Lalaith Elerrina--Child of the Stars - Chapter 8
"Ah, little one." The Elf maiden sighed as she held her sleeping charge against her shoulder as she sat with him upon a cushioned window seat gazing out over the star washed city of Gondolin below her, alight with lanterns, and merry voices. "It is long past your bedtime, my dear one. And I must go find my friends before I succumb to sleep as well."
She tipped her head, feeling the warm touch of the sleeping infant's cheek against her own. Dear little Eärendil, beloved son of her lady Idril Celebrindal, and the lord Tuor, who had once come to them as an outsider, but was now one of them, beloved of all the people of Gondolin. And this maiden, of all the women of the city was entrusted with the care of their precious baby, now but seven years old, a round faced, merry little infant who was just now learning to toddle about, and in whose bright sea blue eyes rested the light of heaven.
She smiled gently jostling the baby's precious weight against her shoulder as she began to hum a wordless tune. Eärendil was deep in his sweet infant dreams, but she could not bear to put him in his bed, not now. She would soon, she promised herself. But she stayed with him now, cherishing the moments she held the sweet weight of the baby upon her shoulder. Then she would go find her friends upon the walls, for she did not wish to miss this night, heralding in the great feast, the Gates of Summer. She would sing to the glory of the rising sun with the other maidens, and if she was lucky, and he could find a way to take himself from his uncle's side, Maeglin would come to her.
Her heart jumped lightly in her bosom as she thought of him. The lord Maeglin, nephew to the king, tall and proud, with his firm shoulders, and his dark hair drawn back in elegant braids from his brooding eyes. Something about him frightened her a little, but she did not care. Surely it was only his father's face that she could see in him, for he was not his father, the dark Elf Eöl. He was also his mother's son, the son of the lady Aredhel. A brave, goodly lady, who had borne him in darkness and misery. For journeying beyond the protected girdle of their mountains, she had been taken against her will, by one who had never truly earned her love. And when she had gained the courage to flee at last from Eöl with her son, he had pursued her in his wrath, and slew her, before the very throne of her brother. Eöl was dead now, no longer a threat to their people. And Maeglin was surely no one to fear. He was the son of his father, but he had the power to be more than Eöl had been. Had he not proven himself in battle, time and again?
She smiled to herself, stilling the distant voice of warning in her heart. She had but one heart to give away, and surely she loved him, did she not? Was not this warm thrill of desire that welled in her blood a sign of love, unending? She had never felt such wild stirrings before, not when he looked upon her and smiled, not when his hand touched hers. She wanted him. Badly, she admitted to herself. She had longed for him since he had come to Gondolin with his mother, and his dark eyes and quiet manner had captured her fancy. She had felt herself even more bound to him when his mother had been slain, and his treacherous father cast from the pinnacle of stone to his death. What a lost soul he had seemed, adrift in a city of strangers. And he had noticed her attention of him, and had returned her affection, or seemed to.
She blushed darkly as she lifted a hand and brushed her fingers lightly against the baby's cheek. Maeglin was certainly skillful with his words, she admitted to herself. A tremor shook her heart, a faint warning, but she pushed it away as she rose from the window seat.
"There now, my dearest Eärendil." She whispered as she lay the sleeping infant down within his cradle beside the window, and smoothed a straying lock of hair from his sleep flushed cheek, her finger running over the peaked contour of his tiny ear in the same motion. "Sleep long and well. I will see you, soon enough, when the morning dawns bright."
She bent low, and pressing a kiss against his smooth little brow, she whispered, "I love you, my dear one." And then she straightened, and turned to go.
"Maeglin!" She gasped, suddenly frightened by the silhouette that had appeared silently in the doorway behind her.
Placing a hand over her heart, she uttered a nervous laugh to still its suddenly wild beating. There he stood, tall and dark, adorned in his royal robes, as befitting the king's nephew on this, the eve of the Gates of Summer. How fine he looked, she thought in spite of the nervous twinge that echoed softly deep in her heart.
"Why are you here?" She asked softly. "Why are you not upon the walls with the others?"
"Come now, lissien, with you here, alone?" Maeglin muttered low, swaggering into the baby's narrow room, and scooping the maiden into his strong arms. His lips swooped low over hers, but she cringed at the scent of strong drink on his breath, and turned her head to the side.
Maeglin uttered a low grumble of disapproval, but still contented himself with burying his head against her neck, and nuzzling her throat hungrily. "Oh, lissien," he muttered, his voice muffled against her throat as his strong arms clutched her ever closer, "Could you but once on this fairest of nights, give me what I have so tireless sought from you for so many years?"
The Elf maiden fought to think. With his warm breath against her throat, his strong arms around her, it was difficult to say no. And now, with his open mouth caressing her bare neck and trailing slowly down toward the soft hollow of her throat, the emotions that he set afire within her, were difficult to quench. Yet still, she knew what it would lead to, even if he as yet, was too deeply in love with her to see the outcome.
"Come Maeglin, I thought we spoke of this, before." She murmured, and gently pushed him away, seeking his eyes through the warm darkness.
"You spoke of it, lissien." Maeglin groaned, rolling his eyes, and swaggering backward a step, drawing his arms away from her. "But not I." He shook his head impatiently, and she cringed at the look of disapproval within his eyes. "Why wait? " He drew ever closer to her, and she shuddered at the warm look that came over his eyes. "Do you not love me, dearest?"
"Oh, Maeglin-," she murmured, closing her eyes shut at the plaintive notes of his voice. "I think I do. I am certain I do. But can we not wait to act upon our longings? For me to give into you, could only lead to unhappiness. Do you not remember the misery your father caused your mother? And what of any child that might come of such an unprepared union?"
"Pah," he grunted, disgusted. "I am not as my father."
"I believe you, Maeglin." She sighed, and smiled gently, hopefully, at the slender smile that wound its way across his swarthy, handsome face. "So be the man your father was not, and speak to your uncle, to all the people, of your desire for me, and then we will wed. We will live together in happiness, and our children will be welcomed with joy."
"I am the king's nephew." He muttered, his face once again growing dark. "You are but a servant."
"But there is still hope for us!" She cried catching his hands, quickly lowering her voice as the baby mumbled and stirred behind her. "We need not hide our caring for each other as if it is a shameful thing. The lady Idril is good and generous. Always when her maidens have found husbands, she has rejoiced with them. Surely she would feel much joy for us, for she is not only my mistress, but my friend as well, and you are her cousin, entrusted with much, by her father, the king. You know her. She would be happy for us."
"I do not know her as well as I would like." Maeglin muttered darkly, and half beneath his breath. She did not understand the meaning of his words, and passed them off as unimportant.
"Come Maeglin." She urged gently, still clasping his hand, and slowly turning, so as to guide him out the open door of the baby's room. "The night will wane soon, and dawn will come. We will stand upon the walls together, to welcome the dawn of this blessed day."
"No." Maeglin spouted, flinging her hands downward with the tone of an impatient child, and she jerked back, her eyes wide with fear. "I have been patient, with you lissien." He spouted, flinging his pet name for her from his tongue like spittle. "You of all the maid servants of the palace are the most blessed, for with your fair form, your golden hair, you look the most like-," he caught himself, and glaring at her, growled through clenched teeth, "I love you. I want you. But I tire of waiting." He leaned closer, his eyes flashing sparks of dark flame. "Give yourself to me, tonight."
"Maeglin-," she breathed, her heart growing suddenly chilled within her. "That cannot be. Surely if you love me truly, you would understand this. Love cannot be forced or demanded. Does not the lord Tuor treat the lady Idril with honor? She gives him her favors because she wants to. Not because he demands them of her."
"Do not speak to me of Idril, and that usurping mortal." Maeglin shouted, his head lowered, his eyes glaring bitterly at her. Behind her, Eärendil shifted, and moaned softly in his sleep, but did not waken.
She swallowed hard. Maeglin was glaring at her, hungrily, almost as a warg watching its prey. But true love could never be like this. It was as if Maeglin were trying to open a flower, to force it to blossom before it was ready, rather than nurturing it with care and waiting patiently for it to bloom upon its own time. She would not do as he demanded.
"I care deeply for you, Maeglin." She breathed at last, feeling her heart breaking as she spoke. "But I cannot give into you. For your sake as well as mine. For my children, yet unborn." Beseechingly, she held out her hands to him. "Would that they could be yours, as well. Perhaps one day you will understand why-,"
A gasp of icy terror cut off her words as Maeglin suddenly lunged forward, and caught her, pulling her suddenly to him, his arms crushing her possessively against him. "I am a kinsman to the king. A prince, and your lord." He growled, his face twisted into a grimace. "You are naught but a daughter of the House of the Golden Flower. It is not given you to say no to me."
Her heart leapt in terror at his words, and her soul wrenched as his mouth, now sour and angry, crush hers beneath it, drawing from her greedily, though she struggled to free herself. Would he truly take her then against her will as his father had his mother? Had she been so wrong all along about him? Deceived by him with all the people of Gondolin? What else then, had he done to betray them all?
Desperately, she wrenched her mouth away. "Glorfindel will kill you if you do this thing!" She cried out desperately, hoping against her deepest terror that her words would have an effect upon him.
And so they did, for Maeglin, with a harsh gasp of air, released her, and stepped back. "I will kill him first!" He seethed.
"No, you couldn't." She gasped, pressing herself back against the baby's cradle, her frightened eyes fixed upon Eöl's son, upon his darkling eyes, watching him as he licked his lips, visibly calculating the risk she had now presented to him. His face disgusted her now, and she wondered how she could ever have thought fondly of him. The bitter taste of his rough kiss lingered within her mouth, and she fought the urge to wretch at his feet.
"You think too highly of Glorfindel." Maeglin growled.
"Glorfindel could slay a balrog, if he wished." She hissed. "He could kill you, easily." She drew in a gulping breath, and quickly added. "And Lady Idril and her father will hear of this. They will not be pleased."
He crushed his teeth together as he looked out the window beyond her shoulder, and as he did so a leering grin spreading across his face. "The king will hear nothing of this."
"Oh, of a surety, he will." She scoffed.
"He will be dead along with Idril's precious Tuor." Maeglin sneered with eyes that were sharp and dark as flint. "And their heads, with the head of your dear Glorfindel will be raised upon pikes, ere long the sun rises."
Narrowing her eyes at the wild light that had leaped into Maeglin's leering gaze, she turned her head, glancing out the nursery window to see a bright red light within the sky. The rising dawn it could not be, for the light was in the north. And at this, her heart collapsed in ashes within her. For already in the distance, beyond the walls and upon the mountains, she saw them coming through the sky like a cloud of locusts, and over the ground as a creeping river of doom.
Beyond the window, she could hear shouts and cries from the others below her as the burning legions of Morgoth drew ever closer, advancing with deadly unchecked swiftness toward the walls of Gondolin.
They were unprepared, she realized numbly. Too confident they had all been, in the safety of their hidden paradise. But Morgoth had found them at last.
"Ai, my, sweet Eärendil! Come, quickly!" She cried, startling the baby awake as she snatched him from his cradle, and turned with him to flee away. This high, bright palace, beneath the tower of Turgon would be an easy target for the balrogs and dragons, whose roars grew louder with each passing moment in her ears. But as she turned to dart out of the room, Maeglin's shadowed form blocked her way.
"For the sake of the Valar, Maeglin, stand aside!" She cried.
"Do you not remember those many days I had been missing?" He snorted, a look of mock sympathy coming over his eyes. "When I returned, you were so relieved."
A lump of anger formed in her throat, for she remembered it well. He had been missing for many long weeks, and when he returned ragged and worn, with the tanned skin of a warg that he claimed had come upon him in the nearby hills and wounded him, she had believed him. He had managed to slay the creature he had claimed so that it could not return across the mountains, and he had been healing in a make shift shelter in the hills these many weeks. She had thrown herself in his arms, sobbing when he had come to her for she had thought him dead. And now the truth of his betrayal planted itself in her heart like a knife's blade. He had been conspiring with Morgoth. He had betrayed them.
"Why?" She cried.
Eärendil wailed flailing his tiny fists about, sensing the distress of his nurse. But his cries were nothing to the cries and shouts of fear and terror that were coming from beyond the window.
"For Idril!" Maeglin shouted back, laughing as the red light in the north grew harsher, and the distant roar of wargs and balrogs, and the undulating throb of dragon's wings upon the air drew ever nearer. "I have wanted her since my coming to Gondolin."
"But she is your cousin!" The maiden choked. "Such a thing is crooked and unnatural. It is not the way of the Eldar." She fought an urge to weep in fear. "You would destroy all that we have made, our homes and our lives, simply so that you might possess Lady Idril?"
He smiled, a dark leering smile as a coldness swept through her veins, and the knife of betrayal wrenched all the more fiercely in her heart. "And I was nothing to you." She breathed fiercely.
"You were my toy, if that brings you any comfort." He sneered, leering close and touching a finger softly to her cheek. "Always when I held you in my arms, when I kissed you, always when I strove to persuade you to give yourself to me, you were Idril in my mind."
She closed her eyes tightly at this, unable at last, to keep the tears back.
"Ah, what is this? Tears?" Maeglin asked with mocking gentleness. " Have I broken your innocent heart?"
"T'is not for me that I weep, but for you." The maiden choked. "You could have been more than what you have become. You could have been different than your father. But you have followed his path. When Idril's lord slays you, your soul will never see the Blessed Realm. You will rot in the Abyss that awaits Morgoth and all those who follow him."
"Ah, my lissien." Maeglin hissed with bitter sweetness. "I will never die. But you, sweet one, will not live to see the dawn."
She spat in his face. She could think of no other recourse but that. Maeglin staggered back, surprised momentarily, and she took the advantage of his shock and brought up her small hand, balling it into a fist and thrusting it with a sharp crack into Maeglin's face. Her strength, borne by fear, was greater than what either of them had expected, and though Maeglin was by far stronger than she, still, the thrust of her fist was enough to knock him sprawling to the floor. Then tucking her stinging fist about the squirming, wailing baby, she turned and ran with all her might through the high, pillared halls, and toward the open doorway that led out of the empty palace, onto the high terrace overlooking the courtyard below. She could see night sky beyond the open doorway, above a hazy red glow.
"No." She groaned to herself, gasping hard as she stumbled out the doors upon the terrace beneath the high clear sky. From her high vantage at the doors to the king's palace, she could see all about her, that Gondolin was afire. Distant towers nearest the walls, once high and fair, burned like torches, as steam from the many fountains of the city rose up in a hissing, steaming haze, leaving her alone upon a high island the tower steps before her, descending into a thick misty fog.
Taking another step outward in disbelief, she stumbled slightly over something at her feet. She glanced down, only to recoil in horror. An Elf lay at her feet, a young man near her age with hair of dark mahogany. His eyes, the cool shade of green grass, were open, staring up into the night sky where dragons dipped and roared beneath the stars, laying waste to the higher towers about her as screams as if from ghosts unseen, echoed beneath her in the misty streets. The young man was dead, his sword, bathed in black blood still clenched within his fist. She knew who he was, a goodly young man, beloved by one of her friends, another of Idril's maidens.
As a dragon black against the night sky dipped, and snatched a screaming figure from a distant wall into its cruel talons, flinging it with a crack against the side of a crumbled tower, she knew how he had died as she stumbled numbly away toward the edge of the terrace. Where was anyone alive, save for Eärendil and herself, and Maeglin, who would certainly come behind her now at any moment, furious at her in his wrath? Surely now, he would slay her for striking him. And then what would he do to the baby?
Her mind was beginning to sink into despair when she heard a woman's voice, high and frightened, screaming Eärendil's name, and up through the haze and smoke of the tower steps, came the figure of Idril Celebrindal running, her face flushed and frightened. Idril's white flowing gown was stained with smoke, and her hair, once twined elegantly in a golden circlet, fell in a tangled disarray about her neck and shoulders.
"My lady!" The maiden cried, rushing toward her upon the steps as a small glimmer of relief touched her heart at the appearance of a familiar face amid the chaos.
Idril put a hand to her mouth and tears of relief glimmered in her eyes at the sight of her baby with his nurse, and as the maiden hurried near, Idril extended her arms eagerly, clasping her little son to her as the maiden pressed the child into his mother's arms.
Instantly the baby's wailing calmed, and he slung his plump arms about Idril's neck as he tucked his head beneath her chin.
"Nana, nana." He cooed.
"Ah, my baby. I had feared the worst for you." Idril choked, half weeping as she gently grasped the maiden's hand with her own free hand. "May the Valar bless you forever, my friend."
"Your lord, where is he?" The maiden urged. "And Glorfindel?"
"They are coming with my father." Idril gasped, glancing backward, and nodding down into the thick cloud of mist. "Ai, I am glad to find you. Lord Glorfindel has been terrified for you. He will be relieved to know you are unhurt. There are wargs and orcs come, and balrogs with them. They have taken the fore of the city. Ecthelion and many others have already fallen. Come with me, quickly, there is a way of escape-,"
"My lady!" The maiden screamed suddenly cutting off Idril's words as a black shadow flashed over them, swooping near. And she shoved Idril and the baby down upon the steps as icy razored claws slashed across her back, and caught about her waist, slabbing painfully through the cloth of her gown, and into her side. But she had no time to realize her pain or cry out before she was lifted like a helpless leaf caught upon a hurricane, up off the steps, and away.
Beneath her, Idril screamed something, perhaps it was her name. She could not tell, for she could not hear beyond the rush of the wind. She could only see as the figure of Maeglin came rushing at last out of the palace, and roughly caught hold of Idril's arm, viciously jerking the fair lady and her baby up from where they had fallen upon the steps.
The maiden's heart failed her then. Idril was lost, and sweet Eärendil with her. All was hopeless. She closed her eyes against the bitterness of her weeping as she felt the dragon's talons loosen, and she felt the empty catch in her body as she began to plummet through the empty air toward the flickering flames, and the steaming fountains below.