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Lessons from the Mountain by MithLuin

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"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?"

"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."

Maedhros shuddered.

"You have spoken enough, Nelyafinwë," Manwë proclaimed. "Are you ready to hear your doom?"

 




Chapter End Notes:

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




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