Story Notes:

A much later chapter of The Follower.

Written long ago for MaglorsFinch. She asked for this:
What I would like to see is a dramatic story about Elves in which the Laws and Customs of the Eldar, or to be more precise, the part about marriage:
- must be taken at face value by all Eldar involved;
- cause a moral dilemma for a character of the writer's choosing;
- and demand a sacrifice from someone, though not necessary the same character.

In my utter presumption I've taken a sentence from the Laws & Customs, twisted it and added some of my own words, and ascribed it to the Sayings of Rúmil. Well, he wrote about everything, why not about marriage.

Disclaimer - the usual. All characters belong to the great Professor.

Some names - The nicknames are my own creation; the Professor would likely find fault with them (as with the entire story, I'm sure). I plead my ignorance of the fine nuances of Quenya, and hope he'll forgive me.

Fíno: what Maitimo/Maedhros calls Findekáno/Fingon

Turo: Fingon's affectionate name for his brother Turukáno/Turgon

Tyelko: Tyelkormo/Celegorm

Írissë: Aredhel

Angaráto: Angrod

Aikanáro: Aegnor

First published: June 7, 2003

Aman, 1362

My mother dithered, still doubtful. But my father said, "Nonsense, he'll handle it fine. At any rate we'll not be gone long."

So they left, my mother throwing a last worried look at the cradle. I settled on the seat by the window with my two cakes, and opened my book. Laurelin was come to her full might, and the scent of the plum trees floated through the windows. From far away I heard the trumpets sounding my parents' arrival in the Hall.

Infants are remarkable. I had known my sister to sleep through a noisy dinner, an argument among my mother's women, and the racket of an entire hunting party riding into the courtyard below. But the instant I dropped my book reaching for the second cake, her breathing grew fitful. Presently the first muffled fretting came from the cradle.

I went and lifted her out. The blanket slipped; trying to snatch it before it reached the floor I almost dropped the baby. By now her mews of complaint had turned to loud wails. I shifted her around, so she lay with her head in the crook of my arm, the way I had seen my mother carry her about. The crying grew desperate. I tried to rock her, but to no avail. I did not even notice the door opening.

"Look, you're holding him all wrong," said a laughing voice just behind me. I turned to see what I could not yet believe. But surprise rarely robs me of speech.

"Maitimo," I said, beaming, "How splendid to see you; it's been such a long time! I thought you were still traveling with your father! When did you arrive? Are you alone, or—" My last words were drowned out by a renewed burst of wails. I noticed with brief astonishment his shabby tunic, the kind he wore for rough work, and the sandals on his feet. But you might understand I was far too giddy with joy to wonder.

"Here," he said as he crossed the room, "give him to me."

"It's a girl. My sister."

"Really! How odd that both our families, and our uncle's, bred nothing but boys for so long, and now two girls within a year! Wait, hand me that blanket."He flung the blanket over his shoulder and rested the baby against it, clasping her in a skilled hold. She tried to look up into his face, too stunned by this change to keep up the crying. Her head wobbled a bit with the strain.

"What's her name?"

"Father called her Írissë."

"Beautiful." He kissed the soft dark spikes of hair over her anxiously puckered forehead. "Oh, but no more crying now. Shall we walk?" He strolled from the cradle to the window a few times, humming and gently bouncing her. After a while she seemed to get tired. She drew up her knees and arched her back, giving one last sob, and dug her face against him. I thought she looked like a plump little grub trying to burrow into his shoulder. To this day I find small children tiresome.

"You do that so well," I said.

"How not, after raising six brothers, and still working on the last two?" He spoke without rancor. I truly believe he never thought his parents' casual use of him as a stand-in father anything but fitting.

"And the twins, how are they?"

"Two handfuls and then some," he said with a proud smile. "One has learned to walk; the other likes to crawl still, but we found out recently that he can climb."

My sister had finally fallen asleep. I suggested he put her into the cradle, but he shook his head.

"Not yet, she'll wake right up again. But come here, Fíno, let me look at you." He pulled me close for a moment, careful not to upset the baby, then stepped back, his hand still resting on my shoulder.

"By the Valar," he said, "I believe you've grown."

Having lately seen my brother and my cousin Angaráto shoot up to top me by a hand's breadth, I was grateful to hear this. Young Aikanáro already showed promise to overtake them some day; everyone was forever remarking on his height. A family such as ours can be daunting. I had to leave the palace and walk the streets to feel tall.

"Alas, I'll never be able to see the top of your head," I said fondly. "None of us will."

It was then that my mother came back. She greeted Maitimo pleasantly; if she was surprised to see him, she did not say. I watched her take my sister from his arms and thank him, and relieved that I would now have him to myself for a while, I wasted no time in steering him from the room.

"Praise Varda," I said as we strolled down the passage towards my own chamber, our arms round each other, "now we can talk without having to whisper, or having our ears tormented. It's a mystery to me how you bear it."

He cast me a sideways glance full of amusement. "Well, I like the little ones. Pity I'll never have any of my own."

"Oh, come, how would you know?" I said with false heartiness. True, he was long past the age when young men first fall in love and make fools of themselves, or begin to look for a wife in earnest. I thought of the way girls gaped at him in the streets, the startled looks of admiration he sometimes drew even from women happily wedded. I recalled the longing on more than one face when he had danced at the Festival of Oromë;. Surely it was only a matter of time until he found a girl who delighted him, who would become closest to his heart. The bitter taste this thought carried would then become my faithful companion. I had long prepared myself for it.

He shook his head. "I'll never marry."

It was my turn to gape at the finality of his tone. It might have been a coy remark. But after so many years I knew every shade of his voice. There was no room for doubt; he meant it.

In my chamber I poured wine for us both. We fell on the bench by the foot of the bed and talked at length. He spoke of the new mine his father and brothers had been exploring, of the new colt he had raced against Tyelko's bay stallion, and won. He was worried about his mother; the birth of the twins had wearied her, and she still spent much time resting. In turn I showed him my new harp, and asked his advice on a dagger I was working on. At some point I mentioned Turo, and he grew fidgety. He got up and paced back and forth, as restless as a hound once the chase has been sounded. In front of my writing desk he finally stopped.

"Have you met Turo's betrothed?" he asked, toying with a quill. He would not look at me.

I said that I had, and that I thought well of her, and that everyone was pleased with the alliance. Which indeed they were. Elenwë had proven to be amiable (pretty, too, if one liked that meek fair type) and very much in love with my brother. But I could not have cared less about her just now. I wondered if Maitimo - with Fëanáro in mind - was aggrieved about yet another family tie with Ingwë's folk.

"How good to hear; I'm delighted for them," said Maitimo, but he sounded absent-minded. Suddenly he laughed, turning. "Imagine," he said, "when I set out for Tirion, all I knew was that a betrothal was to be announced at the royal hall. None at home had heard more than a rumor, but some claimed it was Nolofinwë's eldest who had found himself a bride. It wasn't until I reached your stables that one of the grooms enlightened me."

Wine spilt over the rim of my cup. I quickly set it down. The sandals, I thought, the raggedy tunic. Maitimo, who never travels without proper garb, who never visits without first sending a message. After a long moment I said, as lightly as I could: "So you galloped all the way here to congratulate me, and kiss the bride – only to find my brother was to be the groom? Poor Maitimo."

"Indeed." He stood leaning against the desk, arms and ankles crossed, watching me, a slight fixed smile on his face.

"Look," I said and jumped up, "if I had a mind to wed, you'd be the first to find out, and you know that. And if you say you'll never marry, well, then I probably won't either."

"My dear, don't be absurd."

"Why? I'd only make some unfortunate girl miserable. She'd be forever cross with me for spending all my time with you, for talking about you all day long, for seeking your opinion on every trifle. She'd quarrel with me, and rightly. Why risk meddling with what we have, when all seems good the way it is?" I tried to give it a mocking tone, make it sound like banter. It rang false even to my own ears.

He said, so low I scarcely heard, "What do we have, Fíno?"

There are questions that defy one's wits, particularly if one has struggled with them for some time. When shaping a new tune on my harp I run into a snag, I wait for another day. No amount of toil can bring it about. It comes in a bright burst straight from the soul, or not at all. Yet I had to give him an answer.

"You – you're my beloved friend. And I'll let no one and nothing come between us. Ever."

"Nor will I," said Maitimo. His voice had gone rather hoarse. "You'll always be first and dearest to me. Let's drink to it, then. To our friendship."

We drank with our arms linked, the way you seal a promise. We drained our cups, for not a drop must be wasted, and kissed. He smelt of grass and dust and leather, warm and familiar; his mouth was firm and sweet with wine. When he halfheartedly drew away, I followed without thinking. His hands went around my back, shy only at first.

Swift confident footsteps came down the passage and we sprang apart; I could hear my brother's happy laugh, a girl's giggle, and my father calling.

"Maitimo, dear, where are you? Come and greet us!"

Slowly, painfully, I sucked in my breath, tasting fear and shame and wonder, and beneath it all, a profound joy. My heart was hammering against my ribs, and as I looked into my cousin's eyes I saw there the answer I had been searching for all along.

The door burst open. For a while all was laughter and eager talk and kisses exchanged; they welcomed Maitimo and blamed me for hiding him. Presently we went down to meet the others. I had talked him into wearing a robe and mantle of mine so he could join us for the betrothal. Yet he declined my father's offer to spend a few more days, claiming he had work to do at home.

Later I went with him to the stables. We had spoken little during the feast, and none of it alone. The silence between us was thick with words unsaid. But some doors are best left shut, and some paths you can't walk together. Or so I thought, until we stopped by the gate to say good-bye.

I had wondered if our farewell would be an awkward one. I should have known better. He embraced me as always; if he felt the change as I did he concealed it well.

"Come visit us soon," he said. "Father misses you, and it's time you saw the twins again. And, Fíno–"

"What?"

"Don't worry so."

"Can you? Not worry?"

"I've learned to live with it. Long ago."

"I feel – odd," I burst out, "odd and wretched, as well I might! Something's wrong with me, with us - and I've no name for it!"

"Listen," he said patiently, as if speaking to one of his little brothers. "Our promise stands. As for the rest, would you have it become a lasting grief between us?"

"Never. But we can't let it happen again!"

He started, enough to unsettle his horse. "No!" he said, a bleak look in his eyes. "No, we can't. It would be wrong- I think. I don't know. I don't know anything anymore. I love you, and I can see nothing beyond."

For an instant it seemed our minds touched as we stared at one another. Hope raised its head, feebly, and was crushed. He shook his head, mouthing a last silent "No."

He mounted and took up the reins. Safely concealed from curious looks behind the bulk of the horse, I grasped his hand in mine and kissed it, then pressed it to my forehead. He ran his fingers through my hair; grasping it gently he tilted back my head. A small crooked smile played around his lips.

He said, "Ill chance or a strange fate – which do you think it is?"

"Huh?"

"Your father's right, you ought to read more. It's from the Sayings of Rúmil. Save rare ill chance foil it, or a strange fate hinder it, men and women shall marry and beget children, for marriage is pleasing to the body and a reward to the soul. I've often wondered which I was cursed with. Though I should prefer 'strange fate'; it seems less harsh somehow."

"Yes, I remember now; I have read the Sayings. I shall think on it," I said, my head dull and aching from the raw novelty of the past few hours. "You have, I guess, for some time?"

"Now and again, before you first came to our house and into my life," he said quietly. "And every blessed day since."

The anguish in his face cut me to the core, all the more so because I saw how he fought to hide it. "Maitimo, dear Maitimo-"

"Please come see me on the morrow, will you? I'd stay, but I ran away in the middle of work. Father's bound to be cross. Come as soon as you can, what with all the visitors you've at the house. It's been too long. It seems to get harder each day – being without you."

"I'll come," I said. "I'll be there, I promise."

For a while after he had gone I stood undecided, then I went to change my clothes, and walked down to the smithy. No fine work for me that day; the unfinished dagger remained in my chamber. Lending a hand with the smelting, and hammering the bloom until my arms throbbed with pain and my ears rang with the strikes, was more to my taste for once, though it earned me some puzzled glances. And indeed for a while the gift of Aulë, his holy and untainted fire, granted me some peace.

Chapter End Notes:

Notes

The other girl-child Maedhros mentions being born recently is Finarfin's daughter Galadriel.

In this version, Maedhros and Fingon first met when Fingon was the equivalent of a sixteen year old; Maedhros was already an adult.

Maedhros' choice and sacrifice? Rather than marry some girl (love would not be a necessary requirement, see L&C: The Eldar wedded once only in life, and for love or at the least by free will upon either partNo doubt he could have found one willing that he liked well enough.), and enter into a bond of the soul through the bond of flesh, he has chosen chastity, and loyalty to Fingon. Now this might not be too trying, considering the legendary continence of the Eldar, but it means he'll never be a father. Which really pains him, even if he speaks lightly of it here. Fingon at this point is a little too overwhelmed to make any conscious choice.

And much will change later in their lives, after certain well-known events.