“Do you believe it was wise to invite them?”
“I do nothing without good reason, Gandalf,” Saruman reproached. “I invited Maedhros only, although I should not be surprised that his brother came as well.”
“They rarely leave the north. I’m astonished they came at all. The first time the council convened they declined the invitation.”
Saruman snorted. “Their time is over. They are like an old, dark shadow which still hovers over the world and makes the rest cover unnecessarily.”
“Why did you call them then?”
“Truly, Gandalf, that you cannot guess!” Saruman’s voice was pleasant, but it was ruined by the derogative twist of his mouth. “They have fought longer against the enemy than any other on the council. Their knowledge is what we want.”
Gandalf didn’t look convinced, but this time he kept his silence.
Perhaps Saruman should have warned the other attendees of the White Council that he had invited the two remaining sons of Fëanor. The downside would of course have been that some might have refused to come at all. Elrond was already in the council chamber with Gandalf, Celeborn and Círdan when Maedhros entered, his brother following behind him. Elrond and Gandalf ceased their conversation while Círdan and Celeborn stared at the newcomer, the latter tense as if expected an attack.
Elrond was the first to move.
“Maedhros, Maglor.” The half-elf crossed the room towards them. “Welcome.” He and Maedhros clasped arms, on Maglor he bestowed a brief embrace.
The elder son of Fëanor was still impressive in his presence, tall, sharp-eyed and with a keen mind. But he was gaunt a fact which was hidden by well-cut clothes, but evident in too sharp cheekbones in his face. He wore a dark red cloak, black leather trousers and a long, red tunic. He had leather arm bracers on both wrists, one of which ended in a stump right behind the bracer while the other hand was covered in a black leather glove. Maglor wore similar gloves on both hands, and he was dressed nearly the same as his brother, only in shades of brown.
Neither bore weapons, those being forbidden during the council. It was a new rule but Saruman had been wise to implement it. The sons of Fëanor themselves posed no danger but they were tolerated only in few places.
Maedhros studied the others in the room, of which only Gandalf greeted him. Maedhros ignored the fact that the rest did not and took a seat at the table.
Glorfindel had evidently heard of the new arrival, for he strode into the room next and bore his gaze into Maedhros.
“Maedhros and Maglor Fëanorion I did not realize you would be here,” he remarked. He, like the rest of Middle-earth, had become accustomed to calling everyone by their Sindarin names.
“I was invited,” Maedhros merely replied.
“A fact we were not aware of,” Círdan put in. “Although Lord Elrond does not seem to be nearly as surprised.”
Elrond at least had the grace to look apologetic. “Maedhros told me in advance in a message.”
He left it unsaid that he was the only one in regular contact with the sons of Fëanor.
“I asked Maedhros to come,” Saruman said as he entered last behind Galadriel.
The lady hid her surprise at the brothers’ presence and nodded her greetings at them.
“Why?” Celeborn demanded.
“Because we need all the expertise we can get,” Saruman replied.
Gandalf nodded. “Especially in the face of this enemy.”
He and the others took their seats, Maglor to Maedhros left next to Elrond, Saruman at the head of the table.
“You called for this meeting, Gandalf. I suggest you tell the council why we are here.”
The grey wizard nodded. “I entered Dol Guldur in secret and discovered that we were wrong about the Necromancer’s identity. It is not one of his Ringwraiths, not even their chief, but Sauron himself who has settled in Mirkwood.” He paused to see the effect of his words.
Elrond, of course, had already been informed by him right after his return from Dol Guldur but for the others, this was news. Saruman’s expression darkened minutely, Galadriel, Celeborn and Círdan seemed surprised. But none of them were the type to express their emotions.
“I see that you do not look shocked,” Saruman commented to Maedhros.
The elder Fëanorion gave him a blank look. “I try to ensure that I am never surprised. I did not know with certainty but I, like others,” he nodded to Gandalf at that, “had my suspicions.”
“We must act, and we must act quickly,” Gandalf picked up again. “Our strength will never be greater than it is now, while Sauron’s is still growing. He does not have the One yet, but he is looking for it, and eventually he will find it if we are idle.”
“I disagree. I would call it wiser to wait and gather our strength,” Saruman argued. “For I believe not that the One will ever be found again in Middle-earth. Into Anduin it fell, and long ago, I deem, it was rolled to the Sea. There it shall lie until the end, when all this world is broken and the deeps are removed1.”
Círdan seemed to agree.
“It is sound council. We must watch the enemy and discover his plans before we go into battle in haste,” the shipwright said.
Elrond was not so easily reassured. Both he and Gandalf argued in favour of an attack, while Saruman placated them. The Fëanorions merely watched. As the day wore on, reaching a unanimous decision became less and less likely. At last, the council broke apart for lunch.
When Saruman asked Maedhros to stay behind, the older Fëanorion expected to finally hear why his presence had been requested.
“Would you like a drink?” Saruman offered, placing a cup of wine in front of the elf without waiting for a reply.
He was disappointed when Maedhros didn’t pick it up.
“To be honest, I was surprised you accepted my invitation,” the wizard began.
“Unlike what most elves may think, I am not ignorant of events in these lands.”
“If you wished to be ignorant of them, I doubt you would invest as much time and wealth into operating your network of spies.”
“I do not have spies,” Maedhros denied. “I have people who answer when I have questions.”
“You have people, or rather humans, who keep you abreast of every mouse living in Middle-earth. Do not attempt to fool me, son of Fëanor. You have considered the fate of the One Ring.”
“I considered that it may already have surfaced from Anduin, and if not yet, then soon.”
“You are your father’s son, who was the greatest smith of the elves, and your nephew Celebrimbor forged the rings of power. I heard that you visited him shortly before he was killed. Surely he told you what he knew of the One Ring.”
Saruman was beginning to show his weakness: arrogance. He should have known that Maedhros could see through his pretence of casual questions and would not respond well to being interrogated, not even in the most pleasant of tones.
“I saw him only briefly,” Maedhros replied laconically.
“Obviously I do not believe that it will be found but if it were found by someone other than Sauron: would they be able to use it?”
Maedhros narrowed his eyes at him. “No one can use the One. It will always betray its finder and strive to return to its master. Even thinking of controlling it is a dangerous game.”
Expressionlessly he watched as Saruman approached, coming to a stop next to the Fëanorion’s chair.
Looking down at him, the wizard said: “I believe in considering every option, however unlikely it may seem.”
“Of course.” Maedhros pushed back his chair and rose. “Have your servants bring lunch to my and Maglor’s room. We prefer eating in private.”
Saruman didn’t prevent him from leaving.
Elrond and Maglor were in the brothers’ chambers exchanging news and stories. Maglor wasn’t wearing his gloves so Maedhros assumed that Elrond had wanted to take a look at the scarring. He would probably be treated as well.
Before Maedhros could drop into a soft chair, Maglor relieved him of his cloak. It was terrible how exhausting he found councils these days. Elrond put a cup in front of him which Maedhros identified as Miruvor by its smell. It would be balm for his thirsting body but nevertheless he hesitated. He hated showing weakness.
“Drink, Maedhros,” the half-elf ordered softly.
The Fëanorion found himself complying, grasped the cup and lifted it to his mouth. His fingers felt clumsy and uncertain, and he was glad that the cup was only half full – otherwise he would likely have spilled some of the precious drink. As it was, he managed to take it all and put the cup down again with a loud clonk, but at least he didn’t drop it.
“May I see your hand?” Elrond enquired.
Maedhros sighed but nodded wordlessly. His former foster-son carefully removed both of his bracers and the glove on his left hand. Maedhros studied the damage revealed. It was even worse than his brother’s, and he had the disadvantage of his left hand being his only remaining hand. The scars covered the entire palm and had damaged his ability to feel in his fingers. Handling a sword had become even more arduous than after losing his right hand and was only conceivable at the utmost need, practice only advisable for brief periods. Even simple, everyday matters such as drinking, eating, dressing or washing had become difficult and exhausting.
He had had decades to get used to it but never come to like it. On his worst days the fact that he needed help was a disgrace he would not accept so he skipped meals and drinks. Maglor was the one he most trusted to care for him, but his brother had suffered damage to his right hand as well.
“Has it become better or worse at all?” Elrond asked.
Maedhros shook his head. “No.”
“I have come up with a new possible remedy which may help you. Maglor has already tested it, would you mind trying as well?”
The elder Fëanorion had no hope of it making any difference, but Elrond was one of the few – if not the only one – he would humour for the sake of it. Thus he shrugged and said: “Do it if it pleases you.”
The remedy was a cream, smelling more pleasantly than the last Elrond had tried, he noted, and the half-elf massaged it into Maedhros still hand with firm, even strokes. As he was finishing off, a servant knocked on the door with lunch.
His work done, Elrond rose. “Do you want me to stay?”
Maedhros waved him off. “Go have lunch with the others. You wouldn’t profit from sitting here with us. But come to me later after the council tonight. I need to speak to you.”
The rest of the day’s gathering went exactly as Maedhros had predicted. Saruman played down the danger of Sauron and the Ring, and Celeborn, Galadriel and Círdan let him. Maedhros had never gotten to know the shipwright or Galadriel’s husband well, but of his own cousin at least he had expected better.
He was watching Saruman closely, and to him it was evident that the wizard had his eyes on the Ring. He wanted to find it for himself and prevent any other from finding it before him. While Elrond leaned towards Gandalf’s position, he was not convincing enough. Maedhros himself did not argue in favour of an immediate attack either: he had not been asked to share his opinion, and the risk of him damaging Gandalf’s position rather than helping it was too large. At last, the council was postponed to another time which was not specified.
Elrond kept his word and sought out Maedhros in their rooms. Maglor was already packing up. They planned to stay the night out of necessity but were planning to leave early the next day.
“You must watch Saruman carefully. His loyalties lie with himself more than with the council,” Maedhros said bluntly.
“He’s our ally,” Elrond protested.
“Not for much longer, if he is now at all. He asked me about the One Ring. He wants to find it himself while convincing the rest of you that it is gone. If Sauron reveals himself, the Ring will seek him out. If he is driven away, it will stay hidden. That is why Saruman wants Sauron to stay in the Mirkwood for now and is not agreeing with Gandalf, which would be the right course to take.”
“Why didn’t you say that you agreed with Gandalf at the council?”
Maedhros chuckled humourlessly. “It would hinder rather than help.”
“Saruman came with Gandalf from the West. They are not called wise for nothing, and Saruman is the most powerful of them all,” Elrond insisted. “He would not do this to harm us.”
Maedhros only stared at him. “As if those from the Undying Lands had never been corrupted. Think of Sauron and Morgoth if you need an example.”
But he could see how difficult his accusations were for his foster son to accept. He shook his head and refused to say anything more. Words gone unheard were best left unspoken.
Yet the seed was sown, and that could not be undone. Elrond would not go to Saruman and reveal what Maedhros had told him. He would rather think of his words whenever he heard the wizard’s name and not long from now the picture would become clear in his mind as well. Maedhros could wait. And until the elven folk awoke to reality, the Fëanorion would utilise his resources, his ‘spies’ as Saruman had called them, and prepare.