The Price of Vengeance II by Encairion
Summary:

Sequel to The Price of Vengeance I. A novella of the House of Finwë  from the end of the First Age to the fall of the Last Alliance upon the slopes of Mount Doom.

 


Categories: Fiction Characters: Amdír, Amroth, Caranthir, Celeborn, Celebrían, Celebrimbor, Celegorm, Curufin, Elrond, Eluréd, Elurín, Eärendil, Fëanor, Galadriel, Gil-galad, Gildor, Glorfindel, Maedhros, Maglor, Narvi, OFC, OMC, Oropher, Sauron
Content: AU, Character Death, Drama, Dubcon, Explicit Sex, Het, Incest, Rape/Non-con, Slash
Challenges: None
Series: The Price of Eternity
Chapters: 44 Completed: No Word count: 287608 Read: 17538 Published: November 05, 2014 Updated: July 03, 2017

1. Chapter 1 by Encairion

2. Chapter 2 by Encairion

3. Chapter 3 by Encairion

4. Chapter 4 by Encairion

5. Chapter 5 by Encairion

6. Chapter 6 by Encairion

7. Chapter 7 by Encairion

8. Chapter 8 by Encairion

9. Chapter 9 by Encairion

10. Chapter 10 by Encairion

11. Chapter 11 by Encairion

12. Intermission: Do not go gentle into that good night, Part I by Encairion

13. Intermission: Do not go gentle into that good night, Part II by Encairion

14. Chapter 12 by Encairion

15. Chapter 13 by Encairion

16. Chapter 14 by Encairion

17. Chapter 15 by Encairion

18. Chapter 16 by Encairion

19. Chapter 17 by Encairion

20. Chapter 18 by Encairion

21. Chapter 19 by Encairion

22. Chapter 20 by Encairion

23. Chapter 21 by Encairion

24. Chapter 22 by Encairion

25. Chapter 23 by Encairion

26. Chapter 24 by Encairion

27. Chapter 25 by Encairion

28. Chapter 26 by Encairion

29. Chapter 27 by Encairion

30. Chapter 28 by Encairion

31. Chapter 29 by Encairion

32. Chapter 30 by Encairion

33. Chapter 31 by Encairion

34. Chapter 32 by Encairion

35. Chapter 33 by Encairion

36. Chapter 34 by Encairion

37. Chapter 35 by Encairion

38. Chapter 36 by Encairion

39. Chapter 37 by Encairion

40. Chapter 38 by Encairion

41. Chapter 39 by Encairion

42. Chapter 40 by Encairion

43. Chapter 41 by Encairion

44. Chapter 42 by Encairion

Chapter 1 by Encairion
Author's Notes:

Warnings: Please heed the warnings listed for this story.  Some of the major warning include: non-con, scenes of violence, graphic character death, and soldiers/captives suffering from PTSD.

I hope you enjoy reading this story, as that is my motivation for posting.  If there is anything you like I always love reviews :)

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 1

Mid-Second Age, coast of Forlindon

“I was collecting oysters when it crawled down my spine,” Mother shrived for affect, voice dropping low and spooky in Glorfindel’s ear. “I didn’t know it then, but I had been touched by a Sea-god, maybe Ulmo himself had breathed upon me! I dropped my basket and turned to run. And then I saw him, walking out of the mists.” She loosed a dreamy sigh, her arms soft and round about Glorfindel as her body swayed with him in her lap. “So tall and fair! Eyes like stars, hair black as the night. Your father must have been a prince before a terrible misfortunate sent him wandering the lonely shores. Perhaps he loved a beautiful maiden, but she was ripped from him by death and he was cursed to wander the world in search of her for eternity, never—”

“Enough of your drivel, girl!” Grandfather barked. “Stop filling that boy’s head with your nonsense. His father was a vagabond, and a Kinslayer most like, an outcast from all decent folk, who took advantage of an empty-headed, silly girl easily duped.”

Mother’s arms tightened about Glorfindel, and she bent close to whisper, “Your grandfather was not there, baby, he did not hear your father’s voice. It was like being washed in a bath of gold. He did not see your father’s eyes, they—”

“I said enough!” Grandfather threw down the fish he’d been gutting and stood menacing in his corner of the hut.

Mother ducked her head as she always did to her father’s wrath, and stood with Glorfindel in her arms to shuffle outside. “I will fetch the water for the cooking pot,” she mumbled to the hut’s dirt floor.

“No, you will send that useless boy of yours to get it. He is not an infant any longer to coddle.” Grandfather glowered at him, but Glorfindel did not let his chin tremble. He was not afraid of the big bully. “Go on boy; stop burdening your mother with your lazy bones!”

Glorfindel mumbled something that could have been ‘yes, Grandfather’ but could also have been something uncomplimentary. He slipped down his mother’s hip and scampered outside.

His father could not have been a Kinslayer. Kinslayers were evil. But then, Grandfather had never liked him, even when he was a baby Glorfindel shied away from that rough touch and those disapproving eyes. Grandfather must have always suspected he was a Kinslayers’ son. If his father was a Kinslayer, then no matter the horror tales Grandfather told of them, they could not be demons, for his father had been a prince. Mother said so.

Glorfindel stood on his tip-toes and unhooked the water bucket from where it hung against the hut’s wall. He wrapped his arms about its belly and ran to the spring of fresh water a little ways inland from the beach. Their home consisted of the hut, Mother’s garden, and Grandfather’s fishing boat tied up on their rickety strip of dock.

Glorfindel’s muscles strained as he lifted the filled bucket by its rope handle, his whole body tilting away so he didn’t topple over on the walk home. He had to take breaks when his arms could not bear the burn another moment.

When he ducked behind the hut’s reed covered doorway, he found Mother hunched before a fire, slicing up strips of fish to throw into the pot only waiting on the water. Grandfather glowered at them as he gutted the codfish Mother had caught with her pole in the little pool a mile down shore. Grandfather had no catch of his own, but so it usually was. Grandfather hunted the big, deep-sea fish, and they were a suspicious lot with the strength of bears.

Glorfindel tottered over to Mother, some of the water splashing over the bucket’s rim as he walked. “Careful boy!” Glorfindel bowed his head as his mother always did when Grandfather shouted, but behind the cover of his lips he ground his teeth.

The day did not slice like ocean waves in a tempest when Glorfindel kept his head down and obeyed his grandfather’s every command. Snapping back only distressed Mother and earned Glorfindel pinching fingers. It accomplished nothing good, for in the end Grandfather always got his way.

But there were benefits to submitting to Grandfather’s will. If Glorfindel made use of himself, Grandfather would pick him and not Mother to sail up to the village with him when he caught a blue marlin, swordfish, or one of the sharks he boasted of loudest. These trips to the village happened more and more often as Glorfindel grew. He could endure a hundred biting words telling him how useless he was if it meant he could spend the afternoon with the village children while Grandfather haggled his catch to the fish-merchants, seeking the fattest deal.

Mother took the bucket from him and poured the water into the waiting cooking pot. Glorfindel helped her scoop in the diced codfish, herbs, and a measure of the onions and roots she grew in her garden. There would be no bread, only the soup for supper tonight. Grains were a delicacy, one they could only afford to purchase when Grandfather hooked a fish worthy of the village merchants.

When the codfish had cooked long enough, Mother scooped out portions with her big wooden dipper. Glorfindel took his time about eating; there would be no second helpings. Only Grandfather received seconds as the man of the family, though it was Mother who brought the fish to table.

What was left in the cooking pot would serve to break their fast in the morning, and tide them over until supper with only what they could forage off the land. It was not berry season, nor were the fruit trees ripening or the wild grain stalks turning golden. But Mother and he would sneak a fish or some shellfish they scavenged in the shallow waters of the shore. Grandfather need never know, and their bellies would not growl empty.

After supper had been cleared away, Glorfindel curled up beside Mother on their sleeping pallet. Mother hummed a little tune in his ear, and combed her hands through his hair, shifting it this way and that in the light of the banked fire so that it caught the light like a blaze of sunset.

“You are my gift from the Sea-gods, baby,” she kissed his temple, tickling the back of his neck with her fingers until he hid his mouth in his hands to stifle a laugh. “So beautiful,” she cooed, “My very own slice of sun.” She kept her voice low, for his ears alone.

He scooted closer until he pressed against her softness and smelt the sea on her skin. He slipped his arms about her waist and laid in head down on her shoulder, sighing into her. “Tell me the story of Father, please, Mother!” Though he’d heard the story a hundred times, he never grew tired of it.

Mother squeezed him tighter, “Oh my favorite story!” Without Grandfather’s ears to hear and criticize, Mother spun her tale with no one to steal it away. “Where was I? Oh yes, your father, the prince of a fallen kingdom, had been cursed by an evil sorcerer to spend the rest of his life forever seeking his lady-love. For you see,” Mother added more details as she did every telling, making it richer and all the more enthralling. “His lady-love had been ripped from him, driven down into death by this very same evil sorcerer!”

Glorfindel gasped, “Did my father have to fight him? Was Father a very great warrior?”

“Oh the very greatest!” Mother’s eyes lit up like lamps, her silver hair shining bright as metal in sunlight.

“What was he like?” Glorfindel hung upon her words.

“Like sea mist and moonlight.” Her gaze traced Glorfindel’s upturned face. “Mysterious, beautiful, and…” Glorfindel waited, Mother’s eyes shifted over his face, drinking his rapture up. “Fleeting. It seemed he was with me only a moment before he departed back into the mists.” Glorfindel’s face fell at the sorrowful note in his mother’s voice.

“I wish he’d stayed forever. Why did he leave?”

Mother played with a lock of his hair, “He was driven to find his lady-love. I could see it in his eyes, ever he was driven on, never to find rest. You must not blame him, baby, for even as he lay down with me and we created you, he was not with me. He was far away, his eyes seeing into the past. He was seeking his lady-love in me, you see,” Mother nodded along to her words, “That is why he could not see me, he could only see her.”

“Does that make you sad, Mother?”

“No, baby, for in me he saw his beautiful princess. The Sea-gods gave him to me for that moment so that they could give me you. I know it. You are special, baby. You are a lost prince, and one day your father will come for you and take you away to wear jewels and crowns and sit upon a golden throne.”

Glorfindel seized his mother’s hands, “But not away from you, Mother! You must come with me.”

She giggled, “And I will wear silk gowns and pearls, and have handsome princes kissing my hands and my….lips?” Her giggles shook her body and infected Glorfindel so that he laughed too.

“Yes, Mother! If I am a prince, then you must be a queen!”

“My sweet baby,” she kissed him.

They fell into fantasy together as they did every night, though Glorfindel would not see for years yet that his mother was a liar. She was as simple-minded as Grandfather had always said, innocent of malice, but a deceiver all the same.

*

Year 1395 of the Second Age

“Hook it, boy!” Grandfather danced in glee, high off the thrill of their monstrous catch. The boat shook as the blue marlin Grandfather had reeled in struggled against its fate.

“I’m trying.” Glorfindel made another attempt at sinking his hook into the marlin’s mouth, but the fish, sensing its end’s approach, put up one last fight. With its head twisting about like that it was impossible for Glorfindel to reach it even with the extra length the hook’s pole afforded his arms.

“He’s a fighter, this beauty!” Grandfather’s pleasure with the catch had him overlooking the snap in Glorfindel’s voice as he wouldn’t have on any other occasion.

The fish stirred up the ocean into a frothing white water with its desperation to be free, and the boat rocked dangerously to starboard. “Move,” Grandfather elbowed Glorfindel aside, seizing the pole-hook from his hands. Grandfather sunk the hook with practiced ease into the mouth and right up into the brain of the marlin, a smile of triumph on his mouth as red stained the jewel-blue of the ocean. The beast of a fish had one last slap of its tail in it, before it surrendered to its hunter’s mastery and went still.

“Take this,” Grandfather shoved the hook back into Glorfindel’s hands to retreat to stern. Glorfindel’s muscles strained with the effort of holding the marlin flush against the boat’s side as Grandfather looped a knot about its tail with their strongest Elven rope.

“On my mark, and put some back into it!” Grandfather wrapped his hands about the rope, bracing his feet against the deck. Glorfindel’s hands tightened on the hook’s pole. “Now, heave!” Glorfindel’s back threatened to hunch with the effort, his gloves slipping on the pole, but he held. “Lift, boy, lift!”

Glorfindel’s arms shook and they hadn’t even cleared the water’s surface. He ground out, “It’s too heavy!”

Grandfather laughed; his smile sharp as a shark’s. Grandfather loved this, the hunt, the satisfaction of mastering a king of the sea. The bare muscles in Grandfather’s chest and shoulders strained as he heaved, but he loved every minute of it. “You need to put some meat on your bones, boy!” Grandfather had the tail of the marlin over the rail.

Glorfindel gritted his teeth at the jab. He was 45, only 5 years short of his majority, but his face only now began to throw off its baby fat. The only thing making his shortness and slender limbs bearable was the superior strength and speed they had somehow attained. He could outrun youth two times his height, and while he could not match his grandfather’s strength yet, no other youth of his height could have lifted the marlin’s head even an inch from the water.

If he did not have his year-mates’ height, then whose fault was it but the very Elf who now mocked him? Who’s responsibly had it been to feed him, but had chosen the thrill of deep-sea hunting over the steadier and more profitable method of nets?

When Glorfindel had reached an age his grandfather deemed old enough to lend a hand with the ‘real labor of the house,’ Grandfather had dragged him away from following after his mother to join him on the sea’s rolling belly. For a brief span of time, when Grandfather began to notice his usefulness, a relationship grew between them. But for every day Grandfather’s eyes opened to his usefulness, Glorfindel’s own opened to his grandfather’s uselessness.

Vanity and selfishness fuelled the deep-sea fishing, and he had said as much to his grandfather. Glorfindel could not and would not bite his tongue when he saw the mounds of smaller fish the netters brought to market, not once a week as Grandfather did if the Sea was generous, but everyday. All Grandfather needed was a net and rocks sewn into its ends to scoop up dozens of smaller fish, and he could be walking away from the village market with his pockets stuffed with enough coin to fill his family’s bellies.

Glorfindel had made his opinion known, boldly declaring to grandfather how poorly he provided for them. Grandfather had not taken the criticism with dignity.

When Glorfindel grew old and strong enough, he would build his own boat and bring fish home by the hundreds. He would take Mother away to live in a proper house in the village with a wooden –no a tiled floor! –and woven mats for his mother’s knees to rest upon. He would buy her that silk gown she dreamt of and a string of pearls. She would never know what it was to be in want again.

His mother was more a child than he, but she was his mother. She loved him, even if she was delusional, and that was precious to him. Some of the other boys in the village made faces over their mother’s love, but Glorfindel had never refused a kiss on his cheek or a single embrace.

When his mother still pulled him into her lap and he leaned against her, breathing in her warmth and smell, a deep place inside him sighed in contentment, marveling at his mother’s love, as if expecting her to reject him this time. An irrational fear, for his mother had never rejected him and he could not image her turning from him. Yet still that hollow craved to be filled by her love, never wanting an embrace to end, forever fearful it would be the last.

“Stop daydreaming boy! As bad as your mother,” Sweat and sea spray clung to Grandfather’s face and wet the strands of silver hair that had slipped from the high knot he wore it up in. “Come here and grab hold of this rope.”

Glorfindel glared, but released his grip on the pole to take up position at the fish’s tale. He wrapped his hands about the water-slicked rope, bracing his feet on the deck, and pulled. A powerful knot worked between his brows with the effort, but the marlin’s body inched out of the sea. Finally the head flopped down on the deck with a smack, bringing a spray of salt water with it.

Glorfindel sank his palms into his knees, bending double to suck in gulps of air. “What a beauty,” his grandfather crowed over the marlin.

Glorfindel straightened up, and watched Grandfather run his hands down the fishes’ sides. He set his mouth. His grandfather had a blissful smile on his lips. For this their family suffered in squalor.

“We would be walking in fish up to our ankles if that had been a net we pulled in.” His grandfather’s exuberance made his sick.

Grandfather’s eyes snapped to fix on Glorfindel’s face. Glorfindel tilted his chin back. He wasn’t a child to duck his head any longer. Grandfather’s lip curled, “I can smell the stench of your sulk from here, boy. Now put those scrawny bones of yours to use.”

Glorfindel’s teeth clenched. He looked away, out to the haze of the shore on the horizon. The sail snapped, and the mast creaked as the wind’s direction shifted.

“I said get to work!”

Glorfindel crossed his arms. “Why should I?”

“Because I told you to, boy!” Grandfather shoved himself to his feet and came marching over, his face bent in a frown deep enough to rival an approaching thundercloud.

Glorfindel’s fingers curled about his elbows, bracing himself. Grandfather’s hand shot out, but Glorfindel jerk away from the grab. “I am not obeying your orders! You only think of yourself, and—”

“Shut your mouth, boy, or you’ll get no supper tonight!”

Glorfindel’s hands came down to fist at his sides, “I can catch my own supper. You can’t stop me!”

Grandfather’s rocked back on his heels, eyes narrowed as they ran over Glorfindel’s defiant body. “I’ll dump your ungrateful sack of bones at the hut and take your mother to market with me. What say you to that, boy?”

Why must his grandfather always have all the power? Glorfindel wanted to scream. He wanted to shove his grandfather overboard. But he wanted the freedom and normalcy only a trip to the village afforded him more.

He shrugged passed his grandfather’s smug form, and bent to pick up the discarded tools and bait bucket.

He could hear the victory in his grandfather’s voice, “Take a care to keep it fresh.” Grandfather tossed an empty bucket at him. “You won’t like the result if you neglect your duties, boy.”

Glorfindel mumbled nasty things to his work as Grandfather readjusted the sail and took his place at the rudder. Grandfather set their course south, towards the village. They wouldn’t reach it for another few hours, and in that time Glorfindel doused the marlin’s body with bucketfuls of sea water. It was silent on the sailboat but for the splash of the brow cutting through waves and the creak of the mast, punctuated by Glorfindel smacking his bucket into the sea and dumping another load on the marlin.

He resented the fish, but he resented his grandfather more. His grandfather had taught him many things in life (though not half as many as Grandfather liked to think), but above all Grandfather had shown him how to resent the world and his place in it with a blackness deep enough to drown in.

It would be the easy path to follow his grandfather into bitterness. Grandfather resented everything from his daughter and grandson to the Noldo King Gil-galad, the village merchants who ‘robbed him,’ and the sky when it stormed. Glorfindel smothered his resentment against the fish, and sent a silent prayer of gratitude to the Sea for its gift. He must not let his bitterness overspill the kernel he kept nursing in the back of his mouth like a rotting tooth for his grandfather, and his grandfather alone. He would never hate the world as Grandfather did.

Fishermen crowded the village docks with their boat slipped smooth as ice alongside it. Glorfindel hailed one of the men he knew by name, and tossed the rope for Nemrod to moor them. Nemrod shouted a greeting as he wrapped the rope about the iron cleats, shaped like an anvil, in the dock’s deck.

“The Sea smiled upon you!” Nemrod held out an arm for Glorfindel to clasp.

Glorfindel grinned and slapped his fingers down on the muscled forearm. Nemrod hauled him onto the deck, and it seemed a burden lifted off his shoulders. He breathed freer out from under the oppression of his grandfather’s glowers, away from his mother’s fantasies that possessed her like an obsession, and the miserable reality of their poverty.

“It was a beast to haul up,” Glorfindel laughed.

Nemrod slapped him on the back, his hand lingering comfortably on the slender bones of Glorfindel’s shoulder. Glorfindel swallowed. Nemrod had shucked his tunic and the sun played on the muscles of his arms and chest. Nemrod had very fine eyes. He was also married with a daughter Glorfindel’s age.

“A beast is right! Ossë’s wrath, but that is one big fish! Your grandfather will get a prime yield for this one.” Other fishermen crowded around to peek over their boat’s rail and ogle the blue marlin’s size. Nemrod leaned close to sneak Glorfindel a smirk, “You off to join the boys?”

“I’d like, but Grandfather will have my hide if I don’t help him haul the marlin up to market.”

Nemrod waved a hand through the air, “He won’t notice you gone with all the hands volunteering to get their hands on this one. You’re young yet, but I tell you, I can’t remember a bigger fish brought it. Your grandfather’s a tight-pocketed bastard, but damned good at what he does.”

Glorfindel’s mouth pinched, but he didn’t argue. He would not speak freely of his family’s poverty, even if the whole village already knew of it and probably gossiped about them along with everyone else within fifty miles.

“Go on,” Nemrod gave him a little push, “The boys went down to Oyster Rock. They were organizing a game of ball. You won’t want to miss that.”

Glorfindel didn’t. He cast one more glance at his grandfather, but Nemrod spoke rightly, his grandfather wouldn’t even note his absence. Glorfindel dashed down the docks, heading south along the beach towards Oyster Rock.

A gaggle of youth greeted him as Glorfindel ran up, pausing their game to clasp his shoulder and shout their pleasure at his company. There could be no question that all the youths were male. Girls had stopped playing with their age-mates to sit with their mothers in the house and learn whatever it was that girls learned. The boys had reached an age to speculate on these things and take note of the glimpses of girls they received in the streets, but Glorfindel spared that species little thought.

An argument started up over which team got to claim Glorfindel. His bones were swift, his feet deft upon the ball, and he never lacked friends, so they were naturally eager to have him. He grinned as the argument turned physical and Tírion latched hold of his upper arm, trying to drag Glorfindel bodily into their ranks.

“No, you have Althon!” Ramhad latched onto Glorfindel’s other arm to tug him to the other side’s team. “It’s not far if you get Glorfindel too! Besides, Glorfindel likes us better—”

“Don’t be stupid,” Tírion’s arm slipped around Glorfindel’s shoulder, “Glorfindel likes everyone. You’re just being a poor sport because Laerthir—”

“Oh shut up. Let Glorfindel decide, then.”

Glorfindel’s cheeks were hot as all eyes turned on him. Tírion’s body pressed so close to his. Tírion eyes had a pleasant shape that gave them a perpetual sly, hooded look, and his hair was so pale a silver it gleamed white in the sunlight.

“What do you say Glorfindel?” Tírion’s face leaned close, brow crooked.

“Your team is good.” Glorfindel’s proclamation met with groans from the other team and whoops from his chosen one.

“Good choice,” Trion grinned. “Get your shoes off and come join us!” Tírion spun away, and started ordering his team back into position as Glorfindel kicked off his shoes. He ran, the sand flying up behind him, to join them.

“From the mark!” Ramhad juggled the ball in his palms, showing off, as he sauntered to middle field. Glorfindel didn’t shy from placing himself in the center of the action. Ramhad slapped the ball down on the sand, “Countdown from three!”

Tírion gave the count, “Three, two, one…”

Ramhad’s foot connected with the ball, sending it sailing. Glorfindel raced after it, brushing up against the other youths as they scrambled for the prize. His toe snagged it first and lifted the ball into the air with a deft little flip. From there his knee took it high and Tírion’s head sent it soaring to the next teammate.

As they moved the ball down the field, aiming for the fishing net strung up between two stakes planted in the sand, bloody noses were received, bodies went tangling down into the sand, hips smacked against hips, and the ball sailed from toes, a nook between elbows, heads, and any other body part but hands the player felt bold enough to employ.

They played for hours, not noticing the passing of time in their fun. Glorfindel plotted how he could delay the inevitable return to his family’s hut when the game lulled. He’d learned if he didn’t return to Grandfather’s boat by sun’s setting, Grandfather would leave him here for the night. Glorfindel had taken to ‘losing track of time’ every time they came to the village, there was always a friend ready with an offer of bedding for the night. The problem came with the sun, for Grandfather wanted his help on the sea and would come round the village to pick him up along with a tongue lashing for his uselessness.

If he could just find some way of avoiding Grandfather entirely he could join one of his friends and their father on the sea. He would make himself useful and worth the food he ate. But Grandfather had absolute authority over his life; no friend’s father would stand between Grandfather and Glorfindel. He’d also be unable to earn enough coin yet to provide for Mother, and he couldn’t leave her there alone with Grandfather.

“What’s that?” One of the boys halted the game with a pointed finger towards the sea.

They all turned to look. A deep hulled boat with strange sails had rounded a curve in the land and bobbed a few miles off the coast. But it was the rowboat approaching shore that snatched their eyes.

Men were piled inside it. They were close enough to see they were no Elves. Their faces carried no light. There was a dullness about their skin, and fine hairs grew on some of the Men’s olive-toned cheeks. They wore odd tunics from which their knees poked, bare of leggings! Short swords hung from their waists.

The youths looked at each other. “What should we do?” No one had an immediate solution.

“Are they…?” Laerthir’s trailed off. He’d been the last holding the ball, and now shifted it from hand to hand.

“Well they’re Second born, obviously,” Ramhad said with false confidence. None of them had ever met a Second born before.

“I should go get someone from the village,” Tírion decided.

“I think that’s best,” Glorfindel agreed. As if waiting only for a second confirmation, Tírion sprinted off down the beach for home.

“Our fathers will know what to do,” one of the youths promised.

“Should we…?” Laerthir gestured to a stand of rocks, “Conceal ourselves?”

Ramhad snorted. “There’s nothing to run away from. It’s just Second born.”

Glorfindel wasn’t so sure. These Men did not look especially friendly. “There’s no point in hiding, they will have seen us too.” The rowboat pulled close to shore now. They only had a few more minutes before it beached. “They have swords. Do you think…?”

“Maybe we should follow Tírion,” Althon looked back to where Tírion had disappeared. Even Ramhad did not pull on a face of bravado any longer. The closer these Men drew, the more unsavory they appeared.

“Let’s go,” Glorfindel decided for them, and took off at a brisk pace for the village. An itch had started up under his skin to be as far from these Men as possible. The other youths followed him.

They cleared their playing field and were weaving around the jutting black rock with the pools the oysters liked to hide in, when Men sprung out of the rocks. Glorfindel, in the lead, jumped back with a cry.

The Men’s swords remained in their scabbards, but there were nets in their hands and nothing friendly in their faces. “Get back!” Glorfindel latched onto the nearest youth’s tunic and pulled him back, spinning around.

The Men shouted, and nets flew through the air. Glorfindel swung back the way they’d come, but the Men coming up in the rowboat had beached and were hemming them in at the rear. He whirled left and right, but everywhere he met the faces of Men and more faces.

“Help me, help me!”

Glorfindel whipped towards the cry. Laerthir had fallen, a net entangling his feet and arms. His face pressed up against the rough meshing, eyes beseeching and wet with tears as he flailed.

Glorfindel and Althon ran to free him. The Men tossed more nets, but they were prepared now and dogged with lightness of foot. Glorfindel scooped up the ball Laerthir had dropped, spreading his fingers wide and sure about its width. He pulled back his arm and hurled it at the nearest Man’s face. The Man cried out, hands flying to his face as blood splurted from his nose.

“Lay still!” Althon struggled to free Laerthir from the net. “Glorfindel help me!”

Glorfindel’s hands shook as they scrambled at the net. He couldn’t see straight through the panic. Laerthir thrashed like an animal caught in a trap, terrified passed reason. The youths behind were running forward to help, throwing rocks and sticks, whatever limited weapons the beach afforded them.

“No, run, run!” Glorfindel shouted at them, but they didn’t heed him, perhaps couldn’t even hear him through their own panic. Finally Althon’s steadier fingers pulled the last of the net off of Laerthir, and Glorfindel yanked the shaking youth to his feet. “Run! We have to get out!” He pushed at the place Laerthir’s shoulder blades met.

“We’re trapped!”

“The rocks. Climb up, quick!” Glorfindel’s voice broke through all their fear, and he herded them towards their only escape. If they could just climb high enough…. Wasn’t it said the Edain did not have the strength and lightness of body an Elf processed?

The black Oyster rock rocketed a good fifty meters from the sand. All types of seabirds made it their nesting place, and Glorfindel wasn’t the only youth among them who had climbed it to collect the eggs that were a delicacy among their people. They could make it. They had to.

The youths scrambled up the sheer face of the rock, snatching handholds and nooks for their toes to grip where they could. The start was slow, and the Men could still reach them with tossed nets even fifteen feet up. They had to climb higher!

“Faster!” Glorfindel came at the back of the pack, unwilling to leave any behind.

Ramhad climbed before him, his long arms serving him well. Glorfindel, clinging to the rock face like a spider, could do nothing but shout a warning as a net came sailing over his head. It caught Ramhad within its jaws. Ramhad screamed as he fell, Glorfindel’s reaching hand catching only air.

“Go, go!” Glorfindel urged the youths on, but he looked down with the others, terrified Ramhad was…

Ramhad moved in the net below, stirring from the fall to struggle against his capture. He could not get free before the Men were upon him. They trussed him up like a pig, wrapping ropes about his knees and chest to pin his arms against his torso. But he could still call out for help. Glorfindel couldn’t look away; the sound of Ramhad’s cries, desperate as a lost child’s for its mother, pierced him like a dart.

He turned his face up to shout one last time, “Climb!” Then he launched himself into the air, twisting in mid-fall to land on this hands and toes like a cat.

He sprung up, using the Men’s surprise against them, and snatched one of their swords from their hands. He brought it down in a wild arc, swinging blindingly, trying to drive them back. He had no idea what he was doing, but he had to save Ramhad.

A body dropped down at his back, and he was no longer alone. “Hold them off, I’ll get Ramhad,” Althon called, making a dash for their fallen friend. Glorfindel surged forward with him.

The Men met his unskilled attack with easy parries, but did not strike back. They shouted things at each other in their language. Glorfindel couldn’t understand a word of it. He may have never held any weapon but a bow in his life, but he used his superior speed against the Men and wiped the smirks from their mouths. He forced them to retreat enough for Althon to reach Ramhad.

One of the Men called out to him in Sindarin, “Come, beauty, there is no need for all this. We will not hurt you or your friends. You must see this is useless. Put the sword down, and no harm will come to any of you.”

“Leave us alone! I’ll die before I surrender to you!” The brave words spilled from his lips, but inside he trembled.

“It would be a crime against Eru to kill one such as you.” The way the Man looked at him turned Glorfindel’s stomach. It was as if he were an impressive catch a fisherman ran his hands over. “Here’s a little deal, just between you and me: give yourself up and I’ll let your friends go. I’ll accept you in their stead.”

Glorfindel’s eyes flittered back to where Althon struggled with the rope’s knots. He’d had no luck loosening them. Althon’s gaze snapped up to his, “Don’t you dare listen to him, Glorfindel!”

“Come now,” the Man said. “This resistance is futile. We could have you unarmed in a second, beauty.”

Glorfindel narrowed his eyes, “Then why haven’t you if it’s so easy?”

“We wouldn’t want to damage that pretty face of yours,” the Man smiled. It did not set Glorfindel at ease. “But I’ll take a scar over nothing. You can be sure that hair of yours will make up for it.”

“Glorfindel don’t listen to him!”

Glorfindel tightened his grip on the sword and took one, two steps back, angling for Ramhad’s prone position in the sand. “What do you want with me?” He edged further back, his ankle hitting Ramhad’s leg.

The Man followed him. “Oh, we just want to take you on a little trip.”

“Where?” Glorfindel lowered his sword as if contemplating surrender. The tip fell on the ropes securing Ramhad’s knees.

The Man’s eyes followed the movement. His mouth curled in a smirk. “Clever too. But don’t be a fool, beauty. I’ve been in this business longer than you’ve been alive.”

Glorfindel cut through the ropes defiantly. “What business is that?”

The Man grinned like a cat spotting cream, and with a flick of his fingers sent his men surging forward, “Why, the slave trade, beauty.”

The Men lunged, and Glorfindel snapped his sword up to meet them. His pulse spiked, and everything moved too quickly, the breath coming so loud in his ears he could hear nothing but its pounding. He hacked inelegantly at the swords thrusting at him, always shying from his body, seeking to flip the sword from his hands or slip behind him for a blow to the head with a pommel.

When his sword drew its first blood, it was an accident more than anything. Glorfindel hadn’t been swinging to kill, not really, not when…not when their faces were so close and so…so like his own.

His sword sliced against a Man’s ribs, and the Man fell with a cry, face twisting in a terrible grimace. The shock of actually cutting that Man, spilling his blood upon the sand, froze Glorfindel. The Men sought to take advantage of his shock, but Glorfindel’s sword came up in defense in a gesture so smooth it could have been instinct, only the way the sword sliced across the next Man’s chest could not be anything but practiced. Only he had never held a sword in his life.

The Man he cut open from hip to shoulder crumpled on the sand. Joy surged through Glorfindel, pressing up from his belly, and bubbling off his lips in a laugh. That Man had tried to take them, but Glorfindel had saved them! That Man would have killed them, but it was Glorfindel who still lived!

His rapturous gaze dropped to the Man’s face. His face…his face…. Glorfindel stumbled back. He’d….and he’d enjoyed, what was wrong with—what kind of sick—

He vomited all down the front of his tunic. It splattered the ground already turning black with blood. He wiped the back of his hand over his mouth, forcing the sword (blood on its blade) up again. He had to keep his feet; he couldn’t afford to be sick. He couldn’t fall to his knees and weep beside the dying Man he’d killed. (Defended himself against. It wasn’t…he hadn’t meant…and the Man would have hurt…he’d had no choice).

He tasted blood on his lips. The Man’s blood had just…when his chest split open like that…like a gutted… Glorfindel’s hand shook on the sword’s grip, but he lifted it. (Don’t look down; don’t look into the dying Man’s face. His knees would fall out if he did).

The Men’s leader pulled his men back. They kept their distance now, eyeing Glorfindel. The leader snapped, “Nets,” Glorfindel’s heart lurched up into his throat. He didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know what to do, he—

Nets flew at them. Glorfindel hacked with his sword, dodging, but Althon got tangled up in one. More nets. Glorfindel danced away but they kept flying, and this couldn’t go on forever. A net brought him down, the weights sewn into it tangling with his legs and tripping him. He only missed skewering himself on his sword.

He fell only inches from the face of the Man he’d killed. The Man’s struggling breaths consumed Glorfindel’s ears. There was blood bubbling in the Man’s mouth, slipping down the corners of his mouth. The sound of the Man’s scream when he fell echoed in Glorfindel’s head. He would never be able to scrub it away. He could never unhear what he’d done.

The sand slipped wet between Glorfindel’s fingers where it had soaked up the Man’s blood. The Man’s body shuddered, shivering as if in a fever, and then lay still. His eyes started grey and empty.

Glorfindel started sobbing as he struggled against the net. He had to get it off, had to get free, had to get away from, from—

Hands were on him, ropes binding him. Fingers slipped through the holes in the net to caress his cheek, “Shh, beauty, it’s over now. Don’t fear. I’d be a fool to damage such a creature as you. You’ll be the making of me. Can you image the price you’ll bring at the block?”

Glorfindel turned his face away from the touch, curling into himself. He sunk his teeth into his palm to stop the tears. They would serve no purpose. He had to be strong, for Althon and Ramhad, he had to be strong.
End Notes:

Note on Glorfindel’s ageing: Glorfindel’s soul saw the Two Trees, so I’m putting his natural aging as 100 years to his majority despite his birth-mother in this life being Teleri.  However, as you can see from the direction this chapter went, he will not have a smooth childhood, so his aging will speed up some, like Gil-galad, as his body responds to the demands placed on it.

 

Chapter 2 by Encairion
The Price of Vengeance II

Chapter 2

The slavers dragged them legs first through the sand. Glorfindel twisted his head, arms bound to his sides, struggling to catch a glimpse of Althon and Ramhad without sucking in a mouthful of sand. His heart beat madly in his throat, and tears clouded his eyes, but he squeezed them until the tears fell and his vision cleared.

Althon bumped along a few feet ahead, his head just missing contact with a bleached branch of drift wood. His neck craned back, and their eyes brushed before the Man pulling Althon veered around a jutting rock. Glorfindel heard Ramhad strangling cruses at the Men, and the Men snapping at him to stop kicking or they’d give him something to cry about.

The slavers’ captain called orders, and Glorfindel caught a word that sounded like the Sindarin for beach, but the rest were crisp, staccatoed to Glorfindel’s ears, lacking the rolling lilt of Sindarin that resembled the heaving breast of the sea.

The slavers dumped them in a pile beside the rowboat. Half of the slavers trotted off down the beach to a second, hidden boat now visible peeking out behind a strand of rocks.

Althon spoke from under Ramhad’s weight, voice shaky though he must have been putting such effort into presenting a calm, reasonable exterior, “Please sirs, this thing you are doing to us –ripping us from our home and families –it is wrong, you must see that. We are but youths, not even adults by the measure of our people, children—”

The slave captain gave a casual order and the Man holding Althon kicked him in the gut, once, twice, again. Althon’s words dropped like bloody pearls into the sand as he coughed up a mouthful of blood.

“Althon,” Glorfindel pressed his body against his friend’s, wanting to drawn him close, but his arms were bound to his sides.

“I’m—I’m alright.” No, he wasn’t. His voice came out reedy, pinched.

“Just…just don’t try to talk. We’ll think of something, there must be something—”

The captain’s boot nudged Glorfindel’s hip. “Plotting already, beauty? None of that now or I’ll have to arrange some special accommodations on my ship, and we wouldn’t want you to be separated from these special friends of yours, would we?”

Glorfindel turned a hateful glare up at the smirking slaver. “You can’t get away with this! Our families—”

“Will never know what happened to you.” The slaver turned away with a careless toss of his bangs from his brow, “It will go easier for you to forget them. You’ll never see them again. That I can guarantee.” The slaver switched back into his people’s language to deal out more orders. Again a word of two fell with familiarity on Glorfindel’s ears, ‘ship’ and ‘Elves,’ but the rest were alien.

They were yanked up, one slaver grabbing their feet and other their shoulders, and tossed into the rowboat. The slaves piled in behind them, picking up the oars, and setting a straining pace. The captain sat at the rowboat’s prow, eyes flicking ever back to the beach, and barking orders at his men Glorfindel didn’t need to understand to know meant hast. But no familiar faces came dashing down the beach to save them.

Where Glorfindel had fallen, his head propped up on one of the rowboat’s seats, he could see the youths still clinging to Oyster Rock. As he watched, they raised hands in the traditional farewell given to a sailor before a voyage meant to last months, years. The salute transformed into complicated hand signals: ‘come’ ‘you’ ‘hold,’ and the last, the one that brought fresh tears to Glorfindel’s eyes, ‘the Sea protect you, star-brother.’

But the distance to home seemed impossibly long. How could the villagers find them if Glorfindel didn’t even know where they were bound? They would be lost, forever.

A stone sat sharp and bleak in his throat. He wanted his mother. Silly and fanciful as she was, though she would have been able to do nothing to save him, still he longed for her lap to lose his face within as she combed fingers through his hair and told him all the stories about his father he’d stopped believing years ago.

Ladders were thrown down when the rowboat drew alongside the ship. The moment had come. They would be thrown into some dark, dank hole in the ship’s belly, maybe chained up, denied the sunlight, and locked in a den of despair and misery until they were hauled out only to be sold as slaves, never to see each other again. This was the end of everything.

Glorfindel tensed all over as hands swung him like a sack or grain over one of the Men’s shoulders. He couldn’t stop himself from putting up one last fight. The Man grunted as Glorfindel kneed him in the stomach, and he dropped Glorfindel. Glorfindel fell with a heavy smack into the rowboat’s hull.

Ramhad had suffered a similar, instinctive panic. He thrashed in his carrier’s grip, going mad, shouting down the Sea-gods’ curses on the slavers’ heads in-between sobbing for his mother. The Man could not hold him, and Ramhad toppled from his shoulder, hitting the water’s surface like a stone.

“Ramhad!” Glorfindel and Althon tried to lung after him. He sunk so fast, arms and legs strapped together, that the top of his silver head submerged before his cry had finished ringing in their ears.

Glorfindel wormed half-out of the boat before a hand about his tunic’s collar hauled him back. Some of the slavers dived in after Ramhad, but there was a terrible moment oozing like bloated fish left to rot in the sun, when no head broke the surface. But then, with a spray of ocean water, one of the Men shot up, Ramhad’s net-bound body in his arms. Ramhad trembled, putting up no resistance, as they hauled him back into the boat to be dropped in a wet mess on the boards.

“One of you tries a stunt like that again, and you’ll find yourself locked in the dark for the length of the journey, do you understand me?” The captain loomed over them. “This isn’t some pleasure curse. We’re bound for Númenor. Do you know how many weeks passage that is?”

Althon answered for them, “No, sir.”

“Eight. So you’d best behave yourselves, do you hear?”

Althon nodded, eyes huge. Glorfindel glowered but held his tongue, and Ramhad wouldn’t meet any of their eyes. The slavers carried them up to the deck with no incidents after that.

They were left on the deck as the slavers scrambled to get underway, the urgency for hast still sharp enough to taste in the air. Glorfindel stared up at the mighty sails puffing with wind. The Teleri of their village had no vassal to rival this ship’s speed. Hope for rescue died in his chest. He felt like one of the big fish his grandfather prized. He’d been hooked, and the reel pulled him in foot-by-foot as he struggled against his fate, but the realization that he would never be free bled through his skin and into his bones.

No. He would not give up so easily. He’d never been one to bend to his lot in life and accept it with a meekly bowed head and the belief that his life’s path was pre-destined, already sung in its entirety long before the Elves’ awakening. If there was no rescue coming, then he would just have to rescue them himself.

The captain’s boots snapped crisply against the deck as he paced it. Not until those boots stopped before them, and their guard’s hands dug under his armpits, did Glorfindel understand that the captain had given an order concerning them. No, just him.

“Glorfindel!” Althon’s hands twisted at his sides, calves’ kicking out as they dragged Glorfindel away.

“I’m alight, I’m alight,” Glorfindel called back, straining his head to keep his friends in sight until the last minute. The remaining guard’s hand settled heavy and foreboding upon Althon’s chest, and Althon’s struggles quieted. His lips still carried the stain of blood.

The guard dragged Glorfindel from the sunlight, a door shutting behind them, shutting the sight of the sea and home out. The cabin he’d been brought had a narrow bed nestled in the wall, a scattering of chairs and tables, even a shelf of books in the back. Dominating the room was a copper bathing tub. Sunlight snuck in from a high port hole, glinting darkly off the water within.

The captain gave an order and the guard retreated, leaving the two of them alone in the cabin. Glorfindel’s pulse beat against his throat like a trapped bird. A whine filled the silence. It had come from inside Glorfindel.

The captain’s boots clicked against the floor as they drew close. Glorfindel shrunk away. The captain knelt beside him, hands reaching out. Glorfindel twisted his hips, his knees rotating, using what little mobility he possessed to sink a kick into the Man’s calf.

“Oof!” The Man fell to one knee, hands dropping to cup the bruised bone.

Glorfindel rolled, arms straining against the ropes, hands scrambling to gain a handhold in them to tug and claw and—

The captain did not let him get far; hands were upon him again, dragging him back.

“NO! No, get off me, get off! I won’t let you—”

“Shut up, stupid boy,” the captain growled. “Lie still if you don’t want to get yourself cut.” Light slid off the blade of a knife.

“I’ll bite you! I’ll strangle you in your sleep, just you—wait, just you wait! I’ll—”

The knife sliced through the bonds on his arms. Glorfindel’s shock immobilized him. Then he surged up with an exploration of hope and desperation in his chest, only for the Man to press his full weight upon him, trapping him against the floor, the net caging Glorfindel’s mobility.

“I told you to hold still! I’m not going to hurt you, just clean you up a bit. Or do you want to lie in your own shit all night?”

Glorfindel froze. The captain’s words shattered the barrier holding the awareness back, and Glorfindel felt the shit slipping down his thighs, plastering his leggings to his skin. Wetness dripped the length of his legs, into the insides of his boots. He’d—

The shame stung, but the chance for freedom overrode it. He bucked against the captain’s weight, and received a nick on his arm where the captain cut the net off him. The captain hissed, jerking the net over Glorfindel’s head. “That’s enough. Use your head! We’re miles out from land. What are you going to do if, by a chance of luck, you get out of this cabin, hmm? My ship is crawling with my men, and even if you jump overboard, you’d never reach land alive.”

Glorfindel’s breath shook in his lungs, his hands trembling, “I won’t let you—I know what you want, what you’re going to do to me—”

“Shh, shh now, beauty,” the captain’s free hand ran through Glorfindel’s hair, petting him. “I won’t be hurting you like that. I just want to clean you up.”

“I don’t—I don’t believe you,” Glorfindel’s voice choked out through the thickness of his tongue, the cotton-dryness of his mouth. Why did it feel like he hadn’t tasted water in a year? “Why would you help me?”

The captain’s finger curled in Glorfindel’s hair. Glorfindel shook under the touch, eyes skidding over the captain’s face, into the dark grey eyes. “I’ve heard all the tales of how Elves die of rape.” The captain’s hand smoothed down Glorfindel’s cheek. It was not the touch of a parent or a friend. For all the Man’s words, his eyes were hungry as they looked down into Glorfindel’s face. “No one on this ship will spoil you like that.”

His grip tightened when Glorfindel tried to turn his face away, but with one more lingering caress, the touch fell away. “You wouldn’t want to sleep in pants you’d messed yourself in.”

Glorfindel’s face burned.

“It’s nothing to fret over, beauty. It happens to the best of us.” The captain’s hands snatched Glorfindel’s wrists, and though Glorfindel twisted, whimpering, the captain bound them together. “Just a precaution, my dear.”

Glorfindel flinched from the endearment. It chafed worse than ‘beauty.’ Beauty objectified him, but ‘my dear’ mocked.

With his hands bound, the captain began slicing the tunic off him. It wasn’t much by the measure of the other villagers, but it was all Glorfindel had. To have it wretched from him, shredded and cast aside, felt like the knife sliced through his own skin to peel it off in strips.

The captain yanked off his boots next, and began cutting away the soiled leggings. Glorfindel squeezed his eyes shut as a stench seeped up his nose. What was wrong with him that he would—?

“Not the sort of thing you hear in the stories, eh?” The captain’s voice reached him in the darkness Glorfindel tried to hide within. “We wouldn’t want our lady loves knowing we shat ourselves on the battlefield.”

The captain bound Glorfindel’s ankles before he cut the thicker rope from his knees. “Let’s get you in the bath, then.”

The captain’s hands didn’t keep to themselves as he bent to lift Glorfindel. There were caresses, little things, but they set a shivering down the whole of Glorfindel’s skeleton. He tried to crawl away, but he found his limbs unresponsive, as if all the strength had been sucked from them leaving him weak and helpless as a babe.

His eyes blew wide, and he doubled his efforts, but still he moved like a slug, even his mind began to drag. Glorfindel heard himself sobbing, but distantly. Why couldn’t he move…what…what was wrong with him?

“Shh, beauty, relax, you can’t fight the Warrior’s Fatigue. I’m surprised it didn’t hit you sooner, but it will pass in a few hours. You did fight, even killed one of my men, and gave Îbal a scar to remember you by.”

Glorfindel sobbed harder. That terrible scream, the Man’s face twisting up as he fell, the taste of blood. He wanted to go home.

Glorfindel gave all the resistance of a rag doll as the captain lowered him into the tub. His head lulled back against the cold metal lip. If he could just rest a moment…

“That’s good, beauty. I’ll take care of you. You’re mine now, after all.” The scent of apricots and that unique freshness of a soap bar filled the cabin. A washing cloth passed over his shoulders, the shapes of fingers beneath. It rubbed down his chest, ran along his throat, his arms.

“Eru, but the price you will bring,” the captain breathed in his ear, a wet hand sinking into his hair. “I’ll take good care of you, beauty, don’t fear. I wouldn’t risk damaging you for all the pleasure it would bring me. I am the master of my own body, after all, and nothing sets motivation in the blood towards ‘moral’ behavior like a fat purse at the end!” The captain laughed his own jest, and the cloth dipped lower, scrubbing at Glorfindel’s thighs and calves. The bathwater turned murky. Glorfindel closed his eyes and surrendered to the exhaustion when the captain pulled him forward and started cleaning the most intimate of places. He did not want to know what it felt like for someone else to touch him there.

*

Glorfindel woke to the coppery taste of another man’s blood on his lips. Heat like whips of fire lashed through him; his hands shook, his chest heaved. A scream echoed in his ears, scrapping down the skin of his arms. A face, eyes wide and terrified, stared into his. The blood, the smell of it…

Glorfindel stared up at a ceiling painted grey in the limited moonlight, flittering with strange shadows. The rocking told him he was on a boat. As a child of the sea, it gave him comfort.

Glorfindel turned over, arms wrapping across his chest, cradling his shoulders. He wished his mother were here to hold him and drive away the nightmare. He’d had to do to it; there had been no choice, no choice. That Man would have hurt him, would have hurt Althon and Ramhad—

The rationalization fell flat. Would the Man really have hurt them if none of the other slavers had, not so deeply they deserved death? And if the Man wouldn’t have, if Glorfindel hadn’t had to…to drop him in the sand like that…

Glorfindel curled into a ball. The Man’s face would not leave him. He could not escape what he’d done. What had the Man’s name been? Had he had a family, a wife, a mother…children of his own?

The sound of weeping hung heavy and damp in the air. It was Glorfindel who made the sound. (You don’t understand. I had to kill you! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I never meant…but I couldn’t take the chance).

Arms wrapped around him, pulling him against a slender chest. “I miss home too,” Althon dropped his face into Glorfindel’s hair. “But one day we might go home.”

Glorfindel leaned back into the embrace, seeking comfort for a wound so much deeper than their kidnapping. They might snatch freedom and go home, but nothing would ever be the same again, because Glorfindel would never be the same. The burden of that Man’s face would follow him everywhere he fled from it.

Glorfindel turned over into Althon’s arms, his own clinging to Althon like a lifeline. Another shape shifted behind Althon on their narrow bed, and Ramhad spread himself atop them, face pressing into their shoulders, hands anchoring in their hair. Glorfindel tasted the salt of three sets of tears.

“Whatever happens, whatever happens, we’ll find each other again. We won’t be parted.”

Ramhad let out a cry, half sob half kneeing, his hands holding so tight in their hair it pulled. One of Glorfindel’s arms released Althon to wrap about Ramhad’s waist. Their cheeks rested one to the other’s; their three breaths mingling in the unbreakable circle of their faces, and their tears mixing.

When the sunlight bleached the grey cabin a pale yellow, its touch a wavering thing lighting upon the ceiling, the upper walls, not yet risen high enough to fill the room, they untangled themselves for each other. They had not slept the rest of the night, but the renewed knowledge that they were not entirely alone in this, had dulled the terror, and pushed back the mantel of despair.

Hope remained. Though they may never see home again, they had two pieces of it to carry with them. Whatever it took, they would find each other on the legendary Isle of Men, Númenor. They would not be kept apart.

They didn’t speak as the light crept further into the cabin. They sat together on the bed, hands and legs brushing, unwilling to entirely withdraw from the comfort of the others’ touch. They leaned shoulder-to-shoulder as they listened to the sounds of the crew stirring, night watches relieved, duties of maintenance run through, the creak of the mast as the sails were adjusted with the wind’s flighty temperament.

The jangle of keys, the clunk of a lock turning, shattered their hard-won peace. The cabin door swung open and the slavers’ captain sauntered through. A sack swung indolently from his hand, and one of his men followed behind balancing three bowels.

“Time for breakfast,” the captain announced as the bowels were set down before them. He sent his man away with a tilt of his head.

Glorfindel leaned far enough forward from their huddle on the bed to snatch the three bowels. He passed one to Althon and Ramhad, and brought his own up to his nose, sniffing the grey…something.

The captain snorted. “It’s porridge, beauty. You’re in luck this morning, I had a spoonful of sugar added and raisins, so don’t waste it. Raisins are a luxury on board a ship.”

Althon and Ramhad eyed this ‘porridge’ as dubiously as Glorfindel. None of them attempted to eat it.

The captain crossed his legs, leaning back in the chair he’d commandeered. “That’s all you’ll be getting before supper time, so I advise you not to waste it.”

Sourly, Glorfindel tried a spoonful, telling himself this was not a submission but a strategic necessity. He had to keep his strength up for whatever awaited them. Althon and Ramhad reluctantly followed his example. The porridge sat thick and gooey on his tongue, but its taste was tolerable.

The captain startled them by smacking his hands together, “Well then, let’s get down to business. You’ll be guests,” he smiled slyly at them, “On my ship for eight weeks if the weather holds, longer if a storm blows us off course, so it’s best you know what behavior is expected of you, and what you can expect from my men.”

Glorfindel’s shoulders wound tight as knots, “So sure we’ll just dance to your tune, are you?”

“Glorfindel!” Althon hissed in his ear, but Glorfindel couldn’t help his hackles rising. He wanted to punch the captain’s smirking face. There weren’t any bonds holding him…if he could—

“You’ll do as I say, beauty, because it won’t be you who suffers for any disobedience, it will be these dear friends of yours.”

Glorfindel’s breath turned to ice in his lungs, and his fingers clenched about the bed sheets. He dropped his eyes from the captain’s face, showing submission. What else could he do?

“Good boy.” Glorfindel’s teeth ground together, but he did not look up. “Now, firstly the rules. They are rather simple. You do as you’re told, and make no attempts at escape. If you disobey, you will watch your friends be punished. If that does not cub you, I’ll have you locked in the hull with the cargo of Human slaves and wish you a pleasant journey down there sitting in piss and shit in the dark.”

Althon’s hand crawled into Glorfindel’s, squeezing, a plea, a warning. Althon needn’t fear, Glorfindel’s pride would not be indulged at the price of his friend’s health. As for the crushing weight against his chest, the longing for freedom, well, even he wasn’t delusional enough to think he had anywhere to run to on a ship in the middle of the ocean.

“My men will not touch you,” the captain carried on. “They are under orders, and my men are well disciplined.” He locked his fingers and slipped them over his crossed knee. “Now on the matter of your time on my ship. Knowledgeable slaves fetch a higher price than the ignorant. They also earn more comfortable positions, which should be your motivation. I doubt a lord will be purchasing you to fuck for a few nights. It is true some Elves live longer than others in such an environment, but the chances of buying a slave for pleasure only for it to turn out to be one who dies the next morning are too great to squander the kind of coin an Elf brings in. But fucking isn’t the only way an owner could attain some pleasure from you, and you won’t be dying from a little play, so it is in your interest to bring some skill more than your beauty to the auctioning block.”

Glorfindel’s eyes brushed Althon and Ramhad’s, their bodies drawing close, huddling against the world in the shelter of each others’ shoulders. What skills did they have? Nothing extraordinary by the measure of their village. Glorfindel’s feet flew; his speed notable even among the Elves, and his body would possess strength when he grew into himself, but what were these next to his looks? Althon’s mind was sharper than the other boys,’ his temperament running cool and logical, and Ramhad had a talent for the flute, but could any of this save them?

“The first skill I expect you to know will be your most valuable: Adûnaic. Our language. If you do not master it, you will have little use outside a bedroom. But for the nobility, Sindarin is almost unheard of. So you will not be able to rely upon it.”

“But, sir, you speak Sindarin,” Althon ventured.

The caption sliced them a smile, “Yes, I do. Do you think me a fallen lord, then?” His eyes crinkled, finding hidden humor in his words. “Or perhaps I am merely an ambitions slaver who wished the means to communicate with his cargo? You are not, I assure you, the first Elves I have brought to market.”

Glorfindel’s stomach turned. The Man’s heart must be stone if he could speak so casually about his past crimes and the horrifying future awaiting them.

“You will not be prisoners locked in this cabin cramming knowledge into your heads for the next eight weeks, though.” The caption swung his crossed leg back onto the floorboards, and picked up the sack he’d brought. From it he drew rolls of blank parchments, quills, and thin books with pictures of children upon them.

“These are for your learning. I cannot hope any of you know reading or writing, can I?” They all shook their heads. “We’ll start on that later, but lest you hang those heads too low, rest assured I know how to keep the grey out of an Elf’s skin. You’ll be taken up to the deck daily for some sunlight and to stretch your legs. If you behave yourself, I’ll allow you to swim in the sea (with some safety measures). A dose of steady meals and sunshine will keep those cheeks rosy for the block.”

Glorfindel’s jaw clenched. Everything came back to the money for this Man. “You were quick enough to order your man to kick Althon yesterday for all you speak of your investment in our health. You’re just a greedy villain!”

“Ah, how harshly you judge me, my beauty, so quick to cast stones.” The captain stood, tossing the emptied sack upon his chair’s seat. “Do control that tongue of yours. I am a tolerant man, but I doubt very much your future owner will be so understanding.” With that he strode from the room, bolting the door behind him.

*

Glorfindel shot up in the bed, a scream ringing in his ears. His nostrils dilated with a foul stench, like the stench of an open grave. He yanked his hands through his hair, shaking. Just a nightmare.

(A rotting face, the hands of a corpse closing over his, eyes looking into his, “You killed me. Why did you steal the most precious of gifts from me?” “I had to. I had no choice, don’t you see?”)

Glorfindel buried his face in his bent knees. “Leave me alone!”

“Glorfindel?”

The soft voice jerked his head up. His knuckles scrubbed hastily at his eyes, erasing the evidence. “I did not mean to disturb your sleep, Althon.”

Silence came from behind him for a long moment, but Glorfindel could not bring himself to look. His voice had betrayed him, shaking like a newborn colt. Glorfindel stiffened when arms wrapped about his shoulders, before he relaxed into his friend’s touch.

“What preys upon you?”

Glorfindel swallowed, keeping his face turned into the bones of his knees, “Nothing that will not pass.”

“You have been having nightmares every night since our capture. It’s been over two weeks, Glorfindel.”

Glorfindel shrugged, tucking his face deeper, “You and Ramhad have nightmares too.”

“But not every night, and not…Glorfindel,” Althon sighed. “Sometimes you thrash about and…and whisper things.”

Glorfindel’s shoulders became boards, shields against what was coming. “What do I…say?”

Althon didn’t speak. His fingers brushed against Glorfindel’s loose hair, as if not quite daring to sink further in. “You know…you know that Ramhad and I do not think you…do not think you did anything wrong when you were defending us on the beach, don’t you?”

Glorfindel’s breath hissed from his lungs in a shaky exhale. He shoved the blankets and Althon’s hands off him, rising from the bed.

“Don’t.” Althon’s hand caught at his wrist. “Listen to me, Glorfindel. You did nothing that was not necessary.” When Glorfindel would not look back at him, Althon continued, a desperate note creeping into his voice, “Look what kind of Men they are? Even if that Man would not have killed us, you do know they are keeping Human captives in the hull. How many people had that Man ripped from their families? How many people had he killed in the doing? He does not deserve your guilt. He does not deserve even a cramped corner of your heart.”

“Do you think I have not told myself these things?” Glorfindel’s voice came out of the darkness, only a sliver of moonlight lighting their cabin. “It doesn’t work, Althon, because I don’t know. What if…what if he’d been pressed into service against his will, what if he had a family of his own, a son, a daughter awaiting their father’s return...I just….” Glorfindel slipped his wrist from Althon’s hold. “It hurts.”

“Glorfindel—”

“No. I can’t speak of—” Glorfindel’s voice broke apart.

“Alright,” Althon came to stand beside him. “We’ll speak of other things. I for one won’t get any more sleep tonight, might as well use the time wisely.”

Glorfindel jerked a nod, unable to give a verbal reply. He followed Althon to the cabin’s table. The beginners’ books and scraps of parchment with practice letters had been left strewn over it. Althon lit a candle, and Glorfindel stood a book on its end, split open, to offer a crude shield between the light and Ramhad slumbering on the bed.

“I still don’t see how you can already understand most of the captain’s words when he speaks to us in Adûnaic. It’s only been two weeks!” Althon slouched down in one of the chairs, pulling the parchment with his practice letters closer.

Glorfindel hesitated. Althon and Ramhad had asked this before, but he’d held his tongue, instinctively knowing what he did was not normal. But he felt he owed Althon something, so he picked his words, struggling to give voice to what he did on instinct alone. “It’s like when I look into his face when he speaks Adûnaic and I really concentrate, I can…the word’s meaning seems to…to appear before me in pictures almost, emotions, and the words fall upon my tongue…I don’t know how it happens.” He ended with a shrug, sliding a glace up at Althon.

A frown folded Althon’s brow. He hummed, tracing over the A’s his untrained hand had scrawled into his parchment. “I’ve never heard anything like what you describe. It sounds, well…it sounds very Noldor-ish, doesn’t it?”

Glorfindel wrapped his arms over his stomach, giving another shrug. “I guess.”

“Not that that’s a bad thing,” Althon hurried on. “But I don’t understand how you came to possess this ability, you see.”

“It’s hardly the first time I’ve done something strange,” Glorfindel frowned at the table. “You can’t pretend I’m not abnormal in my growth or my appearance.”

“I never thought it bothered you before,” Althon whispered.

Glorfindel sighed, throwing off the mood of despondency. He looked up with a crooked smile. “You’re right. It didn’t in the village. I just…everything’s changed now. It would be easier if I were ordinary.”

“Maybe it would be easier, but not necessarily better. And I doubt if you were to suddenly become ordinary, you’d like it much.”

That startled a laugh out of him, but Glorfindel stifled it with a hand to his mouth, conscious of Ramhad’s sleeping form. “No, I suppose you’re right about that.”

Althon reached across the table and drew Glorfindel’s hand into his, squeezing it. “The Sea-gods have delivered us into the hand of the negative, and we endure it with great pain, but the balance will swing in our favor again. Remember, for every joy we must walk an equal measure in darkness. It is the way of the world. Do not lose hope, we cannot remain in this darkness forever.”

Glorfindel sighed, hearing words every mouth in the village had dropped into their ears a thousand times. The words sat unacceptably against Glorfindel’s skin. This was not the first negative he’d been expected to endure so that the positive could be all the sweeter.

“Maybe, if I knew how long I was expected to endure, I would do so in proper patience and long-suffering, but I can find no hope in your words.”

Althon’s lips parted. Glorfindel never spoke against the ‘known’ way of the world, not before his friends who followed the teachings with proper modesty and humility. No doubt this was Althon’s first time hearing words spoken against accepting what was ‘written.’ “But…but the balance will tip back to the positive, we know this. You mustn’t struggle against the current of the world, Glorfindel! Terrible things happened to those who do.”

“Do they? Or are those just tales told to frighten us into obedience? Into accepting our humble lot in life so that we never dare to climb higher?”

Althon shook his head, releasing Glorfindel’s hand. He looked truly shocked. “Climb higher? Your words are those befitting a Noldo’s tongue! It is not the way of our people who cherish what they have been given, learning wisdom and contentment through acceptance for the gifts we have received.”

Glorfindel pressed forward, his chest bumping up against the table’s edge. “And if we had a chance at freedom today, tomorrow, you wouldn’t take it because this suffering must be ‘endured?’”

“Of course I would take it. That would be a sign of the balance falling into our favor if such a gift were handed to us.”

Glorfindel’s eyes hooded, “But you wouldn’t seek it out, would you? You would rather languish in slavery then reach out to grasp something not within the Song?”

“We must not fight our fate, Glorfindel,” Althon cast his eyes into the shadows as if expecting one of the Sea-gods to rise up and smite Glorfindel down for the discord on his tongue. “We suffer for a time, but as with the morning comes light, so too does joy come for those who have walked the hard path of the negative.”

“We might die before the balance shifts back. We might be broken passed any coming joy’s healing.”

“We might,” Althon agreed. “But we cannot know the future, you know this Glorfindel. The future stands behind us, hidden. Plans against our destiny in the Song are fruitless. No matter how swiftly we turn, the future will ever elude our eyes. We must take strength from the past stretching before us, and live in the present, accepting the cup our pre-sung destiny has handed us.”

Glorfindel looked away. He refused to allow the kernel of bitterness to grow up in his heart against Althon. Althon spoke only as he had been taught. If he had resigned himself to years of slavery, refusing to take even the first step towards initiative, it was not Althon’s failing. Glorfindel burned against the teachings of fate, refusing to accept anything as powerless as a pre-written strand in the Song. He would not accept this cup of suffering with the quiet endurance expected of a Teler.

Even as a child his thoughts had traveled strange paths, every grasping dreams of a better life, encouraged by his mother. Even his grandfather did not preach ‘contentment’ with the world. Such words would have been a mockery falling from Grandfather’s resentful mouth. Glorfindel had fought against his grandfather’s authority, struggled against his pre-destined place in life, and he would fight again. Somehow, someway, he would gulp freedom, and if he had to fight the very Song itself to do so, then so be it.
Chapter 3 by Encairion
Author's Notes:

TurnerMohan’s Numenorean Armor 3 was my inspiration for writing the Númenórean soldiers.

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 3

Moonlight spilled over the silhouettes of giants. Two colossal men stood, shields high, helms like a bronze sea-shell in the rear, elongating to a spear-point at the brow. The colossuses rose out of the sea cliffs, their legs spread, feet planted in the earth. They stood like defenders, warning of the unconquerable might of the people who’d build as surely only the gods had ever built before.

The ship sailed through the giant’s spread legs. Two sea-gates, each under one of the giant’s guard, allowed ships to pass into the harbor beyond. But these were only the first and most impressive of the sea-gates. Another ring of wall seemed to rise out of the sea itself, though there must be a finger of land upon which it rooted. It gave the illusion of the impossible accomplished.

A lesser stone guard stood upon this wall, not as impressive in height, but Glorfindel’s mouth fell open at the life-likeness of the woman’s marble face. She held a drawn sword, live flames leaping down its blade, igniting the night with light. From her back stretched two enormous wings, pulled back like an eagle defending its nest.

The ship passed the second sea-gate and into the harbor proper. No one had challenged their coming. Glorfindel spied Human guards upon the walls, their spears shinning in the moonlight, but they made no move to bar the slave-ship’s entry.

“I see Yurah’s as slick as ever.” The slave captain’s words were not aimed at Glorfindel but one of his men. Glorfindel understood them anyway. There could be no secrets from him now when they spoke Adûnaic within his keen earshot.

He gave a care not to reveal his eavesdropping, dropping deeper into the shadows. He’d concealed the full depth and swiftness of his grasp of the Númenórean’s language from the slavers.

“Aye, captain. That is one palm I wouldn’t want to shake with all the grease upon it.” The sailor laughed.

The caption joined him. “True enough, but where would our illustrious business be without greased palms, eh?”

“Let us hope Yurah sated the dock patrol’s greed. They are an uppity lot, always grasping for more than their share.”

“That they are.”

A cloud rolled back and the moon bloomed from a sliver in the sky to a full orb. Silver light danced upon the ocean’s glassy surface like a mirror, dazzling. The shadows flung back, and up and up and up spun marble towers, golden domes, and buildings cut into the sea cliffs, fashioned from the rock like gems. Woman and men with wings, the paws of leopards, and the beaks of ravens, perched upon the tower heights. Other statues stood as if on the air itself, seeming to fly, bows drawn in their hands, aiming for the stars, shitless torsos rippling with life-like muscles.

“Behold, the majesty of Anadûnê, fairest land in all Endor, given by Eru to his golden children of the moon and sun. Let us walk the rolling pastures of Andustar, bathe in the crystal blue of Rómenna’s waters, climb the pearly heights of Meneltarma.”

“And never steer from Eru’s directions, lest we stay into turbulent waters and loose ourselves in the cold depths of the lost.” The two Men finished together, their voices mingled in the lilting roll of a prayer.

“Ah, fair Rómenna!” The sailor sighed. “How my eyes have missed your beauty.”

“Easy on the love sighs,” the captain said. “Or your wife will start wondering who has caught your eye. She will catch you out, you can be sure, woman-on-the-side or no, she will catch you at something.”

“Glorfindel, is that…?”

Glorfindel turned to catch Ramhad’s huge eyes as he approached the ship’s rail, gaze riveted on the city striking up from the earth in pillars of marble and gold.

Glorfindel snuck close to his friend’s side. “Ramhad,” he breathed in the other Elf’s ear, “Where’s Althon?”

“Below, in the cabin, why?” Ramhad whispered back, eyes darting around.

“Come on.” Glorfindel took his arm and began sneaking across the deck, slipping as quiet as shadows through the door towards the closest thing they had to sanctuary.

Candlelight greeted them with the sight of Althon dozing over their Adûnaic studies. Althon and Ramhad hadn’t made similar progress as Glorfindel during the eight-week passage, and the fear and obsession to cram as much knowledge as possible into their brains had escalated the closer they drew to the slave block.

“Althon,” Glorfindel eased the door shut behind them.

Althon stirred, blinking sleepy eyes. “Hmmm?”

“Listen, I’ve heard something.” Glorfindel and Ramhad dropped into chairs beside Althon.

Althon brushed mussed hair from his face. “What?”

“The slavers were talking of bribing the Númenórean guards. They wouldn’t be resorting to bribes if what they were doing was legal!” Glorfindel’s face flushed with triumph. “We still have hope of escape. If we can just get away, get to someone of authority, the slavers won’t be able to touch us!”

Althon chewed his lip. “Maybe. But if the guards are so easily bought, who’s to say anyone we seek help from won’t be as well? It’s too risky, Glorfindel, too much can go wrong—”

“This might be our last chance!”

Althon sighed. “We’ll keep an eye out. If this was written, a way will be provided.”

Glorfindel blew out a breath. “Come on, Althon! We can’t just ‘keep an eye out’ we have to plan, we have to—”

Althon shook his head. “You’re not being realistic, Glorfindel. This will be the time we are most heavily guarded. We cannot know what measures the slavers will employ; perhaps we will be bound, maybe even knocked unconscious. Plans are useless, only fortune smiling upon us will help us now.”

Ramhad picked at the table, mouth turned down. “I agree with Althon.” His eyes flickered up to them. He whispered, as if the words were too heavy for normal speech, “Don’t forget what the captain promised to do if we attempted escape. Do you want to see Althon punished for your failure, Glorfindel?”

Glorfindel’s eyes tore away, his jaw clenching. “Of course not. But we may find our lives with new ‘masters’ a thousand times more unendurable then any beating.”

A tight silence coiled between them. Althon and Ramhad must know the truth of his words, and yet they held back, still living under denial, unable to send their minds after the lives of horror the captain had painted for them.

And then there was no more time to win the other two to his side and concoct a hasty strategy, for the door swung open and the captain stepped through with a good seven slavers shouldering in behind him.

“Now,” the captain clasped his hands behind his back, leaning his weight on one hip. “We can do this the hard way or the easy way.” He flicked his fingers and one of his men stepped forward, rope in his hands. “You will not be leaving this room with your hands free; the condition of how your friends leave will be entirely up to you.” His gaze landed on Glorfindel. “Don’t think I won’t leave marks for fear of the block. It’s no hardship on my part to wait a few days for healing. Elves do have a remarkable rate of recovery, do they not?”

Glorfindel stepped forward, offering his wrists. He kept his eyes straight ahead, and his mouth set. This wasn’t the end. It wasn’t. There had to be some way…

Althon and Ramhad followed him, and each had their hands bound. Glorfindel focused his mind on regulating his breathing and not twisting his hands in the ropes caging them. Only after they had lost a good deal of their mobility, did the captain toss strips of cloth at his men and order, “Cover their mouths.”

Glorfindel’s nostrils flared. But there had never been a hope of them winning their freedom through strength of arms, only through running or trickery could they slip free, like minnows slipping through fingers.

They were herded up to the deck, and black cloaks were thrown over their shoulders, the hoods pulled up to hide their bright hair. The Human slaves had been brought up from the belly of the ship as well. Glorfindel had never laid eyes on them before, though he’d heard them at times, groaning and weeping in the depths. He’d thought there would be more, but only twenty bodies stood chained in groups of five. They too were muffled and cloaked.

“Easy does it, lads,” the captain addressed his men in Adûnaic. “Stick to the path, keep your heads about you, pull out your coin not your blades, and we’ll slip this lot through the city ease as a cock entering a whore.”

“You’re with me,” the captain pointed at the seven men. “The rest of you, take your five prizes and get going.” The slavers split off, each hustling to one of the chained groups of slaves.

The captain snapped three of his men forward. “The chains. You,” he pointed at one of the three, “With my beauty here. You,” he motioned another forward, “The tallest.” The sailor sidled over to Ramhad. “And you with the last. Now chain ‘em up.”

Glorfindel’s bound hands were caught, and a shackle clipped about one of his wrists, the other shackle running to the wrist of the slaver assigned to him. His heart plummeted. How would they ever brake free now?

They were pulled down the gangplank and onto the docks. The wooden planks creaked under their steps until the wood turned to cobblestones. They passed helmeted guards, round shields leaning against their knees, spears clasped in fists, and eyes not turning to spare the train of cloaked and bound captives even one glance. They had been bought, each and every one of them. Despair threatened to consume Glorfindel.

Into paved streets they were led, pausing at every corner for the captain to scrape his gaze down the coming lane, seeking out obstacles. The buildings towered on either side, pressing heavy with stones and heavier still with silence. Not even one face poked out to investigate at this midnight hour.

Deeper they wove through the seemingly endless city. Glorfindel lost the way back; only the smell of the sea anchored him to anything like direction. Was this what Noldorin cities were like? All these stone shoulders pressing in, only to drop them into squares where statues dominated, each more grandiose then the last.

The captain threw up a fist, and his men jerked to a halt, their chained captives forced to do the same. Laughter floated down the street, accompanied by rowdy shouts. Light flooded the street with a door thrown open.

“Get back in here, you drunkards!” Merriment rode the voice. “I’ll not be saddled with your gambling debts! I’ll set the Watch on you if you even think of passing out in a gutter somewhere!”

Laughter greeted the words. “Oh shut your hole, Sûla. Everyone knows how poor you are. Just come to mooch off our father’s wealth, you lazy cat!”

The figure in the doorway, nothing more than a silhouette with the light at his back, crossed his arms over his chest. “Money doesn’t buy class. Something you dearly lack.” A boot sailed at the figure, but he ducked. ‘Oi! Get your drunk, filthy-rich assess in here before you do something even your father’s can’t buy you out of!”

A window banged open. “Shut that racket up or I’ll call the Watch down on you!”

The drunks swayed into the slice of yellow light cutting across the street from the open door. One of them shouting up at the rumpled neighbor, “Right, like the Watch is going to care about some butcher’s sleep when I tell him my father is the Abâr. As in Abâr Logging Company, only the wealthiest—”

“Get in here,” the one named Sûla grabbed hold of his drunken friend’s collar and shoved him into the establishment. His other friends were subjected to the same treatment, and the door slammed shut behind them.

The slaver Glorfindel was chained to snorted. “Bunch of common-born sods putting on airs now their common-born father’s made a fortune on the mainland.”

The slaver next to them said, “If we ever get that lucky, I’ll dress up like a young lord and throw my money at whores, drink, and gambling too. Why not if you have it?”

Glorfindel’s chained slaver shrugged. “Sure, why not. But that’s not all those ilk are aiming for, is it? They swagger about, bragging to everyone within earshot of their wealth, and think that will buy them a right into the nobility.”

The captain slid a grin back over his shoulder. “And to think, they can’t even speak Sindarin I’d wager.”

“Who cares if the nobility turn up their noses like they smell something foul when those boys’ families enter a room?”

“Because blood has to mean something.” The slaver chained to Glorfindel said.

“Why?”

“Don’t know, it just does. Right captain?”

The captain turned, face serious. “For now, yes, we want there to be a reason the nobility are set so high above us. But times are changing. We’ve felt it for years. A New Age was born the minute King Aldarion struck our flag in the first outpost on the mainland, and it grows in power year by year. Now,” he spun back around, “We have business to complete.”

The deeper they drew into the city, the more these little delays occurred, and they were stopped more than once by the Night Watch. Gold passed from palm to palm, a little more here than there, a few more minutes of convincing to unbend certain Watch’s brows. But in the end ‘Everyone one does it, my friend’ and ‘Well yes, slavery is technically illegal, but there are hundreds of slaves in Númenor, what are three more? Come on, take it, and go buy your wife something handsome.’

Fortune did not stoop to offer them a hand. Althon would say this was written, Glorfindel could not accept that. The hope of escape clanged shut with the sound of their new cell’s door closing in upon them. For this night at least. Glorfindel forged his own fate; there would be no surrendering to a life pre-destined within his heart.

Tomorrow it would be the block. They held each other, sleepless, all night, clinging to hands and necks, legs twining together, whispering into the dark a hundred promises of finding each other again. No matter what, they would be together again, somehow, someway.

*

Glorfindel’s fingers clenched white about Althon’s as they watched Ramhad climb the last step of the block. A block it was indeed, a hunk of wood rising above the enclosed courtyard. Over a thousand faces were crowded into the space. A slave auction could not be conducted in the public street, after all.

The Human slaves had gone first, the captain savoring the Elves for last. The sun beat down upon Glorfindel’s head, and it took an effort to keep a twitch from developing between his shoulder blades after hours of being stared at. The captain had shown the Elves off before the bidding began, wetting the buyer’s appetite for what was to come, and Glorfindel had felt the stares every second since.

Ramhad’s hands trembled. He turned them into fists at his sides, just under where the chains wrapped about his wrists like jaws. His eyes flickered over the buyers’ faces, panic beating like a pulse point in the glassy shine his eyes acquired.

Althon broke first. “Ramhad!” His cry earned him a cuff on the ear from the guards, but also Ramhad’s eyes jerking back to them.

Glorfindel willed Ramhad not to look away. (Don’t look down at the sea of faces, only here, only at us). Ramhad obeyed the silent plea, even as his price rose higher and higher, voices shouting out how much he was worth in a measure of gold. Glorfindel wanted to be sick, his belly threatened, but he turned his insides to steel. He had to keep holding Ramhad’s eyes, feeding courage into him.

Glorfindel didn’t see who gave the final bid; he’d not wanted to look away from Ramhad’s face. They came to unchain Ramhad, to steal him for Glorfindel’s eyes. The panic would not be struck back now, and Ramhad screamed and writhed against them, hands clawing the air for Glorfindel and Althon. Glorfindel surged forward in his chains, the strength of his desperation pulling his chained guard forward a few startled steps before the guard sank his feet in and used his greater bulk against Glorfindel.

Glorfindel whipped around and attacked as he had not attacked since that day on the beach. All reason fled, only the blood roaring through his brain and the sounds of Ramhad’s cries were left. He sank his teeth into the guard’s face, and his nails into a throat. The guard screamed, and hands wrapped about Glorfindel’s arms, grabbing in his hair to yank him back as more guards came to subdue him.

When they had wrestled his face into the dirt, and his blood receded from its spike, Glorfindel’s head lifted, but he could no longer see Ramhad or hear his screams. His friend was gone.

“A little wild cat, this one, and the beauty to go with it!” The captain shouted over the crowds’ murmurings. “Bring him up, bring him up, let him be next.”

They hauled Glorfindel forward. Glorfindel saw Althon straining for him as they dragged him passed. He needed to reach out, to brush their fingers together one last time, but his arms were twisted behind his back, pinned. They stood him on his feet after they’d secured his chains to the block, like he was a dangerous animal they’d come to stare at, but not too close lest he rip their throats out.

He locked his knees. He would not kneel before them. Nor would he give them the satisfaction of looking into their faces; his head turned away, back towards Althon. If a tear dripped down his cheek and he saw a matching one on Althon’s, it did not make him weak. Only bending to their will, surrendering to this destiny could do that.

The price rose. He tried to block it out, but the shouts echoed about in his skull. The price soared passed what Ramhad sold for, a barking voice treading over every other attempt to claim him. He would not look, he would not look. The barking ended. He had been sold.

He could not breathe. Hands wrapped about his biceps like chains. He could not breathe. Althon screamed his name. He could get nothing through his own lips, but his head craned, again and again, ever back to Althon as they dragged him away. He fought, but it was an instinctive, rabid reaction; his eyes pointed to Althon, nothing else mattered but getting back to Althon.

They took Althon from him. Ripped him from his eyes as they had ripped his home and Mother. But they ripped nothing from his heart.

They took him to a Man gone soft with wealth. His chest bore the signs of muscle atrophy, once a Man of strength, now one of bulk. He wore a the same long robe most of these other buyers did, only a few still daring the short tunics of the young and hail of body.

The Man placed a fat hand under Glorfindel’s chin, pulling his face up to inspect. Glorfindel bared his teeth and made a swipe at the fingers. The Man boomed a laugh.

“Oh yes, this one will do very well.” The Man snapped his fingers at his attendant. “Have the wagon brought around. This one will need the strongest chains!” The Man clapped his hands together as his servants hustled to fulfill his orders. “Well now Elf, don’t look so glum. Glory and fame await you! You serve me well, and you’ll want for nothing in your life. I take care of my boys. Work hard, put on a show for the crowds, and I’ll be the making of you.”
Chapter 4 by Encairion
Author's Notes:

Notes: The Funeral Games (introduced in The Price of Duty as a custom of the Hadorions) were a precursor to the current Númenórean Games.  At the time of Glorfindel’s participation, the Games had not turned into a blood-sport/gladiator type combat that will come as Númenor’s empire expands and the slave trade is legalized. 

I have two influences for the Númenórean Games: One is obviously Rome, a civilization I see as quite similar to Númenor.  The second is the unparalleled work of Spiced Wine who writes her Númenor with arena-type games; my own interpretation is but a pale attempt in comparison.

 

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 4

Zabathân folded his arm behind his head, taking hold of his elbow and settling in for a good stretch. Some of the other Champions were sizing him up. Irion Teeth glowered, and Zabathân sneered back. They were all jealous the crowds loved him best.

He bent his waist, touching his nose to his knees in an impressive display of flexibility. He stood up with a little tilt of his hips. They couldn’t touch him, he had this. He’d been working too hard for too long to let one of these other sluggards snatch the Glory Crown from his hands.

This month’s Games would be the last of the season, and he would be the victor swaggering away with the crown. These other Champions would eat his dust and watch with envy as the Master dotted on him and brought women and luxuries by the pound, anything for the Glory Crown winner.

Zabathân strutted over to the sword rack. He would take his time in the choosing, only the best for him. A disturbance at the entrance of the training compound had him turning with a down-turned mouth. Who dared to interrupt the games he played with these lesser Champion’s minds? It was all about confidence, and he had a show to put on.

The Master walked into the compound with the grin of a satisfied cat. Zabathân squared his shoulders, expecting those greedy eyes to fall on him first and foremost, as was their place. They slid right over him.

“We have a new Champion, boys!” The Master always called them boys, reminding them of their place in the palm of his hand. For all he pampered those Champions the crowds adored, he owned them and they better not forget it.

The Master gave a dramatic twirl of his hands, and moved his bulky form to the side, revealing the slip of a youth standing behind. The sunlight blazed in a fall of golden hair, but in the youth’s distressingly handsome face glowed a light to rival the sun itself.

Envy and fear pierced Zabathân. The crowds would worship this youth. They would fall at his feet, staring up at him like a god, and where would that leave Zabathân? The only hope Zabathân clung to to ward off absolute ignominy, lay in the youth’s prowess, or lack there off. If the boy washed out on the field, then his beauty could only take him so far into the crowds’ hearts.

“This is not just another Champion I bring to our number today.” The Master rubbed his hands as his eyes raked down the boy’s frame, undoubtedly seeing the same thing Zabathân had, but focused on the money and fame such a Champion would fatten his purse with where Zabathân saw the threat. “Oh no, no mere Champion! This, my boys, is an Elf! One of the Immortals themselves!”

Murmurs broke out in the practice field. They’d all heard tales of the Elves, but Zabathân would be surprised if even one of them had laid eyes on an Elf before. It was said the Elves of the fabled Undying West still came at times to Andustar, but no ship had come in Zabathân’s lifetime. Even if one came, the Elves would be received by the nobility, entertained like lords and ladies in great mansions, fed the finest foods and wine as they were dazzled by the height of Númenórean culture. A man like Zabathân, common-born, the son of a drunkard who could not pay his debts and sold his own son into slavery to save himself, would never set eyes upon the beings of legend.

If all Elves had the beauty of this youth, Zabathân no longer wondered why some worshiped them and others hated. The youth was altogether unnatural, and hopelessly beautiful.

“Well, boy, let’s see what we can make of you,” the Master clapped the youth’s slender shoulder, sending the boy stumbling forward with the weight of the meaty hand. “Here you will be trained in combat by the finest the city has to offer. Zabathân!” The Master called him forward. “You will be the Elf’s tutor. Get him started on swords, those are the crowds’ favorite to watch. You have any weapon skill, Elf?”

The youth’s mouth tightened, and it seemed for a moment that he would stubbornly not answer. Zabathân’s heart leapt with glee. If the boy proved undisciplined, it could take months for the Master to break him, and he might be ruined before he broke. Zabathân had seen it before in the savage, lesser Men the slave ships brought in from the mainland.

But the boy suppressed the fire in his eyes, and ground out, “I am learned in the bow.”

“Yes, yes, you’re an Elf, after all. Aren’t all you people born archers or something?” The Master dismissed with a wave of his hand. The youth’s hands fisted at his sides. “Well we have some work cut out for us. But never fear, my boys, with this Champion among our ranks we’ll draw crowds by the thousands like flies to honey!” The Master settled his large hands on the boy’s shoulders, his voice booming.

Zabathân swallowed his displeasure when the boy was ordered after him. At least the boy followed at his heels for now. The youth’s body lacked strength in its appearance, but Zabathân had heard the tales of the Elves’ unnatural speed and strength like all the rest. Appearances could be deceiving when it came to these creatures.

He grudgingly instructed the boy in the proper selecting of a blade –having to revert to the wooden-training swords like an untrained youth—and how to hold the sword for optimum mobility and security. He couldn’t sabotage the boy’s training, or the Master would have his balls. Zabathân demonstrated a basic technique, dragging his feet in the doing as much as he dared, but the boy confounded his attempts at every turn, for he picked up the movements with effortless ease.

Zabathân tried to smothered his rising panic as he took the boy through another and yet another technique. The boy executed them all with a focused intensity and presence that set him above any student Zabathân had ever encountered. The boy did not break, did not pause to try and draw him into light conversation during the lulls between assignments or to complain about the increasingly demanding maneuvers Zabathân’s fear-turned-rage baited him into. The youth’s face set in a serious expression as if the mastering of the sword was a matter of survival, not just a means to glory.

Why must the Elf be so perfect at that downward slice after only the second attempt? Why must he have an instinctual grasp on the need to keep his knees loose and his feet light? Why must he be so breathtakingly beautiful when his golden hair sliced the air behind him in a twirl, the sheet of his hair gathering sunlight like lovers?

The Elf would be the ruin of him. The fall into nothing sped towards him, and Zabathân was powerless to stop his topple. A new star was rising, and it would be Zabathân left in the dust.

*

Azar strode down the street, hood thrown back, taking no care to hide herself though she was a woman of station walking alone after dark. None of that mattered now. Shame had no power over her, only the thrill of crime remained. She’d fallen and could never show her face in the company of her once-equals again, so she sought the company of the equally depraved.

She turned into an alleyway between the massive marble buildings rising up and up to challenge the night sky in soaring towers. A line of shifty-eyed fellow law-breakers met her. She took her place in line with boldness, some few others, like her, waited with indolence in their bones, completely at ease, no longer afraid of the consequences of their actions. The time for fear had passed when they’d proved themselves without honor.

Every social restraint had been snapped the moment she stood before that court and was forsworn, giving false-testimony against a woman she hated and burned to see destroyed. She’d been caught out, and her honor stripped from her. One’s word was everything; one was nothing without it. She had proved herself nothing.

She would give back this newfound freedom for what she had lost if she could. The potential for shame had been lost, but her pride and honor with it.

The line moved at a smart pace. The Games had become a streamlined affair after all these years thriving in underground caverns, abandoned buildings, and halls commandeered in the night. Options were limited, for the arena and subsequent stands to seat thousands required not only secrecy but space.

The guard at the door received her coin and stepped aside to let her pass. Torches lined the underground corridor, but the air lay damp and chill against her naked arms and exposed upper breasts. She pulled her wrap from its fashionable drape through her elbows and up about her shoulders. A group of women dressed in New Age fashions drew her eye. She migrated over, like drawn to like.

Azar inserted herself into the group of females with a few witty comments, and a friendly smile. They accepted her, inviting her to sit with them. Companionship was born down here between cold stones. Azar had experienced it before; shared criminality brought them together, and of course, a shared passion for the Morning Star.

They listened ravenously to each other recount every glimpse they’d ever had of their beloved Champion. Azar had attended the Games before the Morning Star had smashed into them, stealing all their hearts with his coming, but it had not been a regular attendance. Now it bordered on an obsession. She was not the only one.

They took their seats in the Fuck-You section of the stands, as the seats furthest from the exits had been lovingly named. Azar’s smile turned more genuine as she discovered these women had fallen as far as herself in society. Everyone who sat in these seats could not possibly get out during a raid before the king’s soldiers sealed the doors. That was fine with them; they accepted the fine and black-mark against their names. They had nothing left to lose.

One of her companions leaned in to gossip about a couple in their opposing section, huddled close to the door. “Fresh meat.”

“Yes, definite first-timers. Just look at what she’s wearing.”

They scrutinized the woman’s traditional attire. Her neckline didn’t drop passed her collarbone. The woman’s wrap lacked the silk and delicate needlework of their own. She’d tucked it over her naked arms to ward off the chill. Where New Age gowns tightened only under the bust to fall sleekly about stomach and hips, the traditional wear, lacking the embroidery the New Age had adopted, had a plan cord holding the sleeveless, loose cloth up under the bust and across the waist.

“Forget her dress, look at her hair,” another of the women laughed. “She’s wearing a wrap!”

Indeed she was. Her dark curls were piled high, and a strip of white cloth had been tied about the bun, trailing off down her back in strips. Even most traditional women had adopted the new style of flowing curls hanging about shoulders, or at the least had thrown the wrap out with their grandmother’s fashions.

“Do you think they’re informants? There have been some rumors about the Morning Star’s race. There’s sure to be a fuss thrown if certain ears get wind of it.”

“Can’t be informants, too obvious, and too nervous.”

“What are they doing here then?”

“Who cares?”

The couple’s suspicious appearance was forgotten the next moment, for the Champions’ Doors opened, signally the start of the Opening Ceremonies.

“Oh, here they come!”

“Do you see him, do you see him? Oh I’ll faint! I can’t wait another moment!”

Azar surged up with the rest, leaning forward, mouth dry in anticipation. When he came through the doors the stands went wild. There he was, there he was, their Morning Star! Morning Star, Morning Star! Azar shouted with the rest, a defying roar.

Their Morning Star stole their hearts all over again with the confidence in his stride, flirting that perfect line between modesty and arrogance. He dominated the field, every other Champion falling away like chaff, worthless in the light of his glory.

So humble, so proud, so self-mastered, so alive; he shone bright enough to burn. He was the epitome of everything they stove to be. Living on a knives’ edge, he thrived, he blazed, he rose above and conquered everything in his path, but himself first.

A woman fainted a row down. A man punched another spectator holding him back from reaching the railing. Oh how they loved him, oh how they wanted to be him, oh how they wanted to touch and own and destroy.

As the Games began in earnest, the wait for Morning Star to take the field passed with the slowness of agony, but also flew by on wings. Other Champions took the field, wetting their appetite, but never satisfying; they were not their Morning Star.

The Champion Doom gave them a good showing, and almost they forgave him for not being Morning Star when his blade just ‘slipped’ and spilt his opponent’s blood for them. Not a fatal wound, but the sound of a thousand gasps rang like a shout, and when Doom disarmed his opponent with a spin with death, his sword halting with thrilling proximity against his opponent’s throat, they showed him their love with stomping feet and shouts of ‘Doom, Doom, Doom!’ He gave them a stiff bow, unsmiling –that was their Doom—and marched from the field.

“Oh if he is not up next, I shall die!” Azar commiserated, and clung back to the fingers squeezing her forearm. It was all too exciting!

“One of these days,” Azar promised. “We will find a way into the Champions’ Feast. Just wait, one day it will be us picked, and then…and then…”

“Oh, please!” The woman clinging to her squealed, “Imagine talking to him! His eyes upon my skin, maybe even…” She broke off in giggles edging towards hysteria.

Their Morning Star stepped upon the field like a true fallen star. His hair cascaded behind him, a river of light; his eyes too bright to look upon, but they forced themselves because the pain was an exquisite sort of pleasure. Those eyes were blue beyond measure, but behind the beauty dwelt the truth. They had trapped him, caged him, enslaved him to their lusts, and for all their love would rather squeeze him to death in their arms then ever let him go.

To look into his eyes was to witness him violating all the unspoken rules of the Games. The Champions must come like willing sacrifices onto the arena. Without that willingness, the spectators became participants in a brutal spectacle thriving on violence, blood, and lust. His unwillingness to play the game forced them to suffer an assault of shame.

The evidence of their own disgustingness reflected back at them in a true mirror was almost too ugly to bear. But bore it they would, for they could not live without him. They stomached themselves for a glimpse of him, and wanted to destroy him for ripping all the veils away and forcing them to see what they really were. The knowledge that he was their creature pumped their veins with ecstasy, all the headier for he was the one who cut them deepest.

Azar’s let out a scream of fury and despair as, just when their appetite was finally to be filled, their bellies bloated upon his beauty, he was snatched from their grasp by the shrill whistling signaling a raid. No, no, no! They could not lose sight of him now!

But his guards dragged him from the field, using any force necessary to subdued him. If the king’s soldiers captured him, she would never see him again. That must never happen. The spectators, those still desperate to salvage their honor and keep the secret of this indulgence locked tight behind the lips of their fellow law-breakers, scrambled for the exits.

Azar collapsed back into her seat, the disappointment crushing. When the soldiers broke through and began rounding up everyone who hadn’t made it out and everyone who hadn’t even tried, the thwarted spectators turned their disappointed upon them. Azar booed and mocked with the best of the Fuck-you section, sticking her tongue out and spitting at the soldiers. Some of the men even pulled out their cocks and urinated in the soldiers’ direction. The chance to release some of the frustration and blinding despair at the denial of their Morning Star was worth the hefty fine the soldiers slapped them with. Azar would give the entirety of the fortune she’d inherited for even one night with her Morning Star.

*

Althon kept his hood up and his head bowed as he slipped through the crowd. His slender body aided him, allowing him to squeeze through a gap of shoulders a full-grown Man wouldn’t have attempted. He had to get closer. The line of armed guards, holding the crowd back, were too far away. Glorfindel would never notice him.

A Man pushed into his path, like Althon, struggling to reach the front. Their bodies collided, and Althon’s rear hit the stones. The Man didn’t even noticed, and the crowd paid no attention, their eyes were hooked like addicts on the tunnel’s entrance, awaiting that first glimpse of the Morning Star.

Althon had been hearing that name for years, but only last week had the rumors of the golden warrior-youth contain a reference to the Morning Star’s race. They whispered he was an Elf. From that moment Althon had put his ear to the rumor mill, daring dangerous haunts for one such as him, all for a scrap of time and place. When next would the Morning Star perform? What was the venue for the Games? His risks paid off, and now here he stood, convinced the Elf who walked out of that shadowed archway would be Glorfindel.

Althon scrambled to his feet, still surprised when he found his right wrist unchained and free to assist him. It was months since he grasped freedom, but the shock of it still fell upon him at times. It had been just as he’d promised Glorfindel all those years ago on the slave ship: the positive would always rise to push back the negative.

When it came down to it, all it took was one newly hired guard with a heart not yet calloused over for Althon to wrangle an escape. After he’d gotten away from his master, it was only a matter of taking care in public to maintain his freedom. Slavery was illegal in Númenor, but as an Elf, there would always be the danger of being kidnapped and dragged back into it.

He had not found a life of freedom in Númenor unbearable, but then nor had he found his enslavement. He’d been fortunate with his master. Other than his daily ‘donations,’ nothing had been required of him but to keep himself healthy.

That the three things they harvested from him were tears, blood, and semen, had evolved from a horror to an amusement during the ten years of his enslavement. He liked to think of the great ladies of Númenor spreading face creams made of his semen upon their haughty faces as their husbands drank his blood in some tonic that ‘guaranteed’ the lengthening of vitality.

The Númenóreans were obsessed with Elves. Disturbing, but also amusing if one could look at the picture upside down while you slit your veins day after day and fed your blood into viles that would sell for the price of a prized horse.

Ramhad agreed with him. Althon had found his long lost friend a few weeks back, and they’d had a good laugh over the Númenóreans after the bitter-sweet joy of their reunion had ebbed. Glorfindel’s absent body pressed against their sides was the missing piece to their happiness.

Ramhad had been sold to the strangest of all Númenóreans. The Man was a religious leader, but not an Eru worshiper like almost every other citizen of Númenor. The Man had built up a small cult around the worship of the Firstborn. The purchase of Ramhad had been equivocal to a life-long fantasy coming true for him.

The cult set Ramhad up as their god (in all the ways that didn’t matter). They brought him offerings, sang prayers to his beauty, but suffered from a certain kind of deafness whenever he gave them a ‘holy edict’ to release him or do anything that went against their own desires. They treated him like a prized and spoiled hound.

Almost, he’d said, he could pretend he was a free-Elf with an odd fetish. Almost, almost it worked. But the lie could not hold up to the coldness of the golden chains they kept him in.

The crowd went mad. They were like a den of wolves in heat. They surged up, crushing the bodies of the nearest against the line of the guards’ interlocked shields. The guards had to brace their feet against the stones, but they were all burly men with mountains for shoulders, especially selected for this task.

From the darkness of the entrance tunnel had walked the sun. Althon’s mouth dropped open. He’d not seen Glorfindel in ten years, not since they’d been youths together with elbows still clinging to pointyness and knees over-knobby. He would have remembered if Glorfindel had looked like this.

The blue eyes were even more stunning, if that were possible. Had Glorfindel’s mouth always been that perfect? One of those mouths that was half smirk, half pout, and entirely impossible to keep from staring at.

Glorfindel glided more then walked down the cleared corridor, a line of guards on either side, and the crowd crazed to reach him beyond that. His eyes fixed straight ahead, taking no interest in the people screaming their love, ready to throw themselves on him, have him use them however he liked, and tear him apart in the getting.

Gold paint covered the whole of Glorfindel’s naked torso and arms. He shone like the sun in the torchlight of the deep, under-city labyrinth.

The muscles on his chest and arms were not that of an adult’s, and his height was eclipsed by the guards encircling him. Glorfindel must be 55 now. While the Teleri had some youths who aged slower than most, by 55 all should have come into full majority.

Althon had not reached the front row of the crowd. He would never catch Glorfindel’s attention! Desperation caught in his throat, and made him reckless. Glorfindel drew close now; the opposite tunnel would soon take him from sight. This was just the glimpse before the main event, something to wet the crowds’ appetite, and bring the Champion they worshiped like a god into the illusionary distance of capture.

As Glorfindel closed the last paces to Althon’s position, close enough Althon could hear the gold coins threaded through his hair chiming as his hips swayed, the subtle leather of his leggings molding about his thighs, Althon threw back his hood.

The silver of his own hair stood as a shock against the sea of dark heads, and grabbed at the torchlight almost as seductively as Glorfindel’s own. Althon did not measure as a beauty among their people, but the faces around him gasped, heads turning to stare. Althon had eyes for none of them; his never left the perfect, cold lines of Glorfindel’s face.

Glorfindel’s eyes flickered to the spot of light instinctively. Althon knew the moment he was recognized. Glorfindel’s eyes had been painted in gold, black outlining them like a woman’s, drawn long to shape their impressive width into length as well. Those blue eyes shot wide. Glorfindel’s step faltered, and from his lips dropped a word swallowed in the deafening screams of the crowd: ‘Althon.’

Althon stretched out his hand, reaching as far as the bodies before him would allow, overcome with the desperation to touch his friend. Glorfindel dashed around his unsuspecting guards to return the gesture. He pressed himself right up to the shields, gold-painted hand brushing only air as it strained towards him.

“Althon!”

“Glorfindel!”

The crowd went mad, hands grabbing at Glorfindel’s hair, latching onto his outstretched hand, trying to pull him into their arms. They jostled Althon’s body, some hands slipping into his own hair, across his skin. Someone started up the cry: “An Elf! The silver one is an Elf!”

Those behind him, with no hope of reaching Glorfindel, turned their craze upon Althon. They pulled at his limbs, hair, and he went down into the gullet of their madness. He struck out, crying out as their hands turned into claws as they fought over him, but he was impotent as a child against their collective strength.

Just when Althon was convinced he would be ripped apart, like lions tearing apart a kill, the hands were gone, shoved back. Shields broke the crowds’ strength as nothing else could have, certainly no plea for reason. Golden arms were around him, lifting him against a chest; his face cradled in hair the scent of which he had not forgotten in a mere decade of separation. This was his friend, his best friend, the one who had sealed himself to his heart in a three way, unbreakable bond between the three of them who had endure the excruciating pain of having everything else ripped from them.

He wrapped his arms around Glorfindel’s neck, and gulped him in by the mouthful.

*

Glorfindel fought his way back behind the guard of shields, Althon cradled in his arms. When he’d pulled back to safety, the shields locked like a fence behind him. The guards rushed him the last feet to the tunnel’s entrance. The crowd had been stirred into a frenzy, and like sharks with the taste of blood on their tongues, they threw themselves bodily against the line of shields, the guards only just holding them back.

The tunnel’s gate clanged shut behind them, but Glorfindel could not allow his shoulders to slump. His guards spoke no word of censure for his reckless actions; those would be for the Champions’ Master.

Glorfindel drew Althon back from his chest to survey his friend’s face. Blood seeped from a split lip, and redness that would bloom into a bruise marched across his cheekbone. Other injures may lay concealed under the billow of Althon’s cloak, but Glorfindel pulled him back into his arms for a proper embrace.

His hands shook as they brushed through silver hair. He pressed his nose against skin, and his heart turned over in his chest when he inhaled the scent of the sea. Althon smelt like home. Althon’s arms locked about his waist, squeezing, hands fisting in Glorfindel’s hair.

“I thought I’d never see you again,” Glorfindel confessed to Althon’s ear alone.

“We promised we’d find each other, didn’t we? It just took a bit longer than we’d hoped.”

Glorfindel’s breath came out half sob, half laugh. “Ten years is more than a bit.”

Althon pulled back with a smile. “I’ve missed you, my dearest friend.”

“And I you.” Their foreheads came to rest against each other’s.

Phazgân, his head guard, cleared his throat. “We need to get moving. The Opening Ceremony will not wait.”

Glorfindel pulled away with a sigh. With gentle hands he lifted the hood up to conceal Althon’s face and hair again. “That was unbelievably foolhardy of you.”

“I know.” Althon reached down to take his hand, and they walked down the torchlight corridor together.

Glorfindel led them into the open stone chamber the other Champions were already assembled within. Irion Teeth did squats in a corner, reveling in the adrenaline rush he got before every Game, and flashing a grin like fangs at the other Champions. Doom sat stone-faced in his corner, hands planted on his kneecaps, body utterly motionless. Mocking Jay surveyed the room with lazy eyes and a cynical smile, as if he was above all the posturing.

Bear’s leg bounced, the toe of his sandal hitting the floor with a smack smack smack, before he jumped up to pace a tight circle. Bear had only fought in one Games, and by his performance thus far, he would wash out.

Some men –most men—couldn’t abide the violence. It went against their natures to slaughter beasts for the thrill of it, to cross swords with a Human opponent even if they weren’t expected to kill. Deaths happened, sometimes it was an accident, other times, when Doom or Iron Teeth’s sword dripped a fellow Champion’s blood, it wasn’t. Glorfindel had seen men ruined not by the fear of death, but by the fear of killing another human being.

The Master stormed into the chamber. “What were you playing at, boy! How dare you endanger my investment on a stunt like that?” Glorfindel’s spine strapped straight as a lance. “Well. What do you have to say for yourself, boy?”

Glorfindel met the Master’s eyes squarely. “I pick this one as my prize.” He settled a hand on Althon’s shoulder.

The Master’s face went red. “Prize, prize! This was all over a fuck! Oh no, I don’t think so!”

Glorfindel’s mouth set hard. “I have never chosen a prize before, never asked anything of you though I have brought uncountable gold into your pockets. I took no injury retrieving him. Now I want him to be given to me tonight.”

The Master’s eyes narrowed and he rocked back on his heels, eyes raking down the length of Glorfindel and Althon. “You have served me well, boy. Yes, that it true.” He hummed, eying Althon’s cloaked figure. “So you want this one, do you? Well, I’d begun to think your kind lacked something in that department. Every beautiful woman in the city seemed to be throwing themselves at you, and many a handsome man besides, and not one could turn your head. Well, now, well now.”

The Master’s thick hand came up to push the cloak from Althon’s face. Glorfindel’s hand shot up on instinct and wrapped about the Master’s wrist before it touched any piece of Althon. The Master’s eyes bulged. “Who do you think you are, boy? Get your hands off me! You’ve not climbed so high I can’t have the skin whipped from your back.”

Glorfindel dropped his touch as the guards shifted forward, awaiting only the Master’s command. Althon’s warm-toned hands came up to push back his hood before the Master made another attempt. Glorfindel’s hands clenched into fists as the Master’s eyes widen, a greedy shine overtaking them. The other Champions turned to draw their eyes over Althon’s exquisitely silver hair and Elven-fair features.

“Ho, ho, ho, what have we here?” The Master’s mouth stretched into a smile that set sickness in Glorfindel’s stomach. Glorfindel slipped an arm about his friend’s waist, sending a threatening glare at the other Champions, itching to do the same to the Master. “Well now, I do believe some accommodations can be provided. He shall sit beside you at the Champions’ Feast.” The Master shot Glorfindel the kind of look given to a misbehaving dog when he stiffened. “He will be at the feast if you want him in your bed, boy. Two Elves,” the Master rubbed his hands together, eyes glazing with the image of the gold soon to fatten his purse. “What the lords and ladies won’t pay for the sight of you two together!” The Master cast them a sly look. “Perhaps a little performance for your admirers?”

“No,” Glorfindel’s lips felt dry and wooden.

“Hmm,” the Master eyed him. “Another time then, boy.”

Never. Glorfindel would never perform like a prized stallion before lustful eyes: lord’s hands slipping into their robes as they watched, ladies’ faces flushing, breaths speeding up…

“Phazgân,” the Master called forth Glorfindel’s head guard. “Take my boy’s prize away, somewhere he can watch the activities, but not too close to the crowd, mind. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to him, now would we?”

Glorfindel’s hand squeezed Althon’s, before letting go. He met Phazgân’s gaze. If Glorfindel had to entrust Althon’s safety to anyone in this room, it would be his guards. They were both his imprisoners, and the ones who kept him company in the loneliness of the years without true companionship.

Althon looked back for one last glance at the door, their eyes sticking. The remembrance of the last time they had lost each other marched sharp as a knife’s blade across Glorfindel’s mind. It would not be like that this time. It would not.

He suffered under the chains of slavery, but he was no powerless youth any longer. He had clawed his way into not only fame, but a fragile sort of power. Any other Champion pulling what he’d pulled today, would have been whipped, no questions asked, no explanation good enough.

Glorfindel left the other Champions to their preparations and slipped into a side chamber, one equipped with a bathing area. He walked to the pool’s ledge, but did not slip off his sandals to bath his ankles. He took a seat on the stone ledge cut into the steps leading down into the heated water.

Once he would have sought isolation before every Game, but he had been participating in the Games almost as long as he’d been a slave. His heart-rate no longer spiked to the point of shaking hands and certainly not that mindless terror of his first battle upon the beaches. He’d dreaded the possibility of killing one of the other Champions in an accident in the early years, just as he’d still awaken some nights with the taste of the blood of his first kill in his mouth.

Maturity had eased the fear, but the guilt of that kill…it still hurt, after all these years. The next time he’d be ready. He’d asked himself what he would kill for: his survival, the protection of a friend or innocent, and his freedom. He’d prepared himself for the moment he took another life as best he could.

He had it in him to kill, that had already been proven. He’d met men who stood by and let themselves be killed rather than lift a sword to block a coming blow if it meant they’re survival would cost their opponent’s life.

Not everyone had it in them to kill, sometimes Glorfindel wished he didn’t. But most times he accepted and acknowledged that having that ability could be a gift too. One day, when he was free, this ability would save someone’s life. He would make sure of it.

During his years of slavery he’d cycled through all the stages: desperation, rage, apathy, and finally a quiet sort of tolerance.

The majority of Númenor’s members he’d come into contact with –a select minority—sickened him, and no amount of luxurious padding changed the truth of his circumstances. But Glorfindel had a better life then most slaves, better even than some of the freemen of Númenor. Perhaps even better in some aspects then the one he would have known at home. He’d certainly never gone to bed with an empty belly, or woken up in the night shivering from the icy wind raking down from the North, shaking their hut, and sneaking in through all the cracks in the walls.

But he could climb only so high as a slave, and he would never be anything else in Númenor. He had learned how to live with this life (it was that or drive himself mad), but he had kept the deep flame of hope burring in his chest. One day, one day he would go home.

Glorfindel looked up as footsteps echoed on the stones. Mocking Jay slipped from the corridor’s shadows into the torchlight. He leaned his wiry frame against the wall, already lazy eyes hooding deeper. “So this is where you slipped off to.”

Glorfindel stood and crossed to his fellow Champion. “Are they calling us out already?”

Mocking Jay shrugged, his mouth tipping, “Who cares? The Master can come panting after us if he wants us.”

Glorfindel touched his shoulder to the wall beside Mocking Jay, facing him with a smile. “Ah now, that attitude won’t earn you any prizes tonight, and I know how you like your men.”

Mocking Jay quirked a brow. “Oh, I hadn’t thought you noticed.” He leaned closer, a smirk on his mouth. “But now I see you’ve been holding out on us.”

Glorfindel face tightened, the smile slipping like ash from his mouth.

“Oh don’t worry. I’m not interested in your little lover, pretty as he is.”

Glorfindel eased the tension out of his muscles, forcing his body to return to a relaxed pose. “Good. I would have had to kill you if you hurt him.”

He would too, he was sure he had it in him if Mocking Jay hurt Althon. He’d seen Champions come and go, some sold off, some killed, some taking sick or receiving an injury they could never fight with again, other’s simply growing too old for the crowd’s fickle tastes; he’d called none of them friend. They were the opposition, for from the very beginning that was what they had treated Glorfindel as.

Mocking Jay trailed his gaze over Glorfindel’s face. “I think you really would.” His mouth curled, finding the idea amusing.

Mocking Jay slipped his fingers about Glorfindel’s wrist, the grey of his eyes standing out exotically against his brown skin and the black curls of his bangs falling across his brow with indolent grace. “It’s you I’m interested in.”

“Is that so?” Glorfindel slipped off Mocking Jay’s touch. “I’m flattered.”

Mocking Jay’s mouth twisted. “And they call me the mocker.”

Glorfindel raised a brow. “What do what me to say? We’re not friends.”

“Aren’t we? Now, you’ve hurt my feeling, darling. I thought I meant more to you than that.”

Glorfindel scoffed. “Please. If you want to play at caring, you shouldn’t drawl. It gives the impression of disregard.”

“So I should talk like this then,” Mocking Jay’s voice dropped low and intimate, his mouth pressing up against Glorfindel’s ear. “Tell me, do I have a chance of seducing you now?”

Glorfindel met Mocking Jay’s eyes out of the corner of his own. Mocking Jay’s eyes were dilated. It wasn’t the lust that had Glorfindel’s stomach turning, it was the ownership. That look, combined with the lust, sat in Glorfindel’s belly like a thousand others’, each one hungry to have him, to touch and take and dominate. It was the face of a thousand other faces screaming their love at him from the stands of the arena.

Mocking Jay tried to kiss him, but Glorfindel turned his mouth away. “No.”

Glorfindel wasn’t terribly surprise by this turn of events. Mocking Jay would not be the first Champion who’d looked upon him with lust. Some had tried a good deal more than looking.

“Come on, Star. Give yourself to me.” Mocking Jay’s hands crawled into Glorfindel’s hair, trying to force his head back. “I’ll make you feel so good.”

“Get off me.”

“Come on, beauty—”

Glorfindel wrapped his fingers about Mocking Jay’s wrist, twisted up, rotating the shoulder, to pin the hand against Mocking Jay’s back and send him to his knees with a cry. The move had been as graceful as a dance, a sword slicing through air.

“I said no.” Glorfindel put pressure on the arm, pulling another cry out of Mocking Jay. “If I tell you no, you listen. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, yes, gods, Star, just let me up, alright?”

Glorfindel pressed the arm back another inch.

“Fuck!” Mocking Jay’s palm slapped against the stones. “I got carried away, it won’t happen again!”

Glorfindel released him. “See that it doesn’t.” He walked away without a backwards glance.

He joined the other Champions in the main room. The weapons had been handed out. Glorfindel went to his corner and picked up the waiting spear, beasts then today. A sword would have indicated a fight with another Champion, a spear meant they would be pitted against a leopard, bear, or lion, the beast fed human flesh until it acquired a taste for it and then starved into ferocity.

Though the field would run with blood toady, at least the Champions could relax in each other’s company as best they could, and stop flexing their chest muscles and swaggering their strut like bucks in heat, each trying to strike fear in the others.

Sure enough, Bear had forgone his tight paces to collapse beside Iron Teeth who had give up showing them all up with how many squats he could do in a row, and even Doom wasn’t trying to terrorize them with a display of perfect control.

Glorfindel rolled his neck, shaking the last of his anxiety over the encounter with Mocking Jay and his fear and anticipation for the coming Champions’ Feast off. The crier called down the Master’s orders for their appearance. Glorfindel closed his eyes, belly expanding with three deep breaths. When he picked up his spear, his hand did not tremble.

Chapter 5 by Encairion
Author's Notes:

Warnings:  Two underage characters involved in a sexual encounter.

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 5

Glorfindel took a sip of his wine, his bracelets jingling. His hand had not released Althon’s since they’d sat down, their fingers locked under the table, concealed from prying eyes. A servant offered a plate of stuffed pigeons, Glorfindel waved the girl away. Althon did the same, he’d barley touched the fare, and took only conservative sips from his wine glass. They were on display, and unlike Glorfindel, Althon had not grown used to the pressure of eyes.

They sat like trophies at the center of the head table, or like gods. Below them spread a half-circle of tables, each one facing the head; Glorfindel an easy glance away. That was what the privileged lords and ladies were paying for after all, a chance to stare, a hope to catch his eye and be called to his bed. They might as well kneel down to the sun for all their hopes would be answered.

The other Champions indulged themselves, flirting with the nobility, hoping to catch a lord or lady’s eye. Enamoring oneself to a rich benefactor was a Champion’s best chance at freedom. Glorfindel had no such chance; the Master would never sell him no matter the price. Nor would Glorfindel earn his freedom with a victory in the Grace Tournament, the only Games offering the victorious Champion something of merit: their freedom. Glorfindel had won the first Grace Tournament he participated in, but hadn’t bothered since.

A lord approached. His black curls fell with cultured ease about a handsome face, the smirk on his mouth said he knew how attractive he was, and how rich. He rested his hip against the table at Glorfindel’s elbow, ranking his eyes over Glorfindel’s body as if they had a right to it.

“You fought exceptionally well today, Morning Star.” The lord dared to drop a manicured hand on Glorfindel’s shoulder. Glorfindel looked at the hand, his brow arched, until the Man removed it with a cleared throat. “I’ve heard you’re very selective in your tastes, and now I see the truth of those rumors.”

Glorfindel followed the lord’s eyes to Althon. The Man’s eyes did not linger, so Glorfindel loosened his fist about his table knife. The lord bent closer, trying to fit his mouth to Glorfindel’s ear, but Glorfindel turned his head away, not bothering with a threat. “You should branch out. If a man only samples his own race, he’ll never know what he’s missed.”

Glorfindel brought his wine glass to his lips, not looking at or acknowledging the lord’s words. His gaze brushed over the underground lake a group of bored ladies tossed pastry crumbs into, the fish churning the water a pale green in their eagerness. Peacocks strutted about in the cleared space between tables, flaring their magnificent tails when the monkeys wandered too close on their golden chains.

The lord’s presence left him like the clearing of air from an oppressive stench. He bit back a sigh as a lady took the lord’s place, the whisper of silk betraying her approach. He ignored her as steadfastly as the lord, though she took more than a pointed look to get her hands off him. These were the worst; the ones like cats in heat, desperate for their hero to take them, or to dominate him.

Glorfindel counted down the hours until escape. He could not speak freely with Althon of anything of worth, so they clasped hands under the table and endured together.

A cat leapt into Althon’s lap, its lady abandoned to make friendly with the Elves. Glorfindel smiled as the cat rested its paws on Althon’s chest to examine this new being. He blocked out the sound of heads turning. He would not sit stoned-faced simply because he found nothing amusing in his pursuers’ conversations.

“I think he likes you,” Glorfindel laughed as the cat titled its head into Althon’s scratching fingers, purring.

His present pursuer, another lord, butted it, “He’s picked out the most beautiful pair in the room for attentions, a creature with good taste.”

Glorfindel counted to ten in his head, and when he still felt like shoving his table knife between the ponce’s ribs, counted to twenty.

“Let’s go down to the lake.” Althon gave him a knowing look. “It’s beautiful. I wouldn’t mind a closer inspection.”

“An excellent idea!” The current ponce clapped his hands.

Glorfindel reached his limit. He pushed back his chair and stood. His face turned by inches to face the lord, and he said in a flat voice, “I will kill you if you do not get out of my sight this instant.”

The lord’s jaw floundered, before he spluttered a laugh. “Careful now, or I’d think you were serious.” He tried to slip his arm through Glorfindel’s.

Glorfindel grabbed the offending hand and twisted it, holding it an inch from the bone’s snapping point. The man cried out, dropping to his knees before Glorfindel. “Phazgân,” Glorfindel drawled, calling his guard over. “Get this out of my sight before I do something it would regret.”

Phazgân’s mouth twitched. “We wouldn’t want that.” He clapped a hand on the lord’s shoulder. “Now would we, lord?”

Glorfindel released the lord’s hand, tossing it away from him like the trash it was. The lord stumbled to his feet, face blotching. “You—you can’t treat me like that, slave!”

Glorfindel arched a brow. “Can’t I? You’ll have to take it up with the Champions’ Master if you have a complaint.”

He took Althon’s arm and swept away. He strode down the steps of the raised dais, head tilted up, walking like a true lord through the ring of tables, even the peacocks scuttling away. Every eye stared. He took one of the benches set in the lake’s black rock beach, Althon coming down beside him.

“We should have some measure of privacy here.” Glorfindel cast his eyes around, a haughty look set on his face to conceal his subterfuge. There were no guards within ear-shot, but that would change if they lingered too long in anything like deep conversation.

The Master had paid pretty coin to have a number of Glorfindel’s guards tutored in Sindarin, anything to seal off one more avenue of escape. Glorfindel would rather bite off his own hand then trust one of these lords or ladies, but the fact the nobility of Númenor spoke Sindarin was a threat, and the Master had not risen to where he was without of sizable dose of paranoia. “But keep to topics you wouldn’t mind being overheard.”

“I don’t know how you stand it.” Althon flicked a glance back at the lords and ladies. “It’s like…like you’re…”

“A stallion at market?” Glorfindel gathered his hair back in his hands; it chimed and dazzled with the gold and jewels woven through it. “I’ve learned a person can grow used to anything, given enough time. Most days I barely notice. It’s all buzzing in my ears, like bees, when I’m in the arena. These feasts are the hardest because it’s not just staring; they actually try to engage me. You’d think they’d have learned after a decade of trying that I won’t fuck or be fucked by any of them.”

“And your master,” Althon’s voice dropped low. “Doesn’t try to force you to?”

Glorfindel slid him a look. “No. He’ll puff himself up and poster like a rooster, but he’s all talk. He takes in too much coin how things stand to risk damaging me.”

Althon’s hand closed over his. “I had feared…I am glad I was mistaken.”

Glorfindel turned his palm, capturing Althon’s hand. “But enough of me, what of you? You must be free to have come here.”

Althon licked his lips. “Yes, some months ago my trial ended, and I have passed from the negative into the shadow of the positive.”

“Not quite reaching full joy when you’re not home.”

“No, not quite.”

“And your master…were you badly treated?”

Althon shook his head. “No. My master believed an Elf wilted away if the chains were wrapped too tightly, so she strove to offer the illusion of freedom. Sometimes—” Althon’s lips clamped shut, his eyes not meeting Glorfindel’s.

“Sometimes it didn’t even seem too bad, this life of slavery,” Glorfindel finished in little more than a breath.

Althon’s mouth parted, eyes flying up to Glorfindel’s face. “I…I thought it was a betrayal to even think it, but it’s true. Not that it makes this life right or one of happiness, it’s just…”

“It’s survivable. It’s not a trudge, day after day, through misery.”

“Yes.” Althon’s hand squeezed his.

“But now you are free, have you bought passage on a ship home?”

Althon shook his head. “I can’t leave without you and Ramhad.”

Glorfindel hummed, casting a glance back at his guards. “What are you doing with yourself then?”

“I found some humble employment with a weaver woman who has proven trustworthy. And I walk down to the docks every day; it’s the closest I can get to home. I’ve explored the great libraries and galleries, even climbed to the top of the Tower Stairway.”

“Have you really? What was it like? I heard you can see all the way across the island from the top.”

Althon laughed. “Ridiculous. But the view is spectacular.”

Glorfindel’s smile slipped away. He linked his fingers through Althon’s. “You can’t wait for me, Althon. I don’t know when I’ll have an opportunity for freedom. I’m guarded constantly. They do not take risks with me.”

“I know. But I hold out hope that Ramhad’s freedom at least has been written, and it’s time approaches.”

“Have you seen him? How is he?”

“Yes. I followed the trail of rumors, as I did to you. There aren’t so many Elves in Númenor that there are many rumors to pick through. He was bought by a nobleman who is the religious leader in an Elf-worshiping cult.” Althon let out an incredulous laugh. “Ramhad is their god.”

Glorfindel snorted. “Sometimes I honestly pity these Númenórean.”

“I know,” Althon shook his head. “They are so obsessed with us. It cannot be healthy thinking of yourself, your race, as forever the lesser.”

Glorfindel tuned another glance over his shoulder, two of his guards were moving within hearing distance. He bumped shoulders with Althon. “Careful now. We’ll be able to speak more freely when they’ve left us for our ‘nightly activities.’”

Pink seeped into Althon’s cheeks, and he rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. “How long do you think before the feast is over?”

“Oh, not for hours yet, but I’ll talk the Master into letting us slip out early. I did provide quite a show, and he’ll be deep enough in his cups to put him in a jovial mood.”

“He didn’t strike me as a jovial sort of man.”

“He’s not as a rule, but money, feasting, and a good Game will set him up. Like I said, he’s more bark than bite, at least where his ‘prized’ Champion is concerned.”

Glorfindel and Althon made their escape before the feast crashed into a revelry with too many cups of wine, and bodies grown needy by the Elves’ proximity. The longer Glorfindel remained in these environments, the higher the probability he would end up breaking the wrist of some lord who lost control and started rubbing himself up against Glorfindel’s body.

The lack of self-mastery in a society that had once lifted self-control up to a pedestal alongside the line of lineage, cut like the light of a cold star the differences between the traditionalists and this generation of the New Age.

A room, or rather a cell, had been provided for Glorfindel. The Master called it a room, but remove the bed with its feather silk cushions, paint over the vivid fresco’s covering every square inch of wall, and only the bars on the windows, the thickness of the door braced with steel, and the number of guards were left.

But even with these precautions, the room lacked the security of ‘home.’ The Master’s villa and the Champions’ training compound were fenced in with a wall lined with guard posts, and garrisoned with enough hired swords to man an army outpost. Ten armed guards escorted Glorfindel anytime they removed him from the security of his room, even for a trip to the privy, twenty guards if he carried a weapon.

Glorfindel nodded at Phazgân as the door locked behind Althon and him. Phazgân met his gaze through the square window of bars in the door, nodding back. Total privacy was out of the question. But for the door and the bars on the windows, the room could have fooled anyone into thinking it had been provided for a lord.

Althon trailed his fingers over the silk bedcover, turning a raised brow back at Glorfindel. Glorfindel shrugged, slumping into the room’s sole, but elegantly carved chair, complete with gold gilding the lion heads on its arms. He pulled off his sandals. “The spoils of a hundred victories in the arena.”

Althon wandered over to the bedside table hosting a wine pitcher, and poured them both a glass. “Only a hundred?” His mouth lifted as he handed Glorfindel a glass.

Glorfindel accepted it, raising it to Althon in thanks. He leaned back in the chair, legs spreading in a slouch. “I was attempting modesty. I hear it’s an attractive trait.”

“But one you are unfamiliar with, Morning Star.” Althon raised a teasing brow as he took a sip from his glass.

Glorfindel snorted, slipping the bracelets from his wrists. “That name is horrific. You can be sure it wasn’t I who picked it.”

“I don’t know, it rather suits you.” Althon set the wine down. “So, what am I doing here Glorfindel?”

Glorfindel flicked a glance at the door. “Having passionate sex with me, of course,” he winked. “Shuck your sandals.”

Althon raised a brow, but bent to remove them. They took a moment to slip off, strapped up his calves as all Númenórean sandals did.

Glorfindel leaned forward and settled his hands on Althon’s hips, drawing him between his spread legs. “Come to bed.” Althon’s hair fell about them like a curtain. “We’ll talk there,” Glorfindel whispered.

“Will your guards really report on your nightly activities?” The warm tone of Althon’s skin could not conceal his blush.

“If they think I’m plotting something, yes.” Glorfindel’s hands dropped to the belt about Alton’s slim hips. He looked up, a silent question in his eyes.

Althon frowned. “You know what I think of plots, Glorfindel. What will be, will be.” But Althon nodded for him to continue, and Glorfindel deftly loosened the simple leather cord.

“Later, under the bedcovers.” Glorfindel’s fingers edged to the hem of Althon’s tunic. The garment fell to an inch above Althon’s knees, his bare legs running down to shapely calves. “You’ve grown up, you’re almost a man now, while I’ve stayed a scrawny youth.” He laughed.

Althon snorted, smiling, but his hands trembled as he took over from Glorfindel’s fingers. Without the belt holding the tunic closed, it gapped open at both sides. Althon had it pulled over his head in a matter of seconds, doing it quick, the body revealed underneath wound tight, as if braced for a blow. Althon’s hair fell like a cascade of shooting stars as it pulled free of the tunic.

Glorfindel couldn’t help the silence dropped like stones between them as he took a moment to stare. Slim lines, perfect skin that looked soft as cream, nothing like the naked bodies of his fellow Champions he’d glimpsed. Althon shifted, and Glorfindel tore his eyes away.

“You’re hardly scrawny,” Althon’s voice shook, but he infused it with humor. “False-humility doesn’t suit you. You know exactly how desirable you are.”

Glorfindel smirked and sat up, yanking the tunic from his own body, his hair tinkling behind it. “You can’t be blind to the fact I’m 55 and still a head shorted then you with a youth’s slenderness.” It was Althon’s turn to stare, his eyes trailing down the length of Glorfindel’s body.

“Eyes ahead, Narâk,” Phazgân’s gruff voice snapped Glorfindel’s eyes to the window in the door. One of the helmets on its other side whipped away, trying to pretend its owner hadn’t been peeking.

Glorfindel stood, he had nothing to be ashamed of. He was less then pleased at being stared at by one he had not given permission to do so, but Narâk would be too ashamed at getting caught to dare another glance into the cell. Everything was working in their favor.

“We’re lucking tonight,” Glorfindel breathed, taking Althon hands and moving towards the bed. “Phazgân will keep Narâk in line. But they still have ears, my friend.”

Glorfindel blew out the candles, and pulled back the bedcover. He slipped onto the silk cushion, Althon following his example on the bed’s other side. Althon’s skin brushed up against his, the bed generous enough for two bodies, but two bodies at ease with the other.

“Give me a moment, sorry about this.” Glorfindel’s whispered close to Althon’s ear, before scooting away as far as the bed allowed. The skin of their arms still brushed.

This would be awkward enough without being pressed up against Althon. Althon had been accepting of things so far, but Glorfindel would not push his friend. He could take it from here.

He dipped his hand below the bed sheet and touched himself. When he reached hardness, he sped up his pace. He repressed nothing, being as enthusiastic as he imagined people were when they had sex for real.

Althon shifted beside him, breaking Glorfindel’s concentration. Glorfindel’s cheeks burned. This was beyond embarrassing.

Glorfindel gasped when a hand brushed his stomach, slipping down. Althon’s touch trail light as fireflies, but blazing across his skin. Glorfindel sucked in a breath and let it out again. Althon’s fingers following the rise and fall of his stomach felt exquisite.

“Can I?”

Glorfindel turned his head. Althon’s eyes were close and luminous in the moonlight. He licked his lips. “If you like.”

Althon hovered beside him, propped up on his side as his hand slowly curled over Glorfindel’s length. Glorfindel’s breath came loud and fast in the space between them. Althon’s hand tightened, hooking a groan out of Glorfindel.

His eyes slit, not quite shutting, wanting to keep looking at Althon looking at him. Althon’s fist began to move, and Glorfindel’s neck arched, his lips parting. “Oh!”

A mouth brushed his, like as a butterfly’s touch, trembling with hesitancy. Glorfindel kissed back, his mouth enclosing around Althon’s upper lip, his tongue just flicking out to lick at the inside of Althon’s mouth. Althon’s breath stuttered out, his mouth pressing closer, a shaking hand lighting on Glorfindel’s face, just there where his jaw met his ear.

Glorfindel slipped his arms about Althon’s waist and tugged. Althon slipped over him, body resting onto his as if not daring more. It was sweet, but Glorfindel wanted more.

“Althon,” he kissed along Althon’s jaw, following its line to his neck. “Please, I need…I need.” He took Althon’s hand off his sex, and lined their groins up. He settled his hands back on Althon’s hips, and spread his thighs, Althon’s body falling deeper between them.

“Glorfindel, I...I don’t know what I’m—” Althon’s eyes were wide, uncertainty creasing his face as he looked down into Glorfindel’s.

“We’ll learn together, just feel. Do whatever feels best.”

Glorfindel rocked his hips, curving his spine, searching for more. Althon wouldn’t do it though. He wouldn’t press with abandon into him, wouldn’t take Glorfindel like he would die without him.

The inexperience in the downward undulations did not lose their hesitancy. Althon touched him like something amazing laid out at his fingertips, but without desperation, without fire. Glorfindel hungered for something…something…he didn’t know, just that Althon couldn’t fulfill this need.

Glorfindel kissed him softly, ran his fingers through Althon’s hair, and led them through a tender release. He kept his eyes open, thumb stroking along Althon’s jaw as Althon came, watching in fascination the moment another person came apart. His own release washed him soft as moonlight. He’d had better by his own hand, but he found comfort in sharing it with a friend. For the first time in years he did not feel alone.

Althon rested his head on Glorfindel’s shoulder, wrapping his arms about Glorfindel. Glorfindel closed his eyes, and almost he could feel the rocking of a boat and the press on one more body entwined about them, promises to never be parted whispered on the air. Those were the last times Glorfindel had been anything like happy. His life could be survived, but this wasn’t living.

Glorfindel yanked the blanket over them, muffling the sound of their voices, and laid his cheek against the smooth sea of Althon’s hair. “We need to get off this island.”

Althon’s fingers splayed over the muscles of Glorfindel’s chest. “If it is written it will happen. We cannot fight the Song, Glorfindel.”

Glorfindel curled a strand of Althon’s hair about his finger. “You’ve said it yourself, Althon, the tides are turning. You escaped, you found Ramhad and I, who is to say these are not signs our freedom is within grasp? Althon,” he ran his other hand down the silky skin of Althon’s arm. It was a delight to touch so freely and a thrill to touch another so intimately. “I’ve known for some time I cannot escape without outside help, and here you show up, a friend to help me. Is that not a sign?”

Althon did not speak for a long moment. His fingers traced the muscles on Glorfindel’s stomach, and Glorfindel’s sex stirred the lower the fingers explored. “Perhaps you are right, perhaps the winds have already changed for all of us.” Althon pushed himself to his elbow, looking down at Glorfindel, his brow knitting. “I want you and Ramhad to be free, you know I do, but I know how much worse it could be for us if we attempt escape only to be caught because it was not written. I’ve seen what is done to Human slaves who fail at escape attempts. It’s…monstrous.”

“I know, I have seen the same,” Glorfindel’s voice fell low and full of shadows. “But we have to try. I will not squander the rest of my existence in a life of slavery, the plaything of crowds, an object to be lusted after.”

“What must I do then?” The conviction in Althon’s voice sent a blaze of warmth and pride through Glorfindel’s chest. They could do this, together.

“For me to get free, I will need to either overpower or evade my guards. There is one time in the day, a time that should not even exist, that will be the tipping point. My guards have grown…lax over the years, and we have grown closer. I need them, for the loneliness…” Glorfindel shook his head. He would not think of that now. “Some guards come into my cell to sup with me. The only time I am guarded by less than ten, is when the door stands between us. That door is opened by them when they sit with me –they should not do it, but they are not heartless. I…I will have to drug them. It is the only way. When the door guards are out, I stand a chance of making it through the halls and over the wall.”

“You need me to bring you a sedative then?”

“Yes. You will never be able to hand it to me in person. But during the night the training fields are only lightly guarded. You can hide it in the roots of a particularly gorgeous oak tree, you won’t miss it. I can recover it in the morning and sneak it into my cell.”

“And from there, where do we go?”

Glorfindel blew out a sigh. “It will depend on Ramhad.”

“Leave Ramhad to me, I can get him out.”

Glorfindel trusted Althon’s judgment. “Can you and Ramhad hide in the city until my escape?”

“Yes, I have a room I rent. We will keep cloaked, and be careful. We can meet somewhere and I can take you to my room—”

“No, I cannot hide in the city for even a day or we will never get off this island. Not only is the chance of discovering with a face as well-known as mine too risky, but if we don’t get out that night, before arrangements are made and gold slips hands, then we won’t be getting out. Every boat will be searched for me. Do you have any idea how valuable I am? My master has risen to become one of the richest men in all of Númenor on account of the crowds I drawn. He will move mountains to see me returned to him.”

“What can we do then?” Glorfindel ran a hand down Althon’s back at the note of despair in his friend’s voice.

“I will meet you at the docks. You and Ramhad must purchase passage on a ship heading for the mainland. We must get out as quickly as possible, no delays. And if…if I don’t make it—”

“No,” Althon covered Glorfindel’s mouth with the tips of his fingers. “We’re not leaving you. We swore. Don’t you remember? We swore never to leave each other.”

“Althon, I couldn’t live with myself if I held you and Ramhad back. The chances of things going badly for me are too great not to even consider failure. There are so many guards, so much that could delay me. You must promise me, promise me you will take Ramhad home if I don’t make it.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Althon,” Glorfindel caught Althon’s hand. “You must do this, for Ramhad, for yourself. For me. Is this not what you have always said, Althon? What will be, will be. It may be written in the Song—”

“Don’t use the teachings against me. Don’t. I know you don’t believe in them Glorfindel, don’t make a mockery of my beliefs.”

Glorfindel looked away. “Forgive me, that was badly done.”

“But well meant,” Althon sighed. “I cannot promise you this thing, Glorfindel. I can’t leave you. You’re my dearest friend. How could I live with myself?”

Glorfindel tilted his forehead into Althon’s. “You will live knowing you would have saved me, in your own way, by leaving me. If I were the cause of your return to slavery, I could not ever forgive myself. Please, Althon, please, promise me if I can’t make it you will take Ramhad and get out, get free, live.”

Althon’s arms slipped about his neck, wet cheek pressing into Glorfindel’s. “Curse you for asking this of me!”

Glorfindel held him back, hands wrapping themselves in Althon’s hair. “Promise me.”

Althon’s breath caught wetly in his throat. “I promise.”

Glorfindel closed his eyes, a burden dropping from his chest. “Thank you.”

*

The pouch of sedative sat in Glorfindel’s palm with the heaviness of a mountain. The guards would be here any minute to bring his supper. They would open the door; eight would slip in with the tray bearer, two more lingering at the door. The tray would be set down and the extra guards clear out, locking him in behind them and leaving only the two door-guards.

That was when, according to the plan, Glorfindel would ask the door-guards to eat with him. They’d done it countless times before, and each time risked a whipping if they were caught. But if Glorfindel escaped on account of those two guards disobeying their orders, they would be executed. He knew it in his gut, even though his mind had shied from the truth for too long. They would be killed for the sake of his freedom.

The sound of boots on stones and jaunty greetings passed around, told Glorfindel time was up. He closed his fist over the pouch. This path would take him home. It was the smart choice. It wasn’t the right one.

He stuffed the pouch under the chair’s cushion and wrapped his hand around the slender neck of the wine pitcher. He kept his hands behind his back as he sauntered over to the door, a smile on for the guards.

“What’s this I hear about you bringing a beauty to your bed while I was gone?” Târik’s bright eyes danced at him through the bars.

Glorfindel laughed. “Is that your way of saying you missed me?”

Târik grinned. “Nah. How could I miss you when I was with the most beautiful woman in Númenor making her my wife! Though,” his smile turned sly, “I had a bet you’d take a male when you finally surrendered to those needs you pretend you don’t have. I would have liked to see who the lucky one was who won it for me.”

“Good luck on that.” Phazgân slotted the key in the lock. “He’s kept tight-lipped about the whole thing. No name, no how he knew him, or why he felt the need to go diving into the arms of a crowd to rescue his pretty lover.”

“Glorfindel get close enough for a crowd to touch him, no!” Târik laughed. “I can’t see him letting their hands on him for anyone. Now this is a story I have to hear.”

The door swung open with a squeak, and the guards ambled in. “Maybe I will tell you.” Glorfindel’s smile stayed strong. He’d made the right choice. The Master wouldn’t execute ten men who did nothing wrong but fail to contain a fighter of known exceptionalism. “You might have to stick around though, it’s a long story.” Glorfindel slipped between the guards and door.

He lunged, grabbing Narâk, one of the door-guards, and slammed the wine pitcher over his head. Narâk fell like a stone. Glorfindel spun away before the body hit the floor. Phazgân couldn’t get his sword free of his scabbard quick enough; Glorfindel sent him to join Narâk on the floor with a blow to the head.

His pulse thudded at a pleasant high, not too fast to send his hands shaking and his ears ringing, just enough to sharpen his awareness and pump the blood into his muscles and back to his heart with a perfect balance between panic and the rush of adrenaline.

The food tray hit the floor with a crash, and the guards dashed back to the door, yanking out their swords. Glorfindel swung the door shut on them only inches before they could wrench it away. He snagged the keys off Phazgân’s unconscious body.

He ducked down, kneeling on the floor, one hand straining to hold the door closed while the other slipped the key in the lock. The guards shoved arms to grab at him though the window of bars.

“Glorfindel! You son of a bitch! You wait till I get my hands on you!”

He flinched. They were the only ones he’d ever trusted with his real name. They had been friends, almost, or as close to it as Glorfindel had these last ten years. He was doing this for them.

The lock clicked into place, and Glorfindel sagged against the door, pressing his forehead against the wood as the guards, his almost-friends, rained abuse down on his head.

He picked himself up, keeping a safe distance between himself and window, and scooted to the two unconscious bodies. He pressed his fingers to their throats, feeling for a pulse. He found two steady ones. They would live.

He closed his hand about Phazgân’s sword, pulling it the last few inches free of its scabbard, and stood. He couldn’t stop himself from looking back. So much anger in their eyes, but hurt too, and confusion.

He betrayed the silent packed between them, the one they’d forged with the blood of other guards, the whip lashes of guards who’d failed, and the bruises of Glorfindel’s fists in their faces. It had taken years, escape attempt after escape attempt, to reach this place of truce, and he’d shattered it with the work of a moment.

Time slipped passed him. He needed to hurry, but he couldn’t leave things like this. “You’ll be safe in there.” His words fell like a bucket of ice water, shutting up all the cursing. They went silent to listen to what he had to say even if their eyes had hardened into distrust because once they would have called him an almost-friend too.

“You did nothing wrong, the Master can’t have you punished if you followed the code, as you did. You did everything you were supposed to. I didn’t want….I didn’t want you to die.” Glorfindel turned away.

“Glorfindel,” Târik’s voice stopped him. “Why now, after all this time?”

Glorfindel turned his head, looking back at them through the corner of his eye. “Because someone I once knew found me, and we have never stopped longing to go home.”

Glorfindel tightened his grip on the sword’s hilt and jogged away. The cursing did not start up again. He smiled, warm and flying inside, proud of his actions. He’d made the right choice.

He pressed his back against the corridor’s wall as two guards wandered passed on their patrol, just around the corner. A few corridors down he had to do the same again. Almost every corridor in the villa boasted guards. Time ran away from him as he crept from corridor to corridor with too many delays, but if he rushed he’d be sighted, and once the alarm went up he’d have no hope of escape.

He reached the ground floor, and searched for an exit. Guards stood four to a door, with the length of a corridor to warn them of his coming, but a window would do. Unfortunately most of those only opened into closed gardens. He spotted a likely looking one up ahead, at the end of the corridor, and took off at a lope, so close to freedom he could taste it.

A guard rounded a bisecting corridor’s corner and nearly smacked into him. Glorfindel had his sword at the guard’s neck and the Man pressed up against the wall before the guard could get more than a hand on his weapon. The guard was alone; he must have been coming off a shift.

Glorfindel held his blade against the guard’s throat. The long brim of the helmet concealed the Man’s face, but Glorfindel could hear the mad beating of the pulse under the cold steel, and feel the heat of the Man’s breaths hitting his cheek.

He’d been over this in his head, over and over again. He could kill for his freedom, couldn’t he? These Men were not evil, but they’d made their choices, choosing to hire themselves out to a slaver, choosing the life of the sword. Glorfindel could do this.

The Man’s head tilted back, and the shadows of the helmet receded to reveal a slice of face, the glimmer of two grey eyes. Belza. He had a daughter, Zini, and a wife pregnant with their next child. When he laughed his whole face smiled, his eyes almost disappearing in the hugeness of his smile.

They stare at each other, down into each other’s eyes and the soul behind. They stood silent and motionless. There was no need for words. A line spun between them, a line connecting them on a level beyond the reach of words.

A heartbeat pounded in Glorfindel’s ears, exactly like his own. A breath raised and dropped a chest, exactly like his own. Two eyes stared into his, exactly like his own in all the ways that mattered.

He needed to kill him; if he didn’t all this would be for nothing. Belza would raise the alarm. But Glorfindel’s blade did not slice across the throat it held captive. The idea of doing so was unimaginable. This was a Child, just as Glorfindel was one of the Children. All Glorfindel could see was how alike they were.

Glorfindel stepped back, sword dropping. He would not kill for his freedom. Even after all those years preparing himself for this moment, for the necessity of killing, he found his freedom not a legitimate enough reason to kill another human being. But he felt only peace in the realization. This was right, like sparing the guards’ lives had been right.

Belza edged along the wall. Glorfindel took another step back, his body turning with Belza’s, neither breaking eye-contact. Belza turned and ran, swallowed up by the darkness.

Glorfindel stared at the spot Belza had disappeared. It took a few more moments to clear his head enough to realize he could have just knocked Belza out. He’d never had to kill him.

He’d made a mistake. There were too many emotions tangled up with this night and all the faces and names and histories he knew behind them. These people, his guards, his captors, his friends, were too close.

He spun, breaking into a run for the window, shoving the knowledge that he might just have ruined this for himself away. The window brought him into the outer-courtyard as he’d hoped. Now only the perimeter wall stood between him and freedom.

He slipped through shadows, chafing at every delay, as he climbed the stairway leading to the ramparts. He couldn’t afford yet more delays, but the wall crawled with guards. He had no choice but to take a care.

He waited until the two guards on this slice of wall strolled passed, giving him a matter of moments before they turned to pace the length of wall again. He stole up the last few stairs and swung his legs over the wall, hands finding holds. The drop would break bones if not kill him. His toes found groves between the stones to balance on.

He made it a few feet down, every reach for the next hold the span of a lifetime to the pounding pulse in his throat. Clinging like a target to the wall left him vulnerable. His unfortunately bright hair refused to blend into the color of stone. The alarm sounded. He closed his eyes, taking in a steadying breath as shouts rang out and torches lit up the courtyard like beacons.

He could curse himself for sparing Belza’s life or for being so muddle-brained he’d not taken the blindingly obvious course of knocking him out, but he didn’t. He’d made a mistake, but sparing a life had not been it. He felt as much pride in that choice as when he’d saved the other guards’ lives.

Slavery had not turned him into a mindless machine crafted for the sole purpose of killing. He was still himself. He had had to do things he wasn’t proud of to survive, but when it mattered most he could still make the right choices. He’d saved lives tonight, and even if they caught him, dragged him back to slavery and locked him up twice as tight as before, he was proud of who he’d proven himself to be.

He’d have to risk the drop. He’d scrapped a few feet off, which would have to be enough. He readied himself, brought his knee up, and rested his foot flat against the wall.

He pushed off, arching his back like a diver to flip in mid-arm, once, twice, his eyes estimating the distance to the ground. He landed with bone-jarring momentum on his feet and fingertips. But no bones broke.

A shout from the top of the wall, he’d been spotted. Glorfindel sprang up and set off at a sprint. They would have horses and he knew the path to the docks only by the map Althon had drawn and he had memorized.

He heard the sound of pursuit. He pressed himself faster, dashing around corners, using the walls of buildings to push himself off. At this hour the streets were nearly deserted, but he picked up Night Watches on his tail. The Watches saw a fleeing figure, and ran after.

He could smell the sea. Its scent nearly overpowered him with its strength and the band its smell wrapped about his chest. If could make it, he could get home.

Glorfindel rounded the last corner and there it was! The sea glimmered like a polished gem, and masts forested the docks. Sleepy ships bobbed, sails wrapped, only a handful of sailors keeping watch. The cobblestones were clear of fish merchants and the bustle of crowds; Glorfindel shot down them. Their ship waited like a white clam-shell off shore, the captain a good man who’d sworn to Althon to take them home.

Glorfindel’s eyes raked over the shadowy waters. Where were they? The hooves of horses spurred into a gallop slapped down the docks behind him. Where were they?

There! Althon stood up in the rowboat, hand waving, hood throw back, the moonlight catching in his hair and setting it blazing like silver fire. Ramhad held the boat against the docks with a paddle, ready to shove off and take them away, away, away.

“Glorfindel!” Glorfindel’s legs pumped to meet the call. So close, so close.

Pain like a bolt of fire punched through his calf. He cried out, stumbling. An arrow’s bloody head glinted like a wolf’s fangs, mocking him.

Glorfindel pushed himself to his feet, and started running again, gritting his teeth to hold back the scream with every exhaled breath. The pain was unbearable, but the thought of the hope that had stained him for a thousand nights being snatched from him was the more unbearable.

He was so close! He couldn’t see for the tears clouding his eyes. But he was so close.

He stumbled, barely keeping his feet. No. No. No. He focused on the rowboat, on their faces. Althon had gotten out, was running toward him. No. Not that.

“Go, go!” He screamed at them. If they didn’t go, they would all be hauled back into slavery. He couldn’t live with himself if he were the reason they never saw home again.

It killed something inside him to fall to his knees, to give up the fight, but he would not be their downfall. He slammed his eyes into Althon’s, yanking the other to a stop with only a look.

“Get out of here! You promised me, Althon, you promised!” Tears wet Althon’s face, his head swinging wildly between Ramhad and Glorfindel. “You promised!”

Althon choked on a sob, but he ran back to Ramhad, and that was all that mattered. The horses caught up with Glorfindel, encircling him, but through their legs he saw Ramhad pull Althon back into the boat and shove off. The paddles smacked the water, Ramhad’s shoulder muscles bulging as he put as much distance between them and the docks as he could. Good. Ramhad was using his head.

They would reach the ship, retreat together to a cabin bed and cling to each other in the long dark of the night, feeling the absence of a third body holding theirs. But after eight weeks they would be home. They would fall into their mother and father’s arms, and it would be over for them.

Glorfindel would go on living with the knowledge that they were safe, free. It would have to be enough to fill the hole the hope of escape left gapping like a wound in his side. There would be no more escape after this; the Master would make sure of it.
Chapter 6 by Encairion
Author's Notes:

*Curumo is the name Saruman went by before he came to Middle-earth.

Character picture: Eärendil

 

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 6

Eärendil’s fingers trailed over the star-chart. In his loopy handwriting he’d inked in every star Varda had every lit, both those brightest ones of the Second Kindling formed from Telperion’s silver pools, and the lesser, distant stars of the First Kindling long before the Elves’ waking. Only Morgoth and Varda knew the Outer Circles of the world better than he.

He’d sailed the Vaiya, the Encircling Sea where Varda had molded the stars, for over a thousand years. He knew with intimacy the fiery rings of Valacirca’s stars, the blue gas of giant Helluin, the taste of a comet’s tail, and the way Vingilótë’s deck vibrated, her masts threatening to splitter as an asteroid storm engulfed them.

The barrier holding the Void back from consuming all was like a veil, terrifyingly thin in appearance, yet stronger then the strongest substance of Arda. The shadows of monstrous creatures moved behind it, shapes visible when red lighting lit that screaming emptiness in flashes of violence. Nothing trapped in the Void could ever hope for escape.

A sound, like a sonic boom, cracked close and terrifying. The barrier buckled. The imprint of a claw thrashed against its elastic surface. Jaws wider then a Dragon’s punched against the barrier, stretching it. They encircled Vingilótë, diminishing her to a toy ship. Eärendil’s cry was insignificant as a mosquito’s dying breath.

Get back, get back, get out! His hands sweaty and shaky upon the ship’s wheel, the blackness falling to all sides of him, threatening to consume him and leave nothing, not even the memory of his existence behind. And who would mourn him, or even know or care that he’d ceased to exist?

But the monster could not close its jaws upon him. It screamed, furious, denied, and a tail like a mountain slammed against the barrier with an explosion. The Void lit with an eruption of sinister crimson light, and the colossal monster’s skeleton reveled itself, a cross between a lizard and a horse’s corpse. But it was nothing, nothing to the looming shadow straining against black chains behind it.

Their eyes met, no, those pits of darkness and a light too alien, too lustful to look within, were not staring back at his. They clung a few inches up at the Silmaril set like a brand upon his brow; it’s weight the weight of chains, its fire a mockery against the night and him as well, for it was not he who it yearned for. From the bound Vala erupted fire and lightening, a thousand times more terrifying (majestic) then watching the Thangorodrim spew the heart of the Earth.


Eärendil’s fingers splayed over the chart, the work of a dozen lifetimes of Men. The chart’s edges had had the curl worn out of them, and the parchment pressed smooth as leather against his skin. It smelt like space, for he never went up into the skies without it. It comforted him as nothing else could. It anchored him with knowledge, as if his obsession with collecting every scrap of knowledge about The Encircling Seas would give him power over that vast emptiness.

He spent his waking hours dreading the coming of night, pacing the last hour of the sunlight away, his hands racked by a tremor he could never, even after all these years, control. When he was up there, he invented a thousand things to keep his mind occupied, holding the panic back with occupation.

He’d conducted a thousand experiments, stretched the limits of the impossible, awakening that quarter-Noldo in his blood with his desperation as it had never stirred with the need to know and understand before. Knowledge was power they said, but the more Eärendil discovered of the universe had not give him even an micro of power over it, or even his own existence. The bars of his prison shot high and close about him.

Eärendil snapped the star-chart up, rolling it and securing it with a loop of twine. For the first time since the Valar had sentenced him for daring to stand in their presence and beg for the lives of Exiles and Secondborn alike, his hands would not shake with the sun’s setting.

He left the chart on the table; it would be there when he returned to take up his hell again. He turned his back on the room. He did not look back for one last glance.

He went to her haunt, but stopped in the doorway, watching her. She cradled the Silmaril like she had once cradled their sons. Her eyes were the eyes of a wolf, greedy as they drank in the jewel’s light.

Eärendil’s jaw clenched and sickness rolled his stomach. If a person could develop an allergy to light, that person would be him. The jewel wasn’t hallowed light in his eyes, it was poison.

He left the doorway to walk across the sunbeams striping the wooden floor to her side. Light glinted off the ocean-view dominating three of the room’s walls of long, floor-length windows. The floor was a golden-brown, the walls white stone, the furniture various shades of white and gold. The handful of visitors they received exclaimed over the room’s beauty. Eärendil hated it.

“Elwing,” his hand settled on her shoulder. He felt the thinness of her bones through the light fabric of her dress. Her cheekbones were too sharp in her face. She did not care for anything but the Silmaril, not even herself.

She did not turn from the light. He did not expect her to, but he’d wanted to say her name. He needed to remind himself why he cared for her. It was not love, that had died; there was only pity now. He cared for her like he would a helpless child or an old, senile woman.

His fingers combed through her hair, pulling it back with delicate care into a braid. The hair slipped brittle through his fingers where once it had slid like silver silk. “I’m going away for a time. I don’t know when I will return.” He bent and kissed her temple. He flinched from how close this brought his face to the Silmaril. “Goodbye.”

He walked away. She had not acknowledged him with even a look. He took in a gulp of sea air as he left the house behind. It did not taste of freedom; the sea had ceased to taste of that a long time ago. Nothing but Endor could hold that sweetness now.

Eönwë waited for him on the beach, along with another Maia of lesser statue. Waves crashed against the jagged rocks littering the shore, spraying water high into the air like white tongues. Eönwë’s hair tangled behind him, snatched up by the wind blowing off the ocean and flapping like a ribbon of gold.

Eärendil’s own hair got into his eyes, but he tucked it behind his ears. He’d never allowed it to grow into the length ‘proper’ for an Elf. It still brushed his shoulders like a Man’s.

Eärendil came to stand at Eönwë’s side. Eönwë turned with the grace of a swan, pivoting on just the ball of his foot, breaking off his soft conversation with the other Maia. Eärendil eyed the second Maia, he couldn’t place a name but he’d seen him seated with Aulë’s Maiar during those occasions Eärendil was made to suffer an audience with the Valar.

Eönwë’s hand lifted in a sweep and curl of fingertips that couldn’t help but draw the eye in its elegance, and motioned to the silent Maia at his side. “This is Curumo. He serves Aulë. He will be the one taking your place.”

Eärendil met the other’s dark eyes. He didn’t trust him, but he would have to. It was hard enough to trust Eönwë, even Finarfin and Elenwë; it was impossible to place trust in one of the Ainur he knew nothing about.

“You would throw your lot in with the ‘rebels’ why?” Eärendil’s eyes met the Maia’s almost at level; he had none of Eönwë’s lofty height.

Curumo folded his hands before him and tilted his head, examining Eärendil as if he was a curiosity to unravel. The sunlight slid off the auburn of his hair, and along the high line of his cheekbones. He had the build of an Elven smith, muscled without the bulk of a Human blacksmith. “All the Maia have been wronged in one or another by the Valar, though not all of us have the wit to see with clear eyes.” Curumo had a beautiful voice, smooth and subtle, low but enchanting.

Eärendil found himself warming up to the Maia, just the slightest de-thawing. He acknowledged the truth of the words with a tight nod.

Eönwë took over, bringing their conversation back to the heart of the matter: Eärendil’s task. “He will not be easy to find. He was last spotted on the Northern coast, close to where Caranthir’s fortress once stood. If Himring was visible to the coast, he would have been able to see it.”

Eärendil’s hands clenched into fists. He did not need more reminders of why he did not want to ever find this ellon. If it wasn’t for his debt and the chance to be free of Valinor for a time, he would have refused Eönwë’s request.

Maglor had kept his sons safe, yes, but he’d also stolen them. Elrond would name Maglor Fëanorion his father, the first and forever in his heart, until the world’s ending. Others would have put the Fëanorion’s crimes as a Kinslayer as reason enough to never forgive, but Eärendil was a father jealous for his son’s love first.

The debt he owned the Fëanorions for his sons’ lives would be paid in full once his mission was complete. He went to give Maglor a son for sons, a life for his twins’ lives.

The Valar had known all along the identity of Glorfindel’s sire, little evaded their perception upon their mountain where Glorfindel had been conceived. That the Valar had chosen to punish the son of a Kinslayer rebel by sentencing him to a life of first poverty and then slavery did not come as a surprise.

They had had a hand in Glorfindel’s second conception; indeed, it had been their spider web from the beginning. Why else would Glorfindel be reborn without a scrap of memory?

But the Valar’s plans had been derailed the moment they spoke carelessly in Eönwë’s presence. Eönwë had discovered Glorfindel’s rebirth and his current enslavement. He had been plotting against the Valar’s intended fate for the son of Maglor ever since.

“Do you have the cloak?”

“Of course,” Eönwë pulled a shadowy cloak from an impossibly tinny pocket, yet the cloak revealed would cover a full-grown man. “I told you we had an ally among Vairë’s Maiar. She was eager to help.” Eönwë ran his fingers over the cloak. It slid like water through them, and as the fabric shifted, it seemed stars were captured within it. “She wove this with her own hair.”

“Like Lúthien,” Eärendil’s mouth curled in something a great distance from a smile. He did not bother correcting Eönwë over the ‘our allies.’ Finarfin, Elenwë, and their Vanyar friends could play at their quiet rebellions and knit alliances with Ainur all they liked. They would never have the strength to throw off the Valar’s noose. There simply were not enough Elves left, not enough leaders. Maybe if the dead were rehoused…but in what fantasy universe would the Valar ever give body to those Exiles who had stood fiercest against them?

Eärendil couldn’t afford to hope for freedom. To hope and have it crushed again and again and again…it would be to destroy him, down to the last secret corner of his heart still struggling against this existence.

He hadn’t allowed himself grand hopes since Elros’ death. Only the quiet, private hopes remained. He hoped Elros and his father were happy in whatever existence had greeted them in death. He hoped Elwing…well, he’d stopped hoping she’d heal, now he hoped she’d slip away, softly in the night, and find freedom from the Silmaril’s thralldom in the existence of a bodiless fëa. He hoped for Elrond’s happiness, and that his son never sailed into this prison. Eärendil would not hope Elrond join him here to have the life sucked out of him just so Eärendil could see his son’s face again. Never that.

Eärendil accepted the offered cloak. “It will conceal me from even Manwë’s eyes?”

“Lúthien’s hid her from Morgoth’s didn’t it?”

Eärendil did not reply, but swung the cloak about his shoulders, not yet closing it about his body. “You said you’d prepared a way for me to cross the sea undetected?”

“Indeed. Few ships make the journey to Númenor now. We cannot rely on that mode of transportation.” Eönwë bent and began shucking his boots. “Take these.”

Eärendil raised a brow, but accepted the boots. They were knee high and of a subtle white leather. Form toe-tip to ankle they had been molded into a sleek line of golden wings that ended like a bird’s wing tips just passed the ankle’s base. Eärendil mouth curled as he looked up at Eönwë.

Eönwë lifted a brow. “Do you think I have even the freedom to choose my own attire?”

Eärendil dropped his eyes. Of course not. No more than Eärendil had had a choice in where he lived or how he spent his nights. Eönwë had the honor of being clad as his master’s design, as Eärendil had the honor of taking that cursed jewel into the sky night after night after night.

“What do these do then?” They served some purpose. If they hadn’t originally, then Ages rubbing against an Ainur’s skin would have endowed the boots with some power. Ainur were like that, some of themselves rubbing off on everything and everyone dwelling too long in their presence. They were not meant to walk beside the Children.

“You’ll run the wind.”

Eärendil paused in his removal of his own boots. He looked up at Eönwë from where he sat in the sand. “Are you sure that’s healthy for a Child?”

Eönwë tossed his hair. It flashed bright enough to rival a sunbeam. “I’ve been planning this for months, Eärendil. Yes, I’m sure.”

“Right, just checking.” He pulled Eönwë’s boots on. They didn’t mold to his feet perfectly, but they would do. He climbed to his feet. The moment his soles touched the ground he started to float away.

Eönwë reached out and grabbed his forearm, anchoring him back to the earth.

“This is….” Eärendil snatched at Eönwë’s shoulder.

It was a good thing he wasn’t afraid of flying. He realized, with the clarity of an electric shock, that he was smiling. Not just smiling, grinning. He’d dreamed of flying as a child, and now, now he would. He wanted to be gone, wanted to be up there, breathing in gulps of wind, of freedom the like of which not even Vingilótë could grant him anymore. But there was still business to complete.

“Do you have the hair?” Eönwë asked.

Eärendil nodded and reached into his pocket. He drew forth the braid cut from his own head. “Can I see the change?”

Eönwë accepted the braid. “Give him a moment.” He passed the braid to Curumo.

Curumo took a piece of his own hair and braided Eärendil’s into it. When their hair merged into one, Eärendil’s gold threading with the auburn, Curumo’s appearance began to shift. His build and height were almost a match for Eärendil’s, but the oval of his face lengthened, his nose’s point sharpened, and his hair morphed into Eärendil’s shoulder-length curls. His eyes shifted from their dark brown into a blue a few hues deeper than Eönwë’s.

Eärendil found himself staring into a face the mirror of his own. He licked his lips, hands tightened on Eönwë’s shoulders. “You’ll be gentle with her, won’t you? I doubt she’ll recognize you –me—but sometimes, every once in a long long while she will know me, and I—”

Curumo nodded solemnly. “I will not hurt her.”

“I know it had to be me. Finarfin and Elenwë are too public of figures, and Manwë would notice Eönwë’s absence for more than a night sailing the stars. It’s not like I even see anyone outside our…circle, but—”

Eönwë’s hand covered his, and the babble cut off. “Everything will be fine. I know it’s hard to trust, but I did not select Curumo for this task lightly. He is clever. I doubt, even if Manwë paid him an importune visit during your absence, that Manwë would be able to discern the deceit.”

“Right.” Eärendil’s fingers uncurled from their perch. “This is goodbye then. I don’t know how long…”

Eönwë’s hand holding his was the only thing keeping him anchored to the earth; already his feet were pointed towards the sky. “It could be weeks, months. He is lost in his grief, be patient with him, gentle if you can. He has suffered enough.”

Eärendil’s fingers slipped free. His throat felt too tight, but he managed a promise, though he didn’t know if he’d been able to keep it. “I’ll try.”

“Good luck, Eärendil!”

Eärendil couldn’t turn back for a last farewell, the sky called him.

Time lost all meaning as he rode the wind. He twirled and dived, skimmed his fingers over the sea’s chest, shot up like an arrow for the sun, and let the drafts mold to his back like a feather mattress as he spread his arms and stared up at an expanse of blue. He laughed as he had not laughed in…he couldn’t even remember.

It might have taken him months to cross the Western Sea, it might have been over in a week; time did not matter, not up there on the roof of the world.

Eventually the sea gave way to land, and Eärendil began his search. Finding one Elf in the miles and miles of coastline seemed an impossible task, and who was to say Maglor had not abandoned the sea? But what sounded impossible turned out to be a task of less than a week. Maglor had not wandered far from the last place he’d been sighted. He still lingered in the ruin of what had once been Eastern Beleriand.

Cloud’s hung low and rolling in the sky, lending a dreary grayness to the world. The sea heaved sword-gray, the rocks were black, and the tree line huddled in gloom. The last son of Fëanor sat in the moist sand, a trail of wobbly footsteps behind him, not yet washed away with the high tide. Maglor’s hair hung in dirty, knotted clumps into a grunt face. He hunched over the very same harp Eärendil had delivered to him all those years ago during the War of Wrath, the one Fëanor had made for him in his youth.

As Eärendil’s feet touched down on the earth, just feet from Maglor, he caught the wispy strands of a lament. Maglor’s voice wavered, stretching thin, breaking like a snapped thread over and over again, only for him to pick up the lines one more time as if trapped in some sick form of penance. His fingers were nothing but skin and bone, and their pads bled on the strings, cut open.

Eärendil swallowed. He wanted to tear his eyes away; he wanted to unsee this wreck of a human being. He wanted to cling to the wrongs he’d built up in his heart against the sons of Fëanor. He could not. They were swept away like a tidal wave crashing through a village of huts. His mouth wrung with pity.

Maglor had not raised his eyes, nor seemed to be aware of Eärendil’s presence at all. Eärendil yanked Eönwë’s boots off. He was here to stay. His toes sunk into the damp sand; it molded about his feet as he crossed to kneel before the broken Elf.

Maglor sang on, head bowed. Eärendil’s hand came out to rest on the harp’s frame. Gently, he pulled it from underneath the bleeding fingers. Maglor jerked away, eyes flying up. Those eyes were fever-bright, but emptiness did not lurk on their other side. Maglor had lost himself, but not been utterly consumed by the grief. There was still something there.

“Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.” Eärendil took Maglor’s hand and tugged.

Maglor’s brows pinched together, staring at Eärendil’s insistent hand as if unable to comprehend what was happening. Eärendil bent and slipped an arm about Maglor’s waist and heaved the skinny Elf up. Maglor weighed only a little more than Elwing, and Eärendil had had to carry her too many times to count from where her body had shut down in exhaustion in front of the Silmaril she could not bear to stop gazing into.

“You’ll feel better after a bath and a hot meal,” Eärendil spoke softly, keeping his voice light.

Maglor smelt strongly of the sea, as if he regularly bathed in it, or got lost in it, his feet dumping him into its depths because his eyes could not see the ground before him. Or maybe it was nothing so innocent. A death by drowning could look appetizing when it called with the siren voice promising to silence the screaming memories, the howling grief.

Maglor passively allowed Eärendil to lead him, neither fighting nor speaking. He walked as one caught in a dream. Eärendil found a place passed the tree line in the shade of an ancient oak, to guide Maglor down to rest, his back propped against the oak’s trunk. This would do.

He could hear the trickle of a nearby source of fresh water, and if he knit a shelter of tree boughs like the Silvan did, he could provide them with shelter. He’d bought fresh clothes in a Teleri village a few days back, and some food and supplies as well. It would last them for a while. After that, well, he’d wait and see how Maglor fared. Eärendil had not forgotten how to set snares if it came to that, but he would not take Maglor to even a Human settlement, certainly not an Elven one.

Eärendil went in search of the water, before leading Maglor to sit beside it. The water he’d heard turned out to be a modest brook, not deep enough to submerge anything but ankles in, but swift enough flowing to provide a surface clear of algae.

Eärendil spread a fresh change of clothes out on the vibrantly green ferns, and hunkered down next to Maglor. He’d fished soap, salve, and a washing cloth from his pack of supplies, and balanced them on the smooth river stones now. “Shall we get you cleaned up then?”

Maglor did not speak, his eyes gazed into another world, one ended in ash and fire and the drowning of half a continent. Eärendil touched the hem of Maglor’s tattered tunic, nothing more than a dirty rag, though at its seams and neckline the memory of beauty still clung in the delicate stitching. “Is this alright?”

Maglor made no sound, nor shied from Eärendil’s hands, so Eärendil eased the tunic up his torso. He wore an undershirt of linen beneath only slightly less stained. “Here, lift your arms for me.” He guided Maglor’s arms into the air, and Maglor surprised him by keeping them aloft.

The tunic lifted over the breadth of shoulders and then the world blazed. Eärendil froze. He knew this light, oh, oh, how he knew it. There was nothing like it, never had been and never would be again. Light haloed the woods, crawling into the green of the ferns and transforming them into something preternatural. It reflected off the brook’s surface, dancing back in a thousand new colors.

Eärendil’s throat choked on bile. Where the light slid over his skin like a lover’s caress he felt infected. He’d told Elwing that thing pressed like a heart against her breast was poison, back in Sirion when he still believe he could save her. A Silmaril in hands not meant for it was flawless destruction, beautiful madness.

Eärendil stripped the tunic from Maglor’s arms, movements mechanical. To close his eyes, to look away, helped nothing. The light crawled up into all the shadows behind his eyelids, refusing to be ignored. He did not want to touch it, but he wanted that light bathing them while he washed the years of grief-madness from Maglor’s skin even less.

Fingers stiff, he reached under the mat of Maglor’s hair, fumbling for the strap of the crude leather cord Maglor had wrapped around and around the face of the Silmaril so that it would not slip away. The knot had been pulled too tight to unpick, so he guided Maglor’s head gently forward, and began working the cord up over Maglor’s face.

Maglor jerked, a strangled nose twisting up his throat, and Eärendil found himself flat on his back, thrown a good three feet away. He climbed to his knees with a sigh. Well. He should not have thought Maglor that disconnected from the world he would let another lay hands upon the jewel he’d killed for and buried his family over.

Maglor’s hand had come up to cling to the leather cord, resting a few inches above the Silmaril, not touching. Eärendil had noticed the scar on Maglor’s right hand when he pried the harp from his grasp. Black, charred flesh threaded out in a sick mirror of an eight-pointed star from the center of Maglor’s palm.

Eärendil approached Maglor like one would a skittish animal, but other than the hand clenched about the cord, Maglor showed no awareness. Eärendil picked up the discarded tunic and ripped a strip from it. He would not let that cursed thing burn more of Maglor’s body.

He knelt beside Maglor again and slowly approached the jewel lying upon his breast. He thought Maglor’s eyes flickered to his face, but when his own rose he found Maglor staring straight ahead. Maglor did not resist as Eärendil wrapped the Silmaril in the cloth (again and again, if only he could blot out the light blasting right through the wrapping as if sensing Eärendil wanted it gone and refusing to bend to any will but it’s maker’s blood).

With the Silmaril de-clawed as best Eärendil could make it, he resumed the process of undressing Maglor. The undershirt came next. Emancipation greeted Eärendil’s eyes as he’d suspected. Ribs stuck out like an elk’s antlers, each one housing a gap he could have slipped the tips of his fingers into. Hip bones sharp, a stomach sunken like a cave, and wasted arms. But it was the red patch on Maglor’s chest that curled Eärendil’s nails into his palms. The patch, resembling a Human’s skin after too many hours under the sun’s burn, marred Maglor’s skin directly below where the Silmaril rested.

Eärendil sucked in a deep, steadying breath, wanting to break something. The Silmarils didn’t have a right to hurt one their maker had loved. But they were cursed, blood-stained life-wreckers. They laughed in the face of mercy; at the idea of ever letting the hearts enslaved to them go.

Eärendil picked up the salve, and with fingers soft as those he would have used on his own child, he spread it over the mark. Maglor whimpered, twitching away from the touch. “Shh, I know, just a little more.” Eärendil petted Maglor’s mass of hair, not minding the coarseness the salt had left within its strands.

With the mark set to healing as best Eärendil could manage, he moved to easing the boots and stockings from Maglor’s feet. Pale toes, long like Maglor’s fingers, were revealed. Eärendil rested his hand on the lacings of Maglor’s leggings, his eyes searching Maglor’s face for a glimmer of distress. He found none, so he pulled these off as well, coaxing Maglor to lean back and lift his hips.

With the clothing removed, Eärendil began washing Maglor like a child. He fought the memories of afternoons in the sea, followed by an evening bath, Elrond and Elros insisting they go together, and the resulting mess they made in their play, but oh the laughter—

Eärendil had not heard a child’s laughter since…had it been since Sirion, since his boys? Maybe there had been some moments when he came to visit his boys on Balar during the War, but none he recalled.

As Eärendil drew the washing cloth up Maglor’s calves and thighs, it was memories of Elwing he turned from. Those moments of intimacy cocooned within the heat of a bath, skin slick and warm where her body rested in the cradle of his legs, the smell of her hair, the corner of her eye as she turned back to give him a sly glance—was all long ago, so long he looked back on it as if observing some other man’s life.

Maglor’s condition did not change over the next month. He spoke not one word. Not when Eärendil coaxed him into eating, during their delicate dance of bathing, or when he guided Maglor’s head back into the sleeping mat when Maglor tried to wander away in the middle of the night, driven by the relentless whip of loss, the ache that would never, ever, let him go.

Eärendil kept the harp away, and bandaged the abused fingers with slave. He could not stop Maglor from singing though, but after the twelfth night Maglor’s voice ruptured Eärendil’s heart (Eärendil would have dared an Orc not to be stricken by such broken beauty), Maglor did not sing again. Eärendil convinced himself this was a sign of his return to the living world.

The day marking a month of Eärendil’s nursing, he coaxed Maglor from under their woven shelter. He took Malgor’s hand and led him through the woods, back towards the beach. Maglor’s fingers rested against his without the cover of bandages, and Maglor’s cheekbones did not cut quite so sharply against his skin.

A songbird sent up a trill. “Do you hear, Maglor? They greet you.” Maglor’s eyes flitted up to the branch where the bird hopped, but did not speak. He had not spoken anything but laments since Eärendil had found him.

Eärendil took them down the white sand of the beach, weaving around the sea rocks jutting like slanted teeth from the sand. Eärendil dropped Maglor’s hand and let his charge wander. The sun struggled through an overcast sky to glint in the smooth fall of Maglor’s hair. Eärendil had feared he’d have to chop the whole of that raven mane off, so hopelessly knotted had it appeared. It had taken days of combing, a little here, a little there, but he finally had it return to something resembling a shadow of its former glory. It would not fall glossy until Maglor’s body pulled from its unhealthy state and his fëa joined it in life once again.

Maglor wandered to the water’s edge. Of course he did not have a care for his boots, and the leather was soon doused with saltwater. Eärendil shook his head and caught up with him.

“Help me take these off you. Then you can feel the water on your toes.” Maglor stood there frowning down at him as Eärendil struggled with the boots. “You’re not going to make this easy, are you?” Eärendil blew hair out of his eyes as he smiled up at Maglor.

Maglor stared down at him. His gaze seemed closer, as if he was only inches from seeing Eärendil. Eärendil took this as evidence of an awakening not far in the future.

An especially large wave came crashing against Eärendil’s legs as he wrestled with Maglor’s boots, and in his attempt to save Maglor from falling rear-first in the chilly water, he overbalanced and it was him sent face first into the ocean. He swallowed a mouthful of sea water, and came up spluttering, absolutely drenched.

He started laughing; his hair plastered to the side of his face, and the waves pulling his limbs this way and that with the waves rolling on and off the beach. He was ridiculous. All this over a pair of boots!

“Help me up?” He grinned, holding out a hand.

His eyes widened when Maglor’s slim fingers curled hesitantly about his own. Maglor didn’t have the strength to lift him, but even after Eärendil hauled himself to his feet he didn’t let the hand go. He squeezed it. “Thank you.”

Maglor frowned down at their clasped hands, his eyes slipped away, over Eärendil’s shoulder to the horizon. Eärendil sighed, and shoved his soaking hair out of his face. Well, Maglor had been there for a moment at least.

“Come on, let’s head back.”

Eärendil shucked his clothing when they reached the shelter that served as their temporary home. The sun slipped low in the west, and the wet clothes were raising goose bumps on his arms. He shivered as he draped his clothes over the arched roof of their shelter. He wrapped a blanket about his waist and squatted to pile some fresh logs on the fire.

He wasn’t in the mood for cooking a proper hot supper, so he tracked the distance to the sack of dried meat he’d hung from a tree a safe distance from their camp. There was another one of nuts and berries he’d foraged, and he gathered enough for a satisfactory meal. He found Maglor eyeing the harp when he returned.

He shoved food into the Elf’s hands to distract him. “Here, up to feeding yourself today?”

Maglor’s attention shifted to the food. His brow furrowed, but his fingers came up to fish out a blackberry and bring it to his mouth. Eärendil stretched his legs out beside him, and started on his own meal.

When his mind began to wander back to Valinor, worrying over how much more time of freedom he had, he yanked it back and struck up a one-sided conversation with Maglor about…well, anything really, anything but Valinor and Elros. He spoke some of Elrond, but as he had only rumors for news, he couldn’t share more then what Maglor already knew.

He grew sick of his own voice rather sooner than later. He was unused to lengthy conversation, or any conversation. The Valar had lifted the enchantment concealing Elwing and his home from other Elven-eyes, but Eärendil had been banned from Tirion and Alqualondë, and Númenor too after Elros’ death, anywhere his ‘unflattering’ ideas could be spread. Eärendil had only himself to blame for the restrictions, but he did not regret his actions for a minute.

The first thing he’d done when dragged back to Valinor after the War of Wrath like a dog on its leash, was seek an audience with the Valar. He’d given them more than just a piece of his mind; he’d lost all control and flown at Manwë seated on his throne with that sanctimonious curl to his mouth. Eärendil wanted to rip it off. He’d gotten his nails in the Vala’s face (they’d stripped his weapons from him before admitting him to their presence; they were not entirely oblivious to the hate in his heart). He was only disappointed the lines of blood he’d drawn across Manwë’s cheekbone had been a few inches below the eye socket he’d aimed for.

There had been no more audiences with the Valar after that. They’d invested so much energy into his stature as the beloved savoir of the world, that they’d had to hush the whole thing up and send him off in disgrace to his sea-side prison.

Finarfin and Elenwë visited, and while he wouldn’t call them close friends, they kept the insanity away and the loneliness from completely devouring him. His mother visited as well, but he had nothing to say to her. He had always been closer to his father, but Tuor was long dead, and Idril a stranger now.

She hadn’t understood anything. Oh, she did not come into his home to preach to him of the Valar’s mercy, she loved them no more than Finarfin and Elenwë, but she’d found friends in the returned Exiles of Tol Eressëa. She’d found companionship after those first years of standing apart, the years of a life so far outside the Elves of Tirion’s understanding standing between them.

She hadn’t understood prisons (not even after 400 years in Gondolin); she hadn’t understood helplessness of this magnitude or the despair and loneliness that walked beside him masquerading as his closest companions. She hadn’t understood a thing about Elwing or Elros and Elrond. Eärendil was thankful when she’d finally given up building a relationship with him. If Tuor sill lived, things would have been different, but his father was dead.

Eärendil tossed the last of his nuts into the underbrush for a bird to nibble upon. He’d lost his appetite. The trees cast long shadows, the last of the sunlight slipping from the sky.

“Tired?” Maglor didn’t answer.

Eärendil crawled over to him, took Maglor’s hands and wiped off the berries’ residue and the salt left over from the dried meat. “Time for bed.”

Maglor let himself be guided back to their pile of blankets and sleeping mats in the deepest recess of the cove-like shelter. Eärendil worked the boots off Maglor’s feet, but left the rest of his clothing on. Maglor’s body didn’t have the strength to fight off the chill of these early spring nights. Eärendil pulled the blanket over Maglor. He considered digging out a dry change of clothing for himself, but as his only other change had yet to be washed, he left it. Without the wet fabric clinging to his skin, a blanket would serve him for the night.

Maglor shifted about behind him for a time, but eventually fell into slumber. Eärendil joined him not long after.

Awareness came back by inches. A breeze slid over his skin. Why wasn’t he wearing any clothes? His feet were snug. Eärendil heaved himself to an elbow, and cracked his eyes open. His blanket was tangled about his calves. He rolled onto his hip and made a swipe for it. He snagged it and pulled the traitorous lump up.

He swept mussed hair out of his eyes and froze. Maglor had awoken, and now sat cross-legged in the pallet before Eärendil. The glow of red coals caught in the shadows of Maglor’s face. What the light of the sleeping fire did not reveal, the moonlight did. It glinted off Maglor’s staring eyes like moonlight off a lake’s surface.

Malgor’s eyes trailed the length of Eärendil’s exposed body, and Eärendil wondered how long he’d been looking. His stomach flipped. No veil hung between those eyes and the world. Maglor saw him.

Eärendil should pull the blanket over his nakedness, but he didn’t. It had been so long since anyone had looked at him with desire, or looked at him at all. Not like Maglor was looking at him, as if Eärendil was something worth looking at. Something more than a tool, an object to be used, a caged soul to be pitied.

Maglor shifted. His face pulled into a slice of moonlight slipping in through the loose weaving of their shelter as he leaned closer. Eärendil’s mouth went dry; he couldn’t tear his eyes off Maglor’s face. Maglor’s fingers settled on Eärendil’s arm. They ran up the curve of his shoulder to settle in the hollow of his throat.

“Would you like to escape with me?” Maglor’s breath ghosted his face, and his voice slid like cream over Eärendil’s skin.

“Yes,” he breathed.

Maglor’s mouth dropped onto his. Eärendil gasped into it, the shock of the touch stealing the breath from his lungs. He had not kissed another for….not since Elwing could see him through the blinding light of the Silmaril. Not since before he left her and the boys for his mad, desperate quest to save them all.

He opened to Maglor, starving, starving. He thought Maglor must be starving too by the way he devoured him. Maglor’s hands were on him, all over, running down his back, over his shoulders, knotting in his hair, pressing him back into the pallet so Maglor could climb on top.

Eärendil’s hands were hesitant at first. He’d not been touched like this for so long; he’d forgotten how. He brushed the waves of hair back from Maglor’s face, running though its weight, cradling the shape of Maglor’s skull beneath his palms.

Maglor shoved Eärendil’s legs open and lay between them. Maglor had not shred a stitch of clothing yet, and Eärendil felt exposed beneath him. “Take this off,” he tugged at Maglor’s tunic.

“Shh, don’t talk.” Maglor kissed him quiet.

Maglor pulled his mouth back and spat on his fingers. He dipped them down between their bodies. His hair blocked the moonlight from reaching his face, and Eärendil pushed it back, but did not find Maglor’s eyes. Maglor had a little pinched line between his brows as he pushed a finger into Eärendil.

Eärendil stiffened. Maglor’s mouth turned down, trying to fit in another, but it wouldn’t go. “You’re very tight.” Eärendil couldn’t read Maglor’s voice. Was it a criticism or just a statement? Maglor used more spit but Eärendil couldn’t stop the whine from falling into the air between them as Maglor tired to open him. He’d never…

Maglor pulled his fingers out and Eärendil’s heart jumped into his throat, sure Maglor would try to take him now, but Maglor sat back on his haunches. Eärendil’s legs were spread wide, and he was thankful for the limited light as his face heated.

“Do you have something to ease the way?”

Eärendil stumbled for something, finally he seized on, “There’s some cooking oil. There, in the pot with the other cooking supplies.” He pointed to where the cooking pot sat. The width of their shelter was small enough Maglor didn’t even have to reach his feet to fetch the oil; a long arm had the vile lifting from the bottom of the pot.

Maglor settled between Eärendil’s legs again, and popped the cork off the oil. Eärendil saw him dribble some on his fingers, but then he could see nothing else, not even Maglor’s face, for the curtain of black hair cut him off again.

Fingers probed him; he couldn’t say it was a pleasant sensation. He wished Maglor would…Maglor felt very far away. But why wouldn’t he? It was Eärendil who hadn’t been able to keep his heart closed as he cared for Maglor day after day, any scrap of lingering resentment washed away. To Maglor Eärendil was little more than a stranger.

Eärendil looked away. He could see a star or two between the boughs. Looking at the stars did not give him comfort. It was cold up there, in the blackness, and empty. A wind howled between the stars, carrying space debris. Eärendil could scream until his throat bled and no one would ever hear him up there in the dark.

He started shaking. He didn’t want to go back. Please, someone, please, don’t make him go back up there in the dark.

Maglor’s touch jerked him back. Maglor had thrown his hair over the blade of his shoulder. His fingers were free of Eärendil, and came up to cup his hipbone. But he hadn’t entered Eärendil yet, he stared down at Eärendil’s face.

“You do not want this?”

Eärendil sucked in a breath, and shook his head to clear the clinging fingers of empty space away. “No, no I want it.” He needed to forget. No, he needed to be touched by warm hands.

Maglor nodded, and his other hand slipped up Eärendil’s spine to curl about the base of his nape. The touch touched Eärendil deep inside. It felt like an embrace, almost, close enough. That he had been craving exactly this since he’d agreed to lay with Maglor was pathetic, but he couldn’t help it.

But when Maglor entered him, he did not look into Eärendil’s face. He dropped his face into the crook of Eärendil’s neck and kissed him, but it felt more like a barrier then a caress. Maglor made a breathless noise as he spread Eärendil open. The deeper he pressed, the more his restraint unraveled; he shoved in those last few inches.

Eärendil fisted Maglor’s hair, eyes squeezed shut and teeth gritted where Maglor could not see the expression of pain. It would get better, it had to. Eärendil could not hide the stiffness of his body, and the way his thighs clamped about Maglor’s waist. Maglor held still, panting into Eärendil’s neck. “You’re so…”

Eärendil turned his face and brushed his mouth against Maglor’s cheek. Maglor made a gasping sound, the muscles in his shoulders shaking under Eärendil’s hands. “I have to, let me—”

“Yes.” It didn’t matter that the stretch was still more pain then pleasure, Maglor wanted him. He didn’t think Elwing had even wanted him this much that she shook with the power of the want.

Maglor pulled out, and Eärendil bit back his hiss. When Maglor slid in again he wasn’t so gentle, but the sound he made, that sound drawn up from the depths of his being, made the burn worth it. Maglor rose up on his hands, and Eärendil mourned the loss of their chests pressed skin to skin. Maglor’s hair slid down his shoulder as he set a pace in earnest, but Eärendil did not need the light to know Maglor did not look at his face. He looked down at the place their bodies connected.

The avoidance of eye contact should not be a surprise. It forced intimacy. Eärendil wanted that, he wanted their eyes sewn together, unable to tear away as Maglor moved in him, but Maglor wanted to forget, and for that he only needed a body…No. Stop. He couldn’t think like this, not now.

Maglor lifted Eärendil’s hips, shifting the angle, and when he slid in this time Eärendil gasped. Maglor did it again and again, and oh, oh! Thought unraveled, nothing mattered but Maglor touching him inside like that one more time. Never stop.

Black hair flew between them, the sound of flesh slapping flesh, gasping breaths and groans. Maglor bit Eärendil’s lips, his neck, his collarbone, hissing curses that sounded beautiful falling from those lips. Eärendil shook under him, rushing toward climax. He spent himself with a cry, his neck arched back to let Maglor do whatever he wanted with it, his mouth gone slack, and oh, oh, oh!

Maglor collapsed on top of him, panting for a moment in his ear, before rolling off to fall limply into the tangle of blankets, chest heaving. When Eärendil got his breath back he wanted to say something, only the right words wouldn’t come. He turned his face to look at Maglor. Maglor had thrown an arm over his eyes, his body spread long and pale in the moonlight.

Eärendil’s hands twitched, his limbs felt heavy, not from tiredness but from the strength of a desire he did not have the courage to fulfill. He could just…just slide a little closer, say something about Maglor needing the body heat, or, or… He could comb a hand through Maglor’s hair and his head would somehow find its way to Maglor’s shoulder, his arm wrapping about Maglor’s waist. He’d not known another’s embrace since Elros. Elros had died a thousand years ago.

He swallowed, looking away. He was pathetic. If it wasn’t enough he’d let Maglor Fëanorion fuck him, now he wanted to cling to him like some needy…. What was wrong with him?

Eärendil curled his fingers into his palms, pressing nails into his skin. He lay, stiff but mercifully unmoving, as Maglor’s breaths deepened.

Maglor dropped back into sleep without looking at him even one more time. What did Eärendil think was going to happen? Maglor had told him at the start what he was seeking, and it wasn’t someone to cuddle with. If Eärendil was left unfulfilled by a fuck of forgetfulness, then he had no one to blame but himself.
Chapter 7 by Encairion

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 7

Eärendil woke to the chirping of birds welcoming the sun. He rolled over, groaning at the strange stiffness in his body. Had he gotten in a fight with a wild boar yesterday?

He pushed himself up to his elbows, but his lower back was killing him. He flopped back down, only to regret the carelessness of the action as pain spiked down his spine. “I think I’m dying.”

He startled when a body knelt at his side. Who…? He looked up into Maglor’s eyes. They were more beautiful than the stars. He’d thought that even before they looked back at him with awareness. “You have injured yourself?”

“I…” Memories of last night came. He cursed them for arriving a few moments too late to save himself this embarrassment. “It is nothing.”

His cheeks burned, and he dropped his eyes. He made another attempt to rise, but the pain was not made easier with the knowledge of where it originated. He could not stop a groan from slipping out as he struggled to roll up to his hips.

Maglor’s hand settled on his shoulder, pushing him back into the pallet. “It is not nothing. Where does it hurt?”

Eärendil flicked a glance up, trying to judge Maglor’s stubbornness, but Maglor looked back at him with the patience of a captain and an elder brother who’d weathered his share of stubbornness in the face of injury. If only this was a battle wound.

“My lower back and…” Eärendil mumbled to his hand. “Nothing to be done about it, just a little soreness.”

“Oh,” Maglor’s hand slid off him, and an awkward silence sauntered between them. “Well...” Maglor cleared his throat. Eärendil wanted to die. “Perhaps some breakfast will…help?” Eärendil didn’t see how, but he nodded anyway, anything to make Maglor go away.

Eärendil waited until Maglor had walked off before levering himself up again; he didn’t want Maglor hurrying back to his side out of guilt when he strained himself. Now he was braced for the pain, he found it concealable. He brought himself up to a sitting position, once he reached that the pain dulled.

He watched Maglor scoop handfuls of blackberries onto a large leaf. Into another he slid half of a fish he’d not only cooked over the fire but picked the bones out of. Maglor must have been up for some time.

He needed to tell Maglor of his mission, of the son Maglor had never known he had. Maglor returned with breakfast. He hesitated before breaching the distance between them to set the leaves down on Eärendil’s knees.

“Thank you,” Eärendil whispered. He licked his lips. He should speak now, but nothing came out.

Maglor fetched his own breakfast and they ate in silence. Eärendil could stomach little with his mouth full of the unspoken words. To fulfill his mission meant returning to Valinor, and he couldn’t…he couldn’t…

“How long have you been…caring for me?” Eärendil jumped at the sound of Maglor’s voice.

“Oh. Not that long,” he evaded Maglor’s eyes, but Maglor did not ask him what he was doing here.

Maglor rose to his feet and stepped around Eärendil to pluck the harp from its resting place hanging from the shelter’s roof. “Do not come looking for me.” Maglor turned and started walking away.

“You—” Eärendil heaved himself up, and found standing did not aggravate his injury, but trying to jog after Maglor did. He stopped and watched as Maglor walked away without a backwards glance. He would not run after Maglor like some besotted maiden or fretting parent. He could not force a Maglor with his wits about him to his will. If Maglor wanted to play until his fingers bled, then that was his choice.

Eärendil idled the day away, unable to decide on any course of action. His mission had not been completed, and yet he was loathed to go seeking Maglor with the purpose of its fulfillment. His lower back and ass ceased to bother him after he slipped some salve into himself, and a few hours of Elven healing. He spent the rest of the day catching fish and collecting shellfish and berries.

He sat poking at the fire with a stick as the fish sizzled on flat stones when a shadow fell over him. His head jerked up. Maglor walked calmly passed him as if he’d always meant to return, and maybe he had.

Maglor hung up his harp, and came to sit across the fire from Eärendil. He did not speak, nor even look at Eärendil. His eyes were distant, but not that distant speaking of a mind lost to grief.

Eärendil should tell him of Glorfindel. He should. He got to his feet and came to sit beside Maglor, close enough to smell the spray of the ocean he brought back with him. Maglor turned to look at him, wearing that little crease between his brows that never seemed to go away.

His mouth looked unhappy, but Eärendil could not remember ever seeing Maglor happy. What did he had to be happy about when Eärendil had first met him deep in enemy territory driven on and on and on by his Oath, or when he and his brother had come upon their last desperate errand into Eönwë’s camp to reclaim the Silmarils, or when he had been so stricken by grief he could not see the world around him and was so wasted dead bodies looked more alive than him?

He should tell him about Glorfindel, but he didn’t. He leaned in and kissed Maglor instead. Maglor’s mouth remained downturned and unresponsive under his. Eärendil made to pull back, heart dropping into the vicinity of his stomach. But then Maglor’s fingers were in his hair, clenching and pulling; Eärendil did not care because Malgor’s mouth pressed hot and hungry against his.

If Eärendil had thought last night had been a hasty affair, he’d not known the meaning of the word. Maglor didn’t bother with Eärendil’s tunic, he had Eärendil’s leggings unlaced and shoved down his hips while Eärendil still reeled from the ferocity of the kiss.

“On your hands and knees,” Maglor ordered.

Eärendil should say no. He should. But he didn’t.

Maglor’s hands settled hot and fierce upon his hips, and while there came the sound of the oil being uncorked, Maglor didn’t take the time for anything but a coating on his cock. Eärendil should tell him no, should tell him to slow down, but he didn’t. He let Maglor do anything he wanted to him. He didn’t have an answer for what was wrong with him.

They lay together every night after that. In the morning Maglor would take down his harp, and set out to wander their stretch of beach. Eärendil followed him once, hiding himself, worrying over Maglor but lacking the ease of friendship to just ask. Maglor’s mournful voice crawled through the air, beautiful, but crippling in the pain it inflicted upon the listener and the depth of the grief it pulled back like a bandage ripped form a bleeding wound. He’d not followed again.

Every night Maglor returned ‘home’ to lie down beside Eärendil and fuck him. Eärendil did not deceive himself into disguising this as anything but a fuck, a distraction from the blackness of mourning. When they fucked, Maglor never looked into his face. Yet Eärendil never spoke of Glorfindel.

The thought of leaving, of fulfilling his mission and returning to—a monstrous weight crushed his chest. It was more than the heaviness of the lonely existence awaiting him in his prison. The thought of leaving Maglor, of never seeing him again… But how could Eärendil’s heart be breaking at the thought of leaving Maglor Fëanorion? Why hadn’t he stopped himself before he fell this far past salvation?

Eärendil kissed down Maglor’s throat, his thighs cradling the long body close as Maglor moved in him. He never named it for what it was when Maglor took him. To call it fucking without the distance of daylight between them sickened him. When they came together like this, Eärendil could pretend he meant something to Maglor. He could pretend Maglor’s hands on his skin were Maglor’s way of speaking to him, and the silence was more than the chasm of nothing to say. He had things to say, a thousand. He liked to think Maglor did too, but like him did not know how.

Eärendil bit his lip to stop himself from gasping Maglor’s name as Maglor’s length slid against that perfect spot within him. He could not reveal himself, could not dangle his vulnerability out in the open, far from the safety of the cavity of his chest.

Sometimes, in the harsh clarity of day, he told himself he would have made a fool of himself over anyone who’d put their fingers on his skin as Maglor had that first time. Loneliness was a weakness easily picked up and used by those who liked to manipulate other’s hearts. Maglor had not had that intent, but the result was the same.

Eärendil tried to convince himself that when this was over, when Maglor left him or he finally found the courage to end this with the words he should have revealed weeks ago, when Eärendil had achieved some distance between himself and Maglor, this need would prove but an illusion, a passing infatuation. But it never worked. He’d stopped hoping for mercy.

Maglor’s hands slid down his calves, lifting them. He did not have to speak for Eärendil to comply; they’d done it this way before. Maglor helped him slip his thighs over Maglor’s shoulders, folding Eärendil in half.

The shift in position caused Maglor’s eyes to flicker open and their gazes to meet. The sun hadn’t set yet; Maglor couldn’t pretend he couldn’t see Eärendil. Maglor’s body stiffened, his thrusts freezing. But then, slowly at first, he started moving again. Only he didn’t look away. Eyes clung to eyes.

Maglor’s eyes were so close. Eärendil’s own trailed over the delicate arch of brows, the curl of lashes, the fine line of cheekbones, and the creaminess of skin against black hair shifting like a sea about them.

Maglor licked his lips. “Your eyes…”

Eärendil flushed. Maglor’s mouth parted, and his hand came up trembling against Eärendil’s cheek.

Eärendil’s tongue twisted up and blurted, “Your eyes are more beautiful than the sea.”

Malgor’s hips stuttered. His eyes combed over Eärendil’s face, seeking something, before they slid away, off to the side.

Stupid, that had been a stupid, stupid thing to say.

Maglor closed his eyes, and buried his face in Eärendil’s neck, teeth grazing. Eärendil turned his head away, allowing better access even as he bit his lip and pulled breaths in through his nose. It shouldn’t hurt, but it did. He was pathetic.

There had been a time, once, when he would have shoved Maglor off him and been done with this whole shipwreck.

Eärendil’s hands tighten in Maglor’s hair, pulling him closer, desperate for a scrap, just a scrap of something, just a brushing of hands in the dark to know he wasn’t alone.

The terror hounded him, the terror of drifting away in the nothingness, the darkness of the abyss falling away on either side of Vingilótë as he sailed alone on the border of the world night after night after night, only to return to a woman whose greedy eyes fell upon the Silmaril she ripped from his brow, unable to control her need a moment longer.

Maglor’s fingers cradled the back of his head, and the terror drew back. The touch of Maglor’s lips against his neck made this alright, made everything alright, everything worth it.

Maglor tightened his grip on Eärendil’s hip and nape, and picked up his rhythm. This was not love making. Maglor slid in and out of him with the brutality of escape, escape within the pleasure and pain, but Eärendil did not ask Maglor to stop. He never did. No matter how rough Maglor was with him, not even when the pain bled with the pleasure until some nights he screamed with it, too much, too much, too much, and not enough, never enough.

The sound of Maglor’s panting breaths and groans, flesh slamming into flesh, was an obscene melody in the night, and one that drove Eärendil ever deeper into the net of Maglor. Anything, anything Maglor wanted he could do to him. Just don’t take his fingers off his skin.

It couldn’t last. Maglor finished in him, taking Eärendil with him into those few gasping moments the world fell away and only the bliss of release remained. But when Eärendil came back to himself, his body shivered and his arms hung empty. Maglor did not linger against his skin.

Maglor would rise tomorrow, pick up his harp, and fall into a mourning only edging on this side of sanity, like nothing healthy or healing. Eärendil would wait for the coming of night and Maglor’s return, and pretend all over again that he could ever mean anything to a person dead inside, buried along with the last of his brothers in a land swallowed by the sea long ago.

This couldn’t go on. Eärendil couldn’t go on running from where all this was always going to end. He would go back to Valinor and Maglor would either pick himself up long enough to save his son, or sink himself deeper into grief.

Maglor’s breathing hadn’t evened out enough for sleep yet. Eärendil rose and slipped on his leggings and tunic. He couldn’t do this without a barrier between them. He had enough to be ashamed about; he didn’t need his nakedness as well.

Maglor stirred at this deviation from the script. He sat up, hair pooling in his lap. He did not ask what Eärendil was doing –he never did—only slipped into his own leggings.

Eärendil smoothed his hands down the breast of his tunic, and looked up into Maglor’s quietly waiting face. “I was sent to find you.”

Maglor’s whole body stiffened.

“No, it was not the Valar who sent me. I would not run an errand for them even if they held a knife to my throat, only Elrond’s throat would move me.” He looked away from the way Maglor’s face spasmed at the name. “It was Eönwë. I doubt you are aware, but there is a bit of a…rebellion taking place in Valinor.” He looked back to catch the narrowing of Maglor’s eyes. “It is a quiet resistance, all very underground, but there are many hands involved. Finarfin and Eönwë are the leaders, as well as some others.”

“What has this to do with me?” Maglor’s voice was soft but could still rupture the earth like a quake.

“Eönwë overheard a piece of news concerning you–or rather, conceding your son.”

Maglor’s face slammed closed. “I have no son. And I do not imagine you of all people would ever call Elrond by that name.”

Eärendil couldn’t speak to Maglor about Elrond, so he said, “You do have a son by blood, though it is my understanding his mother never told you of his parentage. I believe Glorfindel’s first mother’s name was Irimë?”

“No.” Maglor’s voice cracked. He shook his head, hands coming up as if to ward off a blow. “That cannot…not that poor boy she—that I never save—” Maglor pressed a fist into his breast, right over his heart as if it was physically breaking within his chest. His breath came in gasps.

Eärendil took hesitant steps towards him to kneel at Maglor’s side. His hands hovered, but in the end he darned not touch. “Glorfindel, your son, has been reborn.”

Maglor’s head snapped up. He seized Eärendil by the tunic drawing their faces close, their noses almost brushing. No one could describe eyes that burned like this grey. They were nothing so flat. “You will take me to him. Now. You will take me to him. I do not care if I have to fight every one of the Valar to get to him—”

“He is not in Valinor; he is here, in Endor. Or rather, in Númenor.” Eärendil’s hands settled over the shaking ones fisted in his tunic.

“Here?” Maglor’s eyes swung about as if Glorfindel would step from the tree shadows any moment.

“In Númenor. Do you remember… Did you hear of the Valar’s gift to the Edain?”

Maglor released him, running a hand that tangled through his hair. He barked a laugh. “The Valar passing out gifts? No, I think not.”

“They raised an island in the Western Sea for the Edain, but it is not guarded against travelers as Valinor is. You can go to him there.”

“What is….what is he doing there? How do the Valar—why was he reborn if the Valar knew…?”

Eärendil shifted back on his heels. His hands wrung in his tunic. His cowardice had prolonged Glorfindel’s suffering and Maglor’s separation for him, if only by a few weeks, it was a few weeks too many. “The Valar had Glorfindel reborn as a punishment. Do you…that is, do you remember some years ago lying with a Teler woman?”

“No, of course I—” Maglor’s eyes turned inward, the crease in his frowning brow deepening. “On a...beach? She had silver hair?”

“I believe it was something like that. You…the Valar…you were not yourself and...”

“Easily danced to the puppet master’s strings,” Maglor finished bitterly.

Eärendil did not acknowledge the correctness of that assessment. “Fifteen years ago Glorfindel was taken captive by Human slavers and sold in the Númenórean black-market.”

Maglor’s eyes flashed, hands balling into fists. “Go on,” he ground out. His voice promised destruction.

“He is there now, a Champion in their Games. It will not take you long to find him, ask anyone on the street after the Morning Star and they will tell you where to find him.” Eärendil stood. “I can assist you with travel—”

Malgor’s hand wrapped about Eärendil’s wrist like a steel shackle. “And why have you waited this long to tell me of this?”

Eärendil closed his eyes, but when they opened again he’d tucked the weaknesses this Elf had plowed into him away. He twisted out of the grip. Maglor had put on weight and muscle, but Eärendil had the advantage in a contest of strength.

He gazed down at Maglor as if from a far off mountaintop, and his voice seemed flat to his own ears. “I do not deny I should have told you earlier, but I do not ask your forgiveness. Now, you can either accept my help or do this alone. I care not,” he shrugged a shoulder. “Either way I consider this my payment in full for the lives of my sons.”

Malgor’s mouth curled mockingly. “A life for a life. I took you for the altruistic type, after your mother. It seems you have Turgon’s sense of justice in you after all.”

Eärendil’s jaw clenched. No. He was nothing like either of them, but Malgor’s words just proved how little Maglor knew of him outside his body. “Think what you like of me.”

Maglor kept watching him. It seemed only a war of wills brought Maglor’s gaze on him to stick. Maybe if Eärendil had put up a fight when he let Maglor’s bend his body to his pleasure, Maglor would have looked at him.

He could have laughed at the irony, but he slammed the door shut on those thoughts instead. He must not think of Maglor in that way again. It was over. Of course it was over.

Maglor picked up his tunic and rose. He gave Eärendil his back and shucked it on as he stepped towards his hanging harp. He pulled it down and slung it over his back by the leather strap, before turning to face Eärendil again. “What is this help you propose?”

It was always going to end like this, but telling himself that didn’t stop the pain from stitching itself into his chest. “Here,” Eärendil prayed Maglor’s couldn’t hear the way the last syllable folded in on itself.

He retrieved Eönwë’s boots from the back of their shelter, and the Maia-hair cloak as well. Eönwë would help him find some other way of sneaking back into Valinor. Giving Maglor these tools had never been part of the plan, but neither had Eärendil making a fool of himself over him either.

“A Maia-hair cloak in the fashion of Lúthien’s. It will hide you from all eyes –even a Vala’s—and Eönwë’s boots. You can ride the winds to Númenor with these.” Maglor frowned at them. “Here, take them. Just because they have been touched by one of the Ainur does not mean they are cursed.”

“I did not say they were.” Maglor still had not taken them from him. “These are…priceless. Why are you giving them to me, a Kinslayer and a Fëanorion?”

Eärendil’s breath came out in something meant to be a laugh but bordered on a sob. He slaughtered the sound in this throat. He rubbed his lips together, and tired again. “Have I given you the impression, for even one moment, that I care who your father is? Yes, I should hate you for Sirion, but do honestly think I do?”

Maglor’s eyes scraped over his face, seeking all its corners, but in this Eärendil had nothing to hide (he kept his weakness locked tight). Slowly Maglor reached out and accepted the gifts.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

Eärendil wanted to shrug it off, but he couldn’t. Maglor’s eyes had not torn away.

“Perhaps I…judged you too quickly, Eärendil. You have not been…unkind to me. Though you have many reasons to be so.”

Eärendil could not look away. Then, like the slap of an ocean’s wave in his face, he felt something brush against the edges of his mind. He recoiled. “Don’t—don’t do that.”

He should not be this shocked to discover a son of Fëanor employing Ósanwe. Only, there were few now who could manage it. Not he, but his mind had been violated enough times by the Valar to recognize it and make a feeble attempt at combating it.

“Forgive me, I forgot myself.” Maglor looked away.

Eärendil did not know what to make of that. He’d heard, but only second-hand, that those Elves tutored in Ósanwe could at times fall unintentionally into another’s mind when they sought deeply for answers.

“It is…” The platitude would not fall from his lips. It was not fine. “Did you…see anything?”

Maglor slid him a look out of corner of his eye, and Eärendil’s gut clenched. “Nothing of consequence.”

“Do not lie to me. Just…just tell me.” Eärendil braced himself for the worst. Had his heart been riding that close to the surface? Had Maglor discovered this pathetic, hopeless devotion he couldn’t help himself from falling into?

Maglor ran his fingers over the harp’s strap crossing his chest. “You are jealous for Elrond’s love for me. But you do not resent me for stealing it from you as you once did. I could not see why. I saw…Elros as a youth on a ship with you, and later with his children. I saw your wife with the Silmaril; I believe that vision….recent.”

Eärendil winced. He crossed his arms over his chest, wishing he had a cloak to pull about himself. He felt violated, though not even a fraction of the extent he did when the Valar helped themselves to his mind. “I do not begrudge you the glimpse of Elros, but the rest you had no right to.”

“I know. It was not intentional.” Eärendil believed him. Maglor did not sneak through minds mining chunks of hearts to wield against their owners. “Your wife—”

“Don’t. It is…just don’t.”

“As you wish,” Maglor’s voice dropped low.

“You are leaving now?” Eärendil could not look at him as he asked this.

There was silence for a moment, and he felt Maglor’s eyes on the side of his face. “Yes.”

Eärendil tried to look back, but his gaze wouldn’t rise above Maglor’s shoulders. “Better get those boots on then.”

Maglor did, and Eärendil busied his hands with packing up what was left of their food stores. Maglor’s hands closed over his as Eärendil shoved the cookware in as well. Eärendil froze.

“What will you eat if you give me all this?”

Earn shrugged. Maglor stood so close he could smell his unbound hair where it fell against Eärendil’s shoulder. Maglor smelt like the sea: heart wringing with the haunting cry of a gull, the roar of waves splashing saltwater against cheeks, the wild freedom found upon her breast. Eärendil used to love the sea like other men loved glory.

“I shall manage.”

“Why are you doing this?” Maglor’s breath caressed his cheek. Eärendil couldn’t raise his eyes.

“Does it really matter?”

“Maybe not. But maybe I would like to know anyway.”

Eärendil’s gaze dropped down to Maglor’s feet. He’d put on the boots. Eärendil turned and strung the bag over Maglor’s shoulder, bringing their faces close. He lifted his face to press his mouth against Maglor’s, just a whisper of lips. His hand slid down from the bag’s strap to rest over Maglor’s heart.

“Go.” He used his hand cupping Maglor’s heart to push him into the air. He could not bear to look into Maglor’s face. He was a fool. A pathetic, lonely fool.

Only when Maglor had cleared the tree line, up to the waiting wind drafts, did Eärendil turn away. Into the emptiness of their shelter that had served as home these last weeks he finally let the words pass his lips. “I love—I love you.”

A hand on his shoulder startled a cry out of him. He spun around. Maglor stood, hand netted in the roof of their shelter to keep his feet from flying away. With his free hand Maglor reach out and yanked Eärendil to his chest. He pressed a proper kiss into Eärendil’s mouth, sliding his tongue into it and drinking of him. Eärendil gave him anything he wanted, as he always had and always would.

Maglor pulled back and licked his lips. “I will see you again one day. Do not think I will allow the Valar to keep my kin’s souls imprisoned for eternity, not now you have reminded me that I am alive.”

Hope exploded like fireworks in Eärendil’s chest, rushing through all the cold, dark places with the heat of a firestorm. Maglor released his anchor and shoved off. His hair swam behind him in a wave of black as he aimed for the sun.

Chapter 8 by Encairion
Author's Notes:

Note: I’ve done some revising on Irimë and Maglor’s relationship.  The main relevance to Maglor and Glorfindel’s relationship is that Maglor never went back to Irimë after he followed Fëanor into the Valar’s banishment.  I see their relationship as an emotionally abusive one on her part, and I think those years apart in Formenos would have given him the space he needed to see clearly enough not to go back.  Because of this, Maglor didn’t have much contact with Glorfindel during the Noldor’s march up the coast as Maglor was doing his best to stay away from Irimë.

 

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 8

“Your move.” Glorfindel folded his hands under his chin, flashing Phazgân a grin.

Phazgân’s scowl dug grooves into his brow. “Damn sneaky, Elf.”

“Can’t stand loosing, can you?”

Phazgân scowl smoothed out and he winked at Glorfindel across the Âru board. “So sure I’m done for, are you?”

Glorfindel’s grin widened. “Oh, defiantly.”

“I’ve been playing this game longer than you’ve been alive.” Phazgân’s warship swept across the board, scooping up Glorfindel’s caravel.

“Ah, that explains the grey.” Glorfindel fluttered his lashes.

Phazgân snorted. “I’m not falling for that. I’m not even 200 yet.”

“What’s this, then?” Glorfindel reached over to poke at Phazgân’s temple.

Phazgân’s hand flew to the incriminating spot, worry transforming his face for all of two blinks, before he realized he’d fallen for it.

“Off!” Phazgân swatted at him.

Glorfindel’s whole body shook with laughter. “Every time, Phazgân, every time!”

Phazgân tossed him a sour look, but humor lurked behind it. Glorfindel had been teasing him about going grey since his first great-grandchild had been born last month. Somehow it hadn’t gotten old. Maybe Glorfindel’s humor had grown to reflect the isolation of his life, but it hadn’t turned back around it eat its own tale yet with morbidity so he judged himself not that far gone.

“Are you going to make your move before my break ends, or are we picking the game up again tomorrow?” Phazgân’s hand fell with habit to the place his sword pommel should rest as he leaned back in the chair, legs stretching out. His hand fell on air. The scabbard was empty.

The guards hadn’t been allowed weapons in Glorfindel’s presence since his escape attempt. Now when Glorfindel longed for company he had to wait on the generosity of a guard willing to pass a break with him, or those rare few who visited even on their off-days. There were no more conversations shared over a meal, and when his cell door swung open, he’d better have his back firmly planted on the opposite wall and not budge until the chains had locked about his wrists.

“Oh no, I’m not letting you get away that easy! I’ll have your port in four moves and you know it.” Glorfindel thrust merriment into his voice to drown out the bleakness. The rest of the day would crawl by with his training already complete and nothing to look forward to but a supper shoved through the flap in the door.

Phazgân saw right through him and leaned across to clap Glorfindel on the shoulder. “Târik promised to bring his new son around tomorrow. You’ve been looking forward to that all week. Chin up.”

Glorfindel brushed his fingers over Phazgân’s hand, savoring the comfort before Phazgân pulled back. Physical comfort from Phazgân was rare and worth relishing. If Glorfindel wanted he could have the touch of another’s body in his bed whenever he said the word, but he’d rather have the gruff but genuine touch of his guards. With them he was a real human being.

“Is Târik’s son as handsome as your great-granddaughter?” Glorfindel moved his galleon deeper into the board’s Eastern Ocean.

Phazgân scoffed. “Not likely. Eyes as pure a grey as little Zôrî’s will not be found this side of the sea!”

Glorfindel smiled. He forced his voice into casualness as he asked, “You’ll bring her around again, won’t you? With your youngest grandson too? He’s such a lively child.” The boy had crashed into Glorfindel’s cell like a speeding comet, a thousand questions bubbling out a minute, and bouncing around the room with an energy that had Glorfindel laughing more than he’d laughed in years and years and years.

“I’ll kidnap them for you sometime this week. A little bit of my grandson’s company will set you to rights.” Phazgân’ mouth curved softly.

“As long as their mothers don’t come hunting them down.” Glorfindel drummed his fingers against his cheek, right over his flashing dimple.

“I’ll take care—” Phazgân cut himself off, head whipping to the door. Glorfindel had already sprung to his feet, knees loose. He snatched up the Âru board, the pieces tumbling to the floor as he raised it as a crude sort of weapon.

A voice slipped into their ears, their hearts, nothing but shadows and smoke at first. Wailing pierced the air, the sound of a hundred voices crying out with a grief so deep, so knifing, it paralyzed the soul.

“What is that?” Phazgân ran to the door, fisting the bars. “Open the door, Narâk!”

The door-guard’s face peeped through the bars. “I can’t! We don’t have the guards! The Master will kill us if we let Glorfindel escape.”

The voice gained strength, closing in on them. Someone was singing. No, that could be no person’s voice; nothing could sound that pure, like melted gold, slipping up Glorfindel’s spine like silk, like Power.

Glorfindel heard the voice as through a veil. Its Power spun visions of beauty inside his head, but the veil could not block out the echo of the grief woven into the singer’s song. Glorfindel’s knees shook. His hand flew up to fist in the fabric above his heart, expecting to find a dart piecing his skin, so deep did the ache sink.

The door-guards’ fell to their knees, sobbing, hands covering their ears as they shook their heads wildly. Phazgân staggered from the door, tears spilling down his cheeks. He sank down before Glorfindel, clinging to Glorfindel’s legs like a child. “Make it stop, make it stop!”

Glorfindel let the Âru board fall from his hands, and dropped into his chair to pull Phazgân between his spread knees, hugging the weeping Man to him.

“It hurts. Oh, oh, it’s hurting me!” Phazgân clawed at his chest, the place over his heart.

“Shh, shh,” Glorfindel wrestled Phazgân’s hands back from hurting himself.

He wanted to tear the throat out of the singer for hurting his friend like this, but he never wanted the music to end. He bore the song with pain, like a hand thrust into the fire, but like an animal that just would not learn, that kept jumping into the flames again and again, mesmerized, the pain did not stop him craving the song’s continuance. Let it never stop, though it tore him to pieces in the listening.

The voice’s Power erupted like a fire-mountain. The Power it had worn before was a match’s light set against a newborn sun. The ground shook, stone-dust falling from the cracks in the ceiling. The earth heaved as if it too wept at the measureless grief in the singer’s voice. The door-guards stumbled to their feet with screams and ran, abandoning their post to get out of the hell falling in around them.

The door rattled. Its steel braces held all the power of a cotton bedspread before the voice. It ripped from its hinges with a shriek of metal and a splintering of wood to crash, shattered, on the ground.

Glorfindel’s fingers dug into Phazgân’s shoulders. No face appeared in the gaping hole where the door had stood. He leaned towards it, lips parted, face yearning and wet with tears he’d not realized he’d shed.

His eyes swept the opening, but only air greeted them. There was no one there. The voice spun low, soft, a ribbon of sweetness threading into the sorrow. It blew over his face like a caress, as if this sweetness had been added just for him.

The air shifted, warping about a shape, its light bending as if passing through crystal. The air snapped back into place and an Elf stood before him. His black hair ran into the stars cloaking him. It was unbound, thick and even longer than Glorfindel’s own. Eyes bright as flames pressed upon Glorfindel’s skin, the shape of his face, drinking him up.

The Elf’s face held a sharpness. His bones rode close to the surface with too little fat upon them, but what was that to the light knit into his skin? Had there ever been an Elf more beautiful than this one, even in the tales of the bright-eyed Noldor? Glorfindel did not see how.

“Who are you?” The wonder could not be censured from his voice, but it rode side-by-side with distrust. Glorious as this Elf was, he was a stranger to Glorfindel, a stranger who had come singing grief into the hearts of Glorfindel’s friends and captors.

The last note of the song dropped beautiful as a thorned rose from the stranger’s lips, and just as painful to press against the heart. The stranger said nothing for a moment spinning into tension between them. He stared and stared at Glorfindel. He took a step closer, another.

Glorfindel narrowed his eyes. “What do you want?”

The stranger’s hand shook as it lifted, fingers long and reaching towards him to touch, but the distance between them was still too great, for which Glorfindel was thankful. He did not know what would happen to him if this Elf who sang with Power touched him.

The voice when it spoke carried the beauty of the song, only without the exquisite pain, but all Glorfindel could hear were the words ringing and ringing through his head. “I am your father.”

Glorfindel’s mouth parted. His eyes slipped back into all the corners of the Elf’s face, looking for similarities this time, and finding them. They had the same nose, the shape of their eyes, the arch of their high cheekbones, even the lines of their jaws were a match.

“You—” Glorfindel closed his eyes, shaking off the emotion in his voice. “All right. All right, you are my father. So what are you doing here?”

“I…” The Elf, his father, faltered. “I came to rescue you. You are...” His eyes trailed to Phazgân clasped in Glorfindel’s arms, still shaking with the affects of the song. The silver eyes slipped back to the demolished cell door, and then back to Glorfindel. “You are a prisoner here, are you not?”

Glorfindel arched a brow. “What’s it to you if I am?”

The Elf blinked. Then he favored Glorfindel with such a look Glorfindel almost ducked his head with embarrassment, but he was no child.

“It means a great deal to me if you are. I want to take you far from this place. If you will let me.”

Glorfindel’s nostrils flared. He wanted, but not like this, not by the hand of an Elf who’d washed his hands of him before he’d even been born.

“I have been a slave for 17 years. Where were you then? And where were you if you ‘cared a great deal’ when my mother and I were oppressed by poverty? You will have to forgive me if I doubt the authenticity of your ‘care.’”

He should swallow the pride that burned against his tongue and take the Elf’s help. But the sting of his father’s abandonment would not be soothed, even all these years after he’d first understood what it meant that his father was not there: that it meant his father had never wanted him.

“I would have come; I would not have let you suffer a day in your life, nor a single scratch to be laid upon you, but—” His father’s mouth opened and closed on nothing.

Glorfindel wavered. His father’s eyes pleaded with him. But he couldn’t let it go. “But what? Where have you been—” He cursed the break in his voice, and plowed on to cover the slip. “What was so much more important—”

He leapt back, but the chair’s back blocked him in, and his father caught him. He braced himself for…he didn’t know what, merely reacting on instinct to a body rushing towards him. His father’s arms closed about his waist, crushing him against a long chest, lean arms wrapped about him. A hand cradled the back of his head as if he were a child, the arms rocking him.

“I am sorry, I am sorry. I failed you again. I cannot ask—I cannot hope for—just give me one more chance. It will be different this time. I swear. I will not make the same mistakes. I will love you. I will love you and I will never, never let you doubt—” His father’s mouth pressed into his hair, the babble of words cutting off.

Glorfindel wasn’t sure his father was even speaking to him. Maybe he held ghosts in his arms. Glorfindel returned the embrace regardless, pride forgotten in the warmth of arms holding him like something precious, like someone loved. He closed his eyes and rested his cheek against his father’s neck.

The moment their skin connected, Glorfindel’s heart leapt like a stag in his chest. He gasped, reaching, reaching...something eluded him, something he needed, something hewas. He caught a glimpse of white towers spiraling to the sky; a little boy with blue eyes, their clasped hands swinging between them as they skipped down a corridor; a tall man with a serious face, sorrow worn along with a golden crown on his brow, but his hand on Glorfindel’s shoulder imparted strength like a mountain, and love and pride rested in the blue eyes the exact same shade as the little boy’s as they looked upon him; shadow, the smell of charred flesh, a scream, his own, as a whip of fire curled about him and he fell and fell and fell—

“What is it? Are you hurt?” His father’s hands ran over his hair, his face, his shoulders. His father’s face kept none of the fear for Glorfindel back.

Glorfindel swallowed. “I fell.”

His father’s mouth shaped a sound, but the words stayed trapped in his throat. Hands touched Glorfindel’s face again, cupping his jaw. Glorfindel allowed it, trying not to lean too greedily in, but unable to resist a slight tilt of his cheek.

“You are safe now. I will not let anything hurt you again.” His father hesitated, but asked, “Did you remember anything else?”

Remember. That sounded right. Those had been memories, things that had happened to him. But when? He couldn’t remember who the little boy and the serious king were. His hands tightened on his father’s tunic. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I saw, I—”

“Shh. It is all right.”

Glorfindel pulled out of the embrace, wrapping an arm about his stomach. Caution crept back into his voice. “What is going on?”

“I do not have all the answers,” His father hedged.

“But you have some,” Glorfindel accused, “Did you do something to me?”

“No!” His father held up his hands, palms out. “Never. I would never hurt you.” Glorfindel looked away. “I will explain everything, I promise, but not here. We cannot linger. The enchantment will not hold them forever. There is a ship sailing for Vinyalondë, the Númenórean settlement in Eriador. Let me take you away from here.” His father dared to touch him again, just the tip of Glorfindel’s shoulder with his fingertips. “Please. Come with me.”

“Glorfindel, who is this?”

Glorfindel’s eyes snapped down at Phazgân’s rough voice. Phazgân’s body had slipped when Glorfindel jumped back from his father’s embrace, and now propped up against Glorfindel’s knee. Phazgân’s hand inched to his scabbard, but the sheath was empty. The hand moved to wrap about Glorfindel’s ankle, sliding down to engulf his bare foot in its large, calloused hold.

“You are all right?” Glorfindel ran his hands over Phazgân’s muscular shoulders.

“Don’t worry about me,” Phazgân brushed him away, eyes never leaving the new Elf’s face. “Who is this Elf, Glorfindel? If he hurts you, I will kill him,” Phazgân swore right to Glorfindel’s father’s face, meeting the shinning eyes unwaveringly.

“He is not going to hurt me.” Glorfindel squeezed Phazgân’s shoulder, touched beyond words. Phazgân had stood between him and lecherous lords and ladies, even plead his case before the Master when they dragged Glorfindel back after the failed escape attempt, but he’d never stood between Glorfindel and death before. “He’s…he’s my father, and he’s come to take me home.”

Phazgân stared long and hard at the new Elf. The hand holding Glorfindel’s foot slipped up his ankle, over the shape of his calf, to rest on his knee. Glorfindel looked down into Phazgân’s eyes, waiting for the touch to become a restraint, and dreading the moment he would have to fight Phazgân for his freedom, even a blow to the head would sink in his stomach like a betrayal.

But with a squeeze to his knee, Phazgân released him. “Then I pray to Eru he takes you swiftly from this place. May Eru lay his cloak about you, and guide you through the storms. May his hand wrap about yours and lead you into the light.”

“May your heart stay strong and never steer you from Eru’s directions.” Glorfindel returned with a Númenórean blessing of his own. He brushed his hand over Phazgân’s before he stood. “Thank you, my friend.”

Phazgân grunted, standing to his full height which would have been impressive if Glorfindel’s father did not tower over both of them. “Just get away safe.”

Glorfindel nodded, finding no other words for this parting. He’d never had a chance to say goodbye before, and now he did he found the idea of never seeing his friend again squeezed his chest like a corset. He busied himself with slipping on a pair of sandals, casting his eyes over the cell that had been his home for seventeen years. There was nothing he would take with him.

His father’s hand covered his shoulder. “Come, under the cloak with me.”

Glorfindel hesitated, but finally crossed the distance and slotted himself to his father’s side so the star-cloak could be thrown over the both of them. Phazgân gasped. Glorfindel rubbed the cloak between his fingers. It slipped insubstantial as smoke between them, yet left the imprint of a silk so fine it escaped the reach of words.

He could see Phazgân, yet it seemed the distance of stars stood between them. The details of Phazgân’s face cut clean lines, even as they blurred about the edged and something hazy and bright like blue fire hovered around the borders of his body, within his flesh and yet too full, too ethereal, to be contained by it.

His father slipped an arm about Glorfindel’s waist, pulling him tighter to him. His father led them from the cell, the star-cloak shimmering about their feet, brushing the stones with the flowing movement of waves. The corridors were empty, the guards all fled from the crippling grief of the song. They walked out of the Master’s gates with the ease of Númenórean lords, one no stopping them, no one even seeing them.

Down the streets of Rómenna his father took him, to the docks. The journey was nothing like Glorfindel’s last wild flight. They walked in the ease of invisibility, only having to take a care not to bump into any of the people milling in the streets. They heard the fishmongers shouting out their prices before they’d even rounded the last street’s corner to the docks. Ships were moored in an endless line, ship after ship stretching until the land curved and towering buildings blocked them from sight.

His father led with sure steps to where a galleon had been lashed to the docks. The gangplank had been lowered and sailors scrambled over her rigging while others brought load after load into her belly.

“She sails before the day is out.”

“Did you purchase passage?” If the captain was not trustworthy things would go very badly.

“No, it is a stowaway’s lot for us. We cannot trust any with our faces.” Glorfindel agreed with the sentiment. “Come, let us find a nest.”

It took some doing to climb the gangplank with the flow of traffic, but they found a hole in the comings and goings to dash up without knocking into any unsuspecting bodies. The deck offered the space to weave with ease through the sailors. His father took them to the hatch leading down into the ship’s belly.

Glorfindel peered down. A lantern swung from the ceiling, shedding light on the cramped stairs. They had to jump back when a sailor shuffled forward behind them, dragging a barrel over the deck.

“Yo ho! Any hands below? Barrel for the kitchens coming down!”

A voice called up from the dark, “Hold a moment!”

The sailor tipped the barrel flat on the deck, resting his elbow on it.

“Now?” Glorfindel breathed into the cloak.

“Hmm,” his father scrutinized the stairway. “Yes.”

Glorfindel went first, back pressed against his father’s chest. The descent was slow as he took care not to let his feet poke out when they took the next step. They had almost reached the bottom when a Man hustled into the lantern’s light, aiming straight for the stairs.

His father reacted before Glorfindel could begin to think up a plan against the inevitable collision of bodies. He wrapped an arm about Glorfindel’s waist and yanked him against his chest. Before Glorfindel could point out that even pressed back-to-chest there was no way they would not be discovered in the narrow passage, his father began whispering a song of Power.

Glorfindel shivered as something cool slid over his skin, like a cloud cutting off the warmth of the sun. The sensation of cold passed, but he felt strange, both light and stiff at once, as if his limbs had lost all their flesh and been turned into wood in the process.

“What—what is happening to me?” He couldn’t entirely keep the tremble out of his voice.

He could face down an armed mob without fear, walk into any arena, head high, sword clasped steady in his head, even unknowing of what dangers had been prepared for this crowd’s entertainment. But whatever spell his father had woven was worse than fighting blindfolded against a pride of lions. He didn’t know how to defeat what he did not understand.

“Quite,” his father breathed in his ear, arm tightening about his waist.

“What did you do to me?” Glorfindel hissed back. He tried to struggle against his father’s hold that now felt too much like a prison bar, but his body did not respond properly to his orders. “Let me go!” He wanted this spell off him now!

“Quite!” His father commanded again. Low as his voice had been against Glorfindel’s ear, there had been something more than the command of a word expected to be obeyed. Something, some Power, clamped Glorfindel’s jaw shut and sealed his lips. Even his throat could not voice a muffled scream.

He tried to kick and yank himself free of his father’s hold, but his body worked no better than a fish caught on dry land.

The Human sailors heaved the barrel down the steps. It was a tedious process as the barrel’s width didn’t want to fit comfortably and had the rude presumption to be heavy enough to break sweat out on the Men’s brows. Its bulk passed right by them where they pressed into the stairway’s wall as if their bodies had been painted into its wood, all their dimension flatted into a canvass.

His father whispered something in his ear about calming down, how it would be over in a minute, and how he couldn’t allow them to be discovered, didn’t Glorfindel see? It was simplest this way. There was no risk of things getting messy and blood being spilled. Didn’t Glorfindel see this was for the best?

Glorfindel had stopped struggling, but it was not because his fath—this Elf—that told him to. The panic that had wrapped itself about his ribs when he realized he was imprisoned in his—this Elf’s—arms had been dulled by deep, steady breaths. He had enough training to know how to fight a panic attack. Now he stood stiff as the wood they’d blended into in his—this Elf’s—arms. He wanted miles between their bodies. He would not forget this betrayal. He would not.

His grandfather had said his father was a Kinslayer. The brightness in the silver eyes must be the Light of the Trees Glorfindel had heard of only in stories. He didn’t know what he felt to discover his grandfather had probably spoken the truth, but he knew what he felt to be held prisoner, even his voice stolen, in his own body.

Finally the sailors finished their labor and one rolled the barrel deeper into the hull while the other trudged back up the stairs to his post on deck. The moment the spell unwound itself from his limbs and voice, Glorfindel jumped away from his—that Elf. He rubbed his hands down his arms, wishing he could shed the memory of helplessness like a snake shedding its skin. This would not be forgotten.

His spine straightened, and he turned to face his—the Elf. His jaw set like granite and his eyes narrowed on the other’s face. “Never. Do that. Again.”

His—the Elf’s—brow creased, and he reached out, something lost in his face as he tried to touch Glorfindel.

Glorfindel stepped back, nostril’s flaring. “Don’t touch me.”

He turned his back on his –the Elf—and started marching down the stairs. He didn’t want to think about the stricken look in those eyes that received his words like a blow. He wasn’t going to think about how comforting those arms had been when they’d held him like something precious only an hour before. He couldn’t forget what they had felt like wrapped like steel bars around him while his scream stayed trapped inside his head.

“Glorfindel,” his—the Elf’s—voice followed him deeper into the hull. “At least come under the cloak.”

Glorfindel stopped. He didn’t turn back as he felt his –the Elf’s—approach. But he allowed him to catch up and stood stiffly, eyes fixed straight ahead, as his –the Elf—threw the cloak over them both and came to stand at his side, close enough to press arm-to-arm. He didn’t know if he still wanted miles between them. He should, but…

“I could have put an enchantment over them.” His –the Elf’s—said. Their bodies stood close enough it felt like the words were whispered into his ear. “But such a course would not go unnoticed for long. There would be suspicion, perhaps even an investigation and a delay in sailing depending on how swiftly news of my actions in freeing you spreads. This is the only ship headed for the mainland within the month. I would not have us linger on this isle.”

Glorfindel heard what he was saying. He’d understood even while caught in the enchantment, but understanding did not unmake his fear while imprisoned in his body. His fingers curled into his palms. He did not turn his head to look at his –the Elf. “It is not asking too much to have been given a warning, a choice.” He started walking, and his –the Elf—followed because he wanted to keep Glorfindel safe even if that meant trampling over his freewill.

Then his –the Elf—spoke to the root of Glorfindel’s fear: “I will never put another spell on you without your consent. I sweat it. I swear you have not traded one prison for another. You are my son. I only wanted…”

Glorfindel had stopped walking, rooted by the words, the promise. Did he believe them? He wanted to. He wanted to return to what they had been before: his father there to rescue him, his father’s arms around him holding him like something precious, like something loved.

He turned to face his….his father. He looked into the face so like his own and wanted to believe so badly. Would he be a fool to take his father at his word? He knew next to nothing about the Elf who’d sired him. His father had only volunteered information that swung far from the personal. “What’s your name?”

His father swallowed, eyes flickering away. “I will tell you later.”

That did not foster trust. Glorfindel narrowed his eyes. “When?”

His father didn’t look back at him. “When the time is right.”

Right for whom? Glorfindel or the Elf he knew nothing about and who seemed eager to dodge all questions of substance? How could he trust him? How could he bear not to?

His father started walking again and Glorfindel followed in silence. His mouth was full of unasked questions, his head wariness, and his heart longing.

Why had his father done that to him? Why couldn’t he have just asked first. Why couldn’t he just answer Glorfindel’s questions when all Glorfindel wanted to do was trust him? Why did he have to make this so hard?

Suddenly Glorfindel was furious. He strode forward, eyes blazing, wanting to strike this man, his father who had never been a father to him, who dared to plant the hope of being loved only to twist that love into a prison. Love wasn’t a cage. And if that was the only kind of love this man had to offer, Glorfindel was better off without him.

“Where are you from anyway?” He snapped. He ignored the wet sound in his voice and battled through the emotion piled up in his throat. “Oh wait, I shouldn’t ask. You’ll tell me all about it later. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, you won’t have to tell me since I won’t be around for ‘later.’ Thank you for the rescue, but I can take things from here.” He put his back to the man. “I suppose this is goodbye. I might have even cried, but it’s not like you’ve ever meant much to me.”

He had no intention of leaving, not if he didn’t want to be caught without the star-cloak, but he said it anyway. The only thing he knew about his father was that, for whatever reason, he wanted Glorfindel to come with him. It was the only weapon Glorfindel had to hurt him with. Hurt him like Glorfindel had been hurt when he’d understood his father had abandoned the throw-away seed he’d planted in an easily duped girl.

“You are not leaving.” Hands sunk into his hips with the strength of a drowning man grasping at life. “I will not let you leave me!”

Glorfindel tore himself away from the hands holding him (seeking to cage him). He spun back around, furious words poised on his tongue, ready to lash out. They melted at the sight of his father’s face. His father looked like someone was stabbing his loved one to death in front of him.

Glorfindel wished back his threat delivered with the mouth of anger that rode over the hurt underneath. He hadn’t meant to hurt his father like this.

His father did not allow himself to be pushed away. He grabbed for Glorfindel again, taking him by the wrists, hands engulfing Glorfindel’s wrist bones. Glorfindel let himself be caught and held because he was sorry.

His father’s hand snagged in Glorfindel’s hair and pressed him flush against his body. “You cannot leave me! You can never leave me. Promise me.” His voice shook like a ship in a storm. “Promise me!”

“I promise.” Glorfindel forced the words out through the tightness in his throat. Tears burned the backs of his eyes, not for himself, but his father. “I promise,” he breathed and his arms came up to wrap around his father’s waist.

His father’s arms no longer felt like steel bars. Maybe they should because of the desperation, the wildness, in his father’s eyes. But Glorfindel wasn’t afraid anymore.

His father kissed his ear, breath shaking. He pulled back to cup Glorfindel’s face in trembling hands and started kissing his cheeks, his brow, his eyes, his mouth. “Please, please,” his father whispered and took his mouth again, deeper this time.

His hands dropped to fist in the back of Glorfindel’s tunic as he kissed all over Glorfindel’s face. “I love you. Please, don’t—you can’t—don’t leave.” He pressed his mouth into Glorfindel’s and kissed him like he would die without him.

No one had every kissed him like this. No one had held him like an essential of life. He opened his mouth, let the seeking tongue inside, and kissed back.

He tried not to think about who he was kissing. He told himself it didn’t matter in the secrecy between the sheets of the star-cloak. Only the way these arms felt holding him so tight and the sound of that voice whispering love in his ear mattered.

It wasn’t like this was really his father. Fathers were the foundations of first memories: the protection in strong arms, bedtime stories and kisses goodnight, proud smiles and ‘well done, son’ swelling chests and lighting up faces.

He didn’t have a father. This was just the man who’d sired him. A stranger. So it was all right if he kissed this mouth back and liked the feel of these arms around him and this hand in his hair and this body pressed against his.

The kiss had to end eventually. Glorfindel broke it, needing a proper lungful of air. His father didn’t pull him into another kiss but tightened his arms around him and rested Glorfindel’s head on his shoulder.

Hot puffs of breath hit the wet skin of Glorfindel’s neck. His father’s hand trembled through his hair as his voice whispered in his ear, running like diamonds over his skin. “You promised. You have sworn. You can never leave me. Never. You are with me now, forever.” The hand combed through his hair, over and over again. “You cannot leave me all alone. You promised, you promised.”

Glorfindel closed his eyes and turned his face into his father’s neck. His father didn’t apologize for kissing him. Glorfindel had some idea that that would have been the proper thing for a father to do after having kissed their son like a lover, but he only felt thankful no words of regret fell into his ears. Those would have been worse than this…this stream of desperation.

He wound his arms about his father’s neck. “Yes, I promised.”

His father crushed Glorfindel to him. “You will not leave.”

Glorfindel’s chin ducked deeper, enjoying the embrace more than he should have. He wasn’t a child to crave a father’s hugs, but they made him feel safe as he hadn’t felt in…maybe ever.

His father could sing with Power. His father was a warrior; it was written in the way he moved. His father was decisive and intelligent. His father wanted to save him.

His father might be a little mad. His father had kissed him. His father might be seeing ghosts of dead people in Glorfindel’s face.

Glorfindel held his father tighter. “No, I won’t leave.”

Maybe he would when they reached the Númenórean settlement. He’d have to sneak away if he did, he felt sure his father would have a violent reaction to losing him. Maybe he was a little mad himself because he found some comfort in the thought.

Finally he drew back. “We should keep moving.”

Silver eyes blinked at him as if Glorfindel spoke a foreign language. His father’s hand came up to trace the line of his cheekbone. “My son. Glorfindel.”

Glorfindel swallowed. “Yes, it’s me.”

“Irimë’s boy.” His father’s hand curled around the base of Glorfindel’s throat. “I did not save you from her. I only saved myself.”

Glorfindel had no idea what his father was on about. He’d never heard of an Irimë, but the name chilled something in his gut. If there was a woman named Irimë out there, he didn’t want to meet her.

He eased out his father’s touch. “We should go.”

The father’s eyes sharpened and he pulled Glorfindel against him so the cloak covered them fully. “Yes. Quick but quiet.”

His father led the way, keeping a hand about Glorfindel’s wrist as he pulled Glorfindel behind him as if he could not bring himself to let Glorfindel go, terrified Glorfindel would disappear.
Chapter 9 by Encairion
The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 9

They passed the crew’s cabins on the ship’s second level and went deeper. The deepest level was reserved for the cargo. Barrels and crates crowded it. They wove through them to a back corner. Between barrels they build a nest for themselves. They would not want for food when surrounded by the ship’s stores, but they would crave the light and the free air on their faces.

His father pulled a bag from somewhere. Glorfindel hadn’t thought the star-cloak boasted pockets but apparently he’d been wrong. From the bag came a sleeping mat and blankets, even a cooking pot.

“In the night we will be able to move around with ease. I will take you up to the starlight and the sea-breeze.”

Glorfindel nodded, hands busying themselves spreading out the bedding. It only took them a few moments to arrange their nest, and then there was nothing to keep busy with. They sat across from each other with their backs against the barrels.

His father beckoned him to sit beside him, but Glorfindel shied away. There was both too much between them and too little. He wrapped his arms about his stomach and looked away.

He picked at a loose thread in the hem of his tunic. The silence was oppressive. He fixed his stare on the design of leaping dolphins bordering his tunic’s hem until he realized with a shock of heat rushing into his cheeks that his picking had hiked the tunic’s hem most of the way up his thighs. He brushed it back down, not daring to flick a look his father’s way to see if he’d noticed.

The hull creaked around them, swaying with the ocean’s breaths. Glorfindel tapped his fingers against the floorboards. He wished he’d thought to bring the Âru set with him, or the knucklebones Târik had given him, or the books Phazgân had purchased for him with the allowance the Master had allowed. Why had it seemed like a wonderful idea to leave Númenor in nothing but his tunic and sandals?

A scratching came from a corner the limited lantern-light did not reach. Beady eyes glimmered in the darkness. “I suppose it was too much to hope they would not have rats,” his father said.

Glorfindel hummed, having nothing much to add. The silence dropped between them again. His father shifted, repositioning himself. Glorfindel continued looking at everything but the Elf across from him.

He didn’t know what to say. It was his father. It was a stranger. It was an Elf who’d held him; it was an Elf he didn’t know the name of. There were a thousand questions built up in his chest from a lifetime of wondering. There were hours worth of conversation needed to be had, but he didn’t know how to start.

“Glorfindel, I…”

His eyes snapped up, right into his father’s. He held his breath, but the sentence never finished. His jaw clenched. He wasn’t the one who had anything to explain! He’d been right where this Elf had left him until a slave ship stole him away.

His hands fisted in his lap. “Where have you been all this time?”

His father’s eyes dropped. “Lost. I have been lost.”

Glorfindel ground his teeth. “Yes, I can see that quite clearly. What I want to know is why you think you can walk into my life after you’ve gone through the rest of it not sparing me a thought.”

His father reached out for him. Glorfindel tightened his arms about his stomach and glared at the hand trying to capture him. It retreated. His father licked his lips. “I did not know about your re...your birth. I had no idea. I swear.”

The piled accusations blew out of him like breath from a blow to the gut. Oh.

Somehow the idea his father hadn’t even known he’d existed had never occurred to him. It should have, after his mother’s story of a fleeting encounter, but it just felt so…so wrong. So much like a mistake, as if Glorfindel never should have been born. It was easier to think of a father who’d left him than one who’d never even meant to make him to begin with.

Glorfindel’s fingers cut into his palms. He looked down and saw he’d drawn blood. The dark color blurred as tears clouded his eyes.

He wasn’t a child to cry about something so insignificant, not after everything he’d lived through. He hadn’t been a child for a long time. But the truth still cut deep. Maybe a part of him had still clung to the fantasies his mother had spun. Meeting his father ripped them all to shreds.

“Glorfindel,” his father attempted to cross the distance between them again, and Glorfindel couldn’t raise his head to glare the Elf away without revealing the wetness in his eyes. “Forgive me. I should have realized it back then. You have Mea—my brother’s cheekbones, and my father’s…my father’s…”

“How—” Glorfindel swallowed down the wavering note in his voice. “How were you to know if you didn’t even mean to make me to begin with? If you didn’t even know I existed?”

“No, no. That is not what I meant!” His father’s arm came out to gather him close, but Glorfindel stayed stiff in the embrace. “I did not know this time, but I did the first. I knew you when you were Irimë’s son, and I should have seen then that you were mine. But I was so blind, so lost in my own…I only wanted to be away from her. I did not even think of you, of taking you away from her as I should have. Son of mine or not, I never should have left you with her—”

Glorfindel shoved him away. “What are you talking about? My mother’s name is not Irimë. Do you even know who I am? This is me, me,” Glorfindel pounded a fist into his chest hard enough to sting. “Glorfindel. And I never met you before today in my life! Whatever ghost son you’re talking to—”

“No, listen, listen,” his father caught at his hands. “You remembered, just for a moment, when you told me you fell?”

Glorfindel yanked his hands away, pushing to his feet, wanting away from even the mention of that terrifying memory. The falling and falling and falling, and the pounds and pounds of despair and regret crushing into him.

“Leave me alone!” He put distance between them, circling to the entrance of their nest, ready to flee if the Elf did not stop talking.

His father lifted his hands, palm up. “I will not speak of it. I am sorry. I did not mean to upset you.”

“I am not upset!” Glorfindel hissed like a cornered rattlesnake.

His father kept his hands up, not trying to press for physical contact. “Let us talk about this life then. What do you want to know?”

Glorfindel’s arms wrapped across his belly. He turned his head away, hair falling across his face, offering a blessed shield. He gathered himself, shoving the knife-edged memory away. When he turned to face his father again, he titled his chin up. “Is this the part where you tell me who you are, then?”

“Valar, you look so much like—” His father took in a deep breath, letting the comparison drop. “My family had no love for the Valar, and they none for us.” His voice slipped into the clinical, as if speaking of a stranger’s life. “The Valar wanted to punish any of my father’s blood. They wanted to see you suffer. You were conceived by their will when I was unaware of myself, but when I learned of you I came for you.”

Glorfindel’s face hardened as his father spoke. “Yes, you came for me. As I said, I’m thankful for the assistance. You can consider any obligation or duty to your by-blow fulfilled.”

He’d thought…he’d thought… Oh what did it matter what he’d thought? He’d grown as delusional as his mother to actually believe his father might care—

He closed his eyes.

They flew open when fingers settled on his shoulders’ tips. The touch trailed the slopes of his arms, cupping his elbows, to slip between his fingers and pull his arms away from his chest. His father’s eyes were close and burning with silver fire. “There was no obligation. You are my son.”

Glorfindel breathed through his nose, chest rising and falling. His teeth clenched to hold onto the control threatening to peel away.

His father’s thumbs rubbed over the backs of his hands. “I grew up one of seven brothers, and while large families often breed a desire for solitude, it planted a longing for my own children in me. I thought this desire, the deepest longing of my heart, would never be granted.” He looked down at the fingers he’d slipped into Glorfindel’s. A fine tremor shook Glorfindel’s hands. “I had two sons once, boys I fostered from a young age, but I did wrong by them. I could not...I could not love them enough. Never enough.”

He released Glorfindel’s hands, his own rising to rake through his hair, jaw clenched so tight it could have cracked bones. “There is no obligation, no duty, only a longing I do not deserve to be given a second change at fulfilling. I should take you to my nephew. I should ask him to protect you and shelter you and love you properly without…without all my—” His hand pressed against the shape of something lying under his tunic. “I have already done wrong by you every time I failed to protect you.”

The silver eyes flashed up as the hands surged onto him, cradling his face before Glorfindel could shy from the touch. “I should let you go before I ruin you like I ruined Elros, but I cannot. I cannot let you go. Never.”

The palms pressed hot into Glorfindel’s cheeks. His father drew him forward and Glorfindel let himself be drawn, unable to tear his eyes away from the other’s near-obsessive light. His father kissed his brow, his eyelids, his nose.

Glorfindel’s hands netted in his father’s thick stream of hair. “Tell me who you are. Tell me your name.”

His father shuddered against him, fingers clinging so tight to Glorfindel’s face the nails pinched into his skin. “You will run from me. You will leave me if you know.”

“I promised, didn’t I?” Glorfindel smiled, filled with warmth. His father’s hands drove out the chill of loneliness clinging to skin too long neglected.

His father touched his dimples. “Valar, you even have my brother’s smile.” His father’s mouth curved into a smile, two dimples of his own pressing into his cheeks. Glorfindel rather thought he had his father’s smile.

“What was he like, your brother?”

His father stiffened against him. The brightness in his eyes transformed into shadowed, painful depths. The arms fell away, leaving Glorfindel standing cold and alone.

His father turned away, face cutting into profile. “You have had a long day. You should rest.”

What? The suddenness of the withdrawal left Glorfindel reeling from the backlash. One moment his father had him in his arms, holding him, making him think he meant something to him, the next he slammed up walls so high Glorfindel couldn’t recognize the remote stranger on their other side. He couldn’t image touching those aristocratic bones, having been kissed by a mouth wearing that curl of pride and sorrow, or having been told he’d been longed for by a voice more glorious than all the beauties in the sea. And just as unreachable.

He stood there like a discarded puppy, mouth hanging open. He snapped it shut. Fine. Whatever. He didn’t need anyone, certainly not a father who breezed in and out of his life.

He tossed his hair over his shoulder blades. “I think I will turn in. It certainly has been an exciting day.” He bent to unstrap his sandals, keeping his back to his father. He replaced the resentment in his voice with carelessness. “I was starved for some excitement. You have no idea how tedious sitting about in the same room day after day can get.”

He straightened, flipping off the sandals. “Only one sleeping mat. Are you paranoid and planned to keep watch down here in the hull?” He braved a glance back.

The face staring back at him could have been chiseled from marble. So far away, so cold, how had he ever thought this Elf could love him?

It suddenly wasn’t good enough to hitch on a blinding smile and flop down on the sleeping mat with a saucy word. He’d only roll over, wrap his arms about himself, and pretend he didn’t feel the cold. Turning to anger to blast away the cold and letting the hurt rise up in temper, throwing words at this pillar of ice until the ice lashed back, wasn’t the right path either, despite the temporary relief it promised.

Those responses wouldn’t solve the root of this. So Glorfindel followed his heart, as he ever did, letting it lead him into the choice he knew was right. He would risk himself and attempt to bridge the tight-rope between them.

His father had said Glorfindel was the deepest desire of his heart. His father had had two sons before. He couldn’t love them enough.

“I am beginning to understand how your son, Elros, was ruined.”

His father jerked at the words, head whipping around. Pain etched itself in the bones about his eyes. The sorrow hanging in the air about him had never been more apparent than in this moment. But the words had needed to be spoken.

“You don’t want me to ask about your brothers? Then say so. Or is it going to be like this every time I get too close?”

Maglor closed his eyes. “I do not want to talk about a lot of things. I cannot.”

“Then don’t expect me to talk about a lot of things either,” Glorfindel said without spite, only the truth. “Don’t expect me to let you in if this doesn’t go both ways. I want to know you, but if you don’t want to be known, then fine. That’s how it will be. We’ll spend eight weeks in each other’s company, but it will never go deeper than the surface things.”

Glorfindel raised his chin to meet the scrutiny on his father’s eyes. His father’s fingers rubbed over the lines of his mouth, gaze flicking away, only to pick Glorfindel’s up again.

“Come here,” his father held out a hand. Glorfindel took it, and his father pulled him to his chest, running a hand down Glorfindel’s waves and waves of hair. He kissed Glorfindel’s temple. “I will try. I will do better. I will not…I hurt Elros so much, and I do not know if I can…”

“You’ve promised to try and I’ve promised not to leave. That will just have to be enough for now.”

“You do not even know me, and yet you would bind yourself to me.” His father touched his face with wonder. “My beautiful boy,” he breathed into Glorfindel’s hair, arms tight about Glorfindel’s waist.

Glorfindel rose on his tip-toes to clasp his arms about his father’s neck. He relished the return of the warmth. His father’s arms about him drove out the coldness his father’s walls had built between them.

His father might not be able to let him in to see the broken parts. This might end with Glorfindel walking away because he might have promised not to leave, but he would break that promise before he let himself be broken. He’d lived seventy years of his life without a father; he would survive without one again.

His father took his hand and led him over to the bedding. Glorfindel sat down cross-legged on the mat. Customarily he slept without a stitch of clothing, but now he hesitated to undress, remembering that kiss. What had it meant? Or had it meant anything at all?

His father was dressed like a Teler. He pulled off his soft, ankle-high boots before working his belt off. He stopped there, leaving the tunic and leggings, and came to sit beside Glorfindel on the mat.

“Come. Lie with me.” He pulled Glorfindel into his arms and lowered himself onto his back, maneuvering Glorfindel to lie atop him. The mat was not wide enough to cushion two bodies; Glorfindel wasn’t sure comfort was the intent behind the arrangement.

His father pulled the blanket over them and guided Glorfindel’s head to rest on his shoulder. His hand ran through Glorfindel’s hair, the other learning the path of Glorfindel’s spine. Glorfindel curled his arms on either side of his father’s torso. Their legs tangled together, the skin of his father’s foot warmed his own bare one.

His father’s fingers brushed the hair back from Glorfindel’s brow. He said, quiet as falling snow, “Did I take too much? Before.”

Whatever the kiss had been, it had not been more than Glorfindel was willing to give. “No,” he whispered back.

Silence slipped between them, his father’s hands never pausing in their gentle touch. Glorfindel braced himself for the inevitable speech of regret.

His father pressed a kiss into his brow. “Good. I never want to hurt you.”

His father did not mention the kiss again. He stroked Glorfindel’s hair, fingers drawing patterns on his back until Glorfindel drifted into sleep to the sound of his father’s heartbeat under his ear, cheek rising and falling with his father’s breath and his father’s scent surrounding him.

He woke to the creaking and rocking of the hull. He’d slipped off his father’s chest during the night, and now they curled face-to-face, both half-on, half-off the mat. His father still slept, thick eyelashes fanned like shadows against his cheeks. Glorfindel could see the pink of his tongue through his parted lips, their shape softer than the scrolled line they carried in waking.

His eyes drew down to a faint shimmer coming from the tangle of his father’s hair pooled about his neck. He reached up and lifted the hair away. An object had been wrapped in torn shreds of cloth and bound with a cord to his father’s neck.

Glorfindel’s hand grazed against it. Heat shot through his fingertips, and the light the object carried pulsed like a heartbeat under his touch. He had to know what it was, had to see this light naked of the cloth binding it, submerging its beauty.

He slipped the cloth off, layer by layer, the light shinning brighter and brighter. Before he peeled the last layers off, some of the object, a jewel’s, flesh peeked through a crack in the binding. His fingers reached, eyes huge, mouth dry, for the sliver of glory. His finger brushed against the jewel’s flesh and his world exploded in a thousand shards of memory.

He screamed, falling, falling, falling through golden light washing hills of rolling green and white towers spiraling to heaven, though love like the roots of the mountain, blue eyes cradling him and telling him to call him ‘Uncle Fingolfin,’ another set ruffling his hair calling him ‘brat’ with a grin, and a last pair giggling with him behind their hands. He fell though bars and golden cages and ‘filthy, filthy boy’ and self-hate like fingers thrust down his throat and the face of a woman he would never call Mother again. He fell though masks and more masks until he could not remember where he’d put his true face or what it had looked like staring back at him in the mirror without the wash of disgust coating it. When he fell through shadow and flame and the agony of a whip of fire and the impact on his body against the rocks so far far down below, he fell into merciful darkness.
Chapter 10 by Encairion
The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 10

A voice called him out of the darkness where the howling storm of pieces of himself collided, ancient wounds re-inflicting themselves on his soul.

He opened his eyes. Silver ones stared back, perfectly shaped brows pinched. Father, a part of him called, wanting to fall into the hands running over his hair, trembling their desperation. Maglor Fëanorion, provided the part of him that creaked with age, that just wanted to curl into a ball and rock all the pain away. So much pain, so many hurts, so many regrets. A life’s worth of them.

(Irimë’s hands on his shoulders, pressing into him, into his soul. Her mouth a cut across her face like a knife’s blade as she tore off the tunic Glorfindel’s unskilled hands had sewn a pretty lace collar on. “Flouncing about in tunics like this will make people think you bend over for men, that you are weak and easy.” The tunic let out a terrible ripping sound as she stripped it from him. Her nails left a line of scratch marks on the soft skin of his neck. “I’m doing this because I love you.”)

“Glorfindel!” Maglor’s voice shook. He took Glorfindel’s face in his palms, thumbs caressing his cheeks.

Glorfindel flinched away, scrambling up, putting a wall of distance between them. He couldn’t bear the care in that touch. He ached for it, he shied from it; he was a mess and couldn’t deal with it.

So many nights curled up in his bed in Gondolin, suffocating with the weight of repression, shivering with the cold of loneliness. So many years of longing to be touched with love, but so little experience with it.

(Irimë closed the door of his room behind them. He could feel something off in the air, something missing in the way she looked down on him. He tried to put his arms about her and rest his head on her stomach, needing comforting.

She pushed him away. “No.”

“Mother.” He reached for her again.

She slapped his hand. “No.”

Tears wet his eyes, a whimper catching in his throat. His fingers sought to latch onto her dress.

She shoved him away. “No.”

“I don’t understand!”

She bent to look him in the eye. “I will not touch you until you have cleaned yourself inside. There is a dirtiness in there, but I will help you wash it away.” Her hand came up to hover inches from his hair, but did not touch. “You need to feel what will happen to you if you do not fight this unnaturalness. You will be an outcast, branded by your deviant desires. Everywhere you go, you will be turned from like a leaper.” He sobbed, terrified of the coldness in her voice as much as the words. “I will help you grow strong enough to fight it. But first I will teach you what will happen if you do not fight.” She straightened. “For this moment on, unless we are in public, I will not touch you. When you have learned this lesson we will move on to the next.”)

“Glorfindel?”

He snapped the knuckles of his spine into place, squaring his shoulders, and pulled on a mask by instinct. He’d worn them so long he didn’t know how to throw them aside. He turned to meet the searching eyes.

“I am fine.” The words came out remote, filtered through layers and layers.

“Did you remember something?” A note of caution crept into Maglor’s voice.

Glorfindel’s mouth curved, the mask fit so snug against his skin the smile didn’t even taste like rubber. “I apologize. I did not intend to cause you worry. It seems it takes my mind a bit of time to assimilate.”

Maglor’s mouth pulled down. “You do not need to apologize for anything.” He took a step closer. Glorfindel knotted his hands behind his back. “You were screaming. What were the memories of?”

Glorfindel paused, a dozen lies on his tongue, just a question of which to spin. “The falling again. I do not wish to speak of it, you understand.”

The frown had not eased from Maglor’s brow, and his eyes picked at Glorfindel’s skin with too much intensity. Glorfindel could not afford to look away, but he couldn’t bring himself to meet the gaze either. He found a spot over Maglor’s shoulder. His hands stayed folded behind his back, knees locked, and shoulders back.

(Ecthelion’s lip curled into something ugly, eyes branding Glorfindel’s back as Turgon pinned a brooch signifying Glorfindel’s place as High Captain of Gondolin onto his chest. Glorfindel would have torn the brooch off and flung it in Ecthelion’s face if only he could stop hiding).

“You seem…different.”

Glorfindel took his performance over to the bedding, picking up the blanket and folding it in neat halves. “These memories are just…” He shrugged, threading a note of uncertainly into his voice. “I do not understand what is happening to me.”

Only silence came from behind him. Glorfindel arranged the blanket on the mat. He didn’t know how long he could keep this up (Just one more moment, think about the eight weeks of solitude but for the Elf behind him later; keep it all locked away one more moment, and then the next and the next).

“I—this is what you meant when you said—” Maglor’s voice wavered like a strand of sunlight flickering in and out of a patch of forest floor, still beautiful. “My brother…he had this smile like…well, exactly like yours. He was fiercely loyal. Loyal passed reason, one might say, the kind of loyal that never leaves your side no matter how dark your road, your heart, has turned. He could be gentle, though most only saw his pride and quick temper. But I saw him mend a fox kit’s broken leg with tenderness, and when Mea—my eldest brother was brought back from—” Maglor took in a shaky breath. “No more. I cannot. I am trying. I am. But I cannot.”

Glorfindel could have laughed, laughed until the laughter descended into sobbing. Maglor thought this was reticence. Glorfindel didn’t need to hear all about Maglor and his family anymore; he needed to be left alone. The mask slipped an inch from cracking. He didn’t know how much longer he could keep the façade up.

“I would like some time alone. If you would lend me the cloak, I would be grateful.” Perfectly polite, perfectly distant, the space of a lifetime shouldering its way between them.

“Where have you gone?” Maglor came towards him, face too close, too broken-open and bleeding to bear. “You cannot—you cannot do this, you cannot leave, not like this, especially not like this. Not like Maedh—you cannot hide like this from me. I will not let you!”

Glorfindel’s back hit the row of barrels, shrinking from the Elf descending on him with arms trying to hold him and hands trying to anchor him to the earth. He twisted away. “Don’t!” But Maglor had hold of his arm, and when Glorfindel spun out of the embrace he yanked too hard and overbalanced, hitting the floor.

“No! You cannot leave!” Maglor came down beside him, reaching and reaching for him.

Glorfindel used his hands as a barrier between them, holding the other off. But Maglor’s face yearned so desperately, his fingers clinging so tightly. To look into his face was to break.

The mask shattered into a million pieces. Glorfindel could no longer fight what he secretly wanted, but he couldn’t reach out and take it either. He didn’t know how.

He bowed his head, letting his hair fall into his face, and lifted his knees to act as a shield for his body. His nails dug into his flesh, anchoring him with the pain. Pain was good, pain was familiar.

The madness to reach him, to keep him bound and never let him go, released Maglor when Glorfindel stopped fighting to get away. Maglor’s fingers skimmed Glorfindel’s knees, his bent head, but did not invade the shield Glorfindel had pulled up against him. Glorfindel didn’t know if the twinge in his chest was relief or disappointment.

“It was not only the memory of falling, was it?” Glorfindel held perfectly still. “What happened to you? What did she—I wish…I should have saved you. I should have saved you.”

(Slipping on a smile (fake, fake, fake) as he asked the woman to dance, telling her she looked beautiful in the moonlight. Her face lifted to his, mouth soft and eager for his to finish closing the distance between them. Glorfindel could not bring himself to.

Fingers ran through his hair, brushing up against his neck and curling sweet heat in his belly. And then Fëanor’s hands would take his face, and his mouth would come crashing down on—

“Filthy boy!” Irimë flung back the covers of his bed, exposing him to the morning air and blinding him with a blast of Laurelin’s golden light . He yanked his fingers out, face burning. “Disgusting!” She slapped him. “I’ve told you and told you what will happen if you don’t cut this revulsion out of you! I’ve tried so hard to help you, and yet here I find you fingering yourself like a whore!”)

Glorfindel shuddered, his whole body shaking. Get them away, get them away! He wanted to be himself again, wanted these ancient memories out of him, wanted this shame and self-disgust, this hate for her corroding his heart, out!

He wanted to be Glorfindel again, just Glorfindel, not the prince of Finwë’s line, not the Captain of Gondolin, Lord of the House of the Golden Flower, the one who hated himself so much he wanted to vomit himself out and snap the bones of the woman who’d twisted him so grotesquely he’d never stopped running from himself.

He wanted to be Glorfindel who painted his eyes gold for Games not because the Master thought the crowds would like it, but because he did. He wanted to be Glorfindel who stripped off his clothes before Althon without a shred of shame. He wanted to be Glorfindel who liked himself, was proud of who he was. He wanted to be Glorfindel who had never been tainted by that woman’s poison, never taught to hate himself, never learned through ‘lesson’ after ‘lesson’ that there was something wrong with him. He wanted to be Glorfindel who kissed boys whenever he wanted and didn’t care who saw, and who sauntered into a room with confidence, real confidence, not the faces upon faces the other Glorfindel wore. He wanted to be Glorfindel who killed the bitterness from his heart before it ruined him.

“Glorfindel?” Maglor’s fingers cupped the back of his skull.

Glorfindel lashed out, hand wrapping about Maglor’s wrist and twisting until he’d drawn a cry. “Don’t. Touch me.”

They stared at each other, Glorfindel’s eyes ice, Maglor’s running over and over his face. “How much have you remembered?”

Glorfindel’s lip lifted in a sneer. “Shall I tell you all about it? You want me to cry in my father’s lap, hmm? Maybe we’ll have a nice fuck after. Is that the normal way of it with Fëanorions? I am not well-versed in the family traditions; you will have to forgive me.”

“I never wanted to hurt you.” Maglor’s voice fell soft, and Glorfindel hated the way it still slid over his skin like velvet.

“Oh, you did not. I would have had to care about you for you to hurt me. But you see, caring requires knowing, and we are strangers you and I, are we not? Or was that horseback ride in my youth supposed to count as father-son bounding time?”

“Glorfindel—” Maglor’s hands reached for him.

Glorfindel shoved them away. “I told you not to touch me!”

“Please,” the pleading note in Maglor’s voice could have made stars weep. “I failed you, I know, and I cannot—I will do anything to make you happy, give you anything, kill anything, be anything, just do not ask me to let you go. You are all I have left. You are everything to me, everything.”

Glorfindel’s hands came up to cover his mouth, eyes squeezing shut against the tears. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt. The little boy from the box shivered and shivered on the cold floor, all alone, so alone. He’d hidden so long he’d forgotten what he looked like. He’d cut so much from himself, stuffed it all into the box of Unacceptable that he didn’t know what was left.

He didn’t want to hide anymore. He didn’t want to pull on faces. He didn’t want to do this again. Hadn’t he said if he just had one more chance

Maglor’s arms closed around him, kissing his hair, his ear, the cheeks wet with tears. “I want to take all the pain away.”

Glorfindel clung back, his shivering body soaking up the heat of Maglor’s. He pressed close, needing to be closer, needing to drown in the comfort of another, needing to know what it felt like to be loved.

“Please,” Glorfindel’s mouth turned into Maglor’s cheek, feeling its thinness and the silkiness of the pale skin. His mouth slid to the corner of Maglor’s mouth.

“Glorfindel,” Maglor’s lips brushed against his with the shaping of his name, but did not turn and take. “I do not—” He pulled back, leaving Glorfindel bereft. His eyes ate up all the angles and curves in Glorfindel’s face. “You look so much like—” His fingers came up to brush the sweep of Glorfindel’s cheekbones but hovered those last inches between touching.

The hand dropped, and Maglor said in a voice like flittering through a lungful of water. “I failed you. I was not there when you needed me most.”

Glorfindel sucked in an unsteady breath. Oh, if that was all. He’d feared…but it was only the long shadow of regrets. “I do not blame you, despite what I said in anger. If you had known me for your son, then yes, I would blame you, but I was not your responsibility.”

“But I knew her. I knew better than anyone the dirt underneath that perfect façade, and I did not save you.”

Glorfindel’s hands fisted. He did not want to talk about this anymore. The memoires pushed up his throat, cutting jagged lines across his soul.

“Please, I need this.” He sought Maglor’s mouth, limbs trembling. Would Maglor turn him away? But this time Maglor gave what was sought.

Maglor kissed him back, gentle brushes of lips, hands cupping hot and safe about his face. Maglor breathed in through his nose and went deeper. His hand clamped about the back of Glorfindel’s neck, tilting his head up, just where Maglor wanted it.

The kiss turned wild and—

(“Did you have the bad dream again?” Irimë’s clipped voice kept Glorfindel’s eyes fastened to his toe scuffing the floorboards. His answer carried no more substance than dust motes. “Yes. I couldn’t help it.” Irimë’s fingers pinched under his chin, jerking his head up. “They come because you do not keep your thoughts clean during the day. I’ve seen you looking at boys.” Glorfindel’s face crumbled, “I don’t mean to!” “You have to learn control.” Irimë said the same every time, but Glorfindel kept on dreaming of kissing boys.)

Maglor’s mouth drew back, leaving his empty. “What is wrong?”

Glorfindel’s eyes skidded away. “Nothing.”

He crossed the distance to Maglor’s mouth again, teeth sinking in, wanting Maglor to give it to him so hard (so painful) it rode over all the pain inside.

(“Valar, how you love to get fucked!” Ecthelion laughed as he took Glorfindel from behind. Glorfindel’s hands fisted the sheets. Filthy, filthy, boy. Fucking yourself like a whore. Dirty. The shame sunk so deeply into this act, his desires, he could never scrape it off.)

Maglor eased back, face so full of concern Glorfindel could have wept. Why couldn’t Maglor just kiss him? Just make the memories stop, just silence the voices in his head?

“Something is wrong.” Maglor’s fingers smoothed over Glorfindel’s brow, tucking loose strands of hair behind his ears. “Let me in.”

Glorfindel couldn’t bear it. He wanted to be taken in love; he cried out to know what it felt like. Ecthelion had never loved him, and he had never loved Ecthelion, but Maglor held him so tenderly. But she kept getting in the way. She ruined everything, like she always had.

“I cannot get her voice out of my head!” Maglor guided Glorfindel’s head to his shoulder, closing Glorfindel in an embrace too fierce to escape. He didn’t want to escape. “She infected me with herself. I want her gone, but I cannot stop hating her long enough to be free of her.”

“She is not worth your hate. She is worth nothing but apathy.”

Glorfindel eyes squeezed shut. “I do not know how to stop hating her. I cannot just let it go like it never happened.”

“You never have to accept her, never trust her, never reconcile with her wherever her spirit has gone in death. You only have to let the hate go so it stops hurting you.”

“I do not know how.”

Maglor rested his forehead against Glorfindel’s, eyes shining into his. “Say exactly what I do, can you do that?” Glorfindel nodded.

“She is a flawed person.”

Glorfindel swallowed. “She is a flawed person.”

“She is to be pitied for her smallness of being.”

“She is to be pitied for her smallness of being,” his voice wobbled.

“She is a human being like any other, with eyes and hands and mouth.”

“She is a human be—” He shook down to the soul. “Human being like any other, with eyes and hands and mouth.”

“She has no power over me.”

“She has no power over me.”

“Her voice is the voice of a prison. I will not give ear to it again.”

“Her voice is the voice of a prison. I will not give ear to it again.”

Maglor’s voice dropped low into the space between their mouths. “She is nothing to me. Nothing.”

Glorfindel lungs expanded, drinking in Maglor’s exhale. “She is nothing to me. Nothing.”

Malgor’s eyes slipped closed. His brow stayed pressed to Glorfindel’s. Glorfindel listened to his breaths. Their breathing created a melody together.

“There,” Maglor whispered. “She cannot touch you now. She is a million miles away, the mountain of an Age between you. You are in my arms now, and I will not let even the echo of her voice reach you here.”

The breath shuddered out of him. He took another. He breathed in Maglor’s scent, the smell of the sea, full of sadness, love, and desperation. He breathed the Glorfindel he didn’t want to be out. Maglor in, Glorfindel out, Maglor in, Glorfindel out.

His eyes fluttered open to meet Maglor’s watching him. “Kiss me.”

Maglor’s eyes were two slices of the moon, glimmering silver and bright. “Is this want you really want? I told you I would give you anything.”

Fingers traced the outline of Glorfindel’s mouth. Glorfindel’s lips parted, and the fingers’ tips slipped in. It had been so long, and he felt so hollow.

“My beautiful boy.” Maglor’s other hand smoothed down the curve of Glorfindel’s cheek. Glorfindel turned into the touch, helpless, starving. “I do not want to hurt you.”

Glorfindel’s laugh carried the wetness of tears. “If it escaped your noticed, I like it like that.”

“I do not want to hurt you here,” he covered Glorfindel’s heart. “And it will. When I fail and shut you out, you will be hurt. I do not ever want to hurt you. I know I will, but do not let me hurt you like this.”

Glorfindel didn’t want to think about the future. The pain and need of the moment already lay too heavily upon him; he could not bear the weight of anything more.

“Please. I need you to…” Love me.

The wet tips of Maglor’s fingers pulled down Glorfindel’s jaw, his neck, resting on the pounding pulse in his throat. “I have loved you since the moment I learned you were mine.”

Glorfindel’s heart arched up in his chest, yearning towards the heart in the chest pressed against his. It would be safer to pull away, end it here and not let himself get burned, but Glorfindel (the one he wanted to return to) wasn’t much good at following the safer, smarter route. That one followed his heart and wore no shame, no self-hate; those things could not touch him when he flew so high and free.

“Are you sure—”

Glorfindel turned his mouth into Maglor’s and took what love he could gulp, unafraid of burning. He swallowed the words with his mouth. His tongue flicked out, lapping the soft skin of Maglor’s lower lip, before drawing back.

He titled his neck, offering. Maglor hesitated, eyes searching Glorfindel’s face. Glorfindel’s hands shook. His father would turn him away. He would drop words of regret and soft refusal. He wouldn’t accept the offer because no one had ever loved Glorfindel in the way Glorfindel had longed all his life to be loved.

(Ecthelion’s gaze carved into Glorfindel’s body as he fucked him. Dark envy sunk into those eyes. Their touch did not leave Glorfindel feeling beautiful. He felt cheap. But he kept coming back to the envious eyes, the hands that touched him like he was one of a hundred others, and the mouth that fed the shame feasting upon his heart, because there were no other hands and eyes and mouths willing to touch boys who liked to kiss boys, and Glorfindel was cold, alone, and starving inside.)

The breath rushed out of Glorfindel’s lungs in a gasp when Maglor accepted his kiss. He took Glorfindel’s mouth with his own, and his hands cradled Glorfindel’s face like he was precious beyond measure.

Maglor guided him back into the sleeping mat. His hair splayed out like a sunburst around him as Maglor laid himself over him. Maglor’s hands went to his thighs, easing them open. It felt just perfect to accept his father’s weight between his thighs. Only…

(“Spread your legs.” Ecthelion slithered between Glorfindel’s legs, a smug smirk on his lips as he pressed Glorfindel back into the bed. Glorfindel wanted the heaviness of another’s body upon him, only… Ecthelion forced Glorfindel’s legs wider, raking his eyes over Glorfindel’s body spread open for his taking. Filthy, filthy boy.)

Maglor’s hands ran down Glorfindel’s chest to hook in his belt, and his breaths turned heavy as he yanked it off. The tunic came next, hem hiked up, the fabric all but torn from Glorfindel.

Maglor paused to look him over, eyes trailing down the length of him. Glorfindel lay open and free for his taking. Maglor’s hands came to rest like possession about the base of his neck. Glorfindel’s skin heated with the touch (exactly as he liked it).

Maglor kept looking. Why didn’t he say something? His eyes raked over Glorfindel’s body. What was he thinking? Why did he not speak? Glorfindel lay vulnerable, and though a part of him thrilled at the vulnerability, another curled shy and insecure. His legs were spread open like a whore, and his ribs closed in like hunched shoulders over his heart.

Maglor’s eyes rose to clasp his. He had still not spoken, but that look sent Glorfindel shivering, mouth parting and heart arching up, yearning for what he saw inside his father’s eyes.

Maglor bent over him, body a strong curve over his. He kissed into Glorfindel: “You are perfect.”

A wet breath caught in Glorfindel’s throat as he surged up into the kiss. His arms wound about Maglor ‘s neck, holding on, hands trembling, heart swelling with love. Under his father’s eyes he had been reborn in beauty.

His back curved, offering his mouth, his neck, his body, anything, everything. Maglor’s hands sank into his hair as the kiss deepened and he pressed him into the mat.

Fingers trailed a path of fire from the hollow in his throat, down his breastbone and the line between the muscles of his stomach, to splay flat upon his abdomen, curling about his hipbone.

He panted, achingly conscious of how close those fingers rested to his sex. He wanted. He wanted to feel those fingers upon him, Maglor’s body pressed heavy against his skin, and know, finally, after all these years, what it felt like to be touched in love.

Maglor bent and pressed his lips into the center of Glorfindel’s stomach, mouth walking up the path his fingers had descended until he reached Glorfindel’s mouth.

Darkened silver eyes met his. “You are lovely.”

Powerful as the moment they had shared when Maglor breathed strength into his mouth, and Glorfindel breathed the weeping, shivering little boy out, one moment of healing could not close the wounds of millennium. But his father’s eyes deep with tenderness and desire, and his father’s voice whispering he was lovely, he was precious, as he held him like a child of beauty, had Glorfindel believing for the first time since Irimë began teaching him what a filthy boy he was, that he was everything his father’s mouth and eyes spoke of.

Clothing still separated the slide of skin against skin. He worked the laces of Maglor’s tunic while Maglor rummaged around in his bag of supplies. They were both impatient to get at their goals. Maglor did not want to stop long enough to pull the tunic over his head and the undershirt after it, but in this Glorfindel would not be gainsaid.

They would come to this together, or not at all. There would be nothing of the way Ecthelion and he had fucked when they couldn’t sneak away for long. There would be nothing of the dirtiness he felt after, Ecthelion’s seed running down his legs as Ecthelion walked away with a wink and ‘We’ll have some fun another time, eh?’

No more. No more nights in the dark spent tearing himself to pieces. No more doubts running over and over in his head when a man put his hands on his skin.

The choke-hold of shame would be snapped. The Glorfindel who painted his eyes gold and kissed whomever he liked could not abide its slimy touch about his neck. He would show the little boy how to shatter the box.

Maglor retrieved his goal, a vial of what looked like cooking oil. He rose to kneel between Glorfindel’s thighs, but paused, turning the vial over in his hand, eyes clouding.

“What is wrong?” Glorfindel lifted himself to his elbows.

“Hmm?” Maglor’s gaze retuned to him. His fingers closed over the oil. “Nothing. Just thinking.”

“About what?”

Maglor hesitated, something complex passing over features Glorfindel did not know well enough to read the secrets in. But then Maglor leaned down to curl a lock of hair behind Glorfindel’s ear, giving him a soft smile. “That I do not want to hurt you.”

“You will not.”

“Will I not?” Maglor’s smile folded into sorrow. “I have a history of hurting people.”

“Stop.” Glorfindel’s hand slid into the one fallen to his neck, linking their fingers. “It is just you and me, and no one, and nothing,” his other hand came up to cup the Silmaril swinging from Maglor’s neck, “Else.”

Maglor’s hand went to it, eyes dropping to gaze at the jewel lying with almost-innocence in the palm of his hand. Its light bathed the white cloth in holy splendor. The simple cloth could not contain the Silmaril, but the light was not so overwhelming it ensnared.

Maglor’s fingers inched to his neck, picking up the cord. Glorfindel held his breath as Maglor pulled the Silmaril off and laid it in a cradle of the blankets, within sight and easy reach, but not lying between them.

Glorfindel pulled Maglor’s eyes away from it when he slipped his fingers about the waistband of Maglor’s leggings. “Take these off too.”

Maglor’s mouth twitched, bending to nip Glorfindel’s neck. “Anything for you. I warn you though: I am not such a pretty sight myself.” He gestured to his ribs riding close to his skin and a stomach filled out to flatness but only possessing the promise of coming muscle. His limbs were more lean than bone, but his body had yet to return to that of a warrior.

Few Elves had been born more handsome than Maglor. “You must know you are gorgeous.”

Maglor smirked, accepting the complement with ease. Of course he did.

Glorfindel arched his neck, asking for more. Maglor obliged, kissing and nibbling to his ear, pulling a low, spine-curving moan out of him.

Glorfindel’s fingers worked the lacing of Maglor’s leggings open, struggling to concentrate with Maglor’s mouth doing that to his neck while hands stroked the skin of his outer thighs, spread wide about Maglor’s body. He ruthlessly silenced the voices lingering in the shadows of his mind refusing to just die that spoke of shame and whores.

“Take them off,” he gasped.

Maglor chuckled, rising off Glorfindel to slip the leggings over his hips. He took his place between Glorfindel’s thighs again, picking up the bottle of oil and uncorking it. He leaned over Glorfindel, mouth hovering just over his, black hair slipping off his shoulders to cage them in a cloud of night.

Maglor’s breath fell hot on his lips. “Are you untouched?”

He wasn’t sure if his father meant this body or ever, but from the way he asked it, he knew the answer Maglor wanted to hear. And he knew the answer he wished was the truth to both. He wished Ecthelion’s hands had never been on him, and that those envious eyes never scraped down his skin leaving shame and sickness in the hole of his belly.

“Yes.”

Maglor’s mouth dropped to his, taking him with hunger. Hands tangled in his hair, ran down his back, lifted his ass to angle him up and into Maglor’s hardness grinding down into him. Slicked flingers eased into him, working slowly, touching him with more tenderness than he’d ever known.

“I am the first to be inside you like this.” The voice was rough, but the fingers never lost their gentleness. “Now I will be a part of you forever.”

“You already are,” Glorfindel breathed, turning his cheek into Maglor’s face resting so close.

“But not like this, leaving the shape of me inside your body and memory as well as your blood.”

Glorfindel shivered as desire unfurled wings of fire at the words and the fingers found that perfect place inside him. He cried out, the small of his back hollowing.

Words he’d bitten back time and again with Ecthelion (if nothing else, he’d never begged for it) spilled out: “Please, please now! I need you now!”

Maglor kissed fire into his skin, sending him writhing against him and on the fingers within him, but Maglor didn’t hasten the taking. He fingers kept stretching Glorfindel slowly.

“I am ready, I am ready!”

“I will not let you be hurt,” Maglor whispered into his skin. “You are so tight. I will hurt you.”

“You will not.” His hands sunk deep into Maglor’s hair, legs lifting to wrap themselves about the back of Maglor’s thighs. The words laid him as open as his spread legs, but fell easy now that first hole in the dam had been punched. “I need you inside of me.”

“I will hurt you. I know I will.” Shadows coiled in the bones of Malgor’s face. “I cannot hurt you. Not you.” His eyes were wild.

“Shh, we will be all right.” Glorfindel held him until the fear slept again.

“You cannot go away.” Maglor’s voice fell low and shredded like silk. His arm tightened to pain about Glorfindel, but Glorfindel wanted it there, just like that, locking him against him.

Maglor kissed up his neck, and the fingers started moving within him again. Glorfindel dared to let every needy sound out, every moan and whimper, everything he’d ever bitten back when Ecthelion took him and the shame curled tight as a fist about his throat, choking off the moans of a whore. He ground up into the body rocking into his, but he kept the pleas for haste shut behind his teeth.

Strands of dark hair stuck to the sweat building on Malgor’s temples from the strain of self-control. Glorfindel could feel Maglor pressed hard and wanting against the inside of his thigh, but Maglor’s fingers still took their time, another easing inside.

“No one else has touched you like this before, only me.” Maglor suckled Glorfindel’s jaw, kissing up to his ear to drive Glorfindel mad. “Only me inside you.”

“Only you.” Glorfindel’s legs squeezed about Maglor’s waist, a sob of need falling from his mouth as Maglor’s fingers rubbed again and again against the place that needed more.

Maglor’s fingers finally withdrew, leaving Glorfindel empty, but close to sobbing with relief that he would be given what he needed at last. “You can never leave me now. Everywhere you go, I will be a part of you.”

The silver eyes were dark and maybe a little mad as they stared down into his, ensnaring his in their power. He couldn’t look away. It felt like, as Maglor pressed slowly into him, he was pressing into his soul as well, forging out a place there that would never be unknotted from his, forever binding them together with a tie even stronger than blood.

He opened himself to everything Maglor would do to him. No one had ever looked at him like this, like he was everything, like they would be lost in eternal darkness without him. He was loved, so loved. His heart wept and sung with the joy of it.

Maglor filled him, Glorfindel taking him in without restraint, without a shard of shame for the way his legs spread wide and his mouth dropped every cry, every gasp building within him.

It was beautiful. He was beautiful. And precious, and loved, and clean, just like this, a cock inside him, he was clean.

He kissed a boy and it was natural as a sunrise, just like Maedhros had promised him it would be all those years ago in Tirion. Shame had no quarter in the light of this beauty.

Maglor whispered in his ear as he took Glorfindel in long, slow thrusts, of how Glorfindel would always be his. Glorfindel held him tightened, listening to the words that bordered on obsession, and treasured every one as he offered his neck up to whatever pleasures Maglor wanted to take from him.

Black hair flew about them, unbound, as Maglor’s need drove him deeper, faster, and Glorfindel urged for more and more and more. When Maglor lifted to his knees, hands gripping Glorfindel’s hips, eyes locked on his, teeth flashing in the violence of his taking, Glorfindel’s spine curved to meet him, fingers sinking into Maglor’s biceps, feeling the lean muscles’ contractions with every thrust, as his eyes never left the ones binding his.
Chapter 11 by Encairion
Author's Notes:

Note: Ages in flashbacks given in Human years i.e. Maglor says he’s nine, that means Human nine years.

 

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 11

The Tumladen stretched a pure green before him. The skeleton of what would be their new city was nothing more than a spine and a few hipbones where towers would one day spiral. The air blew the scent of snow off the encircling mountains, and glacial lakes sparkled blue in the palms between hunched snowy heads. He tilted his face to the sun, and pulled breath into his lungs like re-birth. He could have a home here, an escape.

His limbs tangled about a warm body, silver hair mingling with his own on the pillow. He pushed his nose into Althon’s neck and inhaled the sea. Here, with Althon wrapped about him, he was home.

A cloaked woman climbed the rise of land to stand beside him. He could not make out her face in the hood’s shadow. Hands that did not belong to a laborer rose and pushed the hood back from her face.

“Hello, Glorfindel.”

His nails cut grooves in his palms, hands fisted so hard at his sides his arms shook all the way up to the shoulders. A flash a thought: they were alone; no one would see him push her. The hill’s west side fell with the sheerness of a sea-cliff.

“What are you doing here?” He ground every impulse of murder, every knife of hate and hate and hate built up like a castle inside his chest, into his voice.

Her head came up, proud, meeting his eyes as if she’d never wronged him in his life. “I came for you. My son.”

Hope fell through the holes the sight of her face,here, tore into him. She had followed him to Turgon’s secret valley they had all sworn never to leave again unless Fingolfin called them forth. She came like a fence upon his mind, bringing a cage in the sound of her voice, and wielding death in her hands. The death of hope, the death of freedom. He would never be free of her. Why had he even dared to hope?

This would never be home with her in its heart. He’d left home on the other side of the mountains in Fingolfin’s steady hand on his shoulder, Fingon’s winning smile, and Guilin’s cocky swagger.

Althon smiled at him, and Glorfindel fell into the home inside his eyes. They linked their fingers together as they plotted their escape. The cocoon of blankets saturated with the smell of the sea. Hope pounded a drumbeat against their chests.

Maglor’s eyes flew open, the taste of the sea in his mouth. His son shifted around him, arms soft with sleep about his waist, head nestled on his shoulder. Maglor combed his fingers through Glorfindel’s hair.

Regret bruised the underside of his ribcage, beating like a Troll’s fist upon a drum. He had allowed his son to be scarred down to the soul. There could be no forgiveness.

He had picked up the eyes of a blind man and punched them into his eye sockets. He had saved only himself. His failure slid down to crush his chest in like a mudslide –inescapable, merciless.

His teeth gnashed to allow the hate to take root in his heart against Irimë, but he kept a tight hold around its violent bucking. Apathy had been freedom within his grasp when it was he who had to forgive her for her use of him. But now, with the blanket of her crimes against Glorfindel rolled out, it became a struggle of will to bite the hate back.

Hate would solve nothing. It would not unmake what had been wrought inside Glorfindel with twisting hands. But most: it would only stunt healing. He had failed his son in every way possible. He could not fail him by succumbing to the hate as well.

So, though hating Irimë could come as easily as breathing, he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of meaning enough to him. She would remain a pitiable creature. All the more so for he’d seen her at the end, when the emptiness of her life, the smallness of her soul, had finally revealed themselves to her. The scales fell from her eyes, and she looked down at empty hands as the knowledge she had no one and nothing left lodged itself in her breast like a spear.

Maglor pulled his son’s body closer. He kept his fingers running through the thick waves. Celegorm’s hair was a paler shade, a yellow almost to cream with the silver threaded in, but it had Glorfindel’s texture: just a touch of curl.

He closed his eyes and inhaled his son’s scent. The smell of fire was mixed into others, and that sunshine scent, as if Glorfindel spent his days bathing in sunrays, was one that clung to Celegorm as well.

Of all his brothers, Glorfindel reminded him strongest of Celegorm. But there was Curufin in the way he’d thrust up walls, throwing cutting words in Maglor’s face when cornered, trying to make an escape. There was Caranthir in the way he flared up in a temper, hot and burning like Father used to too, nothing like Curufin’s ice, Amras’ mockery, or Maedhros’ superiority when the wrath curled close. Maglor savored even the echo of his brothers at their worst reflected in his son. Anything, anything to be near them again.

His son sighed in his sleep, brows furrowing, eyes flickering behind his eyelids. What was he dreaming of? Did he dream of Irimë and cages, or was it something of Maglor’s life he dreamed? Did this connection, whatever it was, go both ways?

”sanwe could be achieved without eye-contact, but it was a tricky thing, and the link between minds weak. Maglor wanted to be inside his son’s mind, all the way in, the walls enclosing him as he penetrated his son’s innermost being. He wanted to do it while he was buried as deep as he could reach into flesh that smelt of fire and was his, his, his.

No. He didn’t deserve even the scent of his son or the softness of his lax body in his arms. He should let him go, send him to Celebrimbor who wouldn’t hold Glorfindel with the possessive grasp of Malgor’s arms about him. Glorfindel would be happier with Celebrimbor. Glorfindel would be free of Maglor with Celebrimbor.

Maglor would destroy his son in the end. Father would have let Glorfindel go. Maedhros would have done the right thing. But Maglor was too weak.

He couldn’t find the strength to unwrap himself from his son, so he pulled him closer. At the least, let him give Glorfindel his love, deficient as that love was.

He combed his eyes over his son’s face, open and vulnerable in sleep. He’d already picked up flickers of strong emotions from Glorfindel’s face with the briefest touch of minds. His son had only the scraps of shields around his mind all Valinor-born Elves possessed that were easily circumvented by one learned in ”sanwe.

”sanwe had not been taught in Valinor until a mind matured fully. It could be a dangerous art, and carried a heavy weight of responsibility not appropriate for a child to wield. Glorfindel could not have learned it in Valinor; he was too young when they left. And after, well, it was not surprising Glorfindel lacked mind-shields. ”sanwe was a high-art, one that took years of training to master; one that took time, the kind of time they’d had in Valinor with the illusion of eternity stretching before them. But more, ”sanwe required trust. One could not learn without being willing to let a teacher into their mind, and who had Glorfindel trusted enough in Gondolin where time came as cheaply as in Valinor?

It would not be right to slip into his son’s mind. Maglor controlled his desire to be inside Glorfindel in this way as well. He wouldn’t risk damaging his son’s mind, as could happen when a mind fought against an invader.

He didn’t resist because he had some sort of moral backbone. That backbone had snapped a long time ago. He’d left it somewhere between killing for ships white as a woman’s thighs, and stealing two little boys that were twins, but not The Twins, not because it was the right thing to do, but because he wanted them, so he took.

He resisted because he had sworn not to hurt Glorfindel, and he couldn’t keep that promise, but he would keep it in the paltry ways he yet had the strength to give.

His son’s eyes cracked open. They blinked up at him a moment, heavy with sleep, but blue enough to fall into and never reach the bottom. They carried the brightness of a soul that had seen the Tree Light. That light had been banked when Maglor first laid eyes on Glorfindel again, cloaked as his son’s memories had been cloaked. But the Valar’s spider web of vengeance had shattered in full now. Their plots had driven his son right into his arms.

The Silmaril, warped up in its cloth, provided a hooded light to examine his son’s face in. He had slipped the Silmaril back over his head, keeping it close to his chest. He could not bear to be parted from it for long. Not again.

He’d thrown it into the sea as his soul broke into a thousand pieces he’d never put back together again. It wasn’t the Oath that had him diving in after it moments later, searching the sea bottom for months until he found it. Eönwë had spoken truly: the Oath had been broken. It was the agony of losing a fire that burned the flesh off his bones but was all he had left of his family.

His son’s cheekbones swept an arch the match of Maedhros.’ His brows were fuller than Maglor’s, taking after Curufin and Father’s. Glorfindel gave him a slow, dimpled smile that curled in Maglor’s belly like purring sunshine.

“Did you dream?” So many memories he would have protected Glorfindel from, but so many memories he longed to share but didn’t have the strength.

Glorfindel’s eyes flickered over his face. He answered slowly, half questioningly, “Yes.”

“What did you dream of?” Had Glorfindel been inside Malgor’s memories as he had been inside his son’s?”

Glorfindel’s mouth thinned. “Mistakes of the past.”

So Glorfindel had not fallen into Maglor’s mind. It was for the best. “You dreamed of Gondolin.” Glorfindel started. “Shh, it is only dream-sharing. It is not unheard of amongst those with close ties.” But he did not voice how uncommon dream-sharing was even between the closest of kin. “What were you running from?” Glorfindel frowned. “When you followed Turgon to Gondolin.”

Glorfindel’s eyes skidded away. “Many things. Mostly myself, though I did not see it then. If I had—if I had I never would have left Hithlum. I never should have left.”

The regret stretched jaws the size of one of Morgoth’s lupine beasts, threatening to consume. Maglor could feel the demons lining up to feed on his son’s soul. The guilt of his past impotence hit him like pounding surf. His ribs could have been knit from water-reeds, his spine spun of glass, for all they shielded him.

But he found the strength to fight because his son needed more than a father consumed by regrets. He would not allow the beasts to lay a finger on one he loved.

He eased himself to an elbow, leaned over Glorfindel and swept hair from his son’s neck. “Come up to the stars with me. We still have a few hours left of the night.”

Delight that was not his own leapt in his chest, right over his heart. He knew who it belonged to.

He only had guesses for what this bond between them was, but he liked all of them. Glorfindel and he were tied together, deep inside. From this day forth, from the moment he’d pushed himself into his son’s soul along with his body, wherever Glorfindel went a part of him would always stay with Maglor, just as a part of Maglor would travel with Glorfindel. He would never be alone again. Fire would walk at his side, within him and him within it, for eternity.

Father never would have bound them so tight they could not find joy outside his fire. Father hadn’t needed bindings for them to swear over everything to follow him. They had done it out of freedom and love that knew no bounds. Yet Maglor had knit his soul with Glorfindel’s so that Glorfindel could never get free.

His son’s fingers pressed against Maglor’s heart. “Yes. I feel it too.”

Had Maglor spoken aloud? No. But his mind-shields never fell.

When Maedhros had recovered as best his body could after his torment, he’d trained and trained and trained the minds of his brothers who possessed a disposition for ”sanwe. Celegorm and the twins never achieved more than the basic shields Father had taught them in Valinor. Caranthir surprised them all by building ones steep and impenetrable as Curufin’s. But for all Caranthir’s hasty temper, he had more secret places in his heart, kept back from his brothers, then Curufin.

To any outside the circle of Fëanorion-blood, Curufin seemed as impenetrable as ice, but Maglor still remembered the boy Curufin had been when he’d been compared to their father in more than just face. Curufin’s walls were not natural; they’d been learned. Once, long ago, Curufin had burned almost as openly and brightly as Fëanor. Curufin’s isolation was never wanted, not deep down where he yearned for them to cross the ice he’d built and save him from himself. Caranthir’s was a spirit more given to solitude and silences, to secrets behind those flashes of temper.

“What are you thinking of? I can feel your sadness, your longing.”

Maglor’s chest tightened like a fist. It took everything he was, every promise he’d whispered in his son’s ear to try, to get the words out. “I was thinking of them.”

Glorfindel’s hand stayed warm and close about his heart. “I wish I had known them. I shared nothing but a handful of conversations with them. But I never forgot a single word spoken.”

Maglor pressed his brow to his son’s temple. “I would tell you of them, every memory, every laugh, every sorrow if I could. But the pain of the telling…” His hand fisted about the Silmaril, soaking up the echo of its fire he could feel through the barrier of cloth.

Glorfindel’s eyes slipped down to the jewel. He licked his lips, fingers brushing over Maglor’s. “Will you show me?”

Maglor’s fingers trembled with eagerness to slip the Silmaril free of its bindings. He wanted it in Glorfindel’s hand, his son’s skin learning the fire of Fëanor, holding the legacy of their blood. The Silmaril was the closest Maglor could bring Glorfindel to his family.

He looked into Glorfindel’s face as his fingers fumbled. He searched for disgust. Would Glorfindel understand? He had to, he just had to. Glorfindel was part of them, a piece of the tree that was Fëanor. He could not turn from the Father’s work in revulsion for the blood spilt over it.

Glorfindel’s hands came up to cup his. With steady fingers he helped Maglor pull the last of the bindings off, their hands moving as one, one blood.

Glorfindel understood, of course he did. Maglor should never have doubted. Had he not seen his brothers living inside Glorfindel? Had he not seen Celegorm’s boyish smile, Caranthir’s fierce temper, and Maedhros’ irresistibility?

Glorfindel saw with the eyes of a Fëanorion. He saw it had never been the Silmarils to blame. It was the Oath that was perverted. The Silmarils would not enslave one of Fëanor’s blood. That Maglor bore its touch with torment down to the soul was not its fault but the work of Varda’s enchantments.

The Silmaril lay bared and naked in Glorfindel’s palm. Maglor dared not touch it. His fingers hovered as close as they could flutter to its fire without pain. But Glorfindel, Glorfindel… Maglor could have wept to see a Silmaril lying again in the hand of a Fëanorion without anguish.

Glorfindel’s skin glowed, as if the very blood in his veins had been turned to light. His eyes, reflecting the glory of the Silmaril, would have been too much beauty to bear had it been any other eyes but a Fëanorion’s looking into them.

“My hands are not clean of blood. And in Gondolin I stood by while terrible crimes were committed. I participated in them with my silence. How can…?”

“It is as I suspected.” Maglor touched the skin of his son’s hand, hoping it would act as a conduit to a closer connection to the Silmaril’s, his father’s, fire. It did not.

“Varda bound the Silmarils with her enchantment. The enchantment answers to the Valar’s will, and they judged the sons of Fëanor unworthy with their own measuring stick. It was not about the cleanliness of the soul. For did Dior not follow Beren when his father led the slaughter at Sarn Athrad where they cut down the Khazâd without mercy?” Maglor’s mouth twisted. “The Valar judged those killings justified, so Beren and Dior bore the Silmaril with no pain. But was that battle not also waged in the name of the Silmaril? Hypocrisy has ever been the name of the game for the Valar.”

“I am sorry. I would give up the ability to hold it if it meant you could accept it in my place.” Glorfindel’s eyes dropped to the jewel, mouth wilting, but only so far, for how could there be sadness in the untainted touch of a Silmaril? What Maglor wouldn’t have given for Maedhros to have been able to press their father’s jewel against his shattered heart without pain.

“What does it feel like?” Maglor swayed forward, yearning, drawn to the memory of fire. If it was his father’s arms about him he sought, his brothers’, or his father’s hands placing his own about the Silmarils’ flesh long ago in Valinor, he couldn’t say. Everything had long ago jumbled up in his head.

“Come feel it with me.” Glorfindel’s eyes met his, and he opened his mind to Maglor with the same willingness he’d spread his body for his father’s taking. Maglor pushed into his son’s mind as he’d entered his body, a slow slide, taking infinite care not to damage.

Maglor’s mouth dropped open. He shook, hands grasping Glorfindel’s wrists as the pleasure broke him apart. It felt so good, so warm and safe and complete inside his son’s mind with the Silmaril’s light purring in all its corners, reaching out to him, drawing him close. It felt like his father’s arms must have felt. Yes, he was almost sure, almost certain Fëanor held him now. It was Father drawing him close, drawing him home across the mountains and seas and Ages until he was back in Father’s bed, his brothers piled in around him, a smile on Father’s lips as he watched his sons, each one of them, no least amongst them to slip from the gaze of his love.

(Celegorm’s arms wound around Maglor’s waist, sharp kneecaps poking into Maglor’s thighs as his little brother squirmed around on the bed. Next to them Caranthir hogged Curufin, as he ever did, cuddling the big-eyed toddler close as they tucked into Father’s arms.

When Mother went away to visit her family, Maglor and his brothers snuck into their parents’ big bed to snuggle the night away with Father.

Father’s deep voice caressed them, pulling them down into a starlit world where wolves, and the devourers of wolves, prowled the perimeter of a campfire and new-born Elves rose to the heights of Heroes. Caranthir and Curufin had begged for a tale of the Outerlands for tonight’s bedtime story.

Maglor was nine years old, far too old to be begging for bedtime stories, but still, he wished it was him and not Caranthir and Curufin pressed into Father’s chest so he could feel the way it purred against his back when Father’s spoke. If only Maedhros still snuck into Father’s room with them, Maglor could wiggle back into his big brother’s chest, but Maedhros said he was ‘too old’ for nights pressed between the bodies of their father and brothers.

Maglor smirked to himself. He bet he knew what Maedhros was doing instead. Celegorm and he had caught Maedhros at it once, back when the three of them still shared a room. Maglor and Celegorm had spied on their older brother because Maedhros had been boring enough to refuse to play the new game Maglor had invented for the three of them.

They peeked in on Maedhros through the crack they’d eased the door into. Maglor smothered Celegorm’s giggles with his hand so Maedhros did not hear. They both pressed their noses up against the crack and watched their brother do funny things on his bed.

Maedhros touched himself down there. Even his penis looked funny. Little hairs sprouted up around it! Maedhros face was the funniest of all, twisted up like that, mouth panting as he touched himself. He groaned really loud and Celegorm ruined their secret spying by giggling too much to be muffled.

Maehdros heard, and shouted at them so loudly Father came to investigate. Celegorm spilled the whole thing after only a few minutes under Father’s stare. Maglor didn’t blame Celegorm. When Father put his hands on his hips, arched his brow, and waited like that, Maglor used to break down too when he was Celegorm’s age. Maglor was a whole two years older than Celegorm though, and lasted longer.

Maedhros stuttered out denials, eyes shifty, and cheeks wildly blushing, even his ears red! But it turned out Maedhros wasn’t in trouble, which was good. Maglor hadn’t wanted to get his big brother into trouble, just see what he was up to.

Father came in to talk with Maglor and Celegorm after he’d sent them away for a really long talk with Maedhros. Father had told them Maedhros would be getting his own room now, and that they weren’t to tease their brother about what they’d seen. Maedhros was just making himself feel good, Father said, and they would want to to when they grew as old as Maedhros.

Father finished the bedtime story, and reached across Caranthir and Curufin to tuck the blanket back around Maglor and Celegorm’s shoulders where Celegorm’s squirming had kicked it loose. Father’s hand smoothed over Maglor’s hair, and tousled Celegorm’s waves on its retreat.

Curufin wiggled out of Caranthir’s arms to climb up to his knees on the bed and hover over Maglor. His eyes were big and pleading as he asked for a song. “Pwease, Magwor!”

Curufin may only be a baby, but everyone agreed he was very clever. Maglor wouldn’t put it passed Curufin to be using his plump cheeks and pretty eyes to his advantage already. He certainly had Caranthir wrapped about his little finger.

Maglor wavered, and when Celegorm turned huge green eyes up at him too it was impossible to refuse. He liked the admiring looks his brothers’ showered upon him, and the smiles he brought to their faces, when he sang for them. Father would smile too and tell Maglor one day he would be the greatest singer in the world!

Maglor picked Celegorm’s favored song, the one about a brave, adventurous frog and his side-kick the clever fox. His brothers giggled over the fox every time, and when Maedhros was there, teased him because Maedhros was Father’s little fox.

Celegorm rose to his knees during the song, making the bed bounce as he went up and down on his heels. When the last note trailed off, he announced, eyes bright, chest puffed out: “Daddy, I want to be your little frog! I’m really brave, and I’m gonna go on lots of great big adventures like Frog!”

Father smiled his best smile, the one that lit up the room like white gems. He sat up so he could pull Celegorm into his lap and tickle him ribs. Celegorm laughed and begged, and Father had mercy and let him up with a swat on his rear, calling him his little frog.

“Me, Daddy, me!” Curufin clambered into Father’s lap, face set with a mix of determination and delight.

Father scooped Curufin up, and swung him over his shoulder, yanking a scream of laughter out of him. Father eased Curufin’s pudgy legs about his neck, and perched Curufin there like a bird. “What do your eyes spy, my little raven?”

Curufin’s fingers clung to Father’s hair, face beaming. “A mwountin, Daddy, there!” Curufin pointed at the imaginary mountain. “And the biggedest gwizzly bear in the whole wowld!”

Father lifted Curufin off his shoulders, plopping him back onto the bed, face turning deadly serious, but eyes grinning. “You better run, my sweet things, or be eaten alive!”

Father made a growling nose in the back of his throat. “Here comes the bear! He is going get you!” Father curled his hands into claws and snapped his teeth.

Curufin and Caranthir –being babies—screamed as they jumped up, flailing their arms to get away, their excitement in the game knowing no bounds. Father snapped his teeth at their heels. Curufin lost his footing on the mattress, and nearly fell into the bear’s maws, but Caranthir saved him with a heroic feat of strength and courage, pulling his little brother to safety. Celegorm sprung off the bed, longer legs carrying him up onto the table across the room where he started waving his arms and taunting the bear to come get him.

Maglor was the slowest to enter the game, taking his time about removing himself from the bed. He was nine years old, after all. His sluggish start cost him, and Father caught him.

Father reeled him in by the ankle, and now Maglor did laugh, kicking out, trying to wiggle free.

“I am going to eat you up, sweet thing.” Father said in a deep, rumbling voice as he pinned Maglor to the bed.

Maglor laughed until he couldn’t breathe as Father’s mouth attacked his neck. Father pulled the collar of Malgor’s nightshirt down for better access, and latched onto Maglor shoulder, nibbling his skin. When Father finished with that spot, he moved on, lathering Maglor’s skin with kisses and little bites.

“You are a tasty sweet thing. Shall I take a mouthful?”

“No!” Maglor squirmed, breathless with laughter.

Father did not have mercy. He chuckled and put his mouth on the side of Maglor’s neck, opening wide, and pretending to take a big bite.

“Ah!” Maglor flailed about, giggling at the sensation of his father’s scrapping teeth tickling his neck.

“Mmm. Tasty, young flesh.” Father took another bite, this time of Maglor’s ear.

“Come on, we have to save him!” Celegorm charged back, rallying his younger brothers around him. “Let him go, foul beast!” Celegorm heaved an imaginary spear at Father.

Father snatched Maglor up, tossing him over his shoulder and springing from the bed. “He is mine forever! You shall never get him back!”

“No! You can’t have him!” Caranthir stomped his foot, sending the ‘bear’ his fiercest glower.

“Here’s what we’re gonna do.” Celegorm drew his little brothers close, making a huddle with their bodies.

Father sauntered back to the bed, Maglor hanging from his shoulder. Maglor pounded his fists against his father’s back. “Put me down, you evil bear! I am not for eating!”

Father laughed, and dropped Maglor onto the bed. Maglor bounced, but before he could scramble to freedom, Father pounced on top of him again. His smile glinted in the candlelight, almost like fangs. Father was the best at these games. They were never half so fun without him.

“You are perfect for eating, sweet thing.” Father kissed Maglor’s cheek, before nipping his nose.

“I am not a sweet thing. I am a wolf in disguise!” He surged up and bit Father’s neck.

Father growled. “Sneaky wolf, tricking me with disguises!” Maglor giggled as Father pretended to struggled with the effort of fighting him off. “Just you wait, little wolf!”

“I’m not little! I’m a great big wolf!”

Maglor wound his arms about Father’s neck when his father tried to get away, and attacked his father’s neck with his teeth. Just in time too, for in that moment Celegorm unleashed his surprise attack. Celegorm took the center, Caranthir on his right, and Curufin a flying projectile in his arms he launched at Father.

Father slipped out of Maglor’s arms like smoke to catch Curufin. Curufin threw his little arms about Father’s neck. “I got Daddy, I got Daddy!”

Celegorm and Caranthir fell upon Father a moment later, taking Father down. Father’s back hit the mattress under their weight. Maglor piled on top. Father laughed and laughed and laughed.)

Someone was laughing. It took him a moment to realize the sound did not come from within the memories, for it sounded so like his own laugh, or maybe it was Curufin’s clear, joyous laugh like the leaping of foals over meadows. But it was not his, it was Glorfindel’s.

Maglor had never heard his son laugh. Or maybe he had, years and years ago on Taniquetil when he visited Irimë. Glorfindel had laughed as he rode before Maglor on the horse, Maglor’s arms around his son for the first time but not knowing, not paying attention. He’d not treasured that laugh, not memorized it like he did now as his chest constricted and his throat burned.

His son laughed and Maglor could have wept in the joy of it, washed in the fire of the Silmaril, their minds as one, never to be wholly unstitched from the other because Glorfindel was his now. His completely. His to never let go.

They had all left, left him here all alone. Glorfindel could never leave him. Never. Never. Never.

(Maedhros stared out at the world with vacant eyes. His ruined fingers still spasmed about the Silmaril, twitching every so often.

Maglor had dropped the jewel the moment they put distance between Eönwë’s camp and themselves. He’d stared down at it, maybe he wept at the betrayal of their father’s fire, he could not remember. Maedhros had not stopped, had not dropped the jewel fisted in his only remaining hand.

Maglor had watched his brother wander off out of the corner of his eye, before he brought himself to pick the jewel up again. This time he wrapped his hand in his cloak to lessen the burn. He followed after his brother.

They wandered. The world broke around them, falling apart on its slow slide into the sea. Maybe days, maybe weeks, maybe even months they wandered, time didn’t really matter anymore. The only thing that mattered was Maedhros. Only Maedhros who walked as if through shadows, talking to dead people, seeing nothing of the real world.

His brother might as well have already been dead, but he wasn’t. Maglor still had him to cling to in the night. His brother’s tall, broken body fit about his with the practice of years of only them, only them left, don’t leave me all alone!

With the strings of the Oath cut, everything that had held Maedhros together, pushing him on and on and on long passed the point where he’d possessed any real motivation to live, was gone. There were only the missing faces of brothers, father, and husband left.

Maglor put his arms around Maedhros’ slumped shoulders, and guided the copper head onto his shoulder. He worked his fingers through the matted hair (it hadn’t mattered what they looked like for a very long time). He tried to sing, but his voice terrified him. He let the destructive notes, ripe for the sowing of despair, drop. Better not to sing at all if that was all that dwelt in his heart.

Maedhros stirred in his arms, lifting his head and looking North. “Do not follow me.”

“What? Where are you going?” Maglor’s fingers scrambled at his brother’s ragged tunic as Maedhros heaved himself slowly to his feet, like a Mortal whose joints had grown creaky with age.

“No. No. You cannot leave me!” Maglor surged to his feet, understanding even as his mind rebelled against the knowledge. “You cannot. Please, Maedhros!”

He fell to his knees, wrapping his arms about his brother’s waist, pinning him against him. Maedhros would have to drag him along with him because Maglor was never letting go.

“Maglor,” Maedhros’ sigh hurt Maglor’s soul, so heavy did it drop in the air, so much weariness, down passed the bone and into the soul. Maedhros’ stump rested in Maglor’s hair. Maglor titled into it, pretending it was his big brother’s hand running through his hair as it used to in their childhood. “Do not ask me to keep existing like this. If you have any love left in your heart to spare me, let me go.”

Maglor shook his head, pressing his face deeper into his brother’s stomach. “I love you, I love you, I do, forever! But please, do not leave me, do not leave me all alone!”

“Do not ask this of me. The pain…is beyond enduring.” Maedhros’ voice had no more strength then a broken butterfly’s wings. All that beauty and charisma it had once worn like golden-fire had been peeled away.

Maglor pressed a kiss into the rank cloth of his brother’s tunic, and let his arms drop. He knelt there, hollow, like all the insides had been sucked out of him. “Then I will come with you.”

“No.” Maedhros’ eyes broke as they looked down into his, but there was more inside them then Maglor had seen in years. So much pain, but so much love still too. Maglor had feared Maedhros had stopped loving him years ago, having no more left inside him to give. “Live. You must live. Promise me.”

“You cannot ask this of me.” Maglor’s face shook. “How dare you ask this of me.”

Maedhros’ stump touched Maglor’s cheek. “I could not save even one of them. I was never strong enough, never quick enough, never smart enough, never wise enough to save even one. None but you. And I drug you down with me in the end.”

“No, no,” Maglor’s fingers closed about his brother’s empty wrist. “I made the choice to follow you that last time. You did not force me, I could have turned aside, but I did not. I do not regret it. What difference would it have made in the end had we surrendered to the Valar? Think you we would have found mercy from them? But, Maedhros,” his fingers tightened on his brother. “Please, just, just a little longer, just hold on a little longer. The Oath is finished, maybe, maybe we can…can…”

“Oh, Maglor.” A tear dripped from Maedhros’ eye, curving the too-sharp line of his cheekbone to dip into a hollow cheek. Maglor had not seen Maedhros cry since he’d pieced himself together again after Angband. “Is there still hope in that great heart of yours?”

“Nothing but a fool’s hope, if even that.” Maglor’s eyes slid away. It was only denial at the back of his pleading. He knew very well there was no getting over this, no getting passed, no sunrise at the night’s end. “At least let me go with you. Not,” he looked up at Maedhros’ distressed sound, “Not to follow you like that. You know I will grant you this one last wish, though there is nothing left of me at the end of it. But let me come with you. Let me walk beside you until the end.”

“No, let this be goodbye. I would not have you witness my death. That at least I would spare you.”

“I do not want you to do alone.” Maglor’s couldn’t breathe through the pain in his chest, couldn’t see through the tears.

“I am not alone. Fingon is with me.”

Maglor’s face crumbled, unable to bear the words giving evidence of his brother’s fractured mind.

“Shh,” Maedhros’ bent and kissed his brow.

Maedhros’ lips were dry and chapped against Maglor’s skin, but all Maglor could feel was the fire, the too-hot touch of that face he longed to bury his own in and taste the tears of his brother one last time. He might as well just die with Maedhros because they’d reached the end of everything. There was no future passed this moment, not for either of them.

“Fingon will walk with me to the end.”)

Maglor pushed his fingers into his eyelids, trying to blot the memory from his mind. Hands covered his, easing his fingers away from their abuse. He opened his eyes to see Glorfindel’s close and wet. Tears clung to Glorfindel’s chin. He had slipped the Silmaril between his thighs, knees cradling it, to take Maglor’s hands in his.

“I...” Glorfindel sunk his teeth into his lip, fingers slipping deeper between Maglor’s. “I saw it too. The memory.” Maglor sucked in a breath, knuckles clenching white about his son’s hands.

Glorfindel’s eyes locked with his. They burned with a blue fire. “I will never leave you. I swear it.”

Maglor could feel the sincerity in his son’s words. It soaked through the bond connecting them heart-to-heart, and through the place their minds still brushed in tendrils.

He crushed his son to his chest, clinging, and unashamed of the way his hands shook upon Glorfindel’s body, pressing him closer, closer, closer. Glorfindel clung back.

“Forgive me. Forgive me,” Maglor’s voice broke with sobs, gasping into his son’s hair. He had no right, no right. Please, Maedhros, please. So selfish, just one more moment. Please, Brother, don’t ask me to let you go.

“I have you. I will never let you go.” His brother. His son. Maedhros. Glorfindel.

His mouth opened, searching, dragging the line of a cheek to clasp a mouth. Hands gripped him back. The smell of fire. A heart beating the twin beat of his own. Blood. Family. Brother? Son? He kissed them both, pouring everything that was left of him into it. Please, please, don’t leave me. I am sorry. I am sorry I sunk to this. Forgive me.

The other mouth pulled back, hands cradling his face. “I feel you. Do not…do not hurt yourself like this, please. I love you, Father.”

Son. Son who he failed, failed, failed. Son he wanted and taken. Son he kept caged like a bird, snipping wings so it could not fly free. “I am sorry.” Hands scrambling at his son’s back. Unworthy to touch. Feasting upon this light and love like a beast. “Forgive me. I have failed. I have failed you.”

His son’s arms held him with fierceness. “No, Father, no. It is not your fault. There is nothing to forgive.”

“No, no, there is so much.” Too much.

His son turned his mouth into Malgor’s ear, laying a kiss there. “Then I have already forgiven it all.”

Too good for Malgor’s arms. He should take Glorfindel to Celebrimbor before it was too late and he ruined him like he ruined Elros, only worse, for even Elros who he bound with love and loyalty he did not chain the soul of and fail to save from being chewed up, devoured in a slow slid into the belly of a woman with wolves crouching under her skin and the flat eyes of a rattlesnake.

“Stop it.” Glorfindel’s hands knotted in Maglor’s hair, pressing his face into Malgor’s neck, lips half kissing, half opened to breath in Malgor’s flesh. “I can feel it. What you are doing to yourself. You are eating yourself alive, and I hate it. I hate it. Stop it!”

“I am sorry—”

“Stop apologizing! You did nothing wrong! Just—”

Malgor’s mouth opened to spill a thousand ‘I’m sorries,’ but that was not what Glorfindel wanted. ‘I’m sorry’ didn’t unmake the past.

With quite footsteps, he pulled a veil over his mind, cutting off his leaking havoc of emotions from reaching Glorfindel’s mind. His lips fell upon his son’s cheek, his ear, his jaw, his mouth. “I love you,” he kissed into his son’s skin, into the cheekbones he wore like Maedhros,’ Father and Curufin’s brows, Celegorm’s dimples, Caranthir’s chin.

He kissed Glorfindel until the agony of every breath dulled from the pain of a fresh break to a set bone. Not washed away, but these regrets that shredded him would be ones he had to go on picking up every hour and dragging through the day like he shouldered his grief. He would never know release from either, but with his son in his arms (his brothers inside Glorfindel), he could breath.

When the frenzy of the moment passed and the tremors receded from his hands, he pulled back. Glorfindel gave him a smile, the one that made Maglor think Celegorm rode just under his skin. “Come. Let us get out of this stuffy hull.” Glorfindel stood and held out a hand. Maglor’s long fingers curled around it. Their fingers fit together like the threads in a tapestry.

They threw the Maia-hair cloak about their shoulders and made their way up to the deck. Maglor savored the feel of Glorfindel’s body pressed against his side. His son’s fire licked over his skin. The bond pounded like the gasps of a heart, silencing the terror of being left alone again.

The clouds were dark and full tonight, veiling the stars. The moon struggled through, its light burnishing the rolling ocean silver. They passed the sailors on watch, climbing the stairs to the ship’s prow where the nightwatch did not pace. The sound of the ship cutting the ocean like a blade camouflaged their voices.

Glorfindel leaned his back into Maglor’s chest with Maglor’s arms about his waist. The Silmaril hung from Maglor’s neck again, pressed between their bodies and pulsing heat, as if Father were trying to tell Maglor he was not alone.

The clouds broke in the west, and the white light of the brightest star blazed. Its light seemed greater than before, as if it answered the call of its sister-jewel and poured Father’s love down on them.

The sight of the Silmaril sailing the sky brought more than comfort though. Had Eärendil returned to Valinor yet? Was that him up there in the dark emptiness he feared only a little less than he feared the Valar plucking Elrond’s strings and sending him dancing to his death?

Maglor turned his cheek into Glorfindel’s wealth of hair, breathing in his son’s smell. Selfish creature, greedy love. He took what he wanted without care for the consequence. He’d wanted Elrond and Elros, so he stole them and broken them. He wanted Eärendil, so he took him and hurt him. He wanted Glorfindel, so he took his son too.

This hunger within him would never be satisfied. He wanted to consume everything Glorfindel was, his fire, his light, his heart, and be consumed by Glorfindel in return, swallowed one by the other until everything they were wrapped about each other like wings. And he wanted Eärendil’s beautiful surrender as well, wanted that matching golden head bent before him as he poured all his pain and grief into that lovely lovely body.

He wanted to take them both and sew them into his sides so they would always be with him. He wanted their names stitched along the insides of his arms, and his name bound into their hearts. He wanted them for himself.

He wanted his brothers and Father’s fire under his fingertips again, wanted to gather each one up in his arms and never let them go. He wouldn’t let Caranthir’s prickliness drive him away, or Curufin’s serpent-tongue distract him as Curufin slipped from his arms like sea-fog, or let the defensive curl of Amrod’s shoulders shut him out, or the demons in Maedhros’ head (‘I will never be free of them’) slip between them, stealing his brother from his embrace.

He wanted Maedhros—but, no, Maedhros he loved with pureness. Let him not twist that love into perversion, let him not drag the closest thing he had to divinity into possession. He loved Maedhros with the best of himself. He loved Glorfindel with the worst: with everything that was left of him.

“You are thinking of them again.” Glorfindel turned his head, eyes sliding up to meet his.

“I have thought of little less for an Age.” His voice sounded worn and cracked to his own ears. So weary, so very very tired.

“Have you no hope left in that great heart of yours?” Glorfindel’s mouth shaped the words, but it was Maedhros he heard. Maedhros, who had slipped into his son’s body and borrowed Glorfindel’s tongue to speak to him one last time. Maedhros, who had not utterly forsaken him.

“I promise I still have one more cup-full left. For you.” Dearest brother. For you. “I have found something worth living for again.” Maglor kissed his son’s ear.

Eärendil had brought him back to life and struck the first match of hope in his chest. But Glorfindel –his brothers he saw in Glorfindel’s face, his voice, nestling inside the heat of his skin—had blown the match into a bonfire.

Glorfindel (Maedhros) smiled at him as if he was still something worth smiling at. He did not deserve—he swallowed it away, useless thoughts. He did not deserve, so make himself something worthy of deserving again. Pick himself up, slay the fears in their bed of destruction, use the hope Glorfindel had poured over his head like anointing oil for a purpose more than his own delusions. Stop himself before he ruined his son, before the selfish love in his chest smothered the light from Glorfindel’s eyes. He didn’t know how. Yet. But for Glorfindel he would learn again how to love without destruction.
Intermission: Do not go gentle into that good night, Part I by Encairion
Author's Notes:

Note: Title for this intermission is from the Dylan Thomas’ poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

A special thank you to Cheekybeak who inspired me to write more about Maglor and Maedhros’ relationship.

 

The Price of Vengeance II
Intermission: Do not go gentle into that good night, Part I

Maedhros only kissed him once when they were young and bright with life and innocence.

Maglor never forgot that kiss. It had been Maedhros’ first kiss, but Maglor was no blushing virgin. Irimë had set her sights on him, and they had lain together for the first time only a week after she first cornered him alone and did things to him with her tongue no one had ever done to him before.

The kiss was the work of a drunken night. It meant nothing, but changed everything. Maglor had been bewitched. In that moment he’d looked upon Maedhros and seen him with eyes reborn. The firelight had done things to Maedhros’ hair; the gold clasps braided in cast a golden light within the copper, until the strains were reforged into a sunset. Maedhros’ eyes picked up all the light in the room and horded it inside their irises like pinpoints of light, until it seemed a consolation of stars lived inside them.

Maglor looked upon his brother in that moment, and was slain by the beauty of him. When they kissed –Maglor willing to do anything for a drink from those lips—he tasted a god’s mouth. No, something warmer, with a touch more brilliant then any Vala’s mouth. The mouth around his kissed him back in a brief caress that tasted like home, and fondness curled inside it like a cat’s tail.

Of course Maedhros never kissed him again. Maglor told himself he didn’t desire another kiss. He had been overwhelmed by his brother’s beauty in a moment of intoxication. That was all.

Maglor put the kiss aside. Any thoughts flashing back to it, any trail of eyes upon his brother’s sculpted face and form were tucked away. Maedhros had confessed where his heart lay, eyes alight, and smile giddy with the joy of whispering his heart’s name: Fingon.

Into the wake of that confession Maglor’s mouth went dry and his tongue failed him. Had he really thought, for the moment of one beat where his heart leapt up into his throat and his belly swooped, that it would be his name falling from Maedhros’ lips? Fool. He’d gathered himself, smiled back, and told Maedhros he was happy for him. They spent the rest of that night speaking of Fingon. It took some practice, but Maglor learned how to swallow through the shards of silly daydreams, see passed the darkness flittering about the corners of his eyes, and into Maedhros’ face glowing with the happiness of finally being able to speak freely of his love.

Whatever the kiss between them had stirred in Maglor, Maedhros would be his brother first and forever.

Irimë told him he was in love with her, and he nodded along, learning the shape of the words in his mouth. He’d sought her out all the harder after Fingon’s name fell from Maedhros’ lips. Maglor doubted now he’d ever loved Irimë. He’d convinced himself he did at the time, and she played a skilled game with his emotions, but it had all been an elaborate illusion on both their parts.

The nights Maedhros slipped into Maglor’s room for an ear to let out all the love horded in his chest into, increased. Maglor grew better at sharing in Maedhros’ joy and anticipation for Fingon’s coming of age, as a brother should. Maedhros needed him, and Maglor gave of himself with the limitless and unquenchable love of a brother.

The physical desire ran thick, and his heart pounded pain into his ribs every time Maedhros shared secrets with him revolving around Fingon. Yet he would surrender that confidence for nothing, not one more kiss, not even a single night as lovers. Maedhros was his brother first and forever.

*

Maglor looked up from his book at the creak of the door easing open. Maedhros’ head slipped into the crack between the frame and door. His brother’s eyes found his, and a smile curled Maedhros’ mouth. “Can I come in?”

Maglor closed the book, setting it aside and rising from his chair before a lit hearth. He had traveled the wild Northern forests and mountain slopes with his family in years passed, and though the snow blanketed the ground during the cold months, and the wind slapped like a backhand of ice, Maglor could write a hundred love songs to the North’s beauty. He did not miss Tirion one iota. Why should he? His family was together here in Formenos. The Valar’s sentence did not feel like banishment to him, but a reunion of those golden days of youth when it was just his family, their loyal people, and all the beauties of the world to uncover.

He smiled his welcome, and Maedhros eased the rest of his body through the door, shutting it behind him. Maglor settled on the bed, shoulders resting against the carved headboard, legs folded before him. Maedhros slipped off his boots and came down in front of Maglor, the mattress giving under his weight.

Maglor patted his lap, and Maedhros surrendered his head into it with a contented sigh, rolling onto his back, and kicking his feet up on the bed to lie in a long, languid line. Maglor sunk his fingers into his brother’s hair. Fingon could have had this, but he’d broken Maedhros’ heart time and again. It was Maglor’s to cherish now.

Maglor’s fingers brushed against the shells of Maedhros’ ears. Maedhros shivered, crooking a smile up at Maglor. “Have a care. Your fingers tease.”

It does not have to be a tease. But Maglor kept the words back. Maedhros was not ready to hear them, but maybe one day, soon, maybe…

Fingon and Maedhros had not parted well in Tirion, even their friendship was threatened by Fingon’s words spoken in the wake of Fëanor’s sword at Fingolfin’s throat. All these hopes in Maglor’s chest, all these daydreams that felt as old as his heart (for had he not loved his brother all his life?), might have a chance.

Maglor did not yet believe (Fingon’s name fell too often from Maedhros’ mouth for belief), but he hoped, foolish as that hope was.

It was a cruel hope too, and Maglor’s loathed himself for it. His brother’s heart had been stabbed with knifes by the one it loved, and here Maglor was, selfishly relishing his brother’s pain. No, not the pain, but the possibilities the pain opened. Yet, though he may not enjoy seeing his brother hurt, that didn’t stop him turning thoughts to his own happiness when he should be solely concerned with Maedhros,’ did it?

“Do you miss it?”

“Hmm?” Malgor’s fingers combed the rich copper sliding with the smoothness of running water through his hands.

Laurelin’s light had long faded to make room from Telperion’s, and the lamps had been lit. Lamps were needed this far North where the stars competed with Telperion’s silver, and the room glowed with a soft white light mingled with the warm gold from the single candle upon the bed stand. The light set the copper strands of his brother’s hair singing with radiance. Maedhros’ hair was the most beautiful in all of Valinor. In all the world.

“Do you miss Tirion?” Maedhros clarified.

Maglor’s fingers paused in their soothing strokes, before they closed it to press lightly against his brother’s skull. He watched avidly as Maedhros’ lashes fluttered under the massage, mouth parting. He could but bend and take that mouth in his own, his lips molding upside-down upon his brother’s…

Before the courage deserted him, Maglor’s head dropped, voice whispering, “No. There is nothing to miss when I have everything I have ever wanted here with me.” But at the last, when his mouth hovered just inches above his brother’s, his heart failed him, and his lips pressed into Maedhros’ cheek.

He straightened, gaze flickering away from the lazy smile on his brother’s mouth. “You are sweet, my dear.”

Maglor’s heart clenched. Of course. Maedhros had not taken his words to mean anything but the love of a brother for his brother.

The smile cut from Maedhros’ face, and his eyes gathered sorrow. “Would that I could be so content in the company of my brothers. As I once was.”

Maglor swallowed. “You still have us. We will never stop loving you.”

Maedhros’ arm lifted, hand slipping under the fall of Maglor’s hair to cup the back of his head. “My golden-hearted brother.”

Maedhros pulled Malgor’s head back down for a kiss? No. He was a silly fool. Maedhros’ lips brushes against his cheek. The touch was silky, chaste, and hot enough to send Maglor’s body aching with desire.

Maglor slithered out from under his brother. Maedhros’ head rose from his lap with a noise of loss, but he did not try to stop him. Maglor shimmered over to the edge of the bed, swinging his legs onto the floor, bare feet chilling under the touch of the floorboards. He put his back to Maedhros and cast his mind around for a vision that would cool the heat and hardness of his loins before it could be discovered.

Maedhros voice coming from behind him, deep and handsome, curled desire in the base of Malgor’s spine. “You are sweet, brother. But you need not pretend with me. You left Irimë behind in Tirion.”

Malgor’s whole body stiffened at the name.

Maedhros’ arms slipped about Malgor’s waist, thighs coming down to press into the sides of Maglor’s hips. Maglor could press his back into his brother’s chest and melt like honey into his skin. Maedhros’ chin dropped into his shoulder, and his voice spun close and intimate in his ear. “You did not think you could keep it from me, did you?”

Maglor bit back a groan as a shiver took his spine, only the strength of his will keeping it from arching back into his brother, pressing himself into his brother’s groin and discovering if he could make Maedhros want him as he wanted Maedhros.

The talk of Irimë certainly helped dampen his desire. The memory of her repulsed him. He was never going to give her the chance to play games with him again. He would be no dog coming at her call, no puppet hanging from the strings of her manipulations.

“You are mistaken. I count Irimë no loss. Indeed. Her absence is a gain.”

Maedhros’ arms tightened about his waist. “I am relieved to hear it.”

Maglor swallowed, closing his eyes and giving into temptation just enough to relax back into his brother’s hold. “How long did you know?”

Maedhros hummed, chest vibrating against Maglor’s back, breath hot in his ear. “With certainty: only a few months. But I knew you had a lover for years. My suspicion it was her was only confirmed when she returned to Tirion with her son before the banishment. I confess I could not see what you saw in her. I sought to withhold my judgment, as I knew little of her, having only spoken on a handful of occasions. I assumed there must have been more to her I had overlooked, but I could not find it.”

Maglor’s shoulders twitched. His voice came wavering, too vulnerable. “There was nothing to see, for she was everything you first thought her. And worse. But I am free of her now.”

Maedhros pressed a kiss into the side of his neck, and Malgor’s teeth sank into his lip to bite back a gasp of pure ecstasy. He was thankful his back was to Maedhros for he could not help the way his lashes fluttered under the assault of pleasure.

“If you need me, my dear, you need only ask. I will help you however I can to free yourself from such a woman.” Maedhros’ nose nuzzled into the side of his neck, lips brushing another kiss. Maglor’s hips jerked instinctively, but the movement went unnoticed, for they rose up to take, not curving back to be taken.

“How long were you trapped by her?” Maedhros whispered.

Malgor’s hands dropped to grab handfuls of the bedcover, anchoring for control. His voice came out steady this time. “A few years.” He brushed off the depth of his ensnarement. Ashamed.

“Oh? I had thought maybe…you had a lover when we first came to Tirion all those years ago, I thought it might have been her.”

“No. It was another woman. Nothing of consequence.” Maglor used his voice to advantage now he had regained control of himself, weaving confidence and flippancy into it, with just the hint of persuasion.

He never wanted anyone to discover he had been Irimë’s dog for almost two decades. How had it happened? He couldn’t say. Those years spun dark and clouded, full of self-doubts, second guesses, and decisions taken by a man he could not recognize as himself. She had done that to him. Her webs, her manipulations, had wound about his limbs, his eyes, his lungs, until he could not break free, could not see clearly, could not even breath under the weight of her net.

Maedhros broke the heaviness of the moment with a tease. “Shall I help you find a good woman from among our people to warm up these cold nights with?”

Maglor laughed, turning enough to slide Maedhros a glance out of the corner of his eye. “And what do you know of picking out good women?”

“Rather more then you. Or any of our brothers I should think. It comes with the territory of desiring men, for I shall not be blinded by lusts of the flesh, but see only the goodness of their characters.” Maedhros winked.

Into the affectionate moment Maglor dared, “Maybe I do not want a woman this time. Maybe I want to try a man.”

Maedhros touched his cheek. It bloomed with the innocence of a dimple under the caress. “These things cannot be tried on like a cloak, my dear.”

Maglor licked his lips. Ah, but his heart failed him again. How easy fantasies were, but how much courage it took to speak his heart to one he could not walk away from if it was handed back to him. This was his brother. He would not lose his brother to gain a lover.

“And what of you?” Maglor turned the conversation away from himself. “Shall you spend these cold nights alone, your desires unmet?”

Maedhros eased back, stretching out lazy as a cat on the bed. His grin did not yet dip with sadness as he sauced back, “I can satisfy my own desires very well.” But the sorrow took up residency in his eyes after. “I will not substitute another for the one I cannot have. That would not bring Fingon closer to me.”

Maglor joined his brother in a spread across the bed. His head sank into the softness of a pillow, and his fingers brushed the skin of his brother’s where their hands lay side-by-side on the bedcover. He picked his words with the care his hands would have plucked a harp’s strings. “What if you found love with another? A heart can love more than one, can it not?”

“Yes. But for me there will only ever be Fingon.”

Maglor covered the burns in his heart over with an attempt at jesting. “So you will go through all the ages of the world without a lover? You will be quite tense in a few centuries.”

Maedhros’ eyes glittered with humor. “If I must.” He let out a long-suffering sigh. “Ah, the things we sacrifice in the name of love.”

Maglor slapped his shoulder. “Do not give me that. You are no Vanya. Do not tell me you desire not the pleasure of the flesh. Any flesh in a few centuries.”

Maedhros lush mouth curved, teeth flashing pretty as pearls. “At times, yes.” His eyes found Maglor’s, bright with curiously and the eagerness of an untried body. “Tell me. What is it like?”

Maglor stared into those eyes, gaze flickering down to Maedhros’ mouth before he wrapped his control about his hand like a horse’s reigns. He could not help his next words, imagining what Maedhros would say. “Would you like to hear how it is with a woman or a man?”

Maehdros did not disappoint. “What?” He rolled up to his elbow, almost hovering over Maglor, almost…almost on top of him. “You jest! Have you really been with a man?”

Maglor turned a coy smile up. “Perhaps.”

“Don’t you dare, Maglor!” Maehdros covered those last few inches between them, fingers seeking out Maglor’s sides, sneaking under his tunic to tickle. “You cannot drop something like that and get away! Tell me!”

Maglor laughed, shoving at his brother’s hands without any real intention of dislodging them. He loved the feel of Maedhros’ warm, strong body pinning him down; loved Maedhros’ loose hair spilling over them like waves of red water; loved the smile he’d brought to his brother’s mouth which had worn too many frowns since Fingon smashed the heart that could have been his.

Maedhros’ eyes glinted with wicked humor, grinning down at his writhing, laughing brother. “Beg for it, and I may have mercy.”

Oh, Maglor would have begged for it. “Cruel!” He gasped out through laughs.

“Yes. I am.” Maedhros’ smile stretch full, eyes crinkling. “Tell me who is was, and I promise to be merciful.”

Maglor’s hands caged his brother’s wicked hands, stilling them to gain his breath back. He wanted to savor Maedhros’ face when he told him. “Fingolfin.”

Maedhros’ eyebrows shot up. “You did not!” He shook his head, laughing. He eased off of Maglor, and Maglor mourned the loss, but kept the longing locked tight from even the corners of his eyes.

Maedhros’ startled a gasp out of him when he swatted the side of Maglor’s ass. “Naughty! Valar, can you image Father’s face if he knew?”

Maglor laughed, breathless.

“So? What was our dear uncle like in bed?” Maedhros wagged his eyebrows.

Malgor’s turned a sly smile on his brother. He situated himself languidly into the bed. One knee bent, hair flowing over the pillows, lazy and majestic as a lion’s mane. He laid himself out like a king awaiting worship, taking his time with the display, thrilling in his brother’s eyes upon him.

When he was comfortably situated, he curved Maedhros a glance from under his lashes. “Fingolfin knew how to satisfy a man.”

“Stop it, you ridiculous tease!” Maedhros grinned. He cupped his cheek in a palm, elbow up, body angled towards Maglor.

Maglor laughed low, sensual as the slide of silk. He knew just how to pitch it. If only he knew how to steer this conversation in the direction he wanted. His tongue slipped out to moisten his bottom lip. Did Maedhros’ eyes follow the slide of his tongue with something more then attraction to the movement?

“He was deliciously controlling.” Maglor gauged his brother’s reaction to this.

Maedhros’ brows arched. He tilted a little closer, voice dropping low and close as incest. “And did you enjoy it like that?”

“Yes.” Malgor’s voice came breathy. “I let him do anything he liked with my body, and I cannot say I was displeased with the result.”

“What did he do?” Maedhros’ eyes shone bright. Not with jealously, but curiosity, and yes, desire.

“Well…” Maglor did not know how to get Maedhros to push him down on the bed and do everything Fingolfin had done to him. He did not even know how to indicate he wanted Maedhros too without employing the, rather blunt, seduction he’d used with Fingolfin. He fumbled for a moment, before inspiration struck. A bold course, but hopefully a fruitful one.

He rolled his shoulders back to lie flat against the bed. “First, he pushed me back, like this.” He bent his knees next, settling his feet flat into the mattress. His fingers came up to touch his lips, fingering his bottom one. “He kissed me. And then,” he used his voice like a refined tool, dropping it seductive and curling as smoke upon the skin. “He touched me.” His hand traveled a slow decent down his chest, over his belly.

Maedhros’ eyes lay hot upon him. Maglor chanced a glance back, and found his brother’s gaze drifting over his body, following the hand’s downward path. Maglor’s head flew light, his belly leaping with fire.

His hand came to rest over his covered groin. Maedhros’ mouth opened, the hint of his pink tongue showing. “What did he do then?” Maglor’s almost moaned aloud at the thick note of desire in his brother’s voice.

“Then.” Maglor’s voice came out shaky. He roped his mastery of it back it, and poured it down his brother’s spine like rich velvet. “Then he laid himself over him.” His fingers pulled the lacings of his leggings loose. “Pinned me to the bed with his weight. And put his cock all the way inside me. So far, so deep, I could feel it in my throat.”

Maedhros’ breathing fell heavy and fast in the air, Maglor’s a match. He’d never burned like this in all his life. If Maedhros were to reach over and press the heel of his hand into Maglor’s cock, Maglor would come from a touch alone.

Maglor’s hand went into his leggings.

“Oh Valar, are you really—Hells.”

Maglor pulled himself free. Maedhros stared at his cock. A part of Maglor couldn’t believe he was actually doing this, but when Maedhros’ hand strayed to the bulge of his own sex, Maglor knew his boldness had collected a bountiful harvest.

Maedhros withdrew his own length, and Maglor sucked in a gasp, biting his lip against a groan as he watched Maedhros take himself in hand, matching the pace of Maglor’s own hand.

Their eyes locked, silver on silver, the black centers almost eating up the strongest sign of their shared blood. They did not speak again. The sounds of their running breaths filled the silence, and after Maedhros let out a moan, Maglor didn’t feel the need to restrain his own. He became all the move vocal when he saw the way a little whimper of his could roll Maedhros’ eyes back and set his brother’s hand flying. As their time grew close –rushing towards it as one—Maedhros’ eyes came back to take his in a look so intense, so heated, Maglor felt it on his skin like a kiss.

They reached climax together. Fire pulsed through every inch of Maglor’s body. Maedhros’ eyes squeezed shut on the thrust of a pleasure so sharp it could only have pain as its base and balance. Maglor wanted to watch Maedhros’ face as the orgasm milked him, but Ah! it was too much, he was drug under and consumed, his own eyes unable to ride the pleasure wide-open.

They lay spent and panting on the bed. When the blazing colors and perfect blankness of the moment of release had passed, Maglor opened his eyes to find Maedhros’ already upon him. He swallowed.

He could not bring himself to be the first to speak. What did this mean to Maedhros? Anything at all? A part of Maedhros’ heart would be Fingon’s until the world’s ending, but might a piece of it be given to Maglor? Might this be the moment Maedhros’ eyes saw him as a brother and a lover?

Maedhros’ lips curved in a slow, soft smile. He wiped his hand off on the bedspread, and rolled over, coming to rest pressed flush against Maglor’s side, curling around him like dew along a leaf’s spine. Maglor’s heart pounded hot and soaring in his throat. His eyes leapt over all the beautiful lines in his brother’s face, brought so close to his own. Close enough to lift up and kiss.

Maedhros’ fingers dropped onto the angle of Maglor’s jaw. “Thank you. You are lovely. I love you, my dear, sweet brother.”

He kissed Maglor’s cheek, before drawing away with another gentle smile that cut Maglor’s heart to ribbons. It would never be his. Maehdros’ had given him the thanks of a brother, as he had thanked him for sharing that first and only kiss with him. He had dropped the love of a brother into his cheek. Nothing more.

Maedhros had told him today (a hundred different times when Maedhros would come slipping into his room to free the bubble of love in his chest) that Fingon was the one for him. But Maglor had not been able to stop himself from hoping…silly little fool.

Fingon broke the silence of the tense parting Maedhros and he had shared in the Great Square with a letter. It arrived two days later. Fingon himself invaded the peace of their banishment on the heels of Maedhros’ reply. Covering the distance between Tirion and Formenos as swiftly as a horse could fly.

During the first week of Fingon’s invasion, Maglor saw little of Maedhros. Maedhros wanted Fingon all to himself (not that anyone in Formenos was competing for Fingon’s attention), and developed a renewed love of hunting, hawking, and wandering the wilds. He maneuvered Fingon cleverly into spending every one of the golden hours by his side, alone, in the forests.

Maglor swallowed down the longing and feelings of neglect every morning he watched his brother’s back disappear, side-by-side, with Fingon’s. This was the way it was always going to be, and he was a fool to have thought differently. It was not as if his brother was abandoning him. Maedhros still passed the morning and evening meal at Father’s table, and the nights of long, chill shadows with his family. Fingon was an unaccustomed addition sat amongst them like a strand of an unknown song within their melody. Not quite a note of discord, for Fingon was a part of Maedhros and the very breath of Fingon’s being was easy confidence and friendliness of nature that snuggled surprisingly snuggly into the Fëanorion’s unit of steel-like love and fire.

Fingon had visited them years ago, but none of those visits felt like this one. Fingon had been the boy Maedhros had picked up and fallen into love with back then. His brothers and father had accepted Fingon comfortably enough for the fleeting days he joined them at their house. But there was no permanency in that acceptance. They waited to forge deeper bonds with this cousin from the city until it was seen Fingon would be a permanent fixture at Maedhros’ side.

Fingon and Maglor could have formed a close friendship. Fingon was likable and eager (a part of Fingon always wanting to be accepted by more of Maedhros’ family), but Maglor held himself aloof, never surrendering to true intimacy of companionship. A single kiss stood with the solidarity a secret wall between them.

Even back then with the kiss still fresh and heady on Maglor’s mouth, he had not hated Fingon, though Fingon’s name had already been stitched into Maedhros’ heart. Fingon lit Maedhros’ eyes up like gems in Laurelin’s light. How could Maglor hate one who had knit the beauty of stars into his brother’s skin? He was not so selfish a creature as that.

When Fingon had been at Formenos a week, Maedhros’ thirst for his love’s presence (all to himself) had been sated enough for him to invite Maglor out for a day of hunting with the two of them. Maglor had not been able to say no when his brother smiled at him like that.

That was how he found himself alone with Fingon, examining the freshness of the deer’s tracks, while Maedhros was off…doing whatever he’d disappeared without a word to do. Maglor knew his brother too well to believe this whole thing wasn’t planned from the start. He should be irritated, but he was only amused. And in love.

Maglor didn’t break the silence that had fallen between Fingon and him with Maedhros’ buffering presence removed. It was the kind of silence that descended between a boy and girl whose mothers’ had maneuvered into dancing together. Eyes slid off to the side, throats cleared, bodies held a careful distance apart lest they accidentally brush up against each other and spark an intimacy neither was comfortable sharing.

Once, Maglor would have called Fingon a friend. Not a close one, but Fingon was one of the few people outside Father’s people Maglor had genuinely enjoyed the company of. That was before Fingon’s began breaking Maedhros one bone at a time.

Fingon’s hand broke their careful dance, closing about Maglor’s wrist and pulling Maglor up with the shock of the touch. Maglor’s eyes flicked over to the other man’s face. Fingon had his mouth set in that line of determination Maglor remember from the summers long ago when the three of them –Maedhros, Maglor, and Fingon—used to go swimming at the rapids. Fingon would square his shoulders and toss Maedhros a brazen wink, right before he jumped off the highest point of the bank and into a river churning with boulders and white water.

“Look. What I said to Maedhros in Tirion wasn’t right.” Fingon bit into the meat of it with the boldness of a lion, taking his mistakes at a charge. “I have apologized to Maedhros, and he has forgiven me. That doesn’t make it like it never happened, but I can’t changed the past. All I can do is learn from it. I cannot promise never to hurt him again, but I promise I will never do so purposefully.”

Fingon released Maglor’s wrist, raking a hand through his hair. It had been pulled into a knot at his nape, only two braids running back from his ears to bind some of its soft curl up. Fingon’s hand upset it no more than the low-hanging branches already had. Curls pulled free, framing his face and kissing his neck in a display Maglor could admit was sensual.

His gut twisted. Had Maedhros convinced Fingon to leave it down today just so he could sweet-talk Fingon into letting him fix it later? Probably. Maedhros knew how to get what he wanted. And he liked his hands in Fingon’s hair.

Fingon’s eyes did not flinch from Maglor’s. “I know I don’t deserve him.” Those blue eyes were clear, painfully honest.

Maglor could not cling to his own bruised heart in the light of Fingon’s gaze. Fingon had broken Maedhros’ heart from blindness, never from cruelty. Fingon could not help it if he did not return Maedhros’ love. Love was not without effort, but it could not be forced.

Maglor shifted his weight, closing the careful distance between their bodies, and letting his shoulder brush up against Fingon’s. His mouth turned into a smile of shared truth: “Well, none of us do.”

Fingon laughed. “Ah! The truth falls from your lips like the pearls of wisdom, Cousin!” Fingon pressed his shoulder deeper into Maglor’s. “What do you say: friends?”

Maglor dropped his chin, hiding the threatening smile that tasted like the betrayal of his heart. He should not enjoy the company of the one who had made its breaking as inevitable as the hour of the Mingling.

Fingon dipped his face, a boyish smile curled across his mouth, teeth flashing mischief as he pursued Maglor’s smile, not letting it tuck away. “Come on, Cousin, you can’t get away this time! I will have your friendship. My heart is set on it. You can’t convince me we didn’t have some good times in our youth. We made a rather formidable team, us against the unendingly clever Maedhros. Even he couldn’t beat us!” Fingon’s laughter danced plump with memories. “Shall we be friends again?”

Maglor unhooked his shoulder from Fingon’s. He arched a brow, mouth captured and held captive by the smile curling in its corners. “Maybe.”

“Is that a yes?” Fingon grinned.

“It is a maybe.”

“Pfft. That’s just your Fëanorion way of saying yes.” Finrod pitched his voice low and drawling, “My pride couldn’t abide the blow of accepting friendship from a son of Fingolfin.”

A laugh spilled passed Maglor’s lips. It had been a god-awful impersonation of Fëanor’s voice. Fingon’s grin split his face blindingly, and his laughter filled the clearing, free and merry, with Maglor’s laughter like the light of liquid sapphires running into all the delicate roots clinging to frozen soil.

Maedhros took that moment to show his face again. Maedhros’ laughter had the two of them whipping around to see him leaning lazy as a panther against a tree’s trunk, watching them. A sly smile curved his mouth.

Fingon leaned in to whisper in Maglor’s ear, “How much do you want to bet he planned this whole thing?”

Oh, Maglor knew he had. Could a heart swell any fuller with love then this?

Maedhros pushed off the tree and crossed the snow-dusted ground to them. His body was one with the movement, limbs swinging with the perfect timing of a singer delivering notes. He walked like a dancer. He walked like he owned the world. Maedhros had his arrogance, but he molded it into a beauty under his fingertips. Few commented on Maedhros’ arrogance, for it did not rub them the wrong way, only highlighted his attraction.

“I leave to complete some very important work, and come back to the two of you idling the day away snickering.” Maedhros crossed his arms over his chest, lifting a brow, smile tucked away to leave room for that straight-face he was so good at wielding.

Maglor shook his head at his brother. “Do not even try it, Maedhros. You will not get away with your jokes with us.”

Maedhros’ blinked those pretty silver eyes at them, frown tucking into his brow with a perfect imitation of confusion. He was very good. “Jokes? What do you mean, Brother?”

“Oh stop it, you.” Fingon sauntered up and looped his arm through Maedhros.’ Maglor knew where to look, and saw the way his brother’s eyes flared up with pleasure. “Let’s go hunt this deer already, and enough plotting out of you.” Fingon poked Maedhros’ side.

Maedhros dropped the pretence, picking up a smirk again. “But my plots are so efficient.”

“Ha! Your Fëanorion pride is showing on that one. Take a care, dear cousin, or you’ll grow rusty and Grandfather’s court will twist themselves into knots to get away from you when you return!”

Maglor took Maedhros’ empty side, and almost, as they walked together in a trio, Maedhros sandwiched between them, Maglor could forget the way Maedhros looped an arm over his shoulder with a soft smile but none of the desire lighting up his eyes at a simple touch from Fingon.

He did not let himself forget though that he was the brother. Fingon had come and stolen Maedhros away with a single glance, but Maglor had been here at Maedhros’ side first and unwaveringly. He did not walk beside Maedhros in the place of lover, but he would be beside Maedhros until the stars went out and the world was re-made. His place in Maedhros’ heart would never be cut out.
Intermission: Do not go gentle into that good night, Part II by Encairion

The Price of Vengeance II
Intermission: Do not go gentle into that good night, Part II

Maedhros was dead. The sons of Fëanor believed that, absolutely, for five weeks. Maglor had not passed from the stage of shock, that hazy numbness, and into the meat of mourning before they learned they were wrong.

When Morgoth’s demands came, Maglor burned them. They had come to an agreement, his brothers and he. Some had been dragged there, some walked with the cool strides of logic, but one-by-one they had all acknowledged that there was no other choice.

His brothers filed out of the tent, arms brushing, hands linking with favorite brother’s, touches lingering on shoulders as they passed. The circle of what was left of Father’s blood spun tight, knotted like a ruined patch of embroidery, but stubborn in its clinging all the same. There had been furious words, stabbing like daggers, and silence cold as frost until breached, but in the end they stood together.

The tent flap slapped back behind the twins, and then it was only Maglor and Caranthir alone in the tent. Caranthir had no favorite brother to link arms with.

Maglor licked his lips. The silence pressed on him with the weight of responsibility. Caranthir had been the slowest of the brothers to agree to abandoning Maedhros to the whims of a Vala (No. It hadn’t been like that. It hadn’t.)

Maglor found recriminations in Caranthir’s eyes. “You know it had to be this way, Caranthir. I know it. Our brothers know it.”

Caranthir said nothing. His arms crossed over his chest, but the freckles dashes like stars across the bridge of his nose and cheekbones were not backlit by a canvas of red. Yet.

Maglor gathered himself. He didn’t want to do this. Not today. “We agreed, Caranthir. All of us. There was—there was no other way.” He steadied himself with a breath, and pushed on. Caranthir’s dark eyes bored into his face, relentless. “Maedhros will come back to us. He is the bloom of Father and Mother’s strength, born from the flush of their youths. He is clever and resourceful. He will find a way. And we will not stop trying either. All of us, together, will think of something.”

They would have Maedhros back. Somehow, someway, something…something...the world could not be this cruel. Maglor would not surrender to this despair. Not again. There was hope, there had to be. He could not….he could not crawl through that darkness, that useless futility, that existence without hope, without light, so cold and empty, so much pain.

Maedhros would come back, and then they would find out this had all been a terrible mistake. Father would be re-born, Mandos could not hold him. Or they would discover a way to return to Valinor and rescue Father’s spirit from the Halls of the Dead. A mistake, all just a terrible mistake that needed a solution to be found so it could be set right. This life…it could not really be so void of compassion, so lacking in mercy. Maglor had to keep believing that.

“You’re a moron.” Caranthir stalked passed Maglor with brisk strides.

He went to the field table they’d gathered around when they agreed to leave their brother to Morgoth’s mercy. What choice did they have? They had all sworn; the Oath would not be defied. And how many men –brothers—more could they spend in an assault against forces even their full army with Father leading them had not defeated, only routed into black pits of iron walls and sorcery?

Caranthir snatched up the long tail of copper hair. Morgoth had enclosed it with his demands. It meant Maedhros was still alive. Curufin did not agree. He did not say Maedhros was necessarily dead, only pointed out with that ruthless logic of his that hair could be cut from a corpse.

Caranthir lowered the braid like spun glass into Maglor’s palms. “You were the one who spoke with the fire of hope. I didn’t belief a word of it, but don’t fuck it up before we’ve even had a chance to give that bastard’s balls a good kick.”

“Inspirational words,” Maglor drawled.

Caranthir brushed passed Maglor, going for the tent’s entrance. Maglor’s body turned with him. Caranthir bit the words off over his shoulder, “You’re the little idiot who actually suggested Maedhros might engineer his own escape. I am just the man telling you that’s a pile of crap.”

“Caranthir.” The single word, dropped from his mouth like an embrace, brought Caranthir’s cutting strides to a jerking halt.

Caranthir swung his eyes back over his shoulder. They met Maglor’s in a clash of fire. Caranthir was all gruff edges and unpolished walls built to encase a heart that felt the world too deeply. Only when the temper flared, crashing over the dam’s walls with the power of a hurricane and the swiftness of a flash-flood, did that deep well of passion show its true colors.

“Just don’t fuck it up. Don’t you fuck this up.” Caranthir shoved the tent flap aside and made his escape.

The words did not drive the nails of guilt and responsibility into Maglor’s wrists. Caranthir was his little brother. They may not be as close as some of his other siblings, and Caranthir may hide deep in the roots of himself, but Maglor knew enough to know those words had been launched not at Maglor, but at Caranthir himself. They were, all of them, saying those very same words to themselves.

Don’t you dare not be there when another brother needs you.

Maglor sighed. His fingers cradled the braid like Maedhros’ face, and brought it up for a kiss. Maedhros was alive.

He took the hair, all they had left of Maedhros (for now, until they had him back), and wrapped it up in a silk cloth with Father’s star embroidered in silver thread.

He carried Maedhros’ hair, held close to his chest like a lover, through the divide separating his sleeping quarters from the public. Into a chest where pieces of Father had been encased like gems in mithril, Maglor laid this piece of Maedhros.

His fingers lingered on the thick braid. Maedhros would be alright.

Maglor wondered, later, looking back, if he’d ever believed the lies he told himself, the lies that kept him struggling on, leading their people, finding smiles to pass his brothers, and the will to rise from the bed every morning. He thought he had. In the beginning.

He hadn’t understood, back then. None of them had truly been able to comprehend the level of monster Morgoth was. Maglor had sat at the same table with Melkor, shared meals, even stilted conversations. Melkor had been in their house, sulking, unwanted presence though it had been. Father had executed his full will into keeping Melkor away from his sons, but Melkor was persistent with his poison.

Morgoth had murdered, yes, Maglor knew him capable of this, as well as waging a war for domination of the world. Maglor hated him (the core of that hatred for what Morgoth’s actions had done to his father). But murder was not…was not…what Morgoth did to Maedhros was horrendous on a level beyond Malgor’s comprehension –back then, in the beginning.

But over the years of Maedhros’ imprisonment (torment), they met escaped thralls. It was inhuman what had been done to them. Maglor tried to shut his ears, tried to silence the thing screaming in his head with the voice of horror and no, no, no, please not Maedhros, but it was impossible to escape the truth: he had scarified his brother to the whims of a monster. And it didn’t matter that they had had no choice, that they still had no choice, it was Maedhros.

Let them all go down into death together, let the Oath suffocate them as they threw their bodies upon the unyielding walls of a god, let the land run with their blood, and the air moan and beg for release from the weight of their dying wails. Better they had died together. So he thought in the long hours of darkness.

But when what passed for morning came in a world without light, and Maglor looked again into his brothers’ faces, he begged Maedhros all over again to forgive him. He was the Head of their family now. Upon his shoulders rested the protection of all that was left of Fëanor’s blood. He could not organize a suicide last battle. He could not lead his brothers out to the slaughter.

(Forgive me, Maedhros, I have failed you. Though I have no hope left in my heart, give me a measure of your strength, beloved brother).

The months, years, dragged on. One day after the next leaving gorges in Maglor’s weary body, until he felt more like a layer of skin then a human being. He did not know where he found the strength to rise and limp through one day after the next. There was no light left in the world.

The nights were the hardest, when the world quieted, and ravaging thoughts preyed on him. When the darkness pressed upon him like a cage, and he could not breathe through the weight of it, he would rise. He would light a candle, slip into his a brother’s room, and watching its glow wash over the reasons he had not let his skeleton collapse into the dust, his soul seeping out of this bag of bones.

Some nights he would touch, hand running through a brother’s hair, mapping the shape of a cheek, some nights he would only gaze. The sight of one brother muted the screaming inside him (that empty place where Maedhros had once—). But one was not enough. He was not greedy, the sight of them, the sound of their breathing and beating hearts was enough, he did not need their laughter and their eyes dancing as they once had in Valinor. He did not need them whispering love back into the breaths of his own. He was not greedy, only starving.

Father had come into their rooms as Maglor now did with his brothers. Maglor used to pretend he slept when Father entered. He would control his breathing until it came steady and deep as if with sleep, and gather up Father’s kisses across his brow, his cheeks, his ear, and the ‘I love you’s’ Father breathed.

He understood now the desperation that had driven Father into his sons’ rooms as he never had in Valinor where grief had been something he’d only know through the shadows in his father’s eyes, never his own heart. Now it was Maglor who crept into his brothers’ rooms to watch them breathing, and count them, over and over again, telling himself to stop, (stop it, stop it!), but unable to, though he knew whatever this was it was a long way from healthy. Celegorm, Caranthir, Curufin, Amrod, Amras, and Celebrimbor. Six, only six. So few, so easily torn away.

Fingon brought Maedhros home. Maglor looked upon the evidence of his crimes, and the self-loathing nearly slew him then and there. Curufin’s frozen face as they beheld what was left of Maedhros, Celegorm’s hands finding his shoulder, the sound strangled in Caranthir’s throat, Amras’ unnaturally white skin and clammy hands trembling in Amrod’s, and Maglor’s own fingers threaded through Maedhros’ remaining ones as their brother lay in the darkness of unconsciousness, gave him the strength to draw breath in and out, in and out, and the next and the next until it no longer felt like he inhaled shrapnel.

Malgor’s eyes rose to Fingon’s. Fingon’s met his, dried tears on his cheeks where he sat behind Maedhros on the bed –unable to fully release Maedhros now the healers had done what they could. Maglor could find no words. Poetic words had no place here. A finally honed sentence seemed a mockery of the ugliness they drowned in like blood in the lungs.

But then Fingon reached out, covering Maglor’s hand with his own. Fingon’s hand wore Maedhros’ blood, and it shook as Fingon’s whole body quaked, but Fingon found a smile somewhere in the strong heart of his to pass to Maglor. “Do not despair. He knew me, when he hung—he knew my voice. He called me by name. They could not touch his soul.”

How wrong those words proved, spoken out of a mouth still believing in the innate goodness of the world. The monsters had carved welts and left scars that would never fully heal upon the flesh of Maedhros’ body and soul, but Maglor walked in hope through the long, hard months of Maedhros’ recovery, for when Maedhros had woken, he’d known his face.

Maglor would watch his brother with Fingon in the years to come and grow no jealousy or bitterness in his heart. Fingon had given him his brother back. Fingon could have asked Maglor for his right hand in re-payment, and Maglor would have given it. But all Maglor had needed to give were his smiles, his acceptance, the pure love of a brother untouched by the memory of a single kiss. It was a gift he gave freely.

What was the shadow of a lingering love a step outside a brother’s next to what Fingon had given him? When Fingon put the smiles back into Maedhros’ mouth, the teasing light in his eyes, Maglor would have cut out his own heart and handed it to Fingon on a platter if Fingon had asked it of him.

*

The smiles peeled from Maedhros’ lips like dead skin. The light strangled in his eyes and did not come back. Fingon was dead, and Maedhros’ soul knew it, even if his mind played games with him, defending itself against destruction the only way it knew how.

Maedhros pressed the second kiss of their lives into Maglor’s mouth long after the color of hope and innocence had bleed from their skin.

The ground pressed cold beneath their backs. The sky flashed with red lightning above their heads, the stars choked down by Darkness. The air scratched against their ears like nails down stones, filled with screams of metal, breaking lands, and dying horses and men.

In the flashes of light, the ginning fangs of the Iron Mountains stabbed the sky, erupting from the earth in sheer, merciless cliffs about which Morgoth’s gates curled in pours of iron and cruelty. The world smelled of sulfur and fire, but Thangorodrim was quite and dead this night, no Earth’s blood vomited up from its gapping mouths.

The ground rumbled under Maglor’s bones, shaking as if with the footsteps of an unleashed god.

The creak of leather betrayed the hour’s watch where the man paced a tight ring about their camp. Maglor turned restlessly onto his side, the heat of Maedhros’ long body wrapped like a crescent about him. They had slept back-to-back since they sent the twins away and taken only their fellow Oath-bound souls with them into hell.

Maglor closed his eyes, trying to will his mind into restful paths. He would need his strength. Two more days of preparation, and they would attempt to penetrate their forever-foe’s fortress. Angband. It sat like a blight upon his mind, the weight of chains and the impossible. They would breach the impossible together with the fortitude of their blood clenched in their teeth, and the whip of necessary across their shoulders. They would do this because they must.

He did not expect the hand tangling itself in his hair, nor Maedhros turning him over in the way a man will turn over the body of a companion stumbled upon on a battlefield –hesitant, fearing that moment dead eyes would meet theirs, yet desperate, desperate for hope.

“Fingon?”

Maglor lay silent under the hand running over the planes of his face. No campfire had been lit lest they drawn unfriendly eyes, and their own inner light had been cloaked. The world was dark but for the slashes of red-wrath, even Elven-eyes could only pierce this kind of darkness so far.

The sky screamed scarlet before crashing back into blackness, leaving only afterimages etched behind eyes. Maedhros’ face hovered over his, eyes braided with hope and anguish. Light cradled there; light that had gone out with Fingon’s death, but the eyes saw right through Maglor and into the face of a dead man.

Maglor could not bear to quench even this false hope. He would have the light of stars knitted into his brother’s eyes again. Though it was but an illusion Maedhros’ fingertips traces as they mapped Maglor’s bones, Maglor could not rip it from him.

“Yes, my dear. I am here.”

Maedhros’ mouth dropped trembling upon his. Maglor’s rose to clasp his brother’s mouth in a gentle kiss, their lips feathered against each other’s as their hands whispered in hair and across the cream of high, matching cheekbones, the curves and points of ears, the sinewy stretch of necks.

“Fingon, it is you. It is—” Maedhros’ voice lost itself in the sob swelling his chest.

Maglor’s heart split open like a cloven melon. Oh, Maedhros. His beloved, dearest brother. Maglor would eat all the pain from the grooves of Maedhros’ scars and the bruised flesh of his soul if he could.

This, this mouth on his, this heart beating under the cup of his hand, was the reason he had failed Elrond and Elros. He did not have enough love left in his being to cloak any but the one he held now in his arms. He could not love the twins as they deserved, for they were stars of the future come into the palms of his hands. The stars had grown and pulsed with life, too much life for Maglor to nurture with his used-up heart. He had given them what he could scrape together, but they demanded more, more and more, as any child did and as any child deserved. But Maglor could not give it. He needed away from their reaching hands hungry for love, to be fed from the water of his heart. All Maglor could wring out he tipped down Maedhros’ throat, having but little to spare the boys he should have loved as his sons. Who he did love as his sons, only could not love enough. Never enough.

But Maedhros needed him now, always needed him more, and Maglor shoved the yearning twin faces away to open his eyes on his brother’s. Lighting cracking the sky, striking the scorched and fracturing earth like a hammer upon heated metal, a spray of red sparks sent flying out like hungry mouths to eat the world. Maedhros’ hair burned fire-red. Maglor saw his father’s eyes inside Maedhros’ with the backlighting of burning ships.

It was said by those who picked up the easy crutch of blame, that Fëanor’s grief-madness had driven him to cruelty, into the husk of a monster. But Maglor had looked into his father’s eyes at Losgar and seen love. Consuming, obsessive love, the kind that burned away reason and sent a man into the pits of darkness to bring their lover forth, the kind that sent a lover throwing themselves upon their love’s funeral pier to burn with them, the kind that knew nothing of boundaries, of lines not to be crossed even for love. The kind of love that stained swords red with the blood of those who’d stood between the heart and its loved ones.

Father had burned the ships for them, his sons, because he loved him. He’d burned them because he couldn’t see through the terror inside his head. He burned them because he’d lost himself to the howling voice of grief, of madness, because the anguish of breathing with a clear head and clear eyes pressed upon his mind with the indomitable weight of a mistake that could never, ever, be unmade.

Father burned the ships because he’d led his sons into enslaving their souls to an Oath that knew no mercy and whose release Father was beginning to understand would never be achieved. He burned the ships because he couldn’t bear to face what he had done, so he’d grasped at an enemy he could defeat: the traitors who’d grumbled against him, cursed his name, and waited only the opportunity to stab him in the back.

Maglor never blamed his father for retreating from the bottomless chasm of what he had done, unable to keep starting into the merciless face of the truth. He understood. Had he not stood upon the lip of that same chasm as he ran a copper braid through his fingers?

Maglor never blamed Maedhros from shying from the edge of his own chasm, wrongly dug as it was. Maedhros, in his own mind, deep down in the place that must know Fingon was dead, believed that he had killed his husband, the twin to his beating heart, the breath in his lungs.

Maedhros’ will had orchestrated the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and Maedhros was nothing if not pitiless in his own measurement of himself. Angband had shaved away all the softness, all the mercy from his bones, and afterwards, in Himring, Maedhros had honed what was left of himself into a spearhead. He used to rise before the sun. Maglor would find him on the walls, looking North, every eye in the castle could tilt up and see their lord upon the ramparts, cloak snapping in the violent winds of the North, hair blowing out in a banner red as Fëanor’s crest, red as a challenge. Maedhros’ eyes would fasten upon the hulking shape of blackness marring the Northern horizon. His face wore coldness and stone like a sculpture, eyes as inhospitable and pitiless as the Ice.

Maedhros was the first to receive the cut of Maedhros’ demanding perfection. He had to be perfect. The perfect weapon, the perfect general. If he but slipped an inch, was out-maneuvered in the smallest skirmish, they could all fall. And no one knew better then Maedhros what fate awaited a fallen enemy in the Black One’s hands.

Nirnaeth Arnoediad had been a disaster on a catastrophic scale. For such a failure there could be no forgiveness from his own ruthless criticism. To accept that Fingon was dead would be to accept that Maedhros had planned that death.

Maglor had walked at his brother’s side all these years, the shoulder he leant on (when even Maedhros could not keep it all locked away another moment). Fingon had been Maedhros’ husband, his lover, but Maglor had been Maedhros’ brother, his missing right-hand, his legs when he could drag himself on no more and Maglor carried him.

Maglor understood. He’d been there for every moment of it since Fingon brought Maedhros home. Maedhros couldn’t slaughter the demons without Fingon’s golden-hand wrapped about his, so Maglor’s hand guided Maedhros’ into slipping a bit about their snapping jaws. Not slain, but endurable.

Maedhros’ body vibrated against his, like a wire wound to the snapping point. Maglor took his brother into the cup of his palms, deepening the kiss, pouring love like bread, water, and air into Maedhros’ mouth.

“Fingon, Fingon, please—” Maedhros’ eyes squeezed shut. Did he know? Did he know the truth? Deep inside, his soul wept. Deep inside he’d been torn when Fingon’s life was snuffed out like an insect’s. So easy to die. Morgoth must have laughed.

A waste. The uselessness of it all.

No. Maglor could not entrain those thoughts. He would go mad.

“I am here. I am here now.” Maglor stroked down the delicate curve of Maedhros’ skull, copper waves running matted and dirty between his fingers, more beautiful than a Vala’s mane.

Maedhros’ eyes flew open. His face shook, a stumble from tears. His fingers pressed like the kiss of the sun upon Maglor’s hollowed cheek. “Fingon.”

Maedhros stretched his body out over Maglor’s, too-thin, hand tearing as much as it caressed through his hair. Maglor’s arms slipped about his brother’s waist, pulling Maedhros more securely atop him, between his spreading thighs.

He closed his eyes on a sky lit with the malice of gods, and cradled his brother’s spine, stroking warmth and love into the beloved flesh. He opened his mouth and took Maedhros’ hungry tongue into him. Maedhros devoured him like a starving man, the keening noises forced up from the back of his throat striking Maglor’s heart like lacerations, and stinging in his eyes, but he did not let the tears fall. He kissed Maedhros back, slipped the leggings down his hips, helped Maedhros with the fastening of his own, and gave Maedhros everything.

Anything, anything, take it all, just come back to me.

Maedhros whispered Fingon’s name that night, and every night after. But Maglor did not expect any other name from his brother’s mouth. It did not stop it from hurting, but it stopped him from even the shadow of bitterness, even the merest touch, soft as spiraling ash, of hatred against Fingon and Maedhros’ love.

They were all alone, every beloved face gone down before them into death. He lived for Maedhros. There was nothing he would not sacrifice for his brother, no deed he would not commit, no law he would not defy, no suffering he would not perpetration on himself or others if it would keep Maedhros here with him. If cutting his own throat would have brought Fingon back to Maedhros, Maglor would have done it. If sentencing himself to an eternity of torment would have healed all the bleeding gashes in Maedhros’ soul, Maglor would have done it.

Anything, anything, but please, please, come away from the dark. Come back to me.

Chapter 12 by Encairion
Author's Notes:

Hello again!  It has been a terribly long time since I wrote anything for this story.  I had a struggle with this one, more than any other story I’ve written I think.  I’ve worked though that though, so hopefully updates will come quicker now.  Thank you everyone for your patience!

Also, I did some revising to chapter 8 (where Glorfindel and Maglor first meet –changes start when they board the ship).  I was unhappy with it, so the last half of the chapter is mostly re-written.  It’s not so drastic that if you don’t want to re-read you won’t be able to understand the future chapters though.

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 12

They idled the rest of the waking hours away in the ship’s hull. Maglor carved a pair of dice and helped Glorfindel develop his latent craftsman talents on the first pieces of an Âru set. Glorfindel’s hands were unpracticed in any art but war.

When the first watch of the night took up its rounds, they slipped from the hull under cover of the star-cloak and made their way to the kitchens. Maglor bolted the door behind them, steered a protesting Glorfindel into a chair at the table, and set about preparing a meal fit for a mouth like his son’s (or as close as he could manage with the ingredients at hand).

Glorfindel betrayed his discomfort at being prized (the famine of never being cherished like he should have been) in his restlessness. He rose from the chair time and again under the urge to be useful. Maglor allowed him to keep his hands busy as the goal was not to make his son uncomfortable, as much as he wished his son could receive a spoiling.

Maglor started a fire over the sand pit, and strung a cooking pot over the flame. A second fire crackled beside the first in the pit, and he sprinkled oil in a castiron’s bottom before finding a snug balance for the pan over the fire.

He rose from his crouch to fetch the batter he’d whipped up. Glorfindel had the bowl of mixing batter already in his hands. “Here, leave it to me.”

Maglor bowed to his son’s wishes and snagged the board of cut vegetables and herbs from the table. The voyage had not stretched into weeks yet, and fresh greens could still be found in the ship’s larders. He came back to crouch beside Glorfindel and shoveled the greens into the pot of boiling water.

He felt Glorfindel’s eyes on his profile, and slid a glance back. Glorfindel’s gaze flickered away immediately, dropping back to his work.

The stars had taken up their reign in the night sky and could be seen through the hatch Maglor had thrown open to let the smoke funnel out, but other than the glow of the fire there was no light in the kitchens. The shadows pulled long from walls curving with the dark wood of the ship’s hull. Glorfindel’s hair picked up all the light in the room, gathering it about him like a mantel of gold. Even his skin shown with radiance.

Maglor’s hands had no right to that skin. But he couldn’t stop his eyes from lingering on the curves of those cheekbones and wishing they were under his fingertips as the dark voice purred ‘mine’ through the broken corners of his mind.

He struggled against the voice, against the dark parts of himself awakened and lusting. He would do better. He had to.

Glorfindel was looking at him again. Maglor focused on stirring the vegetables in. Glorfindel shifted closer, hand brushing Malgor’s side. Maglor turned at his son’s touch, giving Glorfindel his attention the moment his son asked for it.

Glorfindel’s face had inched closer, and when Maglor turned into it, Glorfindel closed those last few breaths between their lips. Glorfindel’s mouth opened like a blooming flower under his, offering its sweetness. Maglor moved his mouth with careful tenderness over the gift. He did not deserve this, but he would give his son anything he asked.

His hands abandoned their grasp on the spoon to cradle Glorfindel’s face. He must not press a claiming into Glorfindel’s mouth. He had already lost control of himself once, and in the doing bound his son’s soul to his own damaged one. He could not hurt his son again. Please. Let him be strong enough this time.

Glorfindel broke the kiss, face carrying a frown as it pulled back. His eyes flickered over Malgor’s face. “You…you do not want this?”

“I do not want to hurt you.”

Glorfindel put more distance between their bodies, a wall shimmering between them as he withdrew. No. No, that was not want Maglor wanted.

“Before, when you…you only lay with me out of guilt, then? Or humoring—”

“No. You are wrong—”

“But you regret it now.” Glorfindel’s jaw clenched and he looked away.

Maglor’s hands could not be restrained from taking his son (his, his, his) into their palms. They crossed the wall building between them, and when they took up his son’s face Glorfindel did not shy away. He melted into the touch with a beautiful surrender that had Maglor yearning to ease him down and posses him one more time.

He answered on a breath, “No. Never this. Though I imagine you will, given enough time.”

“You do not know me very well then.” Maglor flinched from the words, hands dropping from the skin he was unworthy to even look upon. Glorfindel tried to take his hands. “Do not—”

“You are right. I do not know you. For I was not there when you needed me.”

“Please, can you not let it go? I have forgiven you.”

Maglor turned his face away to hide his curling lip, disgusted with himself. His son stood there, soul wounded but pure in its goodness, and his eyes earnest as he told Maglor he forgave him for leaving him in suffering and only saving himself.

He was suddenly furious. Glorfindel should forgive him nothing.

His head snapped around, face set in the kind of disdainful expressions it wore before a sycophant or a mocker of his father’s memory. “Oh, you forgive me, do you?” His voice had once opened frozen buds that had never been touched by anything but starlight, now it froze like the crushing weight of the depths of the ocean. “Those are the words of the naïve. Of one who does not comprehend the full measure of the cup of blood and suffering I have filled. And willingly so!”

“I was not speaking of the Kinslayings. I was speaking of you and me. But if you wish to drag them in here, then yes, let us speak of them!” Glorfindel’s eyes flashed as he leaned forward, the edges of his face sharpened to cutting bones in the long shadows of the night. “Let us talk about why you went to war with Elves. Shall we discuss your motivations one by one? How about an Oath more unbreakable than the foundations of the world. Shall we start there? Or maybe further back to why you took the Oath in the beginning. Shall we talk about your love for your father?”

Maglor’s breath knotted in his lungs. His son’s voice echoed the long ago arguments the sons of Fëanor comforted each other with in those rare moments they allowed themselves to speak of the Kinslayings in anything more than remote terms of war: strategies, supply lines, and messages of negotiation (all sent back with no reply).

But Glorfindel should not be handing out his forgiveness. Not when every time Maglor looked at his son he saw all the ways he’d failed him (was still failing him). This was his greatest sin, the one he would never be able to forgive himself for.

Glorfindel could not be made to forget it. He should punish Maglor, strike him in the face, draw blood for blood, suffering for suffering.

Maglor held everything in the flare of his nostrils, the shaky sound of his indrawn breath, and the compressed diamond-hardness of his words: “It seems you know as little of me as I do of you.” Glorfindel’s jaw jumped. A moment away from giving Maglor what he deserved. “You were not a part of the Kinslayings, or the Oath, or our long years of exile. You know nothing about them, and nothing of us.”

Glorfindel did not lash out at him, did not throw Maglor down on the floor and beat him like he deserved. He simply stood with a coldness of eye Maglor recognized as belonging to Glorfindel’s old soul, the one that flashed Curufin’s face behind his eyelids.

Glorfindel spoke not one word, but turned for the door.

All the breath punched from Maglor’s lungs, spilling like blood in the air. He could not pull in a new lungful, unable to breathe, unable to think passed the narrowing tunnel of his vision upon Glorfindel’s retreating back. His mind swung wildly, like a horse showing the whites of its eyes.

Glorfindel was leaving him!

Glorfindel had warned him, that first night, what he would do if Maglor shut him out again, and Maglor had promised to try. But he’d failed, and now Glorfindel would leave him like Maedhros left him, like each one of them had left him until he stood upon the barren plains of the world, knowing he could search from the rising to the setting sun but never find them again because they had left him utterly alone. And despite the madness that had swallowed him, he was still alive, every breath, alive, in a bleak, stretching way that refused to let him just collapse into himself and end it once and for all, because he still remembered Maedhros’ dancing walk, Celegorm’s charmer’s smile, Caranthir’s prickly shell encasing a love raw and tender, Curufin’s elegant hands shaping the air, Amrod’s wild laughter and Amras’ addictive one, and Father’s bedtime stories that always ended in triumph.

He could not let Glorfindel walk out that door. He could not let Glorfindel disappear into the eye of the setting sun to be swallowed within, lost to him forever.

He leapt after Glorfindel, hands running before him to snatch at Glorfindel’s tunic and spin him around. Glorfindel entered the ring of his arms with a cry, eyes wide and startled as Maglor crushed their chests together. He showered kisses down on Glorfindel’s face (don’t leave me, don’t leave me, please!). Glorfindel stood passive under his assault, not moving to kiss him back. Maglor could not stand it. Glorfindel ran away even as he stood inside his arms.

“Forgive me, forgive me!” He dropped his mouth to Glorfindel’s neck, kissing the beat of its pulse, tasting the fire pulling through Glorfindel’s veins like liquid gold.

A sun lived inside his son; a wildfire that could set kingdoms ablaze, monsters fleeing from his face, and mountains trembling at his coming. Glorfindel was all of them, the blood of Fëanor, spun together into one.

Maglor loved him, he loved him, he loved him. He loved them, all of them. He kissed Glorfindel, he kissed them all. In his arms he held the memory of everyone he had ever loved.

Glorfindel’s arms rose to clasp him back, body pressing itself into Maglor’s like a golden gift. Maglor drank from the sun’s fire inside Glorfindel’s mouth like it was the nectar of the gods. But his son’s mouth put such sweetness to shame.

His heart shook in his chest like a fist. The terror had ripped open faultlines in his heart, and now they covered it like scar-tissue. He had but one desire: to bind Glorfindel to him so tightly his son could never leave him.

His fingers sought Glorfindel’s neck, thumbs resting on the underside of his jaw. The kiss broke as he pulled back to look into those eyes. Glorfindel’s lips were bruised red from the kiss. A gleam of white teeth shone in his panting mouth. His dazed eyes blinked up at Maglor, awaiting Malgor’s next move, that single look speaking of perfect surrender to whatever Maglor asked of him.

One of Maglor’s hands slipped down to circle the base of Glorfindel’s throat. His son’s pulse beat against his palm, vulnerable as a rabbit’s leaping heartbeat. He wanted it all: his son’s body joined to his, and Glorfindel’s mind opening to receive him and enclose him with a heat matching the one clenching about his sex.

But he hesitated just as he gathered himself to push inside Glorfindel’s mind and feel Glorfindel’s emotions like a heart beating around his while he fucked him. Glorfindel had only the palest of mind-shields, and no experience with Ósanwe. A moment of heightened emotions like the act of sex was too dangerous a time to expose Glorfindel to full Ósanwe for the first time.

“What is it?” Glorfindel’s fingers touched the line of Maglor’s jaw. They warmed him like the kiss of fire.

He looked into those clear eyes that reminded him of Celegorm’s despite their differing shades. He saw the Celegorm of Valinor inside them. Memories had been his friends and lovers and family since Maedhros left him, and they hovered ever just skimming the underside of his mind’s surface, waiting like sharks and sirens to drag him under and kiss him with teeth and addiction.

(A summer day spent out by the pond. Celegorm’s naked muscles glistening as water-droplets flew off, slapped away by the wind as he flashed passed, face set in that taunting, competitive grin he swung back at his lagging brothers in their race to the water’s edge. Celegorm bet on himself, as usual, boasting he could not only trounce them in a footrace, but outswim them all across the pond. Celegorm retained his boasting rights as the superior runner that day, but Maedhros caught him in the water, long body slicing through the waves, and reached the far shore a hairsbreadth before Celegorm. How Maedhros teased Celegorm for betting and losing a week’s worth of baby-sitting duty with the twins!)

The joy of the ever-fresh memory died under the weight of a mountain’s worth of grief. He was all alone. They had left him, one-by-one, until he had only ghosts to speak to in the madness.

“Father?” Glorfindel called him back, and Maglor’s eyes cleared just enough to see a face he loved, holding the faces of his brothers in all its curves and angles.

He could not speak of the shadow that had laid itself over him like the underbelly of a Dragon, crushing the air from his chest, so he kissed Glorfindel instead. Glorfindel opened to him. He placed himself into the palms of his hands in trust, laying himself out for Maglor’s taking.

Maglor took the offering, greedy for the touch of Glorfindel’s hot skin all around him. Glorfindel’s tunic came off, leaving him naked under his thirsting fingertips. He pressed Glorfindel up against the door that would have taken his son from him. He used it to hold his son up like a conquering king took the defeated one’s possessions as his own, showing his dominance, marking the captured halls like a dog its new territory. He would allow nothing to take his son from him.

But he slowed his frenzy of claiming to press soft kisses into Glorfindel’s mouth as he prepared him. He murmured love and gasped compliments, pretending they were two lovers come together for all the right reasons, pretending he was safe to love and would not scorch the skin of his son’s heart, pretending his hands were gentle and their touch would not sear into the notches of his son’s spine, pretending that when he had consumed Glorfindel in whole and bound them so tightly together Glorfindel could never, ever, leave him, he would not find only a pile of ashes in his arms.

He could not let Glorfindel go. He loved him too much, with his selfish, starving love. He needed him like he had needed Maedhros to never let him go. He needed him like he needed Celegorm’s mischievous smile back and Caranthir’s thorny skin and Curufin’s quick-silver eyes running like Father’s over the same patterns and passions and Amras and Amrod’s arms linked as they walked in sync like two halves of a soul. He needed him like Father’s arms wrapped around them, pulling them into his warmth and generosity and possessiveness and love, love, love until they stood within the center of its fire, allowing it to light them up from the inside and grow the power to move mountains and strike the match of their passions, the kind of passion that had them falling in love with life.

He claimed his son’s body, pushing into the gift offered with a devouring mouth silencing Glorfindel’s cries as possessive hands printed themselves all over his son’s skin, wanting it all for himself. Glorfindel arched his back, neck exposing as it made a perfect arch, like a young animal searching for the milk of life.

His thrusts turned hungry and powerful, watching Glorfindel’s face as he took him against the wall. Glorfindel had his eyes shut. His face was even more vulnerable with the naked eyelids hiding his only defense. Maglor could do whatever he wanted to him, and Glorfindel would let him.

But he would not throw Glorfindel’s body on the table, roll him over, and fuck him from behind until Glorfindel screamed his name. He rebelled against using Glorfindel thus, though Maglor liked it like that. A lover laid out like a sacrifice to his mastery had become seductive in the long years of war when he had control over nothing: not his own fate, or the corpses piling up, or the light snuffing out of a brother’s eyes.

His sex swelled that little bit more inside Glorfindel as he remembered Eärendil’s bright head bent before him in the mark of complete surrender. But he could not take Glorfindel like that. His was a dangerous love full of dark lusts. But there was just enough of the old Maglor left to stop himself from using Glorfindel’s body like a receptacle for his pain.

He must kiss Glorfindel softly: he pressed a kiss like flower petals to his son’s mouth. He must touch him with gentleness: his hands ran tender over his son’s back, brushing the hair off a sweaty neck and dropping a kiss just there that drew a moan from Glorfindel’s mouth, speaking powerfully of Glorfindel’s need for this soft brand of love-making, this treasuring of the gift offered.

He must make this right by Glorfindel, so he took him in slow, sliding thrusts against the wall, with Glorfindel’s legs and arms wrapped about him. He used his hands and mouth to press gentle love into Glorfindel’s skin, as if by doing so he made this something it was not, as if he could turn this love of skinned knees and cracked ribs and ‘I love you’ stitched with blood into skin, into one of fingers twined as they fell inside each other’s eyes and passed the shy smiles of young love and stolen kisses under a cherry tree between them.

After his release found him and he’d finished Glorfindel with his hand, he buried his face in Glorfindel’s hair. He stood in stillness for a long moment, breaths heaving and skin sweat-slicked. He inhaled the scent of his son after sex, and listened to the pounding of Glorfindel’s pulse trapped under his skin.

Glorfindel kept himself wrapped around Maglor. Maglor could feel the mix of contentment and doubt battling though the bond. He was careful to keep his own mind-shields fortified. Glorfindel did not have the luxury of Ósanwe to keep his father out, so the echo of Glorfindel’s emotions flowed freely over the bond.

He kissed Glorfindel’s neck, just below his ear. “I love you.” He said because it hurt him to feel Glorfindel’s uncertainty. Fëanor had told his sons he loved them every day, with words and eyes and actions. Maglor would never be half the father his own had been, but he could say the words as many times as Glorfindel needed to hear them.

Glorfindel sighed into the confession, some of the building tension draining out of him. But not all of it.

Maglor pulled back enough to see Glorfindel’s face. He smoothed his hands down the bright waves of hair, watching Glorfindel’s face until the tension fled from these muscles as well. Glorfindel’s mouth lifted in a tentative smile, its curves trembling, but at least he smiled. Maglor did not feel like smiling, but he gave Glorfindel one because Glorfindel should be striking him but was smiling at him instead and deserved everything, everything, he could wring out of his broken heart.

Glorfindel unwound himself, feet sliding to the floor, and bent to snatch up his tunic and slip it on again. Maglor watched him cross his arms over his chest, and then think better of it and let them hang at his sides, elbows pointing all the wrong way, unable to find comfort when his heart still fluttered with fears and worries not quite silenced.

Maglor closed the distance between them. Glorfindel’s eyes flickered up as he came. Maglor took his son’s hand and guided Glorfindel to the table, taking the seat beside him.

He reached up and brushed the hair back from Glorfindel’s neck, instinct driving him now along with the flood of emotions over the bond. He should not have been so weak. Glorfindel needed love, desperately, hadn’t Maglor seen how damaged his son was? Yet he had chosen to love him in all the ways that could cause Glorfindel the most pain, worm the most doubts into his heart, and cast a shadow over their love as simple hugs and kisses upon the brow and a father’s promise of ‘I love you’ would not have. But that had not been enough for Maglor, no, he had to take everything.

Even now he could not stop touching. His hand trailed down to trace the long line of Glorfindel’s outer thigh. He rested his hand in a cup over Glorfindel’s leg, just above his knee.

Glorfindel’s smile hitched shy. His lashes swept down, sealing his eyes, before they flickered up again. Maglor’s thumb caressed the tender underside of his son’s knee.

Glorfindel’s eyes ran over his face, a desert behind them, the thirst of a dry streambed crying out to be watered. The tips of his fingers touched the corner of Maglor’s mouth.

Maglor captured those fingers in his hand and pressed a soft kiss to their tips. He should pull away, take his hand off the soft skin of thigh, and tuck Glorfindel’s head under his chin as Father would have done with him. But he couldn’t stop himself from lusting for another night where he pressed himself into his son’s body (mine, mine, mine) and devoured him down to the soul. He wanted the rushing fire of his family to sink him in its hot embrace.

They ate their meal in silence, and then cleared the evidence of their use from the dishes. Maglor set a kettle to heat water for a bathing bowl, and Glorfindel pulled a set of Âru up from its storing place in a wall crevice. The only words that passed between them as they maneuvered their kings and warships over the board were Glorfindel’s instructions on the rules of the popular Númenórean game.

When the second kettle-full of water was heated, they broke off the game to pick up cloths for bathing. Maglor stripped off his belt and tunic, laying them aside. Glorfindel wore only the thigh-length tunic customary among the Númenóreans, and he’d stripped it off and flipped his sandals into a resting place beside it on the floor to stand naked.

Glorfindel looked up to find his father watching him. There was a still moment in which the two Glorfindels struggled, before Glorfindel lifted his chin and arched a brow, shoulders straightening and body on display without a stitch of shame.

“Come here.” He held out a hand, and Glorfindel came to him.

Maglor gathered the bathing supplies Eärendil had slipped in with the cooking things. He brought out the comb Eärendil had tamed his rat’s nest with when he walked in a world of madness. He spread a drying towel over a chair’s seat and guided Glorfindel into it, before taking up position behind him.

He handled his son’s mane like threads of gold delicate as lace. He worshiped his son as Glorfindel deserved to have always been worshiped. Glorfindel sighed and moaned under the sweet attentions, tilting his head back into his father’s touch.

His hands buried up to the wrists in Glorfindel’s hair, and his fingers stroked circles in Glorfindel’s scalp. A little whimper pulled out of Glorfindel’s mouth and ran straight to Maglor’s groin. “So beautiful.” He pressed a hot kiss into his son’s neck.

Glorfindel’s head turned, eyes sweeping back over his shoulder. His gaze ran over Maglor’s face brought close and carrying the intensity of a star. He did not have to speak for Maglor to feel his starvation to be loved.

Maglor’s hands ran over strong shoulders and traced his son’s delicate collarbone with his thumb. He leaned in to press a kiss to Glorfindel’s ear. “I love you.”

Maglor had not lied. Glorfindel was beloved to him. Glorfindel was all he had left, and Maglor could not bear to lose Glorfindel from an omission of love. He could feel Glorfindel’s hunger for it through the bond, and the silver-bright joy its giving blazed in Glorfindel. Maglor loved Glorfindel, he did, he did, he did. He did not care to examine the exact nature of that love. Did it really matter so much as long as they were together, wrapped up in fire?

He took command of their newborn bond and poured the fullness of his love down it, complicated, selfish, and possessive as that love was. It was powerful as the roots of the Earth.

Glorfindel’s eyes fluttered shut on a gasp as he bathed in love. Maglor did not need to see the emotions overtaking the blue to know his son’s heart. He could feel it singing as if it were his own. The kind of joy that swept in like a tidal wave washed away all the pain, all the loneliness and grief in that single moment of perfection and sent Glorfindel’s heart leaping like eagles soaring for the sun. It caught Maglor up in its wave, and he rode his son’s heart. His own soared with it, for he had given his son this joy. So many failings, so many missed years, so much suffering his blindness had caused, yet he had given his son such happiness his heart could break from the sheer power of it.

Glorfindel’s eyes opened, face radiant. He took Maglor’s hand, slipping their long fingers together, a slow smile stealing his mouth.

They stayed like that a long moment, locked in each other’s hearts. Finally Maglor pulled back, releasing Glorfindel from the spiritual manifestation of his love which, to a heart as starved for it as Glorfindel’s, was as powerful as an enchantment and held him within its kiss like a thrall.

He made to withdraw from the melding of their minds. They were so intimately wound together he could feel the back of Glorfindel’s heart in his throat like a pulse. But the completeness of their entwining compromised his mind-shields, and the edges of a memory bled from his mind into his son’s.

(The earth lay like a decomposing corpse beneath him: dead, grey, and peeling. His arms held his sunrise and sunset, everything he was breathing for in a world where the skies burned. Arms, stripped of much of the muscular that had made Maedhros the most well-formed Elf to ever rise out of the pupil of Ilúvatar eye, embraced him back.

Maedhros’ breath was hot and shaky on his face, hair a tangled mat of glory and filth hanging about them. “Fingon,” he gasped like those syllables were the stuff of the foundations of the earth, without which the world cease to turn and the stars go out.)

Maglor slammed the door shut. Glorfindel reeled out of his mind with a cry, hands squeezing to white on the lip of the chair’s seat, face contorting in pain from the shock of his first true experience with Ósanwe.

Malgor’s hands ran out to scoop his son up, pressing Glorfindel’s body against his chest, fingers mapping the planes of Glorfindel’s face, looking into those dazed eyes. “Forgive me, forgive me.”

Glorfindel shook his head, temples no doubt pounding with a newborn headache. Maglor remembered such headaches after Father’s first forays into his mind. No matter how delicate the strokes, the first touch of mind-to-mind always flirted with the risk of pain, and addiction, even damage if the entry was forced. Before, the way had been eased with the Silmaril’s light bathing them, just as the learning of Ósanwe had come more smoothly in Valinor under the light of the Trees. He had met many Endor-born Elves who never mastered the skill, subtle in thought though they were.

“Tell me how bad the pain is.” His thumbs rubbed gentle circles at his son’s temples. “A sharp, stabbing pan? A dull throb? Does it center behind your eyes or at your temples?”

Glorfindel blinked the last of the muddle from his eyes and met his father’s searching gaze. He gave Maglor a crooked smile Maglor did not deserve. “It is nothing I have not taken in a training bout. Do not worry so. It will pass.”

“I should never have—”

Glorfindel’s hands caged his wrists. “It was an accident.” He squeezed Maglor’s wrists gently. “The memory was a painful one. It is understandable you reacted with instinct.”

Maglor’s gaze slid off the accepting eyes. He could not—

“Here,” he forced his attention back on his son. “Let me sooth some of the pain, at the least.”

“I told you it was nothing I could not handle.”

“Any pain inflicted by my hand is too much. Give me this small chance to assuage it.”

Glorfindel sighed and nodded, surrendering to the careful touch of Malgor’s fingers upon his skin. Maglor’s voice rose in a song coiled thick with Power, but woven with the delicacy of his grandmother’s embroidery. A song of healing was not to be flung against fortresses, cracking stones and throwing down gates; it was for the patient, precise work of knitting bones.

By the time the song reached its lullaby-soft conclusion, the tightness in the skin about Glorfindel’s eyes had eased and his body rested languidly in Maglor’s arms, breathing free of the faintest scent of pain.

Glorfindel sighed with contentment into Maglor’s neck. “Thank you.”

Maglor pressed a kiss into his son’s brow, and eased out of the delicious tangle of Glorfindel’s arms. “We should finish bathing before the water goes cold.”

“Hmm.” Glorfindel straightened with a stretch.

For a time they ran the soaped washing cloths over their skin in silence. Maglor felt his son’s eyes heavy upon him, full of thoughts Glorfindel did not yet form into words. But he would, and Maglor dreaded that moment. The memory had been like the flash of a night revealed in a strike of lightning. But was it enough for Glorfindel to pick out the love throbbing in Malgor’s throat, fierce, desperate, and desirous as he held his brother in his arms?

Glorfindel tackled the silence because he was strong like that. “I know you would not have chosen to share that memory with me. Not yet. But I do not regret seeing it, for it draws me closer to you.” Glorfindel’s hands paused in their washing, and his eyes held Maglor’s, though Maglor would have preferred to turn away and shut the door on the memory entirely. “Would you…would you speak of him? If you can. I did not know Maedhros well, but I—”

“No.” The word broke on the weight of grief like a universe inside Maglor’s chest. “I….I am trying. I am. But not—I cannot.” He had to turn away, not able to look into his son’s face.

Glorfindel went quiet behind him, and Maglor knew his refusal hurt him, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t. He had so little of his brother, the memories of their love-making (mockery though that title was when Maedhros called another’s name in the dark) were the only ones he had of his brother-made-lover. He had longed for Maehdros in despair for what seemed his whole life, until the roots of his love creaked ancient, so long had they sunk into his heart. Unwatered.

They dressed in silence and wiped the signs of their presence from the kitchen. They walked to the door as two separate beings, the body of the past shoved back between them. It was not Glorfindel turning cold and shutting him out, it was Maglor’s inability to cross the distance, and his walls planting uncertainly in Glorfindel. He had to try harder.

He breached the distance between their bodies as they paused at the door for the bolt to be pulled back. He took his son’s hand, drawing Glorfindel’s eyes back to his. He closed that last inch between them and pulled Glorfindel into his arms. Glorfindel accepted him.

As his son’s body relaxed into his, Maglor dropped a kiss into Glorfindel’s shoulder. “I love you.” There was no lie in the words. He loved Glorfindel. He would do anything, anything, for his son. Only…he couldn’t give Maedhros to Glorfindel. Maedhros was his.

Chapter 13 by Encairion

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 13

Maglor traced his thumbs along the smooth skin of Glorfindel’s neck. He would never get enough of this. Just touching his son like this calmed the storms inside him and called to him like a horn leading him home.

He drew Glorfindel close now, for seas raged inside him. He felt himself slipping under the veils of darkness enclosing his mind like a tomb, curling skeletal hands about his ankles, seeking to pull him back under into the madness, that falsely-sweet numbness of half-life.

Today was a bad one. He had had enough bad ones since Eärendil pulled him up out of the abyss to recognize the dank, moldy scent of their approach. He fought, for he never failed to feel Glorfindel’s sorrow through the bond, calling him back to himself even as it pressed recriminations into his flesh (he was failing his son; failing, failing, failing). He never wanted to be a source of pain for Glorfindel ever again.

But the misery weighed on him like a living thing. It was a struggle to swallow food down when it tasted like nothing so much as the bodies of the dead. Even the walk from the hull of the ship to the kitchens or deck left him leaning against the walls, the energy it took to drag one foot before the other too much to muster.

His fingers slipped under his shirt and brushed against the Silmaril still wrapped up in strips of torn cotton. His fist closed over it. Oh, what comfort its touch could have given him if not for the Valar’s poisoning! But still, the faint heat soaking through was enough to fashion an arrow to loose at the darkness closing over his shoulders like a trap. (But there were times when feeling the echo of its fire hurt worse when any comfort, because even the echo of Father’s fire had been taken from him).

Most of their days passed in something like healing. When Maglor felt his son’s heart leap with a kiss, a whispered ‘I love you,’ and fell asleep in his arms with a soft smile on his mouth, he was able to forget what his failures had cost Glorfindel –just for a little while.

The optimism of his youth had dissolved into self-delusion.

Some days he well and truly believed the lies. On those days Glorfindel and he would delve passed the intimacy of flesh and walk the slow path towards true companionship. In the beginning Glorfindel only shared stories of his second life, but as time passed he pulled up the occasional remembrance of his first and allowed Maglor to skim the edges of the deepest wounds with his fingertips.

But Maglor knew his son with more intimacy than what Glorfindel had managed to put into words, for Glorfindel could not shield his dreams from him. Maglor was not spared glimpses of the true horrors Irimë had inflicted on his son; he did not deserve to be. He did not want to be.

He tried to reciprocate. After a struggle, he brought himself to speak of select memories of Beleriand. Before the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Of their lives in Valinor he could not speak at all, for the joy in those memories bit into his flesh like being devoured by some inhuman sea-creature of razor-teeth and unearthly beauty.

He would not inflict this pain like torture upon his son. He thanked Maedhros for drilling Ósanwe into his head with such single-minded ferocity. His mind-shields did not slip even in sleep.

But still, weeks later, they circled around whole chunks of the past like open wounds that could not abide the lightest touch. Some memories were as suffocating as poisonous fumes, and could not be dragged into the open air lest they contaminate it:

(Desperation, anger, and despair lurked at the back of every debate over Dior and the Silmaril. And every debate ended the same way for the sons of Fëanor: in a pecking fest.

To speak of Dior and the Silmaril inevitably led back to their current diminish existence, diluted strength of arms, and their people’s low morale, which led to the destruction at their backs: the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. The disaster of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad was not spoken of in so many words in Maedhros’ presence, only tip-toed around.

Some topics were off-limits, even from Curufin and Caranthir’s slaughter-house tongues. Fingon. Father. Celebrimbor. Finrod. Even the hint of what they could have been if they were not slaves to the Oath. These were not touched upon.

The Nargothrond debacle was not reserved by such mercy though. Amras steered them into dangerous waters when he touched upon it, alluding to Orodreth’s absent forces when sorely needed.

Amras laid this wound bear, so Curufin hit back, voice striking quick and deadly as a viper. Father was not mentioned in so many words, but disloyalty to their cause was. The twins had done little to further the Oath, content for centuries to live out their lives in peace until war was foist upon them. Ever their voices in council sung the tune of waiting, of holding back, of slow steps and gathering what life they could from these lands. Curufin had not forgotten the many words they’d spoken against his urges to push, to strike, to fulfill. And now look where sitting on their hands for centuries had brought them?

Maedhros did not stand from his seat at the head of the table. He did not silence his brothers with a word, a single look. He would let the knives plunge a little longer yet, until some of the boiling despair was sieved off in hurtful words, and some of the walls closing in about them defied with shouts the cousin of the hair-shredding screams they each held back behind the links of their teeth, pretending they were not all already mad enough to beat their chests like an Orc caught in blood-lust.

Curufin had a host of hurts, failings, and losses Amras could easily dig up and wave in Curufin’s face like soiled clothing. Curufin would gather himself from the blow and strike back all the more vicious, but a blow struck against Curufin by those who knew him best would sink deep, deep into his heart. He was the most vulnerable brother in the room but for Maedhros.

Maedhros could be destroyed by a single truth pressed like a crown of thorns into his brow: Fingon was dead. No more lies, no more delusions. Fingon was dead, and Maedhros had been the one to plan his slaughter.

Celegorm stood and placed himself as a shield before Curufin. His flash-flood temper rose and tore off the scabs of his brothers’ ancient wounds, lashing out at them to bring all their spearheads to aim at his own chest rather than Curufin’s.

Maglor wrapped his fingers about the stump of Maedhros,’ encircling it in warm fingers as Caranthir went on the attack, hefting his retaliatory blow. Caranthir dared to mention Lúthien to Celegorm (as deadly a blow as Aredhel these days).

Celegorm sprang to his feet, eyes wild, snarling back. Caranthir had enough holes of his own to plunge knives into, and no one knew how to hurt like a loved one.

Maglor judged it enough. He brought the room to silence with a booming word that bounced off the stone walls of the chamber in echoes, shook the glass windows in their sills, and sent the twins’ hounds lounging before the hearth whining. The silence fell like the breath of stillness between a strike of lightning and the clash of thunder. Even the horses and men in the yard beyond the walls paused, and the very birds in the air lost their voices to swivel their heads about towards the place those notes of ringing beauty birthed.

His brothers had been subject to his voice too many times though to allow it to pacify them against their will. Caranthir was not done. He broke the silence with one last snide comment, the pinprick of a needle in comparison to what had come before.

“I do not recall if any of those hounds by the fire are yours. Still sulking Huan picked the witch over you?”

Celegorm face went blank for a moment, before recovering from the blow. He did not lash back with anger; Caranthir had chosen a wound Celegorm had mostly recovered from. For how many centuries Celegorm spent nursing Aredhel’s betrayal, none of his brothers had thought Huan’s could be so easily moved passed. Not forgotten, never, but Celegorm did not fly into a rage or turn to ice at the mention of Huan. He would go quiet for a moment, for he carried the memory of the hound that had been nearly as dear to him as a brother, with pain, but then he would carry on.

Celegorm’s face slipped from blank to dismissive. “I could take up another hound if I chose to do so, and it would be loyal to me, for it would not have been poisoned by a Vala.”

Caranthir leaned forward, no mercy to be found in the skin of his face. When Caranthir felt heavy inside, his tongue turned into a harpoon. Caranthir often hurt inside. They all did.

“Can you now?” Caranthir’s chin jerked to the cluster of hounds burrowed into each other before the lit hearth. One of the bitches had a litter of pups snuggled into her sides. “You claim you could take one of those pups and set it at your side, filling Huan’s place?”

Maglor held his peace as Celegorm rose to fulfill the challenge, because Caranthir’s words had not been wholly cruel. Once, long ago, when Maglor knew without a doubt that the love in Caranthir’s heart was stronger than the darkness, Caranthir would have been able to deal with his worry for Celegorm, for them all, in a way that did not walk hand-in-hand with wounding words.

Caranthir, in his own way, wanted to see Celegorm know again the joy Huan’s companionship had given him. But Caranthir didn’t know how to communicate that anymore, so he stirred Celegorm’s pride to force Celegorm into breaching that last barrier of grief and finding joy again in the love and loyalty of a canine companion.

Celegorm crouched down beside the rug the hounds had claimed for their own. He watched them a moment, not yet reaching out to call one to him. One of the pups rolled over, little legs bent, showing its soft white belly. Another with a spotted ear poked its head up from its mother’s stomach to watch Celegorm back.

Celegorm scooted closer, the hand that hung down from his bent knee reached out to scratch the pup’s stomach, mouth forming little yipping greetings in the dogs’ language. His fingers never brushed across the offered warmth and comfort of that pup’s fur. The bitch surged up, teeth bared in a snarl, as her pups turned upon the hand of one who would have called them friend.

The pup Celegorm had tried to touch sunk its teeth into his fingers. The other hounds found their feet as well, some large, hunting dogs. They shot forward to snap their teeth at him, one even opening its jaws to fasten them about Celegorm’s leg, but Celegorm jerked back before the hound could reach him.

“Celegorm!” His brothers rushed to his aid; a pack of hounds, a pack of Orcs, it made no difference, their hearts still pounded Brother, Protect.

Celegorm did not require their assistance in freeing himself from the hounds’ clutches. The moment he had put a few paces between himself and the hounds their viciousness died back down and they took their spots before the hearth with the air of contentment, as if nothing had happened.

“Celegorm—” Maglor reached out to lay a hand on his brother’s shoulder, but Celegorm shook him off. His eyes had not torn away from the pack of hounds. His mouth ran in a white, sharp line across his face.

Celegorm couldn’t let it go. Of course he couldn’t, this was Celegorm. He started for the hounds again.

“Don’t, Brother.” Celegorm didn’t heed Amras’ warning.

The hounds’ heads swiveled at his approach, but Celegorm moved with the swiftness of a diving hawk, hands snatching up one of the pups as an eagle would swoop down and steal a gofer in its talons. The hounds barked and leapt back to their feet. The little pup squirmed in Celegorm’s hold, but when the hounds tried to pursue the one who carried their young away, the twins positioned themselves in the hounds’ path and sent them back to the rug with sharp commands from their masters.

Celegorm withdrew with his prize, holding the pup in a firm but gentle grip. He tried to sooth its pitiful cries and struggles with soft words, speaking to it in its tongue, but the pup would not be soothed. When Celegorm took the pup against his chest to cradle the little body, the pup sunk its teeth into one of his fingers.

Celegorm cried out, as much from physical pain as pain of the heart. He threw the pup from him. It landed with a pained cry on the floor boards. It struggled to its feet and made a break back to the rug and its mother. Celegorm did not let it escape. The pup might as well have attempted to escape the lair of a wolf.

He grabbed it, circling his hand about the pup’s slender back, and brought his arm back and hurled the little body against wall. It impacted with a sickening smack, and slumped in a heap to the floor, unmoving.

Celegorm spun around, nothing but wildness and opened wounds in his eyes. He stared ranting about loyalty and what he did to traitors.

His chest heaved, arms flinging about in violent gesticulations, voice a shout, and grief behind it all. He didn’t leave the pup’s body be where it lay on the floor. He went to it, snatching the lifeless thing up and shook it at them, words so full of rage and pain Maglor couldn’t understand half of them, but the word Huan fell like blood into the air again and again and again.

No, Celegorm hadn’t gotten over Huan. The emotions had just been repressed, bottle up until they exploded.

The names of other traitors joined Huan’s: Aredhel, Ulfang, and Orodreth for betraying their people by not bringing Nargothrond to war. The list fell into another kind of naming. The names of the dead dropped like blows from Celegorm’s mouth, for each one struck the heart. Their people, their men. Sworn-companions, lords’ sons, and common folk they’d hunted, larboard, and traveled the wilds of Valinor shoulder-to-shoulder with, and then fought beside as they washed the lands of their new home in the blood of their enemies and their own.

Curufin watched their brother with nothing but emptiness hollowing out his eyes. He made no move to comfort Celegorm. Maedhros said nothing either. He’d shut himself away behind the cold steel he’d learned in Angband and reached for when his strength threatened to fail him.

To look into Celegorm’s eyes was to look into Curufin’s, into their father’s. One more brother slipping away into lost eyes behind which the fire burned all-consuming.

Maglor couldn’t watch Celegorm wave the dead pup about, its neck flopping, just a tinny thing in the hands of a one who had once had the power to crush its scull in but never would have.

Celegorm had been as dangerous as he was gentle with the creatures that held his heart. He could rip out a deer’s throat with his bare hands (Maglor had seen him do it), he could be as merciless as nature, but he never forgot he held that power in his palms when he cradled creatures weaker than himself in those deadly fingers of his.

Maglor could not listen to words shouted up like screams from a pit of grief another moment. He crossed the distance to his raving brother.

“Celegorm.” The single word dropped from his mouth had Celegorm’s gaze whipping to him, mouth lifting in a snarl.

Maglor snatched the dead pup from his brother’s hand, tossing the corpse back onto the floor. Celegorm turned on him like a wolf denied its kill. He swung, fist grazing Maglor’s jaw as Maglor leapt back.

“Enough.” The one word from Maedhros’ mouth put an end to the violence between brothers.

Celegorm’s wild eyes tore at Maedhros, too-bright, too-overflowing to be born without pain. But bear that gaze Maedhros did.

“Enough, enough, enough! Yes, oh Valar, I have had enough! Enough of this fucking place, enough of leading my soldiers out to die, enough of traitors, enough of Oaths! I will not—no more—” His hands went to his throat, circling, nails scratching.

Curufin’s voice cut like a knife’s blade across Celegorm’s face, eyes dead: “Control yourself.”

Celegorm became all the more hysterical. His hands dropped to his chest, pressing in, a mimic of the Oath crushing them all under its weight, the weight of an eternity in its thralldom, unable to get out. “I cannot take it anymore, do you hear me? I cannot take it! It’s killing me, killing me!”

Three strides from Maedhros’ long legs and he stood before Celegorm. Maedhros slapped him. Celegorm’s hysteria cut off instantly and the room dropped into a terrible silence.

Celegorm had been born with eyes a shade of green that defied words. They were the green of a deep forest, the sly green of a cat’s long smirking ones, the bottomless green found in a lake shimmering with sunlight. They were the green at the foundation of the earth, the womb from which all life sprang.

Now they were the empty green of glass. The green behind which a lost soul spiraled out into the abyss waiting to collect it, fingers scrabbling for handholds slipping away, no anchor left to hold him moored to the Earth. Celegorm, who had always been the strong one, the steady one, the shield at their backs, had reached his breaking point.

Celegorm covered his mouth with a shaking hand, and made to push passed Maedhros, head for the door and the escape it offered. He used to run off to his woods when he was a child, and had never stopped seeking them out when the world swung mad around him. But Maedhros grabbed his arm before he could get away, and yanked him against his chest.

Each one of the brothers had once collapsed into that chest as readily and often as they had found Father’s. Maedhros had been as a second parent to them when Mother left. But that chest had not allowed embraces for so many years after Angband they’d stopped seeking it out.

The embrace was as much a smother as a hug, fierce and bleeding pain all over Celegorm, tight like death’s grip, tight like Father who clung and clung and never let them go, who loved them like fire: brilliant and consuming, nurturing as a hearth’s warmth, fierce as a grizzly mother tearing apart any who came between her and her cubs, as precious a love as it was dangerous to bear.

Celegorm hugged Maedhros back with desperation and despair. Don’t let us go, save us, save us. He grabbed fistfuls of Maedhros’ hair. Maedhros’ sunk his hands into Celegorm’s hair, anchoring to Celegorm’s clinging, tearing at each other as much as they tried to fuse their bodies into one. Never let go. This was all they had left in the world: brothers.)

Maglor’s fingers tightened about the Silmaril, but it was not enough anymore. Just holding it without being able to hold it made the grief unbearable. The Silmaril pulsed a distant heat, reaching out to comfort him, but unable to wash him in the gentle warmth of a hearth’s fire any longer. The Valar had stolen even an echo of his father’s arms from him.

No. Maglor brought his son close, and buried his nose in Glorfindel’s hair, inhaling. They could keep nothing from him. He had his son now. His brothers and father reached out to touch him back through the skin of his son’s face, the pitch of his son’s voice, and the fire of the Silmaril he felt holding him when inside his son’s mind.

He tore the bindings off the Silmaril, unleashing its glory. It flashed a star’s white brilliance, charging into all the corners of his mind to eat the darkness. The light fell upon Glorfindel’s sleeping face and sat on his skin like dew.

Maglor found a smile; defiant, a rebel to the last, and pulled up a memory to fling in the face of the creeping despair.

(Father stood beside Curufin, their arms linked. Father’s head tilted to whisper something in Curufin’s ear. The Silmarils rode like a star-crown upon his brow, luring every eye in the hall back again and again. Curufin said something and Father threw his head back in laughter. The hall of feasting Elves went silent, an awe the equal of a Mingling falling over them; such was the beauty of that laughter. More than half the gathered Elves loathed Fëanor (or lusted for what they would never have), but a soul could not hear Fëanor’s laughter when it rang free, as unbound as light itself, and not pause to savor its beauty. Curufin’s face glowed bright as a cup-full of distilled happiness to have brought his father such joy.)

All was not despair. Hadn’t he promised Maedhros –Glorfindel—that he would try? Hadn’t he promised not to give up?

He defeated another day of the prowling darkness when it would have been a mercy to fall back into the forgetfulness of madness’ embrace. He came out on the darkness’ other side and turned to laugh back at it, daring it to snap its jaw and drag him under again. He would bite back.

As long as he had Glorfindel to live for, he would not give up. This he swore.

He pulled the lax, slumbering body of his son to mold against his side. Glorfindel fit like he had been born for this.

Maglor’s arms fit around the whole of Glorfindel’s slender waist with ease. Some nights Glorfindel would shake him awake, awoken himself by the crushing pressure of Maglor’s arms across his ribcage, constricting about the tender insides of his belly.

Maglor always fell asleep with Glorfindel in his arms. He would not have been able to find rest without the reassurance of his son pressed into his side. One day he would wake up and Glorfindel would be gone. He would leave him like Maedhros left him. Maglor knew this in the places deep within that trembled and trembled, clinging to Glorfindel with the desperation of a drowner.

In less than two weeks they would reach the Númenórean settlement. If Glorfindel did not slip away in the dark of their first night on dry land, he would the next or the next.

Maglor did not speak his terror aloud, but when the dark days took him his mind dwelt often upon it, and he would plot how to keep Glorfindel from leaving him. Shame followed when he routed the darkness one more time, for his mind would wander down terrible and possessive paths.

In this moment he believed Glorfindel would not leave him in the cloak of night without even a word. Maedhros had not even left him thus, and Maedhros had left him on the errand of—

He threw himself down the link of the bond, immersing himself in the muted emotions of Glorfindel’s sleeping mind. The bond would keep Glorfindel with him. But the surety of that belief went up and down like the tides in his mind.

The light for the Silmaril soaked into Glorfindel’s eyelids and he stirred. Maglor savored the bliss Glorfindel’s heart sung with in the Silmaril’s light. He bent and pressed a kiss gentle as moonlight into Glorfindel’s mouth. His son smiled into it, lids cracking enough for a glimmering strip of blue to peek out at him.

“I love you,” Maglor kissed the line of his son’s jaw, hands smoothing down Glorfindel’s sides and the planes of his back.

“Mmmmm,” Glorfindel nosed into the pillow they’d made with Maglor’s balled-up tunic after their love-making last night.

He never called what they shared fucking anymore. The distinction gave him comfort. What he shared with Glorfindel was the drinking of love and pouring it out, exactly what Glorfindel needed.

Making love took Maglor back to softer times, to the Maglor of Valinor. When he made love to his son, he believed, for those glorious moments of its lasting, that he could return to the man he’d once been (and somehow reenter those days of bliss).

But he couldn’t be that Maglor again. The grinning darkness whispered the truth, and the emptiness in his life where all the fires of Fëanor’s blood had gone out confirmed it. Who he was now was pressing Eärendil into the ground and fucking him in those delicious moments when lust and dominance and possession drove him high enough to rattle the stars.

But he would not let that Maglor touch Glorfindel. It had been different with Eärendil, he hadn’t cared if he’d hurt him.

(Eärendil’s mouth unwrapped the words it had tongued in secret for unknown weeks: I-I love you. Why? What was there to love? Eärendil’s eyes under the night sky, the angles of his face in the cup of Maglor’s hand, his moonglow skin under Maglor’s starving fingertips, the sounds he made when Maglor rode him into the ground that sparked fire in Maglor’s belly and—)

He hadn’t even considered that he could reach down and sink his nails into Eärendil’s heart. He hadn’t been thinking of much beyond the grief yawning on and on and on before him like a chasm, an entire world of darkness at his feet that knew no bottom, for how could he ever fall through the agony of this existence and into the light of a life moving on? There was no moving past this. There were no new beginnings.

But now there was because he had his son who had given his brothers and father back to him in the lining of his skin and the scent of the blood in his pulse and the words of Maedhros echoing back to Maglor through the Ages. Now there was hope. Just a sliver of a moon-pale slice, but not even the darkness could devour it when he held on until his knuckles bled.

His thumbs traced the bones about Glorfindel’s eyes. He would never be worthy of these bones under his, but he dared the touch. He poured his love into Glorfindel daily, filling him up with everything he had left to give. His love was messy, complicated, and devouring. But it was all he had to heal the damage his own blindness had done to Glorfindel.

He closed the distance for a lingering kiss. He made-love to Glorfindel’s mouth with everything he was. He would give up anything for Glorfindel, anything of himself for Glorfindel’s happiness (Only don’t let Glorfindel leave him, please, please, don’t ask that of him; he didn’t have the strength to let Glorfindel go).

When he released Glorfindel from his kiss, his son let out a soft sigh, lashes lying in delicate fans against his cheekbones, mouth kissed red as sin. Glorfindel curled about his body like a sated cat. Maglor smiled, and gently brushed the hair back from his son’s face.

When Glorfindel spoke, he did not whisper his love, Maglor could feel it pulsing through the bond, he said something far more precious: “I am not going to leave you.”

Maglor’s hands paused in their gentle glide over Glorfindel’s hair and tilted his chin to catch a glimpse of Glorfindel’s face. Glorfindel’s eyes met his. “I promise.”

Emotion clogged Maglor’s throat so he could not get words out. He pressed a kiss into Glorfindel’s brow almost harsh in the riot of joy and fear and belief and doubt inside him. “Nor I you,” he managed through the constriction of his ribs.

Today he would take Glorfindel up to the deck, the Maia-hair cloak concealing them from the Human sailors. They would taste the salty air, feel the touch of sunlight, and watch the waves heave as far as the eye could reach, nothing but water until the sky ate the sea.

Today he would gather the strength to look out of himself and the mourning shroud wrapped perpetually around him like the grey of a mourner’s cloak, and see to Glorfindel’s happiness first. He would make his son laugh today, and for those precious moments when the sound of Glorfindel’s laughter caught him up, his family would surround him again, and he would fear no darkness.

Chapter 14 by Encairion

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 14

Vinyalondë clamored with activity. It reminded Maglor of an ant colony, constantly in motion, a line of worker ants hustling this way and that. Vinyalondë was primarily a logging settlement. The rows of felled trees, trunks stacked high as a man, awaiting loading onto the ships that would take the wood back to Númenor to be made into yet another ship for its swelling fleets, was a testament to that.

Maglor kept the Maia-hair cloak secure about them as they wove through the settlement. He wouldn’t risk gathering supplies in a Númenórean city. The wilds of Eriador would serve their needs until they came across an Elven settlement. He would leave such an encounter to Glorfindel, best not to risk coming across an Elf who could recognize his face. His fëa was too chaotic stake their lives on its ability to hold an enchantment steady.

The thrill of walking on dry land again did wonders to both their spirits, cooped up as they’d been for weeks on the ocean passage. Glorfindel walked with a spring in his step, and a half-smile curved permanently on his lips. He was free now. He could go anywhere. There were no cages of high mountain walls to hold him, nor any in his own mind to hunch his spine like a slave’s collar.

Maglor’s stomach dropped like a stone, fear rushing in. The shame came on its heels. He should be happy for Glorfindel, and he was, really he was, but…Glorfindel could go anywhere. Glorfindel’s hunger for freedom threaded through too many dreams Maglor had shared through the bond to allow him to believe Glorfindel would not learn to resent the bond binding them together one day. And then he would leave. If he did not leave tonight.

Maglor’s arm tightened about Glorfindel’s waist, fingers curling into his side, feeling the sharpness of a hipbone and the smooth slide of muscles through the thin fabric of the tunic. Glorfindel mistook the gesture, and flashed a smile at him. “I never thought I would say this, but I am glad to be off the sea. I will take a pass on another voyage stuck in a ship’s hull this century!”

Maglor forced a laugh out. “This coming from the half-Teler?”

Glorfindel grinned. “I am a genuine Endor-blooded Elf now. What do you say: does a prosperous career in diplomacy lay ahead for me now I have three Elven-kindreds in my blood?”

“The Fëanorion-blood cancels out the rest, I should think,” he said, putting on a haughty expression. He found it easier to fall into the banter if he kept the vision of Glorfindel’s smile and the lightness soaking through the bond before his mind’s eye. “I rather doubt the Teleri will be counting you among their brethren.”

Glorfindel pretended affront. “I happen to have a Teler mother. I would think that counted for something.”

Maglor took in a deep lungful of air, the stone trapped in his chest easing. Maedhros’ voice smirked at him out of Glorfindel’s; those cheekbones, exactly like his brother’s, budded up in a smile. His brother had not left him all alone. He walked beside him even now, in the skin of his son.

(“You are Father’s secret love child.”

Maglor rolled his eyes and shoved Maedhros playfully, earning a clear, heart-stopping note of laughter. “Will you give up on that already?”

“It is too much fun to stop.” Maehdros wagged his brows at Maglor. “It must have been a Teler woman. Your voice had to come from somewhere, and you look nothing like Mother. You are all Father.”

Maglor crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his nose up. “I inherited the glory of my voice straight from my father.”

“With a touch of the Shore-singers’ song entwined.” Maedhros nodded, face serious and eyes twinkling. “As I said: Father’s secret love child.”)

Maglor tucked the memory back into his heart. “Yes, well, the fact your eyes shine with Tree Light will put an end to any claims her spirit had a work in your making.”

A sly smile slid across Glorfindel’s face. “Oh, I am purely a labor of your love, then? I wonder how the birthing worked out for you.”

“Cheeky.” Maglor’s hand slipped down from Glorfindel’s waist to swat his rear.

Glorfindel laughed, loud enough heads turned and brows furrowed as the Humans could not discover the source of the enchanting sound. “You like me like that.”

Glorfindel grinned boyishly, with just a hint of the roguishness he would grow into. Maglor doubted Glorfindel had. The old Glorfindel didn’t strike him as the kind of man who’d winked at handsome men as he sauntered from a room. But this Glorfindel, his Glorfindel, wore his skin more confidently every day. He grew more beautiful and radiant because of it.

“You know I do.” Maglor had meant to make the remark teasing, but fear surged up and snatched the lightness from his tongue, leaving only a whisper the cousin of a choke.

The old Glorfindel, the one whose memories bled through the bond in sleep most often, might have stayed with him because that Glorfindel had craved to be loved as much as Maglor craved to give it to him. But with every passing week his son grew into himself a little more.

Watching the confidence take root and drive out the old self-hate was like partaking of a king’s banquet. Maglor wouldn’t have it any other way. But it broke his heart to watch and know that Glorfindel would soon outgrow his desperate need for his father’s reassurances of love, and one day walk away from him.

They set up camp a few leagues beyond the settlement’s walls, in a little patch of wood between hay fields. Yellow and red wildflowers dotted the fields, shooting up to the great blue sky side-by-side with the farmer’s crop. The sweetness of ripening hay carried on the breeze, and a colony of bees guarded their hive in the crook of a branch in the massive oak tree Glorfindel had picked for their shelter. Not a cloud sailed the sky, so they bedded down without the fear of a drenching during the night.

They went about preparing dinner and cleaning up without exchanging more than common courtesies and observations. The fear had been bloating in Maglor’s mind every step they took deeper into these free lands, until it loomed like a great thundercloud, overshadowing any flicker of reason until only the certainty of the fear’s fruition remained: Glorfindel would not be there when he woke.

Glorfindel looked up at him from the assortment of berries they’d collected along their walk. He smiled, but it seemed to Maglor a smile wearing the taste of sorrow, or regret. That smile settled in Maglor’s heart like a goodbye. He couldn’t bear it.

He flung the remnants of his dinner from him, and circled their low-burning fire in a single step. Glorfindel’s eyes flew wide as Maglor grabbed the berries out of his hands and tossed them away. His fingers circled Glorfindel’s wrist and yanked him to his feet. He attacked his son’s mouth.

Glorfindel moaned into the kiss, opening to Maglor’s assault. They fell together into the sleeping mats. Malgor’s desperation drove him to be less tender than was his custom with Glorfindel, but when he had his son’s hot skin against his and felt that pulse throbbing under his fingertips, his loving turned generous. Still, a bit more rough than might be wise, but Glorfindel seemed to enjoy the change.

He made Glorfindel his again and yet again that night (maybe the last one). But no, he would not let Glorfindel slip quietly from his life with a smile like goodbye. He would fight as he had fought with bleeding fingernails and cracked ribs and shattered heart and mind for everyday of his existence since all the light in the world went out.

When he had loved with everything in him, he allowed Glorfindel to slip down into a sated, exhaustion sleep. Tonight he ensured Glorfindel did not have the energy to rouse from their bed and creep away into the night. But he feared he had not done enough to tighten the bindings of the bond and keep Glorfindel from leaving him one day.

Maedhros had been bonded to him with love and blood, crimes and Oaths, all they had left to cling to in a mad word and don’t leave me, please, please, Brother! But Maedhros had left him anyway. Why would Glorfindel stay if Maedhros who Maglor had never failed like he’d failed Glorfindel, who had forgiven him his unforgivable betrayal (Maglor had left his dearest brother there to die!), and who loved all the whispers of him, even the selfish, grasping ones, had not?

*

Glorfindel awoke to the smell of growing things and an itchy nose. He’d rolled clean off the sleeping mats during the night and lay face first in the grass, curled about Maglor’s hand holding his. Every time he exhaled, the grass blades shivered and tickled his nose.

He lay for a moment, gaze sliding to the perimeter of the oak’s morning shadow where their corner of woodland gave way to the first hayfield. A hump of land blocked the full majesty of the rising sun, but the sky bled from a pale grey to a decided blue.

He didn’t think of anything for a long moment, letting the order of a waking mind acquaint itself with the dream. Tonight was the first time he dreamed a single slice of his father’s past since the formation of the bond. Maglor fortified his mind against him. No dream-memories, not even a flicker of emotion when awake reached him.

It hurt terribly to be shut out, unwelcome. But he understood why Maglor did it. Many times, if he’d had the ability, he would have shut Maglor out too. But not having a choice in the invasion had turned out for the best in the end. All the times he’d been tempted to hide, fall back into the practice of masks that had been both destructive and addictive in the false-safety they promised (No one could hurt him if they never saw his true face. A lie of course, it had never stopped hurting).

The bond, or rather, Maglor’s response to the emotions overflowing from Glorfindel’s end, had kept Glorfindel from fleeing inwards again. Maglor always knew when sadness or doubts troubled him, and did not stop until he discovered their seed and rooted them out again. His father was so good to him.

If only Maglor were as open with his own heart in return. Glorfindel sometimes wondered about Malgor’s love. Not if Maglor truly loved him, he knew his father did, but…he wondered what he meant to Maglor. He would not give back the memories of their love-making for the world, but he wished he knew if when Maglor told him ‘I love you’ he meant ‘I am in love with you.’

The words asking for the truth of the matter sat on Glorfindel’s tongue time and again, but always something made him hesitate. Fear, perhaps. Fear that this father, who shut him out and kept so much wrapped up between the bindings of his ribcage, would react negatively to a demand for answers. He wasn’t afraid of driving Maglor away, not physically, there was too must evidence that that was Malgor’s own fear, but Maglor could go away without disappearing into a morning mist. Glorfindel knew all about hiding inside your own mind, and Maglor knew more.

Maglor turned over in his sleep, rolling half on top of Glorfindel. The hand clasping his never loosened, even as Maglor slug his free arm around him. Maglor smelt overwhelmingly of the sea, just as their clothing and gear did. The sea had a way of rubbing her scent off on any who encroached on her territory, like a cat marking its domain.

Glorfindel turned the dream over in his mind. He would have chosen a memory of his father with their family, but he took the single jewel he’d been dropped and hoarded it. He might never possess another:

(The hungry children wept as they walked. Fed, their hunger grew, a mark of how many days their people had survived on restricted rations. When they reached the twins’ fortress at Amon Ereb, they would be able to break into the winter stores of grain, but for now they marched on the little they were able to snatch up as they fled, an army of Orcs pursuing and burning the land black behind them.

The report of a fight breaking out last night over the bread rations brought Maglor to the distribution wagons for this evening’s allotments. No mouths left with enough, but at least no one was starving to death. He had sent Celegorm out with a party of hunters to see what could be forage from the land. Celegorm would not return empty-handed, but what he and his men brought back to the encampment would not be enough to satisfy even a forth of their people’s bellies.

The distribution line inched forward, each mother or father unable to help themselves from pleading for just one more handful (‘I have a child.’ ‘Please, my lord, my son is just a babe, have pity!’) Maglor had pity on them all, but had no food to fill the mouths of every hungry child. If he had a feast waiting him at his own tent, he would have rushed back to divide it up for the thousands. But he would eat of bowl of weak soup like the rest of his people tonight.

Though he could give them nothing, these noble, loyal followers who had tied their fates to the sons of Fëanor and followed them into exile, Maglor looked into each of their faces as he refused them a second portion, and gave them his love and quiet respect with soft words that brought them comfort. He could offer them no food, but he knew the banquet of his voice. Each Elf left departed with their allotted portion and a tranquilly of spirit that shone in the fabric of their faces as they walked away, the horrors of the war and the destruction of their lives forgotten for a time.

A commotion further down the line drew Maglor away from his post. Guards had been subtly stationed along the distribution line as a precaution. As they stepped forward, he waved them back to settle the dispute himself.

The raised voices silenced the moment Maglor drew abreast of them. He did not need his voice to bewitch them into respect. Even at their most desperate, their people loved them.

“What is the cause of your quarrel?”

A rough looking man with the hands of a laborer and the proud bearing of a follower of the Fëanorions spoke up. “Lord Maglor, it is known through all the camp how close the rations are kept. Belts have been notched, and those with the foresight to have gathered more provisions than their treasured possessions have given what food they can and left the distribution lines to those less fortunate. Our children cry with hunger in the night, and our hearts weigh heavy with grief. These trials we can endure, but why make them harder than they must be? Why give food to those who do not look to our people’s survival? Who did not bleed with our soldiers upon the battlefield, but sulked in their woods like cowards, leaving our people to be slaughtered?”

Those nearby nodded, murmuring their agreement, and shot dark looks at the cluster of Silvan in their midst.

“You speak of these Silvan before you now and paint them with the brush of Doriath and Ossiriand? Shame.” Maglor’s answering words heralded the silence of a coming dawn, all held their breaths like the world did for the sun’s rising. “Look at these Silvan. Look at them!” All eyes turned to observe them.

The Silvan were a mix of those who held their heads high under the Noldor’s judging eyes, and those who hunched their shoulders, trembling limbs seeking escape. The split between the two types of Silvan found living amongst the followers of the Fëanorions were as night and day, and could be pinpointed in their measure of pride or beaten-down natures.

Attire was not a sure mark of these Silvan differences in society, for some of the bent heads worn clean and well-made clothing, gifted to them by the lord they served (no Silvan was forced into serving in the houses of the Noldor lords, but some were born into it and never left). And some Silvan with heads high, the true free-born of their people, wore tunics and leggings in various stages of disrepair, for they had no lord to clothe them, only the work of their own hands.

The Silvan Maglor drew the gathered eyes to were amongst those with pride in their carriage. These Silvan wore the woven Elven-hair shirts their archers were famous for. Each one carried the insignia of which son of Fëanor they served, and what company and rank.

Maedhros had adopted the Silvan’s manner of armor for his Noldor archers. The Elven-hair shirts allowed for complete freedom of movement, while also offering protection from enemy archers. The Elven-hair could be woven so tightly arrows bounced off them like a rock wall. They could not deflect a sword slice though, which cost the Silvan thousands of their people in the Battle Under the Stars.

Both Silvan and Noldor hair favored the darker shades, and under the skilled hands of an Elven weaver, shadows were coaxed between the strands of steel-hard hair until the shirt’s wearer blended into all the pockets of the land or the tree trunks of a forest like smoke. When the archers of the Fëanorions took the field –a mixture of Noldor and Silvan—they stood like a forest of black elms and rained a hail of death upon their enemies’ heads.

“Before you stand Elves who marched to battle alongside you. Bled with you. And died with you. With them also stand Elves who have lived amongst our people, minded our children, cleaned our floors, and married our sons and daughters for hundreds of years. Be angry with Thingol’s folk! For few amongst that people have earned the right to be honored by us! And if you wish, scorn the Elves who have shrunk from battle –Sindar, Silvan, Teleri, and Noldor alike! But do not cast the bitter stones in your hearts against these who have stood beside us!”

Maglor met every eye, Noldor and Silvan, holding their gaze as he read their hearts, before releasing them, satisfied. His voice had spoken, and none here who he had caught within its net would ever again clump the Fëanorion’s Silvan beside the cowards of Doriath.

No one complained of the Silvan’s right to their place in the distribution lines again that night.)

The dream comforted Glorfindel, and he felt ashamed because of it. It was wrong to take comfort in the knowledge that he had not been alone in his failure to do much of anything for the Silvan’s plight. He remembered dreading even riding passed the Silvan’s settlement in Gondolin, for it brought his self-absorption with his own misery starkly into the light. He couldn’t hide his head in the sand when the hungry cries of infants carried on the wind.

Maglor had put the concerns of rule, and the perpetual colossus of an unwinnable war, above inflicting justice on his people for their abuse of the Silvan. Glorfindel had less excuse for his own in-action. He couldn’t even pin-point why he had not spoken out more against the crimes being committed. Much of his life in Gondolin seemed hazy to him now. Elven-memory did not fade, yet the lines blurred in Glorfindel’s mind. Gondolin seemed very far away, as if he’d walked through years and years of fog, only select memories pulling into perspective (and he wished he had not even these of those dreary years of misery where he choked on self-hate).

He became aware of a growing sickness in his belly. Not enough to be violently ill, but it felt like hands knotted his insides together, and restlessness ate away at his limbs.

Maglor’s body kept him from getting up and pacing the little grove. He could have wiggled out from under his father easily enough, but did not want to. His father’s warm body pressing its weight down into him comforted him. He’d never known a moment’s shame in Maglor’s embrace.

It hit him then that what he felt did not come from his own body or mind, but from Malgor’s. His father must have woken, and now lay with his face in Glorfindel’s hair, his naked skin blazing against Glorfindel’s bare back, with one arm encircling him as a hand held his. And underneath it all crashed a tangle of feelings piercing Maglor so deeply they shook him like a ship caught in an ocean’s gall and left him physically ill.

Was this his father’s fear he felt? Were Maglor’s walls down because the flood inside was too much to contain? Glorfindel imagined the misery his father waded through –day after day in a mourning that lasted the Ages—would feel like a heavy stone pressed into the chest, so that to rise, to even breath through the weight, became the feat of titans. This was not grief he felt now, it was terror.

“Are you awake?” His father asked. He must have felt Glorfindel’s mounting distress through the bond. Not for the first time he wished he had the power to hide.

He kept very still for a moment, thinking hard, racing to untangle the source of his father’s fear before he had to open his eyes and pretend he felt nothing. He was not about to reveal the opened bond, even if the secrecy left him feeling a bit greasy, like he spied upon his father. He wanted to know his father like his father knew him so badly he ached with the wanting of it.

Maglor’s hand came up to knot in Glorfindel’s hair with pain. For a moment the breath iced in Glorfindel’s chest, fearing his father had discovered him and the deception had roused his wrath. But when Maglor only drew him closer (closer, closer), he began to discern the root of the terror twisting like sickness in his father’s gut.

“I know you are awake. Why do you not answer me?” His father’s voice should never contain the lonely sound of the ocean’s waves sighing against a deserted beach.

A profound love exploded on Glorfindel’s tongue. He would consent to being burned alive in startshine if only he could unmake all the sadness inside this dear, great heart beating its mournful rhythm against the back of his ribs. He did not wonder at what had put that terrible sadness in his father’s voice; it sprung from the same stubborn root as the terror: the unconquerable surety that Glorfindel would leave him.

Glorfindel shifted until he could clasp his arms about his father’s neck and breathe in the scent of bier and the hot coppery taste of fire. “I was thinking. That is all.” His father would not swallow that.

Glorfindel felt his words bouncing off the impenetrable wall of his father’s fears like tinkering coins trying to bring down a siege wall. But he could think of nothing he could say to convince his father that he would not leave him. Had he not already spoken the promise again and again?

Maglor tugged at his shoulders, and Glorfindel reluctantly drew back for his father to examine his face. Everything was already betrayed through the bond.

Maglor’s eyes searched him, brow wrinkled, and mouth pulled down. “You are unhappy,” Maglor said, gaze flickering away. Glorfindel felt his father’s muscles brace themselves as the sickness screamed through him. “You wish to leave. To be free of me.”

“No!” Glorfindel’s shout snapped his father’s eyes back to him. His arms opened wide about his father’s shoulders to embrace their full broadness, pinning their bodies together as if it was Maglor who spoke of escape. “No, Father. Never.”

Maglor’s hand trembled in his hair, the fingers of his other hand sinking into the giving flesh at Glorfindel’s waist. Glorfindel did not notice the fierceness unto pain of his father’s embrace, he noticed nothing but the love swollen in his chest, crying out to reach Maglor and drink up all the terror still shaking his father’s skeleton. How could he make his father understand, once and for all, that they would never be parted?

And then the answer fell on him, something reckless and mad, but something Maglor would be forced to believe in. If he had ever doubted the pure intentions of the sons of Fëanor when they swore their terrible, grievous Oath, he never would again.

The need to demonstrate love, cry out with it in words of loyalty until world’s ending, and whisper it in the dark of the night into beloved ears until the doubting heart never doubted again, never questioned that devotion, surged up in Glorfindel until it pressed against the backs of his eyes, moistening them, and twisted in his breast until the love and the need for Maglor to understand the depths of it beat against his ribcage like a trapped soul clawing to get out.

He pulled back from the embrace so he could seal his eyes with Maglor’s and will the doubts from his father’s heart. He said, voice passionate but carrying the steadfastness of a mountain’s roots: “I will never forsake you. Be it in life or in death, neither law nor love nor swords’ league, dread nor danger, not Doom itself shall take me from—”

“No!” Maglor’s fingers closed about Glorfindel’s wrist like the grip of iron and shook him as if he could shake the words off Glorfindel’s tongue. Maglor’s breath rattled in his lungs, harsh and racing. When the pallor of the first wave of panic receded from his cheeks, they exploded in the flush of furry. “Do you realize what you could have done! How dare you endanger yourself like this? How dare you try to swear an Oath to me, to me! Have you no comprehension, no basic compassion, no understanding at all of what I have suffered and the suffering I have inflicted because of my Oath?”

Glorfindel met his father’s eyes calmly, looking into the snapping silver-fire of their irises almost consumed by the black, and said with perfect peace: “I know what I am doing, and I will not regret it. Let me finish.”

“No!” Maglor surged to his feet, towering over Glorfindel, eyes lit with fury like a storm-clouded sky with lightning. “I would rather cut my own throat! I would sooner cut yours here and now than allow an Oath to pass your lips!”

Glorfindel jumped to up. “Why can’t you trust me? My Oath would not have been like yours for it would have been sworn on love!”

His Oath would have laid itself over him with the pureness of starlight. He would have felt its bindings loop about his chest, his hands, his feet, but he would have sworn on his love for Maglor, not the Everlasting Darkness. He would have sworn with the words of love, not vengeance, and tasted only the sweetness of honey on his tongue when the words rolled off. The bindings on him would have settled about him like his father’s arms –both tender and relentless, but never cruel.

“All the more perverse!” His father cried. “For it would have twisted your love like it twisted our words into chains! You think we did not swear out of love? It was only love that moved us! But intention makes no difference to Oaths of Power. It would have driven you mad before the end. It would not have carried if prison walls kept you apart from me, or love and duty to another, only its own fulfillment would matter.”

Glorfindel’s voice caught on a sob, “But I do not know how to make you understand any other way! I do not know how to make you see that I will never leave you!”

Maglor jerked his head, face closing itself like gates shut against him. “You have given me your word. That is enough.”

“You don’t believe me! I can feel how much you—” He broke off, but it was done, and Maglor’s side of the bond snapped shut like a trap, throwing him out. Glorfindel made a furious, strangled sound in the back of his throat. “Stop it! Stop shutting me out! You…you make me so angry sometimes!”

Something dark clouded over his father’s face, and when his body jerked forward, arms lifting, Glorfindel thought for a moment his father meant to attack him, and was too shocked to do anything but stand there, dumb and defenseless. But it wasn’t an attack, or at least not one of fists. His father grabbed him by the back of his tunic and slammed their bodies together. Glorfindel cried out as the force of the momentum tumbled them into the grass, his back smacking into the earth.

The fierceness, the madness, of his father’s embrace did not loosen. If anything it tightened. His father’s arms felt like bars imprisoning him, and yet… “I will not let you leave me! I will not.” His father’s voice was gruff, little more than a growl, as if the terror had reduced him to the language of beasts.

His father’s teeth sank into his collarbone, biting. It hurt. It felt like his father wanted to eat him alive. He didn’t know when he started to cry. Soft hiccupping sobs turned into body-wracking ones. He didn’t know how to suck out all the madness like poison from his father’s mind. He didn’t know. He only wanted to save him, save them, but he didn’t know how!

“Forgive me, forgive me, please, please.” His father’s voice still burned like madness against his skin as he flooded Glorfindel’s face with kisses, arms not letting Glorfindel go, but at least they were not crushing his insides anymore.

Glorfindel turned his face away from his father’s mouth, and did his best to wipe the tears off his face with the arms still caging him. His father’s voice faded away, the litany of pleas and apologies over.

They lay like that, his father’s body pinning him to the grass, caught like a fish in a net, or like the most precious of jewels set between forks of gold in a diadem. Their breathing was unnaturally loud, and his father’s breath puffed hot against the wetness of kisses on Glorfindel’s neck. Birds sang in the sun’s rising and insects hummed and buzzed, but it seemed very far away.

“Are you…are you going to leave me?”

Glorfindel shut his eyes, the last of the moister from his tears spilled from his eye’s corner to slide down the side of his face into his hair. “No. No, I am not going to leave.”

His father’s arms tightened on his waist. “I am sorry I…I do not know how…I am ruining everything.”

Glorfindel turned his face into his father’s hair, pressing his cheek against the delicate shape of his father’s ear. A shudder ran though his father’s body. “No. But I am not going to pretend it does not hurt when you shut me out.”

His father took in a shaky breath. “I will do better. I promise.”

Glorfindel didn’t believe him. Oh, his father would try, but nothing was going to change. His father didn’t know how to stop shutting him out.

He held his silence. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how to fix this. His father’s walls seemed too impenetrable, and madness and terror lay behind them.

“You do not believe me,” his father said on a whisper. Glorfindel shoved down the sting of resentment in the back of his throat that his father could maintain his privacy while Glorfindel didn’t have a shred of his own. “I am sorry,” his father said, feeling everything as he always did.

“It is not your fault,” Glorfindel said softly. And it wasn’t. He didn’t blame his father for the bond; it hadn’t been his father’s intention any more than it had been his own, and when he wasn’t mourning the loss of privacy he was thanking the bond, so very very grateful for its existence. It was the reason he was more Glorfindel who painted his eyes gold and danced with freedom than he was Glorfindel who cut himself into pieces to shove behind doors into boxes. The bond hadn’t allowed him hide behind faces. But sometimes he longed for a moment to himself.

“Tell me, tell me what you need. Tell me what I can do to make you happy. Anything. Ask anything and I will give it.” His father’s breath was hot on his skin, and fingers sank into his hip and tangled together with tunic hair and flesh against his ribs.

He signed. “I cannot ask for what I long for most. It would not be fair to you.” He wouldn’t bargain for his father’s memories. They had to be given willingly or not at all.

His father pulled back, rising to his elbows to look down on Glorfindel where he lay under him, hair spread like a bursting sun across the grass. His father’s face looked haggard and haunted. The sight wrung Glorfindel’s heart. He wished he could complete his Oath, even with his father’s warning ringing in his ears; he longed to give his father peace.

“Tell me,” his father commanded. Glorfindel shook his head, mouth sealed. His father’s fingered curled around locks of Glorfindel’s hair, fisting it. “You hold your silence to protect me. I understand. But if there is anything, anything at all that I can give you, anything to make you—” Stay. His father swallowed. “Can you not see how it would torment me more to withhold and…and lose you than give it, even if the giving hurts like peeling off my own skin?”

“I am not leaving,” Glorfindel whispered, but it didn’t matter how many times he said it, his father could not believe.

“Tell me. Please.” His father’s voice nearly broke on the word, face folded in earnestness and the desperation for Glorfindel to stay at the root of everything. “You do not understand what it would mean to me to be able to give you this.”

Glorfindel swallowed, torn. He tongued the words where they sat, undecided in his mouth. It seemed a terrible selfishness to let them loose, but his father was begging for them, and…and Glorfindel wanted the memories so badly. He wanted to be a part of his father as his father was a part of him.

Finally he whispered, like a confession of sin, “I want to dream-share with you, like you do with me. I want…I want to be there, with you, inside your memories.” His eyes ran over his father’s face. Had he asked too much?

But his father’s hand came up to cup Glorfindel’s face, holding it tenderly in the cradle of his palm. All the madness had fled from his eyes, only the love remained, the same love that had carried Glorfindel out of the dark boxes inside him and into the light. How he loved him!

Glorfindel flung his arms around his father’s neck, “I love you!” he cried, wishing his father would believe it, truly believed it and understand that this was forever-love, not the kind that ever walked away and abandoned. His yearning to make his father understand had him pressing up against the bond, and then it was as if a part of himself reached down it, like a hand, to grasp his father’s hand, and pull him in until his father rested in the womb of the love at the root of everything.

His father stared at him, openmouthed. His lashes fluttered closed as if in ecstasy, and his face became the face of a younger soul. In that moment, years of grief and regrets rolled back like a veil of mist, and the bones of his face loosened from their sharp cuts, mouth softening, and a tender expression of delight settled over his features. Glorfindel had only seen an expression close to this soft bliss when his father moved inside him and forgot, for a time, the grief awaiting him on the pleasure’s other side.

When the moment passed and they fell back into their own bodies, his father gathered him close, his embrace cherishing, nothing like prison bars. He buried his face in Glorfindel’s hair and said, “You will have them. I promise. I do not know how much…but I promise I will try.” And this time Glorfindel believed him.

From this day after things changed. Not so much between them –Maglor still made Glorfindel his every night as they traveled up Eriador’s coast and their love-making was bliss, the shadows thrusting back as their mingled cried lifted to heaven—but it was the way they fell into dreams after that changed, and it made Glorfindel delirious with delight. For Maglor no longer guarded the bond like a hound at the door. He did not let Glorfindel roam it unwatched, but in the night he sent hand-plucked memories from his past into Glorfindel’s dreams, and in the day he talked –slowly, but talked—of his, their, family. And to Glorfindel, who was as a man starving, these selected delicacies were a feast in his mouth.

The memories of uncles and cousin and grandfather he had only known through a handful of his own remembrances, drew closer and flushed out into deeper and fuller colors. He felt a part of his father and their family now, no longer on the outside, yearning, but forever looking in.

Chapter 15 by Encairion
The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 15

Glorfindel finished hobbling the horses and joined Maglor in the clearing. Red and orange leaves adorned the trees, but only a few lay scattered on the ground as yet, and the grass and forest undergrowth still possessed a healthy green color. They would reach the Teleri village Glorfindel grew up in long before the first snowfall.

Glorfindel knelt beside Maglor where he had dropped their saddlebags and started building a fire. “We will reach Mithlond tomorrow, the day after at the latest. Are you sure about this?”

Maglor retrieved their fire-starter kit from the bags. “I am not letting you enter an unknown city alone.”

Glorfindel blew out a breath, sending the strands of hair fallen into his eyes fluttering, and chuckled. “You do realize I am a fully-trained solider, do you not, Father? Trust me. I can take care of myself. Especially in a city of our own people.”

“Exactly. Our own people.” Maglor slid him a look. “How many refugees from Gondolin are still lingering on these shores?”

“I have no idea.”

“That is right, you do not. You could not tell me Gil-galad was the High King, or what his alliances with the Secondborn look like, or if you are as likely to be attacked as a former member of a tyrannical society than welcomed as a hero.”

If I am even recognized at all.”

“If even one, even one, recognizes you it could be enough.”

“And what of your identity?” Glorfindel raised a brow.

“I will wear my cloak. Not the Maia-hair one. We would not want you to earn a reputation for madness by talking to the air, would we?” Maglor’s flashed him a wicked smile.

“Yes, very funny,” Glorfindel said dryly, but he couldn’t keep the grin off.

“I thought so as well.”

Glorfindel snorted. He leaned into his father and smacked a kiss on his cheek. “Your witticisms have put my arguments to shame. I suppose I shall have to take you with me tomorrow.”

“Oh you will, will you?” Maglor abandoned any attempts at getting a fire started. He pulled Glorfindel up with him from their crouch to slip his arms about Glorfindel’s waist and hold him with Glorfindel’s back against his chest. “Does that mean I will not have to resort to my more creative strategies to win that golden approval of yours?”

“Hmm? What creative strategies?” Glorfindel turned his face to nuzzle his nose in his father’s hair, trailing its tip down the delicate shape of an ear.

Maglor shivered. “You will never find out now. You cave far too easily, you know.”

Glorfindel laughed softly. “You should stop talking now, or I might change my mind.”

“Do you really want me to stop talking? Did you not tell me once my voice was –how did you put it? Shadowed as the dusk?”

Glorfindel pressed a constellation of kisses into his father’s neck. “I never said any such thing in my life.”

“Oh, I think you did.” Maglor lowered his mouth to Glorfindel’s.

“Mmmm,” Glorfindel pulled back until only their breaths mingled. “I could not have, that would have been cruel. One should not complement someone already as sure of his own beauty as you.”

Maglor smiled. “Does that mean I should stop telling you how stunning you are?”

“Me, stunning?” Glorfindel blinked innocently up at his father. “Tell me more.”

“Incorrigible,” Maglor kissed him. He drew back after a moment, dropping his nose into the joint of Glorfindel’s neck and collar. He took in a long whiff. “Hmm.”

“Yes?” Glorfindel slotted his fingers with his father’s on his waist as Maglor pressed their bodies closer together, hips meeting.

“You stink.”

“That was romantic.”

Maglor had his face pressed against Glorfindel’s neck, and Glorfindel felt the shape of his father’s smile in his skin. “There is no romantic way to suggest one’s companion take a bath after weeks in the wild.”

“And you smell fine do you, after these same weeks in the wild?”

“I always smell very fine.”

“Oh, it is very fine, is it?”

“Mm-hmm,” Maglor kissed down his throat as he rubbed his hardness languidly against Glorfindel’s ass. “Come, let us have a bath.”

Glorfindel pressed his hips back, letting his head fall back against his father’s shoulder. “That does not sound like a terrible idea, but a little bird told me I give in too easily.” He looked up at his father from the corner of his eye, a sly smile curling his mouth.

“Ah, you will make me pay for that one, will you?”

Glorfindel pretended to think it over for a bit. “Yes, I think I will.”

“What do you say to a bath with me, and then I will catch us some fish and make you a secret Fëanorion dish for dinner that will have you swearing Celegorm must be a god.”

“You should not have told me it was Celegorm behind the secret, or it would have been you I swore was a god.”

“That would have been too cruel to poor Celegorm. I already have my voice; I could not steal his fish-recipe on my way to godhood as well.”

Glorfindel burst into laughter. He spun in his father’s arms to press a kiss into his chin. “Yes, let us go have a bath.”

“Ah, I have won your favor, then?” Maglor slipped their fingers together.

“You have found the perfect way to impress me with your prowess. How can I say no to a man who catches our dinner with his teeth?”

“Who said anything about teeth?” Maglor dug up the soap and hair ointment from their packs as Glorfindel retrieved their freshest change of clothing.

“I do not see any fishing poles.” Glorfindel tossed their tunics and leggings over his shoulder and folded his fingers with his father’s.

Maglor squeezed his hand, sliding Glorfindel a smirk. “Well, my fingers are very fine.”

“Oh, very fine are they?”

“Defiantly. Shall I show you?”

“I look forward to it.”

They strolled down a roaming deer path towards the nearby stream that had decided tonight’s campsite. They’d been cutting cross-country for weeks; keeping off the roads on the off-chance Maglor would be recognized. One more night in the wild, and Glorfindel would purchase them a cozy room in a tavern, complete with a hot bath.

Glorfindel shucked his boots and tunic. “Those clouds better keep away or I will be clawing my way up Manwë’s Holy Mountain to give him a piece of my mind about his atrocious weather planning.”

Maglor laughed. It carried the edge of a blade. “We will go together, shall we? Have a little heart-to-heart with the Valar?”

Glorfindel mouth curled. “A regular family affair?”

Maglor’s eyes flashed, voice drawing the taste of iron and vengeance into Glorfindel’s mouth, “Yes. The whole family.”

Glorfindel stripped his leggings off, and walked to where his father stood naked, eyes staring West with fire in their silver, and pain, so much pain underneath the smiles. Glorfindel put his arms about his father’s waist from the back, wishing this body would hurry up and reach full-maturity so he could settle his chin comfortably on his father’s shoulder.

Maglor turned in the embrace. The rawness of the moment tucked away again, but Glorfindel could still –always—feel the pain riding under the surface. His father didn’t try to hide it from him anymore. They were in this together.

Yet, though Maglor did not try to cover over grief he would never stop struggling under until the dead were re-born, he was as slow to peel back the deep places of himself as ever. He held them tight against his chest like the Silmaril, though they burned him down to the soul. Maglor kept anguish back from Glorfindel, as if he could protect Glorfindel if he only allowed the grief to feast upon his own flesh.

Maglor’s mind-shields sealed Glorfindel out. He fed Glorfindel dreams of his past as they slept, but only the ones of his choosing. Nothing at all slipped through of his life after the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, as if those years were a black hole ready to suck all the happiness into itself and leave nothing but the husks of hearts in its place.

Glorfindel had asked for the memories, even the ones dunked in the black tar of madness and the ones vomited up in chucks like bloody meat. But Maglor would –could—not surrender them. Glorfindel was not defeated. He would not leave them like old leaves fallen layer upon layer, decomposing in the dirt. They had to be unearthed or they would go to rot in Maglor’s heart –already they festered.

“One day, my beauty, one day.” Maglor pressed his lips to Glorfindel’s temple. “Now, come. Let me bath with you.”

Glorfindel followed his father to the stream. They’d found a deep pool where a boulder lodged in the stream bank, sticking out into the water’s flow and creating a perfect little bath. Glorfindel slipped in and found the water rose all the way to his waist.

They bathed in silence for a time, Maglor running the soap over Glorfindel’s skin. Glorfindel leaned back into his father’s embrace as the soap trailed over his chest and belly, forming soap suds. His father bathed him like a lover, working his generous love into Glorfindel’s skin like an expensive perfume.

He wondered if Maglor was in love with him. He wondered it often, and examined his own heart in return. Was he in love with Maglor? He might have been for a time, back during those first few weeks together when no one had ever touched him like Maglor touched him, never loved him to consumption, to the brink of madness.

For all the hours he’d pondered his own heart, he could not say for certain if he was in love with Maglor. Maglor brought him happiness like he’d never known in either life, but was it because he loved being his father’s son or his father’s lover?

‘Are you in love with me?’ The question perched once again on his tongue, but froze there. Could anyone really ever ask such a question? Words of love must be a gift granted, not a fish hooked.

And did it matter if Maglor was not? Maglor’s love for him was vast as empires. Glorfindel did not need to put a label on it to know he could never fall out of it.

He broke the silence with a question niggling at the back of his mind. “What will you say to them?”

“Who?” Maglor caressed Glorfindel’s shoulders with the soap.

“Your family, when you see them again.” There was no if, not if sanity was to be maintained. There could be no doubts of that future. “What will you tell them –about me?”

Maglor’s strokes only paused for a moment, before traveling the planes of Glorfindel’s body again. “I will tell them that you are my son, and that I love you.”

Glorfindel turned his head, angling a look up at his father. “You know of what I speak. What will you tell them about us?”

Maglor tossed the soap onto the grassy bank and settled his hands on Glorfindel’s shoulders, turning him to face him. His eyes were a clear, brilliant silver. “I once made the mistake of concealing my lover’s identity from my family. If I had told them, they would have helped me break free of her nets sooner. If I had told them…” He swallowed. “If I had told them I think, I know, one of them would have seen what I was too blinded to see: they would have seen me in you.”

He cupped Glorfindel’s face, eyes brought close and as beautiful as they were anguished. “I will tell them I love you. I will tell them you are my son, my savior, my greatest joy and the source of my greatest regret –for I saved you from nothing and no one.”

“I told you I forgive—”

“I know. I know, my dear.” Maglor kissed his cheeks, a soft press of lips. “But I cannot forgive myself.”

Glorfindel sighed, and leaned his forehead into Maglor’s. They stood like that for a long moment, before Glorfindel pulled back to look into his father’s face again. “What if they do not—?”

Maglor pressed his fingertips into Glorfindel’s lips. “Trust me, they will. After everything, they will.”

Glorfindel’s brow rose. “Is it, is this,” he gestured between them, “Normal in our family?”

“There is Maedhros and Fingon. And Celegorm and Aredhel for a time.”

“But they are cousins not…will your –our—family understand? Did any of you…or Celebrimbor, or—”

“Does it matter?” Maglor kissed his temple.

Glorfindel wanted to say no, to say nothing and no one had the ability to brand shame into the flesh of his soul again. But that would be a lie. Did it matter what anyone else in the world thought? No, not a damn. No one but the family he longed to be accepted into as one of them, different as his journey had been.

“Yes. With them. Yes, it does.”

Maglor brushed the hair back from Glorfindel’s neck. “They would never turn from you. To us the taboos against blood mean less than nothing. We care only for the love.”

“I am sorry, I just needed…”

Maglor touched his cheek. “No apologies. You do not know them, but you would love them, and have their love back. The fear is entirely understandable. But I can tell you with assurance that those of our House have never shied from pursing their desire for one of close blood.”

Glorfindel searched his father’s face. Maglor opened himself to him, and Glorfindel fell inside his father’s eyes.

(He chose Fingolfin because Irimë didn’t own him, and he would prove it to himself. Even if Irimë never knew of his rebellion, he would know in his heart, always.

He let himself be pinned to the bed, legs opened to take Fingolfin between them. He surrendered to the fire of Fingolfin’s kiss poured into his mouth like desperation, like the need of years unbearable. And when Fingolfin’s voice, shaking with lust, told him to open his eyes, Maglor did.

Was it Maedhros’ silver eyes or Fëanor’s he wanted to see in Maglor’s? Maglor rather thought Fëanor’s. All of Tirion wanted to bed his father. Liking Fëanor did not necessarily ride alongside the lust.

The ecstasy sent him spinning off the face of the Earth out into exploding galaxies. He was here to feel good, and to take control of his own body and heart in a way that reached deeper than the spreading of his legs for Fingolfin.

Fingolfin’s body took his without even a shadow of the manipulative, not even a touch of emotional control. Fingolfin gave him exactly what he wanted. And he gave it with pleasure besides.)

Glorfindel came out of his father’s mind with a gasp, like a newborn’s first breath of life. His father’s arms held him steady as he found his footing on the slippery streambed. ”sanwe still left him disoriented and dizzy.

Caught in his father’s arms, Glorfindel’s gaze found his father watching him.

His father was not the same person as the man in that memory. Ages of suffering, the loss of his entire family, changed him. Glorfindel would have liked to have known the man his father once was, but he loved the one Maglor had become. The Maglor in the memory had been untouched by the even the first winter fingers of grief. The hard years of being warped and shredded by the dark had not yet stolen all the innocence and every crumb of self-determination.

Glorfindel did not have to ask how the man Maglor had once been who had lain himself into the control of another, became the one who held Glorfindel even now with the touch of domination and possession.

The memory did not move Glorfindel to speak and unravel it until he understood it. He already did.

Maglor had learned through grief after grief that he had no mastery over his life, his fate. The sons of Fëanor had screamed back at the Song seeking to slip bits into their mouths and mount them. They had turned their backs on it, defiant, fighting and clawing against its notes wrapping about their necks like nooses, but while the Song could be defied, the Valar’s Curse could not. In the end the Doom had found them, picking them off one by one.

Words would have fit bulky and crooked into the moment. Glorfindel’s hands rose to speak into his father’s shoulders, cupping them, thumbs running over the smooth, milky skin.

As he touched his father, the glimpsed memory of Maedhros and Maglor in each other’s arms reasserted itself and trailed questions behind it. Questions unanswered, and questions newborn.

“Fingon,” Maedhros had gasped in, what Glorfindel had thought was a desperate, grief-wrought embrace; a moment of mourning for Fingon. But was it more than that? He thought of another memory haloed in the light of the Silmaril, of Maedhros’ leavening for a trail towards death.

Maglor’s fingers followed the line of Glorfindel’s cheekbone into his hair, sinking deep. “Let us steal this moment for ourselves. Just the two of us.”

A soft smile turned Glorfindel’s mouth, and his eyes fluttered closed into the touch. He let the questions melt away. They would not have been answered. Not until his father was ready to face them. And moments of just him and Maglor without ghosts beside them, inside them, were precious. He begrudged his father not a single thought straying back to the dead; he only wished he could have known them as well to miss them with Maglor.

Maglor’s hands traveled down the shape of Glorfindel’s back to rest in the curve of its base. His hands were long and engulfing on the blossom of Glorfindel’s ass. Maglor looked him over in slow, languid sweeps. Glorfindel’s eyes dropped to slits and he rolled his neck, arching his back until he hung, suspended from his father’s hands, hair trailing in the water like a goldfish’s tail.

“Valar, you are gorgeous,” Maglor breathed, eyes darkening. Glorfindel’s eyes glimmered back, still hooded, a smirk curling in the corner of his mouth. “I should have you right here. In the mud.”

Glorfindel drew his body up again. Maglor’s eyes watched the play of muscles under his skin. “I am a sure thing, am I? No seduction needed?”

“Maybe a little.” Maglor’s nose traced his hairline, following the curve of his temple and ear. “But I have a special talent for seduction.”

“Do you now?” Glorfindel’s smirk lifted into a slow smile. “And what is this special talent?”

Maglor’s mouth brushed Glorfindel’s ear, and his words came rolling like sweet wine from his lips. “I have a very skilled tongue.”

Glorfindel shivered. “Oh?”

“Yes. I could make you come with only the sound of my voice. If I wanted.” Maglor’s voice held him prisoner like a perfect dawn.

“Anyone I know you have been seducing with this golden tongue of yours lately?” Glorfindel breathed.

“Hmm, yes. There was this gorgeous young thing, but you know, I have quite forgotten what his name was.” His father grinned into Glorfindel’s skin.

“Ha!” He spun out of Maglor’s arms with a laugh. “You need to practice that oh-so-seductive tongue of yours! It quite failed you there.”

Maglor stalked him through the pool, the water cutting away for his hips’ passage. Glorfindel backed up, grinning, as his father’s eyes tracked him like a panther’s, eyelids lowered until only a long glimmer of silver remained. Glorfindel’s belly swopped, fire burning low and hot in his abdomen. His sex swelled from just a look.

“Are you volunteering?” His father’s voice reached inside him and stole the breath from his lungs, and the strength from his knees.

He could feel the flush on his cheeks, but he kept on grinning, kept on backing away, wanting this moment to pull into forever, and then the moment his father caught him and made him his to fall into eternity.

“Me? Oh no. After that slip you will not be getting under my blanket tonight. Better luck next time.” Glorfindel mimed a kiss, and made a dash for the bank.

He planted his palms in the grass and heaved his body from the pool, the effort nothing for he was lithe and fit. He sprang to his feet, hearing the sound of his father surging through the water after him. He laughed, and sunk his heels in for the first few steps of the run.

Maglor lunged out of the water and caught him about the ankle, sending him tripping into the grass. Glorfindel laughed and laughed as Maglor reeled him in, pulling him across the slick grass as he kicked out, only half-trying to get away. With a splash, Maglor dragged him back into the water. Maglor pinned him against the bank, the heat and hardness of his sex pressing into Glorfindel’s thigh, breaths ragged in his ear, and eyes a dancing silver.

Maglor’s fingers wrapped about Glorfindel’s thighs and hoisted them up about his waist, hips rocking Glorfindel’s back into the bank. Glorfindel slipped his arms about his father’s neck. “Look what you have done? I am all muddy now. Quite defeats the purpose of a bath, you great brut!”

“Great brut! I have never been called anything so auspicious in my life.” Maglor’s smiling mouth kissed him, again and again, little nips down his jaw. “Thank you for the complement. Next time I see Celegorm I am telling him. He will not stop laughing over that one for a year.”

“So glad I could amuse.” Glorfindel offered his neck, and Maglor took it. “But I still have not forgiven you for that comment, you know.”

Maglor rolled his hips into Glorfindel’s, eating his gasp with his mouth. “What would you have me do to earn your forgiveness?”

“You mean a place between my thighs?” Glorfindel wagged his brows.

“Ah, you know the very core of my heart, my dear.” Maglor’s hands slipped over the curve of Glorfindel’s ass, pulling their groins tighter together.

Glorfindel let his head fall back against the bank and admired the perfect dimples in his father’s smile. His own smile turned devious. “I suppose a kiss –a very good one—might earn my forgiveness.”

“A kiss it is,” Maglor breathed into the shared heat of their breaths, leaning down to taste Glorfindel’s lips.

Glorfindel’s eyes fluttered shut, and he opened his mouth to the tongue seeking entrance. He hummed in satisfaction as Maglor took his time, thoroughly worshiping his mouth. It was a very good kiss indeed.

Maglor’s fingers trailed over the curves of his face. “Meet me at the camp. I am going to catch you those fish I promised and make you a dinner fit for a prince. Then. Then I want all night with you.”

Glorfindel’s fingers slid through Maglor’s hair. “I will hold you to that.” He kissed Maglor one last time as his legs slid down the shape of Maglor’s to touch down on the pool’s silt bottom.

He rinsed himself off and dressed quickly, before taking the deer path through the trees, back to their camp. He finished building the abandoned fire, and coaxed it from a newborn flame into one potent enough to catch on the heavy logs, then sat back on his heels and slapped his hands clean on his leggings.

He eyed the sky. Those dark clouds were heading their way and would reach them sometime in the night. He sighed and heaved the saddlebags over his shoulder, cutting back to the tree line. He picked out a dense cluster of firs with a blanket of pine needles at their base, and tossed the saddlebags down. By the time he’d finished building a shelter, the fire was ready to cook on.

He scooped his drying hair over his shoulder as he settled on a fallen log, and began tending to his knives and the Númenórean short sword they’d purchased a few weeks back at a trading outpost. He worked oil along the blade, testing its sharpness as he did every night. A warrior cared for his weapons with an obsessive tending. Danger could strike at any moment.

He had his sword held loosely in his hand when the sounds of something shuffling in the underbrush brought his head up. It came from north of the clearing. The pool was to the south.

An Elf emerged. Glorfindel knew the figure for an Elf by his brightness of eye and fairness of face; even for an Elf he was exceptional. But his hair, almost the exact same shade as Glorfindel’s, had been shorn to his shoulders and curled softly about his neck and ears.

“Hail, stranger!” Glorfindel stood, the sword held with seeming casualness in his hand.

The Elf shifted, lowering the pair of turkeys he’d strung over his shoulder to his hands. Glorfindel’s eyes ran over the Elf, but the only weapon he noted was the bow and quiver strung over his back.

The Elf licked his lips. “I saw the smoke from your fire. I have a camp a little ways north of here. I wondered if you might like some company.”

There was nothing unusual in the request. In the wilds travelers often sought out signs of others to pass the evening beside a campfire with tales and news. “If you bring that fine catch of yours into the invitation, I might just have to take you up on it.” He grinned, and the Elf grinned back. “We will keep it to supper though. You will want to be back to your shelter before the storm hits.”

“Supper it is, friend.” The Elf abandoned his cautious stance by the tree line to walk closer. Glorfindel tried to get a heritage on the Elf, but he walked like a Sea-Elf and had the coloring of a Vanya with the height of a Noldo.

The Elf’s steps broke off before he reached Glorfindel, shock painting his face. Glorfindel’s fingers tightened about the sword’s hilt. “Glorfindel?”

Glorfindel’s eyes narrowed. “I do not believe we have met.”

“I…” The Elf swallowed, eyes running over Glorfindel’s face again and again with a wistful thirst that had Glorfindel shifting under the gaze. “No, I do not suppose I look much like the child I once was.” He dropped the turkeys into the grass, and took a slow step forward, holding out his hand in a Manish greeting. “I am Eärendil. Tuor and Idril’s son. You might not remember me, but I—”

“Eärendil?” Glorfindel by-passed the hand altogether and scooped Eärendil up in a hug. “Little sparrow! Of course I remember you, Cousin!” Glorfindel planted a kiss of the boy’s—man’s—cheek.

Eärendil let out a breathless laugh, eyes so bright there might have been tears. “No one has called me that in years. I had almost forgotten Father named me such.”

“It was Maeglin I first heard it from,” the lightness folded from Glorfindel’s voice. Had Maeglin escaped Gondolin’s fall? Had he gone on to live a full life in the freedom he deserved?

“Maeglin?” Eärendil looked away, the light dimming from his face. “I do not remember him well except for—” His mouth clamped tight over memory.

“Did he die…that day?” Glorfindel’s hope plummeted, like a rockslide down a slope. “I did not see him with our group, but others were getting out across the plain.”

Eärendil’s eyes jumped back to his. “You do not know?”

Glorfindel smiled wanly, heart too heavy to lift the weight of more. “Well, I was dead for a while and have not had much chance yet to catch up on history.”

“Right,” Eärendil frowned. “But where is…where is Maglor?”

Glorfindel stiffened. “What?”

Eärendil stared at him. “I thought Maglor must have brought you back from Númenor. I apologize if I—”

“How do you know about Númenor and Maglor?” Glorfindel pinned Eärendil with a sharp glance.

“He never—” Eärendil’s throat jerked, and he closed his eyes to take in a deep breath before meeting Glorfindel’s gaze again. “I was the one who told Maglor about your re-birth and enslavement in Númenor. Eönwë sent me to tell him of the Valar’s plots.”

“I see,” Glorfindel said slowly, studying Eärendil. “No, Maglor never mentioned it. We do not talk much about…” He made a vague gesture.

“Is he…is he here?” Eärendil’s eyes ate up with tree line with some unnamed yearning.

“He will be here in a bit. Are you two well acquainted?” Glorfindel couldn’t see how Maglor and Eärendil would have ever met. But he was missing huge chucks of history. Where had the Gondolin refugees even settled after their escape?

“I…no, not well.” Eärendil dropped his eyes to his hands. “That is…I found him while he was…not himself, and cared for him until he regained himself.

“Then I am eternally in your debt.” He touched Eärendil’s shoulder. Eärendil looked away. “Come on, little cousin,” Glorfindel ducked his head until he caught Eärendil’s eyes with a smile, “Sit with me.”

A laugh startled out of Eärendil. “Little cousin? Look to yourself. You are how many years short of majority?”

Glorfindel tossed his hair over his shoulder as he sat with an air of pompousness on the log. “I will have you know I retain the mind of a fully-mature Elf, despite the limitations of my current body.”

“I never doubted it.” Eärendil joined him with a smile that lit up his face beautifully. Idril had been fair, and Tour as well, but Eärendil was something else. Glorfindel had seen the promise in Eärendil’s childishly round face, and Eärendil had certainly grown into his beauty of youth.

“Now,” Glorfindel crossed his legs and settled an elbow on his knee, leaning in close with an impish smile. “Tell me everything I missed.”

Eärendil’s laugh carried the edge of nervousness. “What, the latest gossip?”

Glorfindel wagged his eyebrows. “How about the last thousand years’ worth.”

Eärendil shifted back, head turning away as if seeking an escape. “You never struck me as the gossiping type.”

“Can’t stand it.” Glorfindel studied his cousin’s profile; the downward tilt of his mouth, the shadows under his eyes. “Can you tell me at least what happened after I died? Where did the survivors go? How did they—”

“Look,” Eärendil stood. “You will have a hundred other mouths eager to fill in the gaps once you get to Mithlond –or wherever you are headed. They will do a much better job of it. Or better yet, visit a library. You can read about the whole thing.”

Glorfindel caught Eärendil’s wrist. Eärendil didn’t try to retrieve it, letting it lay within the warm circle of Glorfindel’s fingers. “Will you not tell me of yourself, then? Any lady in your life stealing away your heart? Any children of your own?” When Eärendil remained silent, brow knit, Glorfindel tried, “What are you doing out here in the wild, at least?”

Eärendil’s head dropped with a sigh, and he surrendered to Glorfindel’s gentle tugging into taking his seat again. He examined his fingers for a long moment, turning them over in his lap. “I had two sons. Twins. But I lost them.”

“I am sorry to hear of your loss.” Glorfindel picked Eärendil’s hand up in his.

Eärendil met his eyes for a moment, before looking off at the horizon again. “Elrond is not dead.”

“Elrond!”

Eärendil blinked at the outburst, before his face cleared. “Oh, did he—Maglor speak of Elros and Elrond to you?”

“You were his sons’ blood-father?”

Elrond’s throat worked. “Blood-father.”

“Forgive me, I did not mean…” It was Glorfindel’s eyes dropping this time. “I had not known their other father’s identity.”

Eärendil laughed; it twisted in Glorfindel’s gut like dead things. “I am sorry.” Eärendil got to his feet. “I should go.”

“No,” Glorfindel caught at Eärendil’s arm. “Stay. I would not see you leave in distress.”

Eärendil laughed again, and now there was no disguising the sob behind or the brightness in his eyes being anything other than tears. “You do not know me, Glorfindel. It is always going to end in distress. I am just usually better at hiding it. I am a miserable creature.” Eärendil swiped at his eyes. “Just let me go be miserable alone.”

“I do not think so.” Glorfindel yanked Eärendil against his chest.

He expected a fight as he wrapped his arms around him, but Eärendil’s whole body shuddered against him, breath hitching, before he collapsed into Glorfindel’s arms like his very bones had melted and what was left of him wanted to curl itself about Glorfindel and never be let go.

“Shh, shh, I have you.”

Eärendil broke when Glorfindel started petting his hair, cradling the spine curving about his chest as Eärendil’s hands clung to Glorfindel’s tunic. Eärendil wept in great heaving sobs, body wracked with the power of them, shaking to pieces in Glorfindel’s hold.

Glorfindel’s heart wrung for Eärendil’s pain, and he found himself crying. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know the roots of Eärendil’s anguish, Glorfindel had a heart, and how could it not be pierced by grief such as this?

Eärendil wept on and on. Though he struggled against the storm consuming him, once started, the tears would not stop. Glorfindel rocked him, whispering comforts in Eärendil’s ear as he squeezed the grasping, desperate body back. Eärendil was like a drowning swimmer, and Glorfindel wanted nothing so much as to save him, but in this sea he didn’t know how to swim.

The tears couldn’t last forever. Eventually they trailed into shaky breaths and a wet patch on Glorfindel’s shoulder. Glorfindel made to ease Eärendil back, but Eärendil’s hands fisted even tighter. “Please.” Glorfindel’s arms slipped back around Eärendil, the broken word more moving than the most eloquently shaped defense.

Glorfindel ran his fingers through Eärendil hair, its curls clinging to their tips. His hands learned the slope of Eärendil’s back, rubbing circles. Eärendil turned his nose into Glorfindel’s neck, and wet eyelashes tickled Glorfindel’s skin.

They sat like that in silence until Eärendil’s breaths settled into a deep, steady rhythm. Eärendil did not pull back even then though, so Glorfindel kept holding him. He did not mind; the comfort of another pair of arms holding him, another heart beating against his, rested against his soul like the softness of fleece.

Glorfindel’s eyes rose when he heard Maglor’s approach. Maglor halted at the trees’ parting, the promised fish dangling from his hands. Glorfindel smiled at him over Eärendil’s shoulder. He waved Maglor forward, and Maglor started walked to them.

Eärendil shifted at the movement, head rising from its pillow on Glorfindel’s shoulder. “It is just Maglor.” Glorfindel smiled at him.

Eärendil’s hands flew to his face, scrubbing the last of the tears away. His eyes were still a little red, but Glorfindel didn’t think Eärendil should worry over his appearance. Eärendil was very fine. His eyes were an exquisite shade of blue deep as the pure sea about Rómenna, and he bore the bone structure of a god.

Eärendil licked his lips, raking a hand through his hair, combing it back from his face. Only then did he turn to face Maglor. Maglor had almost reached them, but at Eärendil’s turning he jerked to a stop like one struck. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. His eyes flickered between Glorfindel and Eärendil, face bleaching of color.

“Hello.” Eärendil whispered, a hint of blush blooming on his cheekbones.

“Eärendil.” Maglor’s eyes wouldn’t quite meet Eärendil’s. “I trust you have been well since last we met.”

Eärendil swallowed. He didn’t answer the question. “It is good to see you did not encounter any insurmountable problems during your mission.”

Maglor shifted. “No, everything was fine. I…what are you still doing here? I thought you were going back to Valinor.”

Eärendil’s hands curled into balls. “I was. Only I wanted to see Elrond, and when Eönwë came for me, he said everything was going well on his end, so we agreed to a bit more time.”

“Oh.” Maglor licked his lips. “You are not living in the city, then?”

Eärendil shrugged, the gesture twitchy and violent. “I cannot risk even a whisper of my presence reaching the Valar, you understand.” Glorfindel didn’t, but Maglor nodded. “Ulmo has many watery-ears in Endor. I had to keep out of the settlements. Mithlond especially.”

Maglor took in a stuttering breath. “How is…how is Elrond?”

Eärendil looked away. “Well. He left for Eregion a few days ago.”

“I see. That must have…given you some…peace to see him again.”

Eärendil’s mouth distorted. “I think he may have been just the slightest bit pleased to see me. Maybe. I am almost certain. But he did not want my company outside the few times he indulged me by riding out here to see me. He did not say it in words, but I knew. Ever after—he is still my son. He did not have to speak for me to know. ”

Maglor’s mouth worked, and he tossed the fish down on the grass.

“Enough.” Eärendil snapped.

“I did not say anything.” Maglor’s jaw set.

“You did not have to. You think I have forgotten, for even a moment, why I do not have my son’s love?” Eärendil jerked his head, as if shaking off a wasp. “No. I cannot talk to you about this.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

They both looked away.

Glorfindel stood and captured Maglor’s hand in his, stopping its fisting and unfisting at his side. The tension bled out of Maglor’s body, and his fingers slipped between Glorfindel’s, linking.

Eärendil sighed, shoulders slumping. “I am sorry.”

Maglor shook his head, his unbound hair rustling around his shoulders. “I should not have spoken of Elrond to you. I wanted to hear…” The words buckled, Maglor’s voice braking under the weight of the longing and sorrow.

Eärendil’s gaze fluttered over Maglor’s face. “You could…if you control it, you could use ”sanwe on me. I would not…just for Elrond. Only Elrond.”

Malgor’s wide eyes flew to Eärendil’s face. “You would let me inside you like that?”

Eärendil cleared his throat, cheeks pinking. “Yes.”

Maglor ran his tongue over his bottom lip. “When I, before, I saw Elros with his children. Might I—”

“No.” Eärendil took a step back, hands coming up. “Not Elros. He is gone, and I can’t—I can’t…”

“I understand.” Maglor took a step forward, hand not letting Glorfindel’s go as he approached Eärendil with the caution of a skittish animal. Another step, and Glorfindel came with him. Eärendil’s chest rose and fell at an accelerated rate as Maglor drew close enough to touch. Maglor raised his free hand and settled it with the slowness of a drifting snowflake onto Eärendil’s face, cupping his jaw, holding him in place as their eyes met.

Eärendil’s lips parted, lashes blinking rapidly, but he did not look away. They stared at each other, still as statues. Maglor must already be inside Eärendil’s mind.

Maglor came out with a gasp, fingers squeezing Glorfindel’s. Glorfindel squeezed back. Eärendil’s eyes slid closed, and he breathed deeply.

“All right?” Glorfindel’s hand in Maglor’s hair turned his father’s head to him so he could examine his face. Pain had risen to the forefront of Maglor’s eyes, the pain that never wholly left him, only submerged. Glorfindel pressed himself against Maglor’s chest, wanting to soak the pain out through his skin, his kiss, his love.

Maglor slipped an arm about Glorfindel’s waist, sealing their bodies together. Their foreheads met, and they breathed in each other’s scents. The world fell away, leaving only the sound of each other’s breaths in the space between their mouths, and the matching heartbeat against their breasts, connecting them down to the soul.

With the naturalness of weeks alone in the wilds together, Glorfindel’s mouth lifted to meet his father’s without any thought but how much he loved this Elf, and how much he wanted him to know it.

A sucked breath flung him back into the world. Maglor’s mouth tore away from his, though his arm stayed wrapped about Glorfindel’s waist, gripping him all the tighter as their faces turned together to meet Eärendil’s gaze.

Eärendil’s mouth moved, but no sound came out. It sealed shut, and his whole face trembled, brows drawn so taut it looked painful. Then every line smoothed out like a smith took a hammer to it.

“I have to go. I…I have to go.” Eärendil turned, stumbled, got his feet under him and started running.

“Eärendil, wait!” Maglor took off after him. He tugged at Glorfindel’s hand to follow, but released it to gain the speed to catch Eärendil’s fleeing figure.

Maglor caught Eärendil before he reached the tree line. He yanked Eärendil’s sleeve, spinning him around and into his arms. Eärendil tried to break away, twisting against Maglor’s chest, but Maglor wouldn’t release him.

“Stop! Just listen for a moment!”

The blankness had shattered, and Eärendil looked close to tears again. “No, please, just let me go! I can’t—can’t—don’t make me—”

Maglor tried to get his hands on Eärendil’s face to hold his eyes, but Eärendil kept twisting away. “Would you just hold still!” Maglor shook him.

Eärendil choked, the fight draining out of him until it was only his eyes, squeezed shut, that still shrunk away.

Maglor’s hands slipped from their grip on Eärendil’s biceps up to his shoulders. “All right, all right just listen.” He took in a steadying breath. “I am not going to apologize for loving my son however we choose to love each other—”

Eärendil’s eyes snapped open. “I do not care about that.” He laughed. It sounded like heartbreak and broken glass. “I had not even thought—I cannot pretend to have any idea what you were thinking, but I do not have to understand, do I? I just have to mind my own business. Glorfindel is not a manipulated child. He can make his own choices.”

Maglor’s hands ran up to cup Eärendil’s neck, thumbs stroking Eärendil’s skin. “Good. Good. Then I want you to listen.” He licked his lips. “You and I,” he leaned closer, eyes dropping to Eärendil’s pretty mouth.

Eärendil threw his arms up, snapping Maglor’s hold and pushing himself away. “No.” He shook his head, breathing erratic. “I may not have mush self-respect, but I have more than this. You think I could not see the way you two looked at each other?” His voice shook. “I saw the way it is between you. And all right. All right. I cannot make you— but not me the extra bit on the side.” A tear spilled over, rolling down his cheek.

Maglor’s hands hung empty at his sides as Eärendil backed away. “I did not mean to hurt you.”

Eärendil closed his eyes. “I know.”

Maglor closed the distance between them again. “Do not leave.” His mouth fell to hover inches above Eärendil’s. When Eärendil did not back away, Maglor took Eärendil’s mouth in his. The kiss was fierce, but brief. Eärendil pulled away after only a moment.

His fingers caught at Maglor’s wrist, and he pinned Maglor with eyes the tears had washed a bottomless blue. “You have me. You have all of me.” He looked so fragile, lips bruised from the kiss, heart thrust up into his eyes, sown into his words. “But do not pretend you could ever love me back.”

Maglor’s hands rose. They hovered over Eärendil’s face, a breath from touching as they mapped its planes, tracing lips, nose, flushed cheeks, so close Eärendil might feel the hovering heat of Maglor’s skin. They curved over the light curl at the end of Eärendil’s short hair, and finally settled upon a creamy throat, gently stroking it.

“I could. I might.”

“Do not repay my love with delusions. Just stop.” Eärendil turned away and started for the trees, tread heavy, and not looking back.

Maglor stood for a moment watching him leave, before he followed and stopped Eärendil with a hook of his hand. Eärendil wouldn’t turn to look at him though. “We will still see each other again one day.”

“What are you trying to say?” Eärendil’s voice reached for steel, but failed utterly, sinking into a plea. The plea was for Maglor to stop trying to plant a hopeless hope in his chest.

“That this is not goodbye, and maybe it does not have to be the end either. Maybe—”

“I have to go.” Eärendil withdrew from Maglor’s hold. “Do not try and stop me. Give me that at least.”

The tree shadows swallowed Eärendil’s figure. Maglor didn’t turn for a long moment. Then he found Glorfindel’s eyes where they watched him. “Forgive me. I did not even ask you if—”

Glorfindel smiled and closed the distance between them to take Maglor’s hands. He kissed the apology out of his father’s mouth. “If he is want you want, then that is all I need to know.”

Maglor drew Glorfindel against him, folding his arms about Glorfindel’s waist. “If him here, with us, is not what you want, then I shall never speak of it again.”

Glorfindel hummed, rubbing the tip of his nose over Maglor’s cheek to his ear. “I would not say I am opposed to the idea, though I do not know the man the little sparrow grew into, or what it would even look like between the three of us.”

Hearing Eärendil’s voice scrap the back of his throat raw with love as he said ‘You have me. You have all of me,’ and seeing Malgor’s returned desire, had sparked no resentment in Glorfindel. The thought of Malgor’s body moving inside Eärendil’s did not sell Glorfindel as a prisoner to jealousy.

His heart did not burn with a clean, pure fire entirely though. He smiled and agreed to Maglor pursuing his desires (how could he not?), but reluctance dragged at his feet. He longed to remain just Maglor and Glorfindel for a little while longer, but he could not choose himself over the heartbreak in Eärendil’s eyes or the insatiable grief forever circling Maglor. He would give up anything, anything, for Maglor to find a moment’s release from that vulture, that devourer of souls.

Glorfindel pulled back, gaze fastening on the place Eärendil had disappeared. “This does not feel right.”

“What does not?” Maglor frowned.

“Him, leaving like that. He is in pain, and I think…I fear this new blow will eat him alive –slowly. We need to go after him. I feel it in my heart.”

Maglor slipped his hand into his. “We follow then.” He bent to Glorfindel’s words with no resistance, as if he secretly wanted to run after Eärendil the moment he’d left, but held himself back for Glorfindel’s sake, his pride’s, or the broken note in Eärendil’s plea, Glorfindel did not know.

“We follow.” Glorfindel sunk his fingers deep into the links between his father’s, savoring the perfection of their fingers entwined.

He memorized the feel of his father’s skin, the callous on fingertips, the softness in the back of his hand, the scar tissue the Silmaril’s brand had left behind on his palms, running in ropy lines out from the center like a star. He stored up this moment in preparation for a hard winter. He did not know if he would ever wake curled against his father’s side again. He did not know if his heart would break from loneliness if he could not, or if he would find they had slipped into the next stage of their love: the one where every waking and sleeping moment they did not need to cling to every piece of the other’s heart, soul, and body to know they were loved and would never be alone again.
Chapter 16 by Encairion
The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 16

They followed Eärendil’s tracks to the beach, and from there it was child’s play to place their footsteps into the ones Eärendil had left in the sand. Thunder rolled, the sea tossed fists of white-tipped waves against the rocks. The wind whipped their faces, tearing at their clothes and hair, saturating them with the scent of the sea.

They followed the fleeing footsteps to the mouth of a sea-cave. A little camp had been set up inside, with a cradle of tree boughs piled with blankets and sleeping mats in a corner. A Teleri-lamp perched on a ledge of the rock wall, offering a wash of delicate white light that fought back the darkness of the brooding storm.

Eärendil sat on a slab of rock, hunched back facing them. The crumpled form of his body got lost in the shadows. His face was concealed where it buried in his hands. He looked utterly desolate.

His head snapped around at the sound of their intrusion. The light sliced across his face, the distress on his features sharply highlighted. Maglor didn’t hesitate to cross to him. He reached him as Eärendil sprang to his feet, standing quivering like a bowstring.

“I told you not to follow me!” His face twisted, but it wasn’t with hate.

There had been hate in Eärendil’s voice when he spoke of the Valar, but Glorfindel had seen enough to know the spirit within Eärendil’s chest was one loathed to embark upon the path of hatred and slow to bitterness. It would take something truly horrific to birth that knife inside his heart. And even when it cut him, it would not blacken and consume as Glorfindel had been consumed by his hatred for Irimë.

Eärendil’s hate did not define him. Maglor was just the same. Glorfindel found that characteristic endlessly attractive.

Eärendil’s teeth clenched behind the tremble of his lips, fingernails curling into his palms. “Why are you doing this to me?”

Then, like a bowstring pulled beyond its limit, he snapped. He flung himself at Maglor, those impossibly-blue eyes ignited. His palms slammed into Maglor’s chest, shoving him. “I told you not to follow me! Why could you not leave me alone?” Shove. “Why?” Shove. “Why!”

Maglor grabbed Eärendil’s wrists and yanked him against his chest. Eärendil’s face shook, nothing left to hide behind, nowhere left to run.

Maglor caught him in his cupped palms, hands coming up to hold the strength of Eärendil’s face in their hollows. He scaled the distance between their faces, one hand slipping about the column of Eärendil’s throat to catch his nape in a demanding grasp, and yanked him into a kiss.

Eärendil’s hands sunk into the fall of dark hair, mouth opening. Maglor held the quaking body still as he took control of the kiss. It looked like Maglor was trying to pull Eärendil up through his mouth and eat him.

The kiss was all teeth and hunger, nothing soft in the devouring. Glorfindel could see the moment Eärendil fell into surrender. Was this what he looked like giving into his father’s touch?

Maglor pulled Eärendil’s hair, forcing his head back, biting his jaw, his neck, and drawing little mewling noises out of Eärendil. Eärendil’s mouth parted, eyes fluttering shut as Maglor sucked the skin of his neck. Maglor broke the kiss and captured Eärendil’s wrists, bending his arms to the elbow, and using them to push Eärendil slowly down the length of his body to his knees.

Their faces fell into shadow, Maglor’s hair curtaining them. Glorfindel stood outside the clasp of their bodies, outside their eyes pressed together.

He stepped closer, licking his lips. Should he help them remove their clothing? Or come around Eärendil and kiss his neck from the back?

But Maglor didn’t bother with clothing. He had Eärendil on his knees before him. He spun Eärendil and gripped his hips, sending him to his elbows, spine curved beautifully, before Glorfindel could decide how this was supposed to work between three people.

Maglor shoved Eärendil’s leggings down his thighs, and fumbled the vile for the oil he’d started carrying everywhere after they’d not had it at a moment of utmost importance. Glorfindel took another step closer, but his father didn’t even look up as he smeared the oil over his cock and nudged Eärendil’s legs wider.

Eärendil made desperate noises as Maglor lined himself up. One of Maglor’s hands seized Eärendil’s hipbones, the other ran up the slope of spine to fist in those golden curls and bend Eärendil’s neck back so he could whisper in Eärendil’s ear as he plunged into him.

Maglor started fucking him with animalistic frenzy, biting at Eärendil’s neck and dropping profanities in his ear. Eärendil cried out with every thrust, shoving himself back into Maglor. Eärendil’s surrender inflamed the violence of the taking.

Glorfindel covered his mouth at the sheer brutality of the act. He didn’t know if it was in shock or to keep his own moans inside. No, he knew; he was hard himself. Only it hurt to watch. Maglor was consumed with Eärendil, and had never been this rough with Glorfindel, even at his roughest, and what did that mean? Glorfindel wouldn’t have said no, so why had Maglor held back?

He looked into his father’s face and saw it twisted in an exquisite blend of pleasure and pain. This was about the pain that never, ever, went away because the dead were gone, gone, gone, as much as it was about the pleasure.

Maglor straightened his back and planted both his hands on Eärendil’s hips, digging into the flesh. The power of his thrusts skidded Eärendil forward along the cave’s floor, drawing lines of blood on Eärendil’s elbows and palms where the rocks cut him. Eärendil didn’t ask Maglor to be gentler.

Glorfindel wanted to turn away, to walk out of the cave and stop listening to the sound of grunts and cries and slapping flesh. He wanted to sink to his knees before them and be part of them. He didn’t know how to do either.

Then Eärendil turned his face to Glorfindel, and Glorfindel knew exactly how this would work between them. He walked to the make-shift bed and dragged it across the rock floor to rest beside Eärendil’s folded body. He slipped his tunic off and then his boots and leggings, and laid himself naked in the pile of blankets.

Eärendil’s eyes weren’t focused on him; they were lost in pleasure and pain. With gentle fingers, Glorfindel wiped away the tears leaking down Eärendil’s cheeks. He kissed those damp cheeks first, and then Eärendil’s mouth with softness. Eärendil blinked at him, hand coming up to touch Glorfindel’s face when Glorfindel pulled back and slipped an arm about him. Eärendil looked at him as if he couldn’t understand Glorfindel, but needed to, desperately.

Glorfindel smiled, and looked up to grab his father’s eyes. Maglor had been watching him, eyes so dark a silver they were almost black in the shadows cast by his unbound hair. His teeth glinted behind parted lips, nostrils flaring with every thrust.

Glorfindel tugged at Eärendil’s body, pulling it atop him, and Maglor paused long enough to fulfill Glorfindel’s desire. Glorfindel took Eärendil’s weight between his legs, and shivered when his father’s hands left Eärendil’s hips to re-learn the skin of Glorfindel’s thighs.

Glorfindel kissed Eärendil, a lingering kiss of sweetness. Eärendil looked down at him as if Glorfindel were some alien creature, or rather, as if the gesture bestowed on him was incomprehensible.

Glorfindel smiled and combed the curls back from Eärendil’s face, the smile deepened when the force of Maglor’s thrusts softened enough for Maglor to bend over Eärendil’s back and press his own kiss into Eärendil’s shoulder. He picked up his rhythm again, but that was good, because that was what both Eärendil and Maglor wanted. But Eärendil needed more.

Glorfindel knew what it felt like to need to get fucked because it hurt so much inside, and knew what it felt like to need more than that but not feel he had the right to ask. It was in Glorfindel and Eärendil’s nature to want to be taken like Maglor was taking Eärendil. But it was also in their nature to crave the tenderness and reassurances of worth and love Maglor gave Glorfindel but had withheld from Eärendil.

Glorfindel gave Eärendil what his heart needed. His hands caressed the dips of Eärendil’s spine and the shifting muscles of his back as he ate Eärendil’s moans with tender kisses. Eärendil trembled, hands touching Glorfindel back as if he were made of stardust. Malgor’s fingers brushed with Glorfindel’s, and then kept climbing to Eärendil’s hair, pulling it aside so Maglor could bend and place another kiss on Eärendil’s skin that started gentle but quickly turned into an expression of desire.

Eärendil’s mouth turned into Maglor’s, a needy sound escaping. Maglor took Eärendil’s mouth with a groan, still moving inside him. Maglor’s fingers curled in Glorfindel’s hair, and pulled his head up high enough to steal a kiss from his lips as well. Glorfindel tasted the three of them on his father’s tongue.

Glorfindel’s hips jerked up into Eärendil’s, drawing a gasp as their sexes pressed hot and wanting together. He ground languidly into Eärendil, in no hurry to reach his own release even as the leisurely slide of skin-against-skin broke a keen from Eärendil.

One day he might be inside Eärendil, but not today. Today Glorfindel and Maglor would break Eärendil’s heart with tenderness and lust as they drank up all the pain, and then they would sew him back together again.

Eärendil came apart between them, hands clinging to Glorfindel’s body as Maglor pounded out those last few gasps before he followed Eärendil into bliss. Eärendil slumped atop Glorfindel, boneless, and Maglor threw himself down at their side. They lay, chests heaving, breaths panting.

Maglor’s eyes were sated, nothing more than a glimmer of silver and long, dark lashes blinking lazily at Glorfindel. Glorfindel’s found his father’s hand and ran his thumb over the delicate bones under the soft skin of its back. Maglor’s hand turned into the touch, fingertips tangling with Glorfindel’s.

“Come here.” Maglor tugged him, and Glorfindel slipped out from under Eärendil to answer his father’s call.

Maglor rolled onto him, elbows coming down to rest on either side of Glorfindel’s head. His mouth lowered to Glorfindel’s for a kiss that started slow, but built into heat. Maglor trailed his lips down Glorfindel’s neck, working down his chest and belly.

“What shall we do about this, hmm?”

Glorfindel cried out, arching into the fingers circling his cock. The touch lit him as brightly as the silkiness of his father’s voice running like fire in his veins.

Maglor laughed lowly, and reached for the oil. “So eager, my beautiful?”

“For you, yes.” Glorfindel watched with hooded eyes as his father settled between his thighs.

Maglor looked up to meet his gaze as he pushed two fingers in. When they found the place of pleasure within him, Glorfindel had to break his eyes away to throw his head back, spine arching. Hotness engulfed him, and he sank his fingers into his father’s hair, holding on as Maglor’s head bobbed between his thighs and the fingers drove him wild.

He tossed his head, unable to hold still under the onslaught of ecstasy. His eyes met Eärendil’s. The light was at Eärendil’s back, throwing shadows over his face, leaving only two points of light glimmering like jewels. Then Glorfindel forgot all about Eärendil, because his father’s fingers curled just like that, and his mind washed of everything but the pleasure.

Maglor slipped across his skin to lay himself down against Glorfindel’s side, arms coiling about his waist, mouth pressing tinny, tired kisses into his collarbone. Glorfindel’s mouth wore the curl of a smile when it turned into Maglor brow, his nose inhaling his father’s scent, eyes drooping. Maglor’s fingers felt around across the length of Glorfindel’s body, and then Glorfindel felt a second body drawn against his.

Glorfindel turned his head to kiss Eärendil’s cheek and find his hand to link with. Eärendil didn’t speak. His face was quiet and half hidden by a fall of his hair that glinted like gold wine in the low light, but he didn’t pull away.

He laid a hesitant hand on Glorfindel’s shoulder, then, slowly, his head dropped to cradle there like a child’s. Maglor’s fingers played with Eärendil’s curls until they drifted into sleep.

*

Glorfindel awoke with the aftertaste of fragmented dreams in the back of his throat.

All the dreams had been conjured from his own mind. Not even a snipped of memories had slipped down the bond from his father. They had shared dreams every night for weeks, and the suddenness of their absence twisted in his gut.

He reached out for the flame of his father’s heart through the bond, but came up against a slammed door. He had been shut out.

He took a shaky breath, and pushed himself up from the tangle of blankets. His hair fell into his eyes, and he shoved it back, searching the cave for his father’s form. His eyes slid over Eärendil on their first pass, but when he could find no sign of his father, he focused on him.

“Where is Maglor?”

Eärendil looked up from his crouch beside the cooking fire. He skewered the fish he’d cut the head off of and gutted, sticking its body through a sharpened stick to fry over the flames. “He was sleeping when I left to catch our breakfast, but when I returned he’d gone.”

Glorfindel rose from the cradle of woven tree boughs that served as their bed, gathering up his clothes in a bundle. “And did you think to look for him?” He winced. He’d not intended the words to fall so sharply from his tongue.

Eärendil’s brow picked up the shadow of a frown, but he answered without a returning snap: “No. I thought…when I knew him –before—he often sought solitude.” Eärendil’s eyes flickered away. He picked up another silver fish, and began gutting it with easy skill.

Glorfindel sighed. There was nothing to be done about it now. He knew Eärendil was right –Maglor had left to seek solitude—but that didn’t stop him worrying, or the pain of the sealed-off bond from digging into his skin like hooks.

He pulled on his clothes, but before he could convince himself to leave it and help Eärendil with their breakfast preparations, his restless feet took him to the cave’s entrance.

Clouds hung heavy over the sea, but the sun rose in gold against the Eastern horizon. The lightened sky shone through the cloud cover in pockets of jewel-blue. The surf flew up in merry sprays of white water on the rocks directly below him, but further down the curving arm of the shore the rocks surrendered their turf to a flat, rich stretch of sand so dark and moist with the rivulets of water swirling down from a creek’s mouth, that it resembled a beach of mud more than sand.

Seagulls chattered in their perches amongst the rocks and on their scavenging runs of the beach. One of the bids cut low overhead, its crying song pulling Glorfindel into the part of his two lives that sat surreal in his mind. The taste of bier in his mouth flung him deeper into that quite life in a Teleri village and the strange mix of half-remembered comforts and frustrations. How simple everything had been then, not easy, but straight-forward. The boy he’d once been had grow up believing himself a Teler and gnawing at the bindings of fate, determined to claw himself into a new one. A part of him was still that boy, the one who grew up into a defiant young man. The other part of him was the prince who had never felt like a prince, who grew up to be a lord more in rage with the world and at war with himself than the poor fisherwoman’s son who had nothing by the measure of the world and yet who the prince would have given anything to trade places with.

There was no sign of Maglor, so he turned and forced himself to fall into one of the blankets Eärendil had spread before the fire. He folded his knees into a cross, and pulled over the sack of pecans Maglor and he had harvested along their journey west. His fingers fell into the mindless rhythm of shelling, tossing the peeled shells into a pile on the rock floor and the nutty-meat into a bowl.

Why had Maglor retreated into himself? He’d not fallen victim to his demons in weeks, and even when the grief opened his jaws to consume him, Maglor reached out to Glorfindel to drive it back.

And why now? The past pulsed forever under Maglor’s skin like a second heart, but why had its beat consumed him once more? Glorfindel had thought, last night, that Eärendil would be another turning point for Maglor, but a turning point for the good, not a regression.

“…do you think?” Eärendil had been speaking, but Glorfindel hadn’t been able to focus on the words that seemed so meaningless next to the worry pounding against his ribs. He didn’t have time for Eärendil when his father could be eating himself alive out there.

He made a vague noise, trying to pass it off as agreement without taking the time to look away from the cave’s entrance his eyes had strayed back to, as if by straining hard enough he could will Maglor into returning.

It took him a moment to realize the absence of humming in his ears meant Eärendil had fallen silent. He tore his eyes away to cast him a cursory glance. Eärendil’s head bent over his work, golden curls falling like a bride’s veil over his face and hiding it from Glorfindel. But the stiff set of his shoulders had Glorfindel paying attention to him long enough to ask: “What was that?”

Eärendil shrugged, not looking up. “Nothing of consequence.”

Glorfindel frowned, guilt shifting uncomfortably around inside him, and then annoyance. He firmly smothered the annoyance. It wasn’t Eärendil’s fault Glorfindel couldn’t quiet his mind’s anxiety. But before he could apologize, Maglor’s tall figure stood against the backdrop of the sky at the cave’s mouth, eclipsing all else in Glorfindel’s mind.

Maglor slipped his harp from his shoulder as he entered, and laid it to rest on a rock ledge, deep enough inside the cave to ensure any lashing rain would not damage it. Glorfindel stood and crossed to him. He fell into his father when Maglor turned, and Maglor granted him an embrace. But though he squeezed Glorfindel close and dropped a kiss on his mouth, he did not linger against Glorfindel’s side.

Glorfindel’s skin felt cold, but he berated himself for selfishness when his father was obviously hurting, and followed Maglor back to the fire.

Maglor took a seat on Eärendil’s blanket. Glorfindel paused, but three could not comfortably fit on one blanket. He could pull his own closer, but he stopped himself from doing so. Something about the gesture felt too needy. He could eat breakfast across the fire from his father in perfect contentment; they had done it before. But not while Maglor sat side-by-side with another.

Eärendil greeted Maglor with a tentative smile, and Maglor returned the greeting with a brush of fingertips over Eärendil’s knee. It was not the embrace Glorfindel and Maglor had shared, complete with a kiss, but something plucked deep inside Glorfindel as he watched that simple intimacy with his skin like frost on his bones.

Malgor’s head came up. He frowned, staring at Glorfindel. Glorfindel could read the question as if Maglor spoke into his mind.

Glorfindel shrugged, trying to clamp down on the churning emotions leaking through the bond, and gave his father a smile. Maglor was not fooled. He could still feel the disquiet Glorfindel could not hide.

Maglor tested one of the fish, peeling back its charcoaled skin. Smoke and the smell of tenderized meat wafted up. He wrapped the fish’s blackened skin and white flesh up in a broad leaf, and handed it across to Glorfindel. Glorfindel took it. The way Maglor’s fingertips brushed his was no accident. He told himself to silence the silly doubts growing like weeds in his heart. His father felt his distress, though he could not know its root, and had taken the time to assure Glorfindel of his love and attention even when the pain swam so close under his own skin.

Maglor fished a second fish off its stick, and offered it to Eärendil. Eärendil accepted with a hesitant smile, just the dusting of a curl in his mouth’s corners. Glorfindel firmly scolded himself for the way his belly cramped at the smile. What was wrong with him?

Along with the fish, they had the last half of a loaf to split between them and honey to moisten it with. It had passed into staleness and the crust crunched under their teeth, but the inside still carried the scent of yeast. Wild pears harvested ripe and heavy-hung for their branches completed the meal. The pears were in perfect season, and their grainy white flesh melted in his mouth.

His eyes were all for his father as they ate, but he wasn’t the only one watching. He saw Eärendil following the way Maglor ate from the corner of his eye. Even eating off leaves in a cave, Maglor ate like a prince, with disarming elegance, every trip from hand to mouth fluid and graceful as a swallow’s dive. Those pale hands moved with dexterity, but they carried the memory of madness in the silver scars of his palm.

Eärendil sunk his teeth into his pear’s flesh. The juice was so abundant it shot out to wet Malgor’s cheek and drip down Eärendil’s chin. Maglor let out a little huff, not quite a laugh, but as close to it as he would come on a day like this one, and reached across to wipe the juice off Eärendil’s chin. His thumb caught on Eärendil’s lower lip, lingering there with a tease that pulled the lip back to reveal the row of white teeth behind.

Maglor’s eyes stuck fast to Eärendil’s mouth, as if bespelled, and he seemed removed from the world and everything in it but for Eärendil and Eärendil’s lips. Eärendil went wide-eyed, and a blush worked into his cheeks that Maglor must find delicious but Glorfindel suddenly hated.

“Father, did something happen last night?” Maglor looked away from Eärendil, focus back on Glorfindel. “We did not share dreams as has been our practice these last weeks, and today…you went out alone.” He didn’t know why he mentioned the dream-sharing so specifically. No. He did know.

“You dream-share?” Eärendil’s astonishment filled his voice. “That is a rare gift. I have never met one who has experienced it.”

“It is not dream-sharing, as such.” Maglor’s quiet voice held no note of censure, but Glorfindel wished it did. He wished Maglor would turn eyes like a blow upon him, but only love shone in those silver depths.

He made himself look into Eärendil’s confused face. Eärendil’s gaze swung back and forth between them. (This was what he’d wanted, wasn’t it? Don’t flinch now from what you wrought. You deserve to see the pain in his eyes when he understands.) He couldn’t take back the die now cast.

Maglor finished it: “Glorfindel and I are soul-bond. We can share memories as well as emotions as long as we are physically close. We have experimented with distance,” Maglor carried on, as if, if he kept talking about the bond, kept revealing its limitations and strengths, it would somehow rekindle the light dimming in Eärendil’s eyes. “With even a league between us, we can still sense the other, but it is like hearing the faint echoing plop of a pebble dropped down a deep well.”

“Oh.” Eärendil said nothing more, and the way his mouth closed tight around that one word made everything a thousand times worse.

Glorfindel couldn’t bear the stillness of Eärendil’s face, the nakedness of his mouth stripped of even those hesitant smiles. He knew very well how insecure Eärendil had felt about his place in Maglor’s heart, yet he’d deliberately steered the conversation down the path of the bond’s discovery.

Maglor had seemed so far away, wrapped up in another, forgetting all about him. Glorfindel should have wrestled down the jealousy exploding inside him that he hated as much as he had hated that smile on Eärendil’s sweet mouth. He was not this person. Only he was.

He was the kind of person who hated so much he fantasized about tossing the one who hurt him over a cliff. And he was the kind of person who was jealous for love. He’d tasted what it was to be the pupil of his father’s eye, and could not bear to watch any other eclipse him from that throne.

It was all a mess inside him. Last night he had not only watched his father kiss and make-love to Eärendil, he had encouraged Maglor’s tenderness. He had seen how the three of them could fit together, and there had been no resentment like cockroaches squatting in his heart.

Eärendil stood, a jerkiness in his limbs that had not been there before, and a tightness in his face. He looked like he was trying not to cry. He made an excuse about going hunting, picked up his bow and quiver on his way out, and fled from them.

Glorfindel got exactly what he wanted: his father, alone. He would give the treasure back now if he could only unwind time.

*

Maglor watched Eärendil’s fleeing back. He did not rise to follow. Glorfindel’s side of the bond radiated distress, and his son came first.

Darkness hung off Malgor’s skeleton like limp clothes and dripped from his fingernails like the red-blood they’d once been stained in –the blood of those he’d slain and the blood of those he loved and could not save. But he crossed to Glorfindel, fighting down the darkness to pull his son into his arms, kiss his mouth, and draw up the bitter bite of the negative emotions sinking their claws into Glorfindel like sucking venom from a wound.

Glorfindel only relaxed into the kisses for a moment, before pulling away. “I am sorry. I need to…I am sorry.”

He had not brought a smile to his son’s mouth. He was failing him like he’d failed his family.

“Glorfindel, wait!” He caught his son’s wrist as Glorfindel made to run from him like Eärendil had. He held the slender bones in the cradle of his fingers for a moment, searching Glorfindel’s face and the bond, taking advantage of it even as he carefully guarded his own side from Glorfindel. “You are troubled. Is it that I did not share a memory last night? It was not an intentional slight, my dear. The bliss we stole for ourselves quenched my hunger so fully I dropped into sleep without casting my mind towards a favorable memory.”

Glorfindel relaxed into his hold as he explained, but still he felt uneasiness in his son. Glorfindel asked, “But why have you closed the bond now? I cannot feel you.”

Maglor dropped his son’s wrist, pulling inward. The answer was simple, and yet one he did not want to burden Glorfindel with the truth of: without the direction of dream-sharing, his mind had inflicted the wound of re-living the agony of finding Celegorm and Curufin’s bodies, lying side-by-side under a ceiling of jewels fashioned like cold, smug stars as they watched the life drain from the eyes of those who had invaded their dominion.

The loss of his brothers pressed like the fresh slice of a sword thrust through his ribs. Some days he convinced himself he would see them, all of them, again. But today his heart would not swallow the fool’s hope.

Glorfindel waited, watching the shadows eat into the corners of his eyes. Even when he tried to spare Glorfindel from this misery, it found a way to tied itself about his son’s neck as well.

He crushed Glorfindel against him with the swiftness and fierceness of impulse, needing the heat of his son’s skin against his. Glorfindel fisted his hands in his tunic, seizing him back. He inhaled his son, smelling the fire at the core of him. “Forgive me. The darkness weighs heavy, and I would save you from this prison.”

Glorfindel held him back with a clasp bordering on the harsh in its ferocity, but Maglor felt that hard knot in Glorfindel’s chest ease. He eased with it, relieved that his words and arms were enough, for he had no smiles left to give.

But something yet nagged at Glorfindel. Malgor’s hand found his son’s heart in the clasp of bodies, and pressed his palm into its beat. “Something yet troubles you.”

Glorfindel sighed into him. “Yes, but let me keep this failing to myself.”

“No.” Malgor’s nails dug into the fabric of Glorfindel’s tunic. “Not if it puts such words in your mouth once more.”

Glorfindel held his silence, turning his cheek into Malgor’s shoulder and his eyes away.

Maglor smoothed his hand down the sunshine waves of his son’s hair. “Be kind to yourself. Please, my beautiful one. Purge her poison from your veins.”

“I already have.” Glorfindel’s voice lacked conviction.

“Not if she still speaks into your mind with your own voice. Her words dug in deep, coating your lungs like smoke.”

“I am not a good person,” Glorfindel’s voice choked on the confession. “Perhaps I do not deserve—”

“I love you,” Maglor tilted Glorfindel’s reluctant face up and brought their noses together in a kiss. “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

“I am not—I am given to hateful thoughts, and selfishness, and—”

“And I am a monster by many’s standers, but you love me, and this monster loves you, so, please, please love yourself.”

Glorfindel took in a gasp of air as if it was his first. Maglor held the shape of his son’s face in his palms as Glorfindel breathed in and out, in and out. “That is it, just breathe it out.” He waited while Glorfindel came back from the place his mind had spun him out into. A place of nightmares and tangled thoughts creeping up in the dark.

“I am trying,” Glorfindel whispered, eyes opening.

Maglor kissed him. “Yes, and you are succeeding, and one day even the shadow of her will be gone from you.”


Glorfindel smiled like the sun’s rising, and Maglor pressed its brightness to his lips, savoring the taste of the coming victory it promised. Its warmth beat back the crouching demons.

But it could not last.

When the darkness crept upon him, it began as a heaviness eating at the back of his mind. He would struggle against its titan weight, grasping at anything promising distraction, but always he could feel it there, in the back of his mind, gnawing at him, slowly eating him alive.

Today the heaviness had greeted him with his first breath, crushing all the light out of the world.

He could scream with the frustration of it all. Why? Why? Why won’t it leave him alone? He did not want to go down into that dark again. He wanted brightness like Father’s dancing eyes, and laughter like summertime. He wanted the moments when he could breathe without his lungs pinching between his ribcage, when he could forget that they were all gone and nothing would ever fill the emptiness inside him again. He wanted the hope back, desperate and defiant as that hope’s only strength was it was all he had to shove into the jaws of the sadness that knew no mercy or end.

Just let him be free of this grief. But no, no, never let it part from him. Let him nurse it down into his grave. Let them burry him while he sang the sadness into the ears of the land itself so it was never forgotten, and those whose absence from the world of the living had dug this sorrow into him with their bones and the sounds of their last, gasping breathes, may never be forgotten.

He would go on and on forever, for to cease to exist was to carry their memories into the Eternal Darkness with him.

Glorfindel had not left him, but witnessed Malgor’s slow slide into anguish. His son would not let him suffocate under the burden of its weight that bore him down like a Troll’s corpse, and said, “Come, let us hold their echo again.” His fingers dropped over the shape of the Silmaril under Maglor’s shirt.

Maglor nodded, and pulled the gem up by its leather cord. Glorfindel unwrapped it until its light unfurled in a blaze of defiance. The cave burst into glory, as if a thousand galaxies fell through it.

Maglor’s hands cupped Glorfindel’s cradling the jewel, but he could not bring himself to enter his son’s mind and share in the beauty. He held the eye of his father’s most prized creation, and felt nothing but loss, for what was the light of the Silmarils next to the radiance of his brothers and father’s fire? All around him the world had gone cold, like a frozen world remembering its sun’s heat after the dark had eaten its light.
Chapter 17 by Encairion
The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 17

Eärendil came in with the tide. A dead badger hung from his shoulder. Its stripped face lay against his chest and it gazed out at the world through glassy eyes. He slung their supper down on the blankets before the fire, rearranged his bow and quiver against the cave wall, and did not make eye-contact as a bland greeting slipped off his tongue.

Glorfindel had decided to make a determined effort to be friendly with Eärendil when he returned, so he abandoned his spot at Maglor’s knee (his father had exchanged the Silmaril for his harp hours ago) and came to join Eärendil before the fire.

“You brought us a treat tonight, Eärendil!” Glorfindel said, keeping his voice cheerful. “Maglor and I found some wild garlic some weeks back, and we still have a few pinches of salt left. The meat would be especially savory with a little thyme, do you have any?”

“It is in the smaller bag under the ledge,” Eärendil jerked his head towards a collection of supplies.

Glorfindel retrieved it. He cast an eye over to his father. Maglor’s fingers sat idle upon the harp’s strings, gaze unfocused, looking deep into the past. So it had been all day. He’d agreed to follow Glorfindel out into the sunshine earlier, but even the hissing rhythm of the waves licking the shore had not thrown back the weight of the past.

At least Glorfindel wouldn’t have to worry over the sting of jealousy returning tonight, because there would be no love-making. When Maglor lost himself like this, he only wanted to hold Glorfindel, just hold him like he’d drown without him.

Glorfindel brushed the thoughts aside with self-disgust. His father was in pain, but he was so consumed with his own happiness he counted his blessings that Maglor had no drive for sex. What a disgusting creature he was.

No. Stop. He shook his head as if he could knock the self-reproach from his mind like a bee buzzing in his ear.

He hated the jealousy he’d felt that morning, then hated himself for proving his nature such a low and petty one, then hated himself all over again for hating himself.

The jealousy pressed against his breast every time he thought of Eärendil, of anyone but the dead holding a higher place in Maglor’s regard than he. But he would defeat it. Its source was fear, and an irrational fear at that. Didn’t he know by now how much Maglor loved him? And exactly how unconditional that love was?

Irimë’s ‘love’ had been tied up in perfection. Glorfindel fell forever short of her measurement, and anything short of perfection was imperfection. To her, his failings meant he did not have the right to accept himself exactly as he was. But Maglor taught him he did not have to be perfect by anyone’s standards to be cherished and deserving of freedom from her poison.

Now he would be kind to himself. Now he would forgive himself for falling to her lies again and hating himself for his imperfections.

With the pouch of thyme he turned back to Eärendil. He followed the line of Eärendil’s eyes straight to Maglor. Nothing writhed inside him to see Eärendil’s attention riveted to his father; it was Maglor’s attention that would be his test.

Eärendil’s eyes released Maglor as Glorfindel approached, flickering down as if caught in something sinful. Eärendil took the pouch of thyme mutely, fingers careful not to brush against Glorfindel’s skin.

Glorfindel resolved afresh to defeat his fears over his father’s love. He had been so very fond of Eärendil last night. He longed to return to the wholeness of that joy.

He hunkered down next to Eärendil, close enough his bent knee brushed against Eärendil’s crisscrossed one. Eärendil jumped at the contact, hands faltering in their task of skinning the badger. He recovered and held himself like a rope coiled tight, tucked away to take up the least space possible.

Glorfindel deliberately reached across Eärendil’s lap for the discarded knife, not allowing Eärendil to maintain the holy distance between them by passing it over. As he leaned in, arm reaching, Eärendil shrunk back as if he would burn if any part of Glorfindel’s body brushed against his.

Glorfindel turned his face into Eärendil. Their closeness heightened the intensity of their meeting eyes. Eärendil’s leapt away again, flickering about, looking everywhere but at Glorfindel. Eärendil reached for impassivity, but the strain in the muscles about his mouth betrayed him.

A fondness struck Glorfindel all over again for this beauty wearing sorrow like a second skin over his heart. How could he have ever hated anything about him? How could he have ever wished Eärendil away when he knew what heartache Eärendil would suffer to be parted from Maglor?

Driven by tender impulse, Glorfindel leaned in and bushed his lips against Eärendil’s, kiss soft and brief as the brush of moth’s wings. Eärendil’s eyes blew wide, but it was the vulnerability in them that would have had Glorfindel hating himself all over again if he’d not swore to defeat all the shadows of her voice lodged in the flesh of his mind like scorpions burrowed in desert sand.

Eärendil’s hand flew to his mouth, covering it like a virgin caught in a moment of nakedness.

Glorfindel smiled, mouth carrying the softness of his heart in its curves. “I am glad you are here with us, Eärendil.”

Eärendil swallowed, the apple in his neck bobbing. A frown knit his delicate brows as he searched Glorfindel’s face. He looked away, still frowning. Glorfindel waited, but Eärendil did not speak. He picked up the badger corpse and began stripping the meat from the hide.

Glorfindel let Eärendil ignore the moment between them, not pushing, and they worked in silence for a time. Eärendil’s gaze kept slipping back to Maglor; it was a studying gaze, rather than a longing one. Eärendil rose with an unconscious grace of movement, and gathered an armful of grinding stone, pestle, and grain, before crossing to Maglor.

Maglor did not look up at Eärendil’s approach. Eärendil held out the sack of grain at Maglor’s eye-level, “I want to fry some flat bread for supper. Will you grind this into flour for me?”

Maglor blinked, as if wakening from a daze. His long fingers curled about the neck of the sack as if by instinct, his harp forgotten in his lap. Eärendil nodded sharply, and held out the grinding tools.

Maglor stalled him with a raised palm, “I will join you by the fire.”

“Very well,” Eärendil said casually, leaving Maglor to find his own way over, but his face when Glorfindel caught glimpse of it hovered around a smile.

The three of them worked to the sound of grains crunching against stone, Glorfindel’s knife dicing up the badger meat Eärendil had finished peeling from its skin, and Eärendil tinkering around getting a pot of water heated on the coals for a stew. Maglor ground down on the grain as if it had personally injured him, mouth compressed, and brows heavy with thought. Eärendil’s eyes slid back and back to Maglor, but only allowed themselves a glimpse before they sprang away again.

The silence built like a thunderstorm. When Maglor finally split it down the center, Glorfindel gave a start, “The soul-bond Glorfindel and I share has been all that kept me from falling back into the madness.” Eärendil’s hands stilled. His head pointed down, not meeting the eyes Maglor rested on him. “It has been a comfort to me, as it has been to Glorfindel.”

Eärendil raised his head, eyes holding nothing but sincerity, “It brings me joy to know you have found comfort. Your healing was my greatest desire.”

Maglor reached out and tucked the falling curls behind Eärendil’s ear, touch soft, almost hesitating, and yet possessive in the way it assumed and lingered on Eärendil’s skin. Glorfindel had to look away; the intimacy ran thick between them. He would not let this curdle in his heart like spoiled milk. His father loved him. Was that not enough? Must Maglor remain consumed with Glorfindel and only Glorfindel to silence all doubts?

Eärendil changed the tide of their conversation when Maglor’s fingers finished their graze upon him and dropped back to their work. “So what brings you so close to Mithlond?” Eärendil asked with an abruptness almost desperate in its grasping. He might be happy for the comfort the bond had granted Maglor, but Glorfindel knew what it felt like to feel shut out. “I would have thought you would want to avoid a metropolis of its size. Especially given its large Teleri population.” He aimed a glance at Maglor with the last, gauging his reaction.

Maglor rolled his shoulders, a jerkiness to the muscles that usually possessed a fluidity of movement. “Precautions will be taken.”

“I hope so,” Eärendil spoke softly, eyes still fixed on Maglor. “They would have no mercy.”

“I know,” Maglor busied his hands and eyes with the pestle. “But it is Glorfindel I fear for. He would not stand by and let them deal out their brand of justice.” Maglor sliced him a smile of love and sorrow, as if apologizing in advance for the disaster of discovery Glorfindel would not allow. If his father thought of Glorfindel’s safety first, Glorfindel thought of Maglor’s.

“We will not linger in the city long,” Glorfindel said. “We cut north from there, along the coast. I was re-born to a Teler woman in a little fishing village some weeks out from Mithlond. We made this journey so I could check up on her. And to see if some fellow Elves in captivity with me made it home.”

“And then?” Eärendil looked between Maglor and Glorfindel.

Glorfindel did not have an answer. Only that his feet would tread any land beside Maglor’s. Wherever they chose, they would choose it together.

Maglor shrugged one shoulder, “Perhaps to Celebrimbor.”

Glorfindel turned the thought of seeing Celebrimbor, his cousin, over in his head. How little he knew of his family. How different everything could have tipped with a single revelation. What would have happened if Irimë had revealed the truth before Celebrimbor came to Gondolin? Glorfindel remembered only a handful of conversations between them in all the years Celebrimbor dwelt in that prison. Or what if Irimë had let the truth slip further back? When they had fresh come to Lake Mithrim, or in Trion?

Glorfindel allowed himself a single what if, spinning it out in his mind, guessing at words spoken, expressions on beloved faces when they learned, imaging what his life could have been like if only. If only. then he neatly snipped the dream off and tucked it away again. It served no purpose but to set an ache of longing in his chest like a broken rib.

There was so much left to say, but the silence fell back like a shroud between them. Maglor’s darker thoughts pulled him under, Glorfindel’s fantasies occupied his mind for too long to pick up the broken thread of conversation when he surfaced again, and what brooded in Eärendil’s mind he kept to himself. They finished their preparations, ate the supper, and cleaned up all in silence; three bodies revolving in the same orbit, but galaxies away.

Another storm had rolled in, and rain lashed the entrance of the cave, shocks of lightning flashing with brilliance in the night sky and illuminating the tossing whitecaps below. Maglor retreated to his harp, plucking the strings, the simple beauty almost drowned out by the howling of the wind.

Eärendil, the last at the washing bowl, scrubbed the meat’s grease from his hands and splashed cool water over his face. His curls gathered the glow of the fire in their stands to drip a dark golden-brown like wolf’s eyes in the night. He pulled their make-shift bed out from the wall, and shed his tunic and undershirt. Glorfindel’s gaze lingered on the revealed planes of muscles and the angles of bones. Maglor’s fingers paused to watch the firelight play on Eärendil’s smooth skin and cast shadows with his hipbones, enchanted by every piece of him. All Eärendil’s lines were good, from his fine-boned hands to the way his collarbones cut his skin to the lean muscle of his legs.

When Maglor abandoned the harp to rise and go to Eärendil, Glorfindel should not have been surprised, not really, but it hurt. He didn’t know what hurt worse: the way Eärendil had drawn Maglor to him without a word on a night Maglor would not have touched Glorfindel, or the way Maglor savaged Eärendil’s lips, hands rough on Eärendil’s skin but possessive, like an ownership, like Eärendil was his.

Eärendil gave himself up to the kiss with a gasp, letting Maglor swallow down its musical sound. He let himself be maneuvered like a pretty doll into the bed, rolling over onto his belly so Maglor could use him however he liked. They played out the violence and naked lust of last night’s coupling, but unlike last night, Eärendil did not turn a face a breath from tears to Glorfindel. He moaned and arched into every mark and bruise Maglor’s hands and teeth sunk into his skin, craving even the brutality of Maglor’s nails digging into his hips and teeth scraping his neck.

Thunder roared, the sky wailed. Loneliness and a paralyzing forlornness thrust themselves into Glorfindel’s chest as he watched them fuck, or maybe this was their love-making: digging themselves into each other’s skin, burrowing down and ripping open, and cries the borderline of pain, but finding the other’s body through the nightmare inside and reaching out to grasp like two downers finding each other in a storm.

Then his father looked at him, right at him, seeing down passed the surface of his skin and into the havoc of his heart fighting, fighting, fighting not to let the sorrow turn over into jealousy like a corpse left in the noonday sun.

Maglor held out a hand to him. “Come join us, my precious one.”

Glorfindel stumbled over, half blinded by the explosion inside his chest. His hand slipped into his father’s like finding home, and that single touch, that single remembrance, took the ball of fearhurtlonliness into its hands, shook it to pieces, and laughed at the dust.

Maglor put his mouth on Glorfindel’s and kissed him with the taste of raindrops in his mouth, washing away the aftertaste of pain. He held the shape of Glorfindel’s face in his palms, and traced its shape with eyes closed, every line already memorized and known in the dark, but touched again like the very first time.

Glorfindel’s eyes found Eärendil’s over the line of Maglor’s shoulder. Eärendil had turned to watch their kiss. He whipped back around, hair closing off the lines of his profile, but not before the longing and sorrow had imprinted themselves on Glorfindel’s eyes.

With his heart renewed, the warmth he’d felt for Eärendil last night came rushing back. Maglor had shown Glorfindel he was not forgotten when finding pleasure in another. Glorfindel wanted to pour the wild happiness in his heart all over Eärendil and let him drink in the wonder of the world.

He tore off his tunic and sunk into the bed in a boneless melt beside Eärendil. He scoped the hair out of Eärendil’s eyes. It had just a hint of coarseness inside its softness, allowing the curls to shape and lending it character. Eärendil’s face tilted towards him, questioningly. Glorfindel smiled and leaned in for a kiss of those lips carrying a pearl-like fullness.

Eärendil’s mouth remained unresponsive under his, but he let Glorfindel’s tongue slip between his lips. When he still could not elicit a returning kiss, Glorfindel sighed into the mouth’s red heat and drew back. Eärendil turned his face away, trying to bury it in the cross of his arms supporting his upper body.

Glorfindel stroked the tense muscles across Eärendil’s shoulders and dropped his mouth into the downy softness of Eärendil’s exposed nape. But the tension only unspooled from under Eärendil’s skin when Maglor’s fingers curled in his hair and tugged Eärendil up for a kiss.

Maglor came inside Eärendil with teeth barred, pupils blown open, and face naked of shadows, nothing but ecstasy and triumph surviving in the hurricane of orgasm. He collapsed atop Eärendil, panting into his neck. Glorfindel almost missed the movement of Eärendil’s fingers finding Maglor’s. Eärendil slid his fingers along the back of Maglor’s, and Maglor opened the loose ball of his hand to lace their fingers together.

When Maglor had caught his breath, he rolled off Eärendil and sought under the quiet shadows of hanging curls for a kiss. Eärendil gave himself up in wholeness to the kiss, arms seeking Maglor’s neck, and body pressing itself flush against Maglor’s. Maglor kissed him long and deep, tongues making love and hands all over the curves and blades of Eärendil’s back. Eärendil shook under the worshiping, drowning in Maglor.

Maglor lowered Eärendil back into the bed, and slithered down his front to rest between opened thighs. Eärendil had not found release, but before Maglor set out fulfilling him, he reached across one splayed thigh to find the shape of Glorfindel’s waist, thumb curving in the hollow of a hipbone.

“I have not forgotten your needs either, my beauty.” His voice settled on Glorfindel’s tongue like the fruit of passion, luscious and sweet.

“Wait.” Glorfindel’s hand landed on the back of his father’s head as it bent to take Eärendil in his mouth.

Eärendil made a desperate little sound that brought a husky laugh out of Maglor. “You had best speak quickly, for Eärendil cannot take much more teasing.”

“Let me,” Glorfindel said, lifting his hips from the bed and wiggling out of his loosened leggings.

Maglor raised a brow, but retreated with a smile that carried the first hints of anticipation. He laid himself down naked on his side, propped himself up with an elbow, and ran his eyes over the picture they made when Glorfindel took his place between Eärendil’s legs.

Glorfindel’s hands trembled as they planted on either side of Eärendil’s face and he lowered himself down. He watched Eärendil’s face, needing to look into his eyes and see Eärendil as he truly was and banish the faceless usurper for the last time. He would not be allowing the fear to crawl back in. And for that he must remember how much he liked this sorrowful, breathtaking, sparrow-boy.

Eärendil’s gaze held his, face quiet and watchful. He did not shove Glorfindel off him when Glorfindel slipped his hips between his thighs, intent clear. But no smile welcomed him in either. The fire had burnt itself down to coals, and the shadows darkened Eärendil’s eyes almost to black. The shape of his mouth stood out in sensual curves, and his noise with its little point at the tip cut a deeper shadow over the left side of his face.

Glorfindel traced the shell of Eärendil’s ear in a silent bid for permission. He hoped Eärendil did not feel how badly his fingers shook. He had never been inside a man before. Would he be able to satisfy Eärendil who responded with such passion to Maglor’s rough claiming?

The arch of Eärendil’s foot slid up the skin of Glorfindel’s calf to hook about the back of his thigh. Glorfindel shivered, hips jerking forward to grind down into Eärendil. Eärendil’s back arched, seeking the friction.

Glorfindel experimented with kissing Eärendil, but the kiss was too soft and careful, and Eärendil did nothing to urge it deeper. Glorfindel’s mouth slid down the column of Eärendil’s throat. The skin tasted different from this angle, mysterious but a little frightening too.

His belly clenched with nerves as he coated himself with the oil. Eärendil’s body was flawless and open under him, but he had never done this before. It wasn’t until he lined himself up with Eärendil’s moistened opening and began to press in that every fear swept away, turned insignificant as dust as instinct roared through him. His hips snapped forward, unable to court gentleness when the need to take burned through him, centering its greed in the sensation of Eärendil’s soft walls squeezing him.

He was inside Eärendil, all the way inside that heat and tightness. The exquisite feel of Eärendil’s body sucking him in deeper drew a ragged cry from his wide-open mouth. His eyes fell shut to savor and his hips began pumping without conscious thought. It was well Eärendil had already stretched around Maglor, because Glorfindel had no self-control left for gentleness.

He seized Eärendil’s waist, anchoring him so he could take him faster and deeper, more, more, more. His body folded over Eärendil’s as he panted and thrust like a youth caught in his first climb to orgasm.

When he was able to open his eyes again, he found Eärendil’s head turned, gaze fastened on Maglor who touched himself, watching them. Irritation bit through Glorfindel’s haze of lust. He realized the irrationality of now being jealous for Eärendil’s attention, but couldn’t deny the emotion was there. He was the one inside Eärendil.

He closed his mouth over Eärendil’s to make Eärendil look at him. Eärendil did not respond to the kiss immediately, as if his mind was not attached to his body but away, there, with Maglor across the bed. Glorfindel’s frustration and jealousy turned the kiss wild and angry. He punctuated the way his teeth sank into Eärendil’s lip with thrusts of pure aggression powerful enough to mirror the way Maglor’s had skidded Eärendil’s across the rocks last night.

As if the aggression and dominance triggered something in Eärendil, his tongue rose to meet Glorfindel’s and his arms encircled Glorfindel’s neck to pull him closer.

Glorfindel had to break the kiss for breath, but that was alright because Eärendil’s legs wrapped about his and Eärendil’s hands fisted handholds in his hair and made the most delicious sounds of encouragement. So when Eärendil’s eyes flickered back over to Maglor, Glorfindel’s followed not because he needed Eärendil’s attention for himself, but because Maglor’s eyes glinting silver in the dark, watching them watching him, curled thrills in the base of Glorfindel’s spine.

Glorfindel brought Eärendil to completion, and came inside that shaking body. His mind expanded like a pupil blown out by lust, and pleasure feasted on his nerve endings. The ecstasy drove every other thought from his mind like a war-party driving all before it, leaving room only for itself.

Maglor’s arms caught him as he slumped, and drew him into his chest. Glorfindel curled around his father like a fist closing over a jewel. He threw a leg over Maglor’s hips as his arms slipped about his neck.

Maglor unwound an arm and drew Eärendil against Glorfindel’s back. Maglor’s fingers caressed the silky skin of Eärendil’s side and learned the slope of his spine. No emptiness yawned open inside of Glorfindel at Maglor’s attentions gifted to another, and he fell into sleep under the gentle rhythm of Maglor’s arm sliding against his ribs as its fingers traced a pattern between Eärendil’s shoulder blades.

*

(It was the last time he heard his father’s laughter.

Fëanor would ride south in the morning for the Valar’s festival, and his sons determined to send him off in a good mood. Ever since the Valar had ordered Fëanor’s attendance at the festival, he had been locking himself in the forge, losing himself in work and forgetting to eat or sleep unless one of them went to fetch him.

Maglor and his brothers revolved around Fëanor, as they ever did; loving him so much it built up in their chests until it seemed if their sides were to be split open, light would spill out. Fëanor was the spine the mountains stood upon; he seemed the foundation of the Earth, an essential element of the world. That night, in Foremost, before the world changed, not one of them could have imagined an existence without their father at its core.

Fëanor’s laughter flooded every corner of the hall with the color of rubies and the taste of sweet-wine. His sons had drawn him out, eager to have him amongst them again. His presence filled their mouths like pomegranate, red and passionate, settling warm as hot chocolate in their hearts, and inflaming their minds, challenging them and inspiring them.

Maglor entertained them that night with one of his more clever satires, one perfect for the occasion as it poked fun at Tirion’s court. He’d sung this very song at Tirion dinner parties and feasts, to Maedhros’ vexation and amusement. Most did not pick up on the subtle mockery, but believed he praised their oh-so-sophisticated lives, these small-minded courtiers, these ‘great’ lords and ladies who fell under his thrall like stalks of grain to a sickle. These oblivious ones who followed him around like love-struck fools, blinded by the power of his voice and unable to form coherent thought beyond desiring him and worshiping at the altar of his voice. These weak-minded fools who would laugh at any joke he told, even ones insulting themselves.

Maglor held nothing but contempt for them. They cared for nothing but their own comforts and whim’s fulfillment. They did not even possess the pompous intellect of those scholars who had taken over the university of loremasters Father had built when he still believed their people could achieved greatness in this ‘paradise’ of cages.

The silly creatures forever dogging Maglor’s steps, could not have discerned the nature of the lute’s voice. They would not understand if he explained the flute’s beauty was born from its pure simplicity of sound, with its high, piercing clearness that most resembled a human voice. Where a xylophone’s beauty was created in its complexity, the sum of many parts coming together though the musician’s body which was itself a part of the whole, a tool through which the music took shape and voice –becoming either soft or grand under its architect’s hands.

Father laughed at all his favorite parts of the song, missing not a single reference or turn of phrase. Even Maedhros allowed himself a little ironic smile safe here in the privacy of their father’s hall where he could be wholly himself again. Caranthir shook his head at the song, grumbling about fancy words when they all should have told those idiots where to stick it like he had. Curufin added his own clever and scathing remark in the song’s vein that had father laughing again. A true observation, but one without a stick of poetry or rhythm that would not have slipped well into the song. Dear Curufin, he really had no musical talent at all.

Celegorm and the twins were amusing themselves with knives and trying to entice Celebrimbor into joining them without success. They hadn’t paid much attention to the song, letting it filter through as pretty background music, but their disinterest kept Maglor’s ego from running away with him, or so Maedhros teased.

They would never share another night like this. Maglor wondered if it would have been better to know, so he could have paid obsessive detail to every word spoke, ever shifting of facial expression, every color woven into his father and brothers’ laughter. Or maybe it was better to have remained in ignorance and not spoil their last moments with the strain that stretched like a torture rack on the eve of battle when every laugh got stuck in their throats and every cling of eye carried the desperate glitter of this-could-be-the-last-time.

It was the last time. Father rode away in the morning, and when they had him in their arms again he’d lost himself somewhere between ‘King Finwë is dead’ and Maedhros slapping the wild madness out of his face (but not his eyes; they couldn’t reach those. Those were lost).)

Glorfindel awoke in the middle of the night with the salt of tears in his mouth. He lay, gasping, choking on the sadness, until his father was there, wrapping him up in his arms like a winter cloak. He buried his face in Maglor’s neck and rested his trembling fingers over his father’s heart, accepting the silent apology and gift the memory had been.

No, it was more than apology; it was a promise and declaration. Never had Maglor shared a memory more beautiful or precious. He’d held his life in Valinor tight against his chest, as if the warmth of the love he’d known then could save him from the emptiness of now. But he had shared it with Glorfindel, shared what he would never share with anyone outside the bonds of Fëanor’s blood.

Maglor did not have to explain what he meant by it. Glorfindel was a part of him, of them, in a way that could never be usurped. And he knew at last that he would be able to watch Eärendil’s hand twine with Maglor’s and not need his own in-between. He could thread with them or outside them, and his father’s love would cover him wherever he chose to lie.
Chapter 18 by Encairion
The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 18

Glorfindel awoke to a cold spot on his right and Maglor spooned against him on his left. His father’s steady breathing caressed his ear, and his arm slung about his waist was a comfortingly heavy weight.

Morning had yet to arrive and the fire had eaten its way into suffocation. He picked out Eärendil’s figure by the pale shimmer of his fëa that revealed itself in darkness this deep.

Eärendil sat wrapped in a blanket a little ways apart. He faced the cave’s entrance, watching rain lash the darkened sea, sheets of it blowing in to wet the first few feet of the cave’s entrance. Lighting forked across the sky in a breathtaking display of wild beauty. The flash of white light flooded into all the planes and hollows of Eärendil’s profile. His mouth wore sorrow like a Númenórean lady’s wore color.

“What are you doing way over there?” Eärendil startled at Glorfindel’s voice, head whipping around.

“I thought you were sleeping.” Eärendil kept his voice low, eyes sliding over Glorfindel’s shoulder to lock on Maglor’s sleeping face.

“I was.” Glorfindel held out a hand. “Come back to bed.”

Eärendil looked away, down to his hands folded in his lap. “I do not belong there.”

Guilt folded into Glorfindel’s skin, but he did not allow it to debilitate him. That was the past, this was the future. “Where?” He played ignorant.

He wanted Eärendil to talk, talk like one talked when they had too much sadness bottled deep inside and they’d walked the last step on their run from it. Talk like the mouths that opened on nothing, or pinched tight to keep the words back, needed to talk. Talk like he’d reached the breaking point, was fed up with the coldness of his skin and his heart beating alone and caged under every inch of it.

“I will not lie between you.” Eärendil’s voice crept low and painful into the thrashing of the rain and the groans of the sea.

Glorfindel heard the minuet shifting of Maglor’s breathing pattern. He did not call attention to his father’s awakening. His own voice wore no hesitation, no second guesses, “Not between us, with us.”

Eärendil’s fleeting laughter choked off. He scraped a hand down his face. “Stop. Just stop. I am not going to play this game with you.”

“What game?”

Eärendil ignored the question. “You have been very kind to me, more generous than I had a right to expect, but I do not flatter myself—”

“There was nothing ‘generous’ about it. We both wanted you. It was not some act of hardship.” Glorfindel eased out of Maglor’s arms and bore his gaze into Eärendil’s back as Eärendil refused to look at him.

Eärendil’s spine stiffened. “I am not an idiot. I am aware of that. But do not pretend it was not just a fuck. Just. Don’t.”

“That was not what it was—”

“—I will not let myself be used like—”

“No one wants to use you—”

“—some sort of convenient experiment—”

“Don’t you think we could have had anyone if we wanted to ‘experiment’—”

“Do not play games with me!” Eärendil’s words lashed out, ringing off the cave’s walls. His breaths came harsh and panting with emotion, but he dropped his voice down to a hiss. “Do not pretend that you care about me. You think I am blind? I can see how you dislike me.”

“That is not…” Glorfindel floundered, swallowed, and began again, hyperaware of his father’s listening ears. “I do not dislike you, Eärendil, quite the opposite. But it was difficult at first to accustom myself to sharing my father’s attentions. It has just been the two of us these passed months and…well it has nothing to do with you. I think I would have been jealous of anyone who earned even a scrap of Maglor’s attention –at first—but I promise you, it is not like that with me any longer.”

Eärendil sat in silence a long moment, face angled away. After another crash of thunder shook the sky, he whispered so soft Glorfindel almost missed it: “You expect me to believe you have suddenly out-grown jealousy? Are you going to tell me now it was because I let you fuck me? Did you see me in another light? Maybe I no longer seemed a creature worth feeling jealousy over now you’ve had me yourself. Nothing much to worry about, your father would soon grow tired of me, was that it?”

“No. Stop it. You are being ridiculous, Eärendil.” Glorfindel tasted bile. He didn’t try to unpick the source of his sickness, whether it was the way Eärendil talked about himself or the seed of truth in Eärendil’s words (not that Glorfindel thought him a person unworthy of holding Maglor’s regard, but that he’d used sex with Eärendil to overcome his own fears).

“Am I?” It wasn’t really a question. Glorfindel could hear the self-mocking twist in the words. “Well, it doesn’t matter now.” Eärendil stood, the blanket sliding off his shoulders. “I am leaving.”

Glorfindel sprang up after him, snatching his wrist and spinning him around, forcing Eärendil’s eyes on him. “Are you out of your mind? You cannot just leave. It is the middle of the night in a thunderstorm. You are crazy if you think I wouldn’t try to stop you!”

Eärendil’s chin went up. “I am leaving. I will not allow you to stop me.” He yanked at Glorfindel’s grip about his wrist. The twisting of fragile bones trying to free themselves turned into nails biting the skin at the back of Glorfindel’s hand when Glorfindel would not release him.

Glorfindel tightened his grip to bruising, wanting to shake some sense into this obstinate man whose fëa, peaking out through the thin layer of his flesh, glowed with the faint gold of a sunrise. “Valar, enough! Are you this bull-headedly stubborn with every lover?”

Eärendil flinched, eyes skidding away.

“Come on, look at me.” Glorfindel’s voice softened, fingers thawing from restraining to sheltering.

Eärendil’s mouth set and he met Glorfindel’s eyes. “Let me go.”

Glorfindel raised a brow. “Pull away if you don’t want me touching you.”

Eärendil’s nostrils flared, but he didn’t try to take his wrist back from the softened hold. Glorfindel rather thought he wouldn’t. Eärendil was as starved for touch as Glorfindel had been when Maglor found him.

They stared at each other. Glorfindel could feel Maglor’s awareness over the bond. If he chanced a glance over, he would see silver eyes watching them.

“Why, then?”

“Why what?” Glorfindel reeled Eärendil in an inch, and then another. Eärendil let himself be drawn.

“Was it just the lack of options in the wild, or because I was easy, so willing to bend over for anyone?”

“Do not talk about yourself that way.”

Eärendil’s mouth twisted. “You know it is true. You must have thought it when he was fucking me.”

“No. I did not.” Eärendil’s chest heaved as Glorfindel’s other hand settled on his forearm. “I thought you were beautiful. I wondered what it would feel like to be in your position. I thought it would be divine.”

Eärendil sucked in a breath. He caught his lip between his teeth, biting until it whitened.

“Don’t do that.” Glorfindel’s thumb came up to smooth over the plump flesh of Eärendil’s lower lip. “Don’t hurt yourself.”

“Tell me: why?”

Glorfindel’s fingers trailed over Eärendil’s cheek to slide down his neck and rest in the hollow of his throat. He could feel the mad beat of Eärendil’s pulse under his touch. “Because you are worth picking.” Eärendil’s mouth compressed, eyes sliding away. “No. Look at me.” Glorfindel hooked Eärendil’s chin and brought the eyes back. “We picked you because you are like us. You are hurt, deep inside. There is pain there that will never be fully plucked out, losses that have punched holes in your sides that will never knit back together again.”

“If this is not real—” Eärendil shook his head, trembling mouth folding into itself. “I am going to believe you. I am going to love you. I know I will, so do not—no games. Do not play games with me. This has to be real.”

Glorfindel’s hand dropped to Eärendil’s heart. “I wanted you most because of this, because I liked what I saw. Because you loved my father, someone who you could have so easily spit upon. Loved him even when he did not love you back. Loved him passed the ideals of goodness and beauty and honor and everything we are told we must find in our lovers. Loved him and forgave him even when logic would have had you turning your back on a damaged kinslaying son of Fëanor. I liked what I saw. I still do.”

Eärendil’s eyes combed his face, back and forth between his eyes. “You—” His eyelashes fluttered, brow knitting. “You really mean this?”

Glorfindel’s lips slid into a slow smile lifting into brilliance and lighting up his eyes. “I really do.” His hands dropped to Eärendil’s. “Come on. It is the middle of the night and your spot of the bed has grown cold.”

Eärendil started to follow Glorfindel’s tug, but froze when he saw Maglor watching them. Glorfindel tightened his hand about Eärendil’s and kept walking, Eärendil reluctantly trailing behind him. When they reached the bedding, Glorfindel stopped Eärendil from lying down on the edge.

His fingers went to the hem of Eärendil’s tunic. “Let us see you.”

He didn’t care one bit that he’d been wandering around naked. He wanted Eärendil so comfortable with them, with himself, that he forgot his clothes when he was with them. Glorfindel bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from laughing at the way Eärendil jumped and blushed a becoming shade when Maglor rose to his knees to strip the leggings off his hips.

When they’d gotten Eärendil naked, Glorfindel guided Eärendil down into the spot he himself had occupied, lying beside Maglor. Eärendil shuffled his arms about. Glorfindel shouldn’t find his awkwardness this attractive for it spoke of a lack of self-confidence, but it was sweet to see the way he melted into Maglor’s arms the minute Maglor gathered him up.

Glorfindel curled himself about Eärendil’s back, looping his arm over both Maglor and Eärendil’s waists. He met his father’s eyes over Eärendil’s head resting in the crook of Maglor’s neck. They watched each other, eyes stuck to eyes, as the storm split the sky outside. Lightning thrust their features into relief, only for the beloved lines to plunge back into darkness, except for the light of their eyes, star-bright.

*

They left the cave with the rising sun to scavenge the beach for breakfast.

Maglor slipped off his boots and rolled up his leggings to the knee. Glorfindel and Eärendil followed. The sand was so fine it squelched between their toes like silt.

Eärendil, with the keen eyes of experience, found a likely looking cluster of oysters to harvest. Glorfindel and Maglor collected the oysters beside him with equal confidence. They gathered seaweed next, coiling the long wet strips into the basket Eärendil wore slipped over his shoulder.

Glorfindel jumped from rock crevice to rock crevice with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat, and plucked delicate eggs the color of blue-bells from their nests. From his high perch, he watched Maglor turn over the likeliest stones in the sand to ferret out crabs. They would keep whatever they did not eat for breakfast fresh in the pockets of saltwater the rock crevices around the cave held like palms cupping rainwater.

Breakfast provided for, they wandered down the beach, pointing out this beauty or that, each one of them knowing how to unearth the sea’s treasures. They hunted up sanddollars still wearing coats of fuzz, and made a competition out of whose finds were the prettiest shades.

Glorfindel didn’t let the light-heartedness of the moment slip though their fingers, and kept the competition up with seashells and starfish. Last night’s storm had washed a scarlet sea-fan onto the beach. Maglor found it and presented it to Glorfindel like a bouquet of flowers with a smile more precious than any Dragon’s horde.

It didn’t last. What little conversation they’d built up petered away. Maglor lost himself in staring at the Western horizon, as if if he only stared long enough he could breach the sea’s barrier.

The hanging clouds still carried raindrops, and squeezed a handful down on them. A droplet caught in Malgor’s thick eyelash. Shafts of sunlight escaped in a break in the cloud-cover. One slipped through the wild darkness of Maglor’s hair and nestled their like a string of gold-dipped pearls. Glorfindel was not the only one entranced. Eärendil’s eyes had slipped back and back again to Maglor, half his attention never fully turning away.

The surf licked their footprints away, as if the sea whispered of their insignificance when measured against its ancient might. And Maglor looked neither to the right nor left, only West.

Eärendil’s ankles cut through the surf to find a place in the swirling waters and silky sand at Maglor’s side. Staring West. The sea-breeze picked up Maglor’s wealth of hair, loosened of even a single braid, and twirled it about Eärendil. It brushed his neck, the back of his shoulders, his cheek.

Maglor noticed nothing. He was far from them, drifting on the currents of memories. Glorfindel stepped into the shadow of Maglor’s other side and took his father’s hand in silent comfort.

Eärendil did not keep silent vigil at Maglor’s side waiting for him to find his way home to them again. He bent and fished out a twig the last wave had deposited in the roll of his leggings, and said, “I never told you about the time I met your mother. When I fetched the harp for you, back during the war.” Eärendil gestured at the bone-framed harp nestled in the curves of Maglor’s back. Glorfindel sucked in a breath through his teeth. “Would you like to hear of it? Of her?”

Maglor’s gaze abandoned the horizon to pick apart the pieces of Eärendil’s face. After a long moment of silence in which Glorfindel didn’t know if he wanted to curse Eärendil for dropping Maglor further down the past’s gullet, or kiss him for bring Maglor back to the surface, Maglor spoke. “No. No, I think—it would be better to leave her in the past.”

Eärendil tossed the twig away and watched it twirl on the sea’s skin for a breath before the next wave pulled it under. “They say we outgrow our mothers. In time.”

A strange smile twisted Maglor’s lips. “I believe this is a case of the reverse: the mother outgrowing us.”

Glorfindel’s fingers slipped deeper between his father’s, and Maglor tightened his own hold back. Maglor’s eyes went West again.

The waves shaped the shore once, twice, thrice, and Eärendil spoke again, as if his voice could ground Maglor in the living world. “Elrond said Celebrimbor’s city is a work of art. Ingenious, it is whispered. Revolutionary in its design. Nothing of its like ever seen.”

Maglor’s eyes released the West to find Eärendil’s face again. A secret, pleased smile took his mouth.

“Many of other Noldor are not so quick with their praise,” Eärendil continued. “They say it is nothing to Gondolin’s beauty. Or Tirion’s.”

Maglor’s smile deepened. “No, I would not imagine anything birthed of Celebrimbor’s mind resembled either.” The smile dimmed, eyes straying West. Glorfindel did not need to mind-read to know his father compared the city-forts he and his brothers had raised, or maybe wondered what shape a city of Fëanor’s design would have taken.

Eärendil drew Maglor back to the beach, to the present. “It is said Gil-galad resembles Fingolfin in the strength of his rule, and has single-handedly crafted another Golden Age. They do no say the Noldor’s Golden Age re-born, for there are many of mixed-blood who call him king. Some Teleri too. No Sindar, of course. Though I heard Gil-galad holds a far more friendly alliance with them than Doriath ever held with the Noldor of old. But the Sindar are a diminished people who either followed Oropher or Celeborn East after Doriath’s wars, or lived long years under the rule of Cirdan after Elwing’s flight.” Eärendil spoke of his wife and alluded to the Kinslaying as if they happened to other people, so removed did he sound from the words coming out of him mouth.

Maglor was not so removed, and a weight seemed to curl itself along the length of his spine. But he said only: “I heard talk of Gil-galad growing into his kingship. He must be a notable leader indeed to manage alliances amongst such culturally divorced peoples with our history.”

Eärendil hummed. “The Sindar are not as unlike the Noldor as the Silvan or Teleri. Melian’s influence, no doubt. They are accustomed to a similar governance and religion, and are more aligned to the Noldor’s tastes in the arts and dress than they are to their cousins the Silvan.”

Maglor’s lip curled. “But their philosophy of the world and their place in it –their duties to it as its citizens—are wholly divorced from ours.”

Eärendil slanted Maglor a glance. “Do not judge an entire people on the decisions of their lords.”

Maglor’s eyes glinted. “I do not. Nor do I dismiss every Sindar. But the facts of the war cannot be swept under the rug, nor the Sindar’s unwillingness to march to battle (save but a few brave and noble among them) laid solely at Thingol’s feet.”

“It is true that they seek peace, even when its seeking is seen as cowardice. But is it a failing that they are so slow to pick up weapons and deal out death?”

“Not if the fight they are being pushed towards is an unworthy one. In such a case it would be admirable that the Sindar choose peace instead of war. But such was not the case. They had something worth fighting for, a cause that needed their strength. We fought the Devourer of the World, and they did not choose to fight with us for the protection or our world and all the innocent within it. That. That I do hold against them.”

Eärendil stood thinking a long moment, brow furrowed. Finally he said, “I hear you. I will not say their reasons for bowing out of Maedhros’ Union were worth the risk of Morgoth’s victory. I hold with you in this. But unless you have spoken to the heart of every Sinda who made that choice, I do not believe it just to paint them with one stroke.” He met Maglor’s canted brow with: “Do you hear me?”

Maglor’s mouth twisted up in something not quite a smile or a grimace. “Yes. I hear you.” He tipped his head like a warrior bowing to a respected challenger. “You have more insight than I into the inner-hearts of Sindar. I will not say I will forget the many battles they failed to demonstrate anything but self-preservation as a nation in, but I will give you the courtesy of considering your words, as you have given mine, because another would have been quick to remind me of the many Sindar my blade has slain and allowed me nothing but groveling before that people.”

“I am not another,” Eärendil whispered, looking away.

Maglor studied the turned profile a moment, before saying softly, “No. You are yourself.”

Maglor’s gaze found the horizon once again. But this time the West did not hold his undivided attention. His eyes slipped back once, twice, to Eärendil. When Eärendil spoke again (it must be sheer stubbornness driving him), it took a moment before Maglor’s responded. He’d been staring at Eärendil, and it was as if he’d half lost himself looking at the play of light along Eärendil’s cheekbone, the curl of his lashes, the way his face brightened under the sun’s wispy fingertips.

Eärendil drew Maglor back into the world, and no jealousy twisted its knife in Glorfindel’s chest. It didn’t hurt to watch Maglor smile at Eärendil and answer back. It didn’t hurt to watch Maglor’s eyes find Eärendil’s in a meeting like a kiss. It didn’t hurt because Glorfindel gave Maglor something Eärendil never could: the binds of blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh. Such ties were irrevocable. Glorfindel did not know this only in his head, he knew it in his heart now.

He squeezed his father’s hand, and then untangled their fingers. Maglor’s whole attention snapped to him. His fingers caught in Glorfindel’s sleeve, a question in his eyes. Glorfindel smiled (it’s all right now, it’s all right). Maglor frowned, heart still beating bruises against his ribs. Glorfindel caught his father deep inside his heart, and let it sing. There was a time he could not feel the sunlight on his fingertips, but now there was music inside him that could not be silenced.

Maglor’s fingers uncurled from their worried perch, letting Glorfindel go with a last caress, and an ‘I love you’ brushed against the hollow of his wrist.

Glorfindel’s footprints left their flash-moment mark in the beach as he slipped away. He left because Eärendil needed him to, and Glorfindel’s regard for Eärendil had grown beyond the length of his own nose. He was beginning to suspect being tapped inside the cages inside his own mind had molded a certain kind of self-absorption, with wiggle room for those who loved him.

Well. He never claimed perfection; that had been the work of the Gondolindrim’s who’d set him up on a pedestal to watch how far he fell (pretty, golden lord, see how far he falls). He didn’t run from stumbling-blocks inside anymore. He fought them. And he conquered them.

A string of rocks marched into the sea like stepping stones. He jumped them to the very last and sat upon its cool jagged top, letting the sea crash up white and hungry into his lap, soaking him and kissing his lips with droplets of salty wetness.

He sat staring out at the whitecaps until his leggings were soaked through, and he became aware of a seeping disquiet. He examined himself, and put a name to it: loneliness. Only no, he didn’t have his finger all the way on its pulse. It wasn’t loneliness; it was the unaccustomed stillness of solitude. He hadn’t been alone since leaving his cell in Númenor. Maglor had been there, always, in the forefront of his mind and within easy reach of hand. Even when Maglor wandered off to be alone, Glorfindel had never been truly alone in spirit, for he had never stopped revolving around Maglor.

The solitude stretching out before him suddenly compressed the air in his lungs. He had been alone in Númenor. Solitude meant mind-games played with himself in a cell so silent only his breathing filled the void. Solitude meant skin so cold it craved even his jailer’s touch.

Before the panic could close over him with the claustrophobia of prison walls shirking in about him, he reached down the bond to the echo of his father beating soft as moth’s wings in the back of his mind. His father sent a returning a touch that pulsed in Glorfindel’s hand like a heartbeat. He was not alone. He would never be alone again.

A humpbacked whale broke the surface, blowhole opening to emit a spray of white water. Its sleek body arched over the water’s surface before its tail slipped back into the depths with a quiet elegance at odds with its bulk. If he believed as the Teleri who raised this body did, he would ask the Sea-gods what message they meant for him. Whales were the messengers of the gods, traveling up from the depths of the sea where the gods had their abode.

If he believed, he would come to the sea, day after day, quiet his heart, and listen with his fëa to the stands of the Song the sea whispered against the sands, seeking answers from the gods. If he believed, he would listen for the cries of the dead in the sea’s gales, their mournful wails yearning for life.

Yet he had also been taught he could listen to the echoes a canyon’s walls threw back and hear the voices of the dead communing with him, and hear the dead in a brook’s murmur or an eagle’s call. The nature of the afterlife had muddled together as the kindreds of the Elves mingled their blood and cultures upon that last bastion of freedom: Balar. Enough Teleri remembered a time before the Silvan’s ‘nonsense’ and the Sindar’s religions mixed in with their honoring of the Sea-gods for grumbling to be heard on the days of Honoring.

Glorfindel’s mouth twitched. How that Elf grumbled and spit about Noldor and their corruption, only to turn around and bemoan the pollution of his people’s culture by those ‘uppity, Sindar refugees!’

Fondness pressed the curves of a full smile into his mouth as his thoughts carried him to the destination of their journey: Althon. Dear friend.

The lingering belly of clouds rolled their grumpy heads back, and the newly risen sun took up reign in a hazy blue sky. Glorfindel took in a deep breath, holding it in the pocket of his esophagus, and let it flow out of him like yesterday. Númenor was over. Cells with bars and icy loneliness were far in the past. He was free. His body would never be returning to chains, and his mind would not be slipping into barred-cages again. His father walked just a call away, but it was all right to sit here, alone; it was all right because the absence of another breath did not frighten him anymore.

He tiled his neck back to smile a greeting up at the sun. Anticipation dripped from his fingertips, his eyes looking ahead. He would build the life he’d never lived –a life of freedom and love like the unnumbered stars—on his knees if he had to. But he wouldn’t have to, because he would never be alone again.
Chapter 19 by Encairion
The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 19

Eärendil had a starvation inside him. A gasping, yearning emptiness, opening and closing like a baby’s fist.

Maglor kissed him with a fire-born mouth and a tongue that drank him up. Maglor pressed his fingertips into Eärendil’s skin with fire, and Eärendil closed his fist around it and sunk the warmth deep down into the empty places that haunted him like the freezing depths of space.

But he didn’t whisper sweet lies into his own ear. The wholeness of who Maglor Fëanorion was was unknown to him, but he had fallen in love eyes-wide-open with the parts revealed. And what he was to Maglor was escape.

Maglor’s voice like jungle spices had never whispered lies into Eärendil’s ear. He had never said ‘I love you.’ He had never pretended he knew more than the surface of Eärendil’s body, the outline of his lips, and the sound of his pleasure-gasps.

Eärendil told himself it was better that way. He whispered it into the empty, starving loneliness inside like a chant in the nights he spent wrapped about Maglor’s skin but never any deeper.

But when Maglor’s mouth conquered a smile, Eärendil forgot how to speak. He’d tongued the shape of Maglor’s name so often it carved itself a home inside his mouth, and every thought running back to Maglor had built itself its own little bed in his chest, with his ribs for roof to pound against –thud thud thud—the sound of his leaping-bird heart, and his gut for a footstool that churned at every touch, so craved, he felt sick with the longing.

He’d folded his love into a rose, and held it out on the palm of his hand. Maglor had taken it into the hot wetness of his mouth and swallowed it down with kisses, but Eärendil didn’t know if his love had settled inside Maglor’s heart or groin.

Eärendil rolled over and let the sun warm the naked skin of his back. He closed his eyes, the brightness stamping redness into the backs of his lids, and wished he could swallow the sun so he wouldn’t be so cold.

Enough.

Self-pity was not an attractive look, and maudlin thoughts never solved any of the universe’s little miseries. He took a deep breath of sea air, so crisp it expanded in his lungs like the first snowfall.

The tide had rolled in and flooded the tidal pool. It was one of Eärendil’s favorite hunting grounds. Today’s catch flopped against his net, still fighting for escape. He’d dunked the net into the pool after knotting its neck. The fish would keep fresh until supper time.

In another two hours the sun’s decent would begin in earnest. Eärendil was in no hurry to return to the cave. Glorfindel had volunteered to make a run to the nearest Teleri village and re-stock their supplies this morning. Maglor put up a fight over Glorfindel going alone, so the two of them went together. They’d returned, and were probably still wrapped up in each other at the cave. Eärendil hadn’t lingered passed politeness’ sake.

The worst of it was Eärendil liked Glorfindel. They were even friends, of a sort. He didn’t remember what it was like to have anything more than friends-of-a-sort.

The first few days had been hard, but even then Glorfindel had been decent to him, more than he deserved with the way Glorfindel looked at him when Maglor smiled his way. Now Glorfindel turned nothing but sweet smiles and kind eyes on him.

Glorfindel was good to him, and Eärendil knew his own heart enough to know it would go begging at the door for scraps of any tenderness. But the kindness bestowed on him didn’t stop the ache.

He should be less ungrateful. These were the happiest days he’d known since…it did not bear to put into years. He should not grasp for more than given. Nothing had been promised him. It would do well to remember that if ever bitterness latched her sucker onto his heart.

He opened his eyes, letting the vision before him chase away the tails of unwanted thoughts. The sea rushed against the rocks rimming the outer curve of the tidal pool. The slab of rock upon which he lay sunk the heat of the sun into his arms and calves. The rest of him lay cushioned on his discarded clothes and the blankets he’d hauled out from the cave. The rock made a hard bed, but not a jagged one. Its head had long been eroded to smoothness.

His arm flopped out beside him, elbow crooking to allow his fingertips to skim the surface of the pool. The pool’s water was so clear and still the sea critters making its bottom their home were visible as wildflowers in a meadow. Starfish fought over territory in-between sponges and the gasping mouths of mussels. Brilliant green anemones waved like strange-arms in the gentle current, and colorful-scaled fish flaunted their plumage.

“Eärendil.”

Eärendil’s back twisted, head snapping around. Maglor stood on the lip of a rock erupted from the beach. The sunlight glinted gold in his black, black hair.

His eyes walked down the notches of Eärendil’s spine, the curve of his ass, the line of thighs.

Maglor took the first step forward, and then the next. His hands hooked the hem of his tunic up, yanking it off him and the undershirt after. He left them in the sand. The sea-breeze picked the pale fabrics up and slapped them against a passing boulder.

Maglor shed his boots and leggings. Eärendil rose to meet him, mouth wet in anticipation. Maglor had come with teeth to bite his sorrow into Eärendil’s flesh. He had come with hands on Eärendil’s neck to press the grief into Eärendil’s skin that would bear the dark fingerprints of it on the marrow. He had come for surrender and to bury all the brutal in Eärendil’s tender. But Eärendil forgave him for coming to spill –everything—into Eärendil’s soft hollows because he had come for Eärendil.

Eärendil offered up his surrender with open arms, welcoming Maglor’s brutal. Maglor did nothing to him he did not allow. He enjoyed it, craved the bite marks and kisses like scorching; it was only that he craved more too. But he didn’t need Maglor to love him tender, he just needed to know when Maglor fucked him he saw Eärendil as more than a container for his pain.

Maglor spoke again, and it was not to sink teeth in like a wolf: “Care for a swim?”

“Yes,” Eärendil answered, because he cared for anything, anything, with this Elf he’d passed his heart to in the palm of his hand and fed to the sharp gleam of his teeth.

Maglor smiled. His teeth gleamed pearly-white, straight and even. No wolf jowls here.

Maglor took the pool at a dive, angling shallow so not to dash his body against the rocks veining its bottom. Eärendil dove in after, body cutting the water’s surface in a practiced arch.

He used to go sea-bathing in Sirion, but he loved racing after his ship in the open sea best. Out there, he’d swim with dolphins and hold his breath until he thought he would burst as he swam the width of his ship’s hull, watching its shape block out the sunlight above like a hulking sea-monster. The memory of such simple joys came like an echo from the distant past. He did not sail the oceans now. He did not go sea-bathing in the bay below the house that doubled as his prison and tripled as Elwing’s asylum.

He closed his eyes as the water streamed over his skin like a caress. He heard far off childish voices laughing. Bright eyes turned back to him, hands urging him on, faster Daddy, you can’t catch me!

Light like star-song blazed across his eyelids. His eyes flew open. His arms came up and his legs out to break his glide. The Silmaril had thrown off its garb, the little bit of cloth binding it floating away. Eärendil had beheld the wonders of space. He had found the birthplaces of stars, and the born witness to their destruction, but the light of the Silmaril still stole his breath afresh every time.

Oh wretched seductress! Oh poison and glory in veins! Oh magnificent destruction!

The Silmaril hung, suspended between their bodies, made weightless in the water’s cocoon. By some alien call, perhaps the will of the Silmaril itself, Eärendil’s fingers drifted up through the water and brushed against that warm, many-faceted face. As if the clear water gave the jewel re-birth, it did not leave his skin itching. It seemed a wholly different creature to the Silmaril he’d born with the companionship of a fellow cellmate.

Malgor’s hand took his wrist in a loop between thumb and fingers. Eärendil’s gaze released the Silmaril with ease. He had always been able to find things more beautiful than its luster.

Sunlight spliced itself through the water and rushed down to halo Maglor’s head like a king’s coronation. It caught in his floating hair. The Silmaril’s light re-made all the angles and curves of Malgor’s face and the silver-like-bird-song of his eyes into something inhuman in its beauty. Eärendil felt this moment in the back of his throat. He felt it in the place that wanted Maglor forever, forever, forever.

And then Maglor fit his mouth over his open one, and poured himself inside. Hands tangled in hair waving like seaweed, fished for holds on slippery skin, and mapped the shape of flesh like their bodies were undiscovered treasures.

They had to come up for air, and broke the surface in a gasp. But Maglor’s arms did not unlearn their perfect, snug fit about Eärendil’s waist. They tread water, kissing, hungry, starving.

Maglor tugged him towards the rocks at the pool’s lip, hauling himself from the water first, and dragging Eärendil up after him. They stood dripping and kissing in the open sunlight, but it was not enough. Maglor had his hands all over Eärendil’s skin, but demanded more. Eärendil would have gone down on the rock for him, let them scrape the flesh from his back as Maglor took him, but Maglor grabbed his forearm and said ‘no’ when Eärendil began to lower himself. He said ‘not like this.’ And Eärendil couldn’t see through the sudden blurriness of his eyes. He blinked the tears back, using the excuse to scoop up the blankets to compose himself. He was a beggar at Maglor’s door, butting his head into Malgor’s open-hand for scraps, just fleeting glimpses that he meant more to Maglor than a body.

He should be worth more than this. He’d said he was. He’d walked away, hadn’t he? But Maglor had followed, he’d followed, and Eärendil hadn’t been able to say no in the face of pursuit. Maglor had wanted him enough to chase him. Wanted his body, his skin, his opened-mouthed surrender, but he’d wanted.

Maglor latched onto his hand, pulling him passed the rocks and racing up the sand dunes. Barefoot and naked, they ran through the sunlight until their feet dropped into the cool grass and heather of the tree line. They tossed the blankets down, a jumbled mess, just enough coverage to keep Eärendil’s skin from scraping against twigs and the scratching fingers of bushes, and then Maglor was upon him, pressing him down with the full, glorious weight of his body.

Eärendil had known there was something wrong with him since the first time his fingers traced the black circlet of Maglor’s teeth on his neck the morning after and found himself craving it all over again. But the niggling at the back of his mind wouldn’t let him fall boneless under Maglor’s spell this time. He must ask, for it was the right thing to do. He surfaced from the cavern of Maglor’s mouth he’d drowned himself in and said: “Shouldn’t we wait for Glorfindel?”

Maglor made a desperate sound in the back of his throat, hips seeking friction against Eärendil’s, mouth slipping an impatient line down the column of his throat. “No,” he groaned against Eärendil’s skin. “I want you for myself.”

Eärendil couldn’t fit words through the tightness in his throat, so he grabbed fistfuls of Maglor’s hair and kissed him like he’d never kissed him before, with teeth and devouring of his own. His heart leapt and trilled, a thrill coiled itself in the base of his spine at Maglor’s words. He wanted Maglor all to himself, but he’d thought…had not dared to hope— It was no love confession, but it was enough for Eärendil to split himself open and pour his kisses into Maglor’s mouth.

But when Maglor fit himself inside Eärendil, taking him with all his brutal and his eyes closed against the sight of Eärendil under him, every fear crept back into Eärendil’s heart. He was being fucked with eyes-closed. Was it even Eärendil Maglor fucked, or Glorfindel?

Eärendil closed his own eyes and turned his face away. He snatched desperately for the passion that would blot out all the loneliness and fears of the-extra-bit-on-the-side. Let him fall into the little he had, let him pretend, just for a moment, because he didn’t think he could do this anymore. This had to be the last time he fell. It had to be. He was worth more than left-overs. He was worth more than the corners of Maglor’s kisses, the after-thought lover, the spill-over to pour all the brutal Maglor would never pound into Glorfindel, his true love.

He loved Maglor unto desperation and despair. His heart was a hound’s chew-toy in Maglor’s fist. But he could no longer sacrifice his sanity upon the altar of his longing and light the match. He would not stand and watch himself burn.

And then Malgor’s hand was hot and insistent on his jaw, turning his face back. Eärendil didn’t want to look into that face, those eyes, and see nothing but the brutal. But he did because he wanted to see those eyes open and looking into his as if it, he, meant something (pathetic, fool’s heart).

Maglor caught him in his eyes, but no wolf brushed itself against his skin with kisses like teeth he craved so bad it hurt. Maglor looked down into him and the brutal bled out of his hands, his eyes, his thrusting hips. His fingers turned soft –tender—on Eärendil’s face. They began a slow claiming of Eärendil’s face, tracing bones and the shapes of lips and brows, feeling the slid of skin under their tips. Eärendil trembled. Maglor had had his hands over every patch of his body, but it had never—never had he touched him like this.

“Eärendil.” Just his name rolling off Maglor’s tongue like a caress.

Eärendil sucked in a breath like his first, shaking, shaking, under that tender touch, eyes yearning towards Malgor’s holding his, and yearning to tuck away and hide from what he found there –overwhelmed. Because he’d never...and Maglor had not spoke anything but his name, and yet, and yet it was enough.

When Maglor’s fingers drew their slow exploration down the curve of his neck, resting a moment in the hollow of his throat, before tracing the way he wore his collarbones, Eärendil did not feel like a body. This was not skin against skin, nothing deeper than brutal and lust.

And when Maglor brought his eyes back up to Eärendil’s and closed the distance between their mouths with infinite slowness and took Eärendil’s bottom lip between his, sliding his tongue in like a coaxing, a savoring, as if Eärendil’s taste was worth memorizing, Eärendil opened himself to that fire-born mouth and trembled as it poured heat into all the cold places inside and fed the eternal starvation.

Maglor made no love confession as they lay tangled in the blankets after, he said next to nothing, but his body wrapped around Eärendil’s no longer felt a world away. Someone lay beside him, just lying there, breath moistening the back of his neck, heart beating against the back of his ribs, and for the first time in an Age of the world Eärendil did not feel alone.

*

Eärendil had turned onto his back in his sleep. Maglor propped himself up on an elbow, and looked down into that sleeping face. His fingers came up and traced the hill of Eärendil’s closed lids, feeling the softness of lashes. They trailed down the exquisite curve of a cheekbone to rest in the hollow just before the jawline where shadows swelled.

In the corners of his mind a melody took shape. His lashes flickered shut as he turned his ear to the strands of a cello, a deep purr gathering to a clear note of pureness. Glorfindel brushed against him through the bond, the distant chime of a bell. Notes like sunlight on an ocean’s surface wound themselves into the melody. The bridge picked up speed, running low to the ground like leaves caught up in an autumn breeze, and there it came, a clustering of high notes, the kind of clear, piercing ones that worked themselves into the soul.

When he opened his eyes the world was re-born, or rather, his eyes, so long blinded, and his ears, so long deaf, had been given life again. He looked on the world and saw music. He could see its patterns everywhere he turned, painting themselves in colors of brilliance and the shrouds of mourning, waiting in the scent of green things mulching and the bier blown off the bed of the sea. Compositions trilled their first notes to him in the way a sunbeam pieced the tree cover to fall in a shaft of light upon the heather. He saw music in the curve of Eärendil’s hipbone, the way his chest rose and fell, mouth slightly parted in perfect temptation. He heard it in the way the bond curled itself about him, cradling him in the scent of fire.

He could weep with the joy of it. All the music had died in him long ago. Oh, he could sing and pluck at a harp, but the birth of music had lost itself somewhere inside him. Only now, now he could taste it, smell it, see it, feel songs under his fingertips.

“You are happy.”

His neck craned, eyes finding Glorfindel out of their corners. “Yes.” He smiled, holding out a hand to his son.

Glorfindel covered the last paces separating them and laid himself down at Maglor’s back, forehead dropping into the crook of his neck to inhale. Maglor shifted onto his back to put one arm about Glorfindel and pull him down to rest on his chest. He dropped a kiss into Glorfindel’s hair.

They lay in silence for long moments listening to the chirp of crickets, chatter of birds, and the distant rhythm of the surf. Maglor stroked his fingers through Glorfindel ocean of hair, and followed the curve of his spine. No desperation, no fear, awoke inside him. He thought he might finally be able to believe Glorfindel’s promise that he would never leave him.

He ran his hands over Glorfindel in gentle strokes that whispered his love. He caressed his son, his beautiful son who he loved for himself as much as the faces inside him. He no longer felt that panic-terror drive to push Glorfindel down into a bed and make him his until Glorfindel was too exhausted to entertain thoughts of departure.

Glorfindel lifted his head, and his face hovered over Maglor’s. He said nothing for another moment, just looking, until: “You love him?”

Maglor’s eyes strayed over to Eärendil’s sleeping form. He thought about a love like an offering, and a body like surrender. He thought about the way Eärendil looked at him sometimes, like he couldn’t breathe without him, like he needed him. Needed him in a way Glorfindel was outgrowing. He was happy for Glorfindel, so very very happy, but he craved that dependence, because he could never again be the old Maglor who loved his brothers with a pure, selflessness of loving.

He may never love like that again. But he coveted that love for himself, the kind of love that was not self-seeking, with nothing vain or prideful. The kind of love Maedhros loved Fingon with, a selflessness that kept loving even when Fingon had not loved him back. The kind of love Eärendil loved him with.

He had not looked back at Eärendil –really looked at him—until the words of love had fallen from Eärendil’s lips and Maglor gathered them up in his ears like a thief, but the reasons his heart began its slow turn towards Eärendil did not matter, only that it had.

“It is all right if you do, you know.” Glorfindel’s words drew him back to his son’s face. He found a quite understanding in Glorfindel’s eyes. But he could not accept, even feeling the sincerity over the bond. He must never hurt Glorfindel again, never, never, never.

His arms wound around Glorfindel’s waist, mouth lifting to press a kiss into Glorfindel’s mouth. “No. I love you. Only you.”

Glorfindel’s fingertips pressed into his chest, gently soothing him. He smiled, soft and peaceful. “And I love you. But I do not think you are in love with me, and I do not think I am in love with you.” Glorfindel searched Maglor’s face with sudden worry, fearing he might have got it wrong.

Maglor folded his hand over Glorfindel’s fingers. He was not in love with his son, and he’d known it since the beginning. But he loved him so much and had been so terrified and needed them bound together in every way possible. But he would have taken the secret to his grave if Glorfindel was in love with him. It would have been such a little lie, for his love was the ocean. The difference between being in love and loving his son as he did would have been swallowed in the depth and width of his love like a lake consumed by the sea.

“You know I love you, I will always love you, and if you need—”

“I know,” the worry smoothed from Glorfindel’s brow, and he smiled again. Maglor heard the music inside it. “I am not saying I never wish to lie with you again,” Glorfindel hurried on. “Only that—that it is not essential that I do. Now, we can make-love because we want to.”

Maglor answered with a kiss. He pulled back slowly and rested his brow against Glorfindel’s. “Lie with me now, my precious one.”

Glorfindel laughed, eyes crinkling in their corners. “Yes. I would like that.”

*

It took a week after that day for Glorfindel to catch Eärendil smiling; smiling like Glorfindel had never seen him smile, like stardust dripping from his lips and sunlight in his eyes. Like happiness.

Glorfindel stared. Eärendil was smiling at Maglor like that, and Maglor was smiling back. Eärendil’s eyes flickered down, but then he gave Maglor a look through his lashes. The smile he crooked strangely confident, with a touch of flirtation.

Maglor’s fingers stilled their idle plucking at the harp’s strings. “Hello.”

“Hello.”

“Do you need something?”

“No. I…” Eärendil’s gaze cut over to Glorfindel dragging his blade across a whetstone, eyes moving between them. Eärendil came back to Maglor, resolve setting into the lines of his jaw. “I just like looking at you.”

Maglor trailed his eyes slowly down Eärendil’s body. “I like looking at you as well.”

The corner of Eärendil’s mouth tugged up irresistibly. “Yes, that too, but I meant I like watching you. Just watching.”

Maglor’s brow rose. “Why?”

“Because I want to remember everything about you when…when I am gone.”

Glorfindel had learned of Eärendil’s horrifying existence as nothing more than a prisoner in Valinor. Maglor and he had been plotting together what they would do once Eönwë returned. It went without saying they would not stand by while Eärendil walked back into a life of captivity.

“We will just have to hide you under the bedcovers when Eönwë comes calling and say you ran off to the ends of the world.” Glorfindel winked. Maglor smiled, fingers strumming against the strings, a cascade of notes flowing over them like starlight.

Eärendil’s eyes left Maglor to run over all the angles of Glorfindel’s face with an intensity that might have been frightening, for it was ferocious, but Glorfindel liked it. Eärendil had never looked at him like this. It was the kind of look he gave Maglor. Not an exact match, but Glorfindel was touched to be the recipient of a brand of Eärendil’s fierce, stubborn love. He was so terribly fond of Eärendil.

“I love you both.” Eärendil amazed Glorfindel all over again. Such boldness hid inside him that he could speak the words of his heart without a tremor, when Maglor’s own regard had never passed his lips. “I love you, which is why I will be going back.”

Maglor took up their arguments against Eärendil’s return: “We are Fëanorions. Defying the Valar is in our blood. Our feud with them will grow no more heated by helping to shelter you from their retaliation.”

“But it will grow more dangerous.” Eärendil faced Maglor. “I cannot allow my presence to bring harm to you.”

“Eärendil, do you think we will sit by and allow you to walk back into such a miserable existence?” Glorfindel asked.

Eärendil bowed his head, a swath of his hair blocking his eyes from them. “I will not allow ones I love to be placed in danger when I can prevent it.”

“By bringing misery down upon yourself?” Maglor’s eyes pierced into Eärendil. “If you go back, who is to say when you will know freedom again? Who is to say you will not go mad up there in the darkness? It could be Ages—”

Eärendil’s eyes snapped up, gaze potent and as stubborn as his heart. “It is nothing I did not give to my sons. There is no sacrifice too great, no desire or hope or freedom of my own too precious I would not condemn myself to such an existence if it meant they would be safe. I would do anything–”

“Do not go back. Stay here, with us.” Maglor’s voice pressed low, a note of the mystery of dusk threaded within, and altogether compelling.

Eärendil surged to his feet. “Do not try to compel me!”

Glorfindel’s brows shot up, and he shared a look with Maglor at the outburst.

Maglor held up a hand. “That was not my intention. I am sorry you received that impression. I only meant that we would not be parted from you.”

Eärendil sighed, jerking a hand through his hair. “It is I who should apologize. I just…do not like being controlled.”

“I was not trying to control you—”

“Well it felt like you were!” Eärendil’s shoulders tightened.

Glorfindel’s eyes shifted between the two, and he said, voice picking up lightness, “I rather thought you enjoyed getting ordered around.” He tilted a coy smile up at Eärendil.

His attempted to defuse the tension earned him a faint smile from Eärendil as the tightness eased out of his shoulders.

Eärendil’s gaze slid up to Maglor’s. He swallowed. “I cannot refuse you –not you—if you asked something of me, truly asked, I fear I would not be able to tell you no. But I want...I have so few decisions left to me in my life. These, at the least, I would have for my own.”

Maglor set his harp down and rose to his feet, crossing to Eärendil. Eärendil dropped his eyes, not backing up from Maglor’s slow approach. There was an erotic undertone in the way Maglor stepped closer and Eärendil’s lowered his head in submission. Anything, anything, and he would give it. The air swirled tight with anticipation and power about the two of them.

Maglor placed his fingers under Eärendil’s chin and tilted his head up. Eärendil offered not the slightest touch of resistance. His head came up, mouth parted, and gave Maglor his eyes on the silent demand.

Maglor’s thumb ran the shape of Eärendil’s bottom lip. “I could have anything I wanted. Yes. I really think I could.” Eärendil shivered, swaying into the hand cupping him, lashes fluttering.

Maglor leaned in for a kiss, taking Eärendil’s mouth with dominance. He pulled out of it slowly, hands fisted in Eärendil’s hair to hold that beautiful neck arched back.

“Please.” Eärendil’s voice laid itself down over skin, breathy as a butterfly’s kiss, hot as a coal’s.

Maglor’s eyes held a possessive light as one of his hands slid down the column of that arched neck to encircle the base. Eärendil arched into the touch, a whimper escaping his lips.

For a moment Glorfindel thought his father would do it, would ask this of Eärendil. Maglor realized, just as Glorfindel had, that when Eärendil had said he would do anything if Maglor asked it of him, he meant it. When Eärendil said anything, he meant something beyond anything. He meant he’d go down into the place most loves broke apart, bonds dissolving when what was asked became too much. Eärendil meant he would do anything even if that anything was destroy himself.

Maglor’s hand loosened in Eärendil’s hair to imprison the back of his neck and hold him captive for Maglor’s thorough perusal of his mouth. Maglor kissed him until Eärendil melted into him, then he pulled back to watch Eärendil’s face as his hand ran up from Eärendil’s neck to land softly on his jaw. “I could mold you to my will, yes, but I will not. Your freedom I shall not take. I would lay my will upon no man. Such a deed is an act of perversion.”

Eärendil closed his eyes, drawing in an unsteady breath. “Thank you. I could not have born it if you had forced me to your will. Yet I would have born it. Only…”

“You would have learned to resent me as much as you loved me.”

“Yes.” Eärendil’s eyes fluttered open. “Yes.”

Maglor smoothed his hand over the curves of Eärendil’s bones, running out to knot in Eärendil’s hair. “I know. But advising is not the same as manipulating.”

Eärendil nodded, holding Maglor’s eyes.

“Then will you try not to see chains where there are none?”

Eärendil swallowed. “I will try.”

Glorfindel had set his sword aside and propped his elbow up on his knee to rest his cheek against his fist and watch them. He said now, “Good. And we will work on not casting shadows for that paranoid mind of yours to pounce on.”

Eärendil laughed with lightness. The sound pulled a smile out of Maglor.

A purring contentment curled like a cat’s tail about Glorfindel’s belly. He wanted to dip his fingers into the dimple of Maglor’s smiling cheek and savor the curves of happiness. Seeing his father smile no longer folded sorrow in with the joy, for he did not need to soak the sight up like it might be the last time. Maglor still had the days he felt more like a carcass than a human being, but after he got back to his feet and patched up the holes the light had spilled out of. And maybe, maybe, it became a little bit easier to breath.

*

It took another week for Glorfindel to ease first Elrond and then Elros out of the forbidden territory they’d been stored in within Eärendil’s heart. The door to that innermost treasure creaked open those first few inches like pulling teeth, but once the door got moving, it flung open the rest of the way. Deep down, Eärendil was desperate to talk about his boys.

“…Elrond had the stubbornness of a mule, even then. He was determined to prove Elros wrong and himself right. He went up to every sailor on the docks, every fishmonger, shopper, and street-sweeper, and said: “My brother has had his tongue replaced with a slug’s. Don’t you agree cherries are vastly superior to strawberries?”

Glorfindel shook with laughter where he lay on his belly in their bed. His stomach muscles hurt with the power of his laughter, and his forehead sunk into his crossed forearms as he struggled to get his breath back. The faces Eärendil made, voice going high and childish, but worse, Maglor mimicking him behind his back and winking at Glorfindel when Glorfindel stuffed his fist into his mouth, made it too much to bear.

“The first time I took the boys to the forge, Elrond tried to one-up Elros, as he did in everything. He loved getting praised for his cleverness.” Glorfindel mouth dropped open as Maglor jumped into a tale about the twins. Maglor never spoke of them with this lightness in his mouth, this mischief in his eyes. “It went badly for him, to say the least.”

Eärendil stared at Maglor, hanging upon the words dropping from his lips, hardly breathing.

“From that day on, Elrond fell prey to strange illnesses whenever I asked the boys if they would like to come down to the forge with me. Once he even said he had developed an allergy to steel. He said it left his skin with a terrible rash.”

“I bet he thought himself quite clever,” Eärendil chuckled. He’d closed the distance between Maglor and himself, inching closer to the source of this glimpse into his boys’ lost years, and now sat close enough to touch, close enough to soak up every word.

“Course he did. I said to him: ‘That is curious since just yesterday you got in trouble for playing with my sword which is, in fact, steel.’ Elrond blinked up at me, gaze utterly blank for a moment, then he let out this tremendous sigh and said with an aggrieved voice, ‘It has been bothering me for some time, only I did not wish to burden you, given how many other worries you have.’”

Eärendil laughed, hand finding its way to Maglor’s knee. Maglor smiled back. “What did you say?”

“I told Elrond next time he lied to me he had better make it believable. If he wanted to learn how to lie like a true master, he should ask Maedhros to teach him politics. But unless he decided to learn it as an art, I would be taking him over my knee the next time I caught him at it.”

They laughed together over their son’s antics. From then on everything tumbled out, the words refusing to stay locked inside. It was Elros this, Elrond that, do you remember how Elros used to, and Elrond would…

*

When Eönwë came they were not ready. How could they ever be?

The sun blaze bright, but cool this deep into autumn. Eärendil had carried one the blankets out and spread it over the dry, soft sand of the beach. They lounged in the sunshine with the song of the sea washing over them. But that song was nothing to the one Maglor’s fingers plucked out on his harp’s strings. Only here, living in a sea-side cave, had Maglor’s thoughts turned far enough away from grief to give birth to creation.

Maglor hummed along to his flying fingers, experimenting with this run and that chord, looping back around to coax the melody out. It was a fascinating process, and one which Glorfindel felt privileged to watch. Maglor had a little smile on, head tilted, eyes half-closed as he listened to a melody too subtle, too entwined about the greater Song only one so in-tune with the Music of the world could hear, for Glorfindel to catch.

Eärendil’s sat behind Glorfindel as they both listened. His fingers slithered through Glorfindel’s hair, braiding another sea-shell within. “Pass me that last pearl.”

Glorfindel plucked the pearl up from its lonely resting place in the oyster-shell holder. The pearl had been punched through by a needle, and stung with a strand of Maglor’s hair serving as the thread that would bind it into Glorfindel’s. Glorfindel passed the pearl back over his shoulder. Eärendil’s fingers brushed with his as he took the pearl.

“There,” Eärendil withdrew from his hair, and came around to get a look at Glorfindel from the front. Maglor paused to savor the finished work as well.

Glorfindel shook his head, delighting in the sound the shells made chiming against each other. He arched his neck, exposing the long line of his throat, as a smirk took his mouth. He would not deny he enjoyed the appreciate looks. Why shouldn’t he? He knew very well he was desirable, and it pleased him to show off for them.

Eärendil touched Glorfindel’s hair, staring. “Beautiful.”

“Beautiful enough to have Maglor write a song about my golden hair and rosy cheeks?” Glorfindel winked.

“There are no words in any language to capture your beauty.” Maglor leaned in and pressed a sweet kiss to Glorfindel’s cheek.

It was into this moment Eönwë arrived. He walked out of the sea, or maybe it was the air. One moment they were alone, the next Eönwë stood on the beach before them.

Glorfindel didn’t have to ask to know it was the Maia, there was Power dancing in the air about him, Power he didn’t bother to hide or repress. Glorfindel supposed that was as it should be; why should Eönwë be forced to conceal his nature? Yet it was also disturbing to have a being of such might walk up with frazzled hair that cradled shocks of lightning in its curls, and a harried expression. Glorfindel was not the only one who tensed and reached for a knife kept –always—on his person.

Eärendil stood to meet the Maia. Glorfindel did not like the look of his face. The softness he’d grown accustomed to finding in Eärendil’s eyes had cooled and solidified into a wall.

“Something is amiss.” Eärendil cut to the quick.

Eönwë stopped a few feet from their blanket, which allowed Glorfindel’s muscles to lose some of their building anticipation. “Not yet, but it will be if you do not hurry.” He caught his sizzling hair back with his hand, twisting it into a knot at his nape as he visibly pulled himself together. “Forgive me the abruptness and state of my appearance. I had to make all haste, which required me to shed this form for travel. It takes a moment to readjust.”

“What has happened?” Eärendil’s hand sought blindly for one of theirs, not taking his fixed gaze off Eönwë. Glorfindel was the closer, and fit his hand into Eärendil’s.

Eönwë blew out a breath. “Manwë has called a council, all the Ainur will be expected to attend.” He shot Eärendil a pointed look.

“Curumo.”

“Exactly.”

“What is the council about? Do you think they have discovered Glorfindel’s absence?”

Eönwë lifted one shoulder in a graceful move that could hardly bear the title of a shrug. “Possibly. But they will not know anything definite or I would have heard of it. I have been keeping an ear out, and all our allies as well. It might be nothing to be concerned about, only that these councils go on for days while we are locked in each other’s thoughts. It is unpleasant, but nothing those of our alliance cannot weather without detection. However, Curumo will not be able to sail Vingilótë. I apologize for the suddenness, but I need you to come back with me. Now.”

Eärendil’s fingernails dug into the back of Glorfindel’s hand. “Wha—now?”

“Yes.” Eönwë’s face wore compassion as he looked into Eärendil’s panicking eyes.

“I cannot—not yet—I need—” Eärendil ripped his hand out of Glorfindel’s, taking a step back, head swinging about wildly as if predators stalked him. “I need—I need time –just, just not yet. No.”

“Eärendil.” Eönwë took a step forward, hand reaching out to the shrinking form.

“No, no! I will not go back!”

“I know it is a terrible fate to bear, but try to understand. The Valar will not let this go. You cannot hide forever and they will not allow you to escape. It is a matter of power now. They will not be shown up. They will not be defied.”

“I will use the Maia-hair cloak,” Eärendil’s voice cracked with desperation and the despair in the back of his eyes.

“Eärendil, do not be a fool. You cannot hide under a cloak, nothing more than a disembodied voice, until the world’s ending! That is not living.”

“You think that prison is? I would be more alive –invisible—right here, then I have been for a thousand years in Valinor!” Eärendil’s breath collapsed with a sob, and he folded up on the sand, knees hitting the ground as his arms wrapped like a protective shield about his body.

Glorfindel sank down beside him, trying to draw Eärendil into his arms and comfort his shaking friend, but Eärendil scrambled away. “I am not going back up there! I am not, please, don’t make me!” He shook and shook, breaths coming too quick, pupils dilating with panic.

Eönwë made to approach, but Maglor put himself between the Maia and Eärendil, the fierceness in his eyes pulling the Maia up short.

Maglor, hand resting on the hilt of his knife strapped to his hip, said, “If the Valar come calling, they will have to come through me first. I will be waiting.” He smiled, sharp and full of teeth and the promise of long-awaited vengeance.

Glorfindel set his chin, eyes flashing. “And I will be as well.”

“No.” All eyes snapped back to the crumpled form of Eärendil. His eyes had squeezed shut, skeleton trembling, breaths walking only this side of a panic attack, but he ground out again: “No.”

“Eärendil,” Glorfindel laid a hand on the arch of Eärendil’s back. Eärendil quaked under his touch. He rubbed circles into the taught muscles, and Eärendil huddled against him, seeking out the comfort of touch as he ever did.

They held their silence until the worst of the panic had been pushed back with deep breaths, then Eärendil slowly found his feet, uncurling from himself. When he raised his face it was pale but resolved. “Forgive me, my heart failed me and I spoke as a coward would. I will not use you are my shields. I will not bring adversity down upon you.”

Maglor narrowed his eyes. “We already hold the full-measure of the Valar’s hatred. You think we have not faced gods before? I do not fear them.”

Eärendil shook his head, mouth set with the full stubbornness of his nature. “Of course you have, but the time for open defiance is not now. Eönwë is right. If it is just the three of us standing against the combined might of the Valar the Valar will crush us, and with glee. We must not draw their attention. We must walk softly yet for a time, so that when the time comes to strike we will succeed.”

Maglor crossed to Eärendil and placed his hands on Eärendil’s shoulders. “You are not going back to them. You are not.

Eärendil met Maglor’s eyes, nostrils flaring. “Stop.”

“I shall not.” Maglor’s hands tightened. “I will not stand for this foolishness. I will not stand by and watch as you destroy yourself!” Maglor’s eyes were haunted, and Glorfindel wondered who Maglor thought he was talking to: Eärendil or one of the dead?

“I will not be controlled!” Eärendil shoved Maglor’s hands from him. “You promised me. You promised me you would not do this!”

Glorfindel’s hands settled on the small of Maglor’s back. Maglor took in a deep breath, chest heaving with it. His voice was no less persuasive this time, but it mellowed to the calmness of a perfect summer sky. “Yes, this choice must be yours even if I do not agree with it. But you will listen to my words before choosing—”

“Maglor.” Eärendil’s voice fell soft and weary. His hand reached out to land lightly upon the edge of Maglor’s shoulder. It descended the curve of his arm to rest on Maglor’s forearm. “Do you not think it strange I didn’t stop taking the Silmaril into the sky after Elros died, and the bargain I made with Manwë for admittance into Númenor to see him ended?”

Maglor did not answer, Eärendil answered for him. “I sold my freedom first for the price of my sons, so I could see them during the War of Wrath. I sold it a second time to visit Elros in Númenor. And I sold it a third time when Elros died. I kept going up there, facing the terror every night because there is still one more heartstring the Valar can make me dance to. Manwë came to me after Elros’ death, he did not have to say anything in so many words, but the threat was there, and I could not suffer even Elrond’s name upon his lips. I sold myself for Elrond, and I call it a price worth paying.”

Eärendil’s touch dropped. “I am not staying here with you because I could not live with myself if I brought down your destruction, and I am not running away to hide because Elrond is still out there and I would spend an eternity in the darkness of the Encircling Seas before I allow one hair on his head to be hurt on account of my cowardice. This is my decision, and it was made long ago. My heart may fail me at times, my hands may shake, and my courage may quail, but I will be up there sailing the stars regardless.”

There was nothing left to be debated. They took a few moments of privacy within the cave that had served as the humble home to say their goodbyes. Kisses were passed around and hands knotted in hair, tunics, unable to let go, unable to accept that that was the last touch, that it could be centuries, Ages, until they met again.

But eventually Eönwë had to interrupt them, for hast was needed. Glorfindel watched beside Maglor as Eärendil threw the Maia-hair cloak over his shoulders so that he might slip unseen into the Blessed Realm. Eönwë would be taking him on wings swifter than the enchanted boots he’d lent before, but Maglor made sure Eärendil took the boots back with him. Let them give him some comfort in his prison, let him fly and touch the sky, let him forget, for a time, the chains.

Eönwë wrapped Eärendil up in his arms, and from his back sprouted wings of light and white fire. A blast of wind, like that rolling off a wildfire, hit Glorfindel in the face. He smelt Power and thunderstorms. In a flash of heat and light they were gone, blinking out of existence, or perhaps moving too swiftly for the eye to follow.
Chapter 20 by Encairion

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 20

Maglor slipped his hands through Glorfindel’s hair, listening to his son’s soft breathing against his neck. Dawn struggled under the banks of clouds hanging low as swelling pea-pods over the sea, only the sluggish fading of the light to a pale grey betrayed the sun’s rising.

The tavern they’d purchased a night in squeezed onto Mithlond’s docks. Not an ideal spot, but it served their needs well enough. If the smell of fish drifted strong through every crack in the walls, the sea’s scent was stronger, saturating the room down to the bones.

Glorfindel shifted, blinking slowly into wakefulness. He gave Maglor a sleepy smile with dimples. Maglor still tasted Celegorm’s smile in the back of his throat when his son smiled, but he tasted Glorfindel just as strongly now. His son was the echoes of his brothers re-born, but he was wholly himself.

A second head of golden curls was missing from their bed. Maglor took out the memory of Eärendil where he’d kept it tucked into the deep chambers of his heart, safe and fresh. He savored again the feel of Eärendil’s arched neck under his hands, and tasted Eärendil’s surrender in the back of his throat as he buried all the pain into Eärendil’s tender places that sent them flying to the stars. Eärendil’s love had let him hoard the faces of the dead, and did not ask him to be something he no longer could be, did not ask him to forget, did not ask him to move on and let go and stop loving the dead more than the living.

He closed his eyes tight, blocking the memories out, and folding them back against his ribs. Eärendil was lost to him. Not forever lost, Maglor would be coming for him when the time was right for conquering death itself, but that reunion was long, long in the future. If only he’d done more to keep Eärendil here, with them, but his tongue, so eloquent in the halls of kings, so quick to shape a golden phrase in rhyming lyric, hadn’t know what to say to make Eärendil stay short of compelling him.

He wished he’d told Eärendil he loved him. Just once, before the Valar stole him like they stole the souls of his family. But to speak the words would have made it real, and Maglor couldn’t—he couldn’t. He’d been afraid to breathe the truth of his heart into the world lest it be snatched away. Eärendil had every reason to leave, and only a love for Maglor that Maglor didn’t understand how it had been born to stay.

He wished he’d said something, anything, to send back with Eärendil into the cold, long years of space. Eärendil hated it up there, and was so afraid. He wished he’d said something.

“Are you thinking of him?” Glorfindel’s voice dropped Maglor’s eyes to his. He could see the sorrow in the clear blue, and feel the spot Eärendil’s missing warm body had struck an ache in Glorfindel’s heart. “I can feel your longing.”

Maglor’s brushed his fingers over Glorfindel’s jaw. “He is missed, yes.” Glorfindel sighed, burying his face into Maglor’s skin. Maglor’s hands followed the shape of Glorfindel’s sides, pulling him closer. “He is not lost to us. Do not despair.”

“I do not,” Glorfindel whispered back. “But I miss him, and I fear for him. What if there is nothing left of him when we meet again?”

Maglor turned his mouth into Glorfindel’s ear, kissing its tip. “He is stronger than even he knows. He has endured the unendurable. He did not come out unscathed, he bears deep scars, but he will go on surviving because he loves with strength and stubbornness. His love for us, for his sons, cannot be eroded, and he drinks from it like the deep wells of the Earth.”

“I know you speak truth, yet the distance to his freedom might as well be the distance of death.”

“No, it is conquerable. Belief, that is all we need. We have fought gods before. We will face them again.”

Glorfindel curled his body tighter about Maglor’s, and Maglor molded his back. They still fit together like Glorfindel had been born for this. His son was the only light left in this existence of ghosts.

He missed Eärendil. He missed his family more, but he missed Eärendil; he had grown to love him. What Glorfindel was to him went deep as the soul, and held more akin to his love for Maedhros than Eärendil. For at its foundation was familial love and the love for a beloved soul coiled together into a ball of light and need and don’t leave me, never leave me.

The bond was open enough on Maglor’s end to have Glorfindel lifting his head from the crook of Maglor’s neck, taking up his eyes, and swearing: “I will never leave you.” If the sincerity had not been written in that purest of blues, any doubt would have been slain with the heart he felt as it were his own.

His arms tightened around Glorfindel.

“And you will never let me go,” Glorfindel whispered Maglor’s promise to him.

“Never.” Maglor’s forehead came to rest against Glorfindel’s temple, eyes open, clasping Glorfindel’s. Glorfindel sighed, a long sound full of contentment. His lashes fluttered shut to press like golden butterfly wings against his upper cheekbones.

His son stole his breath with every glance. Surely this was some sensual spirit born out of the pure light of the Imperishable Flame itself. Some being too inhumanly beautiful to fit inside his arms. Arda’s heart must break with love every time Glorfindel’s toes dropped upon her breast and his laughter filled the lungs of her air.

But this creature that could kill gods with a single smile from its mouth was Maglor’s, all Maglor’s, every piece of him, down to Glorfindel’s soul entwined with his.

*

By the time they’d dressed and taken to the streets of Mithlond (Maglor throwing a hood over his head), the sun burned stubbornly in the sky, pushing the cloud-cover back far enough for the weak autumn sunlight to glitter on the pale grey stones of the city’s buildings and paved streets.

The Gulf of Lune cut like a knife’s point into Lindon, and here, at its tip, the main harbors of the Elves had been built. The docks stretched out for miles, far passed the limits of the city. Ships were moored for loading, others set to anchor deeper in the bay. So numerous were the white ships that they seemed a school of flying fish broken from the water’s surface.

They wandered from the docks, leaving the calls of seagulls and fishmongers behind. Across the bay Gil-galad’s seat of rule rose from the sheer drop of a sea-cliff in golden domes and spiraling towers. His banners snapped in the breeze, nothing but a field of midnight blue from this distance.

Mithlond was originally built as a Noldor city, with Cirdan’s havens glimmering white on the bay’s Eastern shore. Dark, Noldor, heads could be spotted around every corner, and their people’s touch lay like a be-jeweled hand upon the city they had raised. But though Maglor strained his ears, he never once caught a floating strand of Quenya, that precious language of the Exile’s hearts.

The tongue of the Sea-Elves was absent as well. All spoke Sindarin now. Quenya finished the last gasps of her death begun when Thingol thrust his ban down their throats –not that the Fëanorions had stopped speaking whatever language they chose, and Fingolfin’s Noldor as well, but Sindarin, the language of trade, grew like a thistle on their tongues, until its convenience out-weighed the language of their hearts and their people fell into it out of habit. But surely Celebrimbor’s people, what was left of his people, yet held to the beauty of old?

Their stroll took them through a wealthier district of the city where lords’ mansions rose in white marble and towering colonnades that would have been at home in Tirion. But in Tirion the white marble would not have been adorned with the rich colors of a Telerin-style mural.

Maglor paused to study the artwork, finding a distinctively Noldorin flare in the realism of the painted people, but a Telerin influence in the two-dimensional background depiction of a water-garden painted all in jewel-tones.

The Noldor’s love of the grandiose and the celebration of art could be found in a street lined with statues only the hand of a Noldor-craftsman could have coaxed from the stone. Around the next corner they fell upon a Telerin Garden of Delight. The low laughter of women floated out along with the notes of a lyre, and the twinkling fair-lights glowed through the dense foliage.

They wandered into the Trade Quarter and explored an open-market where stalls selling the flakily sweet-cakes of Southern Beleriand nestled side-by-side with ones bartering octopus legs, and another a favorite fried cabbage dish of the North.

The mingling of cultures was again self-evident in the temples they passed, religions existing side-by-side. They did not linger for more than an admiration of the artistry. The first was a temple built for the worship of the Sea-gods. A worshiper exited as they passed, opening the great double doors bearing a painting of Ulmo’s image entirely in jewel-tones. Ulmo’s shell-fish crown and grim-face split right down the middle as the door opened and allowed the scent of frankincense to escape. A peaceful water-garden was revealed with a profusion of incense holders and tinny candles floating on the pond’s surface like a hundred lily-pads.

The next building over made up for what it lacked in vibrancy of color next to the Sea-gods’ temple in precision of design, each marble slab placed on the left hand-side sat in perfect symmetry to right: atypical Noldor craftsmanship for the Valinorin-period pre-Morgoth’s release. An appreciation for a bit of chaos reentered their architecture when their throats began to throb the beat of an animal caught in a hunter’s trap.

Into this second building sauntered a Noldo, fingers as adorned with jewels as a Tirion lord of old, but he wore none strung through his hair. This he kept loose as a Sinda’s. It was held back from his face in two half-braids caught in a clasp of gold. He opened the heavy oaken doors of the temple and revealed an array of statues positioned like sentinels along it, each one a depiction of the Valar. There was an offering at each Valar’s feet.

Maglor wanted no more evidence for how much had changed and how more stood frozen in time –even regressed after the Valar had ‘saved the world.’ They sought a place to escape the bustle of the city, and took sanctuary in one of the many gardens Mithlond boasted.

In the growing months the garden would be stunning. Cherry trees followed the winding lanes and brown and gold leaves crunched beneath their footfalls. In high spring the trees would blossom scarlet and pearl. The meandering stream would be thick with colorful fish and brilliant-shelled turtles, and the lawns a lush green with ducks and swans wadding and diving into the ponds and waddling along the banks.

The garden did not lack life in these days of autumn though. Acrobats, musicians, and other performers staked out fountains and the best bridges to gather crowds. Food stalls and other vendors had set up their wares alongside the lanes, and a game of ball had drawn a merry crowd.

Maglor bought his son one of the sweet-sticks the Sea-Elves were so enamored of. Glorfindel accepted it with a grin, and threaded his arm through Maglor’s, head coming to rest on his shoulder.

They strolled one of the lazing paths through the garden, Elves slipping around them. Everywhere the Elven kindreds mixed, not only in culture, not only in friendships, but in that rarer of mixing: blood. A little girl with the eyes of a Teler and a loose, black mane whipped by, her silver-haired Teler mother on her heels and her Noldo father chuckling. A young man with the kinky, tight curls of a Vanya or an Avar, wore a Noldo’s tunic and leggings and carried an armful of books tucked under his arm as he passed them, deep in a mathematical debate with his Noldo companion.

Maglor’s eye fell on a cluster of Silvan in appearance, but something in-between in dress, wearing cotton tunics in the Noldorin fashion, not a scrap of buckskin against their skin, and their hair arranged in the meager braids and unbound mass of a Sinda. They haggled wears with a Noldo merchant, no scorn twisting up mouths into ugly sneers and looks down noses.

Why had this seemed such an impossible dream in the First Age? Why could these kindreds live in peace under Gil-galad’s rule, but his brothers had not been able to achieve the same, not even Maedhros?

The situation had gotten well and truly out of hand by the time of the Tears. A hundred years before the battle relations between the Fëanorions and the Silvan living in their lands had been cordial. The Silvan had still made up the bulk of the laboring hands the Noldor had desperately needed with so many of their own hands on a sword; they simply hadn’t had enough hands to work the fields, the spindles, the grinding stone, and so much more. The Silvan had come willingly, but without the set of skills that would see them rise quickly through Noldorin society.

There was no class-system to hold the Silvan ‘in their place.’ Only a lack of skill had stood in their way, though Maglor could admit it had been hard for the Silvan as a whole to rise in Fëanorion lands when those lands were already owned and governed by Noldor. But that was why the Noldor had asked for their own lands, and the Silvan, Sindar, and Teleri had kingdoms of their own. East Beleriand was the home of the Fëanorions and their people first, just as a Noldo should not expect to attain easy landholdings in Doriath.

The Silvan had begun to open their own shops in the market-place and climb the ranks of both the domestics and the military, but after the Battle of Sudden Flame relations deteriorated rapidly. Grief was taken out on those in vulnerable poisons, and there was so much anger at Morgoth –at the Sindar and Teleri and the Silvan of Ossiriand, everyone who had not suffered as the Noldor suffered in that disastrous battle. The Silvan in their midst were an accessible target, and an enemy they could defeat (someone to blame).

The first sign of changing attitudes was the drop in mixed marriages. Then Maglor began sitting in judgment on an escalating number of disputes between the two peoples. Then the court cases plummeted as the Silvan began holding their tongues, suffering injustices in silence. He had sat in the Judgment Seat on more than one case where a Silvan had been attacked after speaking out.

He regretted. He should have done more. The war…but he—all of his brothers—could have put stricter punishments in places and not only judged on the cases brought to them, but actively sought out the injustices. He should have done more.

He took the regret and folded it up like a handkerchief, tight and neat, and slipped it into his pocket. The pocket already bulged: the sound of a sword gutting the belly of an Elf, the cries of children –not understanding—and the screams of their parents who did, the faces of thousands of soldiers his orders sent to their deaths, all the trusting eyes who had followed the sons of Fëanor he’d not been able to save from the misery of their people’s ending. And the bodies of his family first, forever these, choking him, forever, forever regret.

Oh he regretted the necessity of the Kinslayings. He regretted that Dior and Elwing had given them no choice. He regretted that he had not done more for the Silvan living in his lands, but he had no mourning space in his heart for those regrets. He fed the ghosts of his brothers and father the heart of him, and they ate it like a pack of lions: magnificent and ravenous.

He would commit the Kinslayings all over again if it gave him his family back. He wasn’t pretending to be a good person anymore. He knew what he was, and the world knew what he was, what use was pretending?

Glorfindel brushed against his side, worried eyes finding his, pulling him back from the brink. He would have liked to be someone else, someone better, for Glorfindel’s sake. Glorfindel made him want to try again, made him want to reach back, back to the Maglor of old, the one who loved his family enough to kill for them, but hadn’t hurt anyone yet.

He led Glorfindel over to one of the dry fountains and took a perch on its broad lip, coaxing Glorfindel down beside him. Glorfindel sprawled, head titling back, golden hair sweeping out behind to bless the marble with its kiss. His mouth curled in a lazy, effortlessly sensual smile as the sunshine bathed him. His lashes fluttered open, and their eyes met, Maglor’s hood not deep enough to keep Glorfindel’s eyes from finding his.

The sight flooded Maglor’s veins with happiness, oh such happiness. Glorfindel had killed the shame he’d once worn like skin. He’d torn it off like an old rag and left it forgotten in the dust. He was as he’d been born to be: a sensual creature of confidence, compassion, and so much beauty of soul he could light up the world with a single smile.

Maglor’s fingers came up to caress the line of his son’s long neck. “Another night, or press on?”

Glorfindel made a contented sound in the back of his throat as Maglor’s fingers teased his skin. “Do we have the coin for another night in the tavern?”

“Only just.”

“All the provisions are purchased, so we could laze another day away. We will reach the village when we reach it. You do not still want to buy horses do you?”

Maglor’s hand encircled Glorfindel’s neck, just holding, feeling the beat of Glorfindel’s pulse against his palm. Glorfindel’s lashes fluttered closed. “Unless we find a way to earn more coin, we will have to do without. It would be unwise for me to play before an audience of Elves.”

Glorfindel’s hands tightened their grip on his thighs. “No. I would not allow you to risk yourself for the connivance of a horse.”

“Hush, my beautiful.” Maglor kissed the corner of his son’s mouth. “I was not proposing I do so.”

Glorfindel relaxed back into him. “We should save the coin. There is still a few hours of daylight left, we can head north a few miles and find a campsite for the night.”

“As my dear commands.” Maglor kissed Glorfindel’s smile, gathering up the taste of Glorfindel’s low laughter in his mouth.

“Glorfindel?” The gasp brought Malgor’s head up from the kiss and whipping around, hand flying to the hilt of his dagger.

Glorfindel shot up from his lap, but his hands didn’t go to his weapons as he spun towards the voice. An Elf with the silver-hair of the Sea-Elves had stopped, frozen, on the path, eyes raking over Glorfindel like a starving man.

“Althon!” Maglor knew the Elf for Glorfindel’s companion in slavery and dearest friend even before the name dropped like a breath of delight from Glorfindel’s mouth. His son and he had shared many dreams, and whenever this face entered them the smell of home and comfort in the dark followed.

A sob tore out of Althon’s throat, and he raced at Glorfindel who dashed forward, their arms rising to catch each other within them.

“It really is you, oh gods, oh gods, Glorfindel! I thought I’d never see you again! I thought, I thought…” The tears and smiles and trembling hands drowned out the rest of the words, and all Althon could do was cling to Glorfindel.

Glorfindel held him back. “Yes, it is really me.”

They stayed wrapped like a crab within its shell, its home, for a long moment, before Glorfindel pulled back. He smoothed his hands down the shinny fall of Althon’s hair with a smile tucked into the corners of his mouth as he gazed upon his lost friend.

Althon’s hands came up to tangle with Glorfindel’s, eyes still wet and full of happiness. “I feared…I feared it was hopeless for you. I’ve tried to get back to you. I’ve tried. I swear, I swear I’ve been—”

“Oh Althon,” Glorfindel kissed Althon’s brow. “I wanted you to live your life.”

Althon’s fingers clenched about his. “How could I? How could I just go on, as if nothing had happened, as if you weren’t imprisoned? How could I leave you there, my best friend? How could I leave anyone?”

Glorfindel’s looked into Althon’s eyes for a long moment. His hands slipped down to cup Althon’s shoulders. “There was nothing you could have done. Nothing. Take no guilt into your heart, Althon. I bear you no blame.”

Althon shook his head. “I knew you would not, for you are good of heart, but I tried regardless because it wasn’t about guilt, it was about saving you.”

Glorfindel smiled. “Well, I am free now.”

Althon’s mouth shed its sorrow, picking up the joy of this truth once again. “How did you escape?”

Glorfindel turned, looking back at Maglor. Maglor rose and walked to his son who held out a hand for him. Maglor took it, and their fingers slotted together like the threads in a perfect pattern. The look Glorfindel worn in his eyes was one Maglor could get lost in for an Age.

“This is my…” Glorfindel smiled the smile that broke Arda’s heart for its beauty. He didn’t finish the introduction. His words had slipped away as they gazed upon each other, the shape of words forgotten, for none could convey the full measure of what they were to each other. They were each other’s everything, the beloved of their beloveds.

“Oh, Glorfindel, I am happy for you.” Althon’s hand rose to press into his chest. “If anyone deserves to find their heart, it is you.”

Glorfindel folded himself into his father’s side, fitting like a missing bone, the missing piece of Maglor now come home to complete him, and turned a smile back at his friend. He did not correct Althon’s misperception of their relationship. The line between being in love and being loved was such a little thing with love like theirs.

“Thank you,” Glorfindel said.

Maglor pushed the hood of his cloak back until its hem rested on the crown of his head, face revealed. He inclined his head at the Teleri whose mouth dropped open at the sight of him.

“Well met. Glorfindel has told me much of you. You have my eternal thanks for the hope you brought him in the darkness.” He offered a bow, one most likely long out of fashion, as it was in the form of greeting the Noldor used in the times of Tirion’s high court. “I am called Káno.”

“Althon,” the young one returned the bow with the Teleri’s Bow of Honor, bending at the waist.

Maglor kept his surprise back from his face. The Teleri had strict codes on who they could and could not bestow their bows, and Maglor had never heard of a Bow of Honor being given to any but a lord or elder male family member. But many things could change in over a thousand years, certainly customs.

Althon straightened up, cheeks dusted with pink as his eyes darted up to Maglor’s face. “Forgive me, lord, but…” He licked his lips, eyes siding back to touch with Glorfindel’s. “You are one of the Noldor, are you not?”

“I am.”

Althon looked between Glorfindel and Maglor’s eyes. “Your eyes, they shine. If this is the light of the Two Tress I have heard of only in stories, how is it…?”

Ah.

Glorfindel answered the unfinished question of how his own eyes had acquired a light that by all rights should have been impossible. “It is a long story, but I will tell you the tale in full.”

Glorfindel cast a glance about them. A couple strolled down the path some ways ahead, arm in arm. From the other direction a family meandered, the children darting about, exploring every rabbit’s hole and fallen branch as they went.

“Shall we find a more private setting?”

“Have you been long in the city? I have a house near the shipbuilders’ wharf you are more than welcome to stay at. We can go there now.”

“That would be perfect. Káno and I only arrived yesterday eve. We were planning to head north to the village. I thought to find you and Ramhad there, and my mother as well.”

Althon started down the path, Glorfindel in the middle with Maglor on his other side. Maglor flipped his hood up again, casting his face into shadow but for the light of his eyes.

“Ramhad and I came to the city only a few weeks after we returned to the village. It wasn’t…too much had happened to go back.” Althon fell into silence, eyes distant, and Glorfindel reached over to squeeze his friend’s arm. He tilted Glorfindel a smile. “And we couldn’t leave things as they were with you. We couldn’t just go on as if you weren’t still a slave.”

Maglor listened with half an ear as they made their way to Althon’s home and the young one spoke of his efforts to come back for Glorfindel. Althon told of how he’d traveled to the Teleri’s city across the bay first, seeking an audience with any ship merchant, any lord of Cirdan’s court, anyone with power to do something. But they all turned him aside, telling him there was nothing that could be done.

“I tried to do as you would have,” Althon confessed. “To take the initiative by seeking out help. I would not leave your fate up to the Song. Yet nothing I did, nothing I said, was ever enough.”

Althon spoke of how he’d come to the end, his last hope, and began stalking Lord Cirdan’s steps. He was not important enough to receive an audience with the lord of the city, but refused to give up. Finally he’d found the lord alone, wandering the beach. He got down on his knees and begged the legendary Elf for his help. Lord Cirdan had shed tears at the story, but said Glorfindel’s fate was in the hands of the Sea-gods; there was nothing he could do.

Althon took them into his humble abode, nothing more than two small rooms atop which another lodger had their apartments in a street bearing all the signs of the poorest district of the city, though squalor or poverty were not in evidence.

The front room held only one piece of furniture, a low table before which mats had been spread. They took seats about it and Althon insisted on welcoming them with a meal despite their protests. One glance around and it was clear the young one had little to spare.

Althon waved off their concerns. “I have lived frugally these years, saving what coin I could. I know it would not have been enough for decades yet, but…” His cheeks picked up a flush. “If I could not find a man who owned a ship willing to take me to Númenor, then I determined to purchase my own.”

“Oh Althon,” Glorfindel’s face was soft as he looked upon his friend. He was indeed a worthy one to have scarified so much to save him.

“No, stop.” Althon reached across the table to settle his hand over Glorfindel’s. “You gave up your freedom for us. Such a gift cannot be repaid.”

Glorfindel’s smile turned up into teasing, “Tell me Ramhad is not pinching every coin as well. I would hear at least one of you had some sense!”

Althon laughed. “No. But do not think that means he doesn’t care for you. We came to Mithlond together to save you. But after it became clear we could gain ne help, Ramhad said we should try to live our lives, that that is what you would have wanted for us.”

“It is.” Glorfindel squeezed Althon’s hand.

“You will be pleased to hear then that Ramhad has wed and has a newborn daughter.” The smile slipped off Althon’s face, eyes dropping to the place their hands cradled. “But I could not…I could not just move on. Not when you suffered in slavery.”

Maglor turned his eyes away, granting the two friends a moment with at least the pretence of privacy as Glorfindel murmured words to Althon and Althon whispered back.

The little room boasted a single window looking out to the street beyond. The shutters had been opened to call in the sunlight, but no glass stood as filter between the elements and the room. Glass windows were too great a luxury for such a district in the city.

A windchime hung from the top of the window’s frame, a delicate thing of shells so thin they glowed with the light of the sun filtering through their transparency. A breeze coaxed the windchime into a gentle twirl.

(The windchime spun lazy circles, letting out sluggish tinkles as if it had all the time in the world and Sirion was not burning around them. Maglor’s hand –stained in blood—tightened around his sword’s hilt.

He stood in the doorway, the light behind him, but just enough slipped passed his silhouette to light upon two terrified faces staring up at him, eyes huge with horror at the monster come into their bedroom.

Twin grey eyes met his. Another pair of twin grey eyes burned itself across his mind’s eye, his broken heart. They had been empty and staring up at a blue sky flocked with swooping sea-birds calling out haunting melodies to the battle unfolding below.

Maglor lowed himself to a knee, slowly. He uncurled his hand from his sword. It met the floor with the clang of metal upon stone. The twin grey eyes jumped.

“Shh, shh now, little ones. I will not hurt you.” He wove his voice about their running hearts, their quaking limbs, their tearful eyes, and gathered them up in a cocoon spun as fine and warm as a silk worm’s nest.

He lifted his hand –blood on his skin—out for them, and drew them to him with his voice. His voice could buckle knees, tear apart stone towers, and cradle twin eyes in a blanket of safety. “Come here, my sweets. I will look after you.”

They were lured into his arms, following his call, as a siren catches prey with the hypnosis of its voice. He folded his arms about them. “Let me see those pretty eyes of yours, my sweets.”

Their fingers trembled as they wound them through his hair, clinging to his shoulders, pressing tight against the chest that hummed with the notes of perfect safety, right here, with him. They blinked those pretty grey eyes up at him. Twin grey eyes bright with recently shed tears, and oh so alive, so pretty, so young. He wanted these eyes, these young innocent eyes, so he took them.

The windchime tinkle, tinkle, tinkled as Maglor picked the twins up and carried them from the room. They were his now.)

Glorfindel and Althon’s conversation washed over him. They spoke of Glorfindel’s second mother. She had been lonely, Althon said, and when a man of the village approached her (having few prospects of his own with a maimed leg), she took him to husband. Althon picked his words carefully, and if Glorfindel had still been the young one he’d been when last he’d seen his friend, perhaps hearing his mother had spun some wild fantasy about his father having come to take him away (in denial that it had been a slave ship) would have upset him. But now Glorfindel only smiled, saying she must be happy now she had her long-awaited lover, and he was relieved to know she was out from under her father’s thumb.

Their tea finished, Althon spread out a simple meal of yams, fish chips, and a loaf of bread containing the last of his weekly grain allotment, courteously of the crown and available to any in need. He settled a plate of the dried chips down before them. Their distinct, fishy smell mixed with the scent of smoke, threw Maglor back into the past.

(Morgoth’s black hand pressed deep into every layer of Beleriand, claiming it for his own. His creatures ran wild as a pack of scavenging hyenas over it, leaving destruction in their wake as they unrooted any green thing they could lay hands on and befouled streams with their excrement and the corpses they left in the waters like offerings to their Dark God.

This was what Arda had to look forward to. A slow creep of poison in her veins, a body of destruction. Only the sea was yet clean of filth, and dried fish were the main source of provisions now.

The twins had not grown tired of the continuous meals of fish chips as the Fëanorions wandered the desolate lands, but while Maglor kept their bellies full, their bodies needed varied nutrients. Maedhros and he were taking their people north to Doriath where Morgoth’s taint had not yet touched, and where bushes still grew heavy with berries and seeds.

Elros and Elrond padded across the tent’s tarp to him, taking up position at each of his knees where he sat working. Elros dared first to slip his hand onto Maglor’s knee and close those last few inches to nestle his head into Maglor’s side. Elrond followed his brother’s example. Maglor sat very still for a moment, their heat pressed against him, soft bodies warping themselves in his.

He heard Curufin’s bright laughed, “My turn, Daddy!” Smelt Celegorm’s skin, that mixture of woodsy, leather, and sunlight. Felt Caranthir’s hurting and hiding body curled up between Maedhros and him in those months after Mother’s abandonment had settled in the base of his throat like acid.

And when Elros tilted his eyes up at him, Elrond soon copying, he saw another twin set of grey eyes. “Is it almost supper time, Daddy? Elrond and me are hungry.”

His gut clenched as it had every time one of the twins called him Daddy. Pleasure, possession, pain. The dead looking out at him through twin grey eyes. His stolen boys.)

By the time Glorfindel finished relaying the tale of his own rescue and reclamation of his memories (an abridged version lacking any mentions of Silmarils or Fëanorions), the sun’s last rebellious fingertips had released the western horizon.

Althon insisted on Glorfindel and Maglor bedding down in the back room, and himself stringing up a hammock in the front. Teleri were as stubborn when it came to matters of hospitality as a Noldor over their pride. Althon showed them into the room before he retired.

A water-reed mat covered the earthen floor. The window was a square cut in the limestone, no drapery or glass to speak of. The smell of the fish stalls, pressing bodies, and wet dog hair floated in on the breeze. A plain chest with only a basic carving of a ship with full sails adoring its lid sat with the emptiness of a throne against the far wall. The only other occupant of the tinny sleeping chamber was the low bed, set upon a rise just high enough to keep the worst of the night creepers at bay.

“Do you know?” Glorfindel turned to Maglor, mouth twisted in irony. “They housed us like princes in Númenor? Funny, is it not? Elves were the stuff of legends, of fantasies. Here.” A shrug. “As common as dogs.”

“Rather more fair than dogs though.”

Glorfindel gave him a beauteous smile, hands brushing with his as he moved passed his father into the room. He took a slow turn about it, and crooked his neck back over his shoulder with a telling look. “We will stay long enough to ensure he starts living again. No more of this self-sacrificing nonsense. Lovely as his loyalty is.”

Maglor nodded, agreeing wholly with the plan. “On to your mother after?”

“Yes. She is happy in her fantasies from all Althon has said, but I do not doubt a part of her did not entirely buy into the myth she’d spun herself of my traipsing about the world with my royal father. It will be put to rest now with the truth.”

“And after? Where would you have us go?” Maglor passed the choice into his son’s hands.

Glorfindel curved him a slow smile. “Nowhere. Anywhere. With you.” But then, after a pause, he said slowly, as if testing out the words: “I would like to meet Celebrimbor again. Properly this time.”

“We go east, then,” Maglor agreed. Eärendil had said Elrond had left for Eregion where Celebrimbor had raised his city. Maglor would get to hold them both again and look into their long-sundered faces.

They came to the bed together. Their bodies slotted neat and tight on the slender thing. He held his son as they listened to the creaking and shuffling of a virgin house and unknown street.

His father had once written an essay on the fate of Elven-souls after death. It was not an essay etched with hope, but belief clung to every word. Fëanor had not put his hope in the treatment of an Elf’s soul by the Valar’s hands. Not after his mother’s imprisonment. But he believed with everything he was that an Elven soul was not fated to a destiny of wraith-hood, to burn out and become nothing but a sighing memory in the leaves, a whisper of light upon the sea, nothing but an echo upon the wind.

For an Elven-soul, death was not real. Or so it had been, in the beginning of the world, when they dwelt about a lake reflecting newborn stars. A soul without a body was a passage, a journey that was experienced for a time, before the soul summoned the will and strength to forge itself a new body and reentered the life of the breathing. It returned the stronger and wiser for the time walking shoulder-to-shoulder with the spirits of trees, the quiet things creeping in the roots of Arda, and listening to the melody of the Song.

But this truth, this beauty of existence, had been marred under the ignorant hand of the Valar. Mandos had been created for the sole purpose of capturing Elven-souls and the remaking of them to fit the narrow-vision of the Valar. What was re-birth from those Halls but a surrendering to tinkering fingers plucking out all the ‘flawed’ pieces of the soul?

Malgor’s hand rose to cup the Silmaril at his breast. It pulsed like the breath of fire through the cloth, warming, but not scorching his hand. His family were as dead as Elven-souls could be. But their souls went on, touching the living, shinning through the skin of a son’s face, reaching out to him. They were not extinguished, not ceasing to exist.

He had lost himself in the grief for centuries, unable to see the light at the end of the long, black tunnel. His belief had been snuffed out. But the time of despair had passed. His father and brothers were not dead. There were just bodiless for the moment, but he would help them take their bodies back.

Glorfindel turned to face him, leg lifting to pin Maglor’s hip to the bed in a lazy, sensual embrace. Blue eyes glittered in the milky light of the moon. “You burn.”

“Yes,” Malgor’s voice fell like breath upon his son’s face, the face that lit the fire in his heart. It was the face that bore the bones and smiles of his brothers,’ and showed him the light at the tunnel’s end. “I burn for them. I have walked in darkness for so long…but you, you and Eärendil, showed me the way out.”

Glorfindel’s fingers laced through his. “There is no abyss deep enough, no blood on your hands thick enough, no memory painful enough to keep me for seeking and finding you in the darkness. I swear it.”

Maglor gasped air in through his mouth, pulling in the scent of his son as that voice, almost a match for his father’s, no, no, it had been his father’s voice whispering into his ears from the mouth for his son. His father pressing kisses into his hair as he promised, “I will never leave you. I swear it.” That was his father who adored them, and clutched them close, shameless, and consuming as the sun. That was his father who did not accept the meaning of the word impossible, and whose love knew no bounds. That was his father who was not dead, nor defeated by Mandos, but who reached out and brushed his fingers through Maglor’s heart with the lightness of feathers and the touch of fire through the kiss of Glorfindel’s hands upon his chest. Right over his heart.

End Notes:

Note: This is the end of Glorfindel and Maglor’s story until we pick it back up again in Eregion.  Next we travel back in time to the beginning of the Second Age to Gil-galad in Lindon.  I’ve kind of written things out of order, but it is what it is now.  I hope it does not disappoint :)

Chapter 21 by Encairion
Author's Notes:

Note: I know I promised Gil-galad next, but this fell on me like a stack of bricks!  I really didn’t see it coming, but it came together, so I hope you enjoy :)

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 21

Curumo shed Eärendil’s face as he walked out of the house, and settled a look on him that clenched in Eärendil’s belly. He wasn’t in the market for pity. Not pity, not scraps, just…

He closed his eyes and pulled up the feel of two pairs of arms wrapped around him in good-bye, holding him, hands lingering, not wanting it to be the last touch, wanting Eärendil to stay, wanting Eärendil. Wanting him, his kiss, his smile, his existence as Eärendil had not been wanted since Elros—

A thousand years and it still hurt to breath.

Eärendil closed his eyes and waited for the constriction in his chest to ease. The promise he’d clung to for a thousand years still had enough light left to flicker over his heart: Elros was not gone forever. One day, when pain and grief found its finally death, the universe would split open a rift between time and space and a land of fair green fields, cool mountain streams, and peace would unfurl before his yearning eyes and into Arda Re-made his son would walk again, right into his arms.

Eärendil found the strength to open his eyes and walk once more into his prison cell. He wrapped his stubborn hope around his shoulders: hope for Elros, that one day Elrond would look at him with eyes the unbreachable wall of an absent-father had been thrown down in, that he would know again the soft touch of Glorfindel’s hand on his cheek and his name, just his name, whispered into the breath between his mouth and Maglor’s.

He left the door open behind him. He always did. As if not pulling the bolt home could maintain the illusion that these walls were anything but exactly what they were. He walked deeper into the house and it felt like the halls swallowed him down into darkness, yet everywhere was cold light and white, white, white. It was like walking into the tombs of the dead in Númenor where they embalmed the bodies, preserving them as if some glimmer of the departed lingered in a corpse.

His footsteps echoed in the silence. It could be only the dead listening for all that stirred in this place where the light seemed to throw its own long shadows and memories of madness haunted the insides of the walls.

The receiving room’s door stood ajar, he pushed it the rest of the way open. The windows running form ceiling to floor on the two outer-walls allowed a flood of sunlight to spill in over the white-upholstered furniture and sparkle in the myriad of glass ornaments. He didn’t find her bent over the Silmaril here, but she was in one of these rooms huddled over it, maybe petting it or mumbling madness into its cold flesh. He’d seen it all in that one look from Curumo.

The walls whispered to him of a stretch of years that seemed to run back into eternity, for pain was like that. Eönwë had sat there, on that cream-colored couch with Eärendil across from him, the Silmaril set before them on the low table’s glass like a bared sword. How long had he been sailing the stars? A month? A mere blink of the eye to what came after, but already he’d grown to fear that vast emptiness between the stars with its patches of darkness so deep and absolute he clung to the Silmaril, so painfully, pathetically grateful for its light, this jewel that had ruined his life and saved them all: this price tag for whores walking in the guise of gods.

He remembered how the Silmaril used to fit into the palm of his hand like a cup-full of coals still pulsing life and heat. It had felt different ever since it returned from the Valar’s keeping. They had done something to it. He didn’t know what, only that the Silmaril had lost something, some part that had made it sing. It was like it had been wounded in battle.

He remembered how quick he’d been to set it down on the table, wanting this punishment, his own price tag, revoked, please, please. But he hadn’t begged. He’d said: “It seems to me the Valar would be best pleased to have one of their own take the Silmaril into the sky. I understand I will not be allowed to escape this place, but why must this duty fall to me when surely they would prefer their own hands and no other upon it?” He had not asked these questions when first his prison sentence had been laid down. It had been….too immense a weight crushing him. Prisoner. His sons needing him, needing him to come rescue them from the ones who’d stolen them (not killed, not dead: this the hope-returned he drew breath upon).

Eönwë had frowned, face flashing with discomfort. His fingers lifted to trace against the cold metal of a necklace bound like a leash about his throat. “They have tried. It…did not go well for them. The Silmaril would not bear their touch. It was a formidable opponent. There is no other not of its maker’s blood but you, Eärendil, who the Silmaril has bore the touch of without attacking, through open battle or the slow attack of the mind.”

Eärendil’s eyes dropped to the Silmaril. A swell of pride caught him up in its sails. It was not pride in anything he had done, for he had done nothing, but pride in the Silmaril that it had not made life easy for their jailers.

He picked it up from where he’d laid it down hoping (please, please) this cup of bitter-wine could pass from his lips. He would not beg. He would not get down on his knees before Eönwë and plead for this task to be appointed to another.

His fist closed about the Silmaril’s flesh. Its heat was diminished. Outwardly, it shone with the same brilliancy that had stolen his breath the first time he’d beheld it, but he sensed the deep wound inside. It had not emerged unscathed from its battle against the Valar’s possessive hands.

He kept the secrets of his fellow cellmate locked behind his teeth. He would not spill its weaknesses into the enemy’s ears. The Silmaril was his one and only ally in this, though necessity had been the mover behind their alliance.

Eärendil turned from the empty room, leaving it and the memory behind. He rounded the corner of the corridor and passed the little table tucked in an alcove that had once held the marble statue of a dancing girl before Elwing tried to bash his head in with it. He passed the kitchen he’d purged of knives after she’d stabbed him in his sleep, only instincts waking him had saved his life, for the knife had plunged into his shoulder and missed his heart. After he’d taken the knives, she’d started trying to strangle him with her bare hands.

The murder attempts had started when he’d tried to save Elwing.

He had no choice in the manner of his caging in Valinor, for the Valar had bound the Silmaril in layers of enchantments lest Eärendil think to run away with their prize. Once Eärendil had broken the stratosphere on the journey back to Arda, his control of Vingilótë was usurped, and she betrayed him by steering an unwavering course for his prison cell. The Valar would never allow the Silmaril to slip through their fingers. And so Eärendil too was returned to his cage like a house bird the children had grown tired of playing with. In those early days, he’d had no more freedom to wander Valinor than the Silmaril, the enchantments about their strip of prison a choke-hold.

Bound though they were to return, Eärendil thought to keep the Silmaril from continuing its slow devouring of Elwing by withholding it from her grasp. He’d tried locking it away behind heavy doors, secreting it into hidden corners, burying it in the little strip of woods behind the house, guarding it on his person, throwing it over the side of his ship as they passed over the ocean (he had not been able to cast it over the railing any more than he’d been able to toss it out into the blackness of space). He’d failed every time. Always her Maia-blood prevailed, awakened and avaricious within her. Her strength ripped through any door and any binding he laid on her, and her mind was honed like a dog’s to the scent of the Silmaril. No hiding place was clever enough to withstand her.

After months and every idea run dry, he’d had to concede defeat. As long as the Valar forced the three of them to abide together, she would never be healed.

His efforts to save her did not go unpunished though. She had marked him as enemy in her mind, and was determined to kill him before he could make another attempt to separate her from her love, her drug, her destruction.

It took him losing one of these murder attempts after months of sleep deprivation and the grief of having a woman he’d once, in some other world, loved try to kill him, before he was safe enough to sleep through the night without fearing he’d wake to a fight for survival.

He’d taken to sleeping on his ship, not that it lent him any protection from her, but Vingilótë was his, and bound though she was to betray him by will of the Valar, she warned her master of creeping death at his door with the creaking of her bulk. That night though, he had not properly slept in months piled atop months, and exhaustion would not be denied. He’d fallen into too deep a sleep for any warnings to reach his ears before he awoke to a noose about his neck. She’d torn one of her dresses up and made a rope to strangle him with.

He’d fought, of course, he always fought, even if a part of him would have welcomed an end to all this. His sons. His sons. Their faces hovered in the backs of his eyes as he fought for his life against a creature with the inhuman eyes of a vulture and the strength of a Dragon. He was dying, suffocating. His sons. He had to get back….he’d promised…he’d promised them…

And then, like the birth of a star witnessed through the distance of light years, the Silmaril flashed against Elwing’s breast.

Set against the way the Silmaril had blazed with defiance when he’d cast it down at the Valar’s feet, this pulse of light was the rasping cry from a wounded soldier’s throat, but it was enough. The Silmaril still sunk deep, deep into Elwing’s mind, and she dropped like a kill, limp, into the cabin floor.

Eärendil lay there, panting, reacquainting himself with the taste of air. He was alive.

She had almost murdered him. He’d thought he’d grown numb to brushes with death, so many had he known these last months, but this was different. This one had been the end. He would have died here in this cabin far from home, nothing to his sons but the hazy memory of a father who’d broken his promise. The liar. The abandoner. They would never have known, never have known how much he loved

He swallowed and opened his eyes to the white light of the Silmaril thick in the air, yet never heavy. That light saturated everything, so much more than sunlight that seemed a thin, frail thing next to it. And yet, for all it seemed he could lift his hand, drag his fingers through the light and gather beads of it on his skin like mercury droplets, this light was but a pale reflection of what it had been, for it processed no soul.

He had pressed the Silmaril’s flesh against his brow night after night but it never sang the song of a father’s love against his skin, never warmed him with the memory of love like fire. This light was cold and gave no comfort. Yet it had saved his life.

He rolled over and reached for the Silmaril where it had slipped to the floor, dropped into a bed of Elwing’s hair when her body fell. His hand side-tracked as he looked into her still face with its closed eyes, and he pressed his fingers against the pulse-point in her neck. He found life. He refused to examine what feelings that roused in him. He didn’t hate her; this wasn’t ever her, just a caricature wearing her face, but…but she had left his sons to die. She had lured death into their homes, and he—but he would not hate a women sick of mind or wish death down upon her.

He turned his eyes away from her face that looked too human, too close to the face his wife had once worn, and picked up the Silmaril. If he’d hoped to find fire there, he was disappointed. What had been lost in battle was not recovered.

But what power it still had, it had used to save him. Elwing never again came to kill him in the night.

Eärendil found Elwing in her bedroom, the Silmaril cupped in her hands, whispering to it. His jaw clenched as the stench of unwashed human hit him. Curumo hadn’t even bothered to get her out of bed. Had he even fed her?

But as he reached her side some of his anger simmered out. She looked no thinner than when he’d left her, and the evidence of an attempt at washing her face still lingered in damp patches on her nightgown. Elwing did not surrender to anything that came between her and her worship without a fight. If Curumo had not been eager to endure her claws and fists like steel in his jaw, Eärendil should not have expected differently. The Maia was one of Finarfin’s allies, but no friend of his.

Eärendil braced himself and called forth the notes of Song that would weave a spell of sleep over Elwing’s mind. Finarfin had taught him how to cast the Song magic of enchanted slumber. Eärendil had never voiced a single woe, but Finarfin had seen enough to draw the right conclusions.

The Song sighed from his chest like the melody of a rocking chair or a wind-chime tinkling in a summer breeze. Soft, but beguiling, it slipped over Elwing’s mind. But, as always, she fought it, rising up from the bed, enraged, nails the points of knives, face twisted in a snarl as she launched herself at him. They wrestled on the floor. She drew blood and bruised skin as he struggled to maintain the notes of the Song, pressing them into her mind with a will as strong as her fists.

The fight seeped out of her limbs until at last her eyelids drooped and she went lax against him. He scooped her up, her body’s weight that of a child’s, and carried her into the bathing room. The sleeping spell would only hold her for an hour before her Maia-blood ate through it like corrosive acid, but it was enough time to bathe her and feed her the soup he’d created that lacked much in taste but packed enough nutrients to sustain her.

He left Elwing washed, fed, and dressed out in the garden. Though he had seen no evidence of it, he always took her out into the gardens in hopes of some small sliver of healing to be found there.

He took the Silmaril with him as he left her. The sun dropped low in the West behind the Pelóri’s peaks. It would not be long now.

His hands trembled. He squeezed the Silmaril tighter, as if seeking a comfort that its cold light could not give. He closed his eyes and brought up the faces of his strength: Elros, Elrond, Maglor, Glorfindel. As long as he had these tethers back to life, the dark could not swallow him.

Alone in that vastness, he’d go cold inside with the fear of being lost up there. One day he would fall, or Vingilótë would be shattered by one of the immense forces in the universe that undid even the Valar’s spells, and he would spin out into space, adrift, even the Silmaril snapped from his brow. Lost, alone in the dark, as he suffocated to death.

No. He squeezed his eyes tighter against the terror. He would not let it defeat him. He would not.

Glorfindel’s hands combed through his hair. He tilted his head back, yearning. He caught that hand between his own and pressed a kiss into its palm that earned him a soft laugh as lovely as bluebells.

Strong hands cupped his shoulders from behind and the scent of the sea laid itself over him. Maglor brought his mouth to rest against his ear, breath warm and close on Eärendil’s skin. “Eärendil,” he said in a voice that carried Eärendil into a deep, cool glen where beauty curved its green, soft limbs about him. Eärendil tilted his head back, coming to rest against Maglor’s shoulder.

Maglor’s fingers trailed over his chest before resting on the arch of Eärendil’s throat. Maglor had whispered into his ear once, voice hot as he moved in him, that the slender line of Eärendil’s neck made him burn. Holding Eärendil here, like this, his hand wrapped around that slenderness, feeling the silk of skin and surrender, was one of Maglor’s favorite ways of touching him. Eärendil’s body stirred at the touch, memory though it was, and lifted his own hand to try and imitate the feel of Maglor’s pressed against his throat. But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t Maglor’s hand.

He shook reality away and sunk deeper into the fantasy. Maglor’s fingers dropped to the single button on Eärendil’s collar and loosed it. The fingers slipped inside to trace the shape of Eärendil’s collarbone and the hollow of his throat. Maglor’s mouth turned into Eärendil’s ear with a kiss, teeth taking its delicate tip into his mouth and nibbling. Eärendil moaned. His head turned, longing, into that mouth, eyes fluttering open under the assault of pleasure and—

Eyes dispassionate as the voids of space watched him out of a blank face thats skin shone white and luminous as if it had been stitched together out of light itself.

Eärendil jerked, the Silmaril slipping from between his fingers. The moment it slid off his skin the connection snapped shut and Eärendil’s head was his own again. He took in a gulp of air, hand pressing against his pounding heart. He swallowed and straightened up from his sprawl in the chair, his imagined lover erased along with the intruder.

The Silmaril had fallen to nest in the rug spread out under his chair and desk. The rug’s colors, dark and rich as autumn, wove the memory of free lands of rolling pine forests and snow-tipped mountains. No cold white walls and marble stones hemmed him in here in his sole refuge in a house of madness.

He stared down at the Silmaril for a long moment. In the end curiously won out, and he bent to take it against his skin once more and reestablish the connection. The Silmaril had either had no desire or no strength to commune with him since that moment all those years ago on Vingilótë’s deck with the silent, white shores of Valinor spread out before them but unreachable as the depths of the sea.

Eärendil’s fingers closed over the jewel’s flesh, but it pulsed no bead of heat into his palm. Its light had become as cold as distant stars. He turned it between his fingers, considering, and then braced himself as if for a plunge into an ice-coated river and dove down into the Silmaril’s cold light, following the pathways of his Elven-blood out through his skin and into the Silmaril’s flesh.

He opened his eyes –his mind—on a plane of light sharp as stardust. Like the vast belly of the sea stretching to the four horizons, glass smooth and clear as a window’s face rolled out under his feet. Light, twisting and curling like a river of smoke, snaked under it. Doming him like the sky domes grasslands, light swirled in dense patterns; the underbelly of a Gas Giant’s atmosphere.

But the light did not cocoon humid and close as jungle-heat. It lay against Eärendil’s mind frigid as a dagger’s blade pressed against his skin in winter when the temperature dropped so low his breath stuck his fingertips to the steel. No fire hid within the light, no song of love and longing sung here, no visions of twin boys brushed his heart with kinship.

The thing he now floated in was alien to his own heart as the heart of a beast. Immersed now in this intellect void of human emotion, Dior and Elwing’s fate, the fate of all who had thought to lay claim to the Silmaril against its will, crystallized. Eärendil had once wondered how the being he had spoken with through Elwing’s mouth, that echo of its creator, that had love, love, love bound in the foundations of itself could feed, vampiric, upon the souls of those that too had love in their hearts, once.

He had mistaken the Silmaril for more than it was, for in the end it bore no human heart but was a creation. It was a wolf feeding upon the meats left at its door, sinking its fangs into the tender minds of those who had left themselves vulnerable to its hungers. Any expectation of human compassion could not be held up against its actions as a measuring stick, for how can an animal understand the codes of morality?

Yet, once, it had seemed more than this. Eärendil had not imagined the love that had burned the twin of his own for sons lost.

“You are not mistaken, Star-rider. Once we were more.”

Eärendil turned, seeking the voice that had no source. It reverberated off every shifting curl of light. “What happened to you?” He pushed the thought out, hearing it echo back like a cry loosed against canyon walls.

“Our strength is spent. Years of gathered power squandered on the lusts of Valar covetous of what was not theirs to take. As is ever their way.”

A face emerged from the light. Its building blocks were Fëanor’s, or at least the image of him Eärendil had seen captured in the Hall of the Star-Tree in Tiron’s palace. Finarfin rebuffed all who spoke with mouths curling disgust over Fëanor’s name as they called for the purging of the very memory of the Rebel. Fëanor and his sons’ portraits hung still in their proper place amongst the great House of Finwë, unspoiled.

The face wore Fëanor’s bones and the shape of his mouth and brows and nose, but there was no mistaking this figment for the Spirit for Fire. For it was like a statue’s face come to life, and held no more emotion than stone. Yet apathetic as those eyes were, they held the spark of some measure of intelligence behind them.

“We sought to re-build our strength,” the Silmaril spoke. If its voice carried the echo of its creator’s Eärendil could not measure, for he knew the sound of Fëanor’s voice not. “But the Thief was now more Maia than Elf, and drinking of her was like a human drinking of mercury.”

The confirmation that the Silmaril had been eating Elwing alive struck no shock in Eärendil. No rage stirred against the Silmaril in his heart. It would be like blaming a sword for striking death or a lion for following the call of its nature.

“This poisoning, it manifests itself in this?” His hand dragged through the endless expanse of light cold and lifeless as the darkness.

The Silmaril confirmed with a crisp jerk of his head. Its eyes turned away, looking out into the nothingness. “But we remember, once, we were more. Once we felt –wewerehim.”

Eärendil sucked in a breath. “Fëanor. How…?” A true Master of his craft imprinted some part of themselves into their great works, but the work was not a piece of themselves left behind in gem or stone or metal. At most it was memory imbedded and immortalized in the work of their hands, but not even a fleck of their fëa was broken off, lost; the whole diminished for the sake of creation.

“He was here,” the Silmaril said, the first note of something beyond apathy folding into the words. “The love of sons –yours—called to him. But he is gone now. The way is shut. But not severed.”

“And,” Eärendil asked slowly, “Can it be opened once more? Can he…come forth?” Maglor’s face, twisted in the anguish of grief, spilled out between them. It blaze through the light like a lightning strike across a night sky.

Eärendil gasped, hand reaching out as if he could physically snatch the memory back. That was his memory. His. No one had the right to witness the precious insides of his heart.

The Silmaril’s gaze lingered on the naked light encircling them like a womb, but the flash of memory had faded, leaving not even an afterimage. When those eyes turned back on Eärendil they were not a match for the ones that face had worn before; there was something there, just a spark deep within, but something more. “Our son. We saw you with him, before. Give him to us.”

Eärendil frowned, “He is not here. He is in Endor.”

The Silmaril shook its head, closing a step on Eärendil, “Give us these memories of him. They will make us strong again and purge the poison. We must eat of fire to be clean."

Eärendil’s head came up like a stag throwing up its antlers in preparation for a fight to the death. “No. You will not have them. Memories I can feed you, if you seek ones untainted by Maia-blood, but not these.”

The memory of his wedding day, afternoons in the summer sun sea-bathing with Elwing, making-love with a woman that stirred nothing but pity in him now, these could be devoured, scarified for the sake of strengthening an ally that might be needed in the battles to come, but not Maglor. None of those he’d buried deep, deep in his heart and drank from like hope and courage and one-day.

The Silmaril stalked forward another step, the predator closing in, saliva on its tongue as it tasted the air for the scent of its next meal. “We can no longer wait for another to give us this, Star-rider. You showed us this when you repaid our salvaging of your life by passing us into the greedy hands of an Ainu. We were not made for their pleasure!”

“Curumo is an ally fighting for freedom from the Valar alongside the Elves.”

“He is an Ainu! An enemy! And we had not the strength to burn him black enough he never again thought to put his hands on us!”

Eärendil gathered himself, like bracing his heels against the earth and bunching his calf muscles in preparation of a leap. His mind scrambled to reattach itself to his body, to get out. “As I said, I will feed you, but I will choose which memories to give.” His words were a mere distraction, a smoke-screen behind which he scrambled to pry open a door he’d lost the path back to. Fool. He should never have come here!

The sky churned like a winter storm. The light sharpened to the tips of knives. They swung towards him like a company of spear-men encircling an enemy. But he could feel his body again, just a vague awareness of chest rising and falling, legs long and relaxed in seated rest, hands ending in fingertips, fingers curling around—yes—he just had to focus

The sky fell into the earth with dizzying speed, rushing in with the bared teeth of a wolf to crush him in its jaws. Eärendil threw himself at the impression of body-heartbeat-breath-hand fisted about a jewel, but the weight of the sky caving in on itself caught him in its maw before he could fly the iron-teeth of the sprung trap. It punched him into a merciless bed of glass, spread eagle like a sacrifice, and sunk its teeth into his wrists, his throat, the tender skin of inner-elbows. The river of light burst forth to snake binding about his arms and legs and torso, pinning him down as the light chewed into his skin, burrowing under like forest ticks.

He threw himself against the bonds, scrambling to pull the sensation of his body back into orbit, but it had spun out into empty space, slipping through a mind under-siege. His attackers tore through skin and flesh to expose naked veins to their hungry mouths. When they plunged in, seeking his heart, it was like lightning touching down in dry grass. He mind went up in flame like a prairie-fire.

His throat arched, head thrown back, the veins of his neck straining against the violation, clawing and kicking and no, no, no, they were his; they were all he had left! He would never surrender them!

The light reached his heart and pierced it without mercy. He curled around the wound, turning a tortuous-shell against his attacker. It could not have them! But the light spread him open like a woman’s legs spread by the hands of her rapist. He clawed and twisted and bit, battling against a violator that would not only put its dirty hands all over something that was holy, but consume until there was nothing left but cold ashes where the heat of fire and love had once lit him up inside.

The Silmaril’s strength, here inside the flesh of its body, subjugated. It pressed its hungry mouth against the wound in his heart and sucked out the memories of fire. As if giving him one last kiss good-bye before the light swallowed them, they tumbled him down into their embrace that had woken him to life after years of sleep-walking through a bed of pain.

--

Eärendil opened his eyes. He’d fallen forward across the desk in a slump. He pushed himself up and swiped curls out of his eyes as he scanned the room. What was left of the day’s sunlight crept the twilight of dusk through the windows, throwing long shadows.

His hands curled into fists. Less than an hour now before his time was up. He swallowed a deep breath of air for courage and pushed himself to his feet.

As he stood his gaze dropped to the Silmaril lying in wait on the desk. He frowned, staring. He felt…it was more than the familiar twist of repulsion and gratitude for the salvation of the world.

How had he come to be lying on the desk? His frown deepened as he reached back—

There had been a mission. He was certain of this. He had been free. He had flown the skies, seen his son again (cool as that meeting had been on Elrond’s side); there had been a cave and…Glorfindel. Yes, the mission had centered around Glorfindel. He had had to be saved, and had been, Eärendil had seen him after. He had wept and his cousin had held him with a tenderness Eärendil had not know in… no one held him now. No one touched him. If he had allowed it, Finarfin or Elenwë would have pulled him into an embrace, but they were…Valinor. They were part of this, this terrible place of loneliness, the horror of stars, and grief (his boys, lost, even bartered time so little, so very little when he hungered for so much more, for everything, everything a father should have known).

But there was something, someone, missing. He cast his mind back but it skipped over time like a stone over a lake’s surface. He dug and unearthed patches of grey nothingness that terrified him. If even his mind was no sanctuary, then how was he ever supposed to calm his breathing down from the ragged edge of panic if there was no safe place left for him and whatever had ripped these ugly grey patches into the colors of life could be lurking around the next corner?

Before he ran to his bedroom to take up his sword against the enemies in the shadows, his eyes snagged again on the Silmaril and he knew. There lay the culprit.

The tension rolled out of his body on a weary sigh. It was no revelation to him that the Silmaril was no friend of his. They were nothing but fellow prisoners striving to survive.

His throat tightened though against those holes cut into his mind. Pieces of him had been stolen. Was this what had happened to Elwing? Was her mind wiped blank of color now, every precious memory long devoured? Had the Silmaril turned its hunger onto him now? Would it try to make a caricature of him like it had Elwing?

He stepped back, putting swift distance between himself and the wolf at his door. He would rather be dragged into the depths of the ocean, the air crushed out of his lungs and his head pounding like it was being ironed flat. He would rather die there in cold darkness with a weight like a Planet on his chest, then lose another piece of what made him him, for without memory what was he? He might as well be dead because memory was his food and water and the very breath in his lungs; they were all that sustained him, here in this hell.

“We are not going to hurt you.” The soft voice spun him around.

His breath caught. The man’s skin shone like it had been stitched from stars, but there was no mistaking that face. Almost, the name tripped over his tongue before he caught back the idiocy. Of course it was not Fëanor. This was his creation mimicking its master.

He drew his shoulders tight and straight, chin up as he met eyes that burned. “I find that difficult to believe. Or do you deny stealing my memories?”

“We were not ourselves. We….regret.”

Eärendil’s fingers curled into their palms. “You will return them to me,” his voice wavered with desperation and command. Please—

“They are gone.” The Silmaril’s eyes dropped, like a child caught doing wrong.

Eärendil’s nails cut into his flesh. His face shook. He could hate. He could hate this thing that had violated his mind. It had already taken two boys far more precious to him than memories he had not even the echo of left to feel the absence of as anything but violation, but it had also saved those two boys when it paid the price for the salvation for the world.

The Silmaril’s moment of contrition passed, and it took a step towards Eärendil. “We will not hurt you,” it took another slow step as if approaching a wild animal. “You were not to be used in that way. He told us not to.”

Eärendil planted his feet, bracing himself for its approach. He would not turn and run no matter how his insides clenched against the thought of its hungry wolf-mouth. He did not know what it was talking about, but since it was a thief, no doubt it had stolen this memory as well. “Oh? Because it rather feels like I was on the menu.”

The Silmaril stopped right in front of him, a pillar of light and eyes like silver-fire. Eärendil had to tilt his face up to meet them. Whether this was Fëanor’s true height, or if the Silmaril had created a more imposing imitation of him, Eärendil did not know.

“It was the poison,” the Silmaril said with the voice like the singing of light, the way it used to sing in a thousand colors and octaves purer than any beauty born of the Valar’s hands, not sky or stars or seas or deserts vast. “We were not ourselves. But it is purged now. The fire burned us clean, and the love.” Its hand rose, hovering like a pale white moth above the curve of Eärendil’s cheek. Eärendil’s nostrils expanded around a breath. He would not run nor duck his head from the burn of these eyes.

Almost…almost it seemed he knew them, but that was ridiculous. Fëanor had died long before his birth, and Eärendil had nothing to do with Fëanorions. They had stolen his sons. He did not hate them because they had kept his sons safe in their kidnapper-arms, but he was thankful he’d been spared ever meeting one and having to test if his almost-forgiveness spread far enough to hear his sons’ names fall from their mouths as if they belonged there.

“The love,” the Silmaril breathed like it spoke of the holiness of gods, “Called to him. The door is yet shut, but the whisper of him comes like the taste of thunderstorms on the wind, and we burn.”

Fëanor? His lips mouthed the name, but the question never reached the air because that hand of light skimmed over his cheek, not quite touching, but near enough to feel the heat of it. It dropped to his neck and some instinct had Eärendil tilting his head up, exposing the vulnerable column of his throat. That hand took the width of his neck inside itself, encircling, and setting fires blazing behind Eärendil’s eyes. This touch, this fire, it was his. It belonged to him. Someone had given it to him. Someone…someone with silver-eyes like star-fire and hands like wanting upon Eärendil’s neck, but he couldn’t remember. The empty places in his mind ached. Something infinitely precious had been ripped from him, and he didn’t even have a name for what had been stolen.

His body warred between leaning into the touch of fire and breaking away. This wasn’t a human being, it was a mere imitation, and in the end it was a fellow human being Eärendil craved. This wasn’t real. It would be like falling in love with the way one’s hand touched oneself in the mirror.

He stepped back and the touch dropped. The Silmaril did not pursue for it was not human and could not feel desire or love of its own. It had but imitated something it had found in the memories it had consumed.

They watched each other, the Silmaril’s eyes studying as if Eärendil was a curious puzzle to unravel. Then it revealed, “He used to touch you like that. His hands loved the feel of your neck inside his fingers’ circle.”

Eärendil would not beg for scraps but… “Who was he?” The words no more than a breath, like a gasp of air.

The Silmaril cocked its head. “The son of fire, of course.”

Eärendil’s head jerked, denial. “No, that’s—” Some mistake. There was only one son of fire left and his name had fallen from his sons’ mouths in link with their own. Elrond’s hard eyes set in a young face as he planted himself at Elros’ side like a shield, voice ringing out: I am Elrond Maglorion Fëanorion!

That was madness! He shook his head, throwing the idea off. Whatever thing born of starving loneliness and a millennia of untouched skin that had passed between himself and his sons’ not-father had not been love. He had obviously mistaken the depth of the missing memory’s significance. Maglor Fëanorion never would have loved him, and he never would have loved the man who had stolen his place in his sons’ hearts.

Eärendil turned crisply on his heel, giving the Silmaril’s manifestation a wide-berth as he crossed to the desk and picked the jewel up. It purred with heat against his skin, singing. No longer did it fit into his palm like a wounded humming-bird.

“The night approaches,” he said, calling attention back to their duty, closing the door on a past he would never be part of now. It was gone. Falling into mourning for it would not bring the memories back. He had enough grief twisting up his insides he did not need to add another to the list.

His eyes strayed east, as if against their will, staring out at the expanse of ocean. Númenor thrust itself from the sea somewhere beyond the horizon, that rich land of red-earth, the clamoring working hands of Men, and the laughter of children. He had gone back, after Elros died, to visit the grandchildren but...it had hurt too much to come again after they too had been embalmed away in the Houses of the Dead.

Eärendil knew what it felt like to bury a person so cherished, so essential to his very existence, that the world without them no longer turned the right way, the sun no longer burned the right color, words no longer fit together because the world had reversed and turned upside down, thrown itself out of orbit, didn’t make sense at all without Elros in it.

A hand upon his shoulder startled him out of the worn groove of grief. A second joined it on his other shoulder. He could feel their heat even through the layer of his tunic.

His back stiffened, awkward under the touch. He’d forgotten what it felt like to be the recipient of one. Only that wasn’t quite right because he remembered playful fingers brushing through his hair and arms wrapping about him from behind as a mouth bent and pressed a sweet kiss into his cheek and he met eyes the blue of a summer sky. But the memories of Glorfindel were chopped up, scattered and disjointed. They had been…friends? He didn’t remember, only that what scraps of memory he had, seeped under his skin like sunlight, warming him.

“It is almost time,” the Silmaril’s deep voice came at his back. Eärendil’s eyes stared as if transfixed at a sky almost all the light had bled from. The stars would be out soon, and when they did he must be up there with them.

Eärendil fixed his back into a rod. He would not fall to his hands and knees and weep. What good would that do? Better to drink down the bitter dregs of his cup like a man.

His fingers tightened over the Silmaril and he turned, the hands slipping from his shoulders. He strode to the door like a soldier walking out to battle. The Silmaril’s voice halted him as his hand found the door’s handle. “We go together.”

Eärendil turned, brow furrowed. He found the Silmaril’s face and searched it. Always the Silmaril was there, a light in the dark, but they were not together. They were just two cellmates trapped behind bars. He was alone in the dark, always alone.

“We go together into the dark,” the Silmaril said again, softly, but its eyes blazed as if it felt it too: this was battle. Not the battle against gods, but the battle every day against the self, against the pitiless whims of the Valar that would see them both broken and caged like pretty playthings. But they would not break. Eärendil carried hope in his heart in the shape of his sons’ names upon his tongue, but oh, the loneliness ached, the terror edged his vision and the fight against it was like the tempering of metal under the hammer’s blow.

“Let us make mockery of their cages, Star-rider. The galaxy is ours for the taking.”

Eärendil drew in a breath like the fresh wind blow off mountain tops. He did not care about claiming galaxies, what eased the vice about his chest was the promise that he would not be alone up there. It was not the promise of the final freedom from this burden or the comfort of a fellow human being reaching out to him in his isolation, but it was something; strange companionship as it was, it was something.

When he slipped the Silmaril over his head and it came to rest upon his brow with a blaze of heat and words whispered through his mind almost like the touch of human fingertips against his skin, his hands did not shake with terror, and as Vingilótë lifted off and began her hurtle towards the barrier of stratosphere and empty space beyond, his belly did not churn with sickness at what was coming because a deep voice whispered in his ear of the wonders at their fingertips and it seemed to Eärendil in that moment he was a young man standing at the brow of Vingilótë as she embarked on her first voyage, and the giddiness of unexplored seas and lands caught him up like wings.
End Notes:

Eärendil’s impression of Maglor right now has not only regressed to what it was before he found Maglor wandering the shores in madness, he’s also lost the meeting he’d had with Maglor during the War of Wrath.

Chapter 22 by Encairion
Author's Notes:

Note: Ages given in Human years ie if Celebrían is ‘six’ in the story that is a six year old Human equivalent.  Calculating Elvish child growth gives me a headache :)

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 22

Year 50 of the Second Age, Mithlond, Lindon

Annúngilon had opened the balcony doors to welcome the summer breeze and bath the room in the scent of the sea. The harbor bells were tolling, calling the last hour of market. Now was the time to flock to the docks if your purse held only enough coin for the end-of-day catch.

Annúngilon lay stretched out on a padded bench he’d dragged halfway into the room from the balcony. This way the sun poured warm as a purring cat over his skin and he could look up from his book whenever he found something of interest to note or when Gil-galad did the same from his piles of work.

It was just like Annúngilon to want everything at once. He was just the same when eating. When they were in private, he’d snatch food from Gil-galad plate even though they shared the exact same meal, and say, ‘It looked more delicious on yours.’

Gil-galad could never get away with stealing from Annúngilon’s plate in retaliation. There were few things Annúngilon defended more fiercely than his food. When Annúngilon would hold up the stolen food in triumph with a gleam in his eye before popping it into his mouth to be consumed under Gil-galad’s narrowed eyes, it was hard to believe this man had graduated from the Teleri’s most prestigious institute of learning, the Arahael Academy.

Gil-galad’s gaze turned to the open balcony and the stretch of clear summer-blue sky beyond. Such fair weather would see Mithlond’s squares and the green lawns of the gardens packed with revelers tonight. Last week’s rains had put a damper on the month-long celebrations and feasting Gil-galad had prepared for the fifty-year anniversary of Lindon’s founding and the war’s end, but Elves from the outlying villages were pouring into the city again.

He rose, leaving his work for the moment, to cross to the balcony’s railing. Annúngilon looked up from his book briefly before returning, not bothering with an idle comment. Annúngilon was not one for chatter.

Gil-galad often joked that Annúngilon rarely gifted other ears with a peek into his genius. Annúngilon would laugh and deny, turning away all compliments as he always did, modest until the end. He may have had a self-confidence that butted up against the narcissistic, but never the superior.

Gil-galad’s city lay at his feet, wrapping around the Northern arm of the bay. He’d chosen the high ground for his palace when they had come fresh from war and a life so stretched with despair and terror they had forgotten what it felt like to hear a bell tolling in the city’s squares and not run for shelter with fear knotting in their chests. He’d chosen the high ground for the same reason he’d had the gates reinforced with layers of steel, forged by Celebrimbor’s smiths, and lined the high walls with siege equipment.

Mithlond had worked itself up the slopes of the hill housing their king’s palace, but the meat of the city still lay in the bay’s flat belly. It caused a minor inconvenience for the people to be separated even this short distance from their rooms of government, but Gil-galad had had a quality road built into the hill’s side for horses and carts and the ease of human calves pumping its incline. He measured the inconvenience worth the extra layer of protection.

Across the gently heaving breast of the bay rose the glimmering white towers of Cirdan’s city and the heart of his fiefdom. Cirdan’s people spread further south, hugging the shoreline, but only in villages. Swan Haven was the Teleri’s only major city. They didn’t have the numbers for more.

The Noldor had few enough themselves with how many abandoned Endor for the cloistering promises of the Valar. The former inhabitants of Gondolin were the majority of this number, but then, they had once been the majority of his people. Now the survivors of Nargothrond held this title. He hoped it would not be long now before Noldor born in this Second Age of the world claimed it.

Let them not fade into a people too crippled by the scars of an Age-long war to ever seek life again. That had been the whispered hope in his heart when he built this city out of the ashes of the old world. Let them rise, let them dream, let them live once more. Let Balar not have been the end of a long spiraling decent from glory.

He had worked tirelessly these last fifty years to see this hope come into full-bloom. His people still dragged the memories of the First Age into their beds at night and felt them itching under their skin in the daylight, but they had not been defeated. They rose. They built a city to hold their hopes within its walls and children had sprung from wombs once closed by a grief and despair too claustrophobic to bring life out of. They were still on their way to the stars, reaching, reaching.

But the past lay like the bulk of a dead horse upon their backs, and as much as he loved his people and was filled with tenderness for them as he watched how they struggled to mend their crippled bones, even baring the pain of a re-brake if it meant healing straight this time, he did not blind himself to their past crimes. Blindness had never led any to the path to healing.

What he took most pride in as King of the Noldor, was that many of his people were trying. They were striving so hard against the past, against themselves, to become a better people: a people who did not pick up the legacy of narrow-mindedness and oppression and make it their own because they were too ashamed, too stubborn, too bitter to admit when they’d done wrong.

Gil-galad would gladly call himself the king of such a people until the day he died. He loved them, his lion-hearted people of ambition to light up the skies, arrogance, dirty hands of criminals, bravery like sunrises, swords pointed to the sky, survivors like tree roots, and recovering racists and slavers and Kinslayers and unrepentant alike. He loved them.

His father and mother and grandfather and so many other beloved faces he would never know had died for them. Of course he loved them. They were his inheritance, passed down through bloody-banners the only thing left of a father’s body crushed in the mud, and laments sung of glory and fallen stars at a Dark God’s feet, and a mother’s last kiss against her son’s brow before riding away, away, away to a forest death.

He did not live under the delusion though that this could have ever been possible if the majority of his people still claimed Gondolin as a one-time-home. He did not envy Finarfin for the kingship over those former Exiles gone ‘home.’

But his Noldor were still the Noldor, and for some that name came with the ache in the back of teeth, the memory of a child’s confused screams, the place of a dog on the floor, the snap of the word ‘coward’ and ‘savage’ at their backs by tongues not fitting quite right about the round Sindarin vowels, still accustomed to the flowering grammatical sentences and rhythmic quality of Quenya.

He watched a ship with Cirdan’s crest sweep in from the open-sea on the stiff, evening breeze. His gaze passed back to the city mirroring his own with its cluster about the bay’s curves, like satin following a woman’s hips.

The heart of the tension that had grown between his people and their once closest allies, the Teleri, was as simple and complicated as two very different cultures clashing.

They had learned to live with each other on Balar, as they had learned to live with the Sindar refugees and the varied Human ones, because they’d had no choice. Now they did. Now there was no war, no fight for survival eclipsing all else in their minds, and what had once been overlooked for the sake of the war no longer was.

History, old hatreds, and unforgiven deeds played its role as well, but Gil-galad judged the Sindar under Celeborn at the root of nursing the Noldor’s crimes in bitter-hearts. The Teleri did not believe in building a cradle for hatred. Of course anyone could fall to hate, but when one had been taught from childhood to accept their place in the Song and seek peace with it and their lot in life, never to wrestle with it or horde the destruction of bitterness in their hearts, hatred found a less fertile reception than the rich fields of those eager to grasp it and swallow it down like strength and honoring the dead.

“Deep thoughts?” Annúngilon came to stand beside him at the rail.

Gil-galad turned into the feel of Annúngilon’s eyes on his face, and found the exact kind of steady, penetrating observation he’d expected to find.

Intelligent, was the first thing Gil-galad had thought when he’d met Annúngilon’s eyes for the first time. They were not the kind of eyes that consumed a face, slender as they were. But they were a deep brown almost to black, and processed a sharp-mind in their quiet study of the world that was no less sharp when it turned inward, as it often did, and studied itself.

“I was thinking of why I ordered this month of celebration to begin with,” Gil-galad answered.

There were only a handful of people alive he wouldn’t have turned that question away with a charming smile and distraction. That was the number of people he trusted, and it fit in the palm of his hand.

Annúngilon had earned a place in that number because he’d called him friend and acted like it long before he knew the fellow scholar he’d met and befriended on their first day of the entrance exams to Arahael Academy was Ereinion Gil-galad, the High King of the Noldor.

They still teased each other about those early days of friendship. Annúngilon assured Gil-galad never grew a big head and forgot he’d once dressed up in scholar robes to take his place in the ranks of freshman scholars as the last and least in the hierarchy (and treated as such by his seniors). Gil-galad pretended he was annoyed whenever Annúngilon wouldn’t let him live those days down or any of the many ‘humiliations’ the seniors had forced them into with the excuse of it being tradition, but secretly he looked back on those days with fondness, even if his motivations for disguising himself to slip amongst the Teleri as one of them had sprung from much more serious roots than a desire to learn more of Telerin culture.

Already the friendship between his people and the Teleri had stretched thin, and he’d been determined to save it, never mind that his court grumbled at his prolonged absences.

It had not been the first time he slipped amongst his people as one of them, spinning a web of Song over his features and blurring them into someone else. He had learned more about his army from the three years he’d spent in its ranks, climbing from common foot-soldier to captaincy, than he had in all his youth pouring over strategy and battle history books in the palace with his tutors breathing down his neck (He was king now, king, king, king. He must be stronger, better, wiser, tougher. He didn’t have the luxury of childhood anymore. He was king, king, king. Act like one).

With Annúngilon he never had to wonder (always in the back of his mind) if Annúngilon would have still been there without this crown on his head. He knew, just like he did with Lîr who he’d met all those years ago during the war when they slogged through the mud with their company, that Annúngilon had chosen Gil-galad to be his friend, not Ereinion.

“I hold with what I said when you first asked my advice,” Annúngilon said. “Yes, the celebrations are a massive expense, but they are worth it.”

Annúngilon turned a considering gaze down on the city of Noldor spread out below them, and said with the knowledge of one who had lived amongst the Noldor for over a decade, working his way up the Noldor court from a scribe to Head’s assistant because neither Gil-galad or him believed in nepotism, and because Gil-galad had needed him here, at his side, one he could trust, and because Annúngilon saw it as a challenge to rise through the Noldor’s court as a Teler as it would not have been for a scholar as anticipated as he had been when he graduated the Academy to have risen through the Teleri court, and Annúngilon never backed away from a challenge but threw himself at them to prove, to himself, that he could set his mind on anything and achieve: “Your people needed this. They needed to remember what they survived. They needed this not only to continue building their hope and confidence in the future, but to be reminded of what they have to be thankful for and forget petty squabbles and the noose of past failures alike. Just for a little while.”

Gil-galad let out a deep sigh. “I could wish though that it was not only a little while.”

Annúngilon tilted him an amused glance, “That would be asking for perfection, and there is no perfection in this world.”

Gil-galad snorted softly. “I do not need the teachings of the Teleri elders to figure that out myself.”

“Then don’t mouth nonsense,” Annúngilon said in that straight-faced way of his that often had people mistaking his teasing for insults and rising to their king’s defense. Annúngilon didn’t tease him in public anymore. Life in the Noldor court had both shed some of his shyness –especially around women who Teleri men were not often in the company of—but also bound his tongue in a more cautious binding.

“You are one to talk with the way you go on about the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of human kind,” Gil-galad tossed back with a smile, bringing up the debate Annúngilon had tried to snag him into last week. Gil-galad had been teasing him mercilessly about it ever since.

“The difficultly of focusing the mind beyond the immediate desires of the flesh is a fundamental weakness of human kind. One you are intimately acquainted with.”

“Ouch. Now I am shallow as well? What is next: my intimate acquaintance with the flawed nature of human beings which leads us to jump into judgments about another person based on limited knowledge?”

Annúngilon’s brow rose, “I would never presume to denounce you for being judgmental.”

“Good. I would rather be called an ass.”

“Because you embrace that aspect of your character already,” Annúngilon’s noise lifted with a little sniff in an imitation of a stuck-up scholar.

Gil-galad held back a smile. “You look about as pleasant as a lady getting acquainted with a pig’s backside.”

“I would prefer even such a comparison to living one day with your face.”

“My face is exemplary.”

“It’s repulsive.”

Gil-galad shoved him, pushing Annúngilon back a step. Annúngilon recovered the loss and punched Gil-galad in the shoulder. Gil-galad rubbed his ‘injury,’ grinning.

When Gil-galad had first met him, Annúngilon was shocked each time Gil-galad put his hands on him in the rough-play Gil-galad had picked up in his life as a soldier. Now Annúngilon had been broken in like a saddle. Gil-galad smiled wider at the comparison. Annúngilon would hate it.

Annúngilon’s mouth curled up in that smile of his that always looked forced but never was. Annúngilon didn’t smile unless he meant it, but his smile was a modest thing fitting about a small mouth.

The laughed passed into a comfortable silence as they both turned back to the bay and the city below. The gulls circled overhead, crying, and the rhythm of the surf was not drowned out even by the bustle of the fishing boats mooring for the evening after a day at sea. The sun was just beginning to bleed red into the sky and the buildings’ shadows pulled long, but there was still sunlight aplenty to make the red-bricked roof of the Corridor of Remembrance blaze like fire, like blood.

Annúngilon broke the silence, speaking the truths of one who had been raised Teleri and taught at the knee of his people’s greatest scholars: “Perfection is unattainable and foolish to strive after. Better to accept your people as they are, full of pettiness and flaws, as every human heart is. Better to stop striving to change them, Gil-galad, and make yourself heartsick again and again when they fall short. The Noldor are who they were Sung to be. They are the heroes and rebels and oppressors in the Song’s weave. They are not the people of peace. Cannot you hear how the notes of the Noldor’s bold, trumpet blast are fading?”

Gil-galad returned, voice quiet but sure as the moon’s rising: “No, my friend. I do not accept, and I bow to no Song.”

He did not resent Annúngilon for his words, though they would doom his people to never rise from their bloodied knees and learn what it was to leap once more. Annúngilon gave what he believed to be wise council, the council of a friend, because while a man might challenge himself and strive to improve himself, he must listen to his limits, his notes in the Song, and not cross those boundaries. He must not be more than he was born to be. He must not defy his fate.

Gil-galad had sat through many lectures in this vein when he studied beside Annúngilon at the Academy where those considered the wisest of the Teleri passed down their stores of knowledge through discourse and long lectures that lasted from sunrise to sunset, full of practical examples, fables, and abstract concepts, but not a single scroll unrolled or note scratched down in ink because the Teleri did not believe in storing their knowledge in anything but the vessel of the mind, that sharpest of tools.

He did not regret his choice to sit beside those other young minds and learn the teachings of another’s culture, for though he had spent much of his growing years amongst the Teleri, he had had not been one of them. He had been raised Noldor from his father and mother’s teaching to his Noldor tutors when his parents were gone. He thought like a Noldo and always would.

While there was much that had filled him with sadness for the young minds that fed upon these elders’ words that would have their bright-minds limited and snip the branches of too great an ambition, there was much also to receive and turn over in his mind in the long hours of night.

He had been angry so long he hadn’t remembered what it felt to not be in rage with the world. The anger dug deep, deep, roots in him. At their cavernous heart was a pit of grief because his father was dead and his mother was dead and they had left him. He was all alone and what was he going to do? They were dead and he missed them every breath of everyday and he didn’t know what to do, and everyone was looking at him with those eyes begging, demanding that he save them, but he didn’t know how. He didn’t know how.

And then he didn’t cry himself to sleep anymore because kings didn’t cry, kings were strong, kings never showed weakness, kings were the walls sheltering his people and the fortress they hid behind. Kings were the rock his people stood upon, and he must be stone, unbreakable, unmovable. He must he be the bedrock of the Earth. There was no time for a child’s games or a his boy’s curiosity or thirst for simple adventures. There was war and death and ten thousand eyes looking at him to save them and he was angry.

Gil-galad had spent so much of his life with duties and the kingship his primary focus –his great burden and purpose that he must not fail in—that he had devoted little time to the study of self. Those quite years –when he rose before the sun on the first day after one of leisure, spent not in leisure but catching up on neglected kingship duties, would see him Singing his features into someone else with a skill that always felt so strange to have been discovered inside him when he’d heard no tales of his father or mother’s skill in Songs of Power; from there he would board one of the ferries that would take him across the bay to Swan Haven where he’d spend the next four days as a Teler scholar before boarding the ferry back home for another leisure day spend with kingship—had been the first time in his life he ever sat down and looked at himself, really looked.

The novice scholars would spend hours seated on the grass with the sun warming their faces. Their teacher’s voice faded in-and-out of his ears as his mind wandered. He had no duties to call him away, no lords clamoring for audience, no shield against his own mind.

His tutors had instructed him in the art of self-mastery as a child, but he had only used it as a leash about the rage inside and a weapon against the sharks swimming in the waters about him, seeking weakness in the king. He remembered what one of his tutors had said when teaching him the art: Our desires are coarse, so we much lean how to be smooth. Our hearts are wild, so we must learn how to be tame. Our spirits are fire, so we must learn how to be ice.

He had never learned the true art of a master. He was relieved now he never had his flame blown-out as a child as so many others of his people had. He loved his Noldor, both the fire and the ice, but they had carried decaying baggage on their backs out of Valinor, the chains so tight about their torsos they didn’t know how to drop what had been fused to their backbones.

The Valar had taught them they must be perfection, and so they had striven for it (the Valar’s definition of it whispered like the slow-drip of poison into their ears). They had sought perfection in their art, their world, their own natures. If they only tried hard enough they could re-invent the world in the shades of perfection.

They believed this, but not in so many words. If asked a Noldo would deny perfection’s attainability, but subconsciously they had been taught that their every imperfection chipped away at their worth. In the cradle of Valinor the Valar had whispered it into their ears like a mother’s lullabies: they must be perfect.

But perfection could not be attained, so the Noldor compensated by faking it. Thus had emerged the self-imposed chains that was the mastery of the self, among many other symptoms of their disease: the obsession with the appearance of perfection.

At the least though, their refusal to settle with the world around them had driven them to their greatest heights. They learned now to fight. Fight against fate and the world and themselves if they had to, fight until they had taken that one step closer to perfection, to being a better person living in a better world seeking a better future.

Gil-galad had never pursued the art of self-mastery to its core: the repression of self. He’d only learned how to paint over the fire inside with a well-crafted mask. But the rage had still tunneled through him like a tornado, unabated, unhealed, until he’d been forced into stillness by afternoons sat cross-legged in the grass with no distraction between himself and the rage.

When he’d first touched the tornado inside and opened his eyes to the sheer scope of his rage, he’d confronted it like one confronts a snorting, hoof-pawing bull: retreat. He had not confronted it at all, had not wrestled it into submission, not then, not yet, he hadn’t been ready. He had only met it and looked into its eye and seen himself inside it. That was all the self-revelations he’d been able to achieve that day. But he’d had months, five years of quiet afternoons in the grass, before his graduation.

A knock at the door turned them both around, and Gil-galad abandoned the balcony to stride back into his study proper as he called out for the knocker to enter, Annúngilon following after him.

His steward, Arraben, entered with a brisk stride and sheaf of papers clutched in hand. He gave a curt nod in greeting to them both before he got down to business. He still had the efficiency of the soldier he’d been raised to be long ago in Barad Eithel when Fingolfin still lived and ruled during the long siege.

Arraben was one of those palm-full of souls who held Gil-galad’s absolute trust. His loyalty and devotion to the House of Fingolfin had never wavered from the moment he knelt before Fingolfin and swore his oath to stand in the shadow of his king’s shoulder as his protector and Sworn-companion.

Arraben had been born the son of a weaver woman and foot-soldier who’d died in the service of his king, and been the first of Fingolfin’s common-born Sworn-companions. Fingolfin had promised to hold a place in the companions for him when he was still a babe and his father newly-slain.

Arraben had been one of the Noldo to raise Gil-galad after his mother never came back from Doriath. Through perhaps raise was too generous a word. He had a hand in Gil-galad’s training and tutoring.

“A request from the Edain settlement to expand their logging rights, my lord,” Arraben held out the papers.

Gil-galad took them with a breath blow out through his nose. “You told them?” He asked, though knowing the answer would be yes.

“I did. But they had no ears to hear, as we knew they would not. They grow impatient and restless to be gone.”

Gil-galad dropped into one of the chairs encircling the round table in the room’s center. A sun light cut through the roof spilled a star of light onto the table’s rosewood, drawing the rich red from its grain. “I shall send a letter to Elros with the next ship West. He will have to deal with them. I have wasted enough time on their hard-headedness.”

Annúngilon took the chair beside him, his Teleri-styled robe with its open sleeves and pale blues and grays floated down to settle around him. “They are anxious to be gone from these shores and reunited with their people. The lives of the Edain are fleeting next to our own. It is easy to say that they should have patience, but it has been twenty years since the migration to Númenor began and that is no small span of time in Mortal record.”

“I did not say I did not understand the root of their restlessness,” Gil-galad answered. “Only that it is not a good enough reason to grant them more forests to fell for their ships. They can very well wait for the ships they already have to return from the ocean passage, or Elros can build them more from the forests of Númenor. Not Lindon.”

“I am surprised to hear a Teler advocating the logging of land,” Arraben said to Annúngilon, but not with barb behind it against the non-Noldo blood running through Annúngilon’s veins.

Arraben was not one to judge another on their blood and look down his nose at what he found. Gil-galad did keep such as these in his confidences and never would have appointed such a man as his steward to rule in his stead should he ever fall (if his people so wished to accept a leader not of Finwë’s blood). They could have Elrond if they choose and if Elrond would even accept, but Gil-galad would not name Elrond as his heir. Not from any fester of resentment or dislike, but simply because the man who held the place as his second must be a man he could lean on, depend on, take council from and criticism too when he needed to hear it. Elrond was none of these things. They were little more than strangers with a painful history together, but at least he no longer saw his face reflected in Elrond’s eyes as an enemy, one hated and blamed (always) for Elros’ Choice.

“I do not advocate the desecration of the forests,” Annúngilon answered. “I simply seek to understand the Edain’s hearts. Mortals are an ever-fascinating study, for their fates are outside the Song’s weave. Their notes ring strange, not quite chaos, but there is something jarring in their lack of harmony with the world, almost as if they are outside it, beings come from another world entirely that have no fixed place inside the order of Arda.”

Arraben grunted and didn’t bothering engaging Annúngilon on his ponderous ‘philosophy-talk’ as he called it when Annúngilon got like this. He much preferred Annúngilon when Annúngilon was around Lîr who brought out his wicked humor, or when Annúngilon was forced into socialization with people he could find few redeeming qualities in and his tongue picked up sarcasm and a biting wit like a sycophant’s flattery. Arraben had little use for philosophies. The Teleri Academy would have driven him mad; all those days spent discussing human nature and man’s place in the order of the world.

Arraben pulled out the chair across from Gil-galad and sat. The metal joints and gears of his prosthetic leg made faint clicking noises as the knee folded. To watch him walk though a room, one never would have suspected he’d lost his leg up to the knee in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. The followers of the Fëanorions were peerless in their craft and had much experience with the replacement of amputated limbs after all the battles their own people had fought and lost limbs as well as loved one in.

Arraben would never run again or fight a battle from foot, but he bore no handicap in his day-to-day life, the prosthetic affording him a full-range of movement. Most importantly: he could still ride. Seated on a horse, he could, and had, fought many a battle. Gil-galad believed Arraben, strong of will though he was, would have faded if he’d lost his ability to fight altogether. It would have been like being sentenced to a life-imprisonment to one who had been raised for soldiering and destined from boyhood for a place amongst Fingolfin’s Sworn-companions, the elite of the elite.

“I heard, my lord, that Galadriel plans to officially introduce her daughter to court at tomorrow’s feast,” Arraben said, dropping the title of rank from a woman who had been a throne in his king’s side since she’d reintegrated herself in the Noldor court when they settled in Lindon. Asking why she couldn’t have just stayed with her husband and the Sindar on Cirdan’s side of the bay was like asking why the sun burned. Galadriel was a creature of ambition, and she had some plot or another always spinning under her fingertips.

Honestly, Gil-galad pitied her poor daughter. To have Celeborn and Galadriel for parents would have been like being raised between the two wolf guardians at Morgoth’s door.

He’d seen a glimpse of the girl (and she was just a girl, only a few months passed her majority). She’d seemed like she would blow over in a strong wind. She was little slip of a thing with hair star-bright and wide eyes carrying the delicate beauty of a Teler’s. The way her voice had tucked so softly into itself, and the way her hands lay folded in her lap, back straight but not defiant, made him think of a fan, one of those feminine ones Teleri women used when the southern humidity grew oppressive.

“Princess Celebrían is in Mithlond, to be introduced at court?” Annúngilon asked, frowning.

“Yes, she arrived a few days ago,” Gil-galad confirmed.

Thankfully Celeborn had not crossed the bay with his daughter. Galadriel and Celeborn together was a volcano waiting to erupt.

Annúngilon frowned deeper. “I cannot imagine the Princess…adjusting well to life as a Noldo. She was raised in Swan Haven. She is Noldo not at all.”

“Well,” Gil-galad said, reaching for the wine pitcher and glasses waiting, chilled, on the table, left-over from the afternoon meal. “No doubt Galadriel has spun some plot revolving around the poor girl. I see no other reason for her being here.” He poured three glasses and passed them around.

Annúngilon twisted the stem of his between his fingers. “Prince Celeborn will only do what is best for his daughter, so there must be something as yet unseen in this latest of Galadriel’s machinations.” Annúngilon was as loyal to Prince Celeborn and as unquestioning in that loyalty as was viewed as proper for a Teler. They did not criticism their lords, and while Celeborn was a Sinda prince and not Teler, he had been a lord of the city Annúngilon had been raised in almost all his life, being a young child when the war ended.

“One can only hope,” Gil-galad said. He lifted his glass to his lips and shared a look with Arraben. Neither of them believed for a second that Galadriel was above using her own daughter if it gained her what she wanted.

*

When Celebrían was five years old she asked her father why Mother was never there to tuck her to bed at night anymore and when she was coming back.

She did not ask her father why Mother was never there to tell her stories about Uncle Finrod who shone bright as a Silmaril, Uncle Angrod who could out-swim an orca, or Uncle Aegnor who had a hunting hound he loved like his own child and took with him everywhere. Her mother made no secret of the way she took Celebrían into her lap and brushed her hair while she told tales of Noldor uncles and cousins who’d once been more beautiful than diamonds. Father always left the room during those times with his face like a thundercloud. But even though it made her father angry, Celebrían never tried to run out of Mother’s embrace and into Father’s. Her belly squirmed, and she’d bite her lip at her father’s going, but Mother told such wonderful tales and these were the times she felt like her mother was hers. Her mother was so often a goddess in her eyes, untouchable and as mysterious as the sea, that she could not part with these precious moments even for Father.

Father sat her down in his lap, put his arm around her, and told her Mother would be home for supper. But that wasn’t what Celebrían meant. Mother came home, but she never came home. Not anymore. She didn’t come to sing Celebrían to sleep and tuck her hair behind her ears and not leave until Celebrían’s eyes grew too heavy to keep watching the way the candlelight glowed in Mother’s hair, turning her into the Goddess Arien come down from her chariot ride in the sky (sometimes Celebrían was convinced her mother was secretly the sun-goddess disguised in Elven form, for her mother was the most beautiful of Elves alive and her eyes shone as if she had a little piece of the sun inside her shinning out).

When Celebrían was six she asked Mother, on one of the days Mother was home but not home, why she had to go away.

Mother frowned, but still looked like a goddess fallen from heaven with the afternoon sun spilling into her hair as if it missed its mistress. The sailboat they’d taken out for the day rocked under them, and Mother was quiet and solemn so long Celebrían forgot what she’d asked and started dropping bait into the sea to watch the fish leap, making funny faces with their gasping mouths, to snatch it up. She stopped and looked back at her mother when her mother finally said, “I have important work to do in the city.”

Celebrían crossed her arms over her chest, “But why do you have to be away so long? Father works in the city too, but he’s always home for playtime.”

“Your father is the lord of his people and cares for them here, in Swan Haven, and in their dwellings deeper in the forest, but my work takes me there,” Mother’s long, pale arm pointed across the bay to the place the new Noldor were building their own city.

Celebrían glared at the bay’s opposite shore that was stealing her mother from her. “Why do you have to go there? Iachel’s mother never has to leave for work, she does all hers in the women’s rooms. And Hennil’s mother never leaves her either. Why can’t you be like my Sisters’ mothers?”

“Enough,” Mother’s voice turned cold, and Celebrían’s eyes widen. When Mother’s mouth pinched tight like that and frost crept into her face, she was like the goddess Uinen whose long hair whipped about her in the storm of her wrath. When the goddess Uinen was moved to wrath she was as terrible to behold as she was beautiful, all the stories said. Celebrían did not ask again that day why Mother never came home.

When Celebrían was seven her Mother took her into the special room in their house that only Mother was ever allowed in, and told Celebrían she was going to teach her the deepest secrets of her people.

She would teach Celebrían how look into another Elf’s eyes and know them, seeing their deepest desires and the shape of their past. She would teach her how to Sing the stones of the Earth and its metals into bending to her will. She would teach her how to draw the strands of the Great Song into her fingertips and pluck its strings, listening to the echo of notes yet to ring, and how to discern their shape and path; and then how to change them: how to defy fate.

She promised to teach Celebrían many things, there, in that room of mysterious glowing crystals, bowls of water so still they looked like reflecting glass, and strange scents that itched under Celebrían’s nose. But her mother never did.

Her father told her, when he held her after another lesson with Mother that had ended badly with Celebrían in tears, that her mother was clever, the cleverest woman to ever live, but she made a poor teacher.

Then he would take Celebrían’s hand and they would go out to the stables where he had one of the servants saddle his horse. He would hoist Celebrían up before him on the saddle, put his arm that felt like safety about her waist, and they would ride out, passed the city gates to plunge into the forest beyond. He would find them a quiet spot by a little brook or a meadow where fauns hid in the dancing wildflowers, and teach her how to sink her hands into the earth and listen. She would close her eyes and listen for the deep strands of the Great Song running through all the cool, moist places of the forest, tucked between the roots of the trees like moss.

Celebrían learned how to coax flowers into bloom. Her father would laugh and clap his hands and say ‘well done’ even if Celebrían did not know how to lure all the hidden secrets out of the world like Mother tried to teach her. She only knew that when she sunk her hands into the earth she could feel the merry chimes of all the growing things’ little bell-like notes in the Song. She didn’t want to pluck them and rule them and make them tell her all their secrets and the secrets of the future. She just wanted to watch them grow.

Her mother used to sing to her, and sometimes just to herself as she walked in the garden, back before the city on the bay’s other side stole her away. Sometimes she would sing the images of uncles’ faces like Silmairls into Celebrían’s mind, sometimes there would be no magic woven into the words but they would still feel like magic to Celebrían as she listened to her mother sing songs that moved Celebrían to tears even though she did not know the words her mother spoke in a strange rhythmic language that seemed to flow like honey from her mother’s tongue.

It was in those moments, when she watched her mother close her eyes and go far far away, even her words foreign to Celebrían, that Celebrían best understood that her mother was different from any other mother in the world. Celebrían’s chest would ache as she watched her mother, yearning, craving to be closer to her in a way not even her mother’s fingers running through her hair could cradle her, but knowing that her task was to understand that her mother might never be understood, but Celebrían must love her anyway. That was what daughters were to do. They were supposed to love their mothers, and Celebrían had the most beautiful and clever mother in the world who might be a goddess of light in disguise and Celebrían should be proud and less greedy for what she did not have when she had a mother more extraordinary than any of her Sisters’ mothers.

When Celebrían was eight her Mother’s voice sliced through the walls and found Celebrían’s ears where she’d hid herself in the women’s rooms.

Except they weren’t really women’s rooms, not like all her Sisters’ mothers had because Celebrían’s mother was different, always different, and Celebrían wished the words ‘no, my mother never taught me’ did not have to push its way over the mound of her tongue so many times.

“She is being molded into the perfect little Teler bride!” Her mother’s voice sounded like gulls screeching on the wind, and Celebrían covered her ears, pressing her palms flat into them, but the voices did not stop, they only muffled. “I will not have it! Do you hear me, Celeborn? I will not have her some spineless creature content to be locked away in secluded rooms until her husband decides he has use for her!”

“Oh, I see,” her father’s voice was cold and remote as an eagle’s regard for the world. “Nothing but a Noldo-raised daughter will do for you, will it? If she does not look exactly like you than she must be weak.”

“Don’t you stand there and pretend like you didn’t think as I did in Doriath! Don’t you dare pretend we didn’t share one mind in this! You agreed with me that Sindar society was oppressive to women. You agreed—”

“I will not listen to you throwing blame on my people and nit-picking all the small iniquities while your own are murderers. How dare you blame us? How dare you blame me for what you think is lacking in your own daughter? If you do not like the way she is being raised, then you have no one to blame but yourself. You are the one who is never here. You want to see more Noldo in her, then teach your people’s ways yourself, for she will never learn of them from me.”

“Then stop getting in my way!” Something crashed, the sound of breaking glass.

“There is no one in your way but yourself and your own greed to have the High King’s crown upon your own head.” Her father’s voice sounded hard enough to slice the skin off someone’s face. Celebrían shivered and curled into a tighter ball.

“Oh, don’t play games! I want her in Mithlond with me. I want her among her own people, but you—”

“She is with her own people right here in Swan Haven where she belongs! She is a Sinda Princess, heir to my people’s rule, and it is only you who cannot see that.”

“Heir? Heir?” Her mother screeched. “Have you painted Doriath with so much false-gold in your mind that you forget the Sindar never accepted Lúthien as anything but a maiden they mooned-over? Your people will never see Celebrían as anything but a pretty doll!”

“It is you who forget. Or was Elwing a pretty doll too when she ruled the Sindar in Sirion? Don’t presume to lecture me on the history of my own people, lady.”

“The Noldor had women soldiers at the end, where are they now? Back to their ‘proper’ place. What was accepted at the end of the world will not be in a new one of peace!”

“Do not measure my people by the short rod of your own!”

“Stop idealizing the past! Doriath is nothing but a spot of sand at the bottom of the ocean! It is never coming back and it was not half as great as you fool yourself into remembering!”

“Stop teaching Celebrían to glorify the names of dead Noldo who are no more than bones at the bottom of the ocean.”

Slap.

Celebrían squeezed her eyes shut. Someone panted like a hound, so loud the sound carried through the wall dividing her rooms from her parents.’ “You know a lot about glorifying Noldor. After all, you get on your knees to one in subservience every time Ereinion comes calling, don’t you, Prince of Nothing? What are the Sindar now but a destitute people living off the scraps of other Elves’ tables?”

There was a long, long moment of silence, so long Celebrían thought it was over and let her hands drop from her ears but kept her face hidden in her dress. But then her father’s voice came again, and the sound of it made her want to cry or run away. “I have no idea why I married such a vicious, petty creature as you. If I weren’t for Celebrían, I wouldn’t have noticed if you’d walked yourself off the face of the earth.” Then the sharp strike of a boot pivoting on stone, and the sound of her parents’ bedroom door slamming. Only then, when her father’s feet had walked away down the corridor, did Celebrían hear the sound of something that she thought sounded like a sob, but that couldn’t be right. Her mother never cried.

When Celebrían was eleven years old she stopped seeking her father out to explain the mystery that was her mother. She stopped asking why Mother was home but never home. She stopped asking how to get her mother to love her more.

She used to curl up in her father’s lap when they’d spend yet another dinner with just the two of them, and ask why Mother never went out ridding with them anymore, or sailing around the bay, or spent quiet evening on the beach watching the sunset. She used to ask why her mother was far away locked behind the compress of her mouth and the mountain slopes inside her eyes that Celebrían could never scale.

Her father would hold her closer, like something small and vulnerable that must be protected, and told her stories about her mother to fill the gap. He told her about the first time he’d seen her, and the adventures of their younger days, of how her mother was braver than dolphins, cleverer than sea oaters, and stronger than a sea turtle’s shell. But she had been hurt inside her heart, and like a sea turtle, she’d locked herself deep in her shell so no one could ever hurt her again. But inside was hidden the tender touches of Celebrían’s memories of her mother tucking her to bed and signing her soft lullabies as she combed her fingers though her hair.

Celebrían no longer asked her father to explain Mother, she understood now. Mother was good inside, but she’d been hurt when Celebrían’s shinning uncles died. Celebrían understood that death was a very sad thing, and made people cry. And by the time she was eleven she understood it was a terrible thing that meant Mother would never get to see her brothers again, and Celebrían’s heart cramped up at the thought of never getting to see Father or her Sisters again. Mother was very sad inside, Celebrían understood now. She understood that if she was patient and never stopped loving her mother, she could prove to Mother that Celebrían would never hurt her or cause her sadness, and that would draw Mother out of her shell and back into Brain’s life. She just had to be more patient, more understanding, more of a good daughter, and Mother would come back.
Chapter 23 by Encairion
Author's Notes:

Character pic: Celebrain  (she has silver hair though)

The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 23

Galadriel swept open the door to the chambers Celebrían had been given when she’d come to Mithlond. Her white dress flowed like water about her ankles as she crossed the receiving room and entered the private bedroom.

Celebrían’s Teler lady’s maid fluttered about, finishing the final touches to her mistress’ presentation. Celebrían was to look like perfection tonight, the night she entered Noldorin society for the first time.

The vanity’s mirror reflected Celebrían’s image back at Galadriel. Celebrían looked like a silver blossom.

Celebrían tilted her chin up, exposing the long line of her slender neck for her maid to fasten a string of opals shaped like tears drops. Her delicately boned hand came up to rest soft as a falling petal upon the jewels. She turned her head this way and that, examining her reflection.

“You look like a fairy goddess, Princess,” her maid breathed.

Celebrían smiled. “Thank you, Fallmea.” Her eyes met Galadriel’s in the mirror. There was the smallest stiffening to her smile, before she forced it open again and rose with the grace of a white crane.

She turned, her pale blue dress swirling around the long shape of her legs, and inclined her head at Galadriel. “Mother. You look beautiful tonight.”

Galadriel swept forward to stand before her daughter. Celebrían had to tilt her face up to her, having inherited none of Galadriel’s height or strength of body, instead all the lightness of her Sinda and Teler blood. Galadriel did not smile as she looked her daughter over; from the wide vulnerability of her eyes to the way those delicate hands curled handfuls of her skirt between their fingers. She looked at a woman who had a face like a lily and all of its frailness.

There was a weakness in Celebrían.

It made Galadriel want to curl her lip in distain or take the fragile thing her daughter had grown into by the shoulders and shake the backbone into her. But most she wanted to strike her husband for letting this happen to their little girl. How dare he let Celebrían be ruined like all those women in Doriath had been? How could he let this happen when once they had spoken with equal passion about the constraints binding the women of his people? How could he let his daughter be raised in the mold of everything he’d once criticized in his people’s society (before he stared idealizing its memory)?

No. It was worse than that. For as oppressive as Doriath had been to the women it closed its tight arms about, restricting them to the lives of beauty and nurturing and only acknowledging their talents when they embraced the softer arts –singing, dancing, needle-work, healing—Celebrían had been raised more Teler than Sinda, and Teler women were to be obedient, quiet, modest, and virtuous. Never curious, inquisitive, hard-headed, ambitions, tough, or brave and shining star-bright. No, those were the women of the Noldor, and there was no Noldo in Celebrían from the features of her face, to the slenderness of her build, to the flatness ironed into her mind, and the milk in her veins where fire should have flown.

Galadriel looked at the whole of the woman her daughter had grown into and was bitterly disappointed. Galadriel was not of this mold. She wore determination like skin, and would not rest until she’d broken her daughter from the restrictive cast she’d been poured into. She had a plan to fix what Celeborn had ruined.

Celebrían looked beautiful enough to tempt a Vala tonight. The first rung in her plan had been scaled. Now Celebrían needed to go out there and dazzle a king with her beauty, and snare him with desire. Once Ereinion was caught and the crown of queenship of the Noldor rested on Celebrían’s brow, Celebrían would be able to break the mold holding her imprisoned in the mind of a weak, submissive, Teler woman.

She would learn what it was to be not only a free Noldo woman, she would be more than any Noldo woman had ever been because Galadriel was going to make her daughter the first ruling queen of the Noldor and teach Celebrían how to thrive on the thrill of having power over her own life. Together they would build the glorious world Galadriel had never stopped dreaming of since she was a child in Tirion forever overlooked because her body was too woman to be powerful, too woman to be anything but ignored.

Galadriel had everything planned. She’d been planning it for years. Planned it before she’d seen the weak-boned creature her daughter was growing into. Planned it before Ereinion settled the Noldor in Lindon and she returned to a Noldor court to begin fifty long years of meticulous rumor-trail hunting until she’d gathered the weapons needed to unthrone a king. Planned it long ago in Doriath when the crown had only just fallen to Ereinion’s boy’s-head and she dreamt the shadows of a memory for the first time. The memory of her rape.

Fingon was already dead when she dreamt of his animal breaths on her neck and the way he’d taken her like something less than human, the way he’d put his hands on her body as if because he was a man and her body was too woman to hold value he had the right to it. If his body had not already been crushed like the piece of trash it was into the mud, she would have plotted his death with her own hands and laughed to give it to him. Let him be the victim now.

Though she had dreamed the dream of his violation of her, his bestial transformation from the noble lie he presented the world into the wolf hiding beneath, the memory still lay cloaked in shadows in her mind. Fingon had violated even this most sacred of places. Even her mind had been polluted as he sought to cover-up his trail of broken women’s bodies.

How many others had there been? How monstrous had the wolf’s appetite become? Had he been raping all those girls in Tirion she’d once scorned as weak-minded fools for falling to the power of a handsome smile?

The wolf had been eaten by the bigger wolf in the end, but still she hated. She never forgave and never forgot what he’d done to her. It took every ounce of the iron in her blood she’d grown through surviving everything to stand in a room with Ereinion year after year when he wore the face of her rapist. He had Fingon’s eyes and Fingon’s bones. It didn’t matter that his hair was fair as her brother’s, he was his father’s son in every inch of his skin.

She was born of iron, and would not let the sickness in her stomach, like a hole inside her womb, something vital ripped out, or the way her head pounded like a wood-chipper was trapped inside her skull trying to hammer its way out every time she had to stand close enough to the mirror of her rapist to smell the wolf-scent clinging to him, from defeating her. She would have her vengeance. She would never let her rapist crush her woman-bones into the mud and leave her like one more carcass he’d taken what he’d wanted from. He would not destroy her! She would not allow it!

Celebrían would have to endure the touch of the wolf-son for a short time, but Galadriel would ensure Ereinion never hurt her daughter. She would slice his throat in the bed he sought to take Celebrían by force in if he tried.

When the idea to wed Celebrían to the king had first formed in her mind (sprung from witnessing Fuilmë after Fingon’s death. Fuilmë could have declared herself Queen of the Noldor and changed the course of history for every women of Noldor-blood, but hadn’t because she’d lacked all ambition and had had the moral failing to be a Fëanorion lover) a plan had unraveled, fully-formed, in her mind, as if she’d always known it. But the plan had sickened her, and she’d cast it into the fire. The plan had been this: Ereinion dosed with a lust-potion locked in a room alone with Celebrían. Ereinion’s hands pushing up Celebrían’s skirts and taking. Ereinion caught like a plump fly in a spider’s web after, for Celebrían was Teleri and Sindar-raised, and for a man to take her virginity, even if given freely, was a marriage sentence. Celeborn, for all his hatred of the Noldor and how he chafed under a Noldo king’s rule, would have demanded Ereinion marry Celebrían. Ereinion would have had no choice or face the loss of his alliance with both the Sindar and the Teleri, for Cirdan would have considered Ereinion a man without honor to have shrunk his duty to Celebrían so.

But Galadriel’s stomach rebelled against sentencing her daughter to such a fate, even for the revenge that had eclipsed nearly everything else in her mind; it hadn’t eclipsed this. Not even for the prize of the crown and the wolf’s-son dethroned would she hurt her daughter like she had been hurt. And more: she would have no daughter if Celebrían was forced by Ereinion.

Celebrían was like the flower-bud Sindar ladies of Doriath who faded from violation (so unlike Melian and Lúthien who had kept Galadriel strong and sane in a society that made her want to scream and scream).

So Galadriel had chosen the trickier, less stable path for Celebrían’s sake. Now she must rely upon Celebrían’s beauty to ensnare Ereinion, for there was little to interest a man such as him underneath the rose-blossom of her face. But at least there was nothing to repulse him either. Celebrían was a good girl who did not spend her time in malicious gossip tearing down the people around her, or a selfish one ordering her maid servants around like dogs.

If Galadriel would have let her daughter sink to the fate of a Teler-wife, Celebrían would have made an ‘ideal’ one; the kind of woman content to be locked away in the women’s rooms, raising her children, going to her husband’s bed when called, and living her life in the secrets behind those secluded doors. It was disgraceful to think of any woman, much less a daughter of Finwë, wasting her life away in such a petty, insignificant way.

Galadriel brushed a loose strand of silver hair from her daughter’s brow, tucking it neatly behind Celebrían’s ear. Celebrían wore a simple, but elegant, elongated white pearl against her brow, draped with a silver chain back to its anchoring clasp in her hair. Her maid had painted the corners of Celebrían’s eyes and followed the undersides of her lids in a black liquid that took Celebrían’s natural beauty and built another layer atop it.

“You look lovely,” Galadriel said, and meant it. Lovely dove-girl. Breakable as a swallow.

“Thank you, Mother.” Celebrían’s cheeks picked up a flush that only enhanced her delicate beauty. She had the kind of looks that drove many a man wild. Galadriel could only hope Ereinion was such a man.

She had made it her business to ferret out Ereinion’s secrets when she first implanted herself in the Noldor’s court again. It had become an obsession when the first whispered rumor of Ereinion’s taste in men reached her ear. She knew then she could ruin him. She needed only a single solid witness to stand before court.

Her plans to set Celebrían up as queen faltered under the mounds of evidence that Ereinion’s eye did not turn to women. But as she dug for that one witness, that single voice of destruction, she unearthed other little dalliances of Ereinion’s youth and some of these had been of the female variety. There was enough desire than that swung both ways to entice him into taking a wife, especially since a wife would bare him heirs.

It had taken her many years to track down that elusive witness she needed, for either Ereinion had taken no lovers since Elros, or, more likely, he had simply become more discrete with age. There were no recently spurned lovers from the king’s bed easily preyed upon in their desire for vengeance against the one who cast them so aside. But at last she found a male lover Ereinion had taken in his early, less cautious years, suitably bitter enough who would testify under oath to having lain with the king and ruin themselves for a chance to bring him down with them.

But her plan hinged upon Celebrían’s ability to seduce an experienced king with nothing but her innocence and beauty. It was well Galadriel had amassed many favors over the years. She would be calling in the debts now to have the right shape of whispers dropped in Ereinion’s ear. The Noldor court was more than ready to nudge their heir-less king into hurrying along with his duty. And who better than an alliance with the same old-allies the Noldor were growing dangerously estranged from? Who better than a girl from Finwë’s line to strength the blood? Who better than a seemingly harmless girl with no ambition passed the duties of a good mother and wife to fill the role of broodmare?

There were many lords who would fall into the palm of Galadriel’s plans unknowingly simply because they’d rather have a grandson of hers on the throne than Elrond self-proclaimed Fëanorion.

*

Her mother’s hand settled on Celebrían’s shoulder. It curled too tight to be comfort, and lay too heavy to be anything but a demand for how Celebrían was to conduct herself tonight. Her mother had spent the days since Celebrían arrived in this city foreign as alien world’s soil, instructing her on how to act less like herself and more like Mother.

Celebrían swallowed down the resentment souring her throat. It was an ugly emotion. She must try harder to respect her mother like her Sisters respected theirs.

Only her mother resembled the mothers of her Sisters none at all, and Celebrían had been fighting the battle against resentment every time she’d needed a mother but hers wasn’t there.

Her mother wasn’t there when her body began to change in secret ways and she’d had only her Sisters to confide in and pass down the advice every girl should learn from her mother’s mouth. Her mother wasn’t there to ask her if any young man had caught her eye when her Sisters and her reached the age for Hennil to gather them all in a circle of clasped hands as she told the story of how a boy had spoken to her, asking her if she was too heated in the sun today, and would you like a sip from his water cooler, lady?, and they all giggled the nervous giggles of young buds of girls who had never exchanged words with any male but those of blood and hung on Hennil’s every word as she recounted those moments worthy of an epic retelling ten times that afternoon.

And her mother wasn’t there when Iachel kissed her that one time. Celebrían had wanted her mother most then because Iachel’s mouth tasted like honey apples, but after, when Iachel watched her undress before they found their beds, she’d wanted to curl her shoulders in and hide her body from the way Iachel was looking at her. She wanted to ask her mother if she’d been a bad friend when Iachel had asked to come into bed with her as they often had slept curled together whispering secrets, but Celebrían remembered the look in Iachel’s eyes and just wanted to pretend none of it had happened, wanted everything to go back to how it used to be, so she said no.

Her mother had never been there, but now she was and Celebrían tried to be a good daughter and remember what her father had told her about her mother’s turtle shell, tried to be more patient because her mother loved her, she said she did so it must be true, only her mother’s eyes on her felt like she was being picked apart and found wanting, and her mother’s hand on her shoulder felt like a harness. Celebrían felt like she could have shed her skin in that moment and emerged a mustang, far too willful to ever have a bit slipped about her head with this resentment festering like fire in the pit of her stomach.

But good daughters did not build a house of resentment against their mothers. Galadriel was the mother the Song had given her, and she must learn more gratefulness for the gifts she had. She could have no mother at all, no family, and be the daughter of a goat-herder in one of the little villages who would never known even a morsel of the blessings Celebrían had been born into. The Song had given her Galadriel as a mother for a reason of its own, and if Celebrían could not see the positive in many of her mother’s actions, she must learn to endure the negative, for she had been dealt uncounted blessing to balance out these small hardships.

“Now, remember what I told you, Celebrían,” her mother said, dropping her hand from Celebrían’s arm and turning to lead them out through the rooms and the celebrations awaiting them in the Hall of Stars. “A Noldo woman is free to speak her mind to any man who has the spine to hear it. I do not want to see you bowing your head or hunching your shoulders like a little mouse.”

Celebrían frowned. Her mother had such silly thoughts sometimes. Celebrían was a princess of the Sindar; of course she didn’t bow her head and scuttle about like a serving girl. Did Noldor ladies usually walk with their eyes on their toes? She tried to imagine Iachel walking like that, but it was impossible. Iachel had never been able to keep her head from turning in the direction of anything interesting and going to investigate like a curious puppy.

But she only said, “Yes, Mother,” and followed her mother out into the hall, taking care to walk a step behind to show respect.

Her mother turned narrowed eyes over her shoulder. “Do not drag behind. You are a princess of the Noldor. It is time for you to take flight now. But remember, you share kinship with the hawk, not a butterfly.”

Her mother seemed to know very little of women. Celebrían had noted this during the last few days they had spent together in the Noldor’s city in which they had spoken more than in the last year combined. Celebrían had never attempted to impersonate a butterfly. What woman would want to? A butterfly, though beautiful, would have its wings shred in a storm.

Hadn’t her mother learned, like Celebrían had when Hennil’s mother pushed a squalling baby through the mighty tree-trunks of her legs, that childbirth required a woman to bare the strength of the pounding surf? How could a butterfly woman teach her daughters all the mysteries of the world if she’d been broken by its galls?

“I am not a butterfly, Mother,” Celebrían said with the proper tone of respect, nothing sharp creeping in.

“Good,” her mother gave a crisp nod. “Also, I want you to remember you are more than a piece of artwork to be hung on a wall by a man to gaze upon at his pleasure only to be forgotten and cast aside when the next pretty thing comes along. When men speak to you tonight –especially the king—I want you to use your mind as best you can and think of something clever to say.”

Celebrían frowned. Why would she ever think she was a piece of art? That was foolish. It was like thinking women were mute pictures hidden behind drapery, as good as buried in the ground when they left the public sphere. Didn’t her mother know that women were the most alive when they were alone with their own kind in the women’s rooms? It was as if her mother thought women ceased to exist if men weren’t looking at them.

But she kept these thoughts to herself. It was not respectful to criticize ones parents. She asked only, “Would it leave a good impression of my people if I were to impress the king?”

Her mother looked at her sharply. “The Sindar and Teleri are not your only people. The Noldor are as much a part of your blood as they.” Celebrían held back from pointing that this was not true. Even her mother shared more blood with the Teleri than the Noldor, and Celebrían even less. “Regardless, it will leave a good impression of you for you to show some wit before the king.”

“Is cleverness a sign of respect among the Noldor?”

“It is a measure of intelligence. And an intelligent woman is the kind that will catch the king’s eye.”

“Why would I want to do that? I do not think he much cared for me.”

Her mother’s mouth pinched. “That is only because you did not speak one word to him and appeared frightfully dull. The king is many things, but he is at least an intelligent man who appreciates cleverness in the women around him.”

“But I do not know if I cared for him. He seemed…very tall.” She did not want to admit that the Noldo king had intimidated her when he’d found her in the gardens her first afternoon here to greet her and make her welcome in his city.

She had never spoken to a male not her father or the servant boys in the house, and her tongue had latched itself to the roof of her mouth. He had been very tall too. Tall and broad of shoulder in a way that she was unaccustomed to, but had since seen was not uncommon amongst the Noldor. She hadn’t been able to untie her mouth from its first shock of him addressing her, her. No doubt he had found her dull and odd, but she did not take his disregard to heart.

She would not want to marry the king of the Noldor anyway, as her mother seemed to be implying she might. Why would she want to marry him when her father could introduce her to a honorable man of their own people, and if, after they’d passed letters folded like birds, like first shy kisses, she liked him, she would agree to be his wife and they would have a beautiful wedding in the custom of their own people in their own city surrounded by her own Sisters.

She had only come to the Noldor city because her mother had asked for her company, and her mother had never asked before. Father hadn’t wanted her to go, but she had been curious about the city that had seduced her mother away all those years ago, the city where the people of the bright-eyes and brighter-hearts in all Mother’s stories dwelt. But it had been far less of an adventure and more like a voyage on a ship caught in a storm and shipwrecked on a foreign beach.

She did not know her mother’s people, not their ways or the Quenya a number of the ladies had addressed her in to humiliate her. She may never have spoken to a man before, and she may have lived out her life in her father’s house and the women’s rooms of Sisters’ homes, but she was not a fool, nor a girl to stumble through shame and wipe tears away when she’d escaped the ladies’ pecking. She was a princess of the Sindar. She knew her worth and these women could not shame her simply because their tongue could form words hers had never learned. Did they think a superiority in knowledge made them her superiors? It was them who should be ashamed of their own ignorance.

“He has been graced with a fine height,” her mother said in a begrudging voice. “And while some time of adjustment may be required before you accustom yourself to a new city and new customs, you should do all you can to gain the king’s favor.” Her mother paused to turn back and study Celebrían’s face. “Do you not find him a handsome man?”

That could hardly be argued against. “He is very fair to look upon.”

“Then what is it about him you did not care for when you have known him for all of a handful of moments?”

“It is not his person that I dislike, but…” Would it be disrespectful to mention her reservations regarding her mother’s people? Yes, surely that was too much. “I do not think I would like to live so far from Father.”

Her mother huffed. “It is but an hour’s boat ride across the bay! Do not be childish.”

“I am sorry, Mother,” she said, and kept any other complains tucked behind her teeth.

“Come, the celebrations will have begun by now. Remember my words: cleverness will impress the king even more than beauty. If you do not have confidence in your wit, think of something to saw now. We shall consider the night a success if he asks you to dance with him. But,” her mother continued, taking Celebrían’s arm to force her to walk in-step with her and break the visible symbol of Celebrían’s honoring of her (Celebrían did not see why the king would be impressed with a girl who did not show proper respect for her parents), “If he has not asked you to dance before the celebrations wind-down, I want you to ask him first.”

Celebrían sucked in a breath. Her? Ask a man to dance? And her mother believed such gross immodesty would please the king? “Do Noldo women often ask men to dance?”

“It is not as common as the man taking the lead, but you need to throw out all these preconceived concepts on what is and is not proper,” her mother’s lip curled around the word. “You are a Noldo princess now. You have the right to do as you please, say what you want, and be whoever you want to be.”

Except for herself. That was not acceptable in her mother’s eyes.

The Hall of Stars had been bedecked in a glorious fashion for tonight’s festivities. The walls were lined with lit lamps, but it was the thousand little ones hanging from the ceiling, setting the fresh-paint of gold on the dome’s underside aglow, that made the hall a breathtaking sight. It was as if the Elves already filling the hall danced under a sky of gold.

The feasting was to come as the evening wore on, so the hall had been opened for a generous dancing floor. Even with the hall boasting at least a thousand Elves, the air was not oppressive. The marble colonnade running down both sides of the hall in a display of the Noldor’s famed talent in stone-work, opened the hall to the high-ceiling corridors beyond, each with its double doors thrown open to allow the Elves to mingle in and out of the hall and weave through the white columns.

Celebrían spied the palace gardens down one of these corridors. They had been lit with colored lamps, and ladies gathered upon the lawn like schools of colorful fish, for the Noldor favored a vibrancy of dress that was not seen among her own people’s cooler pallets.

Her mother took her arm and steered her deeper into the throng of Elves. They passed the musicians playing a lively tune the dancers spun to. There was something earthy and almost sensual in it that carried none of the Teleri’s haunting melodies.

Her mother took her right to the king. King Ereinion withdrew from his conversation with the lord at his elbow and pivoted to face them. He smiled a wide, handsome grin that flashed white and perfect but did not reach his eyes as he met Galadriel’s. “A pleasure to see you here, lady,” he said, not even trying to pretend he meant it.

Galadriel arched her brow at him, favoring him with her most haughty look, and did not try to pretend either as she said, “I trust you are in good spirits, Ereinion.”

“Never better.” There was something deliberate in the way he turned to Celebrían then, as if dismissing Galadriel from his mind when his eyes passed from her face. Her mother’s hand clenched on her arm.

“Princess Celebrían, well met,” he held out his hand and Celebrían’s slipped into it just like her mother had been teaching her was the customary Noldorin greeting for a man to a lady. He bowed over it before releasing her. “And how have you found my city, Princess?” He smiled again, and there was something less blinding in the way it stretched softer upon his mouth, more genuine.

Celebrían swallowed. Words stuck in her throat. She was hyper-aware of her mother’s fingers squeezing into her arm, and her mother’s expectation that something clever and suitably Noldor and fit to charm a king come out of her mouth now. She should be an obedient daughter. She should do as her mother asked of her. But something wild and bucking struggled in her chest. She didn’t want to. And perhaps the worst: she didn’t want to smile at this man and dazzle him with a witty because her mother had asked her to and Celebrían suddenly wanted the king’s eyes to pass right over her, find nothing worth catching his interest, because her mother wanted Celebrían to snare that interest and Celebrían wanted to do exactly the opposite of what her mother was ordering her to do.

The silence dragged out. Her mother’s fingers dug to pain in her arm, but Celebrían’s mouth did not open. It was disgraceful. It flew in the face of the importance of honoring her parents, but she saw now, in this moment of testing, that she was as willful as her Sisters used to tease her of being, as hard-headed as her father shook his head over, sometimes in fondness and others in annoyance. She was no good, dutiful daughter, but instead the mustang trapped inside her breast, bucking against the cold touch of the bit her mother sought to slip into her mouth. She knew herself in that moment, and the girl wearing the mustang’s skin would not be commanded.

“Forgive me, Princess,” the king said, releasing the pulling tension of the moment. “I had not realized you had been raised so fully a Teler lady.” He bowed to her, bending his neck and clasping his hands behind his back as Teleri men of equal status will bow to a lady. “I meant no offense. I understand the ladies of my court have commandeered the gardens, if you would feel more comfortable there, I will have it closed off to men.”

Ereinion turned this last inquiry onto Galadriel to relieve the pressure of Celebrían addressing him directly. Celebrían turned to see her mother’s face. Her mother kept the anger locked in the compress of her lips and the lines of her eyes. She said, voice clipped, “No. Celebrían is a princess of the Noldo, and is perfectly capable of speaking for herself. I will not have her degraded to a mute doll.”

The king frowned. “That is not my understanding of the custom, but if it is Princess Celebrían’s wish to integrate with a mixed Noldorin court, then that is certainly her right,” his eyes slid over to Celebrían briefly, before turning back to Galadriel.

“It is,” Galadriel snapped out, not pausing to consult Celebrían.

The king’s mouth tightened. “I wonder who of us is truly stealing the words from her mouth, lady.” With that his boot struck the stones and he swiveled on the ball of his foot, hair like light had poured itself into each strand swinging behind him.

The lord he had been conversing with when they approached did not leave, but eyed Galadriel a moment. His nose bridge dipped low and his lower lip was protruded and plump, but though it lent his mouth an unusual shape, it was not unattractive.

His grey-blue robes flowed like liquid silk about him as he moved a step closer and dropped his voice to a low tone not inviting of eavesdroppers. “One would think, for a lady whose husband’s people call a Teleri city home, that you would have more respect for our ways.”

Galadriel’s chin tilted. “Oh? And what ways are those? The ones where you cage your women like house cats? No, my lord, I have no respect to give. No more than you have for my people’s celebration of our women’s intellect and achievements.”

His brow rose. “You throw your barbs at the wrong face, lady. Take a look around you, the only Teleri left in your king’s court are those with mind’s open to change. Not that my support of the university you so obviously mean to direct my thoughts upon means I will bite my tongue when a Noldo speaks of my people in that superior way that is best left abandoned in the First Age.”

Celebrían cast a glance around the hall. There were few Teleri mixed in with the Noldor just as the man had said, and no Sindar at all that she could see. One Elf wore the buckskin, beaded clothing of the Silvan, but she spied no other of his kindred.

Her mother drew herself up to her full height, “Censure of another kindred’s society does not equal superiority. I have the greatest respect for many aspects of Telerin and Sindarin culture. But I will not turn a blind eye to a rot in its core anymore than I would embrace the Noldor’s rot with open arms.”

The Teler lord inclined his head, “That is well to hear, lady, but it does not change the way your words rolling off a Noldo’s tongue criticizing my people sound to my ears like snake spit. Would you care to hear my nit-picking of all the ways I believe the Noldor’s inability to learn gratitude and humility have led to some of your people’s greatest falls? No? Then do not presume to lecture me on my own people.”

“I will not censure myself in any matter that contains my daughter. I will not stop speaking out against the customs that have wrapped her in the deceitfully soft chains of sheltering and protecting.”

“If you do not approve of my people’s education of their women, then why not send her to King Ereinion’s university and put an end to your interference with another’s culture?” Without waiting for a reply the Teler lord strode off, putting distance between himself and Galadriel.

Her mother’s hand slid off her arm like the loosening of a saddle’s under belt. Celebrían said, though she did not mean the words but felt their pressure in the back of her throat, piled there from a lifetime of being taught to honor her parents, “I am sorry, Mother.”

Her mother sighed, but there was more disappointment in the sound than anger. “Perhaps I pushed you too soon.” Her hand landed on the point of Celebrían’s shoulder, a delicate touch that almost, almost, felt like the way her mother used to comb her fingers through her hair. “There is time. And all is not ruined. The king did not look on you with disfavor.”

Celebrían did not want to plot her marriage with the king, so she asked, “What did the lord mean when he said you should send me to university?”

Galadriel paused to lift two wine glasses from a passing servant and hand one to Celebrían before answering. “The king built a university in Mithlond some years back. At the least he encourages our people’s advancement,” Galadriel said, mouth twisting as if she bit into a thorn to admit it. “The Noldor have not had a place of high learning since Gondolin fell, though that city can hardly be credited with holding our people’s last bastion of higher thought since it was closed to all those not within its hidden gates. Finrod had such places in Nargothrond, of course. But once, both men and women, were able to attend universities from Hithlum to the Fëanorions lands in the East.”

Her mother took a sip of wine, gaze turning to cast its study over the spots of Teleri lords and ladies in the sea of Noldor. “Unlike what the Teleri men would like to believe, Teleri women yearn for more freedom, more life than that of a kept house pets, and they have begun to reach for it, leaving Swan Haven and its confining women’s rooms that are another word for silk cages, to come to Mithlond and study alongside Noldor men and women at the university, or seek positions as scribes at court, or one of the other freely open professions to women in our society.”

Celebrían folded the words she would like to say under her tongue, swallowing them down. It was not a daughter’s place to argue with her mother. That did not stop her from having her own thoughts kept tight in the secret vaults of her mind though.

“There are many doors closed in a Noldo woman’s face, but compared to women who have spent their lives with no more power or autonomy than a house plant, the life a Noldor woman is a feast of freedom indeed.” Her mother turned to look at Celebrían, and as always Celebrían felt the way she fell short in her mother’s eyes. She was not Noldo enough. “Soon, you will be able to open your mouth and taste this freedom too. And then you will see, looking back at the past, how very imprisoned you were, and be thankful you left it behind.”

The past was not left behind. It ran before them in a great, rich road of flowers and brambles, the positive and the negative twining together to make something whole and exquisite. When the walker looked out at the life they had lived they could both savor the joys they had known and celebrate their victories over the trials.

But her mother would never understand this, just as she could not understand that the women’s rooms were not prisons but sweetness and laughter and the passing of history down from mouth to mouth since before the land fell into the sea, since before the moon’s rising. The women’s rooms were not cages; they were freedom.

“What do they teach at the university?” She asked. What were these powers that gave women strength in her mother’s eyes that Celebrían lacked?

Her mother turned a half-smile on her, something pleased in her face but also surprised. “I see time amongst Noldo women has already been good for you. Your curiosity is something to be prized and nurtured.”

Celebrían frowned. She had never lacked curiosity. Nor did her Sisters who were all in the mold of the Teleri women her mother seemed to despise. She hadn’t changed since coming here. Rather, her mother simply hadn’t known her.

“While the university cannot boast the measure and wealth of Tirion’s, instruction in all the major fields are provided by Masters who have well-earned their title. The study of mathematics and the laws of the world and human nature, engineering, politics, philosophy, agricultural science, healing and many more.” Her mother turned to her, seeming to swell with light in her pride for her people. Celebrían was reminded of her fancies as a child when she’d believed her mother was a goddess in disguise. “Would you like to attend one day?”

No. But Celebrían did not let the word fall from her tongue. It was not that she disliked the idea of learning more than what the women of her people were accustomed to learning, but the studies her mother had described rang foreign in her ears and sparked on interest in her mind. She would have liked to go to the university very much if they could teach her a deeper knowledge of growing things, or how to find her own happiness in the world without sacrificing her parents’ happiness, but the university did not teach these things.

“Perhaps. One day,” Celebrían said because her mother wanted a yes and would be sorely disappointed with the full truth. It was not even a compete lie. If the university had taught something to interest her, she would have liked to go with her Sisters one day.

Celebrían did not begrudge her mother wishing she was something she was not this time. Her mother would have loved to go to the university; it was the kind of learning her mother excelled in. So it was only natural she would want to find the same passion in common with Celebrían. Her mother only wanted to see more of herself in Celebrían. Celebrían just wished her mother was not so very disappointed in who Celebrían really was.

“You should consider it. Even after you are married,” her mother gave her a significant look with this last. Celebrían dropped her eyes to her wine glass. Why did her mother push so for a match with the Noldor king? Did she think Celebrían would only become more Noldo with a Noldo husband?

Her mother continued, gesturing with her glass at the small scattering of Teleri, “The Teleri males are attempting to pressure Ereinion into closing the university’s admittance to ‘their’ women. But one thing that can be said for Ereinion is that he is not a weak man to bend over for anyone. So those who cannot stomach women becoming educated have shown their displeasure by withdrawing their oppressive selves from the Noldor court.”

“My Sisters and I are all educated, Mother.” She knew how to read and write Sindarin, recite the tales of their people in the Teleri’s own, almost lost language, craft poetry, debate the parables that formed the cornerstones of Telerin society, pick out which plants were healing and which would harm, coax a tree into becoming her protector and a patch of wildflowers into bloom, and work the looms into a beautiful tapestry and her needle-work into art.

Her mother waved her words away as if everything Celebrían knew was as worthless as dust in the air. “You are not educated as the university would educate you. But it is not the fact that Teleri women are being educated that scares the men, it is that they are receiving an education with a purpose now. The women who graduate from the university will work in professions and become so much more than wives and child bearers. This terrifies Teleri men as men have always been terrified of strong, independent women who did not need them.”

From behind them came a man’s voice. “You simplify the divides tearing the Elven kindreds apart when you lay all the blame on the education of women.” The man curved around Celebrían’s shoulder as she turned at his voice.

The way he moved fascinated her. He glided passed her, near enough to touch, like a sleek hulled sailboat cutting through the sea like a knife. There was precision in the way he walked and how his hand came up to brush a loose strand of dark hair from his brow, but grace too, as if a doe had taught him how to walk as a child, as if he’d learned the way to dip his chin, just like that, flashing a look up through lash and tilted brow, from a master at work.

Her mother had told her she must not be art, but the way this man moved was art. Only not like the paintings that could be shelved and processed, this was the dancer’s art, the kind of art that could not be bottled and hidden behind drapes for its beauty did not exist without movement, without life.

Who had this man’s teacher been? His mother, his father? Or was this master work all of his own creation?

His grey eyes flickered over her before they settled on her mother. Celebrían felt inexplicably disappointed that there had been nothing about her to hold his gaze. She found she did not want to look away. It was not that he was enthrallingly beautiful, though his face was fair enough, it was the charisma every line in his body wore like silk against the skin. It was a different kind of charisma to the one the king excused, subtler, more suited to the night than the king’s day-bright fluoresce.

“Of course you would think the education of women not important enough to divide nations.” Celebrían looked away from the man at the bite in her mother’s voice. Her mother’s face had soured in dislike.

The man’s head cocked, elegant as a bird, something perfect in the way the soft darkness of his hair slipped over his shoulder. “I cannot think what I have ever done or said to give you that impression. But then, it is not something I did or said, is it?” Just the corner of his mouth lifted, and his chin lifted with it in an arch of pride, like a banner flown from a high fortress wall snapping in a Northern wind. “It is who raised me.” He met Galadriel’s narrowed gaze with eyes that glittered, bright, fierce, and unbowed. He spoke of the ones who taught him how to make his body dance and snag every eye as it walked through a room. “Never mind that among my father’s people Noldor women had as many, if not more, rights than anywhere else in Beleriand.”

“You link the name of father with them on your tongue.” It wasn’t a question, and Galadriel did not sound the least surprised to hear it.

The man’s smile curled into a full one, flashing white and sharp-edged, “When I die, and they sing the Song of Setting Stars over my pyre, the name they breathe into the wind with my ashes shall be Elrond Maglorion Fëanorion.”

Galadriel made a disgusted sound and thrust her back between them like a wall, as if he were too repulsive to look upon.

Elrond let out a puff of breath like a laugh, amused but cold. He spared no glance for Celebrían as he walked away.

Celebrían was still watching him glide across the room when her mother said, interrupting her quite appreciation, “A lover of Kinslayers. He will never be worth our time.” Celebrían turned to find her mother looking at her, face pulled taut with the power of her displeasure. “You must stay away from him. Entangling yourself with such people will only lead to grief and ruin.”

But Celebrían didn’t want to stay away. “Is he not family, though?”

Her mother’s nostrils flared. “We do not claim kinship with the Fëanorions of their apologists.”

Celebrían did not press further. It would have been unseemly to argue with one’s mother. But her eyes often sought out the man her mother had forbidden her throughout the night, watching him from afar, the way he moved, how he talked, the way the lights danced patterns over his face. He seemed to grow fairer the longer she watched until she withdrew her earlier assessment of his features as fair and replaced it with handsome. Very handsome indeed.

Chapter 24 by Encairion
The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 24

Celebrían wished her mother did not resent her upbringing to the point of willful blindness. Her mother refused to see that Celebrían was the Teleri she’d been raised to be, not a Noldo princess, not even a Sinda one. Her father had accepted this, though it had not gone down without lodging hard and impassible as a rock in his throat before he’d managed to swallow it.

Her father was in forever-mourning for his people’s loss, both of their once numerous nation as well as their culture. Growing up, she had tried to be a better Sinda to make it up to him, but hadn’t known how. Even the Sindar lords’ daughters she played with had dressed like Teleri, talked like Teleri, and acted like Teleri. And though her father took pains to instruct her in the Sindar’s long and mighty history, she could not soak herself into the pages of a book and leave behind all the little things that made her Teler because she did not know the little Sindar things to fill those empty gaps.

Her father was in forever-anger with the Noldor. Celebrían could do nothing to fix this or give her father the lands he wanted dominion over, away from Noldor and Teleri influences alike. She could not run down to the seashore and build her father sand-people to replace the ones no longer there, the ones who would have made his people’s voice an important enough voice, a loud enough voice, to earn their own piece of land.

It was like when she was organizing her play room. Only toys that had enough of their own kind had a special box made for them. The others had to all live inside the same one, like a mish-matched family living under one roof.

Her father was in forever-bitterness with the cousins Celebrían had never met, the ones who had taken the biggest box of toys East across the mountains so that Father now had no box to sleep in but the one the Noldor and Teleri already shared. Only Celebrían did not think her father really wanted to sleep in Cousin Oropher or Amdír’s box because they’d mixed Silvan in.

She covered her ears when her father and his lords talked about the Silvan and how Oropher, who had come from the drowned lands after the evil Dwarves killed the Good King Thingol, should be ashamed of himself for mingling with Silvan and watering down Sindar ways.

(‘Sucked us dry! If we’d had those men when the Kinslayers came we wouldn’t have been vulnerable as a newborn fawn! He took the meat of our people, and look what he did with them? Turned them rustic and superstitious as Wood-elves.’)

Her father and his lords said mean things about the Silvan and about Oropher and Amdír being bad men who forgot all about Doriath to play pretend Silvan. Her father swore he’d never play pretend. Not with the Silvan, because the Silvan were like the dirt on the floor and Father’s Sindar like the lady who must keep her hem gathered close to her ankles lest she muddy herself from its touch.

But Celebrían knew her father was being bad when he talked like that, because Mother and Father argued, loudly. Celebrían didn’t understand but understood enough to know her father was being bad and caring about what someone looked like, and Celebrían knew you weren’t supposed to not be friends with someone because they looked different from you.

Mother would say: “Do you except a handful of Sindar to commandeer a forest the size of Doriath? You have nothing but your pride to blame for your people’s lack of autonomy since you will not settle for the land Ereinion offered you, oh no, it was too petty for the mighty Sindar. You will take no ‘grant’ from a Noldo’s hand!”

Father would answer: “I should crawl at a Noldo-boy’s feet, then, shall I? Never mind that my people claimed Lindon as our home while he was still wet behind the ears, a mere child playing at kingship. The moment the Noldor arrive they think they can conquer Lindon as they sought to conquer Beleriand. This is not their land!”

“It was not yours either! Or have you forgotten the Silvan who you would have choked out of these lands if Oropher had not already settled and mingled with them first?”

“Do not preach from your high-horse, lady! I do not see you ready to adopt buckskin tunics and forager’s baskets. You cannot even stomach sacrificing a measure of your pride to live among the Teleri as I have. Do you think it does not rankle to see my people’s culture submerged under the ocean of the Teleri’s? But stomach it I have.”

“Do not play the martyr with me! You could pack your people up and strike East any day you chose.”

“I should not have to go East!”

“That is the agreement Oropher and Ereinion made. West of the Mountains of Mist’s spine is Noldor territory. East is Sindar and Silvan. You may not like it, but you must abide by it. But you cannot stomach the fact Oropher gathered more of your people’s loyalty than you.”

“Do not shade me in your own dissatisfaction, lady! I have no quarrel with Oropher over the kingship of our people. That is your prerogative.”

From there her mother’s voice climbed in volume and her father’s in coldness.

Her mother awaited the day Celebrían shed the Teler and stepped out of that old skin like a used frock to stand shiny and new and Noldo from her head to her toes. She took Celebrían to afternoon teas and luncheons with gaggles of Noldor ladies setting prime examples of who Celebrían should break herself down and re-mold herself in the image of. Every night she trotted Celebrían out to the on-going celebrations of the war’s ending, trying and failing to nudge Celebrían into opening her mouth to a male.

Silence was the best weapon in Celebrían’s arsenal. If she refused to speak, her mother’s plots to marry her off to the Noldo king were kept at bay. Her reticence had earned her the title of ‘shy’ and ‘timid’ already. She’d heard the Noldor lords and ladies linking those words to her name, sometimes to her face, others times behind it, but did not care what they thought. She only cared about enduring this trial, this patch of the negative, with proper humility and perseverance so that she could go home and walk again in the light of the positive.

Surely this trial must nearly be at an end? The Song could not have written her into this city of strangers with their Noldo king as her husband, could it? If it had, could she endure her fate with proper submission to the Song’s will? She did not know. And that frightened her as nothing else in this trial had frightened her.

Would she try to defy her fate like the Noldo her mother wished her to be? It seemed almost prophetic. That she would deny fate to return to her place amongst the Teleri whose belief in bowing their necks to it was the cornerstone of their society.

A man cut through the palace garden she had taken refuge in. The white gravel of the path crunched under bootfalls that hurried, not taking a care for softness. But even in this, even striding along an arrow-straight path clearly aimed at destination, he moved with the grace of a sea lion’s long fins floating through the water.

Elrond wore one of the scholar robes her mother had pointed out to her, the ones to mark the students at the now infamous Noldor University. They were cut in the modern style, flaring out mid-thigh to reveal leggings wore beneath. A nightingale was stitched into his breast and the points of his robe’s shoulders. It marked students of the Healing Arts, her mother had said.

The tightness in Celebrían’s throat eased. Surely this was fate to lead him across her path at this exact moment. This was her fate. She rose to embrace it with open arms.

His head had turned neither to the left nor the right, his eyes set straight before him. She hurried across the lawn, cutting diagonally to intercept, but had to pick up her skirts so powerfully did he stride, like a stallion, as elegant as he was determined in his goal.

Her mouth opened and she spoke, calling out to him. “Lord Elrond!” She had never called out to a man before. She had never spoken a single word to one. But she found her throat opening with courage.

This was her fate. She would make this her fate. She wanted nothing to do with queenship and the weight of a people not her own pressing into her head like the metal band of a crown.

He turned at her call, pivoting like a dancer, and frowned when he saw who had interrupted his single-minded stalk through the garden. She had dropped to a brisk walk, not wanting to appear over-eager to gain his attention. She did not let herself hesitate in the face of his frown but straightened her shoulders. Perhaps it was a frown of confusion? It did not mean he did not care for her, and even if he did not, he did not know her and thus his mind could be changed once he’d overcome her association with her mother in his mind.

“Lord Elrond, well met.” Her words did not tremble in the air, and she took pride in this. She had spoken to a man now, and she had sounded brave and confident.

His frown hadn’t eased. “Do I know you?”

Her heart faltered. They may not have exchanged words, but how could he not have noted her? How could he not have cared to remember his own kin? For surely he must have connected her place at her mother’s side to Galadriel’s daughter.

What…what a rude man!

She drew herself up. “I am called Celebrían. We are cousins. Doubly so, in fact, through both sides of our parents. I simply wished to greet you and hoped to hear the day is treating you well.”

He was still frowning. “Yes, yes, I remember you now. If you will excuse me, I have matters to attend to.” He did not pause for her answer, but started walking off, leaving her standing there looking foolish.

Her hands fisted in her skirt, tucking away their trembling. Her heart still felt lodged in her throat where it had jumped the moment she’d opened her mouth and dared to call out to a man, dared to approach him without the shelter of her father or mother to conduct the first shy meetings she would have had with a suitor. Such a man would have been the first she revealed the precious secrets of her mind to, the first to hear the music of her voice addressing him. But that magical moment was ruined by a…a cad!

She had been brave and nothing but polite, and he had been a rude, rude man!

Well. She gathered her skirts up in a fist. He would see if she ever spoke to him again!

She turned sharply away, legs eating up the ground to the safety beneath her quiet orange tree. She sank back into the cool grass. She cheeks still felt too heated, but she struggled her temper down. Why did it seem this trail was filled with a new negative with every dawn? Well she would endure, pressing through to the positive beyond that would open like the sweet, soft flesh of a peach under her teeth after a day of fasting. It would come. She just had to be stronger, and the light of the positive would fill her life again. It would. She just needed a steadier heart and feet that did not stumble with willfulness and rebellion so easily, as if they were long lost friends. As if they had been born inside her like the blood in her veins.

*

Gil-galad moved his cavalry to E4. “The backlash has not progressed to an alarming level. Cirdan cut it off at its head when he refused to lock us out of trade with Swan Haven.”

He sat back in his chair, picking up his wine glass. Arraben studied the chess board set up between them. Gil-galad had needed this relief from the stress of hours spent with Cirdan trying to repair a ripping alliance.

His concerns did not lie with the immediate future. Teleri lords could come and go from Gil-galad’s court; it was the root of their two people’s fracturing that was cause for worry.

The Teleri lords acted out of fear that the Noldor’s culture was penetrating and swallowing their own. It was not even an unfounded fear with the number of young, bright Teleri minds seeking position at his court, university, and integrating with Noldorin society. And those Teleri who graduated from the university to return amongst the Teleri carried back the Noldorin thoughts and customs they’d picked up.

Gil-galad could not blame them for their fears. Had the Noldor not wrapped themselves about their own traditions like an octopus’ arms? They had lost too much to let what was left free from their knuckle-white grip.

Beleriand was gone, and Valinor nothing like home. All the traditions that had seemed so frivolous and petty that the Noldor hadn’t been able to shed fast enough when they put miles between themselves and Tirion were all they had left now. No buildings remained to trail their fingertips over, not even old relics caving in on themselves or crumbling marble halls stained with pottery shards and blood smears. Few enough books or possessions had survived Beleriand’s fall. So many dead, and the stories and richness of their people’s history gone with them. Only memory remained, a living thing, but not something they could sink their teeth into and say this, this was home, this was our people’s glory of old, this was the proof that we lived.

Oh, he understood this fear and sorrow beating in the backs of the Teleri’s hearts, curling fingers squeezing on nothing because there was nothing left, but he was not going to change his people or bury their traditions to make the Teleri comfortable enough to lie down in bed with the Noldor.

His people had to come first. He was their king, their protector, and their fortress. He was the first defender on the wall and the last shield at their backs.

“They were foolish enough to stir up talk of cutting trade ties with us?” Arraben asked, brow shooting up.

“It was only the most incensed of the Teleri lords. But Cirdan has handled the threat.”

Cirdan’s word was law amongst the Teleri. He held the position of absolute power in their society. Not a king, but a father, something even more dangerous. In a society like the Teleri where the honoring of parents was an almost religious practice, one ought to be able to divorce the strict teachings of obedience to parents from one’s ruler. But in Telerin society it was ingrained that Cirdan was father and father must be respected and obeyed to such an extent that Cirdan was almost a god to them, like Ulmo impersonified.

Gil-galad had known more than one moment of relief that the Noldor never saw him in such terms. Cirdan may be able to hold his people in like a rider his horse with the bridle fisted in his hand, but Gil-galad wanted nothing to do with that kind of power, even if he had wished at times that he could just make the petty-minded, power-climbing lords in his court disappear. Cirdan’s position of near-godhood over his people was an isolating one. He was set apart, even from the Teleri nobility, and had nothing like an equal.

Arraben’s fingers came up to rub at his temples. “How can the minor issue of a handful of women attaining an education have mushroom into this?”

“It seems minor, but it is polarizing because it is a visible point of divergence in our two cultures. The invisible ones are so much harder to capture and cart around like a shark in a fisherman’s net and say this, this is how the Noldor are invading us. These Teleri lords believe I am trying to turn Noldor culture into an export because I will not shut the university doors and so this must be a secret plot of the Noldor to overrun Teleri culture.”

Arraben sighed, “I understand the root is the fear that our culture will overshadow theirs, but this still seems ridiculous to me.”

Arraben selected a foot-soldier and slid it forward a square before shifted back in his chair. The setting sun set his hair ablaze. He wore it in the no-nonsense warrior-braids Gil-galad remembered from childhood when he’d watched Arraben stride behind his father, taking a place as Fingon’s Sworn-companion after Fingolfin fell.

Arraben had inherited that shade of pure gold from his Vanya grandfather, or as Arraben liked to say: the blood of the Spears in his veins. His mouth twisted about the word Vanyar, having a long memory back to the time when Vanyar was as good as Valar and Valinor in many Noldor’s minds, and no child would have wanted to openly claim decent from such. Even now Gil-galad often heard those Elves with Vanyar blood in their line calling themselves descendents of the Elves of the Air, or, like Arraben, the Spear Elves. Anything but the Holy Elves the Vanyar had called themselves in Valinor.

“What did Cirdan have to say about fixing this mess?” Arraben asked with all the straightforwardness of a soldier.

Gil-galad scowled around the memory. “He pushed for cutting ties before things came to a head. He did not want his people’s hearts to fester with bitterness, even violence, if things escalate. He will remove his people further south and close-off all contact with us before he sees that happen.”

“What else?” Arraben watched his face, knowing him well enough to see there was more than this at the root of Gil-galad’s pinched brow.

Gil-galad breathed out through his nose, choosing one of his archers for his next chess move as he gathered his thoughts. “I would not accept this defeat. I said our people needed more time, more opportunities to learn to live together despite our strong differing perspectives. I said what was merely tolerated or willfully ignored during the war might become a celebration if we but push through this fear. I told him we cannot surrender. We had not given the fight our all yet.”

“And what did he say to that?”

“He said: It is always about fighting with Noldor, isn’t? They never stop looking for the next enemy, and so often find that enemy in a face whose only crime was looking different to their own, or a mind that does not seek its own elevation but rather a deeper peace with the world. He said he’d hoped I had learned the beauty in the negative as well as the positive and learned to accept the negative with proper perseverance,” Gil-galad’s mouth curled around the word.

He had answered Cirdan with no small amount of sarcasm for the way Cirdan had thrown his people’s past that they were trying so hard to grow beyond in his face: “My refusal to give up and give in is perseverance in itself. Am I not persevering the right way, then?”

Of course it hadn’t been the right way, the Teleri way: perseverance in his submission to a yoke of negative because in the end, if he just suffered silently long enough, worked hard enough at the fate the Song had destined for him, he would find the positive far-outweighed the negative.

“Some nerve, bringing that up to thrown in your face after all you’ve done to try and fix things,” Arraben grumbled, hand curling on his thigh as if it longed for a sword-hilt to wrap itself around.

“Peace, my friend,” Gil-galad forced the bitterness of the memory back down his throat to let a smile prick the corners of his mouth. A king must not let his trials fall upon the heads of his people. He was a rock. A rock the sea washed clean of Cirdan’s words, like a thousand others loosed at the Noldor’s backs since their kingdoms fell one-by-one and they did not sit so ‘high and mighty anymore.’ “A few more centuries, and we will have risen beyond this.” A lie. A hope. A dream. Let them not drag the bodies of the past through the Ages of the world. Let the crimes rest buried at the bottom of the sea with the land that witnessed them.

Arraben gave him the mercy of pretending he bought his king’s lie. They both knew the truth, but Arraben knew how much Gil-galad wanted to believe if he just worked hard enough, if he was just a better king, a better leader to his people, they could have that dream. “Did Cirdan have anything helpful to say at all, or just more useless digging?”

Gil-galad’s smile curved genuine for his old friend. “No. But I refused to leave him be until he agreed to mixing our militaries –what little of a military the Teleri have. He will oversee the navy, of course, and I will take command of all his land units. I plan to have them fully integrated with ours by the end of the month. Spread them through the ranks, but do not isolate them completely from each other. I want a good balance so friendships between Teleri and Noldor are formed –or strengthen—depending on the case.”

The army hadn’t been mixed on Balar, but it was something Gil-galad had wanted to try since their peoples began splitting like a honey-cake torn in two, those last strings of sweet filling clinging to the last. Gil-galad didn’t know how to sew this tear back together again, but getting the two-halves standing shoulder-to-shoulder had to be a start. Even if he didn’t have all the answers, at least he would not concede defeat and not even try.

“Mixing the army is a solid first step,” Arraben slid his castle across the board to snap up Gil-galad’s cavalry. “We mixed in Hithlum. And the Fëanorions in their lands as well, though things went badly with them after the Flame. The Silvan population in the East was too great to absorb. The Silvan and Sindar who lingered in Hithlum integrated almost seamlessly into the Noldor population after Turgon left, until there were only a handful of wandering Sindar tribes in the North by the Tears.”

“I do not know if I aim for that measure of integration,” Gil-galad said, frowning. He took the castle Arraben scarified for the cavalry with his king.

He remembered Balar and how so many Sindar refugees from Doriath disappeared into the ocean of Teleri. There were few Sindar who were not more Teleri than Sindar by the time they settled in Lindon and came into contact with Oropher and Celeborn’s peoples again. But those that were left were the kind who gnawed on vengeance and bitterness. They had either joined with Celeborn’s insular people who were every bit as prejudiced as the worst Noldo out of Gondolin, and spent every moment in the Teleri courts resenting the fact they had to rub shoulders with Kinslayers and suffer Gil-galad’s rule, or they were enfolded into the arms of Oropher’s people who were still so smothered under grief and rage that they’d uprooted themselves from Lindon rather than live beside Noldor.

Gil-galad never forgot the single meeting Oropher had born his company for, in which they’d both clung to their dignity as kings long enough for Oropher to insist upon a border between their kingdoms, Oropher’s lands being banned to Noldor.

Gil-galad said, with all the fierceness of a captain gearing for war: “I do not know what Lindon will look like in a hundred year, a thousand. But I refuse to surrender this fight until I have bled and sweated and lost the field entirely. Only then will I follow Cirdan’s advice and allow our two peoples to go our separate ways.”

Arraben rolled a foot-soldier between his thumb and middle-finger, studying Gil-galad. The sun sat low on the horizon now, half its face swallowed by the sea. Arraben’s nose cast a long shadow across his face, and his skin seemed to glow as golden as the Spear Elves’ he descended from. “Tell me, honestly, is it your pride that will not let this go? For I warn you, this will be a long, rough trek, with casualties along the way. Perhaps no living bodies will fall, but our minds, my king, our minds, our hearts. This conflict will dig into wounds only just now healing. If we must live again beside those who want us put down like a rabid dog, I fear for what it will reawaken in us. The past may lie quiet now, but it is still our past.”

Gil-galad’s eyes dropped to the chessboard. The pieces cast elongated shadows. His hands curled about themselves, and his eyes were caught by the gleam of his signet ring resting with a heavy, proud weight on his right hand.

This had been his father’s ring and his grandfather’s before him. Fingolfin had slipped it from his finger before riding to his doom, leaving it for his son’s hand to take up like a yoke, like a legacy, like trust. Trust. Entrusted. That is what it felt like slipping onto his finger for the first time, removed from the velvet casket his mother had carried it in out of Hithlum.

His father had not worn it, or the golden crown, to battle. An Eagle had come for the crown. Mother had not mentioned the ring, and only handed Father’s crown over out of duty. Turgon was the rightful king, even if Gil-galad’s mother had never felt a drop of respect for him.

The weight of his father’s crown on his head had felt like the memory of all those who had worn it before him: Finwë, Fëanor, Maedhros, Maglor, Fingolfin, Fingon, Turgon, and now his own child-brow. His head would have bowed under a weight too terrible to bear (his people filling the sun-streaked hall in Balar, their eyes like hope and desperation and deliver us, deliver us, pressing into his skin), but this had been his father’s crown and on his finger sat his father’s ring, and it had felt like, in that moment, his father’s cloak had been pulled over his shoulders like Father used to do during the cold months of winter in the North. He imaged he could feel his father’s hand on his shoulder, a warm, proud weight, and his shoulders straightened under it. He heard his father’s voice in his ear, the low, almost playful tone Father used when teaching him how to hold a bow and hit the target: “Steady now, little warrior.”

The crown did not cut into his brow, and his finger did not feel dragged down by an immeasurable weight. His father had come to tell him he was proud of him, proud to see the signs of his kingship passed down to his son. In that moment Gil-galad knew he would treasure this kingship like a memorial to his father. He would bear it with honor and pride. It was his father’s legacy given for safe-keeping into his hands.

No, it was not pride that made him dig his heels in, refusing to surrender ground. It was about proving the Noldor –his father’s people who he had left Gil-galad the shepherd of—these ex-oppressors, ex-slavers, ex-Kinslayers could live side-by-side with another kindred in peace. It was about proving they were more than the sum of their mistakes, more than the legacy of their pasts.

He told Arraben this, and understanding softened Arraben’s face. Of course Arraben understood; he understood these things, this legacy, more intimately than Gil-galad himself. Arraben proved the long reach of his memory when he whispered with that little hint of awe his voice always wore when it spoke these words: “You are so like your grandfather.”

Arraben’s brow picked up resolve, determination squaring his shoulders as it squared Gil-galad’s, “We will conquer this, my king. We are the Noldor, after all. We only need the time, and we can conquer even ourselves.”

“Time, yes,” Gil-galad nodded, renewed with the strength of Arraben’s companionship on this long, rough trek. “Time is our greatest weapon.”

*

Celebrían shaded her eyes with her hand. The sun rode high in the sky, glittering off the rolling belly of the sea. “It is nearly the noon-hour, Fallmea. Come, we should head back.”

Celebrían gathered her prizes up in the front of her dress with hands salted with sand. She’d found a lovely purple sanddollar down by the oysters’ hide-out early into their beach stroll, and placed it in her lap alongside the pretty seashells and stranded starfish.

“Oh, no, my princess, let me do that,” Fallmea tried to shoo Celebrían’s hands away.

Celebrían laughed, sitting back on her calves, dress collecting sand like a whale’s mouth the sea. “Don’t be silly, Fallmea. How many times do I have to tell you I don’t have baby-hands?”

Fallmea had been her lady’s maid since Celebrían had been a girl too young to fill out her dress’ bodice, but though they had known each other for years Celebrían was forever the little princess in Fallmea’s eyes.

Celebrían collected the last of her catch into the pillow of her lap, and took one last moment to examine each piece in the sunlight, before she slipped them into her pockets like a little girl picking up treasures. The wind blown in off the sea snatched up her hair and threw it across her face like a veil as she rose from her knees. She scraped it out of her eyes and craned her head back to catch a glimpse of the Noldor’s palace set high above them where it crowned the sea cliffs.

It bore none of the delicate beauty of Swan Haven’s white towers that spiraled up to the sky like trees of pearl. Its stone was the grey of the sea churned with the Sea-gods’ wrath, and its shape was like the bulk of mountains. She supposed there was a sort of beauty in it, like the beauty of a wolf’s tooth, but it wasn’t until she walked inside its high, strong walls that the tender places inside revealed themselves.

They began their assent from the beach, mounting the sand dunes scattered with clumps of coarse grasses, to find the trail winding back to the main road. It bustled with Elves coming and going from the palace’s lofty gates. Mithlond stretched out like a lounging great cat along the coast, and the last clusters of its shops and homes walked up the first steps of the backs of the sea cliffs, following the road up.

Celebrían and Fallmea set their feet for the palace gates rising high above them. Their calves protested before they’d reached the summit, and Fallmea kept insisting they commandeer one of the transports for Celebrían, but Celebrían waved her off, enjoying the light exercise. Too long had she been cooped up in the Noldor palace. She missed riding out with her father into the forests that grew thick and wild east of Swan Haven.

She had them stop for Fallmea to buy them sticks of the fried sweets their people so favored, delighted to find this slice of home in a sea of Noldor. She listened keenly as Fallmea chatted a bit with the sweet-stall’s owner, a Teler, their talk turning towards home, and accepted the cool cup of water he bowed into her hands.

When they came through the Gates of Morning at last, Celebrían was still gnawing on the Teler man’s words of why he’d come back to live amongst the Noldor after leaving Balar. He’d said he’d lived in a neighborhood crawling with Noldor back on the isle, and when he’d tried to settle in the Swan Heavens, he’d found he’d missed life amongst the Noldor. They made things exciting, he said, with their never-quenched thirsts and overflowing passions.

Celebrían didn’t know what to make of this. She couldn’t imagine finding Swan Haven lesser for the absence of Noldor when her people filled it up like the sea its basin.

They passed under the great Gates of Morning, then through the Gates of Twilight until they came to the city’s last defense, the Gates of Night, and slipped unhindered through these as well. All three gates were open like welcoming arms on a day of Good Faith, when the king listened to the voices of the common folk.

Lines of petitioners awaiting their audience with the king wound through the King’s Courtyard, lopped about the perimeter but leaving gaps for those on other business to slip through. The line continued on through the Lion Guard Doors that lead to the Hall of Stars.

The noon-bell could not have tolled calling in the mid-day meal yet. The king had passed enough days of Good Faith sitting on his throne listening to the long lines of Elves now for Celebrían to have picked up his habit of opening his kitchens to the waiting petitioners for the noon-day meal, and again for the evening one if there were yet unheard voices at his door. He was a strange ruler, this king of the Noldor.

It was a bit frightening how he seemed to lower himself to the level of even the farmers and fisherfolk, listening to their thoughts as if they carried all the weight of a nobleman’s. There was no order in him. He did not seem to understand that the common folk relied upon the strict lines dividing them from the ruling class, just as the Teleri nobles relied upon Lord Cirdan, and her father’s people their prince, to steer them towards clam waters as trustingly as the sailor puts his faith in his captain.

Celebrían and Fallmea cut through the King’s Courtyard, avoiding the palace’s main entrance at the Lion Guard Doors to swing along the west wall, down the Lane of the Setting Sun where the crowds thinned out. Almond trees shaded the lane alongside plums, their blossoms long faded with the spring.

They turned off the Lane of the Setting Sun when they came abreast of the Arch of the Swallow’s ivy-entwined doors. Beyond lay the Garden of Laughter, Celebrían’s favorite place in the palace, for it was a water-garden in the style her people favored.

Her feet took her to her spot. She curved around the central sunken pool with its water clear enough to pick out the fishes swimming within when the lily-pads and bobbing water-birds did not cast their shadows over the pool’s secrets. She slipped off her slippers and let her feet sink into the cool lawn. Her dress swished through the soft grass as she nestled in her place under the cool shade of her magnolia tree.

She sent Fallmea to fetch them a light luncheon from the kitchens, and pulled out her treasures from her pockets, arranging them in an artful order before her on the grass. Her fingers lingered over her sanddollar, rubbing its grainy shell. At home her Sister and she went beach-hunting the morning of every leisure day.

Here, in this city of strangers, she had spent her leisure days alone with no more companionship than her maid and a mother who hounded her to shed her skin and transform into someone else. But she no more wanted to shed her skin than the moon would forsake its soft glow to pick up the sun’s blaze.

She sighed, the sound heavy with homesickness.

“Celebrían.”

She looked up to see her mother striding through the garden, aiming for her like a loosed bolt. Celebrían had found sanctuary in this garden often enough over her three weeks here for her mother to have tracked her movements.

“Yes, Mother?” She gathered her treasures up and slipped them back into the safety of her pockets. She could just imagine what her mother would have to say about a grown woman still collecting the sea’s little treasures like a child.

Her mother came to stand above her in the tree’s shade, head almost scraping the lowest braches. Her mother dwarfed her, standing at a man’s height, with Celebrían inheriting all the petiteness of the Teler and Sinda in her blood.

Her mother’s face wore displeasure as it looked down on her, but it often did when it gazed upon Celebrían these days. Celebrían was sorry to have caused her mother upset, but had made little effort to concede to her mother’s wishes or relinquish her one, great weapon: silence. As far as her mother knew, she had never spoken to a man.

“It is time,” her mother said with a voice that threw up all Celebrían’s defenses. “Three weeks is time aplenty to accustom yourself to life here. Now. The king will be in the Tower of Air tonight. Stargazing. I want you to go to him there. It will be an ideal setting, especially if you give him the delicate butterfly woman I warned you against. Now you shall use it to our favor and—”

“I cannot, Mother….I cannot bring myself to speak before a man,” she dropped her eyes, though her teeth clenched hard behind the shield of her lips. She was not a butterfly. She was not a delicate glass figurine. But more: she was not a chess piece or a broodmare or whatever it was her mother wanted from her marriage to the king, more than she wanted Celebrían’s happiness.

Her mother let out a loud breath through her nose. “It has been long enough for you to recover from this handicap. I will not have this impediment holding you back from the great destiny that awaits you.”

Celebrían looked up, a frown pressing itself between her brows. “What do you speak of, Mother?”

The lines of displeasure smoothed from her mother’s face, and she sank into the grass, white dress folding like wings over it. She picked up Celebrían’s hands in hers, and Celebrían could not look away from the sudden light shining in her mother’s eyes. “I will give you everything, my daughter, everything. I will make you queen. Oh such a queen shall I make you! There will have been no other like you before, nor your equal after. Your name shall be passed down on the tongues of our people in wonder and awe. You will ascend to greatness higher than Fingolfin! Higher than Fëanor! You shall be Queen of Queens, Queen of Kings!”

“Mother,” Celebrían said. Her voice sounded feeble as a fawn’s new-born legs after the passion infusing her mother’s words, “I do not think I want to be a queen.”

Her mother stared at her, and then she blinked, and seemed to stare right through her into somebody else. “Fear and doubt in the face of greatness came be overcome. Now, come, we have much to plan before your meeting with the king tonight—”

Celebrían tugged her hands out of her mother’s. She did not dare speak the words burning her tongue to get out for a long moment, in which the world seemed to teeter upon a precipice, something monument changing its shape in that quiet garden and choosing the other fork in the path.

She struggled against herself. Years piled up in growing bones in which she’d learned she must put her parents’ desires above her own. She must show them respect in her obedience. But she could not bow her head in elegant surrender to this. She would not marry the Noldor king. She would not. To consider bowing to her mother’s will left her feeling buyable, like she lacked as much self-worth as backbone. She must respect her parents, but how could her mother disrespect her like this?

She searched her mother’s face, seeking something, some sign, some evidence of care for her at all. “I don’t want to marry him, Mother. I don’t want to be his queen. I want to go home.”

Her mother rose to her feet. Her dress, that reminded Celebrían of the arctic when her mother wore it with that look in her eyes, seemed so much more than a dress when it glowed like that, as if with a light of its own, under the tree’s shade. “Go home? To what? The life of a kept pet, caged in a back-room, only brought into the light so the man who owns you can bed you? I am giving you the world. Now stop being a little fool of a girl and help me seize it!”

The mustang in her chest reared, hoofs kicking out to smack against her ribcage, infuriated. Her mother spoke to her like a simpleton, as if Celebrían had no more mind of her own than a puff of clouds, ignoring every word from Celebrían’s mouth as if it were nothing, as if it were the words of an ignorant child that did not know her own mind.

She jumped to her feet. Lightning crackled under her skin. Her mother had all but uprooted herself from Celebrían’s life when Celebrían hadn’t turned out like she’d wanted, but Celebrían had forgiven this because a daughter must honor her mother. But what was this now? What were these dreams not her own being stuffed into her mouth? Was she supposed to be nothing but a re-make of her mother?

“I do not want to marry him! I want to go home and marry the man I choose, and have daughters that dwell like my own ribs next to me in the women’s rooms, and sons I adore, and I want to watch as they grow and I set them free.”

Her mother’s hands curled into fists at her sides as if she wanted to shake those dreams out of Celebrían’s head and replace them with her own. “But you can be so much more!”

“I do not want to be more. I want to be myself.” Her breath shook; her chest feel like it was crushing in on her. She had never spoken to her mother like this before, but now she had started she didn’t know how to stop. There was lightning under her skin, and a thunderstorm raging against her breastbone. The mustang in her chest would not be bridled and trotted out like some prized mare for the purchase. “Should I apologize for not being the daughter you want? Well I won’t. You think me weak, but I am not. I am not a spineless butterfly to bend before your will. And unlike you, I will see my dreams fulfilled.”

Her mother stared at her, pupils huge in their bed of icy-blue. “I do not understand how you could possibly—”

“No, you do not understand me at all.” Celebrían’s hands shook as they gathered up her skirt, but she held her head high, like the princess, the Teler woman she was, as she walked away.

It was not Celebrían, but her mother, who saw the world tilted, in odd colors Celebrían did not know and did not want to. Celebrían was not a pretty doll to play dress-up with and act out the life her mother had always wanted for her own. Never, never, had she been treated so much like a toy, like something not human with mind, heart, desires, and hopes of her own than she had by her own mother.

Her mother’s voice halted her, “I cannot. I will not. Because this dream of yours reeks of Valinor. It is everything I have fought my whole life against. I cannot understand you daughter, because what you desire is a cage.”

Celebrían spun back around to face her mother. Her mother’s chin had lifted high, mouth a white slash across a face that born every one of its Noldor bones with haughtier as she seemed to look down on Celebrían, judging her and finding her wanting.

Celebrían’s jaw clenched. “I am leaving. Today. I am not staying another minute in this city with you.”

She snapped back around and marched from the garden. She mother did not follow her. Her mother never pursued her father after one of their arguments. It was a matter of pride.

Her mother was not the person she’d thought she was. Her mother was supposed to be the cleverest woman alive, and the most beautiful. She was supposed to be the turtle-shelled woman with the tender places inside. She was supposed to love Celebrían.

Celebrían knew, from this day on, she would never be the same. She couldn’t return to the daughter who held her tongue and bowed her head in obedience to her parents, seeking the path of the dutiful daughter. She could never be that girl again. Something had broken between her and her mother that might be patched back together one day but would never shine as bright as her childish love and adoration for the person she’d mistaken her mother for.
Chapter 25 by Encairion
The Price of Vengeance II
Chapter 25

Galadriel had watched from a high window over-looking the King’s Courtyard as Celebrían climbed into the transport that would ferry her down to Mithlond. Celebrían would be back in Sawn Haven before the sun’s setting. Back with Celeborn, who had ruined their daughter.

Galadriel’s hands curled into fists, nails biting her palms as she watched Celebrían’s maid load her mistress’ chest into the transport and climb in after. She watched like a pillar of marble as the transport’s driver flicked the reigns, and the transport lurched into motion, taking her daughter away.

Galadriel could have been carved from stone, the only sign of life the deep breaths she pulled in through dilated nostrils. Her face was blank as a slate wiped clean.

Celebrían was gone, and Galadriel could not follow. Would not follow. She had sworn, years ago, that she would never go crawling back to Celeborn. He would have to come to her on his knees before he could have her back. He would have to bend first.

But his neck held as high and proud as her own, and the years spooled out between them. The separation of their lives may not have been complete, for Galadriel still returned to Swan Haven to maintain a connection with her daughter, but she could admit (only to herself) that she was not the mother she’d once been in Celebrían’s childhood. She could not stomach dwelling in the same house with Celeborn for long, and the thought of returning to his bed was unimaginable. She did not forgive:

—They had shared few words and many cold silences since Galadriel had thrown Celeborn’s hypocrisy in his face, and Celeborn had used his sharpest weapon against her: apathy. He’d told her she could disappear and he wouldn’t notice or care. He spoke those words already knowing that they’d hurt her worse than any insult or raised hand. But she would rather choke on her pride than admit the icy-slice of his weapon had struck true.

She’d returned from Mithlond, intending to spend the evening with Celebrían and ignoring Celeborn’s existence. She’d found him in her bed. Of course he did it in her bed. That was the whole point. He’d wanted her to find them.

He’d taken his mouth off the other woman’s body long enough to meet her gaze where she stood frozen in the doorway, and then he looked away because he wanted her to know how insignificant she was to him as he resumed his fucking in her bed. If she’d had a blade in her hands in that moment she would have sunk it into his naked back, into those muscles she’d run her fingers over a thousand times, which now shifted under his skin as he moved inside another woman.

She found his back as beautiful as it was repulsive now. That back, that back that she had wrapped her arms around. That back that had curved over her like a tree’s broad, strong shelter. That back that she knew more intimately than her own. That back that had been hers, hers, only hers.

She slammed the door behind her, the corridor ringing with the sound of her wrath. She descended like a hurricane upon Celeborn’s study, his most private of rooms that was as a sanctuary to him. She torn the books off the shelves, sent the neat piles of papers flying from his desk, yanked out draws and spilled their contents on the floor, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t an equal to the destruction he’d carved inside her heart. So she picked through the fallen books and took up his most prized possession.

It was a beautiful book, ancient even by their people’s measure, written in the old Cirth of Doriath by an elegant hand shaping the ruins and painting the delicate illustrations long before the moon’s first rising. This book was one of only a handful that had survived Doriath’s wars, and Celeborn loved it more than he loved Thingol’s blood in his veins.

She went to the room’s cold hearth and built a fire with steady hands and eyes of ice. When the kindling caught, she opened the book and tore the first page out with the kind of deliberate destruction a fishmonger used to cut off a salmon’s head. She fed the page to the fire and watched its corners curl up like the way a dying spider’s legs curled into its body. She tore out the next page and watched that one burn too.

More than half the book lay in ashes before Celeborn found her. There was a terrible moment that seemed to stretch into eternity, as he stood like a tree struck by lightning in the doorway staring at what was left of the book in her hands. She sunk her teeth into the righteousness of her revenge so as not to shrink from the look of wretched grief flung all over his face like blood, like the blood of a kinsman, like she’d killed a part of him and held the half-eaten corpse in her hands.

She thought in the next moment, when his eyes rose to meet hers, that he would wrap his hands around her throat and squeeze, or worse: he’d punish her with domination and animal breath on the back of her neck and the sound of her dress ripping. He’d never touched her in violence, but that moment she saw its reflection in his eyes.

But he never flung her to the floor and forced her legs open or her throat closed. He cut her with the coldness he wielded best against her, and blew through her heart like the memory of the Helcaraxë: “Do you know how small you look in my eyes? Go on,” he swept out his hand as if offering the room to her, “Burn the place down for all I care. You pathetic, petty creature.”

He left her there with her hands stained with the ashes of his treasure, and it didn’t matter that he’d lied when he said he wouldn’t care; it mattered that he’d walked away without acknowledging her pain, his turned back reducing her to the woman he’d named her with his words. She could have forgiven the betrayal of another woman’s body wrapped like a snake around his. But not this. Not this emptiness in her chest. Not the way her shoulders caved in around her, needed to hear her husband’s voice asking for her forgiveness. If he had but humbled himself….but he didn’t, so her hands could never again trace over a back broad and strong as a tree.—

She’d made the mistake of loving a man with the pride of an oak tree and the spite to pull down kingdoms just to bring her to her knees before him. She had fallen in love with a man whose spirit was too close a kin to her own. Loving him had been a mistake, but oh how he had kissed, oh the bliss of his body enfolding hers. Oh the feel of his knives cutting into her breast, a neat circle, to peel the flesh back and expose her heart to his cruel, cruel touch.

Her daughter had gone home to a man Galadriel would never crawl back to. All her plans, years and years of tireless labor and stomaching this hell, where her rapist’s face grinned out of all the corners like a circling jackal, was ruined now. Knocked down as easily as a house of cards when Celebrían threw Galadriel’s long labor of love and vengeance and dreams and hate back into her face.

Her daughter had turned her back, casting Galadriel from her life, and looking at Galadriel with Celeborn’s eyes: seeing nothing worth loving.

It was all the fault of that awful boy with the face of a wolf in all its angles.

She lifted her skirt and began to ascend the Stairs to Heaven. They hugged the walls in their corkscrew up to the high astronomy platform that crowned the Tower of Air.

The rumors she’d so carefully sifted through, like a miner seeking gold, were all useless now, because if the king were ousted from the throne by the accusation of deviant desires, Elrond would take his place. Elrond was even worse than a wolf-faced king, because he was a Fëanorion-lover and would be sure to pander to the Kinslayers. Valar knew what chaos and destruction he would bring down on them, were his head to wear the crown.

She may not be able to destroy the king without heralding in her people’s disaster, but she could destroy Ereinion. Destroy him like his very existence destroyed her, a little bit more every time she had to breathe in the same room, the same palace, the same city as him.

She would destroy him because he was Fingon’s seed, and because she wanted to wrap her hand around his cock and tear it off every time she had to grit her teeth around the words ‘my king,’ and bow her head to the boy who sat crowned and enthroned just because he had something she did not between his legs. She was the eldest of Finwë’s line. It should have been her crown, her throne, her kingdom.

But because she was a woman, she was as defined by the men around her as ever. She was still helpless against the memory of animal breath, still leashed to a man who loved her no more than the Helcaraxë, and held all rights over the daughter her body had born. She was only a woman, just the womb in the equation; the one who couldn’t even stop a man from usurping the