Aredhel had told him about Cities, when
(when she was still alive? when your father hadn’t murdered her? finish the sentence, maeglin)
when they had lived in Nan Elmoth. Maeglin had scarcely believed in it then — it had seemed like a fairy story, like the tales she told of wild red-eyed white-haired hunters, or lands where you could eat anything you found without fear that it would hurt you, or light mingled silver and golden — but here in Gondolin (Ondolindë, they say here, and then call him Lómion and his mother Irissë, name them both in a language Maeglin has his whole life been forbidden to speak) it is difficult not to believe in cities that walk among their people, not with her right there.
She’s beautiful. Golden — Maeglin had never seen golden hair before. And Ondolinde is pale as Maeglin, is as pale as the stone that makes up the buildings here; it shines in the sunlight so bright he can’t go outside in the day, and glows in the moonlight at night.
It’s hard to imagine blending in here, with no shadows to hide in; for all Aredhel spoke of it as a hidden city it seems to shine like a beacon. She seems to shine like a beacon. She has no scars; her hands look soft, as if she’s never held a weapon before — maybe she hasn’t, even. There are people here who have never hunted before. It’s a strange thought.
Maeglin doesn’t leave his rooms save when he must, in the first weeks. It’s too bright and too new and too different and he’s barely used to being out of the trees, yet, let alone surrounded by stone. (it echoes, here, it echoes echoes echoes and maeglin doesn’t know how to be quiet enough, how to stop his footsteps from ringing —)
But he sits and watches the city (watches the City) through the window, watches how she takes King Turgon’s arm, watches how they look at one another, how they smile with their eyes even when they don’t smile with their mouths, how they telegraph their movements as if they couldn’t care less who can predict them — watches people walking loudly and not caring how they echo, watches people walking openly in the center of the bright open streets. Watches. Doesn’t dare to join.
He starts going out at night, when he goes out; he skirts the edges of buildings and runs his fingers along the walls, although he knows there’s too much city to be able to walk it with his eyes closed and touch alone to guide him like he could in their house in Nan Elmoth. It glows in the night, white stone under silver moonlight. Maeglin finds it difficult to imagine how it could be hidden, save if everyone looking for it were blind.
His father spoke, before
(before what, maeglin? before he tried to murder you? finish the sentence)
before he and Aredhel had left, of the Noldor with their sun-hardened skin and their sun-hardened hearts, of how their cities walked among them and knew things no elf should know. Of how they worked in magics no elf should have a hand in. Of how they still spoke forbidden tongues. Of how the sunlight baked and hardened their hearts like clay until they could slay their own kin and their own kind without guilt
(but his father had
(had what, maeglin, finish the sentence)
had tried to kill him, had killed aredhel, now stop asking!)
and how they were made strange and fey and unnaturally strong by their time in paradise. Once Maeglin had wondered if Eöl was only bitter that Aredhel always brought back more meat than he did when they hunted; he had not been so stupid as to wonder so aloud.
Now he can see these strange fey Noldor, and speak with them, and walk among them. Turgon doesn’t seem hardened, or at least no more hardened than Eöl ever was. Maeglin stays out of the sunlight anyway, keeps to the night and the shadows. Stays away from Ondolindë, even as he walks through Gondolin.
He can’t avoid her forever, of course; the city is only so large and the City spends much of her time in his uncle’s company.
He averts his eyes
(from what, maeglin, what aren’t you looking at, what aren’t you telling me, finish the sentence —)
from Ondolindë’s face, but he still feels too much, too visible, too obvious, like a big black stain on a white tablecloth, like a mud smear on Ondolindë’s white dress, like a dark bird against the bright sky. Nearly asking to be scrubbed away. Nearly asking to be shot down.
The City doesn’t smile. She doesn’t frown either. Maeglin tries not to be in the same room as her again — it feels too much like being watched.
He goes back to only going out at night. It isn’t enough, he can’t blend in here even in the twilight, the city glows around him even when there is no moon to light it and he is still a big black stain on it, too easy to see too easy to spot too easy to watch too easy to catch — and there are so many eyes, here, so many eyes in a city, and always the eyes of the City —
— Maeglin starts to leave on mining expeditions. There are fewer eyes outside the city walls, less of the sense that Ondolindë knows when he walks her streets no matter where he is; the stone does not glow white like a beacon and the ground doesn’t echo. It’s easier to keep to the shadows. There are more shadows to keep to.
He starts to leave on mining expeditions, searches for veins of iron ore, feels more at home beneath the earth than he ever has in the sunlight, than he ever has back in Gondolin where —
— where —
(where is she?
where is she, maeglin? where are they, maeglin?
finish the sentence, maeglin.)