This could not be happening.
They came at night, overwhelmed them swiftly. Those who at the end did not lie cooling in their bedrolls were murdered before his eyes, throats opened and drowning in their own blood. When the hideous hands thrust into his hair and dragged his head back, baring his throat for the steel, he found his voice, the wet choking noise of his last companion's death still in his ears.
"Wait – Turgon's son – of Gondolin-"
For long moments, Maeglin thought he was lost as they pulled his head further back with a snarl, but the final red stroke of the knife didn't come. He felt his throat work and was suddenly very aware of its vulnerability.
But they didn't kill him. They argued in their hideous language, but eventually one of them kicked him hard in the stomach and snarled in rough and guttural Sindarin, "You suffer if you lie."
They bound his hands behind his back and stole his knife, sword, and bow. He felt sick, watching them strip and loot the bodies of his companions, but they didn't let him look away, the hold in his hair making him watch even as jeering they carved Morgoth's sigil on faces, chests, shoulders.
He swallowed sour vomit and tried not to see.
They went north. Maeglin tried to think, to plan an escape, but it was useless – they kept him running during the day, jeering when he inevitably stumbled. He worried that he would break his knees on the rocks, but a jerk on the rope that served for his tether always caught him before then. At night they trussed him hand and foot, mocked him ceaselessly in their rough mockery of Sindarin.
Elf-prince, they called, him, not so fine and high and pretty now, and kicked dirt in his eyes, or if they were feeling nastier, just kicked him. There was no inch of him before long that was not bruised, except his face. They left his face. He didn't like to think about why. He held his tongue, or tried to, but when they started talking about his mother he flung himself snarling uselessly against his bonds. They only jeered more at that.
They threw him meat, sometimes. Maeglin tried not to eat it, tried not to think of what it could be, but even before the hunger overtook him it seemed to amuse them to hold him down and force the foul stuff in his mouth until he gagged and tears ran from his eyes from the acrid smell of it. A number of things amused them, in truth, and when they tied him for the nights there was little if anything he could do to defend himself.
He tried not to let himself sleep. It only meant waking to unpleasant reality if he were lucky; worse if he weren't.
But at least he was alive. He clung to that small shred with a desperation verging on panic. At least he was still alive.
At first, Maeglin hoped that another scouting party would find them. That hope faded as they went farther north and the last blighted remnants of green things faded. The sun pounded on the back of his neck, leaving a painful red burn echoed by the one where the rope rubbed his wrists raw. The dread heavy and cold in the pit of his stomach left his mouth dry as they pulled him to a halt, dragged his head up. The foul touch of their hands still made his stomach churn, but it didn't revolt the way it had at first. Only a week and he was almost used to this.
The plain stretched flat for miles still, but he knew what they wanted him to see. Towering into the sky, the black and ominous mountains, hulking darkly like a promise of fear. Angband.
This cannot be happening, he thought again, the whimper squeezed from his throat and they laughed and flung him to the ground. They spent the night in that shadow, and desperation leaping in his throat, Maeglin attempted escape. The rope on his wrists had been fraying, just enough for him to snap it, as they were binding his feet. He moved quickly enough to get one of them in the face and another in the belly with a foot and a fist before he was running.
He realized too late that he had no weapon and nowhere to go, and that they would likely shoot him down from a distance rather than waste the energy trying to catch a fleeing prisoner. No use, pounded the refrain in his head, no use, give up, give in.
Maeglin surrendered, slowed and fell to his knees with weary resignation. Just don't kill me, he wanted to plead, but kept just enough dignity to be silent, at least until the screams came. He'd broken one of their noses with that wild kick, and he paid for it, and for his defiance, and paid well.
They kept his feet hobbled after that, and were harsher, rougher. He kept his head down and shuffled, humiliated, beaten, defeated, each step bringing him closer to that dreadful fortress in the rhythm, no hope, no hope, no hope.
He curled up at night and tried not to weep, wondered if he would better have died a clean death than this, whatever would become of him. His captor's dark hints were not comforting, their insinuating laughter less so. Fear churned constantly and nauseously in his stomach now, a companion to replace the ones he'd lost.
I'm alive, he tried to tell himself, that's all that matters. I can endure anything as long as I'm alive.
So it was, limping, bruised, humiliated, that the Prince of Gondolin came to Angband and passed through its black gates. He did not listen to the horrible sound of their speech around him, tried not to snarl when they hauled his head back to show his face. It wasn't as hard as he expected; he felt dull, numb, barely conscious of himself. There was no use, after all, no hope in fighting. The cages of the Enemy are forever.
He could hear a moaning, gibbering sigh, somewhere, horribly continuous, and hoped it was only the wind. His skin crawled and he was almost grateful for the gnaw of hunger in his belly; at least it meant the nausea didn't trigger any vomiting.
Maeglin closed his eyes and tried to steel himself. It felt as though the fear would wash him away.
They brought him before the Dark Lord. He wondered, distantly, as time passed, if anyone remarked his absence. If anyone would find the remains of their party, or if what was left had already been claimed by scavengers or devoured by wolves.
At the last moment, as the doors started to close and he realized what he was facing, he tried then to fight, struggling to pull back toward the narrowing exit, throwing his weight stubbornly against the bonds. It was too little and too late, and he felt like drowning, stepping into the shadow of that great throne, like black and viscous water were closing over his head.
Maeglin had wanted to keep his back straight, to face the Enemy with head held high and defiant of spirit. He'd wanted to make his last moments, or his last moments sane, something that his mother could be proud of.
The world didn't care what he wanted. It had never cared.
They threw him to his knees and he was glad to be there, wanted to cower, to curl into himself and make every inch as small as possible in the hope that perhaps he would not be noticed. The floor was the anvil and Morgoth the hammer, and Maeglin felt himself kneeling small and breakable in between.
The voice, then, terrible and seeming to echo and reverberate, making his ears ring and his head ache – "Let me see his eyes."
And he knew that it would be terrible, knew that he would never rise from this floor again, not whole, as again the rough hands tangled in his hair, brought his head back hard, forcing his gaze up and up and up, arching his back until he could see-
A flash of dark crown and bright, almost blinding Jewels, and then they blinked once and the blue chips he had mistaken for ice or stone became eyes and pinned him to the floor.
He felt it, felt the first moment that the Enemy touched his mind, stomach wrenching and body bucking against the hold of his captors with uncontrollable spasms of nausea and pain as that touch vibrated along every nerve with exquisite cold-hot-ice-fire-pain
and the feeling of riffling through his thoughts, his secrets, his most precious desires, of simply flipping through the book of his life and then casting it aside
and the terrible callousness with which he opened Maeglin's mind, cracked it like an egg and joined his small, pathetic will with his own and showed him the coldness of the world, the truth of the darkness for what it was, creeping, covering, smothering, and pinpricks of light stood no chance at all but were just extinguished
and that was only the beginning.
Maeglin screamed as his mind flooded with memories of torture as vivid as though he'd felt them himself. He screamed as things tore him apart limb by limb and he was aware for every moment of it, screamed as his skin was stripped off whole and hung out to dry, screamed as he was encased in rock and made to watch his mother's death over – over – over.
He screamed as the blood in his veins was replaced by fire and burned all through his body from the inside out, as he was left chest gaping open with dark beasts closing in hungry, as chained like a dog he watched foul things take Idril over – over – over –
He screamed until he could scream no more, and then Morgoth spoke.
Now you know what awaits you if you resist. Do you still wish to stand against me?
He could say nothing, huddled shaking, feeling as though a fist still wrapped around his brain, poised to crush it. But he shook his head. No use. How could anyone ever…how could anyone ever think to…
Then you are mine, and there was satisfaction, there. Tell me where the hidden city is, and I will let you free, and give you your woman and the lordship you desire besides.
At least he could save Idril. No, he would not pretend it was for selfless motives. He could not endure, could not last – better to die drowning in blood from an open throat than suffer that forever. He was already lost. They were already lost.
He gave up the location willingly, and did not lift his eyes.
The Dark Lord kept his word. When it was done, the same hands that had taken him here flung him out, though out of some crude, cruel jest on a precipice, the only way down a narrow, creeping path. Surely they knew nothing of his secret fears of falling. Surely.
Maeglin clung to the wall on the way down, aching in every bone and muscle and even more in mind. Never, never, had he hated himself so much in his whole life. But it was too late for that. Too late. Too late.
He made it, perhaps, halfway down before his knees gave out and he slid to huddle against the wall, shoulders shaking, and wept.
The wind whistled by, shrill and harsh – not like moaning, he noted with a shudder – and he thought about giving himself to it, but the idea of falling frightened him. Anything, as long as I'm alive.
He laughed, then, brokenly, hoarsely, madly, and once he started he couldn't stop, and once he started it felt like it could last forever. The feeling of vertigo was dizzying. And it was all so useless. So, so, useless.
The thought gave him the strength to rise again and continue his way down. He didn't look over the edge. If he looked toward the ground, he thought, he would not be able to resist its pull.