There had been singing, dancing and feasting all that day, the seventh day of Finarfin’s new Feast of Reuniting, in the great green half-tilted bowl of land, like a huge scoop out of the side of the cliff, that looked out towards the blue waters of the Bay of Avallónë. It had been almost a natural stage to start with, and Gil-galad and Finrod working together had sculpted the land until the acoustics were perfect and the wide valley side could accommodate a great host, looking down on the performers below them outlined against the sea.
Now, the sun was going down in the west behind Valinor, hidden from the crowds by the tall heights of Tol Eressëa. Out in the east, the sky was still a clear blue, turning to a crystal green where it met the sea, but across the island, the long evening shadows were falling.
A choir of golden-haired Vanyar out of Valimar had just finished singing, and elves were busy below, bringing out gold and silver lamps to light the stage and the long terraces that swept up towards the woods.
Beyond the stage on the sheltered water of the bay, many small craft of the Falmari were lying at anchor, filled with people who had come to hear the music. On the little ships, too, the lights were pricking into life, one by one as the sunlight on the sea faded.
Celebrían and Finrod her uncle were waiting together for the next singer to come on, looking down from the second terrace, as Fingolfin, Finarfin and the rest of their families and people arrived and began to arrange themselves along the terraces nearby. Galadriel and Elrond were seated not far away with their hobbit friends.
“I’m feeling more than slightly amazed,” Finrod said to Celebrían. “Everything has fallen neatly into place. Nobody has argued yet, and everything is in the right place at the right time.”
Celebrían smiled “Gil-galad was always very good at that!”
“I see now how Gil-galad had such success against Sauron. He is formidably well-organised! And wonder of wonders, it even seems that Maglor actually listened when I asked him to wear something suitable to perform in, lest anyone be insulted that he appear in plain black before my father and Fingolfin.”
Looking down, they could see Maglor, waiting for the lights just below them. He was wearing a long cloak of a deep glowing blue, patterned with the shapes of holly leaves, fastened with an elaborate cloakpin set with great white stones. Under it he wore a fine black velvet tunic and two great red-gold armrings, marked with Fëanorian stars, that sparkled as he moved. There were gemstones in his hair too.
“It’s an enormous relief to my mind,” Finrod said. “I spent absolutely ages working out the most tactful way to bring it up, then when I finally spoke to Maglor about it, he nodded rather vaguely and wandered away humming to himself!”
Celebrían laughed. “I don’t think it was all his idea, I’m afraid,” she said. “The people of the Fëanorian Quarter of Tirion brought gifts with them. You didn’t suggest it to them? I assumed it was you, since we had discussed how to speak to Maglor tactfully about wearing some good clothes to perform in.”
Finrod shook his golden head. “Not me. But I might have guessed they would not need much prompting.”
“I don’t know where we’re going to put it all. My house is full of boxes! If Maglor wants to walk around in the finest silk and velvet with eight-pointed silver stars on everything he wears for the next year, he probably still won’t manage to wear everything they brought him. I think he is trying to be seen in as many of their gifts as he can manage, though. This is the most impressive yet. Those armrings are very nice.”
Finrod rolled his eyes. “I bet they have been making them for years, in hope of one day being able to give them to him. Fëanorians! Do you know what he’s going to play? He wouldn’t tell me.”
Celebrían shook her head. “I do, but I can’t tell you. He made me promise! I think you won’t be disappointed though.”
Maglor had stepped out before the crowd into the middle of the stage. He waited, and little by little the noise of the crowd fell to quiet, until there was no sound anywhere nearby, save for the sighing of the waves.
Then the greatest singer of the Noldor began to play.
He sang first the song of the Downfall of the Noldor, that he had made long ago. That song tells of darkness falling, kinslaying, division, and fear. It had never been much sung in Tol Eressëa, for it was made in Middle-earth, and it was never sung lightly, for it carries a great grief with it. But it was familiar to many who gathered there to listen.
The last notes faded, and now the sky above was dark and set with stars. Without pausing, Maglor began to sing a new song, unfamiliar to all. Slow golden notes shining against the darkness, the Defense of the Noldor. He summoned up a fading hope of peace, shining swords against the dark, and told a tale of the fall of three great kings, Fingolfin, Fingon, and last of all, Turgon of Gondolin.
Many of those there wept to hear it, for there had been no songs made of Fingolfin’s fall. For too long, that grief had been too great to sing of. But Fingolfin who had been their High King in Middle-earth was returned to them at last, and now the time for song had come.
The third song was new as well. That song was named Return Beyond Hope, and it began in sorrow, with the death of Finrod and of Orodreth, and the loss of Nargothrond. But then the melody brightened to shining silver as he told of Eärendil and Elwing, of the coming of the Host of Valinor to Beleriand, that Finarfin the High King of the Noldor of Aman had helped to lead, that the Teleri ships of Olwë had carried to the relief of Middle-earth. It told of the victories of that great host, the fall of the Enemy, their return to Aman, and the great work that Finarfin, Eärwen and Finrod, returned from death, had done there, bringing the Noldor back to their white city on the hill and reuniting them with their kin at last.
A bright theme to end on, that caught at the mind and tongue. By the second repeat of the chorus, people were starting to sing along with it, and at the end, when Maglor bowed to the audience, they went on singing joyfully, voices filling the great bowl of the hillside, and out on the water beyond the Lonely Isle, lifting high from small boats and great white ships alike, the voices of the Falmari too took up the song beneath the stars.
. . . . . .
It was well past midnight. Across the wide gentle sweep of the open hillside and far off into the scattered birch trees further inland, fires were burning bright beneath the stars. Dancers wove among them, making dark shapes against the flames. All the hillside was filled with clear voices singing, pipes and lutes and harps playing, and behind the music, the deeper sighing song of the sea.
Elrond wove his way through the fires, greeting old friends and many newfound relatives. The relatives seemed to be all getting along rather better than he had feared, at least so far.
He came through an arch of birch-trees, woven with small bright lamps like tiny stars, and found himself caught up in a line of dancers, between his great-great grandmother Anairë and his grandmother Nimloth.
Finrod was dancing further down the line, next to someone that Elrond did not know but who from her face and hair was probably his daughter, Faniel. Next to them were Orodreth and his daughter Finduilas, who, someone said, had returned only recently from the Halls of Mandos. Elrond smiled at them, thinking of Arwen, who might dance like this in Gondor. Not with him, not any more, but she and Aragorn would be happy there.
He wondered where Celebrían had got to. There could be no risk to her, of course, on Tol Eressëa, far from orcs and wolves, but still perhaps he should reach out to call her and...
No. Celebrían had lived here for five hundred years, and was so much better now. Arwen was quite safe, and Aragorn too, and Elladan and Elrohir were... well probably not safe, knowing them, but certainly well able to look after themselves. Erestor was over there, dancing with old friends from Lindon, and those few of Elrond’s people from Rivendell who were not among the dancers or talking around the fires had taken Bilbo safely home to bed.
There was no need to worry any more. He must lose the habit.
The dance was an energetic one, and after they had circled the trees three times, Elrond made his excuses and went towards the nearest fire to find something to drink.
The harpist near the fire was Finrod’s wife, Amárië of the Vanyar, playing quicksilver notes on a harp that was definitely not her own, for it was marked prominently with the eight-pointed rayed Star of Fëanor.
Elrond waved at her and got a smile in return, helped himself to a cup of water from a jug, then looked around for the harp’s owner. He was sitting sprawled across a fallen treetrunk, not far from Amárië, talking to the returned High King Fingon. Next to him was his aunt Lalwen, dressed more for riding, in fine blue leather, than for feasting as the others were, but with a crown of woven daisies set upon her braided hair. Elrond bowed politely, and Fingon saluted him in return with his cup.
“You aren’t playing, Maglor?” he said.
“Oh, Elrond no!” Maglor said rather wildly.
“Though all my crimes should be retold,
I’ll play no more on harps of gold!
Atone for no more sins today.
I’ve no more woeful words to say!
My fingers ache, my throat is sore.
My mind makes circles more and more
I’ve lost count of all that I’m apologising for! ”
“The greatest singer of his race
Has no more words to ask for grace
And all his songs have gone astray?
I never thought I’d see the day!” he replied.
“Oh no! Don’t encourage him!” Fingon exclaimed.
Maglor made a face. “I’ve heard too much of Finrod’s verse,” he said. “It climbed into my head! It is the worst!”
“Maglor!” Amárië objected, laughing over the sound of the harp. “If you are rude again about my husband’s poetry, I shall stop and make you play the harp again instead!”
Maglor gave her a horrified look.
“Oh Vanyar lady, kindly playing
I beg, excuse this singer swaying
I can only turn to the last High King
I swore to serve, to his feet cling
And sue for mercy!”
He suited the action to the word and threw himself dramatically down on the grass in front of Fingon.
“It is comfortable here, by Fingon’s feet,” he said indistinctly. “Instead of apologies, I might just sleep.”
Fingon looked up at the stars and laughed. “He is very drunk,” he told Elrond, unnecessarily. “It might be safest if he does not apologise to anyone else today. I dread to think what he might say. Oh no, now I’m doing it!”
“See? I told you he was good at kinging,” Maglor declared, from the ground. “Of all the many Noldor Kings, you are my favourite, Fingon. Don’t tell anyone!”
Fingon shook his head in mock despair. “I too am drunk, but obviously the House of Fëanor has to do it better.”
Maglor peered up at Elrond looking down at him. “We should have just given them the crown to start with,” he told him. “They’re naturally good at it! It’s probably the Vanyar bit. The Vanyar are good at kinging kings. But terrible at making rings and things!”
Fortunately, Lalwen, Amárië and the formidable Fingon only looked amused. “I see what you mean,” Elrond said to Fingon. “I was only wondering where you had got to, Maglor! I wasn’t going to suggest any more apologies.”
“Good,” Maglor said. “You can be my favourite hostage, Elrond.”
Fingon prodded Maglor affectionately with a foot. “Shush, Maglor,” he said. “If you go on talking, you might say something undiplomatic and have to start apologising again!”
“Shushing!” Maglor said. He settled his face on his arms and closed his eyes.
“You may have to carry him, if you want to take him home,” Lalwen said to Elrond, looking amused. “He may still be able to rhyme, more or less, but then, he seems to do that without thinking, as he does breathing. I doubt he can walk without falling over.”
Elrond shook his head. “It’s a clear night and a long walk back to Avallónë. I wasn’t planning to go back myself. I was looking around for Celebrían, in fact, not Maglor.”
Fingon gave Elrond a dubious look that did not look at all drunken. “And you have not come to watch your kinslaying cousin?”
Elrond shrugged, a little surprised. “As distinct from you, my kinslaying great-grand-uncle? Or my kinslaying great-great-grand-aunt? We’re reuniting here, are we not and forgiving old hurts?”
“We must be. You have come to the fire of the kinslayers tonight,” Lalwen said. “Apart from Amárië, of course.”
Fingon wrinkled his nose in distaste, speaking quietly, below the harpsong. “We presented our apologies to Olwë. But Maglor is different, isn’t he?”
“The Valar pardoned him,” Elrond said, meeting Fingon’s eyes levelly. “Why should Maglor be different?”
Maglor appeared to be asleep, or at least, if he was still listening, he had his eyes closed and did not move.
“Oh, come,” Fingon said softly, but there was an edge to his voice. “Don’t give me that. How many of your kin did he slay? Can you even count them?”
Elrond considered for a moment. “I haven’t counted, and it would be hard to be sure about my cousins from the House of Hador anyway. Nobody was keeping very careful track, for a few generations in Hithlum after the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. There were not so many escaped the trap of Hithlum to reach the Havens and die there.”
Fingon narrowed his eyes. “It was the best hope we had left, to attack. Hithlum would have fallen anyway, one way or the other.”
Elrond shrugged. “Of course it would. I could hardly hold a grudge against you, for going to your death and leaving Hithlum unprotected, and I blame Maglor for attacking the Havens very little more. I blame Morgoth.”
“Do you indeed? Unexpected, that, since it was not Morgoth who attacked the Havens.”
This was uncannily like having a discussion with Maedhros himself, Elrond thought. The same sense that the other person was looking at the conversation from several different angles at once, without any real indication which angle was his own. He wondered if it had been Maedhros or Fingon who had started it. If this had been Maedhros he was talking to, he would have grinned and asked him, but Fingon was an unknown quantity. Instead he took his time for thought before replying.
“I have some grasp of strategy, by now, I hope. In a battle that left a hill of the slain, the enemy were led by dragons and balrogs. There were seven sons of Fëanor leading the Eastern force. Nobody could call them over-cautious, yet not one of them was killed or captured — though the Enemy made very sure to get rid of both of you.” He nodded to Lalwen. “I suspect someone wanted them alive, to use as his tools against us. That is an approach I saw the master of the Nazgûl use again later on a number of occasions.”
“Perhaps,” Fingon said, looking at him through sceptical, half-closed eyes. “Though odd things can happen in any battle.”
“True. But I saw the effect of their oath on both of them, too. It’s not reasonable to heap blame on someone forced to choose between torments. Particularly not Maedhros.”
“You don’t think they should have chosen death?” Lalwen threw in.
Elrond raised his eyebrows. “I’m sure my kinsman Húrin would have preferred death to years of torment too, but Morgoth didn’t let him choose, any more than he let Maedhros. Maedhros was rescued once against all hope. For all that I wish he had not attacked the Havens, I can’t honestly blame him for being reluctant to return and be suspended by the other hand, can you? ”
Fingon for the first time seemed unsettled. He winced. “When you put it like that...Poor Húrin. ”
“Yes. One can only blame the Enemy: he’d be delighted to think we were still blaming each other, don’t you think? I forgave Maglor and Maedhros for Doriath and the Havens long ago. I would have tried to forgive Elros’s descendants, if they’d given me the chance.” He looked doubtfully at the former High King of the Noldor. “Surely you don’t still blame them? I remember Maedhros saying you’d have sharp words for him, but later, I thought that might just be Maedhros being Maedhros. Or at least, I hoped so.”
A smile crept across Fingon’s face in the firelight. “I think I like you, Elrond,” he said. “I have spoken with Maedhros in the Halls of Mandos. I forgave him: there seemed no point in carrying a grudge. Though you might say it’s easy for me to say that, I’m a kinslayer too... But I wasn’t sure, at first, why you brought Maglor with you. It seemed an odd choice for Elwing and Eärendil’s son. It crossed my mind when we first heard of it, to wonder if you were his friend, or his gaoler.”
“Really,” Elrond said, very unimpressed. “Well, now you know.”
“So I do. Yet the House of Fëanor is followed by the wrath of the Valar. Mandos has foretold that Fëanor will stay in the Halls until the breaking of the world. That’s how his story runs.”
“The wrath of the Valar follows them still, across seven thousand years and more?”
Maglor turned over restlessly on the grass and put his arm across his face.
Lalwen sipped her wine and made an annoyed face. “I, and Fingolfin’s house, were honoured guests in the Halls of Mandos, though guests not yet allowed to choose to leave. The House of Fëanor are prisoners. There is a difference. You see why we wondered about Maglor. The Oath and Doom sets them apart. It set my brother Fëanor apart, even before his sons attacked Doriath.”
“Even Celebrimbor,” Elrond said unhappily. The news that Celebrimbor was still in the Halls of Mandos had troubled him since he had first heard it. “Celebrimbor only hoped a little too much that evil was over and forgotten, and there was time to build the world anew. Surely it’s clear to everyone why he, of all people, followed that hope! No matter what Sauron did to him, I can’t imagine Celebrimbor choosing to sit idle forever.”
“He’s of the House of Fëanor,” Lalwen said grimly. “The rest of us had the choice to do what my little brother Finarfin did and turn away. I suppose that really is what we’ve done now, Fingon, even if they don’t count anything that went before.”
Fingon, topping up his cup with wine from a tall blue jug marked with the flames of the House of Finarfin, nodded.
“The House of Fëanor don’t have that choice. Mind you, I don’t think they would choose it if they could.” Fingon looked down at Maglor sprawled on the grass near the fire. “Much as his father annoys me, I don’t think they should have to,” he said, and frowned.
“And yet the Valar pardoned Maglor and let him return here,” Elrond said. “I hope they will allow Maedhros and his brothers to do the same — if they wish to return. I wanted to speak to you both about that.”
Fingon shook his head. Gold-wrapped braids shifted and glistened in the firelight. “Mandos has only once been moved to pity, and that was not for the House of Fëanor. Perhaps the Valar are divided, it’s not unknown. Who did you ask about Maglor?”
“Ulmo, of course. Our part of the family all speak to Ulmo.”
Lalwen said. “Of course. And if any of the Valar would be prepared to agree to such a request, remembering who it was that asked, it would probably be Ulmo. Ulmo, or Nienna.”
“Or Manwë?” Fingon suggested.
“Manwë was prepared to help my most notorious nephews, after all. Perhaps Manwë himself then,” Lalwen said and gave him a smile. “But, Elrond, is it possible that Mandos considers he has only agreed that Maglor could be left in your custody? Mandos has not forgiven my brother Fëanor, nor his children.”
“I hope that’s not how Maglor sees it,” Elrond said, troubled. It seemed all too likely, on consideration, that Maglor might see it that way, too. “I asked Maglor to come with me to Aman as one of my family, a friend, not a prisoner!” He paused for a moment to calm his mind. “Perhaps we could speak more of this later. I’d like to ask Maglor what he thinks, and it seems unfair to wake him. Also he’ll give clearer answers when sober and not looking for a rhyme! I would like to hear Celebrían’s opinion of what you have said, and Finrod’s.” He looked across the fire “And Amárië’s too, perhaps?”
“Well,” Amárië said across the harp. “I must say, it is nice to be asked, for once. Thank you, Elrond! You know, I would have come to Middle-earth with Finrod, if it had been my choice. I was not permitted, and ever since, people have been assuming I have no opinion. I am not sorry to have missed the horror of it, mind you. But I shall certainly come along and offer my uninformed views! I’ll expect to be told I’m wrong, but the chance is far too good to miss.”
“Oh, well,” Lalwen said drily. “It’s a mistake, waiting for them to ask, or waiting for permission. You won’t catch Galadriel doing that. Or me, for that matter.”
“Noted,” Amárië said, a little coolly. Lalwen shrugged and sipped her wine.
“Shall we meet at my house then, in three days time, to take counsel?” Elrond suggested. Fingon nodded.
“You’ll want Fingolfin, too,” Lalwen said. “There’s no point asking Findis or my mother about anything involving Fëanor or his sons. But I’ll bring Fingolfin and Anairë.”
“Finrod will want to come,” Amárië said, her fingers still moving on the harp.
“Very well then,” Maglor said, without moving from where he lay on the ground beside the fire.
“I thought you were asleep,” Elrond said to him.
“It turned into the kind of conversation that I find sobering. Hard to sleep through.” Maglor’s usually clear resonant voice sounded unusually harsh and choked, and his face in the firelight shone wet.
“I’m sorry, Maglor,” Elrond said, concerned. “We could have left this for another time.”
“Don’t you start, or we shall never be done with apologies.” Maglor pulled himself up to a sitting position and leant rather precariously against the fallen tree that Fingon was sitting on. “I have drunk too much. I was trying to weep only for those we killed. Shouldn’t be weeping for the kinslayers.”
Fingon looked down at him, then slid down to sit on the grass next to Maglor, and put his arm around his shoulder. “Someone should,” he said. “They aren’t only kinslayers.”*
“I thought you said you found my father annoying?” Maglor said, looking rather stiff and ready to be offended. Fortunately, Fingon seemed not at all taken aback.
“Maglor, don’t be daft. I find my father annoying sometimes. That’s what fathers are like! Particularly our fathers! It doesn’t mean I didn’t weep for him. You weep if you want to. Then, in three days, we’ll have our council, and make a plan.”
Maglor looked at him for a moment, then slumped a little against his cousin, and put his face in his hands. “I’m glad you came back,” he said through his fingers, to Fingon. “Rescuing people is your thing, not mine. I was never any good at it. Even in that last battle. Tears unnumbered. We did try, Fingon, honestly we did, all of us, not just Maedhros. We couldn’t get through to you. It all went wrong after that.”
“Shush, Maglor,” Fingon said again, and squeezed his shoulder. “We said no more apologising tonight.”
“I’ll get you some water,” Elrond said to Maglor. “You are probably going to have a headache.”
. . . . .
Maglor walked in a dream as crystal-clear as memory along the long-vanished quays of the Havens of Sirion, smelling the smoke, hearing the cries of Men and Elves long dead, seeking the Silmaril. In his hand a bloody sword, at his back a little group of Noldor whose wary smudged faces mirrored his own in the red morning light. Behind him, the bodies of Elves and Men that he had slain lay strewn across the quayside. The smell of the blood mixed with the smell of drying seaweed. Ahead, he could hear new voices calling out to one another and his head went up, ready to give chase. They had not found Elwing, yet.
The voices did not sound afraid. He untangled himself from the dream as quickly as he could, becoming alert. He should be able to get away unseen if he moved slowly and stayed low. Elves did not usually come so far north along the shore. They would not be expecting to see him, so with luck, they would not.
One of the voices was not right. There were no Halflings at the Havens of Sirion, or on the far shores north of Lindon. It was saying his name.
“Maglor? Did you want to come and have breakfast? Tithen has cooked some excellent mushrooms.”
He shivered into full wakefulness, and blinked. Oh, yes. Tol Eressëa.
Frodo was looking down at him looking rather amused. “You know, the Tooks have songs about people who went off with the Elves and woke years later on some cold hillside. You look rather as though that has happened to you. I didn’t think it was supposed to happen to the Elves themselves!”
Maglor sat up and shook his head. Someone had put a blanket over him. He was on a grassy hill not far above the sea. Up above there were tents and pavilions and a cheerful smell of breakfast, and the voices he had heard were mostly coming from there. Some of the voices were rather closer, from a group of people who had once been riders on the fields of Lothlann, who were now doing a terrible job of pretending they had not appointed themselves to be his unofficial bodyguard.
“Save me some mushrooms!” he said to Frodo. “I will just go and wash.”
He gave the unofficial bodyguard the most severe look that he could muster. “You lot are supposed to be proving you can talk civilly to the Gondolodrim and the Doriathrim, without causing poor Finrod headaches,” he said to them. “Go on. Find some Gondolodrim and share breakfast with them.”
Elior, who was certainly not their captain because they were not at war and would not be again, gave Maglor, who was definitely not his lord any more, an ironic salute. Maglor gave him a suitably reproving look, and headed down to the sea.
He wondered, uncomfortably, if they had not died in Dagor Bragollach or Nirnaeth Arnoediad, which of them would have turned on him at the Havens, and whether he could have killed Elior, if he had needed to. Probably he would have done. It was best not to think too much about that.
He went to find Frodo instead, to ask about the songs of the Tooks and find the breakfast of mushrooms. He found him just finishing off a second breakfast in company with Elrond, sitting on a stool outside a tall white pavilion that was decked with Celebrían’s banners, and joined them.
“Well, I don’t suppose the songs are true!” Frodo said, when Maglor asked. “Any more than the story that one of the Tooks once took a fairy wife. But it makes for a good tale to tell.”
“What is a fairy?” Maglor asked him, intrigued. Frodo had used the Westron word, as he often did when he did not know the term in Quenya, but on this occasion, Maglor could make no sense of the image that ran across the surface of the hobbit’s strange mind.
“Fairies... Oh well. They are supposed to be something like a small elf, I believe, with wings.” Frodo considered, looking up at Maglor over the mushrooms. “A very very small elf. Smaller than a hobbit. ”
“A hobbit-elf? With wings? I never heard of such a thing! Are there many of them? Where do they live?”
“I’m not sure they live anywhere, really,” Frodo admitted smiling. “There are a lot of stories about Elves in the Shire, and of course, there have been Elves travelling through to the Grey Havens since long before the Shire was the Shire. But I think the wings might be someone having a bit of fun. Like the Took stolen away by the Elves, who woke on the cold hillside. I don’t suppose it was really years later. A couple of weeks, more likely! Time can seem a little peculiar when there are Elves about, for us. But surely, not that peculiar.”
“But you don’t remember which part of the story is true? Is that not very inconvenient?”
Frodo laughed. “ I suppose it is, but no, we often don’t remember, I’m afraid. It’s hard to tell with these traditional stories that are handed down over the years. Nobody remembers quite how they got started, or which bits of them might have a kernel of truth to them. And some of them are definitely just made up just for fun. Aren’t your songs like that?”
“Well, there are parts that are not intended literally, of course,” Maglor said. “Not in the sense of fine detail. Songs can tell the stories that can shape the world. Sometimes the shaping is not for precision, but for the heart.”
“Some of our songs do have a great number of different inconsistent versions,” Elrond said. “That was why I first started to ask for them to be written down, to collect them into a library. It became clear that there were a great number where nobody could remember how they were true. Memory is no longer a sure resource when so many have died.”
“Your story says you never came back among the Elves,” Frodo pointed out to Maglor. “And you are definitely among the Elves now. That doesn’t seem like a fine detail.”
“I suppose I am. Perhaps the story is true as it is first sung, either to shape the world or to reflect it, until it changes into something else? When the tale was written down, it was quite true that I never came back among the Elves. But then Elrond wrote a new verse. All things change, even Elves and mountains. I wonder if the changes come faster by the shores of the Sea, which remembers all things, but changes them constantly?”
“There’s a version of your story that one of my librarians recorded in the early days in Lindon which said you had thrown yourself into the sea with the Silmaril,” Elrond put in. “It gave me a most unpleasant shock when I read it.”
“I wonder where that one came from? Wishful thinking, probably! I suppose that it is true, in a sense, as well. But the shores of northern Lindon are not so daunting. The beaches are sandy, and the currents not, in late summer or early autumn, dangerous. The water is a little cold, admittedly, but still, I threw myself into the Sea on many occasions! Though not quite like that. Then I got out again and dried off. That last bit is most unpoetic, admittedly. I would never put someone climbing out of the sea and jumping up and down to get warmed up, into a song.”
“Unless it was intentionally comic, perhaps?” Frodo asked, laughing. “We have a lot of comic songs in the Shire. Some of them, I am sure cannot be true. The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late, for example. That’s one of Bilbo’s and I’m sure there’s no truth in it at all!”
Of course, then they had to hear Frodo tell The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late all the way through, and try to work out if any of it could possibly be true. It seemed unlikely, though Tilion, the pilot of the Moon, did of course have something of a taste for unconventional behaviour, so it was not quite impossible that he might have left the Moon somewhere that a cow could jump over it.
“Surely the Elves do sing comic songs too?” Frodo asked.
“Of course we do,” Maglor told him “I thought they were something of a speciality in Rivendell? A song can be comical and true at once, I think. I have not written many comic songs myself. Perhaps I should try it. I’d much rather be in a comic song than in a tragedy. ”
Elrond gave him a doubtful look. “I don’t believe you have ever been in a comic song in your life!”
“That’s all you know,” Maglor said, and laughed, partly at the look on Elrond’s face, and partly because despite everything, here he was among friends again at last, and after all, he had not had to kill Elior, even though he had killed the others. He would go and find Elior, in a little while, and tell him about Tooks and fairies and the Man in the Moon. It would make him laugh. “Did I never sing you the one about the pigs, that Fingon made? I was young once, too, you know! I’ll sing it for you.”
. . . . .
Three days later, the great festival was over at last, and white ships had begun to carry the revellers home, though there were still people wandering through the woods and along the cliffs of Tol Eressëa singing in small groups with friends new and old, and probably would be for some time.
A fine bright morning, and Celebrían’s house in Avallónë welcomed a number of former kings, not to mention Lalwen, who nobody had ever called a queen, but who none the less seemed to carry at least as much of an air of authority with her as the others. It was turning into a warm day, near midsummer, and so they sat out in Celebrían’s garden, in the shade of the apple trees.
Elrond thanked them for coming. “I wanted to speak with you of the House of Fëanor,” he said. “You said that you had seen them in the Halls of Mandos, Fingon. Gil-galad and I would like to appeal at least for Celebrimbor to be returned to life. Maglor would dearly like to see his brothers and his father again. Do you think they would choose to return?”
“We have all spoken with them,” Fingon said. “Celebrimbor was very badly hurt, as you know better than I, but so far as I know, he is now recovered. Though I’m not sure that coming to the halls of Mandos and the company of Curufin, Celegorm and Fëanor was easy for him, either! Maglor, you can stop making that face. I’m trying to help, remember?” Maglor gave him an apologetic look. If anyone had earned the right to make off-hand remarks about Maglor’s brothers and his father, it was Fingon.
Finrod winced. “Oh dear,” he said. “Poor Celebrimbor! Not that I don’t think Curufin loves him dearly, but still, there are some things one could really do without, immediately after being slowly torn to bits by Sauron! That wouldn’t be an easy reunion.”
“I never knew Celebrimbor very well,” Fingon said. “Gil-galad knows him much better than I.”
“I have spoken with Gil-galad. He felt that Celebrimbor would wish to return,” Elrond said. “I thought he would too. But you have seen him far more recently.”
Fingon visibly shuddered. “Celebrimbor is a sensible person. I doubt he’d want to stay in the Halls of Mandos if he can get permission to come back to life.”
“Not everyone found it as hard as you did,” Fingolfin said. “It suits Aegnor well enough, and your grandfather.”
“You hated it as much as I did, or very nearly,” Fingon said bluntly.
Fingolfin shrugged in acknowledgement. “We knew we must abide in regret for kinslaying and rebellion, and yearn for life. We were told. I think, for what we achieved, it was worth it. I didn’t expect it to be easy.”
Fingon said, “I wanted to thank you for helping us come back into the world, Elrond. We have had so much more than enough of doing nothing and longing for life! Well, I have, anyway. I went to Mandos several times to beg him to let us out. He wasn’t sympathetic. He did say he wouldn’t be.”
“But you did say Maedhros was feeling better?” Maglor asked, concerned.
“He has more patience for existence unbodied than I did,” Fingon admitted, “He is permitted much less freedom than I was, but he’s much better at putting up with it. I suppose he has known worse! But still, he would return. We discussed it at some length. Well, he discussed it. I and Caranthir complained about it loudly.”
“He’s well enough to come back to life, then?” Elrond asked.
“I’m no expert,” Fingon said, shrugging. “But it seems to me that whatever the Halls of Mandos can do for Maedhros, they have had their chance to do it by now. I’m clear in my mind that we are not supposed to be divided like that, as bodiless spirits, unable to make or do any deed, but only watch. That’s not what we were made for. The yearning for life is a powerful thing. I know Maedhros feels it too, even though he chose to die by fire.”
Elrond said, “I feel we had earned a favour or two from the Valar, Frodo, Galadriel, Gil-galad, and I. Frodo here was kind enough to support our plea to the Valar for your return.”
“In that case, I must thank you too, Frodo!” Fingon said and got up to bow low to the hobbit. His father and his aunt did the same. Frodo scrambled down from his chair and bowed back politely.
“I understand though, that there is some complication around Fëanor’s oath before he and his sons can return?” Frodo asked diffidently, once thanks and polite acknowledgements had been exchanged. This must all seem very odd to him, Maglor thought, since his spirit could flit through the world, swift and free as a sparrow, and go on, without the awkward Elvish to and fro that came from being bound to Arda.
“I’m rather afraid that may turn out not to be quite the only complication, even if everyone else can be persuaded to agree and Mandos could be convinced,” Finrod said. “But it’s certainly one of the more awkward points. Though I, like Maglor, hope it may no longer apply. ”
Fingolfin said gravely, “I have spoken of his oath with my brother Fëanor.” That must have been a contentious meeting, Maglor thought, though at least Fingolfin did not look angry now. He hoped that his father and his uncle had managed to hammer out some kind of truce.
Fingolfin went on “Fëanor says the oath still binds him, and his sons, for he never unmade it, and it was sealed with the name of Eru.”
Maglor felt something twist at the words, at the back of his mind. Something unpleasantly familiar and dark, that he had tried for a long time to forget, hoping it was gone. He stood up abruptly. “I’ll be back in a moment,” he said to Elrond.
“I brought your harp,” Elrond said, understanding at once. “It’s in the bag, here. Do you need to take miruvor?”
“I think not yet.” Maglor picked up the harp and set it on his knee, concentrating on it, and not looking at the faces. There were probably expressions on them that he did not want to see. “It’s not strong. Not like it was. But I can feel it again. It answered, when you said that.”
Elrond sighed. “Well, that answers that question. It was sleeping, not gone, as we had hoped. Play the harp.”
“I don’t remember any of the Sons of Fëanor taking miruvor against their own oath in Beleriand,” Finrod said, and from the note in his voice Maglor definitely did not want to look at him just now. “I thought you were all entirely behind it.”
Maglor ran his hands across the harp, calling quiet notes gently from it. The Oath, which had tightened across the back of his mind, relaxed, lulled back to sleep as it had, long long ago. He had not forgotten how it felt. Nobody could forget that. But it was disheartening to feel it was still there, when he had hoped it was gone for good.
“That was later,” he told Finrod without looking at him. “After Maedhros forswore it, after Doriath. It didn’t like losing, or being defied. But the worst was once the Host of Valinor had crossed the Sirion. It got stronger then. And darker.”
“Music helped,” Elrond told them. “The harp, for Maglor, miruvor, and always having some quite different matter to think of. We all got very used to trading rhymes, as the War of Wrath went on.”
“With you, as children,” Lalwen said to Elrond, and Maglor bit his lip and changed the music to a more complicated melody, because that was something else to concentrate on, and it was a fair thing to say.
“Not so much when we were children, no,” Elrond said, calmly. “They had other people with them; they all knew how it went by then. More when we were grown, and I was obstinately refusing to join Gil-galad, because I could see that there was something wrong, and thought with all the arrogance of youth, that I could easily find a way to repair it. It seems we’re doomed to find old troubles return. Still, it’s a second chance to solve an old puzzle.”
He turned back to Maglor. “I am still wondering if it would be best if you went to the gardens of Lórien.” Elrond at least sounded only mildly concerned.
“I would much prefer not to,” Maglor said watching his hands move on the harpstrings. “I am not ill.”
“Are you sure about that?”
Unexpectedly, Celebrían came to his support. “I have been in Lórien. I don’t believe it would help.”
“You said it helped you,” Elrond pointed out.
Celebrían nodded. “Yes. It was what I needed. To feel safe from the evils of Middle-earth. The gardens of Lórien are blessed, safe, and endlessly kind. There is nothing like having the Sea, the entire force of all three peoples of the Elves and the Valar themselves between you and your fears, to help you feel safe! But it seems to me that Maglor is a quite different case. He carries what he fears within him. I don’t think that they would know what to do with him, in Lórien. I felt they rather lacked experience.”
“The healers of the gardens of Lórien lack experience?” Elrond said, sounding a little incredulous.
Celebrían said, a little wryly, “I was surprised, too. But healers in Valinor usually treat only broken bones, and very few of those. They have had people returned from Middle-earth to care for, of course. Some of the poor people who were Morgoth’s thralls are still there. But they don’t have people coming back with poisoned wounds or the Black Breath over them, as we so often did. And there are no Edain here. None of the common childhood illnesses, no bodies that begin to fight themselves, none of the ailments of old age, and much less of the despair of youth, too... They don’t have to treat the common evils of the world that we knew so well, all the things that sap the will and body and leave the spirit exhausted. I had to show them our formulation of miruvor: it is much more effective than the one they were using.”
Maglor took a deep breath and ran his hands across the harp, looking hard at the strings and not at any of the faces. “There is another reason I would prefer not to go to Lórien. I am so wrapped in darkness that I cannot touch... my father’s work without being burned. I am of course, many time over, a kinslayer. That is not an illness.” He would have greatly preferred not to admit it, even to himself, but the time for ignoring the problem and hoping it would go away was surely over now. “The gardens of Lórien are hallowed. The stones, the trees, the water. Everything.”
“You think that Lórien would burn you?” Elrond said, and even though Maglor was carefully not looking at his face, the grief in his voice was painful to hear.
“It seems likely,” he said, keeping his voice light and unconcerned and definitely not looking at Finrod. “Light burns against the Shadow. I am not Maedhros. I’d prefer to avoid it.”
“I didn’t realise you were worried about that.” Elrond sounded horrified.
Maglor shrugged and managed what he hoped was quite a convincingly lighthearted smile at nobody in particular. “Oh well, perhaps it’s nothing. Tol Eressëa did not burn me, after all. It seems Ulmo is more forgiving than Varda. Well, he should be! I did leave the... the gem in his care, after all. That was easy, after Morgoth was thrust out into the Void. It felt like a long-accustomed heavy chain had snapped. But given what I hear of Mandos, and the dreams that I receive from his brother, I would still prefer not to test Lórien’s patience in person.”
To Maglor’s surprise, Celebrían laid a hand gently on his shoulder. “I can give you something to soften the dreams,” she said, in that soft Sindarin-accented voice.
He braced himself and looked at her gentle, distressed face. She looked less afraid of him than he had feared, given how she had suffered at the hands of the orcs. “I assume that Lórien sends them for a good reason,” he said, and gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “If I am required to make amends in dreams, then I shall do so.”
“It seems a somewhat impractical way of making amends, if you will forgive me for saying so,” Frodo said. “I won’t pretend that I understand how all this works, of course. ”
“I don’t know either,” Maglor said. “I don’t know what they want of me. The dreams replay the past. They don’t offer choices.” He could look at Frodo. Frodo had never known him as anything other than what he was now. Maglor had never let him down.
Frodo’s hand went to the white stone he always wore around his neck. “I have had dreams like those,” he said quietly. “I don’t think they are sent by anyone with a good purpose, Maglor.”
“I agree,” Elrond said. “It sounds like an old shadow of the past to me. Unusual for Elves to have trouble in quite that form, but then, you are unusual. Such things can be treated. Let Celebrían help you with that, at least. No need to trouble Lórien with such an ailment. Celebrían and I have encountered it many times.”
“If you advise it, then I will,” Maglor said, feeling acutely conscious that Finrod, Amárië and his aunts and uncle were listening. Not to mention Fingon, but then, Fingon almost counted as an extra brother by now. “Thank you Celebrían. That would be a relief. It was only that I did not want to evade a penance, if that was what it was.”
“Would they not tell you?” Frodo asked, sounding confused.
“I don’t know that, either! I have been a little reluctant to draw myself to the attention of the Powers by asking... They gave Morgoth leave to go freely about the land, when he sued for pardon and was released from Mandos. I don’t know if they sent him dreams. That’s the only precedent I can think of, that and my father’s exile, but that was brief. Of course, both ended rather badly.”
Fingolfin said grimly “Many people felt they had benefited from Morgoth’s aid and counsel, and were duly grateful for it. Or so it seemed in those days. Would that we had never seen him!”
“I doubt anyone would want my aid or counsel, even without Morgoth’s example,” Maglor said, and managed to laugh at the thought. “I did ask Olwë if there was any aid I could offer. He told me that he’d just prefer me to stay well away from Alqualondë. I haven’t dared to ask Dior or Nimloth. And asking Eärendil and Elwing seemed... likely to lead to misunderstanding. Even if I could be sure that the Oath would not twist the offer.”
“Better not, I think,” Elrond agreed.
“Maedhros warned me, when I wanted to surrender,” Maglor said, because this too could no longer be comfortably ignored. “The Oath will remain, but fulfilment be beyond all hope. It would bring war to Aman, he said.”
“I thought you were glad to come here,” Elrond said, unhappily.
That could not be borne. Maglor turned to face him. “I was. I am! I thought the Oath was gone. And even now, I have to hope that Maedhros was wrong. That the ending of the song can be changed, somehow. But still, that is what he said then.”
“Rash to stake our peace on such a hope!” Amárië said.
“A fool’s hope?” Elrond said, and smiled. His eyes went to Frodo for a moment. For some reason, he was smiling too. “I’ll take it.”
“I think, in fact, that I will, too,” Finrod said, thoughtfully. Amárië looked at him, clearly startled. “Well, really Amárië, what other choice is there? It’s that or present Mandos with the final item to complete the full set, and even if I had no other feelings on the subject, I would not want to do that to poor aunt Nerdanel.”
“Thank you, Finrod, for your most carefully-qualified support,” Maglor said, almost catching the correct amused, unconcerned note.
Finrod flashed him a wicked grin “You did sing that appallingly earnest song,” he said. “It may be some time before I can forgive that. If you keep making allegations like that in verse, people might start taking me seriously, and then where will it all end?”
Maglor ran his fingers across the harp, looking for light words to answer him, but could not find them. He felt as if he was trapped at the bottom of some very deep dark chasm, and looking up, could see all of them standing unreachably high above him in the sun. The Oath moved in his mind, pressing against his thoughts like some great serpent winding through long grass.
Finrod looked at his face, and said, more gently, “Oh, look. We have lost enough to Morgoth’s lies and all that grew out of them, oath, kinslaying and all. I could not be more fed up of them and their consequences for all our family. You’ve had thousands of years alone, that’s more than enough penance for anything. And your brothers prisoners in Mandos all that time. There really should be some sort of limit. There was for Morgoth, and even though I admit, I am still annoyed with Curufin and Celegorm even now, they were never anything like Morgoth. Or Sauron: I am sure Celebrimbor would back me on that. I’ll happily say that to my father, or my grandfather Olwë, or to Mandos, for that matter.”
“Death should not be a prison,” Elrond said. “When I think of Maedhros... my brother Elros died. Our daughter will die and go beyond the world, and Aragorn too, as all his forefathers died. I loved them dearly, all of them. But Elros is not caught into regretful half-life in some gloomy distant hall, I have to believe that. Arwen will pass through and she will go on, as Beren and Lúthien went on, into the light of something greater. But Maedhros can’t do that. That door isn’t open for him. So he must be given a door back into the sunlit world instead. I am determined on it.”
“And if that’s not how his song goes?” Fingolfin asked seriously.
“If there’s one thing that life among the Edain has taught me,” Elrond said quietly but very firmly. “It’s that you can always tell the story a new way. There’s always a different way to sing the song, and ten thousand possible endings for it, each just as good as the next! I don’t believe foretelling is an absolute art. Even for the Valar. I don’t believe it, and I won’t believe it.”
“There is still the matter of the oath, though,” Amárië said. “And the risk of war in Aman. Is anyone worth that?”
Finrod looked at her. “You don’t really think that,” he said. “Come on, Amárië. If there is some trouble with the oath, then we must find a way to mend it, not leave it wrapped around them like a chain and carry on pretending not to notice.”
Anairë said “I have regretted, now and again, that I did not go to Middle-earth with my husband and my children. I’ll not make that choice again, if there is a choice to be made.” Fingolfin met her eyes and smiled.
“That’s a good point,” Amárië said. “I too have wondered, now and again, if I was overcautious, though on the whole, I still think I was right! But I did say I was prepared to come along today and be told why I was wrong, and so I am. What precisely is the plan being proposed?”
“I have a question, before that is decided,” Fingolfin said. “You took two Silmarils from Eönwë, Maglor. One was lost with Maedhros, and one by you. I assume the oath does not require the return of those?”
“You are speaking to me as if I knew,” Maglor said, his voice very calm and level. “I don’t. I thought I was swearing revenge against a thief and murderer, to support my father. If I could have looked ahead and seen the Havens of Sirion burn, things might have been different. I hope they would. I hope none of us would have chosen that. I can tell you that the Oath has been long asleep, and only woke when it heard my father’s words through you.”
Fingolfin nodded warily. “In any case, we can say the Silmaril that Elrond’s father carries is liable to cause trouble at some point. We must be careful.”
“Unless the oath can be broken, and the end of the story changed,” Elrond said.
“Maedhros tried to forswear it,” Maglor said, because he had spent too long pretending it didn’t matter, and all he had left to give was honesty. “He couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t let him. But that was when Morgoth was in the world. I was able to throw the thing into the sea. Surely that means something.” His voice was calm, with no sign of desperation to it. Probably Elrond and Finrod at least could see through that, but desperation would convince nobody.
“I think it does mean something,” Elrond said. “The oath was made by one and seven, and by Fëanor first and foremost, and yet you were able to cast the Silmaril away. We have seen here today that the oath answers to Fëanor’s word, though clearly Morgoth used it in his time. If it is to be unmade, it seems to me it must be unmade by all, but most of all, by Fëanor. That can only be done if he returns to life, for the dead in the Halls of Mandos can neither make, nor unmake. But if he returns to life, is it something he will do? ”
Silence spread in golden sunlight through the orchard, save only for the humming of the bees.
Maglor would dearly have liked to say ‘yes’. To say, of course, his father was a reasonable person who would wish, like any reasonable person, to undo his Oath and live in peace.
His father’s last words had been to demand his sons repeat their Oath. He had not sounded, then, like a reasonable person who would choose peace.
He could not say that. It would be disloyal.
He tried to think of his father living quietly on Tol Eressëa under the command of Gil-galad, or in Tirion under Finarfin. It was hard to see.
The Oath moved again at the back of his mind, loathsome, irresistible. It burned with a bitter, painful cold.
He should not have thrown the Silmaril into the sea. He had let his father down, doing that. His father had relied on him. Shame and self-loathing washed over him.
He should laugh cheerfully, now, and tell them that of course Fëanor would break the Oath if he were allowed to come back to life, if Elrond could arrange it. Elrond, whose father carried a stolen Silmaril, had not known that he lied before, when they had gone to kill the guards and take the Silmarils. He would not know it this time.
Elrond, son of thieves, stood up, looking at him.
No. The Oath did not say he could not bide his time. There was no urgency. No urgency at all.
He realised that he had stopped playing, and that the nails of his right hand were digging painfully into the flesh of his left wrist. With an effort, he let go, leaving red new-moon shapes punched across his wrist.
He ran his fingers back across the harp, making a faint fine shining web of music as strong as spider silk.
“If none can release us, then the Everlasting Darkness shall be our lot, whether we keep the oath or break it,” he said, with an effort but steadily, as he played. “But less evil shall we do in the breaking.”
He took the music as it spun from the harp, and wrapped it gently around the oath, folding it around again and again, until he could no longer see it in his mind, no oath at all, but only music shimmering around where it lay deep in sleep, webbed away and lost in song.
“Well done,” Finrod said softly from somewhere high above in sunlight, that was also under the dappled shade of apple trees a few steps away.
“I can hold it,” Maglor said, and met Elrond’s eyes. “I will hold it until the breaking of the world, until the Everlasting Darkness comes for us.”
“I know you will. But still, I’d rather see you released from it,” Elrond said. “You and Maedhros too.”
“I can’t unmake it,” Maglor said. “I’m sorry. We both tried. It only became angry. I hoped if I pushed it deep enough into sleep it might die anyway.” He looked at Amárië. “That was a fool’s hope, if you like, but I don’t have a better one.”
“Well, let us find a better one!” Finrod said. “That absurdly earnest song you made, Return Beyond Hope. I know you made it for our house and not for yours, but all the same, it makes a better ending to the Noldolantë than the one it has at the moment. I don’t see why it should not stand for all the House of Finwë.”
“A generous offer, Finrod,” Fingolfin said smiling.
“Well, I’ll take it very cheerfully,” Lalwen said frankly. “But will the House of Fëanor, that’s the real question?”
“Maedhros would unmake his oath,” Fingon said, adamantly.
Lalwen rolled her eyes. “Fëanor’s sons will do as Fëanor tells them, I think. Won’t they, Maglor?”
Maglor looked at Elrond and Celebrían for a moment. “No,” he said. It still felt like betrayal, but if he had to betray Elrond or his father, then his father had other sons. And more to the point, his father had been wrong at Alqualondë, and wrong again at Losgar, and if they had had the strength to tell him so, then many things would have gone differently. “I will not follow the oath again and bring war to Aman for a Silmaril, no matter who asks me to. Not for Maedhros, not for my father either.” The Oath half-woke at that, and Maglor turned to the harp and spun more threads of song around it.
Fingon, surprised but trying not to show it, said “I think Caranthir might be with you. I’m not so sure about Amrod and Amras, and I haven’t seen so much of Celegorm, but I’d say he would do almost anything to leave the Halls of Mandos. I don’t know about Curufin. Or Fëanor.”
“I have talked a great deal with Fëanor,” Fingolfin said. “Something that I urgently wished to do, after he abandoned us in Araman.”
This was not news to Maglor, though he was very glad that the discussion had taken place safely in the Halls of Mandos where nobody was likely to get seriously hurt, and also that he had not had to listen to the shouting. Fingolfin had eventually forgiven Fëanor’s sons for following their father and abandoning more than half their people in the desolate wasteland of Araman to walk across the Grinding Ice, but it seemed most unlikely that either he or aunt Lalwen had forgiven Fëanor himself.
“We cannot make or do, in the Halls of Mandos,” Fingolfin said, thoughtfully. “But even there, it is possible to learn new things. For both of us, in fact. Elrond, Frodo, if you decide to speak for my brother Fëanor, and the Valar permit it, I believe he will return to life, unmake his oath and choose peace.”
“That is good news,” Elrond said. “I have spoken to my father Eärendil of this, and to my mother too, since the Silmaril is an heirloom of her house. They, too, would unmake the past, and choose peace.”
Fingolfin’s eyebrows went up. “‘Though all whom ye have slain should entreat for you.’ indeed!” he said. “If Elwing and Earendil speak for Fëanor and his sons, then I might begin to belief that even Mandos himself would listen.”