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The Stronghold  by Aldwen

Next morning dawned bright, and the summer winds swept away my sorrow. Not all of it, but with what remained I knew I will have to live. There was no overwriting the past, no taking back cruel words said in anger, and if a corner of my heart should henceforth be shadowed with regret – I had to accept that.

For that day and the next I worked in the smithy of Himring crafting gifts for my cousins – daggers set about with a virtue of warding off danger. I used no gemstones thinking them unfit for young children, but I adorned the blades and the hilts with a design of flowing lines in the shape of flying birds. The knives now lay upon the workbench before me, but they seemed to me unfinished, lacking something, and I looked at them, uncertain where the fault lay.

Long I looked. But then my hand reached for the graver, and I marked each of the blades near the hilt with the many-rayed star, the mark my father and grandfather had used and I also, before my father and uncle had left Nargothrond in shame. Then I had cast it aside, for long years leaving my work unsigned. But now my heart was changed. I was ready to take it back. Whatever evil my family had committed, this star did not speak of their crimes. It bore a memory of gift beyond imagination, of hands more skilled than the hands of the Valar, of lightning-swift thought soaring amid the clouds with the eagles. It bore a memory of utmost precision, of delightful symmetry, of elaborate ornaments whose intricacy brought wonder and disbelief to the eyes who saw them. And it also bore a witness of all I had put into my own work – my deep love for this land, my desire to make it more fair, more wonderful. That was the true meaning of the star of Fëanor. I was ready to mark my work with it again.

The good weather held, and on the twins’ begetting day the Sun was shining bright in a clear sky, and a gentle breeze was driving scattered wisps of white clouds. It was a day as wonderful as any little boy could wish – with greetings and gifts, with joy and laughter. The sombre faces of the fortress guards were softened by smiles, as they beheld the untainted joy of two happy children, and I thought to myself, unfittingly perhaps, that through evil some good had still entered the world unlooked- and unhoped-for.

As a gift from our uncles Elrond and Elros had each received a pony, and after their wild joy had subsided a little, they asked leave to go for a ride in the woodland at once, and were granted that too, in my and Maglor’s company. My cousins had swiftly befriended their new four-legged companions, and I watched in amazement how good riders they already were, guiding their steeds with confidence along the forest path. They had insisted on wearing their new daggers too, so they hung at their belts, the silver inlays on the hilts flashing now and then as sunlight fell upon them through the branches, and the boys seemed to me then the very likeness of young Noldor, dark-haired, grey-eyed. Their great-grandfather and his brother may have looked the same riding in the woods of Oromë under the mingled light of Valinor.

Suddenly a quail rose from under the roadside bushes and fluttered across the path, frightening Elrond’s pony. It snorted and fidgeted, ready to bolt, and I, anxious for the boy’s safety, was about to hasten ahead and catch the scared animal. But Maglor restrained me.

“There is no danger,” he said with a slight shake of his head.

And indeed Elrond had complete mastery over his steed; after a few quite words and a pat on the neck from him the pony calmed and resumed its steady gait. In wonder I turned towards Maglor and saw that he was watching the boys with a look of pride in his eyes.

“You have taught them well,” I marked, knowing how skilled with horses my uncle was.

“We resolved to teach them all we would teach our own children.” Maglor smiled, somewhat sadly.

We rode on in silence that was now and then interrupted by the clear voices and laughter of the twins. The noontime of a summer day was fair around us; the birds sang in the woodland, the forest glades we passed were bright with flowers sending forth sweet fragrance, the Sun was warm upon our faces. But then it seemed to me that the summer afternoon retreated, that we were engulfed as if by a deep mist, a thing of time not of space, and through that mist I saw my cousins, not as children anymore, but as grown men, wise, strong and confident. Yet they stood as if on two sides of a slowly widening breach, and there was deep sadness on their faces. Then I saw a green island amid the Great Sea, and a silver crown, and a fair valley in the mountains, the sound of many waterfalls like song and music. Maglor’s voice suddenly broke through the mist.

“Celebrimbor, what is wrong? Brother-son?”

I shook my head, shaking off the vision, then looked at my uncle several steps ahead watching me with concern. I had checked my horse to a halt. I passed my hand over my face and nudged my steed forward.

“It is nothing.”

Still Maglor was eyeing me intently.

“You saw something.”

“I do not have the gift of foresight.” I shrugged my shoulders. ”It must be but some wild fancy.”

“And still…? What did you see?” His eyes did not let go of mine.

“These children will achieve greatness, both of them. Yet their fates will be sundered, and much grief there lies in their future. But also great joy. Keepers and protectors they will be of things that would otherwise perish and be forgotten.” So I spoke and I marvelled at my own words, for it seemed to me then that they had been put into my mouth by someone else. I sighed and shook my head. “Pay no heed, uncle. Summer heat, most likely. As I said, I have not the gift.”

“How would you know that?” Maglor faintly smiled at my words. “There is no surety in foresight; it can be neither summoned, nor dismissed at will. Besides, you have seen what I too have seen.” He fell silent for a while, then added quietly. “I only wish I could spare them grief, yet how could that be? None who dwells now in Arda is free from the Shadow.”

To that I had naught to say. Soon we turned back to the stronghold. I stabled my horse and went together with my cousins as they led their steeds to the pasture. There we remained for a time, as the boys spoke to the ponies and thanked them for the ride. Elros then said that their new friends deserved a feast also and ran to the fortress to fetch some treats.  Elrond remained, leaning against the fence and stroking the animals. Suddenly I noticed that he was very silent. Even though he was a thoughtful child, such solemnity on this day seemed to me strange, and I spoke to him.

“Cousin Elrond, you are very quiet. Does something make you sad on this beautiful day?”

The boy raised his head, and it seemed to me that his face was the face of one who had for a short while forgotten his grief but was now reminded of that again. He looked at me long, as if considering whether to trust me, then asked:

“Will you not think ill of me if I will tell you?”

“I will not. I promise.” I replied, surprised at his gravity.

“I… did not get the gift I wanted.” He confessed bowing his head. “I am not ungrateful, cousin Celebrimbor, I truly am not,” he added hurriedly. “I love the pony, and the knife, and all other wonderful things so much! But I would gladly give them all away, if only I could have that one gift instead!”

“What would you then have, Elrond?” I asked, now curious.

“Something I have wanted so much for all this last year,” he replied quietly. “At first I thought it cannot be, but then I remembered something my mother said. It is one of the very few things I remember about her at all. She once said that we can have what we wish for if only we wish it very much. And I was wishing so much; every night before I went to sleep and often during the days also!” His lip trembled. “I was truly wishing as much as I could, but…” his voice broke, and his eyes were bright with tears.

I knelt beside him and looked at him intently.

“What did you wish for?” I asked, somehow convinced that he will not name anything made by craft. I was right.

“I wished that the sadness would go away,” he whispered. “I wished that uncle Maglor would not grieve anymore. I wished that uncle Maedhros would have both hands again and that he would no longer remember evil things. I wished that all people in Himring were happy again.” Tears were now streaming over the little, distressed face. “I wished that you would not miss your father and mother but could see them again. But it was not good enough! I did not wish enough!”

“Little one, you cannot change such things by wishing,” I softly replied, my voice nearly failing me. “That is not the way of the world. Joy and grief are not to be summoned at will by the Children of Ilúvatar. Life is a blend of happiness and sorrow, and as such we must accept it, even though we would have it otherwise. It was kind of you to think of the others, but you must understand – you cannot change something that has already happened.”

Meanwhile Elros had returned from the keep, carrying a handful of apples and carrots. He had heard much of our conversation, and now he set his arm around his twin brother protectively.

“It is a pity we cannot go back in time and change things!” He said throwing back his head in a challenge, even though his eyes too treacherously glittered. “For, if we could, then I would surely go back! No, first I would grow up and become a great and fierce warrior, and then I would go back and challenge Morgoth and defeat him, so that he could not hurt people! So that he could not hurt uncle Maedhros! Then he would have both hands and no scars, and he would not stay awake at night having terrible memories! And uncle Maglor would not play sad songs anymore, only happy ones! It is a pity we cannot go back!” He stated angrily and drew his hand over his face to wipe away tears.

“It is a pity we cannot change the past, Elros.” I agreed, gathering my cousins in embrace. “A pity indeed. But there is the future, and that we can shape through what we do today. And today is not so evil, is it? There are the memories of the past grief, but there is also the laughter of today. Believe me, nothing would make our uncles more glad than seeing you happy now.”

They raised their faces towards me; two pairs of grey eyes regarded me intently.

“Do you think so in truth, cousin Celebrimbor?” Elrond asked uncertainly.

“Yes, I do.” I nodded. “Be assured. Take what joy each day gives you and do not grieve what you cannot change.”

Smiles slowly dawned on the solemn faces, as they brushed away tears.

“But you do give good advice, cousin Celebrimbor!” Elros was now looking at me with new respect. “This is the third time already, and uncle Maedhros once said that if something repeats more than twice, it is not a chance anymore. It is called re…” - he furrowed his brow, trying to remember.

“Regularity,” I laughed. “It is called regularity. But you do not know that yet. You have only two clear examples so far; to be certain you must try this third one too. Will you?”

“Yes!” The boys replied with one voice. Their grief was fading. They fed their ponies apples and carrots Elros had brought, then they tugged at my hands.

“Shall we go back to the fortress, cousin? It is past midday; the feast should be ready soon. We are starving!”   “Let us go,” I agreed, and we turned back to the stronghold.

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