1. Barad Eithel
"Who cares? It's just two men in bed—that's not politics, that's gossip. You didn't tell me you were interested in gossip."
"Two men in bed is indeed politics," he said patiently, "if one of them is a king-mad ancient historian and the other is a descendant of the last king's sister."
—The Fall of The Kings, Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman.
When the sun came out following the rain storm, the broad walls and towers of Barad Eithel emerged in the distance out of a steamy haze. The narrow ribbon of the River Sirion, sparkling in the valley below, belied the broad and mighty waterway it would become after wending its way southwards toward the sea. From the crest of the hill, the last rays of sunlight revealed newly harvested fields, stretching out, before the next large incline, to the east and the south. Nearer the shelter of the massive fortress, Maedhros spotted a sizeable village that had not existed the last time he had visited Eithel Sirion.
"We're almost there now," he said gratuitously, with a happy sigh. Fingon laughed at his relief at their journey's imminent end.
"If we're late to eat," Maglor said, "at least we shan't very late."
"We won't be late at all," said Fingon. "The sentries on the wall will have seen us by now and Atar will be sure to hold supper for us. That is if they can tell who we are." He turned in his saddle and, signaling behind him, shouted "Banners up!" His call was picked up and echoed down through the lines of the mounted troops following behind him.
"At least the flags will be dry," grumbled Erestor. The short, hard rain had soaked the riders and it was too close to sunset to hope they would dry out before arriving at Eithel Sirion. In any case, Maedhros thought, it was not cold. Still, a hot bath and a meal at Fingolfin's sumptuous table, followed by a soft bed, would be more than welcome.
He shifted in his saddle to look behind him. There was enough wind to fully unfurl their banners, his red and gold ones, Fingon's bright blue and silver, and Maglor's of forest green crowned with a multi-colored rendering of the star of Fëanor. Their contingents would make a brave sight viewed from the battlements—three of the most prominent princes of the Noldor arriving to spend Summer's End festival in the court of their High King. He snorted with wry amusement, attracting Fingon's attention again.
"What now?" his beloved asked, grinning.
"Oh, I was thinking we must look handsomer from a distance than we will up close."
"Speak for yourself," said Erestor with a haughty sniff, which allowed everyone within earshot a good-natured laugh at the expense of Maedhros' vain young squire.
Maedhros' spirits lifted when Fingolfin greeted him with honest affection, clasping his hand and kissing him on both cheeks. "I am happy to say that you are looking extremely well," Fingolfin said.
"Thank you, Uncle. Honest work does keep one from brooding. I've been building. I see that you've been similarly occupied," he said, with a sweeping gesture that encompassed the castle's keep and its surrounding walls and towers. Fingon had told him, at length, of how proud his father was of the progress on the stronghold and its outlying buildings at Eithel Sirion. "The fortress is impressive. Perhaps all of this directed energy accounts for you looking so fit and well yourself."
Maedhros had almost forgotten how closely Fingon resembled his father when Fingolfin was well and relatively happy. Many found Fingolfin handsomer than either of his sons. Turgon had the same sculpted jawline and lovely mouth, but had a perpetually worried look about his eyes, more closely set than those of his father and brother, and he did not smile as readily. Fingon came nearer to achieving archetypal Noldorin perfection in the mold of Fingolfin and Fëanor. But Fingon had inherited the infamous Finwëan nose, prominent and slightly aquiline, which caused him to vary from the model. Maedhros, of course, liked his nose and thought that Fingon's natural charisma would have eclipsed far less appealing physical traits. All of the cousins enjoyed teasing Fingon, saying that he should not worry, that his nose added character to his face. He suspected some of them actually envied Fingon's resemblance to their grandfather. With those reminders of their strong familial ties in his head, the fondness of the greeting he offered his half-uncle came from his heart.
"I am happy to see you, Uncle. Thank you for having us. We've heard so much about how your folk at Eithel Sirion have adapted various intriguing Sindarin customs in the celebration of several festivals and, foremost amongst those, that of Summer's End. I am eager to experience it firsthand."
"You are most welcome, Nelyafinwë. Is that what they say? We have so many in our community here who are indigenous to these parts that we naturally absorb many of their customs and traditions." Maedhros could not be sure if that remark was a mild taunt at their own unfortunate isolation on Himring Hill. Fingolfin looked around to try to get a better view of the group of armed men filing into the back of the Great Hall. Maedhros caught his glance.
"Ah. Yes. I brought two dozen men with me into the fortress tonight. I beg your indulgence for the inconvenience and prevail upon your always gracious hospitality. There should be another two hundred or so troops in and around the village by now also. Some will be able to find their own accommodation there, among old friends and family, or are well able to pay for bed and board. We've been advised the remainder can camp on the open field just beyond the village. Hopefully their visit will leave the local inhabitants happier and wealthier."
"Ah," Fingolfin said, cocking one eyebrow at Maedhros. "Never having made the journey back that far north, I have no idea if the number accompanying you would be considered few or many." Curious perhaps? Maedhros hoped that was all it was. Surely, he did not find the Fëanorian troops a threat in any way? The truth was that he had brought the minimum that he believed he needed for the security of his company.
"It was enough, I judged. No more. Neither careless nor an excess of caution. Happily, we have seen nothing of the enemy in months. Not so much as an abandoned Orcs' nest anywhere near the outskirts of the lands we consider reasonably secure. I cannot waste my life always fearing the worst, but nonetheless I try to be prepared."
Fingolfin drew his brows together. "The tone of your voice was reminiscent of Fëanáro just now."
He looked up at Maedhros with a narrowing of his eyes that was hard to read. Then he shook his head as though to banish unwanted thoughts, allowing the faintest tickle of mind-to-mind rapport to reach Maedhros. He severed the tie almost instantly but not before Maedhros sensed his uncle's feelings of both sorrow and frustration. Despite all of the madness of the years recently past, his uncle still grieved the loss of his older brother at times. He felt gladdened that his uncle had not entirely forgotten the man his father had been before his fall.
Hoping to soothe his uncle, he answered lightly with a soft laugh. "Oh, you may be assured that I am never that supremely confident! If I sounded over certain it was because I repeated something I've said so often to Findekáno or Macalaurë that it's almost as though I'm reciting words learned by heart."
A subdued clatter at the back of the hall drew their attention to the arrival of a small group of men, helmets in the crook of their arms, clad in armor covered by surcoats in the crimson livery of Maedhros, with its eight-pointed star of the House of Fëanor emblazoned in gold upon their chests.
Maglor, wearing mail without armor draped in a green riding cloak, approached Fingolfin with a fluid grace born of years of performance. Behind him trailed Maedhros' shadow Erestor, lithe and strikingly beautiful of face, presenting an elegant appearance despite his simple riding breeches and overtunic all in a utilitarian black. He'd adapted his style of dress from his memory from his youth in Tirion of the cheerless raven robes of the legions of almost invisible bureaucrats and scribes of Finwë's court. Erestor, however, was the antithesis of invisible. It was hard not to be amused at some of his imaginative affectations.
Grinning from ear to ear, Fingon stepped to the front of the party, bowing to his father. Relaxed and happy, resplendent in his usual blue surcoat and matching cape covered with silver and white detailing, Fingon tossed his head, causing a myriad of small braids tightly bound with cords of gold to catch the light.
Erestor had braided them for him the night before, complaining all the while that his arms ached from the task, as the three of them had sat cross-legged, in the early autumn air, within the circle of the dim light of a camp fire. Fingon provided precise instructions on what he wanted. Bored of the road and wanting to sleep, Maglor had grumbled at the sound of their easygoing banter. In truth, his brother could sleep through a pitched battle when he was really tired. Meanwhile, Maedhros continued to tease Erestor, accusing him of laziness and lack of stamina, although secretly envying him the sweet labor that he could no longer perform.
The weary, saddle-sore men finally slept, more than a little chilled, surprised as they were by an early cold snap in the thickly forested wilderness just north of their destination. Maedhros supposed that Fingon had dreamed, as he did, of that oversized bedstead in his habitual room at his father's castle with its overstuffed feather bed.
The last day's ride had been a pleasant one. The day was warmer with an autumn crispness in the air, and the entire company happy to be near to the journey's end with every expectation of being pampered and spoiled for the next few weeks. The braids had held, throughout one night's sleep followed by an entire day of hard riding, exactly as Fingon had insisted that they would 'if properly done.'
Maedhros' memory of that last night in the wild was interrupted by an ironic chortle from Fingolfin. "Ah, here is the Mighty Singer himself, and the young Eressetor, accompanied by my wandering heir."
"Greetings, Uncle!" Maglor said, bowing with his hand on his heart, before allowing his eyes to dart brightly around the crowd already assembling for the evening repast in the Great Hall of the fortress.
Fingolfin pulled him into a strong embrace, kissing him on both cheeks as well. "Macalaurë, you are in for a rare pleasure to be here for this festival. And our musicians are ecstatic to have you. You do realize you will be forced to indulge them at some point?" Fingolfin asked. "If you choose, you may learn the songs and traditions of the Starlight Memories, Rebirth through Fire, and the Wild Hunt over the next seven days."
"Nothing could be more to my liking, Uncle Ñolvo. I have heard hints of the ancient traditions of which I know little and am excited to be here for the festival. And nothing could prevent me from exploiting the chance to ply my chosen trade among such illustrious practitioners." Fingon laughed at Maglor's language, shaking his headful of braids.
"Some parts are ancient, the bonfire and the dancing, but the central event—a big hunt—is as new to these parts as our presence. Innovative people the Sindar and quick to invent traditions," said Fingolfin. "They live from festival to festival."
"Atar!" said Fingon, reaching around Maglor to embrace his father. "All of your guests are accounted for now. I've reported to your seneschal. You are housing the four us here in the family wing—Maitimo, Macalaurë and me, along with Eressetor." He shrugged with an impish smile, nodding in the direction of his companions. "You remember Eressetor from Tirion? The castle barracks are taking on the rest of Maitimo's personal guard. The townsfolk have been sweetened to accept the remaining troops without complaint looking forward to the bounty we bring of a week's good harvest-time hunting and the license for them to rob Maedhros' soldiers blind of the generous allowances he has granted them for expenses."
"It's good to see you, son. You have been absent much longer than I had expected." Maedhros suppressed a chuckle at yet another long-standing family certainty. Fingon would always be away longer than his father expected and Fingolfin would never fail to tell him so.
"Ai, Atar! I'll have to admit that I arrived at Himring exhausted and indulged myself by taking it easy. Then we came up with the brilliant idea of bringing Maitimo back for a visit. Eressetor somehow insinuated himself into our company, which added certain complications. Of course, Maitimo insisted, since we would be passing through his territory anyway, that Macalaurë would want to come as well and would be welcome. As you can imagine, that involved a certain amount of unexpected preparation time for Macalaurë. Maitimo and I imposed upon a lot of people's hospitality along the way also. We detoured in order to stay a few days with Angaráto and Aikanáro and see how they and their people are faring. They send their warmest salutations.
"Anyway, here we are. I am always happy to be back, even happier this time than usual." Fingon made no attempt to keep from smiling directly at Maedhros. "All we need now is to rinse off the worst dust of the road before dining. But we don't wish to keep everyone waiting."
"We are happy to see you and are delighted to hold supper for you. No one here is starving yet."
"Oh!" Fingon said, "I almost forgot." He grabbed Erestor by his upper arm, pushing him in the direction of Fingolfin. He had been craning his neck back as far as it would go, straining to examine the vaulted ceiling of the hall and its heavy stone buttresses. Vibrant flags and tapestries, their colors ablaze in the light of a multitude of candles and torches, contrasted with the heavy blocks of stone.
"This crow, believe it or not, is Maitimo's squire and herald, fondly known in Himring as the power behind the throne," said Fingon, winking. "Trust me; he is far more competent than he appears at first glance, stronger and faster, and loyal to a fault. Eressetor, greet your High King."
Erestor dropped to one knee before Fingolfin. "Sire," he gasped, in an awestruck voice—whether at Fingolfin or at the architectural details of the soaring ceiling of the chamber, Maedhros was not sure. He bowed his head nearly to the ground and held the position. Erestor did nothing by half measures. "It is truly an honor."
"I remember you, Eressetor! The son of Master Orneminar, my father's architect. Rise." The King extended a hand to Erestor, which the lad took with only a slight hesitation, and half-hoisted him to his feet. "Still wiry and slight, but with a warrior's grip. So, are they keeping you well occupied on Himring Hill, young man?"
"Yes, sire." He nodded, before glancing with imploring wide-eyes at Maedhros for confirmation.
"To hear Eressetor tell the story, he manages me," said Maedhros. "And never rests. He claims this is his first holiday on this side of the sea."
"A valuable assistant then. I tried to interest each of my sons, one right after the other, in that sort of deputy's position, but they both have turned me down. They somehow wrongly believe they can wield more power on their own. Are you ambitious, Eressetor? Perhaps I could woo you away from your bleak mountain kingdom?" Maedhros half-expected Erestor to answer with his usual supercilious, 'My honor and my duty bind me to my sworn lord.'
To his wonder and tremendous relief, Erestor more wisely answered, with his sweetest smile, "You're making sport of me, Your Grace."
Maedhros laughed to himself at the thought of irreverent, foul-mouthed Erestor working with Fingolfin. But it boded well that Fingolfin had made a joke and Erestor was quick enough to catch it. To his surprise, Fingolfin, of all unlikely people, appeared to like something about the lad. He had probably heard that Erestor's idealistic temperament and self-perception as a rebel fed into his loyalty to Maedhros alone as Fëanor's heir.
The King appeared to tolerate Erestor's fanaticism with some small measure of sympathy. Fingolfin did value loyalty and transparency—Erestor had those to a fault. He had learned that his uncle valued bluntness more than he had in Tirion, having learned the hard way that what he had once considered courtly discretion, could breed rumors, hide treachery and lies, and promote tragic misunderstandings. Maedhros could not, however, think of two men less suited to take to one another than Fingolfin and Erestor. He would have thought they were entirely too much alike in their stubbornness, while being irreconcilable in their motivations, to ever arrive at an understanding. And yet, if he read their smiling faces accurately, they somehow had decided to suspend judgment of one another.
"Yes. Perhaps I am making a little fun at your expense," Fingolfin said, returning Erestor's uninhibited smile warmly. "Your dedication to your lord is notorious—ah, the avidity of youth—as is his dependence upon your organizational skills. I do hope you find a well-earned respite during your stay."
"Thank you, your highness," Erestor answered, his dimples more stunning than usual.
Fingolfin's voice turned wistful. "You are like a glimpse of home for me. You have inherited your father's wise eyes and your mother's merry smile. I noticed you examining our stone work. Tell me, what do you think of it?"
The rapt look Erestor had worn a few moments earlier, studying the construction of the great hall, returned. "It's magnificent, sire. It surpasses the grandest buildings in Tirion in its strength and rough beauty, if lacking some of their refined elegance. I had already noticed at our approach that the fortress' battlements rival those of Himring Castle, which we believe are an example of the finest in defensive stonework. But this interior is truly magnificent. What might pass for graceful in Tirion, can hold no real splendor for us here. We need match our architecture to our new uses and the environment and not be hampered by tradition or imitation."
Fingolfin grunted in appreciation at the lad. "Let us save that classic argument for the supper table. After a few glasses of our locally brewed honey mead, you will find that Turukáno loves to argue just the opposite."
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.