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Labyrinth

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Deep inside of Mornost, the fortress city of tree and stone that is the quiet heart of Nan Elmoth, there is a labyrinth.

Made of old, moss covered rock and tall hedge, there are eighteen distinct paths that can be walked, each leading in its own meandering way to the center, where grows a dark-barked tree with white leaves. It is but one of many such trees in Nan Elmoth, where little light penetrates; at night the veins of the white leaves glow a gentle green.

Maeglin’s Lord father travels the paths of the labyrinth, when there is nothing in his realm that requires his immediate attention. Sometimes he takes his son, and they do not speak to one another. They wander, letting their feet guide them in a slow spiral towards the inevitability of the destination, of the beautiful tree with its black bark and white leaves.

When Maeglin is thirty, he is allowed to enter the forges by himself, without his father’s supervision. There have been trolls sighted in the northern woods; his father gives his mother a chaste kiss goodbye and mounts up alongside his grim-faced wardens, black bladed sword close at hand. The trees in the northern woods are dense and close, closer than in the south or west. It is easy for a troll to hide there, easier still for a troll to snap a warden out of the branches.

Maeglin hugs his father tightly and feels his heart in his throat.

“Do not fear, Owlet.” His father’s voice shakes his bones, so deep is its timbre. “I will return to you.”

Maeglin believes him because he must, because in the dark forest outside of Mornost, crossed with important trade roads into Doriath, his father is absolute Emperor and King. He cannot be anything less.

Maeglin goes to the forge and stares at the hammers, the slacktub, the drawplates and the bellows. He picks up a pair of tongs, discards them; looks thoughtfully at the spools upon spools of wire and leaves them too, after a moment. Outside his father rides to face another danger to the road he guards and inside Maeglin has locked the door against his mother and her latest paramour.

Maeglin finds himself drawn to the silver disks in their velvet-lined box. He removes one, turns it in his fingers. The metal is cool and blank.

Maeglin starts a fire beneath a warming plate. He finds a small engraving chisel, a padded hammer. He sits, and watches the silver heat, and wearing gloves made from the hide of a dragon he carves.

He does not start with one path in mind. He does not feel time passing; he reaches the center and skirts it, turning the disk so that he can begin another path out, then again to start a path in. In and out. In..and out.

Soon all eighteen paths have been laid down. Gazing at them Maeglin feels he can know each junction, all the tall obelisks that mark halfway points, the hidden alcoves with statues to gods forgotten by any outside of Nan Elmoth which is the granddaughter of the lost Cuivienen.

Maeglin puts his hand down over the silver labyrinth he has carved and wishes his father were safe. The magic pulls at his fingers, at his heart. He can feel it burning behind his eyes.

There is nothing at the labyrinth’s center. Nothing for the threads he is weaving to strive for, nothing for them to seek. There is no black barked tree, and so they snap, unanchored and useless.

Maeglin growls in frustration. He steps away, paces. Circles the table, comes back.

He knows what he needs.

He goes to the anteroom, where stored are the gems- gems of all sizes, all colors and cuts, some done by his father, some by his own hand. Others were bartered from the Dwarves his sire calls family. It takes but a moment to find what he needs.

Maeglin returns to his silver labyrinth and in one hand he holds a cabochon of onyx, deep and dark and smooth. He retrieves the right tools, lays down the gem. He goes to the center of the labyrinth, and he sets the destination.

This time when he calls his threads come and circle the onyx in a rush, tying the paths together. They will always find each other, will always lead to the center.

Maeglin adds a loop and puts his work aside.

His father returns at dawn three days later, exhausted and bloody, but victorious. He holds aloft the troll’s head and his people- their people- cheer for their Lord, their black barked tree, their center.

Maeglin gives him the pendant that night, after a bath and a good long hug, to be sure that this is his father and not a changeling in his father’s skin. The callouses are all accounted for and he breathes easier. Really, what changeling would dare to impersonate someone like Eol the Moriquendi?

Eol turns the pendant in his hands, hands which easily eclipse Maeglin’s. He is silent for a long time and when he looks up his hard eyes are soft and full of love.

“My son,” he says, “you have created beauty.”

Eol wears a mithril chain around his neck; this is where the silver labyrinth goes, and it is not removed, not for diplomatic visits nor long inspections of the watch stations. In the forge it slides about his chest, slick with sweat as he works and Maeglin works alongside him.

Maeglin can reach out and touch a thread and know where his father rides, feel the ghostly beat of his heart and the raw power of his breath. Maeglin reaches out and knows his father is alive.

He knows all paths lead to the center, and the center will always be there, no matter how long the road.