And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
-- by Seamus Heaney from The Spirit Level
Aredhel sat on the bed, yawning and leaning against the headboard. She watched Idril unfasten the girdle that cinched the waist of her gauzy gown and pull the garment over her head. The thin silken shift under her dress did nothing to hide her full hips, tiny waist, and small high breasts. It seemed only yesterday that her niece was a skinny coltish girl who tore about the settlement at Lake Mithrim, all long arms and legs, babbling of horses and stealing fruit tarts. When had she transformed into such a lovely young woman? Aredhel sighed. This is likely to be as close to having a daughter as I will ever get.
"I forgot to bring a nightgown with me to wear. Do you have one I can borrow?" She shrugged with a small self-deprecating smile. "If not, I can always sleep in my under shift."
"Don't be silly. Top drawer in the bottom of the wardrobe. Any one of those should be fine." Idril pulled out a pale blue gown and held it against her chest appreciatively before she put it on. Wonderful taste, Aredhel thought, she picks the finest one I have. Without asking, Idril began digging through the boxes and baskets of trinkets, jewelry, hair ties and the like on the dresser. "Do you have any hair pins?"
"In the little purple vase," Aredhel said.
"Found them!" Idril twisted her hair into a roll on the back of her head and inserted two or three long hairpins. "Oh, what is this?" she asked, holding up a ring.
"Can't see it from here."
"A large oval moonstone, set in silver with . . . "
"Ah. Yes. White gold. It would look beautiful on you. But I cannot part it with it. It was the first thing that Tyelkormo ever gave me. He made it for me. I was younger than you. A true token of his esteem, since he was no craftsman and must have struggled to produce it.
"I didn't expect you to give it to me. It's lovely." Her eyes were wide with curiosity, but, thankfully, she didn't ask for more of the story either. Idril knew her father disapproved of Aredhel's attachment to Celegorm. "You don't mind sharing your room with me this week, do you?" her niece asked instead, sounding as though she needed explicit verbal reassurance. "I wanted to give my room to Mistress Lhingwen and her husband from Lake Mithrim. She's is expecting a baby in half a year and has had a difficult first few months."
She gave Idril the encouraging smile that she clearly wanted. Only the Valar might be able to guess why. Surely the girl knew she adored her company. "For the tenth time, no! I love having you with me. Come here, child, put your head on my lap." Idril smiled and flopped down onto the bed, settling her head on Aredhel's thigh, sighing with contentment and closing her eyes. What skin, Aredhel thought, poreless as that of a child and just as pretty. She brushed the pale blond hair away from her face and kissed her on the forehead.
"Now, tell me, who was that handsome lad you danced with so many times? Isn't he one of Finno's men?"
"You mean the captain? The horse archer? That's Vorocanyon. He's charming. But I am not his type at all." She giggled. "He's an invert."
"The best dancers often are. And the most beautiful men too—look at Nelyafinwë and Findekáno. Right?"
"Oh, yes. They are so romantic." She looked up at Aredhel with dreamy eyes. "There should be songs about them. So handsome and such heroes."
Aredhel laughed. "I know their flaws well as I know my own. In the case of my brother, many of them are mine as well! Any song I wrote about them would be bawdy, silly, and complete nonsense. I do adore my brother and Russo. Calling their lives romantic might be a bit of stretch. But, I do understand what you mean. They are lovely together."
Idril twisted an escaping lock of hair around her finger, with a faraway look on her face. "The first I remember of cousin Russo was at Lake Mithrim. He was kind to me and taught me to ride a pony. He looked different then--thin and sad, frail and finely wrought, like an exquisite piece of porcelain. Yet he was always kind to me. I think I fell in love with him in the way that little girls yearn for the mysterious and unreachable. But he is so different now. He looked marvelous tonight and danced with me three times."
"Everyone looked grim, too thin and worn, those first days at Lake Mithrim," Aredhel said. Finding it unbearably painful to be reminded of what had happened to Maedhros, she feared that she must have sounded dismissive, but she had to speak of something else. "Finno looks better every time I see him also. He is in his element in Endórë. Always dashing off to fight monsters or find some monsters to fight, or whatever else it is that keeps him so busy. But even your father looked good tonight."
Idril frowned, looking pensive. "Atto left early."
"Turukáno always leaves any social gathering early. He nurses his grief, like a person who cannot stop picking at a scab. But he can take care of himself. You should worry about you!" Idril was such a good daughter. She unconditionally loved her damaged father and her mad old aunt.
"Life is so unfair," Aredhel said. "I don't mean to be harsh to your father. I know Turvo is lonely. He loved your mother very much. And his life has not been easy in recent years." Whose had? She wondered why she felt compelled to tell her niece these things, who had made no stupid mistakes yet, and showed every sign of being less spoiled and arrogant, more realistic, and better able to choose wisely than any of the rest of them. "But life should not be as hard for you, sweetness. Maybe you can learn from our mistakes. You are young and beautiful and everyone loves you."
"You are, too, and greatly loved."
"Don't make me laugh! I'm getting older every year and am generally considered a pain in the backside. Truly, I have no serious complaints. I do what I want. Right now, I want to hear more about your evening. So, you did not see any young men you might like? The castle is filled with visitors."
"Ha! Loads of visitors, but no one for me." Idril lifted her chin up and wrinkled her nose. "I received the full lecture from Atar before they even began to arrive." Idril released a mordant laugh. Her father kept her on a short lease.
But, as far as she Aredhel could tell, her niece was not looking for romance yet. At Idril's age, she had been captivated by the lads, and enamored with Celegorm. Her obsession was more likely than not due to having spent an inordinate amount of time in those years in the company of young men, particularly those of the Fëanorian variety, with their irrepressible love of life, and excess of confidence and entitlement. She thought that even Maedhros, the most moderate among the brothers, manifested those characteristics. Even after torture and captivity, he had survived with a formidable sense of self intact. He had given her father his crown and did not appear to feel the slightest bit diminished by its loss.
But Tyelkormo! Fëanor's third son had been a handsome lad, eye-catching among a stable of handsome lads. With all of that dark gold hair, almost amber, like honey made from clover blossoms, and that wide endearing smile of his, she could never look away from him. They had both been wild and reckless, a good match at that point in their lives. Their affection for one another had outlasted their physical relationship.
Idril continued, "Can you just imagine Atto if I developed an interest in someone from Himring Hill?"
Aredhel joined her in laughing. "Far too easily, sweetheart! I love imagining that. He would probably burst a blood vessel in his head. But I noticed he was not tracking your every movement tonight. He talked a lot with everyone. Well, a lot for him. No matter who they were or where they came from."
"I think he's happy because of his plan," Idril said. "He needs to leave here. Running errands for Haru and following directions is not for him."
"Ai!" Aredhel clapped her hand over her mouth. "The evening was so long I almost forgot I hadn't told you yet! He asked me to come with him, exactly like I said I thought he would. He finally told me about it after supper. He wanted an immediate response, as though he would be leaving tomorrow, when it's likely to be months and months. I promised under duress that I would give him my answer later this week. So have you thought about it more? Do you want me to come with you? I'd only do it for you, Itarillë. No one else."
"Oh! Would you? You could always leave again later if you don't like it. Come back here to visit. Or make trips to see Uncle Finno. He'd probably let you chase around the mountains and plains with him. You could still see Cousin Tyelkormo, every now and then, like you do now. I only want a little help settling in at the beginning. Am I selfish to ask you?"
"Darling, girl. You're the farthest thing from selfish. You never ask anything for yourself. Might be a pleasant change for me as well," she said, while thinking she might as well resign herself to celibacy. Turgon would know everything she did, who she saw, how often, and for how long. But she could never leave Idril as long her niece felt she needed her and, anyway, Turgon really needed her and her father did not. "A beautiful castle by the sea. A new start. Maybe we could have boats? What did he say this place is called? Nevrast. That has a nice sound to it."
"Thank you! Thank you!" Idril sat up hastily, just missing hitting Aredhel in the chin with her head. "I love you so much," she squealed, giving her a fierce hug. "You are much too good to me. I promise you that the minute you decide it isn't for you, or if you are not happy for any reason, I will not try to keep you. Only for a short while."
"Fine, then. It's settled. I will not wait. I will tell Turvo tomorrow. Now, we should get some rest. It is going to be a busy few days."
Fingon awakened to the familiar morning bustle of the castle. It took a small army to run a fortress like Barad Eithel and, during holidays like this, probably twice that many. The conversations, largely in Sindarin, of housemaids, cooks, and other servants drifted in through their windows. The mewling chorus of the castle cats announced the return of the milkmaids with their pails full to overflowing. People had retired late the night before, so it was no longer early morning and well past the time when everyone would usually be up and about.
The family rooms and guest chambers of the castle each had several windows, with strong shutters on the inside. He and Maedhros had slept with their windows flung wide open, deliciously warm and cozy within the chilly room, under heavy covers and snug in one another's arms. Now they had fresh air and the sounds of morning to awaken them. Underlying the aroma of newly baked bread and bacon cooking, he detected the unmistakable scent of autumn in the air. The sun casting its light upon the stone tiles of the floor promised a golden day.
He should have awakened Maedhros, but he looked so peaceful, mouth soft and vulnerable, his dark lashes heavy against his cheeks. He slipped into a silk dressing gown, which, after so many days on the road, felt luxurious, almost decadent. His father and Turgon were accustomed to living this way. He could be too; he had been once--comfortable, looked after, rarely without the opportunity for a hot bath, anything one could want to eat or drink merely a bell's pull away. But he did not regret his choices, which meant traveling much of the time. Somehow it suited him better.
Someone knocked on the door into the hallway, probably with their morning tea. He hoped they brought white bread with butter and jam, perhaps a little fruit. Wrapping the robe more closely around him and tying the sash, he walked toward the door to unlatch it.
Erestor spoke, his voice only slightly muffled by the door, "Are you decent? I've brought some food." Fingon recognized the tone, eager and cheerful, which meant that Erestor was bursting to share something.
"You are certainly welcome," he said in a low voice, opening the door. "But Maitimo is still asleep, although he really should wake up."
Erestor pushed by him with a cocky smile. "I don't mind walking in on him. I have seen him in every imaginable state of awake, asleep, and undressed."
"Actually, I am awake and starving," Maedhros said, looking well indeed, flushed with sleep, bare of chest, with that huge mane of tousled hair. "Bacon and toasted bread with cheese and a bowl of apples. See, why I tolerate him? He is simply the best. Would you mind handing me one of your housecoats, Káno?"
The three of them settled themselves at the small but serviceable table in front of the window and dug in. The bacon had disappeared and the bread basket was half empty before Fingon addressed Erestor's barely suppressed excitement. "It's obvious that you have something you want to tell us. So, what happened last night? I noticed that Vorocanyon was still dancing with my niece long after you had left—very early I might note. "
"It's not about that. Although I did spend last night with someone. Not here in that little closet!" He made a comical shrug, pointing over his shoulder in the direction of the door to the dressing room. "He had a place of his own."
Maedhros pulled his eyebrows together and frowned, in an unconvincing attempt at looking severe. "You could have been assigned a bunk in the barracks, or asked to sleep on a mat in the Great Hall with the youngest of the Sindarin servers."
"Stop it! Of course I am grateful to have a bed, especially one with fine sheets, warm blankets, and a down mattress up here in the hallowed halls of the family! Just noting that the room itself is a glorified wardrobe. And please do not give my little room to anyone else! I might not be as fortunate again as I was last night.
"Anyway, that is not what I wanted to talk about. I have some rich gossip. You'll find out soon enough, but I thought you might like some time to absorb it before you are officially told." He prattled on as though he were communicating a not particularly significant piece of hearsay. Fingon, however, knew that Erestor could be crazy like a fox. He paused dramatically, looking from Fingon to Maedhros. "I heard that Prince Turukáno is taking a huge number of people—Noldor and Sindar—and moving quite a long distance down the coast. He is going to found a community there. Build a big castle."
"That is news," Maedhros said, his voice sounded flat, and strangely without inflection. His face had turned pale, causing his sprinkling of freckles to stand out in stark relief across his cheekbones. "And not good news, I think. Although, I suppose, not entirely unexpected. I can almost imagine his arguments." He turned to Fingon, who felt his face burning with outrage. "Had you heard anything about this?"
"Not a word, but then I've have not been here much since the last winter. He has always blathered on about the first line of defense being in the north but how there is a need for a fall back further south, with access to the sea. Where he thinks those survivors might sail has always been a mystery to me. We've argued about that."
Maedhros shook his cascade of curls, red as fire in the late morning sunlight. "I'm speechless at the moment. I need to a few hours to think about it."
"So," Erestor said, self-satisfied, "I was right to tell you. Now you can think about it, before Turukáno presents it to you as an accomplished fact. Not to take the side of the waverers, but there is a place for front lines and a rear, where there are reserve supplies and shelter for refuges . . . whatever . . . "
"You think so, do you?" Fingon snarled at him with a vengeance that made Erestor jump. "I am not sure that is my brother's true motive. It sounds a lot like cowardice . . . or despair to me."
"Enough!" Maedhros snapped. "Do not say things you will regret. I want to think more about it and hear his arguments." Fingon imagined that he must look absolutely belligerent and tried to rein in his emotions. Maedhros looked calm but dangerous, his face still white and his posture suddenly stiff and erect.
Taking a deep breath, visibly forcing himself to release some of the physical tension, Maedhros added in a softer voice. "I'd like to hear what your father says also. It will be his forces which will be most depleted. Eressetor, do you know what is meant by 'huge'? Did you hear numbers or percentages?"
"I heard perhaps a third of the people from Eithel Sirion and the surrounding area, with the possibility of calling for volunteers from Dor-lómin and around Lake Mithrim to follow them."
"Over my dead body!" said Fingon.
"That does quite profligate!" Maedhros snorted, not amused. "Really, Káno, settle down. I presume we'll hear all about it soon enough, won't we? Who told you all of this, Eressetor?"
Erestor covered a startled look with an affected simper, "Well, I really am not at liberty to say. You will have to trust me when I tell you that it is someone who is in a position to know all about it."
"Why can't you tell?" Fingon asked, clenching his fists and jutting his chin out. Not many people besides Maedhros ever saw him like this. Erestor visibly shrank back.
"Well, because promised I would not tell," Erestor said, with a false quaver in his voice. Maedhros released another scornful laugh at the bid for pity. Well, he could at least try to laugh; he was more used to Erestor's antics and tolerated them better.
"Flaming Pits of Utumno!" Fingon grumbled, gaining some control of his temper with great effort. Whoever had told Erestor this tale, was, no doubt, someone high in the confidence of his brother and his father. It was not fair to take his ire out on Erestor alone.
"I could tell you now who told me, but that would break a confidence, which makes no sense to me when you will likely know everything in a few hours. I just was trying to give you some advance notice, so you could consider your response to it."
"Fine," sighed Fingon. It did not matter who told Erestor. What mattered was his daft brother and his alarming attitudes. The disagreement was an old one, but Fingon had not considered it settled. One had to fight as though one expected to win. To draw farther and farther away from Morgoth's stronghold, seemed to him to be an admission that they never imagined they could actually defeat him and would simply continue to drop back until there was no place left to go.
"I presume my friend might have expected I would tell you about the new settlement, but I know he does not want anyone to know about him sleeping with me last night. He specifically requested that I not mention that."
"So, never mind," said Maedhros, impatient before again reining in his temper. "But thank you for the information."
Subdued for once, Erestor gathered up the remains of their breakfast without speaking, while Maedhros, long legs stretched out before him, lounged in his chair, looking out the window in silence.
Fingon tried not to fume. When Erestor left to take the dishes back to the kitchen, he could no longer hold back. "I knew this was coming. I fucking knew this was coming. I refused to allow myself to consider it."
"We're probably overreacting. It's not like we ever see Turukáno," said Maedhros. He did not sound the least convincing or convinced to Fingon. Turgon's presence with Fingolfin at Barad Eithel allowed Fingon the liberty he needed to oversee the vast territory of the plains of Dor-Lómin, from the mountains to the shadows of Thangorodrim. Between the two of them they took responsibility for the line of defense stretched east to west looking north, assuming that Fingolfin and Turgon had their back.
"It is our arses on the frontline, while he sits back, well out of harm's way, and decides we will probably never need reinforcement," snarled Fingon. "But a third of Atar's people?"
"Or significantly more. We do not know yet. Well, Eressetor was right. I would not have wanted you to carry on like this in front of your father and your brother. You at least have a chance to get a grip on yourself before we are forced to discuss it."
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.