15. Part 15
I lower the rough sack from my shoulder with a grunt of relief, dropping it to the grassy banks of the river flowing rapid and delicious before my feet. I take a moment to stretch, savouring the absence of gem facets and tool points digging against my back, but soon give in to the seductive advances of the clear water lapping against my feet. My tunic is unlaced and removed with little trouble, and I add my thin silver circlet to the heap of precious stones inside the sack, twining my hair behind my neck with a leather band. Eagerly and somewhat less than gracefully, I clamber down the banks.
I suck my breath in as the icy water slaps quickly up my thighs to my bare torso, splaying my hands for balance. I am startled a moment at the sight of them, for they are rough and black almost beyond recognition. One bleeds from a small cut. Peering into the water I find my face and neck in similar condition, caked with dust and streaked with black. My eyes stand out disconcerting, bright and reddened.
Dipping and scrubbing my arms, the dirt begins to disperse, forming a dark cloud in the water surrounding me. I lower myself, enjoying the quiet rush of the water sweeping over my shoulders, and with a few quick strokes propel further down the stream, halting beneath the dangling silver branches a great willow tree grown on the bank. Tiredly I sink beneath the surface of the water, passing hands over my face to scrape away the grime, opening my mouth to the cool, thrusting liquid.
Gathering my legs beneath me I break the surface, shooting the water from my mouth as I smooth back my hair, sucking a deep breath.
"Lord Maeglin! You startled us."
I turn and there Salgant chuckles comfortably from his perch upon a tall white horse, voluminous robes arranged artfully around him as his steed approaches the riverbank at a leisurely walk. Mounted beside him is Elemmakil, Captain of the Guard and my ex-swordmaster. He looks on me with interest, and unconsciously I straighten my shoulders, drawing upright and meeting his gaze evenly as though he scrutinizes my posture.
"You have been long away from the city, my lord," he speaks cordially, frankly, yet I get the distinct impression that he does indeed inspect my posture. "Lord Egalmoth fears you are gathering a treasure hoard to rival his own."
I relax. "He need not."
"I hope you have something to show for your long absence," Salgant interjects, eyeing my discarded sack with a cursory interest. "We missed your presence at the King's feast, or at least I did. I swiftly grew weary of Rog's arguments, Duilin is never merry, and Ecthelion's taste for wine leaves him incapable of anything but song." He laughs merrily, reining his horse in to halt. "Not that we shall see more of you now, I fear, for these gems look to be enough to keep you in your smithy for several months."
Elemmakil smiles. "Perhaps you will join the festival games next moon. It has been a long time since I have seen you at the tournament halls."
"Yet you will find my skills are the same." I swipe a drip of moisture from my nose and step closer to the bank. "Do you ride the forest for pleasure, my lords, or do I hinder your task?"
"I ride to join Galdor and Duilin for a hunt," Salgant answers me, his face jovial as he nods to his companion. "But Elemmakil, it seems, has become the royal nursemaid. The King has lost knowledge of his daughter's whereabouts and seeks to speak with her over some trivial matter he will not elaborate on. I do believe he worries she has finally given her heart to some sprightly noble or another."
Elemmakil's palfrey paces backward, and he turns his head to me. "The Lady Idril has been out of our notice for several days. Have you seen her?"
"I have not."
"Perhaps if you chance to, you will mention her father's concern." Elemmakil prepares to take his leave, obviously having noticed my hinted dismissal.
Salgant appears to have missed it. "Lord Maeglin, you would not have been present for the most recent news to stir the City. Our mortal friend Master Tuor has taken up permanent residence in the house of the King, and some say he will be made a lord of Gondolin. But perhaps Turgon has spoken of this to you?"
I smile in slight, a wry smile of irony. So Turgon seeks to ease his conscience of ignoring the messenger of Ulmo by giving him favour and glory. And Tuor makes his home in the kingdom whose destruction he came to foretell. There see the hearts of Ilúvatar's fair children.
"I had not heard anything of the matter. I think I shall soon speak with Master Tuor."
"Do indeed," Salgant babbles on, even as Elemmakil draws away. "He tells a most fascinating tale, even when speaking of his own life. One soon forgets how short a time he has lived."
"But we will leave you to bathe," Elemmakil cuts in at last, his eyes again coming to rest on me as he pauses a moment. "You look well, my lord."
"I am," I say shortly, pushing aside river-reeds to stand against the bank, uncomfortable under his examination though I know not what he seeks. He inclines his head and steers away, but I call him back, reaching for the sack containing my uncovered treasures. I search a moment through the stones before withdrawing a roughly hewn gem of deep red; held to the light, a six-rayed star reflected in unseen rutile crystal particles. "It is not yet cut," I say apologetically, holding it up to him. "But will you take this for your daughter?"
Reluctantly, the guard leans to reach for it. "I will take it," he says, holding it in his palm uncertainly. Then he smiles, faintly. "Though I think perhaps she would prefer it set in a suit of armour."
I raise my eyebrows, stretching my arm to take it back from his hand. "Then she shall have it so."
Elemmakil quickly tucks the gem in a leather pouch at his waist, saying, "Thank you, Master Maeglin, she shall not."
I smile, bidding him farewell, and bow to Salgant who has finally taken notice of my current state of half undress and is now backing away from the river. The sleek horses waste no time picking up pace, and soon the pair are out of sight, weaving among the tall dark tree trunks. Shivering now, I sink back into the water, setting feet against the clay bottom to push toward the other bank.
"They are gone," I say quietly to the bird-twittered silence, laying back in the water.
For a heartbeat there is no answer. Then a small rustling from high in the branches of the willow above me, and voice like the sweet drippings of honeysuckle says softly, "Thank you."
I close my eyes and swallow, for I wish to take those words, the kindest and most sincere she has ever spoken to me, and I wish to encase them in silver and wear them on my breast. "Why do you hide from your father?"
"It must seem as a child's behaviour to you. But I do not wish to be sent for. If he truly wishes to speak with me, he will not have trouble finding me."
I open my eyes, reaching to pluck a single slender leaf from the branch over my head. "You had a disagreement with him."
Her silver feet dangle below the hem of her gown, and her golden hair is swept up, crowned with leaves. Small yellow flowers have been twined around her bare arms and she looks not at me but to the sky in distraction, her hands resting lightly on the tree branch on which she sits.
"He listens to no one," Idril speaks softly, her voice inflected faint by distress. "He has never heeded his daughter, the dancing silverfoot, for her mind was estranged by grief in her childhood, and now she is guided by idle whims and strange sight. But he shuns his counsellors also, even to his own conscience. He blinds his eyes and stops his ears, following only the will of his heart. He gives himself to a City. He listens to no one."
I ache for her pain and at her loveliness, again shutting my eyes and breathing slowly into the water, attempting to still the rapid thoughts of my mind.
If I climbed the tree she could not run.
If I shook it, her precarious balance would let her fall.
Could I end the desire?
Could I end it with her death?
In her silence my ears strain for the sound of her breath.
"You bleed, cousin," she says to me, her voice strange and quiet.
"I often cut myself while mining," I answer, uncertain that it is the present cut on my hand that she speaks of.
"That is unfortunate."
I swallow, turning my head up to peer at her, but she has retreated, her limbs folded up on the branch, arms clasped around her legs. "Will you not come down, Celebrindal?"
"I will not," she replies, not ungraciously but matter-of-fact.
"Why not?" I persist, petulantly, grasping a branch with my hand. I could climb up. She has nowhere to go.
"Because I have drawn too near before," Idril's voice remains sweet and faraway, and still she looks not to me.
"Years have passed since we last spoke alone. I grow older, Idril, I grow wiser. It is not my intention to frighten or anger you." My clench on the branch tightens, and I feel desperate, so desperate, to convince her of my integrity.
"Your heart is the same. Why do you love me, Maeglin?"
I am startled a moment to silence. But from Idril alone I have never hidden my mind, nor my heart. I cannot. "Why do I breathe? It is what keeps me alive."
"Do you know me?" she asks, and a leaf falls from her hair. Lightly it lands on the river near me, and I fight the impulse to snatch it. "Do you even know what it is that you love, or do you love me as we love the stars, the sea, that which is mysterious and unfathomable to our minds?"
I stand up, resting my head against the branch, water dripping from my chest. My hand has caught the leaf before the current sweeps it away, and I study it, running my finger against the smooth veins. "I know that you love your father and perceive his heart most clearly, and because of this it is he that grieves you the most. I know that while you care for the people who are held within, you do not love Gondolin, not as he does, and ever your heart is turned to the water, to the sea, for it is the same waters which touch the home you left behind in Valinor, and to the frozen sea your mother fell when she died crossing the Grinding Ice. I know that you prefer solitude to the company of others, and that when you dance it is not to please an audience but to release what you cannot express or understand.
"I know that you do not love me, though I do not know why," I finish, low, and tightly my palm curls around the leaf.
She takes a moment to answer. "I cannot love what I fear."
"I do," I say swiftly, my voice raw.
This surprises her. "Why do you fear me?"
"Because I belong to you--"
"You do not belong to me."
"I would give myself if you would take me. But you do not. You overpower me Idril, even though you do not wish it, I am held in my entirety by your very glance. If you were to touch me, I do not know what I would or could do. I do not know. That is what I fear." I push aside the hanging willow leaves, and her ivory face is turned down to me. Her eyes fix in mine, pale cloud to adamant ebony, and it is not she that trembles, but I.
"Why do you fear me?" I ask.
Her eyelids drop, lashes casting shadow though she does not break our gaze. "I do not know."
It is the answer I feared most. Far-seeing Idril-- her pale river-froth eyes do not blink-- her idle whims and strange sight . . . "What do you see when you look at me?" I demand hoarsely, and the leaf is crushed in my fist. "Look at me, Celebrindal. Come down and look at me. Tell me what you see."
One slim foot extends, rests tentatively on a branch below her. I catch my breath, my heart beating so that I do not think my flesh can contain it. The other foot follows, a slender arch as her toes curl over the tree stalk. A fleeting glimpse of white skin as her legs bend and then she is crouching on the branch, pale green gown swinging, hands still holding the branch above her. She looks at me, her face still and liquid eyes searching, and it is only her lips that betray her, pink sea-pearls parted and shivering with breath.
I wet my lips, releasing the splintered leaf from my hand when I hold it up to her. She descends further, and she is nearer, oh so near, soft and golden and alive, but still she does not take my hand, until she is a bare body-length away from me. Then she touches my hand, her fingers feather-light, and my hand is quivering wildly and my mind is blank white, perspiration beading with the effort to hold my palm flat, to restrain it from seizing her with the grip that holds iron and swings hammer to shatter stone. She flattens her palm against mine and slides down to the lowest branch so that she is facing me, her feet hanging in the rushing water, and I feel her breath heavy and warm against my brow.
"What do you see?" I whisper, for the tension in my throat allows naught else.
Her mouth closes gently, lower lip curling in and out again, glistening. My eyes stroke the curve of her neck, where pale tendrils fall from her braids, grazing lines of translucent skin drawn over fine bone, and a fire burns in the pit of my stomach. The air between our palms is moist, and she trembles against me, and my fingers are drawn so taut they ache. My bare skin has grown clammy. The water threatens to collapse my legs.
Her eyes suddenly skit from mine, downy lids fluttering as her lips press tightly together.
"Why do you tense so, Maeglin?" she whispers.
"Tell me what you see," my voice is abruptly a vicious snarl, and I seize her hand, snapping it to my mouth as my other hand encircles her wrist. My lips run against her fingers, and they are cool and smooth against the hotness of my mouth, and I kiss them, violently, wrapping my mouth around a single fingertip sweet and silver, pressing tooth edge sharp against the tender flesh. She cries out and with my tongue I caress the injury, the nectar of her skin filling my mouth, and I am drunk with it, dizzy.
She gasps, her words issuing so hastily that they overrun each other. "I see many things! Many things and I do not understand them, for they are all shadows and light. I see you bent in the forge . . . No," she slows, pensively. "No, it is not you. It is Eöl. He forges a sword . . . a black sword . . ." Her eyes are beyond mine, glazed, unblinking.
I shake her, and she blinks, crying, "Maeglin, do not hate your father!"
I pull her hard from the branch, crushing her delicate frame against me, her body curving warm and lithe to the flat hardness of my own. My heels skid and we fall down into the water, and cold it splashes into my throat, in my nostrils, but holding her to me as the current battles to tear her away I lose all perception, blue and white streaming past my eyes, gold strands snarling over my face, I hear only her harsh breathing, feel only the silky smoothness as her arms slip from my grip.
I press my lips to her cheek in desperation, even as water chokes itself out from my throat. She tastes as purest dew held in pale flower and then she is gone and I gasp only for breath, stumbling for the bank as she climbs it, her shoulders shivering, the yellow flowers hanging drowned and limp from her arms. Her stumbling feet knock over my sack and I watch in dazed horror as the jewels tumble into the stream, scattering to the bottom, some flitting with the pull of the water. Dropping to my knees I begin to gather them, spitting water, fingers fumbling for the slippery stones spreading blue, violet, amber, glittering through the clear water.
Idril Celebrindal stands wilted on the grass, hands holding the sopping gown above her feet as she falters backward, pleading as she goes, "Do not hate your father, Maeglin, do not despise yourself. Do not be afraid . . ."
"I am not afraid!" I cry and my voice is mangled beyond recognition. A diamond slips from my fingers and frantically I grasp for it.
"Then know me as you claim to, know that I cannot love you, and seek another. Make a promise to me, Maeglin, that you will find something to love," her eyes are wide and wild, and she continues away from me. She looks to me again, and I am pained, my hands waver, but then she flees.
Idril the Ever-child, who knows what she does not understand, who dances silver-trod in water and cries to the seas to take her home. She flees from me, frightened, for she is a child.
My hand closes around a sharp stone and again my skin is pierced, sharply, stinging as blood runs sudden and warm against my palm. I do not cry out, pulling the gemstone from the water and rolling it to the sack.
"I am not afraid," I whisper, my mind is fogged by confusion, and I suck the wound to stop the bleeding.
What have I to fear?
Myself? Not yet. Not until my love for her dies.
Then I will be empty.
[Author's Note: Whew. That was difficult, mainly because I completely don't understand why Idril doesn't love Maeglin. I'll leave her side of the story, however, up to Philosopher At Large, whose supremely excellent "The Timelost" I am now shamelessly drawing from for the character of Idril. If you haven't read it, go now! Or I'll detach Gothmog from Ecthelion's helmet and send him after you. ^_^
Coming soon will be Idril and Tuor's wedding... At least that's the plan. The muse may dictate otherwise. ]
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.