Findekáno, who lay naked on the riverbank, snorted in apathy. "So?"
"Know what?" With a lazy smile, Findekáno rolled over onto his back and stretched in the warm breeze. "Nothing to see here but two cousins swimming."
"But you're naked," said Maitimo.
"Yes," said Findekáno, "because I was in the water. Do you swim with your clothes on?"
"Then there's no reason we shouldn't be naked, is there?"
Maitimo's only reply was a scowl. He pulled his tunic down off the tree branch where it hung and tugged it harshly over his head. "Where are my shoes?"
"You weren't wearing any," said Findekáno. "Quit acting so suspicious. If he guesses anything, it'll be because you look like a criminal." He halfway sat up, propping himself on an elbow, and waved to Fëanáro as he came down the river path. "Taror! Ahoy!"
"Don't!" Maitimo hissed.
"He was coming this way on his own! It's not like he wouldn't have noticed us." Findekáno fell back down onto the grass and spread his damp hair about him like a fan to dry. Maitimo stood frozen, a pained look spreading across his face, as Fëanáro approached.
"You been swimming again?" Fëanáro called to them.
"We have, Taror," said Findekáno. "But you're too late. We're just drying off to go home now. You'll have to join us next time."
Fëanáro grinned. "I might. It's hot today... I could've used a swim." He looked up at Maitimo, who stood ashen-faced and wide-eyed against the tree line. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," said Maitimo, though his voice wavered.
"You look guilty. What did you do?"
"I... Nothing, Atar, I swear!"
Fëanáro scowled, taking a step closer to his son, though Findekáno interrupted his movement by sitting up abruptly between the two. "He lost is shoes, Taror."
"In the river," said Findkáno. "He was stupid enough to jump in with all his clothes on, and his shoes came right off and sank to the bottom."
Fëanáro turned to Maitimo. "The new shoes your mother just made you?"
"No!" Maitimo shouted. "He's making this all up!"
But Findekáno gave him a disapproving look, and Fëanáro did likewise. "I can't believe you can be so careless," said Fëanáro. "It seems every week you manage some new thoughtless gesture to disappoint me."
"Atar, you don't-," Maitimo began, but Fëanáro held up a hand to silence him.
"We'll not discuss this here. I'll talk to you about your actions when we get home. Right now I've come to see Findekáno."
For the first time, Findekáno looked the slightest bit unsure. "Oh?" he asked.
Fëanáro turned to him with a bright smile. "I have a gift for you."
"Oh!" Findekáno said, and he returned the smile just as brightly.
From his pocket, Fëanáro pulled a small cloth folded into a packet. He unwrapped it in his hand, folding the cloth back to show two identical gold rings, each labelled with a small tag. One carried the label FK, and he motioned for Findekáno to pick it up.
Gently, Findekáno took it, and held it up to inspect. It was a thick gold ring without a jewel, but so delicately crafted that it needed no further decoration. The band was divided into four equal sections, each showing a tiny scene: the great stairs of Tirion, the peaks of the Pelóri, the Two Trees of Valmar, and the stone archway of Alqualondë. He held up the other ring, labelled FR, to examine as well, and found it identical in every way that his eye could see, down to the last leaf on the holy Trees. "It's beautiful, Taror," he murmured, dropping the second ring carefully back into Fëanáro's hand. "They're both wonderful."
Fëanáro's smile widened. "Good," he said, "somebody at least appreciates my work." He clapped a hand on Findekáno's naked shoulder.
"I don't see how anyone could not appreciate rings like these," said Findekáno.
Fëanáro's smile faded slightly, but he said nothing.
"And you made it just for me?" Findekáno asked. "Who's the other one for?"
"Findaráto," Fëanáro said. "I made them for the children of my brothers. For the eldest sons. One for you, one for Findaráto."
Findekáno nodded. "He'll love his as well. He loves all presents, but especially gold-variety presents."
"I hope so," Fëanáro said, somewhat gruffly.
"I love mine, at least." Findekáno clasped his uncle's hand, squeezing it in thanks, before slipping the ring onto his finger. He turned his hand over and back, and twisted the band to look at it from all sides. "Thank you."
"Good," Fëanáro said. He turned back to Maitimo. "You come home straight away. I'd like to talk to you." Maitimo nodded miserably. Then, with a last smile to Findekáno, Fëanáro pocketed the second ring and headed off back down the path toward the city.
"I think he likes me," Findekáno said as soon as Fëanáro was safely away and out of earshot. He held up his hand to admire the ring.
Maitimo scowled. "Only because he's too blinded by his high opinion of you to see through your lies!"
"We're lucky he is," said Findekáno. "Which is amazing given that you seem incapable of going along with the excuses I make up..."
Maitimo sat down heavily on a clump of grass, dropping his head into his hands. "I can't believe you told him I lost my new shoes. I don't even want to think what the punishment will be."
"Probably no worse than the time I told him you got the grass stains on your tunic from wrestling in your good clothes," said Fingon with a shrug. "You have to think of it objectively. Would you rather have had to say, 'Sorry, Atar, but I was flat on my back and Findekáno was buggering me rather hard'? Which punishment do you think would've been worse? I can tell you right now that he'll be far less angry over lost shoes that aren't even really lost than swimming that wasn't really swimming."
Maitimo stared at the ground, poking the dirt with his bare toe. "I can't stand lying to my father."
"I know," said Findekáno. "But we have to." He sat down at Maitimo's side, sliding an arm around his waist. "And you're a terrible liar, but as long as you keep confessing minor crimes to cover your guilt then he won't guess the truth. You keep distracting him, I keep impressing him..." He paused to admire his new ring once more "As long as he thinks I'm a good influence on you, we can be together."
"Good influence my eye..." Maitimo snorted. "If he knew what you're really like he'd skin you alive."
"Like what?" Findekáno asked. "What am I like?" He leaned closer until he could breathe his whispered words into Maitimo's ear. "A sinful lusting incestuous wretch?"
Maitimo shivered and closed his eyes. "Uhh... yes."
Findekáno grinned. "Only because I love you," he said, and he kissed his cousin's cheek. His ring hand rested on Maitimo's thigh.
The banquet that night was the first time Glorfindel had seen Fingon looking like a true prince, as he walked grandly and swiftly through the corridors. His black clothes were adorned with fine jewels, and his black hair with clasps of silver and gold. The silver circlet gleamed at his brow. Glorfindel followed behind Fingon, partly out of deference, and partly because he did not know exactly where they were going. He had to lift his clothes as he walked to avoid tripping on the excessive fabric. Noldorin clothing, he noted, was far less fitted that what he was accustomed to. On top of that, the outfit made for Fingon was too large on his smaller frame. It hung loosely around his shoulders and threatened to slip at any moment. He clutched everything in folds around his waist as he and Fingon continued to make their way down to what he guessed would be the banquet hall.
This was also the first time he had seen Eithel Sirion looking like a palace great enough for a high king. Banners and garlands now covered the flat stone walls, and torches brightly burned with warm, golden light. The great hall at the base of the tower was filled with people, all the lords of the city, and all of them dressed in their finest to impress a prince who scarcely noticed their presence. They bowed to Fingon as he passed, and he nodded to few but the most noble-looking of them. They marked Glorfindel with curious gazes, and he looked down at his hands to avoid their eyes. He stared at his rings: two silver and one gold, both simply-crafted, and the silver bracelets at his wrists. He wore also silver earrings, a gold band in his hair, and two gold chains around his neck, one of which held the precious gold ring of his father that Amma had given him before he left Valmar. It felt overdone to him, to wear all these pieces at once, everything he owned. But seeing all the lords assembled in the hall, he was quick to notice that his small selection was hardly adequate. He looked and felt very poor compared to their outlandish decorations.
They followed Fingon into the banquet hall according to no order that Glorfindel could see. They sat randomly at the long tables, seeming to make no class distinction between the higher and lower lords as was made in Valmar, though clearly some showed in their dress that they had far more wealth than others. Those who occupied the seats nearest the head of the great table appeared to have no greater distinction than the cunning to have shown up first. In Valmar, the places nearest the king were always reserved for only the highest lords and clerics. In Valmar, Glorfindel had never been permitted to come close enough to see Ingwë at the great rallies, or even hear his voice when he spoke at the centre of the city. Now in Eithel Sirion, there were two places left empty at the right side of Fingolfin's chair.
Sindarin servants dressed in blue stood behind the chairs. For a moment Glorfindel wondered if he was expected to stand behind Fingon as they did, but Fingon took his arm and led him to the chairs. Fingon sat, and he sat at Fingon's right. The supper guests, who had stood at Fingon's arrival, seated themselves once again. The servants behind were quick to offer wine in silver cups. Fingon drank almost immediately, while Glorfindel sipped his more slowly, unsure of whether he liked the sour taste or hated it, and tried to look as if he belonged. He mimicked the haughty pose of one guest, and the intent look of another, while holding his wine cup lazily in one hand as his neighbour two seats down did. Fingon gave him no smirking looks of amused curiosity, so he guessed he was doing well enough.
Fingolfin was last to enter the hall, which Glorfindel knew must have been planned. With him came Finrod and Artanis. All the guests again stood and were silent until Fingolfin was seated at the head of the table, with Finrod at his left hand and Artanis to the left of Finrod, across from Glorfindel. Then the chatter began again. Soft music rose from somewhere at the far end of the hall. Fingolfin raised his glass to Fingon and the cousins, and they in return to him. Glorfindel hastily raised his own glass to the king, very aware of how out-of-place he was amid the palace customs and etiquette.
"I see the boy is joining us for supper," he heard Fingolfin mutter.
"Of course," said Fingon.
Glorfindel kept his eyes down, looking at his cutlery, though he felt Fingolfin's scrutinising gaze travel over him.
"He is wearing your clothes," the King said.
Fingon coughed. "I never wear that, as you know. I gave it to him."
Fingolfin seemed not to hear. "Not much in the way of jewellery, either."
At this, Glorfindel blushed. His few rings and chains seemed terribly inadequate now, seated so near to Fingolfin, who was heavily draped in gold.
"Is that a problem?" Fingon asked.
"No..." Fingolfin said slowly. He paused, as if ready to speak further, but a third voice interrupted.
"They don't seem to wear as much in the way of jewellery, Taror. The Vanyar I mean, of course. He's Vanya, isn't he?"
It was Finrod's voice. A voice which, Glorfindel thought, was one of the nicest he had ever heard. He looked up in wonder at Fingon's cousin, who now challenged Fingolfin's suspicion on his behalf.
"It's a religious practice, really," Finrod continued. "They wear very little in the way of adornment for most days, but decorate themselves fantastically with all colours and kinds of jewels when going to pray at the temples of the Valar. To Manwë especially."
"Why is that?" asked Fingolfin.
"I'm not sure I know exactly," said Finrod.
Fingolfin looked at Glorfindel. "Why would you decorate yourselves to pray, but not for a festival?"
Glorfindel swallowed hard. "I... I guess it's because... we want to show respect to Manwë by adorning ourselves most richly for him only."
"That makes perfect sense to me," said Finrod, nodding in Glorfindel's direction. "Truly, if you get dressed up in your finest for any occasion, it ceases to be special." He turned to Fingolfin. "Have you never been to Valmar? I know my father spent some time there."
"Once," Fingolfin said. "Long ago. Just once."
"Shame," said Finrod. "It's a beautiful city. Wonderful folk, too."
Glorfindel listened, fascinated by the conversation as Finrod spoke on, telling of his time in Valmar and the surrounding country. He spoke with such adoration, lovingly describing the very places that Glorfindel missed so acutely, his perfect voice almost singing. He spoke even the words that Glorfindel missed, in a curious half-Noldorin, half-Vanyarin dialect. And Glorfindel listened, thinking he could sit and be content to have Finrod talk for hours about Valmar, or Vanyarin customs, or indeed anything that Finrod cared to talk about.
"But are you from the actual city of Valmar, or one of the surrounding areas?" he heard Finrod say, and only realised in time that he was being addressed and needed to answer.
"Oh... Yes, from Valmar."
"Which area?" Finrod asked.
Glorfindel scratched at an imagined itch on his hand to stall for a moment while he thought of the appropriate answer. His uncle Elindyo's house was in an area called Nandatharë, an interior section of the city within the old walls, admired for its ornate architecture and rich gardens. "Nandatharë," he said.
Finrod nodded approvingly. "Near the Aldayanta, yes. I've been there."
"Is there anywhere you've not been?" Fingon asked. A note of mocking subtly edged his voice.
Finrod frowned as he considered the question seriously. "I've not been too far south yet," he said. "Down near the Telerin settlements- what do they call it, 'Balar'? I think I'd like to go there. And, of course, to Lestanórë."
"How very fascinating," said Fingon.
Across the table, Glorfindel watched as Artanis lifted her hand to her mouth to hide the smirk she shared with Fingon, bright eyes sparkling. Oblivious beside her, Finrod continued speaking, primarily to Fingolfin, about his recent visit to Turgon in the west.
Artanis, Glorfindel noted, did not speak, though she seemed to become an active part of the conversation by the mere presence of her bright eyes and wryly smiling mouth. She listened just as eloquently as Finrod spoke, always looking as if she had just the right thing to say, but was waiting for the right time to say it. She spoke her opinions openly enough in well-timed looks. Occasionally her eyes would meet Fingon's and she would hold his gaze. And Glorfindel wondered, then, if they traded thoughts silently and secretly.
The arrival of servants bearing trays of food was the only thing that could have interrupted the conversation of Finrod and Fingolfin and the silent glances of Artanis and Fingon. All four went quiet as tray after tray was set upon the table. An approving murmur rose from the seated guests. Platters of roast bird and lamb and piglet were set first before Fingolfin, along with sauces, puddings, jellies, pickles, breads, steamed vegetables, leaves in oil, cold sliced meat and cheese. The table was filled, from Fingolfin's end down, with more food than Glorfindel imagined the guests could eat in five or more meals. And he was right, more or less. The court ate, two or three platefuls each, but seemed to make little difference in the sheer volume of food on the table. When one dish was empty, the servants would bring more, or replace it with a new item. A constant flow came in and out from the doors that led down to the kitchen, bearing away empty plates and bringing new.
Glorfindel ate very little. He ate most of the vegetables, which tasted far less fine than they looked, and picked at the bread, which he still found too soft and flavourless. The meat remained untouched, pushed far to the side of his plate. He preferred watching the others to eating his own food, amused by how Fingolfin cut his food into small pieces before he ate a bite, how Finrod's plate remained full for lack of eating and excess of talking, how Artanis took tiny portions of all items on the table and ate each one at a time, and how Fingon liberally spread pickled onion over everything. Watching the others enjoy their meal seemed at least as satisfying as eating food he did not particularly like. He set his cutlery down on his plate, as some of the more fashionable ladies had already done, and sat back in his chair.
Fingolfin looked over at him. "Not eating very much, are you?"
"No, sir," he answered.
"You don't like the quail?"
Glorfindel shook his head. "It's not that, but-"
"He won't eat it," Finrod interrupted, "or any fowl for that matter. It's a religious principle. All birds are holy to Manwë."
Glorfindel nodded silently.
"And the veal? Or are cattle holy to Varda?"
"Yavanna, actually," said Finrod.
Fingon tried to suppress a snicker.
"Beans?" Fingolfin asked.
Finrod paused to think. "I believe beans are edible in all cultures."
Fingolfin turned to watch Glorfindel expectantly, and Glorfindel slowly took up his fork again. The beans, while not offensive, were merely unappetising. But he ate his serving, and dutifully took a second. Fingolfin smiled as if he had won a great victory.
After the supper plates had been cleared, Fingolfin was the first to leave, just as he had been last to arrive. Glorfindel only stood after Fingon had done so. Finrod and Artanis stood as well.
"What about a walk this evening?" Finrod asked. "Not too far, just around the gardens? I feel some movement is in order after all that food."
Fingon nodded. "I'll join you. Though it's cool tonight, and I think I'll fetch a cape. Wait outside for me?"
"Of course," said Finrod. He smiled at Fingon, then at Glorfindel, and offered his arm to Artanis.
"Thank you," she said. Those were the first, and only, words Glorfindel heard her speak.
Once back in his bedroom, Fingon lost no time in shedding his formal supper clothes in favour of less elegant attire. "You may change back into your regular clothing, Laurefindil," he said. "You look rather lost under that robe."
"I will, thank you," said Glorfindel. He had only to let his arms hang straight at his sides, and the large, heavy robe fell from his shoulders into a stiff pile on the floor. He was more conservative with the breeches, sliding them down only when he had bent over far enough so that the jerkin covered as much of his legs as could be covered, and only when Fingon was well occupied with changing his own clothes. Removing the jerkin and shirt was more difficult. He tugged both off as quickly as he could and snatched up his tunic from the floor, but in his haste only managed to get his arms caught in the twisted sleeves.
Fingon watched him in amusement. "You really are terribly prudish," he said with a smirk, "racing like mad to dress out of fear I might see-" He stopped abruptly, mouth frozen silently open. His eyes were fixed intently on Glorfindel's bare chest.
Glorfindel bit his lip, feeling the blood rise to his cheeks. He slowly held the tunic up to cover his bare skin and create a barrier against Fingon's harshly scrutinising eyes.
"Wait," Fingon said. He took a step forward, still staring, and pushed Glorfindel's hands away.
"What?" Glorfindel asked. His voice shook.
"Your ring." He was staring at the ring on the chain. "Where did you get that?"
"I... it was... my Amma..." The fierce look on Fingon's face and the hard sound in his voice made Glorfindel's heart pound. He closed his hand protectively about the ring, but Fingon plucked it from his fingers to hold up at eye level.
"Where did you get it?" Fingon repeated.
"It was my father's," Glorfindel whispered. "He gave it to my Amma, and she gave it to me. It was my father's ring. Their wedding ring." His entire body shook and his teeth chattered at Fingon's terrible look. "I swear. I didn't steal it..."
Fingon blinked in surprise. He looked at Glorfindel, no longer accusing but appraising, and said nothing for several moments. "No..." he spoke at last in a strange voice. "No of course you didn't steal it. I only..." He dropped the ring and stepped back. "It's a very fine ring, of fine craftsmanship. I've not seen its likes in a long time."
Still shaking, Glorfindel pulled the tunic quickly over his head. "It was my father's..."
"I believe you," said Fingon. Then as quickly as he had changed before, he turned almost fierce again. "Never let anyone see it."
"No..." said Glorfindel. "I... I almost never wear it. Just for tonight... I keep it hidden."
Fingon nodded sharply. "Put it back in its hiding place. Never wear it again."
"If you wear it," Fingon said, "your lie will be found out. You said your father was a Vanyarin lord, but you have there a clearly Noldorin ring. Do you want to have to explain that to everyone?"
Of course Fingon was right. Glorfindel nodded miserably, and tucked the ring's chain inside his tunic. He would never show it to anyone, not even Oropher. He could not risk breaking the lie.
"Now go back to your room, and put your ring away. Findaráto is waiting for us. I will meet you in the corridor."
"Yes, my lord," Glorfindel whispered. He bowed, heart still beating furiously in his chest, and left Fingon alone. He hurried to his own bedroom, going as fast as he could without arousing suspicion, and pulled the ring chain off his neck. Leaving this most precious treasure stung him, but the prospect of being discovered as one who lied to the king was worse. He pushed it under the straw mattress as far back as he could reach.
"I can't risk it," he said to himself. Then he stood, breathing deeply to stop the shaking in his hands. Finrod was waiting down in the gardens.
The second Glorfindel shut the door, Fingon was on his knees before a large travelling chest in the corner of the room, tearing through the contents in a maniacal search. He eventually found what he sought: a silver jewel box hidden in a rough sack. Inside was a collection of the jewellery items he had brought from Aman. Chains mainly, but some earrings as well, bracelets, pins, and six rings. The rings sat all in cushioned holders along the back.
One plain gold band inscribed with his name, which his grandfather had given him when he was born. One of twining silver to match his circlet, the mark of a prince. One gold with a blue stone, a gift from his father on his fiftieth birthday. One thin band circled in jewels, from his mother, a ring that had been her father's. One of dark silver and reddish gold wound together, from his cousin Maedhros. And one intricately crafted gold ring, one of a matched pair that Fëanor had given the eldest sons of his two brothers long ago. Fingon took this ring from its place and held it up against the lantern-light. It showed four miniature scenes: the great stairs of Tirion, the peaks of the Pelóri, the Two Trees of Valmar, and the stone archway of Alqualondë.
It was identical to the one Glorfindel wore.