When the dim, inscrutable Maia came to Fingon in the Halls of Mandos, to ask if he would be prepared to speak with his cousin Maedhros, Fingon did, for a moment, hesitate. Maedhros had been his friend, of course, his dear friend and most loyal ally too, but that was before.
Before Fingon had died. Before Maedhros had led his brothers to kill in Doriath. Before the sons of Fëanor had fallen on the Havens of Sirion like orcs, burning and killing. Before Maedhros had attacked the host of Valinor itself to steal the Silmarils, after Morgoth had fallen and the killing was supposed to be over and done.
Before Fingon had lost his friend to the darkness.
Fingon had seen his people taken over by Morgoth’s dark thought many times, in Beleriand. Maedhros had endured captivity by the Enemy once, and Fingon had thought he had recovered from his injuries. But his actions told a different story. It seemed unlikely that there was anything left by now of Fingon’s friend, and he had no wish to look upon the twisted wreck, or hear it curse at him in Morgoth’s voice. Morgoth might be a captive of the Valar, now at last, but that would not restore the towers and fields of vanished Hithlum, or return the green leagues of Ard-galen to the world. Morgoth’s work remained.
The message had been sent by Maedhros’s father, Fëanor. That did not make it any more inviting, even though Fingon had met Fëanor in the Halls already, and his uncle had apologised and praised Fingon’s valour. Fingon felt that if he had to choose between an apology from Fëanor and a punch in the stomach, the punch in the stomach had a great deal to commend it. Apologies were not one of Fëanor’s strengths.
“Your safety is assured,” the Maia said. “They will not be allowed to do you any harm.”
Of course, that made it impossible to refuse. He gave the Maia his best incredulous expression. “I have fought dragons and Balrogs. I think I can handle a cousin and an uncle. Lead the way.”
“Your safety is assured,” the Maia said again, as if he had not spoken. It seemed to be one of the more abstract ones. Fingon was not sure how much of his words it had understood. “Three of his brothers are with him. Would you prefer them to be removed?”
Fingon looked up at the non-existent ceiling of the Halls, for a moment, and sought for patience. “Four cousins and an uncle is still good odds compared with Gothmog and his army. No, I don’t want them removed. Take me there, please.”
The unnamed cousins turned out to be Caranthir, and two who, squinting a little, Fingon was able to identify as Amrod and Amras, who, he knew, had fought and died at Sirion. He gave them a wary look. They did not look at all well, or much like their earlier selves, but they did not seem to be under Morgoth’s shadow, so far as he could tell.
Fëanor stood a good distance away, half-hidden behind a curtain-veil that hung across the room. The curtain-veil was charged with power, which was presumably what the Maia had meant when it said ‘your safety is assured’. You could tell it was him, though. Nobody could mistake Fëanor for anyone else: his spirit burned.
“Well?” Fingon said to Caranthir, who of the cousins looked most as Fingon remembered him. “Where is he?”
Caranthir gestured to what Fingon had thought was just Caranthir’s shadow cast by the lamp, and stepped aside. “There.”
The spirit was unrecognisable as the merry cousin of Tirion, or the warrior of Beleriand whose flame had burned in battle so bright against the dark. It was black with ash, cracked and hideous to look at, and it was faint too, half-transparent like candle-smoke on glass. It might have been as tall as Maedhros, if it had not stooped so much. Fingon recoiled in instinctive discomfort away from it. He found himself suddenly very angry.
“Why in Angband’s hells did you do it? I thought you were better than that!” he said to it. “Why? How could you!”
Caranthir’s face went dark with fury. “How dare you? If it had been you and your father who had sworn the Oath, it could be you. Except it wouldn’t be, because you were never that good, Fingon, never quite that strong. You would never have made it to the end as he did.”
Fingon stepped towards him, furious. Amras was grabbing at him to hold him back, unless that was Amrod, and it was Amras that was pulling Caranthir back away from Fingon. The Maia who had stood by the door moved forward, suddenly tall and menacing, light in shadow looming. Fëanor, behind the veil-curtain, shifted and the flame of his spirit flared in reply.
The blackened figure that was supposed to be Maedhros swayed forward a little, and somehow there was something about the movement that was all Maedhros, was Maedhros stepping in for the thousandth time in some small squabble between his younger brothers and his cousins, except that Maedhros had never had his arms tied together like that before. His hand was still missing, even in the spirit.
Fingon looked at him and was overcome with tears. Amras let go of him, looking distressed, and now Maedhros was weeping too, the tears making tracks down his face and leaving it just a little more recognisable. Fingon put his arms around him, very carefully, in case Maedhros should crumble away into ashes and be lost, and now Maedhros was speaking, some long garbled apology for everything, for Alqualondë, for the Nirnaeth, for kinslaying and theft of children and of Silmarils, all in the past and all over now.
Amrod let go of Caranthir, who came and hugged them both.
"Shush," Fingon told Maedhros. "It's all done. All finished at last." Then he told him again, when Maedhros did not seem to take it in.
“Sorry,” Caranthir said, to Fingon, when Maedhros finally fell quiet for a moment. “He would not speak, you see. He wouldn’t speak, and he kept getting fainter.”
Fingon nodded, and looked over Caranthir's strong shoulder at the pale thin figures of Amrod and Amras, who were, despite everything, his cousins, who had sworn to serve first his father, and then Fingon as their king. They had fought for him as heroes against Morgoth, as Maedhros had, and Caranthir, until Fingon had died and left them in the dark with nothing to follow but their Oath. Nobody who had not fought the long defeat of Beleriand would understand what they had done, or could, and if at last they had failed and fallen to the darkness, then that was no more than Fingon had done himself.
“Are you two all right?” he asked. They were more indistinguishable as spirits than they had been in life, but one shook his head, and the other nodded. Fingon let go of Maedhros with one arm and reached out to gather Amras in as well. Caranthir did the same for Amrod.
They stood like that for a long moment, before Fingon turned to the Maia with all the authority of his lost crown. “Get those damn restraints off him.” he said.