1. No Justice to Yourself
Erestor suspected he had changed little on any fundamental level. The world instead had transformed itself around him, from his unsettled youth, to rebellion, flight, and his decision at last to return to where it had all begun. He immediately recognized the Great Hall of the Noldor upon entering its grand foyer. The feeling of awe he had experienced as a child at its soaring vaulted ceilings, marble busts and statues, swept over him anew. He recalled how his father, in a voice husky with affection, had always referred to it as Finwë's Palace.
Craning his head around the moving crowd, he tried to see if he could identify any of the stone sculptures that once had been pointed out to him as the work of Nerdanel the wife of Fëanor.
"Move along, my lords," said Celebrian, with one hand firmly planted in the middle of Erestor's back and her other linked through Elrond's arm.
"My dear lady, I have never been your lord, nor anybody else's for that matter," Erestor grumbled.
"It's nice to see you haven't changed a bit. As contrary as ever!" Celebrian said, exchanging an amused look with Elrond. "Seriously though, come along now, both of you. After we have greeted Haru, you will be free to wander about and look around. The crowd in the entry way will have thinned by then at least."
Elrond shot a sidelong glance at his old friend, not even trying to stifle his grin. Celebrian, of course, caught it. "Another of your private jokes, Elrond?"
Erestor could have choked him. He recalled a bleak winter night in Imladris. Erestor had had a little too much to drink. In trying to cheer up a disconsolate Elrond, he used humor in the form of a self-deprecating story about a youthful infatuation he once had harbored for Finarfin in Valinor.
"Sorry, Erestor," Elrond smiled broadly in his direction, sounding anything but regretful. Looking back toward his wife, he said, "I cannot betray a confidence, my dear. You will have to ask Erestor."
"It's really not that interesting." Erestor sighed, sticking his lower lip out mournfully at Celebrian, hoping to squeeze some pity out of her.
"If you will not tell me, Erestor, I'll get it out of him. It just might take a little longer," Celebrian said, with a slight, teasing smile.
"Fine. I once admitted to him that I had a crush on your grandfather as a boy."
"Ha!" she said, suppressing a laugh that gurgled in her throat, threatening to turn into a giggle. "I'm trying to imagine a lustful little Erestor, pining after an old married man. Not exactly the somber counselor to the master of Imladris that I know."
She acted nothing like the broken and apathetic Celebrian who had left them a few hundred years earlier. In fact, even as a new mother and affectionate wife, she had never looked more animated or lovely to Erestor than she did at that moment, cheeks flushed, silver blond hair gleaming, obviously the child of her parents, renowned for their remarkable beauty. No wonder Elrond had behaved like a besotted youth since they had reached Aman.
"Don't flatter me," Erestor groused. "Over the years, you have observed more than enough that has made me look like ass. Yet I never thought of you as someone who enjoyed mocking others, Celebrian. Is it something about the air of Valinor?"
"Enough!" Celebrian said, making a playful effort to grab his hand. Erestor, although starting to feel less cranky already, snatched his hand out of her reach.
"As a matter of fact, when I knew Arafinwë, he was hardly an old man," he said. "He might have been married, but he would not even have been considered of age by the gauge that you and Elrond used for your own children."
Capturing his hand at last, gripping hard enough that he could not easily pull loose, Celebrian laughed at Erestor again. But when she spoke her voice lowered protectively, "Guard your heart well, Erestor. My grandfather is still a gorgeous man. And still very married."
Celebrian had seen Erestor in various states of vulnerability. Early in their friendship, she had watched him ward himself against the hostile gaze of those who still looked upon him as an unrepentant Fëanorian. Later she had gently teased him through a period of infatuation with a man who did not return his affections and then listened to his confidences in the first heady days of a liaison with yet another who was bound eventually to leave him. She had not stayed to witness the demise of that relationship, the outcome of which she had foreseen when he did not. But surely she had heard of his newly solitary state from Elrond. It was no wonder that she might worry for him.
The main audience chamber overflowed with nobles, courtiers, and servants, male and female, ancients and many far younger than Erestor himself, judging by their demeanor. Achingly familiar to him, the hall, once seeming suited to its purpose, now struck him as ostentatious and old-fashioned. 'Too many years living with Elrond's disdain for grandness,' he thought.
A string quintet sawed away in a corner, their music almost obscured by the chattering around them. Although the musicians might be considered superior by the general standards of Middle-earth, Erestor mused that his friend Lindir would be more than welcome in Tirion if was this was best they had to offer.
He leaned toward Elrond and murmured, "The music was better before . . ."
"Ai, I've heard that a thousand times from others," Celebrian said with a forced jocularity. "Everything was better before you left, right? But if it was perfect then, why were you all so anxious to leave?"
Erestor didn't answer, recognizing the question as a rhetorical one. He didn't need to tell her that those who fled were the flower of the Noldor, leaving behind them a grieving, diminished minority, barely a tenth of their people.
Looking toward the front, he found himself half-expecting to see Finwë sitting there. Instead he saw their first king's youngest son, not seated but standing in front of a rarely used throne. The massive marble chair itself did not hold a cushion or even have a cloth hanging at its back. Celebrian's observation that Finarfin remained a handsome man had not been an overstatement.
The combination of Finarfin's fine-boned facial features with his lovely mouth might have made him cloyingly pretty, had his Finwean nose not offset them. His bright fair hair and light blue eyes he had imparted to all of his children. No wonder they were often called the Golden House of Finarfin. Erestor believed he might have recognized him anywhere. But there was no mistaking him here, where he stood and the way he accepted the deference that was accorded him by those who approached him. 'I don't remember his being so short though!' Erestor thought, while reminding himself that he was comparing Finarfin to the Finweans and not the average Noldo.
His wife, however, was tiny, barely reaching his shoulder, a typical pretty Telerin woman, pale-haired. Yet Eärwen's hair did not have the golden highlights of Galadriel and Finarfin but the silver cast Erestor had long assumed Celebrian had inherited from her father. He had forgotten silver-haired Eärwen, certainly attractive, but lacking the stunning beauty of her husband and their children.
Along with Celebrian and Elrond, Erestor continued walking to the front of the chamber. Finarfin glanced in their direction briefly and then looked back again. He cocked his head to one side in a gesture of inquisitiveness before smiling in recognition at Erestor.
As they drew near the dais, Finarfin stepped forward to greet them. He first embraced Celebrian and then Elrond. Finally, he grabbed Erestor by the forearms.
"So you are Elrond's wise chief counselor I have heard so much about from my granddaughter. I wondered if it could be the same Erestor. You've changed a lot since I last saw you. Grown up."
Erestor surprised himself, and probably anyone else who noticed, by blushing. He had not expected Finarfin to remember him. Up close he could clearly identify how much this man differed from the Finarfin of his own memories. He was still outspoken and curious but his demeanor far less animated. He resembled a dimmer version of the carefree elf whose ebullience had attracted Erestor as a youngster. He remembered mischievous eyes and laughing features where he now saw the practiced calm born from the patient endurance of duty.
"Your Highness," Erestor responded, bowing to the king. Finarfin actually reddened in response. They smiled at each other, locking eyes for a moment. The lack of affect that had troubled Erestor suddenly vanished from Finarfin's face.
Finarfin's voice grew quiet. "You don't have to address me as 'Your Highness.' No one does. I never wanted anyone to and it was easy for people to accept that. They'd, of course, never used that honorific with Nolofinwë when he took Atar's place, always believing Atar would soon return." He shrugged his shoulders with diffidence, following the gesture with an easy smile.
At that moment Erestor became conscious of how much he loved listening to Finarfin's accent. He had almost forgotten how it sounded of Tirion, home, and a family long-abandoned.
"Then what?" Erestor asked, lowering his voice as well, while feeling a grin pulling at the corners of his mouth. "My lord?"
"On occasions like this, I suppose. Otherwise, what did you call me before? Arafinwë, I think. Oh," Finarfin said, turning to his wife. "Eärwen, do you remember Erestor? The youngest son of Orneminar the architect?"
"Of course I do. The studious one. Terribly shy I recall."
"Apparently he's outgrown the shyness. I've been told that he was bold enough to serve as one of Nelyafinwë's captains and later as chief counselor to Elrond and spokesman in his absence," Finarfin said, as though speaking of the accomplishments of a favored disciple rather than a rebel who had tied his fate to that of the infamous sons of Fëanor until they were no longer around to accept his allegiance. Erestor was not given to paroxysms of guilt, however. He might hold sincere regret for the results of some of his choices, but never for his motivation. Allowing himself to look Finarfin in the eye, he detected something that might have been awareness.
Not wanting to appear to neglect the king's lady wife, Erestor left the pursuit of that thought for later and bowed over her hand miming a kiss.
"My lady." Erestor said. "I remember you well as a princess of the Teleri and after you came here as Prince Arafinwë's bride. Everyone agreed you were the best dancer in Tirion in those days. No one could take their eyes off the two of you at any of the festivals, so high-spirited. Such a contrast to the seriousness of King Finwë's older sons and their wives."
Eärwen lifted her chin, tilting her head to one side with wistful smile. "Ah, yes. We truly were happy, recognized few cares in those days. It is good to see you here, Erestor."
Erestor thought of how he had not been happy in those years just prior to the outbreak of open strife among the Noldor. He recalled his insecurity as a skinny, awkward boy, confused about his newly discovered awareness of his attraction to men and his mooning over one of the three highest princes of the Noldor, who, even had he not been married, never would have given the clumsy lad a second glance. Finarfin had been pleasant to him, as he was to everyone back then. Finwë's youngest son often appeared, with his good-natured temperament and even-handed manner, a balance to Fëanor's arrogance and Fingolfin's edgy ambition.
Elrond and Celebrian had already moved off to one side. Erestor remained frozen for some seconds longer lost in his thoughts, stupidly smiling at Finarfin before he finally roused himself and followed after Celebrian. Finarfin and Eärwen had already begun to greet others moving up from behind him. Suddenly, Finarfin glanced in Erestor's direction again, an uncertain expression flicking across his face, before stretching his hand out toward him. Erestor stopped, his heart in his throat.
"Stay. I mean, don't leave the reception yet," Finarfin said. "Perhaps we can talk. If not, Celebrian has invited a few people for a late supper when we finish here. I understand that you will be staying with them for a while."
Erestor bobbed his head in response, trying not to look like a love-struck schoolboy. "Of course."
A pleasant air of conviviality reigned throughout the large hall. Much wandering about and talking among overlapping circles of affinity added to the festive mood. There was very little seating available, however. Elrond widened his eyes at Erestor with a triumphant smile from where he had managed to snag himself a place on a comfortable-looking settee.
Erestor could not keep his eyes off Finarfin, who looked far more animated and relaxed than he had when they entered the large chamber. Accustomed from his years of diplomacy to observing minute changes in aspect or behavior, Erestor detected that Eärwen also noticed the change in Finarfin. Rather than appearing placid and bored, as she had earlier, she watched her husband's every move. A small crease formed between her eyebrows, indicative of curiosity or bafflement. Eärwen pressed closer to Finarfin, placing her hand on his arm, while he if anything seemed less aware of her presence. Erestor sighed with relief that she gave no indication of being conscious of him at all.
Elrond and Celebrian introduced Erestor to many of those in attendance, whose names Erestor promptly forgot in his single-minded distraction. Almost every time he looked in Finarfin's direction he found those pale blue eyes shift to meet his gaze. Finally, Finarfin acknowledged his perception of Erestor's attention with an indulgent smile.
A tenor with a pure, if somewhat thin voice, began a song of a tragic and noble love that would survive throughout all the Ages of Arda. The bard's styled phrasing and clichéd words served as an antidote to Erestor's romanticism, as bracing as one of Elrond's foul-tasting tonics. Galadriel appeared at his side jabbing his inner arm in a sensitive spot just above his elbow. Her touch served as the final punctuation to Erestor's realization that he needed to get a grip on himself.
"Why so pensive, Erestor?" she asked with that annoyingly derisive tone of hers. "You have a dreadful pinched look on your face. Like someone who's lost their last friend or whose favorite dog turned on them."
"That appealing? Really?" 'Leave to it Galadriel,' he thought. "You can always be counted on to build one's self-confidence, can't you?"
Galadriel chose not to take offense at Erestor's snappishness. "It seems strange to all of us. Familiar, and yet so different. My father seems to have taken an interest in knowing you better though."
"Perhaps he finds me an interesting specimen of a dark-hearted supporter of Fëanáro--the only example among the most recent group of returnees."
"Shame on you. You know him better than that, even if only by reputation. He is not rancorous and never was."
"What makes you think he has any interest in me?"
"Could be because he asked me a series of pointed questions about you."
"Oh," Erestor said, stumped for a moment, unable to think of a cleverer response given that he was determined not to take the bait Galadriel dangled before him and ask her what those questions might have been. Then his curiosity got the better of him. "Seriously?" he asked.
"Fascinating, isn't it? If I didn't think it was unlikely, I might have wondered if he were not attracted to you. Perhaps you were flirting with him earlier? It wouldn't have been the first time you have aimed your attentions at an inappropriate target. You held up the reception line longer than any of his other guests."
"What do you want?" Erestor asked. He liked Galadriel most of the time, but she made him uncomfortable. And he had never quite gotten over her nastiness with him about his closeness to Maedhros and Maglor.
"About my parents," she began. "I consider their doings no affair of mine. I love them, of course. I actually even like them. But I have lived far too long without them to feel any propriety sense over how they choose to live their lives. However, my father . . . "
"You're trying to warn me off your father!"
"Lower your voice, Erestor."
"You surprise me. I haven't had anyone warn me off someone since Celebrian thought Elrohir was interested in me. That time it was funny. Ridiculous even!"
Galadriel said, "It's really none of my business. But if you knew a little more about the politics involved you might understand why it concerns me."
"You could enlighten me."
"Never mind. You'll figure it out for yourself soon enough. You never have listened to me anyway," she answered, clenching her jaw and gliding off.
More puzzled than before, Erestor tried to reason though the information she had given him. It seemed to imply that if he were to be receptive to or pursue Finarfin he might expect a positive response. On the other hand, it could cause big problems, at least by Galadriel's assessment.
Erestor was thoroughly preoccupied. He didn't want to talk to anyone because he couldn't concentrate. Tired of walking around, he leaned against pillar and shot dirty looks at Elrond who occasionally glanced back at him and smirked. Elrond stretched out his legs, leaning back against the divan making a ludicrous pantomime of how comfortable he felt. Erestor finally stalked over to him.
"Get up! Let me sit for a while," Erestor said.
"I might if you ask nicely."
Just then Finarfin approached. He had finally worked his way through the reception line. "Erestor, come with me. Let me show you the view from the veranda. One of the strong points of your father's design of the outer walls of the building. There is a full moon tonight."
Elrond raised his eyebrows to an alarming height, in Erestor's opinion, dying of curiosity. Erestor contented himself with a bland look at Elrond. "I'd love for you to show me," he said to Finarfin.
The large moon shone with an unusual brilliance, almost yellow in color, washing out the light of the stars surrounding it. As soon as Erestor and Finarfin found a deserted section of the balustrades looking down over the city, Finarfin spoke, "You were so young when you left. You know that you broke your mother's heart and incurred your father's total animosity. Why did you leave?"
Erestor stared at him. He hadn't expected that query. More accurately, he did expect the question at some point, but not at that moment, or from Finarfin.
At long last, after trying to reorient his thoughts, Erestor answered, "Because I was absolutely certain that it was the right thing to do." Then with a touch of antagonism in his tone that he had not intended or didn't realize he even had felt, he asked, "Why did you turn around and come back?"
"Ha! I'd like to tell you that it was because I was sure returning was the right thing to do," Finarfin said, biting his lower lip in an enticing manner and looking up into Erestor's eyes. "In truth, I came back because of my wife. I'd hoped to beat the news from Alqualondë. Of course, that was impossible."
Erestor thought that he should have guessed that it would have been the wife. "And what happened when you got back to Tirion?"
"As you might expect, she was less than thrilled to see me," Finarfin said, his mouth twitching in an expression less of sadness or resignation than annoyance.
"Don't be. It was a long time ago. We've muddled along fairly well." Finarfin, resting his forearms on the wall in front of them, sighed and stared out over the city. Erestor squashed an impulse to touch him. The whole scenario felt so odd. He could scarcely believe that Finarfin was confiding such personal details. No explanation other than that he was making a pass at him seemed plausible. But a niggling insecurity and healthy mistrust blocked Erestor from being able to respond as he might with someone else under similar circumstances. This was his king, a married man. The considerations were complex: moral, political, and unfortunately intersected Erestor's own propensity to find himself attracted to people who could not possibly be more wrong for him.
"So," Erestor said, trying to change the subject. "How do you know about my parents' reaction to me leaving?"
"Your mother came to me yesterday. She is here in Tirion. She wants to see you. Thought that I might be speaking with you. Asked if I would tell you."
That was another surprise. His mother had always been a private woman and proud. "Well, she knows where to find me." Erestor could have laughed at how like a petulant adolescent he sounded. The whole lot fell into place with that also. Finarfin had recognized him so quickly and responded kindly because he had been expecting him. He had a message to pass on and Erestor, with his eye for an attractive man, his desire to put his recent failed love affair behind him, not to mention his ancient infatuation, had read far too much into everything.
"But you know how parents are. She thinks you should come to her," Finarfin said, not without sympathy. He straightened his shoulders, expelled a deep breath, and gave Erestor an engagingly seductive look. He reached out and took Erestor's hand. "I find myself drawn to you, Erestor."
"Well, I'll be a fucking bloody orc," Erestor said, raising Finarfin's hand to his lips and kissing his knuckles. "Stinking Valar, Arafinwë, what are you trying to do to me?" A flush burned down his cheeks and his neck, while Finarfin simply cocked his head to one side smiling, entertained but in control.
"Apparently, Celebrian did not exaggerate when she claimed you had the foulest mouth she's ever heard." As Erestor dropped his hand, Finarfin smirked, openly amused, running his tongue across his lower lip. "We ought to go back inside. We will have been missed. Celebrian will be rounding people up to move on to her house for her little soiree."
Finarfin had been right. When they re-entered the main hall, they discovered Celebrian flittering from one cluster of people to another, assigning each of her guests to one of the three carriages that she had arranged to transport everyone to her dinner party. Celebrian had secured a house some distance from the city center, on the closer outskirts of Tirion. She chattered on to Erestor about how she had decided it would be less of an adjustment for Elrond, after all those years in Imladris, if he lived in a greener, more natural setting than the center of Tirion.
Erestor found himself squeezed into a carriage, between Galadriel and Elrond. Fingon and Finrod sat across from them with Celebrian. He had spoken with Finrod earlier in the evening, but not seen Fingon at the reception or at all since his arrival in Tirion.
"Erestor, Erestor," Fingon said, shaking his head from side to side. "It is so strange to see you sitting there. Brings back so many memories."
"Not all of them bad I hope," Erestor said, which elicited groans from everyone.
"I appreciate everything you did for Maitimo after . . . " Fingon began, before Erestor interrupted him.
"I did what I could. We all did. He was our lord. He held my loyalty until the very end."
Fingon gave Erestor that once so familiar dazzling smile that made it impossible for one not to respond positively when faced with it. Finrod meanwhile was doing odd things with his mouth, barely out of Fingon's line of vision, trying to communicate something utterly incomprehensible to Erestor. He supposed that Finrod didn't want him to encourage a long digression from Fingon on his lost love. 'Everything is complicated here,' Erestor thought. 'If they did not want us to talk about Maedhros, then we should not have been placed in the same carriage.'
Ignoring Finrod, Erestor added, "If you want to thank anyone here for looking after him, you probably should thank Elrond. He and his brother are the ones who finally made Nelyafinwë laugh again. Youthful innocence and high spirits accomplished what allegiance and attempts at conventional wisdom could not."
"Oh, I intend to thank Elrond properly and extract every little detail about the years I missed," Fingon said. "I already asked him to make time for me. Didn't I, Elrond?"
Smiling sweetly, showing the dimple on the left side of his mouth, Elrond said, "You did, sire. And I look forward to it also."
Finrod spoke up with the clear intention of changing the conversation to safer topics. "So, Erestor. I saw you on the balcony talking with my father. What was that all about? I hadn't realized you knew each other before."
It was all Erestor could do to keep from laughing--out of the firing pan into the fire. "He knew me as a child. My father did most of the architectural work for Finwë on the remodeling of the exterior of the palace. He often brought me along with him to the construction site throughout my childhood. Before you were born. Arafinwë gave me a message from my mother."
Erestor hoped the discomfort audible in his voice would be interpreted as an unwillingness to talk about his estrangement from his notoriously difficult family. Meanwhile, his mind overflowed with images of Finarfin's cheekbones, the moonlight on his hair, and his inviting smile, as he had said, 'I'm drawn to you, Erestor.' The cynic within Erestor worked furiously to inform him that the entire situation and his reaction to Finarfin approached a level of high farce reached only by the worst comic operas.
When all of the carriages disgorged their passengers in front of the Elrond's new home, Erestor tallied up no more than twenty elves in their party. He immediately spotted Finarfin, but he did not see Eärwen. Although Erestor would be staying there indefinitely, that evening was his first visit. His luggage had been sent ahead, so that he would be free to attend the reception at Finwë's palace earlier. The full moon revealed a structure that resembled essentially a villa or a country house in style. Unlike many houses nearer the city center, it sprawled instead of towered, parts of it one-story and other wings extending only to a second floor.
Fingon jostled against Erestor from behind, throwing one arm across his shoulders, his voice redolent with alcohol and affection.
"They think I am mad, you know. But I'm not. I will get him back. I am not afraid of Námo. I'm not afraid of anyone. But then you already knew that!"
Erestor snorted and turned around. "Give me a hug, Finno. It's wonderful to see you. You look so incredibly . . . uh . . . alive." He squeezed Fingon in a hard embrace. "The last time I saw you . . . "
"You don't have to tell me. There is even a painting of my carcass right here in Tirion, covered with gore, trampled into the mud! You must visit the new museum near the main library. They've named it the Museum of Rebellion, Flight and Reconciliation. Isn't that rich?"
"People actually call it that?" Erestor asked.
"No. You'll usually hear the Exile Museum."
Fingon's eyes glowed with the vigor and humor that Erestor remembered, dark blue and restless.
"I'm sorry, Erestor," Fingon said. "I heard that you had been in a long-term relationship with . . . "
"Never mind him. I should have known it wouldn't last. I'm fine really. So, if you aren't mad, how are you?"
Fingon threw his head back in a loud laugh. They continued to amble along with others into the main entrance of the villa.
"Obviously, I'm obsessed. But I think I may have convinced some of the Valar. They know he deserves no worse treatment than Ingo or me. But, here we are and there he is, still not free. And all this talk of reconciliation ought to involve more than attending dedications of expensive museums in the center of Tirion. It has to involve some compromises."
"I am certain you can achieve that, my friend, if anyone can."
Fingon grinned, every bit the intrepid Fingon that Erestor remembered. Leaning closer to Erestor, he said in a conspiratorial whisper, "Yeah. And Nienna has taken a fancy to me also. Told me that I make her laugh."
"Stop it. You're killing me!" Erestor shouted, choking with laughter and punching Fingon on the bicep, causing everyone to turn and gawk at them.
"My lord, I am sorry to interrupt you." Elrond bowed to Fingon. "I'd very much like to give you and Erestor a tour of the house."
Celebrian had collected the furnishings over the course of the past few years, benefiting from the previous owners' travels from Aman to Númenor or Middle-earth and back. Paintings, representing a multiplicity of styles and eras, hung throughout the villa. No doubt the project had kept Celebrian occupied during those lonely years, after she had regained her health and strength but still awaited the arrival of her family. Elrond had brought Celebrian to Imladris. This home, however, Celebrian had made for him.
It did not resemble Imladris in the slightest, but Erestor found it endearing that Elrond guided them from room to room as house-proud as he might have been if he had built and furnished it himself.
The entire house retained the atmosphere of an elegant historical residence. It dated to the pinnacle of Noldorin creativity in Valinor, but as Erestor had noticed before had the air of a country place of a wealthy lord and not a townhouse. Its enormous rooms retained their original architectural features, appointed with antique and reproduction pieces, gilded framed mirrors, heavy, thick carpets, and sofas and chairs covered in bright brocaded fabrics. Tapestries hung everywhere, softening the stone walls. Celebrian claimed that several people had told her that Miriel Serindë had made one particularly fine wall hanging, although she did not have an actual proof of provenance. The rooms on the ground floor faced an inner courtyard.
The tour took far longer than Erestor might have expected. Fingon did ply Elrond with a long series of questions about everything that Elrond could remember of Maedhros's final years. Erestor was grateful that Elrond was more than happy to revisit those days. Fingon had not lost an iota of his charm and Elrond swam in it gratefully, eager to reminisce about the man he had idolized as a child.
By the time they had returned to the party, a sumptuous dinner had been laid out on a long table in a large sitting room. The food crossed the boundaries between sweet and savory: apples and pears stuffed with spiced ground meats; sausages made with fennel, chopped onions and dried fruit; cheese-filled puff pastries; and an assortment of other strange dishes that Erestor was unable to satisfactorily identify as either dessert or entrees. This seemed to be but one more minor way in which this world differed from Finwë's Tirion. Once again, to his dismay, one was expected to wander about juggling a plate and a drink. Apparently, finding a comfortable seat where one could eat in peace depended largely upon luck. His discomfort must have shown on his face, because Finarfin appeared at his shoulder and insisted upon guiding him to one of three or four small tables where one actually could sit and eat.
"It's the fashion at evening entertainments in Tirion to provide elaborately concocted food and then present it in a manner that makes it almost impossible for one's guests to enjoy it."
"Thank you for rescuing me," Erestor said. "I didn't see any empty tables."
"There weren't any." Finarfin grinned, a perfect picture of mischief. "I glared at this one until its occupants abandoned it. Occasionally, being the king has benefits."
Erestor was completely aware that Finarfin was monopolizing his company and that others had noticed as well. The fact led him to drink too much. But he made no move, nor did Finarfin, to do anything to mitigate their isolation from the crowd. They talked about everything and nothing, about the food, about Finarfin's children, even Erestor's former lovers, and the price of real estate in Aman. Finally, they talked about Eärwen and why she had not accompanied him to the party. Erestor listened, with only half an ear, to the story.
He had heard it all before. Finarfin was not the first married man to have shown an interest in him. Erestor knew himself to be an attractive man. He had been told often that he was uncommonly handsome, and that, despite his sharp tongue and terse frankness, he conveyed openness and accessibility. His last partner told him it was less about his comportment than it was his delicious pouting lips. He had claimed that at his first sight of Erestor, he had imagined those lips doing all manner of pleasant things to his body. Erestor did notice that Finarfin spent a great deal of time watching his mouth.
Erestor had over the years listened to far less enchanting men explain to him in great tedious detail how their wives didn't truly understand them, treated them coolly, or how they no longer had a physical relationship with said ladies. Finarfin did not strike him as the sort of man who had remained celibate for two Ages, so Erestor was enormously relieved when he did not attempt to add lack of consort to the list his marital problems. Meanwhile, too much wine and his proximity to Finarfin caused an agreeable torpidity to overtake Erestor. To Finarfin he probably looked as though he were dying to be fucked, Erestor thought with wry self-disparagement. In fact, he told himself that if he were to be perfectly honest, he had to admit that he was.
Erestor was musing how strange it seemed that the Finweans, despite their passion and prodigious capacity for love, did not seem to have good fortune with their marriages, when Celebrian interrupted them to tell Finarfin it was his last chance to catch a ride back into the city.
"Haru, you know that if you do not want to leave with them, we always have room for you to stay here."
"I would like to stay tonight, if you don't mind," Finarfin said. "But I must turn Erestor over to your gentle care now. I'm afraid I have hoarded him to myself all evening. Shall I take the same room I used the last time?"
"Let's consider that to be your room from now on," Celebrian chirped. "I'll make sure it is always ready for you."
"Good night, Erestor," Finarfin said, with a slight inclination of his head. "I appreciate your indulgence of me tonight. I am afraid I have abused your sympathy."
"Certainly not, my lord," Erestor said, unable to restrain a teasing grin, before bowing from the waist.
* * * *
A cloud cover had hidden the moon. The only light in Erestor's room came from the streetlamps outside, glowing an eerily unnatural blue. Odd that the Noldor in Tirion still used those ancient Fëanorian lights. The workers of Ost-en-Edhel had improved on those long ago. Surely some of them would have offered to help re-fit the city. Or, maybe not, Erestor thought, perhaps they were exactly the ones being released most slowly from the Halls of Mandos. Celebrimbor's coterie of craftsmen and scientists would be considered to be above all others tainted with the personal proclivities and political culture of Fëanor.
Erestor was not sleepy enough to go to bed, so he stretched out on the chaise longue. A headache had begun to thrum at the back of his skull. His mind raced, while simultaneously, his head felt fuzzy from the wine. Mainly he could not stop thinking about Finarfin, going over every word they had exchanged. Just then, he heard the faint snick of the door closing. When he tried to stand up, he found himself forced to do so with care.
Looking toward the doorway, he savored the view of Finarfin illuminated in that faint sickly blue. Erestor supposed that there could be no bad light for Finarfin. His hair only appeared more silver than gold, while the play of shadows accentuated his already impressive cheekbones and that Finwean nose, prominent with its slight bump. Erestor experienced a rush of affection that threatened to turn immediately into heat.
"Good. You're still awake," Finarfin said. "If I am not welcome, I will leave."
"I think you know better. I made a fool enough of myself earlier."
Finarfin took a long breath. An indecisive smile hovered about his lips. "Indeed. I thought I was the one who pushed myself at you. So, that means I may stay?" He did not move to come further into the room.
"Come here," Erestor said, holding out a hand toward Finarfin, while surprising himself at the tone of command in his voice. Then, in deference to Finarfin--it struck him how odd it was to think of such a thing as deference under the circumstances--he walked to meet him halfway across the room.
Finarfin initiated a clumsy kiss of bumped noses and teeth pressed too sharply against lips, topping it off with a muted "ouch." Erestor laughed tenderly, before taking Finarfin's face in his hands. He adjusted the aim of the king's mouth, until their lips met in an approximation of a satisfying kiss. Erestor tried hard not to smile against Finarfin's mouth. The entire situation felt predictably ridiculous to him. Nothing came easy to Erestor. Finarfin clearly wanted him, but was exploding with anxiety at the idea.
Erestor recognized the exquisite pain of letting down the last self-protective barriers around his heart. 'I'm a menace to myself,' he thought. What he said was, "Relax. It's just like kissing a girl, my lord."
"Shut up," Finarfin growled back at him. "You do want me to do this, don't you?"
"You know I do. Too much." Erestor's voice cracked on his response. Then he heard himself asking, "Have you ever done this before?" What a question?
"Well, no, actually. Is it easy to get wrong?"
The sincerity of Finarfin's question elicited a grin from Erestor, which turned Finarfin's expression from anxious to hopeful.
"I trust you . . . I'd really like to . . . well . . . what do you think?"
"Never mind. I want it also. We'll work it out," Erestor said. How bad could it be?
Not bad at all Erestor discovered. Once Finarfin had settled down a bit, he was intuitive and careful but not excessively so. If Erestor had wondered if they ought to have tried to come together differently the thought disappeared. When Finarfin's dark eyelashes at last lay soft upon his cheeks and his breath had slowed and evened out, Erestor did not have the heart to wake him. He hoped that it did not matter if he spent the night in his room.
Before Finarfin had fallen asleep, his last words had been, "Just perfect." And Erestor could not be arsed to disagree with Finarfin's assessment.
In the morning, he coaxed Erestor awake with kisses, too light to be pleasurable, along his throat and over his jaw. Finarfin sprawled half-on, half-off him, causing Erestor's right leg to feel numb.
"Hey," Finarfin said, when Erestor opened one eye.
"That tickles," Erestor answered.
"I didn't mean to wake you up."
"Yes, you did!"
Finarfin rolled his eyes. Erestor had never felt more compelled to ravish someone than he did at that moment. In light of his patience with Finarfin's inexperience the night before and being awakened far too early, he thought that at least was due him. Finarfin had no complaints.
* * * *
The next three weeks would always be remembered by Erestor as a jumble of bright mornings, lazy summer days, and a spate of mind-numbingly dull afternoons and early evenings in attendance at official functions in Finwë's palace, before they would find themselves ensconced again in Erestor's bedroom at Celebrian's and Elrond's house. Their lovemaking enraptured Finarfin with a sense for him of novelty and adventure, while returning Erestor to a state of unthinking delight that he believed he had lost forever.
Erestor noticed the bewildered, concerned looks that he received from those closest to him, but he refrained from asking Finarfin what, if any, reactions he had received regarding their relationship. Without ever discussing the question, they refrained from exchanging indecorous touches or glances in any public setting. They were not particularly discreet at Elrond's house, trusting that, although Elrond and Celebrian might not approve, they would never gossip.
Finarfin did not come to the villa every night, but at least four nights out of seven. There were long nights when Erestor lay, awake and unable to sleep, but mindlessly happy, with Finarfin's nose nuzzled into his neck. Other times, Finarfin would awaken before dawn and coax Erestor into consciousness, wanting to make love. It was on those occasions that Erestor realized Finarfin appeared protective of their time together as if uncertain of how long it could last. But the quiet kisses or fierce lovemaking, the talks, the stillness in each other's arms, were not something Erestor could sacrifice simply because it would be sensible for him to end it before Finarfin did.
On the morning of the first day of the fourth week since Erestor and Finarfin had first slept together, Erestor sat in Elrond's library going over a content index he had offered to construct for him. The work required less than his full attention and relaxed him with its mindless repetition. Finarfin had arisen earlier than usual to leave for the city to attend a series of meetings that would last throughout the day. Like nearly every other day in the suburbs of Tirion, the sky was clear and the air fresh and clean. The sound of horses' hooves on the flagstones of the courtyard drew Erestor to the window. The tradesmen, who regularly delivered goods in the mornings, usually arrived in wagons and used the back entrance.
Erestor immediately recognized the visitors: Finrod, Fingon, and, to his consternation, Eärwen. He quenched a sense of foreboding with his immediate decision to make himself scarce. There was no reason for anyone to expect that he had heard or seen their arrival. He did not intend to present himself unless he were explicitly summoned.
Less than a quarter of an hour later, Eärwen appeared in the doorway of the library.
"Erestor," she said, her voice soft and neutral in a studied way. "Elrond said I might find you here."
'Oh, shit,' he thought. "Good morning, my lady. Would you like me to call for a pot of tea?"
"I need to talk to you. I do not expect it will be particularly pleasant for either of us, so there is no need to prolong it with social niceties."
"Please come in and sit down at least," Erestor said, gesturing toward two comfortable reading chairs separated by a low table. She nodded and slipped into the nearest chair. Erestor took the seat across from her. He did not know exactly what he had expected, but that Eärwen might seek him out was nowhere near the top of the list of possible scenarios he had rehearsed in his head. A day did not pass when he had not wondered how he should respond when Finarfin would try to explain to him why they should stop seeing one another. He never had imagined that Finarfin would break off their relationship without talking to him. Finarfin was far too decent of a sort to simply cut it off without an explicit good-bye.
"You've surely assumed by now that I know he has been seeing you."
"We never discussed it. But, yes, it did occur to me that you might suspect something." His voice sounded pathetically reedy and sad to his own ears.
She squared her narrow shoulders and leaned forward in her chair, her chin set in a determined line. "No. Arafinwë would not have mentioned it. He keeps his confidences. He has never volunteered any information about you either. But we have discussed the situation numerous times, at length, always initiated by me, and have reached an impasse. He claims he does not know what he wants to do about it, but doesn't intend to stop visiting you. He hasn't the faintest conception that I might be capable of coming here to speak directly to you."
"Eärwen, I am sorry." Again, Erestor inwardly cringed. He did not sound sorry at all, but rather put upon and peeved. It was not a handsome self-portrait.
"Not sorry enough to let him go I'd wager. Well, neither will I do so voluntarily. You know nothing about us, Erestor. You have never been married, raised children with someone, lived with another person for . . ."
"If he wants to stop seeing me, I will not say a word to try to change his mind. I know I am in the wrong here, but I do not think I have the strength to break it off if he doesn't . . ."
"Would you please be quiet for a moment, Erestor, and stop interrupting me. I don't intend to discuss this with you. I have a few things I'd like to tell you and then I will leave you alone. After that, it is between you and Arafinwë. If you care anything about him at all, I would ask for you to have the courtesy to listen.
"I love him and, although you may not understand this, even though he may be infatuated with you, he loves me as well. He also takes his responsibilities to his people seriously. You may think of him as the man who did not want to be king, but that is not who he is now."
Erestor listened. Or, more precisely, he truly did try to listen. It wasn't as though he hadn't gone over in his head all of the points she was making a couple of hundred times each at least. He had learned that Finarfin was a true king and not a figurehead; he also had come to understand that he had taken a shattered, depleted people and restored their national identity; he realized that none of the former kings, wandering around Valinor at that moment or due to be released from the Halls of Mandos momentarily, could placate the various factions or avoid potential schisms within their people in the way that Finarfin could; and he also appreciated that Finarfin's choices in relation to his personal life could affect his ability to continue to rule.
At last, Eärwen ended, by asking, "Did you hear a single word I said?"
"I did," Erestor said, thinking it did not change a thing. He was trapped in a conundrum.
Eärwen turned and left the room. Erestor stood and watched her leave, but said nothing. He simply stood slumping next to his chair, arms hanging at his sides, not even thinking, numb with despair.
Elrond came into the library. "That bad?" he asked.
"I guess so. What am I to do?" Erestor choked out, while reaching for Elrond. His best friend held him in his arms and Erestor clung to him.
That night, Erestor did not travel into Tirion. Finarfin did come to the villa, although he arrived late in the evening. He came into Erestor's room, tossing his riding cloak onto the nearest chair, yammering on about boring meetings, wearisome dinners, insufferable courtiers, until he realized that Erestor, sitting in a chair by the window, looking out at the night sky, was not responding.
He came over and knelt on the floor in front of Erestor. "What is it? Are you angry that I am so late?"
"No," Erestor answered. He couldn't manage more. When he released a long-suffering sigh, he almost caused himself to smile at its melodramatic exaggeration. Finarfin looked worried. He stood up and straddled Erestor's lap, pulling him against his chest, smothering him in a hug.
"I am so sorry. The last thing I want is to make you unhappy. You do no justice to yourself, Erestor," Finarfin said. "I know I am no treasure. After all your years of labor, strife, and sorrow, I believe that you deserve a few of peace and satisfaction, enabled by one more worthy of you than I am."
"Stuff it," Erestor answered, suddenly jerking his head up, deriving a perverse satisfaction from Finarfin's surprised wince. "Don't try to coddle me. So, now that your curiosity has been satisfied . . . Oh, forget it. I've been a complete fool. Run on home to your wife. No doubt she is waiting up for you this time. I wasn't going to tell you . . . but . . ."
"What?" Finarfin sat up straight, startled. "I'm not going anywhere. What are you rattling on about?"
"Eärwen came to talk to me today."
"I am really sorry. That must have been awful." Finarfin pulled Erestor back into his arms, holding onto him more tightly. "I hope she didn't say anything too hurtful to you. She can have a sharp tongue when she is upset."
"Oh, please! What could possibly be hurtful about being called a home wrecker and husband stealer? Or being told one threatens the delicate balance of unity among our people and is enticing you to destroy everything that means anything to you?"
"I'm not a child, you know. I am not likely to be persuaded to do anything I do not want to do."
"I'm not a child either, although I am somewhat of an idiot. I'm not angry with you either. I wish I could be."
"I feel terrible when I think that you might settle for me. But I'm so selfish that I can't stay away."
"Settle for you? Arafinwë! I'm completely besotted with you. I hate this. I ought to throw you out of here right now . . . Don't you see I can't?"
"Shh!" Finarfin put his index finger against Erestor's lips. "I love you. But we've barely had a chance to get to know each other yet. Please don't send me away. Can't we continue like this for a little while longer at least before we have to make any decisions?"
Feeling like his heart might burst--Finarfin had never said 'I love you' before--Erestor struggled to respond without revealing his wretched hopefulness. "I can wait. But what about you? Your stakes are higher."
"If she didn't break with me when I followed Fëanor out of Valinor, or when she found out about Alqualondë, it is unlikely that she will leave me tomorrow. We don't have to decide everything immediately."
"Then stay and hold me now," Erestor said, pushing tomorrow out of his mind.
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.