The Call of Craft
Glorfindel had been surprised and dismayed to discover that Maeglin had left the healing halls. Except nobody told him why.
When Maeglin had emerged red-faced and furious from the lord’s room and asked if Lord Glorfindel commonly made inappropriate remarks, the other healers had looked at her in open-mouthed shock.
“Inappropriate remarks? What sort of inappropriate remarks?”
At which Maeglin had tightened her lips and declined to say.
“There must be a misunderstanding, Lómiel. Lord Glorfindel is ever the perfect gentleman,” said Thalanes.
“Unfortunately,” sighed a brown-haired assistant named Candes who was always the first to volunteer when the balrog slayer needed a sponge bath.
At which Maeglin opened and closed her mouth, and then said that yes, she must have misunderstood.
And then refused to ever go into the room again.
Now, three days after Maeglin had left, the healers were still whispering about it at the halls out of earshot of Glorfindel.
Next to the stables lies a low building connected to the main house by a covered walkway. Next to it, a wide, lively stream flows. Before it lies an apple orchard, beyond which the ground gently slopes away to a meadow which in summer is covered with cornflowers, buttercups, and poppies. It was late autumn now, and the meadow was golden and brown in the morning sun. Late apples glowed red in the yellowing trees. A light frost was melting in the morning sun.
Maeglin walked slowly beneath the apple trees, listening to the familiar sound of hammer on metal which sung to her soul and stirred her heart.
She had been coming to the orchard for the past three days, ostensibly to pick apples which she later brought to the Imladris kitchens, but in reality to examine the building which now lay before her. The Imladris smithy.
Three millennia ago, in the Second Age, there had been several large structures adjacent to this one, and many skilled elven smiths had undertaken the great work of forging weapons and armour for the Last Alliance. All the valley had been crowded with tents and barracks as the vast hosts of elves and men gathered in and around Imladris before marching south to confront Sauron at Barad-dûr.
Only this one building remained. It sufficed to serve the small population of eight hundred Imladhrim. The smiths of old had all sailed west, and a single smith, silver haired and pleasant-faced, was beating a kitchen cleaver on an anvil, his tools arrayed on the walls beside him.
A single furnace at the back with double bellows. Two anvil blocks.
It was so sad.
Maeglin remembered with regret the large complex of forges and furnaces and workshops at the House of the Mole in Gondolin. The Lord of the Mole had had fifty of the finest smiths working under him, and at least three assistants serving him at any one time. In his own personal forge he had fashioned what he loved best: weapons and armour for the King and the Lords of Gondolin. Ecthelion the Fair, arrayed in the armour of blue steel Maeglin had crafted, had been a creature of dread beauty to strike fear into the heart of any of Morgoth’s minions. The magnificent sword the prince had given to Glorfindel for the golden-haired lord’s four hundred and fiftieth begetting day had quickly become the latter’s favourite. It had been one of the two he had wielded in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Maeglin had a feeling that it had been the very sword the hero had used to hew off the balrog’s arm, then plunged into the balrog’s shoulder before the monster had grasped him by his golden hair and dragged him into the abyss. Not that Maeglin ever intended to ask him.
It had not mattered that the prince had hated the Lord of the Golden Flower. Maeglin had taken a ferocious pride in the excellence of his craft, and nothing substandard would ever have left his forge. And oddly, precisely because he disliked Glorfindel so much, he had taken especial care that the sword he gifted was well-crafted. He had not quite understood why himself.
But armour and weapons paled beside Maeglin’s greatest achievement: the glory and splendour of the seventh gate of Gondolin, the Gates of Steel. He had worked on it ceaselessly for eight months, scarcely stopping to eat or rest. And when he had finished it and gazed on it in triumph, he had known that it was the most magnificent of all the gates of Gondolin, and that this thing of beauty and strength he had created would be able to last ten thousand years. And it would have, if not for…
Maeglin quickly broke off the thought.
And now, to come, from all that glory and splendour, to this.
One furnace, two anvil blocks. And kitchen cleavers. And pots and pans.
Oh yes, there was some weaponry and armour. Through the window of a long workroom to the side of the forge itself she could see, laid out on some tables, armour, swords, chain mail, and hunting knives all needing to be repaired. Very serviceable and common looking elven armour and weapons. No finesse. No style. Her lip had curled in scorn the first time she had set eyes on the armour of the Commander of Imladris. That he could go from wearing what she had crafted in days of yore to this.
His swords from Valinor, however, were extraordinary. Maeglin had felt almost reluctant to hand back to him the blade that he had lent her, wanting to examine it more closely.
Maeglin’s craft in Gondolin had been not just a source of pride. It had been the prince of Gondolin’s means of survival. He had laboured for days on end, sometimes, in order to finish a piece. He was the despair of his chefs, who would stand at the doorway of the forge – he forbade them to enter – begging him to but taste a morsel of their most delectable dishes. Drowning himself in his work had allowed him, if only briefly, to escape from wild and despairing thoughts of golden hair, grey eyes, white skin and soft lips.
Lómiel the maiden was free at last from the curse of that hopeless love, but she could not deny that this craft had always been in her blood. It had been part of Maeglin of Nan Elmoth long before he became Lómion of Gondolin. She had tried in this second life to run from it, to suppress it. Now she wanted to come home.
There were several reasons why she had stayed away.
It was not merely her dismay at the size of the smithy, nor that the work could not satisfy.
Partly, it was that if you were a reviled traitor disguised as an elfmaid and wanted to be inconspicuous, being one healing assistant among four females was far more sensible than being a young maiden at a forge.
And how could Maeglin work under another? She who had once commanded fifty? The silver-haired smith was skilled and competent, she could see. But she had been more than skilled and competent. She had been the son of the greatest elven smith in Beleriand and had been a great smith herself. To take orders like a lackey would rankle. And she knew: she would want to do things her own way.
With these thoughts Maeglin had tussled for the past few days since she left the healing halls.
This morning she had risen and looked at herself long in the mirror.
The slender maid who looked back at her was no longer Lómion, great smith of Gondolin. She saw a youngling not yet of age, with arms too weak to ever fashion a sword again. Yet the hunger to once more see metal come to life under her hands was too great. . .
She would swallow her pride.
She would become an apprentice, and do what crumbs of work were thrown to her.
And bite her tongue and do things her master’s way.
If the smith would have her, that is…
The Imladris smith, Camaen, looked up from the sword he was tempering and saw that the black-haired maiden who had been hovering around the forge for the past three days was now walking towards him.
“Fine day,” said Camaen cheerfully, by way of greeting.
“Very fine,” Maeglin replied. By now, she had managed to lose much of her Nan Elmoth accent.
“I’ve seen you around. You take an interest in smithing, then?”
“Yes, my father was a smith.” She had decided it was time to let more memories of her past surface.
“He taught me a few things. Could you use a pair of hands around here?”
He looked at her dubiously. “That I could, but smithing’s hard on a lass with hands as white and dainty as yours.”
The blade hissed and a cloud of steam curled skyward as Camaen plunged the hot metal into cold water.
“I care naught about keeping my hands pretty. Look. They have some callouses already.” The blisters she had received in the orc attack had left slightly toughened skin as they healed.
He shook his head and said gently, “You’re not strong enough for this, little lass. I’ll not have you getting hurt here.”
The sound of metal on stone, as he began to grind the blade.
Maeglin’s throat was tight with disappointment and frustration. She wanted this more than anything. But before she could continue her argument, she became aware of someone behind her. She stiffened, knowing somehow who it was even before she turned her head.
“Lord Glorfindel,” she said icily.
“Maiden Lómiel, Smith Camaen.” He bowed to them slightly, as he walked slowly towards them.
His golden hair was a bright halo in the morning sunlight. Over his leggings, he had a white tunic thrown on, unbelted, and as he stood backlit by the sun, one could see beneath the fabric that his abdomen was still swathed in bandages. He should still have been bed-bound in the healing halls, but nobody had ever been able to keep Glorfindel in bed once he was able to get out of it. The only way would have been to sedate him or tie him down. Behind his back, she could see he was holding a bunch of carrots; he must have been on his way to visit Asfaloth in the stables. The gut injury would mean he had been on a fast for a while, and he looked luminous and ethereal in the morning light. Almost fragile.
Glorfindel had come out of the healing halls only to see Asfaloth. But as soon as he had seen Maeglin at the forge with Camaen, he had understood her intent, and made his way over.
“The lass has asked for work in the smithy, Lord Glorfindel,” said Camaen. “It is not work for a maiden as dainty as she.”
The maiden looked for a moment as though she would explode at being described as dainty. Then she said, quickly, “Nerdanel, daughter of Mahtan, is a smith.”
“Very true. And she is famed for some excellent metalwork, which I have had the chance to admire,” Glorfindel said, deciding not to mention that Nerdanel was also built as strongly as Turgon’s tower.
“It is hot and hard work,” said Camaen.
“I fear neither fire nor hard work.”
“I am sure you do not,” said Glorfindel. “Well, you lack the muscles to lift Camaen’s hammer, but there is a variety of other work to be done. Camaen, she could do other crafts and lighter metalwork for you. It has been lonely out here since your master Erchaildir went west, has it not? And too much work for one smith. Why not take her on trial as an assistant for a few days?”
The black eyes widened slightly at finding an ally in the Lord of the Golden Flower.
“I will not get in the way and be a nuisance,” Maeglin said quickly. “I know my way around a forge.”
You definitely do, thought Glorfindel, smiling at the sight of the prince of Gondolin humbling himself.
Camaen nodded. “Come by tomorrow at eight. I’ll find you something to do.”
The smile of relief on her face was radiant. “Le hannon.”
Then she turned. “Le athae, Lord Glorfindel.” And though her tone was cool, he saw gratitude in her eyes.
“Glassen.” He bowed, gave her a boyish smile, and slowly walked away to the stables with his handful of carrots, the tips of his ears a little red.
Three days later, Glorfindel had discharged himself from the healing halls and the first thing he did was to head to the smithy to check if Camaen was still alive.
The smith certainly was. From under the apple trees, Glorfindel saw Camaen cheerfully whistling as he hammered out some dents in a cooking pot. Through the window of the adjourning workroom, framed by the almost-bare ivy which grew around it, he saw his Maeglin. She had exchanged her dresses for boy’s apparel: a red and black woollen tunic over grey leggings and black boots, sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and a thick, shapeless apron over all. Even so, her face and build were too feminine for her to be mistaken for an elf lad. Her long hair was clipped at the nape of her neck and fell in a tail down her back. The Lord of the Mole had always hated the fuss of braiding his hair, Glorfindel thought with a smile. He saw that she had cut off some of the length of her hair so it now fell only to her waist, the same length as his own. Having gathered her tools, she sat down at a table and started mending the links in a chain mail shirt, her face stern as she concentrated on her work.
He gazed at her dreamily for a while. She looked absolutely enchanting.
“You are a besotted fool,” a voice in his mind reprimanded him. “What have you done? You might as well have given the traitor of Gondolin the keys to the Imladris armoury and asked him to help himself.”
“It has been half a year, and all has been well. I cannot believe any longer that she is here with ill intent,” he argued back.
“Maeglin is clever. He would wait. Bide his time. Win the trust of all. Lull you into complacency, and then strike when least expected. As in Gondolin.”
“That is ridiculous. Angband is gone, as is Morgoth. Vilya keeps the orcs out of the valley. If Maeglin sought to murder Eärendil’s descendants in their beds or poison them, why would she not have done so earlier? But if there is still any shadow of doubt, still the possibility of danger, then there is only one thing to be done,” replied Glorfindel. “I shall need to keep a close eye on her.”
Needing some reason to go into the forge, he went to the stables to get Asfaloth. He was certain the front right shoe needed checking.
If Camaen had been apprehensive about taking in the maiden, his fears had quickly been put to rest. Maeglin needed merely a few words of instruction, would give a silent nod, then get the work done with no fuss. She astonished him with skills and knowledge beyond her years – but just how much he did not know, because she was extremely careful not to give too much away.
Glorfindel suddenly always had some reason to drop by. Once all of Asfaloth’s shoes had been dutifully checked, he got the metal links in the straps of Asfaloth’s leather panniers repaired as they seemed to be “a little loose”. After that, by dint of digging through the sizable collection of weapons and armour in his bedchamber, he was able to find various pieces of armour, chain mail, daggers, arrows, shields, swords, helmets, and vambraces, which all needed some trivial form of attention even though some of them had not been used since the Last Alliance in the Second Age. And he was careful to bring them in to the forge one by one.
He kept out of Maeglin’s workroom space, and stayed where the forge was, chatting with Camaen. This still allowed him to observe his maiden quite closely through the door or windows of the workroom.
He watched Maeglin as her sharp eyes watched Camaen work, saw more than once a critical flash in the black eyes, saw her almost speak, then swallow the comment. He could read the thought in her mind: I would have done it a far better way. Once he heard her comment casually on a technique she now remembered her father using for something, but in so offhand a way that it could not be construed as criticism. And Camaen, who was an open-minded and curious soul, would think about it, and perhaps ask her for more details. Later, after experimenting, he might actually adopt the technique if it worked for him.
Glorfindel, who knew that Maeglin Lómion had never been known for patience or suffering fools gladly, saw with pleasure how well and wisely she held her tongue and curbed her pride. That’s my clever Mole, he thought, and smiled.
It was not long before Camaen trusted Maeglin enough to let her move beyond repair work. It began with the twins’ order for a necklace for their sister. Camaen, who did not have too many ideas for such fripperies, asked Maeglin if she would like to try sketching some designs and showing them to him.
The former Lord of the Mole was never one to back down from such a challenge. She frowned over the specifications for a while, and poured the bag of jewels the twins had supplied onto her palm. In Gondolin, Maeglin would have delegated such work to Enerdhil, the Lord of the Mole’s own preference always being armour and weaponry. Gentle, dreamy Enerdhil, whose love for all things that grew had produced jewels and jewellery that captured the very life essence of dancing leaves and blossoming flowers, of sunlight and moonlight and starlight…
Maeglin, of all the Lords of Gondolin, had hardly even worn jewellery. The small diamonds of various hues winked mockingly at her.
With a sigh of frustration, Maeglin set down the diamonds, put on her cloak, and went out of the smithy. At the door, she tightened the laces on her boots—they were well-worn ones from the basement storerooms, but in her favourite colour black—and once she was out of sight of the smithy, she broke into a run.
Having an excuse to don male clothing had been one of the minor pleasures of becoming the smith’s apprentice, and Maeglin had revelled in the freedom of wearing breeches and tunics once again. There had been stares from many, and a few maidens had tittered when they first saw her heading towards the smithy in a dark blue tunic and black breeches she had found in the basement.
Erestor had raised eyebrows at her in a hallway, with several elves looking on. “We could have work dresses with shorter skirts tailored for you, Maiden Lómiel. This is rather unbecoming.”
“Elo!” Elrohir had exclaimed, as the twins rounded a corner and beheld Maeglin.
“Skirts would only be a work hazard, Hîr Erestor,” Maeglin had murmured demurely, after quickly suppressing an arrogant glare by lowering her eyes and fixing them on the hem of Erestor’s robe. “What if I catch fire?”
“Indeed, Erestor, you would not desire that to be on your head, would you?” Elrohir had said indignantly.
“The ellith in the guard wear similar garb with their armour, Erestor,” had added Elladan, looking her over from head to foot. “The same reasoning applies. Safety, ease of movement.”
“Not all enjoy sweeping about in skirts as you do, Erestor,” Elrohir had grinned. For the twins, like Glorfindel, could only be constrained to wear their floor-length robes for dinner and for feasts.
No one else had questioned Maeglin’s choice of work attire after the twins’ approval had been given.
Now, as she raced away from the house and the smithy, she was still aware of how different the mechanics of running as an elleth felt. Broader pelvis, slighter shoulders. Slower. Less power. Damn. I miss being me.
And now, there was no Enerdhil to whom the Lord of the Mole could assign this work to.
Enerdhil had spent long hours dreamily walking in the gardens, lying among flowers, staring at stars and clouds, trees and leaves lit with sunlight, and that had inspired masterpieces like the Elessar…
So Maeglin took a deep breath of chilly air, and looked with new eyes at swallows departing south for warmer climes, at grey clouds chased by cold winds across the skies, and frost sparkling on the last leaves that shivered on the trees.
By the time she returned to the smithy in the evening, Camaen had already gone home to his cottage across the river. The apprentice made a few swift sketches, then worked like one possessed all through the night and the next day and the next night.
On the second night, Elrond frowned when he heard that Maeglin was still holed up in the smithy. He directed his sons to take food to her and convince her to return to the house to rest. “She is a growing child,” said the Lord of Imladris and father of three. “She needs her sustenance.”
Glorfindel watched anxiously from a distance as Elladan and Elrohir went to the smithy with the plate of food, not wanting to look as though he cared too much. It looked, he thought, all too familiar. He hoped Maeglin would not throw anything at them as the Lord of the Mole had oft done in Gondolin when disturbed at work.
The food was rejected, but nothing was thrown, and no profanities were uttered. “She’s barricaded herself in,” said Elladan, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Did she say anything?” asked Glorfindel, trying not to sound overly concerned as the three of them walked back to the house, picking at the food on the plate as they went.
“‘Leave me alone. I’m working,’” said Elrohir glumly, eating a spoonful of thyme-flavoured cauliflower purée.
That was courteous enough for the Mole, thought Glorfindel, absently chewing on a piece of broccoli without tasting it.
“Have the quail stuffed with mushrooms, Glorfindel. It really is very good,” said Elrohir.
The necklace Maeglin eventually laid in Elladan’s hands was a graceful filigree of silver leaves that seemed to be dancing in a breeze upon delicate silver branches, with a frosting of diamonds sparkling on them like starfire. The twins gazed at her in awe. The word quickly spread, and other orders soon began to come in.
The trees grew bare, and the snows of winter came in soft white flurries and covered the valley. By late spring, from working on jewellery, she expanded her projects to small skillets and cookware, producing pieces of such elegant beauty and exceptional functionality that the chefs raved about them. Glorfindel thought it rather ironic, given his knowledge that Maeglin cooked about as well as her mother—badly. Small game cooked tough as leather and half-charred, carelessly seasoned via Aredhel flinging a pinch of salt at it as she had snatched the spit from the flames. After the one time the white princess had ruined dinner as they escorted her to Himlad, Ecthelion and Egalmoth had taken over cooking their meals.
“You are even worse,” Ecthelion had muttered to Glorfindel, as he rubbed herbs on a plucked pheasant, and Aredhel and Egalmoth rubbed down the horses. “You have not ever tried to cook a thing. Not even an egg!”
“And you should be thankful I have not. I have other ways of being useful,” Glorfindel had serenely replied then, lifting his eyes from the other pheasant he was gutting to gaze at the shadowy lands of Nan Dungortheb that crouched low like a monstrous beast in the distance…
In Maeglin’s case, Glorfindel suspected that on the one hunting trip the prince had helped with the cooking, he had deliberately rendered the rabbits unpalatable so that no one would ever ask him to do it again.
Glorfindel no longer had any fears for the safety of the line of Eärendil, not even when, by early autumn, Maeglin began to work on small daggers and hunting knives. It was clear that the only thing that mattered to her was her craft. She would quickly and efficiently get all repair jobs done as soon as they came in so that she could dedicate the rest of her time to the work of creation. It so engrossed her that she returned to the house only once every few days to dine or sleep for strength.
If Maeglin’s craft had been, for the prince of Gondolin, a source of pride, a means to find respite from an obsessive love, for the maid of Imladris it became an end in itself. All ambition for a crown or power was gone now. All desire for love was dead. From the ashes of these twin driving forces rose the fiery flames of creative passion in her heart. Maeglin’s craft became her reason for being.
Glorfindel, who visited the smithy almost daily, would stand outside the workroom talking to Camaen, glancing at Maeglin every now and again through the open door. She emerged into the forge area from time to time, and he would watch her smelt metals and cast them in moulds or deftly shape them. He would admire how much stronger her body was growing, and when she passed by him, he noted that she was growing a little taller.
Maeglin largely ignored Glorfindel, focused as she was on the work. By midsummer, she was growing careless about hiding her knowledge or her skills, and there were times when Camaen would watch her with wide-eyed amazement.
“By the beard of Aulë, how does she know how to do all that at her age?” he would breathe to Glorfindel.
And Glorfindel, trying not to look nervous, would shrug casually. “It would appear there is a lot we do not know about some of these Avarin tribes.”
For most of the time, it seemed to Glorfindel that he did not even exist for Maeglin. When autumn came around again, however, she surprised him on his begetting day by giving him a set of five throwing knives she had made. It was her way of thanking him for getting her the apprenticeship, he knew. He fingered the points and handled them. They were beautifully weighted, and exquisitely finished. “They’re excellent,” he said, elated and hopeful. And received a smile in return, before she disappeared back into the workroom.
The day after, things went south. Glorfindel had been leaning on the wall talking to Camaen when he noticed Maeglin taking a smelting urn out of the furnace and pouring molten cast iron into a mould she had made for a new piece of cookware. The urn was larger than the ones she normally used, and too heavy for her despite the fact that she had grown so much stronger. Her wrists were shaking and unsteady.
Glorfindel did what was most natural. He crossed over, took the urn holder from her hand, and effortlessly poured the iron for her.
When he finished, he looked up to see Maeglin’s eyes angrily flickering with fire, glaring daggers at him. The expression on her face was pained.
“Le hannon, Hîr Glorfindel,” she said in a tight voice. And retreating into the workroom, she slammed the door shut with a bang.
What had he done wrong?
He sighed. One step forward, one step back.
Elo! [S] – Wow!