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Gates of Steel

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Still summer had come to the wood of Nan Elmoth. Few of the Elves lived among the forest of pine and hemlock, so close-roofed with branches that the stars themselves were blocked out for all the year. And those few that did took Eöl for their lord, and did his bidding.

Maeglin thought on this bitterly as he sat at table with his father, Eöl, his mother, Aredhel Ar-Finel, and their guest, Saeros; his father's spy in the realm of Doriath. Saeros was telling them all the news that Eöl would hear, of traffic with the Dwarves and the dealings of Thingol. But he would not suffer Saeros to speak any news of the kin of Aredhel and Maeglin, the elf-people of the Noldor. Maeglin seethed at this. He and his father had become estranged since they had traded harsh words over Maeglin's desire to visit his kin. Eöl had said to him, "I will not deal or have my son deal with the slayers of our kin, the invaders and usurpers of our homes. In this you will obey me, or I will put you in bonds." And Maeglin knew his father did not make idle threats.

Eventually, Eöl rose, and smoothly invited Saeros to walk with him a while. He bade an uxorious good-evening to his wife, and she watched with a look between sadness and petulance as the pair left. Maeglin's eyes glinted with rage. When Eöl was gone, he spoke to his mother.

"How can you stand it? Do you not burn with fury? You know they now speak of your kin, and deny you all the news you would most have!"

Aredhel laughed lightly. "The news from Doriath - he may tell me some of it later. Saeros should have remembered all the details about the scandal of Daeron's lust for the king's daughter. I wonder if it came to anything?" she mused. She turned to see if this amused her listener, and her face shifted to regret to see Maeglin's uneasy expression. "My son! I spoke my thought too freely. I am sorry; for it was not meet. You are grown so tall and lordly, and the talk tonight was so diverting, that I felt among my companions of old. Forgive me." She bowed her head, ashamed.

"Of course, Mother." He could never bear to see his mother grieved, especially on his account.

"We are both lonely, I think," said Aredhel. She had changed the tongue she spoke. Before, she had spoken a common elvish language, but now she spoke the old High Speech, that was used every day only in the city where she had dwelt, Gondolin. She and her son were the only ones who spoke that language in all Nan Elmoth; it was their secret. She stood and moved aside the drapes blocking the late-setting sun from entering the chamber. A ray of light fell in, blinding as it glanced from Aredhel's white raiment. "Would that your father had not forbidden you at least from visiting our kin! For me, I made my choice, and I must bear it. But I would have our kin see how fair you are. Might you not try to reconcile with him?"

"I had thought on it, mother," Maeglin admitted. "I long to go riding with you again, and not to be idle away from the forges all day. But he has barred me from both, and his wretched servants bide by him." The servants of Nan Elmoth were not their allies. They were not pleased that Eöl had taken a straying Noldor to wife, instead of one of their own kin. It was no hardship for them to obey commands that suited their long grudges. "But do not stay here tonight on my account; ride out and bring me back the tale of all you see. That will lighten the time for me."

Aredhel danced off, relieved to have her greatest pleasure made her duty. Maeglin went back to his private chamber with a heavy heart, and paced its length. In the twilight room, his face was so pale it seemed to have its own light, and his hair was black without any glint of sleekness. Anyone who looked at him and his lovely mother standing together would have known they were kin, but they would have marvelled at his dark, deep-set eyes; those he had from his father.

For most of his years, Maeglin had followed his father's will. The increased hunger of his mind had changed that. Nan Elmoth grew stale to him. He was ever more mindful of his mother's tales of her lost city, Gondolin, and dreamed of new faces and deeds. Restless, he had quarrelled with his father more and more; the spite, and the attention he received, was a change from dull routine. When Eöl had realized what Maeglin gained from their quarrels, he had struck doubly, with the grave threat and with complete silence to his son. Whoever spoke first to the other, it was understood, was surrendering.

They had been silent to each other for a year.

Now, the busy mind that had led Maeglin to rebel brought him at last to the idea of reconciling. It was not that he was breaking, he told himself; this would be a means to an end. Once he might ride out again, it was only a matter of time before he left for good. In the meantime, he would sharpen and harden himself at the forges, making things that would be needful for a battle-torn flight. To do this within the bounds of Nan Elmoth, Maeglin needed his father to lift the blocks and bans placed on him. Eager for escape, fading from boredom, Maeglin decided to feign contriteness and break the silence. He stopped his pacing and sat down in the coolest corner of the room, deep in shadow.

He needed to harden himself to deceive Eöl without being undone. If he did not go to his father at least partly with good will, the deep-seeing elf-man would read it in him, and call him out on it. This Maeglin knew, for he too had the same strange gift to peer into another's soul and mind. He must persuade himself, before he persuaded his father.

What was the worst that could happen? Nothing, really; no word and no change. And that was not likely, he thought. One so possessive would not refuse fealty again. Anything else that his father might bring him, harsh words or otherwise, he would bear it, because it was the pathway to what he wanted. Not just a measure of freedom, but escape. When he was younger, Eöl had taught him everything. A harsh word from his father broke his heart, and a kind touch made his heart leap. He was steeled against both, now. He would be stronger than hammer or anvil.

A week after Saeros had left, Maeglin went to his father at his forge beneath the hemlock trees. When he arrived, Eöl was hammering out a sword. It was unusual to see at this time of year. Normally, Eöl saved the making of swords for winter, when it was easier to anneal them with secret arts in the long, cold nights. By the looks of it, some dwarf-lord had pleaded for it out of season; the blade was short and wide. Heat shimmered from the forge's open wall on the summer night. Maeglin waited patiently as the blade was hammered, cooled in a trough of blood and water, and lain to temper on a hot sheet of metal. Eöl looked up then, wiping the sweat from his face. He saw Maeglin and did not speak, but nor did he send him away. And it meant much not to be dismissed from the smithy of Eöl at the end of a sword's forging.

Eöl bent and took a metal pipe out from a secret place, balancing it on the forge until its channel glowed. He flipped the tempering blade, at times cooling it again in the red water. When the blade-metal was at a certain radiance, yet touched with ash, he took it in a pair of tongs and thrust it into the pipe, turning it, thrusting it in again, muttering charms as he worked the metal inside the pipe's trebled heat. At last he thrust the blade into the red water, and the steam filled the forge with a rich fume of steel. When Eöl placed the blade on a scorched block of wood, Maeglin stepped forward at last. "Father?"

Eöl turned to his estranged son and spoke. "What?"

Maeglin's voice was laced with persuasion. "Father, I came to apologise to you. And to say that I will bide by your laws with a good will, not grudgingly."

"Been thinking, have you?" Eöl's tall frame was hung with a heavy leather apron over coarse, scorched garments, and he wore leather gauntlets. His long black braid was bound into a club at the back of his neck, and his lean face and sinew-strong arms were streaked with soot and metal-grime.

"Yes, father."

"You should have come to me sooner," Eöl said, wiping more sweat away. "Could have used your help here tonight."

"I could help now, father."

"Dressed like that? No. I am finished, anyway." Maeglin wore a fine white shirt and slim-fitting indigo leggings. Amidst the fumes of the forge, his skin was fairer than Eöl's, and his soft, dark eyes less shadowed. "Come here."

Dutifully, Maeglin went and stood by his father. Eöl was taller than he was. Maeglin showed promise that he would become even stronger than his sire over time, but at eighty years he was only barely come of full age by the count of the Elves. Eöl took off one of the gauntlets and stroked Maeglin's cheek. "Iôn," he said, the elvish word for "son," which he often used instead of Maeglin's name. "You'll work with me tomorrow."

"Thank you."

"And you'll come to me tonight."

"Of course, father." In the heat of the smithy, Maeglin was chilled by those words.

"Good. I would be sure of you. Keep that garb when you come later; it suits you."

Maeglin was obedient in garb and appearance that evening, hiding his double mind. When Maeglin came to his father's chambers in the silence before dawn, Eöl's pale skin was clean, and his braid trailed down his back. He stood tall and commandeering, dressed in a loose summer robe dyed with indigo. Maeglin took the metal cup of wine his father proferred. Ordinarily, he would have refused it. One never could tell what dark herbs lurked in the cups of Eöl, to incite passion or dull the will. In his placating mood, he accepted the wine, and sipped sparingly.

Sitting on the couch of repose, they spoke for a time of the labours of the forge, and Maeglin could not help but come alive at the talk of the work he loved. For the first time, Eöl smiled. "It is well to see that you are still my son." He moved closer along the couch, and smoothed back Maeglin's dark hair. His hands smelled of iron, and his dark gaze drew like magnet-steel.

Eöl began one of his rare speeches. "I was disappointed in your wilfulness, to succumb to wishing to visit your mother's unworthy kin," said Eöl. "I raised you to have a stronger will than that. The Noldor can teach you nothing more than what we know already, and they betrayed our people, slaying the Teleri and usurping their lands. They are deceivers and defiers ever. Have they not been cursed to fall by treachery of kin unto kin?"

"That is so, father," said Maeglin.

"Then you understand why I kept you from them, to protect you," said Eöl. "I care for your mother, enough to rescue her from her tainted kin; and I care for you." He looked hard at Maeglin. "And that is why your foolishness angers me. Show me that you are not as they are, that you are true."

Maeglin rose. The sooner this ritual began, the sooner it was over with, he thought, brooding more on what Eöl might have planned for him later than on the fact that he moved to strip before his father. He had learned his silence from these hours; such times were their secret. With practised grace, he began to unfasten his white shirt. Before he could slide it off his shoulders, Eöl spoke. "Keep it on," he commanded, "but off with the rest." He moved aside so that Maeglin could recline along the couch of repose.

Silently, Maeglin ran his hands over his own body, drawing one leg up. Eöl stood above and watched the young elf-man caress himself for a time. Maeglin strove to make a flickering, flowing display, stretching out his lithe body curved with a smith's muscles, now with his head tilted back voluptuously, now meeting Eöl's dark eyes with dark eyes that were the same. From beneath his half-closed lids, he saw Eol brush his own robe so that it fell open from shoulder to ankle, then reach into a pocket. Eöl's smile was grim as he reached down and grasped his son's right wrist. "Did you think I spoke in vain, Iôn, when I said I would put you in bonds?"

"You never said what you did not mean, father," said Maeglin, very quietly. His black eyes flew wide as he felt cold metal snap fast around his clasped wrist.

"Good." With a bruising grip, Eöl took his other wrist and snapped a second gyve there, then seized the short chain between the two in his fist and pulled it up to the level of Maeglin's eyes. Eöl released the chain and stood back, hands on his hips. As he realized he was meant to, Maeglin tested the gyves. They were slick and secure, wrought of his father's black metal, galvorn, the same shining black as both their hair. Involuntarily, he jerked his arms back, trying to escape their clasping touch.

Eöl grabbed the chain again with one hand and dragged him up to kneeling, leaning down so they were face to face. "This is what awaits if you defy me again, to bide in these very bonds. Do you understand?"

"Yes," whispered Maeglin, on the choked edge of silence.

Eöl's lips curled in a thin smile. "You hate them already, do you?"

"Yes."

"My making always meets my purpose. As you shall, Iôn." Maeglin saw that his father's other hand reached back to grasp something - the hilts of a sword that rested by the couch. Eöl shook his blade, Anguirel, free from its sheath with one hand, pulling Maeglin's arms above his head with the other.

Then Eöl rammed the sword into the couch between Maeglin's kneeling legs. Maeglin twisted and bit his mouth for silence, feeling the heat of a cut and blood sliding down one thigh, wincing back from another touch of the sword's metal against his groin. Eöl dragged his raised arms down so that the sword rose between them.

"Are you in a mood to defy me further in these matters?" asked Eöl.

"No, father," said Maeglin.

"Swear your fealty to my sword, then!" Slowly, Maeglin leaned forward and kissed the centre of the hilt, where the hilt's quillon met the blade.

"Again. Lower down."

Maeglin pressed his mouth against the oil-smeared blade. His father still watched him, so he drew the touch of his mouth down a ways, and let a flicker of his tongue show. Eöl grasped the hilt above him, and drew the sword out of Maeglin's chained embrace. He turned the blade sideways, and pressed it against Maeglin's throat. They were both still for a moment. Then, not moving the blade or Maeglin's wrists, Eöl sank down beside Maeglin upon the couch, and turned his lips to his son's.

Eöl was many ages old, with the long life of the elves beneath the stars. Never did he speak of what corruption or fear had darkened him under the trees in his past, whether it had been the cruel ways of unlettered Avari or a shadow of Morgoth. And he had taught Maeglin more than smith-craft. For he would have every pleasure from his son, harsher things than he would ask of his wife. Maeglin was well aware of this; it made their complicity complete. Eöl did not demand a more sophisticated form of satisfaction from Maeglin tonight, preferring to keep him in bonds beneath him.

Eöl was slow to rouse and slow to sate, and he had much use and torment of Maeglin, who was fiery with youth. None had touched Maeglin in his year of silence, and he was more willing to be taken than he wished. Beneath his father's hands and body, and the touches that had first seduced him years past, Maeglin's pain turned to lust, and lust itself became another torment. Longing to plead for release, he was too proud to do so with the gyves around his wrists, holding back until his father commanded it. Eöl was not finished with him then, continuing to take him until Maeglin felt like a sword itself pierced him, hot from the tempering sheet. Maeglin willed himself silent against the long pain; Eöl, silent himself, had taught him not to cry out at such times.

Eöl released Maeglin at dawn so that his son might return to his own chambers. Back in his own space, Maeglin rinsed his mouth from an ewer of water. He knew that he was bleeding where no man wished to bleed from Eöl's long use of him. One of his wrists was still numb, but the well-finished gyves had left him unmarked. Even a blow that had made his mouth run red inside had not marked his face. When he realized that, he straightened up again.

Truly, it had been a success. It might have been far worse. Maeglin smiled. Was that all his father could think of to make him suffer, over the course of a year? Eöl was easily won, then. If their places had been reversed, he would have been more cruel by far. In a few days he would ask to ride out again, and once that was granted, he could plan in earnest. As for seeing his father at the forge tomorrow evening, he would cope with that when the time came. He supposed he might have borne everything without going to the edge of breaking, except the last. His father had taunted for a time, saying that he had decided not to remove the gyves, but keep him so bound. Even the horror and shame of that idea had not broken him, and thinking on it gave his determination a bitter edge.

By the time the moon had waxed and waned again, Aredhel had great delight; for Eöl rode to the midsummer feast of the dwarves of Nogrod, leaving Maeglin as his seneschal, not the head steward. It seemed to her that all was right as it might be beneath the trees.

The evening that Eöl had ridden out, Maeglin and Aredhel had gone out separately, taking their horses to the eastern edge of the wood to watch the sunrise, and then returned to Eöl's halls. Maeglin was silent as they returned. This freedom was sooner than he anticipated. He had not completed the work of weapons he hoped to, but he did not know when he would have another chance to flee again. He looked at his mother as they rode, she exuberant at the chance of a few days under less forced guard. He would speak to her, and see if she might not mend her ill choice, hoping that he would not need to tell her all the reasons she might wish to leave Nan Elmoth.

Maeglin spoke to her when they walked between stable and dark doorway. "Lady, let us depart while there is time! What hope is there in this wood for you or me? Here we are held in bondage…" He laid out his plan swiftly, to guard her while she guided him. His mother's response thrilled him, not least because he did not need to try and persuade her more. "That indeed I will do, and swiftly! And no fear shall I have upon the road with a guard so valiant."

"Then let us seize what is needful, and leave when day is come! Take only what a swift horse may bear besides us, riding fast and secret. Then I will meet you at your chambers, and we shall go forth."

Maeglin did not run, but walked swiftly to his room. He donned his black-metal armour against his father's darts, and covered all with a grey-green cloak to blend with wood and field, although it would make the summer ride hot to bear. He took up a pack that he had made ready with subtle thieving from his father's stores, then went to pass to Aredhel's rooms. On the way, he stopped and paused. The door to his father's chambers, through some neglect, was not locked. The portal was open.

He entered.

In the main room, the curtains were still drawn; the couch still bore its gash from the sword-strike meant to humble him. The dusty, incense-laden smell of the air made him feel cold again, as if he might hear Eöl's footfall at any moment. He walked up to the couch. After looking at it for a long moment, he spat in contempt, then turned to leave that place forever.

A gleam caught his eye, and he looked among the jewels and metal scattered on a table. There lay the sword Anguirel. Of course! Maeglin recalled that, when Eöl went to the dwarves, to flatter them he carried an acid-graved axe as his weapon, not his sword. Maeglin carried a sword. But his fingers itched with covetousness at the sight of Anguirel. He went to Anguirel and lifted it, drawing it partly from its sheath. The metal seemed to hum in the dusty room.

"Black sword," whispered Maeglin. "I swore fealty to my father and to thee. Thee at least I will not betray; come with me." Quickly, he opened his belt and took down the sword he wore already. It had been bestowed by Eöl, and he had had to earn it. Maeglin did not cast it to the table, but to the floor, and he slid Anguirel's sheath along his belt. Striding wider to balance the extra weight, he came to his mother's chambers.

"I am ready, dear son!" Aredhel trilled.

Maeglin looked at her in dismay. "Mother! Why are you clad all in white? You will shine like a beacon as we ride, to be seen a league or more away!"

"I would be in fair array when we come to Gondolin, although the ride is long."

Maeglin recognized her stubborn expression and gritted his teeth, balancing his anger at her flightiness with his eagerness to be free. He would not linger to argue about which cloak was prettiest. "Let us go, then. Now!" he said, harshly. Aredhel looked at him, astonished, then followed him obediently. Maeglin used the same harsh tone to the shocked stable-elves to demand the two swiftest horses. As they went out, Maeglin looked at his smiling mother, and felt the weight of the black sword by his side. He decided that he was filching the two fairest things from Nan Elmoth, and he was glad.

Maeglin never forgot that wild ride. Two weeks they rode, every day in the summer sun or the light rain, and even the clouded day-sky seemed bright after the night of Nan Elmoth. They taunted Eöl's servants at the fords of the Celon, telling him that they rode to see the sons of Fëanor. Then they went hard along the fences of Doriath, east and north. When they turned away from Doriath into the fell foothills of Nan Dungortheb, the evil place of shadow and the spawn of Ungoliant, they did not ride unchallenged. Maeglin wielded Anguirel, and the sword seemed well pleased with its new master; nothing stood before them. When they rested the horses, Aredhel again spoke the oft-told tales of Gondolin. "My brother Turgon has no heir, nor will he, being bereaved, poor dear elf. He will be greatly pleased when I ride there with you." Maeglin smiled. He had been counting upon this, and looked forwards to seeing the truth of it.

At last they came to the Dark Gate that led to the Hidden City of Gondolin; and from the moment that Maeglin heard other elves besides himself and his mother speak in Quenya, he was silent with wonder. They passed the great gates, they walked the white streets and halls, and they were brought before Aredhel's brother, Turgon, in the highest hall of all. It was as Aredhel had spoken; her brother ruled Gondolin.

As the sundered kin embraced joyfully, Maeglin looked about, and was stricken to the heart. For there was a woman beautiful beyond his dreaming, as bright as freedom itself, standing dutifully by the king.

"Who is that maid? I never imagined a woman so lovely," he said.

Aredhel gently said, "That is my niece of whom I spoke, wise Idril. She will introduce you to maidens as fair as she, as is fitting. I am not surprised you did not think she might be kin, for you had no cousins in Nan Elmoth."

No, thought Maeglin bitterly; but he had a father. And in his mother's soft rebuke he saw all his father's uncleanness, and his own, and his heart curdled with venom.

Later on, he did not remember much of the courtly pleasantries that passed before a messenger came with unimagined news; Eöl had followed them. Based on the messenger's report, Aredhel's white raiment had been part of what betrayed their path. Maeglin's throat clenched with fury at his mother's vanity, his own sloppy haste, the irony that it all might begin again here, the lust and the pain and the service. He said naught as his mother said for them to bring Eöl forth.

He was brought there, proud and sullen. Eöl looked at his son and saw the black sword by his side, and read the hatred in his eyes; and he knew well that Maeglin was come to wisdom. Maeglin saw him collect himself and speak proud words, turning at the end to Maeglin, not to his wife. "Come, Maeglin son of Eöl! Your father commands you. Leave the house of his enemies and the slayers of his kin, or be accursed!" But Maeglin answered nothing. He would not surrender, this time, or come at his father's bidding ever again.

Staring at his father, Maeglin barely heard the words as Turgon presented Eöl with a choice; live forever in Gondolin, or accept death. "And so also for your son," said Turgon at the last. Eöl was silent, and stayed silent. The longer the interval drew on, the closer Maeglin and his mother drew to each other. Aredhel was trembling, he saw.

"The second choice I take for myself, and for my son as well. You shall not hold what is mine!" As he spoke, he flung a light spear and it struck home, not against armoured Maeglin but against Aredhel, who sprang before her son.

Even as the guards leapt forwards to bring Eöl down and bind him, and Aredhel pulled out the javelin, Turgon shouted that he would have Eöl slain. To Maeglin's shock, Aredhel, her white gown bearing a flower of blood, cried out, "No! He is my husband!"

Before Maeglin could recover from this, Idril also spoke. "I would not see any elf so slain by your command, father. It is as ill as the Kinslaying we both suffered to avoid. Bring him tomorrow to your judgement! We might take counsel tonight."

Turgon looked swayed by the women's words. Maeglin added nothing, angry that both the women placed his father's life above his own. How could his own mother spring before him, then speak up for the one who had tried to kill him? Her face was white and blank, and she looked at neither her husband nor her son. Maeglin saw that one of the guards had pinned Eöl's wrists behind his back with a belt of chain. Used to making the best of things, he thought that it was one satisfaction, at least, to see his father hauled away in bonds, while he stood free, Anguirel by his side.

Even after the dreadful night, when his mother died from the poisoned wound that had seemed small, there was still satisfaction in it the next day when they brought Eöl forth at noon up to the height of the Caragdur. Turgon went to witness Eöl's execution, for he had decreed it after Aredhel had died. Eöl would be flung from the height, to fall and perish on the stones. Maeglin went as well.

Before he could climb the height, Idril spoke to him. She had said little, uneasy at his dark looks and silence, and she burst forth at last. "How can you stand by to watch your father slain? I would have spared him, my cousin; but you may at least spare yourself."

Maeglin saw the horror in her eyes as she looked at him, saw her standing white and gold in the summer mountain sun. All through the counsels of the night, Turgon had borne Idril's disagreement without a raised hand, let alone a raised word. Maeglin had learned much by watching them, and his silence had grown deeper than ever. So had his desire of Idril. "Your father's law is more right than you know," he said, half to himself.

Idril was defiant. "I do not think so. Not in this matter."

Maeglin said nothing to that, but gave Idril a last hot glance. Then he turned and took the stony path, following his father and the execution party, with one hand on the hilts of Anguirel.