The stairs were cold and smooth, and there were signs of neither life nor death along them, only an ancient smell of dampness, and a silence so complete that it seemed to fill his lungs as he breathed. Maedhros never knew how long he climbed, but climb he did. His sandals wore out. Melkor did not feign to notice him as he fell behind from time to time as his body cried for rest. Then something violent would well up in him and his limbs would find new energy as he strode to keep up with the Vala. He would not accept defeat. Not when he had seemed to come so far.
He did not immediately notice when they approached the top of the stairs. In the days after the death of the Trees he had grown used to starlight, yet it was only as he felt the gusts of cold air that he looked up and recognised the familiar diamond-brightness in the night sky.
He stumbled up and out onto a large, flat stretch of mountaintop. The stone beneath his bare feet was dark and icy. The wind swirled around him, heavy and cold as mist. And yet, the air that he breathed seemed the purest, sharpest thing he had felt since he had left Valinor. He gulped it, feeling his strength return a little. He had never been to so high a place before. From Taniquetil he had been able to see all of Aman, but here there was only distance – loneliness, and a darkness so deep that he could forget, easily, that the earth existed beneath his feet.
"You are at the roof of the world," Melkor announced. His voice held joy, a kind of laughter.
Fatigue had overcome the last of his restraint. "Why?" Maedhros asked.
Melkor looked almost puzzled. "To see this," he said, gesturing around them.
Maedhros stumbled to the edge of the cliff and peered over. The rock face was a sheer, straight drop into the clouds.
His knees gave way and he sank down to the stone. Out of a habit that had been practiced longer than it had been abandoned, he raised his eyes and called to Varda, only half aware of what he was doing, not expecting an answer.
And there was no answer.
Melkor laid his hands on his shoulders. Maedhros started at the shock of warmth, but allowed himself to be raised without a struggle. Melkor looked at Maedhros before him, his clothes worn thin on his body, his hair loose like a wine-dark cloud about him.
"This is yours," he told Maedhros.
Maedhros raised his eyes wearily to Melkor's own. "Why?" he repeated again, believing that he had lost some grip on his sanity. Part of him was fighting to stay alive, yet another was struggling to leave this hröa and be set free. He had no idea which one was because of Melkor.
"Tell me who you are," Melkor said to him.
Maedhros stayed silent. He knew this was a trick, a ploy to destroy whatever he offered up by way of word or gesture. But Melkor did not allow him to be silent.
"Tell me," he said, and his eyes held a command and a challenge that could not be gainsaid, "who you are."
And Maedhros answered. "I am Nelyafinwë Maitimo, son of Fëanáro and Nerdanel."
"Grandson of Finwë."
"King of the mightiest race of the children of Eru."
"That is who you are," Melkor said, satisfied.
"Yes," Maedhros answered. "Yes. That is who I am."
Melkor raised his arms. "And that is why this is yours."
Maedhros looked blankly at him.
Melkor's voice was musical, patient as ever. "Child, child," he said, almost kindly, "would you deny your Kingship of the Noldor?"
"I would not."
"And you should not," he said, and now there was something like pride in his voice. "for in you is such grace of beauty and strength, the Children of Eru would gladly give you their throne. Already you have been twice-cheated in Aman, by your own kind, and mine. Take this mountain as your seat now, Maitimo, and govern what is to come from here."
Maedhros snapped back at him. "Yet when we spoke last, my lord, you claimed that the world was meant to be ruled by you, and not the likes of me." He seemed to have passed the point of fear. He was prepared for pain, even death. "And now you mock me by claiming me as King. I do not want your throne."
Melkor did not seem offended, but there was something – a mild disappointment – he seemed to feel. "You misunderstand," he said. "You equate my idea of rulership with yours."
Maedhros tried to close his ears to the sound of the voice, but failed. "To be king of your kind, what must you do? You earn their submission to your will, as Finwë did. You make laws, you sit in judgement, you decide what keeps them happy. Am I wrong?"
Maedhros said nothing.
"What do I have to do with laws, and justice, and happiness? What part of you can ever comprehend how little these things mean to me? My kin do all this for you in your island, but not for their own sake, can you see? They do it to make themselves like you. As I must speak your tongue so that you may understand me. They debase themselves."
"And submission," he continued, "I do not need to earn your submission. It is mine whether you give it or not. With a single thought of mine I may own your body and your soul to do as I wish, for as long as I wish."
"Then what do you want?" Maedhros cried. "What do you want?"
Melkor studied the fallen elf before him for a long time, considering, weighing him in some awesome balance of his own. Then he spoke. "Your father," he said, "your father had some little idea of what I want. But it was his undoing. Why," his lip curled contemptuously at Maedhros' angry, helpless glare, "do you believe I enjoy ugliness? That I made those yrch because I wished to mar their beauty? Your opinion of the One must be low, if you believe his mightiest creation is no more than a creature of spite, and envy.
"I cannot become a mere lawgiver among you, as the others have done. I understand that you need one among you to do that – one who may be worshipped and adored and submitted to. Among all the children of Eru, that one is you, as it was your grandfather before you. He would not listen to me – would not care to – it was too late for him."
Maedhros spat at Melkor.
Melkor's eyes glittered dangerously. Then Maedhros crumpled to the ground as he felt the bones in his body break under an unseen force. He could make no sound – he felt his jaw shatter, even as his throat failed him. It was all over before Melkor blinked his eyes.
He stood over the writhing body of his captive. His tone was grave, sober, almost entirely like Manwë's. "Remember what I told you, Maitimo," he said. "I do not have to suffer your ideas of right and wrong."
He drew out a chain that he had not held before, a short iron rope, and threw it casually on the stone floor, a little away from Maedhros. "We shall meet again," he said, and left Maedhros alone.
more to come in this chapter....
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.