Speaks the guilty…
There is no rest. There is never rest.
Even this train of thought is perilous during battle, for it draws my attention away from the present. Far too easy would it be for my mind to stray into dreams, weary as I am, and find a sudden blade in my back.
And it would be an Elven blade.
How is this, that I wield a sword against distant kin? Who am I to send my own brethren to Mandos' halls?
I spare half a moment to wipe my brow and allow myself an extraneous thought:
Curse you, Father.
Curse you for bringing this upon us, this loathsome, abominable quest that sets us against other Elves. And of all Elves to be pitted against, these, who have already suffered so much in the ruin of their city and subsequent exile. But my pity is less tenacious than the detested Oath that compels me, binds me.
We are all slaves to your arrogance, Father. We thought it was our free will that drove us to leap to your side, take your accursed Oath as our own. But it was not so – it was some madness, caused by his fiery speech, that inspired our reckless words, and now we rue those words with every breath that sustains these wretched lives. And yet there is no hope in death, either, which would bring no release. Celegorm, Caranthir, Curufin – brothers already fallen; I shudder to think of how they must chafe under the weight of the Oath, wherever they wander now.
Where are you, Amras? Your absence strikes me into something near a panic. Brother, little brother – younger by twenty minutes – let us end this, let us go home and forget this folly and dwell in peace. But even the idea arouses the dread Oathbreaker penalty that we swore by, and a creeping cold seems to steal through my mind. I catch my breath, shake my head sharply, pause an instant to search the battle for you.
There you are, your – our – cinnamon hair flying in the wind of your speed, your sword flashing, arms flailing as you fight like a mad thing. I smile with a savage pride. Then the smile, even as it appears, twists in utter, indescribable horror, and my heart jolts to a stop within my breast.
I see the lance as it pierces you. Just below the sternum it enters – I know the exact spot, because I can feel the point as if it were embedded in my own flesh. There is no pain, at first, only the sensation that something is terribly wrong – then the steel seems to ignite, searing its way through my body before it explodes through my ribs and from my back. "Amras!" A futile shriek that, for all it tears my throat, seems to eddy away and wither unheard in the pale livid air. Your gaze jerks toward me, across the swarming, writhing mass of battle, and – of all things – you smile, briefly, pallid, frightened. Your lips move, forming a single silent word – "Amrod?" – confused, wellnigh surprised. Then your eyes lose focus, glaze over, and slowly, slowly, you sink to your knees. The butt of the pike that projects from your chest digs into the ground under your weight, pauses your fall, and you rotate around this fulcrum and sprawl on your side.
How I am suddenly beside you is a mystery that matters not. A voice from the past whispers unwelcome in my mind, "For blood ye shall render blood…" as I stand over you, unable to kneel and confirm what I already know. A soft choked sound reaches my ears, and I look up at your murderer.
I have been in battle before, and I know the hardness of heart that it requires to willingly extinguish the life of another. But this is no Orc, nor soul-corrupted Man – he is a fellow Elf: the same blood flows through his veins as is frozen in mine. He is young, as well, scarcely into adulthood; he does not belong here with blood on his hands, still half-raised in the position where the spear tore from them. He looks up from you, brother, to me, and his unspeakable shock deepens as he gapes at the shade of his victim. "Eru help me," he stammers brokenly. "I had no choice—"
I hear little more than the wrenching scream that echoes in my head. Gently I lay a hand on the young one's shoulder. "I know," I reply softly.
His eyes fly open at the stinging bite of my sword, but to his credit he makes no sound – only a faint catch of breath in his throat. I pull the blade forth swiftly, offering what mercy I can give. With an inaudible gasp, his hands come up to clamp over his stomach. His eyes, full of a remorse that is more terrible than accusation, turn up to meet mine even as the light in them fades, and he crumples, gradually, to lie next to you, his back against yours, both casualties of a struggle wrought by cruel arrogance, forged in the fires of madness.
And now have I become a slaughterer of innocence. At least, perhaps, if there is any good come of my evil, it is that this innocence will remain forever untainted.
Unlike yours and mine, brother.
The battle has shifted, now that I am motionless – Gondolin's exiles mistake me for a friend – and though I hear Maglor's and Maedhros's grim shouts at a distance, I stand in a calm, unmolested, free to stare down on you as long as I will. Your eyes are yet open, and somehow in them haunts a lingering grief and agony.
Is it a remnant of your pain in this existence, or a sign of what you endure beyond here, beyond now?
I cannot bear to think of you abiding the punishment that we invoked with our Oath. Finding at last an outlet for the wail that rends my mind, I raise my voice and bloodied hands to the pitiless sky.
"Hear me, Manwë, Varda!" The cry sounds flat and impotent, but I press on. "Hearken to me from where ye sit in Valinor, and have mercy – not for myself, but for my brother, more precious to me than all of Arda. If ye love compassion, then grant this: that the torment he suffers as Oathbreaker be inflicted instead on me. Spare him the Everlasting Darkness, I beg of ye!"
I harbour little hope that my plea will be answered, but of a sudden a merciless shadow seems to fall across my eyes. The mood that takes me might be called fey, I suppose, but with it comes no cheerful fearlessness – only a miserable desolation, and I recognise it for the granting of my appeal. "We are lost," I whisper. "All is death. For the sake of light we murder light. Such is the doom of the sons of Fëanor." Then I lift my head, and a bitter smile twists my lips. "So be it, then." I look down at my sword, turning it so that it snaps scarlet in the grey light. "Let me not be called Oathbreaker!" I say savagely, and turn to rejoin the battle.
Little of my surroundings penetrates the despair that envelops me. I know only the warmth of blood, the cries of the dying, the screams and tears of those who yet live. But no tear is shed for you, Amras, though you too are a victim of our father's accursed folly. My cursing and weeping are your only requiem, no other sound but the clash and slither of my sword as I throw myself recklessly into the struggle.
I know not who strikes the deathblow. It comes from behind as a blaze of pain, forcefully emptying my lungs of air, and I stumble to my knees. An attempt at inhalation is reduced to short torturous gasps, each unto itself a knife of agony. In an excruciating last display of defiance, I wrench myself upright, throwing away my notched blade. "I care not!" I manage in a hoarse cry. The world reels dizzily around me, and I repeat obstinately, "I care not! If you would have me, Morgoth, then come and take me, and curse you for it!" With my final, falsely brave words ringing in my ears, I slump forward into darkness and oblivion.
Amras, I am coming…
Speaks the innocent…
I still do not know why I am here.
I stand here, a spear in my hands, with my home behind me and a wave of attacking Elves before me, and I do not know why.
There were rumours that ran among us the lowborn, whispers of a Great Jewel and a Dark Enemy and the daughter of Dior King, but we learned naught for certain. And now we stand in an inadequate line, watching as assailers come with ears like our own and the light of the Trees in their eyes.
What is this foolishness?
My father is also somewhere in the line. He had resisted when I asked to join him, but it was my home as much as his, and I pleaded the honour of helping defend it. But now he is elsewhere, and with him has disappeared my motivation. There was more incentive whilst I stood in the house I so loved, with mother and small sister watching sober and afraid as Adar and I grimly equipped ourselves for battle, than now, when I wait alone.
It was not supposed to happen this way. No one thought that these truebred Golodhrim would dare to carry out their threats – somehow all expected that a halt would be called, a parley offered.
I see no token of parley with the Elves who are swiftly approaching.
Uncertainly, I raise my spear as the front line nears. I know little more than to aim the point forward – I have never handled a weapon before in my life. My father is a leathersmith. I could do more damage with an awl than with this unwieldy thing.
In one of the last possible moments, a friend at my side turns to me and calls, "Elbereth's stars shine on you!" Then the attackers are upon us, and within three seconds his head is removed from his shoulders by a flame-haired warrior.
The deadly speed of it confounds me. It is not so much revenge as a simple instinct for self-preservation that launches me forward with a wordless cry that would be better used to frighten a demon. Suddenly surrounded by swords, I realise that a lance is not so very convenient for close combat. There is little more I can do than duck slashing blades; the one parry I attempt results in my suddenly having only two-thirds of a spear shaft. A frigid draught of fear courses down my spine as the danger of my position becomes extremely apparent.
From below the clash of metal, my eye is caught by a flash of red – my friend's murderer. He, unlike myself, has a sword; he, unlike myself, appears to have been in battle before. His blade whistles with lethal skill, but he does not look down. An image of my friend blinds me with rage, and I spring up at the very feet of the purebred son of Valinor. He has only a moment to look surprised before my spearhead sinks into his chest.
I had not expected there to be resistance. I am compelled to grit my teeth and lean into the thrust; never have I been more aware of my own muscles working, straining, as the shaft of the spear transmits every sensation, every vibration to my hands. I can feel his heartbeat.
The red-haired one has dropped his sword – how many more of my family, my friends, have died by that sword today? Despite myself, I look up at him: his expression is nothing less than amazement as he gazes at me. His eyes never descend past my face; he does not glance down at this thing I have done, but he knows. He knows. What now do I do? Apologise? Ought I to ask his pardon for spitting him like an animal?
I try to turn the pike loose, but my muscles are frozen, my hands locked around the wood. A grimace twists his mouth, and suddenly it is very, very clear – it was my movement that caused him that pain, my fingers holding that lance that is embedded in his chest. A trembling begins somewhere deep in me, growing and spreading until my entire body is shaking like a dead leaf in a winter storm.
"Ai, Eru! Ai, Eru!" Is that my voice? I know it is forbidden to speak the holy name of Ilúvatar outside of ceremony, but I cannot stop the soft, broken chant. It shames me, when this one that I have just run through with a spear utters no complaint, only stares at me, uncomprehending, it seems. A scream of wind carries an Elven voice, and his head turns toward the source. Inexplicably, he smiles.
I wonder how long he will stand there, smiling as he slowly bleeds. The Edhil do not sing of the glories of battle, as I have heard that Men do, and yet I had never imagined that the details could be this gruesome, that the interval between deathblow and death could stretch so long. The fear and fury that carried me has ebbed away, and I am left with only the stark truth of the lance that protrudes from a chest that may as well be mine. I know not whether I want to pull the pike free or shove it in further, if only to force him down and dead and erase that smile that sends terror singing through my blood.
"Please…" Please? Please forgive me? Please live?
I do not know what I meant to say.
He did not hear my abortive plea; his lips move once, twice – two syllables that I cannot decipher, but they are not directed at me. Please, oh, please…
Finally there is a buckle in his knees. He is falling – falling forward, and the butt of the spear is reaching as if to snatch at my clothes and drag me down too. I trip backward, out of range, but there is that in me that keeps me from running as I want to, from fleeing to the Sirion to plunge my head and never lift it again. The end of the lance buries itself in the ground, arresting his fall, and the bile rises to my throat as I hear the ragged tearing of flesh.
My eyes squeeze shut of their own accord. This is not real. There cannot possibly exist this much horror in the world, the same world in which dwell birds and trees and family and all the good things. My lips are closed tight against the nausea, but somehow a choking whimper finds its way through.
I can sense that there is someone standing next to me. Almost I hope that it is one of the invaders, rather than anyone who knows me. "Whence comes this blood on your hands?" they would ask, eyes wide with shock and revulsion. "What have you done?…"
Compelled, I force myself to look.
I – no. It is not possible. Not, not possible. You have already given me the stuff of nightmares for the rest of my life; can you not be simply dead and have it over with? I can well enough imagine your accusation, you need not tarry on your journey to Mandos in order to condemn me in person. "Eru help me," I manage – the Name again, but it makes no difference, for I am fouled beyond redemption, so what does it matter what I call the One from whose presence I have exiled myself? "I had no choice—"
A hand settles on my shoulder. A hand? I steel myself and glance down: yes, my – victim – still lies there. Can it be – they are twins? I have heard myths that twins are truly one fëa born into two hröar – then I have killed a part of this one, too. And indeed, when I look up into his eyes, they seem dead already, save for the tears that do not yet fall. "I know," he softly says.
The sword feels like no more than a touch of cold water against my stomach at first. As I was earlier conscious of my arms, now my awareness is centred intensely within my abdomen – the protest of skin as it gives way, the sudden disruption of vitals, the letting of blood from its intended routes. I cannot suppress a muffled gasp, which hurts in itself, forcing the blade in another quarter of an inch. And yet never, never has pain been so welcome.
He draws the sword quickly free, hand tightening briefly on my shoulder to keep me from following the motion; the merciful haste is too kind of him. Unconsciously, I clutch my stomach, and his brother's blood mingles with my own, warm as sunlight, loathsome as the venom of serpents.
With fading strength, I look up at him once more. Though I cannot speak the words, I am croaking them inside: Thank you. Thank you. The moment I escape from this body with its defiled hands cannot come swiftly enough.
A/N:This story is a combination of "Runaway Star" and "Sercemaitë", both located under the FF.net profile Aerlinnel. Please review them there, since this story will only exist for a limited time. Thank you!