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Pilgrim Through This Barren Land  by Narya

"They buried Thorin deep beneath the Mountain, and Bard laid the Arkenstone upon his breast.

“There let it lie till the Mountain falls!” he said. “May it bring good fortune to all his folk that dwell here after!”"

(The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien.)


The songs had faded and the mourners were gone, but he remained in the dark under the mountain, sucking his pipe. Curls of smoke glowed in the light of the Arkenstone. No wonder tales of its beauty had flown from Erebor on wings as swift as eagles. More surprising was the one they had caught in their currents and blown back, but fate played strange games. At least the funeral had not been disturbed. A few careful tendrils of power woven around the mountain and its passages had been enough to tell the other of his presence. Now he waited, leaning on his staff and puffing out smoke, until he felt a shift in the shadows behind him.

“It is not what you seek.” Gandalf exhaled another swirling cloud. “Son of Fëanor.”

Silence – and then a low, quiet laugh echoed around the tomb. “You knew me, then.”

“Yes, I knew you.” Whatever you have become, none burn so bright as those of your blood. 

The reply shocked through him, whip-swift, fierce. And what do you imagine I have become, Olórin?

Gandalf steadied himself with his staff, unprepared for the raw power behind the response. He turned, searching the shadows with mind and eyes. Forgive me. I had not thought-

Did you believe me so diminished? Laughter again, bitter, mocking. Did you think I would not hear you? At this distance? Oh, you and your kind do not change – such arrogance! Such condescension! And we listened to you, drinking your whispered words as though they were the elixir that would unlock the secrets of the world for us – you, who would take away all that we treasure!

I would take nothing from you. He closed his eyes, reached out with his mind, applied the slightest pressure. Stop this, Makalaurë.

“DO NOT CALL ME THAT!” Gandalf staggered as his touch was flung back. And do not presume to reprimand me. I am no lost child, to be chastised and taken by the hand and led home.

Perhaps not, but you are in pain. A different approach, then. He unfolded a passage into his mind, into the well of love and admiration he had always felt for the Firstborn, and for the white-hot fire of the Noldor most of all. Out, out he poured it, letting it surround this last star of their greatest line. Let me help you.

Help me? A glass wall stood hard against the river of affection. Do you think you know me, old man? I tell you that you do not. You believe me mad, broken, afraid. I have been those things, yes, but more than that I am Noldorin, Finwëon, Fëanorion. I am the son of the greatest craftsman ever to walk the shores of Arda – think you that he taught me nothing? Think you that I could not remake myself, and endure? I had credited you with more wisdom. Well - here, Olórin. This is what I am.

The glass wall vanished and Maglor's soul blazed before him. Still concentrating on the outflow of his own mind and memory, he was unprepared for the force of it when the resistance collapsed, and he fell to his knees. The ageing bones jarred, and he groaned and clutched at his staff.

Look. Touch. Understand.

It was like the thousand shards of a shattered mirror, rebuilt one piece at a time. Gandalf brushed over its jagged lines, feeling them as a finger would sense the web of cracks across a glass surface – and the darkness of grief curled behind it, but it burned too, with the red flame of anger and the pure light of Finwë's house. Around it in soft translucent sheets lay songs and stories, journeys and friendships, images of the world's beauty, carefully noticed and stored away. There was weariness too, but it was only a thread through the whole. At the surface it was still and cool, like the sea on a summer evening, reflecting the moonlight and hiding the currents and contours beneath.

“Do you see?”

Maglor stood before him now – dressed in well-made travelling clothes, not rags, as Gandalf's mind had clad him. A scarred hand reached out to help him up. He hesitated a moment, then took it.

“Not all those who wander are lost, Olórin.”

Gandalf allowed Maglor to pull him to his feet, and studied his features carefully. The Noldo's face was thin, but as lovely as when he last saw it two Ages ago across the sea. A few starlight-silver strands flecked the mane of black hair, and the corners of his grey eyes were lined in a way that most Elves' would never be. Shadows lay in the hollows where the skin stretched across the fine bones – but perhaps his gaze was only reflecting what he knew of Maglor's past. A stranger would notice nothing unusual.

“Do you see now?” Maglor repeated. “If I wanted that bauble they have buried with the Dwarven king, I could have taken it – even with all their warriors here to defend his corpse.”

“No.” Gandalf withdrew his arm from Maglor's grip. “No, Maglor Fëanorion, you could not.” He loosed his control a little, for a moment only, letting his own fire glow behind the flesh he was clothed in – enough to reveal the band of gold and red that encircled his finger. Maglor inhaled sharply. “You see before you Narya, the Ring of Fire, forged in Eregion by your nephew Celebrimbor. I do not reveal it to you lightly, for the dark powers are gathering again, and they would take it from me if they could.”

“It is...beautiful.” Maglor gazed at the ring. “And powerful. Yes, I feel that, now that I see it.” He tilted his head a little. For a moment he looked like the curious boy he had once been, considering some beautiful trinket to emerge from the fires of his father's forge. “It was not, I think, made as a weapon?”

“No. But it will defend itself and its bearer, at need.”

Maglor's face hardened again. “It matters not. You are right.” He nodded at Thorin's tomb. “That is not what I dared to hope it might be, when I heard the rumours. I knew as soon as I drew near the mountain.” 

“Then why did you stay?”

The smile was brief and crooked. “I think I hoped to meet with one of my own kind. It happens rarely, these days. And I sensed you. I wanted to see what you are now.”

“Hmm.” Gandalf cast his eyes about for the pipe he had dropped when he fell. “I have been found wanting, it seems – ah.”

“Let me.” Maglor bent and picked up the pipe, wiping it carefully on his cloak before handing it back. As he did so, his fingers brushed against the warm gold band of Narya, and the red stone flared at his touch. “I would not say so,” he said softly. “It has chosen you, has it not?”

“It was a gift.”

“I wonder.” He stepped back, his gaze respectful now, if still a little wary. 

Gandalf slipped the pipe into his pocket and hid Narya from view. The smell of night drifted into the tomb. “What will you do?”

An elegant shrug of the shoulders, a quirk of the mouth, a darkening of the eyes. “You know my history. I cannot go back.”

Gandalf bowed his head, sorrow aching inside him for this lost child of the Firstborn. “Will you not come back to the camp for the night? Eat and drink with us. Join the company. Nobody need know who you are.”

Maglor's features took on a yearning, far away look. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes, as though tasting the the sounds of laughter and fiddle music from the camp outside, feeling the joy and relief and sorrow of those gathered there – and then his eyes flew open again, wide with shock. “Olórin...”

“You feel it too.” 

“What is it?”

“I do not know yet. Power, and not from Narya or the Arkenstone.”

“Something which wishes to remain hidden...” Maglor closed his eyes again and allowed his body to relax into a hunter's pose, letting his other senses gather information without the distraction of sight. Gandalf marvelled at the beauty of him. He longed to fold him close, stroke the marble brow and soothe the Ages of sorrow, but he knew that Maglor's road was longer and harder even than his own. 

At length the Noldo opened his eyes, a thin line of concern between them. “It is like grasping at a shadow. It dances on the edge of the mind, then laughs and slips away before you perceive its form.”

“Just so,” Gandalf nodded.

Maglor flexed his scarred hand. “Who knows you are here?” he said abruptly.

Gandalf knew that he did not mean Thorin's tomb. “Círdan the Shipwright. Your cousin, Galadriel.” Neither of them, he knew, bore any great love for Fëanor and his sons – although Artanis and Makalaurë had been friends once, long ago in the West. He watched carefully for a reaction to the third name. “Elrond.”

Love, joy and sorrow flew undisguised across Maglor's face.

“Would you see him again?” Gandalf continued softly. “He loved you, and misses you greatly.”

“No.” Maglor shook his head. “No, it is better that he believes me dead. Knowing the things that I have done...” Again he flexed his hand , staring at the facets of the jewel, seared into the melted skin forever. “No,” he said again, almost to himself.

“He has a ward of his own now – a boy of ten, one of the Secondborn.”

Maglor's face softened again. Was that pride in the grey eyes? “And how has this come about?”

“It is a long story, and would be better shared over a cup of hot wine than down here in this gloomy cave.”

The low chuckle was almost the musical sound he remembered from those early, joyous days beyond the Great Sea. “You are persistent, old one. In that you have not changed.” He sighed and cast one more glance at the Arkenstone. His eyes narrowed as he looked, and the old steel glinted suddenly in their grey depths.

“It is nothing, Maglor,” Gandalf said sharply. “A rare and lovely stone, formed by the earth and cut by the Dwarves. No more.”

“And yet, the light inside it...and it has power, you said so yourself...”

“Think you the Dwarves could have made even a scratch in one of the Silmarils?”

“Oh, I know it is not one of my father's stones.” He took half a step nearer. “But nor do I believe it is a natural phenomenon. Fear not,” he added as Gandalf lifted his staff. “I will not try to touch it. I know you would not let me – but you are not telling all.”

“There is nothing more to tell, though we may speculate until it pleases Eru himself to come down and share the mysteries of this world with us all.” Gandalf allowed a bite of impatience to creep into his voice, the same tone he had used over the years to great effect on recalcitrant Hobbits, Dwarves, Men and occasionally Elves. “Come – if you are indeed coming. It is late, and my old bones are in need of a fire to warm them.”

For another long moment Maglor seemed to hesitate – and then a smile broke across his face, a true smile with no twist of bitterness or mistrust. Its warmth astonished Gandalf, and unbidden he felt again the rush of loving admiration he had felt watching the Eldar in their earliest years, before darkness robbed the world of so many of its bright stars. “Very well.” He reached out to clasp Gandalf's hand again. “Forgive my anger. It was not truly meant for you. You were ever a friend to my people.”

“I understand.” Gandalf met the outstretched hand with his own, and hid his surprise as Maglor closed the gap between them to stand brow-to-brow. “You have been alone for too long, Makalaurë.”

Maglor tensed against him, but this time did not protest the use of his mother-name. “Not this night.”

“No.” Gently, still half-expecting to be refused, Gandalf drew the dark head downwards to rest on his shoulder. “No, child, not this night.”

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