Chapter 1: Monophony
Her tune began on an indrawn breath, but hesitation blunted the opening note. She flicked a glance toward the hour glass on the table, and then toward me, in an attempt to discern whether or not I had noticed. I had, of course.
"Start again, please." I spoke mildly, despite my impatience. "Let the breath simply drop in. Imagine it filling your belly, low and deep. And don't hesitate before you begin."
The girl nodded, gently cleared her throat, and started anew, this time without hesitation, but also without imagination or any vibrancy whatsoever. The tune meandered in the general vicinity of adequacy, the fruits of a nervous and unprepared singer. The accompaniment fared little better: her hands flopped limply at the wrist, and her fingers were not yet tempered enough to pluck the strings with the strength necessary to bring good sound. A middling tune hammered out diffidently by a middling player while sand tumbled grain by grain from the top of the hourglass to the bottom. I do not think she knew that she was not alone in watching it fall. The song, a folk melody well known in Doriath but less so here, stumbled from one verse to the next, coming at last to the bridge-passage, which ought to have brought the piece together, but instead proved a catastrophic collision of fingers on strings. Had it been a bridge of wood and stone, an unforgiving current would have swept her away, and the harp with her. The notes fell flat and dull from her instrument. Her cheeks blushed crimson and she stopped.
"Have you practiced at all since your last lesson?"
The mute opening and closing of her mouth around an awkward apology gave me her answer, though her song had already told me all I needed to know. Finally, she settled on an excuse. "It is this harp. I cannot seem to get used to it. The strings--"
"Only a poor musician blames his instrument. If you had practiced, you would have become used to it." Well, at least she had the good sense to blush. "I expect you to come to your lessons prepared. When you do not, you waste my time and your parents' money."
In moments like this-- and I must add that she was not the only student I had been forced to reprimand-- I regretted my decision to teach. I happily played and composed, and even consulted with other musicians, but teaching was not one of my strengths. Perhaps if it had been, I might have fared better in convincing Thingol of the value of the Cirth. I priced my lessons high, hoping to weed the dilettantes from those committed to learning; but in the main that strategy only secured the patronage of social climbers. They were willing to travel from as far afield as Tírion, and willing to pay any price to play an instrument with surpassing mediocrity, as long as that price garnered them the ability to say that they or their offspring had learned their unremarkable skills from Daeron, erstwhile Loremaster of Doriath.
I stopped her when she lifted her fingers to the strings once more. "That is enough for now." I don't think either of us wished to hear that particular tune again today. Perhaps ever. She quickly packed away her harp, a lovely and expensive instrument entirely unsuitable for a beginner, in its finely-embroidered bag, bowed, and left as swiftly as she decently could, sand still slipping inexorably through the hourglass.
With the remains of the day now free, I turned my attention to my own work, sifting through the sheets and scrolls scattered across the length of the table, simple études and stunted drafts which had failed to yield fruit after the initial blossom of inspiration: all the usual detritus of a failed creative effort. I found nothing there on which I wished to work, so I turned instead to my own harp, and sought the long sun of the fading afternoon. I worked at the scales and exercises as I had done every day since my youth to maintain my agility, simple things done by rote. While satisfying after a fashion, my heart was not in them, and they did not fulfill any desire to create or sate my thirst for some new work. They merely kept my fingers limber.
My last triumph-- the only work I had done in Valinor that I believed held any merit-- had been composed to celebrate the return of Elu Thingol from the Halls of Waiting, a paean to a lost king returned to his glory. In it, I had woven all my memories of Doriath, from the glittering halls of Menegroth to the dance of the hemlock-umbels of Neldoreth. I sang of the rushing of Sirion and the crooning of Aros and the laughter of the Esgaluin. I chanted the names of those we had loved, those we had lost, and those who had returned. Thingol had graced me with a knowing look from the dais on which he sat, and then his eyes closed as he breathed in the story. Melian's hand had curled around his, no doubt sending him visions of their past together in that green and faraway land. For a moment, all who had gathered to listen had been returned to a time and place long vanished, the scent of linden blossoms in their nostrils, the velvet of moss beneath their feet, and the glittering gold of Esgaliant as the sun traced its arch across the river. That is why I sing; that is the music for which I strive: the music that holds memory, that binds us inextricably to the past.
But many years had come and gone since then, and in that time my heart had failed to truly soar in composition. The spark of inspiration had not come to me, and no living verse had blossomed in my imagination or rushed out of my fingertips. My mind was, as it had always been, fertile with ideas... but the ideas failed to germinate, and for every green seed of thought I carefully tended, only weak and stunted themes took root. For commissioned work, I never lacked. I even found some of it quite interesting. Music still held my joy, but that joy had become mundane, pleasing to the ear, but...but not alive. With each piece I finished, I examined it for signs of my detachment, fearing I would be unmasked, and that they would say "Ah, Daeron! Once he was the most gifted of singers, but now he merely trades silver for doggerel and meaningless tunes!" I felt that I was no longer a loremaster at all, but merely a minstrel, writing songs to please an audience, carols lacking weight and gravity and the incomparable magic of the ancient lays.
Finrod Felagund nearly bested Sauron in the dungeons of Tol-in-Gaurhoth with a song, and Lúthien had roused the intransigent heart of Mandos to compassion, buying an altered fate for her Mortal beloved; what had I done lately but teach and pluck a few strings at a wedding feast and browbeat a disinterested girl over a threshing song no one else had cared to sing for hundreds of years?
Deep purple skies and the slight nip of night air reminded me that I had now been engaged rather too long in introspection. I abandoned all pretense of practicing and shuffled through a small pile of invitations waiting on a small table by the door, each requesting my presence at some function or another, some party, some event someone wished to document. I had no intention of attending any of them; the benefit of my reputation for an 'artistic temperament' allowed me some leeway to ignore an invitation without causing offense, though I tried to abuse that leeway only enough to perpetuate the reputation. If I have learned one thing in all my time, it is that people prefer their artists peculiar. They expect it, even, and who am I not to give them what they expect? In any case, the Elves in the north had the Lambengolmor to satisfy them, though I thought them more a guild of gossipmongers than loremasters, and I told myself I would just as soon spend my evenings composing in solitude than garnering a sycophantic following for singing rondelets for Noldor with gold to burn.
Yet at the heart of it was simply that my inability to create wore on me, made me surly and listless.
Valinor, for all its beauty, could be stultifying. No evil threatened us here-- not now, in any case-- and no deeds of great heroism arose in the face of peace and prosperity. Of bliss and glad life there was little to be said, before it ended. Works fair and wonderful were their own record, and only when they were in peril or broken for ever did they pass into song. On occasion, some legendary figure emerged from the Halls of Waiting to much rejoicing, and to the recounting of old deeds and past battles and glorious deaths, and it seemed almost as if those who gathered to hear those histories sung savored the pangs of remembered strife. Eat enough honey and you will eventually find yourself with a yearning for vinegar, if only to remind your tongue the meaning of sweetness.
The knock on my door was as unwelcome as it was unanticipated, and at first I contrived not to hear it at all. Someone ill-mannered enough to call at such an hour had earned my insolence. But when the knock came again, louder this time, and more insistent, I vacillated between concern that something had happened, hope that something might happen, and annoyance at the intrusion. In any case, I had little choice but to answer the door, and it was well that I did, for it would hardly have been appropriate for an Elf to blatantly ignore a visit from a Maia. There stood, framed in preternatural radiance, Eönwë, the Herald of Manwë. I bowed and bid him come inside, but he shook his head.
"I am come only to deliver a message: you have been summoned to attend my lord Manwë in Valmar."
Summoned? I had few dealings with the Powers of Arda save for Vairë, who had called upon me once, soon after I had come to Valinor, to play for her while she wove. She had spoken little to me while I attended her, save to request a recounting of one event or another, but I had felt the song pulled out of me like a silver thread, and I knew that I had never sang more perfectly than on that day. I could see the music as it was drawn from my heart, like silk from a spindle. She drew the song into the weft of her tapestry, my harp like a shuttle, and set the memory in the cloth. I had hoped often enough that she might call for me again, but she had not; I suppose a Queen of the Valar who weaves the story of the world has little need of my comparatively meager skills. Perhaps Manwë wished for me to play for him, as well. It would be an uncounted honor, not to mention a validation for which I had long hungered.
"Shall I bring my harp? What should I prepare?"
But Eönwë only shook his head again. "I cannot say; I do not know for what reason he has called you. Yet you are storied among the loremasters as the greatest of their number, and should Manwë wish for a song, it would not become your stature to be ill-prepared to honor him with such."
I felt foolish for asking now, and assured the herald that I would leave for Tanequitil at first light, though the journey would not be swift.
"One of the great Eagles has assented to bear you there as a favor to my lord," he informed me, "there is no need for you to bear the hardships of travel."
As the greatest of the loremasters, "Oh," was all I could think of to say.
His duty thus discharged, Eönwë smiled an arcane smile, bade me good night, and turned away, vanishing into the shadows as he left.
Flight, glorious flight!
From Landroval's back, I could see the whole of the land laid out before me: the bold green canopies of Oromë's forests, the snow-capped peaks of the Pelori, the fair lights of Tirion, and the motley patchwork of farmlands, villages, and cities sprawling ever outward across Eldamar. I felt my face buffeted by clouds, protected from the cold winds by the Eagle's thick feathers, feathers to which I clung with all my strength when he pulled up from a steady descent, fanning out his tail feathers and beating hard against the air until we settled on what seemed, to me, to be a perilously steep perch. Whatever request Manwë made of me, it would be worth the gift to have been given such a rarefied view of Valinor. I reveled in the feeling of weightlessness and the freedom of gliding on unseen currents, even the plummeting of my stomach at our landing, committing all of my impressions to memory that I might manufacture some ode to Landroval in thanks. When Eönwë came to escort me to Ilmarin, I barely had time to school my giddy grin into an appropriately thoughtful look. Though I could not be sure, I thought I recognized a smirk on his face.
Slinging my harp over my back, I followed Eönwë into the great hall, and after some time, a page called for me and brought me before the Lord of the Breath of Arda. Though cloaked in the shape of a man, Manwë was at the same time more man than I, and somehow not mannish at all. His great height would humble even the giants among us, and in his eyes, blue and deep and fathomless as sea and sky, no secret could be hidden and no thought concealed. He was both more substantial than the throne upon which he sat, and simultaneously more ethereal; had I the temerity to reach out and touch him, my hand might have passed through those fine azure robes into nothingness, or meet the simulacrum of flesh. Vairë had been neither so intimidating nor so grand. I bowed low to him, and then waited for him to speak, counting the seconds of his long and unnerving appraisal.
"How may I serve you, my lord," I asked, my voice too well trained to sound anything less than strong and unfaltering, despite how my knees were near to buckling.
Manwë wasted no words. His voice resonated within my head and without. "Makalaurë, second son of Fëanor, has been summoned to return to Aman to plead for the lives of his brothers, that they might, in time, be released from the Halls of Waiting."
My jaw dropped. "My lord, surely you cannot--"
"He has been summoned." His voice held finality, ringing like a hammer against an anvil.
A thousand memories flooded my mind: of wholesale slaughter, of the death of my King, of all the miseries wrought directly and indirectly by Fëanor's sons-- all for baubles and an ill-made oath. I thought as well of my own ancient ache: a fated meeting, the most brilliant music I had ever made, a burgeoning partnership of hearts and minds more fulfilling than I had ever dared hope to find...all laid to waste when Maglor and his brothers brought bloodshed to my door. "If you wish for me to sing in celebration of his return, I must humbly decline."
"No, Loremaster," he said, "I daresay you will like your appointed task rather less than that. You will return to Endórë, you will find Kanafinwë Makalaurë, and you will bring him to me."
"What?" I had forgotten myself in my outrage, and did not even try to correct my error. Few strictures had ever been laid upon the Elves, but what few there were, the sons of Fëanor had managed to willfully ignore or brazenly pervert. They had murdered their own kind in cold blood; they had taken children from their families; they had ground the kingdom of my birth to dust under their boot-heels. Showing no mercy for others, they now deserved no mercy themselves.
Manwë did not repeat himself, but looked at me with such sternness that I reflexively swallowed and straightened my spine. "It is not your place, túrelindo, to pass judgment on matters beyond your ken," he chastised, "nor to question the will of the Wise. This task is yours, and yours alone."
I could not stay my tongue from asking, and the words fell from my mouth like water over falls, beyond all hope of recalling. "But why, my lord? Why has Maglor been granted amnesty, and why does it fall to me to find him?"
"Come here, child. See."
He set his hand upon my head. A vision came into my mind, and with it, a song: Two children, alike in form, ragged and bloodied... the scent of fire still clinging to their tattered tunics, the nearly palpable frisson of their abject terror...long, fine fingers gently closing their eyes...an ancient lullaby sung with such sweetness that I wished to curl myself around its refrain and sink into sleep...
...Then, a later time: the boys, older now, laughing and playing with a man whose face I knew well...one of the young ones sitting in his lap, his large hands guiding the boy's smaller ones over the strings...the whisper of a song in a small, foliate ear, the likes of which I had never heard before nor ever would again: the tale of a man who found his peace in a cave by the sea-- it is an intimate song, the song a father might sing to a beloved son. I am not meant to hear it, yet still the voice paints quiet words of simple joy, and the boy smiles...
So many visions I am given, one following another: a rising king of Men, grey Elvish eyes closing in a Mortal's death...the discordant clash of swords, the howl of strife, the ache of despair... in time, the fair visage of Elrond of Imladris, kind and wise and mournful, comes to me, and I follow the line of his house to its end: the bitter loss of the daughter who made Lúthien's choice.
So this, then, is what I have gleaned: that by Maglor's mercy, Elrond and Elros survived the slaughter of the Sirion, and by Maglor's wisdom, they were reared to greatness that they might take their fated places in Ilúvatar's song. And for the many great deeds of the house of Elrond, and as recompense for the sacrifice of his beloved daughter, the Valar have been moved to pity. Maglor will earn his life back with a song.
Manwë's voice resounded in my head and in the chamber like a chime. "It is time."
I do not understand, I said without speaking. Time for what?
"Those who fell have come to the world anew. The Silmarilli rest in the earth, the air, and the water, protected from evil and corruption."
"But their oath--"
I fell to my knees when the next vision came, for it was awesome and terrible and I was ill-prepared: churning black clouds roiling above the Pelori, the sun and the moon cast into the darkness of eternal night, Oromë's horn erupting in a call to arms, and blood glistening on Eonwë's brilliant armor. I see Túrin Turambar holding his sword aloft, and Yavanna's hand reaching out for three stones glowing with the hope of light, lithe fingers stretching to take them, elongating, becoming branches of silver and gold. And then it is ripped from my mind, fading like a dream upon waking. The harder I tried to latch on to one of the dissipating images, the more quickly it dissolved; I was not yet meant to know what I had seen, and I was left, instead, with only the memory of a distant storm.
"Some things there are that we cannot see," Manwë explained, taking back the last flickering pictures from my mind's eye, "neither alone nor taking counsel together; for to none but Himself has Ilúvatar revealed all that He has in store, and in every age there come forth things that are new and have no foretelling, for they do not proceed from the past."
"You will depart at the turn of the tide." Eönwë guided me to my feet. "Olwë will provide you with the strongest and fastest of his boats; Ulmo will bear you forth, and return you when you have found Makalaurë."
"How will I even know where to look?" I asked, a mixture of desperation and resignation, a final, pathetic salley against Manwë's implacable will.
But the High King of Arda merely granted me an inscrutable look and raised his hand, casually dismissing me as if he had not just turned my life on its ear for his own ineffable reasons. The doors behind me opened, and with that, my audience was over.
Eönwë escorted me to Alqualondë the next morning and I could hardly bring myself to look at him. Anger stiffened my limbs and sped my gait.
"You already knew what he would ask of me when you came to me," I demanded, "didn't you."
Eönwë lifted one hand noncommittally. "I inferred. Where is your harp?"
I did not answer the question. "You are his herald; this ought to fall to you!" My words jabbed at him like the impotent little fists of fury which they were. "Why haven't you been sent to make good your own folly? Your soft-heartedness allowed Maglor and Maedhros to go free after they had committed cold-blooded murder right under your nose!"
My anger did not touch him. "I would do the same again. It was not my place to mete out punishment when their fates awaited them elsewhere, and it is not my place to undertake a task that was given to you.
"Now, Daeron," he continued, taking on the tone that a parent might take with a recalcitrant child, "I will ask you again: where is your harp?"
I had left it in my room at the inn where I had passed the night. I had no intention of bringing it with me. Though some traitorous part of my brain had argued that I might use my anger to my own advantage, to mine it for some greater work, I had left it behind. I had not even the time nor the means to arrange for its transport back to my home, but the loss of a harp was not worth as much as the loss of my pride. Had my anger brought out some song in me, I would owe that song at least in part to the one who inspired it, for good or ill, and I would not be indebted to Maglor for that.
"I will not bring it," I told him. "I have no need of it. My task is to find Maglor and and return him to face the Valar, not to sing rounds with him." Even to my own ears, my words sounded sharp and unappealing. A penurious spirit, a more steadfast bit of my mind reproofed, can create no music at all. The rough clasp of Eönwë's broad hand on my arm seemed to echo this thought, and when I turned to face him, I saw an expression of concern and frustration in equal parts.
"Whence your animosity toward Makalaurë?" he asked.
The sharpness of my laughter was not a pretty sound. "Need I elucidate the deeds of Fëanor's offspring for you?"
"Those are abstract reasons. Why are you so angry? Do you see him as a threat? Petty jealousy is unbecoming."
But that was not it. I, who made my livelihood and reputation on eloquence, could not put into words the pain and disappointment and the loss of my last great hope. In Maglor, I believed I had at last found a partner, a glorious rival, one who aspired to greatness with his own music, and who inspired me in mine. A companion who understood our calling, the hard-won victories and daily defeats of a creative life. But through omission, he had deceived me. That alone I might have forgiven; there are many kinds of partnership, after all. But I lay the ruin of Doriath at his feet, and no matter that Elu Thingol and all the others had returned, I did not believe I possessed the capacity for forgiveness.
"This is no mean errand, Daeron. Manwë chose you over all others to find Makalaurë and bear him these tidings. His life, and the lives of many others, will be changed forever by the news you bear."
It would have been unconscionably rude for me to shake free of his grasp, but the impulse bubbled just beneath my skin. "I cannot find the charity of spirit required for the task."
"Then perhaps," Eönwë said, guiding me up the gangway and giving me a firm but gentle shove onto the deck of the ship, "you have not looked hard enough."
The taciturn and hard-bitten Teleri manning the ship left me to my own devices, save to occasionally request that I go below decks when the waters grew choppy, and to stay out of the way of the endless ropes and canvass that made up the complex arrangement of sails. Strange, how little we had in common when we had risen nearly from the same spring. Perhaps I simply did not have the call of the sea in my heart; though I had dwelt long by its shores I had not wished to travel upon the water, but only to learn its songs.
I had not been on a ship since I had left Middle-earth. I had not liked it then, nor did I like it now: it felt, somehow, like defeat. I had come to Valinor disconsolate, awash in self-pity. The woman I had loved had not loved me, and had compounded the insult by cleaving to a mortal man and dying with him. The man I might have loved was a bloodthirsty infidel. The king I had served had been murdered and the home of my birth sacked. The world as I had known it had been destroyed and remade in an unfamiliar shape: beloved forests burned to ash and majestic mountains crumbled before sinking beneath the furious sea. This new world had no need for poets, but only for warriors. The younger generations raced headlong into the fray, riding for victory and glory; they wished to be the subject of epics, not the audience for them. Now I returned to that place of dashed hopes and humiliations: Middle-earth was my past, and I spent enough time looking back to it in my songs that I had little wish to do it with my body. The fact that I did so now for Maglor's sake made it all the more galling.
Time passed with naught but the glassy water stretching out around us on all sides, but on one particular day, a fog descended upon the ship like a shroud. Its touch left my skin unpleasantly damp. I wondered how the mariners could possibly steer through the impregnable gloom, but knew better than to say anything lest I cause offense, or evoke some sinister omen. Only in hindsight did I understand that we were passing out of the realm of Valinor and back into the mortal world, riding the Straight Road down to the curve of the earth. I stood entranced on the deck, silver mists wrapping around me like a living, breathing membrane. I felt the slick caress of fish scales, saw the shimmer of pearls through the clouds. I moved, guided by an unseen hand, to stand near the prow where the great arched neck of the swan rose from the water. The miasma cleared just enough for me to watch the parting of the waters as the boat plowed onward, foamy wake like cygnet's down flowering against the hull. How long I stood there, I do not know. I knew nothing in that time but the brume and the water, ancient and everlasting, unchanging and enduring, and it humbled me: all my life's work, my regrets, my fears...all of it was nothing to the song of the ceaseless sea, and all my thousands of years of living did not signify to that which had always been, and always would be.
When I opened my eyes, the sky had cleared leaving no trace of mist behind, as if it had never been. The mariners bustled about their business and trimmed their sails with bored efficiency, tending to their tasks as if they had seen nothing at all, had not been sailing blindly through impermeable haze for hours, or perhaps days, on end. A new weight hung on my shoulders and a strange sensation sat upon my skin. I was clad in a cloak that was not my own. It glittered in the sun with the luminescence of nacre. I had sung the lay of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin often enough to recognize the provenance of the cloak and the magic it contained. It offered me the protection of invisibility, which would be necessary now that the Secondborn no longer remembered my kind. The last ship had sailed from the Grey Havens long ago, and many generations of men had lived and died without knowing the Elves, and at last even the memory of our presence in this land had languished and died. My task, the cloak reminded me, was not without dangers, and Maglor was the least of them.
A staggering shoreline, like the torn edge of a scroll, came into view. Further down, a ramshackle quay jutted lamely into the water, the work of mortal hands and not of recent vintage, but I sensed that the boat would not put in at any Man-made haven, and in this I was correct. The mariners put me to shore on a jolly-boat. I watched them rowing back to the ship in the risig vapors, my legs loose at the joints after so long on the water. I turned back once to look, but the mists had closed around the ship, protecting it from the short-seeing and suspicious eyes of men. I felt the lack of magic here like a flattening of my senses, a dullness to the colors of the landscapes that spoke to a land caught in the web of slow decay, and Valinor seemed all the brighter to me now for the contrast. I had wandered similar shores singing my grief for many years. Had it been so dreary then, or had it only become so under the eroding influence of time? Little wonder we had departed: to bear witness to this inexorable withering would have broken our hearts. I bundled myself more tightly in Ulmo's cloak and walked on. The sooner this chore was completed, the sooner I could leave this place of sorrows.
Gulls dipped and reeled in the overcast sky, calling plaintively. When I had finally reached Lindon all those years ago, determined to depart, their cries had wracked me like a physical blow. I have tried more than once to recreate their song in my own music, but I have not come close to capturing the longing that sound evoked in my heart, longing which had been resolved in me when at last I had reached the Elvenhome. Here, their song echoed and rebounded, caught in the bay and trapped there, circling, unfamiliar and sadder than any sound I had ever heard. I knew, of course, who had taught them to sing so mournfully, and I wondered how he could stand to linger so near to that sound and the yearning it evoked even in me, a transient visitor. I would not need to seek much further.
Sand gave way to rock, and the strand to a barren stretch of dirt which may or may not have been a road once. If it had been, it was long abandoned. Farther still lay a dark copse, and my heart told me that this was the way. I ventured deep within the trees, treading silently across a carpet of many seasons' dead leaves, looking closely for any signs of habitation, but it needn't have made such an effort. Obscured not only by trees, but by ancient magics not dissimilar to the cloak upon my shoulders, I saw that a simple stone croft within a clearing nearby, a star with eight rays and eight spikes carved in the lintel should anyone require confirmation of its tenant.
I was not so bold as to enter his home uninvited, but I peered through the open shutters and found a simple abode, neatly kept, with a bedstead, a small table with two caned chairs, and a banked cooking fire smoldering in a small but serviceable hearth. A bear hide covered part of the earthen floor. It shouldn't have angered me-- after all, it would have been far more vexing to burn days in fruitless searching-- and yet it did. In my mind, I had imagined him dwelling in some primitive cave, sleeping wild with only leaves and branches to cover him, though a moment's consideration would have suggested that a mind as keen and shrewd as Maglor's, and possessing the innate cleverness of his father's line, would hardly have kept himself in squalor. It did not stop me from wishing that the condition of his dwellings might reflect the condition of his soul. Still, that it was a mere peasant hut with unglazed windows and a dirt floor ought to have been some comfort.
I stood motionless and invisible on the threshold, waiting for him to return from wherever it was he spent his days, and at last he came, an unstrung bow in one hand, a dead pheasant in the other. He appeared mainly as I remembered him, but his body had an insubstantial look to it, translucent, as if it were not flesh and bone and sinew that held him to the earth, but sheer force of will and some inextinguishable inner flame. But if time and loneliness had leached the color from his body, they had not tarnished the bold symmetry of his features nor softened their lines. Pellucid grey eyes, sharp as broken glass, tracked the trees before him from beneath a stern brow, and his mouth curved down in a grim arch. He cut a figure handsome but spare, exceedingly fair in that perfectly-wrought fashion of the Eldar. He carried himself tall and proud, even in the empty woods.
Shielded by Ulmo's cloak, I looked upon him unseen for longer than was strictly seemly and tried not to feel unsporting for it. He trod warily as he grew near; he could probably have discerned the disguise if he had set his mind to it, but it had likely not occurred to him that anyone might come looking for him. I savored this moment of his wary discomfort, knowing it would likely be my last opportunity to do so openly, though when he stepped close enough that I could hear the rapid beating of his heart, I held my breath, and it was all I could do not to step back from his proximity and give myself away.
He turned and looked right through me, dropping the bird and curling his hand around the handle of the hunting knife that hung from his belt. "Who goes there?" His voice was neither strong nor resonant. It was husky, and rasped with disuse, like the creaking hinge on a warped wooden door. "I know someone is there," he said with growing conviction, his keen eyes narrowing as he slowly pivoted and scanned the grove, turning away from me. "Reveal yourself!"
A moment more, and I would have been discovered whether I willed it or no. Not wishing to lose my advantage, or to take a knife to the gut, I did as he commanded and threw back the cloak. He turned and stared at me, mouth gaping, pale face losing the final vestiges of its color and turning as blank and cold as the moon.
"You..." His legs buckled, and he sank to his knees beside the dead pheasant in the leaves. His face turned up to mine wearing an expression of wonder and misery.
"Yes," I said. "Me."
Chapter 2: Cacaphony
I had expected a great display of emotion at the tidings I brought him-- a shout of joy, perhaps, or an overly boisterous and uncomfortable embrace to express his gratitude, even a river of tears-- but it seemed that the second son of Fëanor was bound to perpetually disappoint me. His response, when I told him that the Valar had recalled him to his natal land with the possibility of amnesty for his brothers, was silence, and an expression of pained unhappiness.
"I will not go. I cannot."
Recovering from my initial shock and outrage at his utter ingratitude, I told him that he had no choice. "It is my responsibility to bring you back, and I will not suffer the indignity of failure on your account."
He made a scoffing noise that did not square with the look of trepidation on his face. "I am thankful for the mercy of the Powers, but it is not only their mercy I must beg. The memory of the Elves is long, and such crimes as mine are beyond forgetting. How am I even to begin to justify the actions of my brothers? And what life would I have there, hounded and reviled? If the Valar truly wished for my return, better they should send me to the Halls of Waiting with the rest of my blood and leave me there till the last unmaking." Even in defeat he was rebellious.
"The Powers offer you a chance you don't deserve, and you wring your hands and say 'alas for me, I cannot accept it'? Self-pity is tiresome and unbecoming."
Maglor sat on the edge of his narrow bed, dropping his head into his hands. "I need more time."
I waved my arms in frustration. "For what? What could possibly keep you here? Everything worth taking from this hovel could fit in a single sack!" He looked stupid as a cow, and just as disinclined to move. I was sorely tempted to break off a switch from one of the trees outside and drive him out the door like a herdsman. Yet when he looked up at me, the his eyes held the flinty shine of tempered steel, and a look of determination fueled by that inextinguishable flame of his spirit.
"I have one chance, Daeron-- one chance-- to redeem myself. I will not be rushed."
Such insolence! Only the line of Finwë would be so bold as to answer a summons from Manwë with the proclamation that he 'will not be rushed.' "Compose it on the boat!" I barked. "The journey is long enough!" This, even though I knew it was a ridiculous thing to say. If we could simply sit down and create at will, I might have turned out a new song every day of my life. Had someone made such a cavalier suggestion to me, I would have seen it as inexcusable ignorance or an affront. But Maglor did not look affronted. He did not even look angry. He looked stricken.
"Very well," I conceded with a sigh. "How much time will you need?"
"It has been so long..." his voice, when he whispered, was rough and uneven, as if each word had been drawn out of a mire.
He has been living in silence. I sang most every day, and not because the discipline of my art demanded it, but for the sheer joy of it, for the feeling of my lungs expanding and my throat opening and the note spinning forward on my breath. I sang to myself, or to the trees, or to the sky. I would find a life without song unbearable. I considered again his tenuous physical form, his protracted half-life, and realized that the lack of music was killing him just as surely as it would have killed me. In time, his spirit-- houseless, restless, voiceless-- would be caught on the wind, mute and despairing. This song would not only be the key to his brothers' fates, but to his own.
"Please," he rose abruptly, "sit." Stilted speech feigned geniality, as if we had not spoken of the Valar's pardon, or his return, or his mulish refusal. "I did not mean to leave you standing. I am a poor host." I started to decline, for I had no intention of tarrying longer than necessary, but when he swept out one of the reed-backed chairs from its place at the table, I saw that the caning was still stiff and taut across the seat. Untouched. An unexpected wave of sympathy tightened my stomach. I sat.
"I am unaccustomed to company." A rueful smile played at the corner of his mouth. "I can offer little in the way of hospitality." He moved anxiously about the room, opening and closing cupboards. It hurt my head to watch his solicitous dance. "Tomorrow, I will hunt for larger game, but for tonight there is only the bird, and an apple or two. You may take the bed; I will make up a pallet--"
"No." I was unwilling to accept his hospitality, with all that it entailed, or to watch him fretting about the place like a flustered bride, though I suppose I might have been more polite in my refusal. "I would prefer to go back to the ship. I will return in three days' time. Perhaps you will feel more prepared for departure then." I had done my part: I had found him and delivered Manwë's message. The rest was up to him.
Days stretched into weeks, always with the same maddening refrain: "I am not ready. I have nothing to give." I spoke to him as little as necessary not only because I wished to maintain the distance between us, but because I assumed he would not want the distraction. When I composed, I preferred to be left quite alone, though he had told me once that he had learned to work wherever he could, a house with six brothers offering little in the way of solitude. But that had been a long time ago.
One morning, I woke to an ebb tide, the song of the bay muted and serene: scuttling crabs and the perpetual, undulating slap of low-breaking waves. The pale light of the early sky made jewels out of the tiny pools left by receding water. Depressions in the sand marked a path as if the tide had run toward the heart of the sea on a thousand pounding feet. Though nothing disturbed the peace of the morning, the derelict jetty rudely interrupting the shoreline and the briny scent of decay sent up by seaweed languishing on the strand gave the place a feral look, like a dog too long neglected to remember that it had once been a pet and not a wolf.
I gave the door of the little forest cottage two hard knocks and then entered with no further warning. Maglor sat on one of the hard chairs, staring at the packed earth floor. I do not think he had slept.
"Well?" I said, impatient with his torpor "Have you made progress?"
Shaking his head, he took a pot from the fire and poured water for tea. I could see ridges of scars creeping around the edge of his hand where it grasped the handle, angry and red. He gestured to the table with his free hand: he had set a breakfast of fruits and nuts and quail eggs. I did not particularly wish to break bread with him or to be reminded of his isolation, for it reminded me far too much of my own. I could have told him that I had broken my fast on the ship, but my growling stomach demanded acquiescence. Besides, I was sick to death of salted fish and waybread and the musty ale which had made up my diet on the crossing. He looked at me repeatedly as we ate, which I pretended not to notice. I drained my cup and pushed away my plate.
"Why did they send you?" he asked as he cleared the dishes. "I would have thought Eonwë --"
"Oh, so it is not enough that I have come?" I snapped. "Perhaps you overestimate your value!"
Maglor looked taken aback. "Truly, I meant no offense, Daeron. Your presence honors me... I was simply curious."
I reined in my irritation to answer him, ignoring his flattery. "I have no more understanding of it than you. I would have thought any of a number of others better suited. An old friend of the family, perhaps. Fingon the Valiant was always a great champion of your house, was he not? Or of your brother, at least."
A wistful smile graced his face at Fingon's name, and for a moment, millennia of care and woe vanished. He looked the youthful beauty that I remembered. "Maitimo's heart would burst for joy to know his Káno is hearty and whole." The smile faded as quickly as it had come, and the cloud of care returned. "My father...is he--"
"His life is forfeit." Pain showed on Maglor's face, but also relief. "Surely you did not expect--"
"No. But it seemed only right that I ask." He made a noise in the back of his throat, the by-blow of laughter and despair. "A dutiful son would be expected to ask."
"And you are nothing," I said flatly, "if not a dutiful son."
Silence descended upon the little room, pensive and thick. I dispelled it with more sharp words. "So, your father's task come to naught, how have you occupied your time? Aside from high crimes and carving your family crest into fieldstones, that is."
"Do you think I have been idle all these many years?" For the first time, he displayed some temper and animation. I could practically feel his hackles rising like a wolf's. "Do you imagine I have cravenly hidden myself away while the world around me fell to darkness?"
"No," I taunted, "I am well aware that you never shirked from taking up a sword, even if it was turned upon some hapless youth defending his father's boat, or raised to chase an unarmed woman off a cliff."
Self-possessed as ever, Maglor bore the insult with equanimity, though I could hear his teeth grinding behind the tight flesh of his jaw. "On the eve of war, no man questions the appearance of a stranger willing to lend their sword, and in the heat of battle, the man who fights beside you will not be looking to see if you are a fugitive. So when Sauron paraded my nephew's broken body through the ruins of Ost-en-Edhil, I was there. When the host of the West gathered before the Black Gate, I was there. When Elf, Man and Dwarf mustered in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain, I was there. And at the last, on the Field of Cormallen, when Sauron fell at last to the great armies of Men, I was there. I have done what I could to atone for my deeds, and to defend this land from the tyranny of evil.
"And where did you go after you had betrayed the one you claimed to love, punishing her not once, but twice, for not returning your selfish affections? As I heard tell, you ripped the strings from your harp to weave a lash and wandered about the wilds for a few years, flaying your back with remorse until you grew weary of performing without an audience. Then, what, singing for your supper in Lindon until you could make your passage to Valinor?"
Blood rushed hot to my face, I seethed with outrage, but also with shame: he had come close enough to the truth. It was one thing to poke a toothless wolf, another to discover the beast still had teeth.
"Why the Valar will show you pity, I cannot fathom," I spat. "Better you had died and save me this pointless and interminable journey!"
"I did not ask you to come here!" he fired back.
Furious, I rose and shouted him down: "I did not ask to be sent!"
With no further hope of civil conversation between us, I stormed out of the cottage, slamming the door behind me, while a little voice within my mind chided me for my unnecessary cruelty and the utter lack of creativity in my exit.
Chapter 3: Polyphony
I returned the next day, looking sheepish. By a mutual and silent accord, we both behaved as if nothing had happened.
We made desultory small-talk over a light meal, and then Maglor brought out a bottle of green liquor from a cupboard. I wondered how he had procured it-- theft? trade? perhaps he had a still hidden deeper in the woods-- but thought it best not to inquire. He poured us both a small measure and set the bottle on the table. The sun flooding across the table created a pale green nimbus around it. I took a swallow and coughed, wishing I had been more judicious.
"Potent," I sputtered.
He smiled. "Tonic, as well. But yes, it is best sipped slowly."
"Might have mentioned that," I grumbled, but the taste of hyssop and anise was sweet on my tongue now that I had become accustomed to its bracing sting. "I know what you are doing, by the by." I looked at him askance, his body partially obscured by the bottle. "You are hoping to loosen my tongue."
I meant it half in jest, but he nodded solemnly, looking down at his ruined hand. "Will you tell me, Daeron? Have they..." he paused and cleared his throat, hesitating before he began again, and his faltering put me in mind of my student, the silly young girl with the threshing song. Such discomposure was unnatural in a son of a line in whom self-assurance had been bred into the bone. "Have they returned? Those who--"
Those who died? Those whom I slew in fruitless pursuit of my father's jewels? What words would he have selected to craft his lyrics now, had he the wherewithal to speak them? "I was not provided with a roster."
My flippancy had stung him, that much was clear on his face. I am not inherently cruel, nor do I regularly gain satisfaction in another's pain, but again I had shown myself a small man, and I disliked how easily he drew that out of me. "I have told you what I know. I live among Thingol's folk in the forests of Oromë, and news comes to us slowly. Unless someone of some great renown emerges, we rarely hear of it. Though many, I think, have come: I am told that the harbors in Alquolondë are nigh filled to capacity-- that suggests the Teleri thrive, yes?"
I had wondered, in the case of blameless victims-- or the mainly blameless victims, for every man had some burden to bear on his soul-- why Mandos had even held them at all. Perhaps it was a test of the living rather than the dead, to see what enmity would foment in the hearts and minds of those left behind, to judge the weight of their loss. It seemed a cruel and needless trial, but I would not have put it past the Valar, who seemed so dispassionately curious about the ways of our hearts and distantly fascinated by meddling with them. "If so many of the great warriors of old walk again beneath the stars in the West, then I can only imagine that those folk who--" I chose my words carefull; a poet knows there are a thousand ways to say the wrong thing, but very few ways to say the right-- "those who had less blood charged to their accounts would have completed their time of respite long ago. But I cannot say this with certainty."
"Well reasoned," he nodded, not meeting my eyes. The sudden warmth of his hand covering mine surprised me, and he did not immediately pull away, even when my fingers twitched beneath his. "Thank you," he said.
I could not remember when last I had held another's hand, my mind had been so long turned away against matters of the heart. Once, I had been made a fool by loving wildly and unwisely, and I had come perilously close to repeating my folly a second time. I had grown to prefer solitude intermittently interrupted by cordial encounters to pursuing a third disastrous courtship. Disturbed by the lingering touch, I turned the conversation toward a subject conspicuous to me for a lack of curiosity on his part. I thought it best to nip the flower of sympathy I felt for him in the bud.
"You have not asked about your wife."
My words broke the spell. His hand withdrew, and my own was left colder for its absence. I took another sip from my cup so that I could peer into its depths rather than into his face.
"Aurenyellë. Yes...of course... how does she fare?"
"Since she is so clearly in the forefront of your thoughts, it will give you great ease to know that the Valar saw fit to annul your espousal long ago. I am told she sued for disunion soon after you burned the ships at Losgar, and it was a great kindness they did her in granting it; I cannot fathom the life she would have had as the wife of a kinslayer, forsaken by all who remained."
The turn of his mouth was more rictus than smile. "That is well for her, then."
"I did not know you were married." The thought that had once weighed heavily on me sounded painfully simplistic now that I had an opportunity to give it voice. "You might have told me and spared my pride."
Turning his grey, weary gaze on me, he said, "She was not in my heart, nor in my mind, but I suppose that is paltry consolation." He pushed the bottle aside, out of the patch of sunlight and leaned forward across the table. "I did not intentionally deceive you, Daeron. She and I were very young when we wed, and we had little time together. When I met you, she and I had been married for twenty-eight years, and I had not seen her for twenty-five of them. I cannot imagine coming home to her now as a husband. Even if she did not despise me, we would be strangers to one another." He took a breath, as if to say something else, then stopped.
"Your pangs of conscience warm my heart. Truly."
Maglor's eyes narrowed, and I braced myself for another lash from his sharp tongue-- likely well deserved-- but in the end, he only took a breath and shook his head. "My father married young, and encouraged us to follow his example. I believe he had it in mind to raise himself an army out of the sons of his sons. It availed him little in the end. Nelyo had eyes for no-one but Findekáno, much to father's eternal chagrin. Curvo and Carnistir happily complied-- Curvo surpassed us all, of course. He usually did. Tyelkormo..." He looked at me almost apologetically. "Suffice it to say, he did not have a gentle hand for wooing women. Pitya and Telvo were too young-- " his face crumpled, and for the first time, I thought I would see his tears, but he restrained himself, saying again, emphatically, "They were too young."
"And you?" I asked.
"Men, women... I found them all beautiful. That's what it is to be young and idealistic, isn't it? You see beauty all around you: in every face, in every voice; round hips and broad shoulders both have their appeal. I think my father feared I would take after Nelyo in my tastes, and I wanted desperately to please him, then. Aurenyellë was a pretty, tractable thing; she thought it would be quite romantic to marry a bard. I think she hoped I would write epic odes to her beauty."
"Trust me," I grumbled, "they aren't as effective as one might hope."
He laughed then, for the first time, a musical sound-- of course, why would it be anything less?-- and he smiled broadly, the same dazzling smile that had first drawn my notice at Eithel Ivrin. I had gone there expecting to meet my greatest rival, and hoping to best him. I had left with the taste of his kisses still in my mouth and a sheaf of half-written songs I had written either about him or for him-- for us-- to play. Later, I had burned them all.
"That you bore no passionate love for her must have made your situation much more tenable. After all, what's a little infidelity after so many other transgressions?" I regretted my words as soon as I had spoken them, but still too late to recall them. The sustained note of ugliness, like the twang of a broken harp string, did not quickly dissipate, and Maglor's smile, as glorious as it had been brief, retreated behind a stony mask.
"You damn me for keeping an oath in one breath, and damn me for breaking one in the next."
I muttered an apology, more sincere in my heart than it sounded.
Maglor made a dismissive gesture with his hand like a shrug. "It mattered not in any case; for many years, my mind was too consumed with other thoughts to entertain such simple longings. After, my soul was too heavy with grief. I doubt I could have roused myself even had I the inclination to do so, or the opportunity.
"But what of you?" He turned the tables swiftly, giving little time for me to dwell on the notion that, by circumstance, he had lived far more chastely than I, or on the truth that I had been complicit in the very infidelity for which I had rebuked him. "You have had your own travails. I tried to find you, after--" He looked away and swallowed, shame coloring his face at last, though I no longer wished to see it painted there. Besides, I had my own shame to share.
"You had the right of it when you accused me of 'wandering about the wilds, flaying my back with remorse.' Well, not literally, of course, but it amounted to rather the same thing. I'm afraid I had grown rather too enamored with unrequited love as an enduring theme."
This time his smile was guarded, quite nearly suspicious. I could hardly blame him for his circumspection, as I had hardly been kind. I told him about my time in the wilds, the years wasted, and how I had finally gone on to the West and settled in Oromë's woods, so alike to Doriath in its finest hour. "Sometimes, I would come across a particular glade and see a flash of light and shadows, and I would believe for a moment that she was there, laughing and dancing, tormenting me, but inevitably it would turn out to be birds, or the angle of sun through the trees."
"We see what we desire to see," he said, nodding sagely, and I wondered what tricks his eyes had played on him.
"Once I saw the trees again for their own beauty, the ache receded. I emerged from my self-imposed seclusion and accepted engagements to perform my works, and later, I made the dubious decision to teach. I have come to accept that what I had loved most about Lúthien was the idea of her, and her beauty. That facile sort of love and admiration does not sustain the spirit. She was wiser than I in this."
"You are of a more generous disposition than I if you could keep from feeling resentment."
I made no effort to restrain a snort. "Rest assured, I resented her for quite a long time. She played me with a virtuosity to which few could aspire." I looked at him pointedly.
"Yet there is no one now?" he asked. His tone was neither too curious nor too casual.
"Perhaps I put too much of Lúthien in my music. Perhaps others stayed away because they thought they could not compete. I had thought, perhaps, that I had found--" No. Some thoughts were best left unvoiced. "I have had companions in my time, some more enduring than others. It is difficult, I think, to understand an artist if one is not an artist themselves. Composing can be isolating. Perhaps we are better off alone."
"Do not say that."
"What should I say, then?"
He leaned on his elbows, his fists drawn up to his mouth. I watched him blink once, twice. "Tell me how Elrond fares."
I recalled, dimly, what Manwë allowed me to keep from the visions he had given, scenes of events long passed and safely consigned to history: the smiling boy, and Maglor's song. Maglor guiding tiny hands over harp strings. "I believe Elrond had much to do with swaying the Valar. Fate has placed many burdens on his house, and yet all who have come of it have done great things, and made noble sacrifices."
The glow of paternal pride was unmistakable. It lent a particular depth and radiance to his face, revealing dimensions of him that I had not yet seen: his capacity for gentleness, the softness of his heart. "He above all other things was the great success of my life, greater than any song I could ever have dreamed.
"Three times he sought me after I had abandoned him for my quest. Such is the capacity of his heart, that even after I had left him, even after I had become a fugitive, he sought me. After Elros passed into death. He must have known I would not see him, though I longed to, so he stood in the woods and wept to the trees, knowing that I would hear, and mourn with him. He came again after his lady-wife had been brutalized, and he had sent her to the West to heal. He wanted only for me to reassure him that he had done right, but I did not reveal myself to him, because I was anathema." He pressed his fists hard against his lips, his nostrils flaring as he exhaled. His eyes were fixed on the base of the bottle, but they had lost their focus, and the gaze had turned inward to memory and regret.
"Once the line of Elendil had been restored and the Kings of Men returned to their greatness, he came to me one last time. He came to say goodbye. And to bid me keep good watch over his children, his restless sons who had not yet quenched the flame of errantry, and his daughter, who had chosen Elros' path. My heart broke in my chest to hold myself aloof from him then. I was never more a coward than when I failed to give him some farewell, some benediction, and hid behind the paltry excuse of my exile to do it, knowing I would never see him again."
He drew away from the table and let his hands fall into his lap. His sprawl-legged slouch, spine bowed against the back of the chair, would have appeared casual to the point of insouciance had his face not looked so grim. He turned his face to the window. Beyond, the sun hovered low in the trees. He was beautiful. "I sang for Arwen in the Golden Wood so that she would not be alone in her final journey. I sang for Elladan and Elrohir when I saw them traveling west, toward the Havens. Toward home. I do not know if they heard me. More than my brothers, I wish to see Elrond. To beg his forgiveness. To tell him no son of blood ever was held more dear to any man's heart than he was to mine."
"You will have that chance."
"I still have nothing. Apologies are facile. Had the Valar simply wished for my remorse, they could have had it at any time. I am uncertain what they are asking of me. And what do I say of my brothers? I cannot speak to what was in their hearts. Well, Nelyo's, perhaps, but all the rest--" He looked at me beseechingly, grey eyes reflecting and refracting sunlight, lips parted, brow furrowed. I dreaded his next words.
"I don't know that I can," I told him, and I knew what he would say before he said it, because it had been in my mind, as well.
"Perhaps that is why you were sent."
He got up and went to a cupboard on the other end of the room, retrieving an object wrapped in rough burlap and setting it on the the table. Its shape brought to mind a beaten man, hunched and cowering: his harp. The strings were gone-- rotted out or cast away and not replaced, and the frame looked slightly warped. It was much smaller than the one he had brought to the Mereth Aderthad, and very nearly austere in its decorative elements, something I would not have expected from him. But then, so many of my expectations of him had been ill-founded.
"I can no longer play it. I don't know why I keep it," he said, but the reverent caress of his scarred hand over its neck belied his casual dismissal. "The wood is dry and brittle. It is beyond saving."
"I could say something sentimental about how nothing is beyond saving," I remarked, uncomfortable with the sense of yearning radiating from him... yearning for his harp, for his voice, for his music... for his life.
He chuckled darkly. "Please don't."
I should have brought mine, of course, but I was too abashed to admit that I left it behind purely out of pique, and as he did not ask about it, I did not offer.
"You don't need the harp," I told him. "Your voice will be enough." His desire to believe this twisted my gut, and I hoped that I was not speaking a lie. It was foolish not to simply admit it: I wanted him to succeed in this.
I had stayed too long in the little cottage and the tide had begun to roll in by the time I returned to the ship. I did not see the jolly-boat, but the hemp ladder dangled tauntingly from the gunwales. Cursing under my breath, I toed off my boots and slogged through the knee-high water.
I heard the clicking and clacking of porpoises playing off shore, and the basso profundo of the whales in the deeps below, a watery chorus with voices raised. The aquatic symphony lulled me, and I swayed to its tune. The voice of the eternal waters rose, speaking within and without. and I closed my eyes to listen. The words carried to me on the rising crest of the tide, crescendo and decrescendo, repeating until I could hear nothing else, pulling through me with the strength of an undertow: the song has been sung, and each note was written at the beginning of the world.
When I opened my eyes, I was in my cabin on the boat. My harp was waiting for me beneath Ulmo's cloak.
Chapter 4: Symphony
"Oh," he said.
I had rendered a great minstrel speechless. And all I had done was show him my harp.
"Daeron, it is exquisite..." He admired it with his hands hovering above the neck, as if he could not quite bring himself to touch it. "I haven't seen such an instrument in a great many years."
"I envied the one you brought to Eithel Ivrin. Despite the skill of Doriath's luthiers, the Noldor always managed to outshine us in the beauty of their instruments."
"Beauty matters little if the player lacks talent."
I rolled my eyes. "You cannot possibly suggest--"
He smirked and shook his head. "No, I am not that modest. It was merely an observation. I have known many lackluster musicians to wield lovely instruments."
Again, I thought of my reluctant student with her precious and poorly-played harp.
"The one I carried when we met, I lost to Glaurung's flames when he breached the lowlands. A minor casualty, considering the magnitude of our losses that day."
A pang of self-reproach rang through me. I had never been a soldier; I had not been trained to the sword, or even the bow beyond hunting. Since my youngest days, I had been held in reserve as a keeper of memory: I recorded the great deeds of other men, and burnished them, prepared them for the annals of history. Maglor, for all his crimes, had been as much a warrior as a bard. He had even been a king of his people, however briefly or reluctantly. The longing in his gaze caused the strings of my harp, always sensitive to the vicissitudes of my own emotion, to shudder beneath my fingers. Surely in Valinor such a wound as his might be healed, and he might play again. Or would the Valar insist that he bear the scars in perpetual reminder of his crimes? I wouldn't have thought it beyond Maglor himself to insist on such a penalty-- the martyring strain of his remorse ran deep.
"May I?" I asked, taking his hand between my own. The seared flesh of his palm and the pads of his fingertips looked like melted wax, angry and red. I remembered the skillfulness with which this hand had once plucked a harp, and how adroitly it traversed my skin. Ridges and valleys of ruined flesh passed under my touch, and I tried to imagine what course my life might take if I had taken such an injury and could not play. "Does it hurt?"
He shook his head. "It did for many years, but over time, it grew bearable, and eventually stopped. In some places, it is highly sensitive, and in others, I can hardly feel a thing."
"Does it bother you when I do this?"
"No. It is soothing, actually."
"Did you ever try to play again?" I tried not to pay attention to the fact that I was massaging the ridges now, kneading the shining skin, stretching out the fingers one by one. It felt entirely too intimate, but I could not bring myself to stop.
"For a long time, I couldn't. I had no desire, to begin with-- any impulse to create had been ripped from me entirely-- but even if I had, the pain was too great. As the pain subsided, I tried again, but I was unaccustomed to the clumsiness of my fingers on the strings. It frustrated me too greatly, and after a time, I stopped trying. I thought it seemed only just that I should forfeit the skill. So many others lost so much more."
This statement irritated me for a reason I could not place. "Didn't I say that self-pity does not become you?"
"You didn't think pride suited me, either," he noted, a wry grin playing at the corners of his mouth. "I cannot please you in either case."
His fingers closed around my thumb. Flustered, my face grew warm. After a long moment, he showed mercy enough to let me go.
"And your music?" he asked, kindly looking at the harp rather than my face. "What is the last composition you have made?"
"Nothing of note," I admitted reluctantly. It was the truth, of course, but I had been loath to admit it. "Nothing that has truly moved me."
"Then you have grown complacent," he challenged, leaving me stung with disapprobation.
I had, of course. I had cast myself adrift in a sea of apathy and ennui, bemoaning that no songs came to me when once I would have gone out in the world and sought the songs myself. Begrudgingly, I answered, "perhaps," but his canny grey eyes discerned the truth.
I had no right to ask him, but I did: "The Noldolantë-- sing it for me."
His eyes glittered like salt-rocks, hyaline and hard. "You know the story already, and I am not fit to sing."
"Thingol asked me to bear witness when Angrod, Finrod, and Galadriel spoke their parts. But it is not the same. Those who heard it speak of it still. Even absent, your echo remained."
He reclaimed his hand and shifted his weight to lean away from the harp. "I will not sing that song again, nor will any other; I destroyed the last fair copy long ago."
My astonishment-- my horror-- showed clear on my face, and I made no effort to arrange it into something more subtle. I could not imagine destroying such a masterful work. Even the least of my compositions, the first foolish bleatings of a besotted mooncalf, I had kept-- well, save those I had written for Maglor. I did not ever wish to hear my early work again, and cringed to think of the flowery prose and sentimental treacle I had then considered poetry, but they were my history, the children of my head and hand and heart.
He wagged a finger at me in reproof. "Love not too well the work of thy hands and the devices of thy heart...." A stunted sound followed this thought from his lips, like the jarring discord of metal on stone. "I could not sing it again. I had not the right. It was not my story alone, and I did not feel that I could justly tell the tale. It was an arrogant undertaking: who was I to sing of the woes of my people, who had been culpable for so many of them?"
Not knowing how to answer, I said nothing.
"For all that it was celebrated," he went on, "it lacked something. It lacked joy. Each time I sang it, it left me more morose than the last."
"Of course," I quipped, "Those of the house of Fëanor are renowned as a joyful people."
My heart seized at the smile on Maglor's face, sweet and rueful, honest and without guile. "Oh, but Daeron, we were joyful! For all the sorrows in this world that I have known or caused, I have known great contentment as well, fleeting though it was. And I would like to think that perhaps I have sometimes given joy to others." his face looked far away, lost in reverie, poignant and proud.
And I whispered, so as not to shake him from fond hopes: "Tell me."
Talking a last look at my harp, he walked over to the window. "I am told I was born singing, and that I rarely cried. My first memory is of Nelyo's face, looking down at me from above, as curious as it was annoyed. He picked me up, very gently and with great care, and walked very slowly down to the road to our house and laid me between the roots of a tree. No one had consulted him, you see, on whether or not he wished to have a brother, so he decided I ought to go back whence I had come--" He was nearly wheezing with laughter now-- "which, as near as he could tell, was from the marketplace in the middle of Tirion. But as he wasn't allowed to walk so far alone, he left me at the road, hoping someone else would come along and take me the rest of the way. Nelyo said later that father emerged from the smithy and immediately saw the guilty expression on his face and told him that he would drag him by the ear to the market and trade him to some Vanyarin farmer for a goat unless he told him where I was.
"We knew love, Daeron. Great love. Can you imagine what it is to have six brothers? I was never alone--" he turned from the window, his face half-lit and radiant, grinning crookedly. "For good or ill, I was never alone."
As he mined the ancient stores of his memory for the jewels of early joy, I played for him. I tried to capture the sound of hammer on anvil and chisle on stone. I tried to give him his mother's laughter, and the mysterious language of twins.
Music and memory transformed him, years falling away. I could have been standing beside him at the roaring mouth of the Narog where it rushed from the pool, watching the stars dance on the water and in the sky, admiring the play of moonlight on his face and reveling in the warmth of his hand on the small of my back. Abruptly, he stopped and looked at me with eyes wild and alive, a first faint glow of color rising in his cheeks. "Outside!" he demanded, and bounded out the door of the little cabin before I could even react. I picked up my harp in one hand and a chair in the other-- the stiff-bottomed one I had come to think of as 'my' chair-- and followed him. He ran to the edge of the glade, stumbling, and I feared for a moment that he had snapped at last, a frayed string too tightly wound, but then he halted in a patch of sunlight, gazing up to the sky through the canopy of the trees. He spread his arms wide and let it illuminate his face. The brightness of the sun had brought my tears, I told myself, but I made no move to wipe them away.
"Too long has my voice been filled with sorrows," he rasped, eyes closed against the glare. "It will hurt. It will burn like a fire, but it will be a healing fire, and I will bear its heat gladly."
And then, Maglor opened his mouth, and he sang.
I will not deny that I blenched at those first awkward sounds. His notes went both flat and sharp as the collected sediment of centuries of disuse shifted in his throat, but he showed no embarrassment or self-consciousness. He sang through the mire, and slowly, his lungs recalled the feeling of fullness, his throat remembered how to open, his tongue found its place in his mouth, and his breath awoke to the joy of spiraling out into the world. His pitch returned, clear and perfect, deeper and richer than my own, and then came strength and volume. At last the notes spun off his tongue in that expressive vibrato that had enchanted me so long ago. He sang of witnessing Maedhros' first kiss and Curufin's birth. He sang of the happy sounds that ruled their home in those bright and careless days, and my fingers struggled to keep up with his tune.
The story of Caranthir teaching Curufin to walk came next, and then of Celegorm teaching Aredhel to ride. I heard of Curufin's first successful effort at the forge, and of the Ambarussar switching their tunics to confuse their mother, and fooling no one. Images appeared like living shades before me and I thought: this... this is what it means to sing, to set thoughts of love into music. I could all but see the silver thread of his words spooling out of his mouth.
He moved about the glade, carried by the momentum of recollection, sculpting his words with his hands as they hit the air. His hair fell about his face like a swath of night, and I remembered how he had looked bent over his harp all those years ago, with his head cocked and his eyes closed, as if listening enraptured while his instrument imparted erotic secrets, hands working over the strings as if bodily pleasure issued from the touch. I had imagined that I was seeing the face he made in his throes, and it had both embarrassed and intrigued me. Later, when I had seen that expression from a more personal vantage point, I found I had been correct. That had been the difference in our music then, as it was now: I had the mastery over words and their shaping while Maglor's raw emotion brought the words to life. With each new tale, each minute revelation, my heart opened to seven children who had been robbed of the chance to be masters of their own fate: here, in reflected joy and refracted memory, was a song of mourning for potential lost and talent wasted... an elegy for those who had fallen unmourned by all, save the one man whose burden it was to keep their memory alive. Here was, at long last, a requiem for the sons of Fëanor, a threnody for the Dispossessed.
Verses took shape, solidified. I committed them to memory, and plucked their counterpoint from my mind. When he began to repeat them, I joined him, and we fell into rhythm with each other, music passing back and forth between us like breath. A duet, after all, is not so different from making love: the give and take, the anticipation, and the precipitous rush toward resolution. We may sing with many people, but we know when we have found the one whose voice blends so perfectly with our own that we are no longer two singers wending separate melodies together, but one voice raised harmonic in love.
The last note rang out through the air, carrying out over the trees and drifting toward the bay. Maglor whispered my name. The heat of his mouth filtered through to my blood, his tongue running over my lips before dancing with mine...the bright clash of teeth and his breath on my cheek...my whimper a circling melisma around his low groan. A new song began, one with deep roots in the past and arms reaching toward an unknown future. Together, we sang it.
"May I walk you back?"
Night had encroached, and I was both energized and spent. Maglor's song-- our song-- spun round in my head. It never occurred to me to refuse, not when the taste of him still in my mouth was so new and yet so distantly familiar, and so utterly intoxicating.
Behind the veil of mists obscuring the ship emanated the rhythmic sound of the wake slapping up against its sides. As we moved down the strand, the mists parted. The body of a great white swan stood out in stark relief against the dark water, its tethering lines pulled taut, a captured bird fighting its bonds and ready to take flight. A moment later, I realized that Maglor was no longer a step behind me, and then I heard the sound of retching and turned to find him on his hands and knees, vomiting onto the sand.
In my delirium, I had not taken into account that this was the first time he had seen a swan boat since he had set a fleet of them alight. I had not stopped to to consider that for him, this would be a reminder of his misdeeds, and a painful reversal of the day. Our entire venture seemed suddenly ill-conceived: though the Valar had sanctioned this journey and Ulmo himself seen me safely from shore to shore, Ossë, wilder and less forgiving than Ulmo, might still sink the ship in fury, or set us to drift upon the doldrums in the great watery void between there and here. And that assumed the crew didn't mutiny once they realized who they carried and leave us both stranded in this inhospitable place. The Valar had a black sense of humor to send Maglor on a ship with a Telerin crew.
Misery had twisted his features into a mask of dread. His body folded in spasm and he retched again. I turned away, a token gesture at allowing him the dignity of being sick in peace.
"Manwë must be enjoying quite a laugh at my expense," he wailed after wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.
"No," I pronounced emphatically, though I could practically see his mind conjuring up all manner of scenarios for his return, not the least of which would be the High King of Arda extending this offer of hope only to pull it out of reach at the last.
"I cannot possibly board that ship." He recoiled from it as from a snake about to strike. "Even if it would bear me-- and I set no great store that it would-- its crew will sooner tie me to the keel and let me make the journey below the waves than abide my presence."
"Come," I said, slipping a hand under his arm. I did not posess the words to reassure him. He rose weakly, without protest, and leaned heavily against me. "We are not leaving tonight. Let this be another day's concern."
I rifled through his cupboards until I found the bottle of spirits-- he had said it was tonic-- and steadied his hand with my own when his tremors threatened to slop the liquor over the side. The bite of alcohol hit my nose, bringing with it the smell of anise. I poured myself a cup for good measure; I had already developed a taste for the stuff. Maglor's narrow bed groaned under my weight, the only sound in the room as I waited for what I knew must eventually come.
He drew in a sharp breath and released it mutely. "Never in my life was I more my father's son than in that moment." Regret marred his brow now, and I wondered if it was regret that he had, in that moment, been his father's son, or that, ultimately, he had not. "I was not his heir," he continued, "nor was I his favorite-- that was Curvo. Neither the youngest and most eager to please, nor the strongest of will. And whatever else might be said of me, I was not the cruelest."
I thought of Lúthien and her abduction and felt ancient ire rise.
"Ah, yes," he said with a rueful twitch of his mouth. "You must assign that dubious honor to Tyelkormo."
These words were, perhaps, the hardest I have spoken, and yet for his sake I forced them through my throat: "Yet it was not always so. Once, even Celegorm knew gentleness." I sang to him the verse we had sung together while the sun had still reigned in the sky, of a child with a hound and a horn, beloved of Oromë, and the raucous cacophony he had crafted in a house full of joy.
Maglor's head grew heavy on my shoulder. After a time, I shook him gently, and bade him go properly to bed. He did not need to ask me to stay; I just did. The bed was too narrow to be comfortable for us both, and I lay blinking in the dark, waiting to feel his breath turn slow and even between my shoulder blades, but the rhythms of sleep did not come.
Darkness, I have found, breeds confession, and words slip more easily from lips unseen: "Did you ever think to abandon your quest?"
"If I had been there-- in Doriath-- would you have--"
His silence was both deafening and damning.
"You are honest, at least."
His head moved against my back, a slow, dull, nod. "Yes. I am honest."
The full weight of history may be too much for any one man to bear alone. The role of the Loremaster is to become a surrogate for history, to remove the sting of its immediacy and spread its burden to us all. Yet sometimes, it is time to look to the horizon rather than to the shadows which follow us. I took his hand and placed it against my heart. Soon, Maglor slept, and I listened to the tide of his breath go in and out until at last I, too, fell asleep.
Maglor eventually came, if not unwillingly, then uneagerly. I lured him with the song, reminding him each time he balked of Nerdanel's smile or Maedhros' laughter. In the end, he came. He brought nothing with him, deeming he possessed nothing of import. "I am burdened enough," he told me, "without the dross of my half-life here to weigh me down further."
He did not falter until we reached the strand, and great head of the swan was revealed against the bright sky. The Telerin crew stood in ranks on the deck, waiting. I took him by the hand and pulled him. By accident or providence, the jolly-boat had slipped its moorings and floated just off shore, and I waded toward it, tugging him with me step by hesitant step. The water rose to our knees. To our hips. The din of the sea rose up all around me like a wall of sound.
I could hardly hear him over the noise of the tide, the unending rush and roar of the wake. The cold caress of fish scales crossed my skin, and with it, the jangling chime of mail. Kelp twisted around my ankles and held me firm to the sandy floor of the bay even as the current pushed and pulled against me. My mind's eye filled with shades of blue and green and the radiance of nacre. My mouth opened, and the thunder of a breaking swell resounded... I had become the shell to which a child puts his ears to hear the ocean...the empty house...the vessel.
Like Manwë, Ulmo spoke within and without, and I closed my eyes to listen. His words echoed through the surf, rising thunderous from unseen deeps and accompanied by mighty white shell horns, a sound like the blood in the veins of the earth, the heartbeat of the sea. I spoke with a voice far greater than my own, in the tongue of the rains and the rivers and the floods: No theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in the One, nor can any alter the music in His despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but Eru's own instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not. I took Maglor's face in my hands, and I repeated those to him words again and again. Through distant eyes, from some great height, I watched his tears fall to meet the brine, and I took them into myself.
"My father claimed that in Aman we came through bliss to woe." His voice was small now, and far away. "The other now we will try: through sorrow to find joy; or freedom, at the least."
"Yes." Ulmo's embrace was subsiding even then, like an ebb tide, returning me to myself. He had claimed a sliver of me for his own, and left the imprint of his presence behind: a delight in the sea I had not previously possessed.
"Will I find forgiveness?" Maglor asked, sodden and shaking.
"Forgiveness is not for me to give," I said, in a voice that was both my own, and not. I turned him to the West so that the sun might warm our backs. Together we would devise things more wonderful, and raise our voices in some new chorus of the Song. "Mine is but to bring you home."
"Home," he whispered, and in that word was contained all the music of the world.
"Yes," I told him, "Home."