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Maedhros and the Palantir by Himring

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Story notes:

"Perilous to us all are the devices of an art deeper than we possess ourselves."

("The Palantir" in: The Two Towers)

Written for Huinare's June of Doom & Gloom Challenge on LiveJournal.

Tree and Flower Awards, Saruman, First Place

Banner made by Winterwitch. Photo credit: Winterwitch.

Chapter notes:

Valinorean name choices:

Nelyafinwe Maitimo = Maedhros; Curumo = Saruman; Feanaro = Feanor; Olorin = Gandalf.

Also: Nolofinwe = Fingolfin; Findekano = Fingon; Findarato = Finrod Felagund

After a series of astonishingly similar conversations with the more important and illustrious among the Noldor, Nelyafinwe Maitimo discovered he was near the door, took the opportunity and unobtrusively sidled through it. In the hallway, he stopped, took a deep breath—and blinked. There was a subtle movement against the light and he realized that apparently one of his father’s guests had left the room even earlier, just ahead of him. It was a Maia, so much was evident, probably one of Aule’s, but at first that was all Maitimo could discern. He frowned a little. The figure in the hallway shifted imperceptibly and solidified and Maitimo recognized him.

‘Lord Curumo,’ he said politely. ‘Are you being called away? My father will regret missing the chance to say goodbye to you. But thank you very much for your visit on this auspicious occasion!’

‘Ah, yes,’ said the Maia named Curumo in his deep, resonant voice.

Maitimo regarded him a little warily. His attitude towards the Ainur in general tended to be one of respectful incomprehension and he was painfully aware that, not being a Maker, he lacked a means of communication with Aule and his Maiar that the Aulendili in his family like his mother and his grandfather seemed to possess. Nevertheless, he had a feeling that Curumo’s utterance was unusually cryptic even for a Maia.

‘I hear you are to be congratulated, Nelyafinwe Maitimo,’ said Curumo suddenly.

‘Thank you,’ said Maitimo. ‘But for what?’

‘You collaborated with your father on the Palantiri, did you not?’

Ah, it was just going to be a variant of the same conversation again after all?

‘No, not really, Lord Curumo. As you know, Father had already discovered the salient principle.’

‘Are you sure you are not being modest?’

‘Indeed, no! It was only when King Olwe requested stones powerful enough to communicate with each other all the way across the sea between Alqualonde and Avallone—for although Father’s original stones worked perfectly, they were not nearly strong enough for effective communication across such a distance, being no larger than pebbles and basically just interesting toys —I believe you saw them, didn’t you?’  Maitimo paused briefly, waiting for an affirmative, which did not come, and continued: ‘It was only at that point that Father called me in to assist. I did a little extra theoretical research for him, to his specifications. It saved him a little time. He was able to augment and channel the effect more quickly—and so he was able to hand over the first of the stones to Olwe today. The second one is almost ready for use as well, just as he announced, and so instant communication with Avallone is only going to be a matter of weeks!’

Of course, most of this had already been said, more than once, in the room they had just left, and he was rather wishing it did not need quite so much repeating.  The shape of the Maia wavered slightly before his eyes, as if heated air was rippling between them. Then it solidified again.

‘The hands and mind of Feanaro,’ said Curumo in that strangely resonant voice of his—and nothing more than that.

No, really, there definitely was something odd about this Maia’s behaviour, Maitimo decided. But who knew what moods Maiar might be subject to? For all he knew they might sometimes find their own moods as inexplicable as he found his.

‘Yes,’ he said uncertainly. And because, at least for a Noldo, the silence was getting distinctly uncomfortable, he added: ‘I will bid you farewell then, Lord Curumo, at this time, but hope you will honour us with your presence again soon,’ and  went up the stairs to his room. It felt impolite to abandon a guest in the hallway, but it felt even more impolite to keep forcing a conversation on him, as he seemed unintentionally to be doing.

But, as he climbed the stairs, he forgot about Curumo the Maia. It had been an awkward conversation, certainly, but considering the high proportion of relatives among the guests that had attended the occasion, perhaps not even the most awkward one he had had that day…

Maitimo shoved aside the thought of the conversation with Indis that had somehow not gone as well as it should and the conversation with Nolofinwe that had started promisingly and then gone wrong for no discernible reason.  There would have to be yet another round of mending fences sometime, but he had not come up here to think about that. He stood in the middle of his study, taking stock, and allowed himself to feel the sinking feeling in his stomach.

There, on his desk, lay in a neat stack his final set of notes on the Palantir as his father had returned them to him, with an orderly tick at the bottom of each section that marked it as incorporated, dealt with, as Feanaro worked through the pages. And on a shelf in the far corner, less neatly, a small stack of notebooks lay piled where he had hurriedly abandoned it when Feanaro had asked him to help him work on the Palantir: his last unfinished project. He closed his eyes and tried to reconstruct, without looking at those notebooks to jog his memory, what exactly it had been about, where he had got to, what conclusions he had reached—and why he had thought it was interesting.

He should have worked out how to deal with it by now, but it went on happening, every single time. His father demanded his help and Maitimo jumped at the chance to work with him. Of course he did! Who would not have?  It was cutting-edge research! It was the best game in town! His father wanted him!  And of course the Palantir in particular had offered fascinating insights into principles of time and space that a part of him was still trying to wrap his mind around and into the structure of Eldarin consciousness—not to mention the diplomatic advantage of having such a major new technology to offer Olwe and the Teleri.

It had been intoxicating, all of it—breathlessly studying his father’s notes on the underlying principles, long hours of immersing himself in calculations and research in the library, the heady thrill of participating in ongoing discussions with his father and his father’s apprentices. It had monopolized his attention almost completely for more than a year. And then it was over. Feanaro, Maitimo knew, already had his next project in mind, one for which Maitimo’s assistance would not be required, and was itching to get the rest of the Palantiri made and delivered to Olwe as fast as possible so that he could get on with it. Maitimo’s help would not be required for that either.

Maitimo was left to pick up the threads of his own work as best he could. It was, he reminded himself firmly, a privilege. It was a privilege to be allowed to work with his father occasionally. It was also a privilege to have the opportunity to work on his own projects, even if his scholarship would never draw the attention of all Valinor as his father’s did, or indeed the attention of most of his own family—yes, despite the fact that so often, in his field, there were no tangible results he could show anyone at all. He simply should have taught himself how to handle the transition better.

He walked along his shelves, greeting books he had neglected over the past year by trailing his fingers apologetically along their spine, carefully straightening Principles of Just and Equitable Government to preserve its worn binding and giving it a small reassuring pat. Maybe he just needed a rest, he ruminated, or maybe what he needed was a little private talk with one of his cousins—Findekano could usually be relied on to share his interests—although relying on Findekano and his hero worship seemed rather like cheating, sometimes—and Findarato had such broad sympathies that he made it easy to forget that his real passion was for stone and any form of carving, architectural or sculptural. Maitimo just had to sort out his thoughts a little.

He returned to his desk, picked up the sheaf of notes and weighed them in his hand, hesitating. They represented a great deal of—meticulously summarized and condensed—work but, now that Feanaro had gone through them, they were already superseded. His father never simply adopted anyone’s results; his mind was always busy refining anyone’s work that he incorporated into his own. There was not much reason to keep the notes, really—he could just throw them away, clearing his working space and, simultaneously, his mind. But he sat down and quickly leafed through them, just in case, flipping through pages of orderly formulas and successions of numbered paragraphs. Suddenly, something caught his eye and he turned one page back over again.

There, clearly as an afterthought, he had added a note, squeezed into the margin: Communication of thoughts and intentions will be much amplified. Possibility of misuse? Consider installing safeguards?  And there was no tick, no comment in his father’s hand, no sign that he had taken any notice of it at all. Maitimo had not remembered to mention that afterthought to his father in conversation nor had his father reminded him of it. However, now as he sat looking at the page in his hand, it struck Maitimo that, in all his work on the Palantir, this had been his only independent contribution. In everything else, however complicated the reasoning and intricate the procedure, he had merely been carrying out his father’s instructions, following his methodic guidelines and continuing his lines of thought. But this note had been his own initiative and his father had ignored it, as he so often ignored uninvited suggestions…

But hold! Maybe it deserved to be ignored? It was simply a scrawled note, an undeveloped thought, not a reasoned argument. Yes, the developed Palantir was a great deal more powerful than Feanor’s original prototype. Perhaps more care would be necessary in using it. But was there any serious possibility of its being misused? How, why and by whom? What kind of safeguards might be needed? He had worked out none of that. It had not really been a practical suggestion, merely the beginning of one, perhaps.  And were these even sensible considerations, here in Valinor? Although maybe…

Maitimo never finished his train of thought. There was the sound of quick footsteps on the stairs and then his father yanked open the door.

‘Nelyo, what are you doing up here?!’ exclaimed Feanaro, wine glass in hand. ‘How can you be moping around up here while everyone else is celebrating downstairs? Don’t you think the Palantir is worth celebrating? It’s not a real celebration without you! Come down at once!’

It was, as always when his father appeared on the scene, an effect almost like sheet lightning. The air crackled. The doorway did not seem large enough to contain as elemental a force as Feanaro and Maitimo felt all his thoughts blow away as in a strong blast of wind. He would have to sort out things for himself all over again, afterwards, he thought, as he obediently got up to follow his father downstairs and accepted the proffered glass.  But he could not bring himself to regret it—whatever else, his father was sincere and he could not help feeling gratified that Feanaro could not fully enjoy the celebration of his undoubted achievement without the presence of his eldest son.

The leaf Maitimo had held in his hand when his father came in, with its scrawled note, fluttered aside and was completely forgotten again. Despite that, by sheer serendipity, it survived the next major housecleaning and the next and then somehow went on surviving on the strength of not having been thrown away already until, a very long time afterwards, Nerdanel passed it to her father Mahtan, who glanced at it, sighed at the sight of the familiar writing that brought back memories of a long-lost grandson, and put it away.

Mahtan brought it out again to show Olorin when Olorin came to visit him after his return from Endore. Although Mahtan had not had a full report of the goings-on in Middle-earth yet and had been slow to ask for it, because of painful associations, he had heard a rumour that touched on the use of Palantiri in the recent War. He suspected Olorin might be interested in Maitimo’s marginal note and he was right.

‘Ah,’ said Olorin, regretfully. ‘I never spoke to your grandson, you know. He was sufficiently aware of me to be made uncomfortable by my presence but not talented enough to be able to communicate, so I stayed away from him. It was only later, in Middle-earth, that I really learned the advantages of face-to-face conversation… And besides I believed, then, that the Finwioni did not need me.’

He read Maitimo’s scrawled note again and thought of Curumo’s fate and of Denethor’s.

‘Excuse me a moment, Mahtan,’ he said.

And he went around to a sheltered corner at the back of Mahtan’s smithy, took on the shape of an old man, sat down and lit his pipe.


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