There were moments, Maeglin reflected, when it was mightily annoying to be the prince of Gondolin. Standing in the greatest smithy, with everyone around him agog at the news from the gates, was definitely one of those moments.
Maeglin realized that twenty smiths and prentices were staring at him, waiting on his word. He took off the sweaty band that bound his black hair out of his eyes and said haughtily, "So, carl of Turgon, you stand before me - " at his glare, the messenger bowed to one knee "- and tell me that against all good counsel and Turgon's law, the Seven Gates are being opened for a wanderer and a mortal?"
The messenger swallowed. "The wanderer went forth at Turgon's bidding, lord; he is Voronwë who went to seek the West, and it is said the hand of the Vala called Ulmo is on the travellers." Maeglin's mouth tightened as he heard the others mutter behind him. Nearly stuttering, the messenger finished what he had been sent to say. "Turgon would have you at his right hand, my lord, as befits."
Maeglin's reply to the messenger was a curt nod. Then, he turned around and said, "The rest of you, get back to work! I would not see the day's fuel nor labour wasted for gossip." The command was galling to the smiths, he knew. If he himself might not dash down to the gates to slake his curiosity, but must stand on ceremony, then he would deal out the same. It was a slight consolation to him as he left, obeying the will of Turgon, the only one in Gondolin who could command him.
Thus it was that Maeglin stood at Turgon's right hand and heard Ulmo's prophecy delivered. Many in the hall gasped to hear the god-touched mortal, clad in a cloak of enchanted shadow and Turgon's own mail, saying impossible words: that Gondolin was vulnerable and should be abandoned. Maeglin stayed impassive. One raised in the uncanny wood of Nan Elmoth was not dazzled by one so spirit-touched, nor by the shadow-cloak that melted away when Tuor's rede was told. Maeglin frowned at the last word. He thought of his forges, the precious mines in the encircling hills, the white glory of the city's stonework, the bright garb of its hosts who bowed before him; and he stiffened his spine in denial.
A quick glance at Turgon showed nothing. He was not the king of Gondolin for naught, and stayed close outside of counsel. Maeglin turned his baleful glare upon the mortal who, divested of Ulmo's benefice, was reeling bewildered before the throne. Then he noted Idril also staring at the mortal, her blue eyes wide, expression thunderstruck. She was, Maeglin thought, probably horrified, having seen only mortal youths, not a man in his crude prime, like this one. The raw-looking mortal had bushy blonde whiskers, like one of the Dwarves, and was clad in rancid tatters beneath the silver mail of Turgon's making. Inspired, Maeglin leaned back and spoke to her. "Idril. Tomorrow, I was bounden to go to the tailors, and submit to their measuring a time. I will give my place to this guest, that he may be clad as is fitting."
Idril nodded, still speechless. Maeglin felt twice over he had done well in that. Properly clad, the mortal would be less alarming. And, knowing the precision of the tailors, the mortal would be fixed in one place for a day, at least.
That would be enough time for him to act.
When the next day dawned, Maeglin had his esquire dress him in the velvets and brocades of winter court garb, not his usual smith's clothes of canvas and linen. Drawing the line at the floor-length robes of full ceremony the esquire offered, he compromised with an elaborate tunic and hose. He struggled with his own ill-temper at the prospect of the day ahead: not just trapped in the rich, confining clothes, but with difficult dealings awaiting. Maeglin did not care to be around others ceaselessly, nor to be amongst crowds. He favoured those who, like his esquire or many of the smiths, could be quiet. However, to deal suitably with the problem of mortal Tuor and his ill counsel, Maeglin would have to bend the ears of many that day. He had already decided to conserve his temper by dealing with the most important people first. Already he had arranged to breakfast with Turgon.
The two of them, prince and king, met alone in Turgon's private tower. From the glassed windows of this tower, the highest in the city, could be seen all the roofs of Gondolin. Beyond them, the valley of the Tumladen was marked in squares by tillage, orchard, and pasture up to the foothills of the Encircling Mountains. In the bright winter day, everything was unified by a cushioning blanket of snow.
Maeglin admired the view, and noted, "Against the snow, the silver tree and the tree of gold in the city's heart stand out exceedingly fair."
Turgon looked upon the sight, but it did not gladden him. "Fair indeed; and never would you have seen the like, if you had been in snowless Aman. If we take the counsel of Ulmo, we may not see it for long."
"I never saw its ilk before I came here." Maeglin turned in his seat and looked out to the grey West. "I was born and raised outside this valley. I rode the Wilds to come here. Well I remember the eaves of Nan Dungortheb, and the sere heaths we rode!" Maeglin turned back to his uncle. "Here, there is peace and plenty undisturbed. We are foretold ruin and loss if we stay - but these Valar have promised us nothing if we go."
Turgon nodded. "Your words sit well with me. You are wiser in the ways of this world than many with more years, but fewer wanderings. You never knew Tirion, the White City. Feanor made jewels, and Rumil letters; but this is the memory of Tirion made anew in a song of stone. And thanks in great measure to you, it is made strong as well." Turgon smiled wryly. "By your arts and wisdom we are armed with steel and warmed with coal."
They both fell quiet for a moment. Turgon arose and stood before one of the great casements of glass, the one that framed the city's ornament trees. Then, he said, "Was it I alone, I would not leave Gondolin. What of you?"
Maeglin exclaimed, "Uncle, of course not!" He leaned back in his chair to add, "Besides, the prophecy spoke of the works of the Noldor, did it not? I am not entirely of that folk, with my Sindar father. You have made me the city's prince, and my works are entwined with your works. So can it be said that Gondolin is a city of the Noldor in sooth?"
Turgon laughed once, harshly, and said, "You are proud, Maeglin, to riddle with the Valar!" He gazed out the casement again. "And so am I. This would not be the first benefice I have had from your mingled blood, sister-son unforetold. With you at my right hand, none may say that the many Sindar among us are not honoured to the fullest."
Maeglin, aware for long of this expedience, murmured, "So you have said before." It seemed a timely moment, Maeglin thought, to be Aredhel's son. "Uncle, I remember one time when your instincts went against the will of many. You thought to put my father to death. And you were right, and discovered why too late." The words were calculated, but the pain behind them was real and rarely shown.
Turgon's face was a strange mix of gentleness and reinforced pride. "Alas for that. You do well to remind me." Turgon turned his back on the casement, facing his long shadow falling across Maeglin. "I will not forget your words, sister-son, yet there will be wider counsels taken. I must sound out the city, and see what the lords and fair folk think."
Maeglin bowed his head. "Call for me at need, my king. I go now to arrange affairs, that I may be close at hand in these strange times."
Maeglin left, both his conviction and his worries stronger than ever. Turgon loved Gondolin because of the past. But he, Maeglin, wanted it for what it was in the present. Usually, Maeglin had to concede that Turgon managed the city of Gondolin as Maeglin would have himself. Turgon was wise to wait and speak with others after yesterday's drama. Nonetheless, he wished Turgon would not muddy his own clear, sensible view with the dithering of the lords and lordlings. Worse, the rumour-mad city might take up a fad of fondness for the mortal, and wish to follow his words. He had done all he could for the nonce with Turgon. The city waited.
Still within Turgon's palace, Maeglin allowed himself one detour. He went to see if the mortal, Tuor, was where Maeglin wished him to be.
Maeglin did not have to leave the palace to find the nobles' atelier. Tuor was indeed there, in the center of its largest salon, standing upon a low pedestal. Two tailors hovered about him, gathering and adjusting the fabric of a half-made robe, making sure that its drape was perfect. A cobbler had brought his bench in and was tapping away. The room held more spectators than was usual for a fitting. Amongst them, the returned wanderer Voronwë was sitting by, gull-feathers still rebelliously woven into his matted braids. Maeglin marked Voronwë's presence well as a sign of friendship. Despite people's curiosity about the mortal, Maeglin was pleased. The tailors had Tuor deep in their clutches, working as was their wont, without regard for the atelier's comings and goings. Tuor was, very literally, pinned into place.
Maeglin strode in and spoke to Tuor heartily. "Well, my good Secondborn! How does it feel to be well clad for once?"
Before Tuor could reply, the tailors whisked the half-made robe off Tuor. There was a brief murmur, instantly suppressed, at Tuor's raw-boned yet heroic figure, now nearly nude but for leggings. He was not abashed to be so exposed, nor brought to anger. Maeglin suppressed a sneer. Tuor stood half-naked with either innocent shamelessness or a deep dignity, and, Maeglin thought, this rustic could not possibly possess the latter.
Nonetheless, yesterday's wonder had faded from Tuor's look, and his words to Maeglin were cautious. "You are the city's prince, my lord?"
"I am," said Maeglin. His eyes glinted dark as he took Tuor's measure. Even with his ribs showing, Tuor looked like a smith waiting to happen. Or a warrior.
Tuor bowed slightly. "Then I am in your debt, my lord. I was told it was by your word that they array me."
For a moment, Maeglin thought this was an excellent start. Then he saw Voronwë out of the corner of his eye, sitting up warily, and the corners of his mouth quirked. Just because Voronwë had been dismayed enough by Gondolin's politics to leave did not mean that the son of Aranwë failed to understand them. Quite the contrary. He had no doubt that Voronwë had filled the mortal's ears with his own view about affairs in Gondolin. Well and so; he would show the mortal how right Voronwë was. Maeglin turned to Voronwë with an acid smile. "'Tis a small thing for me to aid the friend of my vassal's son. Tell me, Voronwë, where is your father this day? I have need of him."
Voronwë stiffened, but there was no gainsaying Maeglin. "I left him at the study beside our - his - smithy. Why do you seek him?" He paused before he said, "My lord" -- just long enough to neutralize the honourific.
"I fear I must steal him off you yet again," said Maeglin, smoothly. "Tis a hard thing, I know. But your most unusual return changes my duties, and hence I must turn to him. He is ever…accommodating." Suddenly, all the tailors in the room attended twice as diligently to their sewing. Only Voronwë and Tuor stayed looking at Maeglin, without reply, until the tailors cast the half-made robe about Tuor again. Maeglin lifted an approving hand. "I have set you a challenge, tailors, and I see that you rise to it! Do not spare nor stint, but array our guest as finely as you would one of our own fair lords. I insist." He was confident now that this command would keep Tuor at the tailors' mercy for several days. He bowed to honour the tailors' work, then left with speed, still savouring the success of his barb cast at Voronwë. This day was going well indeed, thus far.
Maeglin strode eagerly through the snowy streets to the smiths' area of the city, nigh the northern walls. Storehouses were there, beside smithies open to the air, and vast smelters held in great stone halls. Turgon praised the city's statues and fountains, but to Maeglin, this was more beautiful by far; all the tools for great works to hand and the host of canny crafters, who bowed or made deeper obeisance as he passed. He saw some faces anxious when they saw that the prince had come, and peered at those ones suspiciously. He did not stop, today, to see what it was that made them shy of him, some work behind schedule or a wish for a favour lying heavy on their tongues.
He passed through an immense storehouse, dusty with ores and coal, before he found the smithy he sought. There was a whitewashed clerk's room at the end of the storehouse to track its goods. At a desk in the room was Aranwë. Aranwë had surrendered the title of the chief of smiths to Maeglin when the younger prince had come to Gondolin and made his talents known, but he still quietly attended to the more practical side of the work that went with that role.
Aranwë glanced up from the ledgers and said, guarded, "What brings you hence so clad, Maeglin? Your boots are dusted to the knee."
"I came as soon as I found out where you were." Maeglin stepped close beside him, closer than his wont with other lords. There was a reason why the noble smith put his talents to use as Maeglin's vassal, not his rival. He would rather kneel as Maeglin's favourite, nigh enthralled by the younger elf's mix of strength and beauty. At times it was Maeglin's pleasure to torment him with indifference or with harshness. Because it was the heart of winter's chill, Maeglin had suspended these toyings. The tall, strong smith kept a bed warm, amongst other things. Maeglin was glad of this now, for it meant he had Aranwë in the palm of his hand at need. Maeglin looked down at him, toying deliberately with a silky black lock. "I need you, Aranwë."
Aranwë's cautious stoicism broke for a flash of affection. Maeglin let him feel it for a minute, to bring him under Maeglin's sway, then said, "I need you to take my place managing Anghabar this season. It was but luck that I was in the town when the strange news came, and I needs must remain a time. It is Turgon's will."
There was a pause. "I am loath, my lord," said Aranwë, more formally than before. "My son Voronwë did return against all hope but yesterday."
Maeglin held back his bitterness at Aranwë's reason. "Voronwë chose his duty. I, as the prince, have my own, and so do you. This roving mortal brings back more than your son; he brings news of war. Now is no time for us of the smiths to slacken. The folk grudge their labour at Anghabar, especially in the winter - you have a fine hand to manage that. And few others understand the iron-smelting there as you do." Maeglin placed one velvet-gloved hand on his vassal's shoulder, letting the touch linger seductively. "Besides, I trust you. Everything you do, you do well…"
Aranwë inclined towards the touch. Maeglin knew he had his vassal's aid, even before Aranwë sighed, "My lord. All right."
"I am grateful to you; nobody aids me as well as you." Maeglin let himself smile, slowly, and brushed his hard, velvet-clad hand along Aranwë's cheek. He considered that Voronwë's bilious disapproval of how Maeglin favoured his father made the situation appealing - inspiring, even. "I think I may spare a measure of time to show you my gratitude even now, Aranwë. You said my boots were dusty?" Maeglin stepped back, and barred the door.
After his time in the smithies' district, Maeglin went to the opposite side of the city, to a square near the southern Lesser Market. He had Tuor out of the way for the nonce; he had Turgon's ear; and he had secured the smith-craft and mining that made his own influence strong. Now, to persuade others, and sweetly, that leaving Gondolin was not the path to take. Maeglin knew such persuasion was outside his ken. He either lost his patience, or found a threat or bribe far more effective. So he went to one who had a way with that; Salgant, the Lord of Harps.
Salgant and Maeglin were friends, in a way. Maeglin was well aware that Salgant had extended himself to Maeglin at first out of pure expedience, because Maeglin was the prince. As happened to everyone who sought to use Maeglin, Salgant found himself used in turn. It was from Salgant that Maeglin had learned of the city's politics and mores, from Salgant that he had picked up as much as he cared to of the city's less rarefied ways of speaking and dealing. Even now, it was from Salgant that he heard all the most vulgar gossip that sprang from the city's restlessness. This ineffable knowledge had helped Maeglin consolidate his position as Gondolin's second in command. In more serious matters at Turgon's council, Salgant always backed him. Yes, Salgant was useful. And Maeglin had to admit that the fellow had style, in his way.
Entering Salgant's noble house, Maeglin was shown into a rich parlour. Winter-forced blulbs blossomed in pots and vases, and a broad figure was waiting.
Salgant was not lithe, and carried it off well. He had a mane of chestnut hair falling in rich curls down his back, and strong features to balance his smooth cheeks. His mouth curled as easily into a sneer as a smile, and his wide lapis-blue eyes had a sensuous heaviness to their lids. Below his barrelled torso, his sturdy legs were well-turned. The skilful tailors had had cut a tunic that flattered Salgant's frame, making him look as if he concealed a smith's strength in his broadness. It was not so, but appearances mattered for much in Gondolin. The tunic had long, dagged sleeves draping nearly to the floor, but this impracticality mattered not. Salgant was engaged in nothing more taxing than sitting at an elegant table, contemplating a lily in a vase.
"My lord Maeglin, well met! There are sweetmeats and wine. It is a very pleasure to see you without that mirthless Aranwë at your heels. The fellow follows you like a hound."
Maeglin sat down at the table, smiling. "He does, doesn't he?"
"You are looking well and fair. Even shined your boots, I see."
Maeglin stretched out his own lean, strong legs. Black leather gleamed up to the knee. "I had them done before I came to you. What are you about this day?"
Salgant gestured to the bloom in the vase. "I seek inspiration. If I feel so inclined, perhaps I shall pen a verse or two."
Maeglin snorted. "That is all? You are lazy."
Salgant conceded, "I cannot match you for hard labour, so I do not try. Instead, I keep myself soft and fair."
"Lazy and conceited," Maeglin said.
Salgant sighed, "Would that I could be when I compare myself to you."
Maeglin batted at a salver of sweetmeats with one hand. "And also greedy."
Salgant chuckled, "That, I cannot but be, with so many fine things to choose from."
Maeglin snorted again, though the sound might have hidden a laugh. "And you're fat, with it. A butter-tub!"
Salgant slapped his belly and grinned. "Everybody likes a bit of butter for their bread! There's not a table in Gondolin where I'm not welcome. Men feel brave and women feel secure. Many a widow has had me to sup. I listen to them sigh for their lost husbands. ‘Tis eating to flatter their tables that has made me fat. Every time, I declare my hostess the finest bread-maker that ever did live, beg leave to kiss the dainty hand that has kneaded the leaven into lightness, and then…" Salgant chuckled. "They like it that I'm solid in bed. The opposite of a houseless spirit."
Maeglin raised an eyebrow. "You're lucky I'm fond of you, Salgant. Turgon himself might chide your venery." He said nothing about his own scandalized excitement at Salgant's confessions.
Salgant said, "Well, I feel sorry for you, I must. I would not be the prince for any treasure, seeing you barred from wine and women for courtly respect. Though evidently you make do."
Maeglin smiled darkly. "I have my consolations."
Salgant pouted, "Too harsh and overwhelming, I find. You should come to dine with me some night. I know a consolable widow whose sister has also suffered a tragic loss at the Nirnaeth."
Maeglin grumbled, "You know well I cannot eat from such a table, Salgant. As you said, I am the prince. A dalliance with an elf-man is tolerable, barely, under the laws of the Eldar, but a dalliance with a woman is not, be she maid or widow. It would be all over town in a night." Especially, thought Maeglin, if it was your loose lips that knew of it. Still, Salgant's heavy-handed attempt at manipulation reminded Maeglin of his business there.
Setting aside their banter, Maeglin said, "I need your help."
"Only if it's amusing," said Salgant.
"Oh, it is. Have you heard Tuor's tidings?" Maeglin asked.
"Abandon Gondolin? Ridiculous!" huffed Salgant.
Maeglin said, "Good to hear that you hold the right idea. I want to distract people from this nonsense, and to do that, I want your harp for the court. Come tonight, sing to distract and praise; make everyone think about something else. Glory of Gondolin, diverting drolleries, that sort of thing." Maeglin realized that he was eating half the sweetmeats in the salver and pushed it aside.
Salgant preened. "For song and mirth, I am the fellow."
"I'll ask Ecthelion as well. He shall soothe all those who think of war and bravery with some lays of the Nirnaeth Aenordiad." Seeing Salgant peeved at that, Maeglin added, "Of course, I asked you first. There would be no purpose to the entertainment without you to please the ladies."
Mollified, Salgant said, "All right. When?"
"Tonight!" Salgant sat up, alarmed, and began to arrange his curls.
"I shall press Idril to change the entertainment," Maeglin said.
"She is wont to give her favourite clerk, Pengolod, the honour tonight." Salgant's smile was half a sneer as he spoke his rival's name. "This is even more amusing than I'd thought. Are you sure she'll change it?"
"Of course. I am the prince," said Maeglin.
His business done, Maeglin did not linger, leaving Salgant to his foppery. He struck out to go back to the palace, then changed course. He decided that he wished to speak with another lord, Ecthelion, who was the chief warden of Gondolin's great Gate of Steel.
When Maeglin saw the glitter of the Gate in the sun, he also heard the music of military fifes played by Ecthelion's guards. He frowned at the sound of Ecthelion's favourite instrument. As he went towards the gate's north tower, he struck one of the gate's steel bars. This set moving a deep humming, as if he had struck a great harp, that overpowered the lighter music.
Inside the tower, Ecthelion giving orders to the wardens of the Gate, his face fair but steely beneath his helm. He sat in a wide, high-backed chair to do so, facing out upon the tower's room, and his elf-men knelt before him as men knelt in the palace to Turgon. Maeglin laughed inwardly. He had sensed Ecthelion's own urge to power, his military restlessness, and sought to both chain and honour him by making him and his men wardens of the great Gate of Steel. Maeglin regarded him as a fine example of what the city's more serious lords thought of current events. More, Tuor was out of the way today and the day after; and what of the day after that? It was not too soon to plan for it.
Ecthelion gave Maeglin fair greeting as his prince, but his eyes stayed cool. He listened as Maeglin proposed that he take on Tuor as one of the gate-wardens, presenting the idea that Tuor, of mortal kind, would be useful in case any further mortals needed to be dealt with.
Ecthelion's cool expression did not change. "One word, my lord. No."
Maeglin kept his temper, barely, at being so bluntly refused. Ecthelion saw Maeglin's stillness and added, "The messenger of Ulmo, my lord, is not for me to command."
Maeglin snapped, "He is the messenger of Ulmo no more. I saw that geas fall away from him with my own eyes. That task done, he has to do something, not be a palace pet; he is no youngling. I have no doubt, Ecthelion, that you could keep him honourably busy for his span of years."
Ecthelion gestured to his folk to leave. When the tower room was empty, he said quietly, "You wish him away from Turgon."
Confronted, Maeglin said, "Do you think that ill?"
Ecthelion was thoughtful for a moment. Then, he confessed, "No, my lord. I am mindful of the tidings the Eagles brought about Nargothrond. That was another hidden city of our folk, brought to ruin by a mortal warrior counselling war and strength. Thus I would not place such a one among my warriors, just as you would not place him by Turgon's seat. It is hard enough to keep them content with the counsel of the sealed gates as it is. Ten of my garrison have tried to bend my ear today on the matter, even my second in command, Glorfindel."
Maeglin was alarmed, all the more so when Ecthelion humbled himself to ask what Turgon's counsel was. Maeglin narrowed his black eyes. "I know Turgon's counsel, yes. But I do not know if I will share it with you this day." He stood before the seated Ecthelion, arms akimbo, chin held high. "I do not take just anyone into my confidence. Are you my ally? Will you support my counsels, if I reveal them to you? We are less apart, I think, than you would have us." The glint in Maeglin's eyes grew dangerous. "I have done much for you, Ecthelion; perhaps it is time that the debt is come paid."
Ecthelion was silent.
Maeglin let the silence sharpen like a razor before he said, "Consider this, then; I have Turgon's ear. Do you?"
Ecthelion's face stayed frozen as he admitted, "You are the prince, my lord. I am not."
"Correct." Maeglin said. "You need not answer my question now. Come to evensong at our king's great hall tonight, judge the mood of the folk for yourself. I would be well pleased if you sang and played a measure of the fife you favour. And answer me tomorrow. I may have counsels for you before others know of them."
Maeglin left while he still had his temper. As he passed, he struck the gate again so that it sounded its great note, yet with an edge of discord. He knew it! The mortal was a bad influence already. Worse, his idea to lose the mortal among Ecthelion's men had been shown to be ill conceived, even as it emphasized the need to keep Tuor out of the way. Maeglin resolved to keep his eyes open for further chances. It would have been easy for Maeglin to bring the fellow among the smiths, but that would mean seeing him on a regular basis, and it would be altogether too tempting to tip him into a crucible.
As he returned to the palace, Maeglin exerted himself to restore his mood before seeking out his cousin Idril. To Maeglin, Idril was all that was admirable in a woman, surpassingly fair, inassailably chaste, reassuringly practical. And in all the city of Gondolin, only Idril was his peer, princess as he was prince. He found this adequate explanation for his own stubborn, fiery desire of her.
He stalked the halls until he found her, and it sent a thrill through him that she was in a side corridor, seeming to take the inventory of a huge linen press. He stood and gazed at her for a moment. He would remember long for the way the afternoon sun falling through a doorway caught her hair, and the remote, tender expression on her face. He wondered what she was thinking of. When she closed the door of the press, he went up to her.
"Idril, my cousin," he said. When she started, he went on. "It is rare that I ask a favour of you, but I must today." This was true, because the urge to ask her for every favour, open and hidden, was too strong. After hundreds of years of desire, he could barely look at her without feeling its torment, reminded of his endless dreaming of her, both fair and deliciously dark. He drew his eyes away from gazing at her firm, rosy mouth. "I have a fancy to hear the Lord of Harps sing tonight at the entertainment before Turgon's throne. Ecthelion, the Lord of the Fountain, would also wish to play. Can this be done?"
Idril considered this, then said, "I do not see why not, cousin. There were others who would sing, but…" She glanced at him, and her cornflower-blue eyes were shadowed for a moment. "They will understand, I think." Maeglin knew what she did not say; that they would bow out for the will of the prince. She stepped back. "I shall make the arrangements."
"Ah. Well. Thank you." Maeglin had not expected her to agree so easily. With his errand done, he did not quite know what to say. It was rare that they spoke alone. "Are you busy with your chatelaine's work this day?" Maeglin ventured.
"No more than usual. One man should not make such a difference…" She looked into empty air, grown remote once more.
Tuor, yet again, he thought. To soothe what he saw as her aversion, Maeglin said, "The mortal is looking almost civilized, now. I saw him stripped bare of all his rancid rags in the atelier earlier as they clad him." Idril looked away and flushed. Hastily, Maeglin added, "Forgive me, fair cousin. I am too used to the company of the thrawn smiths, and the smithies where I may say aught. It will be good for me to attend at the palace more." He scarcely heard what she murmured in response before their awkward parting, loathing himself for speaking too crudely.
He retreated to the solitude of his own chambers, agitated. He had seen that day that he could, as the city's prince, have nigh anything he wanted within its walls. But before the light of his cousin's forbidden blue eyes, it was all as ashes to him. Yet, he thought, in a way, was it not all for her sake? He could not imagine Idril, fair and frail as he saw her, enduring the roughness of an evacuation through the Wilds, or amidst the disarray of a half-built stronghold. He thought of the hosts of the Nirnaeth Aenordiad, and gritted his teeth. There had been many noble lords and princes there who might vie for Idril's hand, were they to see how fair she was. However, within the walls of Gondolin, none were fit to approach her, and they knew it. Idril and Maeglin were each other's only peer. If Maeglin could not possess his kinswoman in his arms and his bed, he would content himself with knowing that no other did, either.
That night, at the entertainment in the great hall of the Palace, Maeglin walked with purpose amongst the crowd. Ecthelion sang first, three brief songs, and Salgant followed after, singing long. Salgant did not have as fine a voice as Ecthelion, but his deep lungs sent the sound to every corner of the great hall, and he wed his singing well to the music of the harp he played. He played song after song of admiration for Gondolin and its strong walls and endless endurance. From song to song, Maeglin shifted strategically within the hall. He left Glorfindel well alone, knowing from Ecthelion's word there would be no joy for him there. Other lords and ladies had more open ears. Maeglin sighed to some that Salgant grieved yet for the loss of his father at the Nirnaeth, and saw them quiver as they recalled their own grief. To others, he praised how Turgon honoured the endurance of the two wanderers, noting that the lands outside Gondolin's gates were dull and dreary, with little of sustenance.
He did not linger with anyone. He was well aware that he was not among the most beloved lords of Gondolin, and he cared little. Love and power were not the same, and no other was the prince.
Salgant's art, such as it was, was at its peak that night. For his last piece, he had spun a song as insubstantial as a sweetmeat that somehow managed to lighten the events of the day before. With a catchy system of rhyme, it told of amusing disruption after disruption to the city, the song ending with everything set as it had been before, in peaceful order. Maeglin rarely felt mirthful, but he smiled for the song's implication; that what had passed at Tuor's arrival had been the disruption of a day, one brighter thread in Gondolin's tapestry of years.
All this time, Maeglin was aware of Tuor sitting beside the king. He decided he did not want to see much of that, especially after Ecthelion's reminder of Nargothrond. His political work for the evening done, Maeglin turned his mind again to keeping Tuor occupied, out of the way, and as ineffectual as possible. Something needed to occupy the mortal for, hm - how old was he? And how long did mortals live? Maeglin cursed to himself. He would have to go to the libraries tomorrow and look it up, unless someone could answer him now. He glanced about; the chief of loremasters, Rúmil, was not there, but several others were, including Pengolod. Maeglin noted that Pengolod sipped from his cup of wine with an expression as if it was vinegar. No doubt the bile between him and Salgant went both ways. Thinking of the deep and peaceful libraries of Gondolin, an idea dawned.
Maeglin went directly to Pengolod. With as friendly a tone as he could muster, he said, "You do not look to be enjoying yourself."
Pengolod gave Maeglin a skeptical look. Whatever had him dismayed had sharpened his tongue. ‘My lord, it is so unlike you to take idle converse with your servants."
It was time for another truth, a grudging one, this time. "You like me as much as I like you, and little love is lost between us thereby. I can yet respect you," Maeglin said. It had the desired effect. Pengolod softened immediately and apologized.
As if unoffended, Maeglin went on. "I know little of song or music's art. The crowd is well pleased, but you are not. Am I missing some artistic shortcoming?"
"The song the Lord of Harps sings is not the style I prefer," said Pengolod.
"His songs spin out fancies that never were; he sees fevered romances in the least glance of friendship in our histories; he tells ludicrous tales to fill in gaps! That is not what our history is about," said Pengolod, hotly.
"Nor is he about history, but entertainment. So he says to me." Maeglin dropped his voice. "Between you and me, perchance the vogue for Salgant's artistry is fading. Why, earlier today, the noble Aranwë said to me he would not come to hearken, saying he preferred more classical minstrels, like yourself." To be accurate, Aranwë had, with jealous bitterness, described Salgant as a useless popinjay and said he wouldn't disgrace his ears. This made what Maeglin said truthful enough by his reckoning, and the half-lie was sweet to the hearer.
Pengolod preened, almost exactly as Salgant had earlier, and said, "Truly? Well. Hm."
Maeglin refrained from rolling his eyes, deciding bards were all alike. "Speaking of the wisdom of history, I would have your counsel. How long will the mortal, Tuor, live?"
"Mayhap forty turns of the seasons, mayhap fifty; less than half a long-year," Pengolod said, sadly.
"Do you think it might be to his profit if, even for the brief time he dwells amongst us, that he learns of the noble past? As it should be; not as mere minstrels would have it."
"Such is the path to wisdom, as you yourself have said," Pengolod replied. "Though there is so much to learn - it would take all his years, and then another span besides."
Maeglin thought that sounded perfect. He leaned in with a conspirator's air. "Perhaps you loremasters could take him on as a student, then?"
Pengolod thought for a moment, then asked, "Has Tuor said how he wishes to spend his time?"
Maeglin was taken aback. "I see not what Tuor's wishes have to do with it. He gave up his will when he came within Gondolin's walls. He will do as he is bid."
Pengolod's expression closed up. "My lord, no loremaster wishes to have a student who does not truly desire to learn. It is a waste of time for everyone. If Tuor wishes to come to us, we will welcome him."
Something inside Maeglin snapped. He inhaled as if he could suck his rage back into himself. For some indefinable reason, Tuor's very presence made many insolent and wilful, and he felt his influence slipping, subtly. If he did not seize it hard now, he did not care to think where matters would lead. Maeglin growled, "He will come to you, and you will teach him for his span and more. Unless you care to keep him company labouring in Anghabar?"
Pengolod met his eyes and said, quiet and resolute, "If my lord values my labours at Anghabar, I will go. I do not fear the mines."
Maeglin inhaled again, then hissed, "And how are the children of your sister Thingódhel? Are not her two lads nearly elf-men of age? Do you think they are as fearless as you?"
Pengolod blanched, then recovered. "My lord. If...if Tuor comes to us for teaching, I must say that my nephews would be invaluable assistants in his tutoring."
"I cannot see why, but I do see that you understand me," Maeglin sneered. "You will have more word from me within the week. For now, I shall return to this entertainment. I myself find Salgant quite diverting, tonight." He turned on his heel without another word.
Maeglin returned to the seat left empty for him at Turgon's right hand; no-one would take the prince's chair, even if he did not deign to sit there all the night. His pleasure at having solved the problem of Tuor was spiced by finally having realized how to manage the vexingly independent loremaster.
He spoke briefly with Turgon. Turgon's knowing glance showed that he was aware of Maeglin's ploy in putting forth Salgant that night. But he did not seem displeased. Idril, Maeglin noted, was coping with the mortal seated to Turgon's left, and he admired her sense of duty. Finally Maeglin glanced out over the crowd, glad that the murmurs he heard seemed sensible to his ears. His heart lightened. He felt that, soon, Gondolin would be secure again. He looked down the row of seated nobles. Prince, and king, and vassals; all in their order. Maeglin snapped his fingers for a cup of wine at last.
Afterwards, Salgant, once freed from his sighing admirers, corralled Maeglin. "What were you doing talking to that wretched stick Pengolod? You had him all but fawning over you."
"Why? Is that your task?" said Maeglin.
Already drunk and maudlin, Salgant flung a heavy arm about Maeglin. "He's a jumped-up clerk, a nobody--"
With mock sternness, Maeglin disengaged himself and said, "You are in your cups, Salgant. Let us get you gone from here before you undo this night's work." Maeglin's ill temper returning, he thought of his own bed, cold that night. It was impossible to not have a favourite in midwinter; he would seduce someone new tomorrow. He would let his chaste departure be his last princely work of the night.
He said nothing of this as he drew Salgant along, conscious of seeming decorous and dutiful on the surface, aware that the gossips in the hall knew what their prince would be about tomorrow. Some might disapprove, but nobody would stop him. Perhaps, he thought, it was not so ill after all to be the prince. And he smiled sharply.