Many thanks to my betas, Linda Hoyland and Zopyrus.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Silmarillion.
Warning for mature themes.
The Gig in the Sky
When Telperion's light was strong, Maglor liked to slip out of bed and steal down the sturdy drainpipe outside his window to wander around the garden. It could be uncomfortable to slide down the weathered granite, but eventually he learned to ignore the dull ache of his chafed skin. He would pad across the grounds, little maple-wood flute in hand, and occasionally wander into the airy grove behind his house.
Maglor loved the grove. It was silent save for the song of the birds and the hum of the insects, and for Eru's music that drifted through the leaves. He knew it was there, in the wind, in the swaying of the branches. And when he played his flute, he felt that his fëa was entwined with it, and that there was no better feeling in the world, except that of being enfolded in his mother's arms.
One night, when his own bed had been taken over by bedbugs, he had been sharing Maedhros' big, orderly chamber, and, after deciding that his brother was asleep, crept out of the sheets. He had just reached outside the window for a pipe when Maedhros unexpectedly caught him by the ear and hauled him back inside. Maglor flushed and nearly grew annoyed, but then thought that, since his brother was by nature appallingly responsible, he could, perhaps, be pardoned for being boring. He stopped squirming.
"You are a rebellious creature," Maedhros had hissed, gripping his ear somewhat too hard. "Must you do the opposite of what you are told? I will tell Mother, and she won't forgive you this time." The rebellious creature had merely blinked at him, and continued being what he was.
Tonight was a particularly lovely night; the stars shone brightly in the sky, and the land was touched with pale silver. Maglor grinned, patting the trouser pocket he'd filled with dried fruits, and trotted towards the grove. A short while after shuffling through the undergrowth, he stopped, and his eyes went round. In the middle of a small open patch there was a beautifully twisted cedar tree that had hitherto eluded his notice. Curious, he decided to climb it, and held his flute in his mouth as he pulled himself up. The cedar had a distinctively pleasant smell, fresh and lively, and he breathed it in deeply, delighted to have found such a nice tree to play in.
Nestling happily near the middle of the tree in the crook between a sturdy bough and the trunk, Maglor wiped his flute with his sleeve and held it to his lips. He was about to begin playing when he heard a funny sort of crackle behind him, and he turned to see a great, glassy eye of a yellowish colour staring at him from the bark. For a moment he gazed back, befuddled and hardly daring to breathe, and then yelped loudly and flailed his arms, letting go of his flute and losing his balance. He would have fallen to the earth and likely split his skull if the tree hadn't casually moved to adjust his position.
"Oh, my stars," squeaked Maglor, gripping the bough for dear life and feeling as though his heart was trying to pound its way out of his chest.
The tree only continued to look at him with vague interest, as one might an uncommon but not quite rare flower. This close, Maglor could make out flecks of green and gold in its two eyes. The longer he gazed into those eyes, the more at ease he felt, and soon he was breathing quite normally. He even straightened up and felt inclined to talk, but somehow also that he should not initiate the conversation – if indeed the tree could speak. Could all trees speak?
At length Maglor heard a sort of long, undulating rumble, which he realised was a question: "Is this your forest?" Despite its sonorous quality, the voice was unmistakably feminine.
"It is my parents'," replied Maglor faintly, feeling strangely as though he were in a dream.
"I see." The tree spoke very slowly, appearing to ponder every word. "Then do you mind, elf-child, if I stay here the night, or a few nights?"
"Stay as many as you wish," Maglor found himself saying. "I have never before met a talking tree. Do you have a name?" Belatedly he remembered his manners and hastily added, "I am Maglor, of the House of Fëanor and Nerdanel."
"You may call me Mithlas."
Maglor tilted his head to one side. "Mithlas, Mithlas," he murmured to himself, tasting the name on his tongue, as was his habit when hearing a person's name for the first time.
The tree lowered her gaze, revealing her mottled, leaf-like eyelids, well camouflaged against her bark. Before Maglor could ask more questions, she said, "Your flute has cracked, elf-child."
Maglor looked down gingerly, trying not to lose his balance again. He could not see his flute from his position, but he took Mithlas' word for it. He would have to ask his father to make him another one; hopefully Fëanor would not give the task to one of his apprentices, the way he had done the previous time, when Maglor had left it on the floor of his chamber and accidentally stepped on it. "A pity."
"How many flutes have you broken?"
Maglor blinked, turning red from the sudden question, and replied, "This is the second."
"I see. You must give thanks to it, for the time it has served you."
"Why?" he said, confused and a little disturbed. "We give thanks to animals for their meat, before we kill them. A flute neither speaks nor hears."
"It feels, nonetheless." She paused, while he sucked his lower lip hard and lowered his head. "Do you believe me?"
A lump formed in Maglor's throat, and he felt that he had done something horribly wrong, and ought to apologise. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, rather overwhelmed, and put a hand over his chest to calm himself. "I am so sorry."
"Instead of weeping," said Mithlas, appearing unmoved by his expression, "you should pledge to take better care of your instruments, and of anything that was once alive and that you use for your own gain."
Somewhat surprised at her abruptness, Maglor wiped his nose and nodded, rather at a loss for words. He was now in no mood to talk, so he asked, as meekly as he could, to be let down. When he was safely on the ground he picked up his cracked flute – which, to his mortification, he had to look around to find, all the while feeling the weight of Mithlas' gaze on his back – and then fairly scrambled back to his house.
He did not go down the granite drainpipe the next night, or during the next fortnight. Instead, he lay in bed, huddled in a blanket, and tried not to think about his broken flutes. When he finally mustered the courage to visit the grove again, Mithlas was not there, and he stood in the empty space where she had been and twisted and untwisted the hem of his tunic. Eventually he went back inside to his chamber and stayed awake, hugging a goose-feather pillow, till golden light eased through his latticed window.
At length Maglor let go of his pillow and stuck his knuckles in his eyes, and then raised his head. By the wall opposite the bed sat his oak-wood harp, its crown carved in the likeness of a galloping horse, astonishingly lifelike in the detail of its musculature and its flying mane; he could almost hear it whinny. It was beautiful, like everything his mother made.
He felt nauseated. Slipping out of bed, he trundled to Maedhros' chamber at the end of the hallway and entered without knocking; a habit he knew his brother detested. Maedhros looked up sharply from his bed, where he had been sitting cross-legged and reading a yellowed book that looked too fat and too serious for his age. "Hey," he said, frowning, "what are you doing here?"
Maglor said nothing, but clambered up on the bed and into his brother's lap, displacing the book and earning an indignant cry, and burrowed his face in his chest. He breathed unsteadily, and tried to concentrate on Maedhros' heartbeat. Do-dom, do-dom, again and again. Shortly, he felt arms gingerly wrap around him, and he took in the scent of his brother's clean white clothes.
Rise at dawn, dress, plaster on a smile or a frown, as the occasion called for. Speak, listen, speak some more, chin in hand, heart in belly. Finish those accounts. Patience, patience; the people were upset. They had lost their king, as well as his oldest son, and had been dumped in the string-callused hands of a lesser scion.
Thank goodness the evening meal was over, along with all its pleasantries and its stale arguments about this land and that king and its recurrent oh-what-are-we-to-do-now harangues. Maglor leaned back in his chair and groaned, massaging his temples. He'd exchanged his stifling, red velvet robe – his only one, stolen from one of the Swan Ships – for an old woollen tunic, and had kicked his shoes beneath the desk.
He looked down at the broad, dry leaves before him, and the angular script on them became a blur. An ill-constructed residential building had come toppling down that day, injuring several, and the quiet season, now almost over, had been pitiless. He had never seen children die of starvation before. Would they have enough food in the coming spring? Yes, yes, they would; he would make sure of it. If Celegorm failed in leading the hunts he would...wring...
A headache was forming rapidly, trying to pound its way out of his skull. Maglor massaged his brow with one hand and groped across the table for the drink an attendant had left there – something pungent, heavy, and utterly vile, distilled from potatoes. Potatoes! Who came up with that idea, in any case? He took a swig from the cup and breathed deeply, feeling a the drink slide down his throat, leaving a trail of raw heat in its wake, and settle in the pit of his belly.
He was contemplating downing the entire abomination in one when a loud crash and an abrasive twanging sound made him jump and curse fluently. He turned around, and swore. His lap harp, which had been leaning precariously against the wall, had fallen down, and the strings had snapped.
Maglor frowned, annoyed. He didn't want to pick it all up; he had mountains to move and no time to spare on a useless thing made of hacked wood and cat gut. He dipped his pen in the inkwell, and began to scratch on the leaves; parchment was nearly impossible to make; they used their livestock's skins for clothing.
Yet after a few moments he hesitated, and swallowed. He could not concentrate on his work; his mind kept returning to the broken harp-strings, curled and silent. Pressing his lips together, he went and picked up his harp, delicately brushing the scored part with his fingers, and set it against the wall. He bent his head and uttered an apology beneath his breath. Then went back to his desk, straightened his back, and picked up his pen. By the time it was supposed to be morning, his inkwell was empty, and he asked an attendant to bring him a refill.
After the family broke their fast on fried eggs and tough, unseasoned fish, he sat with his brothers in Mithrim fort's dank council chamber and gave them each a job for the next three months. Celegorm groaned softly and pinched the bridge of his nose, and Amras put on a bleak, tired expression. Of all the people present, he had been the worst affected by the losses they had suffered. Ignoring them, Maglor stood up, unclasped his ornate, heavy mantle, and draped it over his chair.
Amras looked up at him, shoulders sagging. "How can you think of all this when our father is dead and two of our brothers lost, one perhaps to a fate worse than death? Do we even deserve to live, after the lives we have taken or ruined? Perhaps it..." He lowered his gaze, his forehead creased. "It would be better if the whole of Mithrim perished."
"We have no time to grieve, or to drown in bitterness," Maglor said, gathering up his documents. "Let us make a start."
- finis -
Mithlas - "grey leaf", from the Sindarin Name Frame.
I used the Fëanorians' Sindarin names because the Quenya translations sounded awkward in this story, for some reason.
The title is from one of Pink Floyd's songs.