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“You love him.”

Fingon nods. “It’s not that I hadn’t before, but now – “

“You want to fuck him.” The news doesn’t seem to surprise her. He can’t think why he would have expected otherwise.

“I wouldn’t have said that. Not in so many words.”

“Then it’s a good thing I did. How long have you felt this way?”

“It wasn’t the reason for my so-called suicide mission, if that’s what you’re asking.” He shifts his weight. “After that. I think. If it was before, I didn’t understand it myself.” Lalwen doesn’t seem to appreciate the gravity of his situation. “It hurts,” he adds helpfully.

Lalwen shrugs. “I can’t see why you’ve come to me.”

“I’d always assumed you were – “ He colors.

She raises an eyebrow. “I was married, Findekáno.”

“That doesn’t mean you didn’t -  I mean, that you weren’t –“

“Otherwise inclined?”

He nods. “I’m not wrong?”

“No. But – really, Findekáno? Of all the things to worry about? It’s not as if you want to live with him.” Fingon doesn’t respond. Too caught up in observing the furniture. “You don’t plan to live with him, do you?”

“No! Of course not, I’m not completely naïve.”

“If you’d asked him a hundred years ago, it might not have occasioned comment, but –“

“Turukáno would never forgive him. Father would never forgive me. It would be politically and personally irresponsible. He’s a kinslayer.”

“Oh, Findekáno.” She reaches out and takes his hands. “You’re not exactly innocent.”

Fingon pulls away. “I know. It’s horrible, but – it almost makes it easier, I suppose. That it’s something we share.” He buries his face in his hands. “I’m a disgrace.

Lalwen raises an eyebrow. “Do you want me to forgive you?”

“I’m sorry. That was self-indulgent.”

“Just a bit.”

“But if you were anyone else, I couldn’t have said anything at all.”

She shakes her head. “I’d offer you advice, but I don’t think you want to hear it.”

“Really?” Fingon throws himself to his knees. “Don’t I just bleed desperation? I’m languishing, can’t you tell, and surely very soon to die.” He pauses for a moment, then moans for added realism.

“Alright, then. Tell him.”

“He’ll be disgusted! He’ll think I’m – “

“what, defying the laws of Eru and the Valar? Fëanáro’s son is hardly in a position to judge.”

“It hardly matters how justified he is, if he rejects me. Oh, Eru, he might reject me.” He glances up at Lalwen.

“He might.”

“You don’t have to agree! What if he only accepts because he feels he owes me a debt?”

“Nelyafinwë doesn’t seem the type.”

“Are you saying he’s not honorable?”

Lalwen takes hold of Fingon’s arms and hauls him to his feet. “I thought you wanted my advice.”

“I do. I’m sorry, Aunt.” He seems to be making a detailed study of the carpet.

“And my advice is to tell him. Or don’t, but make a decision.”

“He might –“

Lalwen doesn't let him finish. “He might do any number of things. Hopefully constrained by the necessity of avoiding political incident. In the worst case, he doesn’t reciprocate, and if you know for sure you’ll be better off than you are now.”

“It would hurt.”

“It will hurt.” She gives him a quick, businesslike hug. “Good luck, Findekáno.”

***

“I could make a replica.”

“We’ve already discussed this, Curufinwë.”

“It would be ready in time for the – for the coronation. It would look just like the original crown, I could even duplicate the jewels. Ñolofinwë couldn’t tell the difference.”

“You think him so inept?”

Curufin shrugs. “He’s not an artist.” Maedhros doesn’t look up from his work. He doesn’t need to, to hear his obvious contempt.

“Need he be?” Maedhros is examining a scroll covered in closely written text. Reading backwards, Curufin can’t tell if it’s a record of grain production or damages from the last round of border raids or, more likely, reports from their spies in the other camp.

He yanks the paper out from under his brother’s hands, forcing him to look up. “You forget who made this possible. I dealt with Macalaurë, I calmed Tyelkormo when he was near rebellion. Without me, you wouldn’t have grandfather’s crown to toss aside.”

Maedhros pulls another document out of a drawer and begins reading. “Did you expect me to be grateful?”

“You could have offered me a chair, at least.”

“That would imply I’m interested in having this conversation.”

Curufin tenses, holds his hands stiffly at his sides. “You know what it meant to father.”

“You knew what the title meant to father. And you were instrumental in giving it away.”

Maedhros has just enough time to prepare himself for the blow. Still, it stings. A trickle of blood runs down his lip. “Satisfied?”

“How long have you been waiting to use that?”

“I didn’t think to, unless you gave me cause.” He wipes away the blood with his sleeve, staining the silver embroidery. Curufin twitches.

“It was cruel and unnecessary. I thought you were above such things, Nelyafinwë Maitimo.”

“I’ve told you not to call me that.” Maedhros’s tone is still disinterested, but his expression looks pinched. “I have no patience for polite lies.”

“Of course. You’re no longer father’s heir. It wouldn’t do to forget that.”

“I am no longer Grandfather’s heir.”

Curufin shrugs. “Academic distinction.”

“I’m still your king, Curufinwë.”

“By what right?” He hold himself straight and enunciates every word, clear and deliberate. “Answer me, Nelyo. By what right? Have you developed any particular sign of talent or intelligence? Do tell us if you have, better late than never. Did father favor you?”

“If you think father was a competent politician –“

“All I ask is that you name one trait, just one, that sets you above us. You were beautiful, I suppose, but now –“

Maedhros stands, abruptly, pushing the chair back. “This audience is at an end.”

Curufin, already gone from the room, doesn’t hear him.

***

In ordinary circumstances, diplomatic meetings are held in Ñolofinwë’s house. The building is not as large as anything in the former Fëanorian settlement, an elegant complex of pale grey stone, but the audience chamber glitters with salvaged Valinorean gold. Not fifty years ago, Ñolofinwë would have called the display ostentatious. He was sure his nephews did, amongst themselves, as soon as they set foot in neutral territory. They’d brought little treasure out of Tirion. The wall-hangings, preserved imperfectly and at great personal risk, depict Ñoldorin stonemasons working side-by-side with Teleri architects in the construction of Alqualondë.

It wouldn’t do today, of course. Not nearly enough space. He’d arranged for Maitimo to meet him in what was being referred to, optimistically, as the town square, flanked by his sons and nephews, the heads of important noble houses dispersed throughout the crowd. It was imperative that they maintain at least a pretense of spontaneity. As if the transfer of highest symbolic authority had been the result of anything other than months of planning.

Maitimo knelt. “If there lay no grievance between us, lord, …”

They’d scheduled it for a sunny day, vanishingly rare by Lake Mithrim. His nephew’s eyes were downcast, almost as if he really had decided to give away his birthright in a moment of guilt and grief. If it hadn’t been for the improbable coincidence, the cool weak light, he might almost have believed it.

***

The rain picked up, that evening, and the various dignitaries were driven indoors. The new heirs-apparent had barely found an empty room before Turgon shook the door-frame with a vicious kick. A moment later, he collapses in a chair. “A pretty piece of political theater.”

Aredhel looks up from the new necklace in her fingers. “They were awfully convincing, weren’t they?”

“If you want me to believe for an instant that Nelyafinwë truly repents –“

“Father’s the high king whether he does or not.” Fingon leans over the back of his brother’s chair. “I know it’s not all you wanted, but guilt can’t bring her back. Not his. Not yours.”

“Why, Findekáno, that was almost cruel.”

“It’s true, Irissë.”

“Did I suggest otherwise?”

“You didn’t need to mention her.”

“What, should I pretend she never –“

“Elenwë!” Turgon almost knocks the chair aside in his haste to stand. “Her name was Elenwë. You can say it out loud, I won’t shatter.”

“You know I never thought so.” Aredhel tries to place a hand on his arm. He pushes her away.

“Sometimes I think you want to forget her. She was real, she lived, and she died, Findekáno, because our home wasn’t big enough for you. I see you, every day, closeted away with father, discussing troops and land and fealty. You’ve got your kingdom, now. I suppose it’s too much to ask you to think about your family.”

Fingon stiffens. “You can believe what you like. I’ll be with father, when you’re ready to speak civilly.”

“Now, Findekáno – “

“Good evening, Irissë.”

He slams the door behind him.

Aredhel begins to undo her braids.

***

Ñolofinwë is, predictably, surrounded by a knot of diplomats. There’s Aunt Lalwen, slightly inebriated, nobility of both parties, and there, talking to his father – Maedhros hasn’t seen him. He tucks back a loose strand of hair. Ñolofinwë turns towards him. “Not now, Findekáno.”

“Oh, don’t mind me. I’ve just been overcome with curiosity about – Mithrim agriculture, was it?”

He nods. “If it can be called that. The land is barely cultivated. Our nephews have made some progress – “

Maedhros coughs. “Forgive me, Uncle. I have unconscionably neglected to introduce my castellan.” The man at his side is half a head shorter than any Ñoldo in the room, with a dark grey topknot and severe features. “Laminon, my uncle, the High King Fingolfin. Finwë Ñolofinwë, in our tongue. Uncle, Laminon Dolindion. He’s been instrumental in developing the techniques I was telling you about.”

Ñolofinwë manages a pained smile. “And We are grateful for it. Maitimo.”

For the first time, Fingon looks away from Maedhros’s face and down at his robes. They’re heavier and stiffer than fashion dictates, almost like armor. His hands are buried in his sleeves. A high collar covers his neck. At least he seems content to glare daggers at Ñolofinwë. Do they have anything better to do than seek the advantage? It’s exhausting. He doesn’t bother to shield his thoughts. His father reaches out to squeeze his shoulder. I’m sorry, Findekáno. It’s been a very long day. At the same time, Maedhros thinks, It’s politics.

Fingon sighs. “Perhaps I should retire. You’re right. It has been a long day.”

“And I.” Under the circumstances, he thinks, it’s a wonder Maedhros can sound like he genuinely regrets it. “My brothers and I have a long ride ahead of us.”

Suddenly, Fingon feels very bold. “In this weather?” He takes hold of Maedhros’s upper arm. “You’re our guest, I can’t allow it. Stay the night.”

***

Usually, there would be guards about at this hour. It’s King Ñolofinwë’s coronation, though, and they’re all downstairs, or in the square. Half are drunk, most likely, and the other half are tailing the Fëanorian rank and file.

For thirty seconds, Fingon’s hand rests on the handle to his bedroom door.

“So that’s how it is, then.” Maedhros’s tone suggests nothing out of the ordinary. He might as well have asked me about the weather.

Fingon bristles. “I can’t think what you mean.”

“Really? Then you’ll show me to my room.”

Neither of them moves.

“There aren’t any empty guest rooms.”

“Convenient,” Maedhros says flatly.

“I don’t think father wanted any of your people to overstay their welcome.”

“I think that happened about five minutes after we arrived.”

“After you handed him the crown, rather.”

They laugh. It’s weak, cautious laughter, but laughter nonetheless. Maedhros closes his hand around Fingon’s and turns the handle. He turns to look back around the corner, and Fingon pushes him into the room. He smiles apologetically. “You never know who might be up.”

“If you’re ashamed to be seen with me, Findekáno, it’s rather late to start worrying.”

“Don’t.” Fingon is surprised by how cold he sounds.

“I don’t blame you. I know I’m not as –“

Don’t.” He finishes unfastening his outer robes and throws them across the bed. “If you want me to compliment you or reassure you or tell you I think your scars are interesting, say it. I won’t have you putting words in my mouth.”

Maedhros sits on the edge of the bed, carefully smoothing the creases from his garments. “My personal appearance is hardly relevant.”

Fingon sits down beside him and begins to disentangle the jewelry from his hair. “I disagree.”

“If your opinions – “

“Feelings–“

Feelings were known, do you think your people would trust you? Your family?

“Oh, no.” Fingon smiles. “Don’t tell me you’re suddenly concerned about my political prospects.”

“Of course I am. Who else in Ñolofinwë’s court trusts me half so well?”

It’s been very difficult, for the past few months, to tell when Maedhros is joking.

Fingon decides to shrug it off. “What about your brothers?”

“They’ll have realized where I am.”

“Does that concern you?”

Maedhros fiddles with his collar. “It won’t cause a mutiny, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“They respect you, then?” There’s half a minute’s pause before he responds.

“In a manner of speaking.”

Fingon kisses him. It’s not entirely unexpected, and Maedhros decides not to pull away.

***

Fingon wakes curled around a tangle of empty blankets. Maedhros is already fully dressed. He’s staring out the window. Judging by the indentation of the mattress, he has been for some time. “Did you watch the sun rise?”

“Hmm? Good morning, Findekáno.”

“It is, isn’t it?”

“Is what?”

“A good morning.” He flops lengthwise over the bed and smiles inanely. “Very clear. I might go riding later.”

“You have the time?”

“Oh, yes. Father always needs surveyors; he’s trying map the territory around his fortress. Not this one, this doesn’t count. The one he’s building. In the north.”

Maedhros turns away from the window, leaning against the ledge. “Now you’re a surveyor.” He slowly shakes his head. “And here you’d so thoroughly convinced me you had no head for numbers.”

“Truly, I am a man of many talents,” Fingon intones in his most serious Rúmil-voice. That gets a smile out of Maedhros, a weak one, but a smile. “In all honesty, it seemed a useful skill. I’m to have a kingdom too, you know.”

“Did you worry I’d forgotten?”

“No. You wouldn’t, would you?” Fingon pulls himself into a sitting position. “Probably a key part of the battle plans I’m sure you’ve already drafted.” He sounds bitter, he realizes, like Turukáno had last night. He’s not thinking about me. Even now.

Maedhros inclines his head.

“Let’s talk about something else.”

“You brought it up.”

“I know.” Fingon shakes his head. “Not a lucky subject for me, lately.”

He stands. The floor is cold against his feet, and he crosses the room is a series of awkward hops. Maedhros shifts to make room for him at the window.

“I know you can’t stay here, but how much longer will you be in Hithlum?” He forces a smile. “I was hoping to see you again before you left.”

“I was going to leave now, actually.”

“Now,” Fingon repeats blankly. “Today?”

 “In an hour. I’m sorry, Findekáno. You know I’m needed in the east.”

“Of course. I understand.”

Maedhros squeezes his hand before pulling away.