To Elrond’s eyes, the Halls of Awaiting, where dead Elves remain in the care of Mandos and Men pass through to who knows where, had an ominous look.
Looking down across the broad green hillside in the thin spring sunlight, he could see cloud-shadows flickering over towering gates, and behind them, long, strong walls and tall grey towers, unrelieved by bright banners.
It was not dark and terrible, as the Barad-dûr had been terrible, or bleak, chill and hopeless, as Carn Dûm had been, but still, it did not look the kind of place a traveller would be eager to approach without good reason.
But the Halls of Mandos did not look like that to everyone. For Celebrían, riding next to him, he knew, they looked like a cluster of small white cottages, with untidy rose-bushes planted around them, and small-paned windows set in rough sandstone arches; not in any way daunting.
Whatever they looked like, today Elrond must go there. He would feel much happier once they were riding away again.
The wide main doors were standing open. They always did, no matter what you thought they looked like. There was no point riding up to those doors. They were only ever a way in. Nobody ever left that way. Even Morgoth himself had not been able to.
Finrod guided them instead around the eastern wall, until they came to a long low building with a green turf roof that stood a little way outside the walls, near a smaller door that was firmly closed. Finrod had come to meet the returning dead many times.
And there, sitting on the grass, was Celebrimbor. He looked up as he heard them approach, and smiled.
Elrond’s stomach jumped and he caught his breath. His horse stopped, feeling its riders’ distress, and turned its head and swivelled a dark eye to look at him enquiringly.
Elrond had expected him. That was why they had come. And yet, the sight of Celebrimbor, whole and alive, wearing one of the plain linen shirts without the mark of any house that are woven in Tirion and Alqualondë and sent as gifts for the returning dead, was still a shock.
Galadriel, Orodreth and Finrod had dismounted and gone joyfully to greet their cousin. Celebrían was sliding down from her horse’s back too.
Elrond blinked, and for a far-too-long moment, could see nothing but Celebrimbor’s body, horribly mutilated and strung upon a pole to be the banner of a vast terrible army of his foes. The banner that had faced Elrond and his people, as they had come racing desperately out from Lindon to the aid of Celebrimbor and Eregion, sickening proof that they had come far too late.
When he first saw it hanging there, the blood was still red. Months later, when they had been driven into the North and had been under siege for a while, it had been black and stinking, the body disintegrating, held together with chains.
A strong hand shook his arm, and he blinked again, and came out of the memory that had swept over him.
“You worry too much, Elrond,” Celebrimbor said, looking up at him, serious-faced. “I got better!”
“So you did,” Elrond said. He let out his breath all in one huge rush, and slid down from the horse to fling his arms around his distant, much-missed cousin.
. . . . .
“We brought a picnic!” Celebrían said to Celebrimbor, smiling. Fortunately she did not seem to have caught Elrond’s thought, or if she had, it had not distressed her too much. “And we brought you some other clothes and boots, too, if you would like them. I hope they are all the right size.”
Celebrimbor thanked them earnestly, and took the bag from Orodreth. He pulled out an overtunic marked with the rayed, eight-pointed stars of the House of Fëanor, looked at it and sighed.
“We thought you’d want the badge of your house?” Celebrían said, a little surprised. “You always used to wear them in Eregion.”
“In case anyone had forgotten,” Celebrimbor said a little gloomily, but he pulled the overtunic on over his head. “Thank you again, Celebrían. I admit, I did quite enjoy this morning, sitting here alive, quiet and anonymous, like someone no-one had heard of. But there’s no point pretending.”
“And quite impossible, anyway” Finrod said, sympathetically. “I’m afraid there are an awful lot of people who are very eager to see you again! There were so many of them, that in the end I had to tell them all quite firmly that they would all have to wait, since it seemed impossible to work out who you would want to see first. I thought it probably would not be an excited mob. So I decided it would just be Elrond and Celebrían, and me as well, because I am extremely nosy and haven’t seen you in such a long time, and there really should be some advantage to being the one who has to tell everyone else to wait. Of course, when we got to Valimar, Galadriel turned up with Orodreth, having not asked if she could come at all...”
“It will, however, be an even better picnic as a result,” Galadriel said, giving her older brother a blithe smile, spreading a cloth across the grass in the sun well outside the dark shadow of the walls of Mandos, and unpacking leaf-wrapped food from her pack onto it. “Orodreth got up early and made his famous crayfish pasties.”
“I did,” Orodreth confirmed. “It seems a small thanks for following my lead into a disastrously misconceived battle, but such as they are, my crayfish pasties are at your disposal, Celebrimbor. I am truly grateful.”
“For all the good I did you on the field of Tumhalad, crayfish pasties seem like a very generous thanks,” Celebrimbor said. He gave Orodreth a smile. “Particularly for me, as I have not eaten in centuries!”
“You got some of the survivors out to the Havens, at least, I owe you thanks for that, too. I never should have listened to Túrin,” Orodreth said shaking his head and distributing plates of light turned-wood. “Círdan knew what he was talking about when he sent us the warning not to march out to battle. If only Ulmo had been a little plainer in his message! If he had given us Glaurung’s exact size, I might have thought twice before making the decision to go to meet him. I thought we were facing the dragon that Fingon chased off, not something ten times the size and breathing a river of fire and poisonous gas, with an army of thousands behind him. Ah well. We can’t all have Elrond’s wisdom.”
“That sort of comment was hard enough to live up to, coming from Men,” Elrond said, joining them seated on the ground. “When it comes from people I first met as characters in heroic legends, I don’t know where to look!”
“Maglor made me sound like a heroic legend?” Orodreth said, pushing back golden hair behind both ears and blinking in surprise. “Good grief.”
“That was Gil-galad, more than Maglor or Maedhros,” Elrond said, producing wine and cups and handing the first cup to Celebrimbor as the guest of honour. “Gil-galad was always very keen on tales of the heroes of Nargothrond. He even wrote a version of the Lay of Leithan which has far more about you and Finrod than the more popular version. You should ask him about it. He’d be terribly pleased, once he gets over being embarrassed.”
“Really?” Finrod said, obviously amused. “But he’s so terribly formidable! Like Fingolfin, only more stern and formal! He was a charming boy, so far as I recall, though I honestly can’t remember much about him in Beleriand. But since I met him grown and returned from death, he has always seemed rather grim and daunting.”
Celebrían laughed at her uncle, pushing her hair behind her ears and began to set out cakes on a plate. “But of course he does, to you and Orodreth! You are his great heroes. He wants you to be ever so impressed! He spent so much of his reign trying to establish a peace worthy of Nargothrond, and never quite managed it, at least not to his own standards, anyway.”
Elrond said, “And of course, when Gil-galad resolves to impress someone, then he makes a great effort over it, and does everything very thoroughly, since he is no mean heroic legend himself.”
“Good grief!” Orodreth said again.
“He would have come here to greet you,” Elrond said to Celebrimbor, who was eating one of the pasties with every sign of enthusiasm. “Only Finrod told him not to come, and he wouldn’t dream of ignoring Finrod.”
“Ignoring Finrod is the privilege of sisters,” Galadriel said smiling.
“Hah!” Finrod said, unimpressed. “You ignore anyone who tells you anything you don’t want to hear, Galadriel!”
“Of course I do. What do you expect from a ringleader of rebellion against the Valar?” Galadriel asked him laughing.
Finrod shook his golden head at her reprovingly “I was at least as rebellious as you!” he said. “Yet you got the Ban and all that time exploring Middle-earth, and I got stuck in Valinor, doing paperwork in Tirion! It’s horribly unfair.”
“There, there,” Galadriel said, and patted him. “You did have your chance at a hopeless battle against Sauron, after all. We can’t all be Lúthien.”
“Both of you, I can’t help feeling, were considerably more rebellious than I was,” Celebrimbor pointed out mildly.
Finrod made a face and looked away, his face suddenly serious again. “That’s true,” he said. “We could so easily have turned back. Not so easy for you, at your age. And yet it seems you were given at least as much of the blame as Galadriel. More.” He hesitated for a moment. “I did go to your mother and ask her if she wanted to come with us today, but I’m afraid...”
“She didn’t wish to? I’m not surprised,” Celebrimbor said steadily. “She made her choice long ago, and so did I. I was old enough for that, and old enough at Alqualondë, too. Should I approach Olwë with apologies?”
Finrod grimaced. “You were barely grown. And Alqualondë...” He sighed. “It wasn’t like Doriath, or the Havens, after all. The darkness, nobody quite knowing what was happening... Even my Teleri uncles say they don’t know who was first to draw a blade, and they were in the fight from the start. I can’t see that any reasonable person could hold you responsible. Or at least, no reasonable elf could do so, whatever the official position of the Valar! I’m quite sure my grandfather doesn’t blame you at all, Celebrimbor. Do go ahead and ask him, if you want to be sure, of course. But he supported Elrond’s appeal to the Valar for your return from the Halls of Mandos, along with the rest of us. And he accepted an apology from Maglor on behalf of all your House anyway.”
“I have talked to him about the Three Rings, too,” Galadriel said. “Our grandfather Olwë had kin in Lórien, Rivendell, and in Lindon. He’ll want you to come to dinner, so he can thank you properly for that.”
“I’m glad they ended up being some use, at least,” Celebrimbor said with a sigh. He looked at Elrond. “Maedhros sends you his greetings, by the way, and...”
“And told me not to take any foolish risks?” Elrond asked, incredulous. Celebrimbor nodded, smiling. “Still? He’s a fine one to tell me that!”
“Yes, that’s what I told him you’d say. He said, tell you anyway. I take it there is no news from the Valar about Maedhros and the rest?”
“The Valar are still deliberating, so Ulmo told me,” Elrond said. “I spoke with him in person before I left Tol Eressëa. He has left the council of the Valar, for now, and returned to the waters. He has already decided on his vote, and made his case. So now we wait to hear what the others decide. It seems to be taking them a good while.”
“Why did you decide to appeal for us?” Celebrimbor asked, with a puzzled frown. “Not that I am complaining, you understand! But I wasn’t expecting anyone to appeal for me, let alone the rest! Not after I helped Sauron to make his Ring, ignored Elrond, Círdan and Gil-galad’s entirely correct advice, was rude to Galadriel, and left Middle-earth in such a mess. I honestly thought that if there was anyone left who still thought kindly of the House of Fëanor, before that, they would be thinking good riddance, afterwards.”
“No!” Elrond said. “Gil-galad would have gone to the Valar for you, anyway. He tried before, when he came back from Mandos himself, though it was only once the decision was made to lift the Ban from Galadriel that he had much hope for success.”
“Really?” Celebrimbor said, surprised. “He did not come to speak with me, while he was in the Halls. I thought he must be angry.”
Elrond shook his head. “Gil-galad would not breach the prohibitions of Mandos,” he explained. It felt a little uncomfortable to be discussing it under Mandos’s somber walls, even if the Ruler of the Dead was not present in person. “He would have liked to speak with you, but it was not permitted. I know that Fingolfin and Fingon went to speak to Fëanor and his sons often, while they were in the Halls, but consider. Would you care to be one of Mandos’s humble Maiar and explain to Fingolfin, who gave Morgoth seven wounds, that he should not do exactly as he wished?”
Celebrimbor considered the prospect of an annoyed Fingolfin, and raised an alarmed eyebrow. “I see your point,” he said. “That does explain why we rarely received visits from anyone else.”
“Gil-galad follows orders, even if he doesn’t agree with them. But he wasn’t angry. Upset about your death, and the fall of Eregion, of course! We all grieved for that. But if you hadn’t worked with Sauron, we never would have managed to bring him down. Oh, he did terrible things with the Ring, it’s true, but at least it could be destroyed. Gil-galad and I both count you several kinds of hero for that, even if it was not your original plan.”
Galadriel said. “There was no question in any of our minds that you meant well, Celebrimbor! I spent long enough in Middle-earth watching the ranks of my allies thinning, knowing I might be the last one left to face the Enemy.” She frowned at the slice of lemon cake in her hand. “I knew, if I was the last, I would lose, just as you did... I was very glad to have the Ring you left me: you were more help to me than most! I am certainly not holding on to grudges over an honest mistake. Or over...conflicted loyalties.”
She meant, of course, that difficult time when Celebrimbor and Galadriel had clashed in newly-founded Eregion over who would rule, and whether Annatar, the strange new friend of the people of the Jewelsmiths, should be permitted to stay there. Celebrimbor had won. Annatar had stayed, with disastrous results. Galadriel had left and gone to Lórien.
“Oh good,” Celebrimbor said, blushing a little.
Finrod said to his sister, smiling, “I’m so glad that it’s not only me who ends up having to deal with people who simply insist that they must listen to the House of Fëanor, and won’t consider the most reasonable arguments for anything else! It gives me hope that it’s not just a personal failing of mine.”
“Alas not!” Galadriel said, smiling back. “I, Celeborn, Gil-galad, Círdan and Elrond have all known it too. It’s not just you!” Celebrimbor put both hands across his face for a moment, looking embarrassed.
“Speaking of which, Celebrimbor, I don’t suppose you fancy running the Fëanorian Quarter of Tirion, do you?” Finrod went on. “I’ve been doing it for a terribly long time now — it feels like at least six times as long as it has actually been — and frankly, neither I nor the Quarter are entirely happy about it. I only ended up with them because the House of Fëanor had all most inconsiderately taken themselves off under a cloud of doom, and there was nobody else to do it. They would love to have you back. Most of your jewelsmiths are there,” he added, looking hopeful.
“I’ll do my best, if you feel that would be helpful,” Celebrimbor said, dutifully, lifting his face from his hands. “Trusting Sauron is one mistake I can promise I won’t make twice.”
Finrod put down his sandwich, and unclipped the jewelled fastenings from six braids one after the other, placing all the clips in a neat pile. Then he shook his hair out into a golden cloud that glinted in the sunlight, stood up, kicked off his boots, and danced joyfully in a wild circle in the grass around the picnic in the sunlight, avoiding the shadow of the walls of Mandos. Orodreth laughed and began to hum a merry tune for him to dance to.
“I think he’s pleased,” Celebrían said, giggling.
“Pleased? Pleased?” Finrod cried, still dancing wildly and gracefully among a cloud of golden hair. “There are no words in tongues of Elves or Men to express my delight! I may have to devise an entirely new language!”
He returned to pull Celebrimbor to his feet and into the dance. Celebrimbor got up resolutely, and with an air of careful concentration joined Finrod in twirling in a very graceful manner for one who had only regained his body that morning, his long dark hair, already loose, following him like a shadow.
They circled the others three times, then Celebrimbor pulled away and bowed gravely. Finrod bowed back rather more flamboyantly, creating a waterfall of shining hair.
“A rather more enthusiastic welcome than I feared!” Celebrimbor said, a little out of breath but smiling. “You know, I had wondered if you blamed me for not going with you and Beren.”
“What!” Finrod cried, scooping his hair back into a semblance of order. “Celebrimbor, don’t be absurd! You owed me no allegiance, and frankly that wasn’t the wisest thing I ever did anyway. I didn’t even drag Orodreth with me, I certainly didn’t expect it of you!”
“Well, that’s a relief. I’ve wondered about that for years!” Celebrimbor said, sitting down and helping himself to another crayfish pasty. Then he paused before he bit into it, and gave Elrond a level look. “Elrond, you have only told me why you made an appeal for me. Yet you have asked for all the House of Fëanor to be returned to life. Why? It can’t be just that Finrod is tired of the Fëanorian Quarter!”
“I didn’t want to leave Maglor alone in Middle-earth,” Elrond said carefully. “So I spoke to Ulmo about Maglor, and arranged for him to come with me.”
“Just like that?” Celebrimbor exclaimed.
Elrond shrugged. “Mithrandir helped me. He’s one of Nienna’s people, sent to the aid of Middle-earth. I suppose he was well placed to recommend mercy. But Maglor’s arrival in Aman caused a good deal of talk about what he had done. I hadn’t thought much about that for a long time; I knew them both as kinslayers from the start, of course. It made me think of Maedhros. I was fond of him, too, and sorry for him. But when I spoke to Maglor of Maedhros, he mentioned Caranthir. And when I talked of it with Celebrían, I had to admit that, unlike Maedhros, Caranthir had only obeyed his lord’s command to march against Doriath. Many others did the same. A couple of those who attacked Doriath are still people of our household, who came to us after Eregion fell, and many of the rest have returned from the Halls of Mandos. It just so happened that Caranthir’s lord was his brother, and his lord at Alqualondë was his father, and he had an oath to hold him to his purpose.”
“Caranthir wasn’t exactly charming,” Orodreth pointed out, over a slice of cake. “Or likeable. He caused a good deal of trouble through not being able to keep his temper. Maedhros kept them away in the East for as long as he could, to prevent them causing division. ”
“So I hear,” Elrond said. “ But that isn’t a great crime, is it, not to be charming, or speaking rashly? Not a crime to keep someone from life until world’s end? Gil-galad is not always charming either, but you could not have a better lord or a truer friend.”
“Caranthir could have turned away from his lord, and refused his command,” Celebrimbor said. “I did. Twice, if you count Finrod.”
Orodreth visibly winced.
“Ouch!” Finrod said. He put his hand on Orodreth’s shoulder reassuringly. “I did say I didn’t hold either you or Orodreth to blame!”
“Still, you must agree, it is a precedent,” Celebrimbor said calmly. “Now I think of it, it’s three times for me, if you count Gil-galad too.”
Elrond said. “Maglor didn’t ever refuse his lord’s command. Probably he should have, but by the time that became clear it was far too late. He is charming, but I didn’t want to think that was the only reason that I spoke for him! Not because he caught at my heart with wit or with enchantment, but because he was kind, and regretted what he had done, and had very little choice about it.”
Celebrimbor made a face and looked away. “We should have known. I should have known. He said to me, Maedhros, at the end, before they went off to take the Silmarils; you are the last of the House of Fëanor. You must take command of our people and ensure their safety. But we always send a letter, first. I should have known it then. He was practically spelling it out to me, what they would do. I don’t know why I was so blind!”
“You still had hope,” Elrond said.
“I was an idiot!” Celebrimbor said. “Maedhros, Maglor, Annatar. At least Annatar was a master of lies. Maedhros barely lied at all, and Maglor simply said nothing and didn’t look at me.”
Finrod said, “I didn’t realise that you had spoken to them, at the end, Celebrimbor. I thought you had cut off contact after Nargothrond.”
“We saw them after the last battle. The breaking of Thangorodrim,” Celebrimbor said, gloomily. “Elrond and Elros and me. They were there to try to take the Silmarils before Eönwë got to Morgoth, but of course they had no luck with it. They had no luck with anything.”
“A lot of the thralls that came out of Angband were Noldor who owed allegiance to the House of Fëanor,” Elrond said, remembering the thin bodies climbing barefoot from the tunnels, the misery on their faces, and the prison-stink of them. “Thousands of them. They went to Maedhros, of course, seeing his banners. There were far more of them than Maedhros had people left free still with him, by that time. Gil-galad gave us permission to bring them aid and comfort, and to help them with the evacuation from the Anfauglith. It was all starting to fall into the sea by then, and there was no fresh water, they couldn’t stay there. Most of them were starving and had no shoes.”
“We thought evil was ended forever, and that the time for reuniting had come,” Celebrimbor said and sighed.
“We might still manage the reuniting,” Elrond said. “Even now, we might. I appealed for Maglor, because he was my friend, because I thought he deserved it, and because the decisions of the Valar were not altogether fair or kind. And so, surely, I had to appeal for Amrod, for Amras, and for Caranthir, who all had done less evil than Maglor did, and never had the chance to undo it. And I wanted to appeal for Maedhros too. He was their leader, yes. But still, he wasn’t well, and he was kind to us. And Celebrían said to me, that it was only right, to want to help a friend.”
“And so it is,” Celebrían said. “I still think so, and I’ve had a chance to get to know Maglor now. He’s not a thing of darkness, and I should know. And how should I, who was a captive of the orcs, and fled to the safety of Aman, judge Maedhros harshly, who was their captive too, and did not have that choice?”
It was not often that Celebrían sounded like her formidable mother, but now she did.
“I put that in my letter to Manwë,” she told Celebrimbor. “Not Eönwë, not Manwë himself, knows what it is like to be beset in a ring of enemies. To have their hands on you, to be borne down helpless into darkness and torment! But I do. You too of course, and Finrod. How can they know what that is like, when they are so strong, unless we tell them? And, too, I had all those long years in Imladris as a healer, trying to keep the Edain upon their feet, facing the Black Breath and the Shadow in Angmar. It’s not reasonable to expect anyone to come back from torment and go on to hold a frontier against the Shadow, almost without taking a breath! Not without taking hurt from it. Not that I need to tell you that, I’m sure. I wrote that too. I got quite cross, in fact.” She laughed. “Then Elrond took the letter away quickly and sent it, before I had time to have second thoughts!”
“So that made five,” Elrond said. “Leaving us with Celegorm, and your father, and Fëanor himself. I couldn’t speak to Lúthien and Beren, but Nimloth knew Lúthien. I talked to her and to Finrod.”
“And I,” Finrod said “was forced to admit, with considerable reluctance, that on the whole, I’d rather that your father and Celegorm came back so I could explain to them rather loudly that yes, it was their Silmaril, and yes, attacking Angband was a terrible idea but that in fact, Nargothrond was mine and they should have kept their grubby paws off it. Oh yes, and also that using power of voice to set fear in my people and overwhelm their will was not very nice, and ultimately counterproductive. I think that would do it.”
“Nimloth said something like that too,” Elrond said. “She’d rather ask them why, than have them held until world’s end, unable to explain, or apologise.”
Finrod nodded. “It did help that when I spoke to Maglor, he was clearly almost as cross with them as I was! There’s nothing more annoying than when the Sons of Fëanor form themselves into a sort of solid block and won’t listen to a word from anyone else.” He dusted the crumbs from his fingers, and began to braid his hair back into order.
“So that left us with Fëanor to consider,” Elrond said. “I don’t know very much about Fëanor as a person, rather than a sort of... symbol of rebellion. But I do know that he never attacked Doriath, or the Havens of Sirion. I know Alqualondë wasn’t planned to be a battle. I know that he died fighting the Enemy.”
“All true,” Galadriel agreed. “But, you know, Elrond, we might have returned to Middle-earth to fight Morgoth, even if Fëanor had not taken the ships from Olwë. I had wanted to go there for some time before Morgoth struck at the Trees, and so did Fingon and Turgon.”
“Me too,” Finrod said.
“Well, yes,” Elrond said. “But how long would that have taken? As it was, Fëanor arrived too late for Denethor of Ossiriand and many of his people. He very nearly arrived too late for Círdan. Because Fëanor and Fingolfin forced the pace, my ancestors of the Houses of Hador and Bëor came West fleeing darkness, to a Beleriand that was at peace, to meet with Finrod, to join their strength with the House of Fingolfin in Hithlum, and the House of Finarfin in Dorthonion. If Fëanor had gone peacefully home to Tirion, or had waited outside Alqualondë and begun building ships, with no experience in that art and no help with it, it seems to me that when you finally came at last to Middle-earth, you might have found nothing left in Beleriand but Doriath, and all my ancestors among the Edain dead or serving Morgoth.”
He looked up at the tall walls of Mandos, and the sharp line of the black shadow they threw on the grass. “It took us long enough to fight our way back up across Beleriand to Angband, when the Valar finally did send help. Celebrimbor, you know how difficult that was. Imagine having to do that with only the Noldor, without the Vanyar host and with all the Edain fighting for Morgoth!”
Celebrimbor made a face. “Surely the Edain would not...” he began.
“You didn’t see what happened in Númenor,” Elrond told him unhappily. “There was no time to delay. Perhaps it was less urgent to the Valar. But to me, it seems important. Neither the Valar nor the Eldar have the same idea of time as Men. At least Fëanor was in a hurry.”
“It’s a good point,” Finrod said to his sister. “I’ve always thought it unfortunate that the Valar said to the Noldor: you are free to leave, and yet they stood in the way of actually doing so. It was not only that our mother’s people would not give Fëanor ships. They refused to lend them, or to offer any help with ship-building, because they knew the Valar opposed it.”
Finrod looked at Elrond, and applied the final golden clip to the last braid very deliberately. “That is one reason I went on when my father turned back,” he said to Celebrimbor. “The knowledge of how to build the ships and sail them, that was their own. They could have offered it to their friends, to their family. They did not, because that was against the will of the Valar. And so we were not free to leave, not really. What Fëanor did was... it really was pretty appalling, there’s no question about that at all. But there was something not entirely right about the other side of it, too. You know, if I had it all to do again, if I stood there, hearing the Doom of the Noldor, still I would not choose to turn back and sue for pardon. I would go on. For Bëor, and Barahir, and Saelind and all the rest, if nothing else.”
Elrond smiled at him, and looked at Galadriel. “I know that Galadriel thought he was a menace, of course.”
“I did,” Galadriel said. “But I was very young then, and had not fallen under the Ban of the Valar myself. I must admit, that made me think, and so did years of opposing Sauron and his lies. Fëanor did try to force his will upon his people, when he was overwhelmed with grief and anger. And he was proud, and would not listen. But nobody has ever said that Fëanor was stupid! I can’t imagine him choosing to make the same mistake repeatedly. Exciting new mistakes that nobody has ever thought of, yes. But the world would be sadly lacking in songs if nobody ever made those.”
Elrond said, ”In the end, it seemed the right thing to do, to ask for Fëanor, too. I hope I did that because it was right. Not just because no-one else can unmake their oath, and the dead in the Halls of Mandos can neither make nor unmake... I asked Ulmo what he thought. Ulmo said he thought that the fates of Elves should be decided by Elves, not by the Valar. In the end, even Fëanor is only one of our people.”
He looked at Galadriel again. “After all, I am rather used to rebels against the Valar! We would have had a very hard time of it, in Middle-earth, without them. I’ve never felt that Ulmo took rebellion personally, even if some of the others did.”
“I suppose you have spent a good deal of time among rebels of one kind or another. When did you find my uncle?” Celebrimbor asked. Celebrimbor was of course unusually rich in uncles, but under the circumstances, he must mean Maglor.
“Not long after Elros died,” Elrond said. “I stumbled on him behind a sand dune. I had been looking for some time.”
Celebrimbor’s grey eyes widened. “So long ago? Why didn’t you tell me? I was still in Lindon then! I spoke to you regularly! You never said a word!”
“He didn’t tell me, either!” Galadriel said. “Not until he absolutely had to!”
“He wasn’t your last living uncle,” Celebrimbor said. “It was my own House and I didn’t know!”
“We did discuss it, hypothetically,” Elrond pointed out. “When you were first working on the plans for Mithlond, only a few years after the war. I asked if you’d heard anything from him. From them; we didn’t know about what Maedhros had done then, of course. Anyway, you said that you would of course tell Gil-galad, if any word about the sons of Fëanor came to you. I said I would look for them. You said, be careful not to take unnecessary risks. I said I would be careful.”
“Oh!” Celebrimbor said, looking startled. He sighed. “I thought you were testing my loyalty! You sounded angry. I didn’t realise that you meant it literally!”
“I was very young,” Elrond pointed out. He shook his head and laughed ruefully. “And yes, I was angry. I wanted to shake them both. Perhaps shout at them for a while. Make them explain. But I think perhaps you and I were having two very different conversations at the same time.”
“I think we were. I truly wish you had told me! I spent years worrying about them. Whether they were still alive. Whether they were sane, or would come down on us as enemies one dark night. Whether they were all right! I didn’t even know that Maedhros was dead until I got here.” He waved at the looming dark walls of the Halls of Mandos to the west. Elrond wondered how they looked to him.
“You aren’t going to shout at Maedhros though, are you, if they do decide to release him?” Celebrimbor asked. “He’s still not entirely... Well, I didn’t shout at him. Not that I was in much of a state to shout at anyone, to start with. But I did get better.”
“I didn’t even shout at Maglor, by the time I found him,” Elrond said. “I was just pleased to see he was alive. I should have told you. But Maglor asked me not to, and I thought if I spoke about him, he might vanish entirely. And I... I wasn’t sure what Gil-galad would do, if you went to him and he had to take official notice. ”
“He would have had Maglor killed, of course,” Celebrimbor said and shrugged at Elrond’s uncomfortable expression. “Oh you know he would have, really, that’s why you didn’t say anything, and why both of us had our minds so carefully closed while we spoke. He was High King; as determined to rebuild as you or I, but more cautious. Wiser. He would have made sure you weren’t there to see it, given fair judgement and sent the last of Fëanor’s sons quietly off to join his brothers. After Doriath and the Havens, it would have been only the just and cautious thing to do. It might even have been kinder than what he did to himself.”
“He wasn’t entirely alone all of the time,” Elrond said, hurt. “I saw him when I could. And Eönwë did order that they be allowed to go free.”
“Eönwë is one of the Maiar, and has odd ideas about both justice and kindness. He let Sauron slip, too,” Celebrimbor said. “Both you and I were overtrusting, I suppose — though knowing what you were concealing casts an interesting light on your advice to me not to trust too much! Still, I’m glad Maglor was not entirely alone all of the time. And very glad you got away with it.”
“I knew Maglor!” Elrond said. “Sauron was a liar from the start. Maglor never pretended to be anyone or anything he was not. He never came to me, or asked for anything. It was I who went looking.”
“Gil-galad knew Maglor too,” Celebrimbor said. “When he was a child, and innocent, and loved all his cousins. Then they attacked Doriath. And the Havens. And the Hosts of Valinor. He stopped offering second chances. I wish I had.”
“Are you saying I should not have done it?” Elrond asked. “You would not have been left in peace. Gil-galad would have asked for you as soon as Galadriel was allowed to come home.”
Celebrimbor raised his dark eyebrows sceptically. “For me, perhaps. But who else would choose to appeal for the entire House of Fëanor, and stand any chance of being listened to? Still, I’m glad you did. It would have been a long and lonely time in the Halls of Mandos, for me, save for their company, and despite it all, they are still my family.”
He gave Elrond an enquiring look. “And yet, I notice that Maglor is not here. Surely he is not counted as one of an excited mob that might be too much for the poor delicate spirit emerging from the Halls of Mandos? I have just left behind six of his brothers, after all!”
“Maglor is staying on Tol Eressëa,” Elrond said, glancing up at the looming walls of Mandos. “We thought that safest. I’m not very well informed on the law codes of Valinor. Maglor is, but he is several thousand years out of date, of course. I do know that If he were in Númenor, Arthedain, Cardolan, Dale or Gondor, there would be a different set of rules covering his situation in each case! But Tol Eressëa belongs to Ulmo, and Ulmo has said that Maglor’s deeds have been pardoned. That seems clear enough at least.”
“I’m not sure that the law codes of Alqualondë, Tirion or Valimar have much provision for a situation like Maglor’s,” Finrod said, frowning. “It’s somewhat unique. Presumably that is why the Valar are taking their time making their minds up about his family.”
“Apart from me!” Celebrimbor said, and stood up. “I am not sure how I feel about being judged the least controversial of the House of Fëanor, but since it means I am here, having eaten an excellent meal in good company, and about to ride away from the Halls of Mandos into the lands of life, I’ll take it.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Elrond said, getting quickly to his feet. “And now I have proved to myself that I am entirely an Elf and nothing else, by picnicking carelessly for all this time under the very walls of the Halls of Death, please can we go somewhere else?”
Celebrían put a comforting arm around him, as they called the horses back ready to ride away.
. . . . .
Celebrimbor rode off with Finrod and Orodreth to Tirion, to meet with many old friends and long-lost relatives, and to re-establish the House of Fëanor in the city, while Elrond, Celebrían and Galadriel went on east, down the long road to the white shores and blue waters of Alqualondë, to catch the ferry home to the Isle of Exiles, the isle that looked forever east across the Sea to hidden Middle-earth.
It was some time before Celebrimbor came to Tol Eressëa, to visit Gil-galad, who had once been his king, and to meet with his last living uncle.
Maglor and Elrond came to meet the boat, walking down the winding path into the white town of Avallónë towards the tall tower by the quayside that once had looked out east to Númenor.
They were speaking of Elrond’s new harp. Although it was, Maglor thought, a very good thing that he was now able to ensure that Elrond’s harp was a decent one, Elrond’s taste in harps did not entirely meet with his approval.
“Silver, really, Elrond? It won’t have such a rounded tone.”
“I like a silver harp,” Elrond told him. “And if I wanted to hear only what you think is a perfect tone, I could always get you to play instead. I’m having it made because I enjoy playing, and I prefer silver.”
The newness of being able to wrangle amiably over music or play together whenever it took their fancy had not entirely worn off yet. Maglor felt a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. However, that would not win the argument. Instead, he shook his head gloomily. “If you aren’t careful, it will sound tinkly.”
Elrond gave him an amused but entirely obstinate smile. “Perhaps I like tinkly. I am sure you will make sure it is as close to perfect as you’ll admit it can be, and still be silver. But silver it will be, since it is my harp and not yours!”
Maglor held up his hands in defeat, and sighed. “Silver. All right then.”
Egalmoth and Galdor of Gondolin were following them down the hill with a handful of their people, as a kind of escort, though not a particularly welcome one.
Both lords were veterans who had been in the retreat from Gondolin to the Havens of Sirion. At the Havens, Egalmoth had died under Maglor’s blade, when Maglor and his brothers had come down in flame and terror upon the exiled remnant of Gondolin and Doriath, seeking for a Silmaril. Galdor had survived and returned to Aman at the end of the War of Wrath to greet his friend Egalmoth again when he returned to life from the Halls of Mandos.
Neither was at all inclined to trust that Maglor could be safely left to wander Tol Eressëa. So taking turns with other lords and assisted by a changing group of old companions from Gondolin, they watched him. Maglor had almost become used to them by now.
Elrond looked back at them with a slight frown as they came down towards the harbour. “Are you sure I should not speak with Turgon and demand that he order them to leave?” he asked.
“Do as you wish, Elrond, it’s hardly for me to say.” Maglor glanced over his shoulder at the Gondolodrim himself and wrinkled his nose. “I admit, if I must be watched, I prefer Ecthelion. He’s less unyielding than Egalmoth and a much better flautist. Also, he has more of a sense of humour than Galdor and is certainly better tempered than Rog! Being watched by Rog is rather like having a thundercloud lurking behind me... But I thought you felt that it would be wiser for me to try to win them over?”
“It seemed a good idea originally,” Elrond said. “You have got somewhere with Ecthelion at least, and I think perhaps Galdor too. Glorfindel always spoke highly of Ecthelion. But it’s beginning to annoy me a little to be constantly reminded that they distrust both my judgement and my ability.”
Maglor grinned. “I share their doubts about your judgement. Silver harps and sons of Fëanor? It all seems most unwise!”
Elrond looked amused. “There’s nothing wrong with silver harps!”
“I’d love to take their doubts of your ability as a great compliment to mine,” Maglor told him cheerfully. “But I suspect it’s more that they haven’t been paying much attention to events in Middle-earth in all the long years since the War of Wrath.”
Elrond laughed. “Well, that is a great comfort to my pride!”
“I hope they aren’t going to treat Celebrimbor as they do me though. He doesn’t deserve mistrust. Well, except that he shares your taste for silver, so probably shares your terrible taste in harps too.”
“He had enough of mistrust when he was in Lindon,” Elrond agreed, refusing to return to the subject of harps. “Gil-galad would not wish him to be mistrusted either, and after all, Gil-galad rules here in Tol Eressëa...I’ll speak with them and remind them of the Three Rings and what we owe Celebrimbor for them.”
“You could just order them to leave yourself, if that’s what you want,” Maglor pointed out. “In Middle-earth, they’d all owe you allegiance as Turgon’s heir.”
“You know I never wanted that,” Elrond said, with just a hint of discomfort on his usually composed face. “That was Gil-galad. I’m no king.”
“Maybe your judgement isn’t so terrible then. Even if I didn’t have many other reasons to be profoundly grateful to Fingon, I would be grateful for saving me from kingship.”
“I know,” Elrond said. “You’ve mentioned it, now and again, always with an air of having escaped an awful doom! Given your history, that’s quite alarming. Though Elros did quite enjoy being a king,you know. It suits some people. I shall just ask them politely not to bother Celebrimbor. Would you mind waiting here while I go and have a word with them? It’s hard to talk to Egalmoth when he’s glaring at you mistrustfully.”
The ferry from Alqualondë was running late. Elrond had time to talk the Gondolodrim into a strategic retreat, and still there was no sign of it.
Maglor wandered alongside the long wharf that jutted out into the clear green water of the harbour, looking at the shoals of small fishes, their scales flashing silver as they turned all together and caught the light for a moment. He caught a glimpse of something larger in the sea, a dark blur beneath the water that moved swiftly in through the open harbour mouth and sent the fishes flickering into the shelter of the long green weed. He pointed it out to Elrond. “A seal?” Then as it wove a half-circle through the clear water showing bright flashes of colour on its flanks, “No, a dolphin! They are supposed to be lucky.”
“It seems to have brought us the ferry at last,” Elrond said, as the dark prow of the ferry nosed in through the harbour-mouth.
And there was Celebrimbor, with his long dark hair caught up in a silver circlet that was clearly one of his own designs, wearing a long dark-green coat, with a great silver brooch in the form of the star of Fëanor upon his shoulder. He looked like his father still, but stronger and more confident, as if he had filled out the outlines of a person that Curufin had never quite managed to be. He resembled Fëanor too, though steadier, without Fëanor’s intensity.
A few of his people out of Tirion were with him. Maglor recognised a couple of them as veterans of Beleriand, and nodded. Elrond greeted them all courteously.
“You look well,” Maglor told his nephew as he came down onto the wharf.
“I can’t say the same for you,” Celebrimbor said, and without more ado hugged him. “You look like your own ghost. And after last time, I’m never going to believe another word you say without checking it. Even If you tell me the Sun is shining, I shall look to make sure!”
“That’s more or less what Elrond said,” Maglor told him. “Except I think he said that if I said I was playing the harp, he would check it over carefully to make sure it wasn’t a lute. Same idea though. I’m sorry, Celebrimbor. You can see that we couldn’t risk you getting involved there at the end. We wanted you safely out of it.”
“It was obvious what you were going to do,” Celebrimbor said, clearly annoyed. “I’m only irritated with myself for not seeing it and stopping you.”
“I’d like to have seen you try,” Maglor said, amused. Then it occurred to him what might so easily have happened if Celebrimbor had tried, and felt profoundly grateful that Celebrimbor’s hope had overwhelmed his common sense, at least on that occasion. At least neither he nor Maedhros had Celebrimbor’s death upon his conscience.
Celebrimbor gave him a long unimpressed stare with considerable power behind it, reminding Maglor that it was a very long time since Celebrimbor had been his little brother’s young son. “And then you vanished, leaving no word,” he said. “Why didn’t you at least let me know where you were?”
“I thought you’d prefer to be free of your disreputable relatives,” Maglor said, surprised. “It can’t have been easy, even having disowned us, having the name following you.”
“No,” Celebrimbor said. “No, it wasn’t. But I never disowned you. I repudiated my father’s deeds and Celegorm’s, in Nargothrond. I defended those who stood with me at the Havens, because that was only right. But I kept the name, and the badge. I looked after our people, as I promised Maedhros I would. I put the star on everything I made. I still do. And you should have told me!”
“In that case, I’m sorry for that too,” Maglor said. He still thought it had probably been better for Celebrimbor not to know, but one more apology was neither here nor there. “I didn’t mean any hurt by it. I would have come, if I’d known you were in trouble. I hope I would have, anyway... Not that one person would have made a difference. But I was rather out of touch, I’m afraid. The first I knew of the invasion of Eriador was when I saw the Numenorean fleet arriving, and it was far too late to try to help by then.”
The other passengers on the ferry had gone up into the town now, and Celebrimbor’s people were waiting politely at a little distance. The ferry-elves were turning their boat, ready to go back to Alqualondë. Grey gulls were shrieking overhead.
Celebrimbor shrugged. “It was all over too quickly, in the end. Even Elrond didn’t come in time — not that I blame you, Elrond, no-one could have! And as you say, one more person would have made no difference.” He looked Maglor sternly in the eye, and Maglor realised that Celebrimbor was now a little taller than he was himself. Presumably he had been when Maglor had last seen him, but he was standing with his shoulders back and head up now.
“I’m glad you are still alive. I am so very glad.” Celebrimbor said. “Just... Just don’t ever do it again!”
“I don’t want to do it again!” Maglor said. It was true, but not exactly a promise. Elrond noticed that, and gave him a thoughtful sideways look. That would not do.
Maglor took a cautious look at his Oath, wound deep in music in his mind and fast asleep, and said, “I forswore it. The Oath.”
“Really?” Celebrimbor said, sceptical. “Maedhros thinks that impossible.”
“Maedhros thought it was impossible to go on living,” Maglor said. “We don’t always agree. There was little choice at the end of the war, but there was some. We got it wrong. I got it wrong. I should have stopped him, not you. But it won’t happen again. Quite apart from upsetting everyone in general, it would make Elrond very annoyed! There has to be a limit to his patience, though I haven’t found it yet. And to yours, for that matter. I’d hate to be the final straw that got us all disowned at last.”
“I’ve had many thousands of years in the Halls of Mandos to lose patience with all your brothers,” Celebrimbor said with a wry smile. “I haven’t done it yet. They sent their love.”
“I’m glad you made it up with your father,” Maglor said. “He missed you. He wasn’t the same, after the Dagor Bragollach. Well, you know that better than I do. I can see why you stayed in Nargothrond. But still, I’m glad.”
“He wasn’t the same after Alqualondë. Or before that, really.” Celebrimbor said. “None of us were. ”
“Come on, Celebrimbor” Elrond said smiling. “I have a pair of hobbits up at the house who are very keen to meet you.”
. . . . . .
“So you’re the one who helped Sauron make our old Ring, are you?” Bilbo said, examining Celebrimbor with a bright eye, as they sat in the garden of Elrond and Celebrían’s house, looking out across the sea that shimmered and rolled blue below the cliff’s edge not far away.
“Not the One Ring itself,” Celebrimbor said, apologetically. “Even I am not that naive. He made that himself, alone. But the Seven and the Nine, and many of the lesser rings, yes, I am afraid so.”
“You did make a great pile of trouble for yourself!” Bilbo said. “And for a good many other people, too. But I’m told you didn’t mean it.”
“The history of the House of Fëanor summarized in a handful of words!” Maglor said ruefully. “More concise than your usual style, Bilbo.”
“Oh, but who wants to be concise!” Bilbo exclaimed. “There are far too many fine words to use for that, and far too many tales to be told!”
“It’s fortunate you don’t desire brevity, Master Bilbo,” Maglor told him very seriously. “It’s not as though you often manage it.”
“Well, hark at you, Master Maglor! You’re a fine one to talk about keeping things brief!” Bilbo said laughing.
“I didn’t intend the Rings to end up as they did. I regretted it greatly,” Celebrimbor said, with what Maglor considered to be monumental understatement.
“So I heard,” Frodo said. He gave an uncomfortable laugh. “You know, when we were walking across deserted Eregion, on our way to take the Ring to the Fire, someone told me that the Noldor of Eregion had left their land and gone to the Grey Havens. I think he was being kind. If he’d told me the truth about what had happened to you then, I think I would have screamed and not stopped running until I was hiding under my own bed at home in the Shire!”
“Don’t let it haunt you,” Celebrimbor said. “It was very dark and terrible, yes, the ending.” He looked at Elrond and Celebrían. “All the more terrible for knowing the danger I was leaving behind me... But before the ending, Eregion was very fair. For five hundred years before Annatar first came to trick us, Ost-in-Edhil was a place of joy and light. And now it’s all over. Here we sit beneath the the Sun, listening to the waves and the birds singing.”
“They cannot conquer forever,” Frodo said. “You’re right, but I’m still glad I didn’t know at the time.”
“The Three, at least, achieved a great deal,” Elrond told Celebrimbor. He looked down at Vilya on his finger, then pulled it off and offered it to him. “Would you like it back?”
Celebrimbor took it and looked at the clear blue stone closely. “Not much left of him now, is there?” he said, as if talking of a favorite hound or horse, now old and grey and tired. “Still, he did his best, I can see that.” He held it out to Elrond. “Keep him, Elrond, as a remembrance if nothing more. He likes you, and he’s used to you now... I’ll make something different, instead. There’s no point hanging on to treasures made. Better to give them away and move on to make something new.” He gave Maglor a sharp look. “And yes, I did tell my grandfather I thought that.”
“Whew,” Maglor said with respect. “Rather you than me.”
“That is something Bilbo here achieved,” Elrond said. “Bilbo gave the One to Frodo, did you know, Celebrimbor? After carrying it for sixty years. Quite unprecedented, I believe.”
“I’m afraid I wasn’t able to do the same,” Frodo said quietly. “But then the circumstances were rather difficult then.”
“One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters,” Elrond quoted.
“Yes,” Frodo said simply.
Celebrimbor’s face had crumpled in distress. “They were never supposed to be hard to give away,” he said. “Only hard to lose. The Nine were supposed to... well, never mind that. I can’t undo it now. Only learn from it.”
Frodo gave him a sympathetic look. “I only saw Eregion and Khazâd Dum long after they were ruined,” he said. “Would you tell us about them?”
. . . . .
Life went on, on the Lonely Isle among the waves, years of the Sun fleeting past like the shadows of clouds flickering across the open sea, and still the Valar stood deep in silent discussion within the Ring of Doom beside the western gates of Valimar.
Until at last, upon the Old Straight Road out of Middle-earth, there came one last sailing: a fleet of seven ships, and at their head was a great white ship strong and bright, with a figurehead made in the form of a mighty leaping whale. She shone with the rising sun behind her as she rode down the clear green waves, with porpoises surfing before her bow.
The Teleri fleet, thousands strong, had been waiting that night in the channel outside Alqualondë. Now as the sun rose, they came sailing out, beating up close-hauled against the wind to meet the seven ships running West. Their tall sails glowed bright against the rising dawn in every shade from white to deepest indigo, and voices raised high in a song of greeting across the endless music of the waves.
High above, on great white wings that caught the warm dawn-light, the Lady Elwing flew, and beside her many white birds followed, bright against the clear blue.
The great fleet of the Teleri went about and fell in behind the seven, who led them on, west across the waves to the Lonely Isle, and the harbour of Avallónë that once had looked out to vanished Númenor.
There, the flag-ship put in briefly, and four passengers disembarked, three tall figures, and one short and rather bent, who needed some help climbing down the ladder. Elwing came down gracefully and put off her wings to greet those who were waiting there.
And then the flag-ship set her white sails once more and went on, leading all the Teleri fleet, far too many of them ever to put in at once at the little haven of Avallónë. They sailed on, a short way North up the coast, porpoises and dolphins dancing at the bow. All of them were singing now, a joyful song of homecoming that rang across the waves and could be heard across the Lonely Isle, and all the way up into the Calacirya to Tirion.
At last the singers came into the harbour of Alqualondë, and there the great white ship found the place that had long been reserved for it.
Círdan had forsaken the Grey Havens at last, and had come to make his home in Aman.
. . . . .
The stooped old hobbit who must surely be Frodo’s friend Sam stood on the deck of the tall white ship. He accepted Elrohir’s assistance to help him down the ladder. Glorfindel, ignoring the hobbit’s protests, had taken his small pack and carried it for him down onto the quayside, then turned to steady him as Sam set his feet on the ground.
Frodo hurried forward to greet him, his face shining with delight. Sam straightened up and stared at him in astonishment.
“Why, Mr Frodo, you don’t look changed at all!” he said. He reached out tentatively to touch the shoulder that long ago had been wounded at Weathertop, almost as if he expected Frodo to vanish in a puff of smoke.
“It barely troubles me at all now,” Frodo told him. “It’s so good to see you, Sam!” He flung his arms around Sam’s shoulders in delight. “But you have got so old! Has it really been so many years? It’s hard to keep count of them here among the Elves. Rather like it was in Lórien, do you remember? Your hair’s all white! You look like the Gaffer!”
“That does happen, when you get to be an old gaffer with eight children yourself.” Sam said, hugging him back then pulling back to stare again. “You do end up looking like what you are. Or most of us do. But not you, seemingly! You’re more well-preserved than old Mr Bilbo used to be, even!”
“I think you’ll find I’m much better preserved than I used to be, young Sam!” Bilbo said, coming forward to shake his hand. Sam’s mouth fell open in amazement. “Old Mr Bilbo, as I live and breathe! And looking no older than my boy Hamfast!”
“Yes,” Frodo said, his voice bright with joy. “All three Ringbearers together again at long last.”
“It’s a pleasure to see you both again,” Sam said. “And yet, it’s hard too. It’s very hard. I lost my Rosie, you see.” His voice cracked a little as he said it.
“Oh, Sam,” Frodo said, and drew his friend away to sit him down and offer whatever comfort he could.
Beside them, Elrond and Celebrían had come up to embrace Elrohir and Glorfindel. Ecthelion of the Fountain, who was there watching Maglor today, came up smiling to greet his old friend Glorfindel too. Then Celebrían looked up and squealed in delight as someone else came down the ladder.
“Father!” she said. “I didn’t know you were coming!”
Maglor, who had been watching the joyful greetings with a smile, looked up in alarm and retreated quietly behind a pile of lobster pots. It was unlikely that Celeborn of Doriath would recognise him, but it would be best not to risk a confrontation and spoil the moment. He took off his coat and folded it carefully to hide the star.
No-one else was getting off the ship. Galadriel had stepped forward to take her husband’s hand. The mariners were untying ropes. Maglor could see Elrond still standing on the quay beside his mother Elwing, saw him look up expectantly at the ship, then back at his son with an expression that mingled joy with distress.
Elrohir’s fair face looked troubled; he was saying something to his father and mother and shaking his head a little. Maglor was now too far off to hear, across the bubble of voices, but it was clear from Celebrian’s face and the surface of Elrond’s mind what Elrohir was saying.
Elrohir had chosen the path of Elves and come to Aman. Elladan had not.
. . . . .
It was definitely not a moment for Maglor to intrude. He retreated through piles of fishing gear, sail-stores and boathouses, as swiftly and silently as he had done so many times when he had encountered Elves upon the Western shores of Middle-earth.
There was an inn on the outskirts of Avallónë, on the way that led up towards Celebrian's house, that Frodo favoured, and it was just opening up for the day as Maglor passed. He looked at it, and decided it was not a place where he was likely to encounter Celeborn.
He went in and made an agreement with the landlady for wine in return for music. He had done that a few times, a very long time ago in Tirion, though usually with a group of friends and not first thing in the morning.
He remembered how his father had called him undignified and rolled his eyes. Maglor had laughed, and his father had laughed back. Fëanor had never been particularly dignified himself, in those long-distant days before anyone had thought that being dignified was important for princes. A long time since he had thought of that particular memory, for some reason, though now he came to look at it, it had a small ordinary joy about it that made it shine.
The landlady seemed happy with the arrangement, despite the time of day, so he took the wine-jug and a plate of bread and cheese, and found himself a corner of the garden, in the shade of a vine upon which the small green grapes were starting to swell. He had not brought his harp, but the reed flute tucked into his coat was probably more appropriate for an inn anyway.
There was nobody in the garden yet but people would probably turn up when he started to play. They usually did.
It was a considerable time later when Ecthelion arrived, looking a little harried. The garden was half-full of cheerful people listening to the music and having a drink by then, and Maglor felt that he had more than fulfilled his obligations.
“There you are!” Ecthelion said coming over to him. “I turned around and you’d vanished!”
Maglor continued playing until he had reached the end of the verse, then put his flute down and nodded politely to his audience in response to the applause.
“I didn’t vanish,” he told Ecthelion. “I just wasn’t there. Vanishing would suggest I’d made an effort. Believe me, Ecthelion, when I say that after six thousand years avoiding company, if I wanted you not to know where I was, you would not know. I have no duty to account for my whereabouts to you.”
Ecthelion narrowed his eyes. “You are usually more obliging,” he said.
“I am. I am extremely obliging. But you must know that the only reason that Elrond did not send you and your friends off with your tails between your legs long ago is because I made it clear that I was prepared to let you watch me.”
“Ah. I wondered about that. Why?”
“I thought it might help those like Egalmoth and Galdor who endured the slaughter at the Havens. And Celebrimbor too, since he can hardly send my own people to watch me. The Havens wasn’t easy for him either. Believe it or not, I would prefer not to haunt anybody’s nightmares.”
“So what’s different today?” Ecthelion asked, and sat down on the bench next to him.
“Today, Elrond and Celebrían have enough to think of without remembering what I did, or worrying that Celebrían’s father may be angry, or that all of you, Elrond’s grandmother’s people, who should owe him allegiance, do not trust his judgment or his ability.”
Ecthelion’s grey eyes widened, taken aback. “I hadn’t thought of it quite like that.” He frowned. “But still, it is a great deal to ask, that we should trust to his word about you. Your own people tried to stop you.”
“Yes. I did notice that, oddly enough,” Maglor told him, looking away uncomfortably. “You seem to think of Elrond as only Eärendil’s son. He’s a good deal more than that, and he has more than proved it. Anyway, you have had a busy time finding me, and now you and I are going to stay well out of the way. It’s fortunate that it’s you, today. It might be harder for Egalmoth to hear and understand me.”
Ecthelion gave him a long thoughtful look. “I understand you. You don’t think Elrond will wonder where you are?”
“You’re underrating him again. Elrond will tell me when he wants me. This is a pleasant spot to stay out of the way. I have known many worse! The wine is excellent and the audience appreciative.”
Ecthelion had never been a particular friend of Maglor’s, but he had been a friend of Turgon’s. Once or twice, in Tirion a very long time ago, Finrod had brought along Turgon and some of their friends, among them Ecthelion, to hear Maglor play. Some of them had joined in.
Ecthelion, very young and very far from the imposing Balrog-slayer he would become, had been rather obviously star-struck; Maglor had, he hoped, been kind, though probably less than he should have been.
He gave Ecthelion a smile. “I hope you brought your flute. It’s been a long time.”
Ecthelion laughed. “I’m supposed to be watching you for Egalmoth and the others, not playing a duet!”
“Well, in that case, you have a choice,” Maglor said. “You can play the flute, and I can sing, or you can sit there watching me while I show you all the ways that I’m a less expert flautist than you are. Only the first choice lets you share my jug of wine.”
“Not much of a choice!” Ecthelion said, pulling out his flute from its carrying-case. “Don’t mention it to Egalmoth. I don’t know what he’d say.”
“I won’t,” Maglor said. “He wouldn’t listen to me, anyway. But I’d be grateful if you’d consider telling him yourself. It might help him sleep better, in the long run.”
. . . . .
It was late afternoon verging to evening when Elrond reached out to Maglor’s mind with a polite, unrevealing enquiry. Maglor explained where he was, and awaited orders.
He was not entirely surprised when Frodo came in, leading Bilbo and a rather wide-eyed Sam. Hobbits were famously enthusiastic about inns, and this was, after all, Frodo’s favorite inn in Avallónë.
Maglor was, however, so startled to see that they had brought Celeborn with them that he almost dropped a note. Ecthelion stopped playing abruptly.
Maglor got to his feet and bowed politely, as Frodo began to pull up the chairs that the landlady of the Silver Shearwater had some time ago thoughtfully adapted for the use of hobbits.
“I understand you have been staying with my daughter,” Celeborn said, standing there tall and silver-haired and enormously dignified, once Bilbo had made the formal introductions.
“Yes,” Maglor said cautiously. “She has been very kind.”
Celeborn sighed and shook his silver head. “My wife,” he said, rather helplessly, “danced joyfully in and out of Moria when it was full of dwarves, and expects me to welcome dwarves into my home. I understand she has broken all the rules and invited her friend Gimli to join us here too. My son-in-law rode desperately to the aid of the last stronghold of the House of Fëanor and expected me to assist him without blinking. And now I arrive in the West at long last, and find my daughter has adopted a son of Fëanor and taken him home with her. I don’t know what Thingol would say.”
“I sympathise,” Ecthelion said, laughing. “I came out this morning to carry out guard duty upon a criminal, and I have spent most of today drinking his wine and playing the flute for him. I don’t know how it happened.”
“Good,” Frodo said, smiling. He picked up the jug and shook it. “Did you know this is nearly empty, Maglor?” he asked, looking rather stern.
“We have earned another, by now, I think,” Maglor said with a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “And probably a jug of ale for you, too. I assume, Master Samwise, that you too prefer ale?”
“I wouldn’t say no,” Sam said. “If there’s a decent pint to be had on the Lonely Isle, it’s a good start.”
“You can take my word for it,” Frodo said. “I may have lost track of the years a little, but Bilbo will support me when I say I have checked that the Silver Shearwater has the best ale on the island.”
“Wine for me,” Celeborn said, and sat down rather heavily, as if accepting his fate.
“Very well then,” Maglor said. “I have an apology for you, Celeborn, for Doriath, if you will hear it. But first I’ll get the drinks.”