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Fëanor in the Halls of Mandos

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Námo greeted him at the gates.

“Curufinwë Fëanáro. I have been expecting you.” Námo had taken a form that was tall and strong and somewhat menacing, holding his black staff of office like a spear.

Fëanor wanted to hit him. Námo could see it in his eyes, he could tell.

“Hold out your hands,” Námo said.

He produced a pair of shining cuffs, connected by a short chain. Fëanor had never seen such things before, but their purpose was clear.

“No.” Fëanor said, blankly. He had not expected such treatment, had not really believed he would come here at all. But there had seemed no other choice, unbodied, still echoing with the pain of his wounds, and with the cold of Angband striking at him.

Námo nodded to two of the Maiar, grey and undefined; faceless yet somehow they looked angry. The swept forward and took hold of Fëanor.

The cuffs did not click into place as purely mechanical things made to hold the flesh would have done. They moulded around him with a terrible inevitability, a device designed to restrain the spirit itself. Presumably they were like the chain Angainor, that had held Morgoth prisoner within these walls. It had never occurred to Fëanor that he would be subject to such things himself.

They had no visible lock or key. His hands felt oddly numb, wearing them.

The Maiar were still holding him. He twisted against them, futilely.

“Come with me,” Námo ordered him. He did not move.

“I don’t accept your authority,” he said. “You have no right to be Ruler of the Dead. You have no right to command me.”

“Come, or be dragged.” Námo said. “I don’t care, but my servants have been aiding the dead from Alqualondë for some time. They’d prefer to drag you.” The Maiar either side of him pushed him, emphatically.

Fëanor moved forward, feeling powerless and angry.

Námo led him along dim grey halls where dead spirits were gathered. Gleaming eyes following him through the greyness, looking at him accusingly, until they came to a small, solid-looking door. Like the cuffs, it had no key, and Fëanor was unable to see precisely what Námo did to unlock it, but it opened, showing a small, dim room. The walls were covered in tapestries. There was no furniture, and the only light came from one small window high in the far wall.

“In,” Námo said.

“No,” Fëanor said, again. “I demand the respect due to a king.”

“You are getting more respect than you deserve,” Námo said. “I must give you a place away from others, for their safety more than yours. Go in.”

When Fëanor did not move, the Maiar pushed him. Fëanor swore at Námo with the breath he did not have as the door swung closed.

The room was absolutely silent, once he was alone. He found that the tapestries showed scenes from the attack on Alqualondë. Dying fishermen, blood on the quays, weeping children, someone trying to hold their intestines inside their body. All the tapestries, that was, apart from the one that hung over the door. That showed miserable people huddled in inadequate clothes designed for warmer climes, walking through ice, weeping. He was puzzled by it. It did not seem to be a story from any tale or history that he had heard.

The window let in a little grey light from a lamp that hung some distance away, but no matter where you stood to look through it, all you could see in the light was wall. The lamplight hid the stars above.

The door had no hinges or keyhole visible on the inside. The tapestries were suspended directly from the walls, and under them, the walls had no faults or gaps or anything of note at all.

He sat down on the floor, in the absence of anywhere else to sit, and waited.

There was no way to measure time: the grey window never changed. Nobody would bring food or water, of course, for the dead do not eat or drink.

There was something about the Halls of Mandos that made it hard to keep thoughts in shape. He had arrived here wearing a shade of the clothes and armour he had worn in battle, torn and burned in places as it had been when he had died, and on his head, a crown. But here, in the endless silence of Mandos, he could not keep the shape of them in mind. They faded. Soon he was wearing nothing but the cuffs, and his own hair. His spirit seemed to remember the shape of his body, at least, and gave him that to sit in.

Not that it mattered: the Halls of Mandos were neither hot nor cold, but the visible nakedness of his spirit form was one more reminder that he had gambled everything he had for vengeance, and that he had lost. He folded himself into a corner, where he could watch the door, curled his arms around his unreal knees, and wondered what was happening in Middle-earth.

He examined the cuffs with care. They were strong. The walls and gates and chain of Mandos had held even Morgoth, until the Valar had chosen to release him. Fëanor had always thought that the spirit would have no particular shape, and yet, his spirit seemed so convinced that it had both hands and arms that his hands could be restrained like this. Clearly there was some relation here between the memory of the body and the spirit that needed further exploration.

Would the Valar ever choose to release Fëanor? He suspected they would consider Morgoth a precedent, and refuse to take the risk with him. The injustice of that was hard to bear.

Was this isolation Námo’s own idea, or did he have the full authority of the Valar for it? Námo would come again, very likely. He must be ready, next time, with words to say to him.

But Námo did not come. Nobody came. Fëanor sat in the corner for a very long time. If there had been dust in the Halls, it would have settled on him, but there was not.

It had been a long while since Fëanor had thought the Valar fair, but he had not realised until now that despite everything, he had still believed them kind. Perhaps they were, some of them. Perhaps somewhere beyond these dull enclosing walls, decked with memories of death and suffering, Aulë, who had once been his teacher, still remembered him kindly. Perhaps even Manwë himself would not entirely have forgotten Fëanor, even if he did not think kindly of him. But they would never come here. Nobody came to the Halls of Mandos but Námo, Nienna and the dead. And Nienna would not come to Fëanor, for he was forbidden pity.

He tried to walk in his memory, but it was hard to get back beyond the Oath. Again and again he found himself, sword raised at Alqualondë. Again and again, he was driven back, again and again, he heard Fingon’s reinforcements come running up and drove forward, with his sons by his side, into the crowds of Teleri to take their ships.

Again he set fire in the ships at Losgar. The ships had been beautiful, and he paused as he moved through memory to see their long lines one more time, in the firelight, before they burned.

Olwë had called the ships the work of his heart, as the Silmarils had been for Fëanor. Their beauty in the flames moved him each time he saw them.

The memory of how he had killed to take them nagged at him. Olwë should have loaned him the ships. He should have. It was not the act of a friend to refuse. It was not the act of a friend to throw Fëanor’s people into the sea, as Olwë’s people had done when Fëanor had ordered them to take the ships without permission.

If Olwë had agreed, it would not have been like it was with the Valar, who had wanted to take the Silmarils and break them. If Olwë had loaned Fëanor the ships, he would have returned them. It was only after Olwë had declared himself an enemy that Fëanor had burned them.

He thought of Middle-earth again. The sight of Thangorodrim, rearing tall and terrible against the night, a fortress-city-mountain of terrible size. He thought of the armies of orcs led by Balrogs. He had had no idea that Morgoth had such power at his command.

Fingolfin would probably have got home to Tirion by now, with most of the rest of the Noldor that they had left in Araman. The Valar would make him apologise, no doubt, then his life would go on in Valinor, under the stars. Fingolfin would be king in Tirion, having got what he wanted. He had got rid of his hated half-brother at last. Fëanor wondered, again, why exactly it was that Fingolfin hated him so much.

Maedhros would be leading Fëanor’s people in Middle-earth against Morgoth, against his Balrogs and his armies. The thought of it sat on Fëanor like a dead weight. He thought again of Angband as he had seen it. He knew his sons had no hope. He had made them repeat the Oath again as he had died, but it had been an act of despair and fury. There was nothing that his sons and the small force that had travelled in the ships could possibly do against such strength.

When Námo came to him at last, sometime much, much later, Fëanor was almost grateful to see him. His own thoughts had become a torment.

He leaped to his feet, and addressed Námo with a voice filled with all his power, demanding freedom, demanding to return to Middle-earth. It had an impact. He could see Námo rock back for a moment, as Fëanor’s words took hold upon his will. But it was only for a moment.

Námo sealed his voice with a rune of power, after that. He was permitted to speak only in answer to a direct question. Each time Námo came, the question was the same.

“Do you repent your rebellion and your murder of your kin?”

Fëanor’s answer was always the same, too. “You have no right to judge me.” He believed it, too. Námo had been appointed Ruler of the Dead, but nobody had chosen to take Námo as their Lord. His lordship was empty.

Námo had no right to judge, and no need, either. Fëanor could judge himself, in the cold light of the lamp that was all that was left now his fury had died. It was not a comfortable or an easy judgement.

After a long while, something changed. It was the light that came through the window. Instead of the lamp, a new light came in, a brighter light, silver as the Silver Tree, casting sharp dark shadows on the walls. Peering out, Fëanor could see a strange silver globe, very far away. He wondered what it meant.

Later, another kind of light came, a golden light. If you looked straight up through the golden light, the sky had turned a strangely brilliant blue. It hid the stars, but the clear blue was very beautiful, and Fëanor spent some time looking at it. Sometimes a cloud moved across it, and the cloud in the golden light was even more beautiful than the blue.

But without tools or equipment or anything but the view from the tiny window, there was no way to find out any more about it. After a while, the transition from dark to different kinds of light settled into a rhythm. It meant that there was, now, a way to measure time. Measuring it was both a relief, and a new kind of torment, for there was nothing else to divide up the time at all.

Námo came to him every five-hundredth day, he discovered, once he had counted for a while.

The ninth time that Námo came to him after the new lights had appeared, Fëanor did not bother to stand, or speak, or reply to his question. There seemed no point. He had given up counting the days, by then.

He had thrown away everything he had had, he had stolen Olwë’s silmarils as Morgoth had stolen his, and he had burned them. Now he would be trapped here under the gaze of the dying people of Alqualondë until world’s end, with nothing but his Oath, tormenting him with the knowledge that he was sworn to the impossible, and doomed to darkness. He would never learn or make anything again, and he deserved nothing else.

But by far the worst part of it was that he had doomed every one of his sons with him. They had not deserved it. They had only loved him.

His father had loved him too, and in his pride, Fëanor had left him to guard the Silmarils. And then Morgoth had come to murder him and take them. His heart ached at the thought of it. There was nothing left that he could do to take revenge on Morgoth. Why had he not been more careful to protect his father, and his sons?

Somewhere within these halls were Fëanor’s father, and his mother too. Fëanor thought of them, and desperately hoped that they were happier than he was. He could not even ask after them. There was nobody to ask but Námo, and Fëanor could use his voice only as Námo chose to permit.

The eleventh time that Námo came to him, he asked Fëanor no questions. Instead, he stood and looked at him for a while. Then he crouched down in front of Fëanor’s blank face, picked up his hands, and removed the cuffs from them. Fëanor could not bring himself to care.

Then Námo placed a gem on the floor next to him, on top of a folded square of fabric. Fëanor recognised the gem as one of his own seeing stones. He ignored it.

“This one has been made so that you can speak with your wife,” Námo said, and he sounded almost gentle, if that was possible. “Only with her. But you may use it as you wish.”

Fëanor shook his head. He was unable to speak. Námo had taken his voice away.

Námo made a frustrated sound. It made him sound as if he had come much closer to the everyday world of matter and life than he normally did. “You may speak,” he said.

Fëanor said nothing.

“Speak!” Námo said. He put some power into it, so that Fëanor was compelled so say something. Even this choice was no longer his.

“Why? I have nothing to say.”

“Try it,” Námo said. “Tell her you have died. Speak to her of your sons.”

Fëanor stared at the floor, silent. After a moment, Námo left him.

Fëanor did not touch the stone. He knew what Nerdanel would say to him.

The next time that Námo came to him, he set a word of power on Fëanor to compel him to use the stone. Fëanor struggled with furious defiance against the intrusion, for a moment or two. Then he could not sustain anger any more. He gave in; put on the robe that Námo had given him, and spoke to the stone.

The conversation with Nerdanel went as he had expected. She blamed him. He could do nothing to calm her fears. Since he had seen Angband, his fears were more precise and detailed than hers could be, but he did not tell her about them. It was the only thing he could do to spare her.

Afterwards, Námo spoke with him, giving him news. He told Fëanor that his brother Fingolfin had not turned back to Tirion, as Fëanor had expected. He had gone on, he and all his people, Finarfin’s sons too, making a journey they had all thought impossible, across the Grinding Ice to Middle-earth. That was what the tapestry hanging on the door meant.

There, in Middle-earth, Fingolfin had found that Maedhros had been taken prisoner by Morgoth, and had been cruelly tormented. Fëanor wept at that.

But then Námo told him that Fingon had scaled the heights of Thangorodrim and with the aid of Manwë himself, had rescued Maedhros and brought him to his brothers. Maedhros had given up the crown of the Noldor to Fingolfin, in thanks.

With that, Námo went away. Fëanor was left amazed. He had never expected Fingolfin to cross the Ice. Had never thought that there was any help that might come to his sons. Help from Manwë, least of all.

The news had jolted him from his misery a little. He could no longer sink into it and lose himself entirely. Somehow, not being naked made a difference too, though it surprised him that clothing the memory of a body in a garment should change anything.

He got up, for the first time in a long, long while, and looked at the tapestry on the door. Now he knew what it meant, he could pick out people that he knew. He could even see Fingolfin’s shoulder and face half-turned away, near the front of one of the groups of huddled miserable people. It seemed strange he had not recognised him before.

Why had Fingolfin not turned back? He hated Fëanor so much, had spoken against him to his father. Perhaps it was the desire for revenge that had sent him through the ice. He had stolen Maedhros’s crown from him. But... Fingon had rescued Maedhros. Why not leave him there in torment, if Fingolfin and his family hated Fëanor so much?

Fingon and Maedhros had been friends, before Fingolfin had begun to plot against his half-brother. Fëanor had thought that friendship broken when Fingon had chosen to support his father in Tirion. Perhaps it had not been, but that did not explain the aid of Manwë’s Eagle.

It did not quite make sense. He could not arrange the pieces so they fitted together properly. There must be something missing, something he could not see...

After a while, he put out a hand to the seeing stone, and spoke again to Nerdanel. She was still savagely angry with him, but then, he was quite angry with himself. Hearing from Nerdanel was better than being alone, even if she did think he should drop into the Everlasting Darkness and vanish. She might be right about that, anyway.

Námo came to him before he had expected it, the next time, to ask if Fëanor would agree to see his father, Finwë.

“Of course I will!” Fëanor told him, trying not to sound over-eager. He would have asked Námo for his father himself, if he had had any idea that the request would not be rejected out of hand. He still did not accept Námo had any right to hold authority over him, but there was no point ignoring the reality of the situation.

Námo looked faintly but definitely surprised, if it was possible to read that from a face that seemed to have been made of dark granite, in rather a stylised mode. “The unbodied spirit usually does not wish for company or activity,” he said, sounding faintly offended. “Most recover best in isolation, where they can come to accept the events of their lives without interruption.”

“I don’t!” Fëanor said, wondering how Námo had got hold of that idea. It seemed quite at odds with everything Fëanor knew of himself. Being alone was a fine thing for activity, when he was making things, reading or exploring. It was good for thinking of ideas to tell people about later.

But it was the worst way to wrestle with past events which could not be changed. You ended up wrestling your own mind to the floor and hurting it.

If there was one thing he had learned from his mother’s death, it was that. Nerdanel had helped him understand it. And with the Oath looming in the background like a thundercloud, everything looked a thousand times darker.

Námo had brought him the seeing stone. Someone had worked that much out, although somehow he did not think it had been Námo.

He told Námo, “I would be delighted to see my father. Please let me go to him.”

“I will arrange for him to come to you here.” Námo said, still looking rather taken aback.

“May I have a seat, for my father to sit on, if he must come here?” Fëanor asked. “He should not have to sit upon the floor.” That seemed to surprise Námo even more, but he summoned a long bench of some pale indefinite material before he left.

The next time the door opened silently, it was not Námo who entered, but the spirit of Fëanor’s father, dearer far to Fëanor than the light of the Trees, or any work of his hands.

Finwë entered, and stood there looking at his son with a frown.

“Oh, spirit of fire,” he said, and shook his head, face full of grief and resignation. “You really have made a mess of things this time. But I am so glad to see you.”

“I am very glad to see you too, father,” Fëanor said, standing very straight to address him.

He had wanted to revenge his father’s death and honour him, and yet somehow he had let him down once again. But at least he could see and speak with him. That was worth almost anything.

- - - - -

He could only faintly remember her, awake, as tired dark eyes and a cloud of silver hair.

He remembered her face and form, of course, from visits to her body as it slept in the gardens of Lórien. But this was the first time he had seen his mother move, or speak or work, here in the vast workshops of Vairë. His mother was the only living person in that place, though it was busy with Maiar, and with dead spirits watching the history of the world unfold from the great looms.

She had returned to her body at last. He rejoiced to see her able to enjoy her work, even though she still lived apart from the living, in this strange liminal place between the living world and the Halls of Mandos. As he approached, the curious abstract figures of Námo’s Maiar flanking him, she was busy with a loom, humming to herself as she moved the bright threads into place.

It was the first time that he had been permitted to come here. Miriel, being one of the living, could not enter the Halls of Mandos in the body, so once Fëanor had been given permission to see her, it followed that he must go to her. That too was a joy, for in the quiet Halls of Mandos, nothing new was ever made, whereas the workshops of Vairë were never still. The dead gathered by the looms stared at him, of course. But that did not matter.

“Mother?” he said.

She turned from the loom and frowned at him without recognition for a moment. It was as if he had interrupted a stranger.

Fëanor had to introduce himself, as if they were distant kin meeting for the first time. She greeted him with some polite, awkward words, and glanced at the cuffs that Mandos had set back around his wrists for this visit. She would have seen him swear the Oath, of course, would have seen him at Alqualondë, would have seen him kill and take the ships and burn them. He stood with his head high, pretending not to notice, and asked after her work.

The piece she was working on just then showed his half-brother, in armour, somewhere, presumably in Middle-earth. She was charged with recording the history of all the house of Finwë, she told him, and Fingolfin had just won a great battle against the Enemy. They were calling it the Glorious Battle. It was a very fine piece of weaving, and he told her so, sincerely.

It was not reasonable to weep, he told himself afterwards. His mother lived and loved her work, and she was happy, and that was a great thing. The time when he had been a child who might reasonably have demanded her attention was long past. It had not been any fault of hers that she had not been able to be with him then, and she had not seen him at his best, since.

He did not ask to visit her again.


- - - - -

When his half-brother Fingolfin came at last to the Halls of Mandos, he did not come, as Fëanor had come, alone, as a prisoner. He came as a king, in state. Not that Fëanor was permitted to see him arrive, of course. But from the things his father did not say when he visited, as much as from the careful things he did, Fëanor knew.

Fingolfin had hated Fëanor, just as Morgoth had, and that hate had won him almost everything, in the end. He had taken the kingship and the love of the Noldor, and left Fëanor’s house dispossessed. He had tried to take his place in his father’s eyes, too. At least Finwë had not allowed that.

Fingolfin had wounded Morgoth with seven wounds. Fëanor had not even managed to see Morgoth before the Balrogs had slain him.

Fëanor tried to rejoice that Morgoth had been injured, without thinking about who had injured him, but it was not easy. He wondered again what he had done that had made Fingolfin hate him so. Everyone else seemed to like Fingolfin, even his father. It was as if Fingolfin only showed his true face to Fëanor. It made him cold and tired to think of it.

Námo, of course, insisted that Fëanor must apologise to Fingolfin for burning the ships at Losgar. As if there had been no reason for his distrust. As if he had forced Fingolfin through the Ice himself!

But there was, as always in the Halls of Mandos, no other choice, so Fëanor said the words of apology, trying to feel nothing as he said them. There was no point in anger. He could not summon the energy for it anyway, and if he tried to confront Fingolfin with words of power, Námo would only stop him.

Fingolfin, as usual when he was hiding his true face, graciously forgave him, though he let go of his dignity enough to shout at Fëanor first.

“I swore to follow you!” he said, and “I had no intention of betraying you!”

Fëanor wondered how he could lie so easily and freely in front of Fëanor’s father, and in front of Námo, when Fëanor stood there with his hands bound, apologising.

But there was one thing he said that caught at the edges of Fëanor’s mind and would not let go.

“How could you abandon us? You were our king!” Fingolfin said. It sounded oddly as though he was genuinely disappointed, as if he had actually thought of Fëanor as a king.

The words troubled Fëanor. The accusation was not a lie. Fëanor had not acted as a king should act. But saying it in that way, as if he had expected Fëanor to be a king, as if he had been surprised that Fëanor would abandon his people, did not fit in with the kind of thing that Fingolfin would say or do.

Walking across the Ice did not fit, either. Or riding out to fight Morgoth, all alone. Fëanor had not thought his half-brother so brave.

Then Nerdanel sent him a message that included, almost in passing, the words; ‘Fingolfin loves you.’

He almost dismissed it as self-evidently ridiculous. If it had come from anyone else, he would have done. But this was Nerdanel. She was not always right, but if she was wrong, it was always worth thinking carefully about how and why.

He decided to ask to speak to Fingolfin. At least he would have things to say about Middle-earth. They might be lies, but they would be better than more days spent regretting Alqualondë. It might be a relief to be angry for a change.

But probably Fingolfin would not come. There was no reason for him to be concerned with Fëanor any more. He had won.

But Fingolfin came at once, striding into the room where Fëanor had been taken to meet with him with careless confidence, dismissing the Maiar that Mandos had set to watch Fëanor as if it had never occurred to him that he might not be obeyed.

Fingolfin sat down on the floor, making a mockery of respect. Fëanor had not expected quite such open derision, but then, Fingolfin hated him. It was not so surprising that he would show it.

Fingolfin said he had sworn to follow where Fëanor led, and still would. Lies, as expected.

Fingolfin offered Fëanor a rebellion against the Valar as a gift. A trick, presumably.

Fingolfin said that he did not wish Fëanor lost in everlasting darkness. Another lie, of course.

It must be.

And yet it did not sound like it.

Fingolfin opened his mind to Fëanor, to show him Morgoth’s work in Middle-earth.

Fingolfin showed him how Morgoth had touched his own mind, and still might be colouring Fëanor’s too, driving him towards despair and darkness, tricking him into seeing what was not there. An idea that cast new light on many things: on Fëanor’s Oath, on the dissent that had torn the Noldor apart, on what had prevented Fëanor from convincing Olwë, when he had been able to speak words of power to Eönwë, the Herald of the Valar himself, without difficulty.

It cast a new light on Fingolfin, too.

It was for all the world, as if Fingolfin trusted him. As if he thought they were working together against a common foe.

Fëanor did not know what to make of that.

He found himself rather liking this new Fingolfin who had come back from Middle-earth. Fingolfin was much easier to like than Nolofinwë had been. Even the name ‘Wise Finwë’ was still uncomfortable to think of, and Finwënolofinwë was worse. But Fingolfin was not ‘Wise Finwë’ any more, not now he was named in Sindarin, a language their father had never used. Fingolfin was not a rival, but a king of Middle-earth who, mysteriously, seemed to have decided he could be a friend.

The fear still nagged that Fingolfin was mocking him, making some cunning new plot to humiliate him.

But why would he do that? He had already won.

Even their father and Nerdanel no longer trusted Fëanor. Why did Fingolfin?

They were both dead and trapped in the Halls of Mandos. Perhaps neither of them had won.

Fingolfin was talking of their sons, of how the defense against the Enemy had been arranged in Middle-earth. Fëanor stopped him. It was news that he desperately wanted to hear, but he had a more urgent question.

“Do you hate me?” he asked. It was, he supposed, an odd question, because Fingolfin’s eyes widened in shock, but it needed to be asked. He was almost sure now that Fingolfin would give him an honest answer.

“You are my brother! Of course I don’t hate you,” Fingolfin said. Then he looked, by Fingolfin’s confident standards, almost shy. He asked, “Do you hate me?”

Fëanor considered him carefully. “No,” he said at last. “I thought you hated me. I was very sure of it. I was wrong about that.”