“Gil-gilad is dead,” Finrod said, and sat down beside him on the garden bench, smoothing his silken skirts.
“What?” Fingon said, head jerking up; then, “How?”
Because that was the thing that mattered. He had learned bitterly that there could be worse news than death.
“Bravely,” Finrod said, “or so I have heard. Facing Sauron, and aiding in his defeat.”
Fingon closed his eyes.
It would be permissible to grieve this time, since Gil-galad had died well. Was this grief, this feeling that was as much mourning for the life Fingon had missed as the fact that that life had ended? He didn’t know. What he felt was emptiness, but that he had been feeling for a long time now.
“I’m sorry,” Finrod said.
“You’re apologising to me?”
“Well, I’m sorry for you,” Finrod said, “and for him. I’m sorry for myself as well.”
Fingon had presented the infant Gil-galad as his son and heir to his lords in Hithlum in a lost, drowned world more than an Age ago. For him, the plan had begun as a clever trick, a way of giving the Noldor the heir they needed which did not demand that he break a faith once sworn by the banks of Lake Hithlum, and he had never been certain how real it had been.
“Did you see him as a son?” he asked Finrod, because he had long wondered, and they had never spoken of it. “Did you love him?”
“He took his first breath in my arms,” Finrod said, rather bleakly.
There was little to say to that, so Fingon didn’t. He stared ahead, and Finrod stayed beside him, and they didn’t speak again, although they sat together a long time, not quite touching.
“He’s already being Returned?” Fingon said, a few hundred years later. “That’s – surprisingly quick. Less Doom, I suppose.”
“No Kinslaying,” Orodreth said. “I would imagine that makes a difference.”
There was an awkward silence.
There usually was an awkward silence with Orodreth. In Fingon’s presence it owed a certain something to the failure of Nargothrond to fight in the battle that had killed him – Fingon had never reproached him for it, and it wasn’t his job to reproach Orodreth for what had happened to Nargothrond after that, but Orodreth seemed to find it difficult to maintain eye contact with much of his extended family, and bristled with pre-emptive defences.
“Yes, I imagine it would,” he said, ignoring the barb. “He’s already been re-embodied?”
“Last month,” Orodreth said.
“I didn’t get a summons.”
“It seems the Valar are as confused about his parentage as you meant Círdan and the Enemy to be,” Orodreth said. There was a pause. “Well?”
“Your large adult son is in my guest-room,” Orodreth said, “offering considerable critique as a High King of the Noldor on how I handled the Túrin Turambar affair, and ruthlessly re-organising my entire household, and since I had to tell him I was not his father, his closeness with my daughter is beginning to disturb me. Please take him away.”
Fingon had had custody of baby Gil for perhaps a month before he sent him to the Havens, and while he had spent that month busy with Hithlum’s affairs, he had done so with Gil usually somewhere about his person; draped over his shoulder so he could watch birds through the windows and spit milk down the back of Fingon’s tunic, or tucked into the crook of his arm when he was at council meetings. He had been a very useful reminder to Fingon’s lords that, obedient to their will, he had produced an heir, and that therefore they ought to listen very closely to what Fingon wished now, and consider whether it was really proper of them to thwart his will in lesser matters when he had already bowed to them in such a greater one. Gil had preferred being swooped through the air to anything else, although the Hadorian wetnurse Fingon had appointed would make distressed sounds whenever Fingon did so.
That was about all Fingon knew of Gil. Of Ereinion Gil-galad, High King of the Noldor, he had heard a little more. Several of his knights who had survived the Tears had rallied to Gil-galad’s banner and died in his name in the last great war of the First Age, and they had only good to say of him. His uncle Finarfin had served with him in the War of Wrath, while Fingon was still dead – oh, what wouldn’t he have given, to have been alive in Beleriand then with great black dragons to smite, and hosts of golden Vanyar to fill the ranks of his ragged army? – and spoke of Gil-galad like a fond grandfather, which, in fact, he was, although it was entirely possible he didn’t know that.
Fingon always said little to news of Gil-galad, and no one pressed him. People didn’t press him very much. Everyone had been very careful with Fingon ever since he Returned, and there were lacunae where certain things were unmentionable in his presence, everyone carefully stepping around them. Some of those blanks were imagined. Others were real enough; raw gaping wounds he couldn’t bear to have touched. He was grateful for the concern, when he didn’t want to smash through the silences and speak of the unspeakable, shout about the suppressed names and deeds, about the things so horrifying they could not be true; but if anyone did dare to speak of them to him, he knew also that he would turn on them and rend them to pieces; or else himself.
He looked even more like Fingon’s grandfather Finwë as he had as a baby, which meant he was a classic Finwion prince with grey eyes, a very straight nose and high cheekbones. His long black hair he wore knotted tightly back on his scalp, in warrior braids which surely must be giving him a headache, and his shoulders were broad.
Also, he was taller than him.
“So,” said Ereinion Gil-galad, looking down at him, “it seems at least one of the tales that I have been told of my birth is true.”
“Well,” Fingon said, a little lost for words. It was terrifying to recognise his own strong, stubborn chin on someone else’s face, and more terrifying still to realise where the height had come from. “You’re not Orodreth’s son?”
“That, he told me himself,” Gil-gilad said, “although it was certainly the story told to me growing up in Círdan’s care! I would never have known to question it if all your lords had died at the Tears with you. You left your affairs in a bit of a state, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t mean to die,” Fingon said, stung.
“Hm,” Gil-galad said.
They stood staring at each other. Fingon felt absurdly conscious of how many people in Orodreth’s great hall were watching them: Orodreth and his gentle wife, Finduilas his daughter with her golden hair braided in a crown on her head and her gaze interested, and all the people of their household, a motley mix of Nargothrondrim and Sindar and old Finarfinwion retainers, pretending to be busy and yet somehow clotting around the great hearth to observe this meeting of High King and High King, father and son.
“It’s good to meet you,” Fingon said at last. “I had wondered.”
“I expect you might have,” Gil-galad said. “– I wondered, too.”
He jerked his too-familiar chin, and then, because all the watchers seemed to expect it, they embraced in an awkward coming-together that was half warrior hand-clasp and half bear-hug.
There were immediate protests made to the idea that, having ridden for days, Fingon meant to turn around and ride back immediately, with Gil-galad beside him. It didn’t seem polite to mention it had only taken so long because Orodreth’s mount was terrible. (Gil-galad, unexpectedly enthusiastic, said that he would be grateful of the exercise.)
“You’ll stay with us, of course,” said Orodreth’s wife.
“Oh no, really I couldn’t,” Fingon said.
“Really he couldn’t,” Orodreth said.
Orodreth’s wife said, “Oh – of course, you’ll want Gil-galad to meet your family! We’ve kept him very quiet here – if there’s one thing this household knows, it is how to care for the Returned from Mandos – but he’s shown such progress already in recovering himself!”
“Er,” Fingon said.
He didn’t know what he would say to his parents to explain Gil-galad’s existence, or to Turgon – though of course Turgon had known since the Tears that Gil-galad existed. They were all aware he existed, but it had been a subject little discussed while Fingon was being allotted the tactful courtesy owed to a grieving widower bereft of spouse and child – a useful fiction, if not wholly untrue.
That would no longer be the case.
“It’s not that I wouldn’t like to know more family,” Gil-galad said, perhaps picking up on his sentiments. “I’ve never had much. But I’d like to get to know my father a little first, and although you flatter me by speaking of my progress, my lady, truly, the thought of meeting great crowds alarms me.”
He gave her a flashing smile that belied all claims to shyness, and she laughed. Fingon had never seen Oodreth’s quiet wife laugh before.
Yes, yes,” Orodreth said testily. “I’ll mount you, Ereinion.”
“My thanks,” Gil-galad said, and something in his tone suggested that he had much the same opinion of Orodreth’s taste in horse-flesh that Fingon did.
Gil-galad said, “Where are we going?” and then, when Fingon had spoken a little of Amon Darthir, which was a nice, safe, topic, said abruptly, “I have no idea what to call you. High King? Atar? Ada?”
“– Fingon will do.”
“What did I call you before?”
“You were only a baby when I sent you to Círdan,” Fingon said. “Small. Not quite starting to crawl. You called me Tata; I think your nurse was trying to teach you to say Atar, and that was your best attempt.”
There was a moment where they both imagined tall imposing Gil-galad calling him Tata, and recoiled from it.
“Fingon, then. And what did I call my mother?”
“I would rather not speak of that,” Fingon said, and looked away.
They were strangers, and they were - sort of - father and son. Their lives had never overlapped by more than a few months.
A little later, “I thought you’d have gold woven in your hair. That’s the way I could always tell you apart from the High Kings Fingolfin and Turgon in portraits.”
“I gave that up a long time ago,” Fingon said. “It didn’t seem fitting any longer.”
“Hm,” said Gil-galad.
There was so little that was safe to talk about! They managed some stilted conversation on the ride north, a little chaffing about horses and Orodreth and the tomb-like quiet of his home, and a little more about what Gil-galad had made of his lovely, sad cousin Finduilas, who he had thought might be his sister.
It was considered best not to engage the Returned in discussion of their past until they were ready to speak of it, to ask no questions and demand no answers. That was a comfortable grey space Fingon had lived in for all the time he had been alive again in the lands of his birth.
He didn’t want to ask anything painful about Gil-galad’s life, or his death; he didn’t want to put his fingers into Gil-galad’s wounds.
Gil-galad had few such compunctions.
“Why did you send me to Círdan?” he asked as they rode along, as though he had no idea of how the Returned were usually helped, despite his succour in Orodreth’s house. “Yes, yes, safety, I understand; but I would have thought you’d choose Gondolin or Nargothrond first.”
“If I had left you as a newborn babe at the gates of Gondolin – not that I knew where they were – I doubt Turgon would have opened them! He would have thought it a fell trap of Morgoth’s. And Nargothrond – well. Finrod saw shadows ahead. The only choice left was to send you to the sea.”
“To the Falathrim,” Gil-galad said. “I loved them; but they loved you very little, you know! They fostered what they thought was Orodreth’s son for the memory of Finrod Felagund and my supposed Telerin blood. I understand about that; Orodreth explained it to me, and I amgrateful for the protection of his name. I might never have known otherwise, however, and I didn’t grow up with those who thought particularly well of the Noldor or their High Kings. You might have planned that rather better.”
“I didn’t expect to die,” Fingon said, which wasn’t exactly true. He had thought – “I had thought that – others would take my place, if I died; and if we all died, you would be safer ignorant of your birth.”
“Hm,” Gil-galad said.
There was a suggestion in the line on his brow that he would have managed things rather better.
The land they were riding through wasn’t as harsh as it had been when Fingon was young, when the Tree-light had been thin in the lands north of Tirion. The Sun had brought new lushness to it, and where it had once been grey and brown, everything was green now. He had found nothing but acres upon acres of wild thick forest when he had come here to find peace, too tightly tangled together for Orome’s hunt to come riding beneath the trees, and full of creatures both strange and familiar.
It had lain fallow and abandoned a very long time. The Noldor left in Tirion after the Exile had had an empty city to fill again, and no need to press north, and less desire to.
He pointed out the distant spire of Amon Darthir to Gil-galad as soon as it came into view. It was a tall grey and white spike of a tower ringed with barracks and stables and jousting-grounds, not a palace: a place for war-drills, and war-games, and a base for great hunts that lasted weeks and sometimes ranged far north. His bachelor tower, his father called it, and his mother grieved over it.
Fingon rather hoped that they would be able to ride past the ruins without comment, but Gil-galad narrowed his bright eyes as he scanned the horizon, his Middle Earth instincts having followed him through the gates of death into safe, quiet Valinor.
“What’s that? I didn’t think the Eldar here would allow things to fall apart like that, somehow.”
There were so many things Fingon had spent centuries not-saying that they clotted on his tongue. “That,” he said finally, “is a place called Formenos. Fornost, it would be, in the Sindarin.”
It didn’t loom up out of the sky anymore. Once, when the forests had been plains, its crenellated shape had drawn the eye from many miles away, and its tall walls, built thick as though for siege, in a time when such a thing was unimaginable, had seemed unscalable, massive. Now its ancient stones seemed like part of the landscape, its proud shape softened and smothered by the forests, and it could barely be seen at all from Amon Darthir, even in the solar at the tower’s top.
Formenos had all but gone back to nature while he’d been in Exile and dead. Everyone who had lived there – and it had been busy enough once, a little Tirion where no one challenged Fëanor for lordship – had gone over the sea and had never come back. The great buildings still stood, but the trees had grown around them. (Turgon had said, “I can’t imagine why you’d wish to reclaim the Fëanorian lands; or, rather, I can, and I find it gravely disturbing. You would be better leaving that forsaken wilderness to the trees.”)
After Beleriand, the after-presence of long-ago violent death didn’t bother Fingon. It bothered those who had never Returned, though, and that meant these lands were empty, and would probably stay so. It was incredible to Fingon that anyone might think it was haunted. The Ezellohar would remain a site of horror and mourning until the last Music, but there was no one left alive to haunt Formenos.
The superstition was most of the reason why he had built Amon Darthir on a hill a little to the west of Formenos-that-was. He had imagined being left mostly alone there once the lords that had followed him north to help him build it had seen how he meant to live, but every few years more of those who had followed his banner in Hithlum came home from Mandos and joined them.
“My grandfather is buried there,” he added, and Gil-galad nodded, as though that was quite a usual thing to say – perhaps it would have been, on Middle Earth.
“High King Finwë?”
“Yes, not that I was able to find his grave.” It had seemed important, when he was newly Returned, but the trees had eaten away everything familiar, and he had never known where, precisely, his cousins had buried him. So much of their lives had been changed forever by Finwë’s death. “He’s not there, anyway.”
“Graves are important,” Gil-galad said. “I visited yours.”
Fingon had never thought to ask about what had happened to his body, if anything had been left of it. No one had informed him, and it hadn’t seemed to matter what had happened to the worn-out shreds of his old form once he was given a new one that felt like his own, even if it was true that the body that was his now had never danced in the Tree-Light, or walked in Beleriand under the newborn moon, or held a lover, or dealt death with a sword.
Gil-galad told him of a great pile of the dead from that terrible Battle in which he’d died, all the gallant Elves and Men who had died on the Anfauglith with Fingon stacked together in a mound, their bones mingling and mingled forever under the green grass until it had all disappeared under the great wave of the sea, and Fingon did his best to think about grey, grey skies, and not about fire, or Tree-Light, or anything else.
“I visited it once, before Beleriand fell. It was all breaking up as Eonwë and Finarfin and I pushed Morgoth’s forces back to Angband. I was fairly sure you were my father by then, and I wanted to get a sense of you; to greet you or bid you farewell, I’m not sure! But it’s as you say. You weren’t there.”
He looked sideways at Fingon, his eyes intent, seeking – what?
“No, I wasn’t,” Fingon said, and looked away. He began to talk instead about the hunting around Amon Darthir as they rode towards it. “Several of my knights were yours once,” he added, to make it seem less grim. “There’ll be some familiar faces.”
They spent the next week feasting, and held games in Gil-galad’s honour, and Fingon’s household, men and women, did their best to be pleasing. No one pressed Gil-galad for details of his life, and no one asked about his heroic death, although a little more word of it had filtered to Valinor in the years before his Return, and if things were different, they might have feasted it in particular.
“A spear!” Fingon exclaimed, a few days into the games. “A spear! I rode to battle with sword and with lance, I went to Thangorodrim with dagger and bow; a spear never occurred to me. I suppose a proper battle-spear is a sort of truncated version of a lance? The Doriathrim used them, and – others I knew used them once, when hunting boar. I never thought of using one in battle, when I had other tools to hand. Was no one at all left to make you a decent sword?”
“Noldor snob,” Gil-galad said, grinning. “A lance breaks too easily, and it’s no help to you if you’re unhorsed. A sword is fine, but its reach is limited. A spear lets you engage at a distance, and if distance is what you’re after, you can put more force into the head of a spear than you can with a sword, when the use of the blade is mostly denied you; it wasn’t quite distance enough, it turned out, but the logic was sound enough. I won’t let you disparage my spear!”
“Peace, peace!” Fingon cried, and the next several weeks were spent learning the art of spear-fighting from his sort-of son, who called him Fingon and teased him with the same friendly disrespect the knights did.
Gil-galad asked no more difficult questions and said no more discomforting things.
It became clear how he had acquired his great broad shoulders when Fingon’s own began to be dreadfully stiff every morning from the spear-drills. He had supposed, vaguely, that Gil-galad owed his build to time in the forge, and it was jarring to discover that Gil-galad knew less of forging than the veriest Noldor babe, although rather more of drains and plumbing, thanks to his long lordship of Lindon, which seemed to have been a city by the Sea somewhere where Ossiriand had been.
Really, it was appalling.
“I don’t think you can send me to be raised by the Falathrim with one hand and complain of my lack of Noldor arts with the other,” Gil-galad said sensibly.
“It’s an outrage,” Fingon said. He ought to have sent a good smith with baby Gil to Círdan, rather than a nurse and a phalanx of sworn warriors.
“If there were deficits in my upbringing – well, I don’t account that one of them,” Gil-galad said, but he submitted, cheerfully, to Fingon’s rudimentary lessons in the small forge at Amon Darthir, where Fingon tried to call up lore he hadn’t thought of since before the Exile and pass it on to his sort-of son.
Their days began to be long and full and often shared, and there was much in the present to speak of without ever breaking the seal of the past, and then a letter came to cut Fingon’s peace quite up.
“Finrod’s coming to visit,” he said gloomily.
“Finrod Felagund?” Gil-galad asked, perking up quite unnecessarily. “I’ve long wanted to meet him! There’s much that was admirable about Nargothrond, and of course his doomed venture with Beren, but I have real questions about the way he delegated the management of his kingdom. Did he really throw his crown at Curufin Fëanorion?”
“I hadn’t heard that,” Fingon said, and laughed despite himself. “In any case, Curufin would have deserved it. I suppose you can ask him for yourself.”
“You don’t mean to close up the gates and deny him entrance?”
“If you knew Finrod,” Fingon said, “you’d know that that would be no defence against him. Besides, he’s bringing reinforcements.”
Finrod arrived a week later with an unimaginable amount of baggage and his wife and children. The blondness, en masse, was blinding.
“Dear Fingon,” said Amárië, giving Fingon her hands in greeting. She was tall and queenly, beautiful in the Vanyar way of gold on gold on gold; blonde, amber-eyed, honey-skinned.
“Cousin Fingon!” said Amareth, and tugged at his tunic.
“High King Fingon,” said Rodwen, on her dignity.
“Fingy,” said Ariendë, the youngest.
Fingon kissed each of their hands in turn with great ceremony, even though Ariendë’s were suspiciously sticky, and Rodwen was old enough now to blush at the old-fashioned courtesy.
“What, no kisses for me?” Finrod asked, hair buttercup-yellow in the sunshine. He looked rather like one, in his green and yellow robes.
“You’re lucky I let you into the courtyard,” Fingon said. “Other people wait to be invited; or else send out inquiries asking if they might visit; they don’t send a note announcing that they’re on their way and checking to see if the guestrooms have proper feather-beds yet, and suggesting that my knights spend the next few days shooting ducks if they haven’t.”
“I missed you too,” Finrod said. “Where is Artanáro?”
“He prefers Gil-galad,” Fingon said, and tried not to look smug.
“Still a clear reference to the Finarfinwion line,” Finrod said airily. “What have you told him? Orodreth wasn’t precisely useful in relaying information.”
“Only that he’s not Orodreth’s,” Fingon said. “I suspect that, having met him, he was grateful to learn it! Have you come from Tirion?”
“Yes, after getting the letter; we stayed a week with my dear brother, and then it was suggested, rather unkindly, that we might wish to move on.”
“I can’t imagine why.”
Finrod laughed, then sobered. “How is he? Finduilas said he was doing surprisingly well, and I trust her judgment in these matters.”
“I’ve been keeping him busy.” Fingon paused, then said, “I don’t want to shock him with anything, if you know what I mean.”
“He must have many questions,” Finrod said. “I don’t wish to shock him either, but he deserves the truth from us, Fingon.”
Gil-galad was cheerful and charming to Finrod’s clutch of blond daughters, as Fingon might have guessed he would be. The younger ones swarmed him; Rodwen hung back a little, but was soon drawn into conversation. He was very gentle with her, as he had been with Finduilas, who he had hoped was his sister, and who had died so very terribly.
There was none of that bright-dark doom lingering around Rodwen and her sisters. The blessing of Aman meant that these children might expect to grow to adulthood and live all their long, long lives in peace. That was something Fingon had held cheap when he was young, storming out of Tirion after Fëanor’s blazing torches; he had not had children then, or ever thought to, nor imagined what their lives would be like in scarred and scarring Beleriand, which he had loved.
Gil-galad seemed to bear no marks of his long life spent fighting the Shadow, of his death at Sauron’s fiery hand, but that did not mean they did not exist.
He had laughed when Finrod hailed him as Artanáro, and said that was a name he had shorn off long ago; but on being introduced to Rodwen he said, “Ah, you see, we are kin; for my father-name is Rodnor, which makes us cousins indeed!”
“He looks very like you,” Amárië said to Fingon. They were standing over by the solar window, watching Gil-galad with the girls.
“Do you think so? It’s Finwë I see in him.”
“Finwë, and your father, and your brothers, and you.” She paused. “A little of Fëanor, in the build.”
“He’s a spear-fighter,” Fingon said quickly.
Finrod was also watching Gil-galad enchant his daughters – or his daughters enchant Gil-galad; it was clearly a mutual conquest – and he looked as though he was finally seeing something long dreamed-of, long thought impossible, his eyes intent and his face very soft.
They dined as a family that evening rather than in the great hall, a small Finwion reunion in which the news from Tirion was shared around the table – Argon’s probable betrothal, and Finarfin’s new ordinances, Idril and Tuor’s anniversary party, the continuing expansion of the harbour at Alqualondë that the constant stream of ships from Middle-Earth had necessitated.
Gil-galad glanced at Fingon at mention of Swanhaven, and Fingon ducked his gaze.
“And of course Grandpa Olwë wouldn’t dream of charging them slip fees as soon as they arrive,” Finrod continued, “only so many boats keep coming on these one-way trips – much more convenient than dying! – and unless they scuttle them, which would be a terrible waste, where do you put them? Especially when one thinks about the disruption to the fishing grounds.”
“How is Finduilas?” Gil-galad said, which seemed to bear little relation to anything, but the conversation shifted to her many virtues, and how Finrod’s small daughters adored her, a fact which they were delighted to affirm at considerable length.
“Has Gwindor Returned yet?” Fingon asked quietly.
Finrod had been Gwindor’s lord, and, although as far as Fingon knew, Finrod had never reproached Orodreth for what became of Nargothrond, the lost lives of his followers in Orodreth’s hands would weigh on him until every last one came back from death shining and whole.
“No, not yet,” Finrod said, and sighed. “I don’t know whether he ever means to, to be honest; although Gelmir has been back some time, and it was always the case that where one went, the other surely would follow. I would never mention him to Finduilas, of course, but I can’t imagine that she isn’t waiting for him, and I worry for her. It’s not truly healing, to live only half a life.”
He looked at Fingon, and Fingon shrugged one shoulder. It seemed to him that it could only be hope that would keep Finduilas in that quiet, oppressive house, rather than making a new life of her own; but perhaps it was penance. Perhaps she was merely tired.
“It’s time the girls went to bed,” Amárië said, with one of those married-people looks at Finrod that conveyed a wealth of meaning, and indeed, little Ariendë was yawning in Finrod’s lap.
“Ammë,” Rodwen protested, and then blushed with embarrassment.
Amareth widened her saucer-like blue eyes, trying not to look sleepy.
“I quite agree,” Finrod said, and rose with his youngest in his arms, humming a sleeping-song over her golden curls. When he returned from whatever bedtime ceremonies had required his attendance, Amárië wasn’t with him, and Fingon and Gil-galad were in the solar, sitting in front of the fire and drinking wine.
Gil-galad was smiling at the flames. “I know that tune,” he said. “I don’t remember my nurse singing it; yet I know it. Is it very common among the Noldor?”
“No,” Finrod said, and the look he gave Gil-galad was very weighted. A sudden shiver went down Fingon’s spine. “It’s not.”
“Just among the Finwions, then?”
“I wrote it, as it happens; I sang it to you, too, when you were a babe.”
“Really? Was it wise to leave Nargothrond in a time of war to go visiting in Hithlum?”
“Perhaps not.” The fire made Finrod’s hair gleam like molten gold, and his face gnomic and inscrutable. “But it was a very special errand, you see; and there was none other I trusted with it.”
“Must we do this tonight?” Fingon broke in.
“You know we must,” Finrod said.
“The grief is still too fresh,” Fingon said, because that usually worked. “I don’t want to speak of it!”
“I know,” Finrod said, and his weighty blue stare was full of a pity Fingon hadn’t asked for and didn’t want. He was taking the deflection seriously, which was maddening; he knew Fingon hadn’t meant it that way. “I do know, cousin; but we must, even so. We began with deception, and we can’t go on with it.”
“I think,” said Gil-galad, looking from one of them to the other, something of the High King in his eyes -- Fingon was forcibly reminded that Gil-galad had ruled the Noldor for many centuries more than he himself had -- “that you had better tell me very clearly what you are talking about.”
No one said anything for a moment. The fire crackled.
“Does it has something to do with why my father-name is Rodnor? I did notice a pattern there tonight.”
He was quick, Gil-galad. He asked questions, and took note of how they were deflected, and then bided his time, and all the while his brain was working, working.
“Fingon wanted to call you Finbor,” Finrod said, pulling a face. “I argued him down to Ereinion! I named you Artanáro – or Rodnor, if you like.”
“Thank you,” Gil-galad said politely. He leaned forward, palms flat on his thighs. “And who was my mother? That is, I imagine, what you mean to tell me.”
“You don’t have one,” Finrod said. He said it gently, but there was no real way to soften such news. “Or, I suppose – you had a dam; Ringwil River-daughter, a great friend of mine. She was poisoned by Morgoth in the years after your birth, and faded, and was at the last lost in the sinking of Beleriand.”
Gil-galad’s face had gone perfectly blank.
“You don’t have any river in you,” Fingon said, since Finrod had already ripped the scab off. “Oh, I never understood the metaphysics of it – but Finrod promised me that she only shaped you, not – well, bore isn’t the word. She did bear you, but not like a tree bears fruit; like a river allows salmon to spawn within its banks, but isn’t part of them, nor them it.”
“Thank you, Fingon!” Finrod said. “I do know the metaphysics, if you wish to hear it, Gil-galad; but what Fingon is trying to say is that you are his son, but mine as well, and also another’s, with some aid in the making from Ringwil. I cannot say we were wrong to do it, because you became a King that we could not have dreamt of when we made you, although we hoped! The Noldor needed an heir, and one with a clear, inarguable claim to the throne that would bring all three houses together.
“We put a great charge on you, of all our most impossible hopes, and you fulfilled them and more – it was wrong of us, perhaps, to pile so much fate and duty upon one small babe, but I have wanted for so long to tell you how very proud I am of who you became, and what you did in Beleriand, and in Middle-Earth after that.”
Gil-galad said nothing.
Fingon had forgotten how to breathe.
Finrod said, “I imagine you have more questions?”
“I would like to know,” Gil-galad said, very slowly and deliberately, and very much the High King, “what you mean by all three houses.”
There was a lot of shouting after that.
“Maedhros Fëanorion,” Gil-galad bellowed, and twitched his shoulders like he wanted to shrug off his own flesh. “Maedhros Fëanorion! You are telling me that Maedhros Fëanorion is my father, or one of them! A murderer many times over! A damned soul, one of the great evils of the First Age! A stealer of children, a killer of innocents, a thirster after jewels – that is the parentage you bequeathed me?”
It was like being run through with a spear, over and over again.
“He was our cousin,” Finrod said, with a worried glance at Fingon. “We loved him; and he had not strayed so very far from his path when you were made.”
“He was already a murderer,” Gil-galad said, “already a Kinslayer! Already bound by that cursed Oath – although I’ve never believed the Oath was as much to blame for their deeds as the Fëanorians themselves were! And you are telling me that he is my father?”
No one had said his name to Fingon since he had Returned; not after he had learned what Maedhros had done in the years after his death. He had not said it himself.
“I won’t make his excuses,” Finrod said, lifting his chin. “His deeds were evil, and tragic for those of us who knew him when he was young, and before the Oath; but he was everything admirable once, Gil-galad, and we loved him then.”
“What about you, Fingon?” Gil-galad asked, turning, and the Fingon had never sounded less like Father. “You were his friend once, I know; and long did I struggle with that thought! Will you excuse him?”
They were both looking at him now.
“There is no excusing him,” Fingon said. “There never has been.”
In the morning, Gil-galad had gone.
He had taken the terrible horse Orodreth had loaned him, and left behind the much better steed that had been Fingon’s gift, along with the sword, daggers, shield, spurs, and other assorted presents that Fingon and his lords alike had lavished on the giant cuckoo in Amon Darthir’s stony nest, all polished silver-bright. His bed was made with military exactness, the corners sharp, and the mail-coat and helmet Fingon had commissioned for him were still hanging on their stand. His clumsy efforts in the forge had also been left behind, from the malformed blob that had been his first effort at a horseshoe to his almost passable attempt at a spade.
(“No rings,” Gil-galad had said, when Fingon tried to show him lost-wax casting; “no jewellery at all, I think”).
The blobby horseshoe he had given to Fingon, and Fingon had hung it proudly on the wall of his study as though it was the finest work of Fëanor at the height of his powers in the Time of the Trees.
Gil-galad had taken the great spear he had had Fingon’s best smiths make to his exact specifications, at least; he would not be riding back to Tirion wholly unarmed, if Tirion was where he was going.
“I told you he wasn’t ready,” Fingon said.
“I wasn’t going to lie to him,” Finrod said tightly, all his peacock brightness damped down. “I’ve learned enough by now to know that lying, even by omission, poisons everything, and I will not make the same mistakes in this life that I made in the last one.”
“Where could he have gone?” asked Amárië calmly. “He only knows Amon Darthir, and Orodreth’s house outside Tirion, surely. The way between is far from well-marked at all points, but we travelled the last of it only yesterday, and our dust will still be fresh on the path, if he has any tracking ability. I think you need not fear.”
“I’ve taken him further hunting,” Fingon said. “We rode up a few leagues, towards Araman, but I don’t think he could find his own way there, even if there were any real settlements to the north to succour him.”
“He would be foolish indeed to venture anywhere but Tirion, to strike out for Alqualondë or even Valimar, and he did not seem so to me.”
“No,” Fingon said miserably; “he’s bold, but not foolish. He’s not – he’s not hot-headed, usually. He’s patient, and he’s steady, and he’s methodical –”
“He doesn’t get that from you,” Finrod said.
“No,” said Amárië. “Although he would not like to hear it, I expect he gets that from your cousin.”
“Did you check the kitchens?” Finrod asked. “Did he take provisions?”
“Robbed us bare,” Fingon said, cheering up a little. “He’s not the best hunter – too long tied to his court, then too long at war – so it’s as well he did.”
Amárië said, “Ought you put your trackers on him?”
“I like that!” Finrod said. “There was a time, my lady, when I was accounted no mean tracker myself; although that was in Beleriand, and long ago.”
“It doesn’t take much skill to track Men,” Fingon said, having heard too many times about how Finrod discovered the People of Bëor. “But I think we ought; or should go ourselves.”
Nearly a week, at a pinch, riding hell-for-leather and barely stopping, and one could get from Amon Darthir to Tirion. It meant sleeping in the saddle at times, and in snatches by the roadside at others; it meant eating waybread, and stopping for water only when the horses truly needed it; it meant taking at least one remount, and it meant a great deal of dust and discomfort.
It had taken Finrod and his family over a fortnight to make the journey north. Gil-galad wasn’t hampered by baggage or small blonde girls, but he had only the one horse, and that horse was decidedly broken-winded. He had, perhaps, as much as a half-day’s head start, but they could make it up, and swiftly.
“Do you think we should stop him before Tirion?” Finrod said. “I won’t rest well until I know he’s arrived safely, but I’m not certain we should prevent him arriving, or that we have any right to.”
“I’m certain we couldn’t,” Fingon said. “But there is much we have still have to say to him, and –”
“—and have you told your parents yet that we made a baby with Bad Cousin Maedhros?” Finrod asked.
“I mean, he has a right to know them,” Fingon admitted. “And to seek their aid; they’re his family too, but –”
“But,” Finrod agreed. They rode together without need to elaborate on what a mess might lie ahead, but all the problems were turning over and over in Fingon’s head nonetheless.
He thought they were haunting Finrod too, from the distant, serious look on his face, until Finrod said,
“You know, it really would be a fine thing if we were able to speak of his birth – if Gil-galad allows, of course. I’ve had my monograph on his genesis written up since shortly after my Return, and think of how many people it might benefit – on an individual level, as well as the pursuit of knowledge as a whole –”
In the end, Gil-galad stopped them a day’s ride from Amon Darthir. They were still squabbling – it was a good way to keep one’s mind off certain things, like telling one’s parents that you’d made a baby with your cousins (plural) – when their horses stopped in the road, and they looked up to see Gil-galad blocking their path.
His arms were folded, and his eyebrows were raised.
“Er,” Fingon said. “Hello.”
“Hello,” said Gil-galad, and divided his starry grey gaze between the two of them. The feeling was eerily like being called to account by one’s parent, rather than one’s putative son.
“We don’t mean to prevent you going anywhere you wish to,” Finrod said soothingly, tilting his head the way he did when he thought to be charming, “only we wanted to know you were safe; and if there’s anywhere you wish to go, we can help.”
“My thanks,” said Gil-galad. It went unsaid that he was taller and bigger than both of them, and better provisioned, and needed their help as much Arien needed Tilion. “I see you brought Ceredir.”
Fingon looked back at the great grey horse he had given to Gil-galad, its leading-rein tied to his saddle. “As a remount,” he said. Then, “Or for you, if you want him?”
Gil-galad sighed. “You know, I hadn’t worried about who my parents were for a very long time before I died. I certainly hadn’t imagined that this was what having parents would be like.”
He didn’t sound angry any longer, but he didn’t sound precisely pleased, either.
“Truly, my parentage ceased to bother me a long time ago. It was the present that mattered, and I was King of the Noldor, and of the House of Finwë, at least, and the rest was – well. Land under the Sea, as we started saying in Lindon. Círdan was a foster-father to me, and a good one, and I loved him and I lacked for little. He was all the parent I ever needed. I had some mild curiosity about the precise identity of my blood relations that I thought might be assuaged when I died, but – clearly I lacked imagination. Nevertheless, I should not have let my temper get the better of me. I certainly didn’t imagine I would find myself behaving like a child.”
“It happens to us all,” Finrod said, and slid down from his saddle. “I threw my crown at someone once.”
“I thought that sounded like you,” said Fingon.
“Truly,” Finrod said, the flippancy leaving him, “it’s something we all dealt with, the Return. One is – rawer, feelings nearer the surface; it’s like losing a layer of skin. My hands were so soft when I came out of Mandos. It took time before I could hold a pen again without getting blisters. It’s the same for the mind.”
“Hm,” said Gil-galad.
Fingon said, “Where’s your horse tied up?”
“Orodreth’s horse; mine is tied to your saddle, I deem. But come off the road and I’ll show you where I’ve watered him, and we can have some lunch on the grass.”
There was wine, and a cold capon, and potted meat, and real bread; apricots and apples, and a smattering of berries only somewhat squashed by travel. Fingon and Finrod contributed water and waybread, and Gil-galad shook his head gravely.
“First rule of mustering an army: provisions.”
“I know that,” Fingon said. “Someone had been beforehand with my larder.”
“I always preferred lighter mounted units,” Finrod said. “Less hampering.”
They talked about army manoeuvres for a while – not of death, or fathers, or anything else that might cause argument – and to their left there was a small stream where the horses were drinking.
Between the sweet sound of running water, the great blue sky, and the sunshine, Fingon began to feel quite a lot better than he had when they left Amon Darthir, as long as he didn’t think too much about the only parent I ever needed and Bad Cousin Maedhros.
He could enjoy the sound of his sort-of son’s laughter, and his story about everything that had gone wrong in the building of Lindon (“Dwarves!” Finrod said, “that’s where you went wrong; you ought to have called in dwarves from the start!”) and remind himself that this picnic was something he could not have imagined having, a few hundred years ago: a good thing.
“You look so comfortable on the river-bank, cousin,” Finrod said with a laugh, breaking off his own lively anecdote about the delving of Nargothrond. “No, don’t get up! I’m going to see to my horse.”
He looked meaningfully over his shoulder at Gil-galad.
Gil-galad raised an eyebrow at Fingon which seemed to invite him to laugh at the transparency of the signal, brushed crumbs off his lap, and rose to follow him.
Fingon stayed in his sprawl on the grass and watched them come to stand together at the patient side of Finrod’s white horse, talking with their heads bent close, the dark head lowering to the bright.
He couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he hoped that Finrod was telling Gil-galad some of the many things he knew Finrod had long wanted to tell him, not giving him a long involved explanation about seeds and Song, and less still sharing the revelation that he had begun life in a wine-glass.
Whatever Finrod was saying, his face had grown very grave. You could almost forget sometimes, he seemed so effortlessly merry, but there were fathomless deeps to him, and all his brilliance was only sun-sparkle on the sea hiding the leagues that lay beneath.
There was a line between Gil-galad’s dark brows, but he was listening closely.
They talked a long time, and then Finrod cupped Gil-galad’s cheek with his hand and smiled up into his face with terrible sweetness, and Gil-galad allowed him to do it. It was a gesture he had seen Finrod give his daughters.
Finally, Gil-galad came back to the bank where Fingon was basking in the sun; Finrod was was untying his horse from the tree. “He’s going to collect the girls,” he said, and stretched his long body back out onto the grass. “I think he fears that your knights’ collective spoiling will have turned them into a crack cavalry team in his absence, and he’s quite right to be worried; in a few years they’ll all be clamouring to run away to Uncle Fingon’s never-never tower to live like the Green-elves and never grow up.”
“We do not live like Green-elves,” Fingon protested, and began to sit up, shaking grass out of his hair and from his tunic. “I’ve never met a Green-elf who’d willingly live in a stone house – and do they call it that? My never-never tower?”
Finrod lashed Orodreth’s horse to his own and was leading them both back to the road. When Fingon began to rise to see to his own, Gil-galad stopped him.
“We’re not following him?”
“No,” Gil-galad said. “He’s going to take his family home first, and then, in a little while, I’m to go to the Bay to visit them.” He shook his head in amazement as Finrod fluttered his fingers at them before vaulting lightly into his saddle; soon, he and the horses had disappeared. “Sisters! Half-sisters. I truly never imagined.”
It was the first time since he’d stopped them in the road that they’d broached the problem of his revealed parentage. “You’re not the first of the Eldar to have them,” Fingon said. “I’d say it’s a shame you can’t ask Uncle Fëanor for any notes; but I can't imagine he'd be helpful on the matter, really.”
“Uncle Fëanor,” Gil-galad said, and made a face. “Ugh; Grandfather Fëanor? I suppose that makes Celebrimbor my first cousin. I seem to be much more closely related to everyone than I’d ever thought. Poor Celebrimbor! I was so angry at him before he died, but he tried hard all his life to escape his family’s shadow, and it only brought him death; and such a death.”
“I’m sorry,” Fingon said, because word of that death had filtered into Valinor, too, and he could remember Curufin's small son. The two things were difficult to put together, the death and the child.
“Blame Sauron. I do!”
“Better not! The Returned aren’t usually encouraged to think – or speak – about things – people – close to their deaths.”
“Yes, and that’s a silly practice,” Gil-galad said. He rolled onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow, and fixed his eyes on Fingon, and it became abruptly clear that, having dealt with and despatched Finrod, Gil-galad now meant to deal with him. If he’d tried to know Fingon through his legend back on blood-stained Beleriand, dividing and conquering would have been the lesson he’d taken away from the failed Union of Maedhros. “Talking is how you sort things out! You’ve had all these centuries to do better, and yet as far as I can tell, Tirion is as full of secrets and undercurrents and resentments as ever it was, and I wasn’t a month in the city, and never left Orodreth’s house.”
Fingon squirmed away from the implicit critique. “It’s much improved, believe me, from when the lies of Morgoth were abroad, and the Fëanorians and Fingolfinwians clashed in the street; everywhere people were fighting, and whispering, and hating. It tore us all apart, and we never came all the way back together.”
“Would you have told me about my birth, if Finrod hadn’t?”
“ – Probably not.”
“Then I’m glad he told me like he did,” Gil-galad said. “As much that I hate that Maedhros Fëanorion is in me, I don’t mind the rest. I’ve never had a mother; I can’t miss what I haven’t had. It’s a strange thought, though – to be born to be less a child than a stopgap, a political compromise strained into flesh. Hardly human at all. Don’t you think you might have left some important element out, playing Eru Ilúvatar?”
That was really the kind of question better asked of Finrod. Fingon said, “Well, I did sometimes wonder if something might be wrong when you used to get sick on my tunic – you were even sick in my hair once; I expect that was my fault, for swooping you up and down – but I was told it was quite usual.”
There was something more terrible than usual about the disappointment in Gil-galad’s face at the evasive answer, and Fingon added, looking very fixedly at the grass, “We meant you to be the sum of us, and you proved better than all of us in the end. I can’t imagine anything went wrong in the making of you.”
“You don’t know me very well yet.”
“Enough to know that. And you weren’t – only – some political compromise.”
“It was after the Flame, you see.” It occurred to Fingon that Gil-galad might not see, and it seemed very important that he did, so he dragged more words out, painfully, into the sunshine. “It seems foolish now, but until then we thought we had a chance, at least. We had beaten back Morgoth and all his hordes; we held most of Beleriand; and we stood all together, however tenuous some of those links were. Surely we could not fail! And then – the Flame. Finrod’s brothers died, and Dorthonion fell, and almost all the Fëanorian strongholds; they somehow kept hold of Himring and closed the Pass of Aglon once more, and I still don’t know how they did it. My father saw that it was all over, before the long fall of our people had scarcely begun, and so he rode out alone to Angband and died, too.”
“I’ve heard the stories,” Gil-galad said.
“Very Noldor of him, I know,” Fingon said bitterly, and, oh, this is why he didn’t want to start talking about long-ago things; there was the danger of never stopping. He still couldn’t bear to be around his father for long, and he didn’t know whether the violent feeling that gripped him in Fingolfin’s presence was love, or fury; whether he wanted to squeeze him tight in a spasm of loss, or crush him, because he was still so very, very angry.
They had never talked about it.
“We knew then that we were all going to die. One after the other, every holding would fall, and, one after the other, so would we. So many of us were dead or already gone: Aegnor and Angrod, my brother Argon; my father. Fëanor. Galadriel had disappeared into the Girdle. No one had seen Turgon or Aredhel or Idril for years; Aredhel was dead by then, and I didn’t even know it! We knew there was no future, only the fight. We had heard the Doom; we never thought we would be able to walk free from Mandos once we died. We thought we had only our brief span in Beleriand to truly live, and after the Flame we saw how short that span would be. I suppose we had no right at all under the circumstances to make a child.”
Fingon paused. “Well, we must have had some hope left,” he said. “That’s what a child is, isn’t it? Hope for the future, despite everything.”
“An insurance policy against death, perhaps,” Gil-galad said. “It seems to be how the Secondborn arrange things.”
“It was more than that,” Fingon said again, weakly.
They had been riding some time when Fingon said, “How many days of provisions did you pack? We needn’t go straight home.”
Gil-galad glanced at him, but fell easily back into the pattern they had made, in the weeks of hunting and forging and drilling, the rapport that skimmed over all the unspoken things below the surface. “I wasn’t entirely certain where I meant to go when I left, so a week’s worth; or more, if we ration. More still, if we hunt and forage.”
“Let’s have an adventure,” Fingon suggested.
Gil-galad laughed. “One day I must introduce you to my cousin Elrond! He’ll have to stop being quite so critical of me when he meets you.”
“Is that a no?”
“Oh, no,” Gil-galad said. “Let’s!”
When they first turned off the thin trail the trees were still far enough apart for them to ride, but sooner or later they began to pick their way carefully, and then it grew bad enough that they needed to dismount and lead their horses through.
Gil-galad asked, pushing branches out of his face, “Have you considered that your knights might work off some of their energy clearing underbrush just as well as hitting each other with swords?”
“What would we do with cleared land?” Fingon asked. “Farm?”
“You didn’t farm in Hithlum?”
“We kept some animals, eventually – some crops – but farming was never our main form of industry. Mostly, when it came to husbandry, we worked with the local Sindar who took oath to my father, the ones who came back after we chased Morgoth off; and later with the Hadorians.”
“That seems rather wasteful,” Gil-galad said, and began a lengthy critique that eventually covered both the economic importance of establishing self-sufficiency and the sociological consequences of delegating a particular industry to a specific people.
When Fingon countered with examples of how things had been done in Valinor before the Exile – surely they had been merely continuing practices laid down by the Valar themselves as the way things ought to be done? – Gil-galad got a gleam in his eye that suggested that he might offer the Valar some robust critique, too, and Fingon let himself relax a little.
For now, he could have this.
They journeyed nearly a week through the thick forest where Orome had once ridden and Yavanna had laid her hand. Nothing evil dwelled in the shadows: there might be animals wild and strange in its depths, but nothing foul, nothing twisted, nothing poisoned and filthy. They shot a brace of birds and trapped hares – or Fingon did, and set Gil-galad to helping him clean them – to pad out their supplies, and there was clean water to be found whenever they wanted it, and wildflowers growing thickly in the clearings, white and pink and yellow and blue.
The trees ceased to be as tangled as they were around Amon Darthir. They grew tall and true, measure upon measure, up into the sky.
“This land is very fine,” Gil-galad said, during one of their breaks for food. Fingon was amusing himself by gathering wildflowers, twining some in his long braids and making Gil-galad stuff still more into his pockets. “It seems fresh, somehow, although it must be as old as Middle Earth.”
Fingon laughed. “It is younger; it’s very different than it looked in my first life. Tirion itself was lovelier then – the Trees touched everything with not only light, but cleanness – their reach was more limited than the Sun and Moon, but both more powerful and more gentle. This land was dim then, and barer. We didn’t travel much beyond the strongest circle of Tree-light, and I’ve often thought that I didn’t enjoy the wild places of Aman enough when I was young. Amon Darthir is not so very wild, compared to the lands up in Araman where I never went until the Exile; and even Araman is kinder than it was, now that it knows the Sun.”
“I don’t know if I could live so far from the Sea,” Gil-galad said thoughtfully. “I lived so long in Lindon, and before that on Balar.”
“We ought to break camp,” Fingon said, “if we mean to arrive today; and I do.”
You couldn’t see the Sea from Amon Darthir, even from the solar.
Fingon had not told Gil-galad where they were going, but a few hours from their destination, Gil-galad’s chin went up and his head went back as though he was scenting the Sea from afar, already hearing the crash of waves on the shore that must have been his lullaby in the years of his childhood, the childhood Fingon had not witnessed.
“Where are we?” Gil-galad said wonderingly. “I don’t know Aman well, but surely we’ve been heading West, not East?”
“As West as we can get,” Fingon said, and sped his horse forward.
“Oh,” said Gil-galad when they broke out of the woods and began to ride down over the dune-lands to the rocky shore. “Oh!”
The Sea of Ekkaia was beautiful, in its own way, but that way that was like no other place in Arda, in either Aman or Middle Earth.
It was a dark-blue that was almost black, even in the late afternoon, and the shore was less sand than gravel, a strange inconsistent rubble of rock and broken sea-shells that had been dashed to pieces by the constant fury of the waves. Staring out to sea, one did not see the far-away horizon the way one did on the gentler coast of Belegaer: there was no gentle faraway blue haze through which one might, perhaps, on a clear day, imagine that Middle Earth could be glimpsed, or at least the Straight Path.
No: instead along the horizon there was a seam of silver light, and then a great blackness, where the Sea of Ekkaia met the Uttermost West that was not quite the Doors of Night, but was certainly the end of Aman itself. If you stood on the shore watching, the seam would ripple with a pulse of light, sometimes green and sometimes white.
It was so far from anywhere the Eldar of Valinor lived. While they clustered around the Belegaer like moths to flame, this shore seemed instead to repel them. Was it the sight of the world’s end itself? It might be; yet Fingon thought there was more to why this wilderness was so little visited, this howling black sea lashing itself against a grey shore. It was beautiful, but not in the way Elves liked things to be beautiful: it was too raw, too unfinished, too savage.
It was too close to where Mandos kept his Halls, which were not only a thing of spirit but also matter, at least in the way that things in Aman were both. Too close to where Nienna’s tower looked out into the Void and where she wept, and wept, and wept. It was too close to death and to rebirth, to judgment and to pity.
They left the horses in the thin sea-grass, and their shoes, too, and walked down to the water.
“I missed it,” Gil-galad said, and closed his eyes, breathing in the brine. “I missed it badly, all the long years besieging Mordor before I died.”
The wind took up his long dark hair and made a banner of it as they walked along the rough crescent of rocky ground where the waves met the shore, and around their bare ankles small stones tumbled back and forth in the lace-edge of the water.
“Sometimes in Middle Earth it became very difficult to believe in the Valar,” Gil-galad said, his eyes still closed, “in the blood, and the mud, and the filth. There were so many great and small unfairnesses, day upon day, year upon year.” He opened his eyes and looked towards the Uttermost West where the world ended. “And here it is impossible not to. Look at it!"
The seam of the universe pulsed with light, and beyond it was – what?
Unutterable nothingness, something worse than death.
The almost-forgotten tang of salt in the air always mingled with the smell of blood in Fingon’s worst memories, and he was not the only one who remembered. The waves were gentle around Gil-galad’s feet, but they boiled furiously around Fingon’s, delivering small spiteful slaps at his calves.
It took Gil-galad longer to mark the difference, engrossed in the joy of the sea and spectacle as he was, and when he did, his face changed. There was something terribly sad in his eyes when he lifted them from the water to look at Fingon.
It wasn’t why he had brought Gil-galad here; but Fingon didn’t want to imagine the look he would receive if he brushed aside the silent question. “No,” he said. “I am not forgiven.”
“So I see.”
They could probably leave it there.
He said, “You said you loathed the thought of being the son of – a murderer. But my own hands have not been clean since Alqualondë, and death didn’t unstain them. All the time you thought I might be your father, you must have known I was a Kinslayer, too.”
“Yes,” Gil-galad said, and his expression didn’t change. “And when the knights that had served you came to me, they told me that you killed that day in ignorance, that you came upon a battle already being fought; that you took up your sword to save those you loved and didn’t question whether it was just. I heard that from others, too, those who had less reason to bend facts to a flattering pattern; survivors of Gondolin and of Nargothrond. I did ask."
“Ignorance wasn’t an excuse. I died ashamed of it, and I live again with the shame.”
"Good!” said Gil-galad, and there was no forgiveness in his voice, even when Fingon jerked his head up in shock. Instead there was the stern ring of a king used to weighing the ideals of justice against the world as it was, the king who had walked arm in arm with Eonwë the Maia, led his people through many full-fledged wars, and held court and meted justice to them for an Age. “That gives me a far better opinion of you than any of the stories did! I’m glad.”
It felt like Fingon had been struggling to take a full lungful of air for a long time, and now something constricting in his chest had loosened, as it hadn’t even after the Valar themselves had judged him. It was only now that he realised that he hadn’t wanted Gil-galad to forgive or absolve him. He had wanted – needed – Gil-galad to be better than him, to withhold forgiveness when it was unmerited; and Gil-galad had. He had become the shining legacy they had all hoped he would be, the thing they had all somehow done right.
The water slapped at his ankles again, in impatient reminder.
“I think Ulmo would come to you here, if you called. You were a king by the sea in Middle Earth, and you may not remember it, but it was a river who gave you life.”
Gil-galad looked at him as if he’d grown an extra head. “What?”
“I brought you here for a reason,” Fingon said. “Where did they go, the drowned and poisoned rivers of Beleriand? I don’t know; but Ulmo might.”
He clapped Gil-galad on the shoulder, hoping it said all the things he meant it to say. Affection had been so easy for him once, in the life that had been taken from him by the fiery flails of the Balrogs, but now it came hard, and the sea-smell was in his nose, the terrible memories too close to the surface.
He had surely outstayed Ulmo’s tolerance by now. Fingon left Gil-galad there in the water, and didn’t dare glance back until there was thin sandy soil under his feet again.
Only then did he look once more towards the sea.
Gil-galad was standing in the shallows. His broad shoulders were bunched tight, as if he was readying himself for something very difficult, a confrontation with one of the Valar he had long doubted.
Then he spread his arms out, empty-handed, and tipped his head back, and the light on the horizon grew unbearably bright, whiter than white, more silver than silver; and a face began to move upon the water.
It took a very long time. Fingon could not watch; his eyes dazzled.
“Thank you,” Gil-galad said when he rejoined him at last. His eyes were glowing, and he whistled Ceredir to him from where he was tearing ropey roots of sea-grass from the dunes with great relish. “Thank you for bringing me here;” and he didn’t say it the way he’d thanked Fingon for the horse, or the armour, or the sword, or even the lance.
“I didn’t truly do anything."
“You brought me to the Sea. I know – I could see – how difficult it was for you."
"Well,” Fingon said lamely. He cleared his throat. “What did Lord Ulmo say about – oh, I can’t call her your dam! – the Maia who bore you? Did she – was she there?”
A little of the light dimmed, but it didn’t quite fade away. “No, she’s gone. Back to the Timeless Halls, he says; but one with him again, Ulmo, at the same time.” Gil-galad made a noise. “I don’t pretend to understand any of it, all the metaphysical nonsense of the Ainur! But he was kind to me, and he told me something of her – that she delighted in the making of me.” The corner of his mouth turned up. “I left the flowers we gathered earlier in the waves for her and the sea didn’t dash them back onto the shore. I’m sure Ulmo broke a few laws of Arda there.”
"You were wanted.”
“I’m beginning to believe it,” Gil-galad said.
“You should,” Fingon said. He took a breath. Talking is how you sort things out; and a long time ago, Fingon had been known for his valour. Gil-galad deserved to know how much he had been wanted, who had called himself a political compromise given birth. The truth of that had stung.
And it was less than the truth. Fingon could still remember the first time he had opened his mind to Maedhros over the leagues between them and let him see Gil’s small face through his own eyes, holding nothing back. He had shown Maedhros the dark long lashes and the squashed baby nose, the milk-blister on the bow of Gil’s upper lip, the way his whole head turned an alarming red when he wailed; shared with Maedhros Gil’s fondness for being tossed in the air, his splashing joy in his bath.
There had been few walls between them then, so he had felt Maedhros’s bright joy, the painful love, in its moment of birth: swelling and swelling like a cloud with rain, as though his heart was growing and his blood was leaking out of him at the same time, transmuting into pure tenderness and iron purpose.
He had never needed to ask whether Maedhros considered Gil-galad a son.
“I don’t want to talk about – him,” Fingon said with difficulty, and the salt breeze stung his face, his eyes. “I know you loathe him, and rightly; and I do, too. I do hate him; or I hate what he did. I do! But you should know – you deserve to – that he wanted you, badly, although he never met you; he never wanted the shadow on him to touch you or to taint you.
“He always wanted children; I took that from him even before the Oath did, but I gave it back to him, with you. I loved you first of all for that, but he loved you for yourself. Because you existed, against all hope and possibility and fate and chance; and because you were ours.”
Gil-galad said nothing. There was still a wildflower tucked behind his ear, but the brilliance had quite left his eyes.
“Well,” Fingon said at last. “I needed to tell you that. You should know that you were never – not only – you were wanted very much."
They were some miles from the beach when Gil-galad said, “‘Ours’?”
Some miles further, Fingon said, “Did you ever meet him in Beleriand? After I died. I always wondered.”
“No,” Gil-galad said.
It didn’t seem like he was going to speak again, and Fingon had begun to assimilate that knowledge, that pain – that Maedhros had never seen him, had only ever known him through Fingon’s own eyes – when he added,
“But I saw what he did. Have you ever seen a whole city ruined, and known the ruiners to be Elves? It wasn’t even a city, poor Sirion! It was a refuge, a place for the desperate, as far to the West as they could get, as close to the safety of the Sea. They had so very little. No great stone palaces, no towers, no spires. Little enough fresh food. They were able to grow so little, and they lived on fish, and sea-weed, and what parties of brave hunting parties would bring back; and hope. They lived on hope, and they thought Elwing wore it around her throat, but the Valar didn’t come for them: Maedhros Fëanorion and his brothers did instead, and they burned and killed and ravaged. I’d say they salted the earth, but it was salt already. To fall on any innocent Elven city would be a horror: on poor Sirion it was the greatest cruelty I ever saw, and entirely pointless."
They said nothing more.
There was no shouting, but the ride back to Amon Darthir was a terrible contrast to their escape to the Sea.
It seemed that the panicked slaughter in the dark at Alqualondë was something that Gil-galad could accept, if not forgive: having loved Maedhros Fëanorion, having been in love with Maedhros Fëanorion, great evil of the First Age, it seemed, he could not. Fingon didn’t blame him. How could he? He had not forgiven himself.
Gil-galad had a very severe profile, like a carving on the walls of Tirion that dated back to the first settlement, one of the bossed heads wrought by those who had journeyed from Cuiviénen under the stars. It was almost Finwë’s own profile, but the heavier jaw was Fingolfin’s; the finer molding of the cheekbones and brows was Finarfin’s, Finrod’s.
The beautiful grey eyes belonged, and always had, to a beloved cousin who, under the Tree Light, Fingon had called Maitimo, feeling greatly daring for doing it when all the others called him Nelyo or Russo, as though he was giving away his heart in every utterance of it, daring them to know yet fearing it. The radiant, starry quality those eyes had once had had already been extinguished when Fingon found him on Thangorodrim, although they had remained grey, remained beautiful.
That was probably also something Gil-galad should know some day, even if he didn’t want to hear it.
“Amon Darthir,” Gil-galad said, as it split the sky ahead of them. “I’ve been meaning to ask you for weeks who it is you’re waiting for; but perhaps that question is now answered.”
There were several ways to respond to that. Fingon could tell him that Amon Darthir had been the name of a peak of the Ered Wethrin in Dor-lomin when that lost land had still been his own, and that he had named his tower for the memory of it.
That would be true, but it was less than the full truth, and there was no point evading any longer.
So he said, “I don’t think he will come back. I don't think I could look at him if he did.”
“But you still wait.”
The fact lay between them like a dead thing, immutable. Because Fingon was waiting for Maedhros, if only to shake him until his teeth clacked together, if only to scream at him until his voice gave out; even if only to see him one last time. Even though he thought Maedhros would never return. He was waiting, and he always would be.
And Gil-galad had seen Sirion after the Fëanorians came.
He swallowed. "There are many who were dear to me in Beleriand I would gladly see again, you know. My sister among them. I wait for many.”
“I am glad to know that your lonely tower won’t stay so,” Gil-galad said.
“It has never been so very lonely. And – and especially not of late.”
They didn’t say anything more until they were almost at the barracks. Then Gil-galad said, “I did enjoy my time here. It was a good place to heal.”
"You will always be welcome,” said Fingon.
It sounded like a farewell. But he had said enough, and he wouldn’t lay more guilt or duty on Gil-galad, who had borne so much of it all his long first life.
So it was two days later that Gil-galad rode away, south-east this time, to the great estate Finrod and Amarie had built between Tirion and Alqualondë: on the sea-shore of the beautiful Bay of Eldamar looking out to Tol Eressëa, where the Sun shone brightly now, and where there was a father without blood on his hands and a kind, loving stepmother and a small army of half-sisters eager to know him. It was only a short sail from there to Alqualondë where Gil-galad had great-grandparents and great-uncles and cousins he didn’t know; and a short ride to Tirion, where he had more still; and even not that very far to Taniquetil, where Ingwë was his great-great uncle and Ingwion his cousin in some degree, and Findis his great aunt. He would be welcome everywhere in Aman, even if Finrod decided to publish the monograph, and even if his Fëanorian blood came out.
It was only fair that Gil-galad should enjoy all his relations and the homes they would eagerly open to him, after his lonely childhood in Balar as an orphaned foster-child without family, without even a solid name, a solid provenance.
There were so many people who would want him.
It was lonely, Amon Darthir.
It was lonely, and it always had been, however many old friends lived there with him; only, in all the long years since his Return, Fingon had not admitted it to anyone, and he had not opened himself to anyone enough before to truly know it himself.
He had not opened himself up at all since he had heard what had happened in Beleriand, and to Beleriand, after his death; what had happened to the cousin he had loved. Then he had closed his heart like a fist and taken himself here, where he would be left alone, and no one would touch the wounds, and he could play battle-games and go hunting and never speak of or think of anything difficult at all.
He had told himself that this was healing.