6. Chapter 5 - The Shimmer
The two male figures sat behind the manor house in the velvet darkness, each deep in his own thoughts.
Ewan enjoyed the feeling of relief; pleased he no longer had to pretend. Ailsa finally knew Maedhros' true identity and the rich history their family had in Egla Tir. True, she would need time to digest everything she'd learned tonight, but the rest would fall into place more easily now.
Maedhros' thoughts weren't so certain. Sitting motionless as he stared out into the surrounding night, no one would suspect the deep emotional turmoil warring inside him.
He had only wanted to let her feel some of the gentler memories he kept hidden. Something of what he and his family had been before the Oath. The noble beauty of the Blessed Realm, and the way of life that was now lost to him forever. A mere glance into that part of him that would strengthen their bond. This is what he had wanted to share with her. But once their minds connected, he was helpless to keep his thoughts under control. He could no more stop what had passed between them anymore than she could have.
Unable to move on the cliffs, he watched helplessly as Ailsa nearly collapsed under the weight of the truth. That he was able to harm her in any way filled him with dark self-reproach. How could she not flee from him as soon as she could? He despaired that he would never be able to look into her familiar eyes again without finding contempt reflected in them. Maedhros knew he would not be able to bear it…not this time.
Ewan had stopped him from following her into the house, but he needed to know she was truly unharmed, that she would in time forgive his weakness on the cliffs. He could no longer stand the waiting. "Ewan, I think we should find Ailsa. To make sure she is all right." Although his voice sounded calm, he was far from it.
"Don't worry, Maedhros. She's probably sitting quietly somewhere thinking about everything that's happened tonight." Even in the darkness, Maedhros could easily see the smile on the face a father who thought he knew his child.
"I only thought she might need to talk to…us." Maedhros started to rise.
Ewan held up his hand, "She'll find us if she needs to." Reluctantly, Maedhros sat back down.
The minutes ticked by. Ewan sighed. "You know, it's been an amazing night. Not just what we've been able to tell Ailsa, but the general feel of the entire evening. Earlier, I sensed that something was wrong. I found myself compelled to drop what I was doing and rush to the back of the house. I came out into the garden just in time to see Ailsa coming out of the trees at a dead run." In that same darkness, Ewan couldn't see Maedhros flinch slightly as he spoke. "It was actually quite a strange experience. All I knew, was my daughter needed me and I had to find her." Ewan shook his head in amazement.
Suddenly, Maedhros straightened in his chair. "You did make sure everything was replaced properly before you left the Archives?" Holding his breath, he waited for Ewan's answer.
"Of course I did," Ewan quickly replied. What an absurd idea. He paused for a moment. "I'm sure I did." But this time his voice suddenly lacked a convincing timbre to it.
Maedhros stood up. "Ewan…!" He quickly turned and walked towards the house; Ewan followed.
- O -
Ailsa felt around unsuccessfully, searching blindly for a light switch. As she stared down the dark passage, she knew she wasn't going to let that stop her from finding out where the dancing light was coming from. There was something else making its way down the passage, the very distinct sound of running water.
As she proceeded cautiously down the long corridor, she felt the coldness of the rock wall through her fingertips. She couldn't see much detail in the semi-gloom, which made her feel a little uneasy. That and the affects of the large tumbler of Chardonnay she had consumed, now made her once steady resolve begin to slowly drain away with each advancing step. "Damn it, what's wrong with me," she finally chastised herself, but continued on. She took repeated peeks over her shoulder at the open doorway and the Archive room. Its familiar light helped to bolster her determination.
She could feel the cool moisture on her face and bare forearms as she moved closer to the opening. The clear sound of running water grew louder. Hesitating just a moment before walking the last few steps, she took in a quick breath and tried to prepare herself for what would be waiting around the corner.
Ailsa went through the arched doorway and immediately winced at the onslaught of light. She brought her hand up to shield her eyes from the glare and turned her head aside to allow them to adjust to the brightness. Dropping her hand away, Ailsa cautiously raised her eyes. Still squinting against the dazzling light, she began to make out motion within the glare. Her eyes widened in amazement after she began to see just what the movement was.
Sudden panic consumed her mind, and she instinctively backed away from the glistening light. She kept on backing away until her body connected abruptly with the rock surface of the wall behind her, knocking the breath out of her. Her mind already pushed to the brink with the evening's revelations was now teetering on the very edge of rational thought. The wall behind her felt slick with moisture, her hands desperately searched for a safe handhold for some kind of support.
At the back of a large cave room was a rock wall and the reason for the moisture and sound cascading down the center of it. A small waterfall was coming out of the edge of the ceiling, falling into a very large pool of water below. However, it was the strange mist suspended above it that had made her back away. A curtain of shifting light glowed above the water in an iridescent mist in various shades of yellow, blue, green, and red. All this color within a pulsating brilliant white. Like a small display of the Northern Lights it shimmered to and fro, pictures of movement and light within with no clear borders or boundaries. The shimmering vision was the only source of illumination that filled the otherwise lightless room.
Ailsa swallowed hard; her eyes never left the shimmering mist. It was already difficult for her to breathe, but she took a few deep breaths trying to steady herself. After a moment, she pushed her body away from the safety of the rock wall. She didn't know if it was the half bottle of wine or what, but as frightened as she felt, she found she couldn't run away. She discovered she didn't want to run away. Her sense of wonder had begun to overcome her fear.
Captured by the unseen power of the lights, she felt as if unseen hands were drawing her into the room. She shook her head trying to clear her mind. She hoped what she was seeing was a hallucination brought on by shock and…other things. Every reasonable cell of her brain kept screaming that it couldn't be real. Her heart told her it was something else. Her feet felt heavy as she forced them toward the apparition, all the while staring at the visions in the mist.
They were scenes in movement, with no logical sequence to them. She had hardly time to register one image before it passed to the next. A wooded area of thick silver trees with crowns of yellow leaves stood swaying on a beautiful sunny day, but it would suddenly change as a phalanx of riders on horseback galloped through another, darker woodland. Before she could focus on the details of the riders, the picture changed again, and an open field of thick grass appeared. A party of nine cloaked figures, some of whom seemed to be children, made their way across it. Abruptly, the sea of grass turned into a sea of churning blue water with beautiful swan shaped vessels sailing quietly upon it. Made of silver-grey wood with shining sails, the ships proudly journeyed to some unseen port. Just as quickly, the scene changed and the ships were burning as they lay tied to their quay. Ailsa knew she had seen these burning ships before. They were the same ships that burned in the visions she shared with Maedhros on the cliffs.
On and on the scenes wove in and out of each other. There were gruesome battles, and attacks on and by various types of humans. Ailsa glimpsed tall beautiful people walking through another wooded area, and watched in amazement as they glowed in the sunlight. Golden figures of unearthly grace, briefly there and then gone.
There were also frighteningly loathsome creatures straight out of the darkest foulness of hell. The misshapen creatures stood in the rain beating their curved swords against wooden shields. Their twisted mouths yelling something ugly in the night. Ailsa could hear her own breathing coming in rapid pulls with fright as well as in awe as she came nearer to the brightness. She couldn't possibly be seeing what she was seeing, but there it was…just above the pool right in front of her.
She stopped her advance when the toe of her shoe came in contact with the low rock wall surrounding the pool. She glanced down and saw her pale face reflected in the pool's surface. Staring blankly at herself for a moment, she couldn't help thinking the poor soul looking back must be raving mad. Then, the flickering light pulled her attention back to it. The segments began to slow down.
Completely mesmerized, she watched as the view now moved up the wall of a stone fortress. It stopped and Ailsa felt as if she was actually standing on the top of the highest wall of a multi-tiered city built around the great crag of a mountain. It was night once again; in the sky one or two stars blazed brightly in competition with the full moon.
Standing near the edge of the wall was a lone figure of a man. He stood bathed in the soft blue aura of moonlight as it reflected off the long pale blond hair falling down the back of his light colored tunic. Ailsa could see only a small portion of his face. Part of his moonlit hair was pulled back and braided into a long tail that nearly reached his waist. There was a smaller section at his temple braided around and behind his ear. Ailsa smiled as she noticed like Maedhros, his ear was decidedly pointed. He's an Elf. She smiled as she tried to see more.
He stood frozen in the moment; his angular jaw slightly clenched. The night breeze gently played with the small braid, making it dance behind him. Ailsa imagined she could actually feel the breeze as she stood watching the isolated Elf. He exhaled deeply and his shoulders dropped slowly. His head lowered as it followed his gaze to something in his hands. He began to toy with what looked like a dagger. He turned the dagger over and over. Once or twice he ran his long tapered fingers over the ivory handle tracing the beautifully carved horse's head of its hilt as if it were a precious object to him. Ailsa was so close to him now, she could make out the etched design of a rearing stallion on the blade.
The Elf cradled the dagger and slowly tipped his head back, fixing his eyes on the brightest star in the night sky. His jaw began to move slightly and Ailsa realized he was praying. She was aware of a strange and growing feeling coming from him; something about him made a heartbreaking ache grow in her chest. He was so vulnerable there in the lonely night. She knew that he was waiting for something…something he was dreading very much.
Without thinking, her hand slowly rose to touch his arm. Her fingertips had barely touched the mist when suddenly a hand gripped her wrist pulling it away sharply. "Daro, Ailsa! Avogaro!" Maedhros shouted at her. Startled, Ailsa let out a small yelp.
"Let go of me!" She demanded as she pulled her wrist free. The figure in the vision suddenly whirled around…he had heard them. The dagger was now a weapon in his hand ready to be wielded at a moment's notice. Ailsa froze. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw the Elf's exquisite face in the pale moonlight…a face of perfect masculine beauty. He stood as a warrior now, his intense dark eyes wide with anticipation, all vulnerability gone. His gaze darted about looking for the source of the intrusion. His well-shaped lips mouthed words she could barely hear. "Man na si? Pedo!"
Finally, puzzlement furrowed his high smooth brow. He obviously couldn't see anyone. She heard a sharp intake of breath beside her and looked at Maedhros. He had heard the words the Elf spoke, and he was clearly stunned by it. "By the Valar," he murmured.
Though furious at Maedhros' interruption, Ailsa quickly turned her attention back to the shimmer, but the image was already slowly dissolving into a richly decorated candlelit bedroom. At the foot of the bed stood a small knot of fair-haired men. Behind them sad faces could be seen: choked and torn, some fought their tears while others allowed their misery to consume them.
Ailsa's attention was drawn to a golden haired young man standing by the headboard. He wore a leather tunic over his well-built frame; his long blond hair falling past his shoulders. In his hand he held a circlet of gold; a large bright diamond sparkled in the center of it. Although he stood silently, the set of his shoulders betrayed his sadness. He had been crying, the trail of his tears reflected the candlelight off his smooth cheeks.
In the center of the bed, a man's body lay motionless. Both his long hair and trimmed beard were white as snow, but his aged pale face still bore a handsome countenance. A woman, silver streaks threading her long dark hair, lay sobbing across his still body. The coverlet on the bed and the banners held by the grieving guards at the door depicted a white horse on a green field. Was this the death of some king? Was this what the Elf on the wall had been dreading?
Ailsa had no time to think about these questions now as stone cold anger filled her entire being. She turned on Maedhros, her eyes seething. Her father stood at the opening of the room, his face a mixture of curiosity and foreboding. "Let me guess." She gestured adamantly around the room and pointed at the shimmer in front of the waterfall. "This is something else you haven't told me." Her voice rang coldly against the rock walls.
Maedhros stood absolutely still his eyes glued to the shimmer. The emotional wall around him, thicker than ever. Ailsa didn't care. "Well?" She demanded. "Who's got a tale for me now?"
She looked past Maedhros and saw a small table and chair sitting in the corner of the room. She brushed by him and angrily strode over the smooth rock floor to the chair and sat down. Folding her hands on the empty table top, she waited. Ewan reached over and flicked a switch and a long string of light bulbs attached high on the rock walls came to life. Ailsa could clearly see the rest of the room now.
It wasn't a particularly large room. Rust colored rocks formed walls on three sides in front of her. There was the table and chair she sat at, and on the other side of the doorway the rock wall seemed to protrude into a waist high shelf. A small wooden chest bound in iron was the only thing on it.
A low wall of piled stones encircled the pool. The light from the shimmering mist still shone with its bright intensity. She sat back, looking at her father who stood apprehensively by the opening. Ewan waited for Maedhros to say something. Like a pillar of stone, Maedhros stood with his back to them, still watching the shimmering visions.
"Maedhros! I'm not going to live forever, so could you please get on with it." Ailsa's patience was at an end.
Maedhros' gaze seemed to have dropped to the pool surface. Without turning, he spoke. "I had hoped you would not have to know about this for a very long time." His voice was filled with remorse; each word came with difficulty. He let out a low sigh as he wished with all his heart that he could be standing anywhere other than where he stood at that very moment.
He seemed in some kind of pain, but Ailsa wasn't going to let that deter her. "I'm still waiting…" She shoved the words out coldly, unflinching.
Maedhros turned and his eyes came up to study the face of the defiant young woman sitting at the table. Her body tense with anger, eyes reflecting the hurt that his secrets had caused. Now she was expecting him to reveal the last secret that would probably destroy any bond between them. His heart grieved at the thought.
"Honey, I don't care how angry you are, you have to understand. Maedhros has his reasons." Ewan's voice was begging her to understand.
Ailsa didn't want to understand. "I don't care. I'm pissed at both of you right now," she fumed. "I don't want any more surprises. Just how many more secrets do you have Maedhros?" She asked pointedly.
"That's quite enough, young lady," Ewan commanded, his voice sharper and louder than it had been in years. "I'm not going to stand here and let you act like a petulant child. This isn't all about you or your hurt feelings you know. This is something far bigger than either one of us. You'll speak to Maedhros with the respect he deserves." Ailsa eyes widened at her father's angry rebuke. It had been a long time since her father last chastised her. His words smarted and made her feel very much the errant child.
Maedhros put up his hand to stop Ewan from saying anymore. He looked sadly at Ailsa for a moment. "I only have one more secret, Ailsa." His voice was laced with resignation, and barely above a whisper. He walked over to the rock shelf and opened the chest. He cautiously lifted a brown leather pouch by its drawstrings. In a few long strides, he covered the distance between them. Watching her face, he gently set it down in front of her. Ailsa looked at it, then at Maedhros. His face was still inscrutable. "Go ahead and open it…carefully," he finally said. Deep sadness clouded his grey eyes.
Ailsa looked at her father who nodded. "It's all right. You need to see what's inside." Ewan could feel the excitement rising within him. He almost envied her.
Taking a step back from the table, Maedhros watched as Ailsa adjusted herself in the chair. She picked up the pouch, and gingerly pulled at the edges to open it. A bright glow lit up the features of her face as soon as she began to open it. Before Maedhros or her father could stop her, she quickly turned the pouch upside down and let its contents fall into her waiting hand. A small cry from Maedhros went unnoticed by Ailsa and Ewan. Both were intent on the contents lying in her hand.
A round faceted jewel no larger than a golfball lay in her palm. Shining like a beacon, it pulsated with an inner radiant life. Warmth, like that of a living being emanated from deep within the stone, a beautiful wonderful warm glow. Never in all her life had Ailsa seen anything to rival it. The warmth quickly increased in intensity, growing to an uncomfortable level. Then it began to burn like fire. She grimaced in pain.
"Daro!" Maedhros gasped and reached out towards her. Ailsa quickly put the stone on the pouch and placed it on the table before her. Maedhros took her hand in his and quickly looked at her palm. It was pink, but there was no damage to the skin. Maedhros sighed with relief. She pulled her hand from his grasp and inspected it herself. "It felt almost like a chemical burn." She said, amazed there wasn't any blistering.
"The jewel is one of the Silmarilli made by my father. It can not be held by mortals or by those who are…impure." Maedhros' deep voice cracked as he spoke.
Even as Ailsa rubbed her palm, her eyes were riveted to the shining jewel. It's so beautiful. I can't imagine why he keeps it hidden. Suddenly, memories she had shared earlier with Maedhros flooded into her mind as she looked at the glowing gem lying on the table. Her brows rose as the truth finally began to dawn on her. This was it, this was the answer to all the pain and regret Maedhros suffered. She knew it in her heart as she looked up at him. "This is what your oath was all about, isn't it?"
"Yes." He answered flatly with lowered eyes.
Thank God! Everything they had told her was true; the proof lay shining before her. She rejoiced with the thought. But how could this jewel possibly drive anyone to madness? Ailsa frowned as she gazed deeper into the crystal. "How could anything so beautiful cause so much suffering?" She couldn't stop looking at it.
Maedhros motioned to Ewan who came over to the table and, using a handkerchief from his pocket, picked up the jewel. Ailsa numbly watched him place the jewel back into the pouch, pull the drawstrings closed, and place it back in the wooden chest on the shelf. She felt confused, wondering if it was still the wine that was affecting her, or did she actually feel sad that the jewel was back in the pouch. Her eyes were drawn to the shimmering mist once again. "So what does that mini Aurora Borealis have to do with anything?"
Maedhros had to reenact this scene hundreds of times in the many years he had dwelt in this world. Each of his children had come to this moment, and he would have to tell the same story over and over...to a point. The tale he told Ailsa in the garden tonight was that version. He had always known it was part of his punishment to relive the tale again and again with each generation. But the telling of even the abbreviated version weighed heavily on his soul. Until now, only Richard Matthews had been told the entire story, and Maedhros would bear the memories of Richard's reaction for centuries to come.
He had told Ewan the same small part of the tale and was thankful that he had been satisfied with that. But how much did he dare tell Ailsa? Because of the link between them, he was certain that she would demand more. Ailsa had shared too much of his mind to be satisfied with anything less. He mourned the fact it would have to be like this.
Maedhros rose to his full height and began.
"Our people lived in the lands of Aman. As I have said before, there are very few places in your world that rival its beauty and magic. The greatest creations of my world were the Two Trees of Valinor; one glowed with a silver light and the other of gold. The Two Trees, as my people called them, inspired great reverence and wonder, and their magical light illuminated all the cities in the Blessed Realm.
My father, Feanor, was a great craftsman. He had been trained by my mother's father, Mahtan, and the master of all crafts, Aulë, one of the Valar. With their instruction, he was able to make his greatest inventions and perfect his skills, including the art of fabricating gems and crystals. He made three jewels that contained the light of the Two Trees. And like the Two Trees, they could never be duplicated. My father called them "The Silmarilli." Ailsa watched Maedhros' face as he spoke; there was both pride and doom in his shining eyes.
"Although everyone in Aman loved the jewels, my father gave his heart totally to them. His increasing love for them made him grow arrogant and selfish. He would wear the jewels with great pride at festivals so all could see his greatest possessions, but would allow none to touch them." Maedhros stopped, the words tasted bitter on his tongue.
"The Valar are beings of pure spirit who were the guardians of my world. Their task was to fulfill the Vision of Ilúvatar and through their purity, they kept our world in balance. But not all the Valar were uncorrupted. A great evil came into being at that time in the person of Melkor. Of all the Valar, he was consumed with dark envy and was jealous of anyone wielding the power of creation. Melkor's black ambition was to dominate and control the will of others, and he wanted absolute power over Aman. He lusted most after the light of my father's Silmarilli."
"Melkor seduced my father with lies, influencing him until my father unwittingly locked the jewels away, allowing no one to see them. Nothing could induce my father to bring them out. Even when the Two Trees were poisoned and began to die by Melkor's evil, he foolishly refused to give up the Silmarilli to restore them. Melkor had schemed for this and stole the jewels, slaying my grandfather, Finwe, in the process. As I said, his death was a source of great sorrow to all our people."
Maedhros paused as he fought back a sob deep in his throat as he remembered his grandfather's death. "My father was beside himself with rage…and grief. His father had been slain and his finest work had been stolen. Even with the knowledge the Silmarilli had burned Melkor's hands black and would forevermore torment him, it did not sway him from his lust for revenge."
"Melkor escaped to Middle-earth. My father wanted to leave Aman…to pursue Melkor, avenge my grandfather's death, and retrieve the Silmarilli. The Valar for whatever their reasons denied him permission to do this, but his pride and his need for revenge would not allow him to stay. He brought my brothers and I together and we listened as he made his Oath. He wished the Everlasting Darkness on himself if he should ever fail to pursue anyone who stole or kept a Silmaril from him. We brothers did not hesitate to stand at our father's side and eagerly…no, more than that...joyously swore the same Oath. We all wanted to take our revenge on Melkor for all the evil he had done in Aman, and especially to our family."
"What we did not know was that the rashness and the pride of this Oath would destroy our people. The Oath bound us to a path that led to obsession and revenge at all cost." Maedhros stopped, and stood shaking, sick with the memories. He looked at Ailsa and Ewan's eyes as he spoke. He found no condemnation burning in them, only deep concern for him. He knew he could go on.
"Through the long years, we fought anyone to regain possession of the Silmarilli. It did not matter who they were or whose lives, theirs or ours, we had to forfeit in order to get them back. I can still hear the echoing cries of my dying kinsmen as we continued to give blind obedience to the Oath. Oh, we tried to forsake it, to stay our hand, but in the end, it was always there calling us back to our duty. Our family became cursed among our people and neither friend nor kin, nor our exile from Aman could influence us. The Oath had to be satisfied."
There seemed a blackness shrouding him as he spoke. A visible essence of the Oath that had surrounded his soul then. "During the years that followed, we lost one of the jewels forever, and my father and brothers died one by one until only my brother Maglor and I were left. Maglor tried every argument he had to make me abandon the Oath. For him, it was over. There was no longer any reason to go on."
Maedhros eyes filled with tears as he thought of his beautiful brother and how he had begged him to relinquish their claim to the remaining Silmarilli. To put aside the Oath and live normal lives once again. He could no longer look at Ailsa and Ewan. He began to pace up and back, but continued with this very last bit of his narrative.
"But even then…in the fullness of my stupid pride, I would not listen to him and forsake the Oath. Instead, I persuaded Maglor to join me in one last attempt to regain the last of the jewels. So once again, we killed without caring. We retrieved the jewels, but found to our horror, we had become too corrupt to ever hold them again." Maedhros stopped pacing and smiled sadly at the irony of it. He raised his hand and looked at it, eyes still glistening with unshed tears.
"The jewels burned away the skin of our hands, tormenting us with the knowledge that our pursuit of the Oath had made us unworthy to keep them. My brother watched in dismay as I slipped into madness with the realization of what we had lost. My life became nothing. I…I…could not bear to live with the shame. My only thought was to end the madness and my life."
Ewan and Ailsa quickly looked at each other. They couldn't believe this normally controlled gentle being standing before them could ever be driven to such despair. But then, they couldn't imagine Maedhros being capable of doing the acts he so readily confessed to. He was an Elf after all, and no ordinary man. The room fell silent, even the waterfall seemed to have quieted as they listened to the raw grief in Maedhros' voice.
"You cannot comprehend how horrendous my life had become. It is as if all the crushing evil I had wrought in the name of the Oath came crashing down on me with a weight that was unbearable. I was mad with grief. I did the only thing I thought right. Holding the Silmaril in my hand, I threw myself into a fiery chasm in an attempt to end my suffering and destroy the jewel forever." Maedhros turned and faced the shimmer. His voice was so choked with emotion; he had to clear his throat twice before continuing.
"I closed my eyes and jumped from the edge into the blessed river of lava below and the nothingness I longed for." Maedhros' body began to gently shake. Ailsa and Ewan didn't know if it was from crying or if he was laughing. "But the Valar had other plans for me."
"I felt my body land, but felt no burning pain from the liquid rock. I opened my eyes and found myself lying on the floor of this cave. I saw the Silmaril glowing on the floor where it had fallen from my hand. The waterfall just as you see it falling into the pool below, and the Shimmer weaving its visions above in the mist." Maedhros shoulders sagged and his head fell forward. "It seemed that my punishment was to live. Exiled from everyone and everything that I had ever known, forced to watch through the shimmer, scenes from my world and beyond. To live with the guilt and the torment of regret…forever." His voice quietly trailed off.
Ailsa wiped away the tears that welled up in her eyes as she struggled to relax the catch in her throat. She looked at her father; his eyes were fixed on Maedhros' back, his face unreadable. Maedhros stood waiting, the falling water down the rock face of the wall the only sound. She had wanted the whole story…hell, she had demanded it from him. And now she had heard it all.
His tale showed Maedhros as a man of deep passions and pride. One who was honor bound to fulfill an oath even if it meant the killing and destroying of his own kind. Blindly obeying his honor past the point of reason. But there had been another Maedhros who fought valiantly against the very power that drove him to commit these crimes against his own kin. And in the end, it had been this wiser, gentler soul who had triumphed, but at such a terrible cost. How many centuries had he been made to live with that fact? She didn't know what he expected their reaction to be. She only knew that he was waiting for them to speak. How could she say anything when all she wanted to do was cry for him?
Ewan cleared his throat, breaking the heavy silence. "And you don't have any idea how you got here?" He asked earnestly. Ailsa felt her jaw drop in disbelief; she couldn't believe her father's question.
Maedhros turned, his brows knitted together in confusion as he looked at Ewan. "No, Ewan, I do not," he confessed.
"It seems to me that there should be a rational explanation how you could have traveled from one world to another." Her father's hand came up and absently touched his jaw in contemplation as he tried to figure out the physics of Maedhros' journey.
"Jeez, dad, what are you talking about?" Ailsa exclaimed. "Maedhros has just opened his soul to us and all you can think of is how he got here?"
Ewan looked surprised by her statement. "I only thought that when we add this story to the Archives, we should have all the details," he reasoned. "This is far too important to leave unexplained." As he watched Ailsa roll her eyes, he realized his curiosity might be a bit ill timed. He shrugged his shoulders. "I'm sorry. I guess I was just too wrapped up in the story." Ailsa smiled wanly back at him.
Her attention was drawn back to the figure standing near the Shimmer. Now the connection she had felt with him didn't seem so strange. After all, it was blood calling to blood. She and her father were now part of this amazing person and his life.
Ailsa found herself feeling very protective of Maedhros as she watched him staring vacantly at the rock floor before him. He was slightly hunched over, his arms snugly tucked around his middle as he swayed slightly. He looked like he was ready to collapse.
Getting up from the chair, she gestured to her father and then pointed toward Maedhros. "Dad, let's leave all that until later." Her father nodded in agreement. She quickly walked to Maedhros' side. "I think we all could use some air." As she spoke, Ailsa gently touched his arm and then his cheek. His skin felt like ice. Feeling her touch, Maedhros' eyes rose to meet hers. Those grey eyes of his that always just hinted at the emotion that hid behind them now stared back at her empty and desolate. They were almost childlike in their naked devastation. She knew she had to do something for him.
Taking his hand in hers, she brought her face close to his. "Come with me, Maedhros. Okay?" She smiled and gently pulled him toward the opening. Ewan watched Ailsa take command of Maedhros, urging him through the doorway. He was proud of how quickly she understood what must be done for him. As they passed, she touched Ewan's shoulder. "Do you want to come up for some air too?" She asked squeezing it slightly.
"Actually, I was going to get all this into the computer before I turn in. You two go on," He said with raised brows. He knew he wouldn't be much help at the moment. Ailsa knew this too as she smiled back at him. She led Maedhros out of the cave room.
Still holding tight to Maedhros' hand, she maneuvered him down the passageway and up the stairs to the library. Once in the library, she released him. Maedhros walked silently past her and paused for a moment at one of the window seats, then sat down. His hand, white knuckled, clutched the edge of the pillow. Frowning, his eyes were fixed on the wood floor under his feet.
Ailsa's heart broke as she heard him expel a long ragged sigh. The pain written across his face was almost too much to look at. She went to the window seat and sat next to him. Her hands shook slightly as she fought to keep the hot tears that filled her eyes from escaping down her face. How could she comfort him? Did she even have the right to try?
Maedhros' ears were filled with the cries of the dying. He watched as his sword sliced through pale Elven flesh again and again, hearing the last desperate breath of each of his vanquished prey. They fell, first one then another; his armor was splattered with their precious blood. His hand and sword were sticky with it. The thick stench of burning bodies and buildings filled the air. Death hung all around him like a cloak, and still he looked for more to wreak his vengeance on. The hardness of his heart encouraged the cold killer he had become…they all had to pay…he had sworn it.
Ailsa waited hoping Maedhros would find some release from his anguished stupor. Finally, she cleared her throat. "Maedhros…?"
Somewhere on the wind, he heard someone calling his name. Maedhros stood in the middle of the carnage trying to listen. Deep inside him, he knew he needed to hear this voice; it held the promise of escape. Surrounded by the heat of the burning city and the smell of blood, he no longer wished to look at the bodies that littered the once bright streets of Menegroth. His breathing slowed as a rush of revulsion coursed through his body. It was always the same: first the bloodlust, then the aching regret. He strained to hear the voice calling to him.
Ailsa tried to swallow the lump that lingered in her throat, and gently touched his arm. He slowly turned his head and looked at her with agony filled eyes. "I'm so sorry," was all she could get out. She was sorry for the burden of what he had to live with…she was sorry for not understanding and acting like a child tonight…she was sorry that life was so brutally unfair.
Maedhros heard Ailsa's words, and saw the tears in her eyes. Despite what she now knew of his past, they did not judge him. Her eyes were filled only with worry and this touched his shattered heart.
She felt his arm go around her shoulders, hugging her closer to him. It was a gesture of both need and comfort. Resting her head on his shoulder, she wrapped her arms tightly around him, hoping to impart whatever soothing calm and strength she could lend to his wounded soul. He lay his cheek on the top of her head. "You have nothing to be sorry for, little one," he spoke softly as a father would comforting a child.
"No, you don't understand." She said, pushing gently away to an arm's length of comfort. She studied his pale empty face. "I'm sorry that you've been made to suffer for your mistakes like this. I mean, you were misguided…sure. But I just can't believe that somewhere out there in the cosmos, someone hasn't seen the good in you." And there was good inside him, she remembered the deep shame that poured out of him on the cliffs. Remorse like that doesn't come from an evil heart.
"You could've easily died jumping into that chasm, but you didn't. I mean, to save you and not forgive you?" She blushed at her awkwardness. "I just think that…after all this time…you've suffered enough. And, my God, to struggle with this burden…alone." She paused, the realization suddenly hitting her hard. "You've been bearing all this completely on your own, haven't you?" Maedhros didn't have to answer, she knew he had.
"It is no more than I deserve," he answered. Maedhros turned his head to the side unable to look at her. He knew what she meant. Generation after generation lived in this house, but he was always alone. Any chance of true companionship with his progeny was destroyed the moment his secret was revealed and they realized what he was. He was always the outsider, ever the stranger to even his own kin.
She squeezed his arms, her throat threatening to close up on her again. "Maedhros, you're not alone anymore. Dad and I are here for you." She bit her lip slightly trying to control her voice. "It doesn't matter what happened before. The person who did those things no longer exists." It was a declaration she needed him to hear. "You are worthy of forgiveness." One disobedient tear made its way down her cheek; she quickly wiped it away.
Maedhros' face softened at the sound of Ailsa's words. They were like welcome rain to parched earth. Through all the long years, he had given up any hope of forgiveness. He was convinced that there could never be any forgiveness for what he had done, and he would never know that word again. But now as he looked into the earnest eyes of this girl, this child of his blood, sitting and trying with all her might to comfort him, he saw that forgiveness. After all she knew about him, she still thought him worthy of it. Knowing this, he felt the heavy burden he carried in his heart lightened just a little. A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He placed his hand on his chest in a salute. "Thank you. I can not tell you what your words mean to me."
Ailsa returned his smile. Wrapping her arms around him again, she hugged him for all she was worth. He hugged her back fervently, and they sat there for some time. She knew she hadn't released him from his grief, but she took solace in the knowledge that he knew he was no longer alone.
"Well," she sniffed, "I still think we both could use some air." Maedhros' smile widened as he nodded in agreement. They left the library together. He helped her on with her jacket before going into the chill night air. As they stepped into the dark, Ailsa knew this would be a very quiet walk. At least there wouldn't be any more surprises.
- O -
Later in her room, Ailsa lay in her bed trying to fall asleep without much success. No one was going to get much sleep tonight, she decided. She knew that Maedhros would be standing on his balcony staring off into the frosty night and her father, well, he would be busily working down in the Archive room. Her own mind was a whirl of different images from the longest night she'd ever known.
She was now part of a family history unlike anyone else's, and with her father, she was the inheritor of the greatest secret that ever was. The future that was so uncertain for her just a few weeks ago, now beckoned with promise. She felt the possibility of everything.
To be continued.
Daro, Ailsa! Avogaro! = Stop Ailsa! Do not do it!
Man na si? Pedo! - Who is there? Speak!
Daro! = Stop!
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.