Maedhros strode swiftly through the ruin of Eärendíl's house. It had been all but raised to the ground, and its fair halls were now stained with blood. Outside, the sons of Fëanor were emerging victorious and the battle was slowing, but the sound of blade upon blade still rang sharply above other less pleasant things.
Strange, was it not, that he should find to the clashing of swords not all an offensive sound? But the song of the blade as it sliced easily through air and met with its opponent had long been in Maedhros' ears. Long ago, so along ago, ere the rebellion and the terrible oath, he had come to cherish the sound of whirling, colliding metal. Much to the delight of Fëanor, his eldest son had quickly grown skilled with the sword, and Maedhros had been overjoyed at his father's pride.
He had neither his father's love for the forge, nor his talent their. He was of milder temperament as well; father and son were not always on like terms. This, amassed with the fact that Maedhros' favored companion was Fingon, the son of Fëanor's much-resented half-brother, was enough to cause tension. And the household was already strained, for Nerdanel's love was merely tinder before the flame, and it was soon consumed and burned to ash. Yet they had forged common ground, Maedhros and his father, in the dark heat of Fëanor's smithy, where in secret he taught his sons to wield a blade.
Maedhros' hand slipped to the sword at his left side. He had thought the house abandoned, but he heard ragged breathing from behind a closed door. Immediately it occurred to him that this might be Elwing, who had foolishly refused to return the Silmaril.
He drew his sword, though he was loath to spill further blood, especially that of Dior's daughter, after learning that she had survived the sacking of Doriath. He threw open the door sharply and leapt into the room, sword raised.
A dark haired woman let out a choked scream, flinging her hands up in defense. When she returned them to her sides, Maedhros examined her carefully. Her night-black hair rippled down her shoulders in sharp contrast to the alabaster skin of her face, and her eyes, though they shone with fear, were large and silver; she was quite beautiful.
"Elwing," he said coolly, shutting and bolting the door behind him. "Give me the Jewel."
"You have lost your right to it!" Her voice was sharp, despite her obvious fear.
"Give it to me," he repeated levelly.
"I will not throw away what has been the source of much prosperity and light for many years, nor relinquish what my forefather won at such great costs," she declared, lifting her chin to meet his eyes.
"Prosperity and light?" he echoed with a grim laugh. "Look around, you, lady. Do you see prosperity and light? I see death and terror." He gazed out the window behind Elwing for a moment. "The blood runs in rivers towards the beloved sea of Eärendíl."
He waited for some reply on Elwing's part, but she gave none, only stared at him with unmasked contempt.
"And what did it cost your kin?" he continued with false innocence. "Ai, wait, I recall now: a hand, was it not? Well then, good lady, Beren and I have come to terms." He thrust his right arm into her view and she recoiled.
Maedhros wondered vaguely when he had become so cynical and vicious. Did it really matter? He would reclaim the Silmaril ere the sun fell; in this his heart was set.
"You have been punished justly for your evils, kinslayer," spat Elwing of a sudden, and he could not help but be impressed by her boldness. "I see no reason to give what you ask."
'Because I shall kill you if you do not.' The words hovered in his mouth, and he was disgusted with how easily his mind proffered them. He chose not to speak immediately.
"NANA!" The terrified screams of a child tore through the air, and Maedhros watched as Elwing's face paled. The cries rose in pitch and intensity, and it became clear that there were two children crying for their mother. Elwing bolted for the door, but he stepped across her path and neatly intercepted her, gripping her shoulder tightly.
"It would seem that we have reached bargaining ground, would it not? My Simaril, in exchange for your sons."
She stared at him with terror-stricken eyes. "You left my brothers to starve; now you will murder my children."
"I did not leave your brothers to starve!" hissed Maedhros sharply, pushing her more roughly than he should have up against a heavy wooden dresser. "Do not speak of what you do not know!"
"How can you possibly defend yourself?" She was half-screaming and half-sobbing, struggling hard in his grasped. "You murdered them in cold blood; you knew they would never survive in that forest!"
"I went looking for them!" he cried hoarsely. "I searched for them for days; nay, weeks! And I found nothing." He was breathing hard, and he took a moment to compose himself. "Give me the Jewel, and I shall return your sons personally."
A terrible light came to into Elwing's eyes as though some awful truth had been revealed to her then. "You would not return them," she whispered. "You lie. They will never survive this day."
Maedhros began to protest, and then realized all to late that she had carefully worked her way towards the door, and had unbolted it behind her back. In one smooth motion, she opened it and was gone. He allowed himself a moment of astonishment before taking off after her.
Bright blades flashed before him, and he drew his own sword, prepared to cut down whoever tried to stop him. He was not prepared, though, to find himself against a small group of his own forces.
"What are you doing?" he demanded incredulously.
"We will no longer be murderers," answered their young captain with an astounding amount of bravado. Maedhros fixed him with a chilling gaze.
"Step aside," he ordered softly.
"No." The captain's voice quavered.
Maedhros killed him, slitting his throat with one swipe. It was unfortunate he should have to do such a thing. He seized his opportunity to push past the renegade company while their captain slumped bleeding at their feet. Now he looked about frantically, and did not see Elwing anywhere.
In the next instant, he felt his consciousness shrink into one single point of brilliant light, clutched to breast of a woman who ran towards the sea, tears falling freely down her cheeks.
A large window that overlooked the shore had been shattered, and this he leapt through, heedless of the glass shards that tore at his skin. His eyes never left the crystalline gem, its light pouring through Elwing's fingers as she ran headlong into the waves.
And then she was gone. A great swell came and took her, drowning the light of the Silmaril, and Maedhros fell to his knees.
Everything was for naught. Much blood spilt; nothing gained. Nothing. Another stain on his already filthy fëa; more scars on his already disfigured hroä. He clenched his remaining hand into a fist as a great cry rose from his throat. It was a blend of animalistic rage, childish frustration, and the utterly consuming sorrow that only the Eldar endured.
Maglor reached out tentatively, almost fearfully, and touched his brother's shoulder. Maedhros shrugged off the concerned touch, breathing raggedly.
"Gather our forces." His voice was empty, hollow. "Find Ambarussa-
"Ambarussa..." Maglor's sweet voice was choked and harsh. "They fell, Maitimo. At one another's sides, to the last."
Maedhros stared at him, until Maglor was desperate to break the unsettling gaze. Then slowly his eyes closed, and he turned away. "Only we remain, then," he said, rising slowly to his feet. Maglor nodded.
"We must move out," Maedhros said heavily. "I do not want to run the risk of Eärendíl returning with a fleet of ships, or something of the like."
And so both turned their backs to the sea, and never saw the great white bird borne up out of the waves, silvery wings glittering in the light of the jewel upon its breast.
"Come forward and face me! Are you a coward as well as kinslayer, son of Fëanor?" The High King of the Noldor stood tall on the shores of Sirion, backed by his fleet of ships. His dark hair blew out behind him in the wind. He looked every inch a king, and every inch like his father.
Maedhros turned around slowly. "I am facing you, Ereinion Gil-galad."
"I should run you through with my sword for all that you have done, but I will not become a kinslayer for your sake." Gil-galad took a step towards him.
"Noble words, from one descended from a house of kinslayers." Idealistic fool.
"I do not need this verbal battle," declared the king. "I have come for Eärendil's sons."
"We have them," Maedhros said simply.
"I demand their return."
"You may make all the demands you wish; they are ours now."
Gil-galad's face grew fierce, the fine features sharpening. Findekáno, he looks like you.
"As High King of the Noldor, I demand their return!"
Maedhros did not know which issue to address first. "Is it not clear that I answer to no king? And ere you wave your title before me, consider that it is I who would be High King if not for my own choice to relinquish the title. You are High King by my grace. And finally, I swore to make war on anyone who withheld the Silmarils. Elwing withheld the Silmarils. Her sons are prisoners of war."
"They are but children!" cried the king. "You are bloodthirsty; a murderer."
"You know little of your father; this is clear. He would have told you that I am no monster." Who was this imposter, who dared to wear Findekáno's face, and Findekáno's crown? "A bloodthirsty murderer held you as an infant, and a bloodthirsty murderer idly discussed suitable names for you while you were still in your mother's womb."
Gil-galad was silent.
"Good bye, Ereinion." Maedhros turned around and began to walk away.
"Have pity, then," called Gil-galad softly. "And let them live."
Let them live.
The words echoed in Maedhros' mind endlessly. Why should he? Why? Better to send to them Mandos with their mother.
Let them live.
Elwing betrayed their bargain. His jewel in return for her sons. He had no Silmaril. It was drowned at the bottom of the sea.
Let them live.
Ambarussa! They were dead. Twins for twins, then. What were two little half-elves-?
He closed his eyes, and saw two little half-elves, alone in a forest. They were cold, hungry, and afraid - Dior's sons. He searched for weeks...and found nothing.
No - not nothing...he had lied to Elwing to spare her. Bloody clothing, shredded and mangled. Wolves had taken the boys before the cold. Cold was a pleasant death, fading away in white nothing. The children had died in terror and pain, torn apart by a pack of starving wolves, desperate for a meal in the cold, no doubt.
Muffled sobs cut into Maedhros' dark thoughts. Hanging limply in the arms of two guards were Elwing's sons.
"Bring them to my tent."
Maglor was already inside, stripping off his armor. It was beautiful; made in Valinor by his father. Maedhros' own had been taken from him at Thangorodrim. Everything he wore now Curufin had made for him anew.
Maedhros gestured for the soldiers to set the children down, and dismissed them.
"What shall we do with them?" Maglor asked, speaking the High Tongue so that the children would not understand. His voice sounded flat and empty.
"I told Elwing I would return her sons in exchange for our jewel. She gave me no jewel."
Maglor only watched him, face impassive.
"I should kill them, and be done with it," Maedhros finished icily.
The children both cried out from their spot on the rugged floor, eyes wide with fear.
Maedhros bent down to them. "Do you understand me?" he asked, still speaking the High Tongue. Neither answered. "Do you understand me?" he demanded sharply. "Answer!"
"Yes...only a little bit," came the tremulous answer in Sindarin. "Please do not kill us. Please!"
"We do not have the jewel, we promise!" said the other brother, sobbing.
"We will not kill you," Maglor suddenly spoke. "I swear it."
Maedhros stared at him, with a look that made men tremble. His eyes were burning; hollow and yet filled with flame.
"I love you, brother," said Maglor quietly. "I will not let you do this. You would regret it."
"Makalaurë, do not think that you can save my soul. I am already damned. What does is matter if I send two more children to Mandos? They can join their mother." The words came unbidden, but they were true. "Our brothers are dead, Makalaurë. They have taken our twins; we shall take their twins."
"These little children did not kill our brothers," Maglor murmured. "Maitimo, these little children will not bring back our Silmaril."
Maedhros felt as though he had been physically struck. "I know," he whispered. "I know, Makalaurë, I know." I nearly murdered children. I nearly killed them.
Maglor knelt before the trembling boys. "You are safe, I promise. Everything will be all right," he soothed in a sweet voice.
"Let us go!" pleaded one thickly, choking through his tears.
"Where is Nana?"
"She..." Maglor swallowed. "She has gone to sea, to find your father." In a way, it was true. An image of Elwing's body floating across the waves, long, dark hair trailing out behind her like a shadow haunted Maedhros.
"When will she come back?"
"I do not know," answered Maglor gravely. "Since you must stay with us for a while, will you tell me your names?"
"Will you tell us your names?" quipped one twin.
"I am Maglor."
"Maedhros," he half-grunted, having begun the difficult task of removing his armor one-handed. He had long years of practice.
"You frightened our nana," came a sharp response. "You wrote her something that frightened her. When she saw the rider's flag, she was scared. She whispered your name to our ada, but we heard."
Doubtless she was frightened. Stupid woman; none of this needed to happen.
"What are your names?" Maglor prodded gently.
He forced a smile. "Are you hungry?"
Neither replied. They were staring at Maedhros, who had removed his armor and was just pulling on a clean sleeping shirt. He stared back.
"What happened?" whispered Elros, eyes wide with pathos.
"Many things," Maedhros replied humorlessly, glancing down at the angry scars crisscrossing his body.
"Does it hurt?"
"What happened to your hand?"
"Elros, be quiet," said his brother softly.
"Here, have some bread," Maglor interjected. The twins eyed it in suspicion, but ate readily.
Maglor knew his brother hated to ask, despising weakness, so he made certain Maedhros never had to ask for anything. Without a word, he stepped up behind his brother and pulled the long, copper hair into a loose braid for sleeping.
"Thank you, Makalaurë," murmured Maedhros.
"Is it very hard having only one hand?" a small voice inquired. Elros did not seem to quite perceive the situation as his brother did.
"Is that why you are angry?"
Maedhros could only stare at him as silence filled the tent.
"I have found someone to take them." Maedhros' horse jerked on the reigns, eager to do more than walk.
"Who?" Maglor frowned.
"One of my soldiers and his wife. They said they would raise them as their own, and let them choose their own path when they came of age. They have a daughter only a bit older than the twins."
Maglor looked down at his horse's withers pensively. "I would like to, Maitimo," he said quietly.
"Let me raise them."
"No," said Maedhros simply. "You cannot."
"I can," Maglor said sharply. "You are my commander, but you are also my brother. I follow you, but this matter is my own."
"It is not," argued Maedhros. "You would bring them to Himring? It is dark and cold; no place for a child. And I do not need them underfoot. I have no patience for children."
"Russandol, who raised six brothers, has no patience for children?" Maglor asked sadly.
Maedhros turned on him. "I think you must know: Russandol died years and years ago, when his father slowly went mad and his mother left. Maitimo died when his shapely form was forever disfigured by the one he held dearest. Nelyafinwë died when he relinquished his crown. There is only Maedhros now, and he has no patience for children." He urged his horse forward, away from his brother.
Maglor kept pace with him. "Maitimo-
"Did I not just tell you he was dead?"
"Maedhros, my dear brother-
"Do you think that they will love you, Makalaurë? When they know who are, and what you have done, do you really believe that they can love you?"
"I do," said Maglor fiercely. "I know they can, because they do. Last night, Elros told me so as he fell asleep."
"Makalaurë, you sing to them and give them sweets – that is all it takes to win a child's love. When they are older, they will never forgive you when they know what you have done."
"When they are older, Maitimo, they will understand that things are never so simple as good and evil. I will keep nothing from them."
Maedhros closed his eyes. "Do what you will, Makalaurë."
Screams of mock terror echoed through the hall. Maedhros took another sip of his wine, and tightened his fur cloak around his body. Wine was good; wine made him a bit numb.
"Ai, No! Ada, no!" Screams disintegrated into laughter.
They called him Ada, thought Maedhros, and Maglor did nothing to dissuade them. The children knew, really, that he was not their father, but they knew nothing else to call him.
Elrond came tearing into the room, his eyes bright with mirth. Catching sight of Maedhros, the laughter died on his lips, and he walked quickly away.
"Elrond," Maedhros called softly. The child came back obediently, but Maedhros saw apprehension and downright fear in his eyes.
"Yes?" whispered Elrond.
I am half-drunk, Maedhros thought. "I wish you and your brother did not cower whenever I came near, though I know I am to blame for that."
"Your eyes are angry, and it frightens us!" burst Elrond accusingly. "You never smile, and when you do, it is still angry!"
Maedhros swallowed hard. "I am very sorry, Elrond." Heat threatened at the corners of his eyes. Will I weep over this nothing? I do not weep; I do not feel.
"Oh...Please, no, do not cry!" Elrond felt momentary panic. Maedhros was crying.
He shook his copper head in response. "You are not to blame, Elrond," he said thickly.
Elrond was not reassured. "No, please...stop! I forgive you, I do! Do not cry!"
Maedhros hid his face. Russandol was not dead, but dying. Maitimo was there, beneath the scars. Nelyafinwë still strove to please his father. Maedhros, though, did not feel. Maedhros was better; he was a calm, cool, effective fighter, deadly with his left-handed blows.
Nelyafinwë Maitimo (Russandol, if you knew him) wept openly. A thousand pains shot through his long-numb body. His twisted wreck of a soul cried out in anguish.
"Stop!" Elrond was crying as well. "You worry me! Please stop!"
There was a small weight in his lap; thin arms wound themselves around his neck. Soft breath tickled his collarbone and hot tears fell onto his scarred skin. Instinctively, his arm went around the little boy to hold him gently.
They stayed like that for a long while. Maedhros imagined, once, that he was holding one of his brothers, but mostly he stayed in the present, ever aware of Elrond's fluttering heartbeat and small breaths.
When Elros joined them, he was not surprised. At some point the boys began to shiver, and they crawled under Maedhros' fur cloak. Maedhros closed his eyes, and listened to their soft breathing. The two fell asleep like that, curled up against him.
Maglor looked in from the doorway. "Maitimo," he stared in shock. "What... Are the children bothering you?"