3. A Familiar Old Song
As Fingon entered the Great Hall along with Maedhros and Erestor, the anticipatory atmosphere was palpable to him. The clamor of voices of the assembled populace of the castle and its closest environs subsided to a low murmur when they entered the hall together. Maglor had been intercepted in the hallway and whisked away from them by his father's Master of Music. Meanwhile, a cheerful page, socially adept but still with the physical awkwardness of adolescence, had been assigned to guide them to their places at the high table on the dais.
"Are you sure I am supposed to sit here?" Erestor asked the boy. "I'd be mortifiedto be told I had to move!"
The page insisted. "The King named you by name, my lord. You are Lord Eressetor from Himring, aren't you?"
"Just Eressetor will do," he answered magnanimously, exactly as though he were a great lord granting a boon to the lad. Fingon had to stifle a laugh.
"Thank you, my lord—I mean, Eressetor!" the boy said, bowing as he left.
Maedhros snorted. Erestor turned and scowled at him. "What have I done now to amuse you?" he asked, with umbrage, before an expression of comprehension passed over his face. "Eww! No! Please! Valar! You think I am interested in little boys!"
Fingon did not think that had been Maedhros' thought at all, but Erestor thinking so made the whole encounter even more comic.
"You really do not know how hilarious you are, do you?" Maedhros asked, rolling his eyes and chortling.
They had no more taken their places—everyone was present except his father, who doubtless would make a grand entrance—when Fingon heard Erestor hiss, "Where are all the women? Not a single female in sight! And to think these pretentious buggers are always criticizing us by noting that the numbers of the fairer sex are over balanced by men at Himring. At least we invite them to sup with us."
"Where do you hear these things, Eressetor?" Maedhros asked. The whole exchange amused Fingon far more than it should. In the same way that he always laughed when Maedhros wondered aloud whether Erestor's stage whispers were meant to be heard by everyone or if the lad had a hearing problem. He liked to imagine that Erestor played the role of affectionate pesterer left vacant by the scattered brothers whom Maedhros saw all too rarely.
Fingon leaned across Maedhros and whispered in a softer voice with the intent of being heard by Erestor only. "Patience. You will see soon enough. The ladies are preparing one of the prettiest parts of the pageantry which opens this festival."
A harried Turgon walked quickly to his place on the dais, saying, "Excuse my tardiness. Preparations." He stopped briefly to extend a hand first to Maglor, then Maedhros, and finally Erestor, muttering brusquely, "Welcome, cousins, and, is it Eressestor?" Before he could greet Fingon, or anyone could respond, a shrill four-note clarion call announced Fingolfin's entrance—different as night from day compared to the no-nonsense egalitarianism of Himring, with its air of a military outpost and its absence of courtly posturing.
Fingon thought that Himring had little use for rigid protocol since Maedhros ruled unchallenged as the unquestioned heir of Fëanor, trusted for his acuity and revered for his sacrifices.
He glanced at Maedhros who, dignified and arresting, led the assembled supper guests in rising to their feet. That this meal was labeled as a simple supper, meant there would be no grand procession of pompous chefs bearing platters of outlandishly presented roasted swans or boar's heads. Instead, a long line of Sindarin servers, scrubbed until their rosy cheeks glowed, entered the hall bearing smaller dishes. Clad in spotless livery, they scurried to and fro with an air of purposeful urgency incongruous with their youth, offering choices of hot and cold meat, fish and poultry, savory and sweet pastries, and salads of seasonal vegetables redolent of herbs and spices.
Both Fingon and Maedhros preferred the simpler fare favored by the kitchen of Himring, even for holiday fare: roasted baby goats in the spring time, the pheasants with dressing in the autumn of the year, and roast wild boar at midwinter. Throughout the year, smaller wild game supplemented their usual fare of crusty bread made from grain imported from Ard-galen, goat's milk cheeses, sharp and mild, and sausage and cured meat, with whatever fruit or vegetables were seasonally available. Himring prided itself on its chickens and eggs and its clever exploitation of short growing seasons and a paucity of arable land.
But the greater variety of foods and the extravagance of preparation in the halls of Barad Eithel provided a pleasing change. The harvest feasts would be doubly welcome after their long trek through the wild, with weeks of whatever they could catch and cook over the campfires, along with the ubiquitous dry-as-dust waybread.
Erestor appeared thoroughly diverted by the chance to try a little of every unfamiliar dish. Maedhros' attention, Fingon noticed, was focused naturally upon his father. Meanwhile, he was in a state of bliss to simply be able to look his fill at Maedhros, who was elegant or more so than anyone in the room without projecting the slightest hint of foppishness. His famous looks had not been diminished but tempered by the weathered edge they had acquired in course of his unspeakable suffering. Instead, Fingon had often of late noted that the absence of Maedhros' former pristine glory imbued him with a depth and nobility far more compelling than any first flush of beauty untouched by adversity.
Fingon also thought his father looked more at ease that night than he had in a year or two at least. His blue-grey eyes held more than hint of affection for Maedhros which always made him happy.
During their brief dinner conversation, his father seemed particularly pleased and relieved to learn that Maedhros felt confident in the immediate security of their realms while fighting any tendency toward complacency. His reports to Fingolfin assured him that the North continued to be well-armed and vigilant. Fingon listened and observed, occasionally adding a small clarification, as his father attended closely to Maedhros' descriptions of how fared the defensive settlements ranging from the mountain gap guarded by Maglor, to Himring and its environs.
Maedhros enjoyed his dinner, although he would be the first to admit he did not look forward to three days of raucous celebrations. Perhaps he would have felt differently if governance and policy had not been the backdrop of it all for him. It felt too much like work—no point in mincing words, it was work. The next week would be peppered with intense practical and strategic discussions with Fingolfin, Turgon, Maglor and Fingon, and whomever else any one of them wanted to include.
Of course, nothing gave him more heart than to sit and watch Fingon, even at the High King's table, knowing he had only to reach out to touch him. At that very moment, although Fingon appeared to be attending to his father, while devouring a lamprey pie, his thigh, firm and warm, was pressed against that of Maedhros.
Living apart was harder than Maedhros had imagined it would be. He had settled upon establishing his strength at Himring with few illusions, pushed by a resolute sense of duty and the faint, if persistent, shadow of the cursed oath. Dropping his guard for a moment, he released a heartfelt sigh. He heard an answering one from his left, glancing up to see Turgon staring at him with something that strongly resembled empathy. He grinned at his somber cousin and got a reserved smile in response. Turgon was slow to forgive and unlikely ever to forget. He would have to find out later what might cause Turgon to appear so benign for the moment.
Finished with his pastry, Fingon reached under the table to caress his thigh, his hand sliding dangerously close to his crotch—incorrigible as always. Thoughts of later and that feather bed were more than a little distracting without that sort of teasing. Maedhros decided he definitely wanted to moderate how much he drank, looking forward to far more than a tipsy fumble before sleep.
Suddenly, servants scurried about the great hall dousing torches and candles alike until only a few burned, providing a dim glow in contrast to the previous blazing brilliance. Almost as soon as Maedhros' eyes had adjusted to the near darkness and the heavy smoke of the extinguished torches had cleared, the sound of distant music reached the hall. Hand harps and flutes drawing closer played a poignant tune that he remembered from his childhood in Valinor.
A solemn drum beat marked a rhythm primal and earthy beneath an airy melody which otherwise threatened to take flight and vanish like a half-forgotten memory. The air had been called Summer's End across the sea and reputed throughout his childhood in the West to be an ancient song from the Outer Lands. He recognized Maglor on the lead harp. The added flourishes and glissades, deceptively simple, were unmistakably his brother's, enhancing without unduly complicating the purity of the refrain. The memory that an unembellished version of this song was one of the earliest pieces his brother had mastered as a child brought Maedhros close to tears.
The melody, moving in itself, was taken up by a chorus of crystalline clear boys voices which began the first refrain 'Remember, remember.' The intervening verses alternated between a male tenor of heartbreaking beauty, Maglor, and a female voice, Aredhel's lovely alto.
I first met you by those waters
Warm as a mother's womb.
You first kissed me in the shadows
Where the silvered starflowers bloom.
We've had our share of sorrows.
We're no strangers to great loss.
Yet in darkness or in starlight
Naught can take our love from us.
Fingon leaned closer to whisper, his breath caressing Maedhros' neck, "Do you remember nights on the roadside during all those trips to Formenos when we were kids and how Macalaurë always played that by the fire at night?"
"Of course, I do," Maedhros managed to choke out, fumbling for Fingon's hand in the darkness and squeezing hard.
Erestor muttered wryly, "Not a dry eye in the house." Maedhros kicked him under the table. "Ouch," he said.
On the other side of Fingolfin, to Maedhros' great shock, Turgon, snorted trying to smother a laugh, before whispering, "I am loath to admit it, but he is funny."
Maedhros managed to subdue his smile. His incipient tears had been pronounced mawkish and sentimental by Erestor and, more surprisingly, Turgon.
"You are all unsettling. So volatile," Fingolfin said in a low rumble that could not be heard beyond their small group on the dais.
Fingolfin stood, drawing himself up, proud and tall, in his most regal High-King manner and announced in a resonating voice, "And so begins our festival of the end of summer. We look back to Cuiviénen and forward to great challenges. May all find great joy and inspiration in sharing these rites." No small part of their challenges would be to allow their family, damaged and broken by strife, to continue to heal.
Maedhros tried to push the sleeping oath out of his mind. Perhaps if one were good enough, wise enough, and conscientious, he thought, its fulfillment might be delayed until it would cause no harm.
"Ah, yes," Fingon whispered to his brother. "No one knows how to make a three-day party sound dull like our father does."
By then the musicians had taken up a boisterous Sindarin dance tune, with the addition of a shawn, cymbals and tambourines, and Maglor picking up a rebec. A flock of giggling children, their hilarity contagious, burst into the Great Hall. All clad in identical short white chitons, only the little girls' long, loose hair distinguished them from the boys, who wore theirs shorter or braided, while nothing differentiated the Noldor from the Sindar. Tossing armfuls of bright and fragrant autumn flowers and the petals of the last of the roses into the air, they ran to form a circle around the periphery of the room. The scent of sweet autumn clematis filled the hall.
Idril, no longer a child but a young woman fully grown, led the ladies of Eithel Sirion into the hall, dancing, a golden princess, even lovelier than her mother and her grandmother, each of whom she resembled strongly. Maedhros thought she appeared totally Vanyarin, without a hint of her father's darker coloring and certainly none of his uncompromising sternness.
They twirled and dipped to the wild beat. The precision of their performance brought a surprising elegance to an ancient folkloric dance. Branches of the white clematis blossoms, with their dark glossy leaves, had been woven into crowns for the ladies' hair hanging loose over their shoulders and down their backs. Their long, diaphanous gowns of pale sarcenet fluttered and flowed with their movements, giving them the look of woodland sprites right out of the pages of a children's illustrated faerie story.
The music stopped and the dancers froze in place, as pretty a tableau as any Maedhros had seen, even in Tirion. The crowded hall broke in rapturous cheers. The musicians who had paused outside of the door entered with Maglor and Aredhel leading them, hands clasped and smiling. The entire crowd rose as one to applaud with renewed vigor. So far in the north, more warrior now than musician, Maglor was still considered a Noldorin treasure, and, fairly or unfairly, held above political differences or dissention. Maglor and Aredhel bowed again and again to the group of largely Sindarin players, as though to insist with great energy that their own parts had been negligible by comparison.
"Look at you, Russo. Handsome as ever. A sight for sore eyes," said Aredhel, who had hugged him hard enough to nearly crack a rib. "I need a drink," she announced with her usual glittering defiance. "And none of that swill that Atar calls mead. I want the white wine." A server appeared at her elbow with a decanter and filled her tumbler. "You marvelous lad, thank you!" She gave the boy a dazzling smile. "Would you have ever thought I would sing in public with the great Canafinwë Macalaurë Fëanárion? Did I make a fool of myself?"
Maglor laughed. "You were flawless. It was not exactly grand opera."
"You're laughing at me."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are!"
"Don't be silly," Maglor said. "You've always had a nice voice. Not a large one, but a very pretty one. And it was a great fun for me. I love singing with family."
She laughed. Before she could say anything more, Fingon interjected, "I think you should settle for that, little sister. No point in fishing for more. I do know how you feel though. I always felt that way singing with him, even in the back garden of the house of Fëanáro outside of Tirion. I certainly never had the courage to perform with him before hundreds."
"Let's not discuss your singing tonight, Finno," Maglor said. "What a waste of natural talent. He does have an outstanding voice." Aredhel wrinkled her nose at her brother. "A shame he always preferred horses or books."
While listening to Fingon, Maglor, and Aredhel talk nonsense about their singing, he realized that none of them had paid sufficient attention to Idril's outstanding contribution to the evening.
"Our youngest cousin certainly has a gift for dancing. Did you organize that entire presentation?" asked Maedhros.
"I did," Idril said. "We worked very hard. You should have seen us this afternoon. We were still getting tangled up in our skirts and falling all over one another. There were a few mistakes tonight. But I have been told that one should never point them out to one's audience."
"Wise advice," said Maglor.
"I'm sure you never make a mistake," Idril answered, flushing prettily.
"Oh, I do. But I'll never tell! The skill lies in the hiding of them."
Maedhros said, "Itarillë, your dance was outstanding. The entire ensemble looked perfect from where I sat. But you were particularly mesmerizing, such grace, such an appreciation of the music. I think we should call you Silverfoot."
He looked from Idril to her aunt. They were splendid, both of them, and neither of them with any of the simpering femininity that passed for female charm in some circles. Raven-haired and blonde, dark and bright, opposites. Aredhel was joyous in her impertinence, with an undercurrent of disappointment, and Idril deadly serious and knowing behind her cheerful innocence. He sensed a core of tempered steel in each of them. "What women this family produces," he said, exhaling deeply, thinking also of Galadriel.
He said and raised his cup, "A toast to the Noldorin princesses!"
Fingon danced with his niece, danced with his sister, and any maid of Eithel Sirion, whether old friend or stranger to him, who dared approach him. He needed a break and wanted to taste the wine that Aredhel had been praising all evening. He discovered it was a clear, crisp white wine from the vineyards in the foothills to south of them—Sindarin, but Turgon had taken an interest in the arbors and the wineries. Growing grapes and making wine here were new, but they had brought the expertise with them. The Sindar nearer to the coast were more open to new ideas and learning new skills than their brethren who lived farther inland and certainly than the reclusive Nandor. Aredhel was right about the white wine. It was excellent. He supposed that the honey mead, which he liked well enough but would not want to drink often, was an acquired taste.
Maedhros ambled over toward him, looking loose and relaxed. He held a mug of the mead.
"I love watching you dance," he said. "Your partners always look like they are having more fun than anyone else."
"I'm sure they are! Wanna dance with me?" he whispered into Maedhros' ear. "We'd be amazing together. Put the rest of these clodhoppers to shame." They smiled at one another, wistful bittersweet smiles. 'If only . . . ' Fingon thought. He remembered Maedhros dancing in Tirion and Formenos. He recalled how he loved to watch him also, when he had only been an admiring little cousin who had yet to question the nature of his utter obsession and fascination with Maedhros. "But you will have to dance with Irissë and Itarillë. Best to ask Irissë before she makes one of her scenes, claiming you are hiding from her."
They walked to where his sister and his niece stood talking to the Turgon and Erestor. Maedhros never one to procrastinate if something needed to be done, bowed to Aredhel. "Hold a dance for me, please. I've never danced with our youngest kinswoman. Let me partner her first." He kissed Aredhel on the hand.
"So dance! Don't make me have to look for you though." Aredhel answered.
As luck would have it, as soon as Maedhros had asked Idril to dance and she had accepted prettily, the musician began a rollicking Sindarin dance piece, the very melody and beat of it a tribute to mindless jollity. It was the kind of song that runs through one's head for a full day at a time unwilling to be driven out. Yet, still it was the kind of well-remembered tune that takes the listener in their mind to past celebrations, other partners, lost youth or young love, and fills a half-empty dance floor in an instant. The crowd immediately joined in clapping and singing—many too loud and tunelessly, but with great enthusiasm. Everyone knew the verses, which seemed to run on forever with only the slightest variations of language.
Dance to the piper;
Dance to the tune.
Dance with my darling
In the light of the moon.
Chase away sorrows.
Dance to bring joy.
Dance 'til your heart sings,
My brave and handsome boy.
Embarrassed as only the very young can be, Idril blushed so hard that the flush was even visible upon her scalp through her pale golden curls. "Oh, cousin, if you'd rather wait for a better song . . ."
Maedhros gave her his best courtly bow and said, "Quite the contrary, my dear. Findekáno or your aunt can tell you that I have danced to far sillier nonsense and survived or even enjoyed it. Let us show them how it should be done."
Maedhros extended his right hand, the false hand, true silver, exquisitely crafted and covered with curlicues and thingamajigs and a ridiculous number of those ubiquitous eight-pointed stars. The false hand had been balanced to perfection, the exact weight of the missing extremity. Curufin was an outstanding craftsman, and he knew the science and the mechanics of such work and so much more, but he never would be the artist that either his father or his mother was. Only Fingon knew the cost to Maedhros of displaying his loss so blatantly to such a lovely young girl. Grown men had been known to visibly shudder at the sight of it. But Idril, a true Finwëan, never short on courage herself, immediately placed her rosy hand upon the unyielding mechanism, and smiled brilliantly into his eyes.
And so they danced, his delightful niece and his one true love, while Fingon watched captivated. They indeed demonstrated how one should dance to a lively tune, as though one had known no sorrow in the past and expected nothing but carefree joy in the future. The Sindar knew something about life that his generation of the Noldor were only now learning—that life was fragile, tragic, and brief, but nonetheless achingly beautiful, and one must seize it and live it as one finds it, with honor and audacity, as hard as one can, for as long as it lasts.
Desperate to empty his bladder, Maedhros slipped out of the Great Hall and tried to remember where had seen a lavatory, there were two he recalled on this floor, with piped in water. The Sindar thought the plumbing from Tirion a marvel verging on magic. He loved to explain that the concepts were simple enough and particularly easy in this location for Fingolfin.
He discerned in the dim light of a distant torch a likely structure jutting out from the main wall. As he walked in that direction, he thought he detected movement in a shadowed alcove to the right of him. As he drew closer it became apparent that the small space was occupied by a couple of nearly equally height with their arms around one another's waists. At first he thought it was a man and woman, but upon nearer examination, he realized it was two men. He debated on whether to continue or not. Two men together was not entirely uncommon, but still carried a stigma, and their embarrassment at being caught in an unguarded moment would be greater.
He turned to retrace his steps, recalling, if his memory served him well, that there was another privy just beyond the double doors in the other direction. Then he heard the unmistakable stage whisper of Erestor, less sarcastic in tone and more earnest than usual. The sound froze Maedhros in place. Erestor really should know better, he thought.
". . . entitled to your opinion," he heard Erestor say. "But you weren't there. I was. They would have had to have followed the Kinslaying with patricide. Nelyafinwë could never have entertained that thought. Not to mention that I have no doubt the brothers would have been split. Not one of his brothers stepped aside with Nelyafinwë, but if he had acted . . . "
The other man said something in hurried hissing whisper that Maedhros could not understand and Erestor responded. "Who knows? Others stood waiting to see what he would do. Nelyafinwë had supporters among the followers of Fëanáro, perhaps even the majority, but not all. He could have spilt our people irreconcilably. He confronted his father verbally; there was an ugly argument. And then he stood aside. There would have been deaths and a lot of them. I cannot even bear to think of it. Think about it logically."
The other man said something which sounded angry.
Erestor continued in a reasonable tone. "If he had tried to physically stop his father it might have destroyed all of us. Not just our people, but yours as well. The ships would have burned despite who might have won that fight. Dozens of people throughout the crowd were holding torches. It doesn't take more than an unguarded instant and a single torch to set an unmanned ship ablaze. I learned that also on that night."
The voice that responded was still muffled and unintelligible. His tone, however was crystal clear. He wanted to argue. So much for Fingon's theory of his apolitical archer. This man sounded more like one of Turgon's men than a follower of Fingon. He was opinionated and clearly had engaged Erestor on a serious level—on the most perilous question there could be among the Noldor, the one that divided families, lovers, and lifelong friends.
Erestor began to speak again, his tone emotional but still determined. "My heart truly breaks for you. I understand loss. I lost three kings, Finwë, Fëanáro and Nelyafinwë. The last twice. He leads the vanguard now, with courage and intelligence, so, of course, I support him." His voice cracked, he cleared his throat and continued. Erestor was nothing if not persistent. "When I was not even of age, although close enough not be stopped, I left my parents in Valinor. They will never forgive me, even if in some other lifetime I return. Which I understand is highly unlikely, given the curse on all of us, you and yours as well as me. I had two half-grown sisters—pretty, funny, clever little girls—whom I loved more than I can say and who adored me. Still it's not the same, I know. I can hope my family is safe and happy. But I am alone also. I do understand that part."
The unidentified man—the horse archer?—began another spate of angry murmuring, only to have his words cut off by what could only have been a kiss. Someone's soft moan confirmed that suspicion.
The kiss broke the spell for Maedhros. His fascination had been with the politics, not Erestor's love life. He already had accidentally learned more about that in the past than he had ever wanted to know. As quietly and quickly as he could, he turned and walked in the other direction. Most people leaving the hall were departing in groups of two, three, or more, laughing and talking. Hopefully, Erestor and his companion would hear them before someone stumbled upon them. What was Erestor thinking? He had a room, albeit a small one, but it had a bed and a door that latched.
After finding the other lavatory and relieving himself, he returned to hall to immediately encounter Fingon.
"I was looking for you. Where were you?"
"I went to take a piss. All that mead went right through me."
"I'm ready to leave if you are." Fingon leaned over and whispered in his ear, "I'm dying to get you in bed."
In the hallway, on the way to the staircase that led to their room, not far from the alcove, now empty, where Erestor had been kissing his new lover, Maedhros pulled Fingon into his arms. "You don't smell like you did earlier, but you still smell very nice." The kiss was one of those long and lingering ones, intended to tease and promise.
"What did I smell like before?"
"My Káno, after a bath—the scent of bath oil and warm damp skin and something else that is just you."
"Smoke, mead, perspiration, and more of that unique Káno scent. I cannot tell which I like best. I suppose whichever I can smell when I know I'm about to fuck you."
"I see." Fingon grabbed his hand and pulled him down the hall after him, walking quickly. "What are we doing kissing in the corridor? One would think we didn't have a room."
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.