Maglor could hear the clash of metal on metal. Maedhros and Erestor had been drilling the twins for hours now.
He had questioned his brother, the night before, long after the twins had gone to bed; did they need to spar for so very long?
"You still think of them as boys, Maglor," Maedhros had said.
"They are boys, Maedhros. It is many years before they come of age."
Maedhros had frowned before responding. "You are thinking they are like us but they are not—they are half-Elven. The Edain have youths but fourteen years of age trained for battle. Elrond and Elros are older than that now. They are boys no longer. They grow as the Edain, not the Eldar."
Maglor had wanted to argue the point but he could not disagree. The Peredhel twins had physically matured with the rapidity of the Secondborn, even if their emotional maturity was more in line with the Eldar. They were taller, broader, more muscular than he or any of his kin had been at this age.
"But they are not among the Edain and they are not Edain, no matter how they have matured," Maglor had argued. "Must you drill them to the point of collapse, Maedhros?"
Maedhros had sighed and his left hand had reached to rub at his forehead. "I must do so. I will not argue that we have trained them well in weapons—spear, sword, knives, bow. They have been taught to excel in all." He had paused and his brows had drawn together in a frown. "But they have not truly learned to fight in battle, Maglor. Skirmishes, ambushes with orcs—yes. But you know as well as I do that is no preparation for true combat. They must train to have the stamina and ability to keep their wits about them, hour after hour, day after day. You and I have lived that, time and again, and know. They must learn and this is the only way I have to teach them." He had rubbed his forehead again and then muttered. "Even this is not enough, I fear."
"You mean to go through with it then?" Maglor had asked.
His brother had grimaced. "We must. There is no other option. They cannot stay with us. The war rages on and we linger on the fringes. It is perhaps the only war with any chance of succeeding—if the host of the Valar cannot overcome Morgoth then we are all truly doomed to fail."
"Elrond and Elros will want to fight by our side," Malgor had said.
"I know that," Maedhros had growled in response. "But you also know our banners will bring the worst of the fighting to us. Our enemy knows us by sight—he will not hesitate to send his worst to fight us. We are not as large a force as in the past. There are not enough of us to keep them safe. Not anymore." He had scrubbed his hand over his face before speaking again. "They will be better off with Ereinion. He commands the mightiest host, save the one from Aman. He will be able to secure them far better than we would. And if I judge him rightly, from his letters, he will most likely send them to safety rather than bring them to the front. He is the High King—they can hardly gainsay his command."
"We could leave them here . . . with a small force to guard them . . ." Maglor had ventured to propose.
He had received a withering look from Maedhros. "Do you truly believe they would stay, just because we ordered them to do so? You know them better than that, Maglor! They will follow us no matter what threats and entreaties we make."
"I know," Maglor had sighed in agreement. "You are right but I still feel we shall regret this, even if it seems the right decision now."
Letters had again been dispatched to the High King, unbeknownst to the twins, and a favorable reply had been received. Ereinion had agreed to meet them and take the twins under his protection and rule. Now it was just a matter of time.
It pained Maglor to hear the twins' excited chatter as they sighted the camp ahead of them. Such an odd juxtaposition, that of the Peredhel; one he had to remind himself of often, when his patience with them faltered. They appeared full-grown, lacking only the tell-tale facial hair of the Edain- but they were still youths, not even near the cusp of adulthood. It still caught him off-guard at times, despite their years together.
His thoughts drifted back to Elwing. She too had been Peredhel, married and a mother in her twenties-an age barely considered out of childhood among the Eldar. That disconnect between physical and emotional maturity may well have led her to the rash decisions she had made. He shook his head. No good would come of dwelling on that, not now.
He should count their relative immaturity as fortunate, he decided. The twins had not raised as many questions as he had expected when the planned meeting with Ereinion was announced.
The High King's forces had gathered here, coming together after a brief respite, determined to once again join the forces from Valinor for a renewed assault against Morgoth. The battle had raged for several years already, neither side gaining a decisive advantage over the other.
Elrond and Elros had been properly schooled during their years of fosterage—as they made their approach to the camp they recognized the banners and devices that he and Maedhros had drilled into them during their history lessons. But the forbidden Quenya they were speaking to each other would not do here.
Maglor called out a few words to them in that same language and the chatter instantly ceased. He wondered yet again if teaching them the banned language had been a good idea. But they had found the twins were linguistically gifted, easily grasping the Sindarin dialects and even the lesser known tongues of the Avari that lived near them. It had brought Maedhros and Maglor a bittersweet joy to share the language of their youth with their foster sons. Lessons were taught to the twins much as their father had taught them, so long ago in Tirion, when all was so much simpler.
Maglor shook himself. He needed to stay alert, not wallow in his memories of times far happier and more peaceful. They needed to find Ereinion, entrust Elrond and Elros into his care and then make their way to the battleground.
It was but a few hours later that Maedhros found himself in Ereinion's tent, face to face with the High King himself, under the watchful, distrustful eyes of Cirdan. They had quickly dispensed with the niceties of formal greetings and plunged into the matter at hand.
"I am still perplexed, Fëanorion, that you have chosen this time to meet with me and finally release the captive heirs of Sirion," Ereinion said.
"They were never captives, as I have made clear time and again in my missives to you. Elrond and Elros have been treated as fosterlings, not hostages," Maedhros replied, his tone smooth and conciliatory, not betraying his rising irritation with the High King.
"You may choose to use those words but the fact remains that you willingly kept them from their kin." Ereinion's eyes, despite being the familiar blue of his Arafinwëan forebears, were cold and unfriendly. It startled Maedhros to realize how much that bothered him.
"We are as much their kin as anyone here," Maedhros snapped then took a deep breath and tried again, making an effort to modulate his voice. "I realize how it may seem but be assured it was overwhelmingly concern for their welfare that drove our decision. Finding them abandoned and alone, in a city wrecked by fire and ruin . . ." Maedhros paused as the expression on Ereinion's face darkened. "And yes, I know, that ruin was caused by my decree. But their plight was one that we could not ignore. We did what we thought best for them." He tilted his head and his expression softened. "I think you will find when you meet them that I speak truly."
"Much will be determined when I meet them," Ereinion said. "If that is so, that you are truly bonded to them as family, what drives you to send them away from you now?"
"You know we must join this battle. We have hesitated only due to them. But we can linger on the fringes no longer. If there is any chance to defeat the One who has done such harm to our family and our people, we must take it. There can be no other path for us." Maedhros leaned forward. "We are but a small force but well known to the Enemy. Surely you can see why we cannot have them there with us."
Ereinion sighed and his face lost its tautness. "I do see. They are not seasoned warriors and there is no doubt the sons of Fëanor will be in the thick of it, no matter where you find yourselves on the field of battle."
Maedhros leaned back in his chair, the rigid set of his shoulders loosening as he did so.
"So you will entrust them to me," Ereinion continued. "The vanguard of the High King is no safer place."
"They wish to fight," Maedhros warned Ereinion. "But they will heed your orders to stay behind far better than they would mine, if that is your command. Should you feel the need to send them to the safety of Balar instead, I would not fault you."
Ereinion exchanged glances with Cirdan. "It may be best to send them to Balar," Ereinion agreed. His gaze drifted back to Maedhros. "As you know, I have no heir. Elrond and Elros are the closest blood kin with a claim to the throne. Other than yourself, of course." There was challenge in his look now and a defiant set to his jaw.
"I gave up that claim long ago," Maedhros said softly. "It is not a path I will tread again." He met Ereinion's gaze steadily. "Nor will my brother. You are the High King and your heirs are of your choosing. We have no place in that reckoning, I can assure you."
"Then Balar it shall be," Ereinion said, as Cirdan nodded his assent. "I have no stomach to take them with us. If they are as untried as you say and my sole heirs, they are far better off there. It may well be the last settlement still standing at the end of this war. I will not risk them willingly."
A rare smile crossed Maedhros' face. "Truth be told I am glad I will not be the one to tell them this. They can prove most stubborn."
"A trait they no doubt inherited from both Thingol's line and Fingolfin's," Cirdan said.
"Shall I send them to you then?" Maedhros asked Ereinion.
"Yes, I will welcome them to join my forces, under my banners, as kinsmen and my declared heirs. We will stay camped here for a few more days. That should give you time to leave before I send them to Balar with Cirdan. As my formally declared heirs they will be hard pressed to object."
Maedhros smiled again. "Oh, be sure they will still object. They are obstinate and you will find they relish debate." A fond look came over him. "They have learned the art of it from a young age."
"Taught by masters, no doubt," Cirdan said. "I am aware you excel in it yourself."
"Perhaps I did once," Maedhros said, his expression growing more serious. He shook his head and nodded at Ereinion. "I will take up no more of your time. I shall send them to you directly. Our company will take our leave at dawn."
The tent he shared with Maglor was empty. Maedhros found his brother with the twins in their tent, just adjacent. "The High King sends for you," he announced to the twins. "Time to get to know your cousin."
"You still haven't told us why he has sent for us in the first place, Maedhros," Elrond said, as he straightened his tunic.
Elros turned his gaze to him as well. "We may as well know before we meet him, don't you think? You have been cryptic about this trip from the start."
Maedhros had skillfully sidestepped their questions as they traveled, the excitement of the trip itself effectively distracting them. The twins were still no match for his diplomacy. His expression was unreadable and his tone steady as he addressed them.
"You know I have been in contact with the High King in the years you have been with us. Ereinion, as you well know, has no heir of his blood. I did not want to presume when he sent for you, as he had not made his intentions clear to me. I felt it best to wait until I spoke with him, before I conveyed my conjectures to you both." Maedhros smiled, reaching out to place a hand on Elrond's shoulder. "But now that I have met with him I have found my suppositions were correct. He is heading into battle yet again-he cannot put off his plans for succession any longer. I believe he looks to you in that regard."
"Us?" Elros said. Elrond simply stared at Maedhros, his brows drawing together in thought.
"You know you are kin, Elros. This should not come as a surprise," Maglor chided him. "Were all our efforts in having you study your family tree in vain?"
"No, but it does seem odd, does it not, Maglor?" Elrond said, tilting his head as he spoke. "To do it now, after all these years?"
"There is nothing unusual about imminent war giving one a perspective about one's own demise," Maedhros added. "His advisors have likely driven it home to him at last."
Elrond still had a frown on his face.
Elros moved to stand next to his twin. "This is more daunting than exciting, to meet the King under these circumstances. The histories have not been kind to those who have come before us."
"If this is what Ereinion intends, know that you are worthy of it," Maedhros said. "In your veins runs not only the blood of the High King of the Noldor but of the Sindar as well. No others living have the distinction of Maiar blood. You have a far greater claim on a throne than Ereinion himself." His lips curved into a smile. "But do not tell him I said that."
It was enough to bring their debate to a halt, apprehension dominating the twins features now.
Maedhros caught Maglor's eye and gave him a minute nod of his head as he escorted the unusually silent twins out of the tent a few moments later. He was back not long after, running a hand through his disheveled hair.
"You did not stay?" Maglor asked.
Maedhros shook his head. "No, I'm leaving it all to Ereinion. They were distracted by my words just now but would suspect I had a hand in this, if I lingered. They are under his protection now and cannot disobey direct orders from the High King. They will not like being sent to Balar but they will have little recourse." He collapsed into the nearest camp chair and threw his head back, closing his eyes.
Maglor moved to stand behind him, hands on Maedhros' shoulders, gently kneading the tense muscles. "I will miss them," he whispered.
Maedhros opened his eyes and looked up at Maglor. "I will also. It will not be easy to leave them but they will be well taken care of with Ereinion and Cirdan. Of that we are assured." He closed his eyes again. "And we must join this war. If there has ever been a chance to regain what was once ours and fulfill this damned Oath, it is now."
"I don't want to stay here though," Elrond repeated. "I want to go with you."
They had been arguing since the twins had returned from their meeting with Ereinion. Both Elrond and Elros had been honored by the opportunity to join the High King's host and humbled at Ereinion's naming them his heirs but that had faded to indignation at hearing that Maedhros and Maglor would be departing at first light. Without them.
"We've been over this, Elrond," Maedhros said, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose wearily. He had taught them well, he thought, too well. They had a counter argument to every point he made. "Ereinion has named you and Elros as his heirs. You are now part of his retinue. He is the High King and you must obey his command. You do not have a choice in this."
"It makes no sense for us to stay with him," Elros cut in. "You know that, Maedhros. A king and his heir in the same company could prove disastrous. That's why you and your brothers all commanded separate squadrons than your father. That's why Fingon commanded his own host. You've told us this time and time again. If the king's company is overrun, the heirs must be kept apart, to keep the succession." He raised an eyebrow at his foster father. "You cannot mean to argue this."
Maedhros sighed, rubbed his forehead and cursed himself again for the lessons in diplomacy and strategy that he had taught the twins. It would have been better to have left them illiterate savages he thought, if they were going to continually throw his own words back at him. But he could not help but feel a stirring of pride at how well they were holding their own in the debate. They were right, of course. He could not fault their logic, as it was ingrained in him as well.
"What makes the most sense is that we all join the High King's host but that Elros and I stay with your company and fight with you. That way we will be close at hand for Ereinion but still at enough distance to not endanger the succession," Elrond said patiently, his eyes watching Maedhros closely.
"That is impossible, Elrond, and I am surprised you even suggest it. You know we cannot join with Ereinion," Maglor said, gripping Maedhros shoulder in solidarity. "He leads Elves who survived Doriath, Gondolin and Sirion in his ranks. We have no welcome there, as you well know." He shook his head at Elrond. "They hate us near as much as the Enemy we all fight."
"Then let us go with you," Elros persisted. "That way we are away from Ereinion and you are not a focus of dissent in his camp. It is unlike you to not see the logic in this, Maedhros."
Maedhros had no other argument to use than the one he had kept in reserve for this exact moment. "He is not giving you a choice, Elros. This is an order from the High King. I will not debate this with you anymore. You are subject to his will, not mine, and most certainly not your own. Enough of this. There is no argument you can make that can overcome it. You abide by his command, as do I."
"Trust me, Maedhros. I will be speaking to Ereinion in the morning about this," Elrond said.
"I have no doubt you will," Maedhros replied wearily.
It was not an easy conversation; Erestor was as recalcitrant as the twins.
"I have been by your side, Maedhros, for far too many years. I cannot leave you now," Erestor objected.
"You have been most steadfast and true, Erestor, and that is why I ask this of you. I can trust no one else with this task," Maedhros replied.
"They will have Ereinion and then Cirdan to watch over them," Erestor argued. "Surely you cannot expect me to leave you, on the brink of war, to be a mother hen over those two!"
"But you are such a good mother hen, Erestor," Maglor said, the amusement evident in his voice.
"Shut up, Maglor," Erestor growled. "This is between me and Maedhros. Mother hen be damned." He turned his attention back to Maedhros. "Truly, Maedhros, you cannot mean to have me do this. To what end? Who will be your scribe? Who will set you straight, when you are being your foolish self? Who will help you with your damn armor, if I am with these blasted children?"
Maedhros had a fond smile on his face. "You are the epitome of a mother hen, Erestor. I will miss you greatly. Maglor will have to suffice for me, until we meet again." Maedhros reached forward to rest his forehead on Erestor's, lowering his voice as he met his seneschal's fiery gaze. "You must do this for me, Erestor. If there is one good thing we have done with our time in Arda, it is the time we have spent with Elrond and Elros. They came to us in war, in hate, in loss. I do not want them lost in war again. They go to safety but they go alone, abandoned once again by family they hold dear. You must go with them, be the family they yearn for, be our eyes and ears around them. Teach them what we have not had the time to impart. Please. For them and for us."
"Damn you, Maedhros. Must you tug on my heartstrings like that, to make me do your bidding?" Erestor growled. "Fine. I will go with them. I will be your eyes and ears but I will also not let them forget that they have been fostered by the sons of Fëanor and there is no greater lineage in Arda than that, damn it. They are your sons in my eyes and I will not let them forget it."
The Fëanorion company had broken up the camp, with the exception of the twins' tent, while Elrond and Elros had unsuccessfully argued their case to an impassive Cirdan and a wryly amused Ereinion. They had now found their way back to their foster fathers, their frustration palpable.
"You truly mean to leave us then?" Elros said, his brows coming together in a frown.
"For a time," Maglor said gently, placing his hand on Elros' shoulder. "We may yet meet on the battlefield, when Ereinion joins this engagement." His fingers tightened on Elros' shoulder. "Or perhaps when this war is won and we have peace in Beleriand." He gripped both of Elros' shoulders and touched their foreheads together. "Trust me, this is not goodbye forever. We will find you again. Somewhere, somehow." Maglor hoped he was not lying but he knew the words rang hollow. It may well be they would not meet again.
"You say that," Elros whispered, "When you know it may not be true. A war will lie between us and we have no other kin but you. You are our family."
Maglor closed his eyes. "If it is in my power to find you again, I will. I do not promise, for you know how poorly vows work out for me, but I will not forget you and I will find you."
"No one knows the path ahead," Maedhros added, reaching out to Elrond, who stood near him. "If we survive this, have no doubt we will seek you out."
Elrond bit his bottom lip, his look as mutinous as his twin's. "We are safest with you, Maedhros. You would not let us come to harm."
"There is a duty that we serve that compels us, Elrond, despite our great love for you," Maedhros said. "The Oath does not let us forget that. We must fight for victory over the darkness and to regain what was lost to us. Do not doubt the fighting around us will be the thickest. The Enemy knows what we seek and his minions know us well. They will seek us out, to destroy us first." He drew Elrond closer, his voice dropping low. "Or to destroy what we care for most. It would not be the first time the Enemy has done so. Your place is with Ereinion now, Elrond."
Elrond embraced Maedhros, his face buried in the older Elf's shoulder. "But you are all we have," he said.
Maedhros stroked the dark hair, meeting Maglor's look across the small space of the tent. "You are all we have as well, Elrond. And that is why it means so much to know that you are safe." Maedhros dropped his head to rest on Elrond's dark one before continuing. "We will be in the midst of the worst of it. We have done this countless times before but each time we have gone into it knowing it could be our end. I am not willing for you to take that same risk. It will give me strength to know that you are safe and far from that."
Elrond stepped back and looked up at Maedhros, his face clouded with misgiving. "You keep saying safe, Maedhros. But we will not be safe, even fighting among Ereinion's army. There is no safe place on a battlefield." His eyes widened with understanding and he met his twin's eyes briefly, communicating as they did. "You mean to leave us with Ereinion yes, but not for battle. He's sending us off, isn't he? You know this, Maedhros, don't try to lie about it."
"I do not know what exactly Ereinion plans to do," Maedhros hedged but Elrond's eyes narrowed at him. "I cannot speak for him," Maedhros stated, his voice stern. "I cannot say what he will do for certain but if it were up to me I would do exactly as you said earlier. I would send my heirs to safety, far away from me and far away from the threat. If Ereinion is as wise as he seems I can only hope he does the same for you." The words tumbled out, too late to take back now. He could hear Maglor's sudden intake of breath from across the tent.
"So there it is," Elros said. "You are leaving us and Ereinion is sending us away." He turned away from Maglor sharply. "Once again, we are to be left behind. I suppose we should be used to it by now." His tone was bitter, hurt.
The twins stood side by side now, their eyes stormy and their expressions matching, jaws tightly clenched and fists at their sides.
"If there was any way to stay true to our Oath and true to you, we would," Maglor said.
"That bloody Oath," Elros spat. "It's driven you to do things you regret and you know it, yet you still follow the path it sets out for you?"
"There is no escaping it, Elros. We must do what we must do, if we are to fulfill it. Forsworn we may be at the end but we cannot give up trying to forestall that," Maedhros said. He had wanted to avoid this kind of confrontation. He had wanted to depart in love and affection, not with the Oath on his lips and its tainted compulsion ruining yet one more thing he loved.
"It is this or the Everlasting Dark," Maglor added. "I would hold out hope one last time, that we can fulfill it and be reunited with those we have loved and lost. Including you."
Despite his words weeks ago about how mature the twins were, those words seemed false now. Elrond and Elros looked as young and bereft as the moment he had first laid eyes on them, years ago, in the ruins of Sirion. It broke his heart but he could not waver. They had decided on this path and they would see it through. He opened his arms to Elros and saw Maedhros do the same to Elrond.
It took a moment and he wondered if perhaps this had finally sundered them. But then the twins stepped forward, Elros into Maglor's arms and Elrond in Maedhros' and their boys were their own once again, if only for a little while longer.
They had said the words, had reconciled as best they could under the circumstances but now their time together drew to a close. Their men were gathered, awaiting the order to march out.
These were their last moments with the twins. Maedhros reached into his tunic, to the deep hidden pocket there, and pulled out a small sheaf of yellowing pages. He handed them to Elrond.
"What are these?" Elrond asked, gently scanning the fading Quenya written on them in an unfamiliar hand.
"They are the surviving letters in my possession from Fingon," Maedhros said softly. "I lost everything I had when Himring was overrun but for a few things. These I had with me." He gently touched a finger to the topmost page. "I want you to have them now. They will be safer with you."
Elrond could feel the tears gathering in his eyes. He had known, they had both known, that there were some remnants from the past that Maedhros held most dear: the golden ribbon on his left wrist, a sheaf of papers he kept close, a battered notebook. This was that sheaf of papers then—the letters of the one Maedhros had lost so long ago. He swallowed, his mouth dry, and tried to find words. "I will keep them safe, Maedhros. They will be as precious to me as they ever were to you. I promise you this."
"No promises, Elrond. They don't always work out as we expect, remember?" Maedhros said, his voice hoarse with emotion.
"I remember," Elrond whispered back.
Maglor reached for Elros' and slipped the battered notebook into his hands. "My father's notes on his study of the linguistic characteristics of the languages of Beleriand. His time here was brief but he never lost his thirst for knowledge and understanding. Keep it for me, will you? You have a gift for language, as he did."
Elros' hands trembled as he gripped the book. "I will study it and keep it safe. I won't promise, I know you won't want me to, but I'll keep it and look forward to letting you know my thoughts on it when . . . when we meet again," Elros said, stumbling over his words.
Then it was one last embrace and the twins were left behind yet again, watching the company of the last sons of Fëanor ride off into the distance.
They had not made a promise but here they were, so many years later, finally meeting again in the camp of the host of the Valar. Elrond and Elros stood with Erestor, under the banner of Ereinion, High King of the exiled Noldor. This was their first glimpse of Maedhros and Maglor since they had said their goodbyes long ago. The war was over, Morgoth defeated, the Silmarils retrieved and in the custody of Eonwë.
The last remaining sons of Fëanor stood in front of the herald of the Valar, their faces stern and their voices strong.
"You have retrieved what is rightly ours," Maedhros said to Eonwë. "We are gratified at their recovery but must request the jewels be returned to us and our Oath thus be fulfilled."
"They were the work of our father, as none can contest," Maglor added. "Stolen from him by Morgoth, when the Dark One killed our grandfather, the High King. Our father has perished from this world but we, his heirs, stand here to reclaim them, as we vowed."
Elrond shivered at their words, his fists clenched at his sides. It could be over so easily now, if they would just let them have the jewels, the Oath would finally let them be.
Eonwë's face remained impassive and Elrond felt his brother's hand slip into his own and grip it tightly as they awaited the word of the Herald.
"Your claim to them is void, sons of Fëanor." Eonwë's words rang out and Elrond felt Elros' hand tremble. "These jewels were hallowed by Yavanna herself. You have invalidated your right to them, with your merciless deeds to acquire them. Kin you have slain and assaults you have rendered on the blameless. They are yours to claim no more. They will go to the West, back to Aman." Eonwë paused, his voice softening as he addressed Maedhros and Maglor. "And West you must go as well, sons of Fëanor. To Valinor, to repent your deeds and await the judgement of the Valar."
Elrond squeezed Elros' fingers and felt the shiver run through his brother. These were harsh words, unexpected to them. Had their fathers not suffered enough in their attempt to fulfill that blasted Oath, Elrond wondered.
He shivered again himself as he looked at Maedhros and Maglor. The color had drained from their faces and Elrond could see the tension in their forms. Maglor blinked at Eonwë's words, opening his mouth and then closing it, no words escaping him.
Maedhros' eyes grew hard, the silver in them flashing as he found his voice again. "You thwart us from our purpose, herald of the Valar. You keep from us what is rightly ours." He stood taller, his pale face a stark contrast to his fiery hair. "We will not submit to such words, when our purpose and our vow is at odds with your demands."
"Think on my words, Maedhros Fëanorion. This is not my decree but the will of the Valar themselves and by this shall you abide. The jewels return to Aman, their home. You and your brother shall submit yourselves to the judgement of the Valar on the far shore. I shall await word from you. Our host shall prepare for departure and the hours are short. Think, but do not take overlong. There is little choice but to submit to their mercy." Eonwë inclined his head at them and turned away, leaving Maedhros and Maglor amidst the host around them.
A host that was now rife with whispers and murmurs at the Herald's decree. The jewels were to go back to Aman. Survivors of Doriath and Sirion, who had lost so many in the conflicts for such a jewel, found their voices raised in debate as to that very decree.
Elrond and Elros made their way swiftly to Maedhros and Maglor, who were still standing, their eyes following Eonwë as he departed, the crowd parting for him as he did so.
Elrond reached out to grip Maedhros' arm just as Elros touched Maglor's shoulder. "No promise was made but here we are again, at the ends of the earth, together again," Elrond said, trying to keep his voice light and steady as he faced the two Elves he considered his closest family, even after all the intervening years.
The twins were engulfed in the strong embraces of the sons of Fëanor and Elrond could feel the tears slip down his cheeks as his arms wrapped around Maedhros. It had been so long and he had missed them so very much. It was but a brief embrace as they stepped back and Maglor claimed him next while Elros buried his face in Maedhros' shoulder. They ended in a jumble of four, Maedhros' arm across Elrond's shoulder and Maglor's hand gripped firmly in his own, Elros between the brothers just across from him.
"You said you would find us if you could," Elros was saying to Maglor. "And so you have."
"So we have," Maglor repeated, his eyes darting to Maedhros.
"You are safe and well, it seems," Maedhros said but Elrond could tell his hearty tone rang hollow.
"As can be expected, considering we've been stranded on the isle of Balar for all these years," Elros complained.
"How has Erestor survived the monotony?" Maedhros asked, a ghost of a smile on his face.
"You can ask him yourself," Elrond countered.
Erestor had been behind them, staying just far enough away to keep some privacy in their reunion, as the crowd dispersed around him. He caught Maedhros' eye and raised one eyebrow as he approached. "You've survived, I see," Erestor said, raking his eyes over Maedhros critically. "You're too thin. And your hair looks like a rat's nest. I told you Maglor was useless at such things."
"I've missed you too," Maedhros said, pulling him into his arms and clapping Erestor soundly on the back.
"You damn fool," Erestor whispered, as he hugged Maedhros back. "You heard his words, Maedhros. If the Valar say it is over, it is over. You understand that? It is over." His words were for Maedhros' ears alone. Erestor's grip on Maedhros' arm intensified as he spoke.
"It is good to see you, my old friend," Maedhros said, extricating himself from Erestor's grasp but leaning to touch his forehead to his old friend's, his words just a whisper. "It was never up to the Valar, Erestor, you know that. Our Oath was to Eru Iluvatar himself and no Vala can gainsay that." He stepped back and regarded Erestor and the twins.
"What will you do, Maedhros?" Elrond asked, his eyes darting back and forth. There was no look of resignation or acquiescence in either of the brothers, despite Eonwë's words and he felt a deep sense of foreboding.
Maedhros smiled but it did not reach his eyes. Elrond knew that look, though it had been years since he had seen it. His discomfort intensified. Both brothers were pale but their expressions were carefully pleasant to any who did not know them well.
To Elrond and Elros, who knew otherwise, they looked strained and tense; a veneer of decorum on the surface.
"We will take our leave of you, for now," Maedhros said. "Maglor and I have things we must discuss after Eonwë's pronouncement. It seems we may be finding a new residence yet again," Maedhros said, his attempt at humor falling flat.
Maglor reached a hand out to each of the twins, the familiar fondness of his gaze resting on them. "We have found you again, despite the odds. Give us a little time, to sort out what we must. This is a moment we have longed for, to be with you again, but the circumstances are not what we envisioned." He glanced at Maedhros. "It seems we must adjust our expectations once again."
"You will come find us later?" Elros asked, his fingers tightly gripping Maglor's. Erestor studied his old friends closely as he spoke.
"We will find you," Maedhros answered, his right arm coming up around Elros' shoulder and his good hand gripping Elrond's. His gaze drank them in, as if he could not get his fill.
Erestor's eyes narrowed. He would not mention it to the twins but he knew Maedhros and those words were intentionally vague and there was a haunted look in his eyes he knew far too well.. He feared the end was not going to be as simple as Eonwë had laid out. It was not in Maedhros' nature to submit to such demands.
Erestor watched the brothers go to their tent, misgiving in his heart. The only surety that he had was that they would not so easily give up their claim to their father's legacy. A chill went through him as he reluctantly followed the twins back to their own camp.
"It has ended, Maedhros. The Valar have spoken. We have no claim, they say, to the jewels anymore. Our Oath is voided by their decree," Maglor said.
"It is not the Valar that can void our Oath, Maglor, you know this as well as I. We pledged our Oath to Eru Iluvatar and only he can release us," Maedhros countered, continuing his pacing, as he had since they had returned to their tent.
"Do the Valar not speak for Eru, then?"
"They do not and you know that, Maglor," Maedhros snapped.
"It can be an end, Maedhros. The jewels are regained. If not by us, at least they are not in Morgoth's clutches anymore," Maglor said.
" 'Be he foe, or friend, be he foul or clean, brood of Morgoth or bright Vala,' Maglor. You cannot tell me you have forgotten the words?" Maedhros said.
Maglor hissed. "Of course I have not forgotten the words. They are burned into my fëa, Maedhros, as they are burned into yours." His eyes flared as he looked at his brother. "But tell me you do not yearn for an end to this torment! If we submit to the Valar and return, could there not be some forgiveness for us? Could this not be ended?" His voice shook.
Maedhros stared at him, his silver eyes wide in his pale face. "We can go back they say, but not free. We must submit to the judgement of the Valar, Maglor. If the favor of the Valar is for us or against us our Oath still claims us—but it shall be forever unattainable as we will never be able to regain the Silmarils. Do you not see that? We cannot fight the Valar in their very realm. Our only hope is to retake the Silmarils now, while they are here, in Arda. Once we return to Valinor, all hope is lost."
"What hope have we to take them back, here, in an armed camp? They are lost to us, Maedhros, and we must make the best of it," Maglor said.
Maedhros dropped to his knees, his head and shoulders bowed as if by a heavy load, his remaining hand coming up to cover his face. "I cannot, Maglor. I cannot."
Maglor drew close to him, a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Cannot do what, Maedhros?"
"I cannot be a prisoner yet again, even if it be a prisoner of the Valar. I cannot submit myself to captivity, imprisonment, judgement yet again. I do not have it in me," Maedhros whispered. "They will make us relive the deeds that brought us here, Maglor. I live them in my dreams and nightmares as it is. I cannot face the dead of Alqualondë, Doriath and Sirion yet again. I cannot face . . . " His words faltered over the name he could not bring himself to say.
Maglor's breath caught as the enormity of his brother's confession came over him. Maedhros had been prisoner of a Vala before, albeit a fallen Vala, but he had vowed to be so no more. He could see the trembling in his brother's hand.
No. He would not subject Maedhros to that again. It would surely not be as cruel as his years in Morgoth's dungeons but it was what his brother feared above all else. Those memories would no doubt be dredged up again, in no uncertain detail, at any trial the Valar put them through.
Maglor felt a tremor run through him. He did not know if he could relive those scenes again himself. And if the Valar's judgement was against them? What then? Would they be imprisoned? Sent to the Halls of Mandos by force? Exiled to the Eternal Darkness? The trembling grew. No. He would not put Maedhros through that, not after all his brother had suffered. He could spare him this.
He stroked Maedhros' disheveled hair. "No, you are right. There is no end to this, if we do not gain them back." He sighed and kept his fingers tangled in Maedhros' hair. "It will be night soon. They will have guards no doubt, but we have years of eluding Orcs and such. Vanyar guards should be no object. We will get past them and reclaim the jewels for ourselves. To fulfill our Oath." He paused in thought. "But then what, Maedhros? Then what do we do with the jewels, once they are ours again?"
Maedhros' tear streaked face lifted up to meet his. "We give them back, of course. We need to claim them to bring this damned Oath to an end. I do not want them—they are nothing to me but a means to an end. Father may have cherished them but to me they are but a symbol of the loss and anguish we have suffered for so long." He gave his brother a weak smile. "Once we have them, we will give them to Yavanna. To bring the Trees back to life and to let us go home again. To Tirion. To mother. To peace."
Maglor breathed in and exhaled. It sounded so simple, when Maedhros put it that way. That was all they had yearned for, for so long. Home. Peace. If gaining the Silmarils put it in their grasp and Maedhros could return to Valinor without the shackles of the Valar on him then it would be worth it.
They had not expected the guards to put up such a fight or to come at them with such a vengeance. He and Maedhros had overcome them but the blood that stained their swords was the blood of Elves who now lay dead in the tent of Eonwë. The cask that held the Silmarils was in his hands but once again the Oath had turned on them and they had killed kin yet again for the cursed jewels.
They had been set upon by those roused by the clash of metal on metal in a camp of peace but Eonwë had bid the others to stand down. The crimes of the sons of Feanor would not be punished by death at the hands of fellow Elves. No kinslaying would the Herald of the Valar condone.
And so here they were, beyond the edges of the camp, the yawning crevices of the earth, lit with fires in their depths, on one side and the raging waves of the ocean on their other side.
Tears still stained Maedhros' face as he turned to Maglor. "It was not what I had thought," he said, his voice shaking.
"It never is, is it?" Maglor replied. " 'To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well.' How could we forget that? It has plagued us all these endless years." He sounded weary, beyond tears now.
"Shall we open this casket and claim what is now ours?" Maedhros asked. "To bring this foul Oath to its bitter end at last?"
Maglor opened the casket with shaking hands and the glowing light of the Silmarils bathed their faces, the light of the Trees once more shining in their sight.
"So much sorrow for these jewels," Maedhros said.
"We must claim them for our own, Maedhros, to put this to an end," Maglor said, reaching in to pick up one of the jewels.
Maedhros followed suit, holding it in his left hand.
"I do not remember them being warm, do you?" Maglor asked.
Maedhros turned his eyes to Maglor, the silver dull and defeated. "They were always cool to touch." He looked down at his hand, as the light of the jewel flared even brighter. "It rejects us, Maglor. They were hallowed by Yavanna but would burn at the touch of those unworthy of them." His voice shook. "Even Morgoth himself could not hide the pain they brought him. I saw that with my own eyes." Maedhros stood up, a wild look overtaking him. "After all, after all we have been through, we are not worthy of them. The judgement of the Valar matters not—the jewels themselves reject us."
Maglor felt the scorching of his flesh as the jewel in his hand burned brighter, the heat searing him.
"It is no use," Maedhros said, shaking his hand in an unsuccessful attempt to dislodge the jewel. "It is no use. We are judged and found wanting. There is to be no peace for us." His frantic pacing brought him near the edge of the burning chasm near them. "Our right is void. Our Oath is in vain. There is no end but in pain and fire."
"What of your plan, Maedhros?" Maglor called to him, trying to ignore the searing pain that pulsed through his own hand holding the Silmaril. "Can we not give them back, as you said and bring an end to it?"
Maedhros' pacing grew more frantic. "It is no use, Maglor. We have killed yet again, to claim the jewels. There is no forgiveness for us now. The jewels reject our claim." The anguish was visible on his face. "Do you not see, Maglor? The Oath cannot be fulfilled and we cannot be forgiven."
Maglor had not seen such despair in his brother's eyes in many long years. Not since his first awakening after his rescue from Thangorodrim. A chill went through Maglor that even the burning jewel could not counter. "Maedhros! Do not let desperation cloud your thoughts. We have them, even if they burn us now. We have regained the Silmarils, as we said we would."
Maedhros stepped closer to the edge and took one last look back at Maglor. "It is not as we thought. We are beyond redemption now. I love you, Maglor. I am sorry to have brought you with me to this doom."
Maedhros tightened his fingers around the jewel that scorched his hand. His stump reached up to rub at the front of his tunic, where the deep, hidden pocket held his most precious treasures: the last of Fingon's letters and the bloodied, scorched scrap of Fingon's silver and blue standard, salvaged from the battlefield of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. The golden ribbon at his wrist shimmered in the light. He closed his eyes and stepped over the edge into the fire below, Maglor's guttural, wordless cry the last thing Maedhros heard before his end.
He had somehow ripped the jewel from his scorched skin, the blacked outline of it scarring his palm. It had flared brightly before it had disappeared into the crashing waves below him. Maglor stood on the cliff edge, a part of him desperately tempted to follow Maedhros' lead and step off the edge into the void, to crash on the rocks below and end this. To be at peace.
He resolutely stepped back. No. There would be no one who knew the truth, if he did that. He was the witness, the only son to survive and hold one of the cursed jewels in his hands and walk away from it.
Maglor cradled his burnt hand to his chest. He wanted nothing to do with the Valar anymore. Maedhros was right—there would be no peace in Valinor for him. He would be judged and found wanting. Kinslayer. Rebel.
The narrative would be whatever the Valar set it to be—precious few would remember who Fëanor and his sons had been, once.
Who would remember the kind, tender older brother Nelyo had been? The joking prankster that was Tyelko? The precise figures that Moryo could conjure out of nowhere, his writing neat and precise, the faint blush of pride on his face at a job well done. Who would remember Curvo, revising and reworking a metal hand, so that his eldest brother could feel whole again? And who would recall the twin faces of his younger brothers, breathless with laughter, as they once again confused their uncle as to their identities?
Who would remember Fëanor rocking him to sleep when the dreams were bad, stroking the hair off his face in the light of Telperion and murmuring words of comfort in his ears?
No one. They would live on as dreadful caricatures of themselves, the essence of who they were forgotten by all, their names cursed for eternity. He would live, damn it. He would live to remember. He would live to honor their memory. Maglor turned his back on the encampment, turned his back on all that had gone before. He had his memories. He didn't need anything else.
Chapter end notes:
My thanks to cheekybeak for her beta read!
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