1. Chapter 1
I wasn't going to listen to this.
There was nothing he could say to me that was going to make up for his years of absence from our lives. It was amazing how apathetic I felt. My father, the man who had begotten me, was sitting before us. It was the first time I'd seen him since childhood. As a boy, I had dreamed of the joyous moment when we would finally be reunited and the blonde haired mariner would return to us and become a steady presence in my life again. In the early years with the Fëanorian I'd imagined that he'd come sweeping into Amon Ereb, a dashing hero who would rescue us from our captivity. Those thoughts had become increasingly vague as I grew. They disappeared completely when it finally became evident they would never become reality and as Maglor gained the love and respect I owed to Eärendil. I was mildly surprised that now all I felt was discomfort and annoyance that my plans for the morning had been disrupted.
I wanted to interrupt Eärendil now and put a stop to the stream of words that were pouring from his mouth. The quicker he stopped talking, the quicker I could go back to the morning I'd been enjoying moments earlier and pretend that this unhappy event was nothing more than an unpleasant dream.
To my left, Elros was a crackling ball of barely-contained rage. I wasn't sure if the sparkling waves of vehemence emanating from him were felt by Gil-Galad and Eärendil, but I supposed that they had to be. His mouth was set into a tight line and I could see the muscles in his jaw furiously contracting over and over. His arms hung at his sides, trembling hands clenched into fists. I was stuck by the amusing image of him leaping over the desk in a flurry of movement to throttle our father. I wondered if I would restrain him.
Elros was concentrating so hard, his eyes welded shut, that I couldn't readily feel his thoughts as I usually could. I might guess at what he was doing though. He collected every word that our father spoke and, gathering them like kindling, used them to build up the fires of his wrath. Committing each statement to memory so that he could spew them back mockingly when it was his turn to speak. He had done this to me before in our ugliest fights, and I didn't envy anyone on the receiving end of that attack. Next to him I must look like an impassive doll, my face a mask of disinterest, slumped into the velvet seat of my chair.
Elros had rarely spoken to me openly about our father, except in quiet and private statements dripping with remorse and grief and eventually anger. I think he'd clutched to the dreams that Eärendil would return to us more desperately and for longer than I had. It had taken him more time to warm to Maglor than it took me. The failure of those dreams to manifest themselves had left the spot in his heart that our father should have occupied filled with bitterness. My own wounds had bled and bled in a constant stream of sorrow but those hurts had finally scabbed over and turned into a nerveless scar that now usually troubled me little. I knew Elros' wounds could still bleed and they issued forth a torrent of righteous insults to anyone who dared suggest that we respect our father. Pity that Eärendil didn't know that.
Years of resentment clothed my brother and I doubted that he would be able to put it aside for the sake of unlooked for reconciliation. I wondered with morbid curiosity how bad the inevitable argument in this room was going to be. I suspected that even as we sat there, Elros was composing a string of vicious vitriol to fling in our father's face the moment he had finished speaking. Decades of unsaid thoughts and questions, questions for which we had the right to demand answers, were surely going to litter the ground like bodies after this was finished. Thinking upon the upcoming battle was almost as undesirable as listening to my father, so I turned my thoughts to other things and stared down into my lap.
Without Elros to ponder, a few words slipped past my efforts to ignore the conversation. "Duty...Kinslayers...ensuring peace..." I wasn't interested in hearing any of it.
There was a game I had invented during our drawn-out lessons at Amon Ereb. I looked for an object in my surroundings and then thought of an adjective for it. I thought of a second adjective and repeated the words in alphabetical order. A third and fourth were added and so on until the boredom or discomfort had subsided. I could usually reach 40 or thereabouts before my attention was distracted or I realized I'd dropped one of the more recent words from the list. I'd reached an impressive 91 once while Maedhros had been droning on to us about the importance of learning algebra and its usefulness in a wide variety of other subjects. (I should mention here that his lessons were almost never boring, in fact they captivated me more than Maglor's did. But he wasn't tutoring us then, only lecturing that we should not neglect a subject I already enjoyed.) I probably could have gone on longer except that he had realized I wasn't listening and his silent glare had caught my notice.
When I'd explained the game once to Elros, he studied at me for a moment and then said placidly, "Elrond, that is the most tedious thing I've ever heard." Tedious had been the first descriptor I'd used next time I'd played, this time with lessons as the object. "You should play it with synonyms instead." He'd said. I'd protested saying that there were fewer synonyms for any given word than adjectives and he'd replied "Exactly. You can stop playing sooner that way."
My brother didn't have to enjoy my game. But it was very useful for times like these. Trees were swirling in the wind outside the office I was currently trapped in. Tree was an easy one, and I'd used it before, but that mattered little. It was simple, and sometimes that was most important. There were an almost infinite number of words I could choose from to describe a tree. Tree. Verdant. Leafy. Leafy, verdant. Wind-swept. Leafy, verdant, wind-swept. Majestic. Leafy, majestic, verdant, wind-swept...All poor words, but I didn't care.
I'd only gotten to 26 words before I heard my name mid-sentence and snapped my attention back to my father.
"-so, Elrond, Elros, I would beg that you forgive me, for all that I've done."
Forgiveness? Was that why my father had docked his beloved ship and sought us out? Did he really think all could be undone and remade in a few short minutes? I suppose it was the logical reason, but I was still surprised and not sure how to react. I couldn't read Eärendil so I timidly looked at Elros. His eyes had flown open, staring hard at the man who sat across from him. Anger and grief and I thought even pity flashed through his gaze and I wondered for a moment if he actually would forgive our father. I'm loathe to admit it, but in truth I really didn't care about the outcome of our meeting and I felt that I could safely imitate Elros' reaction without being judged too harshly by Gil-Galad, who's opinion I favored more highly than Eärendil's.
I stared back at my lap and waited for my brother to either explode like a storm cloud or fall weeping into his father's embrace. Either way, it was sure to be a sloppy affair and I would come out looking calm and composed in comparison to my emotional brother.
There was nothing but silence and I was shocked by the restraint Elros was showing, until the quiet was shattered by the grating sound of his chair scraping over the white marble floors. The thought of him bodily attacking our father flashed through my mind again and that perhaps I would be less culpable for not intervening if I was not watching when it occurred. But only more silence followed, a suffocating uncomfortable fog that clouded my thoughts and choked back any words I might have found.
It was broken eventually, not by the shouts or tears I had expected, but by the door to the office clicking closed behind my brother's retreating form. He'd been so noiseless I hadn't even heard him turn to leave. I swiveled around in alarm, probably the most emotion I'd expressed since we'd sat. Gil-Galad looked startled as well, but didn't rise, probably thinking it best to leave Elros alone with his anger and stay to mediate should things turn ugly between my father and me.
I wished for my brother's boldness at times like these. He didn't crave Gil-Galad's approval as desperately as I did. In haste, he often spoke harsh words that I may agree with, but would never give voice to. He cared far less than I did what our councilors and captains made of him. Simply walking from our father had been crueler than anything he might have said.
But it was cruel to me as well, to leave me alone with this man. A strange stab of awareness whispered in my ear, that my brother would one day do the same to me. Close the door and quietly slip away. I shoved that thought out of mind, for it was ridiculous. Elros would never leave me.
I wished I could imitate him and shrug off this awful moment that felt like a chain around my neck. I envied Elros, for now he was free, while I was caged in a room strangled by tension, with my king and a stranger who meant nothing to me. I turned around to face the man who, before today, I doubt I could have picked out of a crowd as my father.
Without Elros' raging temper filling the room, it seemed empty and vast. The tenseness he had lended had composed the very air we breathed. And I could deal with that. I understood that. I knew how to act as a counterpart to my brother, but I was not quite sure how I should act alone. A jolt of panic inched its way up my spine and attached at the base of my skull.
Eärendil's expression was clearer now, a mix of grief and disgust that his own child would act in such a way. But he steeled his strong features and looked at me, eyes pleading.
I felt a sudden surge of aggravation, a marked change from the apathy I'd been bathed in before, when I realized he didn't even know us well enough to tell us apart anymore. How could he, when he hadn't seen us in almost 30 years? Often people couldn't tell us apart, and I had learned to brush off the moments where someone had struggled to decide which name to call me with a warm smile and a gentle answer. Alerting them that I knew they were unsure, but that it didn't bother me and would gladly provide them with the correct name. Letting them know they were free to ask again in the future if they were ever uncertain. I'd grown used to the confusion that surrounded being a twin, but coming from my own father it felt like a terrible insult.
I should have forgiven him, I know. Maybe just said the words and worked on the actual forgiving in the following days. Or at least made an effort to explain to him how we felt to have been abandoned, so young, by our parents. I should have explained that my earliest memories were of the bloodbath in Sirion, that he might have prevented had he been there. How in the years that had followed the battle I'd cried myself to sleep most nights. Had I tried to make clear to him the vast effects of his actions, then perhaps a refusal to forgive him, and Elros' bitter silence, might have seemed more acceptable.
And while I explained to my father, I could have indirectly explained to Gil-Galad as well, with words I had never found the courage to speak to him before. But when I looked at Eärendil I could only think of Maglor and the love and education my foster father had given to me while the man who begot me chose to sail the sea rather than see to his family. In that light, the effort of explaining all the uncomfortable details of our lives seemed an extraordinarily arduous task.
Thinking of Maglor made my chest tighten. I'd put him out of mind for months now, knowing that the court viewed my stay with the Fëanorian as a threat to their safety and my sanity. I thought I could tuck those memories away, believing that as time passed my grief would lessen, that I would learn to love my new home. And then, when I was ready, I could think back on the loss of my true father and all he had done for me without my heart aching so badly.
But Eärendil was still looking at me and I needed to say something.
"I can't, Eärendil." It came out colder than I had intended and I knew the use of his proper name had not been lost on him. "I'm sorry." I added trying to lend the truth a hint of regret I didn't feel. His brows furrowed and the same disgusted look crossed his face as when Elros had so hastily departed. He was probably trying to understand how he had produced the ungrateful, heard-hearted brats that my brother and I must appear to be. I was tired of being under his hard gaze and turned down to my lap again, playing with the hem of my tunic sleeve. Without Elros there, I felt as though I was besieged, and my panic escalated, inching into my brain like an unwelcome worm. At my back, Gil-Galad's eyes bored into me. I felt, burning new and hot again, the scorn that had been thrust upon me and my brother at our coming to Balar after being raised by the Kinslayers, with our obvious attachment to them displayed proudly on our sword hilts.
Leafy, majestic, sure, verdant, wind-swept... I thought, trying to take up where I'd left off. But the horrible tension had returned and I tried to think of something to say to my father. Nothing seemed appropriate. Nothing seemed right. My mind swirled with "How could you…" "how dare you…" "why would you…" Why? Why? Why? WHY?, a thousand questions I had been seeking the answers to for all of my childhood. A thousand questions. I was torn between delving into a valley I thought I'd never find and remaining still and steadfast at its rim. I could ask them, every single one, I thought, with an almost giddy lightness. The answers I'd long sought could be held in my hands. I could dig into my father's mind and finally uncover what had been denied me. I could satiate my desire for understanding in Eärendil's answers. Or I could remain uninformed, maybe to be forever burdened with not knowing. Without Elros' spirit beside me, I felt lost and, in defeat, I chose the latter option. I knew deep in my heart that whatever my father said would not appease me.
Several unsatisfactory and innocuous inquiries came to mind before I settled on one.
"How fares my mother?" I asked without looking up. He didn't answer right away and I quickly realized it had been the wrong thing to ask. I remembered, too late, that her name had been spoken earlier though I hadn't truly heard it. And I'd just made it abundantly clear that I hadn't been listening.
"Well. As I have already told you." His tone was icy and it scared me a bit.
It was shocking how badly this meeting had gone. Maybe that it would end poorly should have been plain, but there hadn't been time to consider it earlier. Eärendil's arrival here had been unexpected, and I'd walked into the office without having prepared myself for what was to come. Only an hour ago I'd been relaxing on my balcony, enjoying a book and tea, completely unaware of the emotional onslaught that lurked before me. I couldn't feel apathetic now; hysteria was rising in my chest with hot, creeping fingers. My heart was hammering, almost painfully, against my ribs and I could feel sweat running in rivulets down my back. Had I been like this when he was speaking and only now realized it? I had been so turned so inwards that I wasn't sure. My throat was quickly constricting and I was horrified to realize that I was going to start weeping soon if I didn't escape.
Elros and I had been raised to face our fears and challenges directly. But in our time at Amon Ereb we'd also acquired a streak of Fëanorian pride which taught that you must never show weakness, except before those you held closest. I knew Maglor would have been terribly disappointed in what I was about to do, but I could not stay in that room for another minute. The shame of disappointing Maglor hurt worse than this whole futile attempt to earn forgiveness. Fleeing was cowardly, but to begin crying in front of Eärendil would have been far more humiliating, although I knew he must have once been the one that dried our tears. I leaped out of my chair as quickly as Elros had, like some skittish animal.
"I should go." I managed to croak.
Such an exit was ungraceful and I wondered if I should embrace my father before I left, but that idea felt awkward and ungainly. I thought of shaking Eärendil's hand and my sweaty fist almost shot out to do so, but that also felt inappropriate. I looked at him briefly and finally felt guilt that I should not have some sort of affection for my father. That his presence should only fill me with disquiet. Anything I could do seemed like a terrible way to end our encounter and I was frozen for a moment with terror.
I wasn't going to be able to speak without betraying my tears and they were going to fall of their own volition at any second. No option was a good one, and before I could rethink my decision, I turned away from my father and left, not daring to look at Gil-Galad, who surely held me in lower regard after this disgusting display of behavior. I'm sure I appeared anything but the calm and composed brother I'd envisioned earlier. I would throw myself at Gil-Galad's feet later, I thought. Beg his mercy, and ask him not to discipline me or dismiss me from his service.
I fled the room. And my vision was blurred and my cheeks were wet before the door had even closed between us.