“Elrohir is on that boat,” Celebrían announced, suddenly and confidently. The six others standing on the dock- Maedhros, Maglor and Eärendil, Galadriel and Finrod, and of course, Elrond himself, turned to look at her. Before any of them could question the proclamation, she added, “I don’t know how I know, I just do. I don’t know if Elladan is or not, but I can feel Elrohir, very strongly. I don’t know why.”
Finrod muttered something about ‘her mother’s daughter,’ and got an elbow from Galadriel for his troubles. It was a strange welcoming party, but given that they didn’t really know who was on the boat, it seemed appropriate. Maglor and Maedhros were there at Elrond’s request. He wanted to introduce his sons to their other grandfathers. Finrod had come with Galadriel, and Eärendil had just shown up, uninvited, but nobody really minded. If there was even the smallest possibility that his sons had not come, Elrond had wanted his fathers there. All three of them.
They could see the boat in the distance, but there was little wind that day, and it seemed to be taking forever to come at least within shouting range. Eärendil kept looking over at other boats, as though he was sailing out to meet them. Maedhros kept readjusting his hair, even though it looked absolutely fine, tucking imaginary strands behind his ears. Only Finrod seemed in a good mood. He was trying to entice Maglor into singing a duet with him, though Maglor was having none of it.
“Come now,” Finrod was saying, “we used to have plenty of fun working together.”
Maglor shook his head. “You used to have fun, I was just bored. And besides, you’ve been playing on your own or with others for ages since. What do you need me for?”
“Well,” Finrod said, “Fingon isn’t nearly as pretty as you are.”
For this effort, he received another elbow, though this time from Maedhros.
Maedhros, leaving his brother and his cousin to bicker, drifted over to Elrond. He gave Elrond’s arm a gentle squeeze. Elrond, a little comforted, leaned into him.
“Go stand with your wife,” Maedhros said, releasing Elrond with a gentle shove towards Celebrían. Her hands were clenched with nerves, and she kept running her fingers through her moon-pale hair. The tiniest of breezes caught a strand and drew it away from her. Elrond reached up, and tucked it behind her ear. She turned to him, and grabbed his hand out of the air, pressing a soft kiss to the knuckles before she let him go.
“What does it feel like? This awareness of yours?” Elrond asked, hoping this question was no overly irritating.
Celebrían shrugged. “It’s like his mind is… open, like a child’s, or like he’s trying to reach out to someone who’s powerful but untrained. I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone else would be able to feel it. The only reason I can is because he’s my son. It’s- I am without doubt that he’s there. It’s- exhilarating.”
“Hello there!” They both jumped to attention, as they heard Elrohir- Valar, Elrohir- shouting out from the bow of the boat.
“Hello!” Elrond called back. Both addresses had been in Westron, which had likely been the language Elrohir had been speaking for some time, though Elrond had no use for it himself, on these shores.
“It’s Elrohir,” Galadriel informed the assembled crowd.
Elrond considered if it would be appropriate to yell the question that was on everyone’s minds,- where is Elladan- but before the need arose, a second dark haired head appeared in place of Elrohir’s.
“Greetings!” He called, though unlike his brother he had the presence of mind to offer the address in Sindarin. “if you have any way of speeding the process, we’d be much obliged- the wind seems to almost have ceased.”
“I can help with that!” Eärendil called, and went to work trying to explain with shouting some technical aspect of how to improve how they were angling their sail.
“An ill omen,” Maedhros whispered, too softly for Elladan and Elrohir to hear. Elrond gave him a scathing look, which at least stopped him from elaborating to a confused looking Finrod.
With Eärendil’s direction, the ship sped up enough that it was no more than ten minutes before it was at the dock, and its crew was disembarking. There were perhaps twenty-five, thirty elves aboard. There was not, to the great relief of Elrond, any sign of Legolas Thranduillion on board. This meant that, for now, Arwen still lived. Though it had been a surprise that her brothers had sailed before her death, the reason for this became clear soon enough.
Celeborn jumped from the ship, and into the waiting arms of his wife. The looks of total disdain on Finrod and Celebrían’s face were a perfect match. Maglor immediately looked down, trying to hide his face behind his dark hair, which was still too short for this purpose. Glorfindel and Erestor, along with many of Elrond’s other friends and acquaintances from Rivendell were there, laughing and singing. Unlike his brother, Maedhros made no efforts to hide. It would have been ineffective anyhow. His height and his hair made sure of that, for all that he now had two hands. Glorfindel gave Eärendil a firm slap on the back, and said something that made Elrond’s biological father laugh. But where were the twins?
“I promise there’s a very good explanation for this,” Elladan said, quite nonsensically, and disembarked. Elrond looked up at his son, and discovered that he was holding a child, a girl. If she had been human, Elrond would have place her age at perhaps two years, or less. As an elf, he would have said she was closer to eight. But he was quite sure that she was neither.
“There had better be,” Celebrían snapped, though there was no real fire in it. She was crying. “And be quick about it!”
“It’s all my fault,” Elrohir said, and from the guilt on his face, Elrond could see it was true. “Her mother was- Elbereth, nana, you would have loved her. Her name was Iswen. She was so strong, could handle horses like she’d been born on one, never had a lick of fear in her, even until the end. She was-“
“She was mortal,” Maedhros said. His expression had been carefully forced into neutral, but his eyes seemed very sad.
Elrohir nodded, seemingly overcome with tears. Celebrían pulled him close, for the first time in an age, and allowed him to cry. Elrond took the child, who he now realized was asleep, from Elladan so he too could embrace his mother.
Though Maglor still seemed dedicated to hiding from Celeborn in plain sight, Maedhros approached. He and Elrond looked over the child together. She had inherited much from her father, that was clear. She looked, Elrond thought, very much like Arwen had at her age, which Elrond, now knowing her parentage, placed around four or five. Elrond realized that he didn’t know her name.
“She has Celebrían’s face.” Maedhros murmured. He gifted the sleeping child an open smile, of the sort he usually saved for Fingon or Elrond himself. Suddenly, they were distracted by the sound of a crash.
Maglor was lying on the dock, holding his head with one hand. He did not look especially surprised by this turn of events. Celeborn was standing over him, shouting something about Doriath. Elrond handed his granddaughter to Maedhros, and made to put himself between his father and his father-in-law. But Finrod got there first. He was stronger than Celeborn, and when Celeborn made to take another step towards Maglor, Finrod grabbed him by his shoulders and held him in place.
“Get yourself under control,” Finrod snapped. Elrond had never seen the Crown Prince of the Noldor, who was one of the friendliest people he knew, so cold. “There is no place for vengeance here, yours any more so than his. If you were not prepared to make peace, then you should never have set foot on these shores.”
Celeborn gave him a few choice words on exactly what he thought of ‘making peace’. Eärendil, who had been standing over to the side, went up to Celeborn. “If Elwing and I can make peace- friendship- with the sons of Fëanor, you can at least do the rest of us the courtesy of not beating your daughter’s guest into the ground. Maglor, are you alright?”
Maglor pulled himself up onto his elbows, and gave Eärendil a disbelieving look. “I’ve had worse,” he said, “and in fairness, I probably deserved that. Though I would ask you not to try and hit my brothers. Half of them would hit back, and the other half would tell you to hit them again.”
Before Celeborn could say anything more, he flinched as if he’d been struck, and turned to his wife. He and Galadriel maintained a long, harsh eye contact, speaking without words, until Celeborn turned, and stormed off, an apologetic Galadriel following a half step back. Powerful as they were, Galadriel and her husband had no need for words when they fought.
“What’s happening?” Elladan asked, quite sensibly, as he took in the scene around him. “Who are all these people?”
“Family,” Celebrían said, evasively, and turned her gaze back on Elrohir. “Now, I don’t believe your story was finished. What happened to your wife?”
Elrohir looked down, and Elrond could almost feel the grief emanating off him in waves. “It was winter, and the sickness came on so fast, and I- I promised Iswen that I’d keep Sídhil safe, and-” He broke down again, but this time Elrond crossed the docks and held him tightly. Elrohir was as tall as he was, now, but his sorrow made him shrink away into almost nothing
From over his shoulder, Elrond heard Elladan speak up again. “Valar- you’re Maedhros Fëanorion,” he accused, though his tone was mostly one of awe.
“I am,” Maedhros said, guiltily. “This is my brother, Maglor, your grandfather Eärendil, and your- great uncle? Finrod Felagund.” Presumably, this had come with some kind of gesture, since Elladan didn’t ask which was which.
“It’s an honour,” Elladan said, to one of the crowd on the dock. “Truly. I’ve heard a great deal about you.”
“I can’t imagine any of it was good,” Maedhros said, and Elrond loosened his grip on Elrohir to turn and stare at his other son. Elladan was smiling at Maedhros, quite openly.
Elladan shrugged, and crossed the dock to shake hands with Maglor and Eärendil. “In truth, it was all bad from most quarters, and little at all from my father, until we read a journal he’d written for us about growing up with the two of you.”
Elrond, remembering the journal in question, flushed quite red. Elrohir, who pulled back to dry his tears, laughed at his expression.
The journal had been one of Elrond’s madder endeavours. When the twins were young, he’d been struck often by memories of Elros, and their shared childhood. In one of these bouts with memory, he had realized that should anything ever happen to him, nobody would be able to tell Elrohir and Elladan about their family. It had begun as more a history, and had quickly devolved into Elrond’s personal telling of his youth. As the twins had grown older, Elrond had not in fact spoken much about his own childhood, fearing that the twins would make enemies of the many people of Doriath and Sirion who followed Elrond, as the son of Elwing and Eärendil. It had all just been too complicated. He supposed that he must have left the book in a drawer somewhere, and the twins had discovered it in the time they had been left to rule.
“Well, that’s liable to be much more flattering than most historical accounts of us,” Maglor half-joked. “We’ve heard a great deal of you too, from both your parents.”
Maedhros handed Sídhil back to her uncle, and Elladan hoisted her with the look of some who’d had a good deal of practice. It was a strange sight, but not an unwelcome one. Sídhil. Not a name Elrond himself might have chosen, but a good one. Hope. Given the circumstance of her birth, perhaps it was the name she needed.
“I had not known what happened to that volume,” Elrond told his sons. “I suppose better that you found it than some others. It was, after all, written for you.”
Elrohir shook his head ruefully. “Would that we had found it ourselves. As it happens, poor Erestor stumbled across it when he was going through your desk for some misplaced trade deals with the Greenwood. Quite a shock for him.”
“Oh dear,” Celebrían muttered. She knew as well as Elrond did that Erestor had been at the Havens of Sirion. Speaking of, where was Erestor?
“He’s quite alright,” Eärendil interjected, as though reading Elrond’s mind, “he and Glorfindel are planning to travel, see some of their old friends. I think they left to give you privacy, not because either of them are upset. But Glorfindel told me where to find them if I’d like to talk, so I’m sure he won’t mind me passing on that information.”
“Well, that’s something at least,” Elrond told him, “I would have liked to tell him and some of the others myself, rather than have my love for my fathers be a dirty secret whispered in shadowy corners.”
Elrohir, who had dried his tears some, crossed the dock to shake hands with his newly-encountered grandparents and Finrod. Then, to Elrond’s significant surprise, Maedhros drew him away, to hold a whispered conversation away from prying ears.
“I suppose of all of us, Maedhros may be the best qualified for this,” Eärendil said. When everyone turned to look at him, he added, “of all of us, Maedhros has probably the best understanding of what it is to lose love and hope in one fell swoop. Just because his story has a happy ending, doesn’t mean it seemed like it would.”
Maglor nodded. “Quite right. I remember- if any of you tell Fingon this, I will be forced to seek terrible vengeance, possibly in the form of a ballad- after Fingon died, Maedhros didn’t eat for almost a week. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as sure of anything since as I was that he would fade then. But he didn’t. Maedhros is, quite possibly, the strongest person I know.”
Some ways away, Elrond watched as Maedhros placed a tender hand on Elrohir’s shoulder. Though he could not hear, he saw Elrohir look down, and notice Maedhros’s wedding band. He imagined that Maedhros was talking about Fingon. With that tender look in his face, what else could it be?
Elladan continued speaking to his family, joking with Maglor, Finrod and Eärendil, until Elrohir and Maedhros returned. Elrond and Celebrían stood to the side, and watched their families collide. All that was left to do was introduce the twins to Gil-galad, Celebrimbor, Fingon, and some more extended members of the family. Nerdanel would come down soon enough, once everything had settled down, and there would be a time and a place for Elwing, for Nimloth, Dior, and Idril, and the rest of the family. Elrond spent a moment, imagining these reunions, until he was jerked to attention by the touch of Maedhros’s mind on his.
Maedhros’s message was simple enough. A classic ‘we need to talk,’ communicated in the form of the idea of the pair of them, and talking. He brought Elrohir back to the main group, and everyone grabbed what boxes and bags were left on the ship, tied them to horses, and began the assent home.
“What is it?” Elrond asked, the second he was able to get Maedhros alone. They were leading the way up, each of them half paying attention to guiding a horse. With these sort of steeds, it was barely necessary to guide them.
Maedhros looked him dead in the eye, and Elrond could read something like shame in his face. “I’m going to ask this because I’ve always tried to be honest with you, and I know nobody else will, even though we’re all thinking it. Does she have the choice? Or is being on these shores enough to make it for her. Either alternative is awful.”
Elrond flinched back from Maedhros’s words as if he’d been struck, and immediately regretted it when he saw how appalled Maedhros looked to have hurt him. In truth, the question itself was not awful. It had needed to be asked, but the implications were horrifying. Either Sídhil, that sweet, innocent, sleeping babe, had the gift of men within her, and would one day be forced to choose between this, her father and everyone who she would remember into adulthood, or her mother, her heritage, and that greatest adventure. Or worse, she had been robbed of the choice entirely. For Elrond, it had always been his desire to choose the path of elves, but for Elros, having that chosen for him would have been a death in itself. The death of hope, of dreams, of emotion and freedom. But on the other hand, if Sídhil had the choice, and chose the gift of men, it would destroy Elrohir; Elrond could feel it.
Maedhros squeezed Elrond’s free hand once in his own, tightly, and then let him be. “What did you say to Elrohir?” Elrond asked him, more to get out of his own head than for the answer itself.
Maedhros looked at the dirt. “I told him that doing what he’s doing, that living, is the hardest thing in Arda. Then I told him that people always say that you have to be strong for your family, or that it gets easier. I said that it does get easier, but you don’t have to be strong for your family, you have to allow your family to be there for you even when you’re weak. And of course, I said that raising you and Elros was the best thing I ever did, that children are a blessing, and no matter how hard it feels, he has to allow Sídhil into his heart.”
“I see,” Elrond murmured. He had assumed Maedhros had spoken of Fingon, and was deeply touched by the truth of Maedhros’s statement.
“He’ll survive, given time, and may even come to thrive and find happiness,” Maedhros told Elrond. “He’s strong.”
“What makes you say that?” Elrond asked. It was not as though Maedhros and Elrohir knew one another well.
Maedhros gave him a slight smile. “He’s your son, and Celebrían’s. There’s strength in his very nature. You’re survivors, the lot of you.”
Maedhros was as well, but he didn’t need Elrond to tell him that. That was Fingon’s job. They both turned around when they heard the sound of a small child crying. Sídhil was awake. Elrohir calmed her with remarkably swift practice, and she began to babble, as very small children do, in a mix of gibberish and real words. She spoke more like a human child, in Westron, and with gibberish that could have been words in Westron had anyone ever thought to invent them. Elrohir conducted a second set of introductions, allowing Sídhil to meet each of her grandparents, great-grandparents and Finrod in turn. Predictably, she took an immediate shine to Maedhros. When brought close enough, she grabbed one of his braids tightly and refused to let go. Maedhros laughed, and took her from Elrohir so that she could yank his hair to heart’s content.
There were people who had the gift of being naturally likable to children. Elrond was not one of them. Even his own children, Estel included, had generally preferred the company of others. Celebrían, Galadriel, and Glorfindel had been most popular with, respectively, the twins, Arwen, and Estel. Not that Elrond had not been close with them, but it was by no means a natural talent. Maedhros, on the other hand, had the gift in spades. Even at his worst, he had been of great charisma, and difficult to truly dislike. This was more than evidenced by Elros, who had put in a great deal of effort to trying to dislike Maedhros.
“Mae!” Exclaimed Sídhil. “Mae, Mae, Mae.”
Maedhros laughed, which Sídhil found highly exciting. Maglor, who had come up from the back of the line, said, “When we were little, we all called him Nelyo, because Maitimo was too difficult to say. It seems that after an epessë or a dozen, he still doesn’t have any that are easier for children to say.”
“Not entirely true,” Maedhros corrected, “Caranthir always called me Russo for Russandol. And Curufin usually just called me a pain in his-” he cut off, for Sídhil’s sake.
“Elros was a show off,” Elrond said, “He could always pronounce everyone’s full name.”
Maglor shook his head. “But not well. I was Meg-lor for about three months.”
The conversation continued in this vein, jokes and memories, and general cooing over Sídhil, until the party arrived home. Celebrían had skipped the conversation, making plans and notes to once again accommodate an unexpected guest. Finrod and Maedhros both agreed to speak to the extended family about seeing if anyone had toys or other things Sídhil might want lying around. It had been a very long time, but then again, the Noldor had natural tendencies to horde, and half of them had been gone for all of the first and seconds ages at least, and therefore unable to ever clear out any of their stuff. Additionally, as Finrod pointed out, Finarfin had been hoping one of his children would have more children for years, and probably had kept a goodly amount of hand-me-downs just in case. Finrod himself was thinking about children with him wife, Amarië, but Sídhil was here and now, and he said he didn’t mind.
“Thank you,” Elrohir whispered to Maedhros, as they arrived. Elrond only barely caught it, he spoke so low.
Maedhros gave him the same smile he had given Sídhil earlier. “You’re family. You don’t need to thank me. It’s my honor.”
“Family,” Elrohir repeated, as though tasting the word. “Yes, that’s right.”
“You must be thinking it too,” Maedhros said to Eärendil, and handed their shared great-granddaughter the block she was reaching for. Sídhil smiled at him serenely, and then threw the block half way across the room.
“Thinking what?” Eärendil asked, and retrieved the block from where it had landed under a table.
Maedhros, unwilling to voice his concerns, touched his ear, and then gave a meaningful look to Sídhil, whose ears were quite notably rounded for one of the Quendi. Eärendil mirrored the gesture, reaching up to touch the tip of his own pointed ear, before a look of understanding flashed across his face.
“I’ve been thinking of it,” he admitted to Maedhros, “how could I not be? Do you think the others are as well?”
Maedhros shrugged. “Elrond is, at least, because I told him my fears. Still, you’re the expert in this matter. I’d like to know your opinion.”
Eärendil ran a hand through his golden hair, and grimaced slightly. “I checked over the family records and consulted with Elwing yesterday. It’s- there’s never been one of us quite like her.”
“Well,” Eärendil said, “look at the lines of our family. Dior and Nimloth were both elves, though Dior by choice, and lived and had children as elves. But their children had the choice. We suspect that their sons chose the fate of men, but regardless they had no children so that doesn’t matter. Elwing and I hadn’t made our choice when we had children, but we were both half elven- of course Elros and Elrond took after us. And then Elrond, Elros and Arwen all made the choice before having any children. But Elrond’s children were still considered Peredhel, and Elros’s and Arwen’s were not. That suggests that the tendency towards the gift of men is stronger. So, for the half-mortal child of Elrohir, who had not chosen…”
This possibility hadn’t crossed Maedhros’s mind. “You think she might have no choice other than the gift of men.”
Eärendil nodded. “Yes, I do. What were you worried about?”
“I worried that her choice would have been taken from her by being brought here. Or that she still had the choice, and would be forced to choose between the mother she won’t remember and the father who didn’t choose to unite their family. Any option really seems bad, though I have to admit in this matter you may actually have been more pessimistic than I. And that’s saying something.”
Eärendil passed another block to the innocent child in front of him. She placed it very carefully on top of her first block, and then knocked over the tiny tower, laughing gleefully.
“She takes after your side of the family,” Eärendil deadpanned. Maedhros, who rarely heard his stellar friend crack dark jokes, laughed in surprise.
“’Twas Luthien who was famed for bringing down a tower. Let that be her inheritance.”
Eärendil’s face darkened. “Let nobody ever compare her to Luthien. Let that be her inheritance.”
“Aye,” Maedhros said. “That, and her mother’s courage, and her father’s determination.”
They looked at one another, and then down at Sídhil. Eärendil, with all the gravitas of his power and lineage, said, “those, and nothing more.”