Disclaimer:Faelathron, Corufaron, and Aphadon belong to me; Maedhros and the Ardaverse belong to Tolkien, and I'm grateful for the loan of them

The Thrall

By Ithilwen

"You understand that, however it may appear to others, the position of my personal aide is not in fact a prestigious or influential one? You would merely be my hand, not my advisor or my confidant."

"I understand that, my lord." Surely, though, it's inevitable that a certain intimacy will grow between us eventually if you give me the job, I thought silently as I waited for my interviewer to ask another question, given both the amount of time I would be spending in your company and the personal nature of some of the tasks involved.

"Your duties would be very light while we are here at Himring: helping me with dressing and undressing and with my armor, mostly, and the odd bit of personal correspondence now and then – I refuse to inflict my wretched handwriting on anyone apart from my brothers, who deserve it. The staff here knows and can anticipate my needs. But when out on patrol, or on those occasions when I travel elsewhere, I would expect you to become my second shadow. Just as omnipresent as my real one, and just as unobtrusive. You will have very little free time or privacy then. If that will pose a problem for you, you should tell me now."

I shook my head. "No, that won't be a problem." I truth, I had been paying very little attention to my lord's words, for I was far more interested in studying his person. I had never before seen any of the sons of Fëanor up close. When I first came to Himring as a young man it had been with vague hopes of winning martial glory, but I had quickly found myself relegated to the role of one who does battle primarily with ledgers and inventory lists. To find myself sitting now a mere arm's length away from Maedhros, actually talking to my boyhood hero, one of the legendary warriors of the Dagor Aglareb… well, even when I'd fancied myself a fearsome soldier-in-the-making, I had not dared to dream so boldly. Being both half-Sinda and a mere 120 years old, I had known my place would never rise so high.

Maedhros was simultaneously both more and less impressive than I had expected. As a child I had of course heard the famous story of his terrible suffering at the hands of Morgoth, and how his cousin Fingon had saved him from the agony of Thangorodrim by hewing off his right hand. But apart from that missing hand (which was a thoroughly upsetting sight in itself) and the fact that he was completely covered in dark clothing from head to foot even on this hot summer day, I could see little about him that was obviously amiss. He was tall and graceful in build; when clothed, at least, he was shocking principally because his appearance was so manifestly not shocking. Quite the opposite, in fact; if one could ignore his stump (which was not easy to do), he was exceptionally handsome. His face, much to my surprise, was unmarked by any scars. From a distance it was of course his hair that that drew people's attention, but from where I was sitting it was his eyes which were his most extraordinary feature. They were a clear, limpid grey, the color of water on a cloudy day, and absolutely arresting. Part of that, of course, was because they shone with the Light of Aman, as my own mother's eyes did – but there was another light in them as well, hotter and fiercer, a flame I suspected had been kindled there by another Vala both mightier and far less kind than Yavanna. The uneasy mingling of those two warring fires made Maedhros's gaze hard to meet.

He turned that intimidating gaze on me now. "My Chief Steward thinks quite highly of you; 'quite capable,' I believe he said to me. Faelathron, you are an assistant Steward now, which is a role of some considerable importance. Why do you even want this position? Many would consider it a demotion, thrall's work. Few aspire to reduce themselves to another's shadow."

"It's not thrall's work," I met his eyes and tried to match him stare for stare, but after only a few seconds I was forced to look away. "I would be very lucky to get it." I squirmed a bit in discomfort; though I spoke the truth as I felt it, that answer sounded sycophantic even to my ears. I did not want Maedhros to think I would say any base flattery merely to achieve what I wanted.

"Would you?" He leaned over the desk and raised my head back up so he could see my eyes, deliberately using not his hand, but his stump. I tried unsuccessfully to suppress a shudder when I felt that unnatural knob of flesh touching the underside of my chin. "I am not sure you've considered precisely what you would be getting yourself into. You seem… disturbed… by my touching you just now. If you find this difficult, imagine how much more difficult it will be when it is you who must touch me."

"I've tried, my lord. I… I can't say I don't find your injury unsettling, but I am sure I could get used to it, with practice."

That gaze was all hot flames now, no Treelight in it at all. "But why should you wish such practice? I ask you again, Faelathron, why do you want this job?" There was nothing of light in his voice, either.

I closed my eyes. "The Dagor Aglareb," I whispered, humiliated at being forced to admit the childish truth at last. "Your heroism… Ever since I was small, I've always admired you."

"Heroism? Heroism? I'm a Kinslayer, not a hero." I felt his stump withdraw. Reluctantly I opened my eyes, stung to know I had come so close to achieving my dream, only to lose it in the last instant because of a foolish answer. But to my surprise, the expression I saw on Maedhros's face was not contempt, as I had expected, but kindness mixed with amusement. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, and when he spoke to me his voice was soft.

"You are very young yet, Faelathron, and for that reason alone I have some reservations; it disturbs me to think how I will inevitably disillusion you. But you are honest. And you cannot possibly know how valuable that is to me. It is painful to me to be forced to spend hour upon hour in close company with someone who can never learn not to flinch at this," and at this point he raised his stump, "because he refuses to look at it in the first place and admit that it bothers him. It is tiresome to deal with someone who so ambitious for influence or promotion that he'll pretend there's great fulfillment to be found in cutting up my meat for me, or helping me pull on my riding boots, or assisting me with any of a hundred other small tasks most Elves learn to manage on their own almost as soon as they have learned to walk. I suppose tolerating a bit of hero worship is a small price to pay in return for what I would be receiving from you. The position is yours, if you still want it."

"Yes," I said, my heart soaring. Personal assistant to the one Elf I admired most in all Beleriand! "Yes, I do."

*******

Maedhros, I discovered, had been honest with me; I never became his confidant, but remained merely his trusted assistant. But I had been right as well; it was impossible for me to work so closely with him over so much time without gradually becoming intimate with him in other ways. It did not take me long to see that the face he usually showed to others was a carefully constructed one designed, like armor, to cover his most vulnerable spots. But just as the wearing of armor slowly tires a warrior until the point comes when he must take his mail off, so did the emotional effort of wearing that face slowly weary Maedhros. Like it or not (and I am certain he did not), he simply could not keep that disguise on indefinitely, and as he became more comfortable with my presence and more confident that I would not burden him with unwanted pity, he slowly began to let the mask slip whenever we were alone.

I am not referring to any large revelations; as I have said, I was not his confidant. I am speaking rather of smaller things, each in themselves insignificant, but which when taken together revealed aspects of his character which he doubtless would have preferred to keep hidden. Maedhros was ever careful in public, for he was aware (perhaps too aware) that he had an image to maintain: eldest son of the great Fëanor, leader of his House in exile, Lord of Himring, supreme commander of the eastern forces of Beleriand. With family, though, or when in private he would sometimes slip, placing a crack in that careful façade. In a moment of fatigue or distraction he would occasionally forget and absently reach for something with a hand that was no longer there, and then would come a flash of anger, brief and bright as lightning – anger at his incapacity, or more commonly, anger that for an instant he had foolishly allowed himself to forget it. When we were alone he took less care to guard his expression, and from time to time I would catch a look of weary resignation in his eyes while helping him with his hair (for he could not braid it or even tie it back on his own), spot a grimace of pain when he'd raise his right arm too high while attempting to slip off a tunic, see a flash of mingled horror and disgust cross his face when he looked down at his stump or at the terrible scars which marred his torso and limbs (and which he took such careful pains to hide from others' eyes). And later, very rarely, the occasional quiet comment he'd utter when, after momentarily forgetting (or perhaps refusing to believe) he no longer had a right hand, he'd attempt something one-handed which required two to succeed: "After so many years, you'd think I'd remember not to do that, Faelathron."

Maedhros, I came to understand, had learned to live with his disfigurement and the limitations it imposed on him, but he had never learned to accept it. A part of him still mourned the loss of what he'd once been. He had learned to hide that part of himself well, but he was unable to completely vanquish it.

Nor was he ever able to completely bury the memories of his torments in Angband, for they would occasionally surface in dreams, a fact I discovered the first time we traveled together to Dorthonion and were forced to share quarters. His cries of anguish awakened me; when I in turn woke him from his nightmare, his lingering dream-terror quickly faded away to be replaced by a nearly palpable sense of shame. I had long admired him, and seeing him then so weakened and so vulnerable I pitied him, and for that reason I offered him no pity that night.

Maedhros hated pity, you see. The surest way to alienate oneself from him was to publicly offer him any sympathy, or to comment compassionately on his limitations. In public he did not deign to notice that he had limitations; he expected no accommodations to be made, and was insulted if they were offered. With his kin things were different, but I think he tolerated their concern more out of a desire for family unity than because he actually appreciated it. Only his brothers dared to openly show him pity – and even they, only rarely.

But I am afraid I am painting a very misleading picture of Maedhros with my words. Like all of us, he had vulnerabilities and moments of weakness, but he also had a great fire and love of life within him, and it was this aspect which dominated his character. I suppose it is the reason he survived Thangorodrim. He took great pride in the orderliness of Himring and the soundness of its construction (which he had personally overseen). He loved to ride, for on horseback he had no limitations that mattered, and to hunt, which he always did at breakneck speed. Though he was no scholar, he took pleasure in books and music, and enjoyed good food and wine and lively conversation. And games, especially games of strategy, he adored – it was he who taught me to play chess. Not a confidant, no, I was never that to Maedhros – but perhaps over time I had become a friend. And after several years in his service, I thought I understood him tolerably well.

I was wrong.

*******

The day had dawned bright and clear, with a sharp nip in the pine-scented air. Early autumn: perhaps the most pleasant season at Himring, and a perfect day for riding. Over the past several weeks there had been an increase in the number of sightings of Orcs north in Lothlann, and Maedhros (who was always vigilant) had ordered an increase in the number of patrols in the hills, which provided the necessary excuse for the excursion. In truth, though, I think he, like the rest of us, was mostly just eager to get out and enjoy the last few weeks of good weather we could expect before winter snowed us in.

The plan was to ride east-northeast, where the hills began to flatten out. The land east of Himring held the most vulnerable point in the defenses of eastern Beleriand, a wide flat plain between the hill country where Himring sat and the mountainous region of Thargelion which we called, appropriately enough, Maglor's Gap, for it was his brother Maglor that Maedhros had entrusted with the unenviable job of holding that ground. The low northeastern hills near the Gap would be the perfect spot to hide an assemblage of forces for an assault on the Gap itself, hence Maedhros's interest in surveying it. Or so he said; I think he was also half-hoping for an excuse to visit with his brother, though he was hardly going to admit that to me. We would be living rough for at least a week, and doubtless there would be opportunities for hunting along the way as well. Maedhros, I knew, was going to love it; as an indifferent horseman at best, my own feelings ran more towards dread. I told myself as I mounted my quiet gelding that this was a military expedition; surely the pace would be something more sensible than what he usually set on his pleasure rides?

To my relief, it was. Indeed, the first three days' riding was actually leisurely. The pace Maedhros set was never faster than a gentle canter, and for the most part we merely walked and occasionally trotted. We halted frequently at scenic spots, ostensibly to rest the horses but we all knew in truth it was really done just so we might take in the view, and made our evening camps early to allow plenty time for leisurely conversation and just plain lounging around the fire (as well as cooking a truly elaborate evening meal). The whole affair might have been taken for a pleasure outing, save that we rode armed for combat and posted a watch each night.

We encountered the Orc spoor on the fourth day. Two sets of heavy footprints, and a set of huge dog-like paw marks. "Warg prints," Maedhros remarked as he knelt and studied the spoor. "But only one warg. I suspect they are tracking something." He remounted his stallion and circled his mount around to face us. "I do not recall giving any Orcs leave to hunt in my March," he said to us as he drew his sword. "Shall we show Morgoth the penalty I meet out to poachers from the north?" My companions shouted in affirmation as they raised their own weapons in salute to their commander. Maedhros then spun his horse hard around and clapped his heels into the animal's sides, and in we were off in a sudden rush of flying manes and pounding hooves.

I would like to say I played a heroic role in the fighting, but that would be a lie. My horse was not as swift as the others, and as I said earlier, I am a mediocre rider at best. Lagging in the rear, my only part in the skirmish was to watch as our party rode down the Orcs. Caught unawares, they barely had time to react before Maedhros and our captain Corufaron struck off their heads, while our own pack of hounds quickly dispatched the warg. Once the hounds had been recalled to heel, Maedhros turned in his saddle to address his huntsman. "That was easier than it should have been; those Orcs were careless because their minds were otherwise occupied, and so they failed to notice our approach in time. Did you see the way they were watching the warg? They were tracking something, but whatever it is they were following has left a trail too faint for my eyes at least to follow – but not, I suspect, too faint for your hounds' noses. See if you can get them to pick up the scent. This day's hunting is not over yet."

It was not long before our hounds picked up the scent trail, and soon we were galloping through tangled thickets of brush and patches of dense pine forests, struggling not to fall too far behind the pack and listening closely for the distinctive long note which would mean our hounds were successfully holding our unknown quarry at bay. That sound was not long in coming. As we drew near, Maedhros dropped his horse down into a slow canter, and silently signaled for the rest of us to do likewise. With the Orcs, we had known what we were facing; who knew what we might be encountering now?

I do not know what I was expecting to see when our party rode into the small clearing where our hounds had trapped our quarry. What I did see startled me badly: a painfully thin figure of indeterminate sex, barefoot and clad in rags, with twisted, scarred limbs and a hunched torso, backed up against a tree and desperately swinging a heavy branch at our hounds, who were barking fiercely but carefully staying just out of striking range. Some new type of Orc? I wondered, but then I heard the creature's voice. Rough though it was, it was still far fairer than any Orc's – and it was speaking Sindarin.

We had found an escaped thrall of Morgoth.

Our huntsman quickly called the hounds off, while the rest of us dismounted and approached the thrall – a Elven man, I could see now – who was watching us warily, branch raised protectively in front of his chest, as though he expected us to strike him down with our weapons. Maedhros opened his hand and let his sword, its blade soaked in Orc blood, fall to the ground, and gestured for the rest of us to hold our place. He slowly stepped up to the thrall, keeping his left hand open before him, and when he was within an arm's length of the man he carefully raised his right arm and pointed at the branch. "You can drop that now," he said gently. "We have slain the evil creatures which were chasing you. I am Maedhros son of Fëanor, lord of these lands. What is your name?"

"A…Aph… Aphadon," the thrall replied slowly, as though he was struggling hard to recall some old obscure fact learned long ago and subsequently half-forgotten. "My name is Aphadon." He dropped the branch and then his legs gave out and he slid to the ground where he sat trembling, all his energy gone now that his terror had subsided into exhaustion.

It was clear the thrall was utterly spent. "Faelathron," Maedhros called to me, "fetch some miruvor and lembas from my saddle bag." He knelt down in front of the thrall and pressed the food and drink into the man's hands. "Eat this, Aphadon; it will strengthen you. Our campsite is a short ride away; once there, you will be able to rest."

While the thrall ate the proffered travel rations, the rest of us held a quick discussion. We'd left much of our baggage behind when we'd ridden after the Orcs; staying where we were would mean a cold night's rest on hard, frosty ground. It was quickly decided that the best course of action would be to send half the party back to gather our baggage and set up camp at some convenient point between there and here, while the rest of us would escort Aphadon to the new camp. Given the man's condition, it seemed unlikely he would be able to walk far; as my horse was the quietest, Maedhros decided that Aphadon should ride on my mount. And so I found myself in short order on foot, leading my gelding slowly through the dappled shadows of the pine forest, while the thrall sat half-slumped in the saddle, clinging tightly to my horse's mane as though the rough hair represented some sort of lifeline.

It was a long walk, and I was therefore afforded a good close up view of our guest – or was that our captive? He was filthy, and he stank, but that didn't startle me. What did was the extent of his injuries. From the way his limbs and fingers were twisted, I suspected broken bones badly set long ago, and damaged, wrenched joints. He had burn marks on his hands and on his face, and several missing teeth; one eye was clouded over, blind. The other eye seemed clear, but there was no light to be seen in it. The thrall stared fixedly down at my horse's neck, taking little interest in our surroundings, no doubt due to his exhaustion – but he started slightly at every new sound, as though bird calls and the droning buzzing of insects were, like our hounds' baying earlier, signals to some unseen hunter rather than the natural sounds of the forest. I tried not to think about what ill-use could have reduced him to such a state, and instead imagined how much being in the sunlight and breathing the sweet, clean air of the pine woods must mean to him after his long sufferings in Angband.

When we at last arrived in camp, the sun was hanging low and red in the western sky. We were greeted by the scent of roasting meat; the baggage party had crossed the path of an unwary deer on their way back to set up our campsite. Ill luck for the deer, but it meant good eating for us. I wondered how long it had been since the thrall had had a wholesome meal. Years, probably.

Someone had also thought to fetch water and heat it, so our new companion would be able to bathe. While he washed away the years of grime, we tossed his filthy rags into the fire and rummaged through our own luggage to find him clothes that might fit. Cleaned up and decently clad, I thought he'd be an easier sight on the eyes, but oddly, he wasn't. Somehow the neat attire and the newfound cleanliness of his hair and skin only made the wreckage of his features all the more apparent, the way a beautiful frame only highlights the deficiencies of a poorly-crafted painting. He makes Maedhros look normal by comparison, I thought with more than a twinge of guilt, for it was hardly fair to blame the poor man for his ugliness; after all, he hadn't chosen it. But knowing that didn't make him easier to look at, and I noticed that many of the men in our company were clearly uneasy around him. Oddly, though, Maedhros (who I knew hated the sight of his own scars) was not one of them. He seemed oblivious to Aphadon 's horrific appearance; indeed, he seemed to be going out of his way to be kind to the fellow. I had thought the sight of the thrall, triggering as it must have Maedhros's memories of his own old torments, would lead my lord to distance himself from the poor wretch for his own mental self-protection; instead, it seemed to have done the opposite. He knows better than any of us what Aphadon has suffered, I thought as I watched Maedhros encourage the thrall to take a seat next to him when we assembled for dinner. Is it so surprising that a bond of compassion would form between the two of them? Aphadon is lucky he found his way here, where he will not become an outcast simply because Morgoth's servants have cruelly broken his body. Certainly Maedhros will not permit the man to be judged merely on the basis of his hröa's marring.

Over dinner we gently questioned our new companion, curious to learn more about him. Aphadon told us he had been born in Tirion, and was for a time a stonemason at Eithel Sirion. One day not long after the Dagor Aglareb he had gone riding in the Ered Wethrin; there he was waylaid by Orcs and so came to Angband, where he was put to labor in the mines. When I heard this I shuddered in horror, for the Dagor Aglareb had been fought when I was but a child of 20 years. "Most of us leave that foul place only through death," Aphadon said to us, his eyes downcast and his voice trembling, "but there are hidden passages deep within the mines that lead to Ard-galen, and by that means I managed at last to gain my freedom. You cannot know how desperate I was to escape."

"I think I can," Maedhros answered. "Put aside the memories of those long years of torment,Aphadon, for you will not see their like again. Tonight is a time for merriment."

The past three nights, our conversation around the evening fire had centered on ordinary things: gossip, politics, hunting, everyday life at Himring. But that night Maedhros surprised us by choosing instead to reminisce about life in Aman, something I had never before heard him do. He spoke of the festivals, the beauty of the city, the more humorous public foibles of his kin (most of these I'd heard before, courtesy of my mother, but the one about Finrod and Aredhel and the prank they pulled with the King's Fountain was new to me). I wondered at the choice of his subject until I saw the wistful look in Aphadon's eyes, and then I understood. Tales of Light, told to drive away the Darkness – of course, I thought, though I was not entirely sure whose evil memories Maedhros was trying to banish: the thrall's, or his own. "Let Aphadon have my bedroll tonight," he murmured to me, his manner strangely subdued, when the time finally came to retire for the night. "I will stand the watch." I nodded my understanding, not surprised my lord felt little inclination for sleep. The tedium of standing watch was no doubt preferable to the dreams he probably feared would visit him after listening to the thrall's story of captivity. The last thing I saw before I drifted off into sleep was Maedhros standing tall and silent, gazing down pensively into the dying embers of our fire.

I am not sure what caused me to awaken. Not remembering where I was at first, it took me a moment to regain my bearings. I could tell by the stars it was the deep part of the night; as I turned over to look away from the sky and toward our campsite, I noticed that Maedhros was no longer standing his lonely vigil by the fire ring. Instead, he was kneeling next to the sleeping thrall; perhaps it was the sound of his footsteps across the frosty ground which had awakened me. Tossing my blankets back, I rolled onto my feet and quietly began to make my way over to his side. I was perhaps two paces away when I saw the sudden flash of steel. Maedhros, apparently unaware of my presence, had drawn his hunting knife; with a single quick, expert stroke he slit the sleeping man's throat. The thrall's body jerked and thrashed as he choked on his own blood. Maedhros leaned over even closer then, and bent his head over the struggling man's ear. "Go home," I heard him whisper to the dying thrall in a tender voice, "and let Námo lead you to peace."

Horrified, I stood frozen in place. Maedhros remained kneeling by the body for several minutes, motionless, watching silently as the blood pooled around him. Then he slowly rose to his feet, turned – and spotted me. Blood was spattered across his face and tunic, black under the starlight, and his leggings and his hand, still gripping the knife, were covered in it. Though my presence must have surprised him, he made no move toward me and said nothing, but merely stared dispassionately at me, waiting for me to react.

"Why?" I finally whispered when at last I regained command of my tongue.

"Winter will soon be here; would you have had me turn him out to die in the cold? He could not be brought back to Himring, Faelathron," Maedhros answered evenly. "Few even among the Noldor could resist Morgoth for so long; he was not among them. He had become a tool of our Enemy, abet an unwilling one."

"You do not know that," I answered, my voice shaking slightly.

"I do know that," he answered firmly. "What do you know of Morgoth and his power, Faelathron? Have you ever looked into his eyes?"

I forced myself to meet Maedhros's terrible gaze. "It was murder," I said firmly, and looked to see if my verbal shaft had struck home.

His eyes widened slightly, but all he said in answer was, "No. It was mercy. Would you choose to wander despised and alone in the wilds of my March until the bitter winds froze you to death? Would you choose to spend the life of Arda trapped in a hröa as broken as his was? Would you choose to be forever burdened by so many years of dark memories? This way was best: a few last good hours, and then a gentle passing."

"That was a gentle passing?" I struggled to control my roiling emotions, felt my fingernails cutting into my palms, so tightly had I balled my fists. "You also have evil memories of time spent in Angband. Your own body has also been irrevocably marred by Morgoth. If those are such unbearable things, my lord, then why haven't you chosen a similar ending for yourself?"

Maedhros jerked back as though he'd been struck, then cried out harshly, "Because I'm not free to!"

I stood there stunned. In my confused anger, I had tossed out those words without much thought, intending merely to force him to acknowledge the wrong (as I saw it) that's he'd inflicted on that poor thrall. This sudden flood of mingled anger and anguish from Maedhros was something I had not anticipated.

"It was death I asked of Fingon that day on Thangorodrim, Faelathron, not freedom – but he did not have the strength to give it to me," he continued more quietly, in a voice as raw as a bleeding wound. "Instead he hewed off my hand and flew me back with him to Mithrim, and now I am trapped. Trapped by my Oath, trapped by my title and the responsibilities it brings, trapped by the terrible love of my cousin and my brothers." He jerked his head toward the corpse of the thrall. "Unlike that poor wretch, I will never be free of my marring."

I looked down at my feet, suddenly ashamed. "I am sorry, my lord," I said quietly. Behind me I could hear the sounds of other people stirring; our argument must have awakened the rest of our camp. "What are you going to tell the others?"

"Nothing," Maedhros replied, his voice tired. "They are soldiers; they understand hard necessities. We will be breaking camp at first light, after we bury that poor victim of Morgoth. Take the watch, Faelathron. I am going to the creek to wash."

He walked off into the woods then, shoulders slumped and his usually energetic stride shortened and weary, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

*******

I continued to carry out my duties as Maedhros's personal aide for the duration of the trip, but I doubt he spoke more than a dozen words to me during that entire time. He also cut the expedition short, to my surprise, and so we did not ride out to see Maglor.

Two days after our party returned to Himring, Maedhros called me into his office and told me he was dismissing me from his service.

"It is not that I am dissatisfied with your performance, Faelathron," he said to me as I stood before his desk. "You are extremely competent. I have come to believe, though, that you would be better off in a different household than my own."

You mean I have seen too much of what you wished to keep hidden, I thought as I watched him pick up a folded parchment, sealed with his sigil stamped into the wax, and my presence now is an unbearable reminder of that fact, and so I must go. But I said nothing aloud as he handed me the parchment.

"I am the lord of Himring; my immediate authority extends no further than the borders of my March. I have no power to make you go to any other specific household, merely to order you to leave here. But I hope you will take my suggestion." He gestured with his left hand to the parchment. "I have written a letter to my cousin Finrod Felagund, asking him to accept you into his service. His kingdom of Nargothrond is a fair place, much more peaceful and beautiful than my cold windswept March, and I think you would like it there." And then, to my surprise, Maedhros smiled at me. "And I think you will find the lord Felagund's temperament is as clement as his land. It is a service that will suit you, Faelathron– provided, of course, that you agree to go."

"I will do as you ask," I said, then bowed. And then, because I did not know if this was the last time I would ever see Maedhros, I dared to add, "I am sorry, my lord."

"So am I," he replied, his voice wistful. "I wish things could have been different." Then he sat up tall and waved his hand. "Off with you now. You have a long journey ahead of you, and a great deal to pack. When you meet my cousin, give him my love."

And that is how I came to leave the service of Maedhros, eldest son of Fëanor.

*******

Maedhros was right; I did enjoy my time in Nargothrond. The kingdom was indeed every bit as fair as Maedhros had said it was, and Finrod's sunny disposition could not have been more different than my former lord's. But I never forgot my former service. I saw Maedhros again once or twice from a distance, when he came riding into southern Beleriand to hunt or discuss matters of defense with the other great Noldor princes; I did not try to approach him then, knowing he would not welcome the attempt, and if he saw me he made no sign of it. When I heard of his prodigious feats of arms in the Dagor Bragollach and later in the disastrous Nirnaeth, I was both awestruck and appalled, knowing as I had not known before what it must have cost him to ride out into battle against his nightmares. And much later, on Balar (for I was fortunate enough to survive Nargothrond's fall and found refuge on that island), I wept for him when I heard of his later fall, the crimes that terrible Oath eventually led him to commit.

I did not weep for him in the end, though. I mourned for his brother Maglor, lost somewhere on the shores of the Sea, but I did not mourn for Maedhros. When I heard the news of how he had died, my mind returned to that long-ago conversation in the woods and his terrible, despairing words to me: "Unlike that poor wretch, I will never be free of my marring." "You are free now, my lord" I whispered to the image of Maedhros in my mind. "Go home, and let Námo lead you to peace."