Newt surfaced from the biting chill of the Norwegian seawater drenched, dripping, and extremely disgruntled.
He was only investigating this tip because he was bored, really. He’d been lying low in a tiny fishing village on the lookout for the operatives of a magical creature smuggling ring, waiting for them to make a move and reveal their hideout. He was also categorically not supposed to be there. He had overheard one of Theseus’ conversations about the case with Baylard, his colleague, in which the location was mentioned, and decided to politely ignore his elder brother’s subsequent insistence that Newt was absolutely not to get himself involved. Despite years of fretting over Newt, Theseus was apparently yet to learn that that was practically an invitation.
There hadn’t been anything remotely in the realm of threatening yet though. The place was so small that it would be more suspicious if wizards didn’t interact with their muggle neighbours, so Newt had lurked in the village pub for a few evenings in the hope of hearing something. His observational skills had come in handy for identifying the wizards in the community. The tip of a wand peeking out of a pocket or a sleeve, the silver gleam of a Sickle mixed in with someone’s muggle money as they paid for their drink, even the instinctive hand movement unique to startled wizards, reaching for a wand and then pausing at the last moment as they remembered the watching muggles: clues like these had given him suspects, but he was unsure yet whether they were smugglers, undercover aurors or not involved at all. Other than that, there was little he could do until he had more information and he’d found himself at something of a loose end. The previous evening though, his tried and trusted tactic of shrinking into a corner and hoping others forgot he was there had failed him. Hence he had endured a very long and rambling conversation with a muggle fishmonger, desperately wishing for an escape from his interlocuter, who seemed oblivious to Newt’s discomfort. He had, however, slipped in a mildly interesting point about several villagers hearing otherworldly singing in an incomprehensible language coming from the coast. When Newt prodded him for more information, the fishmonger, slurring his words, insistently warned him off going after ‘the nøkken, who croons and plays his lyre and lures young fools like yerself to a watery grave’.
It had been too much to hope for that it would be selkies, or magical creature related in some other way. No colonies at all were documented in this region of the coast, there was not enough shelter and the waters were not easily habitable. Nevertheless, Newt, being Newt, had gone diving to investigate. And his search had turned up absolutely nothing. Hence he found himself shivering as his numerous Warming Charms and the Strengthening Solution he’d taken wore off, battered by fierce currents and inwardly grumbling at himself for being foolish enough to take a muggle’s account of what was probably a fisherman who’d had one too many for an indication of the presence of magical creatures. Wearily he shook the water from his ears and turned towards the shore. Then he stopped, barely remembering to tread water in his shock.
He’d found his singer.
He could only make out faint strains of the song over the lapping of the waves, but even that was enough to utterly amaze him. It was a lament, the aching cadence of the melody telling out its yearning and regret, and Newt felt tears spring to his eyes despite not understanding a single word of the singer’s language. And what a language it was: though his travelling had made him an able linguist, it was like nothing he had ever heard before. It was stately and regal, reminiscent of Latin almost, but with an elegant fluidity to it too: what a river of molten gold would sound like if it were put into words. It was coming from a human-shaped figure on the shore, and Newt very carefully adjusted his charms for underwater vision to a general Supersensory Charm. Since he was already beginning to wonder whether this singer might be a little more than human, amplifying the song probably wasn’t the safest thing to do, but even if it got him into a sticky situation, it would be all be in the interests of research- at least that was what he told himself. He was so far out that he wasn’t particularly worried about being noticed as he swum closer: it would be impossible to distinguish him from a seal at that distance.
Or so he thought, until the singer abruptly cut off mid-phrase and turned his head sharply to stare out towards him.
Maglor thought he had accepted that he didn’t deserve to hope four long ages ago.
The unexpected sight of a ginger head in the sea proved him wrong.
Because just for one, fleeting, glorious moment before rationality could kick in, a spark of optimism he believed long-dead woke up and cried he’s here! It’s Maedhros, he survived or came through Mandos, he’s coming back for you to take you home, you are not forsaken!
He let the hope consume him, steal the breath from his throat and cut him off mid-lament for the dead of the First Kinslaying, before he brutally crushed it.
It cannot be. How utterly foolish to even imagine that. Maedhros burned, and he dwells in Mandos still, if not the Void. None of us can be forgiven. We are utterly, irredeemably forsaken.
Aside from the impossibility of ever earning the Valar’s forgiveness, it was a ridiculous thought anyway. As if Maedhros could swim back from Valinor, and now he looked closer he could see that the hair was the wrong shade of ginger, a lighter tawny to Maedhros’ fiery red.
Perhaps our fates were never in our hands all along, he began to muse as he had many times over the past centuries. When we were younger, he was always praised for his fiery locks, and I for my eyes like a storm-tossed sea. Perhaps the flames were always waiting for him, as this long slow drowning in ages of loneliness was waiting for me.
No, you do not get to drown yourself in pity, Maglor Fëanorion, he told himself sternly. We chose, to swear our oath and to honour it with murder. If you are to drown yourself, it shall not be in self-pity, but in true regret.
He pulled himself from the well-trodden path of his meditations, and applied himself to the more immediate problem, which was the fact that the person in the sea couldn’t possibly be an elf, and therefore there was some crazy fool of a human in one of the most hostile parts of the Norwegian sea in the middle of winter.
And Maglor had a choice to make.
At the end of the First Age, as he knelt there on the shore which would become his prison for the following millennia, shaking with pain and fury and grief as the jewel he had killed for, lost a father and six brothers for, destroyed his soul for, sank under the waves, he had made another choice. He hadn’t sworn it, even to himself: the very thought of anything resembling an oath made him physically sick. But he had chosen not to follow his brother into the fire, because the families of those he had killed did not have the mercy of such a quick ending. They had to carry on, living immortal elvish lives, with the pain of the losses he had caused weighing heavy on their souls. If they were forced to live with their losses, then the truest repentance he could make would be to live with his, live with what he’d done, endure as they had been forced to. But he knew that his very existence caused dissent like an impurity fissuring the metal on a smith’s anvil. If he remained among his kin (did he even have the right to call them that anymore?), he risked being drawn into further conflict, either killed too quickly by someone with every right to vengeance, or worse, harming others again. He flung his sword after the Silmaril into the sea, weeping as his father’s last gift to him vanished for good, and made his choice.
He chose to endure, and to disappear. To never again be the cause of another death. To hide himself away from all society and to flee from contact with living beings, in order to spend the rest of his existence reliving the horror that was the First Age while the rest of the world moved on.
Now, four ages later, those same choices put him in a complicated position. If he had seen the man in any other circumstances, he would have fled and hoped that the human assumed he had imagined him. He didn’t look like he was in trouble, but Men simply did not have the strength to keep their bodies warm for long in such conditions- he wouldn’t have it in him to make it back to shore, Maglor was sure of that. There were no boats around either: how on earth the man had got himself out there in the first place was beyond Maglor. So, there was the dilemma. To run and hide himself and avoid all the complications that would come with revealing what he was; or to save a life because in some strange twist of fate, it looked like he was this man’s only chance.
And maybe, a unique chance for him, too: to finally do something with those Silmaril-scarred hands dripping with too much elvish blood that might save life rather than destroy it.
He flung off his cloak, dived into the sea, and made his choice.
As the mysterious singer grasped his arm and towed him back to shore, Newt’s mind was in overdrive, coming to several conclusions.
Firstly, that whoever the singer was, he wasn’t human. He had initially toyed with the idea that perhaps he was a wizard who had invented charms to enhance his voice, but then he had obviously seen further than even a Supersensory charm should permit and swum out to Newt with speed and grace so natural that it couldn’t possibly be the result of spells or potions.
Secondly, that his profile didn’t match any of the part-human or humanoid magical creatures Newt knew. Once the man (or not) had got close enough for Newt to identify features, he had taken in the wild, tangled, waist-length black hair, fanning out behind him in the water; the elegantly pointed ears; the chiselled, though somewhat gaunt, facial features; the tall, spindly frame; and the strange sickled shape of the hands, at odds with how the rest of him seemed to simply exude grace. He had rattled through all the options quickly: he couldn’t be a true-selkie, since they were notoriously poor in water without their skins. Veela had seemed most likely with that enchanting voice, but the hair colouring would already make him an extremely rare specimen, and the speed was far beyond anything a Veela could accomplish. All the other options were quickly rejected, which led Newt to the breathtaking conclusion that he was looking at something completely new to him. And since this was about magical creatures, if Newt hadn’t known about them before, then neither had the rest of the wizarding world. He might be on the brink of the discovery of his lifetime.
Thirdly, his newest discovery was in the process of taking him prisoner.
Newt was not particularly panicked about this. As long as it was a creature capturing him, and not any type of wizarding authority, the outcome was likely to be a unique observation opportunity rather than tedious annoyances and being berated by Theseus. He theorised that perhaps he had inadvertently invaded the creature’s territory in coming to this little-frequented patch of seashore. Hopefully all it would take would be proof that he wasn’t a threat in order to avoid any unpleasantness. Not having any prior knowledge about the etiquette of these creatures (now there was a thought- were there others?) might make things difficult, but Newt was good at making himself look harmless when necessary, so he couldn’t imagine that would be too much of a problem. He began by submitting to the strange being’s grip, letting himself go limp and be pulled back to shore by his amazingly strong captor. Newt had prepared himself enough for his dive with charms and potions that he would have been able to make it back to shore on his own (he did have some sense of self-preservation, whatever Tina might say), but it would still have been exhausting. At the very least, he thought with a kind of manic delight, he could enjoy the free ride.
Once they got to the shallows his captor stood up and effortlessly plucked Newt out of the water and into a bridal-style hold. He couldn’t help a startled yelp at the sudden rush of movement, but he forced himself to relax and not put up any resistance. It wasn’t a particularly constrictive hold, he noticed with confusion, his captor wasn’t restraining his arms at all and he could easily wriggle away if he wanted to. Perhaps the creature was simply confident that he could recapture his prisoner if that happened: with the speed and strength that he had displayed so far, that confidence would be well-placed. Hearing Newt’s cry, the creature frowned, made some shushing noises and murmured something vaguely apologetic-sounding in his language. Well, Newt thought, if I’m to be kidnapped, at least it’s by someone well-mannered enough to apologise for it. He didn’t get time to ponder that further, because his captor tightened his hold a little and took off running. Even in his admittedly precarious situation, Newt was growing more and more impressed. This slight being didn’t seem strained at all even as he sprinted through the breakers and then across sandy terrain whilst carrying a grown man, and hardly jolting him at that. Newt was shivering a little, but his charms had done their job and he was in no real danger from it. (He knew how to identify the onset of hypothermia. Yeti research in Tibet, a series of unfortunate events and then a miraculous rescue by a wizarding hermit meant that he knew all too well what it felt like and had no desire to repeat the experience. But that’s another story.) His wet shirt and trousers clung uncomfortably to his skin though, and he was desperate to cast a drying charm, but drawing his wand would most certainly be perceived as aggression, so that was out.
They darted behind an outcropping of rock into a very well-concealed sheltered space, and Newt found himself being set down with surprising gentleness to sit with his back against the rock wall. His captor picked up an armful of heavy material, which Newt had thought was probably inevitable, and in an attempt to demonstrate his compliance he held his wrists out together in front of him. His captor crouched, material in one hand, and as Newt was doing his best to keep his eyes downcast and unchallenging, he missed just how horrified his captor looked when he saw what Newt was doing. Two gnarled, long-fingered hands held awkwardly flat against each other came between his own and used their backs to return his arms firmly but gently to his sides. As they did so, Newt sucked in a breath, and completely forgetting himself for a moment, caught the retreating right wrist and turned the hand palm up to study it.
They were without a doubt the worst burn scars he’d ever seen. The entire hand from palm to fingertips was one huge blistered mass, and with that many layers of callous there shouldn’t even be bloodflow to the upper dermis, and yet the surface was inflamed and irritated in several places. It was a miracle the creature could even bend his fingers at all, and Newt didn’t want to think about how much grasping his arm earlier must have hurt. They were certainly not caused by ordinary flames and bore all the hallmarks of curse damage, with grey and black veins snaking through the wounded flesh and certain patches which looked almost like crumbling ash.
He absorbed all this in a single glance, because the creature snatched his hand away immediately and Newt suddenly remembered the position he was in and how grabbing his captor’s hand might be misconstrued as an act of aggression. He lifted his hands and bowed his head, hoping to make up for it, and even though he held out little hope of the creature speaking a human language he tried to explain himself, basically in Norwegian and then with more complexity in English, in the hope that his apologetic and concerned tone would do most of the work.
“Sorry, my friend, that was terribly rude of me. I was just worried about you, that’s all. What in Merlin’s name happened to you? I might be able to help, if you’ll let me. I didn’t mean to invade your territory, that was entirely accidental and I’m sorry for that, too. Would you let me heal you to make up for it?”
He risked a glance up and saw that his new friend was holding both hands close to his chest, a look of deep sadness, resignation and shame on his gaunt features. He shook his head and said something in his language, which sounded like an apology again, only this time with a far more melancholy tone than the first.
They didn’t have any linguistic common ground then, unsurprisingly- although Newt had already resolved to learn that gorgeous otherworldly language at the earliest opportunity. His captor was looking so mournful that Newt gave him a small reassuring smile, making sure not to show any teeth, and said,
“Don’t worry about the language. I’m sure we’ll muddle it out together somehow.”
His captor gave him a very tiny, very tentative smile back, then his gaze fell on the discarded mantle, he looped it over one wrist, then guided Newt to lean forward with the heel of his other hand. Newt sighed and moved his hands behind him, thinking the increased restraint should serve him right for being grabby when the trust wasn’t there yet. But the expected bond around his wrists didn’t come, and instead the heavy cloak was wrapped around him comfortingly. He blinked in surprise and had barely processed this change in circumstances before the back of the right hand was gently investigating his face and the fingertips of the left were at his neck taking a pulse. And then it clicked.
Newt burst out laughing.
His captor, no, his would-be rescuer, looked positively alarmed by this and started frantically checking for fever again, so Newt quickly calmed himself and tried to make his smile grateful and reassuring rather than manically delighted.
“Thank you, thank you so much, but really, I’m fine,” he explained somewhat redundantly. “Wizards have charms and things that help us survive conditions like that, you see, though if I was muggle you would quite probably have saved my life.”
His heroically-intentioned friend regarded at him with confusion, looked at his left hand as though it were a malfunctioning tool (it had similar burns to the right, Newt noted, but less severe), shook it out and took Newt’s pulse again. Newt let him do it, aware that demonstrating his good health would be easier than trying to explain it. The creature pulled away, a puzzled frown deepening on the harsh lines of his face.
“I really am perfectly alright,” Newt said in the gentlest tone he could manage, nodding and smiling a little to emphasise his point. Then, inspiration striking, he inclined his head in an obvious bow, hoping that the gesture was universal enough to make sense, and said emphatically,
“Thank you, friend.”
His rescuer’s expression cleared a little, although the furrow between his brows and the slight shake of his head testified to his continued confusion about why Newt wasn’t dying of hypothermia. He patted Newt’s shoulder lightly with the back of his hand and then turned around to extract some firewood from a cleverly concealed cache in the rock. While he was occupied in building up the twigs, Newt slipped out his wand and wordlessly cast a drying and a warming charm on himself, exhaling in relief as his mild shivering finally stopped. The creature began to clumsily grapple with a flint, which must have been agony on his hands. Newt decided it was time to clear some things up. He rose and the creature turned to him in alarm, exclaiming in his language when he saw that Newt’s clothes had miraculously dried.
“Hey, don’t be scared, it’s alright,” he murmured, crouching down by the unlit fire. “I just want to help.” He pointed towards himself and clearly enunciated “wizard.” Then with a muttered incendio, he lit the fire with his wand. He turned to his new friend, expecting awe, agitation, maybe even a little fear.
He was not prepared for the terrible cry of despair when the creature prostrated himself at Newt’s feet.
Maglor couldn’t believe how horrifyingly badly he had misread the situation.
His instinctive reaction had been closer than he’d dared dream and more terrible than his worst nightmare. Because it seemed that someone had, in fact, come back from Valinor for him. He’d only been wrong about who.
He had wondered, sometimes, in his years of solitude, whether the Valar were still watching him. Sometimes he thought that after his theft and subsequent rejection of the Silmaril they could no longer bear to look upon him, and Vaïre had left his thread in the tapestry of fate hanging, incomplete. It often felt like that, like he was eternally doomed to this limbo, and he thought it fitting, when he had been the instrument that cut so many other threads short. At other times he thought that they were watching him carefully- he was ever in Ulmo’s gaze, after all- and that at the slightest sign of complacency or pride or greed from him, they would decide that he could no longer be responsible for his own penance and cast him out into the Void with the thrice-cursed murderer of his father.
And now one of the Maiar stood before him in the guise of a hapless human, and the latter had been proven true. They had decided that he had repented at the scene of his crimes long enough and now the yawning abyss of the Void awaited him. And he had sealed his fate with those stupid heroics, towing one of the most powerful beings to walk Middle Earth behind him like a water-shy child. He had completed his catalogue of sins with one last spectacular blasphemy.
He had dared to believe that he could do something good.
The Maia was speaking in that unfamiliar tongue, but that was understandable: the will of the Valar, and not his comprehension of it, was the important thing. He must only demonstrate that he had learned the consequences of his rebellion. He swallowed around the lump in his throat and managed to choke out,
“I submit myself to the judgement of the Valar,” he felt the tears start, “five ages too late.”
It wouldn’t spare him the Void, but at least they would know that he had not resisted them all the way. He had come to his senses, in the end. Perhaps they would remember that.
He waited, the rocky ground cutting into his damaged palms like a preliminary sentence to remind him of his crimes. Terror bled into every part of his being, cold sinking into his bones until he feared that his punishment may be to become a statue, lying prone in penitence, a warning to any who might stumble upon his frozen body. He longed to call out for someone, anyone, to help him, but when even he himself acknowledged that this was a just punishment, there was nothing that could be done. So he stayed silent. Waiting.
Hands were sliding under his shoulders, and this was it, it was time, and he gathered the remaining scraps of his courage into a tight knot at his heart. The hands were gentler than he expected and they were encouraging him back up into a seated position. He found himself staring at the freckled face of the human form this Maia had chosen, briefly wondering why they hadn’t gone for something more imposing. Only briefly, because he knew the answer: loneliness and regret and guilt had already broken him in the places where a show of force never could. But it was strange: the Maia looked concerned, worried. Why? He wasn’t resisting. He would go willingly. What was there to be concerned about? The Maia reached across to him, still talking in a low, soothing hum, and wiped away his tears with a thumb.
The situation was rapidly spiralling beyond Maglor’s understanding. Why wipe the tears of the sinner you’re about to send into the Void as punishment? There was no sense in it. Maglor decided to speak his mind: it was probably his last chance and disrespect was hardly the worst of his offences.
“Please, O Blessed Agent of the Valar, if you are to condemn me, I am ready.”
The Maia’s face creased in what looked like genuine confusion. That was odd. Not allowing Maglor to hear another speak his mother tongue before he was condemned, that made sense, but pretending not to understand it? He could just deny Maglor’s request, he had the power to do that. Something wasn’t right, and Maglor finally got a handle on his panic, took a few deep breaths and started to process logically. When he had met disguised Maiar before, they had never seemed quite ordinary. There was always the sense that there was more to them than met the eye, even if they resembled a young elleth or an old human. With this one though, Maglor hadn’t felt that at all, and had only started to suspect he wasn’t what he seemed when he witnessed his unusual resilience to the icy waters and his speaking of a word of power. Even now, studying his face carefully, Maglor would not have believed this human could command the elements had he not seen it with his own eyes. The Maia (maybe?) seemed to sense his scrutiny and sat back on his heels, allowing Maglor’s gaze to rake over him. That didn’t seem compatible with the behaviour of a Valar-sent executioner either. Then Maglor remembered the word the stranger had spoken before lighting the fire; he had glossed over it earlier in his panic.
“Wi-ssart,” he said slowly, the syllables unfamiliar on his tongue. The Maia (more and more doubtful) nodded enthusiastically and indicated himself.
“Wizard,” he agreed cheerfully.
“Wissard- Maia?” he asked, his heart pounding.
“Mayer?” the probably not-Maia responded, mispronouncing the word and making the question mark audible. Maglor studied him for a few more moments before concluding that there was no way even an all-powerful being from the dawn of time could feign complete puzzlement and make it look that convincing. He exhaled heavily in relief, shaking his head, before applying himself to the most pertinent question raised by that conclusion. The latter being, ‘who, in the name of all the stars in Lady Elbereth’s firmament, gave the powers of the Maiar to humans and thought that was a good idea?’
It only made sense that there had been some developments during Maglor’s extended seclusion from society. But this was beyond anything he could have imagined. He had a vague idea of Middle Earth’s history until the sailing of the elves, because of Círdan’s uncanny ability to know when a shadowy figure was hiding in the dunes near the Grey Havens and would appreciate a monologue detailing the most important happenings of the last few centuries. There had even been some very pointed hints the last time Maglor had heard one of those, at the end of the Fourth Age, about how Círdan was sailing and everybody from the Old World was leaving the humans to make of Middle Earth what they would. It had been strongly suggested that even those with the most tainted pasts should sail and be healed, but Círdan was too forgiving in nature. There would be no healing for a Kinslayer.
He had taken the part about not bothering the humans to heart though, and thus for the entire Fifth Age until now, he had fled from the sound of any voice but his own, raised in lament. Humans were gradually taking over more and more of the remaining untamed spaces on the coast, so it was getting more difficult, but Maglor was good at hiding: he’d had a lot of practice.
Círdan had never said anything about humans learning elemental magic, hence Maglor’s assumption that his ‘wissard’, if that’s what they’re calling it now, must be a Maia. Now it seemed that Maglor had unintentionally got himself involved in something far bigger than himself and his guilt. Elbereth only knew what he was up to in a perilous sea in the coldest part of the year, but it was now becoming clear that the human mage (what a strange concept) had not been seeking Maglor out at all. And then Maglor just had to interfere and try to be the knight in shining armour, ‘rescuing’ him when he was more than powerful enough on his own. How foolish of him. Long ago, Maglor’s choices had cast him decisively as the villain; to dream of fitting into another role now was absurd.
The wizard had been kind, playing along and indulging Maglor in his rescue efforts; actually no, he had clearly believed he was being kidnapped, initially, another clue that he wasn’t a Maia which would have been obvious had Maglor only been thinking rationally. He hadn’t resisted at all, though, and had fretted over the atrocious state of Maglor’s hands despite believing himself his prisoner. Even now that expression of genuine concern was etched all too clearly across his face. It pierced Maglor’s heart.
The last person who had looked at him like that was Maedhros.
It left him in a quandary about what to do. He clearly couldn’t accept the compassionate attentions this wizard wanted to bestow on him, but the language barrier left him incapable of explaining why. It felt rude to simply abandon him (it wouldn’t be the first time, his conscience pointed out, sending his thoughts in the uncomfortable direction of Elrond and Elros), but then again the wizard was clearly unharmed by his little jaunt in the ocean, and if he left now Maglor could just become a strange story for him to regale his family with. It would be better for all concerned that way.
With a start, he realised that the wizard had been trying to get his attention and was tapping him worriedly on the upper arm. He turned back to him and bowed his head in apology. The wizard smiled and indicated himself.
“Newt,” he said clearly, then pointed to Maglor, raising his eyebrows in inquiry. He was inviting Maglor in, giving him a glimpse of something beautiful, something he had relinquished all right to when he had sworn the oath and followed what it dictated: a chance to interact with another person free from the shadow of his deeds. He could not accept that, even though there was a tiny traitorous part of him that yearned to do so more than anything else in the world. His throat tight, he slowly shook his head, rose to his feet, skirted the fire and ran, trying and failing to close his ears to the calls of this ‘Newt’, which he knew despite not understanding the language were urging him to wait. The sorcerer could try to follow: perhaps he could command a palantír, who knew what else the Secondborn had turned their hand to? Or perhaps he could conjure spirits to track Maglor down. Nevertheless, he would try his hardest to successfully evade him. If he couldn’t be found easily, Newt would soon give up. Maglor knew how to disappear until all that remained of him was a legend with no ending.
After all, it wouldn’t be the first time.