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Strange Fortunes: 7. Chapter Seven
An excited murmur swept through the spectators, prompting Maeglin to turn his spyglass towards the prize flag. Could it be this pointless contest was about to get interesting?
Of course not: the mound under the flagpole—indeed, the whole field—remained empty. A scan of the surrounding woods did reveal a few men peering out from the shrubbery, but a band of leaf-covered skulkers from some inferior House could not hold Maeglin's eye; not as long as Idril sat in the audience before him, beautiful and pure like a candle flame, while around her the jewellery of the Calaquendi rabble glittered as if with reflected light.
Although her claim that there was simply no space left on her bench still stung—sitting beside her was surely a cousin's birthright, and there would be plenty of room if Glorfindel stopped lounging like that—Maeglin had forgiven her for the slight. After all, his seat at the back of the crowd had one distinct advantage: it allowed him to watch her closely without being accused of staring. Using the spyglass, he could almost count every hair on her golden head. Now she glanced over to one side, her braids falling back to reveal one perfect ear. What was she looking at?
Oh. Him. Ecthelion had appeared in front of the audience, heading straight for Idril. He walked with a slight stoop, no doubt to impress her with his courtesy in trying not to obscure the peasants' view of the field, where a skirmish was finally in progress. Upon reaching the bench, he made as if to sit on its edge¬, but Glorfindel grabbed him by the elbow and—the presumption!—pulled him over into a suddenly available space between Idril and himself.
Maeglin's hands trembled with a fury so violent that the spyglass hit him in the eye. He blinked away tears and tightened his hold. This was his chance to discover his two traitorous followers' intentions, and to gauge Idril's response. Of course, the angle at which all three sat made reading their lips impossible, so Maeglin focused instead on the secondary conversation implicit in their gestures.
Idril's were admirable, as always. The hand she lifted to shield her eyes as she studied the paint-splattered casualties of the battle epitomized both practicality and grace. There was something about her careful scrutiny, however, that suggested it was done in part so she would not have to meet Ecthelion's gaze. "Eru, this is awkward," her pose seemed to say. "I was unaware of this man's interest until Maeglin insightfully pointed it out to me, and now I am not sure how to react."
"I will do my best to charm you out of your doubts," Ecthelion seemed to reply as he pointed out a few archers concealed among the trees with uncharacteristic animation. And yet he, too, was tense: while his hands moved freely, his shoulders remained set.
Glorfindel alone appeared relaxed as he leaned in towards the others, a pleased glint in his eye. "Finally," he seemed to say. "This is working out just as I hoped. Now, maybe if I lean on Ecthelion I can push those two closer together."
Such obnoxious overfriendliness sickened Maeglin, all the more so since it appeared to work. Gradually, the tension between Idril and Ecthelion lessened until they were able to laugh together at a joke Maeglin could not hear. Curse it all! He would have to confront Ecthelion once more, and quickly. Now where was Salgant with his report?
Not in the audience: a quick scan of the crowd made this clear. Maeglin resolved to seek him out at once. He put away his spyglass, stood up, and cut across the spectators, ignoring their complaints.
His first destination was the tree-shaded area where trestle tables loaded with cold meats and fruit awaited the hungry, but, to his surprise, Salgant was not there, either. Nor was he waiting to buy wine, or use the latrines, or to place a bet with the opportunistic gambler who had set up shop under the largest oak, and who was offering insultingly long odds for a Mole victory, apparently on the grounds that no Mole had been seen anywhere near the prize flag.
Maeglin started reprimanding the man, only to be cut off by a distant roar announcing that the Games had finally reached a conclusion, and, more importantly, that the crowd of spectators would soon be swarming the area. He found a quiet spot off to one side and watched them pour in, a tedious exercise made bearable only by his musings on the best way to build a spyglass that could look around obstacles. Idril's arrival brightened his vigil further, but the stream of new arrivals dried up soon after, and still there was no sign of Salgant.
Where could he be? A moment's reflection had Maeglin heading for the command center in the hope of finding a mess or some other source of food and drink—only to encounter a mess of a different kind: of the tents that had stood there, some lay half-folded upon the ground, while chattering guards worked to strike the others.
He wandered around until he found a tent that appeared to be in use, judging by the guard at the entrance. Ignoring the man's feeble attempt to block his way, Maeglin ducked inside.
The pleasant darkness that greeted him within was dispelled only by the glow of a brazier, and the eyes of a handful of crouching guards who had been loading the contents of the tent into crates, and who now peered up at him in some surprise.
"You may return to work," said Maeglin. "I am merely looking for Salgant of the Harp."
"Yes, please keep packing." One of the men straightened up; Maeglin recognized Ecthelion. "Greetings, Lord Maeglin. Salgant is in the contestants' hair-braiding tent."
"Are you sure?" It was just about the last place Maeglin would have looked. He had never seen Salgant show any interest in peasant coiffure. But then, perhaps he had simply succumbed to the strange Noldorin obsession with doing elaborate things to one's hair. Even Ecthelion, normally restrained in such matters, had decorated his with something shiny enough to glitter even in the limited light. He now tugged at one of his gaudy braids, as if embarrassed.
"Yes, I am sure," he said. "We have been keeping an eye on him. We have reason to suspect him of plotting a practical joke, of sorts. The braiding tent is a rather odd choice, especially considering how the Games ended. I expect you intend to congratulate him?"
"Congratulate him? On what? Do you mean to say the Harps won?" Salgant must have given them a copy of his map, the conniving, greedy— But Maeglin would not be distracted. "Never mind all that foolishness. I need to speak to him on another matter."
"Very well, but do you mind waiting a moment? I would like to continue the conversation we began at my house a few days ago."
"All right." Maeglin could not walk away from such a challenge. He stood by while Ecthelion locked the chest, and bid the men load it onto a cart. The moment they left, he asked, "Well? What do you have to say to me? I hope it is an apology."
"It is, in a way. When we spoke back then, we… well, there was some confusion. I grew preoccupied with my own problems—a shortcoming of mine—and so failed to understand what you were trying to tell me. And then, I was not fully honest with you. So, yes, I apologize on both those counts."
"Good. Because, truly, your inept lies were an insult to my intelligence. I can see right through them, just as I can see through the performance Glorfindel put on during the opening ceremony, dancing attendance on Idril all night. No, the sickening arrangement you two have reached is no secret to me."
"Sickening, you say?" Ecthelion sounded unsure, even worried: a most gratifying reaction. "That is, of course, a reasonable opinion, and one I myself— No, give me a moment." He frowned and raised a hand to his temple. "Speaking in generalities feels safe, I know, but some of my recent experiences suggest that being as blunt and specific as possible might prove more helpful. What sickening arrangement are you referring to?"
Was he involved in more than one? Maeglin felt a twinge of respect. "Your scheme to court and marry Idril, of course."
"Oh, that. Maeglin, as I have told you— But wait. How is this nefarious scheme an arrangement with Glorfindel?"
"I have deduced that he is helping you, using his friendship with her to your advantage. He is consumed by ambition, and no doubt hopes to…" Seeing Ecthelion's frown deepen, Maeglin paused. The words sounded unconvincing even to his own ears, for why would an ambitious man help a friend marry a beautiful princess if he stood any chance of wooing her himself? "But I see by your expression that I… that I have judged him too highly. He is not your friend, but your rival. His actions at the party must have provoked your jealousy."
A strange expression flickered across Ecthelion's face: something like amusement, quickly concealed. How dare he treat Maeglin's lapse in judgment as a joke? Angered, but unwilling to draw further attention to his mistake, Maeglin pressed on.
"But never mind him. I would speak of your situation. The apologies you have offered, I accept. Now I want you to apologize for forgetting your place so far as to court my cousin."
"In addition, I order you never to speak to her again."
"Please listen to me. The hair you found— Never speak to Idril? What, not at all? Even if she speaks to me?"
"I want you to avoid her."
"In a city this size? With us both on the council?"
"You will manage, I am sure—or dare you defy me?"
Maeglin backed up his words with a challenging look. Ecthelion held it for a moment, then turned aside.
"Maeglin," he said softly. "Quite apart from the impracticality of it, your birth does not give you the right to give me orders. Remember, I swore allegiance to Turgon, not to you, or even your mother."
Evidently, he was going to be difficult about this. Torn between anger and a growing admiration, Maeglin decided to play his best card.
"That may be true," he said, "but even if I am not your liege lord, I am your liege lord's nephew, and consequently have much power in this city. You said we should speak bluntly, so let us do so. I love my fair cousin, and intend to marry her myself, your Noldorin customs be cursed. If you interfere, I will do everything in my power to cause you harm. But if you obey me, I have the power to reward you. With my patronage, and…" Maeglin took a deep breath. "The hand of my daughter in marriage. Not my first-born, naturally. One of the younger ones." The third, perhaps: he had not picked out her name yet.
"That… That is most generous of you, my prince. But I have no wish to marry an as-yet-unborn woman, even if she is your daughter."
"Would you rather I made this offer to Glorfindel, instead?"
Ecthelion gave another faint smile. Though he suppressed it as quickly as before, it stayed in his eyes as he said, "I have reason to suspect that he will feel the same way."
Maeglin could not let such ridicule pass. "I see my suggestion amuses you," he said.
"Well, perhaps a little. You see, I—"
"I suppose you find my plans and hopes as impractical as my orders?"
"I had not thought about it. I am amused because, as I keep trying to tell you, I am not romantically interested in Idril's daughter, or, indeed, in Idril herself, and—"
"What do you mean?" Faced with this shameless admission, Maeglin felt his reason flee, driven out by a dark, ear-pounding hate. "You intend to use her, to toy with her affections? You… you heartless spawn of Morgoth!" But such words felt laughably weak. Father had shown much more force even when reprimanding far less villainous servants. Maeglin's hand groped for the hilt of his sword; he drew.
The flames of the brazier flickered, their reflections sliding along the blade as it moved to point at Ecthelion's chest. Everything else was motionless—much as it had ever been—and yet the room had changed. It felt larger, too large to provide shelter.
"Maeglin." Ecthelion's eyes left the sword's tip and moved to meet Maeglin's own. He spoke slowly. "Be easy. I intend nothing of the sort. Indeed, I have no plan to marry Idril. This is a misunderstanding. My interests lie elsewhere."
His words sounded like lies, but his gaze was open, as it had not been back in his rooms. Maeglin wanted to believe him; he knew the sword was sharp and deadly, like all of Father's weapons.
"With Glorfindel. It was his hair you found, you know, just as I told you at first. We… we have a long-standing arrangement."
"You and Glorfindel?" Maeglin considered this. "I suppose you do have interests in common, such as fighting and singing about fighting, and so on, and you are of the same rank within the city. So yes, it seems plausible."
In spite of the stupidity of such a question, Ecthelion still appeared sincere. Sincere, and pleasingly… apologetic? Concerned with Maeglin's opinion? Meanwhile, the more Maeglin contemplated the idea of such an arrangement, the more pleasing it seemed. What better way to protect Idril from upstart suitors than by pairing them together? Only one source of irritation remained.
"Why did you not tell me this earlier?" Maeglin asked. "I do not like it when people keep secrets from me."
"This is a secret we have kept from almost everyone. Indeed, you are the first person I have told without being questioned on the subject."
"I am? In that case, I forgive you." Maeglin lowered the sword and slid it back into its scabbard. "But why all the secrecy?"
Ecthelion stared at him dumbly. "Well, as you know, we are both male. An arrangement like ours goes against the customs of our people."
"I am not surprised. It is such a rational arrangement, and this city is anything but."
"You find it… rational?"
"Of course. Given the shortage of women, especially highborn women, among the citizens, it makes a great deal of sense for highborn men to turn to each other for companionship. It is a common solution among the Dwarves, who are permanently lacking females. A very logical race, the Dwarves."
"Are you sure about this?"
"Of course I am." These Noldor could never remember that Maeglin had experienced far more than their own narrow lives would allow. "Father and I visited the Dwarven lands frequently, and learned a great deal about their customs. We even met several such partnerships in the forges, and they tend to work together well, unhindered by distracting children." Or so Father had said. But Mother had said something else. "They do miss out on a large part of life, of course: the procreative urges, the bodily union with a woman, and other such experiences."
Ecthelion looked away. "Oh, I don't know about that."
"Well, of course you don't know about it. You wouldn't. I myself understand these matters only because Mother made a particular effort to explain them to me."
Now Ecthelion glanced back at Maeglin, his expression a little odd. "I don't think— Never mind. No doubt you are right, and we are missing something. But, well, it does not seem to be a problem."
This was good news. The stronger their partnership, the better. "So, you are content with your arrangement?"
"Yes. Though the secrecy weighs on us."
"Then you should abandon it. Make a public announcement." Something that would link them together in the eyes of the city, and make future pursuit of women much more problematic. "Perhaps even hold a ceremony, a wedding of sorts."
"Make a public spectacle of ourselves? A mockery of the sacred vows?" Ecthelion's mouth set in a line. "No."
"You expect people to react badly?" Given how the narrow-minded Gondolindrim treated the merest suggestion of marriage between cousins, he was almost certainly right. Well, all the better. Such a ceremony might make Maeglin's own plans seem soothingly conventional by comparison. Of course, the comparison would be all the more striking if blond Glorfindel could be persuaded to dress up as the bride. "I am sure it would not be too much of a problem. After all, you have my full support."
But should it be Glorfindel? Maeglin studied Ecthelion. Did he seem more, or less, manly than his partner? He actually paid attention to people, which was a womanly trait, but he also seemed to enjoy solitude, which was more like a man.
"I thank you for your support, truly," said Ecthelion, unaware that his manhood was under scrutiny. "It is particularly welcome," he continued, "since Salgant, who is, I believe, a follower of yours, has been causing us some trouble."
So Salgant had not been completely useless after all. "What sort of trouble?"
"He has composed an obscene song about us, and is now threatening to make it public."
"You mean he knows about your partnership?" Maeglin changed his mind. Salgant had been worse than useless: he had been duplicitous. "He has known about it long enough to write a whole song?"
"Judging by the quality of the lyrics, it cannot have taken him very long," said Ecthelion. "We are not quite sure when he found out, or how, but we do have a theory. We suspect him of having somehow obtained a draft of a Contest map; the victory of the Harp team would seem to confirm this. These drafts were kept at Glorfindel's house, together with his personal papers."
"So he found out while searching Glorfindel's house, and is now threatening you with exposure." Clearly, Salgant had used Maeglin's keys for his own ends. "But this is an outrage!"
"I am glad you think so. I see I was right to bring this matter before you."
For once, Ecthelion's eyes looked as the eyes of a man speaking to his prince should: warm, even admiring. Such emotions ought to be encouraged. Maeglin decided to aid him in dealing with the treacherous Salgant.
"Yes, your decision was a wise one, and for that I shall reward you—with my advice: I suggest you threaten to reveal all to my uncle Turgon. I know he takes a dim view of people going through his own belongings, and I believe he would be most displeased with anyone caught cheating at a contest such as the Games."
"We did think of that, but arrangements such as ours are yet another thing your uncle views with disapproval."
"I see." It was a complication—Maeglin's growing influence over Ecthelion would be worth less if the man lost Turgon's favour. But perhaps it was for the best. "In that case, I take it you want me to instruct Salgant to keep your secret. Very well, I will do so."
Ecthelion bowed slightly. "Thank you, my lord."
"However," continued Maeglin, "if I am to help you with your personal matters, I think it only fair that you help me with mine. I have told you that I intend to wed my cousin. Before I speak to Salgant, I would like to be sure that you will support me in this endeavour."
"You propose an exchange of favours." Ecthelion's eyes lost some of their warmth. He stood silent for a moment before saying, "Well, it is certainly true that I have no objection to the general idea of marriage between cousins, and I would be happy to try and persuade others to think similarly."
"That is a start, of course, but while you are at it you should also persuade them that Idril must marry someone of equal birth." Surely even the Gondolindrim would be able to put those two ideas together and see who was Idril's only logical match… no, better to be safe. "You might even mention me by name."
Ecthelion took another of his little thinking breaks—evidence of his slow-moving warrior's mind. "No, I cannot do that," he said at last. "It would be hypocrisy for me to suggest that Idril should not choose as she pleases."
"Choosing me would please her."
"Perhaps, but the point is that she has not chosen you."
"You do not know that, and besides, her feelings are my concern, not yours. Your task is to help me."
"I am trying to. Look, Maeglin, while I am aware that I am unqualified to give anyone advice on women, I can understand why Idril does not currently return your fee— Please stop reaching for your sword. We both know you have no intention of injuring an unarmed man. Just listen. If you love Idril as you claim, then surely you see many fine qualities in her."
"She is the finest woman I have ever—" Maeglin chased away an uncomfortable comparison. "The finest woman in this city. And in Middle-earth, no doubt. But I am her match: a descendant of the High King, and a brilliant smith."
"Yes, but you must remember that, to Idril, high-born ingenious smiths are nothing out of the ordinary. Her family is full of them. And most of them have accomplished much, for good or for ill, while you… You are very young."
"I am not!" Maeglin clenched his fists, to better keep them off his sword-hilt. "I am a man full grown, and I laugh at my kinsmen's so-called accomplishments. Their history is a chronicle of irrationality. I will outdo them all!"
He stood up straighter, as if to display the tasteful crown he would some day wear, and glared at Ecthelion, willing him to contradict his words. But Ecthelion was nodding.
"Yes," he said. "Yes, Maeglin, there is certainly room for improvement in your family's record. And you are gifted; I am sure you can do much for this city."
"For this city?"
"For our cause in Middle-earth, if you prefer, but I think Idril cares more for Gondolin itself. Let her see you sharing her concerns, striving to serve the city and its people just as she does. Shared labour and shared goals can create closeness, even affection. I am sure it is part of what draws together… well, those dwarves you mentioned, for a start."
"Nonsense." While Idril did love the city, she was obviously no male dwarf, and noble-born leaders serving their people were a peculiar idea at best. "Besides, I have offered to help her on several occasions, and she has always refused. Quite vehemently."
"I do not mean you should take over her responsibilities, but that you should find some way of using your own talents to the city's advantage. Something novel. Let her grow to respect you not for what you were born with, but for what you have accomplished, and in a century or two—"
"I will not wait that long!"
"Why not? Are you worried about other suitors? Idril does not seem to favour anyone she already knows, and she is unlikely to meet anyone new… except for the newly born, of course, but they will have a lot of catching up to do. Meanwhile, you will impress her."
Maeglin had to admit he liked the idea of an impressed Idril. When placing a new trinket in her chamber, he had often imagined that this new gift was the one that would brighten her bright eyes even further, and send her running to his room full of praise. But that had never worked, and perhaps Ecthelion was right in one thing: perhaps the gifts had been too small, perhaps Idril would have preferred gifts big enough for the whole city.
"All right. I will give this matter some thought," he said.
"Good. Now, shall we leave? I expect this tent is the last one standing. The men must be anxious to pack it up."
Maeglin agreed. When they stepped outside, they found that Ecthelion had been right: the nearby guards certainly looked anxious. One stepped forward to speak to his captain.
"My lord, I would like to report that Lord Salgant is now in the refreshment area. He has done nothing untoward so far, but we are keeping a close eye on all the furniture."
Ecthelion thanked him, cast a quick glance at Maeglin, and strode off towards the tables. Maeglin followed. At first, he considered Ecthelion's suggestion in silence, but thinking about taking a follower's advice made the situation feel unbalanced. He decided to respond in kind.
"I will help you with Salgant for now," he said, "but in the long term my advice to you would be to stop caring what the peasants think. And to keep your partnership with Glorfindel strong. Mother always said," he added, "that if something your spouse does bothers you, it is important to express this, instead of locking yourself in a forge. I think Father agreed, on the whole. He only went in there to think things over and make sure he got all the details of his complaint right. So if Glorfindel does something annoying, like, for example, spending a whole evening escorting a woman, you should complain about this at length."
"That is very interesting," said Ecthelion. "I mean, I do see how the opposite approach might cause problems… Oh, curse it."
His outburst had been prompted by the sight that greeted them when they reached their destination: the area was still as crowded as before, but this time Salgant was clearly visible. He stood atop a table, toying with his harp and exchanging witticisms with the people milling around his perch. When someone yelled for a song, he pulled in his stomach and swept a satisfied eye over the crowd. He spotted the newcomers almost at once.
"Ah! Ecthelion! And you, my prince! Come join me!" He waved his free hand, beckoning them closer. At his gesture, the crowd parted to let them through. When they reached the table, he continued. "I am about to perform my latest composition, a tale of the intimate bonds that can form between brothers-in-arms. I believe that you, Ecthelion, have a fondness for such songs. Perhaps you would care to add mine to your drunken repertoire?"
"Surely you are too modest, Salgant," said Ecthelion. "Many of your songs are quite bearable even to a sober ear."
Maeglin knew he should intervene as promised, but Salgant's infuriated expression amused him far too much. He watched the harpist struggle for a response.
The crowd parted again, this time to let through Idril, who looked more beautiful than ever, and Glorfindel, who looked the same as usual, so that Maeglin had to remind himself that he was not supposed to hate him anymore. This task grew easier when Glorfindel left Idril's side to approach the table.
"Come on, Salgant," he said quietly, "this is hardly the place."
"What do you mean?" asked Salgant with a smirk, his voice loud enough to be heard by the nearby spectators. "You heard the people: they demand a song."
"Perhaps," said Maeglin, equally loudly, "but Glorfindel is right. You do your men an injustice by using their victory to draw attention to yourself, and your compositions. If you must sing, sing about the Contest."
"My new composition does concern the Contest's organizers."
"Yes, but it is a satire, is it not? No, you should praise them, or the winning team—or, better yet," he added, inspired, "praise the Contest's fair patroness."
"How? I hope my lady will forgive me," said Salgant, bowing to Idril, "but I know no suitable songs."
Ridiculous excuse. "I know many," said Maeglin. "I would be happy to teach you one."
Idril stepped closer. "Oh, please, Maeglin," she whispered, "not one of your poems."
"Your modesty becomes you, fair cousin, but you heard Salgant—"
"I know!" said Glorfindel. "How about that hair of sunshine song—everyone knows it, it suits Idril well, and people seem to like it. Right, Ecthelion?"
"It is certainly catchy," said Ecthelion evenly.
"Yes," said Idril. "I think it is an excellent suggestion."
Her wish was Maeglin's command. "In that case, we must have it. Salgant!"
Salgant responded with a bow and a smile that lost its obvious falsity only when he began to sing. Maeglin did not bother listening to the performance. He was too busy watching Idril and trying to determine how to create a gift big enough for a city. One thing was certain: he would need a lot of ore.
When the clapping died down, he remembered his promise to Ecthelion. "I suppose that was pleasant enough," he told Salgant. "Now come, let us ride back to the city together."
"Already?" asked Salgant. "But the celebrations—"
"Yes, already, if my fair cousin will excuse me. I have many matters to attend to."
"In that case, of course you must go," said Idril. She looked pleased; had Maeglin's diligence impressed her already? He straightened his cloak, trying to look even more busy and important.
"However," he said, "I should like permission to call on you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? Maeglin, the end of the Games brings much work. I doubt I shall have the time."
"Not even to let me say goodbye?"
"Goodbye?" Idril's eyes were lovely when they widened like that. "Are you thinking of leaving Gondolin, as your mother once did? I doubt that Father—"
"No, of course not. I know my destiny lies here. But I have been thinking—for some time now—about how I might best… how I might best serve this city. I am a master smith, of course, but we have many smiths: in truth, more than we have work for at the moment. No, what the city needs is more ore."
"That is true," said Ecthelion. "We need weapons. And plumbing fixtures."
"You plan to go prospecting for ore?" Idril asked.
"Who better than me? I know all the secrets of the Dwarves."
Idril met Maeglin's gaze with smiling eyes, as she had not done since the day of his arrival. "That seems like an excellent idea. Come around noon, and I shall give you some lembas baked by my own hand. A large supply, for the Encircling Mountains are vast. What is more… Glorfindel." She turned to her left, graceful and eager, like a dancer beginning a favourite step. "Why don't you join us, and bring your maps? Maeglin might find them useful. And you too, Ecthelion: you could tell us what metals you think are most needed."
Maeglin smiled at her joy. Yes, Ecthelion's advice seemed to be sound. He exchanged a final round of farewells, and led Salgant away, towards the horses.
"Well, then," said Maeglin when they reached the road to the city, a once-insignificant path recently widened by many hooves and wheels. "I believe you were preparing a report for me."
"Yes, my prince." Though usually an excellent rider, Salgant shifted on his mount as if uncomfortable. "I was. But I found nothing interesting, other than the map I sent you."
"You mean the map you treacherously used to secure your men's victory?"
"No! No, I never did that. My men came up with their own strategy. They often do, you know. Although I am told that they were helped by the fact that the teams nearest to them spent the first few hours luring each other into pits, or ambushes, or something of the sort, thus wasting valuable time and—"
"Stop babbling!" Maeglin should never have trusted the men of the Mole to execute his brilliant plan correctly. Oh well, a few months in his new mines should teach them to dig faster. "I do not believe you, anyway. I know you have been withholding information. And hiding from me, most likely, first in the city and now in the peasants' tents."
"What do you mean, my prince?"
"I have spoken to Ecthelion. I know you have been blackmailing him behind my back, even as I sought a way to keep him away from Idril."
"Well, not exactly." Salgant bent forward to fiddle with the strap holding his harp. "Strictly speaking, I have been blackmailing Glorfindel—"
"Same thing. You came across the perfect means of tying up two of Idril's unworthy suitors, and you sought to destroy it. I am most displeased."
Salgant sat up. "My prince! You cannot mean you want their unnatural relationship to continue. It is revolting and immoral, grossly immoral. Surely you must see that? Or…" He grimaced as if nauseated, and straightened further. "My prince, I must report that my investigations led me to discover that you have been withholding information as well. About your… designs on your cousin."
His speech was careful, but his sickened expression made his feelings plain. Maeglin suppressed the urge to slap him by reminding himself of how useful this ignorant Noldorin buffoon could be. And how entertaining, with his predictable nervousness.
"So, my plans upset you, do they?" he asked instead. "Good thing they are none of your business. But as for your behaviour… I am sure that my uncle would be interested to hear that you have been searching through people's houses, and even stealing War Games information. Using my personal keys, no less. Now that is truly revolting and immoral, as I am sure he will agree."
Salgant reeled slightly, and grasped at his horse's mane. "But… but my prince, you told me to do as much yourself!"
"The day we spoke of Ecthelion! And if you take this matter before the King, I will… I will be forced to admit that you gave me those very keys!"
"And I will be forced to admit that I gave them to you so you could lock up my forge. Is that not what I asked you to do?"
Salgant made a sound halfway between a sigh and a sob.
"Now stop this nonsense and listen," Maeglin continued. "I need you to end this foul blackmail, and put your new song out of your mind. In fact, you should write a different song: one praising relationships such as Ecthelion's."
"Oh no, I could not!"
"Do not worry, I can help you with the lyrics." Maeglin thought for a moment. "How about…"
'Tis right for men to marry men,
For in this city's hidden den
Maids are outnumbered six to ten
Leaving some young men heartbro-ken.
"And so on. I am not sure about the six to ten. Three to five would be simpler, of course, but it does not rhyme. But perhaps you can solve that problem?"
"I probably could," said Salgant dully. "If I might make a small comment, however… My prince, why are you sure that forming such unconventional relationships will keep men away from your cousin?"
"What do you mean? That is how relationships work: they tie people together."
"Among people of virtue, but I have my doubts about those who lead unnatural lives."
"The Dwarves seem to—" No, Salgant did not deserve to benefit from Maeglin's Dwarf-lore. "Look, Ecthelion told me as much, and I could tell he was sincere."
"He was wrong, though. Even his own… friend, Glorfindel, has not forsworn women. In fact, only this morning, he was seen climbing down from your fair cousin's balcony by several witnesses."
"He… what?" Maeglin stared at Salgant, half-blinded with rage—on his own behalf, and Idril's, and Ecthelion's—and saw that Salgant, too, seemed to be telling the truth. Besides, the news made some sense: it explained Glorfindel's recent behaviour. "I expect he still sees himself as one unwed. Well, we shall have to remedy that."
"How, my prince?"
"I have changed my mind. The city must know about his arrangement with Ecthelion—the king must know."
"So, my song—"
"Forget your song! In fact, forget this whole matter. I shall inform him myself, in the best possible way."
Maeglin urged his horse forward, ahead of Salgant's. Yes, he would talk to his uncle. It would mean breaking his promise to Ecthelion, but then Ecthelion did not know all the facts. No doubt he would be grateful, in the end.
Reassured, Maeglin turned his mind to more interesting topics: Idril's future gifts. Salgant's talk of keys had given him a new idea. Most of the doors in Gondolin were just as pathetic as Glorfindel's, and as easy to unlock or even destroy. The same was true of the city's gates—and that was something Maeglin could fix. Idril cared about the city's security, did she not? Surely she would feel better if the city were locked tight as a safe-box. And then, gates were much harder to ignore than a poem or a pair of shoes. Bigger, for one, and fixed in place, usually somewhere public and highly visible. Idril's bedroom window, for example, faced the entrance of the Valley, with its pathetic collection of over-decorated, shoddy doorways.
Maeglin would change that, at least.
0. As usual, feedback is encouraged, especially clever, critical feedback. And thanks to: Maggie, Eveiya, Dragonlady, Maike, Dagmar, AE, and Dwimordene for all the comments!
1. Maeglin's anthropological observations on the Dwarves are not, of course, canonical, but it is true that Dwarven females were scarce and often uninclined to marriage, so who knows?
2. Glorfindel's name means "golden hair," where "golden" means "golden light" rather than metal. "Sunshine hair," I suppose. So the song really does seem to suit him better than it suits Idril…
3. One of Maeglin's main accomplishments as a Lord of Gondolin was founding the mine of Anghabar, and then using the ore to forge items such as the Great Gate that Ecthelion would later guard. We are not told whether Idril was impressed by this accomplishment, but it does not sound like it.
4. Ecthelion was right about one thing, though: Maeglin had nothing to fear from Idril's Gondolinian suitors.
5. Incidentally, this is the second-last chapter…
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