"Take care, my daughter," Orodreth tells Finduilas. Mormegil had said his farewells earlier, and now her father stands before her, worry etched on his face. "I leave you as steward of Nargothrond; see to the people while I am gone." He hovers awkwardly for a moment, but Finduilas embraces him.
"Please be careful, Father," she whispers, ignoring the tears pricking her eyes. "Come back to me."
"Do not worry. We will return triumphant." Orodreth draws back and places a kiss on her forehead.
Finduilas watches as he mounts and rides to the head of the host. The signal is given; they depart.
As soon as they are gone, Finduilas gives the order to evacuate.
The plan had been in the making for weeks. While her father planned war, Finduilas planned retreat.
Orodreth would be displeased and angered if he knew, but Finduilas has heard the words of Ulmo, and though, like the rest of her family, she puts little stock in the so-called 'Lords of the West', she also admits that their prophecies have a way of coming true. And tales of Glaurung's evil have come to her ears; she believes him capable of much destruction.
And so she made silent plans, plans which her father, busy with his armies, had not heard even the whisper of. Finduilas loves her people, and will take no chances. Today, they evacuate the fortress and flee to the woods of Brethil, leaving the barest bones of defense behind. If the battle goes well, she will face her father's wrath. If not—
If not, at least a fraction of her people will be saved.
"My lady?" It is Calië, one of her erstwhile ladies-in-waiting, now one of the main organizers of the evacuation, who interrupts Finduilas, causing her to look up from the desk where she is forming the duty-rosters for those who will remain in Nargothrond.
"My lady, the last of the refugee bands will be setting out; you must hurry to join them."
"But my lady—"
"Calië," Finduilas interrupts. "Do you have enough fighters to guard everyone?"
Calië nods reluctantly. "Yes, my lady."
"Then I am not needed." Finduilas dismisses Calië with a flick of her wrist and turns back to the duty rosters.
"I beg your pardon, my lady, but you are."
This startles Finduilas; Calië had been mild before this operation had brought out the steel in her, and, even now, the fact that she can—and will—contradict her princess is disconcerting. "I will not leave my city, Calië."
"My lady," Calië says. "The people need you."
"They have all they need to survive, I have made sure of that. Besides," Finduilas says softly. "I abandoned Nargothrong; now I must face the consequences."
"The people, my lady, need a leader," Calië says. "They need their princess."
Finduilas sighs. "I do not think—"
"They need you, my lady," Calië says, and, "I will stay behind in your stead." And that is that. Finduilas will accompany her people to Brethil
Haudh-en-Elleth, they call it; for when Glaurung had taken Nargothrond, the defenders—women, mostly, the men having gone to battle and never returned—helpless before his might. And the women had been taken, but when the Men of Brethil had waylaid the Orc-host at the Crossings of Teiglin, the Orcs had slain the prisoners.
All but one. For Calië, lady-in-waiting of the Princess of Nargothrond, had fought, had fought with a might so great that all who had seen her had cowered in fear. But she had been wounded mortally, and as she lay dying, she whispered, "tell the Princess that Calië lies here."
And ever the grass grows green where they buried her, and ever the evil things of Morgoth will fear the grave of Calië the Elf-maiden.
When the news was brought back to Brethil where Finduilas had been taking shelter, she wept. But afterwards, she took up arms against Morgoth. And a large part of the women of Nargothrond joined her, but those who did not wish to do so stayed in Brethil, or set out to join the sons of Fëanor in Ossiriand where they were rumored to be.
But Finduilas and her women joined the Men of Brethil in their skirmishes, and the valor of the Princess of Nargothrond soon became known throughout the land.
"Captain Finduilas!" It is Mírwen who greets her as Finduilas and her soldiers come into a clearing where a gathering of huts has been built for—and by—the soldiers formerly of Nargothrond. "Captain, there is some here to see you…"
"If it is Dorlas," Finduilas snaps, "Tell him to save his breath; ridiculous notions of women not fighting do not belong to these dark times. And if it is Handir, tell him, again, that I understand his desire for secrecy, but I do not join him in it."
"No, captain," Mírwen says, as Finduilas removes her helm. "It is—"
The shout is in a voice well-known, and Finduilas cannot control the tremble in the hands holding her helm as she turns to its source. "Mormegil?"
"Finduilas!" He bounds to her, and makes to move her, but she shakes her head.
"I am glad to see you, Mormegil—I thought you were dead—but I am covered in grime and blood."
Mormegil laughs. "That does not matter! They tell me tale of your deeds, but you will not have to fight any longer, Finduilas, my Faelivrin. I will protect you."
Annoyance flashes up inside her. She loves him, truly, and he is a good man, but do all men seek to protect her? "I fight because I want to," she says in a clipped voice. "Because, like you, I need to."
Mormegil must sense her mood, because he grins at her. "Let us not fight, Finduilas. I have much to tell you."
He laughs again, and Finduilas feels sudden nostalgia for her lost city and the evenings spent together. "And I have much to tell, too."
She sends him away, in the end. The old love flares in his eyes still, but she does not love him now. That love lies in the grave of her father, wherever that is, and in dead fires of Nargothrond and in the ground of Haudh-en-Elleth where so many of her people died because of her.
Now, she is a fighter. And Mormegil does not think that is who she should be. So she sends him away.
It is an easy decisions.
She sees the girl lying on Haudh-en-Elleth by chance; if not for the flash of lightning the girl would have gone unnoticed in the heavy rain. Finduilas approaches the girl, her company behind her.
The girl is shivering, her clothes in tatters and dirt staining her face. When Finduilas crouches next to her and asks, "What is your name?", she shies away.
"Hush," Finduilas whispers. "I only want to keep you safe." Turning to her soldiers, "We will take her with us."
"Yes, Captain." None of them speak against her order, even though the storm does not look likely to abate and carrying the girl will slow them down; they all know the cost of leaving someone behind.
They take the girl, not to the people of Brethil, but to their own, the refugees of Nargothrond. They clean her—a task which takes a long time, and is complicated by the girl's apparent fear of all that moves—and place her next to a fire. Then, at last, Finduilas is left alone with her.
The girl moves her spoon idly in the bowl of hot broth placed on the table in front of her, but makes no move to eat it.
"It is good," Finduilas says gently. "It will not hurt you."
The girl starts, but does not scream like she had before. Finduilas counts it as a good sign. "It is broth. Take a sip."
The girl does so reluctantly, but her face brightens as the food touches her mouth. Finduilas realizes that she is pretty, in an odd sort of way; her gold hair is lank, her bones too prominent (a product of startvations), her eyes too big for her face, her olive skin papery and wan, but in spite of that, a charm lingers about her, perhaps a remnant of her former beauty.
"Is it good?" Finduilas asks kindly.
The girl nods, gulping the broth. Finduilas watches this with amusement, but when the girl makes no sign of stopping, Finduilas gets up and takes the bowl away.
Again, the girl does not scream, but a whimper works its way up her throat.
"No, no," Finduilas shakes her head. "I will give it back to you. But you will throw up if you eat too much." As a conciliatory gesture, she places the bowl in the middle of the table.
The girl smiles, and settles back in her chair. Her posture, oddly, tugs at a memory, but Finduilas dismisses the thought; she does not know her, she is sure.
After a while, Finduilas breaks the silence. "What is your name?"
The girl shrugs.
"You do not know?" At the affirmative nod, Finduilas says, "Do you want to give yourself a name?"
The girl blinks, startled, then nods again.
Another silence. Eventually Finduilas breaks it. "Have you decided?"
"Níniel," the girl whispers.
"Níniel? That is good." A dark name, but somehow it suits her. "Now, Níniel, do you want some more broth?"
When Finduilas goes Orc-hunting, again, she leaves Níniel to Mírwen's care. The wail as she leaves convinces her that her return will be to a regression.
On this, however, she is wrong. Níniel meets her with a smile, and then, to Finduilas' astonishment, she speaks: "Finduilas!"
When Níniel nods shyly, Finduilas grins. "I am glad to see you, Níniel."
"So am I," Níniel mutters. Then, wonder of wonders, she moves to embrace Finduilas.
Finduilas is covered in blood and dirt, but she makes no protests, and sinks into Níniel's arms.
Calië shouts at her from afar: "Finduilas, run! Run!"
But Finduilas cannot mover; she can only watch as the great golden dragon engulfs her beloved city in fire. And there are screams too, tortured screams, and Finduilas sees bodies writhing in the fire, and most dreadful of all, Calië's severed head, laughing at her. Then the dragon turns its eyes towards her, and Finduilas watches the scene reflected in the great orbs with fascination—
"Finduilas." The whisper is accompanied by a hand shaking her awake. "Finduilas, wake up."
Finduilas blinks. Moonlight streaming through the window shows her that she is in a hut in Brethil, three other women sleeping soundly in the room. Or, two other women. Níniel kneels above her, concern painted on her face. "Are you awake?"
Finduilas gives her a grateful smile. "Yes, thank you." Then, "Did I—did I scream?"
"No!" Níniel shakes her head vehemently.
"Why did you wake me, then?"
"You were dreaming of the dragon," Níniel says simply. "I know. I dream of it too. But you cannot let it win. You must hold on to yourself."
How do you know? Finduilas wants to ask. But what she says is, "Thank you."
She does ask, later. "Níniel, how did you know I was dreaming…what I dreamt?"
"Because," Níniel says, "When you are afraid in your dreams, it is always the dragon."
And Finduilas realizes with a chill that Níniel thinks that her own nightmares are everyone else's, too.
"Finduilas." Níniel comes up behind her as she sharpens her sword, later in the year, after a couple more forays.
"I have something for you." Níniel holds out her hand; in it is a delicate white flower.
"I…" Finduilas looks at Níniel's hopeful face. Suddenly, something is stuck in her throat. "Thank you."
"You like it?"
"Yes," Finduilas whispers. Then, stronger, "Could you put it in my hair?"
Finduilas holds still as the flower is placed in her hair. She is aware of the minute touches as Níniel's fingers brush her scalp, and of the flower's gentle movements.
"There. You look pretty."
Finduilas lets out a breath; a blush creeps onto her dark brown cheeks. "Thank you."
It is another year later, and now Finduilas knows Níniel is flirting with her. The coy glances, the compliments, the gifts all speak of this.
She had promised herself that she would not fall in love again; now, she finds she does not mind. This, though, this is too much. She answers through gritted teeth: "Yes, Níniel?"
"This is fun!" Níniel laughs.
She is in the brook they use to wash themselves, and naked. Naked and beautiful, and splashing and playing in the water. "Yes, I know."
When Finduilas does not deigns to respond, Níniel heaves herself out of the water and, before Finduilas can run away, shakes herself so droplets land all over the other woman.
"There," Níniel says unrepentantly. "Now you will have to join me."
"I suppose I will." It is not an Orc-weapon which will kill her, Finduilas knows now. It is Níniel.
Níniel greets her, strangely, not at the huts, but by the brook, where only the two of them are, at the moment. The enthusiastic embrace does not take Finduilas by surprise now—the first three or four times had cured her of that.
The kiss Níniel plants on her, however, does.
"Níniel!" Finduilas back away. "I—"
"You do not like me?" Níniel says quietly, and every line of her body conveys sadness.
"No—" Finduilas shakes her head. "No, I like you very much, Níniel, but—"
"You surprised me," Finduilas says, and she can feel the heat rising in her cheeks, again. It was not like this with Gwindor, or Mormegil. She did not blush so. "I—I—" And she did not stutter either. She takes a deep breath, and finishes. "I like you very much."
"Then," Níniel says, her eyes sparkling with mischief. "Will you kiss me?"
"Gladly," Finduilas laughs, and proceeds to do just that.