STRIPPING IT ALL AWAY, by Finch
Finrod Felagund cycle, Edrahil's tale
Based on The Silmarillion and the HoMe, especially the Lay of Leithian, in: The Lays of Beleriand (Volume 3).
Disclaimer: The usual - Tolkien's, not mine. No disrespect intended. Finrod's first words in the throne room are taken from the published Silmarillion.
My eyes have slowly grown accustomed to the darkness, for I can now make out the shapes of my two remaining fellow prisoners. Perhaps this is only because we are all naked and whatever light there is, lends a shimmer to those parts of their bodies that are not caked with blood. Because his hair has not lost its lustre, my lord is more clearly visible than the mortal Man is, and I think I can see his face, too. It looks taut, and not only with the agony caused by our cutting bonds and cruel chains. But I am glad it is no longer the ugly mask of an orc chieftain - or I would be glad if there was any room left in my heart for joy.
He is looking at the door of the dungeon, and I know his fear. Soon, the werewolf will come for me. I am the last of the ten who stood by him when everyone else forsook him. The other nine are death - mauled, torn to pieces, devoured by this hideous beast of Gorthaur*. If I would care to look the other way, I would be able to catch a glimpse of their bloodied bones.
I will welcome the werewolf's venomous teeth, as they will finally sever my soul from temptation. It is not death I dread most, but the urge to give in. Tell me who your lord and his mortal companion are. That is what Gorthaur's voice has been insinuating in my mind since the day we were thrown into this pit. Give me their names and their errand and I will set them free. Them. Or rather, him.
A part of me yearns to believe this master of lies. When I dropped my guard for an instant - the very moment my lord fell before his throne - he unerringly perceived the accursed weakness that leaves me so vulnerable to his ceaseless battering of my mind. But his promise of freedom is false and empty. Gorthaur will do no such thing. If I remain steadfast and silent, he may torture my lord to death in the end, but if he learns the truth, he will turn him into a prize for Morgoth to gloat over. The fate of Maedhros son of Fëanor will await my lord, or worse - and none will rescue him, for the Enemy's strength has greatly increased.
I hope and pray the monster will come soon. A brief torment, and then release, and expiation in Mandos's Halls.
As soon as the mortal was brought to Nargothrond, King Finrod Felagund received him. They spoke behind closed doors, but when they emerged at last my lord was visibly shaken. Never before had I seen him so troubled, and I was ready to resent the mortal for having caused him such distress.
The cause became clear enough when the king summoned the people of Nargothrond to his throne room. There, he reminded us of his oath of abiding friendship to the mortal Man Barahir, who had saved him in the Fen of Serech. He told us the time to redeem his oath had come, and that he wanted to raise an army to conquer the bride-price that Thingol of Doriath demanded from Beren son of Barahir in exchange for his own gem, his daughter Lúthien: a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown.
A small price for a maid, whose mother is a Maia, I said to myself, not without mockery. So even the King of Doriath had fallen prey to the lure of Fëanor's jewels.
Yet the first replies were cries of assent, for many knew about he valour of Barahir and his warriors, and some had been witness to it. I was among them, but I was less eager to aid this Man in his quest than to follow my king and wage war upon the Enemy once more, dangerous as it might be.
It was not to be. For the two sons of Fëanor who abode as guests in Nargothrond suddenly demanded our attention, bearing themselves as masters of the house. They repeated their father's unholy oath, warning they would wage war on all who should keep a Silmaril from them, calling up images of blood and cruelty and the second slaying of Elf by Elf. As they spoke, few among us did not see the destruction of Nargothrond before our very eyes, and in the visions conjured up by those accursed brethren we recognised our own mutilated bodies and those of our loved ones, lying in pools of gore.
Then, the people of Nargothrond rebelled, refusing to obey their king, and so he was betrayed according to the Prophecy of Mandos. It was the Oath of Fëanor against that of Finrod Felagund, and the first proved stronger, for it invoked the One. And seeing the Doom of the Noldor come true again my lord stepped down from his throne and threw his crown onto the floor, crying that he would hold his bond and aid Barahir's son despite this betrayal. 'Yet if there be any upon whom the shadow of our curse has not yet fallen, I should find at least a few to follow me, and should not go hence as a beggar that is thrust from the gates.'
My heart went out to him, as it has always done, and the last traces of the ugly visions evoked by Fëanor's sons were dispelled from my mind. Though I knew I was not at all free from the shadow of the curse, be it in a different way than the king meant, I stepped forward to support him. Nine others joined me. Picking up the crown I handed it back to Felagund and declared that he remained our king. He nodded gravely to thank me and gave it to Orodreth, his brother-son*.
'We leave at dusk,' the king told us outside the throne room. 'Prepare yourselves. Plain garb. Dark mail, grey cloaks. Bows and swords.' He spoke calmly, appearing less troubled and more detached than before - as if the worst had already come to pass in his mind, if not in the world outside. And gesturing to the mortal to follow him, he made to go. But suddenly, a boy not yet full-grown emerged from behind one of the tree-shaped pillars whose adornments Felagund had carved with his own hands when Nargothrond was first established.
'Ingoldo**, my kinsman,' he said excitedly, 'allow me to go with you.'
I smiled, for I recognised Orodreth's son, an engaging youth beloved by most, who resembled Finrod Felagund more than he resembled his own father.
'No, Artanáro,' came the reply, resolute but not unkind. 'You are much too young to make a journey from which few, if any, will return. And as your father wears the crown of Nargothrond now, you are the heir.'
'I am not afraid to enter Morgoth's lair,' Artanáro insisted.
'The more reason why you should not join us. For I am afraid, and that is as it should be, as you will learn one day,' said my lord, and I loved him for those words.
My nine companions and I went away to arm ourselves. When I looked back, Artanáro had gone. The king stood talking to Beren - they seemed to get along very well. Felagund's hand, I noticed, was stroking one of his sculpted trees as in a farewell gesture.
The day was fading when we left, unseen by any but the gatekeepers, who spoke not. We all looked the same; nothing singled out Felagund as our leader. Not even his golden hair set him apart, for it was hidden beneath his mail coif and helmet.
The first part of our journey was the easiest, for here we were still on the Talath Dirnen, the guarded plain of Nargothrond. One night, we were challenged by a patrol of mounted archers, who aimed their bows at us. They recognised our armour but questioned our presence all the same. I felt bound to rebuke them, demanding they treat their king with more respect. They apologised half-heartedly, and let us pass.
Afterwards, my lord chided me gently. 'Did you really have to pull such a stern face at them, Edrahil? They were only doing their duty.'
'But my lord king...' I began.
He shook his head. 'Call me Finrod, for I am no longer king of Nargothrond.' He looked towards Beren. 'He is an outlaw with a price on his head as high of that of my cousin Fingon.'
Well, he certainly looked like one.
'And we have become his fellow outlaws,' my lord went on. 'We are thieves on a thief's errand: to steal a jewel that does not belong to us, to trade it with one who has no better claim to it.'
He seemed bent on stripping himself from everything: his people, his crown, the name of king, and now, it seemed, even his honour and dignity. If this was what a single Silmaril could bring about, I had no choice but to loathe those things, even if they contained the Light. It must have shown in my face, for he laid a hand on my shoulder. It was the first time he had ever touched me. 'You seem dismayed,' he said. 'Do not lose heart for my sake. It is my doom to run this errand; redeeming my oath is the sole means of release. But if you regret coming with me...'
I wished the son of Barahir would release him from his oath. But of course, he would not, his mortal mind being set on having Thingol's daughter.
'King or outlaw, we stand by you,' I said. And so we did.
As Finrod walked on without looking back, I touched my shoulder, where his hand had rested.
*Ingoldo: the name used for Finrod by his relatives; ** HoMe, Vol. 12, The Shibboleth of Feanor, p. 346, 360, resp. p. 349-351.