2. Vae Victis
The waves come to break themselves on the cliff with rage, their heads crowned in foam.
He has been looking for us for two months. The very first thing I heard from him was his voice, calling from afar. Every day, he followed us in the forest, and I saw him, always arriving five minutes too late, only to find a certain proof that we had been there, but are no more. I made sure to leave some trail, some traces of our passage, just so that he would find it, and with it hope renewed, and then lost and renewed… Hope of what, I still know not. He had no chance. I know those woods like I know the back of my hand, for they were the havens of my childhood. I don't know who he is, I don't know his name, I only know that he is one of them, one of the enemies, the Kinslayers, the rebels. And I took revenge on him. Revenge as well as I could, revenge for you, Mother. I know he cried, sometimes, at night, when he thought us to be lost. I delighted in those sobs. I delighted in his pain. I will take revenge as well as I could. Though I must give him my admiration. He impressed me, with his seemingly pointless quest, his determination to obtain something that perpetually fled out of his grasp. He never lost track, and almost caught us twice. I had barely managed to escape before he saw us. Luckily, the woods were busy in this period of the year, and, when my brother sometimes was careless, he could mistake the sound for the light pace of a rabbit, or the wind rustling the leaves.
I didn’t know why I wouldn’t surrender. He called to us, always, he called to the Sons of Elwing. He said he wouldn’t harm us, that he wished only to help. I didn’t know. Maybe he didn’t, either. Maybe I was just testing him, to see what he really wanted. Once, I tore off a piece of my cloak, cut my wrist and smeared it in fresh blood, then left it there. Only, I had forgotten that it was summertime. Wolves were rare. And when he happened upon it, he only took it with him, and continued his search.
Yesterday, he began to sing. He was singing because he thought we were far away, far, far beyond his reach, perhaps even far across the Ocean in another land. He did not know that we were less than a hundred meters in front of him, lying hidden in the branches of an ancient tree. I listened. My brother, too, was listening, and in the opaque darkness I could guess his still form, dimly hear his breath and see his brilliant eyes, wide open. The music… It was simple and plain, like a childish lullaby, but the voice didn’t ring true. Maybe he felt the need to rock himself to sleep, and oblivion. The music… I had never heard anything like it. It was sweeter than Mother’s song when I was but a baby in the cradle.
And yet more poignant than the lament of the waves dying in foam.
He abandoned the search that night. I had been careful to lead him in circles lately, and he must have noticed it. The next morning, when my brother woke, he was gone, and it was not to our pursuit. I felt strange somehow. Maybe I had grown accustomed to that game, the only game where the mouse had the part of the cat. Maybe I had never thought about what we would do after that… after. Maybe I had just concentrated on him, on watching him, on leaving clues for him, on losing him. On hating him. Maybe he was just something I took for granted, just like I took for granted the Sack of Sirion, Mother’s flight, the slaughter of my people… And then I was standing there, perplexed, on that very spot where he had slept last night, and my brother looked at me with big pleading eyes. Maybe he understood better than I did, my brother. Or maybe he just felt, because he was not trying to figure out.
Now we are sitting on the edge of the cliff. Yesternight he abandoned the search, but I will not let him abandon it now. He is Kinslayer, and my people’s assassin. And Mother, Mother fled because of him. I will not flee, Mother. I will not.
I shall have revenge.
My brother sits near me, at some distance though. He doesn’t sleep. He watches the Sea, the ebb and flow, and the waves shatter against the cliff of their own accord. And in a thousand years, this cliff will have become sand, in a thousand years. I look at the sky, a beautiful morning sky. There is not a cloud hindering the sunlight. Not a cloud to tarnish its clear blue.
So what now does project its shadow upon me, depriving my brother of the warmth of the sunrays?
He stands behind me, one of them, one of my people’s slayers, one of these soldiers of the March, one of these cursed fallen Calaquendi who are worth no more than the lowest of Orcs. He stands behind me, and my hand goes for the sword that hangs by my side, slowly, steadily unsheathing, but in no way hiding my gesture, and I hear with a twisted pleasure the sound of metal sliding on metal. However, there is no answer to it. But he is there, I know it, unmoving, I can feel him, his presence, right behind me, he who let Mother in the waves without lending her a hand…
My brother looks at the Sea still, and his childish face is as expressionless as that of a porcelain doll.
In the glimpse of an eye I am on him, and our swords clash with a blinding white gleam. I have no idea how his sword had jumped in his hand so fast; I didn't even see it. But at the very first contact between the blades, I know I have no chance. He is a grown adult, with lightning-fast reflexes and probably centuries of swordplay and bloodshed and slaughter behind him. Who am I? Elrond Peredhil, not even an elf, not even a man. I have no chance. My brother has stood up, follows my movements with apprehensive eyes. Don't worry, little brother. I won't let him harm you. Not as long as I live still. For a moment, he even lets me have the upper-hand, surprised by the fury of the attack, but then as my eyes meet his, and he sees my determination, in four well-chosen strokes Aranruth  flies from my grasp, and I lose my balance, and am on the ground, with the point of his sword at my throat, slightly drawing blood.
I sought revenge, Mother. I promise I did.
But then neither party moves, I am lying there still, resting on my elbows, and he stands over me, with his sword on my throat. We hold eye contact still, and I will not look away, I will not, not concede that even his will does overpower mine. My brother doesn't budge either. He watches, fascinated, horrified, bewitched by the thin thread of blood flowing from my neck. Why won't he move, why won't he seek someplace safer, why is he staying there, on the edge of the cliff, looking at me like that?
"Elros, run." I articulate, clearly, slowly, and lean back a little, so as to move away from the sharp sword-tip.
He takes three steps backwards, his eyes not leaving me, but then stops. Hurriedly, almost as one who would stutter a bad excuse, the stranger says that he wishes to do us no harm. Right, and that is exactly why you came here one morning with your hosts and lords -or what was left of those- and began slaughtering my people.
He shakes his head. Ah, little brother, you do not understand… Again, the stranger repeats that he wishes us no harm, that he only wants us to be safe. Believe him, believe him not. He hasn't proved himself yet.
"You can kill me, but spare my brother."
He sighs, and lowers his eyes. I have not yet, but the victory feels empty somehow. The blade moves from my throat, and I inhale deeply, pulling myself to a sitting position. With one swift gesture, he throws his sword near to mine, and both weapons are resting on the ground, looking strangely meaningless without their wielders' hands.
"Fine. Now I have no sword, and neither have you."
But my brother cannot contain himself any longer, and suddenly falls on the stranger’s bag. The Noldorin elf lets him, and in a second he is holding a piece of lembas in his hand, wolfing it down, then begs for more with hungry eyes. He is famished, my poor brother. I should have thought about the food, but no. I didn't. And now he is seated on one of the big rocks, casually taking a stack of lembas from his bag, and unwrapping the cloth under my very eyes. The smell is maddening, and I realise I am also starving. He takes three pieces in his hand, and hands them to my brother. Taking one more piece, he looks at me with a face that is neither stern nor pretending to be jovial.
"Shall we share?"
He breaks the bread in two, at the exact middle. Even if I could have wished for more, I am grateful somehow for this fairness. I will have no one pity me. He does not try to humour me, to humour that young rebellious idiot who had just tried to kill him, but treats me as an equal, as a guest in his non-existent palace. Despite my hunger, I only nibble at the food, watching his every move with wary eyes. He is finished before I am, and patiently waits for me to eat.
My brother's share has already disappeared, and he is conscientiously licking the last crumbs off his fingers.
Don't worry. One day, I shall have my revenge.
Now the lembas is gone, and no one moves still, and the only sound to be heard is the waves harshly crashing into the cliff.
He now stares at us, and seems to examine us from head to foot, his sharp eyes missing not a detail of our figures. I shamefully feel the urge to cringe under his gaze, while my brother stands on his tiptoes to appear taller, tearing a smile from the stranger's lips.
"Now, what would your name be?"
The question doesn't seem to be directed to any of us in particular, but, seeing that I was reluctant to answer, my brother, emboldened by his smile, speaks up.
"I am Elros, and he is my brother, Elrond."
So simple, and plain, and direct. And yet I could not have brought myself to speak those words. Tonelessly, the stranger repeats the names, and begins chewing on a strand of his hair.
His hand starts tracing patterns in the grass.
"And who would you be?"
It is my brother still, who, now feeling full, finds his curiosity back again. After a second's hesitation, he answers.
One word, and I would rather have that my brother had never asked. I nearly choked. Maglor of the Gap, Fëanarion! If I could, I would have laughed at the situation. And I heed his words, and I ate his bread! Maglor Fëanarion… It could simply not be. And yet I recall, I recall Mother's voice when I was little, and it tells me stories of the olden days… For Fëanor was the greatest of the Eldar, in might and in beauty, in skill and subtlety alike, she would say, and a bright fire burnt within him, the very fire of the One. Each his sons have received a share of their father's spirit, if only a share; Maedhros the eldest is the most handsome and noble; Celegorm knew the language of all living things on Arda; Curufin is the most like his father, and had surpassing skills in the art of the forge; Caranthir's pride and bravery were famous throughout Beleriand; and no one can outdo Amrod and Amras when it comes to hunting; but Maglor the second-born is one of the greatest minstrels and singers in Arda, named only after Daeron of Doriath. However, for all their skills and valour, it was them that the Shadow bound first in its lies, and long ago during the Flight they were cursed, by the Valar themselves, for in Fëanor’s pride and madness they heed not the Valar’s call that they should return to Valinor in penitence and seek pardon. From that time on they have turned to Evil, and, though their intentions might still be good, they act blind and deaf, bound hand and foot by their solemn Oath and the very blood that runs in their veins, slaying their own people, causing bloodshed wherever they go, free-falling to the bottom…
If there be one.
And, as I stare at his face, it melts in front of my eyes into that of Fëanor, the Spirit of Fire, like I imagined him to be when I was little; wondrously fair, finely chiselled, as perfect as the gems he wrought, and yet dark and threatening like a brewing thunderstorm.
Interrupting my reflections, Maglor speaks once more, and the illusion fades.
"Well, I think that you would rather sleep tonight in whatever shelter and bed I can offer you in our camp, than under the stars, fair as they may be."
No, I won’t.
However, I can but numbly follow, as my brother is already walking at his side with his back to the Sea.
Elros got the bed, of course, if that thin mattress tossed on the ground could be called a bed. Maglor and I are both lying on the ground, seeking whatever heat we found by holding our cloaks tight around our shoulders. His back is turned to me, and I cannot help but think how gladly I would seek the warmth of another body near to mine, if only he had not been who he was. My brother's soft, regular breathing informs me that he is sound asleep, but throughout the night I cannot bring myself to close my eyes, tired as I may be. I watch Maglor's back, and, in the semidarkness, I know that he doesn't sleep either.--------------------
- 1 In fact, Aranruth is Thingol's sword (Simarillion, chapter 21, Of Turin Turambar). It is mentioned in Unfinished tales that it was kept in Numenor before its fall, so I thought Elrond would have had it, as Thingol's rightful heir (except there was little left to inherit by that time), then gave it to Elros.
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