3. The Siege Of Time

After that first dreadful day, a heavy silence descended upon the house in Nan Elmoth. Eöl and Aredhel did not speak with each other, but neither did they quarrel. Instead, they both focused their attention upon their son. The boy had become pale and withdrawn, obeying his father's commands in the forge without a word of acknowledgement or understanding. If his parents set food before him, he ate, slowly and with no interest or pleasure. He moved stiffly and did not play in the evenings, and he did not seem to notice when Aredhel massaged his back and shoulders with a pungent salve.

Eöl and Aredhel both worried for him. Eöl showed him many intricate tasks, hoping to rouse a spark of interest, and Aredhel held him close and petted his hair and sang to him, but he remained silent and distant. "What if he is fading?" Aredhel asked. Eöl made no reply to her, but when a party of Dwarves passed by the house to commission rings for a wedding, he bargained long and hard concerning the payment. When he had finished, he brought Aredhel a recipe for a medicine that he had demanded as barter from the Dwarves in lieu of coin.

Aredhel read through the recipe, which called for many strange herbs. She wandered long under the stars that night seeking them, and returned at dawn, her basket full of pungent-smelling leaves. These Eöl boiled until they became a thick syrup. They took the syrup in a cup to the boy's sleeping chamber, and Aredhel held him in her arms as Eöl tipped a spoonful into his mouth.

At the first bitter taste, the boy struggled and kicked and spat. Afraid that the first spoonful had not gone down, Eöl dosed him again and pinched his mouth and nose to make him swallow. The boy choked and coughed and twisted in Aredhel's arms. Horrified, Eöl felt around for the chamber pot and held his son's head over it. The boy vomited, then lay pale and shaking on his pillow as Aredhel wiped his face with a damp cloth.

To everyone's relief, the Dwarf medicine seemed to have an effect. The boy became more alert and responsive, and there was no need for the trauma of another dose. Within two hours, the boy's appetite returned. "I am hungry," he said. "May I have my breakfast?" It was the first time he had spoken in a week. Eöl wrapped him in a shawl and led him into the main room to eat fried eggs and vegetables as Aredhel pulled the soiled linens from the bed.

Now that the initial crisis had passed, the household settled into a new routine. Eöl kept Maeglin working long hours at the forge. He proved to be a stern master, but he taught Maeglin well, if not precisely mercifully. And if Maeglin did not demonstrate overt enthusiasm for his new craft, he learned swiftly and was soon assisting his father in many small tasks.

After he had worked with Eöl for a fortnight and his muscles had begun to harden and grow accustomed to the labor of the forge, Maeglin began again to go outside and roam beneath the stars in the evenings. He would go to his favorite thicket and watch the fireflies swarm, but he found that he had much less inclination to play, preferring instead to sit on the trunk of a fallen tree and think about his new life.

One night, Aredhel came upon him, having brought him a warm shawl. He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he did not hear her approach. He looked up, mildly startled, when she draped the shawl over his shoulders.

"I am sorry," Aredhel said with a smile. "I did not mean to startle you."

"It is all right, Nana," he said. "I was thinking."

"May I join you?"

Maeglin nodded, and Aredhel sat down next to him on the log. They watched the fireflies in silence for a while. "What were you thinking about?" Aredhel asked.

Maeglin shrugged. "Nothing."

"I can see that you are troubled, child," Aredhel said. "Will you not tell me what thoughts prey upon your mind?"

Maeglin pinched his lips tightly together and turned away.

Aredhel sighed. "Is it your new name? Does that bring you grief? Perhaps I must speak to your father about that."

Maeglin whirled to face her. "No!" he cried. "Please, Nana, do not do that! Say nothing of this to Ada, please!"

Aredhel grasped his shoulders and held them tightly in an effort to calm him. "What is the matter, child? If you do not tell me, I cannot help you. You have been miserable ever since your father named you. If this name is causing you such distress, then I will not have you bear it."

"Please do not speak to Ada about it. I will bear my name, only please do not speak to Ada!" Maeglin's voice was high with panic, and he seemed close to tears. Aredhel combed her fingers through his hair.

"What is wrong? Tell me, my Lómion."

At the sound of his secret mother-name, Maeglin's self-control broke, and he threw his arms around Aredhel. "If you speak to Ada, you will fight with him. I do not want you to fight with Ada, and . . . and I do not want you to go away again."

"Oh, Lómion." Aredhel held him close and rocked him for a few moments, as she had done when he was a baby. She tilted his head and looked him in the eye. "I am sorry that I could not remain with you that day. I returned as swiftly as I was able."

"Why did you go away? Ada told me . . . he said . . . "

"What? What did your father say?"

Maeglin gulped. "He said that you had gone away before. When I was a baby. He said that you stayed away for a long time. I did not know about that."

"I see." Aredhel shifted her son in her arms so that his head rested comfortably against her shoulder. She was silent for a few minutes. "When your father and I quarrel," she said after a while, "it does not mean that we have ceased loving you. Neither one of us will ever abandon you."

"Ada said that you would always come back."

"I will always come back. I will always come back to you, Lómion, no matter how long I am away."

"Why did you go away, Nana? Why did you not stay here with me?"

"That is a complicated question," Aredhel said. "I will tell you as much as I can, though there are parts that you are still too young to understand." She looked off into the middle distance, as though she was searching for the right words.

"Your father and I do not always live together in perfect harmony," she said at last. "Do not fear; you are not the cause of that. It has been thus ever since we were first wedded. Usually, when your father and I quarrel, it is over quickly, and we forgive each other and move on. However, sometimes our arguments are more serious, and we cannot forgive each other so easily. When that happens, I do not wish to risk becoming so angry that we would come to blows. So I remove myself from the house until I feel certain that your father and I are once again able to converse in a civil manner."

"Oh." This comforted Maeglin a little. It did not sound as if Aredhel was planning to vanish forever in the near future. "Why do you go away and not Ada? Does he send you away?"

"No, child, he does not. This is his house; he dwelled here long before I met him. It would not be fair to ask him to abandon it simply because he has argued with his wife."

That was not a convincing explanation, but Maeglin let it slide. He supposed that it was one of the things that he would understand when he was older. He had more immediate fears. "Will Ada ever send me away?"

"No," Aredhel said firmly. "Your father loves you with every fiber of his being. He does not have it in him to cast you out. I have told you, you are more precious to him than anything else in the world. Do not fear, my Lómion. Neither your father nor I will ever leave you willingly unless you wish it."

"You will not speak to Ada about my name?"

"If that is your wish. I will not speak to your father."

Finally, Maeglin relaxed into Aredhel's embrace. "Thank you, Nana. I do not like it when you and Ada fight."

"I do not enjoy it, either. I try to ensure that it happens as little as possible. Now, let us speak of something else. The last time that I brought clean laundry to your chamber, I noticed that your mirror now faces the wall. Why is that?"

Maeglin wrinkled his nose. "I do not think I want to look in the mirror for a while, Nana. I do not know who might look back at me. I can comb my hair without the mirror."

Aredhel gave a sad little smile. "Yes, you can. I do not mind that your mirror faces the wall, if that makes you feel more comfortable. I was merely curious."

"Nana?"

"Yes, Lómion?"

"Will you tell me a story?"

Aredhel's smile became a little brighter. "Of course I will, child. What story would you like to hear?"

Maeglin cuddled close to his mother. "Tell me about my cousin Idril, Nana. Tell me about how you and Turgon and everyone else took care of her when she was a baby. I want to hear about your family."

Aredhel nodded and began to tell the familiar story once again.

Maeglin's skills in the forge improved swiftly, and he began to show more enthusiasm for the work. Pleased at this change, Eöl devoted more time to teaching, and one day, he declared that Maeglin was ready to start a small project of his own. He gave Maeglin some pieces of copper and excused him from his chores in the forge for a day. Maeglin worked diligently, pausing every now and then to ask for help with a difficult skill. At the end of the day, he brought his project to Eöl for inspection. It was a smooth copper bracelet with a piece of carnelian embedded at the seam.

"I could not get the seam to be as smooth as the rest of the bracelet, Ada," Maeglin explained. "So I found the stone, and I melted a hole in the copper with the soldering iron, and I put the stone in so that the seam would not show as much."

Eöl examined the bracelet and nodded. "That was a clever idea, Maeglin," he said. "For a semiprecious stone such as carnelian, that is a perfectly fine way to set it. When you have learned more smithcraft and are able to do more delicate work, I will show you how to set the finer gems."

Maeglin beamed. "I would like that."

"For a first project, this is an entirely acceptable piece of work," Eöl said. "What do you intend to do with it?"

"It is for Nana. Do you think that she will mind that it is not silver?"

Eöl smiled. "No," he said. "She will not mind. Not all of her jewelry is silver. Her marriage ring is of gold."

"Oh. I remember now." Maeglin had never given much thought to the little golden rings that Eöl and Aredhel wore. Now, he reached out tentatively and took his father's hand, turning it over to inspect the smooth, broad gold band. "Did you make your marriage rings?"

"I did. They were the first jewelry I crafted for your mother." Eöl's expression softened at the memory. "I think that ring was the first piece of jewelry she had ever had that was not silver. When I placed it on her finger, the gold made her hand glow with an astonishing warmth. It was as if a marble statue had come alive under my touch, and I knew that I had changed her, touched her in ways no one else ever had."

Maeglin had not expected to hear something like that from Eöl, and the shared memory made him feel warm inside. "You love Nana," he said happily. "You really love her."

"Yes," Eöl said softly. "I love your mother. I have loved her since the moment I first laid eyes on her, when she wandered lost through the forest. I knew even then that I would wed her. And she has given me something remarkable in return for my love."

"What did she give you, Ada?"

Eöl ruffled Maeglin's hair. "She gave me a child, my Maeglin, a boy I love more than life itself." Maeglin smiled, and his whole body relaxed when he heard those words. For one moment, the world seemed to be at peace.

Too soon, Eöl shook himself from his reverie and turned to pick up the bracelet Maeglin had made. "I think your mother will like this very much," he said. "You should go and polish it now, so that it will be clean and lovely when you give it to her. I think that I can find a box or a pouch for it, to protect it." He handed Maeglin a little pot of polish and a rag, then turned to rummage through a drawer filled with odds and ends.

Maeglin put the pouch with the bracelet in the pocket of his trousers and helped Eöl tidy the forge at the end of the day. When Eöl dismissed him, he ran to the house, barely pausing to greet Aredhel as he sprinted to his chamber to wash. He glanced at the mirror, as he did every day, but he decided that he did not want to look into it just yet. He was still apprehensive about who might look back at him, and he did not want anything to spoil the pleasure of giving his mother her gift at dinner.

Eöl followed Maeglin to the house carrying the pot filled with stew, and Maeglin heard him enter and greet Aredhel warmly. Both of his parents seemed to be happy today, and Maeglin's heart sang at the thought. Perhaps there would be no angry words or sullen silences at the table tonight.

"Dinner is ready," Aredhel called. Maeglin quickly dried his face and hands, changed out of his forge-stained day clothes into a clean outfit, and headed for the main room. At the last minute, he ran back and dug the pouch from the pocket of his forge trousers.

The stew and bread smelled especially delicious tonight, and both Eöl and Aredhel smiled when Maeglin came to the table. "Did you have a good day at the forge?" Aredhel asked him."

Maeglin nodded. "I did," he said. He hoped that Aredhel would not ask him to elaborate, since he did not want to ruin her surprise. To his relief, Eöl stepped in to rescue him.

"Maeglin turns out to have a happy talent for smithcraft," he said. "He has learned many skills since we began lessons, and I am happy to be teaching him. He will make a fine smith in his own right when he is grown."

"I am glad to hear it," Aredhel said. "Perhaps he will find work in Doriath. I have heard that King Thingol loves beautiful things of gems and precious metals. Perhaps he would appreciate having an Elvish smith at his court so that he need not trade for so much with the Dwarves."

"Hmph," Eöl said. "Thingol does not give the Dwarves nearly as much credit as they deserve. But that is his own fault. If he is bound and determined to have an Elvish smith, he could do worse than to accept Maeglin into his service when he is grown."

"Then perhaps he will become a gemsmith." Aredhel turned to Maeglin. "What do you think? Would you like to become a gemsmith in the court of King Thingol?"

Maeglin shrugged. "I do not know. I have never met King Thingol. I do not know if I would like him."

Eöl scraped up the last of his stew. "I will take you to see him one day," he said. "When you are a little bit older, you may come along when I go to Menegroth to trade there."

"I would like that." Maeglin laid down his spoon and took a deep breath. "Nana?"

"What is it, child?"

Maeglin had thought to make a pretty speech when he gave the first fruits of his labors to his mother, but he found that he had forgotten everything he wanted to say. He fished the pouch out of his pocket and placed it in Aredhel's hand. "This is for you. I made it in the forge today."

Aredhel opened the pouch and took out the bracelet. The copper shone softly in the lamp light, and the little piece of carnelian embedded in the seam glowed. "Oh my," Aredhel said. "You made this yourself?" She slipped the bracelet over her hand and admired the effect. "This is lovely. I am so very proud of you. Thank you, Maeglin."

At the sound of her words, Maeglin froze, and his blood ran cold. Aredhel had never yet used his new father-name, but now it had tumbled from her lips as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Seeing the look on his face, Aredhel frowned in confusion. Then she realized what she had said. Her eyes widened in shock, and the hand that wore the copper bracelet flew to her mouth to stifle a gasp.

"Oh," she said. "Oh, I did not mean . . . are you . . ." her voice trailed off. She and Maeglin stared at each other for a moment. With an effort, Maeglin turned his gaze to Eöl, hoping again to find rescue from a difficult situation. Instead, Eöl's lips slowly twisted into a smile of naked, gloating triumph.

Maeglin's stomach turned over at the sight. Afraid that he would vomit if he looked at Eöl any longer, he rose and fled from the table without asking permission. He ran to his bedchamber and collapsed shivering on the floor. His stomach churned, and he pulled the chamber pot from beneath the bed and clutched it tightly, waiting for the shouting to start in the main room. But nothing happened, and gradually, the nausea subsided.

When Maeglin trusted himself to move again, he scrambled to his feet. A burning desire to look in his mirror, as he had not done in weeks, seized him, and his hands shook as he lit a candle and turned the frame so that he could see the polished black galvorn surface.

The last time he had looked in the mirror, the face that looked back at him had seemed terrifyingly foreign, the face of a stranger. It was the face of someone named Maeglin, someone he did not know and was not sure he wanted to know. Ever since then, he had been afraid to look in the mirror, afraid to confront Maeglin who lurked within. Now, he stared into the mirror in surprise.

The face in the mirror had changed. It had not become any more familiar or recognizable as himself, but it was different. Instead of angry and hurt, it looked shocked and numb, the face of a child tried beyond all endurance. The face of the child in the mirror crumpled, his eyes shone with tears that would not fall, and suddenly Maeglin knew him.

"Lómion," he said softly. "Nana did not mean to hurt you. She loves you. I want things to be as they were before." Lómion in the mirror looked back at him sadly. His expression changed, growing calmer, but more distant. Maeglin sighed. His heart ached in his chest at the sight of Lómion's withdrawal. "Farewell, Lómion," he said, and backed slowly away from the mirror.

In silence, he washed his face, changed into his nightclothes, and crawled into bed. He left the mirror facing into the room in the hope that he might catch a glimpse of Lómion again in the future. Through the wall, he thought he heard Aredhel weeping. Maeglin swallowed his own sorrow and blew the candle out. In the gloom, he burrowed down underneath his quilt, cold even in the warm evening, and waited for sleep to come.

In the morning, he looked in the mirror, but he did not see Lómion. The reflection was recognizably his own. Maeglin sighed as he combed his hair and went out to face the day.

He never saw Lómion again.

END

Afterword

Many thanks to everyone who has read and enjoyed this story. It's certainly been an interesting experience getting inside this tense, unhappy family.

I'd been considering writing something about Eöl for some time, but I could never quite bring myself to do it. Eöl reminds me very much of someone I knew in college, and for a long time that comparison was too much. However, I had also wanted to explore the question of what exactly Aredhel saw in him and how his relationship with Maeglin evolved. It turned out that that last question was the trigger that allowed me to find a way into this family.

I'm still not exactly sure what Aredhel saw in Eöl. I'll have to keep exploring that question. But this is all for now. I'll see you later.