Actions

Work Header

The Bonds that Bind

Chapter Text

 

The night was bitterly cold, the sky clear above their heads, the landscape eerily calm under the dull blanket of snow without the moon to cast it aglow. They stood guard well hidden among the leafless trees high over the Great Gate, their eyes sweeping over the gorge and across the plain. Minutes trickled slowly and they were now approaching the middle of their watch.

Suddenly, Captain Astoron gripped his shoulder painfully and with his other hand he pointed at the ever-threatening North. “Something stirs up there and nothing good can come of it,” he said sharply.

Sandir started to protest but then he realized that indeed far away, over the Ered Wethrin and the hills of Dorthonion, stars seemed to be vanishing from the sky.

His captain continued in a hushed tone, “So it has been the previous time. Run swiftly to the King.”

But before Sandir could offer any reply, the night erupted in flames.[i]

 

***

 

Down, down, over the protruding roots, around the thorny bushes, his legs carried him swiftly towards the Great Gate. War and destruction, darkness and blood – that was his urgent message. Quickly, quickly, there was no time to lose. He slid down the last stretch of the path and onto the cleared flat area before the gate.

“Who comes there?” came an instant question, and he approached a fellow guardsman, who stood watch at the main entrance to the capital, hidden among the white chalky rocks that formed the gorge.

“Sandir, a ranger. I carry an urgent message to our lord.”

“Password?”

“Elbereth.”

“Elentari. Go.” The guard opened a small wicket and let him in. Sandir passed through the great entrance hall and went on to one of the corridors. He moved as silently as he could, not wishing to disturb anyone’s sleep and exchanging hushed passwords with the guards stationed at various places through the city. The posts were spread closer to each other as he approached the area of the city restricted for the use of the royal family, and he had to explain his purpose to be admitted. At last two guards stopped him in the King’s antechamber.

“Elbereth,” he repeated the password impatiently, panting. “I need to see the King.”

“You don’t see the King, you answer his summons.” The guards moved closer in to bar his way to the door. “Just who do you think you are?”

“I am a ranger and I carry an urgent message for the King. Let me through!” And he tried to squeeze between them.

“Whoa, young man!” One of the guards pushed him roughly back. “It’s the middle of the night and the King’s asleep. Whatever is so urgent as to justify such a disregard of propriety?”

“War, my good Galuon.” The door behind the guards opened to reveal the King himself, dressed in a robe donned hastily over his nightclothes, his hair unbound, his face unnaturally pale in the glow of a crystal lamp he carried.

“Sire!” Both guards backed away from the door to let their lord through and bowed. Sandir also backtracked his steps to the middle of the room and went to his knees. It had been easy to run down from his post to bring the news, excitement carrying him on and multiplying his courage, but now that he actually was in the King’s presence, his confidence left him rapidly. While his business was both urgent and of utmost importance, he was but a low-ranked ranger and yet there he was, pounding on the King’s door in the middle of the night, clamoring for admittance.

Steeling himself, he lifted his eyes, preparing as best he could to meet the King’s probing look. He remembered all too well that piercing gaze from the last time he had been the object of his lord’s undivided attention, the otherworldly light that shone through the eyes of all the Gelydh[ii] who had come across the Sea brighter in the King’s than in anybody else’s he had met. It had seemed as if the King could see right through him into the innermost core of his heart, and sift through it, and find fault. And yet, inexplicably, at the same time Sandir’s desperate need to prove himself had changed into a strong belief that if he tired with all his might, he could manage. The searching had continued until he had wanted desperately to squirm, yet he had remained motionless on his knees and at a long last, the King had nodded slightly and extended his hand for Sandir’s sword.

He tore his mind away from its nervous recounting at the sound of the King’s voice. “Galuon, Arassamon, while I appreciate your concern for my rest, I expect our guest brings us some news that I should hear immediately.” Though it was gently phrased, it was obviously a rebuke and both guardsmen bowed their heads in an apology. The King then turned towards Sandir and took a few slow paces. His face was not only pale but drawn, his jaw clenched and he moved almost is if concussed. As required, Sandir met his lord’s gaze, expecting to find anger or at least annoyance but instead the King’s eyes shone calmly, though something akin to fear seemed to creep in.

And yet, his voice was even as he gestured for the keeling ranger to raise. “What is your name, friend?”

“S-Sandir, my lord.”

“And your errand?”

“Death and destruction, m’lord! Capitan Astoron bade me tell you, lord, that war has gone ill in the North. We saw the northern sky erupt in flames and he says this is how it has already been once. He begs you to act swiftly.” Here, words failed him and he choked a little but the King, seeing his nervousness, put a hand on his shoulder in approval.

“Your captain and you have done very well to inform us of this grim development and we thank you both. Go back to your post, observe what you can, and bring me any news you shall have.”

 

***

 

Finrod watched the ranger leave and then turned towards the open door to his solar. “Laeron!” he called and when his page appeared, he continued, “summon the Lord Steward, and quickly!” The boy scurried away. “Let him in the moment he arrives,” he told the guards and retreated to the privacy of his innermost chambers, accompanied by the men’s repentant ayes.

While safely alone, he closed his eyes immediately and renewed his attempts to reestablish a connection with his brother. Angamaitë. Angamaitë[iii], can you hear me? But Angaráto remained as silent as he had been since their contact broke abruptly.

This first desperate contact, which had pierced through Finrod’s dreams like an arrow, conveyed only incoherent emotions and images. Angaráto was shocked, and terrified, and in a desperate need of his older brother’s steadying presence, and the world around him was aflame. Then, with a sudden burst, which made Finrod’s skin sting as if burned, and a last terrified cry of Findo! the connection ended, leaving in its wake a numb emptiness.

The raw strength of his brother’s fear terrified Finrod, but his subsequent inability to reach Angaráto was even more disturbing.

He shrugged off his robe and, not waiting for Laeron to return, he started to get dressed. There was no time to lose – out in the North war had obviously gone ill. He too remembered all too well the acrid fumes and devastating flames that heralded the Enemy’s assault. They were triumphant the last time, but the victory had been hard won and he suspected the Enemy had not idled his time, besieged behind Angamando’s gates. This time, they might have an even more difficult task.

Aicanáro! Eldalótë! He thought of his sister-in-law, so similar to Nerwen in her valiant spirit, who would not stand being left behind and accompanied Angaráto every time he went to the leaguer. Eldalótë, answer me! [iv]

His concentration shattered when a voice called hesitantly. “My lord?”

 

***

  

He was woken up by a sharp tapping on his door. “My lord!” a voice cried. “My lord, please let me in.”

He scrambled out of his bed and, padding barefoot across the room, opened the door to reveal the King’s page, blushing and panting from exertion.

“My lord, pardon the intrusion,” the boy said breathlessly, executing a slightly awkward bow. “The King wishes to see you immediately. He bade me tell you to come at once.”

Edrahil processed this information for a few seconds and nodded. “Very well, I shall come presently. But come in and help me dress, I can hardly go to our lord in my nightclothes. Unless you have another errand…?”

Laeron shook his head and followed him back into the bedroom, where he quickly helped Edrahil into a plain tunic cinched with a simple leather belt. Sturdy ankle-length boots followed and Edrahil was now ready to go, smoothing his hair on the way.

They did not have to walk far before reaching the royal apartment. Seeing the King’s page and the Steward all guards let them pass without a word, and soon Edrahil was entering the King’s solar.

“My lord?” he called uncertainly. The room was empty, which left him only the bedchamber.

“Edrahil, come in,” came an answer from behind the closed door.

He obeyed but then stopped, marveling at the sight which met his eyes. The King was standing in the middle of the room, barefoot and wearing only a shirt and breeches, his shoulders tense and his whole posture emanating anxiety and pain. One of the clothespresses was opened, the bed was unmade and what appeared to be a robe laid cast off carelessly next to it.

And then, Edrahil sprang back to life and he hurried straight to the King, the nightly hour and the strange scene making him forgo all formalities. “My lord, whatever is the matter?” He actually came short of putting his hands on Finrod’s shoulders at the very last moment and ended with his arms raised awkwardly.

“War must have gone terribly wrong for us, Edrahil,” said the King tightly. “A ranger came down from the hills to tell me that fire was spotted burning above the mountains in the North. Even before that, I have heard from my brother. He was in a desperate need of help and… I haven’t managed to contact him since,” he finished in a small voice.

Edrahil drew in air and exhaled it in a huff. What could he say to such a statement? He had no real words of comfort and empty platitudes would not do. After one more moment of hesitation, he decided work was the best solution, so he took a few steps back and, assuming the posture of an obedient servant, asked, “What would you have of me, sire?”

At that, Finrod seemed to snap out of a trance. “I will continue my attempts to reach my brothers, but until or unless I do so, we prepare for war. We shall execute a full mobilization according to the emergency plan. I need your full report of the state of the armories, the finances, and the border patrols and I will need the same of Lady Emerthedis concerning our food and water supplies, medicines and transportation. As soon as she arrives, we need to inform all those living outside the city to prepare for evacuation. I will have your report right now, if you please.”

“Permission to go for my documents, lord?”

“No, Laeron can go for your secretary and together they can bring you whatever you need, and meanwhile, you may begin. Laeron! Oh, and ask him to bring you some more appropriate garb, we shall be going out as soon as I have a full view of our present situation.”

Recognizing an unspoken plea not to be left alone, Edrahil quickly explained to the page where to find Ríneth, his secretary, what to tell her and also where to find his gear. Closing the door after the boy, who was told also to inform Lady Emerthedis she was to make a full report of all the areas under her responsibility as soon as she could, the Steward turned back to his King. “Would you not dress, my lord?” He crossed the room and picked up the discarded robe.

Finrod’s shoulders slumped tiredly the moment they were left alone as if he was saving his strength for confrontations with those by whom he could not afford to be seen as anything less than the embodiment of calm competence, composed power and high majesty. “You shouldn’t–”

“Oh, not that again! You know I count myself honored to be of any help I can.”

“Yes, my poor friend.” The King smiled sadly. “And I work you for that far too hard.”

“And I would not have it any different, as you know well. Now, will you put on a court attire or a gambeson already?”

“A gambeson, we are off to war. Thank you.”

Edrahil needed to go to an adjacent room to retrieve this garment so rarely used in the city. Upon returning, he found the King biting his lip, a painful crease between his brows and so, holding out the gambeson, he asked, “Please, tell me what exactly you know?”

“Nothing more than what I have told you. Only, I don’t think the Enemy has failed to learn from his mistakes and I fear now we shall have a much more difficult task at hand.”

“Is it your foresight, sire?”

“I do not know. I have been dreaming of death and destruction for years now.” Edrahil looked up sharply from where he was kneeling to help the King put on his riding boots. “I don’t think this is anything but experience. And yet… I cannot shake off the feeling that this is our Doom coming in for all of us.” His eyes stared unseeingly across the room. “If my brothers have to suffer, though they are innocent of any wrongdoing save curiosity, then how much more I, who should have seen… should have prevented… and now, again…”

“My lord, do not berate yourself so,” said Edrahil intently. “How could you have known and succeed where even the Valar failed?”

“Then why am I even given foresight if not to prevent harm?!” The King gestured wildly with both hands. “Oh, do not give me that look,” he said, annoyed. “And do get up!”

Deciding the King needed help to regain hold on his emotions, Edrahil rose and walked to one of the cabinets to pick up a comb. “Shall I assist you with your hair, my lord?”

Finrod huffed and made an absent-minded gesture with his hand. Deciding it indicated an assent, Edrahil inserted the comb into the wild mass of fair hair. Slowly, methodically, and taking far longer than strictly necessary, he combed through Finrod’s hair until his ministrations rendered a uniform cloak of gold and the King’s shoulders relaxed again. “Warrior braids, sire?” Not even waiting for the nod that followed his question, Edrahil started plaiting at the temples and continued on until he reached the back of Finrod’s head, at which point he parted the hair horizontally and, changing style, twisted and pleated until all the hair was gathered into two rope braids, one right above the other.

The hair done, Edrahil brought from an adjacent room a jeweled collar and an inlaid casket of rings and having presented them for Finrod’s acceptance, he put the collar about the King’s shoulders, again taking longer than absolutely necessary to set it properly and pin it in place. There was no mistaking this time: Finrod leaned into the touch, so Edrahil decided to fiddle with the necklace a little longer and then, stepping around the King’s chair, brushed his hand just a bit more familiarly to indicate he would now put on the rings.

Now, with the rings on – and the King allowed only his father’s ring on his right hand and two of the smaller and less ornate ones on the left – there was nothing else Edrahil could do.

Luckily, at that very moment a knock came on the door. “Sire?”

Edrahil wanted to open it but Finrod was faster. “Back already?” he said to Laeron. “Very well, bring us some light repast, ask Mistress Ríneth to lay out the documents in the solar, and give me these.” He extended his hands, indicating Laeron should pass him Edrahil’s clothes. Clutching the bundle, he then turned, closed the door again with his foot and crossed the room to deposit his burden on the bed.

“Well, let us get you into these.” The King took up a padded doublet and passed it to Edrahil, who quickly divested himself of his tunic and started to change. The Steward meekly accepted help with the gambeson and belt but when the King reached for his boots, he was hard pressed to swallow his objection. Yet if this was what Finrod needed, Edrahil would obey, little though he liked it.

 

***

  

Finrod squared his shoulders and left the bedchamber, Edrahil in tow, to find in the solar not only Laeron and Ríneth, but also Lady Emerthedis, who was accompanied by one of her own staff. If the newcomers were surprised by their choice of clothes, or dismayed by what it indicated, they hid it well.

They all exchanged polite greetings and at Finrod’s gesture both his Stewards, the Noldorin and the Sindarin one, moved to sit at the table, where tiny sweet and savory pastries were placed alongside flagons of wine and water, while their attendants took place behind their chairs. “We can at least make ourselves more or less comfortable.” With that he turned to Laeron. “Thank you, that is all,” he said. But the page lingered hesitantly as if he wanted to say something else. “What is it? Speak freely.”

Laeron went down to his knees and tilting his head up, looked at Finrod with uncertainty mingled with hope. “My Lord King, may I… my I ask a favor of you?”

Finrod smiled and brushed his hand across the boy’s cheek. “What would you have?”

Laeron took in a deep breath and, his hands clutched together and pressed tightly to his chest, said hurriedly, “My lord, please, take me with you.”

“You do not know for what you are asking.”

“My lord, I beg you, let me go with you. I am old enough, I have trained, I’m good with a bow. Please, my lord, I don’t want to stay behind, useless. Let me go with you.”

“No, Laeron. You are not old enough; trust me, no-one is. You say you are a good bowman, and that is very fortunate, for we need somebody to defend the city while we are gone in case the Enemy’s armies break our defenses and rampage again through Beleriand. And think of your mother. I will not add to her grief any sooner than it is absolutely necessary. No, I said.” In his fervor and unrestrained show of emotions, the boy was very much like young Angrod  and his chaffing at restraints placed on him by his elders reminded Finrod also of his sister Galadriel. Even now, Laeron wanted to offer further resistance, but Finrod cut across him sharply: “Enough!”

Recognizing a final dismissal when he heard one, Laeron rose and with a final bow he left the room dejectedly, while Finrod joined his advisors at the table and they immersed themselves in a long discussion of the state of the realm.

 

***

 

NOTES

[i] The distance from Nargothrond to Thangorodrim is c. 460 miles as a crow flies (cf. The Atlas of Middle-earth), so between the flat world, Thangorodrim’s ridiculously great height and the abnormally sharp Elven sight, I decided, for dramatics’ purposes, that it wasn’t impossible for guards high in Taur-en-Faroth to be able to see the initial eruption.

[ii] Gelydh s. for Noldor, sing. Golodh (this and all subsequent Sindarin and Quenya words via eldamo.org).

[iii] Angamaitë, Iron-handed, Angrod’s q. epessë (cf. The Shibboleth of Fëanor, PoMe).

[iv] The idea that Eldalótë went with her husband into exile is, of course, not strictly canon, though based on the fact that she, alone of all the Elves suspected of having stayed in Aman, is given also a Sindarin name.

Chapter Text

Two weeks later saw them at the Crossings of Taeglin, spending a day of rest waiting for the arrival of some of the troops, who, for secrecy’s sake, took slightly longer routes across Talath Dirnen. Here, in the shade of the Brethil Forest, well-hidden from the Enemy’s spies by the arts of their camouflage masters under the command of the tireless Lady Glaeriel, they set up tents and laid down.

Up till now, the King had driven them all relentlessly, setting a punishing speed, especially since about the noon on the very first day of their march when he had heard the first news from the North. Young Gwindor, the second son of Lord Orodreth’s Steward Guilin had come at full speed, almost crushing into the vanguard – or so the rumor said, his face streaked with sooth and sweat, his clothes charred, his horse steaming. Taken immediately before the King, who had been riding, Edrahil by his side, among his guard at the head of the main column, the poor youngster slipped from his saddle and rasped out, “Destruction, sire! The Enemy– flames and smoke across the plain–  the–” He wanted to continue but a violent fit of coughing caught him and he almost doubled over.

The King dismounted, all around him following suit, and, unstoppering his own canteen, put a steadying hand on Gwindor’s arm and handed him the vessel.

The youngster drank greedily and repeated in a firmer voice, “My Lord King, the Enemy has attacked our positions, sending forth rivers of flame and smoke. My lord your brother begs you make haste.”

“What of the troops keeping watch on the plain?” asked the King tightly.

But Gwindor shook his head jerkily. “When I left, there was no news. We had seen the flames bursting up and my Lord Orodreth dispatched me immediately. I hurried as best I could but I see–  Sire, how come you know already?” he asked bewildered as if just now taking in the surrounding troops and fully understanding their meaning.

Wishing to spare the King answering that particular question, Edrahil stepped in. “Your orders, sire?”

“We continue on and with great speed,” replied the King tightly. “Please, take care of young Gwindor.” And with that he mounted his horse and signaled for marching.

That night, when Edrahil retired, the King was still up and, reporting for duty early the next morning, he found him up again. Concerned, he searched the tent for signs of sleep and finding none, he wanted to ask about it. Yet before he could do so, the King send him to see to the breaking up of their camp and setting the troops for march.

This pattern continued all the following nights with the King walking the perimeters of their camp as if to personally check on their wards and talking quietly to the watchers, and apparently never retiring. Each morning Edrahil, who knew for what signs to check, found his face a bit paler and more drawn, his eyes a bit more dull, his movements more jerky.

Having every intention to force his lord to sleep this night through, he finished his inspection of the wagons and embarked on a search for the King, when an all too familiar figure caught his attention among the eating soldiers and he rushed towards it.

 

***

 

His men were sitting scattered around in groups of a dozen or so, burning fires and cooking a real meal instead of munching on tiny wafers of waybread supplied by Lady Emerthedis’s Ivonwin[i] for the first time since their departure from the city, evidently reveling in the rest.

Finrod knew he should not begrudge them their respite, yet he chaffed at the delay, no matter how necessary for gathering his full forces, some of which took different, longer routes to keep the Enemy in the dark for as long as possible.

He suspected he needed to take whatever rest there was, but his nervous energy would not let him settle down. For him, rest would come later, once they reached their destination, once he saw his brothers. And so, for now, he took upon himself the task of bolstering the spirit of his troops. Walking between the scattered groups, Galuon and Arassamon in his wake, he kept stopping for a while to talk to his men. “Sit and rest,” he kept telling each of them, forestalling their attempts to rise in greeting with a quick gesture of his hand. “I know this march was hard and I will not lie to you that when we move on, it shall be any easier. It shall be even more difficult, for we march towards the darkness. But remember, no matter what, sun, and moon, and stars shine constantly above the shadows.”

He was half way through the camp when angry raised voices coming from the direction of their wagons drew his attention. Abandoning his slow walk, he moved swiftly in the direction of the suspected brawl, the sitting soldiers scattering to make way and bowing hastily. Closing in, Finrod recognized in the angry berating voice that of his own Steward, and the other one, tearful and pleading, also seemed familiar, although he could not quite place it.

“Edrahil?” Dismissing his guards, Finrod approached the scene and stopped midstride. The Steward was indeed there, his hand clenched on the shoulder of… “Laeron? Would you mind explaining what exactly is happening here?” asked Finrod with forced composure.

Both men whirled towards him. Laeron gaped in shock and fell to his knees as if his legs suddenly lost their capacity to bear him. Edrahil bowed slightly, his face grim. “Apparently, my lord, your page has decided he knows better than you where his duty lies.”

Finrod closed the distance between himself and the boy and regarded him for a long while, keeping his own expression carefully neutral. “I see,” he said at last, and a hint of mockery crept into his voice. “You want to be a soldier. You know, when a soldier does what you have done, it is called desertion.” Here Laeron, who up till now was avoiding his gaze, looked up in absolute shock. “Yes, desertion! You have left your post without my leave, have you not? Do you know what happens to deserters, boy? They are banished. So be glad that you are not a soldier and I can deal with you as I would with a member of my household.” Finrod drew in a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment and then turned his glare back to the trembling boy, who had been growing paler and paler and was now on the verge of tears, his eyes blinking rapidly and his jaw tightly clenched. “We are greatly disappointed with you,” he said, his voice eerily calm after the previous outburst. “You have betrayed our trust and we cannot in good conscience allow you to continue attending on us. When we return you will serve in the kitchens in whatever capacity Master Barhador sees fit. Now go.”

Tears finally spilling, Laeron opened his mouth to protest, or to beg, or to apologize all over again, but Finrod raised  his hand to forestall the upcoming torrent. “Go,” he repeated calmly, extending his hand to the boy, who kissed it with an ill-concealed relief.

“For long, my lord?” Edrahil asked after the boy’s unsteady exit. “I seem to recall all too well an impulsive youth who longed for adventures.”

“Yes, Edrahil, but the crossing served to chill his enthusiasm. I would not wish such a harsh lesson on young Laeron.”

“I meant myself.”

“Ditto.” Finrod passed a weary hand across his face. “Come, you wanted something of me.”

 

***

 

When a guard told him his brother’s army was spotted form the walls, Orodreth felt an immense relief. The previous weeks had been hard on all of his people and reinforcements were most welcome. If the initial report was correct, Finrod was marching at the head of a great host, strong enough not only to take the burden of holding their lines off the shoulders of his own exhausted troops, but also to breach the enemy’s lines and perhaps reestablish connection with Hithlum and Dorthonion, which had been broken on the very first day of fighting. Naturally, he had been sending one party of scouts after another, the last led by Gelmir, but none had returned. Up till now he could have only hoped that young Gwindor proved more successful in bearing Orodreth’s plea for help to Nargothrond.

Rodyn[ii] willing, the boy had made it safely and was even now approaching the stronghold among Finrod’s soldiers. That would ease Finduilas’s heart greatly, but Orodreth hoped for it for his own sake as well as that of his daughter and his Steward: he had grown very fond of the youth and not only because of the obvious devotion he had for Orodreth’s beloved girl.

Soon, the same guard reported that the King had separated from his army and was riding swiftly towards the stronghold, surrounded by a small party of, presumably, his household warriors. This meant they had only an hour or so before his arrival, but due to Orodreth’s hope for reinforcements, most things had been prepared in advance. And so, his whole household was soon gathered in the courtyard, awaiting Finrod’s arrival.

His brother entered the courtyard surrounded by a handful of mounted warriors, and with great relief Orodreth spied Gwindor among them. Grooms came to retrieve the horses, and the moment Finrod slipped off his saddle, Orodreth’s entire party gave him obeisance. Curtly, he gestured for them to rise and walking to Orodreth, gripped his forearm in a warrior’s clasp.

Orodreth looked into his brother’s face and his chest constricted. Finrod’s features were sharp with fatigue, his eyes red-rimmed, his mouth surrounded by deeply-etched lines. Yet before he could make any comment, Finrod leaned in, gave him a brotherly kiss and stepped to his right.

“Lord Brother.” Eregil executed a perfect curtsy, her face absolutely cold.

“Greetings, sister,” replied Finrod, and then it was Finduilas’s turn. After a moment of hesitation, she embraced him, apparently having decided to forgo protocol. Finrod kissed her brow in return and said, “Well met, chín nín[iii].” Then he stepped out of her arms and turned back to Orodreth. “Lord brother, of your courtesy, I would have your report.”

Orodreth gaped and stuttered for a moment. “N-Now? Wouldn’t… wouldn’t you want to… to eat or refresh yourself first?”

“Yes, now. I can eat while you speak, and anything else can wait until I have a full grasp of our situation.” Finrod turned and started to walk towards the entrance.

Thus effectively dismissed, his party started to disperse. Hurrying to obey his brother, Orodreth caught the sight of Finduilas running swiftly to where Gwindor was greeting his father, crushing into him and kissing fiercely, heedless of the many eyes on them.

 

***

 

NOTES

[i] S. Ivonwin q. Yavanildi were women who knew the secret of preparing lembas (cf. Of Lembas, PoMe).

[ii] Rodyn s. for Valar, sing. Rodon.

[iii] Chín nín is a hypothetical, i.e. constructed by me, Sindarin equivalent of the affectionate Quenya form of address tyenya, glossed “dear kinsman [or –woman, q. pronouns are gender-neutral], (lit.) my tye [i.e. thou, 2nd sing. familiar pronoun]” (VT 49/51).

Chapter Text

 

Early the next morning Finrod positioned his army across the Vale of Sirion, supplementing the forces manning the bulwarks made earlier by Artaresto and ordered an attack in hopes of breaking through the enemy’s line. They managed that surprisingly quickly, slicing through the Orcs with an ease of a knife slicing butter. That alone should have rang an alarm in his head but – it did not.

The Orcs began to fly in disarray, some towards the river, where they found their deaths in the swift waters of Sirion, some towards the hills of Dorthonion, Finrod’s cavalry on their heels, yet others back north along the narrow valley, and these he pursued himself, leading his main host.

They pressed on, into the thick cloud of acrid fumes, and before nightfall – or at least before what he assumed must have been a nightfall – they reached the border of the fens and crossed it, hot in pursuit, in hopes of reaching the Rivil and crossing it in its shallow flow near the mouth, before turning right and advancing along it and into the narrow gorge that led into Dorthonion.

Finrod’s desperate need to make haste proved their undoing. He urged his men on and as soon as they reached the river, they attempted the crossing. The visibility was nigh null, the air hot and burning their lungs, and despite the season, wading through water was almost a relief. The vanguard, of which, in an unusual move, he had taken personal command, had just finished their crossing when suddenly arrows came out of the thick fume, whistling towards them, piercing flesh and eliciting cries of pain, and then, reeds surrounding them swarm with Orcs, who hurled themselves on them with a terrible roar.

A trap! Caught mid-maneuver, his men tried to form a sandastan[i], but the sheer number of the enemies made it crumble in several places and they were separated.

And so, here he was, surrounded in the fen with only a handful of soldiers, cut from his army, unable to see what was happening outside the tight circle of their foes, and powerless to do anything but fight on in hopes of killing as many of the Enemy’s breed as possible. The disaster was entirely his fault, that much he knew with a piercing clarity and there was only one way out that did not lead to the shadowy horrors of Angamando: the wide paved path towards a long penance in the Halls of Awaiting.

A long time ago, he had told Altáriel that he shall swear an oath and for its sake go into darkness unto his death. Yet foresight had proved treacherous: how could he have suspected that speaking of the future, he had in fact spoken of an oath already sworn? And yet, what else was his bond with his brothers and their following if not an oath of mutual love and faith, what else this fight amid the searing fumes and fires, without the sun, or moon, or stars to guide them, if not darkness unto the death?

Slowly, all other thoughts ceased, and his whole being concentrated upon just one goal: to kill as many as he could and never let them take him alive. He had no shield, his own having been hacked into pieces and he wore a helmet pulled off the head of his own dead man.

Suddenly, an opening. The shield of his nearest soldier broke under the heavy blows of an axe and he sprang forward, slicing the Orc’s arm still caught amid the splinters of wood and twisted iron. Yet this move left him opened for an attack, and immediately an Orc arrow buried itself deeply into his exposed thigh.

He cried and stumbled, trying to keep his footing, but his pierced leg could not bear his weight – and he fell face first into the bloody mud.

“The King’s down!”

He felt some movement about him and soon a pair of strong though slightly unsteady hands was turning him and he found himself looking into the pale face of Edrahil.

“‘It’s but a scratch. Help me up,” he ordered, tasting blood and mud on his tongue.

But Edrahil did not move. “My lord–”

“Help me up!” repeated Finrod more sharply and in that very moment all sensations caught back with him and he felt hot searing pain spreading from the wound with each heartbeat: a poison. He grunted and taking quick rugged breaths, rasped, “I’ll… die here… Edrahil. Deny… not–” Another hiss, hands clenched into fists. “Save…’em an’… go to… ‘Resto an’… serve ‘im… give… my love… and Father’s… ring…” He tried to pull off his gauntlet but his hands would not obey him.

Seeing that, Edrahil gently removed the heavy glove, followed by the ring, and pressed Finrod’s hand to his lips, his shoulders shaking. “My lord–”

Finrod twisted his hand in Edrahil’s grip and brushed his fingers faintly across the Steward’s sooth-streaked face. Farewell. Thank you.

By now, his whole body was aflame, his lungs burning, his head swimming and darkness started to creep on the edges of his vision. He did not have much time. But to stand once again, distract the enemy and buy his men a chance to flee – for that he should have enough. “Help… me… up,” he demanded of Edrahil for the third time and when the Steward did not move, Finrod tried to get up by himself, using his sword for a crutch and the pole of his standard – the device of the House of Arafinwe[ii] the only sun left to them – for a support.

Suddenly, horns rang though his throbbing head, everything whirled convulsively, his legs gave in – and darkness swallowed him.

 

 

***

 

When the King went down, Edrahil did not even have to order the men – they moved swiftly of their own accord, forcing the enemy back to form a protective wall of shields, and spears, and swords around their prone lord. His eyes moved to assess the situation and he gasped, his stomach twisting: the King’s thigh was pierced by an arrow. Letting his breath out to calm himself, he knelt swiftly beside Finrod and reached to move him, only for his hands to brush across another, trembling pair. He looked into the wild, shocked eyes of a healer girl. He nodded to her – go on – and helped her turn the King over, cradling his head in his arms. Finrod was conscious but obviously confused, mumbling about fighting their way through to Lord Orodreth.

Despair gripped Edrahil’s heart. This was it. They would all die here, in this bloody fen, or be taken. He did not want his last memory of Finrod to be like this, his face ashen-grey and twisted in pain, bloody mud smeared across his cheek, fey light in his eyes. He’d rather remember him smiling over a cup full of mead or playing his harp during the happy, peaceful days in Nargothrond or even projecting his natural air of command during a patrol for the leaguer. He did not want to have a last memory of Finrod at all. But everything was better than seeing his lord chained and dragged into Angamando. Everything. Even…

His breath caught in his throat, his entire soul shuddering at the very thought. He tried to move his hand but he seemed to have lost command of his body.

And in that moment, horns sang clearly somewhere near and out of the smoke above the Orcs’ heads, a white flower blossomed in a golden nest. “Bëor! Bëor!” rang loudly across the battlefield.

Edrahil turned back to Finrod, full of wonder, and for the second time in the last few minutes shuddered in horror. The King, who must have been trying to stand up, was now falling down again like a rug doll. Alive, he must have still been alive, but unconscious and defenseless could easily be trampled. This close to salvation… He gestured wildly for the healer to get up and threw himself across his King.

 

 ***

 

Sandir was tired. Every time lifting his sword was more and more difficult. He thought he had never been so exhausted in his entire lifetime, not after a whole day bent low to weed the crops at his parents farm, not as a mason’s apprentice during his early days in the city, not even after Captain Astoron made him run in full gear up and down the hills of Taur-en-Faroth for hours on end under the blistering sun of summer.

Now the Captain was back in the second row, having taken a spear to the side at the very beginning when their hastily-formed thangail broke, but still issuing commands and Hweston and Camaen, who had been training alongside him, both dead, one hacked with an axe, the other shot though the eye.

The unexpected arrival of Men renewed his hope after he had already given in to despair. All of a sudden, they were surrounded by a protective circle of sturdy, fresh warriors, whose leader told the Elves to focus on moving their wounded. Sandir could now take a little respite to tie a cut-off edge of his charred tabard as a make-shift bandage in an attempt to staunch the bleeding from a long, shallow cut to his forearm. He realized that although his Captain’s wound had been Sung close by a healer, he was nonetheless giddy from pain and blood loss, and so Sandir helped him to move on, for their saviors concentrated their efforts on one side of their thangail, narrowing and lengthening it until it almost became a dirnaith[iii]. He understood they meant to cut their way back out of the crowd of Orcs.

Their progress was slow and arduous, and many of them fell but still, they pressed on. Men and Elves were now all mingled, with some of their own party helping keep the enemies at bay while even now two Men took over the King’s unconscious form and Sandir thought he saw him rise his lolled head slightly. Then, he caught the sight of the wide eyes of the healer helping the Lord Steward to walk and being in return helped herself, and he tried to smile encouragingly at her.

On and on, they continued their retreat, wading though the mire, stumbling over hidden obstacles, choking on the acrid fumes that still obscured everything around them.

The next time he looked up from his attempts to find safe footing for his Captain he perceived a bizarre change about them, just in time to realize that, miraculously, the Orcs were retreating, abandoning their pursuit, though they must have known they could easily kill them all if only they pressed on for a little longer. Those few that remained were quickly dispatched and then they were left alone, the sounds of fighting dying in the distance.

They all stared at each other in disbelief, their rugged breathing giving in to strangled sobs of relief and soon, they were laughing and crying and praising the Rodyn, who had showed them mercy after all.

 

*** 

 

The leader of their rescuers sought him out amid the post-fight chaos. “My Lord Edrahil? I am–”

“Barahir son of Bregor,” he interrupted. “Yes, I recognize you.”

The Man gave him a glance-over and, apparently reaching a decision, said, “M’lord, I do not think we can move on the wounded right now. My counsel is we risk camping somewhere near instead of retreating immediately. We are at least a day’s march from my entrenched position in the Rivil’s gorge and we are all tired. I shall send forth some scouts but unless they bring news of any more enemy troops in the vicinity, we stay here.”

 Now that the rush of battle was wearing off, Edrahil realized he was bone-tired, every muscle in his body aching, lungs burning and head spinning. Of course, he could not rest just yet, but well did he understand his companions’, especially the Mortals’, need for respite, so he nodded his assent.

 They retreated south towards the Rivil and, using its bank for protection, set up a makeshift camp. There was no other way but to lay the wounded on the bare ground, choosing the driest possible spots. Barahir indicated he would take over the command, so when the two Men made to lower the King, Edrahil stumbled towards them without second thought, pushing his suddenly reluctant companion with him. “Give him to me,” he said hoarsely, sitting on the ground and again pulling the girl to follow suit. Heedless of the damp penetrating his clothes, he placed Finrod’s head in his lap and nodded to the healer. “Begin, Mistress, and tell me what you need of me.”

“I can’t.”

“What do you mean you can’t?” He looked up at her in disbelief. The girl was sitting on folded legs, twisting her hands on her lap, staring blankly ahead and rocking to and fro. “You are a healer, this is your king, get a grip on yourself and do your duty!”

But the girl let out a keening wail and her hands flew up, driving her nails down her face and neck and pulling at her hair. Moving his right arm protectively around Finrod, Edrahil reached with his left hand, unsure if he wanted to pat the panicking girl on the shoulder or shake her.

In that moment Captain Astoron emerged out of the darkness and smoke and, giving him a meaningful stare and mouthing, “Congratulations,” he knelt behind the girl and, moving his arms about her, arrested her frantic hands. “Shhhh, it’s all right, child. There is no need to harm yourself. You can do it, I know that better than most, don’t you think?”

But the girl shook her head jerkily. “No, you don’t understand. I am trying to reach for my abilities, but they’re not there! I’m trying, I really am.” And she tried to free herself from his embrace.

But the old captain would not have it. “Child, Songs of Power are not your only weapon. Surely, you know how to use herbs, and I have a first-hand knowledge of your skills in binding wounds. Just do what you can do for the moment.”

“But I… I k-killed living creatures! How can I heal with the same hands I used to… to… to render harm?” She started to fight anew, tears finally spilling.

“You only did what you had been trained to and what you had to in order to survive. It was either you and your comrades or the Enemy’s foul spawn. Never forget that. Now, dry your tears and do what you can. Do not let the Enemy have victory over us after all.” Astoron released the girl, who obediently brushed her tears with both hands, sniffling, and squared her shoulders.

“I… I will need to wash my hands, and more water to cleanse the wound, and bandages, I don’t have any left, and please keep his leg out of this mire.” Her voice trembled at the beginning but gained confidence with each word. With a final squeeze to her shoulder Astoron left to find the necessary equipment.

Edrahil, who had followed the exchange intently, his hands mechanically fiddling with the straps of Finrod’s spaulders, nodded at the young healer encouragingly – he had not realized just how young and inexperienced she was and it made him sick. The healer – it suddenly occurred to him he did not know her name – moved to the King’s other side to examine the damage, while Edrahil returned his undivided attention to making Finrod as comfortable as possible. Unable to unbuckle the straps, he used his dagger to cut the spaulders away and then, gently lifting the lolling head, removed the helmet. Finrod’s hair was tangled and matted with sweat and he brushed it away. Beneath, his face was also covered in sweat and dirt, with bloody mud still splattered across the cheek. Suppressing cough, Edrahil wetted his hand in the surrounding water to try to wash away at least this.

His ministrations were interrupted by the return of Captain Astoron, who was accompanied by another soldier, a young Sinda from one of their villages, a bundle of cloth in his hands. “I shall keep the King out of the mire,” the captain said, spreading his cloak over a nearby clomp of grasses, where the Sinda deposited his load. “And Sandir can assist you.”

But instead of following his own suggestion, the captain crouched beside Edrahil and offered him his canteen. “We do not have much, but do take a drink, my lord.” Edrahil stared at him in confusion: Finrod was bleeding to death, and the man was worrying about Edrahil’s thirst? “Young man,” Astoron’s tone, no longer that of a captain to a high-ranking lord but that of an adult to an obstinate youth, broke no argument. “Drink. Collapsing here will not help our lord.”

A more reasonable part of him recognized the truth in the old captain’s words and he took a swig from the proffered canteen. The water tasted of mould and blood and it was the sweetest thing he had ever drank, far surpassing even Lady Yavanna’s miruvórë and Edrahil took one more mouthful before tearing himself from the canteen and returning it to Astoron with a nod of thanks.

 

 ***

 

Fandis set out her kit next to the bandages, while Astoron improvised a lantern of her lamp hang off the guard of his own sword driven deep into the soft ground and positioned the King’s wounded leg across his lap. He unstoppered his canteen again and offered it to Fandis, who cleaned her hands as best she could and, humming softly, started to unwrap the soiled dressing from around the shaft.

“The knife,” she said holding out her hand and Sandir passed her the required tool, which she used to quickly cut off cloth from around the wound. “Pass me that smaller one, and prepare sharpies. The moment I remove the arrow, press on the wound with all your strength.”

Taking a deep, steadying breath, Fandis made two short incisions. To the horror of them all, the King let out a piercing cry and tried to move away from the source of his pain. Shocked, Astoron looked to Lord Edrahil, who, equally dumbfounded, looked back to him.

But Fandis’ training must have kicked in fully, for she ordered sharply, “Hold him down, I must retrieve this arrow now!” and slipped her fingers into the now rapidly bleeding wound.

The King thrashed in their hold and cried loudly, and Astoron thought the Steward’s jaw might snap from clenching. Then, just as Fandis murmured, “Got it,” the thrashing stopped and he went limp again beneath their restraining hands.

“Now!” commanded Fandis, swiftly pulling out the arrowhead and Sandir sprang with a bundle of cloth and pressed hard. But all too soon, the whiteness turned a sinisterly-black red. “Hold on,” Fandis said and, applying a fresh dressing over the old one, added her own weight to Sandir’s.

All this time, Lord Edrahil was stroking the King’s hair, head bent, and murmuring softly in Quenya, and Astoron thought he caught the words hold on, better, and Findaráto.

But then, he was distracted from his observations by a Song he had already heard that day, a Song of closing, and mending, and healing, sang in a half-desperate, half-defiant voice of Fandis. To his utter surprise, after a few bars, Sandir joined in, hesitantly at first, then with growing confidence.

They repeated the Song three times, both turning grey beneath all the grime, and Fandis broke off. “How come you know this?” she asked with disbelief, then, all impassioned, “Pass me athelas and prepare a clean dressing,[iv]” and back in what he assumed was her natural tone, “Oh, I’m Fandis by the way.”

“Sandir.” He gave her two long, silvery leaves, which she crushed in her bloodstained fingers and shoved into the wound, which, unlike Astoron’s own, was still bleeding slightly. “Eredhnis…that is er, my sister… taught me the words when my parents let me go to the capital… but it’s never worked for me.”

“Now it did, I felt I could draw from your strength.” Fandis extended her hand and he put in it a thick padding, which she placed over the herb. “It’s still sloppy work”–and indeed, he could see beads of blood welling up–“but at least it’s something.” Despite her eyes being drawn to Sandir’s, she bandaged the leg calmly and expediently. At last, she stood up, swaying a little but all business-like again. “This is all I can do for now. My Lord Steward, somebody must observe His Majesty all the time and call me at once if anything changes.” She gathered her supplies, as well as Astoron’s half-empty canteen. “I must see to others. Sandir, come with me, I shall check your arm.”

With that, the two youngsters retreated and Astoron was left alone with the Steward.

 

 ***

 

Captain Astoron offered to help him in the difficult process of pulling the hauberk off Finrod’s limp form, but Edrahil spotted the man’s slowing movements. He was suddenly reminded that his companion had taken a spear to his side and even though his mail deflected most of the blow’s strength and Mistress Fandis had obviously done a very good job of staunching the bleeding, he had to be in tremendous pain, especially now that the excitement of immediate danger was fading. Feeling slightly guilty, Edrahil thanked him heartily and urged him to rest. He then performed the task on his own, as gently as he could, and settled again to his vigil.

Finrod’s eyes fluttered, blinking in confusion. Edrahil smiled tightly, trying to project the calm he did not feel himself, but Finrod seemed not to know him and then, with a strangled noise he jerked upwards, becoming violently ill. Edrahil helped him turn to his uninjured side and held him tightly, putting an arm across his chest. Their last meal having been hours before, Finrod’s spasmodic retching resulted only in throwing up a bile. At last, it ceased and he hung his head, panting. Edrahil helped him lie down, smoothing his hair away from where they stuck to his face and, looking around, espied Finrod’s own canteen set aside together with his mail and belt. He stretched out for it, shook – luckily, still half full – and brought it to Finrod’s parched lips. “Slowly now,” he admonished, and Finrod rinsed his mouth before obediently taking a few careful sips.

“Thank you, otornya,” he breathed, setting his head back into Edrahil’s lap and closing his eyes. Whatever Mistress Fandis had given him must still have been working, for soon he dozed, his features relaxed. Giddy with relief, Edrahil bent and kissed first the tangled hair, then the pale brow.

But the peace did not last, Finrod quickly became restless, tossing and moaning, and Edrahil called for Mistress Fandis to dose him again with pain-relieving herbs.

“I am sorry, my lord,” the healer said, fighting to stay upright despite her obvious exhaustion. “I have none left.”

Just then another pitiful whimper escaped Finrod’s lips and Fandis was immediately kneeling beside him, her fatigue pushed aside in a valiant attempt to alleviate suffering. Her voice rose in a Song… and she swayed and would have collapsed to the ground had Edrahil not supported her. “Just… a moment…” she mumbled and was asleep this very instant, pillowing her head upon a grassy clomp.

After the day’s fires and exertions, the night grew bitterly cold, its silence, ringing in Edrahil’s ears, broken only by an occasional splash of water in the river and clink of metal as the guards shifted positions, and whimpers, moans and cries of their wounded. He could make out several silhouettes bending over the prone forms of their comrades even as he gathered Finrod into his arms in an attempt to give him both comfort and warmth, babbling soothing nonsense and singing in a hushed voice the happy songs of Eldamar, until Finrod seemed to calm a little. Hoping it was not his fancy, for he did not posses Fandis’ gift of healing nor Finrod’s ability to wove visions, Edrahil continued, knowing his music to be beautiful, until his throat went completely hoarse.

 

***

 

NOTES

[i] Q. sandastan, s. thangail is a shield-wall, a defensive formation used by Isildur’s army surrounded in the Gladden Fields. I took the liberty of ascribing its origins to First-Age Elves, supported in my decision by the fact that Barahir’s men are described as having made a wall of spears about Finrod (The Silm.),which to me could as well describe the real-world formations by which Tolkien was probably inspired, such as the Anglo-Saxon shield wall depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. (Cf. The Disaster of the Gladden Fields, UT).

[ii] I know Finrod had his own device, the harp and flaming torch, but seeing that it is so unusual for an Elven crest, I rationalized it must have been devised only in Beleriand and before (as well as after) he used his father’s device, being effectively the head of the third house in exile. (And the fact that it also helps to find an in-universe explanation for the confusion of Finrod’s and Finarfin’s names within the source texts only makes me like this idea more).

[iii] S. dírnaith, q. nernehta is an offensive wedge-shaped formation were are told Isildur couldn’t employ in the Gladden Fields. It was used for launching over a short distance against a yet not arrayed enemy and relied on the Númenóreans’ superior height and strength. As with sandastan/thangail I took the liberty of ascribing its origins to the First Age, and decided that although Isildur decided against employing it, it could be perhaps used in a desperate attempt to cut through and free from the enemy. (Cf. The Disaster of the Gladden Fields, UT).

[iv] The usage of a Song of Power to staunch bleeding and athelas as an additional medicine is based off LL, Canto X where Lúthien and Huan treat Beren’s shot shoulder/chest. It is there said to be a Sindarin idea.

Chapter Text

The fumes around them took on a lighter, warmer shade, heralding a new day, when Lord Barahir returned, bringing news from his scouts. “Arthad met with the forces you left on the southern bank, they have crossed the river and should reach us within an hour. But he was also told they had to fend off a huge contingent of Orcs coming from the north-east.”

“Then we shall all retreat south as soon they are here. What of the wounded?”

“All are taken care of but some are grievously injured and probably will not survive even with more of your healers arriving. I also had the area searched for survivors but found only one.”

The Man continued listing their casualties and Edrahil, mechanically stroking Finrod’s hair, felt his stomach twist and his eyes prickle with tears he could not blame on the acrid fumes that still engulfed them all. Far more were now dead than alive, both of their party and the Men, their painfully short lives cut even shorter.

He felt Barahir’s hand rest on his shoulder. “Do not feel guilty. All of my men came here of their own free will. When we learned from a band of Orcs we had crushed that they had been sent to ambush a great Elven king, I told my men chances were against us and yet they volunteered.”

“Eat and drink, my lord,” Barahir said after a moment, placing a canteen and an unopened parcel of waybread on a grassy clomp to Edrahil’s side before retreating to allow him privacy.

Beneath Edrahil’s hands, Finrod stirred with a hiss, his eyes flying open. “Water,” he croaked.

Edrahil supported his head and held Barahir’s canteen to his lips, offering also a quarter of a waybread wafer, which Finrod accepted eagerly. “Thank you, otornya,” he repeated his words from the night, munching on the coimas, and smiled slightly, lucid though obviously confused. “I fear you will have to fill me in on the newest developments, my Lord Steward.”

Edrahil’s surprise at being called his King’s otorno yet again was soon replaced by a sudden self-consciousness at all the liberties he had taken during his nightly vigil and he tried to at least withdraw his offending hand, but the King caught it in his own and held it in place. “Tell me, the Bëorings came to our rescue? I remember two Men carrying me.”

“Yes, sire, they made a sandastan around us under Barahir the brother to the Prince of Ladros.” He continued his tale, but it soon turned out Finrod not only remembered images from the rescue, but also had heard most of Edrahil’s earlier discussion with the Mortal commander. Some of his usual energy was already returning for he asked for Barahir to attend on him.

The Man appeared, his two nephews at his side, bowing and, at Finrod’s gesture to take their ease, squatting a bit awkwardly, for Finrod himself was now sitting on the ground, leaning on Edrahil.

“My lords, pray forgive my briskness, but our time is short. Tell me all you know of the state of war in Dorthonion. I would also value your counsel on how best to aid my brothers.”

The three Men exchanged nervous looks, then Barahir drew in a long breath and, visibly steeling himself, looked Finrod straight in the eye, his own suddenly full of anguish. Finrod shuddered against Edrahil’s supporting shoulder even before the blow came. “Forgive me, sire, for being the bearer of such grave news,” said Barahir gently. “Whoever was on the plain that first night… perished in the initial attack.”

A gauntleted fist smashed into the pit of Edrahil’s stomach. All their forces in the leaguer… gone?

Alarmed, he turned to the King. Finrod’s face, pale from the blood loss and pain, went white as a sheet, his eyes staring unseeingly ahead, his mouth, opened, moving slightly as if he was trying and failing to form words. “Nnnno… I-I talked to them… after…”

Edrahil was suddenly reminded of the talk he had had with Finrod in the King’s bedchamber the night they had learned of the attack. O sweet Nienna, Finrod had witnessed the Princes’ death through ósnawe?

As if unable to comprehend, the King asked, “My brothers… both?”

Barahir closed his eyes and nodded slowly. “I am sorry. Yours – and mine.”

“Bregolas is dead?” rasped Finrod, shocked.

“He was with the Princes to our defenses.”

“Edhellos?”

“The Princess was with the Prince her husband.”

The news was shocking. Devastating. Edrahil’s mouth went dry, his stomach twisting and turning as if he was going to be sick. All dead. Swallowing the bile which rose in his throat, he took over the questioning for Finrod’s ragged breathing and twitching hands told of a losing battle for self-control. “Surely, there must be some survivors?”

Much to his surprise, Baragund took up the tale. “I was traveling with a small party to relieve my father,” the young man said in a strangely numb tone. “The evening before, we had reached the border of the plateau and set up a camp instead of descending in the gathering darkness. The site overlooks the plain and we could see the fires of the camp down beneath us. Then…” Here words failed him and his entire face crumpled.

Sweet Lady, this… child almost, had witnessed his father’s death. Edrahil’s mind supplied what the Man could not find in himself to tell: the screams of the men, the whining of the horses, the blazing fires, the utter chaos of their desperate retreat, too slow.

After a little while, Baragund continued, “Fire spread through the forest and we had to fly, but we saw the whole plain engulfed in flames and there was no trace of our camp and… no-one alive.”

A heavy silence set over them, all engulfed in their own thoughts, and only Belegund gripped his brother’s shoulder, whispering intently yet so silently Edrahil could not be sure he heard properly. “There was nothing you could have changed, had you descended to the plain, all you’d have achieved is die yourself, you know that.”

Then, surprisingly, Finrod spoke in an almost even voice. “My Lord of Ladros,” he said to Baragund. “I believe we shall for now dispense with any formalities–”

The three Men again exchanged uncertain looks, but this time it was Baragund who spoke. “Actually, we have… That is, with the gracious permission of Your Majesty, I would like to cede my right to my uncle.”

Edrahil’s brows shot up and he saw an equal surprise on Finrod’s face, as the King asked bluntly, “Why? And what of your brother?”

Belegund spoke up. “My brother speaks for us both. For while we are both men grown, our uncle has more experience. We believe he should lead our people in this desperate hour.”

Finrod looked searchingly into both brothers’ eyes, and they met his gaze steadily. At last, he nodded. “If this is your wish, we grant it. Barahir son of Bregor,” he turned now towards the third Man. “Do you accept?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Good.” But when Barahir started to unbuckle his sword, Finrod stopped him. “There is no need. I believe you have already proven I can rely on your blade, don’t you think, my Lord of Ladros? But tell me, what is our best course of action if we are to reach Dorthonion?”

“If you will have my counsel, sire”–Finrod nodded encouragingly at that–“I believe you shall withdraw. The road to Dorthonion is blocked by a huge contingent of Orcs. Your army has already skirmished with them and retreated. Perhaps you could force your way through, but only with grave loss. It is not worth it. Retreat, renew your strength, and then come to our aid.”

“You intend to go?” blurted Edrahil.

“Ours is but a small party, we shall slip through, especially if those fumes continue,” explained Belegund.

“You would go where you counsel me against going?” Finrod looked at all three Men and there was an edge to his voice.

“Good my lord,” the new Prince of Ladros stepped in. “Your bleeding out your people will achieve nothing. Do not waste the strength of Nargothrond, for it shall be sorely needed in the years to come.”

“Yet you are adamant to go?”

Barahir nodded sadly. “We have left our families in Ladros, my lord.”

A spasm went over the King’s face and he swallowed audibly, yet his voice did not waver. “Then you shall go with our blessing. My Lord Steward.” He put his hand on Edrahil’s, but did not say anything else. From his expression Edrahil gathered he could also hear troops approaching. “An army’s coming!” he whispered frantically. “Ours or the Enemy’s?”

Everybody tensed, and he saw both younger Men’s hands move to the hilts of their swords, just like his own did. They listened in silence, time dragging mercilessly, until they heard greetings being exchanged in Sindarin, and then Derthedir was racing towards them. “Sire! Oh, sire!” he exclaimed in relief, when he spotted Finrod, his hands pressed together, his eyes glistening.

In the blink of an eye they were surrounded by their own men, dirty from their fight but smiling in relief and bowing low, while some went as far as throwing themselves on their knees. The King sat among them, visibly moved. “Thank you. Thank you,” he repeated thickly.

Yet before he could say anything else, their tableau was broken by an imperious voice. “All right, get to work, all of you. Fandis, show the others who needs what help. Go, girl.” Lady Annúngil certainly did not waste time. “Sire.” She turned towards Finrod, dropping a perfunctory curtsy. “Allow me to see to your wounds.” And not waiting for Finrod to grant the permission she sought, she started to unpack her supplies.

“Of your courtesy, my lady,” said the King with just a slight touch of steel to his voice, “grant me a few more minutes of respite. Mistress Fandis has done very well.” And not waiting for her to reply, he turned to Edrahil. “Before we go, there is one more thing to do.” His eyes travelled towards where Lord Barahir was standing out of the way of Finrod’s enthusiastic soldiers. “Please summon my people.”

Guessing Finrod’s intention, Edrahil prepared for him a makeshift chair of a flat rock one of the soldiers pointed to him, covered with that man’s cloak, a far cry not only from the splendor of the Dwarven-carved throne of Nargothrond but also the travelling faldstool, left behind among their wagons. But then, surrounding them were not courtiers in bejeweled finery, nor even fresh soldiers in full splendor of bright armor, but battle-worn warriors in churn tabards and gore-splattered mail.

Having no banner to unfurl behind the King, the one they brought lost in the fighting, Edrahil took place, empty-handed, behind and to the right of this… throne, indicating that Derthedir should take one to the left, for the Lord of Ladros, to whom it should by custom go as the highest ranking among those present, would be needed elsewhere.

When everybody, Men and Elves alike, gathered, Finrod regarded them for several moments, full of regal majesty even in a torn gambeson covered with an equally worn-out cloak, despite sweat beading his forehead, and his entire body being tight as a bowstring. At last he said loudly and clearly, “My loyal people, we thank you all for your steadfast contribution to our cause. For now, you will have to contend yourself with our thanks.” He smiled ruefully. “But we promise you all proper honors for your valor.” He paused and his eyes swept across the faces of those standing nearest. “There is, however, one among you, who will receive his due now, for he shall soon depart from us for Dorthonion. We would have you all bear witness to this oath.” He beaconed for Lord Barahir to approach. “Barahir son of Bregor in the direct line of Balan known as Bëor, Lord of Ladros, your valiant deed far surpassed the call of duty. We thank you.” The Man merely bowed his head, a small, sad smile on his face, but Finrod slipped a ring from his hand and held it up for all to see. At that Edrahil managed to keep an impassive face only due to the long years of training, while the crowd erupted into a wild buzz, with those closer relaying to those who stood farther away what was going on.

The King gestured for silence. “You have hastened to our side,” he continued in a clear voice, but soon his composure broke, “in the hour when I needed it most, heedless of the risk to yourself. I owe you my life and my freedom, I can never repay that. As the Belain[i] are my witness, and the One Himself, you and yours shall have of me whatever you ask in your need, I swear. This ring…” He placed the ring, emeralds gleaming slightly, in Barahir’s calloused palm and closed his fingers over it, pressing with both his trembling hands. “Take it in token of my pledge. For you shall be my friends not servants,” he said fervently and indicated he wanted to rise. Derthedir, obedient soldier that he was, immediately helped him up. Finrod gave Barahir a kiss reserved for the closest of kin and this time Edrahil, who had witnessed Finrod’s passionate oath with a growing surprise and confusion, failed to suppress a dismayed gasp.

Obviously startled, Barahir made a half step back, but Finrod grabbed his forearm in a warrior’s clasp, repeating, “Whatever and whenever, Barahir, upon my honor.” And then, his legs failed him and he fell into the arms of the surrounding men.

“All right, my lords, that is quite enough.” Obviously unimpressed, Lady Annúngil pressed her way through the crowd. “Please carry His Majesty to a litter.”

Barahir gripped the King by the arms while Derthedir took hold of his legs and together they followed the Master Healer towards where the healers’ horses were waiting patiently.

Edrahil followed them with his eyes and then tore himself from the sight. Now that his lord was safely in the competent hands of the Lady Annúngil, he had other tasks to perform.

He was soon joined by Derthedir and so, within a short time, everything was ready for their departure: all wounded safely in horse-carried litters, scouts sent to check on the road, men gathered by troops. Yet before he ordered the army to march on, Edrahil sought out Lord Barahir, who, accompanied by his ten surviving comrades, was making a last minute check of their gear. “My Lord of Ladros,” he said, “I come to thank you all for my life and those of my King and comrades.” He bent before the Men in his most correct, most profound bow.

Barahir made no reply but set his hand, the King’s ring gleaming on it, on Edrahil’s shoulder, looked him squarely in the eyes and nodded slightly. And then, beckoning for his men to follow, he turned round and disappeared into the fumes and gathering fog.

 

 ***

 

NOTES

[i] Belain another s. word for Valar, sing. Balan, possibly directly influenced by q. Valar.

Chapter Text

After an all-day-long retreat they were now safely back in Minas Tirith, the army manning the line of defenses cutting across the valley or camping behind it, the wounded set more or less comfortably in the stronghold itself.

The morning after their arrival Fandis came round to check on him. Astoron marveled at how much she had changed both from the skittish young thing who had marched with them across the Rivil and the horrified innocent who had just taken life for the very first time. He suspected she had not yet fully come to terms with those new gruesome experiences, but one day, hopefully, she would.

Fandis started with checking his vitals and proceeded to unwrap his bandaged torso. “Correct me if I am wrong,” she said suddenly, “but King Felagon[i] has given away his father’s ring? Why would he do that? Wasn’t it a memento, a fond reminder of the wisdom his father shared with him before they parted?”

Astoron hoped his grimace would pass as a reaction to her probing his wounds and not her words. She was a Sinda after all, and very young at that, no wonder her ideas were strange. “I do not know what they said to each other, but it probably wasn’t easy on either of them. All I know is that when Prince Araf– Arfin, the King’s father[ii], announced he wasn’t coming, he presented his son to us as our new lord. There wasn’t much ceremony, no oath taking, no speeches… He just gave the young Prince his ring and commended to him his people.” He looked up into her face, not sure if she wanted to listen to his ramblings, but she smiled encouragingly and so he continued.

“Well, I wasn’t happy with that. This youngster, this boy was to lead us? You see, I am much older than even Prince Arfin, closer in age to the High King. I even considered joining with him if I was to go on at all. Actually, I didn’t really want to, but my wife insisted, she wanted to see the world, she wanted freedom, and I couldn’t imagine living without her.” He snorted and smiled sadly. “She never made it to Middle-earth.”

“You might have heard,” he continued after a small break. By now, she had finished her ministrations and was sitting at the edge of his cot, her head cocked, a healer’s smile firmly on her face, surprise and pity in her eyes. “The crossing was harsh. Harsher than you could ever imagine, and certainly harsher than anything we prepared ourselves for. It was the King’s will-power and that of the Princess his sister, who is now long gone east[iii], that kept us on, kept me on after Ráni– Ranuien died. He wouldn’t leave me time to despair with all the work he loaded on me.”

“Lady Annúngil says,” started Fandis shyly, but then broke into a perfect impression of her mistress, “that for an aching heart work is a medicine perhaps more potent than even athelas. I didn’t believe her.”

“Didn’t?”

Suddenly embarrassed, the young healer looked away, biting her lip. “Captain, I wanted to thank you. Without your support–”

“Oh no, no, Mistress, it was all your doing. I only prompted you in the right direction. If you feel you need to thank anyone at all, that would be Sandir.”

“Sandir…!” Now even more embarrassed, Fandis started to pick at one of her sleeves. “Captain, do you… know him well, sir?”

 

***

 

It was several days after their arrival in Minas Tirith and he was steadily growing better. No longer did he need such huge doses of herbs as to render his mind all fuzzy. Of course, no one would allow him to get out of the blasted bed, Lady Annúngil had told him so with both utmost respect and unbending steel in her voice.

And so, at his own insistence, Orodreth was giving him, seated in his bed, a report on their provisions, the current number of their casualties and his newest improvements to the fortified line of defenses across the valley. The situation was hard but stable and Orodreth hoped to hold the position for a long time with minimal reinforcements, allowing most of their forces to withdraw to Nargothrond to rest and regroup.

It was early in the afternoon and pain in his leg had been flaring up for quite some time now. Huffing in frustration, he had to admit his own weakness – the pain had reached such a level of intensity as to become too distracting.

He nodded his thanks to Orodreth, smiling apologetically. “We shall continue later. For now, I fear I need…”

Even before he could finish, Edrahil handed him a goblet of pain-relieving infusion. Accepting it, Finrod studied his Steward’s face. Poor Edrahil, he had dark circles beneath his eyes. He probably hoped it had passed unnoticed, but Finrod knew well that the man had spent most of the time since their arrival in Finrod’s chamber. Whenever he woke, Edrahil was there, springing up at his slightest need, keeping him company when he was awake, and obviously perusing some documents, which at the moment were laying discarded upon one of the clothes chests, while Finrod was asleep. He would leave only to give Orodreth and Finduilas privacy on their visits and when the healers were coming every morning and evening to change the dressing on Finrod’s leg. Finrod had long known Edrahil’s dedication, but everything needed limits.

Reaching decision, he set the goblet down. “Send for Laeron. You cannot stay here all the time.” Upon seeing the uncertainly on Edrahil’s face, he elaborated, “Worry not, this is not a reward, I shall tell him so in no uncertain terms. And I think seeing… this”–he nodded towards his smarting leg–“might serve him well.”

“You mean the kitchen boy?” asked Orodreth from his place beside the window.

“I mean my page but yes, temporarily a kitchen boy.”

“I’m afraid he is dead.”

Finrod’s heart skipped in his chest, sending out a wave of pain. Orodreth’s face swam before his eyes and he thought he might be ill. “What do you mean, dead? He cannot be dead, I have left him here!” That little fool was to stay in the safety of the stronghold. He could not be dead!

Orodreth sighed. “The night after you left, there was an attack at one of our posts. Apparently, some Orcs decided hurling themselves on an opponent at least five times as numerous was preferable to going back to their master. They must have been desperate, they killed twice as many of our men as they numbered before they were overwhelmed. Your boy was out there bringing food. Witnesses said he was shot right through the neck, the very first to die. I am sorry.”

“I want to see him.”

Orodreth shook his head sadly. “We buried all the dead at dawn. I am very sorry.”

“Where?”

“Brother, you will find nothing there. It is done.” Orodreth’s face loomed near, sad and pitying, and something in Finrod snapped. How could Orodreth take it all so calmly? He drew fingernails into his palms in an attempt to hold the torrent that threatened to spill over. “Leave me,” he said through clenched teeth. Shadows, which had been lurking in the corners of his mind started to encroach, making everything fuzzy again. “Edrahil, t’bed…’s an order…” he wanted to add a half-serious threat but his mouth worked so hard… so… hard…

Darkness claimed him, cold and heavy. Out of it two boys came, laughing and chasing each other. No! they were not chasing each other in a play of catch, they were fleeing in terror. From what? He could not see. But they were all churned, their golden hair turned into ashes, and suddenly, they were no longer boys, but men grown, and they turned to him, their eyes, melted, spilling down their blackened cheeks, and they stared at him accusingly with their empty red sockets. Betrayer. Cunctator. Kinslayer. They advanced on him, stretching their withered hands, and he could not move, could not fly, for he knew he was guilty. They reached him, and their brittle hands were a chilling caress down his face.

Suddenly able to command his body, Finrod thrashed in their hold but could not free himself, for they were now joined by dozens and dozens of others, blood oozing from their wounds, and they all pointed accusingly to him. Killer. There was Edhellos, to her husband’s right, and Bregolas, to Aegnor’s left, and Arassamon, Aeldir and Gondrenor, and so many more, of the Eldar and the Aftercomers alike, nameless to him in death as they had been in life, condemning.

Pulling and yanking, they led him towards a shallow mire where just beneath the surface rested a mass of entwined limbs and twisted torsos. From among them, a familiar puckish face was staring at him with empty eyes.

Laeron rose and advanced on him, an arrow piercing his throat, his golden skin ashen grey, and when he opened his mouth, blood trickled from it.

My Lord King, why hate me so much?

I have never hated you. I loved you dearly.

What a strange love, my Lord King, that sends its object to his death.

I only wanted you safe.

He tried to reach out in apology but Angrod’s and Aegnor’s burning hands restrained him, and they were not hot but ice-cold, and they were not hands but chains, a just payment for failure. Laeron yanked the arrow out of his neck, blood gushing in a fountain, and, red and slick, thrust it into Finrod’s thigh, his nails, sharp as teeth, digging into flesh and sending waves of agony until Finrod screamed.

Startled, he looked about in confusion. The darkness was that of a long winter night, the restraints only his twisted, sweat-soaked sheets, the pain in his leg that of his wound.

He was alone.

He laid, panting, until his heart slowed and his constricted throat opened. Thinking he would raise a plea to Lord Irmo had he believed the Lord of Dreams might hear him out, he disentangled himself from the drenched linen and with a shaky hand reached for water. Edrahil must have slipped poppy juice into the herbs, he realized with a spike of anger, no wonder he could not have stayed conscious. No more of it. From now on he would have to deal without.

Having satisfied his thirst, Finrod chose the driest corner of his quilt to huddle under and, despite the throbbing in his leg, viciously set his mind to remembering and analyzing all the information Orodreth had given him, lonely hours slipping slowly by.

 

***

 

Early in the morning, Orodreth was at breakfast with Eregil and Finduilas in the solar just off the great hall, when Finrod, dressed in one of the robes he kept in the clothespresses in his suite, was literally carried down to join them – Orodreth was informed by Lady Annúngil that there had been much arguing in the King’s chamber and what he saw was the resulting compromise. Finrod sat with them at the table, although he himself did not eat much, obviously ruminating on something, and, the meal finished, insisted upon Orodreth continuing his debriefing from the previous day.

They moved closer to the fireplace for that, Finrod again carried into Orodreth’s ornate, stuffed chair, Orodreth himself facing his brother, with Edrahil, Guilin and Gwindor joining Eregil and Finduilas in a half-circle between them.

The sun had crossed its zenith and he had sent for a mid-day meal, when Finrod said suddenly, “When I return to Nargothrond, I shall take Eregil and Finduilas with me.”

 “I beg your pardon?” Eregil asked in a tone Orodreth had learned long ago boded ill for the object of her regard. Recognizing the danger, Guilin caught Edrahil’s eye and indicated they should leave the royal family alone, which they did, bowing hastily, Gwindor and all the attendants in tow.

Orodreth spared them half a glance before returning his attention to his brother, who at this very moment was saying, “The war zone is no place for children.”

“This has been a war zone since long before you came here,” Eregil said with contempt.

“And I am no child,” added Finduilas.

Finrod looked at her placatingly. “Finduilas–”

“No! I am not a child, and I am staying with Father.”

My dear girl, so like her mother, he thought, even as the argument was rapidly slipping out of hand.

“I can make it an order and it applies to you both.”

“You can order children or your servants, but I am neither, nor is my daughter.”

“You forget yourself!” snapped Finrod.

By now, Eregil was visibly infuriated, her nostrils wide, her eyes shining wildly and she obviously spoke to hurt. “Unlike some people, I am not afraid to share my beloved’s fate. If you want to take us away, you will have to do so in bonds.”

“As well I might.”

“Finrod, please.” Orodreth yet again had to become the voice of reason. “Finduilas is not much younger than you had been when… you know,” he finished a bit lamely.

But Finrod would not be reasoned. “Oh, not you too!” he cried, then took in a deep breath, clenching and unclenching his fists several times and finally rose slowly to his feet. “My lord, my lady, we thank you for your hospitality,” he said in his best regal tone, nodded to them in dismissal and gingerly, painfully limped out of the chamber, his back set determinedly, his head proudly up.

Orodreth slumped wearily. “Eregil, my love, this wasn’t necessary.”

“He treats you like a child. He treats all of us like children.”

“He is concerned.” He shook his head and sighed. “These last few weeks have been hard on him, on all of us.”

Rising from her chair, Finduilas crossed the room and, perching on the armrest of his chair, wrapped her arms around him. “Oh, Father…” She planted a kiss to his temple and rested her head on top of his. Soon, joined by Eregil, who encircled them both with her arms and kissed the crowns of their heads, they were both crying, mourning the deaths of their family and friends, lost irrevocably to the Enemy’s hate.

 

***

 

Safely in the great hall, Guilin turned to Edrahil and explained, “Trust me, m’lord, you wouldn’t want to be caught in that.”

Edrahil nodded somberly. While he was not as familiar with Lady Eregil’s moods as Guilin was, he did know the King well enough to realize that, although he rarely let his temper rule him, when unleashed, his anger was indeed spectacular. “Let us hope my Lord Orodreth will calm them down.”

Both Stewards looked at each other with understanding and nodded, releasing long breaths. By silent agreement they crossed to the middle of the room but still, they could hear angry raised voices from behind the solar’s door.

Then, it opened and Finrod walked out, trying and failing to hide his limp, and immediately leaned heavily against the wall.

Edrahil virtually ran to him, not checking if anybody followed suit, and when the King extended his arm towards him, he pulled it across his shoulders and took on as much of his weight as he could, his free hand firmly encircling Finrod’s waist. The King’s face was covered in sweat and pale from both anger and exertion, his breathing rugged and when he indicated he would move, Edrahil silently agreed it was best to let him rest in bed as soon as possible. He nodded at one of Orodreth’s attendants to support the King from the other side and they began their arduous walk back to Finrod’s suite.

“I shall take them in bonds if they will not come of their own will,” snapped Finrod at last, when they were crossing his solar.

“My lord, Lady Eregil is a shield-maiden of the North, please remember that. And Lady Finduilas is no more a child really,” he tried to reason with the King but Finrod retorted impatiently:

“No, you do not understand. This place reeks of terror and death. They cannot stay, none of them.”

By now they had helped Finrod sit down on the edge of his bed and, dismissing the servant with a quick gesture of his hand, Edrahil dropped to one knee to meet Finrod’s gaze. “Is this your foresight?”

“And what else?”

Edrahil thought pure exhaustion of both body and soul was a far more probable explanation. “You need rest.” He made to help the King divest himself of his robe but Finrod dismissed his attempts with a jerky wave of his arm. “And food.” Another impatient shrug. Edrahil sighed. “At least allow me to see to your wounds.”

Receiving no protest, he went outside to order warm water, bandages and herbs. On his way back, he stopped by the table and put together a quick repast of Finrod’s favorite pastries and watered wine and brought it into the bedroom. His hands thus occupied by the tray he closed the door with his elbow and looked to Finrod.

He found him sitting dejectedly on the bed, his hands unconsciously twisting the coverlet on either side of his thighs, his muscles coiled so tightly his entire figure was shaking, his eyes closed in a futile attempt to regain control over his emotions, sucking in breath through clenched teeth but otherwise making absolutely no noise – and tears streaming down his face.

Edrahil’s chest clenched in sympathy. Here was a valiant soul, wounded and heart-sore, and instead of support from those he should be able to lean on, his repay was just more ache to bear.

He could not stand it any longer and so, once more casting away all propriety, which marked them forever unequal, master and servant, he gathered Finrod into an embrace and started to draw soothing circles on his back. Still slightly surprised by his own audacity, he thought that maybe, once he came to his senses, the King would be ashamed of his vulnerability, but decided to simply let whatever shall happen, happen. Finrod had called him his otorno and for now it was all that mattered.

And so it continued for what seemed like hours, Finrod’s initial denial slowly changing into anger at the immovable Powers, at his dead brothers, at the poor boy who dreamed of an adventure but most ferociously and bitterly – at himself. Edrahil soothed and calmed, consoled and reasoned, and never once withdrew his touch, rubbing, caressing, stroking, at last simply putting his arm across the slumped shoulders. At some point they had moved up on the bed for Finrod to lean against the headboard, curled slightly, with Edrahil sitting behind him, his legs folded.

The sun had already set before finally, Finrod’s tears abated and he regarded Edrahil with completely empty eyes.

Still not withdrawing his hand, Edrahil said, “My lord, please, would you not at least try to rest?”

A pained crease appeared between Finrod’s brows.

Recognizing a sign of refusal, Edrahil pressed on: “My lord, you must sleep. Without sleep your injuries cannot mend and–” He stopped mid-sentence. Somehow, this time, reminding Finrod just how badly he was needed by others did not seem like the right choice. “Please, my lord. I… I could sing to guide you through the Paths of Dreams…”

Finrod shook his head. “No, just… stay?”

And so he did.

 

***

 

Finrod woke to a thick darkness and a searing sensation in his thigh. Memory was returning slowly but… Oh yes, he must have overexerted his leg in his foolhardy attempt to walk. With every moment he was taking in more and more sensations. His eyes were dry, his throat sore. He needed a drink, preferably something for the pain but even plain water would do.

He started to raise on his elbow when he realized his left hand was intertwined with somebody else’s. He strained his eyes – a figure was sitting slumped in a chair, its dark head resting next to their hands on the bed.

“Edrahil!” He brushed the slightly tangled braids out of his Steward’s face. “Otornya–”

Edrahil woke, shaking his head slightly and, quickly alert, uncovered a crystal lamp on the bedside cabinet. Finrod then reached towards where next to it he expected to find a pain-relieving infusion and with Edrahil’s hand steadying his, drank deeply.

“Otornya,” he repeated with mild reproof, “why are you punishing your back so? I never–” He stopped midsentence with a huff. “Just come here.”

Edrahil walked around the bed and eased himself gingerly on it. “I fear I am obstinate … otornya.”

 

***

 

Late morning saw all three of them in Finrod’s solar after Orodreth forced Galuon to let them through. Eregil would probably chide him later for pulling rank on this well-disciplined soldier but now all that mattered was to speak to Finrod. He knocked on the bedroom door and opening it, he was surprised by the sight of his brother still fast asleep in the bed, his Steward beside him, dark and light braids spilled across the pillows, Edrahil’s hand resting protectively on Finrod’s arm.

Orodreth cleared his throat loudly.

Both sleepers woke immediately and, upon seeing him, Finrod’s Steward visibly blanched and nervously withdrew his hand. Honestly, did the man believe Orodreth had forgotten how everyone, from the High King to the humblest farmer, had huddled for sleep during–? He wished fervently he could.

Edrahil scrambled out of the bed – he was still completely dressed, save for shoes and robe, Orodreth noticed with mild amusement – and bowed. “My lord.” Then he turned back to Finrod and bowing again, said, “My lord, may I be excused? My duties…”

Finrod nodded and slowly tried to lift himself into a sitting position. Orodreth was at his side this instant, fluffing the pillows, smoothing the coverlet and handing a goblet of water, which Finrod accepted gratefully.

“Brother,” he said. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Ahem.” Orodreth replaced the goblet on the cabinet. “Perhaps allow me first to see to your needs?” After taking Finrod through the morning routine – and it became obvious that his brother had impaired his healing in his foolhardy show the previous day – Orodreth bade  Eregil and Finduilas enter.

Finrod blinked several times as if unsure his eyes did not deceive him.

“Lord Brother,” Orodreth started, transforming his entire posture from a concerned brother to a repentant vassal. Behind his back, he sensed both women curtsying deeply, though he suspected Eregil was silently grinding her teeth. “Of your kindness, pardon our intrusion. On behalf of myself and my family, I crave your pardon for our reckless words yesterday.”

“You certainly don’t waste time, eh, Orodreth? We are all of us family.” Here Finrod’s gaze swept across the faces of Eregil and Finduilas, and he smiled warmly. “I need to ask your forgiveness as well. We should not argue. Come, sit with me.”

 

***

 

When Edrahil returned to Finrod’s chambers early in the afternoon to report on the state of the wounded, he was informed by Galuon that the King’s family was still inside. Having been granted special permission, he nevertheless entered.

“Do you– do you remember that time when Aegnor took Aredhel and Galadriel to watch fishermen unload their catch and somehow they all fell into a hold full of fish?” said Orodreth. “Oh, the look of them, with slime and seaweeds all over their hair!”

“Oh! Oh, and what about the time when Angrod wanted to impress Edhellos so he said he could hit the target with his eyes closed?”

“And did he?” asked Finduilas, who was sitting curled into her uncle’s side.

“Oh yes, chín nín, he did,” replied Finrod gravely.

“Only for your aunt to do exactly the same, only she hit the bull’s eye!” added Orodreth. “Then they had those incessant competitions. Learned to shoot extremely well,” his voice lost its amused tone, “which actually came in handy later.”

“And availed them nothing in the end.” Finrod lowered his eyes to his lap and raising them again, spotted Edrahil. “Come in, my friend. Surely you too have some amusing tales about my brothers.”

“You mean like the time back at the Lake, when Lord Aegnor offered my Lady Eregil the hospitality of his bed instead of his bathhouse?[iv]

“Poor Aegnor,” the Princess managed between bouts of laughter, “he couldn’t meet my eyes the entire time of the trade negotiations.”

Soon, Edrahil was sitting with them all, his report forgotten for a time, trading one story after another, some frivolous, some more serious, all full of warmth and love. They all laughed merrily and if their laughter seemed a bit rough round the edges and their smiles a bit teary, no-one would blame them.

 

***

 

Fandis was riding on one of the wagons which carried supplies for the wounded, singing softly and joyfully.

Spring would soon return to Beleriand, she could feel its approach with every breath of the sweet, clean air. Yes, war was still raging in the North, but for now they were heading South, back towards home. A reward was waiting there for her, and knowing the King’s generosity, she could expect something wonderful. But, she thought, her best reward was being alive, feeling the warm sun on her face, reveling in the newly discovered tinges of excitement at the thought of Sandir’s slim figure and handsome face.

Her abilities had returned over the previous weeks, though she had to concentrate much more to use them. Lady Annúngil had told her it would always be so but Fandis decided if such was the price of testing her worth and becoming a full-fledged combat healer, she could accept to pay it. True, her nights were still tormented by memories of darkness, and blood, and smoke, but in the bright light of the sun her thoughts ran off to all the good things she expected future to bring her and so, she sang for the joy of it.

 

***

 

NOTES

[i] Finrod’s epessë, the khuzdul-derived Felagund was often by others Eldarized into Felagon, as if it had the same ending (*-kano) as in Fingon, Turgon; and the first element was associated with Sindarin fael 'fair-minded, just, generous', Quenya faila (? from v phaya 'spirit', adjectival formation meaning 'having a good fëa, or a dominant fëa'). (The Shibboleth of Fëanor, PoMe).

[ii] Finarfin’s preferred name, Arafinwe, renders a Sindarin form Arfin, and it wasn’t until after the Bragollach and Fingolfin’s death that Finrod prefixed it with Finwë, which Sindarized produced the familiar form Finarfin. (Which, btw, gives an interesting insight into the relationship between Finrod and Fingon). (Cf. The Shibboleth of Fëanor, PoMe).

[iii] My headcanon is that Galadriel indeed crossed the Blue Mountains before the fall of Nargothrond and Gondolin, as per LOTR, in an attempt to find allies against Morgoth. She later returned to Beleriand at some point before the War of Wrath though I’m not sure when exactly.

[iv] Aegnor confused the word puida-, to wash, cleanse, soap with puitha- to have sex (which I hope makes sense despite Sindarin’s wild form changes).

Chapter Text

 

Outside, summer was slowly dying, the approaching fall turning golden the leaves of Taur-en-Faroth and painting Talath Dirnen purple with blooming heathers. Inside, activities were also ceasing with the approach of the nightfall, while Edrahil accompanied Finrod to his solar for an evening of rest after a day-long labor. They found Eiliannor setting out pastries and wine on the table, and Finrod quickly dismissed the boy with a gracious nod, allowing Edrahil to help him remove his bejeweled collar and sumptuous robe.

Edrahil divested himself of his own court garb and, setting both robes on a chest by the wall, went into the bedroom to put away the royal jewelry. On his return, he found Finrod already sitting by his harp, leaning on it tiredly with his cheek and plucking absently at the strings. Stepping behind him, Edrahil smoothed his bejeweled braids out of the way and started kneading the tense shoulders. “No chess today, my lord?”

“Let us leave the provisioning and patrols and all thoughts of warfare at least for a while. I think I am almost done with the lament, but there is one lift which fails to work no matter how I try.”

“Show me”–Edrahil’s hands traveled up Finrod’s neck, working out knots– “though I’m sure you exaggerate as usual.”

Finrod sighed, the set of his shoulders relaxing. “At first, it was all too raw,” he said quietly. “I could play for hours but nothing worth writing down, all too… dissonant. And the lyrics? I had no words in which to close my feelings…” His mood lifting quickly, he continued dryly, “So, I wallowed in self-pity while you ran my kingdom for me.”

“Oh, I remember it quite differently,” teased Edrahil, delighting in the interplay. “’Edrahil, bring me that report on the granaries’, ‘Edrahil, I need to check the armory right now’, ‘Edrahil, let us go tour the villages, and to the Void with my leg’. That’s hardly wallowing in self-pity, my lord.”

“Now who is exaggerating?” Finrod leaned back and so, at last he allowed his hands to cease and simply rest on the shoulders of Finrod, who twisted a bit to look at him with a smile.

Edrahil did not know what new horrors the future would bring but he thought he could shoulder them now that he was – at last – working beside not only a beloved lord but also a dear friend.

And then, Finrod started to play.

 

*** 

 

Deep in the city, a mother was grieving the loss of her second son, unconsoled by the fact that she was joined in her mourning by so many other parents, children, and lovers who also had lost their dear ones.

Out on the plain, two princes were riding towards the city, fleeing from the Enemy.

Beneath the dark shadow of Thangorodrim, a sorcerer was gathering troops for a final assault on the Elven defenses.

Far away, in the dying Dorthonion, a valiant Woman was preparing to forsake her home in fulfillment of her duty towards her people, but against her heart’s deepest desire: to fight beside her husband and son.

 

*** 

 

His hands moved swiftly through the strings, his ring finger now achingly empty, just as the index one had been for almost three yéni. He could not yet see how, but in his heart he knew the pieces were now all moving inescapably towards the death of the white king.

 

metta