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Finrod's Oath

Chapter 1: Finrod's Oath

by JMac

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"At times I almost dream,
I too have spent a life the sage's way
And tread once more familiar paths.
Perchance I perished in an arrogant self-reliance an age ago,
And in that act, a prayer for one more chance
went up so earnest, so instinct,
with better light let in by death,
that life was blotted out not so completely
but scattered wrecks enough of it remain dim memories.
As now, when once more seems,
the goal in sight again."
from Paracelsus - Robert Browning

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My songs were not enough. As strong as I envisioned myself, I was not so strong that I could defeat a servant of Morgoth in a battle of words. Whatever grand ideals I once had of my own strength are gone. No one is left, save Beren and myself. And the empty spaces of darkness.

This was my fortress once. I ordered these pits delved. Little did I realize one day I would sit within them. The irony of this is not lost on me. From time to time it has been said that Iluvatar has a wicked sense of justice. Amarie called it humor, but I see little to laugh about.

No clothes cover my body, no sky overhead to sustain me. Only darkness, the smell of death, and the ragged sound of Beren’s breath. He is afraid. I do not blame him. We have no warning when the wolf will come, only the knowledge that eventually it will come. I am not sure which fate will be worse - - to die at the hands of the beast, or to be the last one left alone in this darkness.

I should offer words of comfort to Beren. I should say something to ease his burden. But I have not the words. My song is finished.

For not the first time in my life but maybe the last, I wish Amarie were with me. She would know the right words to say at a time such as this. Some of my kin believe that love among the Eldar is always at first sight. It was never so simple with Amarie. Complicated. Confusing. Completely exhausting. From her I cultivated my love of debates, a delight that I have never outgrown. All those that walk upon Middle-Earth are a poor substitute for her intelligence and wit. She delighted in the big questions. Sometimes her thoughts were so far beyond my own I wondered if she heard within the starlight the music of the Ainur. And I wonder why I ever left her.

Feanor’s words were still hot in the minds of the Noldor on that night long ago. I had paced the empty paths of the woods looking for solace, but I knew there was none to find. My decision had already been made.

Amarie stepped out of the shadows of the trees into the moonlit fields of grass. Her long golden hair caught the light of the stars and shimmered.

Wordlessly, she sat down beside me and laced her fingers through mine. “When do you leave?”

“On the morrow, whenever Feanor is ready.” I shrugged. I knew we were leaving, the whens and the whys and the hows were irrelevant.

"Feanor is a fool," Amarie said.

"Treacherous words were I to say them aloud," I said.

"It is nothing you have not thought yourself. You have doubts. I can sense it," Amarie said. “Tis only because of your family you go.” She twirled the ring on my finger, as was her habit when we held hands. “You do not have to share in their mistakes.”

I nodded. "I agree that no good can come of this."

"Then do not go," Amarie said, squeezing my hand. "You will not be deemed a coward if you stay. More courageous still would it be in the eyes of those who remain to stand against your family."

"Then I am a coward," I said. "For I cannot leave them to face their doom alone. The bonds of family are the strongest that I have."

"There are some bonds that are stronger,” Amarie’s voice was so soft it was barely a whisper. "Surely, by now you know my feelings for you.”

"And mine are the same.” Though it broke my heart to tell her so. She knew I could not stay. And I knew she would not go with me.

I grabbed her arms harder than I intended, and her eyes widened. "Know this, I will never love another. Never. But I will not bind myself to you. Nor will I ask you to wait. You took no oath, you should not have to endure the fate that will befall us."

Tears spilled from her eyes. "I will wait."

"There is none who can foresee how long it will be before I return."

Amarie pulled away from my grasp, her gaze was steady despite the tears that slid down her cheeks. She held my face within her hands and pressed her forehead against my own. “I will wait for you, Finrod, until the very sphere’s of Arda fall and all crumbles to ruin." She smiled at me then, "Surely this quest will not take that long.”

I pulled her tight against me. The flame that ignited within me from the touch of her lips on mine has not been extinguished since.

During the long cold journey to Middle-Earth I warmed myself with the flame she lit within me. Imagining her fingers intertwined with mine, I would twirl the ring on my finger and think of her as she was when last I saw her. Small consolation, but as small as it was, it was enough for me to endure all the hardships and more. In the hopes that someday I would see her again.

Perhaps that was my first mistake. The worst. The hardest to bear. For none of the other grieves that have befallen me would have come about had I stayed with her. And I fault myself for not loving her enough to stay.

I do not know that Amarie awaits me. I do not know that she does not. But I have held onto hope as I could not hold onto her. Naive? Perhaps Aegnor was the smartest. At least he had forsaken his love, leaving no harboring doubts of a future together. While I foolishly hold onto hope. In all my years it is the one thing that has not died. Even the curse of Mandos is not strong enough to take my hope from me.

Yet would she still wait after she had heard what had befallen my people? What would she think of me with the word kinslayer attached to my name? I have never raised my hand against one of my own kind, but does she know that? Is she certain of my innocence?

Would she have thought I was worth enduring the scornful looks from her own people? Or would she have found solace in another and a bright future that I could not give her? My fault of character is so great that I find myself wishing the exquisite loneliness upon her that I have felt these long years.

And I curse the memory of the Eldar for allowing me to remember her face so perfectly. Her bright eyes wet with tears as I walked slowly and steadily onto my destiny. But oh - - - if I could do it all again. I would love her properly. I would turn my back on the oath-takers. I would see the trees still filled with light. I would do - - - a great many things. Such thoughts are futile.

"Is it so wrong to love her?" Beren's words were so close to my own thoughts that for a fleeting moment I thought he was speaking of Amarie. The expression of anguish on his face made me realize he was thinking of his own love, lost within the blessedly hazy memories of mortals.

"Tis not wrong to love her," I whispered. "Folly perhaps. But not wrong."

"I would not have chosen her had my heart given me any choice in the matter," Beren said.

"Love is something even the wisdom of the Eldar can not explain," I said, wearily.

"She is worth more than a jewel and I would gladly give my life to know she is mine," Beren said. "But even should I win the jewel, a moment is all I will have in her eyes even if I should live to old age." Beren sighed.

"Such is the tragedy of love between elves and mortals."

"Foolish I am to doom her to one small moment of happiness amid all of eternity," Beren said.

"It would be far worse still to have not even a moment of happiness but a lifetime of regret," I said.

I had seen it with my own eyes. The way the marring of Arda warped the beauty of love to the bitter tang of regret. Until all that was left of the two were no more than unrealized visions of what might have been.

The siege of Angband was nearing its end when I brought the message from Andreth. Only a few years had past since I'd seen Aegnor last. But he was little more than an empty hroa and I knew Andreth's words would be of little comfort.

"She says, not to be reckless, not to seek danger beyond need," I said. There was no need to speak her name. Indeed from Aegnor's stance I knew the sound of her name would only deepen his wound.

"She would prefer I stay here while her spirit is gone?" Aegnor said.

"She does not want you to waste your life needlessly," I said.

"I have already done so by letting the best of her youth pass us by. I was wrong." Aegnor sighed. "I was wrong. No amount of time or wishing or sitting within the halls of Mandos will change that. All that's left for me is to await the end of Arda." He shook his head sadly. "Tis a strange day brother, when I welcome the end. I did not think such a day would come, that things would end so badly. Even when I heard Mandos' proclamation, I did not believe it. Do you think - - do you think that maybe beyond the ends of Arda our feas will depart for the same realms where those of mortals rest?"

I said nothing. There was no way for me to know the answer my brother so desperately sought. I embraced him, but it was as if I was holding an empty shell. Were battle not so near, I had no doubt Aegnor's fea would have departed to the Halls long ago.

That was the last time I saw my brother. Tis a fitting ending that he and Andreth died during the same battle. I like to think their spirits passed each other as they went to their separate halls. One fleeting moment of joy for Andreth to cling to as she waits. For I have no doubt that she will wait for him if she is able. Stubborn are the minds and hearts of mortals and none more stubborn than Andreth. But sweetly so.

They were not the only ones devoured by flaming madness during the battle of Dagor Bragollach. Angrod fell with him. No matter the long years, battle is never common place. One can learn to tolerate its madness. Survive it. But I knew my company and I would not survive the day.

We scrambled up the hill through the damp marshes of the Fen of Serech. Below us, the River Sirion flowed red with blood. The pass would not hold. In my attempt to cut off the enemy, I cut myself off from my own kind and stranded us within the marshes. Our last arrow spent. Orcs closing in.

Thus came a sight I never thought I'd see. Often has it haunted my dreams. Barahir and his company fought their way through the hordes. Surrounded us. Barahir smiled at me as his men surrounded my own, forming a tight circle protecting the wounded and unarmed. Injured as I was, I could do nothing but watch.

As we slowly made our way to safety the orcs attacked and retreated. Like the rolling waves of the sea battering the shores washing the men away. So many men fell. They did not need to. They could have retreated. We would not have faulted them. For no one understood better than the Eldar the grief in the short passing of mortal lives. No one knew to what far distance places mortals spirits went when slain. We would not expect mortals to give their lives for us, immortal that we were, for even through pain of death we may return to begin again. But the mortals fought for us. And they fell. And they fell. And they fell, until I could not bear to watch it any longer.

Far worse than the fighting were the first few moments after battle. The wounded cried out for help. The survivors cried out for those lost. I struggled to my feet.

Barahir leaned heavily on his sword. His face covered with blood and dirt. As best I could, I walked to him.

"No small feat was what you did today. I will not forget it," I bowed low and placed my ring into his hand.

He stared at it, as if confused. "What is this? I require no payment for my services, for we both are allies against the darkness."

"Not payment, but an oath," I said. "For my abiding friendship to you. Should ever you need it, I will come to the aid of you and your kin, though ages and ages may pass. I will not forget what you did here today."

In the darkness of the dungeon, by stretching my bonds to their limit, I took Beren's hand in my own and felt the ring on his finger. He looked at me. "You want it back? You have more than fulfilled your oath."

I traced the curving serpent heads. "No. I would not say that allowing you to be ensnared by Sauron was fulfilling my oath."

"You have done all you could. I do not ask for more," Beren said. "I knew the risk."

"But I led you here. I could have - - "

"You did what I asked," Beren said. "And I thank you for it. The attempt was worth it."

Wolf eyes pierced the darkness. The time for talking was over. Beren struggled with his chains, prepared to fight despite the overwhelming fatigue that threatened to consume him.

In all the endings I envisioned, I did not foresee one such as this. I have tried futilely to understand. Despite my best efforts all my good intentions have come for naught and every decision I ever made appears to have been wrong. Except perhaps for this oath. Must I fail even this!

I struggled with the chains.

In my long and weary life, I could not save any of those I wished. I could not even love she whom my heart held most dear. I thought I could save this one man and in doing so give him some measure of the happiness that has eluded me. Bitter is the taste of failure with no chance for redemption. My punishment will be not to watch his end but to hear it, smell it, taste it in the air.

By the grace of Eru, let me save him. Let me do some measure of good before I await my punishment in the halls of Mandos. Long will I sit and relive my mistakes but let me have one good thing to hold onto. One good deed. Is that too much to ask for?

What strength I had left, I called forth. The chains cut into my flesh, but I was beyond the pain and suffering of the hroa. As my bonds fell from me, for a flickering moment I saw fear within the eyes of my enemy.

I waited for the attack which I knew would come. But not soon enough. For in the moment between the end and the beginning, my mind filled with images. Of my brothers lost in battle. Of a circle of mortals surrounding me, who fell to their deaths on my behalf. Of ships consumed by flames. Of Amarie's face as I walked away from all which was most beautiful and true in my life.

The wolf bared his teeth.

I bared mine.

And so it begins…