“Your houseless spirits shall come then to Mandos...”
Morgoth’s great foot came down upon him. His body was broken.
There was a brief moment of darkness. Fingolfin, ripped agonisingly from his crushed body, came back to consciousness to see Morgoth limping away, back towards his gates. Fingolfin’s body lay bloody and surprisingly small behind Morgoth, among the black ash and the great pits that his enemy’s great mace had made. The land all around him was dark, under skies black with the roiling acrid fumes from Thangorodrim.
The warming surge of fury that had carried Fingolfin through his last battle was gone, and the cold and horror of Angband struck him like a blow. He felt naked, without blood or heart or breath, more naked than any mere lack of clothes could ever make him feel. The cold that beat out from Angband and struck at his unprotected spirit was worse than any cold he had known even in the crossing of the Grinding Ice. At least that cold had felt clean. This cold felt foul, and it bit agonisingly into the wounds that Morgoth had made on Fingolfin’s spirit.
Something faintly warm and comforting nudged his shoulder, and he turned to see the indistinct shadow of Rochallor, his horse. Out of habit, he reached up to scratch the horse’s neck.
Then he heard the call, like a horn sounding in the distance far to the west, a call clear, merry and unafraid.
“That is for us, old friend,” he told Rochallor. “I don’t know if the Halls of Mandos have stables, but I can’t leave you here. I can’t say I’m confident of my welcome either, but perhaps they’ll have a meadow for you, at least.” He swung back up onto Rochallor’s back, cloudy and shadowed as it was, and set him to a canter, heading south and west, away from the cold and darkness.
The words of Mandos came back to him. “Slain ye may be, and slain ye shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief; and your houseless spirits shall come then to Mandos. There long shall ye abide and yearn for your bodies, and find little pity though all whom ye have slain should entreat for you.”
That was the promise, or perhaps it could be called a threat, that the Valar had made to the departing Noldor. But there was nowhere else to go.
He was not the only spirit moving west, though there must be a great host before him. The dead of the plain of Ard-galen, the dead of Lothlann and Dorthonion and much of Eastern Beleriand too were fleeing from the shadow.
Fingolfin did not see many of his own people, the watchers of Ard-galen, defenders of the mountain-walls of Hithlum. He looked for his friend Hador, but did not see him. Hador had died in almost the first attack, defending Fingolfin’s rear-guard to buy precious time for the forces of Hithlum to reach safety. He and most of the rest of Fingolfin’s folk must have already gone ahead.
Hador would go on from Mandos, and pass beyond the world. He was already lost to those of his friends who could go only as far as the Halls of Mandos, and must stay in Arda until its end.
But before long, Fingolfin came up with people that he knew: a company of rider-spirits on pale shades of horses, recognisable as Maglor’s people from Lothlann. Clearly they had died in the rivers of fire, for their spirits still showed signs of burning, though they shone from within with the Light of the Trees too. They were moving west, but they were not travelling swiftly. Fingolfin hailed them.
“Well met!” he called.
“There will be no more good meetings,” one of them said to him grimly, although they bowed.
“That is more than I know,” Fingolfin answered. “Who knows now, if meetings will be good or ill?”
“We stood with Fëanor at Alqualondë,” another told him, uneasily. That meant, of course, that they had been among the first attackers there. They had not passed the Grinding Ice, and probably they had helped to burn the ships at Losgar too. But Morgoth was the Enemy, not Fingolfin’s loyal friends and liegemen. Ever since the Feast of Reuniting, Fingolfin had worked to make all his people stand as one, and it was not to be thought of that he should abandon any of them now.
Fingolfin gave them a smile, making an effort not to show his own unease. It was second nature, by now. “We have all held this land as best we could against Morgoth.” he said. “All of you have fought the darkness. No-one could have done more. But we cannot linger here. We are unprotected, and our Enemy will send out necromancers who will seek to use us against our friends. Ride on with me now, and we will find out what comes next.”
The people of Fëanor were the most reluctant of the slain spirits moving west. Fingolfin came on hunters out of East Beleriand, with tall ghostly hounds loping by their side, craftsmen and smiths from Himlad, Noldor traders from Thargelion. All moving west, but slowly, warily. None of Fëanor’s seven sons had fallen in the battle, and so the spirits of his people had no-one to lead them, save for the High King.
Fingolfin gathered them together as he went, and as he rode on, their pale indistinct figures followed.
Before long, he began to meet spirits of grey-elves on the road. They shone less brightly than the Eldar, but their movement was more sure. Among them moved many of the strange flickering spirits of Men, the slain people of Dorthonion. Fingolfin wept to see them there, for they had many spirits of children with them, faint and small, and they walked in grief and fear after their lords, Angrod and Aegnor, the sons of Finarfin. Fingolfin greeted his nephews with sorrow, and gave orders.
The riders lifted the children onto the horses’ backs, and he slowed the pace so that those afoot could keep up. By the time they reached the Sea, all of the elven spirit-horses were carrying the injured, old and young of Men along with their riders. High on Rochallor’s great back, the strange small spirit of a mortal girl-child rode before Fingolfin.
Rochallor paused as they faced the grey waves, and Fingolfin turned to look back at the host of dead spirits that came behind him. Their faces were pale and sad. He looked down at the small child who sat before him, and smiled down at her.
“We are going home,” he said to her. “We shall ride home into the sunset. We should sing.”
“I know a song,” she told him. “A song about cherries on the tree.” It was hard to see her small mortal face clearly. It changed from moment to moment from the child who had died, to rippling echoes of the woman she would never now grow to be. But it seemed to him that she smiled back.
And so as that great host of the dead set out out into the west, high above the sighing waves, they sang as they rode, a song that went with the horn-call that beckoned them on, a song of the cherries of Middle-earth, hanging red upon the tree.
Valinor looked different, seeing it in the spirit, or perhaps it was the land itself that had changed. The mountains were taller, improbably huge and faced on the Eastern side with slopes like glass, a formidable barrier to the flesh, if not the spirit. The gentle slopes and foothills Fingolfin had explored in his youth were lost.
The long trail of spirits went singing high above the mountains, where the air twisted into a ribbon and formed into a road, and led them down at last to Mandos’s tall shadowed gates.
Before the open gates of Mandos’s halls, a great number of the dead were already gathered, passing in. But as Fingolfin came up at the head of that great host, first one and two turned back to to look, and then a few more, until all those ahead of him had turned away from the Halls to join the singers. They parted before him, leaving a wide path to the gate, and Fingolfin nodded to acknowledge them, as the song ended.
Fingolfin handed the small faint figure of the girl-child down, into her father’s arms. “Farewell, and thank you for the song,” he said, and urged Rochallor onwards. Maglor’s riders, who seemed by now to have appointed themselves an unofficial honour guard, followed him with Angrod and Aegnor at their head, and all that great host of the Dead of Middle-earth, Elves and Men, came behind.
Before the gate stood Mandos, tall, severe, the Doomsman of the Valar himself. Fingolfin had no desire to look up at him like a child, and he was grateful for Rochallor’s height.
The Noldor, in their flight from Valinor, had been promised death by the Valar. They had been promised grief too, and Fingolfin had still led them on, even when Fëanor and his sons had deserted them.
Now the third High King of the Noldor was come where his father Finwë and his brother Fëanor had come before him. Fëanor must have arrived here almost alone, for he had fought and died with few friends about him.
Fingolfin was not alone.
He rode up to Mandos and looked at him, though it was hard to look any of the Valar in the eyes.
“You are not the first of the Valar I have faced today,” he said. “We have kept our Enemy penned in Angband all these years, until he called on the power of the earth itself against us. I have wounded the Enemy with seven wounds. Now I answer your summons, Doomsman of the Valar. What doom do you set for my people and for me?”
“You rebelled against the lawful authority of the Valar, and slew your own folk at Alqualondë, Fingolfin, son of Finwë,” Mandos said. “Many died because you would not turn back. You led them into the Ice.”
A deep murmur went up from the assembled dead, but Fingolfin held up a hand and they were still.
Fingolfin looked at Mandos, steadily. “That is true. But in Middle-earth, many lived, because I came across the Ice to their aid. While the Valar sat in joy beyond their mountains, I came to Middle-earth, and found there was a task to do. The Valar sent the Sun and Moon, but we lesser folk too played our part. We stood together against the Shadow. We brought years of peace to Aftercomers and to Grey-elves who had never heard of Alqualondë. The Valar left them to become Morgoth’s thralls. Believe me, that was not a kindness. And though those years are over now, they were bright and joyful nonetheless.”
And Mandos smiled, who rarely smiled at all. “So my lord Manwë said to me,” he said. “I promised you little pity, but you do not need it. Be welcome in my halls, Fingolfin, son of Finwë, and all your people, for the years of peace, and the seven wounds you gave to our Enemy.”
"Then Melkor set new lies abroad in Eldamar, and whispers came to Fëanor that Fingolfin and his sons were plotting to usurp the leadership of Finwë and of the elder line of Fëanor and supplant them by the leave of the Valar."
In one of the many long dim halls, hung with tapestries and crowded with quiet figures of the dead, Fingolfin looked at his brother, standing bound between the Maiar, his face quite without expression, and his heart twisted within him with grief and anger.
It was like going back again to the Ring of Doom at the Gates of Valmar, and seeing Fëanor constrained to answer Mandos over his threat to Fingolfin, and be exiled. It was like seeing him stand before Manwë’s throne, required to attend the festival and apologise.
Now, here they were again, and Fingolfin knew already that no matter what words Fëanor said, the fact he was being forced to say them would mean that the bitterness would be only greater, never less.
“I had no intention of betraying you.” he said, anyway, because he had wanted to say it for so long. “You could have relied on me. I swore to follow you!”
Fëanor looked at him blankly. “I apologise for my offences towards you,” he said. “I accept that Maedhros has waived the claim of our family to the kingship of the Noldor and it has passed to Fingon. I understand you have injured our Enemy. I commend your courage.” There was a sharpness in his voice that set the last words into an insult.
Fingolfin could feel his temper rising, predictable, and yet he could not stop it. His years of kingship vanished in the mist. He was the younger, less talented, less cherished brother again, but one with a list of grievances that had grown very long.
“What more did you want of me?” he said. “I gave my word. He is my father too, and he was king of all of us! How dared you take revenge for him to yourself alone? We lost so many in the ice... Elenwë died, you know, an awful death. ”
Let Fëanor guide them away from an argument, since he had such fabled skill with words. Let him apologise!
“If you had sent the ships back for us, we would have been so much stronger. And stronger yet, if you had stayed your hand at Alqualondë, and we had all arrived in Middle-earth together. Why did you not wait? Do you hate me so much?”
He had expected his brother to become angry in his turn. Perhaps he had even hoped that Fëanor might shout at him that no, of course he did not hate his brothers.
Instead, Fëanor said stiffly, “I apologise for my offenses, and I beg your forgiveness.” Mandos, standing next to their father, a little distance away, nodded approvingly, but Fingolfin would greatly have preferred anger. This calmness made him uneasy, though he could not pin down exactly why.
Fëanor was speaking now of Elenwë ’s death and of provoking battle at Alqualondë, but somehow he seemed very far away, further even than the distance across the Grinding Ice.
His words did nothing to bridge the gap. Every word he spoke was false, an insult in itself. An apology should have helped. But perhaps nothing could, any more.
“How could you abandon us?” he asked, bitterly. “You were our king!”
“Is that how you speak to your king?” Fëanor asked, defiance sparking from his bright spirit at last.
Mandos looked at him, and there was an almost visible feeling of strain in the air, for a moment, before Fëanor looked down.
“I beg your forgiveness,” he said, quietly, and nothing could have been more awful.
Fingolfin wondered if there was anything at all he could say that would not make things worse. He could think of nothing.
Eventually, he said “Of course I forgive you. ”
Fëanor said only ‘Thank you’. There was a long pause, and Fingolfin realised that his brother could not leave until Fingolfin did. Defeated and lost for words, he turned and went away.
. . . . .
The scent of doom on the wind
It was oddly difficult, without a body, to think new thoughts, unless that was something to do with the Halls of Mandos. But the quiet and peace was welcome, after so many years when there had always been far too much to do. Now there was nothing that must be done, save for rest and healing. Fingolfin’s spirit still felt at times a harsh cold ache from the chill of Angband that had struck into it as he died, but it was fading.
Here in the halls, there were those he loved, too. It was good to see his father, and to speak with his daughter Aredhel again, and talk of happier times, although the manner of her death troubled him greatly.
Eöl, her husband and her murderer had not come to the Halls of Mandos. He must have refused the call and stayed, unbodied, in Middle-earth. This was just as well. Fingolfin, it seemed had been granted some degree of forgiveness for his rebellion and perhaps even the slaying at Alqualondë, but he felt that neither Aredhel nor he could reasonably be asked to promise to remain calm, faced with Eöl.
Sometimes they watched the tale of the world unfold in the workshop where the tapestries of Vairë and her helpers were made, he and Aredhel. Often Aegnor and Angrod joined them, and sometimes Fingolfin’s father, too. There they could see how Fingon his heir was faring as High King. It seemed to make the cold ache worse to watch for too long as the long bright threads wove into place, but he could hardly forget his sons, his kingdom and the surviving remainder of his people.
But most of the tapestries that decked the Halls of Mandos told tales of days long past, and events that, presumably, were meaningful to the Valar, but meant very little to Fingolfin. They were comfortable enough to look through, or to ignore. Mostly he ignored them. He had memories of his own that he preferred to visit, both from Valinor and from Middle-earth. He walked in memory with his wife Anairë, and hoped that she would welcome him home, one day, and he laughed in memory with old friends in Hithlum, looking back, rather than forward for a change.
Still, it was good to know that Círdan had come to Fingon’s aid, and that Fingon and Maedhros were working together to reclaim the lands that had been overrun. There was a joyful time when Aegnor came to him to tell the news that Dorthonion had been retaken, even though both of them knew that it could be nothing but a temporary respite. But still, every few months, every year of the Sun counted, in the way that years had never counted in Valinor when there had been no Enemy to strike against them.
Then came the news that Finrod had gone out with little help against Morgoth, had fallen into the power of one of Morgoth’s greatest Necromancers, and had been slain. His brothers Angrod and Aegnor were white with fear for him, and Fingolfin and Aredhel were hardly less distressed. It was hard enough to fall in battle, but entrapped by a Necromancer, there seemed no hope at all that Finrod’s spirit would escape and come to the Halls of Mandos. The spirits of Morgoth’s victims usually fled to safety, but Finrod was a prince of the House of Finarfin. Sauron knew he was a spirit of unusual power, and he had died deep in Sauron’s dungeons.
The thought of what Sauron had done, and would do to Finrod, what one of Finrod’s power might be twisted into, was terrifying. Finrod had been loved by all. All the dead of Mandos wept for him.
And then the great news came. The news that Lúthien had come, with Huan of Valinor, had brought Sauron’s tower low, and let Finrod’s spirit escape.
Finrod, exhausted and torn by teeth and suffering, with his valiant ten followers behind him, came back from Middle-earth to the Halls of Mandos, and for a while there was singing and rejoicing in all the many rooms and ways of that huge strange place.
The news that Lúthien had gone on to Angband with her mortal lover Beren, and had seized a Silmaril made more uncomfortable hearing, though many of the dead were jubilant at that too. But those who had served the House of Fëanor exchanged uncomfortable looks with Fingolfin when they met.
It was a victory, a great victory, the claiming of the Silmaril and yet, Fingolfin, looking ahead, feared what it might bring. The Oath of Fëanor was the chink in the armour, the fault in the music, the breach in the dam that would let the darkness in.
It was not the only one, of course. There were many weaknesses in the league that protected Beleriand from Morgoth. Fingolfin knew them all intimately, but the Oath was the one that troubled him most.
His wounds ached, and he felt that he could smell doom approaching as you used to be able to smell the first snows were on their way, in Hithlum.
Fingon would have to fight again, soon. And this time, or the next, or the one after that, would be the last, and perhaps the last for Turgon too.
It was the next time, in the end, for Fingon, though not yet for his brother. Fingon marched out against Morgoth, fell in battle against the Balrogs and came to Mandos as a hero.
“Should I have waited?” he asked his father, some time later, and rather to Fingolfin’s surprise. Fingon was rarely unsure about anything, and he had thrown all he had into his great alliance with Maedhros.
“I don’t know. Should I have done?” he asked Fingon in return.
“I wish you had!” Fingon said. “If you had led the union of our forces against Angband, Maedhros’s eastern Men might not have turned against us.”
Fingolfin considered. He owed his son an honest answer. “If they chose Morgoth over Fingon the Valiant and Maedhros, I doubt they would have fought for me,” he said, eventually, and knew it for the truth. “I thought single combat worth the attempt. But I went to it in despair, and despair is where Morgoth’s great strength lies. Still. We both tried, at least.”
“We did,” Fingon said, and shivered. You could still see the whipmarks lying fresh and dark across his spirit. “Perhaps there never was any way out.”
“I don’t think there was,” Fingolfin said. “We were always doomed. At least we fell swiftly, facing our enemy. ”
“Yes,” Fingon said, and his scarred spirit roiled with trouble as he considered Middle-earth as he had left it, falling into darkness. “It was swift and easy for us. I fear it won’t be for the others.”
. . . . .
"Melkor would often walk among them, and amid his fair words others were woven, so subtly that many who heard them believed in recollection that they arose from their own thought."
Fingolfin was riding in memory through the green fields of Hithlum, with his sister Lalwen, with Hador and the other friends who had been his personal guard, when one of Mandos’s Maiar came to him with a message from Fëanor.
Fingolfin had not seen him since that last, uncomfortable public meeting before Mandos. Fëanor did not walk in the halls, visit the horses in Mandos’s stables, or gather in the workshops of Vaire to see the story of the world unfold. Fingolfin was surprised to hear from him at all. Still, if Fëanor wanted him, he would go. He had sworn it, after all.
He came to the hall where Fëanor sat awaiting him, a quiet place arrayed with dim tapestries showing strange geological processes, and told the attending Maiar firmly to go away. He had had enough of awkward public discussions with his brother. He wondered if they would protest, but they did not. There were advantages to being the one who had wounded Morgoth in single combat, it appeared.
“You asked for me?” he said to his brother.
“Does that surprise you?” That voice again. The pride that was like a blow in the face.
Fingolfin took a tight hold of his temper. There was no point in anger any more. “Well, yes,” he admitted. “I am surprised. I was angry when last we met, and I thought you had said all you wanted to say to me.”
“I wanted to thank you for the aid you gave my sons,” Fëanor said. The words themselves seemed fair enough, it was only the bitter tone that coloured it. What was he up to now?
“I needed them as much as they needed me,” Fingolfin said neutrally. “Morgoth is a fearsome enemy. Your sons are brave. They held the East very effectively for long years. It was not an easy task.”
“None the less, I thank you. For Fingon’s rescue of Maedhros, too.”
You had better thank him for that, not me,” Fingolfin said, wondering again what this was about. Fëanor said nothing more, and Fingolfin waited, unsure if he should leave again.
He looked at Fëanor, and thought that there was something familiar about his unhappy, expressionless spirit. It still flamed brighter than any other in the Halls of Mandos, but it was not its brilliance that caught at the corner of his mind, nor Fëanor’s long familiarity as a brother either. It was something else. Something... something about Morgoth. Something about the roots of discord.
Morgoth had hated Fëanor, had hated him above all the rest. Given the freedom of Valinor and all his skill and all his power at his fingertips, Morgoth had chosen to work to set Fëanor at discord with his people, with his family, with the Valar. Only through the power of Manwë himself had Morgoth’s work been at last discovered, and the roots of Fëanor’s first rebellion revealed.
So cunningly had Morgoth worked that even Fëanor, who had hated him and refused to listen to him, had not known where those first dark words and thoughts had come from. Fingolfin remembered his brother’s humiliation when Manwë had uncovered it.
At the time, before the Gates of Valmar, later, in Tirion, and even later, after Alqualondë, Morgoth’s emnity had seemed a small thing, had seemed like something that Fëanor, the most talented, strongest of them all, the Spirit of Fire, should have shrugged off with ease. Particularly once he knew where it had come from.
It had seemed that shining gem-like spirit must be, somehow, flawed in some key way. How else could Fëanor, of all people, have fallen into bitterness, hoarding and anger, into overwhelming pride and kinslaying?
But now, Fingolfin found himself remembering the thralls with broken minds that had come straying back from Angband, who could not be helped, could not be cured, who might turn on those who had been their friends, on their own family.
He recalled the shadows of horror and despair that had reached out from Thangorodrim. The dark rumours that had started nowhere, that ran throughout the land, spreading distrust and fear, weakening alliances.
He remembered orcs and werewolves that Morgoth had made by twisting the world out of shape, the necromancers and the dark trapped spirits that obeyed their every command.
He remembered the shock of coming into Middle-earth, seeing for the first time the size and scale of Angband: a fortress-citadel and factory of monstrous size that they had had no idea could possibly exist.
Those thralls of Angband had been weak, surely. They must have been. They had fallen into darkness, had let Morgoth take their minds and use their bodies.
The orcs had fallen long ago. They too must have been weak.
And the Aftercomers, who had been convinced that Morgoth was right, those who had turned on Maedhros. Only the weak ones had believed that, surely. Hador and his people had not time for that sort of nonsense.
Fëanor’s son Maedhros had been held by Morgoth. He had endured far more than his father had, and yet had come back strong and able. Fingolfin had laughed with Maedhros, had fought beside him, now and then, had seen how he was more deadly with the left hand than he had been with the right.
If Maedhros could endure Morgoth and still go on, if Fingolfin could fight him in single combat and ride away singing, then what excuse had Fëanor?
Fëanor’s body had blown away in smoke. He was strong. He had always been so much stronger than anyone else. Fingolfin should leave him now and...
Morgoth had been one of the Valar.
When had Fingolfin decided that being unable to resist all the power of Morgoth was weakness?
For that matter, when had he decided that a weakness was a crime?
What would Hador think of that, Hador, whose mortal children had suffered so many small childhood illnesses? Hador, his friend, who had grown old as Fingolfin watched?
Fingolfin looked again at his brother, and saw that Fëanor was in despair. It was not something he had thought possible.
Why had he not thought it possible? He had felt the cold touch of that darkness himself, after all.
Fëanor was looking coldly at him, every line of his spirit tense with pride. This was dangerous territory. Fingolfin saw, now, why Mandos had set Maiar to watch over them, and why Fëanor’s wrists were bound.
But Fingolfin never had been afraid to take a risk. And Fëanor had sent for him, that must mean something.
He sat down on the floor, in front of the bench where Fëanor sat, so that he had to look up to see his brother’s face, and said, “Tell me what you want me to do.”
That startled Fëanor, at least. “I thought you too dignified to mock at me.”
“I am not mocking you,” Fingolfin said, seriously, from the floor. “I swore to follow where you led, and I will. Do you want me to try to rally the dead of Mandos against the Valar and lead them back to Middle-earth? I don’t think it will work. Morgoth’s cold is bitter against the unclad spirit. But if you wish it, I will try.”
Fëanor frowned at him. “I know what Angband is to the dead spirit. That is why I am here. I fled from it, craven, to hide behind the Valar’s skirts.” Fingolfin would have thought his voice contemptuous, if he had not known what he was looking for.
“I never heard Fëanor or any of his house, called craven,” he said. “I fled here too. There is very little choice, in death. But if you insist on returning, I will follow you, even unbodied.”
Fëanor looked at him, puzzled, and shook his head. “That is the single worst idea that I have ever heard,” he said.
Fingolfin felt hugely relieved. At least, whatever Fëanor wanted, it wasn’t that. “Well, perhaps,” he said. He forced a laugh. “But then, it was my idea to walk across the Helcaraxë. I’m fairly sure most of my people thought that just as bad.”
Fëanor looked down at him, more thoughtfully. “I burned the ships at Losgar. I think now that was an even worse idea.”
“I hope you don’t want me to argue with that.”
Fëanor’s face did not change, but his spirit flickered in a way that might be amusement. “Shall we agree then that your little brother Finarfin is our father’s wisest son?”
“You have said it.”
“Oh, stop being so careful,” Fëanor said, savagely. “I appreciate the effort, truly, but I am not made of molten glass. I can’t burn you, or shatter into knives and cut you. Yes, I threatened you with my sword, but I apologised for that. Anyway, I don’t have a sword any more.”
“I’m not afraid of that. Or you. I never was afraid.” He looked up into Fëanor’s eyes. “I thought I’d try taking a route away from the argument, for once, and see if that worked better than immediately telling you loudly why my opinion is best.”
“Good grief!” Fëanor exclaimed. “What have we come to? I sincerely hope that I never come to the point where I cannot stand to hear a disagreeing voice! If you were hoping that the shock would make me fall into the everlasting darkness and vanish, it won’t — though I am not sure why it hasn’t taken me already.”
“I’m glad it hasn’t,” Fingolfin said, and found that that it was true, and not only because it meant there was hope for his nephews.
Fëanor looked surprised, too. “You’re one of the few, then. Still, I hope I can learn from my mistakes, even now.”
“And yet you called Finarfin my brother, not yours, just now.”
Fëanor went very still, and Fingolfin wondered if he had pushed on too fast.
“And you just offered me rebellion against the Valar as a gift,” Fëanor said, eventually, and this time there was definitely a smile there. “Surely something that only one of my two brothers would be foolish enough to do. I should have spoken with you in private long ago. And I should have cleared Morgoth’s webs from my ears before I did it, too.”
“And so should I. But that is easier said than done,” Fingolfin said. “You died before you saw it at work in Middle-earth. I’ve been fighting Morgoth these four hundred years of the Sun and more, and even so, I have only just seen things clear. I could hear him whispering to me, when we last met, after all this time. I didn’t even recognise his voice. His strength is not all in Balrogs and orcs. He sends out whispers that have you doubting your own eyes, and casts shades upon your mind that colour the truth, even in the plain light of the noon sun.”
It had been a long time, a very long time, since Fingolfin had touched his brother’s mind, but he reached out now, tentatively, and placed a series of images where Fëanor could take it, if he wished.
Fëanor recoiled. “So that is what my sons are facing now.” Then he made the obvious leap. “And if you have found it colouring your thoughts still, then no doubt it is also still shaping mine.” He made a disgusted face. “I hate the thought of his filthy touch on my mind. Poor Maedhros, in his power all that time.”
“Yes. Though he recovered faster than anyone expected. I said he was brave.”
“But then he gave you his crown,” Fëanor said, and there was a dangerous edge back in his voice. He paused, and Fingolfin wondered if that would be the end of the discussion and any hope of peace between them.
Fëanor’s eyes narrowed. Then he said “Oh! There. Yes, I see. Revolting thing. It hides among your own thoughts like some colour-shifting insect on a leaf, and the other thoughts nearby start to look just like it.”
“Exactly,” Fingolfin said, relieved. Fëanor’s mind was as swift as ever. “And then it bites, almost so you cannot feel it, and sends poison in to do its work. It’s easier to spot it, here, where Morgoth’s thought does not run through the whole land. But I did not expect to find it here at all. I see now it has been following us both.”
Fëanor had up till then ignored his bound wrists as if they were not worth noticing, but now he twisted against them for a moment, as if his whole spirit rebelled. “I’d like to crush it under my boot.”
“Morgoth is a little large for that, I found,” Fingolfin said, and smiled. “Although I promise you, I tried.”
“So I heard. You hurt him badly, too. That is some comfort.”
“We made some tools to help with the dark whispers, the fear and despair, in Beleriand,” Fingolfin offered. “Drinks laced with enchantment, blades that shone against the darkness, all that sort of thing. Your son Curufin devised some of them, and our sister Lalwen. But we never managed to remove it, once bitten, only to beat it back or make it sleep. You can probably do that for yourself, now you know what to watch for.”
“I can.” Fëanor said, looking utterly disgusted. “I should have seen it for myself.”
Fingolfin found himself annoyed. Examining the feeling, he was confident it was all his own.
“Fëanor, I have told you that I have only just seen it,” he said, letting the irritation show. “I will defer to you on a hundred topics: crystal, light and linguistics all come to mind. But opposing the Enemy is my field. I am very good at it. You were in Middle-earth for a handful of days. Do not insult me by saying that you should have seen something that I have spent hundreds of years preparing for, and still did not see. Even you cannot expect to be instantly better than me at everything.”
“Your ability is proven beyond question,” Fëanor said, looking a little startled. “I meant no insult by it, truly. Thank you for showing me. It is far more use than anything that Mandos has said to me.”
Fingolfin found himself smiling, this time almost without meaning to. “Mandos has not been in Middle-earth. And who knows if the Valar feel despair or can find their thoughts enmeshed in darkness? They know grief and pity, but I’m not sure they feel them quite as we do.”
“My observations support that theory,” Fëanor said drily.
“They don’t keep you bound like that all the time, surely?”
“This?” Fëanor looked down at his hands. “No. This is for your benefit. Entirely practical, and done with every concern for my comfort and convenience, of course. I don’t think they even realise how it feels, to find yourself defenseless in a ring of enemies.”
Fingolfin took another risk. “I don’t think Mandos and his people want to be your enemies, any more than I do.”
“Very likely,” Fëanor said, with no sign of anger. “Still, when Mandos told me ‘If thralldom this be, you cannot escape it’, he made it hard to see him as a friend. He was right, though. There is no escape from Arda, and here I am, a thrall.”
“I remember. It was not one of his more diplomatic moments,” Fingolfin said. “But you might use the word ‘thrall’ differently, if you had seen what Morgoth’s thralls endure. Not being strong enough to stand entirely alone against the world is not shameful. Even Manwë owes allegiance to a greater lord. I would have achieved nothing, in Middle-earth, if I had not had help, and help from the weak as much as from the strong.”
Fëanor looked away across the room. His face was distant. “‘On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East’” he said. “‘Dispossessed shall they be for ever...’ Your situation is not the same as mine.”
“Do you think so? ‘upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also’, he said, and yet I followed you. Do you still doubt my word?”
Fëanor looked down and met his eyes. “No.” he said, after a long, considering moment. “No, that would be churlish, wouldn’t it? I let Morgoth lead me, thinking I was free. But for all his poison, you were faithful.”
Fingolfin made a face. “If I’d met you then, when I was new-come to Middle-earth with my heart full of grief and rage — then I would have let his lies and hatred lead me too. I’ve benefited from others’ wisdom, since, and come to understand the Enemy’s cunning.”
“Better to follow Manwë than Morgoth, you would say. I have little love for either,” Fëanor said bitterly.
“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking them the same. If you wanted to thank me for my aid to your sons, do not forget the Eagle that Manwë sent for Fingon and for Maedhros. Fingon only had to ask for aid.”
“Fingon is a credit to you,” Fëanor said. “I’ll thank him too, if he will see me. ”
He ran a long finger across the gleaming substance around his wrists, then looked back at Fingolfin. “I have found four design flaws and one manufacturing fault, so far — and three ways I could remove these. I thought of testing the theory, but decided they were more use to me as an intellectual exercise than lying broken on the floor. It’s not so hard to wear them if I know I can take them off.”
It was not much of a confidence, but it was probably the only thing that Fëanor had left to give him. It deserved to be received generously. Fingolfin laughed. “I should have guessed!” he said. “Why did you ask for me, anyway? You’d already given me thanks and apologies, and I was not graceful about receiving them.”
“More graceful than I was delivering them, certainly. I can’t hold you to your promise to follow me: not after Losgar. You were right, what you said before about that. I have thought of it a good deal. I was supposed to be a king, and I abandoned my people. It was unforgivable.”
“Are you doubting my word again?” Fingolfin said, as lightly as he could. “I have forgiven it.”
“So you did. I don’t know how.”
“Because I refuse to hold you responsible for Morgoth’s work, and anyway, there’s no point brooding,” Fingolfin said firmly. “I am not the only one. Círdan made a song about you and your sons and how you came to the rescue of the Falas and fought the Balrogs, as a gift for Maglor, did you know?”
“Círdan? Oh the Teler whose haven was besieged when we landed. No, I had not heard that. How very strange.”
“He would be dead without you, he and all his people. He knows that about you, as well as about Alqualondë. It’s a good song. The Spirit of Fire came golden from the Sea and drove the fear and darkness back, it says. We used to sing it sometimes, in Hithlum. There are a few songs about it, actually, but Círdan’s is the best.”
“I... I don’t know what to say to that.”
“I have at last rendered Fëanor himself speechless! One day I hope to boast of that to Círdan.”
“My reputation may never recover,” Fëanor said, mock-solemnly, and Fingolfin blessed tough, pragmatic Círdan with all his heart, for the gift of a song for his brother to set against the darkness.
“It is a very complicated war. But tell me, what is it that you wanted from me, if not a revolt against the Valar?”
Fëanor actually laughed at that. “Nothing so fearsome. I only hoped you might tell me something of Middle-earth, and my children and grandson, and you have. You should know though, that if you tell me more, Mandos may not be pleased. He allows me very little news.”
“Nobody has told me what to say,” Fingolfin said, innocently. “I assume, therefore, that any prohibition does not apply to me.”
Fëanor gave him a considering look. “I can see why you made such a fine king. Come and sit up here and talk, then, if you will. I feel ridiculous looking down at you, and I refuse to go and sit on the floor as well. From here, for a change, I can see tapestries that don’t show Alqualondë. I intend to look at them while I can. I should probably thank you for that too.”
“Don’t mention it!” Fingolfin said, getting up and dusting himself off, out of habit, although there was no dust on the floors of Mandos’s halls. “I can’t take the credit. I have no idea why the Maiar here do anything! But... I had an elder brother, once, who I admired. He did all things with confidence, and everybody was impressed. Sometimes I still find that a useful example to follow.”
“You might not want to mention that to Mandos,” Fëanor said wryly.
“I don’t think he’s forgotten,” Fingolfin told him. “I hear that Finrod has returned to life already. There has been no such choice for me. Mandos welcomed me, when I arrived, but it seems I am more welcome to stay than leave. I suppose because of Alqualondë. I have regretted that ever since, but not enough for Mandos, it appears. I think I shall be here for some time.”
“I’m sorry,” Fëanor said, and it sounded as if it were true this time.
“I am not sure if I am,” Fingolfin told him. “Middle-earth was... Well. Let me start from the beginning, and you can tell me if you think it was worth it, in the end.”