6. Forgive Us Our Trespasses
The last rays of the afternoon sun shining through stained glass panels cast rainbow patterns onto the white-linen covered tables of the great hall. Fingolfin had spared no expense in Barad Eithel in his attempt to maintain standards of elegance, which, in Maedhros' eyes, made Himring Castle seem a crude frontier outpost by comparison.
Everyone looked beautiful to Maedhros that evening, especially Fingon clad in midnight blue velvet, as rich and dark as the blue of his expressive eyes. Confident and relaxed, his beloved's cheeks glowed from the heat of the hall or the potent mead they drank at the encouragement of his uncle. Fingolfin had been right. The bittersweet honey flavor of the mead with its hint of spices was growing on Maedhros.
Maglor stopped before taking his place on the dais. His eyes, intent and watchful, darted around the great hall as he laughed at something Fingon said. He looked distracted, no doubt half of his mind on politics and the other yearning to find the bright young Sindarin flautist with whom he had played the night before. Maglor collected musicians like others might collect jewels. 'He must know the names of half the players in Beleriand by now,' Maedhros thought, 'the ones outside of the borders of Doriath anyway.'
Hopefully Fingolfin would not mind that Maglor and his cousins ignored protocol and completely scrambled the seating arrangements at the head table for their early supper. Fingon had seated himself next to Maedhros, which left the chair on the other side of Fingolfin vacant. Turgon rushed to fill the place next to his father which was intended for his eldest son and heir. Aredhel then insisted that Erestor sit between her and Turgon in what might have been Idril's chair.
Meanwhile, Idril came up behind her Uncle Fingon and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, kissing him on the check. "Thank you, scamp," Fingon said, turning his head to give her a kiss in return. "To what do I owe this unexpected burst of affection?"
"You know I love you best in all the world!" she protested.
"That's what you tell everyone," Fingon teased.
"Is not. Well, I'm going to sit next to my favorite uncle, since Eressetor took my place."
"I'm happy to have you," he said, playfully yanking on a golden braid, laced with a string of tiny pink silk roses. "But this one would be Macalaurë's chair."
"Then he will have to take the only seat left, won't he?" she said, with a tinkling laugh.
"Serves him right," said Maedhros. "Although I doubt that he will mind at all."
The supper, in contrast to the night before, was a simple meal—hearty beef and bacon pie, accompanied by vinegar-wilted spinach garnished with apple and nuts. As always, there was warm crusty bread served with fresh butter and honey. The focus of that evening was not the feasting, however, but the great bonfire which would be set alight on a sandy stretch of the river bank a short walk downhill from the south end of the castle.
Fingolfin entered the hall, regal and authoritative in carriage, looking calm and handsome, younger and more confident than he had last appeared in Tirion. Maedhros sighed to think that the absence of his own father had allowed his uncle to expand, to come into his own here, a sad commentary upon the relationship between Finwë's eldest sons.
While the assembled diners finished their last course of sweet pastries, fruit, and cheese, Fingolfin rose to his feet. Broad-shouldered like Finwë, he looked kingly and commanding, his raven hair loose and flowing over the shoulders of his purple robe, his movement gaining the immediate attention of the entire hall.
He launched without introduction or formality into an unnecessarily detailed review of the history of the Sindarin practice of Summer's End bonfires. Fingolfin explained the accompanying tradition of repentance and casting aside of past disappointments and grievances. The Sindarin element in the hall seemed to accept with equanimity--and perhaps a little humor manifested by the occasional cheeky grin or an exchange of glances--the typical Noldorin complications which had been added of late to their historic practice.
Each individual was to write out, in a fair hand, and throw into a large basket, an unsigned list of their faults, transgressions, or regrets of the past year. Then a few randomly chosen participants would draw someone else's sins to read to the company. After listening to a sampling of these lists, those who had come together for the Summer's End rites were obliged to accept the frailties and trespasses of all and forgive them. As each list was thrown onto the bonfire and consumed, the belief was that every contributor had been forgiven by their comrades and the All Father as well.
Fingolfin with his typical penchant for order and organization had ensured there would be scribes, sworn to secrecy, of course, scattered amongst the company, to write out a list for anyone who wished to share in that aspect of the ceremony and did not write, or not well. Legibility was important. Since any one of the notes might be drawn to be read aloud.
Fingon leaned over and whispered to Maedhros and Maglor, "One should be grateful not to have to stand up and confess one's transgressions publicly in front of everyone as their forefathers did before the arising of the Sun. But still, despite the changes, the Sindarin belief is that the protestations must be true and honest for the forgiveness to be ensured and the new start to be genuine."
Erestor interjected, "And if one has no regret for one's transgressions, is one required to write them down anyway?"
Turgon snorted at that. "Nobody is required to do anything, Eressetor. It is an entirely personal matter between oneself and one's conscience."
"Ah, I see. So, will you be writing anything down this year?" Erestor asked with a flirtatious lilt to his voice. Maedhros could barely believe his squire was teasing stiff-necked Turgon of all people.
"Not this year," Turgon drawled, giving Erestor a sweet, innocent smile.
Fingolfin continued with his explanation in a strong, clear voice, although not entirely lacking in humor in certain parts—a far cry from the tightly wound, stiff, second son whom Maedhros remembered.
He tapped into the simple ethos of the Sindarin mythology behind the practice with evident sincerity—the value of recognition of past mistakes, admission of guilt, and the expectation of forgiveness by one's peers. First, Maedhros thought it could be seen as opportunistic in the utmost on the part of the Noldorin participants. Despite any rumors, the events surrounding their departure from Aman were not public knowledge. Then, for an instant, Maedhros almost wished that he could believe that all could be forgiven so easily.
Still, he approved of the Sindarin belief system which acknowledged the flawed nature of man and made allowance for forgiveness. Meanwhile, the Amanyarin traditional mores rested upon an expectation of perfection and, therefore, were far stingier at granting redemption for the fallen.
But then none of the Sindar in Endórë had ever, as he had, squirmed as a child under Namo's cold, pitiless eye on the few occasions when the Lord of Mandos chose to present himself at a public gathering. Most of the Moriquendi did not even believe in the existence of the Halls of Mandos or the possibility of being granted re-embodiment, much less denied it. Death was final or at most anything that followed death was unknown and unknowable.
A sudden fierce love for this world, still so new to him, swept over Maedhros. He loved the intoxicating scent of wild flowers in early spring in the highlands following a long winter, the sweetish scent of the rot of leaf mold in the autumn, and the harsh, clean sting of a sudden deep breath taken after the first snowfall on the frozen slopes of Himring. Every joy and heartbreak in Endórë felt keener and truer than it ever had in Valinor. Yet, to think too long of the enveloping warmth and tree-lit days of his youth, so full of aspirations and hopes, still could cause him to swallow hard with a flash of grief as sharp as the thrust of a sword.
"We ask forgiveness and protection of the One tonight," his uncle intoned, "as well as acceptance by our community, the tolerance and fellowship of our friends and helpmates. By offering to participate in the ritual, we each also agree to leave past wrongs behind us, our own and those of our brethren, and to start again."
Fingolfin's audience listened politely, neither fidgeting in boredom nor with any evidence of rapt excitement. This was not new information to the majority. But Maedhros found it interesting that Barad Eithel was already settling into its own unique hybrid traditions. Himring reminded him culturally a lot of Formenos, but with a more unified, mayhap somewhat desperate, sense of purpose. He also had fewer Sindar on the Hill, although his brothers' newly formed realms held more diverse populations, similar to Barad Eithel.
"It's good to travel. Get out and about more," Maedhros mumbled to Fingon.
"See how others do things? Indeed." Fingon waggled his eyebrows, jabbing him in the ribs, while making a choking sound, something between a chortle and a grunt of insincere pomposity, assuming that Maedhros was making fun of his father. He was not.
Erestor caught his eye and grinned, as though pleased with himself for some reason that Maedhros could not discern. Guilt or the need for pardon did not play a noticeable role in Erestor's internal life. The crucible of Erestor's adolescence—that of an androgynous-appearing young man with an attraction to other men. Growing up among the Noldor, who all too often overvalued an obvious masculinity, could not have been easy. Even worse, Noldorin values encompassed the ideal that each man should early in life acquire a capable wife who would bear him beautiful children. The farthest thing from a cynic, Erestorhad rejected bitterness or detached sacrifice and acquired an admirable self-acceptance along with a tolerance of those around him.
Maedhros might be less comfortable with himself and his fate, still he did not walk around carrying a heavy burden of guilt either. He did regret the oath, for a myriad of different reasons, not all of them altruistic. But he did not absolve his elders for their role in the exodus and the inhumanity which accompanied it.
Unlike his father he did not rail in his heart against the Valar, but he judged that they had failed in duties and obligations implicit in their demand for the loyalty and obeisance of the Eldar. While accepting full responsibility for his own actions, Maedhros never narrowly parsed who did what, when, or where, or first. The Noldor had entered into this venture as a people, with only a tiny minority who held back.
Fingolfin's close followers also, whether they bloodied a sword at Alqualondë or not, shared the culpability with the most intransigent followers of Fëanor for what had come to pass. The guilt of the Noldor was a collective one, as had been their pronounced doom.
"Thinking about your sins again, my love?" Fingon whispered in his ear.
"Fuck you," Maedhros teased, feeling pleasantly tipsy and squeezing Fingon's thigh beneath the tablecloth.
"He's almost finished. Atar does love to hear himself talk at times."
"Shh," Maglor hissed. He had finally gladly taken his place next to their pretty cousin. Idril looked happy also.
"We celebrate the harvest," Fingolfin continued, "the fruits of Yavanna and the passing of the season of growth and blooming. Now, shorter days and a dimming of the brightness of the sun are upon us again, a time of contemplation. As seeds must lie fallow in order to burst into flower with the return of the light, so we also must rest and govern our minds and nurture our spirits throughout the coming winter."
"I don't know if that is blasphemy or not," whispered Fingon. "But we are no strangers to heresy. And the Sindar are not greatly troubled by any received belief system. They are not even sure the Valar exist. Listen and learn. For all our supposed learning, we're no great experts either. Blinded by the light in Valinor and now forced to endure, unprepared, cold and darkness here, what do we really know?"
Maedhros thought of saying that some things could be proven, but decided against it. He only chuckled at the unphilosophically-inclined Fingon winding himself up and glanced at Turgon. Fingon's brother sat with his eyes cast down, perhaps in reverence. But Maedhros expected that he found it hard to let go of his resentment always smoldering near the surface, threatening to burst into flame at the slightest real or imagined provocation against him from the Fëanorian side.
But he does not resent all of us equally, Maedhros thought. Turgon might have forgiven him for Fingon's sake were it not that he bore the leadership of Fëanor's House and the substantial minority of the Noldor who remained stubbornly loyal to the Fëanorians. It seemed likely to Maedhros that Turgon had forgiven Maglor at various points in the recent past. But every time Maglor was called upon to sing parts of his ongoing epic "Song of Our People," it reopened wounds for Turgon. It was not in Turgon's temperament to accept any sort of peace which allowed an understanding that there could be more than one side to a story.
Fingolfin raised his voice again striving to touch the hearts of his listeners. He was a good speaker, if not as brilliant as Maedhros' father had been.
"Give me your hands my sons, nephews. And let all within this hall tonight join hands as well," Fingolfin said taking Turgon's hand on one side and Maedhros' on the other and holding them up above their heads. "Allow me to sincerely address these words to my own kinsmen first. We need one another, as we need our allies of the Sindar and the Nandor. If we are to be truly honest, above all petty complaints and irritations, we must all love each other well."
To everyone's surprise, Turgon interrupted. "I would ask your leave to make a toast to that unity, Atar."
Everyone dropped hands throughout the hall and the majority even more happily lifted their cups. "To unity and fellowship. To perseverance and to hope," Turgon shouted.
His toast was met with a rousing, "Hear, hear!" If anything, he had broken the solemn mood Fingolfin had been trying to set. Perhaps that was his intent. Perhaps he simply wanted the formal part of the evening to end and to move onto the bonfire and the revelry to be conducted down on the banks of the river.
As everyone who had risen in response to the toast shuffled to sit again, Turgon leaned across Fingolfin to address himself in a softer, more private voice to Maedhros and Maglor.
"I am not ready yet to love everyone here unconditionally or forgive everything. Far from it. But I do appreciate the sacrifices entailed in holding the northern regions. I will try to remember our childhoods, the kindness of Nelyafinwë when the others teased the younger among us, of Findekáno defending me against the worst abuses of my older cousins, of Macalaurë teaching me to play minor chords on the lute." His voice broke as he asked, "Remember that afternoon, Macalaurë?"
Maglor, the artist in him never uncomfortable with the expression of sentiment, allowed himself a sniff and did not attempt to brush away the tear that rolled down his cheek.
"How could I ever forget! It hurts my heart to think of it. I did love you then, cousin. We had a lot in common. Somewhat introverted in our youths with rapscallions for siblings." He inclined his head to Maedhros, to quickly amend his remark. "All but you, of course, Nelyo. You were always a model older brother, with the exception of an unconventional attachment to a certain person which developed later in your youth."
Turgon snorted, before raising his tankard of mead to Maglor, his expression turning solemn again. "I know I sleep better at night knowing you, my brother, and, most of all, Nelyafinwë are the wardens in the night, on the front lines, standing between all of us and the Enemy."
A young man's voice sounded from a nearby table comprised of a mix of the elite of Fingolfin's soldiers and a large part of the Himring contingent. "Don't forget the Lords Aikanáro and Angaráto!"
Maedhros did not recognize the voice of the speaker. He did note that because the din had quieted, there was once again a rapt audience for Finwëan family politics.
Earlier that day, Fingon had told Maedhros that there was a Sindarin saying 'There are no quarrels worse than family quarrels,' but what they really meant by that were none more fascinating either. He had added, 'So, we need to tell Eressetor to watch what he says and note who is listening while he is at Barad Eithel.' Maedhros beat down a sudden hammering in his chest, aware that the majority in this hall had little idea of how complicated their family clashes were and hoping they would not find out any time soon.
He felt for a moment like he might lose hold of the gossamer fine thread of hope he clung to with steadfast determination. But then he swallowed and the dread subsided, replaced by an awareness of the familiar warm pressure of Fingon's thigh against his own and the equally soothing sound of Fingolfin's voice. His uncle sounded uncannily like Fëanor at times--the Fëanor of the happiest days of Maedhros' early childhood.
At that point, Fingolfin raised his own mug of the infamous Sindarin mead that he never tired of bragging about. "A toast to the courageous sons of my brother Arafinwë, who dwell close enough to the smoldering pits of Angband to have their eyebrows singed in order to ward the rest of us from any southward movement through their lands by the minions of the Black Vala."
They should no doubt explain to Fingolfin in greater detail later about the fields of grain and grassy plains where the sons of Finarfin were breeding horses with an unanticipated degree of success. True they could see the black mountains in the distance, but the noxious fumes had lessened to the point of all but disappearing. The sense of waiting for the enemy's next move was palpable, but, at the moment, there were no singed eyebrows.
Several more toasts where proposed and greeted with enthusiasm fueled by alcohol: to Fingolfin's leadership, to Fingon, the king's heir and intrepid military commander, to the Sindarin peoples who had joined in their struggle, to their farmers, shepherds, and husbandmen, to artisans and craftsmen, to healers, scribes, teachers, artists, and musicians, to the new generation of children even, and, finally, with thunderous applause, to Fingon's ever popular horse archers, an independent and scrappy wing of the considerable military force centered in Barad Eithel.
Meanwhile, Fingon, stopping only to occasionally raise his cup and smile, had turned the conversation at the head table back again to family matters. He addressed himself to his brother, hoping to smooth over differences among the Houses of Fëanor and Fingolfin. He hoped, Maedhros presumed, to take advantage of the fact that Turgon must be feeling uneasy that he still had not addressed the question of his planned move with his brother.
"Perhaps you love your Fëanorian cousins and their people more than you are willing to admit," insisted Fingon, ever optimistic. "They—those who maintain their loyalty to Fëanáro—comprise a large portion of our allies. And, as you said, they hold the far north for us."
Unable to stop while he believed he was gaining ground, Fingon then added, "I have not agreed with every choice they have made either, but I never allow myself to forget that our grandfather remained stalwart in his support to Fëanáro until the end. Perhaps, he was aware of reasons for his loyalty to which we are not all privy."
Or perhaps not, thought Maedhros. It did not take a leap of imagination for him to fear their entire diplomatic construct could topple about their ears, if the sons of the High King allowed themselves free rein to air their personal differences on these questions. But his luck held for the moment, when Turgon conceded to Fingon for a change.
"Well, we are well aware of your opinions, dear brother, and admire you for your generosity of spirit and boldness in expressing yourself, but . . ."
Fingolfin, leapt into the breach, preventing Turgon, for better or worse, from completing his thought. "I also appreciate and admire what you are doing in the north, Nelyo. I recognize your courage and respect your leadership. I am able to function better and with more decisiveness here, drawing confidence from the fact that you offered the High Kingship to me freely, placing the interests of our people over any personal ambition."
"And I trust you, Uncle," Maedhros said. "I trusted you when I offered to withdraw any hereditary claim that anyone might have suggested I had to the High Kingship over our people. Every time we meet I am ever more certain that I made the right decision."
Aredhel meanwhile had moved to stand between Fingon and Idril, leaning over him as he tried to drafts his list of sins. "Those are hardly transgressions, Finno. More like ingrained character traits."
He covered his scrap of parchment with his hand. "These are supposed to be confidential. Stop reading over my shoulder. Look after your charge, if you insist upon spying." He nodded in the direction of their niece, who bent over her own list, biting her lower lip in earnest effort, "What are you writing, Itarillë? I can just imagine, 'I kissed a boy and broke his heart!'"
"Stop it, Uncle Finno. I've never kissed a boy."
"Ah, then," Fingon said, "She must be writing 'I refused a lad a kiss and made him cry.'"
"Silly!" Idril squealed.
"Notice she doesn't deny it," Fingon said.
"Nelyo," Aredhel said, "Tell him that he must promise to exercise more care for his person and more restraint, and not insist upon always being in the front line in the most dangerous situations."
"One cannot lead from the rear, sweet sister," Fingon answered, winking at Maedhros.
"She has a point," Turgon said, with the careful intonation of a drunk who knows his limitations. "Write that down and remember it! Although, I do not think he knows how to pronounce the word 'restraint' much less spell it." Maedhros laughed. No professor of Rhetoric he had ever known would have passed on Turgon's slurry speech.
"Is it true that Findekáno cannot spell?" whispered Erestor, shocked. Maedhros and Fingolfin both started laughing and could not stop. It was Findekáno himself who stood at that point and hauled Maedhros to his feet. "Let's find that lady with the basket and get ready to go down to the river."
"Wait, Lord Findekáno," Erestor began. Maedhros was sober enough to hear the seriousness of his tone and start chuckling once more, having guessed what would follow. "How is your spelling? I mean, I had always heard you were something of a scholar in Tirion. And now Lord Turukáno just said . . . "
"Looking for a new position, Eressetor?" Aredhel asked.
"Ha! Turno! He's priceless," Fingon said. "I'll admit it has always been spoken of within our family how I learned to read and write a little later than my three older cousins—Maitimo, Macalaurë, and Tyelkormo. But Fëanáro started them early and drove them hard. By the time that Turukáno was talking, I was already a bit of a shining star at the Youth Academy in Tirion. Maitimo tutored me actually." Fingon waggled his eyebrows lasciviously at Maedhros, who by then had accepted that he was far too inebriated to formulate his usual protest at the implication contained in Fingon's voice and manner.
"Poor Turukáno!" Fingon continued, with honest sympathy in his voice. "He cannot hold his drink. And he has never adjusted well to being the second son. Perhaps, he should have been the first. But sadly or fortunately for him—who knows—I was. Still am and will be. His imagined bad fortune is my duty."
"I've listened quietly to you people long enough!" Aredhel interjected, earning a chorus of howls from her brothers and cousins at the word 'quietly.' Although, it was true she had been less talkative than usual and, as far as Maedhros could tell, she was sober as well.
"It's time for the bonfire," she said, raising aloft an elegant silver goblet that he knew was filled with white wine, instead of her father's mead. "Getting the lot of you to move is like herding cats! My toast is 'Onward to the river and the beach in front of it! Let us light ourselves a bonfire!'"
"After everyone finishes writing out their petitions, darling!" Fingolfin said, raising his voice above the appreciative laughter echoing in response to Aredhel's proposal. "Less discussion and more writing."
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.