Disclaimer: All characters belong to the great Professor Tolkien. Even the nameless narrator. .
Time and place: somewhere in Middle Earth after the War of Wrath, some hours after the death of Maedhros. Maglor is making for the coast, to seal the fate of the third Silmaril, and a last handful of followers are trailing him.
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say onto you, Swear not at all. (Matthew 5.33-34)
I would stay with you for a while, but they say there is little sense in lingering, and I must go with them. They will not listen when I say that I can still feel your presence here, that I can hear the cry of anguish and despair you never uttered as you fell.
I would again lay my hands on the rock where you last stood. I would look once more into the abyss, into the fire that swallowed your body, your Oath and your cursed treasure, and wish for the courage to follow you.
But they say we must move on. Your brother yet lives and lives in torment, they say, and our concern must be with him now, the last of the House of Fëanor. We shall go wherever he leads us – where else is there for us to go? -- though I think it will be long ere any of us dare speak to him.
When he rose and set off this morning without a word, his poor scorched hand still grasping the last of those thrice-cursed gems, I caught a glimpse of his face. And just when I thought all feeling but grief had died in me, I felt a surge of anger, keen and searing, and aimed straight at you – and yet gone as quickly as it had come. Smothered by that grey fog inside my head; it clouds my thoughts and darkens every corner of my mind.
They believe I have lost my grip on reason, but they should fear for your brother instead. At least I have tears. He has none.
No one seems to mind that I kept your cloak. I know not what became of your sword, nor who took the rest of your meager possessions, and I care less. I keep your cloak underneath my own as I pick my way through this landscape of ruin and desolation. Clutching it to my chest in a tight bundle, jealously shielding it from the wind. Perhaps that way your scent will linger a bit longer. And every now and then I bury my face into its soft folds, and bite my lips until they bleed, to stifle the howls of despair wanting to break from my throat.
Gone! My beautiful generous lord, my king, my bright star! Leader and friend you were to me, ever just and kind, and ever beyond reach. Always in the midst of us, and ever alone.
Tell me, did any of us touch the core of your heart, back in happier times when Himring stood sturdy and strong, when we all still knew where Evil lay? Was there anyone who was granted leave to dwell within that guarded stronghold, your heart, and take delight in your love?
Not I. Not any of us, I believe, much as some might have wished for it. For rest assured, I was not the only one to desire your love, to crave your sole affection. How is it I would hear of this? Come, surely you realized what you were -- a legend living and walking and breathing among us. Ah, the tales and the rumors, the idle talk of drear winter nights, in the hours when watch-fires and cressets burned low, and dusk was as long gone as dawn was yet to come --
There was one you loved, people said.
I know; I saw you and him together. I watched you, on those rare times he came to visit. Odd, how well I recall my bitter resentment of your cousin, and how little it matters now. I can now admit that you loved him more than your brothers, even more than the lord Maglor. More than the mother you left behind in the Blessed Realm in another age, and perhaps even more than your long-dead father, of whom few now speak and many despair.
And why should you not have loved Fingon best, Fingon the valiant who sought and found and freed you, who alone was willing to stake his life for your rescue? Your true steadfast cousin, late High King of the Noldor, his voice so fair when raised in song, and his grey eyes a mirror image of your own. Eyes that had seen the Light of the Trees, and still shone with it.
Was it your childhood you saw in his those eyes, your lost youth? The gardens of Valinor, the tall peaks of the Pelόri, the white splendor of Tirion? Was it memories of how peace crumbled bit by bit and dissent shook the House of Finwё, and of how the Great Darkness came?
Yet you hardly had need of Fingon Fingolfin's son to recall the glory and grief of Aman. There were others who remembered, your brothers foremost among them.
No, what I think you saw was Thangorodrim, the flash of a sword, the bloody ransom paid for your deliverance. His arms cradling your gaunt tortured body, and his tears falling on your chest. After Thangorodrim, you were bound to him and he to you, a bond that none and naught could sunder.
I did not see this, back in the days when I thought I hated your cousin.
But just once I would have had you look at me the way you looked at him. Or grant me the peculiar smile you had for him alone, so full of joy and tenderness and deepest trust.
Ah, when you smiled-- the corners of your eyes fanning into crinkles, the sudden gleam of teeth, your mouth the true shape of a drawn bow –
In the early years of Himring, ere the Nirnaeth Arnoediad and the death of Fingon, when your oath had not yet consumed your spirit and bent your shoulders and rendered you full grim and weary, you smiled often, and your laughter rang out through the Hall. Your eyes blazed hot and bright, and defiance of death seemed in every step you took. None dared pity you for the loss of your hand. And many looked upon you with awe and love when you passed by in your swift stride, tall and lean and straight as a candle-flame, your head held so high and proud, your braid swaying and your cloak billowing in the wind.
There goes Russandol, people said fondly (if softly, for who save your close kin would have dared call you by that name to your face?) and Russandol is come home, they called laughing when you were sighted returning from the hunt, light the torches and cooking fires, deck the Hall and welcome back your lord!
More graceful your walk seemed than the dance of others. Never gave a song more sweetness to me than your voice when you spoke, nor any blanket greater warmth. No burnished copper vessel, no chestnut fresh from its hull could match your hair for shade and sheen, and the hue of your eyes was ever-changing, the grey of beech bark, of snow-clouds in midwinter, of slate in the rain.
Wisdom you had as well as wit, and kindness was not the least of your virtues. Yet you would not suffer fools, and your tongue could be sharper than a dagger off the whetstone, your words as caustic as quicklime. Sloth and disorder irked you sorely. And strange indeed, in light of your poise and persistence in all matters of great weight, how impatient you oft waxed over trifles. A garment not laid out, a bootlace torn, your horse not brought forth in time, an answer too long in coming, and anon two steep lines creased your brow, and your fingers tapped out an edgy beat on whatever surface availed.
"Yea indeed," my father was wont to say with a smile of affection, "he is Fёanor's son after all. And mark how he chews the knuckle of his thumb when brooding, and how those long legs of his are never quite at rest."
I would shrug my shoulders and keep my gaze glued to your face, desiring but the means and license to erase all care and distress from it. What was Fёanor to me? A shadow of the past, a vaguely hovering threat that still held sway over your life and bound you with the ghostly shackles of an oath.
"I cannot love the memory of Fёanor," I once said. "Too much ill fate and evil did he bring into the lives of his people and his sons." Though the lords Celegorm and Curufin, I added silently, had ever needed little aid from anyone to fill their lives with wickedness.
"Judge not what your feeble head fails to grasp, and think twice ere you lay the blame at the feet of Curufinwё Fёanáro alone," said my stern father, who in times past had stood at the forge with Finwё's eldest. "You knew him not. He was the greatest of us, the most learned and fair and gifted, the bright star of the Noldor."
No greater or fairer than my lord Maedhros, I thought stubbornly, for I had yet to understand the curse of greatness.
Many a time I saw you take up your sword, spin and swerve and strike in battle both mock and true, and lithe and fell was your dance. I have seen you deliver death, and even then my heart ached not with compassion, but for the grace and beauty of your movements. I cringe with shame, thinking about it now. Your beauty I shall never deny, but I have since learned pity, and the cries of the kin we slew will sound in my ears forever.
For we did grievous wrong. Blood taints my hands, as it taints the hands of all who came with your father, of all who chose to abide by you or your brothers. It fouls our swords and shields, our clothes, our thoughts and hopes and sleep. But blame you for my sins I will not. You commanded not my allegiance; I gave it to you of my own free will. You forced me not to your side; I stood by you because I desired no other place in life. My guilt was not yours to bear. And though your foes were certain to become mine, your Oath meant naught to me. I swore my own long ago.
To follow and serve none but you, by means of life or death, without qualm or question.
Once I made to swear it before you, to call upon the Valar whom I had never seen and upon Ilúvatar whose face is hidden to all, and you nearly struck me. Now harsh cruel ire was never your wont and your kindness to me was boundless. But that moment I feared you, though it was the first and last time ever.
I was still in my early youth the day I so eagerly sought to impress you. Few were yet astir on that pale summer morning and all was quiet, and dew was upon the grass, for at this hour the wind slept. The hills were green and fair, and the air cool and sweet upon my brow. And when I came upon you sitting alone by the Outer Wall, and you beckoned to me, my heart well nigh burst with gladness.
There we sat together for a while, and you told me of the hunt from which you had returned but the night before, and of times past in the West, when the princes of the Noldor rode in the woods of the Guarded Realm with Oromë himself. Of shining Nahar and the sound of the Valaróma you spoke, and of the mighty trees and fragrant flowers of those forests. And perhaps the wonder and longing showed in my face, for you broke off and said: "Poor child, how readily I forget that you have never known aught but this fortress and barren hills, and the threat of war."
But I said: "My lord, not for all the secret treasures of the Naugrim would I dwell in another place or choose a different life. My home is here."
"A fine answer," you said with a smile, "and a loyal one, I fear. Himring is abode to many and dear to few. But if you choose to claim it home, so be it. Mind though that it may not always stand, and that it shall see strife and death in its time, as surely as night follows day. Cruel blows the wind from the plains of Lothlann, and more cruel yet is the evil that lurks to the North, ever biding its time for assault."
And I said, with all the brashness of the fledgling unacquainted with the hawk, "Let it come!"
Then you laughed and said: "Come it shall. Though when and in what guise I cannot say. Nor whether we can hold out for long; the full strength of Himring has yet to be tried. And some who are with me now might fall away tomorrow."
"But I shall not," I said. And swiftly bringing out the knife you had once given me, I bloodied my palm, and launched into my oath. But the name of Ilúvatar had scarce left my lips when you sprang up. Tall and wrathful you loomed, your eyes wide and aflame with a piercing light, and I shrank against the wall in dread as the words yet unsaid withered in my throat.
"Hush, you little fool," you said, "would you willingly ask for torment and condemnation? Swear not!"
And seeming eager to be gone you swept up your cloak from the ground, but then you wavered and knelt by my side once again, drawing me close, and for all too fleeting a moment my head rested against your chest, and your hand upon my hair.
"Go and have the cut bound," you said as you walked away. "And henceforth be not so keen to maim yourself. There are those of us who would envy you the convenience of a spare hand."
I knew your anger had passed, and indeed the corners of your mouth twitched as you spoke. But I remember it was some time that I stayed by the wall, stunned and bewildered, and weeping a little.
I laugh now, surfacing from the depths of the past, and end with a sob. Heads turn, but no words are spoken. And I walk on.
The thin scar still graces my palm, faded witness to a memory that carries sweetness now rather than gall. Yet even then your rebuke seemed a petty price to pay for your embrace. I felt your heart beat that day.
Some notes, probably more than you wanted to know
I wanted to write a lament for Maedhros. So many things go awry in his life. And when he dies, no one mourns him. Well, there's Maglor, but the way I see it, he's too far gone at this point to grieve much for his brother. Perhaps because he understands Maedhros really had no choice. And Maglor has too many issues of his own, which might cloud the main point here.
So Maglor was out as a narrator for now. But who else was 'there'? What got me thinking was this line, telling of the two brothers refusing the summons of Eönwe:
And they sent a message therefore to Eönwe, bidding him yield up now those jewels which of old Fёanor their father made and Morgoth stole from him.
Would Maedhros have trusted just anyone with this? I don't think so. Which tells me the brothers must have had some surviving followers with them to the very end.
The messenger, then. Someone who's known Maedhros long enough to have grown very fond of him, but without ever having been close enough to him to be of real importance. And I started thinking of Himring and those 450 years or so that it stood, and what life must have been like there. Besides the valiant warriors of the March, there must have been a number of women and at least a small crop of children. So my narrator became one of those children. I also mused how young elves would have viewed those among their elders who had come from Aman – and especially their lord Maedhros, who was not only the eldest of Fёanor's brood, a grandson of Finwё, and a former candidate for the title of High King of the Noldor, but also a strapping warrior and charismatic leader who had survived torture few would dare to imagine, and overcome a pretty devastating disability. And had come out of it a decent kind of guy. Oh, and never mind that he wasn't exactly hard on the eyes, either. Quite the contrary.
About Thangorodrim: the rescue of Maedhros must have been a bedtime favorite with the young Elves of Himring.
And while Maedhros wasn't called a King in the Silmarillion, his people might have perceived him as such.