The High King is dead.
The letter was written in Arakáno’s bold, damning handwriting, the words shaking Maedhros to the core. Nolofinwë was—he was—but how, he was Nolofinwë, he...
It went on, begging Fingon to return home to Barad Eithel, to escape Himring’s siege and take his rightful place as king. Maedhros did not think he could bear to lose him—he did not think he could withstand Fingon’s absence—but had it not been Maedhros himself who had ceded the crown to Fingon’s father, and put him in the line of succession?
Fingon’s face was cold and hard, his eyes dark and distant. Maedhros embraced him, but he sat still and unmoving.
“You must go,” Maedhros rasped, for all the words felt like a knife in his heart. “You are Crown Prince—”
“In name only,” Fingon said through numb lips. “I spend more of my time here, with you, than I do at—than I did at my father’s side. Argon is the proper heir, for all he is the youngest. He did not abandon his father.”
“Finno,” Maedhros attempted, “your brother needs you. He will not be accepted as king—it is you the people look to—”
“You think the people do not distrust my loyalties?” Fingon snapped. “You think they love how close I am to you, husband, though they know not the depth of our relationship?”
“You are a good lord, a good prince.” Maedhros clung to him; he could not believe so of himself, but he needed to believe it of Fingon. “You will be a good king. You are beloved—perhaps you are not so often in Hithlum, but you fight for them here, on the frontlines—”
“Your people love me.” Fingon laughed humorlessly. “But they are not the people with whom I crossed the Ice. They trust me no longer. I have betrayed them, for your sake.”
The words ought to have hurt him, but Maedhros was too caught up in grief and woe to dwell upon them. “Then go and cede the crown to Argon,” he pleaded. If Fingon left...he would be safe in Barad Eithel. He would see he was wrong, that his people did love him. “Please. Finno. It’s what your father would have wanted.”
“If I had been there...” Fingon trailed off, still not looking at him. “Do you think I could have stopped him?”
Maedhros swallowed, unable to answer. He knew why Nolofinwë had ridden to Angband: rage, despair, the need to do something rather than simply watching the world crumble around you, even if that something would lead to your doom. It was why he, too, had gone to face Morgoth. Only Nolofinwë was a better king, a better warrior than he had been, and Nolofinwë had died honorably where he had survived in shame.
Fingon shuddered. “No, don’t answer. But...I should have been there, anyway. I should have tried. I should have...seen him off. Seen him one last time.”
Maedhros said nothing, as ordered. He had been there at his own father’s death, and yet he could not mourn Fëanáro as Fingon mourned Nolofinwë.
“I should—” And now Fingon stood, walking to the north-facing window and staring out to where the black clouds of smoke poured from the forges of Angband.
Maedhros jumped up, panic sparking in his fëa. If he had to lose Fingon, let it be to kingship, to Barad Eithel, to their people. Not to the same fate that took Nolofinwë, and Fëanáro, and Finwë, and very nearly Maedhros himself.
“No,” he said firmly. “Finno, please.”
Fingon turned to him, at least meeting his gaze with tear-blind eyes. “If he saw no hope—”
“Please,” Maedhros begged, falling to his knees. “I—I have so little hope, Finno, but I have you, I have—I need you.”
Fingon was silent for a long moment. “Very well,” he said at last, kneeling beside him, pressing a kiss to Maedhros’ forehead. “I will go to my brother, if you need me to.”
“Thank you,” Maedhros croaked.
They made love that night, desperate and passionate, and Maedhros sobbed through it all, the last time he would weep until his own doom took him. He let Fingon claim him fiercely, in every way; he needed him, needed this memory while they were apart. When it was over, Fingon held him tenderly, whispered praises in his ears, until at last Maedhros fell into an uneasy sleep.
When he woke the next morning, Fingon was gone.
The High King is dead.
Maedhros did not cry when he read the news. He found only a dead, burned-up husk where his heart had been. He made no outward signs of grief at all.
With Arakáno’s letter, the second in so many weeks, was another, in Fingon’s hand. He’d written it the night he’d been so unwillingly kinged, leaving it with his crown and scepter in a pile at his brother’s door and riding like his father to Angband.
This time it had not been Morgoth who came forth. And Maedhros knew better than anyone what Sauron could do.
Russo. I love you. I am sorry.
Do not hate me, please. If—when—I fall, fight on, for me. Arakáno will be a good king; you can trust him.
I am sorry. I love you. Russo.
“Tell the High King I swear my service to him,” Maedhros rasped to the messenger. “But I do not forgive him lightly for letting two kings slip out of his hands in so little time.”
He did not cry. There was too much to do for that. And stirring in his belly was a spark that needed all his strength; he could not waste it on fruitless tears.
He did not leave Himring for a year. When at last the siege was broken, and he was free to swear fealty to the High King in person, he rode to Barad Eithel with a babe in his arms.
“This is the High King’s son,” he told Arakáno in private. He closed his eyes. “High King Findekáno, I mean.”
Arakáno stared in shock. “He... A son?”
“He was born a month ago.” Maedhros’ face was an expressionless mass of scar tissue. “Findekáno wanted you to rule. We had to wait to let you know until you were safely crowned, or else risk a child on the throne. He...did not tell me what he intended, when he left. But I knew of the child, before then.”
He spoke only the truth, but he told it slant. Arakáno, still shaken with grief and burdened by the weight of his crown, would not look deeper.
“Who is the child’s mother?” Arakáno asked, taking his infant nephew in his arms.
A twitch of Maedhros’ lips. “He has no mother.”
Arakáno nodded. He had not thought his brother the type to take a wife, let alone a secret one, but had she lived he would have taken her in along with the child. Alas that she had perished, leaving her son without father or mother. “And a name?”
Maedhros turned away. “Gil-galad.” His voice cracked; Fingon had loved the stars. “Ereinion Gil-galad.”
“I will protect him,” Arakáno promised, and Maedhros’ jerky, answering nod was the closest he had come to tears since Fingon’s departure.
The High King is dead.
At least this time Maedhros knew it was his fault, when Arakáno fell to Gothmog.
At least they had both agreed to send Gil-galad to the Havens before the battle.
At least when Turukáno declared a proclamation of exile, of blame, of long-nursed hatred, Maedhros felt no need to contest him.
They called this defeat the Tears Unnumbered, but even now, Maedhros had not the strength to cry.
The crying of children brought Maedhros back from the mist of blood that clouded his mind. He screamed, his belly aching with memory, and he bloodied his hands again, killing Celegorm’s servants. Fingon would never forgive him for this, for Doriath, but the children—
He called for them, wandering the woods, pleading for them to trust him. He needed to save them—but he couldn’t save anyone.
He thought he might have cried, shivering alone in the cold. He thought he might have heard golden laughter, seen a flash of golden wire. He thought he might have felt his womb stir again with life, felt his child suckling once more at his breast.
But when Maglor found him and dragged him home, his eyes were dry, and what was left of his heart had crumbled into ash.
The High King is dead.
It was beginning to feel like a joke, really, that the only kings who yet lived were the Fëanárion Kinslayers, the ones who gave up their right and their souls. He couldn’t tell in what order.
Maedhros harbored no love for Turukáno, whose stint as High King had been a joke in and of itself, but even so, the loss of Gondolin was a dreadful blow. The city had endured so much—but death followed the kingship like a shadow, and it always won in the end.
At least now, there would be no more king. It was not as if there were many Noldor left to rule.
The High King demands your surrender.
Maedhros had not known there was anything left of him to break. And yet. And yet.
He screamed at the messenger in Black Speech, a string of words incomprehensible even to him. They fled before Maglor had any chance to defuse the situation.
“Why did you do that?” Maglor demanded furiously, after, and Maedhros looked at him with eyes that still stubbornly refused to cry.
“My son,” he croaked. “I gave him away—I never claimed him—I thought he, at least, could be safe—he is so young, Kano, not even a century since I bore him—it will take him too. It will take everything, in the end, and I will be left to watch it burn.”
Maglor had no words to comfort him. It was, perhaps, only because of Maedhros’ consuming, self-inflicted despair that he did not scream at his brother himself. He could do no worse than what Maedhros did to himself.
“He has your hair,” Maglor said instead, remembering what he had heard of Gil-galad before, and Maedhros would have torn out his own matted, fiery locks had not the twins rushed to restrain him.
It always came back to this: blood in the water, smoke in the air.
The twins were dead. He lost them, he could not find them in the woods.
The twins were dead. They lay unmoving, throats cut, in pools of their own blood.
The twins were dead. They were two limp bodies hidden in their mother’s closet.
Even when he lays not a finger on them, the children will suffer. They will die. And it will be his fault.
The twins were—not dead.
Maglor took them, as if somehow he expected this to bring Maedhros out of his haze of grief and self-hatred, awaken some motherly instinct within him. Maedhros let him play the father; he would not play the mother. He may have borne a child, but he was no elleth. He was no parent.
The twins feared him. Then they tolerated him. Then they loved him. And he, despite his best efforts, loved them too.
That was why he knew he must send them away.
A gift to the High King: your kin, at last returned.
The twins were sullen and distant, and Gil-galad simmered with rage that the Fëanorians would ruin them so. He tried, he tried so hard to reach out to them—but whatever Song Maglor had played for them, he could not counter; whatever bloody Oath Maedhros had bound them to, he could not break. They were mind-turned, irreparably.
Gil-galad was not a Kinslayer, though Fingon his father had been on the shores of the Swan-haven. But part of him wanted to kill the Fëanorians, destroy them like they had destroyed so many others.
Even Fingon—his last letter had not been to Gil-galad, his unborn son, nor the unknown wife who would die bearing him, but to Maedhros. Truly he was skilled in treachery and deceit, that one.
Maedhros dropped the jewel that burned his hand, the jewel so many had died for, the jewel he had slain for (again, again, again), and fell to his knees. A strange peace overcame him: the Oath was fulfilled. They had been caught, but they were free of it. And now, at last, it would all be over.
It was not Eönwë who approached them, sword drawn. (In the background, the twins sobbing, begging for mercy Maedhros and Maglor knew they did not deserve.)
“The High King condemns you,” said a deep voice, so like Fingon’s that the cavity where Maedhros’ heart had once been burned.
Maedhros looked up, trembling, and beheld his son for the first time since giving him up to Arakáno. Gil-galad was short like Fingon, dark-skinned like Fingon, blue-eyed like Fingon. His hair was even curled like Fingon’s—
But it was red, flaming red, burning like swan-ships and spirits and Sirion.
Maedhros smiled. Of course. It was only right that it should end this way.
A sob wrenched its way out of his throat. A single tear trailed down his face. He wept for the first time since his husband’s death, and knew that though Fingon would hate him, he was glad at least their son had not grown wicked under the shadow of his Doom.
“Yonya,” he rasped, offering his throat for his son’s sword.
His fëa burned bright. His hröa crumpled. And another High King fell.