4. Youth In All Its Pride
Maedhros grunted with effort as he caught a blade aimed for his throat on the edge of the shield strapped firmly to the stump of his right arm, then twisted and drove the point of the shield into his opponent's wrist. The Elf shrieked, more in surprise than pain, and fell to his knees, his sword clattering from his hand. Maedhros thrust his sword into the Elf's chest, tugged it sharply to remove it, and sliced across the Elf's throat for good measure. The Elf collapsed, dying, but Maedhros had already turned his attention elsewhere.
Through the bloody confusion of combat that filled the great hall of the keep at Sirion, Maedhros thought he saw a slender figure fleeing up a staircase. An unearthly light shone through a cloth-wrapped bundle in the woman's hands. It was Elwing, Maedhros realized, and she had his father's Silmaril in her grasp. There was no way that he could stop her, for too many fighters stood between them. He fended off an assault from his left and looked wildly around for his brothers.
There was a strangled cry, and a combatant near him suddenly pitched forward, twitching from the shock of a blow that had laid the back of his neck open. Maglor stood behind him, his eyes wide, and his blood-spattered face nearly as pale as that of the Elf he had just killed. Maedhros caught his brother's arm. "Elwing is trying to flee with the Silmaril," he gasped. "She went up that staircase. Gather your men and find her, quickly."
"The twins," Maglor said. "Have you seen them?"
"No. Go and find Elwing."
"Our men are turning on us, Maedhros!" With that, Maglor was gone, cutting a path through the crowd that had collected at the bottom of the stairs.
"There he is!"
Maedhros whirled around just as a body hurtled through the air and knocked him down. He found himself struggling for his life against an enraged, snarling warrior, who he recognized as belonging to Amrod's company. His shield arm pinned awkwardly beneath him, Maedhros clawed desperately with his left hand.
"You murderer!" the warrior growled. "You even kill babies. You left Dior's sons to die in the woods, and now you attack his daughter in her own home!" Maedhros scrabbled desperately at the warrior's face as the warrior tried to work his hands around Maedhros's throat.
Somehow, one of Maedhros's fingers found the warrior's eye, and the warrior started. It was all the opening Maedhros needed. He smashed the heel of his hand into his opponent's nose. The warrior's head snapped back, and blood spurted. Maedhros squirmed out from under him, stretched out his hand, and grabbed his sword, which he had dropped. Summoning a burst of strength, he rose to his knees and swung, lopping off the head of the one who had attacked him.
Feeling vaguely sick, Maedhros struggled to his feet. If Maglor was right, and their own warriors were turning on him and his brothers, then there was no safety to be had in this battle. He had to locate Amrod and Amras, the only two people in the great hall whose loyalty he could trust. If he could keep his brothers at his side, they might yet live through this fight.
Two of Elwing's guards attacked him. Maedhros hamstrung one of them, and he went down to be trampled in the bloody rushes that littered the floor. The other one proved more difficult to subdue, but Maedhros fought desperately, and soon managed to bury his blade in the other's gut. Just as the guard collapsed, Maedhros heard the hum of a war arrow. Then, a second later, a horribly familiar wail of pain nearly stopped his heart. Maedhros wrestled the dead body of the guard off of his sword and glanced along the path the arrow had taken.
Amrod was on the ground, writhing in pain, the arrow protruding from his chest. Maedhros knew that the wound was mortal, but not close enough to the heart for a quick, painless kill. He twisted and struggled, trying to force his way through the press to reach his little brother. Amras dropped his sword and knelt down to take his twin in his arms. Maedhros opened his mouth to shout a warning to Amras, to scold him for his foolishness in the midst of a battle not yet won.
He never had the chance. Even as Amras scooped Amrod up for a final embrace, one of the keep's defenders seized his chance and drove his sword through Amras's spine at the shoulders. It was over in an instant. Both twins fell dead in each other's arms.
"Ambarussa!" Maedhros cried. A body slammed against him, and he crashed to his knees, barely remembering to raise his shield above his head. He could no longer muster the will to attack. So he remained on the ground, using sword and shield to protect himself until he realized that the noise of battle had vanished, and one of his lieutenants was hauling him to his feet and saying something to him. He shook his head, and the fog cleared enough for him to understand that they had won. The defenders had all died or fled, and the sons of Fëanor had won the day.
Maedhros took this information in without comment. He forced his legs to carry him over to the tangled bodies of Amrod and Amras. Amras's empty eyes were wide with the shock of his death. Beneath his body, Amrod's face was twisted from his final pain. Maedhros grasped the arrow embedded in his baby brother's chest and tugged at it, even as his eyes blurred with tears. His lieutenant covered his hand with his own and stilled its frantic motion.
"Leave that, my Lord," he said. "I will care for them. But you must find Lord Maglor and the Silmaril without delay, and then we must be gone from this place."
In his mind's eye Maedhros saw Maglor lying dead in a pool of his own blood, the Silmaril clutched in his stiffening fingers. He wanted to vomit at the idea that the price of regaining his father's handiwork might be the sacrifice of his entire family, but he could not delay finding out. Better to learn such a thing now and have it over with. Then, he supposed, he could claim the Silmaril and lay down his own life in peace, knowing that he had fulfilled his family's terrible oath.
Summoning a last reserve of strength, he crossed the great hall and mounted the stairs where he had last seen Elwing. Her trail was not hard to follow; overturned furniture and the occasional body littered her path. Maedhros followed the trail down a corridor and up a long spiral staircase until he came to a lookout room at the top of one of the keep's towers. The door was ajar, and he slipped inside, his heart hammering in his throat.
Many of the bodies on the floor were women, Elwing's ladies-in-waiting, lying in disarray where they had fallen defending their mistress. But there were male bodies as well; the women had taken Maglor's bodyguards down with them.
Maglor himself stood frozen in the center of the room, staring out the open window, his back to the door. At the sound of Maedhros's footsteps, he turned around. He started at seeing Maedhros alive, and moved as if to rush to embrace his brother, but stopped short at the look on Maedhros's face.
"Maedhros. . . " he choked, but no more words came.
Maedhros swallowed. "Sirion is ours," he said. "But we do not have much time. Where is Elwing? Have you got the Silmaril?"
Maglor slowly shook his head. "I pursued Elwing to this room with a company of my men. We fought hard, but their defense was desperate, and in desperation, a courtly lady may prove supremely dangerous even to battle-hardened warriors. Even as I reached for her, Elwing twisted from my grasp and hurled herself from the window."
Maedhros ran to look out the window and was stunned at the sheer drop to the rocky inlet below. The waves crashed, and he realized that the sea must have already claimed Elwing's body. With a sigh of defeat, he turned back to his brother, the only thing left to him at the end of this terrible day.
"Our victory is no victory at all," Maglor said. "Come, I do not want to remain in this house of death any longer. Let us rejoin the twins and go home."
Maedhros's heart hammered in his chest. "No," he said, the words coming out with surprising ease. "The twins are dead, Maglor."
Maglor reeled back a step and gasped for breath. "Pityo. . . and Telvo?" he said. "They are both dead?"
Maedhros nodded. "They died together. I tried to reach them, but the battle swept us apart."
Maglor stared at him for a long moment, his mouth working soundlessly. Then his face twisted into a grimace of rage. His hand flashed up, and he slapped Maedhros across the face, hard enough that Maedhros staggered back from the blow. Maedhros's sword clattered to the ground. Maglor screamed, and began to scrabble frantically at the straps and buckles of his armor, shucking off his shoulder guards and breastplate even as he sank to his knees on the braided rag rug.
Maedhros released the catches that bound his shield to his right arm and took a step toward Maglor, reaching out to embrace his brother, but Maglor ducked away from his grasp. "No!" he cried. "Do not touch me! I do not want your comfort. You have taken my family from me, and you have left me with not even one whole brother!"
Maedhros froze. He had had many bitter arguments with Maglor in the years since they had fled Aman with Fëanor, but never before had Maglor said anything so bitingly cruel. Maedhros supposed that he deserved it, though, for it was at his insistence that they had attacked Sirion. He stood and watched helplessly as Maglor doubled over, moaning, too hurt even to weep.
Just then, they heard another voice in the room, the voice of a small child. "Nana?" it asked. "Elros? Elros!"
Another childish voice answered. "Elrond? Where is Nana?"
Maedhros traced the sound to a corner where one of the ladies-in-waiting lay under the body of the warrior who had killed her. The corpses twitched, and two identical little boys, not much more than toddlers, crawled out from beneath them. They held tightly to each other's hands. One looked around the room, silently taking in the wreckage. The other gazed at the open window. Maedhros and Maglor stared back at them. Maglor had stopped moaning and sat absolutely still on his heels.
The twin who had been looking around the room huddled a little closer to his brother. "Elrond," he said, "I want Nana."
The other twin pointed at the window. "Nana is gone, Elros. She flew."
Elros clung to Elrond and began to sniffle. Slowly, Maglor held out his arms to the twins, a look of grief and pity on his face. Desperate for the comfort of an adult, the twins edged closer to him. Maglor wrapped an arm around each of them, and they buried their faces in his sweaty, blood-stained shirt.
The bottom dropped out of Maedhros's stomach as he realized who these little boys were. He swallowed a wave of nausea and forced himself to pick up his sword. Maglor turned a horrified expression on him.
"Have you gone mad, Maedhros? What do you think you are doing?"
Maedhros swallowed. "Those are Elwing's children, Maglor. We cannot allow them to live. They have seen what we have done here. If they live, they will grow up to take their revenge on us, and that will only lead to more violence. The cycle must end here." Feeling sick to his stomach, Maedhros took a step toward them.
The twins screamed, and Maglor clutched them to his chest. "No," he said. "You will not kill them, Maedhros. There has been enough blood shed this day."
"You know what they will do to us if they live."
"Do you think we do not deserve all of that and more?" Maglor cried, his voice cracking. "Pityo and Telvo are dead. I do not want any more little ones to die today."
Maedhros's hand clenched tighter around the grip of his sword. Unbidden, an image of the twin sons of Dior, Elwing's brothers, came to his mind. You murderer! Amrod's warrior had called him. You even kill babies. He remembered all the times he had cuddled and played with little brothers and cousins and even his nephew, and then he looked at these children cowering and whimpering at his approach. Maglor, the first baby he had ever held, watched him with wary eyes.
"What future do you see for the sons of Elwing, Maglor?" Maedhros asked. "Their people are dead, and they are too small to take care of themselves."
Maglor swallowed. "I will take care of them. I have spent too many years fueling my hatred. I want something to love."
"They will not love you. You pursued their mother to her doom."
"But I can still love them. And if I give them shelter, clothes, food. . . perhaps their hearts might soften towards me." Maglor glanced down at the twins pressed close in his arms.
The sword in Maedhros's hand was almost unbearably heavy. "Maglor. . . they are not Pityo and Telvo."
Maglor nodded. "I know. And I am not Eärendil. We have all lost someone we loved. Perhaps our wounds will heal together in time."
Maedhros sighed. "They will turn on you in the end."
"Perhaps they will. And I will have earned it if they do. But perhaps, with love and a new home, they will not."
"If they grow up to hurt one hair of your head, I will tear them asunder." Maedhros blinked, and his voice grew thick. "You are all I have left. I cannot bear to see any more of my little brothers die."
He raised his sword. Elrond and Elros flinched, but Maedhros ignored them. He set the sword down on the floor near its scabbard and ripped a piece of cloth from one of the curtains. Then he knelt down and began to clean the blade. Maglor, Elrond, and Elros watched him in silence. When Maedhros had wiped all the blood from the sword, he replaced it in the scabbard.
The twins relaxed a little, sensing that the danger was over. Maglor trembled as he held them and pressed his lips together into a thin, tight line. Elros grasped a fistful of Maglor's shirt. "I want my Nana," he said.
"Me, too," Elrond said. A tear traced its way down his cheek. Elros sniffled loudly, and then both twins began to cry.
Maglor rocked them and stroked their hair, as he had done with his own twin brothers so long ago. As he rocked back and forth on the floor, he began to hum softly. Elrond and Elros sobbed and shuddered. Maglor's own tremors grew stronger, and he gasped for air. His mouth worked, and Maedhros realized that Maglor was singing. It was a rough, raw sound, as if each word was a blade piercing Maglor's body. After a few moments, Maedhros could make out the words.
"With a whoop whoop whoop and a heigh-ho, along the narrow stretch. . . ." Maglor's voice was a rasping parody of itself, but he did not stop singing. "With a rat-tat-tat and a tippy-tip-top and down the rolling bow-wow-wow. . . " The rhythm of the nonsense words seemed to calm Maglor's shaking, and he began to weep in earnest, still singing through his tears. "With a noodle-oodle-oodle and a bugle sound, through the woods he ran, bully boy, and through the woods he ran."
Maedhros remembered all the times that he had scolded Maglor for singing that silly, irritating child's song. He thought that he would gladly give up his left hand to hear Maglor sing it again properly, laughing merrily at the sound of his own voice prattling through the tune. He would listen to it a hundred times over if he could soothe his weeping, shattered brother by doing so.
As quietly as possible, he rose to his feet and walked out the door, leaving Maglor and his twins to their shared grieving. He stumbled down the staircase and made his way back to the great hall. Those of his men who still remained loyal had been hard at work separating the bodies of the dead. Those who had died defending the keep lay together at one end of the hall, while those who had died under Maedhros's command lay at the other end.
Amrod and Amras lay together, apart from the rest. Maedhros went to them and knelt down stiffly. Someone had removed the arrow from Amrod's chest and closed the eyes of both twins. Maedhros bent to kiss each twin's brow, and realized that their bodies were already growing cold. He signaled to his lieutenant, who brought sheets clearly plundered from a laundry room somewhere in the keep and covered the bodies.
"What has become of Lord Maglor?" the lieutenant asked.
"He is alive," Maedhros said. "He mourns Lords Amrod and Amras and is unable to come to us yet. He will come when he is ready." Maedhros paused, as an idea struck him. "Maglor will need to ride in one of our supply wagons," he said. "See that one is prepared with plenty of room. And search the pantries here for candy."
The lieutenant blinked in surprise. "Candy, my Lord?"
"Yes. Candy, cakes, biscuits. . . there must be something small and sweet in the pantries. I will require four pieces of candy."
"Four pieces of candy, and a space in a supply wagon. I will do as you say, my Lord." The lieutenant bowed and walked away.
Maedhros awaited his return in silence, still sitting beside the bodies of Amrod and Amras. After a while, the lieutenant returned and placed four little balls of a sweet-smelling, gelatinous substance in Maedhros's hand. "Four pieces, my Lord," he said. "Are you sure you do not want the entire jar?"
"I am sure," Maedhros said. "You may take the jar if you wish, but I have no need of it." The lieutenant shrugged and went off to arrange the space in the supply wagon.
Maedhros looked up and saw Maglor walking toward him, holding the hands of Elrond and Elros. The twins wore matching woolen cloaks, and each one carried a stuffed toy. As Maglor approached Maedhros, Elrond and Elros began to tremble and huddled closer to him. Maglor stopped and knelt down.
"This is my brother Maedhros," he told the twins. "He will not harm you, I promise. I will not allow him to harm you." Elrond and Elros peered suspiciously at Maedhros. One of them stuck his thumb in his mouth.
Maedhros took a deep breath and offered the candy to the twins on the palm of his left hand. The twins looked at the candy and then at Maedhros, and he hoped that they did not realize that he was offering them sweets from their own pantry.
The twin who was not sucking his thumb reached out to Maedhros, but pulled his hand away quickly. He turned and looked a silent question at Maglor. Maglor nodded to him, and the twin plucked a piece of candy from Maedhros's hand. "Thank you," he said politely, and began to eat it. The other twin, his courage bolstered at seeing his brother eating such a treat, removed his thumb from his mouth and took a piece of candy. He, too, thanked Maedhros.
"You are welcome," Maedhros told them. "You are very polite little boys." The twins chewed the candy and looked at him silently. Maedhros gave the third piece to Maglor and kept the fourth for himself. None of them spoke any more words as they shared the treats. The candy was sticky from the warmth of Maedhros's palm, flavored with rosewater and powerfully sweet, but Maedhros did not mind the taste.
Maglor licked his fingers and started to rise. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of the two sheet-covered bodies behind Maedhros, a few locks of red hair straying from beneath one sheet. Maglor gave a short, sharp cry and sank back to his knees. Elrond and Elros immediately pressed close to him. One of them even dared to put his arms around Maglor's neck.
Maedhros reached out to brush at Maglor's tears, and this time, Maglor did not shy away from his touch. He allowed Maedhros to wipe at his face with his hand and then gently cup his jaw.
"We will take them back to their realm, Maglor," Maedhros said. "We will bury them in the forest where they loved to hunt. Perhaps their fëar are already reuniting with Father and Celegorm and Caranthir and Curufin."
"If they have not been swallowed by the Darkness," Maglor said.
"That is our punishment if we fail in our Oath, but we have not failed yet. We two still remain, and we may yet have a chance to fulfill the Oath and redeem the fëar of our family." Maedhros managed a shaky smile. "And you have a new family of your own now. I have ordered that a space be prepared for you and the twins in the supply wagon, for I thought you would not wish to take the children before you on horseback."
Maglor nodded. "You are correct. Thank you." The depth of his tone indicated that his gratitude was not just for the offer of space in the wagon. Maedhros sat back on his heels.
"You were always the best of us, Maglor," he said. "You should have something to love. I wish you and the twins joy of each other."
Maglor tried to smile, but the effort did not reach his eyes. He rose and took the twins' hands. "Come, Elrond, Elros," he said. "You are sticky from the candy. We will find a place where you may wash before we set out for your new home."
He led Elrond and Elros away. Maedhros sat on his heels and watched them go. Then he bade the soldiers place the dead in wagons to be transported home for burial. He reached out and touched Amrod and Amras's heads one last time.
"Farewell, Pityo. Farewell, Telvo," he said. "Your names will never be forgotten. I swear it."
Many thanks to those who have read and enjoyed this story. This last chapter is something of an experiment. It's partially an epilogue, but partially a chance to play around with the theme I had for this story. The phrase "the last sons of Fëanor" can mean two very different things.
Those people who have read other stories of mine will be entirely unsurprised to learn that Maglor's song "Whoop whoop whoop" is real. It's an old Anglo-American nonsense song variously called "Berayna," "Beau Reynard," "Poor Reynold," or a host of other, similar names. Reynard is the fox, whose clever exploits the song celebrates. I learned a version from North Carolina that Custer LaRue sings on an album called "The True Lover's Farewell," on the Dorian label. The tune is sprightly and angular, and it is a measure of Maglor's skills as a singer that he can sing it even while weeping.
The candy at Sirion is similar to Turkish Delight. Many thanks to Dawn Felagund for advice on making candy like that and for a recipe to go along with it.
And, once more, thank you all for reading. I hope you liked the story. I'll see you next time.