A gust of frozen air and the shuffling of fabric woke Nolofinwë from his restless sleep. Sore and numb, he moved beneath the blankets that had barely warmed him, the recollection of the dreadful place they were in hitting him with the strength of a fist. His vision cleared slowly, adjusting to the darkness of his tent, and Nolofinwë squinted at the hunched form of his second born. Turukáno's hand grasped his father's shoulder and he shook Nolofinwë, as though his heavy breathing and the frantic look on the young Elf's face were not enough to chase away the last traces of reverie.
"Atar! Atar, they are gone! The ships are gone!" Turukáno said, his voice low but filled with panic.
"What?..." Nolofinwë untangled himself from the pile of blankets and jumped to his feet, a chill worse than that of the frozen North creeping down his spine.
"The Telerin ships are out at sea. They have taken them!" Turukáno exclaimed, his cold hands balled into fists. Anger colored his pale cheeks and his eyes gleamed with tears that the young Elf fought to hold back.
"Who has taken them? Calm yourself, my son, and tell me," Nolofinwë said. He retrieved a blanket that still held some of his warmth and wrapped it around Turukáno's shoulders, pulling his son in a protective embrace.
"Uncle Fëanáro and his sons. They have gone aboard the ships while we were sleeping. Atar, I cannot find my wife and my daughter anywhere! Findekáno and Irissë are also gone and I have no idea who else is on the ships. The people are angry and frightened..." Turukáno murmured, comforted by the reassuring proximity of his father, though Nolofinwë had tensed, upon hearing the disturbing news.
"Are you certain that your uncle and your cousins have taken the ships?" Nolofinwë asked.
"That is what I have been told. What are we going to do, Atar?"
"Come with me," Nolofinwë answered, for he could not tell his son that he knew not what to do and he had been caught unawares by his brother's actions yet again. He refused to believe that Fëanáro had betrayed them and had stolen those precious ships. Nay, that was not possible.
Nolofinwë walked out of his improvised shelter, ignoring the biting cold, an arm still wrapped around Turukáno's shoulder. Their eyes scanned the vast, dark expanse of water, stretching to the horizon and beyond. It was indeed as his son had told him and Nolofinwë could do naught but accept the obvious: barely within his line of vision, tiny specs of light floated upon the waves, braving the tempestuous sea.
Nolofinwë bit his lip and closed his eyes against the tears that pricked like icy needles. But he had not the time to rage and despair, for his people needed him and his counsel. Inhaling deeply and almost choking as the cold air invaded his lungs, Nolofinwë gently squeezed his son's shoulder.
"Come, we must find your brothers and your sister," he said. Nolofinwë tore his gaze from those minute drops of hope that floated further and further away, turning around to enter his tent and collect whatever items he could spare for those in greater need.
"I must speak to you, brother." A familiar, sharp voice made Nolofinwë gasp and drop the box he had picked up. He started and whirled around, blinking rapidly. "Turukáno, do not stare at me as though you are looking upon a ghost. I am very much alive and here, before you, though you may think or wish otherwise. Arakáno is with the healers and he waits for you. Go to him and let me speak to your father." That same voice spoke to a stunned Turukáno.
Nolofinwë burst out of his tent in time to see his son nodding and turning on his heels. The young Elf all but flew to meet his brother, hoping that Arakáno could explain what was going on. Despite himself, he had never been more relieved as when Fëanáro's voice had startled him out of his miserable reverie.
After watching his son's quickly retreating back, Nolofinwë glared at his brother, failing to register the dark shades under Fëanáro's eyes and the determined, grim look on his face. "What is going on, Fëanáro?" Nolofinwë asked sharply.
"That is exactly what I am here to inform you," Fëanáro answered, calm and cold. "I have put my sons, your eldest and your daughter aboard those ships, with the weaker of our host, and sent them to find more welcoming shores. Turukáno should not fret and wring his hands in despair. His wife and their little girl are tucked comfortably in a warm cabin now."
Shoulders sagging, Nolofinwë looked at the tall, stern figure of his brother. He was unsure how to react, what to say, what to feel.
"I should have spoken with you, yes." Fëanáro added immediately, anticipating Nolofinwë's outburst before it came. "But I would not waste any more time discussing matters with your idle Council members. Nor would I wait and hear the futile debate on who could go and who could stay."
"So you just roused them from slumber and put them on board." Nolofinwë replied, raising an eyebrow as he saw Fëanáro's shrewd smile.
"They were easier to convince, that way, too sleepy and too confused to protest." Fëanáro shook his head and his smile faltered as he continued. "I find no joy in separating parents from children and wives from husbands, but there was no other way. We must hope that the lands they reach will be free of immediate danger and that the able-bodied soldiers aboard can defend the camp until we rejoin them."
Fëanáro stopped and a long moment of silence fell between them. Nolofinwë tried to collect his thoughts and say something, but none of the sharp remarks that ran through his mind seemed appropriate. In the end, he just sighed and gave his brother a reproachful look.
"I consulted Findekáno in your stead, knowing that you had retired to rest. He will return with Macalaurë and the more skilled of the mariners. We just have to find a way to survive here, until they arrive," Fëanáro said and then remained quiet. His eyes sought the dark line of the horizon, where the tiny lights were beginning to flicker out of sight.
Nolofinwë followed his gaze but his eyes soon returned to his brother's face. Forgetting his own anger and fear, Nolofinwë's heart ached upon seeing the sorrow written on Fëanáro's features. There was hope, yes, but it was buried beneath the anguish of loss, the pain of guilt and the dire need of vengeance. Nolofinwë stepped toward his brother and rested his forehead on Fëanáro's shoulder.
"Why did you not go with them?" he asked, his voice so low that the frozen, bitter wind almost carried it away.
"The remainder of our people would have held themselves betrayed if I had not remained behind. As a guarantee, if you will. Those loyal to me, who know that I would never abandon them, are too few and not looked upon well enough to convince the others. Even you feared that I had fled and left you behind, when your son came to warn you, did you not, brother?" Fëanáro asked, his voice slightly wavering as he finished his inquiry.
Nolofinwë refused to admit it, though his brother needed no confirmation to know the truth. "You are our King, Fëanáro. Where you lead, we will follow," was all that Nolofinwë could utter, his face pressed against his brother's shoulder. Despite the numbing cold, Fëanáro felt so warm and so alive.
"Even to the bottom of the Sea? I think not, Nolofinwë. And I would that you had gone with my sons, but who would hold your followers together, who would calm them and bring them reassurance, if not you? I am no King, brother. Not here, not now, not until the Dark Foe is beaten down and his foul deeds avenged. Atar... Atar is the only King..." Fëanáro broke off, swallowing the painful lump in his throat.
Tears trickled from the corners of Nolofinwë's eyes and he wrapped his arms around Fëanáro. Covering Nolofinwë's hands with his own, Fëanáro sighed, trying to push back the dark thoughts that assailed him. He could not afford to despair.