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We left our camping place and turned northward, away from the Sea. Away from the white city we had laid in ruin. Away from the burial mound of our youngest brothers. And even though the Sun was warm on our faces and summer fair around us, we rode in near silence, the terror of the day before still bright and vivid in our minds.
Elros was the more talkative of the boys. He rode with Aldanwë today, and from time to time I heard his clear high voice ringing out in wonder or question at some fair or strange sight we were passing. Aldanwë answered him patiently, and at whiles it seemed to me that I even saw the healer’s stern face softened by something that resembled a smile. Elrond who rode with me spoke very little. Either he sensed our sombre mood better, was a silent observer by nature or simply shy of me, I could not tell at first, but later I understood that it must be the second. He noticed surprisingly many things on the way, and they were safely stored in his memory to be pulled out much later, even after weeks or months, to our wonder. But now he merely watched the sights we were passing in silence, and his first question came only around midday.
“Uncle, you said that we could learn things in that place we are now going to?”
“In Himring? Yes, certainly. Is there something particular you want to learn?”
“Yes. I want to learn letters. I know some already. But I want to learn them all. And then I want to learn to read. Our Naneth…” His voice broke for a while, and he sniffed, but then went on bravely. “Our Naneth had books. Sometimes she read them to us. And sometimes we looked at the pictures, and then I thought how wonderful it would be to read all the stories there. Do you have books in Himring, uncle?”
“Many of them.” I nodded. “My brother reads often; he will surely teach you letters.” Or so I hoped.
Elrond’s face brightened. He regarded me in silence for a while.
“Do you also like to read, uncle Maglor?”
“Sometimes. But there are other things I like more.”
“What things?” he asked curiously. “What do you do when you are home?”
“I like to ride. Also, simply to be around horses; many of the horses in Himring are good friends of mine. But most of all I like to play music. Harp, mostly,” I replied, suddenly feeling a fierce longing for my harp, for the strings under my fingers. “And sometimes I make new songs.”
“Oh!” Elrond’s eyes widened. “Can you teach me to play the harp?”
“Why not? You will need a smaller instrument, but that can be made swiftly. If you want that in truth.”
“I want that in truth.” The boy nodded.
“Very well. Then I will ask someone who is good at woodwork to make you a small harp. As soon as we are home.”
We made good speed during the day and halted for the night’s rest by the northern edge of the birchwood of Nimbrethil, where countless white stems gleamed in the green twilight of the canopies and the grass was long and soft under our feet. We were setting up the camp when I noticed the twins standing amid the bustle, looking around confused and forlorn. I was about to go to them, but Aldanwë turned towards them first.
“Do you want to help?” he asked.
The boys nodded.
“You can help gather firewood. But do not go further than those two trees you see there. Understood?”
“Yes!” they exclaimed and hurried to gather the dry branches that lay aplenty on the ground a small distance away.
I thanked the healer with a nod and turned to unpacking when I suddenly noticed that, a few steps away, Maedhros swayed and steadied himself with his hand against a tree. Then he swayed again, his palm slipped, and he would have collapsed on the ground had I not been beside him in time to support him. He leaned against me briefly, then straightened himself again, attempting to free himself from my hold.
“I am well, Maglor.”
“You most certainly are not!”
Reproaching myself silently for failing to notice earlier how pale my brother was, I was looking around attempting to draw Aldanwë’s attention without alerting the others. But the healer was already beside us.
“What is wrong, my lord?” he quietly asked my brother.
“Nothing. I merely…”
“You are hurt!” I exclaimed, suddenly aware of the bloodstain on his coat.
Aldanwë’s eyes flashed. None too gently, he lowered my brother to sit under a tree and removed his coat and shirt, revealing an open wound on his left shoulder – a deep, still bleeding gash. Maedhros attempted to push him away.
“Leave me be, Aldanwë. I will be well. I need a short rest; that is all.”
“You will not be well, my lord, if this wound is not tended properly at once! You have been losing blood since yesterday!” The healer’s voice bristled in anger. “When would you have seen it fit to tell me of your injury?”
“Maybe I would not.” Maedhros waved his hand, as if to dismiss the healer. “My health is not worth your care, my friend. Nor is my life.”
“I will decide myself what is and what is not worth my care, thank you, my lord!” I did not recall seeing Aldanwë thus enraged for a long time. He turned towards me now. “Water and bandages! And my bag! As fast as may be!”
I hurried to bring everything the healer needed, and he swiftly tended my brother’s wound which, in the end, turned out to be less deep and less dangerous than it had looked at first. Maedhros did not object any longer; he sat in silence with a bowed head.
Aldanwë’s anger faded as he worked. When he had bandaged the injury, he looked closely at my brother.
“Do not take upon yourself the authority to punish yourself, lord Maedhros,” he said with a shake of his head. “For that authority is not yours. To assume that is vain and arrogant, and I have never known you to be so. And there is more at stake now than your regret and self-pity.” With these words he left us.
“He is right, brother,” I quietly said kneeling beside Maedhros. “Your bleeding to death will not change anything for the better. But your staying alive might.”
Without a reply he averted his gaze and rested his head against the tree, staring at the green canopy overhead. I sighed and reached for the bloodied garment that lay in the grass.
“Your coat I may be able to salvage, but this shirt is beyond my skill. You will have to borrow mine.” I rolled the bloody piece of clothing in a bundle to throw it in the fire later, then searched in my bag. “Here.”
“You will not leave me alone, brother, will you?” Maedhros asked despondently.
“You know that I will not.”
“I know that, yes.”
He sighed, took from me the shirt and slowly donned it. He was drawing tight the laces on the chest when suddenly there was a quiet gasp. Startled, we turned our heads and saw the twins standing a few steps away and staring at us with wide eyes, looking frightened.
At first I did not understand. I doubted they would be afraid of blood or even of the sight of an open wound; after all, the gash on Elros’ arm yesterday had been deep and bloody too. But then I realized. The boys had seen the scars that disfigured my brother’s body. Some had faded over the long years, but most had been too deep and too evil to disappear, so they still lined his chest and his back, arms and shoulders. We were so used to these scars as we were to his missing hand that we did not notice them any longer, but for someone who saw them for the first time it could be a terrifying sight. Even more so – for children.
We stared at each other in silence, us and the boys. At last Elrond spoke.
“Who… who hurt you so badly, uncle?” His voice was trembling.
My brother frowned.
“The Enemy,” he then replied curtly.
“Was it in that very evil place where you lost your hand?” Elros asked quietly.
I watched the boys and saw fear in their eyes exchanged for something else. I expected them to turn away and flee now. But I was mistaken. It was not revulsion that came instead of fear. It was compassion. Two pairs of wide grey eyes were brimming with tears of concern and pity. They took a step closer.
“Does it… hurt?” Elros whispered.
Maedhros regarded the twins in silence for a while, still with a frown, but soon he, too, perceived the expression in their eyes and his face softened.
“No.” He shook his head. “Not anymore. It happened a long time ago.”
Elros slowly nodded, looking only partly convinced.
“But you have a new wound now!” Elrond voiced his own and his brother’s doubts.
“That is but a scratch, bleeding merely because I did not bandage it at once. It is no worse than the one Elros had yesterday. It will have closed by tomorrow.”
“In truth?” Elrond’s voice was still uncertain.
“Boys, I need your help elsewhere for a while.” Meanwhile Aldanwë had come to us, and now he took the twins by the hand and led them away.
My brother watched them go, then turned towards me.
“We may have made a grievous mistake, Maglor. Yet another one in the string of our disastrous decisions.”
“But what if we have not?” I objected fervently. “I do not believe in chance!”
“Neither do I,” Maedhros replied quietly. “But what of a twisted fate that lays only evil choices before our feet?”
“No! I do not believe in that either. The choice we made is not evil! The other one would have been more so!”
“How can you be so certain?”
“I am certain that we still have some power to do good. That we can make our decision bring forth blessing, not curse. You saw yourself that these children are kind-hearted and compassionate. If we could raise them, teach them everything we would teach our own children…” Suddenly a sharp pain stabbed my heart, as the memories I had thought to be silenced and hidden stirred and awakened. My brother looked at me with compassion; my thoughts were likely reflected on my face. I brushed them firmly aside. “We can do this, Russandol. We can raise them so that they grow up wise and brave, for the good of our people.”
“And what of our Oath?”
“It sleeps now. One Silmaril rests on the bottom of the Sea, in the keeping of the Lord of Waters. The other two are in Angband, and we have no power to retrieve them from there. If aught would change… then we would send the boys away.”
“You make it all sound so easy, brother.” Maedhros sighed. “But I fear that is because you see things as you wish them to be, not as they truly are.”
My attempt to argue further was interrupted by soft footsteps on the grass.
“Uncle Maedhros, Aldanwë told us to bring you supper.” Elros was holding a steaming bowl in his hands.
“I am not hungry.” My brother shook his head.
“Aldanwë said that you must eat.” The boy seemed undaunted by the dismissive tone.
“And he said that after eating you should rest,” added Elrond. He was balancing a full drinking cup and some pieces of flatbread on a small tray.
“Did he now?”
My brother’s eyes flashed as he looked over the boys’ heads towards where Aldanwë stood by the campfire watching us closely; the healer’s arms were folded on his chest, his face stern.
“And also…” Elros spoke again, heedless of the signs of anger in my brother’s voice and face. “Also, you should not tell stories tonight, uncle,” he ended with a regretful sigh.
“That too?” Maedhros turned towards the twins again. “Why?”
“Because you need to rest,” the boy explained patiently.
“I see. Did Aldanwë say that as well?”
“No, uncle.” Elrond shook his head. “Aldanwë said nothing about stories. We thought of that ourselves. For, if you tell stories, you cannot rest.”
Maedhros regarded the twins closely for a while; there was a barely perceptible twinkle in his eyes, a slight twitching at the corner of his lips. Then he reached out his hand.
“Here, give me that bowl. And set the tray on the ground. One should heed a good advice when given such, therefore I will eat and rest, and tell no stories tonight. You can say to Aldanwë that I am grateful for his care. And I am grateful for your care too.”
The twins smiled. Elros passed him the meal, and Elrond set the tray in the grass beside him. Then they both looked up hopefully.
“Uncle Maedhros…” Elrond voiced hesitantly. “But some other evening, when you are rested… will you tell more of what happened in the story? How it ended? Please! We fell asleep when Aulë made the Dwarves, and his wife was angry with him for that.”
The twinkle was unmistakeable in my brother’s eyes now.
“Yavanna was not angry because of the Dwarves, but because Aulë made them in secret from her and from Ilúvatar,” Maedhros replied. “As for the endings – the great stories do not have them. Think – there are still Dwarves in Endor, and their forefathers were created by the Smith. So that story has not ended. I will tell you what happened afterwards. Some other day. Now run back to Aldanwë for your own supper.” And as he looked after them dashing off, a shadow of a smile passed his lips, and a faint flicker of hope stirred in my heart.
That evening there were no tales. My brother fell asleep almost at once after eating, and if I suspected some of Aldanwë’s herbs at work there, he at least had the rest he so desperately needed but was unwilling to grant himself. Long into the night I sat and watched as he and the twins wandered in the realm of Irmo, their breathing deep and calm, their faces peaceful.
“It was a right decision, my lord, to take the boys with us,” quietly said Aldanwë. He had come close and also was watching those asleep. “Not only for the children. For your brother too. And for you.”
I nodded, as a strange thought occurred to me suddenly – if anything at all could turn our steps from the path of evil we were now treading, it was these children. I felt tears rising in my eyes and desperately fought them back, but Aldanwë noticed that and sat on the ground beside me.
“Your brother punishes himself with pain. You do the same with silence.” The healer’s voice was sad. “And you have taken it upon yourself to console others. Who will console you?”
“I do not deserve to be consoled,” I whispered raising my eyes towards him, my father’s friend, one I had known for all my life. “How did we come to this, Aldanwë? How did we fall so low?”
“High places are dangerous, and if one falls from there, he may pull others along, as your father did. Yet I believe that those who have fallen can still rise, and none should be denied kindness and sympathy,” he gently replied, and I suddenly realized that he had followed Fëanor not merely for loyalty and friendship but also for pity. And then I fought my sorrow no longer, but rested my head against Aldanwë’s shoulder and allowed the tears to flow freely over my face, lamenting the terrible deeds we had done, the death of our brothers, the hopelessness of our fight with the Shadow in the north and with the shadows within ourselves. And when my tears at last ran dry I had resolved that I would do all in my power to redress the evil that was of our making. As much as that could be redressed at all. These children we had robbed of family shall at least have care and teaching.
During our journey northward the boys often cried, remembering their parents and their home, and Elros wept for the loss of the Sea he had already grown to love. But my brother’s stories and my songs had some power to dispel their sadness. By comforting them, we comforted ourselves. For the sake of these children we pushed aside the memories of fire and blood and pretended that the world was as it should be. Evening after evening we gathered around the fireplace, and as we were lost in the visions of faraway places, slowly the despair chaining us somewhat lifted. Conversations returned, and then smiles and laughter, and when at last I saw my brother laughing at something one of the boys had said, I felt hot tears of gratitude rising in my eyes and turned away to hide them. For the first time since very long I felt hope. Also, I still had the music, and as we rode home, a new melody started taking shape in my heart, a melody that was to become my story of the events and choices that had led us to where we were now. The melody of Noldolantë.
~ The End ~
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