6. The Cold and the Heat
They were going to the attack again. Eldar, Edain and Dwarves would press their advantage against Morgoth, now that the deed of Beren and Lúthien had proved him vulnerable. It was Maedhros who had forged the union. The plan had been his, and Fingon been content to take his lover's lead after having averted the danger to Doriath. They were to march in a week.
The chain did not contain as many links as they would have liked. Doriath would stay aloof, which was no more than expected now that Thingol had a stolen Silmaril of his own to defend.
The blank refusal of Nargothrond to join forces with the Noldor of the North had been predictable. If Curufin and Celegorm would fight - and they would, as Morgoth still possessed two of their father's three Silmarils - the new king of Nargothrond would not. Orodreth would forever hate these two for betraying his uncle Finrod, even if this ill will would condemn him to Mandos until the End of Arda, as his letter said with uncharacteristic vehemence. A great deal of ill will for such a gentle character as Orodreth had once been.
To the rhythm of his own chanting he hammered at the red-hot steel, strengthening it with his craft, shaping it to his will, pouring his hatred for the enemy into its soul. But at the moment, his younger brother occupied him more than the enemy did. There was no way to discover if Turgon would march, for no one knew where he dwelled. Turgon had never seen fit to inform even his closest kinsmen of his whereabouts. The hammer crashed down on the tip of the blade.
Maedhros believed Turgon would join their ranks. 'He knows enough, for he has the Eagles to tell him all that is going on. Was he not the first...' He had not finished his sentence: that Turgon had been the first to learn of Fingolfin's death. 'Surely your brother will not miss the opportunity to fight,' Maedhros had added a little lamely. Fingon wished that he could be sure. Without his brother's army, the balance would be precarious, at best.
Pausing for a moment, he looked at the door of the smithy. Knowing that the hot fires of the forge would make him sweaty and thirsty he had told the last smith who left after the day's work was done that he would require some refreshments at sundown. The last red rays of Anar had died now and dusk was creeping in through the window, but his order must have been lost somewhere on the way. Perhaps in the maze of a mind preoccupied with war.
With a sigh, Fingon gazed down at the blade on his anvil. Was it good enough to meet his own stern requirements? Were the virtues he was weaving into it strong enough? Would he entrust his own life to this weapon? But he would not be the one to use it; he already had a sword of his own making: Ringlach*, the mate of his father's sword Ringil that was lost. Nor was it a gift for Maedhros, whom he would not see prior to the battle. Then for whom was he sweating and beating this metal into submission?
Without knowing the answer he went back to work. Soon after, the door opened; if there was a knock, it was drowned by the noise with which he beat the fuller into the blade to strengthen it. Anticipating the by now much-needed drink, he smiled, but the smile faded when he saw who was carrying the tray.
It was Coiriel, the maiden with the coppery hair that reminded him of his lover's. Of course: she would always know where to find him, as if she used a spell to link her awareness to his presence.
Fingon gestured with his head towards the table near the window, not very courteous, but in his current state he felt at a disadvantage. The only garments he wore were his leggings and a leather apron; he would never willingly have shown himself to her like this.
Having set down the tray she poured a drink and brought it to him, appraising his bare shoulders, and forgetting or neglecting to appear shy. He laid down his hammer, accepted the cup and decided to expose a part of his soul as well. 'Forgive me if I am seeing things that are not there, my lady, but there will never be anything between us, either now or in the future. I cannot love you, for I am bound to another.' He took a slight step backward, but that wasn't necessary, as she made no move to touch him.
She declined to use the escape he offered her by saying he mistook her. Gazing into his eyes Coiriel replied, sadly, yet evenly: 'I can see that you are, my lord, and I believe I know who the other is.' There was no condemnation in her voice. 'But do not expect me to ignore my own feelings.'
He drank deeply, partly to hide an embarrassment bordering on shame. 'If that is all you ask of me...'
'I have one other request.'
He blinked. 'Which is?'
Coiriel hesitated for a moment; then she said: 'Allow me to fight for you in the coming battle, Aranya.'**
This was so unexpected that Fingon did not immediately know what to say. She looked terribly lonely in that moment, as lonely as he had felt on the Ice when he thought Maedhros had betrayed him.
'I can wield a sword, my lord,' she added. 'How did you think I survived the attack on Dorthonion?'
That was no explanation, for many of the best and bravest were slain there, but he decided not to dwell on it. She would not be the only warrior maiden in his army; he could not possibly deny her request. But he realised he did not want to either. A thought struck him, and indicating the almost finished sword he said: 'Will you accept this blade from me? I cannot lay it in your hands, for the metal is still hot, and it lacks a hilt, but if you wish it is yours.'
'My lord, I am greatly honoured,' she said, a look of pleasant surprise on her face. 'But... should I not be the one to offer a sword?'
'Consider it done,' Fingon replied.
Coiriel dropped to one knee to swear herself to the service of her King, with an eagerness that humbled him deeply. His hand on her flaming head, he uttered the blessing that went with the acceptance of service offered.
When Coiriel had left, Fingon put the finishing touch to the blade, deciding to add the hilt tomorrow. He cleared away his tools, removed his apron and sat down against the wall to let the lingering heat of the stones seep into his back. He touched the green stone on his chest, Maedhros' present, and allowed his mind to roam the paths of memories and dreams.
His memory took short cuts and did not always walk the straight road of Time. His dream recalled the Square of Tirion in the firelight, when Fëanor and his sons swore the terrible Oath. The face of his father, aghast, his fury dawning - and the same face, the same expression, but now in Beleriand, after the Mereth Aderthad, when Fingolfin discovered that his eldest son and Fëanor's were lovers. He saw Maedhros and himself, gifted with unsuspecting joy in Valinor, and stealing pleasure among the hazards of Middle-earth. Glaurung, young and foolish and still daunted by elvish arrows, and Glaurung, grown older and wiser in the ways of malice and destruction, leading the fires of the Dagor Bragollach - that receded into the flames of Losgar. He dreamed of the fair semblance of Morgoth when he was still named Melkor. Of the rare sight of the Silmarils, alive with the blended light of the Trees, reflecting a riot of colours yet shining with the frosted clarity of Varda's stars. His vision showed him crossing the Helcaraxë with a heart as numbed by betrayal as his feet were deadened by the cold.
He saw the dark vastness of Thangorodrim, the aim and purpose of the coming attack
There, the dream slowed.
He had been climbing for several days, a tortuous ascent that would have exhausted him if he would have had less to climb for. The mountains were cold, bleak and grim, with steep walls, deep precipices and narrow clefts maligned with night, under a sky perpetually clouded by the dark fumes of Angband. Though he saw no eyes, the air felt hostile, and he knew he was in danger. Yet he kept going on. There was little room for growth of any kind; every living thing he encountered was stunted or deformed in some way; the very stones seemed to be writhing and under the weight of evil, their silent wails gnawing at his resolve and sapping his strength. The shadows playing tricks on him were the ghosts of his own excruciating doubts: why are you doing this? What do you expect to find? Go back. Friendship and love are death, vanquished by malice and treachery.
...treason of kin unto kin and the fear of treason....
But all he wanted was to fathom the unfathomable.
Folly, of course: treason was treason. He was headed for sheer disappointment.
Wrong again. He was doing the one right thing. He was going to heal the breach.
His path ended at the edge of a steep abyss. He would have to retrace his steps and try a different approach. The sun was hiding her face behind unmoved, unmoving clouds. Yet the perpetual twilight had an advantage: it made him as difficult to see as all else.
For some time now he had been murmuring to himself, just to hear a familiar sound, one he could trust, though even this was a matter of doubt: his voice could betray him to the orcs and other foes whose presence he sensed all about him. But he did no longer care, so he took out his harp and began to sing in defiance. An old song from blissful times before evil rumours and the falling out of brothers.
In his dream-memory, the scene shifted. He stood in the place where the echo of his singing had led him. Another chasm he could not cross gaped ahead of him. On the other side loomed a rock face, high and sheer, and, below the rim was a pale shape, far out of reach. It moved, twisting and trashing. His song was being sung back at him by the one who hung there; it was this sound he had heard, and trusted like his own voice.
Maedhros. Kinsman, betrayer, companion, enemy, friend. Doubted, hated, beloved. Suspended by his wrist, naked, exposed to rain, hail and snow and the fell winds of the North, in an agony of torment. Far down, on the other side of the breach, Fingon gazed up in cold horror. His music died.
... beyond Aman ye shall dwell in Death's shadow...
He felt, rather than heard Maedhros beg him to make an end to it.
Yes, part of him thought. That is what he deserves.
What he deserves for his terrible suffering.
He had a bow. He drew it and shot up a pitiful arrow of prayer. The piercing cry of an Elf who has killed other Elves before. It seemed easy: the first kill is the hardest, the next one less so. And he had lost count long since, in Alqualondë, an age away, in the sorrow before the Ice.
The arrow went wide; was his aim wrong? His purpose? His heart?
The prayer homed. Manwë's eagle came and bore him up.
'Slay me,' Maedhros repeated with parched lips. 'I beg you.'
The vice shackling him to the rock refused to give way. 'Why?' asked Fingon, giving up his attempts.
'Everyone will be better off if I die.'
Fingon touched his shoulder. The skin was cold, yet it was Maedhros who shivered at the touch. He drew his blade. Behind the haze of pain in Maedhros' eyes he read relief.
... tears innumerable ye shall shed...
It was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life, though not the most horrible. But he was doomed to draw blood now. Weeping, he lifted the weapon to bring it down on the wrist caught in the unyielding bond. It crossed his mind that henceforth, he would never be able to stain this blade with orc blood. He would have to forge a new sword.
The scene changed again. Maedhros lay on a bed in one of the makeshift huts of the Noldorin encampment, the tightly bandaged stump of his arm hidden under his blankets. He had rested long, though fitfully at times, writhing in the bed. Now, he began to wake up. Fingon, sitting on the floor beside him, waited for his eyes to focus. When they finally did, they burned into his, past agony turning into conscious memory.
'So it was real,' Maedhros murmured. 'Not a nightmare.' His eyes sought those of his rescuer. 'You risked your life for me.'
Fingon swallowed. 'I... forgive me that I could not save your hand.'
'My hand? Payment. Only a fool believes he can be more devious than the Dark Lord and throws away the lives of his followers,' Maedhros said with bitter mockery. But the howl of misery underneath his words reverberated so loudly through Fingon's mind that he found himself wondering why nobody else in the camp heard it, and came running.
... not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains...
He cringed. Maedhros had lost the one ability he believed in: how could he fight the Enemy without his sword hand? And the one who had done this to him was supposed to be his best friend.
'Why did you save the remains of me, instead of killing me?' Maedhros asked hoarsely.
He deserved an honest answer, difficult as it was not to mitigate the truth. 'I felt I was unfit to condemn you - or grant you mercy.' The mercy of true release. Laughing grimly he added: 'Nor did I risk my life to come back empty-handed.'
'But can you forgive me?'
The laugh became a smile. 'Maglor told me everything that happened at Losgar. That you thought of me first. It is I who should apologise to you for doubting you even for a moment, thinking you capable of -'
'Not so. I never stood up against my father. Did you curse me, when you crossed the Ice?' Maedhros shuddered.
Fingon shook his head. 'No.' Not I. 'Are you still cold?' He bent forward. 'Does it feel as if you will never be warm again?'
'How do you...' began Maedhros. He fell silent.
'There is a remedy,' Fingon said. 'The heat of another body against yours.'
Why it went as it went was something they never spoke about afterwards. Though none of those who crossed the Ice would ever undress in that freezing hell when sharing their body heat, it seemed a natural thing that Fingon should remove his clothes: under the covers, Maedhros' body was naked, and Fingon's skin was warmer than his garments, for it was alive. And when he lay down it seemed just as natural that he should pull Maedhros against him, and start to rub him. They had been naked together before, in Valinor, swimming or bathing in a stream. Naked, and perfectly innocent.
Afterwards, neither of them could have said when Fingon's rubbing became caressing, at what moment the caresses grew to be more than merely soothing and comforting, and at what moment Maedhros' remaining hand began to return them. What stood out among the memories of those moments, was the kiss. It was not until their lips touched and opened, their tongues met and entwined and the smouldering heat flared into fire, that they woke up to the awareness of what they were doing - and questioned the workings of nature.
'Can this be right?' Fingon asked softly, his voice strangely small. Fingon, who had not hesitated to inflict pain and death in Alqualondë - wondering whether it was right to give pleasure.
The worst thing was, that Maedhros did not know if the answer he yearned to give was correct. So he turned it into a question that sounded, perhaps, a little more defiant than he felt: 'How can it be wrong to love!'
'Then,' said Fingon the Valiant, never afraid to shoulder responsibility, to move on, to take a risk, 'that is what we shall do, my love.' And so, a glowing tie of flesh to bind them both replaced the cold bond of metal from which Maedhros had so recently been freed. A tie that held, despite the strains of distance, duty and the Doom of the Noldor.
But it was not perfect - and how could it be, in Arda Marred? However much they shared, bright memories and dark ones, one thing could never be shared. They were both guilty of the Kinslaying, and they carried that guilt wherever they went, but the difference was that Fingon could be contrite, whereas he could not. You cannot rue a crime you will commit again, should the occasion arise. The Oath of Fëanor marred their love. Not because Fingon had ever condemned him for swearing it, but simply because he had not sworn it himself and could not sense its corrupting power in his very soul. If there was a dragon lurking inside their love, its heat was not that of bodily perversion. It was the chilling glare of damnation that burned in its malice. A spirit of fire turned to ice.
Now, in his fortress on the cold hill of Himring, in the lull before the great storm, remembering their first, careful lovemaking, Maedhros was still not sure what the answer to his own question really was. Could it be wrong to love, if you were held by power you knew to be stronger? He pulled a thin golden chain from underneath his shirt. On it hung the Elennar, the mate of Fingon's green stone, wrought by Fëanor in Tirion. Taking the red jewel in his hand, he thought of everything that had befallen since the Noldor began to walk their twisted path towards the present day.
I love you, Fingon, he thought. Reaching westward with his mind, across the terrors of the Ered Gorgoroth, across the green grave of Finrod who had died in the quest for a Silmaril, he knew with certainty that his lover was wrapped in the same memories
Let them serve to remind us what we fight for.
Yet the jewel remained strangely cold. Not even his hand seemed to be able to warm it.
*Cold Flame. It seemed appropriate to me that a Noldorin King would forge his own sword.
Notes: This story contains my version of the Thangorodrim episode - The Silmarillion, Chapter 13. Read the others, by Deborah, Ithilwen, Le Chat Noir, Staggering Wood-elf and Artanis, all on ff.net. Some of them definitely influenced me.
The Cold Hill of Himring is the title of a Maedhros story by Ithilwen. Strongly recommended.
The Elennar belongs to Círdan (the ff.net author), who graciously allowed me to borrow it. Read the series Paradise Lost to find out more!
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.