Maedhros Bound - A Story of the Silmarillion
P.S. If I got Maedhros' hair color wrong or something, I apologize in advance. I know that Fëanor had black hair, and I've always pictured Maedhros with black hair as well.
At the edge of the camp, a solitary figure sat staring into the deepening twilight. His left hand rested on his leg, but he had no right hand to do the same. It was cut off at the wrist, wound about with a neat length of clean linen.
The man raised his head, shaking his black hair back over his shoulders. He had a narrow face, with keen grey eyes. They observed much but gave away little, and there was pain written in them as well as a sharp wit. His gaze flicked briefly up to the sunset, then back down to the ground.
He moved involuntarily to touch the stump of his right arm. It had been a long labor to learn how to wield his sword with his left hand after he had lost his right, and many times he had despaired of ever regaining even the smallest semblance of skill. Yet, he had managed.
"For what?" he said aloud, staring down at the hilt of the sword hung by his right side. "To keep an oath, sworn bitterly in blood, that would cost all my brothers except one? That would burn my father's spirit, estrange him from my mother?"
"Maedhros?" The voice came from behind him, hesitant.
At the sound of his name, the man turned. It was Maglor, his brother, and all that remained of what had once seemed a surfeit of kin. The younger Elf closely resembled his brother; they shared the dark hair of their father, and the sharp eyes of their grandfather.
Maglor walked nearer, his footsteps soundless on the rough ground. "It's dark, Maedhros. And you wanted to steal the Silmarils from Eönwë later. Come at least and rest a moment."
"It's not stealing," said Maedhros, frowning at his brother. "The Silmarils are ours by birth right. The Herald of Manwë is the thief."
Maglor paused, then nodded. "As you wish."
The camp was pitiful; their bedrolls and a small fire pit. Their meager provisions stood to one side, wrapped in oilcloth, and they drank water from a small and brackish stream that threaded through the heavy boulders. Maedhros glared at it; he felt a strong desire to simply be left alone.
"Maedhros?" Maglor spoke hesitantly, touching his brother's shoulder. "Are you all right?"
"I am fine." Maedhros directed his glower to the ground. "Leave me alone, Maglor. I want to think."
Again, Maglor hesitated, but then he nodded and stepped back. Maedhros was his elder and his only brother; the last remnants of the once-proud House of Fëanor. Maglor turned away and huddled down by the embers of the dying fire.
It was full dark now, and a chill wind swept through the high plain, rattling the rocks and sending them tumbling down the slope. Maglor held his hands above the fire, trying to glean any scrap of warmth from the fading coals.
He looked at Maedhros, but he was far away. Gone. Lost in thought.
I thought my arms would grow too heavy to swing my sword. I ached all over, far beyond any physical or mental hurt. I was embroiled in the fury and the chaos and the horror of battle.
They were all slow, slower than me. They tried to attack me, but they barely moved. I could move through them with such ease, sword rising and falling like a bright, sharp star, and where it danced, death followed.
It was madness, so much madness. There were Balrogs all about, it was a field of fire, and the pitiful Noldorin host was being cut to ribbons. Ahead, I saw my father, Fëanáro, the Spirit of Fire, being confronted by one of the great monsters.
But this was not like the others; it was huge, trailing a cloak of shadow and flame that flickered like the breath of the underworld. It wore a halo of fire like a crown, and its eyes were red. It lifted a blazing saber and struck.
My father fought. He might have gone half-mad pursuing the Silmarils, but he was never a coward. His own sword, such a small, insignificant thing against this lord of beasts, dashed and danced, but did little.
I fought toward him, moving like a man in a trance. I thought to help, but what could I do?
The lord of beasts was besting him. Their duel was worthless, utterly worthless. I was almost there. So close. So close.
That will hurt the worst. I was almost there. Could I have saved him? I never will know. The beast raised its sword of fire, and with it, with the very thing that my father had loved, it ended his life.
I reached him. The brightness in his eyes was dimming, fading. "...Maedhros..." he breathed. "Remember the Oath..."
"As you wish, Father..." I was numb, I could not feel. This was my father dying, but all I could think of was that foe, and that, that I had failed to fell.
He fell back, and shuddered. He was gravely wounded, but even then I thought he would survive. Even then.
The last of the Noldorin host managed to overcome the enemy, and the field of fire was at last no more. I was exhausted, bloodstained, queerly giddy. I stood there and I had survived.
"Maedhros?" My brother Maglor was beside me, and for that I was grateful, for he was dear to me. "Our father...I saw him fall..."
"He did." I could not say more.
We went to him, along with our other brothers - sly Celegorm, bitter Caranthir, dangerous Curufin, and the twins, the youngest, Amrod and Amras, who much resembled our mother Nerdanel. The seven of us knelt around him, pledged that he would live. We were determined to save him. We had followed him thus far.
"My sons...brave..." He was far gone, and the lord of beasts had done his work well. A rush of blood, hot and crimson, stained the body of our lord and father.
I knelt before him. "Come, Father, you must live." With the aid of Maglor and Caranthir, I lifted him, and we fixed a crude stretcher from the ruins of the battlefield.
It was near night when he finally bid us stop, as we labored to climb a high mountain pass strewn with stones. "Enough, my sons. Lay me down. Let me rest..." His voice was no more than a whisper.
"No, Father, we cannot let you die, we cannot," said Amrod, speaking for himself and his twin as he always did. "You are the Spirit of Fire, no beast can fell you."
"Foolish...he did." He was weak, his life fading. "Now...no farther. Understand...?"
We thought to disobey him, to press on, to save him no matter the cost to ourselves. But he smiled, and raised a hand, and died.
He fell back, and his spirit fled as a great, intangible force. At the very end, Fëanáro had been true to his name. As he left his body, it burned with the force of his heat, and will, and madness.
He had been our father, and we mourned. We were weary, and sick, and we did not know what to do.
It was only after that the wounds had been tended and the waterskin passed round did I realize that all my brothers were looking at me. Our father was dead, and now they looked to me as the leader.
I did not feel ready, but choice had not been a part of it. I was my father's eldest son, the leader of the scattered Noldorin. I must reforge them into a blade to strike at Morgoth's heart. I must recapture the Silmarils. I must not fail.
At that dark moment, I was frightened to death.
The night had deepened. Maglor gave up trying to coax life back into the coals and looked over at his brother. Maedhros was very far away, his eyes seeing something that only he knew, living old battles, recounting old torments.
Maglor sighed, guessing at what Maedhros might be thinking of. Fëanor their father, and their five brothers, all dead. Caranthir, Celegorm and Curufin, slain in the assault on Menegroth. Their blood spent to no purpose, and Amrod and Amras dead as well. They were the last, the only. They must not fail.
There was a pale streak in the otherwise pitch-dark sky. A comet, or a shooting star? For a moment, Maglor allowed himself to feel hopeful. When he felt sure that no scouts of Eönwë waited to spring upon them, he touched the strings of his harp, playing a few soft, sad chords.
Maedhros' head, silhouetted in starlight, turned briefly toward the music. Then he sighed, and clenched his one good fist, staring at his stump of a right hand.
This battle was going ill. So many battles; I had lost count of them, how many won and lost and dragged on endlessly. My sword could not dance. It was lead, not fire. I was alone in a circle of enemies, cut off from cousins and brothers, from any sort of aid. They spoke to me. The twisted creatures of the Enemy opened dark maws, and I heard their words thrumming in the thick air. "You are ours, Noldor. The master will take you...the master will break you...you are as good as dead..." "You are the leader now, after my Balrog killed your father?" There was a queer tone in that voice; pity and scornful pleasure mingled. "Rest assured, I bore your father no personal ill will. After all, he created these Silmarils that I must now bear, as the King of the World." A dark hand floated up through the layers of shadow to indicate the Silmarils. "But he stood in my way, and had to be removed."
I tried to fight. I thought that my own death had come as the Lord of Balrogs had come for Fëanor, and prayed that Maglor would mourn briefly and act quickly. He would be the leader, after me.
I fought, although I knew it was hopeless. They overwhelmed me, and I waited for the pain, the end, but they did not kill me.
A monstrosity riding a black-winged beast swept me up. Blood trailed from me, a feeble ribbon of defiance, and I tried to struggle, but it was useless.
I remember little from that horrendous journey. I was borne on the wings of night to the very heart of Shadow. The castle of Angband, a dark spike rearing from jagged mountains, drew nearer and nearer, and there was pain, such pain as I had never known, shooting through me. I tried to move, tried to fall, tried to end it, but my captor had a grip like iron.
The beast flapped nearer and nearer, then landed, and my captor threw me over his shoulder like chattel. He was horrifically strong. I could not fight. I could only wait for it to be over, and pray it would be quick.
He marched through a dark tunnel, and into a vast throne-room with spikes of black iron hanging from the edges as a sort of macabre ornamentation.
At the far end, on a monstrous throne, sat a looming black shadow. Three jewels burned in the setting of its crown. Decimated as I was, the sight filled me with rage. Here I lay, mere feet from the precious Silmarils of my father, and I was helpless to claim them.
"Elf." The voice that spoke was deep, and dark, and conjured images of slimy things writhing beneath stones.
"Morgoth." I spat weakly on the floor. The name left a bitter taste in my mouth.
"You slaughtered him. You cared not a fig for him." I was on my hands and knees, bleeding, ragged, but I stared up at Morgoth with undimmed hatred in my gaze.
"Why should I? Ever was Curufinwë spirit of Fire the strongest and most noble of the Eldar - skilled in crafts, and of the making of this magic. If he had chosen more wisely, he might be alive today, standing at my right hand."
"Fëanor would never have served you. You killed his father. You stole his Silmarils." That was all I could think to say. Why did this beast torture me? Why did he not end it?
"True, all true," said Morgoth with some amusement. "But I grow tired of bandying idle boasts with you. Will you willingly cede this battle to me, give up this bloody struggle, retire to a place beyond the lands that I hold, and swear never to bear arms against me again?"
"I would sooner cut off my own head," I snarled back.
"Elves, a stubborn race," Morgoth sighed. "They seem to be all fire and little thought. You may rue those words before the end, Maedhros Fëanorion." The sound of his hated voice speaking words of the elvish tongue was almost more than I could bear.
Morgoth made a signal, and the dark shadow came forward. "Take this elf, and bind him on Thangorodrim," he instructed. "Let none come to him, not the eagles nor any other creature of the air or land. Then we shall see what he has to say."
I struggled, but I was far too weak. I was carried away and into the night air; I saw an iron cuff bound to an unfathomably high cliff, and my heart quailed in terror as I knew then what my fate was to be.
They spoke to me. The twisted creatures of the Enemy opened dark maws, and I heard their words thrumming in the thick air. "You are ours, Noldor. The master will take you...the master will break you...you are as good as dead..."
"You are the leader now, after my Balrog killed your father?" There was a queer tone in that voice; pity and scornful pleasure mingled. "Rest assured, I bore your father no personal ill will. After all, he created these Silmarils that I must now bear, as the King of the World." A dark hand floated up through the layers of shadow to indicate the Silmarils. "But he stood in my way, and had to be removed."
Dawn was coming. Maglor had slept little, but that was hardly uncommon. Even as the moment of action drew closer, he could scarcely believe that he would do it, that he would defy Manwë himself, and his herald Eönwë.
Eönwë had recaptured the Silmarils after much fighting, and thought to take them across the wide, accursed sea to his master, wisest of the Valar. He would take them, keep them safe, decide how such a great power should be used.
Doing that would destroy everything that Maglor and his brothers had fought, suffered, and died for. He and Maedhros would not let that happen. They could not.
He stood, stiff and cold from the sleepless night, and rearranged his dark clothing. I will die for this, he realized bleakly, checking that his battered sword and dagger hung at his side in their accustomed places. I will not come back.
They had intended to begin the assault at dawn. Maglor walked to Maedhros and placed a hand on his brother's cold shoulder.
"Come," he said softly.
Maedhros shook off memory, and rose. His face was distant and solemn as he reached for his sword and unsheathed it with his left hand; a good four feet of glistening, deadly-sharp steel.
"Come!" Maglor exhorted, more urgently this time. "Every second we waste makes it more likely that the Herald will return to his master!"
"I'm sorry, Maglor," said Maedhros at last, in a faraway voice.
"Sorry for what?" It was too late. Maglor had lost him again.
The high precipice of Thangorodrim was streaked with rain, lashed with wind, beaten by the sun. There was no shelter to be found, and the land lay naked beneath the vast sky.
I opened my swollen eyes and tried to lick the rainwater running down my cheek. The pain was so unbearable that I wished I had stayed unconscious.
I swung gently, thousands of feet above the ground. I could see it faintly; stark traceries of boulders thrown above the rough landscape. Here I was hung by my right wrist, bound in a cuff of iron, with no food, no water, no rest save when I passed out, and the pain was bad. So bad.
I had tried to lose it, push it away, by dreaming of whatever sweet things I could summon from this agony, of trying to plan battle strategies, revenge on Morgoth. Nothing worked. The pain reached it all, softened my usually razor-sharp mind into a blurry haze of agony. The hell-wrought bond was strong. I had tried to pull it loose, hoping to fall to the bottom of the cliff, and therefore end my suffering. It had not worked. As well try to crack the sky.
My boots had fallen from my feet, and they cracked and bled. Nothing came to me there on that desolate perch except the wind, and it chapped my lips and cut deeper into my wounds and drove dust into my burning eyes. When it rained, there was no protection, and what little remained of my clothing was soaked, hanging in rags. And the pain, Valar, the pain!
I shifted. The chain attached to my cuff shifted as well, twisting my arm back into an even more painful position. Despite the fact that my teeth were pressed tightly together, I let out a whimper.
Each day was like that. Each day worse. I wanted to die so badly that it tormented my mind, my soul like burning brands. I could speak...I could tell Morgoth what he wished...
And then he would kill me. I did not doubt that. There was nothing to do, only fight off the crushing grip of the madness that crept closer every day.
I do not know how long this went on. I can scarcely remember anything from the fog of blood and pain that enshrouded me. The last coherent thing I remember is a vaguely familiar dark-haired Elf coming toward me riding an Eagle. Then, a blazing pain in my right wrist, and then nothing. Silence. Darkness. A sensation that it was, at last, over.
Later, I discovered that the Elf who had rescued me was my cousin Fingon, a good friend, the son of High King Fingolfin. My father had always hated his half-brothers Fingolfin and Finarfin, and their mother Indis.
I had that line now to thank for my life, although I was unsure what use it was. I was useless, a broken shell, clinging onto sanity by the barest thread. I did not even have a right hand, Fingon had been unable to loose the hellbond and therefore had cut it off. With that hand I had wielded my sword, my life. I was a cripple now. Worthless.
It was a long time before Maedhros came out of his reverie. When Maglor asked him what had gripped him so, the eldest of Fëanor's two surviving sons could only answer, "Memories."
"It's past dawn." Maglor was nervous, fingering the stained hilt of his sword. "Eönwë is a Maiar; he will not tarry longer than he must. Already he knows that his master waits, and worries."
Maedhros nodded. "Then come."
Silent as two shadows, desperate enough so that nothing was counted out, they crept up, hands on their swords. Eönwë had made camp in the lee of a high boulder; the land they were in was desolate and bare, pitted with volcanic outcrops, and offered many places to hide in.
Maglor looked at Maedhros, reading clearly the desperation, the anticipation, the threads of hope, in his brother's eyes. "Now," he whispered, and then, screaming, "Fëanáro, Fëanáro!" as their cry, they sprang.
Eönwë had been caught off-guard, and no legion of guards rushed out to slow them. Maglor could scarcely look at Maedhros, for it seemed to his eyes that he was a blazing column of flame, a white sword hacking and slashing with reckless abandon.
Maglor gave himself over to the fury and the wildness that had accepted him so easily, a thousand times before. Blood gleamed scarlet on the cold steel of his sword. He felt nothing, saw nothing but the brilliant light of the Silmarils. They were close. So close.
Maedhros had been swept up in the tide, and now he was drifting freely. Something stepped before him and was swiftly cut down.
They had almost reached the tent where the jewels were kept.
Someone was screaming, someone was saying something, but Maedhros was beyond caring. All his life he had waited. He and Maglor would fulfill the cursed Oath that had driven them to this madness - slaughtering the emissaries of the Valar themselves. And others, so many others.
Maedhros slashed at the silk hangings with his sword when they refused to part. Maglor was close behind him as they reached for the case, and opened it, and let the light of the Silmarils once again fill the world.
Maedhros reached for them.
Immediately, a hot, searing pain jolted up through his arm, nearly withering his flesh into ashes. Crying out, he reeled backwards, knowing that with every second, their time left to live lessened.
Maglor tried to pick up his Silmaril, but was similarly scorched. "Something's gone wrong!" he cried to Maedhros. "They burn us!"
Maedhros was staring with a horrified fascination at the Jewels of Fëanor. He had devoted his long life to finding them, restoring them to their rightful place as heirlooms of his family. And now, and now, after losing a hand, a father, a mother, five brothers, and uncounted friends, the jewels turned him away. Burned him, as they must have burned Morgoth once.
Maedhros went mad.
He dropped his sword and gathered up the Silmaril, not even caring that his hands blistered and blackened as the jewel's inner purity rejected the darkness that had stained his soul. Screaming as the jewel burned not only his flesh, but all his blackest memories, Maedhros ran from the camp.
He fell down the steep slope in a thunder of falling rocks, smashing his head and snapping his leg, which lay useless beneath him. He lay there for a moment, gasping raggedly, not thinking, barely breathing, almost dead, ignoring his brother's desperate cries and the clash of swords from above.
All his life he had been bound - by the cuff, by the Oath, by his mind. He was free of them all. Free. And without them, he was nothing, no one.
There was a chasm splitting the earth nearby, its fiery mouth belching gouts of acid steam. Maedhros, with the last vestiges of his fleeing sanity, determined that this would be it. The end.
He clutched the Silmaril to his heart, and cried out as it scorched into his living flesh. Then he rose, and took a step, and another, and fell.
Then the fire came rising hard to meet him. For a second there was pain, and then swift on its heels came the darkness. It was all over. Forever.
Maglor fought free, screaming for Maedhros, even as he knew that he shouted in vain. His last brother was gone, and he was the final son, the only one. The Oath was shattered, and everything had gone wrong, everything.
They captured him, brought him before Eönwë, recited his crimes. They were many. Maglor could not believe that he had committed them. Had he been that blinded? He had a gentle soul, but it had been driven mad, driven to bloodlust and death.
They wanted him dead, but Eönwë would not permit it. Maglor was the very last of his line, the Herald said, and he had suffered enough.
Maglor looked at the jewel which had governed his entire life. The Silmaril, beautiful and deadly. He begged Eönwë for it, even as he thought detachedly that the older version of himself would have slaughtered the Herald and taken the Silmaril, even though it scorched his hands and soul.
Eönwë frowned, said that he did not dare. And, for the last time, Maglor defied someone.
He reached for it, took it, and ran with it.
They tried to chase him. Somehow he outdistanced them. After a long time he let the blazing white jewel drop from between his charred hands. They were black, and they steamed. Maglor was beyond feeling.
When they drew too close, he ran again, down the plain, away, swathing the Silmaril in cloth and screaming as even then his very bones burned and flaked to ash. The jewel defied him, he whose father had created it, and this was too much, too much.
At last, at eventide, he reached the broad shore of the Sea. Maglor stood there staring, wondering how it had come to this, how such ruin had been brought on the proud House of Fëanor.
With what remained of his hands, he took the Silmaril, and threw it. It scintillated like a brilliant star through the twilight, and then entered the Sea with hardly a splash.
Maglor watched it go, watched the glow that suffused the deep, foam-crowned waves. Then he walked down to the beach, and used the cool water to bathe his ruined hands.
He could not go back. He had nowhere to go. Somehow managing to undo the laces, he reached out and unhooked his small harp. He plucked a tune; elementary but still sweet. Then he kicked off his boots, unbound the black fall of his hair, and shucked his cloak.
He smiled, and his fingers moved in an attempt to play a lament. It sounded strange, but its sadness brought tears to his eyes just the same.
Maglor stepped forward. One foot slipped beneath the waves, then the other. It was so easy. So natural.
And so then he left, and the Oath was broken indeed. Slowly, Maglor waded past the shallows, down the meandering curve of the shore, and out of sight.
The sea-mist was sweet over the waves, and the sun sank over the horizon into ripples of red-gold. The birds sang their good-night calls.
It was quiet, peaceful, a sanctuary indeed. And, soon, all that remained of Maglor, the last son of Fëanor, was a chain of fading footprints in the sand that led out to sea.