I'd like to thank the writers of the Lizard Council again for help with this chapter, particularly IgnobleBard, Russandol, and Grey Ganzania. Also, want to thank Spiced Wine for her ongoing support of this story. (The next chapter is almost final also!)
Daeron and Macalaurë remained outside in the open air throughout the morning. While talking and playing music, they drank cup after cup of strong black tea. At last, the promised storm broke. They had just finished composing their song, when torrential rain followed the rumblings of distant thunder driving them back into the tent.
"We ought to have left much earlier for the commissary pavilion," Macalaurë said, watching Daeron with simple pleasure. "We are going to go hungry now."
There was something endearing even about the way the minstrel shook the rain water from his hair. Macalaurë sensed that his fondness for Daeron exceeded physical attraction. The continence and loneliness of the last period of his life no doubt exacerbated the intensity of his feelings.
They finished lowering all of the flaps and securing them before the sheets of rain began to batter against the sides of the large tent. Macalaurë flung himself into one of the canvas folding chairs and studied Daeron with interest, wondering what he sought, rummaging among the boxes and tins that Nelyafinwë had stacked neatly near the camp stove.
"Don't worry. It can't rain like this all day," Daeron said. "But let me check to see if you have anything we can eat." A lazy smile reached Daeron's slanted fox eyes. The humidity and rain drops had already caused his silver-blond hair to begin to frizz up into a soft cloud around his head.
Holding up a small iron skillet in one hand and a waxed-paper wrapped package in another, Daeron crowed, "Look. Cooking utensils! And cheese. The bread doesn't appear to be older than yesterday either. If I grill the bread with the cheese, you won't even be able to tell that it isn't fresh baked."
"You are clever," Macalaurë said, laughing. "For all of the rough traveling we did in Aman, all the sleeping in the open, and my father's attempts to teach us how to cook over an open fire, none of it took with me. I'd starve if I had to cook for myself."
Daeron shook his head at Macalaurë with a wry grin. "You'll never starve. You're too good-looking and talented. You'll always run across someone willing to fall over herself, or himself perhaps, for the opportunity to look after you."
Macalaurë's face burned at the compliment. No one had ever reacted as keenly to him before, or if they had he had not noticed. He felt compelled to vocalize the thought. "People don't respond that way to me."
Daeron grinned at him again. "No doubt a large part of your appeal is that you do not realize how attractive you are. Look, here are some scallions too. Can I chop up some of those and add them to the melted cheese?"
"Anything you want to make will be delicious, I am sure. Anyway, beggars can't be choosers. Nelyo must have picked the wild onions. He actually enjoys cooking."
The economy of movement with which Daeron lit the camp stove and handled his utensils and ingredients demonstrated that he was comfortable with food preparation as well.
"So, as a privileged Noldorin prince did you live in a grand palace in Valinor and have servants who looked after your every need?" Daeron asked, an unexpected sweetness around the eyes turning a remark that might have been interpreted as criticism into a simple reflection.
"Not really. My father was born in a palace—the greatest in Tirion. My oldest brother Nelyo was born in the wilderness, but lived in my Grandfather Finwë's palace for most of his early childhood. The rest of us grew up in the big sprawling house that my mother and father built later on the outskirts of the city. That house would certainly be considered luxurious here. Less so in Valinor. More than anything, my father simply wanted the open countryside around him. And he liked having his forge and the workshops near the house.
"But he did not live like a prince, much less the heir to the kingship of the Noldor. He lived more like a well-off artisan. Or so I thought until I was old enough to realize the value of the resources he held in reserve—the precious metals and stones. My mother also used only the best materials for her sculptures. There was never a thought of stinting on fuel for the forge or rationing supplies for any of his projects.
"We had expensive clothing in our closets for every occasion, although we wore the more elegant ones rarely. As children, we might be expected to wear hand-me-down every-day or play clothes, but our dress-up clothes were uniquely our own and no expense or craftsmanship was spared in their making. The horses and ponies he kept were of the highest quality. But, unlike my cousins, we looked after them ourselves."
Daeron had finished chopping the green onions and arranging them on top of the slices of cheese between two pieces of bread. He placed the bread in the heated skillet and turned back, his expression rapt, to hear more of Macalaurë's story. Daeron's look, intent and sharply interested, contained the merest hint of prurient curiosity which reminded Macalaurë to whom he spoke.
This was Elwë's man, he thought. Elwë Singollo, King of the Doriathan Sindar, might have been a great friend to his grandfather, but the Sindarin chief had shown his suspicion of the newly arrived Noldor and had greeted the news of their desire to stay on in the north with imperious assertions of his authority over all of Beleriand and statements that they should remember that they settled there only at his sufferance. All of the Finwëans had been at least mildly irritated when Macalaurë's cousin Angaráto had communicated the same to them.
Upon hearing of Elwë's response, Nelyafinwë had noted, "A king can only claim as his own the lands which he is able to control. Elwë seeks to grant us the land where he lacks the ability to rule. If it were not for our people defending the north of Beleriand against Morgoth's hordes, he would be unable to claim anything as his own outside the borders of Doriath. So let him sit within his magically protected enclave and brood. He should be happy that he has the House of Finwë as his neighbors and not Morgoth's Orcs which we encountered and drove back. We will go wherever we like beyond the reaches of his sheltered little kingdom."
Macalaurë, of course, had no intention of revealing to Daeron their reaction to Elwë's arrogant message, a communication which had seemed even more delusional in light of the fact that he could not be bothered to respond to Nolofinwë's invitation to the gathering at the Pools of Ivrin. It did not bode well for relations between the Noldor and Doriath that he sent a meager party of two individuals, without even the authority to negotiate.
Elwë had sent a lore-master and a general. He no doubt hoped Daeron could give an accurate report of all he witnessed and his military chief Mablung could be presumed to be able to assess the strength of the Noldorin alliance. Elwë might not have a wicked purpose, but neither was he their friend. And, Macalaurë thought, one who holds back from unity in the face of the black Vala's amassed forces draws very close to being a threat to the survival of all the others. It would be safer to continue to entertain Daeron with more innocuous tales of his childhood and Valinor.
"There is more I could tell you about Tirion. Although, mine was not a remarkable childhood. It was more similar to the youth of any son of any of the well-off lords of Valinor than that of one of the highest princes of an accomplished people. A lot of lessons, writing, rhetoric, and geometry, with more practical work and training in crafts than our cousins received. Any among my brothers who showed talents or strong preferences in arts or sciences were encouraged to pursue those."
"So, for you that always would have been your music," Daeron said, his voice softening in puzzlement. Macalaurë was certain that Daeron had grasped that the candidness of his narrative had frozen midstream.
Acutely aware that he had no talent for dissembling, Macalaurë tried nonetheless to continue in the same tone. "If you truly want to know what it was like to be raised as one of the princes of the Noldor, you ought to ask one of my cousins. They did live in palatial houses, with swarms of servants, elegant table settings at every meal. Their parents brought them to parties, dinners and entertainments from their earliest childhood surrounded by the beautiful and remarkable of Noldorin nobles in Tirion who clustered around my grandfather's court."
Daeron shook his head and shrugged before speaking. "I fear I've touched a sensitive point. Never mind, let's eat," he said, reaching across the table to squeeze Macalaurë's hand before sliding the sandwiches onto a plate and cutting them into halves.
"I should have made tea," Macalaurë groused, greatly relieved to interrupt his monologue. "Is it too early for a glass of wine?"
"Never too early for me." Daeron smirked.
As Macalaurë set the glasses on the table and began to pour the wine, Daeron reached out and took hold of his arm. "When I asked you to tell me about yourself," he said, his light eyes wide and wholly without guile, "I only asked because I want to know you better, to understand you. I was not fishing for information. I can always do that later with others. I would not compromise my relationship with you for a few bits of information of uncertain value about your history."
Macalaurë chuckled involuntarily. "I'm sorry," he said. "Am I really so transparent?"
"That you suddenly became concerned about how much or what you were divulging to me?"
Yes," Macalaurë answered.
"You'll never make a spy," Daeron teased. "And I can honestly tell you that I do not intend to become one either. I made that clear to Thingol before I left. The role doesn't suit me nor does it suit my own assessment of the situation. It's clear to me that your countrymen came here in distress as well as ambition. Your people are entitled to the privacy of their grief. You should be able to tell us what passed between you and your Belain in Aman that made you want to distance yourself from them when you decide you are ready to talk about it."
"Of course," Macalaurë said carefully, "it's obvious to you that we are not entirely forthcoming with everything. We can be a rash, contentious people, given at times to intrigues, among ourselves first and foremost. But my personal belief, and that of my brother and numerous others with authority among the Noldor, is that our goals and interests need not be incompatible with those of your King. I am not, however, the one who decides what to reveal and when. I hope you understand that."
Daeron locked eyes with Macalaurë, swallowing a large mouthful of cheese and bread before replying. "Not bad at all, if I have say so myself."
"It's very good. Thank you so much for preparing it. I'm sorry. I'm being incredibly rude." Macalaurë took a large bite and nodded approvingly.
"You're enchanting," Daeron said, extending his hand to tug at a wayward lock of his hair which had fallen on his forehead. The heat that suffused his face and upper body maddeningly reached into his loins as well. "Eat your bread and cheese." Daeron smiled lazily, licking a bread crumb from the corner of his mouth, as though he were acutely aware of Macalaurë watching him. "Imagine a world where we were free to sing and play and let our more practical kinsmen pursue politics and war."
Macalaurë had to laugh at Daeron's seductive manner and his own response to it. "Ah, the fantasy only works," he said, "if we can also trust that they are always right and never need our counsel. Or always perfectly alert and strong and do not need us at their backs."