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The Brink  by Aldwen

Notes:

Here follows another First Age story, set immediately after the Third Kinslaying and told from Maglor’s point of view. It is related to “The Stronghold” and does not strictly follow the published “Silmarillion”, but uses other bits of the story from the HoME.

I am immensely grateful to Ellynn for beta-reading this story and for the suggestions; they have been very helpful!


*   *   *

First Age, 538

It was a glorious sunset. The sky was streaked with clouds in hues of red, golden and purple, as the flaming vessel of Arien was slowly nearing horizon. Light was reflected in the white crests of the waves of the unsettled waters: a dazzling glitter, more wonderful than the gemstones worked by the hands of my people. Another time, this beauty would have moved me. Now I merely wanted to fall face down in the coarse grass and weep. For hours. Maybe for days.

But I could not. I still had one brother left. And my eldest brother was standing on the cliff, a mere step away from the sheer drop. Silent and moveless, he was standing there since after midday, and I had been afraid to go near him, even to speak. I was afraid he would take that one last step over the edge. But then, maybe today we all had taken a last step of another kind.

The clouds had obscured the setting Sun for a while, but now they broke, and a slanting ray fell upon the stone-clad burial mound and two branches of blossoming wild white rose, their thorny stems stained with my brother’s blood. After we had raised the mound, he had broken these branches from the rosebush unheeding the thorns, laid them on the stones and gone to stand on that cliff overlooking the Sea. He had done all that in silence and had said no word since then. I tore my gaze away from the white blossoms, now painted by the sunset, and took a step towards him, summoning my courage to speak at last.

“Brother...” My voice trembled despite my attempts to keep it steady. “Brother, we should leave this place.”

There was no reply for a while, but then...

“There is something down there.” The sound of his voice seemed strange after the long silence. “Do you not hear?”

“Brother, please...”

“No, listen!” He interrupted me turning his head, and I was relieved to see his eyes clear again; they had been so veiled and lifeless before. “Listen closely! There are voices.”

I came to stand beside him and listened, and, startled, realized that he spoke true. My hearing, usually so much sharper, had likely been dulled by terror and despair, but now I too heard them – thin, high-pitched voices, calling out miserably amid sobs.

“Help! Nana, Naneth! Help!”

“Children...” I whispered in dismay.

“The tide is rising,” Maedhros said quietly. He stood still yet awhile, as if unsure, but then turned resolutely, his gaze intent on the edge of the cliff some twenty steps away. “There may be a way down.”

There was a way down. It was a steep rocky path, in part blocked with large stones broken off the cliff, but at length we descended to a small bay. The shore was empty and there was only a thin strip of dryland left visible, as the incoming tide washed against the pebbles. To the north the bay stretched for some hundreds of paces ere disappearing beyond the bend of the land, but we stood at its southern end where steep cliffs were stepping into the Sea. The crying voices had fallen silent; there were merely the waves, the wind and the wailing of seabirds.

“Where are you?” my brother called. “Speak, so that we know where you are!”

There was silence yet for a while as we stood at the waterline straining our hearing. Then – a shuddering voice.

“Here...! In the cave!”

The sounds came from beyond the cliffs. My brother cast a swift look at me, then waded in the water and I followed.

We rounded the cliffs; the water at their furthest end was already reaching above our knees. Another small bay opened to our sight, but here the coastal rocks were even closer to the waterline. The waves were already washing against them and the mouth of a cavern, its entrance less than five feet wide and some ten feet high. The voices came from there, and we passed inside.

The cave was not large. Its walls were smooth and dark, lined with streaks of lighter stone here and there, and on the far end of it there was a narrow ledge, maybe waist high. Upon that ledge sat two tiny dark-haired boys, shivering in the chill, damp air of the cavern, holding fast to each other, their tear-streaked faces turned towards us. I froze. These faces were a mirror-image of one another: the boys were twins. Maedhros drew breath sharply. The thought that had just crossed my mind apparently had occurred to him also.

“Who are you?” His voice, sudden and harsh, rang out in the small space. “What are your names?”

They did not reply, but withdrew to the furthest end of the ledge staring at us for a while with wide, terrified eyes. Then they turned away and embraced one another more tightly. The crying grew louder.

“Do not be afraid.” I attempted to make my voice sound calm and reassuring as I slowly moved closer. “Do not be afraid. All will be well. How did you end up in this place?”

After a good while one of the boys hesitantly turned towards me.

“I... I am Elrond, “he voiced amid sobs. “Lanwen, our nurse…she... she took us here. She told us to be quiet. She said... she said she would come back for us. But she did not. We waited and waited. Then water started to rise. We climbed up here, and... and Elros tore his arm on the stones... and...” The words were again lost in crying. I noticed that the other boy’s arm was bleeding.

They were indeed who we had thought they were. I looked at my brother and saw reflected in his eyes some struggle he clearly fought with himself. Then he shook his head sharply and drew his hand over his face.

“Fear nothing.” His voice lost its sharpness. “Fear nothing. We are here to help.”

The other boy raised his face from his twin’s shoulder.

“Did... did Naneth send you to save us?” His thin, pitiful voice was nearly lost amid sobs.

A shadow passed my brother’s face again, but he did not allow it to linger.

“Yes,” he replied quietly, yet firmly. “We are here to save you. Quickly now, the tide is rising fast!” With these words he approached the ledge. “Come here and hold tightly, we will carry you out of here!” He reached out towards the children.

“You have only one hand!” Elros gasped.

“Yes, I lost the other,” Maedhros replied impatiently. “Now, do you want to get out of this cave, or would you rather stay?”

The boy replied nothing, but allowed to be lifted off the stone shelf. I picked up Elrond; he wrapped his arms around my neck so tightly that I laughed.

“Little one, I need to breathe. Do not be afraid, I will not drop you.”

We carried them outside and around the cliffs; water at their furthest end was already reaching up to our waist and it was still rising, surging around the stones. The other bay, too, was almost completely under water now, sparkling in the rays of the setting Sun, nearly on the horizon now. At the foot of the cliff my brother halted.

“You will have to sit on my shoulders now,” he said to Elros. “I will need my hand to get up there.” He pointed to the steep path.

Elros nodded and obeyed. But as soon as they started to climb, he asked, curiosity in his voice fighting fear, “Where did you lose your other hand?”

“Far from here, in the north,” Maedhros replied. “In a very evil place.”

“Why do you go to such places?” Elros frowned.

“That is not a story I would tell children.”

We climbed in silence for a while, but then Elrond spoke.

“Who are you? You said that Naneth sent you, but we do not know you!” Sudden fear rang in his voice. “You go to evil places, and you are strangers! Lanwen said we should not follow strangers!” While we hesitated with reply, the child in my arms started to struggle, attempting to free himself. “We should not go with you!”

“We are not strangers, Elrond,” I said, desperately attempting to keep my balance on the path and at the same time to retain the hold of the boy. “Do not wriggle, or else we shall both fall.”

“But if you are not strangers, then who are you?” His voice broke in a sob again; he was still struggling.

But while I was still searching for words, my brother had already found them.

“We are your father’s kinsmen, Elrond,” he replied. “We are your distant uncles, cousins to your great-grandfather Turgon. I am Maedhros. He is my brother Maglor.”

I froze inwardly as my brother gave our names so freely. But the terror I had expected did not appear in children’s eyes. Apparently, they had been spared the knowledge of the threat that we bore to their family. Instead, they calmed. Elrond ceased struggling and tightened his hold, so that I had to remind him again that I needed to breathe.

“Sorry, uncle Maglor,” he murmured, loosening his grip.

This stabbed my heart. They accepted our kinship so easily. They were so trusting, these children, whose mother we had seen casting herself into the Sea, Silmaril burning like a star on her breast. In desperate flight she had run to the cliffs, pursued by our damned Oath, and when she had realized that there was no escape from the narrow ridge, she had turned and taken a step over the edge. She had fallen in a flash of light, her arms stretched like the wings of a bird in flight. Frozen, we had watched her fall, and I knew that this sight would haunt me to the end. As would the look in my brother’s eyes – terror and self-loathing, and to that were added despair and fury when shortly afterwards we found our younger brothers dead, Amras leaning over Amrod’s body, as if attempting to protect his twin. They had both been pinned to the ground with the same spear. That sight had thrown Maedhros in mad rage. Like a spirit of vengeance, he had rushed along the streets of Sirion, sparing none in his way. He had stopped only when there had been none left to oppose him, and some of those who had fallen by his hand had been our own people who had dared to stand against their lord’s frenzy. When the fight in the Havens was over, less than a half remained of those who had set out from Himring. They were now eyeing us with wonder and some measure of fear as we appeared over the edge, our clothing drenched in seawater, each of us carrying a frightened child.

“Make ready to depart; we shall camp further in the forest,” Maedhros ordered. “It will be less windy there.”

Then he whistled to his horse and lifted Elros on the back of the black stallion; the boy sat there frozen, eyes wide, but the fierce animal stood stone-still at his master’s command. My brother took his pack that lay in the grass, strapped it to the saddle and mounted. Then, after one last look at the stone-clad mound, he turned his horse toward the road, and we followed.

The Sun had already disappeared beyond the Sea, leaving only some scattered purple clouds on the horizon; chill wind blew from the west shaking the tassels of the coarse grass that grew amid the cliffs. I rode last with Elrond. Ere the road made a bend I checked my steed to a halt and looked back at the last resting place of my brothers – a small patch of hard stony earth beside the Sea they had both loved. The mound loomed like a dark shadow in the twilight, but it seemed to me that I could still discern from a distance two tiny patches of white – the flowers upon it. I averted my eyes and nudged my horse forward. I still had one brother left.

We set up the camp in a woodland not far from the shore. We had no fear of pursuit, for who would come after us? All those who had opposed us in the streets of the city had fallen.

None of our people asked anything about the boys. Maybe they had guessed at once. And later, when their names were uttered, there certainly was no more doubt who they were. But none said anything; everyone was perhaps too shaken to feel any curiosity. There was silence for the most part, save for a few quiet words or short sentences needed to do the work in arraying the camp.

The children did not speak either. Overwhelmed by their fright earlier, they now sat by the fire, wrapped in some of our spare dry garments and cloaks, sipping broth and chewing small pieces of bread. Aldanwë had tended the injured hand of Elros that I had only hastily bandaged as we set out. The boy had endured the pain bravely, in silence, while his twin brother had sat close beside him holding his other hand for comfort and watching the work of the healer with some measure of curiosity and awe. But now they were both sleepy, their eyes were sliding shut, their heads nodding.

“Come, it is time to sleep,” I said and took the wooden cups from the numb fingers. “I will make you a bed here, close to the fire.”

I did so, and they snuggled under the blankets and the cloak I spread over them.

“Are you warm?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.

“Yes, uncle,” Elrond quietly replied wrapping his arms around his brother who had already dozed off. His eyes too slid shut, and soon they were both deeply asleep.

Night fell as I still sat by the fire, blankly gazing at the sleeping children, and at whiles it seemed to me that I saw two red heads, not dark, pillowed on the folded blanket. Memories washed over me, memories of my own twin brothers who now lay cold and silent beneath the lonely mound on the coast. I recalled their faces; of us all, they had been the ones to resemble our mother most closely. I remembered their childhood pranks. I recalled Amrod’s laughter and his twin’s quiet smile. That was all gone now, gone forever, leaving but emptiness and anguish. Yet for all the agony I felt, my eyes remained dry. I did not deserve any relief that the tears might bring. The clawing pain in my heart seemed too mild a retribution for what we had done, and I was lashing at myself with these memories in frozen silence.

Suddenly there was a light touch upon my shoulder, and I turned with a start.

“Lord Maglor, where is your brother?” asked Aldanwë quietly, with unmistakeable concern in his voice.

Startled, I rose and looked around. Maedhros was nowhere to be seen. His pack lay untouched under a tree, and there was no sign of him.

“I shall go and look.” I turned back towards Aldanwë.

“Yes, my lord, please, do so.” The healer nodded. “He… should not be alone now.”

“Yes.” I turned to go, but then looked back over my shoulder at the boys.

Aldanwë understood. “I will watch over them.”

Reassured, I now turned towards my brother’s pack under the tree, in hope to find some further signs. And indeed, there were footprints in the dewy grass, disappearing in the forest beyond the clearing where we camped. I followed them.

It was not too dark, even when I turned my back on the flickering fire and dived under the trees. The year was not yet old; Midsummer had barely passed, and there was a gentle glow in the sky. Besides, the woodland was sparse, the trees grew well apart from each other, and there was also a nearly full Moon, so the trail was easy to read. It was winding and making loops: it seemed that the one who had made it had been wandering blindly without any purpose. At the sight of the wildly winding path, I grew more and more concerned with each step, hoping that my brother had not strayed too far or stumbled into some danger unheeding and oblivious of it, as I was certain he now was.

But my fear proved false. After a fair bit of following the winding trail, I came out of the shadow of the trees into a larger glade where the long grass was scattered with white flowers, shimmering faintly in the twilight. It was encircled with large and ancient oaks. One of the trees was uprooted and upon it sat my brother, his tall form casting a shadow on the ground, his eyes turned towards the sky. Despair, that he had pushed away earlier while saving the children, now had returned with a new force; it was apparent in his posture, in his face. He did not look at me as I approached, nor even as I sat on the log beside him. But then he spoke, his gaze still turned towards the sky where white stars glittered with a faint light.

“Starlight.” His voice was hoarse, strangled. “Grass. Flowers. How can it be that I still see all that? I should see only blood. How can it be that I still hear the wind in the trees? I should hear only the clash of steel and screams of my victims. How can it be that I live? I should be dead, if not killed in battle, then stricken by the lightning, drowned by the wave! Why are the Valar allowing this? Why did they not strike me down as I drew the blade against my people again? Why? Why?”

“The Valar are not here,” I softly replied.

He turned towards me then, his face pale in the moonlight, his eyes feverishly bright.

“Have they forsaken Endor, left it utterly to Morgoth’s designs? Do they care nothing for the suffering of those who dwell here, even those who have nothing to do with our father’s accursed jewels? Nothing to do with our doom?”

He fell silent and turned his face back to the sky. I did not know what to reply, but as I was searching for words, he spoke again, his voice hardly louder than a whisper.

“I wish this to end. I merely wish all this to end.”

A sudden and startling vision crossed my mind, a vision of my brother speaking these same words, only there was a fiery glow reflected on his face, not the pale moonlight. But then it was gone as swiftly as it had appeared before my eyes.

“We should return to the camp,” I quietly said. “Aldanwë is concerned for you. And others… others too should see that you are… well.”

Maedhros laughed suddenly, a hollow and mirthless laughter that sent cold shivers down my spine.

“Well?” he bitterly asked. “Is any of us well? Our hands are once again dripping with blood of our kinsfolk! Aldanwë’s hands that should bring healing, not death! Your hands that should touch harp strings, not sword hilt! And this is my fault! I would that one of those who opposed me today had proven stronger and more skilled in battle than me! Or that I had had enough courage to take that one step from the cliff!” He bowed his head and covered his face with a trembling hand.

I had no words of comfort, so I merely embraced him in silence – my noble, wise and valiant brother – who nevertheless made one fateful and terrible decision after another, driven forth by our Oath that overpowered his will and turned all good intentions into dust. And as I held him, against all my wisdom I silently prayed to the Valar. I did not believe that my prayer was heard. I did not believe it should be. But even so I prayed for a miracle, for something that would turn my brother’s steps from the path of destruction he had taken.

Long we sat there as the Moon made his way across the sky. At length Maedhros raised his eyes towards me.

“Forgive me,” he quietly said. “Forgive me for burdening your heart with my despair. That is of my own making and should be solely mine to bear.”

“Not so.” I shook my head. “I once promised to stay beside you whatever happens. Do you think I would watch your anguish standing aside? No, brother. No. I would share it. As much as I can.”

He looked at me long and sadly.

“I know. And that makes it even more difficult to endure.”

The night was old as we retraced our steps through the woodland. The shadows of the trees, sharply drawn by the moonlight, lay long and dark on the ground, and all about us was silent, save for a mournful cry of some lonely night bird. But as we neared the camp, we suddenly heard other sounds too. The crying of children.

We hastened forward, entered the ring of light by the fireplace and saw Elrond and Elros awake, sitting upright in their bed amid the crumpled blankets, again holding tightly to each other and sobbing wildly. Suddenly awoken in the middle of the night in the woods, surrounded only by strangers, they were terrified, and soon their sobs turned into desperate wailing.

Nana, where are you? Nana! We want our Nana!”

Aldanwë was kneeling beside them, attempting to soothe their fears with calm and reassuring words, but to no avail. The boys were trembling, tears were streaming over the little distressed faces.

Nana, come back! Please, come back, Nana!”

As Aldanwë saw us approaching, he rose and relief dawned on his face, but regret also.

“I cannot calm them. I am sorry.” Then I saw a sudden thought reflected on his face as he turned towards me. “Lord Maglor, your singing might placate them.”

I nodded and knelt beside the frightened children. But as I was about to start a lullaby I had once sung to my younger brothers, I found, to my complete horror, that my lips were sealed to the song.

“Sing, my lord,” Aldanwë repeated.

“I… I cannot,” I whispered in a strangled voice, terrified, raising my eyes towards him and my brother. Fear was welling over me in cold waves, I felt my hands shaking. Music was my soul, my very being. Was it withdrawn from me now? Was I now deprived of it for my crimes, punished with silence? The thought took hold and chained me for a while, but then, summoning all my strength of will, I pushed it aside, ashamed of my selfishness. “I cannot sing now,” I repeated more calmly, then turned back to the boys and attempted to calm them with gentle words, even as Aldanwë had done. But my efforts, too, were vain.

“We want Naneth!”

Helpless, I fell silent at last. The crying persisted, the children were nearly choking on their tears, and now I was afraid for them; there was concern on Aldanwë’s face too.

“Far away, in a land over the Great Sea, where white-crested waves wash against a strand of pearl and silver, there stands a high mountain.” I suddenly heard my brother’s voice ringing calm and resonant in the still air of the nigh. He came closer, sat down on the ground a few steps away from the boys and continued. “The shoulders of that mountain are draped in clouds, but its peak reaches even above them. Snow lies on its slopes, glittering in the light of the Moon and the Sun, and many swift streams rush downhill to feed the river below. The waters of that river are cold and clear, so clear that one can see even the smallest pebble on its bottom, in the places where the current slows down. The riverside is lined with great trees, their branches swaying in the wind, and grass is green and soft in their shade. If one would follow the course of that river upstream, then he would come to the stairs of white stone, and after many steps he would ascend to wide halls with carven pillars. The roof of those halls is the sky itself, clear blue by day and strewn with countless stars by night. Great birds circle in the airs over that mountain, golden-feathered, with eyes like jet, bringing tidings to the one who dwells there.”

The weeping quieted somewhat. Elrond raised his tear-streaked face towards my brother.

“Who… who lives in those halls, uncle Maedhros?” His voice was still thick with tears, yet there was a faint gleam of curiosity in his eyes.

“Manwë Súlimo, the Lord of Arda,” my brother replied. “He delights in winds and clouds and holds dear all swift birds who come and go at his bidding.”

“What do the birds tell Manwë?” Elros now sniffed and attempted to wipe away the tears.

“All things that happen in Arda. The joyful and the sad, the good and the evil. And at the good tidings Manwë rejoices, but at the evil ones he grieves, for his heart is both wise and compassionate. His gaze reaches far, further even when his lady is with him, Varda the Starkindler who is also called Elbereth on these shores.”

“Did she make all stars in truth?” asked Elros, his voice still trembling.

“She did,” replied my brother.

“How?”

“If I were to tell you that, would you stop crying?”

The boys looked at one another.

“Yes…” Elrond quietly voiced. “But our Naneth…” His lip trembled again.

“We shall speak about your Naneth in the morning. I promise. But not now. Get under the blankets now; the air is chilly, and it is long past midnight.” His voice was kind but not one to be argued with.

The children obeyed and snuggled in the bed again, still sniffing, but the tears on their faces were drying. They drew the blanket up to their chins and looked expectantly at my brother who had turned his eyes towards the sky now.

“The story, uncle?” Elrond asked quietly. “About how the stars came to be?”

Startled from his thoughts, Maedhros turned towards them again and sighed.

“The story, yes. But we should start that at the beginning perhaps, for ere the stars were made there was the Great Music that was before everything else, and through that Music the being of Arda was revealed to the Powers of the World…”

My brother’s voice rang clear and steady. The flickering flames cast a golden reflection on his face. The children’s sobs quieted altogether, and they lay still under the blankets, two pairs of large grey eyes shining in wonder as the story unfolded. Others turned towards us too; some moved closer to the fire and stood there enthralled, listening to the old tale they had likely heard countless times. And I stood still and enchanted too. It was oft said of me that my songs could cast a spell on those listening, and that was true, but I needed music and melody for that, while my brother needed only words. I also recalled the whispers after Alqualondë about the power of our father’s voice, and I thought to myself that the voice of my eldest brother was no less powerful, only he chose to use it differently.

Soon the boys’ eyes had slid shut and they were deeply asleep, breathing softly, wonder on their faces. My brother fell silent, and we stirred, as if awakened from the comfort of a dream to a cold and dreary morning. Maedhros cast a look around, at the faces of his men who had, if only for a brief while, forgotten the blood on their hands, the evil they had committed.

“The stories are ended,” he said, rising. “Go and rest.”

They obeyed him in silence, slipping back into the shadows to nurse their regret and despair.

“You should rest also.” I looked at him closely and noted with a sinking heart the veil of anguish covering his gaze again.

“I will find no repose tonight,” he replied quietly. “Perhaps not ever. Do not waste empty words, brother. Your eyes are too keen, and you are too wise to dismiss the truth you see. Go and rest yourself. If you can.”

I sat down by the fire beside him instead, and he turned towards me sharply. “I do not need you to watch over me, Maglor!”

“Maybe I need you to watch over me?”

He shrugged his shoulders, turned towards the fire and stared in silence into the flames. Desperately I sought for words of consolation, of encouragement. I found them not. Everything that came to my mind seemed hollow and useless. But I found my music, and we sat by the dying fire, a soft melody winding around the stems of the trees, around the flowers and the blades of grass as I sang to comfort my brother. As I sang to comfort myself.

The stars were fading and faint light grew in the eastern sky when I fell silent at last and turned towards Maedhros. He was sitting still as stone, gazing at the coals blazing in the fireplace, and once again their glow, reflected on his face and hair, brough to me a sense of ominous disquiet. But it faded swiftly, as my gaze strayed toward the sleeping children.

“What shall we do with these boys?” I quietly asked. “What shall we tell them?”

“I do not know.” Maedhros raised his head. “I have been thinking about it long. And still I do not know.” He rose and looked at the brightening sky. “There is a hillock a short distance away. Maybe a view from a high place will bring some answers. Come with me if you will.”

He turned to leave the camp, but suddenly Aldanwë, who had been dozing in an uneasy sleep close to the fire, sat upright.

“My lord, where are you going?” he asked with concern. “It will be morning soon. Should we not continue our homeward journey?”

“We should and we shall,” Maedhros replied. “We will return shortly, with the sunrise.”

“Very well, my lord.” The healer nodded, and the worry in his eyes somewhat faded when he saw me accompanying my brother.

Maedhros now turned away from the camp, towards a scarcely visible trail that led deeper in the woodland. I followed him with the last reassuring glance at Aldanwë. But my brother must have noticed our silent exchange. A short while later he halted and turned towards me, his eyes flashing, and there was anger in his voice when he spoke.

“I do not need you and Aldanwë fretting over me, Maglor! Watching me, stepping with caution in my presence! I am not made of glass!”

I regarded him in silence for a while.

“No, brother, you are not made of glass,” I then quietly replied. “You are made of steel. The hardest steel imaginable.”

He turned away abruptly and resumed his steps without a reply. Neither of us had spent much time in our father’s forge, but as sons of a smith we both knew – the harder the steel, the more brittle it is.

We ascended the hill in silence. The day grew brighter around us as we climbed upwards, and birds awoke in the thickets lining the overgrown path. The scent of wild thyme rose in the air as our feet crushed the plants on the ground. At last, we were on the top. No trees grew there, merely bent and twisted bushes, their shapes distorted by the wind from the Sea, and amid the bushes grew coarse grass, in part already withered in the heat of the summer.

The hillock offered a wide view around. Northward the land was still wrapped in the morning haze, and mist lay in the hollows faintly shimmering in the anticipation of dawn. A most fair sight it was, and I was about to point towards it to Maedhros, but one look at his face told me that the beauty of the view would be lost on him this morning. My brother’s gaze was bent southward. There, a fair distance away and yet clearly visible from the high place, shimmered the clear blue waters of the Bay of Balar. There, a cloud of smoke still hung in the air over the Havens of Sirion. And there, carried on a fresh morning breeze, a fleet of white ships was nearing the mouth of the river. Despite the distance, we could clearly discern the device on the square sail of the foremost vessel.

“Círdan’s ships…” I whispered.

My brother nodded wordlessly and stood still as a statue, arms crossed on his chest, eyes turned towards the city.

“I could take the boys to him.” His voice was hollow.

“What?” I stared at him incredulously. “Surely you realize that it will be our death, brother?”

“Our death?” He turned towards me, but his face was without any expression. “I said nothing about ‘us’ delivering them. I said that I would do it.”

Cold fear settled in my heart when I realized that he meant every word, that he would indeed seek his own destruction like this, without a second thought and without regret.

“No, Maedhros!” I shook my head fiercely. “No, do not even think about that!”

“Will you stop me?” His eyes narrowed.

“No. But if you will decide on this course, I shall go with you. If you will surrender your life, I shall surrender mine also! I made a promise to you, brother, and I do not intend to break it!”

“Cursed be the oaths and promises that hold us on this bloody path! Cursed be your guilt-beriddled mind that compels you to take part in my crimes!” he exclaimed sharply, then went on in a calmer voice. “I would not see your blood spilt.”

“What will you do then?” I looked at him with challenge. “Order me to remain, to return to Himring while you ride to a certain death?”

He turned away, towards the bay gently shimmering in the light of the dawn. The white ships were entering the harbour. A long silence fell, and when he looked at me again, the anger in his eyes had faded.

“I will not order you. What right do I have to do that?”

“You are my elder brother. The lord of our House. You have the right. Yet this time I would not obey you.” He replied naught, and after a while of silence I continued. “Shall we ride to Sirion then? If that is indeed your wish – that the boys should see their childhood home in ashes, with blood on the streets?”

A shadow passed my brother’s face; I saw him struggling with himself.

“That is not my wish,” he replied at length softly. “But what then? I do not know what should be done.”

A thought suddenly crossed my mind, and I spoke it aloud. “We could take them to Himring.”

“To Himring?” He stared at me, aghast. “A fortress in no place for children!”

“Every place where our people have any chance of surviving nowadays is a fortress, brother. Why not? They are our kin. We can raise them. Teach them. And when they grow up, we shall send them to their mother’s family.”

“You speak as if it were so easy.” Maedhros shook his head, but I saw that he hesitated.

“I do not see how it is not.” Once spoken aloud, this thought took hold and now it seemed to me the only possible path.

He looked at me long in silence, as if testing my resolve.

“Very well. But I will not take them north against their will. I will not drag these boys along as captives. If you can talk them into coming with us willingly – so be it. If not – they go back to Sirion.”

“I will do that.” I sighed, resigned, seeing that he would not relent.

We returned to the camp with sunrise, even as Maedhros had said. The first rays of the Day-star were slanting through the sparse woodland, dewdrops glittered in the grass, and the canopies above our heads were ringing with bird voices greeting the new day. The air was already warm now, and it would grow still warmer during the day; the high summer was reigning in the land of Arvernien.

“Make ready; we shall depart shortly,” said my brother as we entered the camp. Then he turned towards me. “Are you still certain of what you proposed?”

“I am.” I met his gaze unwavering.

Maedhros merely nodded, then went to gather his belongings. I turned towards the fireplace and the children and realized with a sinking heart that the convincing may take far more effort than I thought it would.

The boys were awake. Elrond, knees drawn up to his chin, was sobbing quietly. Elros was holding his brother’s hand to comfort him, but the gleam in his eyes told me that he was himself close to tears.

“What is wrong, little one?”

At the sound of my voice Elrond merely snivelled, but his brother raised his head towards me.

“Elrond had a bad dream,” he said quietly. “But he would not tell.”

“I am sorry to hear that, Elrond.” I knelt beside them. “What did you dream about?”

He raised his tear-streaked face but did not reply.

“Come, little one, you can tell me. You know, the bad dreams should be told, then they lose their power.”

“In truth?” A whisper, one hardly to be heard.

“In truth.” I nodded.

“There… there was that cave again…” He sniffed and brushed his hand over his face. “It was cold and dark. None came after us. Then the water…” His lip trembled. “The water rose, it was all over the place, and Elros fell in. I reached, but the Sea carried him away!” Tears welled in his eyes again. “The Sea carried him away, and I knew that I would never ever see him again!”

“Elrond, it was just a dream.” I embraced the boy, and he hid his face on my chest, sobbing quietly. “It was just a bad dream. You are no longer in that cave, and your brother is beside you. You were very frightened yesterday, that is why that dream came to you. But you need not be afraid any longer. You are safe now.”

The sobbing slowly quieted. At length Elrond raised his head from my shoulder. I smiled encouragingly, or so I hoped.

“You see, it was only a dream. No dark, cold caves here. You are in the woods under sunlight. And Elros is here too. Nothing bad will happen to you, we will take care of that.”

“Yes, uncle,” he replied quietly, looking up at me with solemn grey eyes.

“I will never leave you, Elrond.” Elros squeezed his brother’s hand. “And our uncles will protect us and save us if we get lost. True, uncle Maglor?”

“True.” I smiled, and if my smile was forced, they did not notice that.

“Good.” Elrond smiled too, brushing away the last tears. “But, uncle, can we now go back home to Naneth?”

I froze. This was the question I had been dreading. But there was no avoiding the reply.

“Yes, your Naneth. We should speak of that now, even as my brother promised yesterday.” I looked around briefly and saw Maedhros watching us, but as soon as he met my gaze, he averted his eyes. Certain that I would receive no help from him, I turned back towards the children who were eyeing me expectantly. “You see, your Naneth…” My voice broke. “Your Naneth, she… She had to leave.”

“Leave?” gasped Elros. They both stared at me with wide, terrified eyes. “Naneth… left?”

“Yes, she left. She…” I fell silent. I could not force myself to tell more lies.

“Did she… did she go to look for Ada?” Elrond whispered, eyes brimming with tears.

I nodded wordlessly, despising myself for clinging to the escape that the boy’s words offered.

“But why did she leave us here?” Now Elros was whimpering. “Why did she not take us with her? Why?” In a while, he was sobbing loudly.

“Because… you are too little for a journey like that. For a sea journey.” Disgusted at myself, I was searching for words. “The Sea… it is too wide and too dangerous for little boys. And therefore… therefore, you must stay. You must stay and wait for your Nana and Ada to return.” I fell silent, wishing that the land beneath my feet would open and swallow me. This deceit was as evil as the bloodshed yesterday, maybe even more so.

After a while, a quiet question interrupted the children’s sobs and my miserable thoughts. “Are we to stay with you, uncle?”

I looked at the grief-stricken faces. I had to take this chance to persuade them now. I had to. Still, I hesitated. Doubt was gnawing at me. What if I was wrong? What if our decision will only bring forth new evil? But the thought of the burning city, of blood-stained pavestones in the streets, the thought that these children should see all that, that this horror should be added to the sorrow they already carried… That thought terrified me even more. And, I admitted to myself in shame yet truthfully, I was not ready to embrace death, even though I deemed it to be a just punishment for my crimes. But I did not want to die. Unlike my brother, I still cared for my worthless life. A little. And I decided to keep to the course I had devised. 

“Yes,” I replied, firmly pushing aside my doubt and my conscience. “You will stay with us, for a time. We shall now travel north, to the place where we live, to the fortress of Himring upon a high hill. It is a beautiful place; you will see. There are other hills around, overgrown with long grass. Many flowers blossom there in summer, and when we reach it, the hillside meadows will all be in full bloom.”

“Is it… is it by the Sea?” Elros sniffed, still looking heartbroken.

“No, little one, the Sea is quite far from Himring. But there are many rivers and lakes with clear water in the hollows of the land amid the hills. And some of the hilltops are overgrown with ancient trees, so large that the canopy stretches to all sides like a roof of a great hall.”

“I will miss the Sea,” the boy whispered, tears sliding down his cheeks.

“The Sea will be here, waiting for you to return. You are leaving it only for a while now. Other places are fair too, and there are many nice things little boys can do there. Like fishing in the rivers. Learning to ride and to shoot with the bow. Would you like that?”

“Maybe.” A tiny spark of curiosity appeared in his eyes. “Fishing sounds nice.”

“Perhaps this will not be so bad.” Elrond looked up bravely, his tears drying. He squeezed his brother’s hand, comforting him. “And maybe Nana and Ada will return very soon, and then we can go back at once! I am anyway afraid of the Sea when they are not near,” he softly added, looking almost reconciled with the thought of leaving.

“Very well,” Elros replied quietly, brushing his hand over his eyes. “But we will go back as soon as they return.”

“Certainly, Elros.” I sighed, another sharp stab of guilt in my heart. “You will go back as soon as you can. But come now. You should eat something, and then we must be on our way.”

We rose; the twins slipped their little fingers in my hands, and this gesture of trust made my heart cringe in shame. But the decision was made. I looked around for my brother; he was already saddling his horse and, feeling my gaze, he raised his eyes and regarded us all closely. Then he merely nodded and turned away, back to adjusting the tack. A slow work with one hand, yet I dared not offer him my help.

We left our camping place and turned northward, away from the Sea. Away from the white city we had laid in ruin. Away from the burial mound of our youngest brothers. And even though the Sun was warm on our faces and summer fair around us, we rode in near silence, the terror of the day before still bright and vivid in our minds.

Elros was the more talkative of the boys. He rode with Aldanwë today, and from time to time I heard his clear high voice ringing out in wonder or question at some fair or strange sight we were passing. Aldanwë answered him patiently, and at whiles it seemed to me that I even saw the healer’s stern face softened by something that resembled a smile. Elrond who rode with me spoke very little. Either he sensed our sombre mood better, was a silent observer by nature or simply shy of me, I could not tell at first, but later I understood that it must be the second. He noticed surprisingly many things on the way, and they were safely stored in his memory to be pulled out much later, even after weeks or months, to our wonder. But now he merely watched the sights we were passing in silence, and his first question came only around midday.

“Uncle Maglor?”

“Yes, Elrond?”

“Uncle, you said that we could learn things in that place we are now going to?”

“In Himring? Yes, certainly. Is there something particular you want to learn?”

“Yes. I want to learn letters. I know some already. But I want to learn them all. And then I want to learn to read. Our Naneth…” His voice broke for a while, and he sniffed, but then went on bravely. “Our Naneth had books. Sometimes she read them to us. And sometimes we looked at the pictures, and then I thought how wonderful it would be to read all the stories there. Do you have books in Himring, uncle?”

“Many of them.” I nodded. “My brother reads often; he will surely teach you letters.” Or so I hoped.

Elrond’s face brightened. He regarded me in silence for a while.

“Do you also like to read, uncle Maglor?”

“Sometimes. But there are other things I like more.”

“What things?” he asked curiously. “What do you do when you are home?”

“I like to ride. Also, simply to be around horses; many of the horses in Himring are good friends of mine. But most of all I like to play music. Harp, mostly,” I replied, suddenly feeling a fierce longing for my harp, for the strings under my fingers. “And sometimes I make new songs.”

“Oh!” Elrond’s eyes widened. “Can you teach me to play the harp?”

“Why not? You will need a smaller instrument, but that can be made swiftly. If you want that in truth.”

“I want that in truth.” The boy nodded.

“Very well. Then I will ask someone who is good at woodwork to make you a small harp. As soon as we are home.”

We made good speed during the day and halted for the night’s rest by the northern edge of the birchwood of Nimbrethil, where countless white stems gleamed in the green twilight of the canopies and the grass was long and soft under our feet. We were setting up the camp when I noticed the twins standing amid the bustle, looking around confused and forlorn. I was about to go to them, but Aldanwë turned towards them first.

“Do you want to help?” he asked.

The boys nodded.

“You can help gather firewood. But do not go further than those two trees you see there. Understood?”

“Yes!” they exclaimed and hurried to gather the dry branches that lay aplenty on the ground a small distance away.

I thanked the healer with a nod and turned to unpacking when I suddenly noticed that, a few steps away, Maedhros swayed and steadied himself with his hand against a tree. Then he swayed again, his palm slipped, and he would have collapsed on the ground had I not been beside him in time to support him. He leaned against me briefly, then straightened himself again, attempting to free himself from my hold.

“I am well, Maglor.”

“You most certainly are not!”

Reproaching myself silently for failing to notice earlier how pale my brother was, I was looking around attempting to draw Aldanwë’s attention without alerting the others. But the healer was already beside us.

“What is wrong, my lord?” he quietly asked my brother.

“Nothing. I merely…”

“You are hurt!” I exclaimed, suddenly aware of the bloodstain on his coat.

Aldanwë’s eyes flashed. None too gently, he lowered my brother to sit under a tree and removed his coat and shirt, revealing an open wound on his left shoulder – a deep, still bleeding gash. Maedhros attempted to push him away.

“Leave me be, Aldanwë. I will be well. I need a short rest; that is all.”

“You will not be well, my lord, if this wound is not tended properly at once! You have been losing blood since yesterday!” The healer’s voice bristled in anger. “When would you have seen it fit to tell me of your injury?”

“Maybe I would not.” Maedhros waved his hand, as if to dismiss the healer. “My health is not worth your care, my friend. Nor is my life.”

“I will decide myself what is and what is not worth my care, thank you, my lord!” I did not recall seeing Aldanwë thus enraged for a long time. He turned towards me now. “Water and bandages! And my bag! As fast as may be!”

I hurried to bring everything the healer needed, and he swiftly tended my brother’s wound which, in the end, turned out to be less deep and less dangerous than it had looked at first. Maedhros did not object any longer; he sat in silence with a bowed head.

Aldanwë’s anger faded as he worked. When he had bandaged the injury, he looked closely at my brother.

“Do not take upon yourself the authority to punish yourself, lord Maedhros,” he said with a shake of his head. “For that authority is not yours. To assume that is vain and arrogant, and I have never known you to be so. And there is more at stake now than your regret and self-pity.” With these words he left us.

“He is right, brother,” I quietly said kneeling beside Maedhros. “Your bleeding to death will not change anything for the better. But your staying alive might.”

Without a reply he averted his gaze and rested his head against the tree, staring at the green canopy overhead. I sighed and reached for the bloodied garment that lay in the grass.

“Your coat I may be able to salvage, but this shirt is beyond my skill. You will have to borrow mine.” I rolled the bloody piece of clothing in a bundle to throw it in the fire later, then searched in my bag. “Here.”

“You will not leave me alone, brother, will you?” Maedhros asked despondently.

“You know that I will not.”

“I know that, yes.”

He sighed, took from me the shirt and slowly donned it. He was drawing tight the laces on the chest when suddenly there was a quiet gasp. Startled, we turned our heads and saw the twins standing a few steps away and staring at us with wide eyes, looking frightened.

At first I did not understand. I doubted they would be afraid of blood or even of the sight of an open wound; after all, the gash on Elros’ arm yesterday had been deep and bloody too. But then I realized. The boys had seen the scars that disfigured my brother’s body. Some had faded over the long years, but most had been too deep and too evil to disappear, so they still lined his chest and his back, arms and shoulders. We were so used to these scars as we were to his missing hand that we did not notice them any longer, but for someone who saw them for the first time it could be a terrifying sight. Even more so – for children.

We stared at each other in silence, us and the boys. At last Elrond spoke.

“Who… who hurt you so badly, uncle?” His voice was trembling.

My brother frowned.

“The Enemy,” he then replied curtly.

“Was it in that very evil place where you lost your hand?” Elros asked quietly.

“Yes.”

I watched the boys and saw fear in their eyes exchanged for something else. I expected them to turn away and flee now. But I was mistaken. It was not revulsion that came instead of fear. It was compassion. Two pairs of wide grey eyes were brimming with tears of concern and pity. They took a step closer.

“Does it… hurt?” Elros whispered.

Maedhros regarded the twins in silence for a while, still with a frown, but soon he, too, perceived the expression in their eyes and his face softened.

“No.” He shook his head. “Not anymore. It happened a long time ago.”

Elros slowly nodded, looking only partly convinced.

“But you have a new wound now!” Elrond voiced his own and his brother’s doubts.

“That is but a scratch, bleeding merely because I did not bandage it at once. It is no worse than the one Elros had yesterday. It will have closed by tomorrow.”

“In truth?” Elrond’s voice was still uncertain.

“In truth.”

“Boys, I need your help elsewhere for a while.” Meanwhile Aldanwë had come to us, and now he took the twins by the hand and led them away.

My brother watched them go, then turned towards me.

“We may have made a grievous mistake, Maglor. Yet another one in the string of our disastrous decisions.”

“But what if we have not?” I objected fervently. “I do not believe in chance!”

“Neither do I,” Maedhros replied quietly. “But what of a twisted fate that lays only evil choices before our feet?”

“No! I do not believe in that either. The choice we made is not evil! The other one would have been more so!”

“How can you be so certain?”

“I am certain that we still have some power to do good. That we can make our decision bring forth blessing, not curse. You saw yourself that these children are kind-hearted and compassionate. If we could raise them, teach them everything we would teach our own children…” Suddenly a sharp pain stabbed my heart, as the memories I had thought to be silenced and hidden stirred and awakened. My brother looked at me with compassion; my thoughts were likely reflected on my face. I brushed them firmly aside. “We can do this, Russandol. We can raise them so that they grow up wise and brave, for the good of our people.”

“And what of our Oath?”

“It sleeps now. One Silmaril rests on the bottom of the Sea, in the keeping of the Lord of Waters. The other two are in Angband, and we have no power to retrieve them from there. If aught would change… then we would send the boys away.”

“You make it all sound so easy, brother.” Maedhros sighed. “But I fear that is because you see things as you wish them to be, not as they truly are.”

My attempt to argue further was interrupted by soft footsteps on the grass.

“Uncle Maedhros, Aldanwë told us to bring you supper.” Elros was holding a steaming bowl in his hands.

“I am not hungry.” My brother shook his head.

“Aldanwë said that you must eat.” The boy seemed undaunted by the dismissive tone.

“And he said that after eating you should rest,” added Elrond. He was balancing a full drinking cup and some pieces of flatbread on a small tray.

“Did he now?”

My brother’s eyes flashed as he looked over the boys’ heads towards where Aldanwë stood by the campfire watching us closely; the healer’s arms were folded on his chest, his face stern.

“And also…” Elros spoke again, heedless of the signs of anger in my brother’s voice and face. “Also, you should not tell stories tonight, uncle,” he ended with a regretful sigh.

“That too?” Maedhros turned towards the twins again. “Why?”

“Because you need to rest,” the boy explained patiently.

“I see. Did Aldanwë say that as well?”

“No, uncle.” Elrond shook his head. “Aldanwë said nothing about stories. We thought of that ourselves. For, if you tell stories, you cannot rest.”

Maedhros regarded the twins closely for a while; there was a barely perceptible twinkle in his eyes, a slight twitching at the corner of his lips. Then he reached out his hand.

“Here, give me that bowl. And set the tray on the ground. One should heed a good advice when given such, therefore I will eat and rest, and tell no stories tonight. You can say to Aldanwë that I am grateful for his care. And I am grateful for your care too.”

The twins smiled. Elros passed him the meal, and Elrond set the tray in the grass beside him. Then they both looked up hopefully.

“Uncle Maedhros…” Elrond voiced hesitantly. “But some other evening, when you are rested… will you tell more of what happened in the story? How it ended? Please! We fell asleep when Aulë made the Dwarves, and his wife was angry with him for that.”

The twinkle was unmistakeable in my brother’s eyes now.

“Yavanna was not angry because of the Dwarves, but because Aulë made them in secret from her and from Ilúvatar,” Maedhros replied. “As for the endings – the great stories do not have them. Think – there are still Dwarves in Endor, and their forefathers were created by the Smith. So that story has not ended. I will tell you what happened afterwards. Some other day. Now run back to Aldanwë for your own supper.” And as he looked after them dashing off, a shadow of a smile passed his lips, and a faint flicker of hope stirred in my heart.

That evening there were no tales. My brother fell asleep almost at once after eating, and if I suspected some of Aldanwë’s herbs at work there, he at least had the rest he so desperately needed but was unwilling to grant himself. Long into the night I sat and watched as he and the twins wandered in the realm of Irmo, their breathing deep and calm, their faces peaceful.

“It was a right decision, my lord, to take the boys with us,” quietly said Aldanwë. He had come close and also was watching those asleep. “Not only for the children. For your brother too. And for you.”

I nodded, as a strange thought occurred to me suddenly – if anything at all could turn our steps from the path of evil we were now treading, it was these children. I felt tears rising in my eyes and desperately fought them back, but Aldanwë noticed that and sat on the ground beside me.

“Your brother punishes himself with pain. You do the same with silence.” The healer’s voice was sad. “And you have taken it upon yourself to console others. Who will console you?”

“I do not deserve to be consoled,” I whispered raising my eyes towards him, my father’s friend, one I had known for all my life. “How did we come to this, Aldanwë? How did we fall so low?”

“High places are dangerous, and if one falls from there, he may pull others along, as your father did. Yet I believe that those who have fallen can still rise, and none should be denied kindness and sympathy,” he gently replied, and I suddenly realized that he had followed Fëanor not merely for loyalty and friendship but also for pity. And then I fought my sorrow no longer, but rested my head against Aldanwë’s shoulder and allowed the tears to flow freely over my face, lamenting the terrible deeds we had done, the death of our brothers, the hopelessness of our fight with the Shadow in the north and with the shadows within ourselves. And when my tears at last ran dry I had resolved that I would do all in my power to redress the evil that was of our making. As much as that could be redressed at all. These children we had robbed of family shall at least have care and teaching.

During our journey  northward the boys often cried, remembering their parents and their home, and Elros wept for the loss of the Sea he had already grown to love. But my brother’s stories and my songs had some power to dispel their sadness. By comforting them, we comforted ourselves. For the sake of these children we pushed aside the memories of fire and blood and pretended that the world was as it should be. Evening after evening we gathered around the fireplace, and as we were lost in the visions of faraway places, slowly the despair chaining us somewhat lifted. Conversations returned, and then smiles and laughter, and when at last I saw my brother laughing at something one of the boys had said, I felt hot tears of gratitude rising in my eyes and turned away to hide them. For the first time since very long I felt hope. Also, I still had the music, and as we rode home, a new melody started taking shape in my heart, a melody that was to become my story of the events and choices that had led us to where we were now. The melody of Noldolantë.


  ~ The End ~





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