“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.” Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.
In those days Maedhros son of Fëanor lifted up his heart, perceiving that Morgoth was not unassailable; for the deeds of Beren and Lúthien were sung in many songs throughout Beleriand. Yet Morgoth would destroy them all, one by one, if they could not again unite, and make new league and common council; and he began those counsels for the raising of the fortunes of the Eldar that are called the Union of Maedhros.“ The Silmarillion.
Fingon, Maedhros, and Maglor huddled together late near the glow of the fire in the main hall of Himring Fortress. The impressive stone-built stronghold clung to the steep sides of the greatest hill in the northeast of Beleriand—the last buttress against any onslaught by the Black Foe of the north. This was an official visit to the people of Himring by their high king, a title which still bemused Fingon, although its responsibilities no longer felt alien. Fingon had not been displeased to arrive earlier than he usually did for his habitual semi-annual personal rendezvous with Maedhros. Spring had come early that year. The astronomers and pundits were still calling it a false spring. Fingon hoped it might remain with no late snow to follow.
The warmth at noontime of the last several days had weakened again into a wintery chill every evening. But earlier in the day on horseback in the open air, feeling the warmth of the sun on their faces had seem to reaffirm that a new day indeed was coming, or, at least, in Fingon’s intractably optimistic outlook, very likely to be coming. Their world was changing and, if he had anything to say about it, they would seize their opportunity to intervene. It had been a long and bloody road, strewn with heartbreak and martyred dead. After a long dark winter, they finally faced the promise of spring.
After an extended hunt, which had taken them more than halfway down the slope of Himring Hill, they had returned to the keep for food, drink, and song to soothe a pleasant weariness and feed their new green hope. The evening’s banquet might, at a casual glance, have appeared to have been a celebration. It was a feast, but not a joyous occasion. Fingon and Maedhros organized it to honor and mourn the passing of arguably the wisest and most beloved among their kinsmen, Finrod King of Nargothrond, recently called Felagund by his admiring Dwarven comrades.
Fingon acknowledged to himself the heaviness of his heart at their great loss and gratefully found personal comfort from Maedhros and Maglor. Yet Finrod’s cruel death, as capricious fate would have it, had set into motion events which encouraged the swelling of hearts and expectations. Fingon and Maedhros had included Maglor in their habitual parley before any joint gathering in Himring and insisted that they would dedicate this evening to the memory of their fallen cousin Finrod, as much for political as personal reasons.
Maedhros had first delivered a speech recalling him as the most charismatic and brilliant among the Noldorin lords from the West. He reminded the people of Himring of Finrod’s loyalty to and love for his kinsmen farther north and extolled his virtues as a friend to Men and Dwarves. He named his lost cousin as one of their own most steadfast allies. He made the point that his loyal friendship had been even more laudable in that Finrod had resisted the relentless pressure from Thingol in Doriath to abandon his Noldorin kin. Faced with their current organizational tasks, Maedhros did not hesitate to mention with blunt pragmatism the loss of Finrod’s valuable connections to the tribes of Men who had also loved him well.
Fingon noted that Maedhros barely glanced in the direction of his brothers Curufin and Celegorm, skulking at the end of the high table on the dais. They ought to have been thankful to have retained a seat at the front of the great hall. Their presence, at the moment, left a bad taste, but that too was a political necessity. He had long ago learned to stay out of Fëanorian squabbles. No one at the high table wanted to be around them. But they still had followers, although fewer in number and more critical of the two than they had been before the recent events Nargothrond.
Maedhros had left to Fingon that night the unappealing task of addressing the deeds of the two errant brothers whose transgressions of kinship and hospitality, exercised with murderous intent, had led to Finrod’s fall. They had discussed what he would say. Maedhros did not trust himself to keep his temper when faced with Curufin’s cold-hearted lack of regret and Celegorm’s too easily expressed remorse.
His assessment was that Fingon could better control his fury. Fair Celegorm, his handsome visage strained, watchful, and unspeaking had sat next to his younger brother with a hang-dog look of one ensnarled unawares in a tragic misunderstanding.
Even Celegorm’s purported admission of regret held little value for Fingon since he had heard nothing to indicate that his cousin had shown any awareness of the ramifications of his betrayal. Neither malefactor appeared to recognize the damage they had done to indispensable future alliances. With banked anger, Fingon had not yet sought either of them out since he had arrived. He would have to do so before he departed. But he had work that had needed doing here before forcing himself to deal with the recalcitrant Curufin and wretched Celegorm.
Fingon gave what he hoped was a precise and unembroidered outline of their behavior in Nargothrond. He concluded with perhaps a low shot but one that hit its mark: any warrior unable to retain even the loyalty of their own horse or hound would need to work hard to prove to their kinsmen and sworn lords that they were worthy of future trust. As Maedhros had hoped and predicted to Fingon, they stayed in their seats—in a sufficient, if inadequate, show of loyalty and acceptance of criticism, for the moment at least.
But then everyone knew Fëanorians stuck together. For them to have withdrawn from the table would have been tantamount to rebellion. Banishment by their brother would carry equally broad implications. The two sat glued together at the end of the banquette, transparently finding no joy in one another’s company, desirous only of being ignored, while they stoically endured a public excoriation. Fingon marveled, not for the first time, that Maedhros had been able to assert his authority thus far. Fingon did have a premonition—hardly brilliant or astounding—that this would not be the duos’ last disastrous mistake.
Finally, Maglor sang. He did not choose one of his own older compositions or a new lay written for Finrod, but one of their late cousin’s own—Finrod’s most popular air—a paean to the beauty of the dark skies and bright stars of Endórë and an anthem to the defense of those lands against the Dark Vala. Fingon thought ruefully that he did not leave a dry eye in the house. Like many more of them might be fated to do, their much-loved Ingo had died far from his childhood home, the land of his birth. But what else ought they have expected when they set out from Tirion with their prideful hearts filled with a yearning for independence at any cost? Indeed, the price had been high so far. Eru willing, this latest campaign, unequalled in magnitude and audacity, would be worth the consequences. He shared their people’s sorrow, but he needed bright eyes and stout hearts not tears.
If putting that most unpleasant task behind him did not bring the promise of rest closer for Fingon, he did find comfort in the fact they had finished a magnificent meal and drank a lot, which meant he could retire soon to Maedhros’ bedchamber and find comfort in the arms of his beloved. At least they had not planned an early morning.
Maglor spent the next morning lounging on a divan alone in the solar, strumming a small lute, with the intent of la-la-la-ing absentmindedly until his brother and his companion awakened. The solar was the brightest room in the castle, situated between Maedhros’ bedroom and the one recently assigned to him. From there he could act as Fingon and Maedhros’ protector and sentinel, their concerned brother and friend.
Fingon’s arrival at Himring this year had felt like he brought the spring itself. The magic of their valiant cousin was that he could pull sunshine out of the stormiest day. Not literally, of course, and he’d best abandon that trite turn of phrase. Sentiments like that could worm their way into one’s versification and be damnably hard to root out. The truth was that spring brought Fingon to Himring every year, until it had begun to feel more and more like it was Fingon who announced the coming of spring. And a good-natured, handsome harbinger of the season’s change he was . . . no wonder his brother remained so enchanted by him.
Maglor had just begun to relax, grateful that he could ward off unwelcome visitors from disturbing his brother and the high king. Maglor had a right to be here and no one else in the fortress did. Neither Maedhros nor Fingon was ever allowed much privacy. Their time together was scant, and, therefore, all the more precious to them. Maglor liked to think of himself as an easygoing, good-natured sort of person, but he had been told he could be quite off-putting when he chose to be. That was his choice that fine early-spring morning—to be a veritable dragon.
The day had dawned unseasonably mild again and through the mullioned panes of glass of the unshuttered window he could see the branches of a frivolously incongruous potted tree covered with buds . . . coming into leaf . . . or perhaps better said, covered with tender leaf buds . . . Yavanna in all of her verdant glory . . . Oh, Eru, no! It was a close call to determine whether Yavanna or Varda Star Kindler had been most abused by poets. The way hackneyed phrases could roll so blithely off one’s tongue must be instinctive to human nature. Genius, however, lies in avoiding them, he thought. The verdant smell of spring . . . There’s that cursed word again, ‘verdant!’ he thought and, anyway, he couldn’t smell a thing except the brisk, black tea in the cup at his elbow. In truth, he was talking aloud to himself—an irritating habit of pretentious hacks. I am a hack now, he thought! Soldiering and poesy have proved uncomfortable bedmates.
A sharp rapping on the door called him out of his self-indulgent meanderings. He recognized that distinctive knock. It was the young squire who trained in the martial arts under the captain of Fingon’s personal guard from Barad Eithel—a comely young lad, half-Sindarin, a talented lutenist with a fair singing voice—such a waste of natural gifts. Maglor placed his own lute to one side with care and walked to the door, hoping to reach it before the boy rapped again and awakened his charges.
“What can I do for you?” Maglor said in a voice intentionally arch, forbidding he hoped.
“Excuse me, my lord,” he nearly shouted through the heavy door. “The king requested I inform him as soon as the baggage train carrying his livestock had been spotted. They’ve rounded the last curve of the road.” Maglor reluctantly opened the door.
“Come in. Come in. I’ll wake him. Livestock you say? Did he think we were so poorly provisioned that we would not be able to feed him and his party?”
The boy’s smooth cheeks flushed as red as a pomegranate. “No, sir. They are a particular gift for the Lord of Himring.”
Just then Fingon burst out of the bedroom, pulling his plush blue velvet robe around him and tying its sash around his narrow waist. His muscular torso was still largely visible at the deep opening of his robe that reached nearly to his waist. He was obviously naked beneath it. The young squire ducked his head to hide a grin. Of course, as a resident of Fingon’s inner court, this kind of behavior would not be new to the boy. To the constant vexation of his father, Fingon had never been bound by propriety or modesty since he was himself a boy struggling to be recognized among his even brasher Fëanorian cousins.
“It’s the wagon with our birds!” Fingon said, jubilant.
“Birds?” Maedhros asked, his voice still husky with sleep, emerging in the doorway, an over-sized bath sheet wrapped tightly around him from chin to ankle, his bright copper hair unbraided and flowing over his shoulders in all its flaming glory—no flaunting of a state of undress on his part. He probably was unaware of how well-rested and well-loved he looked—more vibrant than Maglor had seen him in months, not since Fingon’s last visit the previous spring to be precise. At the moment, his face looked relaxed and nearly as young as it had when he had been lauded as the most beautiful youth in Valinor.
“Why have you brought us birds, Findekáno?” he asked in a languorous, affectionate drawl.
“I’ve brought you birds, beloved! I need to get dressed. You do too! I want us to be there when they are unloaded. I’ll explain everything you’ll need to know about them then. I think my idea is going to be revolutionary.” Fingon was all but dancing in place with enthusiasm, like a nervy thoroughbred horse ready for a race. In other words, he behaved in a manner that was quite quintessentially Fingon.
“May I guess?” asked Maedhros, gifting him an adoring smile. They did border at times on being difficult to watch; one tended to feel like an intruder looking uninvited upon an intimate scene.
“Ha!” Maglor barked. “Of course, Nelyo knows what you’re up to now. He always knows everything.”
Fingon laughed, irrepressible in his excitement. “If he’s so bloody smart, why didn’t he think of messenger birds himself?” He winked flirtatiously at Maedhros. Everyone laughed, even the shy squire; it was nearly impossible to resist Fingon’s infectious good humor.
“Ah, I see,” Maglor said, grinning. “You’ve trained a fleet of messenger doves and brought them to him as a gift so he can send you more frequent love letters. The two of you are an inspiration for devoted lovers everywhere. You do deserve to be the subject of song! Well, actually, you already are! Aren’t you? Unfortunately, there’re largely banal songs. That’s why I can’t sing about you. You’re a living cliché—Beleriand’s most widely shared secret.”
Perhaps he could sing their story challenging all of the sentimental interpretations. The glory and heartbreak of their truth, known in its entirety to only a few, surpassed any encomiastic embellishments or romantic twaddle that mediocre singers might invent. Their deeds and this latest alliance would be the story. Their love would only be the backdrop. Perhaps, at last, this might be the moment they had worked and waited for. Fingon had the heart to seize it and Maedhros the brains to make it work. The vision of victory was sweet and felt almost real enough to touch.
Maedhros called for Erestor to help him dress. He didn’t want to take the time he would need to do it on his own. The idea thrilled him that they had gathered here together for strategic planning that, for once, was other than defensive in nature.
“I asked if you wanted the green tunic or a plain brown one,” Erestor snapped at him and Maedhros laughed. No man is a hero to his own manservant and secretary.
“You choose. But I want to comfortable. It’s going to be a long, hard day.” Erestor chose the dressier, but less comfortable, green one, of course.
It had not been difficult to forget, once he and Fingon had closed the bedroom door behind themselves the night before, how long the road and how hard the final battle would be. Even before the latest events, sometimes when they were alone, kissing or laughing together, success almost seemed possible.
“Very hectic!” Erestor snorted, in amusement or disdain, Maedhros was not sure. “First looking at Finno’s wagonload of birds! And then meeting with Finno and your traitorous brothers. Good thing you have Finno and Macalaurë for a buffer. Do you want me there too?”
“I’d assumed you would be . . . but I am going to ask Curvo to take notes. I want to keep him so occupied scribing for me and working in the forge that he won’t have time for treasonous stupidities.”
Everything felt different now, almost as though one had been blindfolded and then could suddenly see sunlight. At first, it was too bright, almost made it difficult to focus, but when one’s eyes adjusted it was obvious. This was no vision or wonder-tale. Morgoth was not unassailable. He thought he should be more trusting of Fingon’s dreams. He carried hope like a banner—"breathless with hope," Maedhros had often told him. But he was nothing if not resourceful, bold but attentive to detail, a natural leader.
His people admired Fingon; they loved to tell tales of his valor and his unrivaled nerve—of going to Thangorodrim alone or taking on a firedrake sight unseen. But Maedhros knew that discipline beats valor and Fingon had discipline and organization skills as well as an exceptional mind. He had not fallen in love with him for his physical attributes or his pretty face, although those were certainly an additional benefit. For a moment, he permitted himself to be distracted—gleaming raven locks tied off with golden twine, lean but well-muscled, with broad, strong shoulders. For once Maedhros refused to be self-critical and allowed himself the indulgence. It was not often that they were able to be together as they would be this week. He laughed silently and Erestor peered at him skeptically while lacing the front of his tunic. Maedhros ignored him but lifted his chin in silent cooperation when he neared the top.
Their new strategy would require replenishment of weaponry—strong helms, swords, battleaxes, long spears, the strongest chainmail hauberks that Noldorin craftsmanship could fashion—and the means of distributing them to those they intended to recruit with less capacity for production. Any hands that Fingon’s messenger birds could free for other tasks would be welcomed. They’d have need of every man they had and more. Maedhros’ hardcore followers were men of courage and honor, demons on the battlefield and unrivalled at craft. They had a reputation for blind fanaticism—he preferred to call it loyalty—and stubborn determination. But they would be but a small if steely core of what would be needed.
Later, he thought, after he received his lecture on the birds, and all of the wonderful things they could do—he chuckled to himself thinking that Fingon’s rendition would not be boring—they would need to hold a far less entertaining meeting to draw up lists of who they needed to reach and how best to recruit them. They must form a grand alliance and do it quickly. Their window of opportunity would not stay open long.
“There! You’re decent,” Erestor said, surveying him with a critical eye, as though not at all impressed. “Would you like me to braid your hair?”
“Leave it. I’m not riding anywhere today. Once I’ve seen my gift birds, we’re likely to be trapped in the council chamber for hours. And, anyway, Finno likes to braid it.” His heart softened at the thought.
Erestor chuckled and shook his head. “I wish you could hear how sentimental you sound!”
Maedhros shrugged smiling. “Thank you, Eressetor. I am most grateful for your assistance.”
“So you always say, Sire. One of the many reasons I serve you so willingly.”
When Maedhros entered the stable yard, he found a crowd gathered around the wagon. The sun told him it was not yet mid-morning but it was already as warm as true springtime. Of course, Celegorm was there—he should have expected that. After all, he did know how to talk to birds. He looked more alert and less shamefaced than Maedhros had seen him since that miserable rainy night he and Curufin had ridden into the same courtyard with their awful tale to tell.
You’ll have to get out of your head and follow your heart, he thought. His tactic of trying to remain invisible—Curufin’s advice—wasn’t working well in any case. He could not recall feeling more throttled than he had sitting through Fingon’s upbraiding of the night before.
“Aha!” Fingon shouted across the stable yard when spotted him. “I was expecting you.”
Of course, he was. He’d have remembered that Celegorm had flown homing pigeons for sport in Valinor half a lifetime ago. He’d won every race. No one else could talk to their birds. Fingon needed someone who could supervise their maintenance, a menial task, but not an unimportant one. Most of all he needed him, and only him, to figure out a way to circumvent his greatest logistical problem. Pigeons carried messages only one way, to their home, but needed to be transported manually before another flight. And, they took months to train. They did not have months to spare.
“I thought I could be useful.” He peered into the cages loaded onto the bed of a large wagon. They looked healthy and well-kept. “Of course, they’ll need a proper diet and we’ll have to build a dovecote . . . ” he began.
“Don’t fuck around with me, Tyelko. I know that you know what I really need from you!” He grinned, holding Celegorm’s eyes with a chilly gaze, none of his usual warmth.
“Yes, chief, once you get a message, you’ll want to reply. Duh!”
Celegorm looked around their immediate vicinity. They really needed to talk, but this wasn’t exactly the spot for the private conversation he hoped to have. Then he realized looking at the fellows who had arrived with the birds that they were all, not surprisingly, Sindarin and Nandorin from the environs of Eithel Sirion. He and Fingon had been speaking in the rapid-fire, truth be told, gutter Quenya they’d picked up in the bad-boy period of their youth in the lower circles of Tirion. Even Maedhros would have been hard-pressed to understand them.
“I can help. But we need to talk,” Celegorm insisted. “About what happened in Nargothrond and Ingo . . .”
“Do you really want to go there?”
“I can’t work like this.”
“Fine. Have your say.” Fingon crossed his arms over his chest and waited.
He had hoped that Fingon would yell at him again, breaking the ice, allowing him to apologize. Celegorm wanted to make him understand somehow. But why did it have to be so awkward? He wasn’t prepared to argue his case. There was nothing to be done but to start talking.
“I really tried. But the oath awakened and changed my nature.” He lifted his mulish chin—a habit Curufin told him that he ought to break. His words were brave, but his voice shook. “Ingo was going to help Beren steal a Silmaril—stupid beyond belief to begin with and not his to take. But my oath called to me and I could not resist its pull.” He was not going to blame Curufin’s relentless pressure and scheming, although that would have been largely true and would make a better argument. “No more than a hawk can resist, or feel pity, when it dives for a vole or a ground squirrel. The oath called and twisted my heart and mind. It made me lose sight of my better self. For obvious reasons, you ought to be aware of its power.”
“That dog won’t hunt! How can you be so close to nature and try to pass that one off on me? What animal is vicious to its own kind? And even if you can name me one, you are of the Quendi, not a forest beast. You are a sport of nature apparently. A monster who is kind to beasts and birds, but hunts its own.”
“Don’t spare me, Finno!” As though he had not received enough of a tongue-lashing the night before! “You know nothing. You weren’t there.”
“But Curufinwë was. And we all know he gives impeccable counsel. I can’t believe that your oath is irresistible in all cases,” said Fingon. “Did you see Maitimo haring-off to arm wrestle Beren and Lúthien for it? You are not all bad nor are you without powers. You’ve got broad shoulders! You’re a smart fellow. You can bloody well talk to birds and animals. How many people can do that?”
“A surprising number among the Nandor actually . . .” Fingon inhaled sharply in frustration.
“If you weren’t such a lazy low-life you probably could have matched Ingo at sorcery. I’ve heard you effectively swayed the large majority of Ingo’s lifelong followers and closest companions with your words.”
“Listen. I had a difficult childhood. My father did not value my particular gifts at all.”
Fingon finally met his eyes with some of his old affection and his voice softened, although his words remained harsh. “Cry me a river of tears and I will build you a boat! I am not a healer, although your brother has some competent ones here at Himring, with their own insights and experience with the human heart, some of them dating to Cuiviénen.” He did not offer forgiveness. “Some are numbered among ‘the Wise,’ as was Ingo.”
Never one to let a thing rest even when he might be gaining ground, Celegorm had to raise what he was certain haunted Fingon during his darkest nights. Gentling his voice and tempering his language, he said, “Perhaps, it will go differently for Nelyo. Perhaps his love for you will be stronger than the oath. He was able to stand up to our father at Losgar. I hope you are right if I am faced with such a choice again. I hope it is a choice and not unreasoning blind instinct.”
“Leave Maitimo out of this and stop being an apologist for your refusal to use the more complex parts of your brain and volitional capacity. Doing the right thing hurts. I know we are capable of pushing back.”
“People always underestimate the power this cursed oath has.” Petulant again. No way to win an argument.
“Ha!” Fingon laughed bitterly. “More like I am overestimating you.”
“I am truly sorry. I loved Ingo too. I admit I did not stop to consider what we might be losing, only what he intended to take from us. You should have seen him standing there in front of all his people, offering his crown to Orodreth, his face aglow with a sanctimonious light, as self-righteous as one of those Vanyarin street corner preachers on the slopes of Taniquetil.” Stop! Just stop now! he told himself, but he didn’t. “Speaking of oaths, on the basis of an ill-advised overly generous oath to a dead man . . .” He saw Fingon shaking his head in disbelief at what he was hearing, yet he still continued. “. . . he proposed to march his warriors out from Nargothrond, leaving it virtually undefended, leaving it in the hands of that sad, annoying, ineffectual Orodreth. That one may have some learning in arts and letters, but I’ve often wondered if he is mentally deficient.”
“Are you finished yet? You’re digging your own grave, Tyelko!” Fingon’s face turned red, as he struggled to control his emotions. It was impossible to tell if he was involuntarily amused or furious. “Hard to believe you are sober.”
“And it was all to aid that raggedy mortal in his quest for the possession of one of our Silmarils. Nice enough and a good-looking fellow, if one doesn’t mind the hairy, unwashed look, but he was not a leader of men. He was desperate, a lone survivor of a long-diminished people . . .”
Fingon interrupted again, “A diminished people long revered and much loved by Ingo. If you paid more attention to history and politics . . .”
“Fine! We both know you’re right! I regret it! I’m fucking sorry! The whole thing was a fucking nightmare. What can I do? Tell me what you want of me now. Like me or not, Finno, I am yours to command.”
“You could start by recalling that I witnessed you swear allegiance to Maitimo as the head of the House of Fëanáro. I remember that, in a tent on the north shore of Mithrim, like it was yesterday. But, if that feels like ancient history to you, it has only been a few short years since my father was killed and you recognized me as High King of the Noldor, on bended knee in front of his throne. Ring any bells?”
Celegorm took a deep breath and dropped to one knee amongst the straw and horse shit of the stable yard.
“Get up, Tyelko. There is no need for more words. You have already sworn fealty where you owed it. All I ask of you now is that you refresh your memory and be a help and not a hindrance. As luck or fate would have it, we are presented with what may be our only chance.” He extended his hand and Celegorm clasped it, pulling himself to his feet.
Maedhros walked toward them smiling. “So, is Tyelko going to help us with the birds?”
“Yes,” said Fingon. “That and anything else we ask of him.”
“Good,” said Maedhros. “Excellent.”
The council chamber located on the third floor was banked by casement windows on one side, left open to allow ventilation. The sun was still warm and spring-like breezes stirred the air. In addition to Maedhros’ three brothers and Erestor, Fingon had invited the captain of his personal guard and three other battle-seasoned warriors from his contingent to the meeting. Of course, Maedhros’ own senior commanders were present, the captain of his forges, the woman who trained his longbowsmen—a blonde giantess, who appeared homely until she smiled and then transformed into a beauty—their chief cartographer and astronomer, also a woman, and, finally, an Elder and Wiseman called Ngaulë, who had been an intimate of Finwë over years uncountable. His father had claimed Ngaulë had been one of the Unbegotten. He probably had more personal experience of hardship than the rest of the room had as a collective.
As far as Maedhros could surmise, it was as impressive a war council as any elven realm could have summoned on such short notice and, to their good fortune, one inspired by Fingon’s fierce bright valor and fervent heart—a high king to make his people and their allies proud. He regretted the absence of Caranthir and the twins. At least they had the virtues of being able to follow instructions and to write and expeditiously forward honest reports. And, most importantly, they had shown no inclinations to incite rebellions.
The room, although not enormous, accommodated all of them with no overcrowding around its long rectangular table. A sideboard on the opposite side of the room from the windows was stocked with a copious amount of food and drink. Maedhros watched Maglor look at it and sighed, doubtlessly noting that the quantity suggested a long day’s work ahead of them, while Fingon noticed Maglor’s glance and smirked at him.
Maglor shrugged, grinning back at him, and said, “We don’t all have your stamina, Finno.” Maedhros wanted to smile and joke with them but needed to remain composed. Levity could come later after he took care of the last bits of lingering unpleasantness with the scoundrels from Nargothrond.
“First,” Maedhros said looking at Curufin, “I am glad to see you here, Curvo.”
“I got your message,” he grumbled.
“Good. I want to clarify that everyone present accepts that we must stand together as one. Anyone who cannot do that can leave now.”
Celegorm nodded vigorously in the affirmative. Curufin stared straight ahead.
“And you, Curufinwë Fëanorion? No one can speak for you. But remember that I know you well. I need to hear it.” Maedhros bit off every word as though it left a bad taste behind it.
He recalled how Fingon always found it fascinating when he felt it necessary to harden up and call any of his brothers to order. It was not as though he liked doing it, but it was his responsibility. His legacy as the oldest was that his parents, perhaps unfairly at times, had expected him to act as a disciplinarian to the younger ones. While he didn’t think any of them doubted he loved them, he did tire of being the hard one.
“I am here, aren’t I?" Curufin sniped. His eyes narrowed, daring Maedhros to push him. "And I am ready to work hard.” He’d always been an arrogant, pugnacious brat.
“Well,” the Elder in the corner, who rarely spoke publicly, muttered quietly to himself, “there’s nothing else we can do, but settle for that. We need the wanker.” Fingon’s eyes shot open wide and he stifled a grin.
Curufin paled but chose not to let the remark pass, saying instead with apparent earnestness and deference, “I greatly appreciate, sir, that you think I have something to contribute.”
“Take it that way if ye like, Curufinwë,” old Ngaulë responded laconically. “The fact is we are damnably short-handed.”
Maedhros bit back a smile. He thought that was quite possibly the last remark they would hear from Ngaulë for the duration and, yet, it was a useful contribution, saving him from an extended counterproductive exchange which could have weakened his authority and fed into Curufin’s resentment.
Curufin straightened his back and squared his shoulders—ready to work. When Curufin worked, his endurance was prodigious. Thankfully, he took after their father in that regard. He was well-respected among the forge workers and he knew how to set and meet a production quota. It was, however, a rotten shame that Celebrimbor had been lost to them through his father and uncle’s treasonous malice.
Rumor had it that the son might have nearly surpassed his father in skill already. Ironically, for all of Curufin’s posturing to being the heir to Fëanáro’s skill, he fell short of unsurpassable. The truth was Fëanáro’s legacy as the greatest craftsman among the Noldor might have skipped a generation. But aside from all Maedhros’ ruminations about Curufin’s genius or lack thereof, he would accept—nay, welcome—his assistance.
He could not help but wonder what price he might have to pay for his pardon of his brothers? But Fëanorians had to stick together. They shared a terrible burden. Even if their behavior at times reminded him of the old saying, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Curufin, in particular, had pushed the borders of disloyalty into the realm of treason at Nargothrond.
“Well, then, we’re as ready as we will ever be,” said Fingon with a relieved smile, nodding to Maedhros. “Would you like to speak first?”
“No. I think you should tell everyone about the birds.” Fingon would warm up the group for the hard work ahead of them.
“I’ll do my best,” he said. “Tyelko should feel free to interrupt me if I get anything wrong.”
Maedhros tried to push aside his foreboding while observing that Celegorm looked bright and raring to go—tall, fair, and handsome. The sun from the windows glinted off his dark gold curls—he wished, not for the first time, that Celegorm’s temperament and character matched his looks in fairness. But he could be good when he was like this, for as long as the mood lasted. At this point in time, he could not have hoped for better from those two brothers—battered and damaged perhaps, but not entirely broken—one, for the moment at least, enthusiastic, and the other determined to fight his way back into favor. Fingon often teased him that the Fëanorian brothers were like wolves. They had a pack mentality—they would serve and serve well as long as he maintained his position of authority over them.
Fingon lifted the remaining gloom from the gathering, with colorful descriptions of the utility of his birds, describing how Barad Eithel would now be linked to Himring, not by days in good weather or weeks in bad, but by hours. Celegorm concisely addressed specific queries relating to travel time, speed, distance, and reliability, showing his better side, clearly in his element.
“Too bad we don’t know where Turvo is,” said Maglor. “We could send him a messenger bird and inform him of our plans and our urgent need of his support. Can you pray for an Eagle, Finno? It worked for you before.” Fingon smiled at him, relaxed and pleased that they were finally approaching the serious work of the day.
“He’ll hear about it soon enough.”
“How?” Maglor asked him incredulously.
Fingon laughed. “You don’t know my brother as well as I thought you did. He does not like to be surprised and he is very attentive to detail. I would not be shocked were I to discover that he has spies who report to him.”
“Are you saying you have secret friends in the heart of your own court who keep your brother informed of your well-being? I’d feel a lot better if we could be certain that he knew of our plans.” Maglor shook his head in exasperation.
“Maybe, maybe not. I could be delusional, like others I have known!” Fingon said, his eyes glittering with mischief. Maedhros had heard these musings before from his beloved. “For your peace of mind, Macalaurë, I will petition Manwë for an Eagle and also pray to Eru for no less than ten thousand of Turvo’s finest warriors!”
“I’d be most pleased with that,” Maedhros said quietly, thinking he was less confident than Fingon that his brother would know anything about their daily travails or, even if he did, that he would come. After all, he had sequestered himself in his secret city while his brother, his allies, and their own kinsmen had suffered tragic losses holding their line of defense in the north. Maedhros was of two minds about Turgon. He knew him as a man of courage and stubborn endurance. Yet somehow Turgon had convinced himself that he should hide from view while his brother and cousins, undaunted by the danger, could spend their lives and those of their people containing the hordes of Morgoth.
Perhaps Fingon was right. Finrod had found much to care about in Turgon. And Maedhros did not doubt that Turgon loved and admired his brother, despite his envy of Fingon’s position as their father’s heir. If Turgon believed their alliance and mobilization showed a chance of victory, perhaps he might poke his head out and support them with men and steel. Maedhros could feel the smile stretching his lips before he became conscious of the lightening of his mood.
“Imagine, Findekáno, what a muster of Turvo’s troops would look like? Drilled and polished within an inch of their lives, Noldorin nobles and lords, who are neither battle-scarred nor worn-down by long years of harassment, as fresh and self-righteous as a contingent sent by the Valar.”
Fingon chortled and slapped his knee. “That’s exactly what they would look like. What a moment that would be!”
“Well, it is entertaining to dream of Turukáno bringing us a magnificent force, beautifully clad in the finest armor, including all your boyhood friends—the best and the brightest of Ñolofinwë’s circle in the court of Tirion.” Maedhros did not need to speak of the fact that Turgon’s loyalists had chosen between Fëanor and Fingolfin, and then, later, between Fingon—always at his father’s side but tainted by his associations—and Turgon. They could never be sure of Turgon until he appeared on the field of battle. “But we can only hope for that outcome. We can do nothing to effect it.”
“Sadly true,” Maglor said, but his soothingly mellow voice had energetic undertones that Maedhros recognized, as though, after the discussion of the birds and speculations relating to Turgon, he was impatient to move onto the meatier tasks.
“Meanwhile, let us draw up lists of those that we can be sure of and those whom we still doubt but whose minds might be changed,” Fingon said. “I have an early list of my own.”
“With approximate numbers?” Maglor asked sighing deeply. Surprisingly to some, Maglor was an excellent strategist. There was a correlation between one who might be able to visualize and coordinate the movement of troops on a battlefield and one who could conduct an intricate piece of music played by a large-scale symphony orchestra. “I think better in concrete terms, I must admit.”
Maedhros thought how fortunate they were in having three exceptional commanders, Fingon, Maglor, and himself. Now, if only they had another half-million troops.
“Curvo? Will you act as our scrivener?” he asked. It wasn’t an actual question but an assignment.
Curufin started, instantly alert, his icy pale eyes narrowing. He had been following the discussion with care while lounging with a deceptively calm posture in his chair. “What about Eressetor? Isn’t that his usual position?”
Fingon responded, “We intend to send Eressetor east with Tyelko. They need to locate Pityo and Telvo and assist Carnistir in the east. Convincing potential allies to rally to our side and raising armies will be demanding. Tyelko can use his charms and persuasive powers, and Eressetor, not that he does not have charm, will provide counsel and guidance. Carnistir will be of enormous importance to us because he is going to be financing all of us! I’ll need some help in equipping the Men of Dor-lómin and those of Haleth’s people who are willing to join us . . . hard fighters, but poorly armed. I have no doubt we will recruit some thousands among the Sindarin of Mithrim, who will all need to be fed, equipped, and trained for this kind of a battle. But most essentially, they must be fed. They will come to us hungry, leaving all of their supplies for their families.
“If we are victorious my debts will be expeditiously met. If we lose it won’t really matter!”
“Ha!” Celegorm howled, happy not to find himself confined to Himring. “I’ll be glad for Eressetor’s ability to drive a hard bargain! Prying a single coin out of Carnistir’s hoard is always a chore.”
“It won’t be this time!” Fingon said, utterly confident and most likely correct.
“Agreed. And Carnistir’s connections give us the potential for rallying tens of thousands of troops alone. We will send others to support them if they can be useful,” Maedhros said, keeping an eye trained on Curufin. Given his skills and intellectual abilities, he could be an asset to him here. Anywhere else he would be at least a gnawing worry and, more likely than not, his worst nightmare.
“You’re staying with me, Curvo. I need a good scribe. There will need to be formal letters drafted and sent to the Falas, to Nargothrond . . .” Curufin made a derisive snort at that, all but squirming to interrupt, but Maedhros continued, “. . . to Doriath.”
“Doriath?” Curufin snarled.
“What?” Maedhros said, pitching his voice low and dangerous, cocking his head slightly to one side, and tapping his forefinger slowly on the table. That kind of thing drove Curufin crazy and broke his concentration. Curufin at times seemed equals parts bluff and guile. “We’re listening. Enlighten us. Do you think we can draw no support from either Nargothrond or Doriath? You might have worried about that earlier in the year. I do recall from your initial report that you and Tyelko were driven from Nargothrond virtually alone. Yet you sought refuge there originally with a few thousand. How many of those do you think will seek to join the largest mobilization ever mounted against Angband?”
Curufin looked around the table as though to gauge his audience, before answering. “Orodreth will refuse to lend his name to any mobilization involving us, never mind its size or its likelihood of success. He has no strategic sense. But I would expect no less than two to three thousand warriors who will want to join a greater alliance—most of those who came to the city with us. Then there will be others, like Gwindor, who seek to avenge their grievous losses in the Battle of Sudden Flame. A better estimate might be three to four thousand out of Nargothrond.” Maedhros thought that a bit on the high side.
“When it might have been three to four times that,” grumbled one of the Himring captains. That, however, was the rub. Maedhros sighed, louder than he had intended.
Maglor interjected, “As for Doriath, not to let Curvo and Tyelko off the hook, Thingol would not have joined us even before the Nargothrond disaster. His entire strategy in this protracted siege has been to sit behind the fence his Maiarin witch built around his own little corner of the world. But there may be rangers and marchwardens there who will not want to sit this one out.”
“I can think of at least two,” Fingon said.
“Permission to speak, my lords,” Ngaulë rumbled softly from his seat in the corner nearest the food. The wily old wolf had been relentlessly gnawing his way through the spicy meat patties. “Send me to the Falas. There’s no doubt Círdan will mobilize. He won’t let grievances with any here affect his decision. He’ll abide by the old saying ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ But won’t hurt to send a survivor from the old days who’ll be happy to answer his questions.”
“Thank you. We’ll send a formal letter with you, nonetheless,” said Maedhros, after exchanging a quick glance with Fingon. They were pleased and greatly relieved by the offer and Ngaulë’s reassurance. The ancient wouldn’t have offered if he didn’t believe he could get more men out of Círdan with a face-to-face request. And who knows what kind of useful sorcery they might cook up between the two of them.
“You could take a missive to my son and his mother for me also,” Fingon added. “Don’t let her come back with you though. She’ll insist we’ll need healers. But I need to know she is out of harm’s way.”
“Harrumph!” growled Ngaulë. “Never had much success in convincing a woman to do what she didn’t want to do. Gave that up countless long-years ago. But I’ll tell ‘er what you said, Sire.”
Maedhros turned and looked into Fingon’s doubtful blue eyes. “Tadiel will do what she believes needs to be done and nothing or no one can stop her. You married the right woman, Finno. She matches you in valor.”
“You would say that since you picked her!” They were among intimates here, but even if they were not, that would not have stopped Fingon from speaking his mind. His father would have been horrified, but Fingon made his straightforwardness work for him. His people admired his honesty and held him above tarnishment by gossip or rumor.
“A simple ‘thank you’ would suffice.” Maedhros grinned and winked at Fingon. But he knew that Fingon knew that they could not have done better. Not many would have been willing to tolerate them and she had given him Ereinion, the heir Fingolfin had persisted in demanding.
“Enough you two!” said Maglor. “I for one would welcome her. We do need someone who can instruct our medics on how to cope with injuries to the bodies of the Secondborn. Puncture wounds from arrows and spears, sword gashes, and other injuries that our bodies can repair may turn septic and be fatal to them. And I happen to know she has studied that phenomenon. We would not want to win a war and lose our brave allies to curable infections.”
“This is a useless discussion,” Fingon groaned. “It is not like she is the only surgeon we have who has conducted similar investigations. And, in any case, she will do what she wants. Although, I do have a right to express an opinion. Please give her my message, Ngaulë.” The married men among them chuckled as one, shaking their heads in commiseration while the two women present folded their arms over their chests and smirked.
“Don’t worry. She’ll not come unless she is certain Ereinion will be secure and safe without her,” Maedhros said. “Anyway, it would be nice to see her.”
Fingon sighed heavily. Maedhros looked around to see what Curufin was up to. He was busily scratching away on a sheaf of paper of a quality used for notes. “Are you getting all of this down?”
“Every detail, brother dear,” Curufin said, trying not to look exasperated. Maedhros glanced over his shoulder. In his beautiful precise hand, he had dated the page, listed the participants at the meeting, and written the words, “Alliance of Maedhros,” followed by a long list of locations and people, including ones which had not yet been mentioned, placing preliminary estimates of numbers—smaller to larger—next to each of them, and, where relevant, who would contact whom. On a separate sheet, he had started two parallel lists of needed armaments and supplies labeled “infantry” and “cavalry.” And he was just warming up. It was all Maedhros could do not to laugh; he allowed himself a flicker of hope. Keep Curufin busy and he was worth ten men. Let him loose, without supervision, and he could do more damage than an entire legion of malcontents hell-bent on self-destruction.
“Birds and their breeding and feeding habits,” Curufin pretended to read aloud in an imitation of the high, thin voice of a bored clerk. “Fingon needs credit—again!”
He grinned wickedly at Fingon, who laughed, interjecting, “The more wealth one has, the better is one’s credit.”
Not to be cut off, Curufin continued with his recitation. “Círdan can be counted on to do the right thing. Another surprise! Oh, and how I spoiled Doriath and Nargothrond for us.” There were a few groans at that, but everyone seemed to recognize his caustic little parody was actually a form of apology. “Oh, yes. But Tyelko is forgiven—naughty boy, can’t help himself—and gets to ride all over eastern Beleriand, making friends and influencing people. Fingon’s worried about his wife and child. Not necessarily listed in order of importance. Did I miss anything? One last note—how could I forget—Curufinwë must be not be let out of your sight.”
“Good job,” drawled Maedhros. “But that’s only part of what I need from you. You remember Carag?” He nodded toward a man of craggy features and the identifiable pockmarks on his face of a denizen of the forge who could not be bothered to always pick up their mask again when adding a last few small details to a finished piece of work.
“Of course I do,” Curufin said with a show of transparent enthusiasm.
“He came to me this morning complaining he would need some help. How did you put it, Carag? Not ‘some wet-behind-the-ears whelp, but a real smith.’ He wants someone who can help organize the upcoming increase in production. Do think you could work with my brother?”
“You know I could!” said Carag, beaming at Curufin. “It would be an honor and a privilege, my lord.” The rough smith, bred from the salt-of-the-earth folk of the mines and quarries of Formenos, looked at Curufin, arguably the haughtiest of the princes of the Noldor, as though they were long separated milk brothers.
“The feeling is mutual,” said Curufin, genuinely pleased. Funny creatures, smiths—all they required to form a bound was the recognition of skill and a mutual willingness to work like draft horses.
Fingon kicked Maedhros under the table. He had told Maedhros that the idea would work.
As morning turned to mid-afternoon, the fruit, bread, and cheese on the food table dwindled; the meat pies had disappeared first. The gentle breezes gave way to brisker winds and they closed the windows one by one. As the afternoon ebbed, the clouds gathered until all the brilliant blue was hidden behind a solid blanket of whitish-grey. The lady astronomer announced that there would be snow by early evening, but it was unlikely to be heavy. Meanwhile, Celegorm complained that they would have to wait a day or two before they could send their first experimental avian messenger to Barad Eithel. No one teased him at his plaintive tone. People were growing tired and impatient and bird jokes were definitely no longer funny.
The important divisions of labor had long been settled. The most prolonged arguments, which Maedhros thought were almost entirely useless, concerned differences of opinion over high and low estimates of the numbers they could expect to muster.
Fingon believed that he could accurately predict the forces of the Noldor of Hithlum and the Sindar of Mithrim, the Men of Dor-lómin and of the House of Hador. The Noldorin and Sindarin followers of the sons of Fëanor could be counted almost to exactitude. They all agreed that it would impossible to know how many Dwarves would come. Azaghâl’s people of Belegost, as well as the Dwarves of Nogrod, indeed were a secretive people unlikely to share their population size or number of men at arms. Although, all agreed that any Dwarven host would be formidable regardless of size.
The Laiquendi, also by their nature unpredictable and guarded, had the potential to provide a few to several thousand at least. The peoples of the Far East—the Men of Bór and of Ulfang—had the potential to assemble great numbers of combatants. Maedhros knew and cared for Bór and his sons, who had sworn allegiance to him in exchange for land. Caranthir, quiet and withdrawn himself, had less insight into the Men of Ulfang.
As the sun dipped behind the peaks to the west, those gathered around the conference table began to repeat and contradict themselves and one another. Maedhros noted that Fingon was losing patience. A vein throbbed in his temple and his lips tightened into a thin line.
At last, Fingon slammed his fist onto the table, startling everyone, causing plates and goblets to clatter and voices to fall silent.
“Enough,” Fingon shouted, rising to his feet. He looked around him and smiled, satisfied he had their attention. “Well, I think we all agree that we will not have enough to defeat the Dark Vala by sheer force alone. But the maid of Doriath has shown us something which brought us all here together today. He is not unassailable. Our strategy must overcome our lack of superior numbers. Our hearts and our hope can triumph over malice. Utúlie’n aurë!” The day has come!
And Maedhros believed him with every fiber of his being.
Original character names:
Ngaulë – Elder among the people at Himring (Quenya name meaning wolf-howl).
Tadiel – Fingon’s wife, mother of Ereinion Gil-galad.
Carag – head smith of Himring.
I want to thank Ignoble Bard and Dawn Felagund for reading this. My fandom friends are accomplished and generous! Thank you both for putting up with me through thick and thin.
About the Author
Oshun has 100+ stories in the SWG archive. Additionally, she has written 86 SWG Character Biographies. See Academia.edu for some of her other Tolkien-related articles. Her non-Tolkien fannish fiction is posted on AO3, including but not limited to the Swordspoint Series - Ellen Kushner, Harry Potter - J. K. Rowling, Alexander Trilogy - Renault, The Charioteer - Renault, Queen's Thief - Megan Whalen Turner, Captive Prince - C. S. Pacat, The Last of the Wine - Renault, Richard II - Shakespeare, Richard III (historical fiction), The Lion in Winter, and Howl Series - Diana Wynne Jones.