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Less Than Kind

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Fingon's horse was clearly reconsidering her affection for him by the time they drew close to the hall – the fortress, really – on Himring's icy height. She had been bred for the plains. Why have you brought me to this horrible freezing place where nothing is properly flat, her rolling eye seemed to say. Fingon dismounted to lead her along the steep and twisting path beneath the archers' perches – so narrow in places that her flank was against the cliff with only open air beyond – and clicked his tongue to her when she balked.

All the perches were manned, but no one had greeted him yet. He could feel unfriendly eyes looking down on him. He nearly cried out that he was a guest and not an Orc - a kinsman of their lord, no less - but he restrained himself. They surely had eyes of their own to see: and there were good reasons why Maedhros might expect his people to be more alert than most to the deceits of the Enemy. Besides, no one had shot at him yet.

The main courtyard was empty and cold. The wind whistled through it. It would not have been hard to make it a little more sheltered, but here as on the path the fortress of Himring was built for war, not comfort. There were archers stationed on the walls. Fingon waved at them. When no one descended to him he cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, "Have some pity at least for my poor horse!"

Ringing silence, but he fancied it was an embarrassed silence. There was some movement up on the walls. Fingon waited.

It was not long before the great oaken doors of the high hall swung open. There was a complicated arrangement of gates and bars and portcullises beyond, but Fingon hardly noticed them, because there was Maedhros at last, running down the high stairway to greet him, wearing an incredulous smile as he called out Fingon’s name.

They embraced at the foot of the stairs. Maedhros flung both his arms around Fingon’s shoulders. His left hand, gripping tight, bunched up the fabric of Fingon’s cloak – and some of Fingon’s hair, too – while the gloved prosthetic rested on Fingon’s back. Fingon still had one hand to his mare’s bridle; she danced uneasily on the spot until someone descended the steps to lead her away. Then Fingon could finally fling both arms about his cousin properly, revelling as he probably always would in the feel of him solid and alive. He did not think he was the only one remembering a first embrace after slipping to the ground from eagle-back, though neither of them was likely to speak of it. Maedhros was not so thin as he had been then – had still been, the last time Fingon had seen him, before he and his brothers set off Eastwards.

Maedhros was the first to break the embrace. He stepped back, looked at Fingon, and shook his head wonderingly. Fingon drank in the sight of him. He was haler than he had been, and stood taller; he did not flinch from being looked at or try to hide his gloved right hand; he might almost have been the cousin of Fingon’s childhood, but for the banked flame in his eyes, and even that was not so dreadful as it had been – not when he smiled. “I can’t be that surprising,” Fingon said. “Did none of your lookouts tell you?”

“I hardly believed it,” said Maedhros. “What are you doing here?”

"I bring a message from my father."

Maedhros blinked. "Really?"

Fingon grinned. "I believe his exact words were: you're visiting who, well if you must you must, say something suitable, something something friendship something something kinsmen, tell him good job keeping my brother's sons out of trouble, I'd rather wrestle another ice bear myself – but don't say it like that!"

They laughed together, and at the sound of Maedhros’s laughter, which he had not heard for a very long time, Fingon felt it was quite necessary to embrace him again. “I’m sorry for the chilly hospitality of Himring,” Maedhros said. “Come inside, at least. It is not so cold.”

“This is not cold,” said Fingon, and because Maedhros was still in his arms he felt him stiffen before he broke away.

It took him a moment, and then he could hardly cry to Maedhros’s retreating back, I did not mean it like that, I was not speaking of the Helcaraxë. Maedhros was calling out commands to his people, rooms to be readied and a place in the stables, and Fingon stood on the steps and had nothing to say.

“Never mind,” a voice cut in on his thoughts, and Fingon blinked and looked up and saw with some surprise his cousin Maglor leaning against the hinge of the great gate. “He can be oversensitive.”

“Maglor! I didn’t see you there.”

“I know,” Maglor said. “I thought about waiting to see how long it took you to notice anyone else, but it is chilly out here. Are you coming in or not?”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Fingon said as Maglor took him through the main hall. A mighty fire was burning in the great hearth, but the room seemed half a barracks and a cheerless place altogether. Maedhros was not there. “I wouldn’t scratch at him like that.”

“He’ll know that once he thinks about it for a moment.”

“You’re sure?”

“In your shoes I would have three dozen such scratches all prepared and waiting only for the right moment,” Maglor said, “but you are a nobler soul than I.”

“I’m not –” began Fingon, embarrassed.

“Fingon,” said Maglor patiently, “everyone knows you’ve got about as much malice in you as a turnip. Here!”

Through a carved doorway and up a narrow flight of stairs lay private apartments. Here at last there was some comfort and beauty: rough, to be sure, but there were hangings on the walls and patterned rugs to warm the cold stone flags, and fires burned merrily in every room and had their flickering tongues reflected in the gold reflectors strung between carved wooden pillars. “I congratulate you, by the way,” said Maglor.

“On what?”

“Good timing,” Maglor said, and brought Fingon through a curtained arch and into a pleasant wooden-walled apartment that was full of gentle warmth and clean air and bright mountain light, and also rather full of the sons of Fëanor.

“Or did I mean I commiserate with you on your bad timing?” Maglor said behind him, as Fingon blinked at more of his cousins than he had ever hoped to be trapped in a room with again.

“What’s he doing here?” said Caranthir.                                   

“It’s a family reunion,” said Maglor. “Why shouldn’t he be here?”

Fingon wished very much that he wasn’t there. Rather desperately he sought Maedhros in the throng and found him sitting at the head of the room’s one long low table. His expression was rueful. “Caranthir,” he said. Maglor stepped around Fingon and went to Maedhros’s right hand. He looked altogether too entertained. Fingon looked from brother to brother. Caranthir was sunk into his seat and now avoiding Fingon’s gaze, red-faced; Celegorm looked bored, and Amras distant. Only Curufin met Fingon’s eyes, and his look was cold.

“Well-met, cousins,” said Fingon with vain hope.

“Well enough, half-cousin,” said Curufin. Fingon heard Maglor stifle a snort. Maedhros hid his face behind his hand. “Are you just come from Hithlum?”

“I am,” said Fingon.

Curufin stood. All the sons of Fëanor were tall, and Fingon found he did not appreciate being loomed at. He frowned up at Curufin and did not give ground as he was clearly expected to do. “Curufin,” said Maedhros. “Curufin.”

“And what does our mighty uncle say to the Dispossessed?” said Curufin in dangerous tones.

Something something friendship something something kinsmen, Fingon decidedly did not say. His mind was blank. He gave Maedhros a desperate look past Curufin’s shoulder. Maedhros winced, shrugged, and elbowed Maglor.

Maglor rolled his eyes. “Fingolfin Finwion, High King of the Noldor, to his beloved nephews, all greetings and good will,” he said, “and confusion to our Enemy! We honour your valiant stewardship of the Eastern marches against the Dark Lord. Fierce and watchful are the sons of Fëanor: long may the Morgoth dread the continued friendship of our houses. Ever yours in kinship, and so on.” He added with cheery malice, “Something about an ice bear, too, I didn't catch that bit.”

Maedhros elbowed him again.

“Or perhaps I misheard,” Maglor said.

Curufin looked suspicious. “Is that what your father said?” he demanded of Fingon.

“Word for word,” said Fingon. Praises be for wordsmith cousins and Maedhros's sharp elbows. “Except for the part about the ice bear.”

“Hmph!” said Curufin, and he went out of the room, shouldering past Fingon in the doorway with unnecessary force.

“Our brother is eloquent as ever,” said Maglor lightly. Maedhros put his face back in his hand.

Caranthir stood up abruptly, still red-faced, and said ungraciously, “I apologise for my want of courtesy.” He gripped Fingon’s arm briefly before he went out after Curufin.

Next Amras stood.  “Cousin,” he said quietly, and pressed Fingon’s hand once. Fingon blinked after him as he went out. He had never had much to do with the twins, but he remembered them as merry company. “Didn’t he used to be chatty?” he asked no one in particular.

Celegorm gave him a look of profound dislike. “No. Amrod was chatty.”

Fingon flinched. Celegorm did not look at him as he left the room.

There were only the two oldest brothers left. Maedhros dared to look up for a second. Fingon gave him his best wide-eyed appalled look. Maedhros immediately dropped his face back into his hand. “You didn’t warn him?” he said to Maglor, muffled.

“It slipped my mind,” said Maglor cheerfully. “Come, cousin, I’ll claim an embrace from you. Maybe not quite such a long one.”

“I’m not sure I want to embrace you,” said Fingon, but he held out his arms. Maglor squeezed him once and patted him on the back. “Sorry,” he whispered. “I couldn’t resist. Make Maedhros forgive me, I know you can.” Then he went off too. Fingon heard his voice raised in song down the hallway.

“Are they gone?” Maedhros said. He looked up ruefully. “I’m sorry about... well. I’m sorry about all my brothers.”

“Be generous,” said Fingon. “Amras was very nearly friendly.”

Maedhros groaned.

“I know I have come unlooked-for. I did not mean to come unwelcome.”

“You are never unwelcome where I am,” said Maedhros firmly, and he stood up and took Fingon’s hand. “In fact I confess I have very seldom been gladder to see you. Every time my brothers and I meet I remember at once why we don’t do it more often. This time – well. They’ve been here three days, and as near as I can tell Curufin and Maglor are having a competition to see who can make himself the most unpleasant company.”

Fingon laughed. “And who’s winning?”

“Judge for yourself! You have just enough time to rest from the road before dinner.”

 Fingon suspected there was some confusion in the household over what apartment to give him. With five Fëanorion princes already visiting there was little space left in the less-than-comfortable fortress to lodge the oldest son of the King. “I need very little,” he tried to assure the servant guiding him through the stony hallways.

The servant – a frowning, bearded Man – looked at him under his brows and shook his head, seeming offended. Fingon had already managed to give offence twice here – three times, if he counted not noticing Maglor in the courtyard. He decided not to say anything else. The room he was brought to was not large, but it was comfortably appointed, and there was a fire. Curtained doors opened onto a balcony hewn in the southern side of the mountain. Fingon stepped out and looked out across the plains. The chilled air had teeth, but the wind smelled clean and fresh, and the setting sun was painting the land with red and gold. Standing here he thought more kindly of high cold Himring.

That was all the rest he needed. He was still there under the rising stars when the summons came for dinner.

 It was a small meal: a family meal, in fact. They served themselves from silver plates set out on the long table. Fingon’s place was set between Celegorm and Amras. He was sorry at once not to be closer to Maedhros, but looking down the table he could see his cousin’s thought: he had put Maglor and Curufin at his left hand and right, and so hoped to keep their quarrelling well away from Fingon. Caranthir too sat between Curufin and Amras as a further buffer. Fingon caught Maedhros’s eye, and Maedhros gave him a crooked smile and a nod.

Almost as soon as Fingon sat down Celegorm turned on him and demanded, “Is that your mare in the stables?”

“Yes?” Fingon said.

“A fine beast!” Celegorm said, and with that it seemed Fingon’s earlier misstep had been forgotten. Celegorm was in fact good company provided you only spoke of dogs and horses, which Fingon could do. They managed a good-natured conversation on the subject of horse-breeding, and Fingon found himself half-promising some mares of Hithlum’s herds in trade for horseflesh of Celegorm’s bloodstocks – which piece of familial diplomacy, if achieved, would justify this whole trip by itself.

As they were discussing the plan the long-legged hunting hound dozing among the cushions by the fire woke, stretched his great bulk, and came and shoved his head under Celegorm’s hand. “Spoilt, Huan!” Celegorm admonished him without rancour, and scratched behind his ears. Huan demanded attention from Fingon too, so Fingon obliged him with a headscratch. The hound looked up at him with thoughtful intelligent eyes. “Now as for the hunters I was speaking of –” Celegorm said.

The meal went on, fairly merrily. Several bottles of wine were brought out and poured into cut crystal goblets, and Caranthir spoke for a while of fine Dwarven glassware, gesturing with his wine between gulps, splashing the table now and again. Celegorm continued to speak of hunting, his free hand straying back to Huan’s head while he drank. Fingon occasionally remembered Amras sitting on his other side and tried to draw him into the conversation, but Amras though polite was near-silent and would not be drawn. Eventually Fingon gave up, thinking as he glanced along the table that at least the rest of the brothers seemed to be managing good cheer. Maglor was calmly distracted, gazing at the ceiling and smiling faintly, fingers drumming soft patterns on the table as if he was thinking of his harp.  Meanwhile Maedhros had ungloved his metal right hand and was patiently allowing Curufin to examine the articulation of the joints, and Caranthir was looking on with interest, contributing the odd comment as Curufin frowned over the steel fingers. Fingon had never seen Maedhros so calm over his maiming.

He reminded himself that it had been long indeed since he had seen Maedhros at all.

It was good to see him like this. They had parted friends, and the departure of the sons of Fëanor had been a great relief to his father, but Fingon had watched his cousin go with a heavy heart. Maedhros had been healed as well as he might be in body, but he had not been well. Nor had it then seemed likely that he would ever be well again.

Fingon turned his thoughts away from the memories, took a gulp of wine, and allowed Celegorm’s ongoing ramble to reclaim his attention. It did not do to dwell on sad times: and besides it seemed that his secret fears had not come to pass. Huan nosed concernedly at his knee and then wandered on to Amras, who actually smiled as he petted the hound. Celegorm used the salt-pot and butter-dish to demonstrate the lie of the land for some complicated anecdote, found they were not enough, and borrowed Fingon’s knife as well. Maedhros and Caranthir both laughed at something Maglor had said. Really, the party was not going nearly so badly as Maedhros had led Fingon to expect.

Just as Fingon had the thought Celegorm abruptly broke off what he was saying and snapped, “Caranthir, I told you not to give him table scraps!”

At the same moment Curufin slammed down his goblet hard enough to jolt the table and demanded, “How is anyone supposed to think with Maglor humming all the time?”

Maglor and Caranthir both spoke at once in their own defence. Fingon could not hear whatever Maglor said over Caranthir’s loud protests that there was no harm in giving a dog meat and Celegorm’s even louder reply: ruin your own kennels if you must, but stay away from mine! But whatever Maglor’s words were, they made Curufin’s eyes light up with rage.

Maglor leaned back in his chair with a small satisfied smile, as if pleased with a job well done, while his younger brother snarled at him across the table. Maedhros looked alarmed and rapidly began to draw his glove back on. Celegorm and Caranthir continued to shout at each other in ever louder voices. After a moment Celegorm jumped to his feet, fists curled, and Caranthir followed suit, scarlet in the face with wine and embarrassment and anger. Maedhros was fumbling with the buttons at his right wrist, and his look of alarm had become one of frustration. Maglor reached across him to help.

Maedhros rounded on him. There was no chance of hearing his words over Celegorm’s yelling, but Fingon did not need to hear them to see the ugly twist of bitterness on his face, or the way Maglor reared back. Curufin smirked meanly and spoke some cruel jest. Maglor went flushed, and Maedhros pale. At Fingon’s left hand Celegorm was shrugging off his overrobe and starting to roll up his sleeves as if he really meant to assault Caranthir then and there. Fingon hurriedly put down his wine, but Amras touched his arm before he could jump up to hold his cousin back. When Fingon looked at him Amras gave him a very small headshake and mouthed something. Fingon had to lean in to hear what it was.

Amras repeated, “You’ll make it worse.”

Fingon subsided, although he did not see how it could get much worse. It was as if someone had set a light to a pile of kindling that he had not known was there. The two arguments were already starting to blend together as the brothers shouted over each other to make themselves heard. When Curufin waded into the fight about Huan on Celegorm’s side Maedhros immediately took Caranthir’s part. Maglor seemed to be egging on both halves of the quarrel indiscriminately. They were all on their feet now. Only Amras stayed seated, head bowed, face hidden behind his hair. The room began to seem narrow and close, the clean air choked with the anger of the arguing brothers. Fingon could not understand how they had erupted into so much fury so quickly – and over what? Some table scraps? A half-thought-out tune being hummed by one of the great bards of the Noldor?

He was desperately embarrassed to be there, and kept his gaze cast down as he tried not to listen to the bitter words being flung back and forth over his head. He saw Huan with his bright intelligent eye come padding back to Celegorm’s side. Fingon had never seen a dog look so disappointed.

Celegorm still seemed the most likely to escalate the squabble from words to deeds. There was a bright terrible light in his eye and a mad smile playing about his lips. Fingon saw him glance down to the table and was overtaken by a horrified conviction: Celegorm would not attack anyone yet, but when he did, he would pick up a knife first. He tensed in his chair. If that happened then he would have to do something, regardless of what Amras said.

But when the quarrel reached its height and Celegorm’s rage had darkened his face to a stranger’s, Fingon was not the first to move.

Huan put himself under his master’s feet as Celegorm snatched blindly for his knife. Celegorm stumbled, tripped across the hound’s back, found himself tangled in his long legs as he struggled for balance, and ended up collapsing back into his chair with a surprised expression. Huan with great deliberateness put his head on Celegorm’s knee. Fingon could still see the dog’s bright thoughtful eyes as he beat his tail on the floor several times. Celegorm snarled and tried to get up again. Huan with an air of long patience climbed into his lap.

He was a very large hound. Celegorm made an oof sound as the air was knocked out of him.

The whole thing had distracted Maglor and Caranthir, who were staring. Maglor’s mouth was twitching with amusement, and even Amras lifted his head enough to smile. But Maedhros and Curufin were both still talking at once in bitter tones, and neither seemed willing to be turned aside from his part in the quarrel. “– in front of Fingon!” Maedhros snapped, voice ringing out too loudly in the sudden quiet.

“Yes,” said Curufin sneeringly into the silence that followed, “what will Fingon think?”

There was a pause. All the brothers looked at Fingon. Their expressions ran the full range of all the possibilities that lay between anger and humiliation, save only Maglor, who wore a fey smile. Curufin looked angriest: Maedhros the most humiliated. Fingon gazed at him in some distress. Maedhros would not meet his eyes. Fingon could not think of what to say.

“Fingon will think he’s the only sane person in the room,” Amras muttered.

There was a wincing silence in which Fingon could not quite bring himself to disagree.

Then abruptly Maglor laughed. “Not so! Not the only one,” he said. “There’s also the dog.”

The tension broke. All the brothers began to look ashamed of themselves. Maglor sat down, a hand on Maedhros’s arm to draw him after, and said, “I’ll undertake to hum less, since Curufin finds it so infuriating: and the only way Caranthir can give Huan more table scraps is if he comes over there and stands over you, brother. So shall we end our quarrels? I think we’ve all made big enough fools of ourselves for one evening.”

“Down, Huan!” said Celegorm, rolling his eyes, but he did not try to get up again when Huan climbed off him, and he did not disagree with Maglor. Curufin pursed his lips, tossed his head, and sat down as if he had been meaning to do it anyway. Caranthir, finding himself the last one standing, looked very embarrassed and reclaimed his seat quickly without meeting anyone’s eyes.

Fingon was greatly relieved, but he could not be happy until Maedhros met his eye again, which was not for some moments. When their gazes caught Maedhros looked grieved, and then resigned, and then amused. He picked up his goblet and toasted Fingon in silent apology before he turned to Caranthir and said with a calm determined smile, “So, tell us more of the Dwarves.”

Celegorm groaned aloud.

“No one cares about the Dwarves!” said Curufin.

“I do,” said Maedhros firmly, as Caranthir looked uncertain. “You’ll have the right to object when you find us better allies, Curufin! Come, Caranthir.”

“Glassware, you said,” put in Amras, and Maedhros looked grateful, and Caranthir reassured. Slowly the conversation around the table began to recover. Fingon set himself to being interested in the Dwarves, which became easier after Caranthir fished a handful of cunningly-wrought trinkets out of his pocket and passed them down the table. The craftsmanship was extraordinary. Fingon touched a confection of golden droplets and pale moonstones and was delighted to hear it chime with hidden bells. “Keep it!” said Caranthir, when he saw how pleased Fingon was. “They wear them in their beards. You can put it in your hair.”

“Very pretty: and he’ll jingle when he walks,” said Maglor. “Don’t wear it to Angband, Fingon!”

Fingon pretended he hadn’t noticed all the brothers save Maedhros glaring at Maglor, or Maedhros’s suddenly wooden expression. He thanked Caranthir for the gift and praised the other Dwarven baubles as they deserved, and then cast around for another topic of conversation. Maglor, repentant, came to his aid with some talk of minstrelsy: Fingon seized on it gratefully, answered in kind, and even sang a few snatches of the songs they were making now in Hithlum, though he had to pretend he had forgotten a line or two for diplomacy’s sake. Maglor’s quirked eyebrow said he guessed the truth, but he took it in good part, and sang a few verses of his own in trade.

Curufin clearly found bard-talk even duller than the Dwarves, and settled down to glower into his wine. Celegorm was no better. The rest of the brothers chatted valiantly, but it was hard to get far with any line of conversation while the two of them were bracketing the table with sullenness. Eventually Fingon tried to start Celegorm on dogs and horses again, but though that broke his silence it did not bring back his earlier good mood. Fingon now suspected that the merriment at the start of the meal had never been more than a thin veil cast over this bitter-tempered gathering for his benefit. No wonder Maedhros had been so glad to see him, if all his brothers could do was bicker!

A lull in the stilted conversation came and Curufin finally looked up. There was an unpleasant light in his eye, as if he had been brooding on some wrong all this time. “Speaking of allies,” he said, though no one had been since the talk of Dwarves had faltered, “they are strange creatures, Maedhros, these Men of yours! Neither comely nor fair-spoken: and the Dwarves at least have some craft in them. I can hardly see what use you have for them, save to mumble and glare and drop plates. Still I’m sure you know your own counsel best.” He smiled. “I have heard they have some strange customs of their own, nearer Orcish behaviour than anything else. Is it true they rut like beasts? And mate with their own kin?”

His eye fell on Fingon at the end of this speech, and his smile sharpened cruelly before he turned his smirk back on Maedhros.

Fingon did not see how Maedhros looked nor hear what he said in answer. He stared straight down at his near-empty plate and tried to think only of the curved shape of the goblet in his palm. It was all too clear what mark Curufin was aiming at. Fingon had not thought he knew. He had not thought anyone knew. He had tried to keep the strange turn of his heart’s wish a secret. But clearly the brothers all did know – he had seen Celegorm’s grimace, and Amras’s shuttered look, in the bare second before he looked down – oh, it was a vicious jest, but they had all understood it. They all knew, which meant Maedhros knew as well; and since Fingon did not want at all to see what Maedhros thought about it, he looked down as long as he could, and fidgeted with the Dwarf-trinket still lying on the table until the bells chimed, and then took a long long drink of his wine and summoned his courage and looked up.

Maedhros was not looking at him.

None of brothers were, save Maglor, whose brow was creased and whose mouth unsmiling. It should have been a relief: it was not. Fingon suddenly very much wanted Maedhros to look at him, so that he might have the worst over with. But Maedhros’ gaze stayed determinedly aimed at nothing until Curufin began to speak again, and then Curufin did not get more than three words out before Maedhros turned on him with a look so fell and fiery that suddenly he appeared like a stranger.

“Spit your poison on me, Curufin,” he said in a low and terrible voice, “but you will leave Fingon out of your malice: unless you wish to be turned out onto the mountainside tonight, you will.”

“You do not command me,” Curufin answered, “or have you forgotten? You have forfeited your right, and all our rights – O third of Finwë’s line! Why should Fingon care for my malice? Is he not the high prince of the Noldor?” He laughed wildly. “Was it for this our father crossed the Sea?”

“I speak of courtesy, Curufin! Though if you require a command –”

“We all know why our father crossed the Sea,” interrupted Caranthir. “We gain nothing by quarrelling over –“

“We all know why our father crossed the Sea, and it was not for any of our sakes!” said Maglor. “If you envy power, do it on your own account, Curufin: our father could not have cared less whether we were princes or beggars or all dead together, provided he had his precious jewels.”

“You speak as if you never knew him,” said Curufin, and his rage now was clearly deep indeed. “You lie if you say he would ever have smiled upon the lordship of the Noldor passing to the line of Indis –”

“Well, perhaps you knew him better! Not all of us could be the favourite –”

“Hold your envious tongue! We might already have the jewels if we were not exiled to scraps of eastern hillside with barely enough strength to hold our watch: if Maedhros had had the wit to think on war, or any of you the courage to move without him. So! I name you hypocrite and coward, brother: pray sulk on your rock with your Men as long as you please. The rest of us need no allies but ourselves and no one’s service but those who already owe it to us – and yes, I count sweet Fingon among them: so would our father!”

Maedhros, Maglor and Caranthir all spoke at once, the elder two bitterly, Caranthir near tears. Curufin kept talking over them. Amras was still and silent once more. Celegorm spoke no word, but his fists were curling and uncurling beside his chair. All of a sudden one plunged into the scruff at Huan’s neck where the great hound lay beside him, and gripped tight there as if only the dog was keeping him from rising.

Fingon could not follow the quarrel. Too much was being said at once, and it seemed the brothers had heard it all before and had no need to listen to each other any longer. He heard his own name, and his father’s, in the storm of bitter words, but could not catch the grievances, of which there seemed to be many. Fëanor they spoke of too, and the Silmarils, and Morgoth: the numberless treacheries of Sindar and Noldor and Valar, many of which seemed to Fingon strange or confused or altogether absurd: and many many other bitter things, some of which seemed to be quarrels from very old days, and at least one of which concerned a bracelet which Curufin had borrowed from Caranthir when they were children and never returned. Dreadful was their aspect and merciless their speech: Caranthir soon was weeping too bitterly to carry on the quarrel, while Celegorm looked near to explosion after grimly hanging onto his temper so long, and Amras might have been carved in stone. Fingon looked upon Curufin wild and furious, and on Maglor whose fey mood had dissolved into something mad and proud, and on Maedhros between them snarling now at one, now the other, with a dreadful fire in his eyes. It was if he saw Fëanor three times over.

And still the quarrel mounted, and Fingon heard his name again, and again, until at last he cried out, “If I have ever given you cause to complain of me, cousins, tell me how to mend it, and I shall!”

His words seemed to cut through the choked air like a clean blade. Maedhros froze, and the other two cut themselves off mid-sentence. Silence fell. Fingon felt the weight of every gaze around the table on him, but he did not quail. “Tell me how to mend my fault,” he said again more quietly, “and I shall.”

There was a pause.

“Valiant Fingon!” said Maglor, and if there was a trace of laughter in his voice at least he did not sound so bitter. “What fault? Didn’t I say you had no more malice than –“

“– a turnip?” said Fingon.

“You didn’t,” said Maedhros.

“Of course he did,” said Celegorm.

“None of us has any complaint to make of you,” Maglor said. “Or ever could. Am I wrong?” He spoke the question to Curufin. They held each other’s eyes for a long time.

“No,” said Curufin at last. “Not of you, Fingon.” His mouth worked, and it seemed he would have said more, but then he shook his head and took up his goblet once more. It was empty: he refilled it, and muttered something to Caranthir in passing, which Caranthir pretended not to hear.

“Let us have an end,” said Maedhros. “Please, let us have an end, you two. I am sorry for my part. We are all family here.”

That seemed to quench the flames, though neither Curufin nor Maglor apologised. There was little food left, but still plenty of wine, and for ten minutes or so there was near quiet as each nursed his own goblet and mused on his own thoughts. Fingon looked under his lashes at Maedhros, who seemed weary and sad and did not answer Maglor’s occasional bright sallies with more than a word or two. Fingon hoped Curufin’s cruel joke about the ways of Men and Fingon’s own strange affections was not playing too large a part in that weariness and sadness. It was the opposite of his desire that any peculiarity of his should be turned into a stick for the brothers to beat Maedhros with. He was not ashamed of his love, for it was very great, and had given him courage in darker times: but he wished it were still a secret. It was no one’s concern but his, and no fit matter for mockery.

At least the worst was over.

He should not have thought it. At almost that same moment Maglor grew abruptly bored of Maedhros’s dull responses to his attempts at conversation and leaned past him. “Now tell us, Curufin,” he said sweetly, “since it’s a night for family – have you heard from your wife lately? Or my nephew?”

The quiet around the table went at once from tired to thunderous. Fingon did not know what lay behind this newest twist in the brothers’ wrangles, but he was already wincing.

“No?” said Maglor, and he smiled. “Isn’t that strange.”

Curufin spat, “You –”

“That’s enough,” Maedhros said. “Maglor, for shame, that’s enough! Curufin, stop.”

“I’m only making conversation,” Maglor said, still smiling, no longer very sweetly. “Someone has to. And if it comes to that, you are not my king either.”

Maedhros gave him a speechless glare, and then he stood up, snatched a wine bottle off the table, and turned his back on all of them as he went and flung his long body down in the cushions by the fire. Celegorm snorted. “No, I am done, I am done with you all!” Maedhros flung back bitterly over his shoulder. “Do as you like, say what you will, murder each other if it makes you happy. I will not be your peacemaker.”

“Good! You have no talent for it,” said Maglor, but Maedhros ignored him.

Fingon looked worriedly from the unhappy line of his back to Celegorm’s curled lip and Curufin’s blazing eyes and feared he knew not what. Caranthir spoke out. “We are being foolish, and Maglor and Curufin most of all – and Maedhros should not have to play peacemaker! If Mother was here –”

“Oh, if Mother was here –” interrupted Celegorm.

“Well, if Mother was here –”

“If, if, if!” cried Maglor. “If Mother was here, if Father was here, if Amrod was here perhaps you should not all be such miserable ill-tempered fools – but I doubt it!”

There was a clattering sound. Wine began to spread across the table in a bloody pool near Fingon’s elbow. Amras had knocked over his goblet.

No one spoke when he stood up, though Maglor’s eyes were wide and he drew a quick breath. Amras looked upon him silently for a long moment. Then he turned on his heel and walked out.

Now look what you’ve done,” said Curufin.

Caranthir half rose to his feet; Maedhros struggled up from his sprawl by the fire. “I’ll go,” Celegorm said, and he got up and was gone, Huan by his side. Fingon heard him calling Amras! Amras! in the corridor. The other brothers all exchanged glances. Only Maglor was motionless, staring at Amras’s empty place.

At last Caranthir grimaced and put his hand under Curufin’s elbow. “Come,” he said. Curufin shook the hand off and spoke no word, but he let his brother urge him to his feet and lead him away. Fingon remembered suddenly that Caranthir was the elder: it did not usually seem that way. He heard them beginning to speak to each other in low voices as they left the room.

Only Fingon and Maglor were left at the table. Maglor remained silent. Fingon could not summon up much sympathy for him. He picked up his wine goblet and went and crouched down by Maedhros among the cushions in front of the fire. Maedhros did not acknowledge him. His left hand was cupped loosely around the wine bottle. The gloved right lay useless at his side. Eventually crouching became uncomfortable, so Fingon sat down cross-legged instead. Maedhros was staring into the flickering fire, so he did too.

“I am sorry,” said Maglor behind them.

“Aren’t you always?” Maedhros said.

There was quiet. In it Maglor came and sat down on Maedhros’s other side. He did look sorry. Maedhros did not look at him either.

“Is it always like that?” said Fingon at last.

“No,” said Maedhros.

Maglor snorted. “He means it’s usually worse."

“I suppose the seven of you always –”

But it wasn’t true. Fingon knew that even as he said it. The sons of Fëanor had always squabbled, as brothers did – as Fingon had always squabbled with his own siblings, as Aredhel could no doubt still wind him up with one smile and the right quickspoken jab – but this was different. There was an ugly undercurrent to it.

“It’s the oath,” said Maedhros, without looking away from the fire. “It gets into everything.”

“It’s our father,” said Maglor. “He gets into everything.”

He stood up, picking up the wine bottle where it lay by Maedhros’s left hand. Maedhros snatched for it, missed, lost his balance and had to catch himself sharply on hand and prosthetic. He grunted in pain. Fingon realised he was drunk. Maglor held the bottle loosely between two fingers and then tipped his head back and downed what little wine was left. Maedhros cursed at him, without much feeling. Maglor snorted and went back around the table picking up the brothers’ abandoned drinks and dumping all that remained of their wine into his own goblet. He took Fingon’s wine too. “I’ll seek my rest,” he said, when he was done. His goblet was brimming over. He took a gulp of the wine. “Don’t look for me before noon!”

“Enjoy your drunken stupor,” Maedhros said.

“I shall,” said Maglor. “Enjoy our cousin’s company.” Fingon saw an odd smile on his face as he looked down at them both. Then he shook his head and laughed, took another gulp of wine, and went off singing to himself in a minor key.

Fingon and Maedhros watched the fire together for a time.

“I think,” said Fingon at length, “that that was probably the second worst party I’ve ever attended.”

Maedhros finally looked at him. An unwilling smile tugged the corner of his mouth. “Only the second?”

“Well,” said Fingon apologetically, “there was the one where Morgoth killed the Trees.”

Maedhros stared at him and then gave a shout of appalled laughter. “The one where – Fingon!”

“No,” said Fingon, grinning, “that really was worse.”

Maedhros kept laughing and then stopping to look horrified and then laughing again. “I’m sorry,” he said when the fit passed at last, and then he said it again, more quietly. “I am sorry. I’m sorry about all of them. And about myself. I was no better than the rest.”

“Don’t dwell on it,” Fingon said. “I’ve forgotten already. Only –”


“Why do all your brothers hate me?”

“They don’t.”

Fingon paused. “Are you sure?”

“They don’t, Fingon,” Maedhros said. He sighed. “They’re angry with me, for one reason or another: or else with each other. I’m sorry you got drawn into it.”

“Is it really usually worse than that?” Fingon said.

Maedhros shrugged and did not answer. Fingon supposed that was answer enough. He looked back into the dancing fire. The oath, or their father, or whatever it was, had done cruel work on the sons of Fëanor.

 “I miss my brothers,” Maedhros said quietly.

Fingon looked at him. He had never heard Maedhros speak so low.

“Again and again we meet, and we quarrel, and we part on bad terms. We leave it a summer, two summers, three. Then my heart speaks, and it reminds me that Curufin is quick and Maglor merry, that Caranthir is generous of heart and hand, that there is no better sport than to ride in the woodlands with Celegorm and the twins. And so we meet once more – and quarrel, and part.” Maedhros was silent for a time, watching the flames. “I miss my brothers,” he said again at last.

Fingon touched his arm. “Curufin is still quick, and Maglor merry,” he said. “Celegorm and Amras are hunters yet. Caranthir was generous to me tonight.”

“You made it easy for him when you praised that Dwarven bauble. Caranthir is as pleased by Aulë’s folk as if he had thought of them himself.”

“It was not hard to praise,” Fingon said.

Maedhros smiled. “Show me.”

Fingon had to go back to the table to retrieve the trinket. Maedhros dragged himself up from sprawled to seated while he was gone, and was brushing dog-hairs from his right shoulder when Fingon came back to him. “Is there more?” he asked. “You cannot have Celegorm without Huan – and I’m not sure I’d want to – but that hound regards all cushions as his own, and he sheds!”

Fingon flicked some stray grey hairs from Maedhros’s arm. “There,” he said. “And look.” He held out the Dwarven bauble.  Maedhros touched it with two fingers. The hidden bells chimed softly.

“It is pretty,” said Maedhros. “Will you wear it?”

“Of course,” Fingon said.

“May I?”

Fingon nearly asked, can you? and only swallowed it at the last moment. This evening needed no more awful tactless questions, and Maedhros would not have offered if he could not do it. “Of course,” he said again, and turned his head to one side. Maedhros finger-combed his hair left-handed, and then deftly braided the trinket into place, using the gloved fingers of his motionless metal hand to steady the twists of hair as his left hand worked. He ended up tugging on Fingon’s hair a little more than he might have done with two whole hands, but he worked quickly and did not fumble, and the braids were neatly made. When he was done Fingon tossed his head to resettle all, and heard the small bells chime. Maedhros looked pleased. “Gold and moonstones. They suit you!” he said. “And Maglor was right. You’ll jingle when you walk.”

They both remembered the rest of Maglor’s joke at the same time. There was an awkward pause: then Fingon decided he had had enough of those, and threw caution to the wind. “I promise not to wear it to Angband,” he said, and grinned.

Maedhros looked shocked. Then he hid his face in his hand as he laughed. “Good! Good!” There was still laughter in his eyes when he looked up, though the rest of his expression was solemn. “Thank you,” he said. “They do talk around it.”

“So shall I, if you ask me to.”

“I don’t.” Maedhros grimaced. “It doesn’t help.”

“You are better than you were.”

“Much. My left hand has learned nimbleness, and this,” Maedhros gestured with the gloved prosthetic, “serves me as well as it can. Curufin thinks he can do better, but I don’t dwell on it. I do not need two hands to hold a sword.”

Fingon said, “That is not all I meant.”

“I know,” said Maedhros. “And I am better than I was.”

Fingon leaned against his shoulder. “I am glad.”

Maedhros’s arm came up around him. He spoke no word for a time. Neither did Fingon. The fire flickered and burned low, and the room behind them was dim, and Fingon would gladly have ridden all the way here from Hithlum for this alone: peace and friendship in the firelight, and Maedhros’s arm resting comfortably across his shoulders.

He was halfway to dreaming when Maedhros said for no apparent reason, “You are the best person I know.”

“What?” said Fingon. He blinked a few times. The fire was down to glowing embers in the hearth.

“I said what I meant,” said Maedhros. He let Fingon go, and got to his feet, and smiled down at him.

“I never turn down compliments,” said Fingon, “but I don’t remember earning one.”

“I gave it freely – and as truth, not compliment. I’m glad you came here. I’ve missed you.”

Fingon scrambled to his feet. “I missed you too,” he said honestly. “I’m glad I came as well.”

“Really? Even after the second worst party you’ve ever attended?”

“Even so.”

Maedhros’s smile broadened. He took Fingon’s hand and pressed it for a moment. “I truly am sorry,” he said. “Thank you.”

“For what?” said Fingon to both.

Maedhros did not answer. He let Fingon go and turned away. “It’s late,” he said. “Can you find your way?”

“If not I’ll ask someone.”

Maedhros nodded. “Good night, then.”

“Good night,” said Fingon. He was still slightly confused, and sorry to be dismissed: but at least Maedhros no longer looked quite so wearily sad.

 The hallways of Himring were chilly at night. Fingon thought he knew his way, but he took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up back in the high hall which had struck him as more of a barracks. There were two Men sitting up on guard. They managed a halting answer when he greeted them, but their tongues plainly found Elven-speech hard to pronounce, and Fingon did not know their language. Otherwise he might have stopped to speak with them a while, for he was curious about Maedhros’s followers.

As it was one of the Men pointed him silently towards the doorway and stairs back to the private quarters. Fingon bowed in thanks. They clearly did not realise how sharp Elven hearing was, because they started to talk to each other again before he was out of earshot. Fingon did not know the words, but he could hear their mocking tones. He tried not to take it amiss. If he had been a Man in Maedhros’s service putting up with the arguing sons of Fëanor for the last three days, no doubt he would have been losing patience with Elf-princes too.

He knew where he was now, and quickly found his way back to the south-facing corridor where his chamber lay. He was not expecting to bump into Maglor, but there he was, leaning with both elbows on a window-ledge as he looked out, empty goblet lying on its side at his feet. He startled hard and nearly tripped over his own feet when Fingon’s shadow fell across him. “Sorry!” said Fingon, trying not to laugh: and then all thought of laughter fled, for Maglor’s face was very grave.

The grave look lasted until Maglor saw that it was Fingon. Then his brow wrinkled and he smiled a little. “I was not expecting to see you again tonight,” he said.

“My rooms are there,” said Fingon, gesturing past him, “so you have chosen a poor spot to avoid me.”

“That was not – well.” Maglor kept looking at him and smiling. “No doubt Maedhros has already heaped apologies on your head, so I shan’t bother,” he said. “We are foul company. My brother’s followers can’t wait for us to leave. But it’s each other we scratch at, not you. Even Curufin can’t find fault with you, Fingon – and Curufin could find fault with the Sun and Moon, if only for their lack of proper deference to the sons of Fëanor. Good night! Good night! Take a look to the South, if you haven’t already: Maedhros will not, but it is a fair view by daylight or starlight. Good night!”

“Good night, cousin,” Fingon said, rather baffled by this speech. Maglor smiled as if something had amused him very much and went away.

In Fingon’s chambers there was a fire still burning, so some servant had been thoughtful. Fingon took off his shoes. Then he stopped. He would have to take the Dwarf-trinket out of his hair before he rested, and he did not want to undo Maedhros’s work. He went out onto the stone balcony instead, to look south by starlight as Maglor had suggested. The Moon was up, pouring pale silver light across the plains. A brisk wind blew some of Fingon’s hair into his face and made the bells in the Dwarf-trinket chime sweetly over and over in a way the goldsmith could not have intended. He doubted the thing had been made with cold mountain breezes in mind.

It is each other we scratch at, not you, Maglor had said, with a speaking look as if Fingon was meant to read some mystery by it. Fingon’s heart was troubled. He was not one for obscure speech and sideways hints; and Maedhros too had gone obscure and sideways before dismissing Fingon altogether. He leaned on the parapet breathing the sharp sweet air and thought about it for a long time, and about all the many scratching comments he had heard tonight. It was not pleasant to think on them again. He pitied his cousins’ unhappiness greatly, and he could not think what Maglor was hinting at.

Then all at once his breath caught.

It could not be, he chided himself at once. It was too unlikely.

But then – did good chances never come unlooked-for?

Fingon straightened up. He knew better than that. Curufin had spoken sneeringly of strange customs, and Fingon had thought his hidden wish somehow known and mocked. But how should it be known? And why should Curufin mock at him? When he looked up none of the brothers had been looking at him save Maglor. Maedhros had been pale, and had not looked at him. And Maglor had afterwards given him strange smiles and stranger words. I was not expecting to see you again tonight.

The sudden embracing warmth of the firelit room when he went swiftly back indoors was nothing to the warm flush of hope Fingon felt surging in his heart. He left the rooms behind without a backward glance. He hadn’t the faintest idea where Maedhros’s chambers were, and he didn't even stop to put his shoes on.

Up and down the dreary chilly corridors of Himring: the night was well advanced by now, and would be drawing on to dawn before long. It was very quiet, except for the occasional soft chime of the bells in Fingon’s hair. He had no idea where he was going, and didn’t want to start knocking on closed doors at random for fear of disturbing one of the other brothers. Just now they were the last people he wanted to see. Still he realised quickly that it was senseless just to wander around hopefully. He would have to ask someone for directions – the Men down in the main hall, if no one else could be found. They might not speak Fingon’s language well but they would surely understand Maedhros’s name.

Just as he was about to turn back in search of a stairway down he caught sight of someone up ahead. He called out a soft greeting and the figure stopped and turned. Fingon immediately regretted everything, because it was Curufin. Possibly the only person he wanted to bump into less was Maglor. Curufin folded his arms and gave Fingon an up and down look, and spared an additional unimpressed glance for his bare feet. “What is it?” he demanded.

“I’m looking for Maedhros,” Fingon said.

“When are you not looking for Maedhros! Tell me, do you normally go about it by interrupting people when they’re thinking?”

“Not always,” said Fingon, irritated. “On Thangorodrim I spoke to no one, but for some reason I expected better courtesy from my cousins than from Morgoth’s Balrogs.”

Curufin looked chastened and angry, and then he rolled his eyes. “You’re going the wrong way,” he said ungraciously. “Back down there, through the door on your left: there’s a stairway up to the tower.”

“Thank you,” said Fingon. “I am sorry for interrupting your thoughts.” And then, because it was true, and because with that warm hope still pounding in his chest he could not stay angry, he said, “And I am sorry for maligning your courtesy. It was wrong of me.”

Curufin looked more infuriated, not less. “It was not. I was discourteous.”

Fingon paused. He wanted more than anything to turn and find the stair, but it did not feel right to walk away from a kinsman in this unhappy mood. “Have I wronged you, cousin?” he said. “May I amend it?”

Curufin sighed.

“I asked Maedhros earlier why his brothers hated me,” Fingon said. “He said it was not so. But it seems to me he was mistaken, at least in part.”

“You?” said Curufin. His mouth thinned. “No. We don’t hate you. We’re grateful.” He said ‘grateful’ like a curse.

“You don’t sound it,” said Fingon.

“We’re beyond grateful. You don’t understand. Thirty years by the shores of Mithrim, with Father dead and Amrod dead and Maedhros perhaps worse than dead, and then you turn up and within a week –”

“What’s wrong?” said Fingon.

“It pains me more than words can tell to be stuck feeling gratitude to such a lackwit,” Curufin said. “What did you have? A harp and a bow, and you walked straight up to the fortress of the Enemy and brought him back. Within a week. After we argued and achieved nothing for thirty years. A harp and a bow! Well, Maglor’s a better singer than you, and Celegorm’s a fairer shot. I wouldn’t have been such a fool as to dare that foul smith’s stronghold without some tools of my own – and then perhaps my brother wouldn’t be a cripple. Yes, we’re grateful. We left him for dead and you brought him back alive. We could have done it. We should have done it. But it was you, with your harp, and your bow.”

“A harp, a bow and a prayer,” Fingon said.

Curufin snorted. “Well, none of us has a prayer.”

Fingon was silent. There was nothing to say to that.

“Go, then,” said Curufin at last. “The door on the left, remember. He won’t be resting. Why are you seeking him at this hour anyway?” Fingon opened his mouth and said nothing. Curufin frowned at him, and then lifted his eyebrows very high. “Oh, really!” he said.

Fingon winced. This was why he had not wanted to meet Curufin along the way. He was even quicker-witted than Maglor, and less kind.

“You should not go up to him,” Curufin said.

“Because it is not our custom?” said Fingon.

“I am not such a hypocrite. I never heard that it was the custom of the Eldar to slay their kin, but I was at Alqualondë. Still, you should not. You will regret it: or he will.”

“I will not,” Fingon said.

“Then he will,” said Curufin. He was silent for a while, looking at Fingon. "It's not that there's no joy to be found in this Middle-earth,” he said at last. His expression was very cold. “But it all turns to dust in the end. Why keep trying? I could wish you joy of my brother, cousin, but I cannot wish him joy of you. The more joy he has now, the more sorrow will come later."

“I do not believe that,” Fingon said.

“No: you’ve no more malice than a turnip, and no more intelligence either. Do as you will! I shan’t stop you.”

Fingon still did not feel it right to turn away from someone so unhappy. He hesitated and then he said carefully, “About your wife –”

“I have no wife,” said Curufin savagely, and stalked off.

 Fingon let him go. He went back, took the door on the left, and mounted the spiral stairway beyond. The steps were bare stone, and very cold on his naked feet. Fingon climbed quickly, and as he went he felt he was leaving the dark weight of Curufin’s bitterness behind him. He felt almost light-headed with anticipation and joyful hope.

It was not until he reached the doorway at the top of the stairs that he abruptly recalled the difference between hope and certainty. Then he stopped and looked at the heavy carved door for several moments without seeing it. Without hope he would never have come so far: with hope, he might still ask his desire and be refused. But he could not go away without at least asking. That would be cowardice.

He did not knock. The door opened outwards, near-silently. Like most of the doors at Himring, it was curtained to keep the heat in. Fingon slipped through the gap in the curtains and stopped.

The room was nearly dark. A fire burned low in the grey hearth, but there were no candles or lanterns lit. Only pale moonlight from the one tall window turned the floor from shadow to silver where it fell. Maedhros sat before the window upon a high seat. His back was very straight. The moonlight glinted off the sword that lay across his knees as he looked silently out to the shadowed North.

Fingon must have made a sound, though it could not have been more than an indrawn breath. Maedhros rose and turned with terrible swiftness. What Fingon had taken for a robe he was wearing fell from his shoulders: it was only a blanket draped against the cold. He was bare from the waist up, and he was not wearing the prosthetic. His right arm ended abruptly above the wrist, and the naked sword flashed pale in his left hand.

Fingon stood shocked and still. Maedhros’s fierce expression melted quickly into surprise. He had not been surprised before that. He had thought himself attacked in the very heart of his high fortress, and to Fingon’s eyes he had looked almost relieved.

“Fingon?” he said, lowering the sword. “What is it?” He blinked and added in a slightly different tone of voice, “Where are your shoes?”

Fingon found he did not know how to ask.

“Fingon?” said Maedhros again. He put down the sword on a table close at hand. There was a complicated arrangement of leather straps lying there around the disembodied metal hand. The discarded prosthetic looked more naked than Maedhros did. Maedhros flinched when he saw Fingon looking at it.

“Maedhros,” Fingon said.

Maedhros said nothing.

Fingon swallowed. He would ask. He would. “May I?”

The Dwarf-trinket chimed as he crossed the cold floor in a few long strides, and Maedhros frowned down at him, not understanding.

“May I, please?” said Fingon. He put his hands on Maedhros’s bare shoulders.

“You can have anything you want from me,” said Maedhros, “but what –”

Fingon kissed him. He had to go up on the balls of his feet. His heart was beating fast, for hope and for something else. Maedhros was still, and his mouth was slack with surprise. Fingon kept hoping, dizzily.

Then all at once Maedhros’s arms came about him, the right lying loose over his shoulders, the left dragging him in close. Maedhros’s hand was bunched up in Fingon’s hair. It made the gold-and-moonstone charm chime and chime again as Fingon kissed him and Maedhros kissed him back fiercely.

“Do you really –” Maedhros said breathlessly when they broke apart.

“Yes,” said Fingon. “Of course,” and then when Maedhros still didn’t kiss him again he explained impatiently, “I thought your brothers were laughing at me.” One of his hands went up to push back Maedhros’s hair from his face. The other was following the long line of Maedhros’s spine down his back, palm flat against smooth warm skin. There was so much Fingon wanted to touch. “I thought they were laughing at me,” he said again.

“My brothers would never waste time laughing at you while they had me there ripe for mockery,” Maedhros said. His smile was bright and half-disbelieving. He dragged his fingers through the length of Fingon’s hair like an echo of finger-combing it before, but now he did it slowly, as if just for the pleasure of touch. Then he cupped the back of Fingon’s head and drew him up to a kiss again. He broke away almost before Fingon could begin to enjoy it. “Are you sure?” he said.

Fingon laughed aloud. “Am I sure!” He could have sung for happiness.

Maedhros laughed too, wonderingly. “You are.”

“Kiss me,” Fingon demanded. His left hand had found a pleasant resting-place above Maedhros’s hip: his right still wandered eagerly, brushing over cheek and throat and collarbone, pausing to rest at the nape of Maedhros's neck where Fingon’s thumb could press against his hairline. “I did not run barefoot up all those cold stairs not to be kissed.”

Maedhros kissed him.

Fingon discovered that kissing did extraordinary things to your thoughts, sent them scattering in every bright direction while your body obeyed some powerful logic of its own. He could not have said what he was thinking of while Maedhros’s lips were touching his, unless it was the perfectly obvious: the heat and the cold, the pleasure of pressing himself all along Maedhros’s lean body, the fact that it was hard to kiss when you were so happy you kept wanting to laugh. Yet all those obvious thoughts felt flooded with light, and though Fingon knew he probably had seen fairer things than scarred Maedhros half-naked and laughing back at him in the moonlight, he could not actually call any of them to mind.

Maedhros touched him as if he, too, was greedy beyond bearing, impatient to know a well-loved body better. His hand cupped Fingon’s shoulder, shaped the length of his back, gripped tight for a little while at his waist, skated lower, and then came back to card through Fingon’s hair again, setting off the Dwarf-bells once more. When Fingon had to leave off kissing him to laugh Maedhros only smiled and kissed him elsewhere: his brow, his temple, the corner of his eye. Fingon turned his face up and wound his arms around Maedhros’s neck to reclaim his mouth. His heels came off the floor again. “Must you be so tall,” he murmured against Maedhros’s lips.

“Forgive me,” said Maedhros. “It’s a personal failing.”

Fingon grinned into their kiss, thought for a second in that bright distracted way about what he’d seen when he first slipped into the room – not a bed, no, nor a couch, not so much as a cushion in sight, O Maedhros! – and reached the only conclusion he could. Maedhros went backwards easily when he pushed, until the back of his legs hit the high stone bench where he had looked out on the North. There he sat abruptly with a startled look on his face and Fingon’s hands pushing down on his shoulders. Fingon stood over him grinning and then bent quickly to kiss him again. “Oh, I see!” said Maedhros. “You are determined to be taller somehow, and this is the only way you can manage it.”

“Exactly,” said Fingon, and straddled him. Maedhros held his waist to steady him while Fingon planted one knee firmly on the bench: only the toes of his other foot still reached the floor. Maedhros was limned in the moonlight from the window at his back, which it seemed he had altogether forgotten. He looked up at Fingon with laughter still in his eyes, tugged him down for another deep kiss, and then while Fingon was distracted spread his legs wider. Fingon lost his balance altogether, made a startled noise into Maedhros’s mouth, and found himself sitting square on his cousin’s lap with one foot dangling and Maedhros’s left arm tight around his waist. He nearly protested, but then Maedhros switched to holding him there with the steady line of his right arm so that his good hand was free to roam again, and it did not seem reasonable to object to something Fingon liked so much. As they kissed Maedhros’s hand stroked all the way down through Fingon’s hair and on past the base of his spine to curve tight around his buttocks and grip for a moment there. Fingon rocked back against the caress and forward again, and froze at the feeling that shot through him when his still-clothed crotch rubbed firmly against Maedhros’s stomach.

Maedhros stilled too, and left off kissing to look up at him. Fingon met his eyes wordlessly. He licked his lips once. Maedhros looked well-kissed, his mouth soft and swollen with it. His expression was oddly solemn. Fingon did not move. He barely breathed. They stared at each other. Then Maedhros deliberately spread his legs a little further still and cupped Fingon’s backside more firmly, and he pushed a little, encouraging. Fingon rocked against him again and gasped aloud. “Yes,” Maedhros said, and his hand urged Fingon to do it again, and again. Fingon ground his trapped cock against him over and over, all thought fled into only the feeling and growing brightness in his mind. He felt like all his nerves were coming alight with pleasure, and the only things he could still think of were the heat pooled between his legs, the push of Maedhros’s hand urging him on, and the look in Maedhros’s eyes as he watched Fingon’s expression greedily.

After a moment Fingon had a brilliant idea and reached down with unsteady hands to undo some of the laces at his crotch and release himself. He hesitated a second, looking at Maedhros’s face, and Maedhros said, “Yes,” and left off helping him to move until Fingon had his cock out. Then they began again and it was somehow even better, unbelievably better. Fingon could not keep his head up anymore. He dropped his face helplessly into the space between Maedhros’s neck and shoulder and pressed his open gasping mouth blindly and desperately against his throat. Maedhros shuddered all over and said his name. It seemed important that Fingon answer, but he could not think of anything to say except yes: so he said that, and then said it again, over and over as he thrust against Maedhros’s stomach till he came.

He stayed there panting for breath for several moments after. His thoughts were beginning to make some sense again, and his body felt lazy and pleased. He kissed Maedhros’s collarbone, since it was right there in reach, and then licked it. Maedhros twitched and laughed a little, strangled-sounding. Fingon lifted his head. Maedhros’s eyes were very wide, and his complexion was so fair that even by moonlight it was easy to see the hot blush that flooded his face and ran all the way down his chest. “You,” he said when Fingon looked at him, and then appeared to run out of words. His breathing was not steady. Fingon kissed him.

Maedhros made a sound in his throat and his mouth fell open. The languorous slide of their tongues was very pleasant, and Fingon enjoyed it for a little while. Maedhros kept making small noises which grew ever more desperate until he began to sound almost hurt. Fingon nipped his lip soothingly. Maedhros said plaintively, “Fingon.”

Fingon laughed softly. He slid his hand down through the stickiness still cooling on Maedhros’s belly. He no longer felt so wild as he had before, but something in him still seemed almost broken open with happiness. He knew why Maedhros had watched him so greedily. His hand paused at Maedhros’s belt. “May I,” he whispered.

“Anything,” breathed Maedhros. “Always.”

His eyes closed and his breath hissed out between his teeth when Fingon’s questing hand closed around his cock. He was fully erect. Fingon moved his hand up and down a few times – awkwardly, because there was not much room to reach down between them – and Maedhros groaned. He did not seem to care that it was awkward. Fingon looked back and forth, fascinated, between Maedhros’s face and the head of his cock disappearing and reappearing as Fingon moved his hand. When Maedhros bit down on his lip to stifle the noises he was making Fingon leaned in to kiss him and coax them back. It meant there was even less room for his hand to move, but when he tried to break away Maedhros dragged him back down one-handed, eyes still tight shut. He took great gasping breaths between kisses, and the slide of his cock in Fingon’s hand became easier as his cock got wetter at the head.

Fingon loved him. That was the light, the brightness, the joy. Dearer than a brother, dearer than a wife: friendship was the only word he had for it, and as good a word as any, perhaps, though there could be few such friends. Fingon loved him, and could not have loved him more greatly before he hoped and asked and was rewarded. No, and still could not love him more greatly – but more deeply, perhaps. All of this seemed to be in his mind, though not in so many words, as he speeded his hand’s movements and listened to Maedhros gasp, pressed their foreheads together and watched his friend’s expression change to something that looked near pain but was not as his release spilled over Fingon’s hand. Fingon had seen Maedhros in pain, terrible pain. He had been the cause of it. It seemed only right and entirely fair that he should also get to cause him pleasure.

Like Fingon Maedhros seemed to need a few moments afterwards to recover himself. Fingon stroked his hair and watched the way the moonlight fell across the strands wrapped around his fingers. He let himself imagine what it might have been to see this sight by the light of Telperion in bloom, that was so fair in his eyes by fading moonlight alone.

Finally Maedhros held him a little tighter and laughed softly. “Fingon,” he said. “You are so – I am not –” and then he kissed him. For a brief moment all seemed entirely right with the world.

Then Maedhros’s grip on him slipped, Fingon lost his balance, and tangled up in each other as they were they both tumbled together off the stone bench. Fingon went mostly backwards, and Maedhros only just managed to get a hand under his head before it was knocked hard against the stone floor. It meant he had to catch himself on his stump, and pain flashed across his features. Fingon stared up at him, winded and slightly bruised. He thought his elbows were scraped. “Are you all right?” he said.

“Yes,” said Maedhros. “Are you?”


They looked at each other. Abruptly Fingon sat up and laughed, and Maedhros’s expression softened. “Is there a single thing in this room that doesn’t have sharp corners?” Fingon said. “Do you even own a bed?”

“I do,” Maedhros said. “I think I have a whole bedroom somewhere.”

“Shall we go there?”

“Better not,” Maedhros said. “Celegorm’s in it.”

“You are a generous brother! Turgon couldn’t get my chambers from me if he begged for a hundred years.”

“I barely use it anyway,” Maedhros said, and then he looked uncertain, as if he had not meant to say something so sad. Fingon thought of the silent watch he had interrupted here, of the window on the North and Maedhros waiting with his sword across his knees for an attack that would not surprise him when it came. It wrung his heart. He touched Maedhros’s cheek and said, “Well, there is my room too: and I should like to wash, and rest a while.” Maedhros said nothing. “With you,” Fingon told him, in case he had misunderstood. “And in any case you’ll have to take me there, because Himring is a maze and I keep getting lost.”

 They put their clothes more or less to rights. Maedhros glanced at the metal hand and its harness lying on the table and shook his head: he slipped on a shirt and let the end of the right sleeve hang empty. “It takes a fuss to put it on and take it off again,” he said to Fingon, “and I don’t care to wear it all the time.”

They descended from the tower and Maedhros took his hand to lead him along the cold halls. Fingon’s bare feet were chilled through, and he was looking forward to being in a bed with Maedhros, which would be much warmer. Maedhros took him down three hallways Fingon was sure he’d never seen before and brought them out back on the south corridor. “There!” he said.

“How did you do that?”

Maedhros started laughing. “How – Fingon, I live here!”

For some reason that struck Fingon as quite ridiculous, and he had to laugh as well, hiding his face in Maedhros’s shoulder. Two guards on patrol, bearded Men again, passed them by and looked astonished to see their lord abroad at night laughing helplessly in his guest’s arms, both of them so carelessly attired. Nonetheless they bowed to Maedhros and the older one nodded politely to Fingon. Maedhros collected himself long enough to acknowledge them gravely and speak to them in their own tongue. Fingon could not bring himself to let go of his hand. His heart was still light and joyful, and when the younger one looked at him he could not help giving him a dazzling smile. The Man blinked and frowned. When the guards turned away to continue their patrol Fingon caught Maedhros’s eye and then they both started laughing again. Down the corridor one of the Men muttered something: Maedhros laughed harder. “What did he say?” Fingon asked.

Overgrown children!” Maedhros quoted. He wiped at his eyes. “And he is very ancient: he must be all of sixty-five!”

They were both still chuckling at that as they stumbled through the door to Fingon’s bedchamber. The fire had gone out. Fingon went down on his knees to build it up again. “Do only Men guard your hall?” he asked.

“No: there are Men and Elves, but each kindred prefers to patrol with their own, so I have them switching off nights. It seems better that way. We are all in close enough quarters as it is, and I have no wish to see quarrels start between the two peoples. We agree on the matter of our Enemy, and that is enough.”

The fire began to leap up. “That seems wise to me,” Fingon said. He fetched water for washing. “And now come here!”

He stripped Maedhros’s shirt off him and washed away the worst of the mess they had made together: he scrubbed his own hands and face too. “This is not fair,” Maedhros said. He tugged on Fingon’s sleeve. “You have seen more of me than I have of you – twice, now.”

“Easily mended,” Fingon said, and started taking off his clothes. Maedhros sat on the bed and watched him with such simple pleasure that Fingon felt warm right through: that and the room was heating up at last. When he was naked he came and knelt at Maedhros’s feet. “Now you,” he said, and offered his hands as a bootjack.

“Thank you,” Maedhros said. Fingon drew his boots off and helped him remove the rest of his clothes. At one point Maedhros seemed about to protest the assistance. Then he saw Fingon’s face and laughed and said, “You do not pity the cripple – you are just glad of the excuse!”

“What excuse?” Fingon said. When they were both naked at last he kissed Maedhros and tumbled him back into the bed. He quickly drew the thick covers up over them both, and it was instantly much warmer, which only made him aware of how very cold his feet were. He shoved them between Maedhros’s calves. Maedhros yelped.

“This is your own fault,” said Fingon, “for not having enough rugs in your freezing castle.”

“I’m sorry it’s so cold,” Maedhros said.

“I’m not,” said Fingon. “I’m glad of the excuse.”

Maedhros could not answer because Fingon was kissing him, up on one elbow over him with the soft covers a falling layer of warmth over them both. Maedhros flicked the charm in Fingon’s hair with two fingers and set the bells ringing as they kissed: Fingon laughed against his mouth. “I could not bring myself to take it out earlier,” he said. “I liked it too much that you put it there.”

“I liked putting it there,” said Maedhros, “though I could not now. It needs a hand and a half, and my half is upstairs.”

“Then I’ll leave it where it is,” said Fingon.

They kissed for a long while after that, lazily, first lying on their sides and later with Fingon stretched comfortably on top of Maedhros, who did not seem much distressed by having him as an extra blanket. Eventually Fingon began to think of doing more than kissing again, but before he could suggest the idea to Maedhros, Maedhros pulled away. He shifted so Fingon had to roll off him. “What is it?” Fingon said, for Maedhros’s look was troubled.

“Fingon,” Maedhros said, “perhaps this is not wise of you.”

Fingon frowned. “This?”

"Me," Maedhros said. "Perhaps you should not –”

Fingon laid two fingers over Maedhros’s lips. Maedhros stopped talking.

“Seeking you in Angband was not wise,” Fingon said. “All my family would have told me so – which is why I did not ask them for advice. I don’t regret it: do you?”

Maedhros spoke no word.

“I have never regretted anything done in brave spirit and for friendship’s sake,” Fingon said. “And I have never regretted anything concerning you. I never shall. Do not bid me be wiser! I shall not, and I will not, and I cannot in any case.”

“I am not free, Fingon,” Maedhros said in a low voice. “I am for my oath. I am bound, and will remain bound – and you see what it has done to my family! After it my heart is yours, but always after, do you understand? You would do better to choose yourself a wife,” – Fingon shook his head – “or else choose some other friend –”

“I shall not,” repeated Fingon, “and I will not, and I cannot.” He laid his hand over Maedhros’s heart. “You are for your oath: and I am for you. Though I would gladly see you free of it.”

“I do not wish for that,” Maedhros said. “It was all my father’s desire: he bade me hold to it as he died.”

“Would you not be free if it were fulfilled?” Fingon said. “Let us have it fulfilled!”

“How?” said Maedhros. “Fingon, it was one thing to steal me from the Enemy’s fortress, but you cannot hope to sneak in alone and pluck the Silmarils from his very crown. No: and I forbid you to try, for I value your life even if you don’t!”

“Not alone,” Fingon said. He saw suddenly what was possible, and his heart lifted. “Why alone? Morgoth sits friendless on his dark throne, but we have many friends about us. The realms of the Noldor grow mighty, the Sindar of Doriath are strong; there is great courage in Men and great friendship between our peoples wherever we meet; Aulë’s folk will never yield an inch to the Shadow. No,” he said over Maedhros’s half-spoken objections, “listen! We are not all alike: we do not agree in every particular: but we need not. You said it yourself. We agree on the matter of the Enemy – and that is enough!”

“I doubt that such an alliance would ever follow the sons of Fëanor,” Maedhros said, but there was a queer light in his eyes. Fingon thought he recognised it as hope. “And my brothers will not follow your father, I promise you that.”

“If you cannot persuade them, will you at least let me try?”

Maedhros was quiet, and then he said, “We should have to put Curufin and Maglor at opposite ends of the battle line.”

“Of course,” Fingon said, “but neither will refuse the battle.”

“Even with all the gathered strength of the free peoples, it would still be a desperate attempt.”

“I have known those to succeed,” Fingon said, and when Maedhros looked at him he smiled.

“Would your father be willing?” said Maedhros after a little time.

“We have quarrels of our own with the Enemy,” Fingon said. “It is not only the House of Fëanor that has been robbed.  If my father is of my mind, he must be willing. My heart is hot for war. Shall I not strike a blow to avenge my lost brother? My grandfather?” He hesitated. “My uncle?”

“Fingon,” said Maedhros, and kissed him fiercely. Fingon embraced him and answered his kisses with equal fervour. “Let Morgoth beware of you!” Maedhros said at last. “I almost believe you will cast him down.”

“And then,” Fingon said, “he shall have to do without his crown. Let it be the least of the griefs that befalls him! And there will be freedom at last for you and your brothers, when you have the Silmarils back.”

Maedhros breathed out harshly. “Sometimes I hardly even know that I want them,” he said, “only that I must have them whether or no. But I remember they were fair. Still if you slay the Enemy then they shall pass to you, not me.”

“And I am yours, and anything in my power to give is yours, so all is yours,” Fingon said, “and besides, what should I do with a Silmaril?”

There was a pause. Then Maedhros smiled. “You could put it in your hair.”

Fingon gave a shout of laughter. “No one would ever look at my face again!”

Maedhros paused again with a smile still lurking about his lips. He put his hand to Fingon’s chin and tilted it as if considering. Then he caressed Fingon’s cheek and brushed his thumb once along his brow. “I would,” he said.

For that Fingon fell upon him with kisses. Maedhros was laughing through it at first: the laughter had the ring of exhaustion, and relief, and hope. Then he set himself to kissing Fingon back, and Fingon quickly lost all sense of where they were or what else mattered, thinking only of Maedhros’s body and his, their two warm mouths, their beating hearts.

It was a little while later when he looked up and said, “Oh!” The light in the room had changed. The night was past, and pale and grey through the small windows the sky promised dawn. “Come,” said Fingon, swinging himself off the bed, pulling Maedhros after him.

“What? Fingon!”

“No, come and see,” Fingon said. “Maglor said you would not look South. Come and look with me now!”

They wrapped blankets from the bed around themselves against the cold when they stepped out onto the balcony. The wind snatched gleefully at Fingon’s hair as if it had missed the sound of the Dwarf-chimes and was glad to hear them again. In the East the mountains were cast into dark silhouette by the light behind and crowned with pale rose mist. Slowly, slowly the Sun climbed above their stark shadowy shapes. She appeared first as a brilliant halo about their craggy peaks: then as she mounted above them her light poured across the dim plains in all shades of pink and gold. It was answered joyfully by its own bright reflection in Celon’s flowing waters in the distance where he passed away to the shadows of Nan Elmoth in the far South. On the cold plains of Himlad every green blade of grass was bejewelled with dew. Fingon drew in a deep joyful breath of the morning.

“I didn't know it looked like that,” Maedhros murmured.

Fingon laughed. “And it was just the other side of the mountain all along. Just behind you!” he said. “What would you do without me?”