It was only in the evening, as they rested after the hunt, that Beleg noticed Túrin's unusually withdrawn mood. For all his taciturn, solitary ways, the boy had always enjoyed lounging by the campfire and discussing the day's adventures; now he sat silent, avoiding Beleg's eye, and tossed wood into the flames with unnecessary violence.
Beleg decided to track the problem to its source.
"Túrin, look at me."
Túrin looked up. Reflected light made his odd human eyes look almost like Elu's—only without Elu's wisdom, of course. “Yes?” he asked.
"Is something the matter?"
"No." Túrin snapped a branch in half. A surprisingly thick branch: the force this must have required reminded Beleg of Mablung’s youthful attempts to build up his already notable strength. Of course, Túrin's body was now reaching an adult man's capabilities; it seemed absurd, given his age, but then time worked differently for mortals.
"Why not tell me about it? Are we not friends?"
"Yes, but you are an Elf. You would not understand."
"Have you tried talking to your men, then?"
"What did they— Were they helpful?"
"No." Túrin broke another branch before adding, "They are too old."
The two men who had arrived with Túrin were, indeed, afflicted with many fascinating signs of age, such as crumpled skin and an alarming lack of teeth. Human teeth were odd things. Túrin's had fallen out at one point and replaced themselves. Perhaps he was due for another such tooth-molting? It had looked like a painful process.
"Is it your teeth?" Beleg asked.
"My what? No, of course not." Túrin drew up his legs and buried his face in his knees. "I knew you would not understand."
"I might," said Beleg, though skeptical himself. "Try me, Túrin."
"Very well," Túrin mumbled. "I am troubled because... because my body often feels beyond my control."
This sounded very possible. Lately, Túrin had been tripping and dropping things more frequently than usual. "Well, you have been growing quite rapidly. It is only to be expected that you might be a bit ungainly, until you get used to the new length of your limbs. Anyway, this happens to us Elves, too. I recall how—"
"I am not ungainly, and anyway that has nothing to do with it. Oh, I knew it was hopeless."
"No, it is my fault: I keep jumping to conclusions. But please, do try to explain. And if I do fail to grasp your meaning, if what troubles you truly is beyond the reach of an Elven mind, then you can take it to Melian, who is a Maia—and your adoptive mother, besides."
"No!" Túrin looked up, eyes flashing with flame and panic. "I couldn't! Not to her!"
That sounded as if he suspected that Melian would understand... and that he was ashamed of whatever the problem was. "Then tell me, at least."
“Fine.” Túrin sat back a bit, so that his face was further from the fire, slightly veiled in shadow. "I feel desires of the flesh," he said savagely. "They invade my dreams at night, and during the day I find myself... Well, I regret that it is winter, and everyone is wearing so much clothing. So I imagine people with their clothes off all the time, until I am unable to concentrate on anything else. My men tell me to be patient, that this will pass when I am older, but I can barely sleep or follow conversations and I think I am going mad. There. Can you understand that?" He glared at Beleg.
"Yes, of course I can. We Elves feel lust too, you know."
"Right. For your one true love. My men explained it to me."
"Well," said Beleg slowly, "I think you should take my word over theirs, seeing that I am an Elf, and they are not. And I tell you that I have felt lust, even though I do not have a true love." Speaking these words to Túrin filled him with anxiety, the way lying usually did.
Túrin scrutinized him, as if he had detected a flicker of doubt. "Weren't you in love with Lúthien, then?"
"People say that you do everything for hopeless love of Lúthien. Mablung, too, and Daeron."
"Well, Daeron does, obviously, but I do not. As for Mablung... I do not think so. He would have told me, surely. Because he and I... Well, she is very beautiful, of course, and yes, desirable to many, and the two of us used to discuss such things often, back when we were younger. I do admit that what you have described sounds much worse than what either of us experienced, but then you Men feel other things more, too, such as pain: this must be the same sort of thing. At any rate, I do understand the general principle.”
"So, what you are saying is that you used to feel lust, before you got so old. Just like my men." Túrin scowled. "I suppose you think I should be patient, too."
"Patience would help, of course, but I do still remember that all those feelings can be rather... distracting. Too distracting to be pushed away by an effort of will." They still were, sometimes, especially when a starlit, moonless night reminded Beleg of those earlier days, but he did not think Túrin needed to hear that.
"So how did you cope? Men my age are apparently allowed to chase after women, but you Elves do not seem to do much of that."
"We do, in our own way. Why do you think most people get married so early?"
"But I cannot do that! Not here: whom would I marry? Anyway, what about those who get married late, or not at all—like you?"
"Ah. Well, we talk to our friends, and..." It felt strange to be explaining something Beleg had always found so self-evident. But then, how could Túrin have learned of these things? Not from his peers—he had none—and not from Elu: Beleg suspected his King knew even less about human maturation than he himself did. "Sometimes, people do more than talk. They... explore these feelings with unwed companions of a similar age who feel likewise, as one might explore a new land. The custom started when we woke, and needed to explore both our bodies and our new home, and there is no shame in it: on the contrary, it strengthens friendships.” Beleg smiled to himself.
"I have no companions of a similar age." Túrin's eyes held a challenge. "I spend most of my time with my elders, such as you."
"There are ways to change that. Elves your own age are children, of course, but perhaps you could befriend a few of those novice hunters who often go on long trips together. They should welcome someone of your skill." And your beauty, Beleg added to himself. Man or not, Túrin was as fair as any.
Túrin frowned, thoughtful. "Saeros asked me to go hunting with him."
"Well, then. You should go."
"Perhaps I will."
Túrin picked up his broken branches, and tossed them, one by one, into the heart of the flames, without much force, but with perfect aim; and Beleg felt that strange dishonest unease once more. He looked away from Túrin and up into the sky, into the bright star-cluster of the Archer's Triangle, and remembered that these matters were not quite as simple as he had implied.
The windows of the hunting lodge, glowing softly against the darkness of the forest, guided Mablung through the last few minutes of his solitary patrol. The dim light suggested that the hunters were all asleep: that the lamps had been put out, leaving only the hearth. Sure enough, when Mablung reached the door, he heard no voices within.
The only voice came from up above. "Welcome back," said Beleg from the roof. On this moonless night, he was all but invisible to the eye. "Any news?"
Mablung hesitated only a moment before leaning his spear against the woodpile and clambering up to join him. "Nothing unexpected. Saw some stags fighting by the forest's edge, but no sign of foul creatures. How was your hunt?"
"It went well enough."
Mablung stretched out comfortably at Beleg's right. "Then why are you out here watching the constellations, instead of resting inside?"
"I am counting stars. Did you know that Túrin says he can see only two in the Archer's Triangle?"
"No, but I am not surprised. Remember, Beren said most mortals could see only one." Mablung looked up at the sky. On a dark but cloudless night like this one, he could count a respectable four. Beleg claimed to see seven, a number nobody else could verify; Mablung had thought him a braggart at first, before learning more of his open, honest heart.
"Mortals are so odd," said Beleg quietly. "So much like us, yet so unlike."
"What has Túrin done now?"
"Oh, he..." Beleg shifted a little. "He claims to have awakened to desire. The way he describes it, it sounds rather intense for someone so young... at least, for someone who does not know what desire's fulfillment might feel like."
His voice sounded strange: detached and dreamlike. It fell to Mablung to be more practical. "Perhaps he does know. He is impulsive, and has spent much time walking the woods with Nellas, perhaps they—"
"Surely not!" Beleg sat up on one elbow. "No, that is quite impossible: he did not even believe our kind could experience such emotions."
Mablung met his animated gaze. "And did you correct his misconception?"
"I told him to seek out his peers. Who knows, perhaps this might help him build a new friendship? Túrin needs more friends."
To Mablung's mind, Túrin certainly did need friends other than Beleg himself: but did he deserve them? Mablung exhaled, and decided not to voice this doubt, saying instead, "You think everyone needs more friends."
"Well, friendship is a fine thing."
"I do not dispute that. But some of us are satisfied with the friends we already have."
Beleg's response was to smile and lay a hand on Mablung's shoulder.