Author's Chapter Notes:
Written for the lotr_community@LJ Yule Swapp, for Keiliss, whose request was "Maglor and Gildor's paths happen to cross in a pub somewhere. Beer, conversation, or whatever your muse suggests."
Many thanks to Himring for the beta!
Gondor, Third Age. Eve of the Battle of the Morannon
A tall figure, wrapped in a cloak of light-absorbing grey, entered The Red Cock. He squinted for a moment, as his eyes adapted to the low light as he let the hood slide off his head. He quickly located the person he was searching for.
He moved through the sparse clientele with ease, trading a few quips with a group of soldiers, slapping the roving hand of an elderly man who was reaching for the waitress’s generous bottom, and reaching the bar at the same time as the barkeeper set down a mug of beer topped with froth.
He sat and thanked the man, inquiring, as he deposited a coin on his hand, about the health of his child. Then he took a sip of his ale with a satisfied smile.
“Gildor, always meddling,” muttered the man by his side.
“Not meddling, not really. I like to keep informed.”
Staring straight ahead, Maglor lifted the jug to his lips and took a long draught.
“I thought you would be across the Sundering Seas by now.”
“Aww, don’t call it that,” replied Gildor with fake indignation. “It makes you sound bitter and old. Belegaer is such a so much nicer name, for it is great indeed. Just not my cup of tea.”
Maglor snorted. “Tea is never your thing, even in a bad metaphor.”
“Well, I would call it metonymy, actually,” Gildor replied, winking at his companion.
Maglor wrinkled his forehead and, for a moment, Gildor thought he was going to be lectured on figures of speech.
But Maglor simply set down his mug and said, “I’m the poet here, right?”
Gildor started chuckling until he could not contain any more a loud peal of laughter. He slapped Maglor on the back a few times, which made the furrows of his brow only deeper.
“I do love your troll face,” he said at length, as his laughter subsided.
“How many taverns did you stop by before this one?” Maglor asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Ouch,” Gildor said, placing a hand over his heart. “You are hurting my feelings.”
Maglor yawned. “Well, cousin, it’s late, tomorrow is a big day,” he said, rising from his stool.
“You might say that. It’s not every day that we ride to the gates of Mordor,” Gildor said, suddenly turning serious. “Where are you staying?”
“Outside the walls.”
“Me too. Shall we walk together?”
They walked in silence for a long while, through the empty streets. Most men were at home, spending what could be their last night of their lives with their families. Others, who had already lost too much, sought refuge in taverns like the one they had abandoned. The streets were fairly clean, considering that ten days before the city had been attacked by an army of the filthiest things this earth had ever seen.
“They were remarkably jolly, weren’t they,” said Gildor at last, as they passed a pile of rubble.
Maglor shook his head. “Gildor, Gildor,” he sighed. “Ever the optimist. You know what that was.”
“Drinking down the terror. I know. I just like to keep it light.”
“Easy for you. If you get killed, you go to Mandos, get a slap on the wrist and in no time you will find yourself in a brand new, shiny, perfect body enjoying the delights of Tírion.”
Gildor sighed. “I had forgotten how much of an arrogant prick you were, cousin.”
Maglor flashed him a smile. “No, you hadn’t.”
Gildor nodded, in reluctant admission.
They reached what remained of the gates and each whispered the password to the guard.
After they were out, Maglor looked up at the night sky, darkened with heavy clouds. “I hope it doesn’t rain.”
“Yes,” Gildor replied, tersely. “The soil around the Black Gate is some sort of mix of sand with clay. It would be a nightmare for the cavalry.”
Maglor pursed his lips. “And the infantry.”
Gildor rolled his eyes. “Of course.”
They walked down the path toward the makeshift camp. The stench of burned bodies still lingered on the plain. Further away, toward the river, there was still cleaning up to do. Fortunately, it was still cold enough to delay the rotting of the corpses, but monstrous things such as the mûmakils were proving to be a challenge. There was little wood available to serve as kindling for the burning. Elrohir, ever his father’s son, had started preparing batches of a liquid fuel, but some of the ingredients for that were also scarce and the men from Gondor had been frightened by its explosive power. Gildor shrugged his thoughts away. After tomorrow’s desperate bid, would there even be anyone to clean up for left?
Maglor stopped. “I’m going left,” he said.
Gildor stood before him, looking at this older cousin, a man who, for all his sins and for his gruffness, was a hero, someone who had spent a lifetime in the shadows discreetly and efficiently, atoning.
“Well,” Gildor started. He was going to say something dark and funny, such as ‘see you tomorrow in Mandos’ but it was the wrong note. Maglor did not share his sense of humour. Despite their kinship, they had only ever gotten closer because of Elrond, in the Third Age, when Gildor had found that Maglor was still alive, coming and going from Imladris as he pleased, working for Elrond just like he himself often did.
“Well,” Maglor echoed, filling the silence between them.
“Tomorrow, stay sharp,” Gildor replied. “You owe me a beer.”
The faint light of a distant fire barely lit the movement in Maglor’s face. Gildor feared he had hit the wrong note. It was not what he had meant to say at all to this being that travelled a path parallel to his own, to this mirror of himself, of what could have been his life if he had made two or three different choices. There was a connection between them, not the blood, not the work, something like friendship but one that never had blossomed.
Maglor exhaled heavily, in a pained sigh. After a moment, he said, “The Sultry Swan, then. It’s a much better place than The Red Cock.”
Gildor’s eyes stung. He could have said, ‘Take care, old friend, this is going to be a close one.’ He could have said, ‘I wish we had talked more.’ He could have said, ‘Fight beside me. We are the only ones left.’
But he let flung himself into Maglor’s surprised, awkward arms, and held on to him, patting him on the back, perhaps harder than he should.
As they slowly parted, Maglor ran a hand tenderly down Gildor’s face, the callused fingertips denouncing that Maglor still played the harp. Gildor felt happy for him.
“I am glad you came to the Cock tonight, cousin,” Maglor said.
Gildor had to bite his tongue not to make a saucy joke at Maglor’s phrasing.
“Come on,” Maglor said, his tone suddenly lighter. “That was me baiting you. Don’t tell me that the ale made you so maudlin!”
He placed a hand on Gildor’s shoulder, squeezing fondly, as his cousin digested the notion that Maglor might have a sense of humour after all.
“Go to sleep, little cousin,” Maglor said. “And don’t forget, The Sultry Swan.”
Gildor watched Maglor walking away, being swallowed up by the darkness, hoping that, indeed, they would drink together again.