Northwest of Barad Eithel, near the source of the River Sirion in the mountains, was a large hot spring and open-air bath house. The complex was divided into three parts: one for the men, one for the ladies, and one for the Sindar. Unsurprisingly, the Sindarin section was smallest and least accommodating, and scarcely developed at all except for the fence and gate surrounding it and a few rough benches within. In contrast, the Noldorin sections were architectural artwork. At least by frontier standards.
Each section was surrounded by a high stone wall, to ensure that no bather from one side of the partition would accidentally see anyone from the other. The walls were plain but beautifully smooth and pale yellow. Flowering vines grew in places. Every few feet there was an alcove large enough for two or three adults to stand and undress, with pegs to hang their clothes. In the centre of each walled area was a large, perfect oval of a pool, shallow at the edges and deep toward the middle, as well as a number of smaller, private pools off to the sides. There was no roof overhead, so bathers were free to lie back in the water and stare up at the sun, moon or stars. Or clouds.
Fingon floated on his back in the middle of the oval, staring up at the blackening clouds. The entire day had threatened rain, though apart from a few spits nothing had come. He would welcome it now. There was always something wonderful about being outside in a rainstorm and getting soaked through, especially if one was already comfortably wet from floating in a pool of hot water. He rolled over onto his front and began a lazy stroke toward the farthest edge. Finrod bobbed along beside him.
"Eight hundred, then."
"And a horse."
"Two horses. Pure black."
"I said no!"
"Twelve hundred culustar, two black horses, and as many gemstones as you can fit in your hand. AND," he added before Fingon could refuse again, "your weight in silk."
Fingon scowled. "Now you're being ridiculous."
"I am," said Finrod. "It is ridiculous to pay that sum for anything, but I have my reasons and I'm deadly serious. This is a very generous offer; at least four times what you're likely to get from anyone else."
"Pity I'm not interested. And don't care a jot for what anyone else would offer either." Fingon stretched to reach the edge, then turned back over and rested his head against the warm stone. He closed his eyes and breathed in soothing steam.
"You should be interested," said Finrod. "That's a fair-size fortune."
"And you're a fair-size idiot to keep hounding me about it. I gave you my answer. I don't want your money. Don't let's be the sort of cousins who begin to hate each other over trivial nonsense. I'm full up on those already."
"This is not trivial nonsense," Finrod said with a frown. "It's a legitimate offer."
"It was legitimate," said Fingon, "when you initially asked. But after I initially refused, it degraded into nonsense. Now you're honestly beginning to annoy me."
Finrod twisted his hair in frustration. "How much will it take to make you see-"
With a shout and a splash, Fingon stood suddenly and pulled himself up to sit on the edge of the pool. "Look, are you going to shut up and let me enjoy my swim or aren't you?!"
Finrod looked back at him in silent irritation, water dripping down his face.
"Thank you," said Fingon. He slipped back down into the water, closing his eyes again and leaning back against the edge.
"Two thousand kulustar," said Finrod. "Six black horses, two handfuls of gemstones, your weight plus two stone in silk, and as many of my valuable possessions as you can stuff into a silver urn the size of your stupid, disagreeable head! Now that is an extortionate price. I cannot give you any more."
Fingon sighed. "Good. Because my answer is still no. And now that we have agreed that I will not accept any price you name, perhaps we can return to swimming, or talk about something more interesting. Does it look like rain to you?"
Finrod bit his lip in what looked to be a valiant effort at withholding foul language. "Now you are the one who is being ridiculous. Why? Why will you not just accept my offer? I think we both know I am being more than generous. Far more."
"Because," said Fingon, "my servant is not for sale."
"You could offer me every last speck of gold you own and I would still refuse," he continued. "I have enough riches to my name, but I have only one Vanyarin boy. It would be foolish to trade something rare for something I already have. To my knowledge, he is the only Vanyarin boy in the entirety of Endor. Why should I give that away?"
"If that is your only concern, then you are keeping him for the wrong reasons," said Finrod.
Fingon snorted. "Ah, of course. I forgot. Your intentions are always so much nobler. Pray tell me, then, why do you wish to buy him like some sort of livestock?"
"Well..." Finrod began. He leaned back against the ledge at Fingon's side, refusing eye contact. "I feel drawn to him, somehow. I know it sounds foolish, so spare me the jibes, but it's true. I think I was meant to find him. My decision to come here, for no reason other than a chance visit, and my arrival the day after his... surely that has to be more than coincidence? I think he was meant to find me as well."
"But he came here," Fingon said. "Perhaps he was mean to find me. Otherwise he ought have gone to Tol Sirion."
"In any case," said Finrod, "he reminds me of... better times and places. I spent so much time among the Vanyar, and he is a jewel of those beautiful and fair-minded people. I would like to take him back to Tol Sirion and have him properly educated, so to become a counsellor for me. I would just like to have him near."
"I think your reasons are just as selfish as mine," said Fingon. "And I also think you'd be just as well off to get one of your brothers to remind you of better times and places. Artaher already lives by you and looks vaguely Vanyarin; why not pay him the two thousand to speak in a funny accent about obscure buildings in Valmar?"
"You're mocking me," Finrod said darkly.
Fingon nodded. "Yes, but you deserve it. Before you were only tiring. Now you're starting to give me a headache. Please let's go back to swimming."
"I will not!" Finrod angrily stood to face Fingon straight on, his teeth clenched and his eyes gleaming. "I have tried being patient and reasonable with you, and I have been kind to you, and I have even tried bribing you, since that seems to be more your style! But no matter what I do, I am met with flippant remarks and taunts! I have had it! Now you are going to listen to me!"
With a groan, Fingon pulled himself up out of the water and onto the warm stone deck. "I'll have to listen to you later," he said as he began to walk away. "Now is not convenient."
"No, you will stop and listen now!" Finrod shouted, climbing out of the pool to follow his cousin. "I have offered you everything I could possibly give, and yet you still refuse! What do you want, Findekáno? What must I do to make you see how important this is to me? My proposition is more than reasonable, and I cannot understand why you continue to turn me down, apart from your own selfish stubbornness!"
Fingon turned quickly around, leaning in close to speak quietly in Finrod's ear. "Cousin. We are standing naked in the middle of a public bath house, and you are shouting about me refusing your proposition. How do you think that looks? Need I remind you of my rather scandalous reputation? Particularly where cousins are involved?" He pulled back only enough to allow Finrod to see his smirk.
"Oh," said Finrod. He stole a swift glance at the other bathers, all of whom were either staring at them or politely pretending not to have noticed anything. A man passed with a sneer, holding tightly to his young son's arm and keeping a wide berth. "Oh... oh Varda..."
"Will it please you to keep your mouth shut now?" asked Fingon.
"Yes I think so," Finrod said quietly.
Finrod nodded in meek agreement. "I'll... go sit with your father."
He slipped away hastily, weaving through curious onlookers and potted plants in what was clearly a bid to put as much distance as he could between himself and Fingon. Fingon watched only until he was sure Finrod would not change his mind and return. Then he slid back into the water. It took only a few lengths of the pool for all annoyance at Finrod's meddling to wane. The steam calmed his temper as it clung to his skin. Briefly, he marvelled that the smell of foul eggs could be considered soothing under the right circumstances.
Only when he was ready to leave did he search out his cousin again. Finrod was still in the small private spring with Fingolfin, who was wearing a tent-like canvas bathing costume. Both of them looked bored and uncomfortable. Finrod looked away as Fingon approached, and Fingolfin turned up his nose.
"Stars, Findekáno," Fingolfin said, "you should put on some clothes. You look a perfect savage."
Fingon glanced about the bath house with an exaggerated turn of the head. "Highly unlikely that anyone should think so, Ta. Everyone else is as naked as I, if not more so. I at least am wearing a hair tie."
"You ought to set an example," said Fingolfin. He climbed out of the pool with a frown, canvas suit clinging and bunching awkwardly around his body and hindering his movement. At his signal, two bath attendants came bearing a large sheet, behind which he could dress, safely but with difficulty.
Fingon watched the whole operation with amusement. "Ta considers it a terrible indignity for the King to be seen naked," he said loudly to Finrod. "He goes to great lengths to prevent even one hint of skin from showing. In fact, someone once told me he was born already wrapped tight in swaddling cloth."
Finrod failed to smile. Instead he stood, carefully looking anywhere but at Fingon, and stepped out of the pool. He had put on his riding breeches. Water dripped and ran down his legs as he stalked off toward an alcove to dress.
"Oh not you as well!" Fingon called after him. "How stupid was that? Now you'll be wet and cold all the way home."
"I don't care!" Finrod shouted back. He roughly pulled on his stockings and shoes, treating them as if they were the sole cause of his foul mood, then his tunic, jerkin and cape. Water from the breeches soaked into each layer, and water from his hair dampened his back. "I am going to find my sister," he muttered once he was dressed. Fingon let him go.
Fingon's own clothes hung in the alcove next to the one occupied by Fingolfin and the sheet. He prided himself on knowing how to properly dress after swimming. First, he wrung out his hair and fastened it in a knot on top of his head so it wouldn't drip down his back. Then he pulled on his breeches, and after that one stocking and boot, then the other stocking and boot, so that his stockings would not become wet from stepping bootless on the puddled floor. Then he could put on the rest of his clothes and finally his cape. This way, he would stay warm and dry even after he went to find Finrod and Artanis in the cold night air outside the bath house.
They were already waiting by the horses when Fingon emerged, with Fingolfin not far behind. Finrod, despite his best efforts, was shivering in his wet clothes. He had given his cape to Artanis. Her own had fallen into the pool.
"It's unseasonably cold today," said Fingolfin, sniffing the air. "I do think it may freeze overnight."
But Fingon shook his head. "It's the middle of summer. It only feels cold because we've grown accustomed to heat. And you're all soaking wet."
"And it's no use complaining about the weather when we're stuck out in it either way," said Finrod. "Please, may we go now?"
Fingon nodded heartily. "I agree. I am most eager to return home." He paused to untie his horse from the hitch and pull himself up onto its back. Then, leaning over toward Finrod, he added in a loud whisper; "My Vanyarin boy is waiting."
It was difficult to tell, between the rushing wind and the beat of the horse's hooves on the muddy road, but he was almost certain he heard Finrod shout angrily after him as he galloped away.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Glorfindel was almost relieved when Fingon stumbled through the bedroom door, soaking wet and splattered with mud. Waiting for him to return was like waiting for some impending punishment, as if he were back in Valmar and his grandfather might burst in any minute with a switch to thrash him. At least now the dreaded wait was over. He could face his trial and whatever it brought.
"Well the rain has come," Fingon said.
"I know," said Glorfindel. He had heard it. It started as a spattering of drops against the window, and quickly grew into a howling storm. The sound of it chilled him more than the actual cold. He sat now on the bear fur by the fire, wrapped in a thick quilt.
Without further words, Fingon began to undress. He pulled off his boots and cape and clothes, and left them in a wet pile on the floor. Naked, he lay down on the bearskin rug at Glorfindel's side, head resting on his arms. "I am colder than a stone on the Helcaraxë," he groaned. "My arse hurts from bumping around on the back of a bloody horse all day, and I nearly broke my neck tripping over one of Ta's wretched ornamental hedges. Luckily I fell into another hedge, not the brick walkway..."
Glorfindel noted that Fingon had a few leaves and a small twig in his wet hair, but said nothing.
"Honestly, Laurefindil, I think this has been the worst day of my life."
"I'm sorry," said Glorfindel. He did not know what else to say.
Fingon groaned again and stretched his shoulders. "Actually, that's not true. The worst day of my life was when Turukáno was born. But today was nearly as vexing."
"My brother," said Fingon. "With any luck, you'll never have to meet him. He is very like Findaráto, only tries to act more like Ta."
Privately, Glorfindel thought he would in fact like to meet Fingon's brother, if he were like Finrod and unlike Fingon.
"He lives on the coast to the west," Fingon continued. "At a place called Vinyamar. Has his own little kingdom there."
Glorfindel gave a weak nod. "Oh."
Smiling slyly, Fingon rolled over to look at him. "Still not very talkative, are you?"
"No." He looked hard at the fire, carefully refusing to see any part of Fingon's naked body.
"Well I insist you tell me about your day," Fingon said. "What did you do while I was gone?"
"I tidied everything," said Glorfindel. "All the clothes and books and things, as you said."
Fingon looked around the room, nodding in approval. "I see you did. And did you find my writing books easily enough?"
"Yes," said Glorfindel, then corrected himself; "At least I think so."
"Get the newest one for me," said Fingon, "and a pen and ink. Oh, and a pillow."
As soon as Glorfindel stood, Fingon took up the quilt that fell to the floor and pulled it around himself. A cheeky grin crossed his face, as if daring Glorfindel to reprimand him for stealing the blanket. But all Glorfindel said was, "Would you like me to get you another quilt as well?"
"No, thank you," Fingon said politely. "I like this one. But I'll share it with you."
Glorfindel felt the back of his neck tense. "I'm no longer cold."
"Pity," said Fingon. He watched carefully as Glorfindel took his time collecting a pillow under one arm and the top book under the other, filling the ink tray's water reserve with one hand and carrying the pen and ink stick in the other. He seemed to perform the tasks perfectly so that they took as much time and effort as possible.
He gave Fingon the pen and ink first, then the ink tray, then the book. He held out the pillow, but Fingon, grinning in amusement as he flipped through the book's pages, only brushed it aside.
"Laurefindil," Fingon asked, "do you know the difference between letters and numbers?"
"Of course," Glorfindel said. He was not stupid. Of course he knew.
"Letters are used for speaking and numbers are used for counting."
Fingon nodded. "Very good. Now do you know the difference between what letters look like and what numbers look like?"
Glorfindel considered, but had to admit, "No."
Holding the thin black book out for Glorfindel to take back, Fingon smiled. "I didn't think so. This is a book of account records and ledgers."
"Oh," said Glorfindel. He took the book back, feeling an uncomfortable surge of embarrassed ignorance.
"I think I will have to teach you how to read," Fingon said, "and write. Ta thinks servants are better off left illiterate, keeps them from getting into too much trouble or something, but I think it would be far more useful if you could write letters for me and keep inventories. And find the proper books when asked. Pass me that ledger again."
He took the book from Glorfindel's hands and flipped to one of the blank pages at the back. Then, after mixing the water into thin ink, he took his pen and wrote three letters down the middle of the paper: ND, R and S. Glorfindel recognised them from the only word he knew how to write: his name.
"These three letters you know already," said Fingon, "so we'll start here. The first one I've written is 'ando', which makes the ND sound. It is the second letter in the tengwar series. The first is 'tinco', which makes the T sound. It looks like this." He drew the T tengwa in front of the ND. It looked the same, only had one crescent instead of two.
"Now these," he continued, "are the tehtar." Beneath the T and ND he drew three dots for A, one for E, a slanting slash for I, a right curl for O and a left curl for U. "Place the tehtar above the tengwar, and you make sounds." To the right of the line of tehtar, he drew tinco with three dots above it. "Do you know what that says?"
"It's... T-A," Glorfindel said slowly, sounding the word in his head. "Ta."
Fingon smiled at him. "Very good," he said. "And not too difficult, is it?"
For what seemed to be the next hour at least, Fingon had Glorfindel write combinations of known tengwar and tehtar on the blank pages of the ledger book: ata, ondo, arë, atto, táro, undu, rista, sarat. His writing was large and sloppy in contrast with Fingon's tiny, perfect examples. But he learned quickly, at least, and was soon able to sound out and write the words on his own without hints or help. Even longer words like 'Endoressë' were no trouble, if he thought carefully and concentrated. He filled three pages with sprawling words before Fingon finally yawned and told him it was time for bed.
"I'll teach you more another day," Fingon promised. "But it's quite late now, and I'm sleepy." He yawned again and stiffly stood, still wrapped in the quilt.
Glorfindel was sombre as he collected up the writing supplies and returned them to the desk. He kept his back turned as Fingon climbed into bed and arranged the crumpled blankets. A hopeful thought crossed his mind that, if he wasted enough time and dawdled about by the desk, Fingon might dismiss him for the night. But after several minutes of shuffling his feet and rearranging things on the desk, Fingon's pillow-muffled voice shouted, "Hurry up, and close the curtains."
He was deliberately slow in untying and arranging the curtains around the bed frame, and took just as long in stepping out of his shoes and pulling off his tunic. Fingon rolled over to watch him.
"Are you trying to be slow as a slug on purpose?"
"No," Glorfindel said quickly. He pulled his tunic up over his head and tossed it onto a chair, but made no move to get into bed.
"A good servant should learn to hurry," Fingon said. Then, when Glorfindel still did not move, he added more bluntly, "Get into bed, will you?"
Again, Glorfindel took as much time as he could. He leaned over, smoothing his pillow with one hand and carefully turning back the covers with the other. When that was done he paused a moment before smoothing the sheets. He had one knee on the edge of the bed when Fingon, making a curt, exasperated sound, grabbed both of his arms and tugged him down roughly. He yelled, and Fingon shushed him.
"Be quiet, or you'll disturb my father in the next room!"
Fingon sat upright, leaning across Glorfindel and effectively pinning him in place as he reached to pull the curtains fully shut. Within the space of minutes, a worrisome change had taken place. The Fingon who had sat as a teasing friend by the fire was gone, replaced by the darker, more menacing Fingon that Glorfindel remembered from his first night and morning in Eithel Sirion. It made him shudder.
Fingon must have noticed, because he asked, "Are you suddenly frightened of me again, now that we are alone in the dark?"
"Yes," Glorfindel whispered. This Fingon was frightening enough to make him want to tell the truth.
"Did I not say I would not harm you?"
"Yes," Glorfindel whispered again.
"Do you not believe me?" Fingon asked.
"I don't know," said Glorfindel. A hand that he could barely see within the blackness of the bed curtains reached up to stroke his cheek. Fingertips grazed his jaw. For a slight second, he felt a breath meet his own before Fingon's lips touched his.
"I will not harm you," Fingon whispered against Glorfindel's mouth. "I will only kiss you. Remember?"
Glorfindel nodded, feeling the veil of Fingon's hair brush against his skin. "Only kiss," he repeated, so quiet it was little more than a breath. "Not so bad."
"Indeed not," said Fingon. Something in his voice told Glorfindel he smiled when he spoke the words. He kissed again.
Glorfindel lay still and kept his eyes closed. A voluntary dark was better than straining to see. He thought of Oropher, who was almost certainly at that moment in the next room, in the next bed. Oropher, who would not feel so afraid. There was no need to fear. No need for shame. No need to feel anything. He needed only to endure.
Cautiously, he parted his lips, and returned the kiss. This time he could feel Fingon's smile.
"You are a good boy," Fingon murmured.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Finrod left the next morning, to the surprise of everyone. Fingolfin in particular insisted that a three-nights' stay was hardly worth the journey from Tol Sirion, but Finrod's mind was set. Artanis left with him by default, as it was hardly proper for a lady to travel on her own. From a tower window, Glorfindel watched their escort ride away down the south road. A hard lump was in his throat and his chest felt as if it were being crushed in a vice. It was the same feeling he had suffered as he walked away from Amma's house in Valmar for the last time.
From a first-floor window, Fingon watched the same scene, though with hardly the same reaction. He felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his mind. With Finrod gone, there was no longer any need to worry about Glorfindel's ring, and no need to worry about Finrod overhearing a key clue and putting two and two together. One close call was all that would be needed to cause no end of trouble. He had more than enough of that as it was.
With an irritated sigh, he turned toward his father and crumpled the little note he held in his hand. "This is going to be another one of those days," he said.
"Mm-hmm," said Fingolfin. He was kneeling on the floor next to his largest jade tree, trying to find new rooted plants growing amid the clutter of fallen leaves in the pot.
"I thought yesterday was bad, but today has only just started and already it's looking far worse. Findaráto is likely never going to speak to me again-"
"Which is your own fault," Fingolfin interrupted.
Fingon carried on as if he hadn't heard. "...and Lailaniel thinks I want to marry her." He tossed the crumpled note down on a table and scowled at it.
Fingolfin, suddenly genuinely interested, looked up. "Does she want to marry you?" he asked.
"I assume so," said Fingon. "I mean, that's more or less what her letter says. More and more what her letter says, really. She explains herself far too vividly." He suppressed another scowl.
"Well," Fingolfin said, brushing his hands on his sleeves as he stood. "If you want my advice-"
"Then you should not have said anything," said Fingolfin. "Complaining is an automatic opening for advice-giving. So if you want my advice, I'd marry her now before she changes her mind. She is probably the only lady in the entire realm who'd be willing to put up with you for more than a day. I think you should grasp this rare opportunity."
"She is my *cousin*!" Fingon hissed.
"Then I should think she is your ideal match," Fingolfin said brightly.
Fingon rolled his eyes. "Oh you are very funny, Ta. Very amusing. In fact, I think you missed your calling in life by becoming a king rather than a jester. Ha ha."
"Disregard me if you wish, Findekáno, but I still think you should carefully consider her proposal."
"There is nothing to consider!" Fingon shouted. "I don't want to get married, and that's that!"
Fingolfin only shrugged and knelt back down beside his plants. "It is your own choice," he admitted, and then added quietly to himself; "And a lucky one at that, as you'll never have to know the burden of children..."
"What did you say?" Fingon snapped.
"I said pass me my clippers; I need to prune this side down a bit."
Fingon sniffed. "I am not your servant."
"You have made that exceedingly clear," said Fingolfin.
With more force than he intended, Fingon kicked a nearby chair. It skidded and toppled. Fingolfin hardly blinked at the noise, which in turn annoyed Fingon further. "I am going to my room," he said. "I am going to drink an entire bottle of wine and forget about what a terrible day this is."
Fingolfin nodded absently. "That sounds lovely."
"You're not listening to me."
"No, I'm not," Fingolfin agreed.
"I could be saying something very relevant and heart-rending right now and you'd not even notice. So infatuated with your gardening!"
"That's right." He pinched a silvery, shrivelled leaf.
"Oh you're hopeless," Fingon growled. "I really am going to my room to drink wine. I'll see you at supper." He stalked from the room with a sulking frown, pausing only at the door to throw his father an evil look. Fingolfin, with a strand of his hair tangled in a jade tree branch, failed to notice.
"Clippers," Fingolfin said. He held out his left hand toward his Sindarin boy, who stood a few feet back.
Oropher handed over the clippers without even really paying attention. A dreamy look was on his face, and his mind was elsewhere. He stared out the window with the smile of the blissfully engaged. He had understood nineteen words of the Quenya conversation.
This story arc is continued in 'Dream a Bitter Style'.
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.