Blood and Fire - A Story of the Silmarillion
The reflection of the flames dance on the water like possessed spirits. Behind me, there is a great crackle and roar as the burning pier sinks, swaying, into the ocean. Thin traceries of blood vein the waves like threads in a tapestry, but this is no sweet, pastoral scene woven in silk. This is real, this is madness, and I do not know what in the world I am doing.
My sword moves without my commanding it. The thin silver blade scythes down and up in a bright arc, a crimson banner unfolding before it. The silver-haired Eldar before me falls with an arrow still nocked to his slender ashwood bow, staring at me through glassy, unseeing eyes. Blood slowly seeps from the deep gash that splits him from shoulder to hip, the gash that killed him. A gash that I dealt.
Valar have mercy, what am I doing? Has the Oath of my father really driven us so mad? These Eldar are our kin, if distantly, and lived long in the Havens, in the city of Arvernien, in peace, studying their music and withdrawing from the many wars which have plagued the world. And here we are, come to torment them, to spill their blood as we search for the Silmaril. We are kinslayers. Accursed.
Behind me, I feel heat flare on my back as my brothers set another pier on fire. The sea is rising in this tumult, and the ships rock and sway on the thin lines that tether them to land. Arvernien's ships, not like the swan-ships of the Teleri that we burned long ago. Then, we had to cross from Aman to the Hither Lands, setting ourselves on this path to damnation.
I am sorry, Father. We have done all we could to bring the Silmarils back.
I must obey him. He was my sire, my greater, the creator of the very Silmarils themselves. If Morgoth the Blackhearted thinks to hold them from us, he must be taught otherwise, and swiftly. My brothers do not suffer to be mocked, to have our House's greatest accomplishment stolen...
Mother, but why?
I think of my own mother, Nerdanel, even as I duck the slash of another Eldar's shortsword and raise my own blade upwards, hard, into his stomach. He doubles over, and blood covers his soft leather jerkin.
Then he falls, and tumbles from the crumbling, burning pier into the water. A new stain floats upward, washing on the waves. Saltwater sprays my back, and I know that for the rest of my cursedly long life, I will see these scenes in my nightmares, over and over.
Mother, you would hate me.
My mother...I scarcely remember her face. She gave her dark red hair to Maedhros, her eldest son and my brother, and to Amras and I. Her gentle nature and her skill with music she gave to Maglor, second oldest of our brothers. The other three - Celegorm, Curufin, and Caranthir - inherited much of our father, his black hair and his quick, volatile temperament.
Seven of us in all, from Maedhros to Amras and I, the youngest, twins. We were born scarce a minute apart, for our mother says that we could never long bear to be separated.
Seven sons - many men would love to have as many as my father did. All of us were strong, and skilled, and trained as warriors. And all seven of us doomed ourselves to madness when we took the Oath. Morgoth, the Black Terror, stole my father's Silmarils. We will bring them back. We swore that no one should ever keep a Silmaril from us again, from now unto the ending of the world.
The Elves of the Havens are falling. The seven of us, my brothers and I, are wild, unstoppable. I run toward a thicket where the fighting is fiercest. The fire scours my back, and the wind tears the blood from my sword, red tears weeping in the deepening night.
A waxing moon rides silver in the West, watching with sorrowful eyes the brutality of our slaughter. Somewhere, Nienna weeps, weeps as if her heart will break to see us reduced to this, if she has not already wept her eyes dry from our countless atrocities.
I reach the fray. I scream, I do not know what I say, I clash swords with another Eldar. He seems younger than I am, slight and small, his hair a pale golden, stained with streaks of blood and soaked in saltwater. His eyes are wide and terrified as our swords meet with a screeching song of metal, sparks scraping along the edges.
I am stronger than him. I bear him to the ground. The sword slips from his nerveless fingers.
For a timeless instant, we are frozen - him on his knees before me, hands upraised as if he will beg for mercy, and I with my sword raised, ready to deal the killing stroke, my fingers slick with blood and seawater, my hair tumbling from its bindings and smoking as a stray cinder lands in it. My teeth are bared, and I utter an animalistic scream that makes me terrified of myself.
But I can't kill him. I can't. I stand there, frozen, knowing that another Eldar will come up and run me through, and I must end him, find my brothers if they have survived the madness, and our father as well. Yet he's so young, and he will see this scene in his nightmares...
Yet another enemy runs up, the same age as my kneeling foe, the same color, with the same hair and the same narrow face. They are brothers, I guess dully, perhaps even twins.
The second Eldar fumbles for a dagger at his side, and is driving it toward me, screaming - the sharp edge slices my arm, and my blood joins the current running across the soaked planks, or what little remain of them. The fire encroaches further. Everywhere there is madness, screaming, death.
I scream. My moment of weakness is gone. I bring the sword down with crushing force, scraping my throat raw with the force of my cry, and the kneeling Eldar falls, my sword in his heart, and blood, so much blood, everywhere.
The running Eldar stops as if stricken through the heart, and falls to his knees to catch the other as he crumples, like silk thrown to the wind. His scream is that of a wild thing, as he closes his brother's eyes and bends over him, calling his name, collapsing to the ground, his hands stained with his brother's heartsblood. They look so alike, one crying and one dying, that they must be twins.
A sense of horror steals through me, so strong that I fall, bending over, and hot bile burns my throat. I cannot imagine the pain if that should happen, if half my soul should suddenly be broken off. I retch violently, tasting foul vomit and the coppery tang of blood, salt and flame and madness. Valar help me....but no. I forsook the Valar when I took this Oath. They cannot help me on this bloodsoaked, cursed shore, where we defile the very land itself by this slaughter.
There is someone over me, reaching down, pulling me to my feet, and I see my own twin, Amras. His face is pale as parchment, and I see that he cannot understand this madness either. Are we alone in an island of insanity, where we kill even as we cry out to know what we are doing, why we have damned ourselves so? Surely there is some place in the depths of torture for us.
We run together, killing, flailing madly towards where we see Maedhros, or at least we think it is him. The Elf we seek towards is tall, like our brother, with thick russet hair, again like our brother. We do not know if it is him, we do not know anything. All we have is each other, and even that could, and will, be torn from us at any second.
When we were children together, Amrod and I, our father used to make small wooden boats for us, with flaxen sails woven from the spare fibers of Mother's spinning wheel. We would sail them on the river near our house, which scarcely deserved the name - a rivulet that ran through stony shallows, fed by snowmelt from the mountains.
How it delighted us to smash rocks into those small ships, and sink them, only to retrieve them and carry them home to be fixed up by one brother or another. I remember Caranthir would snap at us and tell us to occupy ourselves with wooden swords in place of ships, but Maglor would always patch them, and gently tease us, and ask us what battles they had won that day.
And now, the ships of the Havens were gone far beyond what Maglor could help. He and Maedhros had untied them, and cut the lines free from the burning moors. I thought again, numbly, of so long ago - of the stealing of the Teleri ships at Alqualondë, and then the burning of them at Losgar.
The ships rode low in the turbid sea, waves sloshing over the gunwales, as everything in the world resisted us and our monstrous crime, threw it back in our faces. Some burned as they rode into the darkness, caught by a stray ember from the burning piers that refused to be quenched.
Flames leapt up near us to meld with the blood, and the pier that we were on was suddenly alight. I screamed, or perhaps that was Amrod; we had always been alike in grief and joy, and now, in our terror. The pier yawned and crumbled, and suddenly there was nothing left for us to stand on. We fell, and the bloody water gushed around our knees.
We floundered for purchase, our feet sinking into the soft mire of mud, our legs soaked, as waves crashed in and drenched us in saltwater. We stood shaking, as just above us the battle raged on unadulterated. Here, we seemed caught beyond the rim of it, as if an invisible wall had risen, and we could not break it.
We could only stand here in terror, sensing that our doom was at hand now, and the life of the Eldar, and any grace of the Valar, must certainly desert such blood-lusting lunatics such as we had become.
The smoke of the burning stung our eyes and throats, and we coughed. Tears streamed down our cheeks from blood-shot eyes, and our swords hung limply in our hands, the tips tracing paths through the crests of white-crowned waves.
The water was cold, so cold, that it seemed to steal the last drops of our vitality for us. We were supposed to burn - were we not sons of Fëanor, the Spirit of Fire? But no, we were freezing, we were ice, we would fall beneath the water and drown.
Then we forced ourselves to rise, to run. We staggered onto the burning fragments of the blood-washed deck and fought as we always had, as a double-pronged beast, with two heads and two flashing swords. We did not need to look to know how the other would move, turn, strike, parry. The Eldar, our kinsmen, were now the ones that we cut down, their crimson blood black in the uncertain light of the fire.
Then it began to rain. The flames spat and hissed, but it was too late to extinguish them. Too many, too many! There was blood, so much blood, staining my face and hands and hair, I had never known how much blood there was in a man until I had cut his throat.
Amrod and I lurched manically through the madness, swords flashing, swords cutting, mouths working, screaming nothing, blood running, falling to our knees.
We threw ourselves together against the nearest Eldar, who screamed and fought us back. His weapon was a long silver sword. We had desecrated the fair city of Arvernien forever with kinblood, and we could never be forgiven.
The two of us had almost found the woman who we so wanted, who held our precious Silmaril - the reason we had attacked Arvernien in the first place. Elwing she was called, a daughter of the Dior we had slain so long ago, who in his turn was the son of the Beren who had taken a Silmaril from Morgoth. Our father's jewels had long been entwined with that family's fate.
Elwing stood alone on the very highest cliff above Arvernien, defiant. The Silmaril on her brow blazed through the night, a star to outshine the pale, sickly chips floating in the sky. Her white arms were upraised, and her dark hair fluttered in the wind off the sea.
She had no sword, no dagger, not even a sharpened hairpin. I might have laughed at the absurdity of it all if my heart had not been so sore. Amrod and I were the closest, barely ten paces from the carved stair which climbed the side of the cliff. Must I cut down yet another unarmed woman for the sake of keeping the Oath?
"Amras!" my twin urged me on. "So close now, so close!"
I obeyed. Always, I had, even now unto what was to be my end. I lunged up the stairs, sword in hand, Amrod close behind me.
We leapt off and ran along the flat top of the cliff, which was cold and buffeted by torrents of salt-laden wind from the sea. Our running footsteps kicked up explosions of sand as we drew ever nearer Elwing.
She gazed back at us calmly, almost sadly, the Silmaril shining on her brow beneath the shadows of her hair and her liquid eyes. Aloud she said, "I am sorry for what you have suffered."
"You do not know the half of it. Hand over the Silmaril, and you will be spared their fate." Amrod pointed with his sword at the city of Arvernien beneath. "Otherwise, we will cut you down here."
Elwing kept looking at him, and said one word.
She wore a plain dress of green gauze, and her feet were bare in the cold sand. She was beautiful, and sad, and she indeed resembled her parents, slaughtered - how long ago? -in the sack of Menegroth.
And now we had to kill her.
Amrod stepped forward. "You had your chance, woman, now your end has come, and the Silmaril will be ours - "
He cut off, and gasped. For Elwing had closed her eyes, and stepped into thin air, and plunged from the cliff, arms outstretched, until she splashed into the sea and vanished.
I stood there, believing that she was dead, and she had brought the Silmaril down to her watery grave with her. But then something flashed in the darkness, and I saw a fair white seabird rising from the plumes of foam, beating its wings hard to keep aloft, a small white star glimmering on its brow.
I nocked an arrow but could not bring myself to draw it. I stood there with frozen tears on my cheeks as I let the beautiful creature get away, and take with it the Silmaril for which we had killed so many.
"Amras!" Amrod cried. "What possessed you? She was within range, you could have - "
He staggered, and choked. I thought he could not finish his sentence from emotion, but then I saw the long grey-fletched arrow sprouting from his chest, saw his blood, and felt the searing pain in my own breast. Some talented archer had marked us, such clear targets outlined atop the cliff, and his arrow had found a home.
"No," I said. "NOOO!"
Amrod took so long to fall. I was running but could not catch him. Then I was there, and he fell back, into my arms, and then it was his hot blood running down my face and my hands.
I was screaming, wordless in my anguish, my cry piercing the very stars. Amrod said something - was it my name? I will never know. Then he sighed, and the pain left him along with his life.
Far below me, my brothers were running. I did not see them, feel them, know them. All I knew was that I was dying as well, I was not whole, the other part of me had been cut away.
Then he slid through my hands to the sand, and he was gone, released from the torment and the madness of life. I picked up his sword along with my own, and I charged down the cliff, screaming.
Nothing mattered. Elwing was gone, and with her, the entire reason my beloved twin was dead. I had nothing left, nothing at all, not even a whisper, the faintest glimmer of hope. We had forsaken the Valar. They had, ever gracious, gone, and left us to be cursed.
I attacked the nearest Eldar. I did not even know who it was. Swords clashed and scraped. His blade found a mark truer than mine, and a blazing pain exploded in my chest.
I smiled, almost laughed. I let the swords fall from my hands, and staggered backwards into the surf. The grey waves accepted me, and I fell backwards into their embrace.
I closed my eyes, and foam stole into my nose and mouth.
All I remembered was thinking, I never knew the Sea was so cold.
Then came a final blackness, and a sensation of rising, pulling. I was gone, I was a vessel of air, flying away through the ether to somewhere beyond, as if a curtain was being drawn back.
I sensed Amrod there with me, and I was rising, deaf to shouts and screams and the endless clash of swords. I joined hands with my twin's ephemeral spirit-self, and I let go.
Then, finally, I, Amras, son of Fëanor, one of the Seven Accursed, knew, with a sort of peace, that I had lived too long, and now it was over.
I was free.