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The Sting

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At noon, the bells of Gondolin rang. Amidst the white walls of the city and the green fields about, many of the elf-folk turned to bread and meat. Maeglin, the prince of the city, did not. He had no appetite. Instead, he sought refuge in his personal smithy. Yesterday he had had found out that his fair cousin Idril was to marry mortal Tuor, and since then his rage had given him no peace.

The day before, Maeglin had made sure that the messenger who brought the tidings suffered for the news he bore. He had spent the night still seething with bile. That morning, not bothering to trammel his evil temper, he had declared the main smithies and smelters as dirty as a boar's midden, and set smiths and prentices alike to hard cleaning. Still vexed, he decided to increase the rosters of workers required at the iron mine of Anghabar, taking steps to ensure that both of Tuor's great friends, Voronwë and Pengolod, would be sent to labour in Anghabar soon. The only person to cross his path that morning who had not merited an insult had been Salgant, the Lord of Harps. Salgant had a way with both words and song: Maeglin had bribed the fellow to write the most biting satire possible about the upcoming nuptials.

None of this, he had to admit, had dulled the sting of his foul mood.

Maeglin prowled his workshop, still railing to himself. He hated his father, Eöl, and had never rued that Eöl was dead. But how he understood Eöl better as time went on! No wonder Eöl had closed himself off as a hermit in Nan Elmoth if other elves were such fools.

He had hated his mother, Aredhel, ever since she stood by Eöl after he tried to slay Maeglin - but he understood, now, why she had left Gondolin on the strange path that brought her to his father. Gondolin was governed by fools, willing to dishonor their - his!- regal line.

For the first time, Maeglin hated Turgon, the city's king, as well. Was he so besotted with Ulmo's messenger that he was willing to hand over his adored daughter to Tuor, ignoring the fact that Tuor was naught but a mortal man? Apparently so.

Maeglin had hated Tuor from the first moment he saw the mortal, of course, just as he had hated Tuor's kin Húrin and Huor. Ah, he had been right when he said that Hurin and Huor should have been kept in Gondolin as servants for the Elves! Huor had gone forth and spawned this great broad-shouldered, hairy-faced lout, who was now well placed to torment him a thousand times more than Huor ever had.

And the worst of it was that he hated...his love. Idril, he thought, how could you? He had adored her from the minute he saw her, far more than a kinsman should appreciate his cousin. Her demeanor, cool and remote, had only increased his admiration. She had seemed above common passions, and all the more perfect thereby. For her to turn to the earthiest male in Gondolin shattered something inside Maeglin. He was reeling between revulsion and titillation, struggling to recapture the dream he had adored even as he gave free rein to lurid imaginings, until he could hardly bear it.

Having tried every other distraction, he decided to make something. Something just for himself. On a whim, he decided to create something he had once wished he had owned; another weapon. Not that Anguirel, the black sword he had filched from Eöl, was not a formidable blade. But he was strong enough to wield the great sword with his right hand alone. And there had been a time, when he had journeyed to Gondolin and fought the spiders of Nan Dungortheb along the way, when he had wanted a knife for his left hand as well. He would make one now.

Maeglin took up a choice billet of steel, already annealed blue, close in shape to a dagger blank. For a few minutes, he held it in his hand. He rarely had a care for the desire of others. But in his art, he hearkened closely to what his materials said they wanted to be. When he was confident that this steel did indeed long to be a certain lengthy knife, he prepared the smithy, building up a forging fire, laying out tools, readying anvils and trenchers.

For a time, he shaped the steel with fire and hammering. After several cycles of heating and cooling the metal, he used a grindstone to hollow it into a double-edged blade, in the leaf shape that was difficult to achieve. His face grew calmer as heartbreak was set aside for the pleasure of creating. For his arts alone he loved without reserve, and with no stain on his heart. He was ruthless for their sake, and had grown canny as a politician to gain the tools and labour the smiths needed. He was not above using flattery to support his works, as he had done by turning the Gate of Steel into a tribute to Turgon's kingship. Yet he himself was the source of the skill and visions which, combined, brought forth marvels from the earth and from his hands. Maeglin was unaware of how much tolerance of his pride and cruelty he won by his arts, nor did he know that some of his followers had joined him after seeing him gentled and inspired by his works.

After grinding and polishing the metal, the time was come to engrave the blade. Maeglin considered several options, scribing them on a slate. Finally he chose the words, Maegnas is my name; I am the spider's bane, writing them in the Sindarin he had spoken in his youth. It did not rhyme correctly, but he did not care. It was as he wanted it, a sharp sting for himself, the sharp glance. He covered the blade in wax, then carved away the wax for the first part of the design.

Donning a heavy leather apron and long gauntlets, he removed the lid from a tall glass jar in one corner, filled with clear greenish fluid. He buckled on a metal mask, styled after the dwarf-masks he had seen the dwarves of Nogrod use about their work. Then, using tongs, he plunged the blade inside the jar. Acid hissed and fumed. After a count of six, he drew the blade out, then carved more of the wax away before repeating the acid plunge. The two steps left deep lines followed by finer ones.   This done, he took the blade in a pair of tongs and held it in a high-burning fire to clean. The acid on the blade flared up with a green flash, and then the wax melted away, leaving the design clear.

Maeglin unstrapped the dwarf-mask. He decided to undertake sharpening the blade, even though he had already pedalled long and hard at the whetstone. As he laboured at sharpening, he sang the charm all elf-smiths laid on their work; it made the blades come alive with defiant light if an orc drew near. He sang further words for this particular knife, bidding it be sharp against evil insect-beasts, as its runes bade it. Finally, he lifted the blade and blew on it, sending fine motes of metal glittering through the air. For the first time in two days, he smiled.

Alone in his smithy, Maeglin indulged in using the new blade to feint against invisible enemies. Cutting the air in graceful strokes, the blade's edge gleamed, and his own eyes glittered to see it. Quiet by nature, he did not laugh, but he smiled deeply. His fierce play, and the strange innocence it brought to him, ended when the bells of Gondolin rang again. He stopped and frowned, recollecting all his duties and burdens. With a sigh, he gave the blade a last caress. Its graceful lines reminded him of Idril. I would give all the treasures of Gondolin to have Idril in my arms, he thought, she as pure as this blade's form, and I as piercing as its edge.

Maeglin placed the blade in a suede wrapping and left his own smithy for the workshop where the hilt-wrights laboured. The hour had grown late. His brow creased in anger at the thought of the court's elaborate dinner, where he would be surrounded with all the people he despised once more. He also realized that there might be no more hilt-wrights at work; if so, he would have to wait until tomorrow to have the dagger finished. It was galling to have to hand over part of his work to someone else, only tolerable if he knew it would be handled immediately.

There was, Maeglin knew, no reason to be so impatient. Giant spiders were not likely to attack Gondolin overnight. It was unlikely that the blade would be used as he intended it. Still, having it was a small consolation.  He unwrapped a bit of the dagger-blade. "Well, little sting; if ever we of Gondolin ride out to battle again, I shall bear you. You may gut a few spiders yet."

At the hilt-wrights' workshop, one person remained. Maeglin, though glad the hilt-wright was one of the more skilled ones, ignored his honorable greeting and said directly, "I want this given a hilt of wood, rich wood, with a steel inlay." He unveiled the dagger.

The hilt-wright asked,  "With the wood stained black? Or another hue?"

Maeglin thought for a moment. The longing for the knife came from his silvan youth. "Brown, for a change. Keep the wood natural."

"And what design for the inlay, my lord?"

Maeglin considered the shadows of Nan Dungortheb's eaves. "Something evoking a forest. Leaves, or vines, both flowing and sharp. Try a sketch for me." The hilt-wright drew a line of leaves, and Maeglin approved

"And when do you want it?

Something with so obvious an answer deserved no manners. "As soon as possible, you idiot! When else? And do it yourself, don't fob it off to one of the butter-handed prentices." He swept off without thanks, self-absorbed, a touch happier that the work would be handled as it deserved. I have put my hand to one thing that went well, at least, thought Maeglin, never dreaming how time would prove him right.