The Importance of Family by zopyrus

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Story Notes:

My two betas were Suzelle and Tehta. They made this story infinitely better than it would have been otherwise--thank you both!

Also, a huge thank you to Zeen for offering her work up to be remixed in the first place! Her original story is amazing, and you should read it if you have not already!

Tree and Flower Awards, New Author, Second Place


“I’m sorry I’m late,” said Fingon, as he clattered into the Hall of Records and joined his Aunt Lalwen at her long table. Lalwen was ensconced behind stacks of papers: official RSVPs from various rulers and dignitaries; maps of Eithil Ivrin; and several complicated diagrams of seating arrangements for the upcoming Feast of Reuniting, which she and her brother had been planning for months.

Lalwen looked up, a smile playing across her lips.

"Where were you this time?" she asked, deadpan. "Halfway to Angband?"

It was an old joke; but Fingon smiled anyway.

"Not quite!”

He handed his aunt a bundle of marsh marigolds. He had not really been doing anything: he had simply gone walking on the east side of Lake Mithrim, and lost track of the time.

Lalwen accepted the yellow flowers, and stuck one of them jauntily behind her ear. She looked quite at home. The Hall of Records was an elegant room, with tall, painted ceilings, wide stacks of carved wooden shelves, and a wall full of windows made from colored glass and ebony.

It had been built to Lalwen’s own specifications. As her lover Túreth had remarked, if Lalwen was going to spend the rest of her days minding the records of Fingolfin's kingdom, she ought to do it in style and comfort.

Fingon wholeheartedly agreed.

“I’m glad you’re here,” said Lalwen, already down to business. “The Fëanorians have already begun to send their regrets. Curufin claims the journey to Eithel Ivrin is too long, and that he and Celegorm simply cannot leave their home unguarded for the sake of a reunion feast."

"He means they don't want to bother," said Fingon, not even trying to hide his disgust.  "Írissë deserves better from them."

"And Amras claims a hunting accident," continued Lalwen.  "Caranthir, however, honors us with the truth.  He and his wife would gladly eat our food, drink our wine, and 'catch up with our darling cousin Angrod,' but he tells me frankly that his eldest brother has forbidden any of them to leave their eastern kingdoms."

Fingon blanched.

"He tells you what?"

She raised an eyebrow.

"Don't tell me you're going to miss Caranthir, of all—"

"No, obviously, but what is Maitimo thinking?  Is he planning to avoid us, too?  Did Father put him up to this?"

"Calm down," said Lalwen, sharply.  "Of course not."

He stared at her accusingly.

"Maedhros and Maglor have both agreed to come," she said, relenting.  "As for their younger brothers, we invited them sincerely—but Maedhros must have realized it would be too much for us to wrangle all six of them."

"Too much?" said Fingon, faintly.  "Doesn't that defeat the entire purpose of our feast?  We invited them to show that we could all get along now—but I guess we can't."

Lalwen pursed her lips.

"Give it time," she said.  "Who's to say we can't have a feast every twenty years?  For now, I am just grateful to be spared the headache of hosting them all.  Can you imagine what might happen if Caranthir or Curufin said the wrong thing to someone from Doriath?"

She gestured at her stacks of papers.

"There is more at stake here than family," she reminded him.  "Thingol has not even acknowledged the invitation, but your father still hopes he will come.  Círdan will certainly be there; and so will the leaders of the Nandorin council. The house of Finwë can't afford to reenact any more old arguments in front of our neighbors."

"Right," said Fingon. "Politics, as usual.”

"Whether you agree or not, I still need your advice," said Lalwen briskly.  "The seating arrangements for the feast are already a nightmare.  There are so many Lords to keep track of, and I fear every one of them will take offense if he is not seated close to the High King.”

Fingon couldn’t fault his aunt for her practicality.

"You can put me anywhere," he offered.  "I promise not to be offended—just please don't put me next to Teleporno. I don't think I can be polite to someone so useless."

"Just because he isn't as reckless as you!"

"He wants to live in a tree," said Fingon, still scandalized by the memory. "He told me all about it when I visited Artanis last summer."

He would never understand what the superbly talented Galadriel saw in Celeborn, who could barely hold a conversation and was useless in a fight—but there was no accounting for taste.

Lalwen laughed, and made a note on one of her charts.  Fingon imagined she would have to burn most of those papers when she finished: her hastily-penned, tactless reminders of who disliked whom were not exactly in the spirit of Fingolfin's planned celebration.

"We'll worry about you later," she told her nephew.  "Now, about those Nandorin council members..."

As the day passed, their talk progressed from seating arrangements and scheduling to a much more boring discussion of food vendors and cleaning crews.

They were interrupted at last by Túreth, who traipsed into the Hall of Records in the late afternoon. She gave Fingon an affectionate punch in the arm and greeted Lalwen with a tender kiss.

Túreth had been out hunting, but she and her brothers had brought back nothing larger than the few rabbits that had found their way into the snares they had set a few days ago.

"I hope we'll have better luck tomorrow," she said.  "What about you two?  Has the day been all you hoped?

Fingon thought enviously of Túreth’s hunting trip. He should have volunteered to help with that instead.

”I can't believe Lalwen does this every day.”

"It's usually less fun," said Lalwen, rolling her eyes at him.  "At least these numbers will all lead to something tangible!  My work often feels much less meaningful.  As soon as your father deals with one problem, a new one springs up in its wake—until every year starts to feel the same."

"I am starting to think you work harder than he does," said Fingon.

"It's true," said Túreth, cheerfully.

Lalwen shook her head.

"We all work hard.  People expect my brother to be a figurehead, the noblest and wisest of the Noldor.  He has to be nice to everyone, all the time, but he can't ever let down his guard or his dignity.  If I can help Fingolfin by memorizing a few numbers and facts, I am glad to do it.

"And as for you, Kano, training with your father's guard every day, keeping people's spirits up—I couldn't do that, and neither could your father.  We are so glad to have you here, with us."

Fingon thought briefly of his far-flung cousins; and his brother Turgon, who, for all his talk of family loyalty, couldn't wait to get away from Hithlum.  Fingon hadn't realized, back in Aman, how big Middle-earth would be.

He hadn't realized that reconciliation would still mean they all lived in different places, or that he wouldn't see some of his relatives for years at a time.

"I am glad to be here with you too, Aunt."

She pressed his hand lightly.

"Well?  What do you think of Edrahil's proposal?"

They kept working.

*

Sometimes Lalwen looked back longingly to her adult life in Tirion, when her family responsibilities had consisted of showing up to official ceremonies and not causing scenes with either of her eldest siblings.  (Lalwen hadn't gotten along particularly well with Findis, and Fëanor hadn't gotten along with anyone.)  She had not known it at the time, but her problems were simple then.

Life had never been perfect, of course.  Even among the Noldor, who prized originality, Lalwen sometimes felt a little too different.  That had not always been easy.  Lalwen and Túreth were hardly the only two women who had ever fallen in love, but it was not common; and as a daughter of Finwë, Lalwen had been very much in the public eye. When it became clear that her union with Túreth was not just a phase, tongues had wagged.  Not every tale was unkind; but some people began to wonder quite openly about laws and customs, and a few even whispered that it might be time for another Statute.

But as the years passed, and neither Lalwen nor Tureth showed signs of dying melodramatically (or forming inconvenient love triangles with anyone else), the Valar must have deemed it best to not interfere. Eventually people followed their lead, and quieted their doubts.

Lalwen even made a few friends in unexpected places.

"Do you remember when the only thing we had to worry about was court gossip?" Lalwen asked her brother, as she tipped her chalice up to catch the last drop of wine.

Fingolfin was opening a third bottle. Neither one of them planned to drink much at the actual Feast of Reuniting: there was too much at stake, and too much that could go wrong. But now that the planning stages were mostly over, they were having a private celebration of their own.

"I seem to remember some of that court gossip being quite vicious," Fingolfin said, as the cork popped.  "Stuff like, 'oh, poor Ñolvo, your older brother wishes you'd never been born,' and 'did you hear, he's forging swords in secret and making plans to kill your children.'"

"No, not that," said Lalwen dismissively. "I mean the fun gossip, from before Morgoth was released, when all people cared about was who was planning to marry whom, and what so and so was going to wear to the next festival.  Do you remember when we all visited that backwater town in the mountains, and the host convinced himself that Túrissë was our sister?"

Fingolfin groaned.  "The mysterious third daughter of Finwë!  'But who is her mother?'  How could I possibly forget?"

"I thought it was so funny," she said.  "I suppose I should have been more offended for our parents' sake, but that part of it was so ridiculous I barely noticed.  I was too busy thinking what a scandal it would be if Túrissë really was related to me—far worse than us both being maidens!"

“I thought that was funny too, back then,” said Fingolfin. “How times change!”

Fingolfin refilled both their cups, and drank deeply from his.

“I suppose you still think it is worse,” he added, looking into his cup.

“What, incest?” said Lalwen.

Fingolfin winced.

“I don’t entirely approve, if that is what you are asking," said Lalwen. "But I have had to redefine ‘worse’ several times over the course of the last century.”

"And?"

"I think there is a sliding scale of bad ideas," she continued, reluctantly.  "Things like 'sleeping with your relative' are over on one end, and 'committing yourself to an untrustworthy murderer' is on the other.  But at the end of the day, what other people choose to do isn't really any of my business."

"Do you really think..." Fingolfin's voice trailed off.

It was stupid to keep speaking in vague hypotheticals, when they both knew exactly who this conversation was about.

"Do I really think that Maedhros is untrustworthy?" Lalwen asked.  "I have no idea.  I used to think very highly of him. He obviously didn't live up to any of our expectations.  But after everything, I don't think any of us is the person we used to be."

"He did give up the crown," insisted Fingolfin.  In many ways, he was just like his son.  What they lacked in subtlety, they made up for with sheer, boneheaded optimism.

As far as Lalwen was concerned, Fëanor and his sons had relinquished their family rights the day they sailed away from Araman. But Fingolfin had always cared more for their half-brother than Lalwen had.

"He had no choice," said Lalwen.  "The survivors of the Helcaraxë were never going to follow a son of Fëanor.”

“I agree," said Fingolfin.  "But he could have made things very difficult for us—and he didn’t."

“No,” Lalwen admitted. “He didn’t.”

They were both silent for a little while. A log cracked in the fire on the hearth.

At last, Fingolfin spoke again.

“Do you think they ever have reunion feasts at home, and think of us?”

They had left enough family behind in Valinor for Lalwen to imagine just such a gathering: their mother, brother and sister, not to mention all their Vanyarin cousins, none of whom had been fool enough to follow Fëanor under any circumstances.

Fingolfin’s wife Anairë had stayed behind, too. Lalwen would never forgive her, but Fingolfin loved her still.

“I am sure they think of us,” said Lalwen, as gently as she could. “But let’s not dwell on the past.”

“The past?” said Fingolfin, frowning slightly. “Are you so certain that our family will have no part in our future?”

Lalwen thought about the Doom of the Noldor, and shivered. Nothing she felt later on the Ice could equal the chill that had come over her when Mandos spoke. If the Valar kept their word, there would be no reunion between the faithful and the exiled.

But she didn’t want to disappoint her brother with her pessimism. Fingolfin had enough to worry about.

“Perhaps they will,” she said lightly.

Fingolfin poured more wine, and she clinked her cup against his.

“To the future,” Lalwen said.

“And to family,” Fingolfin added, insistent. “To those we left behind—and those who remain.”

“May they behave themselves,” said Lalwen.

*

The first day of the Mereth Aderthad began gloriously.

After the first few hours of festivities, Fingolfin's most honored guests gathered for an early dinner in a clearing near the pools of Ivrin.  It was warm even for May, and dry.  The tent under which they sat was left open at the sides, providing the elves with a framed view of the lake and the flowering trees around it.

This lovely tableau had little effect on Fingon, who had more important things on his mind.  He was ardently wishing that he could hold hands with Maedhros under the table, but this was impossible. For once, they were eating dinner right next to each other—but Maedhros needed his hand to eat.

Fingon had faced tougher problems. To solve this one, he shifted closer on the bench, and laid his own left hand companionably on Maedhros' knee.

"You are not as discreet as you think you are," Maedhros murmured in his ear.

Fingon nudged closer.

"Are we trying to be discreet?"

Maedhros snorted, but didn't move away.

Everyone's attention was on Círdan, anyhow.  The Lord of the Havens was telling a story about a voyage he had taken in his long-ago youth: not west, but south along the coast of Beleriand.

"Ulmo blessed our journey, for we had fair weather and strong wind nearly every day; and on the rare days when the weather was foul and we were blown off course, we saw such wonders that we did not mind."

"Pray, tell us one," said Lalwen, her eyes shining.  Fingon’s aunt had seated herself with the Falathrim, and had spent most of the meal in cheerful conversation with one of Círdan's folk, a silver-haired maid with pearls in her hair.

To Fingon's delight, old Círdan bowed his head and began to sing.

"Look, there is Fastitocalon!
An island good to look upon,
Although 'tis rather bare..."

Maedhros had barely touched his wine, but he reached for it now.  He had always had an astoundingly low tolerance for impromptu poetry. Long ago, Fingon had believed this to be his only flaw.

"Come, leave the sea!  And let us run,
Or dance, or lie down in the sun!
See, gulls are sitting there!
Beware!
Gulls do not sink."

Círdan paused and gazed solemnly at the gathering.

"It is a long rhyme and I will not sing it in full tonight.  But I will tell you that Fastitocalon is no island, but the name of an ancient turtle-fish of unusual size, who swims the sea and sometimes waits for years for weary travelers to seek rest upon his broad, forested back.  When we sent swimmers from our ship, the land they thought to explore disappeared from under their very feet, as Fastitocalon sank into the depths."

There were appreciative gasps from around the table.

"Is he one of Morgoth's creatures?" asked Maedhros, whose interest had returned when Círdan resumed his story in prose.

Círdan shook his head.

"I do not believe so.  Fastitocalon was friends with Uinen of old, but now speaks to no one.  If Uinen knows the reason, she does not share it.  I had this story from her, after we rescued our sailors from the empty water."

"Have you ever seen him since?" asked Fingon, deeply impressed.  He was disappointed Círdan had not sung the whole poem.  Perhaps if they ran into each other later...

"I have not," said Círdan.  His tone was grave, but his eyes sparkled with amusement.  "Perhaps if you visit me at the Falas, you will meet him yourself."

Fingon grinned.

"I would be honored, Lord Círdan."

One of the Nandorin lords began to tell a story of his own, but Fingon did not really attend.  He wondered what the turtle-fish did with his time when he wasn't taunting sailors.  And was Fastitocalon, as Círdan implied, really the only one of his kind?

Maedhros set down his wine glass.

"You should probably reassure your father that you are not really planning to go monster-hunting with Círdan."

Fingon stole a glance at his father, who was smiling neutrally, as usual.  Fingolfin was impossible to read in polite company; he had been a master of stoic politeness since long before Fingon was born.

But Fingon didn't need to read his father's mind to know that he would be upset if his eldest son traipsed off for a dangerous sea-adventure.  Despite what people thought, Fingon did try not to worry his father unnecessarily.

He could still daydream, though.

"Who says I'm not going?" he said lightly.  "Think how much fun it would be: diplomacy and sight-seeing in the same trip!  You should come too.  The two of us together could easily take on a giant turtle, even without Círdan's help."

"You know that's impossible," said Maedhros.  But he was smiling.

Dinner broke up not long after.  The sky was still light: there would be hours of festivities yet, before anyone slept.  Fingolfin's guests splintered off into smaller groups, and drifted into the woods.

*

Lalwen spent the evening learning about pearl fishing from Meril Údineth, who had been diving since she was a small child.  Meril was apparently well-known in Doriath, where she often sold her pearls.

"I think that is why Círdan asked me to come," Meril said, when she had had a little too much wine to be truly discreet.  "Thingol has nothing against you.  When he realizes all his friends were here, making deals without him, he will realize he is being over-cautious."

"May it be so," said Lalwen, uncomfortably aware that matters were not so simple as her new friend believed.

After dinner, she and Meril parted ways.  Lalwen walked with a big group down to the lake, where they watched the reflection of the setting sun in the water and waited for the stars to come out.

When the first star appeared, a few of the Sindar broke into a hymn in their own language.  It was in praise of Elbereth: their name for Varda. When they reached the second stanza, some of the Noldor lifted their voices too, and joined them.

Beside Lalwen, Túreth shifted uneasily.  She had a lovely voice, but she was not singing.

"Have they forgotten the Doom so quickly?"

"That was sort of the point of our feast," said Lalwen dryly.  "Can you blame them, for pretending we live in happier times?"

"I don't blame anyone," said Túreth.  "I just wonder if it is wise."

The harmonies were beginning to sound a little unstable, as though some of the singers were out of practice, or had forgotten the rules.  Maybe they had just had too much to drink.

"Look," said Lalwen.  "Fingon is one of the hopeful ones."

She pointed.  Her nephew was sitting a little further up the bank.  She could not pick his voice out of the ensemble (unlike some, Fingon knew how to blend appropriately), but it was obvious from his posture that he was singing.

Maedhros was sitting beside him, but his mouth was closed.

"I think his cousin agrees with me," said Túreth.

"Hmm," said Lalwen.  The thought of Maedhros and Túreth agreeing about anything was somewhat off-putting.

In any case, Lalwen was not sure Túreth was right: Maedhros’ life had been saved through prayer, after all. It would be odd (or perhaps simply hypocritical) if he were against it entirely.

"Deep thoughts?" asked Túreth.

Lalwen shook her head.

"Nothing you don't already know."

She forced a smile, and raised her hand to wave at Turgon's daughter Idril, who had just joined them on the beach.

Idril wore a victory crown of ivy and white flowers.  She had won the women's footrace earlier, and was walking with the dark, willowy girl who had almost beaten her: Maglor's young sister-in-law, Nionë.

It had been a long time since Lalwen set eyes on Nionë, or any of her family—all of whom had sided with Fëanor after the Darkening. Lalwen remembered Nionë as a frightened child, trailing after her older sister in the unlit streets of Tirion.

It was nice to know that she had survived.

Idril and Nionë were still chattering about their race.

"Some people think they can invent an improvement for everything," said Idril, with youthful indignation.  "But shoes just weigh you down!"

"That's not what I was taught," countered Nionë.  "If you had a better shoemaker, you could run even faster.  The right pair of shoes will protect your feet and improve your form.  And they aren't just useful for races—why, mine even let me walk on top of the snow!"

Idril froze.

"Wow," she said. "I bet that really comes in handy."

There was a short silence, and Nionë clapped her hands over her mouth when she realized what she had said.

"I'm so sorry," she began.  "I didn't mean—”

Heads were turning.

"That poor idiot," muttered Túreth.  "She is even younger than Idril..."

Lalwen understood what Túreth meant.  As bitter as she was about her half-nephews' choices, she could hardly blame Nionë, who had been a child when her sister dragged her across the sea.

She wondered if she should interfere—but Fingon had already leapt up.

"Itarillë!" he said, in a terribly cheerful voice.  "There you are, I have wanted to congratulate you all day.  And you look lovely in your crown!"

Idril turned, still rigid with anger.  She nodded coldly.

"Thank you, uncle."

Maedhros stood up, too.  He towered over Idril.

Here it comes, thought Lalwen. All my efforts will be wasted, because somebody was insulted by accident.

But to her surprise, when Maedhros spoke it was in an almost deferential tone.

"You probably know this," he began.  "But your great-grandmother Indis ran her races barefoot, too.  She never lost."

Idril glanced skeptically at Maedhros, who flushed.

"At least that is what my mother told me," he added, hesitantly. “They were…close, for a long time. Queen Indis’ friendship meant a great deal to her.”

From what Lalwen remembered, Nerdanel’s stubborn friendship for Indis had ultimately caused as many problems as it solved. But that was neither here nor there.

Idril gave Maedhros a small smile.

“Thank you for telling me,” she said. “I will be sure to tell my father there is family precedent for going barefoot. He worries, you know.”

Idril turned to Nionë. The smile seemed a little more forced now, but Lalwen was proud of her for trying.

"You ran a very good race," said Idril.

"You ran a better one," said Nionë, in a rush of obvious relief.

The silence that followed was somewhat less tense, but no less awkward.

At Lalwen’s side, Túreth made a noise of deep annoyance, and stood up.

"Enough of this,” she said.  "I am going dancing.  Who is with me?"

*

When they reached the clearing where the Doriathrin flautist was playing, Maedhros hung back a little.

"I need a minute with Nionë," he said, and Fingon nodded.

He sort of wanted a minute himself. Idiotic references to cold-weather gear upset him, too, especially when they came from people who should know better. Nionë might be young, but so was Idril, and she obviously knew how to handle herself. Had no one warned Nionë beforehand that she should mind her tongue?

The girl still looked crushed.  Maedhros put an arm around her shoulders and steered her away from the crowd of dancers.

Fingon forced himself not to watch them leave.  He grabbed Idril's hand and pulled her into the center of the dance. The flute, so mournful a moment ago, was now wailing merrily, and Fingon let himself be carried away by the music, moving his feet faster and faster and twirling his niece until she gasped with laughter. 

"Are you having fun?" he asked.

"Obviously," she said. She gestured to the crown she wore.  "But that wasn't the first time I had to restrain myself tonight.  The oddest things make me angry."

"I know what you mean," said Fingon.  "You work so hard to be kind, and then the wrong word makes you remember...well, you know."

Idril looked at him strangely.

“I wasn’t sure if you would understand,” she said. “Father always says you are too forgiving.”

“Does he?” said Fingon.

"He also says that Maedhros is using you."

Turgon had always had a reductive understanding of Fingon's relationship with his cousin.  Once, his disapproval had been galling, and unfair; now, Fingon could hardly blame him.

He sighed.

"Well, Maedhros is one of our strongest allies," he told Idril.  "I suppose in that sense, we are using each other.  But that is not what your father meant."

"How can you forget what he did to us? To you?”’

"I can't," said Fingon, honestly.  "But if you don't believe in true repentance, and second chances, then what is the point of anything?"

"Some things are unforgivable," said Idril.

"You may be right," said Fingon.  "But if you are, then there are things that I will never be forgiven for."

They weren't supposed to talk about the Kinslaying in public, where they might be overheard; but Idril's eyes widened, and he knew she understood what he meant.

"That is their fault, too!"

"It's really not," said Fingon.  "And I do want forgiveness, even if I don't deserve it."

The song was ending, but Idril didn't step away.

"Dance another one with me?" she asked.

He hugged her.

The flautist launched into another reel, and they were off again.  This time, they steered clear of dangerous topics.  By the time the song ended, Idril was smiling again.

Fingon gave his niece a little push towards the crowd of onlookers.

"Now go dance with someone who isn't family," he said.

Idril raised an eyebrow.

"I could say the same to you," she said, with a suggestive smirk that Aredhel would have been proud of.

It wasn't just the jokes she made, Fingon reflected as the next dance began and he watched his niece whisk a likely-looking young man around the clearing.  Idril's righteous attitude was just like Aredhel, too.

He would have to compliment his sister on her unexpectedly excellent child-rearing skills—if he could find her.

Fingon had not seen his sister all night. He had hoped they might catch up after dinner, but Aredhel had disappeared somewhere with Turgon, and Fingon had not quite had the stomach to trail after them. He was happy his siblings were so close (before the Ice, they had not been), but he could not help but feel obscurely left out of the life they had chosen to share.

His only comfort was that if Aredhel were actually angry with him, she would have let him know it all the way from Nevrast. She had never been good at subtlety.

The lines of dancers shifted, and Fingon saw that Nionë had joined them, and was dancing happily.

Maedhros had not returned. Fingon tried not to feel hurt that his cousin had disappeared without a word.

Idril was right. Some non-family time was exactly what he needed.

He spotted his friend Pethoniel at the edge of the clearing. She was with a group of Elves from Nevrast—none of whom were related to him. They were making flower crowns.

Fingon joined them.

“No, that’s not right,” said Pethoniel, in a tone of deep disapproval. “‘D’ becomes ’n’ there, it always does. We have talked about this, Aranwë!”

Aranwë rolled his eyes, and tied the stem of his daisy to a light purple flower Fingon didn't recognize.

“I was trying out my Sindarin,” he explained to Fingon. “I wanted to make a song that would capture the beauty of the night, and the deep contentment I felt at finally getting along with so many of our supposed friends and allies. But Pethoniel here wants to make it all about grammar.”

“Not grammar,” insisted Pethoniel, passionately. “Consonant mutations!”

Pethoniel had been a linguist in Tirion: one of Fëanor’s followers academically, if not politically. So it was not entirely her fault if she was sometimes a little single-minded in her quest for perfection.

Fingon helped himself to a handful of flowers.

“But wait!” he said, in his own poorly accented Sindarin. “If we all mispronounce it enough times, won’t Aranwë’s version become correct?”

Pethoniel smacked at him, but Fingon knew her well enough to duck in plenty of time.

“Exactly!” said Aranwë. “We’ll start a trend. I’m glad you’re here, Fingon. I need help with some of these rhymes.”

*

Every time Lalwen saw Orodreth, he was bigger, and seemed more like a person.

Just now, he was asleep in his mother’s lap, curled up tight against Edhellos’ body with his little face pressed into her neck. They were resting at the edge of the dance clearing.

“It was a long day for him,” said Edhellos, apologetically. “He is still tired from the journey. To me, living rough still seems like the natural way of things—but it was strange for him, to leave home and travel so far.”

“I can imagine,” murmured Lalwen. “And how are things, at home?”

“Well enough,” said Edhellos. “Angrod and I take turns leading patrols. The crops are not good, but we never expected them to be. I have started taking Arto with me when I go walking—the woods are safe enough.”

“I am glad of it,” said Lalwen.

“It’s different than I thought it would be,” said Edhellos. “I thought when we got here, it would be all glorious battles, like the one we fought when the Sun rose, and then peace. Real peace, not…this, with border patrols and precarious alliances, and war councils dressed up as parties.”

“Better with a party than without,” said Lalwen. “And we have not been here so very long. Our alliances will grow stronger with time. You still have friends in Doriath, do you not?”

Edhellos nodded.

“Queen Melian still writes to me sometimes, yes. But she does not talk about politics. At first I thought I could bring her around, just by being charming and friendly, but I don’t think she intends to take it any further. Honestly, I don’t think she cares very much about Morgoth, either way. He doesn’t bother her, now that we are here to amuse him instead.”

“Have you and Angrod thought about going back to Doriath in person?”

Family still meant something to Thingol—or he would never have let Angrod visit in the first place. Surely, he would admit them again.

“If we are invited, we’ll go,” promised Edhellos.

For now, that was the best they could do.

Lalwen gazed out at the crowd of dancers. Young Galadriel had spent the evening holding court with her newest batch of devoted admirers, but now she was dancing arm-in-arm with her sweetheart Celeborn. Were they married yet? Lalwen couldn’t remember.

Daeron of Doriath had stopped humoring the crowd with his playing. As soon as he left, the musicians who were supposed to perform in the first place had taken out their instruments. Their music was somewhat less ethereal than Daeron’s; but at this stage of the festivities, Lalwen suspected there were very few who would notice the difference.

Lalwen had tried to speak to Daeron as he was putting away his flute, but he had brushed her off quite rudely, claiming that he needed his sleep before tomorrow’s council session.

Fingon had disappeared somewhere, too. He had been back and forth from the dance clearing earlier, looking for Maedhros—apparently without success. The last time Lalwen saw him, Fingon and his Nevrast friends had been drunkenly serenading a party of Green Elves, who had invited them deeper into the woods to, presumably, get drunker still.

Daeron of Doriath would probably be the only person in camp not nursing a hangover tomorrow morning.

“Oh, look at Finrod,” said Edhellos, before dissolving into giggles. “He is making a fool of himself.”

Finrod was dancing enthusiastically with Meril Údineth, who had lost a few pearls since dinner. They were touching rather more often than the dance required.

“It could be worse,” said Lalwen, laughing with her niece.

Finrod seemed to be wearing Meril’s missing pearls around his wrist.

“I hope it will be!” said Edhellos. “Artanis has been trying to set him up with someone for ages.”

“Has she?” said Lalwen, amused. “She’s quite the planner.”

The song ended, and the dancers milled about, some of them choosing new partners. Túreth, who had more of an appetite for dancing than Lalwen did, peeled off from the crowd and strode over to join Lalwen and Edhellos.

“Thank goodness that awful flute music is over,” said Túreth. “These Noldorin tunes are much better.”

Lalwen tensed.

Túreth lowered her voice. “Don’t worry, he’s gone. Give me some credit—I’m not about to openly insult one of our only Doriathrin guests, even if he was rude to you.”

“He was tired,” said Lalwen, automatically.

“I liked his music,” said Edhellos. She stroked a hand through her young son’s hair. “And so did Arto—he stayed awake until it was over.”

“I know, I know,” said Túreth. “Daeron’s very talented, I can tell—but the style is too much for me. His melodies are all over the place, they make you feel like someone else is moving your feet for you. And he was playing in about five keys at once! It’s unnerving. Really, Lalwen, why couldn’t you have roped Makalaurë into playing instead?”

“Maglor’s not much for dance music, but he promised me he would give a concert tomorrow night,” said Lalwen, with a laugh. “I didn’t know you were so partisan!”

Túreth shrugged.

“I guess I have more in common with the Fëanorians than I remembered.”

Edhellos pulled a face.

“Not anything important, surely!”

“Probably not,” said Túreth. “But you might be surprised.”

It was a sentiment Fingolfin would be happy to hear, thought Lalwen. Her brother had been waylaid by a small crowd of important people after dinner, and she had not seen him since. She hoped he was enjoying himself, wherever he was.

*

Fingon lay on green moss, staring up at the stars. Were they supposed to be moving so quickly? He closed his eyes to shut them out. Someone near him was singing another hymn to Varda—not in Sindarin, but in Quenya, the way it was supposed to be sung.

For a moment, it was perfect—but other voices joined in, muddying the vowels and changing the tune into something equally lovely but unfamiliar. The world lurched somewhat unpleasantly as he sat up.

Aranwë and Pethoniel were singing with the Green Elves they had met in the dance clearing. They seemed to be trying to teach their new friends Quenya.

“It’s a good idea to use a song,” Fingon said. “That always makes things easier.”

Pethoniel smiled indulgently at him.

“Of course you would say that,” she said.

Fingon got carefully to his feet, and leaned against a wonderfully convenient tree.

“Are you leaving us?” Aranwë asked.

“I have to find someone,” Fingon said, vaguely.

“Do you know your way?” asked one of the Green Elves. Fingon couldn’t remember her name.

“Thank you,” said Fingon. “Yes.”

Pethoniel looked briefly concerned, but one of the other Green Elves put his hand on her shoulder and asked her something about diphthongs, and she stopped paying attention.

Fingon picked a direction, and made his way through the trees. He couldn’t actually remember how to get back to the main camp, but that didn’t matter. The Valar would guide his steps, or something.

Eventually, he found himself back at the lake. The water was as still as a mirror, glimmering faintly with starlight.  Fingon crouched down to find a flat stone, wondering how many skips he could get over the water—but he stayed his hand just in time. There was a congregation of snapping turtles among the reeds and on the rocks, basking in the warm night air.

Fingon thought about Círdan’s story at dinner, and smiled to himself in the dark.

The eldest of the creatures, ancient in turtle years, twisted its scaly neck to glare balefully at Fingon.  Fingon gazed back, not quite trying to speak with it, but filling his mind with goodwill, admiration, and a sympathetic love of the water.

The turtle blinked.

They sat there together for a long time.

Fingon wondered if it was possible to frame his problems in thoughts that a turtle would understand. He suspected that they did not have complicated family reunions, or swear turtle-oaths.

That was probably for the best.

Eventually, the turtle must have had better things to do. With a faint hiss, and without a backward glance, it slipped back under the water and swam away.

Fingon walked along the edge of the water until it led him back to camp.

It was very late. There was still music and laughter coming from the dance clearing, and the torches along the path would blaze all night. But most of the campfires were burning low.

There was a faint light inside his brother Turgon’s tent, and Fingon paused, wondering if he would be welcome. As he hesitated, the flap opened, and a white-clad figure stepped out to meet him.

It was Aredhel.

“Kano!” she said. “At last! I thought you must have drowned. Don’t you dare say you are going to bed—I am going dancing in a minute, and I need you to come with me. I haven’t seen you all night!”

His sister scowled at him expectantly.

“Of course I’ll come,” Fingon said. His time by the lake had cleared his head, and dancing would probably clear it even more. “But have you seen Russandol? I lost him hours ago.”

Aredhel raised an eyebrow. “If you weren’t with me and you weren’t with Russandol, what have you been doing? Never mind. I haven’t seen him, but you should ask Atar. I think he is still awake.”

Fingon had checked his father's tent much earlier, before all the drinking; but there was no harm in backtracking.

As it turned out, Aredhel’s guess was an excellent one. As he approached, Fingon could hear Maedhros’ voice.

Strange, at this hour! As far as Fingon knew, Fingolfin and Maedhros didn’t really speak—unless they were coordinating political or military moves. It would be just like both of them to hide away and discuss strategy at what was supposed to be a party.

“Oh, how ridiculous!” Fingon threw open the tent flap. “I’ve been searching for you two everywhere, and of course you are in the first place I looked! Maitimo, come on, there’s more dancing and it is essential that you make an appearance.”

Maedhros looked uncharacteristically relaxed; and from the way they both looked at him, Fingon got the sense that he had interrupted something more than a tactical meeting.

“Findekáno, you know that I do not dance.”

Fingon smiled fondly. Maedhros was always claiming he did not do frivolous things, or did not enjoy them—but Fingon knew perfectly well that this was a front. He also knew that Maedhros would be secretly disappointed if he, Fingon, did not persuade him to have fun in spite of himself.

“I know it well. You needn’t do it. All you have to do is stand and look impressive—the pride of the Noldor!”

Fingon’s father choked slightly, and put a hand over his mouth.

Had Fingon said that last part out loud?

“Findekáno,” his father said, obviously struggling not to laugh. “How much have you had to drink?”

“Only a little,” said Fingon, trying to sound casual and failing outrageously. Sheepishly, he added, “Though whatever those Green Elves brew in their woods is surprisingly strong.”

“You needn’t worry, Uncle,” began Maedhros, in a noble tone. “I will see that Findekáno comes to no harm.”

Fingolfin’s voice, when he replied, was still rich with amusement.

“Or becomes the shame of the Noldor? Thank you, Russandol.”

Maedhros followed Fingon back outside. The night was cold after the warmth in Fingolfin’s tent.

“Imagine, Atar making a joke!” said Fingon. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen his father’s face so expressive—and he didn’t mind at all that it had been at his expense. Clearly they should throw family parties more often.

He turned to his cousin.

“But what were you talking about?”

Maedhros’ fingers brushed over Fingon’s brow, straightening his flower crown. Fingon caught his hand and kissed it.

“The importance of family,” said Maedhros.

*

“Do you think we should tell people about the Kinslaying?” asked Lalwen.

She had stopped at her brother’s tent to steal candied figs, and say goodnight.

“I thought we were trying to convince Thingol and Melian to like us,” said Fingolfin.

Lalwen thought about Meril Údineth, who had seemed so cheerfully hopeful about their prospects. Then she thought about Daeron, who had not wanted to talk to her, and Edhellos, who had been decidedly pessimistic.

“I think that might be a lost cause,” she said. “I am more worried about our other allies, like Círdan, who has been nothing but good to us. How are they going to feel when they find out we’ve been lying?”

“Probably very angry,” said Fingolfin. “What do you suggest?”

She hesitated.

“Well, not everyone has to suffer for it if we explain what happened. Most of our people—”

“Are you really planning to scapegoat my son, and over half your nephews?” asked Fingolfin, in the mildest of tones.

“Maybe,” said Lalwen.

“We have to stand together,” said Fingolfin. “And I don’t just mean the house of Indis. We have to look out for Fëanáro’s children, too.”

It was hard to argue with such family feeling. Lalwen would have to marshall her arguments carefully.

Fingolfin took her silence for assent. He brightened. “Do you want to hear about my deeply meaningful conversation with Maitimo?”

“All right," she said, giving up for now. "Tell me."

They had eternity ahead of them, after all. There would be plenty of time to sort things out.


Chapter End Notes:

1. Because of the early, transitional date of the Mereth Aderthad, I am deliberately inconsistent with my characters' use of Quenya/Sindarin names.

2. Anyone who has read "A Night in the Forest" will notice that I lifted Zeen's excellent dialogue (as well as some wording) for my final Fingon scene.

3. Guest star Fastitocalon is from the Tolkien Reader. It's unclear from the original poem if turtle-fish are real, or just a Middle-earth myth.

4. Spot the OCs! Wherever possible, I have tried to use minor canonical characters rather than creating new ones, but Túreth, Nionë, and Pethoniel are mine.



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