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We Still Remember

Chapter Text

British Army Field Hospital
Bouzincourt, the Somme, France
2nd November, 1916 of the Sixth Age

Perhaps it was the will of the Valar that, of all the soldiers in the British Army who could have overheard him speaking Quenya, this one had a degree in linguistics and no sense whatsoever of when to stop asking questions.

Or perhaps not. If this meeting had been engineered, it had been a remarkably foolish idea: there was a war on, and Mandos alone knew what the mortals would do if they found an immortal race of superhuman strength and skill living in secret among them.

Then again, thought Maglor, our friends in the West are no strangers to remarkably foolish ideas.

The young second lieutenant had been brought to him near death. ‘It seems to be trench-fever,’ said one of the medics who had carried in the sick man, ‘but it seems to be an unusually stubborn case. He’s not responded to anything—not even the bread-mould concoction you showed us.’

He bid the medics set the dying soldier on the bed, and go. What ailed his patient was clearly not fever alone, and the arts required to save him were beyond mortal understanding. He hesitated to use magic on a Man—even teaching them to make penicillin had put him at risk of discovery, but that, at least, their science could accommodate. They were still at least a few decades away, however, from the barest comprehension of the Music of Creation, and he suspected that to harness it would be for ever beyond their reach; besides which, it was dangerous. Spiritual healing seemed as like to kill a mortal as save him, so lightly were their souls tied to this world.

Nonetheless, he perceived that there was one thing at least that kept the lieutenant’s fleeing soul from departing Eä entirely; perhaps he could be persuaded to stay by a gentler art. Softly, such that none but his patient could hear him, Maglor sang.

Then, the man stirred.

‘Where am I?’ he asked when he had opened his eyes.

‘A field hospital in Bouzincourt,’ answered Maglor. ‘Only by a miracle are you alive, Lieutenant—’

‘Tolkien,’ finished his patient. ‘John Ronald Tolkien, of the Lancashire Fusiliers, at your service.’

‘You are hardly in a state to be offering service to anyone, Lieutenant Tolkien,’ said Maglor. ‘You are still very ill.’

‘It’s a shame,’ said Tolkien after a few moments. ‘I thought, for some reason, I was out of this God-forsaken place. I dreamt I was walking through the woods, and I came upon Edith dancing and singing. It was the most beautiful song I have ever heard, though I could not understand the words.’

‘Your wife is still in England, so far as I know,’ said Maglor, ‘and perhaps with luck you will be permitted to return to her, after you have recovered enough. But I am afraid the singing you heard was only mine.’

‘Oh,’ said Tolkien, disappointed and enthused at the same time. ‘In that case, perhaps you could tell me in what language you sang.’

A flash of panic passed across Maglor’s face.

‘Do forgive me,’ continued his patient with the utmost careful politeness, ‘for I see you would not answer. Nor indeed would I ask, except that the study of languages has been my hobby since I was a little boy, and your tongue was the strangest and the fairest I have ever heard. I should be forever diminished if I could not know more of it.’

He would be dangerously close to exposure if he told this curious mortal any more, but he was a Noldo after all, and neither foolish curiosity nor the love of language were strange to him. ‘It is called Quenya,’ he told Tolkien, figuring that information was harmless enough, ‘that is, the tongue of the Quendi , the speakers. Besides that we are called the Eldar, which is the star-folk, and many other names; mine own particular nation are the Noldor.’

‘I have not heard of any of those races,’ said Tolkien.

‘You would not have,’ said Maglor, ‘for our homeland is lost, and few of us now remain upon this Hither Shore.’

‘Where have they gone?’ Tolkien asked. ‘If these shores are hither, which are thither?’

‘They are very far away,’ he answered sadly. ‘West over Sea.’

‘I’m sorry to hear it,’ said Tolkien.

‘Don’t be,’ said Maglor. ‘It is a better place than this Middle-earth.’ For a long time his patient was silent.

At length he spoke again. ‘Your accent,’ he said, ‘bears no trace that I can detect of your Quenya , yet it is certainly foreign, and at any rate I am quite sure you are not British, though you wear our uniform. Still, nonetheless it is familiar to me, almost like Middle English, or even some older form of the tongue.’

‘Perhaps I’m older than I look,’ said Maglor with a laugh.

‘I could believe that,’ replied Tolkien.

‘Could you?’ Maglor asked, no longer laughing.

Tolkien’s face froze in a mix of fear and wonder as he realised that Maglor was entirely serious. ‘Are you a fairy then? An immortal who has lived a thousand years, and spoke this old language when it was young?’

There was some part of Maglor that had already committed to revealing himself to this young officer, but he had not been quite aware of it until faced with that question, and now he was struck with terror. He would not lie, but he could still refuse to answer, run far from there to a new land as he had done so many times before. He found, however, that he did not want to.

‘I do not like the word fairy ,’ he answered, ‘but yes, young Stranger, the souls of the Quendi are bound to this world while it lasts, and I am very old: older than England, older than Greece or Egypt or Atalantë, older than the race of Men itself.’ He chose not to add older than the Sun ; it might disturb the mortal.

The stunned lieutenant took a moment to digest the new information. ‘I do not know why I believe you,’ he said, ‘save that I so desperately want to—yet nonetheless I do, and as long as I have dreamt of your kind, I am not quite sure what to make of your reality. Elves! Certainly nothing we Men thought we knew about the elder days of this world can be true, if such beings once walked the Earth.’

‘Some of it is,’ said Maglor, ‘else you would not have a name for us. Our cities have fallen, our very lands been reshaped by fire, flood, and ice; our histories have passed into myth and legend even as our people have passed into the Uttermost West. But the truth will not be lost entirely. No ages shall ever quell the whispered tales of the Elder Days, so long as Men’s hearts long after the strange and the beautiful.’

‘But they are no longer believed,’ lamented Tolkien. ‘Surely if Men knew of such things, if they knew that the strange and the beautiful were real , they would not dare to do such awful things as this.’ He did not gesture, but Maglor knew he meant the war as a whole.

‘Perhaps not,’ said Maglor, ‘but neither would it be wise to reveal the truth now. Nonetheless, I will tell you the old stories, Elf-friend, if you will hear them. They have been kept secret too long.’

‘Of course I will hear them,’ said Tolkien, ‘if you will tell me.’

He told him. He told of the beginning of days, the fall of Melkor, and the first of all wars; of the awakening of the Elves and their coming to Valinor; of his father’s Silmarils and their theft by the Enemy; his people’s exile and the great war they had fought to avenge their King and recover their treasure; and all the deeds heroic and terrible done in the course of those seven centuries of struggle. He told of Númenor, that now was Atalantë the downfallen—its glory, its pride, and its fall. He carried his tale out to the end of the Third Age, when the One Ring had been destroyed and its master brought to ruin, and the last of the Eldar (for so the legends said, though it was not quite true) had returned into the West. There he ended, for there the tale changed to become the tale of Men, of which he knew little, though he had seen all.

Lieutenant Tolkien remained in the hospital six more days before he was allowed to return to England. Perhaps when he had recovered fully, he would account his time with Maglor as no more than a dream; for who, returning from war and the edge of death, would believe that he had seen a creature of ancient legend tending to wounded soldiers in the Somme? There were moments when Maglor did not quite believe it himself.

Chapter Text

Kópavogur, Iceland
24th August, Sx.A. 1941

It had not taken long for the mortals to outdo themselves.

They had heralded the last war as the war to end all others. Maglor had known it would not be so; the only war to end all war would be fought against Morgoth at the end of time. Still, he had not expected that the next war would be so soon, nor imagined anything so terrible, and he was a veteran of the War of Wrath itself. If this was not the beginning of its sequel, he did not know what would be.

In the last war he had volunteered as a medic—though he had never been known as a healer among his own people, the mere fact of his being a Calaquendë gave him certain skills no mortal doctor possessed, and he had been able to save many lives. This time, however, he could not bear to go anywhere near the fighting; his body was very old, and he was still recovering from the immense toll the last war had taken on him—often it felt like his hröa was made of dust held together by sheer willpower. Instead he had fled, north and west beyond the reach of the war, to the island the Elves called Tol Gwannol, the Isle of Parting, that lay on the Great Rift where the Ancient West had been torn away from Middle-earth, very near where the Straight Road touched the bent world: the closest of all mortal lands to Valinor. The island was home to the last sizeable population of Elves in Europe, and the last in all Middle-earth that did not even attempt to pass for Men; the mortals were quite friendly, even occasionally sending official emissaries. The government of Iceland (as they called it) was also neutral in the war.

Nonetheless, though neither the Men nor Elves of Tol Gwannol had been interested in war, war had been interested in them. The British had come a year ago, claiming they were only forestalling a German invasion; they had been met with no resistance but great resentment. For Maglor’s part, he had lived in England long enough that he had some affection for the country, and was not nearly so resentful of the occupiers as everyone else; nonetheless, he could never forgive his adopted homeland’s habit of walking into places and acting like they owned them.

When they showed up at his door, therefore, he began to be annoyed.

‘Get you gone from my gate, ye thieves and brigands!’ he shouted at the pair of soldiers in Old Norse, which was close enough to Icelandic that an Englishman certainly couldn’t tell the difference. ‘Invaders! Bringers of war into a land which wanteth only peace! Morgoth take you!’ He laughed to himself at the last curse: how should British soldiers know that the name of the Enemy was not an Icelandic word?

His visitors were unfazed. One pulled a note-card from his pocket. ‘We know…who…you are, Kanafinwë Makalaurë,’ he said, in painfully poor Quenya, ‘and what you are.’

‘Then you know how easily I can kill you,’ Maglor answered in English, cringing at the butchering of his ancient and noble tongue. Where had they learned it? For that matter—

‘We mean you no harm,’ said the other (reverting to English, with an internal sigh of relief), before Maglor could continue. ‘We only mean to deliver a warning.’

‘First tell me how you found me.’

‘Your friend Professor Tolkien gave us your name,’ said the first soldier. ‘Your whereabouts, we had to determine for ourselves.’

Tolkien. The man had evidently remembered enough of the stories Maglor had told him during his recovery in Bouzincourt: when he had returned, he had immediately begun work on the ‘invention’ of a mythology, and a grammar of the likewise ‘invented’ language, ‘Qenya’. Maglor had only spoken to him twice since then: once to inform him politely that, no matter how clever the bilingual pun, he did not take kindly to his people being referred to as ‘Gnomes’; more recently, when Tolkien had published, in the form of a children’s novel, a quite dubiously accurate version of the story of Bilbo Baggins, Maglor had gifted him his copy of the Red Book of Westmarch and told him to work from that. Nevertheless, the professor maintained publicly that his writings were fiction, and Maglor had thought that only the two of them knew otherwise.

‘Might we come in?’ asked the other soldier. ‘This may not be a short conversation.’

‘I suppose I were unlikely to stop you if I said no,’ said Maglor. ‘Make yourselves at home.’

He invited the soldiers into his cottage. It was a mortal dwelling; although the other Elves of the island, mostly Nandor and Avari, were aware of his identity (as an Elf, not as a son of Fëanor), he found their underground villages terribly uncomfortable. Honestly—Tirion had had running water sixteen thousand years ago! Men were nasty, brutish creatures sometimes, but at least they appreciated technological advancements.

‘You must forgive our terrible rudeness,’ said the soldier who had tried to speak Quenya, apparently the senior of the two, when they had settled in. ‘We have not had the chance to introduce ourselves. I am Colonel Augustus Ryan, British Army, of the Special Research Division. This is my associate, Major Jonathan Rhodes.’

‘Normally this is the part where I would make up a name,’ said Maglor, ‘but since you already know who I am, I will introduce myself properly: I am Kanafinwë Makalaurë Fëanárion of the House of Finwë, better known as Maglor. Elen sila lumenn’ omentielvo .’

Elen sila —’ began Colonel Ryan, before thinking better of it. ‘Well met, Maglor.’

‘Well met,’ echoed his partner.

‘Indeed,’ said Maglor, not sure if he quite meant it. ‘Now, I was under the impression this was an urgent matter? If not, I have many more questions about how two British soldiers came to be making attempts at the tongue of Eldamar in my living room. Professor Tolkien notwithstanding.’

‘It is urgent,’ said Rhodes. ‘A few members of Herr Hitler’s senior staff have developed an interest in the…paranormal. No offence intended,’ he added hastily, seeing Maglor’s expression.

‘They have been researching stories of a powerful, immortal race of beings that existed on Earth before humans,’ continued Ryan. ‘Now, respectfully, the War Office thinks the Nazis are stark raving mad when they get up to such things. But it’s the job of the Special Research Division to ensure that Britain is never caught unawares because we assume our enemies are mad when they’re actually on to something.’

‘So we sought out Britain’s, er, foremost authority on such matters,’ said Rhodes.

‘Professor Tolkien,’ said Maglor.

‘He maintains that his writings are fiction,’ said Ryan. ‘But we did some research, and we found reports of his miraculous healing under the care of his man—’ he held up a copy of Maglor’s Army papers, with his picture clipped to the front of the stack— ‘who had a record of other miraculous cures, and was also teaching his colleagues to make penicillin a dozen years before its supposed discovery.’

‘It was discovered in Númenor ,’ said Maglor. ‘That’s Atlantis to you modern mortals. Fleming doesn’t get to claim it just because you forgot about it for a couple thousand years.’

‘Regardless,’ continued the colonel, ‘we kept digging, and we found this record from Passport Control—a departure for Iceland in December of 1939.’ He held up another sheet of paper, which also had Maglor’s picture on it. ‘A different name, of course, but the same individual, no doubt about it, and he—that is, you—hadn’t aged a day. Then we went to see the professor again.’

‘He was reluctant,’ said Rhodes, ‘but in the end, he admitted to meeting you, and told us your identity. He admitted that his writings were based on truth. We made copies of some of his sources, and of his notes on the languages. Then we came to find you.’

‘What interest do the Germans have in the Eldar?’ asked Maglor, choosing not to focus on Tolkien’s apparent betrayal.

‘It’s racial, I imagine,’ said Colonel Ryan. ‘They no doubt intend to prove that their beloved Aryan race is descended from supernatural beings.’

‘They’re not wrong, then,’ said Maglor, ‘not entirely at least. It is uncommon, but by no means impossible, for us to couple with mortals—and since we cannot abide hot climates, and the West is sacred to us, it might follow that there is more Elvish blood in North-West Europe than anywhere else. Nonetheless quite little, though. If they seek a race of supermen, they should be more interested in the legacy of Númenor. Although they might find it uncomfortably Semitic.’

‘Are you saying there is something to their absurd racial theories after all?’ asked the colonel, incredulous, and a bit crestfallen.

‘Not in the least,’ said Maglor. ‘There are certainly differences in our biology, but it’s the soul that makes an Elf, and that sort of Elvishness is not passed on once one has chosen to take the Gift of Men. Even the nobility of Númenor, if any of the Germans possess a trace of it, may be lost by evil deeds. Númenor itself went down into the sea that way, you know, and this so-called “Third Reich” had best fear the same thing happening to it. I don’t normally have opinions about Men’s conflicts, except that they’re all generally terrible, but this Hitler is the closest thing to Ar-Pharazôn reborn I’ve seen in a very long time.’

He judged from the soldiers’ expressions that they had understood about half of what he’d said, which was at least as much as they could have been reasonably expected to.

‘Forgive me for asking, but just how old are you, exactly?’ asked Rhodes, perhaps regretting his question as soon as it had passed his lips.

‘Seventeen thousand eight hundred and ninety-one,’ Maglor answered immediately.

Major Rhodes gulped.

‘Anyway,’ said Colonel Ryan, ‘our intelligence tells us that the enemy is getting uncomfortably close to confirming your people’s existence, and it will not be long from then that they have found every last village and solitary Elf in Europe. If they cannot use you for propaganda purposes, then…well, I’m sure that the bodies of immortal beings contain some militarily useful secrets.’

Maglor’s heart sank as he realised what that meant. ‘Well, sirs,’ he said, ‘I thank you for the warning. I had really hoped to stay out of this war, but if the spawn of Morgoth have decided to involve the Eldar in it, I suppose we shall have to defend ourselves. I will send out the signal to prepare for war.’

‘I’m afraid we can’t let you do that,’ said the colonel gravely.

‘Whatever do you mean?’ asked Maglor, cold fury creeping into his voice. ‘The right to defend my people is not yours to suffer or deny me. I am no subject of your king; I have dwelt in lands that are now his longer than the race of Men has walked the Earth. If we are attacked, we shall answer, as a free people and not as England’s thrall. You have quite outworn your welcome. Begone from my house!’

‘Alas, your people are too few,’ answered Colonel Ryan, ‘and those who do not live among humans far too backward, no matter how superhumanly strong. We cannot allow you to throw yourselves against the Nazis. You will fail, and you are far too valuable to be allowed to fall into enemy hands.’

‘What then would you have us do?’ asked Maglor bitterly, knowing the colonel was right, but unwilling to submit all the same.

‘The Elves of Iceland are being evacuated even as we speak.’

‘Being kidnapped , you mean,’ said Maglor. ‘You are driving them from their homes, even as your so-called enemies would do. They have known no other home, not for a hundred generations of Men, and now you would remove them from it with naught but what they may carry on their backs.’

‘I do not enjoy it,’ said the colonel, ‘but this is war, and all nations at war must sometimes do such things. Do not neglect what awaits them on the other end of their journey. They will not be confined against their will. We are resettling them in New Zealand for the duration of the war. It is far from the reach of the enemy, and I foresee that your kind will come to like it there. It is a remarkably… Elvish country, if you know what I mean, and if they choose remain there after the war, we shall see that they need not fear exposure.’

‘Now, Maglor,’ said Major Rhodes, ‘it’s time to go.’ While Ryan had been speaking, he had gotten up and gone to the door, and now he opened it. Maglor counted six armed soldiers standing outside. More than one unarmed and disfigured High Elf could take, certainly.

‘The guns are quite unnecessary,’ said Maglor, defeated. ‘I never intended not to come quietly.’

Above the North Atlantic Ocean
Six hours later

The transport plane had no seats, so Maglor lay on the floor, his head resting on the small bag he had brought with him, which contained only his harp and one set each of mortal and Elvish clothing. He thought of taking the harp out to play something—perhaps he could help calm the Tol Gwannol Elves—but he wanted to be able to hear the voices from the cockpit. He had deduced from the chatter that their first stop would be in Newfoundland. That was not far from America, which was still officially neutral, at least for the time being. If it had been just him, he could have escaped, but he couldn’t leave behind the six hundred other—

‘What the bloody fuck is that?’

The pilot’s exclamation interrupted his planning. But what he heard next made him forget the plan entirely:

‘I’ll be damned if it isn’t a flying ship ,’ said the co-pilot.

Maglor leapt up and ran to the door of the plane, trying to see ahead of the plane through the small window. Sure enough, a Telerin ship was floating toward them, its prow carved into the shape of a swan’s head, a blue device emblazoned on its white sails.

Well, I guess we are near the Straight Road.

‘Must be a trick of the eye,’ said the pilot. ‘But hail it, just to be sure.’

‘You really think it has a radio?’ asked the co-pilot. Nonetheless, he obeyed the order: ‘Hail, unidentified aircraft,’ Maglor heard him say. ‘This is the Royal Air Force. Please identify yourself.’

‘You have six hundred of our friends on board that monstrosity,’ came a distinctly Elvish voice over the radio. ‘We’re coming to get them back.’

Valinor has radio now? It shouldn’t really have surprised him, but it did. He wondered what else the Noldor had come up with since he’d been gone.

‘Erm, unidentified aircraft?’ said the co-pilot, thoroughly flabbergasted. ‘This is a most secret military operation. You can’t do that.’

‘Should we start shooting, sir?’ came another voice over the radio, probably one of the transport’s fighter escorts.

‘Negative,’ said the pilot, before his co-pilot could say anything. ‘All escorts, do not fire on the unidentified flying object unless fired upon. It is imperative that we capture it undamaged.’

‘How in God’s name is that… thing able to transmit on our frequencies?’ asked the co-pilot in a low voice.

‘I don’t know, Lieutenant,’ said the pilot with just a hint of sarcasm, ‘but considering there’s six hundred Elves in the back of this plane, I’m afraid I’m no longer surprised by much.’

The white ship continued its approach, making a great loop away from the plane before turning around and pulling up next to it, matching its speed to hang just outside the door. There were six Elves and one aged mortal on board; with a start, Maglor realised he recognised some of them.

Suddenly, the door of the plane was opened from the outside. There was no wind: the door was within range of whatever magic protected the atmosphere on board the ship. A gang-plank was extended, and a fair-haired Elf stepped across the gap.

One of the soldiers on board the plane, quite stunned by this turn of events, raised his pistol and pointed it at the Elf, who immediately disarmed him with a deft movement too quick for mortal eyes to follow. As the soldier nursed his broken fingers, the blond Elf turned to face Maglor.

‘You didn’t think we’d forgotten about you, did you?’ asked a grinning Finrod Felagund.

Chapter Text

Throne Room of Ilmarin
Taniquetil, Valinor
Three days previously

The visions faded, and suddenly Varda was no longer looking into the offices of an Oxford professor, but only on the deep blue of the sky.

‘We ought to have pardoned Makalaurë Ages ago,’ she told her husband, reflecting on the scene she had just watched. ‘Now the Elves of Middle-earth have been placed in danger.’

‘He would not have taken the pardon if we had offered it,’ said Manwë. ‘It is his doom to wander the shores of Middle-earth until the end of Time. Nor are the Elves of the Outer Lands in any danger they did not themselves choose.’

‘Yet when that danger comes, all the same, they shall call on me,’ said Varda. ‘“We still remember,” they sing. Shall I forget them, high upon my Mountain beyond the Sea?’

‘The Dominion of Men over Middle-earth,’ said Manwë, ‘was foredoomed by a power greater than I. I may not deny that great evil has come of it, but the temptation to evil liveth in the heart of every Child of Illúvatar; there also must be found the strength to resist it.’

‘The inner strength of the Elves of Middle-earth is great,’ said Varda, ‘but it is their outer strength that is wanting, and if they are all slain their inner strength shall fail too.’

‘And though this were a great evil,’ said Manwë, ‘it were a greater evil still if the hosts of the Valar should ride to war against one kindred of the Children of Illúvatar for the sake of another. The refuge of the Eldar is in Aman; those who have refused the invitation forsake that refuge.’

‘And fall thus under the dominion of Men,’ said Varda, bitterly.

‘The way Westward is not closed,’ said Manwë, ‘but whether or not the Avari take it at last is the concern of others than us.

‘Eönwë!’ he said, and the Maia appeared before them.

‘My lord,’ said Eönwë, bowing.

‘Bring thou before me the Kings of the Eldar,’ Manwë commanded. His herald bowed again, and disappeared.

Some time later Eönwë returned, leading three slightly bedraggled Elf-lords, and one whose noble bearing had been untouched (he had been only a few rooms away, and had not had to make the journey by Eagle). ‘My lord,’ the herald said, ‘I present to thee Lord Ingwë of the Minyar, Lord Nolofinwë of the Noldor, and Lords Elwë and Olwë of the Lindar,’ using each clan’s preferred name. Each Elf knelt and bowed deeply as Eönwë introduced him.

‘I know who they are, Eönwë,’ said Manwë. ‘Rise, ye friends. I fear I have grave news from Middle-earth. A tyrant hath arisen among Men, and subdued the nations around him.’

‘That is no news from Middle-earth,’ said Thingol haughtily. His time in Mandos had not, evidently, freed him of his prejudice against mortals.

‘Several mortal kingdoms have learned, or shall soon learn, of the existence of the Quendi,’ said Manwë. ‘Were not the Elves that remain in the Outer Lands, for the most part, once thy people, Lord Elwë?’

Lord Elwë fell silent.

‘I do not know what the mortals may intend for the Elvish race,’ said Manwë, ‘save that they are now engaged in a great war, and many will see your strength only as a thing to be exploited. Many Elves shall surely suffer and die if they remain in Middle-earth. I counsel you all sternly to summon your people home to Aman, where they may be safe.’

‘And if they refuse?’ asked Fingolfin. ‘Many have faced the ancient Enemy himself, and yet refused the summons every time it has been given.’

‘Then they have chosen whatever doom may befall them,’ said Manwë. ‘No aid shall come to them from the West—the Powers may not make war upon mortal Men.’

‘Then the Eldar of Valinor must aid them in their journey to safety,’ declared Olwë. ‘Our ships stand ready to bear those that will come away from Middle-earth, if my lord will permit it.’

‘I will permit it,’ said Manwë, ‘on this condition. Ye may go to Middle-earth to bear to safety all the Elves of those lands who are willing to come to Aman. But ye shall not make war upon any nation of mortal Men; nor indeed may ye, Kings of the Eldar, bring these tidings to any save those whose assistance ye require for the accomplishment of this quest. I fear that there remain those among the Eldar who would take these matters into their own hands.’ Fingolfin felt the bright blue eyes of the Elder King burning a hole in his chest; he could not help but wonder if these last words were aimed specifically at the Noldor.

‘So it is doomed.’

‘And to this doom,’ said Varda suddenly, ‘I add this: among those who remain in Middle-earth in the path of danger is Makalaurë son of Fëanáro. He is hereby pardoned of all his crimes, and counselled to return into the West. You shall aid him as if he were one of your own.’

Before Manwë could contradict her, Eönwë escorted the Elves out.

When Fingolfin returned to Tirion, he was greeted by his brother.

‘Arafinwë,’ he said, once they had exchanged their pleasantries, ‘I need you to send a message to Master Elrond. He has earned the right to be counted among the Kings of the Eldar, and a matter has come up that concerns someone dear to him.’

Formenos, Valinor
The next day

Elrohir was always pleasantly surprised when the doors of the transport pod opened to let in the northern air; even in summer, Formenos was cooler than the permanent springtime of Tirion. He liked this about the Fëanorian city—Manwë’s winds kept Eldamar cooler and drier than the same latitudes would have been in Middle-earth, but that did not dispel his feeling that Elves were not built for the tropics. Perhaps when the remaining Avari were brought home, they would need a new city, and they could build it up this way, perhaps in one of the ravines in the foot-hills of the Pelóri—Imladris reborn, it would be, a fine counterpoint to the white towers of Tirion or the bleak grey walls of Formenos.

His father had insisted that their quest was one where it was wiser to ask forgiveness than permission, but that only made him more ambivalent about enlisting the help of the Fëanorians. He did not expect their assistance—they were still struggling to earn forgiveness from the last time they had done something like this. None of them had really forgotten that line about the wrath of the Valar lying on their House from the West unto the uttermost East, for all that the Powers seemed to have softened their position—on Fëanor’s followers, if not on him or his sons. Nonetheless, Elrond had insisted that the people of Formenos considered him family, and at any rate, they were the only ones who might have the technology to do what they needed done. It was they who had built the transport system that linked their city with Valimar and Tirion, which took less than two hours to whisk passengers over a distance that had once required twenty days’ hard riding—‘Faster than Thorondor,’ Celebrimbor had boasted, although the great Eagle might have begged to differ if he had been around to hear him say it.

Waiting to greet Elrohir on the platform was that very Elf—Lord of the City and the only direct descendant of Fëanor to have been permitted re-embodiment. ‘Had I but known a little sooner that you were coming,’ he said, ‘I would have prepared a more fitting reception. It has been too long since a son of Master Elrond has visited us in Formenos.’

‘There would have been no time for such a reception,’ said Elrohir. ‘Your uncle is in danger in Middle-earth.’

‘Makalaurë?’ asked Celebrimbor, though Elrohir could have referred to no other.

‘Yes,’ said Elrohir. ‘Several of the kingdoms of Men are near to rediscovering the Quendi, and we fear that our sundered kin will be caught up in the mortals’ great war. Manwë has decreed that all remaining Elves in Middle-earth are to be brought to Aman, and abandoned if they refuse.’

‘As Makalaurë surely will,’ said Celebrimbor.

‘Manwë did not even pardon him,’ said Elrohir. ‘That was his wife, though I do not think he will countermand her.’

‘Even pardoned, however, I do not think he will come, not while his Silmaril remains lost in the seas of the Outer Lands.’

‘Thus this mission.’

‘What is this mission?’ asked Celebrimbor. ‘And why do I feel it will incur the wrath of the Valar on this House once more?’

‘We mean to provide the Elves of Middle-earth with the strength to defend themselves, few though they be,’ said Elrohir. ‘Manwë has told Lord Fingolfin that the Elves of Valinor may not go to war against the mortals, but he has not laid the same prohibition upon the Úmanyar.’

‘Then the skills of the House of Fëanor shall aid them in the defence of their homelands,’ said Celebrimbor.

‘And the House of Elrond shall be forever grateful,’ said Elrohir.

‘How, though,’ asked Celebrimbor after a brief pause, ‘do you propose to reach the Outer Lands—and, rather more critically, to return?’

‘I had hoped there was at least one person in this city who could tell me how to traverse the Straight Road,’ said Elrohir.

‘I am not sure what you mean,’ said Celebrimbor. ‘You have sailed it; I myself took a more roundabout way here. But if I am not mistaken, one simply sails West, and either Lord Ulmo sends him this way, or he just keeps going around until he comes back to the place whence he came.’

‘You yourself have said: it may be that we cannot expect such assistance to be forthcoming. I had hoped to learn to sail it without the aid of the Valar.’

Celebrimbor looked worried, and his tone grew dark. ‘I know nothing of such things,’ he said hastily, ‘and before you begin to research them I would advise you to remember the doom of Númenor.’ He paused only a moment before seemingly changing the subject. ‘Have you met Calanáro and Eleniel?’ he asked.

‘No,’ he said, ‘but I should be honoured.’ Do they know how to break the Straight Road? Elrohir had the feeling that Celebrimbor was still trying to answer his question, but feared to do it directly.

‘They are both extraordinary,’ said Celebrimbor. ‘Perhaps the greatest minds the Noldor have had since, well, me.’

Elrohir laughed. The House of Fëanor were not known for their humility.

‘Even so,’ continued Celebrimbor, ‘I don’t understand half of what they get up to. Come, they’re probably still in the laboratory; I’ll introduce you.’ He led Elrohir away from the platform, towards a door built into the sheer cliff-face that surrounded the city on two sides.

Curufinwë Fëanáro Memorial Laboratory , read a sign, in tengwar drawn to look like dancing flames.

Eleniel ,’ said Elrohir, tasting the name. ‘I would not expect followers of Fëanor to name their child star’s-daughter: it seems both pretentious, which is to be expected; and overly pious, which is not.’

‘The latter,’ said Celebrimbor. ‘Eleniel, like her mother before her, was a priestess of Varda in her youth.’

‘A Vanyië?’

‘Indeed,’ said Celebrimbor. ‘I cannot imagine her parents were terribly happy about her marrying a Fëanorian, but love is strange, and without her Calanáro would not be half so brilliant as he is. Nor she without him.’

The laboratory was unlike anything Elrohir had ever seen, as far beyond the forges of Tirion as those were beyond the forge in Imladris. Light seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere; many buildings in Tirion now had electric lights, but Elrohir could not discern any bulbs in this room, nor could he identify the purposes of most of the equipment. Near the centre of the room, a dark-haired Elf was hunched over some orange-glowing machine. Elrohir supposed it was Calanáro; his name certainly seemed fitting at that moment.

‘Calanáro!’ called Celebrimbor across the room, and the Elf looked up from his work. ‘You have a visitor!’

‘Just a moment,’ said Calanáro, and hurried to finish whatever he was doing, as Elrohir strode toward him.

‘I’m Calanáro,’ said the Elf when they met. ‘ Elen sila lumenn’ omentielvo.

Elrohir repeated the greeting. ‘I’m Elrohir, son of Elrond.’

‘Elrond?’ said Calanáro, apparently a bit overwhelmed. ‘Like, that Elrond? Son of Eärendil, et cetera ?’

‘The very same.’

‘You’ll have to forgive him,’ came a voice from Elrohir’s left. He turned and looked. Calanáro’s wife (for so Elrohir assumed it must be) was his polar opposite, physically: slender, fair-haired, just a hair taller than he—the quintessential Vanyië. She sat at a table, papers spread out before her, looking entirely out of place and yet perfectly at home.

‘He’s terribly sheltered,’ Eleniel continued. ‘He loves the old stories, but he doesn’t seem to get that we’re, you know, immortal, and nearly all the heroes he’s read about are living down in Tirion, if he ever wanted to meet them. I mean, he knows Telperinquar, but I don’t think he connects him with the maker of the Rings and all that.’

‘I do too!’ protested Calanáro. ‘I’m not entirely sure he does, though, to be honest.’ In truth, the Returned often seemed that way, especially those whose deaths had been traumatic, or who had spent a long time in the Halls.

Celebrimbor, who (apparently unbeknownst to Calanáro) was still standing by the door, took that moment to silently depart.

‘I need to know about the Straight Road,’ said Elrohir. ‘I hear one of you might know how, precisely, it works.’

‘Ooh! I do!’ said Eleniel excitedly, apparently enthused enough by the subject not to wonder why Elrohir was asking. ‘Or, at least, I know the basics—I don’t know if anyone but the Valar knows the specifics.’

She turned to a blank page in her notebook and drew a circle. ‘The way most of the stories talk about it, you’d think we were just floating in space out here—’ she drew a tangent line leftwards from the twelve-o’clock position of her circle, which apparently represented the globe of Middle-earth— ‘but that isn’t nearly hard enough for mortals to get to; also, finding an orbit where we’re always due west of the same point on Middle-earth and don’t crash into the planet is well-nigh impossible, and once you do figure that part out, you’ll notice that gravity here would be completely fucked.’ She spoke with the certainty of one who had tried those calculations.

‘Not to mention,’ she continued, ‘that a giant floating continent would, you know, block out the sun. So, yeah, anyone who’s actually thought about it knows those descriptions are useless. The description in the Atalantë is slightly better, but Elendil—who oughtn’t to have had a clue anyway—still leaves us with “the realm of hidden things” as if those words actually mean anything to a physicist.

‘Still, though, the stories do mean something . It’s just that “Bent World” isn’t talking about the planet , it’s talking about the—the fabric of space itself. You can lift off from Middle-earth and go out into their version of the Void—no Ilurambar at all—and there’s this sort of weird…this weird shadow-world, where Anar is a nuclear fireball a thousand times the size of the Earth, and Isil is another planet-thing in orbit around Earth, and Eärendil’s star is a planet too, and there’s even more planets…I don’t know, I’ve never been there.

‘Anyway, the circumference of the curvature is so enormous that no mortal could ever traverse it—no Elf either, if we were limited by light-speed—but, in theory, one would eventually come back to the point whence he set out. There’s no physical “edge”, like there is here.’

‘Okay,’ said Elrohir, afraid she would go on forever. ‘But how does one get from one world to the other?’

‘You have to be able to travel through a fourth dimension of space,’ she said. ‘It’s necessarily easiest to make the jump near the point of tangency, which is at the summit of the Meneltarma in the middle of the Great Sea, but it can be done from anywhere. Normally, the Valar handle it, but I get the feeling that’s not what you’re after.’

‘No,’ said Elrohir.

‘I can do it,’ said Calanáro. ‘I’ve worked on this before, a few years ago, and I was this close to a design for a ship that can go West or East or whichever way you choose, Valar be damned,’ he said, and his wife winced at the blasphemy, ‘but the equations are incomplete without experimental data—’

‘Quenya, please,’ said Elrohir.

‘—which is to say, we have to sail the Straight Road eastwards before I can build the device that will get us back to the West.’

‘That,’ said Elrohir, ‘is not ideal.’

‘Would you mind telling us what you need this for in the first place?’ asked Eleniel. ‘It really sounds like you’re planning something that’s going to get us into a lot of trouble.’

Elrohir told them of situation in Middle-earth, of the doom proclaimed by Manwë, and of the plan his father and Fingolfin had devised to bring Fëanorian technology to the Avari to aid them in their fight against any hostile mortal powers that might take an interest in them. Calanáro had been immediately enthusiastic about the idea; Eleniel had required rather more persuasion, from both Elrohir and her husband.

‘Well,’ she said at last, ‘I suppose that Lord Manwë never said we couldn’t.’

Spoken like a Fëanorian born, thought Elrohir. They might make a Noldo of you yet.

The preparations for the journey took the rest of the day, and most of the next day. In these peaceful times, even the city of Fëanor kept few weapons, but they had plenty of equipment that was dangerous enough to be easily adapted. Six massive mining lasers were loaded onto Celebrimbor’s flying ship, with its great, Eagle-like wings—as well as nearly the palace’s entire collection of hunting equipment, electric motors for vehicles, and a wide assortment of miniature reactors and batteries. It would not be enough, but they could never bring enough weapons to arm the entire Avarin population of Middle-earth, even if they had had them. They were going as teachers, not saviours.

The sun was well past its zenith by the time the plane departed for Tirion with the four of them aboard. It was not nearly as fast as the pod system, but they made good enough time; Anar’s red disc was just touching the horizon when they landed. They would spend the night in the city and meet with Elrond and Elladan before the six of them departed for Middle-earth at first light.

It was not Elrond, however, nor Elladan, that greeted them as they disembarked. Standing before the door of the plane was a winged Maia in golden armour.

‘You four,’ said Eönwë, ‘need to come with me. Now.’

Chapter Text

Several hours later

Eönwë had not allowed them to use ‘that awful contraption’, meaning Celebrimbor’s plane, to travel to the Ring of Doom. ‘Its very existence is an insult to my lord’s majestic messengers,’ he had said, when Celebrimbor had protested that flying would be far faster than riding. ‘The steeds I have brought you shall be more than swift enough.’

Swift indeed were the horses that bore them westwards away from Tirion to the gates of Valimar, but the last light of dusk had faded from the horizon by the time Eönwë announced them before the thrones of the Valar. It was the hour when, in Middle-earth, the Eldar would have sung the praises of Elbereth, but tonight, here, Elrohir did not think that necessary. After all, she was sitting right in front of him.

The first thing that struck him about the Lady of the West was how unimposing, even delicate, she seemed: barely more than a maiden, and physically the smallest of all the Valier. Her slender Elven fana was clad in simple white, and her hair, dark as a moonless night, fell straight and unadorned down her back. She gave off no physical glow, and no crown nor other token betrayed the majesty of her office. Yet her eyes, midnight blue, or perhaps a deep violet, shone not as if they reflected the stars, but as if the star-host above were only their image, and Elrohir perceived that the modesty of her form added to, rather than concealed, her beauty. Ornament could only have diminished her; if she had worn the Great Jewels, the Silmarils of old themselves, they would have cast a shadow before her. Her light was too brilliant and terrible for the eyes of the Children of Illúvatar to look upon directly, or for their words to describe fully; for all lights and fair things that are, or have been, or ever shall be in Eä, seem but diminished reflections of the light that shines in the eyes of Varda Elentári. She sat poised with impossible grace upon a throne of carven crystal.

It was next to impossible to look away from Varda: as language was too small to capture her beauty, so too was memory, and every moment that Elrohir looked on her seemed to be his first glimpse and his last. He knew that his sense of wonder would not diminish, not with the passing of Ages, and if he could he might be content to stare at her until the world grew old. It was with a monumental effort that he tore his gaze away from her to look upon her husband.

Manwë could never have outshone his wife in sheer brilliance, but he possessed a gravity she did not. He had solidity, authority, inertia—a strength against which light alone was impotent.

Matter and energy, came Calanáro’s thought into his mind, and it seemed to Elrohir that the young Elf was right, though he never would have thought of such a thing himself. They were matter and energy, utterly unlike one another and yet secretly two sides of the same coin.

Manwë, too, cloaked his majesty in a modest form, though less so than his wife: his robes were blue and silver, and his hair white, and his eyes the colour of the daytime sky. He, too, wore no crown, but he was far taller than she, and in his hand he bore a sceptre of silver set with a great sapphire. His throne was crystal also, but heavy and square and solid. And though he seemed as kind and gentle as a summer breeze, his countenance warned all onlookers not to invite his wrath, for then, he promised to be as terrible as lightning, as fierce and irresistible as a hurricane.

Elrohir would have kept turning, to get a good look at the other Valar, but Manwë spoke then, and there was a touch of the hurricane in his voice. ‘This plan was rash,’ he said simply. ‘Know ye not that those who depart Aman without my leave may not return? No device which thou couldst make, Calanáro, shall return thee to this realm against my will.’

Elrohir saw Calanáro move to answer, though in defiance or apology he did not know, but then there was a clattering of hooves on stone behind the assembled elves, and Elrohir heard his father’s voice challenge the Elder King. ‘Then we shall go into exile gladly,’ proclaimed Elrond from atop his horse. ‘The Elf who raised me is imperiled in the Outer Lands, and thou shalt not keep me from coming to his aid, though the wrath of the Valar be lain upon my House from the West unto the uttermost East.’ Manwë did not answer; indeed, he seemed to wince and recoil, to hear the doom that had been spoken against Fëanor quoted back to him.

Elrond dismounted, and with him were Fingolfin, and Elwë and Olwë of the Teleri, and last of all Ingwë of the Vanyar, High King of all the Eldar, rode into the Ring of Doom upon his white steed and stood before the thrones of the Powers.

‘I had hoped it would not come to this again,’ said Fingolfin, ‘but I shall follow Lord Elrond, if I must. In the Elder Days of this world ere the Sun or Moon were made, I led a host across the Grinding Ice for a treasure of far less worth to me than any kinsman of mine, no matter that his father and I were often estranged, and at the last I rode before the gates of Angband and gave my life in single combat with the Enemy himself. Is there any here who shall doubt that I would repeat the deed for Makalaurë’s sake?’

Then Olwë stood forth and spoke. ‘As it was foretold,’ he said, ‘that those whom Fëanáro’s House had slain would entreat for them, so now come the Teleri, but not for Makalaurë’s sake alone. For thou hast said that thou art King of Arda, and not of Aman only; and if King of all Arda thou be indeed, then all Elves and Men are thy charges, whether here or there they may abide. But if thou sayest now that thou art King of Aman only, and layest down half the guardianship which Illúvatar hath entrusted unto thee, then what remaineth is a thing of naught, and gladly will I fly from it, and forsake evermore the only home I have ever known, ere I see my kinsmen beyond the Sea made to do the same.’ Then he stepped back and bowed his head.

The Lord of the West showed neither wrath nor mercy in his face as he answered. ‘My friends,’ he said, ‘great is your valour, and greater still your love for your kin, which defieth even mine understanding. But ye must take care that ye fall not from love into folly. Indeed I am King of all Arda, and mine authority extendeth from the Door of Night unto the Gates of Morning, but it is the will of Illúvatar in these after-days that I may not show forth my power beyond the Mountain Wall, for the sake of His Children in Middle-earth.

‘Yet it is now those Children who are endangered, the last of the Firstborn in the Outer Lands. And in time the One hath shown me mine own folly, for the nations of Men have moved more swiftly against the Elves than I foresaw. The plan which was devised upon Oiolossë shall no longer suffice even to bring them to safety. Therefore even ere ye were brought to the Máhanaxar the Valar had taken counsel, and a new doom been made. Seven I shall permit to go forth into Middle-earth, and do what they must to bring the Elves of Ennórë to safety in this land or that: one shall be of my choosing, a Maia who has shown great wisdom in dealing with the mortal world before, and two each shall come from the Three Kindreds of the Eldar, to be chosen by their Kings.’

‘My lord,’ said Ingwë then, ‘the Minyar do not trouble themselves with the cares of Middle-earth. I came to lend my voice to the cause of my brethren, if they required it, but my people shall have no part in this quest.’

‘Nor shall one drop of my people’s blood be risked for the aid of the kinslaying son of Fëanor,’ declared Elu Thingol.

‘Brother—’ began Olwë cautiously.

‘But neither will I leave the rescue of my long-sundered kinsfolk to the Noldor,’ Thingol continued. ‘I will go myself.’

(‘Oh, fuck,’ Elrohir heard Calanáro and Eleniel say to each other simultaneously, and he had the feeling that more than a few people there assembled were thinking the same thing.)

‘I will not overrule my elder brother, fool though he be,’ said Olwë. ‘The choice of the remaining five I leave to Lord Nolofinwë.’

‘If it please my lord,’ said Fingolfin, ‘I shall name the five whose courage began this quest, and may yet see it through: Lord Elrond, and Elrohir his son, and Lord Celebrimbor, and Calanáro and Eleniel.’

‘I will not go,’ said Elrond, ‘if there is another who will take my place. Though I am no king, there are many here who look to me for guidance, and a wife from whom the Sundering Seas have already sundered me too long.’

‘Then I shall search my House for volunteers when I return to Tirion,’ said Fingolfin, ‘and the first that answers shall have Lord Elrond’s place.’

The voice of Mandos rose then from behind them, from his place at the foot of the Ring, hard as stone and iron, deep and inexorable as the endless night:

‘So it is doomed.’

New Tirion, Valinor
The next day

That volunteer, as it turned out, was Finrod Felagund, whose enthusiasm for mortals evidently had not been diminished by millennia of separation from them. And the Maia whom Manwë had promised them was none other than Mithrandir—Olórin, he was called in Valinor—who wore the same form he had worn when he had left Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age. (Elrohir supposed that ‘Grey Pilgrim’ was no longer an appropriate name for one now clad always in white, but he was not about to start calling him Nimrandir.)

Thingol met them before the gates of Tirion, with a flying ship of his own—not a mechanical airplane like Celebrimbor’s, but a white Telerin ship enchanted to sail the airs as easily as it did the waters. This was to be their vessel, and they loaded it with provisions for their journey. Most of the equipment they had brought from Formenos was left to be returned thither, but Calanáro did bring with him a small cache of energy weapons, and at least one device of unknown purpose.

At noon the ship lifted from the plains of Valinor with the seven members of the fellowship aboard, and swifter than the wind it sped eastward, through the sheer walls of the Calacirya, past the Lonely Isle, out into the caerulean Bay of Eldamar beneath the burning tropical Sun. Then they turned northwards, bound for Tol Gwannol at the Eastern end of the Straight Road, and sooner than Elrohir would have thought possible the Valinorean seas faded from beneath them and they were high above the Bent World, floating among the clouds.

‘I have gotten word from my Lady that the Elves of Tol Gwannol have been taken already, not even hours ago,’ said Mithrandir. No one asked him how that word had come. ‘They are flying westwards even as we make for the East.’

‘If we come after them while they remain in the air, we may have the advantage,’ said Finrod. ‘That way they will be few, and the shock of seeing us may weaken them.’

The plan was widely agreed to, and guided by Mithrandir’s strange sight, they moved to intercept the British transport plane. At last it loomed out of the distance, huge, loud, and slow, not at all like Celebrimbor’s, which had not been built for beauty but at least didn’t make so much noise .

Suddenly a Mannish voice in an unknown tongue came from one of Calanáro’s devices. Calanáro answered in the same language.

‘What?’ he asked, noticing Elrohir staring. ‘You’ve never seen a radio before? It’s what mortals use to talk at a distance.’

‘What did they say?’

‘They demanded that we identify ourselves. I just told them they had our friends on board that hideous thing, and that we were coming to get them back.’

More chatter in the strange language came from the radio. ‘They’re not going to shoot at us,’ announced Calanáro. ‘They want to capture our ship undamaged so they can reverse-engineer it—not that that’s likely.’

‘How do they mean to capture us if they’ve just told us they mean us no harm?’ asked Celebrimbor.

‘They don’t know I can hear them. They’re on a different—ah, nevermind,’ Calanáro answered, not wanting to explain the complexities of radio to someone who had last been in Middle-earth when it was still flat.

As the plane passed them on their right they swung away from it, before turning slowly around and then matching the plane’s speed. Thingol manoeuvred the ship so it hung directly outside the plane’s door.

‘Closer,’ said Finrod. ‘We need to get the door inside our atmosphere protection, or everything inside will get sucked out.’ The ship inched closer, until they were only a few feet from the door, and then Finrod turned to the door and held out his hand. The door flew open.

As Finrod and Calanáro readied the gang-plank, Elrohir looked at the Elf who stood in the doorway—for though his hair was cut short, and some sort of glamour made the tops of his ears appear rounded, it was obvious that the figure was one of the Eldar. He had the black hair and bronzed skin so typical of the Noldor, and in his grey eyes the ancient light of the Two Trees was blended with an immeasurable sorrow.

Elrohir looked, and the last surviving son of Fëanor looked back at him.

Chapter Text

Still above the North Atlantic
24th August, Sx.A. 1941

‘You didn’t think we’d forgotten about you, did you?’

Forgotten him? History had forgotten him—the memory of mortals reached no farther back than the wreck of Númenor, and that they accounted a mere fable. The Eldar were a distant legend now, even in the lands where they had lingered the longest, and the heroes of the Elder Days had become less than even that. And yet—their souls were bound to the world no less than his, even this old friend who had ridden off to face the Enemy, not meaning to return. The West endured, taken from the circles of the world, and those who dwelt there had not forgotten Middle-earth as Middle-earth had forgotten them. It gave him hope, though perhaps not of the sort he had looked for.

‘Of course not,’ Maglor answered.

More Elves came through the door behind Finrod, swords drawn: one of Elrond’s sons, with a young-looking Noldo he had never seen before, and a similarly unfamiliar Vanyië, of similar age. The soldiers guarding the evacuees (abductees, really, he reminded himself) did not attempt to fight. Most raised their hands over their heads in surrender. Maglor saw one cross himself and begin murmuring a prayer, and he flinched at the sign. Mortal religion tended to bring the attention of the One closer than he was entirely comfortable with, considering his situation.

Finrod bent over and picked up the pistol he had kicked out of a soldier’s hand when he had first boarded the plane. He weighed it in his hand a moment, then pointed it out the open door and squeezed the trigger. The bullet grazed the white ship’s mast and flew off into space. Finrod looked quite taken aback at the sound of it.

‘Give me that,’ said the young Noldo. ‘You’re going to get someone killed.’ Reluctantly, Finrod handed over the gun, and the Elf tucked it into the waist of his trousers.

‘What the hell is going on here?’ shouted Colonel Ryan from across the plane, stepping over sleeping Elves on the floor as nimbly as his combat boots would allow. He was slightly less flustered than his men, but still clearly unsure of the appropriate military response to an airborne boarding of his aircraft by supernatural beings of ancient legend.

‘I have no idea, Colonel,’ said Maglor, quite honestly.

A white-haired mortal—or, as was more likely, given the presumed origin of the ship—a Maia in the form of a white-haired mortal stepped through the door. ‘My apologies for the intrusion, sir,’ he said in perfect English, ‘but on board this plane are several hundred Elves, at least one of whom is a good friend of ours, who have been taken involuntarily from their homes. We are here to return them there safely.’

If possible, the colonel was even more flustered by this. ‘Who are you?’ he spluttered. ‘ What are you?—not an elf, clearly. Where did you come from, and how do you speak English?’

‘I will answer your questions in reverse order,’ replied the Maia. ‘I have the power to speak all tongues. What I am, and whence I come, are beyond your present comprehension; but it will suffice for me to say that I am neither Elf nor Man, and my company and I come from a place far from this Middle-earth, whither no mortal may go. So far as Men know me, I may be called a wizard, and my name in your tongue is Gandalf, or perhaps Greyhame, though that latter name belongs already to another member of my company.’

Maglor quickly recognised the name as a translation of one in Third Age Westron, and realised he knew the wizard. ‘Mithrandir!’ he exclaimed in Sindarin. ‘Though perhaps I should revert to calling you Olórin, as you are no longer grey-clad.’

‘I am well used to being called Grey Pilgrim, White though I now be,’ answered Mithrandir in the same language. ‘It is good to see you again, Maglor.’

‘And you,’ said Maglor. ‘Though I regret to hear that you are not the only in your party to bear the name of Greyhame’—which in Sindarin was Thingol.

As if in answer, Elu strode through the door, intending to look majestic and ominous but instead only coming across as slightly ridiculous as he stooped beneath the plane’s low ceiling. ‘With thee, son of Fëanor, I will deal later,’ he proclaimed, looking icily at Maglor. ‘Now I would ask the baseborn mortal by what insolence he dares take captive the people of Elu Thingol, Lord of Doriath and Tol Eressëa, High King of the Eldar of Middle-earth, who hath gazed with his own eyes upon the Light of the Trees of Valinor ere the Sun and Moon were made; and what manner of death he would have for his reward.’

‘I will not translate that,’ said Mithrandir in English, ‘for Lord Elu’s own sake. It was most undiplomatic.’

‘I will,’ said Maglor. ‘He names you an insolent, baseborn mortal; he styles himself lord of a kingdom that’s been at the bottom of the ocean for fifteen thousand years and king of a people who likely don’t know he exists; he brags about being older than the Sun—don’t ask—and he threatens you with death for taking “his” people—that’s those who don’t know he exists—captive. But that’s just Thingol; don’t take it personally.’

‘I take little personally,’ said Colonel Ryan, ‘but tell him that if I am killed, my country will take it as an act of war, and I do not see an army behind him.’

‘That “baseborn mortal” warns you not to slay him,’ said Maglor in Sindarin, ‘lest you incur the wrath—’

‘I fear the wrath of no mortal, not even the greatest of their kings,’ said Thingol, ‘nor will I have a Kinslayer for an interpreter. Olórin shall translate; thou, Dispossessed son of Fëanor, shalt be silent.’

‘I shall—’

‘We must not fight amongst ourselves, Lord Elu,’ said Mithrandir. Then to Maglor, in English: ‘I will handle him.

‘On behalf of the Lords of the West I express my deepest regrets that this reunion of Elves and Men has gone so poorly,’ said Mithrandir to Colonel Ryan. ‘I would introduce to you Finrod Felagund, who was in long-forgotten years the very first ambassador of the Elves of Valinor to the race of Men.’ Finrod heard his name even in the midst of the English, and extended his hand in greeting to the colonel.

‘Greetings, Lord Felagund,’ said Ryan, and introduced himself. Mithrandir translated his words somewhat awkwardly; neither Quenya nor Sindarin had names for formal military ranks, or for the modern nations of Men. ‘I too regret that this meeting has gone as it has, though I cannot change the fact that my country is at war, and that must always be my first priority.’ Mithrandir translated this as well.

‘Let me speak plainly,’ said Finrod, Mithrandir translating. ‘Among us are representatives of all three kindreds of the Elvish race, and we are not without our disagreements. But on this we are united: it is never justified to remove a people from their homeland against their will, and the Elves of Tol Gwannol—that which you call Iceland—must be returned thither immediately.’

‘Nor was it justified for Adolf Hitler’s armies to conquer two-thirds of Europe,’ said Ryan, ‘yet here we are, desperately defending freedom’s last stronghold east of the Atlantic. You do not know the enemy we face. They too have discovered the existence of your people, and they will do far worse than remove them from their homes. You have not seen what they do to their own people in the name of their twisted science. You cannot imagine—’

‘We can imagine,’ said Maglor. ‘Some of us can do more than imagine. Did the Nazis ever hang someone by their wrist from a cliff for twenty-eight years?’

‘No,’ said Ryan, ‘that’s impossible. No one could possibly survive—’

‘My brother did.’

‘Oh,’ said Ryan.

‘I would not expect you to have known,’ said Maglor. ‘But speak no more of what we can and cannot imagine.’

‘Suffice it to say that I cannot imagine what they will subject you to,’ continued Ryan, speaking once more to Finrod, ‘once they find out what you can survive. They will stop at nothing to discover the secrets of your resilience, and your immortality, for their own purposes. And when they find nothing—as Maglor has told me they shall—they will exterminate you, to the last child. I have heard the reports of what’s happening in the East—how many Elves are there in Europe?’

(Mithrandir translated the colonel’s complete speech, but not his exchange with Maglor.)

‘I know not,’ answered Finrod.

‘Perhaps twenty thousand remain in Middle-earth,’ said Maglor, first in Sindarin, then in English.

‘Twenty thousand,’ said Ryan. ‘They might kill that many in a single day.’

‘But it is you, and not they, who hold Tol Gwannol,’ said a rather horrified Finrod.

‘We do,’ answered the colonel. ‘But it is not a military objective of any great importance, nor shall it be until the enemy discovers whom it harbours. If the enemy were to mount a major offensive against it, we could not hold it without exposing our own homeland to a potentially devastating attack. We are prepared instead to offer your people—that is, those on this plane—refuge in a part of our Empire very far from the war’s reach, even as we are doing with some of our own children.’

‘Your offer is generous,’ said Finrod. ‘But it is not mine to accept.’

‘Nay, it is mine,’ said Thingol, ‘and I refuse it. The Eldar do not dwell in lands granted them by nations of Men. A king I was when the fathers of Men awoke in the East, and a king I shall be when all your great Empires have ground themselves to dust. We are the Firstborn; ye the Second. We need not your aid, nor shall we be reduced to your vassals. We have returned to Middle-earth to defeat all enemies that threaten us, and when we have done this we shall be safe in any part of the world.’

‘Neither is it yours to refuse,’ said an unfamiliar voice. A dark-haired Elf-woman from among the evacuees had stood, looking defiantly up at Thingol. ‘You call yourself King of the Eldar of Middle-earth, but many of those here are those to whom you have denied the name of Eldar, and are not accustomed to follow any king at all.’

‘Who art thou that wouldst speak thus to Elu Thingol?’ demanded Thingol.

‘My name is Morgwein,’ she said, ‘once of Tol Eressëa, though thither I shall not return.’

‘And how are these people accustomed, if not to follow a king?’

‘Each Elf is his or her own, save for the bonds of family,’ she said. ‘Our community exists only by common consent. We have elders who may act as ambassadors, but they do not have the power to sell our freedom, or to bind us otherwise.’

‘If thou wouldst reject the Light of the West for fear of bondage, only to sell thyself into the bondage of mortals, I will not prevent thee,’ said Thingol. ‘But thou shalt not sell these others along with thee.’

‘Indeed, she shall not,’ said Finrod. ‘Colonel, here is our request: this plane shall be returned to Tol Gwannol immediately, and those who wish to return to their homes shall be allowed to do so. Those who wish to be evacuated, you may then take whithersoever you will. Thence we will go to end the threat posed by your enemies to the Elves of Middle-earth. We would know whatever you do of their strength and positions.’

‘I will be happy to return those Elves who so wish to their homes, and evacuate the rest. But I cannot tell you what I know of the enemy. For one, it would be treason against my king and country to reveal that to a foreigner; for two, I cannot conscionably assist you in such a reckless mission. You are too few, even if you made an army of all the Elves you could find on Earth, and you will only be captured and meet some horrific fate.’

‘Nine were the Fellowship that brought down all the armies of Mordor,’ said Mithrandir, ‘and the greatest among them were of lesser stature than you.’

‘I have not heard of this country “Mordor”,’ said Ryan, ‘but while individual heroism might have won some ancient war, it will not serve today. Today all that matters is numbers—population, industrial production—which side can sustain the relentless slaughter longer. You were at the Somme, Maglor. You know this.’

‘I was, and I do,’ said Maglor, ‘but I did not learn it there. The Battle of the Somme was over in six months. Imagine that it had gone on unceasing for forty-two years, and you might have some faint idea of the last battle against our old Enemy, of whom the Dark Lord of Mordor was once but a servant. Yet even he was once laid low by a maiden and her mortal lover, who crept into his throne room to prise his greatest treasure from his crown while he slept. There is no army in Middle-earth that has not cause to fear us.’

‘I will tell you where to go,’ said the colonel, ‘only if I come with you. That way perhaps my court-martial shall be only for insubordination and extraordinary recklessness, and not for treason.’

‘If you come with us, worse things may befall you than a court-martial,’ said Finrod. ‘Elvish battles are no place for mortals.’

‘Don’t listen to him,’ said the young Noldo who had taken the gun from Finrod—in English, somewhat to Colonel Ryan’s shock. ‘The last time he went on a quest with a bunch of Elves and a mortal, the mortal was the only one who came back.’

‘I’m not even going to ask how he’s standing here, in that case,’ replied Ryan. ‘Regardless, I am going, whether or not I come back.’

‘Alright,’ said the young Elf. ‘Now give the order to turn this thing around before we hit Valinor.’