I looked out from the stockade gate. The sun had barely crested the horizon but in the distance, I saw waves of heat already swirling from the desolate lands to the east. It promised to be another scorcher and I was not looking forward to it.
“It's going to be another hot day.” Turning around, I saw my foster father approaching me, two cups of tea cradled in his hand. “Tea?” he asked, holding the cups out to me. I nodded my thanks and took one.
Turning back towards the open gateway and looking at the dry sands and scattered plants in the distance, I took a sip of the tart beverage. I felt wilted already, even though I had been awake for less than an hour. "Atar Maedhros, it's going to be too hot to practice sword craft or archery," I whined as I wiped my sweaty face with my sleeve.
“What? Do you think that your enemies will wait to attack you until the weather is more propitious?”
“No...no…that's not what I meant.”
“Of course that's not what you meant,” Maedhros said, putting an arm across my shoulders and pulling me into a quick, hard embrace. His arm dropped back to his side and he continued, “Although, that is exactly what you implied.” He looked sternly at me.
I turned to face him again. “I'm sorry, Atar. I know the enemy can attack at any time. It was a stupid thing for me to say.” I continued to look at him and saw a smile creep across his face. 'Well! That's unusual,' I thought.
“On hot and lazy days like this, my father would sometimes take all of us to the nearby lake to go swimming. Of course things were different back in Valinor, but I may have something to offer. I think that a ‘day off' from your usual weaponry and tactics lessons might be a good idea after all.”
“Really?” I looked carefully at my foster father. I wanted to remember this moment because he was in a rare good mood. I hoped that it would last for at least a few hours.
“Go, Elrond. Wake your brother and I'll wake mine. I'll meet you back here in two fingers of the sun.”
I quickly gulped my tea and hurried towards the main building. I had to awaken Elros and convince him to dress quickly before something happened to change Atar's mood from this morning's cheerful and easygoing attitude back to his usual overly tense and quick to anger demeanor. I burst through the door flap into the small room that I shared with my brother.
“Elros, wake up!”
“Huh? What's wrong?” Elros said sleepily, turning over to face me.
“Atar Maedhros is going to take us...well, I'm not exactly sure where. But he's in a good mood and he's giving us the day off from weapons practice. I think he's going to take us somewhere cooler, maybe even swimming! Get dressed quickly. We have to get back to the gates and meet him and Adar Maglor before something happens to change his mind.”
“Truly?” asked Elros, excitement evident in his tone as he quickly sat up. Grabbing his deerskin breeches he began wiggling his legs into them. I stood at the doorway, impatiently tapping my foot, my arms crossed over my chest. “All right, El. I'm hurrying. I'm almost ready,” he exclaimed as he tightened the laces of his pants. He quickly pulled on his boots and grabbing a linen shirt, pulled it over his head after taking a quick sniff and deciding it didn't smell too rank. We raced out of the room side by side, heading towards the compound's entryway.
Maglor and Maedhros were waiting for us each dressed similarly in a light-weight loose shirt, leather tunic, deerskin leggings and knee high boots. They wore swords suspended from their double-wrapped belts and Maglor had his bow slung across his back and a filled quiver hanging at his right hip.
“Just a moment, boys,” Maglor called out as we approached him. “Go to the armory and get your bows and a quiver of arrows. Also make sure that you have your swords. We may not specifically practice weaponry today, but as a rule you never go into the wild unarmed.” I noticed, as I turned to obey Adar's orders, that each of our foster fathers held two fishing poles.
“Did you see the fishing poles, Ro?” I whispered to Elros as I quickly wrapped my sword belt around me. I fastened my blade to the belt and grabbed my archery equipment.
“Yes. I didn't know there was a place to fish around here,” my brother responded while he angled his bow over his shoulder and across his chest.
“I didn't either. But we haven't been allowed out of the compound to scout the area so we wouldn't know.”
We ran back up to the gate, Elros in the lead. My foster fathers were standing together looking out over the landscape and Maedhros was pointing something out to Maglor. They must have come to an agreement because Maglor nodded, then turned to see us coming up to them.
“Well boys, are you ready for adventure on this hot day?” he asked.
“Yes!” we both said, and I noticed that Elros' excited grin matched my own broad smile. Maedhros began leading the way out of the compound. It was turning into a family outing, or as much of one as we could expect to have, living the hidden life that we did with the last remaining sons of Fëanor. We were accompanied by five guards as we walked into the hills.
Atar Maedhros seemed to know where we were going because he set a fairly brisk and straight course towards the southwest. We had been walking for more than an hour, and I was starting to wonder why we hadn't taken horses for the trip, when we arrived at the edge of a precipice.
“We have to get to the bottom of the cliff, boys,” Adar Maglor said. “Have you been taught how to use ropes to lower yourself down a sheer rock face?”
“No, Adar,” I said while Elros squatted down to look closer at the cliff edge. I moved behind my brother and peered down cautiously. I estimated that it was a distance of at least five lengths to reach the ground below and the sheer face itself seemed to be crumbling. Across the bottom of the defile was an abundance of vegetation, hinting at a source of water that was as yet unseen. It was still stiflingly hot, but I was excited to be learning something new from our foster fathers.
Maglor stepped to the edge and set one foot inside a tied circle at the end of a rope. He looped the other end around a large boulder set slightly back from the edge, casting the remaining loose coils down the cliff face.
"Here's how to do this, younglings," he instructed. "Your foot goes into the loop here and your hands wrap around the opposite length of the rope like this. Push yourself off from the edge, so. Control your descent via your other leg wrapped around the long end of the rope and your arms. Push off from the cliff steadily and gently, not too hard or you'll crash back into it.
"I'll go first, followed by two of the guards just in case any enemies are present in the canyon. Then it is your turn, Elros, followed by Elrond, and Maedhros. Finally two more guards will come down and join us."
Adar began to descend, demonstrating how to use our legs and arms. After arriving at the valley’s floor, he pulled the loop of the rope back up, ready for the next person to use. The rest of us followed him quickly. The fifth guard stayed on the cliff top and coiled the rope back up after we had all descended. He would return and wait for us on the next day so that we could climb back up.
Although it was slightly cooler at the bottom of the canyon, the air was stagnant so it seemed oppressive. Before long all of us were soaking wet with sweat. The small flying insects living in the greenery clustered around us biting whatever exposed flesh they could find. After walking approximately two miles we began to smell water and then the narrow defile opened up and we entered into a wider valley full of leafy bushes and medium sized trees.
"Here we are," Maedhros said as my brother and I looked at each other in delight. I turned around in a circle, looking in all directions. It was the perfect hideaway for a lazy summer day. A few yards away, a merry and rapidly flowing stream moved strongly along worn rocks, pouring down a series of shelves in short cascades. The stream’s water looked cold and inviting and I saw the glint of fish swimming in the shallows.
“Look, Elros, a waterfall,” I exclaimed. My eyes had followed the stream which eventually flowed into a bowl shaped lake. At the far end was a gap between two rocky cliff walls through which the lake thundered, funneled through this narrow opening into another valley farther away from us. Rainbows danced in the spume cast off by the cascading waters and were visible even from my own, distant vantage point. It was a beautiful area and I hoped the lake was deep enough to allow us to swim because I wanted to get closer to that cascade.
I heard Maedhros speaking to the guards, sending them out to scout the area and set up a campsite. Then his attention turned to Elros and me. "We have four fishing poles, one for each of us. Even though I know we have taught you how to tickle fish, there is something meditative about catching some types of fish by the use of a pole, a line and carefully chosen bait. The bait to use for these fish is a small, elaborately decorated and tied fly."
Atar opened a package and showed us a collection of sharp hooks embellished by bits of glass and feathers. “These are beautiful, Atar. Will they all work for these fish?” I leaned over Atar's hand and took a close look, choosing a yellow fly.
“Not necessarily,” he responded while showing me how to attach the hook to my line and cast it into the water correctly. “If the fish don't strike to one type of fly, you may need to switch to another. But eventually you'll catch one of these beauties and then you'll see why I enjoy this type of fishing so much.”
Maglor spent a few minutes with Elros, teaching him the methods of baiting his hook and how best to cast his line while Atar worked with me. Before long we were perched on rocks in the center of the stream, casting our lines into the cold water. After only a few hours we had an impressive string of fish for our evening meal staying cool in a shady and quiet section of the rushing waters.
I was becoming enchanted by the routine of casting my line, pulling it just so to fool the fish, and then pulling it up and casting again. It was both rhythmic and hypnotizing. Adar Maglor broke the spell. He crept around behind me, suddenly pushing me off my rock and laughing as I fell heavily into the water. The fish scattered from my loud intrusion. Although the water was not deep here, it was sufficient to soak me thoroughly from head to toe.
"Adar! My boots and boot knife are all wet now, and you've scared the fish," I cried out as I stood up, water streaming from my hair and tunic.
"Ha, ha, ha, ha" he laughed; a true belly laugh such as I rarely heard from him. “I think we've caught enough fish for a fine dinner. Let's leave some for a future time.” He continued to laugh and pointed at me. “You look like a drowned rat.”
A smile came over me and I also began to laugh. I realized that my being soaked from head to toe was only a minor discomfort when compared to the triumph of getting both Atar Maedhros and Adar Maglor smiling and laughing. That was something that happened so rarely it caught at my heart. My foster fathers usually hid their emotions under a blanket of duty and routine, but they had suddenly allowed their true personalities to emerge under the joint influences of sun, water, fishing and my own soaking.
A thought suddenly flashed through my mind. 'These two are as dear to me as if each was my own father. How can I feel such love towards two people who destroyed my home, murdered the people of Sirion and other places, and caused the suicide of my own mother?' I suddenly felt disloyal to my own family in a disquieting way. I had just admitted to myself that these two elves had become fathers to me in more than just title. Of course they were my teachers and my caretakers, but somewhere in the long years I had lived with them I had also developed a great love for them.
My thoughts wandered into the past. My true father, Eärendil, a man known for his love of the ocean, had taken my brother and me out in his boat two times. On each of those occasions he had been all too eager to return us to the shore and leave again on one of his long journeys. He had rarely been home with us for any extended period of time.
Our mother, although I had no doubt of her love, often left us to the care of our nursemaid. When I was honest with myself, I had to acknowledge that our parents had rarely been active participants in our lives before we were taken captive by the two elves who even now were wading across the stream towards me.
Through the years that I lived with Atar Maedhros and Adar Maglor, my life was less settled and in more danger than my youth had been in Sirion. The Fëanorians often moved from place to place and we sought out and fought the evil denizens of Morgoth wherever we found them. But throughout these shared dangers and occasional deprivations, my brother and I had each found the father we had never truly had before in the persons of these two Noldor elves.
Elros laughed heartily from a place of safety on the shore, my fishing pole in his hand, rescued from the stream. My foster fathers reached out to me, and steadied my footing in the rushing waters as I regained my balance. They escorted me to the shore and then pulled off their shirts, using the fabric to help dry me off. I joined the three I loved most, standing on the stream's bank dripping water, laughing and embracing my brother and foster fathers. They all helped to dry me off while pointing out how ungainly I had looked as I had hit the water’s surface.
“At least I'm clean, although I'll have to oil and hone the blade of my boot knife carefully to make sure it doesn't rust,” I commented.
Elros came closer to me and sniffed my body both carefully and loudly. "Sniff…snifff…oh yes, brother, you smell much better now,” he drawled.
Hearing those words and seeing his grin, I couldn't resist. I growled, "You'll regret those words brother," and hurled myself at him, wrestling him off the bank and into the stream. Shortly, he too was dripping wet, standing in the streaming water, and laughing.
He gasped, "Oh!" and put his hands down his shirt front, wriggling around in an unusual, primitive-looking dance. "Ha! Look at this. One more fish for dinner." He pulled a wriggling fish from his shirt, holding it tightly and handing it to Maglor who added it to our string.
“Come, wet ones,” Atar said, an undertone of amusement coming through his sparse words. “We still have a bit of walking to do before we come to our campsite. Maglor, if you bring the fish, I'll take the lead."
Propping our fishing poles on our shoulders, yet making sure that we could grasp our swords easily if necessary, we followed Maedhros as he strode closer to the lake and its waterfall. The soft roar of the waters made for a soothing atmosphere. "Look, do you see the rainbows?" I asked Elros as we approached a small, sheltered area near the water that was surrounded by low scrub. He nodded, not turning his eyes from the sight. My brother loved the water almost as deeply as our long-gone father Eärendil had.
"Here we are," I heard Atar say as we entered the small clearing. The guards had already searched the area for any enemies, gathered firewood and set up the camp. They gathered around Atar Maedhros and began making their report to him.
We were closer to the rushing waters at the bottom of the canyon and the temperature was markedly cooler than it had been on the plateau. "The last time we scouted this area there were no caves where the enemy could hide during the day. But occasionally orcs do come to the waters at night, so we will post a rotation of guards tonight," Maglor said.
"Your bedrolls are over here by the fire pit. Put your weapons nearby. Let's get you into the water, purposefully this time, and wash both you and your clothing. You can place your shirts and breeches on the rocks and they'll be dry by sunset."
We stripped off our wet and muddy clothes, washing everything in the fresh rushing stream as it flowed into the lake. After placing our clothes out to dry, we jumped into the lake and moved to a deeper part about fifteen feet from the shore. It was wonderfully cool. Adar jumped in behind us and commenced splashing us with water.
"The battle of Rainbow Stream is now joined," I cried, and Elros and I turned towards Adar, attacking him with a wall of splashed water.
"Brother! Help me!" he called out to Maedhros.
"Hold for but a moment," he called back. "I shall fight through the foes and be there shortly."
When I next looked up from the surface of the lake, I saw a large wave of splashed water headed directly towards me produced by my two foster fathers who were now united and acting as my foes. The water hit ‘Ro and me. Suddenly we were drenched.
I felt a strong arm grabbing me around my waist, pulling me off my feet. I wiggled trying to escape, but I was laughing too hard. Then Atar, for it was Maedhros who had entrapped me, began tickling me and my laughs turned into hysterical screams co-mingled with hiccups.
"Do you yield to the might of the Guardians of the Rainbow Stream?" he asked.
Ten feet away from me, Adar Maglor was holding and tickling my brother who also was laughing hysterically.
"Mercy, I beg you kind Guardian," I gasped, still wiggling and trying to escape his grasp. But his arm was powerful and the loss of his hand didn't seem to have affected his strength. Suddenly I gasped as he threw me through the air.
"Whoosh! Atar, why...?" I spluttered as Elros hit the water next to me having been thrown by Adar.
"Are you still hot? Still tired?"
I shook my head, “No Atar.”
"Good. Now, tell me...what would you do? Let's say that orcs have just approached us from upstream and are now on the far bank. You are bathing in the lake and your weapons are onshore at the camp."
My mind quickly shifted from amusement to the reality of our daily lives. I began to think tactically about how I might be able to reclaim my weapons and how I could approach the enemy. I began to creep towards the shore. "I would stay under the surface of the water as much as possible, getting as close to the shore as I could. Then I would try to get to my weapons, ideally to my bow."
Elros continued my thought. "If they hadn't noticed me, I would try to flank them from behind, crossing the stream farther back where it was narrower."
"Good. Let's try to do that. The guards have set up targets for us."
The four of us crawled through the brush. Atar and Adar passed along tips like how well orcs could smell, likely points of attack, possible strategies and how we could best handle things if we were unable to reach our weapons.
Late that afternoon we returned to our camp. "Atar, can we do this again soon?" I asked as we walked into the clearing, approaching the small fire that had been started by the guards. We had shot all of our arrows at the targets for several rounds and we had worked with our swords and knives in duels, alternating partners between the four of us.
Maedhros chuckled, “Let's gather some cress and start cleaning the fish. They won't take long to cook but you won't want to clean them in the dark. Elros, dig a hole for the entrails. Make sure it's deep to keep animals away from them as they decay and gather some rocks from the stream bed to lay over the soil to further protect them from being dug up.”
I hadn't had such a good time in many months. My heart was light and I felt secure in this, my adopted family. I didn't notice that Atar had not answered my question.
We cooked and ate the fish we had caught, and tumbled into our bedrolls falling asleep to the sound of the low voices of Maedhros and Maglor talking together near the coals. I heard my name and wanted to stay awake, but I was too tired.
Arising early the next day I knew that we would have to return to the stockade and our daily routine. I was sad. This small interlude of the four of us and the water had been magical and I never wanted it to end. But as with all things, we had to leave the dream and return to real life. We carefully cleaned the clearing and started back up the canyon towards the small defile and the cliff wall we had descended the previous day.
It was harder to climb up the cliff by rope than it had been to swing down, but we managed. The fifth guard had returned to the cliff edge early that morning and had been waiting for us, coiled rope ready to help us ascend to the plateau. We returned to the stockade by late afternoon. The guards were dismissed and we were released to our evening chores. All seemed to return to normal.
My brother and I rarely spoke of that day in the canyon, and when we did, it was with tones of reverence. To this day it amazes me; that Atar and Adar had managed to grant us a single day of pure joy in the middle of their war. I remember it still and I will never forget it.
We did not know that by the end of the year we would be living in Lindon, working in the service of the High King, Gil-galad. Once we had been brought there we didn’t see our foster fathers again until the final days of the War of Wrath when we were too shaken by the echoes of our own Choice to pay much attention to our fathers and their doomed deeds.
Yet the memories of that golden day we played amidst the rainbows never left me. They still rush in upon me at unexpected times these many years later when I see rainbows dance above the rushing waters of Imladris. Sometimes, when fears and concerns weigh me down, I take up my fishing pole and open my packet of tied flies. While I cast my line into the Bruinen, I hear Atar Maedhros behind me, almost feeling his hand upon my shoulder, and once again my cares melt away for a while under the magic of sun, water and a fishing pole.
Inspiration for this story came from Summertime - version by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald (long instrumental lead-in before lyrics) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIDOEsQL7lA
Give yourself and treat and listen to the BEST!