It is not the first time the thought has crossed Nolofinwe’s mind since he first led his people out onto the Grinding Ice, but it is the first time the thought has sounded so incredulously angry. And the first time it is sounded quite so much like his half-brother.
Even you cannot be this stupid. I thought you were supposed to be wise. Or did changing your name cancel all that wisdom out? Turn back before it is too late.
So great is the imagined anger that Nolofinwe almost thinks he feels warmer from the heat of it.
Then he stumbles on the treacherous ice, and he shoves all thoughts aside except for the grim determination that keeps propelling one foot in front of the other.
He will cross to Beleriand, and he will have words with his half-brother when he gets there.
Congratulations. The word is acid in his mind. It is now officially too late to turn back. You’d better hope you’re over halfway there, or your supplies won’t last you the rest of the way.
They might even if they weren’t halfway there yet if the rate of casualties kept steady. It was a hideous thought, but Nolofinwe held onto it anyway. He was the one that had led them here. It was his job to think of these things and plan for them, no matter how unpleasant they might be.
And no matter how difficult the endlessly biting cold made it to think.
Not that you ever think too much anyway, do you? You still won’t admit what’s going on. Or am I wrong?
The sneering words sound so much like his half-brother that for a moment he looks around, expecting to find that Feanaro has come to meet them on the Ice. They have been worn so thin that at the moment Nolofinwe would greet him with joy despite all that’s come before.
But no. Feanaro isn’t there, of course not. There is nothing but the silver glint of ice and snow beneath the stars and the rare ration of torchlight scattered throughout the long line of people behind him. If he thinks otherwise, he has become too cold to trust his own thinking.
And if that is how he, one of the strongest, is faring, he can imagine how much the others must need rest and the chance to huddle together for warmth that comes with it. He should call a halt.
A little longer, and the thought is softer and surprised by its own softness. It’s not quite time for a halt, not yet. You’ve lost count of the hours again, haven’t you? You always used to do that during those disastrous lessons in the forge, remember? You could never keep track of how long you’d kept the metal in the fire.
He did remember. Feanaro had taught him, or tried to; in hindsight, he was pretty sure their father had insisted in a desperate attempt to mend the rift that was already opening between them even then.
It hadn’t worked, of course. In the long run, nothing had worked. But there had been a few moments, a few lessons where he had almost thought -
He isn’t surprised that the first thought of them had been fond.
And after all, there are few memories of fire that aren’t appealing these days.
He clings to those memories of the forge’s fierce heat and his half-brother’s tentative stabs at warmth.
It is probably just his imagination when the wind seems less bitter after that.
Elenwe is gone, and all his attempts at comforting Turukáno have brought him nothing but a son that has to be prodded to keep walking.
Turukáno’s sleeping now, burrowed under his father’s outer cloak with Itarille, all his siblings curled around them, and Nolofinwe prays that the small comfort will bring him some tiny measure of peace.
But the Valar will not hear their prayers, not now, and Turukáno is no longer a child to be comforted just by the fact that his father is near.
It is the coldest night he can remember, even on the Ice, and he knows that he should be in the tent with his children and however many blankets they’ve managed to scavenge up, but he can’t bear to. Not just yet.
He can almost imagine that he can still see the crack where Elenwe fell through from here, just on the edge of his sight. The air feels like shards of ice in his lungs, and he wonders if that’s what she felt as she at last gave up and breathed in -
It isn’t your fault.
No. It’s Feanaro’s. Feanaro’s for burning the ships, for not trusting him, for not just letting him be king since clearly Feanaro isn’t capable of handling it -
But the bitter thoughts have worn thin by a hundred tracings on this endless journey, and they haven’t the strength to stand up to the all consuming cold.
He remembers their old arguments, and their father wearily presiding between them, trying to make them see that one hasty word did not justify another.
Feanaro had burned the boats. That had been his half-brother’s choice.
Nolofinwe had decided to cross the Ice. That choice had been his own.
Choice and counter-choice, and nobody won. In this world stained with darkness, they just die instead.
You need to get inside a shelter or you might be the next to.
His sense of self-preservation, presumably. It’s just … just at this moment, it seems so hard to care. What use is saving himself if he can’t save anyone else?
There’s someone you can still save, and the promise is so full of hope and fear and love and rage that Nolofinwe shudders back in the face of it.
You’re almost there. Just a little further now.
He doesn’t know that. He can’t know that. They’ve lost track of the distance and the time in all this endless darkness.
But the promise is enough to get him stumbling back to the tent where his children are sleeping.
His movements are clumsy with cold as he tries to lie down. It’s too cold, he knows it’s too cold, even all their preparations may not be enough but -
It’ll be alright. Just rest already. You’re worrying too much.
He feels warmer already - dangerously warm even, and a sluggish fear starts to rise in him because haven’t they learned that it’s a bad sign when someone claims they feel warm, warm enough to shrug off their cloak and reach out for the snow -
But he is too weary to care much and the warmth feels like a half-remembered sense of safety, so he forces himself under the blankets and decides that’s good enough.
When he wakes up in the morning, the blankets are all unnaturally warm, and the corner of one is singed.
He stares at it for a long moment before Itarille lets out a whimper as she too wakens and memory hits her. All concern about the blankets flees in the face of that.
“Dead,” he repeats as his nephew’s words struggle to sink through his mind. Feanaro is - dead.
In this new world so full of death, why had he never even considered that?
Because you’re an idiot, he hears and now he feels what he was too stubborn to consider before: the brush of a mind, almost familiar, but shadowed now. An inferno turned to embers.
Beside him, the torch in a guard’s hand leaps.
Embers, maybe, but not ash. I’m dead, Nolofinwe, not totally useless. Now do something useful for once in your life and help me save my son.