3. Part III
At least he managed to wait until we returned to our tents before attacking our brother; I suppose it was too much to hope that he would postpone his tirade until we returned to our own settlement, Maglor thought as he watched his younger brother shout furiously at Maedhros. They had just returned from their evening with Fingolfin and their cousins, and while his younger brothers had managed to hold their anger in check during the festivities and pretended for the sake of family unity to be in accordance with their brother’s decisions, Maglor knew they were seething inside, and Caranthir had never been hesitant about expressing his feelings. Celegorm and Curufin also appeared enraged, but seemed content to let their most volatile brother do the shouting for now, while Amrod and Amras appeared more puzzled and disappointed than angry. While he too did not fully approve of his brother’s actions or completely understand his reasons for choosing them, Maglor approved of this blatant disregard for their eldest brother’s rightful authority even less. Gently questioning his actions and politely requesting an explanation would be one thing, but Caranthir was greatly overstepping his bounds with this outburst.
“And it’s not enough for you to merely shame us all in front of our relations – no, you choose to impoverish our House as well! You gave away more than half of our goods, and nearly all of our horses. Our House should be preeminent among the Noldor, but your acts have reduced us to the least of our people. If Father could have foreseen your actions today, he would have disinherited you to prevent this betrayal of your family!” Caranthir shouted.
Until that point Maedhros had remained silent, standing motionless with his back towards his brothers and staring impassively at the tent wall while Caranthir raged. Now he turned to face them, and Maglor saw the smoldering fire burning in his normally temperate brother’s eyes and realized the depth of Maedhros’s own anger with them. When he began to speak, though, Maedhros’s voice was even and controlled, indeed almost cold. “But Father was not a seer, and he did not disinherit me. And thus when he died I became the head of our House and assumed the authority that goes with that position. I, Maedhros – not you, Caranthir, nor any of my other brothers. I choose the course of action for our House, not you, and you have no right to question my decisions or my authority to make them. And I owe no one an explanation for them, not even you. What actions I choose to take I choose for good reason, and if you disagree with my choices you are free to renounce your ties to our family and leave it. Otherwise I expect your obedience, and to be addressed with a civil tongue. Now go, before I am forced to summon one of the aids to throw you out.”
“You wouldn’t dare -” Caranthir sputtered, stepping back slightly, his eyes wide with shock.
“Would I not, brother?” Maedhros replied evenly. “Out. All of you. Now.”
Maglor placed his hand on his younger brother’s shoulder, hoping to forestall any additional rash words that would escalate the situation, for he could see in Maedhros’s eyes that his brother was not bluffing. “Come, you’ve had your say. Let’s give our brother some peace, Caranthir.” Caranthir spun around and abruptly walked out of the tent, followed by the rest of his brothers. Once outside, Caranthir muttered “How dare he - ”
“How dare you speak to him like that!” Maglor replied angrily. “Who do you think you are? However much you may disapprove of our brother’s decisions, you have no right to abuse him as you did. You need to remember your place, Caranthir, and learn to hold your tongue.” Caranthir scowled, but made no response.
“But Caranthir is right to be angry, our brother’s actions today have crippled our House,” said Curufin. “He’s impoverished our people and given away our rightful authority! Why?”
“Perhaps if you had asked politely for his reasons, he might have told them to you. You won’t get an explanation now,” said Maglor. “What’s done is done. We can’t reverse the past and we can’t refuse to accept the pronouncements our brother made so publicly, lest we ourselves bring dishonor to our House. Like it or not, Fingolfin is now the High King and the House of Fingolfin preeminent among the Noldor. We shall simply have to adjust to it.”
“You may adjust to it, brother,” replied Caranthir, “but I won’t.” And he turned and stalked off to his own tent, followed by Celegorm and Curufin. Amrod and Amras remained behind, looking back towards Maedhros’s tent.
“Why do you think he did it, brother?” Amras asked Maglor. “You’re closer to him than the rest of us are – why do you think he abased himself so publicly? I thought he had more pride than that. I guess I was wrong. Father would have been ashamed of him today – Caranthir was right about that, at least.”
“Does it matter what Father would have thought? He’s in Mandos now,” Maglor replied. “As to why – our brother obviously felt it was necessary. Why I can only guess at, and I’d rather not, not tonight. It’s late, and I’m tired. It’s time to call it a night.”
“Who is going to stay to help him tonight?” asked Amrod. “We’d all agreed earlier that it would be me, but right now I don’t think he’ll let any of us in.”
“It’s probably best if I try,” Maglor said. “As you said, I’ve always been the closest to him of all of us – perhaps he’ll take pity on me and let me stay inside where it’s warm rather than throwing me out to sleep in the cold. Although I doubt it.”
* * * * * * *
When Maglor opened the tent flap, he saw that his brother was sitting on one of the bedrolls, staring fixedly at the ground. He looked up as Maglor entered quietly, and Maglor could still see the anger in his brother’s face. He could also see that his brother was exhausted. Too upset to sleep, I suspect, thanks to Caranthir’s insolence, he thought.
“I told you to leave. Get out, now!” Maedhros said.
“Russandol, please. I didn’t come to fight with you. Don’t take your anger at Caranthir out on me.”
“Oh, it’s not just Caranthir I’m angry with, brother. He was doing the shouting, but the rest of you were just as guilty of challenging my judgement – you merely condemned me with your eyes instead of your tongues. Right now I don’t want to be with any of you. Get out.”
Maglor stepped over to where his brother was sitting and sat down next to him, careful not to touch him. “I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you. I don’t fully understand why you chose to do what you did today, Russandol, but I’m not questioning your judgement, or your right to make those decisions for our House. Help me to understand, that’s all I ask.”
Maedhros looked down at the ground again and sighed. “I knew that our oh-so-proud younger brothers wouldn’t see the reasons for my actions today, or accept them even if I tried to explain – that’s why I told no one of my plans for the meeting. I wasn’t going to risk having those plans sabotaged by rash words or deeds before I could put everything into motion. But you – I expected that you wouldn’t need such explanations.” After a pause, Maedhros looked up into his brother’s eyes and asked, very soberly, “Tell me, brother – do you want revenge for Father’s death and Grandfather’s murder? When you swore Father’s oath to regain the Silmarils, did you mean what you said?”
“Of course I meant it! How could you think I didn’t? I loved our father and grandfather, just as you did. And the Silmarils belong to our family by right.”
“I ask because it’s easy to simply say the words, quite another thing to actually mean them. ‘Whatever the price, we will regain what is ours,’ Father once said to us – well now you know the price, or at least the first installment. The kingship, the pride and preeminence of the House of Fëanor, a humiliating public apology – that is the price of our oath.”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”
“I told you before, we need Fingolfin’s people to have any chance of bringing down Morgoth. I’ve seen the might of Angband, brother.” Maedhros looked away briefly, and Maglor saw a deep shudder pass through his brother’s body; when Maedhros again turned to face his brother his face appeared haunted, but his voice was strong and even as he resumed speaking. “Our people are valiant, but too few – in an open contest with Morgoth they would surely be destroyed, or suffer yet worse fates. Father should have held the kingship uncontested by right, but even when we left Valinor most of the Noldor were marching under our uncle Fingolfin’s banner. And despite all the deaths they suffered during the crossing they still outnumber our forces by more than three to one. We need their strength to prevail.”
“Had Father not burned the ships, perhaps I could have successfully challenged our uncle’s leadership. I don’t know. But I do know that I wasn’t the one who gave the kingship of our people to Fingolfin; Father did that all by himself when he abandoned the majority of the Noldor in Araman rather than returning for them as he had said that we would do. The House of Fëanor betrayed them – why should they follow us now? It doesn’t matter that I am not Fëanor – I’m his son, and sons reflect their fathers after all, or so most would say. I had a choice to make: I could claim the kingship, and see our people remain divided and our quest fail, or I could renounce my claim and do what was necessary to reunify our people, and give us a chance of victory – for which Fingolfin will take the credit. Pride or vengeance; that was the choice. And I choose vengeance,” Maedhros said, clenching his remaining hand into a tight fist as an expression of mingled anguish and rage came over him. “I will see Morgoth destroyed for what he has done to our family.” For what he has done to you, Maglor realized, stunned by the raw fury he now heard in his normally gentle brother’s voice. Carefully, he reached out and placed his arm around his brother’s shoulders and drew him close, then held him tightly until he felt Maedhros slowly relax.
“I understand now why you believed you needed to renounce your claim to the kingship and apologize for Father’s destruction of the ships, even though you had nothing to do with that act,” Maglor continued quietly, arm still wrapped around his brother. “But why choose that manner of doing it? Why did you practically grovel in front of our uncle and cousins? Surely a more dignified approach would have worked just as well; it certainly would have been easier for our brothers to accept.”
“Not if the Noldor were to be reunited in heart as well as in words. Don’t you see?” Maedhros replied. “Or perhaps you don’t – I don’t know how much you’ve spoken with Fingon during those few visits he made to our camp to see me. Maglor, our uncle and cousins are – or were – furious with us. Not just with Father, but with us too. Put yourself in their place – if we had been betrayed by Fingolfin, and you had endured that miserable journey across the Helcaraxë, if you had watched your family suffer and seen some of them die, would you have accepted a coolly-delivered apology from Fingon? Would such an apology ease the anger you’d have in your heart? No, I don’t think so. So I gave them more than mere words – I gave them our pride and our wealth; a real apology that actually cost us something to deliver. Even that may not be enough for some of them. How many horses and jewels do you think it will take to make Turgon forget Elenwë? But it’s the best that I can do. And even if we didn’t need their help to fulfill our oath I’d still have apologized that way, because they deserved it; I at least am ashamed of the way Father treated them. And so are most of our people. They’ll give their loyalty to Fingolfin as High King out of guilt, if for no other reason.”
“Our brothers won’t. And Caranthir in particular has never gotten along with most of our cousins,” Maglor warned.
“They won’t have to give their loyalty to our uncle, just to me. I’ll be the one to handle the interactions between the High King and our House, after all. But I’m afraid that the quick tempers of some of our brothers may prove a problem. Perhaps we can settle our family somewhere out of the way, so they won’t need to have much contact with our cousins. In any case, I’m not going to let their tempers interfere with achieving our goal,” Maedhros said gravely. “We will regain the Silmarils and we will see Morgoth brought to ruin, regardless of the cost. I swear it, brother. And I keep my oaths.”
“I know you do,” Maglor replied. “And I’m confident that we’ll prevail in the end. But not this evening! It’s very late, and you look worn out. Let me stay with you tonight, Russandol.”
“I suppose it wouldn’t be right for me to throw my favorite brother out to sleep on the frozen ground,” Maedhros said ruefully as they both stood up and he began to awkwardly open the bedroll with his left hand. “I’m sorry I was so rude to you earlier, Maglor. You didn’t deserve that. Promise me you’ll stay – not just tonight, but for all the days to come, until this is ended. I’m going to need your help.”
“I’m glad to hear you finally admit that,” Maglor laughed as he began to prepare his own bed. “Of course I’ll stay. Until this is over and the Silmarils are in our hands, I’ll remain beside you. Now let me help you with your clothes. You need to get some sleep now – we have a long journey ahead of us tomorrow.”
There Maedhros in time was healed; for the fire of life was hot within him... His body recovered from his torment and became hale, but the shadow of his pain was in his heart; and he lived to wield his sword with left hand more deadly than his right had been. ...And the hatred between the houses of Fingolfin and Fëanor was assuaged. For Maedhros begged forgiveness for the desertion in Araman; and he waived his claim to kingship over all the Noldor, saying to Fingolfin: ‘If there lay no grievance between us, lord, still the kingship would rightly come to you, the eldest here of the house of Finwë, and not the least wise.’ But to this his brothers did not all in their hearts agree.
Therefore even as Mandos foretold the House of Fëanor were called the Dispossessed, because the overlordship passed from it, the elder, to the house of Fingolfin... (Quenta Silmarillion)
According to early drafts of the Quenta Silmarillion, Maedhros gave back to Fingolfin all the goods that his people had loaded on the ships, and which they therefore had lost when they were left stranded in Araman; the Grey Annals also states that the Noldor brought horses from Aman to Middle Earth on the ships as well, many of which Maedhros gave to Fingolfin in atonement for the burning of the ships. See The War of the Jewels (History of Middle Earth, vol. 11), pp.38, 115, and117.
There is some discrepancy in Tolkien’s writings regarding the timing of Maedhros’s apology and renunciation of the kingship. In the Grey Annals (History of Middle Earth, vol.11), Maedhros apologizes and renounces the kingship at the council of the Noldorin lords held at Mithrim, nearly two years after his rescue by Fingon. The Silmarillion does not give a date for the apology and renunciation, but the text implies it happens soon after Maedhros’s rescue, and before the council is held. I have chosen to follow the Silmarillion chronology in this story, because it seems unlikely to me that the Noldor could have become a unified people in the two years prior to the council of Mithrim (as both texts claim they were), without first having the issue of the kingship settled, and without Fingolfin’s followers receiving an apology for Fëanor’s burning of the ships at Losgar.