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But there is hope, and there is before him, unquenched, a burning: here came they for no purpose to his lands of youth, hacking and cutting, encircled, bearing the dread gift for the encircled, casting out to the void black, silent, lost. Now to face the Black extended beyond all light, to turn away from the despair of what was before him, only his hope remained, nothing else. His firstborn vanished, his espoused astray, or enclaved among tyrants, herself captive; nothing he sought was come, and all that rolled without ceasing came of powers caring little for the troubles of a man, or indeed of all men, and less, it seemed for Noldo, Exiles Unfaithful to their first command: to serve Manwë above all else.

Pyunmahl, as a light bird held under a late frost deep into spring, had fallen ill, and would herself soon die, and this seemed to him, to Zhera’, to be the most cruel of turns: to take what had been without malice, a trusting child delivered, for what end? To perish of the fogs, the breath of ill Gorgoroth? How to tell Doral, should he find her, or she him? All the wisdom of good peoples failed in the end to bring the girl back whither a breath of Hell had drawn her, so weak, so weak. The Wicked gain as it were all of Arda and Beyond, taking the lighted things where once satisfied to possess the Darkness, rightfully or no. Of Eru, nothing was heard; and the West received its Golden Orb, as though under its rays nothing good and sayable was seen to tell, nor mean wickedness come of this mortal sickness, for what do Powers understand, for all possessed lore and wisdom? Death they know not, nor care to restrain; rain or dew, to them. What of suffering, of grief, of despair and the bleak edge of looking upon the future worse, shadowed evermore under grander vain hopes, to fail against what is now and shall be?

Why do the wicked prevail, while the meek are trod down in the mire? Why is justice our labor, and not thine? Who among us shows lesser mercy than the least of the Valar, or would see in the greatest, a greater? Strays I have recovered, clothed, healed, and nursed, and these the Valar take, unrightfully without remorse.

Yet man would do no better than these Lords behind Mountains West, and a great deal, worse. Where is Man to look for redemption, of a marred world, marring its own? To the stars, spirits unroofed of Gorgoroth did flee, thither escaping hard labor, iron- clad housing in the dead flesh, “incarnate”; a decree last of all, by Melko: that none being righteous, all would to him in the end be brought, thither the Outer-Dark, or into the Nothing at the Heart of the World, souls trapped inside bodies corrupt, bodies bound to a marred land, and all within the inescapable darkness over which his might reigned, without end. All are Manwe’s rebels, and he no hand offered to reclaim the Children of Eru, being it seemed enamored of his Blue Raiment, spangled and studded in luxury of Varda’s work wrought on behalf of Eruhin.

The bodies, the heaps of stinking corpses, these Zhera’ found above all, abominable in mockery of the living: dead faces, decayed, and whither their life? To lose the flesh is a blessing, he thought, for one might in the roiling, turnings of grief against despair, imagine that friend or brother or child merely a fantasy, thereby to ease our suffering in so turning.

Pyunmahl was, and was not, before him laid out, garlanded in dead leaves, grayed over, ashen. To bury is better than to burn, for we might believe the soil a gentler keeper of our hearts, knowing that flame is neither gentler, nor gainsaid: to ashes thou art, and ashes, are, after the pyre of consuming heat: it leaves grief, memory stings before it heals, and laughter flees the House of Sorrow.

Here in the swallowing spell of Dread Endless, Zhera’ sat, drowning, for many days; desiring neither drink nor food, and looking [upon] all sound as a cloven tongue, deceitful, and artless. The Power of Cursing was unfolding before him, and rolled over to rest upon his breath, stifling even his will to proceed beyond Now. Yet against the weight of all the sorrows, there was Eru: bringing to one that hoped for His Tale to come about indeed, a pillar: Lean upon it, Zhera’; so thy canopy not fail of these weights, and all fade under the veil, rotten and broken apart. Lean upon its strength, for naught else have you, Man, to take as guide or crutch, and I will stand hither, awhile.

So Zhera’ rested after his vigil, seven days; as a man turned to stone; upon his eased face shone a smile.

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