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Dream a Bitter Style: 4. Chains
The most popular topic of conversation in Eithel Sirion that day was how a servant boy had broken the Prince's nose. Earlier it had been dismissed as a fanciful rumour, said to have been started purely for the sake of causing a sensation, but by the time Fingon showed up for Lady Fanacálë's annual harp recital with a bruised nose full of bloody wadding, no-one doubted it. The concert salon buzzed with speculation. Most of it concentrated on the "why" of the circumstance, but none dared to ask Fingon, who sat by himself in the back corner of the room, near the window, holding a hand over the lower half of his face. He looked vengeful. Speculation was far safer, and likely more interesting than the truth. By the end of the recital, consensus was that the servant boy in question had attempted to assassinate the Prince, and that as they spoke, Sindarin rebels were preparing to instigate an uprising and overthrow the Noldorin monarchy.
Fingon did not care enough to correct them. Setting the gossip straight would mean having to subject himself to endless questions about the truth of what happened, and the more he thought on it, the more he was convinced that such admissions would not be in his best interest. The assassination story at least made him out to be a hero. He felt like anything but.
Lady Fanacálë's inexpert harping and her young son's high, childish singing crawled on. Fingon stared out the window. Soft snow was falling, and on the grounds, a fight had started between two soldiers. One had his arm clamped around the other's neck, while a young woman in a red cape, surely the cause of the fight, dropped her basket of evergreens and pleaded with them to stop. How blissful, Fingon thought, to be a commoner. They were not bound by the stifling cords of propriety and obligation, dictated by the material sins of the world. How blissful, to be free to brawl in the street while the privileged classes endured clumsy notes and boy sopranos. No-one would care if a soldier had a broken nose. No-one would notice. Common soldiers could disappear into the shadowy background of the world to live as they pleased: days hunting evil, nights in secretive tents. For this, Fingon envied them.
"You will insult our performers if you continue to so blatantly ignore them."
Fingon did not look at his father, who had come quietly enough to sit unnoticed. "How long have you been there?"
"Two songs, I'd say," said Fingolfin. "How is your nose?"
"It hurts, of course," Fingon hissed. "And all this stuffing is helping none. I can hardly breathe."
"It's necessary if you want the break to heal straight." Fingolfin looked at him closely, as if surveying the damage. "Whatever happened to make him hit you so hard, anyhow?"
"Nothing of note."
"He was a bit difficult, yes, but I never suspected violence..." With a sigh, Fingolfin shook his head. "Where is the boy now?"
"I don't know," said Fingon. "Likely in his bedroom feeling sorry for himself. I told Alkarossë to give him a whipping."
"Only?" Fingolfin asked. "You know the lawful punishment for violence toward the nobility is a sentence in chains."
Fingon shifted in his chair. "I do know that, yes. But the punishment for commonplace disobedience, which is really the problem at hand, is twenty or more lashes."
"But he broke your-"
"I told you, that is nothing of note," said Fingon, cutting him off abruptly. "An unrelated incident. It is my choice, is it not, what punishment to give, and for what reason?"
"I won't discuss it. Now if you'll excuse me, I am going back to my room to be alone. I woke up far too early this morning and have had a highly aggravating day so far."
He stood just as Lady Fanacálë ended her song. The legs of his chair scraped loudly against the stone floor in the silent second between last note and first applause, and he left the room amid curious glances and murmurs. Fanacálë glared at him, and Fingolfin, to make amends, started clapping rather too loudly and enthusiastically.
Glorfindel did not return all that day. Fingon thought little of it, attributing the absence to a fearful need to be alone. He would, no doubt, be unwilling to immediately return. It was understandable. But he was still missing by the end of the second day, having not been seen at all by anyone, and this was a cause for concern. Whether it made him more worried or more annoyed, Fingon found difficult to say.
He caught Celeiros after supper for a brief interrogation.
"You punished him as I asked?"
"Of course," Celeiros said softly.
"I left him. There was no reason for me to hang about."
Fingon frowned. Something in the way Celeiros tilted his head, and how he spoke too quickly, piqued suspicion. "Do you know where he is now?"
Sighing, Celeiros made a show of looking around the hall in concern. "I'm sorry, my lord," he said. "I've not seen him all day." He had nothing else to offer.
On the third day, Fingon stooped to asking Oropher, who said that he had not seen Glorfindel since the morning Fingon's nose had been broken. He had been looking for him since. Oropher suggested that it was possible Glorfindel had run away, but Fingon was convinced it was not so; he had taken nothing, not even clothes, from his bedroom. Wherever he was, he was dressed exactly as he had been when Celeiros dragged him from the bed.
Again, Fingon questioned Celeiros. Some vital thread was missing.
"I assure you, my lord," Celeiros said, "that my story has not changed since yesterday."
"Remind me," said Fingon.
"After I left your room, I brought the boy down for his punishment, and that is all. I had nothing further to do with him."
"And you have no idea where he could be now?"
"It's anyone's guess, really," Celeiros said vaguely. "Servants are always trying to go places they're not meant to be... I've noticed that about the Sindarin boy who serves your father, too. The other day I found him-"
"I want to know where my Laurefindil is," Fingon interrupted. "That is all."
The smallest flicker of a smile touched Celeiros' mouth, so brief it could have been a curious illusion. He repeated what he had said the day before; "I've not seen him all day. I'm sorry I can be no help to you."
He walked away, calmly and quietly, leaving Fingon to call after him; "If I find that you have in any way been untruthful, you will suffer for it."
Celeiros looked back over his shoulder. "The stars know I only ever speak truth to you, my lord." Quickening his step, he hurried away.
There was blood dripping from the tips of Glorfindel's fingers. Or at least, that was how it felt. He could see no blood. His fingers felt strange, as if they were wooden fingers separated by thin layers of gauze, and the ends were bleeding. He could move them no more than a slight twitch.
He could feel blood in dried rivulets down his arms. This, he was sure, was real. The iron shackles cut into his wrists and the weight of his body, pulling down from the bonds set a yard apart and above his head, had torn the skin. It had pained him once, almost like a burn, but had numbed now from the cold. His wrists, too, felt like wood.
His shoulders ached fiercely from hanging so long on the wall. He had no feeling in his legs, and the power to stand had left him long ago. How long was impossible to say; he slipped in and out of consciousness so easily and had no way to even guess at the passage of time. Days, perhaps, had gone by. He had not eaten. Hunger that had once raged had faded to a hollow nothing. But he gladly drank whatever oily water the guards offered from their unwashed ladle. Then they threw it in his face, dousing him with an icy splash, and laughed.
"...doesn't hold up too well... won't last long... how weak..."
Their words, filtered through a mind in a half-waking fog and obscured by desperate and echoing Sindarin cries, were incomplete.
Glorfindel murmured to them. He felt his lips part, and the word hummed in his mouth. "Amma..." He needed Amma. He needed her sheltering embrace. "Amma!" His voice was only air.
But Amma heard, and whispered back in his ear, "What have you done, my sweet boy?"
"I struck the prince Findekáno," he told her in a breath of shame. "But he... he did..."
Amma sighed. "Is that so great a crime, to make you suffer this way? No, yondya. You must have done worse."
"Amma, that is it! I promise you."
Silence engulfed them, and everything was still. No Sindarin voices or ugly squeals of iron scraping iron could break that soundless moment. "It tears my heart to hear lies from the mouth of my own child," Amma said softly.
"I do not lie!" Glorfindel insisted.
"You abandoned your land and your people!" hissed Amma. "You abandoned your mother, your family, and your home!"
"I did not mean to..." Hot tears began to burn against frozen skin as he spoke.
"Did not mean to?" Amma laughed. "It was your own choice. You followed your father to this cursed land. And with what kindness has he thanked your dedication?"
None. The word rang unspoken in Glorfindel's thoughts. He had received no kindness from his ghost of a father. His search had come to nothing.
"You turned your back on Manwë," said Amma, her voice poisoned and hard.
And Glorfindel could have wept. There was nothing he could say against this: no excuse and no argument. He had abandoned his faith. At the first true test, he had despaired and cowered in the darkness of sacrilege. One thoughtless, weak moment, and he had discarded all the brightness of the world like garbage. It was too broken now to pick up again.
"This is why you suffer, my fair boy," Amma told him. "You left the grace of Manwë, and His blessing has left you. What are you without Him, but a shadow of a spirit without a purpose in the world? What do you have, but wretchedness and sorrow? This is what is left for you!" she shouted, and her howling voice filled the cell through to every crack in the stones. "No less than you deserve, to be hung from a wall, tortured for your blasphemy! No less than you deserve, to be chained here in agony in this land of heresy and sin! Ah, you struck a prince, you say. But what evil is that compared to turning on the Lord of all Arda? You have injured Him more far grievously with your doubt. That is a crime that deserves no forgiveness."
"I know! I know it!" he cried. "I know!" He screamed the words, over and over, above the ringing weight of Amma's accusations. And then he only screamed. Syllables melted into primitive noises, scratching their way free with claws of sharp sound until his throat was dry and raw and his voice was as weak as smoke. It made no difference, what he said or tried to say, or whether he begged or cried. Amma vanished as quickly as she came. Guards had no time for childish pleas among the hundred voices that echoed through the stale air
It seemed suddenly colder in that cell, to be so helplessly alone. The weight pressing into Glorfindel's chest grew heavier. "Manwë," he whispered hoarsely.
And then, reconsidering, "Findekáno."
Fingon was the only one with power enough to help him: the only name that held any hope. Manwë's compassion was lost. Now there was only Fingon.
Fingon's nose would always bear the evidence of Glorfindel's violence. He could see in his mirrored reflection, even through the swelling and yellowed bruise, a slight deviation from what had once been. He thought it suited him.
For years, since it had first become evident, people had remarked how Turgon was the fairest of Fingolfin's children. Everyone except Ammë, who liked Fingon best, always mentioned Turgon as the more attractive. He looked like his father. He had the same soft eyes and warm smile. Fingon took more after his mother's side, with an angular, Noldorin face. Turgon was beautiful, and Fingon was brilliant. That was how the compliments generally went. Fingon had often wondered, back then, what would have to change for him to be the beautiful one. His looks were too severe, he always decided. The lines of his face were too sharp. His nose was too straight.
And now, even though he insisted to himself that vanity was a pointless pleasure and there was no use in comparing himself to his brother, it was hard not to scrutinise the mirror for signs of positive change. The puffiness had subsided. It could fade entirely with time, but for the moment, just enough remained to take the hard edge off the bridge of his nose. If he turned as best he could to look at his profile, he could see a faint bump and shift in the angle of what had previously been starkly straight. He looked at the other side. It was nothing too drastically different. The change would be nearly imperceptible to any but one too familiar with the old sharpness. But still, somehow, this tiny alteration made an improvement.
"How does it feel?" the surgeon behind him asked.
"Fine," said Fingon.
"And you think it looks alright?"
Fingon nodded. "Mm. You did a very good job."
"It will always be a little crooked, through here... These things never set perfectly. Your nose was so wonderfully straight before."
"I don't mind," said Fingon. "In fact, I think it looks better than it did. Really." He gently ran a finger over the bruising. "This could start a new fashion, where people break their noses and have you reset them in more pleasing shapes."
The surgeon gave a stunted smile, uncertain of Fingon's sincerity. "Let me have a closer look at it." He leaned in, examining and prodding the swollen bridge with his fingertips, giving a soft "hmm" under his breath. Then he stepped back, assessing from the distance, and repeated, "Hmm."
"Good 'hmm' or bad?" asked Fingon.
"Good, certainly. I agree with you. The break did set well. There is that small bump, but it is hardly noticeable and does not sit as a flaw on you. My Lord, I say you are as beautiful as ever."
Fingon's stomach lurched. "What?" he hissed, and the word came out far more sharply than he intended.
The surgeon flinched. "I'm sorry. I spoke without leave."
"No," Fingon quickly added, "I didn't mean to sound so..." His voice trailed into silence. Had this surgeon read his mind, to say such a thing? Or was he merely an opportunist who had guessed from the shameless display of vanity that these were the words Fingon wanted to hear? Was he one to give undeserved compliments lightly? He, too, had a sharply Noldorin look; was the approval then based in narcissism? Or, strangest by far, did he honestly mean what he had said? All these thoughts crossed Fingon's mind in a flash of a second. He sighed. "Only you surprised me. I wasn't expecting that."
"You should expect it, Lord," said the surgeon, his voice low and even. "It is the fair truth."
"Oh," said Fingon. And for the first time in his memory, he was at a loss for what to say. "...Thank you," he managed. A glance passed between them: something dangerously unspoken. Fingon could only bear it a moment before he pulled his eyes away. "I should go," he said as he stood. "I shall call on you, if I need anything further."
The surgeon bowed. "Of course, my Lord. I will wait on your word."
And Fingon was out of the surgeon's room in the space of a breath. He shut the door behind him, leaning back against it as if to prevent whatever uncertainty lurked inside from escaping. Frivolous preoccupation with a surgeon would help him none. He needed to find Glorfindel.
The boy was still gone. It had been six days. By reason, he should have been found already. Two days gone was believable; three or four days gone meant someone, some servant or soldier somewhere, should have come across him in hiding. Six days gone meant there was cause to suspect that foul circumstances were involved. And the likelihood of Celeiros being behind that foulness was too great to ignore. It was time to have another discussion.
Celeiros could be found, as expected, haunting about near the salon, where Fingolfin was having his Sindarin lessons. He turned casually away when he saw Fingon approach. It was a sly attempt to escape, to lose himself conveniently in the constant movement of fortress life, but Fingon was too quick. He caught Celeiros by the sleeve at the top of the kitchen stairs.
"Walk with me a moment," he said. "We are going to talk over a few things."
"Of course, my lord," said Celeiros. "Only it must be brief. I am needed to approve the food selection for tomorrow's supper."
"We can be brief, or we can drag this on. It depends on your cooperation."
Celeiros' false smile quickly fell into a scowl. "If this is about your Vanyarin boy, I already said-"
"He has a name, you know. Where is he?"
"I already told you what I know. There's no use asking me again. I've not seen him since he went missing."
Fingon leaned back against the wall, slowly running his tongue over his teeth. His grip on Celeiros' sleeve remained firm. "You see," he said after a moment, "this is what troubles me. I did not ask you if you'd seen him, did I? I asked if you knew where he was."
"Humm," said Celeiros. The false smile crept nervously back across his face. "I see no difference there. A matter of mere wording. You understand what I meant, of course..."
"I understand that you are hiding something," Fingon answered. "You give me these roundabout excuses. I am going to ask you one more time, quite plainly, and I want you to answer in a single 'yes' or 'no'. Do you know where Laurefindil is?"
Celeiros' eyes flickered with uncertainty. "How am I supposed to know that, lord?"
"Yes or no."
"I've answered your question several times now, and you're being ridiculous to keep-"
The force of his body crashing against the stone wall was enough to knock the air out of Celeiros' lungs. The force of Fingon's arm crushing his neck was enough to prevent him from breathing in again. A look of panic shot through his widened eyes, matching his gaping mouth, and he kicked furiously in a bid to escape. The effort was useless; he was solidly pinned.
"Listen to me now," Fingon murmured into his ear. "In a few moments, without air, you will lose consciousness. I will let you fall to the floor. And I will leave you there, pathetically as you lie, at the mercy of all passing servants. Think to yourself: after all you have done for them, your dear Sindarin underlings, how will they treat you? Do you think they will be kind enough to respectfully let you be? Or is it better to assume that they will gleefully step on you and spit in your face for the benefit of their laughter? Would you like that?"
Celeiros shook his head, no.
"Then you will have to answer me. Your time is running out. A simple nod: yes or no. Do you know where Laurefindil is?"
Weakly, Celeiros nodded once, and then twice. His eyes darted to a far and dark corridor.
~ ~ ~ ~
It was shift-change for the gaolers; two finished, and two started, with half an hour of overlap. This time was meant to be used for official purposes, reviewing updated records and passing information, but more often than not the four guards opted instead for a quick game of cards around their dinner table. It had become a lazy workday tradition.
The man in last place, a single bad hand away from ending the game, was the first to see Fingon coming. He was also the only one with warning enough to stand and bow. By the time the three others leapt to their feet and lowered their heads, Fingon was at the tableside. A dreadful silence fell.
"I am here for my Vanyarin boy."
Two of the guards exchanged a glance. "Vanyarin boy?"
"Do not think to play stupid with me!" Fingon hissed. "One of your cells contains the only Vanyarin boy in this whole wretched land. I don't suppose you could have missed him. My Laurefindil, who was wrongly delivered to you six days ago by this worm." He jerked his elbow at Celeiros, who stood some steps behind, coughing and rubbing his throat as he edged his way back toward the stairs.
"Down this way, second from last," the nearest guard said quickly. "Sir."
"Unlock the cell. I am removing him from this place."
With a curt nod, the guard removed a ring of keys from its peg on the wall. He led the way through the smoky air and over the dirty, straw-covered floor of the corridor. Fingon followed closely, while on either side, faces peered out of the darkness to follow the spectacle of the King's son in the prison.
"Here," said the guard as he stopped to fumble with the keys.
Fingon froze where he stood. Even through the shadowy dark, the scene beyond that door burned as clearly as if it were lit by torches. Glorfindel hung on the wall like a dead thing while his blood stained the shackles and stones. His wrists and arms were painted in hideous rusty streaks. There was blood in his hair, matted against his skin. There was ice on the straw at his feet.
Slowly, Fingon turned away. He closed his eyes, and leaned back with a shuddering breath against the mesh of bars. "Is this some foul pit of the Enemy, that you must treat your prisoners so?"
The guards did not answer. One coughed, and another shuffled in place.
"Unchain him. Get him down from there."
"Surely you don't need us for that, Sir?" one asked smoothly. "Here is your specialty. You may use my sword. Just cut both his hands off this time."
In an instant, Fingon had whipped around to strike the man heavily across the jaw. "Do not pose such vile jests to me!" he shouted in fury. And he lashed out again, fist cracking against teeth. "I can find a better use for your sword, if it will help me strike your ignorant head from your neck! Give it to me!"
The guard, staggering and spitting from the blows, sunk to his knees.
"Give it to me!" Fingon repeated. "Give me your sword!"
"I am sorry, my Lord Prince, I am sorry, I spoke without thought-"
With a shaking hand, he unsheathed his sword and held it out for Fingon to take.
"Cut both his hands off," Fingon murmured. "If I am to do that, I must practice first. I have never done two at once, and I would not risk mangling my dear Laurefindil more than need be, though you have done an excellent job of that already... Cut both his hands off. That I shall. Hold out your arms."
The man's face went instantly white. "My Prince," he whispered. "Please do not-"
"I told you to hold out your arms, not beg for mercy. We can do that later, while I decide whether or not to kill you. Now I just want your arms out. Straight in front. Or I will aim for what I can reach, and that will be your head."
He choked on his breath, a sickly, gagging sound, as he held his shaking arms out in front of his body with the palms turned up in a silent appeal.
"Lord," said one of the other three. "Please. He did not mean it. He is a fool, true, but this is severe punishment for mere words. If you leave him be, I will make sure our captain has him whipped or put to hard labour. Please..."
Fingon did not answer, but raised the sword to shoulder height in preparation to strike. "Arms steady. Or I cannot guarantee my accuracy. I hope, for your sake, that you keep this sharp."
The three standing closed their eyes or covered their mouths. The shoulders of the one on the floor shook even as he fought to steady his arms. And Fingon swung the blade down, not in a full arc, but a shallow, stunted crescent. The sword's tip grazed the man's upturned palms to leave a stinging but harmless gash in each.
For a moment, the air was silenced by surprise. The kneeling guard, no longer shaking, stared in rigid shock as thin ribbons of blood began to crawl down over his wrists and around his thumbs. He curled his fingers slowly and uncertainly inward. Then, with a whimpering sob, pulled his hands close into his body to smother the wounds against each other under the comfort of his dirty cloak.
"I wouldn't cut your hands off, you witless pig's arse," Fingon said to him. "What use is a labourer that can't pick up a brick? You can help make roads until your manner improves." He tossed the sword aside and turned calmly to the others. "I thought I told you shits to unchain my Laurefindil."
The guard with the keys only nodded weakly, saying nothing as he crossed the cell and worked over the shackles with fingers made clumsy by speed. The iron bonds creaked as they opened. He lowered Glorfindel's limp body to the floor and stepped back, watching Fingon cautiously.
Fingon had sunk to his knees. He knelt in the filth of the dungeon, fouling his fine clothes on years of rotting straw and excrement. Slowly, he pulled off his cape. And before the uncertain eyes of guards and other prisoners craning to see, he wrapped the cape around Glorfindel's dirty form, picked the boy up, and carried him carefully out. He neither spoke to nor acknowledged anyone further as he passed.
Yondya: 'my son' (Q, Vanyarin dialect)
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