That’s the worst of it, he decides. They’d all been told to write letters before going on this mission and he’d refused. There was no way that he would fall. He hadn’t predicted this, though. A caved-in tower block in the red zone. Quendë or not, the chances of survival have reduced dramatically. Two of the men have gone on some sort of recce. Maedhros doesn’t expect to see them again. He holds out a different hope, though. Anyone who has been rescued once might reasonably expect the same again. It does not matter that he took a projectile to the gut. The bleeding has been staunched and he doesn’t feel so light-headed. He is Quendë. It will take more than a foot soldier of Morgoth to end him.
“They use some sorta explosive,” says the private. Farrell or something. “Burn everything right up.” The boy shivered. “I don’t want to burn.”
“It’s not that bad,” Maedhros says, a little wearily. He is sitting on the floor, back against the wall. He rubs his right hand with his left. It’s still a novelty. Hundreds of years after Mandos spewed him forth, it’s still a novelty to have both hands. Fingon will be relieved at this much, at least; there will be no amputations in this rescue.
“Burnin’s not that bad?” The boy sounds hysterical. Maedhros, for a moment, longs to wrap both hands around the boy’s neck.
The old Major coughs. It’s a miracle he’s still alive, missing half his face from the looks of it. There’s a grubby bandage wrapped around his throat, stained brown and fraying. “Don’t listen to him, Farrell.” The Major scowls at Maedhros. At least, that’s what it looks like. It’s difficult to tell. “You know, they told us that you’d be jus’ like us.”
Maedhros arches an eyebrow. “That seems – misleading.”
“Misleading! You’re telling me. Jus’ like us, they said. A bit taller, mebbe.” The Major chortles. It’s a horrifying sound, like maybe he’s dying. Maedhros has heard death-rattles before but this man isn’t giving up the ghost any time soon. “How tall’re you, Sonny?”
Sonny. Maedhros, eldest son of the Spirit of Fire, isn’t as taken aback as he might have been, centuries ago. He’s been called worse things by uglier creatures. Sonny isn’t so bad. “A shade over seven foot.” He doesn’t like to say that he thinks he was taller, before.
“Unnatural, that,” says the Major, with all the sagacity of one of his military experience. “Your hair, too.” A pause. “Unnatural.”
There is nothing to say to that. Maedhros’ hair is waist-length, even when braided (as it is now) and a shade of auburn that is all Immortal.
“There are plenty of unnatural things on th’other side, too,” says Farrell.
Good boy, Maedhros thinks. It’s something of a relief; the allies know that Morgoth’s troops are every shade of evil. His soldiers are everywhere, numberless fingers of rotting flesh, grasping for a hold on this mouldering world. The world is dying, this decrepit Arda. Of that, Maedhros has no doubt. The mortals, those stragglers and secondborn, are still optimistic that there is something to save.
“How old’re you?” asks the Major suddenly.
Maedhros rubs his chin with his thumb. There seems little harm in telling these men; no one will get out of this alive. “I was reborn five hundred years ago but my first life. Well. It was thousands of years ago. Thousands upon thousands. The world was a different shape then.”
“Were it flat?” asks Farrell.
“Flatter, certainly,” says Maedhros, although Arda-now feels like a blanket that has been shaken out. Only odd creases and crevices remain.
Maedhros nods. “Yes. Six brothers. Cousins.” Oh, cousins. “A mother.”
“No father?” The Major’s tone is sly. Funny that a man with nearly no trachea can express himself so well.
“My father is indisposed.” What more can Maedhros say? The time has not yet come for Fëanor to break the Silmarilli. The time has not yet come for him to be unchained. Maedhros does not expect any manner of family reunion until such time as Túrin Turambar strides into view and Manwë takes to the field and Ar-Pharazôn emerges from his subterranean grave,
“No wife, then?”
Maedhros turns his gaze towards the Major. He shrinks back a bit. “Don’ mean to be rude. Just making conversation.”
Maedhros shakes his head. Half-closes his eyes. The flakes of plaster on the wall, the cracked floortiles; this is no palace for a Finwian prince. Thousands upon thousands of years ago when the lights of the tree mingled. That’s when Maedhros was truly a prince – the firstborn in a house of princes. He misses those days with a sudden ache. He remembers holding Maglor in his arms, a tiny baby with a set of lungs that would make a Vanya weep with envy.
He remembers holding Fingon, too. A curiosity, this little half-cousin. He remembers how Fingon gazed up at him before screaming blue murder. Maedhros could not have handed the infant back to his mother any faster. Years went by like days, back then, and it was years before Maedhros met Fingon again.
“What’s your name?”
Maedhros’ eyes fly open. His lips quirk into a wry smile. “That’s classified.” No Quendë assigned to a mortal vanguard is permitted to disclose their name. It’s the sort of information that could fall into wrong hands and every single Quendë of Maedhros’ calibre, at least, is known to Morgoth (even those who were not imprisoned by him). Maedhros rubs his wrist.
“I reckon I could figure out who you are, all the same,” says the Major.
“If you do, I’d have to kill you.” Maedhros’ tone is light but his eyes bely the truth. His life is worth far more than that of a middle-aged mortal.
“We’re never going to get out of here.” Poor Farrell. “I’d give anything to see the sky.”
“Including your head?” Maedhros asks dryly.
“D’you reckon Autumn and Mulcahy will be okay?”
“I have no doubt,” says Maedhros. He stretches out his legs in front of him. He thinks he’ll get out of here. The mortals won’t. They wrote their letters. They said their goodbyes. Maedhros hasn’t. That’s the secret. He can’t go without saying goodbye.
“We know some of you,” persists the Major. “Curufin.”
Maedhros tries not to wince at the man’s mangling of his younger brother’s name.
“And Celebrimbor. You know ‘em?”
“We’ve made passing acquaintance.” In truth, Maedhros is every bit as shocked as the rest of his family at how his brother has somehow bonded with his son. Years later and neither of them have touched a forge or wear a shred of jewelry. Curufin has often been said to mutter that no one is skinning his son alive but him. To hear Curufin and Celebrimbor argue, one would think they despise each other. Perhaps they do but theirs is the fiercest sort of loyalty. Maedhros’ insides clench. It is not jealousy. He would not stoop so low. He is reminded, though, of that other father-son pairing. An inimitable, fearsome pair. Fingon and Gil-galad. And now Gil-galad is dead (again) and Fingon goes from strength to strength, burning as brightly as ever, with all the direction of a wayward filibuster. Maedhros’ eyes close again. He can’t remember what he said to Fingon, the last time they spoke. It was a brief press of hands in the war room in Fingolfin’s bunker. Maedhros smiles again. Trust Fingolfin to have a war room, though the middle son of Finwë has always balked at the notion that he needs to conduct any kind of business in a fortified hole in the ground. It is cowardly, he will proclaim, and, somewhere – maybe even in the very bones of Morgoth - the memory of the shards of Ringil sings a dirge.
Before that, though, he can remember. Fingon’s eyes blazed with grief. It is as though sorrow makes his cousin’s fëa stronger. Fingon will save him. Of that Maedhros has no doubt.
Again, his insides squirm but as long as they remain inside, all will be well. It’s only guilt. It’s only guilt that Fingon has always been his rescuer. On the shores at Losgar – no, further back than that.
They were young. Back in that time when trees were Trees and men were unheard of. They had gone out riding for the day. They wandered too far from home, with no provisions of which to speak.
There is a knock on the heavy metal door. Farrell freezes and even the Major starts.
“Open it,” says Maedhros. Farrell looks between Maedhros and the door and evidently concludes that the unknown is safe. In a mass of blood and dust, a person tumbles into the room. No, two people. Farrell slams the door shut. It wheezes and rattles and there is silence.
“Mulcahy’s dead,” says Autumn. The only woman on their squad and she’d give Aredhel a run for her money for sheer bravado. Somehow, she’s managed to drag Mulcahy’s body back here. It is as good a tomb as any, Maedhros supposes.
“What got him?” asks the Major.
Autumn turns and looks at him. Her face is pale, rigid. “Sniper. One of them.”
Maedhros wrinkles his nose. He hates guns. He never liked bows, either, preferring the sword. “What’s that?”
Autumn looks down at the object in her hand. “Oh. It’s a radio. I don’t know if it works.”
“Give it here,” says Farrell, and it’s the first time the private has shown any degree of certainty. Maedhros finds that he hopes the radio works. Even a droning crackle of static would be a fine way to break the monotony of the Major’s questions and Farrell’s trembling. At worst, it will be a distraction for the two younger mortals and the Major can supervise superciliously as he has done for this entire mission.
Maedhros’ feet are cold. He thinks it’s because it is cold in the red zone. Strange things have happened to the world’s climate. Manwë and Ulmo have been hard at work. It snows more often than not but there are too many creatures who don’t leave footprints in the pristine white. He curls his arm around his abdomen. Damp and warm with blood. He will heal. He hasn’t said goodbye.
Where was he? Oh, Fingon. When they were little more than children. They got horribly lost on horseback and spent three Minglings of the Light of the Trees trying to find their way back to Formenos. When Maedhros said south, Fingon said north and his smile was devilish and Maedhros was powerless.
It was never dark, then, of course. There was gold light and silver light and a beautiful blend of the two but it was never dark. Not like now. They found their way home in the end after Fingon had reached the end of a near-exhaustive repertoire of songs. To keep their spirits up, he said. If not for Maglor, he would have been the musical genius of the family, he so often said.
Unlike Fingon, though, Maglor had never left Maedhros speechless. In spite of becoming thoroughly, thoroughly lost and not a little bedraggled, Fingon’s humour had remained untainted. Sometimes, they rode too close together and their thighs would touch and there would be a spot of colour high in Fingon’s otherwise alabaster-white cheeks and they would urge their horses on faster.
It stands to reason that they were never on parallel tracks. They have always been destined to cross paths. Of course, they are cousins (half-cousins, says that ever-present treacherous voice in his head). They are family. They are meant to be together. United.
He is startled by a crackle and then a burst of song. His heart races. The radio, of course. Farrell has picked up some radio station or other. There are a few about. Propaganda mostly and then the occasional oddity; music stations that continuously play upbeat tunes. Fingon FM, Maedhros decides. His lips curve into a smile. Oh, his feet are cold.
“Any chance of a fire?” he asks.
Autumn looks surprised. “It’ll attract attention,” she says, chewing her lower lip.
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” says Maedhros. “They’ll hardly know to send rescue parties if they don’t know we’re alive.”
Fingon will know he’s alive, of course. How could he not? Maedhros is put in mind of another heroic rescue, a mere twenty years ago. The young bucks of Gondolin, though they are hardly young. Glorfindel and Ecthelion are the poster boys of carefully-organised anarchy. They have been thorns in the sides of Morgoth’s armies for years. On this occasion, Glorfindel had been ambushed in an act of treachery that most Quendi have still not forgiven. They say that Ecthelion didn’t sleep for two weeks, so carefully did he watch, wait and then execute his rescue plan.
Maedhros doesn’t think he has two weeks. It’s strange, in and of itself. Two weeks to a Quendë is the blink of an eye. Oh, time moves at the same speed as it does for all of Eru’s creatures but the Eldarin concept of time is enough to send the mortal generals into fits of irritation. Quendi are never in a rush and it has served them well. A question in the morning might be answered at night. Maedhros wonders what the mortals would make of Ents if they find that Quendi tax their collective.
The last time Maedhros truly rushed into anything was at the end of the War of Wrath, of course. Fingon was long dead and all of his younger brothers, apart from Maglor, had departed, too. Departed. It’s such a gentle word, as though Celegorm, Caranthir and Curufin had not bled out their immortal lives in chaos and confusion; as though Amrod and Amras had not screamed in the flames.
He wonders about Gil-galad’s death. A mistimed explosion, by all accounts. Caranthir was implicated, at least within Fëanorian circles. They closed ranks as they always do. And yet, and yet. Maedhros still has the temerity to assume that Fingon will save him.
He supposes Fingon will need more than a harp, this time. More than a bow and arrows. He’ll likely bring a platoon. It’s the only way of safely entering the red zone. No. It’s the only way of safely leaving. There will be tanks, most likely. Maedhros misses horses. There’s no talking to a tank though he’s heard the rumour too that Mithrandir, a most interventionist deity, once ripped a tank open. A pretty trick.
He remembers Thangorodrim. He thinks he was much closer to death there. At least he is not being dangled off the side of some great edifice this time. He did not expect rescue then. He remembers pleading with Fingon to kill him but Fingon, oh, with his gentle smile – Fingon was a hero.
Maedhros remembers the aftermath. He thought he hated Fingon for crippling him. Let the second scions of Finwë enjoy the High Kingship. He had always found himself too tied up to appreciate such power. He had intended it as a punishment but the world had seen it as a gracious act. The world had seen it and so it became so.
Maedhros sulked. His eyes are heavy now so he closes them but he smiles at the memory. Yes, he sulked. Fingon came to him every day. He played the harp until Maedhros pointedly said that he could no longer indulge in such things. Never mind that Maedhros had never more than half a mind to play musical instruments. Not when Maglor commandeered every instrument in the house.
Fingon sang to him, then. Maedhros could not argue. Relentless cheer, like the songs on the radio crackling at the edge of his consciousness. He feels heat. It is the fire. Autumn has lit a fire. No, it is the heat of Fingon’s body, stretched out alongside him by Lake Mithrim. Incessant singing, soothing caresses. Fingon made it impossible for Maedhros to hate. Fingon made it impossible. Maedhros would regularly fall asleep there. He began to heal, almost against his own will. He bent to his cousin’s will, though. Like a sapling in a storm, he almost broke.
Maedhros’ lips part, though he is not quite aware of it. A memory of a kiss that may not even have happened. Fingon could be entirely incautious but he would never be inconspicuous. Maedhros believes that if Fingon intended to kiss him, he would have kissed him. Maedhros aches. He has not said goodbye. That is why he will survive.
operation thangorodrim; failed.
Under the command of Quendë Officer 7, a rescue party entered the red zone at 1800 on --/--/--. Reports of heavy fire.
Despite his officers’ warnings, QO7 reached Tower Block 18F, formerly Eden Gardens. Last known contact at 2348 on --/--/--.