Midwinter: An Elfish Christmas Carol
Pairing: None really, main character however is Maedhros
Disclaimer: Even less mine than usual. The story is, of course, adapted from Mr Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and the elves are as always Professor Tolkien's
Author’s Note: A Christmas present to you all. :) It is just a small something, utterly silly (but then my christmas stories tends to be ;) ) and written today on a spur of the moment bunny. Merry Christmas all and thank you for the past year.
Summary: It is midwinter and Maedhros refuses to celebrate... he is then visited by three ghosts...
The snow lay deep over the fields and frozen rivers, the leafless trees stretched their skeletal hands to the sky, casting blue shadows on the crisp white. Far away the sun struggled to creep over the edge on the earth, a distant fire that never would reach the harsh stone keep that arose from the snowdrifts, only stars and moon offered a pale light to the earth.
The gates of the keep stood shut and barred and silent sentries lined the walls, bows held loosely as eyes scanned the fields and forests around them for intruders, whether hostile or friendly. On the courtyard below swords clashed in a dance of death, carefully executed in a mock image of safety. Steam rose of the bodies of the fighters that filled the grounds as grunts and taunts mingled with the ringing of steel on steel.
Maitimo stood to the side, his hand wrapped around his arm behind his back as he watched the soldiers. Most had been with him through many years, elves now hardened by battle and loss, fearless and uncaring in the face of danger. men with nothing left to lose. They made the hardest soldiers, men like himself. He smiled grimly at the thought, weapons to be used more then living creatures now.
He heard his brother's footsteps behind him, approaching and stopping behind him but still the silence held.
Maitimo shook his head. "No. I will not have a celebration in this keep for any less than a nephew born or the defeat of the shadow. Certainly not one contrived simply to have an excuse for flippant behaviour."
Macalaurë's voice grew tenser. "We celebrate our birth at Cuivienen, Nelyo. Men may celebrate for light returning but we do not. We remember those before us and the gifts of the Valar."
"The gifts or the curses, Káno. Our birth? Birth into shadow and darkness, hunted for sport by Morgoth before Oromë arrived with his so called gifts. I am still master of this keep if nothing else." he spun around to meet his brother's eyes. "and mark me well, if I hear of any celebration, any feast of food or... plants... decorating the place I will have all participants whipped."
Macalaurë closed his eyes before he turned away. "There was a time you knew there was more to life than death. Nelyo." His voice was quiet, resigned as he slowly walked away from his brother.
Maitimo turned back to the courtyard and the men who knew well the bleakness of life.
It was well past midnight when Maitimo left the courtyard. The torches burnt bright in the holders, they were lit at all hours this time of year when the darkness never lifted outside, painting the bleak stone in an illusion of warmth and welcome.
Maitimo was lost in his thoughts as he walked past plain tapestries, Macalaurë had had them made when they first came here, useful and discreetly beautiful and made for the simple reason of keeping the cold out. Suddenly he stopped, glancing at the tapestry he had just passed, he thought he had seen... He lifted a torch out of the iron ring and lifted it to the tapestry. His eyes widened as where there had always been a pattern of colours there was now a face that he knew well. He felt his hand shake as he lifted the torch higher.
"Findekáno?" his voice was no more than a hoarse whisper.
Findekáno looked back at him, calmly as the heavy braids wavered slightly as if a wind softly whispered through the raven hair. He swallowed. Findekáno had been dead for fifty years and more, fallen in the worst battle their people had ever seen. The torched hissed, making him jump and when he looked at the tapestry again there was nothing but a soft mingling of threads and colours.
"Macalaurë with his talk about life," he mumbled as he hung the torch back in its holder. A twist of his imagination, no more than that.
Still, the image of Findekáno lingered in his mind as he entered his rooms and closed the door behind him. He was not sure why but the sparingly decorated and furnished rooms made him uneasy this evening, his hand flickered towards the knife on his belt, for no other reason than to feel the comforting touch of steel in his hand. He was not usually so easily spooked.
He put more coal on the fire and poured himself a glass of wine, imagining Findekáno's face in every surface of the room, in the shiny floor tiles, the deep red of the wine, the silver of the goblet. He shuddered and emptied the glass he had poured himself, immediately refilling it. He stiffened as he heard the soft fall of feet behind him, the irregular sound of walking that accompanied Findekáno since he had injured his knee at Dagor Bragollach. Maitimo shivered and closed his eyes. He was losing his mind. Slowly he turned, momentarily blinded by the flames of the fire that suddenly roared as if fed by a hand he could not see.
Findekáno stood in front of him, heavy braids bound with gold stirring from an invisible breeze and still so insubstantial that Maitimo could see the wall through the muscular body.
"I am losing my mind," he whispered again, staring at the phantom before him. "who are you?!" It had to be a trick,done with smoke and mirrors the way illusionists entertained their crowds.
"You know who I am, Russandol." It was Findekáno's voice, deep and raspy as always.
Maitimo swallowed."You are not real."
Findekáno looked at him calmly before turning his back to Maitimo, the raven hair parted over a cracked skull, bleeding and burnt by axe and valarauka, the lean back was covered in wound from the same, or maybe a different axe, mutilated and trampled and nothing like the face that now turned to him again.
"Am I real to you now?" the deep voice answered.
Vaguely Maitimo noticed his own trembling. "Yes," he answered hoarsely as his soul screamed for forgiveness, "yes, Findekáno, you are real to me."
Findekáno turned back, an odd smile dancing on his lips. "And yet you will cease to be real if you continue the way you have set yourself. To live and to die and to live again, such is the future of elves but you would deny the re-embodiment for the darkness you cling to. The oath no longer matters to you, only death and fighting is real and that, cousin, is what will throw you into outer darkness nothing else. Will you bind all those that died for the oath to your fate?"
Maitimo struggled to find his voice. "What do you mean?"
"My time here grows short. You yet have time to redeem yourself, Russandol. Not for the killing you have and will do but for the coldness in your heart. If you let the deaths count for nothing we will all be cast into darkness whether the oath is fulfilled or not. Save yourself Russandol, and us with it. Three others will visit you this eve after you have retired to bed, heed them well and you will understand..." Even as Findekáno spoke he was fading.
The tall windows blew open with a loud crash, making Maitimo spin around and when he turned back Findekáno was gone. he blinked and empted the goblet that had been forgotten in his hand.
"I truly am losing my mind." he repeated before crossing to the windows.
Outside the air was filled with pale shapes, watching him silently and accusingly. He saw his father there and his brothers, faces of friends and enemies long fallen to the sword or the ice of Helcaraxë. Maitimo slammed the windows shut and pulled the curtains, shutting out the accusing eyes of the ghosts, of his imagination.
He glanced at the bottle of wine that still stood unfinished on the small table by his chair before shaking his head and going to the bedroom instead. Somewhere in the back of his mind he was trying to convince himself that he was already asleep and having nightmares, or maybe that he was tired enough to hallucinate. He slid between the cool sheets and closed his eyes, praying to gods he usually denied to bring him sleep.
He awoke in darkness to the ringing of the midnight bell. The darkness did not face him, it was always dark during winter, both during the day and the long nights. The fire had gone out, no even the embers were still burning or offering heat. By the time he had cleared his head he froze. The midnight bell had tolled long before he had returned to his rooms and yet the same bell had stirred him from his sleep. The uneasiness of the earlier eve returned to him as he sat up, wrapping a blanket tightly around himself. He should leave the bed and reawaken the fire, the light and the heat would offer comfort if nothing else.
“The fire will offer neither light nor warmth for you this night” a voice said and a head peeked up over the edge on the blanket. It was a young maid, yet her eyes were ancient and wise. Her golden-hair was long and sleek and she sat up to reveal a thick woollen dress in bright colours.
Maitimo turned his head slowly, looking at her. “I will take it you are one of the three guests that my cousin told me to expect.” he said, surprised at the calm in his own voice. It seemed insanity was easier o come to terms with if one accepted the facts as they were presented to you. He saw faces of long dead elves, he heard voices, he hallucinated and now he found himself in bed with a nessi, madness has claimed him. He wondered if his father had been mad in this way before his death.
“Stop fretting,” her voice was light and musical. “you are neither insane nor sleeping, I can assure you of that.” she reached out a slender hand and pinched his arm. “Even Quendi feels pain and neither Quendi or Man will feel pain when asleep.”
Maitimo clenched his teeth. Not only was she uninvited and a figment of his imagination, she was also rude and annoying.
“Now then,” the girl continued, “we have many places to visit this night. Tonight is for what was.”
Before he had time to ask what she meant the bedroom shifted. They were standing in a large house bathed in a soft glow of light.
In front of one of the fires, unnecessary save for the welcome it offered, sat a gangly boy surrounded by other children. The boy, who towered over the others, were crowded by the other boys and girls. He had grown out of his tunic some time ago, the bony wrists peeking out of the worn velvet. His mahogany hair was bound back in thick braids, the colour making him stand out even more than his height.
“tell us a story, Nelyo,” a blond boy begged. “Tell us how it started, why we celebrate the birth today!”
The tall boy, a younger copy of himself, picked up a small black=haired boy and put him in his lap. “Once upon a time,” he started confidently, “far away from here, the world was dark and broken by the evil of Melkor. The lights that the Valar had created had fallen and the world was asleep. But even at the moment that Varda created new stars, brighter and more beautiful than before, breath stirred in the chest of the first of the Quendi and the Quendi were born in the hour when the darkness faded under the new stars. The stars were the light and hope of our people in those days and so today, when in the lands we left behind, when the seasons are turning from cold to warm we celebrate the memory of those first elves and we remember those that never saw the light of the trees.”
Maitimo listened to this young boy tell the story of hope and life with such fervour that it made his heart ache. Had he once believed that things would always stay the same way?
“He brought hem such joy with his stories,” the young girl said suddenly. “with tales of monsters and heroes, of love and life. He had a gift for bringing joy to others by his tales, same as his brother did with song.”
Maitimo snorted disparingly. “he was a young fool, that is all.” Still, his gaze lingered on the young boy, surrounded by brothers. “they were all fools,” he whispered quietly.
The scene shifted and the young boy was now grown,awkwardly dancing with neri and nessi at a feast, the huge tent black to imitate the night sky and richly decorated with green branches and jewels imitating the stars.
Maitimo swallowed as he saw the scene, he knew this memory well. Hungrily his eyes scanned the crowd, looking for the young elf that was himself and the other one.
A glint of gold caught the eye of the young elf and he turned, determinedly stalking through the crowd until he stood in front of the elf he had been looking for. The two stood silent and still in the midst of the dancing elves, their eyes speaking words which would not come to their lips.
How well he remembered what came next.
The young Findekáno suddenly broke out in a smile, brighter than any of the lights before he rose on his tiptoes, pressing his lips against his cousin's and the world spun.
It took him a while to realise that he did not only remember the feeling of the ground falling away beneath his feet, the scene which has held the two lovers swirled and spun, scenes flashing in a vicious speed, harsh words and exile, blood and fire upon the water.
Then the world settled once more, froze into a crystalline brightness of snow and ice under a darkness unbroken by stars. Children fell between cracks in the ice, women slipping into cold water, men slipping and falling upon spears of ice, their blood a river through the endless white of the grinding ice.
He would not see himself here.
His uncle stood quiet and tall in the darkness, looking at a large bundle of blankets on the ground.
“We cannot fall behind,” he finally said,his voice weary and dull. “the ice has already killed half our numbers.”
The elf beside him nodded. “It would be kinder to slip a herb into the wine of those that cannot go on” he said reluctantly. “The ones that has no other hope than to freeze to their deaths.”
Nolofinwe laughed bitterly. “We already slew kin, but I cannot kill my own son. I cannot.” He ran a hand over his face. “Feanaro will pay for every death,” he said quietly, his voice cold and ruthless and not warm as it once used to be.
The healer bowed and left in silence. Nolofinwe kneeled beside the bundle at his feet, shifting the blankets away to reveal Findekáno's face. “Be strong, pitya,” he whispered. “be strong. I will not lose a son to his treachery.”
Maitimo stared in horror at the scene. “What happened to him?” he whispered quietly. “Damn you, what happened to him?!”
The maid looked at him calmly. “he fell between the cracks in the ice,” she said. “as so many did. They feared his back broken and it could well have been.”
Again the world spun. Years on the rocks, pain and humiliation flashed in an instant,making his stomach churn with repressed memories. The voice that floated through the darkness, his severed hand left behind as the eagle came. Again and again the world spun until he stood once more at a midwinter celebration, Findekáno's eyes flashing at the elf in front of him, the mahogany hair duller, the eyes had lost the sheen of life that they had once had.
“I will fight this war with you Maitimo,” his cousin's voice said harshly. “This war and no more. The oath has eaten you until I know you no longer.” His face softened. “If we win this madness we will talk, Russandol,” he said. “I still love you but the oath is devouring you. If I had a silmarilli, would you lift your sword against me?”
The other elf hung his head, unable to meet his cousin's eyes as he silence stretched.
“I was afraid of that,” Findekáno finally said, his voice sad but unsurprised.
Maitimo closed his eyes. “Take me back,” he said hoarsely. “Take me back.”
The nessi was still watching the scene in front of them.” Now? Without seeing how it ends?” her voice was mocking.
“Now,” he confirmed. “I know how it ends.”
“Ah, but what follows is so interesting, the battles and blood, the children in the woods. Surely you will wish to see the fate of the children?”
“No!” he said, harsher than he had intended. “Take me back!”
The nessi sighed and again the world changed until he could feel the blanket around his shoulders and the sheets under his body. He was alone again.
The midnight bell chimed through the keep when he awoke again, a crisp reminder of the depth of night.
This time he remained in bed, wondering if feigning sleep would work on a ghost as it once had on his amil. Somehow he doubted that it would. The clinking of glass brought his attention to the living room and reluctantly he left the bed, walking barefoot over the cold floor before nudging the door open.
It was his room, of course it was, but it was decorated with evergreens and apples, large bowls of nuts stood on the small table beside the carafe of mulled wine whilst another table, it took him a while to recognise his desk, was almost sighing under the weight of the food and pies, sweets and cakes, a roasted big and several roasted birds took the centre of the desk, surrounded with sausages and potatoes, large stacks of fruits and puddings.
Another nessi stood by the table, her hair long and lustrously black. Had nessi interested him she would have been the picture of sensuality with a dress that was low cut enough to only barely cling to her generous curves.
He snorted with amusement despite himself. “And just who are you supposed to be?” he asked dryly. “The ghost of most men's fondest dreams?”
The woman laughed throatily.”No, my dearest. I am for what is, for the moment of pleasure as it happens, for the feast of the season and the indulgence. I will show you what is and no old nonsense about what has come to pass. After all,” she laughed again. “The past cannot be changed.”
“No,” he admitted, the scenes from his last visit still haunting him. “But it can be regretted.”
She tilted her head and looked at him before smiling. “You are learning,” she said, holding her hand out.
He did not hesitate, in fact resisting never entered his mind and as soon as his fingers touched hers the room spun.
Elrond and Elros sat huddled in the tower room, somehow they had managed to sneak up evergreens to decorate the room until it seemed almost a cave made out of growing greens.
Elrond sighed. “Midwinter should be celebrated with plenty of food and wine, not like this,” he gestured towards the table which held sandwiches stuffed with roasted mutton. “Even if he does not wish to celebrate he should not deny al others the right to do so.”
“Do not be so hard on him, brother,” Elros said, looking up from his book. “He has lost much, I am sure he must have been different once.”
Elrond raised an eyebrow at his twin. “You honestly think he was ever alive inside? He is frozen through the bone. Only reason he took us in was because his brother wished it, us he sees as nothing but an inconvenient annoyance and you know it.”
“I had never taken you in, had it not been for him,” Macalaurë interrupted quietly from the doorway. “Mark me well, I would have left you for Cirdan and Ereinion to find had it not been for your lost uncles. I took you in to give my brother peace and learnt to love you as my own children.”
Elros nodded as if he had already heard this several times.
“He does not even try! I am surprised he has not attempted to have our throats cut in our sleep.” Elrond interjected heatedly. “He is like a rabid wolf, Maglor, and if you do not put him down then someone else should!”
Maitimo winced.”Is that truly what they think of me?” he said incredulously. “That I would have had them killed if not for Macalaurë? That I do not care?”
The woman tilted her head. “Why would they think differently?”
He closed his eyes as he realised he had no answer. “What will happen,”he asked quietly.
“Why, Elrond will storm off to challenge you. He will not return and Elros and your brother both judge you for his death.” she shrugged. “it is only a few lives, Elrond and his twin of course, your brother becomes harder than you as he finally gives up hope... candles blown out, end of hope.”
Maitimo shook his head quietly. Was this what he really was? He had been different one time. His heart ached as he remembered a time before the trees died, before his father was exiled. He had been more scholar than warrior those days.
The scene shifted again, to the guards that stood shoulder to shoulder, cold and frozen in the chilly night.
“He is a hard master,” one said, breaking the stillness. “I wonder if he know how low the morale is, how close he is to losing the power.”
The other one shook his head. “I doubt it. He is made of stone not flesh, why would he care of what happens to us or anyone else?”
The other guard made a tired noise. “He will learn sooner or later if nothing changes.”
Again the scene fluttered and changed but one after the other were all the same, speaking of his hardness and harshness. In a few homes the midwinter was celebrated in secret despite his orders, small crowds and families meeting for food and laughter. He could not remember when he last laughed.
Sooner than he thought he found himself alone in his room, whispers and accusations floating through his memory. They followed of fear not loyalty and he had somehow because what Morgoth had wanted him to be.
He had not been aware that he had fallen asleep again before a light touch woke him and he found himself looking up at a silver-haired girl, more beautiful than the others with infinitive sadness in her blue eyes. She was small, under-grown, and slender as she wordlessly touched her fingers against the back of his hand.
This time the world faded, a strange dimness lying over everything.
Macalaurë was washing his knife in a small stream, his face pale but cool. “It had to be done,” he whispered to himself. “It had to be done before he killed us all.” his melodic voice was oddly calm.
Another elf came crashing between the trees. “Did you talk to him?”
Macalaurë shook his head. “There is no talking to a rabid animal, it has to be put down.”
The other elf nodded and sat down on the ground. “Do you regret it?”
“I have never regretted the slaying of an orc, nor will I start getting hunted by regrets now.”
With surprise Maitimo realised the other elf had to be Macalaurë's son. They shared the same dark tilted eyes, the same thoughtful face.
“Well, he was not exactly an orc was he?” the young elf said, eyeing his father curiously.
“Close enough,” Macalaurë's voice was chilly and calm. “Do you have them?”
His nephew nodded and opened his hand. “He gave them up for the price you offered. I suspect he will take them back soon.”
Macalaurë laughed wildly as he stared at the shining jewels in his son's hand. “It is over then. I have fulfilled by oath.”
The boy closed his hand again. “Atar,” his voice heavy. “he had me followed here, it is a trap... if we spilt up we may be able to save one from him, I take one of them and try to escape one way and you take the other.”
Macalaurë's eyes shone with fervour. “They are both mine, boy.” he almost panted. “Now that he is dead they are both mine!”
Maitimo stared at the scene in disbelief before he let his gaze wander over from where Macalaurë had come. Mahogany hair spilled over the moss and grass, congealing in the blood that surrounded his body. His eyes snapped back to Macalaurë as he started backing away, shaking his head.
The boy shied away from Macalaurë. “I know they are yours, atar,” he said weakly. “I only wanted to help.”
Macalaurë stood, weighing the knife in his hands for a moment. “There is no help this side of life, there is no hope this side of death, there is no redemption from the oath.” His hands flickered as they threw the knife.
Maitimo screamed and tried to lunge at them only to find himself back in his own bed again.
The girl looked at him sadly. “The world will be covered by darkness,” she whispered. “he will conquer the lands of the living and the dead and make them scream for mercy but there is no mercy under the hand of Melkor. He will lead armies in Melkor's name and slay all that stands against him, wife and daughter both in his madness. Because he lost all hope when his adoptive sons died. He went to Melkor shortly after that, in secret and darkness he went and the world fell.
She faded even as she spoke.
His eyes opened to the darkness of his bedroom. A thin thread of gold rope lay beside him on the pillow. He reached out slowly, running his fingers over the rough thread before closing his hand around it,pressing a kiss against his knuckles.
“I am so sorry Findekáno,” he whispered into the empty room before he rose from the bed.
He dressed hurriedly while pulling on the bell rope, calling the servants. When the door opened he was still fumbling with the laces on his tunic, he never managed to get hold of fastening them with one hand only.
“Prepare a feast,” he told the girl that entered. “Lock the gates against intruders and give all others the day off. We will take our risks today.”
The girl stared at him in shock, a hint of fear in her eyes.
Maitimo smiled at her, trying to look reassuring. “Please,”he said. “I would really appreciate it if you could ask the kitchen to prepare a feast for the entire keep... and maybe you can find someone to decorate the great hall for the festivities?”
The girl nodded and curtsied. “Of course, my lord,” she said weakly, still staring at him as if she had seen a ghost.
He smiled wider. “Thank you,” he said and bent down, pressing a grateful kiss against her cheek before he rushed out. He had gifts to find, for his brother and law-sister and for the twins that Macalaurë had once taken in for his sake. Gifts and apologies for whatever time they still had.
Findekáno watched from the window as the snow fell heavily on the elves outside, casting snowballs and busily gathering decorations.
“You needed to understand” he whispered, pressing his fingers against the glass. “to be reminded that strength is not always hardness.”
He smiled slightly, a sad smile as he saw Maitimo outside, children gathered around him stories.
“I will see you soon, my love,” he whispered.