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Of course, he hates her on sight. How can he not?

Climbing the steep winding stair up the tower, the sword in his hand dripping blood, Sirion going up in flames below. He has killed and killed to get here. (Amrod lies by the gates, Amras lies in the market square.)

He emerges into the paved round above at the top and finds Feanorian guards and Elwing holding each other at bay--they hold drawn swords, she, bone-white, defiant, is clutching the Nauglamir around her neck, pressed against the low parapet, her pose and its implications unmistakable, self-explanatory, and that treacherous current below.

Of course, he hates her. Immediately. As much as he hates all of it, everything. Anyone would.

Look what you made me do!

But Maedhros Feanorion, kinslayer that he is, has never found hate comfortable or a good fit. That emotion seems to lend strength to others--he finds it confusing, disorientating. Momentarily, he is befuddled; the transition from the howling chaos on the streets to the tension of this silent stand-off on the tower was too quick. He blinks, tries to blink feelings and confusion away, attempts to concentrate.

Nobody says anything. They are, perhaps, a little stunned by his arrival. They are awaiting his reaction.

The woman, Maedhros recognizes, needs to be talked away from the edge.

Don't jump. You are young, healthy, married, have children. You could still have a future. Don't sacrifice all that for a stone or for revenge. The stone is no more than a dream, an empty promise, and revenge will not bring back anything from the past: not your lost home, not your father or your mother or your brothers.

That--or something like it--is what needs to be said. Of course, he is entirely the wrong person to say it.

Do as I say, not as I do?

As if merely standing here, sword in hand, did not give the lie to anything he might say.

Besides, has he not written these things to her already or tried to? In that long strained correspondence, in which meanings seemed to slither away from under his pen, as each diplomatic, would-be-friendly phrase shifted into a threat, no matter how carefully he worded it, because of course it was he who was doing the writing. He had gone on writing nevertheless, because as long as ink was still flowing, blood was not, not yet, until...

The irony of it, that they raised their walls against him, not against Morgoth, and the irony that he proved them right.

Such a long time spent writing, hovering-- and twitching, twitching every time something moved on the north-western front, every time his scouts reported an orc setting foot south of Nargothrond. He had sent Amras and Amrod with archers, while he held toward the east, over-extended. Orcs died in ambush. Only pinpricks, but Morgoth withdrew a little northwards again. Then, a short time later, another feint, another probe... While his own reach went on contracting.

A game of cat and mouse--and he had known it for what it was. This cat would not tire of its game, but the mouse had. Had tired of it and made its dart and lost the game.

Amrod lies by the gates, Amras lies in the market square.

The Silmaril burns him where he stands, seeming brighter, blinding him to the woman, almost. He remembers the Nauglamir around Finrod's neck, in better days, when friendship was still possible, and wonders how the combination of two beautiful things can seem so ugly. What was Thingol thinking, to want them tacked onto each other, curse onto curse? A matter of cultural difference, contrasting Sindarin and Noldorin tastes? Or is it just his own perceptions that are awry? Is it still in him to admire a Silmaril, under any circumstances?

Amrod lies by the gates.

Little brothers. No longer little. No longer behind the front lines. Fighting for a long time now. Losing. Losing men, one after another, to Morgoth's probes. Losing patience. Losing patience with fighting a losing game.

They had pressed him. Just one more pressure, as he fought Morgoth, his father's oath, the Doom, all of them entwining in his mind, unholily. Until he had given in. Shouted at them.

Shut up! Just shut up! We are going.

Then his vision had cleared and he had seen two dear faces, frightened and hurt.

Oh little brothers, not you.

But now indeed they have shut up, forever.

Amras lies in the market square. Amrod lies by the gates.

Not even together. His brothers die lonely deaths...

He needs to make a move. All the deaths will be worse than pointless unless he gets the Silmaril and carries out the plan, worthless as it is: get the Silmaril and make a dash for it, the mouse darting in between the paws of the cat and out again. Taking the Silmaril and running, running east until he drops. Maybe it will take Morgoth some time to catch up with the last of the Feanorians. Maybe they will even succeed drawing away Morgoth's attention from anyone who still survives in the west, those who have not fallen in this raid, which got out of hand, as Feanorian plans do...

Liar. Liar! Stop lying to yourself! No one will survive. No one--and you know it. Middle-earth will be Morgoth's and the only ones who will survive will be orcs.

He needs to make a move. How can he get the woman away from the edge?

He focuses, past the Silmaril, and sees once again Elwing's white, defiant face, traces of Beorian ancestry around the eyes, a faint resemblance to Morwen. It is her left hand that clutches the necklace and the Silmaril; the right clutches a dagger, not skilfully. She is very young.

Suddenly she reminds him of a kitten, an obstinate, fierce one, stuck up in a tree. He used to be someone who rescued kittens. At home, his height predestined him for the task, making it easier to reach up into the branches, when young cats had become so panicky that Celegorm couldn't talk them down.

He remembers, for no reason, a particular one, a little ball of black and white fluff marooned up in the plum tree, hissing and spitting at her saviour. How she scratched him when he carefully eased her off the branch! She drew blood all right, but the memory makes him smile. He has not remembered home, like this, for a very long time.

He makes a small uncharacteristically vague gesture with his left hand. For the moment, he has entirely forgotten that that hand holds a sword.

Elwing, tense upon the brink, sees the blood-spattered giant bare his teeth in a menacing grin, foully amused at her and her plight, and raise his sword to attack. He is coming for her. He is coming for her as she has always known he would. She has tried so hard to be brave, tried to be clever. She thought she could solve this, somehow, if she tried to do the right thing, managed to suppress her fear, even though this is the monster that figured in all the nightmares of her childhood--and now he is here, and he is grotesque and he is coming for her...

She had thought of threatening the enemy with jumping as a stratagem to defeat them even now, perhaps, at this last moment. She had thought of throwing herself into the sea with the Silmaril to take revenge at least, if all was lost. But now there is no thought, no choice, only panic. She must get away from him, the monster, at all costs. She throws herself backwards--half leap, half scramble--and tumbles over the brink.

Maedhros lurches inwardly, torn abruptly out of his splinter of memory. So fast he is, trained fighter, that if he had had the presence of mind to drop the sword and lunge for Elwing, he might perhaps still have caught her before she fell. But he stands rooted to the spot, in shock, replaying over and over in his mind what his eyes just saw, sickened.

Later, when he is informed otherwise, it will be hard to convince himself that he did not also see Elwing's body spatter on the rocks with the impact and swept away by the tide--that in fact, when he and his guards finally stepped up to the parapet and looked down they saw nothing whatsoever, no trace at all, except the treacherously smooth surface of flowing water--because he is imagining it so vividly at the moment that the horror is burning itself into his mind like a memory.

He berates himself for hypocrisy. Why the shock?  What did he think was going to happen? Has he not killed his way all the way through Sirion to get here? What other possible outcome was there but death, one way or another?

He remembers the sheer panic reflected in Elwing's face and thinks: This is inexcusable. The thought surprises him, vaguely. He had not believed himself to be making excuses.

There is nothing more to be done, up here, and so he leads his guards back down the winding stair. But after a few steps, dizziness overtakes him and for a moment he has to lean against the central pillar and shut his eyes.

And although he was thinking of the Silmaril all the time, it is only now he thinks of the Silmaril--his father's great work, a fragment of his father's soul, sinking through murky waters into the mud on the ocean floor. Father won't be pleased. But Morgoth won't be either. He will have to train his orcs to fish...

'Lord Maedhros?' says a worried voice behind him.

He collects himself. He was all set for death, hunted down by Morgoth's troops until they caught him and the last Silmaril fell into their hands again and it was, finally, all over. But Elwing's leap has granted him a reprieve, such as it is. He still has responsibilities--some followers surviving and one brother left, maybe. And he needs to move quickly now, get them all out of Sirion again, before Cirdan and Gil-galad arrive and are forced to make choices they, at least, should not have to make.

He moves on down.

 

Amras lies in the market square. Amrod lies by the gates.

Over the sea a white bird wings away westwards.

And it is all right, after a fashion. Because it was written, somehow, somewhere, that this was how it should be, that in the hour of his worst defeat, when Maedhros Feanorion betrayed altogether who he had been, anything he had ever tried to be, he would deal Morgoth a worse blow than he had ever dealt him with intent during the centuries when he strove hard to defeat him by force of arms.

Already, on Taniquetil, Eonwe is preparing his impromptu speech of welcome: 'Hail Earendil, the looked-for that cometh at unawares, the longed-for that cometh beyond hope!'

We conclude that Earendil, who had spent long dangerous years at sea searching for Valinor before Sirion fell, was a diplomat: it is not reported that he tried to punch Eonwe in the face.

Amrod lies by the gates, Amras lies in the market square.

 

Maglor leaned against the side of the cellar door. He was very tired and he knew he stank of blood and sweat and smoke. He must look absolutely terrifying. Maybe he should just give up, go looking for Maedhros and the rest.

One more try.

'Lady? Lady? I am sorry but you are not safe down there. This cellar will not burn, being a natural cave, but the rock is fissured, porous, and smoke is seeping through from above. You are in danger of death by smoke poisoning if you keep hiding in there. I'm speaking the truth. Do heed my warning and come out. I promise I will not harm you and your children.'

It was very dark in there. He could barely make out their silhouettes, two small ones, one taller, unmoving. He was probably hindering rather than helping. He should either go in and fetch them out by force or go away and leave them to make up their minds.

Elrond felt Hirwen give a tiny shiver. Her fingers, holding his hand in a death grip, were clammy. Hirwen had been so very brave, from the moment that Mother had entrusted Elrond and Elros to her and commanded her to flee with them. She had led them on a desperate hide-and-seek with the enemy soldiers when it had turned out to be too late to get out of town, carrying each of them in turn when they began to stumble. This had been the best hiding-place yet, after the last one went up in flames, and she had hoped they would remain undiscovered in here until the Feanorians left.

Hirwen had had enough; she was at the end of her tether. She wasn't a grown-up after all: much older than Elros and him, but not really an adult. Hirwen would just sit here in the dark without moving, regardless, hoping the Feanorian would go away. If anyone was going to act, it would have to be him, Elrond.

Elrond thought the Feanorian wasn't lying about the smoke poisoning. He wasn't feeling right, light-headed, and he didn't think it was only fear.

Gently but firmly he pulled his hand out of Hirwen's grip. Elros, on Hirwen's other side, tried to snatch at him, as soon as he sensed Elrond starting to move forward in the dark, but Elrond dodged his brother easily and walked on steadily toward the door.

The Feanorian was a black outline against the fires of the night.

'Please don't harm Hirwen,' said Elrond. 'She is not our mother. She is not even related, so you have no reason to hurt her, do you?'

He felt the Feanorian's gaze on him, although he could not see his expression.

'We are the sons of Earendil and Elwing, Elros and I.'