There was no more evidence of the bonfires, she thought, as she looked out of the window, high in one of the white stone buildings of Mithlond. They had made them along the sandy bank of the Lhûn for the autumn festival the week before, but now, you could not tell. The smell of rain hung heavy in the air from the day before, and the Lhûn ran clear and bright in the early morning sunlight below.
The festival was done, the autumn rains had been set, and there was no business requiring her attention that day.
And all of that meant that finally, finally, she had a chance to get away.
Well. There was no business yet. And there was only one way to make sure that it stayed that way.
Regen was sitting on the floor of their room, teaching the latest litter of puppies to follow a scent with a rag. Neniel dodged around the runt of the litter, and hopped to the wardrobe. One of the puppies yelped as she opened the door, and she muttered a quick apology as she considered. There was no point in the purple outfit, not as far as she had to run today, even if she privately regretted the fact that he’d never seen her in it.
As she pulled on leggings, she asked, “Regen, would you do me a favour?”
“Depends. And good morning.”
“Good morning, Regen, little sister that I love more and more each day. Would you please do me a favour?”
“Depends,” her little sister repeated. Neniel caught a suspicious look, before the tunic replaced her vision with green and silver. She grinned back at her.
“Would you find Ráca and tell her that she’s in charge, if anything comes up?”
“Is anything going to come up?”
“I certainly hope not, because I’m not going to be back tonight. Or tomorrow night. The day after tomorrow, at the earliest.” She pulled out her pack. Flint and steel? Maglor would have it. Cooking gear, likewise. A water-skin for the journey. A comb, she’d need that, his comb had been carved with his straight hair in mind, not her curls. A spare set of clothes would be a good idea, too.
Regen rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. “Ráca’s going to be mad at you.”
Neniel waved a hand, dismissively, before strapping on her quiver and knife. “She’ll forgive me.”
“We’ll see about that,” Regen snorted. “But fine, I’ll tell her.”
“Thank you!” Neniel frowned down at the bag. What was she forgetting?
She glanced around the room, and then her gaze lit on the desk, the one that only Ráca used, and that only intermittently. In pride of place were four of the bottles of the nanëni that they had started to make, now that they had found the right river-reeds further down along the Lhûn as well. It was a little saltier than the variety they made back in the village, but it was still quite good.
Ráca might be quite unhappy with her, by the time she got back, Neniel thought, as she hopped over the puppies again and took two of the bottles, and folded them around the spare set of clothes. Then she swung the pack onto her back, and kissed the top of Regen’s head.
“Thank you, again.”
“He makes you happy,” Regen said, with a shrug. “Now go. You owe me a favour.”
“Two favours!” Neniel promised, before she left the room – not at a run; that would probably raise eyebrows among her people, and alarm some of the Noldor – at a very, very quick pace, and with a purposeful look on her face. The eldest river-daughter, going about her business.
That the business could also be called ‘sneaking out to meet her lover’ was really nobody’s business, anyway.
East of the Ered Luin, in a glade between two rocky outcrops, Maglor knelt and frowned at the lump of greenish rock. It had taken him several weeks of wandering through the rough hillsides of the Ered Luin to find it, with the hound Celenem wandering patiently behind him as he rummaged in shallow caves and climbed over tumbled rocks.
It was the most promising piece he had found, and this was a bright day. There would be no better time for it. He got up and gave Celenem the lower leg and hoof of the deer that was hanging near the cave mouth to keep him busy, then set the greenish stone upon a rough, shapeless lump of galena ore in the sun outside the cave, adjusting it several times before he was quite happy with its position.
He put his left hand to the galena, gently feeling the voice of the stone vibrating through his fingers, and sent a wordless greeting, without language. Something changed within the stone, faint and far, that might have been a reply, or just a response to the warmth of the sunlight glancing on the green translucent stone.
This was not the usual way of doing things, but then, he had given up on the usual way of doing almost everything. At worst, this was unlikely to result in anything but splinters. He began to hum quietly.
The sun was moving westward, and the green stone was flaking gently away under his fingers, dust and small stones falling away into the grass, leaving behind it a single eight-sided green crystal, through which the sunlight cast a clear light, twisted into a shape that was very nearly an eight-pointed star.
Now for the hard part. He knelt forward, hand cupped carefully around the crystal, and began to sing quietly, a hymn to Vása, the Heart of Fire, the last golden fruit of Laurelin.
The song was not a long one. Either his words would be heard, or they would not.
The last liquid phrase left his lips. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and swung around hastily, reaching for his sword.
Then he heard her laugh.
“Is this all the greeting I get, when I’ve run all the way from Mithlond?” she said, her eyes bright, cheeks a little flushed. His breath caught in his throat. “I thought you would at least notice me before I was right in front of you, this time!”
He laughed back. “I was a little busy. I had an idea...”
“So you did,” Neniel said, looking past him at the stone lying on the grass. He turned to look too, and picked it up.
“It worked! Neniel, see. It worked.” Within the clear stone he could see the faint twist of light still hanging there. He took her by the hand and pulled her over into the shade where the light would be easier to see.
“Sunlight in the stone! It might not be quite one of my father’s lanterns; perhaps a little faint... but still, there it is, light and crystal.” No servant of the darkness would ever choose to make anything like this, and to crown it all, here was Neniel come at just the moment to share it with him.
She held out her free hand, and he set it there, watching her. She was smiling, as she turned it over in her hands.
“It’s lovely,” she said, handing it back to him. “For the cave, are you thinking?”
“Unless you want it,” he said. He reached out to the faint light within the stone, still delighted, and it brightened for him, warming against his hand.
She shook her head, smiling. “No, you keep it.” She turned so that she faced him, and rose a little on her toes, her fingers sliding into the hair at the base of his head. Maglor smiled, and leaned down to kiss her, settling his hands on her waist.
They broke apart when Celenem’s head bumped at her legs, and he whined in greeting. Neniel laughed, pecked Maglor on the lips again, and then knelt to greet the dog. “Hello, Celenem. Have you been looking after him for me?’
“He refuses to let me wallow,” Maglor told her. He’d managed the mock-aggrieved tone, but he could not help smiling, which spoiled the effect a little.
“So you are looking after him. Very good!” she praised Celenem, rubbing behind his ears. She looked up at him again. Her eyes were shining with delight. It still felt strange, to be both the object and the catalyst of that much joy. “I thought about hunting along the way, but I was too excited, so I come without food. But I did bring something!” She slid her pack down onto the grass, and drew out a glass bottle. “Mistinda’s become very interested in the techniques for making this. It makes a nice sound, I’ll admit. I’m not sure why it’s better than ceramic for vessels, though.”
“Often harder to break,” Maglor replied, as she sat. “How long were you going to stay?”
She smiled as she opened the bottle, and patted the grass next to her. “I can stay a while. Come here.”
They had sampled the nanëni and built up the fire. Maglor brought out oat-cakes and venison, and an unexpected prize; a carved wooden bowl containing a honeycomb and a pool of liquid honey.
“Where did you find that?”
He cocked an eyebrow at her as if challenged, and presented the bowl to her, almost ceremoniously.
“I found a golden hoard hidden in a stronghold,
guarded with sharp swords by fierce knights brave and bold.
Loud hummed the warning as I crept towards their treasure,
Swiftly they leapt to arms, but I had their measure!
Sweet was my harpsong then; soon they were all sleeping.
All save one loyal guard who awoke and stung me.
A worthy wound and in return I left some in his keeping
when I took the honey swiftly and I fled before they caught me!"
She took the bowl from him, and he ran a hand through her thick hair and laughed.
“Yet my prize is less golden than her shining hair,
as bright as dappled sun that glints on the water,
honey sweet as kisses of the River-daughter..."
Neniel rolled her eyes, but laughed as well, because his eyes were bright with laughter and Treelight, and his happiness was contagious. “Singing of stolen treasure and bringing my mother into it?” She scooped some of the honey up with the oat-cake. “You are drunk!”
“I shall recall my many crimes when the sun comes rising,” Maglor assured her.
“Till then I shall abandon guilt and live at my ease.
Pretend that I have stolen only honey from the bees.”
“Here’s what I don’t understand,” she started. The sun had set, sinking down behind the hills, painting the sky orange and pink. They had eaten the oatcakes with honey and the venison, while she told him all about Mithlond, and how his family was faring. Somewhere along the way, they had emptied the first bottle of nanëni, and Celenem was fast asleep beside the fire, snuffling a little in his sleep. The question was gnawing at her, like a teething puppy on a rag. “Why is light so important?”
Maglor was sitting behind her, his hands tangling in her hair, in what had begun as an attempt to braid it, but become steadily less coordinated. She went on, reassured by the fact that his hands were still moving. Maglor usually went still when something distressed him.
“I’ve lost count of how many songs about the light of the Trees are written in the library in Mithlond. And then there’s Celebrimbor’s work on lamps to reflect the light of the moon. And you as well. And then there’s that expression, about ‘seeing the light’, and deeds done in the dark.” She gestured at the stone with the twist of sunlight inside it that he had set in a cleft in the rocks behind them. “Why is light so important?”
“Light of sun and stars and moon, Light of Silver Tree
Golden light of Laurelin, lost beyond the Sea,
Lost forever in the past, never to be recaptured,
... do you know, I don’t think there is a single rhyme for ‘recaptured’ in Sindarin? What a terrible language. Have you got the bottle?”
She held it up to him. “It’s empty.”
He sighed. “There is no rhyme for ‘tragedy’ in Sindarin,
no matter with what cunning art I spin my words, and yet an empty bottle...”
“I did bring two,” she felt obliged to point out. She pointed at where her pack was lying, several feet away on the grass. “The second is over there.”
“Oh there my clever lady is, she brought not one but two!”
Maglor got up, surprisingly, without obviously swaying “... although I must admit, it is a potent brew. Shall we enjoy the second now, or save it for the morrow?”
Neniel studied him. “Hmm. Better save it for tomorrow, I think.” She was certain that she could keep going without taking ill, but she’d never seen Maglor drink a great deal. “You didn’t answer my question, by the way.”
He turned to her, figure dark in the light of the fire, and thought for a moment.
“Laurelin outshone the Sun, the Moon and every star
clear light like golden fire that flamed against the dark
Neniel, who loves the trees of the forests of Ennor
I wish that I could show you the light that shines no more.
Silver fell like shining dew from great Telperion
More proud than any other tree, his flowers brightly shone
Yavanna’s greatest children...”
He broke off, grimaced and shook his head.
“I could sing a thousand thousand songs and it would be no clearer.
It runs within my bones and blood, the Treelight loved and dearest
my father’s greatest work, beloved home and childhood lost
...Perhaps it’s only sentiment, for after all, we knew the cost.”
He knelt down beside her and took her hand with his scarred one.
“I cast it away,” he said quietly. “I cast the Silmaril away and lost the light, and lost my way. Lost forever in the dark, until you came to find me... ” He shook his head and slumped sideways to lean on her. “That stuff must be stronger than I thought.”
She wrapped an arm around his shoulders, and kissed his temple. She had asked a question to which there was no answer again, she thought. He was right. A million songs would never explain it; a million years could pass, and that love of light would be a part of him. Bone and blood deep, just as he’d said. Never disdaining the light of the stars, but always yearning for more, for something fiercer and more powerful.
So be it. He was what he was. And—
“I love you,” she told him. “You know that, don’t you?”
His laugh was a little fragile, like there were tears waiting behind it, as he glanced at her. His eyes glinted in the firelight. “A mystery that baffles me. You never longed for something brighter than the stars?”
She leaned her head against his as she thought about it. “No,” she said. “I never had any trouble seeing in the starlight. I remember the look on Ataro’s face, when the Moon rose. When suddenly the land was bathed in silver. The colours changed. And then the Moon went away, and it felt like being given something, only for it to be snatched away, until it happened again the next night. It felt like an earthquake, like the world was trembling under our feet, and we were changing with it. Suddenly, we were no longer the people of the stars. Or, at least, not only the people of the stars.” She glanced at him, feeling a little shy to admit this, the words of Pengolodh’s histories echoing in her ears. Elves of Darkness, the loremaster had called them. He was not wrong on that point. “...I was frightened.”
He laughed quietly. “All that time in the darkness of the trees, a world of monsters of horn and ivory. My grandfather told us fearful tales of Middle-earth, of things with teeth that hid in shadow. And yet you feared the moonrise?”
“The world had shifted under our feet,” she repeated, a little exasperated. “Suddenly, there was evening and there was morning. New plants blooming around us, and we did not know if they were safe to eat, or how to prepare them. So many fell ill, as we tried to figure out what was and was no longer safe...Ataro told me once that it felt like starting from the beginning all over again.” His smile was less teasing, more thoughtful now, as he looked at her, and she hesitated. Then she said, more quietly: “But the moonrise was kinder than the sunrise. When the sun rose, I went blind for over a day. I stared at it too long.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.” He reached up and touched her face, ran a finger across her brow. “That would be terrible indeed. To be unsighted in a world where creatures of the Enemy might lie in wait, to carry the shadows where they could hide within your own eyes...”
She nodded, leaning into the touch of his hand. “We did not know that it was temporary. I’ve never felt my father so frightened, or Emmá. And...I was terrified, too. That I’d never hunt or play or dance again, that I’d spend my whole life being taken care of by my parents.” The memory made her shiver, and she took a deep breath, deliberately looking into the fire, into the shifting tongues of the flames. It was centuries ago, and she had never made that mistake again.
His hand drifted away, and then she felt it curve around her waist, pulling her closer into his side. “Brave Neniel, strong as a river in the Spring. I’m sorry. It’s hard to imagine you afraid of anything.”
She looked at him. “You are definitely drunk. Remember how frightened I was, the year I went to Mithlond?”
He waved his free hand carelessly, and she was glad for that. She did not want him to let go. The hand around her was warm, heat rolling off of it, and comforting. “Performance nerves. Everyone gets those from time to time. But I couldn’t think of anything you truly fear...”
She wrinkled her nose. “You. Not like that!” she added, hastily, as he tensed under her arm, and his grip immediately loosened. “But when I was thinking about us, making up my mind. There’s a reason I was unmarried. Eilian would not bind himself to me, not with how I am in the winters. Part of me thought that you would refuse me, too. That terrified me.”
His muscles relaxed again underneath her hand, and some of the strength returned to his grip. “Eilian was thrice a fool, the greatest fool this side of the Ered Luin, and if I thought that I had any luck left, I would put his foolishness down to my great good fortune. As it is, I can only think that I caught a blessing intended for someone more deserving...”
She smiled, as his words lulled that old fear to sleep again. “Poet. And you had enough years with your family to know that love has precious little to do with deserve.”
“Ouch. I’ll have you know my brother Caranthir was very nearly worth anyone’s love. The rest of us... I won’t argue for them, but my mother is loveable! Well, she is when she isn’t working up a new sculpture, anyway. That always made her testy.”
That was not what she had meant at all, she thought, with a flash of exasperation. She swivelled to face him, catching his eye, and reached out with thought and memory instead, since her words had betrayed her. Holding Tuilo and Ráca in her arms, as a girl, when they were both helpless and utterly, totally dependent, and feeling affection crash over her like a great wave, utterly swamping her. Before they could do a thing to prove themselves capable, or clever, or loving in return.
“Oh,” Maglor said, a little faintly, sudden, naked shock on his face. All trace of hurt and defensiveness had vanished.
She pounced on the opening. “I love you. As I love my family. Not because my love is a thing to deserve, or some kind of prize to be won. I love you because I love you because I love you.” She drew some of the water out of the air with a word, and then froze it with another, catching the frosty ring as it fell. Then she handed it to him, and he took it in his right hand. “You see?”
Maglor was quiet for a moment, before he spoke again. “I see it.” His voice trembled a little. She smiled and leaned in, kissing him gently. He kissed back, his mind reaching for hers, his hand on her cheek still cool from the ice ring. The kiss turned hungry, heated. His faelin was singing, amazed and incredulous and wanting, wanting so fiercely, and her smile widened against his mouth.
You love me too, she whispered, mind to mind. It was not a question.
There was the sound of something hitting the grass, and then another hand threaded into her hair as he pulled her closer. Yes. Yes, I love you.
There was no talking after that for some time.
She had started braiding his hair in intricate braids like the Falathrim wore, each less than the width of her little finger. It was soft and silky and so fine that strands of it slipped out of the braids in flyaway tendrils, and it shone in the flickering low light of the fire and the moonlight. His head was in her lap, and his eyes were closed, as her nails scratched gently along his scalp. He was not quite purring, she thought, smiling, but it was a close thing.
“I have to ask,” she said. Playing with his hair had reminded her, and this question had nagged at her off and on for years as well.
That made his eyes snap open, she noted, and she smiled down at him, as she tied off another one of the braids.
“Now those are words to make a man tremble!” His tone was light and teasing, although his eyes were a little wary.
No rhyming this time. Perhaps the alcohol was wearing off? She shook her head in amusement. He reached up and twirled a lock of her hair around his finger, tugging on it gently.
“I have to ask,” she repeated. “Why was your grandfather named for his hair?”
Maglor’s smile dimmed a little, but it did not vanish. She left off braiding entirely, and stroked his hair instead. He sighed, and shifted a little, before he spoke.
“I don’t know.”
She blinked down at him, and he shrugged, staring up at her. “Grandfather wasn’t Unbegotten, I know that much. But he never talked about his parents, either. Maedhros asked Rúmil once, and Rúmil said he was an orphan. So I don’t know who named him, or why they named him that. But his hair was impressive. Very thick and shining. It reached the floor, too.”
“I’ll tell Banë that, the next time he calls my hair impractical.” She scraped her nails along his scalp again. “Thank you for telling me.” It could not have been painless. Even now, after all these years, talking about Alado felt like an old scar aching, the tissue never fully returned to what it had been before.
“Banë is almost as much a fool as Eilian. I like your hair. It’s rare and bright and precious, like golden thread worked through a tapestry, or the shimmer on the pools of light under Laurelin, when her light was passing into sleep. Still fierce, still strong, still lovely.”
She felt her cheeks heat. It was horribly unfair, the fact that he made her blush that easily. Maglor’s smile turned teasing and relaxed again.
“And you’re lovely when you blush, too,” he said.
She tried frowning down at him, but her mouth kept wanting to smile. Traitorous body. “Are you done?”
“Not in the slightest,” he said, brightly, cheerfully, and her head tipped to the side as she thought. She had never heard him speak like that before, so happily, so...in another man, she would have called it flirtatious. But Maglor had never tried to flirt with her.
Because he would not have permitted himself that luxury. The thought was quiet, and she blinked, as suddenly a much clearer picture resolved.
Maglor’s preferred method of punishing himself was to isolate himself from the pleasures he enjoyed most. He had delighted in being among the Kindi, for that brief while, delighted in being treated as one of them; delighted in being treated as part of her family, by her Ataro. He had seemed like a person, rather than one who thought he existed as little more than a vessel for his grief, as though he had returned to himself. Or a self, anyway.
He caught the edges of her thought, and lifted his head a little to meet her eyes, suddenly very serious. “No. It’s more than that. I thought you knew. I am not simply punishing myself: I wish it was that simple. If I could choose not to be doomed, I would, believe me. But doom followed us all the way from Alqualondë, and I can no longer believe I can escape it... Neniel, the anger of the Valar lies on me, and for all I know, it might lie on you too, now. I know the Ainur are your family, but the Valar are not like the spirits of Middle-earth who never chose the safety and the light of Valinor. And they were very clear about our fate.”
She raised her eyebrows at him, trying to seem composed, even though her eyes were damp. “I am not a Noldo. Nor am I of the House of Fëanor.” She stroked his hair again.
“I know. That’s why I dared to hope...Always my failing. But I am of the House of Fëanor, and that name has a dark doom hanging over it.”
She swallowed, and scraped her nails against his scalp again. He was so convinced, so matter of fact, it was hard to not believe it. But if it was true…
Tears unnumbered. Shadows of regret. Slain by weapon and torment and grief. The lines of the Doom echoed in her head again, and she squeezed her eyes shut.
What did it change, in the end? Did it change anything?
She thought of moonrise again, and how a part of her had wondered if the world was ending. How her father and aunt had caught her hands and whirled her and the other Elves of the village into a dance that night, even though they were uncertain, too.
She slid his head out of her lap and got to her feet. For a single moment, Maglor’s eyes went wide as though she’d struck him, even though the rest of his face was carefully neutral.
Then she lay down beside him, and wrapped her arm across his chest, set her head on his shoulder, and hooked her foot over his leg.
Maglor sighed, his breath stirring the hair over her ear. His skin was warm against hers. “You’re not reconsidering, then?”
“There’s always danger in Arda Marred,” Neniel replied. “And there’s danger in us as well, often enough. No, I am not reconsidering. I love you now. And that is enough for me.”
“It may be selfish of me, but I love you too. How could I not?”
She did not mean to say it. She really did not. But it seemed to be the kind of conversation that invite things that both of them, at other times, would have left unsaid. “The ice?”
“I’ll say it once, I’ll say it thrice, I’ll say it till you believe me at last: Eilian was a fool.”
She huffed a laugh. “You really would.” From most men, it would be an exaggeration. From Maglor, it was not. She pressed a kiss to his jaw. “That’s one of the reasons why, you know. You’re very difficult to frighten off.”
Maglor’s glance was amused. “I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but you don’t bear much resemblance to a dragon.”
“Well, I gave up on trying to give myself scales when I was fourteen,” she told him, keeping her tone solemn, and Maglor’s amusement spilled over into a smile once more, bright and radiant in the moonlight.
He finally remembered to ask the question the next day, as they walked through the grey tree-trunks in the late morning, looking for chestnuts among the first crisp fallen leaves.
“Neniel, when is your begetting day?”
She blinked at him. “We didn’t have days, when I was begotten.”
He had thought of that. But Indis had had parties that celebrated her Awakening, even though she had awoken long before the Noldor had created their calendar. So... “But you must have a day when you celebrate it,” Maglor said.
“Not really.” She sounded very casual. “We celebrate the children, of course, and we keep careful count of their years. You have to know when to give them their tattoos. So we celebrate them in the spring festival. But it’s not that important, once you have your tattoos.” She tilted her head. “Regen and Tauren were both conceived during the festival. The same for Tuilo and Ráca, although the festival took a different shape then. I was begotten in the growing season, too, I think. But not at the festival.”
“You think? Didn’t your parents tell you? Surely you have a celebration of your own?” Maglor thought back to begetting days past, when brothers, cousins and friends had ensured that there would be a joyful gathering for someone or other often enough.
She nodded, and then shook her head. He must have looked very confused, because she gave him a slight smile and elaborated. “Yes, they told me; it’s just not something I have to think about very often. No, I don’t have a celebration of my own. I celebrated like the other children. That was fun. Then I got my tattoo, and stopped counting the star cycles quite so carefully. Another thing that was different in Aman?”
“Begetting days, name days for your father-name and for your mother-name... Not only in Aman. I’m sure the Sindar celebrate festivals of their own. I went to more than a few Sindar begetting celebrations in the March, and I’m sure it wasn’t just that that they were copying us... I can’t see the Sindar doing that, even in Hithlum.”
“Not likely,” she agreed, with a frown. “I think...it’s just easier, to do it all at once. And it’s fun, too. You have the children running everywhere, all the songs and games about the new life, and you can always make bets on who’s sneaking off into the woods, and who they’re sneaking off with.”
Maglor gave a startled laugh. “No golden rings or silver rings, ceremony with all the parents, blessings from the Valar, or waiting for a year to be sure? It sounds delightfully informal.” But worryingly hasty, to bind yourself until the end of Arda on an evening’s whim.
Neniel shot him a surprised look, blond eyebrows bouncing up in startlement. “I didn’t say they were marrying each other.” She paused, as though thinking about it. “Although sometimes they decide to skip straight to that. Tauren and Helado did.” A very wide grin on her face. “ After they finally woke up and realised what everyone else had been betting on since they were ten. Helado’s mother was not amused.”
Now that he looked closer, her smile was close to smug. “Dare I guess that there was some interference that helped them realise what was going on?” he asked her.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, wide-eyed, her tone one of injured innocence. Maglor laughed again. “No rings. We don’t do those. We pull someone into the river to ask them to marry us. And we add to our tattoos, once married. The parents attend the ceremony, especially the son’s parents, since he isn’t counted as part of their household anymore. It started as a way to bind families together, after all. And we don’t take blessings from the Valar. We call on the waters, stars and the sky as witnesses, instead.”
“Hmm,” Maglor went on through the trees a little way, picking up a sharp-spined chestnut case and putting it in the basket with a thoughtful look on his face, Celenem snuffing near his heel.
“Hmm?” she echoed.
“Does this mean that Nurwë is not as furious with me as I had assumed? I thought your mother might forgive me, but it seemed too much to hope that your father would. Not that being unforgivable is new to me, of course.”
She blinked at him. “He’s not furious. He’s happy for us.”
“He’s happy that his daughter took a kinslayer from beyond the Sea as a lover, without even asking his blessing?” Maglor could not keep the incredulity out of his voice.
“Ataro slew Kwendî once too,” she said, raising her index finger. “And you are not some nameless Amanya stranger to him! You are the grandson of his old friends, Finwë and Míriel and Mahtan. And as far any blessing is concerned...Ataro gave it even before I wanted to ask it. He nudged me about my feelings for you twice. He would not have done that if he wanted you to stay away from me!”
“Oh. Good. In that case I have at least one less enemy than I thought. Always a good thing.”
She shook her head, smiling at him fondly, laughter and exasperation mingling in her eyes. “Any other worries you’ve been keeping quiet about?”
He shrugged. “It was less that I was worried about it, and more that I assumed there was one more name on the long list. When the list begins with Morgoth, Námo and with Everlasting Darkness, worrying about the rest seems pointless. But I like your father. I’m glad he isn’t angry.”
“I’m glad, too,” she said. “So if you thought that my mother would forgive you, and my father would be angry, how did you think Uncle Ossë was going to react?”
“Ossë didn’t drown me for everything else I’ve done, and he had every opportunity. Anyway, I’ve given up trying to predict what the Ainur will do.”
She laughed. “If you want to know, he gave me a hug that bruised several ribs, said ‘At last!’ and then said that it’s been too long since we visited him. I think having Uinen as his mate has altered him a little.”
“As Ainur go, I find I prefer those of the Hither Shore. Not something I thought that I would ever say, but then, I was a great fool in my youth.” He scooped up another fat chestnut-case from under a brown and yellow leaf. “Though, it’s cheering to think that I was never quite such a fool as Eilian.”
“There was nobody that you loved in Aman? What about Elemmírë?” She smiled at the startled look he gave her. “Celebrimbor once mentioned her being at several family occasions, after a few drinks.”
“I’m glad he has some happy memories. He was too young. But no, Elemmírë was a dear friend, and so, I suppose, I loved her. But not a lover, no: she never would have asked and nor would I.” Maglor shook his head. “I had my family, my music, my friends, and I spent a good deal of time travelling, too. I didn’t feel a need for anything else. A couple of girls asked, but those courtships...I think the longest one lasted two months, before I broke it off. It wasn’t fair to them. After that, I stuck to occasionally flirting while I played, and left it at that. If you do that, nobody takes it seriously. It’s part of the performance. No broken hearts. Mine, or theirs.”
Slowly, Neniel smiled. “Well, I can’t blame those girls for trying. But I’m not going to weep that they didn’t succeed, either!”
“I’m sure they are happy now that it went nowhere, and their parents, too. Elemmírë stayed in Valinor, of course: I hadn’t seen her since my father’s exile anyway. One of those who asked me turned back with Finarfin, the other was in Hithlum, for a while. I don’t know if she lived.”
He could not recall seeing her at the Havens of Sirion, and dragged his mind deliberately away from the memory by focussing on here and now, the sun slanting through the yellowing chestnut trees, Neniel’s eyes brightening as she spotted another chestnut fruit, half open to show the glistening brown nuts inside.
He caught the nut with the basket as she threw it to him “More to the point, I’m happy I was free to choose and so were you.” Although, of course, since the Kindi did things so differently, she was still free to choose, and one day she might do so. I love you now, she had said. Even if it was not forever, for her, for now it was enough.
“I think we have enough of these now,” he said, looking in the basket, and he reached out and caught her hand. “Let’s go and roast them, and then I’ll introduce you to my new recipe for roast pheasant with chestnuts and wild onions.”
She drew their hands up, and kissed the inside of his wrist, smiling at him. “Have I mentioned that I love visiting you? Not the least because of things like that?”
“I knew it. You love me for my cooking. Everything else was all a ruse.” Her eyes were laughing, again. Maglor continued. “The joke’s on you, though, because I’m the worst cook that I know.”
Neniel shook her head. “Trust me. That’s a title that definitely belongs to Regen. Did I tell you about what happened when we visited Círdan this year?”
“Was it bad? It sounds like it was bad.”
Neniel sighed. “She wasn’t paying attention to where she was diving, and she had a run in with a killer whale. And she was fine! No need to look so alarmed. Anyway, once she’d dragged the carcass into shore, she had to do something with it, and she and a Falathrim boy decided to try an old recipe. It can’t have worked, because the meat was somehow burnt and under-cooked. Simultaneously.” A wry smile on her face. “I’ve never seen Gil-galad struggle so hard to maintain his diplomatic smile. Or Elrond. Círdan didn’t bother, of course. He laughed so hard he almost fell off the quay.”
“Good old Círdan. Orcs, Balrogs or uncooked whale, he somehow comes through it all.”
Neniel looked abruptly solemn. “I think it’s the beard. You know how plants grow spines and thorns to protect themselves against being chewed on? Like that.”
Maglor began to laugh helplessly, holding onto the basket to prevent the laughter spilling nuts everywhere.
“I’m serious!” she said, the gleam in her eyes making it clear that she was not serious in the slightest. She took the basket from him, and tucked it under one arm. “He gets into plenty of danger, but Fate thinks he’s far too old and stringy to chew on, and that the beard would get caught in its teeth. That’s why he always comes through!”
“I hope it’s true,” Maglor said, still laughing. “I dare you to ask him when you get back to the coast.”
She grinned. “Hello, Círdan! A quick question for you: did you actually grow your beard to try and ward off Doom? Shouldn’t be too bad. I’ll catch him while he’s mending a net. That always puts him in a good mood.”
“I’ll look forward to hearing about it next time you visit.” Maglor carefully did not ask how long it might be until she came again.
She glanced at him, and her smile was sad and joyful both. “Don’t wish the day away!” She gestured to the trees. “Winter will come on fast enough, without us doing that.”
“An excellent point.” Maglor went to the tree where he had hung the pheasant. “I shot this three days past, so it should be about right now. I don’t suppose you want to help me pluck it?” he added hopefully.
She smiled, and came over to join him. “A while, since I’ve done something as simple as pluck a bird. Yes, that sounds wonderful.”
Autumn sunlight on the grass, an increasing pile of feathers shining russet red and green: autumn colours against the first leaves falling from the trees. They sat together, dark hair and golden side by side, enjoying the shared task, and looking neither behind them, nor ahead.