3. Chapter Three
Fear had robbed me of speech, and I pressed my back against the wall, hands trembling. Maedhros considered me, his expression dour, his jaw tight, but he said nothing. He looked frustrated rather than angry, though I could have been wrong. At length he grasped my wrist and pulled me up – his hand was ungentle – and then began to tug me along, walking so fast I could only keep up by half-running. His footfall was heavier than usual, almost as a human's, and in the narrow, arched hallway it made a clop clop sound like a horse's hooves or high-heeled footwear, though he was wearing age-softened, ankle-length boots.
After a quarter of an hour we came to a sunlit, serpentine staircase, and from there turned into the one that led to my chamber. Reaching my door Maedhros pushed it open, and we found Maglor sitting by my anxious brother on the bed. Maglor looked up sharply and breathed, "Elrond," as if he had been concerned. Maedhros let go of my wrist as if it was contaminated, though I was too afraid to move even a finger.
After a tense silence Maedhros turned to his brother, pursed his lips, and let out a long, deliberate breath. He gestured to the entrance with his thumb and said, "Now," which, I learned over the years, was his way of saying he wanted to talk, and the other person ought to listen if they did not wish to face his wrath.
Maglor closed his eyes, sighed through his nose, and came over, arms stiff by his sides, though he tried to hide his discomfort. I heard the door shut behind me, and then blinked twice and filled my lungs with air. Elros, after giving me an incredulous stare, pressed his palm to his brow and shook his head, looking like a second edition of our mother.
He did not speak to me the rest of the day, his lower lip thrust out in a perpetual, sullen frown.
That evening I took a book from the shelf and pretended to read at my table. Elros was sitting on the windowsill, gazing into the gloom, his chin in his hand and his brow puckered. The window was left slightly ajar, and I sneezed explosively, twice, at a sudden rush of cold air. I would have asked Elros to shut the window, but was unwilling to accidentally annoy him, and kept quiet.
Instead, sniffling, I went over to the bedside table to get a handkerchief, and nearly stumbled while avoiding a nail that protruded from the hard floor; it must have become stuck there by accident when this room was built. I would report that later, I decided. After blowing my nose noisily I went back to my desk, and found that Elros was looking at me with hard eyes. He cocked his head and said, "Are you trying to make things harder for us?" His face was calm, but his smoke-coloured eyes had a glint in them.
I knew what he meant, but my pride was hurt, and I was feeling stubborn. "No. I am trying to get you to see sense," I lied.
"You are the one who needs to see sense."
"And how is that?" I cried, jumping to my feet. "All I am trying to say is that these people are evil, and that we should be less submissive to them!" That, at least, was not untrue in my mind.
"And how will that help?" he shouted, taking me by surprise. Elros was always slow to anger, especially with me. "If you truly believe they are evil, do you think that they will suddenly decide to let us go if we act obstinate?"
"That is not the point!" I said, frustrated. I could feel my heart hammering furiously in my chest, like a hot sword being beaten.
He slid off the windowsill, clenching his fingers, looking with his white skin, unbound hair and loose cream tunic like a righteous china doll. He had always been smaller, frailer than me. I had always considered him someone that needed protection – or rather, someone I needed to protect. Even if he was strong, I as the elder did not always acknowledge his strength. Recently, this feeling had been fading. "Then what is?"
We quarreled, and our voices rose. We insulted each other, we brought up things that had happened years before, we fought over topics that had no relevance. Then the fight became physical, and we tackled each other to the ground. There was only one other time I ever disagreed with him thus, but that happened many years later, and is a tale for another day.
After a while the door burst open and someone with a strong grip pulled us apart.
"Enough!" His voice was loud and commanding, and we stood still, breathing heavily, scarlet to the ears. Maglor held us firmly by the shoulders, his face twisted in shock and anger. "What barbaric behaviour is this? Do you think you are Orcs, trying to kill each other?"
"That would suit you, would it not?" I cried, twisting free of his grip and turning on him. I do not doubt he had let me go only because of my words. I was so angry I was almost blind. Everything, I thought in my rage, was frustrating and pointless and cruel. There was no room for happiness in this war. There was no sense in kindness.
Maglor stared at me, looking both confused and vexed, and then said, "No. What...?"
"It would!" I insisted before he could gather his wits and continue. "You only brought us here to satisfy your pride! Take the children and put their heads on spikes. That will show the world how deadly we are! You cowards!"
"Do not say my name! Do not touch me!" I screamed when he attempted to reach out to me. "I do not want you ever to touch me! I never want to see you! Go away!" I was throwing a fit, and cared not for Elros' frightened expression or Maglor's considerably paled face. When I finished cursing him, there was a heavy, palpable silence. It felt strange, as if I were in a dream, and I barely realised when Maglor turned on his heel and exited the room, or when Elros began to cry, his mouth pulled back in an ugly grimace.
The rest of the night was vague and hazy; I do not remember what happened afterwards, and Elros never cared to tell me.
The next day, we found out that Maglor had left with several of his men on some kind of trip, and would not be back for a while. I felt relieved, for I had no desire to encounter him after the previous night. Our lessons began, and for a while Elros and I were distracted from our misgivings. Our tutor in history and mathematics was an elleth with dark brown hair and a slender frame. She was rather dry, but she taught us well, and I appreciated that she did not talk to us outside of our lessons. Our classes in poetry and music, which were supposed to be taught to us by Maglor, were temporarily suspended.
Three weeks passed, in which I started to grow comfortable in our chamber. It slowly began to look as if it was lived in; the bed was never quite made, the edges of the carpet were sometimes overturned, and books lay, either open or closed, on the desks or the bedside tables. Elros found a small stack of board games and a pack of cards beneath the bed, and we spent many evenings playing Ludo and Snakes-and-Ladders and Rummy, though our mother always told us that cards were meant for older elves. No one here protested, though, so we didn't care. An element of familiarity had crept into our lives, and we felt less awkward acting like denizens rather than captives.
It was during this period that I discovered the library. I was passing through the Great Hall one overcast morning with the intention to go outside, and noticed for the first time a polished oak door adjacent to the route that led to the baths. For a time I lingered where I was, though, because someone was plucking a harp and singing an old, rustic lullaby – the sort that would probably be sung around a fire on the streets, or in a children's bedroom, rather than in a great elven hall – and it reminded me of Sirion so much I felt tears spring to my eyes, and had to chew my lip to keep them from falling.
The elf was alone, sitting on a stool in a corner. There was no one listening save me and a couple of others lounging by one of the hearths. His hearty, lonely voice resounded in the Great Hall. It made the fires dance and the tapestries glow. It made the grim ceilings brighter. It made me want to sit at his bare feet, curl up, and close my eyes, so I could pretend I was at home, that I was safe, that my mother was in the next chamber, sewing, that my father was on his way back from the sea to...to perhaps hand me a new toy...and maybe rub my head...
At this point I remembered an episode in my life from when I was around four years of age. It was one of those few occasions that my father and I had been out for a walk by the river. I recall the water's metallic sheen as it lay beneath the sultry Sun like a half-finished, discarded sword. My father had a strong stride, though he kept his hands lackadaisically in his shirt pockets, and held his head stiffly against the wind, his knotted hair whipping back and forth. I was trundling beside him, trying to keep my balance on the rocks, wishing at once to remove myself from his imposing, sombre presence and to stay beside him, for he was my beloved father who I rarely saw.
I was so occupied by my anxiety I forgot to enjoy the view.
At length I began to fall behind, and called for him to stop. He turned and said impassively, "Hurry up," in his far-reaching, sailor's voice, and I scurried ahead, tripping on one of the treacherous stones and landing hard on my front, shallowly cutting my elbow and my cheek. A sharp pain stunned me for a moment, before I got, trembling, to my knees, my hands still on the grime-dusted ground for support.
Father did not move. He said again, "Hurry up," and then, "you are my son."
Breaking from my reverie, pushing unneeded thoughts from my mind, I advanced to the newly found door. I could not bear to be tortured with sweet music any longer, even if that was, to me, what made a house warm. In Sirion our mother had been fond of reed instruments, and she despised the violin, so our bards blew their blue-strung flutes during supper, when she was most relaxed, and I would wonder how their mouths never got terribly dry; when I had taken up the flute, I perpetually needed a cup of water by my side.
Passing the entrance, I found myself in a small, rectangular room with a dull red carpet and a single table upon which sat two sticks of incense that produced a calming, reverent smell of lavender (Noldor.They'd treat their libraries as temples). There was another, larger door left ajar, and, curious, I pushed it open. I found myself looking at what was probably the most beautiful room in the fortress. This, I decided, carried Noldorin style, even if it was somewhat marred by the strangeness of the general fashion of the building.
It was a rather compact chamber – Caranthir had not been fond of reading – but fulfilled its purpose. The low, ribbed vault ceiling was entirely painted in shades of brown, caramel, and pale green, in an intricate floral design, and the floor was of cool, checkered marble. Books lined the walls snugly, their spines illuminated by brass chandeliers, tall candelabras, and round stained-glass windows hidden, from this angle, by the design of the ceiling. To my front there was a square table strewn with papers, and behind it a rustic sofa. Still ahead there was a long, polished table with many chairs stacked neatly at its sides, and at the very end of the room, there was a tapestry finer than any I had ever seen, woven as if with magic. It depicted, to my surprise, Elbereth, her golden hair all adorned with white flowers, her mouth rosy; she was placing a bright star carefully on the velvety night sky.
Embarrassingly, my sorrow was forgotten. The music was faint in my ears as I went forward, lips pursed, gleefully wondering which book I could read first. I was – and still am – interested in many things: science, classical literature, mathematics. This library should have had books on all those topics. Still silly from happiness, I peered at the first book I saw: it was called Aldudénië. To my great disappointment, it was in Quenya, which I could not fluently read.
Placing the book back in its shelf, I determined to come back here later, perhaps another day. Right now I was going to tell Elros about this place; we could come here and read and play games if we wanted.
Smiling like an imp, I pushed my hands into my trouser-pockets and left, striving not to whistle.
I found my new familiarity with Amon Ereb both exhilarating and somewhat annoying, but I could bear it so long as no one pestered my brother or me. Maedhros kept to himself, and Maglor was gone, though I perceived he would return before long. A bitter taste burst on my tongue whenever I thought of him, and I prepared myself for his return.
Sure enough, one day, in the early hours of the afternoon, a horn sounded from outside the gates and the guards from the battlements shouted to the porters that their lord had come back. I was sitting on the stairs to the Great Hall with a hound's head on my lap, and stood up as the gates swung open. Maglor and his company rode in with all the grandeur of a vanquished army, and I tilted to the side as Maedhros walked quickly past me, striving to maintain his dignity. I watched, almost fascinated at the scene that unfurled before me.
"Maglor!" he said. "How fare you? Maglor?" His weary-looking brother dismounted from his bay horse and swayed, his face wan, his dark brows drawn in pain. Maedhros held him by the arm, steadying him, forehead creased with anxiety.
I felt little sympathy for either of them.
Maglor mouthed something like "Get a healer." I craned my neck and caught a glimpse of a dark stain on his clothes. It did not frighten or disgust me, for it was not the blood of my kin – if we were dimly related through sullied bloodlines, I refused to acknowledge it.
I stepped aside as he was helped up the stairs. As his men followed I clamped my nose and coughed, for they carried with them a foul smell that came with not bathing for days. I guessed, however, that I must have smelled even worse when I arrived here. When they were gone I turned to the barbican, whose gates were closing at the shouts of the guards, and wondered why I hadn't run. "What an ass I am," I muttered, and then went inside, realising that I had instinctively not dashed out because my brother was still in our chamber.
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.