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Gathering Clouds

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They had ridden through the night, and by the time they reached the gates of Eregion, their horses were exhausted. The elves at the gates to the city scrutinized them, but in Maedhros’ opinion, not closely enough. The brothers were not even asked to remove their hoods, and the guards were only interested in the men’s origins, but not in the elves. True, their garb and weapons were Elvish, but they could have been anyone.

“If this is how they check all who enter,” Maedhros groused once they were through, “it is no surprise that evil came here of all places.”

“I’m surprised that they are not more careful now,” Maglor put in. “They will regret their negligence ere long.”

Maedhros agreed silently. The brothers had become good at predicting doom. Although in this case it was hardly a great feat. For the first time in more than a millennia, Sauron had revealed himself again, and it was only a matter of time until open war was upon them all.

Six guards had accompanied the brothers to Eregion, humans with dark eyes and long hair who stood tall and strong. Inside the city, Maedhros dismissed them. They were only planning to stay the night; the men would find an inn better suited for their needs than Celebrimbor’s home.

Eregion was a beautiful city. Many houses were constructed of white stone, something the elves no doubt owed to the dwarves of Khazad-dûm. Everywhere they looked, proud smiths displayed artfully wrought iron work, one piece more intricate than the next. Often the craftsman had included the symbol of his family or another image the artist thought fitting.

Maedhros expressionlessly noted that while the door to Celebrimbor’s house did show the star of their house, the greater symbol was one which proclaimed that his nephew was head of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, the People of the Jewel-smiths, the most revered guild of all in Eregion.

Like their father and their brother Curufin, Celebrimbor had always enjoyed luxury. His house reflected that. It was considered to be the most magnificent in the city, and Maedhros knew for a fact that Celebrimbor and his dwarven friend Narvi had worked for years to complete it.

Maglor knocked on the door loudly. It didn’t take long until a servant opened. Only now did the brothers lift the hoods of their cloaks.

“Tell my nephew that Nelyafinwë and Makalaurë Fëanorion have come to speak to him,” Maedhros said.

The servant nearly jerked back, but nodded. He gestured for them to come inside.

“Your Highnesses, if you would step inside.”

They made no move to do so.

“Our horses?” Maglor inquired.

The elf flushed. “Of course, Sirs.”

He slipped past them and called towards the adjacent stables. A young elf appeared, most likely a stable boy. The servant pointed to the brothers’ horses and ordered:

“Take good care of them.”

He turned to Maedhros and Maglor with a hopeful look that he had not forgotten anything this time around in his unusual nervousness, and the two wordlessly walked into the house. The servant showed them into what looked like it might have been Celebrimbor’s library if it had contained more books and scrolls. Their nephew had always been more interested in the forge than the library, and it was a sign of status more than personal interest.

Soon, Celebrimbor appeared in the door. He masked it well, but the brothers could still see how nervous he was; relief and annoyance at his uncles’ presence warred in him.

He embraced them stiffly.

“Nelyafinwë and Makalaurë, I’m glad to see you well,” he said. “Would you like something to drink or to eat?”

“We would appreciate it, thank you, Celebrimbor,” Maglor replied.

The smith seemed nearly glad to escape them for a moment, and went outside to give orders. On his return, he took a seat across from his uncles.

“It was dangerous of you to come here,” he noted.

Maedhros snorted. “It has not even become truly dangerous yet. We have guards, if you are worried, nephew.” He gave him a hard look. “If I were you, I would be more worried about myself and my people. What measures have you taken?”

Celebrimbor bristled. “Don’t patronize me, uncle!”

The older Fëanorion did not react, only kept his gaze steady on his nephew until Celebrimbor gave in.

“We have drafted everyone of age and ability. We have been raising an army to our best abilities, as Sauron is bound to come for us sooner or later. He is angry.”

“How do you know?”

Celebrimbor swallowed. “I felt him,” he admitted.

Maglor raised his head. “How?” he demanded.

The younger elf leant forward, but just then the servant from earlier entered and brought food and drink. Once he had served the small snack, he left again. Celebrimbor waited a moment as if to ensure that they were not being overheard, then asked:

“I assume you know that Sauron came to us under the guise of another name, that he called himself ‘Annatar’?”

Maedhros made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “He went to all elven realms, and to the humans, too. Only to our fortress did he not come.” He flashed his teeth. “Would that he had. Elrond and Gil-galad did not allow him to enter Lindon, as I’m sure you know. For good reason, too. Why in the Valar’s name did that not make you question him, nephew? Of you of all people I would have expected more sense!”

Irritation nearly made Celebrimbor flare up. Did his uncle think he had not questioned himself enough since Sauron had revealed himself?

“Thank you very much, uncle, but it is too late now! Do you wish me to tell the story or have you already passed judgment?”

“Tell us everything,” Maglor spoke up, trying to calm the other elves’ tempers.

Celebrimbor relaxed slightly and nodded.

“He taught us many skills in how to forge metals. He offered to teach us how to make things of power, and we agreed. With his aid we forged rings of power, sixteen in all. We wore the rings when, suddenly, we noted the power turning against us, and another mind trying to enter ours. We recognized then who Annatar was and threw them away. That was when I felt him grow angry; he had not expected us to be strong enough to resist. He sent messages then, demanding that we turn these rings over since we could not have made them without his counsel. We refused, and since then we have been preparing for war.”

“How long ago did you perceive his intentions?” Maglor asked.

Celebrimbor shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “About three years ago,” he admitted.

Maedhros gaped, then abruptly shut his mouth when he realized it and ground his teeth instead.

“Three years ago,” Maedhros repeated. “And why then did word not reach any of the other realms sooner? High King Gil-galad and everyone else should have been informed immediately!”

“We thought that perhaps if we prepared quietly and struck quickly we might be able to surprise him-“

“-and you were ashamed,” Maglor put in.

Celebrimbor sighed. “That too. But then we realized that he was already gathering his army and that we had to inform the other realms. Believe me, I wasn’t the only one to make this decision-“

“Be silent,” Maedhros interrupted. “I don’t want to hear it. Too many things have gone wrong; things which should never have happened. But they are done, and now you must deal with the consequences. The guards at your gates are neglectful, to say the least. They did not even look at us. How strong is your army?”

“We have about four thousand warriors, most of them archers. Gil-galad is raising an army as well, and has promised to come to our aid if there is need, but he needs to keep his own lands safe.”

“You should ask him to send what men he can spare right away. Sauron will come at Eregion particularly hard,” Maedhros advised.

“Did you truly come all the way here to tell me how to defend my city?” Celebrimbor glared at his uncle.

“Sauron was bound to wage war against us,” Maglor said, once again trying to diffuse a heated argument before it could begin. “But I am surprised that he seems so fixated on those rings. What exactly were they intended to do?”

“Essentially they are meant to grant the wielder power over their land. The rings were supposed to work similarly to the Girdle of Melian, enabling the wielder to keep enemies out and ensure safety and stability inside its boundaries.”

“And instead Sauron can control the ring bearer’s mind?”

“Or at least heavily influence him, yes. We did not wait too long to find out. He must be wearing a ring of his own which he made himself, one which is superior to ours and which he uses to control the rings he made with us.”

“It is a cunning design,” Maedhros mused. “If he cannot control your minds, then he can at least take the rings and give them to others whose minds are more easily taken advantage of. No, Sauron would not give up those rings for anything.”

“There are more rings,” Celebrimbor ventured. “Three which I made myself without Annatar’s involvement. But he knows that they exist, and he knows that they are the most powerful of them all. They can postpone the elves’ weariness of the world even. I sent them away in secret.”

The two brothers acknowledged that, but did not ask where Celebrimbor had sent them.

Maglor leant forward in his chair. “Will you not let us help you, nephew?” he implored.

But Celebrimbor shook his head stubbornly. “You have no strength yourselves, what can you possibly do for us?”

He did not elaborate, but Maedhros and Maglor could not miss the intent behind his words nevertheless: they were not welcome.

The rest of the day was no less tense. Maedhros and Maglor quickly realized that it was useless to try and persuade Celebrimbor. He and his fellow guild members had already worked out a plan, and they would go through with it, whether for good or ill.

A mere glance was enough for the brothers to agree that this would likely be their last meeting with Celebrimbor on these shores. It pained them to see, but they were helpless to do anything as long as their nephew was unwilling to listen to them. Celebrimbor had truly broken all ties with his family.

Brooding and silent they made their way back home the following day. They, too, needed to prepare for a possible attack from Sauron, who, no doubt, had not forgotten them either.

Maglor knew how frustrating it was for Maedhros to be unable to act. Their resources were terribly limited, but especially now as Sauron gathered his power, they knew best how important it was to bring everyone in Middle-earth together – not unlike the alliance Maedhros had arranged before the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, but this time without repeating their terrible defeat. But it lay beyond his abilities, and it seemed that neither Celebrimbor nor any other man or elf was making an effort to create such an alliance.

Coming home was a relief. The fortress had only stood there for about five hundred years, but Maglor and Maedhros had done their best to make it theirs. When they had taken it into their possession, it had been an old ruin left behind by mankind during some war. Maedhros had hired a wandering band of dwarves to repair and extend it, and they had done it all to his utmost satisfaction.

It stood on a hill overlooking the countryside while behind the fortress the Blue Mountains rose to imposing heights. It was enclosed by thick walls which could repel any enemy while the inhabitants could make a stand behind it. Most of their followers lived outside those walls in wooden huts or stone houses. The fortress was relatively small compared to what humans built these days, but it was enough for Maedhros and Maglor. They did not require much space and much preferred privacy. A large residence required many servants, a fact which they had consciously avoided. Compared to Eregion it was nearly gloomy, the stonework dark grey and functional rather than decorative.

They had a steward to take care of the house, an elf who had been with Maedhros since Valinor and returned to them after they had settled. Himedhel he called himself in the tongue of the Sindar, and he was the one the brothers trusted above all. In their absence, he was the one to handle all affairs.

He awaited them in the courtyard when they rode in, having already seen and recognized them from afar.

“Sirs, you have a visitor,” he announced without preamble.

Maedhros’ eyebrows rose. He had not expected anyone, and if it was one they did not know, Himedhel would have taken care of them himself.

They jumped off their steeds.

“Who is it?” Maedhros asked.

“Lord Elrond.”

For a moment, both brothers stood as if frozen. Then nothing could have held them back. They strode into the fortress, with Himedhel following them.

“He awaits you in Prince Maedhros’ study,” he informed them without needing prompting.

Maedhros’ and Maglor’s cloaks and trousers were still dirty from the road, but they did not pay it any heed. Himedhel did, but he kept his disapproving frown to himself.

Maglor was the first to burst through the door into the study. Elrond stood by the window overlooking the mountains and he turned when they entered.

“Elrond,” Maglor gasped, as if he could hardly believe that the half-elf was in fact here.

The singer stood as if rooted to the ground, yet he raised his arms, then lowered them again, uncertain as to how he was permitted to greet his former foster-son. They had not seen him since they had sent Elrond and his brother to Ereinion Gil-galad more than 1600 years ago. Not even a message had passed between them since then.

Maedhros kept back as well. He masked his emotions better than his brother, but he, too, was overwhelmed.

Elrond resolved the situation by approaching Maglor and, after a slight hesitation, embraced him.

“Ada,” he greeted him.

Maglor slung his arms around the smaller elf. Elrond had grown, yes, but he had not reached Maglor’s height, and naturally missed Maedhros’ height by even more. No matter what anyone in Middle-earth might have said, Maglor and the half-elven brothers had grown to love each other as any blood-related parent and child did, and the young sons of Eärendil had called him father until their parting.

Maedhros had meant to keep out of the education of the twins, and done nothing to encourage affection towards him – which was not to say that he had been cruel to them; he cared for them in his own way, and he had had plenty of practice with six younger brothers in Valinor, yet he had still often felt out of his depth. The years of the First Age, especially those after the Nírnaeth, had made him bitter and only the oath had kept him going.

But in their innocence the half-elven brothers had kept approaching Maedhros when Maglor was not available, and later, when they took up sword training, they had deliberately chosen the eldest son of Fëanor. All the while Maglor had taught them in music, lessons which had been nearly in vain in Elrond’s case, achieving little but teaching Elrond an appreciation for music; Elros, on the other hand, had been quite good at it. Only later, when the brothers had made their choices and one chose the elves but the other mankind, were people surprised to hear this.

Maglor would have embraced Elrond for much longer, but the half-elf retreated to greet Maedhros. Tears stood in the singer’s eyes while Elrond and Maedhros grasped each other’s arms in a warrior’s greeting followed by a shorter, but no less heartfelt and strong embrace.

“It’s good to see you, penneth,” Maedhros said in a low voice above Elrond’s head.

The half-elf pulled back and nodded. He seemed embarrassed, most likely for not contacting his foster-fathers much earlier, or for not sending a message at very least prior to his visit.

Maedhros shook his head.

“Don’t look like that, Elrond. You did what was best, and we will never hold that against you.”

“Thank you,” the half-elf replied. He studied them both closely. His eyes might not have been as sharp as a full-blooded elf’s, but he had always been a good observer.

“You’ve only just come home. Why don’t you clean up, while I and Himedhel prepare some food. We have more than enough time to talk then.”

“You’re not leaving?” Maglor asked, voice anxious but hopeful.

Elrond gave him a gentle smile. “No. Not today, and not tomorrow at least.”

Maedhros struggled to hold his fork steady, eating slowly to hide his discomfort. He was proud, too proud, as Maglor frequently told him. Elrond and his brother were in deep conversation, but Maedhros did not presume that the half-elf was blind to him.

Maglor threw him a worried look. Elrond, naturally, caught it and looked at Maedhros.

“Is the food not to your liking?” He inquired.

“No, it is. It’s good,” Maedhros replied. He knew himself how much the statement was belied by his irritated frown. “I have trouble with my hand,” he admitted.

Elrond promptly rose from his seat and walked over to stand next to him.

“Show me,” he demanded, leaning down. His reputation as a healer had already reached nearly all corners of Middle-earth, thus making elaborating unnecessary.

Maedhros wore a black glove as he did most of the time. Biting down on the tip of the glove on one finger he pulled his hand out and dropped the glove on the table.

Elrond tried to disguise his shock, but the breath he drew in was audible to Maedhros nevertheless. The redhead’s entire palm was covered in thick scarring, making the skin feel too tight, his fingers too stiff and often causing his hand to cramp.

“The Silmaril,” Elrond realized. He looked back to Maglor, who had stripped off his gloves, too, and now showed off his own scars to the half-elf.

“Adar,” Elrond sighed and shook his head. “Why did you not-“

He broke off with another shaking of his head. Why had they not sought help, why had they not contacted him when they must have heard how good a healer he had become? The answer would be the same: they knew that they were unwanted, or assumed so.

“I’m sorry,” the half-elf apologized.

“It’s not your fault,” Maglor said.

“Did you seek out healers when this happened?”

“No,” Maedhros answered. “We cared for the wounds ourselves, but we were not in the right mind to pay them the necessary attention.”

The time which had passed since then made admitting their mistakes easier, but Maedhros would not go into detail.

Maglor had been ambidextrous since his youth due to his skills in playing various instruments; but he suffered the same symptoms Maedhros did, perhaps to a lesser degree, possibly due to the fact that he had dipped his hand in sea water right after throwing the Silmaril into the ocean’s depths. These days he played the harp more slowly, sometimes even with only one hand when no one was there to listen. To sing, at least, he did not need his hands.

Maedhros, on the other hand, had been dealt the worse lot. With his left being the only remaining hand, the burns left by the Silmaril had severely restricted all of his activities.

“Tell me what you feel,” Elrond ordered, the very epitome of a healer who would not rest until his patient answered every last of his questions, no matter how embarrassing.

“My hand is stiff, and it feels clumsy.”

He had had his meat cut for him into bite-sized pieces for millennia now – ever since Thangorodrim – but to be nearly unable to hold a cup on some days still made him angry.

Elrond pulled up a chair to sit immediately next to the redhead and started massaging his hand.

“Do you have someone do this regularly?”

“From time to time.”

“You should have Maglor or Himedhel massage your hand every day. And I will start working on a remedy. Perhaps I can find a salve or something.”

“I imagine that at this time we have things other than my hand to think of,” Maedhros argued.

“True,” Elrond replied. “But I still have some time left. Can you even wield your sword like this?”

“If in dire need, yes. Did Himedhel tell you where we were?”

“No. He’s as discreet as ever.”

“We went to see Celebrimbor.”

“Ah. What did you think?” The half-elf asked.

“That he was a fool, and still is,” Maedhros replied darkly.

The half-elf huffed. “Yes, Ereinion says the same thing.”

“Did he tell you about the rings they made?”

“I know of them, yes. How many did he mention there are?”

Maedhros smiled a bit. The half-elf knew then of the last three Celebrimbor had made, the ones Sauron desired above all, but wanted to test whether his foster-father knew as well.

“Nineteen in all including the ones he sent away.”

Elrond nodded. Maedhros could even guess where his nephew had sent the three rings. Celebrimbor had wanted them out of his city and the region of Eregion. He would want them somewhere safe, and he would not have sent them to the woodelves, who would not have understood the concept behind the rings and their value anyway. Iron and jewellery did not interest them, at least not usually. Thus he could only have sent them to other Noldor elves. Celebrimbor had always been infatuated with Galadriel, so Maedhros guessed that one ring had gone to her. The other two had most likely been sent to Ereinion, who, together with Círdan of the Havens, currently held the strongest elven realm in Middle-earth.

“Is Gil-galad ready to ride to their aid?” Maedhros asked.

“Yes. Let’s hope it is enough. The coming war is actually the reason I came.”

“Does Gil-galad know you’re here?”

“Yes. I come with his blessings, even.”

“I see. What does the High King want from us then? Does he demand an oath of loyalty?” He nearly smiled at the last.

“No!” Elrond immediately declined frantically. “No oaths!”

Maedhros laughed. It had been a bit of a jest, although not an appreciated one judging by the half-elf’s dark glare.

“You’re forbidden from taking any oaths,” Elrond added, displeased at the older elf’s joking. “In fact, once I return to Ereinion I will ask him to make it a law in all elven realms that all oaths are forbidden!”

The Fëanorion smirked. “Might be a good idea, indeed.”

“Actually my visit is partly unnecessary now because Ereinion had hoped that you might talk to Celebrimbor, perhaps advise him. Obviously his request was not needed, since you went of your own volition. He gave me a message in writing for you, too. Furthermore, he asked that I inquire on your personal health and safety here. I know that there is a reason why you’ve kept your distance from each other, but he does say that if you need to leave the fortress, we can find a safe place for you somewhere in Lindon.”

“Away from the city,” Maedhros stated more than asked.

Elrond gave an apologetic nod. “Yes. But under his direct protection. He says he owes it to his father.”

Fingon, of course. Maedhros nearly sighed as he thought of his long-dead cousin and dearest friend. Too rarely did anyone mention him these days! Gil-galad and he respected each other. Maedhros because Ereinion was Fingon’s son, and how could he not feel affection for him for that, and secondly because he was a good king; Ereinion because something must have made his father hold this son of Fëanor in such high esteem and because he knew that Maedhros was no fool, had never been, only misguided for too long. Unfortunately, Ereinion had not had much chance to ask his father about Maedhros because he had been too young during his father’s lifetime.

Unbeknown to both of them, he and Maedhros agreed that it was a good thing Fingon had not lived long enough to bear witness to the sons of Fëanor’s later deeds.

Elrond reached for a round leather case he had brought from his chambers, opened it and gave the roll of parchment it contained to his former foster-father. Maedhros twirled it between his fingers.

“Let’s go to my study and sit down. I’m done with dinner,” he announced.

The half-elf threw a look of dismay at Maedhros’ nearly untouched plate. “You hardly ate half of it,” he protested.

But Maedhros wasn’t interested. He rose, and his brother and former foster-son were forced to follow. Maglor tried to give Elrond a reassuring look; the evening was long still, and there was plenty of time yet to put small bites in front of his brother, who would undoubtedly be hungry enough to take them. Not even he had been left untouched by their long voyage.