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Mazes and Cages by Iavalir

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Story notes:
Story began for Back to Middle Earth 2012 challenge, but never got around to finishing it till now. I was always confused by Fanor’s comment to the Valar concerning handing back the Silmarils. Would he simply be heartbroken over the end of his greatest creation, or would he actually die, “slain,” from the breaking? This story explores the latter scenario.
Brilliant was the light, that which had not been seen for many an Age, as it radiated and extended its rays wide across the land. It filled the canyons and the marshes, the deepest of oceans and the highest of the flattening mountains, glowing in a light blessed by the rekindled Two Trees. Hope grew in the hearts of all who saw the light, every soul who once walked the land of Arda.

But not all were glad. No ray of the rekindled Laurelin and Telperion could travel faster than the horse galloping west. The elf which rode him gave her steed a hurried command, pushing the horse to break speed lest they were to be too late.

The mountain - the last of the ones remaining on new Arda, towered up ahead. A tall figure loomed over the shadowed land, and she cried out his name long before she dismounted from her steed. The hood of her long cloak fell back to reveal long waves of coppery hair.

“Where is my husband?” demanded Nerdanel the daughter of Mahtan and Umbath, but the great and terrible Vala before her regarded her silently. His eyes, lit by the flames of his fa, bore into hers as if to intimidate her, but Nerdanel stood in her place and returned his gaze.

“The prophecy could not come true,” Nerdanel thought stubbornly. “The soul is immortal, is it not? My husband will return and be among us once more, to where he was in happiness, before the creation of the Silmarils.”

“Where is my husband Fanro?” she demanded again loudly.

“His sins are too numerous,” Nmo said at last, his voice filling her with cold dread. “He will remain there only until he has served his sentence.”

“Has he not already served for his deeds?” She could feel the heat of the Two Trees, their light now rekindled, warming her back with their new glow as the rays reached the spot where Nerdanel stood. But to their promise of a life of serenity she would not surrender. There could never be harmony achieved in the Second Music if one note was missing.

“It is out of my control at this point, elleth,” Nmo said. “Far too much of himself had Fanro put into the Silmarils. He was broken along with them, and to where he now goes even I have no knowledge of.”

“I saw his fa enter your Halls, my Lord,” Nerdanel spoke with as much calm as she could muster in her voice. The Vala Nmo, known also as Mandos to the elves of Endor, could not possibly lie of this matter. Though he kept the spirits of the slain and sickened in his Halls, he was not known to have malice towards his subjects.

“His fa returned here it seems, yet he is lost to me, Nerdanel daughter of Mahtan,” Nmo said. Nerdanel detected a tone of grief and concern in his words though his face remained stoic. “His soul is fractured and thus is no longer of my command nor control. I give thee my condolence.”

“Your involvement may not be needed for his return,” Nerdanel said. “Perhaps what Fanro needs is the healing of a loved one rather than one of the Valar at this stage. You kept him till he was willing to give up the Silmarils - that was an improvement from his attitude back before the rise of the Sun and Moon. Now perhaps he needs his family to be with him to return to us freely.”

A dark bitter smile crossed Nmo’s face. “He may still reside in my Halls, though I cannot be certain of that fact. I may permit you to enter, if you deem yourself fit to find and heal him. Soon my Halls will no longer be of use to any soul and I shall lose my reign of it, for in this new era there shan’t be death nor decay to mar this renewed existence. But I do warn you this: the Halls will behave as they always had. They intend to keep contained whoever steps within their doors. If you find him and are able to take him out, you and he must never look back, or the void will draw you both inside, and not even I may release you then.”

Nerdanel felt the chill over her heart, but she said, “I accept. Let me enter your Halls. If he is to forever be locked in the Halls for deeds he suffered for far too long, longer than what was necessary, then I will remain beside him at least.”

Nmo led to the great doors of his Halls, which sprung open with just a wave of his hand. “Go.” From where she stood Nerdanel could barely make out the inside of the anteroom though the light lit everything else around them. She decided not to think of that peculiarity and made to enter, but she took only a few steps before she heard cries behind her.

“Amm!” Maglor and Amras ran up to her.

“Amm, we heard the words spoken between Nmo and yourself.” Maglor said.

“Please, do not do this. We might not be together should you fail, and I cannot bear the thought of living in the new world without you,” Amras said tearfully. “Would you really risk this all for him? Ever long its been since we were a family united!”

Nerdanel’s heart ached at her sons’ words. They were the most like her in mood and temperament. Amras even, she thought, took on qualities of her face more so than Amrod. He had been released from the Halls first among his brothers, excused on account of his cruel death. He harbored no hate for his father, yet always was there fear, a fear that his father’s return could bring ruin back into the quiet life he, Nerdanel, and Mahtan had been careful to build and preserve since their reunion.

“If you go, I will follow you,” Maglor said. Amras’s eyes widened, and in them flashed the secret dread of what went on in the Halls. Nerdanel avoided looking in her youngest son’s eyes.

“Alone I will go, for I feel this is to be my journey only,” she said. “Stay behind, but do not fret for us! Seconds or years it may take before I reach your father, and I wish not for the sons we both brought into the world to lose out on the Second Music, for you all deserve its grace.”

The effect of the changing world was already altering them, their eyes glowing brighter as memories of their past hurts ebbed away. But the call to surrender to the world of bliss was not taken again by Nerdanel.

She embraced Amras first and whispered in his ear, “My love for him is strong, Telvo, and the new world would not be perfect if he is not to be part of it. Your love for him is also strong despite all that has happened. You will not feel whole again until our family is back together. Do not fear tragedy, for there is none guaranteed to exist in this new life.”

“I understand,” Amras said. As he brushed away a tear the droplet disintegrated before their eyes into tiny shimmering sparks. Nerdanel smiled.

“See this? Already our hurts are healing,” she said. “And this, I believe, is what your father needs most.”

Then she turned to Maglor, and he embraced her close to him, unwilling to let go. He among his brothers never stepped into the Halls, but so long it took for them to see each other again, separated by the cold sea and by Maglor’s dire misery; the thought of parting again, for perhaps forever, was terrifying him far deeper than he cared to admit. Their reunion had been one of tight embraces and weeping into the other’s shoulders; of all her sons, she thought him the most broken and most in need of her sheltering care. Thus she expected him to beg her to stay. But his words to her surprised her nonetheless, though she was glad to hear him say them.

“I understand what reason you wish to seek him, and to you I give my support,” he said. “You are wisest among the elves and will find a solution to this mystery. Yet I urge you, please do not look back no matter what it is you hear. Think of our family as it was before the Darkening of Valinor, how glad we all were! Let this vision become real once more. No promised vision in the Halls can replace them. I await for your return.”

“Thank you, Makalaur my beloved son,” she said. “Your words I will carry with me throughout this journey. Comfort your brothers as you have comforted me, for they will need your words as I search for my Fanro.”

“I will do as you say,” Maglor promised and gave Nerdanel another hug.

With a final wave to her sons Nerdanel turned back to Mandos. No more words were spoken as Nerdanel took the first step into the Halls and felt the tug of the void within beckoning her. From behind her she could hear more of her sons approaching, their calls a mix of bewilderment and shock and outrage, mingled with the soft comforting words of Maglor and Amras. Yet not all were assured; Celegorm’s voice rang out like the bong of an iron bell in her mind, speaking of certain death. She was about to turn back in sudden fright, but remembering Mandos’ words, she kept walking till the beckoning darkness of the Halls swallowed her completely. The door behind her shut with a deafening bang, and all that followed after was a silence she could feel pressed against her.

She took a few moments to allow her eyes to adjust to the darkness, though it did little in helping her. Pitch black was the world around her no matter where she looked. But after finally taking a tentative step forward, the darkness eased up slightly, and feeling encouraged she walked further into the Halls until she could make out its inner structure. Endless seemed the long passage, with rows upon rows of doors leading perhaps to other hallways.

“And where would my husband be?” Nerdanel wondered. “If he is truly here, where would his spirit reside?”

She looked about, careful not to turn back, but there was no sign of where to look first. She imagined how the Halls had looked before, perhaps bustling with the many spirits of the fallen, gliding and moaning in their misery as their deeds agonized their minds repeatedly. Though little time she spent with the once inhabitants, Nerdanel had heard the tales of all that went on in the Halls. It was not a place of misery, but soulless and in darkness the elves could do nothing but remember their shame. If even Amras, who did little compared to his kin, left the Halls in such shaken state, then what would become of Fanor?

Nerdanel pushed the sobering thought from her mind, wishing not to dwell on the possible states she may find him. “But if this is the house of the spirits, then I am find him if I listen carefully for his presence,” she thought. Though they had been apart for so long, she still could recall his fa close to hers. Bound by their marriage, she could easily pick him out from a crowd.

“And if I am not to look back, then that would mean I must keep my search in one direction,” she reasoned. “I shall not then open any doors but go straight down this hall.”

She went forward, paying attention to the slightest change in the atmosphere. Though alone she was, her steps were slow lest a sound interrupted any signal she needed to locate Fanor. And so engrossed she was in this task that she did not realize when the hall’s inner light dimmed and she was in the dark once more. She considered turning back, thinking perhaps the light was a sign of getting close to Fanor, but there was a feeling deep within her to keep moving forward.

But it was not easy to accomplish this, even if all she did was move in a straight line. Ever was there a strange sensation about her as though she moved in circles, with a need to stop and readjust her position. But, she reminded herself, any move back would cost her the chance of brining back Fanor to his loved ones. Thus each desire to readjust herself was met with a murmured, “No,” from her mind.

“If this is to be an obstacle between myself and Fanor, then let it,” she thought, “and I shall overcome it.” But soon the problem with her sense of direction was met with another sensation, one which set her heart hammering in her chest. Another was following her, she knew. And before her she suspected at any moment to meet eyes with another inhabitant, one perhaps not counted among the Eldar. She struggled to keep her eyes open whenever this thought poisoned her mind.

Then came a terrible weight pressed against her back and chest, and a fear meant to paralyze suddenly engulfed her. But still she went, slowly breaking into a run, and breathing deeply to calm her nerves. It could only mean she was approaching Fanor, she reasoned, for the strange sensations around her were intensifying. It steadily grew till she was hearing her father, mother, and siblings screaming for aid; and for one spilt moment she almost halted and dashed to the source of the screams. But no, she told herself forcibly. Her entire family was outside, basking in the glow of the rekindled Trees. Far from harm they all were, and the only fear which gripped them would be when they learned that she was in here. And thus she continued forward, ignoring her every fiber that begged to chase the anguished cries of her family.

Far off there seemed to be a light, though the crushing weight of the blackness still poisoned her. From afar she could see that she was approaching an open path of the many intersecting halls, and in the middle rested a figure on his knees, his head bowed and his shoulders slumped. Though his fire burned dimly, Nerdanel’s fa recognized him instantly. He was no decoy either, but himself, just him. Just her Fanor.

She called out his name softly and collapsed on her knees, engulfing him in a tight embrace.

“My Fanro, it has been so long!” she said, sighing deeply. The weight of the dark had only lifted slowly, and she took the time to relish being in a place bestowed with some light, murky though it still was and the air thick with the sadness which emitted from the elf in her arms.

Fanor glanced up at her in confusion. “Nerdanel, why have you come here?”

“To retrieve you,” she said. “Do you not remember giving Varda your Silmarils? She broke them and rekindled the light of Laurelin and Telperion, but as she did so I saw you disappear and knew you must have reentered Nmo’s Halls, for where else do the spirits of the fallen go? I will not have this new world exist without you, for you are as much part of it as the others.”

She rocked him gently in her arms as she told him this, noting painfully how dreary his fa seemed compared to her. The years suffering in the Halls of Mandos had taken a mighty toll on him. No longer was he the mighty elven smith and leader of old, the one who swore vengeance for his father’s death. The one who catalyzed a series of events which, ultimately, led to the downfall of Morgoth. Shattered he now was and feebly held together in a cruel mockery of existence. And as she spoke Fanor shook in her arms.

“Foolish you are!” he spat as he disentangled himself from her. “The Valar mock us still! What you have entered, beloved, was nothing more than a trap meant to encase us away from our sons! To remain here forever is my rightful punishment, but not yours!”

“Do not curse yourself so, Fanro!” Nerdanel said. “Crimes greater than yours have been forgiven - slayers and thieves and madmen! They all now live once more, their far washed and made renewed. Though true it is that you acted on impulse and passion, and the old jealousy to your half-siblings pushed you to rash acts, you had also become a great assist to the destruction of Morgoth who no longer walks in this new world.”

But Fanor shook his head at her words. “Nay! I was proud to hoard the jewels to myself. I should have given them the moment the Trees were destroyed.”

“But you did not know Morgoth had been to Formenos and sought your father!”

But Fanor ignored her. On he went with his rant, but Nerdanel was not paying attention for she felt a change in the air as though a sharp ripple had passed through. Concerned she became then that the Halls would collapsed with them still within.

“Fanro, it is senseless to keep bemoaning the past,” Nerdanel said. “We are losing time. Your sons await you. So does your mother and father! Surely you have seen them in the Halls before? Do you not miss their company? For they love you still and will wish you to be amongst them again.”

The look he gave her unsettled her enough to move back. “I…did not even know they were here,” he said simply, stunned at the realization. “Do we meet the other inhabitants in the Halls? I never knew…”

“And not even of our sons you saw?” Nerdanel said and she frowned.

“My sons were here as well?” His eyes grew wide. “What befell our children?”

Tentatively she reached for his hand. “Worry not about that right now. Our sons await us. Let us go to them, and our lives will be joyous as it once was.” She smiled. “You may quarrel with your half-siblings as much as you desire. No ill will come from it. Not in this new life. That I promise you, my beloved Fanro. We shall live in eternal bliss, but only if you follow me.”

Yet he was still unyielding, paralyzed still from his grief and shame of his sins. “I was first of the kin slayers,” he said, “starting with my mother. I was cursed to bring death into the world.”

“You have brought many beautiful heirs into the world,” Nerdanel said. “Your mother’s death was not your doing. It is all forgiven. The Valar have forgiven you. I too forgive you and hold none of my resentment from the past. But why do you not forgive yourself?”

He could not answer her then no matter how much he struggled for proper words. Again a powerful ripple passed over her, and she feared they would become forever trapped in the Halls. Though she was ready to remain beside him, she knew the greater evil was keeping him away from their family. “I was right in realizing that he needs to leave,” she thought to herself.

Squeezing his hand, Nerdanel leaned forward and took his mouth into hers. She released her own fa’s fire into his, rekindling him as much as she could. In her mind’s eye she recalled their moments together. The gloomy murkiness around them transformed into their bedroom, and she recalled to his mind of their lovemaking. Darkness was once a sign of comfort for each, for in it they lit the world with their own fire which burned between them. They were each other’s half, fused as if forged together by great fire; their bodies and spirit as one. The passion which Fanor once released into her was now what she now gave back in their kiss. For a few moments, the bleak setting around them no longer brought grief but memories of their sweet intimacy.

When at last they parted their kiss, Fanor wiped away a tear while trying not to be seen doing so, but it was in vain. “Ai, my husband, it is no evil to cry,” she said. “Come, we will leave the Halls and be the last to ever have set foot in them.”

“How will you know where to go?” Fanor asked. He leaned into her, his hands grabbing hers for support.

“Just move forward,” Nerdanel said. “But no matter what, never look back. This place will seek to keep us inside.”

Fanor gave a strange laugh. “Always I have looked back.”

“Well, now you no longer will do that,” she said. “We are moving forward, not backwards, beloved. It’s all forgiven, as I told you before. It does not do to look back any longer.”

She helped him to his feet, and together they marched in the direction from whence Nerdanel had come. The darkness swallowed them and instantly they felt the crushing and paralyzing fear. Fanor whimpered loudly though abruptly, embarrassed at his own weakness. But Nerdanel held his hand tight without glancing at him and pulled him forward.

“Mazes and cages we are running in like foolish blind rats!” she heard him mumble after what seemed like hours of walking. “We are imprisoned in the belly of this iron beast. It is our cage, yet we are made to believe we can leave - ha! Just how do we know we move in the right direction? How many corners have we turned already?”

“We are moving straight,” Nerdanel said. “You only feel like you are going in many directions. The iron beast is seeking to confuse you. Just follow me. Don’t think about where you are going - keep walking!”

Fanor grew silent for a few moments, and then - “There is someone following us.”

“I felt that too on my way to you. It is none but our own fears chasing us. Do not turn back, lest you shall be consumed by it!”

“Someone is approaching! Its eyes glow red and its teeth are sharp - it will rip at us if we go near! Turn back now!”

Nerdanel shivered. “There is nothing there!”

“Father!” Even Nerdanel almost halted at the sound of Maedhros’ voice. Too she felt Fanor halt, but she squeezed his hand tightly to remind him to keep forward.

“You said our sons have all left the Halls.”

“I have,” Nerdanel said. “Maitimo was among the last to be released. He had his own personal demons to conquer, perhaps more than the others. He had lost a hand during his life in Endor, but when he was reembodied, they gave him a new hand in exchange for his voice. He lived mute until the Trees were lit once more.”

“But he is still here!”

“It is the echo of his pain, beloved. The Halls are seeking to hold us back. Keep walking, I urge you! Let not the darkness swallow us!”

But Fanor seemed hesitant to keep moving, and it was with only an aggressive tug of his hand that Fanor finally resumed his march. They did not walk far when other cries were heard, ones of their sons whose cries were so anguished even Nerdanel wished to scream, to run to her sons and comfort them of their agony. And Fanor she felt was all too ready to jump to their aid, especially when the voice shifted to that of Curufin, Fanor’s favorite son.

“They are not there, Fanro!” she cried out. “They all await us outside in Valinor!”

“But…Telvo…I can still hear him…burning in the ship…and why is my Curvo crying? What have they done to him?”

“Curvo is fine!” Nerdanel said, though her own heart ached with the need to comfort her children. “That was a long time ago. Telvo is also fine and well. He is happy. He has children he wishes you to meet.”

“I have more grandchildren?” For the first time she heard merriment in Fanor’s voice. “Have the others wed?”

“Yes. Curvo even had left behind his wife without knowing she was pregnant with their daughter. And Kano…he fostered many children in his time, all who call him ‘Ata.’ ”

Fanor gave a laugh that reverberated in the dark passage, but it was a laughter filled with much life and energy, closer to the elf she knew in her life. “If that is what will seduce you back to the world of living, then so be it,” she thought with a smile.

“Aye, and your granddaughter and I have become successful business partners in Valinor,” she continued. “You will see our sculptures all over.”

“I await to see them. Our talents must have spread to all of our descendants.”

“Fanro,” came a voice, and though soft it was it rendered them both silent and still. “Fanro, come not near the doors of the Halls for you are rejected by all.”

Nerdanel frowned. She only once had a chance to hear Mriel Fanor’s mother’s voice, so shortly after she was released from the Halls. Her voice held the thinly veiled venom that instantly drained Fanor of his hope.

For a moment it seemed her quest to retrieve him had been in vain. Fanor stood, transfixed, and she could almost hear his heart hammering in dread.

“Why do you wish me not to return?” Fanor said. “Do you not wish for me to be with you, mother?”

“Fanro, do not talk back! It is not your true mother!”

“You are not meant for this world,” came the voice. “Stay here, with me. I wish to keep you, with me.”

Nerdanel felt his hand slipping from her grip, but she held tighter and screamed. “Do not listen to the Halls! It seeks to keep you in! Your true mother is outside!”

“I want to see her again…”

She shook his arm. “You shall once you leave the Halls! It will be your first visit, that I assure you! Do not give in to that voice! Do not turn back or I may lose you forever, and forever you will be in the darkness in misery! Have you not felt the joy earlier when we spoke of our grandchildren? That is but a silver of the joy you will feel when you have returned to your true home. And besides, I wish not to enjoy the bliss of the Second Music when it lacks one vital piece in its design.”

The words, she realized with relief, had startled him back to his senses. Without realizing what she was doing, she looked to her side and met his eyes. The darkness about them did not doom them for leaving their gaze from the road before them, but neither dared to look back. Their gaze made them both realize what they were risking with just one glance, one nod to the voices which called out to them.

“You are shaking,” Fanor said, and his voice held more of the strength of the elf he once was. Indeed Nerdanel was becoming weaker, but she held herself proud, pushing to remain strong for Fanor.

“I’ve passed all my remaining strength to you,” she said, squeezing his hand. With her other hand she touched his chest, feeling his heart beating beneath her fingers.

Suddenly in a fit of passion Fanor locked lips with hers. Again came the fire exchanging between their far, their minds burning with the memories of being entangled together in the dark. The stories they whispered to one another, their tears and laughter - all shared.

“We share the energy equally now,” Fanor said when they parted. “It will be enough to get us out.”

“There will be enough for us both once we have left,” Nerdanel said. “But we are risking ourselves and our future by remaining here.”

As if to prove her point, a sudden terrible chill came upon them as a great ripple charged through them. Both shivered but did not let go of their hands.

“Ai, then let us leave immediately,” Fanor said desperately. “I wish not to remain here! Not like this!”

And off they went again, heeding to no calls or cries from the invisible claws seeking to drag them back into the pits of the ancient Halls.

How long they ran neither knew, for the journey back seemed longer than Nerdanel recalled. The Halls was desperate to claim them, but no obstacle would they allow to come between them and their promised new life together. It seemed they had been running for many years when at last before them came a light shining through the cracks of the large iron doors of the Halls.

Panting, they both glanced up at the doors, both unsure yet also glad and relieved at once.

“At last we reach the gates,” Nerdanel said.

“Yet how do we know this is no trap? How will it open?” Fanor asked.

Nerdanel took one step forward, fearing they had reached a dead end. But to her delight and joy, the doors slowly swung open, revealing to them the light of the world outside. So intense it was that Fanor collapsed to his knees, shielding his eyes, and Nerdanel had to help him back up again.
“For so long…the darkness…” He struggled for the words. “For so long the darkness was all I knew. Misery, regret, pain, shame. It was the world for me. But somehow, seeing this light makes me think of our own moments under the bedsheets, darkness that we filled with light. My words make no sense! But it is true! I wish to experience this once more, a world of never-ceasing light!”

Nerdanel smiled. “And you shall. You will not regret coming back. Are you ready, Fanro? Are you ready to live again?”

“To reunite with my father and mother and sons. To meet my new grandchildren, and perhaps even find a good debate with my half-brothers and sisters. Yes, I think I would like to come to this world.”

They shared a smile, unheeding to the last remnants of the ripples and voices calling, the sounds just barely whispers by this point.

They held each other’s hands for support, and together they stepped out of the Halls of Mandos.