The most dangerous kind of pain is the one you care for.
"I think it is insane." Celegorm voices his opinion.
He stares at the endless lines of trees and it is a surprise that he manages to hate the sight more than the burned, barren land behind him. Himlad used to be beautiful, but after the dragons came even grass has trouble growing back. Together with an unnaturally hot summer, he had ordered Curufin to take their people and move South. Deep into the flatland, where they can live off roots, small animals and the wild herds passing through. They should be fine. Alive at least, happiness isn't required where survival is concerned.
"We do not have another choice. There's no one but us," Caranthir says. His look is dark, promising death and pain. More than usual, since the last months are getting to him, leaving his thick black hair free to move in the wind.
A few weeks of travel always turn him into a ragged, worn and mean looking bastard. It has been a while since Celegorm saw his brother cleaned up and dressed nicely. Once he may have been proud of the subtle work he could achieve with a needle, but that required time to spare and idle hands, conditions neither of them has seen in a long time. Celegorm is grateful that Caranthir traded fine silk for leather and armour to work on. It keeps them safe and he contributes that quiet dedication to the fact that Maglor is still with them today. Hurt, healing and mourning the losses he suffered in Dagor Bragollach, but alive nonetheless.
"Oh, there are certainly enough people in our family to replace us in this mad task, it's just we are the only sane choice." Celegorm's low growl. Despite the bitter truth in his statement, the comment still draws a grin from Caranthir.
The banner of their family flows in the wind behind them, held by a guard. It is a grey day, the sun refuses to rise and the clouds are hanging low, bringing rain and misery with them. The weather weighs heavy on the mood, and those who can afford it are wise to remain inside where they can lift their spirits with candlelight and hot tea. Hunger and fear for their own safety are the only reason why anyone would give up hard won comfort.
Such luxury is beyond them. Constant vigilance and careful paranoia are the reasons why Morgoth didn't drown them in never-ending death a year ago, when the Black Enemy opened the gates of his fortress and poured out seas of Orcs. Their defences barely held, but after weeks of fighting, straining against the coming waves of twisted creatures with blades so brittle and cheap that their danger lay in the illnesses they carried, Morgoth's armies went as quickly as they had appeared. Vanished North into a fog so thick not even Maglor's sharp mind could penetrate it.
Celegorm shifts in his saddle. He resists the urge to dismount. They are here to send a message to the Marchwardens. Despite the invitations they received two months ago, history and common sense advises them to be cautious. On their long way here, riding through the ruins of a land that Celegorm once ruled with Curufin, they decided to heed Maglor's words and not ride straight into Doriath.
“While Melian's girdle does not begin with the treeline, it makes sense to wait from a sheer strategic point of view. They do not know the forest and never had much opportunity to fight in one.” Caranthir listened to Celegorm and waited for the Marchwardens to react.
"Let us see if any of the fancy words have been true," Celegorm murmurs. He keeps his anger in check, knowing that Caranthir will remind him otherwise.
Clamping down his emotions, forcing himself to think rationally he studies the horizon. Their small company is just out of shooting range, regardless of the famed bowmen of the Sindar. Not even they can manage to let an error fly this far. Not even with the aid of magic. Hence the reason why Celegorm spots movement between the trees just a few hundred yards to their left.
"I do not like them either, brother, but if Elwë Singollo's word is true that he wishes to discuss the war, then it is our duty to accept his invitation," Caranthir says, speaking quietly to ensure the approaching group doesn't catch his words on the wind. "We cannot afford not to, given our desperate need in allies, no matter if that makes us the only Noldor in a realm full of Sindar."
To say that Mablung is suspicious of their strange guests is an understatement. None of the parties pretend that there is a necessity beyond the barest form of communication.
The warriors the Sons of Fëanor brought with them keep to themselves. They rarely speak and do not act beyond moving through the forest with an eye for possible threats. They are not quiet, but they are not as loud and noisy as Mablung feared they would be. They have experience in travelling far distances, yet there is little that he can read of their clothing. The Golodhrim all wear heavy cloaks that protect them from the rain and hide their armour. Mablung marvels that this feat is possible at all, for unlike their own leather harness the Fëanorian's wear metal. How they can move at all is beyond him, though it explains the size of their horses.
"Have you noticed that they are all taller than us?" Mablung murmurs in Beleg's direction. "The smallest of their riders is still half a head taller than us."
They make camp for the night, offering the Fëanorian company an opportunity to rest. Protected by the forest around them, the location allows distance and privacy. Mablung forces himself to relax the grip on his bow. It grates on him that the Fëanorian delegation outnumbers them two to one, but he does his best not to let it show. He will not be the hothead that cannot keep his mouth shut during a single uncomfortable assignment. He has orders from his King and his Queen, that is all he needs.
Yet Beleg is far too at ease with the situation for his taste.
"I imagine it comes from living under the open sky," Beleg muses. Instead of looking up, he keeps his gaze on the rope knots he is tying.
His golden hair flows down his shoulders, hiding his face from view, and Mablung cannot help but compare how different his friend appears next to the Golodhrim at the other side of the clearing. Beleg is so quiet he cannot see him breathe. He is a warrior capable of utter stillness and over time he has managed to work a hidden meaning into everything he does, says or wears. The way he ties his braids tells Mablung a lot more about his friend's opinions than a three-hour song.
In comparison the Fëanorians appear rough and unwashed. Although the latter part is not exactly their fault. Mablung is old enough to know how the dirt of the road clings to everything as soon as you step out of your door.
He hates how travel gear makes it difficult to read their guests, on top of their unmoving faces. He expected more excitement, more frantic demands considering the situation they are facing. The expectation that the Noldor will barge in as if they own the forest falls short.
"Is there a reason why you sound as if you ate rocks for breakfast?" Mablung wants to know.
He's been friends with Beleg Cúthlation for a long time and yet it is almost impossible to understand him if he slips into that old accent.
Beleg draws a deep breath, only tilts his head until he can look at Mablung out of the corner of his eyes.
"Lord Celegorm speaks the language of many animals," he says and nods at the pale-haired Golodh. He's the only one of the group that could pass as a Sinda, but a closer look at his features destroys that possibility. Yet it would be interesting to know where he got that hair colour, especially since the tales paint the Sons of Fire in black and red.
“An affair, maybe? Children out of wedlock are not uncommon outside their borders, and the Golodhrim are rumoured to be a passionate folk.”
"I trust your judgement on that one." Mablung can identify a thousand different plants blindfolded, but he doesn't possess the same skill in talking to animals Beleg does.
"So far I have seen him conversing with birds, mice and his horse. I am confident that is not the extent of his skills."
The younger Marchwarden hears the honest curiosity in Beleg's voice and that disturbs him more than the length of the swords the Golodhrim are carrying. Aside from Beleg, the Queen, her daughter, and a select few he's not sure if there's anyone else with that skill. To find it in a Kinslayer is unsettling.
"He is also the only one who does not make a single sound when he walks over fallen leaves," Mablung notes, “for that is worth taking note of.” It took him a while to discern what threw him off about Celegorm, but the lack of sound is a mastery he did not expect from a Fëanorian. “For he moves as if he's one of the forest people, which is a surprise given how the Golodhrim are known for building lifeless castles of stone.”
Beleg's voice drops to a whisper. "There are rumours that Oromë found worthy students among those who travelled over the sea."
"You learned it from him as well, didn't you?" Mablung asks. He should not have to, he knows the legends.
A tiny nod is the answer. "During the Great Journey."
Then Beleg falls silent again. He gives no indication how he feels about Oromë teaching that highly praised skill to someone else as well. Jealousy has always been beneath Beleg. He mentioned once that envy is a useless emotion and therefore should be entirely discarded.
Mablung agrees that coveting another person's possession is a waste of time. Here in Doriath exist enough opportunities to achieve rank, fame and riches, but he cannot let go of the resentment growing in his heart.
Leaning back against a tree, Mablung is glad that the Fëanorians will no longer be his problem the day after tomorrow.
The next days pass by without any incidents, but the tension is so thick Celegorm wishes there had been. Instead he grinds his teeth and remains as calm as possible as they approach Menegroth. The watchers in the trees do not bother hiding their presence anymore, they have gained an escort ever since they passed the border. Celegorm orders his men not to react as they approach the girdle, best to let the Sindar think they did not take note of the heavy magic surrounding them. He is not sure if all his warriors can read the signs, but Caranthir's frown deepens as enter the realm of Melian.
In the corners of his eyes the leaves rustle a little and Celegorm raises an eyebrow as they seem to slightly change their colour. They turn into a shade of deep green, while the trees a bit further back already bear the red tone of the approaching autumn. The afternoon sun seems to break through the canopy as well, lighting up a free and even path straight in front of them.
"Not much of a defence if you ask me," Caranthir comments. Out of experience Celegorm can say that his brother is watching for different signs, but in the end they both can map out the basic pattern Melian uses for the girdle.
They will not learn everything by passing through once, but together with the Bard in their midst who is replacing the injured Maglor, they will be able to gather enough information of value.
"We almost walked a straight path. It took us barely three days to reach their city, how stupid is that? Had this been my forest to defend, I would lead us in circles for weeks," Celegorm responds, sticking to Quenya since it's an advantage that the Elves in this realm never bothered to learn the language. Yet the volume is quiet enough to let their conversation pass as a murmur in the wind.
On any other day he would have liked to provoke Elwë's people by reminding them of the ban their King put in place, but he promised to put on his good behaviour. As much as he likes to play the loud distraction, until they know more about the situation he will be the Prince of Tirion, once fourth in line for the crown, and not the reckless flirt he's known for in Himlad.
"We already knew that Doriath is not as big as its borders try to make us believe," Caranthir says, bringing up the decade where Celegorm and the Ambarussa circled the forest, counting the miles and the weeks it took to go around. "Thanks to Curvo we even measured how long it takes for the river to reach the Falls of Sirion."
Celegorm chuckles and for a moment he basks in the memory of how they tried to figure out how to smuggle drift bottles through Doriath. It was centuries ago, a way to familiarise themselves with the new land, and back then Findaráto had been still playful enough to go along with the idea, using his plans to build Nargothrond as reason to subject Doriath to some strange experiments. Angaráto even suggested they shove his brothers into a barrel and wait for them on the other side. Yet the relations with Doriath had soured already; they scrapped the idea no matter how much appeal it had.
‘Now they are gone,’ Celegorm thinks and his fists curl around the reins of his horse. ‘Dorthonion is overrun, growing darker each passing month and we do not have the strength to reclaim it.’
It's difficult to tell if Angrod's and Aegnor's realms still have life in them. From what little news they received, Fingon is busy defending Hithlum, Orodreth thinks about emptying Minas Tirith and retreating to Nargothrond, while Maedhros does everything in order not to lose Himring. For now the March is still their own, but with each week their army grows more and more weary.
At least his and Curvo's people are safe. Not like Caranthir who has to worry that the families under his protection will have to give up their city in order to make way for Belegost and Amon Ereb.
Stars, he hopes it never becomes necessary, yet Celegorm knows that the twins are preparing for the arrival of thousands of refugees - just in case. Since East Beleriand is a great plain, nothing but a flat indefensible country, it would be a harsh blow for their troops and their morales if Morgoth pushes his armies this far South.
"I wonder if Elwë is aware that he will be the first line of defence, if things get that bad?" Caranthir asks, proving that he's capable of reading his brother's thoughts just by the expression on his face.
Celegorm's stomach twists into an ugly knot. Menegroth's gates are in front of them. Soon they will be welcomed with stiff politeness and his brother will have to pretend he didn't just lose his two best friends a few months ago. Losses which could have been avoided, had Elwë bothered to look beyond his own borders. Despite the heavy magic in the air, Celegorm can't help but compare the gates to his mother's garden wicket. Pretty and ranked with beautiful flowers, but ultimately no defence for seven sons causing a ruckus each waking moment.
‘If Menegroth comes under attack this thorny fence isn't going to protect them very long,’ he thinks and is glad that Maedhros is safe behind thick walls of stone and an impenetrable defence.
Menegroth is beautiful, Caranthir can admit that.
Water runs over the stone, forms a natural path through the forest, and over the centuries the Sindar have built bridges over it. From stone, out of wood, or by simply strategically placing stones to walk across. Plants and flowers frame pillars and otherwise naked stone walls. Nothing looks out of place. Caranthir is reminded of the garden Indis kept in Tirion. For his taste, it is too obvious that hands and voices shaped the environment over the years. It is as if they are walking through a painting. He spots open windows with curtains fluttering in the wind, a chandelier hanging from the trees and delicate chairs on patios. Everything looks perfect - and a bit too artificial.
There are no fallen leaves covering the pathway, no wilted flowers or silk torn because it got tangled with the branches.
Caranthir thought he had seen perfection before. With his work he dedicates himself to a high level of thoroughness and yet there's a difference between flawless and whatever the Sindar here are practising.
"It has to be nice to live each day in never-ending bliss," Celegorm growls beneath his breath. Caranthir is glad that his brother manages to hold back and hide his sour expression, but he gets what he is trying to say.
Of course they are being watched, yet Menegroth is filled with less curious people than he anticipated. There are a few people, here and there, yet Caranthir misses the masses pouring into the streets to witness the most spectacular event since Artanis walked up to the King of Doriath and announced her marriage with Celeborn. Instead Menegroth almost seems empty, but the few Elves they meet don't seem to be bothered by their presence at all. No one interrupts their task, beyond greeting Beleg with a polite nod.
In fact, Caranthir has yet to see anyone doing any kind of labour at all.
No one is sweeping the stairs to brush fallen leaves away. No one is cleaning, cooking or simply bustling through the streets, trying to get their work done.
Compared to Beleriand, their life in Aman had been peaceful, but Caranthir cannot remember it even being this quiet and serene. Father may have been the oldest Prince of the House of Finwë, but even he left stains on the counter when he cooked. He came to dinner with messy hair and with dirt beneath his fingernails. They ate cooked carrots for breakfast and Mother was bound to raise her voice after a few minutes, often in order to remind Tyelko not to play with his food. Or at least get him to sit down long enough to eat it.
There have been Elves born and raised in Beleriand who accuse the Noldor of not knowing true hardships, and maybe they are right. But Caranthir wants to believe that they never were this bad, living in a performance of perfection where every step and every word is choreographed.
Suddenly, he is glad that he has Celegorm at his side and not Maglor. Cáno would know the mechanics of such politics too well, he could immerse himself into this play with a single breath. Yet Caranthir doubts it would be good for him. Cáno can get mean and nasty when people annoy him too much. With Tyelko he can trust that his brother will rub people wrong and still get out in one piece, when the dust has settled.
"I agree with you, brother. Considering the battles we fought in the last year alone this scenery is a mockery to all free people beyond Doriath’s borders," Caranthir says.
For a moment he had forgotten the blood and the dirt he waded through in the past weeks. How many friends and allies he buried, how much he fought to keep at least one alive. How he prayed in the lonely and desperate hours that Makalaurë would pull through and survive the next night. With each messenger bird he spotted on the horizon, he feared for the dreaded news that his brother had left the world. Just like so many others, who lost their lives in the War against Morgoth.
"I take it that Menegroth is not to your liking?" Beleg asks, who acts as their guide. The other Marchwarden turns around to return to the border and he looks relieved at leaving the unwelcome guests in the hands of another.
Caranthir understands how Mablung must feel and he can hardly fault him for doing his duty.
"I don't think I could live here," is all Caranthir says in the end.
No matter how beautiful Menegroth is, Caranthir feels out of place, and it's not just because he got used to a different life-style since coming to Beleriand. In his youth they went on a lot of journeys with their father. Fëanor always claimed it was easier to handle his band of ever growing boys by getting out of the house and giving them something to do. Whenever they visited Tirion and lived in the palace with Finwë, it became apparent how much space Fëanor's sons truly needed to roam or else they would take it apart and redecorate it in a matter of a single week.
"I believe you." Beleg's answer sounds honest and as far as Caranthir can judge him, he's not taking offence.
Not a surprise, given how he moves and dresses like a calmer version of Celegorm. But that might just be Caranthir's desperate hope that they can trust at least one person inside this damned forest.
Beleg stays with them and Celegorm is damned grateful for that. The deeper they go into the forest, the higher are the chances that they may never return. The notion may be far fetched, but the brothers discussed the possibility on their way here. One reason why the choice fell to Moryo and him is because they possess the greatest resistance when it comes to the dangers of falling under a spell. In his own case, Celegorm spent too much time with Vána and Oromë. He recognizes the patterns at the very least and is very accustomed to how things are supposed to feel. Or smell, it's ridiculous how often Bards and other Spell Workers forget the sense of smell when they work their illusions. One reason why the subject bores him. Art and Music just don’t compare to reality. Nothing can capture the true beauty of nature.
Moryo on the other hand is just a stubborn bastard who learned the mind arts from Maglor as child. Nothing fazes him, though Celegorm suspects that is due to Caranthir being the strange middle child.
"I wonder if these people know what harm they have done to their forest," Celegorm says and runs his fingers over the wood of an ancient tree. Magic has seeped into it, has softened its true voice until it is nothing but a faint whisper.”
“It says a lot that the Sindar managed to build the bath around the existing tree and yet managed to secure the structure. Logic says roots and branches should have broken through the tiles a long time ago, rendering the bath unusable, but songs and magic ensure that this doesn't happen.”
"They don't see it harming the forest. They shape the trees from the moment they plant the seed, nothing is left to chance." A voice interrupts his thoughts. Celegorm's lifts his head and sees Beleg standing in the door. The Elf continues and it sounds like an apology, "You are not the first visitor to find Menegroth disturbing."
"What about you?" Celegorm asks as he pulls his tunic over his head. After weeks of travel he's glad for the opportunity to take a bath and a lifetime of living with noisy brothers killed any sense of shame he might have once possessed. He climbs into the water without giving Beleg another glance, but all his senses tell him that the Sindar's eyes haven't left him even once. "You seem to be the type who enjoys the open forests far more than this kind of environment."
Celegorm groans a little when he sinks into the bath. It's been a while since he had the time and the opportunity to take one. It's a wonder to his aching muscles.
A deep rumble leaves his throat when a hand touches his neck, moves his hair out of the way and rubs slow circles on his skin.
"You are the first to notice that I don't call Doriath my home," Beleg says quietly and starts to work on the knots in Celegorm's hair.
It is a part a question, part an observation. Beleg's fingers comb through the hair, which is more grey than silver now that he has the opportunity to study it up close. Yet it is not the colour that has caused him to watch the Fëanorian closer than he should in the last days.
"I recognize a kindred spirit when I see one." Celegorm smirks and angles his head back to catch Beleg's surprised expression. "You and I may have been born ages apart, raised under different circumstances and chosen a profession that is not necessarily our hearts desire, but we live for our family and those we have sworn to protect."
"This is the point where I should mention that this is not a wise idea." Beleg breathes softly as Celegorm turns around and arches his back until they are face to face. But he cannot hide the desire reflecting in his eyes. It does not happen often that an individual interests him this much.
"Oh, of course, but no one has ever accused me of having bright ideas." Celegorm chuckles and Beleg can feel the warm breath on his skin. A moment later lips trail over his neck, kissing and biting their way up to Beleg's mouth. Testing. Exploring.
Rough hands settle on his hips and Beleg is pleased to find firm muscles beneath his own. This is the body of a warrior. There's nothing soft and meltable about the Fëanorian. Just like he prefers it, and though this might just invite trouble further down the road, he refuses to mourn opportunities not taken when they are so easily presented to him. With a sigh, Beleg wraps his legs around Celegorm's waist and lets himself be pulled into the water.
Caranthir is not surprised when Celegorm joins him a few hours later. He has seen the passing glances between his brother and the ancient hunter and he is well aware of Tyelko's taste in partners. Shuffling around in his bed, he turns until he can get a good view of Celegorm. Since he did not bother to tie his tunic, his naked chest reveals bite and scratch marks, shining bright red even in the half-light of their shared room.
They got odd looks at their request to not being separated, the servant regarding Caranthir with a sneer as he said the only available rooms with two beds are those reserved for married couples. Perhaps Elwë will take it as an insult if he cannot provide one chamber with ridiculous decorations for each single traveller, but in the last years Caranthir has spent his nights sleeping on a bedroll with a group of warriors surrounding him. The lack of a person breathing right next to him makes him uncomfortable.
It does not take a lot of imagination to understand that Celegorm feels the same. There is a reason why he chose to return to his brother's side for the night instead of taking some well-deserved time to relax.
"Please do not get us in trouble," Caranthir says, when Celegorm climbs into the bed next to him. He is lying on his back, hands folded under his head and he stares at the ceiling, but within minutes his breathing matches his brother's. It is easy, comfortable and far from the first time that they have shared a bed.
No one in their family has the habit of sticking to their own rooms. It all started with Maitimo climbing into his parent’s bed when he was young. By the time Caranthir was born, they barely fit into it together anymore, but that did not keep the brothers from seeking out each other regularly.
"I will try not to," Celegorm murmurs, curled up against Caranthir's side.
The afternoon sun is shining through the window, painting the opposite wall a beautiful orange. Shadows of a thousand different kind of leaves dance over the ground, but they look too much like hands reaching out to them and Caranthir has difficulties falling asleep. Despite the exhaustion seeping into his bones, he knows that it will take hours until he can find rest.
Perhaps it is unnecessary to warn Celegorm. Centuries of war have proven that he can look after himself, but they did not survive this long by being careless. It is their duty to watch out for their siblings. It is a silent oath they swore long before Morgoth was released back into this world, long before Fëanáro looked at Laurelin and Telperion with consideration and an idea in his mind. They all know each other's habits and weaknesses. Single-minded determination is Neylo's, wrath and holding a grudge until it is dust in the wind is Makalaurë's.
They all possess one. They are not perfect. They are not like the Arafinwëans with their quiet evening meals and the mindful conversations over a shared breakfast, where everyone appears with their hair already done and braided for the day. Where cutlery is not an assembly of six different sets, because Arafinwë's children are not the type who keep stealing knives for their own nefarious purposes. Of course, at this point, Curvo would argue that the House of Fëanáro possesses an entirely different quality when it comes to kitchen knives and that Arafinwë's finest set is not even worth looking at, but that's not the point.
Caranthir sighs and glances to his right. Celegorm's breathing has evened out, but he's not asleep yet. He is only resting.
Unlikely that he can find pleasant dreams in such a strange forest. Yet perhaps his recent activities have served their purpose, have worn Celegorm out enough in order to fall into dreamless slumber.
"Please do not get him into trouble either." Caranthir runs his fingers through his hair and counts the knots in it. It will be impossible to get them all out before tomorrow, but he does not mind his rough appearance. If he finds time for it, he will find a pair of scissors and be done with it. But only if Celegorm finds time to use it for something. No one is wasting precious resources in such times, even if it is just hair.
"Do not worry. It will not happen again," Celegorm murmurs into his pillow, but the denim does not quite swallow the disappointment in his voice.
Caranthir reaches out to curl one arm around his brother. Attraction is Celegorm's weakness. He loves people, gets excited over them like a child allowed a honey cake and mourns each time they slip out of his life. No one has yet managed to stay. Irissë held out the longest and she too broke Tyelko's heart in the end. It will be no different this time around.
War is ugly and depressing.
There is nothing exciting about it.
The meeting with Elwë goes ... better than anticipated. Afterwards Caranthir has to pinch himself in order to make sure of he's awake. Yet Celegorm's incredulous look tells him that the King of the Sindar has just shown more sense in a single hour than he did in the last four centuries. Caranthir wonders if he can attribute it to the fact that Melian is too busy to join them. The famous Lúthien is also nowhere to be seen. It is a great temptation to ask her whereabouts, but Elwë appears to be in an agreeable mood, so Caranthir swallows the burning curiosity.
"You must wonder why I have invited you," Elwë finally speaks up. So far they focused on eating dinner and exchanging the necessary pleasantries.
It appears that he wished to wait until a servant brought hot steaming tea and left with the empty plates before moving on to more difficult subjects.
"Since you did not explain yourself in your letters, we had no choice but to agree."
Celegorm's answer is half a growl, he has not hidden his animosity but Caranthir is familiar with how insulting his brother can truly get.
Compared to some situations at court in Tirion, the conversation between the Elven King and the Noldo Prince has been downright polite and friendly. Unless they counted the subtle jabs at how bad the situation was in the Fëanorian Army, but Caranthir thinks that Elwë deserves that much and it is not as if Tyelko is lying.
"I must admit I was content in ignoring what went on beyond my forest. It has been centuries since I last rode past my borders," the Sindar King admits. Since he has been focusing his conversation on Celegorm, Caranthir is allowed to observe Elwë. They never met before and so far Caranthir has only seen him in his grandmother's weaving and in his grandfather's memories.
Despite the quality of his garments and the beauty of his crown, Caranthir can tell how tired Thingol is just by looking him in the eyes. It is true exhaustion and not a few weeks of busy nights that kept Elwë awake and desperate enough to invite his sworn enemies into his home.
It does not sit well with Caranthir. He cannot find evidence of the arrogant and remarkable King he has been told so much about.
"You had reason to avoid us," Caranthir admits, but hopes they do not have to speak about Olwë tonight.
Alqualondë is a sore subject among the Noldor as well and despite Thingol's lack of action against Morgoth, Caranthir can understand why he refuses to aid those who killed his brother's kin. He doubts he would have acted any differently, had their situations been reversed. With the slight difference that Caranthir would not have left any of his brothers behind or moved beyond the sea without them, but that is a choice Elwë has to live with on his own.
"I know, and a part of me will never move past the anger and the grief I carry in my heart," Thingol answers with a sigh, but his voice lacks the animosity Caranthir rightfully expected. "But the truth is that I have not seen any of the horrors you brave warriors face each day. It was easy for me to judge a situation I was not personally involved with and had you asked me last year, I would have told you that no true blooded Noldor would ever be welcome in my Halls."
"What changed?" Celegorm wants to know. He is leaning back in his chair, looking far more comfortable than Caranthir felt.
Perhaps it is the fact he met Beleg again this morning, while Caranthir chose to explore the palace as far as the fretting servants let him. Fact is, his brother managed to make himself look like one of Oromë's hunters while Caranthir embodies the mean, doomed Kinslayer from the North. It is deliberate, an act they have brushed up on and practiced many times before. Often with the Avari Clans further south, but with the Khazad in Belegost and Nogrod as well, and it always works. The Silvans gravitate towards Celegorm and the Dwarves towards Caranthir, while Ambarussa is the perfect middle ground and Curvo the person they send when they need to rob the other party blind.
It is a good thing that Curufin is not here right now, for he would have missed Thingol's deep sigh and how the King seems to fold into himself like a card house.
Three times the King of the Sindar opens his mouth, before the words finally form themselves into a barely audible sentence.
"Despite my best attempts to shield my people from the world outside, we still noticed how the shadow grew as Morgoth opened the Gates of Angband. We could not fail to notice, even in our isolation."
While he is good at keeping his face disinterested that remark breaks through his practiced indifference. Caranthir bites down on his lips and his fingernails dig into his skin, hard enough to draw blood in order to prevent himself from shouting at Thingol how could he let his brother's grandchildren die? Even if he refuses to aid them, because of the blood on their hands, Aegnor and Angrod had no part in this.
They deserved better and that thought is clearly written on Celegorm's face as well.
Before either of them can destroy the work of hours with a few ill chosen words, Thingol proves that he is not as insensitive as he seems because he quickly adds, "Refugees reached our borders. Elves and Men alike. They were fleeing south and their desperation was greater than my wife's will to keep them out."
"Where are they now? Are they safe?" Caranthir demands to know. He doesn't ask if they are still here, in Doriath. That would be too much to hope for.
Yet, giving aid to desperate travellers is more than Thingol allowed his Marchwardens in the past.
"I offered to let them stay, but those who were able to pressed on to Nargothrond. My wife and Prince Celeborn are accompanying them, while Lady Galadriel acts as their guide," Thingol explains. "I sent a Lord Galathon to Minas Tirith, Lord Orodreth deserves to know what happened to the rest of his family."
Celegorm's fingernails scratch over the table as he reaches for the tea. His voice is hollow as he speaks, "He will be pleased to hear that his parents did not fall into the hands of the Enemy."
Thingol's horrified expression says a lot about the sheltered life the Sindar experience in Doriath. Caranthir envies them. They still believe the worst that can happen to one is death.
"I had hoped for better news," Thingol mumbles before he draws himself up to full height. It is impressive and in a more peaceful world Caranthir would harass his older brother until he stood back to back against the Sindar, just to find out who is taller. "Yet that is not all of what I have to tell you. As necessary as this meeting is, the previous content of our conversation could have been put into a letter. What I will show you next, is of a far more sensitive nature and I could not risk the information to falling into the wrong hands. Please follow me."
Elu Thingol tells them the truth on the way to the most private part of the palace. “It's a remote area, where Melian can lay down her physical body and wander through the forest unhindered and without fearing to scare the inhabitants. Apparently her elvish body is just as fragile as their own and every once in a while she needs a different kind of rest, needs to remind herself where she comes from unless she wishes to risk losing herself.”
Celegorm relays his own experiences, finally confirming to the Sindar that he did learn from Oromë himself.
Caranthir trails behind them as his brother and their grandfather's best friend bond over stories of the past and the similar experiences they shared regarding the Vala. Thingol weaves tales about how afraid they were as friends kept vanishing, how long it took for Oromë to convince the Eldar that he meant no harm.
But instead of moving on to ask Celegorm about his opinion, Elwë sticks to describing the shadows that haunted them. How darkness had spread through the world and how not even Angband compares to the fear he experienced back then. For Angband is a place of unspeakable horror indeed, but still something with a known location. One had a choice to fight against it or run away as far as one’s feet would carry them.
Arda at the time of the great journey was a place, where nothing was certain and no one was safe.
The way Elwë spoke, made Caranthir reconsider what must have driven his grandfather to follow the Valar in the first place. After having fought wars, lost good and many people to the darkness, he can imagine how desperate Finwë might have been.
Yet, to abandon his best friend? His shield brother to an unknown fate?
With a frown Caranthir considers what conditions could lead him to ride to safety, while one of his brothers remains behind, still in danger and possibly never coming back.
When they reach a lonely lake with a simple cabin near the shore, Thingol stops in his tracks.
He pulls his grey cloak around him and says without looking at either of the Fëanorians, "I admit that I struggled with the knowledge that Finwë and Olwë left me behind on these shores, knowing that we will never see each again. After enough time of consideration, I could also understand the need that drove them to make the decision."
Looking up and meeting Caranthir's gaze first and then Celegorm's, Thingol finally appears like a person for once and not like a King on an eternal painting.
"You know my reasons why I rejected any alliances until now." The remaining steps to the cabin fills their boots with mud. The ground is wet from the fog that crawls over the ground and Caranthir tears his eyes away, because he hates the memory of how death lurks within the water. Thingol's voice sounds far away, small and defeated as he says, "The truth is that I would have treated Finwë not much differently than you, had he come with you. I am and I was very angry at him, regardless of the war you are fighting. I apologize for not realizing that sooner."
Climbing up the steps seems to be an inner struggle for Thingol, the closer they get to the door the more his face shows feelings of guilt. Call Caranthir resentful, but it is good to see that there is a person beneath a thousand years of tradition and propriety.
"What changed your mind?" Celegorm asks. He is almost gentle with Thingol. Often enough Caranthir only hears his brother use the tone on frightened animals and not on ancient rulers in an entranced kingdom, forgotten by the world outside.
Elwë's finger digs into the door frame as he stands on the patio. It could be a very beautiful place, but since there is no magic at work here the surroundings are a mix of bone-chilling cold and wetness that seeps into one’s clothes.
Finwë's closest friend turns around and pushes the door open. He gestures for Caranthir and Celegorm to step inside.
He says, "For all my proclamations of ruling Beleriand long before you came, I was not prepared for how the lands truly look, outside of the girdle. Months ago an eagle came, flying over the forests and landing directly in the front yard. It carried your uncle, gravely injured and dying."
Caranthir goes still. He is barely listening to Elwë anymore as he dares to take a look into the darkened cabin. In the corner to the left he sees a huge bed with a figure inside. The room does not give a sense of harbouring someone alive, too foremost is the sense of death and the smell of a dying soul. With his heart beating against his chest, Caranthir slips inside the cabin, right through the open door.
Outside, Elu Thingol looks at Celegorm, not surprised that one of his guests immediately ventures towards their fallen and injured King.
"My wife and my daughter have done everything to heal your King, but I cannot say if their work will be enough," Thingol explains.
The concern in Celegorm's face is obvious and that fact alone makes evident how serious the situation is outside Doriath' borders. Though the Noldor tried to hide it, Thingol has received enough news and information about the newcomers in the beginning to understand the deep rift between Nolofinwë's family and the Sons of Fëanor. To be honest, Thingol had not expected for them to show up at all. With the war and the unknown situation outside he did not know if his messenger delivered his letter. He got no reply from Prince Fingon, for instance. It seemed dubious Lord Maedhros would make the effort and risk the safety of his family for a questionable mission in the name of diplomacy.
"Before he rode out to challenge Morgoth, our uncle crowned Prince Fingon to be the new High King. He did not expect to come back."
Nor did he expect to win, and Celegorm hates to reveal this much about their uncle's possible state of mind. Yet it is likely that they already knew, given how long Nolofinwë has been in their care already. Prepared for any kind of answer, Celegorm dares to ask, "Can you tell me the extent of his injuries?"
There is a joke about Lúthien among the Noldor. Ever since the Sindar who met her described her as the most beautiful Elleth in Arda, the Noldor made a sport out of it to imagine what she could look like. It started with the colour of her hair, the question why a Sindar Princess should have black hair instead of silver white like her father's. Over the years the descriptions turned more and more ridiculous, especially since Lúthien never left Doriath and none of the bored soldiers around the campfire thought that would ever change.
Yet Caranthir only notices how tired the woman looks that sits at his uncle's bedside. She sighs and pushes her hair out of her face, when she notices him entering.
"Please forgive me if I do not get up to greet you. I am too tired to follow protocol," she says.
In the half light of the room, her skin looks too pale to be healthy and her hair had been put into a bun, but a few strands fell down her neck anyway, looking as if Luthien just could not be bothered to keep up appearances right now.
"Remain where you are. I assume that it is only thanks to you and your excellent work that High King Nolofinwë is alive at all." Caranthir greets Lúthien with the words of one hard-working soul to another.
Despite his beliefs and his reservations, he can acknowledge the exhaustion in Luúthien's face. Given the empty plates and cups on a nearby table, he guesses that she does not leave his uncle's side very often. The pillow and the crumpled blanket on a sofa at the other end of the cabin speaks of her sleeping here as well.
"How is he?" Caranthir carefully sits down on the bed, studying Fingolfin's face. His eyes are closed and his chest is barely moving. Only the frown on his face indicates that he is alive at all.
His own chest is tight and Caranthir allows himself to reach for the bandaged hand. It is a relief to feel a soft but steady pulse beneath his fingers. Lúthien does not seem to notice that Caranthir refuses to let the hand go again.
For a while Lúthien says nothing and she is probably weighing how much she can tell the strange Noldor. Thingol will have told her of the invitation he sent out, but it would surprise Caranthir if the King of the Sindar allowed his daughter to gather too much information about kin he despises so much. It has the advantage that he does not have to hide how devastating the sight of proud Nolofinwë brought low truly is.
"It could be worse. The eagle brought him to us with swift speed and while we had to put all our strength into keeping his fëa from Mandos’ Halls, King Fingolfin is strong. His will to live is still there, though it is struggling against the extent of his injuries." Lúthien does not look very beautiful as she massages her temples. She gets up to pour herself a glass of water, before she continues, "Morgoth Bauglir broke a lot of bones. According to the eagle, he stepped on him after King Fingolfin wounded his enemy seven times. He cut off a foot as well."
A foot. Was a single foot worth the whole endeavour? Caranthir wants to scoff, but he stops because no one else came as close at injuring Morgoth. Not even his own father, since Morgoth threw every Balrog he had at him when Fëanor approached Angband in his fury. Sometimes he tells himself that Morgoth was afraid, yet he always brushed it aside as wishful thinking. Yet when he sees Fingolfin now, struggling with each breath and holding onto his life with sheer defiance he dares to wonder.
"I will leave you alone with him for a while," Lúthien says as she gets up. Caranthir does not care if his mind is not as shielded as it should be, especially in a foreign and possible hostile realm or if she just wishes to be polite.
What matters is that Lúthien leaves and a few moments later Caranthir is alone with Fingolfin.
Lúthien stops her father when he takes sight of her. He has retreated with another Elf to the shore of the lake where they are talking in a quiet voice. It takes her a moment to realise that the grey-haired warrior is not one of their own. The clothing, the features and the leather armour he is wearing should make it obvious, but Lúthien admits she is tired.
"Please stay where you are," she tells her father, who has the right to look worried. Lúthien cannot remember the last time she slept in her own bed, but with King Fingolfin's kin nearby it should be enough to anchor his spirit. "I will not join you in your discussion. As long as one of them is always with our patient, he should be fine."
"You are right, Lady. Nolofinwë is stubborn. If he has survived until now, he will not simply fade away," the Noldor nods. "Please rest, you look as if you are in dire need of it. We have brought healers and a competent bard with us. They will take a look at our King soon. While I am sure you have done everything you can, it is impossible to refuse them that right."
"Please, I am not offended," Lúthien waves the implications aside that the Noldor are more advanced than the Sindar. "Our people have a different way of doing things and it is you, who will have to take care of King Fingolfin's injuries in the foreseeable future."
"My daughter, I have already told Lord Celegorm about the state we found his King in." Thingol joined the discussion.
If Celegorm feels surprise about meeting the famous Lúthien, daughter of Melian, then he hides it well.
With a grave expression, Elu Thingol continues, "I have also given my word that his King can stay as long as needed."
"No matter if his state does not declare him fit for travel, Nolofinwë will wish to return to his people." Celegorm shakes his head, knowing how stubborn his uncle can be. "Unless you wish for him to rule his realms from Doriath."
"He may not have a choice." Lúthien's eyes meet his face and a silent conversation passes between them. "I have kept him in a healing sleep, but he will wake up any moment. The worst has passed, yet it is too early to tell what kind of long term effects his battle is going to have. The Black Breath alone will ensure that he will have difficulties in returning his health to its previous state."
Celegorm lets out a heartfelt groan and Lúthien hides a sympathetic wince. She had gleaned a few impressions of Nolofinwë's mind and therefore she is aware how complicated the relationships among the Noldor are. In the end, she leaves her father and the Fëanorian to discuss politics while she heads off to bed. A sigh shudders through her when she crawls beneath the soft covers. Her world had changed within a year and she has seen a lot in King Nolofinwë's mind that she would rather forget. Not just the fight against the Black Vala, but also the long gruelling years in a cold, hopeless country that offered few allies and little joy.
Doriath is not devoid of people. Despite Thingol's best attempts to let his visitors have some peace, the rumour mill is busy by the time he breaks off his conversation with Lord Celegorm. After the great eagle had dropped off the Noldorin King, he had been too busy determining what change the rescue would bring. By the time he finally realized that he would have to open up his borders, Thingol had no idea what to make of the situation.
What he could be grateful for is that Maedhros was apparently sensible enough not to send the most important people of his court. People like himself or Maglor, who is his heir. With them there would have been the awkward situation of having to address two former High Kings of the Noldor - on top of the one who had abdicated before riding to his death in order not to leave his people leaderless.
Celegorm and Caranthir, on the other hand, he could address as Lords of distant realms.
"It is a surprise how likeable they are, isn't it?"
Beleg steps out of the shadows and Thingol is not surprised to find him here. The old warrior is rarely seen when he does not wish it to happen and of course he would keep an eye on their guests. Without a doubt he saw and heard every single word his King had exchanged with the Sons of Fëanor today.
"I do not know what to make of them. I expected them to be different," Thingol admits. It had been strange, looking into the faces of Finwë Noldóran and Míriel Þerindë and yet observing a very contrasting behaviour. From their language to their mannerisms, very little had reminded Thingol of the friends who forsook him.
"They are willing to fight. They have seen the worst of the worst," Beleg says, almost as if he is picking up Thingol's thoughts. His old loyal friend who chose to stay behind rather than finishing the journey without him further points out, "Lord Nolofinwë built his fortress east and not west of Ered Wethrin, not far from the spot where his brother died bravely fighting all Balrogs the Black Enemy could muster on short notice. He rises with Angband in sight every morning. From what I have gathered the Sons of Fëanor show similar traits."
"What are you trying to tell me?" Thingol wants to know. He reaches out and his fingers brush over polished wood.
Without Melian at his side Doriath feels empty. His wife has a magnetic pull and it worries him that he suffers from her absence to such degree. He had not been happy to see her leave, yet she is the greatest protection he could offer the scared refugees that occupied his halls for so long. When they had arrived, it shocked him that they carried little beyond the clothes on their backs. Weapons and food, yes. Horses they had saved, but little else. There had been no time, and it humbled him how grateful they had been for the simple fact that the inhospitable Sindar King would not chase them out of his realm.
'We do not wish to die. Not to be hunted down, beaten, and sold into slavery is all we require from you,' one of them had said, confused about Thingol's apology that they would not have enough beds ready for everyone on such a short notice. 'We will make do with what we have.'
"We have been ignoring the war outside of our borders long enough." Beleg is old enough to remember the time where Thingol was not a King yet. Such terms did not exist back then and therefore he accepts the sharp, condescending tone in his voice.
The warrior does not say anything further as he vanishes into the woodwork again, disappearing between leaves and sun beams. But Beleg knows he does not have to, he has said all that he thought his King needed to hear.
Betrayal is the only truth that sticks.
Fingolfin is not used to dreams involving clarity anymore. Since the ice, the images are washed out, broken in half and mashed together. They do not make much sense, usually, unless he thinks very hard about what they could mean. Yet right now it is different and aside from the situation itself being a memory, Fingolfin does not know what it means that his recent dreams involve such accurate details.
Given that he appears to be falling backwards, tumbling over a cliff with the ground coming nearer with each breath, images of the past should be the less frightening option.
"Of the many members your House has, they had to send you?"
Fingolfin remembers that day. His voice is cold and cutting. His dream-self barely glances up from his letters and ignores the person standing in his doorway. The reaction is not a surprise, but in hindsight it leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. It's his own fault. He cannot claim that particular excuse often, he has been fighting wars of unfortunate circumstances all his life, but this confrontation is entirely his own doing.
He had not an eye for it that day, but in his dream Fingolfin notices how tired Caranthir looks.
It is not very obvious, yet his dream provides him with the opportunity to study the Fëanorian detached from the facade his dream-self is putting up.
Strange, to watch himself and Caranthir like an outsider. A punishment, most likely. For now Fingolfin has to witness how his nephew's shoulders straighten, how he swallows the bile instead of spitting at his uncle's feet.
"Unfortunately, Maitimo is not able to make the journey himself, he is busy with building Himring and he thought you would be more grateful to see me instead of Makalaurë or Curvo," Caranthir says, and now in retrospect Fingolfin chastises himself for not treating the Fëanorian with the respect he deserved.
He pushed him aside, allowed Caranthir to slip back into the role of the dutiful brother and son, upholding the image of an unapproachable prince. A loyal son, through and through.
Fingolfin watches Caranthir and his dream-self argue. Their tone is civil, but their body language is stiff, the sentences short and Caranthir leans against the counter the entire time. For the entire stay he does not come within arms reach of Fingolfin, and back then he thought it appropriate.
For Nolofinwë was the High King of the Noldor now. Caranthir better remember that.
Yet ... it had been the last time Caranthir made the journey to Hithlum in person. After the brief visit that involved the barest necessities, the proud, stubborn Fëanorian stayed in his city at Lake Hevron. Despite being the one person who worked with Nolofinwë the best, Maedhros still sent Maglor or Celegorm from that point on and rather settled for a less than perfect deal rather than hurt his little brother by forcing him down this road again.
Sad how it took him a while to catch up. Decades passed before Fingolfin realized that Caranthir stayed away and by the time he regretted not paying attention earlier, it was too late to apologize.
Fingolfin knows all about pride of his brother's family and not for the first time he curses how well they can hide their pain behind it.
This is just one of the many thoughts Fingolfin is plagued with as he is bound to bed rest, in a kingdom not his own and without a single friendly face in sight.
He wakes with a pained groan. It is not the first time he is greeted by these surroundings, but his mind feels too fuzzy to make out the difference. As usual his gaze is dragged towards the window on his left, his only reference for time, date and the weather. Fingolfin relaxes when he spots the same trees, he has studied in great detail before. He has had trouble believing that all of this is real before, yet he lets himself be convinced that Morgoth would not go through the trouble of keeping him trapped in a fantasy without surrounding him with his family.
"Hngh." His throat makes an odd sound when he tries to speak and only then Fingolfin notices how dry his mouth is.
"Drink slowly," a male voice orders, and then Fingolfin feels a strong hand lifting his neck. Water pours down is throat and it is so good that Fingolfin even forgets that he needs help just to sit up.
"Thanks," he murmurs and keeps his eyes closed as the other person stuffs pillows under his back. He's still exhausted, but he can tell that he has slept long enough. Pain throbs through his body and as much as he wants to escape it, the slow process of his head getting clearer with every moment is worth it.
"I'd yell at you for being so stupid, but given your state I figure that has to wait until you can walk out of here on your own feet," the Elf says.
It takes a few moments to register that the sentence has been spoken in Quenya.
Fingolfin's eyes snap open.
He is aware that he ended up in Doriath, somehow. In the past weeks he finally managed to stay awake long enough to remember who has been treating him. Yet the conversation they held, often about him and just out of earshot, always sounded wrong. It lacked the familiarity, the warmth and complex structures of his own tongue.
"What are you doing here?" Fingolfin rasps as he turns his head.
Caranthir is sitting on a chair, leaning back as if he’s just dropped by for a social visit. Yet the frown on his forehead and the arms crossed upon his chest combined with the thin line of his mouth produces a far different image. Fingolfin can sense sadness and gloom radiating from the Fëanorian. He is dressed in travel gear, sans the armour, but his sword is leaning against the wall and his tension in general speaks of how Caranthir is ready to jump to his feet and defend him. Or attack. The Fëanorian probably has not decided yet. U
"That's all you have to say?" Caranthir growls. His expression is thunderous, his displeasure written openly across his features. Fingolfin swallows thickly as he realizes that he does not know if this is Caranthir's usual expression or if this is just for him. "After all the stupid things you did, you dare to question my presence at your side?"
"I ... I didn't mean it that way." Fingolfin is unsure what to say.
The logical conclusion is that Thingol has allowed the Sons of Fëanor into his realm and the situation outside Doriath must be dire if Caranthir actually made the journey. Fingolfin wonders how Maedhros convinced his brother to go. Caranthir refused any invitation Fingolfin issued in the last two hundred years and he honestly had not believed he would ever see him again, except from the distance on a battlefield.
"I could ask what were you thinking," Caranthir hisses. He leans forwards, looks as if a wrong word could set him off.
Yet after months trapped in this bed, plagued by dark dreams and a soft voice that dragged him back towards the surface time and time again, his nephew's anger is refreshing. It is real, at least.
Not bothering to go easy on his wounded King, Caranthir continues, "Have you any idea what we went through in the last year? Cáno nearly died defending the Gap, Curvo fled south with his and Tyelko's people. My own live in constant fear of having to do the same. Dorthonion is overrun, all of Arafinwë's sons except Finrod are dead."
Fingolfin lets out a shuddering breath and closes his eyes in grief. He suspected as much. Seeing Dorthonion burn from the distance was what finally drove him over the edge. Unfortunately he cannot remember these days very well, for they are overshadowed by Morgoth's presence.
"I was prepared to die, that is true." Fingolfin's whisper is accompanied by wind blowing through the trees. "But I had no actual intention to abandon you."
The wounds on his chest hurt and Fingolfin cannot say if he actually means all his people or just Caranthir. The last thought is ridiculous, his nephew would object loud and with instance if he knew. He would not believe any claim that Fingolfin cares, not with the history and the harsh words between them. Three hundred years of silence and short letters reduced to their barest bones cannot be brushed aside easily.
"There will be songs about you. Tales about the great Fingolfin challenging the Black Foe, but there will be people out there that will remember that you were just trying to run."
Caranthir's sneer hurts. There is little that Fingolfin could say to break through such a thick defence, but he will admit that is not only his fault. Time and circumstances conspired against them. Though a neutral observer would come to the conclusion that nothing ever actually happened that could warrant the hostility.
'It is not as if we had an affair and sneaked around like secret lovers,' Fingolfin thinks.
They could have been. If Fingolfin had thrown is moral convictions into the wind and answered the longing in his heart. Yet he had not been willing to cheat on his wife. That Carnistir understood, and encouraged his uncle to be honest. Proposed a trial to figure out if the underlying feelings were a passing fancy or something with substance. This had only made him respect the younger Elf more than he already did.
To think that this, all of this, had started with a few easy and comfortable conversations, two souls who discovered a similar mind with shared interest and opinions.
Fingolfin lets his eyes travel over Caranthir's body. He never dared to dream about what might have happened. Yet he is unable to deny that the Fëanorian is just as attractive as he was when he still dressed as Prince of Tirion. The Lord of Lake Hevron is handsome and strong, though not beautiful in the traditional sense. Decades fighting against Orcs washed away the easy and outgoing attitude Fingolfin remembers.
'I have the right to stake a claim on you,' Fingolfin thinks, knowing that this is perhaps the only opportunity to mourn lost chances. Soon enough he will be needed and the war will swallow his time, leaving no room to ponder the past or the distant future.
"I know that I let you down." Fingolfin's confession does not make clear once again if he means Caranthir specifically.
The truth is, the Fëanorian stands for a lot of missed chances, moments where he should have grown past silly pride and old feuds. He was ... is the High King of the Noldor and there has to be a reason why Morgoth was able to overrun their defences so easily.
"Stop apologizing. That will not help us win this war," Caranthir growls and shoves the mass of his hair out of his face. Fingolfin is sure a wash, a comb and a haircut would make a different person out of him, but it is not the time for such fantasies. "Instead you can make yourself useful and craft an alliance with Elwë. It was a surprise how amendable he is once you truly get to talk to him."
A grin spreads across Caranthir's face and Fingolfin’s heart stops at the sight. "I cannot give all the credit to Tyelko's charm."
In order to distract himself from the Fëanorian's teasing and confident expression, Fingolfin groans and rubs his temples.
"Please don't tell me that your brother is flirting with Elu Thingol," he says. "I am not recovered enough to deal with these kind of consequences nor will the images help me to find sleep."
Caranthir lets out a short laugh. "Not with Thingol, no. But there is one the Marchwardens he is making eyes at. I am half convinced to leave Celegorm here and let him work out an alliance between our armed forces and Thingol's reawakened sense of duty."
Then the Fëanorian rises to get his King something to eat and Fingolfin is glad he does not have to hide his shattered hope. For a moment he allows himself to be dismayed. The time where he and Caranthir could have been lovers is long past. His own behaviour after reaching Beleriand, blaming all of them for taking the ships and following their father, ensured that the mistrust went both ways. Despite Maedhros’ best efforts, they never established the trust they needed, and with Angrod and Aegnor dead it's questionable if they will ever return to the easy truce they’d worked so hard for.
Yet he hoped, foolish as it sounded, that spending time with Caranthir could make them friends at least. Caranthir’s was is the unbiased opinion Fingolfin longed for the last two centuries. After Turgon vanished into the mountains, Fingon made a great effort not to disagree with his father. It had been a long time ever since Fingon had voiced a word of personal opinion on an important matter. Aside from discussing strategies his son had turned into the High King's constant shadow.
"How long will you remain?" Fingolfin manages to ask. He silences the voice that screams, 'Please stay.’ He might be the High King of the Noldor, but he has no right to force his company on Caranthir of all people.
The Fëanorian shrugs. "I will ask Celegorm to lend me the Palantír. Maedhros will decide once we consult with Thingol. I do not wish to leave until I will have Sindar archers at my side. With their aid, we might manage to reclaim Dorthonion before it is too late."
After that Fingolfin does not get an opportunity to answer, let alone object. The Healers, and a Bard his nephews brought with him, descend upon his bedside and Fingolfin spends the rest of the day being prodded. At the end of the day they look as unhappy as he feels.
His body is damaged and the fight will have long lasting consequences.
"Just because you are not in excruciating pain, it does not mean you are fine," one of them growls. The Elf looks as if he is ready to tie Fingolfin to the bed if he has to.
They do not say it, but the healers firmly establish that Fingolfin will never ride into battle again.
Between the confusion, the army of healers, and people interested in his health in general Fingolfin only catches Caranthir's retreating back.
It takes a while until Caranthir and Celegorm are alone again. With Fingolfin returning to the land of the living, many of the Sindar cannot keep their curiosity contained anymore. It is difficult to tell if they are only after gossip or if their interest in the war beyond their borders is honest, but neither of the Fëanorians miss the opportunity to spread the word. About the state of their realm, about the Black Breath blowing south, and how Ard-galen has become uninhabitable.
"Is it wrong that we are recruiting hapless innocents into a war they have no true idea of?" Caranthir asks one evening.
It troubles him how sheltered some of the Sindar appear to be. Despite Thingol's best efforts to close his borders to outsiders, Melian's girdle cannot be so thick that the Sindar missed how many of their own kin had fallen into the Shadow.
"We do not have a choice," Celegorm says. He looks determined and unlike Caranthir who has decided to get some sleep, his brother is changing into a clean tunic.
It is definitely not his own and Caranthir wonders where it came from. He hates to ask and thanks to the slight grin on Celegorm's lips, he can imagine the origin of the gift.
"I know," Caranthir growls. "Besides I have seen their skills with the bow. Between that and the ruthless determination I know they are capable of, they would make invaluable allies. The rest we can simply train."
"It feels wrong to hope again. Yet the alternative is almost worse." Celegorm sits down in front of Caranthir, who braids his brother's hair without being asked. He should say something about the quiet affair that has sparked between Tyelko and Beleg, yet he cannot begrudge him his happiness.
The Marchwarden has a sense of caution that Tyelko always lacked. They make a good pair, from what Caranthir has seen. Beleg seems honestly interested in Celegorm. He values his opinion, seeks out his company and does not bother to hide his fascination when he thinks they are alone.
"Do you think this is going to end well?" Caranthir asks as Celegorm rises to head out.
The tone in his voice makes clear that he is not asking about the alliance or Thingol.
Tyelko turns his head and studies him for a long time.
"I would rather not end up like you," his brother says and steps through the door before Caranthir can process the meaning of the words.
It is the only acknowledgement of long forgotten feelings towards Nolofinwë he has ever gotten from Celegorm. Yet it is no surprise that his brother knows of it. That he realized how much he struggled with seeing their fallen King today.
Keeping secrets in a family of seven siblings is simply impossible.
‘But you can always count on their silence,’ he thinks.
In the end he does not jump to his feet to find an outlet for his anger. Instead he slumps back into the sheets. Maybe Tyelko was right, but he has no intentions of going back in there and talk to Fingolfin. These times are long over. He has seen the regret in Nolofinwë's face, yet he is glad he had not been forced to give an answer to the unspoken question. Too many problems waited within, twisting good intentions into a vicious circle, and aside from the awful timing, his far younger self had to develop the beginnings of what could have been romantic feelings. He simply never knew what to say to make it right.
Does his lack of actions to mend their friendship not say enough? Once he settled near Lake Hevron Fingolfin’s existence had been reduced to a small dot on a map. The High King was too far away to affect his personal life. He had never considered Fingolfin worth the trouble of crossing the entire continent again.
Maybe even before that. For he once went to his father, lost and confused about his feelings, knowing Fëanor would disapprove and that a confession would be the end of any possible relationship. They ended up being exiled to Formenos shortly after. Fingolfin never made the connection and perhaps this is what hurt the most, for he forgot Caranthir when he had his brother’s attention.
Nolofinwë was, is, and always will be obsessed by gaining Fëanáro’s approval, and Caranthir’s own personality is not irresistible enough to draw him away.
Stars, with enough time to reflect upon it, Caranthir cannot even blame his father for throwing a wrench between them. Fëanor had only wanted to protect his son, to put distance between a grown Elf and an enamoured youth. It eased his own pain at least, for it meant that he had never been forced to choose between his family and a lover who would have never left his wife.
Beating down a last whisper of sorrow, Caranthir murmurs to himself, "I will not obsess over unlikely catastrophes."
The King of the Noldor was alive and currently attempting to secure Thingol as their permanent ally. There is no reason to worry about if he will be forced to spend more time with him. For the world had moved on and neither grief nor anguish nor denial will help him cope. He is familiar enough with this practice by now.
For losing yourself is never about control. It’s about perspective. He swears not to lose sight of what he came to do when he rides out of this city. Caranthir rests and rises a few hours later, eyes set on the hope Maedhros has placed in him.
If he cannot have peace, he will have victory.