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The Stronghold  by Aldwen

I had spent in Himring little more than a week when one morning I caught myself thinking how much I will miss this. How I will miss their voices. The sound of the running feet in the hallways. The laughter, pure and clear. The smiles on the faces of my uncles. I thought of all that and wondered how it was possible that in the world where despair and destruction were closing in threatening to swallow the very last remnants of hope, there still remained so much untainted joy. My course of thought was interrupted by a sound of shuffling feet outside of my room and a soft knock on the door.

“Enter, ye mighty dragon slayers!” I called.

There was laughter, and the door was thrust open. My cousins entered, and I saw that despite the mirth they were attempting to remain serious for something that was on their mind. So I waited. Elrond was the first to speak.

“Cousin Celebrimbor, it is our begetting day in three days’ time. There will be a feast, and we invite you to it!” His voice was solemn. “We hope you can attend.”

“Surely, he can attend!” Elros laughed. “Celebrimbor does not need to travel anywhere for that, for he is staying here anyway!”

Elrond cast a stormy glance at him.

“Elros, it is rude to speak instead of someone else!” he whispered fiercely to his brother. “Moreover, if he is in the same room!”

Elros blushed crimson and bowed his head.

“I… I am sorry,” he said in a fallen voice, all mirth suddenly swept away. “I forgot again. I do not ever want to be rude, but there are so many things one should or should not do! I always forget.”

“Forgiven,” I replied. “I know that it was not your intent. I am grateful for the invitation, and I will gladly attend your feast.”

“Thank you!” Elrond smiled, but his brother was still troubled and stood staring at the floor. I knelt beside him.

“I know you do not want to be rude, Elros,” I said. “Maybe, if you would think a little more before saying things, it would help? Thus you will have more time to remember what should and what should not be said.”

“Do you think so?” He raised his head.

“I think it is worth trying,” I replied and was glad to see smile return to the solemn face.

“I will try!” He promised. “Thank you, cousin Celebrimbor! You always give good advice!”

“Well, twice is hardly “always”.” I laughed. “But do try!”

Two pairs of grey eyes were now looking at me expectantly.

“Cousin Celebrimbor, what shall we do today?” asked Elrond. “Do you want to go to the woodland?”

“Gladly!” I replied. “Only I need to speak with your uncles first. Are they in the fortress?”

“Uncle Maedhros rode away earlier, but uncle Maglor is in the library.”

“Well, run outside then! I shall speak with him and then meet you in the yard.”

They ran off, and I went to the library where I found Maglor at the writing table with a quill in his hand.

“Good morning, brother-son!” He raised his head from the parchment and greeted me. I returned the greeting.

“The twins have invited me to their begetting day feast,” I then said. “Therefore, I would ask your leave to use the smithy for a short time, to make gifts.”

“Certainly.” He smiled. “What do you have in mind?”

“I do not know yet,” I replied. “Are they too young to have knives? How old are they at all?”

“No, I do not think they are too young,” Maglor quietly replied with a sigh. “Not in these times and in this place. And we do not rightly know their age. Seven, from what they told us three years ago. But if so… They grow differently than Elf children. Swifter.”

He put down the quill, rose and went to the window overlooking the yard. He stood awhile in silence, then turned towards me.

“We do not even know when their begetting day is,” he then said bitterly. “Three days from now, that was when we found them in that cave. So we thought… Children need merriment and festivities, even in times like these.”

I joined him by the window.

“It is anyhow a day worth celebrating,” I replied. “They would not be alive if you had not found them.”

Maglor bowed his head.

“They would be at home, safe and happy with their mother and father, if not for us,” he whispered.

“You cannot change it anymore.”

“No.” He agreed sadly. “No, we cannot.”

We stood there, watching how the dark-haired boys were chasing each other around the yard. A thought occurred to me suddenly, and I said it aloud.

“They bear little likeness to their parents.”

“So you see it too?” My uncle turned towards me sharply.

“Yes.” I nodded. “They look like little Noldor. I think, they resemble…”

“Turgon. They resemble their great-grandfather,” Maglor finished quietly instead of me. “And… his brother.”

I sighed.

“Indeed. That is true.”

We stood still, looking outside. Then the gate was thrust open, and Maedhros strode into the yard. The twins rushed towards him, prancing around, tugging at his clothing, speaking excitedly, and he listened to them attentively, smiling his calm, patient smile. I turned towards my uncle; there was a strange expression on his face as he watched his brother, and when he spoke again, his voice was remote.

“These children… They saved him. From madness, from shattering completely. I had seen my brother terribly wounded… weak… But I had never seen him broken. Not even after the horrors of Angband. But when we were betrayed and defeated in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears… When our people were slaughtered in heaps upon that field… When Fingon fell… He came dangerously close to that. He blamed himself for the disaster. But somehow… somehow, he balanced on that edge until Sirion. Still… The decisions he made, the things he did…” He fell silent for a while, then turned towards me. “See, after Angband… He forged himself into a steel sword. A weapon with a sole purpose to be set against the enemy. Every defeat, every disappointment only made the blade keener, sharper. But…”

“Metal that is overworked becomes brittle,” I softly said.

“Yes. Perhaps…” Maglor’s voice sank to a low whisper. “Perhaps it would have been better if we all had perished in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Much evil would have been averted. For what followed… It was a disaster far worse than our defeat. In that battle we lost the last remains of our faith. But in Doriath… and Sirion… there we lost everything else. Including whatever was left of our honour. Faith was burned away; anger and hate had settled instead.”

“Could you not… refuse to go?” I whispered. “Talk him out of it, convince him, restrain him?”

“Do you recall Fëanor at Losgar, Celebrimbor?” Maglor’s smile was bitter, and I shuddered, remembering. “Before the attack on Doriath… Maedhros was nearly the same. Words were useless. Besides… I had promised that I would follow my brother’s lead and never abandon him. Others felt the same allegiance. And there was anger in all of us. Doriathrim had refused us aid. Dior had kept the Silmaril despite our claim. Anger, mingled with despair there was at first, but when the blood of our kindred was once again spilt by our hands, only despair remained. Yet our despair was pitiless, and, armoured in it, we slew the innocent.”

He averted his eyes, and I saw that his slender fingers upon the windowsill were trembling. I felt pity, and my voice was hesitant, but I had to ask.

“Uncle Maglor, how… how did they die? My uncles? And… my father?”

Startled, he turned towards me and looked long into my eyes, then nodded.

“Yes, you have right to know. Celegorm fought with Dior, and they dealt each other many wounds beyond healing. Caranthir killed many ere he was run through with a spear. And your father…” he fell silent as if searching for his next words.

“Do not fear to tell me of his atrocities,” I said bitterly. “I realized long ago that there is no evil he would shun in his malice.”

Maglor looked at me in silence, and with pity, it seemed.

“Celebrimbor, your father… he was very much changed after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears,” he replied at length slowly. “He, too, blamed himself that his scheming had withdrawn the help we would mayhap otherwise have received from Doriath. Yet he spoke little of what was on his mind. Only as we made ready to march did he long look at Maedhros and said to me quietly: “I have seen this before. I am not the one most resembling our father here anymore.” And in Doriath… The battle was over when we found him, wounded with many arrows, far beyond any hope of healing. Yet he still lived. One of the shafts had pierced his throat, but, seeing us, he still attempted to speak, choking on his blood. “My son… was right to leave me...,” he said. “Tell him… I am proud of him. Tell him I love him.” These were his last words.”

Wide-eyed, I stared at my uncle. But that was not all Maglor had to say.

“You see, Celebrimbor, your father had not even drawn his sword,” he quietly added. “He went to Doriath to find death that he thought he deserved.”

In dismay I hid my face in my hands. Suddenly all my bitterness, all my anger was swept away in a whirlwind of grief and regret.

“I should have remained with him,” I whispered. “I… I rejected him so cruelly in Nargothrond. And even later… even when I learned of his death… I did not allow myself to mourn, to feel any pity! In anger and pride I turned away even from the memory of him! I should have remained!”

Maglor laid his hand on my shoulder.

“No, brother-son,” he said gently. “Reproach yourself not. Anger and pride there may have been, yet justice also. You were right to do as you did, and Curufin knew that. That you had kept your honour maybe was his only consolation ere he passed the Doors of Death. I am sorry to cause you pain, but you wished to know. And I also think that you should know. Your father was not wholly the heartless fiend he appeared to be, Celebrimbor. He was deeply miserable. His anguish does not justify the evil he did, but maybe it makes it… a little more understandable. If you could, in your heart, forgive Maedhros and me, you should forgive him the more.”

I raised my eyes towards him and merely nodded, too overwhelmed to speak. He brushed his fingers over my cheek.

“There are two things you should remember about your father, Celebrimbor,” he said. “You should remember that he was proud of you. And that he deeply loved you. Both these things he failed to show, but they are nonetheless true. Remember only that. All else is meaningless now.”

I nodded again in silence.

“Good.” Maglor smiled. “And do not grieve, brother-son. Curufin would not want you to grieve for him. He would want you to have whatever joy can still be found in this world. Do not grieve.”

And I obeyed him. I put a smile on my face and went outside to play with my little cousins. I hid my anguish well, or so I believe. But that evening I retreated early and long sat in a chair by the window looking outside. I did not see the gentle dusk falling upon the hills and deepening into darkness. I did not see the stars being slowly kindled in the dark blue velvet of the summer sky. I saw before me my father, drowning in his own blood, dying certain that his son despised and hated him.  “Forgive me,” I whispered to the night, knowing that there was none to hear and to answer, and I laid my head on my hands upon the windowsill hoping in vain for the relief of tears that never came.

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