8. Chapter Eight
Had anyone in Sirion asked me if I thought I would spend the majority of my adolescence in my enemy's stronghold, I would have laughed in his face and declared him insane. Yet it is perhaps often the way of things that nothing ever turns out quite as you had planned, for good or ill. Certainly my proud and famous father would not have looked upon my crumbling home – for home it grew to be – with anything other than horror, or scorn, at the very least. As to my mother – she was always mild-mannered, and would likely force a smile to hide her discomfort. Yet, for all I cared at the time, they could sing their laments to the evening skies for the rest of their days. My affections were reserved for the eccentric, though mostly kind, denizens of Amon Ereb. I could count the number of particularly unpleasant experiences I had there on one hand, and hoped to keep it that way for many years to come.
Sirion I had not forgotten, but its memory I tucked away in the back of my mind, and it seldom came to consciousness without my will. I'll admit my dreams were every so often stained with crimson – as they still are, and in fact they are more frequent now – and if I, for my own moral code, could not forgive the Fëanorian brothers, I was otherwise willing to understand them, though little then was left to understand, or so I felt. But I will return to that later, else I may end up spewing more words than I ought.
I became an apprentice with the healers, and never regretted my decision, though I continued my studies in Quenya and other languages, and also in poetry; my days were often spent with my nose poking into a book, with the result of my fingers being stained pale yellow. I enjoyed eating in the Great Hall – Elros and I were now too old to always take meals in our rooms, and basic propriety demanded we not shut ourselves away – and could name at least five score people by the sound of their voices alone. Sometimes, thanks to my obsessive study sessions, I would get so engrossed in my work I would forget to eat, and then would trundle down into the kitchens to fix myself a miserable meal of stale bread and vegetables. If I was lucky, one of the cooks would still be there, washing the dishes or scrubbing the floor, and I would beg him to make me a small, hot meal since I'd be too tired to do it myself.
One overcast morning in the early summer I came bounding down the stairs into the courtyard in order to locate my elusive brother, and was stopped several times on the way by people who offered me a shake of the hand or a clap on the back in congratulations.
"Ho-ho! You'll be there tomorrow, eh, Master Elrond?" laughed Agorael, wiping his grimy hands on a drab kerchief, then shaking me so roughly by the shoulders I'd have tumbled down the stairs were it not for his grip on me. "Bit of a pity if you miss your own begetting day, staying locked up in your chamber and all?"
"Hardly," I replied, offering a grin. "I may love my books, but not more than my begetting day celebration."
I was to be eight-and-twenty on the morrow, almost fully-grown as far as anyone could see; my maturation had been a surprise, what with everyone being unfamiliar with Half-elves, and by the time I was eighteen you could have mistaken me for an adolescent human. "If you are asking me to explain this, Elrond," Maglor had told me tiredly, scrutinising me closely from head to toes and back again, "you are going to be disappointed. But you are healthy, and growing tall, and I suppose that is what matters." He had sounded slightly unsure of himself, and there was a crease in his brow.
After I escaped Agorael, I found Elros stretched out lazily on a stack of hay outside the kennels. His eyes were closed, and one hand lay on his chest. He seemed to be in the blissful midst of sleep. "You ill-mannered lout. Do you mind terribly acting like the revered prince you are?" I said, reaching up and yanking his hair, contradicting my own words. His response was as I hoped: he squealed, cursed fantastically – earning a roar of good-natured laughter from a cluster of ellyn nearby – and fell off the hay, landing heavily on his side but jumping up immediately. I raised my eyebrows and said, "Hardy rogue. But I am disappointed in myself; next time I will try harder."
"Elrond!" he complained, rubbing his arm. Unwittingly I winced at his voice. It had cracked when he was seventeen, and for the next few years he walked about with a face red from embarrassment, sounding like he had gravel stuffed down his throat. Three summers ago it finally grew smooth and deepened, and acquired a resonant quality not unlike our father's. Later he would make a fine, disciplined commander, but now, he was as much of a brat as you could have wished to avoid. "Confound you! What do you want?"
"I want you to get dressed, for we have a training session with the famed lords of Amon Ereb today." We had begun to learn the art of the sword and the bow at the age of ten, and had since maintained a rigorous weekly schedule of physical activity. Exquisite purple bruises in the most extraordinary places had become a banal fact for us, and we bore them much the same as we bore the tiresome flies that buzzed about our ears in the hot season.
Elros massaged his scalp liberally. He had taken to wearing his hair short, in the manner of the Secondborn, so that it scarcely brushed the tops of his shoulders. It was matted and dirty now, and he would have to wash it later. When clean, it framed his sharp-featured face well, highlighting his high cheekbones and his large, subtly slanted eyes. I had chosen to keep my own hair long, and it touched the small of my back even when I wore a plait; I was horrified at the thought of cutting it. My brother periodically accused me of vanity, but I thought 'dignity' was a better term. What self-respecting elf, I thought, walked about with his hair cut off, like some shamed thrall?
"When do we have to meet them?" Elros asked me, reaching down to straighten his sandal, which had loosened from the fall. His bare arms were slender, but rippled with muscle; he loved all manner of fighting and riding. For all I know, he never did get over the fact that I was better at swordsmanship, even when I worked less hard at it than did he.
"Half an hour," I replied. "And, for pity's sake, do not sulk if I beat you." I dodged a swift kick aimed at my shin and bolted up the stairs, laughing. Once in my room I quickly changed my clothes and brought out my sword from my cabinet. It had been made by one of the blacksmiths some years ago, and was light and tough; it glittered like Moonlight on water. I would not admit it, but at the time I loved wielding a blade almost as much as I loved studying.
When I reached the clearing in the south where our training sessions usually took place, I saw that my brother, the Fëanorians, and a few other people were already present. Elros had donned his leather armour, and was leaning against a wall. Maedhros stepped forward and said, "Warm up, both of you. Elros, you will be first, against Aeglir."
Aeglir was one of the younger soldiers; his hair was tucked into a knot behind his head, and he grinned and nodded at my brother, who smirked in return, as a friendly challenge. When we had finished stretching, I stood back, and the sparring started. We used wooden swords while fighting each other, and they made a loud clacking noise every time they met.
"Stop looking at your wrist, Elros," Maglor called. He was watching with sharp eyes, his arms folded and his unbound hair stirring in the breeze. I never saw him so serious as when he was fighting or playing the harp. One may not have expected the former; my first impression of him was that he could not possibly hold his own in battle. Later I learned, to my surprise, that he could wield a war-hammer with rather extraordinary skill. Not the small one that you could mistake for a kitchen tool, but the great hefty sort that looked like it could smash a young tree in half. Maglor danced with it in his hand as if he were a ribbon. I myself felt like a lumbering fool when I tried to swing it, and my first attempt at using one ended with two broken toes.
All of a sudden I caught sight of a young, fair-haired elleth staring at Maglor shyly and hopefully. I recognised her; often I would find her doing this, though he rarely seemed to notice her. Even so, I thought she was rather pretty, if not a bit insipid; if she read more she might have been able to keep up with him.
"Eyes over there, Elrond," Maglor uttered sharply, gesturing at the sparring youths, but his look said, "What is wrong with you today?" I felt my cheeks go pink, and returned my gaze to the match. Aeglir was winning, but only by a hair's breadth – my brother was fighting bravely. When neither showed any signs of backing down, Maedhros called for a halt and nodded his praise.
By the time the session was over, I was covered in sweat and panting heavily. I had fought four men, one of them my brother, who had managed to knock me to the ground. "Ha!" he cried. "There you go, Elrond! That is what you get for being a braggart." I brushed him off, thinking little of it, and stood up. Stripping off my armour I ambled over to Agorael, who had been watching us closely.
"What did you think?" I asked him.
"I think you're pretty good," he replied, "though you need a bit of fine-tuning. I suggest you ask Lord Maedhros for some advice. Then again, I'm just a keeper; I don't know much of fighting and all, if you'll pardon me."
I threw a look at the elleth I had noticed earlier, and said, "Do you know who that is?"
Agorael arched an eyebrow. "Ah, so you've noticed, too. She's some attendant who works in the scullery. Poor thing's wasting her time, and she knows it."
At that I laughed. "Why do you say that? Because she is too young? Personally, I think a few hundred years is old enough." It was a joke, and a poor one, but Agorael took me seriously.
"No," he said. "Lord Maglor is not that sort of person. You'd have much of a lip to say so, Master Elrond," he added with surprising earnestness. He almost looked offended, mouth drawn in a funny little pout, and I could not hide a grin.
"What is wrong with finding a wife?" I said. "It is no crime. I know we are in the middle of a war, Agorael, but really, I think Maglor really does need a woman. He has been acting like a crab lately, and marriage might do him good."
Agorael peered at me closely, as might a botanist at a particularly fantastic, though odd, flower. "But," he said, "Master Elrond! Why would he? He is already married."
I scoffed, running my hands through my damp hair, massaging my scalp. "Oh, spare me, Agorael. I know he loves his music and his poetry, but there is a limit, you know. Music cannot make up for love; you know this well." My smile faded when I saw Agorael flush red, as if someone had stuffed a centipede down his trousers - or perhaps as if he was embarrassed.
"Agorael. Were you being serious?" I asked slowly. Agorael sighed and rubbed his temples. "I talk too much," he muttered. "Fool, fool, fool! That's what I am. Of the very highest order!"
"For pity's sake, Elrond," he pleaded, averting his eyes, "don't dwell on it, and don't say I told you if you do."
"Wait a moment!" I cried. But Agorael was walking away, rubbing the back of his neck.
Stunned, I stood still for a time, the noise around me a buzz in my ears. Maglor had always been a private person, but surely, I thought, a secret he told a kennel master could have been also whispered to me? I would have felt, with the amount of time I spent with him, I knew every musing or desire that played and turned in his fey mind.
I glanced at Maglor, who was talking with an elf who I vaguely recognised as one of the guards. Some moments ago he'd been grave and stern, but, training session over, he spoke animatedly, gesticulating with his long fingers. "...and then he said, dead chuffed, Oh, I think I put too much pudding on my plate, as if he had forgotten he had five children and a wife at the table!" They brayed with laughter, clapping each other on the arms. Maedhros, who was nearby, cringed, grasped his brother's shoulder and muttered something closely in his ear. Maglor quietened, but was still tittering, eyes cast abashedly down.
Someone tapped the side of my skull. Elros. "Quit dreaming and come to the baths," he said. "You can ponder your studies on anatomy all you like there." He skipped away before I could reply. I did not follow. Slowly, people left, draining out of the area, chattering as if they hadn't a care in the world. Maglor seemed not to notice that I remained, and disappeared with his brother. My mood bubbled, grew blacker with every passing moment. The sky darkened with gathered clouds. Then the heavens burst open and drenched everything beneath it with silver-grey rainwater.
Patter, patter, patter, patter. Monotonous. On the slate roofs, on the ground, sliding down my temples and creeping down my neck. Soaking in through my clothes. I did not shiver. It was not very cold.
I wiped my nose and tried to force down the hurt that spread through my chest. Why not me? I tried to halt my tumbling thoughts, but they rolled on with a will of their own like rocks kicked from a mountainside. At that age, I suppose, one finds it difficult to find agreeable anything that does not fit one's idea of immaculate. "Stop being irrational," I told myself, aloud, with no one to hear but the wind. "He is under no obligation to share with you every secret of his under the Sun." I stuck out my chin in defiance, feeling my lip quiver like the strings of a strummed harp. You and me. Elrond and Maglor.
I pressed a hand to my brow, shook my head as if I'd been underwater, and trundled inside. Now the cold, which had been lurking amongst the stones, leaped out at me and sank its teeth into my bare arms. I was sorely tempted to scream, "Someone light a fire!" but knew no one would in this season, just for my sake, and so moodily went on my way.
I had planned to huddle in my small, dank chamber with my books for the rest of the day, but instead found myself advancing towards Maglor's room. He yanked opened his door before I could knock – perhaps he was on his way out – and his brows lifted in surprise. "Elrond!" he said, running his gaze over me. "Wha – what were you doing in the rain? Come inside this instant!" Grasping my wrist he pulled me into his chamber. "No towel," he muttered, looking around, then patting his trousers. "A handkerchief will not do." He tutted, then, as if on impulse, pulled off his tunic, dishevelling his hair, and flung it at me. "Use it!" He walked over to the hearth, kneeled and struck a flame. It sprang up, uncurling itself with a crackle, as if in anger for being summoned. "Are you asking to catch a chill, boy?"
Annoyed, I said, "I have only caught a cold twice before, both times when I was a child. And do not call me boy. Maglor."
He looked up at me quizzically. I felt oddly aware of his presence; he stood out against the idiosyncrasies of the room, like a figure in a painting. Firelight licked across his form, bringing to focus the brightness of his eyes; his bound hair fell like the sweep of a shadow over his shoulder. His taut body was festooned with scars, neither as copious nor as deep as Maedhros', but nonetheless grotesque. They did not repel me; I'd seen them before. Crouching down like that he looked like he could have been born from the flames. Raw. Too closely entwined with the elements. But he was not. "What is it?" he asked, standing up, puncturing my thoughts.
"I – " Suddenly I found myself at a loss for words. What was I supposed to say? My expression must have been troubled, for he pursed his lips and walked over, and placed a hand on my arm. He said nothing, but his gaze was understanding. I scowled childishly in return, then dropped my eyes to my feet. A sudden, nameless fear seized me, and I swayed, biting my lip. You and me. Elrond and Maglor. What of everything else?
Maglor gave a soft, solitary chuckle, making me start. Then he took the old tunic from my hands, folded it, and wiped the drying raindrops from my face and neck. Holding my hand he ran the now damp cloth over one arm, then the other, and finally placed the shirt on his cluttered table. He told me to remove my clothes and, while I did so, tossed me a set of his own from his cabinet, without looking at me (In my years here I had grown used to nudity – soldiers had no time for privacy or shame). When we were both dressed – his tunic was too large on me, I noticed, and the sleeves flapped at my knuckles; he was then a few inches taller than I – he walked over and pulled me into an firm embrace that surprised me in its tenderness. The rain roared against the windows, rattled and shook the glass, but could not reach us, though I caught a whiff of fresh wet earth, mingled with Maglor's muted, musky scent.
"Elrond," he said, curling his fingers against my back. The way he said it, I might have been his wayward but nonetheless beloved son. I swallowed a sudden lump in my throat, and dug my nails into his shoulder-blade. It must have pained him, but he did not hiss or grimace, and instead carried on serenely: "You are a fine, young man. I do not doubt you will come into greatness. You will have lands of your own, and marry and have children, and friends aplenty from across Ennor, and your heart will threaten to break with joy."
It was not at all what I needed – or wanted – to hear. I said somewhat hoarsely, "What about you?"
He was silent. Then he let go of me and held me at an arm's length, his face both sad and stern. "Elrond," he said, "what will everyone say if they see you with me, asking my opinion on everything, sparring with me, placing me above your noble father? They will label you a traitor and a rebel. Do not let my status fall on your head."
"Let them see!" I cried, with a vehemence that shocked even me. "I care not for status or privilege!"
"You say that now," returned Maglor evenly. "You will weep when you lose both." He let go of me and stepped away. Then he said brightly, plastering a smile on his face, "Tomorrow is your begetting day, and we will celebrate with a feast! Let us think of happier things, and also give our minds to the hunt the day after."
He briskly ruffled my hair, then ushered me out of his chamber. The door shut.
Note: Maglor is canonically married, as per the essay 'Of Dwarves and Men', HoME Volume XII.
As to the amount of time Elrond and Elros spent in Amon Ereb, please refer to the note at the end of chapter ten.