Quietly rushing across the green expanse upon his horse, the golden haired elf skidded to a halt. Finrod sat, poised and alert. The Blue Mountains were the easternmost range of the Beleriand and beyond it an unknown land. His people never traveled there as it was said to be in the hands of great malice and therefore shunned. But now the fire lights were growing in number, dotting the mountain wall in star-like splendor. Faint echoes could be heard, drifting above the forest and plain. It was peculiar, he thought, there seemed to be a new spirit in the land, yet it was one he didn’t recognize. Brash, lively and filled with suffering. The elf had seen the firelights springing upon the mountainside while hunting with his cousins, and in the softening gaze of the sun, he had felt a sudden childlike desire to discover what it was.
The elf nudged his horse to a gallop and set across the plain to the foothills of Ered Lindon.
He thought of his cousins with whom he had been hunting. Maglor and Maedhros were both fine hunters and likely would fare well in his absence, but seeing as this was their first time together after much time, they would be displeased to know of Finrod’s temporary disappearance. But they were also the more reasonable of his cousins, so Finrod didn’t mind. He gazed at the glowing lights as he neared with fascination. This region was northern Ossiriand and the Green-elves here lit no fires and sang no songs by night. Perhaps orcs had slipped through the ever-watchful northern border?
No, thought Finrod, those are not the voices of clamoring orcs. But as he neared, he became, even more, puzzled. The language was one he had never heard before.
There was a short plateau that jutted diagonally from the mountainside and it was upon this the newcomers were camped. Finrod left his horse many paces away from the plateau’s base and snuck up the southern side where there were more ground cover and foliage. With ghostly silence, he moved through leaves and brush toward the camp's perimeter and settled himself atop a boulder to spy. His eyes brightened with wonder as he looked on the commotion below.
Revolving around a large bonfire were circles and circles of dancing people, singing in a strange tongue and dressed in simple clothes with bright geometric designs. Some wore sandals; others had their feet wrapped in cloth. Beyond the dancers were tapestries sporting the same bold designs tied to frames to create a division between the communal area of the bonfire and the opposite side where many tents were pitched.
The people sang their calls to the skies made with passion and strength. Their voices were unlike the Eldar, which contained a sense of sorrow and purity, but were earthy and powerful. It had a certain attitude to it. Vibrancy and defiance mixed together.
A smile broke across Finrod's face. These are Men! he thought. His smile strengthened. And he was the first to find them!
Upon this realization, Finrod began examining the newcomers with heightened interest. They were robust and hearty and nothing like the Eldar. Shorter, stockier, dark-haired, steely-eyed. Round-eared thought Finrod. The women had a certain curve to their bodies not found in elven ladies and the men were angular and sported hair on their face much like the dwarves. Beards, it must be.
Finrod's smile suddenly vanished as the Men quieted and parted. He then witnessed something for which he had no words.
Among them were children, men, and women. Then a bold voice cut through the song and the people became silent. Two men stepped forward, both of strong build and of eyes the color of sea-wet stone by a shore. Father and son. The latter spoke with reverence and motioned to the former.
Finrod felt his jaw drop. Hills and mountains were ancient and valleys and caverns were carved out long ago, he knew, but they showed no outward signs of their years or their perseverance of time, and yet this man displayed such age upon his very being. His hands were sun-weathered and his gait limping as if a previous wound still pestered him. Like his people his hair was brown, but it had become flecked with gray along his temples and beard. His face was patterned with fine crevices like unto crinkled parchment, accumulating atop his cheekbones by his eyes. Finrod had heard the Secondborn held something called The Gift of Men and he wondered if the man's agedness was in relation to that same gift.
The man spoke with somberness and, despite not knowing the language, Finrod could feel the sincerity and frankness of the man's words pierce his heart. In the eyes of the men and women were tears and when the man's words rose to a triumphant shout, the people cheered and the singing and dancing resumed.
They sang deep into the night and Finrod found himself tapping his fingers to the rhythm of their song and humming along as he was able, but eventually the people gathered their families and children and returned to their tents. The fire dimmed and many laid out bedrolls in the open. A small boy ran to the older man, crying out as he rushed into the man's arms, looking at the man as a child does toward a wizened grandfather. Consoling the child with soft words, he took out a crude harp and played the boy a song. With the faint plucking of the strings and the man's resonant voice, the boy fell asleep and the man set down the harp and wrapped the child in a wool blanket before returning to his own bedroll.
And perhaps Finrod would’ve left to find his own bed but he couldn’t leave. In the silence, Finrod felt a deepening compassion flaring from his heart and he slipped down the rock to the clearing below. Elves were the elder brothers to Men, as Finrod understood. His people were meant to aid, prepare and teach Men if they were willing. Now was the time to fulfill that purpose of creation. Finding a short stool, he placed it near the center of the sleeping men, took up the harp and began to sing.
It was actually a lullaby his mother once sang to him and his siblings while they lived in Valinor, but it was the first song that entered Finrod’s mind. The men stirred in their sleep and awoke in dream-like wonder. Astonished to find an elf among them, the men watched in awe. They listened intently and appreciatively, waiting until he had finished before they began complimenting him and bowing their heads in gratitude. Then, sensing his moment, Finrod began again, now singing of the creation of Arda, the lands of Valinor from whence the Noldor came, and of the Valar who ruled Arda beneath Eru, the One.
Their eyes became bright and glassy as if looking afar off into a scene of great knowledge and light. Finrod knew they could see the things of which he sang and he could feel wisdom growing in their hearts. He smiled as he sang.
When he finished again, the old man untangled himself from his blankets and stood, gazing steadily at Finrod. The man placed his hand over his heart and spoke in somewhat familiar words.
"I am Balan. Who are you?”
A heavy voice. Surprisingly, many words the man used were of Sindarin origin. Mixed with a mannish language, Finrod could nearly understand all he said.
“I am Finrod.”
Balan blinked and furrowed his brow. “I do not know that name….Well, that’s fine. You are a Quendi, of course.”
Quendi? thought Finrod, I haven’t heard that name in a while. Only from the Dark-elves. “Yes,” he replied with a smile. “We are the Eldar from the West.”
Balan’s eyes brightened. “The West? May I ask you something then?”
“Yes, you may.”
“Are you…are you a Valar?”
“Me?” he started in astonishment. “No! I am only an elven-lord.”
“Oh.” Balan swayed, uncertain. “Then they are not the same thing.”
Finrod vehemently shook his head. Interestingly, it seemed that these Men had contact with elves before, albeit Dark-elves. It would explain their understanding of Sindarin, the use of the elvish harp, and the vague notion of the Eldar of the West.
Balan slowly nodded, aware of his grave mistake. "I am sorry. It is only that you bring much light with you. We all wondered what sort of being would carry such light. A great being, indeed."
"The light you speak of is the Light of Aman," said Finrod. "It comes with those who have seen the Two Trees in Valinor. Now I may ask you a question.”
Balan bowed. “Of course.”
“What is your business in Beleriand?”
The man made a sweeping motion to all the tents behind him and up the mountainside. Finrod noticed at the snowy pass were more groups of Men descending. “I lead these people. See there? Another group of my friend Hador. And there is a third. We have journeyed westward seeking a place without darkness. Our elf friends in the East have told us that in the West there is light where we can live in peace.”
For a long moment, Balan held his chin and thought. He then shook his head. “Finrod, your name does not do you justice, my friend." He paused a moment and then added with a small smile, "We shall call you Nóm instead."
Taken aback by Balan's forward speech, a smile crossed Finrod's face. It must be a word of their own making, he thought. He glanced around at the other men, wondering at their thoughts. They nodded their heads and muttered Nóm in consensus. Puzzled, Finrod asked,"What is nóm?"
"Nóm is wisdom," said Balan. His eyes twinkled.
Finrod blinked. "You're naming me…wisdom?"
"Of course." Balan nodded and the men smiled. "Your very presence radiates wisdom, light and power. You may not feel it because you are a part of it, but for us it is tangible."
Once again, the sincerity of Balan's words pierced Finrod's heart. He could see why Balan was chosen to be the leader of this group of men. Now looking at them, the Men seemed a rather regular lot, but Finrod searched them with his eyes. They were filled with goodness but carried many hidden black scars. Behind the laughter there was sadness and with every crack in the forest, they looked about with fear. Finrod had not noticed this before with all the singing and dancing, but now it was very apparent that these Men were runaways.
“Nóm?” asked Balan. “Will you teach us? Please. Teach us true knowledge.”
Finrod's eyes widened at the enormous request. "True knowledge? That would take centuries."
Balan waved an impatient hand. "It doesn't matter. For a long time, the only knowledge of the West we had was gained from the Dark-elves, who were rather indifferent about the topic, but you—you've been there. You've seen them. The Valar."
What would bring them to such a condition: a thirst for knowledge and light? Not only Balan now, but many others that had awakened were eagerly waiting for Finrod to reply. The elf lord fleetingly thought that their behavior was like unto little children that are first learning their surroundings and ask questions about absolutely everything out of childlike curiosity. Yet, it seemed as well, that it was as though they had lived in a dark cave and had recently left it to discover a world of color, light, and sounds; no longer desiring to return to the hole in which they dwelt before.
“Yes, but Balan?”
Finrod paused. “What lies behind you? What is this darkness you flee?”
Balan paled and lowered his head. Silence settled upon him and Finrod patiently waited for Balan's reply. After many minutes, Balan looked up, a mixture of fear and resolve crossing his face.
“Fear, murder and oppression,” he said in a barely controlled voice. Finrod’s heart chilled. "And we have turned our backs upon it and we do not desire to go back…. Westwards our hearts have been turned and we believe that there we shall find the light."
Finrod regarded him with curiosity and nodded. He opened his mouth to speak but instead remembered his cousins. Maglor and Maedhros were probably worried, hopefully, they were not searching for him. Maedhros, in particular, would feel the pang of anxiety over his welfare. He often worried about Finrod's presence when they were with his other brothers, especially since some of the younger ones abhorred Finrod's very existence. Maedhros probably thought one of his younger siblings had abducted Finrod for less than friendly purposes. Maybe it would be a good idea to find them.
Balan guessed his intention. "No, Nóm, stay with us a while."
Finrod regarded the man curiously. Remembering his duty to guide and teach, Finrod smiled. “Very well. I will stay and teach.”