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the stars look very different today

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It was that time of the year again. Although there were no seasons in Valinor, where the balmy air never cooled off and the trees never lost their leaves, fiery Anar had completed another circle around the marred Arda. Which meant that Fingon the Valiant, eldest son of Fingolfin and former High King of the Noldor, once again traveled to the halls of Mandos to fulfil an old promise.

How many years had passed since he had returned from the halls himself? Fingon had spent more than two ages of the world in their grey, cobwebbed darkness, alone with his memories. Repenting, meditating on past mistakes, trapped in a barely-conscious dreamstate. It had been so long that time had lost all meaning. Ages of grief, endless repetitions of the kinslaying at Alqualondë, the exodus across the grinding ice of the Helcaraxë, then tragedy upon tragedy during the long years in Beleriand until it all ended in Balrog fire. And every time the tapestry of memories reached its cruel end, the mists of Mandos welled up and it started all over again. And again. Fingon's existence had become a mere shadow, a memory, rather than a person.

Until the day, the silent twilight of the halls had washed off the last drop of kinslaying blood. The day Námo Mandos himself had led Fingon through the tall grey gates of his realm and sent him back towards the light.

This had been a long time ago. Arda had entered its Fourth Age and many years had passed, during which Fingon had rejoined his family and made a new life for himself in the city of Tirion, glad to find out that his father and his siblings had also been released from Mandos. The house of Fingolfin was together again, frolicking in the splendour of a rebuilt Valinor – almost as if the tragic events of the First Age had never happened.

And still, here he was, standing in front of the gates of Mandos again. Year after Year he came to the western edge of Aman – a journey that him almost two weeks – and still, he never missed it. He had made a promise, very soon after he himself had been released from the Halls of Awaiting. A promise made, once he had realized who of the Noldor had been freed - and who hadn't...

No matter how often he came here, the gates of Mandos hadn't lost anything of their majesty. Sky-high and dusty grey, carved with intricate patterns and ornaments that curled and swirled and revealed a vision of the history of all Arda, if you only looked close enough. Contemplating them for too long still gave Fingon a headache.

To the left and right, monumental walls of undecorated granite stretched as far as the eye could see. If you strained your ears, you could hear the sound of the sea in the distance. The waves of Ekkaia splashed against the western foundation of Mandos‘ halls – a reminder that even out here, not everything was death and stone and silence. 

Fingon sighed, tied his horse to a sturdy-looking pine tree and approached the gates. During the first few times he had come here, he had blown his horn. His visit had been meant as a challenge – something akin to his heroic deeds of old, now fading memories from beyond the sea. It had been to no avail. Neither had the screaming and shouting been of any use. Neither the bargaining.

Nowadays, he simply knocked at the door. The sound of his gloved fingers made a tiny "pock" before it was swallowed by the endless stretches of grey, seasalt-bleached wood.

Nevertheless, the gates swung open. They always did.

There in the darkness stood the tall cloaked figure of Námo Mandos, keeper of the slain and lord of the Halls of Awaiting.

He spoke before Fingon could even begin to ask his question.

"You are too late, Findekáno. He has already left.

This wasn't the answer, Fingon had expected.

He just stared, open-mouthed.

High above him, the Vala's pale face loomed under a hood as dark as the night sky. His eyes were black holes with no discernible emotion. The air hummed with the sheer power of his presence. Here stood one of the guardians and shapers of the world, the doomsman of the Valar, who rarely spoke, but whose every word carried grave meaning – and he had just managed to leave Fingon flabbergasted.

"What?!" was the only word, that left his mouth, once he had regained the ability to speak.

All those years, the answer had always been the same: 

"Can I speak to Nelyafinwë, son of Curufinwë?" Fingon had asked, "When will he be released from the Halls of Awaiting?"

"No,“ had always been Mandos' reply. "His oath and his crimes still bind him and he has not yet paid for his deeds. He will not be released until the end of the world."

The same dialogue had been exchanged for centuries. Until today.

"Why... Where...,“ Fingon stammered. "Where is he now?"

Was that a shrug? The small movement in Mandos cloaked shoulders? Or just a patch of fog drifting by in the vast halls that opened up behind him?

"I cannot tell you, where the son of Curufinwë has gone," he said. "Only that he has left the Undying Lands. You will not find him in Valinor."

"But... But I‘ve been waiting for him! All those years! You know everything, Mandos! You knew I was coming. Why didn’t you ask him to wait for me? Why didn’t you tell him to stay?"

„This is not in my power,“ Mandos‘ dark voice rang out in Fingon's head. You never actually heard the Valar speak. Not with your ears. Their voices entered your thoughts and it was as if you only remembered them having spoken.

„I cannot give orders to the children of Ilúvatar,“ Mandos said. „I speak judgement, when they come to me and I host them in my halls, but I do not tell them what to do. Their decisions are theirs to make.“

Fingon knew all this. He had spoken in haste, a habit, even aeons in Mandos‘ halls and centuries of peace in Valinor hadn’t been able to cure. But right now, he felt like the foundations of his world – everything he had built up since his return to the world of the living – had just been pulled from underneath his feet.

„Please, could you at least tell me where he has gone? Where I should be looking for him?“ 

„Not in this realm,“ said Mandos  - and that was it. His final words before the gates to his halls swung shut.

Fingon remained outside. Alone and shaken. His hands were trembling, when he reached for the reins and tried to mount his horse. He had to pause and take several long deep breaths.

But even when he finally managed to climb onto his steed and began the long ride home, back to the city of Tirion, it took a while, until the full extent of Mandos‘ words sunk in.

Maedhros had left the Halls of Awaiting. The first of the sons of Fëanor has returned into this world. Maedhros was back – and after all these years Fingon might see him again.