Thick, swirling sea mist shrouded the land, tree and rock. Beads of moisture shivered on every leaf and blade of grass. Waves lapped a restless rhythm upon the stony shore, the dense air magnifying their song to the roll of war drums.

The world had shrunk to the small island that existed within the boundary of the fog. High above the clouds, the westering sun lay upon the horizon, burnishing the silver world to gold.

A lone figure toiled along the strand. The traveler was tall, lean, and wrapped in a threadbare cloak. His garments had been very fine at one time, but years and hard use had worn the rich fabric and faded the embroidered designs. The shrouded frame was bent, as one bearing a terrible burden, though neither pack nor bag nor chest of treasures disrupted the smooth lines of his cloak. His passage left no mark upon the dew-silvered grass and nodding wild flowers.

Misted day slipped silently to twilight and the stooped figure trudged onwards through the muted light, as silent as the low-hanging clouds that embraced the world.

A large rock suddenly loomed directly before him, blocking his path. The traveler had only begun to step around the obstruction when a fair voice called down to him.

"Stay!"

The wanderer froze in place, too surprised to breathe. It had been ages since he had been caught him unawares. He had ceased to believe that such a thing was possible with the loud, clumsy ways of men.

It was even more surprising when a tall, graceful figure leapt from the rock to confront him.

The guard's face and form were concealed beneath a broidered cloak. Gold and silver thread swirled over jewel-strewn fabric, cast in patterns of spirals and intricate knots. The precious metals glimmered in the muted light of the setting sun; the gems twinkled like starlight upon midnight waters.

"You have not permission to cross this land," the guard said, his voice melodic and hauntingly familiar in the fading light.

The vagabond did not make answer. He stood as one caught in a dream or a poignant memory of things lost beyond all recall.

"Speak!" the guard commanded, his tone now sharp. "I will have no truck with trespassers and thieves!"

The traveler shook himself from his reverie and cleared his throat.

"Forgive me, my Lord," he said with a graceful bend at the waist. His voice was husky and low, its natural cadence blunted from lack of use and ages of sorrow and loneliness. "I saw no sign that this land was yours or anyone's. I am a mere wanderer and have no designs upon you or yours. If my presence gives offense, I sincerely crave your pardon and beg your permission to move on."

The guard examined him in wary silence for a long moment, as still as the rock itself save for the dance of light upon his cloak.

"For long ages has my kith and kin lived in these lands. You must be from strange shores to not know of us."

Thickening mists whirled about them as the day surrendered to the night.

"I am from strange shores," the traveler softly agreed, his head bent towards the ground.

He continued, moved by love and memory and some tattered remnant of pride. "I was known as Maglor."

The guard started slightly, as though the name stirred an almost buried memory. The burnished threads of his cloak flashed gold and silver in the dwindling light.

"Throw back your hood that I might see you better," he commanded.

Slowly Maglor raised his long-fingered hands to the worn edges of his hood. He threw back the cloth to stand revealed for the guard's appraising eyes.

Raven dark hair flecked with silver framed pale, handsome, if somewhat hawkish. Hints of age's decay marked his pale skin. Wells of ancient, bitter memory tainted with despairing madness were his dove-grey eyes.

The sentinel examined him thoughtfully in the gathering darkness as the waves rolled endlessly upon the shore. The mists began to brighten with the silver light of the rising moon.

Suddenly the guard nodded once, as one who has pushed aside clouds of doubtful recollection to place trust in his heart over his mind.

With one beringed hand, he swept away his glimmering hood.

Flames of auburn wreathed his fair, proud face. Muted light of the rising moon shone upon his features and played upon his hair. A simple circlet of copper gleamed upon his brow.

"I am Nuada," he smiled, his voice now friendly. "The night is upon us. Come. You shall be my guest."

He gestured through the mist, towards the shivering light of the moon.

The invitation seemed lost on Maglor, whose startled gaze fixed now upon his host's almost-familiar features, now upon the stump of his extended right arm. The years fell away to a time when bright conviction and high spirits had triumphed within his heart. In that moment, he dared to hope that a faint echo of happiness was possible.

With a blink and a fragile smile, he followed his host towards the source of the light.

Nuada gently placed his left hand on Maglor's arm to stay him. He leaned closer pitched his voice so low that even the elf's keen ears could barely understand his words.

"Do not eat or drink anything offered to you," he whispered. "It is perilous."

Maglor nodded slightly to acknowledge the warning. Wary suspicion darkened quivering hope.

The mists parted like a shimmering curtain and the two stepped into a sumptuous banquet hall. Bright banners broidered in gold and silver hung from the rafters. A feast of roasted meat, ripe berries and wine was laid upon a trestle table. The wooden boards groaned beneath the weight of food, drink, golden platters and silver goblets. Maglor's stomach grumbled at the sight of so much sustenance. Then he remembered Nuada's warning, sighed and forced his eyes elsewhere.

Gold and silver lanterns cast a brilliant light over the assembly that milled about the heavily laden banquet table. Their faces were fair and wise, their attire rich in colour and design. Maglor's breath caught in his throat as he watched them, long-dead memories bubbling to the fore of his mind.

"Fianvarr!" Nuada cried to a tall, dark-haired man. A circlet of twisted gold glittered upon his raven hair. "I bring a guest."

"Indeed," the dark-haired man rejoined, his voice jovial. "Bring him forward that I might see him."

Eyes the colour and sharpness of obsidian examined Maglor thoroughly, then flashed with anger and turned on Nuada.

"It is well that you surrendered the kingship when you lost your hand," he growled. "You obviously lost your sight as well. This one is cursed."

Nuada drew breath as if to protest, then bowed his flame-coloured head in shame.

"The curse is of my own making and is limited to me," Maglor heard himself say, his voice faraway to his own ears. "Your people are safe."

"I did not ask you, mortal," Fianvarr said gruffly. "But you are our invited guest. I will not have it said that the hospitality of the Tuatha de Danaan was found wanting. What would you have of me, curs├ęd one?"

Mindful of Nuada's warning, Maglor spoke to forestall an unrefusable offer of food and drink.

"If it pleases the King," he said, "At one time I had some little fame as a musician, but it is long since I played for anyone other than the gulls and the wind."

Fianvarr regarded Maglor, his dark eyes bright in the silver lamp light. Then he threw back his head and laughed, the mirth pouring him from like crystal waters from a spring.

"Perhaps that is because only the gulls and the wind will listen to you, stranger. But we shall see. My people have a love of good music. I will reward you richly if you entertain us well."

He clapped his hands together, the sound echoing above the chatter of the courtiers.

"Bring our guest a harp!" he cried.

The flame-haired Nuada stepped forward and thrust a harp of oak strung with gold into Maglor's hands.

"Play, stranger," Fianvarr ordered him. "Let us learn if your little fame was deserved."

Fianvarr's court gathered about Maglor as he quietly caressed the strings of the harp. Its voice was warm as a summer's day and as sweet as honey.

The tuning was not one to which he was accustomed, but he quickly saw how to use it to the best effect.

He bowed his dark head, closed his eyes and began to play; the tune a merry dance once favoured by his people on cool evenings spent among the stars and fragile spring blossoms.

The assembly of courtiers, their garments crimson as the sunset and blue as the autumn sky, murmured their approval. Toes tapped in time with the irresistible rhythm and soon the company bowed and swayed like a forest of branches caught in the breath of the wind.

The harpist's eyes opened to a sea of swirling colours as the Seelie Court tripped a merry measure about their lord's banquet hall, their faces filled with delight. Many seemed to blink and fade into and out of view, like the dancing lights of fireflies or the haunting flashes of a will-o'-the-wisp.

The music gradually transformed from a simple reel expressing the joy of springtime promise to a tale of greater complexity. Maglor deftly entwined new voices into his music; of exultation and fierce pride and valorous deeds, seamlessly blending his sonorous voice to the melody and counter melodies coaxed from the golden stringed harp. The Tuatha de Danaan twirled and pirouetted about him, now swiftly as a swallow's flight, now sedately as a funeral procession, each to the theme that most drew them, in accordance with their natures.

Imperceptibly at first, the last great theme wove itself into the fabric of the music; that of sorrow and terrible tragedy and beloved things irrevocably lost.

Now the music grew quiet and mournful. Bright joy and swift anger and enduring pride and shining honour succumbed to melancholy and grief. The dancers' steps slowed as they too vanished into the silvery light.

The anguish was impossible to sustain. It left the musician blank and empty, a broken vessel that would never be whole again. The song sank to a whisper; the harp's strings a barely audible sigh in the lonely silence of Fianvarr's darkened hall.

Maglor allowed his voice to die away, his song a forlorn, wretched memory of what it once had been. The room roared with the soundless echo of golden harp strings.

Melancholy stillness, the hush of the despairing grave, engulfed the nearly empty hall.

A quiet cough broke the spell of silence.

The elf, startled by the reminder of his surroundings, spun towards the source of he noise.

Fianvarr stood before him, his majesty muted, his dark eyes bright with sorrow.

"Enough, bard," he said, his voice husky with grief. "You have done well."

Maglor stared at his reluctant host for a moment, then remembered his manners and gracefully inclined his head.

"My thanks," he murmured.

"It is the custom of my people to handsomely reward the performance of a gifted musician," Fianvarr said, his voice distant, "But my heart tells me there is little I can offer you."

"Hearts seldom lie."

Fianvarr nodded in mute agreement.

"Still," he mused quietly, "There is one way I can ease your burden, though it is unlikely it will make much of a difference."

"I thank you," Maglor said softly.

The king of the Tuatha de Danaan waved his hands. The dim, silvery light of the lanterns began to fade.

"Farewell, Maglor. I doubt we will meet again."

Only the feathery traces of the silver remained when another voice called to the elf.

"I would speak with you before you leave."

Once again, Nuada stood beside Maglor in the gathering twilight.

"Curse or no, if I were king, I would have you remain."

Maglor lowered his grey eyes and smiled with resignation. "But you are not king. And I cannot stay."

He raised his eyes, directly meeting Nuada's straightforward gaze.

"You could travel with me," he suggested.

Nuada quickly shook his coppery head.

"My people's time above is over," he said, regret clouding his strange yet familiar features. "I would fade like the morning dew."

The dark-haired elf regarded him with infinite sadness and nodded in understanding.

Then he recalled that Nuada was the rightful owner of the golden-voiced harp.

"I'm sorry," he said quickly, thrusting the harp towards the flame-haired man. "This belongs to you."

Nuada smiled forlornly and pressed the harp into Maglor's hands.

"I would have you keep it," he said softly. "You do it justice as I can no longer." He looked regretfully at the stump of his right wrist.

"It will remind you of me. Mayhap it will lighten your loneliness."

Maglor studied the curving lines of the harp, then the distant eyes of the former king.

"Mayhap it will," he agreed softly. "I thank-you."

"Go in peace, friend," Nuada answered. Then he was gone and the last of the silvery light vanished.

Maglor found himself alone on the side of a rounded hill, the golden- stringed harp in his hands. The sea still whispered its restless, eternal song. The fog had dissipated during the night and the first promises of dawn were creeping into the star-strewn sky.

With a sigh, he got to his feet and continued his endless, solitary journey.