4. Chapter Four
That evening I experienced one of those rare times I found it difficult to think or to amuse myself in some way, and I wished my brother would stop studying his history textbook so he could talk with me. He was at a table, hunched over, his legs swinging back and forth, back and forth, as he kept his eyes glued to the semi-thick volume before him. A cup of honeyed water, which he had requested from an attendant, sat forgotten and cold by the candelabra on the table, and he did not look up even when a drop of wax, shaped like an egg, fell almost mischievously in the drink with a conspicuous plink.
Presently I said, rolling over to my side, "Will you stop? It is very late."
"Not at the moment." The candlelight flicked across his face.
"Be patient, Elrond," he muttered with a splendid nonchalance that even Maedhros might have been proud of. I wasn't sure if I was impressed or horrified. I said, changing my tactics, "When will you finish?"
He laughed once, twice. I counted. I was so surprised I almost checked to see if he was all right, for the last time I had heard him laugh was the day before Sirion had been ruined. "Do you want me to throw this book at you?" he said, holding the volume threateningly in his hand, though it was obviously heavy for him and bent his wrist at a slightly odd angle.
"Yes," I said.
He flung it at me. It missed my head and hit the wall, then dropped pathetically on the furs, its pages bent, mutilated. For a moment I stared at it, then at Elros. "Are you mad?" I screeched, jumping and shaking the bed. "You actually threw it! I was being sarcastic!"
"Oh," he said shamefacedly, raising his palm to his mouth, "I threw a book! Elrond, is it all right? I do not know what came over me."
You can titter all you like, but I was not disconcerted by his lack of concern for me; sometimes we hurled objects at each other – whatever came into hand – but it was often done in good humour. Books, though, were exceedingly precious during the war, both in material and in knowledge, and only the very wealthy could boast of having them on their shelves; I knew a person in Sirion who never read, but carefully lined one wall in his chamber with opulent, leather-bound books, merely for fashion. I am not known for being violent, but to this day I want to hit him with my sandal.
I picked up the volume Elros had thrown and tenderly smoothed the grainy pages. Then I arched my brows and whistled, holding it up for him to see. "The pages are not torn, but the spine has become loose."
Elros made a low, frustrated sound, and began to advance towards me. "I ought to be flogged – " he began, then stopped abruptly, as if he had just realised something. The next second his shrill, drawn-out scream burst through the room. It contrasting sharply with his earlier groan, providing a fantastically abrupt shift in sound, and I leapt out of bed with my own cry of surprise. Elros was kneeling on the floor, nursing his left foot, his head thrown back, baring his convulsing neck. At that moment I noticed the nail I had seen, several days before, sticking out by my brother, along with a bloody patch on the floor.
"Wait a moment!" I said, dashing out of the room. "I will bring someone!" I felt guilty for leaving Elros alone, but I had no medical knowledge to speak of, and mentally cursed myself for not reporting that wretched, insignificant nail. I knew where the infirmary was, but there would be no one there at this time; it was an hour to midnight. Stopping for a moment on the dark stairs, I pondered. I had no desire to wake Maedhros, though he would likely be the most efficient person to go to. It was not rational to go elsewhere; but I remembered his shadowed face in the deep corridors that time when I got lost, and I did not want to stir his wrath.
I knew where Maglor's chamber was. It also was in the east wing, on a lower floor. I had never been inside, though in the weeks that he was gone I had passed it while exploring. Drawing a deep breath to calm myself from both worry and anger, I went downstairs and through – finally – a well-lit hallway, and tried hard to remember which door led to Maglor's room. At length I decided it was the fourth one to the right, made of thick oak and painted in a leaf-pattern, and knocked loudly, three times. The sound fell like a dead weight in the narrow corridor.
I was met with silence. Gritting my teeth, and more frustrated with Maglor than ever before, I banged on the door hard, twice, though it bruised my fist. There was no way he could miss that. Sucking my teeth and cradling my hand, I stood back and waited. At length I heard his footfall, and he emerged from his chamber with a walking stick. His hair had been washed, and hung in damp, knotted coils about his shoulders. Bandages were visible beneath his indecently half-buttoned tunic, and there were faint grey shadows beneath his eyes. He looked like a wraith.
"What happened?" he asked, sounding mildly concerned. I had expected his voice to be hoarse, but it was quite smooth. Luckily, that probably meant he was not so tired as to fall over.
It took me half a minute to explain the situation, after which he said, "Go back to your chamber. I will be with you shortly."
I found Elros with tears streaming down his face from pain and shock, and sat by him and told him he would be fine. He put his head on my shoulder and closed his eyes.
In the next few minutes Maglor, who had clubbed his hair and donned a woolen mantle to cover up, had entered our chamber with medical supplies in his free hand. Placing them on the bedside table he picked Elros up and sat him on the covers, and examined the wound, holding my brother's foot gently. "Does it hurt badly?" he asked. Elros struggled. "No."
"I am not trying to test how brave you are. Does it hurt badly?"
My brother lowered his eyes. "Not terribly."
With a cloth that smelled like alcohol he swiped the injury a few times in quick movements. He did not apologise or look up when Elros whimpered. His breathing somewhat shallow, he applied the salve, then bandages. "You stay off that foot," he said when he was finished. "I will get a healer to change the bandages later, and to give you some herbal tea."
He was brief and unattached, his face and neck dotted with sweat. Something stirred in me as I watched him. He was wounded. He walked with a limp. He smelled of herbs and linen. He was a confusing person, as was his brother. The Fëanorionnath bewildered me because I could not understand the way they thought. I could not understand their motives. As Maglor was hobbling towards the exit I swallowed what remained of my dignity – there wasn't much – and called, "Thank you." I could not say his name. I realised, then, that I never actually used his name, and that this was the first time I had the desire to.
Maglor, after looking oddly at me, nodded stiffly and left, shutting the door behind him. The last I saw of him was the flutter of his cape, tumbling and disappearing in the shadows. His footsteps faded.
As the days passed, I had to give my attention to my brother and my lessons. Elros' wound proved to be quite mild, and he recovered within a week. During that time Maglor began to teach us, and his poetry lessons took place once a day after our midday meal. For an hour he would sit with us at our desks. Or rather, he sat on a table with his knees crossed, holding a glass of wine and giving instructions while waving his free hand like a conductor at an orchestra, while Elros and I sat on the chairs and analysed and memorised the poems he set for us. Our music lessons, on the other hand, were our last in the day, during which Maglor abandoned both the table and the wine and instead sat on the floor – and made us do the same – while we plucked harps and blew into flutes. He was very serious about the music, and tolerated no mistakes.
I discovered he had a rather extraordinary array of facial expressions. For instance, when my brother or I provided an analysis that was, to him, maladroit, he would open his mouth as if to say something, then shut it tightly, tilt his head to one side, and narrow his eyes sarcastically, which made him look like an indignant seagull. I found it quite an achievement on his part. Such reactions, contrary to being intimidating, to me were rather funny, and Elros concurred.
Maglor, I learnt, was quite as sardonic and mocking as his older brother. One particular incidence convinced me of this. On an afternoon when we were reciting old Vanyarin poems, I asked sheepishly if we could continue our studies in the library. Maglor's jaw dropped, and his silver goblet almost fell from his slackened hand, which had been twirling the cup dispassionately but firmly. Such was his astonishment that, briefly, I thought I had unwittingly started a war (over what, I was quite unsure).
Silence bloomed as all three of us realised how inappropriate that question was; we were, after all, at an enemy's fort. Maglor, however, pursed his lips, raised his brows so that they nearly touched his temples – he almost looked offended, but surely he wasn't – and said wryly, "Yes, we can...continue in the library." His enunciation was exquisite.
Despite these peculiar moments, he maintained a careful distance from us. After teaching us, he would wish us a good day and retreat to his chamber; he only talked to us when he had to. It was ironic that the moment I began to grow somewhat interested in him, he withdrew from us almost entirely.
A month passed swiftly, and then another. Our time was taken up mainly by our lessons, our talks and our playthings. I grew to despise rain in any amount, for the sky wept more than the Elven captives at Angband. Usually it was a persistent, irritating drizzle that continued for days and that greatly dampened the walls and our spirits. This was the sort I disliked with the most fervour, for it was both unremarkable and unceasing. Sometimes, though, the heavens would snarl as if with anger for the war and for its own patience, and cast down such a violent storm of rain and hail that some windows of the fortress would smash to many, glittering shards, and the lightning would split the sky that was stained a deep, mulberry-purple.
On a free, partially overcast afternoon, Elros and I were sitting on stools in the kennels with Agorael, around a coal fire. We visited him quite frequently, and spending time amid the hounds and the somewhat unpleasant smell had become a routine.
Agorael had for the past hour been telling us stories, some real, some not, and he'd told us a bit about himself. He'd been born in Beleriand, he said, in Celegorm's host, but when his fair-haired lord died he joined Maglor. Presently he was telling us a fable from Valinor, about a woman who talked to a creek, which I had begun to lose interest in. I yawned and twirled a strand of my hair, while Elros listened with rapt attention, cheeks in his hands. I gazed at the courtyard that was empty save for a few dogs.
Suddenly I got up, disturbing the other two. "What is it, Elrond?" asked Agorael, looking a bit peeved at the interruption of his story. I tolerated him mainly because he was just a follower of the Fëanorionnath, and had as far as I know perpetrated no battles. Truthfully, I was somewhat fond of him, but right now I would have liked to be alone, and said so.
"D'you want me to accompany you?"
"No, thank you."
Elros said sagely to the older elf, "He gets like this sometimes. He is very odd. You can finish the story." He grinned broadly, showing his teeth. Agorael laughed nervously in short bursts; his high-pitched voice was entirely incongruous with the dull, straw-filled kennels. I resisted the urge to cringe, but Elros' smile grew wider; he'd grown attached to this eccentric, kind-hearted man. Slowly, we were picking away the defences we built around ourselves as we adjusted to the fact that no-one here would arbitrarily commit so bold, so pointless an act as killing us.
Leaving them to their talk, I crossed the barbican and went inside. I decided to wander around, and advanced towards the west wing, which I had not inspected much, and took a serpentine flight of narrow stairs that smelled of dust and age, and that were lit with stained-glass windows that flung deformed patches of bright colours across the masonry. Here was a butter-yellow, and there a coquettish rose. Along with the hues, the claustrophobic space and the curved walls gave the impression of being inside a kaleidoscope. I stopped, my head spinning for a moment, and placed my hand over a square of sombre blue on the wall, and felt my lips quirk. Cupping my hand, I pretended to catch the light, and then chortled at my own silliness.
I realised for the first time, though I had known it, that the fortress seemed as if it had been partially renovated, and that the new architect preferred a style that leaned towards the flamboyant and the dramatic. I pressed my nose against one of the window-panes, and found I could see the courtyard and the people in it below, bathed in carmine. The sky was a bloody, diseased mouth.
My happiness faded like a punctured balloon. Sickened, reminded of undeserved death and suffering, I withdrew, and continued on my way, frowning. At length I came to a landing that led to the first floor, which composed of a hallway that was carpeted and somewhat wide. The first door, of rustic wood, to the right, was half-open. Curious, and somewhat ashamed of my nosiness, I neared it and peered inside.
To my surprise, what I saw was Maedhros sitting at a desk, his expression grim, poring over a book of what was probably accounts. I had accidentally stumbled upon his chamber. He must have felt my gaze on him, for he looked up sharply, revealing his astonishingly large eyes, illuminated eerily by the sunlight that seeped through the windows in his chamber, so that they appeared pewter rather than their usual slate-grey. I took a hasty step back, nearly tripping, but he called me inside.
As I came in I noticed that the room was rather small, with minimal furniture. The only objects that spoke of forgotten luxury were the gold-and-burgundy Noldorin sword that hung above an unlit, charred hearth, and the soft cream carpet by the low, neat bed. The windows faced the West, and through a flying buttress I saw the Andram hills, reaching lowly towards the sky, yet seeming to sink down to the plains helplessly, lesser cousins of the Ered Luin.
I shifted my glance to Maedhros, who was looking at me, appearing somewhat bemused. When the silence grew nearly unbearable and I had begun to sweat, he said, tapping his index finger once on his desk, "You are...Elrond." His even, blasé voice had only a hint of query in it. I was surprised at his sharpness, for he scarcely communicated with my brother and me.
"How did you know?" I asked, flummoxed and a bit disturbed, for even the attendants at Sirion had sometimes been confused as to who was who; my brother and I appeared painfully alike, and even our hair was cut in a similar fashion.
"Your brother looks more intelligent."
That was probably the most anticlimactic moment of my seven years. I had no time to react because he said, "Why the long face? You have been here for some months now; I would have thought a strong lad like you would not mourn so; your parents, as you know, are alive, and you are being treated well here, as far as I know."
His audacity made me suck in a breath, but I said nothing. Maedhros inclined his head to one side. "You know you are free to go when you come of age; I thought my brother made that clear."
"Who would take us after we spent so many years with you?" I asked, emboldened by his words.
"Lord Círdan would do so," he replied, "and Ereinion Gil-Galad would welcome you."
"I knew Lord Círdan," I said, somewhat irritated by his confidence, "but why would Gil-Galad have an interest in me and my brother?"
A shadow passed over Maedhros' face. His fingers twitched. "You are distantly related. And I knew his father well."
Whatever he was going to say, I had not expected that, and asked, perhaps more curious than I should have been, "How?"
After a long pause he said tightly, "Go read your history books, or ask Maglor." He returned his attention to his book, picking up a pen and beginning to write. The feather made a strangely pleasant, though muted, scratch, scratch, scratch sound. His breathing grew heavy. "Leave," he said suddenly, not bothering to look at me. I flinched at his tone, dithered for a moment in confusion, and then quickly scrambled away, pulling the door shut behind me. Once in the corridor I hunched over, holding my knees, panting, and then wiped the perspiration from my cheek.
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.