“Come forth, foul lord, and meet the High King of the Ñoldor in battle!” Fingon cried, his soul alight with righteous fury and despair. He had always held out hope—always—until his father died and his husband wished them to be separated for the sake of war and his brother refused to rule in his stead. He was so angry—he had always been angry—in facing Morgoth he would die, he knew, but Ñolofinwë had wounded one of the Dark Vala’s feet. Perhaps in his death he could wound the other, and fatal charge by fatal charge they would strike him down entirely.
But it was not Morgoth who came forth, but his lieutenant, Gorthaur. Sauron. Þauron, his husband’s hoarse voice whispered in his mind, and suddenly Fingon came back to himself.
This was foolish—this was madness—this would destroy Russandol—this would kill him—
But it was too late. In his hesitation, Sauron struck first, and Fingon knew he was lost.
Foolish of him to believe he would die in a blaze of glory as had his father, really. He was not Ñolofinwë. He was the husband of Maedhros Fëanorion, and he knew better than anyone what happened to captives in Angband.
Would Russo come for him? he wondered as he was chained to Sauron’s table, bracing himself for the worst. Would he ride to Angband on eagle-back and rescue him, as Fingon had once done for him?
“Don’t hope for poor Maitimo to save you,” Sauron purred as the creeping pain began. “To the Noldor you are dead—your little brother reigns, as you wanted, little king. And even if they thought you lived, your husband is a coward, O Valiant One. He fears me more than he loves you.”
Fingon did not want to believe that. Russo loved him, Russo needed him, Russo would do anything for him—
But Fingon had held him through his nightmares, and he knew, deep down, that Sauron was right. “He lies, but his worst barbs are the truths,” Russo once had said.
He knew he would break, eventually. Everyone did, and when Sauron’s attentions were focused specifically on you, it was worse. He had been inside Russo’s mind. He knew.
But for now he would be defiant, while he still could. Fingon laughed and spat in the Úmaia’s face, croaking out, “He is smart enough not to walk into a trap. We all know my victory could not be repeated. He will fight for me how he can—you should be afraid of him.”
Sauron’s eyes glinted, and he did—something—that made Fingon scream. It will only get worse, he reminded himself in a daze of pain, but it was so bad already...
“Your ‘victory’ was a fluke, yes,” Sauron crooned, “but my art has only improved since I had darling Maitimo at my disposal.” He smiled, sharp teeth flashing. “Let us begin, shall we?”
Sauron came to him laughing, a year later, in a better mood than Fingon ever remembered, even than the first day of his torture.
“Congratulations, little king,” he cried. “A star is born in the east—or was, a year ago. Only now the little prince sits at the side of his fearful uncle, abandoned by the one who bore him and loves him not.”
Fingon stared, perplexed. He knew by now when to time his insults to make them most effective, and though Sauron seemed to take great delight in tormenting him with news of the world that thought him dead, this declaration made little sense.
“Perhaps I will take you with me to my new fortress,” the Úmaia mused, sharpening one claw on the chain about Fingon’s wrist. He was hung as Russandol had been, but from the wall of a cell, not an exposed cliff. “I have taken care not to ruin your pretty face, but it would be a delight to watch my wolves play with you. I doubt you would be so fair then; you would match your faithless husband for his beauty at long last!”
Each degradation to Russandol hurt far more than any insult to himself, and yet Fingon held back. Russandol was many things, not all of them praiseworthy, but faithless he was not.
“Speak clearly, Deceiver,” Fingon drawled through a throat that burned. “If you are to weave a web of lies about me, at least make it a tapestry I can follow.”
Sauron threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, that’s right. He didn’t tell you.”
Ice gripped Fingon’s heart, the memory of the Helcaraxë biting at him like the wolves of which Sauron spoke. “Tell me what?” He need not ask who. He knew.
“I always wanted to make Maitimo birth some monster for me,” Sauron pouted, “but my Master took great pleasure in being the only one to defile him. I am glad he is not so particular about you.”
Fingon clenched his fist around his chain. He had known, and now he endured the same, but that—even the thought made him want to retch. But—it had not happened, Sauron said; and Russo would surely have told him. So why bring it up now?
Sauron trailed his claw under Fingon’s chin, leaning close with breath that smelled of blood. “It simply isn’t fair that the monster he bore was yours,” he tutted. “An elfling brat, the product of an unholy union, discarded in shame by the fiend that spat him out—I wonder, did he hate the child more because it was his, or because it was yours?”
For a moment Fingon’s mind went blank, white and empty as the vastness of the Helcaraxë. And then as it so often did, the ice rumbled and broke, and the bitter cold consumed him as it had Elenwë, and Fingon was screaming now as Turukáno had then.
A child— Russandol had borne a child—his child— Begotten that last night in Himring, no doubt— Had Russo known? Had Russo been waiting to tell him on the morrow, only for him to have left, marched into despair, abandoned him—
Of course Russo did not hate the babe. Fingon knew his husband’s fëa, and knew it burned with the same love he too held for their—for their son—
Sauron laughed, digging his claws into Fingon’s side, reaching between his hips to make it all worse, to remind him how this had happened and that it would never happen again, but Fingon’s rage was greater than even the Úmaia knew it could be. With strength greater than a great white bear he ripped his chain from the wall and launched himself at Sauron, his teeth lunging for his throat. He would kill him, he would destroy him, he would tear down all of Angband and ride to his husband and his son—
And then he felt a piercing pain in his chest, and he went limp, blinking. His head lolled back, away from the bloody, already-healing mess that was Sauron’s throat, and he felt the claws in his heart tighten their grip.
“A shame,” Sauron croaked. “You were almost as fun as Maitimo to play with.”
Fingon laughed and spat out white flame in his dying breath—and before Sauron could attempt to ensnare him further, his spirit fled to Mandos.
Now in truth, the High King is dead.
The fallen king is dead.
“You did the right thing,” Arafinwë said quietly.
Gil-galad stared into his hands. There was no blood staining his palms, but he felt there should be.
“How can you say that?” he rasped. “I—I’m a Kinslayer now. How can I still be King? You turned your back from the journey because you didn’t want to associated with—people like me—”
“I turned back because of the Doom,” Arafinwë said. “Child—”
“I’m not a child.” He grit his teeth. “I’m—I’m no one’s child.”
A lie. But one whose alternative he could not consider. If Maedhros’ last words were true—
“Maitimo’s fëa is free now,” Arafinwë said gently. “He can heal in Mandos. He can be reborn, perhaps. It...I believe he wanted this. Why else would he have—”
“Maglor escaped,” Gil-galad interrupted. “He will never forgive me. And—and the twins will not forgive me, either; he was practically a father to them. He...” He could have been my father, if I had let him. If I had not killed him.
Arafinwë gripped his shoulder. “He wanted this,” he repeated. “Most likely he had wanted it since Findekáno died.”
“Were they really...” He couldn’t bring himself to voice it. He’d grown up believing Findekáno was his father, had never known even the name of his mother... How could Maedhros also have been—? But...those piercing silver eyes; that burning copper soul. The hair they shared, brighter than flame. Gil-galad knew—and if Findekáno had loved him, truly, perhaps...
“Probably.” Arafinwë sighed. “I didn’t notice at the time, when they were young, but in retrospect, and hearing what happened later...it is more than likely. You can ask Findekáno himself, when he is reborn.”
Gil-galad laughed hollowly. “You are a fool, your Majesty, if you think I am going to Valinor to swear fealty to you.”
“But your fathers—”
“No,” Gil-galad snapped. “I have never had a father, and I never shall.”
Even with the Oath fulfilled, he’d somehow expected the Void. Not...this.
Nelyafinwë, said the voice he last had heard proclaiming the Doom of him and all his people.
He had no hröa—he was a formless flame, an unbound fëa. He burned, he burned—all his life, he had burned, but in death it was somehow worse.
Around him the darkness closed in. His flame was nothing compared to the infinity of Mandos.
Nelyafinwë Maitimo, said Námo.
That is not my name, he said, and had he a throat the words would have been a rasp.
His flame shuddered. Lord Námo. I did not expect to be granted your...hospitality.
Neither did any of your brothers, or your father. Twin stars glinted in the vast darkness, as if Mandos itself was winking. And yet the keeping of souls is my duty, and thus you come.
Is empty. That is its nature. No spirits dwell hither.
Not even Morgoth? A spark danced from his flame, like laughter.
The stars blinked out, then reappeared, closer this time. He is...the exception.
And we damned, Kinslaying Oathbreakers are not?
It is the One who shall judge you damned or no, Maedhros. For your crimes I may punish you as I see fit, but you are bound to Arda as are all Eldar. And your Oath is fulfilled.
I wish it were not. I wish I had stayed my hand. I wish—
The darkness softened, drawing itself into a cloak, the stars swirling in its hood. You have done what you have done. It cannot be undone. But your repentance—
Regret. Not repentance.
Your regret, as you name it, then. It will serve you well in your healing...though your time in my Halls will be long even by the count of the Valar.
The flame shrank. Good, he whispered; it is what I deserve.
A better king would not have done what Gil-galad did that day. A better king would have had a herald at his side, a faithful friend, a brother. A better king would have been a shining example to his people.
But Gil-galad was not that king.
In killing Maedhros Fëanorion he earned the respect of the Sindar who had lived through Doriath and Sirion, but he alienated those few of the Fëanorian host that remained. Celebrimbor would speak with him, but the peredhil pretended as if he did not exist. Elros sailed to his island kingdom; Elrond took the people who yet mourned their fallen lord and marched east from Lindon, finding a valley where all were welcome. All except the King of the Noldor.
Still—the majority of his people respected him. And it was not as if they had never been ruled by a Kinslayer before. Gil-galad’s other father had been one, and his uncle Arakáno also.
And does it really count, to kill one so warped by evil? the whispers said. It is what he deserved. It is justice done. Kings must make sacrifices for their people, after all. He did this for us.
But no one knew that Maedhros had been not just a fellow elf, not just kin, but his father. It tormented him, but there was no one for him to turn to, no one to confide in.
A better king would have proclaimed an apology. A better king would have begged forgiveness. A better king would have not killed in the first place.
But Gil-galad, though he thought himself a good king, overall, was not a better one. He had forfeited that chance the moment his blade found its mark in his father’s throat.
The Halls were—strange. Time did not pass, it...warped. Maedhros could not tell how long he spent in conversation with Námo, with Vairë, with Estë and Irmo and Nienna; with their Maiar, with the fëar of those he had wronged, those he had killed. He put himself back together, piece by painful piece, and learned the true meaning of regret. The true meaning of repentance.
He was with his family, often. They were all there but Nerdanel and Maglor and Tyelpë. He thought his father would hate him for his marriage, for his child, for his failures—but Fëanáro had been humbled in death. His pride was there, and he was yet unbent before the Valar, even the Fëanturi, but he was more generous to those he loved. His brothers, likewise, welcomed him, expressing their sorrow and their respect.
You did it, Curvo said. You did what none of us could do. You did what we swore we would.
The cost was too great, Maedhros told him, and Curvo nodded.
And yet it is done, he said, and we are...
Not free, Moryo drawled.
But there is hope! Pityo said eagerly. We could be, in time!
There is no time, not here, warned Fëanáro, who had been here longer than them all.
In all his time, drifting through the tapestries, encountering spirits of those he knew and those he hated and even those few he loved—in all that boundless time, Maedhros was at once comforted and tormented that he did not see the one fëa he missed most. He knew not what he would say to his husband, should they meet again; had the only thing left unsaid between them been their son, nothing would have kept him from Finno’s arms, but he had done so much ill aside. Most of those he killed did not forgive him, and that was just. Fingon should not forgive him, either.
But...he knew it would happen eventually. He knew that Fingon was here, still a disembodied spirit, and he knew that his husband would seek him out before he left to return to the world of the living. And that was just, also, for Fingon deserved to live.
Still, when the time came—as much as any time could come, here—Maedhros found he was not prepared.
Russandol, Fingon said. His fëa was solid and firm, looking as he had in his youth. Maedhros still found it difficult to keep himself in one piece, and the details of his face were fuzzy; what was visible, he was told, was a dreadful mess worse even than the horror that had been his visage after Angband.
Fingon, he said, and went to say more, but his mouth crumbled away before he could spout any foolish words.
Fingon sighed, a deep sorrow in his eyes. They said you did not wish to see me.
I... He had wished it, certainly, had yearned for this reunion ever since their final separation. But he did not deserve love and comfort; Fingon did not deserve to endure his presence.
I kept my distance, for your sake. But I am to be freed, soon. Fingon tilted his head. You...are healing better than I expected.
I am sorry, Maedhros blurted out. For—for everything. You...I should have done more. I should have done better. I should have...
You should have done a lot of things, Fingon agreed, but his voice was gentle. As should have I. My leaving—it was reckless, and foolish, and pointless, and I... His eyes welled with tears, though as spirits such reactions were not truly necessary. But Fingon was closer to life than Maedhros. He always would be.
I should not have done it, he admitted. You were right, I should have been king...or tried harder to change Arakáno’s mind. I knew I would die doing what I did, and even though it was not right away—
Cold horror brought Maedhros’ form to a stillness unnatural to fire. He had believed—they all had believed—it had been immediate, dreadful but swift, not...drawn out—
You—what happened? he croaked.
Fingon blinked. You do not know? They did not tell you?
Oh, Russo. Fingon made to touch him, but Maedhros flinched away violently. Momentary hurt flashed in Fingon’s eyes, but he explained: It was Sauron who came to me, not Morgoth. And he likes to play with his food before he eats it.
No. No. No, no, no, no—Fingon had been alive while Maedhros did nothing—Fingon had been captive and Maedhros had not gone to rescue him—Fingon had been enduring the same torments as him—how long had he been alive? How long—
It was only a few years, Fingon said softly. It is not your fault. You thought I was dead, and if you had come for me, there would have been no second miraculous rescue for us. Besides, you...you were...there was another life within you. I wish...
It all crashed down upon him, and Maedhros’ manifestation of himself dissolved completely. He reverted back to the flame that was his fëa’s core, more tormented now than he had been since his arrival to Mandos.
Russo, I am so sorry— Fingon began, but Maedhros wailed, interrupting him.
It’s all my fault—if I had told you—if I had known—you would have stayed for him, I know you would have, if I had given you that—that hope to cling to—
Russo! Fingon’s voice boomed, and Maedhros shriveled up on himself, his flame shrinking.
Russo, Fingon said again, softer this time. Russandol, my love. It is not your fault. Not that. I—I died because when I heard the news, when Sauron told me we had a child...I attacked him. He did not want to kill me, I do not think, at least not yet, but... Russo, I could never hate you for this. You did the best you could under the circumstances.
I did not, he whispered. I left him. I killed and killed and killed. I kidnapped children—your brother’s grandchildren!—I refused every offer of mercy—I goaded him, our son, into killing me—
Russandol, Fingon said, and Maedhros fell silent once more.
Russandol, Fingon continued, you are not ready to leave these Halls. You have much to heal from, and much more to repent for. His voice hardened. I am still learning to forgive you for the Kinslayings. That is...I know you regret it, but regret does not undo what you did.
Ah. This was what Maedhros expected, this was what he wanted, even. He braced himself for rejection, for hatred, but—
But Gil-galad? Our child? Fingon shook his head. So much went wrong with what happened, but I do not regret his existence. And I know eventually we will be together again, you and I, and our son will be with us also. We will be a family. Like we always dreamed.
Finno, Maedhros sobbed, and formed just enough of a body to let his husband embrace him.
Another king has been reborn!
He hadn’t expected his second life to be this lonely.
His brothers had been released from Mandos shortly before him; his father had been out for nearly a century. Aredhel refused to leave until her son was ready, but she had been optimistic when Fingon last spoke to her. His mother, of course, had never died, and his Arafinwëan cousins were, save for Aegnor and Artanis, back in Alqualondë. He reconnected with old friends from both Aman and Beleriand, formally acknowledged Arafinwë as king, and served his fifty years of penance to Olwë for the Kinslaying.
But after all the necessary reunions and apologies were at an end and Fingon had his time to himself...he did not know what to do.
He missed his husband. Russandol had done so much evil in his absence—and yet Fingon loved him still. Part of him wished he had remained in Mandos to help Russandol heal, but after watching his husband crumble apart in their last conversation, he was not convinced his presence would be more helpful than harmful.
He was bored, too. The things that had entertained him as a youth—hunting, riding, wrestling, harping—could only satisfy him for so long. They had been better with his best friend, his lover, his Russo at his side, and long years of war and grief had turned even the happiest of memories bittersweet.
And...and there was the matter of Gil-galad. His son. Ereinion, the Scion of Kings; Artanáro, the high flame; Gil-galad, the brilliant star. Not one of those names had Fingon been able to give to him: Gil-galad was Russo’s name for him, Artanáro from Arakáno who raised him, and Ereinion an epessë taken under Círdan’s care.
Gil-galad. He had seen him in Vairë’s tapestries, growing from a tiny babe to daring young lad to a proud and noble king. Fingon loved him, and ached to know him, to tell him how sorry he was that he had never known him. If he had held onto his hope— If he had had more faith in Russandol— If he had been a wiser lord, a better king—
Some nights he dreamed of sailing east, of returning to Middle-earth and seeking out his son. But such a thing would not be permitted, and why would Gil-galad want him around, the father who got himself so recklessly killed?
And—that was not all he had seen in the Halls. He had seen, also, Maedhros’ fall into something bordering on madness, and Gil-galad’s vengeful fury...
Fingon had been forced to watch his son kill his husband, and that, above all else, was what he had needed to heal from. He had not even been there, and yet...if he had been, if he had been reborn earlier and marched with the Host of the Valar to war, if he had not died in the first place—!
But that was not the life he had led, and despite all his loneliness and regret, he could not turn back time and live it differently.
The last High King is dead.
He died in a blaze of fire, as his father should have. His star burned bright, fighting against the darkness that had killed his other father, but in the end he fell.
In another world, there would have been another star to mourn him, a brother to grieve him, a herald to cry his death. But in this world, the one where Gil-galad had struck Maedhros down, Elrond wasted but a few tears on him. He did not take up the mantle of the king, retreating instead to his homely valley, but the love that Gil-galad wished they could have fostered was not there.
None of the love he wanted had been there, in the end. Not of family, not of friends, not of anything else. His people were shaken, shattered...but that was for lack of a king, not for lack of him.
When Gil-galad arrived in Mandos, his star had almost burned out.
Go to him, Námo had said, and Maedhros could not disobey.
He was better now than he had been when Fingon left. Some of his brothers had returned to life: Caranthir, the twins. Celegorm and Curufin would go next, he thought, and then it would be only him and his father left in Mandos. Tyelpë was here, too, but though he had much to heal from, there was no punishment for him, so good and kind a soul was he. He would be free himself, in time.
But another Fëanorian had arrived in Mandos, and though Maedhros knew he did not deserve to stand in Gil-galad’s presence, he would not let his son suffer the darkness of the Halls alone.
He knelt before the flickering silver thing that was Gil-galad’s fëa. Yonya, he murmured. I am sorry.
A flash; Gil-galad trembled. Maedhros remembered the pain, the rawness, the confusion of being newly dead, and offered a wry smile.
It gets better, he said. Look—even I, damaged and unforgivable as I am, can make myself look beautiful once more. He concentrated for a moment, and he was Maitimo again, young and pretty and naïve. But that was not him any longer, and soon his visage rippled, returning to the scarred and handless thing that was Maedhros.
Why are you here? whispered the spark that was Gil-galad.
Maedhros flinched. He could not help himself. I can go if you would like. I only—I had no one but Námo to greet me, when I came. I did not want you to be alone.
Why? Gil-galad demanded. His silver light flared, solidifying into something vaguely elf-shaped. I don’t understand. Atya, I killed you, I—
Atya! Maedhros exclaimed, astonished. How can you call me that, I who abandoned you, I who betrayed you, I who forced your hand!
Because you are my father! Gil-galad burst out, blue eyes appearing just to flash in anger. Because I never had a father, not truly. Because I wanted one—even if it was you. Because I regretted what I did every day of my life. Because you are my atya, or could have been, if I had done better.
Maedhros sobbed. It is not your fault. None of this is your fault, yonya, do not blame yourself.
Do not blame yourself, Gil-galad challenged. None of us killed Findekáno. That was Sauron.
I curse him more than Morgoth, Maedhros seethed, and not for his own sake. Þauron had taken Fingon, had taken Finrod, had taken Tyelpë, had taken Gil. If anyone deserved the Void, it was him.
Gil-galad sighed, his fëa coalescing into something that looked almost like himself. Atya, he said quietly, I am so tired. I am tired of fighting. I am tired of loneliness. I am tired of hatred. What I did in killing you..that was the worst mistake of my life. I do not deserve it, but—
Of course I forgive you, yonya, Maedhros wept. I never needed to, in truth. I love you, I always have—you did so well, my son— Can you forgive me?
Atya, Gil-galad sobbed, and fell into his spectral arms.
He could have left earlier, maybe. His own hurts were healed swiftly, with the love of a father who was there for him at last, and his crimes were against only one, that same father. But now, after all this, Gil-galad could not leave Maedhros, not even to go to Fingon’s side.
Last of his brothers, Maedhros was reborn, the very day Maglor and Elrond set sail for the Hither Shores. With Sauron fallen, the last weight was lifted from Maedhros’ shoulders, and together he and Gil-galad stepped foot in the light of Aman.
They had fallen far from any greatness, this family that had never before been whole. Kings who failed, kings who faltered, kings who fought fruitless, futile battles. But in Eru’s endless mercy was the promise of second chances—and when father and son left the Halls, finally, another High King was there to greet them.
Fingon wept to see his husband, hale and mostly whole, and Gil-galad watched astonished as his somber father melted into Fingon’s arms. But sooner than he expected their embrace ended, and Fingon threw himself at him, and Gil-galad’s fëa blazed with the golden light of his second father’s love.
“Yonya,” Fingon cried, “yonya, I love you, I am so glad to meet you, I am so sorry—”
“No apologies, Finno,” Maedhros chided gently, wrapping his long arms around them both, kissing their foreheads each in turn. “We all have our regrets, but we are here now, together at last.”
“Together,” Gil-galad choked out, and wondered at the word, true at last.
The High Kings live again!