No Flame Burns Forever
Maedhros' earliest memory is of being curtained by shining red. Light filters through the auburn, crimson, gold, and chestnut strands of his mother's hair. He reaches out, his fingers gripping a fiery lock as she bends down to kiss his forehead.
The scent of smoke and sweat surrounds him. The heat of his father's skin as he lifts him up and tosses him in the air, nuzzling his neck as he catches him, makes Maedhros laugh. Warm, tangy, robust and intense—it smells like Father.
He can feel the warmth as he enters. The forge is radiating, the air shimmering around it with the heat. His father's hand on his shoulder guides him closer to where the flames flare and spark. This is not the contained, controlled fire of their hearth. Here the fire is unleashed-it leaps, reaches out, and rises high, retreating only at his father's will.
Sweat drips onto the surface of the forge, sizzling as it instantly dries and disappears in the heat. Maedhros hammers the fiery metal, striking it under the watchful gaze of his father, every bubble of imperfection noted and attacked, submitting to the hammer, the heat—to come out stronger than it went in.
Small hands strike the flint but the first spark is lost. The flint is struck again, producing a flash that fails to catch fire. FindekŠno frowns as he strikes a third time. Showers of sparks flare but still the wood does not burn. "Let me do it," Tyelko pushes forward, hands reaching out but Maedhros holds his brother back. "He must do this for himself, Tyelko." Maedhros nods at FindekŠno. "Go on, try again." This time he is rewarded by a flare of light that ignites the wood, highlighting the smile that replaces the frown on the boy's face.
The bonfire flames leap high into the night, sparks arcing towards the sky to shimmer alongside the stars. Maedhros leans back against the tree, watching the dancers weave between the shadows and the flickering light.
"You look like you could do with some company," a familiar voice says. He turns to see FindekŠno, flushed and warm, a wineskin in his hand. He drops down on the grass next to Maedhros and takes a drink before handing the wine over to him.
"I'd like that," Maedhros replies, seeing the flames reflected in the eyes of his companion.
The torches flicker in the night, the faces around him shadowed and unfamiliar in this new darkness. His father speaks and Maedhros' world changes forever. He raises his sword, gleaming red in the fiery light, as he repeats the words, his brothers' voices echoing his own.
The smoke swirls around him as the shore blazes with the light from the burning ships. He has turned away, away from the fiery ruin of the Teleri fleet and the flare of madness he has seen in his father's eyes. Soot and ash drift towards his face but they are not the source of Maedhros' tears
He joins his brothers, circled around their father, as FŽanor speaks to them for what will now be the last time, dooming them yet again with the Oath they swore. True to his name, as his fŽa leaves him, his body is reduced to ash before their eyes. The spirit of fire is gone from them but their Oath remains.
He knows this is a trap but believes he can match the cunning of the deceitful Vala, because he expects the treachery. What he does not expect are the creatures of flame, the Balrogs that suddenly overwhelm his company to destroy his guards before they turn their fiery whips to his own flesh. To his everlasting horror they are not content to kill him but take him with them, to the fortress beyond.
He learns to fear the flames in Angband. The darkness is his only solace. When the torches come, when the creatures of flame approach, he knows they will lead him to the Dark Enemy, where his spirit will be tested and his body assaulted again.
He can lose himself contemplating the hearth fire. The play of light and shadow, the crackle of the wood, the leaping flames take his mind to places he does not want to go. It is cold in Himring so the fires blaze around him constantly but he can make the choice not to look.
The golden ribbons catch the fire's light and reflect it back. There is more warmth in these blue eyes than any flame he has encountered and it reaches to touch the cold in his heart.
He is surrounded, fighting back to back with his brother, unable to reach Fingon, as the treachery in his own ranks keeps Maedhros trapped. They are pushing back against the hordes around them, his warriors fighting through to reach him, when he feels a flare of heat in his chest. His eyes are drawn to a bright flash of white flame in the distance. The sudden emptiness he senses deep within his fŽa is confirmation that no matter how hard he fights he is now too late to ever reach Fingon.
The twins are often cold so there is always a fire in the hearth now. He lets himself get lost in these flames and sees the shadows of the forge, the inferno of the ships, the blazing whips of fire, that solitary white flame on the battlefield. Each of these memories brings a stab of pain but they are familiar, well-worn sorrows. He is not prepared to welcome these two children into his heart and risk the fresh grief he knows loving them will bring.
It glows with as bright a light as he remembers, from long ago when he first saw it in his father's hands. He cradles it in his palm and a part of him wonders that it does not feel as cool as he expected. It feels warm, more than warm, as his hand closes around it. The heat intensifies, searing his palm, flaring hot as the forge, the molten metal, all the flames from his past. He cannot throw it from him—it has melded with his skin in the intensity of its heat. His eyes look to the chasm in front of him, the ground shaking as the earth shatters and cracks all around him. He sees the flames in the depth, the heat radiating up. It calls to him. He has claimed it but it claims him in the end. He is burning already and he can think of no other end but to give himself to the flames below. Stepping over the edge he falls into the fiery abyss, holding the jewel near his heart, now at the end of all.
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