10. Chapter Ten
The first thing I realised, when I woke in the infirmary, was that some of the soldiers from our company were being treated and served herbal tea. Bright light poured through the windows across the sheets atop me. Somewhere from outside, blackbirds chirped faintly. Aside from that, the chamber was serenely silent, the only sounds being the clink of chinaware and the shuffling of cloth. Sharp yet soothing smells of basil and clove caught my nostrils by surprise, put some energy into my blood by reminding me that I was hungry. My stomach twisted indignantly. I tried to get up and immediately regretted it: my wound had been cleaned and treated, but there was throbbing pain in my right arm, and I groaned and squeezed my eyelids shut.
"I am glad to see you awake, Master Elrond," came a womanly, mocking voice. I didn't have to open my eyes to know it was Gaereth, the healer who had treated my brother's ankle years before. She had been so kind as to scrupulously hammer into my head the anatomy of the elvish body – a study that was intensified by her threat to fling me out the window if I did not work hard enough to suit her taste.
She continued in her wry fashion, "There was some potent poison on those Orc-blades. You gave me a hard time."
"'m sorry," I slurred absently, draping the back of my hand over my eyes, though I wasn't sorry at all. Why was the sun so bright? I groaned again, and Gaereth said playfully, "Oh, now, now! I have heard you complain too many times over the years."
"You're a horrible ol' woman."
"Clearly, you are feeling well enough. Try to sit up. Do not put pressure on your right arm."
I sat up gingerly, struggling, and sighed in gratitude when Gaereth adjusted the pillow behind my back, noticing vaguely that I was naked to the waist. The next moment she handed me a glass of water, which I sipped twice before giving it back to her, nauseous. Elbereth bless the horrible old woman, I thought blearily, massaging my temples. A headache pounded behind my eyes, and I mentally cursed, in vividly colourful language, Morgoth and all his wretched, damned Orcs. At that moment some semblance of awareness returned to my mind, and I sat straighter and asked, concerned, "How is Ma – Lord Maglor?"
Gaereth looked at me with an odd expression. "He is still unconscious – his wounds were deeper than yours, and the poison had spread more acutely – though I am cautiously optimistic that he will be fine. I am his physician, after all." She gestured with her chin towards the end of the room, where Maglor lay, pale but, mercifully, breathing, on a bed. His arms lay neatly on the covers, as if they had been positioned by someone, and his lips were closed firmly. He almost gave the impression that he was in the midst of a deep sleep.
I must have looked worried, for Gaereth said, "You must trust me, Master Elrond. I am doing a finer job of healing all these soldiers than any other physician here could – including you. And our staff have their hands full."
Abashed, I nodded, biting my lip.
With the healers' careful ministrations I recovered more swiftly than I had imagined, and was walking about quite steadily within a few days, though my arm was bound in a sling and I had to apply salve on it every few hours. Maglor remained unconscious, but a little more colour returned to his cheeks with each passing day. One afternoon as I entered the infirmary to see how a few of the others were doing, I saw Maedhros sitting by his brother's bed, arms crossed over his chest, the sunlight through the window painting two lines across his sharp-featured face. Everything about him, I thought, was neat and severe, from his looks to his manner to the way he dressed.
In a moment he said, startling me, "Come here, Elrond. I know you want to."
Shyly, I crept forward. I'd always wondered how he knew who was in the room with him without even bothering to look up. Perhaps he patiently memorised the distinctive sounds of people's footfalls. He seemed the sort who would do that. I never asked him about it; he likely wouldn't have answered, anyway.
Maedhros kept his eyes fixed on his brother's face. His own visage held an odd, thoughtful expression. "Did you know," he said suddenly, leaning forward to brush Maglor's cheekbone with the back of his hand, "I hurt him once. Deliberately."
Both surprised and intrigued at this unexpected information, I kept silent, not wishing to disturb his speech. He went on, "It had not been long since I had been rescued from Angband." My eyes widened, for I had never before heard him speak of that place, though I knew his story. "Maglor did not save me himself. I do not know who was more hurt by that: him or me." His voice was impassive, but beneath his lashes his eyes were gleaming with grief. I admit that made me uncomfortable; I was not used to thinking of Maedhros as vulnerable. He sat back in his chair and raised his gaze to the ceiling. "I broke his ribs in Mithrim*, when I was nearly recovered. I was so angry with him, with everything. You have no idea – "
He broke off abruptly, like a sprinting man skidding to a halt. He gave a short, irritable sigh, and I shuffled my feet awkwardly. I was appalled, and intrigued, and felt for him. But what was I supposed to say? After mumbling something quite incoherent, I scrambled out of the infirmary, my face burning. I don't know why I always felt uncomfortable when I turned my back to him, as if he was going to fling his boot at my head when I did. He never would, I knew, but nonetheless my uneasiness around him never wore off.
Maglor did heal eventually, and woke up one warm evening when I was sitting at the edge of his bed and reading. He opened his eyes – which were so large and dark they reflected the beams of the ceiling, clear but distorted on the curve of his cornea – and made a strange, rasping sound, more like a plea than a word. My book slipped from my hands and landed on the covers. Hastily, I lifted his head and placed a glass of water at his chapped lips. He swallowed, and a few streaks of liquid dribbled down his chin, and he coughed painfully, the ghastly sound echoing in the large chamber. When the fit subsided he looked at me properly and, after a moment, raised his good hand to my shoulder in a feeble clasp. I am happy you are well, his eyes seemed to say. I said nothing, but bent down and kissed his feverish brow, and his fingers shifted to the back of my head, sweeping gently across my scalp.
A fortnight after my shoulder was strong enough for me to arch a bow again, my brother and I were called into Maedhros' chamber. The evening was dark, and there was no moon, and though two candelabras rested on the study table, there was scarcely enough light to read even the index of a book in. I sneezed explosively, and quickly wiped my nose in embarrassment; the smell of burning animal fat was thick. Elros peered blearily around the room and suppressed a yawn, running his fingers through his hair. Currently it resembled a thicket of brambles, and I was sorely temped to quickly finger-comb it so he could look more like a descendant of kings and less like a peasant-boy.
Maedhros reclined in a chair, long legs crossed and arms folded, wearing his customary, wooden countenance. Maglor stood behind him, shuffling his feet; his eyes bore a strange, wary expression. One could have pricked the tense, uncomfortable air in the room with a pin. I steeled myself for ill news.
The elder brother drew his index finger over his upper lip – an uncharacteristic sign of nerves – and said curtly, "Take a seat," gesturing towards two empty chairs by the unlit hearth. Elros and I obeyed, sitting down simultaneously with our hands folded in our laps, as was appropriate. Maedhros said coolly, his darting eyes betraying his uneasiness, "You realise these are difficult times." He paused, searched our faces. I thought he meant the shortage of food and of staff, and assumed my brother did, too. Expecting him to give us orders to help more around the fortress and to go on additional hunting trips, I nodded responsibly.
"Our numbers are greatly reduced, and we can be attacked at any time by Morgoth and his servants. That is why," he said, hardening his gaze, "we are sending you to Lord Círdan and the High King Gil-Galad, to the Isle of Balar."
I blinked, confused. For a moment I thought he merely wished to frighten us. This was some kind of joke; in a moment he would chuckle darkly and berate us for naivety.
When no words passed his lips I leapt from my seat, nearly knocking it over in my haste. "You cannot be serious," I cried.
"We can, Elrond, and we are," he replied. "You will leave in two months."
Rage, mingled with shock, bubbled in my chest. Two months? We had lived at Amon Ereb for over twenty years, and now were being sent away, like a pair of donkeys no longer useful to their masters?
"This is too sudden," put in Elros, who had also gotten up. "Something must have happened for you to do this, out of the blue. Is it about Elrond getting hurt? Things like that happen, and they will happen even if we are with Lord Círdan. So long as Morgoth remains on this earth, there will be no peace."
"You are missing the point," said Maglor, who up till then had kept silent. "You are living with – and according to foreign sources, captured by – two Fëanorians, which translates to two kinslayers. If misfortune befalls you while you are here, it will be naturally assumed that we deliberately harmed you."
"And," said Maedhros, "if that happens, it would likely mean the death of Maglor and of me, and potentially of all the folk here at the fortress – Lord Círdan would not forgive us. If, however, you are injured or worse at Balar – and we can only hope that nothing of the sort happens – there will be no political conflicts or potential skirmishes."
"Is that the only reason?" I said, my voice shaking.
"No," said Maedhros. "The Oath has slept for too long. Maglor and I will retrieve the remaining Silmarils soon." He cast his brother a pointed glance. "We do not want you to get caught in the middle of that. Furthermore," he said, leaning back a little in his seat, "you have stayed here long enough. It is time you went to your true guardians."
"You are our guardians!" cried Elros indignantly.
Maedhros sighed softly. "No, Elros," he said, "we are the murderers of your kin and are your captors. I hope you understand this. Did you think that sparing you, only to bring you here, was an act of sympathy? You are more intelligent than that."
Maglor looked away, his face wan. And suddenly I was back in the stairwell, several fortnights ago, and Maedhros was shouting, I will not let you make decisions that will end in more grief than is necessary!
"You," I said slowly, addressing Maglor, not caring for the insolence in my tone. "Sending us away was your idea, was it not?"
For a moment he was silent, and then said, his voice calm, "Yes."
"You bastard," I muttered, earning shocked looks. Then, more loudly: "You damned bastard, Maglor!"
"Elrond!" I heard Maedhros say sharply. I took a deep, shuddering breath, and stormed out of the room, furious. Once in my chamber I barred the door and plumped on the bed, head in hands. I did not reply to the loud knocks or to my brother calling my name. The fortress could have crumbled to bits around me, and I would not have cared.
The night before our scheduled departure I sat on my chair and stared at my knapsack and my satchel. My head spun lazily with nausea; I had eaten little that day, and had talked less. If I threw up there would be nothing but watery bile that would stink up the room. I'd no mind to clean up if I really was ill, and so forced the sickness down.
I raised my eyes to the window. The moon was round and bright, spilling its light onto the undulating plains below, and milky beams played on the slate floor, now and again shadowed by sailing clouds. I could taste the freshness of the cool air on my tongue. The idiosyncrasies of the room stood out: a couple of sketches I had made, one of Elros, and another of some attendant whose name I have forgotten; the light linen curtains, patterned delicately with begonias; my rosewood table with its stacks of books, none of which I would be taking with me, for they belonged to the fortress' library. Soon, these things that I had come to think of as generic would become memories, and grow dimmer with time, till they would fade into phantoms of an old past.
Somewhere, a door was slammed, and its echo rippled dimly through the hallways. My ears, oddly sharp at the moment, perceived bats chattering in their quick, high-pitched voices. I imagined them dangling upside down from arbitrary arches in the fortress, their furry faces twitching, and childishly envied the fact that no-one could tell them to leave.
I stood up, took a weather-beaten cloak that I had tied to a bedpost, and wrapped it about my shoulders.
Maglor's chamber was, as usual, unlocked. I went in and, heedless of manners, stood expectantly by his bed. Though he lay amid the tumbled sheets, I knew he, too, was awake. Without a word he rose and, avoiding my eyes, slipped on some clothes and a pair of sandals, and sloppily tied his uncombed hair into a knot. I watched the folds of light cloth drape over his skin, traced the familiar, sharp contours of his body with my eyes, as if memorising a remnant of home. He lit a taper, and in the moment the flame flared to illuminate his thin face in a bright glow, I beheld the hated kinslayer I had seen as a child in Sirion. Then the light steadied and he was but Maglor again, holding aloft a candle and keeping the flame alive with the curve of his callused, artist's palm.
In an unconscious, frenzied moment, I went up to him and gripped his upper arms with more strength than I intended. I wanted to root him to the spot and keep him to myself, and I also wanted to break his bones in revenge. It would not have been wrong, I thought, or unreasonable. And he'd let me, I knew. He'd probably think dying at my hands would make a good story, and ask me to put it in a song.
All I managed to say, through gritted teeth, was, "Great Eru, Maglor." Blasphemy, to utter the name of the One so casually, and for so base a reason.
He returned my gaze calmly. "Let me go?"
We went up to a terrace. I sat on the broad parapet, Maglor beside me, and together we gazed into the western horizon, which was a deep blue, as yet untouched by the first rays of the rising sun. The stars were strewn like salt against the sky. How Elbereth must have laboured to place them all so lovingly, one by one, in the heavens, heedless of whichever soul, pure or corrupt, looked upon them to draw hope or hatred as he pleased.
At length Maglor turned to me; his skin looked nearly translucent in the moonlight, as if he would be dispelled if I so much as touched his face. "You know why we took you in, do you not?" he asked suddenly. Without waiting for my reply he continued, his voice cool, impassive, as if he was reciting lines from a half-forgotten, rather insipid play: "You must have realised, Elrond, that I brought you here not for you, but for me. I cared less for you and your brother, and more for the loneliness of my own shrivelled heart."
I bit my lip hard. I knew this, and yet I had always forced the thought to the back of my mind the same way one waves away tiresome insects in the hot season. It made me feel unwanted and passive, like a pair of old, worn boots that are passed from person to person, simply because no one wants to keep them.
A warm hand rubbed my shoulder gently, and I raised my eyes, furiously blinking away tears. There was the ghost of a smile on Maglor's lips, a dim impression of joy. "And now," he said, "I am sending you away – not for me, but for you. I know you will be happier and safer with Gil-Galad and his host, though you may not believe this. I fear that if I keep you longer, I will not be able to part with you."
He cupped my cheek with one hand, and ran his fingers through my hair with the other. "Perhaps there is such a thing as loving too much, at the wrong time, under the wrong circumstances."
A hot tear slid down my cheek, and Maglor wiped it away with the callused pad of his thumb. As I pressed my quivering lips together, struggling to remain stoic, he said, "Oh, but Elrond, I am afraid I am still very selfish, and I imagine that, in a different world, we might have been father and son, and would never have been parted."
I caught his wrists and said in a raw, hoarse voice, "Then do not make me go. The world you speak of can be created – no, it already exists. Please."
Maglor, looking both shocked and upset, searched my face, and then pulled me into an embrace. He smelled like sandalwood and clean bedsheets and steel. "Elrond," he whispered gently, rubbing small circles on my back with his hands. I nestled against him, breathing unsteadily. His warmth enveloped me, cocooned me like a familiar, comforting blanket. I suddenly pulled back, abashed; grown men were not meant to act this way.
Maglor arched an eyebrow, sighed, and said, "You are not quite that old, Elrond."
I opened my mouth, and before I could stop myself, muttered, "When I first came here, there was nothing more I wanted than to kill you."
He looked at me patiently; he already knew this.
"And now that I can," I went on, "I do not wish to."
"Even though I deserve it?" His voice was darkly amused. How quickly the tone of this conversation had changed!
"Yes. Though, I could push you off this parapet right now, if you like."
"Cheeky," said Maglor, smirking suddenly. "Very, very cheeky you are, son of Elwing."
"Not quite as much as you," I returned dryly, "son of Fëanor."
He burst into chuckles, and I joined him, and we put our arms around each other companionably. Then we lapsed into silence. Lazily, I played with a strand of his soft hair, twirling it about my finger, watching it spring into two curls when I let it go. He didn't protest, but adjusted my cloak so that it fell more neatly over my shoulders. When the sun finally rose, the sky was slashed with fire, and birds were circling the air. The great plains stretched before us, glorious in their expanse, bright green and fertile, and the wind carried with it a scent of fresh grass and wildflowers. I could have pretended all was well with the world.
"We should get up," said Maglor quietly. Neither of us moved. I could hear people rushing about, making preparations for the morning. The horses were whinnying and the hounds growing restless.
He pressed, "Come," forcing himself to get up. He held out a hand, but, stubbornly, I stood up on my own, and we both headed to our own chambers to get dressed for an early breakfast, though I had little appetite for food.
We broke our fast on fried bread, boiled eggs, and fruit. In the end it did me some good. I felt less queasy, but no less uncomfortable. Elros was unusually quiet, playing with his food like a child, and now and again a little, earnest frown would appear on his brow. His black hair was washed and combed, and his face cleaned, but he looked tired. He barely had a few mouthfuls of food on his own, and Maglor had to force him to take some. Maedhros ate even less, and sat alone at a trestle table with a cup of steaming, black tea in his hand, his expression brooding. He looked like he was forcing himself to drink, abruptly bringing the mug to his lips at intervals and then subtly wrinkling his nose as though he found the taste bitter.
By the time we went outside, the horses were saddled and the supplies packed. A small group of ellyn would be accompanying us, and a messenger had already been sent ahead to inform Lord Círdan of our arrival. Some people we had befriended had come to see us off, among them Agorael, a handful of healers, and a scattering of guards. Some of them punctuated the air with sobs.
As I mounted my horse in the courtyard, my head felt strangely light, as if stuffed with cotton, but Elros seemed to have recovered from his sorrow. His posture was straight, and his cloak stirred in the morning wind. He had enough dignity to nod his head and to murmur his own good-byes. I realised, as if for the first time, that he looked kingly, especially now with his baldric and his polished, leather boots. I dropped my head and felt heat rise to my cheeks in shame. Just a graceless brat, I am...
Maglor grasped the reins of my horse, making me look up. "Once again, farewell." He paused, gave a smile. "Little Half-elf," he finished. I felt some strength return to me at his warm tone, and nodded at him. Taking his hand, I pressed it to my lips, and fumbled for the right words to say. I'll never forget the look in his eyes. I've tried to capture it on the harp or parchment, but failed every time; there is a bolted coffer full of attempted portraits in my study.
At length I found my voice, and said, "Farewell, and though wisdom warns me against it, I love you still, son of Fëanor." Such words were embarrassing to say in front of a crowd; they were not meant to be shared with anyone but Maglor. Yet I could think not think of a more appropriate time to speak them.
His gaze flicked across my face, and he mouthed a silent thank you.
Maedhros stepped forward as the company prepared to leave. "Take care, both of you. Study well, train hard and...stay happy."
"We will," called Elros. Both Maedhros and Maglor stepped back as the gates opened with a gargantuan groan. My chest seemed heavy as lead as we rode out in a slow march, and my heart pounded against my ribcage. I glanced at the Fëanorians over my shoulder, and felt as if I was leaving my childhood behind. Maedhros appeared impassive (I would not have liked it any other way), and Maglor was still smiling bravely, his lips now and again twitching with the brittleness of his facade.
The sound of the horses' hoofs rumbled dully in my ears, and I frowned as the denizens of Amon Ereb shrunk in size, as if someone had stuck a screw in their skin and was turning it round and round, tightening their flesh until they began to resemble children's figurines.
I lifted my gaze to the flush of the new sky, and left them behind in the dust.
Please note that Elrond and Elros were taken captive in F. A. 538, that the War of Wrath began in F. A. 545, and that Maedhros perished in F. A. 587. It is uncertain as to when the Fëanorians let Elrond and Elros go, but do not take the date in this story as accurate. The War would have begun, and I do not think Maedhros and Maglor would have had either the time or the resources to take care of the Peredhil. More realistically, the Fëanorians would have relinquished the twins after around six years or less – not twenty.
You can find the timelines on LOTRproject and SWG, and on several other websites if you Google 'Silmarillion timeline'.
*This episode is fleshed out in my story, 'The Hammer Does Not Fall'.
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.