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A Family Affair

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Maedhros stands before me. This must be a jest. Have none of the sons of Fëanor realized the unlove that lies between their father and me, beyond the general breach between our families? Fëanor once asked for a single hair from my head, saying that in it was the light of Telperion and Laurelin mingled in lasting form. But I saw that he was greedy to possess the light, not to delight in it, and I refused him. Since that moment we have not spoken if we could possibly help it.

Having refused the father, I now apparently have to refuse the sons, although this time it is more than a hair I am withholding. They are my kindred, my half-cousins, though not so close I could not wed one if I chose. Why do they seek my hand? Perhaps it is their father's idea. No, his pride would not suffer that. If anything I would think he would be angry if he knew his sons had pursued me. Maybe Nerdanel has had a hand in this. I'll have to ask her, sometime.

Amrod and Amras were the first. They knelt before me and offered themselves to me, declaiming in extravagant words their great adoration. I laughed, yes, and not as kindly as I might. They were so young, so apparently sincere. But if I accepted one, I would have to refuse the other - as I pointed out. Somehow neither had realized this consequence. Twins, they were not yet ready to separate their lives. With embarrassed apologies all around we parted.

Curufin sought me out at a time of festival. I was irritated that he should propose to wed without wooing first, and moreover he resembles his father too much for me to look upon him with any favor. He is clever, oh yes, and we studied together for a time under Aulë's tutelage. But a companion at the forge does not make one at the hearth. He need only look to his father and mother to see that.

Caranthir did court me, briefly. We hunted together a few times, danced together. But he is too hasty-tempered. When he missed a shot he broke the bow over his knee in anger. Not the man I should wed; my mother has warned me often enough about my own quick temper and hinted broadly that a man like my father, slow to wrath and quick to pardon, would be my best match. By the time Caranthir proposed I had long since decided to refuse him.

I really don't know what Celegorm was thinking. It has been quite clear for years that his true desire is for our cousin Aredhel; maybe she refused him and he thought to wed me instead to show that he was not really at her - lack of - mercy? Oh, I am spiteful. In any case it would have been a dreadful mistake, for both of us. I actually think he was relieved when I refused.

Maglor - now, Maglor I might have accepted, except that after refusing five of Fëanor's sons I was rather in the habit of it. He does have a beautiful voice, though he might be just a little too aware of it.

So, one by one my cousins have sought my hand. From youngest to eldest, it has been. And now Maedhros is here. But perhaps I am presuming too much - he has not spoken a word of marriage, yet, simply talking of this and that, of the unfortunate rift between the son of Míriel and the sons of Indis, which has been passed on to their children in turn.

"I know all this, cousin," I interrupt. "Why do you come to rehash the family history for me?"

He manages to look simultaneously sheepish and wary, an expression I never thought to see on anyone's face, much less Maedhros's.

"Well, you see - I wanted to bind up the branches of the family tree, and I hoped you might be willing to help me."

Forcing unhappy images of espaliered apricots out of my mind - I got quite enough of all that when I worked with Yavanna briefly, thank you very much - I ask him, "In what way?"

"Well, marriage, I think, might do it. Now don't be hasty - I know you don't love me. No more do I love you." He has the grace to look embarrassed at this admission. "But we could have a marriage of convenience, maybe?"

"Why on earth would I want to do that? And why would you want to do it, either? Out with it, cousin. There's something else going on here." I fix him with a stern glance. "Are you in love with someone wildly unsuitable? One of those Teleri maidens, maybe, and you want to marry me to hide it? No chance. Just tell your father and resign yourself to a lot of yelling. Grandfather will undoubtedly support you, after all the troubles he had with his wives."

He mumbles something.

"What?"

"It's not one of the Teleri girls," he repeats.

"Then who is it?" I say in exasperation.

He blushes and looks at the floor.

"Who? I warn you, Maedhros, now that you've let me know that there's something afoot, I will discover your little secret. I don't know how you thought you could get away with this, not with me. Give it up, cousin."

"Fingon," he says finally, under his breath.

Now that is something I didn't expect. Our mutual cousin – Fingolfin’s son. What am I going to do now? Chasing one of the Teleri would have been easy compared with this. I try to conceal my shock by asking acerbically, "And presumably Fingon feels the same?"

"Yes." He is trying to speak unemotionally, but the tender expression that passes over his face makes his attempt to conceal the depth of his feelings useless. If one of Fëanor's other sons had looked at me like that, I'd be Maedhros's sister-in-law already, let me tell you.

All right, so I have sympathy for his predicament. It has all the hallmarks of a great romance - the quarrel between the fathers, the need for secrecy, the profound emotion - plus, of course, the unfortunate fact that the two lovers are both male. Not good. But I still have no intention of marrying Maedhros just to help him out, even though before my quarrel with his father he was my favorite cousin.

"And just what was Fingon planning to do? There are only two granddaughters in Finwë's line, and he can hardly marry his sister."

"He was - we thought - well, if one of us were to marry you, it would matter less that the other remained unwedded. No one would suspect our attachment to each other in such a case." He attempts a smile. "I should have known better than to try to deceive you, cousin."

"Indeed. Let me think a moment."

He paces the room as I turn over possibilities in my mind. Unfortunately, I cannot think of any scheme better than the one I am rejecting.

"Does anyone else know of the situation?"

"I hope not." He winces.

"The trouble is that there is little I can do, really. I am not your sister, nor Fingon's, and I refuse to become wife to either of you in the circumstances. Anything I might do would be remarked upon and only draw more attention to you - exactly what you don't want. Have you considered talking to Nerdanel?" I inquire.

"My mother? She would kill me."

"Oh, I think not," I say, remembering a few conversations I have had with my aunt. "Anything that will irritate your father, I think she would support. And your attachment to Fingon would undoubtedly be something of which Fëanor would disapprove. Your parents are separated again, aren't they?"

He nods glumly.

"And after that wonderful example of marital bliss, you wanted to wed? Without even loving your proposed bride? By Varda's stars, Maedhros, be sensible. Go talk to Nerdanel. Maybe she can help you out. I can't, not now - if I think of anything I will tell you, of course. But I will keep your secret, cousin. I won't even let on to Fingon that I know - and don't you tell him that I do, either. All right?"

"All right, Artanis." He sketches a bow. "You know, you are oddly like my father."

"What!" I say in outrage. "I am nothing like him."

"Oh, I mean it as a compliment. Neither of you is easily deceived. Both of you can see straight to the heart of a problem, even if you cannot solve it immediately." He stands at the doorway, ready to leave. "And both of you speak your minds."

I sit, seething. Comparing me to Fëanor. Hah. Well, at least I've done with the last of my uncle's sons. I just hope that Fingon doesn't take it into his head to come dashing in with his own proposal before consulting with Maedhros. I have had enough proposed family togetherness to last me a long, long time.

Chapter Text

As Maedhros let the door to his room close behind him, a sudden flying form knocked him onto the bed.

"How did it go with Artanis? Did she agree?" breathed Fingon into his ear.

"No, she didn't." Maedhros sighed, wishing he could tell his lover that their cousin knew what was between them, knew and did not condemn. "She said that she would not wed where she did not love, especially since I did not love her, either."

"You're too honest, Maedhros," said Fingon, rolling away and looking up at the ceiling. "You should have said all the proper romantic phrases - Eru knows you know them, you've said them to me often enough."

"Oh, come on now, you know that Artanis can see through that sort of thing. I did my best," said Maedhros with mock indignation. "I didn't hear you offering to get married, did I? Not even to help conceal what lies between the two of us? Hah."

"We decided that since you and she are only half-cousins, and she and I are full cousins, it made more sense for you to ask her," Fingon reminded him. "Do you think she would marry me, if I did ask?"

His cousin's face became serious. "No, I don't. I can't tell you why, but I definitely got that impression."

"Too bad for us, then. Especially for you, you're the older, and it looks more and more peculiar for you to remain unmarried. Any ideas? I'd suggest you ask Aredhel, but she'd be impossible to live with, even if she is my sister."

Maedhros rolled his eyes at the thought of marrying his only other female cousin. Aredhel was - uncomfortable. Besides, if she was interested in any of Fëanor's sons, it was his brother Celegorm, not himself.

"Maybe I'll talk to my mother," he said.

That suggestion made Fingon sit up and stare in astonishment. "You're crazy," he said flatly. "How are you going to do that without telling Nerdanel about our - unorthodox - situation?"

Maedhros shrugged. "So perhaps I'll tell her, if it seems that she'll be sympathetic. But all I had in mind was generalities - here I am, haven't fallen in love with any woman yet, how was this whole thing for her when she was young, and so on. All the kind of personal unburdening that women seem to love. Who knows, maybe she'll say something helpful even without knowing what's really going on."

"Well, she does know all about difficult relationships, I suppose," said Fingon, then winced as Maedhros punched his shoulder. "All right, all right, I know they're your parents, and you don't like to hear them talked about, but Fëanor and Nerdanel are practically legends in their own time of how not to behave when you're married. Going to one of them for advice on love just seems peculiar. But better your mother than your father."

With that Maedhros could only agree.

***

When he went to see his mother, she was as usual in her studio working on her latest sculpture. For long, Nerdanel's chosen media had been metal and stone, especially when she and Fëanor had collaborated, but of late she had turned to wood instead.

He paused in the doorway and watched her intent face as she carved, till she should notice his presence. That was old habit, from childhood; he and his brothers had always been warned not to interrupt either parent unnecessarily, lest the work be marred.

"Come in, Maedhros," she said, not looking up. "How fares it with my eldest son?"

He walked forward to stand beside her. They resembled each other little, save that Nerdanel's hair bore a hint of the copper that marked her son's; and their eyes were very like, grey and watchful, wise and wary.

Bending and kissing her cheek, he said, "I am much as ever. Are you well, Mother?"

She set down her chisel to tilt her head at him.

"Well enough, as matters stand. Are you hungry? I have been too busy with this to wish to stop, but now that you have come, my stomach reminds me that I should eat."

Maedhros followed her into the kitchen, where she quickly laid out a simple meal of bread, cheese, and fruits.

"So," said Nerdanel, sitting down. "What brings you here? For I can see that something troubles you."

He reflected for a moment. He had never been used to confide in his mother - the continual uproar of his six younger brothers precluded much time for private conversation in Fëanor's house - but his cousin Artanis's advice that he should consult with Nerdanel carried much weight with him. If Artanis felt that his mother would support him, even knowing the truth of his relationship with Fingon, then Maedhros was willing to trust her judgment. He had not been able to explain this to his lover, however. Doing so would have meant explaining that Artanis knew their situation, and she had made him promise to not to reveal that.

Taking a sip of wine for courage, he said simply, "I am in love."

"Yes."

Trust my mother not to ask questions, he thought grumpily, and said aloud, "With someone - unsuitable."

Nerdanel leaned back in her chair and began to peel an apple, clearly waiting for him to continue.

Maedhros sighed heavily. Here goes nothing. "With my cousin Fingon. And he loves me, as well."

"And?" Nerdanel raised an eyebrow.

At least my cousin was right that Mother would not throw fits at the very idea! Artanis is awfully sensible. Too bad she didn't agree to my proposal, or I wouldn't have to be sitting here now.

"Don't pretend that's not a problem, Mother. It's hardly going to be wonderful news to Father, or Grandfather for that matter, that the eldest grandson of the House of Finwë is about as likely to produce an heir of his own as he is to sprout wings. Even the Valar and Maiar are likely to look askance, though they do not view things quite as we Elves do."

Nerdanel smiled. "Does it make you happy, to be with Fingon? Do you take delight in one another's company, even when you quarrel? Would you give up everything else to be with him?"

"Yes," said her son earnestly. "He means more to me than anyone else I have ever known."

She folded her hands. "Now. That is how I felt about your father when we wedded. And - I believed - how he felt about me. You have seen how it is between us now. Your situation has far more potential for difficulty; think about it carefully. Are you certain that you are willing to accept the troubles and the risks?"

Maedhros was reluctant to tell her that in fact, he and his cousin were past the point of being able to change their minds. But they had discussed the matter at great length before they had finally consummated their bond, both aware that afterwards neither would be able to marry in true union, though either might go through some form of it if need be. As Maedhros had proposed he do with Artanis. To Nerdanel he answered, "I am certain, and so is Fingon, I know. But our trouble is that we dare not be open about our love, for nearly all would condemn us."

"That I understand, my son. I would not have chosen this path for you myself."

"Nor would I," he admitted. "Which does not alter my feelings for him in the slightest."

She looked intently at him. "No. We accept what happens, you and I, and the consequences of our choices, and then make new choices to live with those consequences. So. I will make you a suggestion, because you are my son and I want you to be as happy as you may. I cannot do anything directly to conceal your secret, except to refrain from speaking of it, but I will offer my house to you as a place where you and your cousin may meet without fear. It is well-known that I desire privacy, but to have my son living with me, and a nephew visiting on occasion, would not be overly remarked-upon."

Maedhros gaped at his mother. By the Trees, I would never have thought to hear my mother make such a suggestion. He gratefully and hastily accepted.

Jumping up and looking at her with shining eyes he said, "I would wish to share this good news with Fingon as soon as may be. May I - may we - return tonight?"

Nerdanel nodded and watched him leave the room, almost running in his delighted haste. She sipped her tea and smiled to herself, thinking of Fëanor's dismay should he ever learn the truth about his eldest son.

Chapter Text

Nerdanel stood on tiptoe to reach the head of the just-completed figure and give a final few polishing strokes to the gleaming wood. This image of Nienna was one of her best works, she thought, capturing truly the Vala's habitual expression of mingled grief and compassion. Her mind drifted to other matters even as her hands continued to softly rub away any last roughnesses.

Yesterday evening had been not untypical of many during the past year, since she had invited Maedhros to live with her. Although they did not usually spend much of each day in each other's company otherwise, whenever his cousin - and lover - Fingon came to stay for the night, her son was careful to have the three of them meet and converse, at least for a short time. Not to flaunt themselves, rather because they both felt it proper to acknowledge her generosity in sharing her home with Maedhros and permitting them to be together there. And she did take pleasure in seeing the two of them talking and laughing, sharing the soft swift touches of early love, the joy of it lighting their faces.

She regretted the necessity. But better this than to lose her eldest son. He had always been more like her, inward-looking, than any other of her children, even than Maglor. She had to accept his choice of lover, that he knew his own heart and desires. Both Maedhros and Fingon were fully aware that few would understand or even tolerate their bond - both men, and moreover half-cousins. Yet they did not perceive what Nerdanel did, that the split within the family of Finwë would only be widened if either of their fathers should discover the truth of the matter.

Had one of them been a woman, society might have accepted them despite the close kinship. Even Fingolfin might have, in time. But never Fëanor. Perhaps, in the end, it was better this way. They were happy enough together, that was certain.

Nerdanel smiled, remembering last evening's table conversation.

Fingon had bounced into the kitchen - Nerdanel never ate elsewhere - with a wide grin on his face.

"You will not believe what I just heard, Maitimo," he had said, pulling out the chair next to Maedhros and flinging himself down in it.

"No, what?"

"Well, remember when you - talked - to cousin Artanis?"

Fingon had shot a glance from beneath lowered lids at Nerdanel, who had interrupted to inquire, "Talked of what, my son?"

Maedhros had directed a brief glare at Fingon and answered, "Er. Well, I asked her to marry me, Mother. Last year, before you invited me here. It was a stupid idea, really."

"Anyway," Fingon had continued blithely, "I was speaking with her today, of this and that and who was like to wed soon, when out she comes with, 'You are not trying to propose to me, are you? After being asked by each of Fëanor's sons, one after the other, I do not believe I could keep a straight face, if that is your intention, too.' So I said no, it was the furthest thing from my mind, and she just nodded and smirked a bit, as if she did not quite believe me. Arrogant, our cousin is. But I thought it was hilarious to discover that she had refused each and every one of your brothers, as well as yourself."

Maedhros had stared at his lover, astonished, before laughing heartily. "No wonder," he had choked, "that she acted so oddly when I asked her. She probably thought we all had some sort of terrible wager on."

"I imagine so," Fingon had agreed. "A good thing she refused, is it not? This is a far better arrangement," and he had shot a charming smile at his aunt.

Nerdanel had simply been relieved that her niece had had the good sense to turn down all her cousins. Artanis might be young, but she was wiser than any of her male relatives, it appeared.

Thinking about it again now, the next morning, Nerdanel allowed herself a belated chuckle at the idea of her seven sons lined up, one by one, outside their cousin's door, each with a hopeful expression on his face. Not that she did not want to see them all happily wed - well, except Maedhros, now - but not to Artanis. Or to their other cousin Aredhel, for that matter; luckily Aredhel seemed to have no mind to marriage yet either, despite Celegorm's clear interest. No, better that they should all find spouses outside the Noldor altogether, among the Vanyar or Teleri who recked little of the breach between the son of Míriel and the children of Indis.

"Why so happy? Is it pleasure in having stolen a son from his father?"

Deliberately she turned to face him. Fëanor stood there, whom she loved and hated now in equal measure until she could see no way to win free from him except by leaving. As she had done. Uselessly, it now seemed.

"I have not stolen your son. He is our son, and he chose to live here of his own accord," she said, closing her lips tightly over the reason.

Fëanor merely looked at her coldly, disbelief written in every line of his body. He sauntered around to glance at her work, and his brows lifted. "A fine piece," he said, in reluctant admiration. "Almost I could believe Nienna herself stood here. But why do you work now in wood? Long and long you declared your preference for metal or stone, which endure where softer materials would not."

Nerdanel shook her head mutely. She would not explain that when she left him, she wanted to leave behind everything they had worked on together, save only their children. She would not say that she carved now in wood because it burned, as she burned, in his presence or out of it.

He brushed the topic aside. "Nerdanel, I tell you, Maedhros will live with me. I cannot have my family divided."

Again she shook her head. "It is not my decision, nor yours. It is his."

They stared at each other, silent fury on his side, weary determination on hers. Then the door to the studio opened again.

She saw them as they entered and her heart sank. There was no hope of concealing the truth from Fëanor now. It was only too clear that her son and his cousin were lovers, for both were unclad to the waist, their arms around each other, and Fingon was whispering in Maedhros's ear.

"Mother," the latter began, but halted in dismay and confusion. "Father. What are you doing here?" He moved to step in front of Fingon, a futilely protective gesture that almost broke Nerdanel's heart.

Fëanor's face burned with rage. "I might ask you the same question. But I can see the answer already. I came to bring you back to your home, where you belong. I wished for your help as well as your brothers' to complete my great work. But now" - his glance raked his son scornfully - "I do not know that I want you there, after all. Your presence might taint them."

Maedhros's face blanked for an instant, then shone with opposing anger, and he took a step towards his father. Hastily Nerdanel moved between them, saying quietly but firmly, "Leave, Maedhros, please. Both of you, leave now."

Fingon nodded and pulled Maedhros back out of the room. Nerdanel could hear him speaking rapidly as they moved out of earshot along the passage, and hoped that he would be able to calm his older cousin. She turned to her husband and said, "That was unwise, Fëanor."

"Unwise? Unwise?"

He was nearly choking with venomous anger. "You are abetting him in this - this iniquitous behavior, and you call me unwise?"

"I do. His actions change nothing."

At Fëanor's look of scornful incredulity she said in exasperation, "You fool. You would do anything to keep your sons apart from the children of your half-brothers, because of your jealousy of the children of Indis. You want nothing except to be seen to reject your father's other family. Well, think on it. Maedhros and Fingon are hardly going to shout this from the rooftops, so it will change nothing in anyone's eyes. What would you say if you heard your son was to wed his cousin Artanis? As came near to happening, I might add. That would be known to all, and widely praised as healing the breach in the house of Finwë - except by you. And perhaps not by your brother, though he might have more sense."

"You go too far, wife," said Fëanor through clenched teeth.

"No. I did not go far enough, many years ago. I chose what seemed the easier path - and chose ill," returned Nerdanel. "But now it is too late to go back and start afresh. You need not approve of the situation - I find no great joy in it either - but it is there, and must be accepted. Anything you might do will only make matters public, and thereby worse for all concerned, including yourself."

Very grudgingly, he nodded.

"I would not have chosen to tell you, I think. It could only hurt you," her voice shook slightly, but she ignored that to continue, "as well as your son and Fingon, too. But now that you know, you must behave as ever before, or suffer consequences you will not enjoy. So. I tell you again that Maedhros shall remain here as long as he wishes; and I do not believe he will offer you his help until he believes you will at least tolerate his situation. And that will not be until you make amends to him. I will add my voice to ask him to forgive you, however. I know what it is you are trying to make, Fëanor, and I know that you will need his help. Pray that you do not need mine as well, for I am less like to forgive than he."

That drew Fëanor's attention. "How do you know what I attempt?" he said sharply.

Nerdanel sighed. "You forget that I was with you all those long years, listening to you, seeing your efforts, helping with them. You forget that you learned much from my father Mahtan, and from Aulë. You may have bettered their efforts - that I will not dispute - but are you certain that you learned everything they had to teach? Are you certain that you can learn nothing from any other?"

Fëanor's eyes were hungry, fastened on her own. "What? If you know aught of this that I do not, you must tell me."

She turned to gesture at the statue of Nienna. "Look at that, my husband, and then you tell me if I know the mystery you seek."

He gazed in silence for a few moments, then moved closer to the sculpted wood, walking around it, touching with reverent fingers, leaning in as if listening to something on the very edge of sound. It took many minutes, but finally he returned and stood before her. Instead of the rage, or the possessive hunger, she saw in his eyes the eagerness to learn that had first captivated her, so long ago. Fëanor nodded and said, "Yes. It has its own spirit. That is what I wish to create with my gems. But how?"

And, hoping that this might at last give the fire of Fëanor's own spirit enough that he would need no more, Nerdanel told him.

"Love."