2. Chapter Two
I woke early the next day to a pale, butter-tinged morning. Having slept fitfully, I momentarily thought I was in Sirion and feeling unusually disgruntled, and arbitrarily remembered that I was always told by Mother to wake with a cheerful disposition. But then I shook my head and cleared it, and there was no space for doubt: we were in Amon Ereb. I sat up slowly, feeling my head reel a little from lack of food, and sat at the edge of the bed. My legs were short and dangled a good few inches above the ground. My brother was still in slumber; his quiet snores bore testimony to that.
I hopped to the floor, feeling the worn, somewhat rough carpet beneath my feet, and walked over to the closet. Opening it, I found two stacks of crisp, clean clothes. At the bottom there were two pairs each of leather sandals, soft, light green bedroom slippers and warm boots. I reached out and carelessly took whatever my hand grasped first – a white, navy-trimmed top and matching trousers – and the sandals. I put them on. The fabric was soft wool that would serve well againt the winds of the hill. It fit surprisingly well – that would save me the trouble of informing Maglor if it did not.
There was a good while left until the tenth hour, and I spent most of my time walking about the room, much like Elros had done the day before, trailing my fingers across the cold walls, feeling the little bumps and cracks. After a while grew bored and sat on the window sill, and gazed into the morning light. The mist had cleared somewhat, and I could make out the splotchy, green plains ahead, stretching towards the blurred horizon. A small, shadowed pine wood surrounded the east wing of the fort, and I wondered if there were any animals aside from crows that dwelt there; it looked neither sinister nor particularly benevolent.
Suppressing a shudder and looking down, I saw soldiers stiffly patrolling the lower walls and ground, like ants across tree-branches. One of them suddenly turned and playfully slapped a comrade on the back, nearly knocking him from the battlements, and then hastily pulled him back, and I arched an eyebrow in response, wondering at their childishness.
I must have sat there for quite a while, because it appeared that only a little later an attendant came in with our breakfast: apples again, and milk and fried bread with butter. "You should eat it, little master," he said with surprising gravity. "Lord Maglor was not happy yesterday; you're mighty lucky to get a large room and food like this. This fortress was not built for comfort." He bowed and left before I could reply.
Feeling slightly guilty, I woke my brother and we ate together, sitting on the bed. When we were finished we talked in low voices about our new home, our old life, and our mother. Mostly we mulled over the sheer size of this mighty fortress, and how the silence seemed to lie watchfully in the walls when we were alone.
Sure enough, at the tenth hour there was a rap at the door, and Maglor and Maedhros entered. Maedhros had rid himself of the tattered, dirty clothes he had worn on the journey, and now wore a black velvet tunic, buttoned to the collar, and tightly laced leather shoes. A golden clip adorned his bright hair, and his face held an unreadable expression. Maglor had donned a linen shirt with a sleeveless, dark blue over-tunic that flapped at his knees, held at the waist with a belt, and his thick plait hung to his midriff. It was almost impossible to tell they were brothers.
"You are both up and dressed. Good," said Maedhros. "Maglor and I have decided a schedule for you. It will keep changing every few years, but you will have to follow it for as long as you live here."
Elros and I exchanged uneasy glances.
"First," said Maedhros, ignoring our looks, "you will have lessons for four days in the week from the tenth hour in the morning until the third hour in the afternoon. You will be taught early history, poetry, music and numerals; neither of us wants to compromise your education.
"Second, you will have chores; nothing heavy, just cleaning your own windows, making your bed and sometimes, if you misbehave, scrubbing floors. Maglor will also teach you both how to cook, but that will not start until a while later. Do not worry," he added at our alarmed expressions, "you will not be confined to the kitchens. We have cooks enough.
"Third – and this is important – you must not go anywhere on the battlements, up the towers, or into the dungeons. Not because we are hiding anything from you, but because you will get lost. I would advise you to stick to your chamber, the Great Hall and the courtyard for now. And I do not want to see either of you wandering about after half past the ninth hour in the evening.
"Fourth, you shall not make any mischief or cause any trouble that would offend or hurt anyone in any way. Perhaps Maglor," he threw his brother a slightly admonishing look, "will allow it, but the rest of us, and least of all I, will not. In case you are wondering, there is no need to address either of us as lord – you may use our names. Usually I would not permit this, but your case is an exception."
He paused and cocked his head to one side to glance at our reactions. "Do you have any questions? No? Good. Your lessons will start the day after." He turned to his brother inquiringly, as if asking if he had forgotten something. It seemed odd that one with such a commanding presence would seek advice from a lesser scion.
Maglor shook his head and said to us, "You are free to wander about the fortress today. I can show you around, if you would like – "
"No," Maedhros cut him off. "You must show them. I do not want them getting lost and creating havoc for us all."
Maglor slowly let a breath out through his nose, as if striving to keep his temper in check. "Very well. I will first take them both to the baths, and then show them around properly."
"Ah, yes," said Maedhros suddenly. "I forgot. As to your military education – "
"We will discuss that another day," Maglor interrupted, with an imperious tone that few if any could have retorted to.
Maedhros grunted his assent and folded his arms, looking a little chagrined. This was the most I had heard him speak until now, and I was already unwilling to cross him, despite his current expression. I felt my chest relax when he left.
Maglor turned to us and gave us a smile that surprised us with its warmth – not that I felt any affection for him – and spoke, "And now I may familiarise you with Amon Ereb!" He threw the door wide open. "After you, little masters." His voice was slightly mocking, but not unfriendly, and we complied quietly. A strange look flickered across Maglor's face before disappearing again.
We trundled behind him down the staircase, tripping a little and feeling the walls on our sides for balance. Maglor, in comparison, was quite fast, and Elros and I had trouble keeping up with him. When I accidentally tripped over my own foot and nearly collided with Maglor he stopped abruptly and raised his brows. "I am sorry," he said, "I did not realise I was walking so quickly...Elros?" he added uncertainly.
"Elrond," I corrected him a little sharply. I had always had a strong feeling that Maglor was not the sort to hand out severe punishment, and now that Maedhros had confirmed this fact, I was willing to take every opportunity to try to hurt him. I had no problems with being vindictive.
"Elrond," he nodded. It was patronising the way he ignored my tone. "I apologise." He walked on, this time more slowly; for some reason, his placidity irked me.
We continued down and out, passing through the Great Hall and a series of confusing corridors, and finally reached the baths. They were almost inadequate for a lord's house. The edges of the square pools were rough and grey, and the walls of the chambers damp and slightly green with moss. Soaps and towels were kept in straw baskets on racks by the entrance. Occasionally laughter and exclamations burst from around the chamber, and an almost murky smell hung insistently in the air.
But the water was hot and clean, and that was all that was really needed, I suppose. Maglor dabbed at his upper lip with the back of his hand and said, "You can wash yourselves here. I will be waiting outside."
We stared at him in alarm. In Sirion we had baths in porcelain tubs in private chambers, sometimes with Mother or perhaps a nanny supervising our behavior. Never in our lives had we been made to disrobe in front of fully grown Elves who were complete strangers to us, much less bathe before them.
Maglor puckered his brow and asked what was wrong. I scowled, indignant, but Elros said, "Can we bathe somewhere private? We have never..." He cast his gaze to his feet. Maglor raised an eyebrow, but led us to a smaller pool at the edge of the hall, obscured by a wooden screen. He told us to wait, and then went away. Soon he returned with towels and soaps.
"I am giving you half an hour," he said. "Can you manage on your own?" We nodded mutely and he left.
After undressing, I slipped into the bath, and sighed at the warmth, feeling the muscles in my back and my legs uncoil. Contrary to the atmosphere, the water had a rather pleasant, fresh scent, and I submerged myself to the neck, initially doing nothing because this was the first bath I'd had in a few fortnights. Despite this, I had no desire to either laugh or smile, and quickly pushed my head beneath the water, shutting my eyes tightly.
When I came up again, Elros was cleaning his toes, his brows drawn in concentration. His cheeks and his arms were bright pink, and his hair curled and stuck to his forehead like fat, sated leeches. He caught my eye, looking more anxious than happy, akin to a shaved and wet pup, and promptly went back to scrubbing his feet with renewed vigour.
Regaining my senses, I washed myself quickly, grimacing as I realised how dirty I was. I scrubbed my face and my hair fiercely with sticky soap, and made sure I had not a speck of filth left on my body; I'd always hated feeling grubby. It was a quirk of mine, and often made my brother roll his eyes at me pityingly. Recently I had been too disgruntled to care about my little obsession as much as I usually did.
I went on, and was satisfied only when I sniffed my arm and, with muted triumph, found it smelt of deep sandalwood rather than other, unsavoury elements.
We dried ourselves and slipped on our clothes again, feeling refreshed. When Maglor came back, his brow dotted with perspiration, he did not say anything but gave a half-deriding, half-satisfied smirk, indicating that we were at last presentable, and I felt my chest swell with indignation.
He led us into the outer courtyard by the gatehouse. "I will show you the kennels; it would not be wise to try to chase the hounds, but the keepers are friendly enough."
"What makes you think we want to be friends with them?" I asked. Elros paled, and Maglor paused to catch my eye. He was not smiling.
For a moment he looked as if he was going to admonish me, but he sighed and shook his head. "Follow me, both of you," he said, "unless you wish to not know this place at all. You cannot escape, so you may as well do as I say." He advanced.
Elros threw me a bitter look; whether it was directed at me or Maglor, I did not know. We soon came to the kennels, constructed sturdily of stone and wood; I had not noticed them when we had ridden in the day before. There were several hounds about, dozing, playing, or brawling over bones. A black-haired Elf in a shabby tunic was kneeling and holding a dog down, dabbing at what looked like a small wound on its foreleg with medicine.
When they saw Maglor, some of the hounds leapt up and charged towards him with alarming speed. They jumped at him, trying to lick his hands and his face, barking and yipping. Elros and I shrank away in fear; three of them were sniffing at us curiously. Maglor petted them briefly, and then told them to move away. They did so obediently, albeit a little reluctantly. He called the Elf with the medicine and he came to us, coarsely wiping his hands on his trousers.
Maglor introduced us to each other. "Agorael, these are Elrond and Elros: princes of Sirion, the sons of Lady Elwing and Lord Eärendil. They are part of our house now, and I want them to be treated well. Tell the rest of the keepers and the pages that I speak so. The boys are permitted to play with the gentler dogs, but do not let them get near the more aggressive ones."
"But of course, milord," said the Elf with a nod. He had a somewhat high, fruity voice that should have belonged to a jester. He turned to us. "The staghounds are very affectionate; you don't have to worry about them biting you." He smiled warmly at us, though it seemed a little strained. Perhaps he was embarrassed at the thought of being acquainted with us. Elros gave a small smile in return.
"They can come here whenever they wish," informed Maglor to Agorael, "but not during their lessons or at night. I will inform you of their schedule later this evening."
"Very good, milord!"
Maglor next showed us the stables – which were near the kennels and which I had also missed – and Elros made no effort to hide his love for horses. He stroked their manes and their necks, and even asked Maglor if he could ride one. Maglor chuckled. "Of course, but not now. I will have to inform the head of the grooms, and he is not present right now." Elros looked disappointed, but nodded.
The same day we were introduced to some of the guards, and to my surprise a few of them were women. Maglor actually laughed at our expressions. "The nissi fight valiantly," he explained, "and neither Maedhros nor I can say no if they express a wish to take an active part in battle. This is war, after all." His expression suddenly changed, becoming dark. He was quieter after that, and led us back to our chamber. It was evening by then, and a hot meal was waiting on our table.
"Stay in your room," Maglor ordered. "Take a look at the books if you wish; some of them are quite interesting." He left.
Elros and I paused, and then went over to the meal. After we had eaten, we changed into nightclothes – a luxury we could not afford for many months – rinsed our mouths with hot salt water, put out the candles, and crawled into bed. As I lay on my back I saw the mottled Moonlight, obscured here and there by the flimsy clouds, shift on the now pale, blue-tinted walls. From far beneath the window there came the very faint echoes of marching feet and of tinkling metal. A few moments later, somewhere a door was opened and then shut; but, despite my age, I was not afraid of grey shadows or of sounds in the dark. The deeds of witches and of ghouls, after all, were never worse than the deeds of ordinary folk.
I stayed awake for a long time. Elros had fallen asleep and had kicked off his side of the furs, and I sighed in slight envy. My brother, I had long ago decided, was the infuriatingly relaxed sort who could fall asleep standing up. After a few minutes of tossing and turning and scratching my pillow with a nail (an old habit that I still struggle to control), I gave up on sleep and rolled out of the covers.
Slipping my feet into my sandals, I went to the door and opened it quietly. Leaving it ajar, I crept downstairs. It was cold, much colder than the morning, and I rubbed my arms and sputtered as I felt my way around.
We had taken a hallway to enter the Great Hall, but next to it there was another, smaller corridor. It was lit, and so I told myself it was not forbidden, and took that route. I had no particular notion of where I was going, but I cared not if I 'created havoc' for the whole fortress. While I was walking I came across a wooden door with iron bands round it. It was unlocked, and when I pushed it open I saw yet another hallway, dimmer than the last.
I do not know how long I kept walking; the place was a labyrinth. Each long, tunnel-like corridor mimicked the last with exquisite accuracy, and induced in me an irrational fear of being trapped in a dream. I no longer knew where I was and cursed my idiocy, slapping my fist against the wall in frustration. Beads of sweat had formed on my brow, and I wiped them with the back of my hand.
Seeing no other option, I padded on, trying to find my way back and failing. Sirion had been simply constructed, and I could likely have walked through it with my eyes closed and emerged unscathed, but Amon Ereb was a place whose architect was probably drunk when he drew the designs. I scoffed at the thought.
It must have been past sunrise when I finally plumped down from exhaustion and curled up against a wall, not caring if it was uncomfortable; many days of sleeping on the ground had hardened my body and adjusted it to coarser conditions. If I was lost, I determined, I could probably get out once I was rested. Sleep flitted across my eyes and dragged down my lids with the weight of rocks.
I could not have been unconscious for very long, for the next thing I knew someone was shaking my shoulder roughly. I opened my eyes, still stupid with drowsiness, and, forgetting my pride, shrieked in an undignified manner when I saw Maedhros' grim, partially shadowed visage close to mine, looking like one of the strange-faced gargoyles that squatted on the upper walls of the fort.
Nissi - Elvish women
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.