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The stars were fading and faint light grew in the eastern sky when I fell silent at last and turned towards Maedhros. He was sitting still as stone, gazing at the coals blazing in the fireplace, and once again their glow, reflected on his face and hair, brough to me a sense of ominous disquiet. But it faded swiftly, as my gaze strayed toward the sleeping children.
“What shall we do with these boys?” I quietly asked. “What shall we tell them?”
“I do not know.” Maedhros raised his head. “I have been thinking about it long. And still I do not know.” He rose and looked at the brightening sky. “There is a hillock a short distance away. Maybe a view from a high place will bring some answers. Come with me if you will.”
He turned to leave the camp, but suddenly Aldanwë, who had been dozing in an uneasy sleep close to the fire, sat upright.
“My lord, where are you going?” he asked with concern. “It will be morning soon. Should we not continue our homeward journey?”
“We should and we shall,” Maedhros replied. “We will return shortly, with the sunrise.”
“Very well, my lord.” The healer nodded, and the worry in his eyes somewhat faded when he saw me accompanying my brother.
Maedhros now turned away from the camp, towards a scarcely visible trail that led deeper in the woodland. I followed him with the last reassuring glance at Aldanwë. But my brother must have noticed our silent exchange. A short while later he halted and turned towards me, his eyes flashing, and there was anger in his voice when he spoke.
“I do not need you and Aldanwë fretting over me, Maglor! Watching me, stepping with caution in my presence! I am not made of glass!”
I regarded him in silence for a while.
“No, brother, you are not made of glass,” I then quietly replied. “You are made of steel. The hardest steel imaginable.”
He turned away abruptly and resumed his steps without a reply. Neither of us had spent much time in our father’s forge, but as sons of a smith we both knew – the harder the steel, the more brittle it is.
We ascended the hill in silence. The day grew brighter around us as we climbed upwards, and birds awoke in the thickets lining the overgrown path. The scent of wild thyme rose in the air as our feet crushed the plants on the ground. At last, we were on the top. No trees grew there, merely bent and twisted bushes, their shapes distorted by the wind from the Sea, and amid the bushes grew coarse grass, in part already withered in the heat of the summer.
The hillock offered a wide view around. Northward the land was still wrapped in the morning haze, and mist lay in the hollows faintly shimmering in the anticipation of dawn. A most fair sight it was, and I was about to point towards it to Maedhros, but one look at his face told me that the beauty of the view would be lost on him this morning. My brother’s gaze was bent southward. There, a fair distance away and yet clearly visible from the high place, shimmered the clear blue waters of the Bay of Balar. There, a cloud of smoke still hung in the air over the Havens of Sirion. And there, carried on a fresh morning breeze, a fleet of white ships was nearing the mouth of the river. Despite the distance, we could clearly discern the device on the square sail of the foremost vessel.
“Círdan’s ships…” I whispered.
My brother nodded wordlessly and stood still as a statue, arms crossed on his chest, eyes turned towards the city.
“I could take the boys to him.” His voice was hollow.
“What?” I stared at him incredulously. “Surely you realize that it will be our death, brother?”
“Our death?” He turned towards me, but his face was without any expression. “I said nothing about ‘us’ delivering them. I said that I would do it.”
Cold fear settled in my heart when I realized that he meant every word, that he would indeed seek his own destruction like this, without a second thought and without regret.
“No, Maedhros!” I shook my head fiercely. “No, do not even think about that!”
“Will you stop me?” His eyes narrowed.
“No. But if you will decide on this course, I shall go with you. If you will surrender your life, I shall surrender mine also! I made a promise to you, brother, and I do not intend to break it!”
“Cursed be the oaths and promises that hold us on this bloody path! Cursed be your guilt-beriddled mind that compels you to take part in my crimes!” he exclaimed sharply, then went on in a calmer voice. “I would not see your blood spilt.”
“What will you do then?” I looked at him with challenge. “Order me to remain, to return to Himring while you ride to a certain death?”
He turned away, towards the bay gently shimmering in the light of the dawn. The white ships were entering the harbour. A long silence fell, and when he looked at me again, the anger in his eyes had faded.
“I will not order you. What right do I have to do that?”
“You are my elder brother. The lord of our House. You have the right. Yet this time I would not obey you.” He replied naught, and after a while of silence I continued. “Shall we ride to Sirion then? If that is indeed your wish – that the boys should see their childhood home in ashes, with blood on the streets?”
A shadow passed my brother’s face; I saw him struggling with himself.
“That is not my wish,” he replied at length softly. “But what then? I do not know what should be done.”
A thought suddenly crossed my mind, and I spoke it aloud. “We could take them to Himring.”
“To Himring?” He stared at me, aghast. “A fortress in no place for children!”
“Every place where our people have any chance of surviving nowadays is a fortress, brother. Why not? They are our kin. We can raise them. Teach them. And when they grow up, we shall send them to their mother’s family.”
“You speak as if it were so easy.” Maedhros shook his head, but I saw that he hesitated.
“I do not see how it is not.” Once spoken aloud, this thought took hold and now it seemed to me the only possible path.
He looked at me long in silence, as if testing my resolve.
“Very well. But I will not take them north against their will. I will not drag these boys along as captives. If you can talk them into coming with us willingly – so be it. If not – they go back to Sirion.”
“I will do that.” I sighed, resigned, seeing that he would not relent.
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