Finduilas had never met Aredhel; the latter had gone away to her brother’s hidden city some years before Finduilas was born. She occasionally heard her father, her aunt or one of her uncles talk about her, usually in conjunction with tales concerning Fingolfin’s sons or Fëanor’s—Galadriel was the only one who ever spoke of Aredhel independent of her brothers, or their mutual cousins. The impression Finduilas had gotten was one of a person who liked her freedom, but was nonetheless loyal to her family. That was what she had heard, and it had never been enough to form a coherent image of the nís, let alone develop any personal affection for her. The connection was just too tenuous for that.
When Finduilas entered the apartments, she found the lamps extinguished, and the room little more than lumps of ill-defined masses in shadow. Well, Finduilas’s night-sight was not so keen as were other’s—she propped the door open, and ventured deeper into the front room.
The first news Finduilas had ever received of Aredhel was that she had left Turgon’s city, only to vanish in the wilds of Beleriand. There had been many search parties sent out to find her, even here in Nargothrond, though Aredhel had vanished east of Doriath. That had been over eighty years ago, and in Nargothrond, at least, it was widely accepted that she was dead.
Though she had never met her father’s cousin, it was still somewhat unnerving to think of Aredhel as dead. Here was a member of her family whom Finduilas would never meet; one among many she would never meet, but no less unnerving for that. It seemed like her family was shrinking, shrinking, shrinking all the time, and all before she had ever gotten the chance to see them all.
But then, without warning, Aredhel had shown up at Nargothrond’s doorstep, and with an Edhel she identified as her son. They had been joyfully received, but neither mother nor son had had long to enjoy their new surroundings before trouble came to find them. Aredhel had not had long to enjoy them at all.
Finduilas picked her way carefully through what in half-darkness became a maze of furniture, until at last she found the door that led to the bedchamber. She knocked lightly on the door and wrapped her arms around herself. “Maeglin?” Finduilas called softly, the skin on her arms prickling uncomfortably. “Are you there?”
He might not be. Finduilas wasn’t sure where else he would be, but Maeglin might well have decided he needed to go somewhere he could not be so easily found by anyone who went looking for him.
Didn’t he mention to Uncle that he was a blacksmith? Finduilas wondered. The smithies were in a remote part of the city, well away from the throne room and any of the major halls. If Maeglin could find his way there, he would have a hiding spot that well-served the purpose.
After meeting nothing but silence, Finduilas pushed the bedchamber door ajar. She found a lamp lit, but the room empty. By necessity, then, would the smithies be her next destination.
The city was too loud from the beginning, though he had hidden his discomfort for his mother’s sake. This was just a stop on the way to Gondolin, she assured him, a stop to show him more of his family, and to show them that Aredhel Ar-Feiniel drew breath still. Maeglin suspected that the latter would now be true if only they had gone directly to Gondolin, but the fault was his. He’d not tried to dissuade her—indeed, he had been eager to meet more of his family, and see the lands that they ruled.
Even when he first passed the great doors, Nargothrond had been too loud. Everywhere Maeglin turned, there was the clamor of voices unceasing, competing against one another and producing so great a din that he found his head spinning. Even in the great mansions of the Hadhodrim, the presence of so many others was not so overwhelming. The Hadhodrim did not crowd around visitors, nor did they subject them to such incredible scrutiny as did the Edhil of Nargothrond.
Maeglin had retreated to the smithies, having picked out their location from the thoughts of a passing Edhel with a familiar-looking burn on their arm. They were empty, mercifully; given the current state of the city, Maeglin hadn’t expected too many of the smiths to be going about their business as usual, but you never know.
He sat in the back corner of one of the chambers, his elbows propped on one of the work tables, his face hidden in his hands. He blocked out the thoughts of the city as best he could—it was all the same and he didn’t want to hear it—but somehow, he couldn’t keep his own thoughts from going to the same place, over and over.
Maeglin knew what blood smelled like; he’d had plenty of cuts in his life, as had his parents and the Hadhodrim. It wasn’t a foreign scent, but one Maeglin had long ago accepted as natural. So why, he wondered furiously, had it become so horrifying now?
It all played out as though it was still happening. Father had followed them, though neither had known it until after they had been brought before King Finrod. His mood was foul, his rage palpable to Maeglin even halfway across the throne room from him—his father’s rage was so like a thunderstorm that he was amazed that none but he and Mother seemed to sense it. Father’s foul mood had not improved when he had demanded his wife and son’s return, only to have Finrod refuse him on both counts.
“Sir, do not keep me from my kin,” Eöl said quietly, his dark eyes blazing. “A king you may be, but you do not have the power to keep me from my wife and son.”
Maeglin felt his mother clutch at his shoulder and frowned, but dared not speak.
Finrod glared at him, crossing his arms over his chest. “Your wife and your son are adults, free to go where they will,” he replied sharply, “and both are kin to me. You may stay here, if you wish, you may leave with them if they wish, but I will not allow you to take my cousin or her child anywhere against her will.”
That was not the thing to say to Father. It never had been.
She’d gone quickly after the javelin struck her. The wound had seemed so trivial—she was even joking with Finrod about how long it would be before she was fit to hunt again—but before the night had passed, she was gone. For Father, the end had come sooner still. Struggling with the guards had proven unwise, in his case.
He had wanted freedom. That was what Maeglin had wanted; that was all. He wanted out from under his father’s shadow, and for his mother to have the freedom she longed for as well. True, Maeglin had wished to know better his mother’s kin, but he would have traded that away in an instant if necessary, if that was what was needed to ensure that he would never again dwell beneath the eaves of Nan Elmoth.
Never had Maeglin intended for his parents to die as the price for his freedom—not even his father, no matter what had passed between them. But Father had always claimed that it would be a great evil for Maeglin to leave his house and seek his mother’s kin. Was this his payment, then?
It wasn’t supposed to be her. Father hadn’t aimed the javelin at her; he was aiming straight at Maeglin. Maeglin’s shock had rooted him to the ground, but Mother had never let shock paralyze her. If I had stayed, maybe he wouldn’t have chased after her. Maybe…
And what will happen to me now? Maeglin wandered dully, drawing a shallow, shuddering breath.
Mother had never disclosed the road to Gondolin. No matter how Maeglin had pressed her, she would not reveal it to him, and he could not divine it from her thoughts. She did not trust him, or she feared who might overhear. Maeglin doubted very much that he could find his uncle’s city on his own, and even if he could, that would not avail him. The way into Gondolin was guarded, and it was Lady Aredhel whom the guards would recognize, not her son, unknown as he was.
He did not wish to stay here, not where both his parents drew their last breath. Doriath was out of the question; Maeglin might have been the son of one of Thingol’s lords, but his mother’s blood meant that Doriath was barred against him. The Hadhodrim had accepted Maeglin and his father into their mansions as guests, not as ones seeking a safe place to live. Celegorm, Curufin and Celebrimbor had been perfectly kind to him when it was him and his mother fleeing Eöl, but Maeglin was not sure how kind they would be if the son of Eöl returned to Himlad, to tell them that he had gotten his mother killed.
Maeglin had kin elsewhere in Beleriand, he knew that—his grandfather, another uncle, and many cousins. He was the child of a large family, most of whom he had never met. But Maeglin dreaded the idea of throwing himself on the mercy of his kin, when all he had to recommend himself was that he was Aredhel’s son, who had gotten his mother killed.
Maeglin was wrenched form his thoughts by the click of shoes against the stone floor. He shrank back against the wall, pressing his back to cold stone. The clicking footfalls drew closer and closer, until their master came out from a bend in the corridor. There was a flash of gold in the gloom, and Maeglin blinked, unsure whether to be grateful or dismayed.
Finduilas held the translucent purple skirt of the innermost layer of her clothing in her hand, the better to keep it from dragging the sooty ground. She looked around, the sunburst of jeweled pins in her hair sparkling with each toss of the head. Maeglin drew further back against the wall, saying nothing, but Finduilas caught sight of him nonetheless. Her lips quirked faintly, not a smile, not really, though it might have tried to be.
“I was looking for you,” she said softly, drawing no closer than the doorway.
Maeglin stood and nodded stiffly; he knew not what else to do. “Forgive me… I… wished to be alone.”
She grimaced. “I imagine so.”
There was a lamp hanging on the wall behind Finduilas; in its light, she glowed brightly, to the point that she almost seemed to give off light of her own. It hurt to look at her. But Maeglin doubted Finduilas had the same difficulty. “Why…” He worried at his lower lip with his tongue. “…Why are you here?”
Finduilas took a step forward. Her lip quirked again, even more fitfully this time. “I came to tell you that you may take your meals in private, if you wish.” Apparently, his absence at breakfast had not gone unnoticed. She reached up with her free hand and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. A crease formed between her eyebrows. “And I came to tell you that I’m sorry for what happened.”
Maeglin eyed her silently. He could sense no lie in her words, no blame, but he could find no relief in that. It could only be pity that inclined her thusly, and while he would rather meet with pity than with scorn, he was not certain that one would not give way to the other, given time.
Evidently, she had guessed at his thoughts, for her eyes flashed. Finduilas strode across the room until only the table stood between the two of them. She put her hand on Maeglin’s shoulder, or tried to—he shrank from her touch. Nevertheless, she told him, staring straight into his eyes, “Maeglin. It is not your fault.”
The lamp outside flickered, sending deeper shadows still to gather around them. Maeglin swallowed hard, his shoulders stiffening. “Do you… Do you know what will become of me?”
If Finduilas was bothered by this change of the subject, she did not show it. Instead, she sighed slightly, drawing her hand back to her side. “Uncle has already sent word to the High King—your grandfather,” she added unnecessarily. “It’s likely that you’ll be under his care, in Barad Eithel.”
His grandfather. Aredhel’s father. The person Maeglin wished least to face. He squeezed his eyes shut and said nothing, his stomach churning. Of course he would have no choice; a child went where he was bid, and Maeglin had far less reason to defy Fingolfin than he did Eöl. But Maeglin almost found the idea of becoming one of the Enemy’s thralls preferable to meeting with his grandfather.
Her hands pressed against his shoulders. When Maeglin’s eyes fluttered open, Finduilas was smiling sadly at him, the shadows carving lines in her face. “You need not be anxious,” she told him gently. “Your grandfather places a great deal of value on his kin. He’ll treat you kindly.”
“Do you think so?” Maeglin asked skeptically, scrutinizing her closely. Finduilas could not claim to have brought about the death of her parents; she’d never had to face her kin after that, nor after anything comparable to it.
Finduilas nodded, the lamplight shimmering on her hair and her hairpins. Her grip on his shoulders tightened. “Yes, I do. I know him. He won’t turn you away, and he won’t mistreat you,” she said firmly.
Maeglin couldn’t be sure. He couldn’t be sure how anyone would react, if given the care of the child who had gotten their daughter killed. But… But he found he wanted to believe her, nonetheless. He wanted to believe that there was a place for him with his family, still.