Disclaimer: I own nothing except my original characters and their homes. All other beings and places belong to the fabulous J. R. R. Tolkien. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, I'm only a visitor enjoying his Wonderland.
A/N: This is an AU tale; a plot that begged most aggressively to be realized, and although I have molded it to suit my purposes, I have a few individuals who need to be thanked. Firstly, to my Canon Nazi, Colleen, who keeps me on the path and who makes up all the beautiful Elvish phrases for me. To my Master Beta Geek, Stasey, who pushes me a lot even when I don't want to be pushed…you give me the confidence to try. To the other crazy wonderful people in my life who were just crazy enough to support me in this. Last, but not least, to Treehugger for her encouraging words and her own wonderful stories.
Without you all, I never would have tried to do this and I certainly wouldn't have stayed with it. You've all helped me find the answer to "What if…" Thank you very much.
The Shimmer -Part One by Ceana
"But the jewel burned the hand of Maedhros in pain unbearable; and he perceived that it was as Eonwe had said, and that his right thereto had become void, and that the oath was vain. And being in anguish and despair he cast himself into a gaping chasm filled with fire, and so ended; and the Silmaril that he bore was taken into the bosom of the Earth.
And it is told of Maglor that he could not endure the pain with which the Silmaril tormented him; and he cast it at last into the Sea, and thereafter he wandered ever upon the shores, singing in pain and regret beside the waves." The Silmarillion (Houghton Mifflin pp 253-254)
Chapter One – The Journey
The heat in the cave was unbearable. A scorched sulfurous air writhed around the two Elven warriors as they struggled, locked in their strange embrace. Sweat poured down Maedhros' grime streaked face as he tried unsuccessfully to free himself from the vice like grip on his arm. "Nay brother, do not stop me," he implored. Maglor desperately held on tighter to his brother as he dragged him from the edge and the waiting death below. "I will not let you kill yourself," he shouted over the roar of the fiery chasm. Maedhros raised his hand and waved it before Maglor's face. "Do you not feel the same burning," he hissed through clenched teeth; his pain filled eyes reflecting the guilt and madness raging within him.
Maglor paused as he looked down at the Silmaril clutched in the blackened fingers of Maedhros' ruined hand. He met his brother's gaze…pain recognized pain.
"I can not go on," Maedhros slowly said as his body began to tremble. He moved his head closer to his brother's and gently touched their foreheads together. Maglor was startled by the familiar gesture of affection and his grip loosened slightly. It was all Maedhros needed. Summoning all his strength, he pulled his arm from Maglor's grasp and pushed his sibling backwards. Rushing to the edge, he stopped and slowly turned to look at his brother one last time. A silent message of mutual grief passed between them. Before Maglor could speak, the first born of the House of Feanor stepped off the edge into the empty air.
"MAEDHROS…." Maglor screamed as his brother disappeared into the chasm. Collapsing to his knees, his fists struck the ground around him as hot tears streamed down his face.
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Darkness enveloped him as he fell to his doom, blessing him with its inevitability. The tormenting madness deep within him forced a smile across his lips. It is over. The Oath was finished, his duty to it…done. Relief coursed through him; soon he would begin to feel the fire of the abyss as its fingers of flames reached up to claim him. The horror that was his life would soon be over. Finally…the Halls of Mandos would loom before him, and there he would find the peace he sought so desperately.
But instead of the expected plunge into the waiting molten river, a hard dampness slammed violently into him knocking the air out of his lungs. Maedhros' grey eyes sprang open with the impact, and he watched in terror as the Silmaril flew from his hand. A brilliant white light blazed far behind him obscuring everything else, his mind was reeling and quickly fell into a new blackness…he saw no more.
Time passed and he became conscious once more. Slowly, Maedhros opened his eyes and tried to focus them. There was a great flickering light coming from somewhere illuminating most of his swirling surroundings. All he knew was he was lying on his back in some strange place. The rock ceiling spinning high above him was a clue. A cave? Shutting his eyes again, he tried to still his swimming senses. He knew he needed to move, he had to get out into the fresh air and figure out where he was. As he turned, he felt a slight pain in his shoulder. Gingerly, he moved his shoulder again and found it was only bruised from the fall. He moved his legs and arms to determine if they were whole. They were; however, he did not know how fortunate he should actually feel at the moment.
Stinging tears filled his eyes as he remembered where he was supposed to be…and why. He felt his chest tighten as he realized that this place did not feel like the Halls of Mandos. Nothing felt right…nothing. Where am I…? …Am I dead? Oh, please make it so, he prayed. Maedhros smiled sarcastically as he lowered his aching head knowing no one was listening. No one had listened to his prayers in a very long time. His soul still felt the cold emptiness of that revelation.
There also came a different awareness…as hard as it was to believe, his damaged hand had stopped throbbing. Reluctantly, he stretched his left hand out in front of him. His eyes widened in astonishment as he found it was greatly changed. A soft laugh of disbelief escaped his lips as he stared at it. Even in the flickering light, he could see the blackness was gone from his fingers; his hand no longer showed any of the severe burning as before. He quickly glanced at his right arm…no, the leather caplet still covered the stump of his wrist. He turned his attention back to his hand and wiggled his fingers making sure it was true. Had his madness imagined the intense burning? Now the only evidence that his hand had ever held the Silmaril was a small patch of blistered skin on the palm. The Silmaril! The sudden realization that he wasn't holding the Silmaril tore through his still confused mind. The fear that it might be lost formed a cold knot in his stomach…where was it? Panicked, his breathing became labored as he tried to recall the last time he held the jewel.
He remembered it flying from his hand and the hollow echo it made as it skidded across the earth and stone floor. A quick glance around relieved his fears. The coveted gem was in the same position where it had finally come to rest. It lay glowing with a vibrating brightness that still beckoned to him. Maedhros knew he had to get it safely back in his possession. He needed to feel it in his hand once more even if the burning returned.
As he tried to push himself off the cave floor, a roaring wave of dizziness forced him to drop back into a prone position on the hard wetness. He lay there, his cheek against the cold stone and the welcome relief it provided him. He tried to concentrate on the small faceted globe of light sitting just a few feet away. Maedhros watched it, hypnotized by its bright beauty. The light within the jewel pulsated and danced to some unheard music. Maedhros knew without moving closer, there would be no music to hear. Just the need to hold it again.
The cold sterile truth of The Oath made him remember the cost he paid in his efforts to possess it. The loss of his father…his brothers… his people…his very reason. Bitter tears escaped down his cheeks, but he made no attempt to wipe them away. The salty drops slid over his lips and down his chin, but his eyes never left the Silmaril. After all he had suffered and made others suffer, he still wanted to cling to it. This is madness indeed, his mind wailed bitterly to the icy gem. He lay there unable to move as he felt the crushing guilt tear through his body.
The light in the room began to grow brighter, but there was something else that began to draw his attention…the sound of falling water. There was a definite smell of moisture in the air that he had not noticed before. Curiosity peaked his interest enough to make him try to raise his head a bit. Gradually, he brought himself up to his knees keeping his eyes on the Silmaril as a focal point. When he was certain he could manage it, he rose gently to his feet. He spit back onto the cave floor the small amount of sour dirt he found in his mouth. He waited and when he was sure he could continue to stand, he slowly turned his head towards the sound and the still brilliant glow flickering behind him. The dazzling light made him raise his hand to shield his gaze. As his eyes adjusted to the brightness, they widened and his body stiffened as all thoughts were replaced with disquieting awe.
A small waterfall cascaded down a rock wall into a large pool below. A shimmering mist of glowing radiance seemed to hang just a few feet above the pool making him doubt his eyes. The mist wove itself in and out of multi-colored shafts of moving light. As the illusion of dancing shapes undulated in the brightness, Maedhros' eyes narrowed as he tried to fathom what he was looking at. The veil of light filled mist, with its vaporous edges thinning and finally disappearing into the air, was like nothing he had ever seen before. He moved closer to the pool as he tried to concentrate on the motion within the shimmer. There were quick moving snatches of color, but the movements were unclear. As unclear as trying to look at them through thick gauze. Apprehension replaced his wonder as the shapes slowed and became clearer. A kind of picture immerged from the vapor and showed itself to him. What magic is this?
Maedhros was puzzled as to what he was actually seeing. His brows drew together as he tried to reason out just what the image was. It was an ordinary market day in a large stone city of the Second Born. Carts and stalls were set up on a grassy square, where country folk were selling their produce and homemade goods to the city dwellers. There were also makeshift pens filled with sheep, cows, and pigs waiting to be inspected before a price was discussed. Young women walked amongst the crowd selling freshly baked treats from trays hanging around their necks. The activity although considerable was very ordinary in the life of a community. Maedhros vaguely remembered places like this in quieter far off times.
There was no sound coming from the shimmering light, but the moving depiction before him was something he recognized. What is this mist…this shimmer? Why am I being shown this...to what purpose? Maedhros brought his hand up and tried to touch the apparition. His slender fingers met with an invisible barrier protecting the mist from his touch. Though invisible, it felt as hard as any metal, but gave the impression of movement…of a kind of vibration. What spell is at work here, he wondered.His eyes searched the many human faces before him; he was unable to recognize any of the town folk.
The scene suddenly melted away and a new one appeared. Maedhros began to feel the dull ache of foreboding. This ghostly vision he knew intimately, and it sickened him with its familiarity. A different kind of city stood in the night. From above, a full moon shown down, bathing the white buildings on either side of a wide street in a clear blue radiance. The bodies of the dead lay everywhere, bathed in this same cold light. Maedhros steeled himself as his gaze scoured the street. Dead eyes stared back at him from pale silent Elven faces. Some of them he had known all his life, others he would never know. He felt his heart hammer against his chest as he relived the reason why they were dead. He had been there…he and his brothers had killed the Elves for the mere fact that they would not give up their ships. These Elves had stood in their way, and The Oath forced the brothers to strike back savagely. The guilt of these first kinslayings once again ravaged through him, as did all the deaths committed by the sons of Feanor.
He tried to cover his eyes, physically trying to blot out the sight, but all he could do was quake under the burden of those memories. How many times had he seen these same faces in his sleep? How many more times would he find them tormenting his dreams? Why was he being forced to endure yet again the consequences of his family's actions? Of his own brutal conduct? He forced himself to look at the mist again.
The street of death dissolved away and a party of living Elves carrying bows walked stealthily through a golden forest. Their appearance told Maedhros the Elves were Sindarin, both in manner and dress. That they were a hunting party was obvious, but he knew none of the group. What is this devilry? The senseless randomness of what he saw only increased his anguish. I will not stay here and watch this, he vowed. Looking around the room, he tried to find an opening, some door through which he could escape from the haunting images.
Instead, he found that the brightness from the shimmer made it difficult to see the rest of the room clearly. Varying shapes of rust colored rocks surrounded him. Because of the ceaseless light, there were no shadows or details clear enough to aid him in his search. He tried to concentrate harder hoping he might be able to see an opening. To his dismay, there were just the four walls, and no evidence of a door. I had to come into the cave by some means, he tried to reason.
A change in the intensity of the shimmer made him return his attention back to it reluctantly. The party of Elves was gone, and a rocky slope covered in grey sharp-edged stones appeared under a slate colored sky. Wisps of fog traveled close to the ground, swirling around a male figure aimlessly making his way over the unfriendly rock-strewn terrain. The partially shrouded figure came closer and Maedhros' heart began to race. The beginnings of joy made its way through him as he recognized the wanderer; as he would always know him. He allowed himself to smile as he watched his brother.
"Maglor!" He cried. Thank the Valar, this torment may be over. He felt the relief wash over him. Maglor continued to wander along the rocks without any indication that he had heard him. Maedhros called again and again, hoping Maglor would hear. He called and called, his voice becoming more desperate. Finally, almost hoarse from yelling, Maedhros stopped and watched the lone Elf. The continued look of despair on Maglor's face and his aimless walking was sad proof that he was deaf to Maedhros' calls.
Maedhros moved around the pool frantically trying to find something that could help him. His eyes darted around the room looking for anything that would give him a clue how to breakout of his confinement. He finally inspected the waterfall to make sure there wasn't a secret doorway hidden somewhere behind it. The cold water that chilled his hand also chilled his heart. There was no escape.
As his shoulders slumped in defeat, a possibility slowly crept into his mind. He stood there for a moment, head bowed, a scowl covering his face as he considered it. Suddenly, he looked at the shimmer and smiled. "Of course."
As he ran his hand across the barrier again, he could feel the low hum coming from the invisible wall. It was true; it wasn't a physical wall, but some kind of force. If he could just breach it, Maedhros knew he would be able to jump through the mist and back to freedom. He could then find Maglor and they would face whatever the Valar had in store for them…together.
He looked at the Silmaril glowing on the cave floor. The pounding of his heart echoed in his ears, matching the pulsating light coming from the bright jewel. Closing his eyes, he turned and tried to still his thoughts. Leave it here! He heard his own voice whisper deep inside him. Leave it to this stone prison where no one will ever find it…The Oath is finished! Maglor needs you! He opened his eyes; determination now filled them as he glared at the shimmer.
Taking a few steps back, Maedhros rushed the wavering vapor. Letting out a battle cry through curled lips, he braced himself and jumped with all his might at the waiting light. A deafening explosion of sound echoed throughout the room as his body was violently thrown back. He landed hard on the cave floor, his head bounced off the jagged rock surface. Maedhros' pale eyes began to blur and the sound of far off thunder was the last thing he heard before slipping into unconsciousness.
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Maedhros gradually became aware of his surroundings. The possibility that he might have escaped the strange cave room was the only reason he opened his eyes. Moving his head slightly to see if it was true only caused a stab of pain to shoot through his face. He quickly brought his hand up and touched the side of his temple, it was wet and sticky. He looked at his fingers…blood. But as he lowered his hand, he focused on the shimmering mist once again. He let out a low moan and closed his eyes. So it was true, he was still in his prison. He tried to fight the growing dizziness and the bile of his failure that left a bitter taste in his mouth. After a few moments and with great difficulty, he stood up. Head aching, he staggered over to the pool.
He quietly stood before the shimmer wondering what to do next. As he stared at it, he did not know if it was his injury or if the various visions in the mist were now flying by. He could not register one before it disappeared and another replaced it, then another, and still another. Slowly, he tried again to touch the mist, but the barrier was still intact. Tears of frustration filled his eyes. What is this place? Is this to be my judgement, his mind howled.
His heart broke as he realized that it might be true. Would he ever be able to return to the outside world? Was this to be his punishment? A chill ran through his body; he felt so lost. Once again, he knew death was preferable to a life like this. Sobs built up in his chest and he found it difficult keeping them from escaping. Summoning all his strength, Maedhros fought to control himself. If he let himself succumb to despair, he knew he would collapse into the final agony of total madness.
Lowering his head, he looked into the pool at his feet. He could not recognize the reflected face that stared up at him. Was this truly what he looked like? Was this all that was left of the Noldorin lord he once was? The face in the water was a living mask of guilt and deserved sorrow. Dark shadowed eyes rimmed in red looked back at him. They were vacant in spite of the torment he knew hid behind them. The braided auburn hair he was once so proud of now hung in various stages of unbound chaos. The side of his face was bruised and covered in blood from the deep cut at his temple. Maedhros stood there for a moment and felt his body begin to sway as he became light-headed.
He lowered himself to his knee trying to calm the dizziness and the anarchy in his mind. Ripping a section of his under tunic, he wet it in the pool and tried to attend to his cut. He took in a breath and let it out slowly through tight lips as he began to dab at his wound. The stinging pain from his attempts to clean the gash made him wince. Well, I now know one thing for certain…The dead do not bleed! The thought almost made him laugh at the absurdity of it.
So he was definitely alive. But why? Rapidly, anger and overwhelming frustration consumed him. Raising his clinched fist at the shimmer, he screamed "WHAT DO YOU WANT OF ME?" His words echoed throughout the room, demanding an answer.
Suddenly from behind, Maedhros heard a startled intake of breath and a crash. The warrior Elf drew a short dagger from his belt as he tried to rise to his feet and face his intruder. Only his warrior training kept him focused enough so he did not expose his weakened condition. However, his face took on the same shocked expression as the young girl who now stood facing him by the opposite cave wall.
She was trembling and had dropped the lantern and scrolls she had been carrying. Her mouth uttered something that sounded like a question. Without taking his eyes off the girl, Maedhros lowered his dagger and sheathed it. Again, he heard the girl say something to him. He did not know what or how to reply; he could not understand a word she spoke. He stepped towards her, but the girl quickly turned and disappeared into the cave wall.
Maedhros followed, finding to his surprise the girl had not disappeared, but had rushed down a passageway. The light from the shimmer had only obscured the opening, giving the illusion of unbroken rock.
"Avathan naegrach le. Im mellon le. Im aniro an pedi le," he called after her. The girl ran as fast as she could and did not look back. Maedhros found it hard to follow. His head was still swimming; he had to touch the sides of the rock walls to help steady himself.
The passageway was not very wide, but it seemed to go on and on. Finally, Maedhros paused just a few feet before the opening. To his joy, he discovered there was bright daylight shining into the passage. Freedom! His heart sang. Walking quickly into the sunshine, he could feel the wonderful life-giving light of the sun as it caressed his body. He raised his face to the sunlight, thankful to be out of the cave room. The weight of his captivity was suddenly lifted from his shoulders, and it felt wonderful. He breathed in his surroundings. There was a heavy scent of saltwater in the air…he was close to the sea. Close again to life, and that felt good as well.
He remembered the strange girl and looked about. He was standing on a high hill overlooking a rolling vista of green fields nestled between low valleys and large forests. The passage opening behind him was hidden from casual view by overgrown brush and by tall stones that stood sentinel around it. The standing stones continued and were scattered along a path. His eyes searched, but could not find the girl. There was a large wooded area not far from where he stood and he decided she must have run into the trees to hide. He regretted frightening her away like that.
He looked further, but he could not see any of the familiar mountains he knew nor were there any landmarks he recognized. There was something else, there was something different, and he instinctively knew it as his eyes swept the land in front of him. "This is not Middle-earth," he said softly. Sadly, there was more…
A sickening awareness came over him that made him stumble to his knees. Because of his wound and his preoccupation with escaping, he had not been aware of it before. But once outside in the cool clean air and the sunlight, it was glaringly obvious. Sitting hunched over, he tried to steady his breathing and still his thoughts as he searched. The cold realization that he no longer heard the song of his people poured cold fear into his heart. The voices of their Feas as they sang the Song of Iluvatar linking each to the other, were silent.
Icy beads of perspiration dotted his forehead as he strained to hear even a whisper. Time passed and there was only deafening silence. Maedhros stood up as an unbearable resignation filled him. His face crumbled into desolation as he looked out at the alien landscape once more. So he had been judged…this was to be his punishment after all.
He was truly alone.
To be continued.
Avathan naegrach le. Im mellon le. Im aniro an pedi le I will not cause you pain. I am your friend. I desire to speak to you.