Few things happened on the fifth floor to take his mind off the boredom of waiting or distract him from the discomfort of sitting for so long on a hard stone floor. Some time ago a Sindarin girl had passed on her way to deliver a tray of fruit, and passed again as she returned to the stair, but neither she nor Glorfindel had acknowledged or spoken to each other. Not long afterward he'd heard a clatter from down the stairs, and angry shouts. But that was all. So it was only natural that he quickly turned his head to look when he heard a door open down the corridor. It was around the curve of the tower, so he could not see, but he heard a door opening and soft voices.
"No, you keep that. I'm sure he has something." That voice belonged to Finrod. Glorfindel was certain of it.
"So for tomorrow?" This second voice was deep and smooth, though undeniably feminine. It was Finrod's sister.
"After breakfast, Taror said. Don't worry. He'll send someone to find you if you're not there."
"I still don't think you should go. You're still holding your shoulder like... Here, let me..."
"I'm fine, I'll be fine," said Finrod's voice. "Looks worse than it is."
The lady laughed. "You men, trying to be so tough."
"Only to impress fine ladies such as you."
He must have kissed her hand then, and she laughed again, muttering, "Scoundrel!" Then with the swish of her skirt, the door tapped shut.
Finrod was grinning to himself as he came round the curve and into Glorfindel's line of sight. If he was surprised to find anyone else in the corridor, he did not show it. "Waiting for my cousin?" he asked.
"I am," said Glorfindel. Just as he thought to stand, Finrod came to the wall and sat down next to him.
"Do you want to be waiting for my cousin?"
"Of course I do," Glorfindel lied.
Finrod only had to look at him square in the eye, honest and unchallenging, to dissolve any pretence of loyalty to Fingon.
"No," he said, far more quietly.
"What do you want?" Finrod asked.
He wanted to be back in Valmar with Amma. He had wanted that ever since rough waves had jerked his ship away from the shores of Aman, when he realised what an irreparable mistake he was making. But that wish was impossible, so he thought of the next best thing he wanted, and that was just for Finrod to stay and talk to him. "I don't know," he answered, and hoped that was the right thing to say to keep Finrod nearby a little longer.
It seemed to work. Finrod relaxed further and leaned against the wall, as if he anticipated the coming of a long conversation. "You may tell me," he said with a faint, sad smile. "I'll not judge you too harshly by it."
Glorfindel shook his head. "It's childish."
"How is that?" Finrod asked. "Do you wish to be back with your parents?"
"Mm," said Glorfindel in half an answer. He felt suddenly very small again, lost and alone, and before he could help himself he had leaned over to rest his head against Finrod's shoulder. Finrod accepted the gesture so easily, wrapping both arms around Glorfindel in quiet comfort, that neither immediately realised what they had done.
"I don't find it childish," Finrod said softly. "You've been here such a short time. Of course you miss your parents. I daresay they miss you too. Age does not calm the pain of loss. I have been away from home for many years, yet I still miss my mother and father."
"How old are you?" asked Glorfindel.
Unexpectedly, Finrod laughed so that his whole body shook. "Now that is hardly a thing to ask in polite conversation!"
Glorfindel felt his face and ears burn. "I'm sorry..." he muttered, and wished he could kick himself soundly. There was something about Finrod, something far too comfortable and close, that caused him to act stupidly and impulsively and do things without thinking. They had known each other, and not even well, for only a day. One day, and already they spoke like close friends. Glorfindel could neither explain nor understand it.
"I am two-hundred-thirty-nine," said Finrod.
All those numbers together sounded so old to Glorfindel. Finrod was close in age to his grandparents, and over twice as old as Amma. It made him curious. "Is Findekáno older or younger?" he asked.
"Older," said Finrod, "by twenty-nine years."
Fingon was two-hundred-sixty-eight, Glorfindel figured in his head: six years older than his grandfather. The two looked hardly alike. While grandfather's skin was roughened and finely lined by years of hard work, Fingon's softer life had scarcely aged him. And despite his age, Fingon was neither as wise nor as trustworthy, neither compassionate nor kind. He was no grandfather.
Glorfindel did not realise how hard he had been pressing his face against Finrod's shoulder until Finrod spoke again. "Go back to your own room," he said gently. "You needn't worry over my cousin. I can make your excuses. I shall say I dismissed you."
Quickly, Glorfindel weighed the options in his mind. Stay with Finrod, or return to his bleak bedroom. Staying with Finrod meant staying near the one person in Eithel Sirion he found he could admire, though it also meant staying with Fingon. By returning to his bedroom he could avoid Fingon, though somehow being alone there in the dark made him think too strongly on how far he was from Amma. At least with Fingon, he was kept too distracted to remember the sharp bite of loneliness and the insatiable longing for home.
"I'd rather stay," he said. He kept his eyes on the floor as he added, silently to himself, With you.
Finrod smiled at him, a hint of sad sympathy in his eyes, but he did not press the matter further. "Very well," he said. Then he took a short breath, as if to speak again. He was interrupted by padding footsteps. A muted shuffling of leather shoes on stone floor, the creak of a heavy door, and Fingon stood before them.
Fingon had come from the bath; Glorfindel had guessed correctly. His hair was wet and pulled back into a rough pigtail, and he had dressed in old, faded clothes, making him look even less princely than usual. In his hand, he held a small package. It seemed to take him a moment, as he stepped from the room, to register that Glorfindel and Finrod were in the corridor. When he did, he gave the slightest startled twitch, as if pulled abruptly from deep thought.
"I hope you enjoyed your bath, cousin," Finrod said chidingly. "You have kept us waiting."
"I did," said Fingon. He glanced quickly at Finrod, then at the stairway, then at the package in his hand.
"And I hope you have some supper waiting for us," Finrod continued. "My sister is trying to be fashionable and requested only a fruit tray. Hardly adequate after a day of swords practice. Being thoroughly beaten by you is hungry work."
Fingon nodded. "I'll order something be sent up." He looked impatiently again toward the stairway, frowning as he ran his tongue over his teeth.
"Good to hear," said Finrod. "Something hot, I think, maybe soup with-"
"I'll order someone bring a full hot meal," Fingon interrupted. "But if you will excuse me for now?" He gestured with his head toward the stairs while his fingers tightened around the package. "I have a small task I must first do. Wait for me; I shall be back shortly."
He was down five stairs before he turned to step back up and call to Finrod, "Wait in my bedroom, I meant. The fire is lit." Then he disappeared down the spiral.
Finrod stood still a few seconds before shrugging in confusion and motioning for Glorfindel to follow him into Fingon's room. "Let's wait here then," he said. "I can guarantee the rugs in here are more suited to sitting on than the floor out there."
Fingon's bedroom had changed yet again, Glorfindel saw. The chests were gone, leaving their contents in great piles on the floor. Two cushioned chairs and a bookcase had appeared. An enormous bear skin lay on the floor between the bed and the fireplace, no doubt a tribute to Fingon's power and wealth. Finrod took a cushion from one of the chairs and sprawled down on his side near the bear's tail. Glorfindel sat carefully next to him.
Neither said anything further. Glorfindel could think of nothing to say, though he had no desire to say anything anyhow. The silence that filled the room was different from the dreadful quiet that hung about when Fingon was near. This silence was warm and reassuring. There was no need to speak. He could hear Finrod's low breathing, and the cracking of the fire, and that was enough. Slowly, it urged him to relax. He lay down on his stomach with his hands folded under his chin. He could see Finrod beside him from the corner of his eye, face and hair flickering golden-orange in the firelight. For the first time since leaving Valmar, he began to feel safe and at home.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Glorfindel was beginning to grow accustomed to waking up in confusion, unsure of where he was and why he was there. But this time, he was also in terrible pain. His entire body ached from shivering in air so cold he could see his breath. His back ached from sleeping on the stone floor, and his stomach was knotted with hunger. He had eaten nothing since going to the dining hall with Oropher.
His last memory was of lying on the bearskin rug with Finrod in front of Fingon's fireplace, and that was where he still was. Only Finrod was gone, and the fire was out. The bear's fur felt damp. Glorfindel's clothes felt damp, and even the air in the room was damp and cold. Only a little grey light came from the shuttered window. Everything smelled of rain.
Shivering, Glorfindel forced his stiff body to stand up. The curtains around Fingon's bed were closed. On the table beside the bed sat a tray of the uneaten ends of supper. Glorfindel hungrily ate half a damp roll, and swallowed the remaining mouthfuls of a cold bowl of broth. It was dirty to eat someone else's leftover food, but he hardly cared. He could fast and pray to Manwë later. The food made him feel better.
As he set the soup bowl down, Fingon's blankets rustled. "Are you awake?" Fingon asked.
"Yes." Glorfindel pulled back the curtain enough to peer inside. In the darkness, he could just make out a scowl on Fingon's face.
"You look half frozen."
"Yes," said Glorfindel. He shivered as he said it.
Groaning, Fingon threw back the blankets. "Get in."
Glorfindel, too chilled to hesitate, stepped out of his shoes and slipped under covers warmed by Fingon's body heat. The air within the curtains was warmer too, and not so damp. He pulled the blankets up to his chin and waited nervously for Fingon to do something, or speak. But Fingon only turned over with an inelegant grunt and went back to sleep.
The day's early morning passed in the same routine as before. Glorfindel lay awake as the Sindarin boys came to make the fire. Fingon slept until his breakfast arrived. When they had eaten, Fingon had Glorfindel find his riding clothes and heavy cape, which were somewhere amid the piles of objects. He gave Glorfindel a list of tasks for the day as he dressed.
"I am going riding for the day," he said, "with my cousins and my father. Ta's favourite activity, which he calls a 'rade', is for us to all ride very slowly in single file across the countryside, carrying banners and flags and other useless heraldry. It's dreadfully boring. I expect Findaráto will try to sing. While I am gone, I would have you tidy in here. I want all my clothes off the floor and into the wardrobe. The rest of the items and furniture you can arrange as you wish. There are a few rugs; place those where you think they're needed. Books go on the shelves, of course. Though if you find any hour-books of my writing, put those on my desk."
Glorfindel nodded as he surveyed the bedroom. Everything was in disarray, and he knew there would be more of the same in the bathing room. It would take him well into the afternoon, if not the evening, to finish it all.
"And I would like you here when I return," said Fingon. He fastened the clasp of his cape at his throat, and settled the heavy wool over his shoulders. "That will be after supper-time."
"Alright," said Glorfindel, though a sickly twinge began to flicker in his stomach again.
Fingon smiled thinly. He placed one hand on Glorfindel's shoulder, and the other on Glorfindel's cheek, before leaning in for a sudden, hard kiss. He pulled back again before Glorfindel had time even to register the shock. "Good-bye," he said.
The moment Fingon was out the door, Glorfindel wiped his mouth in disgust. "I hate him," he muttered, though he knew it was not wholly true. He could feel anger or fear, but not total hatred toward Fingon. If it were hatred, he would be able to stand up to him. Now though he had courage only to feel anger in Fingon's absence, thoughts racing with should-have-dones and defences come a minute too late. Frustrated, he turned to the disorganised piles on the floor. Work, at least, would occupy the time and distract his mind. He knelt on the floor and began viciously sorting, shirts from breeches and cloaks from robes.
It took only minutes for a knock to sound at the door, and only a second for Oropher to peek inside. "Oh you are in here," he said. "Thought so."
"I'm busy," snapped Glorfindel.
"Mm," said Oropher. He casually strolled around the room, looking at everything as he went. "Not much room in here is there? I mean not for all that stuff on the floor. Looks like lots of work to do. Need help?"
"You sure? There's a lot of things to put away." He picked up a shirt from the floor and folded it over his arm. "What if you sort it and I put it away?"
"No," said Glorfindel. "You'll do it wrong."
Oropher shrugged. "Then I'll sort it and you put it away."
"You'll sort it wrong."
"I guess I know how to sort clothes," Oropher said irritably. "I guess I know the difference between vests and tunics and what's good clothes and what's old clothes! I've only been doing just this for the King for more than a year now. Why're you so grumpy anyhow?"
Glorfindel threw down the armful of stockings he held, and picked up a pair of breeches just to throw them down again. "Nothing!" he said. "No reason! I think you are angry too, if you must always spend time with the King and he tries to..." He growled, swatting and punching at the pile of clothes before him.
Oropher sighed. "I don't get angry," he quietly answered. "Nana always said there's no sense getting angry or worrying about something you can't change. You just got to live through it."
The words stilled Glorfindel's hands. Of all the people in the castle, Oropher was the one who would understand how he felt. Oropher was bound to the same hidden life of fear and shame. Glorfindel had known it from their first meeting, on some level, but had not yet stopped to consider exactly what that meant, or how brave Oropher must be. Oropher did not sulk, whine or weep. He did not hide away, or shout in needless, solitary anger. Yet he was younger, and had been over a year in his wretched position.
"I'm sorry," Glorfindel murmured. He folded his hands into his lap and stared down at them in shame. "For... Sorry."
Oropher sat down next to him, close enough so that their shoulders touched. "It's alright," he said. Then, clearing his throat, added, "I'll fold. You can sort as you put everything away."
With Oropher's help, the task went quickly. And the more they accomplished, the more they agreed they could afford a few minutes of idle play. Oropher took to trying on each of Fingon's garments before folding it. He posed haughtily for Glorfindel, though everything was too long and too wide. In a pile in the bathing room they found Fingon's finest clothes, which they both tried. Oropher thought black suited Glorfindel's golden features. Glorfindel thought it made Oropher look too ghostly pale. When there were no more clothes to try, they adorned themselves with jewels and rings. Then came the books.
"Can you read?" asked Oropher. He was still wearing a pair of Fingon's boots, so large they clumped noisily when he walked, and Fingon's silver prince's band rested unevenly on his head.
"No," said Glorfindel. "Can you?"
Oropher shook his head, causing the circlet to tilt further to one side. "No. So I'm sorting by colour."
To Glorfindel, that seemed to be as reasonable a method as any. He had been sorting by size, putting fat books on one end of the shelf and working down toward thin books. He checked each book to see if he could discern which contained Fingon's writing. All of them, though, appeared to be filled with the same delicate rows of slanting crescents, strokes and dots. It was impossible to judge one from the next. In the end it was Oropher who decided that seven thin volumes with unmarked black covers must be the books of Fingon's writing.
"He'd have black books, wouldn't he?" Oropher reasoned. "And they got no words on the cover like the others. I reckon they're the ones the Prince writes in. Though what he's got to write about, I don't know."
Flipping through the pages, Glorfindel agreed. The writing was uneven in places, slanted upward or hastily scrawled in blockish tables. Some words and entire lines were crossed out. He put the plain black books on Fingon's desk, with a collection of pens and a case of ink sticks.
The room was finished then. All of Fingon's things were placed and ordered. "It looks better," said Oropher. "More tidy and like someone lives here. It's nice." He gave approving nods to the carefully arranged tables and rugs. "I never been in here before. You ever been in the King's room?"
"Want to? He's not here to stop us."
Glorfindel opened his mouth to say they ought not do such a thing, but his words were stopped by Oropher's scheming grin. He could hardly help but smile in return. And, several minutes later, he had to admit that there was a certain wicked satisfaction to be found in trying on Fingolfin's jewellery collection. He could now legitimately say that he had seen the inside of a king's bedroom, though he was not entirely sure to whom he would ever want to say such a thing. He only had Oropher, and occasionally Fingon and Finrod, to talk to, and all of them could claim the same honour.
It took a long time for them to grow bored with looking through everything the King owned. They paid particular attention to a leather folder that Oropher found under the false bottom of a desk drawer: a folder containing many drawings and paintings of naked ladies.
"You ever seen a real girl naked?" Oropher asked.
Glorfindel shook his head.
"Me neither," said Oropher. "Once I told Ninnan- she works in the kitchens- I'd give her a whole bag of loucoums if she took her dress off for me. She hit me in the head with a bread basket and told me never to talk to her again. But I brought her the loucoums anyway, and some apple candy, and she said she'd think about it. I keep bringing her things in case she changes her mind. She's older, maybe older even than you, and she's a bit fat with great tits and a big bum. She's the best-looking girl in the castle. I'm going to marry her."
Glorfindel tried to imagine the voluptuous Sindarin girl from the kitchens who was brash enough to hit someone in the head with a basket and consider taking her clothes off for candy. The mental image was unappealing. He preferred the demure ladies in Fingolfin's drawings, with their coyly-placed hands and downcast eyes. They were beautiful, perfect fantasies worthy of worship. Not one looked like she would ever be caught in the kitchens with Oropher. Not one would ever be caught doing anything crude at all. They were like Maiar.
Glorfindel finally agreed to put away the pictures long after Oropher, who clearly preferred curvy, loud and violent girls, grew bored. Though he only did so because the day was waning and Fingolfin would soon return home. Given the choice, he could have looked at those pictures for hours.
"I'm hungry," said Oropher. "Let's go get some supper."
Glorfindel nodded in agreement. He felt hungry, though he was not certain if the hunger was for food.
"Then we can do more Quenya lessons."
They left Fingolfin's room carefully, leaving nothing out of place.
~ ~ ~ ~
Lailaniel awoke late. She saw little point in getting out of bed when there was nothing to do, and no point at all in getting up on a day so grey and miserable, so she stayed tucked safely within warm quilts and curtains. The maid brought her dinner tray to her bedside, and she picked at it as she read a book of romance stories. The stories were all about beautiful and clever maidens swarmed by suitors. The maiden always chose the poor but kind and brilliant man, which naturally meant the stories had been written by someone with no money. No real person of status would ever settle like that. They were stupid stories, Lailaniel knew, but she read them anyhow. They passed the time.
She shifted in bed, ignoring the stiff pain in her leg, and set the book down on her lap. "I could write better stories," she muttered aloud. Stories, she thought, about an intelligent and well-born noblewoman, who, alas, had no suitors, as she was rather plain (apart from her admirably long hair) and had been partially crippled. She was good friends with a handsome prince, her second-cousin, who was also unmarried (as most ladies found his dark humour and temperament most off-putting, though the noblewoman did not mind in the least, being rather cynical herself). She loved him dearly, and had since she was a small girl, but he was blind to her affections and she was too proud to tell him outright. So they lived in a stasis of friendship. But one day, after many years, the handsome but unhappy prince realised that the source of his unhappiness was his lack of a wife, and only his plain-but-adoring second-cousin could ever fill that role properly. Thus they married immediately and lived happily ever after in a castle by a lake, with two children and many dogs and horses.
It was a fantasy, but one that at times seemed so attainable. When Fingon smiled at her- a genuine smile, not the amused smile he so often handed out to others- or held her arm to help her up the steps from the garden, or if he carried her when she grew tired from the labour of walking, the spark of their future was so close she could almost see it. Sometimes she did see it. Fingon had been her husband in dreams more than a few times. She never foresaw anything else, apart from one vision of a new bedroom reading chair some days before her father gave it to her, but she still held out hope that the dream of marriage would eventually come to be.
With that in mind, she picked up the book of romance stories and started again from the beginning. She read until supper time, when her brother knocked at the door.
"May I come in?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, and set the book down again on her lap.
Galadrin stepped through the door and closed it behind him. "Are you well?" Both his face and voice were concerned. "You've been in bed all day. Shall I have father call for the surgeon?"
"No, I'm fine," said Lailaniel. "I was only reading."
"You read the same books again and again. You should go outside more. It would be good for you." He looked down at her legs, covered by layers of quilts, and patted the light contour of her knee. "You stayed in bed all day yesterday, too," he added.
"I was reading yesterday, too."
"And the day before?" Galadrin asked. "Father and I worry about you. You've hardly been out of your room since Findekáno left."
"I find it difficult to go for walks now without him to help me," said Lailaniel.
Galadrin took her hand. "I could help you; I'd be more than happy."
"Perhaps tomorrow," Lailaniel said, shaking her head, "or when the skies clear. Not today. The weather is frightful."
"Are you unhappy? Over Findekáno leaving?"
Lailaniel forced a short, light-hearted laugh. "Now that's silly. Why should I be upset? He's only gone across the city."
"Well if you are upset..." Galadrin began as he reached into his pocket. He handed his sister a small black cloth bag, to which was tied a letter. "Here. It arrived late last night, when you were already asleep. It's from Findekáno. It might cheer you."
As quickly as was dignified, Lailaniel grabbed the little bag and pulled open the letter. 'My Lulu,' it began. A rich smile spread across her face.
"What is it?" asked Galadrin. "Open it."
"I can't," she said coyly. "Not with you watching. It's a secret."
Galadrin's eyebrows raised. "Oh?"
"Yes," she said. "Now please leave. I want to open it and see my surprise."
"Are you sure?" he asked.
Lailaniel flicked her hand to dismiss him, keeping here eyes firmly on the cloth bag. "Yes. Go. Tell father I'll have my supper in bed again."
Slowly, Galadrin stood and made his way to the door. "If the weather improves tomorrow... I'll take you walking."
"Mmm," said Lailaniel, nodding impatiently at him. "That would be nice. Good night."
The moment Galadrin shut the door behind him, Lailaniel reached into the little bag and pulled out a small wooden box. She opened the lid, and gasped at the contents. A golden ring, perfect and beautiful as any she had ever seen, sat on a patch of velvet. Her fingers trembled as she picked it up and held it close to her face. Four tiny scenes of Valinor, so wonderfully detailed that they might have been crafted by Aulë himself, sat before her eyes. She slipped it on. Of course it had been Fingon's ring, and was far too loose on her slender finger, but as she examined it she marked a narrow divider of plain gold between each miniature scene. With that filler removed, the ring could easily be resized for a lady. Provided she would one day be free to wear it openly as a symbol of her love.
Stiffly, she slid out of bed and crossed the room to her dressing mirror. She held up her hand to the level of her breast, waving it back and forth so the ring caught the dim afternoon light, admiring how well the gold suited her. She was over two hundred years old already. It was high time she had a gold ring for her finger.
She twirled and danced back to her bed, as best she could, and fell backward onto the mattress with a breathless giggle. Fingon loved her. One day they would be married. It was a secret for now, for reasons she did not quite understand, but secrets cannot be kept forever. She could wait as long as he needed: six years, sixty years, six hundred years. She would always wait for him.