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Little Stars

Chapter 1: 1

by SpaceWeavil

Little Stars

Down by the shore, the battle seemed so far away. Yet though the sounds of clashing steel and screams of the slain might have been softened by the sea’s murmur, Nathriel could not afford to feel safe. Even as she hurried down the steps leading down from the quays, her bare feet slipping on the wet stone, she knew it would only be a matter of time before the fighting spilled down onto the beach as well as the Havens.

She dared not think how many had died. In truth she did not fully understand what had happened at all, only that one of the other elleth in service had burst into the room, her dress torn and her forehead bloodied, and had died in Nathriel’s arms saying only, ‘they will not stop until they find it.’

Nathriel wondered, as she ran across the fine white sands, if she had done the right thing. But she had heard the commotion all through the house. How was she to know if her Lady had survived or if these marauders, whoever they might be, had slain her as they did that poor elleth? She had no choice, she told herself. She had done what she thought best.

She had grabbed the two sleeping children in her charge and carried them out of the house as swiftly as she was able.

The babes squirmed in her arms but thankfully had stopped crying. For a time as they hurried through the corridors of the house, Nathriel straining her ears to pick out individual sounds amongst the chaos, she had worried that their screams might bring the invaders. Close to tears as she stepped over the bodied of friends and fellow servants, she begged them to be quiet. She heard crashes and thuds all throughout the house and passed by rooms that had been torn to shreds. Once or twice she ran by a doorway and glimpsed dark figures inside, tossing furniture around, searching for something. She did not stop long enough to find out what.

What could have breached the sanctuary of the Havens? Nathriel was young and had known only peace, but she had heard the elder elves speak of great battles and countless losses. Had that ancient and fervent war erupted once again in Beleriand? Surely only the creatures of Morgoth would rampage through the quiet streets and leave naught but trails of blood and broken hroar in their wake?

One of the infants let out a wail as she hurried along the cove and again Nathriel patted his back and tried to whisper reassuring words into his ear until he quietened down. Heading along the shore, away from the mouths of the river and the white buildings she had thought safe all her life, Nathriel came to the steep grey cliffs that rose up on either side of the Havens. She glanced up towards the clifftop and thought she saw movement there, figures running back and forth. Their swords and spears bristled like thornbushes in the wind. Nathriel kept close to the cliff and held her breath, hoping the attackers’ ears were not so keen as the Elves’. But though she needed to stay quiet she could not wait. She looked over her shoulder to the stairs, imagining a hoard of monsters cascading down to find her any minute.

If they knew ought of the landscape, they would soon come to the beach to continue their search, supposing they did not find it in the Havens. But the caves were deep and twisted. Nathriel had played in them as a child. She knew the safest places to hide, or at least she hoped as much.

The land rose slightly, heading upwards to join with the clifftop. The white sands gave way to large, rounded pebbles and even bigger boulders, while ahead, streams of frothing water tumbled down through channels in the rock before trickling off to join the sea. Nathriel headed for one such waterfall, the babes seeming to grow heavier with every step she took.

But just as she reached the edge of that fall and little stream, Nathriel paused. Behind her, she heard a cry that seemed to silence all other sounds of battle. Turning, she beheld a white shape fall from the Havens above. It radiated light, like a ball of sunlight tumbling through the air, until it hit the pewter waters of the ocean and vanished, leaving only a glimmer of white upon the waves for a moment. Nathriel stared, unsure what she had seen, but when at last she glanced towards the white buildings atop the quays, she saw a group of figures staring down, watching the frothing waves where the white object had disappeared.

One of them turned his head and looked straight towards her.

Nathriel gasped and turned to run. She stumbled and only her concern for the two children she carried kept her from falling on her face. She did not look to see if the figures were coming after her. She just assumed they were. A chilling thought spread through her body and forced more tears to well in her eyes. She had only one course left open to her. She headed towards the waterfall and this time ploughed through into the cave behind it.

In the damp darkness, she picked her way over glistening rocks at the side of a shallow pool. Both twins began to cry as soon as she set them down on the cold ground, and Nathriel’s heart beat faster with every sob.

‘Here,’ she said, playfully splashing the water with her hand. After a while and some encouraging, if forced smiles, one of the children copied her and slowly forgot about crying. His brother stared, bewildered, then crawled forward towards the edge of the pool.

‘There,’ sighed Nathriel. ‘Just stay quiet now. I shall be back soon.’

She rose sharply and left the cave, pausing only for a second to look back at the two children. They both gazed up at her inquisitively, as if deciding whether to follow her or not. In all the years she had cared for them whilst their father was at sea and their mother busy with her own concerns, Nathriel had never found that look quite so heartbreaking before. But then she knew, in that moment, she would never see them look at her that way again.

She turned and went back onto the beach, and then raced towards the cliff. Soon she heard the steady thump of footsteps behind her, and glanced over her shoulder to find a gang of the attackers heading after her. So long as she could get some distance from the cave, she thought. So long as they pursued her and did not notice anything else.

‘Halt!’ yelled one of the strangers. He spoke in her language, though his voice was so full of anger that she hardly recognised the word. Nathriel kept on running. She had no choice, and prayed as she thundered towards the clifftop that she had made the right decision.

Just as she reached the grass at the top of the slope, a hand grabbed her ankle and she hit the ground with a painful thud. Immediately a stinging pain shot through her face from upper lip to the bridge of her nose and she tasted blood. The stranger took a handful of her hair and hauled her up, twisting her so he could look into her face. Nathriel’s eyes widened as she looked upon him and saw not an orc of Angband but one of her own kind, a dark-haired ellon grasping a steel dagger, which he held to her throat.

‘Why are you down here?’ he demanded. ‘What did you think to hide from us? Speak, harlot, and you might be spared!’

Nathriel could not breathe, let alone speak. Her body convulsed with silent sobs and she shook her head, trembling.

‘Speak!’ the Elf shouted again. ‘Is this secret truly worth your life?’

‘Enough,’ said a rich, dark voice, and immediately the ellon released his grip, moving away slowly with a wary gaze fixed on someone Nathriel could not see at first. Then finally the other Elf came into view. He stood over Nathriel, watching her with an odd mixture of pity and rage, and he rubbed his hands together. At least that was how it appeared at first; once he knelt beside Nathriel, she saw that he had only one hand, and ran his palm over the stump of his arm, wrapped in black linen.

‘Your mistress is dead,’ he told her sternly. ‘There is no point in guarding her secret. We know she took her jewel to the bottom of the sea. Whatever prize you think you must hide, it matters not. So tell us now what you were doing down here, and you may live. There is no need for further bloodshed.’

‘You…’ Nathriel sobbed. ‘You are one of us.’

‘I am one of nothing, save my family,’ replied Maedhros. ‘I can be loyal to no other. Tell me what you were doing down here, and I will see no harm will come to you.’

‘You killed them!’

Maedhros rose slowly and glanced about the beach, then he gestured to his band of followers, ordering them to spread across the shore. Nathriel sat up, still shaking, and saw one of those Elves head straight towards the waterfall. She saw him climb the rocks by its side and stare inside. Her heart stopped for what felt like an eternity. She did not know whether to call out and draw their attention, or if that would alert them to the significance of the cave. She did not know what to do. More tears blinded her, and finally she called out, ‘No! I will show you where it is!’

Maedhros turned, studying her. Immediately Nathriel looked away from the dark elf at the cave mouth and instead stared up imploringly at her captor.

‘Please,’ she whimpered.

Maedhros nodded to his brother and then walked away. Maglor carried on into the cave and Nathriel scrabbled to her feet. She flung herself at Maedhros, screaming at him and pounding him with her fists. Maedhros continued along the beach, keeping his back to her, as his men prized her off and threw her back to the ground.

Maedhros carried on walking, ignoring the screams behind him. If he did not look back, he might imagine that the scene was far away, softened by the whispers of the sea. Yet again the prize had slipped through his grasp. Yet again he had failed, and felt his father’s watchful spirit glaring at him, though he knew Fëanor would be well within the realm of Mandos.

When at last the elleth’s cries ceased and a sudden, sickening silence ensued, Maedhros closed his eyes and urged the sea winds to cool his face and wash him clean. How easy it would be to follow Elwing into that churning expanse, and end this all.

Only when he had breathed deeply and forced all thoughts of the carnage above him from his mind could Maedhros turn and think again of Maglor. Trying not to look at the pale body of the elleth, her blood soaking into the sand, Maedhros crossed to the waterfall and stepped through the veil, finding his brother in the darkness beyond.

‘So that is what she died to protect,’ Maglor mused, looking down at the two elflings, one sitting in the pool at the edge of the waterfall, playing with his own feet, while the identical sibling sat on a rock where Maglor stood. ‘Her children…’

‘Not hers,’ Maedhros corrected. ‘Their clothes bear the crest of Eärendil. They are his sons.’

Maglor looked to his brother and seemed about to speak, but his words faltered and he gazed instead at the children. Maedhros remained implacable, but within him, the sickness continued unabated. He could no longer look at two innocents and question his deeds. He was beyond debating whether he ought to have followed his brothers in taking the oath, or whether he should not have forsaken it. It was too late for such thoughts. What would it matter to those children that he was torn within? What would they care that the one who had slain their people and driven their mother to the waves regretted every move and wished, with every passing second, that he could end this torment and meet Mandos himself?

‘What is to be done with them?’ asked Maglor.

Both brothers knew the answer. No mercy had been shown to the folk of Sirion. Those two elflings could not be the exception. Maedhros knew, and already felt the stain of their blood on his hand, along with all the other marks he could not shift.

‘Deal with them as you must,’ he said, and walked away. Again he hoped that if he did not see the deed done, he could distance himself a little. He had so many sins to answer for, what was one more? So, heavy-hearted, he left the cave and did not stop to look back, trying hard not to care what his brother did with the children.

~*~

Author’s Note;~ This was just a short piece that came to me whilst reading Tolkien’s letters, in a discussion here on OSA about whether or not Elros and Elrond were twins. In the letter, discussing Elros and Elrond’s names, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, The infants were not slain, but were left like ‘babes in the wood’, in a cave with a fall of water over the entrance. There they were found: Elrond within the cave and Elros dabbling in the water. I just liked the image, that I wanted to encase it in a scene. Hopefully it was enjoyable to someone out there besides myself.