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The Stronghold  by Aldwen

The good weather that had been there on my arrival did not hold, and on the next day, with rain pouring down in sheets and thunder rumbling over the hills, we were confined inside. Maedhros had been called away by a messenger who had just returned from the outpost this morning, but I sat in the library with Maglor and the twins. We were playing one of the board games, but after a time the boys grew bored.

“This weather is outstanding!” declared Elros with disdain. He loved big words, my little cousin.

“Outrageous, you probably wanted to say.” Laughed Maglor.

Elros frowned.

“Out…something… whatever! It is terrible because we cannot go outside and show cousin Celebrimbor the garden and the woods!” He sighed despondently, and his brother mirrored him.

“That is sad indeed, but maybe you can show him the fortress?” Maglor suggested.

The twins’ faces brightened.

“Yes, let us do that!” Elrond sprang to his feet. “We can play that we are exploring!”

“We will go and explore the Dwarf mines!” Elros’ eyes shone eagerly. “And as we do that, we can have all kinds of adventures! We can discover hidden vaults with treasure! And there may be Orcs to fight, and maybe even a dragon! Are you ready for adventures, cousin Celebrimbor?”

“I certainly am!” I laughed. “Are you coming on this quest too, uncle?”

“No.” Maglor shook his head. “Not this time, if I may be excused.”

He was already reaching for his harp. As much as he loved the boys, today he clearly preferred solitude and music to a noisy quest. And, I noted to myself with a hidden smile, most likely he had already had his fill of “exploration”.

But we went, and I, being pulled along by little hands, I had to admit to myself that the game and my cousins’ company brought me joy. We stalked the silent hallways in pretence of stealth. We pried open doors in search of Dwarven treasures. We even attacked an unsuspecting guard whom Elrond declared to be a dragon in disguise, and when, after a short feigned struggle he surrendered and solemnly promised “to depart from these lands and trouble the Free Folk no more” as the boys bade him, I saw laughter in the eyes of the Elf. A flicker of joy and light-heartedness of the years before the crushing defeat.

After a good while of exploring and treasure-hunting we found ourselves in a long corridor leading to one of the uninhabited wings of the stronghold.

“Let us go and look in there, cousin Celebrimbor!” Elros tugged me by the sleeve.

“Should we do that?” I asked uncertainly. “If nobody lives there…”

“If nobody lives there, we shall not disturb anyone,” Elros replied firmly. The logic of my little kinsman was infallible. “Besides, the door should be locked if it is a place where none should enter.” That certainly sounded sensible too.

The door at the end of the corridor was not locked, and we entered a gallery, wide and shadowed, walls covered with dark wooden panels. And then my breath caught in my chest. Upon these walls there were pictures. Paintings done with subtle skill, set in gilded frames. The first of the paintings showed a flame-haired woman standing beside a marble statue of a horse, clearly the work of her own hands, for she held a hammer and a chisel and wore an apron covered in marble dust.

“Who is she, cousin Celebrimbor?” asked Elros curiously.

“She…” But my voice was suddenly lost to myself.

“She must be one of our family; she has the same hair as uncle Maedhros,” the boy went on.

“She must be someone he loved very much. I… I was here once,” Elrond quietly admitted when we turned towards him. “The door was half-open, and I looked inside. Uncle Maedhros was here, he was standing right before this picture. He was very sad. He looked like he wanted to cry. He was very, very sad. I remained only for a short while; he did not notice me. I thought he did not want to see anyone.” He fell silent, then hesitantly asked, “Is it the picture of his mother, cousin Celebrimbor?”

I nodded wordlessly, certain that my voice will fail me.

“Your grandmother...” they whispered.

Little fingers took firm hold of my hands, and we went on slowly, past the images of happier times, days of untainted joy. All paintings showed Valinor. Maedhros himself was there, quill in hand, head bent over a parchment, long hair tied back in a loose knot. Celegorm, laughing, stretched in a meadow of wildflowers beside a huge wolfhound. Caranthir, face intent, book in hand, other volumes stacked on the table beside him. Maglor, playing harp in a garden, golden light falling about him. The twins on the seashore with windblown hair, excited joy on their young and eager faces. They had loved the Sea. And they had been only little older than me when the Light went out and our world was shattered to pieces.

I averted my eyes and nearly could not make myself look at the last painting. But when I did at last, my eyes met the intent gaze of Curufin, Fëanor’s fifth son. He sat at the workbench holding a large, skilfully cut jewel, and light reflected from its facets fell in radiant sparks on his face. It was not a face concealing dark thoughts and treacherous designs. It was a stern and proud face, but also an open and honest one, and his lips were curved in a smile.

“Who are these other people, cousin Celebrimbor?” Elros asked quietly. “The one with the shining stone looks a lot like you.”

Long silence fell, for I spoke only when I was certain that my voice will not fail me.

“My grandfather and grandmother had seven sons,” I said at length. “Of them, only Maedhros and Maglor now remain. All others are… dead. The one holding the jewel is my father.”

“Oh…” The hold of the tiny fingers on my hands tightened. “And… where is your Naneth?”

That whispered question was the last drop in the cup of misery, now spilling over, threatening to drown me. That question brought before my eyes the sights I had thought long forgotten, safely hidden away. The hallway of our house in Tirion, shrouded in shadows. My mother’s terrified face.

“Curufinwë, no! This is madness! Reconsider, please, I beg you!”

 “Beloved, there is hope that way, over the Sea! We can prevail over Darkness! We can build our life anew there, away from thraldom, away from confinement!” My father’s eyes were feverish, pleading. “Come with us! You have to come with us!”

“That thraldom and confinement are the fruits of your imagination, nourished with deception and pride! The deception of that accursed Vala! The pride of Fëanáro and his sons!” Her voice was fierce now, grief fighting anger, none prevailing. “I refuse to take part in this any longer! I shall not go!”

“Very well, remain then!” Curufinwë’s eyes glinted, note of steel entered his voice. “Remain and do nothing, mourning forever the bliss of the past! We shall have the future!”

Her frightened eyes strayed from his face to mine and back.

“You cannot take away my child!”

“Tyelperinquar is of age, he will decide himself where his loyalties lie!”

She turned towards me then, golden-brown eyes glistening with tears. All colour drained from her face when she perceived my decision ere I had yet spoken it.

 “Yonya, no!... Please, stay!... Please!”

“I cannot, Amil!” I replied in a trembling voice, my heart breaking in two. “I think father and grandfather right. The Noldor cannot leave this deed unpunished. Justice has to be done upon Moringotto! Do you not see? This is the right way! Please, come with us, Amil! This is the only way! Do you not see?”

I made a step towards her attempting to take her hands, but she eluded my touch.  

“But I do see!” she whispered, wide-eyed, tears streaming down her face. “I see that the road you are to take is a road of evil, that it will end in darkness and blood! Turn from it, while it is not yet too late!”

A shadow passed over my father’s face.

“It is too late, whatever the road may be,” he quietly replied. “By Manwë and Varda, and Eru Ilúvatar himself have we sworn to pursue our vengeance, at the cost of Everlasting Darkness.”

Pure terror dawned in my mother’s eyes, and then she turned with a sob and fled from the house, the sound of her light footsteps on the stone stairway fading. I must admit that I hesitated then. I thought of going after her, of promising to stay, of asking her to forgive the anguish we had caused. But, as I wavered, I looked at my father, and the raw pain in his eyes stabbed my heart. There were no demands, no accusations. Only pain. I could not add more to that.

“I will not forsake you, Atar,” I whispered, and a small part of anguish faded from his gaze. A tear slid over his face, another, and yet another, and then he embraced me and held me fast, and we stood long in the silent hall, giving each other what little comfort we had to give.

“Cousin Celebrimbor...?” A tiny voice drew me away from the memories, two pairs of grey eyes were looking at me with concern.

“My Naneth… She remained on the other side of the Sea,” I whispered. “Like grandmother Nerdanel.”

I could not hold back my grief any longer. There was a fleeting thought that I might scare the boys but that was swiftly swept away by a new wave of anguish, and I sank to my knees on the tiled floor and hid my face in my hands, tears streaming from my eyes, chest heaving in violent sobs. But then there were two pairs of arms hugging me, small hands stroking my hair, little voices whispering quiet words of comfort. These children knew grief. And they knew consolation too.

At length my tears ran dry, and I raised my head, drew my hand over my face and looked into two pairs of grey eyes, far too solemn than the eyes of the children should ever be. Suddenly I felt ashamed. The little ones already carried a burden heavy enough, what right did I have to add more?

“I am sorry,” I quietly said. “I should not have…”

The hold of my cousins’ hands did not loosen.

“Do not be so impossibly ridiculous!” Elros firmly replied, and I faintly smiled at the phrase he had clearly picked up from someone of the elders. “You should not be sorry for crying; uncle Maglor said so. We cried a lot when we came here.”

“Our Nana and Ada, they are lost, you know,” Elrond quietly added. “And we were almost lost too, but uncle Maedhros and uncle Maglor saved us. Still we cried every day then. But we had each other, and we had them, and uncle Maedhros told us stories, and uncle Maglor sang us songs, and it got better. Now, we almost never cry.”

“Well, you cried last week when you fell from that tree, Elrond.” Elros cast a sidelong glance at him.

“That must have hurt,” I said with sympathy, but the brothers both giggled.

“No, it did not; I fell into a pile of last year’s leaves,” Elrond replied. “I cried before climbing, because I was sorry for the cat; she looked so frightened up there. That is why I climbed - to help her to get down. But she was on the very top; the branches are thin there. They broke, and I fell.”

I laughed, my grief slowly fading.

“And what of the cat?”

“She got down on her own,” Elros replied, sparks in his eyes. “And then she went away, lashing her tail, but before that she looked back at Elrond, like this,” he made a funny display of an arrogant cat-face over his shoulder, and the brothers collapsed with laughter. But then they looked at me seriously again.

“Maedhros and Maglor are your uncles too, cousin Celebrimbor,” said Elros. “You should go to them when you are sad, they can tell you stories and sing songs. You have them.”

“And you have us.” His brother added solemnly.

“You are right,” I gathered my little kinsmen in embrace. “I have you all. This is a consolation indeed, and I am most grateful to you! But shall we now go and look for another dragon hoard? There is yet some time to the midday meal, I think.”

“Yes!” They jumped to their feet. “Let us go!”

But ere we left the hallway, Elrond tugged at my sleeve, and his eyes were solemn as he spoke.

“Cousin Celebrimbor, you will go back to Eglarest after some time. Do you have someone there, someone you can speak to when you are sad?”

“Yes.” I nodded. “I have a friend there, a brother in all but name.”

“That is good!” A relieved smile dawned on Elrond’s face.

“Yes, but can we go now?” Elros was tugging at my other hand impatiently. “The dragon hoard will not find itself, you know!”

“Very well, lead the way, brave explorers!” I laughed and followed them, closing the door to the gallery.

“Tell us of your brother, Celebrimbor!”

“His name is Calanwë, and he is a smith, like I am…”

We went on to our treasure-hunt, but as we rounded the corner I looked back over my shoulder and saw Maglor watching us silently from a shadowed passage. And when a few days later I came to the gallery alone, I found the door locked.

 


Notes

Quenya forms of names: Curufinwë - Curufin, Fëanáro- Fëanor, Tyelperinquar- Celebrimbor, Moringotto - Morgoth

Yonya - my son (Quenya)

Amil - mother (Quenya)

Atar - father (Quenya)

Naneth - mother (Sindarin)

Nana - mum (Sindarin)

Ada - dad (Sindarin)






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