Disclaimer: The characters and settings are gratefully borrowed from the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. I own nothing.
Note: In this story, I've chosen to use the character's Quenya names in many places. The equivalent Sindarin forms may be found in the notes at the end of the story.
Thank you, Maia, for the plot-bunny and the beta-read! I hope you enjoy the stew.
The Glitter of Metal
"No, not 'laman'. 'Lavan'. Hear the difference? Try it again, brother; you'll get the sound right eventually."
I shake my head, laughing ruefully. "Perhaps I will in time, but not today," I tell my brother in our native speech. "This new language is like a stubborn horse, Pitya; it balks at leaving my tongue. It's strange; I'd known, of course, that there would be primitive Elves living in these lands, and that we'd eventually meet them - but somehow the thought that we'd have to learn another language in order to communicate with them never occurred to me until long after our arrival on these shores. And yet there are small differences in the way the Teleri and the Vanyar pronounce their words compared to our own people; of course the differences between our speech and the speech of these dark Elves would be far greater. It's odd that I'd never thought about it before now."
"You had other things on your mind then, Russandol," my little brother replies in our own tongue, and for an instant his usually cheerful expression becomes clouded over with sorrow. I go to touch him reassuringly - and stop abruptly when I see the ugly bandaged stump on the end of my upraised right arm. Quickly I lower it out of sight, then reach out instead with my left hand to give my little brother's forearm a gentle squeeze.
"That was true of all of us, Pitya; but it's of no consequence now. Our brother Makalaurë - "
"Maglor," Pityafinwë replies, shifting back into the strange language of the dark Elves. "In this new tongue, our brother's name is Maglor."
"Maglor," I reply, conceding defeat. Clearly my little brother has no intention of allowing me more than a moment's respite from our practice. He's no doubt right; better to make my mistakes with him now than to make them later when I find myself talking to a native speaker of this cumbersome tongue. And I was the one who'd asked for these lessons in the first place. Though I may not be strong enough yet to walk more than a short distance unaided, and Makalaurë is still the one overseeing most of the operations of our encampment, I cannot bear to simply lie idle all day. I need something to do, if only to distract me from the pain of my lost hand and from the memories of how I came to lose it.
"Maglor told me," I say slowly, concentrating on the unfamiliar words, "that you've met these strange Elves on several of your hunting trips. That you've even seen their homes. What are they like?" If I cannot distract my tenacious little brother, perhaps I can at least manage to trick him into doing most of the talking during this practice session.
"They're very similar to us, actually; tall, but a bit more slender, and some of them have lighter hair than is usual for our people. And surprisingly, they're not as ignorant and uncultured as you would have guessed; their hunting tools are very well-designed and..."
My ploy is working; once Ambarussa starts to talk about hunting, he's nearly as single-minded as Oromë's own hounds. I relax and let my mind drift, the strange words rushing over me like a flowing stream while I admire the beauty of this land under the Valar's bright new light, the foliage beginning to turn from bright green to a mixture of brown, gold, and scarlet, the bright blue waters of the lake rippling gently. Across the lake in the distance I see what looks like smoke rising; surely that must be from our uncle's encampment, where Findekáno now dwells. So many people under our uncle Nolofinwë's command, and all of them so angry at us after Father's betrayal... Whatever am I going to do about that problem? That's something I'd rather think about another day. I look away from the threatening smoke, and turn my attention back to my brother's words.
"And so they actually devised a way of - Nelfin, brother, are you listening to me?"
"Of course. What did you call me?"
"Nelfin. That's your name, Nelyafinwë, in this new tongue. Nelyafinwë becomes Nelfin, and Maitimo becomes - "
"No!" I cut my brother off sharply; startled, he looks at me and drops his eyes, apparently unable to meet my gaze. I continue more gently, "I'm sorry, Ambar - er, Amrod - but I'm not going to use either of those names in this language. They don't fit me anymore; assuming, that is, that they ever did in the first place."
"But what other names can you use?" my brother replies; his puzzlement clear in his tone. "Nelyafinwë Maitimo is your given name; surely you don't mean to go by Russandol! I know it's the name you like best, but isn't 'Coppertop' a bit too informal? After all, you're the king of the Noldor now. Your name, even in this crude tongue, should reflect that. Nelfin sounds fine, and it clearly denotes your lineage; I think it's the one you should use."
I shake my head. "No. It doesn't fit."
"Then what name are you going to use, brother?"
"I don't yet know."
* * * * * * *
Dark. It's so dark, and the air is so close. I'm suffocating in this blackness. And then I see the light, a dull orange glow in the distance, and I suddenly know what awaits me. The Black Foe's servants have returned to put me to torment again. I shudder, remembering monstrous hands holding me fast, and the terrible searing pain of red-hot metal pressing into my flesh. No! Please, Ilúvatar, no! I cannot endure any more. Desperate, I lash out with all of my strength, but my limbs quickly become tangled up in some sort of net and I am unable to fight my way free. And then I feel someone, some thing, grabbing me, pinning me down, and I stiffen in anticipation of the agony I know is coming...
But the pain never comes; instead I hear a voice calling firmly, "Maitimo, wake up! It's all right; you're safe now. Listen to me, Russandol; it's over, you're safe..." How, I wonder dimly, did the Black Foe's minions learn my old childhood epessë? And surely that voice cannot belong to one of my enemy's hideous creations; it's beautiful, almost... familiar? Gradually the image of that foul chamber fades, to be replaced by an altogether different view. A darkened room, a low fire flickering in the hearth, and a familiar face hovering over mine, grey eyes filled with worry. I shake my head weakly, confused.
"Makalaurë? Is that you, filit? How..."
I feel the tight grip on my arms loosen as my brother lets go, realize as I try to sit up that I'm lying beside him on a bed, entangled in the blankets. The worry in my brother's eyes fades, replaced by pity. "You were having a nightmare, brother," he replies softly. "Do you remember where you are now?"
I nod silently, ashamed. I am in my brothers' encampment, not the Black Foe's fortress; I've been here for nearly a month. Yet when I sleep, I often find myself returning to the horrors I've left behind, almost as though I cannot let them go. What is wrong with me, that I should dwell on them so? Has the Black Foe somehow crippled my mind, as Findekáno did my body when he struck off my hand? "I'm sorry, filit," I finally murmur. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"Hush; you've nothing to apologize for," my brother replies. "It's late, though, and we both need to rest. Lie back down, Russandol, and let me sing you into more peaceful dreams this time."
I do as he says, letting him straighten out the jumbled blankets, and listen to my brother's soft voice. He sings an old song about the Two Trees, and I try to let my mind drift in rhythm with his music. But I cannot relax into sleep; the images of the Treelight that my brother's song evokes keep twisting in my mind into visions of fire and pain. The golden radiance of Laurelin morphs into yellow flames; silver Telperion's slender trunk becomes a white hot iron brand. Fire and hot metal fill my mind despite everything my brother can do; in the end, I pretend to sleep so that he will finally rest himself. After he is dreaming, I quietly turn over, careful not to wake him, and spend the remainder of the night gazing into the hearthfire. Fire and hot metal, and the sickening stench of burning flesh, and searing pain... I find myself trembling at the memory of it.
It is a long time before dawn arrives.
* * * * * * *
The days pass; my body is slow to regain its strength, and I am clumsy now, with only my weaker hand remaining to me. My brothers' language lessons provide a welcome distraction from these frustrations; at least my tongue is still working properly, even if it is reluctant to master these new sounds. Granted, fluency in this strange speech is not yet essential; our daily conversations are primarily carried out in the language of our birth. But Aman is closed to us now, and I sense that we will soon need to be skillful in this alien tongue; our people will need allies among the dark Elves dwelling in these lands if we are to ever prevail against the might of the Black Foe. And I doubt they will be willing to master the speech of strangers; no, it is we who must adapt now to their ways, at least in part. So I am determined to learn this new tongue well. But as the lessons continue, and my fluency increases, I still find myself unable to answer Ambarussa's question: what am I going to call myself? What name shall the Elves of these wild lands know me by?
Not Nelyafinwë. I have never liked my father-name; it has always felt more like a burden to me, with its dynastic references, than a source of pride. And it is no longer accurate in any case. I am no longer 'Finwë-third', for both my grandfather Finwë and my father Curufinwë Fëanáro are dead; as their heir, and the rightful leader of our people, I am more properly 'Finwë-first'. And I do not think I want to use a name that constantly reminds me of that uncomfortable fact.
Not Maitimo. My mother-name fit me well once, but no longer. My once-shapely form has been irrevocably marred. Numerous scars cover the skin of my limbs and torso, and though my clothing will hide most of them, there is no way to hide my absent right hand. That deformity renders my old and once-favored name of 'well-made one' a cruel joke. The beauty my mother once named me for is nothing but a memory now; I will not choose an elegy for a name.
And certainly not Russandol. Ambarussa is right about its informality. But I have another reason for not selecting it as well. 'Coppertop' was the name of my childhood, and while those who love me will doubtless continue to use it out of familiarity and affection, I know in my heart that the innocent young man who once bore that name is dead. He was mortally wounded at Alqualondë; the burning of the Teleri ships, Father's death, and the Black Foe's long torments only hastened his inevitable end. No one can emerge from such events unstained. I mourn Russandol's death, but using his name will not bring him back to life, much though I wish it were otherwise. I cannot return to what I once was by embracing my old epessë so.
But if I am no longer Nelyafinwë Maitimo Russandol, than who am I? By what name shall I be known here in our exile? Lacking a name that fits me, I feel strangely lost. But perhaps that is why I have not yet chosen one; I do not yet know what I have become.
* * * * * * *
Findekáno hewed my fleshly hand off to release me from my torment, but a hand of spirit remains in its place. When I look down at my right wrist, I see only a stump - but I can still feel my hand attached to it. I am conscious of the position of each invisible finger; I can feel them move and flex, and am always startled when I go to grasp something with them, reaching out unthinkingly through force of habit, only to be abruptly reminded that the solid flesh which once covered those ethereal digits is forever gone.
Though my right hand is now formed only of air, the sensations I feel from it are far more substantial. It often hurts. Usually the pain is merely a dull ache, but there are times when it burns so badly that it takes all my will to keep from crying out in agony. Our healers have given me a draught, wine mixed with herbs, to take when I am in pain; I use it when they change the dressings on my stump, and occasionally at night to ease the aching of the over-stretched muscles and ligaments in my right arm. It dulls those hurts well, but does nothing to cool the searing pain in my invisible hand. I suppose that is not surprising, for my poor burning hand is no longer made of flesh; how could any remedy that acts solely on the body's physical substance affect it? I have no choice but to wait until the pain eventually subsides on its own.
My ghostly hand is bothering me more than usual today; to take my mind off my discomfort I decide to go for a short walk about the encampment. Though my recovery remains far from complete, I am confident I am strong enough now to walk about unescorted, so long as I am careful not to overexert myself. True, Makalaurë will be upset if he returns to find me gone from my chair, especially since he gave me strict instructions not to leave it in his absence, but I am not planning to venture far. I should be back here long before he returns. In any case, it is not my younger brother's place to issue orders to me; perhaps it is time I remind him of where I stand in this family.
I put my dull book aside, rise carefully from my shaded seat, and walk away from the cabin I've been sharing with Makalaurë since my return. It is a day made for explorations; the whole world seems to be in motion. A cool breeze blows across the lake, kissing the water lightly to make it shiver before coming ashore to set the tree leaves and the grass blades dancing. Although the new light is different, far harsher and brighter than anything my people had ever known in Aman, this sense of the wind rousing the very earth is a familiar one. I used to love to ride with Findekáno on days such as this, when the hooves of our galloping horses touched the ground so lightly that they seemed to be borne upon the very air itself. Even if my absent hand were not paining me, I could not help but be restless on such a day. How could my brother think I would ever be content to sit quietly when even Yavanna's usually staid olvar are so eager to frolic?
After a few minutes of strolling about, however, I soon discover I have seriously overestimated my strength. I find myself swaying on my feet, and it is not Lord Manwë's winds that are responsible for my staggering gait. If I do not quickly find a place to stop and rest, I am going to fall. But if I sit down on the ground, I may find it impossible to get back onto my feet unaided. I have no choice; I head for the closest building, a low stone structure near the edge of the settlement. With luck, I will find a chair or a bench there, and I will be able to rest for a while before beginning the walk back to my brother's cabin. I somehow manage to pull the door open and begin to walk in, only to freeze in startled shock. The building is obviously a smithy, with a working forge and an anvil - and the man standing before it, hammering on a piece of hot metal, is Father!
He is oblivious to my presence, but the boy at his side is not; he stares at me curiously. After a brief moment of confusion, I suddenly recognize the youngster: Tyelpinquar. My nephew, now grown old enough to begin an apprenticeship. The man standing before me is not my dead father but my brother, the only one of us who inherited both Father's gifts and his face. Curufinwë Atarinkë. The very last person I want to meet right now, except possibly Makalaurë. I would turn to leave, but my knees are beginning to buckle, and leaning against the doorframe is the only thing that is keeping me standing on my feet. And I have no chance of slipping away undetected anyway, for my young nephew is now tugging on his father's arm and saying, "Father! Look, Uncle Maitimo has come to watch you work, too!" Having no choice, I brace myself for the unavoidable tongue-lashing I am surely going to receive as soon as he sees me; for Pityanarë inherited Father's temper along with his looks.
But to my surprise, all he says is, "Russandol! You look terrible!" Putting his hammer aside, he shoves the metal bar back into the furnace to reheat it, than comes around the anvil to help me. Grateful for his support, I let him lead me over to a bench where I can sit down. "What are you doing here? And where's Makalaurë? Ever since Findekáno brought you back to us, he's been practically welded to your side; don't try to tell me he let you go wandering off by yourself."
"No," I reply, chagrined. "He had to leave to deal with some sort of problem at one of our northern sentry posts. Before he went, he asked me to stay in my chair until he returned, but I couldn't bear the thought of just sitting there like a log on such a lovely day. So I decided to go for a walk. I didn't realize I would tire so quickly, though." I don't mention the principle reason for my restlessness; why burden my brother with it, when there is nothing he can do to ease the pain in my phantom hand in any case?
"Fool," my brother replies, but his voice is more affectionate than angry. "I suppose I should be upset, but it's good to see that you're finally feeling more like your old self. When did you ever let any of your lowly little brothers tell you what to do? Besides, Makalaurë is far better at scolding than I am, and I've no doubt he'll give you an earful later, so I might as well save my breath. I need to finish my work here, so you'll have a bit of time to rest and regain your strength. Once I'm done I'll walk back with you, and maybe I'll even manage to deflect some of our very-overprotective brother's wrath. Son," he said, turning to Tyelpinquar, "please fetch some water for your uncle."
"What are you making?" I ask my brother as he turns back towards the forge.
He stops and gives me a strange look. "Weapons, of course. What else would I be forging now?"
* * * * * * *
I sit quietly and watch my younger brother work, listen to him as he begins to teach his young son the rudiments of our family's craft. How like Father he seems! But he has more patience with Tyelpinquar than I remember Father ever having with us. Or perhaps it is merely that the boy is eager to learn, and has obviously inherited his father's talent; he makes few mistakes deserving of correction.
It has been a long time since I last set foot inside a smithy; unlike my younger brother, I inherited none of our father's renowned skill. At first, watching my brother as he folds and refolds the soft metal, listening to the heavy thud of his hammer repetitively striking the cherry-red steel, feeling the heat radiating from the furnace, evokes nothing but images of my own apprenticeship with Father. But I have other, more recent memories of hot metal and flames, and the fierce ache in my absent hand slowly begins to awaken them. The smell of the fire is sickening; I close my eyes so that I do not have to see the dreadful glow of the heated steel, but I cannot block out the sounds that fill the air in this terrible place. Metal hitting metal, the sound of the Black Foe's hammer driving home the fastenings that will anchor iron to rock, pinioning my wrist so tightly that even my suspended weight will not serve to pull my hand loose... The crackling of the flames, heating implements of pain soon to be pressed into my helpless flesh so that my howls of agony might serve to briefly amuse my captor... Half-swooning, I nonetheless cringe when I hear my scream fill the air; have I no pride, to allow mere memories to wring such a cry from me? But then I realize that my mouth is closed; I am not the source of the sound. Opening my eyes, I look up to see my brother drawing a now-quenched blade from the trough of salty water he'd plunged it into moments before. Not my scream at all; it was Ulmo's form the hot metal had cruelly pierced, as the steam rising over the tank so clearly proves. My brother had apparently finished the folding of the first blade some time ago, placing it aside to anneal, and had gone on to harden and quench his previous day's work, and I had not noticed the cessation of his hammering, so consumed had I been by the remembered sensations of old torments. I flush with shame, but fortunately, my brother's attention lies elsewhere.
"Not a bad piece of work, this," he says as he turns the now-cooled blade over in his hands. "What do you think, Maitimo?"
I nod my agreement, not yet trusting myself to speak. It is a fine blade, with a beautiful even feather pattern; the warrior who bears one of Pityanarë's creations into battle will be fortunate indeed.
"Why is the metal so streaky now, Father? It didn't look like that yesterday, when you were shaping it."
I am grateful for Tyelpinquar's question. While my little brother is busy answering his curious son's queries, I should have time to wipe the worst of the sweat from off my face and finish composing myself. It is perhaps fortunate that my maiming will prevent me from ever taking up a smith's hammer again; it takes two hands to work steel. I will not need to invent excuses to stay away from this place in the future.
"Remember how we layered the different metals together before we heated them up, and how we kept bending the metal bar over on itself each time before we hammered it? That's what makes the streaky pattern, son. All that heating and cooling, and all that folding, is what makes the metal both strong and flexible, so it won't break when it hits an enemy's sword in battle. But you don't see the pattern until all the work is done, after the blade is cooled in the water. Now, go put your tools away; it's growing late, and it's time to go home. Maitimo, do you know who's cooking dinner tonight?"
"Ambarussa are, I think," I reply as my brother helps me back onto my feet. "So I hope you two are in the mood for game, since that's all those two know how to prepare."
As the three of us walk together beneath the darkening sky, my brother's strong arm steadying me when I stumble, I find myself contemplating both his work that day, and my own sufferings at the Black Foe's hands. Would the metal of a blade cry out as it is shaped, if it had a tongue? If it could speak, would it understand the transformation it was undergoing, appreciate the lethal beauty of its final form? The Black Foe doubtless meant to break me, and perhaps in the end he would have, if he'd been given enough time. Though he has succeeded in wrecking my body, he did not manage to transform me into one of his degraded slaves. Could it be that, far from breaking my mind, he merely succeeded in tempering it? Burned the dross away with his torments, so that my hatred of him is now pure, unalloyed with any trace of pity?
"But you don't see the pattern until all the work is done, after the blade is cooled..."My old life is no more; I have not yet fully emerged into this new one. My painful forging is still incomplete. How will I appear when it is over? Will I glitter like the sword my brother held in his hands? Or is my lost hand a sign that I will not survive my quenching, that I am already irreparably shattered? Useless? I do not yet know. But copper is far more malleable than steel, so I will hope.
I know now what name I wish to bear.
* * * * * * *
"Maedhros. 'Well-made Copper.' A little bit of both your favorite old names in there," Ambarussa says when I finally tell him my choice. "I like it, brother. It fits you."
"No. It doesn't, not yet," I reply, "But someday, I hope it will."
Many of the names used in this story are Quenya, and the meanings of nearly all of them can be found in the essay "The Shibboleth of Fëanor," published in The Peoples of Middle Earth (History of Middle Earth, vol. 12). When more than one name is listed for a character, the first name is the father-name, and the second is the mother-name. The Sindarin equivalents of these names are as follows:
Curufinwë Fëanáro - Fëanor
Nelyafinwë Maitimo (nicknamed Russandol) - Maedhros
Makalaurë - Maglor
Pityafinwë Ambarussa - Amrod (his twin brother Amras also shares the same mother-name, Ambarussa). (Pitya is a shortened form occasionally used by Maedhros)
Findekáno - Fingon
Nolofinwë - Fingolfin
Curufinwë Atarinkë - Curufin (he shares his father-name with his own father, Fëanor)
Tyelpinquar - Celebrimbor (from the essay "Of Dwarves and Men," The Peoples of Middle Earth (History of Middle Earth, vol. 12), p 318)
The meaning of the name Maedhros: Tolkien apparently often came up with the sound of a word first, and then worked backwards to assign a plausible meaning to it. In the Etymologies (a list of proto-Elvish and early Quenya word roots which contain some of Tolkien's earliest language work) the name Maedhros is translated as "Glitter of Metal," hence the title of my story. (The Etymologies can be found in The Lost Road and Other Writings (The History of Middle Earth, volume 5).)
Tolkien apparently later changed his mind about this translation. In his later essay "The Shibboleth of Fëanor" (published in The Peoples of Middle Earth (History of Middle Earth, vol. 12), he states that the name Maedhros means "Well-formed (or shapely) Copper," and outlines its derivation from the Sindarin roots for "shapely" (maed) and "copper" (ross) - the Quenya equivalents of which are the major elements of Maedhros's mother-name Maitimo and his nickname Russandol. (See especially footnote #65 in "The Shibboleth of Feanor".)
Filit - "small bird" (Quenya). An affectionate nickname Maedhros has given to his brother Maglor.
Pityanarë - "little flame" (Quenya) An affectionate nickname Maedhros has given his brother Curufin, in acknowledgement of his brother's strong mental and physical resemblance to their father Fëanor.
Laman/lavan- generic terms for a four-footed animal; laman is Quenya, while lavan is Sindarin
Epessë - the Quenya term for a nickname.
Olvar - Quenya word meaning "plants".
For those of you who are interested in learning more about sword-making, I highly recommend this site: http://www.howstuffworks.com/sword-making.htm I tried to be reasonably accurate in my description of the overall process, but did take a bit of artistic license here and there.
This story was first published on December 13, 2002