Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters of J. R. R. Tolkien, nor any of the various dramatic incarnations thereof. No profit is being made from this work.
Greetings! Welcome to this story. Maestro, if you please . . . "This is the story / Of Eöl and Aredhel / Who were bringing up a very handsome boy!"
Sorry about that. Anyway, this story is a look at an important formative event in the childhood of one of Tolkien's least sympathetic Elves. Before growing up to become a traitor to the city of Gondolin, he was a boy living through what could not have been an easy childhood. This story is a rare chance to show an intact family with two parents in Middle-earth, though this may or may not prove to be an advantage.
That's all I have to say for now. I'll meet you at the end. Enjoy the story!
1. Twilight's Son
The boy ran silently through the woods, scrambling over the great twisted roots of the trees as he chased fireflies. The sun had just dipped below the horizon, but there was still a glow of light in the western sky, red and orange gradually giving way to a soft violet. If the boy had not been so intent on the fireflies, he would have noticed the first stars becoming visible in the east. It was his favorite time of day. His lessons were over, and his parents allowed him to roam through the woods of Nan Elmoth until nearly midnight.
His father had been silent and preoccupied at dinner, so the boy knew that he would spend the rest of the evening in his forge, working on whatever new project had gripped his fancy. The boy thought that sometimes his father spent the entire night at the forge, for he would enter the house with a groan just as the boy was waking up. The boy's mother would bring his father bread and a hot drink then, and his father would sleep until the middle of the afternoon. The boy liked it when his father stayed up late at the forge, for it meant that his mother would pack lots of food into a basket and go out into the woods to play with him in the morning.
A swarm of fireflies blinked just ahead of him, and he climbed down into a hollow between two roots. Carefully, he reached out and caught one of the insects, cupping it carefully in his hands. It blinked several times, and he watched it, entranced.
He looked up when he heard his mother's voice. "Here I am, Nana," he said. "Down in the hollow."
In the dim light, he saw his mother gliding towards him, and her white dress seemed to glow in the darkness. "There you are, Lómion," she said. "What have you found tonight?"
"A firefly, Nana. Look how it lights up." He offered her his cupped hands, and she watched as the insect blinked at her.
"It is very pretty," his mother said. "I am glad that you have shown it to me. Now I think it is time to let it go free."
"But it is so beautiful, Nana."
"It is beautiful," she said. "It has been kind and generous to allow you to see its beauty. It is up to you to return that favor by setting it free. No creature likes a cage."
Her voice trailed off. The boy looked up and saw that his mother's eyes had become distant, as if she were gazing intently at something too far away to see. He looked again at the firefly in his hands. It blinked once, and its wings drooped. He opened his hands and thrust them upwards, and the firefly flew away past his mother's face, startling her.
"Oh!" she cried. "That was well done, my Lómion." She put her arms around him and drew him close to her. He snuggled against her, enjoying the warmth and comfort of her embrace.
"Say it again, Nana."
He smiled. It was his secret name, the one his mother used only when they were alone together. Hearing it sent a delicious shiver through his body. He laid his head against his mother's chest and listened to her heart beating. Around them, fireflies blinked and crickets chirped. The stars shone down, bathing them in cool, welcoming light. Lómion sighed and wished that the evening would never end.
He woke the next morning to the sound of something sizzling in a pan. The scent of eggs and vegetables frying together drifted past his nose. That meant that his father was awake; his mother did not cook breakfasts like that. Suddenly hungry, he climbed out of bed and poured water from his pitcher into the bowl on his washstand. After he had washed his face, he felt much more awake. He heard the rhythmic thumping sound that meant that his mother was kneading bread while his father made breakfast, and he heard the low murmur of their voices through the wall as they talked.
His father's voice rumbled low, and his mother's lighter voice answered. Then she squealed. "Eöl! Stop that at once! Our son could walk in at any moment and see you with your hands upon my --" Then she giggled, and the boy could not make out any more words.
He dressed himself quickly, then stood before the mirror of polished black galvorn that his father had made for him and ran a comb through his hair. He pulled at the blankets on his bed until they were more or less straight, then hurried into the main room of the house.
"Good morning, Nana!" he cried. "Good morning, Ada!"
Eöl looked up from where he was shaking the cast iron skillet over the fire. "Good morning, child," he said. "Go and set the dishes out, for our breakfast is nearly ready."
The boy opened a cabinet near the table and took out plates, cups and cutlery. He arranged them on the table, then went into the pantry and brought out a jug of cider. He poured it carefully into three cups. His mother's hands flew as she finished kneading the bread dough, then set it in a bowl to rise, covered with a clean, damp cloth.
"Are you finished, Aredhel?" Eöl asked. "Breakfast is ready."
"I must wash my hands. Go ahead and serve breakfast, and I will come to the table in a moment." She stepped outside and the boy heard the splashing as she dipped up water from the rain barrel to wash her hands.
"Be seated, child," Eöl said. The boy sat down at his place and sniffed appreciatively as Eöl put fried eggs and vegetables on his plate, then sprinkled them liberally with spicy oil.
Aredhel came inside, drying her hands on her apron, and sat down. Eöl finished serving breakfast, and they all began to eat.
"What do you intend to do today, Aredhel?" Eöl asked.
"I will finish the baking, and then I have a load of mending to do."
"Perhaps you ought to give the boy lessons today as well."
Aredhel laid down her fork, and her eyes flashed. "That depends," she said shortly. "Perhaps I will not have time. There is quite a lot of mending, with all that you burn and tear in your forge."
"The boy needs an education."
"And you need clothes that do not have gaping holes in them. I do not suppose it has occurred to you to give our son his lessons yourself?"
Eöl grunted. "My work in the forge is delicate and requires skill and time."
"Whereas mine could as easily be done by a household servant who did not happen to be your wife."
The boy did not look at his parents, but concentrated instead on his food. He liked spicy vegetables and eggs, but today it did not seem to have as much flavor as it normally did. He did not like to hear his parents quarrelling.
"I caught a firefly last night," he offered. Both his parents turned to look at him, and he thought they looked somewhat relieved. "Then I set it free," he said. "Nana said that no creature likes a cage."
Eöl glanced at Aredhel, who blushed. Then he turned back to his son. "Your Nana is correct," he said. "You did well."
The boy smiled, but he could not think of anything else to say after that. After a moment, the family resumed eating.
"I will give him a history lesson," Aredhel said at last. "I can do that while I bake."
"Good," Eöl said. "Try to tell him something about Middle-earth, though. He knows far more about Valinor, where he has never been and never will go, than he does about the land in which he lives."
"Thank you for the advice," Aredhel snapped. "I am happy to hear from one who is so closely involved in the education of his son."
No one said anything after that. The boy choked down the rest of his breakfast and wished that he were back outside in the forest with the fireflies.
Aredhel spent the morning and the early part of the afternoon baking bread for the week. She let her son help her knead and shape the dough. As they worked, she told him of the founding of Gondolin, the hidden city that had been her home.
". . . and my older brother Turgon who founded the city reigns there even today as its King," she said.
"If the King of Gondolin is your brother, am I related to him, too?" the boy asked. "Can I make this loaf into a braid?"
"'May I,'" Aredhel corrected him. "Yes, you may braid that loaf. And you are related to Turgon. He is your uncle, and you are his nephew."
The boy carefully patted the dough into three long snakes and began to weave them together. "Does King Turgon have any children?"
"He has one daughter, Idril, but she is grown up now. She is your cousin." Aredhel sighed. "Her mother, Turgon's wife, died a very long time ago, when Idril was just a baby. She fell through the ice during our journey across the Helcaraxë and was drowned."
"Who took care of Idril, then, if her mother was dead?"
Aredhel smiled. "Turgon took care of her, and I helped him, as did our father and our older brother Fingon. Almost our entire family helped to raise her."
"What about your Nana?"
"My Nana was not there. She chose not to follow my father to Middle-earth."
"Oh." The boy pinched the ends of the braided loaf together and set the loaf carefully on a baking tray. "What if Ada were to go somewhere? Would you choose not to follow him?"
Aredhel stopped mixing flour into the dough in her bowl. "Are you worried about the argument I had with your father at breakfast this morning?" she asked.
He nodded and looked away. Aredhel wiped her hands and tilted his chin so that she could look in his eyes.
"Your father is not the most demonstrative of people," she said, "but he loves you. His work is demanding and consumes much of his energy, but I promise you that you are the most precious thing in his world. You are also the most precious thing in my world. I love you with all my heart, Lómion. Though your father and I may quarrel sometimes, we both love you, and we will not cease in that."
For answer, Lómion threw his arms around his mother and buried his face in her shoulder. She smelled warm and floury, and he drew comfort from her scent. She held him for a few minutes, then broke the embrace.
"I love you, Nana," he said.
"Thank you. I am glad to hear it. I love you, too." Aredhel smiled at him and brushed away a trace of dampness at the corners of his eyes. "You have been very helpful here, child. I think that I will be able to finish the baking on my own. You might go out to the forge and pay your father a visit, for I think he would enjoy spending some time with you."
The boy was not convinced of this, but he recognized the intent behind the suggestion. He took off his baking apron, shook it out, and hung it neatly on its hook. Then he went out around back to his father's forge.
As always, the heat and noise of the forge fascinated and terrified him at the same time. He stood outside the door for a long time, trying to muster the courage to go inside. Once he was there, he knew that he would see his father hard at work doing wonderful, mysterious things. However, that did not make the moment of entry any less frightening. Finally, the boy took a deep breath, opened the door and slipped inside.
A wave of intense heat washed over him, carrying the sharp scent of coal and hot metal. The roar of the fire assaulted his ears, and his head rang with the sound of the blows of his father's hammer. The boy shut his eyes and breathed in and out, trying to adjust to his surroundings. When he opened his eyes, he saw Eöl looking at him with a slight smile on his face.
"Welcome, child," he said. "Have you come to keep me company while I work?"
The boy nodded. "Nana said she could finish the baking by herself, and she said that I should come to see you."
"I am glad of your company. Sometimes it is lonely in here with none to assist me." Eöl turned back to the blade he was hammering, and the sparks flew.
The boy perched on a workbench and watched his father for a while. Something shiny caught his eye, and he picked it up to investigate. It turned out to be a little silver jug with a graceful, fluted handle. "This is pretty," he said. "What is it?"
Eöl turned to see what his son held. "That is a honey jug for the Queen of Doriath."
"It is very nice," the boy said, "but I think the handle is crooked."
Eöl frowned and set the sword down. "Let me see." He took the jug from the boy and squinted carefully at it. "You are right," he said at last. "I do not know how I missed it before, but the handle is not quite straight. You have a keen eye, child. Thank you for telling me this. I will correct it before I deliver it to Doriath."
The boy beamed at the compliment. His father did not often praise him. Encouraged, he slid down from the workbench and came to stand a little closer to the anvil. Eöl graciously shifted position so that the boy could have a clearer view of what he was doing. He beat the blade thin, heated it in the forge until it glowed red, folded it over on itself, and hammered it again.
"It looks like when Nana makes bread," the boy said after a while.
"All the folding. You are folding and pushing that sword blade just like Nana does when she kneads bread dough."
Eöl smiled and nodded. "It is a similar process, child, and you are clever to see it. This folding serves much the same purpose in smithing and in bread making, I think. What your Nana and I are doing binds the dough or the metal together and makes it stronger. That way, we can turn it into something useful."
"Then your work is not so different after all," the boy said.
"Hm. Now that you mention it, perhaps it is not." Eöl shrugged. "In principle, at least. Will you pour a little more coal into the furnace, child?"
The boy ran eagerly to the coal bin, pleased that he was allowed to help his father today as well as his mother. He spent the rest of the afternoon watching his father work, sometimes running to fetch tools or drinking water at his father's bidding. He asked many questions, and Eöl did not seem to tire of answering them. Near evening, Eöl even allowed his son to don a forge apron and gloves and hold the blade steady on the anvil while Eöl hammered one tricky spot.
At last, Eöl declared that the day's work was finished. He carefully laid the unfinished blade aside and showed the boy where he kept each of the tools when they were not in use. Then he removed a covered clay pot from a niche in the outer wall of the furnace. When the boy lifted the lid, he saw that it contained a fragrant stew that had been cooking slowly for much of the afternoon.
"That is our dinner," Eöl said. "I will bring it to the house, for the pot is heavy, and I will not risk having you drop it and splash yourself with hot stew. Run ahead and wash yourself, and I will follow."
The boy ran ahead to the house, where Aredhel met him at the door. "You are filthy, child," she said with a smile.
"I have been helping Ada today. He is bringing dinner to the house now."
"That is good. Now you may do as Ada does and wash all that forge grime away before you eat. I will lay the table while you do so."
The boy went to his sleeping chamber and washed for the second time that day, amazed at how black the wash water became. He heard his father enter the house and set the pot of stew down. Eöl and Aredhel spoke together in low tones, and then his father went to wash as well. A short time later, Aredhel called the boy to the table.
The stew tasted especially delicious that evening, as did the chunks of fresh bread the family pulled from the braided loaf. The boy chattered excitedly to Aredhel about all he had seen and done in the forge, and she listened with an expression of interest, interrupting only to remind him to eat his food in between portions of his tale.
"And then I saw a bit on the blade that did not look as smooth as the rest of it," he said. "I showed it to Ada, and he said that I had a good eye, that it needed fine work, and he asked me to hold the blade while he hammered it with a special little hammer. I even got to wear a big leather apron and gloves just like Ada does."
Aredhel smiled at him. "Of course. If you work with Ada, you must wear the same protection that he wears. I would rather see you burn your clothes than burn your skin."
The boy reached for another chunk of bread. Eöl watched him thoughtfully. He had not spoken a word throughout dinner, choosing instead to listen to the boy's account of his afternoon in the forge. Now he sat up a little straighter, laid down his spoon and looked straight at the boy.
"Please pass the salt, Maeglin," he said.
Confused, the boy fell silent. He wondered who "Maeglin" was. He and Aredhel were the only other people at the table. Aredhel blinked at her husband.
"Excuse me?" she said.
Eöl did not take his eyes off his son. "Maeglin," he said, slowly and clearly, "will you please hand me the salt cellar?"
No one moved or spoke. In the silence, the meaning of Eöl's words began to dawn on the boy. For the first time in his life, his father had called him by a name. He was "Maeglin."