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Never Speak Nor Sing: 3. Prince
"Asleep already? Night has only just fallen."
At the sound of the voice, Glorfindel's head snapped up. "My lord Findekáno," he whispered. Immediately he scrambled to stand, pulling himself up from the floor where he had crouched for a moment of rest. "I was only sitting for..." He stopped, silenced by a cold shame. He had no idea how long he'd been asleep. He glanced down the corridor seeking any indication of the time, but there were no windows. He saw though that the Sindarin boy had gone.
Fingon's lips curved in a wry smile. "Hmm," he said, and nothing more. But he looked at Glorfindel with eyes shining even in the dim torchlight of the tower, watching in silence. And Glorfindel, finding no courage to speak further, could only gaze back at him.
Fingon took closely after his father in appearance. He was less beautiful than Fingolfin, though only in that his features were sharper; his nose was longer and straighter and his mouth was thinner, rendering him less kind-looking. But still the resemblance was plain to see. Fingolfin's face echoed clearly in that of his son, with the same bright grey eyes and proud bearing. Black hair, thick and unplaited, fell to Fingon's waist in damp tangles, some strands catching in the nap of his house robe. Beneath the robe he wore only loose breeches, and only leather slippers covered his feet. Glorfindel supposed he had been bathing. The scent of orange-oil hung thick about him.
After a moment Fingon turned and stepped back to retreat into his bedroom. He held the door open. "Come in, then," he said. Glorfindel obeyed wordlessly, arms clenched stiffly at his sides.
The room was bare. Aside from the snapping fire and Fingon's travelling cloak thrown carelessly across a cushioned bench, there was no indication at all that anyone lived there. Three stout candles stood on a table beside the bed, burning near unspoiled as if new. The bed itself stood with canopy curtains pulled back and tied in perfect symmetry. Quilts lay spread wrinkle-free and smooth as glass.
Fingon waited a moment, taking time to glance out into the corridor before shutting the door. With no lamp- or torchlight to brighten the night, the room was dark and small. It was scarcely larger than Glorfindel's own bedroom downstairs, which made him frown. Always he had imagined the nobility to live in grand, if not wasteful, splendour. And here was the bedroom of a prince, no better than that of a servant. There was no gold here, no silver, no gemstones, and no tapestries. A carpet lay on the floor between the bed and the hearth, but it was plain and black. The bed was wide, but fashioned from pale wood rather than ornamented metal; the blankets were thick, but sewn of linen and wool rather than silk.
Curious, Glorfindel glanced to the window, but the curtain was drawn. He wondered if it at least hid panes of real glass.
"There is a bath in the next room," said Fingon, who had moved closer to the failing fire. He nodded toward an internal door at Glorfindel's right side. "If you care to use it, the water is still warm, and a full kettle heats over the fire. Alkarrossë told me that you just arrived this morning, coming up from the south. In this case, I think it might do you well to relax a moment in the water and allow it to wash away the dust of travel. I do know I was thankful for a bath tonight, though I have only come from across the city."
Glorfindel self-consciously ran his hands down the fabric of his sleeves, and the thin layer of dust stuck to his fingers. Amma would be upset if she were ever to see these good clothes in such a condition; perhaps Fingon was no less upset to have a servant so poorly-kept. A bath would do him well, though self-consciousness at the idea of bathing with Fingon so near twinged in the back of his mind. He glanced to the door and then back to Fingon. "A bath would be good, my lord, thank-you."
Fingon only turned his back and stared down at the fire. Still though Glorfindel remembered to bow before opening the door, heavy and solid as all the doors in the tower, and stepping into the adjoining room.
This room, which Glorfindel guessed was used for dressing as well as bathing, was larger than the bedroom but equally sombre. Two tall wooden wardrobes stood side by side along one wall, their doors hanging sadly open to show empty shelves and space. To the left of them was a large bare table with drawers. A bathtub of iron stood near the far wall close to the fire, and beside it lay Fingon's discarded travelling clothes and shoes. Glorfindel, pleased with himself for thinking to do so, carefully set Fingon's shoes together along the wall and folded the garments onto the table before pulling off his own clothing and laying it neatly on the floor.
The bathtub was rough black iron on the outside, though the inside was enamelled smooth grey that shone in the firelight. The water was warm to Glorfindel's hand, but not hot. Carefully, he took the blackened kettle from its hook above the fire and poured the boiling water into the bath. Then he stepped in, slowly so as not to slip on the slick enamel, and let the hot water cover his naked body protectively. It was almost a comfort. Water was the same in Eithel Sirion as it was in Valmar, after all.
A little bar of hard soap, scented with pine oil, sat in a metal dish that hung from the side of the tub. Next to it was a glass bottle of pine-scented liquid soap that poured slippery and green into Glorfindel's hand. Amma's softsoap had been unscented and yellow, but still it was the same soap for the same purpose. Glorfindel rubbed it between his hands before lifting it to his damp hair. Then, when his hair squeaked clean and dust-free, he used the hard soap to wash the dirt of roads and fields from his skin.
When he had finished bathing, he picked up Fingon's bath sheet from where it lay in a sad crumple on the floor, still damp from Fingon's use. He shivered as he hurried to dry himself before dressing again, either from the cold or a strange fear; he was unsure. But his hands shook terribly as he fastened his buttons and roughly plaited his hair, tucking it under the muslin lining of his tunic to keep it from water-marking the fine outer fabric.
Fingon, still dressed in only his robe and breeches, lay on his back on the bed when Glorfindel returned. "Was the water hot enough?" he asked.
"Yes," said Glorfindel. "Thank-you."
"Good," Fingon said, and he sat up at the bed's edge. "But you have dressed again in your good things; I should have had Alkarrossë bring a robe for you."
Glorfindel shook his head. "No, thank-you, my lord, I am fine as I am. It is no worry."
Standing, Fingon shrugged. "As you will. There is a comb if you wish to fix your hair." He gestured to the table, though his eyes remained still on Glorfindel. "However I do think you ought to have a bath-robe; the water will ruin your fair raiment. Here," he said, pulling the robe from his own shoulders. "You should wear mine."
"Ah no," Glorfindel said, and he blushed as he bowed his head in servitude. "I should not, could never... It would be impolite, to take that from you."
Fingon only grinned. "It is also impolite to refuse." He held out the robe toward Glorfindel. "Take it."
Hesitantly, Glorfindel took the robe with his shaking hand. It was black velveteen, plain and unadorned but still richly heavy, and hung like a great weight from his arm. Was it right, he wondered, to be so familiar with Fingon, son of the High King, to accept this offering and let the prince do without? When Celeiros had told him of his position, he had thought it might be like his chores for Amma: cleaning, tidying, making fires, bringing food, and doing whatever else was asked of him, and that Fingon as master would retain his royal distance. But now undressed, Fingon looked no different, no grander than any of the Noldor that had crossed the sea on Cirgon's ship. He stood straight and tall and proud, but so had they. He was stripped of his fine black decoration and he was the same as the commoners.
The unexpected act of familiarity and intimacy made Glorfindel tense in an uncertain shudder. He looked up from the robe in his hand to Fingon before him. "Why do you do this?" he asked quietly. "Am I not your servant?"
"Everyone in this city is my servant," said Fingon, "save my father only. They must answer to me, and follow my rule. It is boring. I have thousands of servants and very few friends. So I suppose you can guess which I don't need more of?"
"But I thought... Alkarrossë said that..." Glorfindel gave his head a quick shake to clear the frustration. It is not right; he thought, he is not a true prince to act this way...
Fingon placed a hand on his shoulder, warm and heavy. "Alkarrossë is a halfwit who says whatever he thinks my father would want him to say. Ta thinks I need a servant, and so Alkarrossë says that I do. Now true, you will be a servant by title and I might ask you to bring my clothes of a morning and such, but all lower tasks will be left to others. You should be more of a..." He paused.
With growing unease, Glorfindel glanced to Fingon's face and was met by strange eyes, grown darker though still as bright, and grey, but gleaming a red and gold mimicry of the fire. He looked quickly back down to avoid their glare, and he tensed. Fingon's free hand brushed over the line of his cheek. Then his lips tingled under the touch, then his chin. His face was tilted upward. He closed his eyes against Fingon's frightening stare and breathed with a graceless roughness. A moment later Fingon's lips lightly passed where the hand had marked, and he could taste Fingon's breath within his own.
"You are shaking," Fingon said. His hands squeezed Glorfindel's shoulders to still him. "Are you afraid?"
"I don't know," whispered Glorfindel. But he shook more at Fingon's touch, and the knot in his stomach wound tighter. He pulled back as far as he dared and as far as Fingon's grip allowed.
Fingon gave a dry laugh, letting him step away. "You should be more of a companion," he said, finishing his earlier thought. "A friend. Is it understood?"
Glorfindel slowly nodded, only scarcely moving his head.
"Good. Friend." Smiling, Fingon lifted the robe from Glorfindel's hand and draped it around his shoulders. It hung heavy as chains. Glorfindel bowed his head in a silent courtesy of forced appreciation. Then he turned to the small dressing table and took up a silver comb, running it through his hair with a deliberate lethargy in dread of having to turn around again to face Fingon's scouring gaze.
"It has just occurred to me," Fingon eventually said, "that we have not had a proper introduction. Would you forgive my poor behaviour?"
Glorfindel turned back to face him. "Of course," he said quietly.
Holding out his hand, Fingon grinned. "Then I am Findekáno Aresto, son of Finwë Nolofinwë Ingoldo, High King of the Noldor."
Glorfindel awkwardly stooped to kiss the silver ring on Fingon's middle finger. "I am Laurefindil, son of-" he paused, but only for a moment before he thought of his grandfather's name and continued with only a small flaw in his speech- "son of Vidirwë of Valmar."
"And what is your father Vindirwë's station?"
Something hazily troubling, a voice from the near past still remembered but not clearly, sang a quiet warning.
Admit never that thou art the son of a commoner. The Noldor prize kinship as well as they do treasures, and if thou be the son of a lord they will love thee, but if thou be the grandson of a papercrafter they will hold thee in little worth...
Amma's cautionary words hovered in his mind to still the truth, and Glorfindel looked to the floor as he lied to his prince. "He is a... he teaches music."
In Valmar, when Glorfindel had been a small child, Amma's sister Aldamizdë had defied culture and tradition to marry two castes above her station. Her husband was a music teacher to the children of lords, named Elindyo, and he lived at the centre of the city where houses were tall and white with vine-draped balconies and silver-domed roofs. Glorfindel had been to Elindyo's house once with Amma when he was thirteen years old. He had seen the green-carpeted floors and yellow- and orange-tiled walls, and a shelf of thin gilded leather folders full of pages of songs.
Elindyo had let him eat clams brought from Alqualondë, and candied plums. Then Glorfindel sat, wearing his best clothes that Amma had made, slowly realising that the plain cloth of his best wasn't good enough even to cover the seats of chairs in Elindyo's house. In that moment he finally understood the great barrier of difference between him and Amma and the lords of the city. He had quietly asked her, as they walked back to their own small wooden house, if he would ever live in such a place. But Amma had said no; when he was old enough, he would be apprenticed to his grandfather and learn to make paper. He would marry the daughter of a family that grandfather knew, and live in a small house on a narrow street and have naught to do with the higher sorts of Elves unless it were for an order of goods.
It was those of Elindyo's caste who became the retainers and confidantes to princes, the ones who found themselves on close terms with the highest citizens of Valmar and Taniquetil, while one from Glorfindel's level would consider himself lucky to have a position washing floors in that same household. It should be Aldamizdë's son, not Amma's, to stand now tense and unsure in Fingon's unsettling room. That was the law.
And so, Glorfindel repeated; "He is a music teacher to the children of the lords of Valmar."
"How fortunate," Fingon said as he walked to the fire. "It is better, I know, to be born the son of a vocationer than the son of a mere peasant. Privilege, education, trinkets, fine clothing..." he glanced to Glorfindel with a thin smile. "You have naturally had them all, as readily as I?"
Glorfindel forced a smile in return, willing himself with every shred of strength to maintain his calm look while behind his back his hands wrung in bloodless twists. "Yes," he said in a voice less sure than he liked.
"You see, Laurefindil, the majority of those who show up in my father's hall seeking positions- in fact all that I have known- have been orphans or the sons of poor families in search of a better life in the service of the King, trying to escape their born place. You though come as the son of a good family, willing to trade your own life of luxury to facilitate mine."
As he spoke, Fingon knelt down on the hearth and pushed aside the linked-wire spark shield. He reached to grasp the protruding end of a well-charred stick, pulling it out from the fire. The tip glowed dull red but quickly faded to black once away from the heat.
"It is a welcome reversal," Fingon finished, standing again with the stick still in his hand.
"Ah," said Glorfindel, "it was... my mother's idea..." His voice trailed off as Fingon waved a hand and dismissed the excuse. But watching Fingon walk toward him, he was unsure of whether to be relieved or terrified.
"There is no need for explanation," said Fingon. "I'm sure everything will be revealed to me soon enough. Now take this-" he handed the stick to Glorfindel- "but be careful not to touch the charred end; it is still hot."
Glorfindel looked at him with curious eyes. "For what?"
"I would have you write your name," Fingon said.
Fingon nodded, motioning to the floor. "Yes. On the stones."
"But that will..." Glorfindel frowned.
"I will have someone clean it tomorrow; that is no worry. But for now, there is no other place to write but on the stones. I have no paper here. So if you please?"
He gave Glorfindel an expectant look, then motioned to the floor again. Glorfindel hesitated as his mind spun, trying to guess the intent behind Fingon's strange request. But still he took up the charred stick, sinking slowly to his knees, and clumsily scratched out in uneven powdery black the tengwar of his name, as his grandfather had taught him: rómen, silmë, ando, and the accompanying tehtar:
Fingon stood closely by, bending over his shoulder to read. "Now that is an interesting spelling of 'Laurefindil'," Fingon said with his smug voice.
Glorfindel paled at the recognition of his mistake, his body shivering colder with a new wash of uncertain fear. But he said nothing, and clutched the stick tighter in his hand as if it might offer any help.
"You intrigue me, Vanya," Fingon continued. "Now write my name."
Again Glorfindel poised the stick ready, but paused as a sudden realisation fell upon him. He closed his eyes, seeing at last Fingon's game, which was now lost. He did not know how to make an F.
"It is not a difficult name," said Fingon, close to mocking. "Findekáno: four letters only. Less than Laurefindil. Go ahead."
But Glorfindel could only set the stick beside him on the floor with a soft tap.
Fingon was silent for several terrible long seconds before saying, "Stand" Glorfindel did, though he kept his eyes turned down in shame.
"You cannot write, can you?" Fingon asked in a low voice. "Nor read?"
Glorfindel shook his head weakly.
"How odd for the son of a good family to be so sadly illiterate." Fingon took Glorfindel's chin in his hand, less gently than before, and brought them eye to eye. "You are no lord, boy. Not even merchant-class. Why did you lie?"
"I meant no offence," he whispered, and he shook violently.
"You lied to me, and to my father also," said Fingon. "And lying to the King is an evil deed for certain. He could have you whipped."
Clenching his teeth, Glorfindel tried to look away, anywhere other than at Fingon's hard face and sharp grey eyes, but Fingon still held him firmly under the chin and refused him any movement. And so he screwed his eyes shut, desperate for any small escape.
"Are you afraid now?" Fingon asked.
"Yes," he choked.
"Then it is a lucky chance I will not tell my father."
Glorfindel's eyes flew open as Fingon's grip eased. "What?"
Fingon shrugged. "He could not notice your deception. You were not afraid of lying to him, and so he did not notice. Though you were afraid of lying to me, and I saw it plainly. If he could not tell false from true himself, there is no need for me to tell. It will do me no good in any case; I will be out a retainer, and I am fond of you so far."
Relaxing, but only the smallest amount, Glorfindel looked to Fingon with wordless confusion. Fingon's expression softened as he raised his hand from Glorfindel's chin to his cheek.
"It is nice to have someone who at least speaks my own language," he explained. "Most of those who came with us from Valinórë are soldiers now, or counsellors or merchants, leaving only those horrid Sindar that Ta keeps trying to force upon me for servants. And I honestly do not think I could live with their ugly words and simple minds assailing me all day. So it is good that you are here." He smiled sadly. "Even if you are a commoner, you're still better than one of them."
"Oh," said Glorfindel. Unsure of what else to do, he forced a small smile. "I... Thank-you."
Fingon nodded. "In any case-" he stepped away to pace as he spoke- "I won't expect you to know Sindarin or speak it at all with me, as it is an awkward and difficult language to learn for one just come from the West. Far more awkward, in my mind, than Quenya, so it always amazes me that so few of the savages are ever willing to learn our much more pleasant speech. I must attribute that to the fact that they are all halfwits. But have you learned any of their language?"
"Yes, though just a small bit. I have been trying to learn this past year."
"Hm," said Fingon. "Well I suppose that can't be helped. We're surrounded by it." He turned back to Glorfindel. "How old are you?"
"I... forty-three." Glorfindel smiled nervously, then cringed at his lord's frown. He had thought to enhance his age, but as his hands still shook from Fingon's muted wrath at his earlier deception he had no further desire to lie.
"Alkarrossë said you were older," Fingon said. "Did you tell him otherwise?"
"No," Glorfindel answered truthfully. "He did not ask my age, nor did your father the King."
"Hm," Fingon said again. He sat down on the edge of his bed with a low sigh and gestured to the empty air beside him. "Come, sit with me."
Glorfindel hesitated, trying to read anything of Fingon's mood before going to him, but his face offered no clues. He sat blindly.
"Forty-three," Fingon said, laughing softly to himself. "You are still a child, really."
Glorfindel said nothing in reply.
"But very beautiful," Fingon continued. He took one of Glorfindel's tense hands in his own and lifted it to his lips, pressing small kisses over the fingers and knuckles. The feeling of his touch stuck hot like a brand.
Glorfindel stiffened and his breath caught in his throat. He stared at Fingon in shock, the current of fear inside him suddenly raging. Fingon's intentions grew disturbingly clear.
"Sit nearer," said Fingon, but Glorfindel did not. Instead he stood, pulling his hand away with a sharp tug.
"I must do my work," he sad. His breath was short and his stomach wound tight, but he managed the words out of necessity. "There are things to do and I must..." He glanced around for any desperate excuse. "Your cloak is not put away. Here, I will put it away. It must hang in the closet in the other room. I will-"
"The cloak is no matter," interrupted Fingon. He grabbed Glorfindel by the wrist and pulled him back down. "For now I would like you to sit."
"Yes of course," Glorfindel whispered. He sat too close to Fingon, so close that the heat of Fingon's bare chest and arms flowed against him. He felt nauseous. "But my lord I think I will be unwell," he said as he covered his stomach with his free hand. He choked back the sickly bitter taste in his throat.
Fingon pulled the black robe from Glorfindel's shoulders and let it slide to the floor. "You will be fine. You are just hot. Here, I will help."
In truth Glorfindel's skin burned, but it burned hotter when there was less of a barrier between it and Fingon's touch. Fingon's hands seemed to make the small buttons of his clothing dissolve, and the fabric itself parted and fell away like dust until there was nothing left between them. Then the searing hard touch was everywhere. Glorfindel's shoulders and arms, his chest and stomach, his back and neck, all became known. He did not realise he was shaking until Fingon told him so.
"Are you frightened?" Fingon asked. "Or only cold now?"
"I do not know," he choked, and for a moment he did not. He was cold, and hot, and his head pounded while his mind felt as if it were wrapped in cobwebs that barred him from reality. In some unsettling way he was sure that he should be dreaming this scene, but the more unsettling certainties assured him that he lacked the safeties of a dream. "I am cold," he somehow said, a plea to avoid dangerous silence.
Fingon smiled, touching his hair. "You must lie down then." He turned back the quilts and lowered Glorfindel's shivering body to the bed. Glorfindel shied away to hide his face in the pillow, soft and smothering with its feathers. He curled his knees up closer to his chest as Fingon pulled the blankets over him. They were smothering as the pillow. One could suffocate in this bed. But Glorfindel lay still, so still that he thought he might turn invisible, or that Fingon would forget he was there. Then he could return to his own bed, where he should be, and tell himself that he had only imagined this dark night.
After a minute of silence he felt the mattress lift as Fingon stood. He heard the rustles and slips of fabrics, thick sounds sliding around him, and after another minute had passed he felt a weight again as Fingon climbed onto the bed. After that there was nothing. Glorfindel heard his own breath, muffled by the pillow, and his heart beating in his ears with the fierceness of a sea storm. But Fingon, marked only as a heavy presence beside him, was strangely silent. Glorfindel dared not move, not even the slightest shift of a hand or foot in fear of Fingon touching or questioning him again. He forced his breathing to soften as much as his body would allow.
Across the room, the fire snapped and hissed as it died, spoiling the quiet with its final gasping sparks. Glorfindel listened until his ears strained to hear, and there was nothing more. His muscles ached from the tension of holding motionless for so long. Half an hour must have passed at least, possibly more. Fingon could be asleep. Tentatively, he stretched out an arm toward the edge of the bed, and his fingers brushed a wall of heavy fabric. He opened his eyes. The curtains around the bed had been drawn, shutting out any possibility of orange light from the fire embers or moonlight from the window. The small space was completely black.
As his eyes adjusted to the dark he could begin to make out vague shadowy shapes, the edge of the pillow against the curtain or his hand before his face, but nothing more. The dark was thick and oppressive, stealing sight and sound and threatening to swallow him. In Valmar, his bed had been beside a window so that he could always sleep within the comfort of the stars. There was no dark this terrible in Valmar. There was nothing that felt so evil in Valmar. Glorfindel slid his face beneath the covers, shielded his mouth and nose and eyes and ears so that only the top of his head was vulnerable to the dark. He bit his lip, and choked on salted tears that accompanied the aching sob rising in his chest. A hand rested lightly on his shoulder, squeezing and stroking over his arm. It would have been a comfort, had it been anyone's hand but Fingon's.
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