The Golden and the Black

Sweet Nothings

One night, as snow fell outside the windows, flurrying white against the dark diamonds of the window panes, he unloaded an armful of things onto his bed—some of the contents of a beautiful and very ancient wood-and-iron chest he had pulled out from behind a drape near the entrance to his chamber.

“What is all this?” she asked, as she tied the silken sash of his night-robe about her slender waist. It was too long and trailed on the floor behind her. With her dark hair falling in a shining waterfall to her hips, and in the shimmering robe of light-silver—a colour she would never ordinarily have worn—she looked hauntingly reminiscent of her mother.

“Some things I have not looked at since I moved here from Lindon,” he said, sorting through the contents of a small golden casket. He was wearing only his breeches, for he seldom felt the cold, as though his hair that shone bright in the flames of the hearth, falling loose and unbraided over his shoulders, was enough to warm him. “Having had no need of them for five millennia, I think it unlikely I would miss them for the remainder of time in Arda. Since you are moving more and more of your things over here, I thought you would like a place to keep them.”

The chest was covered with intricate carvings… a king’s banquet, a summer carnival in the palace gardens, a fleet of ships in a harbour, elven knights in armour riding with banners unfurled, fair lords and ladies dancing in a great hall. Scenes of life in Forlindon in the days of Gil-galad. She ran her fingers appreciatively over the woodwork, then eyed the items strewn on the bed. Ornamental knives. Boxes and caskets of various shapes and sizes. Letters. Scrolls of poetry and music dedicated to him.

“You are going to throw these away?”

“Some of them.” He tossed a handful of papers from would-be paramours into the flames. “Keep anything you fancy, melmenya. I shall give the rest away to those in the household who might like them.

She picked up a small box studded with sapphires and rubies. “This does not look elven in make. Whence did it come?”

“Númenor. Most of these were gifts.”

“Interesting design…” She opened it and fell silent. He turned his head and saw a look on her face that made his heart sink.

“Who is this?” Her voice was ice and steel. She took out from the box a palm-sized portrait of an amply-endowed mortal beauty done in early Númenorean style. Golden fire sparked in the depths of her black eyes.

“Náremírë of Númenor,” he said. “I met her briefly at Andúnië—” A brief stopover by the elf warrior on his way from Aman to Ennor.

Hallacar’s whore?” A famed beauty and courtesan most notorious for forsaking the luxuries of Armenelos for the sheeplands of Emerië. There, she had warmed the bed of Tar-Ancalimë’s estranged and embittered husband for half a century.

“She was not his—his—not at that time. Wherever did you learn that ghastly word?”

“And why does Hallacar’s whore inscribe on the back—in appallingly bad Quenya—’Thankfulness, Golden Lover, for night unforgettable. Best kiss and touches, Immortal Beloved. Forever, your Flame’?”

“What?” he sputtered, never having ever looked at the back of the portrait. “Valandur Lord of Andúnië invited us to stay at his villa. She was one of the dancers at the dinner he hosted for us. That was all. It was one evening! There was nothing between us!”

“Nothing!” she snapped scathingly, hurling the portrait at him. “Always nothing! I could fill the thousand caves of Menegroth with your nothings!”

He was staring in consternation at the words scribbled on the portrait. “I never even noticed this before—I simply kept the box away. You have to believe me when I say nothing happened!”

“Define ‘nothing’!”

“After dinner, when most of the household had retired, she sought my company as I admired Valandur’s art collection and plied me with wine in the salon. We managed to converse, though I was not fluent in Adûnaic at that time, and she spoke little Quenya. She drank far too much and… threw up on me. I got her out onto the terrace for some fresh air. She shed some tears and asked to follow me to Endórë and I told her it was not possible and let her blow her nose on my sleeve, which she had not thrown up on. She ran from the terrace down to the shore, waded into the waves and… tried to remove her clothes. I—uh—did my best to stop her and she… tried to remove mine. Whereupon I picked her up, and carried her back to the villa. We were not a pretty sight by then. I escorted her back to her chamber and…”

As his voice trailed away, her eyes pierced him like daggers. “And?”

Indefatigably honest, he continued unwillingly, “She tried to get me into bed, but then she passed out. I could not leave her in her wet clothes. So I undressed her, tucked her into bed—laying her on her side in case she had anything else to throw up—and went back to my chamber for a bath and change of clothes. And that was all that transpired between us. Until she said farewell at the harbour and gave me the box.”

She saw from his eyes that he spoke true. But her imagination filled in all the details he had left unspoken. She glared suspiciously at the various items scattered on the bed. “And each of these treasures of yours has a similar story behind it?”

“Uhh… more or less.”

“Why?” She exploded. “Why have you kept these things all these years? Precious mementos? Trophies? Why?”

He flushed. “Is it not unmannerly and churlish to reject and throw away a gift? I would bring each back to my chamber, and give it no further thought. Sometimes, if a maidservant took a fancy to any trinket whilst cleaning my room in Forlond, I would give it her. Then war came. When I left Eregion and first arrived at Imladris with Elrond, I had naught with me but my sword, my knives, and the clothes on my back. Following Sauron’s first defeat, Lindir simply had the servants at Forlond toss all my personal effects into two chests and transport them here. I opened the chest with my clothes and weapons, but this other chest was shoved into that corner where it has remained for five millennia.”

Maeglin's eyes raked over the chest and its contents. The spoils of six hundred years in Forlindon. “So. Five millennia in Imladris. What store of love-tokens have you amassed in all that time?”

He looked at her for a heartbeat, then walked to the drape from behind which he had taken out the chest. He opened a door behind it. “A cálë,” he said softly, and a lamp beyond the door began to glow.

She stepped forward and looked into the small room beyond. Then looked at him.

“Go through it all if you wish,” he said. “And dispose of it all as pleases you.”

For a long moment she looked at the crates and chests full of letters and presents piled high to the ceiling. “They are yours,” she said at last. She turned her back on the room. “I will not touch them.”

The remaining papers from the chest fed the fire as Glorfindel tossed them in with the portrait of fair Náremírë. As Maeglin watched them curl and blacken and fall to ashes, they crackled and whispered and taunted her with salacious details of encounters untold and the lusts and yearnings of fair ones unknown.

And all the nothings that had never happened.


Tuilë, a cool, bright morning after Nost-na-Lothion.

Wreaths of cherry and apple blossoms on their heads, dressed in white and the green of new leaves, the bride and the groom stood on the terrace before the house, heads bowed and eyes closed, their faces solemn as the bride’s aunt and Lord Elrond—standing in place of parents long gone west—declared the blessings of Manwë and Varda over their joined hands.

At long last… after a handfasting of ten coranári. All the Imladrim rejoiced to behold the first wedding in the valley in two and a half centuries.

As the rings of gold were slipped upon their forefingers, and the holy name of Eru Ilúvatar was invoked, Glorfindel was shocked to be suddenly wrenched by heartache.

The warrior had witnessed many hundreds of weddings in his lifetime, and up till that moment he had felt nothing but joy for Camaen and Thalanes.

His eyes searched the crowd for Maeglin, as hand-in-hand, the smith and the healer descended from the terrace to a rapturous chorus of song from the assembled Imladrim, and the air was filled with a shower of spring blossoms and petals.

Maeglin was standing next to Lindir in a cerulean blue dress—Thalanes having forbidden her to wear dark colours that day. Her eyes met Glorfindel’s across the garden.

Instead of smiling at her, the warrior looked away.

As the wedding feast resumed, Maeglin saw her beloved walk away towards a far meadow where Asfaloth and other elf horses were grazing in the warmth of the morning sun. She cautiously followed him from a distance and watched him feed Asfaloth with pieces of fruit from the banquet tables.

Walking up to Gilroch, her own dappled silver-grey steed, she stroked its head and muzzle, and blew gently into its nostrils in greeting. The two lovers were a stone’s throw away from each other.

“I am surprised you dared risk others seeing you here with me,” Glorfindel said in thought without turning his head.

She almost flinched at the quiet bitterness of his words. “I took care that none saw me. And I’ll not come closer than this.”

“Of course.”

She felt a tightness in her throat. “Please. Don’t be like this.”

No words came in response. Just a wave of weariness and resentment.

“Damn it, what is wrong with you?” she asked. This was most unlike him, and feeling anxious and helpless, she was growing angry.

She caught sight of his face as he turned it to her briefly, and saw the wretchedness in it. Then suddenly, he strode right up to her and seized her by the shoulders.

“Don’t! Someone might see—”

“Let them see,” he said aloud. “I have tried. Tried to understand. I truly have. But it has been almost ten coranári, and I still—cannot—comprehend—why we doing this. It should have been us, on that terrace, exchanging rings. But instead, here we are. Married. For ten coranári. Pretending we care naught for each other. Hoping none see us together. Tell me why. Please.”

In the silence that followed, her face was shut to him, the black eyes opaque.

“Do you love me?”

“Of course,” she said almost impatiently.

“Do you believe I love you?”

“Yes.”

“Are you ashamed of us?”

“No!”

“Do you trust me?”

“Yes!” she snapped it out almost irritably.

“Then—why?”

Their elven ears heard laughter and voices approaching. Maeglin broke away from his grasp, and fled into the nearby grove of ashes and birches.

He did not follow her.

Asfaloth cantered to his elf’s side and nuzzled him gently. Glorfindel leaned his head against his horse, and gave vent to a heartfelt sigh. Asfaloth whinnied and nickered. Glorfindel gave a groan.

“Oh no. Please. Spare me the advice, I beg you, mellon vuin. My mare and your mares are not the same.”

The stallion nickered further and butted Glorfindel’s head with his. Glorfindel smiled wryly and gave a chuckle that ended in a sigh.

“I would that herding her around and asserting dominance were so simple, mellon-nín. When you know her better, you will understand. And no, a good mounting does not solve everything.”

Unable to face the wedding feast for another hour or so, Glorfindel rode Asfaloth to the foothills. Staring out over the valley, he brooded.

The candour of his own nature could not begin to fathom the murky bog of fears and insecurities that kept Maeglin locked in her refusal to be open.

Was it some remnants of her identity as a nér that she had not fully relinquished?

Was it self-doubt, that she was unworthy of love, despite his adoration of her?

Was it his history with countless of the fairest females of Arda, elven and mortal, in spite of his repeated assurances that she had never had—and would never have—a rival?

Was it the shadow of her father and her mother—memories of their tumultuous, dark relationship bequeathing a lingering fear… that love would never be enough, passion would never be enough… that she bore through their blood the seeds of doomed love, that for her all things well begun could only fail and come to ruin?

Maeglin herself did not know. She would either run, as she did today, or give only evasive answers that shed no light. And confronting her had always resulted in nothing but mutual wretchedness and frustration.

With a small sigh, as he looked over to the house and watched the bridal party in full swing, Glorfindel resigned himself. Riding back, he returned to the feast, and joined in the songs of blessing and celebration.

And from that day, to survive their hidden life, he turned it into play.

Some nights, he coaxed her into wandering the house or the valley with him, or cajoled her into sneaking down into the kitchen for a snack. Avoiding discovery then became a game in itself, for from spring to autumn there would be elves abroad in the hallways and the gardens, singing by the river and dancing in the woods. And with great skill, they always passed undetected. But there remained nights when she would betake herself to the smithy, and he would join the others in their nocturnal revels and play, lest his prolonged absence from their company arouse suspicion. Other nights they played chess or cards in their chambers, or sparred with weapons in the basement training room.

In this way, the seasons then the years flew past on swift wings.

All Glorfindel could do was give Maeglin whatever time she might need. And pray that time was all she would need.

And till then, find joy in counting all his gain, and not lament his lack.


One rainy night, late in autumn, they sat by the fire in his chamber playing chess and drinking mulled wine.

“What are you thinking of, melmenya?”

She moved a black marble maethor. “Nothing.”

“Your nothing is humming like bees in my head. Tell me.”

“Very well. The ways of a man with a woman. Who gave you your initiation in the arts of love when you turned forty-five? Turukáno would never have been the one to speak to you. So who did?”

He glanced at her briefly, sensing at once that the question was not innocently curious, though he could not have guessed at the complex labyrinth of suspicions and jealousies that underlay it.

His white thoron captured one of her black maethyr, and as he palmed the intricately-carved marble piece, he said lightly, “Ecthelion, of course.”

“What?” she said, unbelievingly. “Are you in earnest?”

He set down her black maethor on the table next to two others, and her curunír. “Well, he was the closest I had to a father. Itarillë forced him to do it. A little earlier than customary, when I was thirty-six. After I had a run-in with Salgant’s twins which almost put me off women for life.”

“Northanis and Nornalë?” she said contemptuously. “Those lumps? What did they do?”

“I would rather not talk about it. Istuinor the librarian thankfully passed by and rescued me by throwing them out of the library. He then marched me to the princess and told her what happened. So Itarillë decided it was time for The Talk.”

“But Ecthelion is not even married… or was not. Egalmoth or Penlod were family men and more suited to this, surely.”

“Itarillë probably trusted in Ecthelion’s sterling, upright character and virtuous nature. Which Egalmoth, alas, did not inspire after a bawdy song she very unfortunately overheard him and Galdor singing on Vána’s Day. And she deemed Penlod too stern and aloof to speak to a child about such sensitive matters.”

“So… what did Ecthelion say?A black ernil moved forward on the board to protect her black aran.

Glorfindel’s azure eyes were sparkling with amusement as he leaned his chin on his hand and looked at her. “Oh, he took me to a lonely beach some distance from Vinyamar after breakfast the next day. And delivered the most moving and elegantly-worded speech about the natural cycles of life in Arda, and the sanctity of the act of marriage to the Eldar. And how it is a form of worship unto Eru and divinely ordained, and how it should never be undertaken lightly, but only when there exists a deep and mutual love and respect, and after long and careful consideration.” He paused for effect. Unhurriedly, his strong, slender fingers moved a white maethor. “And then, he handed me a book.”

Maeglin gave him a look from narrowed eyes. “A… book.”

“A book.” His eyes twinkled. “The Vanyar put it into poetry, and the Teleri put it into song. But trust the Noldor to have… a book. The Joyous Congress of the Connubial Bed. So, whilst Ecthelion sat himself on a rock and stared at the sea and sky—”

This was not at all the talk that she imagined a father-son should have. Her own father had been gruff, no-nonsense and graphic, and his lecture, conducted over shots of firewater in the forge, had held no surprises. An observant and shrewd child, Maeglin had known the facts of life by then, and Eöl would have been ashamed of him had he not known.

“Anyway,” Eöl had grunted in conclusion, “that’s the easiest part of handling a woman.” And tossing back his firewater, he had banged the cup down on the table, and returned to the anvil.

Her black ernil captured Glorfindel’s white maethor. And set it down next to three white maethyr and his white rîs. “That sounds like Ecthelion,” she said wryly.

“Yes. So whilst he meditated on the clouds, I walked up and down the beach and obediently read the book. Once I had finished, he asked me if I had any questions—”

“It must not have been a very long book.”

“Quite a detailed and comprehensive manual, actually. Two hundred and fifty-eight pages, excluding the index. And when I said no, I was sufficiently enlightened, he looked immensely relieved. Told me to return it to the library. Said that if he caught me trying to practice anything I had just learned on anyone while I was underaged, he would whip me. And if I stupidly and rashly got myself married to someone unsuitable once I came of age, and broke Itarillë’s heart—”

He froze and abruptly fell silent as their eyes met.

Neither of them had broached the subject about how Idril or Ecthelion might react to their marriage. Rash and stupid would mostly certainly be the verdict of both on the manner of their joining. And unsuitable would probably describe the entire Gondolindrin population’s opinion of their choice of mate.

Neither of them wanted to go there at the moment.

“So,” said Maeglin coolly, “was this enlightening book lost in the move to Gondolin?”

“Oh no. It was there in the Religion and Spirituality section of the library. It was, of course, never part of the educational syllabus Quendingoldo designed for you.”

He moved his curunír.

Her obsidian eyes were fixed on the chess board in disbelief.

He smiled luminously in triumph.

“And have you shown me everything of what you learned from that wondrous book?” she said at last.

He reflected carefully. “No… Not everything, now I think of it.”

She looked up. “Well, what are you waiting for, my tutor?”

Their eyes met and held over the chess pieces.

He smiled. “I am waiting for your next move. I am going to win this game, my prince.”

“I know.” Slowly, teasingly, she loosened the laces of her bodice, and smirked.

His eyebrow lifted slightly. “You don’t play fair, my prince.”

“I play to win.”

“Since it means so much to you…” He moved his curunír to another part of the board.

Stalemate.

Annoyance flickered in her eyes. “Neither of us winning is not satisfying. You giving up your win is worse, you patronizing son of a saint. Very well then, you win—fair and square.”

He smiled as he swept the marble pieces off the board. “Let us play something where no one loses.” They rose to their feet. “I warn you some of those moves looked fairly acrobatic.”

“Interesting.”

“I did not think they would please you,” he said as they moved around the table.

“Let us find out.”

So picking her up, he tossed her onto the connubial bed, and initiated a joyous session of congress.


Glorfindel woke one spring morning to Maeglin in a foul mood. A miasma of anger and misery surged heavy over his fëa like churning vats of molten lead or slabs of granite grinding against each other.

What was wrong now? He opened his eyes and saw he was alone in her bed. Sending out feelers with his mind, he found her once more shut up in the bath chamber. She had been cranky last night, and snapped at him, although he could not think of anything he might have done to upset her.

He sat up, and saw evidence on the bedsheet that should have explained it all, but caused him an initial flash of panic and worry.

Oh… Of course.

How had they not seen that coming?

The answer, of course, was that neither of them, as ellyn in their first lives, would have needed to consider this at all. And in this life, Maeglin had not had any naneth to give her the customary mother-daughter talk between the ages of thirty and forty.

Melmenya,” he said gently, as he rapped the bath-chamber door. “Are you well?”

“Go away.”

“This is perfectly natural—”

“Natural. What in bloody Arda is natural about this? What is natural about being turned into a sodding female by the sodding Valar and having to undergo this sodding mess of orc-muk?”

Given that elven menarche generally occurred around the age of forty for most ellith and that the cycle for most varied between seventeen to twenty-six coranári, he was tempted to suggest to her that the Valar had been merciful in arranging for her rebirth in a body that had probably just completed menarche and granting her twenty-four coranári of reprieve to settle into her new body.

So intense was her seething resentment at the moment, however, that he wisely decided against it. Nor would he dream of breathing a word about children to her, though the thought now occurred to him for the first time. Not that it was likely, in this time of fading in Ennor.

Through the door, he heard the sound of a knife tearing through cloth. “Wait! You don’t have to cut up your shirt! Let me call Thalanes.”

No! Not a word to anyone.”

“Can I do anything to help? How about herbal tea? Itarillë liked a herbal tea infusion with ginger and piuccar during this time.”

“Sod off.”

“Massage can help.”

“Just shut up. You cannot help. You cannot say anything that would help. I hate this. I hate Námo. And right this moment I sodding hate you for being a sodding nér who will never sodding have to deal with this so just leave me alone.”

So, standing helplessly outside the door, he shut up. Sent her his love through the door as best as he could, in warm, comforting waves... a bodiless hug fëa to fëa.

And though she never told him so, that helped.


Humming a new melody that was unfolding in his head like a blossoming rose, Lindir picked it out on the strings of his lute as he strolled through the gardens, and almost stepped on the small pouch lying on the path.

“What have we here?” said the minstrel, slinging his lute on his back and stooping to pick it up. Dark-blue velvet with a drawstring of gold ribbon, it was light as a feather. For a moment he thought it might be empty.

It was almost dinner time, and as Lindir glanced up and down the garden path, he saw not a soul. The stables and smithy lay around the bend in one direction, the garden maze in the other.

His long fingers untied the ribbon, and his eyes widened as a small ring of braided hair fell out of the pouch upon his palm and glowed there with a golden luminescence that was unmistakable.

Which admirer of the balrog slayer had been able to steal a priceless lock of that golden hair? And how? Had Glorfindel noticed the shearing of his treasured tresses? It would be a tale worth the telling in itself, thought Lindir with a grin—a feat of daring and cunning worthy of a song in epic mode.

He returned the beautiful bright thing to the pouch and retied the ribbon.

Now, how might he track down that audacious maid to hear the tale?

Just then, through the rose and jasmine bushes that lined the path, he espied Maeglin in the distance, coming from the smithy, attired in her work clothes. One fleeting glimpse of her face in the twilight gave him a shock, and pure instinct told him the truth. He climbed swiftly up a nearby tree and dropped the pouch back onto the path.

Hidden in thick summer foliage, he watched her slowly make her way along the path, a frown on her fair brow and her mouth set in a stern line. Her sharp black eyes carefully swept the stone slabs and the grass and flowers growing along the verge, and also looked about to check that she was alone.

Something in her face made Lindir pray, Please Eru, let her not look up. He was fond of the foundling maiden but the dark, taciturn streak in her nature intimidated him. He was not foolish enough to ask for any tales of hair exploits from that grim, unsmiling face.

The moment she espied the pouch on the path ahead of her, she quickly glanced about to ascertain there were no watching eyes, then swiftly strode to it and retrieved it. He could not see her face. She took out the ring of golden hair, and cradled it gently in her palm as though it were a living thing, then carefully slipped it back into the pouch and tucked the pouch as deeply into her breech pocket as she could.

As she disappeared back down the path towards the smithy, Lindir found that he had been holding his breath. Astonished and intrigued, he did not know what to think.

Maeglin was well-noted to be the one elleth in the valley coolly contemptuous of the charms of the balrog slayer. Nor could Lindir recall Glorfindel ever showing more than the most proper and detached courtesy towards her.

Erestor, Lindir thought with a smirk, would be quite disappointed to learn that the one bulwark of female good sense in the valley—as the councillor esteemed it—had capitulated.

Slipping down from his perch, the minstrel went in search of the councillor.


Glossary

A cálë (Q) – light/illuminate (imperative)

Mellon vuin (S) – dear friend (in FOTR Glorfindel speaks Sindarin to Asfaloth. I figure that somewhere in the Second Age after leaving Aman, they would have begun to do so.)

Piuccar (Q) – blackberries

Curunír (S) – wizard

Thoron (S) - eagle

Ernil (S) - prince

Rîs (S) – queen

As always, I welcome expert feedback on elvish.

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