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Rising Tides

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Maglor went to visit Ulmo for the first time almost a month after they’d spoken- as much as it could be called that- about Sídhil. It was almost a compulsion that sent him climbing down the cliff face in the middle of the night. If Elrond had known, he would have had a heart attack, but he didn’t know. There was a distinct risk of Maglor falling, for his hands were not as steady as they once had been, and the rocks were wet with spray. But he did not fall, and, he suspected, would have been caught if he had.

The second he touched the water, Ulmo touched his mind. This was not the careless, raging touch that Maglor had known the last time. Instead, the Vala was almost gentle. He pressed around the sharp edges of Maglor’s mind, of his fear and hoplessness, and softened those feelings. Just a little, but enough.

“That was very foolish of you,” Ulmo said, from the water. This form was more comprehensible then the last Maglor had known him in, but still was not simply one of the children of Eru. Instead, he had green skin, with the upper body of a man (albeit one with scales), the tail of a fish, and gills. It was extremely strange to look at.

“Not the most foolish thing I’ve ever done,” Maglor told him, which was true enough. In fact, it wasn’t even the most foolish thing he’d ever done in front of Ulmo.

“That’s true enough,” Ulmo said, and flicked water at Maglor with the tip of his tail.

“Stop that,” Maglor ordered, but he was laughing. With no concern as to the consequences for his clothes, Maglor stood, and dived into the water. When he surfaced, Ulmo was giving him a quizzical look.

“I thought you couldn’t swim.” The Vala said, as an explanation.

“I can swim.” Maglor told him, which was at this point probably pointing out the obvious. The water was warm, at this time of year. Maglor didn’t think he’d actually gone swimming since- oh, at least since Elrond and Elros were children. Had he even gone into the water then, or had he watched with Maedhros from the shore? Maedhros had worried about going unarmed or unarmoured, even for a second.

“You never did, before.” Ulmo swum close, and stopped a wave from hitting Maglor in the face.

“I was afraid of what I would do, if I got out far enough.”

Ulmo’s eyes flicked down. “I wouldn’t have let you do anything stupid.”

“And would you always have been watching?” Maglor asked. They were slowly drifting further out to sea, but given his company, Maglor wasn’t especially concerned.

“More than you would think.” Ulmo told him. “Do you remember when you used to sing to me?”

Maglor remembered. In the early years of his exile, he’d sung a great deal. The Noldolantë, mostly, but other things too. A few centuries in, he’d stopped trying, and had started avoiding elves. Not mortals. They didn’t know who he was, and didn’t care. Sometimes, he would allow himself their company, for a day or two. Then he would remember why he was there, and would decide to go alone again.

“I seem to remember singing to myself, mostly. In fact, I seem to recall being alone most of the time.”

Ulmo gave a sad sigh, and reached out to touch Maglor’s face with one (webbed?) hand. He was perhaps, Maglor belatedly realized, trying to wipe away a tear. “You were always far less alone than you thought.”

No, Maglor had been alone. He hadn’t heard a voice speaking Quenya, speaking Sindarin or even one of the languages of the Avari, in so, so many years. He hadn’t heard the music of any elf, hadn’t felt the touch of a hand, or heard the laugh of a loved one. He had been the only person in all the world who remembered his father, not as a monster but as a flawed genius who loved his children. Maglor had accepted his punishment, his deserved punishment, and had served the sentence. Even when Elrond had come asking for him, he had chosen to serve his sentence. Up until the day Sam Gamgee had come, and ended it. Perhaps Ulmo had been watching, listening, but that changed Maglor’s experience of it not one whit.

Maglor resisted the powerful urge to punch the Vala. “Why did you even care? I’m not Turukáno or Findaráto. I was never one of your sweet, dedicated, good innocents.”

Ulmo jerked away like he’d been struck, tail lashing through the water with incredible force. “That’s not the point,” he snapped, and the water around him churned ominously.

It was very difficult to hold your ground when you literally didn’t have any. “Then what is? Because I don’t understand why you spoke to me on the beach, and I don’t understand why you called me here now.”

“The point is that you took the most precious thing you had, a thing that you were psychically compelled to keep, and you gave it to me, and I still don’t know why.”

And Maglor could have given him a thousand reasons. He could have said, it killed my brothers, and I knew it was killing me. He could have said, the touch burned. It burned so badly that I wasn’t able to play an instrument properly, or hold a knife, or ride a horse, or braid my hair, for thousands and thousands of years. He could have said that it was the right thing to do, or that he had judged the terms of his oath fulfilled, or that he had wanted to keep his children as far away as possible from that cursed gem. But none of those things were the true answer.

“I don’t know either.” He snapped, and everything stopped. The water lapping at the cliffs, the sound of Ulmo’s tail in the water, his own need to kick to support himself. It was like everything was frozen, only it wasn’t. When Maglor passed a hand through the water, it was still wet, and when he raised a handful and let go, it still fell towards the center of the world. Accelerating at a constant rate, the part of his mind that was Fëanor’s son supplied, unhelpfully.

“The tides, my lord?”

Ulmo shook his head, and the world seemed to restart, waves crashing on shores, and the steady churning of Ulmo’s tail and Maglor’s legs.

“I’m sorry,” Ulmo whispered, but he stayed far away from Maglor. It was as though he thought his touch might hurt. His mind pulled away from Maglor’s as well, leaving him feeling oddly alone.

“I forgive you,” Maglor returned, and there was such power in those words. “I forgive you. Can you forgive me?”

Ulmo grinned. “As though I hadn’t already.”

Maglor splashed him, not that it really had any effect on someone with Ulmo’s powers. But it was the thought that counted.

“So,” Maglor asked, with none of his usual verbosity or grace. “Does this make us friends?”

“I would like that, very much.” He paused, and began to swim around Maglor in lazy circles. “You know, I’ve never properly been friends with one of the Quendi before.”

“Well, I’ve never been friends with one of the Valar before, so I suppose we’ll have to learn together, won’t we?”

--

“Hello again,” Maglor said to the ocean. He hadn’t climbed down the cliffs that day, because it had proved immensely difficult to get back up, and his hands had ached for days afterwards. Instead, he’d walked down to the beach in the middle of the night. Like a normal person.

The ocean hummed, a vibrating pulse sending waves rippling out for miles.

“You know, the Teleri dislike my family enough without strange phenomena ruining their boats,” he advised, and began to walk into the surf.

In his mind, Ulmo grumbled, and at his feet, the sea cleared from his path. Maglor, never one to do anything half way, kept walking. Soon, the sea was higher than his head, and around him swum fish of a thousand descriptions. It should have been too dark to see them clearly, but instead everything seemed to be tinged by a pale green glow. It was beautiful, mysterious as a strange forest.

“Thank you for showing me this,” Maglor said. Ulmo’s mind was wrapped around his again, like a warm blanket. He breathed out, and let it soothe him.

Ulmo asked after his family, mind to mind. He was not, it seemed, having a corporeal kind of day. Maglor didn’t mind terribly. Nowadays, given that most people didn’t use their mental abilities, Maglor’s mind had been very quiet. To the extent people did use them, it was usually with a spouse. Maglor didn’t have one of those anymore.

“They’re doing alright. It’s been hard for Elrohir to adjust, given everything, but knowing the truth of Sídhil has eased his mind some.”

Ulmo seemed to question this, but of course he would. He had not approved of sailing with Sídhil to begin with.

“I know it seems monstrous to have forced the choice on her. But for Elrohir, no news could have been better. If he’d had to either raise her, knowing she was only mortal, or knowing that she would be forced to choose between him and her mother, it would have destroyed him. Raising Elrond and Elros was stressful enough, and I knew what they each wanted to choose from the time they were twelve. Not to mention that I hadn’t already lost a wife and a sister to the mortal path.”

He had lost his brothers to Námo’s tender graces, and a wife to his own foolishness, but for the Quendi, such things were far less permanent. Elrohir would never see Iswen ever again. To lose his daughter in the same way would have obliterated him, and that would have destroyed Elrond and Celebrían, which would have been the start of a chain reaction that would have brought Maglor’s entire family to their knees.

It isn’t fair, Ulmo thought at him, clear as crystal. Under the words, he seemed to be thinking of Eärendil, who had never wanted the burden of immortality.

“No, it isn’t. But making them choose was never fair. It wasn’t fair to Elrond and Elros, to make them choose so young, and it wasn’t fair that they had to lose each other to be happy.”

Ulmo hummed again, but just for Maglor. Then, with caution as though he thought Maglor would break, he asked Maglor to sing.

And so, Maglor began with the Lay of Lúthien, which seemed appropriate given the circumstances.

--

They fell into a steady rhythm. Maglor would come visit, always making the long, safe trek down to the shore. In the beginning, he only came at night, when the unhoused spirits of all those he’d wronged seemed to haunt his every moment. But later, as they learned to trust each other, he came at other times. In evenings, before things had gotten bad. In the day, just because. Maglor visited Ulmo in his home, and met Uinen and Ossë. They shared the good times, and the bad. People took notice. Elrond worried, as did Maedhros, but such things were in their nature. By some instinct that seemed innate, Maglor kept his meetings with Ulmo secret, for the most part. It was impossible to hide from Elrond and Maedhros, but from his mother, from his other brothers, he hid the connection. It was easier not to have to explain that he had become friends with someone who was so much on the other side of their family’s great conflict. Sometimes, he thought that he should. Celegorm deserved to know that he wasn’t the only person who had friends among the Valar. But Maglor couldn’t bring himself to share this with any person, save one.

Sídhil was sixty that year, which was, by the more vague reckonings of the Peredhel, sometime around when she should have been legally and socially, of age. It varied. Dior, for example, had come of age much, much earlier, possibly due to his mother’s choice or possibly due to his Maiar heritage. In truth, most of the Peredhel considered themselves their own entities, and made their own decisions, well before they were sixty, but most of them had also been born in Beleriand, where such concepts as innocence and childhood were a moot point. Sídhil was raised in Aman, she was allowed to be young.

Ulmo was older than the concept of time that year, as he was every year, but was no less fascinated by Sídhil than she was by him. They watched each other. Sídhil, perched on the edge of the boat, and Ulmo, floating in the water beside them.

“It is an honour to meet you, lord Ulmo,” Sídhil finally managed. She shot Maglor a dirty look that perfectly conveyed the sentiment, ‘why didn’t you warn me?’

“And a pleasure to meet you, my lady,” Ulmo said with a grin. He was in one of the most mannish forms Maglor had ever known him to take. In this one, though silver scales still plated most of his body, he had legs, eyes, a mouth with normal teeth, and was wearing robes. How they remained dry and didn’t weigh him down, Maglor didn’t bother to ask.

“I’ll admit that I am surprised. Sídhil continued. “I wasn’t expecting to meet with you today. If I was, I might have dressed more appropriately.”

Sídhil was wearing trousers and a short tunic. Not by any stretch inappropriate for sailing, but hardly the sort of thing one might wear when meeting someone of Ulmo’s titles and abilities. That being said, Ulmo had seen Maglor in far, far worse attire.

Ulmo looked Sídhil up and down. “I take it that I’m the first of my kin you’ve met, then.”

Sídhil nodded. She’d met Elrond’s friend, Olorin, but he didn’t really count and they all knew it. As Valar went, Ulmo was a good one to start with. He was powerful, and strange, but as Maglor knew from years of experience, he was also truly and deeply kind. Sídhil seemed to be taking it all in stride.

“Sorry for springing all this on you, Sídhil. But most of the family doesn’t know of my convening with Ulmo, and might have been nervous if I’d announced I was suddenly taking you to meet with him.”

Sídhil rolled her eyes. “Yes, because you announcing a sudden and inexplicable desire to go sailing made everyone so much less worried.”

It was true that Elrohir and Eärendil had both acted very oddly after this announcement. “I sail.”

Sídhil rolled her eyes again, and pointed at one of the ropes attached to the sail. “Maglor, what is that called?”

“A rope?” Ulmo and Sídhil gave him identical looks of judgement. “A tie, an attachment. I don’t know. What does that have to do with anything?”

Sídhil and Ulmo shared a look, and then both burst into fits of giggles. “You sail.” Ulmo muttered. “Yes, and I ride horses.”

Sídhil grinned at him, clearly feeling that he understood her plight. “You might, you just don’t know what a hoof is.”

“That’s more than enough of that, thank you very much,” Maglor muttered to himself.

When the giggling subsided, Ulmo used a bit of his power to keep their boat from drifting away so Maglor and Sídhil could join him in the water. Sídhil had excellent form, which was probably a result of Eärendil’s influence in her life. Ulmo had to use his powers to keep up with her, which amused Maglor to no end. Of course, Ulmo had never really had to learn to swim like one of the Quendi, but Maglor had to take his victories where he could get them.

Having swum a couple of laps around the boat, Sídhil stopped, treading water. “What I don’t understand,” she said, turning to Maglor, “is why you brought us together.”

Ulmo nodded in agreement with her question. The sun shone off of his scales, flashing silver. His eyes were dark black, and the flitted between Maglor and his great-granddaughter. Sídhil’s hair flashed as well, glossy black and soaking wet. Her eyes were focused solely on Maglor’s

“Two reasons. One for you, Sídhil, and one for you, Ulmo. Sídhil, I think you need to know Ulmo. He’s part of the history of this family, for Turgon’s line and for me.”

Sídhil nodded, very seriously. She well understood, and had understood for many years, that her family’s history would always be a part of her reality. They all took different duties of it. Elrohir spoke of her mother, Elrond and Celebrían spoke of Arwen and Elros, and Maedhros did most of the work speaking of Doriath and Sirion, though Nimloth helped, as did Elwing. Her perspective was brutally honest, but it needed to be given, same as the rest. From Arafinwë’s house, Finrod did most of the talking, speaking of Nargothrond, of his friendships with man and his death at Sauron’s hands. Caranthir chronicled the broader history of their family, Celebrimbor his own story, though it pained him, and Idril the fall of Gondolin. But none of them had brought the Valar into it. She knew, clinically, of the doom, of Fingon’s prayers for Maedhros, of Ulmo’s relationship to Finrod and to Turgon’s line, but to hear of the Valar and to know them were two very different things. Maglor was one of a very select group who had experienced that first hand.

“And my reason?” Ulmo asked, cautiously.

Maglor looked down into the water. “You were always worried about how Sídhil’s choice, or lack thereof, would affect her. Well, there’s a very easy way to find out. Ask her.”

Ulmo and Sídhil eyed each other again. Neither of them said anything for a very long time. Perhaps they needed some more encouragement.

Spreading his hands like a lord at a banquet, Maglor said, “Begin.” Then, with great practice, he swum out to sea. This would give Ulmo and Sídhil some privacy.

Turning back to watch them out of earshot, Maglor was pleased to see Sídhil talking expressively, waving her hands as she treaded water. Ulmo looked at her, hypnotised. It was good for him to listen to the perspectives of others. It was far too easy for the Valar to forget that the Quendi, and, by extension, mortals, had complex inner lives. Ulmo was better than most, but he forgot sometimes, and it had become Maglor’s job to remind him, over the years. It was not an easy task, but it was an important one. One of the most important tasks that it had ever been Maglor’s burden to bear. He would not trade it for anything. He had given a silmaril for it, and he was more than happy with the deal.