From his comfortable perch high in the thick branches of the evergreen, Maglor watched Elros where the young elf sat upon a stone beside a frozen sylvan pond, his breath rising above him in a cloud of steam. Upon one side of the pool, a rise of stone lay coated in a sheet of frozen water. In the spring and summer, it would be a clattering waterfall, but it lay still and silent, now.
Elros's head was bent over a letter; just come from Andreth, Maglor guessed, from the way the young elf devoured the words. Often Elros rode his horse here, a copper coated stallion, Nórui, accompanied by the little goat, Lavaniel, who did not seem to like being parted from her new four legged companion, following the stallion everywhere she could, like a loyal hound. But today, Elros came alone.
Elros came to this little glade often, despite the cold, accompanied sometimes by the two beasts who had seemed to have adopted each other, but sometimes alone. It held special meaning to him, Maglor realized, likely reminding him of his fair betrothed whom he had not seen since Yule, nearly two months gone, now. Perhaps they had shared a special moment here. The thought brought a smile to Maglor's lips.
A smile drew up the corners of Elros' lips as well as he read the letter, his expression a mingling of gladness and loneliness. Maglor could only imagine the gentle words of love and comfort Andreth had written upon the letter, assurances that spring would come one day, and they would be together again, never to be parted.
Maglor swallowed stiffly, his thoughts inadvertently turning to one whose face ever lived in his thoughts, always there, even when he was not consciously thinking of her. Closing his eyes, Maglor leaned his head back against the warm, welcoming bark of the tree, and murmured her named. Anoriel.
She dwelt in the west, in the Blessed Land he would never see again, not while the earth endured, at least. Did she know what he had done in his pursuit of his father's jewels? Did she love him still, despite it? She had loved him once.
If he searched deeply, he could feel in the depths of his heart, his lingering bond to her. He could hear again, in his mind, the sweetness of her voice, her song that he had woven into his own music, and had taught to Andreth, the maiden elven fair, though she was a mortal, who could have been his own daughter, had he and Anoriel been blessed with a child.
Releasing a ragged sigh, Maglor opened his eyes, only to narrow them a moment later.
What was that? That shadow, moving through the thicker undergrowth, about an arrow's cast from where Elros sat, engrossed in his letter from Andreth. An animal of some sort- but no. Despite the unclear form of whatever creature it was, Maglor sensed intelligent intent. Whatever it was, it knew what it was doing. That was no bear, nor any other mere beast.
As the shadowed figure took another creeping step toward the young elf, a sense of alarm rose up in Maglor's heart, and he scrambled to his feet, grasping the branch above him for support. Casting back his bear skin cloak so that he could move more swiftly, he set his teeth against the cold, and leapt from the branch, catching hold of another branch, and darting from branch to branch dropping steadily toward the ground, and toward the formless shadow, he now knew meant harm to his little boy.
Lang sneered darkly as he studied the elf from where he knelt upon the cold and frozen ground. All alone here, weaponless, and absorbed in whatever was on theo parchment in his hand. Even with his elven senses, Elros had not sensed his enemy nearing. Lang smiled and clenched his stone knife more tightly.
Faster than he could comprehend it, something dropped from the trees to the snow in front of him, and in a moment, fingers circled around his throat, lifting him up in the air, and slamming him against the tree at his back, so that his head cracked, his vision spinning.
"You're the one they've been looking for," a furious voice spat.
Lang blinked, focusing his eyes upon a dark-haired elf whose eyes burned with fury.
"You're Lang," the elf seethed between his teeth. "The one who tried to poison my little boy. You're still trying to hurt him."
Terror seized Lang, and he tried to struggle, slashed his stone knife clumsily at his foe, though the elf's hand only squeezed harder about his throat, cracking him again against the tree.
The elf's hand jerked away the stone knife Lang had meant to kill Elros with. His lips drawing back from his teeth, the elf drew the blade back in his fist, the pointed tip trained upon Lang's face.
Lang squeaked, and closed his eyes, helpless to do anything else. A moment later, with a force that cause the entire tree at his back to vibrate, the stone blade slammed into the wood an inch from his head.
Trembling, Lang opened his eyes to look at the knife, his eyes widening as he noted nothing but the bump at the end of the pommel visible. In the elf's fury, he had plunged the entire weapon into the tree's core.
"I have made an oath to myself and to the All Father that I would never kill another of his children again. And though you barely deserve the distinction, you are still one of His sons, so I will not kill you."
At that, the dark-haired elf drew him back from the tree and tossed Lang, as easily as if he were a tree branch, several lengths through the air. Lang landed in the snow with a rough thud, and looked up to see the elf watching him, fury still in his eyes.
"Go," the elf ordered. "Far away. Never return. If you do, if you try to hurt my boy, if you try to hurt his bride, if you try to hurt any child of the All Father again, the wrath of the Valar will find you. That I promise."
Snarling, Lang scrambled to his feet. The elf was unarmed he could- But then he looked at the tree, at the knife embedded its full length into the trunk. He swallowed hard, turned, and ran, stopping once to look back at the elf who still stood, watching him go. Lang snarled, spat hard onto the snow, then turned, and ran on into the deeper shadows of the trees.
The voice of Firiel carrying through the woods lifted his eyes from the parchment before him, and he looked in the direction her call had come from. Her voice sounded a little worried. Had she been calling him for some time? Perhaps. He had been so absorbed in Andreth's fair words, that little could have penetrated his senses, except perhaps, for Andreth's own fair voice.
"I am here, Madam Firiel!" he called. "Near the washing pool!"
A moment later, the clopping of hooves upon snow sounded through the trees, and she appeared, holding onto Nórui's halter, with Lavaniel ever at the stallion's heels like a loyal dog.
Elros grinned at the sight of the little goat. For the last several weeks since Nórui's coming, Lavaniel had seemed to have adopted the stallion, and Nórui her in return. In truth, the goat and horse, unlikely pair that they were, were loth to go anywhere alone, now, always together it seemed, Lavaniel bumping against Nórui's legs, eager to share whatever stiff grass the stallion managed to paw to through the snow.
"The sun has set, Elros. It will begin to grow colder, and supper is near ready," said Firiel, a little breathless from her journey through the snow.
"Forgive me," he said, scrambling to his feet. He lifted the light colored parchment in explanation. "I was lost in Andreth's letter."
Firiel smiled her forgiveness at this, and shook her head. "Ah, well. There is no need to apologize, then."
Elros came forward as she held out an arm to him, and let her slip her gnarled hand through the crook of his elbow.
"She is well?" she asked as they started back through the trees, Nórui at Firiel's side, with Lavaniel clopping beside the horse.
"Yes," Elros said. "She continues her studies. She says Hathel has resumed instructing her in weapons-"
His voice faded away, and he felt Firiel's eyes upon him out of the corner of his eye.
Elros swallowed. He had confided Firiel his once rivalry with Hathel for Andreth's affections, and guessed at what she was thinking before she spoke.
"You needn't fear that she will forget you before spring," Firiel said. "Her heart is yours. Forever. You know that, I hope."
Elros heaved a sigh, and nodded. "I know," he said with a grin, turning to smile upon the older mortal woman. It was difficult to think of her as younger than himself in years; Firiel seemed so wise and patient, traits he had yet to perfect. He smiled. "But it is comforting to hear it. I miss her terribly."
"And she misses you, my dear boy," Firiel said, giving his arm a squeeze. "As much as you miss her."
She touched a hand to the embroidered cloak he wore. "You are enjoying her Yule gift?"
Elros nodded and managed a smile, rolling his shoulders beneath the weight of the warm cloth.
"It is marvelously warm," he said, noting Firiel's smile at the tenderness in his tones. "Not as comforting as having Andreth herself beside me, but it is good, having something made by her own hands to warm me."
He glanced beside him. "I hope she will be pleased by the rabbit fur mittens we are making for her birthing day."
"No doubt she will be," Firiel assured him, squeezing his arm.
"I only wish I could see her face when she receives them," he said softly.
"Spring will come, my boy," Firiel sighed. "As will your begetting day. And then your wedding."
About them, the trees broke, and her house came into view.
Without the trees to protect them, a chill wind brushed their faces. Elros caught the embroidered edges of her cloak, pulling them closed, so that the warmth of Andreth's gift would not escape.
"Sometimes it seems as if it is an eternity away," he murmured as they tramped across the crisp snow that crackled beneath their boots.
"I know," Firiel said gently. "I, too, was young once, and Hamar was, also."
Elros smiled at the wistfulness of her tone. She had spoken of her husband before. "It would have been an honor to have met him," he said.
Firiel squeezed his arm. "He would have approved of you, Elros."
Elros grinned at the compliment. Then he drew his arm from hers, and slipped it around her shoulders.
The shadows of the winter evening were turning into night. Elros sat upon his stool near the hearth, stirring the soup that he and Firiel were soon to eat for their evening meal. Firiel smiled where she stood at the table, kneading a lump of bread dough as she studied the face of the youthful elf. And elf he was, though she knew he had chosen a mortal life, for his appearance was still that of one of the elder race, and while nearly ninety years had passed since his begetting, he still looked as one who could have been her own son; grandson even. She knew he had more wisdom than she, and had seen more of the evil of Morgoth and his minions in his life than she wished even to imagine. But still, he was just a boy, as playful and prone to merriment as any mortal youth. As in need of counsel and advice. Firiel smiled. And as deeply in love with her dear Andreth as she could ever have wished any honorable young man to be.
Never in all of Andreth's girlhood and youth, had Firiel ever imagined, despite the prophetic name her mother had given her, that one of the elder race would give her his heart. Firiel smiled and turned the ball of dough, sprinkling a handful of flour over it as she continued her work. The heart of an elf, so Firiel had always understood, was not something that was given easily or impretuously. An elf, at least an honorable one, as she knew Elros to be, when he loved, loved truly and always for more than mere beauty. And once the heart of an elf was given, especially if his love were returned, little if anything in the world, could make his love fade. And for this, Firiel's heart was glad. For she had often feared as Andreth had grown, and her womanly beauty became more and more manifest, that some honorless man, seeing only her beauty and not the goodness and kindness of her heart, would speak flattering, meaningless words to the maiden to trick her into a loveless marriage filled with sorrow and misery. Now, Firiel's fears in that regard, were gone.
She smiled as she studied the side of Elros' face where the young elf sat, stirring the soup. His eyes were upon the dancing flames, and a distant smile was upon his face. His thoughts dwelt with Andreth. She would be in Mithlond now, warm in Círdan's house, gazing, perhaps out of the window to the north, thinking a little of Firiel, and much of Elros.
A soft tap at the door, unexpected and echoing in the stillness, caused her smile to fade. Elros turned and began to rise, but Firiel was already to the door, brushing her hands upon her skirt. Who could it be, at this hour on such a night? Baran and his family would not come, unless there was some dire need, and who else-
She opened the door as Elros' boots came behind her, and gazed upon the cloaked and hooded figure who stood beyond. A man, she saw, tall, and broad of shoulder, though she could not see his face. A leather pack hung over his shoulder. A traveler, perhaps, who had lost his way?
"May I be of service to you, sir?"
Slowly the man lifted his face, and Firiel could see the gleam of his eyes in the deep recesses of his hood.
Elros hand was upon the door, his other hand upon Firiel's shoulder, drawing her back. "May we help you?" he asked, taking Firiel's place, his solid form filling the doorway. A faint tone of challenge filled his words.
Looking over his shoulder, she sensed the man smile.
"Lapse Titta?" the man asked, then lifted his hand, throwing back his hood. "Elros?"
"Otorno!" Elros gasped, and stepped forward, throwing his arms around the dark-haired elf. "I wondered when I would see you again."
He turned to Firiel, and she lifted her eyes, her brows rising at the wetness gleaming in them. "Madam Firiel, this is Maglor."
Firiel's mouth opened. "Maglor, the bard?" Through her mind also, with her words, darted other words that had been spoken of him, which she would not now say.
"The same, Madam," said the strange elf with a bob of his head.
"I beg you then, my lord, and friend of my friend Elros, come in."
With his arm around his once foster father, Elros guided Maglor into the room, and to the warm hearth as Firiel shut the door behind them.
Maglor went willingly to the fire, and held out his hands, grateful for the warmth of the flames, but he did not remove his cloak, and his countenance, though clearly glad to see Elros, was tight. He seemed somewhat ill at ease, and Firiel remembered what Andreth had told her of this son of Fëanor, how he had not entered Círdan's house, and the Shipwright's explanation that Maglor had not felt himself worthy to go in. Did he feel the same way now? If so, why was he here? Driven, perhaps, by the cold to seek shelter? But this was not the coldest night of the winter, so it could not be that.
Despite her questions, Firiel said nothing, and returned to her bread dough, kneading it as she had before, though she watched both elven men now.
"I wondered when I would see you again," Elros said, his hand still clasping Maglor's shoulder. "I was barely conscious when I saw you last."
Firiel could hear the emotion in Elros' voice and dropped her eyes.
"Yes," Maglor said, penitence in his tone. "But I have been aware of you, and watching over you." Maglor's brows twitched. "If that is any comfort."
Elros smiled faintly at that. "I would have liked to have known this." The younger elf swallowed. "I've missed you, Otorno."
Maglor drew in a deep breath. The older elf looked thoughtfully down at his palm where Firiel noted now, a scar as if long ago, he had grasped something searingly hot that had burned him there. "And I, you, Lapse Titta," Maglor said. "I am sorry I have not made myself known to you before now."
"Whatever has brought you tonight, I am glad you are here, now," said Elros, to which the older elf smiled sadly.
"And I am glad to be speaking with you, now that you are whole and well. But my purpose for coming is not-"
"Maedhros is- gone. Isn't he?" Elros' voice choked. as he spoke. His eyes fell to the scar upon Maglor's hand.
Maglor drew and released a deep breath at these words. "He is," he said softly, flexing the scarred hand into a fist. "After you heard that we won the last two jewels from Eönwë."
Elros inclined his head.
Maglor sighed. "They are gone, now, too." He opened his scarred palm. "For our sins, they burned our hands. Russandol could not bear to be parted from his jewel, and carried it with him as he- as he threw himself into a crack in the earth. Mine, I threw into the sea." He studied the scar on his hand, then turned his eyes to the fire. "One in the heavens, one in the earth, one in the sea. Perhaps they belonged there, all along. The wills of the Valar are never thwarted. Not for long. And I have learned that the difficult way."
In her place, Firiel sighed softly, but did not speak. Elros met her eyes before turning back to Maglor.
"I am glad you are still here, Otorno," Elros said quietly.
"I am glad as well," Maglor said, lifting his eyes, and drawing in a deep breath, bringing himself back from his thoughts. he reached out, clapping the young elf's shoulder. "If for nothing else but to keep you safe, and to see your happiness, Lapse Titta. Andreth is a marvel. In so very many ways. You are truly blessed."
Elros managed a faint grin at this. "I cannot agree with you more heartily, Otorno," he said softly, trading a smile with Firiel where she stood over the mound of bread dough.
"Will you not sit, my lord?" Firiel ventured, and Maglor turned kind eyes upon her. "Will you not make yourself easy? We are soon to begin supper, and there is plenty to spare."
Maglor sighed again, his gaze falling once more to the scar upon his palm. "Truly I would be honored. But the purpose of my coming is a dire one, for I fear, Eärendilion, that you are in danger."
"Danger?" Elros and Firiel both echoed at once.
"Yes," Maglor said. "I think you and this good woman should take your beasts, and all you can carry, and go to Mithlond, for your own safety. For I have seen him. I have looked into his very eyes, and there is an evil there that will not relent. I have ordered him to be gone, but in my heart, I do not think he will heed me. I fear he will seek to do you harm until he succeeds, or until he is dead himself."
Firiel's heart felt weighted at these words. She knew of whom Maglor spoke though he had not said the name.
Elros, too, understood. "You speak of Lang," he said, his voice thick.
"Yes," Maglor said, heaving a breath. "Lang is still alive."