To this composèd wonder of your frame;
Whether we are mended, or whe'er better they,
Or whether revolution be the same. - Sonnet 59 Shakespeare
A shadowy figure navigated the night-cloaked terrain of Hithlum, avoiding the half-hearted patrols that surrounded the fortress of Barad Eithel. In the distance were the watch fires of the patrol encampments which offered just enough light in the misty night for the lone man to see.
Approaching the fortress, the man slipped quietly around the encampments, stilling when a patrol passed within ten feet of where he stood. Fortunately, the eyes of Men were not keen enough to detect his presence in the dark miasma that covered the land. The fires of Thangorodrim glowed eerily at the horizon, giving the impression of a malevolent, grinning face overlooking the scorched landscape.
Though there were patrols around the perimeter, the great fortress stood empty. Perhaps Men feared to enter a fortress of Elves, perhaps the residents were evil creatures placed there by Morgoth to defile the stronghold of Fingon. His renown was great, despite his defeat, and it was whispered he still kept watch at the top of the tower. The man entered through a secret gate along the north wall, the stone grinding loudly and reverberating in the silence. He slipped through and closed it quickly. Anyone investigating was unlikely to think it was an intruder. There was no strength now to oppose Morgoth in his lair and no Elves in this bastion of Men.
It was pitch dark in the tunnel and he produced a small blue stone from his pouch to light the way. The rays slid feebly over walls damp with slime and mold. The floor was slick with it in places but his stride was deft and sure. He could have walked this fortress blindfolded and not lost his way or made a misstep.
He took the stair up from the tunnel and pushed at another concealed door which opened silently into an anteroom. From there he took a long hall to another stair and then another until he reached Fingon’s quarters. The place was rent asunder, books and papers in shreds, the mattress shredded, the bedframe shattered, the chairs and tables upended. Perhaps the place had been sacked or perhaps Morgoth or the army had searched it, it didn’t matter. The portrait of Fingon and his family was lying ripped and broken on the floor, the painting’s subjects had their eyes stabbed out. He turned away from the sight, blinking back tears of revulsion and hate.
Along the wall nearest the door he felt for the small indentation and pressed hard, gratified to hear a soft click. A panel popped up and he pulled it aside, beneath it were three stones inlaid into a thick metal plate, red, blue, and gold. He pressed them in a particular order and the metal plate gave way. Inside was what he had come for: stacks of journals and personal papers, some dating back to their youth in Tirion. He breathed a sigh of relief that the Men and creatures of Morgoth had not discovered this cache. He took off his knapsack and began putting handfuls of the treasure inside. From one leather-bound tome a piece of paper drifted. He picked it up and held his light stone closer for a better look. His breath caught in his throat, a gasping sob escaped him. It was a picture of Fingon he had drawn many years ago during one of their visits to Alqualondë. Fingon standing on a pier with the ships and sea behind him, his stance rakish, his dark hair pulled back and plaited with gold. His young eyes held merriment and mischief in equal measure. The parchment was yellowed and dog-eared with age but the long forgotten memory was, suddenly to Maedhros, as fresh and immediate as the day they had lived it.
Overcome, he sat heavily on the ground, the weight of years and regret crushing the breath from him. Two young scholars turned revolutionaries, turned reluctant warriors, turned commanders, turned Kings, turned. . . what? Nothing. Youthful ideals skewered on the sword of harsh reality.
Now to find this small, throwaway token of their friendship with Fingon’s most important papers and journals was almost more than Maedhros could bear. For a long time he simply stared at it, lovingly touching the image with his fingertips as though willing some of that valiant spirit to give him the strength to move, to go on, to continue the fight. At last he tucked the picture carefully into the book and placed it on top within the knapsack. He could not afford to linger in this place, it would be more difficult to slip away at daybreak and that would be coming soon.
With a little luck he could make it back to the foothills of the Ered Wethrin before midday and stay within the protection of the mountain range until he could make his way to the forest and from there back to Ossiriand. He had what he came for, it was time to reunite with Maglor, to regroup before bringing the fight to Morgoth once more, for now he was more determined than ever to be the one to end the Vala’s reign of terror upon these lands and to reclaim the Silmarils and fulfil the oath. He would do it without Fingon but he would do it for Fingon, he must.
He stepped out into the hallway, moving toward the stairs, but as he passed Fingon’s battle room he was compelled to pause and look within. Upon a chair, untouched and undamaged was Fingon’s old battle helm and his shield with the emblem of the House of Fingolfin. It was not part of the armor he had taken into battle, it was much older, tarnished and rusted. On impulse he pulled out the book and flipped to a blank page in the back. He righted an overturned table and placed his light stone upon it, then quickly sketched the helm and shield as a still life.
The image of the youth disappeared from his mind, replaced by the stanch warrior as he had seen him for the last time. Battled hardened, strong and brave but never without the gleam in his eye, the confident bearing of a man who knew exactly who he was, who fought not for renown and glory for himself but for the freedom and autonomy of others. This was how Maedhros would remember him, this was the standard he would hold before him when doing battle with the enemy, the memory he would try to live up to, the real heart of the revolution.
Maedhros stole away from the fortress dodging a weary patrol on the edge of the Ethel Sirion, a fey light in his eyes. Dawn was breaking over Thangorodrim and the malevolent face of the enemy faded into the rosy mist.