Till the End of Days
Fingon & Maedhros, 11 and last
To all my faithful reviewers, and to the memory of Dante Alighieri, whose Divina Commedia left its traces in the last chapters of Under the Curse, though I am not worthy to tie his sandal straps.
Fingon waited. No words were spoken; he knew that his plea had been heard. He could wait now, as long as it would take, while Maedhros thought. And he, too, had much to contemplate.
There was no way to tell how many rounds the sun had made outside, nor how ancient the world had grown, or how much it had suffered and changed when Maedhros finally broke the silence to say: 'I would follow you to the Judge, but for my blindness.'
'Can you see nothing at all?'
'The dark may not be as black as when I first entered his place, or it may be that I am growing used to it, but I still cannot see you.'
The thought of Maedhros growing used to his darkness was disturbing: it was too close to resignation and acceptance of the dark. He had to fight and resist.
'You may be blind, but if you answer me you are not deaf, at least. I shall sing to you, and you will take your lead from my voice,' Fingon said.
'Like when you sought me on Thangorodrim?'
Ever Thangorodrim. 'You answered,' Fingon replied relentlessly. 'You sang back, Maitimo. Remember? You wanted to be found.'
Maedhros sighed. 'Very well then. Sing ahead.'
'Is there anything you would like me to sing?'
He should have known. But he could not refuse now, and Fingon preferred the edge in Maedhros' voice to his despair. Setting out, he began to sing.
And there, in the depths of Mandos, the song Maedhros' brother had made to lament the Fall of the Noldor, the loss of light, innocence and honour, of ties of friendship and kinship, rang out until its echoes reached into all the nooks and crannies of the Halls. But to Fingon's great surprise it was no longer merely the song of woe he remembered. Singing it he felt how he was carried by it at the same time, light as a leaf in a running river, and the stream bore him along and soothed him as if he were bathing in the healing music of Nienna's tears.
Light as light he felt - but then, he sensed Maedhros' presence recede.
'What is it?' he asked, anxiously.
'You are going too fast,' Maedhros protested. 'This is rough climbing.'
Climbing? Was Maedhros struggling up while he was rushing ahead? And suddenly, it struck Fingon how this was something that seemed to hold true for them in life as well as in death, and he wondered why he had not understood this earlier. 'I am sorry,' he said.
'I fell as low as you can imagine. That chasm went all the way to the bottom of Arda.'
And for those who fell all the way down, there was but one direction left, however steep the ascent. 'I am sorry,' Fingon said again. 'I will go more slowly.' This time, Maedhros would not fail in his struggle.
'Will you cease to blame yourself?'
Of course, Fingon thought, with sudden exhilaration. That is what I must do.
Though he was still unable to discern anything else, Maedhros thought he did see the Judge appear to encompass them with his awesome presence. His awkward progress came to a halt. Cowering under the sheer weight of that pitiless, unmoved gaze, he waited for his sentence.
'Rise and look at me,' Námo spoke.
With an effort, his fëa made a movement that could, perhaps, be described as looking up. And doing so he underwent the scrutiny of one who sees without passion, because his timeless eyes are aware of all things that be, save those that are outside the great music of fate, about which it is not wise to worry.
Unable to look away from those chasms of deep knowledge, and sensing he was about to tumble into them, he could hear Námo's voice.
'So there you are, son of Fëanor,' it said. 'Was there not someting you would ask me?'
Was there? Searching his memory, Maedhros found shadows, and shrank back. There was fire, too, and burning, but that he could face; he had been facing it since he was here. Not the shadows: they veiled him, blinded him, shadows that were the same wherever he looked, as if the boundaries of his fëa were falling away and nothing separated the shadows within from the shadows without - or as if the fëa that used to be Maedhros was fading, and bound to become void.
Though he was aware of the need to answer, no words came.
'I remember what question it was,' said the shade at his side.
'Maedhros has to ask it,' the Judge replied. 'Give him time to think.'
But Maedhros was unable to think; he was too afraid of the shadows. So he listened instead, for the other voices spoke on.
'... found your own last answers, then?' he heard.
'I believe so.' That was Fingon, Maedhros knew, holding on to his awareness of that name. 'Yes, I have. It was the Powers we scorned, claiming that they were akin to Melkor, that they had made us their toys and pets and robbed us of our freedom.' Fingon laughed, an incongruous sound. 'And perhaps we were your toys and pets, in a sense.' An amazing thing to say to a Power, though predictably, this Vala took it with equanimity. 'But even so,' Fingon went on, 'whatever you did, you did for love of the Eruhini, and whatever we did was but a fulfillment of the great song you sang to the Creator of all. You, aire, are one of those we rejected. If you can forgive me for not leaving Aman in peace and good will to follow our fate, I believe I could also forgive myself.'
Yes, Maedhros thought, knowing with certainty that Fingon had said the right thing.
'Then, child of the Firstborn,' the Judge declared calmly, without questioning anything Fingon had said, 'you have won the freedom you sought in the beginning, and you can indeed leave my Halls in peace and good will.'
In that moment, it was as if Mandos shook with emotion and resounded with triumph at the same time. And Maedhros felt relief washing over him, clearing a space where no shadows roamed. Fingon would go, and so would he, be it in a different way. This was how it should be; Fingon could not abide in this place alone, but once he would walk the green earth again he would forget the Houses of the Dead and all that had transpired there. He spoke up: 'I remember now what I wanted to ask. Can I be unmade, Holy One?'
'That was not at all what you were going to ask!' Fingon objected. He appeared to be shocked, Maedhros noted with some surprise; he had expected more understanding.
'Perhaps not,' said Námo, 'yet it is what he did ask. All fëar have to speak for themselves, and to face themselves alone. This would be the proper time for you to depart hence, Child of the One.'
'Depart from your Halls, aire? Fingon radiated dismay. 'How can I leave like this?'
Because it is better for you, Maedhros thought. You do not want to be present when I reap what I have sowed. When the end came, it would be a consolation to think that Fingon was truly and lastingly free of him. Saying that he hated him had not helped, but this surely would. If only Fingon would be more cooperative, instead of insisting: 'But he needs me!'
Fortunately, Námo would not relent, and no Elvish fëa had ever been a match for one of the Aratar, except Lúthien the Fair who had aroused the pity of the Dispassionate One for once in his long existence - and she was the daughter of a spirit from before Time
And so, Fingon left, and that was as it should be.
'How is it that you should want to be unmade, Nelyafinwë, son of Curufinwë?' said the Judge. 'This being a thing not even Míriel your grandmother wished of us?'
Easy enough. 'I threw myself away because I could not live. Now that I am here, I find that I cannot be dead either.'
'Do you believe that your deeds can be undone?'
No, he did not think so. But was not that, where the problem lay?
'And are they not part of your existence in the world of Time?' the Judge went on.
That he could not deny, nor that this was precisely what made the problem unbearable. 'Do you mean that I cannot be unmade?' he asked, taken aback.
'Not until Time itself be unmade - and even I cannot see beyond that,' was the reply.
'Then how shall I find peace?' Maedhros cried in despair. 'Is it not said that an Oath sworn by Ilúvatar will pursue both oathkeeper and oathbreaker until the world's end?'
'Indeed. But as the Oath was voided in the end, it must be something else that haunts you. Tell me, son of Fëanor, were you wrong to swear as you did?'
What did he mean? 'Of course I was.'
'Then why did you never repent of it, instead of merely regretting it?'
'I...' Maedhros began, and faltered. Why indeed? Because evil was a habit, and habits died hard? When could and should he have repented? When had the war that Fëanor's sons fought against Morgoth turned into a campaign on the Enemy's behalf? When had their yearning for the light turned into the pursuit of darkness? Or had they been on the side of the dark all along but refused to see it? Failed to see it, even, blinded by darkness, or - and it seemed to him this was merely another way of saying it - blinded by a light too strong for their eyes, a light they had no right to claim for themselves, because they were too small to comprehend it and too weak to bear it? Was it thus they had brought about what they claimed to fight: the onslaught of night and nothing?
The habit of evil has hollowed my heart and eroded my soul, he thought. Yes, old habits die hard. But if I am dead, and rightly so, why should my habits live on?
'I believe I begin to see, aire,' he said, and while he said it, it seemed to him that the shadows began to dispel as if a deep, slow breath stirred the stillness of the Halls. 'I thought I was repentant.* But maybe what I felt was nothing but the sum of regret and despair. Please, teach me to see the difference.' And something in his fëa loosened and began to flow, and he knew that if he had been in the body, it would have been called weeping.
'Begin by speaking to those you wronged and to those that wronged you,' was the reply. 'You will have every opportunity to do so.'
'And mourn for all that is marred in Arda, and seek solace in your sorrow,' another voice whispered.
Under the circumstances, it was impossible for Fingon to leave the Houses of the Dead, like his father had done, and Coiriel, and the fëa of the Telerin mariner who had so stubbornly refused to forgive him. It was simply impossible to depart until he knew what fate would befall the fëa of the one he loved more than he had thought possible. If their bond would dissolve he would feel it at once. It was more than he could bear to think of.
There was but one way to divert himself.
This time, when he went to watch Vairë's tapestries, he could see the Weaver herself at the Loom of the World. Its movements were swifter than even Elven eyes could follow. It had four sides, if sides they were, and he knew that their names were Length, Breadth, Depth and Time. There seemed to be more tapestries than ever, more than he thought he would be able to count.
The Weaver laughed at his thought and replied: 'Indeed, for whenever you would think that you were done there would be new ones, and never would you reach the latest tapestry until it was the Last - and then, Existence itself would cease. But take a look.'
And look he did. The first tapestries he observed, the older ones, were still within his comprehension: Once more, he saw a new Dark Lord arise to threaten the world. The Elves failed to see him through in time, while the race of men heeded his whispers and committed evil deeds; huge waves arose to swallow fertile fields, and with deep regret he saw how the true home of the Eldar was separated from the world of mortality and drift away through a mist of years and tears. The Enemy was slain by the arms of the great, rose and was brought down by the hands of the small, and after each defeat, evil became less visible and more difficult to fight by force. The Elves faded from the world of mortality, other races dwindled and disappeared from the face of the earth, while the face itself shifted and changed. People fell into ignorance, forgetting all they had ever learned, to awake again to vague awareness and halting wisdom. And elsewhere, in the separated sliver of Eä where the Eldar led their existence, history slowly ground to a halt and began to turn into memory.
But ice covered part of the world of Man and withdrew, and came, and went again. People learned anew what they had forgotten. He saw how intricate structures of stone were being erected to bury the great and mighty with their childish baubles, while those who knew their secrets were silenced forever. Armies marched; people were slaughtered. A gate was pulled down to let a large wooden horse in. A man cut through a knot he could not untie. Large, grey beasts called andamundor in Quenya** - though that tongue was most likely forgotten - were driven over a high mountain range to perish on the other side, together with the humans that led them, and he grieved more deeply for the beasts. Three lords of Men knelt around a crib that did not contain animal fodder but a new-born child.
His spirits rose, but not for long. New armies marched; more people were slaughtered. Towns grew into cities and their numbers increased, which seemed foolish, as their inhabitants did not always have enough food. Yet the population increased, too. People invented ever new methods to cut short mortal lives still shorter, while at the same time seeking ways to prolong life and make it more pleasant. They created and destroyed, and their beauty and evil seemed to be the warp and weft of Vaire's weavings.
Fingon decided he could and would not follow it any more. He left
Slowly and reluctantly, he turned to the place in his innermost fëa where the bond with Maedhros ought to be. Trust, he thought. Have faith. What was it that his cousin Finrod used to say? 'If we are indeed the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves.'***
The bond was still there, and for a while Fingon was immobilised with sheer gratitude.
When he found him at last Maedhros was alone, wrapped in memory and thought, but no longer in darkness, for it was clear that he could see Fingon now, and he was dismayed to see him. 'Why did you not leave? I thought your feet were on the solid earth again.'
'To walk alone? I had no wish to do so.'
'But was this not what you yearned for since you entered the Halls? Would you not love to hear the voice of the wind and feel it caress you, instead of drooping in these Halls like a limp banner? Not love to behold the many hues and shapes of the refracted light, instead of lingering in these evergrey shadows? Not love to smell the tang of the sea and the fragrance of flowers, and let the sun kiss your face?'
'Tell me first,' Fingon said, feeling the pull of the world outside and resisting it without effort. 'Would you not love all these things, too, Maitimo?'
'I would,' Maedhros answered quietly, 'but though I found myself, and others, and spoke and listened to many, making even my father listen to me as I could not at Losgar in my guilty weakness and confusion, I am far from done yet. And while Námo does not say as much, I doubt I will ever be. My wrongs did such harm, not merely to others but to my own soul as well, that no matter how much I am able to see now, I fail to comprehend how such a marring could ever be wholly undone while this world lasts.'
Fingon was not surprised. He understood now, why the Vala had not pursued the matter of their bond and whether or no it was a taint. Námo had known that this part of it belonged to the past, and therefore he had not dwelled on it any further.
'Then my answer,' he said, 'is that I would love all those things that you named, and more, but that I cannot let one sunbeam kiss my face if that same kiss is denied to you. How shall love of the self prevail when it is set against love for another? How shall the desire for a body prevail when it is set against the yearning of the soul? Wherever you are, I shall abide, till the end of days.'
'You will never be free of me, then,' Maedhros said.
'I do not wish to. We were chained together when I freed you from the rock, and so came to know each other in body and spirit. There is no way back from knowledge to innocence. Weep if you must, for this remains Arda Marred, and then listen to me when I tell you of the vision I had of Arda Remade. We shall abide here, hoping for what lies beyond, and we shall speak of it to all who linger here, willingly or no.'
When Maedhros seemed about to object again Fingon laughed. 'Do not say it. It would only be a waste of words.'
'Not so,' Maedhros said, both resigned and relieved. 'For henceforth no exchange between us will ever be wasted or barren.'
And both of them sensed a movement from the other, like a seeking hand - and for an instant, a flicker of time in the timeless Halls of Mandos, they thought they could feel a fleeting touch.
And it is told, that Fingon and Maedhros remained in the Houses of the Dead together, and if any among the Elder have ever seen them among the living again till the present day, they have not spoken of it.
*When Dior's sons were abandoned in the wintry forest, we read that 'of this Maedhros indeed repented'. The place of 'this' in the sentence struck me as being significant: so there are also things Maedhros does not repent of.
**and Oliphaunts in LotR...
***From the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth
Thanks to Maeve Rhiannon for suggesting the image of the Trojan Horse.