Disclaimer: Maedhros, Uldor, Quendi, Maglor, Silmarils etc all belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Note: This fic takes place about 3 months after the events in the Silmarillion. I was rather interested to see what a First Age Quendi would make of the traditional folk beliefs I grew up with regarding "fairies". So I press-ganged my AU elf of all work Maedhros into this little culture clash. Maedhros is AU because unlike his canonical counterpart, he did not jump in the fiery chasm. If you really need to know why he didn't, read my "The Difference between a Seagull and a Phoenix" fic.
(Credited to Stephanie65 at ff.net)
Also note: All characters in this story are speaking the language of the Easterlings, a much rougher language than Quenya. So Maedhros does some cussing, as per usual.
It was like shedding skin, to run so fast, so far. It was a death of sorts. I ran from all I knew and all who might know me, so I might be born again a faceless thing with no past in unfamiliar surroundings. I out ran my own history.
I ran because it was all I knew to do.
Sometimes I would break by streams and drink like an animal, face in the water. It cooled the fever I only knew I had when I stopped still. Sometimes I would collapse from exhaustion, then wake from blank and dreamless sleep to run again.
I do not know how long I moved like this, through clear air, over grassland, over mountains, as far as I could go. I dropped the clumsy metal sword at my waist, the better to cut through the crystal light around me. Day and night, sunshine and storm, I ran on as if running had become my very existence.
When the trap bit, I fell forward on to soft pine needles. It was only when I lifted my head, I realised I was in a wood. I turned awkwardly, dully observing the snare that had closed around my leg. I observed with casual detachment the iron teeth sunk in to my flesh, the strange angle of the bone, the growing pool of blood.
I put my head against the soft earth and waited for whatever was to happen next.
The child found me. It must have been one of his daily chores to inspect the traps, to see what beasts had been caught trying to scavenge from his homestead. Maybe on lucky days, he found useable meat. Today he found me instead.
He gave a small whimper of terror, then fled.
When the child returned, he clung to his mother, hiding his face from view. There was an older woman too, who walked right up and inspected me, the points on my ears, the strange shape of my face, the stranger light in my eyes. Once she had seen enough to reach a verdict, she walked back and addressed the others.
"That is very bad luck, you know."
It was not the best stroke of fortune for myself, either.
I blinked slightly when I realised I had understood her words. She spoke the tongue of the Easterlings.
"What should I do?"
"Well, I would be careful not to let it die. If they die their spirits do not sleep as ours but will return to your home and take it over. It would be even worse luck to kill it."
"You are going to have to take care of it. Just be careful. Do not let it in your home. Do not let it know your name. Above all do not let it near your son."
"We cannot just leave, well he looks like a he to me, him outside, can we?"
"You can put it in the barn. And do not get soft on it. "
I had absolutely no desire for conversation with these strangers at all. In fact I was no longer sure that I remembered how to speak. I felt very feverish, and slightly amused in the rather fey manner of those burning up from within.
The two women between them freed me from the snare. I thought the elder might attempt to patch up my leg, but instead she pulled a knife on me. She pressed the blade against my forehead and uttered some chant I did not understand. Then she held it to my throat. I shuddered involuntarily, which she seemed to take as a good sign.
"Oh you daemon, you faery, you Afari of the dark forests. Know I know your names and that I have mastery of iron, which above all else is cruel to you.
Be at my command and submit your will to me, do no evil whilst amongst us."
"It should be safe to touch now. I have subdued it to my will. It should not try any tricks."
Then, at long last, the old fraud started tending to my leg. Fortunately, she at least had more knowledge of bone setting than she did of Quendi.
The two women carried me back to a homestead, and as promised, deposited me in the barn. The younger woman fended off a pig while the elder continued to advise her on how best to entertain her Noldorin guest.
"Do not forget, it is not as one of us. They are enchanters, every one of them. If you slip, it shall ensnare your mind, taking your possessions and leaving you witless. They prey on women such as you."
"He really does not look in much of a state to ravish me."
"Who knows the minds of the faeries? They can shift their shape you know. It may be that this is all a feint to gain possession of your soul.."
"Could I have some water?" I ask as politely as I can.
The healer eyes me warily. Then she turns to the child.
"Get it some water from the stream, not from the family drinking butt. "
The child obediently left. I nod my head in the best gesture of thanks I can muster.
I live in a barn and am fed on left-overs. I am tied by my left arm to one of the posts holding this rickety outbuilding upright, tied with iron. The farmer took a chain from her plough share to do this. Apart from her knife, this is the only metal she has. I do hope she sees fit to release me before sowing season starts, I should hate her family to be inconvenienced on my behalf. The chain on my wrist is lashed to the pole with rope. I am reasonably sure, sick and dizzy as I am, that I could pull the chords loose, should I need to escape quickly, or else bite through them. It is mildly uncomfortable, but on the whole disturbs me less than the chickens.
I have no desire to escape at all. Where would I go? Here is as good as anywhere in Arda for me now.
Every morning, the farmer comes to feed the fowl and swine. Then she feeds me. For a short while, each morning and evening, I am unbound and allowed to eat. She holds her knife before her, to my face as I do so. I think this is meant to cow my spirit, but I just find it ill-mannered.
The first day, she left the bowl of gruel beside me and was surprised to return to find it untouched. I lifted my right arm by way of explanation. She nodded. Although we know a common language, we do our best not speak. When she tried to bind my arm again I objected a little.
"I do not know how much you really know of my people." I say softly as she winds the chain around my wrist. "But we are as mortals in some respects."
"Oh," she said tensing, eyes darting to the blade she had lain on the ground as she secured me.
"Yes," I say. "And I do rather need to visit your bushes very soon."
It took, I think a few moments for her to comprehend my request. I knew she had when she smiled slightly and helped me to my feet. Despite the smile, I felt the knife pressing against the small of my back as we walked. It could have so easily have been a trick, I knew it. But I could not kill her. I needed her to lean against to stand upright.
My leg is healing well enough, now. I can limp unaided for my morning and evening exercise. The fever has not gone, in fact it has worsened. This concerns the farmer greatly. It is obvious I am sweating badly, too hot, shaking. She has on more than one occasion called out the idiotic crone who passes for the village's keeper of knowledge. The hag inspects my leg and finds nothing unusual. She gives me something to drink, which is notable only for being very bitter, and for not helping in the slightest. I am beginning to find thinking itself very difficult.
As the crone works, I catch my mind screaming at her. It is not my leg, you fool, it is my hand.
My left hand is clenched up in pain. Inside, on the palm and undersides of the fingers, the skin is blistered and burnt black. Nobody has noticed this. I doubt it would do any good if they had. It is unlikely the homely remedies of the forest could cure one condemned to burn by the wrath of the Valar.
The seasons change, the air cools. The forest is pine, mostly, but the little orchard in the clearing behind the homestead turns the burnt shades of autumn. The pigs no longer sniff suspiciously around my person, even when I am doused in sweat. They have grown used to the smell of sick elf. Rain leaks through the rough walls of the barn, some mornings I wake to find myself lying in straw and mud.
The farmer brings extra blankets to wrap around me. I still do not stop shivering. The Lord of Himring seems to have been stripped of his resistance to the cold. I lie fretfully awake at nights, cursing the Valar as creatively and obscenely as I may, I curse in Quenya, in Khuzdul, in the foul speech of the peoples of Angband itself, whatever tongue best suits my purpose. And I curse softly, so as not to awaken the livestock.
I can no longer eat the gruel or milk and cold potatoes the woman brings me. Even her clouded mortal vision can register the light in my eyes is dimming. The sweat has made the berry juice I used to disguise myself streak down my face. I am sure she must be able now to see glints of copper through the brown.
I want her to untie me. I want her to call me by my name. I want her to put the knife down when she deals with me.
Yes, lady healer I think dizzily to myself. You are no fool. All these things do hurt. They do not hurt because I am Quendi, they hurt because I have a soul.
"You are dying, aren't you?" She whispers softly to me.
"I think so." I reply.
The chains jangle as she unties my wrist.
"You should come inside," she said. "It is considered cruel fate amongst my people to die out of doors."
She lifts me to my feet, my face brushes her coarse hair as I rest on her shoulder. I feel the knife against my back once more.
"And please," I whisper "Put that bloody thing down. My father was a fucking blacksmith."
The firelight hurts my eyes, and my hand stings in sympathy with its heat. The farmer gives me water and I throw it up again almost immediately. Her face darkens in concern.
Going to the door to the yard, she summons her child:
"Uldor, Uldor come here now. Mother needs you to run to the healer. Now, as quick as you can."
Her child duly dispatched, she returns to me, and finds me smiling.
"Was he a hero to you?" I ask hoarsely.
"Who?" She asks.
"Oh." She says.
Yes, I know your child's name.
"Uldor was a hero to all of us." She says defiantly, as if to quell her unease. "He won us these lands. He killed a mighty giant came out of the West who held these lands captive."
"A demon of flame and iron, that the great Lord Melkor himself could not tame."
Gently she reaches out and soothes me as she would one of her own sickly brood, brought low by the weaknesses that only men are prey to.
"I thought these demons did not care for iron?"
"These were not as our fairies, shadows hiding in the forest. These were fell and merciless creatures who came to this earth to grasp its lands and hold all men as thralls. It was only by the grace of the Lord Melkor that they were overcome, and we could live in peace."
"And what of the giant? Was he like that too?"
"The giant was cunning. He offered land to Lord Uldor, in return for his service. But Uldor looked in his dread eyes and saw one in which no spirit of love or joy could ever burn. He saw the fairy lords under his command, and knew their cold skins and cruel hearts. Even as he stood before the giant in his mighty castle, that it is said rested on the clouds itself, the malice and greed of this host was revealed to him, as if it were a vision granted by Lord Melkor himself, and he vowed to deliver his people to freedom. Why are you laughing?"
I am laughing because the Valar have poisoned my flesh and it burns. I am laughing because I am fey with fever, and do not know what else to do. And I am laughing, because the only other response would be to kill.
"He was wrong. He was so badly wrong. As you all are. As you always are."
"Shh." She wipes something cool and wet across my face. For a moment my thoughts clear.
"Uldor never killed his demon. He…he was a traitor and I watched him die."
"I did love. I loved so deeply and so much it hurt right inside me. You mortals know nothing of love like that."
"I am telling a story. Hush, you have a fever. Ssh. I did not mean you creatures do not love. I am sure in your own way you do."
"Love like this." I pull my hand out in front of her so she can see the burn.
"What?" She said.
"Love like Silmarils." I said.
I do not hear her reply. I feel like I am falling downwards and downwards. I wish Maglor were here to catch me. I have long stopped wishing for Findekano. I have trained my mind to accept he will never come back. My chest feels heavy, and I think the Lords of the West may have had their victory over me at last.
I smile. Just one thing before it is over, Eru Iluvatar. Just let me show you the one thing I can do, that you it appears, cannot.
I swallow. It hurts. Trying as best I can to speak into the air above me, I whisper:
"I forgive you."
I stir. I feel pillows against my nose. I am in bed.
"Mudrose! Mudrose." I recognise the voice, it belongs to the healer. I also recognise the tone, as one who is calling, expecting an answer.
"Hmm?" I say sleepily. My head still hurts, but I feel slightly cooler.
"Can you hear me?"
"Maedhros." I say. "My-th-ros."
"I need to look at your hand, My-dross."
"You lied," I smile.
"I never lie." She says.
"Yes you did. In the woods. You said you knew all my names."
I hold out my hand. She inspects the damage.
"I guessed well enough in the end to save you."
"You are not the fool I took you for."
She gives me a sip of water to help me speak.
"Seriously, you fraud," I say laughingly "How many of us have you met?"
"I have been called to ward off the presence of fays, or rid houses of their wandering spirits."
"But I am the first you have spoken too."
She takes my hand and places it in a bowl of cool water, adding some drops of oil. The room smells pungently of lavender.
I know that cure. I have used it myself on many occasions with younger brothers singed clumsily at the forge.
"We are called Quendi. If you really want to know our name."
I want to laugh out loud at this woman who thinks she can outwit Varda with remedies from the kitchen.
"You would tell me that freely?"
"I rather like being insulted correctly."
"Did I insult you?"
"Well, you referred to me as it, and you held a knife to my throat. These are not friendly gestures."
"They were not meant to be."
"I could have killed you, you know."
"Why did you not?"
"I have killed too many. I think I have lost my taste for vengeance."
"Besides, if I had killed you, I would be dead now. And I have a curious desire to stay alive for as long as I may."
I feel the heat ebb from my hand. Coolness begins to spread up my arm. Maybe between us we can outwit the Valar.
"Do you really live forever?"
"I think so. I intend to try, anyway."