Disclaimer: I do not own middle earth, the Silmarillion, the Lay of Leithian, or the History of Middle Earth. All of these belong to JRR Tolkien. I make no money from this, so there is no point whatever in suing me. I would also like to thank Erunyauve for the name of Orodreth's wife and Philosopher at Large for the idea that Finrod attempted to speak to the Feanorions before the great meeting.
Warnings: character death, imprisonment, implied psychological torture (all courtesy of Sauron), blasphemous comments (also courtesy of Sauron), more imprisonment (courtesy of Celegorm and Curufin), some very unpleasant politics (also courtesy of Curufin and Celegorm), fear and unhappiness (courtesy of Orodreth), and violence (courtesy of various characters). If you have read either the Lay of Leithian or Of Beren and Luthien in the Silmarillion you know what to expect.
Chapter one: A Cascade of Oaths
I was settling a routine court case when I saw him standing in the back of the room waiting for his turn. Barahir! Except he could not possibly be Barahir, for he was too young. Our eyes met for a moment, but I turned my mind back to the court case. If I was obviously inattentive, somebody would be certain to get upset. And they did deserve my attention.
Finally, that case was over, and the herald directed the young man forward. He was wild looking and wayworn, his clothes stained and in tatters. He appeared nervous and was carefully avoiding staring around the hall, but there was a fierce determination in him despite that.
"I present Beren son of Barahir to the court," the herald announced. There were a few muffled gasps as the name was announced.
Beren bowed, and held forth the ring of Barahir. "I come asking for help in my father's name."
My oath. I had a feeling it might be that. He certainly looked like he could use some help. "I think perhaps these things would be better spoken in private rather than in open court," I said to the herald. "Is there anything else of extreme importance waiting?"
"No, my lord", he answered.
"In that case, this court is adjourned for today." I turned to Beren: " Follow me", I said, and we left the hall.
We reached one of the small audience chambers and turned in. "Are you hungry?" I asked. He had obviously not had time to change, so perhaps he had not eaten either.
"No actually, thank you. The scouts made sure that I had something to eat on the way in." I had sat down, but Beren was still standing awkwardly by the door.
"Please sit down. We need not stand on ceremony in private." Beren sat down in the chair opposite me.
"So what do you need?" I asked.
"It is rather a long story. Most of it lies in Doriath, but the roots go back much farther, and I don't know how much of it you are familiar with. My father and our people are dead. We stayed and fought until the bitter end. One of our own betrayed us. My father had sent me scouting to try and find out what Gorthaur was up to which is why I am still alive, but when I came back all of them were dead."
I nodded. "I feared they might be dead when the last set of messengers I sent vanished without trace."
"I fought on, but one man cannot halt an army headed by Gorthaur. By the time I left there was no one and nothing to fight for save for hatred of the dark alone, and one cannot eat hate. From the hills I saw Doriath, and thought: why not? Of course, that meant travelling through the mountains of terror, and if I had truly understood what I was letting myself in for I doubt I would have dared. I prefer not to remember that trip, but I made it into Doriath, despite the Ered Gorgoroth and the mazes of Melian."
"After that horror, I arrived in Doriath. The land was very fair after the mountains, and I wandered for a time. Then one day... I saw Luthien dancing and singing in a glade in the forest of Neldoreth. She was the single most beautiful sight I had ever seen, but when I called to her she vanished. I wandered the forest looking for her, and eventually I found her again, and this time she did not run, but asked me who I was, and then challenged me to dance with her. I did so. We fell in love, and spent most of the summer wandering and dancing together. Eventually, Thingol discovered this, and he was absolutely furious."
"He would have had me killed, but Luthien managed to force him to promise not to kill or imprison me. He had many people out searching for me but Luthien went and found me and brought me to him. We spoke about what I should say, but when I got there nothing I could say made any difference to him; he still wanted me dead but because of his oath he couldn't outright order me killed, not when witnesses knew that he had sworn. He accused me of being a spy for Morgoth, a thrall, and baseborn as well. I denied that, wherupon he challenged me to take a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown, and then he would allow me to wed his daughter. Like a fool I told him I'd do exactly that!"
Beren's eyes glittered with remembered outrage as he spoke.
"So now I have to find a way to get the jewel from Morgoth and or die trying. Unfortunately, the latter seems far more likely. I cannot simply forget Luthien, nor she me. It would let be like trying to forget the sun and stars, or forget to breathe. It is not possible! Thus, I come to you for help. I know this is not the most reasonable of requests, but I have nowhere else to turn."
Of all the things he could have come asking for... this has to be the most impossible. I am not surprised he has nowhere else to turn. "It is plain that Thingol desires your death." I answered. "Yet there are some things you need to know before considering such a feat. I don't think Thingol has considered the implications of the attempt, let alone if you were to succeed. How much do you know about the Silmarils?"
"They were made by Feanor, and contain light from the two trees. Morgoth stole them, the sons of Feanor have sworn to get them back and this is a major cause of both the Exile and the War. Because they are in Morgoth's crown, they are as unobtainable as any physical object can be."
I nodded. " Aptly put. How much do you know about the Oath of Feanor?"
"It is an unbreakable oath, and all of the sons of Feanor are bound by it. It requires them to regain the Silmarils at any cost." He frowned for a second. "I don't really know the details, but I think it is tangled up with the kinslaying. I have never quite understood that, since the Teleri never had the Silmarils at any point."
"The Teleri were refusing to help the Noldor leave because the Valar were against our going, and Feanor chose to take this as hindrance. He then took by force what they would not give, and when they attempted to stop him, he and his followers killed them. The oath has slept now for several hundred years, but there is always the potential for it to reawaken as long as any of Feanor's sons survive. As for the oath of Feanor, it runs thus in Sindarin:
Be he friend or foe, whether demon of Morgoth, or Elf, or child of Men, or any other living thing in Arda, neither law, nor love, nor league of hell, nor might of the Valar, nor any power of wizardry, shall defend him from the pursuing hate of Feanor's sons, if he take or find a Silmaril and keep it. For the Silmarils we alone claim, until the world ends."
I sighed, remembering that day all too well. "In their madness they called on Manwe, Varda and Eru himself as witness, themselves to be consigned to the outer darkness if they do not keep it."
Beren shook his head. "That is blasphemous as well as unbreakable." He grimaced wryly. "So if Morgoth doesn't kill me, they will, I take it?"
"If they catch you with a Silmaril, yes. Any attempt by anyone other than themselves at regaining a Silmaril is likely to cause major diplomatic problems, possibly war, which we cannot afford. Unfortunately, I have two of them staying with me at the moment, along with many of their people. Curufin and Celegorm." Cursed interlocking oaths! There had to be a way out of this morass somehow.
His face fell, but his eyes hardened. "Does that mean that you are not going to help me?" Do they all see me as unworthy because I am mortal? I thought at least you might be different, after all my family and people went through!
"Peace, Beren! I never said that I would not help you, and I will help you. I do not break my sworn word merely because it is inconvenient, but I do have to consider how to help in a way that will actually be of some use to you, and that will not bring disaster on the kingdom I rule. I have a responsibility to them that does not include embroiling them in a war with the Feanorians. But I will find a way to help you, and you will not be sent forth from this place alone and unaided."
I thought for a moment. "Do you think there would be hope of resolving this by diplomacy, if I went and spoke to Elu Thingol? He will sometimes listen to me when he won't listen to most."
"He wouldn't listen to his daughter, it didn't look like he was listening to Melian, and he certainly wasn't listening to me," Beren replied. "He did not listen to anyone long enough to hear them out. I fear your words would fall on deaf ears no matter how wisely spoken."
"Tell me, when you spoke with him, were his eyes glittering oddly and were his fingers clenched on the arms of his throne?"
"Yes," said Beren.
Lovely. That was how he had looked when he expelled Angrod and me from Doriath. I had had the feeling that he would have preferred to have locked us up in the dungeons and was restraining himself by sheer force of will. "I doubt he will listen, then."
Beren shook his head."I wouldn't think so, no."
"Melian was not against you, was she?"
"It was rather hard to tell," Beren answered. "She seemed thoughtful and troubled; it looked like she was trying to restrain him - especially when he threatened to imprison or kill me despite his oath."
Thingol, what have you done? I wondered. A mortal man wanders into Doriath past all of Melian's enchantments, falls in love with the princess who also falls in love with him, and is assigned an impossible task meant to kill him with the potential to turn the war on its head. Beren also has the marks of doom on him for anyone with the sight to see. There is something very unusual going on here, and it cannot possibly be organized by Morgoth. He cannot affect events in Doriath directly, and Beren should never have been able to get in in the first place. There is something great at work and I didn't know what it is.
"Beren, I will help you but I need to think. Alone."
That night, I went out and walked beside the river Narog. It was a beautiful night; the air was clear and the stars were shining brilliantly overhead. It was warm, but there was just enough breeze to set the few grasses waving their heads. I sat down beside the river, trailing my fingers in the water as I tried to think what to say. Most of the Valar might have abandoned us, but Ulmo was an exception and his power moved in the Narog. He might listen, and he would certainly know more than I. He might even answer, although that happened but seldom and never when one expected it.
"Lord Ulmo, there is a problem." I said quietly. I told him of the oaths that bound the sons of Feanor, Beren, and myself and this explosive way in which they were interacting. No doubt he already knew most of this, but even the Valar were not completely omniscient, and Ulmo relied on the rivers to bring him news. "The most obvious possibility is that it could be that doom of the Noldor at work again. The oath of Feanor waking is the last thing we need. However, the doom that I sense on him does not bring me in mind of evil. I think that his love for Luthien is in the music for a purpose, and that that purpose is a good one. What purpose it is I have no idea, unless it be that regaining the Silmaril is foreordained and vital."
"Lord Ulmo, if we returned a Silmaril to the Valar voluntarily, do you think that they might be prepared to aid us here in Middle Earth, or it least to remove their curse? Or to come for the sake of the Edain and the Sindar if they will not come on our account? We are locked in a war we cannot win yet dare not lose and you yourself have warned me of the paths ahead."
All was quiet, save for ever-restless waters of the Narog. I paused before continuing: "If there is even a chance that this is the case, then I must help Beren to the end of my strength. The problem is, I don't know that it is, and I fear waking the oath of Feanor. The quest truly does seem impossible. Open force, even of my entire kingdom, will not avail to win the iron crown from Morgoth's head. But I know not all ends, and Beren's doom suggests that there is something beyond my sight in this matter."
"I could create a distraction for Morgoth. The Tol-in-Guarhoth is a deadly threat that we need to eliminate which stands directly in Beren's path to Angband. If we could retake it, that would be a major distraction and would prevent Beren's being captured until he was at least close to Angband. If he tries to go north from here alone he likely to be taken by Gorthaur before he gets anywhere near Angband. I would also imagine you would like to see Sirion freed from Gorthaur's stain."
Over the water, a swan trumpeted. We don't often get swans here; the water is to rapid for them. Might that be a yes? I paused a moment longer, listening, but I heard nothing more. Probably just a lost bird.
"Beren will also need a disguise. He can't possibly walk into Angband as he is. And he should not go alone. Brave he may be, but we need something that has enough strength to grab the crown from Morgoth's head. Perhaps a small group disguised as orcs, but with every single person having large amounts of magic, ostensibly coming from the Tol-in-Guarhoth bearing tidings. They would have to come early so that they were the first available source of information for Morgoth. The logistics of this part still do not work. Even a group of elves acting together is not going to be able to overpower Morgoth by magic. Physical weapons would be much more useful but I doubt that they would allow us to bear any in his presence, and even if they did as they would be orc weapons which we are not familiar with wielding. I must be in this group, as it is my oath, and I can hardly ask anyone else to help if I am not willing to go myself..."
I fell silent, and continued thinking through most of the night. False dawn had just begun to light the eastern sky when Edrahil arrived.
"I hesitate to disturb you, Ingoldo, but I thought you could use someone to talk to."
"Actually, I could. Thank you. Beren has quite a problem. I"ll tell you about it as we walk back - or would you rather stay out a while longer?"
"I think I'll join you here," Edrahil answered.
Half an hour and a long and involved explanation later, Edrahil shook his head in dismay. "This whole situation is mad!" he said.
"I quite agree," I answered. " Unfortunately, it is the one we have to deal with." I stood and stretched, realizing that I had become stiff, cold, and damp with dew without noticing it. Edrahil smiled but said nothing, and we walked to the caves with dawn lighting the cliffs.