Actions

Work Header

Golden Light

Work Text:

405 years since the rising of the Sun
They followed the path the traders used, up into the Ered Wethrin. It was a narrow, winding route, only just wide enough for a laden mule, but it led right through the mountains into Dor-lómin. They camped beside a mountain stream that evening, Hador, and his cousin Hundor, all alone among the tall blue peaks.

It was cold, up there at night in the high mountains. They had not thought to carry firewood. Down in the lowlands it was mid-summer, and they would not have needed it.

“What do you think your father will say, when you don’t come back this evening?” Hundor asked.

“He’ll probably just think I’ve gone hunting,” Hador said, nonchalant. It was not quite the truth. Hathol would certainly notice the absence of his only son, and would be annoyed about it, and the louder about it if he happened to be drunk. But Hundor, who was after all a whole year younger, only fourteen, needed to know that Hador was in charge of this expedition, not fretting over what his father might do.

They slept close together, for the warmth, with the blankets over both of them, and woke early with the sun, shivering at the chill and dew on their clothes, to see the mountains stretching away east, faint shadowed misty purple in the morning light, and the mists of Mithrim filling the great bowl of the Ered Wethrin ahead of them bright in the morning light.

“When do you think we’ll meet the Elves?” Hundor asked, when they had eaten a bite of breakfast.

“There’s a village near the path, the traders said. Once we get down into Dor-lómin properly. It can’t be far. Then we can ask for directions to Barad Eithel where the High King is.”

“I can’t believe we’re really doing it,” Hundor said, giving Hador a grin as he adjusted his pack.

“We always said we would,” Hador said, grinning back. “As soon as I got my sword. And I got it!”

Hundor gave the sword on Hador’s belt an envious look. It was of Elven make, and although the design was simple, the graceful lines and flower embossed upon the hilt made it by far the finest thing that Hador owned. It was, perhaps, a little short for a full-grown man, but Hador was not full-grown yet. It was supposed to be a magical blade too, that would glow with blue fire if orcs approached, but he had not seen it do that yet. Orcs never came so far south and west as the villages of the House of Marach.

“We’ll get you one as well. “ Hador told him. “Barad Eithel, the High King’s fortress, is almost on the front line, you might even be able to see Angband from there. We will both need swords.”

- - - -

 

It took several days to walk across Dor-lómin, camping by the road at night. They met Grey-elves from time to time upon the road; farmers with flocks of goats, hunters with tall shaggy dogs walking at their heel. The few houses were of stone and fine turned wood, with coloured glass in the windows.

Hador greeted everyone they met politely, making a point of practicing his Elvish, and tried to get Hundor to do so too, although he was a little shy about it. Sometimes the Elves would offer hospitality; a meal of white bread and cheese, dried meats and berries. They did not seem very different to his own people, though of course all looked young, and all were beautiful. They saw few children.

At last they came out from the foothills of the Mountains of Mithrim on the broad paved road that was the main route from Dor-lómin, early in the morning, and came down towards Lake Mithrim with the sun rising behind it.

Neither of them had ever seen anything like the city on the lake of Mithrim.

The lake was wreathed with golden mist, and in the distance, airy towers, spires and shining domes floated high above the mist, dyed red and gold by the rising sun. The Mountain of Shadow rose blue in the distance behind. Far away, they could hear bells ringing.

“It looks like a dream,” Hador said. Hundor said nothing, but he looked at his cousin and in his eyes, Hador could see the same amazement that he felt himself.

All his life, he would remember that moment: the silver bells of Hithlum greeting the rising sun, and then, as if in answer to the bells, voices raised in song, the voices of the Eldar, impossibly clear, impossibly beautiful.

The singers were behind them, riding tall white horses at a gentle walk through the short grass beside the road, and as they rode, they sang. They were dressed in blue and white and silver, and the jewels upon their clothing and the head-stalls of their horses, and on the hilts of their swords, shone in the early light. The language was one that Hador did not understand, and yet he knew that it was beautiful.

Hador was suddenly very aware that he had been wearing the same shirt for the last week, and that he could smell his own stale sweat. Hundor looked grubby, and a little damp from the morning dew. Both of them had muddy boots. Without discussing it, they stopped and moved a little to one side to let the horses ride through. The singing stopped, dissolving into laughter — the singers were laughing at them, he was sure.

This entire adventure had been his worst idea ever. Why on earth would such shining Elvish warriors need any help at all from Men? No wonder his great grandfather had decided to lead their people away from Hithlum again. He had never understood that decision. Now, bitterly, he saw why.

The horses came to a halt beside them, and looking up, Hador saw the Elves looking down at him. They were not like the Grey-elves they had met before. There was something in their faces, a light in their eyes like nothing he had ever seen before. Their hair was long and dark and shining.

“Well met!” one of the Elves said.

It was extremely tempting to look down at his feet, but that would be defeat. He refused to do it, even though he could feel himself blushing. Why must he have such fair skin? He must be red as a beetroot. He looked up instead, and met their eyes.

“Good morning,” he said defiantly.

“A fine day to be early on the road,” the Elf replied, smiling. “But who are you, and where are you going? You must forgive my curiosity. We do not see many of your people in Hithlum.”

At least they had stopped laughing.

“I am Hador son of Hathol, and this is my cousin, Hundor, son of Marad. ” he said, and then, only because Hundor was looking at him, and they had, after all, walked for more than a week to get here, he added, half-despairing, “We are going to Barad Eithel to offer our service to the High King of the Noldor.”

“Really?” the Elf who had spoken said, and jumped down from his horse. Behind him the other elves were dismounting too. “You are Hador son of Hathol, of the people of Marach? A star shines on the hour of our meeting! I remember your great-grandfather well. I am Fingolfin, the High King.”

Hador gaped at him. By the time it had occurred to him that he should probably kneel, Fingolfin had taken his hand. “I welcome you to Hithlum, Hador, son of Hathol,” he said formally.

“You know who I am?” Hador asked in amazement. “My lord,” he added, belatedly.

“Of course. Hithlum trades a good deal with your people. Trade is just as much a concern for us as war. We rely on your people for a good deal of our food: we have a great many soldiers and smiths, and not enough farmers, in Hithlum. Have you come with a message from your father?”

For some reason, looking into Fingolfin’s bright face, seeing the light in his eyes, it was quite impossible to tell any of the clever half-truths that Hador had thought of.

“My father doesn’t know we’ve come,” he admitted. He would not blush again. He was a man, not a boy.

Fingolfin frowned. “But you wish to serve me? You are sure of this? We are at war, Hador, for all that we hold the Enemy under siege. Your great-grandfather chose otherwise. He took your people away from the Enemy and the danger, into the south.”

Hador took his courage in both hands. “I am not my great-grandfather, or my father. And yes, I do want to serve you.” Looking at the light in Fingolfin’s eyes, he had never felt quite so sure of anything before.

“You are of age, as your people measure it, are you not?”

“Yes,” Hador said. His hand went to the hilt of the sword that proved it. “For three months, now. Hundor isn’t, but his father is dead, so he is sworn to me as my shieldbearer.”

Fingolfin gave a small, approving nod. “Then under the laws of the Noldor, you may take service with whoever you wish. I would be pleased to accept your service, Hador.”

Hador went to one knee, there by the road in the morning mist and beside him, Hundor knelt too. Fingolfin took the sword that Hador offered him and looked at it, turning it to catch the light and weighing it in his hand. “This is not a bad sword, if a little plain,” he said, unexpectedly. “Does it suit you?”

“It’s the sword my father gave me,” Hador said, taken aback. “But yes. It seems to be the right length and weight.”

“Good. You both look as though you may grow taller. I will give you a new sword, when this one is too light for you. But this will serve for now. Do you both agree to obey my commands, and to be true and faithful?”

“Yes, sire,” Hador said, half in a daze, delighted and surprised all at once.

“Very well. I shall lead and you will follow,” Fingolfin smiled and touched his shoulder, not, as Hador had expected, with the sword, but with his hand, and gave the sword back to him, gesturing him to stand.

“Hundor will need a sword too,” Hador told him, greatly daring.

Fingolfin nodded. “He will indeed. In the meanwhile though...” Fingolfin took a long knife from his belt. The hilt was made in the form of a hound’s head, with eyes of sapphire. He gave it to Hundor, who looked at it, wide-eyed, as though he could not believe it was real.

Then he looked down, considering, and took an arm-ring from his wrist. It was made of gold and bronze cunningly woven together to form a shape that could be a serpent, or a wreath of leaves, depending on how you looked at it. “You already have a sword, so I shall give you this to wear, as my token. That way, all my people will know at once who you are and that you are expected.”

He turned to indicate one of his followers, a woman, dark-haired and grey-eyed like the rest, wearing a pin with a rowan-leaf upon it. “This is Gaerwen. Report to her at the King’s House, when you come into the city, and she will find you gear and horses.”

Fingolfin’s horse was tall, and had no saddle, yet he mounted without any noticeable effort. In one movement, all his people followed him, and they rode on, silver, blue and gold against the green of the grass. Hador and Hundor watched them until they turned towards the city and went down behind a dip in the hillside, out of sight. Then they looked at each other.

“Hundor,” Hador said. “Tell me I didn’t just dream that.”

Hundor shook his head. Straggly yellow braids flew around his face. “If you did, I dreamed it too. And this!” He gestured to the knife. “You know what, Hador? This was absolutely the best mad idea you have ever come up with.” Hador looked at him, and then suddenly and for no particular reason, both of them were laughing.

Hador looked down at the arm-ring in his hand, and slid it firmly onto his arm. “If this is a dream, I’m not ever waking up.”

 

- - - - -
411 years since the rising of the Sun

“The king wants you! He’s down in the great hall.”

Hador had been playing the game of King’s Table with his friend Faelon, when Hundor found him with the message. He had been winning, too.

“Leave the board out!” he said to Faelon as he grabbed his sword and cloak and hastily checked his gear and clothes to ensure he was presentable. “We’ll finish the game this evening.”

“All right,” Faelon said, resigned. “Though I fear my Sindarin army has already suffered a terrible failure of morale: they may be fleeing into the hills by the time the mighty house of Marach returns to mop them up. But I insist on a re-match after dinner.” Hador grinned in acknowledgement and ducked out of the door.

Fingolfin was indeed in the great hall, waiting on the brighter side of the long aisle, where the sun slanted in through the amber and green windows onto the long tapestries that showed the Trees of Valinor in bloom. The morning audience seemed to be over already, as there was nobody else there apart from a few of Fingolfin’s other guards, who greeted Hador as he came in through the side door.

Fingolfin turned as Hador entered, looking very serious.

“Hador! There you are. A message has come from your mother. Not good news, I fear.”

“From my mother?” Hador blinked in confusion. His mother had written to him every month for years, since the king had sent a message to tell his father where he was. She had never written to Fingolfin before.

“Your father has died,” Fingolfin said gently. “I’m sorry, Hador.”

“But he’s only forty-six,” Hador said, blankly. “How can he be dead?”

“The message didn’t say. You will want to go home. I’ve arranged for your duties to be transferred. You can leave today, if you want.”

“But.” Hador felt as though he had been punched in the stomach. All the certainties and responsibilities of his life felt as though they had come loose and were flapping about his ears. He latched onto the thing that felt most important.

“Are you sending me away?”

Fingolfin looked surprised. “Not at all. You have proved yourself most capable, and I will miss you. But you are your father’s heir. Your people will need you. Your mother, too.”

“And you want an alliance with the House of Marach,” Hador said dully. None of it seemed quite real, yet. But the dream was over. He was going to have to wake up and go home.

It felt like being a traitor, that losing Hithlum was harder than losing his father. But it would be, he knew it already. His feelings for his father had been complicated, and he did not like to look at them too closely. But Fingolfin, and the beautiful dream of Hithlum... He was going to lose all that, now, and it felt like that was his father’s fault too.

Fingolfin was frowning at him. Hador straightened up and tried to look like the dutiful heir to the House of Marach, who would go home and arrange the alliance Fingolfin wanted. He could not quite manage it.

“Can I... can I visit you, one day?” He should not have said it. He certainly should not have said it that way, like a child asking for permission, not a grown man whose task was to make alliances and lead his people. He should most definitely not have said it to Fingolfin, who was High King of the Noldor, and might be his ally in future, but might not be.

“Of course. You will always be welcome here. Even if we cannot arrange a formal alliance...” Fingolfin paused, looking at his face, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Hador, do you not want to go home?”

He should say, ‘of course I do’. He should pass it off lightly. Fingolfin would accept that he had been momentarily overcome with grief for his father. It would be letting everyone down; his mother, his people, and Fingolfin too, if he did anything but go home and become the new leader of his people.

“No,” Hador said, miserably, looking his king straight in the eye, because that, at least, he could manage. “I want to stay here.”

“Well then,” Fingolfin said. “I did not wish to push you towards an alliance, when your grief is new and bitter, and you have not yet spoken to your people. Losing a father... it’s hard, I know. But perhaps this is the time, after all. Do you think that the House of Marach might be persuaded to uproot itself once again, and come back to Hithlum? Your people grow more swiftly than mine, and I would be well pleased to have your strength within our walls.”

“All of them?” Hador said, amazed, for it seemed most unlikely that Fingolfin could want Hithlum filled with thousands of men, women and children who could do nothing to aid its defense, rather than only help in time of war.

“Of course. Bring your mother to Mithrim first, and those of your lords as you will need to speak with, and then we will make arrangements for the rest.”

There was, for once, nobody singing or harping in the great hall of Barad Eithel, nor on the walls outside, either. There should have been, Hador thought. There should have been a victory song, for the dream that was not over after all.

- - - - -

416 years since the rising of the Sun
Sitting in her pavilion, the pale northern sun slanting through the blue linen, Lalwen stirred a spoonful of honey into her cup, as she observed the archers ranged along the lakeshore. Birch-leaf tea was acceptable, in her opinion, if you sweetened it well. She had almost forgotten what real tea tasted like, anyway.

She noticed Hador looming awkwardly not far away beside the water, like a tree with golden blossom, and beckoned him over.

“Come and sit down!” she said, patting a cushion. “Are you not taking part in the archery competition?”

Hador came over obediently, folded himself onto a cushion and accepted a cup of unpleasantly bitter tea. He had grown to his full height now, and rarely looked so awkward as he had done when he first came to Hithlum, all wild golden hair and arms and legs. He was, Lalwen thought, almost dignified now, though nobody could call him elegant.

“No, Lady,” he said. “No point! I can barely see those targets, let alone hit them with an arrow. I’m waiting for the fencing. I reckon I have a good chance at doing well there. And I hope to win the wrestling. Hundor my shieldbearer is my main competition there, and I think I shall have the edge on him this time.”

“Is Maedhros entering the fencing competition, do you know?” Lalwen enquired. “I’m told he is quite talented at it.”

“I don’t think so,” Hador said, looking worried. “The king is going to fence. Surely they wouldn’t let the sons of Fëanor...”

“Careful, Hador.” Lalwen said in a low voice, warning. “We are all allies here. These games are held to celebrate the visit of the sons of Fëanor, who are our friends. The past is in the past, and must stay there, no matter what you have heard.”

“Of course.” Hador looked embarrassed.

“I am looking forward to hearing Maglor in the competition of the singers,” Lalwen told him. “He’s always very good. Though this time, I’ve been asked to judge. I don’t see how one can judge singers one against another to lose or win, but I must try! I wish Finrod would judge, but he insists he wants to sing, so judging is left to me.”

“A difficult task indeed. Will you be fencing?” Hador asked politely.

Lalwen laughed. “For fun? That’s far too energetic for me. I’ll leave it to you and to my brother to battle for the prize. I and Luingwen plan to enter the sailing, tomorrow. The wind on the lake does the work for us there. Well, most of the work. I’m hoping we may persuade Círdan to borrow one of our boats and join in, too. That always makes for a good show.”

“The Lord Círdan is a very expert sailor, I hear,” Hador said.

“Well, of course, but he is used to ships and the sea. Our small racing boats are light and wayward, and the wind is different, here on the lake. It still catches us out occasionally, and Luingwen and I have had a lot of practice by now. But it is always entertaining if some visiting Teleri decide they will show off, and end up getting soaked. I cherish the hope that one day it will happen to Círdan and I will get to see him wringing lake-water from his beard! So far it has not, but you never know.” Hador laughed.

A smattering of applause drifted along the shoreline. Lalwen looked over at the targets and joined in politely. “My nephew Fingon has won this round,” she informed Hador.

“Oh good,” Hador said, looking worried again. A delightful thing about Hador was that he was quite unable to hide his feelings, but was almost never angry about them. Lalwen found it very refreshing.

“What’s wrong with Fingon winning?” she asked him.

“Nothing!” Hador looked taken aback. “Nothing at all.”

Lalwen gave him a level stare, and waited.

“It’s just that, well...Dor-lómin was Fingon’s. And now the king wants to give it to me!”

“Give my brother some credit for his undeniable political ability,” Lalwen said mildly. “Fingon is rarely in Dor-lómin, since he is responsible for patrolling Ard-Galen, which needs far more careful watching than Dor-lómin does, and is in the opposite direction. Your people need a land of their own within Hithlum, and will make full use of it. At the moment, Dor-lómin is half-empty. ”

“All the same,” Hador said, “Fingon is his son! And I’m just... ”

“Of all my many nephews and nieces,” Lalwen said, “Fingon may be the one I worry about least. If he had wanted to keep Dor-lómin, he would have said so. And... Hador, surely it does not seem to you that my brother Fingolfin thinks of you as just another ally? You came to him not long after my niece Aredhel died. You helped him smile again. He’s very fond of you. Fingon knows this. It is not in Fingon’s nature to be jealous of anyone that brings his father happiness.”

“He has started glaring at me,” Hador admitted, unhappily.

Fingon glares at you?” Lalwen said incredulously. Then the light dawned. “If you could just stop staring menacingly at Maedhros son of Fëanor, with your hand on your sword hilt, then I think you will find that Fingon will become a good deal friendlier,” she said.

 

- - - - -

Grey clouds drifted high over Lake Mithrim, reflected in the silver water. From the vantage-point near the boathouses, which were built of dark wood and carved elaborately with swirling gilded patterns, you could just see the little white town of Harmithrim on the southern shore, while behind to the North, the city of Mithrim itself rose up onto the hillside. Over the tall roofs of the Noldorin buildings along the lake, you could just see the green tops of the birch trees that grew everywhere in the Sindarin districts. Further away, outside the city, the hills were dusted with pale blue: the flax-fields of Hithlum were just coming into full flower.

On the lake itself, small bright boats scudded swiftly across the water, their jewel-bright sails reflecting in the lake: ruby, amber, emerald and sapphire shining against the light. Lalwen’s boat was white, with sails of deep blue marked with stars.

Hador and his friends were watching the racing, Gildis sitting in Hador’s lap, with one arm around his shoulder. It was still new and a little strange to sit like that, but felt very good.

“I think Lalwen might even win this time,” Fingolfin said from behind them. “No, don’t get up! You seem a little entangled.”

Gildis laughed “We are!” she said, giving Hador a brief hug and smiling at the king. “I think they are going to win this time too, my lord. They’ve been in the lead from the start.”

“Either they will win triumphantly, or they will capsize at the last buoy, and come a very wet and chilly last,” Fingolfin said, accepting a cup of hot wine from Hundor, who had the jug, and sitting down next to them. “My sister never does things by halves!”

“That was close!” Faelon exclaimed. Lalwen’s mast had dipped towards the water as they came out from the shelter of the hill and the full force of the wind met her sail. They could see Luingwen hanging perilously from the side to keep the boat trimmed.

Behind the blue-sailed boat, another, with an emerald sail, miscalculated the turn, and her sail hit the water, but Lalwen was well clear of it, and raced ahead, swooping across the water like a bird. Behind her, Círdan’s amber sail had passed the capsized boat, whose crew were scrambling in the water to get her righted. But he had had to go out of his way to do it, and was now a little off the line that Lalwen had taken.

“Did she do that deliberately?” Hundor wondered and then remembered that the king was there and glanced at him apologetically.

“It would not surprise me,” Fingolfin told him, laughing. “But I suspect Círdan of speaking words to the wind to his own advantage, so I feel they richly deserve one another. Gaerwen ought to know by now not to fall for it. Besides, Gaerwen has won more than enough prizes already.”

Lalwen had made it across the line, with Círdan’s boat close, but definitely behind. They all stood up and cheered.

“Gildis, may I borrow Hador for a moment?” the king asked, when the cheers had died down “I know he is off duty for today, but there is one small matter...”

Gildis beamed with delight at being asked. “Of course, sire. I’ll go down and make sure there are towels waiting for Gaerwen when she gets back. Come and help, Hundor, Hareth.”

“I’m on duty soon, I should be getting back,” Faelon offered and took the other two Sindar with him. Hador looked at the king enquiringly.

“Lalwen tells me that you are concerned that the sons of Fëanor might threaten my safety,” the king said to him, abruptly.

Hador flushed. “She told me I should not speak of it. I’m sorry.”

“No. I’m not angry with you. But I think you should understand why that is most unlikely, and to explain that, I must tell you something I am not proud of. You know that long ago, we came to Middle-earth pursuing Morgoth, who had killed my father.”

“You led your people across the ice, yes, I know,” Hador said, nodding.

“Yes. But not all of us crossed the Helcaraxë. My older brother, Fëanor, was our leader, then, and he and his sons, and his most faithful supporters, sailed across in ships. But then, instead of returning for the rest of us, he burned the ships, attacked Angband, and was killed. You have heard this?”

“I have heard that many people died in the ice, because of the burning of the ships.”

“Yes. But you may not know that my nephew Maedhros opposed it.”

Hador shook his head. It was news to him.

“If you have not heard that, perhaps you have not heard where the ships came from?”

“No, I have,” Hador said. It would be best, he thought, to explain what he had thought, so that Fingolfin could tell him if it was true. “Fëanor and his sons, who were your enemies, stole the ships from the Teleri. Círdan’s people, but on the other side of the sea. Then you pursued Fëanor and his sons across the Helcaraxë.”

“Not quite. Your friend Faelon and his people find it easier and more comfortable to believe that Fëanor was my enemy, and his sons, who now live far away, were responsible for the theft and kinslaying, but it’s not true. I swore to follow Fëanor, and although I did not always agree with him, I served him faithfully. We too fought at Alqualondë, and killed the Teleri to steal their ships. I was very angry, and I too had lost a father, but that is not an excuse. And so we were all laid under a doom, by the Valar, and we rebelled against them and we came to Middle-earth against their will. I cannot say the Ice was not suitable punishment for what we had done, but we could not undo it.”

Fingolfin looked seriously at Hador. “I still don’t know if my brother left us behind because he did not trust me, or because he was mad with grief, or perhaps he thought that if he did, the Valar would blame only him, and forgive us for what we did at Alqualondë. I’d like to believe it was the last one. But then, Faelon would like to believe my hands were clean at Alqualondë, and I know they were not. At any rate, when we came to Middle-earth, we found that Fëanor was dead, and my nephew Maedhros had been captured by the enemy.”

“And Fingon rescued him,” Hador looked at Fingolfin and ventured to add, “I always thought that seemed very forgiving of Fingon, having walked across the ice. But since Maedhros didn’t burn the ships...”

“We didn’t know that, then”, Fingolfin said, absently. “But Fingon and Maedhros have been friends since they were children. You should not think of the House of Fëanor and the House of Fingolfin as enemies, Hador. Rivals, yes, once, but rivalry can be friendly, and it was, at first. Later on... you know how it can be, in a family, where emotions run high, and people say things they don't mean and wish they had not said."

Hador, thinking of his father, nodded.

Fingolfin sighed. "I never wanted it to turn sour. Certainly my children did not. And nor did Maedhros, for he chose to waive his claim to succeed his father and swore allegiance to me, of his own will. And that is why, of all people, it is most unlikely that Maedhros son of Fëanor would be any danger to me.”

“I see,” Hador said.  "I take it then that Fingon did not cut off Maedhros's hand so that Maedhros would be unfit to lead his people?"

"What?  No!" Fingolfin looked appalled. "Who has said that? Fingon could find no other way to free him from his torment."

"It is a thing that I have heard has been done among Men," Hador admitted.  "So I wondered.  I'm glad to know it wasn't true." 

“It is not.  But there it is,” Fingolfin said, harshly, “I am a kinslayer, like my brother Fëanor, and his sons.” It seemed to be difficult for him to talk about it. “So is Fingon. And Lalwen. We try not to make a point of it before the Sindar, but Círdan knows, and Thingol of Doriath. So should you, since you will be Lord of Dor-lómin.”

Hador looked at him. “My lord,” he said, and then changed his mind. “Fingolfin, do you not know how many cattle-raiding stories there are like that among my people? Most of my ancestors have slain their kin, stolen their cattle or their horses, and come home to make a song about it. Some of them have stolen their own kin and made slaves of them. They sang about that too!”

Hador could not read Fingolfin’s expression. Was he saying completely the wrong thing? It was so hard to tell with the Eldar. Perhaps he would be insulted by being compared to Hador’s ancestors. He ploughed on, anyway, feeling himself turning pink again.

“You know we came over the mountains, looking for the light in the West. And you are telling me that this is a thing that your people have only ever done once, and that you are terribly ashamed of it, and would undo it if you could. So, tell me, how is that not a light in the West?”

Fingolfin looked taken aback. “I really don’t think it should be counted as one,” he said, but he looked relieved too, so perhaps it had been the right thing to say, after all.

That evening, when they were waiting for the feast to begin, Hador went up to Maedhros son of Fëanor where he was standing alone near the fire. “I am Hador, Lord of Dor-lómin,” he said, and it felt very odd to be introducing himself that way. “I had heard some things said about you that I should not have listened to. I understand that we are allies, and I apologise for my misunderstanding.”  He held out a hand, careful to offer the left one so that Maedhros could take it without awkwardness if he wished. 

Maedhros, looking surprised, took his hand. “I am pleased to meet you, Hador of Dor-lómin,” he said and smiled wryly. “I shall not ask, for I must have carefully not overheard all of it at least three times over by now, but it’s good to hear you have decided to ignore it too. I saw you in the fencing competition. You’re very good. Unlucky to lose your last match, I thought.”

Usually on formal occasions, and particularly on those rare occasions when both Fingon and Fingolfin were in Mithrim, Hador was able to get away with being simply Hador of the King’s Guard, and sitting with the other guards at one of the lesser tables down the hall.

But this time, he was Lord of Dor-lómin, and Lalwen had told him firmly that he must sit with the royal family. It was not that he minded eating with the king; he often did that. But being the only Man surrounded by lords and ladies of the Noldor, with the light of the Trees in their eyes and able to hear a whisper from the other end of the table, was something of a strain even when two of them were not the sons of Fëanor. Still, that was one reason why Fingolfin had given him Dor-lómin. It was easier for Men to be among their own, at least some of the time.

But Maedhros was clearly making an effort to be pleasant, Maglor turned out to have a good store of jokes, and Fingon seemed unusually relaxed. Finrod was determinedly teasing Lalwen about her judgement against him in the competition of the singers. Fingolfin was smiling and swapping stories about absurd things orcs had done with Círdan, and Hador had a few of those to contribute himself. Because Círdan was there, everyone spoke only in Sindarin, which was a relief, as Hador still found Quenya easier to read than to use in conversation. The wine was flowing generously too, although Hador had learned by painful experience that it was wisest to water his wine well when drinking with Elves, and he drank only cautiously. He was the only one who did.

By the end of the evening, Lalwen was leaning on her brother, with her hair coming down across her shoulders, and giggling at Cirdan, Fingon was laughing and playing some terrifying knife game with Maedhros that seemed likely to leave them with even fewer fingers between them, and Maglor was swaying slightly and demanding that Hador and Finrod should teach him songs he did not already know.

“But I’ve already taught you all the songs that the house of Bëor taught me!” Finrod protested after a while, laughing. “And you know all the songs from Valinor already. Hador, help! Surely you must have songs of your house that he doesn’t know already?”

Hador blinked. “I think you’ve already sung most of them,” he said. “The house of Bëor mostly have the same songs we do. Oh, well, except that...”

“Yes?” Maglor said eagerly.

“Well, the house of Bëor are a bit more traditional, I think. They like the original version of the words, you know? But what we do sometimes is make up verses as we go along, about people who are there, so that everyone gets a verse, you see? And of course if there is someone you don’t like very much, who isn’t there...”

“You make up a verse about them too?” Maglor said, laughing. “An insult-song! I love it. Sing one!”

Hador gulped. But the wine was warm in his stomach, and after all Maglor had already won the competition of the singers, and nobody would expect Hador to be able to compete. “They’re only very simple songs, usually,” he explained. “So it’s easy to come up with rhymes. ”

By way of demonstration, he sang a few verses in his own dialect about Men safely dead and unlikely to be offended.

Maglor shook his head, eyes narrowed. “I can’t make the dialect out,” he admitted, slurring his words a little. “What was that last bit?”

“I’ll try and sing it in Sindarin,” Hador said, feeling cheerfully confident, if a little muzzy-headed. “But the chorus isn’t important, it’s just la-la-la to make up the rhyme and give you time to think up the next rude bit.”

Fingon caught the dagger in midair and looked over at them. “This song has a rude bit?” he said.

And that was how Hador ended up leading a chorus of the High King of the Noldor, his eldest son and his sister Lalwen, two sons of Fëanor and the king of Nargothrond, not to mention Círdan singing bass, in a succession of verses which began innocently enough with:

Oh, what were they doing,
And where were they going?
Hador and Hundor
Their noses need blowing.

...before diving into the most ridiculous insults each of them could possibly make up about themselves, interspersed with many repeats of a ridiculous nonsense chorus that made sense neither in Sindarin nor in Hador’s dialect, but which Maglor pronounced, with tears of hilarity running down his nose, to be “rhythmically interesting.”

It was, in the end, Hador decided, a good evening. 

- - - - -

426 years since the rising of the Sun
In the golden hall of Dor-lómin, under wooden beams finely carved and painted with illustrations of stories out of Valinor, and with the legends of Men, Fingolfin, King of the Noldor sat in the place of honour, dressed in fine blue linen stitched with gold, and wearing rose-cut sapphires in his long dark hair.

By his side sat Hador the Goldenhaired, Lord of Dor-lómin; enormously proud of his new hall and his new fief, and visibly a little nervous about this visit from his king, for all that they had been friends for years.

Fingolfin looked into his elaborately-carved horn cup with suspicion. “Hador. What is this stuff?”

Hador grinned at his lord. “It’s a new idea. We’ve started to make it from apples. It’s hard to grow grapes in Hithlum. It’s too cold for them, I’m told.”

“It doesn’t smell like apples.” Fingolfin said doubtfully. “And it’s brown.”

“I will order up some wine from Arvernien instead,” Hador said, crestfallen.

“No!” Fingolfin said. He saw that Hador had taken him more seriously than he had meant. “Let me try it!” It was so easy to forget that Hador was not yet forty years old — almost a child, really, for all his golden beard and his three children.

Men often did not have quite the confidence that the Noldor brought to their creations, and Hador, who tried so very hard to be Elvish in all ways, was liable to be easily discouraged from innovation. Fingolfin sipped the drink, and blinked.

“That’s not bad at all!” he said, and meant it. It was a little rough, but palatable enough, and even if it had not been, it would have been worth it to see the delighted smile on Hador’s face.

“I hoped you’d like it! All from our own orchards, too. We have planted trees right along the south-west flank of the Mountains of Mithrim. The hills catch the sunlight, and keep the north winds at bay. You should see the orchards when the spring comes, and the apple-trees are all laden with white blossom and buzzing with bees!”

“Perhaps I should come back next year, in the spring, so you can show me,” Fingolfin said. “I would like to see it.”

Hador’s wife Gildis beamed at Fingolfin across the table. “I like it warm with a little honey,” she said. “Although it doesn’t have quite the same kick that way, of course.”

“It’s very good,” Fingolfin said, and took another sip. Hador joined him.

“I thought you’d prefer this, to our traditional drink,” Hador said, clearly feeling more confident now, and giving him a sideways look, with a smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “At least this is made from fruit. Even if it does end up looking a bit brown.”

“Do I want to know what the traditional drink of Men is?” Fingolfin enquired.

“It’s called osk. Made from fermented milk, in a leather bag. Easy to get hold of for a wandering people on the move, you see? They used to carry it with them on horseback, in the bag. It is a bit of an acquired taste.”

Fingolfin smiled. “It sounds more palatable than warm seal blood,” he said.

“Seal blood?” Gildis looked horrified. “You mean, actual, fresh...” She was staring at the High King of the Noldor as if she could not decide if he was joking.

“That was what we had to drink, when we were crossing the Helcaraxë,” he told her. “It is quite revolting, but if you are cold enough and thirsty enough, blood straight from the seal...”

Hador let out a horrified shout of laughter. “All right!” he said. “You win. That is worse than osk. And if I am honest, I would quite happily never drink osk again.”

“Nor I,” Gildis admitted. “My grandmother swore by it, but it is foul stuff.”

“And if I never have to drink seal blood again, it will be far too soon.” Fingolfin said. “We should have a toast. To the orchards of Dor-lómin! May they blossom in the sun and bring us many apples.”

 

- - - - -

 

455 years since the rising of the Sun
The rivers of fire ran out below them across the plain that had been green and fair, out from Angband, from which the Enemy had, at last, sent forth his armies of orcs, his trolls and wolves, his dragons and his Balrogs. Overhead the sky was black, and the air smelt sharp and caught at the throat.

Fingolfin turned from the battlement, his face grave. Except that he was armed for war, he still looked just as he had on that first day, when Hador had offered him his sword in the morning mists on the road to the lake of Mithrim: his face unlined, his grey eyes bright and his long hair dark and shining.

Hador did not look the same, of course. For many years, he had been taller than Fingolfin, and broader too, and now his hair which had been golden had turned white as snow. The great sword that Fingolfin had given him was bright with gems. So far, the strength of Hador’s hand to wield it was still enough, but his knuckles were starting to be gnarled and stiff.

“Now our trial comes,” Fingolfin said to him. “I had thought it would come sooner than this.”

“We shall win,” Hador said, reassuringly, since Fingolfin seemed uncharacteristically uncertain. “How can we not, with you leading us?”

Fingolfin grinned at him. “Such confidence! I hope you’re right. There do seem to be a great many Balrogs down there, all of a sudden.”

“Bah,” Hador said. “Balrogs! None of them ever had to drink osk. Or warm seal blood either.”

Fingolfin laughed. “As long as they do not drink yet worse things!” His face sobered. “Hador, have you thought that if either you or I should die in this attack, we will not see one another again? I must go to the halls of Mandos, to abide in regret for kinslaying and rebellion. And you...”

“I get to go beyond the world, so your nephew Finrod says, and he has made a study of it,” Hador said, making a face. “My Gildis has gone already. I hope I will be able to see her again. But I must go there before too much longer, anyway, you know. There’s no escape for Men.”

“No escape for any of us, it seems. I see darkness ahead, and little hope. It seems so short a time since I met you on the road to Mithrim. Far too short a time to be losing a friend forever.”

“Fifty years. To me it seems a lifetime,” Hador said. He smiled. It seemed absurd that he should be comforting his king, who was so much older, who had led his people across the ice, who had built cities and fortresses, and had always been so poised, so sure of everything. “A worthwhile lifetime though, full of golden light and joy, no matter what comes after. I have very few regrets. No matter what you must regret, in the halls of Mandos, don’t regret our years of peace.”

Fingolfin looked at Hador, utterly serious. “I wanted to tell you that I will remember it. Until our final end comes, the breaking of the world. I will remember you.”

“And I’ll remember you, too, wherever it is that we end up. Outside the world, outside time. I can't say my memory is the equal of yours, but perhaps being outside time will help it along.” He hesitated. “And when the world breaks at last, and the end of the Elves comes, I’ll come looking for you, I promise. You will still be my king.”

“I will not be a king for much longer,” Fingolfin said ruefully, looking out at darkness and fire. “But I will still be your friend.”

“That, too. I won’t leave you behind, when the world ends. Look out for me!”

“I will,” Fingolfin said, picking up his helm. “I will! Come. They are bringing up our horses to the gates. It’s time to go.”