A warm breezy summer’s day, the wind shaking the leaves of the apple trees in Celebrían’s orchard, heavily laden with apples starting to flush red. Frodo was sitting on a bench under an apple tree with a book on his lap. Maglor was sitting on the grass, leaning against a wrinkled grey tree trunk and playing a harp in short, disjointed phrases.
They had been living in the house of Elrond and Celebrían on Tol Eressëa for almost a year. Frodo and Maglor had fallen into a habit of spending some of the morning together, talking of this and that, while Bilbo took his morning nap.
The breeze blew a brief phrase of quicksilver notes past, clearly audible for a moment before the wind direction changed and the sound receded.
“Is someone playing a flute?” Frodo asked.
“Yes,” Maglor agreed, and went on picking music from the harp.
Frodo looked at him enquiringly. “Who?”
Maglor grimaced. “That is Ecthelion of Gondolin,” he said. “He has been sitting outside, playing the flute, most of this morning. He and Egalmoth.”
“Ecthelion the Balrog-slayer of Gondolin! I’ve read about him. He sounds very fierce.”
“I believe he is,” Maglor said, neutrally. “And an excellent flautist.”
“We aren’t inviting them in?”
“Elrond isn’t here, and Celebrían is busy,” Maglor said, uncomfortably. He had not come to any conclusions about what to say to Ecthelion, and particularly to Egalmoth of the Golden Arch.
Frodo looked at him, obviously mystified. “I feel I’m missing something,” he said. “You aren’t usually so sparing with words. In fact, usually you are a rich source of gossip when I meet someone who I know only from distant tales!”
Maglor shrugged. “I think they are here as a gift to Turgon’s peace of mind. Or Gil-galad’s, or perhaps both. They are here to watch me. Or at least, I think so. Elrond would have mentioned it if he was expecting them. And they have not come to the door to ask for anyone. If it were a social visit, they would not be so well-armed.”
Frodo looked at him doubtfully for a moment, then he laughed. “You know, when I came here, I somehow thought that living in the West would be restful and uncomplicated!”
Maglor gave him a brief smile. “I fear it was never quite that. Or at least, not when I was here. No doubt it was delightfully quiet while most of the Noldor were in Middle-earth, but now we have returned to annoy the Teleri and the Vanyar with our squabbling. But I hope you are not finding it too unrestful. How is your shoulder?”
Frodo prodded at the shoulder that had been wounded by a Ringwraith with his fingers. “It seems happy enough, thank you for asking!” he said. “It does feel so much easier to breathe, here. And Elrond has helped me a good deal of course. Still, it really is very odd, for hobbits, to be living surrounded by all these great heroes who died so long ago, and have returned from death. I still haven’t quite got used to it.”
“I find it odd, too,” Maglor said. “Or at least, it seems odd to see Egalmoth. The last time I saw him was at the Havens of Sirion, where I killed him.”
A pause, as Frodo thought about that. You could, however, rely on Frodo to consider such alarming news with intelligent interest rather than simple revulsion.
“I see! That is rather awkward. You aren’t going to go to him and apologise? You aren’t usually reluctant to do that.”
“I probably should. I’m not entirely sure I want to,” Maglor admitted. His hand had wandered down to trace the faint, almost worn-away pattern on the hilt of his sword. When it had been made for him, nobody had thought that it might be used for so long. It had not had much use for a long while, but it had been well looked after, and it had virtues forged into it. It was undamaged, and still sharp. “That was just after he killed my little brother Amras.”
Frodo sat up and looked at Maglor’s hand on the sword-hilt with some alarm. “I’d put that away, if I were you,” he said. “You can hardly kill him twice! Or, well, I suppose you probably could, but...”
“But it would be another terrible decision to add to my already long list? A good point. Anyway, I doubt I could. Ecthelion is out there too, and I’m no Balrog.”
Frodo considered this, too. “No whip, no flames, very little shadow, particularly at this time of year. I must say, you make a thoroughly disappointing Balrog.”
Maglor had to laugh at that. “Apparently he killed four of them. Ecthelion must be a fine judge of Balrogs. I’d hate to disappoint him.”
“Anyway,” Frodo said, “Surely you don’t really want to fight him? What would be the point?”
“No! Of course I don’t. Amras died because we attacked the Havens, not because it happened to be Egalmoth who killed him. It was only that the thought made me pause.” Maglor stood up. “I had better go and make my apologies. If I put it off much longer, then Elrond will come back, and it is unfair to make him deal with them. I am putting him to enough trouble already. With luck, if I apologise convincingly, they will go away.”
He took the sword-belt off, laid it on the bench by Frodo, and put the harp carefully next to it. “There,” he said “That should be safer, yes?”
“I expect so,” Frodo said. “Do you mind if I come too?”
“Of course, if you like!” Maglor hesitated. “But you did come here for peace and quiet. It seems unfair to ask you to intervene, and there should be no need, I promise. I have reconciled with Turgon already. He may not like me very much, but still, Ecthelion and Egalmoth were lords of Gondolin. They will obey their king, and I am not seeking trouble.”
Frodo gave him a thoughtful look. “I’m not doing anything much. I’m only sitting here pretending to read about... what is this book about?” He stared at it absently as if it was the first time he had seen it. “It’s about Gondolin, as it happens... I’ve read this description of the gates at least five times, and honestly, I can’t remember a word of it. I was thinking about the Shire.”
“You miss it a good deal, don’t you? Do you regret coming to Tol Eressëa?”
“Oh no. It’s not that I want to go home, exactly. If a door opened right now in front of me, back to the Shire, I don’t think I’d go through. It’s not... It’s not the right place for me any more. To be sitting in your own home, and have all the meaning drain out of it because the Ring is gone, and without it everything seems dark... And knowing that it shouldn’t, it’s wrong to miss it, but still unable to find a way to see the light. I used to get thoughts of how I might have claimed it for my own, in all the years when I had it in the Shire, creeping up on me. I suppose you know how that might feel, better than most elves.”
“Something a little similar,” Maglor said. “One of a number of reasons that I am here, and not in Tirion. Places can set off dark thoughts, that I know. But you don’t find that happening,here?”
“No. And Bilbo is his old self again, too. I wouldn’t give that up. That is such a gift, for us. I’m not sure if anyone here really understands that, perhaps not even Elrond. Memory is so easy for you. Even the Edain are not quite like us in that respect. Instead of time creeping up on Bilbo and stealing him away piece by piece, he is able to remember, to talk and write and tell tales, and walk without a stick. That’s almost worth the Shire, just in itself! But if a door was there, I would be tempted to poke my head through just to have a word with Sam, and see what’s going on. Tol Eressëa is wonderful, but I would dearly love to hear a good discussion about whether Gammer Cotton cheated with her onions at the Hobbiton show, or whether Folco’s youngest boy has been at Farmer Maggot’s mushrooms!”
He looked up at Maglor with a grin. “In the absence of hobbit gossip, an argument of elves would honestly be very welcome.”
Maglor laughed. “It’s a hard life with no gossip in it,” he said. “Come, then, and listen to the arguments of elves!”
. . . . .
The sound of Ecthelion’s flute did not falter as they approached, and he turned casually to look at them, tall, dark-haired and confident, with diamonds sparkling upon his belt and around his neck. Egalmoth, a little shorter and broader, looked a little wary, and came to his feet as he saw Maglor and Frodo approach along the open cliff-top from the long white house that Celebrían had had built upon a cliff, looking back across the sea towards vanished Middle-earth.
The two Gondolodrim were not wearing full armour and helms, but their sturdy leather coats would turn a blow. They both had swords and knives upon their belts, and Egalmoth carried a longbow and a case of arrows across his back as well. Neither of them looked as if they were relaxing in a land that was entirely at peace.
Once Ecthelion had taken the flute from his lips, Maglor greeted them, and took some private amusement from introducing them immediately to Frodo, who of course as a Ringbearer had a name that everyone on Tol Eressëa knew well.
They greeted Frodo with great courtesy, bowing low and saying they were honoured to meet him. They did not bow to Maglor, and they greeted him as ‘Kinslayer’ without using his name or house. Accurate, admittedly, but not conciliatory. Clearly, it was going to be one of those conversations.
But Turgon (under considerable pressure from his father and Fingon, Maglor suspected) had already agreed to reconciliation with the House of Fëanor. If not all Turgon’s lords would accept a personal apology, well, you couldn’t win every time you rolled the dice.
Maglor had done better with the dice so far in this particular game than he had expected. It was probably because the dice he was rolling belonged to Elrond. Still, even under the Doom of the Noldor, you could try. He set himself with determination to ignore all insults blithely and be charming.
He complimented Ecthelion’s flute-playing, and expressed his gratitude for the chance to apologise to Egalmoth. He did not mention Amras. He spoke of his admiration of Ecthelion’s heroism against the Balrogs and Egalmoth’s role in defending the retreat from Gondolin.
All of this was received with sceptical, unspeaking faces.
He presented Egalmoth with a formal apology. Usually he tried to keep such things gravely formal; prosaic and factual, without using any power of word or voice. But Egalmoth had killed his brother. And Egalmoth was now staring at him with such obvious distaste that it was tempting to allow a faint note of authority into his voice and give the measured phases a slight ring of emotion.
Egalmoth interrupted him. “What do you want, kinslayer?” he asked bluntly.
“I came to deliver a much-deserved apology,” Maglor told him, ignoring the tone of voice.
“I won’t be forgiving my killer,” Egalmoth said roughly. “Nor do I want to listen to you talk. Save your breath.”
“In that case,” Maglor asked, making a great effort to sound polite, “May I ask why you are here?”
“We are here to ensure that you don’t do it again,” Ecthelion told him flatly. “I gave my life to get our people safely out of Gondolin, then you came down on them and slaughtered them. I don’t know what the Valar are thinking of, allowing you to come here, but I know you should be watched.”
“I am flattered by your estimation of my abilities,” Maglor said, a little drily, “But there is only one of me! Elwing, Eärendil and their gem are not in Tol Eressëa. I am no threat to them any more.” It was very nearly true; would be true, if he could make it be. Maglor, of all people, was an expert on the balancing act of not quite keeping his word.
“You are the worst of the lot,” Egalmoth said grimly. “You are the one that survived. You are a serious danger. Don’t try to pretend you don’t have help. There are plenty of people in Tirion who are still under your influence.” They had thought of that, then. Unfortunate that the Fëanorian quarter of Tirion had remained so loudly fervent in their loyalties, but there was nothing to be done about that.
“Finrod, the High King and the lords of the House of Fingolfin are surely well able to manage the people of Tirion,” Maglor said, hoping it was true. “Eärendil has forgiven me, and his son may not be entirely happy that you have taken it upon yourselves to plant yourselves to watch outside his house.”
“I don’t know how you have the nerve to impose yourself on Elrond’s hospitality, or why he permits it,” Egalmoth said, eyes narrowed. “But we are not so green and trusting.”
“Are you really saying that Elrond is green and trusting?” Frodo said. “I can’t say I share that opinion! Elrond is renowned across Middle-earth for his wisdom.”
Ecthelion bowed his head gravely to the hobbit. “I know that both you and Elrond have done great deeds in Middle-earth,” he said. “But things are different among those of us who remember Beleriand, the light of the Trees of Valinor and the crossing of the Grinding Ice.”
“Elrond is wise enough to take a risk in time of need, even if the gamble is a perilous one,” Frodo told them, with that emphatic mix of politeness with considerable firmness that was so typical of hobbits, or at least, of the two that Maglor had met. “Giving Maglor another chance is not an over-trusting thing to do!”
Ecthelion shook his head. “The Sons of Fëanor were given chances enough. They turned to darkness. You should not trust him, Frodo.”
There was no good answer that Maglor could make to that, particularly as he felt that Ecthelion’s argument had a certain amount to be said for it.
“Did Turgon send you himself?” he asked instead.
“That’s none of your concern,” Ecthelion said, but Egalmoth looked uneasy enough that it was clear that the answer would be “No.” That was something, at least.
“So you have no orders to come here?” Frodo asked.
They could not in politeness ignore the Ringbearer, as they could Maglor, so they bowed again, and Ecthelion said. “We have not been sent here by our king. We are only watching to ensure the peace is kept.”
“I suppose you are,” Frodo said. “Well, if you must insist on hanging around the place playing the flute, I’m sure we shall all enjoy the music. Oh, hello Gandalf!”
The Maia who was sometimes known as Gandalf came striding up the hill towards him. He had kept the form he had used in Middle-earth, an old man with a long white beard. You could see his body was only wrapped around him, of course, if you looked at him the right way, but he looked more comfortable and well-fitted inside it than many of the servants of the Valar did.
“Hello Frodo!” he said coming up to them. “And Maglor, Ecthelion and Egalmoth too, I see. A somewhat unexpected gathering. Dare I hope it is a sign of reconciliation?”
“Apparently not,” Maglor told him. Gandalf, as an envoy of the Valar, was almost as uncomfortable a sight as Egalmoth, but he was at least likely to be polite. “I have offered my personal apology to Egalmoth. He has declined it.”
“Oh? A great pity, that.”
“You surely can’t believe that such a kinslayer can be trusted!” Egalmoth said to him. Although he was speaking to Gandalf, he kept his eyes on Maglor, as if Maglor, unarmed, was likely to leap on him.
“Trusted is a difficult word,” Gandalf said. “There are some matters where I don’t trust myself; how then shall I say without qualification that Maglor can be trusted? But there’s no need to worry, Egalmoth. Maglor is watched.”
“How reassuring,” Maglor said with distaste. “And did our King ask you to watch, or did you also take that on yourself? You have less reason for it than Egalmoth and Ecthelion. Have the Valar still not learned the unwisdom of interfering among matters for the Elves?”
“Dear me!” Gandalf exclaimed. “There’s no need to be so touchy, Maglor! As it happens, I share your opinion, or most of it. My lord has no intention of intervening in matters that are for the Elves, having learned something from his dealings with your father. Have you been summoned to the Ring of Doom, or required to dwell within the walls of Valimar?”
“No. But I am watched, it seems,” Maglor said warily. He had not noticed any watchers, but Maiar were often hard to discern if you were not expecting them.
“Did you honestly expect not to be? The Oath of Fëanor is no light matter. But not particularly by me: I am here to visit old friends. We have left the watching to the Elves: to Elrond, Celebrían and Finrod the wise, and of course to your uncle Finarfin. There are enough of the great people of the Noldor on Tol Eressëa and in Tirion that there is no need for our assistance, and certainly not without request. Not to mention Frodo here, and Bilbo, at least when he is awake. It seemed to us that the House of Fëanor was more likely to listen to friends and allies, than to the Valar.”
That was fair enough, Maglor had to admit.
“I am glad to hear that there has been some thought for his victims,” Ecthelion said calmly. Egalmoth was still watching Maglor in silent suspicion. “Surely then nobody will have any objection to Egalmoth and myself assisting in the watching. You may trust him as you wish, Mithrandir, but we have no reason to do the same, and a good number of reasons not to.”
Gandalf’s bristling eyebrows came together in a frown. “I will not tell you what to do, Ecthelion. But I will say this; of all the many losses that the lies of the Enemy caused, the loss of Fëanor and his sons, of all they could have done and made, seems to me one of the most grievous. I was delighted when Elrond told me that he had found Maglor, and I joined my voice with Elrond’s to recommend that he be allowed to come to Aman.”
This was not news to Maglor, although he was not sure how he felt about it. Having Elrond speak for him was one thing. An envoy of the Valar as, apparently, a friend, was frankly disconcerting.
“I have not given up hope that the evil that they did can be amended.” Gandalf went on. “It can’t be undone or forgotten. But most wounds can heal, given enough time.”
“I hoped you might say that!” Frodo said. “Evil surely doesn’t have to go on forever, even here where time is so peculiar!”
“Peculiar for you, Frodo,” Gandalf said. “For elves, time is less pressing. But even here, nothing lasts forever.”
“There’s no unmaking memories, though,” Ecthelion pointed out.
“No,” Gandalf said sadly. “The memories will always be there, and will always be evil. But even Elves are more than only memory.”
“My memories of the Sons of Fëanor are evil indeed.” Egalmoth said bitterly. “They cast a shadow across even the noonday sun.”
“I am sorry, Egalmoth,” Maglor said, and this time he said it entirely from the heart. “I did not have much choice, truly. I wonder now, if I could have dropped my guard, or slipped... I probably couldn’t. I’m not that brave or that noble.”
He wondered if Amras had managed to be that brave. He could not quite bring himself to ask Egalmoth about that.
“I only had a choice of evils,” he said instead. “They left me heartsick too. Tell me if there is anything I can do to make amends.”
Egalmoth looked at him with hard, bitter eyes. “You should not have come to Aman. You should return to Middle-earth.”
“It’s too late for there to be any question of that, I fear,” Gandalf said. “There is no return from Aman to Middle-earth for Maglor. The last embers of the War of the Jewels are a matter for Elves, not Men. The troubles of Elves must stay here. But there is no need for you to concern yourself personally, Egalmoth, Ecthelion.”
“I am concerned personally,” Egalmoth said grimly. “And not by my choice.”
Something made Maglor look at Ecthelion then. The Balrog-slayer of Gondolin was not looking at him. He was watching his old friend Egalmoth with a faint look of concern.
The dead in Mandos were not supposed to be allowed to leave the Halls, if they still harboured malice against any of the living. Presumably the rules said nothing about fear. Egalmoth was a hero. Of course he would come to face his fear.
“Oh well,” Maglor said. “What’s another pair of watchers? Particularly watchers so distinguished. And one cannot have too many excellent flautists. May I offer you both a drink, if you are stopping for a while?”
. . . . .
“I could ask my father to speak to them,” Elrond said when he returned to his house to find that heroes of Gondolin had set up camp almost on the doorstep. “I believe he and Ecthelion were very fond of one another, when my father was young.”
Maglor had retrieved his harp and sword, and retreated to a corner of the long wooden hall where Elrond’s people could see him from a safe distance, and would therefore be unlikely to come and bother him. Of course, that did not apply to Elrond.
“I suspect Ecthelion would not be inclined to listen to him,” Maglor said. “They seem very convinced that only those who crossed the Grinding Ice could possibly understand how untrustworthy I am. I can see their point. But if you really want them gone, you could make an official request to Turgon to order them to leave.”
“You don’t want them gone?” Elrond looked a little surprised.
Maglor shrugged. “Ecthelion did let me bring them some tea, in the end! If they stay here for a while, then I might have a chance to win him over, at least. I’m not so sure about Egalmoth. He’s afraid of me. But who knows? If I try for long enough to make him think of something other than my sword coming down on his neck, I may manage it eventually. Oh, don’t make that face! That’s who I am. You’ve known that since you were six.”
“You do usually try harder not to make me wince,” Elrond said wrily.
Maglor realised that he had let the image of Egalmoth’s death slip across the front of his mind where Elrond could see it.
“Careless of me,” he said, apologetically. “You know I was always better with words than thoughts.”
“That’s what happens when you spend your time talking to hobbits, who will chat about anything at all, and don’t look into minds! Better me than the Gondolodrim. Or a crowd of fishermen from Alqualondë, for that matter. Though I think if they were likely to turn up, they would surely have arrived by now.”
“The Teleri have been more forgiving than I’d feared,” Maglor agreed. “Though I’d hope that my thoughts are not quite so open to passing strangers as to you! But I’ll try harder at guarding thoughts and words both.”
“I doubt your brothers will, from all I hear of them,” Elrond said, and grinned. “I am still hoping to meet them. But I maintain I do have a right to wince if I want to!”
Maglor laughed. “Hard to argue with that. But surely, Maedhros is far more tactful than I am?”
“He had his moments,” Elrond said. “Remember how he ranted about Finarfin being overcautious, when the Valinorean Noldor host was stuck at the Gates of Sirion all those years? Nobody could call that tactful!”
“At least he did it where Finarfin could not hear!” Maglor laughed. “Amras and Amrod rarely say anything very controversial. The others though... well, all right, you may have a point there. Was there any word from Middle-earth?” Elrond had been down to the harbour, to enquire if a ship that had arrived that morning along the old Straight Road from Middle-earth was carrying any news for him.
“There was indeed!” Elrond, reminded, gave him a delighted grin. “Círdan was on board, another unofficial visit. And there were letters! One from Elladan, one from Arwen, and one from Aragorn. And just a line from Elrohir. He has a wound to his right arm, Elladan says, and has scribbled on the bottom of Elladan’s letter instead. They have been clearing out orcs from the Misty Mountains again. For the last time, this time, I hope: without either Mordor or Saruman behind them, it should be possible to clear the passes of the Mountains properly at last, and restore the trade route clear through to Erebor... But Elrohir will be all right, Elladan says... I should find Celebrían, she will want to read them too. Have you seen her?”
“In the courtyard with the hobbits, I believe. And Gandalf.”
“Oh good! Frodo will want to read Aragorn’s letter, and I think this fat envelope addressed to him must be from Sam. Come with me and hear the rest of the news?”
“Gladly,” Maglor said. “I do hope Sam has sent Frodo a good deal of news about vegetable competitions. Frodo tells me that Tol Eressëa is sadly lacking in such amusements. I am not entirely clear why such a small people need to grow such very large vegetables, but I understand it is considered very important!”
. . . . .
The letters from Middle-earth were received with great delight, and every item of news in them was read out, considered and discussed at length, particularly by the hobbits.
“I wish we had left the palantir in Elostirion,” Elrond said to Gandalf. “It could have remained there a little while longer, surely? At least until Aragorn...”
Gandalf shook his white head. “Middle-earth is for Men, Elrond. We can’t send help or advice any more. That time is over. Aragorn must make his own way now. You know he’s well able to do that.”
“Of course he is,” Elrond said. “I don’t want to send advice. They don’t need that, either of them! I’d like to send my love. That doesn’t stop because Aragorn and Arwen are mortal now, and we are not.”
Gandalf looked shrewdly at his old friend. “You are going to write to them, whatever I say, aren’t you?” he said and chuckled. “I did tell my lord Manwë that you would.”
“Yes,” Elrond said smiling. “Of course I am. I’ll send letters back with Círdan when he returns. He said he was planning to stay for a few days on Tol Eressëa before returning to Lindon. I still think we could have left him a palantir.”
“Aragorn will come into the North again, in a few years, once the peace is established in the lands of Gondor,” Gandalf said. “He’ll come to the borders of the Shire, he’ll go to visit Lindon, and very likely he will come to Elostirion. And his heirs will come there too, before too many years of the Sun are past, and it would not be wise then for there still to be a palantir in the lonely tower. Being able to look into the West and see the Undying Lands where Men could never come did not end well for Númenor.”
Elrond’s face became abruptly serious. “No.” he said. “No, that did not go so well. But even so, I shall send them my love.”
“And so will I,” Celebrían said, and she took his hand.
Maglor caught Elrond’s eye for a moment. He remembered how angry Elrond had been, after Númenor had fallen, after the great wave. It had been a cold and bitter anger, all the more frightening for being quiet.
Maglor had travelled south into the foothills of the Ered Luin, because he knew Elrond would come looking, and all their usual waymarks had been washed away. Maglor himself had been lucky to escape.
He had found Elrond not far from Mithlond, riding west at great speed, and heard from him the news that the Valar had laid down their Guardianship and called upon the One, and that the great wave had taken Númenor, and its rightful queen and all its children.
Cowardice, Elrond had called it, quietly furious. The worst kind of failure of leadership, to punish the weak and powerless pitilessly, in order to protect the strong.
Elrond had known Amandil of the Faithful, had known that he would follow Eärendil’s example, and go into the west to appeal for help. Had considered him a kinsman. Had believed, heartbreakingly, that the Valar would listen to an appeal for the people of Númenor who were not responsible for the behaviour of their usurper king.
Elrond had believed, once, that the Valar would understand that Men could not be expected to resist a renegade Maia, Morgoth’s greatest and most cunning servant, unaided.
Of course, Elrond had seen the Host of Valinor come to Beleriand, as a child. He had heard the trumpets of Eönwë sound, the sound of rescue coming out of the West at long last, and seen far off the white ships of the Teleri, rank after rank of them, thousands strong, with their banners flying on the wind of Manwë.
Elrond had not been there to hear Mandos say that not even the echo of lamentation would pass the mountains, to trouble the ears of the Valar in their joy.
Elrond had thought those ships would come again to the aid of the Faithful of Númenor, to the aid of Tar-Míriel the Queen. He had not expected eagles of wrath on wings of storm.
He had not expected Eru to bring his Gift to Men to every child on Númenor.
Rather to his own surprise, Maglor had found himself trying to patch up the great hole that had been rent in Elrond’s faith in the good intentions of the Valar with the ragged remnants of his own.
It was a faith that he had really only clung onto for so long out of habit, and because it seemed wrong to break the faith that Elrond and his brother had, when they had so little else left. Still, it was all he had to offer Elrond then. It was not enough.
Elrond had wanted to go away. He had wanted to leave the West, forget the Valar and Aman and the Eldar, and change his choice, to live among Men, and die as Elros had died. Or if it was too late for that, to vanish among the Avari, and forget.
But before their debate had ended, they had looked down from the hills to the great wide Gulf of Lune, and they had seen the ships. Pitifully few of them, but still, there they were, great ships out of Númenor, coming back to Middle-earth out of the ruin, with the banner of Elendil son of Amandil flying. And at that sight, some of the hope had come back into Elrond’s face.
That had been before Elrond and Celebrían had married, but from the look on Celebrían’s face now, Elrond had spoken of it to her too.
“I shall send Arwen a lovely long letter full of all my hopes for her and Aragorn.” Celebrían told Gandalf, now, firmly. “I shall tell her all my news, and ask her to write back as soon as she can. I have several new recipes that she will like, I’m sure.”
“I can’t see any objections being raised to letters,” Gandalf said. “Devices of the Elves can be dangerous in the wrong hands, you know that at least as well as I do, Elrond! It did seem wisest not to take that risk. We have all made our mistakes, through the long years... I hope we have at least learned a little from them by now. But nobody will stop you writing to them. Will you send them my love too?”
. . . . .
Maglor wandered past the main door to the house, which was standing open, and looked out to see if Ecthelion and Egalmoth were still there. They were sitting on the wall, playing at dice. Ecthelion, noticing the movement by the door, looked over and stared at him deliberately. Maglor thought of bowing, remembered in time Finrod’s cautious, helpful joke about Gil-galad considering that to fall somewhere between sarcastic and menacing, and settled for a polite nod and slight smile.
A clatter of hooves sounded on the path outside. To his surprise, Maglor saw Fingon arriving on a tall bay horse. Fingon had his hair braided as if he was expecting to have to put a war helmet over it. Presumably that was old habit, since Fingon had only recently returned from the Halls of Mandos, where, Maglor assumed, such matters were irrelevant.
“Oh, there you are, Maglor!” Fingon called, seeing him through the arch of the doorway. “Come and join us for a ride. I’ve carried Finrod off from his apparently endless responsibilities in Tirion and forced him to come and have some fun before the summer ends. He won’t stop complaining about it. You should come too.”
“Please do!” Finrod said, coming up behind on a placid-looking grey cob with long white feathers around her feet, of the type that Finrod had always favoured. Finrod’s golden hair was mostly loose down his back, and he was not wearing a circlet. A family visit only, not a princely one, then. “I’d almost managed to forget what he was like when there were no dragons about to chase! ” Finrod said, sounding pained.
Maglor laughed and stepped out to speak to his cousins. “How old are you, Fingon?!”
“In this body,” Fingon said, turning his prancing horse around in a wide circle, “I am not quite three months old. I am supposed to be adjusting to being alive again. It is your family duty to come and help. We brought you a horse!”
Maglor looked at the horse that was following behind, which was a high-stepping sharp-looking chestnut, very much to Fingon’s taste rather than his own.
“All right,” he said. “But I’ll borrow one of Celebrían’s horses, thank you. Her stable-master was one of mine. I prefer a horse trained to my standards!” He thought for a moment. “Could you go and speak to Ecthelion and Egalmoth over there, while I get changed and borrow a horse? Reassure them that you will prevent me from swimming to Alqualondë and leaping upon Eärendil when he returns home! They might listen to you two. Otherwise they’ll only become tense and upset when I leave.”
Fingon’s eyebrows went up in surprise. “I thought we had agreed on reconciliation!” he said, turning his horse towards the Gondolodrim, who had straightened and were looking attentive, clearly wondering how to react to the arrival of their king’s older brother.
Maglor stepped forward and caught the horse’s mane for a moment. “Be gentle?” he asked, in a low voice, so Fingon had to lean down a little to hear him. “I killed Egalmoth. He’s bound to be upset.” Fingon’s eyes widened in sudden shocked understanding and he nodded.
Maglor did not hear what Fingon said to Ecthelion and Egalmoth, but they made no objection when Maglor came back mounted, and followed Fingon’s horse up away from Avallónë.
They rode out onto the long curving grassy hillside, over summer-dry turf that was firm under the horses’ hooves, starred with small white flowers. The skies above were dappled blue and grey with small summer clouds. The golden late-afternoon light could almost have been the light of Laurelin, when Maglor had ridden out with friends, brothers and cousins, long before the rising of the Sun in the vanished morning of the world.
Fingon seemed to feel it too, and reacted by talking boastfully of his horse, as if they were still boys, as if at home in Tirion, their grandfather still ruled in peace; before the lies and arguments, before darkness fell across Aman.
“She’s not that terrible a horse, Fingon,” Maglor interrupted, deciding that two could play at that game. “But mine is faster.” Finrod looked at him as if he was about to laugh.
“Oh, that’s utter nonsense!” Fingon said.
“I am not racing,” Finrod said, because that was what Finrod had always said when this sort of thing had happened long ago.
Once, Maglor might have made the same choice, but Celegorm, Aredhel, Galadriel and Maedhros were not here now. It had been kind of Fingon not to invite Aredhel or Galadriel, since both were inclined to address Maglor as an unpleasantness that must be faced, more than a friend or kinsman.
But it meant there was no-one else for Fingon to race — and anyway, four hundred and fifty years of riding the plains of Lothlann meant that Maglor was much less sure that he would lose than he once would have been.
He pointed to a lone tree high on the distant hillside and looked at Fingon. “First to the tree and back?”
Fingon did not wait for him to ask twice, but urged his bay forward, and she answered eagerly. Maglor grinned, and reached out to ask his horse to run, though she had seen Fingon’s horse leap forward and was already starting to move. Maglor’s roan mare was not as tall as Fingon’s, but she was eager, with a long free flowing stride. He let her set the pace on the outward pass, and Fingon reached the tree first, though the smaller mare was fast, and the gap was closing.
They skirted the tree at speed, Maglor still behind, and turned. He shifted his balance to coax the horse to her best speed. She responded nobly, unshod hooves drumming urgently across the dry turf, edging ever closer to Fingon as they charged back towards Finrod, who had dismounted to hold his horse in place, ready to declare who had first crossed the impromptu line.
Maglor was almost level with Fingon now. Almost level...and now was the little mare edging ahead? Just by a nose? Yes, surely they were a little ahead. The mare flung herself forward, joy in speed surging through both horse and rider.
The riders’ knees were almost touching, when Fingon abruptly decided to change the rules of the game, flung himself sideways, and knocked Maglor out of his seat. Taken by surprise, Maglor reflexively grabbed at him as he fell, and pulled Fingon down with him.
Suddenly the thunder of hooves was all around them. Maglor curled to protect his head as he came down and rolled, and when he stopped moving all the breath was knocked out of him.
He took a moment to catch a breath, then uncurled cautiously to find they had both rolled across the grass almost to Finrod’s feet. Fingon, presumably because he had jumped rather than fallen, had rolled further.
“Fingon, you fool!” Maglor protested, laughing and outraged in the same breath. “You’ve only had that body for a half a moment and you’re already trying to break your neck. And mine!”
He got to his knees and, finding that nothing seemed to be broken, stood cautiously and looked around for his horse. She had retreated to some distance, and was looking rather shocked. “I’m sorry!” he called to her. “I had no idea that this...” Valinorean Quenya seemed to lack the right word, so he stole one from the Westron of the Shire, “This complete ninnyhammer was going to do that!” She rolled her dark eyes and looked at him in with an expression of suspicion that reminded him of Egalmoth.
Fingon was still lying on the ground. His face looked rather pale. “I won though,” he said.
“Barely!” Finrod confirmed. “Are you hurt? You do look hurt.”
Fingon grimaced, cautiously feeling his right shoulder with his left hand. “Collar-bone again, I think.”
“Again?” Maglor said. “It was brand new!”
“Well, now it isn’t,” Fingon told him. “I did say I was supposed to be getting used to having a body again. Maedhros wouldn’t have dumped me in a heap under a horse!”
Maglor made an outraged face. “Maedhros is taller than me! And probably has a better idea of when you are liable to suddenly decide to try to knock him off his horse in mid-gallop. My poor horse! She wasn’t trained for that!”
“Your horse doesn’t have a broken collarbone!” Fingon said indignantly.
Finrod shook his golden head at both of them, and turned to address his own horse. “Would you mind collecting up these two mares and reassuring them?” he asked her gravely. The horse flared her soft grey nostrils and peered past Finrod to give Fingon a reproving look, before trotting away obediently.
Maglor came and knelt by Fingon, to look at his shoulder. It did indeed look as if the collarbone had broken. “No other damage?” he asked, seeing no sign of any other injury. He prodded at Fingon’s feet and checked his eyes.
Fingon moved his feet and thought about it. “I don’t think so.”
“Good. Ecthelion and Egalmoth will be sure I’ve tried to murder you,” Maglor pointed out.
“Your reputation could hardly be blacker if you did,” Fingon laughed, still lying on his back, and seemingly not much troubled by pain. “Though I don’t see the connection. I’ve broken my collarbone plenty of times, and there are no Silmarils here.”
Maglor carefully shielded his thoughts. “I don’t think Egalmoth considers that important, from the way he spoke this morning! I am making an effort to be reassuringly harmless.”
Finrod snorted in amusement. “Harmless? You? Forgive me if I find that a little difficult to visualise!”
Maglor squinted up at him against the sunlight. “I know I don’t have your advantages, oh golden and beloved one, but I am trying!”
Fingon, rubbing cautiously at his shoulder, made a face, and said, “Yes, I noticed. It’s disconcerting.”
“Well, it seems wiser to disconcert you by being harmless, than Egalmoth, by not being.” Maglor said shortly.
“Very unlike the House of Fëanor to apologise humbly and ignore offense,” Fingon said, a little pointedly.
“Are you suggesting that I like apologising, let alone apologising to someone who killed my brother in front of me?” Maglor asked, annoyed. “That I like bringing tea to someone who called me kinslayer to my face as a deliberate insult, hoping I would react? Do I like having people come to me for help as their prince, and having to send them back to Finrod? No offence, Finrod!”
“None taken,” Finrod said politely.
“Do I like offering my hand in reconciliation and having people turn away? No, of course I don’t! But it must be done, and it’s better than war , Fingon! It’s better being chained to an oath that drags me into slaughter, better than my family trapped by Mandos until the ending of the world. I need to be harmless, and therefore, harmless is what I shall be, no matter how hard it is, no matter how long it takes, and no matter how much work is needed!”
“Ah,” Fingon said, pointing with one finger. “There he is. I knew you were in there somewhere.”
Maglor frowned down at him. That of course had no visible impact on Fingon at all, so he gave up and grinned instead. “Do you want me to try to sing this bone back together, or should we improvise a sling? It looks like a clean break.”
“Sing it back together,” Fingon said. “That way it won’t outrage the Gondolodrim.”
“It’ll hurt,” Maglor warned him.
“I know that. It hurt last time you did it. At least it’s quick. And less embarrassing.”
Finrod knelt down on the other side of Fingon. “Shall I sing you into sleep, and then Maglor can do the bone?” he offered.
“Go on then,” Fingon said. “We should have brought a harp.”
“Which you would have only reduced to kindling!” Maglor said. “My bruises say you don’t deserve a harp. Go on, Finrod.”
Between the two of them, Maglor and Finrod got Fingon’s broken collarbone mended, and roused him again from Finrod’s enchanted sleep.
Finrod’s horse had persuaded the other two mares to return by then, and Maglor took some time to console his horse for her surprise before remounting. Fingon’s horse had clearly already decided that her rider might do unexpected things at any moment, and was either resigned to it or considered Fingon a partner in mischief.
“You know, if you still have people coming to you for help, it would be perfectly all right to send a note saying what you want me to do about them,” Finrod suggested, mounting. “I wouldn’t object at all.”
Maglor laughed, one hand running soothingly down his horse’s neck. “Finrod, you are too good to be true! Honestly, I’m sure your decisions are excellent. In any case, Egalmoth said to me this morning that I am dangerous, and that people in Tirion were under my influence. Speaking to them is not harmless, let alone sending notes about them.”
“I suppose not. You know, I think I shall make up a new word for people who are supposed to owe their allegiance to me, but would clearly prefer to listen to the House of Fëanor,” Finrod said shaking his head in resignation. “They appear to be enough of a recurring theme in my life to warrant the coinage of a new term for them.”
Maglor put one hand across his face. “Oh Finrod!” he said. “It’s a great pity you were not able to take the Gift of Men and stay with people who properly appreciate you!”
Finrod grinned at him. “I can think of Men who would have considered that to be quite an insult,” he said. “Or at least, more than a little menacing. But I’ll take it as a compliment.”
“It was intended as one!” Maglor assured him.
“This trying to be harmless is all very well,” Fingon said. “But are you really expecting all of your brothers to do the same? Celegorm? Caranthir ?”
“Caranthir became much more tactful, with practice” Maglor said defensively. “Being a prisoner in the Halls of Mandos can’t be easy for him, but he does know how to say the right things and not make trouble if he has to.”
“As a lord with his own lands to rule, and his people about him, perhaps,” Fingon said. “But he’s not going to do what you are doing, if they let them return. Nor will your father.” Finrod gave him a quick wary look.
Maglor shrugged. “My father didn’t attack Doriath, or the Havens or the Host of Valinor — and he’s well able to look after himself. Oh, Finrod! Don’t look so worried! I can speak of my father and his Silmarils without waking my Oath from sleep. If I couldn’t, Elrond would never have brought me here. Anyway, I wouldn’t stand a chance against either of you even if it did convince me to do something foolish. Why do you think I came up here without a harp for Fingon to smash?”
Fingon laughed shortly. “You may underrate yourself. And you definitely overrate Elrond’s caution. I don’t think he ever believed your oath was dead. He’d have brought you anyway, Maglor. Does Elrond even know what peace is?”
Maglor thought about it. “Possibly not, by Valinorean standards,” he admitted. “But that doesn’t make him unable to value it. We knew, and think how rash we were! Anyway, I don’t think my brothers will have to do quite what I am doing, if I do it well enough. Egalmoth said to me: You are the worst of the lot . He’s not the first to say it. I need to be harmless, to give Elrond the best chance of success in making an appeal to Mandos, but Elrond and I both think that it will be less important afterwards. People will get bored of demanding apologies once they’ve had a chance to shout at me for a while.”
He gave Fingon an amused look. “You aren’t worried about my father or Caranthir anyway, be honest!”
“Well, all right, I’m not,” Fingon admitted with a reluctant grin. “Maedhros was... he was very badly hurt. I can understand why Egalmoth is so concerned, and why Ecthelion supports him. I feel for them both. But I’m not sure how Maedhros could deal with them, if he returned.” His voice sounded uneasy in a way that was unusual for Fingon.
“I am dealing with them,” Maglor said. “Maedhros shouldn’t have to. I let him down, at Losgar, and again, on Thangorodrim, and I was too slow, when he threw himself into the fire. Not a very brotherly record, and very unheroic. But apologies, insults, and uncomfortable levels of guilt? Those I can deal with, if I have to apologise to every single person from Gondolin, Doriath and the Havens in person seven times each, on my knees. If it comes down to trying to breach the Halls of Mandos, Fingon, then it will have to be you. But just watch me being harmless. With luck, it won’t come to that.”
“I hope not!” Fingon said. “I don’t rate our chances there. We’ll try your way first.”
Finrod gave them both a doubtful look. “I didn’t hear that,” he said. “If I’d heard it, I’d have to take official notice of it. It doesn’t sound at all harmless.”
“Good thing you didn’t hear it then.” Fingon said lightly. He swung up onto his horse and moved past them. “Come on!” he said. “I’d like to go around to the next cove and up into the Land of Elms. Even Finrod’s big round cushion of a horse should be able to manage that.”
“Oh hush!” Finrod said to him. “Featherfoot is a thoroughly delightful horse, aren’t you Featherfoot? She needs no competition to prove it!”