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Title: Return to Me
Author: Enismirdal
Rating: PG
Pairing: Rúmil (of Tirion)/OFC (yes, I appear to have written het yet again…*checks self for fever*)
Beta: None. Apologies for typoes and long, rambly sentences!
Warnings: Het/Gen, possibly AU
Disclaimer: Not mine. Arda and its inhabitants belong to Tolkien and I’m just borrowing; no insult intended, no profit being made.
Summary: A long-anticipated return.

A/N: Birthday present for Tux; started in 2005 and finally finished for her birthday in 2006. Thank you, sweetie, for nagging me through those 12 months!

***

/When you love, love with the intensity of the moment, but with the dedication of eternity./

Those were the words he had spoken to her on their night before their marriage, and those words had carried her through all the years leading up to the day that now dawned.

It was a clear and glorious day, bright and pure as those in Valinor always were. The air seemed to possess a honeyed richness as the lady looked out from the elegant, high-arched window with its drapes of gauzy lilac. Her eyes scanned the horizon for any sign of the one for whom she was hoping - a daily habit that had long since become almost ritual - yet today, as ever, she was disappointed. Only the golden-green trees and light clouds could be glimpsed across the gardens of their beautiful home.

So many long months, but not once had her heart allowed her to forget him. Silently, she pulled her silken shawl a little tighter around her shoulders and turned away to attend to the morning’s duties.

***

It always felt a little like an intrusion when she first stepped inside the spacious study each day. Her husband’s books, old ones in the expressive Sarati and newer ones, precisely written in Fëanáro’s Tengwar, still lined every wall, untouched and lending a stillness to the room, muffling voices and gathering a fine layer of pale dust that was swept off weekly by a servant assigned especially to the task. She spent a moment admiring the work of so many industrious scribes before taking a seat at the large wooden desk, leafing through the accounts and paperwork to be taken care of today.

Helyanwiel had run the household single-handedly since her husband’s departure, right down to selecting suitable new tutors for the servants’ children after their previous one chose to join the host of Noldor passing into exile. She had never quite understood the choice of some of those Elves; like her husband, many of them had taken no part in the Kinslaying and were under no obligation to leave Aman. Yet they went, some of them - like Rúmil - leaving family behind. At least she could take comfort in the fact that her husband promised he went only to take records, to make sure that what happened to his people was not forgotten. Perhaps the Valar would hold no grudge against him, at least.

She knew for certain that he would return - he had promised before he left that this would not be forever, only a temporary quest to do what he thought necessary. In spite of her personal objections, she wished him a safe journey and let him leave. Rúmil could be stubborn when he chose to be; had she asked him to stay, he certainly would have consented to, but he would soon have grown restless, worrying about his people in exile and heading off elsewhere instead in order to expand his chronicles and archives. So she supposed she was better off humouring him. But it left her with a question that filled every day…when would he come back?

She dealt with the paperwork, paying the same exhaustive attention to detail as her husband would and double-checking every sum in the accounts. Satisfied that all was in order, she called a scribe to take the papers to where they were needed and left the study to its previous restful peace.

The visitor came when she was sitting down for lunch. He was not announced, which took her by surprise, merely striding purposefully in through the main doorway into the parlour. A tall visitor with a thoughtful expression.

“Rúmil!” she exclaimed, lunch forgotten. The knife clattered to the table beside her plate and she rose, dashing over to him, heedless of her flowing skirt. He caught her up in his arms the way he used to, nearly lifting her off the floor, and he was smiling adoringly - but the dominant expression looked like relief.

“You look well, beloved,” he greeted her, kissing her gently.

She nodded and looked up at him. “I have missed you, though.” There was a thread of silver winding through one of his black braids and shadows hiding in his eyes, lying beneath the smile. She hesitated, unsure if she should ask. “Have you made records? Are the others returning also?”

Rúmil nodded and then shook his head. “Not all of them. Arafinwë returned with a smaller host, but most of them chose to go on.” There was pain in every word he spoke. “I did not have the heart to follow after that - only death lies down that road.”

Sensing the distress that lay behind his recollections, she steered him to the couch, taking his large, skilful hands between hers. “Tell me about it.”

And so he told her, describing the passage of the despairing Noldor into exile, the way the they slowly became aware of the decreasing temperatures. He went on to tell of how the bitter wind created bitter words, dissent amongst those travelling. Some of the Noldor had already died, he said, defeated by exhaustion, cold, hunger - or simply grief. By the end of his story, as he told of the doom of Mandos, the sense of certain despair that descended over the survivors as the Vala’s words reached them, her arms were around him and his eyes were closed. In a way it was a relief to her; the shadows in his eyes had grown too dark and pained for her to bear to look at any longer. “And so they will all be lost, in time,” he whispered as he finished. “To anger and vengeance, to sorrow and grief, or to Morgoth’s armies and the weight of the curse they have brought upon them.” He was silent for a long time after that, before he finally admitted,

“I am afraid, love. I am afraid that those of us who returned brought the curse back with us…”

She shook her head vigorously, refusing to acknowledge this possibility. “You are the ones who have a chance to live without the curse following you further. The Valar will not forget the fact that you chose to come back.” Her fingers ghosted over his cheek, seeking contact she had missed for far too long and knowing instinctively that however much she had longed for him, while he was miles from home in wild, unfamiliar and perhaps hostile lands, he would have missed her more.

“I suppose I feel too that I have failed them, in some ways, by leaving them to their fate.” His confession was a weary one. “I know the choice was theirs to make, and Fëanáro and his family were certainly willing to embrace their doom, whatever it held…yet somehow by turning back and letting them go on just as they were pondering crossing into unknown lands… I should not be so arrogant, but I feel like a parent who abandoned his wayward children.”

“I would suggest that ‘wayward’ is a rather generous description,” she replied gently. A little sigh escaped her lips at the mention of children; for long years it had been a source of guilt to her that despite Rúmil’s great wish for a child, she had, for some reason the Valar chose not to divulge, been unable to give him one. They both dearly wanted to be parents and share their love and lives with a little one, but fate so far had denied them.

Rúmil shrugged sadly. “The King would have welcomed his son home, had he still been alive to do so and had Fëanáro instead chosen to stop this madness. Arafinwë’s final words to his brother were, in fact, ‘If you change your mind, I look forward to embracing you once more in Tirion, my brothers.’ He was addressing both of them, and I do not doubt his sincerity.”

“Arafinwë - ever the gentle one.” She pressed her lips lightly to Rúmil’s. Gentle - like her own husband. He would probably prove a more fitting ruler for Tirion than either of his brothers, create a place where families could grow up knowing peace and comfort rather than the dark tension which overhung the city ever since Fëanáro’s temper first began to show. She intertwined her fingers with Rúmil’s as they embraced some more, both overwhelmed with relief to see the other whole and well. Perhaps peace time would also bring them the family they dreamed of.

***

The door opened with a soft swish, distracting Rúmil from his work. The intrusion, however, was a welcome one, and he pulled his wife on to his lap as she set refreshments and a vase of fresh flowers on a free patch of his desk. The sweet scent of the flowers drifted over to him, mingling with the subtler aroma of herbs from her hair as he rested his cheek against it. As fond as Rúmil was of the comforting scents of ink and new paper, he had to admit they did not compare to the light, delicate fragrance that seemed to linger a few moments in every room his wife entered. “Thank you, love. The flowers really do brighten up this room. Nearly as much as you do.” He had been amazed to find his study so undisturbed, lovingly cleaned and looked after but without a single paper or ledger moved unless absolutely necessary, despite all the time he had been absent. It felt instantly familiar, and after all he had been through, that familiarity almost made him weep with relief.

His current task, appointed to him by Tirion’s new King as soon as Arafinwë was able to get a message to him, was to assign accommodation to any Elves who, upon arriving back, had found their homes sold, damaged to the point of being uninhabitable or otherwise unsuitable for their return. A frightening number of Elves had encountered such a problem, and the last few days had been busy.

Not that any level of work would be permitted to come between him and his wife, of course. Their reunion, though overshadowed with grief and concern, was predominantly a joyful one; the previous evening had been spent with their arms around one another, her head against his shoulder, as they traded memories and affectionate words. After the bitter weather of the northern coast and the harsh voices of Elves driven to the point where they would do anything for food and a warm fire, the softness and beauty of his surroundings was almost overwhelming. And she was undoubtedly the greatest part of that. He could have spent hours resting with his cheek pressed against her hair as it was now, enjoying the delicate silkiness of the simple braids and curls beneath. In some ways, it was a return to his romantic, whimsical youth, where every caress was the most precious of treasures. He would not let a single moment go to waste; he promised himself that.

***

A messenger arrived the following day, when she and Rúmil were lying on the sunlounger that stood on their favourite balcony, arms around each other and her head pillowed on his chest.

There were many things still to do, of course; Rúmil was only a fraction of the way through his mountain of record-keeping and adminstration, not to mention his personal projects, and she had all the day to day running of the house to which she had become accustomed since his departure. A joiner was due to be visiting later, to discuss replacing some of the banister posts on the main staircase; they were very old and starting to warp and crack in places with age. She intended to meet the Elf that morning in order to agree timescales and prices. In spite of this disruption to her routine, however, and the other pressing matters requiring her attention, the two of them had found a couple of hours for each other.

Now that she had him here again, she did not even like letting him out of her sight, and consequently the messenger was summoned out to the balcony and found himself delivering the message to a sleepy looking couple who lay, curled in the morning sunlight, with their hands joined and their eyes half-closed. Their hair intermingled around their faces in a dark pool; it was impossible to tell where one Elf’s hair ended and the other’s began.

“I apologise for the intrusion,” the messenger started awkwardly, “but I have two messages from Prince…King Arafinwë.”

Rúmil nodded politely. “Then please, speak, friend.”

The messenger cleared his throat in a self-conscious fashion. “Firstly, the King has asked that we keep in our thoughts those of our brothers and sisters who chose to go onwards, and that we pray the Valar will not forsake them entirely on their perilous journey. He has suggested that those with a relative who either chose to continue, or else was lost on the journey, set a candle in their window tonight, so that all of Tirion might know to remember those who will not return home.”

That was very much Arafinwë’s way: no bitterness, only compassion. “A candle will burn here tonight,” Rúmil agreed quietly. He closed his eyes, his arm around his wife’s waist tightening slightly as he sought a little comfort. “My brother, and sister in law…”

“Oh, love…” He had not mentioned this previously; in truth, their time together had mostly been spent in companionable, relaxed silence with no words needed, and Rúmil had been incredibly tired in the evenings, retiring to bed early. It was a far cry from his old habits of working on his essays and private projects till the early house, and then rising again at first light after just a few hours’ sleep to attend to matters of work.

She was a little surprised to see the messenger nod acknowledgement of this. “Indeed, my Lord, the second part of my message relates to your brother and his wife.”

Rúmil sat up quickly, eyes snapping open once more. “You found the little one?”

The messenger smiled very slightly. “The King succeeded in locating your nephew among those who returned, yes.”

“Thank the Valar.” Rúmil collapsed back on to the sunlounger and his wife propped herself up on one elbow to look at him curiously.

“You lost contact with the little one after his parents died?” she surmised, frowning worriedly.

Rúmil swallowed sadly. “There were thousands of us,” he attempted to explain. “Acres of makeshift tents, children and adults in filthy, torn clothes as it was all we still had. When we came to a river or lake, Fëanáro made everyone take it in turns to drink and fill their waterskins before anything else, and would only permit the water to be soiled by washing after that, if there was time. Often their was not, so some weeks we went without; after so many Elves had trodden the same path it was churned to mud, so we would get so dirty we could barely recognise our companions. In spite of that, it was probably his strict policy that kept us alive; had it not been so, some would never have been able to drink at all, and others would have been sick from the water.” He sighed and kissed her hair. “I have felt guilty about failing Cirincion since the day I heard he was orphaned; I searched for him, but was never able to find him.”

The messenger spoke up. “He is safe, my Lord. He is staying with a weaver on the outskirts of Tirion; the King has had someone inform him that you are here and will be notified.” The Elf paused. “I am told he responded with a small smile and the question, ‘Will Uncle Rúmil look after me now?’”

“But of course we will!” In her mind, there was no doubt about it. After losing everything else, the little one needed the security of a family and a permanent place to call home. Rúmil squeezed her hand, nodding affectionate agreement.

“Please, tell the King that we owe him a great debt of gratitude, and tell my nephew that there will always be a place in his Uncle Rúmil’s house for him.”

The messenger looked genuinely touched and committed the words to memory before bowing to them both. “I will gladly pass the messages along, my Lord and Lady. I…am glad to find there is still hope left in Tirion.”

He excused himself politely, letting them reflect on the newest addition to their household.

***

The child was old enough that he could easily have kept pace with a moderate adult stride if he cared to, but since he had thrown himself at Rúmil from the moment the cottage door had opened, little fists balling tightly in the elegant robes, the sage had relented and carried the boy home, and then round this tour of the house. His large, expressive eyes pleaded for love and security, holding memories one so young should not have to know.

Nonetheless, with patience he began to chatter, and they learned that his favourite colour was green, and could his new bedroom be that colour, please, if he was allowed to pick? Helyanwiel had started calling one of the bedrooms “the nursery” within months of her wedding to Rúmil, but with no infant forthcoming it had so far remained bare, painted in a pleasantly neutral cream colour, devoid of any personal touch; now, at least, she knew what to do with it.

Cirincion stared at everything with those huge eyes, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings; though he had visited the house before in the past, he had been too young to remember much of it. His sad, rather lost expression was heartwrenching he knew that this was “home” now, and yet it was clear that it did not feel homely to him at all. His tears, however, had all been shed already and now he just attempted to cope without complaint. Helyanwiel found herself admiring the small boy who looked around from his high vantage point and distractedly tugged at her husband’s embroidered collar.

“Do you have a garden here?” he asked hesitantly. “We used to have apple trees in our garden. I was getting really good at climbing them before we left.”

“Climbing them and stealing the apples?” Rúmil asked warmly, trying to keep the boy from dwelling on the painful parts of his past.

The boy looked momentarily sheepish, a far more natural emotion to see on the young face. “Well…sometimes,” he admitted. He seemed to have realised that Rúmil’s intention with this remark - as with several earlier ones - was to tease, not to scold; Helyanwiel was more hesitant at present, still worried about hurting the child’s delicate feelings. Fortunately, he seemed to be getting used to his uncle quickly enough.

Rúmil smiled. “I did the same once, long ago. How about you come with me and Aunt Helyanwiel now, and you can tell us if you think our garden will do for you?”

Cirincion nodded quietly, allowing Rúmil to set him down on the ground for the first time since his arrival, though his hand gripped his uncle’s so tightly the fingers went white.
He would probably normally be considered too old for it, but his thumb was in his mouth as he stepped out of the kitchen door and looked down the long, straight path between neatly-trimmed squares of lawn, lined with immaculately clipped box hedges and brightened here and there by dahlia and chrysanthemum beds. Helyanwiel saw disappointment cross the small face.

“It is very…tidy…” he remarked quietly and she realised that, although large, this was so obviously a garden to be admired rather than played in, not at all suitable for a lively child. Cirincion walked slowly down the path; Rúmil, still held by the hand, followed a step behind, and after a moment Helyanwiel came with them. There was a hopeful look in the boy’s face as they came to some trellises that hid the next part of the garden from view: would there be a real garden beyond? But no - a little sigh escaped around the thumb - it was a rose garden, every bit as preened as the part before.

The garden ended further on with a screen of apple and pear espaliers. Cirincion at them, turning back somewhat helplessly to deal Rúmil a questioning look, eyes seeming to beg for this not to be all there was. “I am sorry,” Helyanwiel said to him apologetically. “I am sure we can set aside one of the areas for you to play…”

But she realised he was not even listening to her apology; the child had already spotted something else and was wandering over to peek. There was a small gap between two of the espaliers, an archway that led into the unknown. Rúmil hurried after the boy; Helyanwiel hitched her skirts up and came too, remembering that the gardeners had a little space beyond, for compost heaps and potting sheds.

Curiously, Cirincion looked through the archway, before taking off down the mud and dirt trail, hopping over stepping stones where the path grew muddier.

Rúmil smiled back at his wife, offering a hand to her as she tiptoed along the trail and casting a sympathetic look at her poor silk slippers, clearly never made for such pursuits. “It does not matter,” she assured him, accepting the hand and reminding herself that the shoes were old ones anyway.

Helyanwiel admitted she was surprised as well; she had imagined the gardeners’ work area to be smaller, never having been here to inspect it before. There was a lawn, a little rougher, a little less pristine, and beyond that, a stream, deep enough to be perfect for paddling on summer afternoons.

Cirincion’s thumb came out of his mouth and he stared at the sight. “This is a garden…” he whispered. Then he suddenly pointed across the stream to the unkempt land beyond. “Whose is that bit?” The small voice took on a note of endearing outrage, as if shocked that someone would permit such a treasure to be hidden from view.

It was quite a sight, especially from the point of view of a small child, Helyanwiel was sure. Gnarled trees with broad, spreading branches were set amongst overgrown grass, waist-high in places, punctuated by bright wildflowers. Helyanwiel was amazed even to spy a rope swing suspended from one of the great boughs. Some of the trees were orchard fruit trees, laden with half-ripened delights. To crown it all, in one corner of this “garden” stood a tumbledown old outhouse, the wooden door hanging half open on rusted hinges.

“I do not honestly know,” Helyanwiel admitted, drawing a blank. Rúmil sometimes teased her about her sense of direction and although she was well acquainted with their nearest neighbours, her knowledge of the layout of the local land was not always the best. “I had never given it thought. However, I am sure your uncle Rúmil will know! He keeps maps of the land, and who owns which bits.”

Rúmil thought about it for a second, Cirincion’s bright, hopeful face turned up towards him, and then he gave a little sigh. “Oh… I must check this. If my memory is correct, the news is good for you, little one, but less favourable for some others.” He turned to his wife. “But if I am correct, would you permit me a small indulgence?”

She tilted her head and then smiled. “You are home again, love. I would happily permit you anything.”

***

“For me?!” The first proper smile since he had arrived lit up Cirincion’s face and Rúmil laughingly lifted him up and swung him around.

“Mostly for you, yes,” he agreed as the small legs flew through the air and the dark brown hair whirled out. “As long as you will let me have one tree.”

“Only one?” When Rúmil had made this quite clear, Cirincion gave him another toothy grin and agreed without hesitation.

Rúmil had already explained to his wife why he wanted it after their long afternoon spent among sheets of title deeds spread out over Rúmil’s desk in his study. As a senior royal advisor, he needed frequent access to such things, so many were kept in their home. He intended to make the tree into a memorial, he had told her earlier, when they confirmed who had previously owned that land. A second candle now burned in their window, in remembrance of that couple; a kind and well-respected pair of Elves with an adult son. The family had been deeply loyal to Nolofinwë and followed the King into exile without question; and all three had been lost on the journey.

It seemed that the house and lands had since been neglected, including the orchard that adjoined their own house, and like many such estates, other Elves had been reluctant to take over management until they were certain the rightful owners were not going to return. Arranging purchase of that few acres of orchard would be a simple task for Rúmil, and Helyanwiel knew he would want some sort of tribute to the Elves who kept it before; he always hated letting things be forgotten, and that applied to neighbours and kinsmen most of all.

“Thank you.” The boy’s voice was quiet as he remembered his manners, climbing on to Helyanwiel’s lap to put his arms around her. “You are both really kind, and I am glad that it is you who will be looking after me now, and not someone cold and strict.” His lip trembled as he spoke, childish overactive imagination presumably bringing up all kinds of ideas, and she cuddled him tightly.

“You are a very brave boy, Cirincion, and we will try to do a good job of caring for you.” She smiled at him. “When we have dealt with all the paperwork tomorrow, do you want to visit your new garden properly?”

He grinned once more. “Yes please!”

***

“Morning, Aunt Helyanwiel.” Cirincion’s greeting, not quite a shout, but certainly pleased-sounding, made Rúmil look up too as he finished positioning the simply engraved memorial plaque on the trunk of the graceful plane tree.

“Good morning, beloved,” he echoed. He set down the hammer and splashed through the stream to her, stopping a few feet away so as not to soak her skirts, as his bare legs were dripping, leggings rolled up above his knees. “I have almost finished, and I believe Cirincion approves of his new garden…”

“So it seems!” she agreed, laughing softly at an unexpected whoop coming from halfway up an apple tree before he leapt from the branch and landed springily in the grass, hair and clothes covered in leaves and grass-seeds. “I would come to admire your work, but I am not sure that I am dressed for it.” She glanced down at the dress with a smile.

Rúmil kissed her gently. “Some other time, then.”

Cirincion ran over, looking thoughtfully at Rúmil. “We need to make a bridge, you know. So Aunt Helyanwiel can come and see, and for me when the water is too cold,” he observed. “Can we use some branches from the trees?” He glanced over at the abandoned orchard, bright eyes already assessing tree limbs for suitability.

“How about something a little longer lasting?” Rúmil suggested. “Do you think you can find me stones and rocks, lots of them?”

Cirincion nodded eagerly at the concept and ran off on his quest, enthusiasm and life really starting to return now that he could count on having safety and freedom for the foreseeable future. Rúmil smiled fondly after him, and then quietly picked up a stone from the stream bed, a smooth, rounded pebble. “A bridge,” he mused, “linking what was-” he indicated the orchard “-to what is now.” His gaze moved over their own tidy gardens, in which the roses were just now being pruned. “A bridge of memories…”

He set the pebble in the dirt, pressing until it made its own hollow. “The first stone is in memory of my brother.”

As he was speaking, Cirincion returned, the hesitant smile on his face changing to solemn reverence as he heard the words. “For my father?” Awkwardly, he placed another rock beside the first. “Then this one is for my mother.”

Rúmil’s reply was a respectful nod, and softly he called over one of the gardeners, requesting mortar to bind the stones.

The masonry tools looked strange in the hands of a scribe, Helyanwiel thought as she watched her husband at work, his long, supple fingers manipulating rocks both rounded and jagged into place. As each one was positioned, Helyanwiel spared a moment’s thought for the Elf being commemorated. Rúmil’s robes soon became dusty and he tore the sleeve, but worked on tirelessly. Cirincion quietly assisted, young face showing the pain of loss, making no complaint even when his arms grew tired and sweat sprung on his forehead. Helyanwiel slipped out of her shoes and tucked the skirts into her girdle, wading into the cool, clear stream to find more stones for them both.

***

Finally, the bridge arched over the stream, elegant and strong, holding itself together even before the mortar was fully dried through some clever trick of Rúmil’s design. It was a simple yet attractive structure, but still it was unfinished: two spaces remained at the apex. Cirincion noticed this too and scrutinised them with a frown. “You missed these…”

“It was intentional,” Rúmil assured him, reaching into the water and lifting out another pebble. This one was dark grey and formed in layers, very distinctive, and larger than most of the others. “I saw this one earlier; it stands out, does it not?” Cirincion nodded. “This one will be to remember our King, Finwë. He was a wise ruler and loved his people.” The stone slid into place as if the gap had been moulded exactly for it.

“And what about the last one?”

Rúmil was staring into the water now, walking a few steps along the stream bed, before his hand darted beneath the surface, emerging closed into a fist. The stone that he fitted into the final place was dark red, a vein of jet black running through it so that it reminded <> of a hot ember. “The final space is for Fëanáro, our fallen one. From the moment I first saw him, I knew he was destined to surpass me - but I had not thought it would be like this…” He closed his eyes sadly.

The bridge was complete. Cirincion admired it, head bowed in respect for a few more moments before he walked off among the wildflowers. Helyanwiel stepped closer to Rúmil, taking his rough, scratched hand in hers. “Everything you do,” she murmured, “is to ensure that what is important is not forgotten.”

“To forget is to lose what is lovely and to make the same mistakes once more,” he replied, taking her into his arms. “Yet two things, if properly cared for, can endure for all eternity.” He kissed her. “One is memories. And the other is love.”

***

/When you love, love with the intensity of the moment, but with the dedication of eternity./