Elrond sat in the Hall of Fire, his harp resting on his lap. The irony of the moment was not lost on him, for he had built this great hall as an indulgence to his musician's heart: a place where he might indulge his craft and hear from other masters. In the aftermath of Sauron's assault on Eregion it had seemed an impossible dream, but a dream worth striving for nonetheless.
When they had at last beaten Sauron back beyond the Anduin, Elrond had breathed a sigh of relief and turned his eye to his personal sanctum, filling it with loving depictions of Middle-earths most renowned artists, by its most renowned artists of every craft. Here hung tapestries of Fëanor, shirtless, pounding steel over the anvil in front of his forge; and Pengolodh stooped over his manuscripts; and Lúthien dancing in the moonlight; and Daeron singing to all the people. Behind his own chair stood a series of bronze statues which might be any musician with his pupil; to Elrond's mind the scene was himself sitting by Maglor's knee as he mastered his first chord-progressions.
Even now, Elrond smiled at the memory. At first he had hated Maglor as one of the despised kinslayers who had stolen his parents from him and near-razed the city of his childhood. But as the days lengthened into decades he had seen that Maglor was no monster. Both he and Maedhros had proved themselves to be the normal mix of vice and virtue that marked all Middle-earth.
Elrond found that it was quite against his nature to cling to old hatred. Much though he might want to, Elrond found that such efforts wore on him, so that he could not hold on to them long. He had cleaved to the Elf who had taken him in, and though he was wise enough never to fully trust the Sons of Fëanor, they became a family of sorts, after a time. Elrond knew he would never go hungry under their care, and Maglor had taught him to give shape to the songs swelling within him much as Elros had learned the swordsman's dance from Maedhros.
But Maglor was dead now, or close enough. Eärendil, his erstwhile father, was also forever separated from him. And Gil-Galad was dead, too – that loss tore at him worst of all.
Elrond remembered the sound of Gil-Galad's great spear falling to the battle-scorched earth, he remembered the smell of Gil-Galad's scorched flesh, and he wondered just then how he had not let the standard fall. A minor miracle, that! He had been so dismayed at his king's – his friend's – fall that for a moment he could see nothing but Gil-Galad's charred corpse. When at last he came back to himself he found that Gil-Galad's standard was still in his hands. He'd done that much right at least.
That evening so long ago, as he sat in his tent thinking of all that day had brought, he had thrummed his hand across his lap just as he did now. He had not had a harp at hand, for they had passed far into the heart of Mordor beyond all such small comforts, but Maglor had taught him long ago to practice his craft with or without an instrument. He had clung to the old habit, then, letting his fingers walk through the scales he had learned as a child. And he had longed to create something beautiful, as if that would push back the tide of ugliness clamoring all around him.
He remembered, too, the stories Maglor had told him in the days after the sack of Sirion. How Maglor had sat in the bowels of the Telerin ships as his family crossed the seas, his own harp sitting silently on his lap. Maglor had not taken up an instrument for long years after his Oath, he had once told Elrond. No, in the wake of Alqualondë Maglor had found himself unable to reduce his heart's turmoil to a pretty song. Elrond had never understood why, as a child. Now, he ran his fingers experimentally across the strings but found their sound struck him with a discordant twang. He winced at that sound. The instrument was perfectly tuned, he knew. The fault must be within him.
Small wonder, that. Deep within himself something felt off-kilter. Elrond knew that he had seen horrors on a par with Maglor's, and he might have been witness to the breaking of history's patterns. That knowledge grated on him. War had plagued Arda nigh since its making, ever since Tulkas had rushed into Time's circles and made battle while he laughed for the joy of it. Sitting comfortably in Imladris, Elrond thought how close he had come to breaking that cycle, and he felt ill at the thought. He had stood by in Mordor, he had begged Isildur to throw Sauron's ring into the fires of Orodruin, but ultimately he had stood by as Isildur claimed it as weregild. He had felt a great lament burst forth, a song that demanded to be sung.
He knew that he could not take the ring away from Isildur, not without making himself a murderer. Yet even then he had longed to seize the ring, to cast it away so that nothing of Sauron should survive to plague the new age. Maglor was dead, and Eärendil and Gil-galad even, and for all that Sauron still lived. He knew it in his heart, somehow, and he knew, too, the truth: things might have been otherwise. They could have been changed. He could have changed them. He might have talked him round to the right course, or pushed him into the flames so Orodruin devoured them both together. So easily! The malice of those lands had worked against them, and so Elrond had stood by, not sure what to do until it was too late.
Behind him, Elrond heard footsteps coming down the hall. Looking out the window, he saw that the sun hung low as the day faded away toward dusk. That would be Valandil. Isildur's youngest son often came to him at this hour, for the lad showed no small promise as a musician. Turning to face him, Elrond cocked his head back and beckoned Valandil to come sit with him beside the fire.
Once Valandil was situated beside him, his own small harp resting on his lap in a mimic of Elrond's, the boy looked up at Elrond. The peredhil was struck, then, by the gray eyes framed in dark locks that so reminded him of Elros's features in their youth. Of his own. He wondered, then, what Maglor had seen so long ago when Elrond had come to him for his lessons. Elrond had willed himself not to be reminded of Elendil who had died beside Gil-Galad, or of Isildur whose foolishness had made that death and all the others forfeit.
Had Maglor seen Elwing when he had looked on his own young charges, Elrond wondered? Had he thought first and most often of her fell dive from Sirion's cliffs, and how she had flown into the sunset with a Silmaril bound to her forehead, leaving her young sons to the Valar alone knew what fate? But no. Elrond would not think such things, and Valandil was more than his father's son.
"I find I am in no mood to play this afternoon," he said gently. "Or to hear your own song." Valandil's face fell, and Elrond smiled gently to him. "Oh, I am sure it is quite good! But I have sat for too long in the dark, alone, this afternoon. Any music would seem as clashing cymbals to me just now, no matter its quality."
Valandil nodded. "Should I go?" he asked.
"No," Elrond replied. "Not unless you wish to. This hall is made for story-telling. If you would stay, I would share a tale or two with you." Valandil nodded eagerly, laying his harp on the floor.
Elrond turned so he faced the statues behind him. Looking first at the student and then at its teacher, he found himself unsure where to begin. For he thought to tell the boy of Maglor's trip to Middle-earth and why his own harp had laid mute for so long; but how could he share such a story with a son of the Third Age? Yet if Middle-earth seemed doomed to repeat the circle of war, if peace was once again beyond his grasp, Elrond knew he must at least see that other circles repeated themselves as well. He must see that Maglor's legacy not only survived but was remembered into a new age.
"Tell me," he said after a moment. "When you look upon these statues, what do you see? Do they represent any musician in particular, to your eye?"