Chapter 1: Mithrim
The first time she saw him, he was one of eight, and she wondered if he was a Vala.
It was hideously clear, by then, that the orcs that had come pouring from the North in great numbers were not only raiding for slaves, food, and whatever took their fancy. Not this time. This time they had come to stay.
Her people had tried hiding at first, and that was something that long years of slave raids had taught them to do with unparalleled skill. Later, they had tried to fight: hunting spears, bows and reaping-hooks of herdsmen and farmers against the serried, armoured ranks of the enemy. They had tried to fight, and they had lost.
And then the Noldor had come crashing into Hithlum in shining armour, a host lit by many lamps and by a soft radiance that clung about them. At their head were eight bright figures with eyes that shone like stars, and the orcs fled from the hooves of their tall horses in terror, leaving their captives to weep with unexpected wonder and joy.
When the surviving chieftains of Hithlum came to meet the Noldor, the shining figures took off their high helms and called greetings in voices that were strange, but friendly enough.
In their camp upon the shores of Lake Mithrim they seemed more like people, and less like some strange power from beyond the world. She went with Annael and the others to meet with them, bearing gifts of fine-woven grey cloth, smoked duck and venison, and received as her own gift a knife of some astonishingly sharp grey metal, the hilt worked with strange shapes and set with glittering stones.
It was then that she first heard Makalaurë Fëanor’s son sing, there by the lake under the stars.
She was not entirely sure, at first, that she liked the Noldor music. It did not unfold in the way that the songs of the great singers of Mithrim did; silvery notes woven together into a complex whole. Instead, he sang alone, accompanied only by the instrument he played; a mighty voice that echoed the golden light in his eyes and spoke to the stars as if they were well-known friends. But there was no doubting the power in it, and as he sang on, a song of defiance against the shadow in the North, the vision of a land filled and overbrimming with light overcame her.
The Noldor did not stay long. Annael, Renion and Faechith, the chieftains of the great families, had hoped to persuade them to settle in the lands around the lake and form a strong defense against Angband. But Fëanor the king would not be stayed, not by any news of the power of the Enemy. He waited only long enough to learn their speech, to hear the full report of what had happened in the land of mists and the news from Beleriand before he marched out again, east through the mountains to the plains, and to what lay beyond.
The third time she saw Makalaurë, he stood before his people in the starlight. His head was high and his face defiant, and as he spoke, he wept, and the tears on his face reflected the fierce light in his eyes.
The Sindar had come out to meet their new friends in their retreat back to the lake of Mithrim. So she heard the news at the same time that many of the Noldor did, told in that great golden voice, that Fëanor the king was fallen in battle, and that his eldest son was captured. Makalaurë would stand as king of the Noldor. They would hold the land of Hithlum within the mountains, and build up strength for a new attack.
The first time she spoke with him was different. No shining armour, and his voice of gold quiet and a little sad, like a weapon sheathed. She had brought in a draft of pony mares from the hills, and after she had turned them out in the big paddock for Ambarussa and some of his people to take a look at them, she turned and found that the Noldor king was leaning on the fence next to her.
“They don’t look much like war-horses,” he said to her in his oddly accented Sindarin, when she caught his eye.
She shrugged. “No. But we have no war-horses, here in Hithlum. These are the tallest that we have.”
He said nothing but tilted his head to look down at her, and raised an eyebrow. “They never needed to be,” she said, defensive. “We aren’t as tall as you, and we don’t wear armour. Our skills are in stealth, not in battle. But I think they will bear taller foals, if we bring them to your stallions..”
“Ambarussa thinks so too. I hope you’re right. I wonder, do you think any of your people might be persuaded to wear armour and to ride them, in time, if we made the armour? It’s become painfully clear to me that there are not enough of us to assault Angband alone.”
Startled, she looked back at the ponies circling the paddock in the starlight. “You can’t summon more of your people to come across the Sea to your aid?”
He scrunched up his face and laughed wryly. “There were many more that were eager to come, but... at the time, we thought this would be enough. Something of a mistake, as it turns out, but it’s too late now. We must press on with the allies that we have, and... since the Enemy holds my brother, the problem seems particularly urgent.”
She nodded with sympathy. “He holds my brother, too, I think. My father was killed, but we never found my brother’s body, and the last we knew of him, the orcs had taken him.”
He stared at her wide-eyed for a moment. “I’m sorry.”
She shrugged unhappily. “If you really think the Enemy can be defeated, you’ll find many of us here in the North who have our own quarrels with him.”
“Do you think your King Thingol might aid us?” he asked seriously. “Annael thinks not, but surely if his own people are held as thralls in Angband..”
She had to laugh at that. “We’re not Thingol’s people. Not any more. He left us.for long ages to be alone with his lady-love, and when he returned, we had grown tired of kings and left to seek our own lands in freedom.”
He smiled at her. She was getting used to those disconcerting eyes. “That’s what Annael said too.”
“It doesn’t make you angry? You’re a king.”
“Not your king, though, so why should I be angry?”
This strange king-from-across-the-sea intrigued her. “Perhaps I expect all kings to be angry!”
“Angry about wanting freedom and wide lands to wander in the starlight? That’s what we wanted, too.”
“ Through sorrow to find joy; or freedom, at the least? ” she quoted the Noldor saying, trying to speak the words as his language made them.
He made a face and looked away. “That was the idea. Ironic, really, given where my...our brothers are now. Not much freedom there, nor joy... But we didn’t know about Angband then. We thought we would find our enemy, take our revenge and reclaim the Silmarils he stole. I think now it might take rather longer than we thought it would.”
The very idea that the Enemy could be defeated was intoxicating. And, though unlikely, there were still the armies that had swept the orcs from Mithrim like leaves in a stream.
“Maybe you will manage it yet. But I wouldn’t count on Thingol’s help: he thinks we can’t be trusted. That we are spies for the Enemy.”
He frowned. “A strange thought that you’d spy for the enemy who took your brother as a slave.”
“Isn’t it? But they live a very long way from Angband, in Doriath, safe behind their walls of enchantment. Annael must have told you that.”
“He did, but well... we are strangers here, in a strange land, speaking a strange tongue. I hope you’ll forgive me if I ask a question twice.”
She considered him for a thoughtful moment. “You’re a very odd king,” she said eventually. “Not that I know any other kings. But you don’t seem much like anything I’ve heard of Thingol.”
He frowned, and then shrugged. “It might be that I’m doing it wrong,” he admitted. “I never thought I’d be one, and so I didn’t do a lot of preparation. So, if I suggested to Ambarussa that some of the Sindar of Mithrim might be prepared to ride the foals that these ponies will drop one day, you think you might be one of them?”
She looked out again in the starlight at the ponies, which were standing calmly now, heads up and looking at the tall Noldorin war-horses grazing not so far away. She followed their gaze, and looked at the Noldorin horses too. They were fine, well-balanced looking beasts, with powerful necks and haunches, and they were taller than any horse she had ridden. It would be interesting to try their paces. In fact, as she looked at them in the starlight, more than interesting.
“I’ll think about it,” she said.
Chapter 2: Sunrise of Hope
Maglor is king, and then he isn't.
Because this is the very early days of the Noldor in Hithlum, they haven't taken Sindarin-form names. Therefore:
Maitimo = Maedhros
Makalaurë = Maglor
Carnistir = Caranthir
Ambarussa=Amrod & Amras
The stars turned and turned, misty starlight mingling with the reflection of the lamps in the dark waters of lake Mithrim as the peoples of Mithrim, both new and old, became settled together. The Noldor had become accustomed to their new land of mist and starlight, and the servants of the Enemy had drawn back to Angband. The Elves of Mithrim could wander the hills almost in peace, as they had done long ago.
The ponies that the Sindar had sent to the Noldor camp as gifts of thanks for aid beyond hope had foaled. When she rode down to the lake bringing supplies from the slow, starlit woods that grew through the misty hills, it was a joy to see the foals growing up in the starlight.
Usually she spoke of cloth, rope, food and horses with the king’s brothers, the russet-haired hunters, or the fierce laughing warrior with the hound near the size of a horse that kept pace with him always.
But now and again she encountered the king himself; busy with the business of the camp. Busy sending patrols to watch the Enemy, keeping up the constant vigilance that held the mountains clear of the orcs and trolls, and taking counsel with the people of the land.
A fine thing that the new allies had a leader so tireless and so grim, she thought, though they had lost both the kings that had led them here.
The new king of the Noldor might have smiled to hear himself called tireless, if it had not been that smiling was surprisingly difficult, now, and so he kept it for situations where it might improve morale. He felt very tired, though of course, one could not show it; not to anyone. Not even to his brothers, who must have confidence that the leader of the House of Fëanor knew what he was doing.
Rest was hard to come by. When he tried to sleep, thoughts came to him of burning ships, Father and Maitimo arguing, or Father in agony, scarred by flame and Balrog whips. Visions of Light that failed, and red battle following. His grandfather’s body on the steps of Formenos. The wicked laughter in the eyes of the messenger that had come from Angband, demanding as the price of his brother’s freedom, that the sons of Fëanor abandon their Oath, and lead their people away into the South. His own voice, refusing. Abandoning his brother to torment in the darkness.
One could not pay attention to those things. There was too much to do.
He had followed Father with a high heart, to swear the Oath, to battle, and across the Sea, confident that Fëanor, who was excellent in all things, would lead them well. Confident too that his fiery, brilliant elder brother would lead them through to victory.
And now both of them were gone, and command lay heavily upon his shoulders.
It was becoming horribly clear that there were not enough of them. The Enemy had a mighty fortress-kingdom, filled with orcs and weapons-foundries. The Noldor had a small cavalry force, a larger force of foot-soldiers, and the weapons and tools they had brought from Aman. They might have the support of the Elves of Middle-earth, too, if they could arm and train them into a host that could march out to war, but would even that be enough? Perhaps, perhaps....
Maitimo would have been in his element here, with an impossible puzzle to solve. Father might have come up with one of his sudden flashes of inspiration and brought into play some factor that they had all entirely overlooked. But his own abilities were different, and no matter the goads of guilt and duty that he laid upon his mind, he could not manage to be either his father or his elder brother.
Through the long dim starlit night filled with training, planning, talking, building, Makalaurë strove more and more desperately to find an answer.
He went among the Sindar, talking to Annael of Androth, Renion of the North Vale, listening patiently to Hethiel of the hills, hoping for information, some hint of weakness in their Enemy that could be exploited.
He met with Círdan of the coast, and was thanked again for the aid that he had brought out of the West in the nick of time. That would have been more cheering if he had any idea what to do next.
He heard from Círdan a good deal about the mysterious Elwë Thingol, his Maia wife, and the strange new fortification that she had set up around the land of Doriath.
“Should we send to Doriath and ask their aid?” Tyelkormo suggested at the war council. “I could go. I’ll talk him round. He was grandfather’s friend, after all.”
“And he’s King Olwë’s brother,” Makalaurë pointed out. “I don’t think we’ll find it easy to make friends there. Not after Alqualondë.” The thought of Alqualondë made him uneasy, but it was done and not to be undone now. Perhaps one day he would make a song of it. A lament, for Noldor and Teleri fallen, beginning with a single unaccompanied voice in the Teleri manner, and then...
“He doesn’t know about Alqualondë,” Tyelkormo said confidently, interrupting his thought. “It’ll be fine. I’ll talk about grandfather and win his sympathy, then flatter him a bit. Surely he can’t want orcs as neighbours.”
“We think he doesn’t know about Alqualondë. He has a Maia wife. For all we know, she is in communication with the Valar,” Curufinwë objected.
“He hasn’t sent to us , “ Carnistir added, almost inaudibly. He was staring gloomily at his own hands.
“Two good points,” Makalaurë said, making sure his voice was both encouraging and confident, and saw Carnastir lift his head. “If he knows about the battle, messengers to Doriath might not return, and we need you here, Tyelko. We won’t send to Doriath — not yet, anyway. We’ll work on building up our forces here in the North. We aren’t ready to assault Thangorodrim yet. But we will be.”
Thangorodrim brooded darkly in the distance,a great three-headed shape silhouetted against the stars which seemed colder and less friendly, here in this strange land, than they had done in the distant regions of Aman.
The council over, he walked along the lakeshore looking out at the starlight. He urgently needed to get away from everyone for a little while, to clear his head and think of music. The light from the camp behind him shimmered on the dark water at his feet, though further out on the lake, a pale mist hung. Above, Varda’s stars glittered fiercely against the endless darkness. He had written a song once, naming many of their names, and he ran through it in his mind. Varda might no longer be a friend, but she was the enemy of darkness, and Morgoth feared her.
He heard splashing along the lakeshore, and then saw two dark figures against the pale lakeshimmer: horse and elf moving together through the shallow water. The Noldor all knew perfectly well when it was wisest not to disturb Fëanor’s second-eldest son. The Sindar, presumably, did not.
“Hello, king,” she said, with a grin.
“You say that as if you think kings are funny,” he said, annoyed. Probably he should have smiled and welcomed her — relations with the Sindar were vital, after all. But he could not quite manage it.
Her face became serious in turn, and she said awkwardly, “No. You looked very stern, and so I smiled, that’s all.”
He had behaved like a rude adolescent and put her off-balance. Great.
He set himself to mend the damage and be charming. He reached out to scratch the horse’s neck. “I didn’t mean to speak so rudely. It’s a sore point, the name of king, and so it pricked me... ‘King’ should be my grandfather or my father, or at least my brother. He’s still alive... probably. So it isn’t really mine, only something I’ve had to put on for a little while in his absence. I’d dearly love to give it back.”
Her smile came back, warm and honest, and he was unexpectedly touched by it. “Were you looking for me?” he asked her.
She shook her head, long dark hair loose upon her shoulders. “Not for you in particular. It was only that I saw you standing here alone, and... well, it isn’t very dangerous, I suppose. Not here beside the camp, near the lights. But my people learn early that going off alone isn’t safe. People who do that often don’t come back.”
“So you came to make sure I was safe? That was a kind thought.” And it had been, even if he would have welcomed a problem as simple as a few orcs to kill, just now.
She shrugged. “Not very kind, only practical. There’s strength in numbers, that’s all. Every one lost makes us all weaker.”
He winced. His eyes were drawn North to the menace of Angband for a moment, and then he turned himself deliberately away again. “Let’s go back to the lights.”
The Noldor furnaces, some distance from the camp, blazed bright: a red light that mingled with the pale blue of their lamps. The sound of hammers rang out across the misty land, beating urgently to the sound of smiths singing songs of spear and sword, helm and plate.
Makalaurë had announced that the Noldor would arm anyone who would come and fight beside them. Not many came, at first. The Sindar of Hithlum were cautious, wary of battle. Unsure that victory against the Enemy could even be hoped for.
Makalaurë told himself, his brothers, his lords (his lords! Once he had had friends, not followers) that victory was possible, and only a matter of time and hard work. He threw himself into making them believe it, knowing that if they did not, that itself would make the task impossible.
And, one at at time at first, then in small groups and families, the Sindar of Hithlum began to come in to pick up weapons, to train with the horses that were being raised from the mingled stock of the Mithrim hills and the tall stallions of Valinor. Barely daring yet to believe that Angband could fall. Remembering their fallen and their lost, and beginning to hope.
And then the Moon rose, and with it came his half-uncle, and all his people: near twice as many as the host of the Sons of Fëanor, even if you counted the new Sindar auxiliary forces. He gave urgent orders, and they retreated across the lake, leaving the camp that his father had built.
If only they could have come as allies. But the blazing ships at Losgar had made that impossible, of course.
Again he stood alone by the lake after another fruitless meeting with his brothers, looking out across the mist-wreathed waters. He had meant to think of music, but the music turned within his mind, and left him deep in memories of bitter arguments in Tirion.
But now the blazing light of the new Sun lit the land, so that rolling purple hills reflected in the shining water, and Makalaurë could just see the houses and the tents of the camp on the other side. His cousins must be there, if none of them had turned back.
And again she came splashing along the lake-shore, a horse beside her, but she was wearing a coat with the family star upon it now, as one of his new recruits.
“Now, I recall that you had no desire to be called king,” she said, in her melodic, sing-song Sindarin, as if they were picking up their previous conversation without interruption. “But here I am with this great silver star on my jacket, and I don’t know whether that means that now I should call you king or not. A confusing matter.”
“I thought you had no time for kings?”
“I don’t. But I wouldn’t want to be rude, now would I? My Mam brought me up better than that.”
She had a sparkle in her eye that made him smile. “You can call me what you like,” he said. “At least among the Sindar. As long as you fight Morgoth, that’s all that matters there. For the Noldor, I have to be the king, or else the whole thing falls apart.”
Her eyes narrowed with mischief. “Now there’s brave. Any name at all? Foreigner? Fire-eyes? Too-tall?”
“Neither Fire-eyes nor Too-tall seems very insulting. Foreigner is only accurate.” Her smile was infectious, and so he firmly set aside the echoes in his mind. “I could get used to Too-tall. I’ve never been the tall one in my family.”
“So it doesn’t fit, although you have a foot’s advantage of me! But perhaps... Harper,” she decided. “I’ve never seen a harp played the way that you play yours. Though I still think that it’s a brave thing, to take a name given you by a stranger.”
“Harper! Now that’s a compliment. Harper suits me far better than King.”
“So give up on being king, and play the harp instead.”
“I can’t do that. Let’s not wrangle about the rights and wrongs of kingship — the Noldor do enough of that. And anyway, I don’t count you a stranger. Even if you weren’t wearing my star, you came to warn me of my peril, that other time. I feel that more than serves as an introduction.”
“No need to fret that orcs might be hiding in the shadows now. You can stand there like a stone by the lake as long as you like and yet be entirely safe. A strange and wonderful thing! I miss the stars, but there are good things to be said for light of sun and moon.”
“Anything that orcs dislike as much as sunlight has a good deal going for it,” he agreed.
“I like the golden sunsets. The hills were always dark under stars, or maybe with a shimmer in the starlight with the dew. It’s a fine thing when the hills catch the golden light above the mist.”
“I heard that the Sindar preferred the stars,” he said, a little surprised.
“And I’ve heard that the Noldor cannot make music!” She laughed, and so did he.
“A few of us do our poor best, from time to time,” he told her, thinking of other Noldor who had played the harp, once.
She turned and followed his gaze across the lake at the other camp. “They still haven’t sent a messenger?”
“Nor will, I fear. We could use their strength and they ours, when we attack the Enemy, but... under the circumstances, the first move has to come from them.”
“I’ve been over visiting them,” she volunteered, to his surprise. “We went to greet them, just as we greeted you. The tale goes that they had a thin time of it, crossing the Ice. They didn’t speak well of you.”
“I wouldn’t expect them to. We were not on the best terms when last we met.” He ran a hand down the horse’s soft nose, and it leaned into his touch. “Did you see Findaráto or Findekáno? My eldest cousins.”
She frowned in puzzlement. “Finde.. What was it? Findarano?”
“Two of them. Findaráto has golden hair, and he would be the leader of his house. Findekáno’s hair is black, and usually braided up with gold ribbons. Or it used to be.”
She shook her head. “I met no princes, though I saw their king at a distance. Do you miss them, then, your cousins?”
“Of course not,” Makalaurë said hastily. “We don’t see eye to eye on a number of matters. But they are enemies of Morgoth, so if they are here, that might affect the strategic situation.”
“Right,” she said, regarding him doubtfully. “Well, I’ll wish you well for now then, Harper.” Without another word began to lead the horse away up from the lake, leaving the reluctant king to wonder why, when he was known for a voice of gold that could persuade anyone of anything, those particular words had been so entirely unconvincing.
At long last, word came from the other camp, carried by a resentful-looking group of Noldor on foot demanding rudely to see Fëanor’s sons.
She happened to be one of the people who saw them first, and so it was she who led them from the gates to Harper, who was king, and she was one of the first to hear the news: his brother had been rescued from Angband by some Noldor prince or other, and was safe, though he had been cruelly treated.
She saw the smile shine across Makalaurë’s face, and he turned to her, bubbling with delight, took her hand and twirled her around in a brief moment of dance.
It was, to him, probably, nothing but a moment of high spirits, the release of fear and strain, but his hand was warm in hers, and she felt her heart leap, fierce and warm and hopeful, in answer to his mood. Then he remembered, and said to her; “If my brother can be rescued...”
“There’s hope for mine,” she said, and alight with hope, she kissed him. Something for him to remember her by, as she would remember him, even if it would come to nothing more; a flame burning bright against the darkness. His eyes widened in surprise, so she broke it off and gave him a mischievous grin.
“Hope,” he said, as if it was a word he had never heard before, and he was looking at her properly, with all his attention fixed on her alone. “Hope for the thralls of Angband. Hope for us. Hope for the Silmarils...” And he took her hand and pressed a kiss to the back of it.
A shiver ran through her at his touch, and she met his eyes, feeling that she had pushed something that had begun as simple lightness of heart over into a place that was both bright and perilous, like the heart of the fierce new Sun.
And then his brothers Ambarussa came hurrying into the tall white council tent, demanding to know the news, and his brother Curufinwë, who had turned to his son in a wordless embrace, began to shout for his horse, and the kiss and the bright moment around it tumbled away and was gone. But not forgotten.
He found her two days later, at the inner pasture where she and some of her friends were turning out some of the mares. He caught her eye almost without moving. It was hard to ignore any of Fëanor’s sons. There was an intensity about them.
She pushed the gate to, and went over to him. “I thought you’d be off across the lake by now to see your brother.”
He looked up idly at the sky for a moment, and, when the clouds appeared uncommunicative, shrugged. “He’s had all the other five there, demanding to know if he is well and when he will be joining us. They tell me that he’s lost a hand, is terribly thin, and needs to sleep. He doesn’t need me to rush over there. Might even prefer me not to.”
“If it were my brother, I don’t think I could wait to see him again with my own eyes. Though, I suppose you do all have a great number of brothers.”
He smiled, though with less than his usual confidence. “Too true. And our nephew has been to visit too, not to mention all our cousins around him: I think he should be resting. You only have the one brother, then?”
“Yes. He’s older than I am. I was the baby of the family. Mam says that’s why I’m the bossy one. Mothers! I don’t think I’m bossy at all.”
“I hadn’t noticed you being bossy, certainly.”
She looked up at him, thoughtfully appraising. “You barely know me, so how could you tell?”
“And yet you kissed me.” He leaned his forearms on the fence, so that their eyes were of a height. His strange eyes glinted with the light out of the West that she would never see except for its reflection in his eyes. “Why did you do that?”
“Why, hope. And...” she left the sentence hanging, unsure if she wanted to finish it, and instead made a small business of pushing her long dark hair back over her shoulders.
“Also?” he asked, and hooked a finger around a strand of her hair behind her ear, pulling it forward again, and considering the light that shone on it gravely, as he let it fall.
“That I’m not some light girl to be taken by the hand for a moment and then as lightly set aside,” she told him, and laughed, feeling daring. “If you choose to dance with me, you’ll remember who you danced with!”
He blinked. “You think I’d forget?”
“Who knows what the Noldor will do?” She felt oddly off-balance, and shook her hair back again. “Isn’t it the truth that you came here for your Silmarils, and don’t care much for anything else?”
“We came here for the Silmarils and to avenge my grandfather,” he said, meeting her eyes. “That’s important, but I can’t do it right at this moment. It doesn’t mean I never think of anything else.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” and then, testing, with a shimmer of laughter to the words “You think of Sindar women often, do you?”
His eyebrows went up in incredulous amusement. “I have found myself thinking of one particular woman of the Sindar, as it happens. Now and again.”
“In between more important matters?”
“Of course. Important matters such as supplies of beans and hay and leather, and recruiting allies and how to break the power of Angband do attract my attention occasionally.”
“Break the power of Angband? You’re mad.” And yet, looking at his shining eyes, she almost believed him.
He grinned and raised an eyebrow. “It has been said. But that’s what we came here to do.”
“And now you’re bragging.”
"Well... maybe a little,” he admitted with a flash of a rueful smile. “You must have many matters to think of, too...”
“You know, as it happens, I haven’t made any plans to kill Morgoth recently,” she said and laughed. “It never occurred to me, strangely enough. But I think what you mean, Harper, is that you wonder if I have had time to think of you, too. And the answer to that is yes. I have.”
He said nothing to that, but leant over sideways, still leaning on the fence and kissed her, deliberate and careful at first, and then as he felt her respond, tangling a hand in his hair, more passionately, there where half the camp could see them.
A shiver ran through her, as if of a spring wind rising, and she reached out with mind and hand together, feeling the strange shining complexity of his mind reach back, golden with light as the sunrise. They touched for a moment, brief as a bird that alights upon a flowering tree, and then flits onward, and then parted again, having learned just a little of the other’s heart.