Disclaimer: Context and characters belong to JRR Tolkien. No money changes hands on this fic.
A Last Reckoning
There were elves in his army who had seen the War of Wrath, and still came to fight again. It was out of sheer vengeance. Darkness was the enemy; darkness was to be fought back at all costs. He, too, had helped break Thangorodrim and avenge the kings he was named for. He had been High King then as well. But he had been young, and there had been older, wiser, stronger people to aid him and his his little band of rebel Noldor.
Evil is random; senseless. It holds back and holds back, then it engulfs the world in a moment. It makes it difficult to defeat. Even impossible.
Gil-galad bowed his head, pressing his palms to his burning eyes. Mordor fumed. His armies were wasting away, some before his eyes, more in their hastily dug, shallow graves that now pockmarked this barren wasteland. Already one of Elendil's sons was dead. It had been days since Eärendil's star had been seen through the clouds of smoke. No, day was the wrong word. Like everything else they knew and loved, day and night had lost their meaning. Time itself hung suspended over them. Time was meant for other people in other places, where things had a beginning and an end, where there was clarity and sense, comfort and joy and love and life. This was not life. This was an exercise in futile waiting. They were standing around, expecting death to take them.
We, I and those I love, have learned hard things by hard ways.
He glanced over at Elendil standing nearby. His hair had been greying when they first came to war. Now it was a shock of white drooping over his stooped shoulders, with no hint of black in it. The High King had given way to this old, bereaved, tired man.
Gil-galad had come this far, carrying the hopes of a people on his shoulders – glory, victory, the final defeat of darkness - only to allow them to crouch like this around the foothills of an evil giant, unsure and unaware of everything except this waiting.
And now we will go on. Something yet may be salvaged; not reputation or pride, I think. They will cease to matter. But something – a little more space within the circle of light against the darkness. I do not know what. Something.
"But what? And why?" Ereinion asked, confused and angry. "Why is it necessary for you to ride into battle now?"
"It is now or never."
Ereinion shook his head. "Nothing is ever quite so plain."
"But it is," Fingon said in a low voice. "We have come to the end of all things as we know them, for better or for worse. We fight for the better."
"And," Ereinion strove to conceal the tears in his throat from a father whom he had never known to cry, "is death better than life?"
Fingon was weary, but still tall and proud, and his eyes were brighter and harder than Varda's stars. "Is defeat better than victory?" he asked. "Is despair greater than hope? We know the answers to these questions; we think we know them."
He stood and faced the window from where the darkest peak of Angband could be seen.
"In a battle, it is always the stronger force that wins. Wrong has defeated right before now. It may be that it shall defeat right once more. But I shall not stand by and wait for it to happen."
Ereinion went to stand by his father. "Then you have hope?" he asked, because he did not understand, and wanted reassurance.
And Fingon stood silent.
"Do you?" he repeated timidly.
"The stronger force wins," Fingon answered after a long time, not meeting his son's eyes. "Now I think my despair is strong enough."
He had raged against Fingon's decision to fight the Fifth Battle long after news of his death had reached Círdan's court. Despair had cancelled out hope, he argued to the wind. And death had cancelled out life – why? he asked. What had his father valued above life itself?
"Drink, aranya," Elrond, eyes rimmed red with smoke, came up softly and held out a flask of stale water. He had fallen into the dull routine of expectation, like everyone else who still lived. But what did he expect?
"Why are you here, son of Eärendil?" Gil-galad asked him tiredly.
"For you, Sire," the answer came unhesitant.
"And why am I here?"
Glory, honour, rewards for valour. They cease to matter. Why, why, why, you ask. Oh, son. You would climb a mountain and reach the peak, and you would be sorry if the view did not seem enough. I do not know what your answer is, Ereinion. I do not want to hope that you will ever have to find out for yourself.
Elrond looked at him for a while, and only said, "You know better than I, ereinion."
As for me, I can do this much. It was enough for Fingolfin, and it is enough for me.
"Enough," Gil-galad said out loud. Close by, his men raised their heads. He saw a building light reflected in all their grey eyes, and realised it was his own.
His challenge was accepted; the wrath of Mordor awoke. He did not see his soldiers gather in great force as he strode past them, nor did he hear the cries, disparate at first, then gathering force, making his name a battle-cry and his radiance a force of their own. His final decision flared in his mind, dimming and darkening every other lingering thought. He did not see Elendil and Elrond, falling in behind him. He did not hear Sauron's craven laugh as the voices went up from the plain of Dagorlad like a storm.
"Auta i lomë! Night is passing!"
He had calculated enough. Everything on this field cancelled out something else. And there was no more to reckon with. If there was anything at all to be salvaged –
- I will salvage it. For this is who I am, Father. My answer is no different from yours.
-----------There are heroes who have heard the rally and have seen
The glitter of a garland round their head.
Theirs is the hollow victory. They are deceived.
But you, my ghost, if you can go
Knowing that there is no reward, no certain use
In all your sacrifice, then honour is reprieved.
To fight without hope is to fight with grace,
The self reconstructed, the false heart repaired.
To a Conscript of 1940.
x x x x- 'son of kings'; I thought it served as much as a title as a name.
aranya - Quenya, "my king".
Notes: Thanks to Lindorien for her fabulous beta. All mistakes are mine!
A large amount of my interest in Read's lines was sparked by their relation to Tolkien with regards to one fundamental point. Like Tolkien, Read seems to espouse the "noble, Nordic" spirit of the "high" people, upholding its tragic romanticism, the inevitability of death and the final embrace of fate when even hope seems to be lost. This is perhaps somewhat different from Tolkien's original intention of the Elves making the Fifth Battle, since they would hardly seem capable of nihilistic thought, much less nihilism in matters of life and death. Yet, all is not lost, not for Fingon, and not for Gil-galad. The terribly fated train of personal sacrifice that runs through three generations of that line - Fingolfin, Fingon and finally Gil-galad - was what finally reconciled the threads, for me.