The Blind Windows
By Le Chat Noir
- Part three: The Wayward Dawn
"You are late."
The artist added one last touch of bright cooper onto his canvas, and dipped his brush into the water, washing the paint away. He then turned around to face him.
"You are late," he said.
Curufin stared at the transparent bowl of once clear water, where a faint red cloud now lazily dissolved itself.
"We have all been waiting for you." The elf picked up an already brightly coloured cloth, and attempted to wipe the red stains from his fingers. His shadowed eyes rested on an indefinite particle of something in suspension in the air, and Curufin felt that he was staring right through him, without even knowing that he was there.
Maybe he has gone blind, he thought. Many have. Too many tears shed, too many horrors seen; too many eyes torn out.
The rag was casually tossed onto the table, and lay there, totally devoid of meaning and sense.
"We were afraid." Curufin looked about the room. There were paintings everywhere, leaning on every wall. Giant ones. Almost frescos. Most of them represented nothing, he thought, or at least nothing that he could see; maybe he was the one that had gone blind between the two. Terrible, terrible mix of arbitrary colours, seemingly random, seemingly abstract; until the thing that was there burst out of the flattened canvas and reached out like a hand to grab you in.
"We were afraid that they would hold you back." The voice seemed very far away. An uneasy pause followed. "You know their law, don't you?"
The silence weighed, only broken by the echo of distant steps. He blinked, and saw the other elf's face now only inches away from his own.
"Yes," he said, his voice as low as he could. "Yes, Makalaurë, I know their law."
He felt himself suddenly engulfed into a tight embrace, arms locking around his neck, nearly choking the wind out of him, a head rested on his shoulder. An alien sensation again; that of another's warmth against his body, another's breath against his skin.
Unsure of what he was doing, he slid his arms around Maglor's waist, and waited.
After a while, the older elf pulled away, and a large smile was drawn across his face.
"Come in. Make yourself at ease; if you can." The smile turned apologetic. "There is no comfort to be found here."
Curufin stepped in, carefully shutting the door behind him. A warm light bathed the hall. The windows-panes were flung wide-open, letting the room be flooded with the scent of the sea, and the occasional call of the famished gull.
"There is only one chair," Maglor stated, somewhat embarrassed. A slight flush came to his cheeks. "I think I used the other one as firewood two winters ago."
With a shrug, the older elf leapt on the table, and eased himself down to sit cross-legged on its flat surface. A glance at his brother invited him to do the same. Yes, Curufin thought. We did that often, a long time ago.
"This snowstorm came up, and I happen to live at one day's walk from the nearest habitation."
The nearest people will live from you is at least one day's walk, isn't it.
"It must get pretty lonely here sometimes, doesn't it?
Maglor looked away.
"Yes." He silently slid off the table. "No, I get visitors from time to time. The others come. And Mother, too." He disappeared behind a small door. "You must be hungry."
He wasn't hungry. He wasn't thirsty, either, now that he thought of it. In fact, he hadn't eaten nor drunk at all for the few days that he had been rehoused.
Maglor came back, bearing a tray on which were displayed mandarins, pears, and two glassfuls of golden miruvor.
"Not much," he said as he deposed the tray in between them, "but about all I've got there." He brought one of the finely wrought glasses to his lips, and took a long sip from it. "Tell me if you're interested in some bread."
Curufin held his flute with the very tip of his fingers, and admired the elegant glasswork; a dreadful contrast with the sobriety of his surroundings.
Something about the slightly bubbling liquid in it made him wary.
"I haven't tried any eating or drinking yet," he slowly mouthed.
Maglor sent him a compassionate look, and put his own wine down.
"Russandol said that it hurt a little the first time, but after the third mouthful or so he looked very fine with it."
The sound his glass made when coming into contact with the table's surface was queer indeed. Both elves started, but the glass did not break. Hypnotised by the perfect circle its revolution on the wood traced, they stared at the rings it drew on the wood while rolling; his hand stayed frozen in the air.
"I'm… sorry," Maglor stammered, before realising that he was not at fault. "I'll go fetch a cloth."
Curufin continued staring at the dripping liquid.
"Excuse me." His head snapped up. Maglor was sitting in front of him again, gazing at him in an enquiring fashion. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," the answer came hurriedly. "Of course."
Those words seemed to reassure his older brother slightly. Maglor sat back and began to artfully peel a mandarin with nervous fingers.
Curufin swallowed. "You mentioned Maitimo."
"Yes," the other one answered, without looking up. The thin, elongated orange peelings were laid on the table one by one, forming a kind of flower-like design. "Russandol."
The silence settled once more.
"And… who else?"
The skinned mandarin was carefully deposited in the centre of the flower, and Maglor crossed two slender hands under his chin.
"All of us. You were the last." His left eye twitched vaguely. The small, almost unnoticeable movement stirred an uncertain something in his brother's memory; maybe it was a tic he had seen before. "We feared, you know. We feared for you. We were anxious…" his voice trailed off.
"That there was enough ground for them to keep me until the end." Curufin finished for him. "All of us…" he mused. "All of us save one, right?"
"Save one." Maglor hung his head, and spoke no more.
The twitch came back. The younger brother stared at the fleeting twist in the other's features, and tried in vain to remember when the elder of the two had developed the tic, when he had first seen the abnormal blink distort the musician's fair face.
After a while, Maglor heaved a heavy sigh; and, looking up, let an almost cheerful smile creep on his visage.
"Where do you plan on staying?"
Curufin shrugged. "I don't know. Where are the others?"
"Russandol is at Mahtan's House, with our mother," Maglor began saying, counting each of his brothers off on his fingers. "So are the two Ambarussa. Carnistir lives with his wife, somewhere in a small village. They're quite happy, I think. They have two daughters. Tyelkormo got married, not so long ago; I believe he'll settle down with his new wife, too."
He paused. Curufin took another slow sip from his glass.
"And what about you? Aurel… (1)?"
Maglor smiled sadly. "Curvo, we never had time to become even fiancés." He shook his head. "She visited me once, when I first came back. Brought her son with her; a fine young lad. Can't remember his name."
He laughed softly.
"Of course, you are going to live with Vyriel. How stupid of me."
Curufin stared at him while fiddling with his now empty flute. He would have expected of Maglor to be living with Nerdanel, in the House of the MasterSmith; but did not dare bring up the question. Maybe there were reasons other than the laws of the Valar.
"Does she keep in touch?"
Maglor stopped laughing, and regarded him with piercing eyes. "Oh yes, and a great lady she is, for one raised as a peasant's daughter. She lives with her father, now."
The younger elf nearly let the glass fall from his fingers. "Pardon?"
Maglor nodded. "Yes, small wooden house all alone in the moor. I believe your son is there also. I don't believe he is very happy about it." He sent his brother a searching look. "Will you go live with them?"
Curufin stared back at him, unflinching. "If they would agree to it. I'd rather have them live with me."
Maglor raised a questioning eyebrow; the other elf leapt off the table and started pacing around the room.
"I have though about it. I don't know yet, but the House of Fire seems like it could take a little living in, not to speak of a complete cleaning session that will probably take more than a year to get a grip on, considered the state it's in."
It was Maglor's turn to jump. "You tell me that you intend to go back to living in our House?"
Curufin pointed a finger at the ceiling. "As you have stated so well, it is our House. I have a right to live in it, don't I? I'm sure the some snakes and spiders currently inhabiting it will not hold a grudge against me."
Maglor shook his head. "But it's in the very middle of Tirion!"
"No, actually the Eastern district. Cano, realise what it means. The House of Fire is the very heart of our family. We have all been born there. There lie all our memories, the memories of our past and greatness! Cano, we have to remember. All have to remember!"
"You can't do that! It will be a scandal!"
Curufin suspended his steps just in front of his brother.
"And let me guess. There has never been a scandal in these parts for more time than I could figure, right? The people have forgotten even what the word meant, right?"
"It's not only that!" Maglor blinked, as if he could not believe his own eyes and ears. "Curvo, we are now scattered all throughout the land! All of us! You cannot revive the House of Fire. It is meant that way." His voice trailed off, till it was no more than a murmur. "If we are united, we'll be strong again. This they fear."
A cold silence settled.
"So they have done this out of fear? Killed our memories?" Curufin found himself whispering the same way as his brother, without having intended it.
As if suddenly entranced by something about his brother that the other was not aware of, Maglor opened his mouth, then closed it, and did so twice, before being able to utter a sound.
"You sound too much like him." And his voice was cutting like the edge of a sword. "You should never even have been a son of his."
Curufin shivered, and nearly hissed in outrage. "Because you think…"
Maglor leapt up on the table, standing at full height over his younger brother, and spat "I do not think! None of us! We should never have been, we should never have lived. The ways of Ilùvatar are dreary indeed, if in his Music he has allowed such ill to be born of the greatness of his own light."
Curufin wondered whether he should tell him that, after all these years, his voice still sounded girly when he was yelling, but decided against it.
"And you do not believe it could be the work of Morgoth either," he stated calmly.
Maglor took deep breaths, and after the sudden flush his face was left ashen.
"… No. I do not."
Curufin let a small smile hover on his lips. "Do not be pained, brother. In this world there is so much sorrow already that it would be inhuman to add any extra amount to it for a few wearisome words."
A shocked hush was all that Maglor managed to utter, and the younger elf laughed to see the tiny glint of alarm in his eyes.
"And what did you think? What are we?" Ice dripped from his voice. "Insults, and nothing more. Mere scars of battle on the fair face of our race. Drops of blood on a sheet white as snow. Dark wounds of the sword that will never quite heal. Who are we, brother, who walk this world anew to hear the curses on our names, and hear no curses come? We, who have once been the greatest of them all, their lords, their princes; we, whom they now accept among them in forgiveness of our sins? What does that make us? What does that make him?"
They both stayed still for a minute, frozen in their posture. Then Maglor shook his head, and sighed. "We are brothers."
Curufin blinked, and his threatening stance seemed to melt away like snow in summer. "Yes?"
He waved his arms about in the air, and Maglor ducked their dangerous proximity by sitting down again.
"This is wrong," Curufin sighed. "The people have to remember if they want to prevent such a mistake from being made again."
He flung himself the table, and picked a handsome pear, biting generously in the juicy flesh. "So wrong," he repeated while chewing carefully.
Then he choked. Startled, Maglor bent forward to pat his back; and, after a while, the coughing died down.
"Sorry," Curufin said. "I had forgotten that it was my first bite of actual food." He smiled. "I should have been more careful."
A tentative smile crossed Maglor's lips. "But pear was always your favourite fruit."
The younger elf stared at the tear-shaped fruit intently. Now, it looked dirty, a yellowish colour; not quite as lovely as he thought he remembered. Unconsciously, he let his eyelids drop halfway over the dark pupils.
"No." His voice fell to a murmur. "No, this is our punishment. Living as ourselves again. To have been once great, once loved and feared; and now live in a world that will not remember. Lead lives without purpose; eternal lives with not a challenge, not a strife. Be bent under their rule once more, knowing that we have failed. Knowing that we were wrong, and right always prevails."
A strange spark lit up in his eyes. "Point zero," he said. "Where everything will start and end."
Maglor looked away from his eyes, uneased by their fey gaze.
"What was it like?"
A pause followed as Curufin caught on to what he meant.
"I don't know." he drawled at last. "There was nothing. There was this enormous amount of nothing that was staring at me, and I was compelled to stare back at it. The void all around."
A slight frown creased Maglor's forehead. "The Darkness?"
"No, no." He shook his head. "Not the Darkness. I would have known if it was the Darkness. But the silence, and the… grey clouds… I was not in the Darkness, but I did not know what it was that was in front of me. It seemed like a giant frozen whirlpool, something terrible. I thought it could be the Darkness; and I was afraid for a very long time. There was no other around. The souls seemed to shun me; a dim sense of foreboding kept them away. I was the fear. I was… still myself. There was nothing different from my houseless fëa and the one I always had been; no judgment came upon me, no ghastly voice out of the night, speaking my doom… Yet I felt unquiet because of that, because of being me. I don't know what I had been thinking, some kind of horrible miracle, maybe, or something, a release from myself. I could not budge, only stare at the thing, and the only way to move was forwards, into the pit. It would have destroyed me, I knew it, and I would have lost all chance of ever being rehoused. I was the Darkness, and the Darkness was me." He paused, hesitating. Maglor, not wanting to press him on, looked at his feet.
Curufin took a deep breath.
"I jumped in."
One of his eyebrows shot up, as if he disbelieved his own words. "Then… I was lying in a bed, chocking and rasping and trying to find my breath."
A silence passed.
"What did you learn?" Maglor asked in a whisper.
The other elf heaved a deep sigh. "Next time I am intent on destroying myself, I'll make sure no one is following me."
The older brother let a tiny smile float on his lips, and moved to let one of his arms slid around the other's shoulder.
"Well, make sure at least one of us is following you, just to hold you back in case you intend to jump off a cliff."
Curufin laughed a dry laugh.
"Aye. So long as you don't also stumble over the edge."
Then they stayed silent, unsure of their words. Curufin let his gaze wander about the room, allowing it to stray upon the multitude of canvas: the outburst of colours confused his eyes and deceived his reason. There was not much to be seen, he thought; all the paintings could have been repetitions of each other, with only a slight altering of something he couldn't place. However, the actual meaning felt lost to him, and he waved a vague finger in an undetermined direction.
"What are they?"
Maglor sighed, and his arm left its place on his brother's shoulders.
"My judgment." He let himself slide off the table. "My ghosts." Walking over to the images, he strode down the room, trailing a hand along the canvas. "The ones who watch over my sleep."
"You paint like mother." Curufin remarked when Maglor had arrived at the end of the wall. "Mahtan said that before she met Father she spent days locked up in her rooms with her brushes and colours and didn't come out until she was finished…"
Maglor shook his head.
"I will never be finished." He nervously tapped his foot on the ground. "I will not be finished even when the end has come."
Curufin had silently made his way to the corner where his brother was, and stood still beside him, embracing the entire depths of the room with his eyes.
"Look," Maglor said, his words clear and loud in the empty hall. "No colour is ever the same."
"So you say."
Maglor smiled painfully. "You call me a liar. It doesn't even hurt anymore."
"This they call healing," Curufin shrugged.
The younger elf furtively examined the other's profile, a drawing of whites and blacks clearly cut out against the background of fiery colours. Beautiful as always, as Curufin had always thought he was, Maglor's complexion was strangely still shadowed and gaunt, his skin wan; dark rings under his eyes showed his continuous fatigue, ever bringing out the black of his pupils.
"There is no healing, in fact," he said.
"Only, in its time, oblivion," the other completed.
"A balm on the wounds."
"A grave for the pain."
The conversation languished again, until Curufin's head suddenly snapped up.
"Tell me how the war did end."
Maglor looked surprised by such a question, but answered nonetheless.
"We won." As Curufin looked like he wanted more details, he went on. "After Menegroth, Gondolin fell in turn; it is said that she was betrayed to Morgoth by Aredhel's son." Curufin flinched. "The remnants of the two people met at the Mouths of Sirion; and there stayed a while. They had a Silmaril though, so they died. We lost Ambarussa then. I…" he hesitated for a second. "I adopted some children who had survived. But the jewel was lost, and its light now graces the heavens under the name of Estel. Eärendil, the son of Idril, bore it to Valimar and was bestowed the sight of the Valar, mortal that he was. In the end, they came for us, the two elven factions left: Cirdan on Balar and us. There was battle." He paused. "Great battle. Beleriand was drowned; Morgoth taken down." He trailed off.
Curufin leant against one of the paintings.
"So we won." He chewed on a strand of his hair. "Won. They finally came for us, didn't they?"
"Eönwë," Maglor went on, with a desperate gesture, "claimed the Silmarils; and we tried to take them back, and did so. But we could not hold them. Maitimo threw himself into a pit in despair, and I… I waited by the sea." he concluded lamely.
"Quite a while."
Curufin laughed, and, leaving his brother to stand in the corner, walked along the walls, looking up at the paintings like a connoisseur in an exhibition.
Maglor's reply took its time in coming, and reached only his turned back. "Long enough."
He completed his slow circling of the hall, and stood before his brother again.
"I will come back to visit you often," he said.
A smile was given in reply. "I do hope so indeed," and he ruffled the younger one's hair, "little brother."
Curufin made a face, and didn't even attempt to get his hair under control.
An uneasy silence followed, such as that when difficult farewells are to be made.
"I'm sure," Maglor said at last, "I'm sure you have many more visits to make before this day is ended."
Neither of them moved.
"I should be going," he said, looking out the window. "The Sun is high already."
A strange force still had them both rooted to the ground.
"Well," Curufin said.
Maglor took his hands in his. "I'm glad to have seen you."
They pulled each other into a warm embrace. "And I you."
Naturally, as they began to walk towards the door, Maglor led him by the hand; and Curufin thought of the pensive young elf who had been a parent to his brothers who knew none.
Maglor shot him a sideway glance.
"Do you want me to give you Mother's address?"
Curufin wore a pained expression.
"I believe I still can remember that."
Maglor looked up with an air of doubt. "Are you sure? Moryo got lost in the woods when he tried to find his wife's village. We had to send out search parties for him."
They both laughed, though shyly, and Curufin tried a clumsy whack on his brother's head.
"I still think I am better at directions than Moryo is."
"Just don't allow him to get near you after he hears that, and you'll be fine."
Curufin stepped out of the door, blinking. He paused, and looked eastwards to the Sea, feeling the salty wind whipping at his hair and cloak, taking in the scent of the tide.
The smile faded from his lips, to be replaced by a wistful frown.
"What do you believe?" he asked in a murmur. "Will they let him go before the end?"
Maglor followed his brother's gaze, and saw the endless vastness of grey waves stretching into the distance. He leant on the doorframe, shaking his head.
"I don't know." After a while, he added, "Not if it is not truly the end."
Curufin felt the warm sunlight on his face.
"We will wait then," he said.
And Maglor answered
1 – Aurel is the name of Maglor's wife in Valinor, invented by Artanis (I think, please correct me if I'm wrong.) I have decided not to make her his wife in this story (as canon or not canon is questionable anyways.)
Remember: this is what they say, yet what they say may not be what they think, and what they think may not be what truly is.