Red Sun Rising
by Amy Fortuna
The sunrise was vivid, as though the sky itself was still burning beyond the clouds. On the once-green plain, now a desert waste, fires still burnt here and there, consuming all the green grass beyond reseeding or repair. In the distance, a star faded into the mists of Angband. I adjusted the crown on my head, its weight new and unfamiliar.
We did not know how many of our kin, our friends, our horses, lay dead and smouldering in those lost lands. But late the night before, a messenger got through, a hard-won feat to cross a land so barren, and told us of two of our kin. And in the end, two was far too many.
We heard how Aegnor, eyes and hair both like flames as he raged, cut down Orc hordes like they were wheat and he a scythe. The messenger said that as he fought, he shouted the names of all of his friends and kinfolk lost to death, and that kept him going long after other Elves would have been swept from their horses in the melee. In the end, though, all his might and all his anger did not avail to save him, and he was pulled down into the depths, destroyed, his bright armour bloodstained, his bright hair burnt or hacked off for Orc trophies.
We heard how Angrod and his wife, the fair and fearless Edhellos, retreated to their castle keep with all their warriors, and there survived a siege of three months long, cut off from supplies until there was nothing left. Their faces, pale and gaunt like they were on the Ice so long ago, haunted my dreams several nights ago, made my sleep impossible, and now I knew the truth of what I had seen. At the last they sang the keep apart, unwound the binding that held the stones together, sent them crashing down upon Orc and Elf alike, until all was in ruin, and the battle lost. Or won. For only one came away from that field, and he was our messenger.
My father sat straight and silent in his high throne when he heard the news. His face was like a dark cloud creeping over the face of the sun, blocking out all the light. He was that dreadful stillness before the storm breaks, no tears on his face, no mourning or lamenting, not then, not there. He thanked the messenger, bade him be given the best of what we had, and sent him to his rest. Then one by one he sent all his courtiers away, until I his son alone remained with him.
For a long while he made no sound, there in the darkness. One by one the candles went out, until the light of his eyes was all that shone. At last he turned to look at me, keeping vigil beside him as was my duty and my right, and on his face was a terrible regret and a wrath.
"I told my brother I would keep them safe," he said, voice held carefully steady. "When he turned back, he asked me to watch over them, his golden boys, his bright girl, and I gave him my promise that I would."
My father rose from his throne and began to pace the empty hall. I followed, listening to the words he was speaking, though it was not me he spoke to.
"I failed them, little brother. I failed them. I lost them. They died in flame and fear because I could not protect them. And not only them. Too many friends, far too many. I cannot keep them safe." His voice filled with anguish and despair. "We have lost all, for soon or late, utter ruin will come to all our Houses."
"It is not because of you they were killed, Atar," I said in our forbidden tongue, deliberately, defiantly choosing the words. I stepped forward and laid a hand upon his arm. "The Black Foe of the World has their blood on his hands."
The fire of his eyes met mine as he turned toward me. He answered me in the language of Valinor, the words pregnant with wrath held in abeyance for a little while longer, until the storm should break. "Then the Black Foe of the World should be made to answer for their deaths."
I followed him out of the throne room and down the long passageway. It was so late that all but the night watch were asleep, and through the East-facing windows I could see the black of the night sky beginning to turn grey. In the chill of first light, he made his way to the stables, and I followed him in.
Like one who moves in a dream, he took down Rochallor's war saddle, and made soft, tender noises over her. I stood still, my hands at my side. The full import of what he was about to do had not yet dawned on me.
"Fetch Ringil, my shield, and my armour from the armoury," he said to the stable boy, a child of the race of Men, yawning and bleary-eyed from sleep, roused from his bed by our entrance. The boy nodded, and vanished out of the door without a word.
He turned and took me by the shoulders. "You are all I have left," he said. "For Argon is no more, and Aredhel is lost, and Turgon has vanished. Only you have stayed faithful by my side, but you cannot come with me now. I must leave you behind."
I was beginning to understand. "I would go with you anywhere, even to the gates of Angband itself," I said, tears springing into my eyes.
"No," he said, taking the crown from his head and holding it between us. "You have a duty, High King of the Noldor upon Middle-earth!" He placed the crown upon my head, and I gasped in shock. My hand flew up to it, whether to steady it or remove it I do not know.
"Father!" I exclaimed, reaching out for him as he made to move away, questions crowding into my mind. "What do I do? Where are you going?"
He turned back, and pressed a kiss to my forehead. "My dear son," he whispered, "you already know."
The stable boy returned at that moment, followed by two pages who bore the armour of the King, and the next few minutes were frantic. I stayed out of the way as they got him into his armour, and the stable boy ensured that Rochallor was saddled and ready to go. He shone in the dim candlelight like a dying star, and my eyes blurred with tears at his brightness.
At last he was armed and mounted, his high helm set atop his head, blue feathers floating above it. He looked down, and I reached up, placing my hand over his mailed glove. "There are no words in any tongue for the grief of this parting," I said.
"Do not fear," my father answered, the foresight of one who goes to his death upon him. "For it will not be long ere we meet again."
And speaking a word to Rochallor he sped from the stable doors and out into the early grey of first light. I followed after him, my feet heavy on the stone, and looked out toward the East and North as he rode through the gates. The light of the rising sun glinted from the crystals of his shield and from the top of his silver helm like a star in the desert wastelands.
The dawn was blood-red in the ash-filled sky as I watched him go.