Elrond surveyed the older hobbit lass in front of him. “What can you tell me about the hobbit called Mackle Fenway?”
Lila Proudfoot smiled gaily over her cup of tea. “Well, quite a bit, actually. You may know, I was the one who first found him.” Elrond leaned forward slightly. When he had asked about the strange hobbit that Frodo and Sam insisted must be one of the big folk, every person had directed him to Lila, although no one had made mention of her finding him.
“Now, you see,” Lila started, settling more comfortably in her chair, “he’s quite a good hobbit, nice neighbor and all, but he’s certainly not from around here. First off, he’s one of the big folk. Popular opinion says he’s an elf, what with the pointed ears and all, and I’m inclined to agree. Why, it’s been neigh-on sixty years and he hasn’t aged a bit!”
The old hobbit sipped her tea. “He’s kind and all, but quirky, that’s for sure. He’s always all gloomy on certain days, and there are other days where he sings the most dreadfully sad songs, although his voice is very fair!”
Elrond politely sipped his own tea. “Can you tell me the story of how you found him?” Lila’s eyes twinkled. “Why absolutely, Master Elf. I do love that tale, and love to tell it too!”
She set down her teacup. “Now let me think. It was sixty-two years ago, sixty-three this December, and I was thirty-six.” Her eyes shone as she got into the story.
“I remember the day as clear as if it was yesterday. It was December Fourth, 2956 TA, and snowing something dreadful. I was just getting settled in for the evening, waiting for that crazy husband of mine to come on home, when I heard a knock. So I opened the door, and there was this tall man, or elf, I suppose, standing there. And he said, ‘my good lady, you wouldn’t happen to know the way to an inn? I am afraid I’ve become quite lost.’ And of course, I had to tell him the nearest inn was several miles off, and not a very good inn for what it charged. He thanked me, polite as anything, and he said ‘I suppose another night in the open won’t hurt ’. And I said ‘rubbish to that! Come on in and get warm!’ Now you see, I’d never normally invite one of the big folk in, but he was very polite, and he looked so pitiful standing there, with his cloak that was more patches than cloak, and those sad, sad eyes.”
Lila paused to sip her tea again. “He was freezing too, shivering, and he looked like he hadn’t had a decent meal in months! So I told him to get out of those wet clothes and join me for dinner. He set his cloak and bag down by my door, took his shoes off, every inch the gentleman.
I showed him the bathroom and scavenged up some of my husband’s clothes since he hadn’t a decent outfit on him! He helped me cook, or tried, he was really quite terrible back then, and then that’s when my husband came home. And he said ‘what’s one of the big folk doing here?’ and I said ‘he needs a place to stay, and he looked so sad and cold!’ and my husband was rather put out, he’s always been a proper sort, but he saw how thin Ol’ Mackle was, and he came around.”
Elrond nodded along.
“Now you see, Mackle himself said he’d just stay the night but come morning, the snow was as high as our roof!” Lila exclaimed.
“He helped us dig ourselves out, but by then it was dinnertime again. So he stayed another night. At some point, I asked his name and it was a very fancy and right elvish one, but it sounded a little like ‘Mackle Fenway’ so that’s what I called him and the name stuck.
The next day, he tried to leave, but I insisted on getting him some fresh clothes and a new cloak. So he stayed another week. And he was so helpful, every week we’d come up with a new excuse for him to stay. It wasn’t hard; the snow was very deep that winter and travel was very difficult.
So come spring, when the snow melted, he was looking much better. Much more meat on him, less skin and bones, and that sadness he carried seemed to have lifted a little. We were all quite sad since we expected him to be leaving soon, but when the roads were finally good for traveling again, he said ‘I think I’d like to stay’.
And the whole neighborhood liked him by then, he was so polite and helpful and sang the most wonderful songs, so we all pitched in and helped him make his hobbit hole big enough for even him. And he was a terrible cook, so I taught him to cook, and my sister Petunia taught him how to sew, and we all helped out. He’d mentioned that he had been a minstrel once, so I gave him a banjo for a housewarming gift. Far as I know, he’s still got it.”
“A minstrel?” Elrond asked.
Lila nodded sagely. “Yes indeed.” She gestured with her hands, quite into the story.
“Now, you see, when he first came he was in a dreadful state. Thin as a rake, wearing that collection of patches he called a cloak, and he had the saddest eyes! He’s gotten much better. Still too thin for a respectable hobbit, and there are days when he gets all sad and won’t sing a cheery tune to save his life, but overall, he’s much better.”
Elrond nodded. “I see. Does he talk of his family or his past any?”
Lila frowned. “Not much. You see, he does talk of the past to the Baggins occasionally, but never his past. Bilbo and his lad Frodo are quite the historians, so they’ve persuaded him to tell them a lot about ages past since he apparently saw them firsthand, but he rarely ever talks of his own life.”
She eyed Elrond suspiciously. “Why do you ask?” Elrond quickly considered his options and decided honesty was the best policy. “I…am looking for someone I once knew. He is very important to me.”
“So you think it might be Mackle? Or that Mackle could know him?” Lila asked.
Apparently, she didn’t expect an answer because she went on before Elrond could respond. “That seems a worthy cause, so I suppose I’ll share what I know. Mackle’s told me bits and pieces, and I’ve managed to cobble together this much.
He had brothers, a lot of them and they’re all dead long ago. His father is also dead, and his mother is across the sea? I didn’t understand that bit all too well. Anyhow, I think he had children once too. Twin boys, he used to say, although he never mentioned a wife.”
The teacup slipped from Elrond’s hand. If he had suspected before, this confirmed who ‘Old Mackle Fenway’ was without a doubt.
“He never did say what happened to them. He always speaks so wistfully about them that I’m a little afeared to ask.” Lila continued.
“Oh dear!” She added, seeing his teacup drop. “I’ll mop that up!” She used a tea towel to mop up the spilled tea. “Deepest apologies,” Elrond said. “I was somewhat surprised to hear that Magl-Mackle Fenway had children.”
Lila waved him off. “It’s fine, it’s fine. I was surprised by that too.” She settled back down in her seat. “And that’s Old Mackle Fenway for you. More layers than Pearl Took’s famous layer cake.”
“Where does he live?” Elrond enquired. “Down the lane, right near the end in the cozy little hobbit-hole with the tall door as red as the clouds at sunset and two round little windows.” Lila said immediately.
She stared down Elrond over her teacup. “Now don’t you go bother him too much. He’s a good neighbor and as much of a hobbit as anyone! He was in a right dreadful state when he first knocked on my door and he’s come so very far. I don’t want anyone setting him back.”
“I have no ill intent towards him,” Elrond assured her. He rose. “Thank you very much for the tea and the conversation.”
“It was no trouble. I do love telling that story!” Lila waved him off very cheerfully, insisting he take a few cakes. “Why, you’re as thin as Old Mackle and nearly as sad!” He smiled and thanked her graciously before setting off down the lane, spring breeze blowing through his hair.
Elrond knew Mackle Fenway’s hole the instant he saw it. The door was taller than most hobbit doors, but that was not what made it recognizable. No, what made it recognizable was that the door was the precise shade of Maedhros’s hair. Elrond had to lean against the doorframe for several minutes, breathing raggedly and attempting to get the flood of memories that color unleashed under control.
Eventually, he tentatively knocked on the door. “Come in, Master Baggins!” A very familiar voice called. “The door is unlocked!” Elrond was faced with no other choice than to open the door and walk into the small entrance room.
Maglor seemed to be in the kitchen, so Elrond took the chance to survey the room. There were a few pegs for cloaks and bags by the door, but otherwise, the entrance area opened up right onto the living room. A door to the left of the living room opened up into a kitchen, and a hallway in the back led further into the hill. One of the walls held ten pictures, simply drawn but beautiful. There wasn’t much else decoration. The hole wasn’t fancy, but it seemed quite cozy.
Just as he was attempting to figure out who the pictures depicted, a cheery voice snapped him out of his thoughts. “I’ve made some tea, and I was thinking we could sit outside. It’s-“
Maglor stopped short as he emerged from the kitchen, teacups in hand. “Atto.” Elrond said. “Elrond.” Maglor breathed, setting down the teacups. He approached Elrond slowly and reached out a trembling hand to Elrond’s cheek. “You’re-you’re real!”
Elrond took his hand. “Yes, atto. I’m real. I’m-“ He was cut off by Maglor clinging to him as if his life depended on it. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry-“ Maglor babbled. “Shh, atto. It’s okay.” Elrond murmured, holding his father tightly. “It’s okay.” Maglor eventually pulled back. “I’m sorry.”
“I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago.” Elrond told him. Maglor sighed, but he was smiling. “It is more than I deserve, but I am grateful for it nonetheless. Would you like some tea?” Elrond laughed. “I see what Lila Proudfoot meant when she said you were quite the hobbit! I have already had some tea, but more would not go amiss.” The two elves settled down at Maglor’s table with the tea.
“So, I have heard the story of how you came to reside here from Lila Proudfoot, but I would like to hear it from your side,” Elrond said.
Maglor sipped his tea, looking thoughtful. “I didn’t intend to end up here. I never did. You see, about sixty years ago, it was December and very snowy. I had wandered for a long time so I had no proper winter clothing, and I hadn’t taken good care of myself for more years than I can count. I was skinny and at risk of freezing to death, not to mention hopelessly lost.
So I knocked on the nearest door and asked for directions. The kind hobbit lass living there told me the nearest inn was several miles off, but she invited me in to stay a night. Her husband wasn’t very happy, but he came around.” He sighed.
“You must know, I never intended to stay. At that time I was so overcome with guilt, even thousands of years later, that I had no intention of staying anywhere, being a burden on anyone or even accepting any kindness. Healing seemed impossible, and I thought I’d be wandering in sorrow until I faded.
But the next morning, we were snowed in, and it took me a full day to dig us out. And the next, Lila insisted that I get a proper cloak before I left. So I stayed another week. And one week turned into two, and two weeks turned into three, and three weeks turned into a month. One month became two, two became three, and I ended up staying all winter.”
Maglor took a deep breath as if bracing himself to do something difficult. “That winter, I would have faded. That September had been the hardest one yet, and I was blinded by despair. Lila Proudfoot saved my life. If I hadn’t ended up on her doorstep, I would have followed my brother’s path. I wouldn’t-wouldn’t have thrown myself into a fiery chasm like he did, but I was ready to wander in the snowstorm until I froze to death. I couldn’t see anything worth staying for.
Lila took me in, no questions asked. She made me take care of myself that winter, and when I didn’t, she did. She taught me to cook and clean and sew so I’d be more helpful around the house, and that helped me see that I could do good, however small. When I told her my name and told her I didn’t like using it, she dubbed me Mackle and let me have a second chance at life. Come spring, I told her I wanted to stay, but didn’t want to be a burden. Lila organized her neighbors to help build a house big enough for me. She lent me money to get me started and found me a job at a local inn. Lila saved me. She gave me a new purpose in life.”
Tears were dripping down Maglor’s cheeks. “It was that bad?” Elrond asked.
Maglor nodded softly. “But it got better. I started singing at a nearby inn, and slowly rediscovered my love of music. I built this house with the help of my neighbors and painted my family so I could never forget them. I wrote down the Noldolante and hung it on my wall so I could never forget my crimes, and I painted the door red. Red like my family crest, red like my brother’s hair. I hung by the door my old cloak to remember my travels and the one Lila had given me as a reminder of all she’d done for me, and I settled into a quiet existence in the Shire, resigned to an eternity of this.” Elrond reached over and took his hand in silent comfort.
He glanced at the pictures he’d noticed earlier, and now with context tried to figure them out. He recognized Maedhros, of course, and Celebrimbor. The only blond one must have been Celegorm. The red-haired lady who looked a lot like Maedhros must have been Nerdanel, and he guessed the ner across from her was Feanor himself. The red-haired twins must have been Amrod and Amras, although Elrond wasn’t sure which was which.
That left the dark-haired ner that looked a lot like Feanor, who Elrond guessed was Curufin, and the remaining dark-haired ner, who Elrond thought was likely Caranthir.
But it was the last two paintings that made him gasp.
Two perfectly rendered drawings of young peredhil twins hung among all the pictures of legendary first age elves.
Elrond glanced around the room again and saw traces of him and Elros everywhere. Maglor had gotten big cozy chairs for by the fire, just like Elrond had loved as a kid (and still loved), and many of the books were things he or Elros would read. Elros’s old practice sword hung on a wall, and on the mantelpiece sat a small, familiar glass jar with a tag reading ‘family’ around it. “You kept it!” Elrond cried.
Maglor followed his line of sight. “Oh, that one! When Maedhros had-“ He swallowed and changed tack. “I mean, after the War of Wrath, they were going to find Maedhros’s old possessions and most would be thrown out, so I went back and took a few things. I-I thought it was a shame to lose the jar, you and Elros worked so hard on it.”
“But that’s not why you kept it.” Elrond guessed. Maglor lowered his eyes. “It was a way to remember our family. I brought it everywhere.” Impulsively, Elrond hugged him. Maglor tensed at first but relaxed into the peredhel’s hold.
They were content to stay that way for long moments, holding each other as they hadn’t done for millennia. “Come with me.” Elrond said spontaneously as they pulled back.
“I’m going to Valinor. Come with me.” Maglor slumped. “I cannot.” Elrond put on the expression that said ‘don’t argue with me’. “You can. I asked Mithrandir. You can sail.” Silence descended. In Valinor, Maglor would face the judgment of the Valar and that of his kin. In the Shire, he had a peaceful life. It would be infinitely harder for Maglor to go to Valinor than to stay in the Shire.
“Yonya, I-“ Maglor started. Elrond held up a hand. “I understand, atto.” Maglor looked pained. “Thank you.”
Elrond rose from his seat. “I still hope you consider it. Hopefully, my sons will sail, so you will have another chance.” He picked up his cloak and bag. “Even if you do not sail, I am glad to have seen you this last time before I left.” He kept his face perfectly neutral. “I-“ Maglor started, but gave up and just hugged Elrond fiercely. “I-I’m sorry, yonya.”
Elrond smiled sadly. “I love you.”
“I love you too, pia ilmanya.”
In the end, Elrond left without Maglor, but not all was lost.
Thirty years later, two years after the death of Lila Proudfoot, the inhabitants of the Shire were shocked to see a procession of elves ride by.
You see, in the years since Elrond’s visit, elves had become rarer and rarer. Lila Proudfoot used to say that in her day seeing a procession of elves going to the sea was hardly unusual, but by now a group of elves was a once-in-decade sight. A group this large was something most hobbits would see only once in a lifetime, so most of the village had come to watch. Standing among them was Old Mackle Fenway, watching silently.
An elf in the procession, one of two stately grey-eyed ones, raised a hand and called out. “Maglor! Will you come or will you stay?” The hobbits were even more stunned than before when Old Mackle Fenway pushed his way through the crowd, wearing his battered traveling clothes and the cloak made for him by Lila Proudfoot some ninety years previously. ”I will come!” He called.
The grey-eyed one dipped his head. “Thank you, Daerada.” Mackle dipped his head back. “With pleasure, Elladan.” He was given a horse by one of the elves and seamlessly melted into the procession.
Although he was wearing a battered sunhat, a patched cloak and worn traveling clothes, and carrying a banjo, at that moment Old Mackle Fenway had a nobility none of the hobbits could quite comprehend. He may have been very travel-worn, but he fit into the elves naturally, as if that had always been where he was meant to be. Perhaps it was.
Mackle turned one last time to face the inhabitants of the Shire. “Farewell, Shire and Shire-folk!” Mackle Fenway, or perhaps his name was Maglor Feanorion, called. “Many long years have you sheltered me. When I came here, I was broken seemingly beyond repair, but this place allowed me to heal. You have done much for me that I can hardly hope to repay.” He bowed, doffing his sunhat. “Thank you.”
The procession turned, and he rode away, a battered old honorary hobbit among many majestic elves.
Never again was Mackle Fenway seen in the Shire, but the legend of a hobbit that was one of the big folk would never die.