by Dawn Felagund
Passing my father's audience chamber, I saw his door remained shut. The council with the gatekeepers had gone overlong, and he would be late to dinner. I carried the scrolls with my day's work rolled under my arm, intending to leave them in my chamber before descending to the intimate firelit room where our little family dined together nightly, but as I paused to assess my father's closed door and the drone of voices within, suggesting the culmination of the council was not immediately imminent, I continued straight to the dining room instead and took my papers with me. Maeglin would likely be late as well--he was typically the last to arrive--and I could busy my mind by reviewing the day's work and thus pass the time.
When I pushed open the heavy oak door, however, Maeglin was already seated within, also working over papers, perhaps having seen the shut door and had the same idea as I. A Fëanorian lantern held down one corner of his papers and his head was bent low over them. Watching Maeglin's hands at work was like watching a particularly exquisite dancer: There was a simplicity and grace to his movements that belied the complexity of what flowed from his pen. His hand swept across the page with an ease I'd never have thought to envy until he arrived, bedraggled and wide-eyed with wonder, at our gates, just three turns of Rána ago now. He was working at plans for the seventh gate of the city, and I watched his hand dart here and there and cascades of marble blossoms and flights of stone-winged birds take shape. His foot jiggled, unceasing, under the table.
I took my seat opposite him. The pen abruptly stopped, and he swept aside the page he'd been working on, turning it facedown onto the table, mindless of the fresh ink. He is exceedingly pale, even for one of the Noldor, and his coloring often revealed emotion that his face, strict as stone, will not. His cheeks colored now. "I did not hear you enter."
The table beneath my hand rattled slightly with the motion of his foot. "You don't have to stop." I chose to ignore his eccentricity, as I often did, telling myself that I was being kind to one very much in need of it. "My father's door is still shut. From without, it does not sound like they will be ending soon." I spread one of my scrolls upon the table. "See? I brought work too."
We bent to our tasks. I lacked focus; it had been a busy day of work on my stonework plans, interrupted to meet with the caterer for the Masquerade of Flowers, then rushing to a tea room at the outskirts of the city where I gathered at each quarter of the moon with other young Gondolindrim interested in theoretical mathematics. I was weary and wanted a meal and purposeless conversation. I jotted notes on my work, pausing every now and again to glance at Maeglin. His hand did not move as freely now, the way someone caught dancing alone will suddenly check his movements once he knows he is being watched. He was making tiny notations of measurements and angles on a blueprint for the seventh gate. Beneath his chair, his napkin from breakfast lay crumpled. He'd had his work then--we all did, as we went straight to our tasks after the meal, without delay--and I wondered if he'd even left.
I refilled my pen to redraw an arc that I'd made too sharp to bear the weight I was placing upon it but the trembling table threatened to send my pen skittering. I pondered for a moment resuming my note-taking, then gathered my sweetest, most inoffensive voice and asked:
He looked up. I stopped myself from startling at his eyes, which always seemed too pale and too large to me--or I like to believe that I stopped myself. I knew from glancing contact with his thoughts that he was bothered by people's reactions to his strangeness, to their uncertainty over what to say.
"Would you stop jiggling your foot, please? It is causing the table to shake."
The table stilled, I swept my arc across the page with none of the grace of his hand, nor any of the intricacy of detail. I was a mathematician, fascinated by theoretical possibilities, but I had lately been fascinated by the idea of delving into the mountains and building a residence there. I never had the opportunity to visit Menegroth, but many of our people have been there, and I grew into womanhood listening to their stories and marveling at such a place, and mourning that I would never see it. Lately, I have been unable to keep it from my mind--dreaming often of being enfolded by stone and the safety and the steadiness of such a place--a place without wind or rain or the scorch of Vása, unlike Gondolin, opened like a flower to the sky--a secret, hidden place, cradled in the mountain's embrace--and so I sought stonemasons from among the Sindarin who were pleased to help me make a survey of a promising rock face to delve. Delving into stone was quite a different art from building up from the ground with pieces of stone--an art at which I excelled, at least in terms of the mathematics if not the physical labor, having designed the fourth and fifth gates for my father--and the work was tedious and frustrating and slow. Mathematics are as fluent a language to me as Quenya, but this art was a dialect new and strange. But beneath my hand, with none of the ease of Maeglin's work, I saw my dreams taking clunky, imperfect reality. Maybe with the helpful criticism of the Sindarin stonemasons, my plans would become worth the effort to actualize.
Maeglin's foot lay still, at least for the moment, but it did not improve the quality of my work. I wondered when my father would arrive and forced myself to concentrate on my drawings, to copy notes, to patience.
My father was the first to forge devices to mark time. One tocked loudly behind me. Our pens scratched. Maeglin's foot had begun shaking again, even more vigorously this time. His nose was nearly pressed to his page, as though his famed sharp eyes could not see from afar, or as though he hid some secret. The latter seemed unnecessarily--even cruelly--paranoid, but he curled his arm around the page in such a way that I couldn't see what he was writing, only that he dabbed the pen at the page and a spate of perfect letters seemingly scattered across its surface.
Several times, I paused and felt my tongue behind my teeth, ready to ask him again to stop shaking his foot, but each time, I decided I could compensate for the slight tremor he caused in the table, and I held my silence.
At last, my father entered the room, giving instructions to the cook as he came on how to resurrect the dinner that a glimpse of the mechanical timekeeper told me was now an hour late. His voice was not loud but, in the silence that had settled between Maeglin and me, it seemed loud. I finished enough on the section at which I was working to be able to pick it up later in my room without needing to work backward to try to rekindle my inspiration. Maeglin didn't seem to have heard my father enter. I set my scroll on the sideboard to allow the ink to dry and piled the rolled scrolls beside it.
The sommelier entered and uncorked a bottle and set it in a bucket of ice brought from the summits of the Echoriath. Maeglin was still bent over his work, jiggling his foot. My father took his seat. We smiled weakly at each other. His discomfort pressed me, gray and scratchy like a badly made woolen blanket. That Maeglin hadn't ceased his work right away irritated him--I sensed this--but he pitied my cousin perhaps even more than I did, feeling guilt (though entirely unacknowledged, I feel obliged to note) for the death of Maeglin's father Eöl. He did not like draw attention to even my cousin's most innocuous shortcomings, but my father did not like us to work at mealtimes; it was one of the few regulations he strictly enforced upon us, his family. He recalled the Fëanorians and how one of them always had a scroll or some sagging, half-finished project at his elbow while eating, and he attributed part of their disconnect from Eldarin humanity--and the decency of that humanity--to a too-intent obsession with things in lieu of establishing a regular connection with the feelings and thoughts of others. Yet a compulsion toward kindness to Maeglin made him hesitate--the same kindness that checked my speech when it might be misheard as criticism, like with the interminable jiggling foot. (Jiggling still; I wondered if my father felt it down his end of the table.) It was only three turns of Rána, after all, since he'd lost both of his parents in the space of a day. But when a servant arrived with tableware and struggled visibly with where to place Maeglin's, given the spread of his papers on the table, then my father cleared his throat.
"Lómion. Sister-son." Gently: the same voice he'd use to tell the sleep-addled boy of Aredhel's death three moons ago.
There were those wide, watery eyes again. The kind of water that one only looks at and believes to be cold.
"The dinner is being served. It is time to put your papers aside."
It was hardly fair, my reaction. It shamed me, the way I sometimes recoiled from my cousin, who needed more than anything someone to trust and love in the midst of his grief. I knew this, perhaps better than any. I had been small when my mother died and I faced the Ice with my people, but I remembered years of strangeness after that: of leaping across rocks that jutted into the sea at Nevrast, where a misstep or a slick patch of algae would have sent me plummeting to my death. Of waking in my wardrobe, shaking so hard with the memory of cold that the doors rattled. Of being handled by others like a delicate, deadly shard of glass. I wondered what look, what eccentricity about me led them to touch me with such hesitation when the collective grief of our people was deemed past. Yet by their gentleness I prospered.
I determined to extend the same to my cousin. Lómion. Maeglin.
"Let me help you," I said and began to gather his papers to the sideboard so that he could hastily record his final measurements. The one he'd turned so abruptly facedown I righted. The ink had indeed smudged. Queen's Garden, read the script at the top, written not in the plain letters we typically used for utilitarian needs like blueprints but something elaborate and lovely, like the crawling of verdant vines upon the dead face of stone. For It████ I startled at the suggestion of my name--and the strange implication that I was or would be queen--but the word ended in a smudge of ink.
He stood quickly and took the papers from me, shuffling that one to the middle of the pile. His cheeks were pinked. I told myself that my interpretation was mistaken. Surely, it was mistaken. The servant began to quickly set his place; there was a small parade of plates and platters being carried through the door. The servants, too, were now late going to their meals.
"Please accept my apologies and my sincerest regrets at my lateness," my father said while they were present and he could address them as well as us.
"I'm sure it doesn't matter, Uncle." His voice always had a silken loveliness to it that seemed to cloak a gathered power, the way an illusionist will drape the mechanics of his trick in silk. I sometimes thought that if he sang--and I'd never heard Maeglin sing--then he could bring down the walls of Gondolin. He was rearranging the silverware. The Sindarin ate with their knives in their left hands, believing it uncouth to put food to one's mouth with the left hand. The Noldor wielded their knives in their right, as they did their implements of craft. Maeglin--and Aredhel was the same, I noticed in the few times we dined together before her death--had been brought up in his father's way, and no amount of hatred for Eöl seemed to muster in him the effort to change.
Everything had to be lined up perfectly. My father nodded to the carver that Maeglin should be served first. Twice, he asked Maeglin his preference for cuts. "Maeglin," I said at last, gently.
"Two," he replied so soon on the heels of my question that I believed he'd heard all along. "Well done. Burnt almost."
"Just one, please," I said when my turn arrived. "Just slightly pink. No blood."
We waited until my father was served, Maeglin fidgeting with his spoon, lining the handle parallel to the fork, then aligning the heads so that the handles were inclined toward the other. Our cutlery began to scratch the plates between the constant clicking of the timekeeper. For a while, we ate in silence.
"Itarillë, tell me," my father said at last, "how fare your plans for the Masquerade of Flowers, three weeks hence?"
The Masquerade of Flowers was an annual tradition, once a Vanyarin custom presided over by Ingwë's queen and, among the Noldor, by Queen Indis. Since we had no queen, I arranged it yearly. All the women of the city who had become betrothed in the past year attended in elaborate masks decorated by flowers, and their intendeds sought them and claimed them from the crowd. Many young people attended, betrothed or not, for it was a favored place to find a beloved or plight a troth, and many times, the following fortnight was thick with weddings, my father's usual duties neglected as he sought to speak the blessing at them all, as though his seal on so many marriages made their joy partly his doing.
Not that I could blame him, for I loved the Masquerade of Flowers more than nearly any of my duties as daughter of the king. I began to detail for him the tents that had been woven, under which we'd dance, and the ribbons that would decorate them; my visit to the hothouses to select the color and shape of this year's flowers; the hiring of the scribes for the formal invitations to the betrothed couples; and of course the day's meeting with the caterer. I had been trained by my father as a mathematician and architect, but there was something equally satisfying in coordinating an event of the size and splendor of the Masquerade of Flowers: many pieces being turned and falling into place to construct some solid, graceful thing. It was like the gates to the city I'd designed, which soared over the heads of those who entered, held aloft by invisible forces. The forthcoming masquerade, which would feature prominently in the joyful memories of many who attended, would likewise unfold by means of invisible forces, granting an illusion of ease, of flight away from the weight of rock and obligation.
To complete the illusion of ease, I would dance during the entirety of the event, having touched off the mechanics that would perpetuate it without further endeavor from me.
As I spoke, I became aware of Maeglin's thoughts. Maeglin spoke little at any time and even less at meals. Eöl had forbidden him from speaking at meals, he'd told me once, and so he never developed the habit. "Children," he quoted, "should be seen and not heard." Even when home alone with Aredhel, he found little to say. He was intent now at his roast, sawing through the tough, overcooked ends he'd requested, but I became aware of him as I sometimes did. It reminded me of sharing a wall between two bedrooms and the sound of restless sleep on the other side. His thoughts tossed and groaned similarly.
As I spoke of the trends for the flowered masks that year, I reached my mind toward his. I was hesitant to use my full abilities to descry him, for reasons I could not fully articulate. In that mind, I knew, was a grief much like that which had only recently poisoned me. And it was poison, I believed: a warping of the mind no less than a poison corrupts the body. The time on the cliffs of the Echoriath, when I'd leaned so far forward that I felt the wind begin to take me before I was snatched back by Egalmoth. And how my father wept--my sober and reasoned and indomitable father--to be told. And I realized what I was letting my grief do, the things that were unwinding and falling apart because of me. It was an act of strength like no other, but I pulled free of what constrained me, a sweating out of the poison.
I never wanted to feel those constraints again, in my mind or any other's.
Yet at the same time, too many of his thoughts seemed to end in an ominous smudge of inscrutable ink.
So I did not fully reach for my cousin. But I did press my thoughts lightly to his, and I knew that he was thinking not of Aredhel and Eöl but of the Masquerade of Flowers. His mind turned with the automaticity of a driver who follows the same road daily and doesn't need to guide his team to arrive at a familiar destination, and by this, I knew that he'd thought often of the masquerade. He was of age to attend and not unattractive: His wide, pale eyes gave him an ethereal quality, and his body was exceedingly well made. Unlike me, he knew not only the mathematics but labored as well to bring his own visions to fruition. He was slender and well-muscled. With his grace, I imagined he would dance exceedingly well also.
"Maeglin," I said, turning to him, "I hope you will attend."
His eyes flashed upon mine, and for a moment, the full weight of his thoughts pressed mine, and I saw the path his thoughts had been wearing through: No one will want to dance with me. And his humiliation at the mere imagining of such a possibility--and one I truly believed unlikely--churned like a storm over the sea: the water feeding the storm that stirred it to fury. His certainty of his rejection fueled a loathing of himself that I gasped aloud to behold, and that loathing reinforced his certainty of rejection. His awareness of his own flaws, especially alongside the sophisticated Gondolindrim, was exaggerated: his strange, overlarge eyes; his waxen-pale skin that splotched so quickly when he experienced heightened emotion; his taciturn, volatile manner--with a flush of guilt, I realized that I'd had many of the same thoughts of him, albeit less hyperbolic, when watching him earlier. But my admiring thoughts of his shape he did not share. Instead, he saw his height as making him too conspicuous, clunky, taking up too much space. No one will want to dance with me! For a moment, I was caught within like a ship in a maelstrom within sight of port. Only with great effort did I rip myself free.
My father did not seem to notice what transpired. He was patiently explaining to Maeglin his expectation that those of his house would not escort a guest but would be available to all throughout the night. With it came the implication that not only would Maeglin attend but that he would receive attentions. Maeglin's pale cheeks had flushed crimson once more. He sawed so hard at his meat that his knife skidded across his plate with a screech.
Like a sailor cast from the storm-tossed ship, I grasped at anything that wasn't the infuriated waters. "Your council was long," I said. I sought to make my voice placid, to disguise the sudden tremor that beset it. "All is well at the gates?"
"All his well," he said with a sigh. "Debate rages over the seventh gate. That is what delayed me."
I felt Maeglin snap alert.
"I have done the calculations a dozen times," I said. "Maeglin's plan will work. Not only will it work--it will be stunning, beyond anything I could myself imagine, or any architect in the city, for that matter."
I was careful not to look at him. I was attempting to guide him back to calm seas without imperiling myself to be crushed upon the shoals. And I was sincere, if perhaps artless in the plainness of my speech: His plan would work and would exceed any of the gates constructed so far. It would arise from the land itself, as the Dwarves built, and would work in harmony with the earth from which it sprang, making it impregnable by a magic that the Noldor--with their tendencies toward domination--rarely bothered to learn. Some of the older architects--those who had come from Aman--neither trusted the mathematics nor preferred the style. Noldorin architecture succeeded in spite of--not in allegiance with--nature. Their distrust of the mathematics they could not express when the plan had received the approbation of the king's daughter; the latter dislike of the novel style could not be easily reasoned by one of a people that valued innovation. Instead, their objection took the form of insisting upon alternative proposals, as though seeing other more Eldarin constructions would dissuade my father from whatever pity-induced madness had provoked him to offer this most coveted of commissions to the untried son of his wayward sister.
"No one doubts your calculations, Itarillë," my father said gently, and I felt Maeglin flinch. Visibly, no--he was flushed crimson--the patches spreading from his cheeks to his forehead, where a vessel beat at his temple--his hands holding his cutlery in fists so that his fork and knife jabbed upward--but I felt his thoughts cringe away from their light touch on mine. No one wants me.
"They were Maeglin's calculations, Atar," I said quickly. "I only confirmed them."
"I suppose others will put forth ideas as well?" Maeglin's lovely voice was high and reedy in a futile attempt to hide its tremor. "This is a competition now?"
"It is not, Lómion." My father sighed. "But I have to give hearing to the lords who have stayed by my side since--"
"It is acceptable if it is. I do not fear competition. I can surpass any of them." My father was startled into silence by Maeglin's interruption. As with the jiggling foot, the sluggishness in putting away his papers, it demanded a reproach--a breach of custom--it would not receive. My father, I knew, had detested the lack of decorum among so many of his relatives: the Fëanorians, of course, but his brother and even his sister at times. He had never thrived in the midst of shouting and rancor and banging upon tables. In Gondolin, we valued civility and enjoyed the peace it brought. The ideas of all, my father reasoned, came forth in such peace. It was not up to only the loudest to lead us.
Maeglin leaned back in his chair, still clutching his cutlery. "Any one of them. Let them challenge me, Uncle! At a fraction of their age, my work will nonetheless show theirs to be juvenile in comparison. And mastered without the shortcut gained by Valarin tutelage!" He dropped his knife and fork. "Enough. This meat is overdone."
"I will call the cook--" I began to rise.
"No. It is no use. I have no appetite when I am interrupted at my work." His body was restless in his chair. His legs crossed, uncrossed. The foot fairly flapped now.
"Lómion," said my father gently. This was the man who had spoken against Fëanáro's madness in Tirion, before anger awoke, whose manner arose from the conviction that truth and reason did not require raised voices to be heard. "Lómion, I have made my decision. I am the king, and I have chosen. I have chosen you."
Maeglin was picking at his cuticles and my knife and spoon jingled against each other with the motion of his foot under the table.
"Lómion? Do you hear me? I have chosen you. There is no contest, no need for--" He sought a word that lacked all accusation. "I have chosen you, it is just easier for me--for us all--if I give all who have a concern in the matter a hearing."
I watched Maeglin's nail dig into the soft tissue of his cuticle. Blood well up. Swiftly, he sucked it--evidence of his pain--away.
"The seventh gate, it will be splendid, like nothing we'd imagined before you showed us."
Soft-spoken words at Tirion; raised voices requiring ever more shouting to be heard. The clamor subsiding as the torch-wielding Noldor leaned close to listen.
An affirmation, on those algae-slick rocks, my father kneeling before me when I expected to be left alone to imperil myself, affirming his love for me before I leaped again and forced him to prove it. I would dare them to ignore me; I would dare them to love me. He dared. Hand-in-hand, we returned to the shore.
"You will be my regent when the occasion calls for it. I have spoken of it … suggested the possibility. I have decided."
My thoughts still rested lightly against Maeglin's. His surprise flourished like fireworks against the darkness at the Gates of Summer. He lowered his finger from his teeth and rested his hand on the tablecloth. Blood smeared his lip and, as I watched, welled from the wound on his finger to tremble like a fat, red pearl. For that moment, I felt hope, soft as a spring breeze, arise in his mind. Placing my hand in my father's, letting him lead me ashore, I'd once felt that hope. The hope that my pain need not command me forever. That I could walk into the future as more than a motherless child. That love for me was greater in my father's mind than his grief for my mother.
I must admit that I soaked in that hope for a moment and the memory it awakened: that day on the beach, when rays of the new-risen Vása latticed through the low clouds and kissed the sea, and the gulls for once did not seem to cry my pain. My father's hand, warm in mind, as we climbed the sliding sands back to Nevrast, sliding and clumsy, using our hands to brace ourselves (but never, never letting go of the other), daring even to laugh at our helplessness against a stupid pile of sand. Then--
His terror of hope was monstrous in my mind. I could not pull away fast enough before I heard his thought: It will fail me, as it always does. And a cascade of memories, of Eöl, of harsh lessons well-learned.
And last: the hope of Eöl's arrival, that he had come at last to honor his wife's people and the Noldorin, hated half of his son. The javelin sparking in the overbright sunlight as Eöl whipped it from beneath his cloak. Aredhel's blue lips mumbling, "It's not so bad as it looks, Lómion." My father's face looming over him that night, his wild eyes speaking first what he stammered around tears to say. Eöl, and my father saying--
With a wrenching sensation in my mind, I fully retreated from awareness of him. Until he was before me at the table, his face gone ashen. There was a cruel twist to his mouth. "I'll consider it."
He raised his hand to his mouth and ripped away another strip of his flesh. The pearl of blood on his finger streaked down then, like a tear, and blossomed on the tablecloth.
Once upon a time in Tirion, my father's gentle exhortations were met with rage. And he settled back then and said little, but distrust hardened the tenderness in his gray eyes and ossified the expressive contours of his beloved face into a scowl. I wondered if, after the estrangement of his brother and the death of his sister, he'd learned differently?
And from Maeglin, clarion, triumphant as any vexatious problem at long last solved:
No one wants me.
About the Author
Dawn Felagund founded the Silmarillion Writers' Guild in 2005, which was the same year that she decided to start publishing Silmarillion fan fiction. Despite being profoundly unqualified to take on a project the scope of the SWG, it seems to have turned out okay in the end. All of Dawn's stories (except the few she's still too embarrassed to bring out of hiding on her LiveJournal) can be found on the SWG, and her Tolkien meta can be found on The Heretic Loremaster. Follow her on Tumblr or Twitter for the more half-baked stuff. Dawn will turn thirty-six the day after The Silmarillion turns forty, teaches humanities to tweens, and lives in a place called the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont.