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The Stronghold  by Aldwen

And so we had that one last evening together by the campfire in the woodland. We stayed on one of the hills not far from the stronghold. The hilltop was crowned with ancient oaks, and we camped inside that ring of trees, sheltered from the keen and chill wind that blew from the west. The evening had long since fallen, but we sat around the fire as our eldest uncle was weaving stories, and when the stories had ended and the children had fallen asleep under the blankets and the pelts, we still sat there in silence or speaking softly together, sharing a strange illusion of peace, as the threads of past and present, of story and memory were twined together. “Being and remembering – these two are akin in more ways than one,” I recalled Maglor’s words and wished, if only for a brief while, them to be true.

But they were not. Not for me. I knew that the hill plains of Himring were still surrounded by desolation and enemies, that the seeming peace was merely a deception. I could not pretend to have forgotten that. Unwilling to show my grief, I quietly rose and took a few steps away from the others. But something seemed strange to me as soon as I left the glow of fire behind me. I stepped out of the ring of trees on the hillside, and there I halted, frozen in wonder.

It was yet too early for the moonrise, and the east was dark. But in the western sky there was a gentle glow, slowly growing brighter, and then over the distant mountain ridge a single star appeared, larger and more radiant than the others, its light casting reflections upon the scattered clouds on the horizon, so that they were glimmering silver, receiving and returning the glow. Its light had an otherworldly beauty to it, a beauty I had once known, but after not seeing it for so long had almost forgotten. Bewildered and enchanted I stared at the sky; uncertain of my own eyes, I squeezed them shut and opened again, but the star and the light were still there. I turned towards the fire then, to call my uncles, but they were already standing close behind me, their faces too turned towards the western sky. For a long while none of us spoke. At last the quiet voice of Maedhros broke the silence.

“Surely that is a Silmaril that shines now in the West?”

“If it be truly the Silmaril which we saw cast into the sea that rises again by the power of the Valar, then let us be glad; for its glory is now seen by many, and is yet secure from all evil,” Maglor softly replied.

His brother nodded and stood yet awhile silent. Then he turned towards the camp.

“The boys should see this.”

Gently they awakened the children and carried them to the hillside, wrapped in blankets against the cold night air. They were still half asleep at first, but the chill air and the light awakened them, and they gazed in wonder at the shimmering sky.

“What is that, uncle Maedhros?” Asked Elros, his voice quivering in awe.

“A new star has been born,” Maedhros replied. “A reminder that Light shall in the end prevail over Darkness.” There was a firm conviction in his voice; the starlight was shimmering upon his face and his hair.

“Gil-Estel,” Maglor said quietly; there was a far-off look in his eyes. “Star of High Hope. Thus it will be called.”

Long we stood there silent, moveless. The children grew sleepy again.

“It is so beautiful,” whispered Elrond. “But do you know, uncle, I do not think it is a star.”

“What then, little one?” Maglor asked.

“A ship,” Elrond replied drowsily, the glimmer of the sky reflected in his half-closed eyes. “A white shining ship. Only it is very far from here, so it looks like a star. I saw it in a dream, much closer.”

“You did not tell me of that!” Elros said with reproach.

“No, silly,” Elrond yawned. “It was a dream I had just now, tonight.”

His head sank on Maglor’s shoulder, his eyes slid shut, and soon he was fast asleep again. Elros was struggling to remain awake for some time.

“Uncle Maedhros, could that be a ship, like in Elrond’s dream?” He asked. “You should know; you always know everything!”

Maedhros laughed softly at that.

“Not this time, I fear, no,” he replied. “As your brother said – it is too far to see. But – why not?”

“I would like it to be both - a star and a ship at once,” Elros murmured, his eyes already closed. “A bright ship sailing in the sky, so bright that it looks like a star from here. And our father steering it. He is a sailor, after all.”

“Indeed, why not, little one,” Maedhros quietly replied. He stood yet awhile with his face towards the western sky, a sleeping child in his arms, and he seemed to me almost reconciled, almost at peace with himself. He looked at me and smiled faintly. “And thus it is sealed, brother-son. That hope I spoke of earlier today.”

Then he turned towards our camping place, but I bowed my head in sudden sadness. The hope my uncle had spoken of was neither for him, nor for his brother.

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