5. Love Is Never Easy
The morning passed slowly for Maedhros. After more than an hour of pointless discussion, peppered with several of Fingon's flare-ups of annoyance against what he saw as the perfidious lack of judgment on the part of his younger brother, Maedhros finally decided to flee the confinement of their chambers. He shut the door behind him laughing, leaving a half-dressed Fingon flinging reproach at him in the absence of his real target.
Years later, Maedhros would look back on that week of Summer's End celebrations as an idyllic interlude in a period of peace that would last longer than either he or Fingon had ever expected it would. Certainly, the interlude at Barad Eithel was replete with the usual family drama and comedy interspersed with unresolved political and military disputes, differences of tactics and strategies. But in retrospect most of those altercations, even the ones relating to Turgon's proposed departure from the area of Eithel Sirion to go to Nevrast, by the sea, paled in comparison to coming challenges.
But on that crisp fall morning, he needed to be outside and to give himself a little space away from Fingon's temper. Even when he was not the object of his love's ire, he hated to be around Fingon when he was that irritated. Maedhros decided to walk off his disquiet and take a look around the keep. Finally, venturing outside of the castle wall, he was able to appreciate the full beauty of the day, and leave off worrying about Fingon and Turgon and stop dreading that the entire visit might be marred by the usual Nolofinwëan family contentions. At least it was quieter than strife among his siblings, he thought. Fingon would not confront Turgon with nearly unforgiveable taunts the way some of his brothers had been known to do among themselves and with others.
There was no way to know as he sat on the grass looking down on the practice fields, that Fingon, wroth with the idea of his brother's proposal when he had left him, would wear out his anger so quickly. He and Fingon approached the future differently. Fingon nurtured expectations of success and became annoyed when his best laid projections seemed to slip from his control, while Maedhros, actually more pessimistic, always clung to an amorphous sense of hope by his fingernails, anything short of total disaster could be tolerated and plans could always be reassessed.
At one end of a grass-covered enclosure on the north side of the castle, a permanent space had been reserved for archery practice. The entire series of rows of butts, mounds made of mud and straw, each holding a target, were in full use that day.
Archers milled about behind the lines, talking and laughing, awaiting their turns. Most had hoped to squeeze in a little extra training in order to comport themselves well in the following day's hunt. At the far end, a few of the more expert bowmen practiced individually, their emphasis upon speed. Nearer to Maedhros, younger archers, assisted by a teacher, paid close attention to the familiar commands, shouted in Sindarin: "Ready your bows! Nock. Mark. Draw. Loose."
He did not see any of Fingon's famed horse archers. They did not use the elegant long bows of the Sindar, but their own shorter recurve bows. He speculated they had different training methods or, like their intrepid lord, were so cocky that a holiday excursion would not inspire them to seek extra practice time. After all, they were the true experts, at least by their own assessment.
Maedhros had hoped to find a partner for a bit of swordsplay, but spied no likely candidates. He did not feel like an encounter with a stranger, suffering first the reluctance on their part to fully engage the cripple, and then enduring their embarrassment and awe later at how terribly proficient he had become with his left hand. Actually, well beyond proficient, he thought he might be better with the left now than he had ever been with the right. How did Maglor put it? What others call talent or even genius is ninety percent hard work.
He flopped down upon the grass and observed the activity with mild interest, his stomach rumbling. Despite their ample breakfast, he was ready to eat again. He had barely made himself comfortable when Fingon found him. A repentant shrug, followed by a sweet smile, was more than enough of an apology.
"Don't run away again, please," Fingon said. "I've brought a peace offering." He extended a linen-wrapped bundle. Taking it, Maedhros felt its warmth and discerned the aroma of freshly baked bread and roast pork. He unwrapped it to find two large servings of spiced pulled-pork between thick slices of crusty bread.
"Just enough to tide us over," Fingon continued. "It's catch as can catch for the midday meal today—except for the children, of course—but an early supper in the big hall before the bonfire."
"Offer accepted, with gratitude. I'm starving." As soon as he could chew and swallow a large mouthful he asked, "So, are you over your temper fit?"
"I've worked it out of my system and am done with it for now," he said. "I am not going to quarrel with him or try to change his mind. What do you think?"
Surprised, Maedhros studied Fingon's face for the cause of his sudden change of heart. "When did you find the time to speak with Turvo?"
"I have not. But I thought about it more after you left. I'm ready to accept that there is nothing we can say or do which will make any difference to him. But I could easily cause ill feeling between us, which might be hard to disperse, if I confront him in anger." Fingon's tone was grave, although Maedhros could detect barely suppressed laughter glinting in his eyes. "I know my hard-headed brother."
Drawing a long breath, Maedhros could feel his own tension dissolving. Fingon might allow passion to overcome him for a moment, but, in general, he did exercise good judgment, except perhaps where Maedhros himself was concerned.
"I must admit I am relieved. The last thing we need is to alienate Turukáno. Someday we may desperately need him and his forces. And if that day comes, we must hope he will answer our call. He might be the reinforcement that wins us a battle, after we have all but worn ourselves out."
"There is that. And then there is the fact that he is my brother. We have lost so much. I'm not sure I'm ready to let go of my only brother. Whereas, you on the other hand . . . " He grinned at Maedhros, although serious underneath.
"Ah, of course. I have so many brothers myself, that one or two less, here or there, doesn't really mean much." He smirked back at Fingon, who laughed, thinking that he and his brothers did fight more, in part because they were closer than Fingon and Turgon and did not fear any permanent estrangement.
"So, I have your approval?"
"Of course. You do not have to pick fights with your brother on my behalf. Like you said, he is your brother. You know better than anyone how to handle him," Maedhros answered. "No rupture with Turvo for now. I hope never. I'm glad for you and relieved for us all. We will factor the new situation into our future plans. I predict that the places left here by those who follow him will be filled in no time at all. People live well in the shadow of your father's castle. And the Sindar in this area have been swift to seek alliances, despite Thingol's not well-concealed mistrust of the Noldor."
"Turvo will be surprised, won't he?" asked Fingon. "I am sure he is expecting a row or he would not be dithering and would have told us already. Let him go and plant his grape vines, or build ships, or construct the most elegant castle in Endórë, or whatever it is he means to do. It really does sound like some children's fantasy story: 'And brave Prince Turvo built a beautiful castle overlooking a sun-dappled sea and his fair people danced and sang the nights away drinking the sparkling wine of his fertile vineyards.' Seriously! He always gets what he wants, doesn't he?"
"Káno, I cannot even presume to imagine how he thinks. He lost his wife; he has a young daughter to protect. My decisions are made under circumstances totally unlike those he has to consider."
"Sorry," Fingon said. "I suppose we all do the best we can. Turvo is not a craven either, but he is conservative. He has nothing of the pugnacious warrior in him, does he?"
Maedhros kept to himself that he had never viewed Fingon as eager for war either, but unlike his younger brother he was motivated by an unflagging sense of duty and ever cognizant of the peril of underrating the menace to the north of them. If threats had seemed to diminish in recent years, it had not been due to any softening of the Dark Lord's evil purpose, but a result of their watchful readiness to defend their people. Not to mention that he must be preparing all manner of horrors for future confrontations. The Noldor could do nothing less than continue to extend their influence outward, recruit new forces, and keep them battle ready.
The grass had begun to turn wet under Maedhros' bottom, but the sun burned hot upon the top of his head. Fingon looked excellent in dark blue with his hair loosely pulled back into one long heavy horse tale, no braids at all. He had the magnificent dark straight hair of Finwë, Fëanor, and Fingolfin.
"This pork is delicious. Atar keeps an excellent kitchen staff. Do you have enough?"
"I ate more than I needed. I was hungry when you brought it and devoured mine in a few bites."
A cheer rose up from the far-end of the archery butts. They both looked up to see what had happened. Erestor was doing a ridiculous victory dance. He must have hit a bull's eye. Turgon, of all people, was pounding him on the back in congratulations.
The clamor at the end of field died down and Aredhel inserted herself between her brother and Erestor to give him a quick hug, more like that of a comrade-in-arms than a maiden with a knight. She was replaced by a shorter blond maid, clad also in practice garb, with a much more girlish manner, she threw her arms around his neck before drawing back to take his face in her hands, laughing and tossing her golden curls. It was Idril he realized. Well, at least Turgon had nothing to fear from the object of her lively show of affection.
The four of them, Erestor, Aredhel, Idril and Turgon, left the playing field together. Laughing and talking to one another as though they were the best of friends. Erestor had a talent for making unlikely friends. He rarely had seen Fingon's brother looking so lively and relaxed.
"She reminds me of her mother," Maedhros said.
"Itarillë? Don't let that sweet face fool you. She is a Finwëan through and through. She has my nerve, Turukáno's caution, grandfather's ability to influence others, and the kind of practical intelligence most often found on your side of the family."
"Hmm. I'll remember that. Oh, she might also have just a touch of your sister's hoydenism."
"True. But she is cleverer than Irissë in that she has the ability to control herself when she wishes." The smile on Fingon's face vanished, leaving a haunted look that passed away in an instant.
"Are you sorry that you followed me?" Maedhros asked. "If you had not Turukáno would not have come and brought Elenwë and Itarillë with him."
"No. But I actually did not follow you, but Atar," he flashed a grin at Maedhros. "Although I might have chased after you anyway even if he had not come."
"I am happy you came. Despite everything." He wished to could reach out and touch him. He almost certainly would have at Himring, but never at Barad Eithel. Discretion is a small price to pay to be with him here.
Fingon elbowed him and pointed downhill. "Looks like they are walking this way now."
Aredhel had linked arms with Erestor on the one side and her brother on the other. Idril skipped in front of them turning back to shoot some funny or clever remark behind her which caused the others to laugh. Some thought nagged at the back of Maedhros' mind which he almost but could not frame.
"Mind if we join you?" Turgon called out.
"Please do," said Fingon. "But I should warn you that the ground is sodden."
"The grass looks dry here on the hillside in the sun," Aredhel said.
"Well. It might look dry," Maedhros added. "But trust me, the seat of my pants are soaking wet now."
"No matter." Turgon flopped himself onto the grass with an uncharacteristic lack of concern and a wry smile, also unusual for him. "We all have to change for dinner shortly. Early tonight. So we can start the bonfire as soon as the sun goes down. It's getting dark earlier every day now."
Idril did not follow her aunt and father up the shallow incline. She hovered near the bottom gazing at a group of youngsters who had begun an impromptu concert. A lad had pulled out a wooden flute and begun a simple dance tune. Another boy joined him with a tabor. They had not the skill of the entertainers in Fingolfin's hall the night before, but equaled or surpassed them in enthusiasm. A few maids joined their circle and they began a lively circle dance. Idril turned to face her kinsman and ran up the hillside. She dumped her bow and quiver into Fingon's lap, and began pulling at the laces on her vambraces.
"You don't mind do you, Uncle? I want to dance."
"And would it matter if I did, sweetheart?"
"Don't be silly! Thank you!"
The tallest of a laughing group of lads, who appeared barely of age, if that, broke away from his friends and approached.
"My lords. My ladies," he said bowing deeply from the waist. "I hope you do not mind, if I borrow the Lady Idril for a while." Deep dimples showed on both sides of his mouth when he smiled directly at her.
Turgon nodded and grunted inelegantly in the affirmative.
"Thank you, Atto," she chirped.
The young man extended his arm to her, which she grabbed, half dragging him down the hill after her to join the merrymakers.
Maedhros thought that he made a handsome partner for her, long-legged, lithe, but with a broad chest and strong arms. His raven hair had been braided close to his head in warrior braids reminiscent of those that Fingon liked to wear in full armor.
"Is that the same young fellow who was giving such good advice to Itarillë at the archery butts earlier?" Erestor asked.
Turgon shrugged again in an unconvincing gesture of dismissiveness. "That's him all right. Dolduin. A Sindarin youngster whose family followed us here from Lake Mithrim. He is no one to worry about. His father is a good man, one of Atar's bean counters, in charge of military provisions. He's ambitious so he keeps both of his sons on a tight leash. The boy would not think to look above his station."
"Above his station!" Fingon choked, shaking his head in annoyance.
Aredhel clapped her hand over her mouth pretending she tried to suppress a noisy chortle. "Oh, please, Turvo. No one is worried but you. The girl likes to dance."
"I'm not worried," he insisted.
"In fact," Fingon snapped, "the sky is the limit for Dolduin. He is the youngest of my horse archers and one of the best already. He is barely of age and I expect he will be able to lead a company sooner rather than later."
"Whoops! Sorry, I asked," said Erestor.
Fingon had finally offered to spar with Maedhros and they drew an interested crowd. It felt more like a lesson or demonstration than an actual match. With so many people watching, it evolved into a routine of defensive and offensive moves that one might use when a right-handed swordsman encounters a lefty. Finally they ambled back to castle to clean up for supper. The air had turned chilly and Maedhros welcomed the thought of a warm hall with supper waiting.