When they thought he wasn’t listening, the whispers echoed in the hallways that the Lord of Himring was mad. He never smiled, they said, never slept. He heard voices, saw things that weren’t there.
They stopped whispering, in Amon Ereb. He wasn’t sure why. Perhaps they were afraid of him. Perhaps they had noticed that he no longer talked to the still air. Or perhaps anyone who had seen him at the Second Kinslaying did not need whispers to know that he was mad.
Hello again, dearest Maitimo.
He almost smiled. So I have gone truly mad at last. I was starting to wonder when it would happen.
You and I both know that you went mad a long time ago.
You can’t reach Angband from here with ósanwë. At least Himring was plausible.
Give me more credit than that. I took a walk.
Missed me that much? I’m surprised.
You shouldn’t be.
Of course, why should I assume that leading a war effort would take precedence over taunting an ex-prisoner. How dreadfully naive of me.
You’re assuming that I can’t do both at once.
You can’t reach Angband from here with ósanwë.
So you do believe that I’m really here?
Not really. I’m engaging with the conversation as if you were because it’s not as though I have anything better to do.
Really? Nothing? I suppose you are running rather low on old friends.
And whose fault is that?
Depends on how you look at things. Gothmog’s? Dior’s? Melkor’s? You could make a case for it being mine, I suppose, but there’s an equally strong case for it being yours. Or your father’s. Really, I think the best answer to that question is that it’s all Eru’s fault in the end, but I’ve been told that I’m biased. Vague memories came attached to that, blowing easily into his mind: whips and screams that pulled at his arms and legs, a cold smile tugging at the corners of his vision, the awful noise that did not deserve to be called laughter.
I can’t imagine why. He sent his own memories in return: confusion and disorientation, darkness, a careful orchestra of pain.
Not particularly, no.
I think you’re lying.
Why would I lie about this? The last word was accented with sense: this is what it is like, to bleed, to burn, to cry. Here is the shade of difference between a fracture and a break, between torn ligaments and fraying tendons, between acid and chemical and radiation and poison and heat.
I think you missed me.
I’m not the one who took a walk across the continent to have a chat.
I suppose not. But your mind was open for me when I did. All these years, you’ve kept it open. Listening and talking, if we’re both in the right mood. The slightest brush of memory, of what it is when they are not: memories sent over ósanwë, a barrage that felt more real than any of the five senses. The way Fingon’s skull shattered, the way his brain clung to the blade of an axe. The feeling of reliving years of torment in excruciating detail. Everyone else blocks me out. Why don’t you?
What do you even want?
To congratulate you, of course. Why else?
Bile slid in his stomach. I don’t want your congratulations.
But why not? You deserve them. We tried for centuries to break Doriath and failed. Now it’s a wasteland. I’m proud of you, Maitimo darling. You did better than I could possibly have hoped. And everything I’ve heard suggests that you’re only going to get worse. You’ve earned my congratulations a hundred times over.
You’re just saying that so I’ll hate myself more. I know you, Thauron.
And I know you, too, so I know it’s working. You’re so attached to that name you gave me, aren’t you? I still don’t like it. I’d report you for violating the Quenya ban but all its enforcers seem to have died.
So you’re here to taunt me.
I wouldn’t call it that. I’d say that I’m here to compliment your work. Express my pride, maybe. If I were taunting, I wouldn’t be quite so kind. I’m sure you’d much prefer it.
A hiss of breath, aimed at nothing in particular. Get on with it.
I’m truly impressed. If we had kept hold of you instead of letting you free, the world would be a much happier place. That’s a rare gift. How many children did you kill? You know two of them, because they were princes. But how many more? Children die of grief much easier than adults, and you killed rather a lot of civilians. Even those who don’t die of being orphaned at first - how long do you think they’ll last, alone in the woods, no parents to search for them and bring them to Sirion, nobody to bring them food or catch them when they fall? How many survived then who will die upon your sword anyway after a few years’ interim, having nightmares of red hair? For here you are, ready to track down a toddler in cold blood, slaughter your way through a refugee camp so you can kill her personally. All for your beautiful silmaril. We only killed one person for it when you swore vengeance against us. You’ve outdone yourself.
Are you done?
Your brother that died, the fair one - Celegorm. They give him the same name as me, did you know that? Gorthaur the Cruel, Celegorm the Cruel. Two of a kind. I’m honored.
I hate you.
Not as much as you hate yourself.
Now who’s the one making assumptions?
It’s been hundreds of years. Your mind hasn’t closed to me, not once. You could stop this conversation, whenever you wanted. You haven’t.
I suppose not. A pause. It’s been too long, Thauron. If you wanted me upset, you don’t have it. If anything, I’m relieved. Perhaps madness will hurt less than sanity did. Care to watch the sunrise with me?
Anything with you. Think of it as a celebration of your victory. Auta i lómë, my love.
I’m not your love. Don’t you dare say those words to me.
And there’s where you’re wrong. I have always loved you, Maitimo. I will keep loving you until long past world’s end, past time itself. Battlefields scarred and reeking of blood are love poems for you. This war is one long, grand symphony. Doriath was your wedding ring. It’s too late now, for both of us.
Those words are his.
Just be grateful I didn’t use his voice to say them.
The sky turned from black to gray, the stars disappearing one by one, until the sun peeked over the horizon and the clouds became bloody rips in a glorious tapestry of color.