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We set up the camp in a woodland not far from the shore. We had no fear of pursuit, for who would come after us? All those who had opposed us in the streets of the city had fallen.
None of our people asked anything about the boys. Maybe they had guessed at once. And later, when their names were uttered, there certainly was no more doubt who they were. But none said anything; everyone was perhaps too shaken to feel any curiosity. There was silence for the most part, save for a few quiet words or short sentences needed to do the work in arraying the camp.
The children did not speak either. Overwhelmed by their fright earlier, they now sat by the fire, wrapped in some of our spare dry garments and cloaks, sipping broth and chewing small pieces of bread. Aldanwë had tended the injured hand of Elros that I had only hastily bandaged as we set out. The boy had endured the pain bravely, in silence, while his twin brother had sat close beside him holding his other hand for comfort and watching the work of the healer with some measure of curiosity and awe. But now they were both sleepy, their eyes were sliding shut, their heads nodding.
“Come, it is time to sleep,” I said and took the wooden cups from the numb fingers. “I will make you a bed here, close to the fire.”
I did so, and they snuggled under the blankets and the cloak I spread over them.
“Are you warm?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.
“Yes, uncle,” Elrond quietly replied wrapping his arms around his brother who had already dozed off. His eyes too slid shut, and soon they were both deeply asleep.
Night fell as I still sat by the fire, blankly gazing at the sleeping children, and at whiles it seemed to me that I saw two red heads, not dark, pillowed on the folded blanket. Memories washed over me, memories of my own twin brothers who now lay cold and silent beneath the lonely mound on the coast. I recalled their faces; of us all, they had been the ones to resemble our mother most closely. I remembered their childhood pranks. I recalled Amrod’s laughter and his twin’s quiet smile. That was all gone now, gone forever, leaving but emptiness and anguish. Yet for all the agony I felt, my eyes remained dry. I did not deserve any relief that the tears might bring. The clawing pain in my heart seemed too mild a retribution for what we had done, and I was lashing at myself with these memories in frozen silence.
Suddenly there was a light touch upon my shoulder, and I turned with a start.
“Lord Maglor, where is your brother?” asked Aldanwë quietly, with unmistakeable concern in his voice.
Startled, I rose and looked around. Maedhros was nowhere to be seen. His pack lay untouched under a tree, and there was no sign of him.
“I shall go and look.” I turned back towards Aldanwë.
“Yes, my lord, please, do so.” The healer nodded. “He… should not be alone now.”
“Yes.” I turned to go, but then looked back over my shoulder at the boys.
Aldanwë understood. “I will watch over them.”
Reassured, I now turned towards my brother’s pack under the tree, in hope to find some further signs. And indeed, there were footprints in the dewy grass, disappearing in the forest beyond the clearing where we camped. I followed them.
It was not too dark, even when I turned my back on the flickering fire and dived under the trees. The year was not yet old; Midsummer had barely passed, and there was a gentle glow in the sky. Besides, the woodland was sparse, the trees grew well apart from each other, and there was also a nearly full Moon, so the trail was easy to read. It was winding and making loops: it seemed that the one who had made it had been wandering blindly without any purpose. At the sight of the wildly winding path, I grew more and more concerned with each step, hoping that my brother had not strayed too far or stumbled into some danger unheeding and oblivious of it, as I was certain he now was.
But my fear proved false. After a fair bit of following the winding trail, I came out of the shadow of the trees into a larger glade where the long grass was scattered with white flowers, shimmering faintly in the twilight. It was encircled with large and ancient oaks. One of the trees was uprooted and upon it sat my brother, his tall form casting a shadow on the ground, his eyes turned towards the sky. Despair, that he had pushed away earlier while saving the children, now had returned with a new force; it was apparent in his posture, in his face. He did not look at me as I approached, nor even as I sat on the log beside him. But then he spoke, his gaze still turned towards the sky where white stars glittered with a faint light.
“Starlight.” His voice was hoarse, strangled. “Grass. Flowers. How can it be that I still see all that? I should see only blood. How can it be that I still hear the wind in the trees? I should hear only the clash of steel and screams of my victims. How can it be that I live? I should be dead, if not killed in battle, then stricken by the lightning, drowned by the wave! Why are the Valar allowing this? Why did they not strike me down as I drew the blade against my people again? Why? Why?”
“The Valar are not here,” I softly replied.
He turned towards me then, his face pale in the moonlight, his eyes feverishly bright.
“Have they forsaken Endor, left it utterly to Morgoth’s designs? Do they care nothing for the suffering of those who dwell here, even those who have nothing to do with our father’s accursed jewels? Nothing to do with our doom?”
He fell silent and turned his face back to the sky. I did not know what to reply, but as I was searching for words, he spoke again, his voice hardly louder than a whisper.
“I wish this to end. I merely wish all this to end.”
A sudden and startling vision crossed my mind, a vision of my brother speaking these same words, only there was a fiery glow reflected on his face, not the pale moonlight. But then it was gone as swiftly as it had appeared before my eyes.
“We should return to the camp,” I quietly said. “Aldanwë is concerned for you. And others… others too should see that you are… well.”
Maedhros laughed suddenly, a hollow and mirthless laughter that sent cold shivers down my spine.
“Well?” he bitterly asked. “Is any of us well? Our hands are once again dripping with blood of our kinsfolk! Aldanwë’s hands that should bring healing, not death! Your hands that should touch harp strings, not sword hilt! And this is my fault! I would that one of those who opposed me today had proven stronger and more skilled in battle than me! Or that I had had enough courage to take that one step from the cliff!” He bowed his head and covered his face with a trembling hand.
I had no words of comfort, so I merely embraced him in silence – my noble, wise and valiant brother – who nevertheless made one fateful and terrible decision after another, driven forth by our Oath that overpowered his will and turned all good intentions into dust. And as I held him, against all my wisdom I silently prayed to the Valar. I did not believe that my prayer was heard. I did not believe it should be. But even so I prayed for a miracle, for something that would turn my brother’s steps from the path of destruction he had taken.
Long we sat there as the Moon made his way across the sky. At length Maedhros raised his eyes towards me.
“Forgive me,” he quietly said. “Forgive me for burdening your heart with my despair. That is of my own making and should be solely mine to bear.”
“Not so.” I shook my head. “I once promised to stay beside you whatever happens. Do you think I would watch your anguish standing aside? No, brother. No. I would share it. As much as I can.”
He looked at me long and sadly.
“I know. And that makes it even more difficult to endure.”
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