1. Blood as Warm as a Bird
Your heart in my hand is heavy as lead
Your blood on my arm is warm as a bird
-Leonard Cohen, Prayer for Messiah
He would kill her. He had raised his bloody sword to shoulder height, and he intended to cut her down like a beast.
'Give me the jewel, princess,' he said. 'Give me the jewel and this will all be ended.'
But it would not be. She had a flash of clarity then, standing at the cliff's edge, where the future played out with ghostly precision before her eyes, as plainly as the present she now saw. Even if she stepped forward, even if she dropped the necklace at his feet and begged mercy, the bloodlust that burned in his eyes would not be satisfied. His rage would still cut her down. His arm shook with leashed fury, and the restraint was too close to breaking. Later, his deeds would drive him to madness as the battle-frenzy waned and he realised what he had done. She could already see his broken form, collapsed and sick at heart with screams of anguish for those he had slain.
For now, though, he was still consumed by fire. He took a step forward, and her arm shot back. The necklace in her hand dangled precariously over the crashing water below.
'If you come one step closer, I will drop it!'
'If you drop it, I will kill you slowly while your son watches.'
The threat made her knees weak. She wavered, and nearly fell. Elrond... The other one had him. The other one had her Elrond, her sweet boy, held against a background of the burning town with a knife at his throat.
'Elrond,' she whispered.
That other one, the dark-haired one, was just as blood-spattered as his brother. But his eyes were dead. He had no expression: no hatred left. The wrist that held the knife was limp. That one already reeled in the guilt of what he had done, and only an ancient devotion to duty kept him on his feet. In his future, she could see long, hollow years of despair.
'I will give you the necklace,' she said to the man before her, 'but only after you let my son go. Please, let him go. He is only a child.'
In an instant, the other one complied. He dropped his arms like his strength had fled. The knife fell from his hand.
'Nana!' Elrond cried. And he ran to her, but the man with the sword swung his free arm, the arm ending in a blunt stump instead of a hand, and struck her little boy across the chest. He fell backward into the mud, too shocked to cry.
She screamed, 'You dare touch him again, you monster-' but the man had already turned to bark an order to his brother in that other language of theirs. It was the language of Eärendil's people. But how different it sounded in their mouths.
The other one woodenly trudged to where Elrond lay and helped him to his feet. She watched this one, with his matted, bloodied hair, straighten Elrond's little cape and wipe the mud from his face.
'Please... Oh, please, let him go...' Her voice cracked and shook.
'The jewel. Give us our jewel, and we give you your boy.'
And we will both die. She could see that, too: the sword swinging down on their necks in one final act of vengeance.
'Let him go first.'
The man with the sword lunged forward, his face distorted by anger, and again she stepped back. This was as far as she could go. Her heels balanced at the edge of the cliff. A cold wind ripped at her skirt and tangled her hair around her neck while the water roiled in agitation far below.
'Let him go, or I will jump, and take your jewel with me!'
His determination faltered. He still held his sword ready, trained on her, but she knew he was hesitant to advance. Unsure, he shifted side to side.
'You would not,' he said at last.
Would she not? What other choice was there? Her life had come down to such bitter ends. If she gave them the jewel, they would still kill her. And how could she let them take it now, when they had wrought such evil to attain it? They deserved nothing for the horror they had caused. But if she refused their demands, they would kill her as well.
The other one would not look at her, keeping his eyes on Elrond's back. Look at me, she tried to say to his mind. He was exhausted and broken; it should be easy. Look at me!
He squeezed his eyes shut and turned his face away, and she knew he had heard.
His name is Elrond. He is only a child. Please, for mercy's sake, let him go!
An answer came a moment later, from a weak, shattered voice echoing in the back of her head. I will let no harm come to him. I swear to you. He looked up. I will protect him from the pain of the world.
And those words were like freedom. At the edge of the cliff, he knew as well as she how this would end, but a new future had opened itself. That dark-haired man would gently hold Elrond's little hands. Her child would be safe. He would live, and he would be safe. And she, as his mother, would not let herself be murdered in front of his innocent eyes. That left only one possible choice. The wind shrieked and whipped at her back; the seawater smashed against rocks. She would never give them the necklace. They had killed her people for it, and she would never reward their carnage.
'Elrond...' she called softly, then spoke to his mind, hoping he was not too young to hear and understand. He was still such a little boy. Elrond, your father and I love you. We will never leave you. We will come back, somehow. Find your brother and stay with him. Never worry about me. I love you both so much...
Whether or not he heard or grasped it all was impossible to say; he watched her with the same expression of terror, frozen where he stood.
He must have heard that. As soon as the words formed in her thought, Elrond dashed to the side, breaking the loose grip of the dark-haired man's hands on his shoulders. She watched him run as fast as his small legs could go, back toward the burning town. The dark-haired one made only the slightest effort to chase him. Then in that second, when the man with the sword had turned his head to see what had happened, she slipped the jewel's chain around her neck. The wind screamed up from the rocks to catch her as she leaned back into its icy arms.
It took such a short time to fall. She was already far out of reach when the man with the sword threw himself down at the cliff's edge, reaching uselessly into empty air with his single, outstretched hand. The expression on his face was no longer hatred, but horror. He had lost; he could not touch her. She was gone, and the jewel with her, falling so fast through the howling wind. She sighed a smile as a cloud of gulls with white feathers shining in the pale winter sun flew up around her, rising as she fell, soaring up to the heavens.
Now I am a bird! My sons, I have become like the birds!
What Elrond saw, when he looked back, was his mother falling. He turned to see her again, waiting for her nod to make sure he was doing what she asked, and he saw her lean over the edge of the cliff and disappear. He stumbled, landing hard on his side, but pulled himself up. He had to see again, to make sure he had not imagined it. His mother could not have fallen. How many times had she warned him and Elros never to go near the cliffs? They would fall, she said, right down into the sea, and turn into fishes. If they were fishes, she could never see them again, and they would be lonely and cold with no mother to cuddle them. So he never went near the edge without holding her hand. He would never fall, and she should never fall. They both knew better than that.
But he had seen her go down. The wind caught her and she went down to the cold water at the bottom of the cliff, where she would turn into a fish and be lonely with no family.
Her answer, after a heartbeat of a pause, came rushing through him as a feeling of warmth from somewhere inside.
Now I am a bird!
And the air was filled with beating wings and the cries of gulls. Up from the water, from below the cliff edge, the birds came flying. From the place where Nana fell, white gulls rushed up into the sky.
My sons, I have become like the birds!
'Nana!' Elrond cried again. He lifted his arms, but the birds were already too far away, flying up to the sun. He could not reach, and he could not follow. 'Nana!'
'Your mother is gone, son.'
That was the voice of the dark-haired man; he had come back.
'You should come with me.'
The dark-haired man held out his hand to lead Elrond by the shoulder, but Elrond was too quick. He remembered Nana's instructions. Again, he twisted to the side and ran. The house was not far ahead. It was only up the road, beside the big building with the red roof. That red roof was on fire, and smoke puffed like black clouds from the windows. Next door, the house had a strange orange glow around it.
Elrond slipped inside and pulled the door shut behind him, as best as he could. It was heavy, and the metal handle hot. The latch would not close. He had to leave it open a crack, but even a mostly closed door might stop the men with swords long enough for him to hide. He ran for the stairs.
There was a place there, under the stairs, where he and Elros could go when they wanted to play in secret. Nana had hung a blanket from the posts that held up the staircase, which made a wall to close in a little room just big enough for them, and she had folded another blanket over the floor to make it soft. Elrond pushed back the edge of the wall-blanket and crawled into the safe darkness. Elros, he could just barely see, was already inside, curled up on the floor-blanket.
'Elros,' he whispered. He lay down next to his brother so that their knees, pulled up to their chests, pressed together.
'My head hurts,' Elros whispered back. 'The smoke makes my head and throat and eyes hurt.'
Elrond pulled up the floor-blanket to fold around them, like a tent. If he breathed only under the tent, the smoke did not sting his nose so much.
'Where's Nana?' Elros asked.
That, Elrond did not know. She had gone away. Somewhere, beyond the clouds, she had flown away with the birds. All he knew was that she was gone. He answered Elros with his eyes shut tight, trying to remember what he had seen. 'I think she turned into a bird. She fell off the cliff. Those men with swords chased us to the cliff. Then she fell and... and turned into a bird and flew away.'
'Is she coming home?'
'She has to.'
Deep inside, he knew Nana had to return. She would never leave them. It was impossible. They were too small to look after themselves. Nana would have to come back. Even if she were a bird, she could still come back. The thought of her gone forever terrified him too much. She would never do that.
Elros coughed through the smoke, and squirmed to bury his face in the blanket. 'We better wait here for her.'
'So she can find us,' added Elrond.
It had started to rain by the time Maedhros stumbled into the clearing. Even through the mist of water, Maglor saw how his brother's leg was injured. He walked with a limp.
'No way down,' Maedhros muttered as he approached.
'No way down. To the water, where she fell. No path. Cliff's too high.' He had no need to say what he really meant: the Silmaril was lost to the sea, beyond their reach.
Then all of this destruction was pointless. Maglor pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. No matter how hard he pushed, he could not squeeze out the sight of carnage. The worst of it played, over and over, in a hideous loop. His head throbbed at every echoed noise; the burning taste of bile rose in his throat at the smallest of movements; the stench of blood and smoke still lingered in his nose. So many people had died. So many homes had gone up in flames. So many bodies lay in the mud, missing heads and limbs, with bellies ripped open or backs cut in two. Their hair and clothing, and even their skin, had burned away. For nothing.
'So it was all for nothing,' he said aloud. 'Again. We achieved nothing.'
'We did what we had to do,' Maedhros snapped back. 'We had to try.' Huffing, he swung his sword at the ground, but the edge was now too dull to do anything more than tatter the soggy grass.
'Don't,' said Maglor.
Maedhros, thinking he referred to the grass, paused in mid-swing. 'Where are the others?'
'We came with nearly forty men, Káno,' Maedhros said. 'Where are they?'
'Where are they...' Maglor repeated the words with half a breath. 'The others. They are... they are...' Oh, would to the stars I knew where they were...
'How many dead?'
Weakly, Maglor shook his head. Forty of us stood against an entire town. How many do you think are dead?
'I did not count. I do not know. But when I returned, none of them was here. Perhaps... they fled without us. '
For once, Maedhros had nothing to say. He swung his sword again, limply in his hand, and cast his gaze wildly about the clearing. What he sought, Maglor could not tell. His eyes finally came to rest on the poor, makeshift tent at Maglor's feet. 'What have you there?'
When Maglor did not answer, Maedhros lifted the edge of the tent, made of nothing more than a rain-dampened blanket held up by a scabbard and spear, with the toe of his boot. 'Shit,' he hissed. 'Macalaurë...'
'Their mother is dead,' said Maglor. 'Their father has long disappeared. Their town is in ruins, and their home destroyed.'
'And you think it wise to keep them?'
Maglor sighed. 'What else can I do? Leave them to die? As we did in-'
Maedhros flashed him a dangerous look; he bit the side of his tongue and did not say the word.
'They were nearly dead when I found them, Nelyo. I followed the one, Elrond, through the town and he ran into a burning house. When he did not come out again, I had to go in and get him. I found both of them asleep on the floor. They were unconscious from breathing so much smoke. So I carried them here.'
'And now what will you do with them?'
'I will take them home,' Maglor answered evenly.
'How?' asked Maedhros. 'Sitting atop your pommel? Two children barely out of their cradle gowns?'
'I'll manage somehow. I'll tie one in front of me and one in back and ride without a saddle if I must. But what I cannot do is leave them here.'
Maedhros scoffed at that. 'You'll turn eight days of riding into twenty. Come, Káno. Drop them at the edge of the town and let's be out of here. I want to leave this wretched place...'
Turning, he sheathed his sword and began to stalk away, still favouring his left leg.
'Nelyo, wait, where are you going?'
'To find my horse,' Maedhros called back over his shoulder. 'And leave.'
'It's nearly dark. We should camp here tonight, and-'
'Camp here?' laughed Maedhros. 'You're even madder than I thought. Camp here, and risk whatever force is left in that town coming down upon us in the night?' He laughed again, a wild, howling kind of laugh that carried through the air like a blade. He sounded so much like their father. That had been Fëanor's laugh, as he stood on the sands at Losgar. Now, for Maedhros, the flames rising from the town to the south provided the same haunted, red light.
'Evil always works its havoc twice...' Maglor whispered to himself. From the corner of his eye, he saw the blanket-tent shake. The shape of a small head poked up.
'Nana?' came the childish voice from within.
Maglor crouched down and lifted the edge of the blanket. Two identical little faces with wide eyes stared back at him, pulling away in fear. 'Your nana is not here,' he said softly. 'But she asked me to take care of you. She wants you to come with me.'
'Where?' asked one of them.
'To my home. It is far away, but I think you will like it there. It is on a big hill.'
'Nana wants us to go there?' asked the other.
'Yes,' Maglor said. 'She wants you to come with me. I am your uncle,' he added. 'I knew your great-grandfather.'
One of the boys looked to his twin, full of uncertainty, but the other would not let his eyes leave Maglor's face. 'I'm cold,' he said.
'It is cold tonight,' Maglor agreed, 'and rainy. You should come out of that tent, and I will wrap you in the blankets. Then we can ride on the back of a horse, which will keep you warm. Will you come?'
They came. First one and then the other crawled out to cling unexpectedly to Maglor's arms with their small, needy hands, and he gasped at the openness of their gesture. How trusting they are! Looking for anyone to comfort them... The shy one hid his face in Maglor's sleeve. The other repeated what he had said before, in a voice dangerously close to tears: 'I'm cold.'
'Then let us go find you a warm horse to sit on.'
He pulled up the blankets, which were two he had taken from the burning house. The damp wool stank of smoke. Still, they were better than nothing, and were something familiar for two children that had lost everything else. He wrapped each little body tightly to ward off the quickening wind, and carried them down the path Maedhros had taken.
'Will Nana come with us?' the one in his right arm asked.
'I do not know,' Maglor lied.
The one in his left arm looked up. 'She's coming,' he said.
Maglor lifted his face to the sky. Above the tops of the trees, orange firelight reflected off the breasts of gulls as they flew lazy circles.
'Nana is a bird now,' the little boy said sadly.
Holding them closer, Maglor did not reply. An icy lump had formed in his throat, and another low in his stomach.
I stand by my promise, my Lady. I will keep your sons by me, and show them no less love than were they my own children. They are safe, and I will do all in my power to keep them so.
Wherever she was, he prayed she heard him.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.