7. Chapter Seven
I could smell the nearing summer. The days had begun to lengthen, and the heavy carpet of clouds over the hill grew thin and flimsy, diminishing the dreary, smoke-like barrier between earth and heaven; the shadow that clung to the little forest seemed to lift. The rain, while still persistent, became a mist, caressing the fort and settling over leaf and bough in a pale glimmer.
I had no idea what Maglor was plotting (Maedhros' words had intrigued me, and buzzed around my mind like a swarm of restless insects) – if indeed he was doing such a thing at all – and, in order to try to coax any small morsel of information from him, began to spend an unsettling amount of time with him. I had to admit it was enjoyable in a childish, thrilling manner, if not entirely pleasant. And so I did not complain.
We had taken to sitting together in the library, not always facing each other, but doing our work in silence. When he was not studying the languages of Beleriand (he spoke and wrote several of them fluently), he wrote music, his fingers flying across the page with the ease of a seasoned minstrel. He never made corrections or changes; he did not have to. His work was meticulous, well-spaced, and even pleasant to look at. It was not excessively beautiful, comparable to the saccharine manner advisors and hawkers sometimes speak in, but perpendicular and businesslike, though he finished with a flourish. "I want," he said, "to be able to read my work when I look at it again. I cannot abide haphazard handwriting." I blushed, for my own hand was sloppy and less-than-readable and earned me disapproving looks from my other tutor, Tuilin.
We did not only study together; sometimes, when the weather was mild, we took walks around the fortress. Maglor had a powerful stride that befitted a commander of Noldorin forces, but he also moved with a grace that complemented his willowy, flexible body - somehow he combined beauty with strength, artistic loveliness with practicality; it baffled me. He often deliberately had to slow himself to allow me to keep up, and I would scowl indignantly at this small act of charity. He responded to me with sparsely veiled amusement, as would a father to his excitable son, which served only to heighten my annoyance.
On one occasion during our strolls, I lost my balance thanks to a broken sandal and fell headlong into a rose-bush in the back garden, and emerged, bruised and scratched, on all fours like an animal. Maglor cast me a partially exasperated, partially entertained look, and offered me a hand. I frowned at it, hesitant. Why did it have to be so large and rough, like the protective hand one would want on a father? He was not my father. I did not want him to be my father. My father had the same hands, but I seldom felt them. He –
"You do not have to take it," Maglor said agreeably, interrupting my thoughts, and began to withdraw it. Steadfastly, I quickly grasped his fingers and, without breaking my gaze from his, allowed him to pull me up. He misjudged my weight and for a moment had my feet dangling an inch from the ground. "Oh dear," he said. "It seems as if you need to be fed more!"
Unfortunately, that day seemed intent on ridiculing us, for only minutes later my cursed sandal gave way again, and I stumbled with a yelp, this time crashing into Maglor, who was crouching in front of me, absently fondling a marsh bellflower by a small, ornamental pond. There was a surprised 'woah!' and a tremendous splash, and the next moment we were on our bottoms, drenched in cold water and spotted with algae, gaping stupidly at each other. There was a silence.
A large, fat toad, looking like some sort of herald with its white stripes, paddled by and croaked at us haughtily.
As if that were a cue, we flung back our heads and roared with laughter – loud enough to startle a pair of lovebirds in a nearby tree – till I thought one of us would fracture a rib from the convulsions of our chests. At length Maglor said, struggling to his feet and pulling stands of hair from his chin, "I am never walking with you again, Elrond! A plague on your talent for trouble!"
Before I could stop myself, I returned thoughtlessly, "It is not my fault; whenever I am around you, the heavens decide to punish me."
He averted his eyes and pursed his lips, now looking pathetic in addition to bedraggled, and I immediately regretted my words. I scrambled awkwardly out of the pond and squeezed the water from my tunic, while Maglor stepped onto the grass, took off his sopping shoes and slapped them together. Then we muttered hasty goodbyes and parted, shivering. I felt strange as I advanced through the fort, as though in a deep dream. My footsteps echoed softly: tup, tup, tup. Once in my chamber, I changed my clothes and collapsed on my back on the bed, and remembered Maglor's laughing face: corners of his eyes crinkled like tissue, a little dimple in one flushed cheek. Boyish, careless, exposed. A lie.
After that day, I did not see him for a few weeks, for he went on rounds to hunt Orcs, and for a time our walks ceased abruptly, like an unfinished sentence cut short. I felt horribly listless, and Maedhros did not play chess with me again – he seemed very busy, and did not even grunt a greeting to me if he passed me in the narrow hallways.
My brother, despite the change in weather, remained gloomy and sullen. He would read the book I had given him over and over again, his chin in his hand and his lips pressed tightly together. He spoke little to me and less to Maedhros, and spent more and more time at the kennels and the stables. I kept asking him what was wrong, but he would shake his head and sigh irritably, as if I were too foolish for words.
On a lazy afternoon we were sitting in our chamber, having a lesson with Tuilin. I had been daydreaming, for I found the lesson unusually boring, when Elros suddenly looked up, a hard look in his eye. "May I ask a question?" he said, with barely concealed impatience. Tuilin raised her eyebrows and nodded, looking sceptical. She was a dark, thin woman with birdlike features who for some reason almost always wore black, as if she were perpetually in mourning.
"Why did you all follow Fëanor into exile? Was it not rather..." Elros narrowed his eyes insolently. "Idiotic?" he finished pointedly. I gaped at him. A hundred curses were running through my mind, but I was too shocked to voice them.
Tuilin's head snapped up, and her posture seemed to become even more rigid than it was. "You know nothing of the matter, Elros," she said sternly. "And you do not speak to your tutors that way."
"Why not?" he asked. "After all, if it were not for you, no one would be in this fiasco you have all created!"
I looked on, horrified, as Tuilin got up from her seat, her eyes blazing. "If we did not come here," she replied, her voice tight, "you would never have been born." She was breathing heavily, flushed in the cheeks. Her dignified, matronly composure was crumbling.
"Perhaps," said Elros, averting his eyes, "I would have preferred it that way. It is because of you that the whole of Beleriand is practically shattered."
"We are not evil," said Tuilin firmly, but her tone was rising.
"Then why," Elros suddenly cried, "did you kill so many people?"
I had shrunken into my seat, clutching my pen so hard it snapped. Guilt flooded through me; this was my fault. I should never have given Elros that book, even if he was right in saying the Noldor had been foolish.
As if startled into abashment from the sound of my snapping quill, Elros left his chair and made for the door, only to find the entry blocked by Maglor, who had probably been present for a few moments already. Despite the mild day, he was clad in a dark tunic that was buttoned to his throat, and wore fingerless gloves, as if he were hiding behind his clothes.
"Apologise," he said, putting his hands into his trouser-pockets and narrowing his eyes, which were hard as flints. Elros said nothing, gazing stubbornly at the ground. "I said apologise, Elros." Maglor's voice was flat and cool, and left no room for disobedience. I do not know how brave my brother was feeling at that moment, because Maglor was terrible in his composed anger. He seemed to grow taller than he already was. Forbidding, imposing like a god, not an elf. Not for nothing was he called Fëanorion.
"I will not," said Elros abruptly, looking Maglor square in the eye. I had to admire my brother's foolish valour. In my seat I felt shamefuly safe from the lord's – why did I so easily forget he was a lord? – wrath. "I will not, until she answers my question."
"She has a name," Maglor returned, more gently now. His shoulders relaxed. "And there is a way of speaking to your elders, much more your teachers."
"I want an answer," Elros insisted, twisting his face in determination. I looked on, agape, vaguely wondering how much trouble we would get into for this. "I am under no obligation to speak politely to people like you. Kinslayers. Murderers. Thieves." Maglor winced, and I knew my brother's words had cut deeply. "Why did you betray Olwë's people?"
"You were not there," Maglor said, dropping his voice. He seemed suddenly to shrink from a god to a mere Man, weary and bent with the weight of years. I was amazed at the abrupt transformation, this backward metamorphosis, and unwanted pity filled my heart. Surely, I thought, he wanted someone to stand by his side, to spport him. Yet his pride was ample, and I knew he would have taken no help if offered. "You did not hear my father's words. You did not hear their power."
Tuilin interrupted, "My lord! Do not waste your breath. He will not understand – "
"Patience, Tuilin," said Maglor, raising a hand. He returned his attention to Elros. "You are right. We were wrong. Each of us had a choice, and we made it. It would be folly to blame only my father, or his mother."
"You chose some cheap jewels over your people and your kin," returned Elros, his voice suddenly breaking. His face crumpled. "Just like our parents." With that, he rubbed his eyes fiercely and charged past Maglor, who seemed too shocked to move.
Too late, Maglor turned round and called, "Elros! Come back here!" But my brother had disappeared down the stairs.
There was a thick, strained silence. I felt a lump in my throat, and found it difficult to breathe. I was sitting awkwardly, my foot jammed behind a leg of my chair and my back uncomfortably curled, yet I did not want to move. Maglor took a deep breath and pressed a hand to his forehead, wiping away a bead of sweat at his temple. "Tuilin," he said quietly, "help me find him."
With her head held high, Tuilin swept past him through the door, her skirts stirring behind her. Maglor remained motionless for a while, then turned his head and looked oddly at me with his fey dark eyes. I was trembling, terribly upset, and his gesture did nothing to ease my discomfort. At length, after pursing his lips, he turned his heel and went away, leaving me alone in the large chamber. A breeze blew through the open window, fluttering the linen curtains and ruffling the papers on the desks. I looked at the abandoned books and parchments and felt my breath catch, then dropped my broken quill to the ground and began to sob.
I cried for a long while, my face in my hands, smelling the salt of my own tears, feeling them sting my eyes. I quivered and shook like a dead leaf hanging off a bare branch in the winter winds. Eventually, when my strength was nearly drained, I crawled into bed and pulled the furs over my skull, shutting myself off from the world. I yearned for Elros or Maglor to come in, but neither did, and was reminded of the times when I would wait and wait for my father to come to my bed at night when he was at Sirion, to tell me a story or sing me a song, but he never would; he stayed with his sailor friends or talked with Mother. Did he know where I was now? Suddenly, I doubted he cared. But that was ridiculous, was it not? Did not all fathers love their children? Did they not all want to tell their sons bedtime stories and toss them in the air like leather balls and sit them atop their broad, strong shoulders? Were the stories I'd heard wrong, then? Were they erroneous?
I stopped crying, and instead lay silently beneath the furs, scratching the bedsheets with a nail, too tired to even think anymore. The Sun dipped in the sky. It grew dark, and the stars popped up like mushrooms on wet, mossy earth.
Someone came in a few hours later to bring food, but I did not touch it. I did not even get out of bed. Instead, I lay on the mattress, alternating between covering my head and staring at the grey ceiling. My stomach was empty, but I had not the will to eat. I felt stiff, miserable and lonely, and by the time I was considering rolling out of bed, night had thrown its black cloak over the heavens.
Eventually, I heard the door slowly creak open. Someone came into the room, and I felt the furs across my knees stretch tautly. A hand landed gently on my shoulder. "Elrond." A soft voice. Maglor. I did not reply. When he did not say more I opened my eyes and looked up at him, wincing a little at the glare of the orange torchlight from the doorway. He had cast his gaze to his lap, and I could dimly discern his unkempt hair, his proud, sharp nose. He turned his head and met my gaze, and I saw that his eyes were raw, if not quite red. Embarrassed, I quickly looked away.
"Elrond," Maglor repeated, shifting his hand to my head, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. Tears pricked my eyes again, and I screwed them shut tightly, hissing. "Oh, Elrond," I heard Maglor say with regret, "I am so sorry. Your brother was right." The hand was removed, and I felt cold, as if someone had suddenly flung open the windows. "I will not ask you to forgive me."
"I hate you."
"That is reasonable."
"I wish you were dead. How I hate you."
A pause. "That, too, is reasonable."
I want to plunge a dagger in your back and feel the hot blood spurt down my fingers. I want to hear you scream the same way the men at Sirion screamed. I want you to love me and care for me. "And I want to die because I cannot have both."
"What?" he asked sharply. He seemed flummoxed.
I had spoken aloud, I realised.
Maglor induced in me a feeling of comfort, even if that comfort came with heady, obsessive guilt; after all, I was not his son. I thought of my real father, who was so far away. I was sick of hating Maglor. How could I hate him, truly hate him, when he fed me, clothed me, offered me a home and treated me with courtesy? "You do not really want to die, do you?" There was worry in his voice.
My head throbbed, and I groaned, burying my face in my pillow, not answering him. Maglor rubbed circles on my back and smoothed my hair. "You have not eaten all day," he murmured. "Maedhros and I have lit a fire out on a terrace, and are roasting meat. Come join us."
The thought of food made me want to throw up, but I knew Maglor would harry me till I joined him anyway. I said in a small voice, "Where is Elros?"
"Down at the kennels. He has already eaten with Agorael."
"Why did you not bring him back?"
He paused. "I did not feel I had a right. I am his keeper, not his father, and anyway he needed to think. If he takes too long, Agorael will bring him up."
Maglor stood up and pulled the furs off me, earning an indignant 'hey!'. "Just a bite," he said, leaving. I followed him, still sulking, outside. By the time we reached the terrace I wished I had brought a cloak, for it was cool outside. But a merry fire was lit near the parapet, and Maedhros was seated near it on a wicker chair, turning mutton over the flames. A pungent smell of burning meat filled my nostrils. There was only one more chair, and Maglor offered it to be, but I declined. He sat down and held out his arms in a welcoming fashion, and when I did not move he pulled me onto his lap. Inclining his head, he gave me a smile and ruffled my hair. His warmth ensconced me. His gesture said, "You and me. Elrond and Maglor. Our little world that none can share." Shyly, my heart swelled, and he wound an arm about me and drew me close.
Maedhros said at length,"Look at what the cat dragged in. You both look awful."
"As do you, brother mine," Maglor replied. The next moment I was offered a plateful of cooked mutton with shredded, steamed cabbage and a wedge of lime. I turned away from it, disliking the smell.
"Tush, Maglor," said Maedhros with hauteur. "Do you really think he is going to eat that when he looks so ill? Why, you could put him in a field of shamrocks, naked, and he would blend right in."
"I am not sending him to bed without dinner," was the sharp reply.
Maedhros leaned sideways and picked something up, and then held it out to me. "He will feel better with this." It was a small plate with half a blackberry tart. It did not have much of a smell, and looked good, too. I accepted it and began to eat, and soon felt the better for it. My headache and fatigue disappeared, and afterwards I managed to finish almost all of the meat. Setting down my plate, I leaned against Maglor.
The brothers had begun to talk in Quenya in low voices. Both had seemed to forget my presence, though I was still in Maglor's arms. I listened idly, not understanding a word, shifting every now and again to make myself comfortable. It must have been very late; I closed my eyes, intending to drift to sleep, and yawned.
All of a sudden I heard a gasp, and snapped my head up. Maedhros had leapt out of his seat and was staring open-mouthed at the sky, and I felt Maglor's grip on me tighten. I squirmed, looking up and trying to see what the brothers were gazing at.
What I beheld was a large, bright star that seemed to dim the others around it with its powerful light. It shone like a beacon in the sky, lovely and untouchable. As I looked upon it, I felt my heart fill with fresh energy and high hope - though why or for what, I did not know.
Maedhros was shaking his head, his eyes round with awe, and I would have laughed if I hadn't felt something was wrong. "Look, brother," he said, his voice almost childlike in its reverence. "Surely that is a Silmaril that shines now in the West?" He paused. "Eärendil. It has to be."
I started and looked at the star with renewed wonder. My father! He was a light in the sky! How on earth did he get there? My stomach was turning somersaults. Then I swallowed. Now I knew he would never come back, no matter how hard I prayed or wished. My eyes were dry, though I felt I should weep.
Maglor's gaze were fixed on the star as well, but they shone with clarity, not despair. Slowly, he pulled his eyes to Maedhros, and the corners of his lips were curled in a small smile that could have been triumphant. "If it be truly the Silmaril which we saw cast into the sea that rises again by the power of the Valar," he said, "then let us be glad; for its glory is seen now by many, and is yet secure from all evil."
And I let my eyes fall shut.
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.