At the great feast after Dagor Bragollach, held upon the great plain that had been called Ard-Galen, and now was blackened - temporarily - and bare, there were a number of interesting dishes served beneath the great Fëanorian lamps raised on high pillars between the tables.
The most exotic food served was roast dragon. Truth to tell, Finrod admitted to himself, it was somewhat tough and rather sharp in flavour, despite all that the best cooks of Doriath, Hithlum, Gondolin and the March of Maedhros could do to it, but everyone was eating it, from Fingolfin to young Huor, only ten years old and very wide-eyed and excited to have been allowed to come to the feast.
It tasted of victory.
Maedhros was lounging across the table from Finrod, his handless arm around a grinning Fingon, and all three Silmarils shining bright around his neck, hanging from a simple leather thong.
Thingol, sitting beside the delightful Lady Melian, frowned across at Maedhros.
“Are you planning to wear those things all the time? They’re horribly over-bright,” he grumbled. Finrod sighed inwardly. Even in the moment of triumph!
Maedhros sat up and laughed. “I have no wish to dazzle my allies, or the eyes of my respected elders that are more used to starlight.” he said with a brilliant grin that almost outshone even the gems. “Hey! Curvo!” he called down the table to his brother, who was sitting between Aredhel and Thingol’s daughter Lúthien. “Your turn!” He pulled the gems from his neck and flung them along the table.
They very nearly landed in a large tureen of soup, but fortunately Lúthien flung out a hand to catch them before they could fall in, and laughing, handed the three gems to Curufin, who broke into a grin and pulled the thong proudly over his head.
Fingon poked Maedhros reprovingly in the ribs. “After all the trouble we went to to get those back, you chuck them around as if they were apples?”
“I do,” Maedhros said cheerfully. “Because I can. They’re hardly going to break. My father made them!”
“Did he really.” Fingon said and rolled his eyes.
“Also,” Maedhros said, with a ferocious smile, “If I throw them, HE can see me making sport with them.” He waved a hand north to the cage that Curufin had designed, and he, Celebrimbor, Melian and Telchar of Nogrod had made together. It was very beautiful, worked with complex golden runes, with a stark elegance to its curving form, and very, very strong. Inside it was a huddled darkness.
The mightiest of the Ainur could not be slain, but, it turned out, he could be confined, and not only in the halls of Mandos.
“Hm,” Fingon said thoughtfully. “A good point. Maybe I’ll suggest Maglor should juggle with them, later.”
“Have you decided what you’re going to do with him?” Maedhros called across to Fingolfin, sitting crowned at the centre of the table next to Thingol. There had been a certain amount of grumbling before it had been agreed that the King of Doriath and the High King of the Noldor should both have the place of honour. The High King’s sister was by his side, still wearing her Dwarf-made gold-embossed armour and giving Thingol occasional suspicious looks.
Fingolfin grinned at Maedhros. “I thought of sending our Enemy back to Valinor, with a note to Námo. ‘Don’t lose him again, love from the Elves of Middle-earth,’ or something along those lines. He’s their kinsman. He should be their problem, not ours.”
“Can we trust them to keep him?” Thingol said, frowning darkly. “If they’d kept him safely last time, we would never have had all this trouble. And what if the ship gets wrecked on the way across the Sea?”
“Good points,” Fingolfin said very politely. “But keeping him confined in Middle-earth would also be a risk. We were lucky this time. The Valar do have the power to hold him.”
“Do they though?” Thingol said, raising his chin proudly. “I’d feel safer if he were within the walls of Menegroth where I can keep an eye on him.”
Maedhros, from the cover of Fingon’s hair, rolled his eyes and sent an apologetic look towards his uncle, as the debate began.
Finrod looked down the table and saw Lúthien was now talking animatedly to Hiril of the House of Haleth. Hiril’s eyes were sparkling, and she was twirling her hair around one finger as she looked at Lúthien.
Finrod could see the signs there quite clearly. Although in the past he had been doubtful that romances between the Edain and the Eldar were an entirely good idea, after all, the war was won and peace was the time for joy, and for weddings. For that matter, he was fairly sure he was shortly going to acquire a rather elderly mortal sister-in-law, and seeing the sheer delight on Andreth’s wrinkled face reflected in Aegnor’s adoring eyes, he was certainly not going to object to that.
But Thingol was almost certainly going to find a mountain of things to grumble about in a mortal daughter-in-law. It might be as well to offer the ladies a suite of rooms in Nargothrond, should they feel the need to get away.
“What are you going to do, Finrod, now that peace is here?” Melian enquired brightly. Finrod suspected that she had noticed the arrant flirting going on further down the table and was making conversation to distract from it. Not a bad idea, come to think of it.
“Oh, I thought I’d do some exploring,” he said, matching the brightness with his own. “Have a bit of a wander around the Taur-im-Duinath. Maybe go south along the coast, or East, to the lands where Men were born. There’s so much to see and do! I almost don’t know where to start. And I’m planning to write some books. Maglor and I have talked for years about collaborating on poetry. How about you?”
“Oh,” she said. “I was thinking that we might have another baby.” She leant, tall and strong, over Thingols shoulder, wrapping long dark arms about his neck and running them down his chest, so that he abruptly stopped talking to Fingolfin and looked up to meet her eyes, like clear deep pools in starlight, with a sudden intake of breath as if nothing else in the world mattered at all. “What do you think, my sweet?” she asked. “Another child for the new peace?”
Three years later, somewhere in the great green forest of the Taur-im-Duinath, where long skeins of pale grey lichens trailed between the mighty rough-skinned oak trees and pale lace-winged moths flitted over emerald-green mossy hummocks, Finrod admitted to himself that he was somewhat lost.
He had left his horse grazing in a clearing in order to scale the great granite boulders that led down towards what he hoped would be a spring, and somehow, clambering among the rocks and peering with interest into the crevices between them, each one home to a minutely different tiny world of mosses delicate brightly coloured mushrooms and flowers, he had climbed back up to a spot that was not, after all the place that he had started.
The sun had almost set, and Finrod did not fancy climbing back across the sharp-edged granite boulders in the faint afterlight that filtered through the forest canopy. It would be better to wait for the morning than to risk a broken ankle climbing in the darkness. He had a little food and a flask in his bag, and his horse would probably be well enough until the morning. Best wait for more light.
Under the great broad trunk of an oak tree, he found a place where the leaf-litter was soft and sat down to rest for the night. An unfamiliar plant was growing around the oak: a creeper of some kind with long spiralling tendrils and soft dark red five-pointed leaves with a slight fuzz to the surface that seemed to gather what was left of the fading light. The leaves looked temptingly soft, and he ran a finger across them, to find them as velvety as they appeared.
He lay back on the ground, looking up at the few stars now starting to be visible through the crown of the trees, and resting one arm on the stem of the plant to idly stroke the velvet leaves. After a while, he noticed that one of the tendrils had coiled gently half around his wrist and up around the base of his thumb. The tendril was softly furry, and he stroked it with a finger.
“You are a delightfully friendly plant,” he told it, taking a swig from his flask. “How very charming, to come all this way and meet you! I’m glad I climbed up this way after all, even if it wasn’t entirely my intention to come visiting.”
He half-closed his eyes and let himself drift off into dream.
The dreams were sweet. He walked again through Alqualondë, safe and undamaged, with his mother and his uncles, hearing the song of the sea. He walked through Valimar under the domes of gold, speaking with Amárië of the songs of sea and wind and river.
Then after a while he moved the dream to Beleriand, to walk among Men again for the first time, to see his friend Balan again for the first time, when he was hale and strong and his beard was only just starting to be threaded with the first grey hairs. He sat with Balan under the oak tree in Estolad, playing the harp as he often had done in that first year.
The dream shifted oddly, without his willing it, and he found he had put the harp down, and somehow, Balan was on top of him, holding Finrod’s wrists above his head in his broad warm hands, sitting astride him, his firm heavy body holding Finrod pinned as he had never once done in life. This was not a memory-dream any more, but it was full of joy. Perhaps it had been sent to him with some purpose.
“Balan, what...?” he asked, half-laughing, and Balan leant down and kissed him on the mouth, kissed him passionately, mouth to mouth, as neither he nor Amárië had ever done.
Balan had kissed Finrod three times. Once, chastely, on the cheek in the early years of their friendship, and twice, as his vassal, on the back of the hand.
Balan had never kissed him like this . Balan’s tongue was pushing warm and wet into his mouth. Balan’s beard was harsh against his chin. Finrod’s mouth fell open in surprise and Balan’s tongue pushed past his teeth and began to play with Finrod’s tongue.
Balan’s clothes had gone away... somewhere. He sat up for a moment, apparently to catch his breath, and Finrod’s fascinated eyes ran down his body: the smile on his face, the hair on his strong chest, the rounding of his stomach, the jutting red beneath it... oh!
This dream was certainly not of his making. It would be entirely wrong for the King of Nargothrond to behave in such a way with a mortal sworn to his service, most of all in time of war.
The war was over. Morgoth was fallen and the Silmarils regained.
Surely Balan had never thought...
This was a dream. Men had wild fabulously uncontrolled dreams all the time...
Sadly, Finrod was not a Man. There was something odd about this.
He pushed the dream away with something of a pang, and opened his eyes, to find that the red velvety plant had sent out new tendrils; around his wrists, around his thighs, even into his mouth, a fat wide tendril like a tongue...
He spat the tendril out, shrugged off the plant and stood up.
“What is this all about, my friend?” he asked the plant sternly. It made, of course, no answer, but there was something about the way that its long tendrils slumped and its leaves drooped in the starlight that looked terribly sad and disappointed.
The war was over.
Peace was a time for joy after all; for regaining a little of what had been lost. Here was one of Yavanna’s children, alone in the darkness of the great forest under the stars, and it had reached out and taken his hand.
He thought of Balan’s eyes as he had kissed Finrod’s cheek, that one time.
He ran his hand across the wide velvety stalk. “You tried to give me something that I had longed for, that I had never let myself imagine that I could ever have,” he said wonderingly. “You gave me back the friend I loved, for a little while, and let me go with him outside the confines of memory...”
He laid his cloak carefully on the ground next to the velvet leaves, and rather self-consciously, loosened his clothes. Then he closed his eyes, and let the dream come sweeping back over him.