9. Chapter 7 Part 1, A Distant Song
Ailsa tried not to grunt as she awkwardly made her way across the room while carrying the unusually large book. "What is this?" She asked straining in her quest to reach the desk before she dropped the heavy tome. Maedhros, sitting behind the desk reading a scroll, raised his head towards her voice, but his eyes settled on what she was holding. Dropping the scroll on the desktop, he immediately got up and easily took her burden in his arms. Maedhros stared down at the cover for a moment and then looked at Ailsa. "This is your family," he said, his eyes shining. He laid the book on the desk.
Finding the sizeable unmarked volume while she was cataloging one of the larger units in the Archives, she thought it might be just a boring old Atlas. Now it was definitely more interesting and her curiosity was instantly engaged. She carefully ran her fingers along the edge of the thick dark brown leather cover and noticed it still had detectable spots of gold leaf on the decorative tooling.
Maedhros carefully opened it and stepped aside. Ailsa leaned forward and as her eyes rested on the book; she drew in a quick breath. It was hard to escape the familiar smell of age and dust, the aroma of wooden walls and floors books acquired over time. As a child, she was introduced to this musty perfume by her father who shared the many books he brought home. She grew accustomed to the scent, even coming to like it. She always associated it with the excitement of finding precious nuggets of information that shed new light on a particular subject. It continued to comfort her while doing research for her college papers in Berkeley and her job as a research assistant.
The first page of this book was an elaborately decorated sheet of vellum. Accents of various leaves in green and gold leaf adorned each corner. Illustrated in the center was a beautiful drawing of the manor house. Underneath the colorful depiction, "Egla Tir" was written in Elvish script. Ailsa's eyes widened with excitement as she turned the sheet. On the next two pages were the traditional genealogical trees of two Cornish families, one named Bramford and the other Denzell. The pages folded out to reveal larger documents. The Bramfords went all the way back to the time of William the Conquer; the Denzell line went back even further. Many of the names had little coats of arms next to them in colors she knew had once been very bright long ago. "As you probably know, it was the custom of landed families to document lineage as proof of property ownership and other things. They were also very proud of their origins," Maedhros explained. Ailsa noted a slight hint of admiration in his tone. "Each family had their own records of ancestry. Some time ago, I had them bound into this one volume."
Ailsa's fascination continued as she carefully refolded the documents and began to slowly turn the rest of the aged pages, traveling through time with each generation. Halfway through the book the two families merged at the top of one page with the entry of marriage between Sir Douglas Bramford to Lady Margaret Denzell. Listed below them were their three children, Richard, Geoffrey, and Elizabeth. A black ink line was drawn from Elizabeth's name towards the right side of the book. "House of Feanor" was written along the edge of that sheet in Maedhros' bold hand. Ailsa quickly glanced at Maedhros who smiled hesitantly. After a moment he sighed. "I thought it was only fitting to include the Elvish side of the family as well. You can see I began with my grandparents, Finwe and Miriel."
Her Elvish ancestors filled about a third of the page, but she knew they had played as much a part in the story of her family as her Cornish ancestors. Maedhros' tree started with Finwe and Miriel and their son. Ailsa paused as she looked at his name…Feanor. So there he was…the one whose limitless arrogance and pride was the reason for all the misery and despair for so many. Ailsa sighed heavily, she couldn't bring herself to actually hate Feanor, but she couldn't bring herself to forgive him either. His people were cursed and reviled; remembered throughout their history only as the "Kinslayers." This was bad enough, but what she couldn't forgive was how his eldest son suffered daily in a place far from home, deprived of everything all because of his Oath. Ailsa's eyes hardened as she thought of the injustice of it. She quickly remembered she wasn't alone as she felt Maedhros eyes on her.
Maedhros didn't have to read her mind to know what Ailsa was thinking as she stared at his father's name. One only had to look at her face to know. The stern look he found there spoke of many thoughts; none of them very kindly. Deep in his heart he wished it could be otherwise. "We thought we knew what we were doing, Ailsa." A frown covered his handsome face. "None of us had any idea it would turn out the way it did."
Ailsa was unable to move as she heard the earnest plea in his voice. "I know," she murmured with her eyes still focused on the book. Maedhros said no more.
Next to Feanor's name was written Nerdanel. Ailsa's face softened as she looked at the name of Maedhros' mother. He said she had never supported the Oath or her husband's revolt against the Valar, choosing instead to stay in Aman. Ailsa wondered what would have happened if Nerdanel had gone with her family. What kind of a curbing influence might she had been to them all had she followed? Ailsa also wanted to know if after all the death and misery, if Nerdanel ever regretted her decision to stay behind. Sorrow for them all weighed heavily on Ailsa. Will there ever be any peace for him?
Below Feanor and Nerdanel's names, their seven sons were listed across the sheet. Maedhros stood silently as Ailsa quietly read their names out loud: Maedhros, Maglor, Celegorm, Caranthir, Curufin, Amrod, and Amras. To hear their names spoken by another voice only made Maedhros feel the renewed burden of their loss. Ailsa could feel his loss; they were all meant to live together as a family…forever. Now, only Maedhros was left. Ailsa eyes slowly traveled to the open doorway leading to the Shimmer. They're gone because of that bright jewel in the cave room and its lost companions. She shook her head as she tried to comprehend the madness of it all.
Ailsa followed the thin ink line back to Elizabeth. Here was the haven Maedhros chose from the madness; the mortal woman he married. Her interest only increased as she wondered what Elizabeth had been like. Her face lit up as she read the two names written under Maedhros and Elizabeth: Douglas Gurveleg and Edward Belegorn. She recognized the Elvish parts of their names: Gurveleg "Great Heart" and Belegorn "Mighty Tree." Of course, his sons would have Elvish names. Their father is after all a Noldorin lord. It was weird to think of Maedhros as a father. But then she remembered how he always referred to the heirs of Egla Tir as his children. He's taken care of all of us like a father. Ailsa continued to turn the pages following the names of each succeeding generation up to the present. The last entries were her father and mother's names and just below them…her name.
It felt strange to be the end product of all those who come before, both human and Elf-kind. Some of her ancestors had lived their lives never knowing they were part of such an amazing secret. Others had been part of Egla Tir, but she wondered if they ever really understood or even wanted to know much of their past. All these different people made up the various branches of her family. Ailsa tried to feel kinship to them all, but she finally had to admit, it was Maedhros she felt closest to.
As she turned the pages back towards the beginning, she noticed something unusual. From Elizabeth through the late Richard Matthews, each name had a birth year, but there was no year of death for any of them. How odd. "Maedhros, why aren't there any…." The answer came to her before she could finish her question. She glanced up, the ancient Elf's attention was on the book, but she could see by his stiff body language, he knew what she was going to ask.
A moment or two passed. "I could never bring myself to record those dates." Maedhros' voice sounded hollow as he moved away from the desk. It was so obvious; he never came to terms with any of the deaths. Ailsa wondered if it was just the fact that though they were all part of him, none were destined to live forever? No, that wasn't it. As her eyes returned to Elizabeth's name, an idea struck her. We all carry her blood as well. Each of these deaths was a reminder he was losing another part of her. Elizabeth wasn't just any woman; she was much much more…and Maedhros loved her for it. "Tell me about her," she asked.
Maedhros slowly turned, "Elizabeth?" Her name rested on his breath like a prayer. Only in the quiet darkness of night did he allow his heart to whisper her name. Now he was being asked to remember it all. He hesitated, unwilling to recall even the most innocent memory knowing how it would draw his grief to the surface. But how could he deny one of their children the memories he had of the woman who still filled his heart with her song. It was only fitting Ailsa know her…but where to begin? Seeing Ailsa's child-like anticipation, he knew. He gave her the warmest smile and then turned resting his gaze on the passage opening.
"Elizabeth discovered me in the cave room when she was barely ten years old. Just a little thing, with two great big eyes. I remember how they were filled with a mixture of wonder and fright that day." Maedhros moved his head slightly. "You have her eyes you know," he said over his shoulder.
Ailsa blushed as she felt the heavy emotion in his voice. She suddenly sensed she was intruding. "Listen Maedhros, you don't have to do this."
Maedhros chuckled quietly, "No, I wish to tell you. I want you to know her as I did." He walked over to the desk and offered Ailsa the chair. After she was seated, he continued.
"She came down the passage that summer's morning, fascinated by the strange light coming from the cave room, only to find a brilliant shining mist hanging in the air and a kneeling figure by the pool." He shook his head as he recalled the thoughts swarming in his mind then…everything was chaos. But he was talking of Elizabeth now, not what he was feeling. "I was that kneeling figure. At first, she was frightened that I might be a spirit or some dark presence. I had no idea she was there and, in my frustration, I began yelling at the shimmer. My shouts of despair startled her and she gasped dropping her lantern. I swiftly turned to face the noise, dagger in hand. She stood her ground, strong, and did not run."
Ailsa was fascinated as she watched Maedhros gesturing and moving about the room as he spoke. She had never seen him so animated. His words held such warmth, such loving remembrance.
"She said something, but I could not understand it. However, when I spoke to her, she fled seemingly into the wall. I followed her out into the light and could not see where she had gone. Suddenly I realized I was no longer in Middle-earth and that my punishment was to be even worse. The song we Elves hear in our souls connecting each of us to the other was silenced. The complete isolation quickly bore down on me hard and I fell to my knees. I was to be totally alone in this alien world and I no longer cared what happened to me."
Ailsa sat mesmerized; every word painting the sad picture of his torment. Her heart ached for him; how abandoned and frightened he must have been.
"Suddenly I felt a light touch on my shoulder. I slowly lifted my head to see the same young girl standing nervously in front of me, trying to offer me comfort." Maedhros smiled as he remembered.
"She pointed to herself and said 'Elizabeth.' Little did I know how much that name would come to mean to me. Her courage and compassion helped bring me out of the darkness into which I had fallen. She was my protector and my friend and over the years our friendship grew." A slight smile pulled at Maedhros' lips as he turned to face the passage opening again; unaware of the silence that now filled the Archives.
"But when…." Ailsa began to ask, but stopped. Maedhros knew what Ailsa hesitated asking. "She had just turned seventeen when I became aware my feelings had grown beyond friendship." His shining eyes darkened as he began to remember. The lights in the Archives began to dim and the soft glow of torches filled the room. Maedhros began to hear music and the sound of laughter…
- O -
Maedhros sat among the other guests in the great hall of Bramford castle. A group of young women danced to a lively tune played by the musicians in the gallery overlooking the festivities. Each dancer wore garlands of flowers in her unbound hair and around her neck. Many of the guests were enjoying the way the torchlight danced off the shining fabric of the dancers' gowns as they swayed to the music. Others enjoyed how the dancers' long pale arms intertwined forming a perfect circle of youth and beauty. All attention save one was focused on the graceful performers.
No one thought the tall handsome lord was out of place at this gathering. The guests accepted Maedhros easily now. The reason for this swift acceptance was due to the woman who sat regally at the head table. Lady Margaret invented a story that sounded more truth than lie. Maedhros was a distant relative from a branch of her family in a far northern province. He sought sanctuary with his "cousin" when war threatened to break out on his father's lands. His father had disowned him when Maedhros decided to fight for the wrong side in the war between the Lancasters and the Yorks. Although he had his supporters, he could not bring himself to be the reason for his people to kill each other. Maedhros was astonished when he heard the story she spread. He wondered how she would had reacted if she knew she harbored a true kinslayer.
The end of the tale she devised for him was not much different from how he genuinely felt. He craved a simple life now and gladly lived quietly on her lands. This part was true and was what kept Maedhros involved in the various goings on of the estate. Without hesitation, Maedhros pledged his sword to defend the Bramford lands should it ever be needed. Thankfully, peace still reigned in this little part of Cornwall for now. The ghost stories gratefully stopped once everyone knew Maedhros was no wandering spirit. People were no longer frightened when they saw him walking in the woodlands. In fact, there was even the occasional shy wave and "Good morrow!" from one or two braver souls. Maedhros became a familiar presence.
He was delighted when a messenger arrived with Lady Margaret's invitation to the feast. He had been a guest at Bramford castle many times after her first visit, but tonight was special. It was Elizabeth's seventeenth birthday, and he would be among those gathered to wish her well.
The food served earlier in the evening had been excellent as usual, and no goblet remained empty for long. However, Maedhros found his wine a bit sour tonight and did not drink much of it. And although most eyes were happily on the dancers, Maedhros' eyes were engaged elsewhere. He watched the head table with keen interest. Elizabeth sat next to her mother, but her attention was fixed on a young man seated at another table across the hall. The young lord was obviously smittened with the attention he was receiving from such a lovely creature. Maedhros frowned as he watched her smile shyly and tilt her head ever so slightly to look at her young guest from under her long dark lashes. Was she actually flirting with that…boy? Maedhros had never seen Elizabeth act like this before. Though his face continued to maintain a mask of composure, his eyes were keenly watching everything that passed between Elizabeth and the boy across the hall.
Lady Margaret allowed the tiniest of smiles to play on her lips. To anyone else, she seemed to be enjoying the evening's entertainment. Oh, she was entertained all right, but not by the group of young girls dancing in the center of her hall. She was amused by the looks of the love-sick boy on one side of her hall and the expression of irritation on the face of the Elven lord sitting on the other. She smiled because Maedhros was beginning to realize something she had known for some time. In fact, she had hoped an opportunity would present itself and she was happy now because it finally had. Her enjoyment only increased as she wondered why, when it came to feelings, men in general were such blind fools.
Maedhros had had enough; he needed to leave the great hall. Getting up from his seat, he bowed to Lady Margaret and made his way through the crowd. He desperately sought the night air in the vain hope it would clear his mind of the troubling thoughts that threatened to make a permanent home there tonight. He found a quiet spot on one of the turrets and stood staring out into the night sky. Normally, the promises of starlight would bring him much comfort. Tonight, no matter how he tried, the stars failed to promise anything but feelings of annoyance. Something was wrong. Why did he care if Elizabeth flirted with anyone? That she would consider that boy…at all. She was of age…was it not natural that she would seek other…other attachments? His irritation only increased. No, it did not feel natural to him at all.
Drawing in a long breath, he let it out slowly as he tried to calm his thoughts. He was deceiving himself; it was all too natural. As natural as the feelings he had to acknowledge within himself. His eyes were drawn to the tiny points of light above him. "Elizabeth," he said to them. His heart swelled with her name on his lips. Savior he had called her for bringing him back to life, but now she also awakened his heart to the glory of his true feelings. The same heart that felt as if it would burst as he realized how much she meant to him. Within another heartbeat, he felt it begin to break as he realized how she must never know how he felt.
Maedhros did not need to be reminded that love between an Elf and a mortal was a tragedy from the start. He had known such pairings before, and he remembered how their love could not change the inevitable. But he also remembered how Luthien and Beren fought for their chance to be together, and when Tuor grew old, did not Idril risk the wrath of the Valar when she sailed with her beloved to Aman in an attempt to extend his life? For their allotted time, were they not all happy?
He could not allow himself to even consider the possibility. Could he deny Elizabeth the life she was meant to have? The life destined for her even before he was thrust into her world. He lowered his head as his mind raged against the base cruelty of the word…truth. He shook his head, "No, I can not." Maedhros felt his chest tighten; whatever happened, he was going to lose her.
Unable to stop the conflicting waves of emotions surging through him, he looked into the night sky once more. He grieved knowing what he must do. Even before he left the turret, he had formulated his plan. Halfway back to the great hall, he saw Lady Margaret coming toward him. Quickly composing himself, he stopped and bowed. "My lady," he said.
"You have been missed, Lord Maedhros." Lady Margaret searched the Elf's face. Though he still retained his usual look of calm, his eyes betrayed him. "Is anything wrong?"
"No my lady, I just needed some air," he told her. This was no lie.
"Well, we better get back to the hall. The minstrels will be starting soon, and perhaps we can get a song from you tonight. I understand you have a very lovely voice." She tried to smile as she suppressed her growing concern.
"My lady, I regret I must leave. If the truth be known, I am not feeling well and I think it best I return home."
Lady Margaret's concern increased. "If you are ill, I will call my physician." She had never known Maedhros to be unwell.
"I appreciate your generous offer, but it is an old complaint." Maedhros raised his right arm and gently cradled the leather caplet covering the stump of his wrist in his hand. "Sometimes it bothers me. However, I have things in my cave that will help me."
Margaret's mind was filled with apprehension. "I am sure we have medicines here that will aid you. Besides, the dampness of your cave may do more harm than good to your arm." Her hand came up and lightly touched the sleeve of his jerkin. "Maedhros, I can not allow you to go out into the night like this."
Maedhros looked at the amazing woman in front of him and regretted lying to her. "You need not worry, my lady. I have excellent eyes for seeing in the dark." He tried to smile convincingly. "All will be well."
Margaret Bramford knew a defeat when faced with it. "Well, if I can not make you change your mind, we better tell Elizabeth you are leaving."
Maedhros paled. "I do not want to disturb her fun. If you will be so kind, just tell her I said farewell." He bowed again and began to walk away.
Margaret knew something was definitely wrong. She quietly followed him, watching as he paused at the large doorway leading into the great hall. Like a statue he stood, his eyes staring as if memorizing the scene before him. Then, in an unguarded moment, his face took on a look of such longing. She quickly followed his gaze as it came to rest on Elizabeth laughing as she stood among a group of people. Margaret drew closer, hearing him murmur in that strange language of his, "Namarie, tithen aiwe." He said no more and walked on. Her previous amusement had disappeared completely and a new feeling of disquiet came over her. "What is in your mind, my friend," she wondered.
- O -
Maedhros finished the note to Lady Margaret and placed it on the chair with the one he had written to Elizabeth. It had taken him most of the night to finish them. To Elizabeth he wrote he was restless and needed to explore his new world. Maybe by doing so, he would find the answers he still sought. The shimmer did not hold these answers and though he was sorry to leave in such a hurry, he was compelled to go quickly for he hated long good-byes. He thanked her for all she had done for him. Maedhros knew the letter did not say half the things he wanted to say. But he could not confess his feelings to her and then disappear. Better that she think he was in pursuit of something akin to the truth.
The letter to Lady Margaret was equally as hard. He found it impossible to tell her how much her generosity of heart and quick acceptance meant to him. He wrote the same lies to her about seeking knowledge, but knew she would see through them. He also knew that if she wanted to protect her daughter, she would make Elizabeth believe them.
After sheathing his sword, he bent down and picked up the pack containing his meager possessions. He stood before the Shimmer for the last time. A vista of magnificent mountains whirled by. The air was crisp and the sun in the clear sapphire sky reflected its golden brilliance off the pristine snow pack covering the mountain tops. Maedhros' sigh echoed in the cave room; it was as if the Shimmer was agreeing with his decision to leave.
"What are you doing?" A small voice inquired from behind him. "Are you…leaving?"
Maedhros grimaced before he turned to face Elizabeth. He should have been long gone by now. Why had he tarried? His heart ached as he looked at her standing in the doorway of the cave room. She wasn't a frightened little girl anymore; sparks of anger were shining in her hazel eyes as she looked around the nearly empty room. Her lips pressed into a single line as her gaze settled on the pack slung on his shoulder. "You are leaving!" She accused.
Maedhros looked at the rock floor. "I thought it best to do so quietly."
"You thought that, did you?" She walked up and stood before him, her very gaze demanding more answers. Though she was at her full height, she reached no higher than his heart. Maedhros forced himself to look directly into her face. "As I said, I thought it best." The words rang untrue, even to him. Elizabeth said nothing, she only continued to look at him. "I…I just…" Maedhros closed his eyes in frustration. Facing her like this, made it impossible for him to lie. He opened his eyes and put the pack on the ground. He placed his hand on her slender shoulder. "I have to leave Elizabeth. For your own happiness, you must let me go."
Her anger quickly disappeared as tears began to fill her eyes. She gripped his forearms. "For my happiness? Why? What has happened to make you do this? Has my mother…"
"No. No. Your mother does not know I am leaving. The truth is, tithen aiwe, you have grown up and I can no longer be a part of your life." The words drove shards of ice into his chest.
"But why? I do not understand." She tried to control the sobs growing in her throat. "Why?" Distress creased her brow as she fought to remain calm.
"Listen to me. I must not keep you from the life you were destined to have." Maedhros own anguish was growing as he watched the disbelief grow on Elizabeth face.
"Maedhros, I have no life without you." She began to sob. "You are meant to be here…always."
Maedhros tried to smile. "I am meant to be only a story you tell your children and your grandchildren. That once, when you were very young, you knew an Elf lord who was sent to your world as a punishment." His hand brushed her smooth cheek. "But instead, he found a happiness that was more than he deserved." Tears began to cloud his vision as his hand continued to caress the side of her face. The feel of her skin on his fingertips was like the softest velvet. Maedhros smiled sadly. "And I…I will always remember the little bird who saved my life." He lowered his mouth and tenderly kissed her brow, then laid his forehead against hers. "I must go Elizabeth." His voice was barely audible.
Elizabeth stepped back. "No! You must not!" She pleaded as her small hands continued to cling to him, in an attempt to keep him there. "Why?"
"Please understand. I can not stand by and watch as you…" Maedhros looked away; he could not say the words.
Elizabeth began to feel her anger rise again, her body steeled itself with it. "You are making no sense. I am not going to let you go until you tell me why you are really leaving." She set her jaw as she stared back at him. "I am not moving until I get the truth out of you." She was determined to accept nothing less.
Maedhros emotions boiled to the surface. "You want the truth," his voice grew louder. "I watched you flirting with that boy tonight. I realized you are a grown woman and our time together has to end." He tried to stop shaking.
Maedhros read the surprise in her eyes. "That boy? That boy means nothing to me." She shouted back. "What has this to do with your leaving?"
"I am not made of stone, Elizabeth. One day you will marry, and I will not watch you become another's wife." His breathing became shallow as he fought the pain of his breaking heart. "I could not bear it." His voice had softened; each word was filled with sorrow.
Elizabeth began to cry, though she still held him fast. "How could I ever marry another?" She said as tears streamed down her face. She swallowed and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. Summoning all her courage she looked up at Maedhros. "I am in love with you…you big fool of an Elf."
Maedhros' eyes widened as he listened to her. "Do you know what you are saying melethen," he asked.
Elizabeth slowly nodded her head. "I think I have always been in love with you." Her small voice was a silver bell ringing with each glorious word. Maedhros could hear his own heart begin to sing. Maedhros was suddenly happier than he could ever remember.
"And I would have been a great fool not to love you." With that declaration, Maedhros lowered his head and kissed her. Far from being surprised, Elizabeth lifted her arms up and curled them around his neck. Maedhros wove his arms around her slender waist and drew her closer to him. It was a long sweet kiss, a kiss of great promise. They began to laugh as they broke the kiss. "What a pair of fools we are," he said and laid his cheek on top of her head as he continued to hold her in his arms.
Miracle of miracles, she loved him! Holding her like this, he knew that nothing was truer than that. Maedhros finally understood. This is what made those others willing to deify everything and everyone to be together. Such happiness could only be found…together.
Maedhros straightened slightly and taking Elizabeth's hand, placed it over his heart. He looked into her loving eyes and smiled. "I stand before you a banished lord of the Noldor. I come to you with nothing but my heart and an eternity of love to give you. Be my wife, tithen aiwe, and forever sing me your sweet song?"
"Oh yes!" Elizabeth smiled broadly as she gladly stepped into his arms and kissed him again.
To Be Continued Chapter 7 Part 2 – A Distant Song