The summer was fading towards autumn, and the windy grey skies over Tol Eressëa were full of the wild calling of gulls. The sea was still a rich clear shifting green-blue. Celebrían and Maglor walked along the beach below the cliffs, listening to the gulls and waves, and looking out for the small shining deep-blue shells that were often washed up along this coast at the start of autumn. Celebrían had taken a fancy to set them into a headdress.
There were people from Gondolin lingering on the clifftop as usual. Duilin and Egalmoth, again, today. They were there to to watch Maglor for their own peace of mind. Those who had fled Gondolin to the Havens of Sirion and met the attack of the Sons of Fëanor there had long memories. Their king might have officially reconciled with the last living member of the House of Fëanor, but his people did not all trust Maglor. Elrond had at least managed to persuade them to watch from a distance.
“Do you think they’ll go away when the autumn rains come?” Celebrían asked, looking up at the Gondolodrim across a space of grey wild wind and gulls. She at least seemed to be entirely willing to take Elrond’s word for it that Maglor was not a danger. A little unexpected, from the daughter of Celeborn of Doriath, but Maglor was duly grateful.
“I’m not counting on it,” Maglor said, resigned. “They all walked across the Grinding Ice. I doubt that rain will trouble them. It could be worse. I always thought if I surrendered, I would be tried by the Valar and required to stay within the walls of Valimar, if I was not sent to the Halls of Mandos. I was surprised that Elrond managed to secure a pardon for me. I didn’t expect it to be unconditional! These are my own people, and they do have reasonable cause to be cautious. I’d much rather have them than an escort of Maiar.”
“All the same,” Celebrían said, “Having them invite themselves to watch one of my guests seems a little impolite, to me. I suppose we must put up with them, but I don’t like it. And if it rains, then I’m not going to invite them in to get dry!”
Maglor, amused and rather touched, thought that might be one of the worst threats that Celebrían had ever delivered. He spotted a shell half-hidden by seaweed, and gave it to her.
“Would it be best if I went somewhere else, while your cousin Nimloth is visiting you?” he asked. “It might be awkward for her, if I am here. I expect the Gondolodrim could camp outside my mother’s house in Tirion.”
Celebrían smiled. “That’s very thoughtful, Maglor, but my cousin Nimloth isn’t delicate. I am not sure that she knows the meaning of the word ‘awkward’ and if she did, I suspect she would find it interesting but not personally applicable! If you would feel awkward, then of course, do go to stay with your mother, and I will send you a message once Nimloth has gone home again. But don’t feel you must do it for the sake of her feelings!”
“Really?” Maglor said, intrigued. “I don’t know anything about Nimloth of Doriath, except about...” he was unsure how to finish the sentence. It was one thing to speak of it to Elrond, but Celebrían was a gentle soul. Many of her relatives had died when Maglor and his brothers had attacked Doriath, searching for the Silmaril. Nimloth, of course, had been among them.
“Her death? Her children’s deaths?” Celebrían finished for him, eyebrows raised. Perhaps not so gentle as all that then.
“Well, yes,” Maglor admitted.
“She’s... unusual,” Celebrían said, searching for a more suitable word and clearly not finding one. “It might be as well to get to know her. If you know Nimloth then it may make my father less furious when he finally comes across the Sea and finds that you are living here! I must admit, I’m just a little worried about how that conversation might go. Elrond and my father have been friends for a very long time, of course, but I don’t think they have ever talked much about his childhood. Elrond’s childhood that is. Though I don’t suppose they talked much about my father’s childhood either! I’m sure he’ll come around, once he’s had a chance to think about it. I sometimes feel my father is more willing to listen to Elrond than he is to me. But he was a good friend of Nimloth too, in Doriath. My father, not Elrond. Well, you know who I mean!” Celebrían’s words tended to come out all at once in an excited wave of tangled thought.
“I shall do my best to be friends with Nimloth, if you think it would be a good idea,” Maglor promised.
. . . . .
Nimloth, like her kinsman Thingol, was tall and strong, at least as tall as Maglor, and her hair was an unusual white. It was also, even more unusually, cropped short below her ears. Her face was long, with a prominent bony nose, which looked as if it had been broken at some point and set badly.
That much, Maglor had noticed when he had met Nimloth briefly before, an awkward formal gesture of reconciliation, among a crowd of her relatives from Doriath.
He remembered the hair and face. He had seen her body lying with her husband in the great hall of Menegroth, her blood mingling with that of three of his brothers. Her nose had not been broken then. That must have happened since her return to life.
Now here she was, outside the door of Elrond and Celebrían’s house, accompanied by a tall white hairy goat with long yellow horns embellished with silver tracery, pulling an elaborate three-wheeled cart filled with boxes of many different sizes.
Nimloth had greeted her cousin Celebrían, and her grandson Elrond, and various others of their household, and now she was examining Maglor closely, from a distance of about four inches from his face. From this angle, her nose looked more like a beak. He blinked at her, and had to make an effort not to step backwards.
“Elwing is, I think, correct.” Nimloth announced, after an unnervingly long moment of silence. Her voice, like her, was strong, her Sindarin flavoured with the distinctive lilt of Doriath. “The one that I fought was a bit different to this one. Eyes closer together, I think. Rather more worried-looking.”
“Curufin,” Maglor said. “My third-youngest brother.”
“Ah!” Nimloth said, sounding slightly surprised, as if she had been looking at a painting of a face, and had not expected it to speak. She stepped back a little, which was a relief. “Very likely. Seven of you, weren’t there? A bit excessive, isn’t it?”
“A number of people have said so, yes,” Maglor replied, wondering if that was an intentional insult. It was hard to tell from the expression on her face.
“Hm. I bet they did. People said that to me, and I only had three. A good thing I did, as it turned out.”
“I am very sorry about the death of your sons,” Maglor said, although it seemed an inadequate way of putting it.
“Yes, so was I, “ Nimloth said. “Nasty pieces of work, your brother’s servants, to turn on children like that.”
“Yes,” Maglor said bleakly. “We looked for the children. It was too late.”
“Yes, well.” Nimloth said, with a glance at Elrond. “It’s fairly clear it wasn’t you. It seems unlikely they will turn up now after so long, though Elwing still hopes they might. I think they took the path of Men. Dior chose the Elves, naturally, when we got to the Halls and Mandos asked him. I’m glad he did, but he’s always wondered about the other choice. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? A pity to lose them so very young, but if they did, I’m rather proud of them for grabbing the chance when it came. Very brave of them.”
“It must have been,” Maglor said, deciding that agreement was the safest path to take through this conversation, which seemed more risky than any journey through the terrors of Nan Dungortheb.
“Dior killed the fair one. Celegorm, was it? Him with the unpleasant servants.”
“Yes,” Maglor said.
“He gives you a good death, I’ll give him that, your brother Celegorm,” she said, to Maglor’s considerable surprise. “I’m afraid the people that I killed didn’t get such an expert send-off. But then, I had less practice in that line of work. His was painless, a very tidy job. I hope your standards are as high.”
Maglor glanced desperately at Celebrían. She looked a little wide-eyed, but not alarmed. “I have not received any complaints,” he told Nimloth, “Not about the technique.”
“Glad to hear it.” she said, apparently entirely seriously. “One of your people I killed said later that I shouldn’t have had a sword if I could not use it better. I felt most embarrassed. He seemed quite miffed.”
“Our people came to you to complain ?” Maglor asked, alarmed, and wondering what possible protocol applied. Was he supposed to issue a reprimand?
How did one reprimand someone who probably would still consider himself to owe allegiance to the House of Fëanor, but officially must now be attached to the House of Finarfin, about being slain by a righteously angry Queen, while under the command, probably, of Caranthir?
And how on earth was he supposed to track them down after six thousand years? Perhaps Finrod would know. They called him ‘the wise’ after all.
But “Not at all, not at all,” Nimloth said. “I went and asked them what they thought, of course. I don’t like to do a job badly. I may ask you for some tips.”
Deciding that this conversation could not get any more peculiar, Maglor said “Celegorm was widely considered a formidable opponent. Dior must have been an able swordsman at a young age.”
“Yes. He was young. Young, beautiful and very proud.” Nimloth shook her pale head, and her silver earrings jangled. “Not a cause I thought worth dying for, myself. Pretty enough, the Silmaril, but I’m sure we could have got the Nauglamir patched up and put a diamond or something in the setting. Or one of those shiny star-bottles that Galadriel makes, if the glowing was essential. We could have handed the Noldor jewel back to the Noldor, and the Dwarf necklace back to the Dwarves. Dior would have looked just as lovely with the starlight on his hair and the colours of earth and sky around him. Ah well. Easy to be wise now, eh?”
Maglor blinked at her. “I suppose it is,” he said, wondering which of Elrond’s people in hearing were most likely to be offended. But then surely if Nimloth of Doriath made comments about Silmarils, nobody would complain? Nobody was complaining, at any rate.
“It does mean that I always have the final argument if I think Dior is about to do something idiotic,” Nimloth said. “Though I usually have the final say anyway. That occasion was an exception.”
“Grandmother,” Elrond said, to Maglor’s intense relief, before he had to come up with a reply to that. “Stop terrorising Maglor, and come in and have a drink.”
“You could have warned me!” he said to Elrond, as Nimloth vanished with Celebrían into the house.
Elrond shrugged “How could I describe Nimloth? You have to meet her,” he said. A smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. “Also, I thought it would be funnier not to warn you.”
Maglor gave him a look of outrage. “You were always a horrible child. I should have left you behind for the orcs,” he said. To his surprise and amusement, Elrond stuck his tongue out at him. Then he pulled his dignity around him like a cloak, turned and swept off gravely into the house in a thoroughly stately manner.
it occurred to Maglor belatedly that though that was an old and cherished joke, not least because it had been Elros that had started it, Elrond’s people, and particularly Celebrían’s might not see it that way. Fortunately, most of them had already gone inside, leaving only Lindir, who seemed to have drawn the short straw, looking at the goat with considerable suspicion. The goat was looking back at him through narrowed yellow eyes, clearly unimpressed. It seemed entirely possible that this was where Nimloth had acquired her broken nose. Still, at least the goat was unlikely to ask for tips on the most efficient ways of killing people.
“Lindir! May I offer you a hand with that goat?” Maglor said.
. . . . .
Nimloth, it turned out, was an enthusiastic entomologist. She had come to Tol Eressëa in pursuit of swarming dragonflies, which could be seen in great numbers on warmer days in autumn on the island, near the shining inland pools in the north of Alalminórë.
But at present the weather was cloudy, and intermittently wet, which was no good for the viewing of dragonflies. Nimloth stayed indoors, watching the rain through the small octagonal panes of the leaded windows, going through her notes and maps, and talking about dragonflies instead to anyone who would listen.
Maglor resolved to show an interest, since he had promised Celebrían that he would. He bolstered his courage, prepared a couple of possible diversions, in case she demanded practical lessons in killing people, and went to talk to her.
He was pleased to discover that Nimloth was one of those people who can convey an enthusiasm on the most unlikely subject to almost any audience. This was professionally interesting, since she was clearly not doing it deliberately by a planned use of voice or power, but also much more entertaining than Maglor had expected.
Furthermore, Nimloth had what Maglor considered an excellent taste in wine. The afternoon was looking up.
“We’re told that all creatures that have ever lived in Middle-earth are found somewhere in Aman.” Nimloth said, sipping wine before a table full of maps marked with careful notes and crosses in green ink. “But we are now almost sure that is untrue. At least, as far as the subspecies go. There are species that I saw around the Pools of Twilight on the Sirion that I never have found here, and believe me, I’ve looked high and low, in every place that seemed it should fit them! But you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to prove the negative. There’s always someone who will say, ah, but there are places that you haven’t looked! Maddening, but true. Dragonflies aren’t so large that there might not be one somewhere, lurking overlooked behind a twig or in a bush! This map shows the areas I usually survey, but as you see, there is far too much of the island that I can’t possibly cover. And no doubt even if I did, the nay-sayers would still cry ‘all creatures that have ever lived are found in Aman!’ like a flock of silly sheep bleating!”
In a pause after a discussion of migration patterns, Maglor took a risk. “It’s a pity that you never had a chance to talk with my brother Celegorm,” he said. “He speaks their languages. Or, he did. No doubt they have changed considerably in the intervening years. But he used to be able to call a dragonfly to his finger and send it off to catch a moth, and hold a discussion with it afterwards, I recall.”
“Hawking with dragonflies!” Nimloth said, not at all disconcerted. “I used to do that when I was a child beside the River Sirion! They are very swift, effective hunters. It’s a fine sight to see them take a moth on the wing. But we never spoke to them, except to give them the commands to come and fly. Your brother could have them reply and understand it? That’s quite a gift.”
Maglor racked his brains for things that Celegorm had said long ago of dragonflies. Unfortunately, Celegorm did not have Nimloth’s gift for speaking entertainingly, though of course he had considerable skill at bending an audience to his will. They all did.
“I believe the tongues of the insects are not full languages as we define them, but can carry emotion and desire. Or they were not, full languages then. It has been a long time, and longer still for dragonflies, no doubt. They may have changed.”
“Insect linguistics isn’t my field,” Nimloth said, shaking her head “Now I wonder if there’s something we’re missing there. I’ve been working mostly on identification, migration and habitat. That’s not easy! You need a really good look to make sure the one that you are watching is the species that you think it is, there’s no point seeing them whizzing by in the distance and making assumptions. You’d think Yavanna would keep records, but I get the impression that over time, the faster-breeding species have got away from her. Even the Valar are not what they were, in the Ages of the Stars, or so I hear from those who knew them then. Of course the Valar left us alone, in Doriath. I never met any of them until I came to the Halls of Mandos.”
“Presumably though, you knew the Lady Melian well?” Maglor asked.
“Melian was more interested in birds,” Nimloth said, frowning. “More your sort of thing than mine, I imagine, songbirds. And as to Melian... we have not spoken, since she went off from Doriath. I don’t know quite what to think about Melian. Not now.”
“I have wondered about that,” Maglor admitted. “It must have been quite a shock, to suddenly lose your main defence when she left.”
Nimloth frowned again, sternly, and crossed her strong arms. Maglor found himself remembering Doriath, the strength of that desperate, elusive defence, that vanished into tunnels and came at you again when you thought you had defeated it for good. He remembered coming down into the hall where Nimloth, Dior and his brothers lay dead in the light of the great golden lamps. He had come too late to see it, but it had clearly been a savage fight.
“If she hadn’t abandoned us,” Nimloth said, suddenly, bitterly. “If she’d overruled her husband. If she had helped her daughter to leave with Beren. Or further back; if she had not held our king so long that he was lost and we loyal ones were left behind with him. We thought it didn’t matter so much, since we were well protected, that we were left in Middle-earth under the stars. Only we weren’t protected. That was only him. The rest of us didn’t matter at all. If she’d done things differently...”
“Then we might never have been enemies,” Maglor said, barely able to believe it.
“No,” Nimloth said. “No, we might not.” She grimaced. “I feel a traitor saying it.”
“There are a lot of ifs,” Maglor said, very carefully. “Mine include ‘if I had not sworn’, ‘if I had refused to slay my kin’, ‘if I had died at Alqualondë... A long and dismal list. They mostly come down to ‘If I had been braver.’ I spent a lot of time regretting them. You must know the Silmaril burned me, when I touched it. It judged us unworthy. It did not judge Beren, Lúthien, Dior or Thingol like that. Just from that I know there were better choices I could have made. I try now to speak only of the paths I did not take myself, and not excuse myself with what other people could have done.”
“That doesn’t sound easy, put like that.” She looked at him consideringly. “Still, if you can do it, why not I? If I had overruled my husband? If I had taken the responsibility on myself? If I had given Lúthien more help, or made the case to Thingol that we should send our forces out to join with your alliance? I don’t suppose he would have listened, but still, I didn’t do it, so I’ll never know. These are ifs to think about... The responsibility isn’t all in one place, is it? And it’s not quite as simple as good or bad, no matter what the Silmarils may think, or else my grandson would be dead too. Hm. I haven’t thought about all of this for a long time.”
Nimloth looked away, out through the windows at the rain streaming down across the bay. Then she looked back at him. “You apologised to me, before, for attacking Menegroth, for my children and your brothers’ horrible servants. Not seeing my daughter grow up, too. But that’s not the only wrong here. I’m sorry. For not speaking for returning the Silmaril, at least. And perhaps even for the death of your three brothers. Because I didn’t try to find a different way, either. Will it do?”
Maglor could feel an amazed smile creeping across his face. “It certainly will!” he said. She held out a hand, and he shook it.
“I wish I’d spoken with this Celegorm of yours,” she said. “A pity, when he was only across the river all that time, that we never met to speak of dragonflies, only at the end, to kill each other. Perhaps if he had known us, things might have gone differently — with Lúthien, too.”
Celegorm’s behaviour to Lúthien had been hard for Maglor to swallow. “I wasn’t there in Nargothrond,” he said slowly. “and I didn’t have the heart to ask him about it, afterwards. Or Curufin. Why they took Lúthien prisoner, when she came to them freely, asking for help... Oh, the Oath made that a hard dilemma, but they didn’t have to do what they did. I wish I had asked, now, but I was angry with them both, and Maedhros was caught between us and trying to build alliances the while.”
He thought about it for a moment, topping up their cups with wine from the jug. “What I cannot understand is why Lúthien let him. She went against Sauron on his own ground, went into Angband, cast Morgoth himself into sleep and persuaded Mandos to pity. I remember the strength of the gates of Angband! Why did Celegorm trouble her at all? Why could Nargothrond hold her, when neither Doriath nor Angband could?”
“I can guess the answer to that riddle,” Nimloth said. “Firstly, she did not force her way from Doriath, she hid. Nobody thought she’d try to leave.”
“But who could stop her?” Maglor asked puzzled.
Nimloth paused, looking for words, and took a sip of wine.
“How can I put this so it makes sense?” she asked herself. “Lúthien... Lúthien had a great power. So all her life, she was taught that she must be cautious with it, must listen more than speaking, must not impose her will on others. Because of what Melian did, when she and Thingol met. They were caught up in a dream. Neither of them planned to be caught out of time so long. But Thingol was sorely grieved, when at last he woke and found his people were gone without him, and so much time had passed. And so Melian was cautious, after that, and both of them were cautious with their daughter, that she should not overwhelm those around her against their own desires. So easy, to love Melian, or Lúthien, but it would be like... It would be like loving the forest in a storm, or the river Sirion in full spate. Beautiful and terrible and unstoppable. You could be carried off and overwhelmed, without the river meaning it. It would mourn you later, but you would still be drowned...”
Nimloth tucked her strange short hair behind her ears, and took a gulp of wine. “Dior can be a little like that,” she said, “But he has more of the beauty, and much less of the strength. Lucky for me! There are those who look at me and wonder why Dior chose me. I know that very well. There were lovelier faces in Doriath than mine! But he is lovely to look on himself. He didn’t need beauty, he needed someone strong, who would not be overwhelmed, to rely on.”
“I never met Lúthien,” Maglor said. “You make her sound almost like one of the Valar.”
“I suppose the Valar are like that too. Probably even more, but they hide it better. Against Sauron, against Morgoth, I can believe Lúthien would be strong. But against elves or men... that would have been hard for her. She had been taught from childhood that she should not use her strength like that.”
It was almost the exact opposite of what Maglor himself had been taught, and Celegorm too. The sons of Fëanor had been trained to use their abilities to their limit, and never to be reluctant about them.
It explained a good deal, both about how Celegorm had acted, and why Lúthien had let him. But if Celegorm was ever to return from the Halls of Mandos, it might be safest not to talk too much of that to Nimloth.