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The Stronghold  by Aldwen

Himring


It took more than twenty days to reach my destination, not only because the road was long and perilous, but because I tarried on the way, dreading the day when I shall meet my kinsmen. I had not spoken with them after the assault on Doriath, and when three years ago I had learned of Sirion, I had fallen in rage and sworn never again to have any dealings with them. That oath I had now broken.

It was already high summer when I reached Himring at last and rode into the courtyard of the stronghold. It was a fortified place, yet not utterly devoid of beauty; the lines of the buildings were clean, their shape blended smoothly into the background of gently rolling hillslopes, the stonework was adorned with an ornament of flowing lines. But I did not allow my eyes to dwell upon the proofs of gift and skill of those who had built this fortress. I braced myself for the meeting. During my journey I had firmly decided what I should do. If Elwing’s sons were indeed in Himring, I will take them to Eglarest. I will make my uncles see reason!

The Noldor who met me in the yard were courteous, yet they eyed me somewhat cautiously. I knew none of them by name, yet they apparently knew who I was, for one of them, after speaking words of greeting, said to me, “If you would wait but a brief while, lord Celebrimbor; I will let your uncles know you are here.”

I thanked him, and he hastened inside; another one came to take care of my horse, and then I was alone in the yard. I sat down on a stone bench beside the well, unable to escape the uneasy feeling that I was being watched by wary eyes.

I was not alone for long. The great wooden door opened, and Maglor stepped down the short flight of stairs. I rose; he approached me but halted and remained standing a few steps away. We eyed each other in silence for a while, and I thought I saw a faint shadow of fear in his gaze. But his voice was steady when he at last spoke.

“Celebrimbor! It is a surprise to see you here.”

“Indeed, so it may seem.” I heard my heart pounding wildly and my own voice shrill and harsh in my ears. “I came to…”

Ada Maglor, Ada Maglor…!” I was suddenly interrupted by a child’s voice, high and clear, and then a dark-haired boy rushed through the gates, ran to my uncle and threw his arms around him, looking up with shining, excited eyes.

“I was good at archery today! I shot all the marks with the first try! It was even as you said – it went so much better when I did not think of competing with Elros anymore!”

Maglor smiled.

“I am glad that it went well, Elrond,” he said, lifting the boy up in his arms. “And I am also glad you remembered my advice and it was useful. But can you recall something else we have spoken about? Something you should not do?”

The boy frowned, thinking, then realization dawned on his face, and he nodded with a sigh.

“I should not call you Ada,” he replied quietly. “I know, uncle Maglor. But… My true father… He is not here. He has never been.” The boy’s grey eyes shone treacherously bright.

“Little one, your father is not here because he cannot be, not because he does not want to,” Maglor softly said. “I am certain he regrets every single day he cannot spend with you and see you and your brother grow up. But he too would be very proud of you today, be assured of that.”

Elrond brushed his hand over his eyes.

“Are you sure?” he asked hesitantly.

“As much as I have ever been of anything in my life,” Maglor replied and smiled reassuringly.

The child returned the smile, then looked at me curiously. But something in my face apparently frightened him, for his smile faded, and he turned away and hid his face on Maglor’s shoulder.

“Who is he, uncle Maglor?” he whispered, apparently thinking his voice quiet, yet it was not quiet enough to escape my ears. “And why is he so very angry?”

“He is our kinsman, Elrond, in truth, he is your cousin from afar,” Maglor quietly replied. “His name is Celebrimbor. And he is not at all angry. He is merely… merely tired from the road. He has travelled very far.”

The gaze he cast at me as he said these words was desperately pleading. And I decided to play along, unwilling to scare the boy. Besides, what I now felt, was more like utter confusion than anger.

“Uncle Maglor is right, cousin Elrond,” I said aloud and did my best to dispel the last remnants of wrath from my face and voice. At the sound of his name, the boy turned towards me and eyed me solemnly; he had a very thoughtful gaze for a child. “I am not angry. I am indeed very tired; I have travelled for twenty-seven days from Eglarest; that is near the Sea.”

Slowly a shy smile dawned on Elrond’s face.

“I know where Eglarest is,” he replied. “Uncle Maedhros taught us to read maps last winter. I know where every place in Endor is now! Maps are so exciting! And books too! You can read a book and follow the adventures there on a map!”

“Maps and books are boring!” Another voice chimed in suddenly. “It is much better to go and have adventures than to read about them! I will have very many adventures when I grow up!”

I turned, and there was another boy, very alike to Elrond, if slightly taller. He seemed to be bolder too. He tore free from Maedhros who held his hand and came towards me without any hesitation. Halting a few steps from me, he looked up.

“I am Elros,” he said, then tilted his head curiously. “Are you indeed our cousin? Why are you called Celebrimbor? And did you travel for twenty-seven days in truth?”

Apparently, he had heard much of our conversation, and I laughed at the torrent of questions.

“I am glad to meet you and your brother, Elros,” I replied. “I am indeed your cousin, even though several times removed. I am a jeweller - that is perhaps the reason why my mother gave me the name I bear; she may have had some foresight. And I travelled for twenty-seven days in truth.”

“Did you have many adventures on your way?”

“Not too many.” I smiled. “I avoided a few bands of Orcs, met some of the Onodrim in the forest of Brethil, there was flood in two rivers I had to cross, and a couple of wolves attacked me in the mountains.”

“Oh, but that is many!” The boy’s eyes widened. “And why did you come here, cousin Celebrimbor?”

What was I to answer to that? I heard Maglor’s sharp intake of breath, I saw sudden tension in the posture of Maedhros. I knew not what to say. But Elrond saved me. He was now on the ground, standing beside his brother and looking up at me with question.

“Did you perhaps come to visit us, cousin?” he asked hopefully, and I nodded, grateful for the escape his question offered.

“Yes,” I replied. “See, you guessed that at once. I came to see whether you both are well and safe.”

“That is nice!” His eyes lit up, and he smiled broadly; his brother mirrored his smile. “You are very kind; none other has ever come so far to visit us!”

“Will you stay for some time, cousin?” Elros chimed in again hopefully, but Maedhros who had stood silent until now interrupted their further inquiries.

“Boys, you have asked enough questions,” he said. “Celebrimbor is weary from the road; allow him to rest. And did we not agree that you will read tonight, after the archery?”

“Yes, uncle Maedhros!” They replied in one voice, then giggled and turned towards me. “Rest well, cousin, we will see you later!”

Hand-in-hand, they ran inside. Maedhros followed them, but ere leaving he looked at me and bowed his head in silent gratitude. Maglor remained in the yard with me.

“Thank you,” he quietly said. I shrugged my shoulders and sighed.

“I do not wish to frighten them.”

He looked at me closely.

“Would you accept our hospitality, brother-son?” he asked. “You are indeed weary.”

I stood awhile uncertain, considering. I had not thought that I would remain under the same roof with them even for a single heartbeat. Yet now… Now I had even more questions than before, questions that required longer answers. And Maglor was right; I was tired. So I nodded in consent and followed him to a guest room, simply furnished, yet spacious, with windows opening towards the hill-plains.

“I will ask that hot water is brought you here,” my uncle said. “Meal too, if you would rather eat in your room tonight.”

“Yes, thank you. I would like that better,” I replied.

He nodded and turned to leave, but then my anger welled up again, and I stopped him at the door. Some answers I needed now.

“Why did you do that? Why did you attack Sirion? Is that damned Oath of yours so powerful that you cannot resist it, fight it? Is it worth the blood that has been spilt for the sake of it? The blood of our people, Maglor! Of our own people!”

He flinched, and a shadow of grief passed his face that had now turned very pale.

“We tried,” he quietly replied. “Believe me, Celebrimbor, we tried to fight it. But these bonds, they are strong, and my brother, he… It drives him far more than me. And where he goes, I will go. I will never ever betray him again.”

I released his arm, took a step back and drew my hand over my face.

“Fine, I can at least try to understand that – the bonds of the Oath, the Silmaril. But why kidnap children, Maglor? How evil is that?”

He recoiled from me as if I had stricken him, and horror dawned on his face.

“Kidnap Elwing’s sons?” he whispered. “Is that what people tell, what they believe? Is that what you thought?”

Bewildered, I stared at him, and when I found my voice at last, it was strangled.

“Explain.”

A faint shadow of anger glinted in Maglor’s eyes.

“We found them, Celebrimbor! In a seaside cavern north of the city, just ere the incoming tide. They were hiding there, alone, cold and frightened! We found them by mere chance! In less than an hour they would have drowned!”

I looked at him in a stunned silence. What he had said seemed too much like truth. Elrond and Elros did not look like frightened captives. They looked like children that are well taken care of. Children that are loved. Yet I had one more question.

“Why did you not return them to their people when you had found them?”

He looked at me long, and his gaze was heavy.

“There… there was hardly anyone to whom we could return them in Sirion,” he said at length in a hollow voice, and I trembled at the meaning his words carried. “And later… When we saw Círdan’s ships entering the harbour… We thought of that. Maedhros would have done just that, but I convinced him otherwise. I guess I still valued my worthless life too much to risk meeting the Falathrim.” With these words, he left the room, and I remained staring at the door that had quietly closed behind him.





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