Cometh The Singer
Disclaimer: This story and all the places and characters in it belong to JRR Tolkien. You can find it in Chapter 13 of The Silmarillion. I have merely described what I see when I read his words.
Fingon wiped his stinging eyes as the fierce foul wind whipped about his face, cold and dry. It stripped the moisture from his skin as the ravaged landscape scoured hope from his heart. Mile upon mile of broken and blasted heath behind him. Ahead and above, a jagged barricade of black rock, rising from tumbled scree to towering and unassailable peaks. Thangorodrim. Implacable, impenetrable, impassively vigilant. And everywhere a sullen smog, seeming to seep from every stone, harsh and choking. Blotting out the wondrous light of the new sun and shrouding the exhausted Elf in its drear shadow.
Why had he come here, to Angband, this fortress of darkness?
What had he hoped to find in its forsaken depths?
He crouched in the lee of a dark tumble of stone, and unfastened his leather bottle to take a sip of the precious water. The pure taste was painful in its reminder of warm sunlight and clean lands. Hunger snapped at his belly, but he had long finished the last of his waybread, and he would touch nothing from this tainted place.
Friendship. A bond whose pull was stronger than the horror of this country. Whose depth of love was greater than the rift of betrayal between their fathers, or the Oath whose slow poison seeped among their kin. The same love he had carried with him over the fierce ice of the Helcaraxe when the ships had not returned.
For Maedhros. His cousin and heart-brother. Taken by Morgoth to who knew what torment.
For that, he Fingon, had left them all. Forsaken his father Fingolfin and all his blood-kin without a word. Forgone the safety of Hithlum and journeyed into this cursed and benighted wasteland.
He stood, flinging back his hair to the bitter wind, and set his leaden limbs once more to carry him on and up. Blunt eyes and gaunt face sought again for any weakness, any crevice through which he might gain a passage. A way in to the dark places, a means by which to find his dearest friend.
How long could he continue? Already he was weary beyond words, tired in body and soul. Walk and climb, hand and foot, over sharp stone and shifting rubble. Searching, always searching. Hour upon endless hour, mile upon darkening mile. His breath tearing, his eyes aching for the light of the stars. And yet how could he turn back? Knowing that he could have walked one more step, looked over just one more ridge.
Why did he feel so sure Maedhros was here? Did he wish so much to heal the loneliness in his heart? To fill again that empty place? An agony of longing and despair came upon him till he could scarcely breath. Heartsick and weary, he lifted his voice. Singing out against the desolation. Uncertain at first, the sound thin and hesitant, but growing in strength, powered by the aching in his heart. A song of beauty and sorrow, of love and of starlight. The notes rose above the rocks, finding their way through the blasted valleys, and into the dark, frightened places beneath them. Soaring over the gloom-shrouded shoulders to reach the very mountain tops.
Pain. Red and jagged. Unending and relentless. Driving away memory and crushing hope. Pain was all he knew. It was his past, present and future. Each agonising minute lasting a lifetime. Hunger, thirst, loss and shame, all were hidden by the pain. His guilt at the betrayal on the shore, the burning of the boats, even the aching emptiness in his heart, no longer had meaning for him. The pain consumed all. From its wellspring at his wrist it engulfed him. As his body was held fast to the cliff-face by the merciless bond of iron, so was his spirit pinioned by the raw torment. He yearned for death, for release, for a single moment of anything other than this searing agony.
Wonders he had seen from this, his lofty scaffold. The coming of the moon, and the first rise of the morning sun confounding of the servants of Morgoth. The fair host of Fingolfin, marching beneath that new light so that spring seemed to walk with them. Tempered in ice and storm, their battle horns were defiant and their standards snapped blue and silver. Driving the darkness before them, they had battered in vain against the gates of the mighty fortress. But though he had cried his throat bloody against the wind, knowing that unworthy as he was, there was one at least among them who would show mercy, they had not heard him. But had marched away again. Back to the sea, back to life. Leaving him to his pain. And behind them a drear mist had arisen, befouling all the land, and with its covering of the sun, despair had taken him.
The wind danced about him, the stinging cold an agony of torture against his bloody wound, the slight movement of his body a misery for his racked shoulder and arm. He had torn his feet and left hand bloody against the rock futilely trying to lift some of his weight. All that was left was to endure. To wait. To gaze out unseeing over the sullen land with pain-clouded eyes. Death must come at last.
The wind brought pain to him again, shards of white-heat through the red, but as it passed it seemed to carry the faint sound of a memory. A single sweet note of beauty, a drop of dew on his torment. He strained his ears but the wind was empty. Through his pain a terrible sadness rose, for all he had lost, the beauty and joy of life that he had not valued. The priceless treasures he had kicked aside with his proud and eager feet. His cracked lips opened, and his dry throat moved. Again the wind. A song, real or imagined, it mattered not, its beauty was the same. Oh let him capture it, even for only a moment let him be free.
Once more he took breath, sending out the song from his own bitter mouth. Harsh and croaking he laboured to give life to a terrible lament for faded light and lost beauty.
The valleys echoed Fingon's song, throwing it from their stony sides, sending it back faded and torn. Undaunted, he stood tall and lifted his voice, clear and strong. Let the fair songs be heard once in this forsaken land, if never again. Once more the wind scattered his music and the dead rocks flung back his words in mockery.
And yet, there was something…something. A tiny spark kindled within him. He listened, stock still, eyes closed, every fibre waiting.
Yes, yes. There is was. Hope rushed through him, coursing his veins and he leapt upwards, following the stricken sound. Pausing only to sing out again, love and longing giving strength to his voice, lifting it above the filth and despair of the land, over the cold cry of the wind.
The song was in his ears, it was real and strong. Bitterly beautiful in this land of pain, a balm on his hurt so exquisite that he wept. Because even through his torment, sunk deep in red sorrow, he knew the singer. He had no strength to think how it could be, the pain had long since taken all reason, he knew only that it was a salve on his bleak and bleeding soul.
"Fingon." He cried, his voice ragged and broken.
It was. Oh it was! Fingon clambered upwards, following the cry. Heedless of jagged rock and sharp stone, he fought his way up the ridge.
"Maedhros !" He called, scrambling to the crest . "I am coming."
And there he saw all.
The sheer and impassable cliff-face shadowed by the forbidding peaks of Thangorodrim.
And Maedhros. Far above him. Caught to the rock with a single blooded fetter. Torn and tormented, weeping in his pain.
"Oh my brother!" Fingon cried aloud in anguish, the terrible cruelty riving his heart, tears unbidden in his eyes.
"Fingon." Maedhros whispered, his voice like a thread amongst the lash of the wind.
"Take courage!" Fingon called up to him. "I will find a way up." But his heart misgave him as he cast about, seeing no pathway. He made to search further afield but a desperate cry from above arrested him.
"Do not go." Maedhros wept. "I beg you, my brother, if I was ever anything to you, do not leave me like this."
"I need to seek out a path. I will return."
"There is none." The voice was little more than a broken sob. "Please…my pain is too great. I can endure no longer… I entreat you… to release me."
For a long moment Fingon stood, his eyes upon his cousin, his heart pierced by the agony of the choice. His newfound hope turning to ashes.
With a heavy heart he unslung his bow, and kneeling, strung it with trembling fingers. He fumbled an arrow from his quiver, his eyes unseeing with tears.
"By the love of Manwė," he grieved, "How can I do this? And yet, in all mercy how can I not?" He smoothed the flight of the dart, his hands weak with sorrow. "Oh King," he whispered, "to whom all birds are dear, speed now this feathered shaft, and recall some pity for the Noldor in their need."
Wiping his eyes, he stood and drew such breath as was to be had in the harsh wind.
"Maedhros," he cried. "My cousin. Brother of my heart. Know that my love for you has never lessened."
"Fingon," the voice caught, although it took strength now, soon the torment would be over. "I have wronged you, and your kin. Forgive me. I have suffered long and in much sorrow. Let the last sound I hear be your voice and let your arrow quench at last the fire of my pain."
Fingon raised his bow, and knocked the arrow to its place. With a great effort of will he steadied his hand and drew back the bowstring.
"Farewell, my brother," he could not keep the sorrow from overflowing his voice.
With his eyes fixed on Maedhros, Fingon did not see the great shadow appear in the sky behind him, only when the loud cry split the clouds did he turn. And what he saw stayed his hand and lifted hope again in his breast.
Thorondor. Mightiest of the Eagles of Manwe. Closing fast upon them with slow strong beats of his great wings.
"Maedhros!" he cried aloud with joy. "Take heart."
From the mountain his cousin looked at the bird with dulled eyes. Too many times had his hopes been dashed in agony. He did not think he could bear it again, better to retreat to the familiar comfort of his pain.
Shedding his bow and cloak, Fingon waited, his arms outstretched as the Lord of the Eagles swooped in, dust and stones scattering as the mighty wings pounded the air, the huge claws snatching him up easily. Lifting him firmly but gently, carrying him up the cliff-face to when Maedhros hung, lost once more in pain and despair.
His face was hollow, his once bright hair limp and filthy, his lips torn and split, eyes dull and crusted. His right wrist was a tatter of red flesh about naked bone, bound all about by the bond of merciless iron. Fresh blood wept over the thick dark crusts of the old.
"Can you take me closer?" Fingon asked the great bird.
"With some difficulty." The Eagle replied.
Nevertheless he pitched his wings, and beat the air against the cliff, while Fingon reached out for his friend.
"Maedhros?" he called, over the thump of wingbeats, struggling to lift the wasted body in his arms.
An excruciating moment of pain pierced his darkness, so sudden and intense that he cried out like a child in his agony. Then came a relief so great that he almost wept with the solace of it, gasping in astonishment as he floated free of his pain. He opened his eyes to see Fingon, his face wet with tears and his eyes bright with love. The arms of his brother were about him, lifting him, cradling him.
"Maedhros," Fingon whispered, draping his cousin's good arm about his neck, "You must hold me while I free you."
Maedhros could find no words, but tightened the arm about Fingon's neck with a fierce strength.
Turning his attention to the shackle Fingon was dismayed to see no fastening, nor any means by which it could be undone. Even the bolt which fastened it to the solid rock face was unshakeable. In desperation he drew his knife and struck at the stone, but to no avail.
"You must hurry," the Eagle struggled to keep his position, wing tips flailing against the stone.
A moan broke from Maedhros' lips, "Fingon," he pleaded, "your knife….let it find my heart…set me free."
Fingon looked at the unnatural fetter that held his friend in its pitiless grip, then down at the bright blade in his hand. The bringer of death. Was this truly the only release?
He clamped the knife between his teeth, tore a ragged remnant from Maedhros' blood stained shirt, and bound it tightly above his cousin's elbow.
"I cannot stay much longer," the great bird was tiring.
"Maedhros," Fingon's voice was like steel, "You must hold tightly. Endure this last pain with me, and you will be free."
He set the edge of his knife to the raw and bleeding wrist. And as Maedhros' stifled his pain and clung to his cousin's shoulder, Fingon hacked through his arm. Each agonising cut seemed to take a lifetime, amid the iron smell of blood and the pounding of the air, as inch by inch the flesh and sinew parted.
Then with a cry he was free.
Dropping his knife, Fingon clasped Maedhros in his arms, and the Eagle banked steeply away; strong wings carrying them out of the darkness and on into the new light. To Mithrim, to safety and to life.