A Tyrant Spell Has Bound Me
Warnings: This is a Choose Not to Warn fic, largely because I suspect there would be warnings I missed because it's a dark canon divergent AU. There's a ton of off-screen character death, on-screen suicide-by-battle, and no good answers.
Author’s Notes: Many thanks to Lyra for the beta. The title comes from Emily Brontë’s poem “The Night is Darkening Round Me.”
I gazed over the field scattered with orc corpses, the stench of the dead filling the air so I could smell nothing else, not even the flowers on the plants just beginning to bloom in the forest that bordered the clearing we'd camped in. I heard the soft scuff of a boot on the earth and turned my head when Maedhros came up next to me. Quietly, he said, “Gilraen requested mercy.”
I closed my eyes briefly. She was one of the two badly injured who had survived the ambush and her the worse off with a poisoned gut-wound. Chances were she would not have survived the day. I turned to face the lone tent we had set up in time to watch her cousin and another survivor carrying her out. They gently placed her in one of the piles of Elven dead and stood back.
Maedhros and I walked over, side by side, joining the four survivors, with one more in the tent. One of the men lit a torch and handed it to Maedhros, who whispered something even I could not comprehend and walked around the piles, setting them alight in multiple places before tossing the torch onto the top of the nearest.
We did not have enough people to dig even a mass grave for our dead. Nor did we want the carrion-eaters to have them. Cremation was the best we could do to honor them. Maedhros glanced at the black flag with the embroidered silver Star of Fëanor on it hanging near the pile and turned sharply around, heading to the mound of supplies we'd scavenged. “I want us packed by sunset. We cannot stay here.”
For a multitude of reasons, not the least of which was a polluted water supply. I hurried after him, three others straggling behind us and the fourth going into the tent to prepare Baran for travel. I caught up with Maedhros as he crouched down next to the pitiful pile. The orcs had done what they could to ensure we would have little remaining. We were lucky to have three horses wander back in the midmorning and they were hobbled in the little bit of grass remaining.
He didn't look up as he balanced a pack between his knees and used his hand to start packing it with the food we had remaining. “Maglor, Morgoth attacked us with the intent to murder us all. It is the only explanation why he sent such an overwhelming force. The eight-- seven-- of us are lucky enough to have survived.”
What went unspoken and would until Maedhros felt safe enough to weep was Amrod's and Amras' deaths. “Why attack us now?”
“It was a diversion.” If a massacre could indeed be called one.
“Elwing,” he said at the same time I said, “The Silmaril.”
He glanced up at me then. “We are likely too late to help them. But we need to try to warn the Havens.”
I looked at the field and the burning pile sending the smell of roasting meat into the already putrid air. “If we reach them. If Morgoth doesn't ambush us again.”
He tied the flap down and lifted the bag up to me. I took it. “We have to try.”
Seven people-- one injured badly enough he couldn't walk-- and three pack horses took two days to cross the miles between what had been our staging camp for our attack on the Havens and the Havens itself. All of us save Maedhros took turns carrying Baran's stretcher and Maedhros refused to let anyone else save him scout ahead. When we were deep in the delta, he returned with a grim expression on his face.
Soon enough, the breeze brought the smell of smoke and we made our slow way through the charred ruins of the community. It was only when we reached the beach that we saw the survivors: a group of no more than three dozen-- a handful of Men and a fairly even split between Gondolindrim and survivors of Doriath. We stopped walking when the guard nearest us held up a hand. The two carrying Baran's stretcher put it down and all us raised our hands to show we were arriving in peace.
Given history, I doubted they'd believe us.
“We no longer have the Silmaril,” a woman said, identical twin sons clinging to her hands. “Morgoth's army took it.”
Maedhros said, “I know, Elwing. That isn't why we are here.”
She narrowed her eyes, studying us. “Why, then?”
“For sanctuary.” The group's susurration of surprise went nearly unheard over the waves, though their expressions could not be missed. “We are seven and seven only. Morgoth ambushed us three days ago; we are the survivors.”
Elwing dropped her sons' hands and they stayed put while she walked toward us across the brown sand. “Do you truly think we want you here?”
“No,” I said.
She looked at me then. “So two of you lived.” She glanced at the rest of our group and then gestured at Baran. “Bring him.”
Maedhros and I followed her, the rest of our group a few steps behind. The silent, glaring crowd split to let us through into the small line of makeshift shacks placed on the sand well above the high tide mark. Someone from the Havens took our horses, unloaded them at the end of the row, and led them out of sight into the coastal grasses. Elwing sat down in front of the central shack, her children on either side. I suspected none of them wanted to be far from the others.
Maedhros and I sat across from her, ignoring the people who stayed close by watching us. We sat quietly for a couple of minutes. I didn't know what to say; Maedhros was clearly content to let her lead. She finally said, “What happened?”
Maedhros said, “Four nights ago, Morgoth sent an army against us. We cremated the rest of my people on the battlefield. We suspected that the ambush had been intended to ensure that we were distracted from goings-on elsewhere. Now I can only assume he meant to destroy both of our peoples and hold Beleriand uncontested.” He glanced at me and then back at Elwing. “Balar could be a refuge--”
Elwing snorted. “Not both. All.” She tilted her head toward three men standing nearby. “They are Balar's only survivors.”
Clearly the tilt was a signal, for they joined us. “We were fisher folk, out at sea. We had a good run of fish, so we were late sailing home. By the time we returned, it was over. Whatever weapon Morgoth used had deforested and blackened the entire island. Nothing was growing and the only sign of the docks and the town beyond was charred timbers.”
“You don't know the weapon,” Maedhros asked.
“The Bragollach or something worse,” I said, to several nods. “Was there any evidence of--”
“None. I'm sorry.”
“Elrond, Elros, go with them.”
She squeezed their hands and the five of them went only a few buildings down, just out of earshot. More than a few people drifted in their direction, clearly wanting to know what we’d discussed. Elwing sighed then and slumped just a little. “The same night you were ambushed, so were we. But my sons and I were… We were watching the falling stars and were not present for the beginning.”
I said, “You didn't have the Silmaril with you?”
She gave me a wry look. “A brightly shining necklace rather defeats the purpose of stargazing.” The glimpse of humor vanished. “I sent my sons to the tidal caves just down the beach from here. They're short and shallow and easily overlooked. I raced back home in time to see the captain-- someone dressed all in black-- carrying a small chest out of my house. I knew then that Morgoth had one purpose that night. It should have been suicide to fight to regain it, but fight I did, along with the rest of my people. I sent who I could to the beach, but the orcs were there, too, firing our small craft. We fought all night, but they were too well-prepared. Like you, we had to cremate our dead. Our water table is too shallow to allow burial.” She gestured at the shacks and the people. “Balar is gone. The Havens are destroyed. My people are dead. And now you are here asking for sanctuary.” Elwing studied Maedhros. “Why should I give it to Kinslayers?”
I said, “You shouldn't.”
Maedhros stared at me, his eyebrows raised. Elwing laughed. “Oh, you I could like.” She sobered. “You have nowhere to go. You have injured; you have supplies. If we include you, we have forty-three people. Forty-three of the tens of thousands who lived a week ago. Yes, I could turn you away. In fact, I should. You are murderers and the Oath still drives you. Yet you came to warn us and help us if you could, though I fear what would have happened had Morgoth not attacked us as well and stolen the jewel.” She paused, letting the bustle of the dozens who had somehow found excuses to all be on the beach within eyeshot, fill the air.
“Stay,” she said. “Set up your tents at the southern end, at least a dozen feet between my peoples' and yours'. I will not demand that you keep to yourselves because we do need your assistance, but I do require that you respect the difficulties your very presence brings.”
Maedhros nodded. “Do you plan to rebuild?”
She shook her head. “We're waiting for Eärendil.”
She glanced over our shoulders at the Sea. “Another week,” she said with a half-smile. “I am never wrong.”
That said, she stood up, brushed sand off her skirt, and strode off to retrieve her children. Maedhros and I stood as well. “Well?” I said.
He shook his head at me. “Sometimes, Maglor, I wonder what gets into your head.”
We grabbed two of ours to help us set up our tents: one for Maedhros and me and the other for the rest of our people. Sedil said, “Baran will remain with Elwing's people; they have a shack specifically for the wounded. Gael is staying with them to help.”
Gael was the one who had the most knowledge of healing we had left, though I didn't know how much her knowledge would compare to the others. I hoped she’d be safe there given the glares and crass gestures that had accompanied us retrieving our baggage, clearly settling down.
Once our camp was set up, Maedhros and I sat down on the sand, ignoring the raised voices arguing about us staying from Elwing’s portion of the camp, looking out at the Sea. “A week.”
“It's a week to recover,” I said. “A week to mourn.”
He didn't look at me, instead drawing random designs in the sand with a piece of thin driftwood. “Our brothers are dead, Maglor. They're with Mandos. And one day, they should be released from the Halls.”
I raised an eyebrow. “That's not what you said when--”
“I know what I said.” He threw the driftwood across the sand into the Sea, where it bobbed up and down on the waves. “What I said then about them being Houseless I no longer hold true. I don't even believe what I was just saying. Amrod and Amras and Caranthir and Curufin and Celegorm and Father: we're never going to see them again. If we're lucky, they're in the Halls. If we're not, they've been condemned to Everlasting Darkness.” A tear trickled down his face and he wiped it away with his right forearm. “No matter what Elwing and Eärendil decide to do, we have no choice. We have to face Morgoth and die trying. Why mourn when we will be dead soon enough?”
He stood up then and strode southward along the beach, away from everyone. I remained seated and watched the sun set.
“What did you do?”
I glanced down at one of Elwing's twins, probably Elrond given his slightly longer hair. “Where's your mother?”
“Over there.” He pointed vaguely to the other side of the square we were currently scavenging.
I sighed. “Are you supposed to be over here?”
Elrond shook his head. “I'm not supposed to talk to you because Mother said you did bad things.”
I breathed out and briefly closed my eyes. “I killed people. My brothers killed your grandfather.”
“Oh.” He didn't leave, though, which I found exceedingly strange. “Why did you kill them?”
“Elrond, that is a story for another time.”
“You won't be here long,” he said solemnly.
I tilted my head. “How do you know that?”
He shrugged. “I dreamed it.”
“Do your dreams always come true?”
He shook his head. “But I know what a true dream is.”
Chills went down my spine. Foresight was a rare gift in someone so young. “Do you know how?”
He shook his head again. "Only that you’re gone before help arrives."
“They’ll come in ships. I don’t know more. I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right.” I stood up then and held out my hand. Elrond took it unhesitatingly and we crossed the square. Elwing rushed out of the house she'd been searching and ran over to us. “Elrond, what have I said about wandering off?”
She sighed and picked him up. “Why did you go to Maglor?”
“I wanted to know what he did. He told me he killed people.”
Elwing raised her eyebrows and looked at me. I held up my hands. “That is all I said. Strangely, he did not run off.”
“That's Elrond for you.” She turned around and went back inside with her son. “Now, stay with Elros. Please.”
I returned to my task of sorting through a debris pile, looking for dry wood to burn. We needed fire for everything from defense to cooking. And while everyone hated that it came from the houses and buildings of their city, there was nothing to be done. Eärendil would arrive in three days and we had to survive that long.
Elrond inherited foresight from his mother, then, or maybe Idril. And his dream could be anything from voluntarily leaving to death and everything between those extremes. I forced my musings to the side to discuss with Maedhros later; I could not let myself be distracted now.
Later, after the sun had gone down and the fire on the beach was going strong, Maedhros and I retreated to our tent. In the lone lantern we allowed ourselves, his face was shadowed and difficult to read. I told him what Elrond said and Maedhros laughed. “Helping ships? Galadriel and Celeborn miraculously returning with an army of Avari or the Valar deciding that they must now move to fight Morgoth now that there are only a handful left to challenge him? If help does come, it certainly won’t be for us.”
“Do you think Elrond means we'll die?”
Maedhros turned his head so he could briefly glare in the general direction of Thangorodrim. “I think it exceedingly likely if we remain here. Apart from the Elves in Ossiriand-- if any still live because none of us have heard from them-- we are the only survivors of those who harried Morgoth. He wants us dead, Maglor. And we have no escape.”
Maedhros laughed. “Surrender into torture, you mean. I talked to several of the Gondolindrim; they suspect Maeglin was captured and tortured to reveal the city's location. I cannot go through that again, Maglor. I would kill myself first.”
I studied him. Yes, I could see that he would. And unlike Fingolfin, his death would not wound Morgoth. “Then what do you suggest we do?”
“We decide after Eärendil arrives. If we sneak off now, they will fear we mean to betray them.”
“Baran and the others can remain here. They're integrating into the community more than we are.”
Unspoken was that half of them hadn't fought at Doriath, having remained behind in our camp to either guard or tend it. Even the two who had fought hadn't killed anyone related to the few remaining survivors of the Second Kinslaying. It was easier, in some ways, to accept everyone but us.
“What do you think we should do?”
I thought. “Our options are limited. We cannot run, for fear it would void our Oath. We cannot sail West. Suicide is not yet an option. Surrender is unwise. Yet if we fight to reach Thangorodrim, we will die.”
“At least we'll die fighting,” Maedhros said quietly.
A fighting death would be the last, best option for us. We had fallen from such heights, that this would be the best we could hope for from the long defeat. “We'll decide when Eärendil arrives,” I just as quietly.
I did not wish to face Mandos.
It was on the incoming tide that Vingilot reached home. Elwing ran into the surf to greet him, her sons remaining on shore with the woman who usually watched the twins when their mother was unavailable. Eärendil swung her about in greeting and then looked over the gathered crowd. His gaze landed on Maedhros and me standing apart from the rest. We had been tolerated here, never welcomed, and pointedly ignored by the majority of the survivors. “What happened here?” I heard him say as he reached the beach.
“Morgoth,” Elwing said simply. “This is all that is left of the Havens, Balar, and the Fëanorians. He took the Silmaril.”
Eärendil's eyes flicked toward us as his face turned ashen. “We have much to discuss.” The survivors drew the couple and the other sailors into their crowd. Maedhros shook his head and headed down the beach, as had become his wont. I sat down on the warm sand in front of our tent and picked up the sewing repairs that had been interrupted by the ship's arrival. By noon, Maedhros had joined me, though his hand was idle and he spent most of his time gazing at the Sea. Eärendil and Elwing sat down across from us.
She said, “What do you think our options are?”
I stared at her. “You're asking us?”
She looked at me. “While you live here, as much as I hate it, I am responsible for you. What do you think Morgoth plans next?”
“He will attack,” Maedhros said. “We are the last remnants of the people he hates.”
Elwing asked, “Will the Silmaril not be enough?”
I shook my head. “He wants to humiliate Maedhros and me, to show us that he was able to do what we could not: regain a Silmaril.” I ignored Maedhros' wince and the stony expressions on the half-Elves' faces. “Furthermore, you and your children are targets. What do you think he would do to Lúthien's descendants given the opportunity? It was luck that kept you in safety during the attack.”
Both of them were pale now. “We should leave,” Eärendil said.
“Where?” Elwing gestured at the Sea and the two small ships anchored there. “We can safely fit maybe a dozen people out of forty-seven in them. Not everyone is able to travel West given that half of our people are either Exiles or Men. How can we leave them behind? But fleeing East would only work for so long.”
“Would it be fleeing or would it be following Galadriel and Celeborn?” Maedhros said.
“What is the difference?” Elwing bitterly said. “We would be forced to leave our homes no matter what. We cannot sail West; we cannot stay here. Despite Elrond’s dream, we cannot hope for the Valar to rescue us because you said that you could fight Morgoth yourselves before waiting to see if the Valar had their own plan. They let you have that opportunity. What happened, Fëanorians? What happened? We all died.” She stood and spread her arms. “Look around you at the remnants of your glorious plan. What do you intend on doing now?”
She stormed up the beach toward her children, gathering them in close. Eärendil looked at us and stood. “She has a point.”
Neither of us said anything as he walked away. We waited until he was out of earshot before Maedhros said. “We need to walk.”
We headed south, where Maedhros' footprints from previous strolls still indented the sand. Once out of sight of the tiny camp, he stopped. “Our people can stay here. Sedil in particular is close to one of the Gondolindrim.”
“They were childhood friends,” I replied absently. “You want the two of us to leave.”
“We can distract Morgoth long enough for them to make a decision. I think they're asking everyone.”
“When there's fewer than fifty people, it makes sense. Elwing and Eärendil will still decide, but they want their people's input.”
Maedhros caught my eye. “She considers us her people now.”
I fought back a smile but that failed when Maedhros started laughing, which set me off. Once we calmed down, I shook my head. “Our people, maybe, but not us. She'd be happy to see us leave.” I paused, listening to the waves crashing, before I said, “I think you're right: staying here will only bring trouble, whether it's strife among us or making us even more of a target.” I sighed. “Of course, Morgoth could do what he did before: attack us and them.”
Maedhros turned so he met my eyes, a serious expression on his face. “I don't intend on being taken alive, Maglor. This will be a suicide mission.”
“I don't think it will be suicide. Morgoth would prefer to humiliate us now.”
“I know.” I half-smiled at him. “I don't intend on surrendering.” Being alive in Thangorodrim would give me the almost impossible chance to steal the crown from Morgoth's head.
We left the next morning having said most of our farewells the previous night. Elrond surprisingly hugged us before running back to join his brother. Our people would remain, Gael unwillingly, the rest grateful to stay. The people of the Havens had not yet decided what to do, even come morning. I suspected it would be easier without us there.
We were two days northeast of the Havens when we were ambushed by a group of Morgoth's Men. It was a short, hard-fought battle that ended up with me forced to my knees, hands pulled up between my shoulder blades, next to Maedhros' body. They restrained me carefully, making sure to check everywhere for hidden weapons. Once I was secured, they pulled me away. My last glimpse of the battlefield was of my brother's battered corpse under the open sky.
We traveled swiftly North until we reached Angband's black gates. I stood as straight as the ropes would allow and walked in with my head held high. An orc took my restraints and pushed me forward. Down the dark stairs, flickering with red firelight, the odor of smoke and blood in my nose as I descended. I entered the great hall, lined with pillars holding up the vaulted ceiling, lit only by fireplaces and Balrogs. And there, at the front of the chamber-- the three Silmarils.
My heart leapt and I took a rushed step forward. Morgoth's laughter broke the spell and I tore my gaze from his crown to look at his scarred face. “So this is what your Oath has brought you to: a willing thrall.”
“Not of yours,” I calmly said, keeping my gaze on his eyes and not the jewels just above them.
“No? Your brother died rather than return to my custody. Did he ever speak of the torment of knowing the Silmarils were within reach and not being able to touch them?”
“He did.” Maedhros had, multiple times. I thought the pain and the longing would be worth it.
I couldn't afford to be wrong. One day, maybe, Morgoth would falter. And therein lay my chance.
He gestured to the orc captain that held me. “To the pillar.”
I didn't allow myself to be dragged to the front of the hall, but my stomach clenched when I realized I was correct about Morgoth's intent to humiliate me, not execute me. The orc untied the ropes and chained me to the front pillar to the right of Morgoth's throne, one ankle and the opposite wrist in chains long enough I could stand and walk in a semicircle, though I could not go behind the pillar. I had no choice but to see the Silmarils-- and that was all Morgoth needed to torture me.
I had been there months, though they felt like years, caught between the longing and constantly needing to dodge the games of his court, from the Balrog-lords to the lowest orc, grabbing only a few hours here and there to rest, when the sound of Eönwë's trumpets rang down the stairs, echoing in the great hall. The court went silent. I met Morgoth's dreadful gaze-- and grinned.
About the Author
Independence1776 entered fandom in 2003 and has been involved in Tolkien fandom since 2004. She is one of the moderators for Back to Middle-earth Month. Indy’s stories tend to focus on Maglor, Elrond, and some of the people related to them. Her fics can be found on the Silmarillion Writers Guild and Archive of Our Own. She blogs on Dreamwidth, though she also has a Tumblr.