Author's Note: Well, here's my (very belated) attempt to solve the earlier apostrophe problems by re-posting. To everyone who's reviewed… thank you so much. Your words have been immeasurably helpful to me, boosting my morale as well as inspiring me to work harder on my subsequent pieces in attempts to earn some of that approval from my public. I confess that on this particular piece, which I did always mean to re-work, I've strayed down the primrose past and been lost in some very interesting Caranthir/Nimloth stuff, which can be read here in its completed version, "On Some Fair Isle." Again, thanks for your comments, and keep reading!
Disclaimer: Not mine.
The clash of swords and the hiss of arrows, the cries of the dying and the shouts of their comrades, the stench of blood-soaked cloth and metal, the tang of fear and madness- this is war. My brothers spoke passionately of honor and justice, of rightful vengeance, of reclaiming our birthright; but in the midst of battle, men bleeding and screaming and dying, there are no such noble words. Just fear, and pain, and death.
At the time I thought none of this. No one does, in the sweeping tide of the fight. Then, the only thoughts are those of survival- of one's own survival. It is only later, when the silent battlefield is left behind and the fallen comrades are laid to rest in their cairn, that one begins to see the truth: war is not glorious, war is not just. It may be at times needful, but never, never should it be undertaken in spite or passion- a lesson I have learned all too well, and many times over.
In Doriath we slaughtered the thieves without mercy. Indeed, there was none to be had, for my brothers led their companies to the fore- my brothers, the most eager of us all to fulfill the oath of our father. The others of us- we two eldest and the two youngest- were reluctant to go, for many and varied reasons. I cannot speak for the twins, nor even for Maedhros, to whom of all my brothers I was closest, but only for myself.
Many would shame me, the last to enter the fray with my men. As the second son of my father, I ought by right to have been at the fore with Maedhros at my side, leading the charge for the Jewel taken from the Dark Lords crown, stolen away from us by the mortal Beren One-hand and Lúthien the fair, and now held by Dior Thingols heir.
Yet I am not ashamed of my hesitation to fight. I choose to believe that my delay was one of prudence and wisdom. The horror of the battle at the Swanhaven still checks my hand- that evil slaying of kin by kin that yet haunts my dreams. Yes, I call it evil, though our hands were forced; though there was dire need. Never will the deeds of that day be forgiven, and I foresee a fell reckoning in Mandos when at last my path takes me there.
My brothers heeded me not when I spoke against the attack at council; nor did they listen to the words of Maedhros pleading caution and care. We were overruled; and we, the sons of Fëanor, again swore our loyalty to the oath of our father, the oath that was his life and his death. In a fortnights time then we marched on Doriath.
I remember more than I wish of that day when Doriath was defeated and Dior slain by dark Caranthir in the deeps of Menegroth. I was there; I saw it happen. I watched Caranthir my brother fall at the hand of Nimloth the wife of Dior. She died that day on the end of my own blade, and in the haze of blood-fury I felt neither pity nor compassion for the lady of Doriath.
For I it was who later pulled the bodies of my brothers, fair Celegorm and crafty Curufin, out of Menegroth where they lay side by side, where they were slain fighting ever as one. With my hands I built the cairn for my fallen brothers, and I sang their spirits forth for a swift judgment in the halls of Mandos.
Yet it was not until later that I learned of the greatest evil done that day, the shameful deed of the wrathful servants of Celegorm. The sons of Dior, mere children both, they captured as they fled weeping from the ruins of their home, and abandoned deep in the wilderness of Doriath, there to die in the cold, forsaken wood.
War is cruel. This I know, for have I not fought in every battle alongside my brothers? I have killed, many times. My hands are stained with so much blood that time will never cleanse me, and in the Halls of Reckoning I will be called to account for my deeds. Then shall I be judged, and I shall not flinch from my doom. But this murder of children shall never be forgiven, nor should it be. My heart grows cold now, as I think of the shame that their deaths have brought upon my house.
Though done by no command of his, my elder brother repented of the act, and I in my sorrow with him; for many days we hunted in the wood, but we found no sign of the children.
Maedhros was never the same after we returned at last, fruitless, to the camps. The guilt weighed more heavily on him than on the others of us, I believe, and still it haunts him. A shadow lies over him now that never was there before, and the insatiable hunger that is this accursed oath is more desperate within him than I had ever seen in earlier days.
So it was that when we learned that the Jewel was gone from Menegroth, Maedhros was the one who broke, who fled in anguish, retreating alone to his cold black fortress. I remained behind with the men, taking command of the camp in my brothers absence. I dreaded what must be, my return to Himring, but I had little other choice- already the armies of the king were on the march, and we fled before him, scattering into the wild like hunted beasts. My blood burned to flee so, and indeed Amrod and Amras would have stayed to face him; but I showed them the folly of that course. I spoke to them again and again of the oath that yet binds us, of the need to live and reclaim our birthright, and their battle-lust was subdued.
We left the broken ruins of Doriath in haste, dividing our companies for swift and silent travel. I delayed as long as I could, preferring to stay in the rear with the wounded rather than hurry ahead to face Maedhros; but when our scouts reported the first sightings of the blue-clad armies, I knew that I must return to him or face the swift and terrible justice of the king.
For years then Maedhros and I remained in Himring, faring never forth. Unnatural as it may be, at times I feared him, feared my own brother. Something had changed in him; there was a darkness about him that made even his own grim, hardy folk ill at ease. It was then that I began to long fiercely for peace, for release from the oath, for an end to this war of kin against kin. Still, I spoke no word of my desire to my brother, and in return he told me nothing of his own troubles.
There was no need for him to speak. I knew his thoughts; they also were ever in my mind. The loss of the Jewel was painful to bear, and more difficult yet was the knowledge of our own evil deed, of the slaughter of our kin, the innocents along with the thieves, and all for naught. It is this which haunts me most, and, I think, my brother as well: the horror of that day was gainless, and our comrades, our kin, and our brothers were slain for nothing.
Thus it was that when rumor of a Jewel at Sirion reached us, Maedhros stayed his hand in memory of the fallen. He sent messages to Diors daughter where she sheltered with those who fled from the ruin of the Hidden City, demanding that she give up the Jewel to its rightful owners. When his demands failed, he turned to pleading, though the eldest son of Fëanor is proud in his own right, and the pleas burned him.
Years passed, and still the maiden Elwing refused to release the Jewel. The torment faced by my brother then was unimaginable. The Oath still holds sway over him as over us all, demanding the recovery of our heritage; yet he refused for a great while to attack the Havens, in memory of the blood spilled at Menegroth and in hope that we might still regain the Jewels peacefully. Hope grew also in my own heart, and the desire for peace burned ever brighter in me. Never have I loved Maedhros more for his honor and his courage than in those days when he still hoped for a swift and bloodless end to this war.
Yet the curse was still upon us, and the longer we waited to move, the more desperate grew the tug of the Oath. At last in despair and in anguish, Maedhros gave the order to march upon Sirion. Sick at heart, this time I took up the head of the column alongside my elder brother, where I have always belonged. With every step the sense of doom and hopelessness grew in my heart.
Let me say that I believe now this Oath is impossible to fulfill. The Black Enemy still holds two of the precious Jewels, and the other is stained already with the blood of fallen comrades and enemies alike. Now indeed may I curse the Oath that binds me. Yet I am not free to abandon it, nor may I pause in my weariness; for it haunts us, and hangs over us, and we will find no peace until the Jewels are ours. And so we battle on, through some reserve of strength despite the weariness, despite the sorrow and sickness that has come upon us.
We came upon Sirion under cover of darkness, in secrecy. Maedhros led the charge, and I was quick to follow out of loyalty to my brother. Our men spread quickly through the city, slaughtering all who resisted. My brother and I came at last to the house of Elwing and her husband, lord of the haven. There we found neither the Jewel nor the woman, but two young boys, crouched half-hidden behind an upturned table. One wept silently; but one shed no tear, and held the other close as if to protect him. It was this child who caught my gaze, more than anything else in that forsaken place- this child, alone amidst all war and chaos, stood yet steadfast and unfaltering.
I felt most an overwhelming weariness, and a deep sorrow that these children were now to die- and indeed Maedhros was there beside me, raising his great sword in wrath. I turned away from them, willing my eyes not to see and my ears not to hear. I heard naught but the swoop of the blade as it fell, and after . . . naught but the silence of death.
And then- the footsteps of my brother as he strode toward me. I could not look at him; to see the blood of children on his sword! Nay, at that moment I despised him as I had never before. His hand on my shoulder felt like a weight, the heavy burden that was his to bear, and mine. I turned to look at him, prepared to hate him- ready to hate my own brother.
But there was no blood on his sword, nor murder in his eyes. I cannot say what it is that my brother felt then, but I believe he spared these children for a reason. Perhaps it was pure sorrow, and grief, and pity for the young ones. Perhaps he saw that the fate of death by his hand was not theirs. Or perhaps it was something else that he will never tell me. It does not matter.
For me . . . for me the children shall be a new life. For me the children shall payment for my deeds at the Swanhaven, at Doriath, at the mouths of Sirion. Their lives are spared in restitution for the lives of so many of their kin, slain by my hand and the hands of my brothers. And I shall raise them as if they were my own. They shall live past my own end, and live to remember the fallen, and live to teach their own children someday of the madness of war, as I shall teach them.
I end this tale, then, not as it was begun, with war and chaos, but with love, and with hope. And there is yet hope for my kin, resting on the futures of these two young ones- my sons, not of my blood but of my family. They shall have no part in oaths, battles, hate. They shall be builders, teachers, rulers not by the sword but by wisdom and peace. And by their lives they shall be repentance for my life. In the end they shall be my redemption.