13. Chapter Twelve: The Precipice
Tolkien text is directly quoted in some very few passages, bleh bleh.
That night, Aredhel dressed herself in black. With a meticulosity that almost drove Maeglin to despair, her trembling hand wove a light, dark veil over her ebony tresses, and arranged a sea of silver necklaces over her chest until he thought she would sag under their weight.
After she had finished, she stared at the polished surface of her mirror with an unreadable expression. Suddenly, in his mind, Maeglin saw a crowd of people chanting sad songs in a tongue he could not understand, carrying a woman whose silvery jewelry rattled at each step of her bearers. Her eyes were closed, and she did not move.
Frightened, the boy drew closer to his father. The halls of Nogrod smelled of foul smoke.
"She is dead, Maeglin. This is a funeral."
Aredhel smiled thinly, and offered her hand to him. As the young man took it, he realised it was cold as frost.
Light, glittering in the crystal lamps, shimmering over the polished patterns of the floor. Shining in her hair.
Too much light. He almost could feel the prodding of his thoughts on his head.
"Come, Maeglin son of Eöl! Your father commands you. Leave the house of his enemies and the slayers of his kin, or be accursed!"
The light of the Noldor was destroying Eöl. Under its brilliance, the red spark in his eyes was glazed, his body was tense, and even from where he was, Maeglin could feel his very fëa cowering in fury and fear.
He remembered the woods of of Nan Elmoth, where that man´s eyes had seen into the thickest darkness and commanded the shadows at his will. Pierced by the light, his threats seemed empty and quenched.
His mother pressed a hand against his back, shaking her head, and Maeglin tore his glance away from his father in silence. He saw King Turgon sit back on his throne, offended at the Dark Elf´s stubbornness. In a stern voice, he gave him a last choice, to drown in the light or die.
Maeglin felt Aredhel´s hand tense. He turned back, trying to meet her glance, but she slowly pulled away.
The moment after, and she had predicted it –were they bound?-, Eöl twisted like a serpent, taking a javelin out of his cloak. A shriek was heard among the onlookers, and Turgon´s eyes widened in horror.
"You shall not hold what is mine!"
Maeglin tried to pull away, but then his mother was over him, blood tricking through her pale hand. Fear paralyzed him, and he grabbed blindly at her tense limbs, please, do not let her slip and fall.
She pushed him away.
"He is not yours." she hissed, staggering in Eöl´s direction with her face contorted by fury. The whole hall was frozen, as if the loom of the Weaver had been stopped and the hands of the Valië had faltered in their task.
With a ragged gasp, Aredhel grasped the dart and pulled it away from her flesh. The dark velvet of her robe swallowed the blood without leaving a trace, and she lifted her head proudly.
Eöl stared at her. His initial bewilderment gave way first to rage; then, unexpectedly, to a smile of cold triumph.
Suddenly, a shadow clouded the woman´s face, and the White Lady of the Noldor fell to her knees. The hall erupted in a pandemonium of motion and cries, and Maeglin heard Turgon´s voice yelling something, but all he could see was his father´s eyes gleaming in sinister glee even while he was restrained by the Noldor guards.
The room was dark, as if even the light of the Noldor was held at the threshold by the growing power of shadow. The sounds of the living came muffled from the distance, because Aredhel had told them to leave her with her son in such insistent tones that even King Turgon had been forced to comply. Now they were somewhere outside, pacing in circles.
Maeglin knelt at the bedside, shaking as the sweet and insidious smell caught his nostrils once again. He had torn the palms of his hands open with his fingernails, mad with the frustration of a long vigil trying to recall tatters of remembrances while their hopes dwindled more and more.
The little boy stopped in his tracks, intimidated. The darkness coming from that cave was different from that of his father´s house and the forest of Nan Elmoth; it swallowed even the sharp glow of his eyes, and beckoned him with an ancient voice of thousands of years.
Swallowing hard, he lay a first foot on the threshold. A while after, the second followed, and a gentle, sweet-scented warmth enveloped him. His hands explored the surroundings that he was not able to see, until one of them got tangled in something soft and sticky.
A harsh, metallic laughter rang in his ears.
Aredhel´s face contorted in agony, as a pain attack made her jerk backwards. Her eyes stared past his bent form, feverish, unrecognising.
A powerful grip pulled him back, and the boy was thrown over the grass outside. A herd of stars shone brightly over his head, and for the first time in his life, Lómion felt blinded.
Two red eyes glowered in rage.
"You shall not enter this place again!"
The soft, sticky thing had a sickly, silvery colour that refused to gleam with the light of the stars.
Eöl had refused to speak a single word about the poison running in Aredhel´s veins.
"Mother..." Maeglin whispered in a strangled voice. He had never felt so impotent, so powerless, and at the same time so overflooded with guilt. Coward, the steely voice of Anguirel mocked him until he felt he was going mad.
In Aredhel´s pale brow, there were pearls of sweat gleaming. Her son had never seen her like this, so frail and spiritless, not even in the darkest days of Nan Elmoth when he had feared she would fade. He felt scared. Where had the stars in her eyes gone?
Where had she gone?
"Mother." he repeated. "I am here."
His hand found a way under the covers, and he grasped hers tightly, as if he could keep her with himself like this. Aredhel shook at his touch, and her features seemed to regain enough spirit as to twist away in blind fury.
"Do not touch me!" she screeched. "I will never be yours. Maeglin will never be yours!"
Maeglin pulled back, shocked. She is delirious, a Healer had said.
"It´s me, Mother." he insisted, careful yet intently. "I´m your son. Your beloved son. I´m here, with you."
Her eyes widened in shock, and for a while she gaped at him in silence. Maeglin nodded in anguish, drawing a little closer.
Suddenly, her shock turned to terror, and her face went even more pale under the dull flicker of candlelight.
"No!" She yelled. "No! Get away from him. Leave him alone!"
Maeglin held his breath in distress. There was something sinister in her words.
As abruptly as it had started, the fit was gone, and Aredhel fell limp on the bed that she had dishevelled with her frantic thrashing.
"Eru."she muttered in a broken voice, closing her eyes. "Oh, Eru."
She did not open them anymore.
"You should rest."
Idril´s face showed signs of grief and lack of sleep, but her lips were curved in a reassuring smile. Maeglin stared past her, not even bothering to blink at her invitation. His eyes were lost in the dancing flames of the hearth in front of him.
This was his light. The light of the forge. Not the blinding, gleaming light of the Noldor to which he had lost his mother.
The young man shivered, and embraced his chest with both hands. Since her death, he had felt nothing but cold and emptiness. There was a hole, a gaping chasm in his fëa, as if a part of it had been wrenched away from him.
He could not remember the nights when they had lain side by side in the humid earth, exultant to have their freedom back. There were no memories of her passionate caresses, or the proud, fierce light twinkling in her eyes whenever she looked at him. As he pulled her closer, his body had raged with unknown emotions, but he couldn´t even recall that, either.
The cold increased. He was freezing.
Maeglin hugged his knees, feeling like a little child again. She had always been there to embrace him back then, to make him forget the cold and the nightmares. To make him smile, she had jumped on running horses; to show him the forbidden light she had climbed to the highest trees.
He could not remember. Maybe he was going mad.
Something cool and soft was caressing his forehead over and over. At first, he didn´t even notice, until a familiar, seducing whisper reached his ears and made him start.
Disbelieving, the young man opened his eyes, and repressed a start as he saw her there. Her glossy black hair fell freely over her shoulders, and she was struggling with her breath, smiling as she did when she slaughtered the Wargs.
"Mother." he muttered, in wonder. She smiled, stroking his face.
"I am here."
He pressed against her, and she caressed him. The sparkle of his eyes looked strangely far away, like the stars which shone through the treetops of Nan Elmoth.
Scared at the thought, Maeglin grabbed her with all his might. She was leaving. She was sinking down the gaping chasm in his fëa like a silent ghost.
Her lips were shrouded by mist. Had he ever kissed them?
He didn´t remember how it felt.
"Mother. I love you. Do not leave me."
Aredhel did not answer. In an impulse, he pulled her closer, and kissed her hungrily. She was cold and rigid, like the sweet-smelling corpse lying in her bed downstairs.
All of a sudden, her eyes widened in horror, and she pulled back violently. Blind, anguishing, Maeglin tried to seize her, her dress, her long tresses, but she tore herself apart and left him to freeze, alone.
In his hands, there was only a strand of gleaming, hurting golden hair, the colour of the blinding sunrays. Bitterly, he cursed its radiance in the foulest words that he knew, even as he pressed it against his heart in a desperate attempt to find warmth.
" at dawn I´ll face the edge of thorns..."(1)
They were all there, yesteday´s crowd. From the woman who waved an enthusiastic hand in her balcony, to the guards who had welcomed his mother in joy, even the lone child who stared at them with wide eyes from a corner- they were there, and they fled his glance, whispering words in each other´s ear.
Maeglin hated them for both things; for being the same, and for coming.
"...come to see him die..."
A strong, chilly wind was blowing in the hilltop of Caragdûr. Maeglin wrapped the cloak tightly around his shoulders, not wondering anymore why he needed to. The void in his fëa had swallowed everything, even his warmth.
"...here he comes..."
The rumour of whispers increased, and now he felt the attention of the Gondolindrim shift towards several men who were making their way through the crowd. Maeglin winced- those people talked too much.
And it wouldn´t be a surprise that he was thinking exactly the same thing, he mused with a mixture of horror and fascination as they drew closer to him. and he could distinguish the pale, slightly hunched figure in their midst. But, if only yesterday the Dark Elf´s intense stares had shown fury, bewilderment, and defiance, today they were empty of any emotion besides indifference; for the Kinslayers and their whispers, for his own death, even for the dawning light.
Maeglin swallowed, watching his father arrive to the summit of the hill, coloured in reddish hues by the sun rising behind the mountains that girdled the Secret City. A part of his heart still could not get himself to believe that it would be like this; that Eöl would die without fighting back. And the Gondolindrim shared his apprehenshions, because the men who had accompanied him retreated a few steps, leaving him alone in front of the precipice. Any struggle in that treacherous place could kill more than one man.
Eöl ignored them, turning to inspect the fall with absent interest. One of the guards gave a step in his direction, as if intending to use the chance to push him into his death, but before his other foot could move, he thought better of it and stepped back in place.
The Dark Elf turned back to face them. Maeglin could hear the muffled gasps coming from many mouths as his red eyes came into full view.
"...spawn of Morgoth..."
No, he thought in fury, recalling the endless nights of weakness, the fear in those eyes whenever he felt his son´s fëa slipping through his hands. He remembered how his mother had deceived him, how in the brief instant before the smile he had looked confused at her fall. He´s an Elf, like us. He can be killed. He can die.
In an impulse, Maeglin´s hand sought the handle of Anguirel, and he stared back into his father´s eyes. No, you will not escape.
Aredhel writhed in bed, her eyes full of horror.
"Get away from him!"
Eöl seemed to notice his intent, because he smiled. By now, the whispers of the Gondolindrim had turned into an ominous noise around them.
"So you forsake your father and his kin, ill-gotten son." he said, in a low voice that somehow managed to be heard by everyone like a hiss in the ear. Next to them, Idril was shifting nervously. "Here shall you fail of all your hopes, and here may you yet die the same death as I."
Maeglin froze. His hand increased the pressure on the hilt of his sword, but it was cold and unresponsive like a vulgar chunk of black metal. Everybody was eyeing him now, with a mixture of curiosity and horror.
Eöl turned his back to him. One more second, and a ripping pain tore his insides in a hundred pieces.
No one heard the sound of the fall.
(1) Blind Guardian, "Thorn".
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