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The Stronghold  by Aldwen

That night I did not sleep at all. I returned to my room and sat by the window, seeing nothing of the moonlit landscape outside, the vision and tune of Maglor’s song filling my eyes and ears, and each and every line of his song was now burned into my memory to remain there for as long as I breathed the air of Arda. And even though my tears were slow to cease, little heed did I give to my own distress, but thought of my uncle who was rending his heart wilfully like this, denying himself any hope, any grace of forgetfulness.

I was crossing the courtyard next morning when I heard Maglor calling my name. I slowed my step but did not halt, nor turn, afraid to see in his eyes the anguish I had heard in his music, certain that I had no consolation to give him, or, even more, that with my presence in Himring I had perhaps somehow added to his sorrow. But he swiftly caught up with me, and when I looked at him at last, I saw that his face was calm and the sadness and grief of last night – deeply hidden.

“Forgive me, brother-son,” he said, and there was true regret in his voice. “What I did… That song… It was cruel.”

“I brought that about myself.” I shrugged my shoulders after a while of silence. “If I had not asked…”

“Still… I had no right to lay that burden upon your heart.”

I laughed mirthlessly at his words.

“That burden already was on my heart, uncle. You merely clothed it into words and music. And that lay… Despite of what it tells, I have heard very few other songs that can even remotely match its beauty.”

He bowed his head.

“I would have you forget your grief for a while, brother-son, not remember more of it,” he quietly said.

“I know. But you cannot protect me from my own mind and heart. Besides… Perhaps I should ask your forgiveness too. My coming here, my remaining here for so long may have stirred sad memories as I did not intend.”

He looked at me long.

“Your coming and staying here, Celebrimbor, have brought back memories of happier days,” he said at last. “True, it is more difficult to endure the nightfall after a sunlit day, but the darkness that is cannot erase the light that has been. Being and remembering – these two are akin in more ways than one.”

His last words angered me.

“I do not want hope that rests only in bygone days and memories!”

Maglor smiled at my fierce voice.

“There may be more than that, brother-son. For you, at least,” he said and left. I remained in the courtyard for a while looking after him, but my heart was still heavy, and I went to the garden in hope to find some solace in the beauty of growing things.

There I sat long amid the brightly blossoming autumn flowers, so deep in thought that I did not hear the footsteps on the path, and only when my eldest uncle sat down on the stone bench beside me I raised my eyes and turned towards him. He was come straight from the road, hair in disarray from a swift ride, the hem of his cloak drenched in dew.

“Where were you?” I asked.

“I went to see the outposts to the east,” Maedhros replied absently. “And then I decided to remain afield. It was a beautiful night.” There was a far-off look in his eyes; his thoughts wandered elsewhere.

“Are you wroth with me?”

This question now brought him back, and he turned towards me, uncomprehending.

“What? Why should I be?”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“For what I said yesterday. That I could remain here, in Himring.”

Understanding dawned in his eyes. And regret. He shook his head.

“I am not wroth with you, Celebrimbor.” His voice was sad. “I am wroth with myself that I must send away my brother’s son, one I have always loved like my own child.” 

“You do not have to do it,” I said quietly. “I would stay with you. I…”

“No!” He interrupted me with the resolve of yesterday, yet without sharpness. “I would not see the shadow that is over us fall on you also. Do not gainsay me in this.”

We sat silent. Sunlight seemed to me suddenly dim, the bright flowers – fading. At length I broke the silence.

“Eglarest, Himring – these are but islands in a raging sea of evil. Elsewhere, the land is ravaged, dwellings burned, forests felled without need, waters defiled. I saw it clearly as I travelled here. For centuries we have fought the Darkness, but to what avail?”

“I have never known you to be the one to cast away hope, brother-son.” Maedhros laid his hand on my arm. “You have always held fast to it, even when the hour was darkest. What has changed?”

“Hope is eluding my hold lately.” My voice trembled. “It is like… like swimming against the current all the time, clearly knowing that the river will prove stronger. It seems to me that whatever we do is turned to evil end. Are there any right choices left?”

My uncle smiled that quiet, sad smile of his.

“There are, and you are taking them,” he replied. “As for the current you speak of... Indeed, so it may seem, but where does the river flow, I wonder?”

“Wherever it flows, it is the current of our doom,” I said bitterly. “How much suffering does it take to make amends for an evil choice? The land of Endor is drenched in our blood. How much longer will the Valar punish us?” 

“Are we being punished by the Valar?” Maedhros regarded me thoughtfully. “Do you think so?”

“How else?” I exclaimed, taken aback by his question. “The curse Mandos spoke ere we left Aman – what else was it about, if not punishment?”

“Indeed, what was it about? I have thought about this often. And the more I thought, the more those words seemed to me a foretelling, not a curse. Pointing to a stone that will start an avalanche – is it a curse? Or a warning? Nay, brother-son, I think not that the Valar are punishing us. What we suffer now, we have brought upon ourselves.”

But his words held no consolation for me.

“Is everything we do then doomed to a failure?” I bowed my head. “Is there no escape?”

“For some, there may be none,” Maedhros replied quietly. “But not all are doomed, I think. Or rather – I want to believe that.”

“What of yourself?” I whispered, dreading his reply.

“For myself and my brother, I see no escape,” he replied. “My hope, what remains of it, is for others. For you. For the children. That is why you must go, Celebrimbor. Otherwise your love for your family will bind you so strongly that you will not be able to leave until too late. I should send away the boys also. But I cannot, not yet. I am too weak and selfish. And… I cannot deprive my brother of the last glimmer of light there is in his wasted life. Wasted in care for me.”

“I do not think he sees it as wasted,” I softly said, startled by the sudden bitterness in his voice.

“Maybe he does not. But that does not make it untrue.”

I could think of nothing to say against that, and we sat there in heavy thought, none of us finding any words to dispel the sadness. Then there was a sound of distant voices and running feet on the path, and the twins appeared in the distance, Elrond chasing his brother who was holding to his chest a leather-bound book. But we soon realized that this was not a game. Elrond’s eyes glinted in anger.

“Give it back!” He yelled at his brother who was now barely eluding him. “Give it back, this very instant! Give it back!” He caught Elros, grabbing him by the arm.

“Stop that, you are hurting me!” Elros shouted, in vain attempt to fend off the attacker. The book fell in the grass, and that only enraged Elrond further.

“It will be ruined now; and that is your fault!” He seized Elros by the collar of his shirt and shook him furiously; there was a sound of ripping cloth. “That is all your fault!”

“What is the meaning of this?”

The twins froze at the sound of our uncle’s voice. In their fight they had not even noticed us. But then they started to speak one over another.

“That is all his fault…!”

“I did nothing bad…! Elrond started it! He attacked me…!”

“No, you started it, I told you not to…”

“Enough. Both of you.” Silence fell; they stared at Maedhros wide eyed. He regarded them both in turn with a stern gaze. “And now explain yourselves. One at a time. Elrond?”

“He took my new book!” The boy’s eyes glinted. “Without asking! And did not give it back when I told him to!”

Maedhros now looked with question at Elros who had picked up the volume from the ground and stood there frowning.

“I only wanted to read it!” He replied defensively.

“Sure you did!” Elrond’s eyes flashed indignantly. “You do not read books! You do not like them!”

“That is not true!” Exclaimed his brother, offended. “I like books now! I want to read! And there are ships in this one; I like ships; I want to build my own ship one day! And you were not reading it now anyway!”

“You took it and brought it outside! And then you threw it in the grass!” Elrond glared at his brother fiercely.

“I did not throw it! It fell because you attacked me! I did not want to drop it!”

“But you did! And…”

“That is hardly a reason to throttle your brother, Elrond, do you not think so?” Maedhros asked drily, interrupting him.

The boy fell silent, looking at Elros, then bit his lip, suddenly aware of his twin’s dishevelled looks and torn shirt. His fury faded in an instant.

“I… I did not want to… I did not mean to hurt him!” His voice trembled. “Elros, I am sorry! Did I hurt you badly?”

“No,” Elros replied after a while of silence. “You did not.” Then he shuffled his feet uneasily and reached out the book. “Here. I am sorry I took it without asking. And I am sorry it fell in the grass.”

Elrond raised his hand, but then drew it back.

“No, keep it. If you indeed want to read about the ships, I do not mind.”

“In truth?”

“In truth.”

A sudden smile dawned on the face of Elros, and he embraced his brother, and Elrond returned the embrace, all anger and enmity forgotten. Then they exchanged looks ere turning towards us.

“Uncle, cousin, we are sorry we fought,” Elrond said.

“Yes, we apologize,” Elros added. “We should not have fought here. That was not courteous.”

“Neither here, nor elsewhere, Elros,” our uncle replied. “Disagreements should be solved by speaking to one another, not by violence. There are already too many who do not understand it. Do not add to the wrongs in the world.”

“We will try, uncle,” Elros nodded solemnly. “I know it was wrong to take Elrond’s book without asking. I will do so no more.”

“It was also wrong of Elrond to become so enraged over a mere book,” said Maedhros. Elrond bowed his head.

“I know it was wrong to become so angry,” he quietly said. “But… this is my most beautiful book...”

“Even so, Elrond,” our uncle replied him gravely after a while in silence. “Even so, and perhaps the more. Many evil deeds have been done for things that people deemed to be most precious to them.” Then he sighed and looked away, at the winding garden path disappearing amid the trees in the distance.

The twins exchanged glances, then climbed on the bench beside him.

“Are you sad, uncle?” Asked Elrond.

“A little,” Maedhros admitted, turning back towards them.

“Is it… because of us? Because we fought?” Elros asked hesitantly.

“No, little one.” Maedhros shook his head. “I was sad already before you came. We spoke of some sad things with your cousin.”

“Are you also sad, cousin Celebrimbor?” Two pairs of eyes now turned towards me.

“It has nearly passed,” I replied, forcing myself to smile. “None should be sad on a day as beautiful as this one. Do you not think so, uncle?”

Maedhros smiled as well.

“There is wisdom in your words, brother-son, that we should heed,” he replied, and even if his smile was half-hearted, the despair and bitterness were already pushed aside and hidden.

Suddenly Elros looked at him and giggled.

“You have leaves and twigs in your hair, uncle Maedhros!”

“I walked in the woodland this night,” Maedhros explained. “Maybe the trees gave me gifts when I departed? They said nothing though.”

“Have you ever met a tree who could talk, uncle?” Elrond’s eyes now glittered with curiosity. “One of the Onodrim? And do you know how the tree-herders came to be at all?”

“I have met Onodrim, earlier in the west of Beleriand,” our uncle said. “Not here; they come seldom so far to the east now. It is told that they were brought into being at the prayer of Yavanna, as protectors of the woods of Hither Lands. But they did not speak, in the beginning. The Eldar awakened them and taught them speech; that happened a long time ago, still under starlight… But wait…,” he fell silent and regarded us all in turn. “I think this is a story for fireside. We could camp one more time in the woods before winter while your cousin is still here. If he consents.”

“Yes!” the twins exclaimed in excitement. “We want to stay outside one more time! And we want the stories!” They looked at me pleadingly.  “I want all that too.” I nodded and smiled.

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