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Here follows another story about Celebrimbor.
Some notes. This story is set much later in the First Age, therefore the names and place-names are no longer in their Quenya forms, as Sindarin has already taken over in the everyday use. It is compliant with "The Silence", but there are some deviations from "The Silmarillion" proper, less so from other versions of the story that may be found in the HoME. I have also taken the liberty to give Celebrimbor a best friend, from the times in Nargothrond, although in this story Calanwë appears only briefly. In general, I do not believe that any alterations I have made have a significant influence on the storyline and character development as reflected in the published text. Calanwë is my character, all other named charecters belong to the Professor. For me, this has been merely a creative excercise, from which I gain no profit. Maybe also a kind of self-therapy during this crazy time. :)
* * *
Year 541 of the First Age
I was long silent after the messenger had ceased speaking. I walked to the window and stood there looking out at the vast expanse of dunes and the Sea beyond them, the waters of the bay dark and grey, white-crested waves washing against the shore. There was no peace in this sight, no reassurance. The love I felt for Endor did not extend itself to the Sea. Still, I stood there watching it until I was certain that my voice will not betray the turmoil of my mind.
“Are you certain they are there?” I asked, turning back at last.
“No, lord Celebrimbor, I am not, not fully. I did not see them, for I was not in the fortress itself. What I have just told you are rumours. But rumours that I and many others believe to be true. I thought you should know this.”
“Yes. I am grateful.” I attempted a weak smile.
We spoke of some other matters then, but the messenger saw that I was distracted and soon took his leave.
I remained at the window of the spacious room and watched yet for a while the wind tearing at the wave-tops in the bay. There had been a storm and a heavy rainfall yesterday; shreds of grey clouds were still racing across the sky, and the waters were unsettled. As unsettled as my mind, I thought bitterly to myself, turned abruptly and left, slamming shut the door. I hastened to a place that always brought me peace – the smithy.
Calanwë was there; so deep in work that he did not notice me entering. Only when I had come closer and stood beside him for some time looking over his shoulder, did he raise his head. On the workbench in front of him there was a silver plate, engraved with a seaside landscape, waves crushing against cliffs, seabirds circling in the air.
“This is wonderful,” I quietly said, amazed, as always, by my friend’s skill.
“I thought you do not like the Sea.” He smiled.
“That would not thwart my judgement of an outstanding work.”
I did my best to return the smile, but there was no deceiving Calanwë. His smile faded, and he looked at me long and closely. When I said nothing, he nodded to himself and set aside the plate and the graver.
“Shall we go for a ride?” he asked.
“Yes!” I replied, relieved that I will not have to say anything at least for a while yet.
We turned away from the Sea as soon as we passed the city gates and followed the northeast road. The horses, bored of several days’ idleness, were restless and willing to run, and when we had reached the wide grassy plain beyond the woodland, I looked at Calanwë with challenge.
“Let us race!”
He smiled, nodded and said a few quiet words to his horse, and soon we were flying over the grass, the hooves of our steeds hardly touching the ground. It did not take long ere Calanwë was far ahead of me; my horse’s speed was not a match for that of his stallion, descendant of the line of the West.
We ended our race by the river. The clouds had meanwhile broken, and sunlight fell in patches amidst their shadows upon the grass and swiftly flowing waters of river Nenning.
“Blame yourself, brother,” said Calanwë, dismounting. “It was you who spoke the challenge!”
“I knew you would win.” I shrugged my shoulders. “From the beginning.”
“I wonder?” He laughed. “This is something new then. You challenged me to a race you knew you would lose? Whence this sudden change in you? Or is it something else?” He looked at me again enquiringly, but I was silent.
After that we set loose our horses to graze on the riverbank and went to swim. It was still early in the year, the water cold and the current after the recent rains – swift, and I, having my mind distracted by gloomy thoughts, turned too far towards the middle of the stream where the force of the river was the most fierce. Suddenly I felt my strength overwhelmed by the current that carried me swiftly towards the rapids. At first, I was little concerned, for I knew that just before them there was calmer water where I might swim ashore with small effort even in this current. But then something slammed into my shoulder with a great force, and as I saw a large tree branch floating past, I felt that my left arm was rendered numb and useless by the blow. I attempted still to turn towards the shore but realized in dismay that all I could do was to remain afloat, and even that with great struggle. The rapids drew closer. Thoughts rushed wildly through my mind, that I should call for help, but also that it was a madness to draw Calanwë too in danger, but ere I had cried out or, indeed, decided whether I should do that at all, he was already there, holding me firmly above the water and steering towards the coast. He was a much better swimmer than I, yet it took all his strength to battle the current and to pull me to the shallows, and a good while afterwards ere he regained his breath.
“Your shoulder? Is it broken?” he then asked, and his usually so calm voice was tense.
I turned my head to look and flinched at the sight of the large purple bruise that covered my shoulder and arm, down to the elbow. I moved it cautiously and sighed in relief.
“No, it is not. Merely a bruise.” Slowly, feeling was returning to my fingers too.
He said no more. Only when we sat on the riverbank in dry clothes, the sunlight warm upon our faces, did he turn towards me and spoke.
“Now perhaps your mind is sufficiently cleared by the cold water, so that you can explain what madness drove you into that current? You nearly found death there!” His voice quivered with suppressed anger, his grey eyes glinted.
“Forgive me, brother. I regret.” I bowed my head.
“I do not need your regret, Celebrimbor! I need your answer! What has clouded your reason beyond any sound judgement?”
I raised my eyes and saw that his fury was merely a cloak for care and affection he had for me. Brother of my heart; if there was someone I could trust, it was Calanwë. And I decided to tell him.
“Messenger from the north arrived today,” I said. “From… Himring.”
Calanwë looked at me with question; anger faded in his gaze and concern dawned instead.
“From your uncles? What do they want?”
“No.” I shook my head. “Not from them. My former apprentice, he came on his own behalf bringing news he thought I should know. He said… he said there are children in the fortress.”
“Why should not there be children?” Calanwë frowned, uncomprehending. “This may be a perilous time, but some still choose to wed and to have family. There are children in Eglarest too.”
“No, you do not understand.” I sighed. “There are two boys of the same age who were not there before. Calanwë, I think…” I fell silent for a while, bracing myself for what I was about to say and feeling unrestrained anger stirring in my heart again. “I think, these are Elwing’s sons. Maedhros and Maglor have them hostage.” My hands were clenched in fists, and I had to keep myself from shaking.
Calanwë laid his hand upon my shoulder.
“Calm down, brother,” he said, and his steady voice seemed to me a life-saving raft in a raging sea. “Calm down. And then tell me everything you know.”
I nodded, drew a deep breath to steady my voice and told him everything, even as the messenger had told me. Calanwë listened in silence with a thoughtful expression on his face.
“So… you do not rightly know whether these boys in Himring indeed are the twin sons of Elwing and Ëarendil?” he asked when I had fallen silent.
“I do not. And yet… That is more than likely. From what the messenger told…”
“But you said he did not see the children with his own eyes.”
“No, but the others to whom he spoke had seen them. And all they said confirms my suspicion!” I drew my hand over my face, then looked at him again. “Ai, Calanwë, what am I to do? I know that you give counsel unwillingly, but I am at a loss! Should I tell this to Círdan? I truly do not know!”
The disquiet on my face must have been clearly displayed, for he smiled, faintly, yet reassuringly.
“This is not some advice on craft you ask. In this I will not withhold my counsel from you. No, I do not think you should tell anyone yet, at least until you are certain that everything your messenger said is indeed true. I think…” I looked at him with question, and he spoke on. “I think you should travel to Himring. See for yourself. Speak with your uncles.”
Startled, I stared at him.
“I do not know, brother! I am not sure if… if I can go there and calmly speak with them. I am not at all sure. After all they have done, even… even without this!”
He looked at me long and thoughtfully, then shook his head. “Three years ago, I would not have said this,” he said. “But now, I think, you are ready to speak with them. I am not certain how calmly. But,” he added with a wry smile, “perhaps without drawing sword first.”
It took more than twenty days to reach my destination, not only because the road was long and perilous, but because I tarried on the way, dreading the day when I shall meet my kinsmen. I had not spoken with them after the assault on Doriath, and when three years ago I had learned of Sirion, I had fallen in rage and sworn never again to have any dealings with them. That oath I had now broken.
It was already high summer when I reached Himring at last and rode into the courtyard of the stronghold. It was a fortified place, yet not utterly devoid of beauty; the lines of the buildings were clean, their shape blended smoothly into the background of gently rolling hillslopes, the stonework was adorned with an ornament of flowing lines. But I did not allow my eyes to dwell upon the proofs of gift and skill of those who had built this fortress. I braced myself for the meeting. During my journey I had firmly decided what I should do. If Elwing’s sons were indeed in Himring, I will take them to Eglarest. I will make my uncles see reason!
The Noldor who met me in the yard were courteous, yet they eyed me somewhat cautiously. I knew none of them by name, yet they apparently knew who I was, for one of them, after speaking words of greeting, said to me, “If you would wait but a brief while, lord Celebrimbor; I will let your uncles know you are here.”
I thanked him, and he hastened inside; another one came to take care of my horse, and then I was alone in the yard. I sat down on a stone bench beside the well, unable to escape the uneasy feeling that I was being watched by wary eyes.
I was not alone for long. The great wooden door opened, and Maglor stepped down the short flight of stairs. I rose; he approached me but halted and remained standing a few steps away. We eyed each other in silence for a while, and I thought I saw a faint shadow of fear in his gaze. But his voice was steady when he at last spoke.
“Celebrimbor! It is a surprise to see you here.”
“Indeed, so it may seem.” I heard my heart pounding wildly and my own voice shrill and harsh in my ears. “I came to…”
“Ada Maglor, Ada Maglor…!” I was suddenly interrupted by a child’s voice, high and clear, and then a dark-haired boy rushed through the gates, ran to my uncle and threw his arms around him, looking up with shining, excited eyes.
“I was good at archery today! I shot all the marks with the first try! It was even as you said – it went so much better when I did not think of competing with Elros anymore!”
“I am glad that it went well, Elrond,” he said, lifting the boy up in his arms. “And I am also glad you remembered my advice and it was useful. But can you recall something else we have spoken about? Something you should not do?”
The boy frowned, thinking, then realization dawned on his face, and he nodded with a sigh.
“I should not call you Ada,” he replied quietly. “I know, uncle Maglor. But… My true father… He is not here. He has never been.” The boy’s grey eyes shone treacherously bright.
“Little one, your father is not here because he cannot be, not because he does not want to,” Maglor softly said. “I am certain he regrets every single day he cannot spend with you and see you and your brother grow up. But he too would be very proud of you today, be assured of that.”
Elrond brushed his hand over his eyes.
“Are you sure?” he asked hesitantly.
“As much as I have ever been of anything in my life,” Maglor replied and smiled reassuringly.
The child returned the smile, then looked at me curiously. But something in my face apparently frightened him, for his smile faded, and he turned away and hid his face on Maglor’s shoulder.
“Who is he, uncle Maglor?” he whispered, apparently thinking his voice quiet, yet it was not quiet enough to escape my ears. “And why is he so very angry?”
“He is our kinsman, Elrond, in truth, he is your cousin from afar,” Maglor quietly replied. “His name is Celebrimbor. And he is not at all angry. He is merely… merely tired from the road. He has travelled very far.”
The gaze he cast at me as he said these words was desperately pleading. And I decided to play along, unwilling to scare the boy. Besides, what I now felt, was more like utter confusion than anger.
“Uncle Maglor is right, cousin Elrond,” I said aloud and did my best to dispel the last remnants of wrath from my face and voice. At the sound of his name, the boy turned towards me and eyed me solemnly; he had a very thoughtful gaze for a child. “I am not angry. I am indeed very tired; I have travelled for twenty-seven days from Eglarest; that is near the Sea.”
Slowly a shy smile dawned on Elrond’s face.
“I know where Eglarest is,” he replied. “Uncle Maedhros taught us to read maps last winter. I know where every place in Endor is now! Maps are so exciting! And books too! You can read a book and follow the adventures there on a map!”
“Maps and books are boring!” Another voice chimed in suddenly. “It is much better to go and have adventures than to read about them! I will have very many adventures when I grow up!”
I turned, and there was another boy, very alike to Elrond, if slightly taller. He seemed to be bolder too. He tore free from Maedhros who held his hand and came towards me without any hesitation. Halting a few steps from me, he looked up.
“I am Elros,” he said, then tilted his head curiously. “Are you indeed our cousin? Why are you called Celebrimbor? And did you travel for twenty-seven days in truth?”
Apparently, he had heard much of our conversation, and I laughed at the torrent of questions.
“I am glad to meet you and your brother, Elros,” I replied. “I am indeed your cousin, even though several times removed. I am a jeweller - that is perhaps the reason why my mother gave me the name I bear; she may have had some foresight. And I travelled for twenty-seven days in truth.”
“Did you have many adventures on your way?”
“Not too many.” I smiled. “I avoided a few bands of Orcs, met some of the Onodrim in the forest of Brethil, there was flood in two rivers I had to cross, and a couple of wolves attacked me in the mountains.”
“Oh, but that is many!” The boy’s eyes widened. “And why did you come here, cousin Celebrimbor?”
What was I to answer to that? I heard Maglor’s sharp intake of breath, I saw sudden tension in the posture of Maedhros. I knew not what to say. But Elrond saved me. He was now on the ground, standing beside his brother and looking up at me with question.
“Did you perhaps come to visit us, cousin?” he asked hopefully, and I nodded, grateful for the escape his question offered.
“Yes,” I replied. “See, you guessed that at once. I came to see whether you both are well and safe.”
“That is nice!” His eyes lit up, and he smiled broadly; his brother mirrored his smile. “You are very kind; none other has ever come so far to visit us!”
“Will you stay for some time, cousin?” Elros chimed in again hopefully, but Maedhros who had stood silent until now interrupted their further inquiries.
“Boys, you have asked enough questions,” he said. “Celebrimbor is weary from the road; allow him to rest. And did we not agree that you will read tonight, after the archery?”
“Yes, uncle Maedhros!” They replied in one voice, then giggled and turned towards me. “Rest well, cousin, we will see you later!”
Hand-in-hand, they ran inside. Maedhros followed them, but ere leaving he looked at me and bowed his head in silent gratitude. Maglor remained in the yard with me.
“Thank you,” he quietly said. I shrugged my shoulders and sighed.
“I do not wish to frighten them.”
He looked at me closely.
“Would you accept our hospitality, brother-son?” he asked. “You are indeed weary.”
I stood awhile uncertain, considering. I had not thought that I would remain under the same roof with them even for a single heartbeat. Yet now… Now I had even more questions than before, questions that required longer answers. And Maglor was right; I was tired. So I nodded in consent and followed him to a guest room, simply furnished, yet spacious, with windows opening towards the hill-plains.
“I will ask that hot water is brought you here,” my uncle said. “Meal too, if you would rather eat in your room tonight.”
“Yes, thank you. I would like that better,” I replied.
He nodded and turned to leave, but then my anger welled up again, and I stopped him at the door. Some answers I needed now.
“Why did you do that? Why did you attack Sirion? Is that damned Oath of yours so powerful that you cannot resist it, fight it? Is it worth the blood that has been spilt for the sake of it? The blood of our people, Maglor! Of our own people!”
He flinched, and a shadow of grief passed his face that had now turned very pale.
“We tried,” he quietly replied. “Believe me, Celebrimbor, we tried to fight it. But these bonds, they are strong, and my brother, he… It drives him far more than me. And where he goes, I will go. I will never ever betray him again.”
I released his arm, took a step back and drew my hand over my face.
“Fine, I can at least try to understand that – the bonds of the Oath, the Silmaril. But why kidnap children, Maglor? How evil is that?”
He recoiled from me as if I had stricken him, and horror dawned on his face.
“Kidnap Elwing’s sons?” he whispered. “Is that what people tell, what they believe? Is that what you thought?”
Bewildered, I stared at him, and when I found my voice at last, it was strangled.
A faint shadow of anger glinted in Maglor’s eyes.
“We found them, Celebrimbor! In a seaside cavern north of the city, just ere the incoming tide. They were hiding there, alone, cold and frightened! We found them by mere chance! In less than an hour they would have drowned!”
I looked at him in a stunned silence. What he had said seemed too much like truth. Elrond and Elros did not look like frightened captives. They looked like children that are well taken care of. Children that are loved. Yet I had one more question.
“Why did you not return them to their people when you had found them?”
He looked at me long, and his gaze was heavy.
“There… there was hardly anyone to whom we could return them in Sirion,” he said at length in a hollow voice, and I trembled at the meaning his words carried. “And later… When we saw Círdan’s ships entering the harbour… We thought of that. Maedhros would have done just that, but I convinced him otherwise. I guess I still valued my worthless life too much to risk meeting the Falathrim.” With these words, he left the room, and I remained staring at the door that had quietly closed behind him.
Weary as I was, I could find no rest, long lying awake, watching the daylight slowly fading in the windows, but when I fell asleep at last one of my nightmares returned, the one I had had often after coming to Endor, of white ships burning in starless night, red glare reflected on the dark water. But tonight the dream changed, and instead of the coast of Losgar I saw Havens of Sirion, and this time not only ships were burning, but houses too; smoke rose towards the sky obscuring the sunlight, and there was clash of weapons in the air and screams of the dying. I awoke with a strangled cry of terror and sat upright in the bed; my heart was racing. I rose, went to the washstand and splashed my face with cold water, then stood awhile at the window looking out into the night. The sky was clear; judging from the stars it was barely past midnight. Realizing that I will not fall asleep now, I dressed and left the room.
I went along the hallways, dimly lit by the blue crystals of the lamps. There were guards here and there; this was a fortress after all; but they merely bowed their heads in silent greeting and let me pass without a word. None of them seemed surprised at the sight of one wandering around at night, perhaps sleepless wandering was common here; I could well believe that.
After some time of aimless strolling there was a door before me; I pressed the handle, it opened soundlessly, and I found myself standing upon the wall that ran around the stronghold. It was not the highest level, but still high above the ground, and there was a parapet along it, its edge worked by the skill of my people into a lace of stone. I went slowly along the wall, passing my hand over the intricate forms. The wall bent to the left sharply; I turned around the corner, and my breath caught at the sight that opened before my eyes.
In the distance the land was gently rising up in low hills, overgrown with long grass. A full moon was slowly climbing above the eastern mountains, and when a swift breeze passed over the hill plain, the tassels of the grasses shimmered silver in the moonlight. It seemed as if a thin, nearly transparent veil was being drawn over the land. Summer stars were bright above my head, and I stood there enchanted, lost in the beauty of the gentle light and shadows.
“A fair sight, is it not?” A quiet voice suddenly spoke.
Startled I turned and saw my eldest uncle standing a few steps further by the parapet. In the moonlight his shoulder-long hair gleamed like burnished copper, but his face seemed to me pale and sorrowful.
“Very fair indeed,” I replied and went closer, and then we stood side by side in an awkward silence for a good while looking over the plain, watching the moonlight play in the tassels of grass.
At length Maedhros turned towards me.
“You have every right to be angry, Celebrimbor,” he said quietly. “You have every right to hate us.”
My gaze met his, and I saw the shadow of anguish that lay deep in his eyes. And I realized that there was nothing left of my fury, not a tiny sliver of it.
“I do not hate you,” I whispered. “And I am not angry. Not anymore. I… I grieve.”
“For those who fell in Sirion?”
“For those who fell. For those who lived. For you.”
He shook his head.
“Do not grieve for us, brother-son. We are not worthy of your grief.”
“That is for me to decide!”
“Stubborn, as always.” At the glint of my eyes, my uncle smiled his slow, sad smile. “I will not take from you the right to decide for yourself, Celebrimbor. I merely think that you are… too kind.”
“I am not kind!” I replied fiercely. “Not at all! When I learned of Sirion, I was ready to strangle you both with my own two hands! I raged for weeks and had to be restrained from coming here!”
My uncle stood silent, then spoke again.
“Once, long ago, you promised me that your deeds will be guided merely by duty and honour. I cannot find enough words to say how proud I am of you for keeping that promise. Not that my pride should mean anything to you, now,” he added quietly.
“But it does!” My voice broke, and I felt tears stinging my eyes. “It means much to me!”
Maedhros looked at me long, then hesitantly, uncertainly raised his hand and brushed away my tears, as he had done so often before, in many ways being more of a father to me than my own sire. And I, even as then, I laid my head on his shoulder and wept as if my heart would break, and he set his arms about me and held me, as my tears drenched his garment.
For what I wept? I cannot tell. Likely for everything, for our good intentions gone astray, for our hopes turned into despair, for the land I love scorched in the flames of endless war, for the clear waters of streams defiled by enemies, for the blood spilt, for the trust betrayed. A long while later I raised my eyes and drew my hand over my face.
“You should not be the one to comfort me,” I said, ashamed.
“Why not?” A shadow of a smile passed his lips. “Even though… It is a wonder to me. I did not know… I did not know that I had any comfort to give. I thought my heart empty and cold, all care and love therein consumed by hate and anger.”
“No!” I shook my head fiercely. “No, it is not so; it is there still! And you have much to give, so much to give to those boys!”
“So you will not take them south?” he asked, looking at me closely. He had understood the purpose of my arrival at once.
“I will not.” I shook my head. “Here, they have the care they need. They have teaching, guidance and love.”
“Thank you.” He smiled faintly. “I hope you are not mistaken.”
“I am not mistaken,” I replied. “I have but one request to you. Promise that you will send them away if… if you will feel the Oath awakening again. Promise that you will keep them away from this.”
He looked at me gravely, then nodded.
“I promise that.”
And I knew that he would keep his word.
The Sun was long up when I rose next morning. After returning to my room I had nearly at once fallen asleep, and I had slept long and peacefully, without any dreams to trouble me. It was a beautiful day with clear sky, warm air and gentle breeze playing in the grass, and standing by the window and looking outside I thought that I shall make a good speed today on my way home. Home… I felt a stab of sadness. Was Eglarest my home? Yes, there were my people, and there was Calanwë, one as close as a brother to me. But there was also the Sea, the endless voice of memory and regret.
“Will I blame the Sea now?” I whispered. “The dreams, the memories, these follow me everywhere. The Sea has nothing to do with them.”
I sighed. Maybe I did not have home at all anymore. Maybe Valinor had been the only one, and that was now lost forever… But I had never loved Valinor as keenly and fiercely as I loved Middle-earth. Perhaps all of Endor was my home? This was a more cheerful thought.
Outside by the door on the floor I found a covered tray with breakfast; everyone else had most likely eaten already long ago. I carried the tray inside and uncovered it. Good, simple food there was: freshly baked bread, and butter, and soft cheese, a few summer apples. And a small jar with wild strawberry jam, a dainty I had once favoured. This morning someone had remembered that. Half-annoyed, half-moved, I shook my head.
After breakfast I left the room and went in search of my kinsmen. Strangely, I had never been to Himring before, despite the closeness with my eldest uncle. He had been the one to visit his brothers, and my own travels had always been to the east, to the Blue Mountains, at least while I still dwelt in Nargothrond. While… No, I firmly cut myself short. I will not think of Nargothrond.
I went along the hallways without any clear sense where I was going. Yesterday I had followed Maglor to my room in confusion of mind, oblivious of the surroundings, and my nightly wanderings had been altogether aimless, so I had paid little heed to anything around me. But now I noticed many things.
Firstly, Himring was very large, though in these times sparsely populated. It must have been very different before the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, but now maybe entire wings of the great building were empty and shut; some hallways led to a dead-end, to a closed door. I met but few guards on my way, and, as before, they paid little heed to me and merely greeted me in silence, as I passed by.
I also noted that the fortress was beautiful, beautiful in a solemn, sad way. The stonework was fair, the walls were adorned with tapestries, and their scenes were woven with great skill, but the colours were not bright; they were muted, subdued, and the absence of vibrant blues, greens, yellows and reds tended to invoke rather thoughtful reflection than joy. Still, I decided that I rather liked them. There were sculptures too, set in the niches here and there, and their mood was different from the tapestries, much more cheerful. It seemed to me that I recognized the hand that had carved the stone. I looked closer, and then I was certain. It was the same hand that had once adorned the light-flooded halls of Nargothrond with figures of beasts and birds so lifelike that merely the white stone distinguished them from their living kin in the woods and fields. King Finrod had travelled much, to Himring he had come often, and it was even as if with the skill of his hands he had attempted to dispel the sadness that reigned within the walls of his cousin’s dwelling. I felt a sudden stab of grief when I thought of King Felagund. He had been like that, kind and compassionate, yet strong-willed and valiant too, the one most worthy of the house of Finwë maybe, the one who was ready to give away everything to aid someone in distress and need, ready to give away his very life… And some had cruelly misused that; my own father… No, I shook my head fiercely, no, I had resolved I will not think of that!
I rounded a turn of the hallway and heard voices coming from a half-open door some twenty paces ahead. One was a child’s voice, and the child was clearly sulking.
“But, uncle Maedhros, I do not understand why…”
I recognized Elros.
“Your handwriting reflects not only your mastery of the quill but also the state of your mind, Elros,” my uncle interrupted him, his voice calm and patient, yet unyielding. “Besides, you promised to finish this yesterday.”
“I forgot.” The sulkiness was even more apparent.
“Well, it may happen, therefore I remind you now. But it cannot remain like this; you need to start over.”
“Enough, Elros.” His voice was still calm, but there was an undercurrent of steel now. “You will write it once more. If you start now, you will finish long before noontime.” There was a long sigh, but it did not seem to convince Maedhros. “I know you can do it. Moreover, I know you can do it very well.”
“May I stay?” Elrond’s voice now rang out hopefully.
“No, your presence will only distract your brother. Come, Maglor may need your help.”
Another heart-breaking sigh, then the sound of feet and of door opening and closing; the room apparently had two entrances. Driven by curiosity and hiding a smile, I approached the door and stepped over the threshold.
I had entered a library, a large room with many shelves, stacked with books, yet, unlike many libraries I had seen, this one had plenty of daylight, and the rays of the Sun were falling through the large windows in shafts of gold. My little kinsman sat by a writing desk, gloomily staring at a page in front of him, but when he saw me entering, his face brightened.
“Good morning, Elros,” I said. “Even though one might object and say that the morning is long gone. I see you have been up early and are busy with some important work.”
“No, I am not.” His smile faded, and he shook his head. “This is but a writing task I had to finish yesterday, but I forgot. I started early this morning, and tried to do it quickly, but uncle Maedhros said that it is not good and that I have to start from the beginning. Well, he was right. It is not good. Not at all.”
He sighed despondently and pushed towards me a sheet of paper, covered with tengwar. I came to the desk, looked closer and turned towards the boy in surprise.
“Do you read and write Quenya?”
“We read, write and speak both Sindarin and Quenya,” Elros proudly replied. “I like speaking the old language, it sounds so… solemn and wonderful. I do not so much like reading it; the book I once tried to read was boring, all stories of places – rivers, mountains, woodlands, cities with strange names, and no adventures at all! And the writing…” He sighed again and shuffled his feet under the table.
I looked again at his exercise. The first line of the poem Elros had copied was in truth well-written, the bows and stems of the tengwar neatly drawn, but then it grew much worse.
“The beginning is good,” I said. “Maybe you should but try more slowly.”
The boy frowned and shook his head.
“If I do it slowly, I will never ever finish it,” he replied stubbornly.
I thought for a while. This sounded familiar.
“Do you know, sometimes you finish work much faster if you do it slowly,” I then said.
His frown deepened, as he looked at me with clear disbelief.
“I discovered this a long time ago,” I went on. “I started to learn metalwork when I was still very young. And even though I liked it a lot I liked other things too, and sometimes I would have wanted to run and play with my friends instead of being confined to the heat of the forge. But so it was – there was time for play and there was time for learning, and in the latter I was expected to be in the smithy and to do the assigned work. I was taught the craft by my father, and he was a stern teacher.” I fell silent for a while. Elros was looking at me curiously now, apparently waiting for me to continue, and so I did, pushing back the sudden sting of pain and anger I felt in my heart when I mentioned my father. “I was learning to enamel, to create colourful pictures on a base of precious metal with a powder of coloured glass. This work delighted me, and I swiftly mastered the beginnings. One day my father gave me a task more complicated than before, even though nothing I had not done earlier. But this time there were more colours in the picture I had to make, and the forms were more intricate. My father said that as soon as I have finished it and shown it to him I may be free for the rest of the day, and I was glad of that, for the voices of my friends were ringing from outside.
I set to my task. I worked swiftly, and the enamelled picture was soon ready. But in haste to finish it I had blurred two of the colours together a little. My father cast but one glance at it and shook his head. “It is not good enough. Start over!” he said. Irritated, I did so, but this time the piece turned out even worse, and I had to begin anew again. I remade it eight times, but still it was not good enough. At length, my father lost his patience. “You will remain here and do it again, until your work will be worthy of your skill,” he said and left, but I remained at the workbench, feeling miserable.
Then my grandfather came. He looked at me as I sat there fighting tears, took the enamelled piece I was clutching in my hand and looked at it closely. Then he cleaned off the layer of enamel and handed it back to me. “Try again,” he said. “But do everything slowly this time. Very, very slowly.” And he sat beside me and watched me as I laid the layers of enamel, and whenever my impatience threatened to take hold of me again, he reminded me to take time.”
I fell silent, remembering. This had been the only time when my grandfather had in any way interfered with father’s teaching. It had also been one of the very few times when I had seen him this composed and patient.
“What happened in the end?” Elros asked.
“In the end my work turned out well. When my grandfather saw that there were no flaws this time, he smiled and quietly left. My father came back soon after. He was well pleased with what I had done and allowed me to go, but it was already late, and my friends had gone home. I had spent most of the day making and remaking my task, fighting against time. But when I took heed of what my grandfather said, I finished everything in less than two hours.”
Elros regarded me for a while in silence. Then, determined, he took a blank sheet of paper and set it on the desk in front of him. He seized the quill, as if it were a sword he was about to put to use against a dragon or some other evil beast. Then he looked at me again.
“Cousin Celebrimbor, will you, please, stay here and remind me not to hurry?” he asked quietly.
I smiled, nodded in consent and sat beside him and watched as the sheet was filled with lines of nearly flawless writing. I did not have to say anything; it seemed that my presence alone was enough of a reminder.
“I did that!” my little kinsman triumphantly said not too long time later. “Thank you! Now I understand and I will always do it like this!”
And somehow I was certain that he will indeed do as he had decided.
“Indeed, you did that, Elros!” I replied with a smile. “And it was not so hard, was it? You can write very well; why do you dislike it so?”
The boy frowned, thinking, then shrugged his shoulders.
“I do not understand why my writing should be fair,” he then replied. “When I shall grow up, I will be a warrior. Like uncle Maedhros, not some boring scholar!”
His words brought a smile to my face. Elros glared at me suspiciously.
“Did I say something funny?”
“Indeed, yes, you did,” I replied. “But you could not know that.”
“Know what?” His eyes narrowed; my little kinsman certainly had a temper.
“Before he became a warrior, uncle Maedhros was a scholar.”
The boy’s eyes widened in astonished surprise.
“This cannot be true!”
“Many things may be said about me, but not that I ever tell anything untrue.”
Realizing the insult he had given me, Elros blushed crimson.
“I… forgive me; I did not mean to say that…”
“I know you did not,” I replied reassuringly.
“It is… It is just hard to believe,” the boy said quietly. “What I want to say is… I never thought of him doing anything else than what he is doing now. But then, of course…” His expression grew thoughtful. “… uncle Maedhros is very wise. He teaches us many things, and he knows so much! When we have questions, he has answers, for most of them.” After a while of silence he turned to me again curiously. “What did he do as a scholar, cousin Celebrimbor? Did he read many books?”
“Mostly, he wrote them,” I replied.
His eyes widened again.
“Oh, that must be difficult! What did he write about?”
I fell silent in thought. Indeed, what did he write about, in his attempt to capture the elusive memory of people about times and dangers long past and best forgotten, even as he was met with incomprehension why the shadows of the starlit twilight should be remembered, when they could be cast into forgetfulness, dissolved in the glow of gold and silver Light?
“He wrote… well, perhaps it may be said that he wrote about adventures,” I slowly replied. “He travelled a lot and gathered stories of what had happened a very long time ago. Then he set them in writing, as people had told them. It was a strange thing to do, then.”
“Why?” Elros looked at me inquiringly, curiosity in his grey eyes. How to explain? But I tried.
“You see, it was a time of peace, and people were often loth to remember the terrors of the past. When it is daylight, you do not want to recall darkness and fear of the night.”
He nodded; I saw that he understood that well enough.
“Were there… terrible things? … In these stories?” he then asked, half-scared, half-excited.
“There were terrible things,” I nodded. “But there were fair things too.”
There had been wild and dangerous beasts. There had been the Dark Hunter who snatched away the unwary. But there had also been starlight, shimmering upon the waters of Cuiviénen, and twilit woods with fragrant night flowers. There had been wonder of those for whom everything is new. There had been innocence now lost forever. There was so much worthy of remembrance in these tales many of my people wished to forget. There was so much beauty there, and my uncle had seen and valued that.
As a child I had oft accompanied him in his travels and watched how he spoke with those who had crossed the Great Sea, and oft I had seen how his smile and his voice made cracks in the shield of their silence, how memories dawned in their eyes like the starlit skies of the Hither Lands, and how their lips were unlocked at last as they told of things they had perhaps never spoken of since coming to the Blessed Realm. And sometimes they wept, remembering some loss or evil, but sometimes they wept also recalling beauty they had seen there, beauty of a different kind, and oft, moved by the story, my uncle wept along with them.
The eldest son of Fëanor had known how to call forth these tales and how to listen to them. And, unlike many of the Eldar who saw memory as a safe place for songs and tales, he had seen the value of written records. When I had once asked him about his habit to write everything down, he had long been silent, as if he had not thought of that himself before. “Memory is well and good in the blessed Light of Valinórë,” he had then slowly replied, “and mayhap even enough. But shall we remain here forever?” Startled, I had looked at him. “Would you then wish to leave, uncle?” I had asked uneasily, seeing that his gaze was veiled with some deep thought. As if startled from dream, he had shaken his head. “Nay, there is enough of what holds me here, for now,” he had replied. “And yet… one day I wish to look upon the Hither Lands, where running waters mirror the stars and strange flowers blossom in shadowy glades.” And, as he had spoken, I had felt sudden longing stirring in my heart as well. “I wish to see them too. Take me with you when you go,” I had whispered. “I will, little one, if your desire holds,” he had replied with a smile, taken my hand, and we had turned towards Tirion.
“I would like to read a book like that,” Elros said quietly. “About adventures. About fair and terrible things.” He seemed to have perceived my mood.
I smiled, attempting to drive away the sadness that had flooded me. We had had our wish and come to the Hither Shore. But the streams had been running red, and the flowers in the starlit glades were trampled by the iron-shod feet of the enemies. So many dreams had withered, so many hopes were burned to ashes. But this child needed not know that. Not yet. Perhaps not ever.
“Yes, I too think that you would like those stories,” I replied. But I had not heard of anybody in Endor possessing a copy of any of his books. Who would have carried a volume of old tales along on a journey as desperate as we undertook? And his notes maybe still gathered dust in my grandfather’s house in Tirion. Or in Formenos. Or perhaps my grandmother had taken them, and maybe she even opened them from time to time, and maybe her sorrowful gaze passed over the lines her eldest son had once written in his swift and graceful hand…
My little cousin sat at the desk very still, thoughtfully looking at the poem he had copied. Then he raised his head and looked at me.
“Do you know, I just changed my mind about writing,” he then said firmly. “Before, I thought that only boring people like such things – you know, people who do not have to fight the Orcs and protect others all the time. Those who are not… who are not very brave. But uncle Maedhros certainly is not boring and he is very, very brave! I want to be like him when I grow up. If he could write beautifully, so can I!”
“I think it is a very wise decision, Elros,” I said, hiding a smile. “You should tell him that. And show your work. Besides, you could accompany me to him, otherwise I shall get lost in the hallways again.”
“Very well!” He returned my smile and jumped to his feet. “But, cousin Celebrimbor…” A note of unease crept into his voice. “You are not going back home just yet, are you?”
I did not reply at once. In truth, that was exactly what I had been about to do – to find my uncles and take my leave. The boys were in good hands, perhaps even… (and I wondered at myself at the thought) … yes, perhaps even in the best hands they could be in. My heart was at peace for them now. And yet my heart was also weary, and lonely, and sad. These children who filled the sombre walls of Himring with the sound of their running steps and their laughter… I suddenly wished for a while to be around someone who could still laugh like that. And, I admitted to myself, I wished to be around my uncles too. I loved them. Despite everything, I loved them. They were the last remains of the family I had once had.
“No, cousin Elros,” I turned towards him with a smile. “I am not going back home just yet. I came here to visit you and your brother, after all, and I have not yet seen very much of you.” And, saying this, I was not sorry about my little deception.
With a cry of excitement he embraced me. Then he seized my hand and, snatching the finished writing from the desk, dragged me out of the room and along the hallway.
“Let us go, cousin Celebrimbor! Elrond will be so glad! And our uncles too!”
Somehow, I believed him.
I followed my little kinsman along the labyrinthine hallways, certain that without his guidance I would have lost my way swiftly. On our way Elros opened several doors and peered inside, apparently looking for his brother and uncles. But the rooms we passed were all empty. Seemingly at a loss for a while, the boy halted, furrowing his brow in thought. But then we heard soft sounds of harp.
“The music room!” Elros exclaimed and pulled me further along.
We turned, ascended a flight of stairs, turned again and entered a spacious light-filled chamber with a balcony. There were all those whom we were looking for, Elrond sitting on a stool by the harp, practicing, Maglor beside him, Maedhros upon a couch by the window with a book in his hand.
“Cousin Celebrimbor is staying for some time!” Elros announced loudly, rushing inside, still holding fast my hand. Everyone turned towards him, his brother in disbelief, his uncles in expectant silence.
“Oh!” My little kinsman released my fingers. “I am sorry! I should have knocked on the door, and I should not have shouted, and maybe I should not have dragged cousin Celebrimbor along like this. But… I forgot that I should not do all that, and he asked me to lead him to you anyway!”
Still in silence, my uncles looked at one another. Then Maedhros spoke.
“We are glad of the news you bring, Elros,” he said. “Even though the message could have been delivered differently, as you yourself are aware. But what of your task for this morning?”
“I finished it!” Elros ran to him and handed the sheet of paper. “And I have decided that from today I like writing!”
“These are certainly good news as well,” my eldest uncle replied gravely as he looked over the boy’s writing and pointed at few places where the stems of the tengwar could have been straighter. “What made you change your mind?”
Elros thought for a while, then turned towards him with a solemn face.
“That is a secret, uncle,” he replied. “For now. But I can tell you how I finished it so swiftly!”
“Very well.” Maedhros nodded.
“Sometimes, when you do things slowly, you can finish them faster!” Elros declared. “Did you know that, Elrond?” His brother shook his head. “Well, now you do! You all know that now!” He added, looking around triumphantly. And then our eldest uncle laughed. And if there was still some doubt in my heart whether I should indeed stay, it was now swept away. I remained there for nearly two months. And during the time I spent in Himring I was reminded of some things I had forgotten, and I learned some things I had never known.
The good weather that had been there on my arrival did not hold, and on the next day, with rain pouring down in sheets and thunder rumbling over the hills, we were confined inside. Maedhros had been called away by a messenger who had just returned from the outpost this morning, but I sat in the library with Maglor and the twins. We were playing one of the board games, but after a time the boys grew bored.
“This weather is outstanding!” declared Elros with disdain. He loved big words, my little cousin.
“Outrageous, you probably wanted to say.” Laughed Maglor.
“Out…something… whatever! It is terrible because we cannot go outside and show cousin Celebrimbor the garden and the woods!” He sighed despondently, and his brother mirrored him.
“That is sad indeed, but maybe you can show him the fortress?” Maglor suggested.
The twins’ faces brightened.
“Yes, let us do that!” Elrond sprang to his feet. “We can play that we are exploring!”
“We will go and explore the Dwarf mines!” Elros’ eyes shone eagerly. “And as we do that, we can have all kinds of adventures! We can discover hidden vaults with treasure! And there may be Orcs to fight, and maybe even a dragon! Are you ready for adventures, cousin Celebrimbor?”
“I certainly am!” I laughed. “Are you coming on this quest too, uncle?”
“No.” Maglor shook his head. “Not this time, if I may be excused.”
He was already reaching for his harp. As much as he loved the boys, today he clearly preferred solitude and music to a noisy quest. And, I noted to myself with a hidden smile, most likely he had already had his fill of “exploration”.
But we went, and I, being pulled along by little hands, I had to admit to myself that the game and my cousins’ company brought me joy. We stalked the silent hallways in pretence of stealth. We pried open doors in search of Dwarven treasures. We even attacked an unsuspecting guard whom Elrond declared to be a dragon in disguise, and when, after a short feigned struggle he surrendered and solemnly promised “to depart from these lands and trouble the Free Folk no more” as the boys bade him, I saw laughter in the eyes of the Elf. A flicker of joy and light-heartedness of the years before the crushing defeat.
After a good while of exploring and treasure-hunting we found ourselves in a long corridor leading to one of the uninhabited wings of the stronghold.
“Let us go and look in there, cousin Celebrimbor!” Elros tugged me by the sleeve.
“Should we do that?” I asked uncertainly. “If nobody lives there…”
“If nobody lives there, we shall not disturb anyone,” Elros replied firmly. The logic of my little kinsman was infallible. “Besides, the door should be locked if it is a place where none should enter.” That certainly sounded sensible too.
The door at the end of the corridor was not locked, and we entered a gallery, wide and shadowed, walls covered with dark wooden panels. And then my breath caught in my chest. Upon these walls there were pictures. Paintings done with subtle skill, set in gilded frames. The first of the paintings showed a flame-haired woman standing beside a marble statue of a horse, clearly the work of her own hands, for she held a hammer and a chisel and wore an apron covered in marble dust.
“Who is she, cousin Celebrimbor?” asked Elros curiously.
“She…” But my voice was suddenly lost to myself.
“She must be one of our family; she has the same hair as uncle Maedhros,” the boy went on.
“She must be someone he loved very much. I… I was here once,” Elrond quietly admitted when we turned towards him. “The door was half-open, and I looked inside. Uncle Maedhros was here, he was standing right before this picture. He was very sad. He looked like he wanted to cry. He was very, very sad. I remained only for a short while; he did not notice me. I thought he did not want to see anyone.” He fell silent, then hesitantly asked, “Is it the picture of his mother, cousin Celebrimbor?”
I nodded wordlessly, certain that my voice will fail me.
“Your grandmother...” they whispered.
Little fingers took firm hold of my hands, and we went on slowly, past the images of happier times, days of untainted joy. All paintings showed Valinor. Maedhros himself was there, quill in hand, head bent over a parchment, long hair tied back in a loose knot. Celegorm, laughing, stretched in a meadow of wildflowers beside a huge wolfhound. Caranthir, face intent, book in hand, other volumes stacked on the table beside him. Maglor, playing harp in a garden, golden light falling about him. The twins on the seashore with windblown hair, excited joy on their young and eager faces. They had loved the Sea. And they had been only little older than me when the Light went out and our world was shattered to pieces.
I averted my eyes and nearly could not make myself look at the last painting. But when I did at last, my eyes met the intent gaze of Curufin, Fëanor’s fifth son. He sat at the workbench holding a large, skilfully cut jewel, and light reflected from its facets fell in radiant sparks on his face. It was not a face concealing dark thoughts and treacherous designs. It was a stern and proud face, but also an open and honest one, and his lips were curved in a smile.
“Who are these other people, cousin Celebrimbor?” Elros asked quietly. “The one with the shining stone looks a lot like you.”
Long silence fell, for I spoke only when I was certain that my voice will not fail me.
“My grandfather and grandmother had seven sons,” I said at length. “Of them, only Maedhros and Maglor now remain. All others are… dead. The one holding the jewel is my father.”
“Oh…” The hold of the tiny fingers on my hands tightened. “And… where is your Naneth?”
That whispered question was the last drop in the cup of misery, now spilling over, threatening to drown me. That question brought before my eyes the sights I had thought long forgotten, safely hidden away. The hallway of our house in Tirion, shrouded in shadows. My mother’s terrified face.
“Curufinwë, no! This is madness! Reconsider, please, I beg you!”
“Beloved, there is hope that way, over the Sea! We can prevail over Darkness! We can build our life anew there, away from thraldom, away from confinement!” My father’s eyes were feverish, pleading. “Come with us! You have to come with us!”
“That thraldom and confinement are the fruits of your imagination, nourished with deception and pride! The deception of that accursed Vala! The pride of Fëanáro and his sons!” Her voice was fierce now, grief fighting anger, none prevailing. “I refuse to take part in this any longer! I shall not go!”
“Very well, remain then!” Curufinwë’s eyes glinted, note of steel entered his voice. “Remain and do nothing, mourning forever the bliss of the past! We shall have the future!”
Her frightened eyes strayed from his face to mine and back.
“You cannot take away my child!”
“Tyelperinquar is of age, he will decide himself where his loyalties lie!”
She turned towards me then, golden-brown eyes glistening with tears. All colour drained from her face when she perceived my decision ere I had yet spoken it.
“Yonya, no!... Please, stay!... Please!”
“I cannot, Amil!” I replied in a trembling voice, my heart breaking in two. “I think father and grandfather right. The Noldor cannot leave this deed unpunished. Justice has to be done upon Moringotto! Do you not see? This is the right way! Please, come with us, Amil! This is the only way! Do you not see?”
I made a step towards her attempting to take her hands, but she eluded my touch.
“But I do see!” she whispered, wide-eyed, tears streaming down her face. “I see that the road you are to take is a road of evil, that it will end in darkness and blood! Turn from it, while it is not yet too late!”
A shadow passed over my father’s face.
“It is too late, whatever the road may be,” he quietly replied. “By Manwë and Varda, and Eru Ilúvatar himself have we sworn to pursue our vengeance, at the cost of Everlasting Darkness.”
Pure terror dawned in my mother’s eyes, and then she turned with a sob and fled from the house, the sound of her light footsteps on the stone stairway fading. I must admit that I hesitated then. I thought of going after her, of promising to stay, of asking her to forgive the anguish we had caused. But, as I wavered, I looked at my father, and the raw pain in his eyes stabbed my heart. There were no demands, no accusations. Only pain. I could not add more to that.
“I will not forsake you, Atar,” I whispered, and a small part of anguish faded from his gaze. A tear slid over his face, another, and yet another, and then he embraced me and held me fast, and we stood long in the silent hall, giving each other what little comfort we had to give.
“Cousin Celebrimbor...?” A tiny voice drew me away from the memories, two pairs of grey eyes were looking at me with concern.
“My Naneth… She remained on the other side of the Sea,” I whispered. “Like grandmother Nerdanel.”
I could not hold back my grief any longer. There was a fleeting thought that I might scare the boys but that was swiftly swept away by a new wave of anguish, and I sank to my knees on the tiled floor and hid my face in my hands, tears streaming from my eyes, chest heaving in violent sobs. But then there were two pairs of arms hugging me, small hands stroking my hair, little voices whispering quiet words of comfort. These children knew grief. And they knew consolation too.
At length my tears ran dry, and I raised my head, drew my hand over my face and looked into two pairs of grey eyes, far too solemn than the eyes of the children should ever be. Suddenly I felt ashamed. The little ones already carried a burden heavy enough, what right did I have to add more?
“I am sorry,” I quietly said. “I should not have…”
The hold of my cousins’ hands did not loosen.
“Do not be so impossibly ridiculous!” Elros firmly replied, and I faintly smiled at the phrase he had clearly picked up from someone of the elders. “You should not be sorry for crying; uncle Maglor said so. We cried a lot when we came here.”
“Our Nana and Ada, they are lost, you know,” Elrond quietly added. “And we were almost lost too, but uncle Maedhros and uncle Maglor saved us. Still we cried every day then. But we had each other, and we had them, and uncle Maedhros told us stories, and uncle Maglor sang us songs, and it got better. Now, we almost never cry.”
“Well, you cried last week when you fell from that tree, Elrond.” Elros cast a sidelong glance at him.
“That must have hurt,” I said with sympathy, but the brothers both giggled.
“No, it did not; I fell into a pile of last year’s leaves,” Elrond replied. “I cried before climbing, because I was sorry for the cat; she looked so frightened up there. That is why I climbed - to help her to get down. But she was on the very top; the branches are thin there. They broke, and I fell.”
I laughed, my grief slowly fading.
“And what of the cat?”
“She got down on her own,” Elros replied, sparks in his eyes. “And then she went away, lashing her tail, but before that she looked back at Elrond, like this,” he made a funny display of an arrogant cat-face over his shoulder, and the brothers collapsed with laughter. But then they looked at me seriously again.
“Maedhros and Maglor are your uncles too, cousin Celebrimbor,” said Elros. “You should go to them when you are sad, they can tell you stories and sing songs. You have them.”
“And you have us.” His brother added solemnly.
“You are right,” I gathered my little kinsmen in embrace. “I have you all. This is a consolation indeed, and I am most grateful to you! But shall we now go and look for another dragon hoard? There is yet some time to the midday meal, I think.”
“Yes!” They jumped to their feet. “Let us go!”
But ere we left the hallway, Elrond tugged at my sleeve, and his eyes were solemn as he spoke.
“Cousin Celebrimbor, you will go back to Eglarest after some time. Do you have someone there, someone you can speak to when you are sad?”
“Yes.” I nodded. “I have a friend there, a brother in all but name.”
“That is good!” A relieved smile dawned on Elrond’s face.
“Yes, but can we go now?” Elros was tugging at my other hand impatiently. “The dragon hoard will not find itself, you know!”
“Very well, lead the way, brave explorers!” I laughed and followed them, closing the door to the gallery.
“Tell us of your brother, Celebrimbor!”
“His name is Calanwë, and he is a smith, like I am…”
We went on to our treasure-hunt, but as we rounded the corner I looked back over my shoulder and saw Maglor watching us silently from a shadowed passage. And when a few days later I came to the gallery alone, I found the door locked.
Quenya forms of names: Curufinwë - Curufin, Fëanáro- Fëanor, Tyelperinquar- Celebrimbor, Moringotto - Morgoth
Yonya - my son (Quenya)
Amil - mother (Quenya)
Atar - father (Quenya)
Naneth - mother (Sindarin)
Nana - mum (Sindarin)
Ada - dad (Sindarin)
I had spent in Himring little more than a week when one morning I caught myself thinking how much I will miss this. How I will miss their voices. The sound of the running feet in the hallways. The laughter, pure and clear. The smiles on the faces of my uncles. I thought of all that and wondered how it was possible that in the world where despair and destruction were closing in threatening to swallow the very last remnants of hope, there still remained so much untainted joy. My course of thought was interrupted by a sound of shuffling feet outside of my room and a soft knock on the door.
“Enter, ye mighty dragon slayers!” I called.
There was laughter, and the door was thrust open. My cousins entered, and I saw that despite the mirth they were attempting to remain serious for something that was on their mind. So I waited. Elrond was the first to speak.
“Cousin Celebrimbor, it is our begetting day in three days’ time. There will be a feast, and we invite you to it!” His voice was solemn. “We hope you can attend.”
“Surely, he can attend!” Elros laughed. “Celebrimbor does not need to travel anywhere for that, for he is staying here anyway!”
Elrond cast a stormy glance at him.
“Elros, it is rude to speak instead of someone else!” he whispered fiercely to his brother. “Moreover, if he is in the same room!”
Elros blushed crimson and bowed his head.
“I… I am sorry,” he said in a fallen voice, all mirth suddenly swept away. “I forgot again. I do not ever want to be rude, but there are so many things one should or should not do! I always forget.”
“Forgiven,” I replied. “I know that it was not your intent. I am grateful for the invitation, and I will gladly attend your feast.”
“Thank you!” Elrond smiled, but his brother was still troubled and stood staring at the floor. I knelt beside him.
“I know you do not want to be rude, Elros,” I said. “Maybe, if you would think a little more before saying things, it would help? Thus you will have more time to remember what should and what should not be said.”
“Do you think so?” He raised his head.
“I think it is worth trying,” I replied and was glad to see smile return to the solemn face.
“I will try!” He promised. “Thank you, cousin Celebrimbor! You always give good advice!”
“Well, twice is hardly “always”.” I laughed. “But do try!”
Two pairs of grey eyes were now looking at me expectantly.
“Cousin Celebrimbor, what shall we do today?” asked Elrond. “Do you want to go to the woodland?”
“Gladly!” I replied. “Only I need to speak with your uncles first. Are they in the fortress?”
“Uncle Maedhros rode away earlier, but uncle Maglor is in the library.”
“Well, run outside then! I shall speak with him and then meet you in the yard.”
They ran off, and I went to the library where I found Maglor at the writing table with a quill in his hand.
“Good morning, brother-son!” He raised his head from the parchment and greeted me. I returned the greeting.
“The twins have invited me to their begetting day feast,” I then said. “Therefore, I would ask your leave to use the smithy for a short time, to make gifts.”
“Certainly.” He smiled. “What do you have in mind?”
“I do not know yet,” I replied. “Are they too young to have knives? How old are they at all?”
“No, I do not think they are too young,” Maglor quietly replied with a sigh. “Not in these times and in this place. And we do not rightly know their age. Seven, from what they told us three years ago. But if so… They grow differently than Elf children. Swifter.”
He put down the quill, rose and went to the window overlooking the yard. He stood awhile in silence, then turned towards me.
“We do not even know when their begetting day is,” he then said bitterly. “Three days from now, that was when we found them in that cave. So we thought… Children need merriment and festivities, even in times like these.”
I joined him by the window.
“It is anyhow a day worth celebrating,” I replied. “They would not be alive if you had not found them.”
Maglor bowed his head.
“They would be at home, safe and happy with their mother and father, if not for us,” he whispered.
“You cannot change it anymore.”
“No.” He agreed sadly. “No, we cannot.”
We stood there, watching how the dark-haired boys were chasing each other around the yard. A thought occurred to me suddenly, and I said it aloud.
“They bear little likeness to their parents.”
“So you see it too?” My uncle turned towards me sharply.
“Yes.” I nodded. “They look like little Noldor. I think, they resemble…”
“Turgon. They resemble their great-grandfather,” Maglor finished quietly instead of me. “And… his brother.”
“Indeed. That is true.”
We stood still, looking outside. Then the gate was thrust open, and Maedhros strode into the yard. The twins rushed towards him, prancing around, tugging at his clothing, speaking excitedly, and he listened to them attentively, smiling his calm, patient smile. I turned towards my uncle; there was a strange expression on his face as he watched his brother, and when he spoke again, his voice was remote.
“These children… They saved him. From madness, from shattering completely. I had seen my brother terribly wounded… weak… But I had never seen him broken. Not even after the horrors of Angband. But when we were betrayed and defeated in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears… When our people were slaughtered in heaps upon that field… When Fingon fell… He came dangerously close to that. He blamed himself for the disaster. But somehow… somehow, he balanced on that edge until Sirion. Still… The decisions he made, the things he did…” He fell silent for a while, then turned towards me. “See, after Angband… He forged himself into a steel sword. A weapon with a sole purpose to be set against the enemy. Every defeat, every disappointment only made the blade keener, sharper. But…”
“Metal that is overworked becomes brittle,” I softly said.
“Yes. Perhaps…” Maglor’s voice sank to a low whisper. “Perhaps it would have been better if we all had perished in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Much evil would have been averted. For what followed… It was a disaster far worse than our defeat. In that battle we lost the last remains of our faith. But in Doriath… and Sirion… there we lost everything else. Including whatever was left of our honour. Faith was burned away; anger and hate had settled instead.”
“Could you not… refuse to go?” I whispered. “Talk him out of it, convince him, restrain him?”
“Do you recall Fëanor at Losgar, Celebrimbor?” Maglor’s smile was bitter, and I shuddered, remembering. “Before the attack on Doriath… Maedhros was nearly the same. Words were useless. Besides… I had promised that I would follow my brother’s lead and never abandon him. Others felt the same allegiance. And there was anger in all of us. Doriathrim had refused us aid. Dior had kept the Silmaril despite our claim. Anger, mingled with despair there was at first, but when the blood of our kindred was once again spilt by our hands, only despair remained. Yet our despair was pitiless, and, armoured in it, we slew the innocent.”
He averted his eyes, and I saw that his slender fingers upon the windowsill were trembling. I felt pity, and my voice was hesitant, but I had to ask.
“Uncle Maglor, how… how did they die? My uncles? And… my father?”
Startled, he turned towards me and looked long into my eyes, then nodded.
“Yes, you have right to know. Celegorm fought with Dior, and they dealt each other many wounds beyond healing. Caranthir killed many ere he was run through with a spear. And your father…” he fell silent as if searching for his next words.
“Do not fear to tell me of his atrocities,” I said bitterly. “I realized long ago that there is no evil he would shun in his malice.”
Maglor looked at me in silence, and with pity, it seemed.
“Celebrimbor, your father… he was very much changed after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears,” he replied at length slowly. “He, too, blamed himself that his scheming had withdrawn the help we would mayhap otherwise have received from Doriath. Yet he spoke little of what was on his mind. Only as we made ready to march did he long look at Maedhros and said to me quietly: “I have seen this before. I am not the one most resembling our father here anymore.” And in Doriath… The battle was over when we found him, wounded with many arrows, far beyond any hope of healing. Yet he still lived. One of the shafts had pierced his throat, but, seeing us, he still attempted to speak, choking on his blood. “My son… was right to leave me...,” he said. “Tell him… I am proud of him. Tell him I love him.” These were his last words.”
Wide-eyed, I stared at my uncle. But that was not all Maglor had to say.
“You see, Celebrimbor, your father had not even drawn his sword,” he quietly added. “He went to Doriath to find death that he thought he deserved.”
In dismay I hid my face in my hands. Suddenly all my bitterness, all my anger was swept away in a whirlwind of grief and regret.
“I should have remained with him,” I whispered. “I… I rejected him so cruelly in Nargothrond. And even later… even when I learned of his death… I did not allow myself to mourn, to feel any pity! In anger and pride I turned away even from the memory of him! I should have remained!”
Maglor laid his hand on my shoulder.
“No, brother-son,” he said gently. “Reproach yourself not. Anger and pride there may have been, yet justice also. You were right to do as you did, and Curufin knew that. That you had kept your honour maybe was his only consolation ere he passed the Doors of Death. I am sorry to cause you pain, but you wished to know. And I also think that you should know. Your father was not wholly the heartless fiend he appeared to be, Celebrimbor. He was deeply miserable. His anguish does not justify the evil he did, but maybe it makes it… a little more understandable. If you could, in your heart, forgive Maedhros and me, you should forgive him the more.”
I raised my eyes towards him and merely nodded, too overwhelmed to speak. He brushed his fingers over my cheek.
“There are two things you should remember about your father, Celebrimbor,” he said. “You should remember that he was proud of you. And that he deeply loved you. Both these things he failed to show, but they are nonetheless true. Remember only that. All else is meaningless now.”
I nodded again in silence.
“Good.” Maglor smiled. “And do not grieve, brother-son. Curufin would not want you to grieve for him. He would want you to have whatever joy can still be found in this world. Do not grieve.”
And I obeyed him. I put a smile on my face and went outside to play with my little cousins. I hid my anguish well, or so I believe. But that evening I retreated early and long sat in a chair by the window looking outside. I did not see the gentle dusk falling upon the hills and deepening into darkness. I did not see the stars being slowly kindled in the dark blue velvet of the summer sky. I saw before me my father, drowning in his own blood, dying certain that his son despised and hated him. “Forgive me,” I whispered to the night, knowing that there was none to hear and to answer, and I laid my head on my hands upon the windowsill hoping in vain for the relief of tears that never came.
Next morning dawned bright, and the summer winds swept away my sorrow. Not all of it, but with what remained I knew I will have to live. There was no overwriting the past, no taking back cruel words said in anger, and if a corner of my heart should henceforth be shadowed with regret – I had to accept that.
For that day and the next I worked in the smithy of Himring crafting gifts for my cousins – daggers set about with a virtue of warding off danger. I used no gemstones thinking them unfit for young children, but I adorned the blades and the hilts with a design of flowing lines in the shape of flying birds. The knives now lay upon the workbench before me, but they seemed to me unfinished, lacking something, and I looked at them, uncertain where the fault lay.
Long I looked. But then my hand reached for the graver, and I marked each of the blades near the hilt with the many-rayed star, the mark my father and grandfather had used and I also, before my father and uncle had left Nargothrond in shame. Then I had cast it aside, for long years leaving my work unsigned. But now my heart was changed. I was ready to take it back. Whatever evil my family had committed, this star did not speak of their crimes. It bore a memory of gift beyond imagination, of hands more skilled than the hands of the Valar, of lightning-swift thought soaring amid the clouds with the eagles. It bore a memory of utmost precision, of delightful symmetry, of elaborate ornaments whose intricacy brought wonder and disbelief to the eyes who saw them. And it also bore a witness of all I had put into my own work – my deep love for this land, my desire to make it more fair, more wonderful. That was the true meaning of the star of Fëanor. I was ready to mark my work with it again.
The good weather held, and on the twins’ begetting day the Sun was shining bright in a clear sky, and a gentle breeze was driving scattered wisps of white clouds. It was a day as wonderful as any little boy could wish – with greetings and gifts, with joy and laughter. The sombre faces of the fortress guards were softened by smiles, as they beheld the untainted joy of two happy children, and I thought to myself, unfittingly perhaps, that through evil some good had still entered the world unlooked- and unhoped-for.
As a gift from our uncles Elrond and Elros had each received a pony, and after their wild joy had subsided a little, they asked leave to go for a ride in the woodland at once, and were granted that too, in my and Maglor’s company. My cousins had swiftly befriended their new four-legged companions, and I watched in amazement how good riders they already were, guiding their steeds with confidence along the forest path. They had insisted on wearing their new daggers too, so they hung at their belts, the silver inlays on the hilts flashing now and then as sunlight fell upon them through the branches, and the boys seemed to me then the very likeness of young Noldor, dark-haired, grey-eyed. Their great-grandfather and his brother may have looked the same riding in the woods of Oromë under the mingled light of Valinor.
Suddenly a quail rose from under the roadside bushes and fluttered across the path, frightening Elrond’s pony. It snorted and fidgeted, ready to bolt, and I, anxious for the boy’s safety, was about to hasten ahead and catch the scared animal. But Maglor restrained me.
“There is no danger,” he said with a slight shake of his head.
And indeed Elrond had complete mastery over his steed; after a few quite words and a pat on the neck from him the pony calmed and resumed its steady gait. In wonder I turned towards Maglor and saw that he was watching the boys with a look of pride in his eyes.
“You have taught them well,” I marked, knowing how skilled with horses my uncle was.
“We resolved to teach them all we would teach our own children.” Maglor smiled, somewhat sadly.
We rode on in silence that was now and then interrupted by the clear voices and laughter of the twins. The noontime of a summer day was fair around us; the birds sang in the woodland, the forest glades we passed were bright with flowers sending forth sweet fragrance, the Sun was warm upon our faces. But then it seemed to me that the summer afternoon retreated, that we were engulfed as if by a deep mist, a thing of time not of space, and through that mist I saw my cousins, not as children anymore, but as grown men, wise, strong and confident. Yet they stood as if on two sides of a slowly widening breach, and there was deep sadness on their faces. Then I saw a green island amid the Great Sea, and a silver crown, and a fair valley in the mountains, the sound of many waterfalls like song and music. Maglor’s voice suddenly broke through the mist.
“Celebrimbor, what is wrong? Brother-son?”
I shook my head, shaking off the vision, then looked at my uncle several steps ahead watching me with concern. I had checked my horse to a halt. I passed my hand over my face and nudged my steed forward.
“It is nothing.”
Still Maglor was eyeing me intently.
“You saw something.”
“I do not have the gift of foresight.” I shrugged my shoulders. ”It must be but some wild fancy.”
“And still…? What did you see?” His eyes did not let go of mine.
“These children will achieve greatness, both of them. Yet their fates will be sundered, and much grief there lies in their future. But also great joy. Keepers and protectors they will be of things that would otherwise perish and be forgotten.” So I spoke and I marvelled at my own words, for it seemed to me then that they had been put into my mouth by someone else. I sighed and shook my head. “Pay no heed, uncle. Summer heat, most likely. As I said, I have not the gift.”
“How would you know that?” Maglor faintly smiled at my words. “There is no surety in foresight; it can be neither summoned, nor dismissed at will. Besides, you have seen what I too have seen.” He fell silent for a while, then added quietly. “I only wish I could spare them grief, yet how could that be? None who dwells now in Arda is free from the Shadow.”
To that I had naught to say. Soon we turned back to the stronghold. I stabled my horse and went together with my cousins as they led their steeds to the pasture. There we remained for a time, as the boys spoke to the ponies and thanked them for the ride. Elros then said that their new friends deserved a feast also and ran to the fortress to fetch some treats. Elrond remained, leaning against the fence and stroking the animals. Suddenly I noticed that he was very silent. Even though he was a thoughtful child, such solemnity on this day seemed to me strange, and I spoke to him.
“Cousin Elrond, you are very quiet. Does something make you sad on this beautiful day?”
The boy raised his head, and it seemed to me that his face was the face of one who had for a short while forgotten his grief but was now reminded of that again. He looked at me long, as if considering whether to trust me, then asked:
“Will you not think ill of me if I will tell you?”
“I will not. I promise.” I replied, surprised at his gravity.
“I… did not get the gift I wanted.” He confessed bowing his head. “I am not ungrateful, cousin Celebrimbor, I truly am not,” he added hurriedly. “I love the pony, and the knife, and all other wonderful things so much! But I would gladly give them all away, if only I could have that one gift instead!”
“What would you then have, Elrond?” I asked, now curious.
“Something I have wanted so much for all this last year,” he replied quietly. “At first I thought it cannot be, but then I remembered something my mother said. It is one of the very few things I remember about her at all. She once said that we can have what we wish for if only we wish it very much. And I was wishing so much; every night before I went to sleep and often during the days also!” His lip trembled. “I was truly wishing as much as I could, but…” his voice broke, and his eyes were bright with tears.
I knelt beside him and looked at him intently.
“What did you wish for?” I asked, somehow convinced that he will not name anything made by craft. I was right.
“I wished that the sadness would go away,” he whispered. “I wished that uncle Maglor would not grieve anymore. I wished that uncle Maedhros would have both hands again and that he would no longer remember evil things. I wished that all people in Himring were happy again.” Tears were now streaming over the little, distressed face. “I wished that you would not miss your father and mother but could see them again. But it was not good enough! I did not wish enough!”
“Little one, you cannot change such things by wishing,” I softly replied, my voice nearly failing me. “That is not the way of the world. Joy and grief are not to be summoned at will by the Children of Ilúvatar. Life is a blend of happiness and sorrow, and as such we must accept it, even though we would have it otherwise. It was kind of you to think of the others, but you must understand – you cannot change something that has already happened.”
Meanwhile Elros had returned from the keep, carrying a handful of apples and carrots. He had heard much of our conversation, and now he set his arm around his twin brother protectively.
“It is a pity we cannot go back in time and change things!” He said throwing back his head in a challenge, even though his eyes too treacherously glittered. “For, if we could, then I would surely go back! No, first I would grow up and become a great and fierce warrior, and then I would go back and challenge Morgoth and defeat him, so that he could not hurt people! So that he could not hurt uncle Maedhros! Then he would have both hands and no scars, and he would not stay awake at night having terrible memories! And uncle Maglor would not play sad songs anymore, only happy ones! It is a pity we cannot go back!” He stated angrily and drew his hand over his face to wipe away tears.
“It is a pity we cannot change the past, Elros.” I agreed, gathering my cousins in embrace. “A pity indeed. But there is the future, and that we can shape through what we do today. And today is not so evil, is it? There are the memories of the past grief, but there is also the laughter of today. Believe me, nothing would make our uncles more glad than seeing you happy now.”
They raised their faces towards me; two pairs of grey eyes regarded me intently.
“Do you think so in truth, cousin Celebrimbor?” Elrond asked uncertainly.
“Yes, I do.” I nodded. “Be assured. Take what joy each day gives you and do not grieve what you cannot change.”
Smiles slowly dawned on the solemn faces, as they brushed away tears.
“But you do give good advice, cousin Celebrimbor!” Elros was now looking at me with new respect. “This is the third time already, and uncle Maedhros once said that if something repeats more than twice, it is not a chance anymore. It is called re…” - he furrowed his brow, trying to remember.
“Regularity,” I laughed. “It is called regularity. But you do not know that yet. You have only two clear examples so far; to be certain you must try this third one too. Will you?”
“Yes!” The boys replied with one voice. Their grief was fading. They fed their ponies apples and carrots Elros had brought, then they tugged at my hands.
“Shall we go back to the fortress, cousin? It is past midday; the feast should be ready soon. We are starving!” “Let us go,” I agreed, and we turned back to the stronghold.
The feast was indeed ready soon. When I came to the dining hall Elrond and Elros were already there in reverent astonishment looking at the table that beyond the usual fare was laden with all kinds of delicacies, cakes and pastries, fruits and berries from orchard and woodland. Wide-eyed, they then raised their faces towards Maedhros and Maglor.
“All this… Is all this indeed because of us?” Elrond quietly asked.
“All this indeed is because of you,” Maglor confirmed. “This is your day.”
The twins looked at each other, elated smiles dawning on their faces.
“Thank you!” they exclaimed with one voice and rushed to embrace our uncles.
“This is wonderful!” Elros later said dreamily, reaching for yet another pastry. “I wish every day were like this!”
“Do you?” our eldest uncle asked. “Indeed? Are you certain?”
“Uncle Maedhros, when you ask questions like that, the correct answer is usually “no”,” Elros said with a sigh.
“This time there is no correct answer, Elros,” he replied. “I merely want you to think on what you just said. Just for a short while, and if you will still be convinced of that – then it is the correct answer for you.”
Elros furrowed his brow and stared for a while down at his plate. Then he looked up resolutely and shook his head.
“No,” he said. “It were not good if every day were like this. Not at all. How could we then tell apart the feast-days from the ordinary days? It is so nice to wait for a feast – we would miss all that!”
“And if every day was a feast day we would not have lessons at all,” he added.
Elros shrugged his shoulders.
“That I could maybe endure,” he said uncertainly.
“Well, I could not,” his brother replied. “I like lessons. Besides, it would take too much work and… everything to make each day a feast-day. The store rooms would soon be empty.”
Elros sighed and nodded.
“You are right about that,” he said. “No, a feast every day would not be good at all!” Then he looked sidelong at Maedhros. “I knew at once that this was one of your complicated questions, uncle!”
To that our eldest uncle merely smiled.
Much later after the dinner that had lasted long into afternoon, after the twins had run to the kitchens and thanked everybody there for preparing their feast, we were all in the great hall. Elrond was curled up on a couch, deep into one of his new books, but Elros was struggling with the blacksmith’s puzzle. I had made several of those for the boys; Elrond had set his aside for later clearly favouring the book, but Elros sat with a furrowed brow turning the puzzle in his hands slowly and examining it from all sides. Then he twisted and turned it, and the pieces came loose.
“I did that!” He sprang to his feet with a yell of triumph. “Cousin Celebrimbor, I did that! I separated the pieces! Elrond, Elrond, did you see? Did you see how fast I was?”
“Of course, you did that, and, of course, you were fast!” Elrond raised his head from the pages. “You are smart!”
His twin beamed at the praise. Then he cast his glance at the window, and his face fell.
“Oh… There are dark clouds over there! It may rain tomorrow, and then there will be no riding!”
Maglor laughed at the swift change of his mood.
“Tomorrow is not yet here, Elros,” he said. “These clouds are so dark that we may feel the rage of the storm already tonight and enjoy the sunshine tomorrow. And even if it will rain, I am certain you will find something to do inside. There may be some dragons about hiding in the dark places of the stronghold. Or… other things.” With that, he cast a glance at me, likely alluding to our exploration of the dark-panelled gallery.
But Elros did not understand our silent exchange.
“No, there are no dragons here anymore,” he replied sadly. “There was only one, and we sent him away. Still…” He fell silent in thought. “Still there could be something else…” His eyes flashed hopefully. “Yes, there could be great spiders in the basement or… or… Balrogs!” he then exclaimed with excitement. “Yes, there could be some Balrogs in the basement too, Balrogs with terrible swords!”
“Balrogs do not carry swords, they have whips of flame.” Our eldest uncle interrupted him. “And, believe me, Elros, you do not want to meet any of those fiends in the basement. Or anywhere else.” His voice was quiet, yet with a faintly sharp edge to it.
But Elros was not daunted. He ran to Maedhros and looked at him expectantly.
“You have seen a Balrog, have you not? What are they like, uncle Maedhros? Are they in truth three times as tall as the Elves? And do they have wings of shadow?”
“I believe I brought these questions upon myself.” Maedhros sighed. “Yes, I have seen Balrogs, more than enough of them. They are less than twice as tall as the Elves and they have no wings but for all that they are no less terrible. And no, Elros, I will answer no more questions about Balrogs. You would have nightmares if I were to tell you more of them.”
“No Balrogs. Even though it is your begetting day. Ask for some other story.”
That was not a voice to be argued with, and Elros sighed despondently.
“Very well, another story then…”
But his brother interrupted him. Suddenly Elrond closed his book and sprang to his feet, looking in dismay at the dark clouds outside.
“Our ponies, Elros! If there will be a storm, they will be frightened outside in the pasture! The big horses are used to the weather, but the ponies are not; they will be terrified!”
“They too have dwelt outside before,” replied Maglor. “But that was in another place, and there were more ponies about. They may feel somewhat lonely and scared here. So if you are concerned for them you may run to the pasture and take them to the stable. But make haste; the storm will be here in a short while.”
The boys dashed off. Lightning already flickered against the clouds over the distant hills, and the rumbling of thunder was heard, faint, yet distinct. After a while Maedhros rose and went to stand by the window.
“The onset of storms is swift here in the hills,” he said. “We should not have allowed them to go out in this weather.”
“They will be well,” replied Maglor. “It is not yet dark, the pasture is not far, and they have each other for company. You should not fear for them.”
“I should not.” Maedhros smiled sadly. “You speak true. But now when we have allowed these children into our hearts… That is what we perhaps should not have done, in the first place.”
“It may be so, but it is too late for that, brother mine,” Maglor quietly replied. Then he too cast a glance at the window where the first drops were already drumming against the window panes. “I will light the fire. They will likely return soaked by the rain.”
Fire was blazing in the hearth when the twins returned. They had already changed into dry clothes, but their hair was damp, and they were shivering slightly.
“Come to the fire at once!” Maglor exclaimed. “You are drenched like little water voles!”
The twins giggled, but then Elros looked at him reproachfully.
“Uncle Maglor, water voles are not ever drenched! Their fur does not allow water to get through. Uncle Maedhros said so! He knows everything about water voles!”
Maglor cast a dismayed glance at his elder brother who shrugged his shoulders, lips twitching in a smile. Then he turned back to the boys.
“Water voles or no, you are freezing! Get close to the fire, both of you!”
The boys obeyed and stretched upon the great bearskin in front of the hearth.
“The ponies were very glad we took them inside,” Elrond then said. “They did not like the rain and the thunder at all. We had to search them for some time; they were hiding in the thicket.”
“Yes, but they came when we called them, as we got closer,” added Elros. He fell silent for a while, then spoke again. “Uncle Maedhros, you said we can ask for a story if it is not about Balrogs.”
“I said so, yes,” our eldest uncle replied, somewhat warily.
“Well, me and Elrond, we thought of a story we want to hear.”
“And that is…?”
The twins looked at each other. Elrond nodded encouragingly. Then Elros went on.
“We want a story from a very long time ago. A story from the time when there was no Sun and no Moon yet. We want to hear a story about Middle-earth under starlight.”
Maedhros regarded the boys with unreadable face.
“Please, uncle!” Elros exclaimed. “You must remember some of those old tales you once listened to! Please!”
Silence fell. Maedhros looked in turn at his brother and me, his eyes flashed. Maglor sighed and bowed his head but I endured his gaze waiting for the onset of the storm. The twins realized that something was not right. Elros bit his lip.
“I… I again said something I should not have said, did I not?” he asked in a fallen voice. “I did not mean to be rude, I truly did not! I am sorry,” he whispered. Elrond took hold of his brother’s hand, staring at us with a frightened face.
Anger in the eyes of Maedhros faded. He released me from his gaze and turned towards the boys.
“No, Elros, you said nothing wrong,” he replied. “Believe me.”
“I did.” I softly said. “I spoke out of place earlier, even though my intent was good. But I should not have told of things that were not mine to tell. Forgive me, uncle. I regret I have stirred memories that should have been left alone.”
“It is not your duty, brother-son, to guard your words in fear that they might bring me grief.” Maedhros shook his head. “Think of that no longer.” He turned to the twins now. “I promised you a story you want to hear. So that story you will have.”
Elrond looked uncertain.
“You should not tell us a story that makes you sad, uncle,” he said.
“Yes, you should not.” Elros nodded in agreement.
“It will not make me sad,” Maedhros replied.
“In truth?” Elrond still looked unconvinced.
“In truth. I promise.”
The twins’ faces slowly lit up.
“Will there be adventures, uncle?” Elros asked, already forgotten his distress. “And scary things?”
“And nice things too?” Asked Elrond hopefully.
“All of that,” Maedhros replied with a smile. “Very well, listen then. It befell in this very land, but far, far to the east, in a valley where swift streams were feeding the waters of a great lake. There was yet neither Moon, nor Sun, and the only light that this land knew was the starlight…”
He fell silent and frowned, then shook his head.
“No, this is not right at all,” he said, rising, and looked around.
The storm was here; lightning flashed from time to time, thunder rumbled now close, and gusts of wind threw sheets of rain against the windows. The hall was brightly lit with lamps and candles, but Maedhros now extinguished them all leaving only one candleholder by the door. Now most of the light came from the brightly blazing logs in the hearth. Then he went to the fire and sat down on the bearskin beside the twins who were watching him with shining eyes and excited faces.
“These stories should be told in the twilight by the campfire,” he said. “But since we are under the roof, this will have to do.”
And then Maedhros began the story anew. But now he spoke in Quenya, and the ringing sounds of the Elder language fell like water in swiftly rushing rapids. His deep, resonant voice filled the hall, and we were held fast by that voice and the threads of the skilfully woven story, and as he spoke, light of the days now long past was slowly kindled in his eyes, and despair and grief of many years faded.
The tale grew like a great tree, branching out, its boughs entwining, casting shadows, bearing blossom and fruit, and suddenly we were there, and we looked at the stars shimmering on the surface of the lake, we felt the soft touch of wind and the grass on the shore, we trembled with the fear of the Dark Hunter, but above all that our hearts were overflowing with joy and wonder at things new and marvellous to behold. One story was branching into many, and many tales joined into one, but we sat there, still and enchanted, and firelight flickered upon our faces like once, so long time ago, in the time of peace, in the land now lost to us.
The voice fell silent. But still the water drops fell tinkling in the pool, still the wind was softly sighing in the branches. I turned slowly and saw that Maglor’s hands were running over the strings of his harp, but his eyes were closed; he was still there, on the shores of Cuiviénen, and I too allowed myself to slip back into the dream from which I had half-awoken.
Only when the music ceased did I awake fully. I rose and looked around. It was long past midnight; the storm outside had passed, and large and bright stars glittered in the windows. Those by the fire were fast asleep; Maedhros stretched on the bearskin, the twins curled up on either side of him, their heads resting against his chest. Maglor sat watching them for a while, then he quietly rose, put more wood in the fire, took a blanket from the couch and covered with it his sleeping brother and the children.
“I will not wake him,” he replied softly to my unspoken question. “It is seldom that my brother rests so peacefully. Let them sleep here.” Then he sat back in his chair again and resumed playing, and I wondered as I took my leave – how many sleepless nights had he spent like this, with the power of music attempting to hold together the pieces of his brother’s shattered soul, despite his own despair and weariness?
That was not the only evening of old stories. Others followed, either in the hall by the blazing hearth or, more often, outside under the stars of the northern summer by the campfire, even as Maedhros had said it should be, and again and again we were lost in those tales of bygone days, and we drew from them such joy and consolation I had almost ceased to believe still to exist in this world, so full of peril and loss.
But loss was inevitable, and summer was nearing its end. The dusk now fell sooner, pale mist was winding about the hills in the evenings, in the mornings the dew lay cold on the grass, and the first flocks of birds were seen flying southward, their keen cries piercing the air. The time had come for me to leave Himring if I wished to return to Eglarest before winter. But the twins were upset when I told of my intended departure in three days’ time.
“No!” Elros exclaimed, staring at me wide-eyed. “You cannot go! You should not leave, cousin Celebrimbor! Why can you not stay with us?”
“I cannot, Elros.” I shook my head with regret. “You must understand that…”
“I do understand!” He interrupted me angrily. “It is you who does not! You should remain in Himring! We are your family!”
When I replied nothing, his lip trembled, and he rushed out of the library slamming the door behind him. Elrond cast a reproachful glance at me, then turned slowly and left, tears glinting in his lashes. In dismay I turned towards my uncles.
“I regret. I did not think it will grieve them so!”
“They are children. Both joy and grief come to them swiftly,” Maglor quietly replied. “We shall speak to them. They will understand.” And he went after the twins.
“Maybe… Maybe Elros was right,” I said hesitantly to my eldest uncle. “Maybe I should stay indeed. You are my family – what is left of it. Maybe…”
“No! Do not even consider that!” Startled by the sharpness in his voice, I fell silent. “No!” Maedhros repeated once more. “There is nothing for you here!” With these words he turned abruptly and left.
Confused and saddened by his bearing, uncertain what to do, I remained in the library for a while. I took a book from the shelf and attempted to read, but the words and their meaning slipped my attention. At length I sighed, set the book aside, left the room and wandered along the hallways for a while, regretting the grief I had unwillingly brought to my little kinsmen whom I had come to love.
Suddenly soft sounds of harp caught my attention. It was a hauntingly beautiful melody, yet sad beyond tears, and drawn by it I approached the music room. The tune was not flawless, therefore I concluded that it was not my uncle playing, yet I also could not imagine who it could be. Soundlessly I opened the door and remained on the threshold, frozen in astonishment.
Elrond was playing. He sat at his small practice harp, his brow furrowed in concentration, his fingers running over the strings. They slipped from time to time, for the melody was very intricate, yet even so I could not help but wonder at my cousin’s skill and apparently deep understanding of music. For a long while I stood there silent, listening, moved by the fair and sad sounds, and at whiles it nearly seemed to me that the story of the song will unfold before my eyes in a heartbeat, and I both longed to see it and dreaded what it might reveal.
Suddenly the harp fell silent, and I met the frightened gaze of my little kinsman’s grey eyes. He looked almost guilty to me, therefore I spoke to him reassuringly.
“Elrond, I regret that I startled you,” I said. “But the melody you played was so beautiful that I did not wish to interfere. Did Maglor teach you this?”
The boy regarded me solemnly for a while, then shook his head.
“No, he did not teach me this one,” he then quietly replied. “I… I overheard him playing and memorized it. I think, uncle Maglor does not want anyone to hear this song. He is playing it only late in the evenings when he thinks that we are already asleep. And when uncle Maedhros is not in the stronghold. He does not want even him to hear it. Maybe because it is so very sad. But now uncle Maglor went to look for Elros, and uncle Maedhros rode away, and I am sad today, therefore I decided that I want to play it.”
He bowed his dark head; his fingers were running absently over the strings. I pulled a chair for myself and sat down beside him.
“I am sorry that my decision to leave made you and your brother sad, Elrond,” I softly said.” I did not mean that to happen, please, believe me. But I must return to Eglarest. I have work to do there. And…”
“…and your brother is there.” The boy finished, raising his eyes towards me. “I know. He would be very unhappy if you would not return. I can understand that. I would be terribly unhappy if Elros went away and decided to live in someplace else. I only…” His voice quivered. “I will miss you so. Elros will miss you so. And our uncles will miss you. Do you know, cousin Celebrimbor, my wish did come true, a little. The sadness departed, somewhat. Uncle Maglor laughed more often and played more happy songs while you were here. And uncle Maedhros told all those stories that he himself likes so much, everyone can see that; and at nights he slept, not wandered around the keep! Now with you gone, I am afraid it will all return back to what it was!” His eyes were slowly filling with tears.
“Oh, Elrond…” my heart overflowing with pity, I drew the boy in embrace. “Maybe it will not. Maybe the sadness will stay away yet awhile.”
“I merely do not want them to be so unhappy all the time,” he whispered against my shoulder.
“I know, little one. I know. But you must understand – our uncles have endured much grief and pain. And there are things that weigh heavily on their hearts. But you and your brother, you are the glimmer of light for them. Like little rays of sunshine, you drive away the shadows, as much as it can be done at all. You make their lives worth living.”
“Indeed?” He looked at me uncertainly.
“Yes, indeed.” I nodded. “Believe me, Elrond.”
“I believe you,” he whispered. He looked at me gravely then. “What weighs on their hearts, cousin Celebrimbor?” he quietly asked.
“I cannot say, for that is not my story.” I shook my head. “They will tell you themselves, one day. But whatever may happen, Elrond, whatever you may learn, - remember their love. Remember all they have taught you. Remember the stories. The songs. Both the sad ones and the merry ones.”
The boy nodded solemnly.
“I will remember all that, cousin Celebrimbor. I promise.”
“Very well.” I smiled. “Now, how do you think, do I have any chance of making peace with your brother?”
“Yes, I think you do.” The boy returned the smile. “Elros is never angry for long. Come, I know where we can likely find him!”
Elrond hastened to the door; I followed. And he had been right. We found his brother soon enough, in the thicket with the ponies, still sullen, but after a fair bit of talking and explaining we did make peace. After that we remained afield, went riding in the woodland and swam in the river, enjoying the last gifts of the summer and returning to the keep only after the dusk had already fallen. There were no stories this evening, as our eldest uncle remained away, nobody knew where, and if Maglor guessed where his brother had gone, he did not say.
I retreated early, but sleep fled from me, and I long lay awake, and at last rose and stood by the window. There was a full moon; the wisps of mist winding about the feet of the hills were glimmering silver, and the room too was filled with a gentle silver light that suddenly reminded me of the sheen of Telperion. I felt my heart filled with longing, yet I knew not what I was longing for. To return to Valinor? But I could not bear forsaking Endor. My love towards this land, once sprouted against my own will amid the harsh rocks of the mountains of Mithrim, had in these centuries thrived and grown into a great tree, roots firmly holding to this earth, branches reaching up to this sky. No, it was not the return to the Blessed Realm that I desired. What then? And when I realized, I smiled sadly. Like Elros, I too wished to reverse the time, to go back. Not to fight Morgoth, but to undo my own evil choices, to stand against the fateful decisions of others. Like his, mine also was a childish, futile wish, yet, once it was there, I could not chase it away, and now I understood Elrond’s grief so much better. That grief of realizing that wishing for something is not enough, no matter how strong the longing.
Long I stood by the window, but still sleep fled from me, so I left my room and wandered along the silent hallways again, like on that first night after coming here. I walked aimlessly, taking turns and stairs without any clear purpose, until I found myself in front of the music room. The door was open in a slit, and a slender beam of light fell upon the dark tiles of the hallway; I pushed the door open and entered.
The room was flooded with moonlight welling through the window; the furnishings cast long shadows upon the floor and on the walls. Maglor’s harp stood in the corner, its silver and pearl adornments faintly gleaming in the twilight, and, feeling strangely drawn towards it, I went closer. I had not touched any musical instrument for years. But now I sat down on the stool and laid my hands on the strings, and after a short while I realized that my fingers were searching for the melody I had heard Elrond play this afternoon. Yet I could recall only parts of it, and my playing was but a faint echo of its intricate beauty; I had not the skill of my uncle, nor, admittedly, even that of my little cousin. Still, strangely compelled, I played on, hesitantly searching for the notes and chords that would bring back the sense of beauty and wonder I had felt despite the sadness.
Suddenly I realized that I was alone no longer and raising my head I perceived Maglor standing on the threshold and watching me in silence. Embarrassed, I rose and took a step away from the instrument.
“Forgive me. I should not have touched your harp.”
He replied nothing, but came and sat on the stool, drew his hands over the strings, tuned a few, adjusting flaws so minor that my ears had not even noticed them, and then he started to play softly, a variance of the same tune, seemingly giving no heed to my presence. I made a step towards the door, but then turned back, torn between embarrassment and curiosity.
“What is this melody, uncle Maglor?”
The harp fell silent; he looked at me, his face was pale in the moonlight, and his eyes – deep dark pools of sadness.
“I call it Noldolantë,” he quietly replied, and I froze at the name, but it was too late to retreat now.
“And… does it have words also?” My voice was low, nearly a whisper.
Maglor said nothing. Instead, he bowed his head, set his hands back on the strings and resumed playing. And then, he sang.
He sang, and the melody and the words tore my heart to pieces. Beautiful beyond telling, cruel beyond mercy, they brought forth our vain pride, our intended and unintended crimes. Each and every one of our evil choices was laid bare without justifications, bathed in guilt and remorse, as one scene replaced another. The holy light of Valinor shadowed by our unrest, then destroyed by the Enemy. Fell words spoken in the torchlight. Blood spilt on the white quay of the havens. White timbers and white sails catching flames, bitter smoke rising towards starless sky. Cold graves amid endless fields of ice. The body of my eldest uncle, covered with terrible wounds. Rivers of fire running over once-green fields, turning them into wasteland. The blue flame of the sword glittering in the hand of the High King in a hopeless challenge. Blood dripping from the fangs of the wolf, blood of one betrayed by his kinsmen. Blue-and-silver banners trodden into dust after the battle that had started in hope but ended in disaster. Green grass growing upon the hill of our slain people, a memorial of our overconfidence and our allies’ treachery. Screams of terror echoing within the walls of Menegroth and in the streets of Sirion. Land, scorched by the flames of war. Death. Destruction. Despair. All this welled over me, conveyed by my uncle’s peerless voice, clad in a melody whose beauty had no rival. When silence fell at last and I raised my eyes, I found that I was kneeling on the tiled floor, tears streaming over my face. Carelessly I brushed them away, rose and went towards the door in silence, swaying. But ere leaving the room I looked back at my uncle who sat moveless by his harp, his face now turned towards the night sky in the window. It may have been a trick of the moonlight and tears, but it seemed to me then that I saw silver threads shimmering in his dark hair.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
“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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