For the fic trade with Laerthel, I hope it's to your liking~
(Note: The first line is – again – inspired by a certain patriotic song you are never likely to hear.)
A day of blood and glory, a day of your victory or death.
It was blood this day would be remembered for, not glory; for it was death it brought them, not victory.
The fall and end of the Noldor.
Was that not what Fingolfin had perceived, after Dagor Bragollach, was that not what had driven him to ride into the heart of darkness, as from the depths of his despair he had shone like a star brightly until he fell, to rest in glory?
Not even that was left now; there was little glory in being beaten into dust, and less still in wandering lost, defeated, helpless.
(Yet grass grew green on Haudh-en-Ndengin.)
They found each other on the battlefield without looking, drawing together instinctively amidst the carnage; even in defeat, even in frantic flight, they were of one flame and that, once again, proved stronger than anything.
Of course, once again, it was not enough.
(– Fëanáro had run, raced towards the heat, chased the fiery foe, laughed among the flames, and you could but follow him the way no one would follow you, and now you –)
Fled. They fled, fled, fled.
(– fled from fire, though of fire in your veins, in you fëar you had boasted, what sons are you to the Spirit of Fire? –)
The Naugrim withstood the dragons, and they did not.
(– Fëanáro had raced towards the flames, but it was his own fire he died in, and you –)
– lived, lived, smothered, powerless, they survived.
It was a flight of desperation, chaotic and hopeless, it was anything and anywhere only away, away from destruction, even if they carried it in their hearts, away from the death, even if death was to follow them like a flood, away, aimlessly, because all aims had been shattered, blindly, because the defeat escaped comprehension.
Then the tears came.
Of course it would have been betrayal; what else, what else, for fire, for ice, for words, for arrows, what else had they deserved? Yet it seemed unfair, so deeply unfair, and Maedhros would shout, if he had the strength, he would scream, if he thought his screams would reach the Powers, it was me, punish me for what I did and failed to do and I shall say naught, punish my brothers for their deeds and I shall name it fair, but not the people we lead, not the blameless, not our allies and not the victims of our betrayals, I take the Doom upon myself, is it worth the victory of the Enemy, or do you hate us more, you who claimed to love the Children of Eru-
It would have been useless, though; and so Maedhros wept instead.
Maglor did not weep, not as Maedhros did, not in violent, shaking sobs; instead he would sit very still and only his trembling hands would sometimes make uncertain grasping gestures, as if reaching for something he instinctively expected to be by his side; and when his fumbling fingers invariably failed to find what they sought, he would clutch one hand with the other and fall back into stillness.
His dark eyes were wide-open and unseeing, and there had been tears streaming from them until there were tears no more.
If Maglor was trying to wish the failure into a design, force the disaster into a song, even unsung, because this was the only way he could ever hope to understand it, and because in a song, beauty could be found even alongside suffering – if he was, Maedhros saw no signs of success.
'Fire rises from the ashes,' muttered Curufin, his hand hovering over crackling embers.
'You do not believe that,' said Caranthir, his dark face glowing red in the dying light.
'I must. Are we not Fëanáro's sons?'
'And all too often this fact appears to be one of our major obstacles.'
'How dare you!' the younger brother growled. 'Never say that, never, or-'
'Or what, little Atarinkë?'
'Do leave him be, Carnistir. We are feeling sufficiently miserable without your input,' came Celegorm's voice from the shadows, and Caranthir shrugged, standing up.
'We must,' Curufin repeated, closing his eyes, as Celegorm leaned against a tree.
(It was not hope, and they both knew it; yet it was all they had.)
It was ironic, truly; that it had been the thieves of a Silmaril who had given him hope.
(Or had it been hope, in truth? Or had it been arrogance, or madness, or a desperate seize at the Silmarils, or, indeed, a desire for revenge, the memory of humiliation burning within him–)
And perhaps there had been hope, perhaps there was hope still, somehow; only not for them, not for the Noldor, helpless against their Doom, struggling in the clutches of inevitable downfall of all they undertook.
Perhaps there was hope still, if Ilúvatar allowed, if Valar had mercy, for the innocent children of Middle-Earth; only not for the Noldor, not for the kinslayers, and most of all not for those forever dispossessed.
Or maybe the only hope there was, the only hope there could be, was for the hopeless; for those who set out alone against the entire world; for those who had already lost and could only wander into darkness to seek what had been taken from them.
Not for him.
He heard the voice of the Enemy, in his memories, in his dreams, ever lurking in the back of his mind, mocking, taunting, deriding every effort of defiance –
(You are nothing. I killed your grandfather and your father, but you I shall keep, you are not worth killing, you are nothing, you are my toy, you are mine to do with as I please, I marked you as my possession and your own kin turn their eyes away from you, you bear the taint that repulses them and you are mine, for ever–)
– the nightmare that had never truly ended, the pain that fueled the bright flame of his fëa yet scalded him also, because that was how he had ever stayed alive after, and now, now the ridicule stung harder than it had for so many years –
(You thought you could oppose me, you who are nothing, in your delusions you thought there was anything in you I had not touched, but now you know, and they know, that you cannot be trusted, you would lead them to battle with me when I am looking behind your back –)
– and Maedhros wept, had to weep, for how true it sounded, and hated himself, had to hate himself, for how each and every sob tasted of admission.
How could he ever dream of uniting the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth? Who was he, who had he been, to attempt it? Had he not renounced any claims of kingship, any ambition to reign over the Noldor? A son of Fëanor, Oath-bond as he was, was not fit to rule, lest his Oath ruled instead. Had he forgotten? How could he have forgotten?
The victory will be ours, Curufin had said, and it had been clear who he had meant. Ours, at last, for all to see.
And all saw, the world saw, to what end one followed the endeavors of Maedhros Fëanorion.
Curufin did not weep.
(Curufin had only wept once, in a brief, agonizing wail; but that had been many years before.)
Yet his body shook and he clawed the ground and gnashed his teeth in overwhelming fury, because it was impossible, it was so very wrong that they be humiliated again, they had been about to regain what was theirs, and Curufin had longed to act, eventually, to show them, and he craved it even now, ever stronger.
It was Celegorm, silent and sullen, who would place a hand on his brother's arm and hold it there until he stopped shaking; and he would look glumly at the rest of them, and his eyes would say, We were right to trust none but ourselves, will you deny it now? Now that you know what pain it brings to be robbed of your victory, will you say we were wrong? Will you blame us?
(Whether Celegorm wept, Maedhros did not know; he would disappear into the woods suddenly, for hours or days at a time, and if it was anger or grief that drove him out there, none knew except possibly Amrod, who followed him once or twice.)
But Maedhros could not absolve Celegorm and Curufin of their share of the blame.
Of course, the greatest share was his own.
I trust not a word of a son of Fëanor, Orodreth had said.
Perhaps Maedhros should have known better than to trust himself, too; better than to trust another foolishly naïve scheme of outwitting the Enemy.
'It is not the same,' said Maglor, who knew without asking, maybe because he recognised the patterns, maybe because he knew his brother; it mattered not.
'No, it is not. There are not terms to reject. There are no promises he will not keep.' No choice to agonise over, he could say, but did not, not least because Maglor's voice was hoarse and hushed, his eyes huge and haunted.
'There is no one to rescue the captives,' he finished instead, with difficulty, and unnecessarily, too, for Maglor knew without being told, as ever.
The singers sang of an elf-maid who had done what the sons of Fëanor dared not; and they were right.
Not a son of Fëanor had braved a stronghold of the Enemy alone, not for justice nor for pride nor for love, not even for despair; that Maedhros was all too aware of, of that he never wholly forgot.
Yet someone else had.
And in a way it was that distant, unexpected connection that meant the most, wounded most deeply.
He should never have asked this of Fingon.
Was it not enough that he had followed Maedhros into darkness unasked and unexpected, a glimmer of hope where no hope had the right to shine? He should never have asked for more.
And now Fingon was dead, gone and lost, and Maedhros could not even weep for him, because the pain choked his breath, could not even mourn him, because the thought itself was unbearable, it was too much, and he could only cry over himself, knowing, now for certain, that no one would come seeking him in the dark again.
'It was not me who killed this friend of yours, Nelyafinwë! I believed in our victory, I believed in our cause, I obeyed you! If you have to blame someone, blame Makalaurë, he's been craving for you to blame anything on him for several centuries-'
'– but all I ever did was for the glory of our House, which is more than you can say for yourself!'
'You forget yourself.'
'You are surely jesting. I would remember my place if you had remembered yours, instead of gifting it to those who plotted against Father!'
'You will not speak to me like this.'
'I will speak to you however I like. You surrendered our birthright, our legacy, our power and glory, and that, that was when everything began to go wrong!'
'You are mistaken. It had begun much earlier, and my decision-'
'-was for making amends. And you still believe that? Can you believe that today? It cost us everything! Now we lack even the strength to conquer the caves of that Dark Elf–'
For a long, drawn-out moment they glared at each other, but eventually Curufin turned around and left without another word, gnashing his teeth.
'You were right,' said Caranthir. 'He will come for them, one by one. They should have listened to you, but they were content to await their destruction. And it will come.'
There was a movement, abrupt yet restrained, from where Curufin sat. Caranthir ignored it, staring into the flames.
(Caranthir had wept, once, and no more; but his face was redder and expression darker than before.)
'They await their destruction. We rode out to meet it,' said Maglor, his voice uncharacteristically monotone.
'That sounds better, at least.'
Maglor wordlessly shook his head. 'We are lost. We have fallen.'
'So we have. Will you sing a lament for us, brother?'
'You should,' said Amrod. Firelight crept over his face, form and hair, his eyes were closed. 'I can't see anyone else weeping for our plight, let alone with the artistry granted to our dear minstrel.'
'"At the least the Noldor should do deeds to live in song for ever",' mused Caranthir. 'Was that not what he wanted?'
'No,' snapped Curufin. 'Not that. Never that.'
'Then we have failed even in that, and we truly are lost.'
Before either sun or moon first shone over Arda, they had known it; before any of them set foot in Endor, it had begun.
On this day, all they could wish for was that, once it was complete, there would still be someone left to lament their fall.