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The Stronghold  by Aldwen

Weary as I was, I could find no rest, long lying awake, watching the daylight slowly fading in the windows, but when I fell asleep at last one of my nightmares returned, the one I had had often after coming to Endor, of white ships burning in starless night, red glare reflected on the dark water. But tonight the dream changed, and instead of the coast of Losgar I saw Havens of Sirion, and this time not only ships were burning, but houses too; smoke rose towards the sky obscuring the sunlight, and there was clash of weapons in the air and screams of the dying. I awoke with a strangled cry of terror and sat upright in the bed; my heart was racing. I rose, went to the washstand and splashed my face with cold water, then stood awhile at the window looking out into the night. The sky was clear; judging from the stars it was barely past midnight. Realizing that I will not fall asleep now, I dressed and left the room.

I went along the hallways, dimly lit by the blue crystals of the lamps. There were guards here and there; this was a fortress after all; but they merely bowed their heads in silent greeting and let me pass without a word. None of them seemed surprised at the sight of one wandering around at night, perhaps sleepless wandering was common here; I could well believe that.

After some time of aimless strolling there was a door before me; I pressed the handle, it opened soundlessly, and I found myself standing upon the wall that ran around the stronghold. It was not the highest level, but still high above the ground, and there was a parapet along it, its edge worked by the skill of my people into a lace of stone. I went slowly along the wall, passing my hand over the intricate forms. The wall bent to the left sharply; I turned around the corner, and my breath caught at the sight that opened before my eyes.

In the distance the land was gently rising up in low hills, overgrown with long grass. A full moon was slowly climbing above the eastern mountains, and when a swift breeze passed over the hill plain, the tassels of the grasses shimmered silver in the moonlight. It seemed as if a thin, nearly transparent veil was being drawn over the land. Summer stars were bright above my head, and I stood there enchanted, lost in the beauty of the gentle light and shadows.

“A fair sight, is it not?” A quiet voice suddenly spoke.

Startled I turned and saw my eldest uncle standing a few steps further by the parapet. In the moonlight his shoulder-long hair gleamed like burnished copper, but his face seemed to me pale and sorrowful.

“Very fair indeed,” I replied and went closer, and then we stood side by side in an awkward silence for a good while looking over the plain, watching the moonlight play in the tassels of grass.

At length Maedhros turned towards me.

“You have every right to be angry, Celebrimbor,” he said quietly. “You have every right to hate us.”

My gaze met his, and I saw the shadow of anguish that lay deep in his eyes. And I realized that there was nothing left of my fury, not a tiny sliver of it.

“I do not hate you,” I whispered. “And I am not angry. Not anymore. I… I grieve.”

“For those who fell in Sirion?”

“For those who fell. For those who lived. For you.”

He shook his head.

“Do not grieve for us, brother-son. We are not worthy of your grief.”

“That is for me to decide!”

“Stubborn, as always.”  At the glint of my eyes, my uncle smiled his slow, sad smile. “I will not take from you the right to decide for yourself, Celebrimbor. I merely think that you are… too kind.”

“I am not kind!” I replied fiercely. “Not at all! When I learned of Sirion, I was ready to strangle you both with my own two hands! I raged for weeks and had to be restrained from coming here!”

My uncle stood silent, then spoke again.

“Once, long ago, you promised me that your deeds will be guided merely by duty and honour. I cannot find enough words to say how proud I am of you for keeping that promise. Not that my pride should mean anything to you, now,” he added quietly.

“But it does!” My voice broke, and I felt tears stinging my eyes. “It means much to me!”

Maedhros looked at me long, then hesitantly, uncertainly raised his hand and brushed away my tears, as he had done so often before, in many ways being more of a father to me than my own sire. And I, even as then, I laid my head on his shoulder and wept as if my heart would break, and he set his arms about me and held me, as my tears drenched his garment.

For what I wept? I cannot tell. Likely for everything, for our good intentions gone astray, for our hopes turned into despair, for the land I love scorched in the flames of endless war, for the clear waters of streams defiled by enemies, for the blood spilt, for the trust betrayed. A long while later I raised my eyes and drew my hand over my face.

“You should not be the one to comfort me,” I said, ashamed.

“Why not?” A shadow of a smile passed his lips. “Even though… It is a wonder to me. I did not know… I did not know that I had any comfort to give. I thought my heart empty and cold, all care and love therein consumed by hate and anger.”

“No!” I shook my head fiercely. “No, it is not so; it is there still! And you have much to give, so much to give to those boys!”

“So you will not take them south?” he asked, looking at me closely. He had understood the purpose of my arrival at once.

“I will not.” I shook my head. “Here, they have the care they need. They have teaching, guidance and love.”

“Thank you.” He smiled faintly. “I hope you are not mistaken.”

“I am not mistaken,” I replied. “I have but one request to you. Promise that you will send them away if… if you will feel the Oath awakening again. Promise that you will keep them away from this.”

He looked at me gravely, then nodded.

“I promise that.”

And I knew that he would keep his word.

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