Title: Roads not taken
Summary: These four short vignettes are AU's that might have been canon. Each of them takes an idea that was conceived and then abandoned by Tolkien, and builds a brief scene on it.
Roads not taken
Mithrim was grey, with a mist that clung and dimmed the new light in the sky; it was dank and caught in the throat, but Fingolfin did not feel the chill. Nor, he knew, did those who followed, even the cooled and weakened warmth of the lands was welcomed after the fearful ice, just as even a weak light was welcomed after a darkness that had endured for years.
Yet he was neither warmed nor cheered. The cold had taken root within him even before the first foot was set on the treacherous ice-bridge, the burning cold of rage. Even as he strove for the lives of his people in the crossing, still it burned. In anger he had sent forward the heralds after the camp on the far shore was sighted and in anger received their reply.
He took none of his kin to the meeting, although both his sons and his eldest full-nephew urged to take one of them at least. He took his sword, although he did not mean to use it. He at least was no Kinslayer, and a sword stroke would be too swift, too simple. He had spent long days on the ice honing what he would say and do when he met Fëanor again.
Yet for this time he was cheated for it was not Fëanor that came to the parley, but his half-brother’s eldest son. Maedhros wore his hair braided, and his bright armour was dimmed and dented, but he was not gaunt as those who had crossed the ice were gaunt, and Fingolfin’s rage grew, if that were possible, still more cold.
“It was to my brother I asked to speak,” he said, not troubling to hide the contempt in his voice.
“My father would not leave camp. You may come there if you wish to speak with him.”
“Do not trust them, lord!” one of the elves who had come with him broke in. Maedhros’s face taughtened.
“You will meet no harm at our hands. Shall I swear?”
Had the fool not had enough of Oaths yet? “Brother-son, would you put your sword between my body and your father’s blade?” Fingolfin said. Maedhros looked down. “I will come,” Fingolfin told him, unappeased but not prepared to forgo the long-desired meeting. He should not be surprised by the arrogance Fëanor had shown in refusing to come to him.
Maedhros had brought horses, but Fingolfin refused them, and so all walked. Fingolfin would have made the journey in silence, but it seemed his nephew had things to say.
“Morgoth sent against us. The fighting was confused, but we had victory in the end. My father led the pursuit to the very gates of Angband. There Morgoth made a sortie and my father was taken alive.”
“You said he was in camp. Does the Black Foe then release his captives?”
“This time he did, yes. He used tortures first, and then another action. Melkor, they say, was great in creation once. It maybe that he still understands the craftsman’s soul.”
“What do you mean?”
“That the enemy would not release any captive he believed to be still a threat.”
Maedhros would say no more on that subject. Only as they reached the camp did he add, “You have great cause to hate us, but that is a matter to be spoken of at greater length.”
“No words can change it,” said Fingolfin, but though he held the sons accomplices of their father he did not wish to blunt the edge of his long-whetted anger upon a follower.
The camp was surrounded by a rough-hewn stockade and guards were posted. Within Fingolfin saw his half-brother’s younger sons among those who came to watch, but he did not speak to them, or they to him. He was led to a tent, a new thing made of animal skins, and all stood back to let him enter.
He knew the ice had honed him. A thousand years older than when he had last seen his half-brother, he felt, and the power of the Elder grown with long endurance. This meeting, he had been sure, would not be as any that had come before.
He was no fool, and had thought that Fëanor too might have changed. He had not thought, had not ever considered, that the bright, burning fire of Fëanor, the fire that threatened to devour all the Noldor, might when they met again be utterly quenched.
Fëanor’s eyes met his briefly, then flickered away, borne down by defeat that was not of his making and a shame that had nothing to do with guilt. And of all the emotions, Fingolfin was struck by pity: pity for a craftsman who would never again use the tools he had delighted in, for a creator who would make no more works of legend, for one whose self was so bound to the works of his hands that by taking that from him Morgoth had taken all that he had been and felt himself to be.
Many another could have overcome the hurt, but looking now at his brother Fingolfin knew that Fëanor never would.
For Fëanor’s bandaged right arm lay upon his lap, and where the hand that forged the Silmarils should have been was bitter emptiness.
[For Tolkien’s brief intention to have Fëanor captured, maimed and released see Book of Lost Tales I p.238 in the UK paperback. Tolkien does not specify the maiming but for various reasons I think a missing hand is the most likely]
“You know not what you ask of me.”
“I know this ring was made by the hand of your father and was given to mine. I know the Oath you swore when your gave this ring to him, in recompense when he saved you in the great battle.”
Yet it was all that Beren could do to keep his voice from faltering. He had met without flinching the gaze of Elu Thingol, and even of his Maia queen, but the eyes of the lord of Nargothrond burned with a colder light.
“An earlier Oath I swore, one that pursues Oath-keeper and Oath-breaker until the world’s end. And now you come to me, mortal, and for a pretty face ask me to help you to gain one of the Jewels of my father? I have turned my sword on my own kindred to pursue the Silmarils, why would I not turn it on one of the Aftercomers? How long do you think your life would be safe?”
Beren said nothing.
“In truth I think there is a madness in you. If it were in my power to do as you ask the gems would not have blazed in Morgoth’s crown these many years! They have cost the reason of my father and the right-hand of my brother and lives uncounted of those who followed us. And now you dream that I can give to you what we could not gain to save ourselves from Darkness Everlasting.”
Still there was no answer Beren could make, and at last he dropped his eyes. Yet when Celegorm spoke again it was in an altered tone.
“Well, I will give you what aid I may. An Oath is an Oath. I think that you go to your death, but if you will persist in madness then you must trust in stealth. Not all the host of Nargothrond could win what you desire, so look to your wits.”
He paused and Beren drew breath to thank him, but Celegorm continued, “If by some freak of luck you gain the Jewel then you must never return here. If we meet again, and you bear a Silmaril, then I will slay you. And if I do not, my brother will.”
Beren looked again at silent Curufin standing by the door. As dark as his brother was golden, but with the same icy beauty and the same fell fire behind his eyes.
“And while you remain here,” said Curufin, “if you are wise you will not leave my brother’s side. Nor will I leave it.”
“Curufin,” Celegorm began.
“Nay brother, you know as well as I that in this matter you can trust me in your sight, but not out of it. You are my liege lord and I love you. But remember I have sworn only one Oath.”
[See Lays of Beleriand p.247 for Celegorm as the King of Nargothrond who had sworn an oath to Barahir. The Silmarillion would have developed very differently if Tolkien had pursued that idea.]
It is many centuries since the last child was born in Gondolin. Since the last house was built in the city founded by fugitives. Longer than that since the last word came from outside.
They still sing, there are even new songs. Yet they are much like the old, for the songs that can spring from the Hidden Valley have all been sung. They do not sing of the days before they came here, broken and fleeing. They do not sing of Aman, long lost, or of the battle where all was lost, and least of all do they sing of their lost kin.
They still patrol, guarding the great walls that have never been assailed, scanning the land and sky for a threat that never comes. They still do sentry duty with great thoroughness. It is their habit, their way to while the time.
If any think, as they pass upon the walls or in the streets, that they have become a folk of fair, grey, ghosts, they do not utter the thought.
Outside all is dark, the lands long fallen.
[Gondolin was originally intended to have been founded after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears and endured for many ages. See Book of Lost Tales 2 pp. 157, 163, 208.]
I go forth now from Nargothrond to fulfil my Oath, and my heart tells me that I shall not return. To you, friend, I entrust my son, and if it is in your power I ask that you do not allow him to seek the kingship of my realm or of any other. For none of these realms will abide, not even hidden Gondolin, and none of my house who bear the name of ‘king’ will live to sail into the West.
I am not free of the follies of my line, for I divided my duties when I swore my Oath to Barahir. I cannot now keep faith with my given word and keep it also with my wife and my son and my people. When he is of an age to understand, tell my son I ask his forgiveness.
The younger elf raised his eyes from the letter.
“You believe his foresight was true, Círdan?”
“I do. For those who feel the shadow of death are seldom deceived in what they see. And the realms did fall, even Gondolin at the last.”
“You would have me renounce all kingship, then?”
“Only you can decide that.”
“Yet, you think, as my father thought, that it would be my death.” The younger elf was silent a while. “So be it then, I will obey his wish and will be no king. I will found nothing and build nothing, for nothing can stand secure in Middle-earth, and while I dwell on these shore I will take no wife, for I will not permit myself to make the choice my father made.
“I will be a wanderer, and if I am fortunate there will be no songs sung of me.”
Círdan bowed his head. “So be it, Gildor son of Felagund.”
[In LOTR Gildor introduces himself as Gildor Inglorion of the House of Finrod. Under the names Tolkien was using at that time Inglor = Finrod and Finrod = Finarfin. Gildor then was meant to be the son of the character we know as Finrod Felagund. Probably Tolkien did not change the names when he revised the second edition of LOTR because he no longer saw Felagund as having a son, and considered Gildor’s reference to the House of Finrod could be taken merely as meaning he was one of Finrod’s followers.]