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Maglor shifted the
load of wood on his shoulder to stop a knot from sticking into his
neck and paused to look around. He was on the edge of the tree line,
almost back in the clearing, with his roughly chopped windfall. He
liked to do this himself occasionally, although there was no real
need. There were always people to do the .chopping and fetching,
even now, even after the war that wasn’t, the Nirnaeth Arnoediad,
when so many of their followers had died or fled, to be joined later
by so many others after the Incident at Sirion, as he tended to call
it. The word was sarcastic and had driven Maedhros to violence a few
times, but then that’s what brothers were for: to make you crazy. To
everyone else he supposed it sounded coy.
The trees stretched as far as he could see, covering the foothills
and then rising in tiers up mountain slopes to where in summer bare
rock took their place. Now there was only snow, blankets of it, much
like down in the lower forest where footprints soon filled in and it
was wet and sodden under laden branches. This was why he had sought
out windfall and low hanging branches half broken by the pressure of
snow. Too much work to take an axe to young, strong growth. Instead
he had roamed the wood, looking for bounty and enjoying the silence.
There had been deer a while ago, but he had not come prepared to
hunt and was able to stand and watch their progression without
simultaneously visualising them dead in the snow. They had enough
meat, and personally he would have been happy enough to go without
and watch their easy grace without plotting murder as he did so.
There had been enough blood.
Somewhere far north he could hear the low grinding noise that had
been a backdrop to life for weeks now, growing louder on the still
days when the air hung cold between the trees. This was one such
day, with a blue sky and weak sunlight. He breathed in the scents of
pine and smoke and horses - there were still horses, Maedhros had
even taken a whip to one of the men for using rough hands and words
on one. That hot rage had been a memorable sight, and the animals
were now treated like precious children. Maglor was glad of it. He
had always loved horses, for their wit and stubbornness and
occasional downright bloody-mindedness. Maedhros was completely
unsentimental about the matter; to his mind the horses were their
pack animals and means of escape from massed attacks and should be
treated with the same care that would be given a good sword or a
The house was built up against the side of the hill with a stream
flowing past in summer, iced over now. There was a well nearby, so
they were not short of water. This had formerly been someone’s
hunting lodge, he recalled, which they had taken over years ago and
kept as part of the endless circuit between keep and rock fort and
defensible homestead. Scattered around were smaller shelters, some
built from wood with decent roofs, others little more than a circle
of rocks with a thatch topping and a leather door curtain to keep
out the draft. In the old days, these would have been the officers’
quarters and there would have been rows of tents to accommodate the
rest, but that was back before… he caught himself out, dwelling on
what had passed, and shrugged it off, putting his free hand up to
steady the wood. He was getting maudlin; he blamed the winter, it
wreaked havoc with mood. It was why bards came into their own in the
white months on this shore, offering worlds beyond the present in
which to while away the time.
He had trained bards, but now he was all they had left. It was his
voice that rose of an evening by the fire, where before it was an
honour for him to gift the men with a single song.
There was an open veranda along the front and one side of the house,
with an overhang that protected it from the worst of the snow on the
side facing the prevailing wind. He almost missed seeing Maedhros
sitting there, so still was he and so well did his clothes blend
with the age-darkened wood. He was leaning back on a wooden chair,
wrapped in that ancient, ratty fur cloak of his with a hat of the
same substance covering his sunset hair. Maglor corrected himself.
Right now, thanks to their limited ablution facilities, his
brother’s famous locks were rust brown and far less remarkable.
He stopped at the bottom of the steps and looked up. “Any chance of
a hand here?”
Cool grey eyes left the horizon, surveyed him. “My new woodsman?
Bring it on up, my good man.”
Maglor gave him a jaundiced look. “Been in my vodka and this early?
Come on, it’s as much for your benefit as mine.”
“I’d call the boys but they’re up the hill collecting holly. And no,
it would need to be colder than this before I touch that foul
He still made no move to rise, which did not surprise Maglor who
gave a sound of annoyance and went up the shallow steps,
compensating for the extra weight with his thighs. He glared at his
brother as he passed him, then carried the wood into the entrance
where it joined a medium sized pile up against the wall. There had
been winters when the pickings had been leaner because they were in
areas where trees were short, stunted things. This cycle at least
they wouldn’t freeze. Something Maedhros said penetrated and he went
“That’s what I said, yes. Just a few boughs - brighten the place up
Maglor moved closer, trying to sniff the air without being obvious
about it. Maedhros wasn’t a drinker, but there was always a first
time. He had become inward-looking since Sirion, which had affected
him in ways that Doriath had not. Seeing some of his own men turn on
their brothers-in-arms in defence of the haven had left its mark
along with the loss of the last, the youngest, of their brothers. He
had no more illusions, nothing left to believe in, and his mood grew
ever grimmer and quieter as time passed. He and Maglor had made a
kind of accommodation after everything, a tacit agreement that their
fates were eternally intertwined now and that blame and anger were a
waste of time, but lately there were days where he never spoke
beyond necessities, a contrast to his eloquent former self.
“No, I have not been drinking. That is your retreat. Holly - there’s
a tradition I’m told.”
“It’s a Sindarin custom, yes,” Maglor said carefully. “To call back
the warm days - red for fire, green for strong, growth. There are
songs about it. We’re — taking on a few new traditions then?” As yet
the Noldor had no ritual for the turning of the year, commemorating
instead the anniversary of their arrival in Endórë.
“Well, they are part Sindar. They should be more familiar with that
way of doing things.” He said it in a throwaway, lazy tone which
snapped Maglor’s full focus onto him at once.
“You’ve always drawn the line at teaching them anything more than
the basics about that side of their ancestry…”
“And you added Beren and Lúthien to those basics as I recall, yes.
But they are Noldor royalty, Turgon’s great grandchildren, and that
is where the focus of their education should rest, not on a bunch of
Sindarin myths and fantasies. Why are they here, if not for the fact
that we share a common bloodline?”
Their extreme youth had saved their lives in Sirion, but it was
their descent from Finwë that had brought them here rather than left
in the care of some Sindarin survivor until such time as Círdan and
Orodreth’s whelp should arrive to claim them. “I thought it was fair
to tell them about their mother’s people,” Maglor said mildly. They
had been through this too many times for it to be an argument. “When
your great grandparents on your mother’s side are beings of legend,
it seems unfair to me that you should be the last to know.”
“Singing the damn song for them was taking it a bit far if you ask
me.” Maedhros spoke without heat. He had said this before, and many
other things besides, not all of them polite. He walked through life
a reluctant slave to an oath sworn in hot blood to please a father
no one could ever wholly please, but where Elwing was concerned he
took her escape with the Silmaril personally.
“I like singing.”
Before Maedhros could attempt a counter to this, another deep rumble
came on the wind and through the earth beneath the lodge. Even the
ice on the hidden river seemed to shudder. Maedhros looked north.
“They’re busy today,” he said simply, as though continuing an
earlier conversation. “Settling in, I imagine.”
He seemed about to say more, but the boys returned then, their clear
voices carried before them on the air. They came into view, their
arms filled with red-studded greenery, talking animatedly. They were
tall, gangling children, half grown, with the awkward joints and not
yet fully defined faces of mortal adolescents. Amongst elvenkind
there was no term for the stage they were currently going through,
which Maglor thought was a pity: he liked the endless curiosity and
sense of adventure that seemed to go with it.
The boys reached the bottom of the steps, greeting them with
respectful nods, and waited politely, identical faces flushed and
happy under the wolfskin caps that Maglor had sewn himself to give
as begetting gifts the previous year. The days of princely gifts
were long past.
“Well, up you go then,” Maedhros said briskly. “Get that stuff
inside, make sure you don’t track dirt onto anything, and try and
arrange it decently. There’s some thin wood in there too, and paint.
I had it brought over. You recall Doron’s way with this? Make a few
star and sun shapes, paint them and hang them around the place.”
“Yes sir.” Their voices were soft and flowed together fluently. They
took the steps sedately one at a time, manners recalled, but still
hurried past the elders of the only family they knew and disappeared
indoors, their arms full of brightness.
Maglor waited till they were out of earshot before saying quietly,
“They asked to do this before and you forbad it. You said there
would be no rituals that wouldn’t have been allowed had Father been
“Which doesn’t say a thing really,” Maedhros pointed out. “He might
have been entertained by the sheer overdone tastelessness of a
Sindarin Yule. Who knows?”
He had that air of calm certainty that often heralded the fact he
had taken a decision others might find wanting. Maglor recalled it
from the days just before he handed his birthright over to Nolofinwë,
an uncle for whom he had little taste. That was back in the days of
purpose, when their goal still seemed achievable. Maglor went and
crouched next to the chair, moving his shoulders under the damp
patch where the wood had rested. “What have you done?” he asked
quietly, his voice sure.
Maedhros laughed down at him. “Done? Nothing - yet. Perhaps nothing
at all. I’m still deciding. But right now let us try an experiment.
Let us see if those two take to their mother’s roots as easily as
they seem to think they will. We can talk later tonight."
The boys did a
good job of decorating the common room of the lodge with the holly
and an assortment of cut out shapes, the paint still damp on many.
One of them had found a few orange candles from somewhere and set
them as a feature. There was even a small Yule fire, carefully
contained in a brazier. Maedhros had ordered meat roasted and shared
out, and got Bronio’s wife to mull some wine. Maglor watched all
this with a growing sense of unease but said nothing, even offering
a few seasonal songs after the meal.
As it grew later, men wandered in to get warm at their hearth and
out again to find more to drink, returning less steady than on the
previous visit, taking advantage of the fact that Maedhros had
apparently deemed this a festival night. The big room was packed. A
niggling concern about security and sentries spoke to Maglor, and he
made his way out as unobtrusively as he could. Elros saw him go, but
he was talking to Gurior, who had seen life at Cuivienen and was
always ready to complain about his bad judgement, as he named it, in
returning to the harsh lands of the Hither Shore. Maglor shook his
head in sympathy at the boy and let himself out.
The chill was almost a physical force after his warm spot near the
fire, the bard’s place of honour. He stood a minute adjusting,
pulling the bearskin he had picked up on his way out around him. The
air was clear and clean in its coldness, Varda’s lanterns a million
brilliant, icy lights glittering above. Somewhere under its thin
layer of ice he could hear the stream murmuring past. There were
voices, both inside and out; they would be drinking properly in one
of the huts, he guessed. Not under Maedhros’s eye, never that. The
trees were a dark huddle under their blanket of snow, seeming closer
to the lodge than they had in daylight. He was placing the watch
stations in his mind, preparing to do a circuit of the camp to make
sure everything was in order when he saw his brother.
He stood at the end of the veranda, looking into the darkness, a
tall, unmoving shape. Something about the set of his shoulders
prickled Maglor’s nerve endings. He moved forward, careful not to
walk too soft: his brother was not good about people creeping up
behind him. Without turning, Maedhros moved closer to the table in
the corner, making space for him.
He was looking north as he had been earlier. Maglor joined him in
watching. The tree covered slopes were snow-quiet, the sky black and
moonless, but above the rim of the mountains strange whorls of light
played and there was an occasional sharp crack, almost like ice
splintering, and the shock vibrated under the ground. “What do you
think they’re doing now?” he asked after a while.
Maedhros shook his head. “I could wish Kurvo’s son was with us. He
was his father’s best student, they might have discussed the kinds
of forces that must be in play there.”
“They’re trying to break him out of his lair, aren’t they?” Maglor
His brother shrugged. “They have weapons we could only dream of, so
yes. And the shocks get stronger as the light gets brighter. Father
used to talk of a power that could split the very earth if harnessed
correctly, and that it would take trial and error to wield it, but
wield it we could. I think this might be what he was talking about.
They brought it with them and now conventional methods have failed,
they’re getting ready to use it.”
They had heard the great host out of the west as it marched inland
from the coast, banners waving and trumpets blaring, carving a trail
wide and flat enough to be justly called a road. Maedhros had sent
scouts - or spies, if you like, he had said with a wry shrug - to
count their number and note the banners. There had been few friends
of their father in that multitude, and Arafinwë the ambitious
younger son had ridden near its head alongside Manwe’s Herald. There
had been debate, because it was not a decision either of them had
felt entitled to take for everyone, and then what remained of the
Fëanorian army melted into the hills and prepared to wait out
events, stealth the only defence that remained to them.
The army had gone north and for the next few years there had been
little to show for it. At times wagons travelled down the road,
taking supplies. At others, messengers came riding down to the base
that had been set up on the coast where once a small fishing village
had dozed. Then things changed. There had been rumblings, massive
lightning storms, and a sudden exit of orc bands, leaderless and
undirected, burning and maiming because that was all they knew, but
determined to do it in the lower stretches of Beleriand if possible,
not in the north. Hence the need for a strong watch at the
perimeter. Hence the fact that a night with song and warmth and
strong drink was a rarity and one to be indulged with care.
“Are we far enough away?” He had the basics of smith craft, as had
all their father’s sons, but none of the more arcane knowledge. Even
Fëanor had finally accepted his gift lay elsewhere.
“I don’t know. Probably not. I thought we could keep out of the way
up here in the hills, and deal with the overflow as the vermin try
and escape south but if we’re close enough to feel the earth shake
already — I don’t know, Kano.” His face was shadowed, his eyes star
bright in the dark. His breath frosted the air, leaving a white mist
between them. Maglor saw as though for the first time how thin he
had become, the lines of his face hard, gaunt. There was a tension
about his mouth that had never been there before, not even in the
harsh days after Thangorodrim when he pushed himself to heal, to
grow strong, to heft a sword in his left hand with greater skill
than ever with his right.
Fingon had been alive then. Not deserted and betrayed by the person
he had most believed in. It had broken something in Maedhros and
everything that had come after had gone that bit further towards
trampling on the shards. And then the little princes had been lost
after the bloodbath in Doriath and the remaining light had gone out.
Before, he had respect. Now he had it still, but mainly he scared
“East.” Simple, firm. He had thought this through. “Beyond the seven
rivers there’s a mountain range. Beyond that, I think. I’ve sent
Garavon north to see if they’ll let us help. If the answer is what I
expect, that’s where we’ll go.”
“I thought we were meant to talk about this kind of thing first?” He
said it because it was there to be said, because it was the kind of
thing that passed between brothers. It didn’t matter really.
“Not that. That was my choice to make. There is something else
though. The boys.”
Maglor frowned. “The twins? What about them?”
Maedhros met his gaze straight and sure, his older brother who had
been there through it all, the only person left in the world who
really understood, who remembered that house over the sea with the
brood of boys growing up together, the tempestuous, passionate
parents, shouting, laughing, loving. The only one who knew where he
came from and who would be at his side when they reached their
inevitable destination. “They have to go back, Kano. We can’t keep
them safe where we’re going. We need to send them to the island.
Artanis is there, Gildor - the family’s true born survivors.”
“No.” Maglor said it flatly, no space for argument. He was a
fatalist who did what had to be done and took life as it came, the
bitter with the sweet, though there had been little enough of that
since the boats burned, not till they took two tiny children from
Sirion to keep safe from the horror they had themselves unleashed.
They were blood kin, Noldor princes in their own right, who neither
of them had been willing to see raised by that sea wolf Círdan or an
unknown like Angrod’s grandson. They were nominally under Maedhros’s
wardship, but from the start there was no denying it, they were
Maedhros sighed gustily and placed his left hand on his brother’s
shoulder, still with that straightforward look. The gesture was
startling; he seldom touched people by choice. “Yes. I’ve already
sent Hyandanno to Balar...”
Maglor started to speak, trying to drown out his voice, but he kept
talking. “If they let us go north there will be no safe place for
two half grown boys, you fool. And if we go east - we will be flying
ahead of something unimaginable. I have no idea if we’ll survive, I
have no idea how far we’ll need to go, but one thing I do know…”
Finally Maglor pulled out of his grasp and pushed him away, shouting
over his words. “Where is this any different to how it’s been up
till now? What is safety? Where is the risk greater? Why would it be
any safer down there on that island? What makes...”
“Because Artanis is there.” Maedhros threw into the gap between
words as he paused for breath, each syllable falling clear and
“What are you talking about?” Maglor’s voice dropped back to
something just above a whisper, but it might as well have been a
shout into the night’s stillness. He was shaking, and the anger that
churned in his chest almost but not quite as strong as the fear.
“Think. Artanis is there.” Maedhros put the hand back on his
shoulder, this time his grip was gentle. “Arafinwë is an ass, but
even so he would try and make sure his daughter survived whatever it
is they’re unleashing. And Gildor’s there too, and not only was
Grandfather nonsensically fond of him, but Arafinwë was always
scared to death of Lalwen. He’ll not willingly have her son in
“Give them over to strangers…” The veranda, the snow-coated rail,
the clean, dark night all felt unreal. The planks creaked too loud
under his feet, the blood beat too strongly in his ears. “Is this
why you let them decorate and light a Yule fire? Quickly make good
little Sindar of them? I - we have raised them since they were tiny,
they know no other life. How can you talk about — giving them away?
They are our blood, Nelyo!” His voice cracked on the last words, the
childhood name slipping out unnoticed.
Holding his right arm crooked to fend off attack if needs be,
Maedhros looked at him bleakly. “Yes, they are. And look where that
blood has led us, brother. Look at what it has left in our wake. Do
you want them to be the next sacrifice to words spoken in anger to
please the man who gave us life? Think, Káno. What do you want? To
do what’s best for them - or for you?”
A dog barked. Maglor had a glimpse of someone crossing between
trees, one of the guard that had been set. An owl called, a hunting
cry. From inside he heard a great gust of laughter and wondered
distantly what that had been about. And then he looked back and
Maedhros’s tall, dark form was still there, the hair tucked under
the edge of his cloak, his eyes strangely peaceful.
“Love is a hard thing,” Maglor said finally, because he supposed
words were necessary. “Keeping something close and safe is
difficult. But it is harder by far to let it go, to trust it to
someone else’s sword arm and wit. I am no stranger to doing things
the hard way, but – I do not know how I will let them go – children
of my heart if not my blood.”
Maedhros looked at him bleakly. “You will do it because that is your
way. You have logic where I once had dreams. You will do it because
it is right. Because you must.“
AN: thanks go
to Hhimring for answering questions and making me think.
Written for Burning_Night for the
lotr_community's 2013 Yule fic