patrols are long and my leave short; it is easier to stay in my chamber at the barrack than to make the long walk home. What I do is important, I tell myself. Many lives are spared by my efforts. But now--on the brink of going to war--I realize that this might be the last time I see my house, and I feel regret.
My wife bounds forth and catches me, laughing, around the neck. My arrival is a surprise; I wrote her to say that I would not have time to come home. Sometimes I wonder if she waits at the window for me through all the months of my absence. She never fails to meet me on the road.
She lives with my mother for company. I have not yet given her a child, for I cannot spare the year between his begetting and birth. Another regret.
How will I tell her? I wonder. I feel myself smile through her kisses. No mind that, comes the impetuous thought. Tonight will not be a night for war.
I leave her in tears, some days later.
Without a sound, Beleg joins me on the road after a while. He smells of rain-drenched leaves, and I know that my absence--longer than I'd promised--was not a grief to him.
He is unwed. Did not the Unbegotten arise at Cuiviénen beside their intended spouses, I asked once? He laughed. A wishful myth, he replied. He is of the earth, built of clay and leaves by the hands of Eru, and he is wedded to the dirt beneath his boots and the wind in his hair and the rain that washes his face. In his way, I know, he has also bid farewell to his heart's love.
We walk in silence. He must sense my upset, but he says nothing for a long while. The sun is setting and premature night gathering under the trees. Misgivings and admonishments are collecting on my tongue, so I press it against the top of my mouth to try and quash them.
A strong hand squeezes my shoulder. "I will see you safely returned to her," he says. "She is the reason that you fight, and I will protect the gift she gives Doriath."
That night, I dream.
I am lying upon sun-baked mud webbed with cracks. The scream of battle surrounds me, and the air reeks of blood, my blood, nourishing the rain-starved earth with each tired beat of my heart. Nirnaeth Arnoediad: she will never stop weeping. I am dying.
There is a noisy crush of bodies withholding the soldiers of Morgoth. I see this as a seething shadow at the periphery of my darkening vision. I sense one break away from it, familiar buckskin boots crunching across the forbidding terrain, hands that should be turned to more important matters finding the fading pulse at my throat. Hands wasting their skill on the grievous wound in my side and depriving the thirsty ground of the last pushes of my blood.
The Orcs of Morgoth break through. More of our ground is lost as more bodies--of all shapes incarnate: Elf, Dwarf, and Man--fall aside. Yet I am alive. Breath burns into my lungs, life renewed.
I am alive.
With a start, I sit up. Beleg paces, sleepless, in the darkness, keeping watch.
What have we wrought? comes the thought, the only thing louder than my pounding heart. What have we wrought?