1. Chapter 1
It had been Elros' fault that the rift between Maglor and us had been somewhat mended. Nearly a year had passed since we had come to Amon Ereb, the fortress of the Fëanorians that was slowly crumbling into ruin. They were too busy holding back the forces of Morgoth to focus much on the condition of the castle, I suppose, but it's deteriorating state only added to the sense of dread we felt there. Compared to the bright and airy city of Sirion, it felt like a tomb.
We'd been let out early from our lessons because Maedhros had returned unexpectedly, and Maglor wished to meet with his brother. And so we were discarded out into the grounds to fill our time until dinner. Maglor wanted us all to dine together, as if he thought that would bring us closer and heal the hurts that he had committed against my brother and me. I vowed they would never have my love or appreciation, taking us as they did. But perhaps the Fëanorians were more clever than I gave them credit for, because they eventually did earn it.
The day was bright and Elros and I were free to do as we pleased, a rare pleasure. Snow had fallen overnight, a brilliant white carpet that transformed everything, making our usual haunts unexplored territory. We had thrown snowballs and built our own fortresses, shadowed in the heights of Amon Ereb's high walls. The biting air was a refreshing change from the stuffy chamber where our lessons were held. Early in our play, Elros had cast his fur-lined cloak aside saying that he was more than warm enough. Soon our hair was damp from the snow and thick layers of frost covered our shoes and gloves. For the afternoon, at least, we were allowed to be carefree children again.
The past year had been hard. Not as hard as the years that would follow, but difficult all the same. Maglor and Maedhros had ripped us away from our home and brought us to this cold, unfamiliar place, far from any reach of aid.
Our time there had been filled with subtle defiances and angry words. Maglor, for the most part, had ignored our poor behavior, perhaps thinking it not worth his time to correct us. But his eyes were dark and filled with horrors we could scarcely understand, and he frightened us. We were stuck with the Kinslayers who had put our city to fire and there was nothing we could do. No one was coming to save us as we had once hoped. In slow strides, we had mostly put aside the open hostility, but our interactions were still chilled.
I was frightened of Maglor, but Maedhros was even more terrifying. He was a walking mountain, tall enough that even his tall brother stood almost a head below him. He was a hulking shade that wandered in and out of our lives, appearing suddenly when he returned from hunts or councils and disappearing just as quickly. His unusual red hair and missing hand did nothing to calm my fear. He was strange and dark and looming, and I dreaded the times when he would return.
But he looked at us with an odd gaze, as though it was he who was scared of us. As if, even though we had been here for a long and difficult year, he did not know us or expect us. As if we reminded him of something he did not want to put words to.
That night we came to dinner, cleaned of our earlier fights in the snow. Uncharacteristically, Elros had been dragging his feet behind me, from the baths to our quarters to the dining parlor, but I thought his actions could be attributed to displeasure that we had to sit with our abductors. It was an uncomfortable meal, as were all the meals we took with the brothers. Maedhros was silent and brooding and still dressed in his rough travelling gear. He was splattered with mud and other, darker stains, and I thought that he looked very little like an Elf who had once been King of the Noldor. Maglor was trying to make some sort of conversation with his quiet sibling, but in the obscure and beautiful tongue that they shared and there was no way we could participate. Elros was picking at his food, moving bits of potato around and looking dejected for a long time before Maglor noticed.
When Maglor finally turned his gaze to us, I realized how wretched my brother looked. His face was grey but still flushed, as if he had only recently come in out of the snow that covered the grounds. Maglor's hand shot out to press against his forehead. Although we had never been struck by either of our captors, Elros still flinched from the contact. Maglor seemed to pay this little mind and held his hand there for a moment, before grazing long white fingers, calloused by sword hilts and harp strings, down to my brother's reddened cheeks.
"You're burning, child." He said quietly, in the Sindarin we could finally understand. Elros turned his fevered, clouded eyes up pleadingly to Maglor, thankful that Kinslayer seemed to recognize his pain. "Were you boys outside all afternoon?" Elros didn't respond, so I nodded. Was Maglor really so oblivious to us that he didn't even know where we'd been all day?
"Come then, we'll get you some medicine and put you to bed." Maglor escorted my brother from the dining chamber and I was to be left alone with Maedhros, a horrifying prospect. But thankfully he ignored me, bent over his dinner and drinking wine as if it was more sustaining than the food before him. The silence was oppressive and found myself wishing Maglor was there to break it with his one-sided conversation.
Maedhros had always seemed to me like some sort of beast, and I watched him with curiosity. He was so large and so many of his actions were coarse. He cut his meat apart, almost savagely, with a deadly sharp knife before spearing it on his fork. [Maglor knew how to eat with some sort of grace, so it was not a family trait. I tried to remember how the men at court in Sirion had behaved, but I couldn't imagine the captains and advisors I'd known acting like him.] Maybe it was the natural progression of things when you have only one hand to do all your daily tasks. It was not a thought that had occurred to me before. Perhaps he was not so beastly as I had believed, but simply burdened with his handicap. I shifted my fork to my left hand and tried to eat in the way he did. I was unsuccessful. I could grab a few bits, but in a clumsy way and most of my food fell to the plate before it made its way to my mouth.
Before long I realized he was staring at me, his gaze as heavy as lead.
"Are you finished?" I'm still unsure if he was asking if I was done with my dinner or telling me to stop imitating him. Whichever it was, I could answer yes. He went on before I could reply.
"Go and see to your brother then." His voice was gravelly and he turned away from me. I fled from the room, thankful to escape from the bright light of Maedhros' eyes.
Elros had been following my admittedly quick pace to the healer's quarters until we reached the stairs. It was there, as if faced with some insurmountable cliff, that he halted. He stood at the bottom whimpering and eyes brimming with unshed tears. I was several stairs up before I noticed his reluctance.
In the past year, I had tried to be patient with the children. We had wronged them terribly, like we had so many others, and brought them to his oppressive fortress that even I found distasteful at times. But I had aimed to be kind and give them what comfort they would accept. Never once had I raised hand or voice at them, and we'd fed and clothed and educated them. But they'd spurned every act of compassion I'd attempted and cowered from my touch.
My patience was wearing thin. If they would just try, I thought, just a little, to see that I meant them no harm and that I found this situation nearly as unappealing as they did, then everything might have been easier. I was so weary of watching their sniveling tears and enduring the brunt of their rage while Maedhros disappeared into the wilds, leaving me alone to set things right.
"Elros, come. They're just stairs."
He looked down defiantly and didn't move. "Child, is this truly the time to pick a fight and play the role of obstinate little urchin?" I thought. If he hadn't been ill I would have ignored this sulking fit and returned to my dinner, probably cold by that point. He could have stood there all night, for all I cared. But that evening I wasn't going to let him suffer so that he could prove he hated me. Fine then. In a battle of wills I was always going to win. I descended the stairs and swooped him into my arms. He stiffened reflexively and let out a piteous little cry, but it mattered little. It's advantageous that caretakers are so much larger than the children they look after.
Eventually he had relaxed somewhat, and even rested his head against my shoulder. Was that all it took? How many times, in a different world, had I lifted my baby brothers into my arms and comforted them until their tears stopped flowing? It had been so many years since I'd held a child like that. By the time we reached the healing quarters my tension had eased a bit, and I could even feel my earlier pity returning.
I collected the required herbs, shrugging off the help of the healers who were looking at the sight of me and the boy with curious stares. Elros drank down the willow bark tea with only a little complaint. I left for the rooms where the children stayed and he was sleeping fitfully in my arms by the time we arrived.
It seemed somehow wrong to leave the child alone, when he had finally submitted to my touch and he was ill. Someone had thoughtfully already built a fire in the hearth and the room was filled with the warm glow of flame.
I was weary then. The Oath slept for a while, but other troubles shackled my heart. These children we'd taken in and tried so very hard to raise loved us not. At our borders the strength of Morgoth seemed to be endlessly renewed. My father and all my brothers, save Maedhros, lay in shallow graves in Beleriand's soil. I'd bid farewell to all of them in times long past, and when Amrod had fallen I felt hardly any grief. I had begun to expect the endless destruction that our lives had become. Even Maedhros had turned into someone I scarcely knew, a shadow of himself who would barely speak to me. I feared for him, and prayed it was not only the strength of the Oath that kept his spirit chained to his body. The innocence of my childhood had slipped away, like sand through reluctant fingers, and I struggled to recall what life had been like before. In those quiet years had a simple song really been all it had taken to comfort my brothers?
The children's quarters contained a couch, so I sat, cross-legged, and arranged the sickly, dreaming boy on my lap. It was hard to sing. It had been so long since I had done so. But the weight of the child in my arms brought back vague memories of home and comfort and safety, lost, I had thought, many ages ago.
In a whispering voice, I began to sing.
I ascended the stairs to the room that I shared with my brother, wary of what I would find. I hated the thought of Elros beings sick, but at least I could go to him now and comfort him, escaping the eyes of the despised Fëanorians. Approaching the room, I was assaulted by an unexpected sound, a soft and sad voice raised in song. The music halted my feet right before the doorway, and I listened for a while, mesmerized by the sweet sound. It was in the strange language that only the brothers spoke to one another and I couldn't understand the words. It was unanticipated but familiar, and when I mustered the courage to enter our room I was only slightly surprised to find Maglor, eyes closed and head tilted back, cradling my brother Elros in his arms.
We had been well-loved children in Sirion. Seldom had we gone to bed without someone tucking us in and singing us to sleep. The nights of the past year had been silent, and rest rarely came easy. As I listened to Maglor's song, the seclusion seemed to weigh down on me heavier than ever before, even more than those terrible nights at the beginning, and the strain of tension between us and our jailors all the more hard to bear.
The song came to an end, eventually, although I don't know how long I stood in the doorway. Maglor looked up then, eyes heavy, but he didn't seem surprised to see me.
"Elrond," he said, and his voice was sad and soft and distant. He seemed drained. It was a side of him that I had not witnessed before. "Do you want me to put you to bed?"
I'll admit that an ugly pang of jealousy surged through me then, that my brother should be held while I was offered a cold and empty bed, even if he was the one who was ill. Without daring to think, I crossed the room and climbed up on the couch beside my captor and my brother. This seemed to startle Maglor, almost as much as it startled me to do it.
"Will Elros be alright?" I asked when I dared to speak.
"It's only a little fever, from being out in the cold. He will feel better tomorrow."
Maglor's assurances eased my worries a bit. Had I not been so desperate for affection and fraught with loneliness I would never have done what I did next. I leaned timidly against the elder Elf's side. A moment later I felt Maglor slide his arm around my shoulders and pull me in a bit closer.
The last time we had been this close was when Maglor was threatening our lives, crazed and screaming that he would slit our throats if Gil-Galad tried to rescue us, the day I watched our last chance of salvation ride away in abandonment. Then, the Elf had smelled like blood and steel and smoke from our burning city. The armor he wore had pressed painfully into my back while his blade had been terribly cold against my neck. But there, in the quiet of our room, I found that Maglor was not as unrelenting as his armor had been. When I pressed my face into his tunic, I thought that Maglor smelled more like cloves and wine and the forest floor. I was surprised at how comforted I felt to be held in the arms of this Kinslayer.
It felt like betrayal, of my mother and my father and of our people. And yet, they were not in that room, on that couch, and Maglor was. His arms were strong and warm and he held me gently, rubbing small circles into my back. This submission was Elros' fault, I thought sleepily. I never would have done this if he had not done so first.
"Will you sing again?" I ventured, for I felt in a place where many unspeakable actions seemed obtainable. Maglor was quiet for a moment before he began. I had been living at Amon Ereb for a year. I thought that I knew his voice, but before tonight I had never heard Maglor sing and nothing had prepared me for something so sweet to issue from someone so bitter. In the encircling arms, with the low vibration of Maglor's chest against my cheek, I began to dream, or think that I did.
I could see emerald slopes dotted with flowers, orchards rippling in a clean and clear breeze under sapphire skies, and honeysuckle bushes buzzing with honey bees. And everything was suffused in a warm golden light.
For the first time in a year, I slept soundly.
When I parted my lids next, Maedhros was in the doorway watching me with a queer gleam in his eyes. Whether it was a trick of the light, or my own weariness, or the lingering sounds of the song in my ears I was not sure, but in that moment I could briefly believe that I was back in Valinor. The dark walls of our fortress could easily have been Formenos, the summer home of my boyhood. That was something, but to look upon Maedhros was truly remarkable. The scars on his face from battle and torment were erased in the dim light, and his ruined limb was hidden under his travelling cloak. But most strikingly, Maedhros' features were softened and he looked young, as I had not seen him in many years.
In the doorway was not Maitimo, who had been returned to us from Thangorodrim, a broken and barely-living testament to Morgoth's cruelty; nor Maedhros, the Kinslayer. Instead it was Russandol, my eldest brother, my childhood protector and my oldest friend. A slight smile played at his lips, obviously amused at the sight before him. When he spoke, the spell was diminished but not broken.
"I haven't heard you sing that for a long time."
It was a song about Valinor, written in the safety of a lost time. Holding the children close, it was the first thing that had come to mind. "No." I agreed. "Not since Ambarussa was little."
In a way that was wholly unlike my warrior brother, he bowed his head and asked, almost shyly, "May I stay?"
I nodded. Of course he could stay. I had been desperate for him to speak openly to me since we had descended upon Sirion. Russandol entered the room and rested heavily against the boys' bed, laying his copper head down upon the furs that covered the mattress.
"What do you want to hear?"
"I don't know. Anything. Maybe that same song again." His voice was a low drawl. Tired, just as I was.
The warm firelight filling the room gave everything a shimmering, unreal quality. For a moment I thought I could see Tyelkormo's figure on the bed above Russandol's body, repairing arrows, preparing for the hunt. The twin figures of Ambarussa seemed to play at his feet. And without seeing their faces, the young forms that rested in my arms could have easily been my dark haired brothers, Carnistir and Curufinwë, nestled into my chest. I pressed my nose into Elros' head, and thought I could faintly smell Curufinwë, who was so much like our father, throwing off heat like a forge.
I leaned my head back against the cushions, surrounded by my brothers, even if it was only in a distant dream and began to sing again, contentment filling my breast and voice. An illusion, maybe, but no matter. I was willing to believe in it, if only for that night.