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Here follows another First Age story, set immediately after the Third Kinslaying and told from Maglor’s point of view. It is related to “The Stronghold” and does not strictly follow the published “Silmarillion”, but uses other bits of the story from the HoME.
I am immensely grateful to Ellynn for beta-reading this story and for the suggestions; they have been very helpful!
* * *
First Age, 538
It was a glorious sunset. The sky was streaked with clouds in hues of red, golden and purple, as the flaming vessel of Arien was slowly nearing horizon. Light was reflected in the white crests of the waves of the unsettled waters: a dazzling glitter, more wonderful than the gemstones worked by the hands of my people. Another time, this beauty would have moved me. Now I merely wanted to fall face down in the coarse grass and weep. For hours. Maybe for days.
But I could not. I still had one brother left. And my eldest brother was standing on the cliff, a mere step away from the sheer drop. Silent and moveless, he was standing there since after midday, and I had been afraid to go near him, even to speak. I was afraid he would take that one last step over the edge. But then, maybe today we all had taken a last step of another kind.
The clouds had obscured the setting Sun for a while, but now they broke, and a slanting ray fell upon the stone-clad burial mound and two branches of blossoming wild white rose, their thorny stems stained with my brother’s blood. After we had raised the mound, he had broken these branches from the rosebush unheeding the thorns, laid them on the stones and gone to stand on that cliff overlooking the Sea. He had done all that in silence and had said no word since then. I tore my gaze away from the white blossoms, now painted by the sunset, and took a step towards him, summoning my courage to speak at last.
“Brother...” My voice trembled despite my attempts to keep it steady. “Brother, we should leave this place.”
There was no reply for a while, but then...
“There is something down there.” The sound of his voice seemed strange after the long silence. “Do you not hear?”
“No, listen!” He interrupted me turning his head, and I was relieved to see his eyes clear again; they had been so veiled and lifeless before. “Listen closely! There are voices.”
I came to stand beside him and listened, and, startled, realized that he spoke true. My hearing, usually so much sharper, had likely been dulled by terror and despair, but now I too heard them – thin, high-pitched voices, calling out miserably amid sobs.
“Help! Nana, Naneth! Help!”
“Children...” I whispered in dismay.
“The tide is rising,” Maedhros said quietly. He stood still yet awhile, as if unsure, but then turned resolutely, his gaze intent on the edge of the cliff some twenty steps away. “There may be a way down.”
There was a way down. It was a steep rocky path, in part blocked with large stones broken off the cliff, but at length we descended to a small bay. The shore was empty and there was only a thin strip of dryland left visible, as the incoming tide washed against the pebbles. To the north the bay stretched for some hundreds of paces ere disappearing beyond the bend of the land, but we stood at its southern end where steep cliffs were stepping into the Sea. The crying voices had fallen silent; there were merely the waves, the wind and the wailing of seabirds.
“Where are you?” my brother called. “Speak, so that we know where you are!”
There was silence yet for a while as we stood at the waterline straining our hearing. Then – a shuddering voice.
“Here...! In the cave!”
The sounds came from beyond the cliffs. My brother cast a swift look at me, then waded in the water and I followed.
We rounded the cliffs; the water at their furthest end was already reaching above our knees. Another small bay opened to our sight, but here the coastal rocks were even closer to the waterline. The waves were already washing against them and the mouth of a cavern, its entrance less than five feet wide and some ten feet high. The voices came from there, and we passed inside.
The cave was not large. Its walls were smooth and dark, lined with streaks of lighter stone here and there, and on the far end of it there was a narrow ledge, maybe waist high. Upon that ledge sat two tiny dark-haired boys, shivering in the chill, damp air of the cavern, holding fast to each other, their tear-streaked faces turned towards us. I froze. These faces were a mirror-image of one another: the boys were twins. Maedhros drew breath sharply. The thought that had just crossed my mind apparently had occurred to him also.
“Who are you?” His voice, sudden and harsh, rang out in the small space. “What are your names?”
They did not reply, but withdrew to the furthest end of the ledge staring at us for a while with wide, terrified eyes. Then they turned away and embraced one another more tightly. The crying grew louder.
“Do not be afraid.” I attempted to make my voice sound calm and reassuring as I slowly moved closer. “Do not be afraid. All will be well. How did you end up in this place?”
After a good while one of the boys hesitantly turned towards me.
“I... I am Elrond, “he voiced amid sobs. “Lanwen, our nurse…she... she took us here. She told us to be quiet. She said... she said she would come back for us. But she did not. We waited and waited. Then water started to rise. We climbed up here, and... and Elros tore his arm on the stones... and...” The words were again lost in crying. I noticed that the other boy’s arm was bleeding.
They were indeed who we had thought they were. I looked at my brother and saw reflected in his eyes some struggle he clearly fought with himself. Then he shook his head sharply and drew his hand over his face.
“Fear nothing.” His voice lost its sharpness. “Fear nothing. We are here to help.”
The other boy raised his face from his twin’s shoulder.
“Did... did Naneth send you to save us?” His thin, pitiful voice was nearly lost amid sobs.
A shadow passed my brother’s face again, but he did not allow it to linger.
“Yes,” he replied quietly, yet firmly. “We are here to save you. Quickly now, the tide is rising fast!” With these words he approached the ledge. “Come here and hold tightly, we will carry you out of here!” He reached out towards the children.
“You have only one hand!” Elros gasped.
“Yes, I lost the other,” Maedhros replied impatiently. “Now, do you want to get out of this cave, or would you rather stay?”
The boy replied nothing, but allowed to be lifted off the stone shelf. I picked up Elrond; he wrapped his arms around my neck so tightly that I laughed.
“Little one, I need to breathe. Do not be afraid, I will not drop you.”
We carried them outside and around the cliffs; water at their furthest end was already reaching up to our waist and it was still rising, surging around the stones. The other bay, too, was almost completely under water now, sparkling in the rays of the setting Sun, nearly on the horizon now. At the foot of the cliff my brother halted.
“You will have to sit on my shoulders now,” he said to Elros. “I will need my hand to get up there.” He pointed to the steep path.
Elros nodded and obeyed. But as soon as they started to climb, he asked, curiosity in his voice fighting fear, “Where did you lose your other hand?”
“Far from here, in the north,” Maedhros replied. “In a very evil place.”
“Why do you go to such places?” Elros frowned.
“That is not a story I would tell children.”
We climbed in silence for a while, but then Elrond spoke.
“Who are you? You said that Naneth sent you, but we do not know you!” Sudden fear rang in his voice. “You go to evil places, and you are strangers! Lanwen said we should not follow strangers!” While we hesitated with reply, the child in my arms started to struggle, attempting to free himself. “We should not go with you!”
“We are not strangers, Elrond,” I said, desperately attempting to keep my balance on the path and at the same time to retain the hold of the boy. “Do not wriggle, or else we shall both fall.”
“But if you are not strangers, then who are you?” His voice broke in a sob again; he was still struggling.
But while I was still searching for words, my brother had already found them.
“We are your father’s kinsmen, Elrond,” he replied. “We are your distant uncles, cousins to your great-grandfather Turgon. I am Maedhros. He is my brother Maglor.”
I froze inwardly as my brother gave our names so freely. But the terror I had expected did not appear in children’s eyes. Apparently, they had been spared the knowledge of the threat that we bore to their family. Instead, they calmed. Elrond ceased struggling and tightened his hold, so that I had to remind him again that I needed to breathe.
“Sorry, uncle Maglor,” he murmured, loosening his grip.
This stabbed my heart. They accepted our kinship so easily. They were so trusting, these children, whose mother we had seen casting herself into the Sea, Silmaril burning like a star on her breast. In desperate flight she had run to the cliffs, pursued by our damned Oath, and when she had realized that there was no escape from the narrow ridge, she had turned and taken a step over the edge. She had fallen in a flash of light, her arms stretched like the wings of a bird in flight. Frozen, we had watched her fall, and I knew that this sight would haunt me to the end. As would the look in my brother’s eyes – terror and self-loathing, and to that were added despair and fury when shortly afterwards we found our younger brothers dead, Amras leaning over Amrod’s body, as if attempting to protect his twin. They had both been pinned to the ground with the same spear. That sight had thrown Maedhros in mad rage. Like a spirit of vengeance, he had rushed along the streets of Sirion, sparing none in his way. He had stopped only when there had been none left to oppose him, and some of those who had fallen by his hand had been our own people who had dared to stand against their lord’s frenzy. When the fight in the Havens was over, less than a half remained of those who had set out from Himring. They were now eyeing us with wonder and some measure of fear as we appeared over the edge, our clothing drenched in seawater, each of us carrying a frightened child.
“Make ready to depart; we shall camp further in the forest,” Maedhros ordered. “It will be less windy there.”
Then he whistled to his horse and lifted Elros on the back of the black stallion; the boy sat there frozen, eyes wide, but the fierce animal stood stone-still at his master’s command. My brother took his pack that lay in the grass, strapped it to the saddle and mounted. Then, after one last look at the stone-clad mound, he turned his horse toward the road, and we followed.
The Sun had already disappeared beyond the Sea, leaving only some scattered purple clouds on the horizon; chill wind blew from the west shaking the tassels of the coarse grass that grew amid the cliffs. I rode last with Elrond. Ere the road made a bend I checked my steed to a halt and looked back at the last resting place of my brothers – a small patch of hard stony earth beside the Sea they had both loved. The mound loomed like a dark shadow in the twilight, but it seemed to me that I could still discern from a distance two tiny patches of white – the flowers upon it. I averted my eyes and nudged my horse forward. I still had one brother left.
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