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The night was old as we retraced our steps through the woodland. The shadows of the trees, sharply drawn by the moonlight, lay long and dark on the ground, and all about us was silent, save for a mournful cry of some lonely night bird. But as we neared the camp, we suddenly heard other sounds too. The crying of children.
We hastened forward, entered the ring of light by the fireplace and saw Elrond and Elros awake, sitting upright in their bed amid the crumpled blankets, again holding tightly to each other and sobbing wildly. Suddenly awoken in the middle of the night in the woods, surrounded only by strangers, they were terrified, and soon their sobs turned into desperate wailing.
“Nana, where are you? Nana! We want our Nana!”
Aldanwë was kneeling beside them, attempting to soothe their fears with calm and reassuring words, but to no avail. The boys were trembling, tears were streaming over the little distressed faces.
“Nana, come back! Please, come back, Nana!”
As Aldanwë saw us approaching, he rose and relief dawned on his face, but regret also.
“I cannot calm them. I am sorry.” Then I saw a sudden thought reflected on his face as he turned towards me. “Lord Maglor, your singing might placate them.”
I nodded and knelt beside the frightened children. But as I was about to start a lullaby I had once sung to my younger brothers, I found, to my complete horror, that my lips were sealed to the song.
“Sing, my lord,” Aldanwë repeated.
“I… I cannot,” I whispered in a strangled voice, terrified, raising my eyes towards him and my brother. Fear was welling over me in cold waves, I felt my hands shaking. Music was my soul, my very being. Was it withdrawn from me now? Was I now deprived of it for my crimes, punished with silence? The thought took hold and chained me for a while, but then, summoning all my strength of will, I pushed it aside, ashamed of my selfishness. “I cannot sing now,” I repeated more calmly, then turned back to the boys and attempted to calm them with gentle words, even as Aldanwë had done. But my efforts, too, were vain.
“We want Naneth!”
Helpless, I fell silent at last. The crying persisted, the children were nearly choking on their tears, and now I was afraid for them; there was concern on Aldanwë’s face too.
“Far away, in a land over the Great Sea, where white-crested waves wash against a strand of pearl and silver, there stands a high mountain.” I suddenly heard my brother’s voice ringing calm and resonant in the still air of the nigh. He came closer, sat down on the ground a few steps away from the boys and continued. “The shoulders of that mountain are draped in clouds, but its peak reaches even above them. Snow lies on its slopes, glittering in the light of the Moon and the Sun, and many swift streams rush downhill to feed the river below. The waters of that river are cold and clear, so clear that one can see even the smallest pebble on its bottom, in the places where the current slows down. The riverside is lined with great trees, their branches swaying in the wind, and grass is green and soft in their shade. If one would follow the course of that river upstream, then he would come to the stairs of white stone, and after many steps he would ascend to wide halls with carven pillars. The roof of those halls is the sky itself, clear blue by day and strewn with countless stars by night. Great birds circle in the airs over that mountain, golden-feathered, with eyes like jet, bringing tidings to the one who dwells there.”
The weeping quieted somewhat. Elrond raised his tear-streaked face towards my brother.
“Who… who lives in those halls, uncle Maedhros?” His voice was still thick with tears, yet there was a faint gleam of curiosity in his eyes.
“Manwë Súlimo, the Lord of Arda,” my brother replied. “He delights in winds and clouds and holds dear all swift birds who come and go at his bidding.”
“What do the birds tell Manwë?” Elros now sniffed and attempted to wipe away the tears.
“All things that happen in Arda. The joyful and the sad, the good and the evil. And at the good tidings Manwë rejoices, but at the evil ones he grieves, for his heart is both wise and compassionate. His gaze reaches far, further even when his lady is with him, Varda the Starkindler who is also called Elbereth on these shores.”
“Did she make all stars in truth?” asked Elros, his voice still trembling.
“She did,” replied my brother.
“If I were to tell you that, would you stop crying?”
The boys looked at one another.
“Yes…” Elrond quietly voiced. “But our Naneth…” His lip trembled again.
“We shall speak about your Naneth in the morning. I promise. But not now. Get under the blankets now; the air is chilly, and it is long past midnight.” His voice was kind but not one to be argued with.
The children obeyed and snuggled in the bed again, still sniffing, but the tears on their faces were drying. They drew the blanket up to their chins and looked expectantly at my brother who had turned his eyes towards the sky now.
“The story, uncle?” Elrond asked quietly. “About how the stars came to be?”
Startled from his thoughts, Maedhros turned towards them again and sighed.
“The story, yes. But we should start that at the beginning perhaps, for ere the stars were made there was the Great Music that was before everything else, and through that Music the being of Arda was revealed to the Powers of the World…”
My brother’s voice rang clear and steady. The flickering flames cast a golden reflection on his face. The children’s sobs quieted altogether, and they lay still under the blankets, two pairs of large grey eyes shining in wonder as the story unfolded. Others turned towards us too; some moved closer to the fire and stood there enthralled, listening to the old tale they had likely heard countless times. And I stood still and enchanted too. It was oft said of me that my songs could cast a spell on those listening, and that was true, but I needed music and melody for that, while my brother needed only words. I also recalled the whispers after Alqualondë about the power of our father’s voice, and I thought to myself that the voice of my eldest brother was no less powerful, only he chose to use it differently.
Soon the boys’ eyes had slid shut and they were deeply asleep, breathing softly, wonder on their faces. My brother fell silent, and we stirred, as if awakened from the comfort of a dream to a cold and dreary morning. Maedhros cast a look around, at the faces of his men who had, if only for a brief while, forgotten the blood on their hands, the evil they had committed.
“The stories are ended,” he said, rising. “Go and rest.”
They obeyed him in silence, slipping back into the shadows to nurse their regret and despair.
“You should rest also.” I looked at him closely and noted with a sinking heart the veil of anguish covering his gaze again.
“I will find no repose tonight,” he replied quietly. “Perhaps not ever. Do not waste empty words, brother. Your eyes are too keen, and you are too wise to dismiss the truth you see. Go and rest yourself. If you can.”
I sat down by the fire beside him instead, and he turned towards me sharply. “I do not need you to watch over me, Maglor!”
“Maybe I need you to watch over me?”
He shrugged his shoulders, turned towards the fire and stared in silence into the flames. Desperately I sought for words of consolation, of encouragement. I found them not. Everything that came to my mind seemed hollow and useless. But I found my music, and we sat by the dying fire, a soft melody winding around the stems of the trees, around the flowers and the blades of grass as I sang to comfort my brother. As I sang to comfort myself.
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