Of Cliffs and Kin
1. Of Cliffs and Kin
In despair and despite, I sing. I cannot find my kinsman, and I know now that I will not succeed, yet I sing of Valinor to spite the creatures which cower in the darkness, a song made of old, long before strife was born among my kinsmen. My voice echoes around me, ringing clear from bare rock and hollows of shadow, and the beasts of Morgoth wail and cringe. The song and the fear it inspires brings me no joy, for I have failed in my task, and Maedhros will remain a prisoner of Morgoth until he should relinquish his body or be killed.
Suddenly, far and faintly, I hear my song taken up. It is no Orkish voice! Weak and faded though the voice is, and without the purity usually found in Elven voices, I know it can be none but Maedhros in this foul place. He calls to me, and I follow the sound of his voice. I see him, and tears begin to form as I see what has become of him.
Maitimo: "Of beautiful bodily form." The irony of the name cannot help but strike me now, as I am faced with the ruined figure hanging from the cliffs of Thangorodrim by a single steel-clad wrist. His beauty is long gone, stripped away by the vile creatures of Morgoth. Yet the semblance remains – the damage is not permanent. Time may heal even the worst physical wounds. As I watch pain rips through the frail form once more, and causes the bruised eyes to open, the torn lips to release a tortured cry. As soon as his eyes open, he sees me. Licking cracked, dry lips, he speaks, his voice a croaking mockery of its previously smooth tones.
"Hello Cousin." And the tears spill down my cheeks. I make no move to wipe them away; there is no shame in weeping when faced with such agony in one I loved as a brother.
A great hatred wells up in me, seeing him hang there, a once-proud warrior near to broken by Morgoth's tortures. My fists clench involuntarily, and I grit my teeth in helpless rage.
But giving myself over to futile wrath helps neither Maedhros nor me, and I force myself to be calm. Eyeing the cliff once more I stretch out my muscles, readying myself for the climb. Setting my foot onto the first foothold I reach up and feel for somewhere to place my hands. Pulling myself up I search for the next foothold. My world narrows into this one single focus of "feet, hands, pull-up. Feet, hands, pull-up" and I lose myself in the rhythm and work of the climb until, without warning, one of my footholds crumbles beneath my weight and I slip down the rock-face, jagged edges cutting into my side and grazing both my palms.
Quickly I search for another place for my feet and, finding one just in time, I steady myself. Gripping the stones with white-knuckled hands, all I can hear is the sound of my own ragged breathing, and the falling rocks that were knocked loose in my scramble.
I compose myself a few moments more, and then glance down. When I do, disappointment threatens to overwhelm me; despite all my efforts I am barely a few feet off the floor. Shifting awkwardly to stare upwards, the disappointment grows still more as I see the distance I have yet to cover – if, indeed, I can.
With a weary sigh I continue my climb, blood from my torn side staining the rocks beneath and my grazed palms stinging with each movement. Determined, I push on, in spite of aching muscles, and disregarding the blood, sweat and dust that by now coat me from head to toe.
Then disaster strikes once more as I reach up, feeling for a handhold and find none. I manoeuvre myself around once more, trying to see a place for my hands, however unlikely it may be, and curse quietly; the rock about me is as flat as if it had been deliberately smoothed. The nearest grip is far out of my reach, even stretching out dangerously far, and there are no other options. Save one.
I take one deep breath then fling myself out into the open space to my left before I have anymore time to think. My blindly grasping hands slam into the stone, rapidly followed by the rest of my body. I miss my grip and fall, spiralling wildly, repeatedly knocking against the cliff face and unable to control my fall until, by chance, my hand snags against a lump of rock that presses out of the cliff and I hold on with desperate need.
My body crashes into the rock once more and I feel pain slam into me as a shard of rock buries itself in my leg. Blood loss and pain send black spots to dance before my eyes, and betray my already-weakening fingers. Releasing the stone, I fall back one last time, but luck is with me, for I am but a little distance from the bottom now. The breath is knocked from me when I land upon the ground, but I am grateful that it is not worse.
As soon as I am able, I sit up and examine the fragment of rock in my leg. I am relieved to see that it has missed anything vital, and support myself against the cliff to pull it out. As soon as I do so, I use some of the ripped material of my breeches to tie it in a rough bandage, and then turn my attention back to the cliff. Maedhros is staring down, a concerned expression on his face, and I ease his worries as best I can, reassuring him that all is well.
"I am well, Maedhros, I merely injured my leg in the fall, but it is small. A moment if you please, while I consider." We fall silent once again.
I stare at the cliff once more, trying to plan out another route, but I find none. I try to hold out some hope of salvation yet I know; there is nothing I may do. My bleeding side, wounded leg and aching muscles attest to the fact that the cliff cannot be scaled, and there is no other way to reach him; my quest has been in vain. I relay my thoughts to my now-silent Cousin.
"Nay, not in vain, Fingon. You may spare me further torture at the hands of these creatures. Kill me, Cousin, with the bow you have brought!" A feverous light is in his eyes as he pleads with me, but I know not if I am capable.
"I cannot! I am no kinslayer!" I protest vehemently. His face fills with anger and despair, so that I must look away in shame of my apparent cruelty.
"None would name you Kinslayer for this deed – the saving of a Cousin, mine for the asking. Shoot me, Fingon, and thus free me!" His passionate plea both startles and moves me. "For the sake of the friendship we bore each other, kill me!" I am swayed by both his conviction, and my own memories of happier times.
"I-I will do it," I reply uncertainly, and I am rewarded by a faint smile.
My hands shake as I string my bow. Though there is no other way, fear fills me – it is a just cause, yet kinslayer I will be, no matter what I am told. I flex each trembling hand in turn, grimacing as the already-broken skin on my palms begins to bleed more freely. I draw an arrow from my quiver and pause, gathering my courage. Setting the arrow upon string, I bend my bow, aiming at Maedhros.
His quiet "Thank You," gives me further pause but I am resolved. Which is worse I do not know; to slay my Cousin, or to leave him alive to endless torment. However I see no other way to free him and I will not leave him in chains, alive and alone in this foul land.
I draw back my bow once more and cry, "O King to whom all birds are dear, speed now this feathered shaft, and recall some pity for the Noldor in their need!" only hoping that Manwë will hear my prayer, guide my arrow and grant Maedhros as quick and painless a death as possible.
Bracing myself a single moment more, I prepare to release, then stop, staring in shock as an Eagle dives towards me. My first instinct is to duck as I view the thirty-fathom wingspan and cruelly sharp beak, but I master myself in time and wait. I had not expected my prayer to be answered in such a manner, if at all. Landing beside me, the Eagle speaks.
"Hold, Fingon Son of Fingolfin, and stay thy hand!"
I bow, for the bearing of this Eagle tells me that he is important. Moments later, my suspicions are confirmed as I ask, "Do I know you, sir?"
"Nay; I am Thorondor, King of the Eagles, appointed by Manwë to keep watch upon Morgoth. I overheard thy plea to my lord, and I offer thee my aid. I would bear thee hence to thy kinsman, if that is what thou wilt." The amazement must be clear to read upon my face, for Thorondor explains, "It is a noble deed that thou hast set out to accomplish. I would not see thee fail here, when I may help."
"I thank you, Thorondor, Lord of the Eagles, and accept most gladly. May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks always," I reply formally, before walking towards him.
Nervously, I climb onto Thorondor's broad back, and move up until I am comfortable.
"Art thou secure?" he asks.
I nod, then, remembering that he cannot see me, call to him, "I am ready." With a stomach-churning lurch we are airborne, and I grab a handful of feathers for security. Through rushing wind I hear Thorondor's amused voice say,
"Thou shall not fall, Fingon. Fear not!"
Despite his reassurance, I cling to my handful till Thorondor reaches the ledge upon which Maedhros rests and then slide awkwardly onto the thin sliver of rock that must serve me as a stand, stumbling slightly as my leg almost buckles. Thorondor lands below to wait for us, while I examine the hell-wrought shackle. It seems firmly fixed and – I must grudgingly admit – well-made, but there must be some way that it can be removed.
The sight of the key-hole briefly causes a flare of excitement in me, but it quickly fades as I recall that I have no key to release the lock of the steel band or any skill with lock-picking. And so, grasping it with both hands I pull with all my strength, attempting to tear it from the stone. It does not budge.
Despair wells up in my heart but, seeing Maedhros turn his gaze to me; I quell it swiftly and continue trying. A few more tries and I must admit to the defeat of this plan, but another is ready and waiting in my mind.
"Turn your face away, Cousin," I warn, then draw the long knife at my belt. Picking my spot I strike at the metal with as much force as I can muster. Sparks fly, and I turn away to avoid being hit. The effect and sounds seem promising, yet when I chance to look there is no change; my attack has not even scratched it.
Wild rage rises in me and, giving vent to an angry cry, I batter away at the band, at the rock, anything to release some of the helplessness I feel. Breathing heavily I stop several minutes later at the sound of Maedhros' voice.
"Calm yourself, Fingon. It is not your fault – you tried, and that is all that matters." Reluctantly I meet his eyes as he continues, "But now you know what you must do."
"There must be another way!" My protestations fall on deaf ears as he stares at me, silent now, but with a pained expression covering his bruised face, and his limbs shaking as another wave of agony washes over him. The suffering I see is more eloquent than mere words, and would be enough to set me to weeping once more, were he unable to see. My eyes stray to his chained wrist once more, and a solution strikes me like a bolt of lightning. "There is another way!" I declare excitedly. Taking a firmer grasp on my knife I say, "Brace yourself; this will hurt."
Maedhros' eyes widen as he realises my intent, but his uncertain expression soon hardens to one of resolve and determination. "Do it."
I rest the blade against his wrist, above the steel band and, giving myself no time to think and thence lose my nerve, strike swiftly, removing his right hand with a single cut. I watch for a moment as Maedhros' lost hand tumbles past.
Maedhros, pain causing him to lose consciousness, tumbles forward, no longer constrained by his bond as the wrist slide through where his hand could not. I catch him, and bundle him onto Thorondor's back in front of me. Removing my tattered shirt with difficulty, I wrap the material around the bleeding stump of Maedhros' wrist and clasp him to me.
"Friend Eagle," I call, "Would you bear us to Mithrim and my father?"
"I shall," Thorondor agrees, to my relief, and immediately he wings high into the air.
I hold the unconscious form tightly and, for the first time in many days, I find that I can smile; my quest is nearly over, and my Cousin and friend is returned. Not even the wounds that I see on him can dim my joyful mood, for the fire of life is strong in Maedhros and I know that he shall recover. All is well again, and I look to the future with greater hope.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.