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The Lands of Weeping and of War

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Elrond had found quarters for Maglor, near his own within the walls of Mithlond. Gil-galad had judged that Maglor should be counted as one of the released thralls of Angband, but Maglor suspected that most of them did not have rooms where the furnishings were quite so finely made, or marked with the six-pointed star of Eärendil, the niphredil of Lúthien or the Trees of Doriath. Unfair, perhaps, but Maglor did not feel inclined to object. The freed thralls, for all that they had suffered, had now had several years of regular meals and a dry warm place to sleep, which was more than Maglor had had recently.

He slept for days, waking from time to time from vivid dreams in which Maedhros turned and looked at him before stepping into the fire, which the real Maedhros had not done. Or where Maedhros urged him to follow into the flames. Maedhros had not done that, either, and Maglor wished he knew why.

Sometimes the flames were the sulphurous molten rocks of the northern shore where Maedhros had died, and sometimes the burning ships at Losgar, or fire in the thatch at the Havens.

He blinked awake to find Elrond saying his name, and both of them pretended that Elrond had not seen the Havens burning in his mind, while Elrond set a charm to lift the pain from his burned hand and brought him cool water before he slept again.

Sometimes, the flames were the wild whirling death of the Dagor Bragollach, ripping through the camps of Maglor’s people in the Gap and on the plains at dead of night. As Maglor fled desperately, seeking refuge in vanished Himring, he saw Maedhros step into the fire and burn, as the Silmaril had told Maglor he deserved to burn.

He woke again, wondering why he, of all his brothers, was still alive. Wondering if it had been craven of him not to follow Maedhros. If Maedhros had expected him to follow. If Maedhros had reached the Halls of Mandos, or if he had fallen into darkness everlasting and was lost with all his brothers, and with their father...

Elrond tried to speak with him about it, which was something that Elrond should absolutely not under any circumstances need to think about.

Maglor privately cursed Elwing and Eärendil for having produced children with talent that seemed to rival Galadriel’s. He closed and barred his mind, hid his thought deep within the iron-doored store-rooms of Formenos, set great stones before the doors and assured Elrond with a smile that he was only a little weary.

Elrond looked at him unhappily, and went away, leaving a plate of bread and smoked fish behind him. Maglor did not try the door to see if it was locked. He was not sure if he wanted it to be or not. He ate the bread and fish and went back to sleep.

He had hidden away the dreams of fire, and so fire came to his dreams in another form, speaking with his father’s voice of how he had failed all his brothers, had wanted to evade his duty and had given up a Silmaril.

He woke, and thanked Elrond’s serious-faced Edain as graciously as he could manage for plates of smoked fish, nut-bread, samphire, sea-kale and potted crab, then slept again, to dream a comical dream of Ulmo delivering a barrel of smoked fish in person to Círdan.

It was in all ways a preferable dream to dreams of fire, and also to the dreams in which his father reproached him. He was duly grateful for it.

When at last he had enough of sleep, he woke to find that Elrond had been called away to Harlond, and was not expected to return for a few days. “But he has asked us to escort you anywhere you wish to go in Mithlond,” white-bearded Halfdan told him. “Anywhere but the armory, the smithies...”

“Or near the lifting gear for stone, yes, he told me.” Maglor said. Celebrimbor would almost certainly be at the smithies, though presumably Maglor could send him a message. But at the moment there seemed no need to do that.

“Elrond asked that you inform us at once if you are troubled by dark thoughts,” Halfdan said gravely.

“He did?” Maglor blinked at him surprised, and then, intrigued, asked; “What are you supposed to do about it, if I am?”

“Summon the lord Celebrimbor immediately, or if he can’t be found, the lord Círdan, or the High King,” Halfdan told him, entirely seriously.

“Oh.” Maglor remembered that he had no sword upon his belt just in time not to reach down to touch the hilt that was not there. Instead, he gave Halfdan a cautious smile. “In that case, I shall endeavour not to be troubled, and not to disturb Celebrimbor, Círdan or the King.”

To his relief, Halfdan’s stern face broke into a wrinkled smile, displaying a fine array of yellow teeth. “He also told us that on no account were we to fight you.”

“Oh good,” Maglor said with more enthusiasm. “I would much prefer not to fight anyone. Particularly not anyone so broad in the shoulders as you and your friends! Perhaps you might show me the city? When last I rode this way, it wasn’t here. Nor was the Gulf of Lune, for that matter.”

“Strange to think how times have changed since I was a boy on the isle of Balar,” Halfdan said, “Beleriand fallen into the sea, and the war over at long last, and that’s something I never thought I’d see, I can tell you. The city grows day by day. Come and take a look!”

Mithlond, though it was still being built, was already beautiful. Maglor could see echoes of Tirion about the stonework, and probably that meant there were echoes of Gondolin as well. As well as the tall stone spires, there were lower white buildings with tiled roofs that reminded Maglor sharply of the workshops of the Fëanorian Quarter of Tirion. Among them tall wood-built halls were being built that were nothing like Tirion at all; either shaped like the curving hulls of ships in the manner of the buidings of the Falmari, or with high-pointed bark roofs in the manner preferred by those Sindar who did not live underground. Among the buildings, trees had been planted, though most of them were only saplings yet.

There were many Elves working on raising the buildings, and others painting them with bright colours and decorating them with fine carvings. They were singing joyfully as they worked, but many of them fell silent as they saw Maglor pass, watching him with solemn faces and watchful eyes.

“They’ll get used to you,” Arachon said, seeing Maglor glance sideways at them. He was a younger man than Halfdan, with a bristling yellow beard and a ready smile.

“It doesn’t concern you, what I did?” Maglor asked. It might have been wiser not to mention it, and yet he could not resist asking, like poking at a half-healed scar. The Men of Elrond’s company were, presumably, descended from the survivors of the Havens of Sirion.

“I’m no Elf,” Arachon said, with a smile that was a little rueful as they made their way into a wide paved square with a small grove of young birch-trees planted in the middle. “I have no time to waste worrying about what happened years before I was born. Elrond says it was all an Enemy plot of some kind, and he should know. I’ll spend my time enjoying the peace instead of brooding, and give thanks that I was born in time for it.”

Maglor nodded and followed him on across the square. “Are you going to the Land of Gift with Elros, when the ships set off? I think Elrond said that Halfdan had chosen not to.”

“My beard is already white, and the ships are not yet ready,” Halfdan said and shrugged. “By the time they set off to follow the star into the west, I shall be old and tired, if I am spared to see it. Elenna is for the young.”

Arachon shook his head, sending pale braids flying with a clatter of blue and red beads. “Not for me either,” he said. “Elrond is staying here, so I plan to stay too. I was born in Hithlum, towards the end of the war, so I’ve been with him since I was a child.”

“I remember hearing that Gil-galad and Elrond had been in Hithlum for a while, after Finarfin broke the Gates of Sirion,” Maglor said.

Arachon smiled. “I was eleven when I met him, in the rubble of my mother’s house after the Vanyar host swept through with their lightnings. Very fine they were, I suppose, looking back on it now, but terrifying to a snotty slave-born brat like me! But you couldn’t be afraid of Elrond. Or Elros, for that matter, but it was Elrond who took me in and called me cousin. My mother is descended from the House of Hador, you see.”

He did not mention his father. That probably meant that his father or his grandfather had been one of the Enemy’s Easterling Men, who had taken Hithlum and enslaved the Edain who lived there.

“So I might have guessed,” Maglor told him. “You look a little like him. Hador, I mean, not Elrond.” They came to a place where there were no buildings yet, only tents that from their design and worn appearance had certainly come with the host from Valinor, and timber stacked inside to keep it from warping in the rain. Halfdan led them through.

Arachon grinned at him confidentially. “I don’t know if it’s really true,” he said. “It might be that my grandmother made it up. We didn’t have much to be proud of, my mother and I. But Elrond insists that we are cousins. He invited Mother to dinner, and she knitted him a hat. He wears it sometimes, too.”

“It’s a very knobbly hat,” Halfdan added. “Somehow he manages not to make it look ridiculous. I don’t know how. Elf magic, probably!”

Maglor had to smile at that. “You have Hador’s eyes, and almost the hair, though Hador’s hair had a little more gold in it.”

“Oh, go on!” Arachon said, though he looked pleased too. “Elrond used to speak of you sometimes, before the war ended,” he said to Maglor. Clearly this was the best compliment that Arachon could conceive of.

Before the war had ended. Before the Host of Valinor had taken Morgoth’s Silmarils, he meant, and before Maglor and Maedhros had killed the guards and taken the gems. Maglor tried to remember if he had seen Halfdan or Arachon among the many frightened angry faces that had surrounded them at the end, before Eönwë had ordered that they be allowed to leave. He did not remember them, but there had been so many faces, and anyway, Men changed so quickly, he might not recognise them.

“Is this the other side of Gil-galad’s great hall?” he asked, to change the subject. “The swallow-carvings on the plinths are very fine.”

When Maglor had come to the city with Elrond, they had ridden in through a gate in a green turf-wall that encircled the North-city. That wall could probably be defended in a pinch, but Mithlond was clearly being built more as a city to live in than as a fortress. He could see the tall line of what was probably an aqueduct to the north above the rooftops, bringing fresh water down from the hills, and asked Halfdan a couple of polite questions about it.

Halfdan led the way down to the quayside, to the brink of the Gulf of Lune. It was narrow enough here at that Maglor could clearly see the quays of the south-city on the other bank. There were several ferries and many small boats, some with brightly-painted paddles and some with sails, hurrying to and fro across the wide grey water, and larger fishing boats moored here and there across the estuary.

On the quayside were a number of people, mostly Noldor by their dress, building what looked like another boat-house. One of them came out from behind a wall as Arachon walked past, looked up and caught Maglor’s eye, eyebrows raised in a very familiar face. Her worn jacket, though shorter, was almost the the match of Maglor’s. Not surprising, since she had made both of them.

“Oh,” she said flatly. “It’s you.”

“Hello Carnil,” Maglor said, making an effort to sound pleased and not awkward, and turned to introduce Arachon and Halfdan to her.

Carnil had marched with him from Tirion and survived every battle of the long war. In the end, he had left her and the other few ragged remaining survivors of the Fëanorian forces to the command of Celebrimbor, and had gone out alone with Maedhros to take the Silmarils.

He and Maedhros had not told their people where they were going, when they had gone to attack the hosts of Valinor. They had only given them orders to obey Celebrimbor in all things. From the mutinous expression on Carnil’s round freckled face, this had not been a popular decision.

“You could have told us,” Carnil said, aggrieved, once he had finished making introductions, for all the world as if they were within the walls of Himring before the world had fallen into despair and blood. As if Maedhros was somewhere not far away to remind him that the Edain liked a degree of formality. “We would have come with you if you had only said.”

“We thought we were going out to die,” Maglor said, in an effort to be clear and fair. “Neither of us wanted to drag any of you any deeper into our fate. We had done enough of that.”

“You could have given me the choice,” Carnil said bitterly. “I thought you were my friend, not just my lord. I lost everything following you! Then you walked away without a word. All those battles, all the long road from Tirion. All that blood on my sword. Yet all you gave us was orders to follow Celebrimbor now. Celebrimbor! You know, we spent all that time as rivals to their households, Celegorm, Curufin and Celebrimbor, boasting about how our lord was better, and then... You handed us over to him, unwanted!” Halfdan raised bristling white eyebrows at that.

“Celebrimbor is fair, honest, and I would say a much better prince than I was,” Maglor said.

“We didn’t choose him!” Carnil said. “We chose you! We were proud to have you as our prince. I was proud. Was. Do you even think of us as people, or just as pieces in your game?”

“You don’t really think that of me, do you?” Maglor said unhappily.

“I don’t know,” Carnil said. “I honestly don’t, not any more. You could have told Telutan where you were going, at least, if you wouldn’t tell the rest of us. He was a lord. At least then we would have had some idea who to ask, when you didn’t come back. Or Celebrimbor, if you must.”

“If we were going to tell you, we’d have told all of you,” Maglor said. “Telutan was a lord because he had the skill to do the task, not because I would talk to him and not to you. You know that!”

“I used to know that,” Carnil said. “But now... Do you know, when you arrived in Mithlond, I only heard about it afterwards, from someone who was one of Celegorm’s turncoats from Nargothrond? He was smug about it, too. And they set watchers on us, in case you should send us word, in case we might rise up at your command. But you never did send word.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Maglor said. “Next time I ride into a city without a sword, mounted on a borrowed horse on my way to sue for mercy from the king, I’ll make sure I send heralds with silver trumpets to announce my presence! Honestly, Carnil, what did you expect? There was every chance I would be executed.”

“If you thought that, why did you come here?” Carnil demanded.

“Elrond would never have brought you here only to be executed,” Arachon said indignantly.

“Elrond is young, and surprisingly optimistic, all things considered,” Maglor said. “But the decision was not Elrond’s but Gil-galad’s, and I thought...”

He had thought that any death that Gil-galad might give him would be kinder than the flames, and gentler than the waves, and anyway Elrond had left him little choice. But he was hardly going to admit to that before Elrond’s kindly, serious-faced Men. Instead he said “I did not want to risk dragging you into it, Carnil. You may not want to serve Celebrimbor, but he is unlikely to lead you into an unwinnable battle against the High King or the hosts of Valinor.” And that was true, too, if not quite the whole story.

“Elrond would have sent us word, if you had only asked him,” Carnil said stubbornly.

“Perhaps,” Halfdan said, massively stolid and unmoving, “And perhaps not. Some things are best done quietly, and your lord Maglor here was not in any very fine state to be thinking things through just then. He has been ill.” Which was a kind way of saying that being burned by the fire of a Silmaril and living alone on a bare new coastline had been hard work, even if it had been the easy path. Easier than accepting the judgement of the Silmaril and taking the path into the fire, anyway.

“Maglor is never ill,” Carnil said dismissively.

“Elrond said he was,” Arachon said, in a way that made it very clear that he considered this to end the argument.

“Just a little weary, that was all,” Maglor said. “You have been told that Maedhros is dead, Carnil? I should have arranged to make sure his people knew. But perhaps Celebrimbor has done that?”

“I... yes, I heard,” Carnil said. “He wasn’t well. But we thought...” she let the sentence drop, but Maglor could hear the ragged ends of it as clear as if she had said them all. We thought you would look after him. We thought you would hold back the pain in his heart, and see your father’s orders completed. We thought you would retake the Silmarils and win back our honour.

“It was what he had to do,” Maglor said, keeping his voice deliberately light and pleasant. “The Silmarils burned us. We had lost the right to them.”

“Yes,” she said and looked at his hand. He held it so that she could see the scar, and her eyes glanced at it for the briefest moment before she looked away. “I heard that too. The word of it flew around Mithlond as if it had wings, once Gil-galad’s lords had seen it for themselves.”

Seagulls were crying in the sun out above the shining water of the Gulf of Lune, and long waves rolled in from the western sea, as the waves had rolled at Alqualondë, where Maglor and Carnil both had first learned how to kill. But it had been dark then, and the only light the shifting light of torches broken and reflected in the darkness of the Sea.

Maglor was fairly sure he had shown nothing in his face or voice, but then, Carnil had known him for a very long time.

“Perhaps we asked too much, my lord” she said abruptly, and laid a hand on his arm for a moment, light as a butterfly that alights and then moves on. “It all went away, piece by piece, until there was nothing left but serving the House of Fëanor, you see, and so... no matter. At least the war is over, the Enemy is defeated, and we stand here in the sunlight with the sea-wind blowing.”

The servants of the Enemy hate and fear the sunlight. Though the silmaril might burn, the sunlight was still kind. At least that was one difference that was left to him. He was almost sure he had used no power in his voice to influence her will. He certainly had not done it deliberately...

“I don’t think of you as a piece in a game,” he said, in case that had not been clear.

Carnil laughed unhappily. “If you did, I don’t think you would have stood there listening while I complained so loudly about all the things I thought you had done wrong.”

“That was all the things you thought I had done wrong?” Maglor said and managed to laugh too. “You should have heard Elrond’s list! And he raised a young thunderstorm and nearly blew me off a cliff into the sea.”

“Elrond went after you,” Carnil said, disconsolate. “We should have done that.”

“I did order you not to,” Maglor pointed out. “And Celebrimbor might quite reasonably have taken it as rebellion if you had.”

“Pfft to Celebrimbor,” Carnil said gloomily. Maglor gave her a reproving look. “Oh, he’s all right I suppose. He’s fair and honest, like you said. But he’s very earnest.”

“And you prefer a lord that you don’t have to take seriously?”

“That’s most unfair!” Carnil exclaimed, more cheerfully now. “We take you seriously. Well, we do when it counts, anyway.”

Maglor rolled his eyes at her. “If you ever need to recruit an army, Arachon, I warn you against recruiting artists. They are serious only if they think they’re about to die. The rest of the time they are hopelessly ill-disciplined.”

“That’s what Maedhros says about you!” she said, and then her face fell, and Maglor held his smile and did not wince. Arachon smiled, and apparently having decided that Carnil was unlikely to require attention from Maglor’s bodyguard, turned away to look out on the glittering water and exchange a few words with Halfdan.

“How many others are still here on the hither shore?” Maglor asked Carnil.

“Eleven of us from the Gap. Still eleven. And of Maedhros’s people, all are still here, apart from Mastiel. She went with the ships. She was torn for a good while, whether to stay or go, but we all said: go. She has nieces still alive in Aman, and she’s no kinslayer. She’ll be welcome there.”

“Eleven... so Nahtanion and Roquenon didn’t sail home? I thought they might. They weren’t at the Havens, after all.”

“Not yet,” Carnil told him. “Well, Roquenon doesn’t want to go; he’s never been to Tirion. And Nahtanion decided that there was nothing much to be hurrying back for, since his wife...well, you know all about that. Celebrimbor had us all working on the aqueduct until a few days ago— that was hard work— but it’s done now, so we’re doing this and that on smaller things like this boathouse,” she waved a hand at it. “I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to go back to leatherwork, once the stonework of the city is done. I’m no mason.”

“Not pottery?” Long ago in Tirion, Carnil’s art had been as a potter of noted skill.

But she shook her head. “Not any more. It would be.. It’s been a long time since I made a teapot, and I don’t think it would ever feel quite right again...” She looked west, down the shining gulf towards the western sea, and the home in Tirion that they had left behind so lightly. “I’m not too bad with leather. I’ve had a lot of practice by now... Anyway, I was saying that there are some of the Released out of Angband still here too, though most of them have sailed. Perhaps another two hundred or so from the Gap, and then perhaps five thousand from the March as a whole. ”

She gave names, and Maglor asked the correct questions about this person and that: those who had been Maedhros’s people who had fought with him to the end, and those who had been Maglor’s own herdsmen and grooms, soldiers, blacksmiths, leatherworkers, tanners and tailors before Morgoth had sent his fires and his orcs and made them into his slaves instead.

Maglor’s people had taken most hurt from the flames of Dagor Bragollach, since they lived upon the open plains. Most of them had died; few had been captured. When Thangorodrim was broken and the slaves of Angband came forth, there had been fewer of the people of the Gap among them than any of his brothers’ people.

“The Released that chose to stay are the stronger ones, of course,” Carnil said. “But... we all felt abandoned, you understand. They’ll come around, and then... I’ll talk to them.”

“You won’t,” Maglor told her firmly. “I will speak with them myself.” Maedhros might have said that all his people were kinslayers and deserved no more consideration than he did himself but Maedhros had not been well, and Maglor should have seen that sooner.

Maedhros had fallen at last because the Silmaril had judged that he deserved the fire.. If Maglor was going to haul himself from that trap of despair before it took him as it had done his brother, he must find another way.

“Ereinion Gil-galad tells me that he is building the land anew, and wishes for hope and joy among his people,” he told Carnil. “The House of Fëanor must obey the commands of the High King. If they have grievances to voice, I will hear them.”

“I don’t think it will make them more joyful, when their prince has returned beyond all hope, to remember that their first response was to to be angry!” Carnil said ruefully. “Particularly since we all know you’d think it beneath your dignity to shout back.”

“Beneath my dignity? I suppose that’s one way of putting it, though I’d say it was more that arguing when greatly outnumbered is terribly hard work,” Maglor said, and felt that this time his grin was entirely convincing. “I was trying to do what Maedhros would do, though obviously, not quite as expertly.”

What Maedhros would have done, if he had been well enough, anyway.

It would not be fair for Maglor son of Fëanor to raise his voice to soldiers, potters and weavers who could not rival his abilities with either voice or sword. Anyway, after Celegorm and Curufin had returned from Nargothrond, Maedhros had made it a private law that his brothers should not use power of voice to daunt or persuade, unless with his permission.

Maglor kept forgetting that Maedhros was no longer there to give permission or withhold it. He ought to be used to that by now.

“Nobody expects you to be Maedhros,” Carnil said and he was thankful that she said it bluntly, as if it were part of the old half-joke that nobody could do what Maedhros did, least of all Maglor, who was by his own declaration far too lazy. Not at all as if she was being kind.

She scratched her nose and glanced back at the wharf where a number of people were singing in Sindarin, hauling ropes, as a heavy beam rose into place. Maglor could recognise a few faces among them, and as he looked, one of them who had been one of Maedhros’s people half-met his eye and then looked away.

“I’m not a herald with a silver trumpet, but still, let me announce you,” Carnil said. “Give the rest of them a little time to think about it, instead of making fools of themselves, like me.”

“Hardly a fool,” Maglor said. “But you don’t have to fight my battles for me.”

“Of course I don’t. You hardly need to tell me that, my lord! You could speak three words to anyone within this city and have them do your bidding,” Carnil said, proudly and inaccurately.

“If it were that easy, there would have been no kinslaying.” Maglor pointed out. Carnil was a kinslayer three times over herself, and knew that perfectly well.

She waved the objection away. “You said that we are not pieces in a game, and that you would speak with me as much as Telutan. Take my counsel, for once.”

Maglor found himself smiling, this time without having decided that he should. “Maedhros could not have backed me more neatly into a corner. Perhaps we should have made you a lord, after all. Very well: you talk to them, and I’ll go back to my quarters and wait for you to advise me. ”

“Give me a day,” Carnil said. “We’re scattered around the city. It will take me some time to get round to everyone.”

“Wait!” Maglor said, as she turned to go. “Carnil, would you go to Celebrimbor first, and ask if he will speak with me? I’m told I should avoid the smithies, and knowing Celebrimbor...”

“That’s where he’ll be,” Carnil finished the sentence. “Of course he will!”

“With tact though; a request, not a demand. I didn’t come here to annoy my nephew.”

“I’m not an idiot,” Carnil said indignantly.

“I feel the evidence says otherwise, if you prefer me to either Gil-galad or Celebrimbor,” Maglor said and she laughed.

“I may get my silver trumpet yet,” she said, stepping back and bowing elaborately, making a great point of it so that the people a good distance away could see.

Maglor regarded her sceptically. “I think heralds are generally supposed to be a little more diplomatic and less showy than that! But I appreciate the loyalty Carnil, truly, though you should know there’s little I can do to repay it.”

“Oh, hush,” she said, with an awkward hitch to her voice. Looking down at her round determined face, he saw with surprise that tough little Carnil was crying. He put his left arm around her as comfortingly as he could, and she leant on him as if she too were terribly weary. “I thought we’d lost you as well,” she said, indistinctly after a while.

“I thought I’d lost myself. But here I am, and so are you. The sun still shines in spite of all we’ve done and all we’ve lost. Not the traditional ending for a tragedy, but we will have to make do.”

“Yes.” She snuffled into his sleeve for a moment longer, then looked up at him. “I didn’t go through all of that,” she waved one hand out at the sea that lay over Beleriand, “to be repaid!”

“That’s just as well,” Maglor told her. “I’m out of silver trumpets.”

She smiled, scrubbed her face with one hand and pulled away. “I’ll make do,” she said. “I’ll go and... I’ll see you later.” And with that she made off swiftly in the sunlight along the quayside.

*****

Maglor found, when he returned to his new quarters that he had had enough of the small white-walled room where he slept.

He looked at the harp that someone had carefully placed on a table, and stretched his aching hand. It was, surely, a little better today, but his fingers would not move easily as they should have done, and the thought of harpstrings on his raw fingertips made him wince. He could play one-handed, of course, but it was unpleasant to be reminded abruptly why he should not use both hands...

He found Elrond’s armour-bearer Hundor in the hall that served as a meeting-place for Elrond’s people, and asked where to find charcoal, ink, and something to write on. Hundor nodded dutifully, and brought a pile of pale rectangles of birchbark, three sheets of thick paper, and a small and precious piece of fine white parchment.

Maglor put the ink, parchment and the paper safely to one side and took up the charcoal sticks.

It had been a very long time since he had undertaken lessons in drawing the face and form, conducted in the silver light of Telperion in the company of Maedhros, Fingon and Finarfin. Fingon had declared after a while that he was more interested in architecture, and Finarfin had gone off to Alqualondë, but Maedhros and Maglor were Fëanor’s sons, and Fëanor’s sons completed what they started, and were excellent, always, in all things they attempted.

But it had been a long time; he had had no reason to practice the art since, and his right hand had not been burned in those days.

It took Maglor many attempts to make his left hand obey as precisely as he expected and make the charcoal do as he wished; applying the dusty black carefully to the pale birchbark, and then, impatient, rubbing it away until his left hand looked more burned than the right one.

Halfdan went off to do some task of his own, and Maglor was left with young Hundor and Arachon, idly playing at dice, sitting one each side of a wide window-seat set in a window that looked out over Mithlond.

In the end he made an image that matched the face clear as glass in his memory, and he took up paper and ink. The first sheet he spoiled, to his annoyance. The paper was oddly textured, the ink unfamiliar, and he made a blot.

But the second went well, and the blunt cheerful face of a Man surrounded by pale untidy braids came to life under his ink-brush. He looked at it carefully when it was done, comparing it to the memory, and was confident the task had been done to an acceptable standard. ‘Hador of the House of Marach’ he wrote under it, in bold curling letters, and waited for the ink to dry.

“I said you looked like him,” he said, and gave the paper to Arachon. “This was Hador when I first met him. He would have been around your age, I think. I thought you and your mother would like to see him. A gift for you.”

Arachon took the paper carefully and looked at it for a long while. “Thank you,” he said. “We had nothing left of Hithlum. Only the name. And now this. My mother will be so pleased... Thank you!”

“I’m grateful that you welcomed me so warmly to the city,” Maglor said, which was true, though there was a small uneasy voice at the back of his mind that asked if one reason he had taken such trouble was that a servant of the Enemy would not have done.

Surely he had been kind sometimes in Aman, in the days when it was unquestioned that the sons of Fëanor deserved the Light.

Arachon smiled, and looked again at the picture in his hand. “It seems easier than we thought,” he admitted. Hundor looked awkwardly away, blushing; it seemed that he had not expected much from Maglor either. “We heard that the Sons of Fëanor had little time for Men. If I’m honest, we were expecting you to be horrible! But we all agreed we would take no offence for Elrond’s sake, no matter how rude you were. I didn’t expect...” he lifted the paper a little.

Maglor blinked. “I think you must have met someone who met my brother Caranthir on a bad day. Perhaps after Nirnaeth Arnoediad, where the Men he had allied with turned against us. Caranthir was never very good at guarding his tongue.” He thought about it. “My father was concerned about Men, a very long time ago. But we knew nothing of you, then. The little we had heard...” he made a face. “Well, there were no Men then, only rumours. But I think the rumours muddled Men with orcs.”

“I can see that might not make him warm to us,” Arachon said, and grinned.

“I had never had much to do with the Edain myself, before Elrond and Elros,” Maglor said. “But I remember Hador and his people kindly. Even Caranthir on a bad day would not blame the house of Hador, who fought the Enemy bravely, for Ulfang who betrayed us.” He returned the grin. “Or at least, I hope he wouldn’t, and if he did I’d tell him off. Younger brothers can be idiots... but Caranthir is dead, like all the rest, of course.”

“I’m sorry,” Arachon said, and he looked as though he meant it.

Maglor hesitated for a moment. “You are Elrond’s cousin, and so am I,” he said. “I would count you as a cousin, Arachon, if it is a connection you and your mother will admit to.”

He was almost sure that his father would not disapprove. Not after Húrin, and Barahir, and Bór... You changed your position when the evidence supported it, Fëanor would say.

Arachon looked very taken aback, and Maglor wondered if he had made a mistake. But then he smiled. “I am very glad to be a cousin of Elrond’s cousin. But I warn you now, my mother is probably going to knit you a hat!”

Maglor laughed. “I doubt I’ll look as elegant in a knobbly woollen hat as Elrond. I don’t think that particular art is one I’ve ever learned. But I will certainly wear it with pride if she does.”


******

Celebrimbor appeared soon after that, wearing his usual serious expression.

“Gil-galad has agreed that I should stay here, I assume, for Elrond’s sake...” Maglor began, but Celebrimbor shook his head.

“We may have disagreed on a number of things, but still you are my uncle. For that matter, Gil-galad himself has very little family remaining himself, and almost no-one but Círdan who remembers Hithlum as it was when he was a child. He called you cousin, when I saw him yesterday,” Celebrimbor paused, and then let a smile pull up the corner of his mouth. “Admittedly he did make a face when he said it.”

“The Children of Indis have always had a very broad definition of ‘family’” Maglor suggested and then when Celebrimbor looked at him, solemnly reproachful, “A joke! Only a joke, Celebrimbor. Sorry.”

“So you should be,” Celebrimbor told him reprovingly, and then laughed anyway. “It’s true, we have stretched the word ‘cousin’ to its limit, but that seems safer than defining things too closely. Was there something particular that you wanted to see me about?”

“Two things. One more urgent than the other. Carnil has returned to her allegiance to me, and I suspect is busily persuading some of my people and Maedhros’s to do the same at this minute. I thought I had better speak of it to you in person, and ensure it doesn’t disrupt your work more than it must.”

Celebrimbor nodded earnestly. “I expected that,” he said. “I don’t intend to try to stop it, if that’s what you were thinking. Our people must have the right to choose their lords. It will make things a good deal easier in many ways, if those who were with you at the Havens go back to you. At the moment I have both sides reporting to me directly, and it isn’t at all easy. I tried keeping them in separate companies but they formed rivalries. At the moment I have them mingled together, with stern orders that they must not quarrel, which at least makes it harder for them to form into factions. But nobody likes it and they all complain to me!”

“I can imagine,” Maglor said carefully. “I counsel that you give them a few days of peace, so they can talk freely and decide what allegiance they wish to hold to.”

Celebrimbor had always taken after his grandfather when it came to interruptions in his work. Whether it was Fëanor or his grandson, it was better to be clear from the start if there was to be any reason that the schedule might be held up.

As Maglor had expected, Celebrimbor protested automatically at the thought of an interruption in the building of the city, but to Maglor’s relief he quickly thought better of it. Celebrimbor could be obstinate when he felt his position challenged, but perhaps his years at the Havens and on Balar had made him better at compromise than he had been as a boy.

“A few days would do no harm. In fact, it would give me a chance to go over the plans again,” Celebrimbor said, his voice warming with enthusiasm at the idea. “We’ll give them till the new moon, shall we? They did good work with the aqueduct, I’ll have to show you over it... what was the second matter?”

“The second matter was to offer my help, if you can use it. Elrond asked that I should come to Mithlond and help. I am neither the most able and certainly not the most diligent of Aulë’s students, but I have not forgotten everything, I hope.”

“It’s not like you to be over-modest,” Celebrimbor said, eyeing him with narrowed eyes. “All of our House are able, grandfather would say.”

“Yes,” Maglor agreed. He looked sideways at Celebrimbor. “But that was all a very long time ago.”

“It was,” Celebrimbor said, and silence fell between them. Threaded through it like a flame through the gloom of evening, Fëanor’s passionate face shone in their thought; for Maglor, bright and light-hearted and filled with joy as his father had been when Maglor had been a boy, and for Celebrimbor, shadowed with bitterness and anger: never directed towards his treasured grandson, but still looming darkly like a thundercloud.

“Do you think,” Celebrimbor said, and stopped.

“Do I think he’s fallen to the Darkness?” Maglor asked, and heard his own voice clear and bitter as broken glass. He tried to soften it. “I don’t know, Tyelpë. Maedhros thought not.”

“But if you don’t know then nor would he,” Celebrimbor said gloomily. “I thought you might have an insight, since you swore it too.”

Maglor shook his head. “I can’t be sure, but I hope... I don’t think we had the power to doom ourselves to that,” he said and was not sure himself if it was a lie.

Celebrimbor thought it was. He fixed Maglor with a weary eye. “It’s a long time since I was a child to be protected from the truth. If he has fallen into Darkness everlasting then all the rest have too.”

“I know,” Maglor said. “But it may be that their fate was not so unkind.” He kept the fear and the guilt carefully from his voice. Though Celebrimbor was now, surely, one of the greatest smiths and makers of the Noldor, it did not seem so very long ago that he had been young Tyelpë, following his father and his grandfather out of love and desperate loyalty into the darkness.

“All we can do is go on and build anew,” Celebrimbor said, with a look of fierce determination that was almost painfully like his grandfather.

Maglor nodded. “What can I do, safely away from the armory, the smithies and the lifting gear for stone, of course?”

Celebrimbor’s eyes went to Maglor’s burned hand. “Can you use that hand?” he asked bluntly.

“No,” Maglor admitted. “But I have two.”

Celebrimbor gave his burned hand a long doubtful look. “Elrond says you are unwell. Gil-galad judged that you should be counted among those released from under the Enemy’s hand, and treated with forbearance and understanding.”

“Elrond and Gil-galad are both very young, and very kind,” Maglor said, discomfited. “And neither of them is of the House of Fëanor.”

“No,” Celebrimbor said. “But I’m inclined to think now that traditions other than those of the House of Fëanor have merit. We have hundreds of years to build Lindon, and only a few days ago you were wrapped in dreams of flame.”

“And now I am not. Come, Celebrimbor, you would not be content to be kept from work,” Maglor pointed out.

Celebrimbor considered. “True,” he said after a moment. “And as it happens, I could use your skills tuning the aqueduct. It works well enough, but it is not melodious. I had thought of asking Galadriel, but...”

Hooves outside, clattering on the paving, and then the heavy wooden outer door banged and there were feet coming up the stone steps, and through the archway. As they came hurrying up the steps, Maglor saw that it was Elrond, and not alone. Elros was with him, looking pale and strained, and red around the eyes.

He went straight to Maglor. “I’m sorry,” Elros said and his voice was choked and harsh. “I would have come at once if I’d known. I had no idea that he would... I got it all wrong.”

Maglor was appalled. “It’s not your fault, Elros!” and this at least he could say with absolute conviction. “None of it is your fault at all! Maedhros would never think that, and nor would I.”

“I told him that,” Elrond said, looking deeply unhappy.

Elros gave him a bitter look. “I thought it would be better to wait a little,” he said and clear as day across the surface of his mind the ugly thought swam that Elros, who had obligations to Men and to the Valar, could not as easily throw down his responsibilities as Elrond could. That Elrond could have followed Maedhros, when Elros, who was a king of Men, could not.

“Oh, no,” Maglor said. “Elros, don’t do that to yourself. Elrond is no more to blame than you. I was there, and I didn’t stop him.” Over by the window, Arachon, who had been watching silently, touched Hundor, who was frankly staring, on the shoulder and beckoned him to leave.

“We drew straws,” Elros said savagely, turning to look at his brother. “I got Gil-galad and the Edain and I lost everything all over again, and you could not even...”

“Elros!” Maglor said, and because Elrond was quietly close to tears and this was an impossible situation in so many ways, he said it with all his strength. “Enough!”

And the room was, abruptly, silent.

“Some things are not for you to mend,” Maglor said as firmly as he could. “Neither of you. He was my brother, and I was there. Blame me if you wish, or blame him. You have more than enough reason. But to blame each other... Elros, that’s ridiculous. You are not responsible for Maedhros, and you are wiser than that.”

Elros pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. “Apparently not,” he said, after a moment. “Sorry, Elrond. I didn’t really mean that.”

“Good,” Elrond said, his face sharp and hurt. “I’ve blamed myself enough. I could do without hearing it from you.” And Maglor wished urgently that he still had his sword, and preferably also something uncomplicatedly evil that he could hit with it.

“It’s a new world,” Celebrimbor said awkwardly. “We all grieve for Maedhros, Elros, and for... everything, but... well. Everyone feels guilty sometimes but that’s just how it is, you know. ”

“None of you should feel guilty,” Maglor told them. “Leave that to me. Come on Elros. I already maintain a remarkably long list of reasons to feel guilty, there’s no need for you to start your own!”

Elrond managed a laugh, but Elros’s face crumpled. “I’d made a list,” he said, desolate. “All the things I was going to ask him his opinion about... I’d planned it all out. It will be twenty years at least until we go into the West. Plenty of time to talk, I thought.”

Maglor could not find words to answer that, although it was clearly his duty to try. Fortunately, before he could say anything that would inevitably be the wrong thing, Arachon returned, carrying a jug of hot wine with honey, a fresh loaf and some cups on a tray, with a tactful air of having heard nothing out of the ordinary.

Maglor gave him a look that probably did not fully convey his gratitude for the interruption. “Will you drink with me to his memory?” he asked Elros.

Elros deliberately straightened and squared his shoulders. He should not have to, but there was no help for it. “Of course,” he said.

Maglor would have liked to put an arm around him, but Elros was not a child but a King, and Maglor was something that was dangerously close to being a servant of the Enemy. He stretched his burned hand a little and felt the bitter ache of it. Better not. He took the cup that Arachon offered him with his left hand, thanked him, and proposed a toast.

“You look better,” Elrond told him. “Or at least more awake. I was beginning to be concerned about you.”

“I am sorry that you were troubled. I’ll endeavour to dream less noisily in future,” Maglor said. “It was pleasant to sleep in safety for a change, and have nothing to fret about.”

Elrond gave him a look that he could not entirely understand, and emptied his cup in three swallows.

“Stop doing that!” he said.

Maglor looked at him in bafflement. “I’ll try, of course,” he said. “But I’m not sure what I’m being asked to stop?”

Elros sighed and put his face in his hands for a moment. Then he looked up again. “He means that you are wearing your politest social face and there is absolutely nothing showing on the surface of your mind apart from the star of your house and a very faint sense of concern that we should be troubled. Under the circumstances, that is in itself troubling, Maglor.”

“You should not be troubled. It was no fault of yours that you became entangled with us,” Maglor explained. “I’ve tried to spare you any harm from it. Elrond asked that I come here to help, and that I will do to the best of my ability. But...”

“Oh, shut up,” Elros said, and hugged him. He had grown broader in the shoulders since Maglor had last seen him, and a couple of inches taller too. “It’s all gone wrong. We know it, you know it, there’s no point pretending.”

“And,” Elrond added accusingly, “you haven’t been complaining. Not even about your hand, and given how you used to complain about a blister on your finger... Never mind. Just stop smiling at me, saying all is well and making jokes. It hurts my heart.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Maglor said, making an effort not to add the automatic smile. “But I don’t think that’s a thing that I can do, Elrond. I’ve spent more than six hundred years, on and off, patching things together with music, jokes and increasingly worn and faded hope. I don’t know how to undo it all now, or if there would be anything left of me underneath if I did. But if it comforts you to hear it, then yes, my hand hurts as if it’s caught in the fires of Thangorodrim, it’s a great nuisance to keep reaching for things with the wrong hand or catching my fingertips without thinking, and I truly wish it would just stop hurting.”

“It’s a start,” Elrond said gravely, “I’m sorry about the hand. I’ll send for more of that seaweed dressing.”

Chapter Text

The last ruddy light of day was glancing on the carved stone window-columns when the door below opened, and two people came up the steps: one of them near as young as Elrond and Elros, and the other so very old that he could remember crossing the Ered Luin into Beleriand as one of the Third Host of the Eldar, following Elwë Thingol.

Gil-galad came hurrying up first. “Elros!” he said laughing. “Were you planning to tell me you were visiting Mithlond, or were you just going to blow in like a summer breeze and vanish again before I could catch you?”

Elros smiled, though you could see his heart was not in it. “I’m sorry about that,” he said. “I had a private matter to attend to here, so I took the first ship and did not wait to send a messenger.”

Gil-galad gave Maglor a troubled sideways look, and the smile fell from his face. “I thought you at least would have more faith in me,” he said. “I told you from the start that I did not expect you to forget all other loyalties.”

“No!” Elros said at once. “I didn’t mean that at all. I didn’t know that Maedhros had died until Elrond came to tell me. Maedhros was dear to me too, and so...”

“And so you wanted to speak with Maglor, of course,” Gil-galad said, rather stiffly. “I am sorry to have interrupted you.”

“You didn’t,” Elrond told him. “We’ve all resolved to try to stop feeling guilty, and had just got to the point where we were about to start thinking of dinner instead. I’m glad you came.”

“And so am I,” Elros agreed. “And you too, Círdan. Will you take a meal with us?”

“I would be glad to,” Gil-galad said, although he did not look particularly glad. Maglor wondered briefly if he should make an excuse and leave, so that Gil-galad and Círdan could avoid eating with him, but he could not think of one. Anyway, they could dine elsewhere if it was so important to keep their hands clean. Let them make their own excuses. Kinslayers had to eat too.

“And the sooner the better,” Círdan said cheerfully. “I sailed all the way up from Forlond today, and then Gil-galad here dragged me off to see you before I could have the smallest bite when I landed. I reckon I could eat orc, if there was nothing better, I’m that hungry. And Maglor here looks as if he could do with feeding up.”

“I have had something of a lean time of it recently,” Maglor admitted warily.

“So I heard,” Círdan said and looked at him with piercing blue eyes like sky over sea. “I was sorry to hear of what came to your brothers, lad. And to you, for that matter.”

“Yes, I imagine you were, since you had to bury the dead,” Maglor said, with an edge to his voice. Something about the way that Círdan was looking at him scraped at the raw edges of his nerves and reminded him his hand was aching. He held his head high, since that was all that was left to him. “You’ll dine beside an orc if you have to, is that it? I don’t need your pity.” He heard a sharp intake of breath from Elros. Elrond was looking at him reproachfully.

“Well, you have it anyway, whether you need it or not,” Círdan said, imperturbable. “I remember your grandfather speaking of how he was going to take all his people to the light and the wonders of Aman, where all of them would be safe forever. A sad thing that hope failed him, and a terrible sad thing what happened to his grandchildren, but still, you came to our aid and you tried, and I’ll honour you for that, whether you want me to or not. I had kin among the slaves of the Enemy too, you know. I don’t count them as orcs, but yes, I pity them. Who wouldn’t?”

Maglor remembered Círdan long ago, telling them that those who came back from Angband could not be trusted, that they carried the fear of their master’s gaze with them wherever they went. They had not believed him, then. Such things had seemed impossible.

They still did,when it came to Maedhros. Maedhros had fallen to despair, but his will had been his own. Did that make it better, or worse?

“Day shall come again,” Círdan said, conversationally, as if he had replied. “I hadn’t thought it would be you and me to see it, of all that great host on the field before Thangorodrim in the year of tears, but there she is, the Sun, and she’ll be back again tomorrow, and that’s a finer thing than holding on to grief for things we all regret. I’m not much good with words, as I’ve mentioned to you before, I think. But there’s something there, surely.”

“Day shall come again,” Maglor said, and met Círdan’s keen eyes, finding it easier than he had expected, even though they were kind. “There is something there. You are right. I am sorry, Círdan. I spoke more sharply than I intended.”

“Mmm, well, you’re Noldor after all. I daresay you can’t help it,” Círdan said tolerantly, but he so clearly meant well that Maglor could hardly take offense. “Now then, Elrond, what were you saying about dinner?”

“I’ll have some food sent up,” Elrond said smiling and relieved. “I think we can manage something less tough than orc though, Círdan. There’s something of a shortage of them locally.”

 

******

“We’re going to make a journey for no reason at all,” Elros declared to Maglor with determination, over a breakfast of fresh white goat’s cheese, smoked mackerel and laverbread some time later. “I’ve told my people I will be away for a little while. We are going to go up into the hills beyond the Ered Luin, just the three of us, and go hunting in the wild, the way you said you used to do with Finrod. And look at birds, and flowers and trees and... streams and things, and sing and play the harp a little. No orcs, no spiders, no dragons, no heavy shields to lug about, and most of all, no armour!”

“I am not permitted weapons,” Maglor pointed out. “That would make hunting a little difficult. And I am not too sure that there are no orcs, spiders and dragons left. They may have fled the fall of Beleriand, like the rest of us.”

“Don’t be so gloomy!” Elros said encouragingly. “Even if there are a few orcs here and there, they are hardly going to be looking for trouble now. I doubt we’ll see any at all.”

Maglor looked at him dubiously. “You want me to go wandering around Middle-earth, unarmed, hoping the orcs will stay out of the way?”

“Yes,” Elrond told him, and gave him a smile that had a definite hint of an edge to it. “Think yourself lucky. At least you are not six years old. And you have a belt-knife.”

That made any further protest impossible, of course. “I did give you your belt-knives back eventually,” Maglor reminded him. “Very well. I share your enthusiasm for a lack of dragons, spiders and orcs, and if we do meet any, I have every confidence in your ability to dispose of them without my help.”

“Good,” Elrond said smiling. “You can tell us what to do, and we’ll hunt; I have been hunting only twice since we were thirteen, I think. Or we can hunt for nuts and mushrooms, like the Green-elves do. It doesn’t matter: we can take supplies with us. That is, if you are well enough. There’s no rush. We could go in a few months, or next year...”

“I am well,” Maglor said shortly. “If you are going to hunt, you should have the right equipment. You won’t catch much with war-gear. Not that I’m the most expert of huntsmen, but if you are going to do this, you might as well do it properly.”

The expert huntsmen had been Celegorm, who had died killing their grandfather, and Amrod and Amras, who had died to bring the Havens to ruin. Perhaps Amrod, Amras and Celegorm were lost in everlasting darkness, and probably the Silmaril would have burned them too.

But Elrond was looking at him, bright-eyed and hopeful, with fifty years of unearned war behind him and every right to expect someone to make up for everything that he and Elros had lost at the hands of the House of Fëanor. And most of the people who could touch a Silmaril and not be burned were dead, or had vanished beyond the Sea.

Which, come to think of it, was how they had ended up here.

Perhaps the Valar or Finarfin or someone would be able to sort out whatever harm had been done to Elros by growing up among people who could not touch a Silmaril, once he got to the Land of Gift. Though, that still left Elrond, who would not leave...

Elrond and Elros were of the blood of Lúthien. They were pretty tough. On reflection, Maglor felt there was nothing wrong with either of them. Elros could probably give the Valar lessons.

All you could do was go on.

“We had better find a couple of light bows, and some hounds,” he said. “ I don’t know if anyone is keeping hawks in Mithlond yet, but they used to hunt with hawks in Doriath. It may be that Celeborn could lend you some.”

Finrod had brought the fashion back with him from Doriath to Nargothrond and Dorthonion, to Hithlum and the March...

Finrod was well enough, at least. He was returned from death already to walk with his father under the trees in Tirion, so the word that had come East over Sea with the Host of Valinor had it. Maglor had absolutely no right to be jealous of him.

Elrond nodded. “There are hounds in Mithlond — at the stables, with our friend Varyar, mostly. I don’t think we have hawks. We can do without them. Make a list of what else you think we’ll need, and I’ll get together the supplies.”

“Very well,” Maglor agreed. “I had best speak to Carnil, and anyone else she has managed to lead astray from Celebrimbor’s allegiance. If I vanish again without a word, I am not sure she’ll forgive me before the breaking of the world.”

******

It turned out that a number of the deerhounds in Mithlond were descended from the hounds that had followed Maedhros and Maglor from Amon Ereb to the Taur-im-Duinath, to the eastern mountains and the Northern front. Nobody had been keeping hounds for hunting for quite some time during the war, but the hounds had followed the Elves to war, and sometimes even into battle. Somehow or other down the years, some of them had managed to raise pups.

They were, of course, many generations removed from the hounds that had known Amrod and Amras, and yet, looking at their waving plumed tails, their soft creamy muzzles and their thick brindle coats, Maglor could see the hounds of long ago, those that had come in the ships from lost Aman, and those that Amrod and Amras had traded for with the Sindar of the March.

In the woods and plains of East Beleriand, Ambarussa, with the assistance of Celegorm whenever he visited, had bred up a mingled race of hunters, swift as the wind, high-stepping and joyful in pursuit. The last of them had been left behind to follow Maglor and Maedhros, when Ambarussa had fallen at the Havens, and here were their descendants.

These hounds were perhaps a little shorter in the leg, not quite so tall and swift, yet they were still recognisably the same hounds, and Maglor found himself smiling as they thrust their long snouts towards him, wagging cheerfully. They too had survived the darkness, though it had not been easy for them. It had not been easy for anyone.

He chose three of the hounds according to the recommendation of Varyar, who had somehow ended up working in the stables when the rest of Maglor and Maedhros’s people had been assigned to building duty, and had apparently found time for hound-training along with his other duties. Perhaps Celebrimbor had simply recognised that wherever Varyar was told to go, he would end up at the stables anyway. Even Maedhros had ended up doing that.

Maglor picked the last hound because he was leaning blissfully on Elrond staring up at him with dark adoring eyes, and Elrond was clearly enjoying rubbing his silky ears.

The horses that they had ridden through the end of the war were old now, swaybacked and grey-faced, but they recognised Maglor at once as he came up into the pasture where they were grazing, and came to greet him.

A tiny remnant, these, of the thousands that had once been at his command, but then, nobody could know thousands of horses. All of these he knew by name, their preferences and their peculiarities as well as he knew their riders.

One horse in particular, Táli, who had been his own war-horse, came pushing forward through the crowd with confidence, ears up, to take a wisp of sweet hay. There beside her there was a tall grizzled bay stallion. Maedhros’s last horse. He had been getting old even when Maedhros had last ridden him, and now he walked stiff-legged and his lips drooped with age. Maglor scratched his neck for him, and the old horse held his head sideways to lean into it, quietly happy, while Táli lipped at his shoulder.

They had not taken horses on that last journey to the camp beside the sea where the Silmarils lay. The hosts of Valinor had little cavalry: the horses would have made them conspicuous.

“He’s not looking bad for his age,” he told Varyar, once he had run his hands over the stallion. “He has earned his retirement.”

“He has. And he has been getting the best that I have to offer. But I have something new I wanted to show you,” Varyar told Maglor leading him past a long stone wall to open pasture, and whistling, a long shrill note.

Hooves answered, and a small group of young horses came cantering towards him, strong-looking duns and bays of the kind that Maglor preferred: no flashy white to attract the enemy’s eyes, no feathers to get caught and tangled, only trim, unshowy horses with strong legs and necks that looked as though they could run all day. There was one young stallion with the mob, taller than the rest, a bright red bay with a gentle inquisitive eye and a white star on his forehead. It was clear to anyone with half an eye who Varyar had had in mind as his rider. Varyar had been born at Himring, and had served Maedhros all his life. He had offered Maglor his allegiance with a strange puzzled look, as if he could not quite believe it was Maglor standing there and not his older brother. An understandable reaction, really; Maglor felt much the same himself.

“They look very good,” Maglor said, offering long strands of sweet goose-grass from the ungrazed side of the wall. “How old?”

“Five or six years, most of them,” Varyar told him. “These two fillies are three. There are a couple of mares with foals at foot too, but they are in the other field. It would be a pity to lose the bloodlines entirely, I thought, and so...”

“And so you have worked to make sure they were not lost? That was well thought of. I suppose it might not occur to Celebrimbor.”

“I thought this roan mare would suit you, lord. I’d been training her up with you in mind.” Neither of them were looking at the tall red bay. “Táli doesn’t really have the speed for hunting any more.”

“Elrond and Elros are going hunting,” Maglor said. “I am not, and even if I were, I’d rather not take out a young untried horse, since we will be gone for several days. Táli is wise and we know each other, and she’s not so old as all that. She will serve well enough for now. But this mare looks very well-made. I shall look forward to riding her in the future, Varyar, thank you.” He made himself look properly at the red stallion. “This will be a very fine horse once he has filled out a little,” he said.

“He is a little young for hunting yet,” Varyar said immediately.

“Yes, he is,” Maglor agreed, and let the stallion snuff at his left hand, then rubbed at his tall crest. “Perhaps he would suit Gil-galad, one day. When he’s ready. He looks a horse to suit a High King.”

Varyar made a wordless reluctant noise.

“Or will you keep him as your own mount?” Maglor asked. “Your old girl must be getting a little grey around the muzzle too.”

“I can’t keep them all for myself,” Varyar admitted. “And it would... it would be a fine thing if the King rode one of our horses. They’re potbellied beasts, these Eriador ponies. Good enough for carrying a sack of onions to market, but not what I’d like to see the High King of the Noldor riding. Just... in a few years. When he’s ready.”

“When he’s older,” Maglor agreed. “It’s a little too soon for him to be going hunting yet.”

******

“I’ve wanted to do this for years,” Elros told them, determinedly cheerful as they rode out between the tall green turf-walls of Mithlond, hounds running joyfully ahead of them. “Only there was never time for any of it, what with... one thing and another. But now there’s time. Oh yes, two more things. No guilt and no arguments!”

“No guilt may be a little difficult,” Maglor said, and looked across at both of them, their fair faces so nearly the same and yet each already shaped by life and thought that was very different. He shook his head doubtfully. “But I will try! No arguments though... I don’t know if I can live up to that one. Two Noldor together is an argument, isn’t that what the Sindar say?”

Elrond laughed. “In that case, you had best try to be of the House of Hador, through your connection with our cousin Arachon, and so will I. The Edain are a peaceable folk.”

“If only that were true!” Elros said, lifting his eyes to the blue sky. “No, we shall just be Elros, Elrond and Maglor, and endeavour to avoid arguments that way.”

They rode up into the Blue Mountains, out of the broken lands where the new Gulf of Lune shone in the sun behind them, up into the quiet birchwood uplands where the white trunks grew in scattered groups among the rabbit-grazed turf, and a flutter of green leaves shone overhead, then higher still, across heather hills purple with flowers and stitched with golden gorse, where they rested the horses for a while beside a small clear moorland pool. Then they rode on down into a shallow valley among the tall grey trunks of beech trees. They followed the tiny stream down until it became a small joyful river with a quiet grassy glade beside it, and there they stopped for the night.

 

******

Maglor woke early to find the sun already warm, streaming through the shadows of the trees to make golden pools of light and outline each blade of the dewy grass with shimmering light.

The horses were grazing peacefully not far away under the shade of the beech-trees near the stream, and Elros and Elrond already awake, were sitting lazily by the water, tossing small pebbles into the shallow pool.

“It’s a hot day, and it will be hotter later,” Maglor said, coming over to join them. “Are you two keen to ride on, or shall we linger here today and enjoy the shade and the voice of the stream singing to itself?”

Elros smiled and began to run a comb through his dark hair in a leisurely manner. “Let’s stay, then,” he said. “There’s no rush.”

Clear water ran down from mossy stones, dark-shadowed and golden-edged where the light caught them and Maglor washed his hands and face, the coolness of the water kind on his aching hand.

“Is it any better?” Elros asked, leaning over to look at his palm.

“It hurts,” Maglor said, deliberately extravagant, “as if Ancalagon the Black himself had bathed it in his fiercest flames, and, which is worse, it itches too. I could write a verse about the different kind of agony in each and every fingertip. It could only be more painful if I had twice as many fingers, and if Fingon were only here to do it, I would certainly demand that he lop the whole thing off at the wrist...” he stopped as Elros winced. “Too much?”

“Better than saying it doesn’t hurt at all when it’s clear as the moon on a cloudless night that it does,” Elros told him. “Can I set the charm on it this morning?”

In fact the cold of the water had numbed the ache considerably, but Maglor held out his hand for Elros to say words over it anyway.

Elrond went wandering along the grassy deer-nibbled path a little way, with one of the great shaggy deerhounds at his heel. He looked down at something by his feet, and then jumped nimbly backwards, catching the great hound by the collar to pull it back.

“I’ve met a tiny dragon,” he announced. “Look at this! It’s like living copper. Do you think it bites?”

Maglor came over to look. “That’s a slow-worm,” he said. “A legless lizard, not a dragon. No legs, no flames, no poisonous gases, and definitely no malevolent intelligence. I don’t think they even have teeth.”

“And less than the length of my fore-arm,” Elrond pointed out with a bright flash of a smile catching sunlight through a leaf-gap in the dappled shade. “Though perhaps that’s less important than the rest.”

Maglor crouched to admire the minute shining head and long finely-scaled body glinting in the sun. “If I am to meet another army with a dragon-general, I hope the dragon is of this kind. These aren’t very clever. Amrod used to keep one, and watch it hunting slugs. Celegorm used to tease him about it... He thought the slugs unexciting game.”

“They’re friendly?” Elrond asked.

“Friendly is probably putting it too strongly, I think. They aren’t dangerous: only shy, but they can get used to you in time... I wonder if it speaks the same language that Amrod’s did,” Maglor said, thinking back to a far-off garden in Tirion under the light of a tree of gold. He tapped gently on the ground in the rhythm he remembered, but the slow-worm only gave him a look of miniature outrage, and slithered off into the long grass. Elrond laughed.

“Perhaps not,” Maglor said, and laughed too. “Or perhaps my memory of what Celegorm said to slow-worms is faulty. I can’t say I gave my whole attention to it.”

“Shall we see if it will be persuaded to come back for harpsong?” Elros suggested, pulling Maglor’s harp from the bag.

Maglor looked at it and wrinkled his nose. “You play,” he said. “It’s not the same, playing with one hand, and my fingers aren’t ready for harp strings, not yet anyway. I’ll sing. I must say Amrod’s lizard was never very impressed with my singing, but perhaps the creatures of Middle-earth will be more tolerant.”

Chapter Text

They sang the morning through, quietly mingling song with the voice of the water running cool and clear across the shining pebbles of the stream-bed. Elrond and Elros took turns with the harp, sitting in the shade beside the stream with the hounds dozing around them. The hounds lay quiet, snoring and twitching their large hairy paws, or opening clear golden eyes the shape of almonds from time to time to watch the singers as they listened.

Maglor found himself smiling as he sang, which was probably not the right thing for someone burned by a Silmaril to do, but was clearly what Elrond and Elros wanted.

Elros had said there should be no guilt, but Elrond had told him to remember the names of the guards around the Silmarils that he and Maedhros had killed.

It was impossible to do both at once. Perhaps he could put the guilt away and return to it later, when Elros would not be troubled by it.

He could hear an echo of Caranthir’s remembered voice at the back of his mind, making an acerbic remark about Maglor’s ability to put a matter off until the need for it had entirely passed. But there was more than one duty to meet, and no point making a botch of it by trying to do everything at once.

The song ended. “You’re wearing a very strange expression,” Elrond said to him.

“Just thinking about lunch,” Maglor told him. He stood up and stretched, his mind carefully overlaid with music. If Elrond could see beyond the music he did not say so. He only went to rummage dutifully in the bags for bread, apples, honey-cakes and smoked fish.
“Tell me about this Isle of Gift,” Maglor suggested to Elros, once Elrond had handed out the food and given each hound a strip of dried meat to chew.

“I thought I said no arguments?” Elros said, glancing at his brother. Clearly this was a subject they had discussed at length.

Elrond laughed. “Do you need reminding that you are neither Maglor’s king nor mine?”

“I don’t,” Elros told him with dignity. “Oddly enough, I can remember whose king I am. But surely I can make a reasonable request of my brother and my foster-father?”

“I didn’t intend to start an argument,” Maglor said hastily. “It was only that I haven’t heard much about the place and so I thought I’d ask.” He paused, looking sideways at Elros as he sat on a great flat rock beside the stream, then added; “I hope you have the sense not to use that word where it will get you into trouble.”

“Which word? Reasonable, king or brother?” Elros enquired light-heartedly. Maglor gave him a reproving look and he laughed. “Oh, all right. But there’s nothing wrong with foster-father either. The Edain often have their children fostered in another household.”

“Not the way you were.”

“Well, perhaps not,” Elros admitted. “But foster-father is surely less likely to cause trouble in the West than Maglor son of Fëanor. Foster-father could be anyone. Círdan. Gil-galad. Celeborn. Gundor of the House of Hador.”

“It does our father no disrespect,” Elrond said to Maglor quietly. “Let us have this much?”

Maglor held up his hands. “Fair enough,” he said. “Who am I to tell you no? But where in the West are you going, Elros? Elrond told me you were going off to an island with the Edain in a few years time, but I know no more than that.”

“Ulmo is raising a new island from the Sea for us,” Elros said. “Not within the boundaries of Valinor, but just within sight of Tol Eressëa, as close as Men can come. It will have a similar climate to the Lonely Isle; you’ve been there, haven’t you?”

Maglor nodded, remembering starlit cliffs and quiet shadowed coves where waves rolled in from the distant and mysterious East. “A few times,” he said. “We all went as a family, once, when I was quite young. And then later, Finrod had a boat and used to visit regularly: I went with him a couple of times. But it was all starlight then, of course, and very few people lived there; only a few of the Teleri. I imagine it has changed a good deal with the Sun.”

“Many of the Noldor returning from Middle-earth have settled there, so I heard from Finarfin and Anairë,” Elrond told him. “There’s a new harbour on the eastern shore now, Avallónë. They thought I should go and live there.”

“But you aren’t going?”

“If you sail west, it’s forever,” Elrond said, fiddling with a stream-worn pebble in one hand and giving it more attention than it seemed to deserve. “You can never come back. Not to the Hither Shore. You can visit the Isle of Gift, but Middle-earth is for Men, that’s the ruling. Well, and Dwarves, presumably, though Eönwë didn’t mention them. They want all of the Elves to sail into the West.”

“Hm,” Maglor said, non-committal.

“Apart from the ringleaders of the rebellion, of course,” Elros put in. “They don’t want you, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Maglor agreed.

Elrond threw the pebble from one hand to the other., “Many of the Sindar don’t see why they should go, not now the Enemy is defeated. Celeborn isn’t leaving, of course, and probably wouldn’t even if Galadriel could, and wanted to. He thinks I should take up the kingship of the Sindar.”

“Really?” Elros said, and laughed loudly. “I wish I’d seen you wriggling out of that!”

Elrond flicked stream-water at him, and there was a brief digression, from which Maglor retreated backwards at speed with his honey-cake in hand to avoid getting soaked.

Afterwards, both Elrond and Elros had to spread their shirts out in the sun to dry them off.

“Anyway,” Elrond said, “I persuaded him there was no need. Gil-galad can be king of the Sindar, if they want a king! But Celeborn would be terribly disappointed if I went off into the West forever. I’d feel I was letting him down. Then of course there are the Edain who don’t want to go to the Isle of Gift, like Arachon and his mother, and Halfdan...”

“I had the impression that Arachon is not going because you are not going, Elrond,” Maglor suggested.

“Well, perhaps. And I am not going partly because Gil-galad isn’t and because Celebrimbor isn’t. And you. But the main thing is that Elros is going and so are most of the Edain.”

“It sounds as if it should be a lovely place, this island,” Elros said. “No fierce winters, and the summers pleasant but not too dry. I am told we can expect many visitors out of the West to aid us in building our new home. All we have to do is not sail any further west ourselves.”

“Hm,” Maglor said doubtfully.

“Oh, I knew you wouldn’t like the idea! But in the Isle of Gift, the Edain will be under the protection of the Valar. It’s a chance to build a new home in safety, at last: a safety that Men have never had before. No orcs, or spiders, or dragons. You ought to sympathise with that, at least!”

“It sounds like the bargain that my grandfather Finwë made,” Maglor said uncomfortably, thinking of his grandfather holding himself unkinged when the Valar usurped his authority, and banished his eldest son. “That had consequences that he had not anticipated.”

“I did think of that,” Elros said. “But you must admit, the Noldor gained a good deal from friendship with the Valar, and though some of the Noldor may have come to regret it, the Vanyar and the Teleri have not. And the Valar will not intervene in our internal justice: I asked about that. The lives of Men are short and hard, but in the Isle of Gift they will live longer and in peace, and can lay down their lives at last without fear. ”

“And that’s what he plans to do too,” Elrond said, wrinkling his nose and looking sideways at his brother. “Lay down his life and follow the Edain.”

“You can’t have a mortal people with an Elven king,” Elros said reasonably. “It isn’t fair on them. They deserve to have a lord of their own people. If I am to be king of the Edain, which is what they want, I must be one of them. And anyway, I want to be. It isn’t the easiest thing, learning how to be a Man, but I’m working on it.”

“The Edain in Lindon live among the Elves,” Elrond said to his brother, his brow wrinkled in thought. “Once you are gone, their king will be Gil-galad. You think that’s not a good idea?”

“It might not be, in the long term,” Elros replied. “In Hithlum and Dorthonion Men were given lands of their own, under their own lords.”

“Hm. Very well, I’ll talk to Gil-galad about it when we get back... But here! This was supposed to be a holiday and instead we’ve become serious and dull!”

“We have,” Maglor said, and scooped the harp up from where it lay on the rock next to Elros. “As penance for being dull, I shall play the harp one-handed, with my right hand behind my back, and you will both have to suffer listening to it. I usually only do this when I’m very drunk and misled by bad companions. I imagine it will sound awful.”

“A truly horrible penance, to hear Maglor son of Fëanor play!” Elros laughed and jumped to his feet, offering a hand to Elrond. “Play something we can dance to.”

Elrond took his hand and got up. “I suppose if you insist on vanishing beyond the Sea, I should dance with you while you are still here.”

“And if you refuse to come with me, then I must dance here on the Hither Shore while I still can... that’s what the Edain do when they dance. Dance in the moment and take joy in it, without looking too far back, or too far forward.”

“I’ll play Stars over the Waterfall,” Maglor decided. “Can you remember the steps?”

“Probably,” Elros said with a grin. “And if not, we’ll make them up.”

The one-handed harping was not quite as terrible as Maglor had feared, and Elros and Elrond danced for a little while. Then dancing became far too hot, and they had to bathe in the stream instead, to cool off. After that, they took turns to tell tall stories about ridiculous things that orcs had done for a while, until one of the hounds got up and nosed Elrond behind his ear.

“The day is growing cooler now the sun has gone down. Perhaps we should ask the the hounds to work for their supper?” Maglor suggested.

“I thought you weren’t hunting?” Elrond asked cheerfully, getting to his feet and then turning to haul Elros up by a lazily extended hand.

“Barely hunting, to set hounds after rabbits!” Maglor protested. “But if you want rabbit stew, you’ll have to skin them. Skinning a rabbit with one hand is near-impossible, believe me.”

“I’ll skin them,” Elros said with a grin. “A pleasant change from eating whatever is put in front of me because someone cooked it and is watching anxiously to see if I like it.”

The sky was still a pale blue along the edge of the western mountains, but in the East the sky was shading darker with the trees outlined dark against it. Insects were chirping in the long grass, and the air was full of the scent of honeysuckle and meadowsweet.

The hounds wove through the undergrowth, working along scent trails as they walked down into the shadowed valley.

The hound that had given its heart to Elrond, younger than the others, disgraced himself at first with excited yipping. Elrond knelt to explain very seriously that yipping was not required, and they went on walking quietly through the shade of the valley, the hounds ranging ahead silently now, heads down among the bushes.

Then the lead hound, with a faint rustle in the leaves, caught a rabbit, and then another and before long they had ten rabbits and a small deer: more than enough to feed four hounds and three people.

The light had faded from the western sky and the stars above were fiercely bright against the deep velvet-blue of the night. No sign yet of Eärendil rising in the west. He must be behind the mountains still.

Maglor was about to suggest that they end the hunt and go back to their camp to make a fire, when suddenly the heads of the hounds went up in alarm, and they began to growl, deep in their throats. He could hear what had alarmed them, a sudden sharp movement in the bushes.

A tall figure loomed dark against the sky, massive, far taller than any of them.

Maglor grabbed automatically for the sword that was not on his belt any more, and then, remembering, drew his small belt-knife with his left hand. Elrond and Elros swept out their own swords and stepped in front of him. Elrond had the temerity to push him backward with one hand as well, which was wrong on a number of levels, but this was not the moment to argue about it.

“Who is there?” Elros called out warily in Sindarin. “I am Elros son of Eärendil, and this is my brother Elrond. We mean you no harm,” Then he said it again in the tongue spoken by many of the Edain, and in Quenya too for good measure.

There was a long pause.

“What do you want?” said a huge tired voice, speaking in Sindarin with an odd accent. “Are you Elves?”

“Half-elven,” Elros said. “Two of us, and one Elf.”

“We are hunting in these hills,” Maglor said, deciding that if he was going to be unarmed and un-named, he was certainly not going to be voiceless as well. “We rode up from Mithlond, the city of the High King of the Noldor. Now, who are you?”

“Who am I? Who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?”

Maglor had heard this sort of thing before. “A singer of the Speaking People, one who came across the Sea. I am myself, a foe of Morgoth. Now unfold yourself to me!”

The huge figure sighed massively and sat down beside a great elm tree, though Maglor did not think his words had pushed it that way. Sitting, it was about Maglor’s height, and in the starlight, he could see it was holding itself awkwardly, lopsided. It was clad in torn deerskins.

“Are you hurt?” Elrond asked sharply.

“I am old,” it said. “Old and worn and torn by darkness. The path ahead is long and steep.”

“I think he’s a spirit of the land, like the rivers,” Maglor said to Elrond and Elros. “How do the Speaking People name you?” he asked.

“Iarwain they called me then, when once we danced beneath the stars. Iarwain Ben-adar, old and young and with no father, for I was here in the Beginning. But they are gone, the Elves of starlight. The Enemy returned with wrath and ruin, as he came before your folk awoke beside the lake so far away.”

“You are an enemy of the One Enemy?” Maglor demanded, sheathing his useless knife. Elros and Elrond had dropped the tips of their swords but had not put them away.

“I am a friend of all kindly creatures, and no friend of the Great Death,” Iarwain said, sagging wearily.

Elros sheathed his sword decisively. “Then we are friends. We have food to spare. Come and eat with us, and we will help you if we can.”

*****
They had walked slowly back to the camp, and Elrond had made a fire, while Elros skinned the rabbits and Maglor watched and tried to feel lazy rather than useless.

In the clear flickering yellow light of the flames it was clear that Iarwain had suffered grievously in the recent war. His shoulder had been cleft through, one arm was missing and he had a long, deep wound all the way down his right side, ripping through the ribs to the thigh.

It was an injury that would have killed any Elf or Man, and yet from the look of the edges of the wound, it was slowly healing.

Maglor picked up the harp and frowned at it. He was fairly sure that he could have at least begun to mend Iarwain’s wound if he had both hands to use, but with his right hand burned and aching, it was a different matter.

“Let me set words on your hand again,” Elrond suggested. “Perhaps if I concentrate on the fingertips.” He looked sideways at Iarwain. “I’ve never mended anything like that. I’m amazed he can walk. Or even stand up.”

“The land can recover from most things, in time,” Maglor said. “Very well. You see what you can do for my fingertips, and then we’ll try together, all three of us. I’d have one of you play but...”

Elrond shook his head. “No. Harp and voice are your great skills, not ours.”

“You’ll never get better if you don’t practice,” Maglor said automatically, and held his hand out to Elrond.

Chapter Text

Fire flickering, and the long branches of beech-trees outlined dark against a starry sky.  Somewhere a little way away among the trees they could hear was the sound of delighted hounds crunching up the remains of the rabbits and the deer that Elros had not managed to fit into the pan.

Elrond’s best efforts had little effect on Maglor’s fingertips.  “I don’t know why it doesn’t work!” Elrond exclaimed, quietly frustrated, speaking softly so as not to wake their guest, who had fallen asleep beside the fire. “I’ve mended burns before!   Why will it not...”

“You know why,” Maglor said.  He took the hand away from Elrond and pushed it behind his other arm where he did not have to look at it.  “Stupid of me to think it could all be so easily forgiven. No matter. You play and sing the melody with Elros, I will harmonise. I still have a voice, so I shall assume I am permitted to use that.”

Elrond looked at him unhappily in the firelight.  “I don’t see why . It’s not as though you’re likely to do it all over again.”

“A reminder?  You said it yourself; I should remember. And a punishment, surely. Don’t worry about it, Elrond. I’m sure it bothers you more than it bothers me.”

Elrond gave him a very doubtful sideways look. “I find that very unlikely.”

“Well, all right, it bothers me. But probably it should do. It’s better, honestly.  You, Gil-galad, and Elros have taken the fire out of it, even if I can’t manage harpstrings.” He grinned deliberately at Elrond’s serious expression. “I know it’s frustrating, to be young and strong and find that even so there are things that you can’t do. We all have our limits.”

“None the less,” Elros said, returning from the stream with a kettle filled with water and an annoyed expression. “A burned hand only makes you less able to do anything to make amends with it!  It’s so... impractical.”

“You feel that Varda should have afflicted some less useful body part?” Maglor enquired, and found it was not too much of an effort to sound light-hearted. “Did you have one in mind? If she had burned my toes instead, I would have the perfect excuse to laze about with my feet in the air.”

Elrond’s mouth tugged unwillingly up at the corner very slightly.

Elros looked at him and smiled. “No!” he said, “I know. Piles.”

“What are piles?” Maglor enquired.

“An affliction of Men,” Elros said, now grinning wickedly, and explained what piles were.

“And knowing that, you chose the path of Men?” Maglor exclaimed.

“I can’t say it was at the forefront of my mind when I made my choice,” Elros said, and laughed.  “I hope to escape experiencing them personally. But think how much more practical it would be than a burnt hand!  And just as hard to ignore ”

“Yet fearfully undignified,” Maglor agreed readily, since Elrond was now smiling too. “I beseech you not to suggest it to the Valar!”

“That’s a thought,” Elrond said, his eyes narrowing.  “Not that, obviously! But we could ask Ulmo for his help with that hand.”

“Not a good idea,” Maglor said hastily.

“Why not?  What Varda can do, Ulmo can surely undo. Ulmo has been a good friend to the Noldor.”

“To your house, not mine. The wrath of the Valar lies on me still, from the West unto the uttermost East.  I am doomed to death’s shadow, and little pity,” Maglor pointed out uncomfortably. There should be a way to put it lightly, but he could not find one. “Not to mention that there is Celebrimbor, and it would be best not to draw attention to him. And Elros, for that matter. Elros has decided to trust the Valar and put himself into their hand; he will need to act like someone they can trust in return. That does not mean special pleading for kinslayers.”

“He’s right,” Elros told his brother reluctantly. “I can’t risk the Isle of Gift for you, Maglor.”

“Of course you can’t. Even if you went to Ulmo alone, Elrond, it would be obvious that Elros was involved.”

“And Gil-galad,” Elrond admitted, and made a face. “And if Ulmo were going to intervene, surely he would have done so... before.”   The image of Maedhros and Maglor, swords drawn and bloody in the great camp beside the Sea, reflected unhappily in Elrond’s mind.

“They let us fall into the trap we had built for ourselves, Maedhros would say.” Maglor forced  his hand into a fist and felt the pain run up his arm, remembering the Silmaril burning in his hand; remembering that he had chosen to kill so many times over, and his father’s work had known it.  That he had thrown the Silmaril away, and failed his father, too. And Maedhros.

Elrond laid a hand gently on his shoulder. “That was a stupid idea of mine,” he said carefully. “Forget I mentioned it.”

He had failed in every other duty, but not with Elrond and Elros.  Not yet. He took a deep breath, and let his hand relax.

“Perhaps it just needs more time to heal,” Elros suggested.

“I’m sure you’re right,” Maglor said with determination. “And in the meanwhile I shall count myself fortunate that it is only the one hand, and that Varda is less horribly ingenious than you are, Elros!”

“You should have left me for the orcs,” Elros suggested. A joke with teeth when he had first made it years ago, but not any more.

“I certainly should,” Maglor agreed. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“You needed someone to skin rabbits, so you wouldn’t have to do any work, clearly,” Elrond suggested, managing to sound entirely lighthearted about it.

“That was it, of course. I knew there must have been a good reason! How is the food coming along, O king of cooks?”

Elros stirred the pan, tasted it, and added a sprinking of salt and spices from his pack: Maglor caught the scent of caraway seeds, and the sharper smell of crushed juniper berries.  

“I think it needs a little longer,” Elros said. “Let’s wake our guest and do what we can for him while it simmers.” Maglor held the harp out and Elrond took it.

Iarwain Ben-adar was not sleeping deeply.  He woke as soon as Elros approached, and stared at him blankly for a moment.  “Is it time to eat, oh Elros Half-Elven?”

“Not quite yet,” Elros said. “We thought we should try to ease your wounds first.”  He poured warm water from the kettle into a bowl and shredded dried leaves onto it: a little of the precious athelas from Valinor, dried flowers of heartsease, and added to it fresh flowers of purple self-heal and the grey-green feathery leaves of yarrow.

“A kindly thought,” Iarwain said, as the bright scent of the leaves drifted in the steam across the clearing. He looked down at his ruined shoulder and side and shook his great head sadly.  “A terrible thing, the Dark Lord who came from Outside,” he said, his voice filled with grief. “Very terrible; all he thinks and does and is, and the battle to defeat him a long and bitter one.”

“It was,” Elrond agreed, sitting down on the grass next to him.  “But he is gone and evil is ended. Now is the time for healing.”

“No,” Iarwain said, scrunching up his face as if he could taste something bad.  “No, he is not all gone. I can remember the Beginning. I remember the Earth under Darkness when it was fearless; before the first raindrop, before the wind shook the first leaf. They have cast him out, the Singers, what was left of he who was their brother, but he is not gone. The fear remains, hiding in shadow, buried deep or blown as dust upon the wind, but soon enough it will begin to root and grow. He is become part of us.”

“I hope you’re wrong,” Elros said candidly. “But we shall deal with that when we have to.”  It did not seem to occur to him that very likely he would be gone himself by then. Maglor could not see Elrond’s face, he had turned away from the firelight.

Elros wet a cloth and carefully cleaned the skin around the long savage wound with the herb-scented water, as Elrond gently began to play long gentle notes on the small wooden harp, building a web of golden notes that folded around the scent of athelas and woodsmoke, around the firelight and the light of the stars filtering through the leaves from the clear sky above. Elros began to sing, very softly, almost under his breath, a simple crooning song: the kind of thing a mother might sing to her babe to soothe pain, and Elrond’s clear voice joined him.

Carefully, Maglor wove his own voice through the music in counterpoint, a more complex song to knit the broken flesh and mend cracks in bone.  It had been a long time since he had sung songs of power together with Elros, and Maglor was surprised to feel how his strength had grown.

Together, Elrond and Elros were stronger than he was, and both of them had minds more suited to such a task than his.  But experience let him weave their strength into his own purpose.

It was hardly the first time that he had used the shared strength of others to achieve his ends, Maglor thought. A grief crept into his voice without his meaning it to, for the days when he would have had many voices to call on if he needed them.  Brothers, cousins, his grandfather the King and his father’s strength to lean on, in the days when war had been ancient history, not both habit and shame.

Another voice joined them, at once bright and merry as a stream in sunlight, and deep as the hidden roots of mountains. It was old, that voice, old and weary with a life that had been impossibly ancient long before the Sun had risen, yet young as new grass bright with dew.  It sang, not in Sindarin, as Maglor, Elros and Elrond were singing, nor in Quenya, nor the tongues of men, but in words that had no meaning that Maglor could understand. Darkness wove through them, and pain and grief, and yet there was a brilliance and joy to them too, like a sapling in spring when the wind moves the new leaves.  

Iarwain Ben-Adar was singing, and his strength was like the mountains.

It seemed a long time that they sang, and then all at once, with no obvious signal, they knew the song was over, and silence fell, broken only by the crackling of the fire.  

Iarwain got up and stretched, and though he did not seem so tall as he had before, he moved more easily, and he had two arms now. The deerskins he had been wearing had shifted, somehow, so that he was now wearing plain linen, wool and leather: the kind of clothes that Maglor and Elrond were wearing.

“Many long years have passed since I have sung with the Speaking People under the stars. It still brings me joy.” He fixed Maglor with a piercing blue eye. “I remember him, the kinsman in your song.”

Maglor looked at him in surprise before he worked it out. “You knew my grandfather Finwë?” He had not named him in words, but a spirit of the land might not need them. Maglor was not sure even now if Iarwain was speaking in words, or if he was singing wordlessly, and it was his own field to know such things. Perhaps it didn’t matter.

“I knew him long ago beneath the stars, before he went away across the mountains and the Sea. A joy to meet his grandson now, across the long dark years between.”

“He died,” Maglor said bleakly. “The Enemy came to our house and killed him.” Strange, so very strange, to be bringing that news to anyone ever again, when the whole world knew that his grandfather was dead and how that had forced everything into a different and a crueller shape.

“He and many others,” Iarwain said. A gleam of a strange smile shone on his face in the firelight.  “But we who are left shall aid one another as the years roll down the Rivers to the Sea, and so the leaves will grow long and green again, and our Enemy be defeated a little more each time.”

“Are you feeling better?” Elrond asked politely.  It was impossible to tell if Iarwain was still wounded or not, for his new clothes seemed to have grown in place quite complete.

“I am feeling better, Elrond who is half a Man and all an Elf, and Elros who is all a Man and half an Elf,” Iarwain said, and laughed so irrepressibly that it was almost impossible not to join in. “But I’m very hungry. And now your friend, the grandson of my friend Finwë there, can help you serve the food.”

Maglor looked down at his right hand, and realised that the pain that had been numbed by charms but never ended, had entirely vanished. Wondering, he held his hand out to the firelight, and saw that the flesh that had been angry red, distorted and weeping was scarred but dry, and that best of all, his fingertips were whole. He stared for a moment astonished, then made a fist and let the hand fall open, painless.

He said, wondering, “It seems the spirits of the land are kinder than the stars.”

“The stars are bright and clear, and bitter cold they shine,” Iarwain said and laughed. “But Middle-earth is green with leaves, both beautiful and kind.”

Elrond said to Maglor “See.  There is some advantage to being counted among the Elves of Twilight.” He held out the harp, smiling.

“Perhaps there is, at that,” Maglor said. “But it is not quite time for the harp yet, I think. Elros! Hand me that spoon.”

Chapter Text

They stayed in the hills with Iarwain for several days. The hounds brought rabbits and small-deer in plenty, and they hunted for hazel-nuts and blackberries, for the first mushrooms of autumn. Iarwain knew every fruit and leaf and all and all their properties: things that Amrod might have known, but Maglor had never learned.

More than that, he knew songs out of the east, from traditions that Maglor had never encountered before. He was a little disappointed when Iarwain declared that his time in these hills was over and that the time had come to travel south, although it was unclear who set the time or where precisely he was going.

Elros had taken a fancy to go further east, to the great freshwater lake that Iarwain had spoke of, and since the sky was still clear and blue and the leaves only just beginning to be tinged with gold, it seemed a pleasant notion. They rode down into the wide grasslands around the margins of the River Lhun, taking their leisure and riding slowly, singing as they went, and forded the river at a point where it ran wide and shallow over shining gravel.

Ahead of them the hills rose wild and fair against the morning sky, wooded with great craggy ancient oak trees with wide-stretching branches. The grazing deer had made glades and pathways through the woodlands, and they followed the deer-trails up through the trees into higher lands where the white stems and red berries of the rowan trees shone in the sunlight.

“You played that one yesterday,” Elrond said idly when Maglor began picking out an autumn-song on the harp, one that Finrod had written long ago. “Give us something different. Something from Tirion, perhaps?”

“Something from Tirion.” Maglor thought for a moment, and began to pick out notes as his horse ambled on, snatching at leaves as she went. “This is a making-song,” he said. “They used to sing it a good deal in the workshops on the main hill up to the Square of Fountains, to smooth the work onwards. You don’t really get the effect with just the harp, it needs the ring of hammers and the rattle of the loom... But this will give you some idea.”

When the song was done, they were riding down a long green sweep of hillside, dotted with scattered trees. Elrond said to his brother, “You don’t want to see Tirion, someday?”

Elros screwed up his face and gave him an amused look. “I chose not to. I’ll build my own city instead, and admire Tirion reflected in song.”

Elrond made an unimpressed noise.

“Give it a rest, Elrond. I’m not going to change my mind. Anyway, I don’t see you hurrying across the Sea to Tirion. ”

“I’m staying with Gil-galad. And Maglor, of course,” Elrond said, coolly.

“You are not,” Maglor said firmly. “Stay for Gil-galad if you like, but...”

“Yes, I know.” His expression, for Elrond, looked unusually annoyed. “Do not follow the house of Fëanor. I’m not. I don’t feel any inclination to! If I need someone to follow, it would be Gil-galad. Following the house of Fëanor is a great mistake. Frankly, I have no idea why anyone ever did.”

“My father was very persuasive. And very able,” Maglor said, taken aback.

“And he had a great regard for his own creations and very little respect for anyone else’s. Or for the loyalty of his own people, so far as I can see. Come on Maglor, why do you always defend him? He made you swear a disastrous oath, then got you all doomed through sheer obstinacy in a fit of rage.”

“No!” Maglor took a deep, calming breath, because this was Elrond after all, and made himself reply without heat. “That is not how it was. We chose to swear the Oath. We were all of us angry, and all of us afraid. The Valar had humiliated our prince, and so, our people. The Enemy had slain our king and plunged the land into darkness. The Valar could not protect us, would not aid us; we had to strike back. Alqualondë... I wish now we had acted otherwise there, but we had no idea that there was another choice. I supported my father’s decision. It was his to make.”

“And his decision to burn the ships he stole?” Elrond’s voice was sharp with a cutting edge of incredulity.

“We stole. He was the king. He judged that we did not need Fingolfin’s people to do our task, and that division would weaken us. He misjudged the strength of the Enemy, but he could not have known.”

“Maedhros said...” Elros began.

Maglor cut him off. “Maedhros disagreed. His right. I did not.”

Elrond frowned. “I thought you felt Alqualondë was a terrible mistake?”

“It was. But still, my father was our hope. The greatest of the Noldor. He died nobly in battle against the Enemy. If he had lived...” Maglor realised that his voice was becoming louder, and made himself stop abruptly.

After a moment, he laughed, breaking the awkward quiet. “I’m sorry. Perhaps not the most evenhanded appraisal of his legacy. Apparently old habits die hard.”

“So I see,” Elrond said, noncommittal.

“The Oath, Alqualondë, the burning at Losgar. I regret... you know I wish things had been different, Elrond.” That was as close as he was prepared to come to admitting that Elrond had seen the Oath grip him, had seen flames raging in his dreaming mind. “But they were my choices. The worst of my deeds were entirely mine, and he would be appalled by them, I’m sure of that. You know that. I. The Havens.” The end of the sentence would not come, so he signalled Táli to halt. “I’m sorry. Look. You two go back to Lindon. I’ll stay clear.”

“No,” Elrond turned his own horse looking now more upset than angry. “Don’t. I didn’t mean that.”

“He wouldn’t have gone looking for you if we didn’t want you to be here,” Elros said. “Don’t be daft, Maglor.” There was a definite echo of Maedhros in his voice, but probably not a deliberate one.

Elrond smiled at Maglor, with something of effort to it, and made a vague explanatory gesture with one hand. “It’s only that it sometimes feels that it would be a fine thing to have someone else to blame.”

Maglor shook his head. “I am afraid there is no-one else.”

Elros gave his brother a thoughtful sideways look and brought his horse up to stand beside Maglor’s, rubbing idly at his mane. “What’s got into you, Elrond? First you had a go at me, and then you started prodding at Maglor.”

“I suppose I did. Sorry.”

“I don’t mind,” Maglor said. “If you want to talk about the mess I’ve made of my father’s ragged and bloodstained inheritance, I can hardly complain, under the circumstances.”

“Well, I can,” Elros said firmly. “We’re supposed to be having fun!”

Elrond looked at his brother and wrinkled his nose unhappily. “It came to me that in a few years, you’ll be across the Sea, and a while after that, you’ll be gone beyond the world, and Maglor and I will be still here. I never thought it would be that way around.”

“A poor exchange, if you look at it like that,” Maglor said, with sympathy.

“Not an exchange,” Elros said. “It’s not as if I had chosen to jump off a cliff...” he caught himself short. “Hm. Not the best way I could have put that. But what I mean is, we always thought we’d be Men, and nothing wrong with that. Then, unexpectedly, we got the choice and you chose otherwise, which is fair enough. I’m not going to try to talk you out of it again. But it’s hardly Maglor’s fault that he’s an Elf. Let alone Fëanor’s.”

“I suppose not,” Elrond said. He gave Maglor a long thoughtful stare, clear grey eyes like starry skies. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“I did not expect to be,” Maglor admitted. “But... well. You said, try to be someone you could trust, Elrond, and I will try. But it would be safest not to rely on it. You know that.”

“You threw the Silmaril into the Sea,” Elrond said. “There’s no sign of the Oath about you any more. It’s less important what you did before, than what you do next. I was being foolish. ”

“You certainly were,” Elros agreed cheerfully. “I am travelling with a fine pair of fools. Now, shall we set up our camp here? There’s a glade just beyond those trees, and those broken branches look like they would make good dry firewood. I think we’ve ridden far enough today.”

 ****

In the clear morning light next day, they could see the distant lake glinting far below them, but Elros was in no hurry to move on. “We’ve had three days riding,” he said over his shoulder to Elrond, rummaging in his pack. “The horses could do with a day of rest and so could I. Also, I have brought the board and the game pieces, and I haven’t had a chance to beat Maglor at King’s Table in years.”

“I don’t think the outcome is quite as certain as that,” Maglor protested, from his place lying stretched out comfortably with his feet near the fire. “Anyway, Elrond will win, he always does.”

“That’s what you think. Gil-galad has beaten him several times recently. It can be done! But even if he does, I’ll have the glory of second place.”

Elrond laughed and got up. “I am the recognised master of the game, I have no need to defend my title. You two play: I have a fancy to walk down towards the lake on this fine morning.”

The hounds were lazing comfortably beside Elros, long heads resting on shaggy flanks, but as Elrond set off, the youngest got up, shook himself and came trotting after him, tail wagging. Behind him, the eldest of the hounds rolled over and put his head on Elros’s foot with an expressive sigh.

Elrond smiled. “You’re coming too, are you, Húnlócon? Come on then.”

He walked down the hillside, into a long valley that led down between tawny sandstone and jagged dark slate jutting out from the dark soil, heading towards the faint glimmer of light on the lake below.

There was a faint path among the straggling trees, marked here and there by the sharp hooves of the deer. Húnlócon sniffed enthusiastically and bounded ahead, wagging his long plumed tail enthusiastically. After a mile or two the path narrowed and turned around a great rock. Elrond could hear the rush of water somewhere below.

As he passed the rock, the shaly surface of the path shifted under his feet, flat stones skittering away down into a great cleft in the hillside. He stepped sideways as they moved under his feet and adjusted his weight, but just as he moved, the stones shifted as Húnlócon who at that moment was walking just behind him, leaped forward.

The great hound caught Elrond’s thigh just as he was off-balance. Elrond grabbed for support, found nothing but air, and fell. A great rush of dusty stone went with him.

After a brief, stunned moment, he realised that he had stopped moving. His shoulder hurt with a savage, aching throb. He took a deep breath, and felt himself over: no other obvious injuries, apart from a bruise on the side of his face and a skinned knee. He was covered in grey scratchy dust. Pulling himself painfully to his knees and looking up, he could see that he was at the bottom of a deep cleft, with a loose shale-bank on the side that he had fallen from.

The crumbling sides of the cleft would be climbable with both hands, but moving his left arm cautiously, Elrond was not sure he could manage it. He moved his hand over arm and shoulder, trying to determine what was damaged, but a grey swirl of dizziness came to him and he had to duck his head and focus on breathing for a moment. He would not be able to do anything much for the pain in this state, but it would be some time before Elros could find him on such rough and unfamiliar ground.

Perhaps climbing out was worth a try after all. He set a cautious foot on the stones, and tried to climb the least steep bank, stepping as lightly as he knew how, but got no more than a few steps before the stones began to move under him, and he had to jump backwards. He landed awkwardly, his head reeling, and leant against the overhanging opposite wall of the cleft for a moment, his scratched and dusty hand against the cool wet stone.

No, climbing out was not a good choice. He reached out to his brother mind to mind, sent him the image of where he was, and received a calm but urgent assurance that Elros was coming. All he could do was wait.

High above him against the sky, a long apologetic nose appeared, wide brown eyes peering downward.

“There you are Húnlócon!” Elrond said. “No, stay! I don’t want you to fall on my head in a shower of stone. Are you hurt?”

The hound stretched his long legs and yawned unhappily. Elrond understood that Húnlócon was not hurt but was sorry for his mistake.

“Never mind,” he said consolingly. “Go back to Elros. Show him the way here. Go on, Húnlócon. Elros. Find Elros. Bring him here”

Húnlócon tilted his long ears for a moment quizzically and whined briefly, but then he seemed to make up his mind, and trotted purposefully away.

***
Sometime later, he heard movement up above. Elros and Maglor already? But there was no sound of horses hooves, and that sounded like far too many feet...

An unfamiliar face appeared high above against the light. Elrond blinked at it. A Man, his face wrinkled at the corners of his eyes, grizzled grey hair and a high forehead.

“Good day to you,” Elrond said, as cheerfully as he could manage. “I am called Elrond, and I have run into misfortune today, as you see. I wonder if you might have a rope?”

“Oh yes,” the grizzled man said, staring down at him and giving no name in reply. “Oh, yes. We have a rope.”

More heads appeared against the light, and then vanished again. Elrond could hear talking in low voices, but he did not know the language they were speaking.

The grizzled man reappeared. “We will lower a basket. You will put sword and knives into the basket.”

Elrond blinked up at him. “There’s no need for that. I’m not going to hurt you.”

The unmistakable shape of several arrows being held at the string appeared above him, all pointed at him. A basket on the end of a rope rattled down from above.

“You will put sword and knives into the basket,” the grizzled man said, as if he had not spoken. “Otherwise, we shoot you, and take them from your body. You choose.”

There was no cover at all here from arrows, and so no choice. Elrond managed with some difficulty to undo his sword-belt one-handed, and reluctantly put the whole thing, complete with his belt-knife, into the basket. It was not worth arguing about; Celebrimbor would make him another.
Once the basket had been hauled up, bumping on the stones, the grizzled man nodded.

A knotted rope slithered to Elrond’s feet. “Climb.”

“No,” Elrond said warily. “You have my knife and sword. I’m not carrying anything else of value.”

The grizzled man looked pained. He rubbed his ear, and then made an expressive gesture with one hand. “Climb or die,” he said wearily, as if it really didn’t matter to him one way or the other. The arrows were still pointed at Elrond from above.

Elrond took the rope, and trying to spare his injured shoulder, pulled himself up, feet against the sliding stone. With the rope to hold onto, it was possible to climb.

When he reached the top, hands reached out roughly to grab him, and, dizzy with pain, he did not resist in time when they pulled his arms behind him and tied them. It was astonishingly painful.

“What do you want?” he demanded, once his head had stopped spinning a little.

“You,” the grizzled man said dismissively already turning away. A younger man wearing a patched coat that did not fit him shoved Elrond roughly around to follow him. “You’ll fetch a good price in the East.”

“My kinsmen will pay a ransom for me. More than you’ll get in the East,” Elrond said hastily, though he had no idea how much that was likely to be.

The grizzled man turned back, one eyebrow quirked in interest. “And where are they, then?”

Better not to mention Elros and Maglor. Elrond could not see how many men the grizzled man had with him; they were spread out along the path, laden with bundles that looked like furs. There were certainly more than two people could reasonably hope to fight.

“Lindon,” he said, trying to ignore the pain in his shoulder and the muzzy feeling in his head. “My kinsman is king in the lands to the west of here, and he will reward you with riches if you return me to him.”

But the grizzled man laughed shortly. “I’m not going anywhere near that poisonous nest of elves,” he said. “They did for the Mighty One of the North, they and their Powers out of the West, much to our loss.”

“You regret the fall of Morgoth?” Elrond asked, half-incredulous and half shocked.

“Of course. It used to be my people sold slaves to Angband for gold: now we sell them to the East for silver if we’re lucky, and make up the difference with furs. I’m a plain man, I want profit, not battles. The bloody-handed Elves ruined all of that.”
“My kinsman will give you gold,” Elrond promised, wondering if it was true. Gil-galad would certainly be outraged, and might well be more inclined to war than bargain.

But his word was not to be tested. The grizzled man shook his head with a dismissive laugh. “I’m not that stupid. Put the idea out of your head. You’ll reckon this next bit pretty foul, but it’s not so bad, the East. Plenty of chances for a young man. So don’t make my life or yours more difficult than it has to be. Brolach, bring him.”

Elrond had dealt with slavers before, in Hithlum where he and Elros had come among the remains of the enslaved Edain, and now and then elsewhere in the long years of the war for Beleriand. Morgoth had many slaves, and many slave-keepers. But they had been defeated: people left behind in the confused withdrawal of Morgoth’s armies, who knew that even if their dark master should counter-attack, he would do nothing to help them. They had been cringing, servile, expecting the worst from the allies of the people they had enslaved. You could feel the darkness and the miserable gnawing bitterness in their thoughts, but it had been a defeated bitterness.

These people were quite different. Their thoughts were not so cruel, but glancing cautiously at their tired faces, and reaching, a little awkwardly, towards their strange minds, he knew they did not see a person in him at all, only goods to be sold, as the furs they carried were goods. Unpleasant and disconcerting to see himself through their eyes.

Elrond caught his mind wandering, his steps becoming uneven, as the pain in his shoulder spread down his arm and his tied wrists protested. He must be careful not to faint. Conscious, he was goods: unconscious, he might be discarded as useless, but that would be no good if they put a dagger in his throat from disappointment at the profit lost.

He sent a brief warning message to Elros, and then focussed his mind fiercely on walking, step by step, fast enough that Brolach behind him would not push him roughly onward.

****

 

They found the place where Elrond had fallen without any great difficulty. Húnlócon the youngest hound rushed ahead eagerly to the brink with his companions following, and then stood surprised upon the edge, ears up, looking down to the place where Elrond had stood.

Maglor swore. “Here it is at last. But they’re long gone. Did he say which way?”

“This way, I think,” Elros said, his face pale and tense, pointing on past a wide rocky outcropping and down across the hillside. “If they’d gone through the trees they would have broken the long grass down. The image he sent me wasn’t clear, but it must be this way.”

Maglor nodded, grimly silent, and they hurried on.

 

It was getting onto evening before they caught up. They had taken a couple of wrong turnings and had to retrace their steps, and that had made up for the advantage of speed that the horses gave them. But at last they had found Elrond, looking exhausted among a mob of grim-faced Men. They wore no badges that Maglor could see, but they did not need them. Morgoth had, presumably, taught Men about slavery, and they had proved eager students.

Maglor dismounted and let his horse take a moment to rest and crop the grass, safely concealed behind a thicket of hazel scrub. Elros followed him into cover, but his eyes were fixed, staring through a gap between slender hazel saplings down the hillside towards the distant Men.

“There are a lot of them,” Maglor pointed out. “Thirty at least that I can see, probably more. We could go for help, or follow them for a while and see if something turns up. Elrond is certainly swifter than they are, so if he gets a chance to run he should get clear of them.”

“Something has turned up,” Elros said grimly. “Us. Or at least, me. I assumed you’d want to help me, but if I was wrong about that...”

Maglor winced. “No. But consider, Elros: there are only two of us, and since I was not to use weapons...”

Elros interrupted. “I can hardly believe my ears,” he said coldly. “Elrond is captive, injured and in pain, and you want to leave him there?”

“No, of course not,” Maglor said helplessly.

“I see why Maedhros had to wait for Fingon,” Elros said savagely, which was something Maglor had said to himself enough times and yet still hurt. There were not many people that Maglor would have taken that from, but Elros was one of them, and he was after all under considerable strain just now. Maglor pushed it aside.

“That is not what I meant. Only that we have one sword and a couple of hunting bows between us. No armour, either. If we are both killed or captured, that will be no help to Elrond at all.”

Elros looked somewhat mollified. “None the less, I can see no merit in waiting. The longer we leave it, the more likely it is that they will be joined by reinforcements.”

“Very well then. We attack. Lend me your sword.”

Elros put his hand on the hilt, frowning. “You can use a bow. Your hand is healed.”

“Elros. If I get killed here, well, there will be a few people who say I died better than anyone would have expected, and then a certain amount of cheering, probably. But if you do, then your people will be without the king they fought for. And if both of you are killed in some minor confrontation with the broken remnants of Morgoth’s rabble... Well. That can’t happen. And so, I suggest that I take the sword, and you stay well back with a bow and your horse, and that you should be prepared to ride back to Lindon to find help if this goes badly.”

Elros looked through the gap in the thicket, down to the place in the valley below where Elrond sat with his hands tied behind him and his head down. Then he looked Maglor in the face and abruptly let out his breath explosively. “There are occasions when I very much dislike being a king,” he said.

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry I said that about Maedhros. I shouldn’t have.”

“It was true,” Maglor said and shrugged.

“Perhaps,” Elros said, unbuckling his sword-belt. “But here I am making the same decision, for the same reasons. My heart is sore with it. I’m sorry.” He handed the belt and the sword in its sheath to Maglor.

“Hardly the same decision,” Maglor said and forced a smile as he took it. “That would be to hesitate and wait. But you’re right: they are more likely to get reinforcements than we are, Elrond is hurt, and if we go to summon help, we might never find them again.”

“And if you get yourself killed trying to fight thirty men with a sword you promised not to use?” Elros put an hand on his arm as he adjusted the buckle. “Try not to?”

“I have become quite expert at not dying, by now,” Maglor said mildly. “I swore no oath to go unarmed, nor did the king ask me to. He commanded me only to live as one of the thralls released from Angband, who do not carry weapons. I did swear that I would keep the king’s peace, and I can’t do that just now unarmed. I am fairly sure that Gil-galad would prefer to have his herald back in one piece than fuss about the legal technicalities.”

Elros ducked his head and gave Maglor an unhappy grin. “Certainly.”

“So. I think we give no warning and try to pick off as many as we can from cover with the bows first.”

“No warning?” Elros shook his head. “We should give them the chance to hand their prisoner over first.”

“To two of us?” Maglor looked sideways at Elros doubtfully. “We aren’t an army.”

“No. But we are armed, uninjured, and looking for a fight. They’re Men, not Orcs or Elves. They all want to go home without getting hurt, and I doubt they will think him worth getting injured for.”

Maglor held out a hand. “I yield to your knowledge. Shall we go?”

Elros moved quietly back up the hillside to the place where they had left the horses, and pulled himself up onto his horse’s back, checking his bow and making sure his quiver was full and that he had spare arrows conveniently close to hand. He paused and looked over at Maglor, who had mounted Táli, and was adjusting the unfamiliar sword belt to hang as he preferred.

“You don’t want Elrond’s horse? He’s faster.”

“He is, but Táli is a warhorse, and Elrond’s horse is not,” Maglor said, and grinned deliberately because it might give Elros more confidence and they certainly were going to need as much of that as they could muster. “I will take the two eldest hounds, but the others had best stay here. They’ll only get in the way.

Elros nodded, took a long breath and let it out again. “Let’s go.”

****

Every time he was wounded, it surprised Elrond all over again that pain itself was tiring. This was the worst kind of wound, the one you took where there was no chance to rest afterwards.

The slavers were not marching particularly fast, and yet when the leader, Ulgan, finally called a halt, Elrond was thoroughly grateful for it. He would have been even more grateful for something to drink. But nobody here was speaking in any language that he knew, and his hands were tied. Just being able to sit still for a moment was a considerable relief.

And then, as if out of a dream, there was the sound of galloping hooves, and Elrond looked up to see Maglor in unfamiliar shining armour that caught the last of the sunlight dazzlingly, his eyes full of the light of Valinor in the evening shadow, with the tip of his sword under grizzled Ulgan’s chin.

“Hold!” he cried in a great voice of power, but three of the Men ignored him — perhaps they could not understand his speech. Two pulled out long knives and advanced, and more of them began to grope for their bows.

Elrond staggered awkwardly to his feet.

Two arrows hit the nearest bowmen by their feet and stuck quivering in the grass, while Maglor’s horse leaped nimbly sideways, caught the two Men holding knives with swift hoofstrokes and danced back to hold Ulgan at swordpoint again as he turned to run. A little down the hill, a number of Men were standing very still before two monstrous hounds with long shining teeth and eyes fixed upon their throats.

“Hold!” Maglor cried again, and this time everyone froze. “Move again, and we shall slay you all!”

How? Elrond thought, and blinked up at him.

“You have taken Elrond, a prince of the House of Finwë, unlawfully prisoner,” Maglor went on relentlessly, staring down into Ulgan’s startled eyes. “For this the sentence should be death, and the vengeance of the Noldor will follow every one of you until you are driven weeping into a bitter grave. Yet I will spare you, if Elrond will speak for you.”

“Oh, spare them,” Elrond said, torn between terror and laughter, because they were sufficiently outnumbered that either seemed the appropriate reaction. He walked over to Maglor’s horse, trying not to feel relieved, because this could still all go horribly wrong. “My sword, please.”

“Sorry elflord,” Ulgan said in his accented version of the language of the Edain. He was leaning back slightly to get away from the edge of Maglor’s blade, and now he unbuckled Elrond’s sword belt from his waist. “A terrible misunderstanding, surely.” Maglor leant forward and took the sword from his shaking hand.

“Do not make the same mistake again,” Maglor said with a tone of menace in his voice so convincing that Ulgan’s eyes slid sideways in terror, looking for a way out, and then went back to Maglor’s grim face. “Run, slaving curs, and perhaps I shall not set my hounds upon you. And do not dare to return.”

Most of the Men had already slipped warily away, and now Ulgan and those few who remained stepped cautiously backwards, one step, two, and then turned and fled, while Maglor’s old warhorse danced on her hind legs and neighed defiance.

Elros was behind him then, cutting the ropes around his wrists, and then boosting him onto his horse, while Maglor watched the shadows, sword raised, and the hounds prowled, snarling.

“So far so good,” Elros said in a quiet voice. “Now, time to run before they get their courage back.”

*****

They rode as swiftly as the three tired horses could manage for a few miles, gathering up the hounds that they had left behind on the way. Then Elros and Maglor dismounted to spare their horses. Maglor’s armour had disappeared, and he was in the familiar hunting clothes again. They took a winding path, north, then west in the starlight, until they came to a green meadow beside a shallow stony stream, lined with willow trees that loomed dark against the deepening blue of the sky. There was still a rim of gold and green long the western horizon, but above, the first stars were beginning to show.

“They could still be following,” Maglor said uneasily, looking back over his shoulder.

“After that performance? I doubt it,” Elros said. “Anyway, they are Men, and they are on foot. Men prefer the Sun. I’m not sure even orcs could have followed us at that speed, but if Men have, we will certainly hear them long before they come up to us in the dark of night.”

“Oh good,” Elrond said, and slid ungracefully from his horse. “I would very much like a drink, and to sit on something that isn’t moving.”

Maglor laid out a bed-roll and Elrond gratefully lay down on it to be covered in both a blanket and the cloak that he had left behind that morning. Húnlócon, wagging gently and apologetically, came over and lay down next to him. “Thank-you for fetching them,” Elrond told him and rubbed his soft ears.

“How are you hurt?” Elros demanded, providing a cup of wine mixed with water from the stream.

“Something’s wrong with my shoulder. And I may have hit my head,” Elrond said, and drank thirstily. “I’m a fool! Never stand between a hound and a squirrel on the edge of a drop!”

“You certainly are,” Elros said, relieved. “Honestly, what an embarrassment. Think of me having to explain to the Valar that my immortal elf-brother tripped over a dog, fell in a hole and got captured by a bunch of Morgoth’s left-over thugs. There’s no way to make that sound good, Elrond.”

“Good thing you were there to save my reputation, then,” Elrond said, and managed to grin back.

“They didn’t hurt you?” Maglor asked, sitting down next to him to rummage in a bag for dried fruit, meat and oatcakes which he set down by Elrond’s hand.

“Only a couple of blows when I couldn’t understand what they wanted as quickly as they wished,” Elrond told him. “Oh, and sore wrists where the rope rubbed,” he added, feeling the rope-burns with a grimace.

“Let me wash them,” Elros said, with more sympathy. “I still have athelas left in my pack. Then we can take a look at that shoulder.”

Elrond groaned. “Leave the shoulder till the morning? I’ve had enough for today.”

“Let him take the pain out of it,” Maglor said. His eyes were still roving to the shadow of the trees in the direction they had come from. “Then we can try mending it when you have rested. I’ll keep watch tonight, Elros.”

Elros raised a quizzical eyebrow, as he set out kindling and a couple of dry logs.

Maglor held up a hand.“Very well. Yes, it’s unlikely they will follow. But... I would prefer to surround you both with an army and three lines of stone-built fortifications, just at the moment. Since we are here in the wild wilderness...Humour me. I’d be happier keeping watch.”

“Fair enough,” Elros said, setting light to the kindling. “Give me my sword back, though. You can use Elrond’s.”

“Can I?” Maglor looked sideways at Elrond under a cloud of unruly dark hair that shadowed his face, so that the light in his eyes was clearer than usual.

Elrond laughed, and then winced as the movement jarred him. “You and Maedhros gave it to me. And I’m in no state to use it just now; only duly grateful to be rescued.... what on earth was that you were wearing, Maglor? It shone like a mirror!”

Maglor made a sound of amusement. “That was my first set of armour. Conspicuous, no? We learned better, later. But when first the Noldor made armour, it had not occurred to anyone that we might wish to be unnoticed. I thought the illusion of it might impress them. ” He took off the sword belt, handed it to Elros, and put on Elrond’s sword instead. “Or at least, I hoped it would discourage them from peppering me with arrows. ”

“You looked terrifying,” Elrond said, as Elros began to carefully lave his hand with warm water from which the bright scent of athelas was rising. He caught Maglor’s eye as he turned to survey their surroundings, sword in hand. “‘Yet I will spare you, if Elrond will speak for you’? What did you plan to do if I’d said ‘kill them all!’”

“I planned to try to kill them all,” Maglor said, apparently seriously. He turned to survey the far bank of the stream, and then gave Elrond a considering look over his shoulder. “I was more confident about it once I’d seen the look on their faces when Táli did her party-piece: one of those men will limp for the rest of his life, I think, and the other will never have children. A well-trained war-horse; the worth of a prince’s ransom in emeralds... But I would say that if the entire house of Finwë were assembled here, you, Elrond, would be the single least likely person present to say ‘kill them all.’ Though, I have never met your father, so I’m guessing about him.”

“I wasn’t even tempted,” Elrond said, as his brother murmured quiet, reassuring words, and the pain that had run up his neck and down his arm receded. The warm weight of the hound pressed against his leg, and Maglor stood between him and any possible threat, which was an old familiar comfortable feeling, despite everything.

Perhaps a little disloyal to Father, whose star Elrond could now just see through the woven branches of the trees. But how could you weigh Eärendil, who had slain the Dragon and broken Thangorodrim to win the war, against Maglor, who had risked his life with an old horse and a borrowed sword in his hand, because Elrond needed him to?

Elrond met his brother’s eyes and agreed silently that you could not. There was no need to.

Elros looked over at old grey-muzzled Táli, cropping the grass quietly beside his own horse, and laughed. “We told you to come unarmed! No sword is worth a prince’s ransom in emeralds, Maglor. But I’m glad you brought Táli, after all.”

“There’s obeying orders, and then there’s taking pointless risks,” Maglor said with a grin. “And Táli is a nice quiet ride. Most of the time, anyway.”

“They could have rushed you, if you hadn’t surprised them,” Elros said. “I wasn’t expecting you to go in so fast.”

“Nor did they.”

“I can’t help wondering who else they may carry off. Do you know, they said they regretted Morgoth’s fall? He used to buy slaves for gold," Elrond added.

Elros made a pained face. “I could wish there were no Men who considered trade in slaves a reasonable way to make a fortune, but to trade people into the Hells of Iron...”

“At least there will be no more of that... I was assured that life as a slave in the East is not so bad, though surely that was to keep me quiet. I can’t imagine being a slave is ever a joyful life.”

“I can believe it might be better than Angband,” Maglor said. Táli had come wandering over from cropping the grass, and he combed his fingers absently through her long mane, but his bright eyes were on the trail that led back the way that they had come .

“Surely it must be. And even in Angband, an end came at last. But the hope that evil was ended forever... well. So much for that.”

“You could still go into the West,” Maglor said quietly.

“I could,” Elrond agreed. He could leave Middle-earth to Men who had learned Morgoth’s law, and saw nothing wrong with it. Or he could stay, and oppose them, perhaps. But to put it that way would seem a reproof to Elros, and that would be unfair. “But think: how dull would it be, to go so soon to Valinor? I’ve only had a fine adventure that I can boast about to Gil-galad, and nobody was badly hurt. Apart from those two men that Táli kicked and I can’t summon up too much sympathy for them.”

Elros laughed. “No indeed. But there will be adventures of a different sort to be had on the Land of Gift, I hope.”

“I’m sure you’ll find them,” Elrond said cheerfully. If you’ll take my advice though, you’ll avoid the adventures that involve falling down deep holes. They’re nothing like as much fun as you’d think.”

Chapter Text

They moved north through the misty green hills to the lake, at daybreak, and found a place where grey crags ran down almost to the water. Beyond it a wide green meadow stretched, dappled with running shadows from the small clouds scudding overhead. A small group of startled deer leaped up and fled, startling a flock of ducks that took off in a great cloud of splashing and excited quacking.

“This will do,” Maglor announced with some satisfaction, dismounting. The stone ran down steeply almost to the water’s edge, it should be possible to close the path behind to prevent pursuit here.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Elrond told him wryly. He was riding with one arm in a sling. “I was starting to think you were serious about three lines of stone walls.”

“One line will have to do,” Maglor said. He looked thoughtfully at Elros. “I’m not very good at this. Want to help?”

“They aren’t following us,” Elros said, with the resigned air of one who knew he had already lost the argument.

“I’ll help,” Elrond volunteered.

You should sit still and not jolt your shoulder,” Maglor said.

“I don’t usually use my shoulder, but my voice,” Elrond said, amused. “But very well. I’ll sit quietly and watch. ” He slipped from the horse and sat down comfortably on the grass, and the hounds settled around his feet.

Elros sighed extravagantly, in the manner of one much put upon. “What do you want me to do?” he said, sounding so exaggeratedly weary that Elrond began to laugh openly.

Maglor gave him an amused look and laid a hand on the craggy granite. “Just help me raise the stone a little?” he said, feeling the rough crystalline structure under his hand.

Elros shrugged, and put his own hand on the rock. Maglor began to hum quietly, feeling his way, reaching out to the connections between the grains in the rock. The stone woke reluctantly, suspiciously. Elros crouched down and spoke to it coaxingly, and Maglor poured golden persuasion into his voice, speaking it to the stone of the years when it had glowed red in Aulë’s hands, had run in great streams through the molten heart of the world.

The stone stubbornly refused to move. He pressed a little harder, with Elros’s strength behind him, full of light and warm as a summer day. Then they heard on some level far below sound, an obstinate grumbling sound, and then a sort of shudder, as if the stone had pulled all its crystals together and turned its back.

Elros laughed. “I think it doesn’t like us.”

Maglor smiled ruefully and shook his head. “It doesn’t know us. Ah well.”

Elros raised an eyebrow. “No,” Maglor said to the implicit question. “Neither of us is a stoneworker, and if we try to force the issue neither of us will be good for anything. This is granite, we have no tools and it has been very clear that it does not wish to move. Even my mother would struggle, probably.”

“You’ll have to endure riding on without walls behind you,” Elrond suggested, smiling. He seemed to have got over his unpleasant experience remarkably quickly, but then, Elrond was very young, and far too familiar with war and woe.

Maglor shook his head. “I would prefer walls of stone, but I will settle for a wall of words, of light and air. Words, at least, I am reasonably confident I can master. ” He took up the harp.

****

To the South, running from the lake up into the crags of the hills high above, stood a wall tall and terrible, lined with massive towers above which the stars of the House of Fëanor flew on a ground of gold and green. Elves in armour moved here and there upon the great battlements.

“They don’t have faces,” Elrond pointed out, from the spot where he was still sitting, rubbing Húnlócon’s ears idly.

Maglor stood below the wall, frowning up at it. “They’re a long way up. Even Elves would probably see the helms and not look more closely. As long as they last for a few days, I’d say that’s good enough.”

Elros pressed his lips together and shook his head reprovingly. “If you are going to do a task...” he began.

“... you might as well do it properly!” Elrond finished the sentence for him. He did not manage the stern expression as convincingly as Elros; you could see he was still laughing underneath. He chanted a few swift fluid words, half under his breath, and suddenly every one of the elves upon the battlements had Maglor’s face, and was frowning down at him.

“I should have left both of you for the orcs!” Maglor said and laughed, and for a moment was not thinking at all about his brothers or his father or his Oath, or about all the reasons that his hand was scarred.

“Too late for that,” Elros said, flinging a cheerful arm around his shoulder. “You realise that you’ve missed another chance to get rid of Elrond now?”

“Alas! Do you think those Men would have given me a good price for him?”

“Probably not,” Elrond said, and gave him a smile that shone like the stars. “I’m somewhat damaged. You should have sold Elros instead. Speaking of which, didn’t someone say they were going to take another look at this shoulder of mine?”

“We were,” Elros said. “Let’s go a little way along the lake-shore and make our camp among those willows. If your shoulder proves more cooperative than the rock, we’ll have time for a hunt along the edge of the water later. I’ve taken a fancy to have duck for dinner.”

 

****

 

Fire flickering under the willow trees beside the lake, sending bright glints of reflection out across the water. They had more or less mended Elrond’s shoulder, and Elros had shot a fat duck that was now roasting over the fire. Maglor had collected blackberries from the brambles that straggled here and there over the rocks along the shore, and Elrond had mixed them with dried fruits and oats from their supplies to make small sweet oatcakes, which he was carefully frying on a small skillet pan over glowing embers.

Maglor put down a final bundle of firewood, and sat down next to him. The sword at his belt caught for a moment on a tree-root, and he glanced down at it and then across at Elrond, and began to unbuckle the belt.

“Would you prefer to keep that until we get back to Lindon?” Elrond asked him.

Maglor pulled the belt off, and frowned. “It’s yours.”

“Well, yes. But... well, you look happier with it. You were the one who said we might meet enemies. I was overconfident, and insisted you come without weapons, then found myself in trouble and had to be pulled out of it like a hapless puppy.” Elros made a sound of amusement.

Maglor began to reply lightly, then thought better of it. He turned the sword in his hand to look at it on both sides: the fine leather sheath, the hilt that had been made to fit Elrond’s hand when he had first been old enough to face battle, finely worked with runes of strength and guard. “I hope I am not happier for the sword,” he said at last. “The hands that gave it to me, with no fear of treason, though, yes. That and a deed to do. It seems just possible for the first time in a long time that I am not entirely without any good purpose. Perhaps even that I may not be doomed to an evil end to everything I do. But you are not a puppy. You are as able with the sword as I am, and a good deal more likely to use it wisely. I’ll fight for you if you command it, Elrond, but unless you do, I will keep to Gil-galad’s law.”

He held the sword out hilt-first to Elrond, who nodded seriously, and took it from him.

Elros smiled in the firelight. He said nothing, but his mind reached out to both of them, lazily affectionate, and Elrond reached out too, no words between them needed or wanted. Maglor hesitated, then let his mind open enough to meet their touch, as he might have done with Caranthir, or to Ambarussa long ago.

It was a wonder that either Elros or Elrond should wish to open their minds to him like that, but he was not going to question it.

 

****

They camped among the willows by the wide shores of Lake Nenuial for seven days, hunted duck along the wind-swept shores, and began to teach the two younger horses how to leap and strike out with their hooves on command.

“After all,” Elrond said, as the gentle morning wind stirred the silver lake-water and the long grass of the shore into ripples, “At the very least, it looks spectacular, a horse that leaps and dances on her hind legs. And you never know, it might come in handy.”

Táli, standing next to Maglor, snorted emphatically at that and stamped, very pleased to be the centre of attention.

“I hope not, in the Land of Gift,” Elros said, one hand on the stiff crest of his own horse’s neck. “But for you, it might be useful.” He frowned. “I hadn’t thought we might be leaving you and Gil-galad in danger.”

“Hardly that. Morgoth is gone. Lindon is rising both fair and strong, and— well. Look at all this!” Elrond turned and waved grandly at the wide waters of the lake, the hills fading from golden green into distant purple in the north, and the slender willows of the lakeshore, their leaves changing from summer-green to autumn-yellow reflected shining in the rippled water. “All the wide lands of Middle-earth... To me, it’s worth a little risk. More than that: don’t you think the hills and meadows are a little brighter in the sun, knowing that somewhere in the north there might still be a dragon or two hidden in the mountains?”

“Not really,” Elros said, and laughed. “I shall generously leave any remaining dragons, orcs or giant spiders to you, and I wish you joy of them!”

Thus shall beauty not conceived before be brought into Eä, and evil yet be good to have been ,” Maglor quoted. “So the All-father said to the Ainur before the world was made — or so they say. I am not so sure about that myself, but no doubt it’s all a matter of perspective. ”

“Dragons and great deeds make for fine songs,” Elrond said, smiling and young with the light upon his hair. He did not in any way look like Fëanor, fierce and desperate in the starlight after Alqualondë, crying defiance and foretelling songs of great deeds in the face of the Doom of Mandos.

“So too will the founding of a land of peace for Men, in the middle of the great Sea. I doubt either of you will escape your deeds being remembered in song.” Maglor pulled himself up onto Táli’s back, to distract both Elrond and himself. “These two horses are fine hunters, and they’ll fight for you if they know how, but at the moment, they only know how to quarrel with other horses. So, we need to show them how best to fight an opponent on the ground, and teach them to wait for the rider’s command to strike...”

Táli soon tired of showing off her paces and retreated to the long grass of the lakeshore to graze, leaving the two younger horses to leap and cavort as the Elves coaxed them.

The days ran past, and the warm autumn-golden land was turning day by day to mist and dew. The morning chill whispered of winter.

It was time to return to Lindon. Elros had subjects to attend to and judgements to make, Elrond had his duties in Mithlond as Gil-galad’s herald and counsellor.

Even Maglor should probably speak with the people who had chosen to give their allegiance to him, and also to Celebrimbor. Strange, Maglor thought as he rode west, following Elros, to have young Celebrimbor as head of the House of Fëanor, but he would probably get used to it eventually. Celebrimbor certainly looked the part at any rate, far more than Maglor had ever done.

 

Return to Lindon

 

They came down at last from the foothills of the Ered Luin on an afternoon of wind and clouds that fled across the skies, singing as they rode, and came through the green turf-wall of Mithlond into the city, to be greeted at the stables with the news that Gil-galad was away in Forlond with Círdan, and that Celebrimbor, who was ostensibly in charge of the city in the absence of the King, had retreated to his workshop with Galadriel, who had come to visit him. They were working on some project together, and should not be interrupted unless in dire emergency.

“With Galadriel ?” Maglor asked, surprised, as they walked back to Elrond’s quarters.

“They have been working together now and again since the war ended,” Elrond said, “I thought Galadriel was also known for her craft in Aman. Didn’t she study with Aulë?”

“She did,” Maglor agreed, “And it’s true she is a smith and maker; she used to work with crystal and silver in Aman. But I’m a little surprised to find her visiting Tyelpë. Celebrimbor, I should say. Galadriel, of all our cousins, was most furious about the burning of the ships at Losgar. Curufin had a theory that was one reason she went to Doriath. If she’d stayed in Hithlum or gone to Dorthonion or Nargothrond with her brothers, she might have had to be civil to us. No risk of that in Doriath.”

“Well, she gets on well enough with Celebrimbor, whenever I’ve seen them together,” Elrond said. “Eönwë summoned them together to tell them they were under the Ban of the Valar still, leaders of the rebellion who would not be permitted to return. Not that either of them were keen to beg for pardon and go into the West. I understand they said so very firmly.”

Maglor raised an intrigued eyebrow. “Did you hear what they said?”

“Sadly, no,” Elros told him laughing. “It was a private audience. But we did hear about it afterwards of course — from both sides. Galadriel’s account is by far the funniest.”

“I shall have to make do with Celebrimbor’s, I suspect.”

Elrond glanced at him and then away west along a long avenue of newly-planted trees, to the Firth of Lune and the distant sea. “It must be a long time since you’ve talked to her,” he said. “People do change.”

Maglor thought about that. “It’s true, I haven’t seen her since the early days in Hithlum. I’m hardly the same person that I was then, and nor is Celebrimbor.”

“It’s a new Age of the world,” Elros said. “So the lord Ingwion declared, before he returned into the West.”

“Did he? It’s starting better than the last one, I’ll give it that.”

They made their way up into the hall, where they found several of Elrond’s people, men and Elves, who had been taking their ease and rolling dice. They called out greetings, and two Elves came forward with messages that had been sent to Mithlond for Elros. Elros looked at the letters and shrugged. “Five. It could be worse. And only two are marked ‘urgent’.”

“We spoke with the messenger,” Neldorel said in Doriath-accented Sindarin, without meeting his eyes. “He thought the urgency not as great as the senders made it.”

Beside her, her friend, Tanien, nodded silently but emphatically. Tanien rarely spoke. She had been captured during the fall of Gondolin. The orcs had taken her tongue later, in Angband, when, counting on the value of her skill as a smith, she had spoken to demand better treatment for the newly-captured Doriathrim. She had been right that they would not kill her, but not that she had nothing left to lose.  Tanien could still sing wordlessly, but she could not form words.

Friendships among Morgoth’s slaves were often uneasy, troubled by fear of betrayal and the watching shadow of the Enemy’s mind, but Tanien and Neldorel had been in Angband for less time than many, and only at the end when the Enemy’s power was invested in his armies and his war.

Neldorel had appointed herself to be her friend’s voice, and together they had survived.

In the time that Maglor had been riding with Elros and Elrond, he had turned over the problem of a missing tongue in his mind, and spoken of it with Elrond. He was almost sure that he could make something that would allow all the usual sounds to be pronounced with an acceptable degree of fluency. Elrond was planning to make a discreet enquiry whether such a thing might be welcomed, but this was not the moment for that just yet.

Elros looked at the wax seals on the letters. “Hmm. One from Sapthêth and one from Gwerendir,” he said. “When did these arrive?”

“Six... no, seven days ago now, both of them.”

“And nothing since. Well, urgent or not, they have waited seven days already, and if they were announcing Morgoth himself returned, there would be nothing I could do about it today. They can wait for tomorrow, and for me to have a bath and a night’s sleep in a real bed.” Elros said and handed them firmly to Tanien. She gave him one of her rare smiles, and put the letters carefully away in the wide pocket of her sleeve.

“A bath sounds an excellent idea to me,” Elrond began, but he was interrupted by Hundor, his young armour-bearer.

“My lord,” he said urgently. “May I speak with you?”

“Of course,” Elrond said, looking a little surprised. “What do you need, Hundor?”

Hundor took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders and looked Elrond right in the eye. “I want to leave your service.”

Elrond blinked, surprised.

“Hundor!” Halfdan exclaimed angrily. “Please don’t pay any attention to him, Elrond, he has got some absurd idea into his head. He’ll be over it in a few days and onto the next thing.”

“I won’t,” Hundor said, giving his father a resentful look over his shoulder. “And nor will the rest of us. This isn’t going away.”

“The rest of us?” Elros enquired, eyebrows raised.

“Some of the young folk, my lords,” Halfdan said. He gave his son an exasperated look. “They’ve come up with some foolish plan to move back east, back to where Men came from hundreds of years ago.”

Hundor frowned. “Not all the way back east - only across the Baranduin, into the wide lands beyond... I wasn’t... I mean, that wasn’t what I was going to say.” His round face was marked with a deep serious frown. “I planned to talk to you about leaving your service first, but I couldn’t catch you alone, and then you went away, and time is moving on, so...”

“I’ve been a little busy lately, I know,” Elrond said apologetically. “Tell me about it now, Hundor. Halfdan, I can see you have a lot to say about this, but let me talk to Hundor about it first.”

“He’s my son! And he does not have my permission for this!”

“He is of age,” Elrond said sympathetically.

“He’s eighteen, and he’s an idiot!”

“He’s eighteen, and your son, so he is surely not an idiot,” Elrond said. “Halfdan, please.”

Halfdan let out a great explosive breath, nodded curtly and stalked out, closing the door of the hall behind him just a little too emphatically. Several of the other men looked around, exchanged a look with Elrond and then left after him.

“So you plan to go east.” Elrond sat down on one of the rough wooden stools that were going to be replaced with proper furniture as soon as there was time to make some, and gestured to Hundor and the others to do the same.  Húnlócon, who had insisted on following them from the stables folded himself down comfortably beside Elrond's feet. “You don't want to go west with my brother to the Land of Gift?”

Hundor shook his head decisively. “The ships are not yet built, and the word is that they will not be ready to set off for another twenty years. And even then, there won’t be room for everyone. I want to start my life, not waste it waiting! And... Elrond, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be anyone’s servant. I want land of my own, to farm on my own terms.”

“That seems fair enough,” Elrond said. “You can leave my service whenever you want, of course. But Hundor, I’ve known you all your life. Forgive me if I am a little concerned that you want to do this in such a hurry, without your father’s consent. What does your mother think?”

Hundor sighed and looked up at the ceiling for a moment. “She thinks I should stay safely in Lindon, of course, and serve you like my father does. She thinks I should be grateful to be your armour-bearer. I know it’s supposed to be an honour. But, Elrond, the war ended years ago! You don’t wear armour any more! Nobody does! It sits there in the armory with your shield, and it doesn’t even rust!”

Elrond laughed. “I suppose it does.”

“Guarding him is the only duty I’ve had except for bringing drinks in months,” Hundor jerked his chin at Maglor, who had taken a seat by a window while Elrond dealt with this. “And he doesn’t seem to want to run away.”

Maglor raised his eyebrows and gave Elrond a deliberately amused look.

“You were supposed to be acting as his personal guard,” Elrond said, looking somewhat exasperated in his turn. “Not... that . I thought you’d enjoy the peace. I would have done, at your age.”

“You’ve got forever. We haven’t,” Hundor said doggedly.

“If what you want is land and more to do, there’s no need to leave Lindon for it,” Elrond suggested.

“There is,” Hundor said adamantly. “We don’t want to live among the Elves. We want to live our own lives and make our own choices.” He shot another sideways look at Maglor. “And I know what you said about him , but my grandfather’s brothers died at the Havens of Sirion, and it’s not as if they were the only ones.”

“The High King of the Noldor judged our foster-father Maglor to be among those released from the Enemy’s hand,” Elros said from his place beside his brother, a faint warning note in his voice.

“Hm.” Hundor pursed his lips.

“You disagree?” Elrond asked seriously. “Speak freely.”

“Shall I leave?” Maglor offered.

“No,” Elros said, and the warning note was sharper now. “Stay. Otherwise we’ll only have to tell you about it later.”

“You’ve been a friend to my family, Elrond,” Hundor said, belatedly cautious. “I don’t want to cause trouble.” Elrond met his brother’s eyes for a moment, and Elros nodded abruptly and leaned back a little.

Elrond gave Hundor a wry smile. “Your father and I have been friends for over thirty years. I am not going to hold anything you say against him, or you for that matter. I’d like to hear it. None of us will take offence.”

Hundor took a deep breath. “All right then. I don’t see why the High King of the Noldor should be making judgements about someone who attacked my people. We aren’t Noldor, or elves. Our lives are short enough!”

Elrond looked unhappily at his brother.

“We aren’t Noldor, or elves,” Elros said seriously. “But Maglor is. It is for his own king to judge him, as it would be for me and my counsellors to judge, if it were you.”

Hundor said, speaking very fast.“But you aren’t a Man either . You’re nearly seventy, but you don’t have a white hair on your head!” He stopped abruptly, his eyes wide and bright as if he had surprised himself.

“Ah,” Elros said, and smiled. “I see your point. That is one of many reasons that I have counsellors and advisors of all three Houses of the Edain, Hundor. I shall die as you will, but it is true that it will not come so soon for me, for I am half-Elven and I am of the Children of Lúthien, and I shall have life beyond the measure of mortal Men. If that is something you cannot endure in your king, then I see why you wish to go east.”

“Are you going to try to stop us? You can’t,” Hundor said, his voice sharp and cracking a little with defiance.

Elros shook his head. “A king is he who can hold his own, or else his title is in vain,” he said. “I have no need to cling on to those who wish for other lords, or for no lords at all, Hundor. Even if I could.”

“Good.” Hundor said seriously. “We would leave anyway, whether you objected or not, but I’d rather not leave on bad terms.”

“You do realise that your parents will expect me to try to talk you out of this?” Elrond asked, his face rueful.

Hundor lifted his head proudly. “You can’t. I’m going. I’ve been thinking about this for three years.”

Elrond frowned. “Since before you came to serve me?”

“That was my father’s idea, not mine.” Hundor said, his round freckled face stern and serious under his yellow hair. “But that was when I really thought about it. I, mortal, come to serve an Elf. In six hundred years, you could have had twenty of our family serve you, father and son, and what would make any one of us different from the last? And you wouldn’t change at all.”

“Not to look at,no,” Elrond agreed. “That’s the path I chose: to stay, to watch, to remember.” He glanced over at Maglor. “Though I expect I shall change. Elves still do that.”

Hundor shrugged. “But we don’t get a choice. We can’t stay, and we don’t remember, not the way that you do. But I can do something. Something new, something different, something that isn’t what my father did! That’s the choice I want.”

“Yes,” Elros said, looking thoughtfully at Hundor now, with an expression that suggested that rather against his own wishes, he was impressed. “That’s the choice I wanted, too.”

“It’s nothing personal,” Hundor told Elrond, rather hastily. “It’s not that... I mean. It’s not that I don’t like Elves. But you’re all older and know things we don’t, and see further, hear more and never get old. It feels so pointless living here with you! We can’t compete.”

“I hadn’t thought that competing was something any of us would need to do,” Elrond said sadly.

“That’s because you’re automatically the best at everything!”

Elrond sighed. “Not quite everything. But it must be infuriating, I can see that. Have you thought about supplies? There’s a reason that Elros is not hurrying to the Isle of Gift: apart from the ships, there’s need for provisions, supplies for building, weaving, fishing, breeding stock of cattle, sheep and horses.”

Hundor frowned. “I know,” he said. “And it’s true, we don’t have much put by. But our ancestors came across Eriador, and it’s good rich land. I thought we could probably hunt and forage to begin with.”

“How many of you?” Elrond asked seriously. “And who leads this expedition?”

“About two thousand at the moment,” Hundor said. “But I expect more will join once they see what we have done. We’re not going to have a leader. We’ll have a ... a thing where everyone can speak.”

“It sounds a nice idea,” Elros said a little wistfully. “I hope it works. But two thousand ? That’s a lot of people to support by hunting, particularly once they start having children. But not very many to defend yourselves from attack.”

“You think we’d be attacked?” Hundor looked honestly surprised.

“The Men who served the Enemy did not all die or vanish,” Elrond said with a grimace. “Some of them fled East. You may well find some of them there ahead of you, I’m afraid.”

“They took Elrond prisoner and tried to carry him off as a slave,” Maglor put in briefly. Hundor stared at him, and then at Elrond as if he could not believe his ears. Tanien and Neldorel gave up their rather weak pretence of not listening, and turned to look at Elrond in alarm.

Elrond gave Maglor a look of amusement. “No need to spare my blushes, Maglor. I fell down a hole, hit my head and my shoulder, and Maglor had to rescue me. It wasn’t my finest hour. But yes. There are Men East of the Mountains who were allies of Morgoth.”

“Are you trying to put me off the idea by saying it’s dangerous?” Hundor said warily.

“No. I know you better than that. I’m just telling you something that you might need to know.  We saw no town or city: from what we saw of them, they were passing through. We did not see anywhere near two thousand of them. But still, they would not make the best neighbours, and it’s likely that they have friends and allies. Though, of course, you may find allies there too. You know that some of the people of Bór still live East of the mountains, near the ruins of Belegost.”

“I know about them,” Hundor said quickly. “I went there once with a message, and we have been in touch with them since. We are going further east and south, but we plan to trade with them, once we have something to trade.”

Elrond nodded “There are a couple of fishing settlements further down the coast where the people are kin to the Haladin, or so we think from their speech. They know the eastern lands better than we do here in Lindon. Have any of your people spoken with them?”

“I don’t think so,” Hundor shook his head, and then paused and reluctantly admitted “It’s a good idea though.”

Elros narrowed his grey eyes. “You say there is no leader of this expedition. But this is not the kind of thing that comes to two thousand people all at once. Who thought of it? Who makes the plans?”

“There are several of us,” Hundor said with determination. “But the idea was mine, and I made the maps.”

“Yours? At eighteen?” Elros sounded shocked, and Maglor smothered a laugh, remembering how Elros had set off to take command of the Edain; seventeen years old and quite undaunted. Elros looked across the room at him and the corners of his eyes crinkled with amusement. He turned back to Hundor. “I’m sorry Hundor, that was unfair of me. You are of age.”

Elrond made a face. “Your mother is going to kill me. But if you are going to do this... I’ll see what I can find in terms of supplies. You can’t just walk out there with bows and expect to feed yourselves indefinitely. We are supported here in Lindon by Círdan’s fishing fleet and the new Sindarin orchards in the hills. Once the towns are fully established, they will produce smithwork, pottery and weaving, and so there will be a balance, so the King intends. But if you are taking any number of people with you, relying entirely on hunting will be painfully unreliable.”

Maglor said; “When your ancestors came across the mountains, they came driving their herds with them. Their wealth was in animals on the hoof.”

“That’s a thought,” Elrond said, looking speculatively at his brother. “There will be limited space on the ships for cattle, after all. Perhaps...”

Elros sighed and shook his head. “And now he hurries me out of the door!” he said and laughed. “We are raising cattle to feed ourselves while we are still in Lindon, Elrond. You can’t have all of them! But... very well; I will see what can be spared. We aren’t likely to starve, with Círdan’s fishing fleet and the aid of Ulmo. Hundor, we should go through your plans in detail, you and your friends who have planned this great adventure. Perhaps with Gil-galad too... though I’d ask you to keep your opinions about his judgements tactfully to yourself.”

Hundor nodded confidently, as if making plans with kings was something that he did every day.

“Right. And now I suppose I had best talk to your father,” Elrond said and rubbed a hand over his eyes. “He’s not going to like this.”

“He thinks I’m still a child,” Hundor said, frowning. “But I’m not.”

“No.”

“He won’t discuss it reasonably! He just shouts. I don’t want to just leave and not say a proper farewell, but...”

“He’s had a hard lifetime of war,” Elrond said. “And he loves you. It makes it hard to see that you are grown and ready to take your own path. I’ll speak with him. He’ll come around.”

“Will he? He’s very angry.”

“Well, I can’t guarantee it. But honestly, I think he will. He’s a reasonable man. Let me talk to him, and your mother, too.”

Hundor smiled, a shy, hopeful smile that made his face look quite different to the defiant look earlier. “Thanks, Elrond.” He hesitated. “Can I ask a personal favour?” he asked.

Elrond laughed. “I think you were supposed to do that before you declared yourself proudly independent of lord and service! I’ve known you since you were a baby, Hundor. Of course you can. What is it?”

Hundor suddenly blushed very dark and looked down, shading blue eyes with long lashes. “Would you speak to Banwen’s father, too? Malach son of Mathol. He lives in the camp by Harlond.”

“Banwen? Ah. I take it that her father doesn’t approve of your plans, then?”

“He thinks she should wait for the ships and go into the west,” Hundor said unhappily. “And... and he has another man in mind for her. He’s older than me and... He slapped her backside and said she had good hips for babies. She doesn’t like him. I don’t like him either. Malach said she’d grow out of it and see sense.”

Elrond looked at his brother meaningfully. “Elros?”

Elros sighed. “Not again! I’ll have someone speak with the lady — in private — and find out what she wants. She shall have her own preference. I will not have any woman marry except by choice among my people, nor will I have anyone sail to the Land of Gift who does not want to go.”

“I’ll talk to her and her father, if you’ll authorise it,” Elrond offered. “It’s your camp.”

“Better not. You chose the Elves and all Lindon knows it. It’s one thing for you to talk to Halfdan who is one of your own people, but I can’t have you walking into my camp and telling the Edain what to do about their daughters.”

Elrond nodded. “Fair enough. Hundor, I cannot help you with this, because this is a matter for Men. I assume you will agree with that. But Elros will.”

“I must take ship for Harlond tomorrow,” Elros said. “I’ve been away too long. And Gil-galad is not here at the moment anyway. But I assume, Hundor, that you did not intend to set out into the wilds with winter coming on.”

Hundor shook his head. “We plan to leave in spring. That will give us the summer to set up farms and houses before the winter. We’re planning to send out a small group of scouts first though. I’m going as one of them, that way we can have guides that know the country and a better idea of where we’re going. ”

“Very well then. I will make arrangements with the High King, and we shall meet to speak of this at the next new moon.” Elros looked at Elrond and asked rather plaintively, “Are you really going to insist on talking to Halfdan before we even have a bath? I’ve been looking forward to a bath all day!”

“And perhaps a cup of wine,” Maglor added hopefully.

Elrond scrubbed both hands down his face, and then laughed. “I’m sure Halfdan will forgive a short delay,” he said. “Hundor... No. Arachon!” He waved to Arachon, who had been sitting quietly in one of the window seats all this time, writing. “Would you find Halfdan, and invite him and Amdiriel to dinner? Perhaps you and your mother would like to join us.”

“I’m sure she’ll want to come,” Arachon said and grinned. “A chance to hear the gossip at the source. But I’ll find Halfdan first, while you’re at the bath-houses. Sounds like he could use a cup of wine with a friend, too.”