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On the grey fields of Mithrim

Chapter Text

After the initial battles are over and the people who followed Fëanáro and now follow his sons have made up camp by the shore of Lake Mithrim, Alasselië settles into living in this new land and gradually finds her own place in it. It turns out that her place is helping her father as he creates organisation from among chaos, and it is also spinning, weaving and needlework as always, though these are in Hithlum different than they were in Aman.

She becomes her father's assistant almost by accident, as Quildalacon is becoming overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. It is no little task to establish a new household in a new settlement that is in the beginning only a sea of tents, with their people in disorder, grieved and worried by the capture of their new leader, Nelyafinwë, so soon after the death of Fëanáro.

So there is plenty of work for her alongside her father, and she takes on responsibility for organising and overseeing many of the tasks that fall to female servants. And together with others she works to figure out how to keep them all warm in the cold climate as their supplies dwindle. As soon as they get new supplies of wool from the grey elves who inhabited this land before the Noldor, there is more spinning and weaving to do than there are skilled pairs of hands.

What needlework there is is very different from what Alasselië is accustomed to. In Aman, she designed and created ceremonial robes and extravagant dresses for festivals. Her greatest talents lay in making those elegant garments of luxurious materials and embroidering them with vivid, complicated patterns. But taught by her mother practically since she was an infant, she is competent in all manner of work involving thread of any kind, and here in the great camp in the cold, rainy north there is more need for other craft than fine clothes. So now she sews hardy, practical garments and mends them when they rip and become tattered. They waste nothing in that early time of sparse resources.

As time goes by their situation stabilises in all ways, many tents becoming simple buildings, and austerity gradually gives way to a pale shadow of their former splendour. Alasselië is delighted to get opportunities for fine work again. Her heart has missed making beautiful things, and she puts all her skill and passion into the new fine clothes that are commissioned from her by Canafinwë and his brothers who want to make sure that they still look like princes though they are exiles in a cold land surrounded by mists and mountains of shadow.

Otherwise she avoids the sons of Fëanáro as much as she can, for they are of course the worst affected by their brother's terrible fate, and their fiery spirits are apt to burst into flames at any moment. Canafinwë tries to keep his brothers in check, but several of them challenge his decisions and chafe against his leadership constantly. Their disagreement about what should be done about Nelyafinwë is the main cause of contention.

Just as Canafinwë attempts to stop his brothers from doing anything rash and stupid, Alasselië and her father work to keep Hendunáron from going to pieces.

Like some of Fëanáro's sons, Alasselië's brother who was a close friend to Nelyafinwë thinks that something should be done to save him – that this impunity of their foe cannot be allowed to stand, that Nelyafinwë should not be left to agony; that even if there is nothing else to be done, their king's body should be recovered. But Hendunáron does not rebel against Canafinwë, the leader whom Nelyafinwë appointed before going to parley with Moringotto.

As years go by, all at the Fëanorian camp indeed think that Nelyafinwë must be dead by now. After all, the alternative is too terrible to think of.

*

During this time of waiting Alasselië together with the other Noldor learns Sindarin, the language of the grey-elves. Like others she and her brother choose new Sindarin names for themselves. Hendunáron translates his name as Baralindir which has very much the same meaning, a man who has fire in his eyes. Their father Quildalacon takes a longer time getting accustomed to the fact that Sindarin is their principal language now, but eventually he chooses Dinalagos as his new name.

Alasselië's own name which means 'thread of joy' seems like mockery on some days, yet it is the name her mother gave her, and she would keep it if she had no other reason than that.

So she names herself Merelaineth in Sindarin, 'joyous spinner'. It is the closest equivalent that she can construct with her still very imperfect Sindarin that also sounds pleasant to her ear. And she is now called Meren for short as she was Alassë before, and that feels like a comfort.

*

Years after everyone on the southern shore of the lake has given up hope of ever seeing their king again, alive or dead, one day Findekáno – Fingon, now – stumbles to the Fëanorian camp, exhausted and dirty, carrying Nelyafinwë.

Those who see them first think that Nelyafinwë is dead, for the maimed, blood-stained and emaciated figure in Fingon's arms looks more like a corpse than a living, breathing person. But as Fingon makes his way through the camp, amidst the throng of people who silently gather to watch and make way in amazement and respect, the ravaged figure in his arms rouses and moans in pain.

The crowd exclaims as their grief turns into pity and horror. Fingon just readjusts Nelyafinwë's position in his arms, mutters something to him, and keeps going. Many men come forward and offer to take his burden from him, or help him, at least, for Fingon himself looks like one who has been through torment. But he shakes his head and carries on tenaciously, even when three of Nelyafinwë's brothers run in, having been alerted that their cousin has brought their brother back.

Merelaineth is at work inside the building where Fëanor's sons keep their headquarters, and she doesn't know of Nelyafinwë's return until she sees him carried in and rushed through the great hall to a bedroom, his brothers yelling for a healer. One is quickly found, and Meren and others go to look for more.

For it is clear that the skills of every healer at the Fëanorian camp will be needed if Nelyafinwë is to be brought back to some semblance of health. All who saw him are horrified at the state of him, all the vicious scars and the bone-thin figure and the bleeding stump where his right hand used to be. They know, though, that they cannot even begin to imagine what he must have gone through during the many, many years he was Morgoth's prisoner.

It is a miracle that he is alive at all, and some whisper that must a be a mercy from the Valar, a sign that they have not turned their back on the Noldor after all. All wish to help him, to do whatever little they can to help their king recover. Dinalagos and Meren do their part by holding counsel with the cooks, organising first weak and then nutritious broths to be sent to Nelyafinwë as often as he can get it down, and later, when he is a little better, making sure that whatever is served to him is already cut up to bite-sized pieces that can be eaten with one hand only.

Baralindir is overjoyed that Nelyafinwë is alive, though he has not seen him yet as for months only healers and his brothers are admitted to his room; but Merelaineth one day overhears Curufin speaking to Celegorm as she is stacking linen in a cupboard and the two sons of Fëanor walk past it without noticing her.

'It would have been better if he had died there', says Curufin, and Celegorm makes a noise of assent. Meren's heart aches for her king.

It takes many, many weeks before Nelyafinwë's brothers stop being grave when they go to see him and graver when they come back, and months pass before he leaves his room and comes among his people. When he does, he is very quiet, and greatly changed in appearance. His right arm is in a sling, his blazing hair is shorn short and there are half-healed scars as well as old ones on all parts of him that are visible. Meren thinks that there must be countless more under his clothes.

*

Soon after Nelyafinwë has recovered enough to start taking on his duties and reassuming leadership, Maglor comes to Meren and asks her to make Nelyafinwë some new clothes: 'For he has nothing at the moment that fits.'

She says that she will be happy to sew the clothes, and enquires cautiously after measurements. it would be easier to make clothes for Nelyafinwë for the first time in a long time, if she had his current measurements.

As she half expected, Maglor says, awkwardly though he is usually silver-tongued and smooth, that measurements aren't available.

Meren nods quickly, understanding that Nelyafinwë would not want the disturbance , and says that it's quite all right, she's made clothes without measurements before and the results should be acceptable. She promises to get started right away and have the first garments ready soon.

Maglor thanks her more courteously than he needs to – this is her job, after all.

That night when Nelyafinwë makes his daily appearance among the people of his household after dinner, Alasselië studies him with her trained seamstress' eye, taking care to not dwell on his injuries and concentrating instead on his size and proportions. Still thin and unwell-looking, he is nevertheless an impressive figure, and standing straighter every day.

She starts by making (with some assistance so that the garments are finished soon) one complete, simple outfit: an undershirt, a tunic and breeches and a robe that can be worn over them.

Of her own initiative, she also makes a cloak that is wider than usual. She has noticed Nelyafinwë covering his maimed side with his cloak when he can. As an especially wide cloak for a very tall man, it is the largest cloak she has ever made.

When she finishes the first set of clothes one afternoon she decides to take them to Nelyafinwë's room himself, as he usually is out at this time of the day and doesn't keep so tightly to isolation any more anyway. Balancing the pile of garments on one arm, she knocks on the door of his room and announces herself and her business, and is surprised when Nelyafinwë's voice bids her to let herself in.

As she steps in he gets up from the desk where he has apparently been writing. His left hand – only hand – is covered in ink spots, proof that he is still clumsy at writing with it. He looks at her like he's still wondering what she's doing there, though not impolitely.

'I am sorry to disturb you, my lord, I expected you would be out. I have brought the new clothes that were requested.' She looks around and then goes to lay them out on a big chest beside the bed. Nelyafinwë comes to look at the clothes and touches briefly the big fur-lined cloak, neatly folded.

'Did my brother ask for this too? He didn't mention.'

'No, my lord. It was my addition. Days are cold here.' She decides not to mention the extra width. He will make use of it if he wishes.

'Yes, they are, aren't they? Colder even than in Formenos. You were there, weren't you?' He is looking at her, frowning . 'I'm sorry, I cannot recall your name. You're Hendunáron's sister, and your father is now my seneschal, but your name escapes me at the moment. Many things do', and he smiles a little crooked smile that brings the scars on his face into stark relief. It seems that marks left by Morgoth's torment do not heal well even on an elf born in the Blessed Realm.

'I was Alasselië in Aman, and now I am called Merelaineth.'

'Ah, of course', he says, running his hand through his hair that is now just long enough for it. 'It is no matter that I can't remember names, since everyone took on a new one while I... was gone. I will have to think of one for myself too, and work on learning the language.'

'It is fortunately not very difficult', Meren offers. 'Or so most of us have found.'

'That is good to hear.' He turns to look at the clothes on the chest. 'Thank you for the clothes, Merelaineth, and for the cloak especially. It seems you have the same gift for noticing what needs to be done as your father does.'

'Thank you, my lord. I have been working together with him here in Mithrim, in addition to the needlework.'

'And very important work it is, part of keeping order here. Order right now is essential', he says, the good leader that he is proving to be now that he is recovering and reassuming his responsibilities. Meren knows that ever since he rose from his sickbed, he has been doing his part in keeping order both by leading his own people and by pursuing reconciliation with Fingolfin's.

Meren thanks him for his kind words and briefly debates with herself whether she should offer to wait while he tries the clothes on for size, as those she sews for usually do – but can he even dress himself? Should she offer to do it for him? It wouldn't be the first time she has dressed a man, as a professional seamstress, but she is fairly certain that he doesn't want to be dressed by someone who is a virtual stranger and a woman besides. Maglor, sensitive to the emotions and moods of others, hadn't wanted her to even take Nelyafinwë's measurements.

So Meren just tells him to send the clothes back to her if they are the wrong size, and she will make alterations. She also promises to make more for him as soon as she can, and she curtsies, and she goes.

Chapter Text

As the seamstress who brought him new clothes closes the door behind her, Nelyafinwë finds himself thinking again of how people behave around him these days. Based on what little he remembers of her from earlier times, she behaved with him just as she did before, respectfully but not quite subserviently. She seems to be one of those people who consider themselves craftsmen and -women rather than servants, though they work for his family.

But there was a purposefulness in her normalcy as there now tends to be in everyone around him, with the exception of his more boisterous brothers. Maglor, filled with unnecessary guilt for not attempting to rescue him, still treats him like he is made of glass, and weak glass at that.

Is that how people see him now? As fragile or weak? What do his scars, his missing hand, his gaunt shape make them think of him? He remembers, half-dead though he was on the first days back, the astonishment in the faces and voices of everyone around him. They couldn't believe that he was still alive.

Why is he still alive?

When the healers had realised he didn't know how long he had been Morgoth's captive, they refused to tell him until he was better. So he asked Caranthir, as he calls himself now, the next time he visited the sickroom. Caranthir certainly hadn't changed at all, because he did just as Nelyafinwë had expected and told him without mincing his words. And then Caranthir noticed how shocked he was at learning the truth and swore at him for asking.

Over three years as years were counted in Aman, over three decades in these new years of the sun. He had lost count of days and years already before Morgoth hung him from the Thangorodrim. Keeping track of time had been of less importance than survival, and periods of unconsciousness made his calculations unreliable anyway. But even though he knew it had been a long time – even though it had felt like an eternity – he could not have imagined it to actually be that long.

He knows that Morgoth's dark power must have kept him alive, for not even one born in the light of the Trees can withstand starvation and extreme bodily strain for that many years. But his spirit had not given up either, for despite the torment he had not begged or prayed for death, not even in the furthest recesses his mind, not before Fingon came.

He would not be killed by Morgoth, the black defiler who had darkened his homeland, killed his grandfather and caused his father's death. His hatred for Morgoth and the oath he'd sworn to retain the stolen jewels kept his spirit burning when hope and other good things had withered and died away in the dark and the pain.

These are good reasons he stayed alive for, the hatred and the oath. They are good reasons, because they still burn within him and they will give him strength on the long way to recovery that he knows will yet be long and painful. They will keep him fighting.

But there is another reason that he suspects made him withstand the long agony and not wish to die, and it is an even darker one than hatred for a foe and an unholy oath. He suspects that after Alqualondë and Losgar, he felt that he deserved the pain. And he suspects that because he killed men and women of his own kin who had not hurt him, and then betrayed his relatives and friends, his own people, a part of him now feels like he deserves his scars too and doesn't wish them away, doesn't mind that they don't seem to be healing.

But this is useless rumination that is likely lead him back into dark places where he has no desire to return. So he wipes away what ink will consent to leave his fingers, strips away the clothes he's wearing (borrowed from Celegorm, his tallest brother, they don't feel like his clothes anyway) and puts on the new tunic and breeches.

The young seamstress Alasselië – Merelaineth – Hendunáron's sister – has done a good job. The clothes fit him well, a little loose but then again it is expected that he will gain back the rest of the weight he lost at Thangorodrim, and in any case the garments are easier to pull on when they are not very tight. The right sleeve covers the end of his stump without being too long, and the clothes are fastened with larger-than-usual clasps and hooks, which makes them easier to put on with one hand.

In spite of the more convenient new clothes it is still a struggle to dress on his own, pain shooting down his right side from his long-suffering shoulder, but he is determined to do it, however long it takes or how much it hurts. He must learn to do it, because he will not be dressed by others like a child for the rest of his life.

He pulls on the cloak too – a wide expanse of fine, fur-lined wool in a shade of dark russet that he had always favoured in his cloaks – and sets out to see his people and wrangle his brothers and build peace among the exiles.

*

When Nelyafinwë – or rather Maedhros, for that is what is what their king has chosen to called himself in Sindarin – goes to meet Fingolfin in his camp on the northern shore of the lake to attempt reconciliation, the people at the Fëanorian camp are somewhat nervous. Many of them indeed regret the leaving behind of their kin and grieve the discord among the Noldor, but they are not sure how Fingolfin and his people will react. Will they forgive, or will the relations between the two hosts grow even worse, possibly to the point of battle?

When Maedhros returns from the northern shore, the grim look that has been near-constant on his face is lightened, as if a burden has been lifted from him. His brothers, however, seem anything but happy with what has transpired at Fingolfin's camp. If vicious looks could wound, Celegorm and Curufin would be giving  Maedhros some new scars; Caranthir is unusually red-faced even for him, and Maglor stays between him and Maedhros, as if he is ready to stop Caranthir from lunging at their eldest brother at any moment.

But clearly Maedhros has his brothers under his control, however tenuous, for when he gathers his people around him and declares his news, his brothers stand by his side and do not speak against him though many look thunderous and the rest uneasy.

Fëanor's eldest son, looking so regal in his most formal clothes and a sword again at his side, his tall form straight and proud again, speaks in a clear voice that carries among the silence of his people who are eager to hear his words.

Maedhros tells them that he has waived his claim to the high kingship of the Noldor and handed over the crown of Finwë to Fingolfin. The crowd erupts into noises of disbelief and dismay; Maedhros raises his hand and brings back the silence with the force of his will and the threat in his shining eyes.

'This is my decision which has been put into action, and it will not be debated, not by anyone. I am still your king and you are directly under my command.' He does not even glance at his brothers, but the message is clear: this means you six too, besides anyone who might sympathise with you. He continues, 'Moreover, I have apologised on my father's behalf for the desertion of my uncle's host in Araman, and will pay restitution for it from what we bought over in the ships, including many horses.' More unhappy noises, and again their king silences the malcontents with a blazing look.

His voice even, he continues: 'From now on, we will work together with the high king's people to watch Angband and to further the prosperity of all Noldor in Middle-Earth. Together we will send messengers and scouts all over Beleriand, to find out where there is such country where we might claim lands and build our settlements, more lasting than this camp here. Together with Fingolfin's people, we will one day defeat the dark one who murdered my grandfather and stole the Silmarils, and my brothers and I will reclaim the jewels as we have sworn.'

He pauses for a moment, then adds: 'And though I am no longer the high king, we will rule ourselves in our own lands as my father promised.'  The tone of his voice makes it clear that his speech is ended, and the crowd begins to disperse, buzzing as a great swarm of bees.

'Maglor, gather my advisors and captains and the lot of you', Maedhros indicates their brothers, 'in the council room in one hour. We will discuss postings.' Then he leaves, strides through the crowd that falls away to give way, flanked only by his guards, to be alone for an hour, to get used to a new feeling of lightness. He had not worn the high king's crown since he was brought back from the Thangorodrim, but it had been heavy on him nonetheless.

So this is the burden which has been lifted away from him, or rather, which he has given away – the high crown, thinks Merelaineth who has stood among the crowd with her father. She is impressed by Maedhros' show of strength and how well he kept the crowd in check, and his brothers too; much better than Maglor ever did during his long absence. Then again, Maedhros has been leading his brothers all his life.

Meren is roused from her thoughts by her father's voice.

'He is beginning as he means to go on, making it clear that he makes his own choices while honouring his father's promises', says Dinalagos, a reluctant smile of admiration on his face. 'Smart. And he doesn't embellish his words but speaks straightforwardly. It is for the best, for he doesn't have the enchanting tongue of his father.'

Meren looks at her father, hesitant to put into words the question in her mind.

Dinalagos smiles at her, less reluctantly by the minute. 'I will be proud to serve him.'

Meren breathes a quiet sigh a relief. She hadn't been certain how her father would take to Maedhros after having loyally served his even more fiery father for years.

*

Two years later, when many scouts have explored Beleriand and the Noldor have treated with the grey-elves living in various parts of the land, Maedhros decides to claim for himself and his brothers the lands in the north-east. Those who have scouted those lands tell that the country there is wild and cold and vulnerable to attack from the north, and this appears to please Maedhros. Becoming the first line of defence is also to the liking of many of those who follow him, for Fëanor's followers have been from the beginning the ones most eager for a fight.

So the Fëanorians pack up their camp, their temporary home for many years now, and prepare for a long march. Meren's father asks her if she is certain she wants to come to the east. The kingdoms that Fingolfin and Finarfin's houses are establishing in the west might be safer, and skilled hands are always welcome in any place.

Meren stares at Dinalagos. 'I cannot believe that you would ask me something so stupid, father. Did I not come with you and Baralindir to Formenos and to Middle-Earth, though staying in Tirion with my mother would have been far safer? I am not much of a warrior but I am not afraid of war, either. And if there is need I will use my bow and take down as many enemies as I can before they fell me.' Though she has not used it much recently, she has a slender bow she brought with her from the west, and some skill at using it.

Dinalagos closes his eyes, a pained look on his face. 'That is exactly why I asked, my dear. You are no warrior and I would give anything not to see you fall for it.'

'I understand your worry, father.' She touches her hand to her father's cheek. 'I will do my best to keep safe. And I can ask Baralindir to teach me to use a sword, can I not? To defend myself. And I will practise shooting again, too.' Her brother had taught her to shoot a bow when she was young, and though she was not strong enough or of a mind to be a warrior, she had a good eye and her arrows hit her target more often than not. 'I will come wherever you and Baralindir go, but I will not put myself into unnecessary risk, I promise.'

'That is the best I can hope for, isn't it?' He puts his hand on hers and squeezes it. 'Let us stop worrying, then. I need to go supervise the packing of the crop stores, and you need to do the same to the wool.'

*

The night before they set out from Mithrim for the east, Maedhros cannot sleep. It is not an unusual occurrence. Since he became hale enough to not fall into fits of unconsciousness, sleep has been hard to come by. Every day he pushes himself back into exhaustion, working and training and sparring until he can barely stand, both because he wants to become strong again and to have even a hope of falling asleep.

And his dreams, when they come, are less dreams and more memories of darkness and pain. Most often he dreams of the torment that lasted longest, that hell-wrought steel band around his right wrist and the by turns screaming and dull pain in that hand and wrist and arm and shoulder. It feels very real and when he wakes up, often drenched in sweat, he is relieved beyond words to discover that the shackle isn't there, and frustrated that neither is his right hand.

His dreams are terrible but he is not afraid of them, because they are only echoes of the real pain that he survived. The shadow of his torment may live in his heart now, but he can live with it. He knows, having discovered it during his long, slow convalescence, that he is not broken.

He is maimed, scarred and changed, but he is not broken. Morgoth broke his body, but his spirit must have stayed alive, even though at times it had felt like the flame of it had gone out, because now he can feel it burning in him, lending strength to his body as it recovers. He thought he had been broken when he begged Fingon to kill him, after believing hope restored and then lost, but he wasn't. All that Morgoth's torment managed to do to him was instil in him such a hatred and hunger for revenge that the accursed Vala will come to regret ever capturing him.

For scar tissue is stronger and harder to break than unblemished skin.

Even if he doesn't sleep on this one night, it is no matter. Tomorrow he will lead his people east. There he will claim his own land and build a fortress that will keep his people and all Beleriand safe, a strong fortress situated where he keep an eye on the dark foe of the world, and from where he will one day launch an offensive that breaks down the Thangorodrim and razes Angband to the ground.