Maeglin had no patience for the tiresome antics of the cadets who still sometimes hung about the smithy and teased her. She ignored them in the same way she ignored Glorfindel. But when a tall young archer with brown hair in one long braid and glittering green eyes came alone one summer day, leaned in at the window of her workroom and shyly offered her a lovely bouquet of wildflowers, Maeglin looked into his shining gentle eyes and was so taken aback that she took it from his hand. Camaen, passing by later, saw the flowers lying on the table.
“And what is this, lass?”
Was he an idiot? “Flowers.”
He smiled. “Whence came they, I mean? You are not one to gather flowers like the other lasses here.”
Maeglin shrugged. “An archer whose leg I patched up once.” For Arasdil son of Erildur was the young cadet whose leg she had stitched up seven summers ago in the healing halls. “A form of belated thanks, I assume.”
Camaen chuckled. “Let me put that into water for you.”
Glorfindel entered the forge just then, and raised his eyebrows at the incongruous sight of broad-shouldered Camaen in his smith’s apron walking out of the workroom holding a delicate bouquet of blue, white and golden blossoms in his large hand.
“Our little lass has an admirer,” Camaen whispered to Glorfindel, as he scooped some water from his cooling trough into an empty tankard and chucked the bouquet into it.
“What? She is too young for such nonsense!” said Glorfindel sharply, for all the world like a protective parent.
“’Tis young Arasdil, and he’s but turned forty-four this spring. I wager he’s no older than our mystery lass. In fact, she could be older by several yéni, judging by the way she behaves.” Camaen was more correct about Maeglin’s age than he would ever know, thought Glorfindel, as the smith walked back into the workroom with the flowers.
“Please, Camaen. Not in here. It will get in my way,” said Maeglin, barely looking up from the pattern she was engraving on the hilt of a hunting knife. Though they would still formally be master and apprentice for ten years, the usual term for such training, they related to each other as equals by now. Modest and easy-going Camaen had no qualms, in fact, about deferring to her knowledge on some matters, so deep was his respect for her craft. Glorfindel never ceased to be thankful that Erchaildir had sailed. The clash of egos between the old mastersmith and Maeglin would have been fearsome.
“I shall put it on the window sill, then,” said Camaen.
“Fine. Gi hannon,” said Maeglin indifferently, not giving the flowers a second glance, as Glorfindel was glad to see.
“I feel sorry for the boy already,” said Camaen to Glorfindel, returning to the forge, and firing up the furnace for smelting. “It does no harm, this kind of puppy love. ’Tis innocent, I would call it pure, almost. We all went through it, did we not, back in our own days as tender green saplings?”
Glorfindel did not know about that. He had never carried a torch for anyone, before Maeglin. His own memories of his tender sapling days, spent fending off the attentions of various ellith, were neither that innocent nor pure. Such as the time Salgant’s twin daughters, a couple of decades older than he, had cornered him in the biology section of the library at Nevrast to “practice kissing”. He had been only thirty-six at the time, and his good manners and natural chivalry, combined with his inexperience at that age, had rendered him clueless as to how to escape their clutches. Salgant’s daughters were almost as big-boned as their father, and the encounter had left the boy considerably traumatized. The knowledge that Maeglin was likely to violently knee anyone who attempted to practice kissing on her did not prevent the elflord’s hackles from rising at the mere thought of it.
Glorfindel knew Arasdil, and reason would normally have assured him that the boy’s intentions towards Maeglin were of the most honourable sort, but violent passion tends to cloud judgement. So dark were his thoughts towards the son of Erildur that the elflord struggled not to come down harshly on him during training. And though he stopped short of following the archer, he had a good idea where the boy went each day after training ended.
Arasdil went by the smithy several times over the next two weeks, each time with something small for Maeglin, offered in the same quiet way. His offerings included a pretty poem which made her cringe, a skilled sketch of her at work, and more flowers. To her own surprise, she neither cold-shouldered him nor threw them back in his face. She accepted each silently, albeit without even a thank you (for she feared that might be construed as encouragement), taking them from the hand he stretched through the window, and laying them on her worktable.
After he left, Maeglin would frown and stare into space for a while. Her former life had taught her well that love brings naught but pain and should be shunned at all costs. She had no use for such nonsense, should drive away this boy. Yet she found herself curiously loath to hurt him.
Suddenly, Maeglin was back in Gondolin, where a young ellon helplessly and hopelessly in love with a golden princess had brought her gifts from his forge. A ring he had fashioned, set with diamonds. A hairpin. Jewels brought out from his mines, cut and polished himself. Even jewels created by his own hand. His skills being largely with weapons and armour, love alone spurred him to craft such gifts, pouring himself into them. But the princess had worn his gifts once or twice, out of mere politeness, and after the show of appreciation had never been seen with them again. Many were the gifts lavished on her by adoring subjects, and Idril would wear none of them for a long season—save for three things: a ring of her dead mother’s, a circlet from her father, and a moonstone in her hair that had cost a young Glorfindel five months’ of his allowance when he was still a child.
The prince of Gondolin had had no scruples about being cruel. He had jilted a number of lovelorn maidens, Penlod’s daughter included. But now, in this second life, this boy Arasdil touched Maeglin in a way she did not understand. There was something pure and gentle in his eyes. A reminder of a remote time when she had been more innocent. A memory of her own hurt.
Then, one day, he waited for Maeglin to finish her work and asked if he could walk with her. And much to her own bemusement, she found herself strolling with him over the meadow and under the birch trees. Maeglin cursed herself for a fool, for getting herself into this. They walked silently through the buttercups and cornflowers. It was awkward. It was stupid. She was about to excuse herself and leave when his friends, who were sparring with quarterstaffs on a terrace outside the house, espied them. They lifted up a great uproar of cheers and whistles. Arasdil turned red, and Maeglin was so furious that she could have snatched the bow and quiver from his back and shot them all dead. Glorfindel did not join in. He stood apart with an unreadable expression on his face, then sharply silenced his cadets with a curt command.
The cadets fell silent, but wide grins were still plastered on their faces as they winked meaningfully at the pair in the meadows and blew fatuous kisses into the wide space between them.
Across the distance, the eyes of the smith’s apprentice and the Commander met for a moment. A current of understanding and sympathy passed between them. A common opinion of the juvenile behaviour of cretinous cadets.
Maeglin’s eyes broke away from Glorfindel’s. Without a glance at the archer by her, she turned and raced away to the woods, stopping only at the edge of a waterfall pool. She shut her eyes, and let the shout of the waters block out all her thoughts, let the mist blowing off the cascading waters fall damp on her face and hair. When she opened her eyes, Maeglin saw the archer standing by her quietly, his green eyes soft and thoughtful as he gazed upon her.
“Are you all right?” he said. “Don’t mind them. They’re silly but they mean no harm.”
He reached out to take Maeglin’s hand. Her fingers flinched away from his and she stepped away abruptly.
“Naethen…” Arasdil blushed deeply.
The black eyes rested on him, an abyss of darkness, revealing nothing. “You know naught of me.”
“But I wish to know. Everything.”
Maeglin shook her head slowly, and a bitter, mirthless smile touched a corner of her mouth. “It were better for you that you do not.”
She saw bewilderment and compassion on his face. “You—you’ve suffered, I can tell. I’ve watched you. There is a sadness in your eyes.”
The tenderness in his voice made Maeglin harsh.
“Well, stop watching,” she said curtly. “I mislike being spied upon.”
“Lómiel, my sweet, I—”
She cringed and hastily cut off the declaration of devotion she felt building up in his tone. “It is late. We should go back now.”
Without waiting for him, Maeglin turned and swiftly walked away. Then, feeling pity, she allowed him to catch up with her. They walked to the house in silence, two arm lengths between them.
At the great doors of the house, watching the young archer walk away towards the village where he lived, Maeglin was troubled. She wanted nothing to do with this innocent child. There was nothing she could do but taint him with her darkness.
Yet still, she was loath to hurt him.
Maeglin knew that there was no way that Idril could have spurned her that would not have rent her heart in two.
The autumn moon hung huge and golden in a star-filled sky. The young prince of Gondolin abruptly left the feast in the King’s great hall and went out into the garden, where the flower beds were already bare, and a thin layer of frost lay on the earth and on the trees as they turned red and gold.
Maeglin could bear it no longer. Could not bear to see her, be in her presence, hungering to touch, and to know that he could not hope to. That till the unmaking of all things, this love was forbidden among the Eldar.
Why must it have been her? More than half Vanyarin by blood, steeped in the laws and customs given to the Eldar by the Valar. There were other ways, other laws, among the Avari in Nan Elmoth. He could hear a Dark Elf’s mocking laughter. This was his retribution for disowning his father’s blood, for choosing his mother’s people and adopting their ways.
And why, why by all the cruelty of cold fate had Idril and he to be born close kin? How truly was he accursed for abandoning Nan Elmoth, for choosing the ways of the golodhrim and with it their laws. Yes, it was the Dark Elf cursing him even now from beyond the grave and blighting every hope of happiness that Maeglin might ever have. Forever.
Forever. It was a terrible word. This was only his hundredth year, and the last fifty years had been a torment that had seemed endless. What would forever mean, to an immortal? What would it mean, to have a love that is never to be requited, desire that is never to be sated, a fire that will never be quenched?
Never. An even more terrible word. Despair that has no end. The heat, he could not bear it, that burned in him day and night. He was going mad. Perhaps he already was.
Maeglin felt the cold autumn breeze on his burning cheeks. He looked over the city wall and remembered his father’s curse.
He looked down and felt dizzy. It would be so easy just to fall and end it all.
It would take so little.
“Lómion, there you are! Why are you here, all alone in the night?”
Maeglin did not turn or reply. His arms were folded tightly across his chest, as with cold. He did not trust himself. He wanted to seize her slender waist, to kiss the white throat.
“It is cold out here,” she said, joining him at the balustrades, her golden hair tumbling down her back almost to her knees. She had been dancing with Glorfindel when Maeglin left the hall, and she was still a little breathless, her spirit light with gaiety and exhilaration, her face bright with a smile. The sight of the golden pair’s happiness and beauty as they twirled together with the other couples in the hall had been too much for Maeglin. As had been the admiring comments whispered by others near him: “What a stunning couple they make… yes… meant for each other… so what if she raised him? There is no blood tie… I would not be surprised if the King gives his consent to their match some day.”
And now here she was, all aglow, as one in love might be. “Come, do you not wish to dance? There are a dozen fair maids within who are eager to be introduced to you.”
“I do not dance, cousin,” Maeglin said tightly, unable to look in the eye the only person in all of Arda he would ever wish to dance with.
Idril’s laugh, light and lilting, was like a merry mountain brook. “Ah, that has been an oversight. I should arrange for some dancing lessons for you. But it is easy. Come, I can show you how to, right now.” And she gave a graceful little twirl. Her white, slender feet beneath her shimmering silver skirts were bare even in the autumn frost.
“No, Itarillë. Leave me be. Please.”
With another laugh, she reached for his hand. “Do not be shy, Lómion. I am sure you will dance very well!”
Maeglin shivered at her touch, felt his heat rising and overpowering him. “Please. No. Itarillë.”
“Have no fear! No one can see us here,” she said, and pulled him into the centre of the courtyard.
Dazed, he felt her place his hand on her waist, felt the heat of her closeness, smelt her hair. He could not stop himself. He tightened his grip on her, and pulled her closer, almost not knowing what he did. Her grey eyes widened at the hardness of his touch, and she saw the darkness in his black eyes and suddenly realized her danger. Now she tried to pull away, and found his strong arms gripping her like a vice. “Itarillë.” His voice was husky with desire, and pleading. He kissed her on the mouth, tentatively at first, then with a hungry urgency, even as he felt her stiffen and resist. With a sudden burst of desperate strength, she broke away, and with pain, he saw the fear and repulsion in her eyes.
“Lómion! What are you doing?” Her voice now had a hard edge, the brilliant grey eyes penetrating, seeing him as though for the first time. She backed away.
He advanced on her, his voice low and desperate, the words spilling out intense and rushed. “I love you, Itarillë. I cannot help it. From the moment I saw you. I could as soon stop loving you as I could stop breathing—“
“Lómion, no! You know that we are first cousins, we are as brother and sister. It could never be—“
“Of course I know!” The anguish was sharp in his voice. “Yet I cannot but love you, Itarillë. I have tried—I did not want this. You do not know how I have fought it, day and night. But I cannot help it. I want you, I need you—like I need air—”
His voice shook, and his dark eyes were full of hurt and despair and rage.
She turned to run, but he seized her and kissed her again, pushing her roughly back against a wall on which a leafless vine climbed, and pinning her there with his own body.
“I did not choose this. I love you—oh Eru, I need you. There is only one hope—there are other laws—laws other than those of the Eldar, among others of the Quendi. First cousins may wed. There could be a way,” he pleaded desperately, holding her tighter as she struggled to free herself. He could feel the racing of her heart against his chest.
Suddenly, she stopped fighting, and spoke in a voice that shook only slightly, “Lómion—listen to me. Let me go. We shall talk about it, calmly. Do not do this—”
From behind, someone pried the prince away from Idril with ease, then flung him away so that he fell into a tangle of blackened, withered stems and foliage.
Unhurt but stunned and humiliated, heart pounding, the prince got up from the dead flower bed and looked on the one who had dared lay hands on him, and who now knew his secret and his shame.
It was Glorfindel.
Shining golden in the autumn moonlight, the Lord of the Golden Flower stood protectively before his princess, and his eyes were dark blue and flashing angrily with fire. The eyes of the two lords locked in an antagonistic stare. They might have come to blows, but Glorfindel remembered who the prince of Gondolin was, and with an effort, inclined his head in a bow that was part apology and submission, part respect for the house to which he had pledged allegiance, to which he owed fealty.
But the fire in the golden lord’s eyes still said, Touch her again, and I will hurt you.
Then Maeglin’s eyes met Idril’s, as she stood half hidden by Glorfindel. And in those piercing grey eyes, bright with the light of the Trees, he saw something else besides fear.
Maeglin saw with sudden clarity that it was not merely about kinship. He saw that it was he, Maeglin, whom she could not love. Would never love.
The knife twisted into the prince’s heart and sliced it into shreds, even as the hot flame of rage and shame and utter mortification washed over him. Almost blinded by his pain, he turned and fled the garden.
“Did he hurt you, my princess?” Glorfindel asked.
“No.” She felt nauseous. Glorfindel wrapped his strong arms around her and held her gently.
“I won’t let him hurt you, Ammë,” he said, lapsing momentarily into the term he had used in childhood. “If he touches you again, I will beat him black and blue.” Had Maeglin attempted to take a step towards Idril just now, Glorfindel would have knocked him out cold.
Safe now in her foster son’s arms, Idril recalled Maeglin’s words, which still rang in her ears. Amid her revulsion, a softer emotion stirred.
“Tell no one of this, yonya. No one. Not Ecthelion. Not even my Atar.”
“But my princess—the King should know—”
“No. Promise me.”
“The King has a right to know what he did to you, to know what manner of man his nephew is, to whom he has entrusted power and position second only to his!”
“Promise me, Laurefindil.”
He sighed. “I promise, my princess.”
And Idril gazed at the garden path down which the prince of Gondolin had disappeared. There was deep pity in her grey eyes.
From that day, the prince’s hatred of Glorfindel burned deep. He wrapped his shame and pain in pride and aloofness. His words to the Lord of the Golden Flower were cool and civil, almost curt. That Glorfindel, in return, maintained a distant but consistently respectful and courteous demeanour towards the prince only increased the latter’s hate, for every sight of the golden-haired lord reminded him of his moment of deepest shame and anguish.
The Lord of the Mole was fair, with his smouldering, intense black eyes and black silken hair that fell thick to his waist. He had his mother’s fine features, and his father’s strong shoulders, and he moved with the wild grace of a forest predator. Many maids there were, who loved the dark beauty of the prince from afar. Many were there who dreamed of soothing away the loneliness and darkness lurking in his eyes with their love. But his eyes looked through them all, unseeing. And he withdrew more and more into his mines and his forges, like the Mole that named his house.
And ever the heat burned unsated within him. And ever the pain consumed him.
But in all his bitterness and despair, Maeglin could not hate the one who had spurned him. He loved her still.
When the brown-haired archer returned the next day, Maeglin got up and walked to the workroom window, and they looked at each other.
“Please do not come here anymore,” she said, her voice as gentle as she knew how to make it. “It cannot work. Truly.” And a little awkwardly, she handed him his poems and drawings.
The emerald eyes were sad, but not surprised. He looked at the papers in his hand, and nodded. “I understand.”
His other hand took hers, lifted it to his lips, and gave her palm a tender kiss. Then he placed the poems and sketches she had returned to him back in her hand, and smiled at her, and walked away.
Maeglin stood at the window a while, still feeling the imprint of his lips warm on her palm.
Well, that’s done, she thought.
She walked to the furnace, and tossed the papers into the fire carelessly.
Then, suddenly thinking better of it, she seized tongs, fished the papers out, and beat the flames dead with her hands.
Folding the scorched papers carefully, Maeglin slipped them into her apron pocket.
Something so pure might never touch her life again.
Yéni (Q) – elvish years (plural). One yén = 144 solar years.
Gi hannon (S) – “thank you” between familiars
Naethen (S) – “my sorrow” – sorry