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The Stronghold  by Aldwen

I spent another day getting ready for the long journey. The morning of my departure dawned shrouded in mist. The hour was very early, and the boys were sleeping still; we had said our farewells yesterday. Some tears had been shed, but we had parted in friendship, and I hoped that the little gifts I had left for them in Maglor’s keeping, blacksmith’s puzzles more complicated than those I had made before, will somewhat aid in keeping away the grief.

We were now in the courtyard with Maglor; I was fiddling with my horse’s tack, adjusting and readjusting it to delay the farewell. But it could not be put off forever. At length I raised my eyes and saw my uncle watching me with a sad smile.

“I regret it needs to be like this, brother-son,” he said. “I regret it so much. I know you would rather stay. But you should not. You have been here for less than two months; and leaving already breaks your heart. How would it be after a year or two? My brother was right.”

Tears stung my eyes; I looked around. There was no sign of my eldest uncle, but I did not believe that he will allow me to ride away without taking leave. But he will certainly not change his mind about my need to go. I turned back to Maglor.

“I am grateful to you, uncle,” I said. “For telling me things I did not know. About… my father. And I am grateful I heard your song.”

“That song is not yet ended, I fear,” he quietly replied, and a shadow passed his face. “While two Silmarils still remain in Endor. But come!” He forced himself to smile. “This is not something we should speak about now or, indeed, something you should think of at all. You are free from this evil, Celebrimbor. And we shall keep the children away from it too. Be assured.”

“I am assured, uncle. I know you will protect them from any danger. Even… even from yourselves. I have no doubt.”

He regarded me for a while in silence.

“I too am grateful to you, brother-son,” he then said. “I am grateful that you did not leave at once in anger as you came.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“I had carried that anger long enough. And there was less cause for it than I had thought.”

“There was every cause for your anger, Celebrimbor, only you chose to forego it.”

That was another voice, and I turned and saw my eldest uncle standing a few steps away. He was clad for the road and held the bridle of his horse.

“I will accompany you for a part of the way,” Maedhros said. “To the bridge; I want to see whether it needs some repairs before winter.”

Maglor embraced me.

“Go, brother-son. Go with our good will and such blessing as we can still bestow upon you. For you, there is more than thought and memory. For you, there is that new light that shines now over Endor.”

I returned the embrace in silence, then mounted and turned my horse towards the gate. Yet if I maybe hid my grief from Maglor, I did not succeed in hiding it from his brother who now rode beside me. Maedhros looked at me closely, then shook his head.

“Do not grieve, Celebrimbor,” he quietly said. “And do not look back. There is nothing for you there. Look ahead.”

I obeyed him and did not look back at the old fortress with its grey walls wrapped in the veils of fog. We rode on in silence, and I looked ahead where the winding road was disappearing amid the grass-clad hills. And as we rode, the fog lifted, the Sun shone bright and clear glittering in the dewdrops more fair than the jewels of the earth, and in the light of the morning my sorrow somewhat faded.

We came to the bridge around midday. The river below was rushing loudly over the stones, its waters high and swift after the recent rains. There we dismounted and allowed our horses to graze freely in the grass as we sat on the steep bank and shared a light meal, for the sake of company, not hunger. After having eaten we spoke of small and meaningless things for a while, but I knew that my departure could not be delayed much longer. Yet there was something I wished to say ere I left.

“Uncle, once, long ago, in Mithrim, I spoke to you of hope.” I started hesitantly; he raised his head towards me and nodded. Encouraged, I went on. “You said then that you will not deny it to yourself. Do not turn from it now. You said also that there is no knowing where the river flows. Maybe… maybe there is hope at its end even for you. Maybe all will be well.”

But as I heard my own words, I realized how empty they sounded. I fell silent. Maedhros turned his gaze towards the river and replied nothing for a while. 

“Many waters have flowed past since that day, brother-son,” he said at length. “The shores of Mithrim are defiled by the enemies, the apple-trees blossom there no longer. And I may have deceived myself even then. You see, my hopes and my dreams were never on this shore of the Sea. They remained in Valinor.”

There was a distant look in his eyes; he held in his hand one of the golden autumn flowers that grew on the bank, and suddenly vague memories came to me unbidden, memories of that last festival we had held in peace in the land of Aman but briefly before our joy and light-heartedness had been swept away by the strife between my grandfather and his half-brothers. There had been golden flowers like this braided in the tresses of a maiden with blue eyes, one of the Vanyar, and her laughter had been like silver bells in the wind as she had danced with my eldest uncle on the green turf, and the smile on his face had been the smile of one who expects from the next day nothing but happiness. I had paid little heed then, but now my thoughts must have appeared plainly on my face, for Maedhros shook his head.

“There is no recalling the past and no use in mourning it,” he said quietly, rising. “Come, Celebrimbor. It is time.”

His fingers released the stalk of the flower, and, caught in the breeze, it fluttered briefly in the air ere disappearing in the swirling rapids below. I too rose without asking anything. I had learned that careless words could cut more deeply than steel blades.

We said our farewell on the bridge. He kissed my brow, then brushed his fingers over the cloak pin with the mountain eagle that glittered on my shoulder in the rays of the afternoon Sun.

“Go, brother-son,” he said. “Fly free. And promise me that you will look ahead.”

“I promise.”

“Good.” He smiled. “And remember – wherever that river flows, a new star shines above its waters now.”

Voice failing me, I merely embraced him tightly. Then I tore myself away from the one I had long regarded nearly as my father, mounted and rode away, tears blinding my sight. At the edge of the woodland I halted and looked back and saw him standing on the bridge, flame-red hair gleaming in the sunlight as he raised his hand for the last farewell. I waved back, turned my horse and entered the forest. I had promised to look ahead. And as I journeyed, the new star shone in the sky in evenings and early mornings, and its light slowly dissipated my sorrow and filled my heart with a hope I had long thought lost to me and my people. A hope that, despite the past and present darkness, in the future there may be Light.


~ The End ~

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