Always Been There
Erestor watched sadly as Finarfin and his people disappeared into the distance. He glanced, frustrated, at his parents. Erestor had argued long and hard for them to return to Tirion with Finarfin's host, but his Ada and Nana had refused, saying they would go forward with the rest of their people. The remaining Noldor huddled in groups, healers moving among the injured, seeing to wounds inflicted by the Teleri. Erestor watched as Fëanor spoke quietly with his sons, and he could not shake the suspicion that gripped him. Erestor did not trust Fëanor; no longer were the Noldo leader's words enough to stir his heart.
Soft weeping could be heard, and no voice carried above a whisper. It was a solemn group that tried to come to grips with the doom pronounced against them, and many an eye fell upon Fëanor with blame. But Erestor knew they were all at fault. Fëanor alone was not to blame for this quest. Each of them had wanted to believe the impassioned words of their King's son. Each had hungered for the adventures promised in Endor. Fëanor might have led, but they each chose to follow willingly.
Erestor's thoughts were interrupted as Ecthelion softly called his name. Erestor turned, meeting Ecthelion's concerned grey eyes. "Did you wish to return with Finarfin?" Ecthelion asked.
Erestor shook his head, his eyes returning to the distant figures. "Nay. But I cannot help wishing that my parents would have," he whispered.
"Why?" Ecthelion asked, but Erestor again shook his head, unable to explain the unease and dread that gripped him. He did not want to share what he was sure the others would consider foolish fears; Erestor long ago had enough of being laughed at.
Erestor looked down, surprised as Ecthelion laid a gentle hand upon his arm and steered him back to the family campsite. "Your Nana sent me to fetch you. She wishes you to eat something," Ecthelion replied, but he did not remove his hand as the pair arrived at his family's fire.
Glorfindel had been watching the pair closely, but as Erestor met the blond's eyes, his gaze dropped back down to his plate. The other warrior said nothing. The meal was subdued, not just at their fire but throughout the gathered Noldor. Fëanor had not left his closed discussion with his sons, and many an uneasy eye watched them, wondering what would come next. Bedrolls were rolled out and fires stoked as the Elves settled down to rest. First watch was given to Fëanor's eldest sons. Erestor drifted off to sleep, the soft murmuring of Ecthelion's and Glorfindel's voices making him feel safe.
Morning brought no such gentle waking. It was the sound of shouts and shocked cries of anger that roused Erestor. He rose to his feet, looking about him in bleary-eyed confusion as Elves rushed by, all heading to the shoreline. Erestor met Ecthelion's and his Nana's gazes, their eyes showing just as much puzzlement. Finally, Hlárleru and Glorfindel were seen returning to the campsite, looking shaken.
"What has happened, Ada?" Erestor asked.
Hlárleru looked weary. If Elves aged, then Hlárleru suddenly looked every one of his years. "Fëanor has taken the ships and departed in the night," he said, drawing his mate in his arms at her shocked cry.
"But surely he will send them back for the rest of us?" Ecthelion asked.
Hlárleru just shrugged his shoulders, saying nothing. None of them wanted to give voice to the doubts in their hearts. They could do nothing but wait.
Fingolfin and his people waited, but as dusk settled about them a cry was heard as eyes spotted the light, glowing red beneath the clouds. Most drifted away from the shore and the far-off sight of those burning ships, but Fingolfin remained, fist clenched tightly in rage at Fëanor's betrayal. The eyes of the Noldor were trained on their liege, the one they had followed. Finally Fingolfin turned, first meeting the eyes of his sons, then his gaze swept the gathered host, meeting head-on each pair of eyes, revealing his own determination to continue on despite this treachery.
Turgon moved through the crowd, his eyes coming to rest on those of Hlárleru's. Hlárleru nodded to Turgon, and then his solemn gaze settled on Erestor. Erestor knelt next to their packs, and opening them pulled from within the maps. He rose and moved to his Ada's side. Hlárleru had served King Finwë faithfully, now he would serve Fingolfin's son as well, with his own son by his side. Erestor and Hlárleru joined their Lord Fingolfin, counsel was given, and discussion ensued. Not one present offered the choice of returning; the fires of determination were now lit in them all, and to Endor they would go. But without the ships to cross the Encircling Sea, the only other path was the Helcaraxë.
Erestor shuddered. The Helcaraxë! He had read of the vast fogs and mists of deadly cold, the sea-streams filled with clashing hills of ice. This was suicide, Erestor longed to shout out, but he also knew as well as the others that it was the only way. Now it was time to tell the others of their journey's path.
Erestor had never been this cold, none of them had. He could not remember how long this journey had gone on. All sense of time is lost when unable to see more than five feet ahead. Erestor could not recall when his body did not shake, when his teeth were not clenched from the cold. His muscles screamed from strain, so tight and stressed from the fight to keep his body from shaking apart. Nothing could have prepared them for this bone-deep cold.
They had marched, trying to stay single-file behind Fingolfin, day-in and day-out, across the icy Helcaraxë. There was no time to stop and question the wisdom of their journey; to stop meant to perish, to die in this icy wasteland. Daily their numbers dwindled as loved ones died from the cold or fell into the ice-encrusted seas. But on they marched, determined to reach Middle-earth.
Ecthelion and Glorfindel marched, one in front and the other behind, trying to break some of the biting wind by their larger forms. Erestor's Nana was huddled between the males, her smaller build unable to hold as much body heat, so they tried to shield her from the searing blades of wind.
The hardest part was climbing the frozen hills. Elvish rope was tied off or spiked into the ice to help each climb up; this rope was the only way they managed to stay together. There were no fires when they did stop, no food, because what could survive here? Nothing could grow in the Helcaraxë. The Noldor who were left behind by Fëanor's betrayal could not have imagined when leaving the Blessed Realm the need for heavier clothing, more foodstuffs, or wood to warm themselves by. Ill prepared they were, with only the fire inside themselves that Fingolfin daily stoked to keep his people moving.
Erestor shuddered as another gust of wind cut across his exposed face. They had wrapped cloth about their noses and mouths after finding out all to quickly that the bitterness of the cold froze their breath before it could leave their bodies. Erestor could feel the ice that had formed on his hair and brows; blinking his eyes stung because of the ice on his lashes, making seeing all the more difficult. But what hurt the most, more than the brutal cold that shook his small frame, was that the dead had to be left where they fell. They had no means to bury their fallen, no fire to consume the bodies; there were nothing but prayers to speed their souls to Mandos' Halls and small mementos left behind on the ice to mark their passing.
Lack of rest and food had Erestor stumbling, when a hand from behind reached out to steady him. Erestor could not smile his thanks to Glorfindel, only turn his head briefly in the blond's direction as a thank you. Fingolfin had ordered them to stay in single-file formation, but the lack of sight from ice-rimed eyes and the deteriorating health of the Noldor made that difficult as any still strong enough assisted those smaller and weaker.
Erestor stumbled again, and again it was only Glorfindel's hold that kept him upright. He did not know how much longer he could keep this up. Erestor knew that his Nana was ill. Hlárleru and Ecthelion carried her between them, daily switching off with Glorfindel and Erestor. Each step they took further into this barren, frozen wasteland, the weaker she became. Erestor cried, and his heart broke a little more each time he heard her fight to gather her breath.
Finally, he heard the call come down the lines for a stop. Stumbling forward on numb feet and legs, Erestor wrapped his arms about his Nana, lowering them both to the freezing earth. Holding tight, despite the shaking, Erestor whispered, "It is all right now," over and over.
To be continued...