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Title: A Falcon for the Nightingale
Author: Enismirdal firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary: What became of the two greatest of all the Elven minstrels?
Disclaimer: Characters belong to Tolkien, not me. No insult or disrespect intended and no profit made.
Warnings: Some very slightly implied het attractions. Angst.
Beta: The lovely Jaiden. I loved all your fussing. Thank you, sweetie!
Dedication: To the person who’s been there pretty much every day since we met sometime in May, who’s put up with me complaining, whining, bouncing, squealing, pouting and all the rest of it. To the one who has taught me so much about writing and characters. Uli, dear, this one’s for you.
The gulls’ calls were hollow - in the past, he would have described them as lonely and despairing. The balmy wind on his face was moist and gently caressed his face with warm fingers. The delicate flowers gazed innocently skywards, nodding idly as he passed them.
It had taken Daeron many years before he could once more appreciate Arda as the Valar had intended. Years before he was able to see that the life and beauty around him was no mere façade to hide a filthy and rotting core. Alone, he may still be. And many mornings he awoke to a dull and cloudy day and wondered why he kept continuing to awaken each morning when it would be so much simpler to sleep until the end of Arda. But now, he could stare into the soft, earth-brown eyes of a doe, or watch a lark circling against a dazzling sky, and he would smile softly to himself and remember that there were still marvels left here.
With a hint of wistful nostalgia, he thought back to his days in Doriath. How many years had it been since he had fled from that place? He had forgotten. It had been so long since he had walked in those dusky, sweet-scented forests, delighting in the springiness of the moss underfoot and the haunting melodies of the night birds…those days were now just distant memories, illusive fragments of an image that had once been a whole, immediate reality.
But one memory he still grasped tightly: smooth, supple limbs spinning and swaying in time to the music of his flute. Alabaster skin a blur of silver-white moonlight. Long hair a veil of ebony silk, lifting in soft tendrils as she moved. Lips the colour of cherry blossom parted alluringly, curving up into a thoughtful smile.
The only woman he had ever loved.
The one he knew he could never have.
He used to play for her: sad tunes, joyous tunes, mysterious tunes. And she would pick up the music and make it hers, working it as tenderly as a potter works clay, turning it into a living daydream of light and movement. She had always been the most beautiful of dancers, graceful and poised. Sometimes she would sing as well; her voice was flawless perfection, so exquisite that the forests themselves would pause to listen.
Sometimes, the song had shifted to a more ancient tune, and the dance had become one of lips and hands on hot skin…
He sighed and shook his head, drawing the back of his sleeve roughly across his eyes. Lifting his chin to the wind, he continued to walk.
The sea was choppy today, white horses rearing their heads and breakers smashing themselves uselessly on the patient cliffs. Daeron did not know why his feet had carried him towards the shore; perhaps the blood of his people was calling to him after all these years. What he did know was that his aimless wanderings had suddenly become purposeful, his feet carrying him Westwards, until he had crested a hill rise and scented salt on the breeze.
The sea went on forever. Its vastness caused Daeron’s breath to hitch in his throat. Selecting a grassy mound close to one of the chalky cliffs, he sat down and looked out, eyes large with wonder. He peered into the distance, trying to discern the horizon, the point at which the blue-grey sky sunk into the blue-grey sea. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he glimpsed a gleam of silver far away in the distance and, as he did so, something in his heart twisted. To see the overwhelming distance separating him from his cousins the Teleri, to imagine the long, bitter journey of the exiled Noldor to the Great Lands…it made the ballads sound utterly inadequate.
At first, in his self-absorbed introspection, he mistook the song for another gull’s call, only sweeter; maybe distorted by distance. But after only a few notes, he knew he was mistaken. The clarity of the voice, the pure, sweet harmonies - only another Elf could make music like that, and whoever it was must be talented even by the standards of their people. Rising, he looked around for the source of the sound.
The singer was tall and very thin, standing on the tip of the nearby peninsula which jutted out half a mile into the ocean. Daeron gazed at the figure, but could not tell if the singer was male or female based on appearance alone. The rich alto voice could almost belong to either, but there was a certain quality to it that suggested the singer was a male. He recognised the tune almost immediately. It was a Noldorin tune, one that Galadriel had sometimes sung without seeming to realise it. When he had once dared to ask her where she learned the song, she had answered coldly that she had forgotten, and would say no more.
But, while on her lips it had been sweet and beautiful, on the lips of this other Elf it was in another class entirely. Powerful, glorious, and at the same time heart-wrenchingly sorrowful. Daeron hardly dared to breathe as he listened, enthralled.
His feet moved of their own accord, carrying him across the green swathes of meadow towards the Elf. His mind buzzed with curiosity: Who? How? Why?
It was the song he always sang at this time of day, when the sun had passed its zenith and now began its lingering descent into the Great Sea. It was a song of lament: for his father’s choices, his brothers’ stubbornness, his people’s curse, his own innumerable failings.
He had not laid eyes upon another of the Quendi for many long years now, nor did he wish to again. Wherever his family walked, doom followed, and he was tired of inflicting that on others. So he lived alone; he ate alone, slept alone, scoured the deserted shores alone, watching the courtship of oystercatchers in the salt marshes and listening to the sad calls of the gulls as they circled overhead. And he sang alone: a hollow, joyless solo that carried thinly on the winds for many miles. Indeed, the fishing villages to the south believed it to be a siren or mermaid or other mythical being known only to the old folk-tales, using the song to lure careless sailors to their deaths. They told many a chilling tale of the Sea Singer over a mug of ale in a warm, crowded tavern.
Maglor’s conscience punished him constantly. He was the last of Fëanor’s sons; the last, he believed, of Fëanor’s cursed line, and a soft voice in his mind never allowed him to forget this fact. The others had all journeyed long since to Mandos, where no doubt they were learning of the consequences of their deeds and most likely suffering some kind of penance for them. He, meanwhile, was free to wander the Great Lands as he chose, lingering in bright meadow, shady wood or windswept shore. He felt somehow that this comparative freedom was unjust - surely he had committed acts as heinous as any of the others - and wished that he, too, could have the opportunity to make good some small measure of his actions.
He had not the courage - or foolishness - of his elder brother. When news had reached him that Maedhros had thrown himself into a chasm of fire he had at first mourned his brother’s loss. But soon he had come to realise that it had been a merciful end. He had later tried to take his own life.
But his hands, still scar-stiff from the burns inflicted by the final Silmaril before, in shame and frustration, he had hurled it into the sea, had refused to do his wishes. The knife had fallen from his grip after making only the shallowest of cuts and, although everything at the time had seemed sullied with crimson, the blood had stopped before he had even begun to feel light-headed.
It was then that Maglor began to realise that his fate was not to flee this life, but to remain.
“What are you doing here?”
The voice startled him right in the middle of the forty-third verse of the haunting ballad. He turned to meet the eyes of an earnest-looking dark-haired Elf, small and slight. There was a quick intelligence to the stranger’s face but his eyes held sad memories and his clothes were sturdy yet worn. “I could ask the same of you,” Maglor replied.
“I wander. It happened that I was wandering this way, and I heard your singing. I have always appreciated a good voice and yours, I have to say, is…truly exceptional.”
“So it has been said.” Maglor’s reply lacked both enthusiasm and pride.
“You still have not answered my question.” The stranger’s eyebrow twitched curiously.
“I came here in search of solitude. Obviously, that has been somewhat lacking since your arrival.”
“I apologise,” was the gracious answer. “As I said, I came only to hear you singing. If you wish, I shall leave now, but I have been travelling for a long time and it would be nice to sit by a warm fire in a place that is dry and sheltered for a change. I have some small skill with music, and I hoped that we might be able to exchange songs and tales tonight.”
Maglor looked down his nose at the Elf. “I no longer give public performances.” But he had been taught from childhood never to refuse hospitality to one who requested it…and in truth, his heart ached for the company of another, even for an evening. So many years alone; perhaps indeed he was growing tired of speaking only to the gulls and the sand. Sighing, he relented. “I cannot offer you much but, if it pleases you, you may stay and share my home - if one can call it that - this night.”
The other Elf smiled. “I thank you.”
Maglor cocked his head. “But I should first like to know the name of the one who sleeps beside my fire.”
The slender Elf squared his shoulders but dropped his eyes. “I have not heard my name spoken for many years. I am…Daeron.”
“The minstrel?” Maglor’s eyes narrowed in astonishment.
“The betrayer,” Daeron replied gently.
“There are worse crimes committed in these lands,” Maglor remarked softly. “If you speak truthfully, and I sense that you do, then ‘some small skill’ does not begin to describe your talent for song. It is said that you were…are,” he corrected hastily, “the greatest minstrel born to the Quendi.”
Daeron flushed at the compliment and swallowed. “There have ever been two things that brought true joy to me. One is not mine, and never was; only my music remains for me.” He gazed out across the sea as the breeze whipped through his hair. Maglor saw him whisper words to himself, but the wind carried them swiftly away and drowned them among the gulls’ cries.
The Sinda turned back to Maglor. “I take it that you also have a name? Forgive me if I presume, but by your features I would guess you to be one of the Noldor.”
“I am,” Maglor confirmed, and he felt almost ashamed by the admission, a far cry from the pride his people once held. “But if I tell you my name, you will want nothing further to do with me. My name, it seems, has become a curse upon the tongues of my kinsfolk in this Age.”
“Verily?” Daeron paused, brow furrowed with thought. After a moment, a soft, “Ohhhhhhh,” escaped his lips. “I see it now, in your features. I can see the fire for which your father was so famed; the last embers still smoulder in your eyes. But Fëanor’s sons are all dead - save, maybe, one. Maglor…the singer, forger of the golden melodies.”
“Forger of the trail of blood. Forger of a chain of widowed wives and orphaned children. Kinslayer thrice over.” He turned away, his tone turning bitter. “Beside the horror I have caused, ‘betrayer’ seems a small crime to claim.” He hoped that Daeron had not seen the angry, burning tear that was forming in his eye. “If you do not wish for my taint to spread to you also, I suggest that you leave now and forget that you ever saw me.”
“I have already had my share of pain and loss,” Daeron answered with a quiet confidence. “I hear regret in your voice, and from that I can conclude that you are no soulless monster. We have both, I think, suffered shame and hurt aplenty for our last deeds, and I do not believe that Eru would be so unkind as to punish me further for being in your presence.”
“So even though you now know, you are saying that you still wish to accept my hospitality?” Maglor asked with a lifeless, sarcastic laugh.
Daeron smiled and placed a hand on the Noldo’s shoulder. “My friend, I think you have forgotten the pleasures of another’s company. I trust you well enough not to slay me tonight, and I still desire to hear more of your song.”
Maglor frowned at Daeron’s use of the word ‘friend’ and delicately removed the hand resting on his shoulder, but he did not argue. “I assume that you would like something to eat,” he stated dryly, turning and walking back along the beach. His bare feet made barely an impression in the wet sand.
“I would not be averse to a meal,” Daeron agreed.
“Then I hope that you like shellfish, for that is the main food that the tide offers up at this time of year.” He led his guest into a sea cave just below the high tide mark. Once inside, he crossed to a stack of barnacle-encrusted barrels and removed the lid from the nearest one. It was around three-quarters full of brightly coloured periwinkles: yellow, orange, green, black, white.
“I would not know. I cannot say I have ever thought to try them.” Daeron picked up one of the small snails and examined it with interest.
Maglor almost felt himself smile. “I have developed one or two recipes that seem to work well with the flavours.”
Daeron sifted through the remains of the sauce in the pot to see if there were any periwinkles left. Maglor had indeed done an excellent job with cooking them, but Daeron had noticed that the Noldo himself ate very sparingly and without enthusiasm. Everything about Maglor, in fact, seemed to lack enthusiasm. His house was a tiny hut made of driftwood and contained no personal possessions except for the old, tatty blankets that lay in untidy piles around the single room, and a carefully wrapped bundle in the corner. His clothes were ragged and threadbare, drab in colour. His hair was unbraided and sea salt had dried into it so that it was riddled with split ends. His face was pale, gaunt and melancholy.
Daeron remembered the time after Doriath’s ruin when he had been through a similar period. He had lost interest in living, but could not scrape together the decisive willpower to facilitate his death. He also knew that time did not make the pain disappear, but that it could make it easier to bear.
He fished out the last periwinkle and extracted the meat from the small shell. “My compliments on your cooking.”
“Thank you.” Maglor had remained quiet and rather monosyllabic throughout dinner. It seemed that things were not likely to change now.
Daeron lifted his small travelling knapsack from the corner and opened it carefully to reveal some rather stale bread, a spare shirt and a small lyre. It was tiny, barely a toy of a thing, but he stroked the worn wood lovingly as he took it out. Singing a pure note, he tuned each of the strings by ear and smiled. “I can sing for you now, if you wish.”
“If it pleases you,” Maglor replied quietly. His voice suggested that he did not care one way or the other, but Daeron would not believe that such a famed singer could have lost all love for music. And so he played. He did not choose a lament, though he knew many; most of them ones that he had written himself. Nor did he play one of the joyous, thankful tunes that villages loved to hear when spring came around. He reached into old memories and found a song once written for the River Sirion. It began quickly, a lively and bubbling melody at the river’s source, then continued on, turning dark and peaceful through the deep forests, slow and languid past golden fields and busily staccato as it reached the villages. But Maglor cut him short before the music of the river came to the Mouths of Sirion. “Do not go on; I know what I destroyed. I need no reminders.”
Daeron nodded, but his fingers did not fall still. He played on, but differently. He sang, not of the houses and fair Elves who lived at the mouth of the great river, but of the soft sands and the endless sea. And Maglor did not interrupt him again.
At the end, the Noldo sat quietly and only the slight furrowing of his brow indicated that he was thinking deeply. “Now you wish for a song from me, I suppose,” he mused.
“I would ask you to play only if you desire to,” Daeron said.
“Alas, I mislaid my lyre so long ago I cannot say where it may now be. Most likely firewood in a forester’s hut.”
“Then take mine,” Daeron replied, offering his small instrument. Maglor took it and inspected it carefully, running long, almost skeletal fingers over the engraving on the back.
“These letters; they are your Cirth?” Daeron nodded. “Do you not find them…ugly?”
Daeron gave a wry smile. “Aye, they lack the elegance and flowing shapes of those letters that your father…”
“…‘borrowed’ from the sage, Rúmil,” Maglor stated with honesty.
Daeron had been unsure whether he was ‘allowed’ to say as much, so to speak, and was therefore glad that the Fëanorian had made the admission for him. “Aye. But their shape was suited to the purpose for which I created them.” Maglor looked at him with darkly intelligent eyes, neither urging him to go on nor discouraging him. “It occurred to me that when knowledge was passed on by stories and tales, parts were lost and parts shifted and altered with each telling. For tales recounted simply for their own sake, this was no great shame; but for histories and songs made to serve a purpose, it would not do. The house of my lord King had many, many walls of rock, as I am sure you know. I thought that some method of depicting the tales accurately upon so many walls would be both attractive and valuable. Your Tengwar are pretty, it may be said, but they are to be written with pen upon parchment; the Cirth are to cut into cold stone.”
“Ah,” Maglor agreed in understanding.
Daeron nodded. “Aye. I pity any stonemason who was asked to engrave a dedication in Tengwar on to a face of stone!”
Maglor’s lip twisted oddly and Daeron realised after a moment that this was the closest the Fëanorian was likely to come to a true smile. He counted it a small victory and glanced once more at the lyre. “Do you plan to play?”
The Noldo nodded slowly. “Yes. I shall play.” He closed his eyes briefly as if collecting all the notes together in his head and then a tune came from his fingers. Daeron had not expected a happy tune, and he was not given one; the melody was resonant and rich and, like the song on the peninsula, heavy with sorrow that seemed to hang in each note. Maglor played flawlessly, but also his music held a depth of emotion that was seldom seen. Daeron understood now why his talent was so prized. He found himself speechless as the last note sounded, not a condition to which he was accustomed. Yet he found it strange to see that Maglor’s eyes were calm and his face impassive. Had the music not touched him as it had touched Daeron? The Sinda paused for a moment. All he knew was that he wished to hear more, and a longing grew inside him to hear the song for which Maglor was most famous of all.
“There is one song I would wish to hear above all others. Would you sing for me Noldolantë?”
Maglor’s eyes held fear and a sadness so profound that Daeron instantly regretted his request. “I cannot. I will not perform Noldolantë any more; it tells of everything I hate about myself and my people, and that is best left to die.” He glanced out of the small window at the dark sky and black sea. “It is late now. I wish to sleep.”
Daeron woke suddenly in the night. He could hear the sea outside, like a thousand whispering voices exchanging ancient tales of woe, betrayal and ruin.
Maglor was not in the hut.
Curious, Daeron threw off the frayed blanket covering him and stepped outside. The breeze made his hair dance against the bare skin of his back and broad shoulders and, as he walked towards the water’s edge, a light spray speckled his chest.
It was a dark night; clouds obscured the stars as well as the slender crescent moon that he had observed last night. He had passed beyond the high-tide mark almost before he realised it. The soft sand sucked at his feet. Where in the name of Elbereth was Maglor? Noldor, honestly, he thought to himself somewhat wryly.
He hadn’t realised how far he’d walked - it was a low spring tide and, glancing back over his shoulder, the hut was now several hundred yards away. The beach was long and gently sloping, the kind where the spring tide went far out and came in dangerously fast. The rocks under his feet were rough, accentuated by the numerous sharp barnacles, so he trod lightly and carefully in the receding inch-deep water. The sand slapped wetly under his feet. “Maglor?” he called cautiously into the night. No answer.
He let his path drift, and then suddenly felt water up to his knees. He side-stepped, and the water only reached his ankles. He smiled; how odd. He’d been walking along a causeway. He concentrated on sticking to the sandy track, wondering if it led anywhere. The tide was still going out; he had time.
The moon broke through, revealing that the causeway did, in fact, lead to an island, unexpectedly exposed by the low tides of the time of year. He picked out a dark, irregular shape at the edge, where the water was still dropping away.
Breaking into a run, not caring for the sharp pebbles cutting his bare feet or the strips of kelp that caused him to slip and stumble, he approached the shape.
Maglor knelt in the wet sand and mud, pressing his fingers into it, head lowered. His long hair hung in lank strands that hid his face from view. Daeron slowed as he drew closer, squatting down beside the dark Noldo. “Maglor?” The Elf did not reply, except by shifting slightly.
Daeron said nothing, simply remaining where he was. After what seemed like an age, the Noldo spoke. “I was standing right here when…when I threw it into the sea.” He pointed with a slim, pale arm. “I hurled it in that direction. It carried a long way out.” He paused, swallowing. “Some nights I think I can still see it, a faint light in the water. But it may only be the moonlight playing on a wave.”
“Perhaps,” Daeron agreed quietly. He looked at the expanse of inky water, wondering how many mysteries resided in its cold depths. “Maglor, we should head back. The tide will turn soon.”
Maglor half-turned, flicking back his black locks and shaking his head. “You go.”
“I’m not going without you. You’ll get stranded by the tide.” He thought of how quickly the causeway would be lost once the tide came back in.
Maglor shrugged and made a short noise that may have been a sarcastic laugh. “And if I did get stranded, what of it? No one would mourn my passing - no one would even know, and no one would care.”
Daeron placed a hand on each of Maglor’s shoulders and shook him.
“I would know. And yes, Maglor Fëanorion, *I* would mourn. And *I* would care. You may be Noldorin, but you are still of the Edhil, and I do not wish to see another of my kin lost needlessly.”
“Needlessly?” Maglor repeated incredulously. “Since when has it been ‘needless’?”
“Maglor, listen to me!” Daeron insisted more forcefully. “Do you think I do not know what it is to grieve and remember? Do you not think I have felt the guilt and shame of betraying my kin? I have been through the pointless cycles of self-recrimination and self-hatred. I have spent months on end wanting nothing but my own death.” His sharp tone softened as he lapsed back into memory. “One day I simply sank down on a lonely hillside and begged the Valar to bring an end to my miserable existence, to take my life right then.”
Maglor looked at his companion properly for the first time that night. “You…you…?”
“Yes,” Daeron whispered. “I clawed at the soil until my fingers bled. I screamed until I thought maybe my voice would never recover. I wanted it all to be over, gone. Yet although I begged the Valar to take my life, I could not bring myself to do the act myself.” He traced his finger in idle patterns on the cold sand. The water level was barely receding now; it was approaching low tide and they needed to be away from here before the sea began to chase them back in. “Maglor, we should leave, *now*.”
The Noldo looked ready to protest but then shook his head vigorously and rose to his feet. “Very well.” Daeron placed a hand on Maglor’s shoulder, concerned that the Fëanorian would change his mind and stop, but he gave no sign of wanting to do so. Maglor walked automatically, a steady, weary pace, as if his mind was elsewhere.
Daeron led him back to the hut, sitting him down in the corner with his back against the wall. He pulled a ragged blanket over the silent form. “Try and get some sleep,” he murmured before stretching out a finger and touching the pale cheek tenderly.
“Why am I still alive?” he asked flatly. Daeron sat beside him and stroked the tangled black hair with long, slow movements.
“I do not know,” Daeron replied. “Perhaps your part in Arda’s history is not yet over.”
“Perhaps I have been appointed the task of atoning for my family’s treachery, you mean?” Maglor whispered, his tone tinged with sarcasm.
“As I said, I do not know. If that is indeed the task that the Valar set you, would you forsake it?”
A sad sigh. “The last time I tried, I failed. I no longer have the strength. So many atrocities committed; could I atone for them all even in a whole Age? Or in all the Ages of Arda, even?” He shivered and Daeron’s hand, brushing against the Noldo’s cheek, felt just how cold the skin was.
“You are like ice to touch,” he remarked.
“Fitting, is it not?” Maglor answered.
“I do not like to see you so cold.” Daeron stoked up the fire once more and pulled the blanket more closely round Maglor’s thin body. Still the Noldo shivered, so Daeron moved behind him, holding Maglor to his chest and warming him with his own body heat. His breath fell softly on the back of Maglor’s neck and, reluctantly, the Noldo began to relax. He felt so thin and fragile in Daeron’s embrace, verging almost on emaciated; the sharp angles of the bones protruded more than they ever should have.
“You have suffered too long, meldir,” he murmured to himself as Maglor’s breathing slowed and the tension left the tall frame. “You deserve some peace now.”
He fell asleep with Maglor still leaning against him, not caring for the cramp in his arms or the stiffness in his muscles that resulted. Several times during the night, the Noldo’s body had abruptly turned rigid and jerked suddenly as if in fright, before he gave a soft gasp and awoke. The first time, Daeron had been alarmed by this and had soothed his companion as he would a child, murmuring soft words of comfort to him and stroking the backs of his hands. But Maglor had answered with whispered protests that all was well, and soon returned to sleep.
When morning finally came, Maglor delicately extricated himself from the grip. Daeron, half-asleep, was only aware at first of something warm being taken away; but then it dawned on him that the mere fact that Maglor had been warm was, in itself, remarkable. “Breakfast?” the Noldo said in his rich voice a little while later.
Daeron blinked himself properly awake and nodded. “Sounds wonderful.”
“Wonderful - regrettably, not. But it is the best I can offer.” Some coarse bread - Daeron was surprised but heartened to know that Maglor at least took time to make or acquire such a foodstuff - and smoked fish, judging by the tempting aroma, were placed before him. “I must leave shortly, but you may remain here for as long as pleases you.” Daeron’s smile made Maglor pause, but the Sinda then simply busied himself with the food offered.
“Where are you going? What are you doing?” he asked between mouthfuls.
“You need not concern yourself with that.”
“Maybe not, but I still do.”
Maglor dropped his eyes to the floor. “I walk. I remember. That is all…except that I sometimes also catch fish or collect the cockles and periwinkles.”
“You sing…” Daeron could not stop the words from escaping.
“Yes, I do. It is the only tribute I can pay to my people, to the glory that could have been. I find it strangely appropriate that their sad story will now be remembered only as words upon the air.”
“‘Words upon the air’. Is that all you think of song now, meldir?”
“‘Tis true, though, is it not?” Maglor’s reply was quick; too quick.
“That depends. It depends whether, when you sing, the words are simply meaningless syllables…or the voicing of your heart’s sentiments. And whether the notes are mere sounds or the manifestations of the naked emotions tumbling through you. For me, it has been both at different times. One morning…” He trailed off, realising that he was babbling.
“One morning?” Maglor sat down nearby, drawing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around the long legs.
“One morning, after years of harsh winters, I heard the nightingale sing. It reminded me instantly of the long, glorious days in Doriath. After that day I resolved that, like the nightingale, I would only sing if, when I did so, I would be able to sing as if my life itself was woven into the harmonies. Some days, it meant that I did not sing. But when I do sing, now, all the love I know how to give lives within the music. That makes it far more than ‘words upon the air’, surely?”
Maglor disappeared for much of the day; occasionally, glancing out of the small hut, Daeron glimpsed the lanky figure walking along the shore or standing once again at the tip of the peninsula. His singing carried to Daeron on the wind.
Daeron did not follow the Noldo; he respected Maglor’s desire for solitude and peace and instead busied himself with compositions. Later, recalling that he possessed a needle and a ball of coarse yarn, he went about mending the tears in the blankets lying around the hut. Maglor’s return found all the blankets free from holes and folded in a neat pile in one corner.
The Noldo showed no particular sign of surprise upon seeing that Daeron had not left, nor any noticeable reaction to seeing the blankets darned and tidied. He seated himself deliberately against the wall, neither too close to nor too far from Daeron, and watched him calmly.
Daeron brushed the cinders back into the fire and laid stones in a circle around it, marking a clear hearth. He returned to the cave that Maglor had shown him to before, collecting from the barrels enough cockles to make a hearty meal for both of them. He had never attempted to cook cockles and was perplexed by the shells, hitting them with rocks and growing increasingly frustrated until Maglor sighed impatiently. “Just cook them,” he said coolly. “The shells open on their own. Else why would anyone see the point in trying to consume them?”
Daeron did so, throwing a sheepish look back at Maglor, and the results were acceptable, if not quite on a level with Maglor’s periwinkles. When the meal was over they sat in thoughtful silence for some time, watching dusk fall upon the sea as Anor sank below the horizon.
When night had come completely and the sky stretched as a deep indigo quilt far above, Maglor suddenly asked, “How did you decide that you wanted to carry on?”
Daeron was a little taken aback by the unexpected question, but pondered his reply carefully before saying, “I do not think I ever simply *decided*. It was not as if I awoke and suddenly thought, ‘My attempts at dying failed; I am still alive. Why not now try living instead?’ The night when I called upon the Valar to take me… I screamed and cursed and tore at the ground until I collapsed with exhaustion and rage, and I awoke shivering. I thought for a moment that Námo was there, hovering on the edge of my senses, but he made no move to claim my faer. My only thought then was warmth. If anything, I was more miserable than before, but an apathy so intense had overwhelmed me that everything beyond finding heat - life, death, food, grief - seemed to require more energy than I could spare.”
Maglor nodded and narrowed his eyes, as if the feeling was well familiar to him.
“I paced to and fro with wrapped my arms around myself until the sun came out and warmed the air somewhat. Then I sat down in the middle of a wide stretch of moorland and watched the heather ripple in the breeze. I think I sat there for nearly three days, not eating, barely drinking. At sunset each day I would curl up in the heather and sleep fitfully; when the sun rose once again I sat up, and once more I watched.” Maglor probably thought him mad now, but it did not especially worry Daeron. “And then I came across the falcon.”
“Yes,” Daeron said in answer to the short question. “I found a chick that had fallen from the nest before it was fully fledged and its parents were attacking it, seemingly wanting no more to do with it. It seemed unkind merely to leave it there, so I took it and warmed it. It was limp when I found it, barely alive, but after a few hours it became more and more active. It pecked me many times; there were scratches all over my fingers in those days. I admired its spirit, so I became determined to see it to adulthood.” He smiled with wry amusement. “Somehow I, the minstrel, the least adept hunter in all of the history of the Great Lands, succeeding in catching enough fresh meat to sustain it; I fed it a portion of everything I caught.”
He laughed. “Before that, I ate almost nothing and was as waiflike as you, my friend. But it seemed a pity to catch a whole rabbit to feed mere scraps to the falcon; I had no wish to waste what it would not eat, and I had no way to preserve the meat. So I ate it… Thanks to the falcon, I took better care of myself also.” With a smile, he recalled, “Some weeks later, its flight feathers emerged. They were beautiful…” He sighed wistfully. “Compared to the scruffy, chilled chick, the adult was truly magnificent. I had no clue as to how to train a falcon to hunt, but I invented my own methods and the falcon seemed to teach itself. Oh, the day it took flight and never returned…I felt a little lonely, seeing my companion desert me, but at the same time I reminded myself that all the grace and elegance that the bird now possessed was there because of my own efforts to save it… You think I am becoming sentimental now, do you not?”
“A little,” Maglor agreed. “Though I respect your intent: to offer hope where otherwise there was none.”
Daeron touched Maglor’s hand. “That was my thought, also.”
Maglor sat on the beach as always, staring out over the waves at the far and distant horizon. Daeron stopped for a moment before approaching and his eyes travelled over the other Elf’s body. Maglor was no longer quite as thin and fragile looking as he had been when they had first met - several weeks ago now, it must be - and Daeron suppressed a smile at the thought that this was mainly due to his attentions.
He walked slowly across the soft sand and rough shingle towards Maglor and sat behind him. “Morning,” Maglor said quietly, his usual brief greeting.
“Morning,” Daeron replied. He drew his comb from his pocket and addressed Maglor cautiously. “Would you mind if I tidied your hair for you?”
Maglor shrugged. “Go ahead. I have no idea why you would want to, though.”
Daeron shook his head, smiling absently, and raised the comb to the Noldo’s hair. Gently, he began to tease stubborn knots from the long, matted tresses. After years of living beside the sea, high winds and salt spray had whipped Maglor’s hair into a nearly impossible tangle. But Daeron was persistent and in the end it hung in straight, glossy strands down Maglor’s back. He was impressed with his work as he looked; with his hair tidied up Maglor looked less wild and unkempt and Daeron thoughtfully fingered the soft strands. Maglor’s hair was a beautiful and unusual colour; unlike some of his brothers’, it was not truly copper-red, yet among the black strands were traces of a rich auburn. Maglor’s tresses therefore shone mahogany in the sunlight rather than the sheen of almost raven-blue that Daeron was used to seeing among black-haired Elves.
He decided to braid it, nothing too intricate, but a few simple plaits that would keep it out of the Noldo’s eyes. The hair seemed to fall so neatly into braids, and Daeron smiled as his fingers worked busily. Once finished, he took a step backwards for a critical look. “That is something of an improvement,” he remarked optimistically. He was rather surprised when Maglor’s response was to sigh and rise to his feet. “Are you well?”
Maglor nodded. “I am well. I am going to find a rock pool; I wish to see this ‘improvement’ for myself.” Daeron did not miss the trace of humour in the rich voice, and delighted in hearing it there.
Maglor knelt before the rock pool and peered into the still, calm water. His reflection showed him a drawn, ashen face and dark, sorrowful eyes; he pulled his gaze away from the face and looked now at the hair. He had not worn his hair in such a manner in the past, preferring more elaborate styles, but the simplicity of the slender braids set off the stark strength in his facial features. As he scrutinised the image in more depth, he began to realise that there was flesh on the bones where there had not been the last time he had thought to behold his own visage. And a trace of colour on the high cheekbones.
He remembered all the times Daeron had come and found him, sometimes picking his way over incredibly narrow and slippery outcroppings in order to reach him, bringing food and water. Why the kindness? He could not fathom why Daeron did not shun him, why he saw only sympathy and understanding on the minstrel’s gentle face. Somehow, Daeron was able to accept a Fëanorian, a Kinslayer and enemy of his people. Why, then, could Maglor not accept himself?
Daeron’s soft, melodious voice spoke by his shoulder. “It suits you that way, does it not?” he asked gently.
Maglor closed his eyes. “I suppose it has a certain…striking quality.” He breathed out slowly. “Why do you spend your time here?”
“It is a beautiful place, and as good as any other; you cannot deny that.”
“Why do you choose to spend your time here, with me?” Maglor asked again, this time with the final modifier.
Daeron frowned and blinked thoughtfully as he pondered the question. “I am not sure. I think it is that I see in you what I once knew in myself, and it saddens me to see all your talent and the once legendary skill fall into neglect in such a way.”
“Does it not disgust you, spending time with a slayer of your people?”
Daeron answered a question with a question, as was often his wont. “Would you slay my people again if they were lined up before you?”
Maglor held out his hands, showing the faint black branding from the Silmaril, the reward he had received for finally fulfilling that cursed Oath. “The jewels that sent my whole family insane are lost. Now I have only shame; I will not see any more blood spilt by my hands.”
“Then you do not disgust me, for you have a conscience and you swear that you would never again tarnish your hands with the blood of our kin. It shows more nobility than I have, I think. If I was once more given the choice to betray the Lady Lúthien to her father or allow her and Beren to leave together, I cannot say whether I would refuse or not…”
Maglor touched the surface of the rock pool with his fingertips and the image shattered into small flashes of wan light. He stood once again, with slow deliberation, and stared out over the wide, lonely sea. “I am ready now,” he said after some time.
“Ready for what?” Daeron said quietly.
“I will sing it once more,” Maglor declared in a voice that was both heavier and lighter than before; the voice of one who sees an end but a few miles on, but knows these final few miles will be the cruellest of all. “I am ready to perform Noldolantë - to an audience of you and the Great Sea before us.”
Daeron was stunned and, at the same time, he sensed that Maglor’s acquiescence was somehow more meaningful and significant than mere agreement to sing a song long neglected. Daeron had wished for so long to hear the renowned lament of the Noldor, but he had known few enough Noldor to ask. Those he did would always refuse, politely and gently but with a great sorrow that would permit no further argument. “Only one among us has the skill to perform Noldolantë as it was intended,” they would say, “and he sings it no longer.”
Maglor turned from the shore and made his way steadily back towards his small hut. Daeron caught up with the tall Noldo, touching his elbow and asking, “What are you doing?”
“I shall sing at dusk, when Anor is sinking into the Great Sea and Eärendil begins his night-time journey once again. The Noldolantë is no folly of a tune to be played at whim; in its harmonies lie the hearts of my people, and I will do them all justice when I sing.”
Daeron murmured soft agreement and accompanied Maglor back into the rough shelter. “If I may ask a favour of you?” the Fëanorian asked as they stepped over the threshold.
“Always,” was Daeron’s reply.
“Your lyre; if you permit it, I should like to borrow it for this.” He arched an eyebrow and Daeron recognised a trace of an ironic smile. “A Noldorin song - this one, no less - played on a Sindarin lyre. Who would have thought?”
Maglor tuned the instrument himself, with a loving, attentive care that Daeron had not seen the Noldo show towards anything previously. Only when he seemed satisfied that each string gave a flawless, clean note did he seat himself outside, facing west. Daeron watched as, sitting cross-legged with eyes half-closed, Maglor’s breathing gradually slowed. His face had taken on an expression that seemed to reflect the whole history of the Noldor; mingled pride and grief, determination and pain. He did not move for several hours, but just as dusk was coming near his reverie finally broke.
After the time spent calling back every memory of the Oath, the Exile, the Kinslayings and the Battles of the Great Lands, his heart felt as if it had been wrenched from his chest and ripped into pieces by Morgoth’s armies; but that was the feeling for which he had been striving. That was what was needed for this song, and so that was what he had sought and found.
He rose slowly to his knees and then stood, staring out over water that shone golden in the sunset. He had been there for the first sunrise; he recalled so clearly how he had watched Arien sail overhead and thought her such a pale shade in comparison to the warm, soft and eternal light of the Two Trees. That had been a strange day; he had been torn between loyalty to his father and the dear wish that Fëanor would set aside his pride and offer up the Silmarilli so that the Trees might be rekindled.
The lyre awaited him patiently and he lifted it up, fingers once again caressing the inscription. “Daeron?” he whispered. “What do the letters say?”
Daeron’s slender hands touched the wooden letters and the minstrel sighed softly before smiling. “For love, and the nightingale,” he read in a quiet voice.
Maglor traced the strangle angular letters with one finger. “The nightingale…” he repeated.
He chose a high rock on a lonely outcropping and found a suitable vantage point there, resting the small instrument on his lap as Daeron climbed up to join him. The Sinda was quiet now and his face shone with a serene kind of reverence. Maglor nodded to him; he was grateful that the minstrel understood and respected this moment.
He breathed in slowly and then exhaled, and then his fingers played the opening chord. It was so soft that Maglor himself could barely hear the mingled notes, but the one that followed was a little stronger, and the third stronger still. The chords became a tune, a gentle melody that suddenly grew richer and prouder as Maglor’s sad voice joined it.
The notes echoed from the rocky cliffs around; the words soared with passionate despair over the empty waters, and the gulls came in to land, as if afraid to sully the sweet air with their presence. He poured his heart into the song, and not only that but his tears, his passion, his blood and his very life. The Noldolantë had always had this effect upon him; he ceased to be the singer and became the song. The music poured from his throat and his fingers, filling the air and causing all other noise to cease. The rocks themselves must have felt the grief and guilt in the words, such was the emotion Maglor was able to impart to this, his most beloved and most hated song.
Even as the tears moistened his cheeks and lips, his voice did not waver. His body shook a little as he recounted the deeds.
The Noldolantë as Maglor had written it contained the names of every single Elf ever slain by a Noldorin weapon. Not a single Elf remained forgotten; each name another reminder of a sin none of the Quendi should ever had committed. As he reached the names of the Elves of Doriath, he was distantly aware of Daeron’s head falling forward and his dark hair covering his face as he, too, mourned their passing.
The names went on; the lament went on. The sorrow continued, as it always did. The dusk darkened to full night and the stars danced in their stately way, somehow following the time of the music in spite of their slow passage.
The night was over when the last note finally died on the wind. The air seemed still to shimmer and reverberate with memories of the music and the birds had not yet sung this morning, even though Anor had once more reappeared in the east and was climbing above the tops of the distant mountains. As the song faded, Maglor felt something within himself fade too and, exhausted, he collapsed and tumbled apathetically from his perch.
He was barely aware of the hands that caught him and the arms that held him so tightly, shuddering against him. He was barely aware that Daeron was still there at all until he suddenly felt hot, salty lips touch his. The lips withdrew but instinctively he leaned into the embrace, seeking them out once more, and Daeron kissed him again. It was his anchor, the one point that he knew for certain was real; beyond that, everything else might have been memory, illusion or reality and he would not have been able to tell one from another. He clung to the kiss; it remained a mere touching of lips but that touch was the centre of his world for the whirling moments as the intense energy and emotion of the song left him.
He opened his eyes slowly to see Daeron’s dark eyes staring into his. The eyes held sorrow barely less powerful than his own, yet they shone with a small light of hope. He did not dare name the other thing he thought he recognised, deeming it impossible, his own imagination.
He broke away from the kiss and allowed Daeron’s arms to support his full weight, breathing heavily as he fought to regain even the tiniest shred of strength. “Tired…” was the only word he managed.
“That does not surprise me,” Daeron replied gently. “You did not tell me that Noldolantë lasts for the entire night.”
Maglor nodded weakly. Of course it lasted a whole night; there was no other way that all those deserving of remembrance could be properly honoured. There was no other way that all the deeds of their people could be recorded and remembered with all due horror and grief.
Daeron held him closely until Maglor’s breathing calmed and the tears were all dried and then, tentatively, touched his lips to Maglor’s once more. “Never have I heard something so beautiful, and so sad,” he said.
“I poured all that I had into it,” Maglor replied wearily.
“Then you truly do hold much sadness,” Daeron whispered. “But also much beauty.”
Maglor did not try to answer the comment, but allowed Daeron to continue the embrace and rested his head on the Sinda’s shoulder. “It is so strange…I feel different, now,” he mused.
“How, different?” Daeron asked, running one hand slowly through Maglor’s hair.
“As the song finished…I felt the memories step back. They are there still, but they do not overshadow my every thought.”
As Daeron’s cheek pressed against his, he felt the gentle smile on the minstrel’s face. “That is their rightful place. You deserve some happiness now.” He slowly released Maglor, keeping and arm close lest the Noldo need support, but offering no restraint.
“No,” Maglor said, as he determinedly pulled the arms back round him. “Keep your embrace there a little longer. Whilst you are near - whilst I feel the touch of one who should rightly despise me and yet, it seems, does not - that is when they retreat the furthest.”
“Then you may always ask for my embrace, Maglor,” Daeron told him. His words held a promise and Maglor looked at him in disbelief.
“‘Always’? So you do not plan to leave?”
“I cannot,” Daeron replied, and Maglor detected a note of trepidation shiver through the short statement. “Like the falcon, you deserve a chance to live. I will do all that I can to help you hold on to that chance…because you mean something to me that few things have ever meant to me.”
“I am your falcon?” Maglor said. He met Daeron’s thoughtful eyes. “And you…you are my nightingale. I had not put my heart into a song in that way for as many ages as I have dwelt here.”
Daeron had never thought something could be so beautiful since the last time he had looked upon Lúthien. This last night he had seen something closer to what Maglor had once been than what he had come to know so well. The passion and pride in the Noldo’s voice had mingled so tragically with the agony and shame; it had left Daeron utterly wordless and breathless.
Looking at Maglor now, he realised that the spirit he had marvelled at in the Noldo before was still present, neither lost nor broken. It was almost drowned in sorrow and exhaustion, but he longed to re-ignite it. One day, he determined, he would hear that sweet, glorious voice raised in songs of hope and joy as well.
For now, he would simply offer his companionship and, whether Maglor would accept it or not, his love. He looked down; Maglor was stirring in his arms as if restless, and the lean and so terribly beautiful face turned up to look at him. “We should leave…the wind is changing. My hut will keep out the weather…” He began to stand, still keeping one arm around Daeron as if wanting to ensure that the minstrel would stay with him.
Daeron nodded and then shook his head. “Aye, we should leave. We will rest in your hut, but when the next dawn comes, I think we should bid farewell to this lonely shore.”
Maglor looked at him in confusion. “And go where?”
“Maglor,” Daeron said softly, meeting the eyes still shadowed with the final traces of tortured memories, “the Ban of the Noldor has long since been lifted.” He took the cold, slim hand in his own. “Come, my falcon, it is time to go home.”
Maglor was silent for a very long time, then his face shifted into a new expression: hope. “Aye, my nightingale. It is time to go home. I will go, if you will come with me?”
Daeron did not loosen his grip on the other’s hand. As they began to walk along the beach together, he once more whispered to himself, smiling gently, “Home.”