Red like blood, red like ripe cherries, and red like the garnets in the woman’s circlet his father was carefully buffing.
Red upon his father’s hands and red upon Uncle Lithwaloth, from Menegroth’s, hands.
“He is not actually my uncle is he?” Maeglin asked, excited for the visit from the afore-mentioned man. Maeglin had not been called Maeglin when he had last seen Lithwaloth.
“No.” Eöl managed to look up from his work and smile at his son, half distracted.
“And he is not your uncle is he?”
“Then how is Uncle Lithwaloth related to me?”
“He is my mother’s uncle.”
Maeglin wondered if whoever sewed his father’s Tatyarin head shawl had gotten a headache from sewing those tiny flowers with their thorny twined branches on it again, and again, and again.
“My grandmother’s uncle?”
“Yes. Alternatively he is the brother of your great-grandfather.”
Years later Maeglin would marvel at his father’s ability to hold back information.
As the average family tree worked out, one person had four great-grandfathers.
Which great-grandfather had Eöl spoken of then? As Maeglin would discover in the dying years of his relationship with his father, when another argument had sent him storming somewhere his father would not follow, it was a question with two answers.
For now though he though only of the great grandfather who had sired his grandmother who had in turn birthed his father. As was reasonable.
Into Eöl’s lap he slipped, sensing that his father was nearly done with the circlet.
With a resigned, good natured groan Eöl put the circlet on its cushion and looked down at him.
“It’s shiny enough,” Maeglin suggested, capturing one of his father’s hands with his own. Maeglin’s hands seemed so pale and plain compared to his father’s. Within Eöl’s palm was a eighteen pointed star, its long spokes stretching out across the large planes of strong muscle. And twisting around the spokes, were knotting tree roots, managing to be black though they were writ in bloody red, and it looked as though they were attempting to pin the bloody red spikes down.
Morbidly Maeglin thought it looked like stitching almost, as though the star was too great within his father’s hand, and jealously someone had tried to halt its growth with the organic, greedy twists.
A little higher up his father’s hand, found a flourishing outline that held back the brilliant vermillion of his father’s fingertips.
His father’s fingertips were entirely red, like he’d dipped them in a pot of ink. All across the fingerpads were red, and up and around the fingernail as well.
There were more tattoos all over his father’s body, all in the same bloody red, but the tattoos upon his father’s hands were the most fascinating of all to Maeglin; second place going to the mountains writ upon his father’s feet, with his toes like his fingers: bloody red held back by a flourish. Third place went to the winding trails like the eddy of a river up the back of his father’s calves which was actually a representation of the trading road to Belegost.
“Will I have red one day?” he asked hopefully.
His father’s chest shook in a sigh. The clove scented air, from the eastern spices his father chewed distractedly when he worked, tickled Maeglin’s nose and made him want to sneeze.
“Your mother…” Eöl started and Maeglin’s heart plummeted. He scowled and kicked his legs out, his socked feet hitting the edge of the work table with a muted thump.
“Maeglin,” his father said warningly, “she is your parent as we – ”
“My Lord!” a servant had come to the door. “Healer Lithwaloth is now within ten minutes of the keep sir; you did ask to be told didn’t you sir?”
“Yes I did. Good,” His father stirred and lifted Maeglin onto his hip despite Maeglin being sixteen, and far too big to be carried about such.
Well he would be too big, if he grew like a normal child.
Maeglin rested his chin on his father’s shoulder, thinking of all his friends who grew so much more quickly than he, towards their majority of 50 years of age. Bright and tall as sunflowers they shot up, whilst Maeglin lingered, growing too slowly for them, but too quickly for any Umanyar child who would come of age at 100… if such a child ever found themself magically in Nan Elmoth.
Annoyed and suddenly sulky at the turn of his thoughts, Maeglin hid his face in his father’s shoulder, ignoring how his father’s shawl tickled his forehead where the bight, rich cloth hung from Eöl’s head.
“Uncle Lithwaloth arriving today, and also the Taenferdhrim arriving sometime soon for the Winter,” his father’s voice had a forced gaiety to it, his hand gentle where it found Maeglin’s pointy wee chin and pushed it up so their eyes could meet, night sky blue to night sky blue; one with gold flecked across, the other silver.
“Aren’t we lucky?”
Maeglin, mesmerised as usual by the way the gold was so cunningly hidden in the dilation of his father’s pupils, forgot for a moment why he was mad. He nodded. Yes. They were. They were lucky.
Uncle Lithwaloth with his stories and his easily given love would distract Meaglin from his parents fighting, which always worsened in the darker months.
And the nomadic Taenferdhrim who always had a new infant or two when they arrived, would have a child or even children always roughly at the equivalent age to Maeglin that he could play with. They would camp in the large inner courtyard with their wagons and their tents, making beautiful things all winter to trade in Doriath when the spring came again, and amongst those tents and wagons Maeglin would run wild, free of his mother’s disapproving gaze.
Aredhel called the Taenferdhrim a ‘glorified gypsy encampment,’ but she could not deny they were the only chance her son had for friendship. The children of traders were rarely seen, and usually with such infrequency that by the time they came around again the age gap had grown too great, and they had outgrown Maeglin.
Still, she would press her lips together when she saw Maeglin running with the indigo clad pack of little ones, their golden heads shimmering too brightly for these Western shores. She would turn her head away, grind her teeth, and know that the Tribe disliked her equally, spurring on her worries they would turn Maeglin against her.
Everything seemed to be like that for his mother these days. People either were her valuable allies, or they were against her, and sought to turn Maeglin against her.
Mood once more sour, Maeglin hid his face in his father’s shoulder again, chewing on the material of his father’s robe until with a slight groan his father tipped his face back up.
“Elf-child.” His father said firmly. “Not a puppy.”
“You could get me a puppy,” Maeglin leapt upon the chance, tilting his head slyly as a trader did when he knew he was going to get a good price but wanted the customer to think the opposite, “so I would have a point of reference how not to act.”
“Cheeky,” his father flicked the tip of his ear gently, Maeglin jogged gently against his chest as he descended the steps into the outer courtyard.
“Sensible,” Maeglin retorted then he was distracted, and so was his father.
His great…great uncle rode into the keep and it was not upon some jaunty little pony, nor some pedigreed thorough bred that he rode. No, there were no hoof beats, no muffled snorting, nor a single neigh to be heard.
His uncle rode into the keep upon a wolf the size of a cart-horse, hands buried into its thick russet ruff as it slowed at the steps so his uncle could dismount.
Lithwaloth landed with a slight swirl of muted green Doriathrin robes, the silvery-grey of his Tatyarin head-shawl embroidered with startling blue patterns that Maeglin knew from his father’s lessons represented the gleam of starlight off a wave about to crash to shore.
Maeglin did not know where the wolves came from. His father did but would not tell him. It was a Tatyarin secret, one Maeglin had to be an adult to know about.
“Those get bigger every time you visit,” his father accused.
“I have an image to upkeep,” his uncle returned. Lithwaloth’s voice was not as deep as his father’s, but it held the same pleasant lilt to the Doriathrin they both spoke, which Maeglin could find no where else save the almost similar song-bird accent of the Taenferdhrim.
“Of what? A mad man?” His father laughed and stepped forwards, grabbing Lithwaloth one armed into an embrace. Long arms wrapped around them in reciprocation and Maeglin did not mind being trapped between the two.
No, not when it meant he could lean slightly to the side and press his ear to his uncle’s chest. Uncle Lithwaloth was so warm, and through the thin cloth of the Doriathrin robes he could hear the resounding of his kinsman’s heart against his ribcage.
“And how is this one?” a warm finger traced the edge of his ear, setting the bells on their hoops tinkling.
“I am good Uncle,” Maeglin wrapped his arms around Lithwaloth’s shoulders, his uncle as tall but far less broad as his father, making Maeglin’s arms strain less to wrap around his neck.
“That is good Dearest One,” warm lips pressed to his forehead, then with a gentle touch Lithwaloth pressed their noses together, breathing in the sign of Meaglin’s life as Maeglin breathed in his.
“….you chew nicer herbs than Da,” Maeglin whispered, “Da’s cloves make me want to sneeze.”
“Well thank you,” behind the sun veil that covered his uncle’s all black eyes, he knew his uncle was smiling with his eyes. Certainly he smiled with his mouth, a broad generous expression.
Maeglin melted, happy to be carried like a child as he absorbed the happiness rising from his uncle.
His Uncle, who lived in Menegroth, was a Healer. He was an important Healer too, Maeglin knew this because Lithwaloth’s badge of office was made of Mithril, not Gold or Silver like you usually saw a Healer wear. He traced the nightingale of the fibula as they walked inside, tapping his nail against the turquoise berry the nightingale held possessively.
A hand reached up and wrapped around his own in a gesture of affection.
“Don’t you go stealing my badge little magpie,” Lithwaloth chucked but Maeglin was distracted by the red of his uncle’s fingertips, held back by a different flourish than his father’s. He took Lithwaloth’s hand with his own free one, turning it to look at the palm.
There was an eighteen pointed star there, just like his father’s, but it rested against a backdrop of an open poppy, creating the centre of the flower. Unlike his father’s star, the star in Lithwaloth’s palm seemed to lie there docilely; a gemstone upon its cushion which did not need to expand, and greedily eat up the palm it lay on to prove its worth.
“What is it Dearest One?” Lithwaloth asked, shoulder to shoulder with Eöl who cast glances at them and smiled, but did not halt his pace, leading them to his parlour.
“I have a name now,” Maeglin told him solemnly.
“So I have heard, though your father did not tell me, because it is not his to tell. He did tell me it was quite a momentous occasion.”
Maeglin felt a warm explosion of excitement and pride in his stomach. Lithwaloth did not know his name yet. He could tell his uncle his name himself!
He thought of that day, in Belegost, surrounded by the dwarves who were his father’s dearest friends and allies at the dinner to farewell them. They had to return to Nan Elmoth. Aredhel hated when Maeglin went with his father to the mountains, and so they promised their trip would be short, just to pick up the new ore they needed to Elu’s latest request.
“Keen eyed,” had said one particular dwarrow-dam in authoritative tones. “Eöl this son of yours has eyes beyond compare. Look at how he finds the flaws in a gemstone without needing to look twice.”
“And look at how he perceives the minds of others as he does gemstones,” added a grey bearded man with what seemed like a thousand gold chains woven into his impressive beard, “finding the hidden flawed thoughts that people try to hide.”
“Sharp as a hunter’s arrow,” agreed a third dwarrow. “Eöl we know your people wait till the child is twelve to name them properly, and though this is not our tradition we have respected it. Now in his twelfth year your son needs a name and,” a chuckle broke the sentence, “now you come to us bewildered.”
“Aye, your son is too beautiful, too talented, and too wonderful, for you to create and settle on just the one name for him,” the dwarrow dam shook her head, patting his father’s shoulder as Eöl uncharacteristically blushed and Maeglin felt his heart turn into a maelstrom of butterfly pride inside him.
“Keen eyed, and sharp minded friend; your son sees what others do not. There is nothing his gaze cannot pierce,” pipes were being lit, and his father partook, his own pipe carved of one of the black-woods native to Nan Elmoth.
“Aye, a sharp gaze like none other.”
“Maeglin,” his father had breathed, eyes lighting up in an epiphany, the word issuing amongst coils of silver grey smoke.
This was the name Maeglin leaned in and whispered in Lithwaloth’s ear, mindful of the many silver studs marching up the side of it.
“Maeglin,” Lithwaloth murmured to himself, marching past Eöl who held the door to the parlour open for them.
“Maeglin,” the healer repeated, wriggling out of his cloak, loath to put Maeglin down.
“Maeglin,” Lithwaloth sat, Maeglin peering up at him from his lap.
“A perfect name,” Lithwaloth looked at Maeglin like he had not seen him before. Maeglin felt his face heat and promptly buried his face against Lithwaloth’s chest till his cheeks stopped burning.
Lithwaloth laughed, carding fingers through his hair.
“What a fine name indeed,” fingers lightly teased the bells in his ears again.
“It is isn’t it?” Maeglin’s father’s voice was so redolent with love Maeglin felt like his face was going to melt off.
“Uncle,” he said, peeking up to Lithwaloth, not about to be distracted.
“Yes Maeglin?” his uncle rolled his name in his mouth like it was a pleasant thing to eat.
“Now I have a name,” Maeglin tried not to bury his face again, though his cheeks felt so red they probably glowed,“shouldn’t I get red on my hands as well?”
“Maeglin!” his father’s voice turned sharp.
“That is true,” his uncle pondered, taking up Maeglin’s pale, plain hand in his own, “at your age usually at least the finger tips have been done, and the soles of the feet.”
“Uncle, Aredhel – ” started Eöl.
“Oh Óli’s sac Eöl! He is your child as well!” Lithwaloth interrupted.
“Uncle you were there when we pierced Maeglin’s ears, you remember how she was then,” his father said in a subdued tone, eyes flicking to Maeglin in a way that meant he did not want Maeglin to hear this.
Maeglin tried not to reach for his ears. He could not remember when his ears had been pierced, but there were four piercings in each, with little bells on the hoops through them. Maeglin could walk now, with practice, without setting off a single bell. When his mother was not around, Maeglin would wear the bright beaded necklaces called ‘chatter chains’ by the Taenferdrim as well. The Taenferdhrim used them to teach their children the same silence, and Maeglin practice walking up and down the hallways till they did not clink.
“He is your child as well,” Lithwaloth repeated stubbornly, “your child; half Tatyarin to go with the half Noldor. No don’t you pull that expression at me Eöl; it’s never been a secret, and you might act like the word Noldor gives you a rash, but you’ll be using it more and more in the future as Maeglin grows.”
“Not if I can help it,” Maeglin’s father muttered
“Nonsense. What a stupid thing to say. Now go make sure some tea is coming, I was stupid enough to pack my furs down the bottom of my packs and I’m chilled through. We can talk of tattoos later; I am here for the winter after all, there is plenty of time to discuss it.”
And so began his uncle’s visit during the winter of Maeglin’s sixteenth year.