1. Part 1
This is the 10th and last story in my Maedhros series (although I'm probably going to write two prequels, set before "Captive of Fate"). I recommend reading them in proper order for maximum enjoyment, but the only one that is essential reading in order to understand this tale is "The Hear of Fëanor."
Thank you, Altariel Artanis, for suggesting the name of Fingon's wife and Maglor's wife!
All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest.
I do not know how to describe this place. There is nothing here to see - it is not light, or dark, just grey everywhere I turn. There are no sounds, no smells, nothing to touch or taste. I dimly sense the presence of others, but they are not close, and the touch of their thoughts on my mind feels alien - I do not know these souls, they were strangers to me in life. The only presence I recognize is Mandos, who has brought me here to his domain to face his judgement. The Vala feels even more overpowering now, here in his own realm, than he did in Beleriand, and at the thought of facing his wrath I once more grow afraid. But to my surprise he simply asks me, "Do you wish to meet your kin now, Maedhros?"
My kin! For a moment I feel my spirit lighten. Most of those I loved in life have already come to these Halls, long ago - now I can at last be reunited with them, if I wish. My high-spirited brother Celegorm, clever Curufin, bold Caranthir, my mischievous youngest brothers Amrod and Amras - all here, I remember suddenly, because I failed in my duty as Head of our House to protect them. Fingon, my cousin - dead because of me. My father - I disappointed him during his life, and betrayed him after his death when I yielded the kingship and dispossessed our House. How can I ever face his anger? My grandfather Finwë, the most beloved of our people - what must he think of me, his first grandchild, who slaughtered so many of those very people he lead and loved so well? I feel a shadow fall over me; "No," I reply to Mandos, "I do not want to meet them now."
For a brief instant, I sense ...something - disappointment?, sorrow? - in the Vala's thoughts, but it passes too quickly for me to identify the feeling with certainty. But Mandos merely replies, "Very well. Remain here then, or roam as you will, should you prefer. You will find you cannot leave the Halls, but within them you are free to go where you wish. I will return later, and we will talk." And then I feel his presence beginning to withdraw; quickly, I ask "Mandos?"
"What is it you wish, little one?"
"Am I not to be judged?" I ask hesitantly.
"Your judgement began when you entered my halls; it will conclude when you leave them." Mandos replied. He must have sensed my confusion, for he continued, "Do you have another question?"
I am almost afraid to ask, but there is no point in postponing the inevitable. "And my punishment? Surely I am to be punished for my crimes?"
"Do you wish to be punished?" he asks.
"No," I reply weakly, "but I deserve to be."
"And how will punishing you undo the harms you have caused?" Mandos responds. "For now, I deem you are not to be punished. You must find another way to cope with your feelings of guilt, Maedhros, for I will not help you purge yourself of them in that fashion. Perhaps you should begin by reflecting on your life - all of your life."
And then he withdrew, and I found myself alone, with only my thoughts as bleak company.
There is no sense of time here. No day or night passes in this place, and without flesh there is no growth of hunger or thirst to mark the hours, no onset of fatigue or need for bodily rest. Although without a body I do not truly sleep, I do indeed dream, as there is little else to do; my mind continually drifts into memories, and I relive my incarnate life in fragments, a moment here, a season there. Dreaming also provides an escape from the constant dull ache I feel when awake - as a bare fëa, I yearn for my lost house, marred though my hröa was by its absent hand, and a part of me continually protests this nakedness. At least in dreams I once more have form, phantom though it may be, and I can trick myself into believing I am housed again, even if only for a little while. But the price for this relief is high; for whatever reason I am drawn, not to my happiest memories, which would seem most appropriate to offset the dreariness of these Halls, but to my most painful ones. The horrible hours following the death of the Trees and my grandfather Finwë. Alqualondë, its harbor red with blood, and the bodies of the slain mariners floating in the water. Losgar, and fire. My torture at Morgoth's hands, and the long agony on Thangorodrim. The moment when I first saw my bandaged wrist and knew that I was forever crippled. My first stirrings of sexual desire, at the lake of Mithrim, when to my horror I found my love for Fingon changing from innocent affection into something strange and monstrous. The Nirnaeth, and the sickening sights of the battlefield, and the day I learned of my cousin's death. Doriath, and Sirion. The Silmaril burning my hand. No matter how hard I try to dream of pleasant things, my thoughts inevitably turn to distressing events. I think back on the first time I viewed the beauty of the Trees, and suddenly the Silmaril is once more scorching my hand, its terrible light shining in the night. I start to dream of Himring in the fall, remembering the crisp air and the beauty of the foliage, and then the red leaves on the ground become pools of blood, I am besieged again on the plain of Anfauglith, surrounded by orcs and traitorous men, Maglor near my side cutting down Ulfang. I hurt, whether awake and yearning for my body, or dreaming and trapped in nightmares of my past. Help me, please! I finally scream silently, I can bear no more of this! But of course, that is not true - for there is no way to escape it. I cannot flee into death, for I am dead already. I now understand why Mandos will not punish me - he does not need to.
To my surprise, my call is quickly answered; I hear a voice calling me out of yet another tormenting dream. "Little one, what is wrong?" It is Mandos; his presence surrounds me, somehow soothing. "I hurt," I reply, and then I suddenly feel ashamed of my weakness - a grown man, once a lord among my people, and I cried out like a child! "I'm sorry, my lord, I will not disturb you again..."
"Are your memories the source of your pain?" Mandos replies. "Which ones are causing you such anguish, Maedhros?" But I am too ashamed to reply - how can I speak of my failures to this lordly being? I cannot bear the thought of exposing my innermost self, with all its weaknesses and failings, to anyone, so I remain mute. "Little one, I cannot aid you if you stay silent," Mandos eventually continues. "You will continue to suffer until you choose to allow me to help you. A guilty conscience cannot be easily evaded. I know it is frightening, but you must speak with others if you are to learn, and grow, and eventually heal."
"I...I cannot. Forgive me." I reply.
"If that is your choice, then I will respect it," Mandos responds sadly, and slowly begins to withdraw. I feel the dull ache setting in again, all the harder to bear after the temporary relief the Vala's presence had provided; if I attempt to flee into dreams again, I realize I will soon find myself trapped within yet another nightmare. Desperately, I call out, "Wait!" When Mandos pauses, I force myself to continue, "I...I was remembering Alqualondë..."
And so it begins.
It is a terrible thing to be questioned by a Vala. Neither Mandos nor Nienna are cruel; indeed, they seem to go out of their way to be gentle. But they insist that their queries be answered; if I refuse, they simply ask the same question again, and again, and again, over and over until in weariness I give in and reply. And unhoused, my fëa is open to them, so they can perceive a lie. It is fruitless to attempt to evade an unwelcome question by responding with a falsehood, for then they simply become more persistent in their questioning, or else they abandon me to the pain of my memories until I become desperate enough to respond truthfully.
And so often the response to my answer is yet another question, and they lead my mind in circles, until I am too confused to know what to think. Once, when speaking to Nienna about my sufferings as a prisoner of Morgoth, I blame myself for my plight; had I not been so foolish as to attempt negotiations with him, I say, I would never been captured in the first place. Nienna replies, "Is Elwing to blame for the deaths of the people of the Havens?" "No, of course not!" I respond, indignant. "But had she surrendered the Silmaril, your attack would never have taken place," she replies. Angry now, I say, "That does not justify what I did there; you cannot blame her for my evil actions, which I alone chose!" "If Elwing bears no guilt for your actions at Sirion, then how do you bear guilt for Morgoth's actions at Angband? He alone decided to do what he did, in putting you to torment; how are you in any way responsible for his choices?" Nienna quietly replies, then withdraws, leaving me to ponder her words; surely there must be a flaw in her argument somewhere, but I cannot find it.
Mandos asks if I enjoyed myself when I was killing the people of Doriath and Sirion. "Of course not!" I reply, horrified, "It sickened me." Then why did I do it, if not for pleasure, he asks me. Ashamed, I finally admit to him, after much prodding, that I was afraid; I had thought myself bound by my oath, and had been too frightened to break it. And yet I regard myself as evil, Mandos responds, and not simply as a coward. Why? "Because my actions at Doriath and Sirion were evil," I respond. "Then only evil people can commit evil actions? Your cousin Fingon is evil then?" Mandos asks me. "How dare you accuse Fingon of being evil!" I reply in fury. "Fingon is one of the finest Elves ever to live -" "And yet he murdered innocents in the Kinslaying at Alqualondë," Mandos interrupts, "and the deliberate killing of an innocent person is evil. Either he is evil, Maedhros, or it is possible for evil actions to be committed by those who are not in themselves evil beings. In which case, perhaps you are not evil either, but merely one who has committed evil acts, like Fingon."
My thoughts often become so snarled I do not know what to believe. I was a simple warrior in life; it seems in death I am now expected to become a sage. I pray that I will someday find a path out of this confusion.
Nienna has asked me why I do not seek out my cousin Fingon. I told her that I am afraid, and so I am. I was the cause of his death, after all, and I committed so much evil during my incarnate life - there is no way he can know these things and still care for me. I have loved him for so long, and so deeply - I do not know how I will bear it if he rejects me. But Nienna insists that I speak with him, and in here the commands of the Valar must be obeyed. So I will seek him out, and tell him that I love him, and pray for the strength to bear his rejection, for surely he does not love me.
Fingon does not understand why I blame myself for his death. "Russandol, I knew the risks when I agreed to fight," he tells me. "Why do you insist on blaming yourself for other people's decisions? I am responsible for my choices, cousin, not you."
"But I talked you into it..." I begin, but my cousin stops me. "And if you had not," he replies, "and Morgoth had eventually launched another offensive, and I fell then, you would have blamed yourself for not convincing me to fight. Russandol, you damn yourself either way, over events you do not control in any case. Why are you always so hard on yourself?" Fingon asks me gently. I do not reply, for I do not know the answer myself.
I think Fingon senses that I have not been entirely open with him; he keeps questioning me about why I took his death so badly, for I, in an unguarded moment, foolishly let slip that I nearly joined him here in Mandos when I heard the news. I have told my cousin that I love him, but that is all I said. How I loved him in life I have kept to myself, for in this place there is no desire (that is of the flesh, and we who dwell here have none), only love alone, and have the Valar not told me that in the end all love is the same, a reflection of our Creator's love of his creation? Why distress my cousin by revealing something that no longer matters? But a part of me insists that it does matter, that I am once again behaving as a coward, too afraid of Fingon's reaction to tell him the truth. Finally I force myself to tell him the secret which I never willingly revealed to anyone during my life.
He is silent for a long while; when he finally speaks, I cringe, but his thoughts are sorrowful, not angry. "Oh, Maedhros," he says softly, "I am so sorry." He pauses for a moment, the continues, "That is why you withdrew from me during those months at Mithrim, isn't it? Why you went to Himring."
"Yes," I reply. "I am sorry if I hurt you, but I couldn't bear it any longer - to be constantly near you, desiring you, and knowing that you felt nothing for me but cousinly affection, that your heart belonged to Lendeirien, and always would. Being with you was a torment - but being away from your side was not much better, in the end."
"I thought it was something I had said, or done," Fingon replies. "I'm sorry, Maedhros. I did - I do, I mean - love you, just not in that way. You will always be very dear to me, but my wife is the only person I have ever desired."
"I know," I reply sadly. "I remember how happy you were when you first told me about her, and I am glad she gives you joy. No one chooses where his heart will rest; yours chose Lendeirien, and mine chose you, and only Ilúvatar knows why, in the end."
"Why did you decide to tell me this?" Fingon asks. "I know you were afraid of what I would say - I felt you try to pull away from me. Why tell me now, after keeping it secret for so long?"
"Because you asked what I was hiding, and you have a right to know the truth," I reply. "I could never tell you when we were both alive, I was too much a coward for that." I feel Fingon stir in protest, and quickly continue, "No, it's true, I was a coward, and my failure to face my fears lead me in the end to ruin. But now my confession no longer matters - in here my love for you is pure, untainted by a desire you cannot reciprocate. And soon you will be released from this place to rejoin your wife and son, who still live, and I would not have you live the rest of your life without knowing the true depth of my feelings for you. Remember me fondly when you rejoin the world of the living, cousin."
"You speak as though you are certain you will never be released, Russandol! Has Mandos told you that that is to be your fate?" Fingon asks.
"No," I reply quietly, "he does not need to."
(To Be Continued)
The italicized line at the beginning of the story is Ecclesiastes 2:23 (The Bible).
The Halls of Mandos: My impressions of what occurs to elven spirits in the Halls of Mandos, and what it feels like for an elf to be a disembodied soul, are largely derived from discussions in The History of Middle Earth series, especially the following passages: "Laws and Customs among the Eldar", Morgoth's Ring (History of Middle Earth, volume 10), pp. 218-219 and 222-223; "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth", Morgoth's Ring (History of Middle Earth, volume 10), pp. 361-363; and "Glorfindel", The Peoples of Middle Earth (History of Middle Earth, volume 12), p. 380.
Sexual desire as being primarily physical: "...Marriage is chiefly of the body, for it is achieved by bodily union... And the union of bodies in marriage is unique, and no other union resembles it. Whereas the union of fëar in marriage differs from other unions of love and friendship not so much in kind as in its closeness and permanence..." From Morgoth's Ring (History of Middle Earth, volume 10), p. 226.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.