5. A Glimmer of Hope
On the third day of the hunt they stopped counting the slain before they put the corpses to the torch, and in grim satisfaction the party returned to the fortress on the Hill of Himring. There, a surprise awaited them. Shortly before their return from the orc-chase, two guests had appeared at the gates, unexpected yet not unwelcome, for they were Celegorm and Curufin, sons of Fëanor.
Maedhros and Maglor were glad to see their brothers, and Fingon was not too adverse to their company. Though at least Curufin was partly responsible for the burning of the ships at Losgar and the ensuing losses on the Grinding Ice, he deemed this a matter of the past not to be dwelled on. Discord was something the Eldar could ill afford; now that the Enemy had proved so strong, all had to hold together. If it had not been for the timely help of Círdan and his Falathrim, Fingon himself would have perished when Morgoth attacked Hithlum, three years of the Sun ago.
Yet there was something strange about the arrival of the two brothers. They had been riding a single horse, Curufin had a strip of cloth wound around his neck that he did not even remove in the fire-warmed hall, and Celegorm had not brought his great hound Huan - until now his faithful companion. A pity, for Huan was always most eager in his pursuit of orcs and other creatures of the dark.
He resolved to ask about it during the evening meal that awaited them on their return, but the first question came from Maglor. 'Was Nargothrond no longer to your liking?' he said to his younger brothers. 'Or did Finrod decide you drank enough of his wine?'
Celegorm and Curufin exchanged a look.
'Well?' said Maedhros, when they failed to answer.
'Our cousin Finrod,' Celegorm replied flatly, 'is dead.'
Fingon's wine cup jerked, spilling part of its content.
'I hope,' Maedhros said after a silence, 'that you do not expect us to laugh at such a bad jest.' Celegorm was not renowned for his sense of humour.
'He is not jesting.' Curufin shrugged. 'Finrod was mauled by a werewolf of Gorthaur in his own dungeon on Eithel Sirion. To our cousin's credit, I must add that he requited himself well, for in his turn he bit the wolf's throat.'
Finrod, the most cheerful, open-minded and generous of Finwë's grandsons - dead, killed in the fortress he had built himself? Fingon stared at Curufin, who had the evil courage to look smug. Perhaps I should send you to Morgoth as a suitable gift.,
'How did this happen?' Maedhros asked gruffly.
Curufin cleared his throat. 'He proposed to rob a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown to help some base mortal called Beren, who needed it to buy Lúthien daughter of Thingol. So we reminded the people of Nargothrond of our Oath.' He cast a glance at Maedhros and Maglor who both looked deeply troubled. 'They were wise enough to refuse Finrod. He was insane enough to go anyway, only accompanied by the mortal and ten of his warriors.' He coughed, and took a swig of wine.
'Do you mind telling the rest, Celegorm?'
Celegorm shifted in his chair. 'What more is there to tell? Finrod got himself killed. When he heard this, his bland little nephew Orodreth claimed his crown and told us we had better leave. So here we are.'
'And who tried to throttle you?' Fingon asked, pointing at the cloth around Curufin's neck. He was hard put to suppress his rage. 'Surely not Orodreth. He does not have the makings of a Kinslayer!'
Celegorm jumped up. 'You, of all people, have the cheek to use the word Kinslayer against us?' he shouted. 'Your hands are as red as ours!'
Maedhros left hand descended on the table. 'Restrain yourself! And answer the High King's question.'
'Ha! Why not just let the usurper's son rant?' Curufin coughed again.
'Curufin!' growled his eldest brother.
Fingon rose. They could insult him, but not Fingolfin. 'Maedhros,' he said, his voice taut, 'I will not draw a blade in the house of a host, but neither do I wish to sleep under the same roof with... that.' He turned and strode to the door.
Behind him, all four brothers raised their voices simultaneously. A chair crashed to the floor. Though he had the impression that at least one of Fëanor's sons was calling him back, Fingon held himself deaf and left.
Outside it was almost dark, and the first stars were coming out. Fingon realised that his threat to leave Himring was empty; it would be sheer folly to travel by night through a country infested with orcs and other foul creatures. The best he could do was to avoid Celegorm and Curufin until he could depart at first light tomorrow. But if he stayed close to the fortress, he could at least take a walk to sort out his thoughts and feelings.
He loosened his sword in its scabbard before he began to descend the hill, down a path that Maedhros and he used to take in happier days. Before the Bragollach. His jaws clenched. They were going one by one: his youngest brother Argon, his sister Aredhel, Angrod, Aegnor, his father, and now Finrod - who would be next?
Not Maedhros. Let it not be Maedhros.
The thought alone was unbearable, so he thought of Finrod instead, keeping his dread at bay with his grief. His cousin's face appeared before his mind's eye, but not as he had last seen him, during a war council in Hithlum. It was a young boy he saw, hanging upside down from a tree in their grandfather's garden in Tirion, on a festival day.
'Well met, Finrod,' he remembered saying, gazing up at the golden head between the green leaves. 'Your great friend Turgon is here, too. Will you not come down?'
Finrod had blinked, his eyes slightly glazed. 'Not yet. I want to sleep.'
'Only bats sleep upside down,' Fingon had replied. 'Quendi can sleep in trees, but they do not do it hanging with their heads down.'
'Then I am a bat. I really slept. I dreamed I was flying in the twilight of the trees. Why did you wake me up?'
And suddenly, Fingon found himself wondering if the boy had not actually been asleep when he spoke to him. 'To prevent you from falling down and dying,' he recalled answering breezily.
'Quendi do not die.'
'She stopped breathing. I will not.'
That was Finrod. This time, he had imitated a werewolf rather than a bat, and he had died.
Angrily, Fingon shook his head. Make your grief a weapon to turn against the Enemy, instead of abandoning yourself to irrelevant memories and silly thoughts, he told himself. It did nothing to alleviate the pain. I am going mad.
I was afraid so.
Fingon wheeled, whipping out his blade before it occurred to him that it could only be Maedhros; no one else could have read his unguarded mind. If he had been less preoccupied he would have heard him approach. Mad indeed; what if Maedhros had been an enemy?
'It is unsafe to roam alone at night, with a price on your head.' Maedhros' eyes glittered in the dark.
'Yes, Morgoth has made my head rather precious.' Fingon put away his sword.
'To me, it always was. Morgoth will never value it highly enough.' Stepping closer, Maedhros laid his hand against Fingon's cheek.
Fingon laid his on Maedhros chest. For a while they stood motionless, each feeling the breath of Arda and the other's breath on his skin, until finally they closed the remaining distance and brought their lips together.
They kissed but briefly, so as to avoid temptation in the no longer peaceful hills. Around them, the leaves were whispering sadly.
'I ordered them to sleep in the stables,' Maedhros said finally. 'I could hardly throw them out altogether, at night. They are still my brothers. But tomorrow, they shall leave. Do you think I grieve any less for Finrod than you do? There is no excuse for what they have done.'
No? Fingon thought, taking care to guard his mind now, so as not to hurt his beloved. What about the Oath you, too, have sworn? He preferred not to dwell on what Maedhros would have done in his brothers' stead. Gracious Lord of Eagles, would I forgive him if he had sent Finrod to his death? But he would never have done such a thing, would he?
'So you see,' Maedhros went on, 'you will not really be sleeping under the same roof.'
'Thank you, Maitimo. I really appreciate that.'
'Well, I had to find a way to lure you inside.' Maedhros smirked. 'Are you coming?'
Fingon laid an arm across his lover's back. There was no escaping it. There was no way he would not be coming. If he had never thought of speaking a vow to bind himself to Maedhros it was not because such a thing would be unheard of among the Eldar, but because his love was the vow. He would not break it. Never would he turn from the path he was treading.
Maedhros copied his gesture, resting the stump of his maimed arm against Fingon's shoulder blade. Together they ascended the path towards the gates, not bothering to remove their arms when the guards let them in. After all, why should two close friends and cousins not support and comfort each other in times such as these, when tidings were mostly sorrowful?
'By the way,' Fingon asked when they entered the main building, 'did you find out who it was that tried to throttle Curufin?'
'I could not get it out of them,' Maedhros answered. 'It may be same person who took Curufin's horse and lured Celegorm's hound away.'
Such a person would be a valuable asset in the war against Morgoth, Fingon thought.
When Fingon slipped into the bedchamber and bolted the door, Maedhros was half undressed. Their last garments they shed simultaneously. They appraised each other for a moment before Fingon gripped his lover's shoulders, kissed him fiercely and marched him backward to the wall. 'You will need the support,' he said when Maedhros raised his eyebrows.
Dropping to his knees he slid his hands downward to rest on his lover's hips.
'The High King would kneel for me?' Maedhros asked, his eyes going dark with anticipation.
Still a little uncomfortable with it? 'Humour me, please, or my kingly knees may forget
how to bend altogether.' Fingon grabbed Maedhros' left hand and the stump of his right arm - he never withdrew it nowadays - and bent forward.
After a while he felt nails dig into his palm, and his gaze wandered up across the well-shaped chest to the handsome face above him. The mouth was slightly open, tongue-tip wetting the lower lip. The eyes were unfocused, the lids trembled. In the soft candlelight he looked vulnerable, no longer the deadly warrior, but rather the reserved youth he had been in Valinor.
Except that there, they had been no more than friends.
Suddenly, Maedhros threw his head aside, pressing his shoulders back against the wall. He gasped. 'Findekáno, if you go on like this, and walls do have ears, these will ring with my shouts soon.'
Fingon withdrew his mouth. 'And remember you until they crumble... The bed, then?'
'Any place where I can smother my cries!' Maedhros said.
In the end, he bit into his lover's shoulder, while Fingon muffled his groans of pleasure with Maedhros' hair. They remained as they were for a time, their bodies still joined. Neither of them felt the need to speak or move.
A loud knock on the door made them jerk apart. 'Maedhros!'
It was Maglor. They looked at each other. Shall we pretend that we are not here?
Perhaps he knows that we are.
But what, if he is not alone?
The next moment, they heard Maglor raise his voice in chant, and slowly the bolt began to slide away. Fingon was astonished: Fëanor's second son would never put his powers to such use, merely to satisfy his curiosity.
Lie down and do not move. Maedhros raised himself on his elbow. Reluctantly, Fingon hid behind his lover, pulling the sheet over his head.
Someone stepped inside. 'Excuse me, brother,' came Maglor's melodious voice. 'But this is important. You had better rise.'
Maedhros shifted uneasily.
Suddenly, Fingon decided not to play dead after all. Pushing the sheet away he sat up.
At the same time, the door closed rather noisily; Maglor must have kicked it shut as soon as he discerned the slightest movement behind his brother's back. So he had not come alone; there were others waiting outside.
'What is so important?' Fingon asked in a low voice.
Maglor was staring at the shoulder where Maedhros' teeth had left their mark. He swallowed.
'Celegorm and Curufin decided not to sleep in the stables,' he answered after a moment. 'They left the fortress and came upon two escaped thralls from Angband, whom they captured. The two claim they have something to tell us.'
'We will come down,' Maedhros said, while Fingon climbed from the bed and picked up his clothes. Thralls escaped from Angband? Tools of Morgoth more likely, without a will of their own, running the Enemy's errands.
'Go down and prepare the prisoners for interrogation,' Maglor cried to whoever it was outside the door. 'I shall wake the King.' Before he made to leave, he cast them a reproachful glance. 'You are getting careless.'
'Yes; perhaps we could just as well make the long-overdue marriage announcement,' Maedhros said mockingly. 'Then you could play at our wedding.'
Maglor fled the room, murmuring something incomprehensible, just before he closed the door. Fingon almost felt sorry for him.
Fingon was aghast. The two standing before his seat looked worse than thralls. Under their foul smelling rags that left most of their bodies exposed they were emaciated, their bare skin grey with dirt, and their bleeding feet marred by countless crusts and scabs. Their lank hair was grey, whether with dust or from the ordeals they had been put through was hard to tell, and their eyes still held the fear, pain and loathing that must have invaded them in the black pits of Morgoth. They hardly resembled Elves, and even mortals would be reluctant to recognize any kinship with these pitiful creatures.
This was, how orcs were being made, Fingon thought. A little more torment, a little more depravation, and they would be past caring when they were made to breed with females equally far gone. Every generation would slide a little further down, until... he shuddered and had to suppress the desire to throw them out and leave them to be swallowed by the night. That would be Orc-work.
Again, he looked them up and down. Their hands were tied behind their backs; a seemlingly wise precaution; a poisoned blade easily found its way to the flesh of the unsuspecting. Such things were known to have happened.
But tonight, he was sick of being cautious. 'Untie them,' he commanded.
Several of those present, among them Maedhros, objected, pointing out the risks. Not Celegorm and Curufin, though; they merely shrugged.
'Do as I say,' Fingon told the guards, his voice as cold as the Helcaraxë.
They obeyed. One of the two wretches blinked when his bonds were cut. His companion did not react at all.
'What are your names?' Fingon asked.
'I cannot recall,' one of them said in a voice devoid of emotion.
'Duilin,' the other - the one who had blinked - replied slowly. 'Of Ard-galen.' Ard-galen had been destroyed thirteen years ago. So thirteen years of thralldom sufficed to turn a warrior into a wreck.
'Give me your story.'
It was Duilin who told it; the other remained silent and scarcely even nodded.
The tale was astounding. They had managed to escape after a mortal man and a maiden had caused upheaval in Angband. And these two, the man and the maiden, had performed a feat no living soul would have thought possible. They had captured a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown.
'A curse on them,' Curufin said softly in the ensuing silence. 'They actually did it.'
'A curse on them?' Maedhros cried. 'No, praise them for dealing the Enemy such a blow and giving us a glimmer of hope again!'
'But who were they?' Fingon asked the two escaped thralls.
Regretfully, Duilin shook his head. 'We never heard their names, my lord.'
'But I think,' Maedhros said slowly, 'that some of us have. Celegorm? Curufin?'
Again, his younger brothers exchanged a look. 'All right,' Celegorm spat finally, with barely veiled fury. 'The mortal Beren, son of Barahir, and Lúthien, daughter of Thingol. But don't expect me to say more!'
The tumult that followed was remarkable, given the fact that the room contained only eleven people and that neither Fingon nor the two escaped Elves contributed to it. The silent one frowned, as if trying to remember something.
Fingon's feelings had seldom been more mixed. It was good to know that Morgoth was not unassailable. But if this Silmaril were to end up in Doriath, the sons of Fëanor would want to march on Thingol. And become Kinslayers once more.
Then, abruptly, Duilin's silent companion took a step towards him. Fingon jumped up, prepared to evade or ward off a blow. The guards, still digesting the news, were less attentive than they should have been. There was no need to be alarmed, however. The Elf dropped to his knees and said, his voice so low that Fingon had to strain his ears to catch the words: 'Kill me, my lord.' He tore the remaining rags from his sunken chest and spread his arms. 'Put me to the sword. End this wretched and worthless life.'
Fingon was dismayed. 'Why?'
'For bringing good news to the wrong place. King Thingol's name suddenly made me remember who I used to be. I was a grey Elf once, with kin and friends in Doriath. Now I have betrayed them all to the sons of Fëanor and their High King. I thought my will was not enslaved to Morgoth, but now I see I served him all the same. No doubt you will march on Doriath, and though the Girdle of Melian is strong, I do not know if it will hold against the full might of the Noldor. Make your reputation true, Lord of the Kinslayers. Kill me.' The agony in the Grey Elf's voice was almost unbearable. He looked beyond healing. Perhaps death would indeed be a mercy to him.
If that is true, Fingon thought, I refuse to be merciful.
'I will do no such thing,' he said between clenched teeth, knowing he would never escape his past, regardless of where he ran, and no matter if he went forward or back. 'You are no traitor. We would have heard the tale anyway. But' - they were all listening now, and none more intently than Maedhros - 'but I swear to you by the memory of Fingolfin my sire, that the High King and his followers will not march on Doriath.'
So there was one way he would not come with Maedhros, after all. He turned towards his lover, capturing his gaze and holding it with all the power he could muster, for that was what it took. Now I have sworn an oath, too. What will you do?
He was not prepared for the sadness he saw in that gaze. 'Perhaps we should march on Angband, then,' Maedhros said.
-The usurper: Maedhros relinquished the High Kingship of the Noldor to Fingolfin, but some of his brothers (very likely the three C's) did not agree with this; it would be just like them to suggest Fingolfin had no rightful claim.
- Argon: Fingolfin's youngest son is only mentioned in the Shibboleth of Fëanor, HoMe 12, The Peoples of Middle-earth. He fell in battle shortly after the arrival of the Noldor in Middle-earth.
- The person who nearly throttled Curufin: if you don't know or remember who this is, reread the story of Beren and Lúthien.
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