A Shadow That Shines
Maeglin stiffened when her keen elven ears heard, through the heavy oak doors of the library, voices in the corridor outside.
“What are you doing skulking out here?”
“I am not skulking. I am, uh... on my way to get a book on... on Gondolin.”
“Uh huh. You. Read. A book on Gondolin.”
Maeglin could imagine the councillor’s raised eyebrow.
“I want to borrow Pengolodh’s book for Estel, since you have obviously been teaching the boy inaccuracies.”
Their exchange gave Maeglin time to replace the two books she had been reading on their shelves. And no—neither of them had been The Fall of Gondolin; one glance at her former teacher Pengolodh’s tome and she had recoiled from the shelf with an involuntary shiver. One of her chosen books had been on weapons of Ennor, written by a smith of the Last Alliance. The other had been a book on the dwarves of Beleriand by Finrod Felagund that she had felt oddly and nostalgically drawn to, despite the fact that she associated dwarves with her father Eöl’s oppressive and sullen presence. Those visits to Nogrod remained, in her memory, a time of relative innocence. And of less misery.
“It was not I who taught him about Gondolin!” the indignant voice outside the library was saying. “It was the twins! It has fallen to me to cover the first two thousand years of Númenorean history over the past three years.”
“That makes no sense. The twins are teaching Estel Firstborn history and you are covering the Secondborn?”
“Elrohir said, and I quote, ‘We’ll take the fun stuff.’ So take it up with them, be less quick with your accusations, and stick to teaching Estel geography and swordfighting. Are you not supposed to be having a lesson with him now?”
The heavy double doors swung open, and Erestor and Glorfindel entered, glowering at each other.
Maeglin had unhurriedly picked out an innocuous volume on the flora and fauna of Eriador, and calmly walked to a window seat. The library was empty save for her and Idhren the librarian, who was humming as he shelved books in the astronomy section. She lifted her head to look casually at the two lords as the doors opened.
The two lords and the librarian greeted each other, then the lords turned to look at her. The golden-haired lord wore an air of studied nonchalance. An expression of mild surprise crossed his fair face as his eyes met hers. Maeglin had seen it better feigned.
“Lord Erestor, Lord Glorfindel.” The black-eyed maiden set her book down and made to rise from her seat.
“Maiden Lómiel,” murmured the balrog slayer with a bow, and vanished into the history aisle as his ears turned slightly red.
“Well met. No, no, pray do not rise, maiden Lómiel,” said Erestor. “It gladdens my heart to see a lass who loves learning. How does your foot?”
“Healing very well, I thank you.”
“Most of the maidens are in the gardens, gathering blossoms and dancing and singing the songs of spring. Once your foot is healed, you might join them, instead of being cooped up in the house.”
Maeglin managed to keep her expression deadpan. “That sounds delightful, Lord Erestor.” She could think of few things more nauseating than sitting in a tree with giggling elfmaids, putting flowers in her hair and singing silly songs. “Would you know of some useful occupation I might undertake whilst I am here? I dislike having idle hands.”
Erestor smiled approvingly at her. “Well, that could most certainly be arranged. Would your hands like to assist the chefs in our kitchens?”
A book fell with a loud thud in the history aisle. Idhren’s head turned sharply in alarm, and Glorfindel emerged with his face slightly flushed, looking as though he would have liked to bash Erestor with the large book he held in his hand.
“It is hot and hard work in the kitchens, Erestor!” said the golden-haired warrior. And there were knives. . .and access to the food of the household. “Surely not suited to. . .to a lass with such. . .such fine hands!”
Erestor eyed Maeglin’s delicate features and slender white hands, fine and patrician even by the standards of the elves. “Hmmm. Do you like sewing or embroidery, my dear?” the councillor asked, without acknowledging that Glorfindel had spoken.
“Well—no,” Maeglin demurred.
“Ah, I know just the thing!” said Erestor. “Since Nestaloth returns to Lothlórien in a week, there will be need for another healer in the halls. What say you to that, Lómiel?”
Glorfindel went pale. Access to scalpels, and to every herb and poison known to the Quendi. “Erestor, after spending so much time as a patient of the halls, Lómiel surely does not want to spend more days cooped up there!”
“Your reasoning astounds me, Glorfindel. You have been a patient there often enough yourself. By your logic, you should not wish to serve there as a healer either.”
“Surely there is something else,” said Glorfindel. “Weaving. Or. . .or playing the harp. Or the flute.”
“I should be glad to learn the ways of a healer,” Maeglin cut in abruptly, and with finality.
Glorfindel was only partially able to hide his dismay.
“Excellent. I shall let Lord Elrond know, and we shall arrange for your apprenticeship. Rest well tomorrow, child. On the day after, you may report to the healing halls.” Erestor turned to Glorfindel with a glare. “Should you not be going? It has been time for Estel’s lesson since ten minutes past.”
With an incoherent murmur and a graceful bow, Glorfindel turned to go, showing the book he was borrowing to Idhren before he exited.
Maeglin was still silently seething with anger when Erestor left sometime later. Anger at this fragile body. Anger at both Glorfindel and Erestor for the choices they had offered—and for those that they had withheld. There were a number of ellith in the guard, yet both lords had taken one look at her dainty frame and not even thought to offer her training as a warrior. There was a smithy out at the back, next to the stables. That would never be offered to her either.
And Glorfindel had enraged Maeglin by the way he had interrupted. Who was he, to speak for her, instead of letting her speak for herself? But she had bitten back her indignation, mindful of the disguise she needed to preserve.
Her first impulse, the morning after Glorfindel had barged into her bedchamber, had been to imperiously demand that Erestor give her a chamber elsewhere, anywhere, just nowhere near the balrog-slayer. But on what grounds? Glorfindel had not done anything objectionable besides enter her room out of concern and prepare medicine for her. She did not wish to call attention to her nightmare, or indeed to herself in any way. For the same reason, she would meekly accept the offer of an apprenticeship in the halls of healing.
She gave a small sigh, as she stared unseeing at drawings of varieties of moss and dogwood in her book.
Maeglin was starting over. Again.
This time, the greatest struggle lay in adapting to this new body.
There had been another time, in another valley, when all had also been strange and new. In the space of a day, a young ellon had lost both parents and had been smitten by the forbidden beauty of a cousin with grey eyes and golden hair. In comparison with the intense grief and despair of that time, this new season of adjustment was nothing. At least here, in Imladris, Maeglin could comprehend what was spoken—how amazing, that the language of the Quendi had varied less over millennia than between its tribes in Beleriand. And whereas the new prince of Gondolin had had every eye upon him as he took his place by Turgon’s throne, being a slender elf-maid of no great stature and no status allowed her to wander freely, unremarked, through this house, attracting friendly and admiring glances but no great interest. In Gondolin, for Maeglin’s first two years there, two or three lords or attendants had been assigned to the young prince from the moment he emerged from his chambers to the time he retired, giving him no space to mourn or indeed breathe. Fighting lessons, language lessons, history lessons, sciences, mathematics, literature, etiquette, hunts, war games, mountain hikes. His every sigh or frown or utterance had been noted and waited on. One of those lords in attendance in Gondolin had often been Glorfindel.
For the next two hours, the annoying golden-haired lord would be busy with Estel, and she would be free of his shadow trailing after her, thank Eru.
Two days ago, Glorfindel had loitered in the healing halls while Thalanes tended Maeglin’s foot, ostensibly checking on the stocks of dried herbs, or poring in frowning concentration over the pages of a book on herbal lore. During meals, the balrog slayer sat himself across from the traitor at the great table and pretended not to watch her as she ate and talked to the twins. As Maeglin slowly walked in the house or ventured out onto the terrace, she had become aware of her stalker—not because of any noise he made, for he was a skilled and silent hunter, but because of a variety of other voices which would suddenly pipe up in his vicinity and give him away.
“Ohhh, Lord Glorfindel! May I walk with you?” (flirty giggle)
“Le suilannon, hir-nín. Is it not a lovely day?” (flirty laugh)
“Ah, there you are, Glorfindel! I have been looking for you!”
“Glor-fin-del!!! Are we having our lesson today? Can we go for a swim?”
“What in Ennor are you doing, Glorfindel? Did you lose something?”
Thus alerted, Maeglin’s sharp eyes began to catch occasional glimpses of him— a tell-tale gleam of gold. A shimmer at the corner of her eye, a ghostly reflection in a suit of armour along a hallway, or shining in a windowpane, or in a mirror.
The irony was not lost on the one who had perfected the art of stalking Idril for more than a hundred years at Gondolin. Maeglin’s black hair and garb had been eminently suited to that purpose. It isn’t tremendously effective stalking someone as silently as a shadow, she thought wryly, if you are a shadow with luminous golden hair.
Does he suspect? Maeglin had at first wondered, but Glorfindel had never been skilled at dissembling, and all she saw in his clear blue eyes whenever their eyes chanced to meet, was the same guilty, abashed yearning she had seen on that first evening in the dining hall.
Maeglin went out of the library and onto a garden terrace. In the distance, she saw Glorfindel running with Estel over a bridge and heading towards a waterfall. Away from the house. Good.
With a small, sardonic smile, Maeglin wondered how tiresome Idril had found her dark stalker in Gondolin. Nay, never was I as ham-fisted as this golden dolt, she thought, even as the memory of wariness and pity in iridescent grey eyes brought an unexpected pang of remembered anguish. Maeglin frowned as she pushed her black hair back from her face. If the mere thought of Idril no longer evoked longing or lust, it still had the power to bring pain. With a shrug of slender shoulders, she seemed to shake herself free of the past. Never again. I am done with love and all that rot.
With a sigh of relief, she seated herself on one of the comfortable cushioned chairs on the terrace. This was her present. A valley basking in warm spring sunlight. The breeze brought to her the sweet harmony of elven voices singing in the trees, and the scent of the flowers of late spring. Elladan and Elrohir were riding out, dressed for the hunt. They smiled and waved when they saw her, and when Maeglin waved back, she was surprised by how naturally her smile came.
For one brief, fleeting moment, Lómiel who had once been Lómion felt her fëa expand within her. A soft voice within whispered that the world was in order, and that life was good. She had never felt this way before, and as she sought to fathom it, the moment slipped away.
But if it had a name, Maeglin thought, maybe it was peace.
Suilad (S) – Hello (informal)
Le suilannon (S) – I give greetings to you (formal)