Maeglin found his treasure in one of a trio of deep hollows in the ground that there was no explanation for.
Of all the places in the forest he played, the places he was allowed and the places he was not, the thicket that guarded the hollows was the place he visited most often. There was always a sense of anticipation when he approached it because his father said that the best treasures were found there. There Maeglin had once found a long dagger of pale bone, and an opalised fox skull, all sorts of knucklebones, and once a ring made of blackened steel with a pattern of lilies amongst suns.
His father had found his mother there, and when his mother was lucid she was someone more precious than diamonds, than gold or silver or mercury. She was more brilliant than any khazad cut stone. But those times when she was such were few between.
As he squeezed past the thicket he knew already that he would find something today. His shadowkin servant following behind him with no soft protesting sighs since he had had the same shadowkin since his infancy and it was broken in well. The air was buzzing and there were corvids hanging in the trees, looking down at the centre hollow.
It was an elf, his horse fallen near him and dead by a snapped neck, struggling despite how thoroughly Nan Elmoth had wrapped him in her most poisonous children.
He was shining, Maeglin thought, like a star that had fallen straight out of the sky. His hair like the mercury his father used, skin like the hazelnuts that his mother devoured when in her better moments.
He was caught up in Despair Vines which had sunk their feelers into his skin, and there was blue around his lips, a pale froth forming between them as he convulsed and struggled against it. Thorns from the Rumor Tree had sunk into his face, and there were the distinct welts showing through his shredded gloves that meant he’d had to fight his way away from the corrosive grasp of a Banquet Shrub.
Maeglin fought past the greenery. Nan Elmoth could not touch him. His father had made sure. He had given Maeglin little doses of all of Nan Elmoth’s poisons until not a single one could hurt him. His father said that Maeglin had already been born resistant, because his mother had been poisoned so badly by Despair Vine.
The vine’s poison took and took and took, his father explained, it stayed in the bones and could never be fully purged or cleansed away once it had reached that deep. It stayed and devoured the mind and the spirit.
But that was only if you stayed poisoned for too long. The beautiful stranger’s lips weren’t purple yet, and his eyes hadn’t started bleeding. Maeglin had the bezoar his father had made sure he always kept on a cord around his neck, in case somehow Eöl had missed a poison to guard Maeglin against.
He struggled and managed to smack away reaching greenery, using the shadow servant by his side to lever away the more aggressive plants and watch his back so he could finally lay hands on his treasure.
The stranger’s skin was flushed with fever already, and he shivered when Maeglin touched him, forcing eyes that were covered in a film of dirty green to look in his direction.
“Irr…” His tongue was swollen and heavy when his lips parted, and Maeglin could see pustules beginning to coat the inside of his cheeks. “Sssss… kaaannn….o?”
“Open your mouth!” Maeglin told him, shivering with eagerness to take his treasure back to the keep, and popped the bezoar between slack red lips.
“I will take care of you,” he promised the other, patting his hair through convulsions and the ingested toxins pushing out of the pores of his skin. Just a bezoar would not be enough, but Maeglin’s father had plenty of antidotes and cures and other interesting potions hidden away that Maeglin knew he could use.
In his spasms a pendant fell free of the man’s softly grey shaded tunic. Maeglin picked it up, eyes widening when his fingers brushed the stone in the middle and it lit up with a pale blue glow. Brushing his fingers over it again caused the glow to die. Back and forth Maeglin summonsed the light from the stone, patting sweat soaked hair whenever his new treasure gave a particularly pained groan as the poison continued to purge.
The rest of the pendant was beautiful as well, star etched platinum set with finely done enamelling that picked up the light of the stone like as though melted gemstones instead of coloured glass. A soft sigh heralded that the bezoar had done its duty, Maeglin slipped the pendant around his own neck with a happy shiver at how the metal picked up the warmth from his skin so quickly.
Not strong enough himself to lift his new treasure, he had the shadowkin unwrap the adult and pick him up, and hurried back to Nan Elmoth’s keep.
The keep was half sunk into the earth and half above ground. Large domed roofs with skylights and the single observation tower, where his father completed his astrography was all that stood proud amongst the black trunks of the trees looming all around, but Maeglin knew that he only needed to push in the large black iron doors and run down the stairs to be surrounded by the warm honey coloured light of home.
He heard his voice being called as he showed his shadowkin where he wanted his treasure to be kept, in the little room attached to his own where his nursemaid had slept when he had had one, and shivered a little at the call. He still was not used to the name his father had finally given him. It had taken such a long time for the stars to tell Eöl what Maeglin’s name should be, and that the time was right to call him such.
He hurried out of the room, seeking his father because when Eöl called him it was unwise to ignore the summons.
It also meant he could enter his father’s workshop, and from there, when his father was done questioning him about his morning’s lessons, slip through the garden behind into the small still room that could only be reached by that route.
There was a pungent medicinal smell in the air as he riffled through the cabinets. He knew what he had to give the stranger. His father had showed him in case there was a visiting merchant who was struck by it, or his mother had a fit and Eöl was not there to help.
The little case his father had made sure Maeglin knew the location of more than once had a canister of silver leaves and a strainer pot, several obsessively labelled bottles, and two more bezoars.
His father was so prepared for everything. Maeglin smiled, happy to be surrounded by the proof his father cared. There was a whole wall devoted to emergencies. Another shelf that was just for Maeglin’s mother with what Eöl needed to purge the Despair Vine every month, and what he needed for her paranoia, for her rages, for her seizures, to control the bleeding, and then what he needed for the side effects of those.
He slipped out into the garden, lingering behind the stalactite trainers for the pale glowing vines that grew the sweet fruit his father preferred to snack on.
Maeglin’s shadowkin did not have the face to look relieved when he appeared but it certainly sagged a little in the middle where it had been standing before the door to the nursemaid’s room.
Maeglin eagerly steeped the leaves and left the resulting mixture brewing on his warming braiser, leaning over the stranger.
“He smells,” Maeglin declared after a moment, “help me,” and with the shadowkin doing the lifting and hard work, had the stranger stripped of his fetid clothing which he happily tossed into the cesspits. Only Maeglin’s treasure’s cloak was salvageable because it had been caught and pulled away from the his body and it had not been tainted. It was pretty too. Maeglin very much liked the murex purple lining and how it went so well with the soft snow-deer grey of the outside.
A very expensive piece of clothing too. But his treasure also had a pendant made of platinum so it wasn’t surprising.
“Wake up,” he encouraged the stranger and when there was a flicker of eyes that had lost the muddy sheen of the Despair Vines but were dulled and tired, he put the spout of the strainer pot to his lips and poured till the stranger had swallowed all of the silver leaf.
“Now this,” and though it took negotiating and pinching the stranger’s nose, he poured one of the appropriate bottles into his mouth and watched him swallow.
“That will help with the Despair Vines,” he tried to explain to the stranger who was watching him with a little more focus and what was definitely anger despite how limp and unresponsive the whole of his body was, “because if they poison you deep the poison never comes out! I have put a pot beside the bed. Please throw up into that because my shadowkin doesn’t like mopping!”
There was a miserable groan and Maeglin’s shadowkin drifted forward and rolled Maeglin’s treasure onto his side and positioned his head so he could do just as Maeglin had asked.
And while his shadowkin cleaned away the pot and brought a new one, Maeglin settled in to wait for his treasure to return to consciousness.
Maeglin stiffened at his bedroom doorway and stared at his mother who was standing in the half lit gloom of the room, glowing like a spectre in the white clothing she insisted on wearing.
“Mother,” he replied, the words of their secret language tripping off the tongue for the first few syllables before his mind did the little shuffle it needed to do in order to speak it smoothly, and then after that the words came easier, “I thought today was your resting day.”
“Can I not come and spend my resting day with my son?” Aredhel was twisting her hands together, and her head swayed left to right, searching for something with a clumsy movement. Her neck always seemed a little too long and her head a little too heavy for it. She had large dark scars across her neck and shoulders where she had ridden her horse straight into the devouring grasp of a Rumour Tree.
Father thought that perhaps Maeglin’s mother had been in the hollow for four or five days by the time he found her because he had had to cut deep into her skin to find the thorns and pull them out, and because they had discoloured her skin so darkly and permanently. Maeglin’s treasure would probably have a few light brown scars on his face for a few months before they faded. Maeglin had himself been scratched by the tree and watched the wounds go from red to brown to yellow to skin colour again.
“Father says you have to be careful when you have your rest day, ” Maeglin kept to the door, wondering if she had found his treasure. But the bookcase he had had his shadowkin pull over the door was still in place. “ He wants you to lie down and sleep. Because you don’t sleep enough before your purge days. ”
“ Your father says a great many things Lómion. Most of witchcraft and hermitage nonsense. The only foolishness your father does not speak is when he speaks of his metal work. Tell me, has he had any visitors of late?”
“No, none since the caravan from Brithombar came seeking khazad iron ware for their Lady’s Hope Chest,” Maeglin shook his head, trying to watch her feet, her hands, and her head at the same time because they did not work in accordance with one another and while one might be calm, that didn’t mean she might not be preparing to strike or kick or slap.
“No one whatsoever?” his mother circled the room in a restless circle. “No strangers who wear strange clothes and talk in a strange fashion? That talk like your mother does? No one who speaks our secret tongue, even only if your father is not paying attention. Amongst themselves? No one with hair like that miseril metal that your father seems to love more than us? Perhaps accompanied by a great wolfhound?”
“No one like that Mother, no one with hair like miseril . ” Maeglin’s treasure was fairly crowned in mithril though and then he caught sight of the gleam between his mother’s fretful hands.
It was one of his treasure’s hairs. Long and shining like perfect silver. She twisted it back and forth between her fingers and with every new gleam of light from the strand, Maeglin’s stomach tightened more and more.
“ Where is he ?” his mother whispered and Maeglin pressed back away from the door but did not leave because she might be talking to him. “ WHERE ARE YOU YOU WHORESON KINSLAYER ?” his mother suddenly screamed and grabbed the chest of drawers that Maeglin’s clothing was kept in. She ripped it away from the wall and flung it right across the room, the large oak furniture that Maeglin could not even budge flying like it was made out of balsa.
Maeglin felt his entire middle chill with fear.
“Ahhh…” a soft sigh from his shadowkin and it wrapped one arm around his arm like a leash and tugged him away with the feather soft pressure it used when Maeglin was scared.
Maeglin followed, shaking and finding it hard to walk.
His mother’s eyes had not been the muddy grey that his father’s treatments allowed her to have, or the muddy green that mean that the poison had broken through again, not the bright blue and silver that meant that a perfect balance of suppressant and poison had been reached so that she was lucid, but instead had been the yellow puss colour that Maeglin knew meant that his mother had missed her medication.
The shadowkin tugged a little harder. Maeglin forced himself to jog.
It took him to his father, as it was trained to do, and once his father had held him and reassured himself that Maeglin was not injured, Eöl bade him to stay in the workshop until he was done.
Maeglin could still hear the screaming though, all the way down the corridors, and the walls of the workshop seemed to press in on him as he heard his father shouting for the shadowkin to assist him in taking his wife back to her rooms and prepare a purging bath.
It was a long time before Eöl came back. Maeglin had occupied himself sorting the bags of uncut gems his father had received by courier, and was rewarded with a smile and a nod at his efforts. Finally he could go back to his rooms which were back in place though the bookcase was moved away from the door.
So Maeglin was understandably shaking as he opened the door but since his father had not mentioned it, and his father would mention a stranger in the keep, he hoped that perhaps the nursemaid’s room was unbreached and he found it to be so, though his treasure was in the far end of the room with a broken chairleg held in his hands defensively, eyes wide and panicked.
“I can’t stay here,” his treasure whispered, “she will kill me! If not her, then your father; he is not friendly with my kind, child!”
“I have a name!” Maeglin was happy he was awake and lucid now, and his eyes were a lovely shade of lavender blue. “It is Maeglin Eölion! Or my mother calls me Lómion. What is your name?”
“Celegorm Fëanorion. Tyelkormo Fëanárion. Lómion… Lómion… that is Quenya,” his treasure’s eyes widened, “Are you Ñoldor?”
“No,” there was something so thrilling, like his blood had become a lightning bolt, in using the secret language with someone who was not his mother. Someone who knew it just like he did. Sometimes Maeglin thought his mother had made the secret tongue up, even though she insisted it was what she had once always spoken, “I am Avar, my father says we are the Star-Dusk people; my mother calls him a moriquendi.”
“I have never heard of the Star-Dusk people.”
“ Never heard of them.”
“There are not many of us,” Maeglin agreed, “just my father and I really now. And my uncle who looks after the mortuary tablets in Gabilgathol. And the mortuary tablets themselves. And the skulls in Father’s office.”
“Why do they count?” Celegorm looked disturbed.
“Because they still talk.”
“Even the skulls?”
“Yes or Father would have taken them to Uncle and the mortuary tablets and laid them to rest.”
Celegorm just stared, then gingerly shook his head and cleared his throat.
“Your mother is not, though.”
“She is Ñoldor.”
“Yes. Father calls her Golodh when he is angry and Lachen when he is not .”
“ … is she the one who was outside the door? The one who was screaming?”
“Yes that was her,” Maeglin beamed and took the chair leg from him. He looked surprised at his empty hands, “ she is not well and she stressed herself today. She must have missed a dose, or her purge day was not successful. Do you know her? And your hair is dirty, you should wash it. You should wash yourself all over really. You, go get the washing bowl from my room ,” he told his shadowkin who glided out then returned and poured out the water.
“Heat it, please,” he asked and the shadowkin unfurled its arm and tapped the water which began to steam.
“ Wash, please. You smell, and I do not want my treasures to smell,” he pointed at the water and his treasure took a moment but Maeglin soaked the rag that had come with the water and went to wash the grime off his face and he took the cloth away from him and began to do the job.
“ Well, do you?” Maeglin asked when he felt he’d given him enough time to wash down his body.
“ Know my mother.”
He had never met anyone who had known his mother before!
“I knew her… I know her. I know her very well. She is kin to me, the daughter of my father’s younger half-brother.”
“Then you are kin to me!” Maeglin realised with surprise and joy. He had no kin! No kin but his parents. Neither talked of theirs much and when they did they looked in so much pain that Maeglin would change the topic of conversation for them.
“Oh yes I suppose I am, I suppose you are my cousin also.” A smile that was charming but seemed half hearted.
“And you are my cousin,” Maeglin thought about it, “as well as my treasure! If you are my mother’s kin why do you not want to see her?”
“I do not think you would understand,” a shake of starlight hair, “what do you mean I am your treasure? ”
“I am very smart, and I understand many things, my father gave me my name because I am smart. And you are my treasure because I found you! Just like the other treasures from the hollow.”
Maeglin thought Celegorm’s hair looked clean enough now. He gave him the comb and watched his shadowkin leave the room with the water, not spilling a drop.
“Well, it might be upsetting.”
“I am fourteen,” Maeglin lifted his chin.
“You look as though you are five,” Celegorm did not mean his words to be cruel, Maeglin could see it. He had genuine confusion in his face.
“I am small for my age, Father says so, but I am not that much smaller.”
“It has been an age since I spent time with a child, I suppose I have become bad at judging.” Celegorm took up the comb. “ Well. Your mother and I. We were cousins and we were close. A long time ago. In another land that is very far away. Across the ocean, in fact.”
“How close?” Maeglin asked.
“We were friends,” Celegorm said it slowly, “and we… loved each other’s company once, though we parted a long time ago. Has your mother… told you of the Helcaraxe?”
Maeglin shook his head. “What was that?”
“A mistake,” Celegorm looked very sad, “and your mother was hurt by that.” Celegorm had stopped combing his hair. He touched a long white scar across his neck. “Yes, she was very hurt.”
“Did my mother do that to you?” Maeglin thought it must if he was touching it. He only touched his own scars when he thought about how he had gotten them, like the ones on his arm from being caught in the briars that guarded the southern edge of the keep. They were smooth and warm.
“Yes, you are smart. Yes when we met again… after a very long time, she said she was not angry with me. And then cut me when I was … distracted.”
“I see,” Maeglin looked at his throat. It was a very long scar that sort of went up at each end so it was a crescent running all the way across his throat, “she cut you really quite badly.”
“She did,” Celegorm agreed, “and if another friend of mine had not been there and helped then I would not have survived.”
“I am sure she did not mean to cut you so badly, I am sure she was regretful afterwards,” Maeglin promised him, “she always is. I am happy your other friend helped you. Is he also your cousin?”
“Huan is not my cousin,” Celegorm shook his head , “he is not related to me at all. That would be impossible, but I love him like a brother anyway.”
He licked his lips and then in normal tongue he said, “Maeglin I must leave. Your mother and I, we are not friends, though we are not enemies. I would fear for my safety here.”
“You can stay here,” Maeglin reassured him.
“No, I cannot,” he disagreed and Maeglin’s stomach began to feel tight and sore while his heart sank downwards into his lungs and pushed the air out, “I cannot stay here. My family will wonder where I am. I must go.”
“But you are mine now,” Maeglin sought for words, “you must stay here because I am here. You are my treasure.”
“But your father will not want me here.” Ah, he was right. How did he know how his father disliked people staying in the keep if they were not Eöl, or Maeglin, or Aredhel?
“But… but I found you” and that was so important but Maeglin did not know how to explain it, “like my father found my mother. So you have to stay with me.”
Celegorm gave him a very strange look.
“Ahhhh…” Maeglin’s shadowkin suddenly stirred into life. It had a plain clay mask like most shadowkin, with a little round circle of red between the empty eye holes that could glow. It was glowing now.
“Maeglin come to the evening meal,” his father’s voice said out of the shadowkin’s mask.
“I have to go. Lie down and sleep, you are going to still be sick from the Despair Vine, it takes a while to purge naturally,” Maeglin told Celegorm and hopped up, letting his shadowkin take his arm and lead him to where his father had chosen to eat this evening.
He made it cover the door with the bookcase for safety… and because he was worried his treasure might disappear even without his father finding it.
“Maeglin,” Celegorm had a very nice smile when Maeglin returned from eating. He had taken left overs from the kitchen for him and Celegorm ate all of them which was a good sign, “Lómion.”
“Celegorm,” Maeglin replied, happy to be smiled at, “ Tyelekormo …?” His father had not had many smiles. But he’d had new bruises and scratches on his face so smiling would be painful.
“Tyelkormo but do not worry that is a common mistake with my name,” Celegorm touched his hair then went back to smiling at Maeglin, “I have an idea.”
“I like ideas,” he did, if they were good ideas.
“If your father were to leave … Nan Elmoth-”
“He does,” Maeglin explained, “a lot. To go to Gabilgathol. We have family there. Ah, sorry. I interrupted.”
Another strange look. “Well, when your father leaves, he and your mother are still… together?”
“Yes, but it’s my mother who stays behind and she is his treasure.”
“That seems unfair,” Celegorm edged forward, “if I leave I can still be your treasure.”
“I think you are lying,” Maeglin frowned, angry at him, “you’re smiling like the merchants do when they think they can get the location of Father’s store house keys from me.”
Celegorm then looked angry and tried to get up.
“You will throw up if you get up too fast,” Maeglin warned him but Celegorm didn’t listen. Once the shadowkin had cleaned up and Maeglin had made Celegorm lie down under a blanket, they were silent for a while.
“Why do you need a treasure?” Celegorm asked him.
“Because I want to be happy.” Wasn’t it obvious? “Father said that when he found my mother that eventually it made him the happiest he had ever been in his life.”
“How can I make you happy?” Celegorm was giving him a strange look again.
“You can stay,” that seemed the right sort of thing to say because Celegorm could not argue around it probably.
And like that Celegorm was silent and Maeglin thought he had won.
“What if you came with me instead?”
When his father rode away to Gabilgathol he rode with two extra horses and because of that the journey went quicker, he said, then if he rode on just one horse. Father had also said that maintaining an endurance bloodline was hard in the forest and most of their horses were kept by other people who owed Eöl money, and trained by them also.
Maeglin supposed he was lucky that there were any horses in their stables at all. He went and looked, caught by Celegorm’s words.
The stable was quiet and the horses flicked their ears at him for a moment but were not overly concerned with Maeglin walking past their stalls, peeking in on them.
He used the pendant he had taken from Celegorm to light up the tack room, finding the soft glow he could coax out of the stone perfect for taking in all the fine little detailing on the leathers when he was standing in front of them. He lost a few hours to that, stroking the tack until his shadowkin softly sighed behind him; Eöl’s voice told him to go to bed and apologised for not seeing him off to sleep, as Eöl was caught up in getting his mother to rest. He would see Maeglin in the morning.
Maeglin was used to the sad feelings he had when his father was not there to see him to sleep. His mother rarely saw him to sleep, only when she was having a good patch, and when she did the stories she told him were so amazing that he didn’t sleep because he simply wanted to hear more.
He made sure Celegorm was all right; in fact, he was fast asleep and so Maeglin had the shadowkin get him a water jug, left him to the nice warm darkness of the nursemaid’s room and tucked himself in.
His shadowkin arranged furs and blankets over his body till Maeglin was just the right amount of cradled, and stayed next to him, its soft arm rubbing along his back until he fell asleep.
Eöl was not there in the morning.
His shadowkin simply sighed and drifted away before returning with a half scribbled note and the stone that must have been used to keep it in place in his father’s workshop. Eöl had seen a yrch patrol upon the borders and had ridden out in the early morning.
Maeglin pocketed the stone and yearned.
“Would it be far?” he asked Celegorm that evening, Eöl still not returned from the border. A pigeon had been received that said only that he was pursuing the patrol towards where March Wardens were sure to be.
Maeglin felt scared and uncomfortable knowing his father was in very real danger.
“Only four days or so.” Celegorm was washing again, properly this time because Eöl was not here and Maeglin’s shadowkin had gently ushered the ones that might tell Eöl away from the bathing house.
He had a lot of scars and a very large tattoo of a bow on his back, complete with a very detailed rendering of a quiver of arrows.
All the tattoos Maeglin had ever seen were those of the Khazad and they were quite different, square and interlocking designs that had deep meaning to each link. The only curved tattoo he had ever seen was the eye of the betrayer on the back of the hands of those who had murdered but not been executed for some reason.
His father had some khazad tattoos. They were dark and beautiful and Maeglin dreamed sometimes of having the same along his thighs and forearms. Eöl had scarification along his spine as well. So did Maeglin's uncle. That was a Elmothdrim thing they said. Maeglin would definitely have them when he was old enough, unlike the khazad tattoos which would have to be earned. Maeglin knew enough about scarification that it did not appeal nearly so much as the tattoos did.
“That is not very long.” His father had been gone for longer sometimes, when pursuing orcs. Maeglin could go there and come back with Celegorm before he returned perhaps.
Sometimes, when his mother was lucid, it wasn’t not all happiness and fantastic stories. Sometimes she would start crying. She would tell his father that she wished he had never found her, that he had left her to die in the hold of the Despair Vines. She said it was no life to live, rising and falling like a drowning swimmer from one coherent moment to another. She was living life in a haze, trapped in a keep beneath the earth, in the very forest that had stolen her independence away.
If she could not ride free on the open earth then what did she have left?
And Father would remind her of Maeglin and she would always ask him to let her ride free and take Maeglin with her before Maeglin became just as consumed by this world of shadows and silence that Eöl was. If Eöl could not come away with them.
He couldn’t. Eöl couldn’t. Even if he wanted to he was one of Elu’s most relied upon lords and he maintained a crucial outward defence of Doriath. People spoke of the Girdle as a miracle but few enemies had ever tested it because of Eöl and the other lords scattered throughout the more dangerous forests in Beleriand to act as breakwaters.
Maeglin could not leave either. One day Eöl would fall. Then Maeglin would have to take his place and protect Doriath which he had never visited.
What life would that be, his mother would cry.
What life was she expecting for Maeglin out amongst the Ñoldor, Eöl would retort, she spoke of riding free but Maeglin was male and would be bound to one of their useless bloodlines which would only disadvantage him as a child of a younger child, never advantage him. And that was before they began to hate Maeglin for not being like them.
Nan Elmoth was small and deadly but here Maeglin was heir and would one-day rule. And he would fly free when he was old enough, even before the day he succeeded, armoured in galvorn beside Eöl to continue his mandate from Elu to protect this upper quadrant of territory.
This was only if the arguments stayed civil, of course. Often they didn’t, and Maeglin lost what time he might have had with both of them together because they were fighting.
Maeglin found himself in the stables again, the tack Eöl used for his journeys to Gabilgathol balanced on his head to manage the weight and size of it.
The big bay he knew carried his father best so it would be able to carry Celegorm and him both, so he saddled that with help from his shadowkin.
Celegorm had said he needed new clothing, and there was plenty of his father’s to take. Even if it was a little large. There was always food as well, in the pantries, and Maeglin knew what a water skin was and how to fill it because he had done it for his father before.
It was not that strange to get into a saddle with someone behind him. Celegorm rode slumped though, not like either of his parents, but he said he was tired and sore and that he usually rode far better.
Maeglin did not really think he was doing anything tremendous or wrong or tremendously wrong until they reached the edge of the woods and the world exploded.
It went from being all around him to being too far away, far too far away to even touch a single thing. He stopped the horse, Celegorm asking him why, and stared at the lack of boundaries beyond the trees they were about to leave and his heart gave a sudden sickened surge.
“I don’t want to do this,” he looked back over his shoulder where normalcy and safety was in the form of dimly lit trees that hugged each other for the chance to gain extra height, and in doing so blocked out most of the sunlight.
“You said you would,” Celegorm said then he seemed to think of something. “Have you ever left Nan Elmoth?”
“No.” Maeglin leaned back to get away from the yawning void of sky that was waiting out there with predatory intent.
“Well then, it’s about time you did. Be brave. This is the world your mother comes from.” and the horse moved forward, sunlight falling over them and making Maeglin fall back against Celegorm, trying to hide his face. He’d never experienced it so hot and intense before.
Maeglin looked over his shoulder. Where the forest ended and the sun drove Nan Elmoth’s shadows flat, his servant was standing, held in place by the barrier of light.
“Ahh…” it raised one hand, beckoning him back.
“They can’t come with us…” Maeglin swallowed, feeling the weight of the sky above his head begin to press down on his skull “shadowkin can’t live in sunlight.”
“But we must travel in sunlight! Horses do not do well with night travel,” Celegorm was also looking and then he called out, “go back to your master! I will take care of your little master for you. Give me a month and he shall be back safe in your care!”
Maeglin was confused by this statement. Did that mean Celegorm meant to return? That would be good.
“Ahhh…” the hand was lowered and it turned into a gesture of farewell. The tall lingering shadow that had followed him since he could move by himself looked at him and there were no eyes behind the pale clay mask but Maeglin thought he could see a touch of acceptance in the dark shimmering waves of its form. It turned back and only its mask caused the branches around it to move, for the rest of it passed through bough and branch like the shadow it was.
“Father is going to be so angry at it,” Maeglin realised it as he said it, “he will probably dissipate it permanently.”
“Is that bad?”
“It means it will be… gone.” Was it death? Were the shadowkin alive? Maeglin had never really thought about it before. He did not want his shadowkin to be gone forever!
“I’m sure he can make you a new one.”
“But it would not be my one.”
Grasses were hissing; a wind picked up Maeglin’s hair and threw it up in the air, plucked at his nose and eyelashes, and began to whistle in his ears.
“I don’t want to do this,” he said, “I want to go back Celegorm.”
But the horse only picked up speed, and the world was only expanding around Maeglin the faster it went, wider and wider until there seemed to be no set limit to how large it was.
He began to cry, overwhelmed and terrified, until Celegorm wrapped him in his cloak and the dark murex shadows let Maeglin pretend he was hiding in his father’s study.
The first day he cried, scared, but then Celegorm began to distract him by explaining the world he could not see, too frightened to raise his head. By the time he could raise his head from the cloak he recognised nothing around him. Even looking behind them showed him nothing he knew. There was a very fine shadow on the horizon that was Nan Elmoth.
Were they that far away?
No, Nan Elmoth was just that small a forest, Celegorm explained; it was more of a cut off particle of Doriath than an actual forest, in his opinion.
That was not true, Maeglin retorted, because Doriath was not nearly so poisonous as Nan Elmoth was.
Celegorm was quiet for a while, then he muttered that he’d never seen spine scaled snakes anywhere else but Nan Elmoth so Maeglin might be onto something.
Celegorm said they needed to reach Maglor’s Ward.
“Who is Maglor?” he had to ask.
“My older brother.”
“Is it nice having an older brother?” Maeglin was wistful. He wanted siblings. He had none.
“Occasionally. I have two older brothers and they are nice sometimes.” Maeglin had never seen flocks of birds rise up from around his body like they had magically appeared but that happened now as they rode through a flock of angry, screeching things. “They are nicer to each other than anyone else,” he thought he heard Celegorm say in amongst the angry bird call.
Night came. Maeglin had seen the night sky before, his father took him to the top of his selenology tower regularly to make sure Maeglin got enough fresh air. Beneath his tunic, Celegorm’s pendant began to glow.
“Oh, so that’s where that went.” Celegorm considered the incriminating light shining beneath Maeglin’s grey clothing. “… well. Keep it for now. I see better without a light to help me.”
There was a grove of trees. It did not quite stop the wind which was beginning to whistle in a truly distressing way from blowing over them but when they lay down side by side with the horse behind them, they were sheltered enough.
Maeglin chewed waybread and decided he preferred real bread. Their water tasted like leather.
“Maeglin,” Celegorm tucked him tighter in his cloak and Maeglin pressed his nose into the murex purple, holding up the pendant so it glowed through the lining of the cloth and highlighted just how wonderfully purple it was, “how much do you know about the Ñoldor?”
“I…” Maeglin knew some things. But his mother said that he must never share any of the things she had told him. “They live in Hithlum and in Mithlond and they are kinslayers. They came from across the ocean.”
Celegorm looked more and more disappointed the more he spoke and Maeglin rallied, not wanting that. He did not deserve to have Celegorm disappointed in him.
“They have a city in the mountains too! It is white with many gates of increasing mineral value! Ondolindë!”
Then he felt guilty for saying that and said no more even though this enlivened Celegorm who pressed and prodded and poked at him for more of what he knew about the city in the mountains. No he did not say a peep even when Celegorm got mad.
He missed his father and he missed his mother during the good times she had, and when the wind picked up and woke him, Celegorm an unfamiliar presence beside him, he realised he might have made a terrible mistake.
That was the first day and night, fairly terrible, and the second was worse.
Maeglin began to beg Celegorm with every pause to turn back to the forest. Two days away from the forest and the sky had become a monster above his head. Celegorm kept him in his cloak but it wasn’t enough. Maeglin was too aware that beyond the safe warm cloth the world was preparing itself to fall inwards with no trees to hold itself upright, only air between the earth and the vault the heavens made.
Celegorm didn’t argue with him. He didn’t get mad. There was a grey pallor under his skin. He was starting to shake and Maeglin realised that not all the poison had purged. Celegorm would not take the silver leaf though. He said he would wait to see the healers at Maglor’s Gap.
On the third day there was a river.
It must be a river, Maeglin thought, head reeling as he stared at the infinite flow of water wider than a road.
Of course it would be a river. Maeglin had only the creeks that appeared from deep springs in Nan Elmoth and disappeared into sinkholes within the same territory but he had read about rivers and knew that they were a larger form of creek.
This was far far larger than he had expected.
“Are we going around its spring?” he asked Celegorm as they continued to trace the line of water, seeming to backtrack, in Maeglin’s opinion, though he wasn’t sure on directions.
“No, we are fording it. Maeglin listen, this is the Little Galion because it is a lesser river than the Greater Galion but she runs deeply. There is a good fording spot but the water might touch our bodies. Give me your shoes and I'll put them in the saddle bags.”
“Fording… fording means we have to go across it?” Maeglin paused in the act of handing him the shoes. Celegorm took them and secured them away. Maeglin had rubbing on the sides of his feet, and it stung when the air hit it.
“Yes,” Celegorm drew the horse to a halt. Beside them the river had widened and flattened out… and Maeglin was not at all fooled for the water was the dark black blue that the sinkholes of Nan Elmoth had.
“No, no, no, no, no!” They would drown! They would fall in like that one merchant when Maeglin had been eight and nameless, and their bodies would turn up in a sinkhole months later, preserved from the cold water deep within but bloated and splitting apart as well.
He tried to leap from the saddle and away from the water. Celegorm caught him and held him in place.
“Trust me,” Celegorm said and his voice was begging as he took a knife and cut away a strip of the outer lining of his cloak, and wound the strip of material around their waists. He tugged Maeglin close to his chest. “No matter what happens next, trust me. We will forge this river, I have forged it many times before. This is why I insisted we rest longer this morn. I have all the strength I can gather now. I will get us past the water Maeglin.”
The horse was shivering under them. Maeglin felt it did not like the idea of wading into the water either.
His father had to cross the Great Gelion when he went to the khazad, he knew that, but there was a bridge. He knew there was a bridge because his father had praised its creation and workmanship more than once.
Maeglin’s heart was beating so hard it felt like it would knock apart his ribs but he nodded and he gripped the pommel and let Celegorm bind his wrists to it.
The sun was too bright and it hit the water and bounced bright flashes of light that felt like they were trying to stab the back of Maeglin’s skull.
“Just close your eyes,” Celegorm urged him, “you can open them when we are across the river. I will tell you when.”
Maeglin shut his eyes. He felt his eyelashes poke his cheeks. He felt sweat drip down his face and down his back. He heard the river gently sighing before them. Heard the call of a bird somewhere above them. The air was fresh and clean and thick with water and utterly unlike the brackish scent of the streams that began and ended within Nan Elmoth’s small reach.
The horse began to move forward. He heard Celegorm whispering something but it was hushed and had a thick burr… no it was not a language that Maeglin knew at all.
The sound of hooves on the pebbly shore disappeared and the horse was moving through the water with a few discontented grunts. Celegorm kept whispering. Maeglin felt water hit his feet and then submerge them, lapping over his toes.
A whimper escaped him.
“Shhh,” a rustle of cloth. An enfolding, he knew, of himself within Celegorm’s cloak.
The water stayed at his feet and rose no higher. The horse was grunting with exertion beneath them.
Celegorm was whispering to it again. Forward and forward and forward they went.
They hit something. Maeglin felt himself slip sideways.
“No.” Celegorm caught him. Righted him.
The horse began to labour upwards.
Then came the sounds of pebbles.
Then grass under hoof.
“Open your eyes.”
Maeglin obeyed and peeked through the window of cloth that Celegorm’s cloak pulled over him had left. He pushed it back when he saw a stand of trees before him and turned his head to look at Celegorm.
Celegorm smiled down at him but he had lost the colour in his lips and his hands were trembling on the reigns.
“We’ll stop in another league for the night. I think the three of us can go no further,” Maeglin nodded.
So ended their third day.
On the fifth day the land punched up. Or maybe it punched down. No, Maeglin decided, it was definitely rising, with two great walls of rock, spreading in every direction across the horizon, that should have been comforting but did nothing because of how they did not join in the middle. The sky was still too large and too blue above their heads. He clutched Celegorm’s arm tighter, still feeling that sense that the void above their heads was going to lean down and swallow them if they did not keep moving.
“It’s all right child,” Celegorm’s breath was hot, which was good because it meant that the chills that had taken him were gone, but his body was slumped against Maeglin’s back, chin digging into his shoulder. Maeglin was having to brace himself with one hand on the pommel in order not to be squashed flat by his weight, the other hand keeping the reigns in reach of Celegorm’s hands.
The fourth day had been unremarkable except that Celegorm had gotten steadily weaker and Maeglin’d had to force him to take the silver leaf and finally had used the bezoar he had taken with him. Yet Celegorm showed no signs of recovering his strength, and Maeglin was worried.
Also his feet had begun to sting and ache relentlessly, the rubbing turning into blisters and bleeding patches.
He had to trust that the horse was not going to go off course. Given the horse had found a trail and was apparently content to follow the easy riding and Celegorm had not interfered, Maeglin had to reassure himself that they must be following the right path.
“This is the Ward of Maglor,” Celegorm’s voice was ragged and shook, “my brother’s holdings. We have arrived. We just need to make our way to the fortress. Likely we will meet a patrol before that. We’ve made it.”
He seemed so relieved but Maeglin could not feel that. This strange wind that was blowing around their bodies carried scents he was not used to. Bare rock and heat was everywhere. The way the grass was growing high as the knee. There were no trees anywhere. Perhaps up high upon those hills and mountains, where indistinct shadows suggested some sort of plant life, but not down here.
He had not been comfortable before, but not his skin was crawling for the lack of even the spindly groves of trees like the one that they had slept in the night before.
“I don’t like it,” he said at last.
“It’s still too bare.”
“I suppose it is,” Celegorm squeezed his waist gently, “once we are inside Maglor’s fortress, I believe there is a small orangery, he had made for Maedhros’ visits, where you can sit amongst trees till you feel alright again.”
Maeglin did not know what an orangery was but he nodded because he wanted to sit in a place where there were only trees again, no overwhelming sky and space to try and steal the breath right out of his lungs. Just trees.
He missed his parents.
A sick unhappiness welled up and made his throat hurt. The thought had been sudden but came from deep in the heart. He wanted his father here most of all. He knew his mother would be too sick to be of much help out here but his father travelled so often to Gabilgathol that Eöl would have experience in leaving the forest and how to make sure the sky was not going to come down on their heads.
Out of the horizon came a dark blot that grew larger swiftly until Maeglin could make out the helms and armour of the men riding towards them. They had swords on their saddles with quivers full of arrows just behind that, and their bows were on their backs.
They were on the horizon in one moment, it seemed, and then suddenly they were surrounding the horse. Celegorm raised his head and told them to be at peace.
“Prince Celegorm.” A pause and all eyes were on Maeglin who wished he could wrap Celegorm’s cloak around himself and disappear.
“Hail,” Celegorm coughed wetness out of his lungs and tried again, “I fell afoul of the illusions and the poisonous plants of Nan Elmoth not even one fortnight ago. This is Maeglin, also called Lómion, he is responsible for saving me from the poisons I ingested, and then helping me find the road here to my brother.”
“Sire,” men were moving, dismounting and there were things being passed back and forth.
Celegorm wrapped Maeglin in his own cloak and accepted one from the riders. Maeglin’s feet were wrapped in soft linens from an aide kit and he was given some bread stuffed with a hard cheese that he had to chew hard on.
Celegorm did not dismount.
“Is it possible to reach my brother before light fails?” he asked the man with slightly more embellishment to his helm and who seemed to be in charge.
“You are close. You will reach the fortress by the time twilight is dawning.”
And so they rode on with dread making the bread a rock in Maeglin’s stomach.
And there were more riders. More and more riders on larger horses than his own. Surrounding them until they reached the large gates which were opened and travelled through them
And then another set of gates.
And then another.
And there was a man coming towards them, calling out with a voice that sent ripples of gold through Maeglin’s head and Celegorm laughed in such relief that Maeglin was of course jealous.
“Makalaurë,” Maeglin’s treasure said and reached out with greedy hands, half dismounting and half falling off the horse he had been upon, “ Oh Makalaurë, brother, how good it is to see your face.”
“Tyelkormo, you fool,” the stranger said, glancing at Maeglin with eyes the colour of polished grey pearls, “ what have you managed to do to yourself?”
Maeglin bit his lip to stop himself from saying anything. That was the secret language. No one else was supposed to use it except for Maeglin and his mother and now Celegorm.
“Maeglin—” He was lifted off the horse by Celegorm’s shaking hands and he was set before this stranger. “—this is Maglor who we had to reach. This is his ward. He is my brother. He will take care of us now.”
“Who is this?” The so called Maglor looked at him even more intensely. “Celegorm, please tell me you did not kidnap some poor Avar child to lead you home.”
“I am not!” Maeglin yelled and was bundled up against Celegorm’s side before he could take a step towards Maglor.
“No, he came quite willingly with me; you see, I have apparently become his belonging because he found me in the forest.”
Maglor seemed to double take. From within the keep a new pack of men had emerged. Maeglin liked the look of them far less than even the soldiers because they all put him in minds of the large wolf packs that came in the Winter, down from the North and which not even his father’s magics could repel. The sort of hungry carnivores that Eöl would shut his keep up tight against, barring the doors and having chests piled against them as a further barrier; then have great traps of iron jaws and spines placed beneath the skylights. Those times he would keep his family in the lowest levels, where the earth was warmest, for the entire length of the cold months while above the creatures stripped Nan Elmoth bare of anything that could not fly away or burrow deep.
Sometimes those wolves came right up to the doors, despite the barriers, despite the traps. That was when Eöl would stopper his ears with rags and wax, and hold onto Aredhel and Maeglin tightly while the wolves whispered Eöl's many names. At the start of the winter they would have jovial laughing voices. By the end they would be screaming Eöl's name in rage.
His father would shake and sometimes he would cry but he never answered.
Jewels gleamed amongst dark leathers and silks that were subtly hued but to Maeglin’s eye, trained for years by the traders that came to show their wares to Eöl, twilled and expensive.
He squeezed his hands tight on Celegorm’s, trying to catch his attention but Celegorm was looking in right the opposite direction, at some of the soldiers who were guarding the now closed inner gate.
“Brother, I can’t help but notice that you have significantly more men about than usual and that many are not wearing your heraldry.” Celegorm squinted, craning his head to get a good look at the heraldry of the one guard he was inspecting, then looked at Maglor with what Maeglin took to be a leer and asked, “Is Maedhros visiting you?”
“Ah,” Maglor’s eyes widened, “yes, I forgot: Father is visiting, Maedhros with him, and Golfin with some of his court.”
And Celegorm seemed at a loss for words but that did not matter really because he had noticed Maeglin’s squeezing and had looked in the right direction now.
From the pack came forward a man… such a man. Maeglin was not sure he was not before the presence of maybe Aran Einior, but no… definitely not because there was fire in him. It was dancing in his aura and when he looked down at Maeglin, the child was struck in place by the intensity of the flames within that gaze. No it could not be Aran Einior. It must be Óli.
It must be Mahal.
Maeglin’s knees tried to bend inwards. And he flicked his gaze right but met a gaze of dark ice, the sort that existed in the glaciers that his father had shown him in the portraits of Gabilgathol his uncle painted and sent, rather than clean air to try and relieve the weight of this revelation.
This, then, was Aran Einior.
Who else would it be. His face was so pale but beautiful, sharp and regal, and he wore blue raiment heavily embellished with silver, stars abounding in the details of his dress to remember Elbereth.
Something hot burst in Maeglin’s chest as those eyes held his far longer than Mahal’s. There was a buzzing in his head and his tongue felt dry while his stomach surged sickly. His hands were shaking and he tucked them against his chest rather than let them hand at his sides. He wanted to take a step forward. Run to Aran Einior’s side. And he wanted to run away, run till he was back in the shadows of Nan Elmoth, and throw himself into Eöl’s arms and hide beneath his father’s dark mane of hair.
“ Father ,” Celegorm breathed beside him and almost fell into a bow but was swept up, grabbed away , by the man with the fire and the intensity of a sunbeam through a lens, into a tight embrace that pulled Celegorm’s hand out of Maeglin’s.
Maeglin cried out, running forward to recapture that hand but by doing so he was once again the subject of far too keen eyes upon him, though Celegorm’s father, stared down at him.
Not Mahal how silly of him!
“Father,” he heard Celegorm whisper, “this is Maikanillo Lómion who saved me. Please be kind to him.” Then louder Celegorm said, “This is Maeglin Ulialchen who is responsible for bringing me here.”
The chill gaze of the other man Maeglin had noticed swept across his skin again.
“Well, child—” Eyes of fire had a voice of smoky sweetness. “—you have returned to me a treasure of incomparable wealth. More so than even my silmarilli . How shall I reward you?”
“You can’t have him.” Maeglin could feel his words becoming weak with every syllable, gently dissolving away beneath the intense scrutiny. “You… can’t. I found him in the hollow. He’s mine now.”
“Is that how life is in Nan Elmoth?”
“That one human can own another?”
“N…no?” it wasn’t ownership! It was … Mother was Father’s. And now he had found Celegorm, Celegorm was his! It wasn’t… it wasn’t slavery like he knew Fëanor was implying. “No!”
“Then he can’t be yours.”
“But I found him! I found him like Father found Mother!” Maeglin’s voice cracked, “he’s mine!”
“But you are far too young to want to have someone as your father has your mother.”
He wished his father was here! He would understand!
But no, he would not have because Maeglin had felt he had to hide his treasure. And now it was clear that he was not going to be able to keep him.
“Listen, little lord, you were very right to think that my son is something precious to be held and kept but you are a child yet and he is a prince. No matter what nobility your parents are, their blood cannot match ours.”
“Fëanor do not mock the child,” said the cold one, “do not play pretend.”
“You see drab colours, Golfin, and rough cloth and think a peasant but I know wild silk,” Fëanor gently tugged at the hem of Maeglin’s sleeve, “and softer hands and feet than a peasant would have. Ah! And these are pearls from Falas,” the hand swept up and tugged on one of Maeglin’s earlobes, “where did you run away from princeling? Did my son kidnap Elu’s errant son? Perhaps your blood can allow you a claim over my son.”
The laughter in his voice said he did not believe this at all.
“Not I,” Maeglin immediately denied, emotionally battered. “My father isn’t Elu.”
“Then who is your father?” another gentle tug and being reeled in far too close to Fëanor.
“Eöl,” Maeglin put more steel into his spine, “Margrave of Nan Elmoth.”
“Ah,” a look over his shoulder at Golfin who had gone very stiff and pale, “one of the Margraves. The men that we Ñoldor dread dealing with when Elu finds a reason to acknowledge we exist. Well… why don’t I give you a treasure that can never be taken from you? In exchange for my son?”
“You said your son was more precious than silmarilli ,” Maeglin hoped his voice sounded sure of what he was talking about. What a silmarilli was, he did not know. His mother never really gave him details about what she talked of save of Ondolindë. She always said, when he pressed for details, that either he was too young to know, that it was too terrible, or that she did not remember.
Some of his father’s attempts to cure her had eaten her memories. Eöl let the guilt of that cease further experiments. Aredhel grieved.
“That is true, very true, and there are many who would say the silmarilli are the most valuable thing in the whole of Arda. But… I believe you would agree with me that lumps of stone cannot really compare to perhaps a lifetime of knowledge? You seem a smart child to me. Would you like to apprentice under me?”
“Under you?” Maeglin felt doubtful. “Are you a smith?”
“Yes,” amusement bright and strong was in Fëanor’s face, “amongst other things.”
Other things? “Alchemist?” Maeglin guessed.
“Many things, I am accounted amongst the lore masters of my people. I am also a cartographer and a jeweller. There are many things I know that I could teach you. And once you know those things they will never leave you.”
“My father is either a master or studies all those things,” Maeglin doubted, “and he provides me with good tutors from Doriath when he remembers. What could you teach me that my father cannot?”
There was stunned silence from everyone in the courtyard. They were all staring at him. Maeglin felt sick. What had he said? Perhaps his words could have been considered rude and apprenticeships were serious things. He knew that his father was very selective over whom he chose to teach. That it was considered an honour in Doriath if Eöl taught a smith even for a season.
If Fëanor was half the man his father was, then Maeglin knew he had just been very rude to a very smart and impressive man.
Fëanor began to laugh.
A warm and uncruel sound that had Maeglin retreating as much as he could, looking for Celegorm who alone of everyone was as amused as Fëanor was. Celegorm tugged him out of Fëanor’s grip, back into safety.
It wasn’t that safe though because Fëanor only needed to reach out and slide his finger under Maeglin’s collar and hook Celegorm’s pendant out.
“What if I taught you how to create stones like this?” Fëanor did not even touch the stone. It lit up by itself and brighter than it had for Maeglin.
His father said that you mustn’t leap at the first deal offered. Though Maeglin supposed he’d already turned the first offer down.
“Would it be hard to learn that?” he asked suspiciously.
“Oh, nothing that would contradict your learning I am sure,” Fëanor kept his voice low and his eyes fixed on Maeglin’s face.
“I know many things,” Maeglin frowned, “I like knowing things. I like learning. I have had no new tutors from Doriath for a while and Father says I am not big enough to learn anything new from him in the forge yet without hurting myself. If it doesn’t contradict my learning don’t I already know it?”
“Well you would have to learn lapidary first and foremost. Have you learnt to cut stones yet?”
“Only the theory,” Maeglin suddenly found himself shy to share, “Father said I was too young to handle the knives.”
“Well no I would not think he would let you near such tools until you are at least twenty,” Fëanor agreed.
“He said twenty-five.” Now that was a hope if Fëanor thought he should learn earlier!
“A cautious father,” Fëanor observed, “very protective of you.”
“I am his only child, he reminds me of that constantly. Mother’s poisoning is too extreme now for him to risk another child.”
“I see,” Fëanor said it so softly, “so you are his greatest treasure then.”
Maeglin did not agree to become Fëanor’s apprentice. He felt he didn’t know enough to be able to say yes or no properly without offending someone or it being a bad decision. He felt it right down in his stomach, so he held his tongue despite gentle prodding and gripped Celegorm’s hand so he could not disappear.
He was glad when they were allowed to go inside the keep. The tapestries were different, the rugs felt strange under his shoes, or perhaps that was the linens in them, and the way the doorways arched was alien, but there was familiarity in the labyrinthine twists of corridors to confuse intruders, and most especially important was that there was no sky leering down at him.
That made him sigh softly in relief. Celegorm noticed and squeezed his hand. Then there was arguing, it seemed everyone in the corridor had an opinion and they felt a need to share it.
Celegorm watched this under lowered eyelashes, a fine tremor in his limbs and his lips. He seemed to want to join in the arguing, but all his energy was being diverted. Maeglin propped himself under Celegorm’s arm and watched from this extra safe vantage point, taking the man’s weight on his head.
It seemed no one was winning.
“Why are they arguing?” he whispered.
“Why aren’t they?” Celegorm watched a while longer, and then said, “watch this.”
He took perhaps three more steps and collapsed into the arms of the tallest man Maeglin had ever seen, with the reddest hair.
The noise stopped in the corridor.
“Lift me up,” Celegorm told the red haired man, and once up, started yelling at everyone in the corridor without any cessation, somehow louder and nastier than any of the others had managed to yell.
“You will rest and I will bring you news of Celegorm myself when the healers bring it.”
Maeglin was fairly sure Fëanor did not always pay such close attention to children. Not to children like him anyway. At least by the looks on Golfin’s face this might be so. Fëanor had sort of taken over when Celegorm’s pretend faint had turned into a real faint.
Maeglin was clean and dressed in something called a nightshirt and he was nearly buried under thick quilts and furs but he had still felt a chill until Fëanor had offered him this reassurance. Fëanor laid a hand on his head. It felt like Maeglin had been dunked back into the hot bath, and this time the warmth stayed.
He nodded and Fëanor shifted in the seat he had pulled up against the side of the bed. The light in the room was just right that Maeglin could let his eyes half lid and rest without it being distracting, but that he could make out details if he wanted to.
“Has your fear departed?” he asked.
“Fear?” Maeglin was warm and it wasn’t quite as comfortable as his shadowkin could make him but it was good enough and he was sinking into a lovely warm doze.
“Of the sky. You were watching it almost as much as you watched our faces.”
Maeglin shivered. “No; it is still too big.”
“I see.” Fëanáro tugged the edge of a quilt up till it rested beneath Maeglin’s chin, providing just enough extra cushioning for Maeglin to find that nice quiet spot inside his head that was not quite sleep but wasn’t wakefulness either.
Therefore it did not concern him when Fëanor got up and left, then returned with a small casket. It did not concern him at all when Golfin slipped into the room shortly after that, feeling like an encroaching winter storm with him that battled at the constantly burning fire that Fëanor’s spirit dominated the room with. It went well with his arctic frown.
Fëanor leaned over Maeglin and his hand slipped beneath the covers and caught Maeglin’s, drawing it from the covers carefully until the palm was bared. Then he unlocked the casket and from it came a wondrous hued light.
Maeglin made a soft inquiring noise, and felt Fëanor place something into his palm that felt heavy and faceted, yet was too warm to be any crystal Maeglin knew.
“Do you see?” Fëanor said to Golfin, “you see monsters where there are none. Sleep, Maeglin.”
Maeglin wanted to say he’d almost been asleep but couldn’t do more than mutter, wanting to sink back into the comfortable place he’d been in his head but unable to with so many interesting things happening.
Fëanor drew down the quilts and placed another stone on his chest, and a third on his forehead. Maeglin hummed at the pleasant feeling of something… he was not sure what it was but the gold and silver of the light dancing from the stones was more interesting than Fëanor or Golfin. He closed his hand around the stone on his palm and felt it gently quiver in response, a sense of life within its crystal that Maeglin had never experienced before.
“Look at how his spirit drinks the light,” Fëanor said, voice distant to Maeglin’s ears, “imagine if this child had been born in Aman.”
“There are so many of our own who would benefit to be blessed by the light of the Silmarilli and you keep them locked away,” Golfin’s voice as just as far away but it was clearly angry but in the way of someone who is trying not to sound angry with all their might. Maeglin felt like the light was wrapping him up in a cocoon. It was sinking into all the dark places in his thoughts and gently clearing away the confusion and the fear and the unhappiness.
“Have any of them brought my son back to me? When they meant to keep him?” Fëanor sounded like he was laughing. Maybe.
“No but many have loyally served you and fought for you for years. Have been disfigured and disabled for you. Have died.”
“Well I can hardly bring back the dead and those who are wounded are generously compensated Golfin, according to a system which I believe you decided upon years ago. Come clean,” Fëanor’s voice shifted from amused to bored.
“You have become obsessed with this child,” Golfin accused, “I can see it in you. He is a new source of fascination for you. He is merely an Avar child with Sindar blood with fantastical notions of how the world works, addle brained in fact from being raised in severe confinement. His parents will come for him or someone will, or we will have to send him back. You cannot simply adopt him because he is interesting and he was silly and easily lead by Celegorm into returning him here.”
That should have hurt, but inside the light Maeglin could not do much. Fëanor’s hands slid though the glow, and one by one he plucked up the gemstones allowing Maeglin to focus on the world, voices becoming clearer and the room a dim palate of ambers and umbers when the only light left was the braziers.
“You are doing him a misdeed, blessing him with the light like this. How will he ever use it? How will he even know how his spirit is now enriched with what little they know about such things even with Melyanna leading them.”
With the flick of the latch on the casket Maeglin’s heart began to mourn. He wanted the jewels returned to where they had been. He wanted to rest inside that cocoon of light forever.
“Are you jealous?” Fëanor caught Golfin’s hair around his fist and reeled him right close to him, then he kissed him like he was his wife, “are you jealous of a little child who is not even half grown? Jealous of a brave little soul who has known a forest his entire life and finds the sky too much of a burden? You? Oh Finwë Wise Finwë?”
Golfin pulled back and bared his teeth like a wolf snarling then grabbed two handfuls of Fëanor’s hair and kissed him in a way that seemed like he was hitting him instead.
They stumbled one step back, hit the doorway. Fëanor pulled away this time and stepped out into the torchlit hall.
“Jealous fool,” he taunted, and baited Golfin after him, the door swinging shut and leaving Maeglin in the comforting half-light of the brazier, the memory of the warm touch of the gemstones on his hand taking him down to sleep.
Orangeries were not like forests.
Not at all.
Nothing like forests.
Celegorm had clearly never seen Maglor’s orangery, made not for Maglor but for Maedhros who was the tall red head who, despite his unnatural height, fit perfectly through any doorway in the keep. Not that Maeglin had been watching to see if he would hit his head.
Orangeries did have trees though, which was as good as Maeglin was going to get after three days and no answers from anyone about anything. He was beginning to worry about his father and mother seriously now. He had not thought to write a note. His shadowkin would hold onto the impressions of what it had experienced for some time and Eöl could extract those.
And then Eöl would become mad and probably dissipate his shadowkin forever.
He tucked his chin into his knees at this thought, and leant more against the potted orange tree. Oranges were a nice fruit, he had decided, but not worth a large expensive glass house and pots of them no matter how many types there were.
Lemons could go die.
Celegorm was finally getting better. A day ago an unnaturally large dog had simply turned up and no one had batted an eye. In fact, several people had greeted it as if it were one of them; then, it had taken up a guarding position on top of Celegorm’s bed and simply stared at him until the colour had come creeping back into Celegorm’s face and he had begun to breathe without wetness.
Fëanor had told Maeglin to find him if he wished for anything and Maeglin had lasted a day before thinking that perhaps watching Celegorm breathe and stay unconscious and occasionally talk to a healer was not going to keep the worry from Maeglin’s mind.
Fëanor had given him small puzzles to work out. Then larger ones. And even larger ones than that. Maeglin currently had a slate in front of him, six circles entwined upon it and a list of equations he was meant to fit onto the curves of each circle with the answers in the cross overs the sum of each connecting equation.
“Child.” It was Maglor.
Maeglin had trouble meeting his eyes. He had walked into the orangery on his second day, after a servant had given him directions because he had inquired of it, and Maedhros and Maglor had been there. Naked.
“A scout has ridden in. Your father is thought to be approaching our keep. He will arrive within the hour.”
Awkward incidents fled Maeglin’s mind, and even the grasping sky could not let Maeglin from running to the courtyard and then through every gate he could get past to watch himself for his father.
Of course he wound up hiding slightly under a guard’s cloak, holding it above his head to pretend it was a roof, which the man was kind enough to allow. But he stood out there until at last he saw figures riding at a distance, no patrol around them like had escorted Celegorm and he.
His father was riding with two horses behind him on tethers, both looking tired. He rode between two men who were two more wolves, Maeglin thought of his first impression of this House of Finwë, that his father would have barred his keep against.
One was very much similar to the King Fëanor, save his eyebrows were furrowed, he had a bruise across one side of his entire face, and he simply seemed too stiff. The other had a resemblance, but his hair was the colour of garnets and his skin was such alabaster white that it seemed unreal. His expression was not really an expression but, much like the masks for the shadowkin, instead was an approximation of an expression without the intent behind it.
“Ah…Curufin... Celebrimbor, what ill wind blows you this way?” Maglor said behind him.
“This man,” the one who looked much like King Fëanor said, with his voice even more cross than his face, “accuses us of kidnapping his son and hiding away his wife, whom he claims is insane by a rare poison found in his domain that she had the bad luck to encounter riding there.”
“We had two paths to follow and we chose this one once we had met, since we were already coming this way and he said the son was more important than the wife.”
Maeglin flew like a bird set free from a cage, from Maglor’s shadow and the brush of fingers he felt against his shoulder; a hand that would have held him in place missing him by a hair, to his father who was a solid, matte black icon against this land of open endless land and endless sky and endless mountains.
To his saddle and then gripping the leather he was scrambling up as though Eöl was merely returned from Gabilgathol, and never mind his father stank of sweat from days of travel or flinched when Maeglin’s arms squeezed tight around his middle; when Eöl’s arms wrapped around Maeglin’s back with possessive eager force, an anxious pain in Maeglin’s brain flew away.
He could not tell which was stronger in his father when he looked up into Eöl’s face, happiness or rage. The rage scared him, but the happiness was enough to stick him in place when he might have gone flying back to Maglor simply to avoid the outcome of what he knew went beyond simple disobedience.
Though, was it disobedience when he had not actually don’t anything he had been told not to?
“Is Mother alright?” he asked, trembling then Eöl’s hand on his back clenched into a fist.
“I thought she fled with you.” Eöl’s voice was filled with such fear. Such anguish. “Did she not come with you, Maeglin?!”
“No,” Maeglin whispered. His heart stuck in his throat and tears began to crawl out of his eyes. “No, I thought she was safe in the forest with the shadowkin keeping her comfortable.”
Eöl breathed out a wheezing breath and he was shaking, shaking as he shook his head.
“There was no sign of her. She fled. She took a fast horse I bred from the horse that she rode into our forest on.”
He was pulled away from his father’s chest.
“What were you thinking?!” Eöl demanded, the deep shadows of his cloak framing the palour that had taken over his face and the sharpness of his bones where anger and fear were pulling the skin tight over them, “from which hell of the Dark Hunter’s did this idea come to you Maeglin?! Did your mother put you up to this?! Did you collude with her to allow her to run away to a place where there is no antidote or cure for her illness?! Did she use you are a lure? I thought she loved you better than that! I thought if anything she would take you back to that fool’s dream of her brother’s!”
“No! You told me,” Maeglin couldn’t help how high his voice went but he was scared, “you told me! You told me that I had to take care of any treasures that the forest gave me! You did! So I took care of him and he wanted to go home so I took him home!!”
“Treasure?” Eöl looked confused and that was right… Maeglin had not told him about Celegorm. Oh he was in trouble. Maeglin bit his lower lip, because crying was always something that made whatever upset his father was feeling worse.
“I found him! I found him in the woods where you found Mother.” Maeglin’s words began to wither at how his father’s expression twisted: surprise, rage, fear, confusion, horror, sympathy, pity.
“You are a little fool,” Eöl whispered, “Elbereth watch for our souls, our family is ruined for such a mistake.”
“That is no way to talk to a child,” the garnet haired elf said. Neither he nor the sour face had dismounted. They were waiting with hands resting on the pommels of their swords. Maeglin looked over his shoulder. Saw the whole terrible assembly of Ñoldor emerging. Gripped the galvorn of his father’s armour till it cut his palms and Eöl caught his hands, untangling him and touching the little thin cuts with a vial pulled from his sleeve, sealing them with a sticky liquid.
“Come inside,” Maglor said and his sword was drawn, “please. Be welcome to my keep… Margrave of Nan Elmoth. Come inside and we shall settle this unfortunate week that we have all experienced.”
A click as Maglor sheathed his sword and held out his arms welcomingly.
“They are a close knit nest of snakes,” Eöl whispered to Maeglin, holding him tight with one arm so he could dismount, “have any harmed you?”
“No, they have been nice!” Maeglin wanted to tell him that Celegorm was his cousin! So most of the men here must also be his cousins, but by the shaking of his father’s hands against his back he realised perhaps this would not be a good idea.
“I would never wish to see you harmed by them.” Eöl stepped away from his horse and only barely managed not to bare his teeth at the men who came to take his horse to the stables. Maeglin saw it in the clenching of his jaw and the tightening of his eyes.
“They were good to me!” Maeglin insisted.
“They are titans who do not realise the destruction and death each of their steps make Maeglin,” Eöl looked at Maeglin, then looked over his shoulder at the two who had rode with him, beautiful despite the hard expression on one and the lack of expression on the other. “They can be kind but when they wound, they wound the deepest of any people. They reach for the soul when they strike out. Your mother was so very wounded by them, and was capable of dealing those same wounds. You have done well to survive this long amongst them by yourself.”
He said this all, right by his ear so that no one but Maeglin could hear it. Then Eöl straightened his back and eyes gone the colour of crushed lavender from his despair at being in this place, he walked forward into the keep, following Maglor.
Mother… Mother was gone. Maeglin pressed his face into Eöl’s shoulder. Why had she gone? And how? When?
“What do you mean you found someone and he was a treasure?”
“Celebrimbor, not now,” Maglor said.
Maeglin lifted his head. It was the one without an expression, though he had an expression now, first curious and then when Maeglin met his eyes it was sympathetic.
Maglor took them to some sort of receiving room. Maeglin had not been in it. It had very tall windows, and very low sofas, and a very large fireplace though it was empty. And then they were left alone.
Well, not really alone. Maeglin knew there would men with swords and other such outside the door. Especially since the angry version of Fëanor had told Maglor not to trust a step Eöl took as he had left with Maglor and Celebrimbor.
Servants came and went, brought food and wine that Maeglin nibbled some of and Eol took only the fruit off and spurned the drink, and then came and went with those remains, and came with a hip bath and the water for it and then clothing when Eöl would not bathe for it was no use, his clothing was as he was.
His father sneered at the clothing.
“You do smell,” Maeglin whispered, “...really badly.”
His father was not pleased by this honesty. But he did wash, and had Maeglin sit upon his galvorn so that no one would take it, and then with much cursing about excess fabric Eöl redressed himself in foreign clothing (that did not seem too different to Maeglin, save for the sleeves being fuller), and re-armoured.
“That does feel better,” he admitted to his son.
Maeglin smiled, and let him pick him up again.
Eöl moved out of the day light flooding through the windows and chose the only seat in the shadows. He did not let Maeglin down but Maeglin was happy to stay.
“Ahhhh…” Maeglin jumped.
Resting on Eöl’s hip was a familiar clay mask with a loop of shadows wrapped around it to hold it in place.
Eöl tossed the clay mask onto the ground where a shadow rose up and caught it before it could break.
“You will stay with your shadowkin until we leave,” Eöl ordered him in a tone that was all anger and all concern and very much to be obeyed. “You will NOT send it away like the last time. You will NOT try and lose it.”
“You didn’t dissipate it,” Maeglin hugged the shadowkin around the waist. It gave quite a bit but gained some mass at the last moment so Maeglin held onto something.
“I cannot dissipate the shadowkin once they have begun to create solid personalities.” Eöl sounded dismissive but Maeglin saw the smallest quirk of his lips which meant Eöl was pleased. “Or once they have created attachments for themselves and focuses outside of my own magic, which yours has had since the first week of caring for you.”
Maeglin squeezed harder.
“Ahhhh…” A shadowy limb patted his head and he let go. His shadowkin had no expression, of course, but Maeglin definitely thought it seemed happy.
“I won’t lose it,” he promised, “or tell it to go away.”
“It would not listen to you,” Eöl glanced at it, “as it has been made very clear to it what allowing you out of its awareness will do.”
“Now…” Eöl cupped his face and stroked back his hair so he could look at Maeglin. Really look. Maeglin began to squirm beneath the intensity of the stare that his father gave him but Eöl did not let him go until he saw whatever he was looking for, “you will go somewhere…safe, in this … place. And I will talk to the Golodh.”
“I can’t come with you?” Maeglin leaned against the warm hands on his face.
“I am likely to say things I would not want you to hear,” Eöl swapped holding Maeglin’s face for just holding him, pressing him carefully in so his galvorn did not cut.
“Alright…” Maeglin promised and let his shadowkin wrap a leash around his wrist before it shrunk, wrapping a thick ribbon around his wrist, tight but not restrictive. It left him with a mask stuck to the end of his sleeve.
Eöl gave another pleased barely-there smile and leant back against the chair they’d chosen. His eyes were sad. Very sad. Was he thinking about Aredhel? Probably.
Maeglin let his head hang. Mother, he wanted his mother.
Maeglin looked up and saw a servant—a very well-armed servant. Did servants usually wear light armour and a sword?
“The King would see you if you would follow me… He suggests that perhaps the little lord Maeglin is left in this room. He shall be safe.”
After Eöl had strode away, Maeglin waited, looked out the corridor to see he was gone and then ran away from the guard who tried to usher him back into the room. He took another corridor he had learned simply looped around the route Eöl was following after the servant. Or he thought Eöl might take. Fëanor would want to meet him in his study. Yes?
The study was empty. Maeglin considered himself lucky. He sought a hiding place, found it behind a standing screen meant for sectioning off the room and likely hiding the fireplace in the hotter months, and crouched behind it.
He looked down at his sleeve.
He picked at it carefully and discovered he could not detach from his sleeve no matter how he tugged.
“Ahhh…” it chided him gently when he pulled too hard. Maeglin sat back on his haunches and pulled and tugged and pried at it, fascinated but not too annoyed. His shadowkin had never done this before. Had his father created this new type of skill for them? Or had it created it for itself?
Across the floor the shadows moved in a slow crescent to follow the arc of the sun, and Maeglin adjusted himself to stay in the shadow and keep the screen in front of him, mask still not yet come off.
Fëanor entered, Maeglin gave up tugging on the mask, and concentrated on staying quiet and still.
They were arguing.
Well maybe just his father was arguing. Fëanor was smiling too much for arguments, and he kept changing the topic abruptly, grinning when Eöl only became angrier.
“And what metal is this?” Fëanor was holding one of Eöl’s arms, stroking the galvorn grieves that Eöl was wearing.
It looked like a light touch but Eöl jumped back like it had stung.
Fëanor laughed. Maeglin shivered. It was a different laugh to the one he had heard so far.
“You will cease,” Eöl put a distance of one step between them, not giving ground, “you and your brother have done really nothing but lead me in circles for two hours. Let me take my son, let me leave. I shall lay no complaint, no charges of kidnapping nor trespassing at your door.”
Fëanor followed, step by step. They were dancing, almost, Eöl refusing to be cornered and Fëanor unceasing in pursuit.
“Cease this!” Eöl exploded as at last when this game had drawn out past worry and into tedium.
“Then come here,” Fëanor purred soft and as treacherous as a great cat. The king’s hand was around Eöl’s wrist and pulling him forward as though Eöl were not resisting though he definitely was.
“You are a proud man.” Fëanor had greedy hands and Eöl was suffering them, eyes half lidded and watching him with sparks of white anger glittering in the amethyst, “and a possessive father. I see these qualities because they are my own. The hardest thing I learned was to allow my children to fly free from my grasp. Stay a while, let your son learn and blossom here and return with him to your forests in time with his potential stimulated not left unfulfilled.”
The door clicked opened. Maeglin saw Golfin enter and freeze immediately at the sight of the other two before him. His expression was not happy, yet when Fëanor gave him a look he seemed to shore himself up and his expression became blankly pleasant. It was very odd.
But that was not important. What was important was the now opened door through which he could sneak if Golfin would only enter the room a little more.
“My brother would agree,” Fëanor held out one hand and gestured and though there was a black fury causing Golfin’s gaze to flicker ominously like lightning on the horizon, he came forward and took that hand and was brought around to pin Eöl between their bodies, “that we have not been the best immigrants to the lands of Beleriand. I know that your resentment and dislike of us is well earned. But we would only give your son a just reward for returning one of our princes to us. And try to make right… all the harm we may have inadvertently caused.”
Golfin raised a skein of Eöl’s hair, the light catching blue and purple in its darkness, and pressed a kiss right beneath his ear, then up to where the black pearls danced up knife pointed cartilage.
“And to you, his father and one of Elu’s fearsome Margraves,” Golfin added, “we can give treaties and trade agreements, even if it is only safe passage and roads to Gabilgathol that you want, to pay for the heart’s harm that you have experienced in Celegorm’s actions in taking Maeglin.”
There was a sharp glance to Fëanor who only smiled at his brother and leaned over Eöl’s shoulder to kiss Golfin on the mouth before like a viper, when Eöl tried to move away, caught Eöl’s head in both his hands and kissed him like a husband was meant to kiss a wife.
There was the very slightest gasp from Maeglin’s father and Maeglin took that moment to ease out from the screen and make for freedom through the door, knowing Fëanor probably had seen him but Golfin and Eöl had not.
His feet hit the strange flat stones the Golodh made their corridors with in a painful beat but it was a better feeling than having to stand so very still, watching things happen that he did not quite understand yet. His heart was hammering and his stomach felt uncomfortable.
He sought out Celegorm, who was already sleeping but that was alright. Maeglin pulled himself onto his bed and patted the bright colour of his hair for a while, and then patted Huan’s muzzle too because the hound demanded it.
“King Fëanor wants me to stay with him,” he told the hound, “and I think he wants to keep my father. Perhaps. He was talking about treaties but his tone was saying different things.”
He didn’t mention the kissing. The strangeness.
“You really are a sharp little creature. Of course he does,” Celegorm said at his back, sleepy but awake and who knew for long, “he collects rare treasures.”
“We are not treasures, though,” Maeglin disagreed.
“You could be.” Celegorm had his eyes half lidded. “After all I was your treasure wasn’t I?”
“Yes. Why haven’t you told anyone about my mother Celegorm?” It did not seem Eöl had said anything about Aredhel either. Protecting her? Protecting himself?
Celegorm looked at the ceiling rather than him and rubbed his throat over the scar there. “Golfin is your mother’s father. He will try to keep you as his own if he knows that, much like you would have kept me but with less innocence to his actions. And it would only end in tears. I doubt your father would be so very accepting.”
“Oh…” Maeglin felt… unsettled? Shouldn’t he have felt surprised or happy or terrified at the idea? He picked up his fingernails and decided that Golfin was so unsettling and so cold that Maeglin’s own mind was repelled at the thought.
Maybe in the morning he might have a better reaction.
Maybe in the morning.
“I’m tired,” he said quietly.
“Go to bed,” Celegorm said softly.
“Ahhhh,” agreed the mask on Maeglin’s sleeve, resulting in a jump from both Celegorm and Huan, which was amusing enough to make Maeglin laugh.
“Survived your father’s wrath did it?” Celegorm poked it.
“Ahhh,” this time the shadowkin sounded annoyed.
“Come on,” Celegorm wriggled over and slapped the mattress next to him, “lie down. You can spend the night here. Your treasure can take care of you.”
Maeglin knew Celegorm was humouring him with that. And it worked too, it made him feel happy and special and he should have been mad about it, but the bed was soft, and with a grunt he found a good place and his shadowkin unfurled to make sure he was properly tucked in. After making sure that Huan would not try and chew on it, Maeglin let Celegorm tell him a story about hunting in a forest that sounded like the ones in his mother’s stories, and fell asleep against the warmth he gave.