What happened to the spirit of Maedhros when he died?
This story is NOT YET FINISHED. I'm a bit nervous to start posting something like that, but I do ask for your patience with updates. I *will* finish (eventually), but it may not be in a timely manner.... (I know you've heard *that* before!) The good news is that means I'm still in the process of editing, and very interested in feedback - let me know what works and what doesn't!
And I have been very remiss - I have not yet (publically) thanked my beta Fiondil for all the feedback he's provided over the course of this story - despite moving halfway around the world in the interim! He originally inspired this story by his own tales in the Halls of Mandos.
I keep getting awards, and this story isn't even finished yet!
In Memory of Fiondil, who departed the Circles of the World in February 2015. Námarië!
1. Prologue: The Halls of Waiting by MithLuin
2. Chapter 1: Let Judgement Commence by MithLuin
3. Chapter 2: Up on the Mountain by MithLuin
4. Chapter 3: The Kinslayer by MithLuin
5. Chapter 4: Doom by MithLuin
6. Chapter 5: A Visitor by MithLuin
7. Chapter 6: Freedom by MithLuin
8. Chapter 7: The Fourth Station by MithLuin
9. Chapter 8: Waiting Is the Hardest Part by MithLuin
10. Chapter 9: Brothers by MithLuin
11. Chapter 10: Prisoner by MithLuin
12. Chapter 11: The Troublemakers by MithLuin
13. Chapter 12: Reluctant and Alone by MithLuin
14. Chapter 13: A Crown of Seven Stars by MithLuin
15. Chapter 14: A Cage of His Own Making by MithLuin
16. Chapter 15: Suffer the Little Children by MithLuin
Dedication: To my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. My turn will come one day.
His world was fire. He was burning, the jewel in his hand was burning, and the fiery pits of broken Beleriand around him were burning. All was fire, and the fire was all one and the same – inescapable, because it was part of him. The moment of decision came and went, and as he fell, he tried to remember – did he fall, or did he jump willingly? He could not separate himself from the burning jewel, and it called to the burning earth, so he, the jewel, and the earth would all burn. His last thought passed through his mind fleetingly; My body will turn to ash, as Father’s did.
Afterwards, he discovered the fatal flaw, the cheat – his fëa could not hold onto anything, not even the jewel. He tried to resist, but he was wrenched away. He howled in loss, not noticing that he made no sound, that his spirit was pulled inexorably Westward. He passed over the wide, cold, unforgiving Sea, but was too afraid to touch the waters to ease the pain in his hand. He reached the Forbidden Shores, and paused, hesitating before those dark doors. A gate of stone and steel, opening into only Shadow, on a barren, rocky shore. A cold wind blew, and he knew it was his only hope of escaping Eternal Darkness. He would not go into the Void, and so he fled into the forbidding gate. The darkness swirled about him, and he knew no more.
When next he woke, he screamed in agony. His hand, his hand burned in pain. He grasped his wrist, trying to contain the fire in his hand. Then, with a shock, he stopped screaming and opened his eyes in wonder. His right hand was grasping his wrist. The right hand that he had lost nearly six hundred years ago was there, as if it had never been severed. He flexed it wonderingly, and turned it over, looking at it, amazed to see it move under his will. His left hand still burned, but the pain was forgotten in the wonder of having a right hand. He did not know how long he sat there, staring at his hands, but he suddenly knew he was not alone. The fear of before came washing over him, and he tensed.
"Nelyafinwë, you have come at last," said a Voice.
"Last of the House of Fëanor," he agreed, wondering that he could now speak.
"Nay, not last," the Voice answered.
Not getting to his feet, he twisted around to face the Voice. "Which of my brothers have you lost?" he demanded, panic finding its way into his voice. "Whom have you abandoned to the Outer Darkness?" He received no answer. "Doomsman, answer me!" he demanded, pleading. The dark figure stood, silent and implacable in the shadows. "I will go instead," he said, madly, miserably. "Neither I nor they will find peace here in your Halls, bereft of Light. But do not doom my brothers!"
"You have doomed yourselves," the Voice answered.
In horror, he scrambled as far away as he could. His hand touched a cold stone wall, and again, he knew nothing more.
He awoke sprawled on the stone floor where he had fallen. Again, he cried out in pain and clutched his left hand hard into a fist. The memory of fire was still vivid and near.
"You would have done well to come to me sooner," the Voice began. He did not know if it had ever left him.
"That was not my fate, as you well know," he said evenly, getting to his feet to face the shadowy figure. "I would have indeed come sooner, and gladly, but you must ask Manwë-to-whom-all-birds-are-dear why I did not." This was said in bitterness, but without any scorn.
"Not that soon. You were spared for a purpose."
"Yes, my life secured Fingolfin’s crown, and restored peace."
"Did you learn nothing on the Mountain?" the Voice asked gently. This time, it was Maedhros who remained silent.
Finally, after the silence stretched unbearably long, he spoke. "I learned that my pleas could not reach the One." It cost him something to say what he had never fully admitted in life.
"Is that all?" the Voice asked, soft but inexorable.
"I never bargained with the Enemy," he claimed, his shoulders remembering something of hauteur. "He thought to break me, to make me his thrall. But my Father taught me to withstand him."
"Respect for the Powers was never Fëanáro’s strength," the Voice murmured.
"How could it be, when you claim brotherhood with our Enemy?" he retorted.
"One can only be betrayed by an ally," came the quick reply. "And the betrayal of a brother cuts deepest."
Maedhros had no answer for that, so instead he looked at his hands. The left one was clenched to ward off the pain, but the right was the same as it had ever been… when he had had it, that is. He turned it over, flexed it, wiggled his fingers – it seemed as real as the rest of him.
"What else did you learn on the Mountain?" the Voice pressed again.
"That pain can wash away wrongdoing," he whispered, still looking at his hands. "I could not undo what happened at Alqualondë, but I paid the price for it. When I returned, the others saw my pain, my maimed hand, but they were slow to see my peace. Save Finrod. He read hearts truly, and saw that mine had been…changed by my ordeal, like many who crossed the Ice. We were never friends in Aman, but he offered me friendship and trust after that, which I was glad to accept. Till I lost him to your keeping," he added, looking up.
"No, not my keeping," came the unexpected reply. "He is not here."
"Can you not keep any of your dead?" Maedhros exclaimed in surprise. "Surely you would not curse him to the darkness. Even you would not…"
"I tend only the dead."
"Finrod…lives?" he asked uncertainly.
The dark figure before him nodded silently.
"And…my brothers? Have you released them as well?" he asked hesitantly.
He shook his head.
Maedhros wailed in despair, "Whom did you lose? Whose spirit did not find the way to your Halls? Tell me!"
"Maglor lives," he answered.
Maedhros’ mouth fell open in shock. "How?" he asked, opening his left hand and falling to the floor in pain.
"You have much to expunge, eldest son of Fëanor. I will leave you your pain until you no longer have need of it. But you will answer for your deeds – all of them. Your wisdom failed in the end."
Maedhros closed his hand and gasped out, "I will answer. I am no thrall, nor have I forgotten my deeds. But please, let me see my family, if they are in your care."
The dark figure shook his head. "You are not yet ready." He receded, and Maedhros was left alone.
"Not ready to answer? Or not ready to see my family?" he asked the empty walls.
He did not know how long he was left alone. He had never been so truly alone before. Even on the Mountain, he had had… he shook his head. That insidious whisper had been a most unwelcome companion. He was glad to be rid of it here. The Doomsman’s word was Law – he never spoke untruly. But he did not invade Maedhros’ thoughts, nor try to trick him with phantoms. No, he was truly alone in this… hall? The floor and walls of his cell were made of stone, smooth, but not well worn. He could not see or touch the ceiling, but the space did not seem open. There was no source of light, but the air was suffused with the dim grey light before dawn, when colour cannot yet be discerned. There was nothing in this prison – not a stick of furniture – save a puddle of water on the floor. Nor was there any door or window to interrupt the curving wall. The Doomsman seemed to think he should have learned something important while he hung by his wrist from the rocky walls of Thangorodrim. Was he doomed to repeat the experience until the end of Arda?
He soon learned that the pain in his left hand was worst when he opened it. Even closed, there was a dull throb that pulsed through him. He would have kept it clenched indefinitely, save for another discovery – when he opened it, there was a glimpse of light. He had no explanation – how could his hand remember the fire that had burned him? – but was content to accept it. When the darkness overwhelmed him, and he yearned for Light, he need only open his hand and try not to close his eyes from the pain. He could not endure it for long, but it was enough.
He traversed his prison cell many times. He was thankful that the Lord of Mandos had not chained him. At first, he merely walked back and forth. But later, he allowed his feet to trace out more and more intricate patterns. He always avoided the puddle of water, though. He had no need for food or water here, but the depravation seemed natural. He was neither hungry nor thirsty.
On one occasion, his footsteps ended in the precise centre of the room. He sat down and faced what he thought to be West. There was no way to tell, of course, but he had long since felt out the directions and stuck to his perceptions. His right hand grasped his left wrist. The constant buzz of pain was manageable; he could function this way. Slowly he opened his left fist, gazing hungrily at the light that poured out to greet him. The pain roiled through him like the heat from a fire, though he merely rocked back and forth, eyes fixed on his only remaining treasure. But a haze clouded his vision, and he knew that he could not endure for much longer. On an impulse, he held his hand up and looked up, to see if the ceiling would be illuminated. But still he saw nothing. Then the pain took him and he fell to the floor. When he awoke, his left fist was again clenched tightly shut.
After that, he tried to use the Light from his hand to illuminate his surroundings from time to time. He found he could endure the pain longer when he did so. He caught glimpses of colour and intricacies of texture that he could not see in the dim light. But the most fascinating thing was the way the water reflected the light. He took to blowing softly on the surface of the water to make ripples before opening his fist. But still he did not touch it. Finally, once when the pain of the fire was on him, and he thought he could endure it no longer, he plunged his left hand into the puddle of water. "Powers, release me!" he cried out, and to his wonder, the light in the water lit the entire hall. The next instant, he fell into darkness. But when he awoke, the Light was still shining from the water. The colours had been returned, so now his prison cell was no longer grey. The stones of the floor were revealed to be of many colours, and now he could see their pattern. He walked around the cell, drinking in the sight of the walls. He looked up, to see the ceiling for the first time. It was a high vault, clear as crystal, but only darkness was beyond it – no stars. So, it did not open on the airs of Arda. With some trepidation, he looked at his hand. It seemed the same as ever. Slowly, he uncurled it, and was overcome by the familiar wave of pain and nausea. But…no light poured forth to greet him. He cried out, and clenched his fist tightly closed. "No!"
"Why are you upset?" asked a voice behind him. He whirled around in shock. He had been alone for so long…. The Doomsman was no longer a shadow, but was now revealed in the light of his cell. A dark hood overshadowed his face, so that only his glinting eyes were clear. He was clothed in sable, but it was not the unrelieved black of the Master of Angband – his robes were trimmed with gems. Maedhros found some comfort in that, though he did not know why. He looked down, avoiding the eyes of his visitor, and suddenly saw that his own clothes were black trimmed with silver, though the badge of Fëanor that he wore in life was absent.
"Why did you cry out?" the Lord of Mandos repeated.
"The Light was mine," he said petulantly. "Now it is not." Why was he whining like a child?
"You gave it to the water," the Doomsman agreed, "but it was never yours."
Maedhros looked up at his response, meeting the glittering eyes of the Vala. He was not accustomed to looking up at people. Finally, he understood the difference between his captivity here and on the Mountain of Thangorodrim. He exclaimed in wonder, "There is no evil in your darkness."
"Only what you bring with you."
Maedhros looked down at his clenched left hand, unable to meet the burning eyes of the Doomsman of the Valar any longer. "At least the pain is still mine," he said quietly.
The Lord of Mandos smiled. "When you are ready, you will give that up as well."
"I am ready to see my family now," he answered quickly, looking up. He had not forgotten their last conversation.
"Are you ready to answer for your deeds?" the stern figure countered.
Maedhros looked at him and tilted his head, calculating. "Judgement before reunions?" he asked.
"Tell me, Maedhros, why are five of your brothers dead?"
"Our Oath…" Maedhros began, but the Doomsman shook his head.
"Nay, heir of Fëanor, it was not the Oath who led your brothers to their deaths. And I will not permit you to see them again until you acknowledge what you did after the Fifth Battle."
Maedhros squared his shoulders, enraged. "Do not accuse me of that, Lord. Well you know that it was no fault of mine that Beren recovered a Silmaril from the belly of the wolf. I never met Lúthien of Doriath."
"No, but you killed her son and grandsons."
Maedhros’ eyes blazed. "Do not… confuse… my actions… with those of my brothers!" he shouted.
"Who led the army against Doriath?" the Lord of Mandos countered. "Who gave the orders to attack elves for the first time in five hundred years of the Sun?"
"I…couldn’t help it!" Maedhros wailed, shocked to hear himself crying. "Why did Celegorm have to meet Lúthien? Why? If he had never seen her…"
"You do not need to answer for that," the Voice broke through his distressed sobs.
"But that was the problem!" Maedhros shouted, his tears forgotten. "He reminded Curufin of the Oath, and Curufin stirred up all of my brothers. I only restrained them by appealing to Celegorm to leave Lúthien’s family in peace while Beren yet lived."
"What did you hope to gain by the delay?" the Lord of Mandos asked shrewdly.
"Celegorm was taken with Lúthien. Men do not live forever, nor do they return. I… did not know what she would do when he died, but I thought…"
"You thought she would marry another?"
"I…I did not know," Maedhros said miserably. "After all, you permitted my grandfather to do so…."
"No, I did not," he answered sharply. "Lord Manwë alone could grant such a request."
"But you granted her request!" Maedhros said angrily. "She died! She wasn’t supposed to. All my carefully constructed cautions went up like so much straw left too near the fire. Celegorm could be restrained from making demands of his fair Lúthien, but her son? Nay," he laughed, "all the charisma of Elfinesse could not have restrained my brothers. My only fault was in not being greater than I was made to be!"
"Your only fault? Fifty-three elves in my care fell to your sword that day."
Maedhros crumpled to his knees and buried his face in his hands, ignoring the pain. "What was I to do?" he wailed. "I had no choice." He wept silently, his shoulders shaking. Neither spoke until his sobs subsided.
"Are you ready for judgement?" the Lord of Mandos asked again suddenly.
Maedhros looked up. "It will be much worse than this, will it not?" The Lord of Mandos nodded. "But there is a chance that afterwards I may see my family?" He nodded again.
Maedhros got back to his feet, his head held erect. "You will find that I can endure great pain," he said gravely. "I do not wish to wait any longer."
"So be it."
The room dissolved around him in a swirl of light and colour. He was rather annoyed with himself for losing consciousness yet again.
fëa: spirit/soul; opposite of hroa: body
Nelyafinwë: "Third Finwë" Father-name of Maedhros, designating his place in the succession.
Fëanáro: Fëanor’s name in Quenya, and the one he used in life.
Doomsman: Námo’s titles include Lord of Mandos and Doomsman of the Valar
Powers: A translation of Valar, though Tolkien also uses Authorities
"Maglor lives" is taken from Blind Guardian's 'Nightfall in Middle Earth' CD, being a cool variation on "Frodo lives!" I liked it so much I had to use it :)
When next he woke, he was lying in a pool of light on a stone floor. At first, he thought he was in his prison, but the stone felt wrong and he soon remembered what he had agreed to. He looked up to see the ring of thrones around him. Taking a deep breath to fortify himself, he stood and walked to the edge of the light. Facing the Elder King of all Arda, he made his plea. "My Lord, Nelyafinwë Fëanorion requests that you and your Queen rescind the Oath we made upon Taniquetal, and that you repeat our request to Eru Ilúvatar, who will not fail to hear your voice. I may indeed have earned the Everlasting Darkness by my deeds alone, but I would not be burdened by my Oath any longer and I would free my brothers of it as well." He dropped to his knees and bowed his head, awaiting his doom.
"Why do you make this request now?" Manwë asked gravely.
Maedhros did not look up. "The Silmarils themselves denied our Oath. It is forfeit." He held up his left hand for the Valar to see, then slowly unclenched his fist. His face screwed up in pain, but he did not cry out or fall to the ground. When it became too much for him to maintain his rigid control, he closed his hand and let his arm fall. The ring was eerily silent, so he opened his eyes and looked up. He addressed Manwë again. "And this has been my first opportunity to speak with you since the day I made the Oath."
"Let us begin with that day," Manwë answered, speaking with quiet authority. Judgement had begun. "We will answer your request before the end, but all in due time." With that, they began to question him about all that he had done on the day the Trees had darkened – the fear of the darkness that had overwhelmed Formenos, and returning to find his grandfather slain. Bringing the news to his Father, and seeing the change that came over him with that knowledge. Fëanáro’s blatant disregard for his Ban in entering Tirion, and summoning the Noldor. He would have smiled to think that, even at his son's judgement, Fëanor took centre stage, but then they were questioning him about his own actions in that torch-lit square. He did not know how much the Valar already knew, but he was the last Fëanorean to be judged (save Maglor), so there was no purpose in holding anything back. He was inclined to be truthful, but it would not be easy when they moved on to….
"What started the fight at Alqualondë?" asked Tulkas, looking for all the world as though he would personally leap up and pummel Maedhros if he did not like the answer.
"Father’s meeting with Olwë Lord of Alqualondë was cordial enough, though little to his liking. Afterwards… he merely said, ‘We need the ships,’ and I understood he meant to take them, by force if need be, having little other choice. We were all of us armed with swords, while the Teleri of the Havens were not. We hoped… we hoped that after a show of force, they would back down. We did not know… Why did they give their lives for those ships?" he cried out in despair, interrupting the narrative.
"Do you not know why someone would die for the work of his hands?" Yavanna asked gravely, her voice like the rustling of leaves in a great forest.
"But they didn’t need to! We told them we were taking the ships – their deaths did not change that. Why could they not let us have them without bloodshed?"
"Son of Fëanor, the ships were not yours," Ulmo answered, in a voice as cold as the depths of the Sea.
"I know," Maedhros whispered miserably. "But we needed them – there was no other way."
"Was there not?" spoke the clear voice of Varda, commanding respect. "The Noldor could not have built their own ships?"
"Not in time," Maedhros shook his head, cold fear welling up in him. What had his Father not admitted to?
"It was not possible to reach the Outer Lands without ships, then?" she continued.
"At the time, we thought not," Maedhros said quietly, knowing the hosts of Fingolfin had proved him wrong.
"Seldom has Fëanáro been accused of a lack of creativity," Irmo of Lorien spoke up suddenly.
"We did not have the luxury of hindsight," Maedhros spoke sharply. "Nor did we have a long age to deliberate. The hasty stroke goes oft astray. We were wrong, but we did not know…" One glance from Manwë silenced him.
"You knew, Nelyafinwë. When Carnistir tried to take one of Curufinwë’s toy horses, what did you say to him?"
Maedhros stared at the Lord of Arda slack-jawed. He remembered that day suddenly perfectly clearly.
He had been writing out a scroll, practicing the beautiful flowing Tengwar that put Rumil’s scratchings to shame. An account of how Oromë had found the first elves that his grandfather had written, he remembered. For some time he had been pointedly ignoring the sounds coming from the next room. But then a sharp wail arose, and he leapt up. Carnistir had the wooden horse in his hand, holding it high above his head. Curufinwë (he was only a small boy yet) was wailing and kicking at his older brother.
"Carnistir, give it back," Maitimo demanded.
"But he won’t share, and I asked nicely," Carnistir whined, his face cross.
"Give it back," Maitimo repeated, starting to get angry.
"But he already has all of your and Macalaurë’s old horses," Carnistir insisted. "Can’t I have just one?"
Maitimo crossed into the room, and grabbed his brother’s wrist. Curufinwë stopped crying. "This horse," he hissed, "is his. I do not care if he had a whole herd of horses – you cannot take one without his permission. I do not go into your room and take your and Tyelkormo’s things, do I?" Carnistir shook his head sullenly. "Just because you can take something doesn’t mean you have any right to." He forced Carnistir’s hand down, and pressed the wrist until he let go. Curufinwë grabbed his treasure and shouted in triumph. "Now, try to play nicely; I do not want to have to come back in here." He gave them each a ‘look’ and then returned to his scroll…
"You…how did you… you saw that?" he asked in utter disbelief. No one answered him. When he got over the shock, he saw what Manwë was saying to him. "You think…we… knew better," he managed to get out quietly.
"You did not need the Valar to teach you that it was wrong to kill the Teleri and take their ships," Estë said sorrowfully. "You did know better, but in your reckless fear…"
"We were not afraid!" he insisted.
"Why your haste?" asked Varda, and then he knew, knew beyond any doubt, that she was right. A sickening feeling took his stomach, and he was glad he had not eaten in years.
"We…had…no…choice," he repeated, but with great uncertainty now. Suddenly, he was on his knees, weeping. "I thought… it was a mistake," he sobbed. "No one was supposed to die. I thought…the plan just went wrong. When they started shooting at us, everything fell apart. I did not know…that our panic had doomed us from the start."
No one spoke until he had mastered himself. Maedhros got to his feet again, but he was badly shaken. He had not thought the Powers could reveal anything new to him, not after hundreds of years of his own introspection on this event. And if he had missed the truth of this…he was suddenly afraid, for the first time, of what was still to come. He remembered Mandos’ words in his prison – had there been another way? Had his choices alone led his brothers needlessly to death? He cast his eyes down, and refused to look at the Valar. He knew he would not like what came next. …
"You have not forgotten my words to you on the margin of Araman," Mandos said.
"Nor will I," Maedhros agreed.
"Yet you did not heed them," Mandos continued.
"It was hardly an invitation to turn back!" Maedhros said, looking up in anger. "I face the Wrath of the Valar now only because I am already dead, and it seems less dire to me than…the Everlasting Darkness."
"So you agreed with the answer of Fëanáro?" Manwë enquired, though his mild tone did not conceal the intentness of the question.
"With all my heart," Maedhros answered. "I felt deeply the theft of the jewels and the slaying of my grandfather. My greatest desire was to seek out he who was responsible, with no heed to the consequences to myself. Had any of my brothers chosen to turn back in that hour, I would have slain him myself." Silence greeted this pronouncement. "I know my words condemn me!" he cried. "But you asked for the truth, and I will not deny it. I knew I could not hope for forgiveness, but what I wanted most in that hour was freedom to pursue my Enemy, and that was precisely what you denied us!"
"Our words would not be any different now," Aulë said, speaking for the first time. "But do you, eldest Son of Fëanor, still feel the way you did that day?"
Maedhros looked down, and did not answer for a long time. He was half-tempted to pretend he had not heard or understood. Finally, he spoke, but he addressed Manwë. "My Lord, the Valar see further than the Eldar. I never would have chosen to wait over six hundred years to see the defeat of Morgoth. But wait I did. No action of mine brought it about any sooner. My vengeance was too hot in those days to be entrusted to another, but now… I can only say that I did what I felt I must, though I acknowledge that it was the Host of the Valar, not the Union of Maedhros, that was victorious." He swayed on his feet, suddenly very weary.
"Do you wish to rest a moment?" Estë asked solicitously, but Maedhros waved her off.
"I can endure this," he gritted out. Then he smiled in her direction suddenly. "But I will never regret Maglor’s songs. I had forgotten until now that Father promised us that much. There is much that is fair in Middle Earth, and it is more dear to me than my homes in Valinor, for everything there is always in danger of being lost."
"You have lost both," Aulë remarked.
"I have lost everything but myself and my pain," Maedhros agreed. "I am here to save the former…if I can," he faltered.
"Tell us about the ships," Varda said, and he went very still. He could not endure her face, for her eyes were more piercing than any of the Valar. The faces of the others were shrouded in shadow, but her face shone with a holy light that was too much for him.
"We chafed at the delay, and our people were yet unused to the bitter cold of Morgoth’s lands. The host of Fingolfin was divided from ours, for they felt they had been drawn into the Kinslaying wrongly. There were not enough ships," and here he looked at Ulmo uneasily, "so we left first." He then told of the crossing, and the landing at Losgar, and they did not interrupt him. "What a disappointment, to find Losgar so very like Araman," he mused. "But we were eager to explore the wide lands."
"Why did you abandon Fingolfin?" Ulmo cut in.
"The…the…decision was not mine. Up to that point, I did not see the depth of Father’s madness. When he resolved to take the ships, I agreed that we should go first. But when we arrived…he would hear nothing of going back. We fought, but he prevailed. The ships were burned, and there was nothing I could do. I thought…I thought I would never see our kinsmen again. It was a bitter day, and my first regret in Endórë."
"And yet still you followed him," Mandos spoke.
Maedhros shrugged. "He is my Father. You knew him. How could I do otherwise? When you spoke of treason, I knew it would never arise within my own family."
Under their questions, he told of their encampment by Lake Mithrim and their first encounter with the orcs – and the death of his father. They did not question him when he spoke of renewing their Oath. "I do not know what he saw in his final moment," Maedhros said, and the Valar did not tell him. But now they came to the decision that cost him his freedom, and he feared their judgement.
"Why did you agree to go alone?" Oromë asked.
"That would have been an unforgivable folly," Maedhros said, annoyed. "I saw no need to keep my word with Him whom I knew to be faithless. I took many men with me, and they were well-armed."
"But not your brothers," Oromë pressed.
"No, not them," Maedhros agreed. "I wanted to…spare them."
"So you knew you would fall there?" Tulkas demanded.
"No!" Maedhros claimed angrily. "I knew Morgoth was not to be trusted. I would not lead them recklessly into danger, as Father had…"
"And yet you went yourself?" Oromë asked again.
"Someone had to go. I knew he would never give us a Silmaril, but if his emissary had brought one to barter with…. And the orcs were so easy to kill."
"What were you protecting your brothers from, then?" Tulkas asked.
Maedhros looked down again. "From being faithless," he said quietly. "I did it because I must, but I wanted to spare them from breaking their word."
"Why you?" Oromë asked for the last time.
"Because it was my idea!" he said in exasperation. "Because I was Father’s heir. Because it was my responsibility."
"Because the trap was set for you," Tulkas continued.
"I…I thought I could avoid the snare," Maedhros said. "I would not have led my most faithful companions to certain death. I simply did not know what the Valaraukar were. They had retreated before us when we tried to rescue Father…." He looked up at bemused faces. "I know now," he said fiercely. "Few in Middle Earth have fought a balrog and lived to speak of it. I seldom do. Well do I know that the only reason I lived that day was because Morgoth had ordered my capture, not my death."
"So you did not go because of your quarrel with your father?" Nienna asked gravely.
"My quarrel? What of it?" Maedhros asked in surprise.
"What did you say to your father in Losgar? You did not mention it earlier."
Maedhros slowly turned to face the throne of Manwë. "We both said many things that would have been best left unsaid," he answered uncomfortably.
"And did you unsay them?" Manwë pressed.
"No, we did not. I do not recall Father ever unsaying anything in his life. I did not take my words back, either, but we both went on as though they had never been spoken."
"What was said, Nelyafinwë?" Manwë asked, his patience clear in his voice. Maedhros thought it safest not to test it any further.
"I…accused him of madness and recklessness. He called me an ungrateful son. I defended myself, saying that never before had I opposed him. He said it was because… never before had he denied me something I truly wanted. I could not argue with that, but assured him that this time I was right and he was wrong. He…" Maedhros paused. "It does not matter what he said. We both spoke in anger. I threatened to go back myself. He burned the ships, and I refused to have anything to do with that. We did not speak to each other for a long time – not until we reached Mithrim. Then he acted as though it never happened."
"So you did not reconcile before his death?" Nienna asked, her voice floating up behind him.
"It was not like that," Maedhros said quickly. "I was at his side when he died. I held his hand."
"You did not put yourself in danger recklessly, then?" Tulkas asked.
"No! I would not have abandoned my brothers like that. Macalaurë was left in a precarious position at my capture. I simply had to do something."
"You were reckless in your grief." Oromë was not asking. Maedhros did not respond.
"What happened then?" Yavanna asked quietly.
Maedhros just shook his head. "I do not remember," he said, though his face flushed scarlet. "I remember losing my sword, but after that…nothing is clear. They took me to Angband and left me chained in a prison cell, for that is where I awoke. Though waking and dreaming were equally foul there…. The chains were too long; I killed the first orc that came into the cell. After that, they were afraid to come near me unless they had more protection. I do not know how long I was there – long enough to learn the base tongue of the orcs. I thought I was going to be left there to rot, but eventually I was taken before Morgoth."
He would not forget that meeting. Morgoth’s words were both shocking and strangely lulling. Ah, the Noldor are fragile flowers, accustomed to the sheltered fields of Valinor. But they will find it much different in my lands, where their slender stalks will be snapped, one by one. Your father has already fallen, and now you have been brought low, stripped of all your power. It is a simple thing to take you up and break your body, Maitimo, but I will not do that yet. No, I will let you see what happens to the others first. Your brothers shall each fall one by one, disfigured. And when you see that the Noldor are straw to be bent to my will, then I will do with you what I will. …
"He gloated over me, assured me that my brothers were cravens who would bow to his will. He said many other things, but I did not listen, for I knew he was a liar. I only had eyes for the Silmarils, which I now saw were in his Iron Crown. We would never reclaim them till we toppled him from his throne, I knew then, but my hatred for him grew greater at each passing moment. I could not conceal the scorn from my face, and he knew my thoughts. Then he grew angry, and assured me that I was not my Father, and that I would break – one day, I would be a thrall to his will, and he would send me back to do evil to my family. I proudly told him that he may kill me or torture me, but that would never be. He laughed." Here Maedhros paused. "I think that was the most awful sound I have ever heard, and I have heard many things that no one should hear. He assured me that I would know the power of a Vala before my life ran out – and then he cursed me. I was aware of no more." He scowled, displeased with the memory of his own weakness. "When next I awoke, I was chained to the Mountain by a band of iron." He realized suddenly that Nienna was weeping. "Don’t – I…it is alright now. Please, I…" He was disconcerted.
"Do not deny my sister her tears," said the Lord of Mandos. "Now, tell us about the Mountain."
Nelyafinwë Fëanorion: Maedhros son of Fëanor
Carnistir: Caranthir’s mother name in Quenya
Curufinwë: Father name of both Fëanor and his son Curufin.
Macalaurë: Mother name of Maglor in Quenya
Maitimo: Mother name of Maedhros in Quenya
Tyelkormo: Mother name of Celegorm in Quenya
The ages of Fëanor’s sons are not known, but the birth order seems to be: Maedhros, Maglor, Celegorm, Caranthir, Curufin, the twins. Caranthir is the middle child, but apparently not so close to his brothers before or after him. (It is also possible that Caranthir is actually younger than Curufin – but not in this story.)
Endórë: Middle Earth
"Why are you so interested in the years I spent chained there?" Maedhros said in exasperation. "Nothing happened – nothing," he said. "At first I tried to escape – I scratched at the rock with my fingernails, bit at the iron with my teeth. Nothing happened, except that my fingers bled and my teeth chipped. But slowly I weakened, so that eventually, I could no longer lift myself. Then I had nothing to do but contemplate my fate. I never fully despaired of rescue, but I knew it would be unlikely. No one knew where I was. I did not even know myself. Except Morgoth. He did not leave me quite alone. He sustained my strength – just enough to keep me alive. It did not take him long to discover the way to disarm my defenses. Sometimes he sent me evil visions, and there was a voice…" He broke off suddenly. "But I was alone. He did not think of me often."
"Whom did your thoughts turn to in that time?" Mandos asked.
"You!" he shouted back. "My days were very long and very evil. Bitterly, I called out to the Valar, begging for pity enough to release me. I called to all of you," his eyes swept the circle, "but most often to he who kept my father, grandfather and grandmother. I did not forget your words in Araman. I knew there would be no pity for me, but I begged only for death. Still, you did not hear me." Mandos did not answer. "Or would not! But it was all the same. I called for my brothers, but they could not hear me. I called for my Father, but he was taken from me. I even called on Ilúvatar, beyond the circles of the world."
"You did not cease calling," Manwë said. "Why not?"
"Then you did hear me!" Maedhros said. This small triumph sustained him enough to speak the next part. "I felt myself weakening. I came to know that, given enough time, Morgoth would have been right. I would become too weak to resist, and then he would break me – and indeed send me back to my brethren as his slave, if he wished. That was the one fate I could not accept, but the only alternative seemed to be death, since escape was not possible. So that was what I pleaded for." He paused. "What I have seen of death is not nearly as bad as that was. I suppose it could be worse."
"Your judgement is not over yet," Ulmo pointed out, "and judgement is always part of death."
"Men fear the Eldar, for we seemingly die not. The Eldar fear the Valar, for you neither die nor are judged."
"Little enough do you know of the life of the Valar, Maitimo son of Fëanor," Vairë the Weaver spoke. "Speak of what you know, and tell us the real reason you never gave up your pleas."
"I did!" Maedhros said angrily. "I told you that when I grew too weak to move, I began to fear what more Morgoth could do to me against my will."
"Let it never be said the sons of Fëanor lack courage," Tulkas said, smiling. "Though a wiser elf may have known fear sooner."
Maedhros ducked his head, seeing for the first time the pride behind his words, and knowing it looked foolish. "I did not give up," he said quietly. "I resolved to fight him to the end of my strength. I knew that Morgoth would never fear me, for he thought he knew me and all my weaknesses. He…learned to exploit them. But he does know fear. He fears you, sometimes, and Ilúvatar always, I think. While your names were on my lips, his phantoms did not torment me. So even though you answered not, I did not cease to cry out to you, to hold off the hour when I would not be able to distinguish between phantom and reality."
"Was that the only reason?" Mandos asked.
"Do you know what it is to be alone?" Maedhros countered. "I was alone. No beast came near me, even. I could hear the cries of other captives, but they were far from me. I took to… I would ask Ilúvatar to grant them a speedy death. I…did not know if he would hear me, but I was helpless to do aught else for them. I tried to give them names, to distinguish their voices, but I could not, not really. Everyone screams the same way, especially when you can only hear the echoes. My own thoughts went in circles, endlessly repeating, and I knew that that way lie madness…and a swift defeat. And so I spoke to the only ones who had any chance of hearing me – you." His eyes again swept the circle, and he turned slowly to face them each in turn. "I accepted a breath of air or a buffeting wind storm in the name of Manwë, Lord of Winds. Every glimpse of stars through the dark smokes that ever arose from Angband was a prayer for endurance and deliverance to Varda, for with them before my eyes, hope could not fully die. The cold rock at my back connected me to the Earth – it was my reality. And if the work of Aulë could be broken and twisted, but not destroyed… there was hope for me. I begged you not to let my mind fail. The hopes and fears of my heart I poured out to Ilúvatar, begging him to take my life before I could do any of Morgoth’s bidding. My worry for my brothers, that they would not be drawn into his nets…. This is what I thought of as the years passed and the stars wheeled overhead and my strength failed. I do not choose to remember what the voice of Morgoth said to me in that time – the iron band was his, and that is what I chose to hate." He shuddered in exhaustion. This time was difficult to recall, but they had not condemned him for any of it, strangely – not even his more brazen remarks.
"And then the Moon rose," he said with a scowl. "I cringed like a creature of Morgoth, and then I knew my time was running out. He could make me…desire things that I did not want, so that I would sometimes thirst for the coppery tang of blood. But this fear of light was more disturbing than any other foreign cravings he had subjected me to. I forced myself to look at it, and eventually grew accustomed to this new light. It was then that I … that I missed Valinor as it was, before the Darkening of the Trees. I knew this new light was yours," he said, looking at Yavanna, "but you did not hoard it…"
"Should Light be hoarded?" she asked, looking at him steadily with her deep eyes. He found himself unable to look away.
"Morgoth hoarded the Silmarils in Angband, and all that I know of what he did there is wrong."
"Have you known anyone else to hoard Light?" she continued.
"That – that’s different!" he said angrily. "My father was just protecting his treasure…."
"Is that so?" asked Aulë. "Would not the jewels have been safer upon Taniquetil at the feast than locked in his hoard?"
Maedhros paused, but then shook his head as if chasing away an annoying insect. "Blame the thief, not the victim. Morgoth lusted for those jewels. Think you he would not have assailed you here, if need be?
But Yavanna answered, "It was not your sire I spoke of, Son of Fëanor."
"M-me?" he asked in disbelief.
"This is your judgement, after all," Aulë answered reasonably.
"But I never had any Light to hoard," he said in confusion.
"Never?" asked the Lord of Mandos.
"Not until…the end," he whispered. A silence fell. Maedhros wanted to remind them of the madness that was upon him in that hour, but hesitated. "If… if the jewel had permitted it…" he began, uncertainly, "it would have been better to wear it for all to see, rather than to lock it in a hoard. I… had little opportunity to do either." No one spoke, and he did not know how they took his words.
"Return to the Mountain," the Doomsman said. Maedhros gave him an exasperated look, but complied. "After the Moon came the Sun, and I wondered greatly at the brightness of it. It warmed the rock and gave me a little strength, but it was wholesome, unlike the poison that sustained me. I perceived that it was a challenge to the power of Morgoth, who could no longer prevent plants from taking root in his land. Every speck of green I could see I cheered on in its rebellion against the Lord of Angband. But then the reek of Morgoth blocked out the sun, as it had blocked out the stars. I…am not sure what happened then. I became confused. I dreamed of water, but also of many evil things. I think I may have forgotten who I was, or why I was supposed to be fighting Morgoth. I could not rouse myself from the dreams. Until… I heard the horns. Elf-horns, not the braying of the orc-hosts. At first I thought it was my brothers, but I did not hear the mighty horn of Celegorm, whose voice I would recognize anywhere. And the host was too large. Then I thought that a host had come from Valinor, and that Father’s words in Tirion had proved true – that the Valar themselves would follow him. As that hope soared in my heart, I found my voice once again, and cried out hoarsely. But I was not heard. Then reason returned, and I knew that the host at Angband’s gate were exiled Noldor…and that they were doomed, as was I. I wept for the first time in years. I wished then that Father had gone into exile with only his sons. No cousins, no armies…no ships. Little enough we could have done alone against the Power of the North, but at the least…" He stopped.
"What did you regret, child?" Nienna asked, her quiet voice still choked with tears.
Maedhros looked at her hesitantly, at a loss. He did not know how one of the Powers could be so… gentle. "Not my rebellion," he said swiftly. "I did what I had to do. But…our people…should have stayed in Tirion. The Noldor of Formenos would have followed Father anywhere if asked…but…we should not have asked. We had called forth all our people to a bitter doom, in a war without hope. And we had… we slew the Teleri and took their ships. How could they see us as kin any longer? Morgoth is my enemy forever, because he slew my grandfather the King and stole my Father’s treasure. When the slaves of Morgoth took the sword that Father had made me…I do not know if it had tasted more orc blood than elf blood." He shuddered again, and swayed on his feet.
"You may be seated," Estë reminded him.
"No. I can…do this," he insisted. He steadied himself. "When the host withdrew, I fell into a swoon. I did not even dream, as far as I remember. The next thing I heard was a song from Valinor, one I had not heard for hundreds of years. I thought… I thought many wild things. I took up the song, and then I saw him. My cousin Findekáno, beyond all hope, beyond the Sundering Sea, beyond Morgoth’s maze, had found me. He tried to reach me, but the cliff proved unscalable – steep and smooth, there was no purchase. He was frustrated, to get so close, but be unable to reach me…but I had never dreamed of rescue being possible, and only saw the chance for release to death. I spoke truly before," he said, turning to the Doomsman. "I would have come to your Halls, and gladly, in that hour, for being your prisoner until the end of Arda could not be worse than being a thrall of Morgoth. But Findekáno …did not see it that way. He was loathe to release me. I have always wondered..." Here he turned to face the Elder King. "Why you granted his request instantly, Manwë-to-whom-all-birds-are-dear, while you had studiously ignored mine for years."
Manwë looked at him gravely. "You have just answered your own question. In all those years, you begged only for death. But when the time was right, I sent you freedom. If I seemed to be silent, it was because you insisted on asking for too mean a boon."
"You…you did not abandon the Noldor? Not even…the sons of Fëanor?" he asked in shock. "I thought your silence was…"
"Little did you know of the Valar when you left Valinor," Vairë pointed out to him. "Seldom have you perceived our actions, and little do you understand our thoughts."
"Forgive me," he said, abashed. "I…never thanked you."
"More good may have come of the gift if you had thought to do so earlier," Manwë admonished him, "But it was freely given."
"Truly?" Maedhros asked, before he could catch himself for his audacity. If Manwë Lord of Arda did not speak truthfully, what hope was there anywhere?
"My cousin assured me that you learned something on the Mountain. I was willing to let you act on it. Here, we will judge what you did with the gift."
Maedhros quailed. "No elf may answer for his life. Were I guiltless, I could not answer such a charge."
"And you are far from guiltless, kinslayer thriceover," Ulmo spoke again.
"What price must I pay to be free of that name?" he asked in despair, his face decidedly pale. "I endured Morgoth’s hell as long as I could. Must I do the same for each of you?"
"Nay!" Manwë answered, his eyes blazing suddenly. "We have disowned my brother – he is no Vala. We will do you no evil."
"No evil?" Maedhros asked, and his voice was low and cold. His eyes glinted in a way that would have made any elf take a step back, though the Valar seemed unperturbed. "Then what is this?" He thrust his hand forward and opened it heedlessly. Then cried out in dismay, as the pain that roiled through him was so much worse than anything he had experienced before. He fell to the ground as wave after wave of intense burning pain coursed through every fiber of his being. He was not even able to close his hand before he became insensate.
When he returned to consciousness, his torso shook uncontrollably, and his left hand was clenched to his chest in a tight fist. The memory of pain was still raw, but it had receded, so his sobs and wracking cries lessened. Still curled in on himself, he managed to whisper, "What was that?"
Ulmo’s deep voice reached him. "As you told us yourself, that is yours."
The Lord of Mandos continued, "As I told you, the only evil in my Halls is what you bring with you."
"Mine. Not yours," Maedhros repeated. He used his right hand to draw himself up, and then paused, not sure if he could trust his long legs to obey him yet. They were much safer tucked under him on the ground, for now. "My pain…on the mountain. It was enough to give me another chance. Not…erase the Kinslaying, or the betrayal of the host of my uncle Fingolfin, but enough to…."
"Enough to heal some of the wounds," Estë said.
He nodded. "Can this," and here he held up his left hand, clenched tightly into a fist, "heal some of the wounds that came later?" Silence greeted his question. "Can it?" he pleaded. "The Elves of Doriath and the Havens will always hate me, I think, but I did not come here to beg for forgiveness undeserved."
"What do you seek from our judgment?" Manwë asked him.
"My family," Maedhros whispered. "The Lord of Mandos will not allow me to see my brothers until…until I came here. If then."
"When my vassal brought you and Findekáno to Mithrim, you were reunited with your brothers," Manwë stated, returning to their discussion of his life.
"All I remember of that trip is the feel of the wind, and of the eagle feathers. For a long time after my return, I slept. I was famished, so I ate whenever I was awake. Slowly I learned to be among people again, and to speak Sindarin. And…I learned how things were between the divided hosts of the Noldor. I spoke to Maglor, as he called himself then, and he was in agreement with me, so at the earliest opportunity…"
"You gave up all right to the Kingship, and dispossessed your family," Aulë said bluntly.
"Yes, I did. I was Father’s heir, but Fingolfin was the one who could unite us. And with Father gone…he was Finwë’s heir." Maedhros stood, his legs not shaking any longer. "My brothers had little choice but to acknowledge my lordship, so I did not lose any authority among the Fëanoreans. I had no right to rule those my Father had abandoned, and could do more as an ally of their Kings. It was the wisest choice I could make, though some ill did come of it."
"Why did you consult with Maglor alone, and not all of your people?" Aulë asked.
"If you consult with all the people before a decision is made, it will never be made," Maedhros answered shortly. "I announced decisions to the people after they were made, and allowed them to acclaim them…or rebel against me."
"Did you treat your brothers in this way as well?" Yavanna asked, almost amused, for some reason.
"Of course not. My brothers were all Princes of the Noldor and leaders of companies. I consulted them first, and explained why I wished to acknowledge our uncle’s claim. I had taken up Father’s helm, since my own was lost when I was captured. My brothers would accept my judgement. But I wanted Maglor’s agreement, because he was the ruler in my absence, and he would be my heir, if necessary."
"You knew then that you would never have children?" asked Vana. He had not even realized she was present before, she had been so quiet through the proceedings.
"Yes," he said in surprise. "I…had not thought of it, but…I knew I would never marry."
"Did you…" the Lord of Mandos began, but Maedhros whirled on him and cut him off.
"No, I did not figure that out on the blasted mountain!" he said. "For some reason, my prospects for marriage and family were rather far from my mind while chained to that forsaken spot with no hope of rescue! It was afterwards, while I recovered, that I found I had nothing to offer a wife, and no desire to bring children into the world."
"What did you desire?" the Doomsman asked instead. If he was amused by Maedhros’ outburst, he hid it well.
A grim smile spread over Maedhros’ face, and a fell light lit his eyes. "I desired to make good use of my freedom. Morgoth had never counted on my getting loose, and I was willing to make him pay dearly for that miscalculation. By acknowledging Fingolfin as High King, I assured that we had the other Noldor as our allies. Which meant there was nothing to stop me from plotting revenge for the duration of my life."
"How did you intend to avenge yourself upon someone who was unassailable?" Oromë asked.
"I did not hope to hurt him personally," Maedhros admitted with a frown. "But every orc I killed was a blow against him, robbing him of his children…."
"Morgoth had no children," Varda stated quickly.
"No, and he did not care for the orcs. But they were worth something to him. It was a blow to lose them, however small, and I resolved to rob him of as many of them as I could."
"So you decided that your spared life was meant to be spent in hunting Morgoth’s orcs?" The disapproval in Manwë’s tone was not hidden.
Maedhros paused, considering how to answer. "The concept of my life being spared did not occur to me. I saw it rather as…Morgoth’s plans for me being thwarted. But no, that was not my only goal. I wished to unite all the Noldor. I knew that alone, the Fëanoreans would never be victorious – our host was too small. And I…I did not forget my friendships with those who followed Fingolfin. I owed my life to his son Fingon, and I had of old enjoyed the friendship of his companions, the younger sons of Finarfin. Such friendships were cooled in those days, but I did not forget them. I saw my role as making peace among our peoples. And keeping my brothers out of trouble."
"The diplomat, then, not just the orc-slayer," Aulë said thoughtfully.
"I was both," Maedhros said. "As my strength returned, I listened to the news and the conflicts, judging our best course. But I also trained to fight left-handed, and my body re-knit my sinews so that I was not the person who left Aman, but a strong and hardy warrior of Endórë. Few could match me, but in battle I was my father’s son."
They questioned him then about many things, his decisions on matters small and large, and allowed him to re-tell events that had been repeated in song many times before his death. Always the questions seemed to return, though, to how he had ruled his brothers, and how he had fought Morgoth. They were not as interested in his attempts to make peace with others. He did not mention the Oath, and they did not ask about it. But as he told of the defeat of the Battle of Sudden Flame, he knew it was drawing near to the time when they would question him about his ill-fated Union, and the Unnumbered Tears. Surely some of that lay on his shoulders, though little could he have done differently. Or so he thought now.
Findekáno: Fingon’s Quenya name, used here because he had not yet been given his other name in the time they are discussing.
Endórë: Middle Earth
I see Maedhros’ recovered body as being not unlike Lance Armstrong after his recovery from cancer.
The title for this chapter was taken from the title of a book by Fr. Ken Roberts. He, in turn, got the title by randomly opening a bible several times, and noticing that people were always going ‘up on a mountain’ to meet God and pray.
"What did you do when you learned of Beren’s Quest?" Oromë asked him.
"Curufin and Celegorm returned on a single horse, disgraced and alone. I demanded they see me alone and answer the rumors that preceded them. They… were fools. I never did ascertain their intent, but I gathered that they had insulted Thingol of Doriath and angered the people of Nargothrond. That alone would have been enough reason to berate them, but they could not hide from me that King Finrod Felagund was dead, and they were not guiltless in this. At that, I threw them out, saying that they were not fit to be stable boys, let alone King’s sons."
He paused, surprised by his anger; it had returned as he spoke, but quickly fell away again. "Perhaps… I was not entirely fair. Had I been there when the Quest was announced, I would not have taken it well. Thingol made little effort to conceal his scorn for my family, despite his ancient friendship with Grandfather. It would have served him just as well if Lúthien had loved Celegorm. But it was not wise of me to alienate my brothers in that hour. Curufin had long since outgrown my handling."
"Why were you so angry?" Estë asked.
He looked at her warily. There was much strength in her, nor was she as soft as she seemed. "I felt the noose tighten," he said. "I knew their deeds would bring our doom nearer. And news of the Quest of Beren stirred things in me I… I would rather have left alone."
"You threw them out because they reawakened the Oath?" Oromë asked.
"I did not see that until… until Beren succeeded. I was more concerned about our ruined alliances that I had fostered for four hundred and fifty years. My heart had rejoiced when I learned that Finrod of Nargothrond had escaped the ruin of the Dagor Bragollach. To lose him now was a heavy blow."
"But once the Silmaril was regained?" Varda prompted.
"I had two choices before me, so naturally I took both," he grinned, though the smile quickly faded. "I resolved to do my duty in recovering all three Silmarilli. Well did I know that Thingol King of Doriath would be loath to relinquish the jewel to my brothers, and me least of all. Never once had he deigned to meet with me nor even admit us to his guarded realm. But I knew rumor of our Oath would give even his proud heart pause. So I charged Maglor with writing to him." His brow furrowed. "In this, my brothers thwarted me. Curufin and Celegorm laid hands on the missive before it was sent and… rewrote it. There was no chance of a favorable response from Doriath to the letter they sent, but they were restless, and I… I allowed it," he said wearily. "I had already begun planning the diversion."
"The second choice you spoke of."
Maedhros nodded. "I planned to assail Morgoth. If my Uncle could face him in battle, so could I. And if an elf-maiden could slip past his defenses… perhaps he was not as unassailable as we had always believed."
"The Union of Maedhros was simply a diversion to distract your brothers from Thingol of Doriath?" Yavanna asked skeptically.
"No! The Oath said Morgoth had our undying hatred. I felt he should taste it more bitterly. And he… he did not seem to weaken with the passing years. Whereas we… we had lost the sons of Finarfin, and Fingolfin the High King. We needed to strike soon, and with all our strength."
"All that could be mustered," Maedhros amended. "No aid in our long war would come to us from Doriath, now least of all. And my brothers had cost me Nargothrond. I would have despaired, but Fingon the Valiant was now High King in his father’s stead. He could persuade where Fingolfin or I could not. Turgon King of Gondolin never would have heeded my pleas for his aid. But he did not turn a deaf ear to his brother. And the Edain were multiplying. So they reinforced our hosts. New Men out of the East came to us in that hour. And we had the dwarves of Nogrod and Belegost to outfit our armies in steel. I reckoned that our full strength was enough to overwhelm the force that Angband had mustered for the Dagor Bragollach.
"What went wrong?" Oromë asked.
"The Men of the East proved faithless, and Fingon’s forces did not await our signal." Against his will, he turned to face the Lord of Mandos. "Your words proved true. We were betrayed. Was there truly no hope in our War without your aid, or were we just cursed?"
"Yes," Mandos answered, but did not elaborate.
Maedhros turned away in frustration. "We failed. I almost died that day. Most of my host was lost. And Fingon…was utterly destroyed. We fled south…" He paused, thinking of something new. "But perhaps it would have been better if we had not survived, and Fingon had cut his way out before the balrogs arrived. Then nothing that came after…."
"It was your fate to survive the battle, and you will not be faulted for that," Manwë answered him.
"Then when was I supposed to die?" he asked in exasperation, his eyes straying back to the Doomsman. "You insist I waited too long, but if it was not on the mountain and it was not here… do you think if I had fallen in Doriath my surviving brothers would have spared the Havens?"
"No. It would have been best for you if you had died before that."
"But…but little happened in the interval. How was I to fall? A simple accident? Surely you are not suggesting I should have been bested by those absurd bandits who attacked us before we reached Amon Ereb?"
"No. Something very important happened in the interval between the end of the Fifth Battle and the Second Kinslaying."
"Our… our decision to march on Doriath," he whispered. The Doomsman nodded. "But I told you, I could not restrain them! And my own Oath constrained me. When Dior refused, there was nothing I could do."
"Nothing?" Varda asked, and a profound silence fell.
He looked around the Circle in horror. "You wanted me to fight them! To attack my own brothers – to kill them!"
"No. To die at their hands. To refuse to march with them. To forswear your Oath."
Maedhros shook his head. "No," he said in a hoarse whisper. "No…" His eyes darted around the Circle again, as if trying to find a way to escape. He sank to the ground. "No," he said again. "I could never have done that. I was truly doomed."
"Kinslayer, how will you answer for your deeds in Doriath?" Ulmo asked.
"I cannot," Maedhros said to the stony ground, which was as unyielding as those who sat in judgement. "I regret what was done that day, and bitterly do I rue the loss of Dior’s sons. But there is no way to undo my deeds. Three of my brothers paid the price, but I did not. I have no choice but to stand before you guilty and bloodstained."
But he did not stand. His back bowed, and his head fell, almost to the ground. He fervently wished for the stones to swallow him up, but he knew there was no escape. How can you condemn a dead man, though? He feared little now, but the thought of the Eternal Darkness that waited for him shook him as a chill ran through him.
Mustering his courage, he spoke once more, without looking up. "I will accept whatever punishment you mete out as well-deserved, since I have no answer," he said helplessly.
Only silence answered him.
"What did you learn in Doriath?" Mandos asked.
That was enough to rouse Maedhros, who glared at him. "That my sword had grown much deadlier since Alqualondë." He struggled to his feet. "That losing a brother is as painful as losing a father. That murder is the ugliest way to deface a hroa. That my Oath was cruel and I was doomed. I tried…I tried to forswear it. When I learned of the Havens, I did nothing. But…I could not escape. It chafed me, robbed me of my rest, haunted my dreams, disturbed my thoughts. My brothers suffered under my constraint, my insistence on doing nothing, but they would not gainsay me. My remaining brothers ever followed me faithfully in all things…."
He began weeping. "The Assault on the Havens rests solely on my head. They would not have done it without my permission. But I couldn’t…I couldn’t bear the torment of the Oath unfulfilled any longer. It gnawed at me. And so finally, I sent to them, demanding the jewel, begging them for it. If they had only yielded…."
"But they did not."
"No. And so I…I tried to take it. But we failed. And at the end of the day, I had only one brother." He shook his head, trying to banish his grief. "I…would take back the needless deaths if I could, but I cannot. We gained nothing by either Kinslaying. Nothing but grief and mistrust. I wanted only to save my lost brothers from the Eternal Darkness, but I couldn’t even do that. And…" He composed himself and turned to face Ulmo, meeting his eyes for the first time. "Lord, I know you have little love for my Father’s House. Only Fingon could be an ally of both Turgon and me. Though it seems a small thing, I must say that I did not harm the young sons of Eärendil. If you cannot forgive me for aught else, please, I beg of you, do not forget that. They did not grow up fatherless – Maglor loved them truly."
Maedhros looked around the Circle helplessly. "Maglor should be here," he said simply, puzzled.
"You are grieved that your brother did not die with you?" Manwë asked sternly.
"No! Not that…" Maedhros answered impatiently. "But he told me… he said we would face this together."
He remembered the last bitter debate on the edge of despair. Maglor had wanted to return to Valinor and sue for pardon. Had pleaded with him in hope, and then when that did not work, in quiet despair. ‘We faced Father’s wrath together as children,’ he had said, and it was true – they had. Whenever one of them was scolded, the other stood by silently in support. Silent, because speaking meant being sent away. It was Maedhros’ first act to protect his younger brother. He took it very seriously, and was surprised the day his little brother did the same for him…after he had ruined something of Father's he had no permission to touch. And on that terrible day when their lives had changed forever, Maglor stood beside him as he brought the news to their father of Finwë's death. ‘In Middle Earth, we have faced the Wrath of Morgoth together all these long years.’ True again. Maglor was closest to Himring, and had never deserted him in any battle. ‘We have survived the War of Wrath. Now let us go to Valinor and face the Wrath of the Valar – together. I will not abandon you now.’ And those words had sealed their fate, for Maglor had no choice but to bow his head in acceptance when he had answered, ‘I will not take the Oath to Valinor unfulfilled, for I dread to fulfill it there.’
"He should be here," he said aloud.
"Even had you died together, you would have faced judgement alone, as all beings do," Yavanna answered.
"Many pronouncements have been made by the Valar telling us what we may and may not do," Maedhros answered sharply. "This would not be the first we of the House of Fëanor have disregarded. We would have found a way."
"Just as you found a way to defeat Morgoth?" came the cold reply.
"That was not from lack of trying," he retorted. "But I rejected Eonwë’s summons, so we did not come here together." He passed his right hand across his face. "Maglor yet lives," he said softly. "How could he bear the torment?"
"He could not," Ulmo answered, "but he lives nonetheless."
"You have spoken enough, Nelyafinwë," Manwë proclaimed. "Are you ready to hear your doom?"
Besides being completely appropriate, the title of this chapter was inspired by Jenny Dolfen’s painting by the same name.
hroa = body
Nelyafinwë - Maedhros' father-name
"Ready? I truly do not know how I could be. But I will listen." He threw his shoulders back and drew himself up to his full height, head erect. Suddenly, the Ring of Doom was suffused with light. For the first time, he could clearly see each Vala seated on a throne. The full weight of this moment fell on him, and he shuddered. His fate was not in his hands; it was in theirs. "First, you will face those of your victims who are willing to face you," the Lord of Mandos said. Maedhros had no desire to see those whose deaths he had caused, but he was not afraid of them, either. After all, he had seen all of them before – in the moment they had died. First came the elves of Alqualondë, who were mostly silent, though their looks were accusing. He found himself counting them, just to see. But then he remembered that these were only the ones who wished to look on him, and gave up. He was surprised to see elves of Formenos who had drowned on the ships, though less surprised to see the ones who had died with Fëanor. Then came his troop that fell when he was taken. He took a deep breath – nearly all of them were there. The captain Carnildo stepped forward. "My lord, forgive us for not saving you from the demons of fire." Maedhros bowed low before them. "I hold you guiltless in all that happened that day, and after. Forgive me for leading you rashly to your deaths." They kneeled, and were gone. The procession was long, for the years that followed in the Hither Lands were full of death and destruction, and he was the Lord of all the Fëanoreans, and thus responsible for all that happened in East Beleriand. Soldiers and innocents, young and old – even some Children of Men and dwarves joined the procession. Some were silent, their faces sad, or even full of pity. Others were enraged, or barely contained their anger and resentment. He forced himself to remain silent and not respond to any barbs that were slung at him. Well he knew that he had an audience, and that those on the thrones would decide his fate, not his victims. At the last came those who had fallen in the Kinslayings of Doriath and the Havens. These were hardest to look at, but he steeled his heart and regarded them all impassively. But then at the last, two young elflings stood hand in hand between the thrones of Manwë and Varda, gazing at him uncertainly. They took a few tentative steps forward, but did not speak. Maedhros looked on them in horror. "No! These are not mine!" he shouted, his eyes wild. "I did not leave them to die, I did not order it. I slew the elves who did this! I tried to find them, but I could not. Why do you bring these specters before me? Why?" For the first time, he reached for the sword that was not there, and cursed when the pain from his left hand shot through his arm. "Children, tell him what happened the day you died," the Lord of Mandos commanded. In a voice that was very young, but not the least bit childish, one of the twins answered. "We were with Atto when the horn sounded. He commanded the servants to take us to the Cave that could be locked, our safest stronghold. He stayed with his warriors." His brother took up the story. "We hurried along the corridors until we reached our hiding place, but it was nearby, so we were soon safe. We heard the sounds of battle, but the servants bid us be silent. We were not there very long when Atto’s swordsmen banged on the heavy door and demanded we let him in, too. It was crowded with his warriors in there, but we were glad he was no longer in the battle." "Then someone else banged on the door," his twin resumed. "But he spoke funny. Our Atto looked for a place for us to hide, but the best we could do was crawl behind shields in back of the servants’ legs. The door shuddered as if a giant were pounding on it. All day the pounding continued, until the door finally splintered apart in shards of twisted metal and chips of flying wood. The battle was fierce, for there was no room in the cramped quarters. The leader of the enemy was tall and fair, like father, but he was dressed in black and all his warriors had dark hair and fell voices. Father fought the leader, and killed him. We hoped that then the other warriors would run away, but they cried out in anger. Two of them attacked Atto, and…" he trailed off, starting to sob. "They killed him," whispered his brother, and the rage in his voice was truly frightening in one so young. "Our warriors tried to save him, but all they could do was kill his murderers. There were too few of them, and they soon fell. Then, only the unarmed servants were left." His brother sniffled. "But they killed them too! So then it was only us. We tried to stay hidden, but they searched the whole room, and found us. They even kept searching after they found us. We could not have hid from them." "We were afraid, but they were afraid, too. They did not know what to do with us. They kept looking at our father, and their fallen lord. Then one of them said, ‘I dare not bring word to the Lord that his brother is dead.’ The others said, ‘The Silmaril is not here. He will be wroth.’" "Then one seized me in his anger, and would have run me through, but the others forbade him. The first one who spoke took me and Elurín and said, ‘I will dispose of the wood-elf’s whelps. You can tell our Lord the news.’ Two others agreed to go with him, so they carried us out of Menegroth, then binding our eyes, took us into the wood. When they finally stopped, it was night. They tied us to a tree, and said, ‘Let the woods keep them.’ Then they left us, and it was bitter cold. We wept for our family and for ourselves." "When we woke we were so cold, but also thirsty. Eluréd broke the clasp on his cloak, and with the sharp edge, we were able to free ourselves. We went in search of a stream, but I don’t remember ever finding one. We were tired and cold, so we lay down together to sleep… and then our spirits fled to him." He pointed at Mandos, who looked at them. Maedhros had to look away. His eyes jerked back when he heard the voice of Mandos. "So you see, these are yours, most assuredly, eldest Son of Fëanor and Lord of the Fëanoreans. They are just the bitterest fruits of the Kinslaying you ordered." He had no answer for the Vala. He dropped to his knees and rocked back on his heels. Looking at the young boys gravely, he said, "Come here." Such was the power of his voice in life that few would disregard his commands. Hesitantly, the twins took a few steps closer to him, then looked back to Mandos. Maedhros did not know what the Vala did, for he did not take his gaze from the young elflings. But they each took a deep breath and crossed the remaining distance to where he waited within the Ring. Maedhros reached out his right hand hesitantly, and very softly touched the hair of Eluréd, tucking it away from his face. He shivered at the contact; it was the first time he had touched someone since his death. "I am truly sorry," he said quietly. "I did not mean for your father to die. It is a terrible thing to lose a father, and you should have had many more years with yours. I looked for you, but I could not find you." "Who are you?" asked Elurín in confusion. "I have never seen you before." Maedhros looked at him gravely. "I am the older brother of the elf who killed your father. It was to me that your killers feared to bring the news." Elurín recoiled in horror, but Maedhros restrained him. "Do you wish to avenge your father’s death?" he asked. "The elves who killed him are already dead," Eluréd pointed out, still sniffling. "And so am I," Maedhros said with a crooked smile. "But my fate has not yet been decided. You know the Lord of Mandos, and he will not refuse to listen to your request. Whatever vengeance you wish to see, you must tell him now." "Why are you saying this?" Elurín asked, forgetting to pull away. "I must accept whatever doom the Valar speak, whether I will or no. But I will gladly accept whatever judgement you render against me, sons of Dior, if only you will hold my debt paid." With that, he let go of Elurín’s arm. But the brothers did not flee. "Our father taught us to say ‘All is well,’ when someone says ‘I am sorry,’" Eluréd remarked thoughtfully. "Your father was noble," Maedhros said, swallowing. "But all is not well. You are dead." Weeping, he pulled both of them to his chest in a fierce hug. "Farewell," he said, releasing them. "You are remarkably like to your sister-sons." They looked bemused by that. "Go on, talk to Mandos now." He shooed them towards the throne of Mandos, then let his own head drop, overwhelmed by grief. He did not look up, so he did not see the two boys scramble onto the throne and be gathered into the Vala’s lap. Even his elven ears did not catch their whispers. But then Mandos laughed, and the sound was both alarming and terrible, but full of joy. Maedhros looked up quickly, forgetting his own grief, indeed forgetting himself. The Lord of Mandos kissed the brow of each elfling, and they vanished. Maedhros wanted to ask what torment they had devised for him, but could not form the words. *** "We have now heard your tale, and you have seen your victims," Manwë said. "Answer our last questions carefully." Maedhros did not stand, but braced himself with a deep breath. "Maitimo, have you a mother?" Nienna asked. He looked at her in confusion. "The Lady Nerdanel, who dwells in Tirion," he replied slowly, trying to heed the warning he had been given. "Why have you never mentioned her, Son of Fëanor?" she continued. "She and my Father quarreled. I last spoke to her before we removed to Formenos." This was all true, but also well-known. He had been told she spoke to his father during the muster of the Noldor in Tirion, but he had not seen her then. "And have you only one grandfather?" she added. "No! My grandfathers are Finwë, first King of the Noldor, and Mahtan the Smith, of the Aulendilli." He was careful to say no more, though he was starting to see where this line of questioning was headed. "Did your love of your Father and your brothers blind you to all other loves? Did you forget the rest of your family?" Nienna asked, her voice laced with sorrow. Maedhros looked down. "I did not forget them," he said quietly. "But the path to Endórë led me far from them. I would be ashamed to face them today. But…I do miss them." This last was barely a whisper. Each of the Valar in turn questioned him about one aspect of his life. Some of the questions he expected; others surprised him. Vana wanted to know about his brother Maglor’s foster sons, while Nessa asked him about his source of strength while he was recuperating in Hithlum. Estë asked him about his dreams in Aman, of all things. He was starting to think that the Valier were not all that bad. Aulë asked him about Himring, which surprised him, but he admitted that that was the one place he had considered home. Mandos asked him why he never foreswore his Oath, and he had to look down while saying that he feared the Eternal Darkness more than he feared the wrath of the Valar or death. Irmo of Lorien asked him whom he spoke with at the Mereth Aderthad, which led to a discussion of why he had brought only Maglor with him, and his vision of the realms in Exile. Yavanna asked about his hopes during the long peace, and tried to draw a parallel to the rising of the Sun, though he did not understand the connection. Vairë asked him why he did not heed the message of Eonwë after the War of Wrath, and with that question he revised his assessment; some of the Valier were not that bad. Tulkas asked him about fighting left-handed, and he suspected that the question was due to honest curiosity rather than any significant meaning or bearing on the current judgement. He smiled wryly. Morgoth was the exact opposite of Tulkas as a warrior – all cunning and strategy, with no personal bravery. Oromë asked about Nargothrond, which was odd, since he had never been there. When Ulmo spoke, he winced, fearing his displeasure, but the question was truly an odd one. "When did you lose your delight in the things of earth?" He wanted to say, "I never did," but he knew the question deserved more consideration than that. He had become weary long before the end, and tormented so that few things gave him pleasure, and few people brought a smile to his face. But…he never truly lost that, did he? "I always took comfort in Maglor’s voice. Even…even at the bitter end. The rising of Eärendil’s star filled my heart with wonder and delight. I never became blind to beauty, though as I became weary I failed to be roused by it. All food tasted like dirt after the Havens. But I shut out the sound of the Sea after Losgar, and so I must suspect that was the answer you were looking for, Lord." When he followed up the question with, "Did you fear me, or your Father?" Maedhros did not know how to answer. "Now, I fear you. My Father has little power over his sons from the Halls of Mandos." He had noted that his Father’s fëa was not among those who had processed before him; neither were any of his brothers’. Only Manwë and Varda refrained from questioning him, and for that, he was glad. *** "Stand," Manwë said, and Maedhros obediently scrambled to his feet. Gone was the haughty prince who had faced them earlier. He looked now as a humble page, patiently awaiting the word of his lords. "It grieves me that you did not make use of the reprieve I granted you," Manwë said sadly. "Even after you saw so clearly what fate awaited you. There are indeed many chances in the world, but we had hoped you would have turned away from the path you chose." "You fought so valiantly to avoid becoming Morgoth’s thrall," Varda continued. "But did you not see that only a thrall of Morgoth would have kept your blasphemous Oath?" Maedhros looked up into the face of Varda, and immediately regretted doing so. Her gaze pierced him to the core; he felt stripped of everything. If he had not already been dead, he would have given up the ghost in that moment. But here and now, there was no escape – he could not even look away. Then Manwë spoke, and his voice was as terrible as Varda’s gaze. "Neither we, nor Taniquetil, nor Ilúvatar ever accepted your Oath. The only Vala who would keep such blasphemy…is your Enemy. In the end, you chose the fate you feared in your captivity. In keeping your Oath, you became the thrall of Morgoth that led each of your brothers to death and torment, and robbed us all of the Light of the Silmarils." Maedhros shrieked in horror. Under any other circumstances, he would have been appalled to hear such a sound emanate from his throat, but as it was, he never noticed. He collapsed with a keening wail, blubbering words that could not be understood. His limbs were shaking, and great shuddering sobs wracked him. He curled tighter into himself, knowing there was no escape from the truth. For the first time, the nothingness of the Eternal Darkness seemed appealing. But even as he thought it, he knew the temptation for a cheat. There was Someone in the Outer Darkness, Someone he would rather not meet again. He would stay here, and face the Doom of the Valar, and count it kind and merciful. They were dreadful, but not evil. He was evil, and deserved whatever they would do to him. His limbs went limp, uncurling, as his sobs subsided. He was too disoriented to think of moving, or of anything else, really. He waited. *** Manwë continued speaking, but Maedhros did not feel skewered by his voice this time. "Lord Námo, what doom would you give to Nelyafinwë Fëanorion?" he asked. "The doom he requested," Námo answered gravely. Intrigued, Maedhros put the effort into sorting out which direction was up, so he could lift his head. He got it right on the third try, and managed to turn his head towards the correct throne. "The doom of Eluréd and Elurín was this: that he not be parted from his Father. For his crimes, not least of all the Kinslayings of Doriath and Sirion, and the attack on the Herald of Manwë, he will remain in my Halls until the end of Arda, as will his father Fëanáro." Lord Manwë, the Elder King of Arda, nodded. "So be it. I commit him to your care." Weary beyond belief, Maedhros let his head sink down onto the stone. Finally, it was over. *** *** ***
"Ready? I truly do not know how I could be. But I will listen." He threw his shoulders back and drew himself up to his full height, head erect.
Suddenly, the Ring of Doom was suffused with light. For the first time, he could clearly see each Vala seated on a throne. The full weight of this moment fell on him, and he shuddered. His fate was not in his hands; it was in theirs.
"First, you will face those of your victims who are willing to face you," the Lord of Mandos said. Maedhros had no desire to see those whose deaths he had caused, but he was not afraid of them, either. After all, he had seen all of them before – in the moment they had died.
First came the elves of Alqualondë, who were mostly silent, though their looks were accusing. He found himself counting them, just to see. But then he remembered that these were only the ones who wished to look on him, and gave up. He was surprised to see elves of Formenos who had drowned on the ships, though less surprised to see the ones who had died with Fëanor. Then came his troop that fell when he was taken. He took a deep breath – nearly all of them were there. The captain Carnildo stepped forward. "My lord, forgive us for not saving you from the demons of fire." Maedhros bowed low before them. "I hold you guiltless in all that happened that day, and after. Forgive me for leading you rashly to your deaths." They kneeled, and were gone. The procession was long, for the years that followed in the Hither Lands were full of death and destruction, and he was the Lord of all the Fëanoreans, and thus responsible for all that happened in East Beleriand. Soldiers and innocents, young and old – even some Children of Men and dwarves joined the procession. Some were silent, their faces sad, or even full of pity. Others were enraged, or barely contained their anger and resentment. He forced himself to remain silent and not respond to any barbs that were slung at him. Well he knew that he had an audience, and that those on the thrones would decide his fate, not his victims. At the last came those who had fallen in the Kinslayings of Doriath and the Havens. These were hardest to look at, but he steeled his heart and regarded them all impassively.
But then at the last, two young elflings stood hand in hand between the thrones of Manwë and Varda, gazing at him uncertainly. They took a few tentative steps forward, but did not speak. Maedhros looked on them in horror.
"No! These are not mine!" he shouted, his eyes wild. "I did not leave them to die, I did not order it. I slew the elves who did this! I tried to find them, but I could not. Why do you bring these specters before me? Why?" For the first time, he reached for the sword that was not there, and cursed when the pain from his left hand shot through his arm.
"Children, tell him what happened the day you died," the Lord of Mandos commanded.
In a voice that was very young, but not the least bit childish, one of the twins answered. "We were with Atto when the horn sounded. He commanded the servants to take us to the Cave that could be locked, our safest stronghold. He stayed with his warriors."
His brother took up the story. "We hurried along the corridors until we reached our hiding place, but it was nearby, so we were soon safe. We heard the sounds of battle, but the servants bid us be silent. We were not there very long when Atto’s swordsmen banged on the heavy door and demanded we let him in, too. It was crowded with his warriors in there, but we were glad he was no longer in the battle."
"Then someone else banged on the door," his twin resumed. "But he spoke funny. Our Atto looked for a place for us to hide, but the best we could do was crawl behind shields in back of the servants’ legs. The door shuddered as if a giant were pounding on it. All day the pounding continued, until the door finally splintered apart in shards of twisted metal and chips of flying wood. The battle was fierce, for there was no room in the cramped quarters. The leader of the enemy was tall and fair, like father, but he was dressed in black and all his warriors had dark hair and fell voices. Father fought the leader, and killed him. We hoped that then the other warriors would run away, but they cried out in anger. Two of them attacked Atto, and…" he trailed off, starting to sob.
"They killed him," whispered his brother, and the rage in his voice was truly frightening in one so young. "Our warriors tried to save him, but all they could do was kill his murderers. There were too few of them, and they soon fell. Then, only the unarmed servants were left."
His brother sniffled. "But they killed them too! So then it was only us. We tried to stay hidden, but they searched the whole room, and found us. They even kept searching after they found us. We could not have hid from them."
"We were afraid, but they were afraid, too. They did not know what to do with us. They kept looking at our father, and their fallen lord. Then one of them said, ‘I dare not bring word to the Lord that his brother is dead.’ The others said, ‘The Silmaril is not here. He will be wroth.’"
"Then one seized me in his anger, and would have run me through, but the others forbade him. The first one who spoke took me and Elurín and said, ‘I will dispose of the wood-elf’s whelps. You can tell our Lord the news.’ Two others agreed to go with him, so they carried us out of Menegroth, then binding our eyes, took us into the wood. When they finally stopped, it was night. They tied us to a tree, and said, ‘Let the woods keep them.’ Then they left us, and it was bitter cold. We wept for our family and for ourselves."
"When we woke we were so cold, but also thirsty. Eluréd broke the clasp on his cloak, and with the sharp edge, we were able to free ourselves. We went in search of a stream, but I don’t remember ever finding one. We were tired and cold, so we lay down together to sleep… and then our spirits fled to him." He pointed at Mandos, who looked at them. Maedhros had to look away. His eyes jerked back when he heard the voice of Mandos.
"So you see, these are yours, most assuredly, eldest Son of Fëanor and Lord of the Fëanoreans. They are just the bitterest fruits of the Kinslaying you ordered."
He had no answer for the Vala. He dropped to his knees and rocked back on his heels. Looking at the young boys gravely, he said, "Come here." Such was the power of his voice in life that few would disregard his commands. Hesitantly, the twins took a few steps closer to him, then looked back to Mandos. Maedhros did not know what the Vala did, for he did not take his gaze from the young elflings. But they each took a deep breath and crossed the remaining distance to where he waited within the Ring. Maedhros reached out his right hand hesitantly, and very softly touched the hair of Eluréd, tucking it away from his face. He shivered at the contact; it was the first time he had touched someone since his death. "I am truly sorry," he said quietly. "I did not mean for your father to die. It is a terrible thing to lose a father, and you should have had many more years with yours. I looked for you, but I could not find you."
"Who are you?" asked Elurín in confusion. "I have never seen you before."
Maedhros looked at him gravely. "I am the older brother of the elf who killed your father. It was to me that your killers feared to bring the news." Elurín recoiled in horror, but Maedhros restrained him. "Do you wish to avenge your father’s death?" he asked.
"The elves who killed him are already dead," Eluréd pointed out, still sniffling.
"And so am I," Maedhros said with a crooked smile. "But my fate has not yet been decided. You know the Lord of Mandos, and he will not refuse to listen to your request. Whatever vengeance you wish to see, you must tell him now."
"Why are you saying this?" Elurín asked, forgetting to pull away.
"I must accept whatever doom the Valar speak, whether I will or no. But I will gladly accept whatever judgement you render against me, sons of Dior, if only you will hold my debt paid." With that, he let go of Elurín’s arm. But the brothers did not flee.
"Our father taught us to say ‘All is well,’ when someone says ‘I am sorry,’" Eluréd remarked thoughtfully.
"Your father was noble," Maedhros said, swallowing. "But all is not well. You are dead." Weeping, he pulled both of them to his chest in a fierce hug.
"Farewell," he said, releasing them. "You are remarkably like to your sister-sons." They looked bemused by that. "Go on, talk to Mandos now." He shooed them towards the throne of Mandos, then let his own head drop, overwhelmed by grief.
He did not look up, so he did not see the two boys scramble onto the throne and be gathered into the Vala’s lap. Even his elven ears did not catch their whispers. But then Mandos laughed, and the sound was both alarming and terrible, but full of joy. Maedhros looked up quickly, forgetting his own grief, indeed forgetting himself. The Lord of Mandos kissed the brow of each elfling, and they vanished. Maedhros wanted to ask what torment they had devised for him, but could not form the words.
"We have now heard your tale, and you have seen your victims," Manwë said. "Answer our last questions carefully."
Maedhros did not stand, but braced himself with a deep breath.
"Maitimo, have you a mother?" Nienna asked.
He looked at her in confusion. "The Lady Nerdanel, who dwells in Tirion," he replied slowly, trying to heed the warning he had been given.
"Why have you never mentioned her, Son of Fëanor?" she continued.
"She and my Father quarreled. I last spoke to her before we removed to Formenos." This was all true, but also well-known. He had been told she spoke to his father during the muster of the Noldor in Tirion, but he had not seen her then.
"And have you only one grandfather?" she added.
"No! My grandfathers are Finwë, first King of the Noldor, and Mahtan the Smith, of the Aulendilli." He was careful to say no more, though he was starting to see where this line of questioning was headed.
"Did your love of your Father and your brothers blind you to all other loves? Did you forget the rest of your family?" Nienna asked, her voice laced with sorrow.
Maedhros looked down. "I did not forget them," he said quietly. "But the path to Endórë led me far from them. I would be ashamed to face them today. But…I do miss them." This last was barely a whisper.
Each of the Valar in turn questioned him about one aspect of his life. Some of the questions he expected; others surprised him.
Vana wanted to know about his brother Maglor’s foster sons, while Nessa asked him about his source of strength while he was recuperating in Hithlum. Estë asked him about his dreams in Aman, of all things. He was starting to think that the Valier were not all that bad.
Aulë asked him about Himring, which surprised him, but he admitted that that was the one place he had considered home. Mandos asked him why he never foreswore his Oath, and he had to look down while saying that he feared the Eternal Darkness more than he feared the wrath of the Valar or death. Irmo of Lorien asked him whom he spoke with at the Mereth Aderthad, which led to a discussion of why he had brought only Maglor with him, and his vision of the realms in Exile.
Yavanna asked about his hopes during the long peace, and tried to draw a parallel to the rising of the Sun, though he did not understand the connection. Vairë asked him why he did not heed the message of Eonwë after the War of Wrath, and with that question he revised his assessment; some of the Valier were not that bad.
Tulkas asked him about fighting left-handed, and he suspected that the question was due to honest curiosity rather than any significant meaning or bearing on the current judgement. He smiled wryly. Morgoth was the exact opposite of Tulkas as a warrior – all cunning and strategy, with no personal bravery. Oromë asked about Nargothrond, which was odd, since he had never been there.
When Ulmo spoke, he winced, fearing his displeasure, but the question was truly an odd one. "When did you lose your delight in the things of earth?" He wanted to say, "I never did," but he knew the question deserved more consideration than that. He had become weary long before the end, and tormented so that few things gave him pleasure, and few people brought a smile to his face. But…he never truly lost that, did he? "I always took comfort in Maglor’s voice. Even…even at the bitter end. The rising of Eärendil’s star filled my heart with wonder and delight. I never became blind to beauty, though as I became weary I failed to be roused by it. All food tasted like dirt after the Havens. But I shut out the sound of the Sea after Losgar, and so I must suspect that was the answer you were looking for, Lord." When he followed up the question with, "Did you fear me, or your Father?" Maedhros did not know how to answer. "Now, I fear you. My Father has little power over his sons from the Halls of Mandos." He had noted that his Father’s fëa was not among those who had processed before him; neither were any of his brothers’.
Only Manwë and Varda refrained from questioning him, and for that, he was glad.
"Stand," Manwë said, and Maedhros obediently scrambled to his feet. Gone was the haughty prince who had faced them earlier. He looked now as a humble page, patiently awaiting the word of his lords.
"It grieves me that you did not make use of the reprieve I granted you," Manwë said sadly. "Even after you saw so clearly what fate awaited you. There are indeed many chances in the world, but we had hoped you would have turned away from the path you chose."
"You fought so valiantly to avoid becoming Morgoth’s thrall," Varda continued. "But did you not see that only a thrall of Morgoth would have kept your blasphemous Oath?"
Maedhros looked up into the face of Varda, and immediately regretted doing so. Her gaze pierced him to the core; he felt stripped of everything. If he had not already been dead, he would have given up the ghost in that moment. But here and now, there was no escape – he could not even look away.
Then Manwë spoke, and his voice was as terrible as Varda’s gaze. "Neither we, nor Taniquetil, nor Ilúvatar ever accepted your Oath. The only Vala who would keep such blasphemy…is your Enemy. In the end, you chose the fate you feared in your captivity. In keeping your Oath, you became the thrall of Morgoth that led each of your brothers to death and torment, and robbed us all of the Light of the Silmarils."
Maedhros shrieked in horror. Under any other circumstances, he would have been appalled to hear such a sound emanate from his throat, but as it was, he never noticed. He collapsed with a keening wail, blubbering words that could not be understood. His limbs were shaking, and great shuddering sobs wracked him. He curled tighter into himself, knowing there was no escape from the truth. For the first time, the nothingness of the Eternal Darkness seemed appealing. But even as he thought it, he knew the temptation for a cheat. There was Someone in the Outer Darkness, Someone he would rather not meet again. He would stay here, and face the Doom of the Valar, and count it kind and merciful. They were dreadful, but not evil. He was evil, and deserved whatever they would do to him. His limbs went limp, uncurling, as his sobs subsided. He was too disoriented to think of moving, or of anything else, really. He waited.
Manwë continued speaking, but Maedhros did not feel skewered by his voice this time. "Lord Námo, what doom would you give to Nelyafinwë Fëanorion?" he asked.
"The doom he requested," Námo answered gravely. Intrigued, Maedhros put the effort into sorting out which direction was up, so he could lift his head. He got it right on the third try, and managed to turn his head towards the correct throne. "The doom of Eluréd and Elurín was this: that he not be parted from his Father. For his crimes, not least of all the Kinslayings of Doriath and Sirion, and the attack on the Herald of Manwë, he will remain in my Halls until the end of Arda, as will his father Fëanáro."
Lord Manwë, the Elder King of Arda, nodded. "So be it. I commit him to your care."
Weary beyond belief, Maedhros let his head sink down onto the stone. Finally, it was over.
*** *** ***
End Notes: The Oath of Fëanor (and his sons) was sworn upon Taniquetil, the holy mountain, with Manwë and Varda as witness. They called for Iluvatar himself to hear it. The words of the Oath are given in several places in HoME; see The Lays of Beleriand for two versions. Nelyafinwë Fëanorion – Third-Finwë, Son of Fëanor. A name of Maedhros. Carnildo is named after the planet Mars, though I imagine the connotations are different for the Eldar than for the ancient Greeks and Romans!
The Oath of Fëanor (and his sons) was sworn upon Taniquetil, the holy mountain, with Manwë and Varda as witness. They called for Iluvatar himself to hear it. The words of the Oath are given in several places in HoME; see The Lays of Beleriand for two versions.
Nelyafinwë Fëanorion – Third-Finwë, Son of Fëanor. A name of Maedhros.
Carnildo is named after the planet Mars, though I imagine the connotations are different for the Eldar than for the ancient Greeks and Romans!
When Maedhros awoke, he was lying on a stone floor. He felt oddly refreshed. Without thinking, he stretched his limbs, and his left hand opened a fraction. The jolt that went through him brought him to full awareness, and he sat up abruptly.
He was back in his cell. He did not know how long he had slept, but it seemed a long time. Already, his judgement seemed distant, and he had no trouble sifting through his memories of it in a very disinterested way. All in all, the wrath of the Valar seemed over-rated. True, he was a prisoner for all eternity. That should bother him. But at the moment, it seemed very mild, a mere slap on the wrist. He felt as if he had awakened to birdsong and a breeze heavy with the scent of tree blossoms on a spring morning. He was… relaxed, as he had not been since … That thought gave him pause – since when? As his memory flew back through the years, it found no place to alight. The end of his life was crowned by constant war, and even the Peace before the Dagor Bragollach was Watchful. Hithlum, the Mountain, Losgar, Alqualondé, Tirion… his memory skittered more quickly here, out of habit, but nothing he recalled assaulted him. He wondered if he were drunk.
"Can a being who cannot drink become drunk?" he asked the pool of water that illuminated the room.
"Not very easily," came an answer from behind him. He craned his neck around to see, and then scrambled to his feet.
An elf-maiden had joined him. She was beautiful, with sad and thoughtful eyes. She had a… stillness… about her that warned him she was ancient. He bowed solemnly. "My lady," he said, but then did not know what to say.
She smiled at him. "I heard you were awake, so I thought I would come have a look at you." The tone was warm, so the words did not alarm him. Maedhros looked past her, and realized that the wall of his cell was as smooth and unbroken as ever.
He returned her smile. "Should I wonder at your advent here, when there is no door?"
She laughed merrily at his question. "I do not suppose you could see one, but then, you are but new-come to these Halls. Perhaps the Master does not yet wish for you to wander about."
"Tell me, lady, who are you? For I feel that I should know you, but I do not recall ever seeing you before." Flashes of recognition had accompanied her voice and movements, but proved too elusive – he could not place her.
"We have never met before," she said sadly. "But I am your grandmother, Míriel called Þerindë."
He stood very still, and his mouth hung open a little. He was speaking to a legend of the past!
"I know that you are Fëanáro’s eldest," she continued. "What name would you have me call you?"
"I have several," he said ruefully. "I answer to Maedhros most readily, but surely you would prefer one of my Quenyan names?"
"Mae-dhros," she repeated thoughtfully. "It does sound strange to me. What did your father call you?"
"In polite company?" he answered cheekily. "Nelyo. When it was just the family, he was more apt to say Á tulë sí."
"He named his first son ‘third’?" she asked, bemused.
"Despite many skills, counting was not his strength," he said seriously, though a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
"Your mother had better sense, I hope?" she smiled.
He nodded. "Maitimo. That is what I was called in Aman."
"That name fits you well," she smiled in approval.
"Not any…" he started to say, but then remembered that he did indeed have a right hand again. He flexed it just for the feel of it.
"Ah, but you are whole again," she remarked.
"You… you knew about my hand?" he asked in surprise.
"Does it seem strange that I would know your history but not your name, Maitimo?" she asked, not waiting for an answer. "My Mistress knows all that happens in Arda. I am allowed to see, but never to hear. I recognized your face as soon as I saw you, but your voice is a novelty to me."
"Who is your Mistress?" he asked, uneasy for the first time.
"The Lady Vairë," she replied.
"I do not think she likes me," he said with a frown. Then he added in surprise, "I sound like a child!"
"You look like one, too," she laughed, and stuck out her tongue at him. "Your expression is so wide-eyed and innocent."
At the last word, he stilled. "It is long since I have been innocent, grandmother. I do not know what you have seen, but I assure you…"
She waved him aside. "I know. But here, things are different. You will see. One day, I will take you from here, and show you some of the tapestries."
"What tapestries?" he asked, curious.
"The story of the House of Finwë," she said, and then blushed. "I have been here a long time," she added softly.
"Have you been making tapestries all this time?" he asked in wonder.
"Oh no – only since… since I first regretted my choice."
"What choice was that?" he asked with foreboding.
"I agreed never to be re-embodied. At the time, I did not miss life, but eventually I came to learn that ‘always’ is a very long time. So, Vairë took pity on me and let me join her maidens, so now I have something to do."
"I do not miss having something to do," Maedhros replied without thought.
"No, not yet," she smiled sadly. "You are still very…new to this."
Then memory stirred. "But I will be here as long as you, for I also was doomed to remain here ‘always.’"
"Did you… accept this?" she asked carefully.
He nodded slowly. "I am not accustomed to surrendering, but it only seemed right. I may grow restless in time, but I doubt I will regret that choice. If the only options are the Halls of Mandos or the Outer Darkness…"
She gasped, and her eyes went wide. "Surely they wouldn’t!" She went to Maedhros, and hugged him tightly. "I am glad you are here," she said. "If ever you are lonesome, just call for me." She took a step back from him, and he realized she was about to leave.
"Wait! Before you go….can you tell me, have you seen my brothers? Are they well?"
Her sad smile returned. "No… I cannot tell you. You will have to ask the Lord Námo about them. Namárië, indyonya." With that, she was gone.
For a moment, he felt bereft, for the feeling of being alone overwhelmed him. But the moment passed. He walked around his cell, looking closely at the walls. They seemed solid, and he could see no door. Then suddenly he felt very tired, so he lay down and fell asleep.
When he awoke, the reality of his doom came crashing down upon him. The euphoria of escaping annihilation had emphatically worn off. "Forever…" he said, looking at the walls surrounding him. "Until the world’s end, I will be here, trapped…." But no, the lady Míriel had said she would take him to see the tapestries. Was that just a dream? He shook his head in confusion. No, she had been here in truth. He knew he could not have called up such a phantom himself. He got up and began pacing while he thought. He could not escape a doom he had agreed to. So, he would just have to accept this situation, no matter how bleak it seemed. He had already met one member of his family whom he had never expected to see. His goal now was to find out about the rest of them. Míriel could not tell him…or would not.
"My Lord Námo," he said aloud, tentatively. Nothing happened. He sighed. This was awkward. How long would he have to wait? "I would like to speak with you, if I may." Surely the Lord of Mandos was aware of all that happened in his own Halls? "I know you did not promise to reunite me with my brothers. And now I know…" What, precisely, had he learned in his judgement? That he had been their doom as surely as their Father? "Now that I know the part I played in their deaths, I realize they might not be keen to see me. But… I want to see them more than ever. So… may I?" He bent down and plashed his right hand in the puddle on the floor. "I know you can hear me, even if you don’t respond. And no, I did not learn that on the Mountain – I did not know for sure until my judgement. But now that I do know," he grinned, "I will haply repeat myself until you do respond. At your earliest convenience, of course. May I see my brothers? May I? May I? May I?" And then he fell over laughing, because he could not help seeing himself as a young child begging for permission to play outside with the other children. "May I pleeease?" he asked, and then laughed again.
"I hope you are enjoying yourself," said a Voice he recognized.
He quickly composed himself and scrambled to his feet. He bowed respectfully. "My Lord Námo," he said, though a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
"What have you been saying to your grandmother?" he asked, and the smile vanished.
"I… nothing. We only just met," Maedhros said uncertainly.
"Then why has she been speaking to the Lady Vairë about the Outer Darkness?" Lord Námo asked.
"I did not tell her about my Oath," he said quickly, and then thought. "Maybe…maybe I mentioned that I had escaped that fate. It’s possible." He looked at Lord Námo uncertainly, hoping that this was not the wrong thing to say. If he had misstepped during his first visit with someone from the Halls… it was unlikely he would be allowed to meet anyone else any time soon. "I am sorry if I did not explain sufficiently. As I said, we only just met."
Lord Námo looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, stroking his chin. Maedhros felt pinned to the floor by that gaze and did not dare move. "I think it is time for you and I to talk," he said at last. He sat down on the ground and gestured for Maedhros to do likewise.
"Your Oath…was never binding. The Powers you swore by did not accept it, and so would not enforce it. I am the Lord of the fëar of the Dead. I will tell you now that I have never sent a fëa of an elf to the Outer Darkness, and I would not do so without the permission of Ilúvatar himself. Such a fate is not within my Authority to ordain."
Maedhros’ brow wrinkled as he tried to digest this new bit of information. "Then… I never had to fear such a fate," he said eventually.
Lord Námo shook his head. "Your fear was misplaced, but not uncalled for. None of the Valar would have done such a thing to you, but you yourself could have chosen it, and we would not have had…permission…to stop you."
"I…I made that choice when I entered your gates," Maedhros said in wonder.
"And again when you agreed to face judgement. And yet again when you accepted our judgement. That path is no longer open to you."
Maedhros looked down unseeing and did not respond for a long time. When he finally spoke, it was in a low, hoarse voice. "I delayed in offering thanks to the Lord Manwë for sparing my life once, and ill came of it. I hope you will accept my thanks now for sparing my very self from… from that nothingness."
"I do accept it, for I consider it my duty. For this reason did I enter into Arda." He stood, and Maedhros did likewise. "I will leave you now. When you are ready, you may call for me again." Maedhros thought he saw mirth in the Lord Námo’s eyes, though his face was as grave as ever.
"I know you will hear me," he said gravely, though his heart, too, was light. He knew now was not the time to ask about the fates of anyone else. For the first time, he was not anxious about his brothers, or even his Father. He resolved in that moment not to call upon Lord Námo needlessly. "Farewell, my Lord. I will be content with the prison you have given me. Please permit my grandmother to return; I will not trouble her with such subjects again."
The Lord Námo looked at him shrewdly. "A child’s promise. Always they say they will not do something – again. If you speak to your grandmother, you are bound to trouble her, as she is bound to trouble you." Maedhros was suitably abashed. Why would he speak as a child, trying to wheedle some boon from a parent? But the Lord Námo continued. "This, however, does not trouble me. This hall will remain open to the Lady Míriel, and she may return if she pleases. Farewell." With that, he was gone.
Maedhros sat back down. He had a lot of thinking to do. One – why was he acting so…immature? It was very unlike him to…beg. And in the past, it had always been with just cause. He knew how to get what he wanted. But now – his attempts were pathetic and childish. Two – who were the Valar? He had learned several things during his judgement, but he had not forgotten the Lady Vairë’s words. He did not know the Valar, and now his entire existence was at their mercy. He would have to learn more about who the Lord of Mandos was. Is. Of all the Valar, he was likely the most consistent, which was saying something. He had never expected to receive mercy at his hands. But…he had. Third – what did he think of that? Of this existence? Would he regret his choice? Would he go mad counting bricks over and over, longing for that insidious voice that he would never hear again? He shuddered at that thought. No, he would not be reduced to that. He would stand by his choice. "I will not go mad if I do not fight this. I accept this existence, and whatever limitations come with it. Though I do not yet know what those are." He idly brushed his hand through the water, and stood when the ripples dissipated.
What did he think of the Valar? He assigned each of them a place, so he could face them in his thoughts as he had in the Ring of Doom. It was also convenient to have a point of reference when speaking to someone who was not visible. He would never again believe that the Valar could not see or hear all that happened in the world. Some things they may not respond to, but they were not ignorant – there was no keeping secrets from them, at least not here. But what did he think of them? He did not fear them. He had faced them, daring them to do their worst, and accepted his fate. So, they could not harm him now. He paused. That assessment did not seem – honest. "There is still much I do not know," he admitted, facing the point he had designated as "West" before his judgement. This place of honor was reserved for Manwë and Varda, of course. But that left "North" for the Lord of Mandos – all the more reason not to address him too often, he thought wryly.
By the same logic, he could avoid Ulmo, though his true reasons were much different in his case. His fear of the Lord of the Sea had been reduced, true, but he still dreaded meeting him. He knew why. Ulmo had been close to Finrod and Turgon…and Eärendil. Turgon hated him and his brothers and would have nothing to do with them. Finrod he counted as a friend…but Finrod had died because of his foolish, conniving brothers. He had not known of their plan, or he would have intervened. But…he knew why Curufin had done it. Not only had he himself given up the crown of the Noldor, and thus betrayed his family (in the eyes of certain of his brothers), but he had denied them all the opportunity to carve out kingdoms and fashion themselves as kings. Had Curufin had a kingdom of his own, his eyes would never have strayed greedily to the crown of Nargothrond. Maedhros knew this – and he was certain Ulmo knew as well. But the worst mark against him was the Kinslaying at the Havens. Those refugees were under the personal protection of Ulmo. Eärendil and Elwing were his people, as surely as Ossë and Uinen were. His complicity in that slaughter was clear for all to see. The twins had died, and many were willing to forgive the dead. Maglor had adopted the orphaned twin sons of Eärendil, counting in his favor. But what had he done to redeem himself? Nothing. As surely as Ulmo had protected the Noldor during their exile, his disapproval of Maedhros would stand now. He could only hope the Lord Ulmo was not a frequent visitor to the Halls of Mandos.
But as for his own behavior, he had no answer. He was out of sorts, giddy, thoughts flying from one place to another. Both Míriel and Lord Námo had called him a child. That was not acceptable. He would have to find the cause and do something about it before he had any more visitors. What had changed? He was dead, of course. No longer able to do anything…ah. No consequences. No wonder he was acting like a little child. He could get away with it. That would not do. But was that all? There was also the issue of judgement. What was judgement, anyway? All that had happened was that he had learned his doom…and the truth of his life. Was the truth really so…intoxicating? At the time, it had been very…disturbing. He was not used to avoiding things. But unwittingly, he had shied away from some truths – the fear and pride that drove his Father to the Kinslaying at Alqualondë and trying to hold all the Noldor to his will; the chances he had had to avoid the later Kinslayings. He looked at his hands. They weren’t bloodstained. The lady Míriel had said things were different here…he wondered. You couldn’t undo such a thing – could you? He glanced North, but said nothing. No – Námo had admitted to limits to the Valar’s powers and authority. Even they could not change the past, or alter the truth. Judgement couldn’t change what had happened. But… it did alter the hold the past had on him. If he were to return to life, he would return to his former responsibilities. He would always have to answer for his deeds. But here, dead, in a room alone… who was there to answer to?
The Valar…but he had already answered them. That might explain why he had found it so easy to…laugh. He examined himself. There was no tight band around his chest. No weight on his shoulders. No crease on his brow. He was not tensed at all. So this was the aftermath of judgement. He had expected the results to be more…painful. He looked at his left hand. That at least was still clenched. Tentatively, he tried to relax it. He couldn’t. His hand simply would not open. He looked at it, puzzled. With his right hand, he grasped his left fist and began to uncurl the fingers. They did unbend when forced, but the now-familiar pain shot through him, and he stopped. The pain was definitely worse than it had been before his judgement. He was not sure what that meant. He did not relish having a useless hand until the world’s end. But…the pain was his. It couldn’t be part of his punishment. Lord Námo had said he would only have it until he didn’t need it any more. "What are you good for?" he asked his hand. "Are you going to erase my past for me?" Not surprisingly, his hand did not answer. He did not see what good the pain would be if he did not open his hand, and in reality, he saw no need to open it. But… he did not know how to get rid of the pain, either. "Lord Námo will tell me when he wants to, and not earlier, I suppose." He walked around the cell once more. It was odd to have nothing to do but catch himself acting childish. But he could be patient.
He had no certain sense of time. He knew it was passing, but not how quickly. He did not get weary or sleep, now. He spoke aloud freely, but was sure to think over what he said, later. Over time, he felt less…flighty and giddy. He trusted himself to maintain his composure, anyway, but only a conversation with someone else would determine if he were fully himself again. He supposed he was ready to try….
"Lady Míriel?" he called. "Would you like to talk?" He did not know how she could hear him, but she had said she would come if he called. He really needed to learn how things worked here. One moment, he was alone, and the next, his grandmother was standing there as if she had always been there. Definitely, he had a lot to learn.
"Hello, Maitimo, it is good to see you again," she greeted him.
"I hope…I did not disturb you," he said, not knowing what was the proper greeting when conjuring one’s dead grandmother.
"No, not at all, dear. Time is something we both have plenty of, seemingly."
"I suppose the world will end one day," he said.
"Yes," she agreed with a frown. "But not…soon."
"How do you know?" he asked in surprise.
"I do not, but I suspect Lord Námo does. And…there are still many empty rooms here."
"They could be filled quickly, if many elves perished at once," he pointed out.
She shook her head. "No, they are…empty. No inhabitants, and no tapestries. The Lady Vairë’s decorations take time to make."
"But my own room has no tapestries – perhaps the others are meant to remain bare as well."
She smiled at him, that strange sad smile that he had never seen on any face but hers. "No, dear," she said quietly. "Your room is the only one I have visited that is neither empty nor decorated."
He felt strangely put out by that, but caught himself. He would not pout like a child denied a candy when all the others had one. "What else is unique about my cell?" he asked instead.
"You are not the only one who cannot see the doors yet," she reassured him. "But I have never seen a light quite like yours." She looked down at the water, and he impulsively bent down to splash it, so she could see the light reflected in ripples on the walls. "Yes, it is very…unique. It reminds me of something, but I do not know what."
"The Trees?" he asked quietly.
"No, not quite. It is different, somehow."
"Fire?" he tried again, trying to think what other lights she might have seen.
"No… it is more like those jewels Fëanáro made."
"The Silmaril?" he gasped, looking down at his pool with new eyes. The light had come from his left hand…the one that was clutching the Silmaril when he died. "No…it is not the same," he said, partly relieved, partly disappointed.
"It is like seeing the - Silmaril, did you say? – in a room lit by open flames."
He nodded. "That is about right," he said quietly. "Do you know how I died?" he asked.
Now it was her turn to nod. "Yes, I saw it. Oh – that is why you don’t have a tapestry!" she exclaimed. "This light – it is your story already. The missing part, what I did not recognize… it shows the copper of your hair perfectly."
He looked down at his hair self-consciously. "Oh?"
"You’d be amazed how difficult it is to match that exact shade," she said shyly. "In the end, I had to use thin copper wire twined with the threads."
"I…would like to see your work, Lady Míriel," he said formally.
"I’ll see what I can do," she answered sincerely. "I don’t think I can take you on a tour yet. But someday, perhaps."
"Whom else do you visit?" he asked curiously.
"The ones I can," she said, her sad smile returning. "Some are not allowed…visitors, and others do not wish for them. Many of the Noldor take some comfort in seeing me here, I have found, so I do try to visit them."
"A true queen," he said with a genuine smile.
"I enjoy it!" she said with a laugh. "For so long, I was the only elf here. And now…I can barely keep track of them all."
"You did not know my name…" Maedhros said slowly. "Did my grandfather not tell you?"
"Oh," she said nervously. "I’m not supposed to talk about our family."
"And Father…surely he would have told you the names of his sons? Or at the very least of his Silmarils?"
"There are some things I cannot explain to you," she said sadly, "but the answers are not what you think."
"How do you know what I think?" he asked suspiciously.
"Someone told me," she said mischievously.
"I am glad you are enjoying this game," he said shortly. "I will see you…later."
"If that is what you wish," she said sadly, and turned to go.
He considered stopping her, but thought better of it. He merely asked "Would you mind if I called you again?"
"You may." She smiled, and vanished.
After she left, he waited for his thoughts to stop churning. He needed to…get his bearings. Leaving the topic of their conversation aside, he considered his own behavior. It was not as childish as his first meeting with her, perhaps, but it still left something to be desired. He would not be begging Lord Námo to let him out just yet. Then he considered his grandmother, who had been unknown to him in life. It was difficult to see her as Father’s mother. She…seemed rather timid. And not the least bit capable of carrying a plot of any sort, he thought sourly. Yet she was no fool. Nor was she particularly…he paused, and frowned while he searched for the word. She didn’t seem…to care about things. She lacked the passion that he had grown so accustomed to seeing in all of Finwë’s descendents. She…had been dead too long. He shivered. What would become of him, in these lonely Halls? What had become of his brothers, his cousins, his people? His father? His grandfather?
And that brought him back to their conversation. He knew his grandfather was the first elf to join Míriel in these Halls. He had seen the body. And yet… she had not given any indication of speaking to him since she had been here. It was many long years since her only son had died, and yet she did not know the names of Fëanor’s sons or works. She had come to see him immediately after his judgement. So, what had barred her from seeing them? The reason is not what you think. Well, what did he think? "I am in a room without doors, and not permitted to leave," he told the wall dedicated to Aulë. "It would be easy to suppose that the prisons of my grandfather and Father do not permit anyone to enter, either." But the easy answer would not explain anything. "She spoke to someone about me – but whom?" Reluctantly, he looked to Vairë’s place. "I know she is conversant with you, for both she and Lord Námo have admitted as much. It could have been either of you, I suppose. She visits others of the Noldor who are here…but who among them could speak of me without using any of my names? No, it was one of you. What did you tell her, I wonder? I must suppose you know me nearly as well as I know myself, for nothing was hidden from you during my judgement…or before hand, either, seemingly. So, what did you think I would think about this? I could well see my father refusing visitors, but not his own mother. Your spouse would not permit me to see anyone prior to judgement, but surely they faced their judgements long ago. So, I must suppose it is a punishment, imposed upon them. And that is what you would have told her." He lapsed into silence. It was frustrating to figure out what he thought just to discard that option. But he had solved weightier puzzles in the past, hadn’t he? He turned back to the North, and addressed the Lord of Mandos for the first time since he had left him. "What reasons would you have for keeping my grandmother from her husband and her son? Are you protecting her? Or them? Or yourself?" He frowned. He did not like how that sounded. "Is it because grandfather has a living wife as well as a dead one? Did no one consider that possibility when he was granted permission to marry a second time, alone of all the Eldar?" But that would not explain her failure to speak to Fëanor. "What has Father done now?" he said quietly. "Míriel does not act like a mother who has been barred from seeing her only child. So why have they not spoken?" Was he just being blind? Assuming that the dead would speak of him? But no, he was right to see it as unnatural that they had not. He shook his head in frustration. There was too much he did not know. His experience of being dead was limited to himself – he could not even fathom what the other possibilities were. For all he knew Finwë had been asleep since his death and that was the sole reason Míriel had not spoken to him. He stood up in exasperation and started pacing.
"I need more information. I need to find out what this life…this lack of life…is. I need to talk to someone else…anyone. I will go mad if I stay alone. I must…"
He stopped. He fixed Manwë’s wall with a wry smile. "I do trust you, my Lord. I know you will not leave me here to rot. But you must understand that the unknown is very…disconcerting."
He dropped to the ground and propped his elbows on his knees. He bowed his head. There had to be some way…to talk to others. Míriel came when he called. Would anyone else? Why had he not tried that before?
"Father." He said it quietly, not daring to hope it would work. "Father, if you can hear me, please…." Please what? "Please, I would like to...speak with you. To see you again." He looked at the water on the floor beseechingly. "Please, Father," he said once more.
Nothing happened. There was no change. He bowed his head again, and waited.
*** *** ***
Author’s Notes: A variation of the "joke" about the name Nelyo was told first (and much better) by Ivanneth in "The Follower." I read that shortly before writing this scene, and want to fully acknowledge her brilliance.
Á tulë sí (Sinomë túla sí) = "Come (here) now" (Quenya)
Namárië, indyonya = Farewell, my grandson (Quenya)
He was still like that when someone appeared in his cell. "Maitimo, Son of Fëanáro, I bid you greetings."
He looked up. He had never seen the person who stood before him, of that he was sure. It was no elf; that much was also clear. "Who are you?" he asked abruptly. He could not complain of being disturbed from doing…nothing…but he was thrown off balance.
"I am Ringanoirë, servant of the Lady Vairë." The woman, who was dressed all in misty grey, had long black hair and impossibly dark eyes. Her eyes were like pools of ink, with not the least speck of white in them. He was reminded of looking at a bird. She stood expectantly, waiting.
Maedhros stood, for he felt it was rude to stay seated when he had no seat to offer a guest, no matter how disembodied she might be. "Greetings, Ringanoirë," he answered, shuddering slightly at her name, and inclined his head towards her. "May I ask why you have come?"
"I am here at the request of Lady Míriel," she said. "She has been thinking of you, and wished you to have this." From within her robe, she drew out something wrapped in brown paper.
Maedhros was intrigued. He reached out his right hand and took it. His guest waited expectantly, so with the aid of his teeth, he loosened the string and pulled away the paper. It was a pillow. On the side facing him was a likeness of the Two Trees, shining with silver and gold threads. He made an inarticulate sound and let the paper fall when he recognized it. Father had kept one of Míriel’s tapestries when they went into Exile – one of his few personal possessions. As far as he knew, it was still at Himring in the keeping of Maglor’s sons. It was…remarkably similar to this one.
"Please thank the lady Míriel for me," he said, his voice feeling disused all of a sudden. "She has my gratitude for finding a way to share her work with me. I will treasure this gift, and she is free to return here whenever she wishes."
Ringanoirë bowed and murmured, "I will tell her." Then she was gone.
Maedhros just stood looking at the pillow for a long time. It had been so long since he had had any possessions, that he wasn’t really sure what to do with it. He didn’t want to put it down. But eventually, he turned it over…and laughed. Staring back at him was a portrait of his family, when the youngest were still children. When Nerdanel was still with them. He leaned against the wall, and slowly sunk to the floor. He hugged the pillow to himself fiercely, and began crying.
When he stopped, he knew he was not alone. "My Lord," he said, not getting up.
"Maedhros," the Voice answered. "What am I to do with you?"
"Please, Lord, tell me what I must do to see my family. Lady Míriel will not speak of them to me."
He was pleased with his words. He was not begging, nor was he demanding. He had confined himself to asking for information. He had not even called Lord Námo here, but allowed him to come on his own.
"When you are ready, and they are ready, you will see them. Not before. Time exists here, for no one in Arda may escape it. But here we pay it less heed than even those of Aman. Patience is a bitter counsel to receive, but I have no other for you."
"The waiting is difficult when so much is unknown," Maedhros said quietly. "I do not know what the rules of your Halls are. I wait, but I do not know for what."
"You are waiting for freedom," Námo said gravely. "With it will come knowledge. But you must remember that you have been entrusted to my care, and I will keep faith with my cousin."
"I know I will never be free of your Halls," Maedhros said. "I have accepted that fate. What freedom do you mean?"
"The only kind that matters," the Lord Námo said, and Maedhros could not help but look at him. He was smiling, and it was neither cruel nor terrible.
"You continue to surprise me, Lord," he said, and realized that he was at peace, despite the fact that his questions remained unanswered. Námo nodded once, and vanished.
Maedhros put the pillow Míriel had given him on the floor, and laid his head on it. He closed his eyes, and remembered his family in Valinor, before any shadow fell on them. He neither slept nor dreamed, but long did his mind stray down the path of memories.
"Aia, indyonya," a voice interrupted him.
He opened his eyes to see Míriel standing over him, her smile glad for once. "Time to wake up," she called down to him.
"I was not sleeping," he said, standing. Then he gasped. The wall behind her was now broken by a stone arch, and in the recess beneath it was a heavy wooden door. "There’s a door!" he said in wonder, stating the obvious.
"And now that you can see it, I can take you to see my tapestries," she said happily. "Go ahead, open it."
For a moment, he hesitated. If this were his other captivity, it would be a cheat. She would be a phantom that vanished as soon as he touched the door, or worse, she would speak with that voice…. He shook his head, and the fear fell away. The Lord of Mandos was trustworthy. He had said that Maedhros would be free, and so the door was real. He approached it cautiously, and put his hand to it. It swung open easily. Turning back to Míriel, he gestured for her to leave first. She led him down a long dim hallway, and turned into another. And then turned again, and again. The place was a labyrinth, and he was glad not to be alone. They entered a large hall lit by torches, and he saw that the walls were covered in large tapestries – very intricate, vivid tapestries. "Are these yours?" he asked respectfully.
"No. These were made by Vairë’s maidens."
"Like the one who delivered my pillow?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered simply. "Did you…like it?"
"Very much," he said sincerely. "Now, where are yours?"
She laughed. "You’re as bad as Finwë. They’re through this hall…"
She led him down several more tapestry-covered halls, and eventually reached one that was lit by lamps. Maedhros caught his breath. He was standing on the quays at Alqualondë. It was so…vivid. All that was missing was the tang of salt in the breeze and the cry of gulls. It was the moment before battle had been joined. He turned. There was Father…there he was. And his brothers. It was odd to see them there. They all looked grimly determined. He could not remember how to feel that way any more.
He wandered through the galleries, caught up in scene after scene. Míriel was really quite good – he had never seen a picture that was as absorbing as one of Maglor’s songs. He found himself paying attention to the colors of his hair when she had depicted him, and was amazed at how lifelike the blended threads were. He paused before a tapestry in a hall by itself, of an eagle alighting on rocks, the setting sun reflecting off his wings. The motion was perfect, and he half expected the wings to move as the bird settled into place. Of course, nothing happened. But he did not know how he knew the sun was setting, and not rising. He turned to say something to Míriel, and realized that she was no longer standing behind him. But he was not alone. Another elf was frozen in the doorway, staring at him.
His movement was enough to break the spell, and the other elf took a few steps forward, tentatively. "Maedhros?" he asked, and that voice flooded through his memories. Here at last was an elf he knew! He closed the distance between them, but stopped a few paces away.
"Fingon?" he said, suddenly uncertain.
"It really is you," Fingon said in reply. He took a step forward and reached to grasp Maedhros’ left arm without looking. Fingon was the only one besides Maglor who always remembered and never paused awkwardly before greeting him. But now he was confounded by Maedhros’ clenched fist. He looked down, and exclaimed, "Your hand!" He grabbed Maedhros’ right hand in both of his, and kissed the knuckles fervently. "It is good to have you whole and healed again."
"I’m dead, Fingon," he pointed out patiently.
"Well, yes, and so am I," Fingon admitted with a grin. "But you have your hand back!"
Maedhros smiled. He felt he had never been so happy in his life.
"Who else have you seen here?" Fingon wanted to know.
"Only my grandmother," Maedhros answered. "This is the first time Lord Námo let me out."
Fingon cocked his head at that. "No visitors?"
Maedhros shook his head. "The Lady Míriel is allowed to visit whenever she likes. I don’t know about anyone else. I…don’t know how things work here," he admitted.
Fingon frowned. "No one told me you were here," he said by way of apology. "But now that I know, I will ask. It cannot be chance that we met here now." Fingon paused. "I don’t want to know what happened, after the Battle, do I?"
"You will not learn it from me today," Maedhros agreed.
"But are you…I mean…did they say…" Fingon looked down, unable to ask his question.
"My doom is to remain in these Halls till world’s ending," Maedhros said quietly. "But I will have good company, I think." He smiled crookedly.
"At least for a time," Fingon agreed, smiling helplessly. "They did not tell me one way or the other." He shrugged. "But now that we are together, we can go exploring!" He beckoned for Maedhros to follow him, and they plunged into the labyrinthine corridors again. Fingon seemed to know his way around fairly well, and confidently led Maedhros through all his favorite places. For the second time since his judgement, Maedhros felt as though he had been drinking heady wine. They made their way into a room with a fountain surrounded by benches. Maedhros took a seat and swung his legs, realizing it was the first time he had sat on furniture since his death. He looked up to find Fingon staring at his left hand.
Unconsciously, he made to move it, and then Fingon looked up at him guiltily. "Why do you keep it clenched?" he asked.
"I can’t open it," Maedhros explained with a shrug. "And if I do, it just hurts."
"Do you know…why?" Fingon asked, confused.
Maedhros shook his head. "Not really. The pain is mine, though; nothing the Valar inflicted on me, if that’s what you’re thinking."
"Do they know how to get rid of it, though?" Fingon asked doubtfully.
Maedhros nodded. "I think so. Lord Námo seemed to think it would go away, eventually. I think he’ll tell me when I need to know."
"You are correct."
Lord Námo stood by the fountain, and both elves scrambled to their feet to greet him. Maedhros suddenly felt caught. "I…ran into him," he stumbled over the words. "I hope… that’s permitted."
Lord Námo just smiled. "No one meets by chance in these Halls, so you need not apologise. But now that you have come out of your cell, I think it is time for you to have your freedom."
"Can I visit…other elves?" Maedhros asked hopefully.
Námo shook his head. "No. I spoke of freedom from your pain. Are you ready to be free of it?"
Maedhros looked at him in surprise, and just nodded. Námo withdrew a long silver knife from his belt, and handed it to Fingon. Fingon, for his part, looked shocked. "What are you asking me to do?" he whispered as he took it.
"The hand needs to come off," Námo said dispassionately.
Fingon dropped the knife as if it had burned his hands. "No," he said, backing away a few steps. "Don’t make me do that again."
Maedhros looked at Námo calculatingly. "There is no reason I cannot do it myself this time. I will not ask such a favor of a friend again." He picked up the knife carefully by its hilt, shuddering as he touched it. He poised the blade at his wrist, and then paused. "Is there no other way?" Now that it came to it, he was as reluctant as Fingon had been a moment ago.
"The pain cannot be separated from the hand, and so the only way to separate it from you is to separate you from your hand."
Maedhros nodded, but made no move to continue. Finally, he presented the hilt to the Lord of Mandos. "You do it; it’s your blade."
Námo shook his head and did not take it. "That blade will sever a fëa. I do not have permission to wield it."
"Who made such a dangerous weapon?" Maedhros asked in exasperation, not expecting an answer. "And I am giving you permission."
"My cousin Aulë made it, as you could no doubt guess. But it is not your permission I need, Maedhros, so you cannot grant it to me."
"Then ask Lord Manwë if you can cut off my hand!" he said, losing his temper. "He entrusted me to your care, and will not deny you."
"It was not he who rebuked me never to harm the fëar in my care. Never forget whose Children you are."
Now it was Fingon’s turn to get angry. "Then why ask such a thing of me? If even you fear to do it, as it seems from what you say, then what right have I?"
"Dare I ask why you have such a deadly weapon, that even you fear to use?" Maedhros asked, looking again at the knife in his hand.
"The blade was made because it is needful, and I carry it because it is my duty to wield it."
"Then why would you make Fingon do it?" Maedhros asked indignantly.
"Peace, Maedhros. That blade was made with one fëa in mind, and that is not yours nor any other elf’s. When I am given the command, I will wield it."
The knife glittered as Maedhros shifted his hold on it. Dread came over him as he realized just what he was holding. "This weapon…could slay a Vala." For one perverse moment, he wondered if he could find his own heart with it before the Lord of Mandos could stop him. But he no longer longed for oblivion, and the thought skittered away as quickly as it had come to him.
Námo did not contradict him, but merely looked at Fingon.
"Is there no healing for his hand?" Fingon asked, in one final attempt to avoid what was being asked of him.
Námo turned to Maedhros. "Open your left hand."
Maedhros looked down. "I cannot," he said quietly.
But nevertheless, he put the knife down on the bench, and with his right hand sought to pry open the tightly clenched fingers of his left hand. It was harder than the last time, but eventually he did open his palm. He was wreathed in flames, the pain instantly all through him, hungrily eating away at him. He let go his hand, and it clenched tightly shut again on its own. He knew he had cried out, and his body still shuddered, but at least he was not sobbing.
Fingon was standing before him, with the blade in his hand. "I will do it," he said quietly. "You needn’t watch." But Fingon was watching him for his reaction, making sure he had his permission.
"You are fated to bear my burdens, dearest to me of all the Noldor," he whispered. "I will never be able to repay my many debts to you."
Then he calmly held out his left arm, and bowed his head. The pain lasted only an instant, and then was no more. When he opened his eyes, his hand was gone, vanished into nothingness, as if it had never been. There was no blood, either. As soon as he moved his arm, he gasped.
"I’m naked!" he cried out, yelping in consternation.
"No more than you were a moment ago," Fingon said bemused, not expecting that reaction. Maedhros appeared clothed in black and silver to him….
"I…have no body," he said, confused.
Fingon tilted his head sideways. "We lost those when we died. Surely you are not telling me that you only just noticed?"
"I never…missed it before. What happened?" he asked Lord Námo, who had not said a word since Fingon picked up the knife.
"You have lost your last connection to your body. The fëa cannot feel the pain that you were experiencing."
With that reminder, he realized that the pain that had been a dull background to every thought and movement was indeed gone.
"Have I only just died, then?"
Námo shook his head. "No, you died when your body was consumed by the flames. Your fëa simply refused to release its hold completely. When was the last time you felt any hroafelmë?"
"Not since…before I died," he admitted. "I have been neither hungry nor thirsty here, nor cold, nor….anything."
"Your pain was the last of them, and the only one you were still capable of feeling. Now that it is gone, you are free."
"Does freedom always come at such a cost?" he asked, looking down at his newly maimed arm, and then up at Fingon.
"Only in some cases," Námo answered, as brutally honest as always. "It is not every day that I can recall a thrall of Morgoth."
Fingon cried out. "No! Nothing would have brought him to that end, nothing! I will not believe it."
But it was not Námo who answered him. "Think, Fingon. The Oath," Maedhros said quietly. "I was bound to do Morgoth’s will before ever I set foot in Middle Earth."
"I…should have killed you on the Mountain," his whispered hoarsely.
"No," Námo said, "Your deed was well done. He learned what he could there, and the cost was what it had to be. He is well now, so do not regret your mercy."
Maedhros smiled crookedly. "There are no more Oaths here. Else I would swear my life to you, but as it is, it would be a poor gift."
Fingon laughed, but his voice shook. "You are dangerous to know, my eldest cousin. It is well that we are both dead."
"And well that you never saw what I became," Maedhros answered quietly. "But come, there is no past nor future here, nor any pain…and I would spend what time you have remaining in your company, as often as you would permit it."
Lord Námo retrieved his knife, and bowed to each of them. "I will not hinder those plans." Then he vanished.
Maedhros shook his head. "I am not sure I will ever learn how things work here."
*** *** ***
Ringanoirë = "cold tomb" An awful name!
hroafelmë = "bodily impulses" – ie, hunger, thirst, desire, etc.
The phrase "dangerous to know" was borrowed from truehobbit. This chapter, even more than the rest of the story, has some influences from George MacDonald's Lilith.
Míriel's original tapestry also makes a brief cameo in my other (as yet unposted) story "On the Edge of Ruin."
Most of this chapter was already posted as a one-shot, so it may look familiar :).
In time, he did.
Fingon had led him back to his door that day, and repeated the invitation that Míriel had first offered him – to call whenever he wished for him. For a time, he was content to do just that. When he no longer wished to be alone, he would speak the name of one of them, and they would come to him and visit, or go with him about the Halls. He never thought to venture beyond his room alone, and he met no one else in their wanderings.
He had not noticed his nakedness before, but he missed the clothing of his spirit. He guessed now that his childish actions were tied to the sudden thoughts that flared through his fëa untamed by the habits of his body as they had been in life. Whether he liked this novel existence or not, he had little choice but to accustom himself to it. Being alone was a balm, for then he had time to sort out the tangle of his thoughts. He soon learned that memory was real here, and that no distance separated him from the past. In time, he learned to guard his thoughts, but never fully succeeded.
One day, he asked the Lady Míriel if there were any chalk in the Halls. She seemed amused by his request, but some time after she left, another of Lady Vairë’s maidens arrived with some brightly colored chalks. He lay on the floor and covered the brown paper with figures and shapes and writing, reveling in the ability to write with his right hand again. The border he patterned after the stones of his floor. When he was finished, he thought the work looked like the artwork of a child, but he gave it a place on the floor next to the pillow.
Some time after he was finished, when he was contemplating again what the ceiling might be made of, he heard a voice call, "Maitimo!"
He sprang lightly to his feet, and reached for the door, not pausing until he stepped over the threshold. He looked about, curious for a moment, and then headed in the direction the voice seemed to come from. He took many turnings, but always he felt he knew where to go. Finally, he paused beside a door in the wall, a heavy wooden door not unlike his own cell. He knocked, but received no answer. So he tried the door, and found it opened with a slight thrust of his hand. He stepped into the room, and then paused in shock.
"Mother? How came you here?" he asked in distress.
Nerdanel sat on a low couch strewn with blankets, but leapt to her feet when she saw who had entered her room. She did not reach for him, but her eyes devoured the sight of him hungrily. "Maitimo," she said quietly. "How I have longed to see you again."
He held out his arm in invitation, and she stepped into his embrace gratefully. "I am glad to see you again, Mother, though I must say that I did not know you were in these Halls. I thought…we had left you safely behind in the Blessed Realm. How came you to be here?"
"It is not by swords alone that elves can be slain," she said ruefully. "There is one weapon that even the Valar cannot stay – I was slain by grief, in the end."
He shuddered. "At my judgement, I said I would be ashamed to see you again. But I see now that I did not answer for all my deeds in that moment." She sat back down on her couch, and beckoned for him to sit by her. He complied.
"It is not your deeds that drove me here…or at least, not yours alone," she tried to reassure him. "Everyone always said I was strong. I watched my sons follow my husband when he was exiled to Formenos…and my heart did not break. I watched you all desert Tirion and forsake our home, and my heart did not break. I heard of the Kinslaying and the doom of Mandos, and my heart quailed, but still, it did not break. I waited through all the long years, when no news came from the East, and still, my spirit was not conquered. Between hope and endurance, I went on. But in the end…"
"Who brought you the news?" he asked quietly.
"Your Uncle Arafinwë," she said, with half a smile. "He returned from the great War, triumphant and yet subdued. I knew the news could not be good, for all they said that Morgoth was thrown down. He saw me waiting there in hope and doubt, and his spirit fell dim. I knew the news would be little to my liking, but I demanded the tale from him. Even so, I was not prepared to hear it." She looked down at her lap, and repeated in a whisper:
"Fëanáro, slain so long ago. Five of my sons dead before the Host arrived, with dark tales told of just why Eärendil and Elwing came fleeing to the West in the moment they did. And the last two, who lived through all those long years, and fought and survived many battles…only to falter at the end. The Host returned empty-handed because my sons sneaked into the camp like common thieves to claim the Silmarilli for their own…"
"And that is when my heart broke," she said simply. "I had lost you long ago, before you ever took your Oath or left Aman. But the stories he told were of strangers, not the sons I had watched play as elflings and grow into tall lords. My children were lost, lost, and I would never recover them. I left then. I wandered alone, seeking out the wild places in Aman where once Fëanáro and I had found joy. But now all was dark, and the despair and grief clouded my heart. One day, I laid myself down and never woke up. Instead, I found myself here."
He drew her to him, holding her shoulders and putting her head upon his chest. He wanted to say something, anything, but had no words to assuage her grief. So he just rocked, and made half-sobbing crooning noises, trying to let her know how bitterly he repented of his actions in that hour.
Eventually, she pulled away. "But now you are here, Maitimo," she said, smiling at him weakly.
He tried to return her smile, but found he could not. "I…" He stopped. "Mother," he said gently, "there is much I must apologize for. When we left, we did not mean to abandon you, we just…"
She shook her head. "No, I understood. Who knew Fëanáro better than his wife? It was no surprise to me that each of you chose to follow him, for the strength of his will is such that he will not be denied."
"You denied him," he answered, trying not to accuse her, but failing to keep that from his voice.
"Do you really think so?" she said quietly. "Do you even know what quarrel came between us?"
Maedhros looked down. "No. Neither of you would speak of it in our presence. He only said… that it was not needful for you to follow us to Formenos."
She looked down at her hands. "It started long before that," she said quietly. "Such a silly thing, really. I suppose there is no harm in telling you now." She looked up at her eldest son, and searched his eyes. Whatever she saw there must have reassured her, for she continued. "It was not long after the twins were born. Or rather…not long after your cousin Artanis was born. I asked your Father, ‘Where are our daughters?’ for it seemed a strange thing to me that all seven of our children had been sons. I was just teasing lightly, for of course our hearts were full with all of you. But he turned on me harshly, and said that he would not be mocked just because his half-brothers had a daughter each. As I said, it was a little thing. But after that day, I found a distance had grown between us, so that no longer did we make our decisions together. He… would not listen to me."
She looked at Maedhros, and half-smiled. "So you see, I do not think it was I who denied him. He turned from me, and I merely chose not to follow."
"I do not understand," Maedhros said, confused. "Why would such an inconsequential thing matter so much? You did not beg him for daughters, and neither of you had any say in whether we were sons or daughters. He cannot say you denied him sons!"
She shook her head. "No, there was more to it than that, though how much more, I did not see until I arrived here. You know of many wives that were left behind in Aman….but do you know what caused the first separation of husband and wife here?"
"Do you mean grandfather?" he asked. She nodded. "Grandmother died," he answered matter-of-factly. "What did that have to do with anything?"
"Do you know why the Lady Míriel remains here?" she continued.
"She agreed not to be re-embodied. Otherwise, the Valar never would have permitted Finwë to marry Indis. But all the Noldor know this."
"Yes, that is true. But do you know why Finwë was anxious to marry Indis in the first place, and could not wait patiently for his own wife to return?"
Maedhros just shook his head. "I never thought about that. I supposed she loved him."
Nerdanel smiled at him. "She did, of course. But Finwë told the Valar that he desired more children. He had no daughters."
Maedhros took that in. "Oh…I suppose…Father knew this?" She nodded. "And he was never…pleased…with the children of Indis." Understatement of the Age, but no need for either of them to get into something they both knew very well. "So…he rejected you before you would have the chance to hurt him as his father had?"
"That seems to be the way of it," Nerdanel answered calmly.
"But that is ridiculous!" Maedhros said, standing up.
"You never married, did you, Maitimo?" she asked him, amused. He had to shake his head. "Most disputes between married couples are ridiculous, when viewed from the outside. It is not easy to become so…vulnerable."
"But…we shouldn’t have all left you," Maedhros said quietly. "His grievance was not just, and someone should have stayed with you."
"Regrets will not change the past. Do not trouble yourself about what could have been."
"Mother, at least let me apologize for the hurts I have caused you," he said earnestly. "I had not thought to see you here, and now I know that you did not forget us when we left. If I had known that I would have to face you again some day…"
"You would not have acted any differently, Maitimo. Trust your mother to know you that well!"
"Perhaps not," he conceded. "But…I did not think about those who were waiting in Valinor. If I had considered that…I may have avoided my last mistake."
"Why did you steal the Silmarilli from Eonwë?" she asked. "I simply could not picture you and Macalaurë doing something so rash and desperate."
"I was afraid to bring the Oath to Valinor unfulfilled," he answered. "I could not see any other options, so I fulfilled it in Beleriand, fully intending to die in the act."
"And you did," she said.
He shook his head. "No," he whispered. "Eonwë spared us. He let…he let me see that our Oath was forfeit. I did not die until after…I had lost what I had fought so hard to gain."
"What became of Macalaurë?" she asked then. "Arafinwë could not tell me…."
"Neither can I," Maedhros said regretfully. "I only know that he is not here, that he lived. And I know…I know the pain he experienced when he took the Silmaril in his hand." He shuddered at the memory.
"And your other brothers?" she asked to distract him.
He looked up at her. "I do not know. I can tell you how they died, for I was there. I can tell you they are here, for Lord Námo has told me as much. But I have not seen them, despite having asked for them since my death."
"Will I be allowed to see them?" she asked, her fear written plainly on her face.
"You will have to ask Lord Námo," he said. "I am only just learning the rules here myself. But Mother…." He took her hands in his right hand. "You are here for healing. The tears of a mother will not be denied. Do not fear the Lord of Mandos."
She looked down at her hands, and then caught sight of Maedhros’ left arm. "Your…hand." She sounded confused.
"I lost it," he explained. "But do not worry, it does not pain me at all."
"But I thought…I thought the fëa did not show the wounds of the hroa?"
He flashed her a crooked smile. "But Mother, this was a wound of the fëa."
"What could do such a thing?" she asked, recoiling in horror.
He thought a moment. "I am not sure. It wasn’t explained very well. But this was the hand that was clenching the Silmaril when I died, and Lord Námo seemed to think I had not let my hroa go fully. So, he had it cut off."
"He can do that?!"
Maedhros shook his head. "No, you needn’t worry; he will never do that to an elf. I’m a special case – the only maimed elf in Mandos, as far as I know." He paused. "But Mother, I need to know. Can you pardon us for leaving you so long ago…and for not coming back to you?"
She looked at him and smiled. "You are here now, and that is all that matters to me. You and your brothers have always had all of my love, and I have never been angry with you for long."
He embraced her. "Thank you," he said, and turned to go. "If ever you wish to see me, just call my name. The Lord of Mandos will make sure I find my way here."
"Namárië, Maitimo," she called after him, raising her hand in farewell. Then, exhausted, she sank back down onto her couch.
When Maedhros returned to his hall, he began pacing. He could not rest until he did something. His mother had died of grief. His mother was here in Mandos. He must do something to ease her. He could visit, of course, but he wanted to do more. What could he give her? He had nothing – he was dead. His eyes fell on the pillow that the Lady Míriel had given to him…and what sat next to it. He could give her the brown paper covered with chalk. It was a crude gift, not like the one Míriel had given him. But…it was all he had. If she did not call for him again soon, he would ask one of the Maiar to deliver it for him. With that thought, he calmed enough to stop his restless movement. "Mother died when she learned of my deeds," he informed the puddle of water. "If Maglor and I had returned to Valinor and sued for pardon, she could have born it. She was always strong." He shook his head. "It is my fault, so I must do everything in my power to redress it. But I have no power. I will need Lord Námo’s help to do anything for her." He turned and faced North. "Námo, Lord of Mandos, I beseech you to let me see my youngest brothers, not for my sake or for theirs, but that I may bring news to my mother when next she calls on me." Then he sat down to wait for a response, wrapping his arms about his knees and bowing his head.
My view of Nerdanel’s despair at the end of the First Age was greatly influenced by Raksha the Demon’s "Fading Embers." In canon, there is no indication that she died. Grief, however, can slay an elf.
The original title of this chapter was "Answering a Call." But I posted Maedhros’ visit with his mother as a ‘preview’ of the story, and called it the Fourth Station, after the Stations of the Cross. The fourth one is "Jesus Meets His Mother." I received such wonderful feedback on that parallel, that I thought it really was a better title. As for what 'fourth' could refer to here - Maedhros has met Mandos, Míriel and Fingon thus far; Nerdanel is the fourth person he interacts with.
Chapter 8: Waiting Is the Hardest Part
He looked up when he heard a polite knocking on his door. "Come in," he called, not thinking to ask who it was.
Fingon stepped in, and said easily, "Where have you been, cousin? I have not seen you in a long time."
"Has it been that long?" Maedhros asked in surprise. "I have simply been…waiting."
"For what?" Fingon asked, curious.
"For Lord Námo to…" he paused, grimacing.
Looking at him more closely, Fingon asked quietly, "Maedhros, what is wrong?"
He looked up at Fingon and said, "Nerdanel is here."
Fingon reacted in surprise. "But how…"
"She died of grief, when she was given news of her sons."
Fingon looked sympathetic. "Was it really…that bad?" he asked, hesitantly.
Maedhros nodded. "Yes. Even you would not recognize what we became after the Fifth Battle."
"I don’t see how…"
"But you can guess," Maedhros cut him off quickly. "With the battle lost, and no hope of defeating Morgoth ever, where do you think the attention of my brothers turned?"
Horror started to grow on Fingon’s face. "Not Thingol’s Silmaril…"
"Oh yes!" Maedhros said, though his look was fey. "Though Thingol himself had died, and it was his grandson Dior who refused it to us. As you might imagine, Celegorm was not pleased to be denied by Luthien’s son. We sacked Doriath," he said harshly, ruthlessly telling the story that Fingon had been oh-so-careful not to ask for since they had been reunited. "Dior and his sons were killed, and his wife Nimloth, and many of their people. The Sons of Fëanor had grown fell in their many years on the Marches. Yet Celegorm, and Caranthir, and scheming Curufin all fell that day. And the Silmaril escaped with Dior’s daughter, so we did not gain anything for our trouble, had nothing to show for our blood-stained hands."
"One Kinslaying was enough for me," Fingon said quietly. "I could not have born to do it again, for anything. How did you…."
"How did we survive?" Maedhros asked, his fey mood not changing. "We denied to ourselves that we had done anything wrong. We pretended to forget the Oath. We went mad with despair for years. Oh, there are many ways to survive, cousin."
"But your mother is strong. She already knew of Alqualonde. She should have been able to bear Doriath as well – deeds done in a distant land she never saw."
"No…the loss of half her sons is a different tale altogether. But you are right, she could have born that. The story does not end, though, for four Sons of Fëanor survived, and the remnant that fled Doriath still denied us the Silmaril. We attacked them as well."
"A third Kinslaying?" Fingon blurted out. "Were you mad?" he asked, recoiling in horror.
"Yes, mad," Maedhros said bitterly. "Mad, and trapped by an evil Oath we could not escape. The twins fell there, but still, we did not gain the Silmaril. Suffice it to say the jewel now burns in the sky, beyond the reach of any save Manwë."
Maedhros looked at Fingon. The fey look had faded from his eyes, and now they were ash-cold. His face looked weary. "I thought I had paid for my deeds, but it seems even in my judgement I did not learn the full impact of them."
Fingon remained silent for awhile. "But in this tale, you yet lived. What happened after?"
"The Valar, at long last, went to war. Their Hosts succeeded where we had failed, and Thangorodrim was broken. Morgoth was cast down from his throne and taken captive. The Silmarils were recovered from his crown. The Age ended in victory…or would have." He scowled, for the first time hesitating to go on. Fingon waited patiently, not pushing him.
"The Oath yet lived. Despite Maglor’s protests, I insisted we steal them from Eonwë’s camp, since he had denied them to us. I thought to die fulfilling the Oath, and thus earn some peace at last. But…" He paused, and looked away from Fingon.
"I did not die until afterwards. I could not bear the pain of the jewel – it burned me." Here he looked at his missing hand, and Fingon suddenly understood. "So I…fell…into fire. Maglor did not follow me here. And when our mother heard that news, she was broken by her grief."
Fingon had nothing to say, but he looked on his old friend in pity. "The years were not kind to you," he said quietly after a good deal of time had passed. "I see now why Námo called you Morgoth’s thrall. The Maedhros I knew was never so ruthless, nor did he disregard the lives of elves in his protection. I am grateful that the elf you became was burned away long before we were reunited here. Your mother will never see nor understand that elf."
"The loss of a hand and an eternity in Mandos are small prices to pay for that," Maedhros agreed. "But you see now my dilemma," he continued. "Her death rests squarely on my shoulders. I did not even know…and I thought all things were revealed at judgement. There are many things Námo has not told me. For myself, I was willing to wait for his time. After all, nothing I do will shorten my stay here. I have all the time in the world, quite literally. But now…"
"You hope he will give you news of your family, so that you may comfort her?" Fingon asked, understanding at last what Maedhros was waiting for.
Maedhros nodded. "I am helpless to do aught else. Not just news, though – I would see them, so that I may report the truth to her without guile. It will be little comfort to Nerdanel to learn how her sons died. But if she knows they are well now, she may heal a bit…."
His eyes strayed to the brown paper. He smiled ruefully. "This is all I have to give to her. She has not accepted such mean gifts since the twins were only to her waist. And now this is all her eldest son can offer her for her comfort." He put his head down, hiding his face in the fall of his hair. He made no sound, but his shoulders quivered, and Fingon knew that he wept for shame and regret.
"I will take your gift to her," Fingon said quietly. "I know you will not willingly return until Lord Námo has answered you."
Maedhros muttered his thanks, but he did not look up. Fingon left him, his heart weighed down with sorrow for his friend’s raw grief. The tale Maedhros told had shaken him more than he cared to admit. Lost in his musings, he did not notice one of Lord Námo’s people approaching him. "Findekáno son of Nolofinwë, would you see the lady Nerdanel?" he asked.
Fingon looked up in surprise, "Yes, please, if your master will permit it."
"He will," the Maia said gravely.
"Then lead me to her, though I wish to see Lord Námo as soon as may be."
The Maia led him to Nerdanel’s door silently, and then left him with a bow. He spoke no word indicating whether the other audience would be granted.
Nerdanel seemed surprised to see him, but he thought his aunt looked well enough. Her grief was plain, but she smiled when he gave her Maedhros’ humble gift. Her room was spacious, and, he noted ruefully, richly decorated. There are advantages to not being a rebel Noldo Kinslayer, then, he thought wryly. He asked her for tales of his mother in Valinor in the years after they had left, and her cares seemed to lighten as she told them. It could not have been easy for any of the widows-with-living-husbands, but life had gone on apace, as it would anywhere. She told him quietly of watching the passage of the Moon and the Sun, knowing that those lights shone on the Noldor in the Outer Lands. When he noticed her spirit growing weary, he took his leave of her, offering to return whenever she wished.
As he closed the door, the Maia who had led him to Nerdanel appeared by his side. "I will lead you to the Lord Námo, now," he said with deference. Fingon paused a moment. There was something…official…sounding to this meeting, and it filled him with foreboding. But he merely nodded. "Very well. I thank you."
Sure enough, the courtyard the Maia led him to was large, with a fountain in the middle…and a throne at the far end. Fingon approached slowly, but he told himself it was out of respect, not fear.
"You wished to discuss something with me?" the Lord of Mandos asked quietly, his voice deep and somber.
Fingon nodded. "Maedhros is grieved to find his mother in your care. He wishes to offer her solace, but is helpless to do so, when he himself is ignorant of his brothers’ fates. Will you not allow him to go to them?" Fingon had not meant to plead his friend’s case immediately, but found he was too conflicted to ask his own questions right now.
"You know why his brothers are in my care?" Námo asked.
Fingon nodded miserably. "Their Oath. Maedhros led them into madness, and…." He stopped. "Oh."
"You can guess, then, why he has not been permitted to see them." Námo continued, "You would do well to remember that I do not always share my reasons with the Eldar in my care."
"Maedhros trusts you," Fingon hastened to add. "He did not ask me to plead with you. He is simply…waiting. For Nerdanel’s sake, please do not let him wait too long."
Lord Námo smiled, "For Nerdanel’s sake I will relent, but the time has always been of my choosing. Now, why did you wish to see me, Findekáno?"
Fingon looked down guiltily. "I…I was at a loss. Maedhros’ confession shook me. I see now that there was much evil in his left hand. But still, I….he is my friend. His mother is good and wise. Must he really wait here for all eternity?"
Námo did not smile any longer. "The Doom of the Valar is not lightly set aside. Maitimo accepts his fate."
"No he does not! He sits in his room and broods, suffering regret and remorse and thinking himself the lowliest of the Noldor. Can you not give him any chance to redress his wrongs?"
"Why does this distress you, Findekáno?"
"Because I…" his voice dropped to a whisper. "I have done nothing but relieve him of his hand, so he may have a perpetual reminder that he is maimed while others are whole. He is…greatly changed."
"Maitimo does not regret the loss of his hand. His regrets are not of your making, and indeed, you have done what little you can to relieve him of them. Your concern does you credit, but he is not your responsibility. Look to your own fëa; do not fear for his."
"We would find it easier to trust you if you told us more, lord." Fingon shook his head wryly.
"The Time of Waiting in these Halls is not meant to be easy. True trust and hope do not rely on the knowledge you seek. Maitimo could learn from your concern, but perhaps you could learn from his patience."
Fingon bowed, realizing he would get no further answer. The Maia who had led him here led him back to his own room. He had much to think about, and would try patience, for now.
Maedhros had had enough of sitting and waiting patiently for a response that was not forthcoming. He would not ask again, though; the Lord of Mandos had heard him the first time. Finally, he picked up the pillow, and looked at the portrait of his family. "She lost all eight of us," he said quietly. "That is much to ask of anyone, but no mother has lost so many children." He addressed each of them in turn. "Comforting the grieving was never your strength, Father. What comfort can you offer to Nerdanel now? To any of us?" It still troubled him that he did not know why Míriel had not spoken to Fëanáro. But he would not ask, yet. They knew he didn’t know – they would tell him when they were ready, and not before. "Maglor is lost to all of us…lost to the land of the living, where I may never go again." He rolled that thought around in his mind. It still did not fill him with regret, which he thought odd. The dead were supposed to crave their lives, and yet he was content to remain here. "Was it worth it, dear brother? Cheating death and enduring the pain? Do you regret not following me here?" The pillow did not respond, and Maedhros’ fingers moved on, tracing Celegorm’s shining locks. "I doubt Lord Námo will let us meet. Surely he holds me responsible for your deeds – and Curufin’s. Why was I not able to rein you in?"
His thoughts drifted back to a time when Celegorm was young, and he had been left watching his little brother. His very unruly little brother. Celegorm had not listened to anything he said, so in the end, he had to force him to obey. He restrained him, he choked him, whatever he had to do to make his brother conform to his own will. It had worked…but such disciplines are soon outgrown. They no longer feared their eldest brother in Beleriand, and after the Dagor Bragollach, they no longer respected him. His authority had faltered with the failure of the Union of Maedhros. He had failed…he no longer led. "No, Lord Námo has reason to pause and consider what you and I may say to one another. What demons still haunt you, my fair and proud brother?" He paused.
"And Caranthir, always the loner, never the follower. Why did you follow them in the end? Was it novel to have their support? Or were you just weary of following me? I led you to defeat, true, but it was not my wish to lead you to death…" He stopped. "But I did, and for that, I am sorry. I never let Celegorm assume the leadership, so it was me, always me, was it not?" He looked at the youngest, still children in this scene. "You will always be children to me, my little brothers. How many battles must one fight, how many years must one live, to grow older than an older brother? It cannot be done. I would have protected you from harm, as I tried to all my life, but I did not, did I? You, too, I led to your deaths." He threw the pillow away from him.
"What hope is there in my lonely vigil?" he cried out to the water. "Never will I be permitted to visit these elves I led to their deaths, these elves I betrayed to their Oath, my brothers…." He would have sobbed, but no tears came. He looked North once more. "Is my request vain? Will I never be reunited with my family?" The silence that filled his room did not change. "But my request is not for myself alone. I am bereft of my family, of my brothers…but so is my mother. Will you not permit Nerdanel to see her own sons? She has done nothing but succumb to grief. Surely we could….we could each visit her in turn. If I cannot see them, at least allow her. Do not deny a mother her sons. That slew her in the first place. I beg of you!" And with that, he fell down on the floor, and sobbed.
*** *** ***
Why yes, the chapter title *is* from a Tom Petty song. I know it's random, sorry.
His sobs stopped abruptly when he was given an answer, albeit not in the manner he expected.
The puddle of water on the floor began to froth and bubble, casting madly sparkling light everywhere. He looked at it in wonder, and not a little trepidation, when an awful figure arose from it.
Ulmo, Lord of Waters, stood in his room, making it seem small indeed.
"What is it you wish, Son of Fëanor?" he asked in his deep voice.
Maedhros did not answer right away, but got slowly to his feet. Even so, he had to look up at Ulmo as if he were on his knees. "I wish fervently for the healing of Nerdanel my mother, wounded with grief for the loss of her sons. Please, will you bring her word of them, at least, if you will not permit them to visit her? You…or Lord Námo," he faltered, not knowing how these two Valar shared their authority.
"Would you have your mother healed and leave these halls?" the Vala asked him.
Maedhros paused only a moment before he nodded. "I am permitted to see her while she is here, but I would not stay her from a return to life. Not every elf is as content to live without a body as I am, and I would not deny her that. I do not seek to ease my own sufferings, which are well-deserved, but hers, which she incurred in all innocence. Her only fault was to love deeply, and for that she won death. Please, Lord, can you not have mercy on her?"
"Open your door," the Lord of Waters said in return.
Surprised, Maedhros turned and immediately did as he was told. When the door swung open, two people were revealed to be standing on the threshold. Two people he had not seen since before the War of Wrath.
He immediately stepped out into the Hall. "Ambarussa," he breathed, almost in awe.
"Which one of us do you mean?" Amrod asked cheekily. Amras merely grinned at him, too happy for words.
"I…" Maedhros drank in the sight of them, at a loss for words. Suddenly remembering something, he tried to speak. "I must apologize. I did not mean to…"
Amras waved him aside. "We all share the guilt. You need not apologize to us."
Maedhros embraced him. "Losing both of you was the last blow my heart felt. I have not truly lived since that day."
"Neither have we," Amrod said, embracing Maedhros in his turn.
When he released him, Maedhros took a step back and looked at each of them. "How are things with you?"
"They are well, brother," Amrod said quietly. "We are new-come from judgement, and even these Halls appear as the bright light of day when the earth is fresh-scrubbed with rain."
Maedhros tilted his head in confusion. "How is it that your judgement was delayed? Is time truly meaningless here?"
Amras looked at him sheepishly. "Nay, it was long overdue. We were…avoiding it."
Maedhros looked at both his younger brothers in wonder. "You must tell me this tale. But before you do, please tell me – whom have you seen here?"
"Only you," Amrod answered immediately. "We have only been with each other since we awoke."
Maedhros considered for a moment. He frowned, hoping he would not misinterpret the gift being offered him by the Lord of Waters. "Walk with me. There is something I would like to show you." Curious, they complied, easily falling into step behind him. The halls were silent and deserted, as they always were when Maedhros ventured into them. He knew where he was headed, but took the time to pause and let Amrod and Amras admire the tapestries they passed. They spoke quietly and sparingly; Maedhros did not press them for details of their story. That could wait. But the evidence before him was overwhelming – they were well, as they had not been since before the Darkening of the Trees.
Amras turned to him, saying "Something is different about you. You look…." And then his voice trailed off.
Amrod looked more closely, and blinked. "Your hand. It’s the wrong one. You’ve been…switched. Reversed in a mirror."
Maedhros laughed. "Nay, this is a new wound, and the old one has been healed. It is a strange fate to be always without a hand, but not a painful one." They continued on, and did not speak of that again.
When they reached their destination, Maedhros turned to face them. "There is an elf who would be glad to see you beyond this door. Are you ready to meet someone else?" he asked them, knowing that such a warning was insufficient.
Amras noted something in his face and asked, "Who is it, Maedhros?"
He looked back and forth between them, and at length answered, "Only one member of our family escaped death and these Halls."
Amrod looked at him in exasperation. "We aren’t going to panic when you tell us Maglor died too. When I saw you, I expected as much."
Maedhros shook his head. "Maglor lives."
Amras got there first. "Mother! But we left her safe in Aman! What wound could reach her there?"
"Grief," Maedhros said simply. "She learned of all of our deaths at once, and of our deeds in Beleriand. Now she is here."
Amrod shook his head, disbelieving. "Mother is strong; she would not have succumbed."
"She will be strong again," Maedhros answered. "The sight of you will do her much good. Will you come in?"
They both nodded. Maedhros opened the door and went in first, to prepare her for her guests.
"Hello, Mother, I have come to see you once again." He stood there awkwardly. All his scheming did not prepare him to be standing before this person in front of him.
She looked up from where she sat, and smiled graciously at him. "It has been a long time, my son. Your cousin brought me your gift. It was very thoughtful of you."
"Kind words for a crude drawing." He spoke dismissively. "But I have come to make a request of you." She looked up at him, curious. "Would you receive other guests today?"
"Who are these friends of yours?" she asked with a sad smile that reminded him suddenly of Míriel.
"Two of your sons," he said quietly. Her hand flew to her mouth, but did not cover her suddenly white face as she looked to the door. "Please, let them come," she said at last.
Maedhros opened the door, and the twins rushed in to embrace their mother.
They visited for a long time. Maedhros was content to watch, seeing that his mother’s smile was no longer that of Míriel, but resembled an honest smile as she had worn in life. The last time he had seen the three of them together was several lifetimes ago. Amrod and Amras seemed less bashful; he could only suppose that they did not yet realize that they had driven their mother here as surely as he had. He would not remind them. Eventually, she grew weary, and Maedhros suggested that they leave. He promised to come again, but did not say anything about the twins. They seemed uncertain, and merely expressed their joy at being reunited at last.
Out in the hall, he once again took the lead, intending to go directly back to his room. But at the first turn, he met a Maia; one of Námo’s. He nodded his head, feeling uneasy. He stopped, not sure if it would be rude to walk around. He did not have long to wait, though.
"Pityafinwë, Telufinwë, please come with me," the Maia said respectfully.
Maedhros shot his younger brothers a panicked look. He had the urge to bolt, dragging both of them away from this Maia who threatened to take them from him. But he only had one hand. Instead, he embraced each of them, and then stepped back. "You will have to tell me your stories another day," he said bravely. He would not be ungrateful for the boon granted him. He got to see them, didn’t he? But he could not walk away. He merely stood still as they left him. When they turned out of his sight, he fell to his knees and wept. He could hope to be reunited with them again, but dare he let himself?
How long he stayed there, kneeling on the stones, he did not know. But the same Maia who had stopped him before returned. "Nelyafinwë, it would be best if you returned to your room now," he said, again with deference.
Maedhros stood, and slowly turned to look at him. "To one who does not know how things work here, the decisions of your Master seem capricious." He would allow himself that much complaint.
"It was not my Master the Lord Námo who sent me, but Lord Ulmo." The dreary-looking Maia actually smiled. "Seldom does he come to these Halls, so I am as much at a loss as you."
Placated, or at least knowing this one was not the person to ask questions of, Maedhros followed him back in silence. When the door closed behind him he sat down on the floor of his empty room, and drew his knees up to his chest. He gazed at the water morosely. "I was given what I asked for," he admitted. "The twins were reunited with our mother. She smiled again. I even got to see them. And yet…" He sighed. "It was difficult to lose so soon what I had just gained. I thought I would have a chance to speak with them. They started to tell me their story…"
But he had stopped them, to take them to Nerdanel. No, that had been the right choice. That was the only reason Ulmo had granted his request – because it was for Nerdanel, not for him. He would accept that if he had to…but it wasn’t easy.
"No, this will eat at me. I must know. Will I see them again?" He addressed the water, since that was the last place he had seen the Lord Ulmo. No answer. He rested his chin on his knees to wait.
But he could not wait forever. He grew restless, and stood up. He walked about the room again. When he was sure he would scream at Lord Námo if he stood here another moment, he jerked open the door and stepped out into the hall. He did not know where he was going, but he wanted to go somewhere. He did not stop to consider whether or not he had permission to be roaming about these halls – he just went. After getting hopelessly lost and passing by halls of tapestries unseeing, his steps finally slowed. He looked around, and wondered where he was. There were doors in this hallway – were there other elves behind them? Suddenly, he hesitated. He knew he shouldn’t be here. A door at the end of the hall opened, and he fled. He did not see if another elf stepped out behind him and he hoped that no one saw him. He did not stop until he reached a hall without any doors. Curious, he looked at the walls. There were no tapestries, not even the colored stones of his own room. The walls were unrelieved dark black stone. Matching pillars marched down the length of the vaulted hall, disappearing in darkness on his right. On each pillar was a bracket holding a brand, but none of the torches were lit. The room was somber and silent – his footfalls did not echo in the wide space. The floor was of white marble, and seemed to glow eerily in the dim light. He walked into the hall to see it a bit better, but seeing there was nothing there, he turned to go. He did not reach the door. The other end of the hall was where all the decoration was. It was…a throne room.
One he had seen before.
Almost against his will, he took a few halting steps forward, and then a few more. As he got closer, he could see the differences. His first impression had taken him back, so that he was standing once again in the pit of Angband, looking up at a dark throne. But this one was not disfigured. The carvings behind the throne were elegant, not mocking. And, of course, the throne was empty. The presence of Morgoth (or in this case, his absence) was not something to overlook. He would not approach the dais, but he did dare to take a closer look at the wall behind the throne. Most of the relief was stylistic, so that he did not know what was being depicted. But he did notice the gems embedded in the work. And directly above the throne, there was a crown…a crown with three diamonds glittering in it. He sucked in his breath (or would have, if he still breathed these days), and took several steps back. The similarity he had seen was not accidental, then.
"Mine was the original," a voice behind him said quietly.
Maedhros whirled around, trapped. There were no archways out of this hall near at hand. The Lord of Mandos stood before him.
"This is…Angband," he said uncertainly.
"No," Námo shook his head. "Melkor seldom made more than a copy. I suppose he preferred my throne room to his brother Manwë’s. For some reason, I have never been flattered by his imitation."
Maedhros looked at the Vala uncertainly. It seemed a joke, but not one to be laughed at. What could he say? "I like yours better," he said in all sincerity. "But when were you ever in Angband?" Probably too audacious, but he was sick of being timid. It suited him ill.
"Before the Eldar came to Valinor," Námo replied gravely, as if he were asked such cheeky questions all the time. "I have not used this room since." He looked at Maedhros closely. "Why are you here?"
Maedhros, for his part, examined the veins in the marble floor. "I…went for a walk."
"What were you seeking?"
"Answers," Maedhros whispered. "Or at least patience to await them."
"Why did you not ask for them?" Mandos asked.
"I did!" Maedhros said angrily, looking up. "I spoke clearly. I only spoke once, but by all means, if you cannot hear, I will repeat them as often as I can. WILL I SEE MY BROTHERS AGAIN?" he shouted.
"You will," Námo said calmly.
"Why…why didn’t you just say so?" Maedhros asked, genuinely confused. What was he missing here?
"You ask the wrong questions...of the wrong people. You were permitted to see your brothers, because you willed their good and Nerdanel’s. I am not opposed to giving you what you want, Maedhros Son of Fëanor, but I will only give you what is good for all those in my care. As long as you see things as being about you alone, you will not see."
"I…am sorry. I did not mean to take it that way. It is just so difficult when I do not know what will be."
"Of all beings in Arda, I am least likely to understand what you mean by that."
This time, he knew Námo was teasing him.
"In all your long years of dealing with elves, you have not learned how we react to uncertainty?" Maedhros shot back.
"It is seldom pleasant," Námo conceded. "But knowledge and experience are different things. Tell me, though, why you are here, and not shouting at me in your room?"
"I…did not want to shout at you."
"Why not? You seem much more pleasant now that you have."
"I will not be a rebel again. I tried to find freedom that way, and it eluded me. You have offered me a chance, of sorts, and I will not squander it. I give you my word."
Utter silence descended.
"Nelyafinwë, Nossenehtar ar Torninehtar, are you proud that Vandaracindo cannot be appended to your name?"
Maedhros shook – with rage or fear, he did not know – and got out in a measured voice, "Whatever else my faults, I do keep my word. Do not deny me the only honour I could bring to your gates."
"It is time we found you some new honour. Will you stop this timid lurking and be the restorer of your House?"
Maedhros cocked his head to one side, and looked at Námo quizzically. He was not being reprimanded. "I do not understand, Lord," he said honestly enough.
"Your efforts at trust do you credit. But I cannot have you fleeing in fear. Think of the chaos you would cause in my Halls if a wandering elf could encounter you at any time."
Another joke. He was not getting used to them.
Maedhros fell to his knees. "Lord, I beg of you, speak plainly. I want nothing better than to see my family restored. Even if I could not see them again, knowing that they were whole and healed would be…good. If you tell me this can truly be, and that you work to make it so, then I will trust what you do or do not tell me. But no one has told me that there is any hope, so I continue on in doubt and fear."
"That depends upon them. I only tend spirits; I do not make them."
Maedhros bowed his head. "Then my trust will only be what it was before, for how can I know that all will be well?"
Lord Námo did not answer, but he extended a hand to the kneeling elf. Maedhros hesitantly reached for it with his right hand, and gasped in surprise as the Lord of Mandos pulled him to his feet. He had expected the hand to feel cold, but it was not – it was warm in a way that no fëa here was.
"Walk with me," he said quietly, and led Maedhros out of the ancient throne room. They walked in silence through many corridors, most of which Maedhros had never seen before. There could be no such thing as an easy or companionable silence with this Vala, but still, he felt the time was…peaceful. They did not see another soul, and Maedhros was not surprised when they reached his doorway once again. "I will leave you here," Námo said, breaking their silence. Maedhros bowed, and turned to open his door.
He was still confused, but his thoughts no longer crowded and chased each other, driving him to distraction. He was content to wait. He did not understand why the Vala’s mere presence was so calming – he had learned nothing new. And yet his doubts were laid to rest, and he could patiently wait for the future to unfold. Was this what it meant to trust?
He turned North. "Thank you, my Lord," he said quietly. "Next time, I will not make you come find me." He smiled to himself – he was fairly certain there would be a next time.
No one called for him, and he did not call for anyone else, for quite some time. But then he was startled by a tentative knock on his door. He opened it, and was surprised to see Amrod and Amras standing there. They had returned to him! He embraced them both, and then beckoned them into his room. They both immediately went to the water and gazed at the light in awe.
"What is this, brother?" Amras asked.
"Something I brought here with me," Maedhros said, smiling enigmatically.
Amrod looked at him, puzzled. "How could you bring anything but yourself to the Halls of Mandos?"
"I do not know," Maedhros conceded. "But it came with me nonetheless. The light was trapped in my hand."
"Which one?" Amras asked, guessing there was more to this story.
"The left one," Maedhros admitted, looking at his stump. "When I died, my hand was not fully willing to let go, and somehow I was stubborn enough to bring that much with me."
Amrod laughed, and muttered something that sounded like, "Why does that not surprise me?"
"You are the most stubborn of all of us, you do know that, right?" Amras said.
Maedhros ignored them both, and officially welcomed them instead. "I am sorry I have no furniture to offer, but please, have a seat on the floor. I hope you will not mind…"
"With that light?" Amrod asked. "Not at all. This room is much brighter than the rooms we have."
"So, tell me, what have you been up to since last we met?" Maedhros asked.
"Sleeping, mostly," Amras said sheepishly. "We’ve only been up and about a few times since our judgements."
"I am still confused. How is it your judgements were delayed?" Maedhros asked them.
"We…didn’t want to face the Valar," Amras explained, looking down at the floor. "I said I would not go if I could not be with Amrod."
"And I just said I would not go," Amrod added. "Apparently, you have to consent to judgement, because it didn’t happen until we agreed."
"I went first," Amras said, absurdly pleased with himself. "They told me I would only be able to see Amrod if he also faced them."
"Is that why you changed your mind?" Maedhros asked.
Amrod shook his head. "No – I would not have gone in any event. But…Lord Námo told us what you did at yours, so we had to be brave enough to go."
"What did he tell you?" Maedhros asked, uncomfortable with the idea of others discussing his judgement.
"He said that you had asked Manwë and Varda to release all of us from the Oath…and that your request had been granted. I do not know how I could have gone before them when I knew perfectly well I had left the Oath unfulfilled when I died."
"Would that I had as well," Maedhros said quietly.
Amras looked at him in surprise. "You…got the Silmaril?"
Maedhros nodded. "One of them. But that success was worse than the defeats of Doriath and Sirion. Please, do not ask me to speak of it today."
Amras looked back at the light in the water. "That light…is it from the Silmaril?" he asked instead.
"Perhaps," Maedhros said. "It was in my hand when I died."
The conversation moved on to more pleasant topics, though they avoided talking about any other family members. Maedhros made sure his pillow was Tree-side up. It was not long before the twins were both yawning, and a Maia came to retrieve them.
After they had left, Maedhros had much to consider. Námo was right; he had been foolish to consider only himself. They were so newly come from judgement that he should not have expected them to tell him their story after the visit to Nerdanel. "If someone had only told me," he muttered. He would have to learn to ask. Looking back, Lord Ulmo had done exactly what he asked...and no more.
He was encouraged that his request had enabled Amrod to face judgement. He knew by now that he never would have been allowed to see them if they had not done so. But he had not asked them about their fates. He hoped they hadn’t been given too grievous a punishment. They, after all, had always been the followers. He was the leader; the guilt rested on his shoulders.
And he could not imagine them without each other.
Now, for the rest of his brothers….would he ever see the other half of the Sons of Fëanor again? He knew whom to ask, now. It was just a matter of waiting.
*** *** ***
Nossenehtar ar Torninehtar (Hánornehtar): Kinslayer and Brothers’ Bane
Thanks to my beta Fiondil for the Quenya translations!
Maedhros now wandered the Halls at will, not waiting for requests from others to leave his cell. But he was always sure to tell the North wall where he was going before he left. He was not sure if Námo had been serious about the problems he would cause if he met wandering Elves,…but he did not want to test the idea.
He often looked at Míriel’s tapestries, because they reminded him of his family. The ache of missing them had not diminished. If anything, seeing the twins made the loss of the others even keener. He had almost lost even them. It was not long before the residue of goodwill had worn off after their judgements. Then they had remembered that he was the one who led them to their deaths. They did not accuse him, precisely, but the anger was there, smoldering. He understood how deep it went when one day, Amras did not come. He resolved to let nothing stand between them, so went to visit both twins in their adjoining rooms. Without preamble, he told them of the War of Wrath and Morgoth’s defeat, his demand of Eonwë and the Herald’s response…and then, haltingly, how he had constrained Maglor to follow him in one last desperate act.
"We assaulted the host of the Valar," he said quietly. "We were mad, but they let us live. We fled with the Silmarilli – the two jewels that had remained in Morgoth’s crown all that time. And when we were alone, we divided them between us, like petty thieves dividing their swag. The jewels would not suffer our touch. It burned, burned my hand as black as Morgoth’s. I could not bear it, nor bear to let it go, and so I died. Maglor could not bear it either, but he lives on in pain."
The twins were silent after this tale, but the rift between the brothers was healed. Maedhros reflected ruefully that he preferred the days of their childhood, when such rifts could be settled by merely challenging them to a race and letting them win. Or when they grew older – trying his best to beat them.
The next time they visited together, they confided to him that Manwë had declared they could be rehoused whenever Námo deemed them ready. In all seriousness, Maedhros asked them, "Well then, what are you going to bribe him with?" He was punched in the shoulders for his audacity.
"Why would we want to leave?" Amrod asked in equal seriousness. "All of our family is here."
Maedhros frowned. "Here, but out of our reach. I fear that when you and Mother leave, I will be left alone."
Amras reassured him that it would be ages before Námo would deem them ready. "Three Kinslayings must take awhile to assuage. You can only die once for them."
Maedhros remained uncertain if he should be comforted by that thought or not. He had a long conversation with the puddle of water in his room about the payment of debts and guilt and innocence. He was not much wiser by the end, but he knew better than to demand answers about his brothers’ fates.
But his favorite place was still the courtyard Fingon had shown him with its fountain and benches, and that is where he headed today. There was an illusion of cool green plants there, though of course nothing grew in these Halls. He could close his eyes and pretend. He sat idly, longing for a time and place that would never return, and missing his absent brothers. He did not dare miss his father, but sometimes he would whisper to him when the pangs hit him. He wondered if Father could hear him…. But he supposed not.
At the sound of someone else entering his sanctuary, he opened his eyes. It was Fingon, whom he had not seen in a long, long time. Happily he sat up and smiled at his friend. "Come and sit with me," he said. Fingon walked over and gingerly took a seat. Maedhros looked at him curiously, thinking that something must be wrong. "What is it?"
"I’m leaving, Maedhros."
He went very still. He could not move or think.
"When?" he asked, after a time.
"Soon, I think," Fingon said quietly. "Námo told me that even Melkor was only held for three ages, so he supposed he had to let me go as well."
"Has it been three ages then?"
Fingon nodded. "I think so. Though he said the First Age counted for me."
Maedhros laughed, but it was strained. "You only died one hundred years of the Sun before the Age ended. Lord Námo is growing soft."
Fingon smiled ruefully. "I doubt it. When he told me, I insisted that I have a chance to take my leave. He threatened to make me wait another Age, but I went anyway. As it is, he said if he ever sees me again, I am here for the duration."
Maedhros’ eyes did not leave his lap. "At least I know two elves who will be here as long as I am," he said quietly.
"Two?" Fingon asked. "I know Míriel is here forever, but who else…oh."
Maedhros nodded. "My Father."
They sat in silence for awhile. At length, Maedhros looked up. "Soon, you will be able to see stars again." Fingon had not asked for his permission, and he would not have granted it anyway, but he could offer his friend this much congratulations. "And hear the wind whispering in the trees at night."
"And see a sunrise," Fingon continued. "And eat and drink…." He stopped. He would not taunt Maedhros with what he could never have again.
Maedhros did not notice. "And see Tirion-upon-Túna," he continued in a low voice. "The white city that we last saw lit by torches now gleaming in the sunlight." He sounded wistful. "But you will also have to meet the Noldor, and the Teleri, and for that," he looked Fingon in the eye, "I do not envy you. Here, I needn’t confront anyone who does not wish to see me. And I have not."
Fingon nodded. "I am ready, I think. I do not look for a welcome, but I will find my way."
Maedhros nodded. "Few could deny you. Of all of Finwë’s grandchildren, it was you who inspired people to love you. If only my brothers could have learned that lesson from you!" he added ruefully.
"Finrod was well-loved, do not forget," Fingon added. "I look forward to meeting him again. I wonder…I wonder if he will remember me after so long?"
"Do not be absurd. The memories of elves are not like Men, to forget all that was ever known in a single yen. Were you here for twice as many ages, Fingon the Valiant would not be forgotten."
Fingon smiled in response. "I will miss you," he said simply. The smile fell away.
Maedhros looked at Fingon intently. "Smile for me," he demanded. Fingon just gave him a puzzled look. "I must remember you until the end of Arda, and it is unlikely I will ever see you again. Smile for me!"
Fingon gave him a lopsided grin. "You will have all of your memories; you needn’t hoard this one especially." It was difficult to smile into Maedhros’ intense gaze. But Fingon took the opportunity to memorize his friend’s face. He, also, would be bereft until the end of Arda, though he did not dare remind Maedhros of that. "Perhaps," he said hesitantly, "there is something after Arda’s end."
They both stood, and stared at one another awkwardly. "This is the end," Maedhros said, reaching for Fingon’s right arm. "Namárië, dear cousin. May the Valar protect you."
But Fingon pulled him into a fierce hug. Maedhros felt as though the other elf were pulling his very essense to himself. "I will not forget you, my friend. I am sorry I ever had to hurt you."
"I do not miss my hand – either of them," Maedhros answered, finally smiling truly. Fingon had to laugh at that, though he flinched enough to let Maedhros know he would always regret that. "And at least you left me alive in the end – that is better treatment than I offered you."
"All faults are forgiven, now. I hold nothing against you."
"Nor do I you," Maedhros answered. They stepped apart, and then Fingon turned to go.
Maedhros had a strong urge to follow him, to tackle him and forbid him from leaving….but he could not deny his friend his very life. There was no life in these Halls. When Fingon was lost to sight, Maedhros collapsed onto a bench and did not move for days. He stared in front of himself, unseeing, trying to understand the double loss of the dead being parted from the living. He could make no sense of it.
He did not look up until he heard someone calling his name. He was disconcerted, but it seemed he had been called several times.
"I am here," he said, looking around.
A Maia stood by the fountain. "Lord Námo would like for you to return to your own hall now," he said, bowing respectfully.
Maedhros blinked. And blinked again. It was then that he noticed that seeing and not-seeing were not tied to whether or not his eyes were open. A very novel idea, but not one he ought to be thinking about at the moment. "Where am I?" he asked, bemused.
"In the Halls of Mandos," the Maia answered uncertainly.
Maedhros grimaced. "I did not forget that." He stood up. "Though, I am not certain I can find the way back today…"
The Maia offered to guide him, and he went back to his room in a daze, drifting through tapestry-covered halls without seeing them. As soon as the door closed behind him, he threw himself on the floor and wept. Never again was something he had hoped never to contemplate again, and instead, all his thoughts were of what could never be.
"I will never forget him. Never. Not though twelve times twelve ages pass. My dear brave cousin who rescued me when I had no hope for myself."
"Do you swear it?"
Maedhros drew himself up to his knees. "Leave me alone," he said darkly. "I make no oaths. It is simply true that I will never forget him. You are not the only one who can speak dooms. I will not forget my own name, and I will not forget his face – unless you stoop to Morgoth’s level."
"That will never be," the Vala assured him gravely, though he did not seem angry. He also did not seem to leave.
"Why are you here?" Maedhros asked. He wanted to beg him to leave, but he would not, at least, not yet.
"To request a favor of you."
Maedhros stopped. Stopped moving, stopped thinking, simply stopped. "What can I do for you, my Lord?" he asked in an altered voice. A thrill of fear ran through him, and he did not know why.
"I would like for you to visit an elf who will not listen to me."
Maedhros gave the Lord of Mandos a wry look. "I am hardly as intimidating as you."
"Perhaps not," Námo’s face remained grave, but his eyes were grinning. Hard to see how he could do that. "But I would like for you to try, nonetheless."
Maedhros stood up shakily. "Now?" Námo nodded. "What…what should I say?"
"Whatever seems best to you."
Maedhros felt he was walking in the dark again. He did not know what the problem was nor what was expected of him – not even who the elf was. Suddenly, that seemed important. "Is it a Noldo?" he asked.
Námo nodded. "No more questions. You will see how things are when you arrive. Ránevaryar will guide you."
Maedhros opened his door, and found that the Maia who had guided him back from the fountain was standing there. They went in a direction that Maedhros had never gone before, past many halls without tapestries, until they reached another hall with doors. This time, Ránevaryar withdrew a key from his robes and unlocked the door. "If you need anything, simply call," he said. Hoping he was ready for whatever was awaiting him, he opened the door and stepped inside.
The room was very dim, so he was looking through a grey mist. An elf lay unmoving on a pile of rags on the ground. Not wanting to startle him, he called out a greeting in Quenya. The head jerked up, and he noticed two things at once.
The clink of chains as the elf shifted his arms and legs.
And Caranthir’s eyes staring back at him.
They stared at one another for a moment in shock, and then without realizing it, Maedhros crossed the distance between them and gathered his brother into his arms. He held him tightly and wept. He could not help but be reminded of Menegroth, where he had found Caranthir’s body. His brother had died alone.
At last he drew back, holding his brother’s shoulders at arm’s length and looking at his face. "Caranthir, what has happened?" he asked in distress.
"Nothing. Nothing at all," Caranthir answered in a bitter voice.
"But why are you in chains?" Maedhros pressed, shocked and ready to be angry on his brother’s account.
"He said I would stay this way until I was ready to be reasonable," Caranthir stated.
"Who?" Maedhros asked, though he thought he knew the answer.
"The Doomsman. "
"What…what did you do?"
"Something stupid," Caranthir muttered, but did not elaborate.
"Well, I am sure you will not do it again." Maedhros stood, and went to the door. "Ránevaryar!" he called. "I need the key for the chains."
He handed them over at once, much to Maedhros’ surprise. He had expected to be told he could not have them. He wasted no time in freeing Caranthir’s hands and feet.
They sat on the floor facing one another. Finally, Caranthir spoke. "I suppose you died, then." Maedhros nodded. "In Doriath?" He shook his head. "Can you tell me of the others?"
Maedhros hesitated. Could he? "I…do not know," he said helplessly. Caranthir did not know that the twins and their mother were dead. Should he tell him? Desperately, he cast about for some news that was less dire. "Finrod has been re-embodied," he said brightly.
"Why does that not surprise me?" Caranthir muttered.
"And Fingon…" he whispered, choking.
"Is Father here?" Caranthir demanded. Maedhros nodded. "Have you seen him?"
He shook his head. "No, not yet."
"I have not seen anyone," Caranthir complained. "He’s kept me locked up in this prison cell since I died. Do you know how long that’s been?"
"Two Ages," Maedhros said absently, remembering his earlier conversation with Fingon.
"I’m going to go crazy if he doesn’t let me out soon."
"Did he tell you why he wouldn’t let you out?" Maedhros asked warily.
"He said I was a prisoner until I submitted to the Valar’s judgement. They can force me, but I will never submit willingly."
Maedhros stared at his brother in shock. "You…you haven’t been judged yet?"
Caranthir shook his head, suddenly embarrassed, and therefore angry. "And so? Why should I accept their judgement? I know they have already condemned me."
"We have condemned ourselves," Maedhros said, not realizing he was quoting Lord Námo.
Caranthir looked at him warily. "What has happened to you, brother?"
"Nothing. I died, of course," Maedhros admitted. "And I did face my judgement, because I hoped I might see you again. Lord Námo said I could not see any of my family until after I faced the Valar."
"Then why can I see you?" Caranthir asked. Maedhros could not tell if he were suspicious or confused.
"I do not know…but I suspect it is because you did not cause my death." Maedhros answered quietly.
Caranthir laughed at him. "You did not cause my death either, dear brother. Do not be absurd."
Maedhros shook his head. "Did you follow my leadership all your life?"
"You know I did," Caranthir answered.
"Then your death is on my head, for I gave the orders to attack Doriath."
"Is that what judgement teaches you? That everything is your fault?" Caranthir countered.
"No…but the Valar are surprisingly good at seeing the truth of things," Maedhros answered ruefully. "All illusions burn away under Varda’s gaze, and Manwë utters no falsehoods."
"That is not what I have been told. I hear that the elves who are judged fall to the floor and beg and blubber because of tricks the Valar pull."
"Where did you hear that?" Maedhros asked, surprised.
Caranthir refused to answer. "Tell me what it was like for you," he countered.
Maedhros went still. "Unpleasant. And…exhausting." He looked at the stump of his left hand. "The pain was my own, though, nothing they subjected me to."
"But did you stand through it all? Did you cry?"
"What business is that of yours?" Maedhros asked. "Face it yourself, and then we shall compare notes. Do not let it be said that any Son of Fëanor feared to face the Valar."
"I’m not afraid!" Caranthir shouted, leaping to his feet.
"No?" Maedhros asked. "Then why are you questioning me like a maiden before her wedding night? Just do it and be done with it."
"What would you know of such things?" His brother said in scorn.
"I’ve spoken to Míriel," Maedhros answered quietly.
"Our…grandmother?" Caranthir said in shock.
"Yes. I’m sure she would have visited you, but you have a lock on your door, because you are too stubborn to do as you’re told."
"Oh, that is rich, coming from you! You are nothing if not stubborn."
"At least I did not let my pride reduce me to this!" he shouted back, standing and gesturing at the mean cell. "My room has light in it, light that I brought with me when I came here."
"What light is that?" Caranthir asked.
"The light of a Silmaril, mingled with fire," Maedhros answered. "I will show you, when you are free of here."
Caranthir laughed at him. "Easy for you to say! You fulfilled the Oath, it seems, while I died leaving it unfulfilled. If I face the Valar, I have only the Eternal Darkness to look forward to, not a return to these Halls. So keep your curséd light!" He spat at Maedhros’ feet. The gesture was not as effective without any real spit, but Maedhros understood his intent clearly enough.
"Fool. You only face the Eternal Darkness if you refuse their judgement. That is why Lord Námo chained you, isn’t it? To keep you from fleeing…"
"He told you?" Caranthir asked, enraged. "That was no business of yours!"
"He told me nothing, not even who was in this cell. He merely said that you had not listened to him." Maedhros sighed, and his anger vanished as suddenly as it had come. "I only knew because I too feared the Eternal Darkness when I came here, and I too had to learn the hard way that it was not the Valar I should fear, but myself."
He looked at Caranthir for a long time, contemplating. Caranthir said he had met no one here, but Maedhros could guess who had given him such a dim view of judgement. He’d been forced to listen to that Voice while he was chained on Thangorodrim, and the thought of his brother seeking that out as an escape….
"Answer for your deeds, and do not sit in fear," he said at last. Caranthir said nothing. "If you do not, I will put the chains back on you, because I will not lose a brother to the Darkness through any carelessness of mine."
Caranthir chuckled, and it was an odd sound. "Where were you when the darkness of death took me, eh? You could not protect us all, could you, older brother?"
"No, none of you," Maedhros answered, suitably cut. He had forgotten his earlier hesitation to speak of this.
"None? " Caranthir asked sharply. "Did we all die, then?"
"No. Maglor lives still, though his path will be the hardest of any of us."
"Only…only Maglor?" Caranthir went pale.
"I will tell you what happened, when you are ready to hear it," Maedhros said wearily. Námo had said he should say whatever seemed best, after all. "When you are free of this place, you may even visit the twins, who will be glad at the sight of you."
"I…I don’t want to be judged!" Caranthir whined. It would have been funny, to see him acting like a child again, but Maedhros did not miss his brothers’ tantrums.
"Do you want to be chained, then?" he said, exasperated.
"So you think you are a match for me?"
Maedhros drew himself up to his full height. "Yes, I do. If I could take you on left-handed, I am sure I could chain you right-handed. But there is a Maia at the door who would intervene if we started fighting."
"Your…right hand. Where did that come from?" Caranthir asked stupidly. He had not noticed before.
"We’re dead, silly. Did you think cutting my hroa would injure my fëa?"
"Then…what happened to your left hand?" Caranthir asked uneasily.
"I…" Maedhros blushed suddenly. "I…did something stupid." He shook his head. "So, do you want to stay chained in here for another Age?"
"No…I want…to live again." He bowed his head.
"That I cannot promise you. But if you would know your fate, you must face Lords Manwë and Námo. The Valier are not so bad, but I will warn you that Varda’s gaze is unbearable and…the Lady Vairë doesn’t like me very much," he confided in a whisper.
Caranthir smiled at that. "I suppose…it cannot be much worse than staying locked in here. And I am already dead – what more can they do to me?"
"I cannot go with you," Maedhros said with some regret. Should he warn Caranthir about the affect of learning the truth? "But…I can wait here for your return. Would you like me to?"
"I’ll even let you beat me up, if you still want to." That elicited the smile he hoped for. They embraced, and when Caranthir stepped back, he disappeared.
Maedhros picked up the chains, and the key, and returned them to Ránevaryar. The Maia bowed, and planned to resume his post.
"I will wait here until my brother returns. You need not wait for me."
Somewhat surprised, Ránevaryar departed.
He walked idly about the cell for awhile, knowing that he would have a long wait. He was amused to find that Caranthir’s cell was exactly the same size as his. But the walls were different, having recesses evenly spaced throughout and being made of a different type of stone. He thought there were no colors in it, but he could not be sure in the dim light. Torches or lamps in the recesses would not be remiss, he thought.
He then examined the pile of rags. They were filthy, but not too ragged. He did not want to know where they had come from, or how they had gotten so dirty. But it probably would not be too difficult to clean them….
"Ránevaryar, if it is not too much trouble, can I have a bucket of soapy water?" he asked. Well, if the Lord Námo could hear him, then perhaps his servants could too?
He did not have to wait long, though he was surprised to hear a key turn in the lock before the door was opened. "So, I am locked in?"
Ránevaryar nodded. "But here is your bucket. Did you want to leave?" Maedhros shook his head.
As soon as he left, Maedhros realized he should have asked for a bucket of clean water as well. Ah, well. He laid the rags out on the stone floor, and poured the soapy water on them, one at a time. He scrubbed them vigorously, so the dirt ran away in trickles. When he finished, he stuffed them in what was left of his soapy water to soak. Having run out of tasks to do, he soon became restless. Where was Caranthir? How long could it take to go over his life?
And what if it did not go well?
After all, his own judgement was far from pleasant, now that he thought about it. And Caranthir was…well, Caranthir would not take it well if they made a fool of him. He may have earned the beating he had offered to submit to. But if it kept Caranthir free of the Outer Darkness, it would be worth it.
But where was he?
He stopped his restless pacing, and was ready to call for the bucket of clean water, when he suddenly was not alone any more.
The Lord of Mandos stood before him, with Caranthir’s limp body in his arms.
Maedhros cried out – in fear or surprise, he was not sure.
"Hush, he is resting," Námo scolded softly, putting Caranthir down gently on the stone floor.
Maedhros just blinked in surprise. What, precisely, had he expected?
Námo stood and looked at him. "Thank you," he said sincerely.
"What? Oh, I…" Maedhros did not know what to say. The idea that he had done a favor for the Lord of Mandos was just too…too…surreal. "You are welcome, my Lord," he finally managed.
"You will wait for him to awake?" Námo asked, though Maedhros was certain he already knew the answer.
"Yes. I told him I would. And…I am in no hurry to be anywhere else."
Námo’s eyes glittered in the dim room. "Do you require anything?"
"Oh! Yes. A bucket of clean water. And lamps for the alcoves. Or torches, if that would be easier."
"I will have them brought," Námo agreed.
"Wait…did it go…well?" Maedhros asked.
"Caranthir will tell you himself when he awakes," was the reply. Maedhros sighed. He should not have expected a clear answer.
"Thank you for letting me see my brother, my Lord," he said instead. "I may not be as intimidating as you are, but Caranthir has been accustomed to listening to me since he was a small child. A distinct advantage."
"Agreed. If only my little brother would listen to me," he added, and then left. Maedhros still did not know how to react to the Vala’s jokes, and was left pondering it in silence. An image sprang up in his mind of Irmo, Lord of Lorien, as a child sulking in his room and refusing to come out, while Námo, Lord of Mandos (but only four feet tall) stood on the other side and threatened him with various dooms if he did not…. Well, he hoped none of the Valar could read his mind at that moment.
Then the bucket of water arrived.
He rinsed out each cloth and wrung it out as best he could with only one hand. Then he laid them flat on the floor to dry. Just as he finished, the lamps arrived, and he set one in each alcove. He would have liked to have hung them, but he had no hooks. They brightened the room considerably, and he hoped Caranthir would be pleased with the improvement. As he had thought, the walls were not patterned or colored, but a solid grey. The floor, though, was made of different stones in no pattern that he could discern.
He settled down on the floor, and watched his brother intently. Caranthir’s face was relaxed and peaceful. Maedhros could not remember when he last saw it that way. He was not sure what to expect when his brother awoke, but still he sat watching him. He was still as death, but…they were both dead, so it was not that surprising. For a fleeting moment, he worried that Caranthir might never awake, that this senselessness was his doom.
But he could not bring himself to think that of the Valar. Their cruelty took different forms. Lord Námo did not lie; if he had said Caranthir would awake, then he would.
Finally, Caranthir stirred. And when he sat up, he saw his brother and recognition lit his face. "Maitimo! You’ve waited for me!"
Maedhros grinned back. "I told you I would."
Then Caranthir looked around his cell. "It’s…different."
"I couldn’t do much with it. My plans aren’t very well thought out these days," Maedhros admitted. "But I hope you like the light."
Caranthir nodded. "I missed light…." He looked more closely. "Why, it’s my lamps! You remembered!"
Maedhros looked again, and suddenly remembered that Caranthir had had lamps just like these in his room in Tirion, before they removed to Formenos. Their light was bluish, caught in a fine mesh of wire behind frosted glass.
"I merely requested lamps," Maedhros admitted reluctantly. "The thoughtfulness of providing these must be credited to Lord Námo."
Caranthir paused, thoughtful. "Hmmm. I never would have thought…."
"I would not have expected anything I have found in these Halls. And I still do not understand how things work here," Maedhros said in exasperation…though he was smiling.
"I will have plenty of time to learn with you," Caranthir said quietly.
Maedhros went very still. "Why is that?" he asked cautiously.
"It is unlikely I will ever meet the demands of the Valar," he replied with a quirk of his mouth.
Maedhros nodded, not pressing him for any details. "So…do you want to beat me up?" he asked instead.
Caranthir leaped to his feet and laughed, then tackled his brother for the sheer joy of it. Laughing turned out to be his undoing, for Maedhros soon pinned him. "I thought you were to let me win?" he gasped out.
"I forgot," Maedhros smirked, and then found himself flipped over. "I suppose the guard left."
"It seems that way," Caranthir agreed. "Though there is no door…"
Maedhros took advantage of his distraction to escape. "Of course there is a door," he said, smoothing his clothes. "How do you think I got in?"
"I don’t know…I was rather confused by that earlier. But why can I not see it?"
"I could not see my door at first, either," Maedhros reassured him. "When you can see it, you can leave this room."
"An efficient system," Caranthir admitted. He surveyed his room again. "What are the buckets for?" he asked, noticing them off to the side.
"I was washing your…rags…while I waited," Maedhros admitted.
Caranthir looked over the cloths that were drying and laughed suddenly. "Rags? Are you blind?" Maedhros looked back, and still only saw an assortment of cloths, now jumbled from their earlier tussling. "Those are the pieces of a standard."
Sure enough, they were all the right colors to make the standard of the House of Fëanor. He picked up one piece and looked at it more closely. It was even cut in the correct shape, it seemed. He had been blind, to miss that! "It was dark while I was washing them," he defended himself sheepishly.
Caranthir picked them up one at a time. "If I had some thread and a needle, I could put it together, I suppose." He frowned. "Well, it would give me something to do while I wait!"
"I have neither, but I know who can help us." He looked up. "Lady Míriel!" he called.
"Does she just come when she’s called?" Caranthir asked in surprise.
"Everyone here does, if they give you permission to call them."
"Even…Lord Námo?" he asked skeptically.
"Only when he wants to," Maedhros admitted. "But you can still call him, if you wish."
"No, thank you," Caranthir said politely. "I…heard enough from him at my judgement to last me for a long while."
There came a knock on the door, and Maedhros opened it. He was relieved that he was no longer locked in. Míriel looked at him in surprise. "Oh, it is you! I wondered who was over here…"
Then she stepped into the room, and saw Caranthir. Her face lit up in recognition. "May I present my brother Carnistir?" Maedhros said by way of introduction.
"Lady Míriel," Caranthir said, bowing politely, but otherwise lost for words.
She fussed over him, and Maedhros explained that they wanted a needle and thread to make the standard. She considered the request and promised to fetch Caranthir what he needed. Before too long, Caranthir’s attention wandered. So they bid him farewell, both promising to come if he called. And Maedhros said he would bring the twins next time. Then they left him.
Míriel insisted on walking Maedhros back to his room. He was glad of her company, for he did not know where he was going. And in truth, he had been alone for quite some time.
"What is troubling you?" Míriel interrupted his thoughts.
He frowned at her. "Findekáno has been re-embodied. My brothers assure me they will be here for a long time, but that is not forever. I fear I will lose them all again….all but you," he amended.
She looked at him, and smiled sadly. "There is nothing I can say to reassure you. It is painful to lose those we have gained. But I will say, Maitimo, that I am glad to know that I will never lose you."
He was not much comforted by her words.
The twins were happy to see him again, and pestered him for an explanation of his long absence. When he told them about Caranthir, they demanded he take them to see him as soon as possible. So they visited, all four of them together, and Maedhros forgot his cares watching his brothers. Míriel had brought Caranthir his supplies, and he had started on the banner. Caranthir had always been closer to the twins than to his older brothers, so Maedhros was not surprised when his youngest brothers promised to return as soon as possible. No one mentioned Nerdanel yet.
Back in his room, alone, he had the opportunity to put his thoughts in order. He was not pleased with his lack of foresight and planning. Too much of what he did of late seemed haphazard and impulsive.
He turned to the North wall. "My Lord, I have two other brothers in your care. You know that my mother would be pleased to have news of them, but I would not have her disappointed. If there is anything I can do to make the news good, please, let me know."
He looked at his pillow again. Celegorm and Curufin. They would not be happy to see him, he knew. Truth be told, he was nervous to see them. They had died in bitterness and anger. Who knew what they were like here?
Ránevaryar means "Protector for the Wandering Ones" and was coined by Alec Bisan as a translation of Faramond. See the Quenya Lapseparma.
Caranthir was married; this was mentioned somewhere in HoME. This isn't relevant to this story, but is another difference between him and Maedhros, and might explain a couple of their comments here.
As it turned out, Maedhros’ patience was ebbing. He found it more and more difficult to visit Nerdanel, not knowing what had happened to his missing two brothers (as he thought of them). Presenting her with three sons made whole did not assuage his guilt. She should not be here. She should never have died. People had always marveled at her, the woman who had born seven sons. They all said she was stronger than other women of the Noldor. Perhaps she was, but even she was not strong enough to bear losing seven sons and a husband. Losing them to darkness and a distant land, it seemed, but not to death.
He needed to find them.
Caranthir had finished his banner and hung it on his wall. Maedhros gave him his chalks so he would have another way to pass the time. He knew from experience that Caranthir did not deal with…waiting…well. He shared the hall with the fountain with the twins. They enjoyed it, as he knew they would. They had always loved the woods, and probably felt more keenly the absence of living things here than he did himself. But whenever he returned to his room, it was his missing brothers he enquired about. The lack of response made him restless and he became ill at ease.
The next time he saw a Maia in one of the many labyrinthine corridors, he stopped her. "Can you tell me where Celegorm Fëanorion may be found?"
"He is not accepting visitors," the Maia replied gravely. Maedhros thought that was an odd way of putting it, but would not be daunted.
"I understand, but I simply wished to know where his room was located."
Now it was the Maia’s turn to be puzzled. She tilted her head and gazed steadily at Maedhros. For a moment, he was disappointed that his glance had lost its ability to strike fear into all those who met his eyes. Though if he were fair, that had always irked him in life. He should not miss it now.
"I will show you, though I do not know what you hope to gain by the knowledge." She turned and gestured for him to follow her. He expected the room to be near Caranthir’s, but she led him in another direction. These Halls truly were immense. When she finally stopped, he was not sure he would be able to find his way back. But at the moment, that did not concern him, for he did not intend to go back.
"It is here, but you may not enter," she said.
"I thank you," he replied, but made no move. She looked at him once more uncertainly, then bowed and walked away.
Maedhros stared at the door for a long time. Like all of his ideas of late, this one showed a lack of planning. What did he hope to accomplish, now that he was here? He tried the door; as he had expected, it was locked. He had no key, and by himself, he could not hope to force it open. He needed…help. But he had asked the Lord of Mandos for permission to help, and his request had not been answered. He was here alone. He considered asking Caranthir to aid him.
But he quickly rejected that idea. Two of them would not be able to force the door, and if they did...he would get his brother into trouble. If he were to be defiant, it would be alone. But…he did not wish to defy Lord Námo, either. He sat down and leaned against the door, thinking. This was a puzzle. Words from his judgement came back to him. "Seldom was Fëanáro accused of a lack of creativity." He must come up with an answer that was creative, not defiant. The door was locked, and so he must not attempt to break it.
"Lord Irmo, if you know how to get through a door without opening it, I beg you to teach me," he said in exasperation after awhile. There was no obvious solution, nor even a madcap impossible one, as far as he could see. He was on this side of the door. His brother was on the other, but had no way of knowing he was even here. He let his head fall back against the door, not minding that it would hurt to hit the wood with a bang.
As the sound reverberated in the silent passage, a thought occurred to him. Could Celegorm hear that? He smacked the door three times with the palm of his hand. He waited patiently, but there was no response. The other side of this door probably appeared to be a stone wall. And no one could pound on a stone wall and expect to be heard. He sighed. His most promising solution yet was still a fruitless dead end. What else could pass a door, besides pounding on it?
"Celegorm!" he shouted, as loudly as he dared. He heard no response, and did not know if he could be heard. Poor Celegorm was alone, unaware that he was here, waiting for him… And suddenly he remembered the song Findekáno had sung in searching for him. Celegorm may not be able to hear him, but it would not hurt to sing to him. He started haltingly, hesitantly. It had been ages since he had sung any song at all. When he had finished singing Findekáno’s song, he hunted about for another. The one that came to mind was one that Maglor had always disliked. But he seldom sang when Maglor was around, so it was one he had sung as often as any other song. Celegorm had not minded it. It was nonsense, endlessly repeating – he had used it to amuse his younger brothers at times. He sang it now, hoping that his voice would somehow penetrate the heavy wooden door.
Next he sang a song of Middle Earth, quick and changeful, mourning what was lost before it could be savoured. Then a hunting song; that one had always reminded him of Celegorm. A song of defiance that the men of Himring had often sung followed this. A hymn praising the light of the Sun and Moon. A lament for the loss of the Trees and Valinor. A song of the Sea. A song of trees in spring.
His voice did not grow hoarse. There were advantages to leaving his body behind, he thought. He wondered how long he had been sitting here, singing song after song. He paused and listened. He heard nothing from the door at his back. He wondered briefly if the Maia had brought him to the right room, or if some stranger would suddenly yank the door open and tell him to go away.
"No one here lies," he reassured himself. The Maia would have refused to lead him here, not lied about who was in the room. He stood and paced back and forth, then leaned against the wall facing the stubbornly locked door. He tried to remember which song was Celegorm’s favorite. He did not know, and had to think for a long time. The best he could do was to remember which of Maglor’s songs Celegorm had always applauded. He picked a few, and sang through them all.
He found the singing eased his own heart, so he was no longer anxious about the dilemma of his missing brothers. He had found his patience, and as he continued to wait, he composed a new song. It was slow, and into it he wove his love of his family and his grief at losing all hope of returning to life and his sorrow for deeds that could not be undone and words that could not be unsaid. He did not realize it, but he was singing a song of the Halls of Mandos, and the song went from frenzied grief to quiet acceptance, to joy in meetings to sorrow in partings, and included the confused hesitancy of not knowing what would happen here. The song went on until he felt there was no more to sing. Then he slid to the floor, bowed his head to his knees, and waited.
"Do you dislike your own space?" a Voice asked.
He looked up quickly to see Lord Námo. "No, my Lord. The light there is beautiful." He looked ruefully at the dimly-lit passage he had spent so much time in of late.
"Then why have you taken up residence here on your brother’s doorstep?"
"Because he is my brother, and I miss him. I would rather be near him than on my own."
"You were told he is not accepting visitors."
"I know. I do not seek to defy your rules. I simply am waiting….here." He hoped he would not be in trouble, and suddenly felt very young and small. "Did I need your…permission…to be here?" he asked deferentially.
"Not at all." It was disconcerting to have the Lord of Mandos staring at him. "Rossëanna would not have brought you here if it were against my will."
"I am wondering, though – can he hear my songs? Or have I just been entertaining myself?" he asked ruefully.
"Why do you think I am here?" Lord Námo asked.
"I thought maybe you wanted your corridor back."
"No, it has been easy enough to walk around. There is an elf, though, who has been quite affected by your songs."
Maedhros leapt to his feet. "May I see him, then?"
"I think you will find him awake." With that, he held out the key to Maedhros, who eagerly fit it into the lock. He handed the key back with barely a glance at Lord Námo, then entered the room.
The elf on the other side had his back turned to Maedhros. He was sitting with his knees drawn up in front of a crackling fire. Shadows danced on the walls, but neither of them moved.
"I heard your singing," Celegorm said by way of greeting. His voice was oddly toneless. Maedhros was suddenly afraid of what he would see if Celegorm turned his face. He did not move any further into the room, wary of his reception.
"I was singing for you," he admitted. "I have missed you, my brother."
"Have you no other brothers here?" Celegorm said quietly.
"All but Maglor," Maedhros admitted. "And so I have truly lost each one of you, in the end."
"It was not much of a loss in Doriath, was it?" Celegorm’s voice was broken, nearly filled with despair.
"It was a staggering blow. I thought I would not be able to survive such a loss."
"And yet you did." How could he be accused for failing to die of grief? It did not seem fair.
"Yes, I did, if you count breathing as living. It was much worse than the defeat of the Unnumbered Tears."
Finally, Celegorm turned to look at him, though his hair fell in front of his face, leaving it dark in the shadows of the fire. "Forgive me." His voice was intense, yet he did not plead.
Maedhros took three steps closer to him, then dropped to his knees. "What do you wish me to forgive, my brother?"
"I forced your hand in Doriath. I did not accept your rule. I…brought doom and dishonour on our House. Forgive me."
Maedhros smiled ruefully. "You are no more guilty than I. We both have many crimes, but I will not hold yours against you."
"I…did not see." It was with those words that Maedhros realized he had not yet caught the gleam of eyes in Celegorm’s face.
"What happened?" he asked carefully.
Celegorm did not answer, but threw his hand above his face, as if to ward off a blow.
Maedhros reached towards his brother’s face tentatively, almost afraid of what he would find. His fingers brushed aside the hair, and then his right thumb slowly traced Celegorm’s eyebrow. The eyelids remained closed, but Celegorm stiffened at the initial touch. He shivered once, and then relaxed, and Maedhros realized that he had been tensed ever since he entered the room, unable to see his companion, but only hear him.
"Celegorm," he murmured quietly. "It is good to be with you once again."
"I have missed you, Russandol," he said shyly, using the old nickname.
"I could not leave my brother here all alone," Maedhros said with a smile. He knew his brother would hear the smile in his voice, even if he could not see it. Celegorm was very good at reading voices.
"I did not wish for any company," Celegorm stated, his face clouding into a frown. "If I cannot see, why should others see me?"
"Well, I am glad you permitted me to enter, then."
"I knew you would understand," Celegorm whispered.
"You did not understand then, did you?" Maedhros asked. Celegorm had stayed in the Fëanorean camp while Maglor and his other brothers had stayed with him as he regained his strength. Celegorm had merely visited long enough to see that he was indeed himself, that first day after his return from Thangorodrim.
"I did not wish to see you so weakened."
"I did not think to complain of it, at first," Maedhros said, smiling again. "Simply touching people again, and tasting food…" He was soon lost in his own memories of the relief and unreality of awakening in the camp by Lake Mithrim. But he shook his head, and they fell away like scattered raindrops. "I was still your brother, and I regained my old strength."
Celegorm nodded, but said, "I never quite believed it."
"And yet you followed me until after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears." He thought it polite not to mention Nargothrond.
"When the Union of Maedhros failed, I thought…I thought you broke with it. I was afraid to follow you any longer, afraid of where you might lead us."
"So that is why you wished to go to Doriath? Did you know you would meet your end there?"
"I knew I would meet Dior Eluchil, and nothing more mattered to me at the time," Celegorm admitted.
"Does it matter to you now?" Maedhros asked tentatively, trying to gauge in what ways his brother had changed.
"Have you seen the others?"
"All but Curufin…and Father." Maedhros answered, well aware that his own question was being avoided. Celegorm thought about that for awhile, and Maedhros did not interrupt his thoughts, content to watch his brother. When Celegorm shifted, he asked, "Would you like Caranthir to visit? He bears the waiting ill…"
"No!" Celegorm said quickly, getting to his feet. "I will not have him mock me, nor shower me in false pity. He will not see me, nor, I implore you, even know I am here."
"You know he is here," Maedhros said, reasonably, standing as well.
"But he is not blind!"
"No…he is not. But we have all of us faced judgement, so you are not the only one to have…"
"I don’t care! He will not see me!"
"The twins, then?"
Celegorm just shook his head, vehemently. "I am beginning to regret letting you in here, if you are bent on revealing my shame to everyone."
"There is no shame in…"
"Yes, there is! You don’t understand…"
Maedhros grabbed Celegorm’s left wrist, and guided the hand to the stump of his own. "Don’t I?" he asked.
"That’s different. You got that in the Outer Lands, a battle wound, practically, while this" - he gestured towards his face with his free hand – "only appeared here."
"You are mistaken," Maedhros said, and Celegorm calmed down. "This is the stump of my left hand."
Finally, Celegorm understood what he was touching. He grabbed Maedhros’ right hand in both of his. "It’s back," he said in awe.
Maedhros nodded, forgetting for a moment that Celegorm could not see him. "The fëa cannot be damaged by cutting the hroa. That is why neither of us bears the scars we carried in life nor the wounds that earned us our deaths. This stump was given to me here, in these Halls."
"Why is my fëa blind?" his brother asked earnestly.
"Open your eyes, Celegorm. Let me see them."
He dropped his head and mumbled, "I can not."
A thrill of fear ran through Maedhros at those words. "What do you mean, you can not?"
"I refused to open my eyes when I got here. I do not know why. And then the Doomsman told me that I would not be able to. He was right – I cannot open them, now. But I do not see how…" his voice trailed off as he realised what he had said.
"May I try, at least?"
Celegorm hesitated, indecisive. But at last he took Maedhros’ right hand and brought it to his own face.
Gently, Maedhros touched one eyelid, and brought it up. What was beneath it caused him to quickly drop his hand. Celegorm’s eyes were solid white, and glowed with an opalescence he had never seen before. It unnerved him. Though, he reflected, at least Celegorm did not cry out in pain. "Do they…hurt?" he asked at last.
"No…but I cannot see." Celegorm sounded very young in that moment, vulnerable in his blindness.
With that note of despair, Maedhros could no longer view Celegorm as the formidable warrior who must not be disturbed, but he was once again his younger brother, in need of his love. He drew Celegorm into an embrace. He did not look in his face, but instead ran his fingers through his hair.
"What did Lord Námo say about it?"
Celegorm just shook his head and pulled away. "Please…leave me alone," he said bitterly.
Maedhros stepped back, holding his shoulder. "I will leave you for now. If you ever want me, just call my name and I will return to you. I will not tell the others about your eyes until you wish for me to do so." He paused. "Though they would be overjoyed to meet with you, and you may find it worth the indignity. Please reconsider."
Celegorm did not answer, just hugged himself tightly, so Maedhros dropped his hand and then turned towards the door. Celegorm once again seated himself by the fire.
Maedhros looked about helplessly, then set off in what he hoped was the right direction. It took some time, but he eventually found himself back in an area he recognized, and from there he made his way back to his room.
An elf was waiting for him. He looked up in surprise; he did not know who it was.
"Maedhros, son of Fëanor?" the elf asked him politely. He considered denying it, but thought that tall, one-handed, red-haired elves were probably a bit too rare to do so effectively.
"Yes," he said simply, not greeting the other elf.
"I am Enerdhil of the House of the Hammer of Wrath in what was once Gondolin," the elf said in greeting. "I have heard the rumor that you will be in these Halls until the end of Arda."
"Rumor? Who is spreading it?" Maedhros wanted to know. For some reason, he would be annoyed if Lord Námo were talking to people about him. But if this elf was one of Turgon’s people, that explained why he did not know him.
"I do not know where it started, but I have heard it confirmed by the Lady Míriel." It was then that he remembered his grandmother made a habit of visiting with many of the Noldor here. "If she is mistaken…"
"No, it is the truth. I was just surprised to hear it from the mouth of a stranger."
"I will be leaving these Halls soon, and I wanted to leave this with you." Enerdhil drew something out of his pocket, and held it out to Maedhros. He picked up a green stone that flashed even in the dim light of the hallway.
Maedhros looked at it in surprise. "Why?"
"I found it with me here; I do not know how I kept it at my death. But it has been a great comfort to me when I miss cool light shining through trees. I am to be re-embodied, so I will not need the memory…and I can perhaps make another. I hope you will make good use of it."
Maedhros was shocked by this unexpected kindness. His hand closed around the gem, and he bowed formally. "I cannot repay you, Enerdhil of Gondolin. I will never leave this place, and even my family is not…among the living. But is there anyone here whom I can watch over for you?"
Enerdhil shook his head. "No, Lord of the Fëanoreans, no one. It is truly a gift, and you need not repay me in any way. Consider it a token from one who admired your father." He bowed and departed.
Maedhros entered his room in a daze. He gazed at the jewel he had been given. Truly, it did shine as sunlight through the leaves of trees. He now had two treasures – this jewel and his pillow. He sat down to consider them both.
Celegorm could not appreciate either of them, so there was no point in gifting him with them. His blindness was troubling. He wanted to know what could be done about it, but to find out, he would have to ask Lord Námo.
But more troubling was Celegorm’s refusal to associate with his family. He tolerated Maedhros only because he was likewise maimed. Strange, that the two fairest sons of Fëanor had been marred so thoroughly. Maybe there were other maimed fëar here as well?
What could he do to draw Celegorm out of himself, despite his blindness? He picked up his pillow and looked at his family. If only Celegorm could see them! But of course he could not – that was the problem. And the pillow only felt like a pillow, not a picture. But a sculpture could be felt. If he were to find some clay, and recreate the scene on his pillow…
He laughed harshly. A sculpture made by a one-handed elf? Celegorm would never recognize who the figures were meant to be. He had not the skill to…. He knew who did, though. Nerdanel could certainly sculpt a statue of her family, and it would be so breathtakingly real that everyone would know who they were. But could he ask her to do such a project without revealing its purpose? He shied away from that request.
Enerdhil had reminded him that these Halls contained many other elves, some of whom were loyal to him. Perhaps it was time for him to follow the lead of the Lady Míriel, and visit someone beyond his own family.
"Rossëanna?" he called tentatively, remembering the name Lord Námo gave to the Maia who had helped him find Celegorm. He was not disappointed; soon, she stood before him.
"You called for me?" she asked.
"Yes. I would like to see Carnildo, and the elves who were under his command."
"I am sorry, Nelyafinwë, but those elves departed from these Halls some time ago."
"How long?" he asked, dismayed.
"They were waiting for your judgement only. They departed immediately after you saw them."
Maedhros sat down, dejected. He supposed he should be happy for them. But at the moment, he was separated from all other elves by a widening gulf of time. Those who lived would never visit these Halls. And those who died would depart ere long, as he judged things. Only his father…
"What can you tell me of my father Fëanáro?" he asked instead.
"Little enough. I am not permitted to approach him."
"Can you tell me who is, then?" he asked, hoping to find someone he could direct his question to.
"The Lord Námo and the Lady Vairë," she answered.
"Well, yes, I understand that. But who else…"
"No one else is permitted to approach him."
"No one?" Maedhros asked in some alarm. "Why is that?"
"The Lord Námo…."
He made an impatient gesture. "I am sorry, I will not trouble you further. You need not answer for your Master."
"If that is all?"
"You may go, thank you."
She departed, and he was left to stare into the pool of water. He would speak to Nerdanel. He could make the request while keeping Celegorm’s confidence. He would have to, for he did not know what other craftsman could be found.
He knocked on Nerdanel’s door, and entered when she bid him. She smiled in welcome, greeting him warmly. "It has been long since I have seen you, Maitimo. What has kept you away?"
"I forget the time, Mother," he answered, not wishing to tell her of Celegorm, yet. He asked how she was, and simply watched her as she answered him. Her color had returned, and she was much more energetic. She did not tire easily, nor did she sit down to rest. He thought that boded well, but a tendril of fear started to curl through him. Would he soon lose her as well?
"I have a request to make of you," he said at last. "I would like to see a statue of yours once again. Do you think you could sculpt a portrait of our family out of clay?"
She drew in her breath in surprise. "Is that permitted?"
"I do not know – but if you are given the clay, would you do it?"
"Gladly! It would be a pleasure to do that. But why do you ask for the statue, Maitimo? Do you fear you will forget us?"
He shook his head vehemently. "Never. It would serve as a reminder, only. But if these halls are graced with the work of Míriel Serindë and the maidens of Vairë, I see no reason why there cannot be one small piece by Nerdanel daughter of Mahtan. Do you disagree?"
She smiled at him. "Do you seek to flatter me, dear one? You know I would do anything for you, even if no one else would ever see it."
"Ask the Lady Míriel how you can get the clay. If anyone knows, she will."
He lingered long, for his mother had always been able to soothe him and his brothers – even their father. Refreshed by her presence, he returned to his room, but this time he sang as he went, for the joy of it.
When Maedhros returned to his room, he immediately knelt down and picked up his new jewel. It was cool to the touch, and reflected the light from the water. The flickering light reflecting on his walls could almost make him believe he were in a forest glade in spring, with the dappled light reflecting off a pool. Something still seemed unreal about the green stone, though. Was it so strange to think that an elf would give him such a precious gift? He turned it over in his fingers and remembered the last time he had held such a jewel. With a jolt, he saw the unreality clearly.
"It does not burn!" he exclaimed.
"No, it does not," Lord Námo answered.
Maedhros stood and bowed in greeting. "What has changed?" he asked.
"And…will Celegorm change as well? Will he see again?"
Lord Námo did not answer for a long time. "His injury is not permanent," he said at last, "unlike your hand. But I cannot tell you whether he will ever see again."
Maedhros was becoming accustomed to these answers that were not answers. He sighed. "Is it true that no one will be able to see my father?" he asked, remembering what Rossëanna had told him.
Lord Námo smiled at him. "Have you forgotten your own doom already?"
Maedhros started. Being the object of such an honest smile from such a face was unexpected. "My doom?" he said, flustered. "I am to remain in your care until the end of Arda."
Lord Námo shook his head. "You accepted the doom of young Eluréd and Elurín, not to be parted from your father. I will not hinder that doom."
"You mean…I may see him? Even though your own Maiar are not permitted to?"
"The Lady Vairë will lead you to his room whenever you request."
Maedhros paused, frowning. Lord Námo he could tolerate. But his wife? He had no desire to seek her out. He would talk to Lady Míriel about this; she understood the Lady of these Halls better than he did. He looked at the stone in his hand. It was bare, with no setting of any kind.
"I would like to make a setting for this stone, so that I may wear it," he said.
"I will see that materials are brought to you," Lord Námo replied.
"And my brother Curufinwë…may I see him as well?" He thought it worth the chance.
Lord Námo frowned. "You will have no joy in that meeting. But I will not bar his door from you. Know that he does not wish for any visitors, and will not take kindly to the intrusion."
"He is my brother. He will suffer my presence," Maedhros said with some exasperation. Best to deal with Curufin before attempting his father, though, he thought.
One of Lord Námo’s servants brought what he required. He appeared to be a youth, barely full grown, but he knew all the Maiar had lived before Arda was made. For a fleeting moment, he wondered if that was how the Secondborn viewed the elves. He had seen men start when he mentioned events that happened "before the Sun first rose." Men had no legends, even, of such a time. The first Men he had met had taken him for a youth, for he had no beard. But as time went on, even strangers among Men ceased to make that error – one glance at his eyes told them enough. And, he supposed, his reputation preceded him.
Working one-handed was awkward, but he was thankful it was his right hand, at least. With patience, he could use his left arm as a brace to hold tools steady. He made a copper casing with silver prongs to hold the jewel in place. A very fragile piece, but he did not plan to put it through anything strenuous. When it was finished, he strung it on a chain, and lifted it over his head, so that the stone lay on his breast. Pleased with his work, he sought out the twins, to see what Amrod and Amras would think of it. They teased him about using copper, but praised the beauty of the stone, pronouncing Enerdhil a master of the craft of jewel-smithying.
It was not long after that Nerdanel summoned him, to show him her completed work. It far outdid what he had expected. His own rough vision had been to simply recreate the scene from his pillow. Nerdanel had captured each of them uniquely, but when viewed together, it seemed a cohesive scene. Maedhros thought it would be a wonderful gift for Celegorm, and could not wait to take it to him. He thanked her profusely, still not revealing the true recipient of the gift.
Fëanorion: Son of Fëanor
Rossëanna = Gift of fine mist/ dew
Carnildo: I named his loyal captain after Mars (Carnil); probably a more appropriate connection in our world than theirs ;)
Enerdhil appears in Unfinished Tales as a possible maker of the original Elessar. I have equated him with Rog from the Fall of Gondolin, since I agree with CJRT that JRRT would have changed that name on revision.
The joke about Maedhros' unique appearance was inspired by this line from Deborah's 'As Little Might Be Thought:' Maedhros went off in disguise to try to join Gil-galad's soldiers. Maglor mocked him for thinking an over-large one-handed Elf could pass unnoticed.
Maedhros sat on the floor of his room. The pillow he had propped up against the wall, and a little to the side he had set his mother’s statue. He was merely drinking in the sight of it, so he would not forget it after he gave it to his brother. His brother who could not see. He sighed, and crawled across the floor. He ran his hand over the statue…yes, Celegorm would recognize this, his brother would have a reminder of his family. Maybe that would help him overcome his hesitation in being seen.
But Celegorm had not called for him, despite his invitation. That did not bode well, he deemed. He would not intrude –yet. Still, he would wait. He smiled grimly. After all, did he not have time on his hands? He looked again at the statue. Himself, with his missing hand cleverly discrete, but not mockingly whole. Maglor, alone in the midst of them, as he was now in reality – the only Fëanorion outside these Halls. The twins, together, nearly indistinguishable but to family who knew them well. Caranthir, lost in thought, gazing far away from this place. Celegorm as he had been in life, strong and fearless, for Nerdanel had had no recent image to draw from. And Curufin was the same as he had been as a young lord in Valinor. Maedhros himself did not know how accurate her image of him was. He was the unknown.
His brother was called Curufinwë, just as his father had been. From the time he was born, everyone had said he was just like his father. But Maedhros had not seen the similarity at first. All of Fëanáro’s children took after their father, the first four no less than the fifth, he thought, though in different ways. If Curufinwë was like their father in the forge, so be it, but Celegorm was like him in the field. It was not until he heard his younger brother speak out for something he cared passionately about that he saw his father come to life in the person of Curufinwë. Of the seven sons of Fëanor, it was Curufin who could inspire others to follow him. Not that he challenged his oldest brother directly. No, before the Fifth Battle, Maedhros’ word had been law to them all. But afterwards… no, the rift had begun much sooner.
It was Celegorm who was most upset by his return from Thangorodrim. Maglor had seemed frankly relieved, and the twins (never political) happy to see him again. But his return meant change, and Celegorm was never pleased by change. Only their father had ever been able to persuade him…and Curufin, he quickly reminded himself. His decision to acclaim Fingolfin as King was hardly popular with any of the Fëanoreans, but with those two least of all. Looking back, he saw that their alliance against him must surely stem from that day. "Was I a fool, to miss the signs? Or did I think they would come around and harbour no lasting grudge?"
Regardless, as his strength had waned, so had his control over them. He never questioned their loyalty – for Fëanor’s sons were bound not just with love and fealty, but also by the bonds of their dreadful oath. But loyalty did not guarantee obedience – only the proof of his victories would win him that. In defeat, he was no longer their lord, merely their brother. "But perhaps I am the one who could not deal with change," he mused. Celegorm had refused to listen to him – both recently and in Beleriand. Perhaps Curufin would succeed where he had failed.
With that thought, he went in search of his most obstinate brother. When he found the cell, he was not surprised to see a heavy lock on the door, but the armed guard shocked him. He had seen no weapons in the Halls of Mandos apart from the knife that Lord Námo himself carried. The guard bore a tall spear, and stood stock still under a hooded cloak. Maedhros halted, momentarily at a loss for words.
"May I…may I see Curufinwë Fëanorion please?" he asked tentatively.
"He does not wish to see you," the guard informed him, not turning his head as he spoke.
"But I am his brother, and I wish to see him," Maedhros countered.
"As you wish, though you will find no joy in the meeting." He echoed the warning Lord Námo had given him. The guard withdrew a key from a chain around his neck, and fit it in the lock. "If you have need of me, only call. My name is Námondur." Maedhros gave him a nod in acknowledgement, then braced himself to go in. It was only as his hand turned on the knob that he realized he had not rehearsed what he was going to say. He went in anyway.
The first thing he noticed was the complete and utter darkness. The second was the bestial snarl. But before he was able to process either of these things, he was hit hard in the chest. He would have gone down, but the momentum of the blow drove him into the wall instead. Instinctively, he brought his left arm up, only to remember he had no hand. Still, he was able to ward off the next blow with his arm.
"Curufinwë, stop," he gasped out, before he was hit from the side. This time, he did go down, and they wrestled in a desperate silence. Maedhros tried to wriggle out from under him, but his missing hand was a severe disadvantage in such close quarters. He was pinned. Try what he would, he could not flip his brother over. It was only as the other’s forearm pressed on his throat that he remembered he was already dead and could not be killed. Small comfort.
"Get…off. It’s me…Maedhros."
No answer met that statement. The arm across his throat did not let up. He tried again. "Curufin! Get up." He struggled again, uselessly. His brother’s silence was beginning to unnerve him.
In frustration more than desperation, he brought up his head suddenly, hoping to crack his brother’s hard skull. All it did was bump his nose, but it was enough distraction for the arm to slacken. Maedhros freed his left arm and jabbed for the throat. Curufin was forced to shift his weight, and Maedhros was able to roll. He now tried to use his long legs to press his advantage. He was shocked by the intensity, and unnerved by the silence and the dark. There was something primal in this wordless communication that relied entirely upon the contact of their fëar. The anger rolled off Curufin in waves; he was hot to the touch. He tried to get up, but he could not escape. He knew this was a fight he could not win. Inevitably, Curufin captured his right arm, and it was only a matter of time before he was again on his back. But this time he was well and truly pinned, and no trick he tried allowed him to escape. In desperation, he tried once again to speak to his brother.
"Curufin, please, just say something – anything."
His pleas got no answer, and his brother did not let him up. Ackowledging his defeat, he called out to Námondur in resignation. Immediately the door opened and Curufin was suddenly gone. He got to his feet and stumbled out into the brightly lit hallway. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, getting his bearings. When he opened them, the door was closed and the guard stood in his place as motionless as before.
"Is he… always like that?" Maedhros asked. The guard nodded. Defeated, Maedhros turned to go. He would have to find out how to get through to Curufin, even if it meant fighting him every day for an age.
But now, he longed for the light of his room after the enclosing darkness of Curufin’s cell. He found his way back as best he could. It was only after he returned and sank down on the floor exhausted that he put his hand to his chest; the green stone was gone.
He groaned, and lay down on the floor with his eyes closed. What a complete failure. Celegorm may be sulking and blind, but Curufin was beyond reason and angry as well. What could be done? Nothing for now. His hopes of Curufin helping Celegorm come around were now dashed. Perhaps Celegorm could do something for Curufin, though? He looked out at his room. First things first. Celegorm needed an incentive to come out, true, but also hope that his vision could be restored. Maedhros looked at the statue of their family that Nerdanel had made. It was time to deliver it to its new home. Then maybe Celegorm would remember his family and cease lurking in his den. His hand strayed to his throat. It was a shame that the gem was lost, but Celegorm could not have seen it anyway. He left the empty holder where it was. His mind made up, he took the statue and left.
He set off in what he knew to be the right direction, hoping he would remember the way or find a guide. But neither happened. He found himself walking down many hallways lined with doors, but none was the door he stood outside for so long, singing every song he could remember. The great halls were distinctive, but many of the doors looked the same. At a loss, he began to sing the song he had composed himself. It was very long, and so he walked down many hallways while singing it. But finally, he found the one that had doorways only on one side, and then he found the door to his brother’s room. But before he could think how he would get past the locked door, it was opened from the inside.
"I am beginning to think you envied Maglor his place of honour as the mightiest singer among us," Celegorm said by way of greeting. He returned to the fire and sat with his back to it, gesturing for Maedhros to take a seat as well.
"There are no songbirds here," Maedhros answered, excusing himself.
"I hope you have not come to try to convince me to change my mind."
"No, I have never been able to do that. I have honoured your request, and have not spoken of you to any of our family. But that is the only reason they are not also outside your door. Since you will permit nothing else, I have brought you a gift to remember them by." So saying, he unwrapped the statue from its cloth covering and placed it gently on the floor in front of Celegorm.
Tentatively, his brother reached out and found the statue. His fingers ran lightly over it, smiling when he came to Maedhros, but frowning as he found himself in the ensemble. "Surely this is not your own work," he said at last.
"No; the one-handed make poor sculptors. I commissioned it, under the pretense that it was for myself."
"Will the artist not realise its absense when she visits your room?"
He knew, then. Maedhros smiled wryly. He had not thought it would escape Celegorm’s notice that the craftsmanship belonged to Nerdanel, but they had not discussed their mother in his first visit.
"She seldom leaves her room; I more often see her there. But in truth I do not think she will be with us much longer; she is already much healed of her griefs."
Celegorm was silent for a long while, considering. "It is strange that in the land of the dead, loss is encountered in healing, not fading. Should I be glad of her health, or mourn her loss?"
"Both, I think, though neither yet. She is improved, but not yet ready to depart. When the time comes, I will come and warn you, if you like?"
Celegorm nodded. "It will be good to know."
"I did not come sooner, for I wished to respect your privacy and wait for your summons. But I found myself in need of advice that only you can give. I hope you do not mind the intrusion."
"It was artfully done, brother, but you gave yourself away with such a lavish gift. I have been waiting to hear what you would request of me since you set it down."
Maedhros laughed. "Do you think me that devious, even now, when I have no armies to command? In truth, I received the statue before I even knew I would need your help. It is about Curufin."
Celegorm went very still for a moment. "What is it?" he asked carefully.
Maedhros sighed. "I do not know. I went to see him, but…he did not speak. He only snarled like an animal and attacked me."
"He must have lost his touch," Celegorm murmured.
"Oh, no – he bested me. You know I was never his match as a wrestler, especially when I do not have both hands."
"But then how are you here, and not still pinned to the floor of his room?"
"The guard let me out," Maedhros admitted sheepishly. "I would not have called him, but there was nothing to talk about. He…would not talk. I do not even know if he knew it was me, though I told him repeatedly."
"Do you have any idea what is wrong with him?"
"No. He seemed very angry, but I cannot even guess why. The room was so dark that I never saw his face. I am worried about him, though."
"What are you willing to do about it?"
Seated as he was with his back to the fire, Celegorm’s face was shrouded in shadow. The authority with which he spoke unsettled Maedhros.
"Whatever is necessary. I would not leave even an enemy to suffer alone. For my own brother, I would gladly lose a fight every day for an Age, if I thought it would do any good." He paused to consider that thought. "At least here, I needn’t worry about split lips or black eyes."
"Or bloody noses," Celegorm agreed, laying aside his ominous presence. "Find out what you can, and I will see if I can think of some way to loose his tongue. It won’t hurt either of you for him to beat you a few more times," he added with a smile.
Maedhros had hoped for better advice than that, but was heartened that Celegorm had as good as invited him back. And he really did need to learn more; he would start by talking to the guard.
They spoke briefly of things that took them far away from these dim halls, but skirted the pains of their own family. Reassured that Celegorm would not fall into despair, Maedhros left. He paid careful attention to the route back to one of the main halls – a long hall with a vaulted roof and multi-coloured pillars lit by gilt sconces. He was struck once again by how still and silent – how empty – the Halls of Mandos were. He could almost convince himself that it was all constructed for his sole use. Though, he mused, if it were his design, the pillars would not be red and golden – certainly not that garish shade of orange. And the tapestries would be better lit, so you could actually see what they depicted. He walked closer to the walls, and saw that the sun was rising above the Pelorí for the first time. With some excitement, he realised that the hall was oriented east-west, representing the path of the sun across the sky. Finally, he would know if his own private designations were correct. That is…if he could keep track of this on his way back.
He sat down and closed his eyes, feeling out the directions as he had done before, at the beginning of his sojourn here. Of course, this time he knew what the answers should be. To his dismay, it was reversed. ‘His’ north was south and ‘his’ east was west. How had that happened? He looked west, and there was a picture of the rising sun to mock him.
"My husband’s halls were not made just for you," said a Voice from behind him.
He hastily stood and whirled around to face the Lady Vairë. She stood in the midst of the hall, clothed in a simple grey dress with kilted skirts; a silver lace shawl was about her head and shoulders. No rustle of fabric had warned him of her approach. He bowed awkwardly, feeling like a young boy who had been caught out of bounds.
"Why does this room displease you?" she asked.
"The lighting is insufficient," he blurted out. "The tapestries are almost hidden," he amended.
"Not all my tapestries are meant to stand out, but that is not why you are displeased."
"I made a mistake. I thought that was West," he said, pointing.
"It is," she said placidly.
"But then why… why does the sun rise there?"
"The first time the sun rose, it was in the West – do you not remember?"
He gaped at her. "I…had forgotten."
"That is not the only thing you have forgotten while you have been with us."
"No," he agreed, flexing his right hand. He suddenly realised it had been a long time since he had thought of Fingon, and the sudden memory of his loss – forever – pierced him as keenly as an arrow. He swayed a moment, and looked at the Lady of Mandos in fear.
"Why have you come to me?" he asked her.
"To answer your questions."
He mistrusted her answer, but did not dare to gainsay her. "My brother Curufin…what is wrong with him?"
"He has not accepted his own death."
He did not know what that might mean, so decided to be more direct. "What can I do to help him?"
"Be more stubborn than he is, and love him in spite of his flaws."
"But he will not talk to me."
"For now. Why do you fear me, Maedhros?"
He was caught off guard by this question. "Because…you speak truth with no attempt to spare anyone. I would rather hear the truth than be misled by lies, but…"
"Sometimes the truth is painful," she agreed. "The Lady Nienna may help you deal with that."
"Have you no pity yourself?"
She paused and considered him more closely. He was uncomfortable beneath the scrutiny of her eyes. "There was only one Vala who knew no pity. I have no less pity than my husband. Like him, I love the truth."
"Tell me the truth about Curufin; why did my brother not speak to me?"
"Why did you not speak when you stood before the gates to these Halls?"
"I could not! Do you have any idea –"
"Yes, I have an idea. I have witnessed many deaths, and attended many judgements."
He looked at her in scorn. "Who will judge your life?"
She met his eyes, and he was suddenly ashamed of his words. "Ilúvatar. I have not forgotten his face, though it is traced in no tapestry here."
Abashed, he looked down. "But Curufin," he began again.
"Is unable to answer."
"But what can I – "
"He is your brother. You know him better than I."
"That is what frightens me," he admitted at last. "I do not even know if he recognised me."
"Do you love your brother?"
"Beyond death," he said fiercely.
"Then there is hope. But I warn you, Heir of Fëanor, that you cannot save your family."
Her words brought no comfort, but hardened his resolve. If Curufin could be saved, he would save him.
"Lady Vairë," he ventured one more question. "Why is it…that the Fëanorionath are so… broken?"
"Your father was a very interesting elf. But we will not speak of him now. "
And now he remembered what should have been the purpose of this conversation. Lord Námo had told him…
He sank to the floor and buried his head in frustration. "How much longer until Nerdanel is released?" he asked in resignation.
"You have time yet," she answered. "We will speak again." With that, she bid him farewell and left the room.
Maedhros stayed on the floor, trying to make sense of his fomenting thoughts. He would bring Nerdanel to this room before she left. She may like it better than he had. And he would present Celegorm and Curufin to her, if it were within his power!
Námondur = Servant of Namo
Fëanorionath = Sons of Fëanor
"It was artfully done," was based on a similar line in a book by Timothy Zahn…the dying words of Grand Admiral Thrawn in The Last Command: "But it was so artfully done."
The first time I visited Philadelphia as a child, my mother took me to Independence Hall. The tour guide showed us the Rising Sun chair, and told us the story of how Benjamin Franklin remarked that he hadn't known if the half-sun on the back of George Washington's chair were a rising sun or a setting sun until several months of the Constitutional Convention had passed.
He went to visit Curufin several more times. Each time, he asked Námondur if there had been any change, or if he had spoken. Each time, there was not. Each time, he was beaten up for his trouble, and left dejected. He had learned nothing new, and was no closer to helping his brother. He was unnerved by the silence and the dark, but what was most disturbing was his brother's fëa.
He hesitated to ask Caranthir or the twins for help. They seemed well, and he did not wish to burden them…at least, not until he had some good news to share with them. All he’d learned was what the Lady Vairë had shared with him, but he did not know what that meant. Not accepting death did not sound promising, in any event. No, he and Celegorm would do what they could alone.
As he’d hoped, Celegorm called him back before long. He went unerringly to the Sunrise Hall, and from there, it was not difficult to find his destination. He knocked, and Celegorm opened. This time, they both sat facing the fire. Maedhros found it mesmerizing; it had been so long since he’d looked at dancing flames.
"Have you seen Curufin again?" Celegorm asked without preamble.
"Yes…but every time he is the same," Maedhros said dejectedly. "I have learned nothing since the last time."
Celegorm nodded. "What does he look like?" he asked.
"I do not know," Maedhros admitted. "He’s in complete darkness."
"Maybe you should bring a light." Celegorm had turned to face him as he said this; his blank white eyes were unsettling. At least he could open them a bit now.
Maedhros was shocked he hadn’t thought of that himself. It seemed such a reasonable idea. Then he remembered. "I do not have one."
"But I thought you said…"
"The light I have is not…portable. Like your fire." He thought for a moment. "But Caranthir has lamps."
"Borrow one; he won’t mind."
"Yes he will," Maedhros said with a smile. "They’re his lamps from Tirion, and you know he always hated it when you took his things.
"There is another problem," he continued. "I cannot hold him off. He bests me every time. If I had help…"
"Are you asking me to wander around these halls as a spectacle?"
"No! No one would see you. I never meet a wandering elf; I think Lord Námo arranges it so they give me a wide berth."
"Maedhros, Lord of Himring and Terror to Unsuspecting Elves."
"I suppose," Maedhros said, attempting to scowl. "But admit it – you are more intimidating in close quarters than I am. And he does not respond to me."
"I will think on it."
"That is just your polite way of saying ‘not on your life.’"
"If you insist on being stubborn, I will ask Caranthir for his lamps first, and see if I learn anything more next time. But if not…I will not return until you come with me."
"Is it that galling to be beaten?"
"Celegorm, if you were there, you would understand. It is as though he were not our brother."
"Maybe he will respond to the light."
"It may be."
Caranthir had been surprised, and a bit suspicious, but he had given the lamp to his brother. Maedhros made sure it was a permanent gift; he would make no promise to return something that may be broken. He found himself slowing as he approached Curufin’s cell. He dreaded what he might learn, but he would not let his steps falter. Námondur did not react, as always, but his eyes did flick briefly to the lamp. From him, that was almost crying aloud.
"Has he spoken?" Námondur shook his head. Maedhros sighed. "May I go in?"
As always, Námondur responded by withdrawing the key and letting Maedhros enter. As always, he promised to come when called. Maedhros steeled himself, and entered.
For once, Curufin did not attack him immediately. Instead, he recoiled from the lamp. Maedhros stopped short.
Curufin’s right arm shielded his face, revealing his torso – which had the gash in the side that had given him the mortal wound. Maedhros was seeing his brother die before his eyes in Doriath all over again.
Except that here, Curufin did not die. With a snarl, he lunged at the lamp, knocking it out of Maedhros’ hand and across the cell. Once again, they wrestled, silently, but this time Maedhros looked into his brother’s eyes…and saw nothing. They were strangers. He could not tolerate that sight, and fought back harder than usual. He would do anything to get a reaction out of Curufin, some glimmer of recognition. But nothing happened. He lacked Curufin's ferocity of spirit, and was powerless against him in this contest of fëar.
Once again, he was pinned. Once again, he called for Námondur. But as he stared into the face of what he knew to be his brother, and saw only unadulterated hatred, he determined that Curufin would have more visitors. Maedhros may be his oldest brother, but he was not his only one.
Námondur removed Curufin, with the help of his lance. Maedhros stood, and retrieved his lamp. As he had feared, it was cracked, but not broken. In the light of it, he saw a flash of green…his stone. He picked it up and turned back to Curufin. "This was wasted on you." Then he turned and left this undead stranger who looked so much like his dying brother.
Maedhros sat by the fountain (he would always think of it as Fingon’s fountain), and watched the light in the water. The twins were here with him, and they were glad to see his jewel restored. Naturally, they also asked questions, and he was hard-pressed to explain its earlier absense.
"You are having trouble keeping your belongings in one piece," Amrod chided him. "Caranthir told us you cracked the lamp you borrowed from him.
"I did," Maedhros agreed, but did not elaborate.
"But what of your jewel? You are not going to tell us you just forgot to fix it out of carelessness, now are you?" Amras had always been the more direct of the two.
"No, I would not deceive you."
That got their attention. Amras sat up from where he was sprawled on a bench, and Amrod twisted around on his perch on the side of the fountain, so that he now faced Maedhros.
He took a deep breath, out of habit. "Have you wondered why Caranthir and I are the only ones you’ve met here?"
They looked at one another uneasily. "We thought…that was all that was allowed."
"Perhaps. But I have six brothers, and five of them reside here. I am not content with only three."
"Do you…do you know where Celegorm and Curufin are?" Amras asked.
"Do you think we can see them?" Amrod wanted to know. "After all, if there are rules…"
"Curufin is not in a good way."
They fell silent. After a moment, Amrod asked, "What is wrong with him?"
"I have no idea," Maedhros admitted. "But he does not speak and he does not recognise me. He is very angry."
"Why did you not tell us before?"
"I wanted…to bring you happy news. I wanted to return him to you."
"Perhaps you still can. There is no need to abandon hope so lightly…"
"I am not one to give up easily," Maedhros reminded them. "But even Lord Námo is hesitant to counsel hope in this case."
"We will help you," Amrod offered. "Surely three is better than one."
Maedhros smiled. "I accept your offer. Though I warn you… you will not like what you see."
"If our brother is suffering, we would see him as he is, rather than remain ignorant of his pain, even if we could do nothing for him," Amras said.
Maedhros nodded. "I will get the lantern."
Námondur gave the usual answers to the usual questions. He acknowledged the presence of the twins by actually turning and looking at them. Curufin was not daunted by the light this time; he went right for Maedhros as he always had. But before he could bring him down, the twins were on them, breaking them up…holding Curufin’s arms at his side. Maedhros was free to look at him in the light of the lantern they had brought. Curufin and Celegorm had always been skiled at wrestling and hand-to-hand combat. But Ambarussa were effortlessly coordinated. Maedhros knew that Curufin would not escape their grip…if they were not horrified by what they saw.
Curufin snarled at him, panting with his exertion (a pointless exercise, when none of them breathed any more.)
"Well, Curufin my brother, I have brought you other guests. Though you do not seem inclined to treat them any more courteously than you have treated me, I think they will be a match for you. Do you remember Amrod and Amras?" He gestured towards them, but Curufin’s eyes did not even follow the gesture or acknowledge him in any way. Slowly, Maedhros began pacing back and forth in front of Curufin. His eyes seemed to follow the movement, but he did not look at Maedhros’ face.
"What can I say to you? You will not even acknowledge that we are here. You snarl and fight, but you do not talk. Are you still our brother? Are you still one of the Quendi?" Each question went unanswered and unacknowledged, but Maedhros did not give up. "Do you know that we are here? Do you know who we are? Do you remember anything of your life…or your death?"
At the final word, Curufin’s eyes met Maedhros’. There was a flicker of…something…and then it was extinguished by the mindless hate he would never grow accustomed to seeing there. In hope, his hand strayed to his chest, and he fingered the green jewel. Then he looked to Amrod and Amras, and saw that they were heartsick at what they had seen. He picked up the lantern, and gestured for them to release Curufin. For the first time, he was able to leave without Námondur’s help.
"Celegorm, I beg of you…."
"So you are here to change my mind."
"Yes, if that is how you see it. I do not care about your mind; at the moment; I only care that it is the one tool I have left to reach Curufin. And I swear to you, I will use every tool I can." Maedhros stood just inside the door of Celegorm’s room, a lantern and walking stick in his hand.
"What of the twins? Will you use them?"
"I already have. They restrained him well enough, but what good is that when he will not talk? He does not even recognise us, Celegorm."
"Maedhros, think about what you are saying," Celegorm said quietly. "He does not talk. I do not see. How are we to communicate with each other?"
"I do not know!" Maedhros cried in exasperation. "But there must be some way…."
"Are you certain? Neither Lord Námo nor the Lady Vairë assured you of that."
He clenched his fist and resumed his restless pacing. "Will you not at least try?"
Celegorm worried his lip and did not face Maedhros. Finally, he said, "Give me the stick, then."
Maedhros handed over the walking stick without another word. He was too anxious to gloat. Celegorm steeled himself, then opened the door and stepped out for the first time. Maedhros took his elbow, and led him to Curufin’s cell.
As he had promised, they met no one until they reached Námondur. The guard was as unchanging as ever; he let both of them in. Maedhros put the lamp down quickly, fully expecting to have both arms occupied by an attacking Curufin.
True to form, Curufin lunged at him, and he had to sidestep to avoid him while allowing Celegorm to enter the room, tentatively feeling with his stick. Maedhros busied himself with the awkward task of fending off his brother's fiery hot spirit. "I have brought you another visitor," Maedhros informed him, not expecting a response.
But the strangest thing happened when Curufin saw Celegorm’s face. He recoiled, with the usual snarl. But as he panted, the look of horror on his face revealed not only hatred but also recognition. Maedhros did not waste the opportunity, but trapped one of Curufin’s arms behind his back and locked the opposite leg in place. He hoped he could restrain him, at least until Celegorm got his bearings. Curufin stumbled backwards, but did not escape.
"That got your attention, did it?" Maedhros asked, bending his head to speak at Curufin’s ear. He kept his eyes on Celegorm, though.
"Am I that startling?" Celegorm asked, half-joking but with honest concern in his voice. His white eyes glowed eerily in the dim lantern light.
"Dead. You’re…dead. I saw you…" Curufin’s voice rasped in brittle disuse, one word churning over another like rocks tumbled in a stream. Maedhros nearly let go of him in shock.
"Yes," said Celegorm simply. Maedhros did not retort with all the scathing remarks that occurred to him. He was afraid to disturb whatever fragile balance had led to the return of Curufin’s speech. And so he did not point out that they were all dead, or that Curufin and Celegorm had died in the same battle, or….
Celegorm took a few steps forward, tentatively reaching out. Curufin flinched back into Maedhros’ grip. "Do not touch me!" he called out in fear. Celegorm stopped, nonplussed, and dropped his walking stick. Seeing how deeply Celegorm was cut by those words, Maedhros got angry at Curufin. How dare he!
He pulled him backwards, and shoved him up against the wall. "Why do you recoil? You have not hesitated to pummel the twins, or me. Why this sudden respect for Celegorm?"
"Maedhros?" Curufin asked, with the confused voice of one just awakening. "He’s…dead," Curufin repeated.
"And so am I! And so are you! When will you accept that fact, you stubborn, willful, blind…." He winced; his own choice of words was little better.
"No, I’m not," Curufin retorted, throwing off Maedhros in his anger. Only to come up short when he faced Celegorm. Celegorm grabbed his brother by both shoulders, and Curufin found it more difficult to elude him than the maimed Maedhros.
"If you were alive, you would not be in the Halls of Mandos," Celegorm said.
"I am not…"
"You would not be deprived of your hroa," he continued inexorably.
Curufin just wimpered, and struggled to get away from Celegorm’s grasp again.
"If Maedhros lived, he would be missing his right hand, not his left."
Curufin quickly turned to look at his oldest brother, and saw that Celegorm was indeed correct.
Celegorm smiled grimly when he realized his distraction had worked. With that, he put Curufin into a chokehold, and inexorably pressed down. "And if you were alive, you would need to breathe." He did not let up. At first Curufin struggled. Then, he panicked, desperately trying to escape. He clawed at his assailant’s face, to no avail. But finally…nothing happened. Still Celegorm did not let up. He spoke into Curufin’s ear. "Tell me, brother, do you need to breathe to speak?"
"I hate you!" Curufin snarled at him, and was shocked by the implication. "I’m not dead! I’m not! I did not die! You did!"
"We both did. Maedhros saw the bodies. Why don’t you ask him?"
Curufin glared at Maedhros. "How did Celegorm die?" he asked.
Maedhros realised his brother was still in the vault of Menegroth, still trapped in his final battle. At least his language seeme to have returned. "You ought to know; you were there," Maedhros retorted. "But you were killed by that slice in your side," he said, gesturing at Curufin.
Finally, Celegorm let go his chokehold, and one hand went to Curufin’s side, finding the wound. "It’s still there," he said in surprise, and a little fear. Maedhros was again reminded of how maimed they all were.
Curufin broke free, and stepped away from both of them. "What has become of you?" he asked in fear.
"We have been healed of some wounds, but not of others," Maedhros answered. "We have accepted the judgement of the Valar, and are free of our Oath."
Curufin laughed harshly. "Even the Valar could not free you of that. We swore by…"
"You need not remind us of the words," Celegorm said sharply. "We will never forget them either. But the Valar can and did release us."
Maedhros shook his head. "What will convince you of the truth, Curufinwë?" he asked wearily in Quenya. "You are dead, which is why you stand here conversing with Celegorm," he said, switching back to Sindarin. "You will get nowhere until you accept that fact, and submit to the judgement of the Valar."
"Why should I trust them? Why should I let them judge me? They have always hated and mistreated our house…"
"You are more blind than I am," Celegorm said quietly, cutting him off. "Let us leave him, until he is ready to hear reason," he said, addressing his words to his oldest brother.
"No! Don’t…go…yet," Curufin pleaded. Clearly, it cost him something to beg like that; he must be very afraid to set aside his pride, Maedhros thought.
Slowly, he took off his green jewel. He held out the necklace to Curufin. "May this comfort you until our return." Curufin took it suspiciously. "We’ll leave the lamp as well. You have more use for it here than we do."
"Your guard’s name is Námondur. Call on him if you need anything," Celegorm added.
It was difficult for Maedhros to just leave Curufin like that, but he saw that Celegorm could not take much more of this. The pain had been evident in his face ever since he’d touched the wound in Curufin’s side.
For the first time, Curufin did not have to be restrained as Maedhros left. He was still full of bitterness, with much hatred and anger, but…at least he knew them. At least he was Curufin again. There was room for hope now.
Maedhros and Celegorm returned to Curufin’s cell many times, both singly and together. The twins were more reluctant, but eventually Maedhros convinced them that he was improved enough to recognise them, so it would be completely different. It was not a pleasant visit, but they both returned, always together. Finally, they even convinced Caranthir to come with them. Though Maedhros was not there that time, he heard of the visit afterwards. Celegorm became more confident in moving about on his own, but still he did not allow Maedhros to tell anyone else about him. He accepted Curufin as more damaged than himself, but did not want to face the twins or Caranthir…and certainly not their mother. Maedhros was not happy with this arrangement, but reluctantly agreed, for the time being.
So, it was a complete shock to everyone when the twins left Curufin’s cell one day only to meet Celegorm standing outside, about to go in.
"You’re…here," Amrod blurted out needlessly.
"And…out," Amras added, thoroughly confused. "Why have we not met before?"
"I…" Celegorm began, and then stopped. It was too late to flee. And he did not want to explain. "I was visiting Curufin."
"So were we," Amrod said. Celegorm marvelled that their voices were still as distinct as ever to him. For a moment, he had been afraid he wouldn’t know them apart.
"What is the stick for?" Amras asked. "Have you become an old man here, or are your rooms so far away?"
"Neither. I…" he couldn’t bring himself to say it.
"Why don’t you look at us?" Amrod asked, and he realized he would not be able to hide it.
"I cannot see, alright?" he bit out. "Now out of my way; I was here for Curufin, not you." He made to force his way past them, but they would have none of it. They grabbed him by a shoulder each, and pushed him backwards a few steps.
"Not so quickly. Are you not the least bit surprised to see us here?" Amrod continued.
"Why would I be? Any elf who dies finds their way here."
"But we lived when last you saw us," Amras insisted.
Caught! "I…I thought…well, you are here, so you obviously died," he finished lamely.
The twins looked at one another. Someone had told him about them. And about Curufin, too, seemingly. That someone had to be their eldest brother.
"Maedhros!" they both called in unison, impatiently. He had some explaining to do!
He heard the cry, and knew who had called him. It seemed…strangely urgent. When he realized his steps were leading him towards Curufin’s cell, he was filled with a deep misgiving. What had happened? He picked up his pace.
When Maedhros arrived, Celegorm was seated, sulking. Seeing his blind brother, he stopped short. The twins sprang up as soon as they saw him, accosting him. "Why didn’t you tell us?" Amrod demanded. Celegorm tensed, waiting for Maedhros’ reply.
"I had my reasons," Maedhros replied. "And if I chose to keep some things to myself, it just might have been because I thought you wouldn’t be able to handle it." Celegorm relaxed, realizing that Maedhros wasn’t going to tell them that he had…had refused to visit any of them. "It seems I was right."
"Now, that isn’t fair…" Amras protested.
"Isn’t it?" Maedhros looked at both of them, and the twins fell silent. "You meet your brother at long last and what do you do? Upset him and call for me. You are lucky I let you know about Curufin when I did, you…."
Amrod didn’t let him finish that thought, shoving him against the wall as hard as he could. Maedhros was taken off guard, but quickly fought back. Amras came to his twin’s defence, and even Celegorm leapt up to join the fray. Vaguely, Maedhros expected Námondur to break up the fight, but he did not intervene. Maybe he only did so when called upon? Not worth finding out.
At that voice, they all halted. The twins sprang away from him, and even Maedhros made some effort to stand a bit straighter and look innocent. The most profound effect, however, was on Celegorm. He dropped to the ground like a stone and hid his face. It was hard to tell, but Maedhros thought he might even be trembling.
Nerdanel merely crossed her arms in front of her and looked at them each in turn. "I thought you knew better," she said quietly. The twins looked down guiltily. Somehow, this was all their fault. She walked over to them and straightened their hair, brushing at their shoulders, then turned to Maedhros. "Is this how you managed them?" He said nothing. Then, she turned to Celegorm. She put a hand on his shoulder, gently, and he flinched. "Get up, Tyelkormo. I want to see you." Her voice was tender, as if they were all still children.
Maedhros winced. At that moment, he deeply regretted not telling her the moment he met Celegorm. He was trying to figure out how his brothers could manage each other, when their mother was right here all along. And now he’d led her into a misstep.
Reluctantly, Celegorm stood, but he kept his face turned down. Still, he was taller than Nerdanel, and she had to look up at him. She brushed the hair away from his face. She gasped when she saw his eyes, and hugged him fiercely to her. They both wept.
Maedhros turned away and looked at the twins, who were both looking down, awkwardly. "No harm done," he murmured to them. "This was all my fault."
"Why…why didn’t you just tell us?" Amrod asked again. Maedhros chose not to answer. Let Celegorm tell them himself…when he was ready to admit his folly.
Nerdanel broke the embrace, but did not take her hand from his back. She turned to face the others. "Now who is going to tell me why Námondur had to call me here?"
Maedhros cleared his throat, but then stalled. This was so much harder without Maglor standing at his back!
"How do you know Námondur?" Amras asked.
"He has been giving me updates on Curufinwë," she answered.
Maedhros looked up sharply. "You mean…you knew?"
"They are your brothers, but they are my sons. Of course I asked after all of you!"
"It’s my fault," Celegorm said quietly. "I caught the twins off guard, and…."
"And we called Maitimo, to find out what was going on," Amrod finished.
Nerdanel just shook her head. "I should not be surprised."
Amras grinned at her impishly. "Awww, but we wanted to surprise you!"
"Though, not quite like this," Amrod admitted.
Nerdanel turned away from them, but was not able to hide her smile. "Námondur, do you think Curufinwë is up for a visit from all of us?"
"Whether he is ready or not, you may visit him now," the Maia answered gravely.
Nerdanel nodded, and then resolutely opened the door. Her four sons followed her in. Curufin did not need to be restrained any longer. He looked at them all suspiciously, but he was more…subdued…than usual. "Why are you here?" he asked them abruptly.
"I wanted to see you once before I left," Nerdanel said.
The others all looked at her in alarm. "You’re…leaving?" Amrod asked.
She nodded. "Very soon."
Celegorm took the news the worst; he started weeping again. Curufin, for once, did not react in anger, as he had to most any other statement he’d heard. Maedhros suddenly felt as though he had squandered his time. Why did he not visit his mother every chance he had? Why had he not said and done everything he had wanted to do with her?
"Mother…why are you dead?" Curufin asked at last.
"I grieved to lose all of you," she answered simply. "But here I have met you all again, and been healed of my grief. I can bear the loss now."
"Maglor is not here," he told her.
"No, he is not. I will wait for him in Valinor; he may come to the Lonely Isle some day, and then it will be good to know that he has family still in the Undying Lands."
Námondur opened the door behind them. "It is time," he said.
Nerdanel kissed Curufin on the forehead. "Farewell, my son. Take care." She fingered the jewel he wore, the one that Maedhros had given him. "Do not forget your life in Valinor. Perhaps you will return to me some day." She stepped back, and for the first time, Curufin cried. Not in anger or fear, but real tears…healing tears.
With a last longing look, she turned and left. Her other sons followed her out, subdued. Another Maia stood by Námondur. "Please, follow me," she said, and Maedhros recognised Rossëanna’s voice. As she led them through the halls, Maedhros caught Celegorm’s elbow, to help guide him. After a time, he recognized where they were headed. It was the way to Celegorm’s room. Or so he thought.
They arrived at the Sunrise Hall, and Maiar flanked each entrance. One was waiting with Caranthir, as his escort. Nerdanel entered first, followed by five of her seven sons. Lord Námo and Lady Vairë awaited them.
Maedhros looked around, and saw that more Maiar stood within the room, holding torches. The tapestries around the walls were now ablaze with light. His eyes met the Lady’s, and he remembered that she had told him that this room was not built for him. It was for…it was for those who would be reborn. The first sunrise…in the West. No wonder I thought of my Mother when I first saw it, he thought.
"Nerdanel, we rejoice that you have found healing for your fëa in these Halls," Námo said.
"May you return to life and hroa with joy and renewed strength," Vairë added.
"I thank you, for all that you have done here, but most especially for reuniting me with my sons who are in your care. Please continue to watch over them, when I cannot." Her gaze strayed to Maedhros; he had told her that he would be here until world’s end.
"When you leave these Halls, you will leave behind Fëanáro as well," Námo said. "Never again will he rejoin you in life. The choice of Finwë is before you; if you would choose another, you may have him."
Her sons looked horrified when they understood the Vala’s words.
But Nerdanel shook her head vehemently. "Fëanáro, and no other, has my love. I have born seven sons, and my heart is full. My choice was made long ago, when the Trees yet shone. I will abide."
Vairë nodded in acceptance. "It is well you have chosen thus; you are indeed a strong woman of the Noldor. Not even the Valar could have asked you to make this choice, but we do commend you. May you be at peace."
Then Nerdanel bid each of her sons farewell, embracing and kissing them for perhaps the last time. She could hope to be reunited with some of them again, but not for many long ages. She went to Caranthir first. He did not cry, but she hugged him fiercely all the same. Then the twins, kissing them each on both cheeks. They both broke down, the tears streaming down their faces. She kissed each of Celegorm’s eyes, and the tip of his nose, to make him smile. "My beautiful son, do not tarry here overlong," she said. For his part, he ran his hand over her face, memorizing the contours. She came to Maedhros last. "Look after your Father for me," she whispered to him.
At last, she was ready. She turned from her sons, and walked towards the Lord and Lady of Mandos. And then…she walked with them through the wall depicting the Sun rising over the Pelori for the first time.
When she had vanished, Maedhros turned and looked at his brothers. "What…what are we going to do now?" Celegorm asked, forlorn and alone sounding.
Maedhros embraced him and admitted, "I have no idea."
At long last, an update from me. *ducks* Thanks to the Season of Writing Dangerously for prompting me to do something about this unfinished tale.
“Let us…let us go back to my room,” Maedhros announced at last. He did not think it was good for any of them to be alone right now, and he at least knew the way. Celegorm let him take him by the elbow again to lead him.
The others nodded and followed him listlessly. The Maiar had left, taking their torches with them, but even before that, the room had seemed dim and empty. Their mother had been reborn, but now they were alone…it was like attending her funeral.
He could not give into despondancy. There was no time for blank despair when he had brothers relying on him. He would stay strong for them. When they reached his room, he opened the door and allowed Caranthir and the twins to enter, then brought in Celegorm.
“Brother, what is this?” Amrod asked, picking something up off the floor.
Maedhros could not see what it was, but he knew that he had only the pillow in his room. “I do not know,” he said, moving to look at whatever Amrod was holding.
In his brother’s hand were three necklaces, pendants of carved stone each strung on a thin cord of leather. There were three…Maedhros closed his eyes. “I think,” he said quietly, “they are a parting gift from Mother.”
Amras looked at him, puzzled. “But, there are five of us here. Six, if you count Curufin. Why are there only three?”
“They are for you and Caranthir,” Maedhros said. “Celegorm has already received his gift from her.”
The twins exchanged a look, and then let Caranthir choose first. “Thank you,” he said to them, and included Maedhros in his glance.
Maedhros looked away from them. Why had she left gifts for his brothers in his room? He looked at Celegorm, and saw that he was staring intently at the pool of water. He blinked. Celegorm was staring?
Maedhros hesitated. “What do you think of my water, Celegorm?”
“It reminds me of the Two Trees,” he said quietly, not turning away.
“You can…see it?”
Celegorm shook his head. “No. It just…feels that way.”
Maedhros wrapped his arms around himself, and sat down. He was mostly quiet, listening to his brothers speak about their mother, both during their time here and when they were children in Valinor. He…couldn’t bring himself to speak of her yet. Finally, the twins sensed his mood, and offered to leave.
“We’ll…go visit Curufin. See how he is doing. Do you want to…?” Amrod did not finish his question, but Maedhros shook his head.
“No, not now.”
Caranthir looked between Celegorm and Maedhros, and decided to follow the twins.
“Are you not going?” Maedhros asked.
Celegorm shook his head. “No. I will remain here.”
Maedhros was thankful his brother could not see him. He wrapped his grief more tightly about himself, and fell silent again. Celegorm did not complain, and did not make any move to leave. He was fascinated by the water, and lost in his own thoughts.
“Look after your Father for me.”
His Mother’s last words to him echoed over and over again in his mind. His brothers could fend for themselves; surely his Father did not need looking after? But…maybe she knew something he did not. If only…
He stood suddenly, and Celegorm looked up at him with blank eyes. “I am going out,” Maedhros announced. “I will not be back for a long time. If you need a guide back to your room, just call for…”
But Celegorm shook his head. “I will stay here until you return.”
“You do not have to…”
“I want to.”
“Stubborn.” But part of a smile crossed his face, and made its way into his gutted voice. Maedhros barely caught the answering smile on Celegorm’s face; it was gone before it began.
Maedhros closed the door on Celegorm, and then considered his options. It was too soon to return to the Sunrise Hall. He could not bring himself to face that alone now. Instead, he chose to study the tapestries, wandering from Hall to Hall, looking for the ones made by Míriel, the ones depicting his family.
When his desire to see his Father outweighed his grief at losing his Mother, he knew he was ready. Facing north-north-east, he called out, “Lady Vairë.”
She did not come immediately, but she did not make him wait, either. “What do you wish, Maedhros?”
“To see my Father.”
She looked at him gravely. “Walk with me,” she said, offering him her arm. Awkwardly, he took it, and followed her.
They walked in silence for some time.
“Fëanáro was highly admired by the Valar,” she began.
The movement he made in response would have been a snort, had he a body.
“It is not easy to surprise a Vala,” she continued.
“Who could surprise the Masters of the Fates of Arda?” he asked sardonically.
“Only a foolishly arrogant creation would make such a claim.” He had not realized that was one of Morgoth’s self-chosen titles until she rebuked him. Insidious.
“We are constantly surprised by you, despite what you might think. Are you ready to learn more of the minds of the Valar?” He knew she was asking him honestly; that she would not continue without his permission.
“I would, at least as it concerns my family,” he said after some length.
“My husband is the Doomsman; he knows much of what is and what will be, and he understands the heart of Ilúvatar…if not always his mind.” She smiled, and seemed less intimidating in that moment than in any other instance since Maedhros had met her. “So it is natural that you would think he knew the Children just as well as the Father. But in truth…you have surprised us. Your wisdom is different from ours, as are your passions. We knew that Morgoth would bring grief to Valinor…but not precisely how.”
“Morgoth is the bitter enemy of us all,” Maedhros said vehemently, remembering old pains and old hatreds as if they were as raw as the loss of his mother.
Vairë paused, and Maedhros slowed his own steps. “Yes, he is. Even now.”
He took a step away from her. “How so?” he demanded. Look after your Father for me.
“Why did you fear becoming Morgoth’s thrall?” she asked him, and he remembered how disconcerting her questions were at his judgement.
“I…did not wish to do his will. But I knew he was stronger than me, so that in time….”
She nodded. “But why was he able to overcome you, proud Noldo?”
He blushed, and turned away. He remembered. “My defences…they could not keep him out. It was as if… it was like tickling a child…they can’t defend themselves, then.”
He looked back at her, afraid she would be smiling at him. She was not. “Do you know why you were…ticklish?”
He had not thought about this before. “No elf is a match for a Vala. How could I have fended him off?”
“True,” she agreed with him. “Given enough time, any elf would have fallen to him. But you were more vulnerable than most, because of your blasphemous Oath.”
He saw the truth in her words, and now understood more of his time on the Mountain. Back then, he had not understood how the rogue Vala had overcome his resistence with so little effort. But at that time, he had thought that the Oath was a defence against his foe, not his prime weakness. No wonder he could not defend himself.
“But I have repudiated my Oath. Lord Manwë and Lady Varda have released me from it. He has no sway over me any longer.”
“Not over you, no,” she answered him.
“My…Father. Did he…did he take back the Oath at his judgement?” he asked tentatively, knowing before he asked that the question was foolish. His father’s last breath had been to renew the Oath, even when hope was gone. There was little hope he had changed his mind on arriving here…Fëanáro, who never unsaid anything.
“What makes you think your Father would stoop to submit himself to our judgement?” she answered instead.
“But…he was the first one here!” he answered unreasonably. “He should have been judged first. Why have you left him…?”
“You may see him, and then you may judge whether we have been remiss in our duties.”
She entered a hallway that was darker than most; there were no doors in its length. Save one. Lady Vairë stopped in front of it, and withdrew a key from her pocket. “I will leave you with him as long as you like. When you wish to leave, call my name, and I will return and release you.”
“Release me?” he asked uneasily. He thought that sounded more ominous than merely being locked inside.
She nodded, fit the key into the lock…and then pushed him through the door without opening it.
The room on the other side of the door was filled with fire. Not an inferno, but ropes of fire stretched from floor to ceiling. Hungry tongues of it reached for him as soon as it perceived he was there; for this fire was without a doubt living, as nothing else he had met in the Halls of Mandos was. Maedhros stood rooted to the spot; unwilling to advance farther into this strange room, and unwilling to flee before he had even….
“Father!” he called out, hoping to see his father somewhere in this jungle of flames. The flames had by now reached him, encircling him and removing any choice of movement. But they did not touch him yet, hanging back tentatively for a moment. “Father!” he called again.
His sight adjusting to the bright light, he squinted towards the centre of the flames. Yes…there was a figure there. “Father!” he called a third time.
The flames surrounding him moved forward, so he moved with them. First one step, then another…slowly moving towards the centre of the room. Here, he could feel the heat roiling off the flames, but he did not fear being burned. Not this time.
There was a figure in the midst of the flames; no, the figure was the flames. His father’s spirit was flame…all the fire in the room came from him and had its source in him. He saw that now. The fëar of other elves were pale ghosts compared to this fëa. Míriel had named him well.
“So, they have sent you to me, have they?” Fëanáro said in greeting. The voice did not accuse, but it did not acknowledge kinship either. The flames surrounding Maedhros danced between them, so that his father was speaking to him from a small inferno.
“Yes, Father, I have come to see you. They have permitted it.”
“So they thought I would permit it as well?”
Now Maedhros saw why no one was permitted to visit Fëanáro. He did not wish for visitors…but unlike Celegorm and Curufin, he was able to enforce that policy himself. He swallowed. Did he fear his Father? Should he?
“Did you…regain them?” Fëanáro asked, too hesitantly to be demanding, but not brooking failure, nonetheless.
Maedhros nodded. “Macalaurë and I took the last two.”
Fëanáro closed his eyes, relieved. The fires blazed brightly. But a moment later, his eyes were open, and his gaze was bent on his eldest son once more. “Where are they now?” he demanded.
Maedhros smiled, though it was neither kind nor mocking. It was fey. “I have not come before you empty-handed. A Silmaril was in my left hand as I died.” He thrust forward the stump of his left arm, heedless of the flames that danced between them, perversely proud of his injury for the first time.
“What happened?” Fëanáro asked in a low voice. Maedhros could not tell if he was concerned about his son or his jewels.
“Much. It is a dark tale, and I have not the skill of Macalaurë to weave it with wondrous words. I can tell you only the harsh truth. Will you hear it?”
Fëanáro looked at him long, considering. “You are the same, and yet not unchanged,” he said at last. “You have grown in wisdom, I deem, but I am curious who taught you.” After my death was implied.
“I am no one’s thrall, Father,” Maedhros answered carefully. “Listen to my tale and judge for yourself where I learned what I have of truth and wisdom.”
“I will listen,” Fëanáro agreed at last.
Maedhros told his father the history of the Noldor in Beleriand, sparing no details. He knew Fëanáro would be less than pleased with his decision to hail Fingolfin as King, but he plowed through the story, lingering over nothing. In this way it was not long before his tale reached Fingolfin’s death in single combat against Morgoth. Even the Fifth Battle and the subsequent Kinslayings were told at the same reckless pace; no pauses, no hesitation, no apologies.
“I fulfilled the Oath, and followed you in death. My body was consumed by flames.” He ended the tale, and silence fell between them. Now that he was finished, the overbold spirit that had carried him through died off, and Maedhros recovered some of his earlier hesitancy. He was supposed to look after his Father, not prove himself to him!
“Quite the tale,” Fëanáro murmured. “Macalaurë will indeed make an impressive song of that.”
“Many songs are sung of our deeds, though not all,” Maedhros said, his voice warning of the condemnations he had left unsaid.
“Do you regret it then? Was yours not a life well lived?”
“It is useless to regret what cannot be undone. My life was what it was, but it is over now, and I will not return to it.”
Fëanáro looked at him closely, and the flames inched closer, closing in around him. “Whose choice was that?”
Maedhros smiled. “Mine.” He had requested that fate, had he not? True, he had not known what those elflings at his judgement would say. But unwitting or not, it was his choice, not Manwë’s or Námo’s.
“You say you are not a thrall. But you have exchanged my teachings for those of the Valar, have you not?”
“Only when it has seemed good to me. You did not see everything, and so…”
“Do you think I did not see the end?”
Maedhros’ eyes flashed. “Had I seen the end in that moment, I would not have condemned my brothers, as you did.”
Fëanáro smiled. “Yes, you would have. Your spirit has always burned hot. You would not have forgotten the crimes against your family.”
“Crimes.” He shook his head. “Father, no one remembers now that we lost your father first. They only recall the sea of blood that we spilled ourselves, afterward. I orchestrated more Kinslayings than you ever did. I know what it took to push me to that point, to lead my brothers to destruction. And I assure you that at the moment of your death, I had not yet fallen so far. I know now how to strike a far deadlier blow against Morgoth, and I have done nothing but work towards that since my death.” As he spoke, Maedhros knew that his words were true, though he had not seen that earlier.
“How can you fight my enemy from here?”
“By snatching our family from his grip, finally. He has a hold on us, even here, unless we repudiate him.”
“I have done nothing but repudiate him since I knew him,” Fëanor responded easily. “I am surprised that you would even suggest that any blood of mine would do aught else.”
“Who holds your Oath, Father?”
“Ilúvatar, whom I named….”
Maedhros shook his head. “He heard us, and rejected our words as we spoke them.”
“Manwë. Varda. The holy mountain of Taniquetil.”
But Maedhros continued to shake his head. “Nay, none of them received your Oath.”
Fëanor became angry, and a lash of flame whipped about Maedhros’ body, burning him. He did not flinch. “What blasphemy are you suggesting?”
“The very Oath was blasphemy. Which Power do you think kept it, in mockery of you?”
The flames now wrapped about Maedhros like a coccoon, and slammed him back against the wall. Away from his father, so that he could not even see him. He felt the pain of it, but it was distant, as if it were already a memory, and could not harm him. But he could not stay much longer, and he may not be permitted to return. “Mother sends her love to you,” he called out, hoping his father could hear him still.
“Lady Vairë,” he whispered, and fell out into the hallway.
“Singed a bit?” she asked, but he just shook his head. Sparks fell to the ground around him, trailing from his hair.
“He did not harm me.” Though he could not be sure what Fëanor’s intent had been. He looked at himself and saw that his clothes were in fact smoking. That had been reckless, kindling Fëanor’s wrath. His father had always been slow to forgive. He may have ruined all chance of ever returning. The visit had been far too brief, if it was to sustain him til the end of Arda. Look after your Father for me.
“Let him think on your words. He may permit you to come back, in time.”
“It may be,” Maedhros agreed, with some doubt.
Vairë again proferred her arm, and Maedhros took it. He could not remember where he was at the moment, and did not bother to pay attention to where they were walking. He had too many things on his mind. But after some time, he noticed they were not returning to his room. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“What has been troubling you?” Vairë asked instead. Apparently, she had noticed his earlier distraction.
“At my judgement…I thought I was the last. The last Fëanorean to face the Valar. But I was not. I was the first, wasn’t I?”
She nodded. “Yes. We judge souls when they are ready, not immediately after death.”
“Is anyone ever ready immediately?” he asked. He’d never thought of this before.
“It happens sometimes, but it is rare. Elves accept their deaths even less readily than Men do.”
“So my family, we are not unusual?”
She smiled. “Your family is most unusual. There will never be anyone like you or your brothers again.”
He frowned. “I thought, when I spoke of all those things, that you already knew. I don’t think I would have said the same things if I had known…if I had known that my family would be facing judgement after me.”
“Manwë did not expect you to renounce your Oath at the beginning. By speaking as you did, you may have made things easier for your brothers. Knowing that, do you still regret your words?”
He had to shake his head. “I can not regret what happened in the Ring of Doom. But…”
“The illusion that there was nothing left to lose made it easier for you at the time. Lady Nienna asked us not to disabuse you of the notion until you were stronger.”
“So…that was why I was judged first? You agreed to trick me into it?” Her explanation was not making him any more comfortable with the situation.
“Maedhros, your mistake was nearer the truth than you realize. We did already know, but not because your brothers had told us. We knew because we are the Valar, and it was given to us by Ilúvatar to know. That is why my husband and I agreed with Nienna.”
At this point, they reached an archway that Maedhros was certain he had never passed through before. With some trepidation, he continued to follow her. “Where are we?” he asked, remembering that his earlier query had been ignored.
“I would like to show you my workroom.”
The room they entered was full of looms, many with half-finished projects on them. Maedhros walked through the room slowly, looking at the images in awe. Míriel’s work was skilled, but these tapestries were so fine, the colors seemed to shimmer like water on the looms. He did not recognize the scenes depicted; the places seemed foreign to him, and the people were dressed strangely. He saw a mortal king with grey eyes, and was reminded of his brother’s fosterlings. He wondered, briefly, if that is what kept Maglor chained to his life, preventing him from fleeing to these Halls to escape his pain. If so, perhaps the Ages were not as impossible for him as they seemed. He had no way of knowing. But the one that caught his eye had a dark, dark background, with stars falling from the sky. “This is the end, is it not?” he asked.
“The end of Arda,” Vairë agreed.
“Can you see past that point?” he asked her.
She smiled at him. “I remember the Timeless Halls of Ilúvatar,” she said. “When Arda is no more, I will return there.”
He wanted to ask about his own fate, but he did not. “Will you miss this place, and the work you have done here?”
“When the end is near, I will go to stay with Nienna. There is no way to avoid the wound of loss, if you love truly.”
“Did you know it would go wrong, from the beginning?”
“Your rebellion? Of course. That is why we warned you against it.”
He shook his head. “Our lives. Did you know the House of Fëanor would sink in grief, until we were all left broken in your Halls?”
She turned away from him. “I know Míriel perhaps better than any other elf who has ever lived. She is dear to me.”
“But that doesn’t answer the question!” Maedhros said in exasperation. Was it some unspoken rule that the Valar could never tell you a simple, straight-forward answer?
She looked back at him considering. “Treasures are always mixed with dross in Arda Marred. Your House is great, and its very greatness contains the thread that, when pulled, unravels all the Noldor. It was not inevitable that your Father would fall, only that however he went, all of you would go with him.”
“So we are broken because he chose…poorly.” Maedhros did not like the sound of that. He could not accept such a simplistic take on history.
She smiled. “You made your own choices, but they were following in his footsteps. You may have chosen differently, had he led you differently.”
“Then our rebellion was not…fated?”
“It would have been difficult to avoid, with Melkor loose in Valinor,” she said quietly at last. “Manwë thought it encouraging when your family seemed to shun his overtures.”
“But you were not fooled.”
She shook her head. “When Míriel came to me, and spoke of her son, I knew there would be enmity between him and the children of Indis. It could not end well.”
“But Fingon son of Fingolfin was closer to me than a brother. It was not all enmity between us.”
She smiled. “I know. There are always surprises, no matter how inevitable the path of history seems. For this reason, I only hang tapestries whose time has passed. As long as they remain unfulfilled, they stay here, in my workroom.”
“Do not expect me to alter my Father. He is stronger than I have ever been, and he is not easily swayed.”
“But he does not dislike the truth. He may listen to your words, in time.” She gestured to a nearly finished tapestry. In it, Fëanor as a spirit of fire offered three jewels to Manwë while Yavanna stood by. Maedhros stared at it in awe.
“This is…this is what you requested. That day. When the Trees darkened. Could it have truly come to pass?”
“Not as things happened, no. But had your grandfather remained in Tirion, and had your Father worn his jewels in pride rather than hording them in suspicion, that day may have gone far differently.”
“I…I would have been the one responsible at Formenos, when Morgoth came,” Maedhros said carefully. “Whatever I did would have…would have mattered.”
“Perhaps. But I have not yet unravelled this tapestry. Some hope remains.”
“How? The Silmarilli are lost, because I foolishly destroyed what I could not have myself.” He hung his head in shame.
“It awaits the remaking of the world, but it is not lost forever. The Valar are patient.” She paused in the doorway. “Maneséro, lead Maedhros back to his room when he is ready.” She left him.
He wandered about her workroom, looking at each loom in turn. Strange…he had not spent much time here wondering what would be outside these Halls. What had become of Beleriand? He had concerned himself only with his family, only with what would happen inside the Halls of Mandos. But that was because this was his world now. The world outside these Halls was beyond his reach, as much as the stars or the Sea had been in life.
Maneséro led him back to his room, and he questioned his guide about the Lady Vairë.
“She is upset by very little; she takes everything in stride,” he said.
“Like my Mother,” Maedhros said, and realized he could now mention Nerdanel without overwhelming pain. “I wish I knew why she disliked me, though!”
“Dislike you?” The Maia seemed surprised. “Why would you say that?”
“She asks me the most disconcerting questions.”
The Maia smiled at him. “She does that to everyone.”
“Even you?” Maedhros asked.
He nodded. “She once asked me why I never approached elves who had just entered these Halls.”
“Why do you not?”
He shook his head. “It is very disturbing to see an elf who is so…lost.”
“But you did, after she asked you, did you not?” Maedhros was starting to understand Vairë’s tactics a bit better.
Maneséro nodded. “She allows few elves to see her workroom. I do not think she dislikes you, son of Fëanáro.”
The rest of their walk was in silence, and the Maia left Maedhros at his doorstep. He opened the door, and was surprised to see Celegorm there.
His brother turned and looked at him, and he saw immediately that the eyes were no longer pure white. They were still covered in a milky film, but the faint grey of his irises could now be distinguished behind it. “I told you I would wait for you,” his brother said, standing in greeting. “You were not joking about it being a long time, though.”
“How…how long have I been gone?” Maedhros asked, a bit worried.
Celegorm shrugged. “I do not keep time here. But you will find that some things have changed in your absense.”
Maedhros could tell his brother was hinting at something in his roundabout way, but could not guess what it might be. The room looked exactly as he had left it. He shook his head. “But first…how are you?”
“Better,” Celegorm said. “I…I am glad to have my brothers again.” And he did look better. Maedhros did not realize how melancholic his exhuberent brother had become until he saw the change in him now. Still, he was hesitant about something, reluctant to be fully honest.
“What are you not telling me?” Maedhros finally asked.
“Caranthir has some news for you.”
Maedhros went still. “Where is he?”
“In his room. Do you remember the way?”
Maedhros nodded. “Would you like to accompany me this time?”
Celegorm shook his head. “I think I will wait a bit longer. Why is it that the oldest sons always get the best rooms?” he teased.
Maedhros smiled at him. “You will have to tell me more when I return.” And, he supposed, he had news of his own to share.
Caranthir was pacing. Maedhros was surprised to see all the walls within reach of his arms covered in chalk markings. It was only then that he realized how seldomly he visited his very private brother.
“Celegorm sent me,” he said in greeting, hoping to explain both his presence and his former absense.
“What does it mean to you, to be alone?” Caranthir asked, looking up and pausing in his pacing.
“It reminds me of Thangorodrim,” Maedhros answered honestly enough.
Caranthir grimaced. “I’ve never minded it, you know. I used to enjoy escaping from the house when I was young, just to have a break from everyone.”
“I know,” Maedhros said quietly. “It is good for everyone to be alone…for a little while.”
“Even our Mother?” Caranthir asked, and the conflict was written on his face. Maedhros could see the anguish pulling him in two directions at once.
“Maglor may come to her, someday,” Maedhros said, trying to be reasonable. It did not sit well with him, either, that all of them were here and she was in Valinor alone – again.
Caranthir shook his head. “That is not good enough. She should not have to wait alone.”
“Surely our cousins will not neglect her,” Maehros said, trying to ease Caranthir’s guilt.
Caranthir just glared at him. “It was not news of the deaths of her nephews that slew her.”
“I’m sorry, but there is nothing I can do…”
“But I can, Maedhros.” They stared at one another. “I can leave.”
“You said,” Maedhros began cautiously, “that you would never meet the Valar’s demands.”
Caranthir shrugged. “I would not do it for myself. But for her? I can bear it.”
Maedhros just stared at him, willing him to divulge what punishment had been inflicted on him. Caranthir saw the question on his face, and looked away. He picked at the border of the banner he had pieced together when he arrived in these Halls. “It is nothing odious or burdensome. Nothing shameful. I do not need your pity or sympathy.”
But still, Maedhros said nothing.
Caranthir’s resolve crumbled under that silent gaze. He had intended to keep this secret, but could not bear leaving without explanation.
“At my judgement, the Valar told me I would be released once I…” He winced slightly. “Once I apologized to the victims of Doriath.”
“That is all?” Maedhros said despite himself, relieved that it was something so simple, and yet half surprised that his brother had avoided this penance for so long.
“Not just any victims. Dior’s sons.” Caranthir’s eyes met his older brother’s, and he saw the horror there. He smiled grimly. “Do you see now why I have avoided it this long?”
Maedhros nodded. “I saw them at my own judgement.”
“But I cannot leave Mother alone. I have to do it.”
Maedhros just nodded again. “I can spare her one of her sons.”
Caranthir looked relieved. They embraced, and Maedhros realized he would never see his brother again. “Send her my love. And say…say that I will look after Father for her.”
When he returned, Celegorm looked guilty. “I tried to warn you,” he said uncomfortably.
“I am not upset,” he said.
“You…aren’t?” Celegorm asked cautiously.
Maedhros shook his head. “Wounded, maybe, but this was inevitable. I knew our family would be sundered again, and it is only a matter of time before the rest of you rejoin her. Caranthir is merely…first.” He did not have to tell anyone that he had wept on his way back.
“I am so glad you do not have Curufin’s temper,” Celegorm said in relief. “I have been dreading sharing this news with you.”
Maedhros went still. “Our brother’s temper does not disturb me any longer.”
“You’ve…you’ve seen Father, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” Maedhros admitted.
“And how…how is he?”
“The same as always. A spirit of fire. He asked me about…the Silmarils.” And he burst out laughing.
“Of all the things he could have asked….”
Maedhros got control of himself. “I told him about all of you, do not fear. But he didn’t ask. He never asked.”
The twins were glad to see him again, though they were distraught at losing Caranthir. Maedhros was bemused, because he knew it would not be forever for them. They had visited Curufin again, only to find that Námondur was gone; he no longer needed a guard. That was encouraging, at least. Now they were at Fingon’s fountain, the place the twins always gravitated to, particularly when they were upset.
“But our family is being splintered apart,” Amrod complained, splashing his hands in the fountain. “You’ll never leave here. Maglor will probably never leave Middle Earth. And Father is locked up. So now that Mother and Caranthir are back in Valinor…we’ll never be together again.”
“Never is a long time, even for us.” Maedhros thought it odd to be having this conversation here. “We may all meet again, in the end. Besides, you will rejoin Mother and Caranthir someday.”
“Only by leaving you behind,” Amras said quietly. “Amrod is right; our family is divided.”
“At least you’ll have each other,” Maedhros replied.
He started suddenly, and was three steps towards the door before he even had a chance to realize he was moving.
“Maedhros? Is everything alright?” Amras asked him.
“Father called me; I have to go,” he said in explanation.
The twins’ eyes went wide, and they looked at one another a bit in awe. “Tell him…” Amrod began, helplessly trailing off.
“Send him our greetings,” Amras said, his face a mask.
Maedhros nodded, then turned to go. He realized he would need Lady Vairë to get in the door, so he called for her before he got there. He found her waiting for him. She said nothing to him, but put the key in the lock and pushed him through the door.
He blinked, adjusting his sight to the blazing light that was Fëanor’s room of fire. “Father?” he called out, taking a few tentative steps forward. The ropes of fire did not snake around him this time, but allowed him to advance further into the room.
“You called,” he said, when he could see Fëanor. “I came as quickly as I could.”
“When did you speak to your Mother?” Fëanor asked him without preamble.
Maedhros nodded. “You should not wonder. You know that elves may succumb to grief and loss. What elf has lost a husband and seven sons besides Nerdanel?”
“She is dead then,” he said quietly.
Maedhros shook his head. “No, not any more. She was re-embodied. Caranthir has gone to her.”
Fëanor seemed surprised by that news; Maedhros could see him turning it over in his mind, testing it for flaws.
“She told me why you quarrelled.”
Fëanor looked up in surprise. “And what was her version of that story?” he asked suspiciously.
“That you did not wish for a daughter, and were not happy with her for mentioning the idea.”
“It was not that she mentioned it,” he said sharply. “It was the remarkably bad advice that accompanied the remark. I do not see why –“
Maedhros cut off his Father. “There is something you should know.” He really didn’t want to hear any more about his parents’ quarrels, especially knowing they would never meet again.
“Well, what is it?” Fëanor demanded.
“She was given Finwë’s choice when she was re-embodied.”
Fëanor went completely still. The fires in the room retreated inwards, leaving the edges of the room in darkness. Finally, he found his voice, and it was full of wrath. “How DARE they? Do the Valar not realize the damage they have already done to my family? What makes them think they can give my wife to another elf?” Each word served as a coaxing bellows to stoke the embers to life again.
Before his Father’s anger could be kindled to a blazing inferno, Maedhros delivered the news he’d meant to all along. “She chose you, though. She told them she was content with her family, and she would abide by the decision she made long ago.”
The anger burned away as quickly as it had come. “Did she now?” he asked quietly, a little in awe.
“Even though she knows she will never see you again, she will remain faithful to you, Father. You made no mistake in choosing my Mother.”
“No, I did not,” his Father agreed. “She was the one who taught you boys that the first one to lose his temper always lost, did she not?”
Maedhros laughed, relieved. For the first time, he saw the fire before him not as a stranger, but as the elf he remembered from Valinor, before darkness and madness erased that memory forever. He wanted nothing more than to sit down and trade stories with his Father for the next Age. But…he did not.
“Is there…anything else, Father?” he asked, patiently waiting for some indication that his presence was still desired. He knew better than to impose.
“Tell me how our family is. How they are now,” he clarified.
““Ambarrusa send their greetings,” Maedhros began. “Carnistir has been re-embodied. The twins will join him soon, though they do not know that yet. Tyelkormo is blind here, but his vision is improving. Curufinwë…” he stopped, not knowing what to say. “…needs the most work,” he finally settled on.
“And what do you mean by that?” Fëanor asked, gravely listening to this recitation.
“He is the only one who has not faced judgement,” Maedhros said, trying to choose his words carefully. “He has accepted his own death, though, so the madness that gripped him has passed.”
“So you find that judgement has helped your brothers?” He knew he was on trial again, even though the question was asked so mildly.
“It is one of the surest and speediest ways to the truth. Unfortunately, it is also rather painful.” He rubbed the stump of his left hand.
“Who cut your hand off?” Fëanor asked.
“Findekáno,” Maedhros replied, wondering how his Father knew that it was no accident or injury. Fëanor did not enquire further.
“And what of Macalaurë? You did not speak of him.” He did not even seem to change the subject.
“He lives.” He shrugged. “As far as I know, he intends to stay in Endórë.”
“What is there for him?”
“Not the Silmaril,” Maedhros said bitterly. “He has foster sons, though.”
“The sons of Eärendil son of Itarillë and Elwing daughter of Dior, grandson of Elwë Singollo.”
Fëanor thought that over for awhile. “There is something more about those boys. What are you not telling me?”
“That I am why they were orphaned,” he said bitterly. “And they are half-elven.”
“I was right about the mortals, was I not? They did usurp us.”
“Perhaps. It had not happened at my death, but I imagine much has changed since then. They were nothing like I expected.”
“Tell me of the ones you knew.”
Cautiously, Maedhros took a seat on the floor and began to speak to his Father openly.
“Singed a bit, were we?” is a line from The Princess Bride. A thousand pardons.
Maneséro = Good Peace, a maia of Vairë
I would like to blame Fëanor for the long delay, but in reality I know there is no excuse. My intense apologies for making people wait *years* for this update.
“I thought you might find me here,” Maedhros said, getting to his feet.
“What brought you back to this place?” Námo asked, stroking his chin. He had not been to his old throne room himself for an age. Few others wished to visit a place so reminiscent of Angband.
“Persepctive,” Maedhros answered, looking back at him from the foot of the throne. “Furthermore, it is unfortunate that this place has fallen into disuse.”
“You have gotten over your unease with it, I see.”
“There is nothing left for me to fear. I have lost everything, but no one I care for is truly lost.”
“But even so, not quite so bold as to sit on the throne?” Námo pressed him. “I would not dream of it,” Maedhros smiled. “I came here to see how this room was meant to be, not to see it through the eyes of my enemy.”
“It is my throne,” Námo reminded him.
“It was,” Maedhros agreed. “And you are more alike than I thought.”
“Oh?” The Lord of Mandos was always intimidating. In that moment, he was slightly more intimidating than usual.
“You both wished to break me to get to my family. You both cost me a hand. And you both knew how to exploit my weaknesses.”
Námo listened gravely. “Am I your foe, then?”
“Never.” Maedhros shook his head vehemently. “Your will was to save my family, even more than I wished to at the time. When everyone had given up on the House of Fëanor, you did not.”
Námo bowed his head in acknowledgement. “Then I will not be too wounded by the comparison. I fight for all the fëar entrusted to my care.” His eyes smiled. “Your family simply put up a bigger fight than most.”
“We are stubborn,” Maedhros said, not quite looking at him. He paused in thought for a moment. “Do you...” he hesitated. “Do you only know what will be, or do you also see what may be?”
“I do not see,” Námo explained. “That is the role of Vairë. I know.”
“And she...she does not know the meaning of what she sees?”
“Sometimes. It depends upon other things. Together we watch the unfolding of the story of the world. But which might-have-been are you contemplating now?”
“I have been wondering what would have happened if I had capitulated to the wrong Vala.”
“He is no longer a Vala,” Námo reminded him. “But why not tell me?”
Maedhros met his eyes before speaking. “He was poisoning me,” he said in a neutral tone, his eyes sliding away. “When Fingon cut off the hand, the blood was black. I thought he wanted to make me into one of his creatures, twisted like an orc. The visions he would send me…”
He was crouched down on all fours like a wild beast. At a distant sound, he looked up warily, tense and ready to fight. Blood was smeared on his face, and he could taste the metallic tang. The sound ceased, so he looked down, and saw that he had been crouched over a dead elf, who was staring up at the sky with blank and empty eyes. The throat had been mauled…he suddenly realised he had done it. But rather than feel revulsion at what he had just done, he felt a ravenous hunger. He bent down, closed his eyes, and tore flesh from the open wound with his teeth, swallowing it and hungrily returning for more.
He had many waking dreams such as that one while he was trapped on the precipice of Thangorodrim. Sometimes he perceived Morgoth’s role; other times he did not. Sometimes, he forgot they were visions and thought they were real. He was very thankful the dead did not dream…not like that.
“But later...when I met other escaped captives, I learned that he wished to enthrall us all. He did not want me as a mindless slave, but as a broken elf, who could be cowed into doing his will after my pride had shattered.”
“It would not have worked.”
Maedhros looked up in surprise. “But given time, I would have...”
“You would have broken, yes, but trust me when I say that I know more about the Sons of Fëanor than he did. There is no way to use you yourself against your brothers without first winning you over. That, he could not have done. He would have been left with a broken shell of you.”
Maedhros smiled. “So I did beat him in the end.” He paused. “Did I lose to you, though?”
“Everyone loses to me, Maedhros.”
“Everyone?” He cocked his head to the side and looked at the Vala speculatively. He thought several other of the Valar might try even his stubbornness. Starting with his wife. And then there was his own Father....
“Only those reckless enough to play the game,” he amended.
“I am reckless. I worked so hard to heal my brothers, and now I am left here alone.”
“Do you regret that choice?”
Maedhros shook his head. “I had no peace while I knew they were lost or in pain. Now that they are healed and well, I have nothing to be anxious about. Loneliness I can bear better than grief.”
“Perhaps it is not good for you to be alone.”
Maedhros shrugged. “There is always my Father and Míriel if I wish for company.” He smiled again. “Do not worry about me.”
“I do not worry. But I may ask one more favour of you, nonetheless.”
“Oh? And what is that, my Lord?”
“I did say may. It remains to be seen if that will be best.”
“Do you not know?”
Námo smiled. “I trust you will let me know if I am wrong.”
With that, he turned and left. Maedhros frowned. What was the Vala up to?
With a last look at the crown of jewels behind the throne, he turned and left the abandoned throne room. He took a very meandering route back to his own room, lingering in the halls of tapestries, and visiting Fingon’s fountain. He took some comfort in the memories he had of his brothers, both in life and here in the Halls of Mandos. He would not truly be alone with his memories to keep him company. It had been by Fingon’s fountain that he had first realized he had no body here, but for some reason, the loss had never seemed painful to him. He supposed he should count himself lucky that he did not desire something he could never have. That was one curse he could live without, in a manner of speaking.
The halls he wandered through were as empty as always, but he was beginning to wonder why that might be. Surely, Lord Námo was not afraid of other elves meeting him any longer? He would not visit his brothers’ rooms, for he did not wish to see them empty, or worse…inhabited by someone new. But as more and more elves left this place, perhaps it was becoming a vast empty hall. He found his way to the Sunrise hall, near Celegorm’s old room. Even if this place would never be for him, it was certainly his, as he had witnessed each member of his family, one by one, passing from these Halls. He stood in the doorway, fingering the stone in the necklace on his breast, and remembering.
Curufin had been the last. The twins stayed little longer than Caranthir, but Celegorm and Curufin kept him company for quite some time after their departure. Celegorm visited both of them often, and eventually his sight returned. He seemed much milder than he had been in life, and Maedhros suspected Námo referred to his blindness about as often as he brought up a certain mountain with Maedhros. But in the end, Celegorm could not bear this bodiless existence, and he yearned for his own life. Maedhros knew when it was time for him to leave, and he finally understood Fingon’s departure as he watched Celegorm leave. He gave his brother a message for their cousin: “Thank you for everything. There is nothing for me to forgive. Until the end...keep hope.”
He had let Curufin keep the necklace with the green stone, and whether due to the jewel or his time here, he had improved. His anger ebbed away, and his death wound slowly healed. Finally, one day, he agreed to let go of the Oath and face judgement. After that, he was much as Maedhros had remembered him, and he felt like his brother had truly returned. If he had more in common with the impetuous Curufin of Valinor than the cunning Curufin of Middle Earth, Maedhros could not say he was disappointed by that. And with healing came wisdom, so that as often as not, Curufin helped him to see things as they truly were, not the other way around. It was Curufin who helped him understand their father. In the end, even Curufin could not abide here. His last brother, his last companion, had been reborn not long ago. Curufin had left the jewel with him, in remembrance, and he hoped it would continue to bring solace. Maedhros wondered what was different about himself, that he was content in these Halls, and did not yearn for a return to life; he did not share the longing that he saw in the fëar of his brothers.
He left behind the orange, gold and deep pinks of the Sunrise hall and made his way back to his own room. He had his light, and the treasures his family had left with him. He had neglected to mention these things when he told Lord Námo that he had lost everything. These simple remembrances were not needed, but he appreciated them nonetheless. But when he opened the door to his room, he found a surprise waiting for him. The room was not empty. Bent over the statue of his family that Nerdanel had made were two small people. He left the door open behind him, but froze when they both looked up. He knew these boys, and his questions and accusations both died when he saw them. He dropped to his knees, and stared at the sons of Dior.
They stared back at him gravely. “Greetings, Master Maedhros,” one of them said politely, in that strangely childish voice.
Maedros shuddered. “Why...why are you here?” he asked cautiously, not worrying about the correct greeting. He could not tell them apart, so calling them by name was unwise.
“Námo sent us. He said we may talk with you.”
Maedhros felt calmer. He could handle this. Really. He sat down, tucking his legs out of the way. “And what would you talk to me about...”
“Eluréd. I am Eluréd,” the now-ancient child provided helpfully.
“What would you like to talk about, Eluréd?” Maedhros repeated dutifully.
“We wanted to know...”
“We want you to tell us about being here forever,” Elurín interrupted. His brother shot him an annoyed look.
“It’s like being here for one day, just repeated many times,” Maedhros said, smiling. “But why do you need me to tell you that? You have been here as long as I have.” Longer, actually. Now that he thought about it...why were they still here? It had been ages and ages (he lost count at seven) of the world outside.
“We don’t understand forever,” Elurín explained. “You lived much longer in the first world than we did, so we thought you might understand it better.”
“Even I am not that ancient,” Maedhros explained. “Here there are older elves than I, such as the Lady Míriel. But if you really wish to understand ‘forever’, you will have to ask a Maia, not an elf.”
“We have, but they can’t explain anything, because to them it is nothing special,” Eluréd said. “So usually we don’t ask any more.” This last was clearly aimed at his brother.
“So what did you really want to ask me about?” Maedhros prompted him. He was extremely uncomfortable watching the fëar of young boys who had died because of him, but he did not feel as overwhelmingly guilty about it as he did at his Judgement. He supposed he had changed in the intervening time.
“We were...worried about something, and thought you might be able to help us.” Eluréd stopped.
Elurín looked over at him, and continued. “We are afraid we might be forgetting our father.”
“You might be? Why do you say that?”
“We tell each other stories about him, to help us remember, but that is all we have now. The stories.”
“That is all I have of my family, too,” Maedhros admitted. “But I do not think I will forget them.”
“But I thought...I thought you still had your father!” Eluréd said in dismay.
“I do; he is here. But I have a mother and six brothers who will only live in my memories, since they are alive.”
“Six brothers?” Elurín said in awe. “We only had one sister.”
“That is one more than I have,” Maedhros pointed out.
Elurín smiled shyly at him. “And do you have...sons or daughters?”
Maedhros shook his head. “No. I have no wife, and no children. I...made a promise, while I was alive, and so I did not marry.”
“That is a strange promise,” Eluréd said.
“It was,” Maedhros agreed. The Oath seemed very strange to him now. Eluréd and Elurín looked at one another, as if trying to come to a decision.
“Would you....like to have children?” Elurín asked tentatively.
“Whether I would like to or not, I never will. I will always be here, and a fëa alone cannot create a child.”
“What we are asking is...will you remind us of what it is like, to have a father?” Eluréd asked him.
Maedhros went very still. He did not answer the boys, but glared at the north wall of his room. “Is this what you would ask of me?” he said in a low voice. He turned back, and saw that the boys were alarmed. “I am not Dior,” he said more gently. “I will not help remind you of him.”
“But...forever is such a long time to wait to see him again,” Eluréd said quietly.
“But...why...why must you wait forever? I do not understand...”
“Neither do we. You’ll have to ask our mother to explain it to you.”
“Your...mother? She is still here as well?” They nodded solemnly. “I will need to speak with her before I can give you an answer. For now, I will only say that you are welcome to visit me, or call for me. I would not mind hearing your stories about Dior, but I cannot promise anything more.” Maedhros felt a bit out of his depth. They weren’t really still children, were they? They’d been here for ages and ages. But then, they’d never lived as anything else. Maybe that mattered.
They both smiled, and got up quickly. “Come with us right now, then, and talk to our mother!” Elurín said excitedly, tugging at Maedhros’ right hand. Eluréd seemed just as eager. Maedhros did not know what he had done to earn this type of attention from these boys, but hoped their mother would explain further.
Nimloth was a Sindarin elf of Doriath, and she spoke with the quaint accent of that people. She had pale hair and white garments, reminding him of a moth trapped in a dark room, fluttering against the cover of a lamp. The room was cool and dimly lit, with water dripping down the back wall, as in a grotto. It was no rough-hewn cave, but built with shapely pillars and carven furniture; it would not have been out of place in Menegroth. Maedhros was not certain who amongst his warriors had been responsible for Nimloth’s death, but he had no intention of bringing that up. He was...surprised...that she remained in these Halls so many years after her death.
He bowed low when he met her, trying to be as courteous as possible. Her sons did not help, though. “Mother, this is Maedhros son of Fëanor,” Eluréd said, his formality not masking his excitement. Maedhros half-expected this to be followed by, ‘Can we keep him?’
“I am pleased to meet you...Maedhros,” she said gravely, obviously hesitating on any other title for him. ‘Leader of the people who slaughtered my people’ sounds poor, no matter how it is rephrased.
“I am sorry to intrude, Lady Nimloth of Doriath,” he said, trying his best to acknowledge how out of place he felt, “but your sons insisted I speak with you.”
“Yes, you have to tell him about ‘forever,’ or he won’t agree to be our father,” Elurín said helpfully, completely oblivious to the alarmed looks on both their faces – and the unhappy look his brother was giving him.
Maedhros held up his right hand in warning. “I have agreed to no such thing. I know that their father is Dior, and I do not presume anything....” He nearly floundered. “They showed up on my doorstep rather unexpectedly,” he finished helplessly.
“Let us begin again,” Nimloth said, not quite as disconcerted as her guest. “Please, be seated,” she gestured towards some benches. “And boys...please make yourselves scarce.” Eluréd and Elurín looked at one another, and then left.
Maedhros rather suspected that Eluréd would spend the time explaining to his brother what a mess he had caused. But at the moment...he was more concerned with their mother. He sat down gingerly, despite the fact that the seats were strewn with cushions and quite comfortable.
Nimloth took her seat, but did not look at her guest. “Dior came to Doriath as a young man, and became our ruler when the realm had fallen into chaos at the loss of our king and queen. He was a stranger there, and much was expected of our new king. I would like to say that I offered to help him out of kindness, but he won over my heart long before that.” She smiled at the memory. “He was beautiful to look on, and had no guile within him. He seemed so full of life and goodwill, that I could not help but love him, despite the warnings.”
“What...warnings?” Maedhros asked cautiously. He had received a far different report of what manner of king Dior had been, but it was quite possible that Celegorm’s messengers were blinded by their bias as well. The truth was probably somewhere in between. “The fate of Lúthien was well-known in Doriath. She, who had been gifted with divine life, set it aside for mortal love. Whether people counted her wise or foolish, it was for Beren that she made such a sacrifice. Dior grew quickly for his age, and so we saw his mortal fate. To love him would be to choose loss, and yet I was not dismayed. At that time, Beren and Lúthien yet lived, and so their joy was clear for all to see. Many who love also lose, and I did not think it would be any different for me whether Dior were slain by age or an enemy.”
“And in the end, he was slain by an enemy just the same,” Maedhros said quietly.
“If only it were that simple! These halls are not for mortal souls. They tarry here awhile, but then depart. No one can tell me where they go; it is a secret of Ilúvatar not to be revealed to mere elves.” She sighed. “Forgive me; I know I sound bitter, but I have no right to complain of the consequences of my own choice.”
“Then...Dior is lost to you?” She nodded. “Until Arda reaches its end, the First- and Second-born are sundered. But I am not the only soul separated from my spouse, and so I have learned to bear the long wait, as I must.”
“Forgive me, lady, but I cannot understand such a loss. Both my parents and my grandparents have been sundered in death, but I myself never had anyone to cleave to.”
She looked at him and smiled – a sad smile, like Míriel’s. “I do not ask for your pity. As I said, the choice was mine. If I find it bitter now, I found it to be filled with joy in life. I would not undo the choice, an I could.
“The Valar have been most courteous, accommodating me as best they can. They cannot, or will not, alter the will of Eru, and so my family must be parted. But it is our children who suffer for it.”
Maedhros had not thought of this before. “Are your children mortal or elven?” he asked. He had thought Maglor’s sons would have a mortal fate, but...had not lived long enough to see if that were the case.
“Which one?” Nimloth said ruefully. “Elwing, my daughter, dwells still in Valinor, the wife of Eärendil, while my sons...they are mortal, and are fated to follow their father.”
“Hence their preoccupation with ‘forever’ – they want to know when they will see him again,” Maedhros said quietly.
“No, they could see him now, if they wished. They tarry here as a comfort to me.”
“That is why none of you have been re-embodied!” Maedhros exclaimed, the pieces finally falling into place. “It is only here, in these Halls, that you may be together as a family.”
Nimloth nodded. “Yes. Lord Námo has allowed us to linger here, despite it being past our time to depart. I am very grateful for his kindness.”
Maedhros laughed. “As am I, but few elves outside these walls would understand that sentiment.”
She smiled at that. “Perhaps even fewer within. Eluréd and Elurín are children yet, for they never grew into adulthood in life. They wish to have their family whole and complete, and thus are impatient for Arda to reach its end. I do not know what they asked of you, but if you would, you are welcome to help them pass the time.”
“They asked me...to remind them of what it meant to have a father. I cannot do such a thing.” He looked at her intently. “I will not attempt to usurp Dior’s place.”
“You would not. But have you not thought why, of all elves, they chose you?”
Actually, he had not. It had seemed to him that Lord Námo was to blame. “I thought...I thought it was simply because I am here until the end of Arda as well.”
She shook her head. “No. When they first met you...you seemed to understand their grief at losing their father better than most.”
He looked at her wryly. “They are indeed children. They are separated from their father...because of my failure.”
She looked away. “And I am unlikely to forget your role in all our deaths, Fëanorion,” she said quietly. “Even if you do speak our tongue as well as you are able.”
“Do you hold me a kinslayer unrepentant, then?” She did not answer. Maedhros stood. “I have caused your family enough grief for one lifetime. If I can do aught to ease it now, I will. Eluréd and Elurín are welcome to visit me if they wish, but I will not return here...unless you wish it of me.”
She looked back at him. “That seems good to me.”
He bowed, and left. There was no sign of the boys, and he went back to his room with a heavy heart. When he got there, he sat down and looked at his light. “For the first time since I have been here, I wish I could drink wine.” He started uneasily at that thought.
But no matter what, he knew he would be thinking about what it meant to have a father until he saw Eluréd and Elurín again. Thingol’s Heir and Thingol’s Remembrance, though neither boy had met their famous ancestor in life. If he thought about the family tree, they were the same generation as his nephew Celebrimbor. Though if he’d had sons of his own, they would have been born much earlier. He shook his head. But he’d never had a family of his own. He had parents and brothers; no sisters, and no wife or children. Now was hardly the time to think of changing that! Nimloth had been courteous enough, but clearly ambivalent about him having anything to do with her sons. There was no need for him to intrude in her family’s business. But then again, it did seem rather silly for him to sit here until the end of Arda while allowing them to sit in their room as well. He’d be no better than his own father if he cut himself off from everyone. He realized that Lord Námo had not weighed in on this, had not even requested anything of him. So it really was...up to him to decide. That made him a bit uneasy. Was he going to hurt these children? What did he know of Dior, or of being a father?
“When can we meet him?” Eluréd asked. His brother Elurín had become bored with this conversation some time ago, and so he merely stared at Caranthir’s standard on the wall.
“It is not that simple,” Maedhros explained as patiently as he could. “There are no other elves here who may visit my Father.”
“But – “ Eluréd persisted.
Maedhros shook his head. “You remember what the Lady Vairë said; it is not up to me.”
Elurín turned back to them both. “Tell us the story of Nargothrond again.”
Maedhros smiled at him gratefully. “Again?” But he did not mind. Finrod was one of his favourite cousins, and the boys enjoyed listening to tales of a place so like Menegroth. He wondered about his cousins, living now in Valinor. It must be very different to see that place with eyes that remembered Middle Earth. And the Blessed Realm was no longer as he remembered it; the light of the Sun and the Moon shone there now. At least the foundation of Nargothrond was a tale he could tell that painted Thingol as a generous and noble king. He did not wish to speak too poorly of their ancestor, but he had no intention of lying, either. Their tales of their father portrayed Dior as a gentle king, not nearly as weak or haughty as he had viewed him. He generally refrained from speaking about Beren or his son, when possible. It was not long before Órecalimon came to escort the boys back to Nimloth’s room. Maedhros thought it best if she did not have to see him.
When they had gone, he went to see his own father again.
“Are you not curious?” he asked Fëanor.
“I have always been curious, and do not intend to cease now,” his Father replied. “But you are the sole exception to my enforced solitude here.”
“They look remarkably like your heirs.”
“Macalaurë’s adopted sons are not my heirs. Curufinwë was the only one to pass on my bloodline.”
“Ah, but Telperinquar repudiated his father, and did not forgive him until after he entered these Halls.” Curufin had at least managed to reconcile with his son before the latter was reborn.
Fëanor’s flames danced about, flickering in and out; a parody of laughter. “You try so hard to convince. One look at Telperinquar and it should be clear to anyone that he was capable of great things. Whether he squandered that skill in Endórë or not, he was my heir.”
“He did not squander it,” Maedhros said quietly. According to Curufin, his son was the greatest craftsman of the Second Age. But the tale was a bit darker than that. He looked down and sighed. “They wish to see you,” he began again. “They are like children, and they think someone who is my Father must be...worth meeting,” he settled on.
“So, Macalaurë was not the only one to adopt sons?”
Maedhros looked up in alarm. “No! I did not adopt them. Their mother would...not be pleased with that, I deem.”
“Whatever name you give it, you are clearly trying to present these boys to me. I am merely curious why it is so important to you.”
“Father, I –“
“If you cannot tell me, I cannot see them.”
Maedhros stopped. If he spoke now, he would say something he would later regret. He stared at the flames of his Father’s spirit for a long, long time. His Father did not break the silence between them. Finally, he spoke. “Do you miss the light of your silmarilli?”
“I do, Nelyo,” his Father said honestly, but again waited for Maedhros to continue.
“Eluréd and Elurín miss their family. They will not be rejoined with their own father until the end of Arda, however much longer that may be. And I...I too miss my family. My mother and my brothers. You are all that I have left.”
Fëanor remained silent.
“Elurín and Eluréd introduced me to their mother, the only family they have left. I thought it would only be...fair...to introduce them to my Father. And they want to meet you, for some strange reason.”
“Of course they do, Nelyo. Children are always curious,” Fëanor said, his voice surprisingly gentle. “But that does not mean the experience would be...good for them.” He reached out an arm, and the flames leapt up to meet it. He caught them in his hand, and they flowed into him. The flames were not just part of him; he was the flames. With a flick of his hand, they crossed the space to Maedhros. “They will not burn you, son. Your fëa was forged of this flame. Not so these mortals you would have me meet.” The tendrils of flame, which had licked at Maedhros’ hair, fell back down to the floor.
“But I am not a flame here,” Maedhros said, a bit confused.
“Ask your Master why he has clothed your fëa as he has; do not ask me why it is not as it was originally.”
Maedhros bristled. “The Lord of Mandos is Master of all the dead. He is your Master as well as mine, whether you acknowledge him or not.”
The flames danced in laughter again. “I may have died, but that did not give the Valar mastery over me. I told him to come back when he had a silmaril, and have not heard from him since.”
Maedhros went very still. “What...what would you do if he did?”
“There is no fear of that; they are lost, or so you told me.”
“Only until the end of Arda, Father. If Arda were remade, the Valar would surely recover your silmarilli.”
“Then we will see when the time comes,” he said.
Maedhros hesitated, not sure how to respond. He remembered Vairë’s tapestry, but did not wish to bring that up and anger Fëanor. His Father, though, was not deceived by his silence.
“But that is why I call the Doomsman your Master. It is clear that you do his will now, not your own.” Maedhros opened his mouth to protest, but his Father disregarded him and continued. “I am not blind. You disapprove of my choices here, as well as the ones I made in life. The fact that you are a willing thrall is no less distasteful to me. I know the reason why you continue to visit me.”
Maedhros’ mouth snapped shut. He knew now that today might be the last time he ever saw his Father. He had been a fool...
“Your disapproval has been clear from the first. And yet you return, knowing that I alone of all elves here cannot abandon you. Your mother, your brothers, they have left you one by one. I remain, and so you cling to me. That is what those mortal elflings are to you – not sons, but security.”
Maedhros exploded. He leapt to his feet, and the flames fell back from him. “How dare you?” he shouted. “I come because I love you. Have you forgotten your life so completely? You loved us once. You loved each of us...and our Mother. I came to you because she asked it of me. She knew she would never see you again, and so she asked me to look after you when she was reborn. She did not abandon any of us, least of all me.” He grabbed at the flickering flames, but they shrunk from his hand. In frustration, he grabbed at the ropes of flame that formed a net about the room, catching one in his right hand. “The Maiar here are right – the one thing you cannot teach an elf is that which he already knows, or thinks he does. You cannot love with just a fëa, Father. That is why everyone else is re-embodied. They miss...being able to love someone. Hunger? Thirst? Cold? It is not those hroafelmë that wear on the spirit!” He dropped the flames from his scorched hand, but did not step back. He waited to be slammed into the door, but his father’s attack never came.
“And whom do you love? The tattered remnants of clothes do little to hide the fact that you are indeed a naked fëa.”
“I love my family. I remember what it was to have a body, and to be alive. That memory sustains me here.”
“Tell me of the boys’ mother. I am curious.”
“Nimloth?” he asked in surprise. “She was one of Thingol’s people, though she is not nearly as proud as he was. She lingers here to be with her sons.”
“And you are finally restless, because you have no memories of loving them in life.” Maedhros sat down heavily, floored by that insight. Was it true? Was he going to become as restless as all the others were?
“Bring them with you next time. I am curious.” And with that, Maedhros found himself out in the hallway again, staring at the door that was always closed.
“Remember, let him speak first,” Maedhros counselled the young boys. “We remember,” Elurín said obediently. They’d been excited when he gave them the news, and eagerly demanded to set out right away. But as they’d walked over here, they’d both become quieter and subdued. Maedhros supposed his own nervousness was wearing on them.
Elurín and Eluréd stood before the sealed door of Fëanor’s tomb in silent trepidation. This place certainly seemed forbidding. What if Maedhros’ father didn’t really want to see them?
“I’ll go first,” Maedhros said. “If you…if you want to leave, at any time, just call for the Lady Vairë, and she’ll retrieve you.” They both nodded solemnly; they were terrified, and making them wait was just making it worse. “In we go,” he said. The Lady Vairë took out her key and pushed them through the doorway.
Maedhros was surprised by the change. Instead of the tangled web of fire, the briars of flame had been tamed. The net was drawn back so that all along the walls and ceiling ran glowing veins of that most precious of ores, the soul of his father. Fëanáro stood towards the back of the room, a naked flame still.
Elurín and Eluréd stood behind Maedhros, peering around his legs nervously at this elf unlike any other they had met here. “Why is he on fire?” Elurín asked uncertainly.
“That’s just the way his spirit is,” Maedhros explained quietly. Then, switching to Quenya, he greeted his father. “I’ve brought them. I hope you are not displeased?”
“Bring them closer, Nelyo,” he answered him. Then Maedhros saw that an avenue, clear of fire, had been left on the floor. So, taking Eluréd’s hand, he brought them forward to meet his father.
“Meet the sons of Dior Eluchil. They speak no Quenya, but perhaps you will not find it difficult to understand them.”
“Do they speak a mortal tongue?”
“No, we speak the Sindarin of Doriath, like our parents,” Eluréd offered.
Maedhros turned to him in surprise. “Since when do you understand Quenya?”
The elfling shrugged. “Some people here speak it a lot, so I’ve learned to understand it.”
Fëanor chuckled, and the flames along the walls flickered and danced with him. “Then I will watch what I say,” he murmured.
“Did you really have seven sons?” Elurín asked in Sindarin, forgetting Maedhros’ instruction to wait to speak.
“He wants to know if you really had seven sons,” Maedhros dutifully translated.
“Yes, though I must admit I had some help with that,” he said.
“Yes,” Maedhros said succinctly.
“Shall I request another translator?” Fëanor asked. The twins laughed.
The visit was actually…pleasant. Fëanor was genuinely curious about Doriath and mortality and other things that the twins had experienced in their brief lives (though he had not). And they were equally curious about this great elf they had heard about. Maedhros had forgotten how good his father was at explaining things to young elves; he could make even complex ideas sound simple, but even more importantly, his explanations brought out his own sense of wonder, so that the boys were fascinated by every subject his father brought up. And Eluréd and Elurín were guileless, so they brought up whatever they wanted. There was no skirting of sensitive topics or pretending not to notice things. Maedhros thought the visit would end when the twins laughed at his father’s old-fashioned pronunciation, but he was in a good humour and merely mimicked their strange Doriath accents in return, which made the twins laugh even harder. He shouldn’t have been surprised to see them together like this; whatever Fëanor put his mind to, he exceled at, and he had been a skilled orator and good father in life.
Maedhros didn’t know when he had forgotten that.
Órecalimon = Bright Heart, name of a Maia
Telperinquar = Celebrimbor’s name in Quenya. Too bad Fëanor never learned Sindarin!
“Strange. The only way to win is not to play the game.” Wargames I guess going up against Mandos is sorta like playing global thermonuclear war….
The Shibboleth of Fëanor: He kept the ‘th’ that in later Quenya changed to ‘s’, because of his mother’s name: Míriel Þerindë. Doriathrin Sindarin was said to be different than the Sindarin of other places, with its own unique idiosyncrasies.
I *finally* returned to this story during Easter in Ethiopia! I may finish it yet…and thanks to my beta for still being there, many years and several continents later. An update for Father’s Day, why not?
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