2. Part 2
I will never forget the beauty of the morning in the hour before our attack on the Havens of Sirion in fulfillment of our oath. I had divided our forces in two; half were on the western side of the Havens, under the command of Amrod and Amras, while the other half remained on the eastern side under my control. I would not take a chance of the Silmaril being lost to flight; this strategy ensured that there was nowhere for the defenders to go but into the sea. We had moved into position under the cover of darkness, a long forced march beneath a clear sky filled with stars, and now stood just outside of the city, awaiting the sunrise which would signal the beginning of the attack. As the velvety darkness of the night slowly gave way to the soft glow of dawn, I pondered our long decline. Once my people had ruled most of Beleriand, constructing vast and splendid cities - Nargothrond, Gondolin, and many others; now the pitiful remnant of the Noldor clustered in a small town by the edge of the sea, living in simple wooden dwellings. And I, who was once a king leading thousands of soldiers into battle in the Noldor's defense, now stood ready with a ragged army of a few hundred men preparing to destroy my people's last refuge. And all for the sake of an oath! Elwing, I cried silently, why did you refuse my offer, and bring us to this! Father, when you swore your oath, did you have any idea of the destruction that your proud words would birth? The air was crisp and salty, smelling of the sea, and the morning silence hung heavy and still around us - the very world seemed to be holding its breath in anticipation. And then the first rays of the rising sun cleared the trees. For a heartbeat I hesitated, wishing in vain that the moment could be averted, that Elwing would emerge with the Silmaril, and we could lay down our arms and enter Sirion in peace; then, reluctantly, I raised the horn to my lips and blew the note that would signal my brothers to the west and launch our assault on the just-waking city.
And after that there was no time to think, and now I am numbly fighting, leading my troops slowly and inexorably into the heart of the town, towards the home of Eärendil and Elwing, and the Silmaril. Although there is more organized opposition than I had expected (some of those who had previously sworn allegiance to the House of Fëanor defected rather than heed my call to arms against our own people, and afterwards came here to aid in the city's defense), this is still mere butchery, not war. I, who have fought in so many wars, know the difference. But the blood on my sword is just as red today as in the past, when it was so stained in an honorable cause. I remember when I first took up this sword in my hand, in Aman; at Father's insistence, as his distrust of his half-brothers grew, I began to learn the art of combat. I was a diligent student, and soon became skilled, but for all my study remained completely ignorant. Despite all the tales we young ones had heard of the Great Journey and the horrors the Eldar had faced in the endless night before arriving on the shores of Aman and seeing the light of the Trees, bloodshed and violence were unreal to us, merely exciting stories to be told on festival days to remind us of our good fortune. Surely such dire evils could not be real! The innocent youngster who first held this blade in his right hand would never recognize the ruthless man now wielding it to such deadly effect with his left. I have heard whispered rumors that the orcs that Morgoth breeds are descended from my people, Quendi corrupted by his black arts into an unrecognizable form. I believe those stories now, for surely on this day my brothers and I are orcs in all but shape, twisted into monsters by the inexorable consequences of our carelessly spoken words. Those of us whose hröar should die return to Mandos, I was taught, where our fëar will be purified before being reborn again. But that will not be my fate, or the fate of my brothers, should we die today; instead, we will pass into the Darkness like the orcs we are. Will even a Silmaril supply enough radiance to forestall that dreadful fate? I no longer know; I only know that the chain forged by that terrible oath is as strong and unyielding as the one which once bound my wrist to Thangorodrim. I do this because I must, though I loathe it.
We are nearly at the southern edge of the town; Maglor is closest to the dwelling of Eärendil, while I am still east of it. "Find the Silmaril, brother!" I shout, and see Maglor briefly raise his sword in acknowledgement; then I rally my closest men and press on towards the docks to cut off any possible escape by boat that Elwing might attempt, for the isle of Balar lies not far south, and she might in desperation attempt to bring the Silmaril to the remnant of Círdan's people who dwell there. Before we reach the docks we hear a scream, and looking up, I see Maglor's face staring out of a window in horror, and Elwing falling through the air. The home of Eärendil and Elwing stands on the edge of a low cliff overlooking the sea, and she has thrown herself out of the uppermost window, to perish in the pounding waves beneath. As she falls, I hold my breath, for I recognize that flash of light on her breast - the Silmaril. When last I saw that brilliant spark, it was shining from Morgoth's iron crown; now the prize we have fought this massacre for seems doomed to be lost in the surf. I begin to run down the stairs leading to the docks and the beach - I must find her body and recover the jewel, or else this has all been in vain! But as she tumbles into the water there is a sudden blinding flash of light, and a terrible laugh echoes on the air, and I halt in amazement, for where a woman's form entered the ocean, a graceful seabird now rises up from the water, the Silmaril still bound to its breast, and I can but watch as the gull soars out over the open sea and away from my reach. Ulmo, Lord of the Waters, has transformed Elwing, and she has fled. And once again, as at Doriath, all of the deaths we have inflicted on our kin have been made meaningless. 'On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East,' I say to myself in bitterness. It is not enough for them to merely curse us; now they openly oppose us to ensure that my brothers and I will never achieve our oath. 'Their Oath will drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue.' For the first time that day, I feel my weariness. I slowly turn to face my men, who have also stood mesmerized by the site of Elwing's sudden transformation, and say "Destroy the docks."
"Lord, what purpose will that serve now?" one of them asks me, confusion on his face. "The battle is over - we will soon be leaving. There is no longer any need to prevent the people of these Havens from fleeing."
"No," I reply, "but I would hinder any reinforcements that might arrive from Balar, and give our men more time to escape. We must assume that we shall be pursued; destroying the docks will deprive Círdan's and Gil-galad's forces of an easy landing site, and buy us valuable time. See that it is done." With that, I turn and slowly ascend the staircase back up to the city. I will avoid a confrontation with Gil-galad at all costs. Not out of fear - for all that he is now considered the High King of the Noldor, he is a mere boy, barely out of his minority and completely untested in battle; I could kill him with ease. But that I know I will never do; I may have it in me to butcher helpless women and children in a futile attempt to fulfill my oath, but I could never bring myself to slay my cousin Fingon's child. We must leave here soon, for when word of this destruction reaches Balar I am certain that Círdan and Gil-galad will come swiftly, and with force.
The fighting has nearly concluded when I reach the top of the stairs; the streets and yards of this simple settlement are filled with the bodies of the dead and dying. There is no time to bury the dead, not if we are to escape to safety, so I give orders that the bodies should be placed inside the wooden buildings; we will burn the settlement when we leave, and thus cremate them. There is nothing we can do for the wounded but move them upstream, where they will be out of the reach of the flames, to wait for eventual rescue or death. I go to Elwing's house in search of Maglor, but find no one; as I leave, one of Amrod's men hurries to my side. "My Lord Maedhros," he says, out of breath from his exertions, "I have been looking for you. Your brothers have been wounded - please come quickly."
No!, I protest silently, please no! I have already failed three of my brothers, is their blood not enough to assuage the Valar's anger? Must everyone I love die? For although I try to tell myself that their wounds may not be serious, the words of the Doom keep echoing in my mind - 'For blood ye shall render blood... slain ye may be, and slain ye shall be...' - and I know that my hope is vain. As I follow the soldier to where my brothers are lying, I am dreading what I will find. Maglor and Amrod and Amras, lying pale and still in death...
I am wrong in at least one particular - Maglor is not here. But Amrod and Amras are, and as I kneel down beside them I realize sadly that I arrived too late for one- Amrod is already dead. But Amras still lives, though not for much longer; he has taken a sword thrust to his chest, and is bleeding into his lungs. I can hear the blood rattling in his throat as he struggles to breathe. His eyes are filled with pain, and their light is starting to dim, but when he sees me his face brightens and he tries to raise his head. "Maitimo?" he whispers. I reach down and lift him up, cradling him in my arms, resting his head against my shoulder, as I used to do when he was small. I gently caress his face and hair, the same rich russet as my own, and reply softly, "I am here, Ambarussa. Rest now." "It hurts," he says, then asks, "Did we get it?" "Yes," I lie, and watch as he closes his eyes. I continue to hold him, speaking loving words and softly stroking his hair, while he dies; his fëa slips away so quietly that I scarcely notice its passing.
I kneel there for a long, long time, holding my youngest brother's body in my arms, lost in grief and memories. The twins were so young when our mother left, and Maglor and I had assumed much of the responsibility for their care. How energetic and exuberant and mischievous they had been as children, and how innocent! They brought so much joy into our lives then, and though they had long since grown, a part of me had continued to regard Amrod and Amras as more my children than my brothers, the only children I now know I will ever raise. I loved them, and had always sought to protect them, and yet in the end I have failed them both, and now they are lost. Lost to the Darkness.
It is the touch of a hand on my shoulder that finally rouses me, and a voice. "My Lord?" I look up to see the face of the soldier who lead me here, compassion in his eyes. My brother's body is growing cold; I lay it down gently, and as I straighten up I am shocked to see how low the sun has dropped in the sky - it is late afternoon now. "See that the bodies of Lords Amrod and Amras are kept together. They were seldom apart in life; I will not see them separated in death," I command him, and he nods silently. I reach over and touch Amras's face one last time, then turn and gently kiss my brother Amrod's forehead; and then I rise to my feet and turn away.
"Where is my brother Maglor?" I ask the soldier, but he does not know. I set off to find him; after nearly an hour of searching, I finally learn that he has gone off into the nearby woods in pursuit of Elwing's children, who apparently fled there during the confusion of the fighting. I am surprised they were not killed before they could reach the shelter of the trees, for few of the inhabitants of the Havens escaped our swords today, but a small part of me is grateful that they did. Too many children have died needlessly on this day as it is. I leave orders with my men to prepare to camp outside the town; we will begin the long march back to Ossiriand at sunrise, I tell them, for tonight we will remain here and rest. Then I set off into the woods, in search of my only surviving brother.
(To Be Continued)
The Doom of the Noldor, which Maedhros quotes from, is found in chapter 9 of The Silmarillion.
Maitimo - "Well Shaped One"; Maedhros's mother-name, given to him because "he was of beautiful bodily form." See "The Shibboleth of Fëanor", The Peoples of Middle Earth (History of Middle Earth, volume 12), p. 353.
Ambarussa - "Top-russet"; Amras's mother-name, given to him because of his reddish hair. See "The Shibboleth of Fëanor", The Peoples of Middle Earth (History of Middle Earth, vol. 12), p. 353.
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