I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 40, Part 137
April 6, 1452
the sweet pungency of fermented kaktush, the elf took a long pull from
his winesack and wiped his mouth before he began his tale. "Men once
called me Lanethil, when they still could see me, although long before
that my own kind named me Atelanedhel--the Lost Elf. The name that I
received in my first youth I will keep a secret still, for none
remember it except for Mandos and myself, and I have no other treasure
save for that.
"I walked this Middle Earth before your kind graced it, Frodo, and
before the fathers of the first men woke--nay, before Orome called my
people westward, before any elves had seen the light of Valinor." He
paused, and stared keenly at the hobbit--"Why do I see that light gleam
in your eyes, Frodo? For I have only known the like in the gaze of Elu
Singollo, and in the eyes of the Noldor returning."
"It is a long story--tell me yours, first."
"Ah, but mine is necessarily longer, as you surely know by now. And yet
not so, in its way, for much of my life repeats itself...endlessly
repeats." He gestured to the rock. "Have a seat, Frodo. Long tales are
best heard in comfort."
When Frodo had settled, the elf spoke no more, but stood before Frodo
and sang. Frodo had not heard elvish quite like it before, akin to the
Sindarin and yet more rustic, at once sharper and softer, like an
angular carving of the sound in old and weathered wood. Yet, as will
happen in elvish well-sung, the images sprang up in his mind without
translation. Frodo closed his eyes, lay back on the boulder's
sun-warmed surface, and let the music cast its spell.
His head whirled as he seemed to fall into the music itself, into a
laughing childhood by a forgotten lake, with the sound of his parents'
singing echoed in the ripples of the star-strewn water. Other elves
lived there as well, fearless in unending night. They dressed in the
skins of animals, they dwelt in the boles and hollows of trees. His
sisters and his mother gathered nuts and wild herbs with the ladyfolk,
graceful shadows moving between the trunks, while he and his father
hunted beside the other masculine elves; the stone-headed spears arced
from their hands beneath a sunless, moonless canopy of stars. Even
before he reached half-height he could run as swift as any deer. He
often threw the spear wide, in childhood, but it hardly mattered, for
his father never missed the mark. Then would he skip home again beside
the hunting-party, over root and fallen bough, bringing back the
bloodied prize for mother and sister to dress and roast, tired and
happy and full of expectations of still more hunts and feasts and
family laughter and song, of sleeping and waking and sleeping again, of
rain like shivers of laughter upon the skin and wind following after to
caress him dry, cycle after cycle after cycle, as the stars wheeled
overhead, with nothing to interrupt the joy.
Then came The Dread Hunter, swifter than any elf--a shadow blocking out
the stars, a breath of cold that froze the lake, a thunder of hooves
that shook the earth, a horn that drove the spirit mad with fear.
Nothing in all of their existence had prepared the elves for that
looming horror, or the shock of seeing their own fall slain before its
feet. Time and again the elves ran and scattered and regrouped, and
each time they gathered together fewer than before. No one knew whether
loved ones wandered free somewhere, searching for their kin, or whether
they had died, or whether the Hunter had taken them away. Time and
again the fell horn brayed, now from this quarter, now from that,
sometimes seeming to come from all directions at once, throwing the
elves into yet another panic. Time and again the survivors would find
who they could of each other, and count the missing faces, and move on.
Somewhere along the line Atelanedhel lost even his family, though he
did remember a sister's distant screams, carried further and further
Now he dwelt alone, gathering for himself what his sisters used to
find, hunting small things with the knife upon his belt, his
mother-sewn leathers falling into rags--a quick and furtive animal on
two legs. He spent several years like this, yet elvish reckoning still
accounted him a child when he made his last scramble for freedom and
finally failed--a pain lanced through him, just like any deer, and he
learned that he could die.
But the Dread Hunter would not let him die. A burning power gushed into
his wound and coursed throughout his veins, and he stood up whole
again. He found that when he did, he stood inside a stone-walled pit,
and stone arched overhead, cutting off the stars. A lash that burned
like fury steered him to his work: crushing rocks to melt and pour.
They worked him till he fell unconscious, the snickering of the guards
the last thing that he heard.
He discovered more captives beside himself, brothers and sisters in
toil, crowded together in filth and fellowship. No more did he bathe
himself in the waters of Cuiviénin, but grew accustomed to the smell of
self and others, and even came to like it, as a sign at least of living
things, different from the poisonous stench of metal manufacturing. No
more did he dance the adventures of the hunt, but songs he still sang,
as did the others, to the pounding of pick and hammer--songs in voices
now gone hoarse from fumes, songs of hatred and revenge that only made
their captor laugh. Sometimes they saw only by the light of the forge
and the glow of the crucible; sometimes they had torches, smoky and
foul; sometimes they crawled away for rest into a darkness so thick
that it choked the mind. He learned about ore, and metal, and
smithcraft, and the sweat-pouring, ache-inducing labor to make all that
the Dark Lord desired, from the moment that his overseer dragged him up
from a stunned sleep on the floor, to when he fell back down to the
same stained spot at night. Only by this could he count time.
Marriages still took place, in that sad existence beneath the whip, and
children came to birth. But the Dark Lord Melkor played a trick upon
his captive elves, worse than any wound or degradation he had yet
devised. For sometimes in a dark so great that even elvish eyes could
not perceive in it, a darkness that penetrated to the heart, he would
switch spouse with spouse, unknown to them or to their partners. And
then, too exhausted by their labors for speech, or indeed to
distinguish aught but the most basic touch, couples would think that
they had found each other, and take the only solace afforded them in
all their nightmare lives--only to find, after it became too late,
their captor laughing over them, his sudden lantern raised on high to
reveal the horror!
For the elvish heart does not stray as human hearts might do. Once they
bestow themselves, body and heart and soul, upon one other, they have
married for all time; they cannot imagine any other way, and still
persist as elves. Yet Melkor forced them to imagine the unendurable.
Hearts broke, minds broke, eventually spirits broke, as torment-crazed,
the former elves threw themselves into consolations quite against their
natures--after their throats had tired of screaming, after they could
bear no further loathing, after they began to laugh and call all
suffering a joke, their own or others all the same.
Atelanedhel still had not quite reached an age for marrying when he
escaped. But he remembered all that he had seen, for Melkor held no
love for privacy except his own. He escaped, and lived a long and
lonely life once more, fur-wrapped yet never fully warm, in the snowy
outskirts of his former master's realm. At first he tried to rescue
others of his kind, until they changed so much that he could only fend
them off to save himself. Later the Noldor would speak of kinslaying
and hang their heads, yet they and the "cleaner" elves felt no remorse,
it seemed, to slay orc after orc after orc, and Atelanedhel took note.
For he never forgot what the others did not wish to guess--that he had
almost become one of these, and only a grace of chance had spared him.
The world underwent many changes. First the moon arose, and then the
sun. New flowers bloomed, in colors yet unseen, caressed to life by
radiance. New warmth and possibilities awoke, even as the old began to
feel its age. Walking in the newmade light, he traveled south and found
new elves with skills acquired from the Powers of Heaven itself, and
nothing seemed impossible!
He found himself a place in fellowship once more. He forged shields and
swords and helms at the commands of Noldor smiths, who welcomed "dark
elves" to the workshop (if not to a common table) and paid them well in
board and bed and better goods than they could fashion by themselves.
Atelanedhel found the new elves kindly enough, even in their
haughtiness, and did not ask for equal place, only for company and
purpose. There he learned new arts of metalcraft, and there he
dedicated himself to stopping Melkor, now called Morgoth, at any cost.
If the Dread Hunter had stolen pretties that the Noldor princes
coveted, so much the better for him, that it gave him new and potent
allies in his ancient feud. His hammer beat to the rhythm of old,
coarse songs that he could not forget, as he forged the weapons to slay
the peers whose suffering he'd shared.
A raid burst into the hold where he had plied his trade, seizing new
slaves to replace the slain. Once again Atelanedhel found himself a
prisoner of Morgoth. But this time mortals shared in his captivity. At
a guard's careless moment he sought--and failed to find--a chance to
escape again, bursting out only into another compound, ringed by barbs
of steel. Yet at least he could now lose himself into the ranks of the
human serfs held in this other prison. It eased his heart a little; he
had dreaded more than anything to see what progress Morgoth had made
with his former labor-mates, or to watch the same sad changes corrode
his newer friends.
By now he had long since reached maturity; grief-wrenched and weakened
in spirit, one night he sought a full-grown solace in a human woman's
arms. Horrified afterwards, he lay awake all night, frantic for some
answer as to how to protect so frail a creature from the malice that he
feared must follow soon. Yet in time he learned that Morgoth did not
bother to play the same old tricks on fickle-hearted human beings, less
innately virtuous than elves to where it hardly mattered, though the
Dread Hunter found other ways to mar their souls. But as for their
deeds of flesh, the Dark Lord did not care!
And so it passed that Atelanedhel knew this much consolation--that he
could have a real marriage in secret, even in the Dark Lord's hell, a
hidden heaven all his own and Finsuliel's beside him. Long they
supported each other, and remembered love and light, and when, in the
treeless wastes of Angband, they hauled sleds full of ore across the
northern blast, he could hide himself in Finsuliel's veil of hair that
blew between him and the Dark Lord's gaze, watching the years transform
her locks from black to silver, as a night-dark lake might fill with
more and more of the rippled beams of stars.
There came a day when she fell beneath her load, and did not rise
again. He took the withered limbs into his own undying ones and
wept--until the whips compelled him to his feet again.
A long time after that he labored like a beast, knowing nothing save
for work and fodder and a place to shudder in cold sleep alongside
other beasts. But at last he looked around him, and saw that the
fragile fairness of the daughters of men still trembled forth beneath
the grime, and he realized that he need not carry on alone. So he took
another bride, and so revived. And another after that, when Morgoth
used the woman up, and another one to follow. It scarred his spirit but
did not break him, for he knew himself faithful by the human law. Yet
he also accounted himself corrupted in the eyes of elves, and hid
himself among the Men till they themselves forgot the difference. They
died so fast beneath the Dark Lord's hand that they seldom had the time
to note how he lived on and on.
There came a day when an aging bride of his stumbled at her work, and
the overseer beat her, and something snapped in Lanethil, to see his
latest lover crushed beneath the blows. He turned upon the overseer,
fighting with his chain, his teeth, his claws, fighting like a wolf, a
rat, a torment crammed into a skin. Blood flew, orc-blood mingled with
his own. In his last act he reached out to his dead...one finger
managed to caress the crushed-silk textures of her wrinkled cheek...and
then he walked a long, dark hall...
...At the end of the hall he met the Lord of Mandos, and began his
reckoning. Bitterness welled up in him. He expected accusations, but he
did all of the accusing, demanding to know how the Valar dared to judge
him, or any of his brethren in slavery, even to the foulest of the
orcs. He received answers, patiently repeated, but he could not fathom
any of them, and he grew still more frustrated and wroth. At last he
threw up his hands and cried out, "Judge me, then! Condemn me to
whatever hell you please, even to the Outer Darkness! I have seen
enough of torment to fear nothing, and all of your punishments shall
fall on me in vain!"
But Námo merely smiled, and passed the tapestry of Atelanedhel between
his cold, pale fingers, and shook his head. "What shall I do with you,
my friend?" the Vala asked. "I have always taken care to reunite a
reborn elf and his spouse in where I bestow their births--but you seem
to have taken it upon yourself to marry the human race! So be it."
After suitable reflection and instruction, he came back among the
Moriquendi, but he could scarcely toddle before slavers came and caught
him up again. His careless captors mingled elf and dwarf and man
together; he soon found his preferred company, and there took wives.
But in time he despaired at what he took for a punishment undeserved,
and after losing several brides in swift succession, he took his life.
And much to his surprise, Lanethil found himself reborn so soon
thereafter that all of his time of reflection in a dark, warm chamber
turned out to be mere months within a womb. The womb, that is, of an
elvish woman lately taken captive by Morgoth. She died after his birth
of a broken heart, and the overseer found no spare breast to suckle him
among the elves, only the weeping dugs of a human slave who had
miscarried in the Dark Lord's service. So he grew up among the mortal
kind, until he reached that age when memory returns to elves in
full--and then he threw himself upon the guards until they slew him, as
he knew they must.
He should have known by now that for him the penalty for discarding a
life on purpose was to return without delay to another just as bad, but
he repeated the drama many times, captivities by Morgoth giving way to
ownership by orcs as independent agents, giving way to enthrallment to
Sauron as a new Dark Lord. Eventually he calmed, and accepted his lives
as they came to him, slain now sometimes in noble stands but never by
his own hand more. At last he saw no penalty in the judgment upon him,
but a mission given to him--the husbandry of humankind.
Married to the human race--he now saw what Mandos meant. For he could
make a little bit of difference in these captive lives, grown so
beloved to him by now that no ballad of noble romance could compare. A
word spoken here, a song sung there, an example of kindness or courage
given, a reminder of beauties that still flourished beyond the Dark
Lord's pall--he scattered these things like stars across the night, and
Men found their way a little less dark for him. He cherished the hope
in human hearts as he had cherished every wife he ever had. As he had
once needed his wives, so now he found that he needed human beings as a
race to give him purpose, to help him to remember what it meant to be
something other than an orc. To keep him in love.
Wherever, within Mordor's thrall, a father recognized and loved his
child, wherever a woman held her head up, undestroyed, wherever men and
women sang at work of something mightier than cruelty or coarseness,
wherever slaves gazed up at stars between the smokes or saw a flower
breaking through the pavement and approved, wherever shoulder met
shoulder underneath a burden lightened for the sharing, or where folk
passed on crusts of bread to one who hungered--wherever human beings
remembered beauty, love, dignity, respect devoid of fear--there
Lanathil had walked among them. More than his elvish blood leavened the
ranks of slaves even in the darkest corners of that land, leaving here
a sparkling eye, there a musical voice, elsewhere a grace unbroken by
the whip. He passed on his soul to everyone who came in contact with
him. And passing it on, it never diminished, but grew, as fire grows
the more it spreads its sparks.
That is why, he knew, that even though rumors told him of Men made into
still worse orcs than before, yet some Men could resist. He had sown
resistance among them. That is why no elvish blade would ever glow with
anger in his presence, not though sometimes labor in the tunnels of
Mordor would bend his back and bandy his legs, so that it took him
years to straighten himself again, not though sometimes his skin grew
pallid and foul with the funguses that can infest but cannot kill
immortals too long held in filth beneath the ground, not though to
every appearance he might sometimes seem an orc indeed.
Those labors had not bent him now for nearing forty years. Fairer than
he had been, it hardly mattered, for humankind had ceased to see him,
and he took no more brides, nor did he need that consolation any
longer. He had only one work remaining to him, in the restoration of
love and dignity to all of his children in the ruined lands. And in
that his purpose met well with that of Frodo Gardner.
Frodo opened his eyes to hear this, and sat up, and saw how the long
shadows all around him revealed the hours in the hearing of this tale.
"But what of the mud-pool?" he asked, rubbing his eyes. "It has your
name upon it--or had, I guess, until I took the tile. What have you to
do with the mud-pool that saved our lives?"
Lanethil smiled almost slyly, with a twinkle in his eye. "Well you
know, Frodo, sometimes I did escape, now and then. I could not return
to my own people, for my appearance took long to heal, and I never
quite looked elvish again before I'd find myself a prisoner once more.
But in those intervals I would listen at windows, unobserved, for all
devices that detected orcs would let me be. I would steal scrolls and
return them the next day, memorized. I would in secret observe the
magic cast by my fairer brethren. I would haunt the libraries of the
great, and go uncaught. I learned many things, over the course of years
so long that even the Lady Galadriel was a child next to me."
"You made the pool--is that what you are saying?"
"Hold a bit--long singing of sad songs makes for a thirsty throat." He
drank deeply of his wineskin, and then, in a huskier voice replied,
"Yes, I made the pool. Hard labors had equipped me well to hew stone
and haul it. But I did more than fashion the pool itself--as you have
guessed. I brought the magic there."
"Brought, you say--not made."
"Astute as ever, my dear hobbit!" Gentle claws reached over and
fingered the lens upon its horsehair thong. "Yes, I brought the magic
there. I found four warring maiar--it doesn't matter now which sides
they originally defended, for they had wearied to sickness of all the
conflict in the Poros Pass, yet none dared lower guard to flee. I
brooked a truce between those four--one maia each of fire, water, earth
and air--that they might heal each other. Between them they produced a
warm and steaming mud of healing power. I created the container for
that power, and bade them guard it and maintain it, and put all emnity
aside, and to this they readily agreed, rather than return to the
horrors from which they had escaped. And so I left them there, where
travelers who needed help the most might find them. Long habits of
consent now strengthen their bonding to the place without my help; the
spells within the tiles matter no longer." Playfully he flicked the
shard in Frodo's hand. "So you need not worry about purloining that
"I am so sorry! It never even occurred to me that removing it might cause some harm."
"Luck stayed with you this time. But in the future, Frodo, never remove anything lightly from a place of magic."
"I thought elves didn't like the word magic."
"We simply prefer to distinguish different categories and intentions,
for which the tongues of men have no subtlety." He shrugged, smiling in
a surprisingly endearing way for one with jagged fangs. "But then,
neither do I. The common tongue is good enough for me."
Frodo rose. "It's getting late. Won't you come to my home for dinner? I know I can't cook like an elf, but..."
Lanethil laughed. "It would far surpass most of what I have eaten in my
life! But I must decline your invitation for now. Later, when I have
amended my appearance more, perhaps. For I can feel by the powers in
your lens that you have made elves visible to mortals before now. I
should like nothing better than to feel no shame in visibility, and at
that time break bread with good folk 'round a table by a hearth. I will
look forward to meeting you again--for remember, you still owe me a
tale, yourself!" And with that he slipped away so fast that Frodo
hardly had time to blink in his surprise.