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The Starlit Face of Tenderness
"Aswoon with grief, aswoon
A starlit face of tenderness
Lay of Leithian"
Their whispers woke him from dreams. Low voices, so low that he couldn't make out the words, only that they spoke the tongue of Aman and that one of the speakers was filled with passion, the other with dread. It was only a moment they were, paused outside his tent, but Elrond knew well the music of those voices, though what they spoke together remained a mystery.
He had heard those low, melodious sounds every evening as he lay down to rest, every evening since he could remember - save that one remnant of time that had been left him, a tiny jewel of memory from his former life. Just enough to remind him every day that there had *been* a former life. Just enough to hurt if he thought about it too much.
Eventually, though, those voices had offered respite from the pain. Maedhros, while never overly affectionate, was yet a source of laughter on more that one occasion, of lore and learning on many others. He had taught Elrond and his brother to fight, to ride, to face their greatest fears head on without flinching. Elros had developed a stronger bond with him than had Elrond, though, and through that bond had discovered the world of Mortal Men, a contingent of whom often rode with Maedhros and his warriors.
Fighting had never greatly interested Elrond, and now, as he listened to the soft murmur of Maglor's voice - for it was he who provided the hesitant counterpoint to Maedhros outside the tent - his mind was full of all that the beautiful second son of Fëanor had done for him. Music, lore, rune reading - Maglor had taught Elrond everything that the Halfelf now cherished most. Through his own thirst for knowledge, he had given Elrond that same need - a passion for lore, a drive for wisdom and understanding, the ability to appreciate the plainest harp melody for the simple miracle that it was.
He turned on his bedroll now, wanting only to listen to that lovely voice and let it lull him back to his dreams. For awhile he hovered in that strange state between wake and sleep - the faint outline of a tall and powerful Elf appearing out of the mists of his mind, holding out a hand to him, beckoning Elrond to join him - and then, suddenly, he was awake again and there was shouting outside.
By the time he got to the broad, grassy area before Eönwë's tent, where it seemed most of the camp had gathered, the noise of the clashing voices was deafening. He heard someone - Maedhros, he thought - strident and strangely defiant. As he pushed through the crowd of Elves, he heard those at the front draw their swords and, coming at last to where he could see the conflict, was horrified to see his two foster fathers, on horseback, long swords pointed towards Eönwë, who stood in front of them, holding back an angry group of Vanya.
His first thought was for Maglor and he tried to push farther on to go to his side. What the altercation was about he had no idea, but surely his adopted father was blameless - nay, even in the right, against this mob - and he desperately wanted to be with him, even if the best he could offer was a show of support.
About to cry out, he was surprised by a great voice, loud enough to drown out all the others, yet calm in it's essence, not angry or defensive. Eönwë, tall and shining, held up a hand, and the camp fell utterly silent but for the nervous stamping of Maedhros's and Maglor's horses.
"No one shall lay hand on these two," Eönwë said solemnly, "nor take away from them that which they bear."
The Elves behind him again raised their voices, seeming to be utterly bewildered at the Maia's command. Several tried to push forward, pressing Elrond between them so that he had to struggle to stay in place. /"... that which they bear..."/ he thought. Whatever could - his eyes moved to the mounted figures, searching them frantically before finding what he most feared he might find. A mithril box that gleamed dully in the light from the torches was fastened by a strap around Maedhros's waist. It had finally come to this... the joy and bane of his beloved stepfather's existence now belonged to the sons of Fëanor, and they had defied a Maia and the command of the Valar to make it so. The Silmarils were theirs.
"There has been enough slaying these past years," Eönwë said softly. "I will countenance no more within my camp, nor will I bring violence or judgment that is not mine to give." He gazed up at the two brothers and, though his back was to Elrond, the Halfelf thought he could guess the look on that lovely face - a mixture of sorrow, regret, and of resignation to a fate foretold.
For what seemed an eternal moment, no one said a word. There was only the licking flames burning with a soft buffeting sound, and the tired breathing of war-weary Elves. Then, into that soft silence, Maedhros murmured, "Come brother - we are away."
It was only then that Elrond grasped the full meaning of the tableau laid out before him. Maedhros and Maglor were leaving, and they would never, ever come back. They were renegades now, with their treasures, and it would mean terrible punishment for them ever to return to their fellows. For a moment, the sheer completeness of his loss made him dizzy and he thought he might fall there beneath the feet of the Vanyar, trampled by the golden Elves of Valinor in his shock and grief. Then he felt something welling up in him, hot and burning, something that was forcing its way out.
For the first time that evening, Maglor's eyes found Elrond among the crowd. The look in them was nearly too much for the younger Elf to bear - regret, terrible regret, and sadness beyond comprehension.
"Telella..." he murmured, nearly dismounting from his steed before Maedhros's arm reached out to stop him.
"Please..." Elrond said, his own voice seeming to come from far away, "take me with you..."
But Maglor only shook his head, tears spilling from eyes that could no longer hold them. He raised a hand to his lips and kissed his own fingertips before holding it out toward Elrond.
"Atto, *please*!!" the Halfelf cried, but the brothers were already turning their horses, their figures dissolving into the shadowy night.
"Take me with you..." Elrond whispered to the night air. Eönwë, hearing him, turned and looked at him, a sad smile on his beautiful face. "Go back to your tent, young one. Try to rest. Your grief will not seem so sharp in dreams." Then, without another word, he turned and walked back to his own tent.
There were tears in Elrond's eyes - just as there had been in Maglor's, but for some strange reason, they wouldn't come out. His cheeks were dry as he stumbled back through the crowd. Inside him was a horrible sob, a scream of pain that needed badly to be heard, but he was voiceless, unable to do anything but breathe raggedly, great, shuddering breaths.
Panic might have overtaken him then but for a sudden hand on his arm, pulling at him, dragging him over to a sheltered space away from the dispersing crowd.
"Whatever you do, don't cry for those bastards. They don't deserve it."
Elrond looked up and saw his brother's face inches from his.
"Elros... we have to follow them... they mean to go away forever -"
"Of course they do," Elros whispered harshly. "They always did, you know. I determined that much at least. The only thing they've been living for all this time was another chance at the Silmarils. Everything else - you and me and being together - that was all just to pass the time until they could make their move. Well I say, good riddance!"
The voice was that of his brother, that was true, but surely the words, that bitterness... "You can't mean that," Elrond whispered back. "They loved us. They took care of us - taught us everything we needed to know."
"Like what?" Elros spat back at him, his eyes flashing. "Things like greed? Obsession? Things like objects are more important than people? Than your family?" A sound escaped him - half sob, half derisive laugh. "They weren't even our real family, Elrond. They all but killed our mother - destroyed our home - and for what? Those cursed jewels - and now, now that they have them..."
For a moment Elrond thought his brother might break down, thought he saw tears behind the long, dark lashes. But Elros gathered himself up, the look on his face nothing but anger and betrayal. "They've left us alone, Elrond. They've made their choice - they've chosen the Silmarils and left us behind, the way they always meant to do. They didn't love either of us half as much as they loved those damnable stones. And now we're abandoned once again..."
"No," Elrond whispered, "they wouldn't..." But hadn't he seen it for himself? Hadn't he pleaded with Maglor, only to be blown a kiss and then left behind, like an unwanted animal.
"They would," Elros said in a voice hoarse with emotion. The hardened facade was beginning to crack and a single tear escaped the cage of his lashes as he whispered, "I'm through with the Elves. If this is what they're capable of I want none of it. Men may not be as wise as they are, nor as beautiful, but what good is wisdom and beauty if leads to betrayal?"
His last words were nearly spat out and he turned to go, but Elrond caught his sleeve. "What are you saying? You cannot be 'through' with the Elves - you *are* an Elf!"
"*Half* Elf!" Elros hissed back. "And half a mortal Man... and to my mind -" and here he broke off, eyes staring into Elrond's, a hundred things he wanted to say passing between them. "To my mind," he said again at last, "the Second Born are the more honorable."
"Elros..." They stood for what felt like an eternity, staring at each other, Elrond unbelieving, Elros grimly determined. It was only when the guards to the west of the camp came running, calling to Eönwë, that the brothers broke their sad gaze.
A dark-haired Noldo was running through the camp. "My Lord Eönwë! Come quickly! There are ships in the gulf!"
~ to be continued ~
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