The White Light Of Madness.
The gathered wood crackled with blue flame, dessicated to tinder-dryness by the cold.
They had halted at last, although Orodreth had not wanted to, had desired to press on.
“There is snow coming, my lord,” one of the men said. “And we need to tend the horses.”
It was a hasty bivouac, Orodreth having ordered only his own tent raised, for he did not intend to linger. Wine-skins and dried food were handed around, but the captives, hands still bound, were offered nothing. Guards stood behind them, spears trained on their backs. They were silent. There was no need for audible conversation anyhow, and a remark by Celegorm had earned him a warning nudge with a spear-butt, at which he had cursed but said nothing more after his brother and Finrod silently, furiously remonstrated with him.
Maglor could hear voices around him, see figures passing back and forth. He looked to one side, to his son, then to Celegorm and Finrod beyond. It seemed they were not to be released. Not yet, and perhaps not at all. He could see the same knowledge in the others' faces.
On that ride, he had felt his father's emotions like a fire at his back. He felt them now. Fëanor had been shocked to the core at the realization his own sons' had believed him capable of sacrificing them. They had all misjudged him, but how not? Fëanor had killed in pursuit of his jewels.
Adar, he thought, as he had since the moment Fëanor had made his choice. I Thank Ilúvatar I was wrong. Not for me, but for thee, for thine own sake.
There had been no answer save the love that was in itself the answer, but Glorfindel was there in his mind, and Maedhros, Curufin, Amrod and Amras. Fingolfin too reached out, and all assured him that Orodreth would never get to the outflow of Gaear Gwathluin and certainly not to Valinor.
And then it was there, around him like a fleece woven of flame, within him like a draught of emberwine and more comforting, more potent than both: his father's presence. Celegorm felt it too. Maglor saw his head lift. Their eyes met. In the cold-streaming night it was like sudden shelter, a bonfire more steady and more warming than the campfires shredded by the winds of the coming storm.
There is nothing, Fëanor's voice was clear and dark with pain, nothing in this world that is more precious to me than my sons. Hold fast.
Oh, father. Maglor's heart formed a fist in his breast.
“There is snow coming,” Dana murmured.
“From the south,” Glorfindel nodded and looked at her. She raised her brows, a smile curving her mouth, secret, knowing.
“Yes. It is coming off the sea on strong winds,” she said, “Milder air. It will collide with this cold air, and – ” her hands opened.
“A blizzard,” he ended.
“A mother of a blizzard,” Dana agreed. “Come, then.” And she reached out a hand to Coldagnir. “And thou.”
“Why dost thou do this?” Glorfindel asked. “Or is that a foolish question?”
“Very foolish.” She laughed as at a loved child. “I am thy mother, am I not? The mother of all Children of Arda, and any who swear on me are bound to me. I feel a responsibility toward thee, let us say. And there is one more thing: when we return I will take Borniven with me for a time.”
Glorfindel frowned. “I will not gainsay thee, but for what purpose? He is insane.”
“He tried to use a consecrated dagger to kill,” she said. “It came from my temple. Ah, no. I do not mean to sacrifice him.” A gurgle of laughter came at that. Dana could seem a mother, a girl, a queen, from one moment to the next. “He shall learn some few things. I have spoken to Rosriel. He is, or was, of her following, and she agrees.”
Glorfindel had never seen Dana's temple. Vanimórë had, long ago, and both knew it was only called a temple for convenience's sake. It was a place where women went when Dana called them, a sanctuary more than a temple, although there were sacrifices, too. The Mother was owed blood at times.
“Very well.” Glorfindel took her hand and Coldagnir, who had been silent since the oath, clasped her other. “Let us go.”
Fingolfin let the tent flap fall. The winter night had come down, and Fëanor had not reappeared since the morning. This was unlike him, for there had been much do do in the churned wake of Orodreth's departure. Yet perhaps Fëanor, in choosing life over the Silmaril, had done enough to prove himself to the Noldor.
Few of Finrod's people had left. Whatever they might think privately, Finrod had not publicly forgiven Celegorm, and his song-duel with Manwë and Námo was too recent, too astonishing, for anything to weigh in the balance against it. Finduilas had emerged from her shock to call a council of Finrod's people with Aegnor and Angrod. A grave, warm-hearted woman whom had known a cruel death, she had a strong will under her slender fairness. The shame of her father's treachery, rather than crushing her, had stiffened her spine, unfurled banners of color across her cheeks and lit a determined spark in her eyes.
No, Fingolfin was not concerned that Finrod's people would elect to leave, but he was, despite Glorfindel's reassurances worried about Orodreth's captives. They all were. Gil-galad had been with Fanari, whose fear had turned to rage. She had seen her son ride away to fight against Sauron's forces in Eregion, and later to Mordor. The thought of losing him now to a traitorous Elf was well nigh insupportable.
Fëanor's hair was unbound, covering his face and spilling onto the skins that draped the floor. He did not move. Fingolfin went on one knee before him.
“Fëanor,” he repeated.
Slowly, Fëanor raised his head, and Fingolfin jerked back.
“What art thou doing?” he whispered, his voice shocked from him at the sight of Fëanor's eyes.
“Orodreth has a Silmaril,” Fëanor said hard and bitter as tempered steel. “Let him learn what the Silmarilli truly are.”
“Art thou mad? He may hurt his hostages!” Fingolfin caught his brother's wrists, and was drawn to his feet as Fëanor rose.
“He is not thinking of them. All he is thinking of is what he could become.”
Fingolfin pulled away. He did not doubt that Fëanor was in some way linked to the Silmarilli. Only Morgoth had ever possessed them while Fëanor lived, and they had burned him, it was said. Fingolfin knew it to be true, for he had seen Morgoth's hands himself, the marks about his brow where the iron crown banded his head, as if the flesh forever scorched and healed and scorched again. Even with their creator dead, the Silmarilli had been artifacts of peril. Now Fëanor lived so, in a way, did the jewels.
“Be careful,” he cautioned.
“Careful? Orodreth put a knife to Celegorm's throat. He drew blood! He has taken two of my sons, a grandson and a nephew. I cannot go with them, but what I can do, I will.” He pushed back his hair, magnificent and frightening in this mood, but slowly that terrible light faded from his eyes, or rather, thought Fingolfin, was contained.
“Didst thou believe it also?” he asked.
“Ai, Hells! Even thou? Even after this?” He loosed one hand, spread the fingers to show the mark upon it.
We need no deeper bonds between us, half-brother in blood, full brother in heart, he had said, silently. But dost thou not know I would give my life for thee?
“Yes, even after that, brother. I believe thou wouldst die for me and that...astonishes me. But the Silmarilli obsessed thee.”
Fëanor backhanded him, then as his hand swung back, caught Fingolfin's tunic and dragged him into a brutal kiss. There was rage in it, shattering pain.
Thou and my sons. Eru help me! It sounded like a command. Fingolfin's head rang with the force of the blow and his foreshortened punch took Fëanor in his hard gut. It thrust him back but did not take his breath.
“If thou wilt not help me, get hence!” he snarled.
“Do not use thy guilt as an excuse to – ” At the last moment, Fingolfin remembered the too-close ears, doubtless focused on this tent.
Get me in thy bed! I believed in thee until Araman. I felt thy soul this day. But when it came to that choice, I truly did not know. And neither did thy sons!
White teeth glinted. It was no smile. Thou knowest now.
Fingolfin spun on one foot, threw back the inner flap, then glanced back.
“Thy people need thee,” he said, calm because he had to be, because his instinct was to comfort his brother, and if Fëanor could not accept comfort without wanting more then neither, Fingolfin admitted, could he. There were too many reasons that could not happen, and at this moment their blood-relationship seemed the least important of them.
“Yes. Now come. I felt thy death before we ever came to Lake Mithrim. I had to affect ignorance to lead my people. Maglor and Celegorm, Tindómion and Finrod are not dead. And they will not die!” With impatience birthed of pity, which Fëanor would not accept, and love, which he would transmute into sex if given the chance, Fingolfin came back, poured wine and proferred it.
“Show thyself. Thou hast possibly done the one thing that would bind the Noldor to thee, that would banish their doubts. Now let them see thee.”
“I do not need lessons in kingship from thee!”
“In fact, thou dost,” Fingolfin disagreed. “Thou didst not rule long. There is more to it than war. Thy people, thy sons', followed for love of thee, but thou hast to return it, not simply accept their love and loyalty as thy due.”
Fëanor stared at him, threw off the wine, and then with a swift move, caressed the cheek where his blow had landed. It was an unsettling, tender gesture.
“Do I truly do that?” he wondered, as if to himself. “Every-one seems to believe it, at least. So be it. Thou hast the greater experience. And thou art too lovely to mar.” He leaned forward and kissed where his blow had landed.
It was an apology, Fingolfin knew. He moved behind his brother, began to comb and braid the cloud of hair, feeling it flow, strong and silken as a river, through his hands.
“They cannot die,” Fëanor said. “I could not bear it. I will not permit it.”
“They will not. Trust those whom have gone.” Fingolfin closed his fingers over those hard shoulders. “We should hear news soon.”
Few had retired to their tents. Glorfindel had informed the encampment that a blizzard would be sweeping across them, and people were making ready for it, but many stood about fires which snapped in the strengthening wind. Fëanor walked from group to group, spoke to Finduilas, Aegnor and Angrod, Rosriel and Gil-galad, then crossed to Fanari's tent. Her parents were with her, and Fëanor promised that her son and the others would return safely. If he could have willed it so, they would be here now. And his will was indeed working, burning through the Silmaril that Orodreth held in his hands.
Now, learn what it truly is. He smiled with pitiless hate.
Orodreth had seen it before of course. He had seen all three, when Fëanor was wont to wear them set in a circlet, which happened less and less. That he was possessive of them as a lover was an open secret, that the Valar desired them was scarcely less so. But now, he understood why Fëanor would not give them up to be broken.
Or he thought he did.
He was impatient to go on, but when he was persuaded they must make a halt, he took the opportunity to look at the jewel. So easily gained! He might have laughed, had he not been so entranced. It sat in his palm, illuminating the interior of the tent like a lamp, and he gazed at the minute exquisite faceting of it. It was disconcerting, even eerie, how like Fëanor's eyes the gem was, as if it were somehow sentient, with a living spirit behind it. He scoffed briefly at the notion, before losing himself in fascination. The Silmaril seemed to seize the air that brushed its surface and explode it into a mist of diamond. He covered it with his other hand and peered into the cave made by his palms, watching its internal glow. It was oddly hot and he drew his gloves on again, indulging in images of it blazing above his own brow, while he sat upon a throne, the source of power and might.
He did not hear the slap of the rising wind against the tent walls as his dreams enlarged. The Silmaril welcomed him, he thought, was pleased that he owned it, and revealed to him what it truly was. With it, he could be anything.
“Sire,” one of his lord's said, pulling him reluctantly and angrily from his absorption. “A blizzard is coming up from the south.”
Orodreth closed his fingers possessively around the jewel, but the light gouted through his gloved fingers and he saw the man's eyes upon it.
“Well?” he demanded.
“What are thine orders, Sire?”
Orodreth looked down. He remembered he had wanted to reach the great river, follow it down to the estuary. Yes. He had to do that of course: get away from New Cuiviénen. The Teleri would take him, sail him in triumph and glory into the Bay of Eldamar. He would stand at the prow with the Silmaril in his hand like a star, and then –
His head snapped up. “What, Dúrech?”
“What are thine orders?” The warrior looked at him strangely.
“No-one is following us.”
“The outriders saw no-one, Sire, but now it is dark, and we cannot know what Glorfindel can do now he is Vala, and the Mother...”
Orodreth waved his free hand dismissively.
“Is it snowing now?”
“No, Sire, but it is on the air, I expect it soon, we should prepare and sit it out.”
“There is no need. This will act as a beacon. We go on. Give the orders.”
“Sire, it is not wise.”
“Give the orders now.”
Dúrech's eyes blazed, but he bit his tongue and bowed and went out into the night. Turning, he saw Orodreth open his hand, and stare again at the gem. His face was bleached white by the radiance.
It was Dúrech whom had at last given the hostages wine. As the light failed and deepened and Orodreth did not emerge from his tent, his people began to whisper. They could see the tent, for it glowed, and they knew that their lord had taken the Silmaril from its casket. While many agreed that the jewel should be taken back to Valinor, they also remembered the ruin that had followed the Oath of Fëanor, and murmured that Orodreth should keep the Silmaril hidden, should not look at it or touch it.
At last, when even the guards were shifting uneasily, Dúrech came and with a harried glance, called for a wineskin, holding it to allow the hostages to drink. They should have been released, but either they were forgotten or –
No. He had refused to follow that thought to its conclusion, but now, as Orodreth came toward the group who watched him silently, he knew his fears were not groundless.
“See thou this?” he asked rhetorically, holding the jewel aloft.
“Yes, it is not a sight I have seen very often,” Celegorm said with quick viciousness. “A rat stealing jewelry. Thou knowest not what the Silmarilli truly are, thief!”
There was a moment of stunned silence before Orodreth moved, slapping Celegorm savagely across the face.
“Stop!” Finrod cried, and Maglor and Tindómion moved forward.
“Be quiet, thou!” Orodreth barked at his brother, and then, “That was not wise, Fëanorion. Not wise at all.” His free hand went to his dagger.
“My lord!” Dúrech protested. “Thou didst swear an oath!”
Orodreth brandished the Silmaril at him. His eyes caught the light queerly. Flecks of snow drove before his face and the gem burned them gold.
“Thinkst thou I fear breaking an oath with this in my possession?”
“Thou wilt doom us all! I heard what Fëanor said, and the Mother!”
“Step back from me or be damned!”
“My lord, no! I cannot let thee – ”
Dúrech stiffened and then crumpled to his knees. One of the guards uttered a sound of surprise and denial. The blood on the knife gleamed like pitch.
“Thou art the one whom is damned,” Finrod said with terrible sorrow, and his brother looked at him and smiled a blank smile, then stepped toward him.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, wolf-howls rose into the darkness. There were sounds of confusion on the fringes of the camp: voices, weapons clashing, snarls.
Orodreth's head jerked up.
“Come! Follow me! Leave them to the wolves! Farewell, brother. Let me give thee a parting gift.”
He stiffened his wrist and whirled on Celegorm. He wanted to see Finrod's face when his lover died, just a glimpse, just for a moment...
There was a burst of intense light and Orodreth screamed in agony. The Silmaril tumbled from his hand, pulsing like a wrathful heart and rolled across the packed snow. He wailed again, scrambling after it. The guards, appalled, hesitated and even as the hostages span to face them, arrows sprouted from above their gorgets. They were thrown back, dead before they struck the ground, and Celegorm had no time even to summon surprise as he felt his bonds cut. Gloved fingers brushed over his cheek and he looked into a pair of thickly-lashed eyes made black by the white song of the jewel. They were, he knew, deep blue in daylight, and long blanched of all sanity.
“Hello, lovely Celegorm,” Eluréd said. “Perhaps thou shouldst get a weapon.” He smiled blindingly and nocked another arrow, sending it into a warrior racing toward them. “We may be a little outnumbered,” he added, blowing a kiss to Finrod. “Good sport, though.”