Summary: Gandalf completes a final additional task before sailing for Valinor.
Category: Lord of the Rings
Word Count: 2273
The voice from the outer room was deep and rich, as unfamiliar to Starra as the words themselves. She straightened from her bent position, biting back a groan. The onset of age was not a friend to those who must wash and fold and count for a living, clean waste pots and scrub stone flooring, restock linen shelves and re-clothe rows of cots day after day. She brushed graying hair back into her bun and made her way to the doorway of the linen pantry. There was no one in the outer room now except for the Elf, and he did not speak. Oh, there were those who claimed that he wandered the shoreline beneath the stars, singing songs to break your heart in some unknown tongue, but as far as Starra was concerned such things were the stuff of rumors. In all her years in the Healing House, and (she had been told) all those of her mother, and all those of her mother, the Elf had worked silently and diligently beside them, and she could not remember arriving—day or night—to find him absent. When he would have time to sing by the sea, she wouldn’t know.
In any case, whatever the truth he would be no help now. She would send the owner of this voice back the way he had come, to Healer Talith’s office near the front doors, and return to her work. This small room in the rear of the lower Healing House, so rarely used in any event but the most extreme, was near empty again, thank goodness—only three patients remained, and they with fevers broken and good coloring. Whatever the man sought, he would not likely find it here.
Her steps halted in the doorway of the linen pantry, however, stilled by the breathless, waiting silence and shivering tension that blanketed what had previously been only a quiet room. The two standing figures were still, carved as of marble and somehow bright against the grey stone. Starra daughter of Stella knew little of important deeds and noble men, yet instinct told her that something momentous lay before her and she dared not to break the stillness.
The Elf had risen from his crouch, soapy water and scrub brush forgotten, and he stood tall—chin up, shoulders squared, body straight. Despite a healing assistant’s homespun brown robe and the tie which had come partially undone, leaving long dark hair to trail untidily across one shoulder, he presented as noble and proud a figure as she had ever seen. Her breath caught, looking upon this usually unobtrusive Elf as she had never before thought to imagine him, but when she turned her eyes away to instead gaze upon the newcomer she found no relief.
He was old—his wrinkles and coloring, at least, were that of an old man—but he stood with a strength and surety that gave the lie to his apparent age. His hair and beard were gleaming white, and his robe, and his staff—so white that she was unsure whether it was their brightness that made her squint, or if he was truly radiating a subtle glow. Such thought was pure foolishness, and yet …
The Elf moved suddenly, breaking the standoff—if standoff it was. He dipped into a deep bow, and the old man raised one snowy brow.
“Will you not greet me properly, son of Fëanor?”
The Elf looked away, toward the window and the morning-washed sunlight beyond. The sounds of surf and gulls drifted between them, and the salty scent of the sea. His jaw tightened, his lips pursed, and then he returned his attention to the old man.
“Son of Fëanor. It will ever be my legacy, will it not?”
Starra stifled a gasp, entranced. This voice was not the voice of one who has remained silent for decades upon decades. Instead, it was the shimmer of chimes and the rushing of water and the depth of the sea caves near her home as a girl. A faint smile touched the old man’s lips.
“I speak no judgment. Your name is only a fact, after all.”
“Ah.” A bitter twist turned the Elf’s—Maglor’s?—lips, but smoothed again almost immediately. “You are not here to speak my judgment, then? I confess I would welcome an end to the waiting.”
The old man stepped forward, and the white robes shimmered in a shaft of sunlight. He tilted his head, surveying Maglor with what seemed to Starra to be both compassion and a subtle irony. “Judgment is not the provenance of one such as I.”
“And who are you? For you have me at a disadvantage, my Lord.”
My Lord? And what was this talk of judgment? What might this gentle, hard-working Elf have done which merited a verdict?
Starra looked again to the old man, who sketched a brief bow of his own—more of a nod, really. “I am Olórin, servant and messenger of Manwë. In these times and in this form, I am known by many names, but here you may have heard me called Gandalf or Mithrandir.”
Mithrandir! She had never thought that she, Starra, would one day see the Grey Pilgrim … though grey no longer, he seemed.
Maglor looked away. “I have paid little attention to the politics and wars of these past Ages.”
“I see.” Mithrandir—he had given another name, but it was not one Starra had ever heard and she could not now recall it—paused briefly. “What have you been doing, then?”
“Penance for my many sins, these last millennia at least.” At last Maglor faced the wizard with equanimity, free from any expression of bitterness or irony. For herself, Starra was stunned by his words. What sins required millennia, perhaps Ages, of repentance? Who was this Elf beside whom she washed linens and nursed the dying?
“Ah.” Again, one eyebrow rose. Mithrandir crossed his arms, somehow managing the feat without entangling the long staff. “You work to wash the blood from your hands, then?”
Maglor snorted. “You know as well as I that no action I take may wash me clean. Such a thing is not possible, and ever will I be stained. No.” The Elf drew in a long breath and gazed calmly about the small sick room with something like affection. “No. I merely express my remorse in deeds as well now, in the succor of the ill and helpless rather than the wailing lament of a child who regrets but does not repent.”
Singing songs to break your heart in some unknown tongue …
When Mithrandir finally responded, his voice was gentle. “You are weary.”
“Yes.” The Elf’s voice was a whisper, and his eyes glittered with unshed tears as they returned once more to the sun-brightened window and the sea beyond.
“You grow weary of the world as with a great burden,” the wizard spoke softly, and though Starra did not recognize the words, yet she heard the terrible cadence therein, “and you wane, and you become as a shadow of regret before the younger race that cameth after.” *
The dark head whipped around, and a fire sprang in Maglor’s eyes. “What is your purpose here, Maia?” Mithrandir stood silent, hard and still as stone, and the Elf relented, though even so his lilting voice was cool. “My Lord.”
The wizard eyed the Elf before him, then nodded slowly. “You are right in saying you may not wash yourself, son of Fëanor … but for Eru Ilúvatar, all is possible.” It was not what Maglor had been expecting. The heat in his eyes cooled, and with a bemused cant of his head he waited in silence for Mithrandir to continue. “Ilúvatar has made it known to his servant Manwë that he has seen your sorrow and repentance through the Ages, and that he wishes you to hear a message.”
The Elf stepped back, fair features agape. “Eru Ilúvatar has … deigned to speak to Lord Manwë of me?” Confusion clouded his brow. “Why? I reap the consequences of my actions here upon Middle Earth as the Lord Mandos foresaw. What more is there to say of me?”
“What more, indeed?” A glint of compassion touched the wizard’s countenance. “You are yet a beloved Child of Eru, Maglor Fëanorion. Never have you left his sight or his heart.”
Fear and confusion warred upon Maglor’s features, and his arms crossed unconsciously, protectively before him. Finally, he took a long breath. “Am I to assume that you bear this message to me, then, as I have foresworn the beauty of Valinor and the comfort of my people as reparation for my deeds?”
Mithrandir nodded gravely. “Ilúvatar has seen and accepted this penance, child of Fëanor, and therefore the Lord Manwë has indeed instructed me to speak to you in his stead.” The Elf’s rigid frame eased, and on Maglor’s features Starra saw both acceptance and regret. “For this form that I wear was destroyed near the end of my long quest, yet I was returned to Middle Earth in order to complete the tasks set before me, and was given this as another.”
Maglor nodded, resolved. “Then speak it, my Lord.”
The wizard gripped his staff and leaned upon it, eyes intense. “Of your family, of the takers of your vile Oath, only you yet remain upon Middle Earth. While your father and brothers fell, clutching their defiance and rage to them like a precious jewel—like the Silmarils themselves—as they entered the Halls of Lord Mandos, only you have lived to regret and repent of your deeds, to sing to the One of your sorrow, to feel the terrible pains of deep and lasting change within both fëa and living hröa.” The Elf was silent, his features still and without expression. Mithrandir rose to his full height. “The One has heard your laments, and has accepted your penances, including exile from the lands and people of your birth. Yet, he who is truly both lands and people to all says this: Maglor, my Child, if you desire to at last come to me, I would offer you the Gift of Men, if you will have it.”
A sharp, shaky breath. The glorious eyes widened. “I …” Maglor stared, painful bewilderment upon his features. “He would allow me beyond the Circles of the World?”
A solemn nod. “He has spoken, though it is entirely your choice.”
The Elf drew himself up. “I know what I have done, and that we were warned against it by the Valar themselves. We did not take our actions blindly through the years, though at first we may have been caught up in a type of madness.” He canted his head, studying the wizard. “Why, then, would Ilúvatar offer this mercy to one such as I?”
A faint smile played along Mithrandir’s lips. “Who has greater need of it?”
Maglor closed his eyes and his breath left him in a rush. A single tear tracked down his face. “I accept.”
Another long silence fell. This time, however, it was not tense but … peaceful. Restful, and threaded with sunlight and sea. Maglor’s eyes remained closed. Starra felt the tracks of tears on her own cheeks, although for what she was sure she didn’t quite know. The wizard nodded finally, and smiled. “You shall not know the time, but be ready as though the Gift waits around the next corner.”
Maglor opened his eyes then, and several more tears fell from them. “I shall. Thank you.”
“I am only the messenger.” Mithrandir’s voice was warm and deep, and he bowed briefly. “And now, I shall leave you to your previous task.” He turned, robes flaring, then paused. “One more thing, Maglor.”
The Elf had already lowered himself gracefully to his knees, and Starra wondered how it was that he intended to simply go on scrubbing the floor as if nothing had happened. “Yes?”
“Eru Ilúvatar has also declared that while he accepted your years of silence as well, broken only by lament, he does not wish this penance any longer, and he will no longer accept it. The lament is woven into your fëa, where both you and he will always know of it. However, he wishes that the gift of your music, which he freely bestowed upon you, may also be offered freely as a gift to these others of his Children.” The wizard waved a brief hand toward the patients sleeping in the beds near the door and then, to Starra’s astonished embarrassment, toward her own place in the linen pantry doorway. Maglor followed the gesture, his eyes resting briefly upon her. Starra blushed, quick to look away, but he offered no reaction to her presence.
“It shall be as the One has said.”
“Very good, then.” Mithrandir bowed then, and was gone. The Elf was still for a long moment, staring at either the damp stone flooring or nothing, and then he picked up the brush, plunging it once more into the soapy water. Starra turned and crept back into the linen room, head spinning, suddenly overwhelmed. She leaned against the rear wall then and wept with a joy she did not understand as a voice rose from the outer room, soft as a breeze and smooth as spun silk and bright as the first morning sun, and it mingled with the song of the sea.
* From the curse of Mandos, Quenta Silmarillion, ‘Of the Flight of the Noldor.’