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Lessons from the Mountain by MithLuin

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"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.

Chapter End Notes:

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.

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