The Silver Vine by Zdenka

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Story Notes:

Written for the Innumerable Stars Exchange 2016.

Both Valinor and his reborn body are strange to him. Standing before the gates of Mandos, Maeglin finds himself shielding his eyes from a sky which shimmers with too much light.

“I can go?” he asks, his voice hoarse from disuse.

His companion is the grey-clad servant of Mandos who guided him out of the Halls, his manner neither warm nor hostile. Maeglin is used to reading the hearts of others, but he can read nothing from him; it is unnerving. “Yes,” the attendant spirit says calmly. “You may go wherever you wish. Where would you like to go?”

Maeglin does not answer.

“If you take this path,” the attendant says, gesturing to the right, “you will reach a town, and can go thence to Tirion where your kin dwell.”

Maeglin is not certain his kin will wish to see him, and he shrinks from the thought of going among other Elves who might know who he is and what he has done. He remains silent.

“That way,” a gesture to the left, “leads to the gardens of Lórien, where you may stay for a time if you are in need of rest and peace before returning to dwell among the living. The followers of Estë tend to those in need of healing.”

Maeglin has rested, in enforced leisure; he wants to do anything besides that, see anything but the shadowy dark and silence where there is nothing but his own thoughts. He wants to be away from the scrutiny of the Powers who can see through all his evasions and self-deception without effort. “And there?” He points straight ahead of him, where ancient trees rise in serene majesty.

“No one dwells in this forest, though the folk of Oromë hunt there sometimes.”

“I can go there?”

“You are free to go where you wish,” the attendant repeats with untroubled calm. He waits a moment further, but when Maeglin does not speak, he bows and turns away. He passes back through the stone archway into the darkness. The gate closes in utter silence, which should not be possible for such a massive construction, and Maeglin is alone.

He looks around him again, winces at the too-bright sunlight. There is not really a question; he goes as quickly as his feet can carry him into the dark and cool shelter of the trees.

Soon he is deeper within the forest, where the trees grow closely together and the sunlight that filters through their leaves is less harsh. Maeglin wanders onward and lets himself become lost among them.

He is not certain how long he wanders. He does not yet feel hunger or the need to sleep; perhaps those things have not reawakened in his body yet. When he feels weary, he sits and rests until it passes. He stops to drink once, when he comes across a stream; the water is clear and cold. He has nothing, no possessions except the simple undyed garment they clothed his body in when he left Mandos, and it is oddly freeing. He is beginning to think of staying here forever, or at least until someone comes to tell him he must leave.

He thinks it has been a few days since leaving Mandos when, to his surprise, he enters a forest clearing to find an unfamiliar Elf sitting cross-legged under a tree. The stranger is plainly dressed, his dark hair tied back at the nape of his neck, with no trace of the elaborate styles of Gondolin; his only adornment is a silver brooch pinning his cloak.

He smiles at seeing Maeglin, his face lighting up. “There you are,” he says with apparent pleasure. “I was looking for you.” A coil of thin silver wire gleams in his hands.

Maeglin tenses. A weapon? Or something to bind him with? But the stranger remains in his place next to the tree, his posture relaxed. His eyes are earnest and open, and Maeglin reads no anger or treachery in his heart.

“But you do not know me.” Maeglin’s voice sounds odd to his own ears; aside from his brief conversation with the servant of Mandos, he has not spoken aloud since his reembodiment.

The stranger is twisting the silver wire back and forth with confident motions. As Maeglin watches, it gradually takes on the shape of a flowering vine under his skilled fingers. “You are my cousin Maeglin,” he says with confidence. “Recently released from Mandos, I am told.”

“Cousin?” Maeglin echoes.

“I am Celebrimbor, of the House of Fëanor. So you see I have not come to reproach you.”

A memory stirs, from long ago. When he dwelt in Nan Elmoth, his mother would sometimes take him to the edge of the forest, where the sunlight filtered in through the leaves. There she would whisper stories of her kindred or the lands where she had travelled. Maeglin loved those snatched moments together. She did not have to ask him not to tell his father; he knew it was their secret, and the thought gave him a thrill of delight. He remembers her tracing the shapes of mountains and rivers on the ground with a stick. The Sons of Fëanor, who are my cousins and yours, dwell to the East. Maedhros is here, in the fortress of Himring. Celegorm and Curufin, and Curufin’s son Celebrimbor, are here, in the domain of Himlad . . .

Himlad was only across the river. He sometimes thought of defying his father and crossing over to see those Noldor cousins of his, but he never did. And now Celebrimbor is here.

“Why did you look for me?” Maeglin asks slowly. He has not been expecting such a pleased reception from anyone, least of all those who know who he is.

“I wanted to meet you, cousin.” Celebrimbor sets down his wire-work and extends his hand.

Slowly, Maeglin approaches and grasps the offered hand, lets Celebrimbor pull him to a seat on the grass beside him. Celebrimbor’s hand is warm, and calloused like his own. (As his own hands once were, he thinks with a frown, rubbing his fingers together. The Valar have sent him back with an unmarred body and unmarked hands.)

“I wanted to ask you—” Celebrimbor’s voice falters as he looks Maeglin full in the face for the first time, and he draws in his breath. Maeglin wonders what it is that he sees. Celebrimbor looks away quickly, running a hand through his hair in a nervous gesture. When he looks back again, he has recovered his composure. “You are a smith also, are you not? Will you show me your work?” Celebrimbor takes up the half-finished vine and offers it to Maeglin like a gift.

Maeglin takes it. He starts with the unused portion of the wire, bending it outward in a curve to match what Celebrimbor has already done. He begins to form the shape of leaves, and finds that the muscle-memory comes back to him. As he twists and shapes the wire between his hands, Maeglin begins to feel more settled in his body, as if working with metal again is also working himself. He is conscious once more of feeling hunger, of noticing that the sunlight is warm on his back and the grass is damp.

He glances up to find Celebrimbor watching him work, his eyes bright with interest. Maeglin is suddenly aware that they are sitting close enough to each other that he could reach out a hand to touch him, if he wished, and Celebrimbor’s knee is inches from his own where he sits in the grass. Celebrimbor smells like a forge, even here in the midst of the forest, that scent of smoke and iron which clings to his hair and clothing. Maeglin resists the urge to lean closer and breathe it in. If touching cold metal makes him feel alive again to this extent, what would the touch of warm, living flesh do? He slides his thumb along a curve of the wire, remembering the brief touch of Celebrimbor’s hand. Celebrimbor looks away, his cheeks faintly flushed, and Maeglin firmly returns his gaze to his work. There is silence for some minutes. Maeglin does not look up again, but he is aware now too of the pulse beating in his veins.

Celebrimbor breaks the silence. “I wanted to ask you,” he starts again, “if you will come back with me. I believe your mother will be glad of your return,” he says earnestly. “But if you do not wish to go to her yet, you are welcome to stay with me. And in any case, you are welcome to work with me in my forge. Will you come?”

Maeglin looks from Celebrimbor’s hopeful face to the twining silver wire. The two halves of the silver vine rise up from his hands, Celebrimbor’s work and his own. Their styles are different, but complementary. Celebrimbor’s work shows a Dwarvish influence, he thinks with sudden interest. “Yes,” he finds himself saying. “Yes, I will come.”

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