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Lessons from the Mountain by MithLuin

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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."




Chapter End Notes:

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




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