The Starlit Sky: 5. Chapter Five

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5. Chapter Five

Chapter Five

Having taken Maedhros' stingy advice, I rapped on Maglor's door once, twice, then waited for a long time. As previously, silence swelled and engulfed me and slithered through the corridor. It appeared there was no one inside. "Where in this entire fortress could that man be?" I thought. Feeling impatient, and more than a little irritated due to Maedhros' abruptness, I opened the unlocked door and walked in, and straightaway the faint smell of ink crept into my nostrils.

What met me was something akin more to a study than a bedroom. While Maedhros' chamber had been rather bare and severe, Maglor's was almost as small, but cluttered and disorderly. There was a long oak desk, upon which rested two stacks of books and another of parchments, a bed with one bedside table and a chest for clothes at its foot, and a finely wrought wooden chair by the single, mullioned window, and little else could have fit inside without looking incongruous. Yet Maglor had managed to squeeze onto the wooden floor a fine harp that rested against a leg of his desk, and an old tapestry, shot with gold, on the wall behind his bed, which depicted several elves and a white pony drinking from a fountain in a flower-garden.

At that moment it was obvious to me how Maglor's tomes and his studies and, perhaps, his music, provided him his few and perhaps only sources of pleasure, keeping him lonesome company for many hours. This was odd because, as I had reluctantly noticed, he inspired in his followers great affection for him. Agorael spoke of him fondly, and many attendants whose names I knew not did so, too. He should have had a string of interesting conversations with the folk of Amon Ereb by now.

I had earlier decided I would wait for the chamber's master to arrive, yet soon, as my habits decreed, I began to fidget, and decided to take a nose about the room. Tentatively, I went to the rosewood coffer with a wolf design by the bed. It was half-open, and when I lifted the lid with a finger I saw to my surprise several detailed portraits in black ink, preserved in glass.

I pondered. What, I said to myself, was the harm in glancing at them? Had I and my brother not been wronged in numerous ways by these Fëanorionnath in their dark halls, who had taken away all that was precious to us, even our dignity? A skim over a few sketches seemed, in contrast, as important as an extra incisor in the gums.

Wiping my damp hands on my trousers, I picked up the first portrait. It was of an elf with fair hair and sturdy shoulders, who wore a wreath of marigolds on his brow; on the bottom right corner it read, simply, 'Turko'. The second showed another elf, with black curls and very bright eyes; there was haughtiness in the way he raised his finely arched brows, and beneath his scarf it was written, 'Curvo'.

I blinked, confused; surely these were epessës; they could not be real names. Intrigued, I looked at the third picture, of an elleth. Her lips curved upwards in the smallest hint of a smile, and even in the colourless portrait, I could see the slight blush in her cheeks. Her air was exquisitely captivating, as if she was learned and pithy and perhaps somewhat arrogant. There was no name on her picture.

My conscience chose at that moment to indignantly pinch me, and my hands began to shake with excitement. I quickly tucked the portraits back in their coffer, my heart a frantic hammer against my ribcage.

I turned back, and saw to my horror that Maglor had soundlessly entered the room and, with his hands clasped behind his back imposingly, was gazing at me with narrowed eyes. "Elrond," he said quietly, "what are you doing here? Why did you come in without my permission?"

I opened my mouth, but could form no words to speak. Since Maglor had started teaching my brother and me, I had grudgingly begun to offer him a certain amount of respect. Ever had I been taught by my elders at Sirion that the master occupied an almost higher place than the parent, and this mindset had seeped, however little, into my behaviour around Maglor, against my will. My insolence was, embarrassingly, a sore blow to my ego, exacerbated by being caught.

Maglor, after a moment, sighed tiredly, bowing his head, and asked, "What do you want?"

Not in the mood to lie, I explained, stuttering, what Maedhros had told me. Maglor's expression changed, and he arched an eyebrow, looking amused, and said, "Of course."

We stared at each other. At least, I stared at the laces of his tunic, tied in a neat bow, then shifted my eyes to his elbow, which was pressed against his waist as protectively as one may hold a lover. He seemed uncomfortable, gazing at my slippered feet, mouth twitching as if he had a peeled lemon on his tongue.

I said awkwardly, "Are you, um, not going to tell me?"

He paused, returned curtly, "Bear no grudge against my brother, Elrond, for refusing to educate you about bloodlines and half-muffled history." His mocking tone made me flush hotly. "Come, sit, for I can see by the gleam in your eyes that you will not be sated unless I – "

"You would tell me?" I said, not particularly caring that I was interrupting him, 

"That is what you wanted."

"I still want a lot of things."

"I cannot give you everything, boy," he said, but he was smiling, though it contained little spirit. I felt a sudden surge of pity for him, for his dewy, sorrow-filled eyes, though I knew such a feeling was both futile and needless. Noticing that he was gesturing to his bed, I quickly sat on the covers, clutching at them with my hands. Maglor sat on his chair and crossed his legs, looking as if he was going to give me another lesson on poetry.

He put his chin in his hand and inclined his head to one side, like a dramatic actor, and said, "I wonder where I should begin. Grandmother's death? The Awakening?" He was talking to himself, though the term 'grandmother' made me blink in confusion, till I belatedly realised he was talking of Míriel Serindë. That he had such close ties to a person famous in history was bewildering, even if I had dimly known it.

Ultimately he chose to start with Cuiviénen. Initially his eyes were hazy as he talked; he was reciting only what he had read in books and had gathered from hearsay. Then they grew clearer, brighter, as his words gave shape to sharp memory.

I did not punctuate his lengthy tale with questions, choosing to listen intently. He did not look at me at any point, keeping his eyes fixed sometimes on the floor, at others on a crack in the wall behind me. At one point his gaze fell on my lap, but he quickly shifted it to his shoes. I must have changed my position on the bed at some point, for when he finished I was sitting cross-legged, my back hunched in an undignified manner that Mother would surely have chastised me for.

We sat in silence for a time. My head felt like a sack of bricks with all he had said, and I swayed a little. At length I slowly turned to him, wondering if I would anger him if I talked. "Maglor," I said, "do you think you can ever find peace?" He had probably been asked this before, but I wanted to know.

His tale had rendered him sorrowful. He looked pathetic, like one of the sad drunkards that stumbled in the streets of the part of Sirion inhabited by Men. I was glad he was not weeping, for I would not have known what to do. "Oh, child," he said, and stopped abruptly, like a horseman suddenly pulling up his steed in mid-gallop. Then he straightened and grew animated. "Do not torture me with visions of peace when I know there will be none. We cannot look at the crescent Moon in the starlit sky and feel the love of our Lady Elbereth."

I did not know whom he meant by 'we', and I did not care to ask.

Maglor turned to me at last and smiled. "Did my story sate you? Or would you like me to say also what I think is going to happen? That will take till the next sunrise, unfortunately." He glanced out the window. I followed his gaze and started, for it was night, and the plains were cast into shadows, scarcely noticeable against the dimly illuminated Ered Luin, which seemed to float steadily in nothingness.

"It is late," said Maglor, standing up and stretching. "The evening meal is being set. Off you go, boy. Your brother is waiting for you."

When I trundled out, I realised that, for the first time, I had spoken his name.


Some days afterwards, late morning, I had been sitting at one of the stools in the Great Hall, my head resting on the table, listening to someone pick a harp, when Maglor emerged from the east wing's staircase as suddenly as a ghost, advanced to me, and said, surprising me with his abruptness, "I suppose you know there is a feast being held today? Our soldiers did well some days back on the field – all the Orcs were killed, and there was hardly a scratch on our group. What a rarity."

I did know, from the attendants' chatter, and told him. "I hope, Elrond," said Maglor, "that you realise you and your brother are welcome to join us. I know you prefer to take your meals in your chamber, but it might do you some good to have a slightly late night with our folk. Everyone will be there."

I stared, taken aback, raised my head, then cleared my throat. "I will consider it."

"There is one more thing."

I awaited him to continue.

"You recall my brother telling you that I would teach you and Elros to prepare meals? Well, I will not ask you to do so presently, but I would like you and Elros to come to the kitchens in some time and for a while watch the preparation of the food."

Whatever I had expected him to say, it was not that, and I dryly arched an eyebrow. Maglor said, "I will be there with you. In fact, it will be me you will be watching cook." He grinned at my expression. "Oh, think not that I am a lord and so know not how to make my own food! I will await you and Elros in the kitchens at the fourth hour of this afternoon. Make sure you wear only cotton, and assuredly something old or worn." He inclined his head once and left, disappearing around a corner as suddenly as he came, silent as a phantom.

I returned to my chamber and saw Elros at his desk, and told him of our plans for the rest of the day. He had never relished the idea of cooking, and scowled when I gave him the information. I, on the other hand, was more enthusiastic than I liked to admit. We had rarely been let into the kitchens at home, and I had always wanted to know what happened on the counters that were too tall for me to reach and in the gargantuan, heat-blackened vats of steaming, sputtering liquid.

A while later I changed into appropriately stained clothes and went with my brother down to the kitchens. Maglor was already present, wearing a sleeveless tunic that had seen some wear, his hair bound tightly in a plait. He smiled when he saw us. "Glad to see you both here. Follow me." He pushed open the doors, causing his braid to sway like a coquettish maid, and we went in.

The kitchens of Amon Ereb were a cluster of vast, smoke-filled chambers that thrust upon me such a motley array of aromas that I took a step back upon entering. Maglor grasped my shoulder to steady me. "No sense in fainting now, Elrond," he said pleasantly, and picked me up – I felt very frail in his strong hands – and set me on a counter, which he dusted with his fingers. He did the same with my brother, who squirmed on the black slate. There were bowls of raw food and various instruments set beside us.

Without preamble Maglor proceeded with his work. I watched as he cut vegetables and meat, peeled potatoes and kneaded cream-coloured dough for bread. "I know bread is usually made by women," he told us, "but I want you to know how to make it, anyway." He let out a sharp breath through pursed lips and raised his brows, pushing a strand of hair from his temple with the back of his hand. A sheen of sweat glistened on his bare skin, highlighting the firmly knotted, restless muscles beneath.

I looked down at my own, rather skinny arms and crossed them, feeling a twinge of shame. But the feeling soon passed. People were rushing about, carrying bowls and saucers and plates; I saw two ellith lugging a cauldron, and could not hide a grin. I was not used to such swirling chaos, and strangely enough, I liked it. When I asked Maglor if it was ever like this in Valinor, he laughed. "Not usually, but our house was always swarming with guests and with attendants."

Elros, in contrast, seemed quite bored, and sat with his chin in his hand, sighing and swinging his little, slippered feet. When Maglor eventually released us, my brother hopped quickly from the counter, nearly colliding with an ellon holding a bowl of fruits. The elf staggered, swayed, and turned half a circle on one foot before finally steadying and puffing, by which time Elros was sucking his teeth, red with embarrassment. "Elros," chided Maglor, "be careful. You will knock someone over if you rush like that!"

Elros murmured an apology and then fled. Maglor looked after him, shaking his head. Then he turned to me, the corners of his lips tugging upwards in a smile. "I think he is afraid of this place; what a Man-like quality. I have cooked for my family countless times, and have never thought it odd. I hope you will be there tonight, Elrond."

The past hour had heightened my humour, and I nodded earnestly. Maglor's smile grew wider. "I shall see you soon, then!"

I grew eager to come downstairs later, and eventually, when the Sun left the sky and our chamber was plunged into grey shadows, I dressed quickly in my best clothes – which were not terribly extravagant, but well-made and dignified – and asked my brother to plait my hair.

"Why the excitement?" Elros asked me as he sat cross-legged behind my back on our bed. I did not answer, but allowed him to part and braid my hair. His hands were somewhat clumsy, but they were gentle, and soon I had a glossy fishtail that hung between my shoulder-blades. I offered to braid his hair in return, but he shook his head, saying he would prefer to leave it loose.

We held hands and trundled down the stairs into the Great Hall. Until now, I had not realised quite how many people lived in the fortress. We could scarcely walk without poking someone. Craning my neck, I thought I caught sight of Agorael somewhere in the crowd. Even more trestle tables and long benches had been laid out, and food was being served.

Elros tugged my hand, and we went to sit on the edge of one of the benches. I drew a long breath, observing my surroundings, trying to steady my oddly flustered heart. Someone was playing a flute, and another singing. A steward offered me a glass of purple wine, but I rejected it, and instead sampled some soft cheese from the table that melted wonderfully on my tongue.

I looked up when Elros shook my arm and pointed at someone. It was Maglor, gaily chattering to a group of ellith. His lustrous, coal-black curls were held away from his face with an ornate clip of mithril, and gently touched his slender waist. A carmine cloak fell from the shoulders of his tunic, and a garnet gleamed on the index finger of his left hand. His knee-high boots of fine brown leather were laced into intricate knots. He looked singularly fair and regal; not a lord, but a prince; I scarcely recognised him.

As if sensing our gaze on him, Maglor glanced our way and saw us. He spoke a word to the ellith, and came over to us.

"I am glad you both could arrive," he said brightly; his eyes were glittering with pleasure. They were a rather unusual colour, being neither the hard, calculating silver that was so prevalent among the Noldor, nor of the clear blue that existed among other elves, but a brooding grey like an evening storm, so dark they were almost black. Once, his colouring had frightened me, for against his pale skin, his eyes stood out starkly. Large. Penetrating. They no longer were intimidating to me.

"Have you eaten yet?" he said. When we said that we had not, he called for some food. Presently, a page brought us a plate of mashed potatoes, sprinkled with cheese, and a portion of roast venison. Maglor pushed a small glass of yellow wine into my hands, and took a full goblet for himself. "Go on," he said. "You can share it."

"We were never allowed this at home," said Elros.

Maglor shrugged and scoffed haughtily. "You are not at home, and I am sure your Elvish blood will stop you from throwing up after a few sips of such weak brew." His gaze was cheeky.

I hesitated. "Just a sip," insisted Maglor. I took a quick breath and gulped the drink, sloshing half of it down my tunic. Elros arched an eyebrow and then burst into laughter, burying his face in his hands. Maglor took the glass from me, trembling with the effort to suppress his own chuckles. "Perhaps you are right," he said. "We should wait till you are a few years older, though by then you'll be begging me to put a glass of wine in your hands. Go to your room and change, then come back."

Frowning because my shirt had been ruined, I did as was told, wondering if I would truly ever want to taste such foul liquid again, and when I returned I saw Maedhros had joined the table. He wore a deep green velvet jacket with a gold pattern, and underneath that, a white silk doublet. His hair fell about his shoulders, and a copper circlet rested on his wide clear brow; his long legs were stretched out beneath the table.

"I was just telling my brother," he said dryly as I sat down, "that he is a fool if he thinks he can offer wine to children and expect no great misfortune to befall." Despite his tone there was a smile on his face, and to my surprise I saw dimples in his cheeks. It was the only thing about him that spoke of childish innocence, and it made him look far younger than he usually did, like a new soldier or a young, fresh general.

Of course, he was neither of those things.

"Maedhros, you took your first sip of wine when you were a couple of years old, and you have never tired of the taste!" Maglor returned, leaning back. The ellyn on the other side of the table grinned and exchanged glances, though they daren't laugh at their lord.

Maedhros gave his brother a wry look and picked up his goblet. "At least," he said, "I do not impose my dubious ideas on folk whose faces are still soft with baby fat." He took a sip of his wine, and looked rather more elegant than I had some minutes ago.

The table grew more crowded, and shouts and banters rang out from around the hall. Maglor had disappeared, and we were left with Maedhros' imposing presence. Yet soon we grew merry with good food and with music, and shyly began to speak to the other elves. At least, I was shy; Elros was chattering like a lark, his cheeks suffused with a healthy glow.

Within an hour I had eaten so much that my stomach began to ache, and I pushed away whatever food was offered me, feeling a little ill. It was not very late, but my head began to nod with the buzz of people's voices around me, and I cupped my chin in my hand and tried not to yawn. I felt a firm tap on the side of my head and glanced up to find Maedhros looking at me. "You cannot want to go to bed," he said. "You are a part of Amon Ereb now, and you'll have to keep awake if you don't want to miss the best bit of the evening."

Leaning back, I rubbed my eyes, dully wondering at the terms 'part of Amon Ereb' and 'best bit of the evening'.

I sat up, alert, when all of a sudden the crowd went silent. Their eyes seemed to be fixed onto a spot at the other end of the Hall. I craned my neck to try and see what it was among shifting heads, but Maedhros told me it was his brother. "Sit back, Elrond," he said, "and listen."

Through the silence, a harp played. Maglor began to sing, and visions danced before my eyes, and for a while I lost myself in peaceful dreams.


Notes:

Turko – Celegorm's epessë, from his father-name, Turkafinwë.

Curvo – Curufin's epessë, from his father-name, Curufinwë.

The portrait of the woman is of Maglor's canonical wife.


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.

Story Information

Author: Makalaure

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 06/23/14

Original Post: 04/09/14

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