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a steady climb

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"I don't see why we brought them along," Maglor grumbles, and if he keeps his face like that for too long it will stick that way.

So Mamaí says.

"Because they are your brothers, like or not," Maedhros answers imperiously. It sounds (he hopes) like something that Athair would say. Not that Athair has had to say as much to Maedhros, for Maedhros does not complain about his brothers, not even when Curufin bites and the twins squall in equal, high-pitched outrage. Maedhros is ten, and he can balance a twin on each hip almost as well as Mother.

Maglor says they are heavy, and squashy, and often damp.

This is all true, but Maedhros doesn't mind it.

 

April is almost ending. Mother is still very tired, too tired to plant the garden as she always does, and so Maedhros and Maglor kneel beside Athair most days, burlap sacks spread under their knees so that they do not wallow in the mud. There has been much rain.

This morning, though, Athair has a commission to complete in his forge, and Maedhros is directed to mind the children until noon--all save Curufin, who naps in a basket in the outer foyer of the forge, with a gate to prevent him from toddling up to Athair's bench.

Curufin is a strange child, though Maedhros will not say so. At any rate, Maedhros is too busy with Celegorm and Caranthir, who have dripping noses and sticky hands whenever he turns around, and Maglor, who whines a bit when he does not get his way.

 

"Let us go up the hill, to the elf-grove," Maedhros proposed, over their breakfast of bread and jam. The elf-grove is nothing more than five glad-armed birch trees atop a grass-clad hill, but Athair once told a tale of graceful elves who danced under starlight, lifting their hands to the sky. The story was so unlike anything Maedhros ever read, even in the fairytale book, that he and Maglor resolved to remember it whenever they looked upon the silver-white trunks and branches.

Celegorm and Caranthir clapped their hands, and Maglor sighed, but now they are halfway up the hill and the little ones are whimpering.

"Snail," Caranthir pouts, his rosy face screwing up. He is still in dresses, since he is only four, and his hem is muddy. Sure enough, one chubby fist is slimed by an interloper with a curlicue shell.

Maedhros crouches down and flicks the snail away, then allows his sleeve to be stained, that Caranthir may wipe his hand upon it.

"Celegorm's gone," Maglor announces, sounding very bored for eight.

Maedhros stands straight and looks around. Sure enough, Celegorm has disappeared.

Celegorm has been a trial since the new year, when Mamaí put him in his first trousers and Athair cut off his curls. The latter duty always falls to Athair, because the clipping of the soft baby ringlets never fails to make Mamaí cry. She is very practical otherwise, and not always for the better--Maedhros and Maglor have grown resigned to having a bowl turned over their heads and the hair trimmed round the edge, which Athair says makes them look like little mushrooms. It is only the first occasion that moves her, and only the first occasion that interests Athair.

Athair calls it a rite of passage.

Maedhros remembers his turn, when he was nearly six. He had only been glad of how gentle Athair's hands were on his head, and surprised that the cold scissors did not hurt against his neck. They were much larger than needles, but nowhere near as cruel. He had not known to be sorry for the fallen red curls until he saw Mamaí disappearing behind her handkerchief.

 

"Celegorm!" Maedhros shouts, when what he wants to say, quite badly, is hang it all, as Athair did the other day. "Maglor, weren't you watching him?"

Maglor kicks at a knotted clump of grass, and mumbles something.

Maedhros was trained out of mumbling by having to speak with a thin wooden ruler held between his teeth. Maedhros doesn't want Maglor to have to do the same. Athair would say, enunciate, so that is what Maedhros says, too.

Maglor glares, and says, more clearly, "I didn't want him to come."

"Hang it all," Maedhros snaps. "Celegorm!"

Then Maglor starts to hiccup, which means that he is crying, and soon they are all shouting,

"Celegorm! Celegorm!" round and round.

Two Sundays from now, the twins will be christened. Maedhros and Maglor will stand up as godfathers, surely the youngest (Athair said proudly) that have ever been seen--and yet here they are, already falling short. Maglor does not care for a younger brother who is already much older, much safer than a baby, and Maedhros is not able to keep watch over him as he was bound to do.

And this means he shall have to ask--can he be enough? What will he do if it is little Amrod, and not bold Celegorm, who runs away?

"There's a bunny," Celegorm says softly, almost reverently, from just behind Maedhros. "A mother bunny."

Maedhros wants to shake him. He settles for hugging him so tightly that Celegorm yelps and squirms away.

 

The family of bunnies is examined and then left alone, and that makes Caranthir cry, so Maedhros carries him the rest of the way. When they reach the birches at last, Maedhros thinks he might cry himself. Caranthir is very heavy, and he snots on Maedhros's sleeve--but no. Maedhros is to be a godfather, and that is a heavy duty, and he cannot ever drop that weight.

He sets Caranthir down gently--and really, is Maedhros not strong from holding up the candlesticks at Mass, all since the time he was seven, before the twins were even born?--and smiles at the three of them.

Little ones. Sometimes even Maglor is a little one.

"Since we came all this way," he says bravely, "we should mark our place."

Then he takes out the shining pocketknife that Athair gave him, and carefully, so very carefully, he carves all of their initials into the smooth, clean bark of the slender birch.

M.N.M.F.

M.K.C.F.

C.T.F.F.

C.M.D.F.

 

"I am going to keep him safe, Mamaí," Maedhros whispers, rocking Amrod carefully in his arms. Amrod's eyelids are like closed flower-petals. "I don't want you to be wrong."

"Wrong?" Mother is nursing Amras in the big rocking chair. She says it is quite exhausting, nursing two babies at once, so sometimes she makes them take turns. They do not always like this, but Amrod is patient today.

Or maybe he likes his godfather.

"To have chose--chosen me."

"No, no, Maitimo." She shakes her head. "An angel for angels? I was not wrong."

 


 

When the knife slides into skin stretched taut and turns, he knows exactly what letter it makes.