The Mind of Maedhros

by Mar 9, 2003Stories

Cold wind screams across my face and, catching me like a sail, buffets me against the rock. The swaying tears at the flesh of my right wrist, for that, caught in the shackle of Angband, is the one part of me that can not blow with the powerful winds. He sends them to torment me, I am sure of it sometimes. Shivering, I pull dirty hair out my face with my left hand and shut my eyes against the dirt flying into them. I try to plant my feet against the rock as the wind gains speed, but it’s no use. It’s never any use. Especially now.

I do not know how long I have hung here. The passage of time means little here, on the cliffs of Thangoridrim. The wounds I took when I was captured are only partially healed; the ones I’ve taken since are still open, and bleed from time to time. None of them will fully close until I escape this torment. I know I will not hang here forever. The only question is whether or not my body will come with me. I can last long, but not forever….

Flesh burns and tears when the wind knocks me against the rocks; I can feel my blood running now. My hand twists in the iron band, and the metal slices me, again and again, in the same place every time. That is another wound has not, can not, will not heal. Sometimes I wonder if maybe, if I hang here long enough, the iron will cut my hand away, and I’ll fall into the Halls of Waiting. But such a thing will take long to come to pass. I will probably die of thirst or hunger. Another gust hurls me like a wet rag, and the band cuts deeper. I scream; the pain can not be borne in silence. I scream again, a curse this time, to remind myself that I live, and then I scream and curse a little more, to make sure Morgoth knows it too. I am overdue in Mandos’s halls; the Orcs told me so last night. They do not know how hard a spirit can cling to a body.

Sometimes, when the wind is low, I remember that I brought this on myself, to a certain extent. I took my father’s oath, I slew the Foam-singers at Alaquondë, and, though it brought me no joy, offered little resistance when my father, in a fit of fey-spirits, burned the ships at Losgar. In these moments of clarity, of which there are far too many, I reflect on how this came to pass. I regret the lies that schismed the Noldor, the lies that broke my ancient friendship with Fingon, Fingolfin’s son. Now there was a valiant Elf, and it pains my soul further to think how he followed my father to Araman, and how he was abandoned here. We will need him, ere the end, if the Silmarils are ever to be recovered.

The Silmarils. I would curse them if they were not holy. I would curse them for the desire they set on all that gaze upon them. I would curse them, my father, and our oath, but I can not, for these things are sacred. I can curse only my wretched fate, and Morgoth, who called this down upon us. I do not curse Mandos or any of the other Powers. There is no point in that. I’d consider it sometimes, when the orcs used to knock rocks down and shoot arrows at me to torment me, but I can no more curse the Valar than I can curse the Silmarils. If I have learned nothing else in my time here, I have learned the power of vengeful words.

The wind dies and the sun is searing, baking the blood and sweat coursing over me. It adds to the pain, and yet subtracts from it, for every time I see the Sun and the Moon, I take hope. The Authorities set them in the sky to light the world. Even though we still have Night, Middle Earth now knows Day. The Valar have not forsaken us utterly; there is still hope for the Noldor. It brings me joy, even if it brings me thirst – it has been long since there was cool rain for me to drink. The joy comes from the fact that, much as the light and heat torment me, they torment Morgoth and his twisted things more. The orcs do not come out when the Sun and Moon are about, and so I have respite.

There is a third joy that the Sun brought me, for when Arien rose in the West, she was greeted in Arda by the calls of silver trumpets, and I, hanging on these cliffs, recognized those notes of jubilance. Fingolfin and his people, and those of Finarfin’s house that accompanied them I am sure, had made it across the Ice. They’d dared a mighty deed. I hope Fingon made it. Even though there is no hope for our friendship now, I hope Fingon survived crossing the Helacaraxë. We will need Elves like him in the coming war. I called to them, our forsaken brothers, when they marched on Angband’s gates. Morgoth, who despaired at the light of the Sun, must have found a small measure of joy in my shrieking. I have a feeling he was the only one who heard.

He still hasn’t decided what exactly to do about this new Light. He can not devour it, he can not keep it for himself. He attacked the Moon, but it was a hopeless battle. He dares not attack the Sun, at least not openly. He did send forth an ugly dark fog. It came pouring over me the day he released it, a horrible, venomous reek that left me retching and cursing. But it has since blown off me and settled on the lands below, an ugly vapor over Mithrim no doubt.

Sometimes I wonder why none have come for me. Morgoth offered them a bargain: he’d give me back if we withdrew. It was stupid. I told him myself they’d never do it. We have an Oath to keep, and no one would believe he’d keep faith, me least of all. He mocked me for this, and when I proved correct he put me here. I was glad to have judged rightly. It is bad enough that we are kinslayers. We do not need to be craven as well. But still, I wish someone would come.

It is not so much for a rescue that I was hoping as an all out attack. We had our Battle Under the Stars. I wish to see a Battle Under the Sun. The light has quieted the orcs. That was our oppurtunity to strike, and yet so far as I can tell none took it. I suppose Fingolfin’s folk have not forgiven us, and no doubt Curufin and Caranthir have stirred up some more trouble. Those two inherited more than their fair share of our father’s fell temper. Yet there are other Elves in these lands. Can we not treat with them? And what of the Second Children, whose arrival was prophesied? When will they come and will they join us? This war is about more than Silmarils. Morgoth is evil. Since the Valar will not rise against him, we the Quendi must do the job. We can not win this war divided.

Other times, when the wind and rocks are ripping me, and my mind is less clear, I take this loneliness more personally. Does no one dare rescue me? I wonder that sometimes, and other times I wonder if they have tried and failed. My brothers yet live, this I can feel. But I had other Elves at my call, strong ones at that. What if one of them or many of them, tried to come for me, and were destroyed under Morgoth’s cloud? This is when despair gnaws at me, despair and fear. What if I have been betrayed and forsaken as I betrayed and forsook the others?

Something fell is at work in my father’s house. I can feel it in me, I could see it in my brothers. My thoughts of treachery were repaid by this torment. I never meant to treat with Morgoth. Nor did he mean to treat with me. I had come down to a question of force, and he had the greater one. He has the greater one still. Unless we can heal the rift between our houses, the Noldor will have no chance.

My throat is parched. I lick at the sweat dripping from me. I know I am failing up here. I’ve tried to keep my strength, for I can not fight this war in the Halls of Waiting, and I don’t wish to deal with father should I arrive there, dead by torture. He will be angry with Morgorth, not me, but nonetheless I’ve had enough of his anger for a while. I do not need to see it any time soon. My arm tears, someday I will fall from here and leave it behind. Dust has blown into my eyes. I rub at them with my free hand. It comes away bloody. Am I crying blood or just bleeding? I scream some more curses. It distracts me from the pain.

What is that? Do I hear singing? At first I think it’s the wind but the music of the harp swell and I catch the voice on it, a familiar voice singing a familiar song. The voice I recognize as Fingon, and the song…I weep to hear the song, that ancient hymn of Aman. Without thinking about how it could arise from the rocks of this dreadful place, I join in my old friend’s singing. Maybe I am on my way to Mandos. Maybe this is what it is to die; first you cry your blood away, and then you hear singing. Perhaps Fingon met his end on the Ice, and he is now my usher into the Halls on the Western shore. Then the wind knocks me again, and the pain brings me back to myself. No, there is too much life in me to fail just yet. Eru gave us hardy forms.

The song ends. I don’t see my friend below me. But it was his voice. I know it was his voice. “Fingon!” I cry, the effort scratching the dry tissue in my throat. “Fingon! Look up friend, look up!”

“Maedhros?” comes the reply, and below me I see a golden-haired figure come into view. “Maedhros!” he calls again. “By Elbereth, it is you!” I hear tears in his voice, and I think his fce looks a little yet, but it might just be my own tears brimming out of me. Against all hope, my betrayed friend had come. “How do you fare, old friend?” he shouts again, scrmbling to the base of the cliff.

“I am holding, Lord,” I call back. “Though I can not bear it much longer!”

“Then don’t! The Orcs are quiet and no one marked my coming. I come for you!” With that he laid his clever hands on the cliff face, and looked for holds, but it is hopeless. I watch him struggle, and my last hope dies. It is no use. He can not save me. No one can. I know this now, and my spirits plummet. There is no point in staying now. I will face my father, and Mandos. I will return to Aman by the only road still open to me.

“I can’t get a hold!” Fingon finally shouts, chest heaving as he backs away form the wall.

“I know. This rock is too sheer.” I pause, panting, collecting my breath, for my throat is too dry for this. “Kill me!” I shout. “I am failing. Kill me and let Morgoth not have that victory.” But Fingon pays me no heed. He is a stubborn one, always has been, always will be. He tries several more times, and with each failure I again ask for death. I refuse to die by Morgoth’s torments and designs, but I will suffer the dart of a friend. Yea, I will suffer it gladly, for the wind is kicking up and tossing me about again. I fear that I will tear from my arm if this continues.

Fingon finally sees reason, it seems, for he ceases his attempts to scale the cliff face, and instead strings his bow. He calls a prayer to Manwë, but I don’t listen. I relax against the rocks, or relax as much as one can when being buffeted by wind. I see the bow bend, I see the shaft release, and then I hear the scream of an Eagle and out of the sky drops Thorondor, Lord of the Eagles. He catches the shaft in the sky, his great wings sailing on the stiff winds, and dropping to the ground snatches up Fingon in his claws. I am not sure who is more surprised – me or my friend. He seems to recover faster than I do, for by the time we are eye to eye his bow is unstrung and safely stashed away.

I will not forget the horror and pity on Fingon’s face when our eyes met. He later told me that I looked a fright – face streaked with tears, sweat, and blood. He wasn’t sure if I was crying blood or not, he says, but I’m pretty sure my tears were plain, ordinary tears – they tasted salty enough. He also tells me that I was so pale and thin he thought I might break if he touched me. He did wipe my face- I guess I was such a mess he couldn’t leave well alone – and his sleeve came away wet and bloody. So maybe I did cry blood that day.

He bid me grab hold. I did so with my left hand, clutching his shirt for dear life while he yanked with all his strength on the band about my wrist, trying to break it open. I’d never seen him put forth as much power as he did that day, but it was no use. Morgoth himself had sealed the device, and it would not open. He pulled out his big hunter’s knife next, and, using it as a pry, tried to pull it forth from the hard rock. When that failed, he swung the blade at the iron, and sparks flew and metal on metal rang, but it was now apparent that nothing Fingon could do would break that hell-forged steel.

Though he did his best to support me against his own efforts, the north winds and drafts of the Eagle’s wingbeats, I was still being pulled and yanked against the relentless, ruthless bond on my arm. “Kill me, please, my friend, just kill me,” I begged, releasing my grip on his tunic. He said nothing at first, but wiped my eyes, and if my tears had not been bloody before they were now, for his hand came away from my face both wet and red. “Please,” I begged, but Fingon’s jaw was set into a look I well remembered, and I cried out when I understood that whoever released me from the agony of life, it would not be him.

“If it had been just for you,” he later explained to me, “I might have honored your second request, for you’d asked fairly enough, and you were so shattered and broken inside I saw little hope for you, but it was by Manwë’s grace that Thorondor came, and the pity of the Valar should not be lightly cast aside. Anyway, the rift between our houses would not have healed so easily if I brought you back to Mithrim dead.” It was sensible really, though he knew better than try and reason with me at the time. Deep in my pain and despair, crying blood, I was beyond understanding more than the simplest commands. So rather than present me his very noble and logical reasoning, he gave me a simple order. “Grab hold,” he barked, his eyes on the band and the wasted hand above it. “I’m going to try this one more time.”

I obey, and his knife shines in the air before making another hopeless clash against Morgoth’s steel. More sparks flew, but the cold metal gripped me as hard as it ever had. “This iron will not cloven with the knives of the Noldor,” he said to me as he took a newer, tighter hold of me, “but I learned not so long ago that it will cut the flesh of Elves. Maedhros,” he said, looking straight into my eyes, “oh Maedhros my friend, do not let go.” I don’t comprehend the full meaning of his words, but hear the plea in his voice and nod, gripping him with all my strength. I start to think that perhaps he will finally kill me, so I don’t understand what is happening when his knife again arcs upwards towards the band and the hand above it. He strikes once, hard and quickly, and I hear no ring of metal on metal. I see something that looks like a hand tumble away. “Hold on,” he repeats, pulling me, and I am free, and pain unimaginable is firing through my arm. I can’t cry out, it hurts too bad, and I close my eyes, as if darkness cane numb it. The Eagle beats his massive wings and we rise into the air, flying away. It is in this moment, and we fly to safety, that I finally understand that it was my own right hand I saw tumble. Fingon had to cut it off to free me. I open my eyes at my friend’s bidding, for the land beneath us is fairer than I’d thought possible, but I do not look to where my hand should be. That was the price Morgth exacted from me, I know this now. In exchange for a hand I got my life back, Fingon attained great and deserved glory, and Morgoth earned himself a bitter foe.

But I am free, and the joy of that triumph courses through me, even as the darkness of pain and blood loss come closing in on me. The wind in my face feels not so cruel now, now that I am flying in the arms of a friend, caught in the talons of an Eagle. I know I kept Fingon’s tunic in an iron grip the entire flight. It was life itself I clung to in those hours, not just him, for between wounds and despair I was at the end of my strength. In an effort no less heroic than the one he made to release me, Fingon keeps a-hold of me, both physically and in spirit. He keeps talking, keeps calling my name, so I stay with the Light. I do not answer, but cradle the arm against me, and only with the combination of our wills does the bleeding stop.

I honestly remember little of the landing. I know a crowd gathered, and some cheered and many wept when they saw us. Fingon tells me I was a ruin of my former self – emaciated, bloodied, withdrawn, and cruelly maimed. He did not release me until someone had brought a stretcher, and then they had to pry my fingers from Fingon, for I had no understanding of what was happening to me. They tell me that no sooner had they pulled me off of Fingolfin’s son than I started bleeding freely again, and when they tied the tourniquet I screamed. They brought me to the healers at a run, for they were sure I was one for Mandos, and naturally dispatched a runner to our camp across the lake. They say Fingon’s fair sister, Aredhel Ar-Feiniel, tended me, and for his part Fingon never left my side.

But I have no real memory of this. What I remember is hearing the chatter of many fair voices and knowing that I am among the Noldorim again. Fingon talks to me, and I can’t remember what I tried to say back. Maybe I was talking in my head only, for he swears that between the time he cut off my hand and the time I finally woke in the healer’s tent I said nothing. I remember them pouring a sweet cordial being poured down my parched throat, and the feeling of it was one of intense pleasure laced with pain. Everyone is talking at once, and the y lay me on a stretcher. I don’t know who any of these people are, these people pulling me away from Fingon. They take off at a run though, and no one answers when I ask where we’re going (again, Fingon denies hearing a word come out of my mouth, and he stayed in my line of sight the entire time). They lay me out on a bed, a real soft bed, and as the healer bathes my wounds she sings a song, the same one Fingon sang when he found me, and though her voice is familiar to me I do not know her. Fingon tells me that was a terrible moment for everyone, when Aredhel realized that I didn’t know her, especially since she was and is ever our friend and hunting partner. But by the time we’d reached Mithrim I was so far gone I don’t think I would have recognized my own mother. In reassurance, Fingon takes my left hand as the healer cares for me. Then, finally, the darkness at the edges of my eyes comes closing in, and I sleep.

I wake to more soft singing, and this time I know the singer. It is Maglor, my brother, and not even the Sindar have found one who came master him in music. Also nearby is Fingon, and Ar-Feiniel. “Aiya Maedhros, you wake on time,” Maglor says in greeting, and the others smile in greeting, though Fingon’s smile is shy.

“I am never late,” I whisper the reply. My head feels remarkably clear, and while my right arm is sore, I am in no pain worth mentioning. I felt refreshed, like one reborn, and sat up, looking around. Aredhel slips away, and when she returns Fingolfin and the rest of my brothers come crowding in after her. Behind them is Turgon, and Aredhel stand beside him. I know that the sons of Finarfin must be close, for they and the sons of Fingolfin are inseparable, and I’m getting the impression that my waking is a matter of importance to all the Exiled Noldor. After all, my father is dead. The crown goes either to me, as Fëanor’s son, or Fingolfin, the eldest surviving son of Finwë.

Caranthir, always too quick in his temper, takes one look at me and promptly starts glaring at poor Fingon. My eyes fall on my right arm. It is laid on the blanket over me. There is no hand attached, only white bandage over a stump. Memories of pain and fear come flooding back to me, and I close my eyes, fighting them back into the dark places where they belong. When I open my eyes again, my vision is blrry with tears. Wiping them away, I find to my relief that they are clear and wet, with no trace of blood. Caranthir is glowering at Fingolfin’s son, quivering with rage, but Fingon is looking at me, and his eyes are as wet as mine. “I am so sorry,” he says. This confuses me. What does he have to be sorry for? “Do you remember? ,” he asks, stumbling over his words, “I had to…I-I couldn’t cut the iron.” I look straight into his eyes and nod.

“I remember,” I say, my voice hoarse with disuse. “You couldn’t break the band, so I asked you to kill me, but you took my hand instead. Thank you.” I glance at my brothers. Caranthir is calming down and the others look around, uncomfortable. This feud is ridiculous. It should never have been allowed to happen. We are kin, and once we were friends. We have an enemy beyond the power of any one Elf to fight. This quarrel has to end, and it is my power to do so. If Fingon could rescue me from the Master of Slaves, I can heal this breach. “I remember more,” I say, pushing myself fully upright. “I remember a time when we were all friends. I remember how bitterly the rumors of Morgoth stung, when he made my father think his brothers coveted his position, and made you, Lord Fingolfin, and your brother think that he intended to banish them from Túna. Every word he ever spoke was a poison, and we all drank of that poison, and for that we were plunged into darkness, and made outcasts and kinslayers. It is the Master of Lies we should be fighting, not each other.” They nod in agreement. So far so good. I take a breath. “I remember when the ships burned. I-I thought of you, Fingon, my friend. I asked my father to send them back for you, but he laughed like one fey, and refused. I did not argue, but maybe I should have, for none should be forced to endure the terrors of the Ice.” I extend my left hand, for my right was gone. “Will you forgive us?” Fingon grabs my hand in the firm grip of friendship.

“I forgive,” he says. “You’ve paid enough, as far as I’m concerned.” He glances at his father..

“When your father abandoned us in Araman my only wish was to face him again,” Fingolfin says quietly, making eye contact. “But I came too late, and now I am faced with his very worthy son. You tell me that you regret your father’s deed at Losgar, and it seems to me that had it been your choice much that befell would not have been so. You would not have been able to fight him. Fëanor listened to his heart’s counsel only. So yes, Maedhros, I forgive your house.”

“Then let us seal this rift,” I say, an idea forming that will resolve this situation for good. Some of my brother will never forgive me if this works, of this I am certain, but once you’ve lost a hand no other price seems to high to pay. ” As the heir to my father’s house I relenquish what claim we held on the crown of the Noldor, and give that claim and title to you, Lord Fingolfin of the House of Finwë. If there lay no greivance between us, lord, still the kingship should rightly come to you, the eldest here of the house of Finwë, and not the least wise.* Agreed?” I look at each of my brothers, and they each nod, but I sense that not all agree from their hearts. There hearts will come around, or at least, I hope they will. I hope the others will lay this silliness aside as quickly as Fingon, Fingolfin, and I did. We will need them all in the war ahead.

For my part, I am glad to have handed the burden of kingship to someone else. I will have land of my own somewhere, close to Morgoth, and I will fight him until one of us destroys the other. He will learn, in the days to come, that it would have been better for him to have hung me by both arms, for I know something he never discovered in the days when he walked among us in Aman: I have always favored my left. At my father’s insistence I learned to write and fight “properly”, but I have the use of both hand, and the left is the stronger.

* = direct quote

Author’s note: This is one of my favorite stories from the Silmarillion but it seems to be a bit of a dark horse in the literature. Much of what is written here is based off a few passages and my own conjectures, so forgive any errors you believe I have made. Of Feanor’s seven sons, Maedhros is my favorite, for he seems to be the only one of the seven who has any hope for redemption (though he blows it in the end). Making him a southpaw was more for my own amusement than anything else. Just a nice little poke at Morgoth. You understand.


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