It was Fingon who ran Mereth Aderthad, Beleg found out. That is, of course it was his father Fingolfin who had convened the meeting of the Noldor and invited an embassy from Doriath, but it was his son Fingon who was supervising the actual setting up of the camp and all the other practical issues involved.
Fingon was delighted to see Mablung and Daeron and also to see Beleg, which came as a bit of surprise. Considering the size of the camp and the continuous stream of guests that were arriving just before the commencement of the Feast, all of which he would have had to sort out already, Beleg had not expected Fingon to greet someone like him as a long-lost brother. The warmth of Fingon's greeting soothed his reservations about the set-up a little, for he had arrived at Ivrin inclined to be somewhat prickly. He did not entirely appreciate being treated as a guest in a locality in which he had once freely roamed. There was a time when he had considered Ivrin very much his own country.
Even as Beleg felt some of his prejudices against Noldorin interlopers melt a little, he could not help feeling a little sceptical as he observed Fingon’s bright smile and sparkling eyes and listened to a volley of offers of assistance and explanations. Could this much enthusiasm be genuine? Would Fingon have received any taciturn stranger in this manner or was he diplomatically laying on a cordial reception for the particular benefit of the guests from Doriath?
But just as he asked himself that question, Fingon’s gaze veered away from his face, as if he had suddenly glimpsed someone over his shoulder, and for a split second Beleg saw just how much joy Fingon’s face was really capable of expressing—only for that joy to be immediately replaced by an equally intense expression of distress, before Fingon quickly recovered himself and devoted all his attention to Beleg again. So fascinated had Beleg been by this quicksilver display of emotion that he remembered too late that Elu would probably expect him to take an interest in the question of who or what was capable of evoking such feelings in Fingolfin’s son. By the time he managed a discreet look, all he saw was a flash of red disappearing in the crowd between the tents. He was not ungrateful; for himself, he had not really wanted to know. Private affairs should be allowed to remain private.
However, as it turned out, there was not that much of a riddle to solve here. That same evening, Mablung and Daeron were openly discussing among themselves the presence of the two elder sons of Feanor, who had arrived at Ivrin from the Marches one day previously, the daring rescue of Maedhros from Thangorodrim by Fingon and the unexplained tensions among the Princes of the Noldor. Beleg, listening closely, did not comment. He had heard of Maedhros, of course, some good things, some less so.
That night, lying awake, he considered the strength of those fleeting emotions he had seen crossing Fingon’s face. Did he himself feel that strongly about anyone? He had considerable affection for Mablung, he thought, although Mablung was so much younger and besides their friendship had grown up in the somewhat casual manner of comrades who were often thrown together by shared preferences. He had affection and abiding loyalty for Elu—but those were more complicated emotions, for he remembered Elu from before the time when he had called himself king and Elu also remembered this. He had accepted Elu’s kingship as a political necessity just as he had accepted the Girdle of Melian as a military necessity—although he sometimes seemed to feel the Girdle stretching across his mind almost as tightly as it cut across the landscape of Beleriand, creating an inside and an outside where none had been before, chafing, chafing... Had he felt more strongly about Elu and Mablung and the others before the Girdle had encircled Doriath? Or was it just that he was old and past caring quite so strongly about anyone? And if so, was that not maybe a good thing?
These thoughts unsettled him, so that, finding himself alone with Mablung after breakfast the next morning, he said quite curtly: ‘I’ll be going then.’
Mablung raised his eyebrows. ‘You are sticking with the original plan, then? I thought you might have changed your mind when you didn’t mention to Fingon that you were planning to leave again so soon.’
He hesitated for a moment. Then he continued: ‘It would make sense to stay on just a bit, I think. Annael is not expecting you on any particular day. The Feast has not even started yet; when it has, it will go on for weeks. And the Noldor are not so bad, really, don’t you think? I feel I could get used to them, if I give myself the chance. Here at Ivrin they seem more natural, less out of place, somehow, than the children of Finarfin did in Menegroth. Perhaps, because Angrod and Artanis are close kin to Thingol, we wanted them to be more like us than was reasonable to expect?’
Beleg shrugged uncomfortably. ‘I don’t find myself minding the Noldor nearly as much as I thought’, he admitted. ‘It’s just…the whole thing, really…’
Mablung looked a little puzzled. Then he gave a sympathetic chuckle. ‘It’s the crowd, Beleg, isn’t it? It’s too much like Menegroth for your liking, is my guess. Even though this assembly is under the open sky…’
He had the right of it, of course. It was not, Beleg told himself, that he disliked people, in moderately-sized groups, going about their business, but he never had been one for cities—and what was fast growing up all around Ivrin was nothing less than a city of tents. He said farewell to Mablung and to Daeron, who showed no sign of surprise, and quietly left—with a minimum of fuss, as he thought.
He was already some distance from Ivrin when he heard someone coming up behind him, a single Noldo by the sound of it. Instantly, his hands went to his bow and quiver. Curses, no! He had no business provoking an incident, least of all here! He restrained himself, contenting himself with allowing his right hand to hover near the hilt of his dagger.
It was Fingon himself, who emerged from the bushes, gold-threaded braids and all, as if Fingolfin’s son had nothing better to do than trail absconding guests. Beleg had not expected that. He took away his hand from the dagger.
‘Beleg,’ said Fingon, a little breathlessly, and then more formally: ‘Beleg Cuthalion, it was reported to me that you had been seen leaving the camp as if you meant instantly to return to Doriath. You made no mention of such a plan to me yesterday. Has anyone at Ivrin offended you, since we spoke, or have my people done anything to displease you in any way? If so, please let me know and turn back with me so that I can make amends. I would not have it said that the Noldor offered annoyance to guests or flawed hospitality!’
Beleg was astounded and not a little embarrassed.
‘No’, he said. ‘Nobody has offended me. And it is Mablung and Daeron who are Thingol’s emissaries—perhaps we had not made that clear enough yesterday? They are the official delegation from Doriath—I just accompanied them here…’
Of course, the Noldor had probably been expecting a slightly larger delegation, he thought. He was not sure he had fully realized the potential insult when they set out from Doriath. In Menegroth, it had all seemed reasonable. Why should all the best and the greatest of the Iathrim come running at the invitation of the Noldor? Daeron as chief lore-master and Mablung to represent the military side—the presence of these two had seemed sufficient acknowledgement. Cirdan had looked displeased, though, yesterday. Perhaps Elu had ignored his counsel in the matter…
‘Oh no, you made it quite clear, all three of you!’ said Fingon. ‘Only, I imagined that if you had accompanied Mablung and Daeron out of friendship—or perhaps come along out of simple curiosity…? Whatever the reason, I did not think it likely that, having come all this way, you could have been planning to leave again so soon! But it seems I was wrong? Unless… Are you sure we have done nothing to displease you? But perhaps you have another private errand somewhere close by? I confess that had not occurred to me before—but there must be those among your people dwelling in the foothills who are known to you?’
‘I assure you, Fingolfinion,’ said Beleg, more formally, ‘that none of your kin have done anything to displease me, either today or yesterday. It is, as you say, a private errand that takes me away…’
‘Ah,’ said Fingon, apparently both relieved and disappointed. ‘I had looked forward to getting to know you in the coming days but there will be another occasion to do so, I hope… I must apologize, then, for unconscionably delaying you in that errand of yours. But, before you go, would you permit me to ask you…? You are that Beleg Cuthalion, are you not?’
Beleg blinked. As far as he knew, there had only ever been one of him. But neither could he imagine any reason why he should be that Beleg Cuthalion to a prince of the Noldor. He did not usually sport a demonstrative among outsiders, surely?
Fingon almost blushed. ‘You see you used to be a childhood hero of mine’, he said. ‘My grandfather told me stories about you when I was very young. The great scout of the Lindar!’ he said, going a little misty-eyed. ‘All those exciting adventures on the long march from Cuivienen…’
His grandfather… Finwe! Why was it so difficult to remember that these exotic flame-eyed beings were descendants of Finwe, Elu’s good friend and his also, a long time ago? He kept forgetting. And still nobody, as far as he knew, had explained the exact circumstances under which Finwe had died—in Valinor, supposedly the safest of all places!
‘Used to?’ he repeated, feeling rather stupid. Angrod, Fingon’s cousin, had told him nothing about being anyone’s childhood hero, when they met in Doriath. But it stood to reason that he could not have been everyone’s hero, in Valinor, in Tirion, even if he had been Fingon’s.
It seemed he had unintentionally jolted Fingon back to the present. ‘Yes, well’, he said unhappily. ‘I suppose I admire you even more now. Now that I have a much better idea what a journey like that from Cuivienen entails…’
He gave Beleg a wide-eyed, distressed look. At that moment, it became obvious to Beleg that Fingon the sincere, Fingon the honest, was concealing something and that it was probably something important, something Elu would want to know—maybe even something that would fan Elu’s smouldering distrust of the arrivals to a blazing flame.
Beleg could not say why it produced precisely the opposite reaction in him. Elu would not have approved, he was sure—but looking into Fingon’s troubled eyes, he was suddenly weary of all subterfuge. It had never been his strong point. Fooling orcs and emissaries of Morgoth in the woods was one thing, speaking honeyed deceit in the council hall quite another.
‘The errand I am on is Thingol’s’, he said bluntly. ‘I am to cross the mountains into Hithlum and speak with Annael.’
He watched those strong emotions play across Fingon’s face as he worked out the implications—why Beleg had left Ivrin in the opposite direction, as if he meant to return to Doriath rather than continue on northwards--that Annael might have had other reasons for sending his brothers and son to Ivrin and remaining behind in Mithrim while the attention of the Noldor was elsewhere than the official one, that his wife was expecting her second child…
‘Will you give me a token, son of Fingolfin, to say that I go with your knowledge if I should encounter a Noldo on the way who chooses to question my business?’ Beleg asked. No beating about the bush now.
They stood for a moment, measuring each other look for look. Fingon’s hands went up to his shoulder, to the large brooch that held his cloak together instead of a clasp. He hesitated.
‘You realize that whatever I myself decide, I shall have to speak to my father of this and he may not uphold my judgement?’ he asked.
‘I will take that risk’, said Beleg.
Fingon unfastened the brooch, caught his cloak across his arm and held the brooch out to Beleg. The device on it was a wreath of silver flame, set with splinters of sapphire—a flamboyant Noldorin thing—and Beleg felt a momentary impulse to ask for something less showy instead, which he quashed, recognizing that the brooch was precisely what he had asked for and would serve him well, far better than if Fingon had sat down on the moss and started penning a letter to whom it might concern.
‘I hope and trust’, said Fingon earnestly, ‘that Annael will have mostly good things to say about us!’
‘May it be so’, said Beleg. He took the brooch.
‘We will meet again’, he said to Fingon, a little awkwardly.
‘We shall’, said Fingon, smiling a little.
‘There will be time then to speak about the march from Cuivienen and other things,’ said Beleg.
He turned openly now in the direction of the path that led up among the slopes of Amon Darthir and beyond that into Hithlum. Fingon made no further attempt to delay him. For a while, Beleg listened over his shoulder for possible signs of pursuit, but it seemed Fingolfin had decided to uphold his son’s judgement. Nobody else followed him.
He climbed the mountain path, breathing more freely, glad for the moment to have escaped all those complications and entanglements below and be himself, by himself, among the wilderness and the weather where he belonged. And yet, as he followed the twisting and turning of the path, chance brought him to a vantage point, a spot that offered him an excellent view of the encampment he had left. Sunlight was laughing on the pools of Ivrin. The bright proliferation of tents that he had found so oppressive as long as he was among them looked tiny at this distance, like the scattered toys of a child, playful and innocent.
Something about it smote his heart. It was a mistake not to have stayed longer, perhaps. He imagined Fingon talking to Mablung. They would get on well, he was sure; they would get on just as well without him. There would be time to take up that conversation again.
Beleg crossed the Ered Wethrin by the high passes and descended into Dor-lomin. Passing north towards Mithrim, he found Annael and went to and fro among the Grey Elves of the North, observing and asking questions. The Noldor who had remained in the north made no move to hinder his passing.
Beleg returned to Doriath and reported that the northern Sindar had mostly good things to say about the rule of the Noldor. Beleg was well pleased, Elu Thingol rather less so. And there the matter rested.