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Ancient History

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Bruthir glared down at one of the small cakes his landlady had made in honor of the occasion and tried to ignore the sounds of jubilation in the street outside the alley he was sulking in. It was harder than it had been for the past few hours; the noise had swelled, first with music that had very nearly lured him out, then with shouting once the music ended. A few people had run into his alley, looking around wildly, but they had left quickly enough when they had seen that there was nothing more interesting than him sitting on his barrel, glaring at his last cake. His curiosity had nearly provoked him into asking who or what they were looking for, but that would have required ending his sulk, and he still had several hours left in which to do that. That had been his deal with himself: today he could sulk, and tomorrow he would have to get back to work.

Not even today, though, could he ignore the cloaked man who came running into the alley via an even narrower one. The man’s face was shadowed, but his head turned frantically, and it froze in place when Bruthir came into its view.

“Don’t mind me,” he called glumly. “Unless you’re planning to set the whole city ablaze, I don’t much care what you’re running from.”

The figure relaxed and moved closer. “Nothing so bad as all that,” he said a bit hoarsely, and Bruthir got a glimpse of a harp under his cloak. “Merely a disappointed audience.” He hesitated. “And in the interest of complete honesty, possibly the city guard if they’ve decided I disturbed the peace.”

Bruthir was almost certain he was missing something, but he was even more certain he didn’t care. “Pull up a barrel then.” Sulking had started to feel a bit lonely, so when the man lingered in the shadows of the other alley, he lifted up his cake enticingly. “I’ll share my cake.”

The stranger laughed. “It has indeed been a very long time since I’ve had any cake. Thank you, I accept.”

Bruthir tore it in half and handed it over. “If only it was for another occasion.”

The stranger paused, and there was not so much an air of hesitance this time as tension. Bruthir gulped and resisted the urge to lean back.

“You don’t approve of the king’s marriage?”

The stranger’s hood had shifted, and Bruthir managed to catch a quick glimpse of sharp, gaunt features and the beginning of a pointed ear. In a moment it was gone, but it had been enough. Bruthir might be more accustomed to them in books than life, but he knew an elf when he saw one. This must be one of the ones that had come for Lady Arwen and the marriage, though he couldn’t imagine what the elf was doing this far from the main event. Regardless, the last thing he wanted was for this elf to carry back tales of discontent to the new royal couple.

“The king’s marriage is fine,” he said hastily. “He’s every right to marry whoever he likes, and I’m sure the Lady Arwen is an excellent choice.”

The elf was still regarding him silently. Apparently an explanation of his sullenness would be required.

He sighed. “It’s just made my thesis very awkward, that’s all. I’m probably going to have to start all over if I’m to have any hope of it being approved.”

“Your - thesis,” the elf said disbelievingly, but he had at least relaxed enough to take a bite of the cake.

“I want to be a scholar in the citadel,” he explained. “I’ve been studying for years. All that’s left is the thesis which has to be approved by my elders and - if it meets their approval - either the steward or the king. That last step is more of a formality than anything else really, everyone I’ve talked to has said that Denethor certainly never did more than give them a cursory glance, but at the very least they’ll surely read the title.”

“And the title is not complimentary towards elves?” the stranger asked. He seemed more amused than offended, thankfully.

“It’s not that,” he said. “It’s just … complicated.”

The elf took a seat on a nearby barrel and leaned back against the stone wall behind him. “Tell me about it,” he suggested. “Maybe I can help.”

Well, why not? Maybe he could. At the very least, he needed to get out one good rant.

“There’s been a lot written on the changing view of the elves in Numenor,” he began. “Quite naturally, as that view was generally tied to that of the Valar and thus was tied with the fall, a subject that continues to preoccupy many. I decided to focus on a more specific group of elves: those involved in the myths surrounding Sirion.”

The elf let out a strangled noise. “Myths?”

“Well, we know it was real, but exactly what happened has become rather obscured by time … “ His voice trailed off. “Although not for the elves, I suppose,” he said with fresh interest. “Did you know anyone who was there?”

“Yes,” the elf said shortly. Bruthir briefly wrestled with whether or not to pry before remembering that his thesis was useless now anyway and slumping down again.

“Elwing and Earendil held a special place as King Elros Tar-Minyatur’s parents, of course, but the Feanorians were also a subject of considerable fascination to the Numenoreans. By the end, all elves were scorned by all but the Faithful, and the Faithful had become a little uncomfortable with both groups since both had defied the Valar.”

“The Feanorians I can hardly argue, but surely Elwing and Earendil - ?”

“But they sailed,” Bruthir said, shaking his head. “And with both of them half-mortal too! It worked out for them in the end - or so we think, there’s some interesting subversive readings about exactly how literally we should take Earendil being a star - but they still sailed to the Undying Lands, the very thing the King’s Men wished to do. You can see why the Faithful didn’t wish to promote that tale.”

“I suppose so.”

“For those very reasons, in the transition period when the King’s Men didn’t take quite such a hard stance against elves, the Feanorians and the half-elven were treated as honorable exceptions for their defiance and, in the latter case, for their connection to mortality and their kinship with the first king. Later in that period, Earendil and Elwing were considered to have sold out to the Valar while the Feanorians lingered on as a symbol of defiance and the right to sail where people willed whether the Valar willed or no - Are you alright?”

The elf’s hooded head had fallen into his hands. “I’m fine,” he said, sounding rather muffled. “Keep going.”

“If you’re sure,” he said doubtfully. “Further back, there’s a much less complicated veneration of Earendil and Elwing and the Feanorians were less prominent except for those engaged in studies of history or who enjoyed the occasional tragedy at the theater.”

“Theater?” The elf asked, his voice a mix of interest and dread.

“We have a few surviving fragments,” Bruthir said, “though of course so much was lost that it’s hard to be sure of conclusions. We could be missing something critical. Which is what made the final section of my thesis so risky.” He ate a bite of cake despondently. “I was tracing it all backwards, you see, so the final section was on what King Elros himself thought.”

The elf’s head shot up so quickly his hood fell off. He really was quite gaunt. Dangerously so. He hadn’t thought elves suffered from scarcity. “And what did you conclude?”

“Well, that’s the interesting thing,” he said, getting caught up despite himself and leaning forward. “There’s almost nothing. Granted, it could have just been lost, but those early records were among those texts prioritized for salvation. We have plenty of scraps about the war, and those mention all of them, but in the praise poems and genealogies … You’ll find some things about Gondolin, but very little about Doriath, and even less about anyone at all involved in Sirion. The one scrap we thought we did have is a letter where his daughter comments to a friend that a bard had sung of her grandparents and the Feanorians, and that the king had been ‘very much displeased, and not nearly so diplomatic as usual about it.’ Which is interesting, but hardly conclusive. Were they too flattering to parents he resented? Not flattering enough to parents he idolized? Too prone to glorifying his kidnappers? Too prone to vilifying the men who must have played a large part in his raising? Was it too accurate and raised up bad memories? Or was it all wrong and offensive for it?” He took a deep breath. “You see the problem.”

The other man slumped. “I do.”

“Then I made my discovery. Apparently, he was a bit of a musician himself, and on the back of a rather more historically significant document, I found what I’m almost sure are quickly sketched drafts of his own attempt to memorialize the events. He seemed very … frustrated. With both his failed attempts and with everyone involved in the actual event. But he also seemed very wistful. Fond, even.” He sighed. “So that was my conclusion. But while it’s one thing to present such a thing to a steward, and even an acceptable thing to present such a thing to the king about his far distant ancestor, it’s quite another to hand it off for review when it’s talking about the queen’s uncle. And her grandparents, for that matter.”

The elf swallowed hard. “Yes,” he said hoarsely. “Quite. She never met any of them, but I’m sure her father has told her much.” He looked away for a moment, and when he turned back, his face was more cheerful. “Perhaps if you dropped the parts about the far more controversial Feanorians and concentrated on her grandparents that would be better? You could add in something flattering about how they’re thought of now.”

“I’m not much good at flattery,” he said doubtfully, but hope was rising in him regardless. Perhaps not all his research would have to be thrown out.

“Turn it in as is,” another voice recommended. “I, for one, am very interested in reading it.”

Both of them spun to see that another elf had slipped in through of the mouth of the alley while they were distracted. Some strong emotion lurked almost hidden on his face. His splendid clothes opened Bruthir’s eyes to just how ragged his first companion’s were.

Said companion had gone very pale. “Elrond.” He dropped off his barrel and began to back away.

Elrond? Not - Surely not the Elrond that was the queen’s father -

“Don’t,” Elrond pleaded, reaching out a hand. “Please don’t run, Maglor. Not today of all days.”

Maglor. Not -

Did you know someone at Sirion?

He had not asked that question of Maglor Feanorian. That was impossible. He was dead. Or wandering lost somewhere that wasn’t Gondor’s back alleyways.

But surely no one else would have chosen that name for their son?

Maglor, son of someone who was not Feanor, slumped and held up his hands in defeat. “I didn’t mean to cause trouble,” he said. “I am - very sorry to have disturbed you today. So very sorry. I only wanted to give a gift of song, even if your daughter wouldn’t hear it. I hadn’t realized I would draw such a crowd as to cause a disturbance, out of practice with performance as I am.”

Elrond was the first elf Bruthir had ever seen look exasperated. It was a very human expression on him. “Maglor, you remain the greatest bard the Noldor have ever produced. Of course you drew a crowd. A crowd that is now very disappointed at how you vanished when the city guard got lured in to listening, mind you.”

The greatest bard the Noldor had ever produced.

So this was Maglor Feanorian.

He had just ranted to Maglor Feanorain about his place in the Numenorean imagination. Historical ecstasy hit self-preserving nausea and roiled unpleasantly.

“Someone mentioned the incident to Faramir. I was lucky enough to overhear,” Elrond continued. “And when I heard that a ragged elf had enchanted half the city with songs for the wedding … Well, it was either you or Daeron, and I liked my chances.”

Maglor’s head fell. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I should have realized my good intentions would still turn to the ill.”

“The ill?” Elrond laughed, and Bruthir abruptly realized that the hidden emotion was joy. “Today I have had to give away one family member to another, but I’ve found another at long last. Surely a small disturbance, already calmed, is worth that!” He stepped forward, and Bruthir half-expected Maglor to bolt, but he looked up with cautious hope instead.

“Elrond - “

Elrond was close enough to touch now. He held out a hand in entreaty. “Come back to the celebration with me,” he said. “Please. Arwen would surely like to hear your songs for herself, and Aragorn too. There’s no one here who will cause any trouble over it.”

Maglor hesitated.

It seemed another push might be needed. Presumably that was why his mouth opened and said, without quite obtaining his consent, “You might as well go. I’m sure they’ll have better cake.”

That actually startled a laugh out of the Feanorian. “If you wish it then, Elrond,” he said quietly, clasping the outstretched hand.

Elrond’s answering smile was brilliant, and it turned grateful when he looked over to Bruthir. “You must come too, of course,” he said. “I really am quite interested in your research.”

Why not, Bruthir though blankly, his day had certainly been strange enough for it.

It would certainly be more interesting than sulking.