Laws and Customs
1. Laws and Customs
Before our story begins, as noted in One Ring to Bind Them, a passionate subplot reaches a fulfilment on the night the Elven-Rings are made, and a loremaster from Lindon succeeds in seducing a smith of the Mírdain (or is it the other way around?) This interlude takes place three nights after, before Annatar's return to Eregion....
The laws of the Elves said next to nothing about passions between lovers of the same kind. The two elf-men entwined together had not bothered themselves with such thoughts during a long evening of desire fulfilled. Now that deeds of lust were through for the moment, they were talking. Midnight was quiet and warm where they lay, in a smith's chamber within the house of the Mírdain.
The pair of elf-men, being smith and loremaster, were both crafters. Their talk inevitably turned to their works. All courtesy, the smith smoothed out the loremaster's long, black hair and said, "It is a shame I cannot see more of your arts here, Pengolod, your scrolls and books. I would have liked that."
"Ask and you shall have! I have with me works you have not seen, books and scrolls for the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm, and one is very fine. Take this to keep you warm while I retrieve it." Pengolod gave the smith a kiss, then arose from the bed where they lay to dig into his luggage. The smith Aranwë also stood, opening a shuttered lantern to cast more light, and drawing on a tunic.
Pengolod unwrapped a scroll, which he handed to Aranwë. "Cast your eyes over this, and tell me if the Dwarves will think it fine workmanship. As for me - I shall keep myself warm," he laughed, and slipped back into the bed.
As his friend read, Pengolod looked around the smith's chamber, small but rich, like many rooms in Eregion. Aranwë sat in a carved chair to look at the scroll by the lantern's light; he was soon drawn from glancing at the scroll into reading it deeply. Pengolod noted this with satisfaction, and let his own eyes wander about the room. Seeing that a chest nigh the bed was also carved, he leaned over to see the work. Upon scrutiny, its design sheltered slim, curved images of women; unclad women, breasts and croups scarcely barred by stylised vines and branches. Very charming, he thought, if you cared for women. For all the maids and matrons he had befriended, elf-women had never been his passion. Pengolod glanced up at Aranwë, remembering that the other elf-man was a widower. He wished he had remembered sooner, before handing over that particular scroll, and his heart filled with the sinking sensation that follows on a mistake.
Pengolod waited to hear what his reader would say. At last Aranwë looked up. After a pensive moment, he said, "Pengolod - what were you thinking?"
He kept his answer safe. "With that scroll? The angularity of the script I used there is unusual, but based on the designs in the halls of Khazad-dûm, and for the audience --"
Aranwë shook his head. "No, that you hand this, rather than a tale or poem, to the Dwarves." Aranwë opened the scroll again so that both could read its title: Laws and Customs Among the Eldar… "It tells of our customs and morals. How we wed, how we bear children, what we consider improper. You even talk about crimes of lust, rape and - and more. "
"The Dwarves shared their language and some of their ways and laws with me, and they hold all such matters dear. I thought it fitting to bring word of our own laws and customs after that exchange," Pengolod said, cautiously.
Aranwë wound the scroll tightly shut. "So you wrote this?"
"Not for the Dwarves alone. Originally I wrote it to send to the mortal men of Numenor. They too are curious about our ways," said Pengolod.
"A fine thing it is to be a loremaster, if you all gad about telling such half-truths," said Aranwë. "Continent and steadfast? Seldom are tales of lust told? I alone put the lie to your tale. What was your thought in this?"
Pengolod sat up sharply. "Why should I tell another race of all our lusts and failings? D'you think the Dwarves told me all the truth about their ways?"
"What, they lie to us, so you tell half-truths to them?" Aranwë said.
"No, no! Hearken. There is courtesy to folk of another kind, and then there is honor. Discretion. Elves are proud -"
"As well we ought to be," said Aranwë. "No folk in Middle-Earth are as advanced as we."
Pengolod, more used to dealings among different folk, sighed. "We Elves are less rare than you would have us. When I go among mortals, they speak to me of dowries and alliances. When I go among Dwarves, they speak of placing their work first above loves. And, as I have done for us Elves, they, too, describe themselves at their best, not at their weakest. With the Dwarves I see ones eaten up by furious, jealous desire, as if their lovers were made of solid gold with eyes of adamant. Among mortals I see men who are warrior-turned, as Elves sometimes are. Mortals think ill of that. More, they ever find it strange that we wed not when bereaved, even though they abide something that revulses me, women who sell their lust for coin or favour." He settled back a bit in the bed. "I wrote as I did to try and tell what was needful for understanding, no more. So I was silent about the desires our law does not regard." He looked hard and clear at Aranwë. "Such as that I feel for you."
Another elf-man might have been critical, but Aranwë had had many self-serving moments of his own. He sat on the edge of the bed and handed the scroll back, saying quietly, "We spoke naught of these things until we returned to Middle-Earth; such loves were silent, not to be chosen. And our laws still stand. Widowers may take their comfort, we say, as long as they seek those of like kind, and do not make the formal bond of marriage anew. But your scroll reminds me that it is desire itself after bereavement that is censured." After a pained moment, he added, "As if the survivor did not love enough to be continent, without thought for their grief and hunger. And the more others read your scroll, the firmer that law shall be."
Pengolod said, "I thought it a tale of eld even as I wrote it afresh. Look you closer at my phrasing; with much of it, I wrote of things that were, not things that are. Was it not more of the Noldor of old than of our mingled folk today?"
Aranwë shook his head. "You know not what it is to be married. And you are so wise that I forget you were born in Middle-Earth, and were not witness to deeds in Aman. I was there when Fëanor's jealousy to the passion of Finwe and Indis was fresh and new. I remember when the rift between the son of Míriel and the sons of Indis was the worst trouble our folk had known."
"Everyone speaks of that divide as if it were Finwe's failing through his lust. But did not the Valar approve it? I think it was a failure of Fëanor's - that he could not open himself to love of his new kin," said Pengolod. "Would it have been such a sacrifice for him to open his heart?"
As if afraid to be heard, Aranwë muttered, "If others thought as you did, our laws might be very different. It's hard…"
Pengolod looked at the carven chest again, then asked, "If the laws allowed it for a widower, would you rather lie with a woman again than with a man?"
A very long silence followed this. Aranwë said nothing, suddenly focused on his empty, folded hands.
"You'd rather have a woman," said Pengolod at last, quiet and resigned.
Still looking down, Aranwë said, "I too have thought on this. If it was a choice between a man and a woman and I knew neither, then the woman, yes. But our laws took that choice from me, nor do I see myself returning over Sea. Besides - tastes change with time. If I had the choice between someone I did not know and you, I would choose you. I'd choose you over…Pengolod, I..." He fell silent again.
Guilt tore at the loremaster. He realized what Aranwë truly meant, and what he could not say - thanks to what Pengolod had written, ornamented, and handed him. He leaned up to set the scroll away from them, then placed a gentle hand on the smith's shoulder. "I should not have asked. I am sorry," he murmured.
Aranwë looked up at him at last. "About your scroll…they will think it very fine, the Khazad. The gilding you placed between some of the letters will be to their taste."
Pengolod's quick smile returned to him. "Good to know, and better to hear it from you, who have so many crafts at your command." He slid back towards the wall and lay down, hinting, "The bed is far warmer with you in it."
Slowly, Aranwë darkened the lantern and slid alongside, his body tense and hesitant, stiffened with laws and memories renewed. Pengolod caressed him again and again, an ink-stained writing hand tracing out more silent apology. After a few moments, the widowed smith both accepted and stilled the touch, firmly clasping the loremaster's ink-stained hand in his own.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.