People who have read a few stories of mine know what I'm going to write here: thanks goes to my beta, HaloFin17. It doesn't stop being true after the tenth or the twentieth story. Halo, I'm grateful for your insight, your ideas which inspire me, your input and comments, and my readers will (should) thank you for fewer grammar errors! And the absence of Legolas.
"I thought it right to show you, your highness, as these Stones were crafted by your father. It has been of great use to Gondor and Arnor, yet also led to ill events. I do not wish to pressure you either way, I only give you the option of taking them back."
There were two, sitting uncovered side by side. Their surfaces shone like the way they had fresh out of his father's workshop.
"Take them back?" Maedhros considered it and discarded the idea swiftly. "I had not thought of it before, nor do I believe that I will have any use for them. You, however, have inherited a vast realm; Arnor is far from Gondor, and I hope that you will strive to make the land inhabitable again. The Seeing Stone can serve you well then."
"True." After some pondering, King Elessar asked: "Have you ever used the Stones yourself?"
"Long ago in Valinor after my father had finished them and later, too. He gave them to myself and my brothers and had us spread out all over the isle to try them out. And after, when we were in Middle-earth, we used them to keep watch against the Enemy and to communicate with one another. But I haven't used them since the Second Age after Makalaurë gave them to Gil-galad. I never visited the Stone of Elostirion as some elves do to see a glimpse of Valinor."
"Would your highness be willing to teach me how to use it then? It's true that I bent it to my will and wrestled it thus from Sauron's, but still I feel as if my hold on it is precarious, and I have so far not dared look whether I can find the other Stones, which we believe to be lost."
"Indeed, that may take much will and power which you are better served using in your other duties. With your permission, I will familiarize myself with them again. Perhaps I can even answer your question on the remaining Stones, if there are any. I would then be better equipped to teach you to use the Stones to their full effect."
"You have my permission to use these Stones however you see fit. You have Gondor's hospitality however long you wish it."
The Estel Maedhros had met not so long ago had grown into this serious man. The loss of his childish innocence was no cause for sadness in Maedhros' opinion. The redhead saw much of Elrond's and Elros' wisdom in him. Elros' line ran in him almost more true than in most of Aragorn's ancestors, and Elrond had imparted his own knowledge upon his fosterling through years of teaching. In a way, Elrond had paid for that kindness with the life of his daughter. Maedhdros's heart ached for Elrond and his sons, and his own brother, too, who had favored Arwen since her birth as the daughter he had never had. Nevertheless he did not condemn Aragorn.
"Certainly. I believe my brother would also be most glad to spend more time with Arwen."
"He is, of course, also very welcome."
There were now two Stones for Maedhros to experiment with, and neither one seemed to him untainted. One had been in Saruman's possession for years and used to plot Middle-earth's doom with Sauron; the other had also been so close to the Stone that the Enemy had captured that it had driven the Steward Denethor mad.
In the end, Maedhros took the Anor Stone in hand first, named for its location in the city of Minas Anor which was now called Minas Tirith. He centered his mind and carefully directed his focus at the Palantír. The first image he was shown was of a man, old and wizened, who had his hands wrapped around the Palantír in despair. He was in the throes of death, and Maedhros guessed that this was Denethor. He was surprised that the Stone would retain this image and probed it further with his mind. The image vanished; at least the Stone had not been rendered completely useless. Maedhros saw Minas Tirith instead, and with some targeted thoughts he managed to steer the image of the Palantír at his will to see more and more of the realm of Gondor.
In Valinor, each individual Stone had been capable of showing its user the entire realm. Daring Curunir had tried to look into Mahal's halls once, but that had been barred to him. The eagles on Manwë's mountains, however, those he had been able to see very clearly. None of them had ever dared to look into the halls of Námo.
Later, in Middle-earth they had stretched the Palantír's capacity to its very limit and that of their own strength. His father's intent had not been that the Palantíri be used for an extended time but rather for quick communication. Using it at length could induce quite a headache as Maedhros remembered. Such feelings and thoughts could even be transmitted to another person using a different Stone without meaning to, or they could be deliberately accessed by force. Maedhros wondered whether his father had considered or intended all of that when crafting the Palantíri.
An unexpected pang of homesickness caught him so off guard that his focus broke and he saw Denethor again. Maedhros put the Stone down.
"What did you see?"
Maedhros looked up. While he had been focused on the Palantír and unaware, his brother Maglor had entered the room.
The older brother sighed. "The former Steward dying. The Palantír is not completely broken, as it still shows me Gondor when I will it to."
"Then it is no longer connected to the Ithil Stone?"
"It appears so, but I haven't checked on that or any of the other Palantíri yet."
"It's been long since we last touched them," Maglor voiced his thought.
"Do you think mother still has the Palantír father gave her before we left?"
Maedhros shrugged. "Perhaps. But whether she can see us, we never figured out when the Stones were still ours."
Maglor looked thoughtful. Maedhros himself had never tried to contact her using the Palantír that had been at his disposal. The one time he had tentatively tried to look West, back in the First Age, it had taken much of his will, and the brief look at Manwë's mountains had discouraged him very quickly. An eagle had looked straight back at him with an all-too-knowing look in its eyes.
"Will you test them with me?" he asked his brother. "I want to make certain that the Anor Stone and the Orthanc Stone still connect to each other easily for communication."
"Certainly. Does King Elessar have plans for them?"
"Not per se. He offered to return them to us, but I declined. I don't think we will have any use for them."
Maglor nodded in agreement. He had been silent of late regarding their future, and Maedhros had a feeling that his brother was planning to take the risk and sail West with Elrond, Galadriel and Gandalf, provided, of course, that they allowed his company.
"I will take the Orthanc Stone out tomorrow morning then, and once out of the city I will contact you."
"Make sure to find a safe place. The Palantír requires too much focus to keep watch for orcs or any other enemy at the same time."
Finding a safe place was easier said than done, and thus Maedhros took a small group of Gondorian soldiers with him who were to take watch while he was otherwise occupied. They found a deserted farm house not far from the city, its owner having perhaps perished in the war. Maedhros made a mental note to notify the king of its empty state; many people had been displaced by the war, and someone might breathe new life into this building if its previous occupant did not return.
The Orthanc Stone showed no defect, not even a trace of Saruman's or Sauron's evil plots and sorcery. He did not need much strength to direct the Palantír to connect with the Anor Stone, and soon he saw his brother in his mind in Minas Tirith.
"Is Arwen standing behind you?" he asked.
"Aye," Maglor confirmed. "She was curious to see the Palantíri in action, and I didn't see any reason to deny her."
"I can see very clearly then."
"Good. I, however, had the same sensation as you yesterday and saw Denthor in his death throes. Perhaps with enough strength of will this may be rectified."
"Do you wish to try? I will meanwhile try to connect to any of the other Stones. Perhaps a Stone or two may be recovered."
"Possibly, but I suggest you do it while in Minas Tirith. Finding a probably destroyed Palantír may exhaust you and take more time than your Gondorian guard is willing to stand by and wait."
It turned out that this was good advice, for when Maedhros later reached out first to the Osgiliath Stone, which was said to have been lost in the Andúin when the city burned during the civil war, he found not the familiar emptiness that he had expected of a destroyed Palantír but rather a very muted presence. Without hesitating, he bent his will towards that Palantír; even so, he was still surprised to feel the fog lift and the sensation of water surrounding him.
Although Maedhros and probably most other users of the Palantíri said that they "saw" something in the Stone, it was not so much an image which was physically present in the Stone and visible to anyone who happened to take a look at it in passing. The seeing happened in the mind more than anywhere else. So although he had been able to see Arwen behind his brother, she would not have seen him if she had not been touching Maglor and thus been sharing his sight in the Palantír.
Maedhros saw plants and gray sand shimmering in the sun, suggesting that the Palantír was under water but not far from the surface. He directed the Stone to show him more of its surroundings and was rewarded with the surface, a river and an old dam. Further, however, was not possible, which to Maedhros was not a great tragedy. For now he had seen enough, and he needed to find an artist.
The King looked at the sketch Maedhros presented him with great interest.
"It must be the Andúin, since that is where the Stone was lost. But where exactly this scene is I cannot say; it is not familiar to me, although I went down the Andúin only recently."
"It might have been night when you passed it. But I actually disagree: this river looks too small to be the Andúin proper where the ships pass through; it looks more like a brook, possibly a sidearm of the Andúin too small to be mentioned in the great maps you have here. Unfortunately the scene is not very distinct; such trees can probably be found anywhere. I suppose there is no other way to find the Palantír but to follow the Andúin on both sides and each of its outlets until the Stone is found."
"Is that wise, your Highness?" Aragorn looked doubtful. "The Palantír should not be tampered with, and Gondor has no need of another Seeing Stone."
"That may be true," Maedhros replied gravely. "But the greater danger lies in another than ourselves finding the Palantír. Think of the One Ring which lay at the bottom of a river and yet was found by one who should not have found it at all. It was our luck that Gollum did find it, but imagine an enemy of Gondor finding this Seeing Stone and using it for purposes that could harm your realm! No, we have a lead, and we should follow it as best as we can."
"I must concur with Prince Nelyafinwë," Arwen agreed. "The Seeing Stone is better kept in safe hands; we must only remember Saruman to know that any Palantíri that might still be functioning are better not forgotten."
"Then so be it," Aragorn said. "I suggest that you ask Faramir to come with you. He knows these lands like few others and would be of great help to you."
Maedhros had already met Faramir and found no reason to argue. Maglor hadn't said a word, and after they had left the study, his brother said:
"If you have no need of me, I would be content to stay here in Minas Tirith."
"I had expected that, to be honest. I think it's time we spoke of our plans for the upcoming Fourth Age, and I believe that you already have a firm idea of where you plan to go."
Maglor lowered his head, and Maedhros could not see his face. When his brother looked up and spoke, his expression spoke of anguish.
"Aye, you know me, brother, perhaps better than I know myself. Elrond, Galadriel and the two remaining wizards have already agreed to make preparations to sail no later than three years hence. I have asked Elrond and the others to be allowed on board of that ship, and they have agreed to take whatever risk there is in having me as a companion."
"I had thought so when you didn't go to Rivendell with Elrond. Your heart is stronger in this than his, and you can bear to see his daughter live a mortal life."
The Valar knew how many losses they had suffered and survived!
"And you, brother? What were your thoughts?"
"I'm not yet ready."
Maglor's face fell. Although he should have been prepared, it was still a disappointment.
"That is not to say that I will never sail!" Maedhros alleviated. "Indeed I have changed my mind since we last spoke about it, and if you brave the crossing, I would be worse than a coward not to follow you. If we are not reunited in Valinor, then we shall be in the Halls of Waiting or wherever else Lord Namo sends us!"
"When do you plan to sail? Perhaps I will remain here that long then-"
"No, Maglor, you go with our son. I shall follow you when my time has come."
"Very well," Maglor gave in.
"Spend your time with Arwen, for we won't see her again until the world comes to an end. I will go on Elessar's mission with others. And after, at least I will go north again, and if I get lonely there, I will ask Elladan and Elrohir if I may dwell in Imladris."
"For that last trip north I will accompany you. Until then, I remain here in Minas Tirith."
Thank you for reading, comments are always welcome! There will be two more chapters, coming as soon as I have time to edit them.