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. It is, in large part, the result of my basic inability to leave well enough alone. Most a year ago, I wrote a story called "Four Hands Around." It had a solid, fairly dramatic conclusion, people seemed to enjoy it, and I was pleased with that. But then, that old, treacherous worm came to my mind. What happened next? Where did the characters go from there? Eventually, I wrote this story to explore those questions.
Currently, Maglor is living as something like a gentleman farmer on a fief in Maedhros's realm. Elros and Elrond are in the last stages of true childhood; adolescence lurks just around the corner.
If you haven't read "Four Hands Around," don't worry. I think you'll be able to follow this one just fine. Enjoy it, and I'll meet you at the end.
1. The Tatters Of Old Snows
Elros slurped the sweet liquid from his dish of preserved mirabelles, earning a giggle from Elrond and a half-serious glare from Maglor. He shrugged an equally half-serious apology for his manners, and popped the last tiny plum into his mouth. The skin burst as soon as it touched his tongue, and the sweet-sour flesh dissolved in his mouth, making his eyes crinkle. He spit out the pit and carefully placed it next to the others arrayed around the rim of his dish. Elrond caught his eye, and Elros nodded to his brother. Now that they had both finished their fruit, they could begin the ritual.
Beginning at the right end of their arcs of pits, the twins chanted aloud. "Lord, warrior, bard, smith, trader, sailor, candy maker." They repeated the verse until they had come to the end of the row of pits. Elrond finished first, triumphantly crying, "Candy maker!" Elros counted a few more and ended with "bard." Maglor smiled indulgently at his two young charges.
"That is all well and good," he said. "Elros will sing in lovely harmony with me, and Elrond will keep us well supplied with sweets. Now, go and do the dishes. I have some mending to do, and then perhaps there will be time for a story."
Elros jumped up and began to gather the supper dishes together onto a tray as Elrond went outside to draw wash water from the rain barrel. Just a month before, he had begged permission to fetch water from the well, but Maglor had forbidden that. "You are not yet big enough," he said. "If you fell into that well, you might drown before Elros or I even noticed that something was amiss. I will tell you when I think you are big enough to go to the well alone." So Elrond used the rain barrel to fetch water.
By the time Elros had carried all the dishes into the kitchen, Elrond had filled a basin with the soapy water. He washed the dishes, and Elros wiped them. This, along with cleaning and tidying their room and making their bed, was their particular housekeeping chore. After Elros had wiped the dishes, Elrond dried himself with a kitchen towel, and Elros began to put the dishes away. He noted with some pleasure that he was tall enough now to reach some of the shelves without using a step stool.
As soon as the last dish had been put away, the twins bounded into the great hall. Maglor had just finished sewing a patch onto the knee of a pair of Elrond's trousers. His great harp sat on its stand next to the bench, ready to accompany the chosen story. Maglor looked up when the twins entered, smiled, and knotted the thread. "Are the dishes done?" he asked.
"Yes, Maglor," Elrond said.
"Can we have our story now?" Elros added.
Maglor bit off the thread, shook the trousers out, folded them, and set them on top of his mending basket. "I think so. What story would you like to hear?"
The twins settled down on the bench, one on either side of Maglor. Elros grinned. "The Noldolantë!" That was his favorite story. The part with the battle of Alqualondë was exciting and adventurous, but it made him cry a little, in a comforting sort of way.
Elrond rolled his eyes. "I do not like the Noldolantë," he complained. "Anyway, Elros always asks for it, and we hear it a lot. I am tired of it."
"Well, what would you like to hear?" Maglor seemed mildly relieved at the excuse to sing something else.
Elrond considered his request for a while. He was silent for so long that Elros was just about to jump up and demand the Noldolantë again, when Elrond spoke. "Will you tell us about the battle at Sirion?" he asked. "How you adopted us?"
A shadow passed over Maglor's face, and Elros thought he was about to refuse. That alone was enough to drive the Noldolantë out of Elros's mind. He had to admit that he, too, had always been a little curious about Sirion, a place he could barely remember, and how he and Elrond had come to live with Maglor, who was not even their father. The silence deepened, and Elros exchanged a worried frown with his brother. Perhaps asking for the story of Sirion had not been such a good idea after all.
At last, Maglor sighed. He cast a weary, longing glance at his harp, but made no move to pick it up. "All right," he said. "If that is what you truly want. I do not know that I approve of this, for the story of Sirion is not a tale that young boys should hear. But it is your story, and I suppose that I do not have the right to keep it from you any longer."
Maglor did not pick up his harp, but instead put an arm around each of the twins, snuggling them close against his sides. "I will tell you the story in words rather than song," he explained, "for I have not yet had the heart to smooth the horror of that battle with music."
Something knotted in the pit of Elros's stomach, and he could see that Elrond looked just as worried. However, they could not withdraw their request now. No matter how terrible the story was, they would be brave and listen to all of it.
"The story begins when my brother Maedhros learned that Elwing your mother held one of our father's Silmarils at Sirion," Maglor began, in a voice so soft that the twins had to strain to hear him. "He wrote to her and asked her to surrender Father's handiwork to him. Had she done as he asked, things would have turned out much differently."
In the same soft voice, Maglor told about Elwing's refusal and Maedhros's challenge, of how he had gathered together his remaining brothers and their armies and had marched on Sirion, and of the terrible slaughter that had claimed the lives of the two youngest brothers as well as almost all of the defenders of the keep. He spoke slowly and haltingly, as if each word hurt him. Elros found himself crying, though he was not sure if he cried for the battle that had claimed his mother or at the thought that Maglor's brothers had died.
Elrond choked a little. "Your little brothers were twins, right?" he asked. "Just like us?"
Maglor nodded. "Yes. Amrod and Amras. They were the first twins ever to be born in Valinor, my little baby brothers. You would have loved them, if you had ever known them."
"But where were we?" Elros asked. "Were we in the battle?"
"Yes and no," Maglor said. "The battle raged all over the keep, and you were in the keep, so you were both there. But your mother's ladies-in-waiting tried their best to shield you from the fighters. No one wanted to see either of you hurt, for you were little more than babies at the time."
"But how were we saved?" Elrond asked.
Maglor looked pained. "When one of the ladies-in-waiting died, her body fell on top of you and kept you safe. The soldiers could not see you, so they did not come after you."
"If those soldiers had found us," Elrond mused, "they would have killed us dead, right, Maglor?"
"Yes. It is fortunate for all of us that they did not."
Elros screwed up his courage to ask the question that had been lurking in the pit of his stomach. "What about our mother and father? What happened to them?"
"Mother flew out the window," Elrond said. "I remember that."
Maglor nodded. "She was too quick. She had the Silmaril in her hands, and she fell before anyone could stop her."
"No," Elrond said. "She flew."
"Elrond, you know that people cannot fly."
"I saw it!" Elrond insisted. His face was beginning to turn red, as it often did when he was upset about something. "I saw my mother fly out the window. I did!" He sniffed, and stuck out his lower lip. Elros could see that he was trying very hard not to cry.
Maglor saw it as well. He sighed, and shifted the twins against him. "Perhaps that is how you remember it, Elrond," he said. "In any event, we could find no trace of her after the battle. Eärendil your father was nowhere to be found, and nearly everyone who lived in the keep was dead. You two were too little to be left alone. You needed someone to take care of you. It so happened that I needed someone to take care of. That is how I came to adopt you."
It sounded simple and straightforward. But Maglor's face was grim, and Elros suspected that he had not told them the full story. He knew that Maglor sometimes omitted details from stories that he thought Elros and Elrond were not old enough to hear. Once, during one of Maedhros's visits, Elros had crept out into the corridor after he and Elrond had been put to bed. He had heard Maedhros and Maglor talking in soft voices, and had gone to investigate.
They had been discussing a recent skirmish with Morgoth's Orcs that had occurred recently. Elros knew about this encounter, because Maglor had ridden off suddenly, in the middle of the night, to aid Maedhros. When Maglor returned, he had made the battle into a rollicking, rhyming story for the twins, all about the bravery of the Elves and how the Orcs had fled when Maglor's troops rode over a hill and surprised them. But Elros had noticed a new stiffness in Maglor's gait that was not explained in the story.
When Maedhros visited a few days afterwards, Elros sat at the top of the stairs, hidden in shadows, and listened to them discuss the battle. He heard about the soldiers they had lost, the plans that had not worked out as designed, and about the stab wound that Maglor had received in his hip. Maedhros had wondered aloud if the resulting limp would be permanent, and advised Maglor to favor the leg somewhat over the next month. "You do not wish to live forever lamed," Maedhros said, casting a brief glance at the stump of his right arm. "Especially since you have the boys now. You must be healthy to take care of them. Do what you must, but let yourself heal fully."
Suddenly, Elros had not wanted to hear any more. He went back to bed, and neither Maglor nor Maedhros ever knew that he had overheard. He had discussed the matter with Elrond, of course, and they had made sure to be especially helpful around the house until Maglor could walk normally again. But Elros had not forgotten the shock of learning that some stories had darker sides to them.
Now, he wondered about the dark side of the story of Sirion. He desperately wanted more details, but he could tell from the pain in Maglor's eyes that there would be no more of that story tonight. Elros sighed, and leaned his head against Maglor's shoulder, and Maglor's arm tightened around him.
"Thank you for the story, Maglor," Elrond said. "I am sorry that it made you sad." Just as he said it, a fat tear dribbled out of one eye, and rolled down his cheek. Maglor gave a somewhat watery smile, and brushed Elrond's tear away.
"It seems that I am not the only one saddened by this tale," he said. "I think that we have all dwelled on this disaster entirely too much. I will not tell you any more, for I do not wish for you two to be up all night with bad dreams. There are still a few more nights for storytelling left, so let us be sure to think of happy stories."
"Yes, Maglor." Elros did not want to admit, even to himself, just what a relief the prospect of happy stories was to him.
Maglor hugged them one last time, then nudged them off the bench. "Go get ready for bed now," he told them. "Do you think you will need a warm iron in the bed tonight?"
"Yes!" said Elrond, whose feet were always cold.
"No," Elros said at the same time.
"I do not want to freeze," Elrond complained. "And you do not like it when I snuggle up to you."
"That is because you always put your feet on me, and they are always icy cold."
"Boys, enough!" Maglor laughed. "I will warm an iron for you, and then you may place it in Elrond's side of the bed. Is that fair?"
Both twins nodded, although Elros knew that, no matter what happened, he would wake in the morning with Elrond cuddled against him. But, by that time, the bed would be warm and cozy, so it did not matter so much. He and Elrond scampered off to their bedchamber. They took turns at the basin washing their faces and cleaning their teeth, and then changed into their nightshirts, their teeth chattering as they did so. Winter was gradually giving way to spring, but the nights were still cold. They climbed into the big wooden bed that they shared and pulled the quilt up to their chins just as Maglor entered the bedchamber bearing a warm iron wrapped in a towel. He tucked it underneath the quilt at Elrond's feet, then leaned over to give the twins their bedtime kisses.
"Good night, sleep tight," he said. "I will see you in the morning's light." Then he snuffed the lantern and left the bedchamber, closing the door as he went.
At last, Elros and Elrond could speak to each other privately. To Elros's surprise, Elrond spoke first, whispering in the gloom.
"That was a sad story."
Elros considered this for a while. "Most of Maglor's stories are sad. Except for the ones about when he was a little boy, with all of his brothers."
Elrond shivered, and stretched his toes down toward the hot iron. "It must be sad to see all your brothers die. Now Maedhros and Maglor are the only ones left."
"We are the only ones left of our family," Elros pointed out. "That is just as sad."
"I wish I remembered more of Nana than just seeing her fly out the window." Elrond wiggled so that he could snuggle his head against Elros's shoulder and still be able to enjoy the warmth of the iron.
"You did not really see such a thing, Elrond!" Elros said. "Did you?"
Elrond nodded against his shoulder. "I did. I do not remember anything else about the battle, but I remember that. I wonder why she did that. Do you think she meant to do it?"
That was a frightening thought. "Of course she did not," Elros said, hoping he sounded more certain than he actually felt. "Mothers do not leave their little boys behind."
"Maglor's mother left him and his brothers behind," Elrond said reasonably. "And his grandmother left his father behind. I know. Maglor told me once."
"Maglor says a lot of things," Elros retorted. He swallowed the urge to start crying. "Why does Ada not come for us?"
Elrond sighed. "Ada is busy being a star. And Maglor loves us."
"He does not! I think Maglor killed Nana." As soon as he had said it, Elros clapped his hands over his mouth, but he could not unsay the terrible words. Elrond stiffened next to him, and, in the moonlight, Elros saw his eyes fill with tears.
"Maglor did not kill Nana! Nana flew out the window. And Maglor does too love us. He does!" Elrond sounded almost hysterical, and Elros had to wrestle with him until they were both burrowed underneath the quilt, so that Maglor would not hear.
"She wanted to get away from him. He said so. That is as good as if he had killed her."
"She took the Silmaril, but she left us behind."
The boys were silent for a long moment. Both of these statements had a terrible truth to them, and neither boy wanted to face the implications of that truth. At last, Elrond turned over onto his stomach and buried his face in his pillow. He made no noise, but Elros could tell from the way that the bed shook that he was crying. Slowly, he moved to cuddle against Elrond, and put his arm around his brother's back. Gradually, Elrond's sobs died down, and he fell asleep.
Suddenly cold, Elros stretched his toes down toward the warm iron just before he, too, fell asleep.
When Maglor came to wake them in the morning, Elros did not want Maglor to touch him. He squirmed to the far side of the bed and glared. Elrond sat up and wrapped his arms around Maglor, clinging to him as if he were a log in a swift-running stream. Maglor sat down on the bed and shifted Elrond to a more comfortable position without quite managing to break Elrond's hold.
"What is the matter this morning?" he asked. "Did you two have bad dreams last night?"
"No," Elros lied.
Maglor raised an eyebrow at that, but did not say anything about it. Instead, he gently pried Elrond's arms from around his neck.
"Well," he said, "morning is here, and it is time for little boys to wash and dress so that they may be fresh for breakfast." He patted Elrond's back until Elrond hopped out of bed and stood shivering a little on the thick rug. Maglor reached out to Elros next. Elros jerked backwards, and rolled off the edge of the bed, landing on the floor with a thump. Elrond giggled, and Maglor looked contrite.
"Oh, Elros," he said. "I am sorry that I startled you. Are you all right?"
Elros stood up quickly, crossed his arms over his chest, thrust out his lower lip, and glowered at Maglor. Maglor smiled at him.
"I see that the only thing bruised is your dignity," he said. "And that will heal soon enough. I have brought warm water for your basin." He rose from the bed, rooted under the quilt until he had retrieved the iron, then took it out into the corridor. He returned in a moment with a wooden bucket full of steaming water, which he poured into the twins' wash basin.
"Wash and dress yourselves quickly. I will make breakfast." Maglor took the bucket and iron and left the room.
Elrond and Elros trotted over to the basin. The warm water felt good against their cold skins, and Elros scrubbed his face with his washcloth until he tingled. They pulled on their clothes, and went to make the bed.
"You were rude to Maglor this morning," Elrond observed, as they pulled the quilt and sheets smooth.
Elros shrugged, and bent down to pick up his pillow. "I do not want to be touched this morning." He shook the pillow to fluff it.
Elrond came around to Elros's side of the bed. He knocked the pillow out of Elros's hands, threw his arms around his brother, and planted a big, sloppy kiss on Elros's ear. Elros squealed, but it came out as half a laugh, and he did not pull away.
"You liar," Elrond said, grinning at him.
Elros picked up the pillow again. "Am not. I am feeling better now. I . . . " he tried to remember the phrase that Maglor used, " . . . merely woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning."
"No," Elrond said. "You fell off of it."
That was too much. Elros squealed, seized the pillow, and brought it down on Elrond's head with a satisfying whack. Elrond laughed, took up his own pillow, and bounded across the freshly smoothed quilt to retaliate. The boys danced around the room, hitting each other with the pillows until they could barely stand up from their laughter.
When they paused to take a breath, they heard Maglor calling them from downstairs. "Boys! Breakfast is ready!"
Quickly, they smoothed the quilt again and set the pillows neatly on the bed. Then they ran their fingers through their hair and hurried downstairs to eat. As he took his place at the table and waited for Maglor to dish up hot scrambled eggs and fried parsnips, Elrond caught Elros's eye, and they both suppressed giggles.
Elros was glad that he had a secret to share with Elrond that morning. It made the burden of his own secret worry about Maglor feel somewhat lighter.