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Ascendancy

Beta: Eni and Eveiya
Rating: PG-13
Character: Fingolfin
Warning: Character Death
Disclaimer: Not in any way mine
Summary: Fingolfin's last stand

In the clearing stands a boxer,
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev'ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame,
"I am leaving, I am leaving."
But the fighter still remains
~ The Boxer, Simon & Garfunkel



They must have been fools ever to think they could win, to believe themselves strong enough to besiege the very heart of evil. Now, they paid for their folly.

He saw Findekáno sit with his back against a rock, pale and drawn, with blood running down his face, and closed his eyes to shut out the sight. His son, his firstborn. He had already grieved for two, a son fallen to blood and darkness after he had dragged himself over the ice, and a daughter, lost and found only to be slain after arriving at safety. Could he survive losing another child? Around him the voices were dulled with pain and grief as the healers moved through the camp. Too many dead, too many injured: and whatever advantage they had once seemed to have had been lost.

Opening his eyes, he once more sought for his son, so like himself – driven by duty and responsibility. He smiled slightly to himself. There were some things Findekáno had inherited from his mother rather than himself: the compassion, the love and the humility that he and his own elder brother both lacked.

Quietly he murmured a prayer of thanks to whomever watched over them, be they Valar or Valier or Eru himself, grateful that the other two of his children, the middle son and the only daughter, were far from here in the city that Turukáno had built. At least they were safe, for now.

Down on the fields and over the lower slopes of the mountains fires were scattered through the dark, the sickening smell of smoke and burning flesh rising on the wind and reaching their own camp. Wolves howled in the night, triumphant, cruel songs of victory.

He hated this.

Gently he pushed aside the healer who attended to his son, picking up the cloth and the bowl as he started cleaning the much- too- pale face.

"Is this what Ereinion will inherit?" Findekáno’s voice was heavy and tired. "Constant warfare against an enemy we cannot defeat? Better I had never sired him."

Nolofinwë frowned; it was not like Findekáno to be defeatist, and yet he could not blame him for his lack of hope on this day. Tenderly he dipped the cloth in the lukewarm water, seeing the blood float in dark tendrils as it swirled and mixed with the water.

"Despite what has happened in these cursed years, Findekáno, I have never regretted marrying and not once have I wished that you had not been born." He kept his voice soft and gentle. "One day Morgoth will fall, Findekáno, and we will know peace." He did not believe his own words. There would be no peace, no victory whilst they lived in this dark world, bound by pride and hate.

Findekáno looked up and eyes aged too early met his with a surprising cynicism. "Do not lie to me, even if you lie to yourself."

Nolofinwë sighed as his son stood, pushing aside the cloth and bowl. Findekáno stumbled to the edge of the rocks, looking down on the lower fields where the enemy fires grew, multiplied in the dark night like flies on rotting meat.

"Findekáno," he said softly, speaking to his son’s back. "You need to be cared for." Even as he spoke he stood, discarding the bloodied rag in his hand as he went to his eldest son, his pride. Together they stood, watching the scenes below.

Findekáno stood silent for a moment longer. "We cannot beat them, Atar," he said eventually, discarding the new language they had adopted as he returned to the tongue of his father and grandfather. It was odd, hearing their own language after so many centuries. "The dawn will break and they will drive us back, hunt us like deer as we scamper over rocks and stones until we bleed and die."

Until we bleed and die... The words echoed in in the silence between them.

Guilt and grief battled for dominance as the taste of bile rose in his mouth. Anairë would never forgive him. Nolofinwë looked down at his hands, still expecting to see Arakáno's blood clinging to rough fingers. They had believed that the Ice was the worst they would encounter, endless days and weeks of cold that killed, and ground that broke under their feet. So many had fallen on the way, stars dimmed and failed before their time as darkness grew, and once they finally set foot on land they found war and death. They always bled and fell. Irissë had died, far away where he had been unable to protect her; never would he ever visit her graveside, whispering farewells.

He swallowed with difficulty, his own wounds suddenly aching. "You need rest," he said eventually. "Dawn will bring another day of flight."

Findekáno laughed bitterly. "Flight to what? To lands yet mostly peaceful, bringing blood and fire upon innocents again? Dawn will bring neither flight nor hope, Atar. Less than half of us are fit to stand and even then more would stumble than run!" Findekáno shook his head. "We will stand and fight and grieve for those we leave behind, wives and children defenceless because we have failed them."

Nolofinwë looked at the fires again, so many of them, maggots feeding on despondency and death. Findekáno would fall before the next nightfall if no respite was given and he would see another child lost. The eldest and the youngest torn from him, and the only daughter. The air was heavy with the stench of despair and blood. Somewhere behind him a trembling voice took up a lament, tearing through the traitorous silence. When he looked up again Findekáno had gone.

Turning around, he saw his son walk among their soldiers, offering encouragement where it was needed. They all knew tonight would be their last yet still they raised their faces, trustingly, as Findekáno spoke to them.

Slowly, the harsh breathing of the living grew slower and calmer and the moans of the wounded softened in the deep night as those who still could slept. An illusion of peace and rest before the chaos. Far in the distance the wolves howled, a shadow of menace for the coming day.

The night was deep and dark, moon and starts hiding behind broken clouds, when a messenger reached him, having crawled like a snake through the high grasses, slipping around the enemy fires. There was no good news. He closed his eyes as the young man, hardly more than a boy, told him of the disaster to the east. His nephews, sons of Arafinwë, had fallen; the sons of his half brother had been driven back and nothing now held their enemy at bay. They had lost.

He walked among the dead and wounded, among the sleeping and walking, unable to find his own rest. His mind was filled with memories of the home he had long left behind, of Anairë, his sons and daughter, and his heart grew heavier.

As the first tendrils of light crawled over the fields beneath them he knew. Quietly, he went to his sleeping son, pressing a kiss against the pale cheek and folding the long fingers around the two rings he pulled off his own hand, the ring Anairë had once put there and the one his brother had once worn. His heart ached as he whispered his farewell. He would not return, neither to this hill, nor to his own keep, but perhaps he could give his people the time to heal. Lethargy and grief blended with the temper of his father's line.

Morgoth had slain enough of his kin. There would be no more. There would be no more fallen sons or daughters; no more laments breaking the silence. This was enough.

He whistled for his horse, proud Rochallor of Naher's line; he would take no other companion on this journey to death. He pressed his mount hard as they left, forcing him through the enemy lines, feeling the large hooves thundering over flesh and bodies and the enemy’s creatures screeched with pain and fear as he broke through.

Vaguely, he heard the sound of horses behind him, but no other could find the speed of Rochallor that morning.

Fury rose in him as he reached the plain in front of Angband: the broken bodies of Quendi and Men littered the ground and from the great walls hung his nephews’ remains accompanied only by the crows on their shoulders, pecking at flesh.

Harder still he drove Rochallor forward and his faithful horse obeyed, tearing dust from the ground as he ran until the great walls towered over them, casting them both into shadow.

He raised his horn, sounding a challenge that echoed off stone and steel and went unanswered. The sound of the silver horn faded to silence. Not even the sound of drums could be heard. In a fury he slipped from his horse, banging his gauntleted hand against the gate of iron. Steel rang against iron.

"Come out," he called, hatred fuelling his rage. "Come out, coward! Fight your own battle for once! I would see the face of the enemy of Valar and Quendi, not the slaves you send against us while you tremble with fear behind your walls! I am waiting for you; do you dare to face me?"

The plain behind him lay still and quiet, as if the very world held its breath for what reply may come from the black gates. No footsteps echoed across the walls, no shuffling sound of feet on sand or stone that whispered of enemies gathering. The dust that had been stirred by his crossing settled once more into the thirsting earth, where grasses ever grew dry and yellowed. Time stretched as the silence threatened to choke both courage and rage, a cloying infinity of suspense. He had almost given up hope when the gates swung open; Morgoth had answered his challenge.

He backed away from the wall, out into the sunlight, giving himself more room for the fight he knew would be his last. His sword glittered in the sharp light of the sun. Melkor towered over him, as a mountain towers over a hill, and it seemed as if night once more descended. Darkness clung to his enemy’s armour, stifling even the light from Ringil as they finally met, face to face. Higher and higher still he raised his eyes, over black metal and tall shoulders until he saw them. The Silmarilli blazed in the iron crown, unable to break the darkness around Morgoth.

A low rumble of amusement tainted the moment of silence before the fight as Morgoth showed his derision for the enemy in front of him.

Nolofinwë kept his own silence, forcing back words of hatred at the enemy that had seen so many dead, sons, daughters, brothers…fathers.

Despite the despair and rage he fought the urge to laugh in the face of death, momentarily overwhelmed with the futility of his quest. His own blade reached no higher than his enemy’s knees, whilst the hammer of darkness stretched almost as tall as himself, and among the Quendi he was counted tall. Surprisingly, there was no fear. He would die with honour here, winning a time of peace for his people if he succeeded, gaining them perhaps no more than a few hours to flee for safety while he fought. Despair faded. Rage died. He raised his blade in front of his face, feeling naught but a calm detachment.

Morgoth moved first, the hammer crashing into the ground where Nolofinwë had stood only moments earlier. The earth shook from the impact, thin lines spreading in the sand as the ground broke.

Nolofinwë trusted his speed; strength would win him nothing here. Instinct had made him dart to the side; only a moment before that first hammer blow struck the earth he thrust his sword into the thick flesh at the back of the leg.

A scream of fury more than pain surrounded him, making his head throb, as Morgoth swung to meet him, Grond crashing into his shield, driving him to his knees as pain spread down his arms. But the shield held. Dazed, he struggled to his feet, forcing numbed arms to move, concentrating on nothing but his enemy and the dance of weapons his body had learnt well since coming to these cursed shores.

It seemed an eternity that they danced around each other, a lifetime of meeting blows that threatened to shatter every bone in his body, of thrusting and parrying, darting to one side or another and rolling in the dust to avoid the hammer. He felt blood running down the side of his face, down his shield arm, where twisted fragments from helmet and shield dug into flesh. Pain and weariness throbbed throughout his body but his determination had not waned. Twice after the first time had he been driven to his knees now and twice again had he risen to meet his enemy again. He was not the only wounded. Seven wounds had he inflicted on his enemy, against all hope.

He danced away from the hammer again, concentrating on moving, breathing, thrusting. His foot caught in a rift in the earth, sending him tumbling backward. Breath escaped his body as he fell, backwards on to the broken ground. A sharp pain spread through his body as his back landed on a boulder. He was not certain if he heard or felt the crack of bones being broken.

Morgoth laughed, a hoarse sound filled with malice and power, lowering a great foot over Nolofinwë’s body and crushing him into the ground. Through a haze of pain he felt dust, stirred up from his fall, filling his eyes and mouth. Someone was screaming.

Struggling to breathe, he fumbled for his sword one more time, trying to find respite from the foot which was slowly breaking his body. He could hear the bones in his chest creak and snap as the weight bore down on him. In a last act of defiance he thrust the sword into Morgoth’s armoured foot, pressing down with whatever strength he still had, feeling it sink through metal and flesh, scraping against bone before sinking into the ground. This was the end. A scream beyond any he had heard before rent the air, briefly dulling all sounds before the world fell away into darkness.

~*~

The scream choked in his throat. Vaguely he was aware of the arms holding him back, releasing their hold as he stopped fighting them. His knees buckled as he fell to the ground, numb with grief as he stared in disbelief at his fallen father. He had woken when his father rode out with the dawn and knew then, seeing the rings in his hand, what he had intended. He had come too late. There was no saving of the dead.

Morgoth had picked up the lifeless body, twisting it in his hands as he called his wolves, his voice a triumphant shriek, more animalistic than would have been expected from a Vala, fallen or not. The Quendi around him were quiet, caught in grief and horror as they watched their fallen King.

A wind rose suddenly in the dust over the plain, whipping up the sand, and down swept Thorondor. His voice was a loud cry on the winds as he snatched the broken body from Morgoth’s hands. The mighty wings beat in the air as he flew to the south, carrying a former king to his grave.

"Come, Sire," someone eventually said behind Findekáno. "You have a people to lead."