My Brother's Keeper: 1. My Brother's Keeper

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1. My Brother's Keeper

This story is number 6 in my Maedhros series, but even if you haven't read the others it will probably make sense.

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To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well... (The Doom of the Noldor, on the House of Fëanor)

 

I am sorry, brother. I know now that I failed you. It is not the first time that I have done so; I failed you once before, as did your other brothers, when after your capture by Morgoth we decided not to attempt your rescue, deeming such a feat both unlikely to succeed and far too dangerous to attempt. That failure at least was redressed by Fingon, and my gratitude to him for bringing you back to us almost equals the shame I feel when I remember my own cowardice. No one can so redress my most recent failure, for it is not a thing that can be put right by valor or force of arms. Indeed, I do not know if it can be put right at all, for choices once made cannot be unmade, and words once spoken cannot be recalled. I only know that I must try, for your sake, to undo the harm I have inflicted upon you. I pray that in time you will find it in your heart to forgive me. And know this, brother - if it were possible for me to choose again, I would indeed choose differently.

*******

It all began so well. Our forces were finally assembled, and everything was in readiness. I will always remember how magnificent you appeared on that day when you gave the order to march. The battle to come represented the culmination of years of work on your part, planning, forging alliances, gathering the required troops and supplies together. Now everything was in readiness, and the day you had long anticipated had finally arrived. You have always cut a splendid figure on the battlefield, tall and commanding and confident, but on that day the hope in your heart blazed forth from your eyes, and almost I could have believed that it was one of the Valar and not simply my brother Maedhros who commanded us - Tulkas himself, perhaps, come to Beleriand to avenge the Noldor's suffering at the hands of Morgoth. In the days to come, I will try to remember that moment when you called out the order to advance, your voice ringing clear and bright in the stillness of the morning air; I will cherish it, that one final perfect moment when we still knew hope.

From that point on, everything went horribly wrong. Your battle plans, so carefully conceived, fell to pieces almost immediately. The causes were many: ill chance, the unexpected strength and ferocity of our enemy's forces (both of which we had greatly underestimated), and most important, the treachery of our supposed allies. I am grateful at least that it was my blade that took the life of that cursed traitor Uldor, whom I hewed down before he could kill you. By the end of the fourth day all lay in ruins, and we were routed from the field, the remnant of our forces that you had been able to hold together cutting our way east towards the Ered Luin and Mount Dolmed. All of us were seriously wounded, yet despite your own injuries, and notwithstanding the shock and dismay you must have felt at our sudden and utter defeat, you managed to keep the shreds of our once proud army moving towards safety. Not until we finally reached the relative security of the mountains, and only after seeing to the care of the few pitiful survivors of our harrowing retreat, did you finally break down and weep.

We have fallen far in this world. Once we were kings, each of us ruling over prosperous lands. But much of east Beleriand is now lost to the enemy; the lands where we once proudly reigned - Lothlann, Himlad, Estolad, Thargelion - are now under his shadow; only Ossiriand, protected by its many rivers, and the southern regions near Taur-im-Duinath remain free of his foul grip. And the sons of Fëanor are princes no more, but wanderers and homeless, living off the charity of the Laiquendi who in their mercy have permitted us to remain here in the safety of Ossiriand. You took the loss of our lands and our homes hard, holding yourself responsible for the devastation which Morgoth wreaked upon our people, blaming yourself for their unhappy fate. But most of the Noldor lived not in our kingdoms, but further west, and though the loss of our lands was hard to bear, you still held out hope that our western kin had been spared the unhappy fate of our followers. For news now travels slowly across Beleriand, and until recently we had received no word on the outcome of the great battle fought between the hordes of Morgoth and the western forces of our alliance.

That changed one month ago, when the messenger arrived.

*******

He was not strictly speaking a messenger at all, but rather a refugee, fleeing the chaos of the west to the refuge of Ossiriand, where dwelt his distant kin. We had had some luck in our hunting that day, for I had brought down a deer, and the smell of the roasting meat drew him, exhausted and hungry, towards our small camp. We had looked with compassion on the young elf, and had invited him to join us in our meal and rest in safety; "the only coin we charge for your lodging, Brethilas, is news, for my brother and I have heard nothing from western Beleriand since shortly before the great battle with Morgoth," you said to him. We were both desperate for tidings, eager and yet anxious, afraid of what he might say, and so delayed our questioning until after the meal. A small mercy; at least he got something to eat before he left.

"So tell me, Brethilas, how fare the lands of the west? Do the Noldor still hold out against the Black Foe?" you asked, and although you attempted to hide it from our guest, I, who know you so well, could hear the tension in your voice.

"Nargothrond still stands, and Gondolin, or so it is rumored, and King Thingol still holds out in Doriath. But all else is in ruins. Morgoth's forces have destroyed the Falas; I was living in Eglarast when it fell, and was taken captive, but through luck managed to escape and come safely here."

With his words, the blood drained from your face; your voice was a mere whisper when you finally forced yourself ask, "Hithlum?"

Brethilas replied, "Morgoth controls it now, none of our people remain there, and few of the Edain - most of them died covering King Turgon's retreat, or so I've heard."

"Turgon lives at least," I heard you say to yourself, still clinging at that point to a thin thread of hope. Then, louder, you said, "And what of the High King, Fingon? Did he also retreat with his brother?"

"No," Brethilas responded, innocent of the effects his next words would have, "he was slain in the great battle; I heard that at the last the High King was surrounded by Balrogs, and Gothmog himself cleaved in his head."

Your scream of anguish so frightened our young guest that he fled into the forest, and before I could reach your side you had also leapt to your feet and were gone, running heedless into the night.

*******

You are the tallest of us, brother, but not the fastest. Even so, I was hard-pressed to catch up with you, for you ran as though you could outpace the unwanted tidings you had received, leaving them behind to arrive in a place where your beloved cousin Fingon still dwelt unharmed. Your grief gave you wings, but my fear gifted me with fleeter ones, for I was afraid that you might harm yourself in your anguish.

When I at last caught up with you, you had finally ceased to run; exhausted at last, you had collapsed and lay curled up upon the leaf-covered floor of the forest, sobbing as though your heart had been ripped out. I had seen you cry before - when the ships were burned, when Father died, on that night in Hithlum when I came upon you at unawares and learned your long-held secret - but I had never seen you cry like this, great gasping sobs that tore from your chest, causing your whole body to shake. You were utterly insensible to the world, so consumed by your grief that you did not notice my arrival at your side until I knelt down and touched you. You shrank from me at first as though my hand were a glede, but I was persistent, and eventually you ceased to flinch when I stroked you, and your heart-wrenching sobs slowly gave way to a softer weeping, and finally to silence.

Finally you spoke, the words so soft and muffled that I could barely understand them. "I killed him, Maglor. I killed him."

"No, Maedhros," I said gently, "that's not true. Morgoth is responsible for Fingon's death, not you."

You shook your head slightly, a wordless negation. "He only went because of me. He didn't want to fight. I talked him into it. It's my fault he's dead."

"No!" I said again, more firmly. "Fingon chose to go, you didn't force him. Maedhros, listen to me - you are not to blame for his death."

"Yes, I am. I killed them all. The people of Hithlum and the Falas, our followers in Himlad, all of them. I lead the Eldar into ruin."

"No, you did not."

"Yes, I did. Maglor, I want to die."

I think my heart stopped in fright for a moment when you uttered those words. I did not know if you had your hunting knife, but our people need no weapons to die from grief in any case; if distraught enough, a fëa can flee its hröa for the haven of Mandos. Quickly and insistently I replied, "Maedhros, you will be all right. Please stay with me, brother!"

But you did not respond; instead, you closed your eyes and seemed once again to shrink into yourself, and as I watched, your breathing slowed and then stopped. I panicked. Although I love all my brothers, you are special to me, Maedhros. You have always been there for me, the eldest of us all; I looked up to you as a child, and you in turn were my teacher, my confidant, the one I could always turn to in sorrow or joy. You have always been a constant fixture in my life, and the thought of losing you was more than I could bear. It was not until that moment, as I watched you begin to die, that I realized how badly I need you. Desperate, I sought a means to pull you back to me - and suddenly, I realized the way. Without thinking, I said the words I now curse myself for uttering.

"Would you call the Everlasting Darkness down upon yourself, brother? For if you die, you will break your oath to regain the Silmarils, a solemn oath sworn before Ilúvatar Himself. When you gave the kingship to Fingolfin, you vowed to me that you would see the Silmarils returned to us and Morgoth ruined, regardless of the cost; you said to me then that you keep your word. Must I say otherwise to our kin?"

For a moment, nothing happened; you lay utterly still. Then I heard your sudden sharp breath, a ragged gasp of pain, and saw you grimace, and knew that I had succeeded. My heart soared, and it was not until you opened your eyes again and looked at me that I began to realize the price I would pay for your survival. For in your gaze I saw, not the love and affection you had always held there for me, but hatred.

*******

The hate has faded from your eyes now, to be replaced by indifference. You live, if it can be called living - you eat, and sleep, and breathe. But you take no interest or pleasure in these things, going about the business of life seemingly numb. Despair hangs over you like a dark cloud, and nothing I have tried has managed to drive it away. Maedhros, brother, believe me - I am truly sorry for what I have done to you. Once before I failed to use my hands to free you when you were bound, and now I find I have misused my tongue to bind you when you should have been set free. For I did not believe then, and do not believe now, that the Everlasting Darkness would have been your fate had you died on that day. Your fëa would have returned to Mandos for comfort and healing - of that I am certain. But I was too afraid of losing you to let you go, and in my selfishness I have chained you here against your will, and now your fear and your pride hold you here to suffer. I would give anything now to recall those words I spoke to you, and let you go in peace - but it is too late.

I hope that one day you will find it in your heart to forgive me, brother. I do not think that I will ever forgive myself.

 

Notes:

The full text of the Doom of the Noldor can be found in chapter 9 of The Silmarillion.

Dying of grief: This is mentioned in several places in The Silmarillion, and in more detail in the essay "Laws and Customs among the Eldar" (in the section entitled "Of Rebirth and Other Dooms of Those that Go to Mandos") and in the discussion of the Statute of Finwë and Míriel, both published in Morgoth's Ring (History of Middle Earth, volume 10). (See especially the footnote on page 221, and pages 222 and 235.) This manner of death is regarded as indicating a fault of sorts in the soul (which may just be due to the injuries it sustained while living, or a more serious inherent character flaw), which must be repaired before the soul is re-embodied; many Elves who die of grief apparently never leave Mandos.


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.

Story Information

Author: Ithilwen

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 04/14/03

Original Post: 07/12/02

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