Disclaimer: All characters and locations property of JRR Tolkien, borrowed with thanks and some trepidation.
Warnings: This is a strong PG-13, warnings for adult themes, non-explicit consensual slash. Elros is the equivalent of a 16/17-year old man. Boy. Whatever.
A/N: The fairytale motif is borrowed with permission from the Harry Potter fanficcer Nope, who used in it her brilliant story "Reads". Thanks to Tehta for being a fantastic beta. All mistakes herewith are my own. Thank you, too, to Lipstick and Celebdil, for all their help and encouragement. I owe you all.
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SWIMMING AGAINST WAVES
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"And (they) saw the light afar off, red beneath the clouds; and they knew that they were betrayed."
- Of The Flight of the Noldor, The Silmarillion.
x x x x x x x
(Once upon a time there was a great lord of elves who lived alone on a white mountain, and he was pale and stern to look upon, and as feared as he was adored, but the black plague crept to the foot of his mountain after destroying all that was green and living around it until slowly, slowly, he began to grow afraid that he might be the last living person in the world. )
The room is white. His pillows and sheets are white, or once were. Now they are a slightly musty ivory, like his skin. Maedhros opens his eyes and smiles, as he does every morning. There is always something to be thankful for, and today is no different. Today it is because he has sheets and pillows and a comfortable bed. Outside, the sand is the same kind of part-white, shimmering as it gives way to the endless silver and blue of the sea and sky.
They are camped in a sprawling mansion on the western shore. No one knows why it is here. He supposes it might have been a resthouse for travellers to and from Balar. It is the single sign of settlement along that entire coast until the ruins of Sirion, so far away that fom here, the world looks pristine even to elvish sight. They have figured that the house and the accompanying compound are Atani work. It is crumbling and rough-hewn, but will serve the purpose. The soldiers are camped out on the grounds. For now, the old house and the walled-in plot is theirs, a haven from which the Fëanorians can shut out the world for a few more days, until war visits again. One of the younger Himring-born elves has nicknamed the house "Valinor". No one seems upset at this. Blasphemy is no longer a part of their mental make-up, unless it be against their lords or themselves. It makes perfect sense to them. This is a protected realm, and on high, on the top floor where the dusty bedrooms with still-usable bedding are, dwell the last remaining lords of the host of Fire.
Ilmaren, Maedhros remembers. That is what the halls of Manwë and Varda are called. He wonders if the children are still being taught all this.
He washes and throws on a robe, then pads downstairs barefoot. One of the female archers got together a band of none-too-willing elves and gave the place the scrubbing of a lifetime when they moved in, and the floors are still shining barefacedly from the assault. Last heard, they were arguing whether or not to go into the attic for purposes of hygiene. The entrance hall downstairs, a large, airy room that opens out onto the beach, serves as the family's parlour, court and dining hall. One could jump down onto the sand from any one of the several huge windows. It won't be pleasant when it rains, but today is sunny and cheerful.
(…And once there was a child who was wise, and so feared the sound of horses' hooves and tried to save himself by running into a cave behind a waterfall even though he knew he would be found eventually, and in his fear he forgot to look behind and see if his brother was with him.)
The floor of the hall is laid with large squares of black and white marble, making it a life-size chessboard. Near the south window there is their little makeshift table, a smooth white board resting on bricks, with cushions scattered on the floor to sit on. There is no food on it as yet. Elrond is staring intensely at the chessboard floor. Maedhros rolls his eyes privately at his resemblance to Turgon. From what he understands, the boy has a fervidly bright mind under his smooth, already inscrutable face. But no matter what goes on within the private world of his imagination, without is the same absentness, the same self-absorption. The same preoccupations.
Elrond raises his head - he is a handsome child, no doubt - as Maedhros' footfalls are heard. In his eyes is a mixture of reserve and curiosity, and a little hesitation. For a split second it seems like he will ignore Maedhros, but then he thinks the better of it, and stands up politely. Maedhros waves him back into his seat, amused. All the same, he wonders if he would ever have the dignity, or the incredible lack of it, to pay respect to someone with whom he shares such a dubious relationship.
Maglor has wondered if they would have committed the third kinslaying had they been dealing with Eärendil, who is by all rights their own grand-nephew, instead of Elwing. Maedhros said that it was too fine a point to put on it. It was never a personal issue. Eärendil is, or was, their kin - in fact, Idril was always Maedhros' especial favourite - but he is not a Fëanorian, ergo he cannot be allowed to hold a Silmaril. And that is that.
Maglor asked him what if Fingon or Finrod had happened to get hold of the Silmarils. Maedhros has not yet decided upon an answer to that.
Elrond stands up again when he sees Maglor, whom he has always adored despite everything, and is rewarded with a smile and an embrace. This redeems him a little in Maedhros' eyes. It is obvious and appropriate and only correct to love Maglor, and no one who follows the axiom can be a truly bad sort.
(…And once there was a boy who knew that it was his destiny to be a king, an adventurer king who would seek out new lands and fill it with adventurous folk, and make a world where they all would lead exciting, fulfilling lives where things happened all the time.)
There is a moment of silence after Maglor has seated himself on Maedhros' right, across the table from Elrond. Then the west breeze picks up and gusts in through the window, and with it comes Elros.
He is Elrond's twin, identical as Amrod was to Amras. And yet there is no mistaking the difference in their faces - the fëa shapes its tenement hröa so greatly. If Elrond reminds him of Turgon, Elros, with his spray-soaked hair and quick, running steps, could be a vagrant Maia, if Maiar were ever so tanned and bright-eyed and small for their age.
"I believe we agreed that you were not to go beyond the walls without my knowledge," Maglor says, so much a picture of paternal discipline that it would be comic, were it not this sincere.
"I apologize," Elros says cheerfully, but wilts a little under Maglor's glance. "Well?" Maglor asks. He is always willing to listen to an explanation.
"It was a dare," he offers feebly. Maedhros feels a vague disappointment. He can see Elrond rolling his eyes in exasperation. Someone brings in the food, and Elros looks at it longingly.
"Who dared you?" Maglor's voice contains hints of vengeance.
"I dared myself," Elros says.
Maedhros bursts out laughing. Maglor gives it up as a lost cause, and calls for a towel, darting a reproachful glare Maedhros-wards as he does so.
Elros shivers slightly. "The sea's very cold at dawn," he says. "But very refreshing," he adds for Maglor's benefit. Maglor and Elrond maintain an ominous silence, looking down at the table. Suddenly, the similarities between the two of them stand out.
"I see," Maedhros says, out of sympathy for Elros.
"Oh yes," he says quickly, and lays damp, chapped hands on Maedhros' back. Out of the blue, and without permission. "See."
There is a brief moment in which he tries to hold Maedhros' eyes. "Brrr," he says. "How warm you are."
Maedhros does not acknowledge the remark. Breakfast passes in silence, broken only by Maglor looking out as it gets windier.
"A storm," he murmurs.
For as long as anyone can remember, ever since they were first found as four-year olds in a waterfall close to their sacked city, the twins have been respectful and quiet in his presence, and let him alone as much as possible. Maedhros suspects that his brother is responsible for this. Sometimes he wonders why Maglor thinks that this is a wise course of action. Mostly he is just grateful. The years have passed with seemingly little difference to his fortitude, but increasingly, he needs some space and silence to himself if he is to function as leader and guide to his people for the rest of the time. When they were on the move, before finding Valinor, he could not sleep when Maglor shared a tent with him. Maglor shifted into the boys' tent after he discovered this.
Their rooms are just down the corridor from where the boys sleep. They have been on hunts, travelled in secret across enemy territory and even slain orcs during a raid on Maglor's guard a year ago, but he is still protective of them.
Maedhros weighs the boys in a spiritual balance with the Silmarilli. He does not know which way Maglor's balance will tilt.
Today, Elrond and Maglor are out walking on the porch, singing. Time has improved Maglor's voice, as well as his teaching skills, impossible though it seems to enhance perfection. Elrond's voice is not yet a match for his - possibly it never will be - but even an idle listener can detect the strange resonance of an Ainu spirit beneath the youthful thinness. Maedhros drowns out the other sounds of the world and concentrates on Maglor's voice. It is one of the few constants of his happiness.
Slowly, the voices slip away as Maedhros becomes aware of someone watching him from across the room. It is Elros, dangling his legs over the iron railing of the staircase. This time, when Maedhros looks up at him, he gazes back steadily. His eyes are free of anything Maedhros might have expected from him - a challenge or impudence, or even a kind of pleading. Plea for what, Maedhros does not think. The twins confuse him, because they seem like they have very old souls, and he cannot understand if having an old soul affects young bodies.
He holds the look until the music breaks down, and Elros slides off the bannister and walks off before Maglor and Elrond come in.
Over the next few days, the breezes give way to a slight, steamy heat. Maedhros likes it when the warmth seeps into his skin and flesh, making him pleasantly drowsy. It feels good to be able to laze a little. The soldiers dig up vetiver grass from a meadow further inland, and weave curtains of it to hang up in front of their tents and in Valinor's bedroom windows. As the air turns damp, the grass fills the air with a cool, sweet smell that is deliciously relaxing.
When the breezes start to blow back their way, a little over a week later, Maedhros finds himself face to face with the vision of Elros, not one but two practice swords in hand, holding one of the weapons out to him.
"I've been learning from the men," he says.
Maedhros regards his apparent assumption of power over the Fëanorian host with interest.
"I hoped you would want to help me."
"Why?" Maedhros asks, faintly amused.
"They say there's no better swordsman than you," he says. "So I came to you."
It is true. If Morgoth could be scaled down to something like a mere swordsman, there is little doubt that Maedhros would cut him down. And he used to be a good teacher too - better than Maglor, though the skills are so different. He does not possess foresight, but he can see into an opponent's mind with surreal clarity. In Elros, he sees someone not sufficiently interested, or prepared. The shifting feet, the too-innocent eyes - everything bespeaks a cavalier sort of enjoyment in the proceedings. He nods, and takes a sword from him.
The boy is amused and admiring as the sword is knocked out of his grasp the first couple of times. As Maedhros continues to invite him to pick up his sword and start a fresh round, however, the admiration gives way to a sort of bewilderment, then desperation, and finally anger. Maedhros destroys his few known moves with clean, precise strokes, again and again, and he does not let up. Elros continues to fight until he can no longer stand.
He kneels at Maedhros' feet, trying to pick up the sword once again, with trembling, humiliated fingers. Maedhros bends, picks it up himself, and walks away silently.
Later, just before dinner, Maedhros is watching the clouds scurry across the night sky as he hears perelda footsteps behind him. He turns to find Elros, who begins to speak without preamble.
"I'm sorry," he says clearly, his chin turned up to meet Maedhros' face. "I acted foolishly today. It shan't happen again."
Maedhros likes people who apologize without bowed heads and downcast eyes.
"I take it you will not cease your lessons elsewhere," he says.
"I won't," he says, slightly unsure of himself. "Although I would like to learn from you."
"Very much," he finishes.
Maedhros considers a little while before replying.
"Perhaps not now. It might be better for you."
Late that night, the wind begins to howl along the beach, curling along the edges of the humid heat that remains of the day. They spent the day making arrangements to protect the camp as far as possible from the storm, and so the soldiers - at least the ones who don't enjoy the thought of getting drenched in the rain - are comfortable under the thick, sloping leaf-shelters, or have brought their bedding into the lower halls and kitchen. Maglor is still awake downstairs, talking to some of the others. Maedhros lies in bed, listening to the thunder as it rumbles just above their roof.
His door opens right in the midst of a flash of lightning, and he knows who it is.
"I don't like thunder," Elros says abruptly.
Maedhros knows this. He has passed by their room in earlier days, hearing Maglor coax him back to sleep in the midst of a rainstorm.
He nods, and then remembers that the half-elf cannot see him in the dark.
Elros crosses over slowly to his bedside, and sits down gingerly at the edge of the bed, before he stretches, slowly, and lies down next to him. He settles lightly on the sheets and stretches out on his back, before turning over carefully to face Maedhros. There is an utter stillness in which Maedhros can hear Elros' heart beat, immeasurably loud. His sigh as he sinks his head into the pillow is soft and warm against Maedhros' neck.
He seems to realise this. He edges a little closer and breathes, again, against Maedhros' cheek and ear. Maedhros can feel the pounding heart against his right arm.
He turns his head to look at him, making Elros forget to breathe again.
There is another flash of lightning that illuminates the dark head, raised slightly, as Elros touches Maedhros' lips in the briefest, softest possible kiss. He draws away immediately to try and look at Maedhros and finds that he cannot. Before the next flash, however, he leans in for another kiss, a bare laying of his lips against Maedhros'. This time, he does not draw away. Cautiously, at no word from Maedhros, he captures his lower lip and tastes it softly, before doing the same to his upper lip.
Maedhros shuts his eyes.
The boy continues to kiss him until he falls asleep, his head tucked against Maedhros' shoulder. Maedhros lies awake, waiting for the rain.
He has a terrible fear of looking back on anything in his life and wondering, How did this happen? He looks for reasons within himself for every decision, every next move. In his soul, he can account for every crime he has committed. Perhaps this is why he believes in the Everlasting Darkness. He believes his reason is subject to no other, not even to the will of Mandos. And where do people like him go after they die?
But he has not thought of death. Not yet.
Looking at Elros, who lies face down, chin digging into Maedhros' shoulder, Maedhros knows why this has happened, too. It has happened because of the spark in Elros' eyes as he looks at Maedhros, facing the visage that no mere Quendë is said to be capable of looking upon for too long. It has happened because there is a time and place where need outweighs rationale, and in Maedhros' reason, it is always the greater want that must be fulfilled first.
It rains finally at the break of dawn, swift and heavy. The vetiver shades are soaked through. Maedhros lays a hand against Elros' skin and finds it cool, like the scent that fills the room.
x x x x x x x x x x x x x
(Once upon a time there was a great race of people, tall and strong and wise and fair, and they wanted to defeat their enemies and free the world, but became just like their enemies in the end and failed, dying maimed and helpless as the great evil swallowed them up many at a time, and then good folk came and looked upon the work they had done and what they liked, they claimed for their own.)
The dining table has been cleared away to make room for bedrolls. Maedhros goes down to be with the others for a while. He steps carefully between the mattresses, smiling and stopping to exchange words now and then. He heads outdoors, to where a few wood elves are reinforcing the shelters, making sure that the rain is channelled off as best as possible. They are silent but not discourteous – they are grateful to him for taking them in, but not enough to be deferential. He watches them work for a while, and then wanders off in the opposite direction.
As the rain briefly recedes into a drizzle, Elros finds him lingering near the farthest end of the grounds, leaning against a wooden post that was once part of a trellis.
Maedhros turns to look at him.
Elros makes his way across to him over the puddles, until he is within an arm's length of Maedhros. He imitates Maedhros' silence, waiting for him to speak. This is a game Maedhros has never lost.
He does not lose this time either. "What do you want?" Elros finally asks him, then bites his lip in a manner that indicates that it was not his original question.
"What do you want?" Maedhros asks him softly.
Elros gazes up, anticipation and anxiety evident in every line of him. But he does not shy away from answering. "I – I think I want to kiss you."
"You already have," Maedhros points out, and Elros blushes.
"Again," he says, forthrightly. Maedhros is now certain that delicacy and diffidence are alien to this being. "I want to kiss you again. And – "
He trails off, and Maedhros retracts his earlier judgement. Or perhaps decides to withhold it until he has established the truth of this decidedly un-elven youth. In his own mind, Elros takes on a million different faces and moods, and each one is him, and yet not him.
"What?" Maedhros asks.
Elros squares his chin, and there is the light of something like battle in his eyes. "I want you to kiss me."
Maedhros laughs, not derisively. Elros gazes at him, nameless desire filling his eyes at the sound.
Maedhros knows desire. He has seen it in all its manifestations, directed towards him more often than not. He extends an arm towards Elros. The fabric pulls away to reveal the severed limb that he keeps covered at most times, to avoid discomfiting people.
Elros looks down, and trails a careless finger along the vein that shows darkly against the inside of the wrist.
Maedhros feels it tingle.
Elros looks up curiously. "It doesn't hurt, does it?"
"Not any more. No."
Elros wraps his fingers around the wrist and pulls himself a little closer.
Maedhros asks, "Do you want this too?"
Elros looks genuinely puzzled. "What does it have to do with anything?" he asks.
"Can you bear it?"
"There's nothing to bear, really. Is there?"
Maedhros lets him draw closer and kiss him again. He wonders, briefly, if it is his youth, or his un-elvenness, that allows Elros to be so oblivious.
He first kisses him back as they sit in a shaded, lonely cove, after the rains have abated. Elros found it when disobeying Maglor's orders once again, and they like to sit there in the sun, talking quietly, or as quietly as is possible for Elros, who does most of the talking. Maedhros knows he is doing this as an offering, giving up his thoughts and secrets to Maedhros in return for allowing him to curl up beside him in the night, kissing him as much as he dares.
Elros lies at Maedhros' feet, scrabbling pink toes in the sand as he talks away. Maedhros likes listening to Elros, who often says things he has not heard before. The boy, for his part, embraces everything that manages to hold his attention with the unconscious conviction of a king, who believes that all that he loves belongs to him.
He looks out onto the sea with the same satisfied possessiveness. "Come swimming with me," he tells Maedhros.
"I have been out of practice for six hundred years," Maedhros smiles.
Elros sits up, ignorant of the clear compassion in his own eyes. "I'll take you."
"Don't be ridiculous, please."
"There's a pool between the rocks a little way away from the house. It fills up during high tide. I swim there often – you should come. And," he smiles winningly, "Maglor couldn't object to my going down to the sea if you were with me."
Maedhros looks at him levelly. "I hope you don't believe that your wiles are effective in the least."
"What wiles?" Elros grins.
He leans forward, but Maedhros kisses him first, placing a steadying arm on his back as he seems to lose his balance. His mouth is unfamiliar, untested, and as Maedhros begins to explore it, he can taste the surprise and ecstasy and fear that course through Elros' body as he tightens his hold around Maedhros' neck. It is sweet and soft, and feels like happiness.
That night, Elros slips his fingers under Maedhros' tunic, and runs them lightly across the smooth, firm planes of his body, pulling away only just before he falls asleep.
As he feels him relax against his chest, Maedhros' breathing slowly returns to normal.
Before dawn, they go out down the beach, where a ring of jagged stone fences off a strip of water. Elros stands, poised and impatient on a rock, watching Maedhros shrug off his robe and step up to the dark water. He dives in as soon as Maedhros touches a toe to it.
Maedhros enters the pool slowly, savouring the chill of the saltwater as it covers his skin by inches. He lets go when he is in up to his neck, and sighs in pleasure and relief as he soaks in the water. He remembers what it once felt like to swim against waves, and smiles as the feeling returns. Crisscrossing the length of the pool, he grows in speed and confidence as he finds ways to make it easier to swim without the aid of one hand.
As the sun rises, he turns over and floats on his back, waiting for first light. He smiles again, and Elros comes up behind him and snakes brown arms around his waist, smiling with him.
(…And once there was a dark-haired boy who looked upon a vision of beauty and fell in love with it, and he became a King who was fair and brave and beloved of his people for he held no ill will in his heart for aught but evil, but he was destroyed in spite of it all.)
Maedhros is walking around their cove one day when something, perhaps the drifting of a cloud before the sun, makes him think of the Everlasting Darkness. Before he can stop himself, he wonders, almost idly, if Fingon's fëa has been banished to it, and finds himself suddenly unable to stand.
He is kneeling in the sand, trying to fight off the terror that makes his stomach cramp violently and his nerves stand out on end, pricking his skin like needles, and Fingon is kneeling beside him, rubbing his back, despite knowing full well that he hates to be touched. He shakes him off, only to feel his shoulders being clasped. He shrugs out from under his hands, trying to breathe deeply, wrapping his arms around himself to calm his body, to make it stop shuddering.
When the terror passes, he drops his head to his knees, and forces in a deep breath. Fingon never tries to touch him. He waits for it to stop before he comes to him, because he knows. Because he knew.
He gets up and walks away without looking behind. That night, his door does not open.
Elros comes to him the next day, though. He is uncharacteristically quiet as he drops down beside him. Maedhros watches the light sparkle across the waves for a little while, before he feels an arm about his neck, and a head come to rest lightly on his shoulder.
He reaches up and strokes the arm wordlessly. It feels rough with sand and salt, barely wrinkled by the waves. It feels mortal, and alive.
Elros comes around to face him, still at a loss for words. Maedhros reaches up to touch the dark hair, curling around the ends where it is still damp from his bath.
"I want to make it better," he says finally. It comes out in a fierce, low whisper. Maedhros wants to tell him that he cannot, he must not, that the past is a web in which nothing new and glad can be entangled and remain as it is. But he does not know how to say it, so he bends down and kisses him briefly.
Elros clings to him, whispering incoherently, and Maedhros can see that he is mystified and hurt. "Stop," Maedhros says, burying his face in the thin shoulder. "Nothing is different. Nothing is worse. Stop."
"I want to give you," Elros says against the heavy fall of his hair.
"Give me what?" Maedhros asks.
Elros draws back, struggling for words again. "I – I just want to give," he says.
He sinks back down, kissing, pulling Maedhros on top of him as best as he can, but Maedhros refuses to accept what Elros appears to be offering him. "No," he says to the confusion and craving that threaten to overwhelm the boy.
"They won't see us," Elros tells him, pulling at his wrist again.
Maedhros smiles slowly. "You say you want to give," he tells Elros, "but here you are, making demands on me instead. Or can you not tell which is which, Eärendilion?"
Elros presses his head back and shuts his eyes, from whence two tears slide down and wet the sand.
They fly open again as he feels Maedhros' fingers trail down his body, leaving lines of heat from the fire of his fëa in their wake.
Maedhros leans over him, copper hair falling around their faces.
"But it is true," he whispers. "Sometimes there is no difference."
As he strokes Elros, the boy shuts his eyes again and begins to sob quietly.
(…And once there was a boy who had never said a word in all his little life, and was frightened of the Sea because it called to him with so many strange voices speaking in a hundred different tongues all at once that he couldn't understand a word and so he asked them what they were saying and from his throat came a sound like pure gold, so that everyone who heard him marvelled and said that he could quiet the Sea itself, but his mother was a wise woman and said that only the Sea could make him sing.)
There is no language in music. There are words, images, whole phrases that may stand for some larger theme, but the meaning of a song can change with the way a singer chooses to sing it.
Maglor sings about the sea. Every minstrel does, at some point or other. The sea contains everything known to elf or man, and eternity could not exhaust its meanings. When he practices his scales at dawn, he sketches a little picture, black and white, simple descriptions of the tides. By the time night falls, just before the world goes to sleep, his song is a song of comprehension, vast and unending, comforting in its impersonality. The words are not usually important.
He stretches his arms up to the sunset as he stands before the ocean. The last song of dusk opens up wells of yearning in his listeners. It is a simple, chaste love song to Uinen, whom they have all rejected a lifetime ago; and yet if there were children among the host, their parents would stop up their ears. Innocence would be distraught and uncomprehending of what it is to love like this.
A little crowd of people gathers on the shore behind him. Maglor's voice has very little control, or restraint. It would be an easy voice to laugh at and mimic, if anyone could escape its spell at all. His song carries back in a faint echo to Valinor, where Elrond leans against a windowsill, struggling to decipher what it feels like to him. In despair, he turns his eyes to the reddening skies, looking for the first sight of a new star that has captured his heart, filling him with a calm that this – this voice will not allow him. Outside, the waves rise as Maglor reaches the end of the song, changing their patterns to suit it. They surge up towards the shore and wash around his ankles, roaring at him.
Slowly, he opens his eyes and looks out at them and beyond them, to the horizon, not really seeing what is before him.
Upstairs in Valinor, Elros collapses against Maedhros, shivering from the shock of a first lovemaking.
He treats Maedhros with little or no reverence. When he marches into Maedhros' room in the afternoons or evenings and straddles his lap, arousing him with lips and nimble fingers, when he pulls Maedhros on top of him after they have spent themselves so that Maedhros' body blankets his huddled, sated form, when he unworks Maedhros' braids at night and buries his face in them, breathing his scent in, Maedhros wonders if he should ask him where he got the idea that the lord of Himring and High Prince of the Noldor was to be claimed in such an unceremonious, uncomplicated way.
He traces an idle pattern on Maedhros' skin with his fingers as he lies against him, chin propped on Maedhros' chest. It feels like the tengwar for "Elros".
"Even our names end in the same way," he says, rubbing his cheek against Maedhros' skin. "'Ros."
"Your illiteracy is so very shocking," Maedhros laughs, reaching down to kiss his hair.
"I know it's written differently," Elros clicks his tongue. "But Maglor says that meaning is not always contained in the way things are written or seen."
"Maglor says a lot of things."
"He says that sound itself may contain meaning. That sometimes what we sense of a thing at first is the whole of it, and we need go no further."
"It is called formalism. Where the poetry lies in form as much as content. Maglor developed it."
"He didn't say that."
"You should read more."
Elros laughs. "Where's the library, Maedhros?"
Elros sometimes calls him 'my lord', when they are with other people. He uses his name when they talk in private. Maedhros wonders what the sound of it signifies. He wonders if Elros, by whispering it – it is always 'Maedhros', never Maitimo or Russandol or the long-forgotten Nelyo – over and over again as Maedhros makes love to him, is trying to claim it for his own.
This leads him to wonder if he thinks that Maedhros is actually his to claim.
(…And once two boys lay in the fields behind their city and swore themselves to each other for all time; but neither foresaw being killed by monsters and lying in the dust as they had lain in the fiel,d breaking like a million pieces of glass that no one could have picked up no matter how long and how hard they tried; they did not see because they thought they were unbreakable.)
They are lying together one afternoon when he asks Maedhros casually, "Is it true that you and the High King were lovers?"
"I think Finellach would object somewhat to such conjecture about him. Especially as we've never met."
He laughs, and punches Maedhros' arm. "That's not what I mean."
"You and Fingon." There is a gleam of – is it jealousy? - in his eyes as he says this.
Maedhros runs his hand through the tousled black hair. "When you are a king someday, Elros," he muses at length, "and someone asks you if you and Maedhros Fëanorion were ever lovers, would you tell them?"
"Of course I would," he leans up to kiss Maedhros hungrily. Maedhros laughs and pulls away.
"Liar," he says.
Elros settles back down on his chest.
"So it must be true," he says.
Maedhros does not answer. He is looking out of the window, away from Elros, away from the bed, out to where the sand is silver, and the sea is blue.
"He clings to you," Maglor says when they are alone together, walking out along the wall. "Like a vine would to a tree,"It feels like rain again.
"He is a worthy vine," Maedhros remarks eventually.
Maglor keep his head down when he walks. It is a habit that many take to be a sign of his innate humility. Their father, never one to countenance mass opinion, once likened him to a bull ready to charge. The simile has stuck in Maedhros' mind for good.
"It would take more than a worthy vine to remain rooted when the tree falls," Maglor says. "It would take more than a vine."
"It would take more than a tree to uproot this vine," Maedhros says thoughtfully.
"Is that your excuse?"
"It is my considered opinion."
They finish their walk in silence.
(And once there was a fair and noble king whose kin was greedy and bloodthirsty and contemptuous of him, but when he heard that they were in trouble he took his ships and sailed around the world to help them, even though they were proud and ungrateful and never once appealed to him.)
Finally there comes the day when a host of white sails are seen docking further along the coast, like the opposite of the Unlight that once destroyed their home. The Sindar workers with them narrow their eyes and murmur among themselves. Among the Noldor are a couple who, on hearing of them, look at each other and find that they cannot stop laughing. And Elros, on hearing the news, sprints into Valinor, breathless and dishevelled, to where Maglor, Maedhros and Elrond are standing in an awkward half-circle, pictures of waiting.
"Is it true?" he asks, eyes on Maedhros.
"It is," Maglor answers.
"Oh," he blinks. "Well." He looks at Maedhros again. "Are we going with them?"
"I am," Elrond says quietly.
Maglor draws Elros close to him and locks him in an embrace, even as Elros continues to face Maedhros.
"If I could give my life in return for your safety, I would," Maglor says to him softly. "But do as you must."
x x x x x x x x
(Once upon a time there was a great war in which evil was defeated, as it deserved.)
War of Wrath, 45 years later.
Victory sweeps across the battlefield like rainbearing wind, carrying the names of it's leaders on it, gathering greater and greater force until they ring out from end to end. Arafinwë and Finellach called Gil-galad, and Celeborn of Doriath and Ingwë of the Vanyar, and everywhere, among the elves and men alike, Elrond and Elros, the Peredhil, the Peredain, children of the line of Melian.
His brazier is still hissing, the coal glowing warmly in it, when Elros limps back to his tent and sits down on the bed that is too small for him. He has stayed out late, talking with Gil-galad. He might have stayed on, but the pain in his leg is threatening to overwhelm him, and he needs to dull its edge. He had the misfortune to break his knee on the day they captured Morgoth.
He takes out the last of his stock of the wadded rolls of galenas, which is the only painkiller his healer will allow him. She is an Easterling woman of his age, one of the tribe of Bór, now old and bent from having passed a lifetime on the battlefield. It never ceases to amaze Elros that he has not changed like she has. He feels like he ought to have. Instead, he is still unbent, his skin unlined, his hair full and black as night. He is taller than Gil-galad himself – the Sindar captains fondly remind each other of Elu Thingol when Elros passes them by.
Maedhros, he thinks as he lights the galenas and draws a long, calming breath. He is as tall as Maedhros. He knows this because they lay together on this bed a few hours ago, body to body, and Maedhros had smiled as he felt Elros' toes tickle his even as their foreheads touched.
Elros lies back and replays the day's events in his mind – Tahani the healer washing and cleaning a mild wound of his, the pungent, pleasant fog of galenas, his thinking that the weed must make for exceptionally good visions when a tall figure ducked into his tent and shook off his hood, and then the voice that cut through the smoke and haze, and the way Elros' world narrowed down suddenly to the circle that contained the two of them, as it did back in the old house that ought to have crumbled by now.
"Has it crumbled?" he asked Maedhros, wrapping an arm around his waist. Maedhros had shrugged and said that he didn't know; they left for Balar very soon after the war began.
He rose then, and Elros had reached out, moulding himself to his back, not willing to let go so soon. Then he had told him what he meant to do, and Elros had felt the warmth of his body rise with each word he spoke, until his hröa blazed like light.
He rubs his eyes tiredly. Elros will never be equal to Elrond in matters of strategy, but he is tactician enough to know that this scheme is not a good one. His head aches again now, as it did when Maedhros spoke, and he wishes he had his smooth, hard back on which to rest his head again. Pain always fades away at the warmth of Maedhros' touch.
"Surely there must be another way?" he asked.
And Maedhros' eyes flashed, as they rarely had in all the days Elros had known him. "No."
Elros breathed deeply. "I believe in your claim, Maedhros," he said, sincerely. "But surely there is no need for something so – clandestine? Something could be done. Elrond and I could speak with Eönwë – we could stake a claim somehow - as Eärendil's heirs, perhaps. I know he has been meaning to speak with us; perhaps it is about the jewels. Could you not wait?"
Maedhros sighed, and caressed Elros' hair again. "It will not do, star-child."
"Why not?" Elros had asked dully.
Maedhros' voice came muffled through his hood. "Because I do not want to have to kill you for them."
Elros had been silent, but he stopped him just as he was leaving the tent, and kissed him again. "Come back to me," he whispered.
Maedhros had smiled as if it was an obvious thing, and Elros holds on to the comfort that smile gave him then.
He shuts his eyes and tries to fall asleep in the waiting silence, but finds that he is too tense. He decides he will ask Tahani to allow him a little opium, so that he can relax. He does not remember the last time he has slept in peace. This morning, when he came to him, Elros held him even as Tahani worked away at his shoulder as though Maedhros was not in her patient's arms, and Elros had told him that the two of them were going to go away somewhere together, and no two ways abut it. And Maedhros smiled and asked him where "somewhere" was.
Elros wonders now where "somewhere" is, and into his thoughts come an island, in the middle of the sea. Even this vision does not help, however, and he is up and hobbling to the healers' tent again.
"Heat some water and drink it," Tahani yawns when he tells her he cannot sleep.
"Can't you just give me something? I've exhausted your foul scrub," he pleads.
"You'll be wool-headed, tall-one. Tahani won't be blamed if you can't count your own fingers from playing nonsense in your head with all that smoke."
"But I am indestructible," he reminds her.
She snorts and hands him some sour-smelling liquid. Maedhros has said that he knows her type from the Fifth Battle, the dark edaineth with their rough-handed kindness, and quick, bitter forest cures that no Noldo would want to know the secrets of.
"The red ghost doesn't let you sleep?" she asks. In her tongue, the word for "elf" is the same as that for "ghost". Elros smiles. Would you tell anyone that you and Maedhros Fëanorion are lovers? Of course I would. "Mmm," he says and gulps down the potion.
"And here I was hearing that they don't do it like we do," she says slyly. "Is he red down there as well?" Elros sputters.
"Do you know who he is?" Elros begins, but he never tells her. Just then, the sounds of a great commotion come to his ears, and he limps outside as fast as he can.
(…And once upon a time there was a great king of men who found a new land for his people and led them to it, and he spent his life doing good works for the land and the people and they rejoiced, though they were sorrowful that there was no love to light his life, but after a great many years he was rewarded for his labours when he found a maid as beautiful as she was good, and he made her his queen and they had many lovely children and lived happily ever after.)
In the far distance, where Morgoth's fallen fortress has given way to chasms of flame, he sees a great wave of red fire raging towards the heavens. He does not need to be told by the people's cries and Elrond's running footsteps coming towards him. He clenches his fists even as he feels his brother's hand on his shoulder. "Traitor," he whispers to the flame. "Traitor."