1. Maglor Plays For His People After Doriath
A/N: If you've read other stories in this cycle you may perhaps know this already, but if you don't, the following may make things easier to understand:
In this story cycle, the Feanorians did not retreat to Amon Ereb until after they had spent weeks on the outskirts of Doriath waiting for Maedhros to return for his search for Dior's sons. Also they made Amon Ereb their main base at this time because they feared the retribution of the Green Elves, if they returned to the woods--before that it had been held by Caranthir and his followers.
He walks into the chilly hall, carrying his harp, and they all turn to him expectantly.
Amon Ereb seems a much gloomier place than Caranthir's house in Thargelion used to be. Perhaps that is because Caranthir who built it is now dead or perhaps it was so even to begin with, Caranthir having built the fortress on Amon Ereb after his defeat and the loss of Thargelion. Or perhaps the death of Denethor, who died on this hill before ever a Noldo had set foot in Beleriand, has left an indelible mark on the surroundings that Caranthir failed to erase.
It is likely, though, that Amon Ereb would be a less gloomy place if it were not newly overrun with bewildered Kinslayers. The hall is packed with followers of the Sons of Feanor: those who are not on duty—those who can walk, those who are still alive—have foregathered here, huddling together for comfort and support as they once did in the icy winters of Himring during the Dagor Bragollach. It is a smaller hall, this one. There are not so very many of them left.
But still they turn to Maglor, with all the force of old habit, expecting to see themselves in the mirror of his song, as when he sang of their courage and their endurance, their fears, their grief and their hope, and they found the strength inside themselves to mount the walls again and beat off yet another attack. And yet tonight is not the same. Tonight Maglor is playing for them for the first time after Doriath.
Here is Ceredir, from Himring, and Turion from the Gap, who twice faced Glaurung at Maglor's side, and Nolemir, who followed Caranthir from Thargelion and lost his lord in Doriath... The faces turned towards him are haunted, disturbed, restless, their eyes filled with doubt. But, at the same time, he sees an alarming readiness to clutch at straws in those faces, a desperate wish to credit whatever he is going to say.
Explain things to us, Makalaure. Tell us what we did. Tell us who we are, now.
Their need presses on him and he wants to absolve them, to tell them that all that happened in Doriath was his fault, his and his brothers' only. Let the Sons of Feanor take the responsibility for everything and the blame, for after all those who followed merely did what they were told to do. Surely Maglor owes his people this; surely it is the least he owes them.
But it would not be true, if he told his people that. Because the truth is that none of their oaths—not one of the oaths they swore to the Sons of Feanor—was intended to be unbreakable. To be sure, they were not consulted before Doriath or, individually, asked for their consent. But they could have turned aside. They could have refused—no, not easily, but they could have. And still they followed.
And if he tells them that it is only the Sons of Feanor who are to blame—if he hands them that handful of straw, they will clutch at it, he is certain. But is that what they truly need of him? And if he tells them that Dior brought his own death and the destruction of Doriath on himself, by refusing to listen when he should have known better? They will clutch at that, too, but is that what they need from him tonight?
His people—Turion, who twice faced the Father of Dragons at his side and went on to survive the following siege and the Nirnaeth and the years in Ossiriand, Turion and all the rest of them—it seems there ought to have been a moment he recognized when the time was right to turn to them and say: Do not. Do not follow. Do not do as I say. Have you not heard the words of the Prophecy of the North as well as I? How can you not be better anywhere else than under my leadership?
He never said it. And it is not only because it would have seemed profoundly disloyal to his brothers if he did that he did not say it. Those people who have been following them since Losgar, since Araman, since Alqualonde—with each step they took together in Middle-earth, all the way across Beleriand, it became less possible to abandon them and never was there a safe place, never a safe time to leave them, never safe hands to leave them in. And now there is less safety than ever for them, outside these walls.
Makalaure Feanorion, whose ambition once was to sway hearts only with music, neither less nor more than that—what did he know of unbreakable bonds, when he swore the Oath, and how they break? There are fewer of his people now, so many fewer of them, but for the most part it is not because they left, not the Noldor among them. And here they are, those who remain, and here is Maglor—battered and shaken and burdened, all of them—and what shall he sing for them tonight?
He remembers Daeron and how everyone seemed to be determined that they should be rivals before they had even met. The Sindar pointedly praised Daeron to the skies; the Noldor reacted with undisguised, although often unexpressed scepticism. Whatever their attitude to Teleri and to the Sons of Feanor more generally, even the followers of the House of Finarfin seemed to expect Maglor to defend the honour of the Amanyar against this Sinda who had never seen the Light of the Trees.
When they finally encountered each other at the Mereth Aderthad, he eyed Daeron warily and found the Sinda cautiously eyeing him back. Daeron, he thought, might not have been hearing about him as long as he had been hearing about Daeron, but he clearly had been getting more than an earful recently. Maglor inclined his head. Daeron politely inclined his; then he stepped back beside his Sinda companion, the visibly sturdier and more warlike Mablung.
After that, it all became very embarrassing very quickly indeed. Eventually he and Daeron had caught each other loitering at the fringes of each other's audience one too many times--unconvincingly pretending a merely casual interest as if they had just happened to be passing by--and they both decided to give up their ridiculous game of hide-and-seek. When they next ran across each other again among the crowds of festival-goers, they grabbed each other simultaneously like over-eager lovers and unceremoniously dragged each other into the shelter of the next storage tent.
A while later, Fingon came rushing in, apparently bent on making sure they were not strangling each other, but stopped in his tracks at once and retreated outside again on tiptoe.
'It's all right', he was heard reassuring concerned bystanders on the other side of the tent wall. 'Really, it's all right! Artists being artists, you know. Just ignore the shouting and swearing…'
'Being artists?' Mablung's voice asked, sounding a bit sceptical.
'Music', replied Fingon, tersely, 'some minor differences in the fingering of certain chords between the Iathrim and the northern Sindar which I confess had completely escaped my notice until now. But I'm afraid my cousin is rather prone to get excitable about such things…'
Sometime later, Maedhros touched Maglor's elbow and drew his attention to the basket containing a jug of water, a bottle of wine and a packet of flat-bread cut into handy bite-sized pieces, which he had just deposited next to him. When he was certain that the content of the basket had properly registered with his brother, he nodded, smiled and quietly withdrew.
But Maglor and Daeron went right on exchanging tunes, lyrics and techniques, taking turns, with hardly a break even for a sip and a bite, until they were hoarse as crows, their fingertips were bleeding, and their arms felt as if they were about to fall off. They stumbled out of the tent into the dusk of the following day, blinking and weaving like drunks on their way to their respective beds. But after they had slept off their musical hangover, they performed together every evening for the remaining duration of the Mereth Aderthad and to resounding success.
For a time, Daeron had been Maglor's brother-in-music, never mind that there were things he did not understand about Daeron and that, moreover, he often was not quite sure which of them had to do with Daeron himself and which of them had to with Doriath: the other's complicated feelings towards Luthien, Thingol's daughter, for instance—a woman Maglor had never met, although of course he had heard of her—which seemed to be reflected in stunningly beautiful but somehow worrying songs.
Naturally, it could not last. When the rumours had reached Maglor that Daeron had obeyed Thingol's command to the letter and beyond—dropping not only all lyrics in Quenya from his repertoire, but also the tunes, Valinorean techniques and little flourishes he had learned from Maglor, which now all seemed tarred with the same Noldorin brush as the words—that had hurt. It had hurt a surprising amount, more than he expected. Not that he had any right to complain. He could hardly claim that Thingol had had no provocation or that Daeron owed it to Maglor to disobey him. After all, if Maglor himself had permitted bonds forged by music alone to override all others, he might have fought on the opposite side in Alqualonde…
He could not even claim virtue in not following Daeron's example. Daeron's audience, in Doriath, was naturally made up purely of Iathrim. If he had not given up Noldorin songs of his own free will, they would probably have demanded it of him. Maglor, in the Marches, on the other hand had continued to play for Sindar as well as for Noldor and he went on studying how to reach their hearts with his music—until the Siege broke in the Dagor Bragollach and so many of the Sindar, his Sindar, died or left and later, at the time of the Nirnaeth, once again left or died.
Maglor is grateful that Daeron had departed from Doriath long before they attacked it. He is very grateful that in Menegroth he did not encounter any of those at the point of his sword who had once fought under his command, by his side, and deserted him when times turned against him. He knows others were not as lucky.
And all the while, while he is remembering all this, he is setting up to play, arranging himself on his chair on the dais and tuning the harp strings.
Maglor lays his hand across the strings and reconsiders for a moment. I am taking a risk. I may have misjudged. But then he lifts his head and begins to sing.
He does not praise the courage and endurance of the Feanorians. He does not spend a word on the failings of Dior. He sings a lament for Doriath, a song in praise of the lost glory of the Iathrim, weaving together all he learned from Daeron together with what he picked up over the years from others—northern Sindar, Falathrim and Green Elves out of Ossiriand—into a shining, shimmering tapestry of song. And he has not misjudged, for Maglor's people follow him once again.
They have never seen Thingol or Melian. They have never seen Luthien, those that are assembled in the hall of Amon Ereb tonight. By the time they set foot in Doriath it was already broken, greatly diminished after the destruction wrought by the dwarves of Nogrod—and, to the Feanorians, the Thousand Caves of the Menegroth have become the stuff of nightmare, a labyrinth of never-ending skirmish and unavailing pursuit where death, threatening or inflicted, lurked around every corner.
But Maglor tells them that Doriath was glorious and beloved before it fell, its beauty unsurpassed, and they hear it as if they were hearing it for the first time. It unlocks their grief. They lament its loss together with Maglor. Tonight, the Kinslayers weep for Doriath.
In the centre of the Hall, Ceredir stands by himself, leaning on his crutch, tears running down his face. Nolemir, whose mother was a Sinda who died in the Dagor Bragollach, is curled up in a corner, sobbing convulsively like an infant. Turion stares grimly ahead of him. He blinks rapidly a couple of times; then he takes out a handkerchief and violently blows his nose. Beside Maglor on the dais Amrod weeps, leaning forward in his chair—and Amras, too.
Outside the walls of Amon Ereb, nothing is changed by those tears. On the banks of the Esgalduin, piles of bones lie mingled: those of the Noldor among those of the Iathrim. In a cart on the way to the Havens, a refugee dies of her wounds that night. In Angband, Morgoth—who knows everything about how Elves and Men crumble and break, except why some last longer than others—settles back on his Throne well satisfied to watch his game play out. But here, in the hall of Amon Ereb, the Kinslayers are returned a little to themselves, to who they were, by their tears, by Maglor's song—ready, in some fashion, to go on living.
Night draws on to morning. In the kitchen of Amon Ereb, Naurthoniel stands, drags her knuckles across reddened cheeks and, looking at depleted shelves, wonders what she is to feed all these people. She will have to talk to Amrod about organizing a hunting expedition, she thinks.
On the dais, in the emptying hall, Maglor still crouches over his harp, silent now, his eyes gritty, his mouth full of lies and ashes. He remembers every sword stroke—all those singers silenced, songs violently cut off. To him comes Maedhros, suddenly appearing beside his chair—and Maglor, looking up into his brother's still, haunted face, sees with a strange relief, mixed with intense regret, that this brother of his he has not been able to help at all, tonight.
'Leave your harp now and walk with me, Kano', says Maedhros, brushing Maglor's shoulder with his fingertips.
At the foot of Amon Ereb, in the early morning, the two brothers Maedhros and Maglor walk through the snow. The ground is lighter than the sky, which is a dusky grey blue. The trees are black.
With thanks to Clodia and Rhapsody for inspiration!
Dawn Felagund has written a remix of this story, from Daeron's POV. The story is called Sharp Things in the Way: link to story on AO3