8. Witness To Another Possibility
"Hold still," Maedhros commanded. "I do not wish to get soot in your eyes."
Maglor sighed, and stopped fidgeting. Maedhros stretched out his hand to a pot of soot dampened with lamp oil that sat on the cot beside him, and scooped some of the mixture onto his fingers. He smeared it over Maglor's face, using his stump to blend the grime into his brother's skin. After a while, he sat back and eyed Maglor critically in the dim light of the camp lantern.
"That should do," he said. "Do my face now."
Slowly, as he did many things these days, Maglor rose from the cot. He picked up Maedhros's small bronze mirror, and examined his reflection. His face looked quite different, as dark as night, the features blurred and distorted by the coating of oil and soot. His eyes glittered. With a sigh, he put the mirror down, picked up the pot of soot and sat down next to Maedhros. He scooped up a handful of grease and began to rub it into Maedhros's skin.
"I still do not think this is right," he said.
"It is necessary," Maedhros replied. "We do not want our skin to shine if Eönwë's guards are carrying torches."
"I did not mean the paint," Maglor said, rubbing at Maedhros's chin. "Have we truly sunk so low that we would steal into the camp of an ally at night and rob him of the jewels as though we were common thieves?"
Maedhros's expression hardened. "You said that you would follow me in this. Do you intend to break your word now, of all times?"
"I will not break my word," Maglor said, more sharply than he had intended. "I allowed you to cover my face in this vile substance, and I am spending the time to do the same to yours. Do not forget, I swore the same Oath that you did. I have spent much of my adult life attempting to fulfill it, and in the process, I have lost most of what I loved. You, my dear big brother, are the only thing I have left in this world. I promised you that I would help you acquire the Silmarils tonight, and I will keep that promise. But –" he poked Maedhros's chin, "I did not promise to approve of your methods."
Maedhros pulled away from Maglor and reached for the mirror. "I suppose that is fair," he said, examining his face. "You have done a good job here. Thank you."
"You are welcome." Maglor wiped the leftover paint from his hands and pulled dark leather gloves on. "Now, let us go and do this deed, before I lose my stomach for petty thievery."
Some time later, the last living sons of Fëanor slipped into Eönwë's camp. They carried few weapons, and wore armor of leather instead of steel, and soft boots upon their feet, so that they made no noise as they crept forward. Their loose, dark clothing and painted faces blended in with the night shadows. Maedhros had planned their expedition in some detail, and he pointed Maglor toward one particular tent. Two sentries stood outside it.
Maglor crept up behind one of the guards, drawing a thin wire from his belt pouch as he did so. Quickly, before he could stop to think about what he was doing, he slipped the wire around the guard's neck and drew him into the underbrush to strangle him there. When the other guard turned to see what had become of his companion, Maedhros stepped out of the shadows and stuck a knife into his heart.
The guard died instantly, and fell at an awkward angle. Maedhros tried to catch him, but could not reach far enough with the stump of his right arm. The guard's body tumbled to the ground with a soft sound. Maedhros froze, his eyes darting around until he located Maglor. He gestured frantically, and Maglor sprinted to his side. Maedhros hustled him inside the tent, and they wasted no time rummaging through the boxes of war spoils until they came upon a small wooden box. Maglor pried the lid open just far enough to peek inside. Brilliant light flooded the tent, and Maglor snapped the box shut.
"We have found them," he murmured.
"Good," Maedhros replied. "Now let us leave quickly, before we are discovered."
Maglor pushed the box into Maedhros's pouch, and both of them drew their knives. They stepped out of the tent. An instant later, torches flared, revealing a company of archers with drawn bows, aiming their arrows straight at Maglor and Maedhros.
The bottom dropped out of Maglor's stomach, but he stood his ground. The fact of his crime no longer mattered. He and Maedhros finally had the Silmarils in their possession, and he would do whatever he had to do to make sure that they kept them. His hands were steady and sure as he drew his sword, ready to defend his father's legacy and his brother's life.
"Hold!" Just as Maglor prepared to run at the archers, a powerful voice shattered the silence. Everyone turned as Eönwë himself strode into view. Even unarmed and attired only in a simple gray robe, Manwë's herald still cut an imposing figure. The archers nearest him dropped to their knees, and Maglor could not suppress the shiver that ran through his body. Even Maedhros gulped.
Eönwë came to stand directly in front of the brothers. In the form he had taken for the war against Morgoth, he was taller even than Maedhros, and much broader and more imposing. "So," he said, in a calm voice that conveyed disappointment more than anything else, "it has come to this."
"We claim our own property," Maedhros said.
"By trespass and theft?" Eönwë replied. When Maedhros made no answer, he shook his head wearily. "Did I not say to you that you have forfeited your right to these jewels through your evil deeds? That you have resorted to such shameful measures to acquire them only provides further proof of that point."
"They are all we have left of our father," Maglor choked out. "The only goal for which we have fought all these years."
Eönwë's expression softened a little. "I do not think that is as true as you would have me believe, Maglor Fëanorion," he said. "But your words move me. I will let you go this time. Take the jewels, and do not cross my sight again."
Maedhros moved reflexively, but Maglor restrained him. "Thank you, Lord Eönwë," he said.
"Do not be so hasty with your thanks," Eönwë answered. "Perhaps I have not given you so great a gift as you believe." He turned on his heel, and walked back to his tent. The archers lowered their bows. Maglor grabbed Maedhros's hand, and they fled into the night.
Maglor had wanted to return to their own camp, but Maedhros would not follow him. Something dark and greedy lurked behind Maedhros's eyes, and he would not risk the chance that one of their own men might attempt to take the Silmarils by force. Maglor tried to convince him that no one would dare cross them, especially in this matter, but his words fell on deaf ears. After more than five hundred years, the goal to which Maedhros had dedicated his life was finally within his grasp.
Maedhros led Maglor through the forest, along dark, little-known trails. They walked until Maglor's legs shook, but still Maedhros pressed onwards. Gradually, the sky began to turn gray, then pink. As they emerged from the forest, the sun rose over the horizon.
Maglor looked around and blinked. They were standing on a bluff overlooking the ocean. A cool, salty breeze blew towards them from the sea, but the stench of sulfur tainted the air as well. Not far away, an enormous chasm gaped in the earth. Maglor walked to its edge and stared down. Something seemed to have sliced Arda to its very core. Thick, fiery liquid boiled and rumbled at the bottom of the chasm, far below. The heat was so intense that Maglor could only stand it for a few heartbeats. He turned away from the crack of fire, and fled to Maedhros's side.
"How did that crack appear?" he asked.
"I do not know. Doubtless it was the work of a dragon, or a Maia, or perhaps one of the Valar themselves, during one of the battles," Maedhros said. "But I am not certain, and in all honesty, I do not care. What I care about is this." He drew the jewel box from his belt pouch.
The sight of it made Maglor sick, but he found that he could not turn away as Maedhros slowly pulled the lid off the box. Neither one of them had seen a Silmaril in many years, and they had forgotten how compelling the jewels were in their radiant beauty. Hundreds of tiny facets sparkled and shone, reflecting the morning sunlight, and even that seemed a mere ornament to the more vibrant light that came from deep within the jewels.
"Beautiful," Maglor breathed. "I had forgotten how beautiful they are."
"Only two of them left," Maedhros said. "The set will forever be incomplete."
Maglor nodded. "It is just so with our family. There are only two of us left."
At that, Maedhros raised his head and looked Maglor in the eye. Somewhere behind the reflected light of the Silmarils, Maglor thought he saw a spark of compassion. Maedhros forced a smile, and offered the box to Maglor. "Choose," he said. "Take one for yourself. Since one is lost to us, and but two remain, and we two alone of our brothers, so it is plain that fate would have us share the heirlooms of our father."
The jewels were identical in every way that Maglor could see. There was nothing about their size, their brilliance, or their shape to distinguish one from the other. Maglor reached into the box and quickly plucked one of the Silmarils out. It sat, cool and heavy, in his palm, glowing softly. Maedhros set the box down and took the other Silmaril for himself.
"Ours at last," he said with a smile.
"Ours," Maglor repeated.
Even as the word left his mouth, he noticed that the jewel had grown warmer. Pleased that it seemed to respond to the living warmth of the one who held it, Maglor smiled. But the Silmaril continued to grow warmer and warmer. It became uncomfortable to hold, but Maglor could not bear to drop it. A sharp pain blossomed in his hand, and he gasped. A memory stirred in his mind, of holding his father's body as it burned away from within. He squeezed his eyes shut against the memory and the present pain, and two tears trickled down his face.
When Maglor opened his eyes, he saw Maedhros writhing in anguish on the ground, his Silmaril clutched tight in the reddening fingers of his only hand. The cords in his neck stood out, and the veins in his forehead bulged as his mouth opened around a silent scream of utter agony.
"Maedhros!" Maglor cried. With an effort, he opened his hand and let his Silmaril tumble out into the grass, half expecting the grass to catch fire. But nothing happened, and Maglor crawled to Maedhros's side. He caught Maedhros's flailing hand in his unharmed one and pinched the wrist.
"Drop it!" he commanded. "It is causing you pain. Eönwë was right, Maedhros! The jewels are burning us. Let it go!"
Maedhros let out an unearthly shriek, and shoved Maglor off of him. Maglor landed on the hand that had held the Silmaril, and for a moment, stars as bright as the jewels themselves danced in front of his eyes. When he could see again, he looked around and saw that Maedhros was running across the meadow. Maglor rose unsteadily to his feet and gave chase.
"Maedhros, stop!" he yelled. "Where are you going? Drop the Silmaril!"
Maedhros abruptly stopped running and turned to stare at Maglor with eyes that held nothing but pain. For a moment, Maglor thought that Maedhros had understood and come to his senses. Then a wave of heat washed over him, and he smelled sulfur, and he knew where they were. Maedhros turned his beautiful, agonized face away from Maglor and stared down into the fiery chasm.
"Maedhros, no!" Even as Maglor stretched out his hand and took a step forward, Maedhros gave one last, quick glance over his shoulder, and stepped over the edge of the chasm.
Maglor began to scream, and did not stop until his breath gave out and he collapsed, sobbing, in the soft, cool grass of the meadow.
He did not know how long he lay there, insensible to the world around him. The sun had climbed higher in the sky by the time he sat up and scrubbed his hands over his face. There was not a cloud to be seen in the sky. The wind had shifted, blowing the clean scent of the ocean in to cover the sulfurous odor of the chasm. Maglor could almost believe that he had fallen asleep after a pleasure stroll, but the pain in his hand and the ache in his heart told him otherwise.
He rose, and went to stand on the edge of the chasm. For a long time, he stared down into the lake of fire that had swallowed his brother.
"You fool, Maedhros," he murmured. "You led this quest that took from me everything I once held dear, and now you would leave me here alone."
Maglor was growing dizzy from the fumes. It would have been so easy to embrace the vertigo and fall forward, joining Maedhros in oblivion, but Maglor's basic sense of self-preservation would not permit that. He wrenched himself away from the chasm, and stumbled back to the place where he had dropped his Silmaril. It lay undisturbed in the grass, twinkling seductively at him.
Maglor did not dare to pick it up, but he squatted in front of it, contemplating the bright jewel that had cost so many lives and caused so much turmoil. For the sake of the Silmaril, Maglor had given up homes and families, learned to kill without remorse, and broken every promise he had ever made.
No, that was not true. He had kept one promise. He had regained a Silmaril, fulfilling the Oath he had sworn at Fëanor's side, in the courtyard of the palace in Tirion, on that endless night so many centuries ago. Those who had sworn with him were dead, and those who had witnessed the swearing had also died or vanished, but Maglor and the Silmaril remained.
A new thought suddenly burst into the echoing void of Maglor's mind. The Oath had never spoken of what would happen after the Silmarils were regained. He had kept his promise the moment he had taken the jewel in his hand and claimed it for his own. Now he was free of the burden that had weighed upon him for the majority of his adult life. A fierce hatred flared in his heart for the glittering piece of rock that had stolen so much from him, and he glared down at the Silmaril.
"I hate you," he said. "You came before me or my brothers in Father's affections. For your sake, we followed him out of Aman and became kinslayers, the Dispossessed. For your sake, Dior and Thingol were slain, and Elwing vanished. For your sake, I gave up Elros and Elrond, my brothers, my father, and my wife. No more will I live in your shadow. Fëanor's legacy is mine, to do with as I will. I will have none of it!"
Maglor reached out and seized the Silmaril, ignoring the pain. He strode to the edge of the bluff and looked out over the endless blue ocean. Somewhere beyond the horizon was his home, where he could never return again. With a cry of pure rage, Maglor drew his arm back and hurled the Silmaril as far as he could into the ocean. It made a small splash and sank quickly.
Maglor stood alone on the bluff and stared out at the ocean, trying to comprehend the new world he had just created, a world with no Silmarils in it to plague people and drive them mad with desire. It was the world that he had dreamed of ever since he set foot on the pristine shores of Middle-earth. He had been so young then, still reeling from his participation in Fëanor's rebellion and horrified at what he had done at Alqualondë. A small part of him had been glad that Calimë had not witnessed his role in that horror.
At the thought of Calimë, Maglor's heart skipped a beat. They had had such a short time together that he wondered if they had ever truly been married. He had thought about her often over the years, but he did not know if she had done the same. Perhaps she had taken up a new life in Tirion and had forgotten about him.
The bluff was not especially high, and Maglor slid down it easily. He took off his boots and stockings, and walked barefoot along the beach, enjoying the feel of the sand between his toes. When he reached the water, he rolled up his trousers and waded in up to his knees. The salt water was cool and smooth against his skin. Maglor bent down and bathed his hands, feeling the water soothe the lingering pain of the Silmaril.
Maglor had never had the chance to go to the seaside with Calimë. He had never had the chance to live with her alone, just the two of them together, doing as they pleased. They had not even had time to have children of their own before fate tore them apart. Standing knee-deep in the waters of a nameless beach on the coast of Beleriand, Maglor mourned the life he had lost with tears as salty as the ocean. He waded back to shore and lay on the damp sand at the water's edge as he cried.
Eventually, he stopped crying, more from exhaustion than anything else. The sun shone warm upon him, and the rhythm of the waves was soothing in his ears. A strange sense of peace descended over Maglor. Something flared inside his heart, something that he had thought gone forever. His old bond with Calimë made its presence known. Even as he had not forgotten her, he knew that she had not forgotten him. It was their joy that the bond had remained strong, and it was their sorrow that they would spend the rest of time parted from each other.
There was only one thing left to Maglor now. He sat up, and scooped up handfuls of water to wash the sand from his face and hair. Softly at first, then growing stronger, he began to sing. He sang all the old love songs that he had sung with Calimë, and all the ditties and play-party songs he had made up to amuse and entertain his little brothers. He sang the Noldolantë, and then the lay of Beren and Lúthien.
The sun moved across the sky, and still Maglor sang. When he had sung every song he could remember, he sang fragments of those he could not remember fully. When even the fragments faded from his memory, he walked up the beach, climbed the bluff, and lay down in the grass to sleep.
His men found him there the next morning, having searched long and hard after their lords had vanished two nights previously. Mórion, his lieutenant, knelt down beside him and very gently laid a hand on Maglor's shoulder. In one startled flurry of movement, Maglor sat up, shoved Mórion away, and scuttled back, crouching down in the grass and glaring at his old friend.
"My Lord," Mórion said. "We have been searching for a day and a night. Are you well? What has become of Lord Maedhros?"
Maglor said nothing, but shook his head, then turned his face away.
Mórion closed his eyes in grief, then opened them again and held his hands out to Maglor. "I sorrow with you, my Lord. Will you come back to camp with us? We will take you home."
Maglor stared at him for a moment, then rose and walked along the edge of the bluff. His men followed him, uncertain of what to do. After a while, the bluff grew higher, and made an overhang above the beach. Maglor climbed down the bluff and discovered a small, relatively dry cave below the bluff. He walked in and sat down on the sandy cave floor, then looked up at Mórion, spreading his hands wide in a gesture of welcome.
Mórion was about to ask Maglor what he meant by that, but then he looked into Maglor's eyes, and he knew. He knelt down before his lord and bowed his head. "I see. So be it. We will give you what help we may."
He turned to the rest of the soldiers, who were waiting just under the overhang. "Go back to camp," he said, "and bring food, blankets, clothes and knives from Lord Maglor's tent."
"But, Mórion –" one of the soldiers said.
"Go, I tell you!" Mórion's voice softened. "It is all that we can do now, but I will do it for my Lord."
The soldiers saluted, and marched off. Mórion remained at Maglor's side. Maglor did not speak, but passed the time singing to his far-away, beloved Calimë, while Mórion listened.
After some time, the soldiers returned, bearing gear from Maglor's tent. They stowed it in the cave, saluted their fallen lord one last time, and marched out. Mórion remained behind for a moment longer. "Farewell, my Lord," he said. "I pray that you will find your peace one day and return to us. Perhaps I might return here, at intervals, to check on your welfare –"
Maglor shook his head, and stared out at the sea. Mórion sighed.
"Very well," he said. "Then this is truly farewell. I thank you for your service to your people. Rest now." With that, he turned and followed the soldiers out of the cave. As they climbed the bluff and headed back to camp, they heard Maglor start to sing again. But they did not stop to listen, and instead, marched away until they could no longer hear Maglor's voice.
Many thanks to those who have read and enjoyed this story. If you are interested in finding out more of what happened to Maglor between the chapters of this one, he also appears in "Four Hands Around," "To Save The Whole," and "Natural Children." Personally, I think he is the most interesting son of Fëanor, because he both challenges and embodies many stereotypes about musicians, and specifically about singers. I always enjoy reading stories about Maglor that take his musical vocation seriously, and as a musician myself, I found that I had to add to that group.
I did enjoy the challenge of structuring this as a series of loosely connected episodes all dealing with a central theme, that of promises made and broken. On the one hand, it allowed me to tie together disparate events taking place hundreds of years apart, that I might not otherwise have been able to include in the same story. On the other hand, it did force me to leave out important events of Maglor's life, simply because I could not, at the time, think of a way to relate them to the overall theme of the story. But I do enjoy the episodes I ultimately selected, and I hope that you did, too.
I'll see you next time!