Feanor is dead. His ashes blow away on the wind.
His sons are Noldor—and therefore, although their ultimate goals may be foolhardy, over-ambitious, in their immediate concerns they are intensely practical. They withdraw their people to a safer distance from the battlefield. They set up camp in a secure location and draw up a guard rota. They do all this in close collaboration with each other, efficiently and pragmatically.
It is only when all these matters have been dealt with and when all the immediately necessary things have been done that, as abruptly as if someone had untied the string around a bundle of arrows and with a sudden movement wrenched it away, scattering arrows in all directions, the Sons of Feanor drift apart. Without any discussion or explanation, without a spoken word, every single one of them goes off on his own. Even Amras and Amrod, the twins, are seen leaving separately, going their own way.
It is a retreat. But in truth there is no place to retreat to.
To Maedhros who is sitting nowhere in particular—under the open sky, which nevertheless seems lowering, close and oppressive—and who appears to be doing nothing, comes Celebrimbor, son of his brother Curufin.
‘Father threw me out of his tent’, he announces.
Maedhros does not answer, but shifts a little, assuming a listening attitude
‘But I couldn’t not say it! He was my grandfather and I loved him, too! But I was there in Araman, and I heard what Mandos prophesied. And I was there when he made you all swear the selfsame oath once again. He knew you could not carry it out! He couldn’t help knowing. And he did, I saw he did! You must have seen it, too…’
‘Tyelpo’, says Maedhros.
Celebrimbor stops, feeling the breath knocked out of him as if he had run full tilt against a wall.Maedhros shifts to face him more fully.
‘Tyelpo, is our grandfather any less dead since our father died?’
‘Has Melkor acquired a right to the silmarils during the last hours?’
‘Do these lands not need to be defended from Angband any more?’
‘If something requires doing is the fact that it probably cannot be done a reason not to try?’
‘I’m sorry, Tyelpo’, says Maedhros politely, ‘I’m afraid I’m going to have to throw you out, too.’
There is, in fact, nowhere to throw Celebrimbor out of as they are out in the open. For a moment, Celebrimbor is almost tempted to point it out. Only such a short time ago, in Valinor, it was interesting to speculate what would happen when Uncle Maitimo’s legendary patience finally wore out. But now Celebrimbor finds he doesn’t want to know any more. He clamps his mouth shut and leaves.
Maedhros goes on sitting there immovably for a while. Then he gets up and goes looking for Maglor.
He finds Maglor mistreating his harp. He is crouching beside it and keeps striking a single dissonant chord at regular intervals. It is a deep, ugly, violent sound and he must have been doing it for a while for he has everyone in earshot well trained by now: they are all flinching as his hand strikes the chord, before the sound reaches their ears.
Maedhros sits right next to him and listens to him for a while.
Then he says: ‘Makalaure.’
Maglor does not react and goes on striking his chord.
‘Makalaure’, repeats Maedhros and goes on, ‘if you are made to swear an oath a second time that was meant to be unbreakable in the first place, does it make the oath more unbreakable or less so?’
Maglor does not answer, but abruptly switches from the lowest strings to the highest and continues playing—if what he is doing can be called playing an instrument. The new chord, equally dissonant, produces a high-pitched shrieking effect. Everyone around Maglor continues flinching periodically except for Maedhros, who listens intently as before.
After a while, Maedhros says: ‘He didn’t trust us all that much, did he?’
Maglor lifts his hand and drops it on the strings and for a while they sit there, side-by-side, Maglor crouching exhaustedly beside his harp.
Eventually, they reassemble. Almost silently, they come drifting back from the periphery to the centre of the camp until finally they are seven again. Unexpectedly, Curufin and Celegorm return together, as if the affections that used to divide them have polarized and work to unite them, now that their father is dead.
It is still dark. It is always dark now. Maedhros, standing among his brothers, tallest and eldest, wonders how much of what has happened has to do with that darkness. Would they have been so ready to swear the Oath, to steal ships and to kill Teleri for them, to burn the stolen ships and betray their kin, if it had not been for the unaccustomed dark?
Feanor, of course, would have vehemently denied that the sudden withdrawal of light had anything to do with his decisions. But Feanor, however perceptive he could be with regard to others, often seemed to have a blind spot with regard to his own actions and motivations. And gradually that blind spot grew, until more and more it skewed his judgement of others…
It is not that darkness intrinsically and inevitably leads to extreme actions, thinks Maedhros, for the Sindar have been living in darkness under the stars all along and, although their customs might be strange and unfamiliar, they are clearly no more prone to sudden acts of violence than the Quendi of Valinor. It is the lack of light after being used to it that the mind finds difficult to deal with. He can feel it affecting his own thoughts and emotions, even now, although considerable time has passed since the Light of the Trees was extinguished. But if the Sindar have learnt to live in the dark, so can they.
‘No more mistakes now,’ thinks Maedhros, looking at his brothers, his responsibility now, ‘we cannot afford another mistake.’
Feanor is dead. He is dead. You can argue endlessly with the dead but it is only you who will run out of breath. You can plead with the dead but they cannot yield—and you know it.
Triple-locked, the Oath snicks shut...