3. The Fire-dragon
But not all of them. I will not turn tail to a mere beast, Fingon recalled thinking. And so, with a company of mounted archers, all seasoned warriors, he had crossed the mountains to halt the Dragon's progress.
Morgoth's evil spawn was not as huge as the panicked reports had made it to be, but more gruesome to behold, and its stench was overwhelming; the Noldor had to breathe through their mouths to avoid gagging. Steeling themselves, Fingon and his companions surrounded the beast. Sunways they galloped around it, firing arrows at its head and chest, ever aware of its flame-belching maw. Closer and closer they hemmed it in, until those nearest to its huge jaws were within the reach of the fire.
When it came, a gush of garish red and orange flames, its target was Fingon. He barely managed to dodge it, hugging the flanks of his horse with his knees to urge him away from it, while his bow fired once more at the dragon's eyes.
His aim was to hasty to be true, and the dart stuck between the slimy scales on the beast's forehead. Swiftly, Fingon pulled out a new one and put it to his bowstring. Then, his glance met his foe's.
The eyes were those of a snake, yellow, lidless, with slits for pupils, staring, unblinking, as cold as the flames in the dragon's belly were hot, and as weirdly beautiful as the rest of the beast was hideous to look on. But unlike a serpent's, they were sentient. Far from being a mindless beast that could but reflect the evil of its maker, this was a creature of subtlety, a demon of malice in the shape of a monster. It saw. It knew. Fingon felt himself weighed and measured and found wanting: a rebellious Noldo, a Kinslayer, a soul tainted with an unnatural love for one of his own sex. And then a fell voice spoke directly into his mind, with terrible clarity:
Hail, Fingon, son of Fingolfin. A brave warrior you are. You may win the day, for I perceive my time has not yet come. But I am Glaurung the Urulokë, and I tell you that you are doomed. You will remember these my words when your time comes, and despair.
Black vapours billowed from the dragon's nostrils, obscuring part of the sky. With the hiss of its breath and the hiss of his companion's arrows in his ears, Fingon drew nearer to those cold, glittering, alluring eyes, heedless of peril: If I am doomed, so are you. You are clever and fearsome, but you will find your bane scant years after I find mine, Glaurung the fire-drake!
He did not know whence those words came, yet he knew them to be true. As true as the dragon's.
Once more Fingon raised his bow, to shoot a last arrow - right into the dragon's mouth. With the shaft protruding from its forked tongue, the great monster turned away. The archers to the north moved aside to let it pass. And the dragon fled back to its evil master.
On their way back home, the other warriors all praised Fingon to the skies. By the time they met the company of the High King, who had had the same thought but a little later, Fingolfin's son was the greatest hero of Beleriand. Fingolfin looked proud, never begrudging his offspring his glorious victory. Yet to Fingon the triumph rang hollow. He knew he would never forget Glaurung's words.
To make things worse, his father had more words for him, later, in private.
'Not that I want to diminish your victory - but now that you have defeated the dragon without, it is time you fight the one within,' he said. 'The beast whose unholy fire burns in your loins.'
It was no victory, atarinya*, Fingon wanted to tell him, and if it had been, you could not have diminished it more effectively than you did. But Fingolfin's tone made such an admission impossible. So he said instead: 'And what arrows do you suggest I use to that purpose, my lord High King? The barbed ones coming from your mouth? Why should I not rather fire arrows of love to defeat the dragon burning in my cousin's soul?'
'Are you sure that it is within your power to do so?' Fingolfin countered after an uneasy silence.
Their eyes locked, and they knew that both of them thought of the blasphemous Oath with which their kinsman Fëanor had kindled an everlasting, dark flame in the souls of all his sons.
It was Fingon who finally looked away, as he had not done when he faced Glaurung.
He remembered it all vividly when Maedhros's gift arrived. Of course, it had to come at a moment when the High King and the mortal lords of Dor-lómin visited Fingon in his halls in Hithlum.
The helm was huge, like the dragon it represented. It was made of grey steel adorned with gold and on it were graven runes of victory. According to the letter Maedhros sent with his gift, a power was in it that guarded any who wore it from wound or death, for the sword that hewed it was broken, and the dart that smote it sprang aside. It had a visor, and the face of one that wore it struck fear into the hearts of all beholders, but was itself guarded from dart and fire. Upon its crest was set in defiance a gilded image of Glaurung the dragon.**
For all those present, Eldar and Edain alike, it was a source of wonder. Was this ever worn by a mere Dwarf, several of them asked. It seemed much too large for any member of this stunted race. Fingon, convinced that few of them would be able to carry its weight for long, pointed out that Dwarves were a sturdy people and deserved to be given their due.
He lifted the helm, holding it between his father's dark frown and his own, wry smile. No doubt Maedhros, knowing his lover's strength and the measure of his shoulders better than anyone present save one, had sent his present half in jest. Though he knew he was capable of wearing it, this helm would never sit easy on Fingon, prince of Hithlum. Yet coming from the other half of his soul it was already precious to him, a token of love as much as a compliment for his valour and prowess.
And Maedhros, of course, could not know about Glaurung's warning.
'I wonder,' his father's voice said aloud from behind the metal dragon head, 'who will be able to wear this in battle without sagging under the weight.'
'Would you like to try, atarinya?' Fingon turned towards Fingolfin, in the certainty his sire would never wear a gift from this giver.
Fingolfin made a dismissive gesture. 'Not I,' he replied. 'My own helmet suits me excellently, and I have no wish to look upon my foes from beneath a fell beast of Morgoth.'
'But my lord King,' spoke young Galdor, the son of Hador of Dor-lómin, ' if Morgoth's hordes will cringe at the look of this thing, what is wrong with wearing it?' He eyed the helm almost avidly.
Fingon lowered it. 'None, I deem.' He could see that Galdor was among the few whom this helm would fit.
'Try it on, then, Galdor,' Fingolfin said with a decidedly unpleasant smile.
Galdor shook his head. 'Not before my sire, lord Fingolfin. And he, having come into his full strength, would bear it with more ease than I would.'
Which was only too true. All eyes turned to Galdor's father. He was not the greatest warrrior among those present, for such a claim could be made by Fingolfin alone. But few would deny that golden-haired Hador had the broadest and strongest shoulders of all, and it was Fingolfin himself who promptly cried: 'Aye, and it seems made for him!'
'It was a gift to your worthy son, my lord King,' Hador Lorindol spoke gravely in his deep voice. 'I would never presume to lay claim to it.'
Hador was sincere enough, yet Fingon knew that only one course remained open to him. His father would never in so many words denounce or shame him. But he had subtly and effectively tarnished both gift and giver with his slight, and then robbed Fingon of his lover's token in all but fact.
It was not Fingon's wont to hesitate. He stepped forward and held out the Dragonhelm to Hador. 'It is yours, my friend,' he declared solemnly.
The Man took it with a graceful smile and began to express his gratitude; the by-play seemed to have escaped him, which was just as well.
Fingolfin smirked. 'Will you not put it on?' he encouraged Hador.
Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise, Fingon told himself, feeling hollow. Was a dragon in one's loins not enough to cope with? Surely he did not need another one to sit on his head? And it was not as if this thing would protect him against Glaurung himself. A dragon would never be daunted by his own image.
Hador lifted the helm to his head. Of course, it fit perfectly.
'Do not reproach yourself. Under the circumstances, you could hardly have acted otherwise without offending the House of Hador and alienating your father even more,' Maedhros told him, on a summer day some years later. They lay entwined, their fire spent, their unbraided locks, jet and copper, mingling with the fern leaves of their forest bed. Fingon had sought out his cousin and lover on the Hill of Himring, and they had wandered as far as they knew they must to remain undetected.
'Now, if I had wrought this artifact myself,' Maedhros went on, not without irony, 'I might have felt slighted indeed.' Lifting the stump of his right arm he added wistfully: 'But I never made a thing since I set foot in Middle-earth.'
Fingon cupped the stump with his right hand and gently placed it on his own chest, where Maedhros's previous gift rested, a green gemstone wrought by Fëanor himself. 'This, I would never give away. Nothing and no one could induce me to do so. I would rather be found lying here at your side by the assembled armies of the Noldor.'
Maedhros chuckled. He did not withdraw his mutilated arm, as he had used to do the first few times they were together - something for which Fingon was intensely grateful. 'There will be no gathering of armies any time soon,' he declared confidently. 'Morgoth is confined in Angband, and Beleriand has peace. Or we would not lie here so heedless of any perils but discovery and shame.'
When Fingon remained silent, Maedhros did withdraw his arm after al. Raising himself on his elbow he bent over his lover to search his face. His hair hung in curtains on either side of his head, reaching all the way down to Fingon's cheeks and reducing the world to the space between their eyes. 'What troubles you?' he asked. 'Unburden yourself.'
Fingon sighed deeply. 'My father,' he said at last. At Maedhros's slight frown he briefly shook his head. 'Not because he made me give the Dragonhelm to Hador Lorindol. It is what he said afterwards, when I congratulated him on his clever manipulating. He wondered what he would have to do next to induce me to turn away from you, wed and get an heir.'
'And what did you tell him?' Maedhros wanted to know, sitting up and placing one leg over Fingon's body to straddle him, his knees hugging his lover's hips, his eyes the colour of storm clouds.
Fingon felt the dragon return to his loins again, rearing its fiery head. Baleful and barren, he found himself thinking, flames that scorch and consume.
'Did you tell him,' Maedhros continued, 'that you are already wedded, but that neither you nor your spouse are likely to breed? Besides, why should he want you to beget an heir? Surely he does not plan to die of old age, like his mortal allies will?'
'I wish I knew,' Fingon murmured. His father was unaware of Glaurung's prediction; he had never uttered one word about it. Could it be that Fingolfin foresaw his own death and feared the end of his House? The only male heir after Fingon was his younger brother Turgon, who only had a daughter and would get no heirs after his wife had perished. Not knowing what more to say he pulled Maedhros towards him and kissed him roughly, bruising both their mouths.
'Could it be,' insisted Maedhros between two kisses, 'that Fingon the Valiant is afeared? That the hero who chased the dragon away has succumbed to some nameless dread?'
His tone was light, but he came disturbingly close. Fingon thought of the fiery dragon he could not overcome, nor would. Should he speak to Maedhros about Glaurung's prophecy? But he found he could not add another burden to his cousin's woes. He could not tell him he dreamed of this beast, and that it in every dream it's size increased ever so slightly.
Hopefully, Maedhros considered his question to be a rhetorical one. 'Do you know,' he murmured finally, 'that my father saw fit to compare our love to a dragon's fire?'
Abruptly, Maedhros's gaze became a glare, acquiring the disturbing quality that could make anyone cringe, save those who loved him and knew the depth of his suffering. 'Did he, now? Does he believe that it resides in the belly alone, and not also in the heart?' he asked. 'Has he never learned that fire is death and life in one? That it is both terrible and beautiful? That it consumes and heats at the same time? That while it destroys what it feeds on, it spreads light? That without it we will freeze to death and perish in the dark?'
He put his left arm under Fingon's shoulders and pulled him up, pressing him against his chest with crushing strength. His voice filled with passion, and Fingon felt his hot breath against his cheek. 'If I can give you light and heat by being consumed, I will not hesitate to burn. And if he goes on saying our love is a beast, tell him to look for the light and the beauty.' He dropped sideward into the ferns, rolling over and drawing Fingon on top of him, his legs wrapped around his lover's waist, offering himself, as Fingon had offered himself before.
By now Fingon was hardly able to think coherently anymore. He vaguely wondered where Maedhros's reasoning went astray, only realising that somehow, it did. What about light that kindled such lusts as Fëanor's Silmarils did? If fire contained both the beast and the beauty, was it not wise to fear its force even when it seemed benevolent?
But he was a warrior, not a sage, and all he knew for certain was that the love he received was as true as the love he gave.
Nothing will come between us, was his last conscious thought before their blazes merged. Neither my father's words, nor your father's dark flame. Nothing.
Not even a dragon.
* Quenya for 'my father'
** These italics are a direct quote from Unfinished Tales, p. 75
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