Elrond had found quarters for Maglor, near his own within the walls of Mithlond. Gil-galad had judged that Maglor should be counted as one of the released thralls of Angband, but Maglor suspected that most of them did not have rooms where the furnishings were quite so finely made, or marked with the six-pointed star of Eärendil, the niphredil of Lúthien or the Trees of Doriath. Unfair, perhaps, but Maglor did not feel inclined to object. The freed thralls, for all that they had suffered, had now had several years of regular meals and a dry warm place to sleep, which was more than Maglor had had recently.
He slept for days, waking from time to time from vivid dreams in which Maedhros turned and looked at him before stepping into the fire, which the real Maedhros had not done. Or where Maedhros urged him to follow into the flames. Maedhros had not done that, either, and Maglor wished he knew why.
Sometimes the flames were the sulphurous molten rocks of the northern shore where Maedhros had died, and sometimes the burning ships at Losgar, or fire in the thatch at the Havens.
He blinked awake to find Elrond saying his name, and both of them pretended that Elrond had not seen the Havens burning in his mind, while Elrond set a charm to lift the pain from his burned hand and brought him cool water before he slept again.
Sometimes, the flames were the wild whirling death of the Dagor Bragollach, ripping through the camps of Maglor’s people in the Gap and on the plains at dead of night. As Maglor fled desperately, seeking refuge in vanished Himring, he saw Maedhros step into the fire and burn, as the Silmaril had told Maglor he deserved to burn.
He woke again, wondering why he, of all his brothers, was still alive. Wondering if it had been craven of him not to follow Maedhros. If Maedhros had expected him to follow. If Maedhros had reached the Halls of Mandos, or if he had fallen into darkness everlasting and was lost with all his brothers, and with their father...
Elrond tried to speak with him about it, which was something that Elrond should absolutely not under any circumstances need to think about.
Maglor privately cursed Elwing and Eärendil for having produced children with talent that seemed to rival Galadriel’s. He closed and barred his mind, hid his thought deep within the iron-doored store-rooms of Formenos, set great stones before the doors and assured Elrond with a smile that he was only a little weary.
Elrond looked at him unhappily, and went away, leaving a plate of bread and smoked fish behind him. Maglor did not try the door to see if it was locked. He was not sure if he wanted it to be or not. He ate the bread and fish and went back to sleep.
He had hidden away the dreams of fire, and so fire came to his dreams in another form, speaking with his father’s voice of how he had failed all his brothers, had wanted to evade his duty and had given up a Silmaril.
He woke, and thanked Elrond’s serious-faced Edain as graciously as he could manage for plates of smoked fish, nut-bread, samphire, sea-kale and potted crab, then slept again, to dream a comical dream of Ulmo delivering a barrel of smoked fish in person to Círdan.
It was in all ways a preferable dream to dreams of fire, and also to the dreams in which his father reproached him. He was duly grateful for it.
When at last he had enough of sleep, he woke to find that Elrond had been called away to Harlond, and was not expected to return for a few days. “But he has asked us to escort you anywhere you wish to go in Mithlond,” white-bearded Halfdan told him. “Anywhere but the armory, the smithies...”
“Or near the lifting gear for stone, yes, he told me.” Maglor said. Celebrimbor would almost certainly be at the smithies, though presumably Maglor could send him a message. But at the moment there seemed no need to do that.
“Elrond asked that you inform us at once if you are troubled by dark thoughts,” Halfdan said gravely.
“He did?” Maglor blinked at him surprised, and then, intrigued, asked; “What are you supposed to do about it, if I am?”
“Summon the lord Celebrimbor immediately, or if he can’t be found, the lord Círdan, or the High King,” Halfdan told him, entirely seriously.
“Oh.” Maglor remembered that he had no sword upon his belt just in time not to reach down to touch the hilt that was not there. Instead, he gave Halfdan a cautious smile. “In that case, I shall endeavour not to be troubled, and not to disturb Celebrimbor, Círdan or the King.”
To his relief, Halfdan’s stern face broke into a wrinkled smile, displaying a fine array of yellow teeth. “He also told us that on no account were we to fight you.”
“Oh good,” Maglor said with more enthusiasm. “I would much prefer not to fight anyone. Particularly not anyone so broad in the shoulders as you and your friends! Perhaps you might show me the city? When last I rode this way, it wasn’t here. Nor was the Gulf of Lune, for that matter.”
“Strange to think how times have changed since I was a boy on the isle of Balar,” Halfdan said, “Beleriand fallen into the sea, and the war over at long last, and that’s something I never thought I’d see, I can tell you. The city grows day by day. Come and take a look!”
Mithlond, though it was still being built, was already beautiful. Maglor could see echoes of Tirion about the stonework, and probably that meant there were echoes of Gondolin as well. As well as the tall stone spires, there were lower white buildings with tiled roofs that reminded Maglor sharply of the workshops of the Fëanorian Quarter of Tirion. Among them tall wood-built halls were being built that were nothing like Tirion at all; either shaped like the curving hulls of ships in the manner of the buidings of the Falmari, or with high-pointed bark roofs in the manner preferred by those Sindar who did not live underground. Among the buildings, trees had been planted, though most of them were only saplings yet.
There were many Elves working on raising the buildings, and others painting them with bright colours and decorating them with fine carvings. They were singing joyfully as they worked, but many of them fell silent as they saw Maglor pass, watching him with solemn faces and watchful eyes.
“They’ll get used to you,” Arachon said, seeing Maglor glance sideways at them. He was a younger man than Halfdan, with a bristling yellow beard and a ready smile.
“It doesn’t concern you, what I did?” Maglor asked. It might have been wiser not to mention it, and yet he could not resist asking, like poking at a half-healed scar. The Men of Elrond’s company were, presumably, descended from the survivors of the Havens of Sirion.
“I’m no Elf,” Arachon said, with a smile that was a little rueful as they made their way into a wide paved square with a small grove of young birch-trees planted in the middle. “I have no time to waste worrying about what happened years before I was born. Elrond says it was all an Enemy plot of some kind, and he should know. I’ll spend my time enjoying the peace instead of brooding, and give thanks that I was born in time for it.”
Maglor nodded and followed him on across the square. “Are you going to the Land of Gift with Elros, when the ships set off? I think Elrond said that Halfdan had chosen not to.”
“My beard is already white, and the ships are not yet ready,” Halfdan said and shrugged. “By the time they set off to follow the star into the west, I shall be old and tired, if I am spared to see it. Elenna is for the young.”
Arachon shook his head, sending pale braids flying with a clatter of blue and red beads. “Not for me either,” he said. “Elrond is staying here, so I plan to stay too. I was born in Hithlum, towards the end of the war, so I’ve been with him since I was a child.”
“I remember hearing that Gil-galad and Elrond had been in Hithlum for a while, after Finarfin broke the Gates of Sirion,” Maglor said.
Arachon smiled. “I was eleven when I met him, in the rubble of my mother’s house after the Vanyar host swept through with their lightnings. Very fine they were, I suppose, looking back on it now, but terrifying to a snotty slave-born brat like me! But you couldn’t be afraid of Elrond. Or Elros, for that matter, but it was Elrond who took me in and called me cousin. My mother is descended from the House of Hador, you see.”
He did not mention his father. That probably meant that his father or his grandfather had been one of the Enemy’s Easterling Men, who had taken Hithlum and enslaved the Edain who lived there.
“So I might have guessed,” Maglor told him. “You look a little like him. Hador, I mean, not Elrond.” They came to a place where there were no buildings yet, only tents that from their design and worn appearance had certainly come with the host from Valinor, and timber stacked inside to keep it from warping in the rain. Halfdan led them through.
Arachon grinned at him confidentially. “I don’t know if it’s really true,” he said. “It might be that my grandmother made it up. We didn’t have much to be proud of, my mother and I. But Elrond insists that we are cousins. He invited Mother to dinner, and she knitted him a hat. He wears it sometimes, too.”
“It’s a very knobbly hat,” Halfdan added. “Somehow he manages not to make it look ridiculous. I don’t know how. Elf magic, probably!”
Maglor had to smile at that. “You have Hador’s eyes, and almost the hair, though Hador’s hair had a little more gold in it.”
“Oh, go on!” Arachon said, though he looked pleased too. “Elrond used to speak of you sometimes, before the war ended,” he said to Maglor. Clearly this was the best compliment that Arachon could conceive of.
Before the war had ended. Before the Host of Valinor had taken Morgoth’s Silmarils, he meant, and before Maglor and Maedhros had killed the guards and taken the gems. Maglor tried to remember if he had seen Halfdan or Arachon among the many frightened angry faces that had surrounded them at the end, before Eönwë had ordered that they be allowed to leave. He did not remember them, but there had been so many faces, and anyway, Men changed so quickly, he might not recognise them.
“Is this the other side of Gil-galad’s great hall?” he asked, to change the subject. “The swallow-carvings on the plinths are very fine.”
When Maglor had come to the city with Elrond, they had ridden in through a gate in a green turf-wall that encircled the North-city. That wall could probably be defended in a pinch, but Mithlond was clearly being built more as a city to live in than as a fortress. He could see the tall line of what was probably an aqueduct to the north above the rooftops, bringing fresh water down from the hills, and asked Halfdan a couple of polite questions about it.
Halfdan led the way down to the quayside, to the brink of the Gulf of Lune. It was narrow enough here at that Maglor could clearly see the quays of the south-city on the other bank. There were several ferries and many small boats, some with brightly-painted paddles and some with sails, hurrying to and fro across the wide grey water, and larger fishing boats moored here and there across the estuary.
On the quayside were a number of people, mostly Noldor by their dress, building what looked like another boat-house. One of them came out from behind a wall as Arachon walked past, looked up and caught Maglor’s eye, eyebrows raised in a very familiar face. Her worn jacket, though shorter, was almost the the match of Maglor’s. Not surprising, since she had made both of them.
“Oh,” she said flatly. “It’s you.”
“Hello Carnil,” Maglor said, making an effort to sound pleased and not awkward, and turned to introduce Arachon and Halfdan to her.
Carnil had marched with him from Tirion and survived every battle of the long war. In the end, he had left her and the other few ragged remaining survivors of the Fëanorian forces to the command of Celebrimbor, and had gone out alone with Maedhros to take the Silmarils.
He and Maedhros had not told their people where they were going, when they had gone to attack the hosts of Valinor. They had only given them orders to obey Celebrimbor in all things. From the mutinous expression on Carnil’s round freckled face, this had not been a popular decision.
“You could have told us,” Carnil said, aggrieved, once he had finished making introductions, for all the world as if they were within the walls of Himring before the world had fallen into despair and blood. As if Maedhros was somewhere not far away to remind him that the Edain liked a degree of formality. “We would have come with you if you had only said.”
“We thought we were going out to die,” Maglor said, in an effort to be clear and fair. “Neither of us wanted to drag any of you any deeper into our fate. We had done enough of that.”
“You could have given me the choice,” Carnil said bitterly. “I thought you were my friend, not just my lord. I lost everything following you! Then you walked away without a word. All those battles, all the long road from Tirion. All that blood on my sword. Yet all you gave us was orders to follow Celebrimbor now. Celebrimbor! You know, we spent all that time as rivals to their households, Celegorm, Curufin and Celebrimbor, boasting about how our lord was better, and then... You handed us over to him, unwanted!” Halfdan raised bristling white eyebrows at that.
“Celebrimbor is fair, honest, and I would say a much better prince than I was,” Maglor said.
“We didn’t choose him!” Carnil said. “We chose you! We were proud to have you as our prince. I was proud. Was. Do you even think of us as people, or just as pieces in your game?”
“You don’t really think that of me, do you?” Maglor said unhappily.
“I don’t know,” Carnil said. “I honestly don’t, not any more. You could have told Telutan where you were going, at least, if you wouldn’t tell the rest of us. He was a lord. At least then we would have had some idea who to ask, when you didn’t come back. Or Celebrimbor, if you must.”
“If we were going to tell you, we’d have told all of you,” Maglor said. “Telutan was a lord because he had the skill to do the task, not because I would talk to him and not to you. You know that!”
“I used to know that,” Carnil said. “But now... Do you know, when you arrived in Mithlond, I only heard about it afterwards, from someone who was one of Celegorm’s turncoats from Nargothrond? He was smug about it, too. And they set watchers on us, in case you should send us word, in case we might rise up at your command. But you never did send word.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Maglor said. “Next time I ride into a city without a sword, mounted on a borrowed horse on my way to sue for mercy from the king, I’ll make sure I send heralds with silver trumpets to announce my presence! Honestly, Carnil, what did you expect? There was every chance I would be executed.”
“If you thought that, why did you come here?” Carnil demanded.
“Elrond would never have brought you here only to be executed,” Arachon said indignantly.
“Elrond is young, and surprisingly optimistic, all things considered,” Maglor said. “But the decision was not Elrond’s but Gil-galad’s, and I thought...”
He had thought that any death that Gil-galad might give him would be kinder than the flames, and gentler than the waves, and anyway Elrond had left him little choice. But he was hardly going to admit to that before Elrond’s kindly, serious-faced Men. Instead he said “I did not want to risk dragging you into it, Carnil. You may not want to serve Celebrimbor, but he is unlikely to lead you into an unwinnable battle against the High King or the hosts of Valinor.” And that was true, too, if not quite the whole story.
“Elrond would have sent us word, if you had only asked him,” Carnil said stubbornly.
“Perhaps,” Halfdan said, massively stolid and unmoving, “And perhaps not. Some things are best done quietly, and your lord Maglor here was not in any very fine state to be thinking things through just then. He has been ill.” Which was a kind way of saying that being burned by the fire of a Silmaril and living alone on a bare new coastline had been hard work, even if it had been the easy path. Easier than accepting the judgement of the Silmaril and taking the path into the fire, anyway.
“Maglor is never ill,” Carnil said dismissively.
“Elrond said he was,” Arachon said, in a way that made it very clear that he considered this to end the argument.
“Just a little weary, that was all,” Maglor said. “You have been told that Maedhros is dead, Carnil? I should have arranged to make sure his people knew. But perhaps Celebrimbor has done that?”
“I... yes, I heard,” Carnil said. “He wasn’t well. But we thought...” she let the sentence drop, but Maglor could hear the ragged ends of it as clear as if she had said them all. We thought you would look after him. We thought you would hold back the pain in his heart, and see your father’s orders completed. We thought you would retake the Silmarils and win back our honour.
“It was what he had to do,” Maglor said, keeping his voice deliberately light and pleasant. “The Silmarils burned us. We had lost the right to them.”
“Yes,” she said and looked at his hand. He held it so that she could see the scar, and her eyes glanced at it for the briefest moment before she looked away. “I heard that too. The word of it flew around Mithlond as if it had wings, once Gil-galad’s lords had seen it for themselves.”
Seagulls were crying in the sun out above the shining water of the Gulf of Lune, and long waves rolled in from the western sea, as the waves had rolled at Alqualondë, where Maglor and Carnil both had first learned how to kill. But it had been dark then, and the only light the shifting light of torches broken and reflected in the darkness of the Sea.
Maglor was fairly sure he had shown nothing in his face or voice, but then, Carnil had known him for a very long time.
“Perhaps we asked too much, my lord” she said abruptly, and laid a hand on his arm for a moment, light as a butterfly that alights and then moves on. “It all went away, piece by piece, until there was nothing left but serving the House of Fëanor, you see, and so... no matter. At least the war is over, the Enemy is defeated, and we stand here in the sunlight with the sea-wind blowing.”
The servants of the Enemy hate and fear the sunlight. Though the silmaril might burn, the sunlight was still kind. At least that was one difference that was left to him. He was almost sure he had used no power in his voice to influence her will. He certainly had not done it deliberately...
“I don’t think of you as a piece in a game,” he said, in case that had not been clear.
Carnil laughed unhappily. “If you did, I don’t think you would have stood there listening while I complained so loudly about all the things I thought you had done wrong.”
“That was all the things you thought I had done wrong?” Maglor said and managed to laugh too. “You should have heard Elrond’s list! And he raised a young thunderstorm and nearly blew me off a cliff into the sea.”
“Elrond went after you,” Carnil said, disconsolate. “We should have done that.”
“I did order you not to,” Maglor pointed out. “And Celebrimbor might quite reasonably have taken it as rebellion if you had.”
“Pfft to Celebrimbor,” Carnil said gloomily. Maglor gave her a reproving look. “Oh, he’s all right I suppose. He’s fair and honest, like you said. But he’s very earnest.”
“And you prefer a lord that you don’t have to take seriously?”
“That’s most unfair!” Carnil exclaimed, more cheerfully now. “We take you seriously. Well, we do when it counts, anyway.”
Maglor rolled his eyes at her. “If you ever need to recruit an army, Arachon, I warn you against recruiting artists. They are serious only if they think they’re about to die. The rest of the time they are hopelessly ill-disciplined.”
“That’s what Maedhros says about you!” she said, and then her face fell, and Maglor held his smile and did not wince. Arachon smiled, and apparently having decided that Carnil was unlikely to require attention from Maglor’s bodyguard, turned away to look out on the glittering water and exchange a few words with Halfdan.
“How many others are still here on the hither shore?” Maglor asked Carnil.
“Eleven of us from the Gap. Still eleven. And of Maedhros’s people, all are still here, apart from Mastiel. She went with the ships. She was torn for a good while, whether to stay or go, but we all said: go. She has nieces still alive in Aman, and she’s no kinslayer. She’ll be welcome there.”
“Eleven... so Nahtanion and Roquenon didn’t sail home? I thought they might. They weren’t at the Havens, after all.”
“Not yet,” Carnil told him. “Well, Roquenon doesn’t want to go; he’s never been to Tirion. And Nahtanion decided that there was nothing much to be hurrying back for, since his wife...well, you know all about that. Celebrimbor had us all working on the aqueduct until a few days ago— that was hard work— but it’s done now, so we’re doing this and that on smaller things like this boathouse,” she waved a hand at it. “I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to go back to leatherwork, once the stonework of the city is done. I’m no mason.”
“Not pottery?” Long ago in Tirion, Carnil’s art had been as a potter of noted skill.
But she shook her head. “Not any more. It would be.. It’s been a long time since I made a teapot, and I don’t think it would ever feel quite right again...” She looked west, down the shining gulf towards the western sea, and the home in Tirion that they had left behind so lightly. “I’m not too bad with leather. I’ve had a lot of practice by now... Anyway, I was saying that there are some of the Released out of Angband still here too, though most of them have sailed. Perhaps another two hundred or so from the Gap, and then perhaps five thousand from the March as a whole. ”
She gave names, and Maglor asked the correct questions about this person and that: those who had been Maedhros’s people who had fought with him to the end, and those who had been Maglor’s own herdsmen and grooms, soldiers, blacksmiths, leatherworkers, tanners and tailors before Morgoth had sent his fires and his orcs and made them into his slaves instead.
Maglor’s people had taken most hurt from the flames of Dagor Bragollach, since they lived upon the open plains. Most of them had died; few had been captured. When Thangorodrim was broken and the slaves of Angband came forth, there had been fewer of the people of the Gap among them than any of his brothers’ people.
“The Released that chose to stay are the stronger ones, of course,” Carnil said. “But... we all felt abandoned, you understand. They’ll come around, and then... I’ll talk to them.”
“You won’t,” Maglor told her firmly. “I will speak with them myself.” Maedhros might have said that all his people were kinslayers and deserved no more consideration than he did himself but Maedhros had not been well, and Maglor should have seen that sooner.
Maedhros had fallen at last because the Silmaril had judged that he deserved the fire.. If Maglor was going to haul himself from that trap of despair before it took him as it had done his brother, he must find another way.
“Ereinion Gil-galad tells me that he is building the land anew, and wishes for hope and joy among his people,” he told Carnil. “The House of Fëanor must obey the commands of the High King. If they have grievances to voice, I will hear them.”
“I don’t think it will make them more joyful, when their prince has returned beyond all hope, to remember that their first response was to to be angry!” Carnil said ruefully. “Particularly since we all know you’d think it beneath your dignity to shout back.”
“Beneath my dignity? I suppose that’s one way of putting it, though I’d say it was more that arguing when greatly outnumbered is terribly hard work,” Maglor said, and felt that this time his grin was entirely convincing. “I was trying to do what Maedhros would do, though obviously, not quite as expertly.”
What Maedhros would have done, if he had been well enough, anyway.
It would not be fair for Maglor son of Fëanor to raise his voice to soldiers, potters and weavers who could not rival his abilities with either voice or sword. Anyway, after Celegorm and Curufin had returned from Nargothrond, Maedhros had made it a private law that his brothers should not use power of voice to daunt or persuade, unless with his permission.
Maglor kept forgetting that Maedhros was no longer there to give permission or withhold it. He ought to be used to that by now.
“Nobody expects you to be Maedhros,” Carnil said and he was thankful that she said it bluntly, as if it were part of the old half-joke that nobody could do what Maedhros did, least of all Maglor, who was by his own declaration far too lazy. Not at all as if she was being kind.
She scratched her nose and glanced back at the wharf where a number of people were singing in Sindarin, hauling ropes, as a heavy beam rose into place. Maglor could recognise a few faces among them, and as he looked, one of them who had been one of Maedhros’s people half-met his eye and then looked away.
“I’m not a herald with a silver trumpet, but still, let me announce you,” Carnil said. “Give the rest of them a little time to think about it, instead of making fools of themselves, like me.”
“Hardly a fool,” Maglor said. “But you don’t have to fight my battles for me.”
“Of course I don’t. You hardly need to tell me that, my lord! You could speak three words to anyone within this city and have them do your bidding,” Carnil said, proudly and inaccurately.
“If it were that easy, there would have been no kinslaying.” Maglor pointed out. Carnil was a kinslayer three times over herself, and knew that perfectly well.
She waved the objection away. “You said that we are not pieces in a game, and that you would speak with me as much as Telutan. Take my counsel, for once.”
Maglor found himself smiling, this time without having decided that he should. “Maedhros could not have backed me more neatly into a corner. Perhaps we should have made you a lord, after all. Very well: you talk to them, and I’ll go back to my quarters and wait for you to advise me. ”
“Give me a day,” Carnil said. “We’re scattered around the city. It will take me some time to get round to everyone.”
“Wait!” Maglor said, as she turned to go. “Carnil, would you go to Celebrimbor first, and ask if he will speak with me? I’m told I should avoid the smithies, and knowing Celebrimbor...”
“That’s where he’ll be,” Carnil finished the sentence. “Of course he will!”
“With tact though; a request, not a demand. I didn’t come here to annoy my nephew.”
“I’m not an idiot,” Carnil said indignantly.
“I feel the evidence says otherwise, if you prefer me to either Gil-galad or Celebrimbor,” Maglor said and she laughed.
“I may get my silver trumpet yet,” she said, stepping back and bowing elaborately, making a great point of it so that the people a good distance away could see.
Maglor regarded her sceptically. “I think heralds are generally supposed to be a little more diplomatic and less showy than that! But I appreciate the loyalty Carnil, truly, though you should know there’s little I can do to repay it.”
“Oh, hush,” she said, with an awkward hitch to her voice. Looking down at her round determined face, he saw with surprise that tough little Carnil was crying. He put his left arm around her as comfortingly as he could, and she leant on him as if she too were terribly weary. “I thought we’d lost you as well,” she said, indistinctly after a while.
“I thought I’d lost myself. But here I am, and so are you. The sun still shines in spite of all we’ve done and all we’ve lost. Not the traditional ending for a tragedy, but we will have to make do.”
“Yes.” She snuffled into his sleeve for a moment longer, then looked up at him. “I didn’t go through all of that,” she waved one hand out at the sea that lay over Beleriand, “to be repaid!”
“That’s just as well,” Maglor told her. “I’m out of silver trumpets.”
She smiled, scrubbed her face with one hand and pulled away. “I’ll make do,” she said. “I’ll go and... I’ll see you later.” And with that she made off swiftly in the sunlight along the quayside.
Maglor found, when he returned to his new quarters that he had had enough of the small white-walled room where he slept.
He looked at the harp that someone had carefully placed on a table, and stretched his aching hand. It was, surely, a little better today, but his fingers would not move easily as they should have done, and the thought of harpstrings on his raw fingertips made him wince. He could play one-handed, of course, but it was unpleasant to be reminded abruptly why he should not use both hands...
He found Elrond’s armour-bearer Hundor in the hall that served as a meeting-place for Elrond’s people, and asked where to find charcoal, ink, and something to write on. Hundor nodded dutifully, and brought a pile of pale rectangles of birchbark, three sheets of thick paper, and a small and precious piece of fine white parchment.
Maglor put the ink, parchment and the paper safely to one side and took up the charcoal sticks.
It had been a very long time since he had undertaken lessons in drawing the face and form, conducted in the silver light of Telperion in the company of Maedhros, Fingon and Finarfin. Fingon had declared after a while that he was more interested in architecture, and Finarfin had gone off to Alqualondë, but Maedhros and Maglor were Fëanor’s sons, and Fëanor’s sons completed what they started, and were excellent, always, in all things they attempted.
But it had been a long time; he had had no reason to practice the art since, and his right hand had not been burned in those days.
It took Maglor many attempts to make his left hand obey as precisely as he expected and make the charcoal do as he wished; applying the dusty black carefully to the pale birchbark, and then, impatient, rubbing it away until his left hand looked more burned than the right one.
Halfdan went off to do some task of his own, and Maglor was left with young Hundor and Arachon, idly playing at dice, sitting one each side of a wide window-seat set in a window that looked out over Mithlond.
In the end he made an image that matched the face clear as glass in his memory, and he took up paper and ink. The first sheet he spoiled, to his annoyance. The paper was oddly textured, the ink unfamiliar, and he made a blot.
But the second went well, and the blunt cheerful face of a Man surrounded by pale untidy braids came to life under his ink-brush. He looked at it carefully when it was done, comparing it to the memory, and was confident the task had been done to an acceptable standard. ‘Hador of the House of Marach’ he wrote under it, in bold curling letters, and waited for the ink to dry.
“I said you looked like him,” he said, and gave the paper to Arachon. “This was Hador when I first met him. He would have been around your age, I think. I thought you and your mother would like to see him. A gift for you.”
Arachon took the paper carefully and looked at it for a long while. “Thank you,” he said. “We had nothing left of Hithlum. Only the name. And now this. My mother will be so pleased... Thank you!”
“I’m grateful that you welcomed me so warmly to the city,” Maglor said, which was true, though there was a small uneasy voice at the back of his mind that asked if one reason he had taken such trouble was that a servant of the Enemy would not have done.
Surely he had been kind sometimes in Aman, in the days when it was unquestioned that the sons of Fëanor deserved the Light.
Arachon smiled, and looked again at the picture in his hand. “It seems easier than we thought,” he admitted. Hundor looked awkwardly away, blushing; it seemed that he had not expected much from Maglor either. “We heard that the Sons of Fëanor had little time for Men. If I’m honest, we were expecting you to be horrible! But we all agreed we would take no offence for Elrond’s sake, no matter how rude you were. I didn’t expect...” he lifted the paper a little.
Maglor blinked. “I think you must have met someone who met my brother Caranthir on a bad day. Perhaps after Nirnaeth Arnoediad, where the Men he had allied with turned against us. Caranthir was never very good at guarding his tongue.” He thought about it. “My father was concerned about Men, a very long time ago. But we knew nothing of you, then. The little we had heard...” he made a face. “Well, there were no Men then, only rumours. But I think the rumours muddled Men with orcs.”
“I can see that might not make him warm to us,” Arachon said, and grinned.
“I had never had much to do with the Edain myself, before Elrond and Elros,” Maglor said. “But I remember Hador and his people kindly. Even Caranthir on a bad day would not blame the house of Hador, who fought the Enemy bravely, for Ulfang who betrayed us.” He returned the grin. “Or at least, I hope he wouldn’t, and if he did I’d tell him off. Younger brothers can be idiots... but Caranthir is dead, like all the rest, of course.”
“I’m sorry,” Arachon said, and he looked as though he meant it.
Maglor hesitated for a moment. “You are Elrond’s cousin, and so am I,” he said. “I would count you as a cousin, Arachon, if it is a connection you and your mother will admit to.”
He was almost sure that his father would not disapprove. Not after Húrin, and Barahir, and Bór... You changed your position when the evidence supported it, Fëanor would say.
Arachon looked very taken aback, and Maglor wondered if he had made a mistake. But then he smiled. “I am very glad to be a cousin of Elrond’s cousin. But I warn you now, my mother is probably going to knit you a hat!”
Maglor laughed. “I doubt I’ll look as elegant in a knobbly woollen hat as Elrond. I don’t think that particular art is one I’ve ever learned. But I will certainly wear it with pride if she does.”
Celebrimbor appeared soon after that, wearing his usual serious expression.
“Gil-galad has agreed that I should stay here, I assume, for Elrond’s sake...” Maglor began, but Celebrimbor shook his head.
“We may have disagreed on a number of things, but still you are my uncle. For that matter, Gil-galad himself has very little family remaining himself, and almost no-one but Círdan who remembers Hithlum as it was when he was a child. He called you cousin, when I saw him yesterday,” Celebrimbor paused, and then let a smile pull up the corner of his mouth. “Admittedly he did make a face when he said it.”
“The Children of Indis have always had a very broad definition of ‘family’” Maglor suggested and then when Celebrimbor looked at him, solemnly reproachful, “A joke! Only a joke, Celebrimbor. Sorry.”
“So you should be,” Celebrimbor told him reprovingly, and then laughed anyway. “It’s true, we have stretched the word ‘cousin’ to its limit, but that seems safer than defining things too closely. Was there something particular that you wanted to see me about?”
“Two things. One more urgent than the other. Carnil has returned to her allegiance to me, and I suspect is busily persuading some of my people and Maedhros’s to do the same at this minute. I thought I had better speak of it to you in person, and ensure it doesn’t disrupt your work more than it must.”
Celebrimbor nodded earnestly. “I expected that,” he said. “I don’t intend to try to stop it, if that’s what you were thinking. Our people must have the right to choose their lords. It will make things a good deal easier in many ways, if those who were with you at the Havens go back to you. At the moment I have both sides reporting to me directly, and it isn’t at all easy. I tried keeping them in separate companies but they formed rivalries. At the moment I have them mingled together, with stern orders that they must not quarrel, which at least makes it harder for them to form into factions. But nobody likes it and they all complain to me!”
“I can imagine,” Maglor said carefully. “I counsel that you give them a few days of peace, so they can talk freely and decide what allegiance they wish to hold to.”
Celebrimbor had always taken after his grandfather when it came to interruptions in his work. Whether it was Fëanor or his grandson, it was better to be clear from the start if there was to be any reason that the schedule might be held up.
As Maglor had expected, Celebrimbor protested automatically at the thought of an interruption in the building of the city, but to Maglor’s relief he quickly thought better of it. Celebrimbor could be obstinate when he felt his position challenged, but perhaps his years at the Havens and on Balar had made him better at compromise than he had been as a boy.
“A few days would do no harm. In fact, it would give me a chance to go over the plans again,” Celebrimbor said, his voice warming with enthusiasm at the idea. “We’ll give them till the new moon, shall we? They did good work with the aqueduct, I’ll have to show you over it... what was the second matter?”
“The second matter was to offer my help, if you can use it. Elrond asked that I should come to Mithlond and help. I am neither the most able and certainly not the most diligent of Aulë’s students, but I have not forgotten everything, I hope.”
“It’s not like you to be over-modest,” Celebrimbor said, eyeing him with narrowed eyes. “All of our House are able, grandfather would say.”
“Yes,” Maglor agreed. He looked sideways at Celebrimbor. “But that was all a very long time ago.”
“It was,” Celebrimbor said, and silence fell between them. Threaded through it like a flame through the gloom of evening, Fëanor’s passionate face shone in their thought; for Maglor, bright and light-hearted and filled with joy as his father had been when Maglor had been a boy, and for Celebrimbor, shadowed with bitterness and anger: never directed towards his treasured grandson, but still looming darkly like a thundercloud.
“Do you think,” Celebrimbor said, and stopped.
“Do I think he’s fallen to the Darkness?” Maglor asked, and heard his own voice clear and bitter as broken glass. He tried to soften it. “I don’t know, Tyelpë. Maedhros thought not.”
“But if you don’t know then nor would he,” Celebrimbor said gloomily. “I thought you might have an insight, since you swore it too.”
Maglor shook his head. “I can’t be sure, but I hope... I don’t think we had the power to doom ourselves to that,” he said and was not sure himself if it was a lie.
Celebrimbor thought it was. He fixed Maglor with a weary eye. “It’s a long time since I was a child to be protected from the truth. If he has fallen into Darkness everlasting then all the rest have too.”
“I know,” Maglor said. “But it may be that their fate was not so unkind.” He kept the fear and the guilt carefully from his voice. Though Celebrimbor was now, surely, one of the greatest smiths and makers of the Noldor, it did not seem so very long ago that he had been young Tyelpë, following his father and his grandfather out of love and desperate loyalty into the darkness.
“All we can do is go on and build anew,” Celebrimbor said, with a look of fierce determination that was almost painfully like his grandfather.
Maglor nodded. “What can I do, safely away from the armory, the smithies and the lifting gear for stone, of course?”
Celebrimbor’s eyes went to Maglor’s burned hand. “Can you use that hand?” he asked bluntly.
“No,” Maglor admitted. “But I have two.”
Celebrimbor gave his burned hand a long doubtful look. “Elrond says you are unwell. Gil-galad judged that you should be counted among those released from under the Enemy’s hand, and treated with forbearance and understanding.”
“Elrond and Gil-galad are both very young, and very kind,” Maglor said, discomfited. “And neither of them is of the House of Fëanor.”
“No,” Celebrimbor said. “But I’m inclined to think now that traditions other than those of the House of Fëanor have merit. We have hundreds of years to build Lindon, and only a few days ago you were wrapped in dreams of flame.”
“And now I am not. Come, Celebrimbor, you would not be content to be kept from work,” Maglor pointed out.
Celebrimbor considered. “True,” he said after a moment. “And as it happens, I could use your skills tuning the aqueduct. It works well enough, but it is not melodious. I had thought of asking Galadriel, but...”
Hooves outside, clattering on the paving, and then the heavy wooden outer door banged and there were feet coming up the stone steps, and through the archway. As they came hurrying up the steps, Maglor saw that it was Elrond, and not alone. Elros was with him, looking pale and strained, and red around the eyes.
He went straight to Maglor. “I’m sorry,” Elros said and his voice was choked and harsh. “I would have come at once if I’d known. I had no idea that he would... I got it all wrong.”
Maglor was appalled. “It’s not your fault, Elros!” and this at least he could say with absolute conviction. “None of it is your fault at all! Maedhros would never think that, and nor would I.”
“I told him that,” Elrond said, looking deeply unhappy.
Elros gave him a bitter look. “I thought it would be better to wait a little,” he said and clear as day across the surface of his mind the ugly thought swam that Elros, who had obligations to Men and to the Valar, could not as easily throw down his responsibilities as Elrond could. That Elrond could have followed Maedhros, when Elros, who was a king of Men, could not.
“Oh, no,” Maglor said. “Elros, don’t do that to yourself. Elrond is no more to blame than you. I was there, and I didn’t stop him.” Over by the window, Arachon, who had been watching silently, touched Hundor, who was frankly staring, on the shoulder and beckoned him to leave.
“We drew straws,” Elros said savagely, turning to look at his brother. “I got Gil-galad and the Edain and I lost everything all over again, and you could not even...”
“Elros!” Maglor said, and because Elrond was quietly close to tears and this was an impossible situation in so many ways, he said it with all his strength. “Enough!”
And the room was, abruptly, silent.
“Some things are not for you to mend,” Maglor said as firmly as he could. “Neither of you. He was my brother, and I was there. Blame me if you wish, or blame him. You have more than enough reason. But to blame each other... Elros, that’s ridiculous. You are not responsible for Maedhros, and you are wiser than that.”
Elros pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. “Apparently not,” he said, after a moment. “Sorry, Elrond. I didn’t really mean that.”
“Good,” Elrond said, his face sharp and hurt. “I’ve blamed myself enough. I could do without hearing it from you.” And Maglor wished urgently that he still had his sword, and preferably also something uncomplicatedly evil that he could hit with it.
“It’s a new world,” Celebrimbor said awkwardly. “We all grieve for Maedhros, Elros, and for... everything, but... well. Everyone feels guilty sometimes but that’s just how it is, you know. ”
“None of you should feel guilty,” Maglor told them. “Leave that to me. Come on Elros. I already maintain a remarkably long list of reasons to feel guilty, there’s no need for you to start your own!”
Elrond managed a laugh, but Elros’s face crumpled. “I’d made a list,” he said, desolate. “All the things I was going to ask him his opinion about... I’d planned it all out. It will be twenty years at least until we go into the West. Plenty of time to talk, I thought.”
Maglor could not find words to answer that, although it was clearly his duty to try. Fortunately, before he could say anything that would inevitably be the wrong thing, Arachon returned, carrying a jug of hot wine with honey, a fresh loaf and some cups on a tray, with a tactful air of having heard nothing out of the ordinary.
Maglor gave him a look that probably did not fully convey his gratitude for the interruption. “Will you drink with me to his memory?” he asked Elros.
Elros deliberately straightened and squared his shoulders. He should not have to, but there was no help for it. “Of course,” he said.
Maglor would have liked to put an arm around him, but Elros was not a child but a King, and Maglor was something that was dangerously close to being a servant of the Enemy. He stretched his burned hand a little and felt the bitter ache of it. Better not. He took the cup that Arachon offered him with his left hand, thanked him, and proposed a toast.
“You look better,” Elrond told him. “Or at least more awake. I was beginning to be concerned about you.”
“I am sorry that you were troubled. I’ll endeavour to dream less noisily in future,” Maglor said. “It was pleasant to sleep in safety for a change, and have nothing to fret about.”
Elrond gave him a look that he could not entirely understand, and emptied his cup in three swallows.
“Stop doing that!” he said.
Maglor looked at him in bafflement. “I’ll try, of course,” he said. “But I’m not sure what I’m being asked to stop?”
Elros sighed and put his face in his hands for a moment. Then he looked up again. “He means that you are wearing your politest social face and there is absolutely nothing showing on the surface of your mind apart from the star of your house and a very faint sense of concern that we should be troubled. Under the circumstances, that is in itself troubling, Maglor.”
“You should not be troubled. It was no fault of yours that you became entangled with us,” Maglor explained. “I’ve tried to spare you any harm from it. Elrond asked that I come here to help, and that I will do to the best of my ability. But...”
“Oh, shut up,” Elros said, and hugged him. He had grown broader in the shoulders since Maglor had last seen him, and a couple of inches taller too. “It’s all gone wrong. We know it, you know it, there’s no point pretending.”
“And,” Elrond added accusingly, “you haven’t been complaining. Not even about your hand, and given how you used to complain about a blister on your finger... Never mind. Just stop smiling at me, saying all is well and making jokes. It hurts my heart.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Maglor said, making an effort not to add the automatic smile. “But I don’t think that’s a thing that I can do, Elrond. I’ve spent more than six hundred years, on and off, patching things together with music, jokes and increasingly worn and faded hope. I don’t know how to undo it all now, or if there would be anything left of me underneath if I did. But if it comforts you to hear it, then yes, my hand hurts as if it’s caught in the fires of Thangorodrim, it’s a great nuisance to keep reaching for things with the wrong hand or catching my fingertips without thinking, and I truly wish it would just stop hurting.”
“It’s a start,” Elrond said gravely, “I’m sorry about the hand. I’ll send for more of that seaweed dressing.”