2. Chapter 2
I don't know how long I sang. Several hours at least before my voice finally gave out, vocal chords weary from unaccustomed exertion. The mist in my mind was still heavy though, and the apparitions of the previous night still hung around me. The fire had extinguished itself, and the only light in the room came from the red coals, still burning hot. I still might have been in Valinor, save for the fact that the small bodies at my breast were not really my brothers. No, that time was passed, and it would do no good to suspend myself in fantasies. The contentment I'd felt before was rapidly fading. Unattainable dreams of a lost life. Nothing was to be gained by pretending anymore.
Elros' fever had broken, the medicine doing its required work. Sweat dripped off him in rivulets, and when I pressed my cheek into his forehead it was no longer burning. Just the youthful heat of a life that has yet to be fully lived. Elrond was draped against me as well, though I only vaguely remembered him coming to his room.
And Russandol. My beloved brother was still on the floor, kneeling with his copper head pressed into the furs that covered Elros and Elrond's bed. Both of us slept fitfully these days, but Maedhros especially was plagued by dark dreams that threaded into his subconscious, even on the nights he drank enough wine to put most men into visionless oblivion. But tonight he was quiet, and I did not have the strength in my heart to rouse him.
I knew the boys would not like to find themselves this way in the morning, clutched in the grip of their captor. It was remarkable that they had even come to me at all.
It was a bitter fate, I thought, that I must always be destined to sing other men's children to sleep, when I had been denied my own. First my father's, then Curufin's and now Eärendil's. I had put them all to bed at one time or another, while my own arms remained empty.
And now it seemed unfair that I should (perhaps, maybe, just a bit) love these children as I had the previous ones, when they were clearly not mine to cherish. They would never care for me, as much as I might have hoped it once in a delusioned state of arrogance, thinking that the grievances between us could be forgiven and forgotten.
I disentangled myself from Elrond's tired embrace and rose slowly, Elros still in my arms. It was a skill I had forgotten I had, to dress sleeping children in their nightclothes without rousing them from slumber. I managed to do it for both Elros and Elrond, and neither stirred while I was dressing them, too deep in their dreams for my actions to wake them. Carefully, I tucked them into their bed, making sure not to disturb my brother. Three, at least, would sleep easily this night.
The boys were safely in their bed. I could relax a bit, but I knew I would not find sleep even if I sought it. I should stay, I supposed. The boys were frightened of Maedhros and I did not wish to leave them alone with him. And I would have liked to be present should Elros' fever return. I built up the fire to a crackling blaze again, draped a blanket over Maedhros, and turned to the window. I glanced at the burgundy drapes, noticing for the first time that they were riddled with moth holes. Just another sign that Ereb, once opulent with Caranthir's wealth, was crumbling away under my fingers. I'd become accustomed to the decay, but I was sure that small things like this only added to the discomfort of the children. I would have the drapes replaced tomorrow. Pulling back the curtains, still immersed in the dream-scape I had created with my voice, I half expected Telperion's silver light to flood the room. But nothing greeted me save the cold grey light shining from Isil, spilling into the darkness of the room with tendrils of night that I had never been able to enjoy. Beautiful perhaps, if I had not seen light more warm and welcoming than this in my childhood.
Of course not. It was a dream, you fool. A dream I could not dismiss or erase from my mind. Those sights I had sung of had once been laid before my own eyes, the same eyes that now looked out over the dreary snow-laden landscape. Those eyes had once viewed the bliss of Aman and I had abandoned it for a silly goal at which we had no chance of success. With the third jewel sailing the sky, there was nothing left for us but the Void. A doom laid before me that I could not ignore, yet could not fulfill. It burned in my chest, just as it must with Maedhros, though we had not spoken about such intimate things in years. The desire to regain the Silmarils had conquered almost all else in my life, I had deserted a loving spouse and a peaceful lifetime free of strife for thefreedom my father spoke of so passionately. I'm not sure what I had found in Middle Earth, but it certainly wasn't freedom. I still wore the chain of slavery, perhaps less obviously than under the Valar, but it shackled me all the same.
Is this what you wanted for your sons, father? Is this the freedom of which you dreamed?
Despite the pressing light of our young moon, my song still echoed, even though I would have gladly purged the room of the sound. A few moments ago it had offered a small sliver of peace, and now it only tormented me. Memories of a simple, half-forgotten life. A time when I had given my song freely to anyone who wished to listen.
When had been the last time I'd sung, I wondered idly. It had been years, I was sure. With cold realization, it dawned on me that it had been in the aftermath of the Nírnaeth Arnoediad.
We'd already lost so much by that point. My fortress at the Gap, at one time a beautiful stronghold where we had successfully held back Morgoth's forces for many years, was taken and now overrun with his army. (The thought of the harp I'd brought from Aman chopped for firewood and the treasures of my hoard spent on the strengthening on his armies galled me.) On the night I fled towards Himring to join my brother, I watched my horsemen burned alive on the field, withered to ash and cooking flesh and melted steel. The defeat of Finrod's army had been the final breaking point in our Siege. And Uncle Fingolfin, our King, with whom we'd finally carved out a semblance of civility, had fallen.
But Maedhros had persisted. He carefully constructed his Union, Elves and Dwarves and Men united under our shared cause. I'd been so hopeful in those days. Entranced with filial pride, I'd been certain of our success, believing with all my heart that we would finally throw Morgoth down, avenge my father's death, and reclaim what was ours. I was still filled with youthful arrogance then and hadn't yet accepted that everything my father's house touched was doomed to disintegrate into failure.
To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass.
The song I'd sung to the boys earlier was swept away by the recollection of Mandos' words. In Ereb's shadows I shuddered and tried to block out all thought. But memory does not work like that.
When we'd finally entered the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, it was apparent that'd we'd arrived too late but we pressed forward anyway.
I think I saved Maedhros's life that day, though I doubted he knew it, so lost in grief as he was. Before the Angband's gates I had seen him cutting his way to Fingon, shouting the name of the friend dearer than I could ever be to him. He had charged blindly, driving forward to save his King, ready to spill blood and deal out vengeance to any who stood in his way. But by that point Fingon was already dead, immortal but fragile body pulverized into the ground. Against my better judgment, I had followed Maedhros into the thickest part of the battle. No matter what Maedhros destroyed in his wake, his quest was a hopeless one and I will never forget how he knelt before Fingon's broken, destroyed form and wept like a child.
I had literally dragged him out of the battle, off of Fingon's grave, smoke and fire and fear surrounding us. It was no small feat. Maedhros is nearly a head taller than I and broader of chest, clad that day in plate mail, and I think it was only the pure fear that I would lose my brother again that allowed me to do what I did. As I'd pulled him back and pressed him to my chest, a flaming ball of…something (I suppose I would never know), pitted the ground near us. It left me momentarily blinded and deafened and I was sure that we would die there, my last moments wasted in a futile attempt to save my brother. In an effort to make sure we didn't end by the same unfortunate fate our cousin did. I cowered in the reeking mud and spilled viscera of friend and foe. There was nothing to breathe but black steaming smoke and I could feel my lungs burning with the dark cloud and desire for clean air. Eventually my senses cleared a bit, and the din of battle returned. The next minutes had been a blur of motion and frenzy, but I must have found a horse, one of our own, the once faithful steed of a fallen companion willing to carry us to safety.
I remember riding hard, pushing the horse until its haunches were covered in froth, Maedhros' keening wail barely audible over the screaming and explosions that surrounded us. We rode until we found a haggard camp of fellow survivors. Assembled there were a few of our captains, but most notably Turgon, who had hated us since the Helcaraxë but had emerged, unlooked for, from whatever mysterious hideaway he had built for himself. There were other lords and captains there, though I could not now tell you their names. They gathered in a despondent group, knowing how utterly we had failed at our mission.
After he had returned to us from Morgoth, Maedhros was always troubled by fits of either rage or weeping, and one could never predict which. He had dissolved into tears once when Amras merely mentioned our father, and another time had struck Celegorm full in the face for some offense so innocuous I could not even recall the details of it. Around anyone but family he had been as timid as a child hiding behind his mother's skirts for the first few years. But slowly he emerged from his cocoon of misery, and I thought with his Union that he had finally regained all that he had lost. That notion had been shattered upon the battlefield, alongside my hopes of overthrowing Morgoth.
A pennant of Fingon's army still hung, battered in the breeze, stuck into the ground by some overzealous standard-bearer, unaware that his King was dead. Maedhros had slowly dismounted our horse and gone to it, great reverence filling his eyes. I made vague protests and tried to stop him as he ripped it down from his flagstaff, but I think he did not hear me. He clutched the bright blue banner to his chest, twisting it in his hand, and wept into the silken fabric.
He wept openly, as he never did. Huge, ugly sobs that distorted his fair face. He wept for Fingon, I knew, the child (for no matter if he was King, I could not think of him as anything more than the frightened boy who had joined us in Formenos for so many summers) who had saved him from torment while I had placidly stood aside and done nothing for him.
"Maglor." He sobbed. He cried out my name in his sorrow.
I was never the statesman that Maedhros was. I'm sure he, if not currently encumbered, would have found a way to graciously silence his companion while remaining commanding to his attending counsellors. But I was not Maedhros. I thought it best to turn away then, to ignore Maedhros' pleas and address the other generals of war who had managed to survive, but Maedhros' voice cut through it all, pointed and horrible like a knife. "Maglor!' he repeated, knees crumpling beneath the terrible weight of guilt he endured. I couldn't turn to him. I had a duty to do, to serve our realms and represent the Union with a brave face that I certainly didn't feel.
"Maglor! We were close! We were so close!" A sob choked his voice for a moment. "I felt them! Did you not? I could feel them! He was watching us. And he wears them upon his crown to mock us in our desperation, and he was watching us. Watching our defeat!' I had no choice but to spring to his side and hope that I could silence him before he said any more. A gratuitous show of emotion might be acceptable for Fingon's death, but an open declaration of longing for the Silmarils? Of course we had planned to storm the dark fortress if we were victorious and take back what was ours, but we hadn't shared that part of the plan with everyone present, and I didn't wish to do so now. I know that Maedhros, in his more sane moments, would not have done so. And so I tried to quiet him.
I hadn't felt it before, but his assertions made me realize that the pain in my heart was not only grief, but the burning torture of the Oath, once again thwarted.
"Shh, Maedhros, it's all right. We will have them again. I promise. You and I, you and I, I promise! We will one day hold them in our hands again!" I whispered, my voice ragged with crying out maneuvers to our men and with the thick smoke I had choked on moments before (hours? days? Every moment had been stretched out into an excruciating age of time, I wasn't sure), trying to bring comfort to one who was utterly lost. If he had any faculties left he would have seen what an empty promise it was. Sobbing, he pressed his face into the junction of my neck and shoulder. Undone with heaving, wracking cries, he was overtaken and I was not sure what to do. Turning to his captains, I was surprised to see that they did not regard their lord with disgust, but also had tears in their eyes. I was shocked to realize then that my own cheeks were wet with the unnumbered tears that would wash that battlefield. Looking to his officers, I said meekly, "I need to take him...get him away from here," and they merely nodded, understanding the gravity of the grief that Maedhros bore.
Only Turgon regarded us coldly, in his sterile, detached way, blaming my brother and me for perceived betrayal and his brother's death.
It was more than I could bear, and I'd turned my head back into Maedhros' gentle locks of hair, letting my own tears spill into the crimson fall of strands, struggling to contain my emotions. I had seen battle before, I had watched my friends torn to bits on the swords of Morgoth. But that annihilation, the complete destruction of our forces and the failure of what should have been such a glorious victory, was so horribly bitter.
I'd ordered our men to head south, hopefully to find safety there. I suppose they did that, though I made no effort to confirm their movements. I took Maedhros with me, him barely conscious and always clutching Fingon's pale banner to his chest, and headed south on a more Easterly course in search of our brothers. I thought that some of them might still live, though I'd had no word of them.
And one night, beside our pitiful campfire, searching unsuccessfully for our brothers in the wilds of Ossiriand, had been the last night that I had sung.
I tried to weave a lament for Fingon, destroyed so unjustly in my brother's fruitless battle. Usually I am gifted with words. It has seemed at times that a whole assortment of them are simply strewn at my feet, waiting for me to pluck the perfect ones out of the bunch. Ready to be assembled into song that could either bring my listeners to bright laughter or melancholy tears. But on that night it was not so, and anything I devised came out choked and hollow, nothing befitting our fallen cousin and king. My voice was still ragged from the smothering smoke and I hated every sound that issued from my mouth. I sang for a while, while Maedhros slept with his head in my lap, until emotion and failure overcame me. I bent my head into my brother's hair and wept, filled with anger and sorrow and loss and grief. I wept like I never had before, until I thought I would be sick. When my reserves of tears were finally emptied, I tried a shaky note, and found that my voice, once beautiful, once my only source of pride, was still ravaged and could not sing again.
That had been so many years ago, and I had never dared sing since. I did play my harp for our people; it gave them hope, they said, though that seemed dubious.
I thought it was a gift I had locked away, perhaps never to use again. But the two sleeping children behind me had dragged it out of my soul, and I wondered at that. I had taken them as hostages, but also as a pathetic attempt to do something right for once. Seemingly, I had failed at that as well. We had struggled against one another in the past year in an exhausting battle of wills. I felt a sense of pride on their behalf that they had managed to be as brave as they had been in the home of their captor. And with that thought came (yet another) pang of guilt that I should ever, even once, have been annoyed by their tears. For was it not my hand that wrought the crowns of fear and grief they wore? I vowed that come morning I would try to repair the rift that divided us.
Bathed in Isil's cold light, I stared out of the window and pondered how to begin such an arduous task.
I thought this was a oneshot, but some kind reviews brought out another 3,000 words (that's what reviews do, people) and it looks like there might be more to come! Please let me know what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong! Or if you just want to chat, I'm just chillin' here :)
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.